A Day (or So) in the Life
by Sue N.
**Chapter Six: Letters from Home**
Early the next morning, as soon as the rising sun lent
enough light to see, work on Indefatigable was gotten
under way. Her decks were stripped bare, so as to
allow McCready and his carpenter's crew easy access to
shattered planks that needed taking up and replacing,
while topmen swarmed aloft to strip her masts of torn
and tattered sails, frayed and broken rigging and
fractured spars. Still more men worked over the sides
on the damage there, and at least three distinct
splashes were heard as cannon balls were pried out of
timbers where they had lodged and dropped into the
Under the watchful eye of Acting-Lieutenant Kennedy,
crews toiled to pry the blackened, twisted wreckage of
what had been the number four gun out of the shattered
deck into which it had lodged, cursing the French
foully as they did so. It was hot, thirsty, dirty
work, for the two-ton iron hulk did not want to budge
from the oak that now entombed it. And on the few
occasions when it did budge, to shouts of relief from
all involved, it was devilishly quick to shift and
fall back, wedging itself in more tightly than ever.
More than once, Archie had a hideous vision of the
thing simply falling through the deck and crashing
through the hull, leaving him responsible for sinking
Indefatigable while she lay at anchor.
And there was still that damned 12-pounder on the
forecastle to go...
On the quarter-deck, Pellew watched intently the
steady pace of his crew's labours, his all-seeing gaze
missing not the smallest detail. He noted the care the
men gave the ship, and knew they loved her as did he.
Somewhere in their time in her, she had ceased being
merely a collection of timbers, canvas and rope, had
become a thing alive, with a heart and spirit. And now
to find such wounds in her body hurt them as deeply as
would finding any in their own.
Indeed, it only because of this devotion to her that
they had gotten home at all...
"Sir?" Bracegirdle called quietly, approaching his
captain. Relief was plain upon his face as he
announced, "The sheer-hulk, sir. She's coming at
Pellew lifted his gaze from the deck and turned it to
starboard, nodding tersely at the vessel's approach.
He had told Beadle he expected it at first light. When
it had not appeared as ordered, he had begun to wonder
if he would have to pay still another visit to the
yard. Apparently, however, the man was not entirely
bereft of good sense, and had realized he was engaged
in a battle of wills he could not possibly win.
"Very good, Mr. Bracegirdle," he said with evident
satisfaction. "Tell Mr. Hornblower to have his men at
the ready--" His words were interrupted by a sudden
and jubilant cheer from the deck, followed by a loud
crash and a splash. Another lusty cheer rang out, and
Pellew sighed quietly. "Well, I see Mr. Kennedy has
rid us of number four, though I dare say McCready will
not pleased to find yet another gaping hole he must
Bracegirdle fought to suppress his smile, and lost.
"If I may, sir, the port--"
"Yes, I know, it needed mending anyway. Let us hope,
however, he does not try to get the new one in the way
he got the old one out. And," he added as Bracegirdle
chuckled quietly, "let us pray Mr. Hornblower does not
adopt the same method in removing what remains of our
In practice, however, the actual task of removing the
stump of the shattered mast fell to the sheer-hulk,
with Horatio and his crew responsible only for
attaching the hoist that would lift it free. The hulk
was nothing more than an old ship cut down and fitted
with sheers, a device of three long poles lashed
together at the top, steadied by guy lines and spread
apart at the base. This device supported the hoisting
tackle which would lift the old mast -- or what
remained of it, in this case -- from its seat on the
keelson and up through the decks of the ship, as if
pulling a broken tooth.
This was done quickly and easily, for removing half --
if not less -- of a mast presented very little
challenge. For Horatio, to whom had fallen the dubious
honour of overseeing this particular task, the moment
of truth, and of gut-wrenching anxiety, came when it
was time to install the new mast, in all its towering
glory. For what seemed an eternity, the length of
Baltic pine hung suspended over the Indy like a
beautiful and deadly spear, ready to come crashing
through her decks, smash through her bottom and send
her to her watery grave. He tried not to think too
much on this horrible possibility, afraid that even
considering it might bring it to pass, and forced
himself instead to stand as if utterly at ease with
the entire process, praying that no one noticed just
how tightly his hands were clasped behind his back.
Yet it was done smoothly, efficiently, and wholly
without mishap. Once the mast was perfectly vertical
and was suspended directly above the step, it was
lowered inch by inch until, met by anxious, expert
hands, the squared heel, or base, of the mast was
guided through the main deck and down through the
orlop, until its descent to the keelson was complete.
Once home and its heel stepped, the mast was wedged in
firmly. Only then, when the mast was secured and
standing straight on its own did Horatio find himself
breathing normally again. More relieved than ever he
could remember being, he gave the order for the
shrouds to be rigged, then turned and made his way aft
to the quarter-deck, where he could report this
nerve-racking task safely done.
"Sir," he said after his salute, praying his voice did
not betray his anxiety, "the foremast is in and
Pellew eyed his young lieutenant with a bemused gaze,
not at all deceived by Hornblower's feigned
nonchalance. He had known that awful twinge, that
clenching gut, a time or two himself, had felt it only
moments ago, and supposed it was a malady every
officer watching a mast go in must feel. He, however,
was much more skilled in concealing it than the young
man before him.
"Very good, Mr. Hornblower," he said with a marvelous
calm. "Now let us have the new sails and rigging laid
"Aye aye, sir," Horatio answered, giving another
salute before hurrying away to do the captain's
"Well, Mr. Bracegirdle," Pellew said, turning to his
first lieutenant, "now that the worst has passed, I
shall retire to my cabin and tend to the reports the
Admiralty seem to find so damned necessary." He cast a
quick glance up at the sky, then nodded tersely. "Have
the men work another half an hour, then call them to
breakfast. The packets should begin arriving with the
mail shortly; have the bags brought to me at once.
And," his lips twitched in a slight grin, "try not to
hover over Mr. Kennedy when the guns are replaced.
Don't want to make him any more nervous than he
doubtless already is."
Bracegirdle smiled, his blue eyes twinkling. "No,
sir," he answered amiably. "I shall pass the word --
Pellew watched as Kennedy's crew made their way to the
forecastle to tend to the ruined gun there, then
turned his gaze to where Hornblower was supervising
the work on the rigging. "And no more new holes in my
ship, Mr. Bracegirdle," he warned. "The poor girl's
suffered enough already, I should think."
Bracegirdle chuckled quietly and felt a wave of relief
sweeping through him as his captain departed the
quarter-deck. The old spark had returned...
The wardroom was quiet as the officers seated in
various places devoted themselves to reading the
letters that had accumulated since last they had lain
at anchor. The packet ship, always a welcome sight,
had arrived more than an hour ago and, pleased with
the way his crew had been working, Pellew had granted
a respite that his men might indulge themselves in the
luxury of reading letters from home.
Horatio, who seldom received more than a few letters
from anyone but his father, was surprised to find he
had gotten several from Kitty Cobham. The tone of each
was warm and friendly, as befitted her personality,
with smatterings of society gossip scattered among
generous helpings of real news. In her correspondence,
she proved herself an intelligent, insightful woman
whose acquaintance with, as she had put it, "friends
in high places and low," gave her a grasp of politics
and a view of the world that often surprised him.
He found himself nodding in agreement with many of her
views, and smiling in amusement at her humorous
observations. The actress had a keen eye and a ready
wit that made her a delightful correspondent.
Before him, Archie had a considerable collection of
letters, most from his family, and most of them, it
seemed, from his mother. But Lady Kennedy had never
quite mastered the knack of numbering her letters, as
her husband had, and dated them only by month, forcing
her son to open them all and scan bits of each in an
attempt to put them in some order. Yet even that could
be frustrating, for she would often, in one letter, go
on about some subject she assumed she had already
explained, leaving out pertinent details, only to
remember in a subsequent letter that she had never
told him at all and try to fill in what she thought
she had missed. Archie loved his mother deeply, and
cherished the warm, affectionate tone of her letters,
but wished she were a bit more organized in her
His father, on the other hand, was meticulous about
detail, and left out absolutely nothing. Whether
providing information on family members, his latest
hunting trips, the state of various Kennedy holdings
or sessions of Parliament, he was exhaustive in his
accounts. Archie could hear the deep, cultured voice
as he read, could plainly envision the stern visage,
and was deeply comforted by the notion that while the
world itself seemed exploding with change, his father
would ever remain a constant.
There was, however, in his father's more recent
letters, a subtle change which startled him when he
finally caught on to it. Hardly noticeable at first,
but more apparent as Archie read, the stern, formal
air of Lord Kennedy softened slightly to reveal the
anxious concern of a father who had once thought his
youngest son lost forever and his relief at having him
back. It came as a revelation to Archie now to read
his father's hand as the man groped for the words with
which to express what had gone unsaid for the twenty
years of his son's life.
"It is still difficult," Archie read, "to look back
upon the dark days that followed our receipt of your
captain's kind letter informing us of your loss. I
need not tell you how such sad news struck your
mother, for you know well the deep affection she bears
for you. You will not be startled to learn it came as
a blow to her very heart. Yet I dare say you would not
expect to hear how exceedingly low your captain's
letter laid me and what hurt it inflicted upon a heart
you no doubt considered fashioned from stone. Nor
would you be able to credit what force of happiness
gripped me when we received your letter telling us you
had been restored to your ship -- and to us -- by
miraculous good fortune. Suffice to say I have become
rather more conscientious and sincere in my habit of
"My dear son," Archie's breath caught in his throat,
and the paper he held wavered slightly in his hands,
"there has been such a habit of silence between us,
and of misunderstanding, that I am compelled now to
allay. Whether it is the shock of having lost and
regained you, or merely the natural inclination of a
man facing the advance of years I do not know, nor do
I think the cause truly signifies. The heart of the
matter is this. I understand now, or at least begin
to, the risks you face in your chosen course, and
often find myself appalled at their magnitude. We have
begun taking the Naval Chronicle, and the reports
therein fill me with immense respect for the men who
willingly brave such dangers in defense of this
nation. If ever I have given you cause by word or deed
to feel yourself a disappointment to me, or to think
that, for the reason we both can name, you hold a
lesser place in my affection or esteem, I now beg
forgiveness and tell you it is not so. For what you do
now, and for the man I see by your letters you are
becoming, I assure you, Archie, you have my fullest
respect, and all the love a father can give. I am
proud of you. Stay well, and come home when you can.
Your family waits eagerly to see you. As ever, I
remain, Your affectionate Father."
He stared at the paper, his eyes full, his hands
trembling. "He called me Archie!" he whispered past
the hard knot in his throat.
Horatio looked up from his own letter and frowned.
"What? Well, why shouldn't he? It is your name--"
"No, no, you do not understand," he murmured, finding
and staring at that line. "He has never-- I have
always been ëArchibald' to him-- He never cared how I
hated the name. Everyone else in the family calls me
Archie, but to him I have never been anything but
ëArchibald.' Until now." He swallowed and found
another line, one that was underlined. "And-- and he
says-- he is proud of me."
"Is that so unusual?" Horatio asked quietly. He knew
that Archie was close to his mother and sister, and
seemed to get along better with his eldest brother
than the one between them. But he knew little of his
friend's relationship with his father, except that
when Archie spoke of Lord Kennedy, it was with more
respect and awe than actual affection.
Archie sighed and laid down the letter, smiling
ruefully at Horatio. "As a matter of fact, yes. Think,
Horatio," he said at his friend's startled expression.
"My father is a lord, from an old and powerful family.
He holds influence at court, did you know that? He is
a man accustomed to and comfortable with power. Now,
imagine how such a man must feel at having a son to
whom politics has never been more than a silly game, a
son who prefers poetry to politics, and who has fits
besides. To Lord Andrew Arthur Kennedy, Viscount
Aylesford, such a son, even a younger son, has ever
been something of a-- a disappointment. And when I
chose the Navy over the Army, he was furious; said I
was turning my back on tradition. I could not make him
understand I wanted to make my own way, to step out of
the shadow of all those other Kennedys whose faces
have stared down at me from the walls of our home all
my life. Tradition means everything to him, and to
hear me say I wanted none of it-- He saw it as a
betrayal. So for him now to say he is proud of me--"
He shook his head slowly, then smiled at Horatio.
"They have started taking the Naval Chronicle!" All at
once he laughed. "No doubt he is even now making
himself an expert on ships, sailing and tactics. Soon
he will begin dictating naval policy to the
Horatio laughed wryly. "Well, from I have learned, it
certainly could not hurt! And who knows? One day, when
you are Captain Kennedy, we might also have Lord
Kennedy as First Lord of the Admiralty."
"And then," Archie laughed, "may God help us all!"
"Sirs, sirs!" Midshipman Hardy came running over, his
young face flushed. "Sirs!"
The two looked up and smiled indulgently. Hardy was
young, barely fifteen, and quite excitable. He was
also desperately in awe of anyone who made it out of
the midshipmen's berth.
"Captain's compliments, sirs," he gasped, having run
the whole way down from the quarter-deck, "and won't
you both please come up? Boat's comin', bringin'
guests, and Captain says you should be there. Sirs."
The two exchanged puzzled glances. "Guests?" Horatio
asked. "What guests?"
"Don't know, sir. But it's a gentleman and two ladies.
Pretty ladies. Askin' permission to come aboard."
"Well, then," Horatio said with a grin, rising to his
feet, "let us go, Archie. Can't keep two pretty ladies
The two hurried to the main deck and found Pellew and
Bracegirdle already there, awaiting the arrival of the
"guests." Turning to see who might be coming aboard,
Kennedy felt his heart lurch violently against his
ribs and then nearly stop altogether. The Addingtons!
He gasped sharply and stiffened, his blue eyes
widening. He could vaguely hear someone speaking, but
could not answer. The knowledge that he would see her
again drove all speech, all thought from him, and left
only wild exhilaration in their place. In all the
world, no sight could have been more welcome.
"Close your mouth, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew advised
quietly as Hornblower and Bracegirdle fought back
smiles. "We are not catching flies." The young man
gave no sign of having heard, and Pellew sighed and
shook his head. "Mr. Hornblower," he said grimly, "try
not to let him hang himself in the rigging!"
"Aye aye, sir," Horatio answered, clearing his throat
in an attempt not to laugh. Stepping forward slightly,
he brought his arms behind his back, surreptitiously
jabbing Archie's battered ribs with an elbow as he did
The sudden pain brought Archie back to himself with a
jolt, and he glared up at Horatio, who only smiled
"Straighten up, Romeo," Horatio murmured. "Don't want
Juliet to catch you gaping. And try not to fall off
the ship, or I shall have to answer for it."
Archie glared all the harder, but, for once in his
life, he could think of no suitable retort.
Pellew tried not to notice the by-play between the two
as he watched the Addingtons brought aboard. The man,
he noted with some surprise, clambered nimbly up the
side, as if he had been doing such all his life. For
the young ladies, however, the hoist had been rigged
with the swing to provide a much more genteel ascent
to the deck. As he watched his officers hurrying
forward to help the girls aboard, he could not help
but notice that the smaller -- and very pretty -- of
the two had eyes only for Mr. Kennedy, whom he had no
doubt was gazing back at her with equal rapture.
Still, Pellew had to admit that, had he been twenty
years younger, those soft brown eyes and that sweet
smile might have caught his heart, as well.
Pellew and Addington made their respective
introductions with a courtly courtesy, and the
officers bowed gallantly while the girls curtseyed
charmingly. To no one's great surprise, Archie and
Lucy rarely moved more than a very few inches from
"Captain Pellew," Sir Robert said when the
introductions had finished, "I apologize for intruding
upon your ship, and for any inconvenience we might
have caused. But I simply could not allow another hour
to pass without making certain you were aware of the
great service your young officers rendered my family
yesterday. Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy may well
have saved my daughters' lives, for which I shall be
forever in their debt. Last night, they seemed a bit
reluctant to have you know of their courageous
exploits, and I feared they might have failed to bring
it to your attention."
Pellew smiled slightly, his dark eyes gleaming. "Yes,
well, whatever their preferences may have been, I
assure you, Admiral Nelson gave his account of the
event, and spoke quite highly of their actions."
"And well he should have!" Addington said forcefully.
"My daughters are my dearest treasures, Captain, their
lives more important to me than my own. When I learned
that they had been assaulted -- while a crowd looked
on, mind you! -- and that your young men had saved
them from a potentially disastrous fate, well, I-- I
simply had no words with which to express my undying
gratitude. That two young men should put themselves in
harm's way for strangers and fend off five brutes at
their own risk is a heroic feat that should not be
Pellew regarded him with candid interest, frankly
admiring a man who would take such pains to express
his gratitude. Nelson had described Addington as a
wealthy and powerful man, a ship-builder with ties to
the East India Company and thus of great influence
with the government, and it was Pellew's experience
that such men often took little -- if any -- notice of
the actions of mere Naval officers. Particularly of
very junior officers.
"I assure you, Sir Robert," he said quietly, "their
actions have been duly noted. I am glad my officers
were able to be of assistance, though I deeply regret
that such assistance was necessary. It is a dark day,
indeed, when two young women cannot even walk the
streets of an English city in daylight without being
"Yes, well," Addington said grimly, "these are
uncertain and perilous times. I should have remembered
that, and never left them unattended. However," he
sniffed and straightened, his face clearing, "that is
past and, thanks to your Lieutenants Hornblower and
Kennedy, my daughters were unharmed and the ruffians
apprehended. I have already spoken with the Justices,
and have been assured that the brigands will be
fittingly punished." As he spoke, his gaze began
wandering idly about the ship, and his professional
interest was piqued. He had never been aboard a
frigate, and could not entirely suppress his
Pellew noticed, and his smile broadened. "I understand
from Admiral Nelson that you are a ship-builder, sir.
Could I perhaps interest you in a tour of
Addington's eyes lit up, and a broad smile of almost
childlike pleasure creased his patrician face. "Ah,
Captain Pellew, you could indeed!" he enthused. "If,
however," he forced himself to add, "it would not be
"For a man who came all this way to say 'thank you'?"
Pellew asked quietly. "There are not many who would
have come on such an errand, I think. It does you
great credit, and I am honoured that you think so
highly of my men." His fine mouth quirked slightly in
a wry smile. "We in the Navy are not always accustomed
to receiving thanks from those whom we serve."
"Then more's the pity, by God, sir!" Addington said
sharply, his eyes flashing. "Every man, woman and
child in England owes you and your men a debt of
gratitude we can never repay, and we shame ourselves
in not saying so more often! Oh, I have always known
the men of the Navy risk their lives at sea without
question, yet now I know that devotion to duty does
not end at the water's edge." He inclined his greying
head and regarded Pellew evenly. "I tell you, Captain
Pellew, the British Navy and the good ship
Indefatigable now have no greater friend at home than
Sir Robert Addington! If ever I can be of assistance
to you, sir, or to your fine officers, I beg you, do
not hesitate to ask. Whatever assistance I am able to
give will be yours without question."
Pellew's admiration deepened, for he sensed that this
was not a man who spoke such high-flown words lightly.
"Well, sir, in the face of such generosity, I humbly
offer the hospitality of my ship. You shall have a
tour, if it be your wish, and then we shall retire to
my cabin, where I can offer some small refreshment
before your trip home. If you will come with me?"
Addington looked astonished. "Yourself, sir? Are you
not too busy?"
Pellew smiled slightly. "If I must oversee every facet
of my crew's work, sir, then I have not much of a crew
at all. And," he cleared his throat and inclined his
head slightly, his dark eyes flashing, "I fear I am
rather proud of my ship, and like nothing better than
showing her off. Though I must warn you -- she is not
exactly at her best just now. We took two French
prizes before returning, and were somewhat mauled in
the taking. I pray you will overlook the work going on
"Overlook it? Why, sir, I intend to study it with
shameless interest." Startlingly, he winked. "Have to
see how your Navy crews compare with mine, you know!"
Pellew laughed easily, liking the man all the more.
"Well, then, Sir Robert, I believe we shall provide
you with all the work you should care to see! Mr.
Archie never heard the captain, was much too intent
upon Lucy Addington, with whom he had been talking
"Mr. Kennedy!" Pellew shouted.
Archie jumped, then whirled about, blushing deeply.
"Y- yes, sir?"
Pellew sighed heavily, wondering if there were any
creature more dangerous to himself or his ship than a
young officer in the throes of his first love. "Will
you be so kind," he asked with forced patience, "to
precede us below and ensure the men are presentable?
Make certain they know ladies will be present."
Archie swallowed miserably and nodded, mortified by
his lapse before the captain and certain he would
remain an acting-lieutenant for the rest of his life.
"Of course, sir. I mean, aye aye, sir. Sir," he
Pellew sighed again and frowned to keep from smiling.
"I believe one ësir' is sufficient, Mr. Kennedy," he
said quietly. "Think you can find your way below
without aggravating your-- head wound?"
"Yes, sir," Archie answered firmly, bringing himself
rather desperately under control. "Is that all, sir?"
"I hope so, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew sighed. "I most
sincerely hope so!"