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

**Chapter Five: Get Him Over the Side ...with Dignity**

In the captain's cabin aboard Indefatigable, the wine
had flowed with sufficient freedom to imbue all
present with the deepest sense of contentment. None
was drunk, for Pellew would never have allowed such,
but each was wholly at peace with himself, his
neighbour and the world in general.

Dinner had lasted far longer than was customary, for
eating had been slowed by marvelous and wide-ranging
conversation. Israel and Edward had caught each other
up on various family matters, battles had been
re-fought and dissected, policies -- of the government
and Admiralty -- had been discussed, and the memories
of not a few fallen comrades had been saluted. Good
fellowship had been as abundant as the drink.

Yet now, with food digesting, wine and brandy gone and
tongues finally beginning to tire, it was time at last
to call quit to the evening. Israel had to return to
Swiftsure, and tomorrow morning would see all aboard
Indefatigable hard at work putting her to rights
again.

War waited upon no man, nor upon his pleasure...

"Well, gentlemen," Pellew said, rising to his feet, "I
do thank each of you for a truly delightful evening,
and pray we may do this again--" He broke off at the
sudden and frantic knocking upon his door, and frowned
in surprise. "Now, what the devil-- Come!"

The door was wrenched open and young Midshipman Hardy
flung himself into the room, his eyes huge in his
white and stricken face. "Beggin' your pardon, sir!"
he gasped in a breathless rush, shaking visibly. "But,
please, sir, won't you come up? There's a boat--
bringin' a guest-- Oh, Lord, sir, I do think you
should come!"

"Guest?" Pellew growled, eyeing the lad sternly. "Stop
babbling, if you please, Mr. Hardy, and tell me what
guest would be coming aboard at this uncivil hour!"

Hardy swallowed, took a deep breath, and then another,
but simply could not calm himself. "I didn't believe
it meself, sir, not at first," he rasped, his mind
racing uncontrollably, "so I made the fellow repeat
himself. But then I saw him for meself, through the
glass-- It weren't no mistake, sir!" he declared
fervently, in his confusion forgetting everything
Hornblower and Kennedy had been trying to teach him
about grammar. "It could only be himself and none
other. There ain't another like him, I'd swear it!"

Pellew clenched his jaw and curled his hands tightly
into fists, thoroughly annoyed by the boy's hysteria.
"For God's sake, Mr. Hardy, WHO IS THIS GUEST?"

The boy jumped at that bellow and looked close to
fainting. Beads of sweat stood out over his face,
which went from flushed to stark white, and his grey
eyes were as round and as glazed as china saucers.
"Beg pardon, sir," he whispered hoarsely, "but it--
it's-- Oh, Lord, sir, it's Admiral Nelson himself!"

Pellew's jaw dropped, and he stared at the boy in mute
stupefaction, his claret-clouded mind refusing to
function with its usual clarity. Admiral Nelson?
Admiral HORATIO Nels-- No, no, certainly not! Why,
there had to be more than one Admiral Nelson in the
service, any number of them--

Except that he knew there was not. There was only one
Nelson. And Nelson was in Portsmouth. And he--

Oh, God help them all, he was in a boat, alongside
Indefatigable, waiting to come aboard!

All at once, in the heavy, numbed silence that had
followed Hardy's startling announcement, Israel Pellew
began to laugh, softly at first, but then with a
steadily gathering force, until the sound of it filled
the cabin like a gale wind.

"Good God, Edward!" he gasped when he could talk,
wiping tears from his eyes. "When I suggested you
should meet the man, I never meant for you to summon
him here tonight!"

Pellew turned slowly and stared blackly at his
brother. For the life of him, however, he could not
think of a single thing to say.
**********

"Oy, did you ëear that?" Oldroyd hissed excitedly as
the bosun stalked past, scattering men with a furious
growl and shouting for mates and sideboys. "Admiral's
comin' aboard. And not just ANY admiral, but ol'
Nelson ëimself!"

"Mebbe ëe's come to ask Cap'n for you," Styles teased.
"I'll wager ëe's ëeard ëow cool you are under fire!"

Oldroyd glowered at Styles, but could think of no
suitable retort. From past experience, he knew the
perfect answer would come only after he was in his
hammock, and Styles already asleep.

"Probably bad news, though," Styles went on his
characteristic pessimism. "Admirals don't come on
board this late with good news. That can always wait.
It's only the bad news they rush to bring you."

"No, it's nothin' like that," Matthews said
thoughtfully, with the calm assurance of long
experience. "Look at ëim -- not even in an admiral's
barge. Got some little ferryboat from the dock. No,
there's sommat else afoot."

Styles grinned again. "Mebbe ëe's come to join us,
then. ëeard ëow we took that Frog frigate and sloop
and wants us to show ëim ëow it's done!"

Matthews started to answer, then saw Pellew and his
officers at last emerging onto the deck and making
their way to the side. "Well," he said with a nod,
"whatever it is, we shall know soon enough. Oy, Nelson
or no, the captain don't look ëappy at all!"
**********

Pellew tried not to fidget or fume as the pipes
trilled and the drums rolled, as the ship herself
seemed to hold her breath in anticipation. All the
while, he was intensely aware of his brother's
presence.

"Will you stop grinning?" he whispered harshly,
infuriated that the younger man should so relish his
discomfiture. "So help me, Israel, if I discover you
have had any part in this--"

"Me?" Israel answered easily, trying to subdue his
glee and failing utterly. "Edward, I am as surprised
as you! And I am hurt that you would suspect me.
Believe me, Nelson needs no help from anyone in
turning the world upside down!"

"Hm," Pellew grunted, unconvinced. Before he could say
more, a hat, then a single hand appeared in the entry
port, and he suddenly wondered with a sharp pang of
anxiety whether a one-armed man would require
assistance coming aboard. Damn, damn, DAMN the man and
his infernal complications!

Then Nelson was over the side, hauling himself aboard
not entirely gracefully, but not with undue
difficulty, either. Taking only a moment to straighten
his jacket, he gave a left-handed salute to the
quarter-deck, then strode briskly forward to meet his
host.

"Captain Sir Edward Pellew, I believe?" he asked in a
firm, clear voice, his gaze alighting on the captain.
"My apologies, sir, for troubling you at this hour."
His mouth twitched in an impish smile. "I know how,
eh, disconcerting an unexpected visit from an admiral
can be."

"Not at all, sir, not at all," Pellew answered
automatically, managing to sound almost gracious. He
straightened and lifted his chin, clasping his hands
behind his back. "A fighting ship must be prepared at
all times for any-- eventuality." He could see Israel
smirking, and longed desperately to strangle him for
it. "I trust it is not ill news that brings you out so
late?"

"Ill news? Indeed not, sir! I assure you, I come on a
most happy chore." Even as he talked, he studied the
ship, the condition of her deck and rigging, the
attitude of her crew. Prime, all prime. Oh, to have
this ship in his command!

Pellew noted the admiral's admiration, and felt a
strong surge of pride. There was not a ship afloat,
nor a crew in service, that could match his, he knew.
Battered as she was, the old girl could make even
Nelson sigh with longing. The knowledge mollified some
of his vexation.

"A fine ship, sir," Nelson muttered with all
sincerity. "I understand you and your crew have been
giving the French and the Spanish fits." His grin
returned. "You know, they sing songs of your exploits
in Portsmouth."

Pellew's lips curved into the slightest of smiles, and
his dark eyes gleamed in the moonlight. "We do our
best, sir," he allowed modestly.

Nelson laughed aloud. "Would that everyone else's best
were half as good, sir! Then we should have this war
won in months, if not weeks!" His gaze wandered past
Pellew. "And these fine gentlemen, I trust, are your
officers?"

"Indeed, sir. Allow me to present First Lieutenant
Bracegirdle, sailing master Bowles, Midshipman
Hardy--" He sighed sharply as the boy fairly swooned
beneath Nelson's regard. "And Captain Clarke of
Marines. And this," he indicated his brother, but was
interrupted.

"Israel Pellew, by God!" Nelson exclaimed, seizing the
second captain's hand eagerly. "You here, too? Good to
see you again! I-- Of course, I remember now, they've
given you Swiftsure, haven't they? Aye, and well they
should. Last man to have her -- Rawlston, was it not?
-- damn near ruined her. Discipline is one thing, but
brutality is another. Well, she's got you, now. A good
ship needs a good captain, or she's worse than
useless!"

Pellew cleared his throat, diverting the admiral's
attention back to himself. "I am eager to know, sir,
how I might be of service to you." The words "at this
hour" begged to be uttered, but he bit them back.

"Oh, no, Captain Pellew," Nelson said with another
smile, "'tis I who shall be of service to you. I have
come to restore what rightfully belongs in your
keeping." At Pellew's expression of blank
bewilderment, Nelson's smile grew broader still. "If
you will permit me?" When the captain did not answer,
he turned back the way he had come and called, "Well,
will you be all night?"

A breathless, expectant hush fell upon the gathering,
and all eyes locked upon the entry port. After a space
-- either a moment or an eternity, Pellew could no
longer distinguish between them -- another hat and
pair of hands appeared, followed by the person of
Lieutenant Hornblower.

"Oh... my... God," Pellew breathed in shock, his eyes
wide and unblinking, his head tilting ever so slightly
to one side. After Hornblower, to complete his
amazement, appeared Acting-Lieutenant Kennedy.

"Your officers and I have passed a delightful evening
together," Nelson announced casually as the two came
slowly, rather reluctantly, forward. "They are
remarkable young men, Captain. You should consider
yourself fortunate to have them among your company."

At that moment, Pellew considered himself fortunate
that he could simply remember to breathe. Hornblower
and Kennedy... with Nelson...

"Good God, what's happened to them?" Bowles asked
quietly as he took in their cuts and bruises and
Kennedy's bandaged hand.

"Ah, yes, well," Nelson said, "perhaps that is best
explained below. Captain Pellew, may I claim the
hospitality of your cabin?"

Pellew made some answer -- he had no idea what -- and
stepped aside, allowing Bracegirdle to lead the
admiral and others below. As they passed, he caught
Hornblower and Kennedy's abashed expressions, and
thought of schoolboys caught in some mischief.

"I say, Edward," Israel murmured at his brother's
side, "you look rather ill. Too much brandy, was it?"

"Oh, no, not at all," Pellew breathed dazedly.
"Indeed, I suddenly feel much in need of more!"
**********

As his steward brought out another bottle of brandy
and began filling glasses from it -- Somers could not
remember a dinner of the captain's ever having
required so many bottles -- Pellew paced slowly,
silently about his cabin, trying to clear his head and
gather his wits sufficiently to deal with this latest
disruption of his much-prized order. Admiral Sir
Horatio Nelson was seated at his table, chatting with
his brother, after having escorted two of his junior
officers aboard from Portsmouth. And those two young
officers had returned from a half day of liberty
covered with cuts and bruises and, in Kennedy's case,
at least, sporting broken bones.

Yet both had come through the vicious battle with the
French frigate with not so much as a scratch...

He sighed tiredly and absently rubbed a hand over his
eyes, now beginning to wonder if this night would ever
end. Then, squaring his shoulders and lifting his
head, he turned and made his way back to the two who
stood at rigid attention in the centre of the cabin.

"At your ease, gentlemen," he said quietly, his dark
gaze travelling slowly, searchingly over each.

Hornblower's lower lip was split, the right side of
his jaw darkly bruised, as was his left cheekbone.
Kennedy, if such were possible, looked even worse.
Above his left eye, surrounded by a dark and swollen
bruise, was a cut at least an inch long, and his right
cheek and jaw were magnificently bruised. Another
enormous bruise blackened his right temple and
disappeared into his fair hair, and his lower lip was
split and swollen. And the bandage wrapped so
carefully about his right hand told its own story
plainly.

"Broken, I assume?" Pellew asked.

Archie swallowed and self-consciously slipped the hand
behind his back. "Yes, sir," he answered softly, his
blue eyes wide. "But I-- I was assured it-- it would
not unduly hinder me in the performance of my duties,
sir."

Pellew arched a dark brow at that. "I see. Well, I
suppose we should be thankful for small favours." His
gaze again swept over the young man. "Any other
injuries?"

Archie winced, but knew he would never successfully
deceive this man. "My-- my ribs, sir," he answered,
his voice by now little more than a whisper. "I s-- I
seem to have-- cracked-- one or two. That's all, sir,"
he hastened to add.

"Yes, well," Pellew breathed, "I should think that
would be enough! And you, Mr. Hornblower -- any broken
bones that I should know of?"

"None, sir," Horatio answered with unmistakable
relief. "Only a few cuts and bruises."

"Hm. I can see that." He took the glass from his
steward, then cocked an eyebrow at the two before him.
"Will you young gentlemen join us in a glass?"

They both hesitated. Horatio had never been a lover of
spirits, indulging in them only when social
conventions demanded, and he feared he had consumed
far too much already. Archie, however, enjoyed an
excellent brandy, such as he knew his captain served,
but doubted the wisdom of mixing more stout spirits
with his concussion. Yet each was equally reluctant to
offend their captain by refusing his hospitality.

"A small amount, surely," Nelson urged amiably, "if
only to toast the King."

No British officer could refuse that, and both nodded
reluctantly. "Aye aye, sir," they answered in unison
with something less than eagerness.

Somers poured each a half measure and served them,
then quietly withdrew. Nelson rose to his feet, held
his glass aloft, and intoned reverently, "Gentlemen,
the King!"

"The King!" all answered with feeling, and drank to
their monarch.

After the toast had been drunk, Pellew's attention
returned to his young officers. "Well, I trust the
sweetness of the victory outweighed the cost of the
battle," he quipped in a wry tone as the brandy began
to smooth the edge from his temper. "I assume you won
such marks in a worthy cause?"

"Oh, yes, sir," Archie breathed without thinking, a
slight smile touching his injured mouth. "The
worthiest of all!"

Again, one dark brow shot up and Pellew turned upon
his acting-lieutenant, his expression one of keenest
interest. "Oh?" he murmured, clasping his hands behind
his back and stepping closer still to Kennedy.
"Perhaps you would be so good as to tell me about it,
sir."

Archie stared at the captain in wide-eyed confusion
and panic, now certain the brandy had been a
horrendous mistake. He tried desperately to order his
mind, but could think of nothing save a pair of lovely
brown eyes and the exquisite sweetness of soft rose
lips. And he could still smell her perfume...

Horatio reached out abruptly and grabbed his arm to
steady him as he began to sway slightly on his feet.
"Please, excuse him, sir," he requested quietly. "He
took rather a nasty blow to the head--"

"Hm," Pellew grunted. "Are you certain it was not a
blow to the heart?" He smiled slightly as Kennedy
stared at him in open-mouthed astonishment. "Come,
come, man," he said gently, "I've seen that glazed
look before, and I well know what causes it.
Inevitably, there is a young lady involved. I trust
she is beautiful?"

"Much more than beautiful, sir," Archie breathed
helplessly, mercifully blinded to the various knowing
grins about the cabin.

"I see." Pellew turned and made his way to the table,
sinking tiredly into the chair between Israel and
Nelson. "And is this much more than beautiful young
lady in some fashion related to your present
appearance?"

"Appearance, sir?" Archie asked, finding it
increasingly difficult to concentrate.

Pellew closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his
nose with a thumb and forefinger. "Your appearance,
Mr. Kennedy," he repeated with a weary patience. "When
you and Mr. Hornblower left the ship this afternoon,
your faces were clean and unmarked, and your uniforms
were somewhat battered. Now, however, your faces are
battered, while your uniforms are in better repair
than they have been for a very long time. I am
sincerely hoping we might hear an explanation before
dawn."

"Oh, well, they mended them, sir," Archie murmured,
wishing he could sit down. Trying to focus his gaze
upon the captain, he winced and raised his bandaged
hand to his bruised temple as the throbbing there grew
stronger. "The Addington girls. They said-- it was the
least they could do--" God, it had been a long day...

Horatio reached out again to steady his friend, then,
at Pellew's nod, led him to a nearby chair and pushed
him gently down onto it.

Pellew glared at his brother, who had a hand clamped
to his mouth to conceal his mirth, and shook his head
slowly. "And the Addington girls would be...?"

"The young ladies we rescued," Horatio supplied
helpfully, straightening and turning away from Archie.
"From robbers."

"Of course," Pellew sighed. "Rescued. From robbers."
He wanted desperately to kick the silently laughing
Israel under the table, but was worried he might hit
Nelson instead. "Perhaps you should explain,
Lieutenant Hornblower. From the beginning."

Why SHOULD the night ever end? he wondered
exhaustedly.
**********
**********

Pellew listened intently as Hornblower and Kennedy
gave their accounts of the day's events, often shaking
his head at the impetuosity -- and foolishness -- of
youth. He knew and valued Hornblower as a young
officer of remarkable prudence, and knew Kennedy was
still a bit too uncertain of himself to rush blindly
into danger. But he could also well imagine how the
situation -- two young damsels in distress -- must
have appealed to the young men's undeniably romantic
natures.

Lancelot and Galahad, rushing in where angels should
fear to tread...

Admiral Nelson, too, watched and listened closely,
though his attention was fixed particularly upon
Pellew. He had long held that a captain's true merit
could be judged by his manner of dealing with
subordinate officers, and he was anxious to learn if
all he had heard about this captain were true. And
moment by moment he found himself liking the man all
the more, for where many another captain would be
entirely put out with two young officers returning
from liberty in such a sorry state, Pellew merely
appeared mildly amused and wryly resigned.

Rather like a stern but affectionate father might be
with two wayward but well-meaning sons...

"And when their father, Sir Robert Addington, came
upon the scene," Horatio was saying, "he was so
grateful to us that he invited us to dinner. He also
sent for his physician to see to our injuries."

"Dinner?" Pellew marvelled quietly, raising two
eyebrows slightly. "Well, that must have been an
unexpected pleasure! I trust you did not take undue
advantage of his hospitality?"

Archie swallowed and dropped his gaze to the floor,
blushing yet again. I merely kissed his daughter in
the gardens, his mind murmured treacherously.

Pellew noticed the blush, and his eyebrows lifted a
fraction higher. On either side of him, both Nelson
and Israel were smiling slightly, knowingly, each able
to remember that first flush of love. He chose not to
inquire further into that subject, but chose another.
No sense embarrassing the lad needlessly...

"Tell me, Mr. Hornblower," he asked, "where was the
town watch while all this mayhem was transpiring?"

Horatio frowned slightly, the corners of his wide
mouth turning down, his deep brown gaze darkening.
"Sir, we saw no sign of the watch until after the
altercation," he reported, his voice holding a bare
edge of anger. "But, once they did appear, the captain
thanked us for our ëassistance' in the matter, and
said he would include our ëefforts' in his report."

"Did he, now?" Pellew asked tersely. "Mr. Bracegirdle,
tomorrow I should like to see the captain's report; I
trust he left it with the local justice. I am eager to
discover how an attack upon two women in an English
street in broad daylight is explained away, and the
ëassistance' of our young gentlemen credited."

"Aye aye, sir," Bracegirdle answered with a smile,
hoping -- for the watch commander's sake -- that the
report met the captain's rather exacting standards.
And God help him if it did not!

"Watch, indeed!" Pellew muttered darkly. "Likely that
is exactly what they did -- watched while my men did
their duty for them!" He exhaled sharply, then looked
again at Hornblower and Kennedy, his demeanor
softening slightly. "Yes, well," he sighed, sitting
back in his chair, "while I cannot condone public
brawling by my officers, I cannot, in this instance,
fault your actions. What you did was done in defense
of women; you certainly could not have allowed them to
come to harm." He shook his head slowly, his
expression again turning grim. "Still, I cannot help
but feel immeasurably disappointed. Oh, not in the two
of you," he added quickly upon seeing their stricken
faces, "but in the men who stood about and allowed
this outrage to transpire. You did say there were
others about, did you not?"

"Oh, yes, sir," Archie answered. "It happened on a
main street, and there was a great crowd about. I
cannot imagine why no one else stepped forward to
render assistance."

"Because, Mr. Kennedy," Nelson put in gently, "not
every man is blessed with the courage and decency
shown by Mr. Hornblower and yourself. Where the two of
you thought only of the Addington girls, far too many
other men think only of themselves. It is lamentable,
but true."

"But a man cannot stand idly by while a woman -- or
anyone else, for that matter -- is threatened with
harm," Archie protested earnestly. "If a man be able,
it his duty to render aid, is it not?"

Nelson smiled slightly, his half-blind gaze resting
thoughtfully on the young man. "That sentiment, sir,
is what separates you and Mr. Hornblower from those
who stood idle," he said quietly. "And it is, I dare
say, what Miss Addington finds so attractive in you."

Damnably, Archie blushed again, and a quiet chuckle
went around the cabin.

"Well," Pellew said, mercifully diverting attention
from Kennedy to himself, "if that is everything--"

"There is one thing more, Captain," Nelson put in. "At
supper this evening, Mr. Kennedy said it is your
intention to put his name before the next examination
board. Is that correct?"

Pellew sat up rather stiffly and stared at the
admiral. Surely, Nelson did not intend to examine the
lad himself? "It is, sir," he answered with a twinge
of unease.

"Then I have happy news, indeed!" Nelson said with a
broad smile. "I have been informed that a board will
be convened three days hence, here in Portsmouth. Mr.
Kennedy will have his chance to earn his commission."

"I see," Pellew breathed, relaxing again. "Well." He
turned his gaze to Archie. "Mr. Kennedy, do you
consider yourself ready for such an undertaking?"

Archie stared at his captain in wide-eyed shock, his
mouth falling open. Three days... The man couldn't be
serious!

"Close your mouth, sir," Pellew advised brusquely, his
dark eyes glinting with good humour, "before you start
taking on water! Come, come, you've been studying
since you returned from imprisonment, and both Mr.
Hornblower and Mr. Bowles have given testimony to your
vast improvements in mathematics and navigation. If
you pass up this chance, God knows when another will
present itself. D'you still want me to put you
forward?"

Archie stared at Pellew and thought frantically, his
mind racing. The old doubts rose up strongly, tempting
him to say no, to turn away from yet another chance at
failure. He was NOT ready! his mind screamed. There
was still so much he did not know, so much he did not
understand, would likely never understand, and he had
already disappointed so many people so many times--

"If you please, sir," he heard himself saying very
quietly, startled to realize the words were coming
from his own mouth, "I-- I should like that very much.
And I shall-- certainly do my best."

Pellew smiled slightly and nodded tersely, his dark
eyes gleaming. "Of that, sir," he said with firm
conviction, "I have no doubt at all."
**********

For a while, time ceased to exist in the captain's
cabin as the men gathered there basked in the glow of
a camaraderie rarely experienced and deeply treasured.
And though Bowles, Nelson and the Pellew brothers had
been at sea since before they were born, Hornblower
and Kennedy were made a welcome part of the
conversation, their opinions sought and considered,
their observations and experiences deemed as credible
as any of their seniors'. In this heady company,
Horatio shed his natural shyness and Archie let go his
diffidence, and soon both were fully engaged in the
lively exchange.

For his part, Pellew found himself fascinated by
Admiral Nelson. Time and again he saw the fabled
charm, the warmth and humour that were as much a part
of his legend as his courage and dash, yet he saw also
much more. Beneath the charm was a fierce intelligence
and a shrewd, keen mind that precious little escaped.
He saw that Israel had been right in saying this man
was no Dreadnought Foster. Ambition there certainly
was in him, and a love of glory. But there was also a
steely dedication to duty and an understanding of and
respect for the men about him that Foster lacked
entirely. Entirely to his surprise, Pellew found
himself liking the man he had once considered little
more than a reckless adventurer.

"Well, gentlemen," Nelson sighed at last, rising to
his feet and bringing the others to theirs, "though I
should dearly love to stay another hour at least in
such company, I fear ëtis time to end the evening." He
sought Pellew with his mild gaze and smiled warmly.
"Sir Edward, it has been a rare pleasure, indeed! I
have long wanted to meet you, and I shall be ever
grateful to have had the chance. I thank you for the
hospitality of your ship."

Pellew smiled easily and gave a courtly bow. "Admiral,
the pleasure has been all mine, I assure you. And I am
grateful to you for returning my young officers to
me."

Nelson chuckled. "Yes, well, I could not in conscience
allow them to be gouged by those thieves who term
themselves ferrymen after their gallant rescue of the
Addington girls. I was prepared to row them here
myself, if such proved necessary!"

A laugh met his words, for, though no one spoke of it,
each was amused by the thought of a one-armed admiral
rowing two very junior officers across the harbour.

"Speaking of ferrymen," Nelson said, frowning slightly
as a thought struck him, "I wonder if that scoundrel I
engaged has lingered--"

"Admiral," Israel spoke up quickly, "my own gig stands
ready, and I shall gladly take you wherever you need
to go." He winked at his brother. "My lazy oarsmen
could use the exercise, and ëtwill give them something
to talk about when we lie becalmed."

Nelson's face brightened. "My dear sir, I accept, and
gladly!" Astonishingly, he, too, winked. "Never let it
be said I have not done my part for ship's morale!"

Pellew turned to his first lieutenant. "Mr.
Bracegirdle, have the side party assembled--"

"No, no, Captain, please!" Nelson urged. "There is no
need for that. I shall simply go over the quiet side.
Much too late for a fuss."

Pellew sighed and smiled, grateful for the mercy to
his crew. "Thank you, sir," he breathed fervently.

"Likely they shall be working hard enough tomorrow,"
the admiral said, knowing full well what arduous
labours awaited the crew of a wounded frigate. "Let
the men have what rest they may." As Bowles brought
his hat to him, he favoured the group with his smile.
"Well, gentlemen, shall we go?"
**********

Ready to descend to the waiting gig, Israel turned to
his brother and offered a hand and his roguish grin.
"Thank you, Edward, for a truly memorable night! I
cannot recall when I have been so vastly entertained!"

Edward arched a brow and glared at his brother. "You,
sir, are a scoundrel, and should have been pitched
into the sea long ago!" His own smile broke forth
then, and he took his brother's hand in a firm grip.
"I trust I shall see you again soon?"

"You know me," Israel quipped, "never around when you
need me, always under foot when you don't. But merely
uncork a bottle of brandy, and I shall come
a-running."

"Get off my ship!" Edward growled fondly, his dark
eyes gleaming.

Israel's teeth flashed in a wide grin as he saluted
the quarter-deck -- and his brother -- and went nimbly
over the side.

"Well," Nelson said quietly, turning to Hornblower and
Kennedy and studying each appraisingly, "it has been a
pleasure meeting you. I thank you for assuring me that
the younger generation of officers has not forgotten
what it means to serve." He nodded to Kennedy. "I look
forward to hearing of your receiving your commission."

"So do I," Archie breathed without thinking. Then,
realizing what he had said, he blushed and stammered,
"I-- I mean--"

Nelson laughed quietly and clapped the young man
firmly on the shoulder. "Do not be afraid, sir, it is
not the Inquisition! If Captain Pellew believes you
are ready, then ready you must be. Have faith in
yourself, Mr. Kennedy, and trust your instincts and
your knowledge. From what I have seen this evening, I
am confident you shall succeed."

Archie's eyes widened at that, and a broad smile
spread slowly over his face. "Thank you, sir! I shall
try not to disappoint you."

"Worry only about not disappointing yourself," Nelson
advised. "A man must live according to his own
standards, and, if those standards be high enough,
then he shall be a credit to all who know him. Good
luck, Mr. Kennedy." He turned to Horatio. "And you,
sir," he said firmly, gazing up at the much taller
young man, "I have heard great things of you and
expect to hear greater still. Your captain values you,
and well he should. You are a credit to the service."

Horatio could make no answer to that, could only
stare, open-mouthed, and nod slowly.

Nelson smiled, then turned and made his way to the
side, and to Pellew. "Sir Edward," he said quietly,
"again I thank you. It has been a remarkable evening."

"Indeed, it has, sir," Pellew agreed sincerely.

Nelson glanced about the Indy and nodded slightly.
"Aye, she's a lovely ship, with a fine crew. You are
fortunate to have her."

"I am well aware of it, sir."

Nelson grinned. "And she is fortunate to have you, Sir
Edward! The songs sung about you do not exaggerate
your quality." He glanced past Pellew, then back to
him. "Take care of your young men, sir. I sense great
things in them."

Pellew smiled and nodded. "As do I, sir. I shall not
let their talents go to waste." Nelson started to go
down, and Pellew stepped forward. "Admiral Nelson?"

The smaller man looked up inquisitively. "Yes?"

Pellew straightened and saluted. "Sir, it has been an
honour and a privilege meeting you. I thank you for
your visit."

Nelson smiled warmly, knowing this was not a man who
spoke such words easily or lightly. "Why, Captain
Pellew, I would not have missed it for the world!"

Pellew watched the man descend, and continued to watch
as the gig pulled away. Only when it was lost to the
darkness did he turn to the man at his side. "Yes, Mr.
Bracegirdle?"

"A remarkable man, sir," Bracegirdle breathed. "I can
understand why he is held in such affection and
esteem."

"Indeed." Pellew glanced over his shoulder, then
smiled slightly, wryly, at his lieutenant. "And now,
sir, let us get our own remarkable young men into
bed," he said quietly, "before they fall asleep on my
deck!"
**********