A Day (or So) in the Life
by Sue N.
**Chapter Nine: You Can Get More Things Done with a
Kind Word and a Gun...**
Indefatigable reeked of hot pitch, and the sound of
hammers rang throughout the ship as the men plugged
shot holes and caulked and pitched every open seam.
McCready and his crew worked feverishly to restore
every deck, every port, every bulkhead to their
fighting prime, and gave thanks all the while that the
old girl's bottom had come through unscathed.
On the main deck, Kennedy paced restlessly, clasping
and unclasping his hands every few steps, his face a
mask of impatience. McCready and his men had done a
marvelous job below; port and deck were good as new,
ready for the gaping hole between numbers three and
five to be filled. The forecastle, too, was ready. All
that was lacking were the replacement guns themselves.
Sighing sharply in exasperation, he cast a glance up
at the sky and scowled, shaking his head yet again.
There were, at most, two hours of decent light left...
"Deck, there!" called Midshipman Hardy from the
mizzentop. "Lighter approaching! Looks like she's
carrying our guns!"
Kennedy exhaled deeply and uttered a silent, fervent
prayer of thanks. He wanted this done!
"All right, men," he called to his waiting crew, "you
know what to do. Let's see if we can't get them in and
secured before sunset. Mr. Hardy!" he shouted up
through cupped hands. "Please be so good as to join
As he waited for Hardy, he turned and watched the
approach of the lighter, trying not to fidget. Little
realizing he was doing so, he began calculating the
weight of the guns, the distance they would have to be
hoisted, and the speed and direction of the wind. The
last thing he wanted to do was to drop a two-ton
cannon through McCready's new deck or send it smashing
into one of the masts.
Merciful God, his head and hand hurt...
The lighter drew up alongside, hailed the ship, and
was recognized, then was directed to where Kennedy
waited. Hardy materialized at the acting-lieutenant's
side, his eyes bright, his young face wreathed in a
huge smile. All day he had looked forward to helping
get the new guns in, and now, at last, the wondrous
moment had arrived.
"Is the tackle ready, Mr. Hardy?" Kennedy asked,
knowing instinctively that it would be. Matthews had
charge of the crew, and a more able seaman, he was
certain, had never sailed.
Hardy glanced over his shoulder, got the nod from
Matthews, and turned back to Kennedy. "Aye aye, sir!"
"All right, then," Archie sighed, "let's get this
done." He didn't like that gap in the line of guns,
didn't like seeing the Indy with so vulnerable a
quarter. It just wasn't natural. But now it would be
remedied. "Mr. Hardy, when the lighter is in position,
call out. Matthews," he turned to the waiting crew,
"when Mr. Hardy gives the word, lower away. And
remember," he smiled slightly, "no scratches on
McCready's lovely new deck."
Matthews grinned broadly. "Aye aye, sir. We'll be
gentle as lambs."
Archie stepped back, out of the way, and forced
himself not to interfere. Every instinct in him called
for him to push Hardy out of the way, to watch every
single action of every single man, to go down into the
lighter and attach that cable himself. But such, he
knew, was not an officer's job. He had good men; he
had to trust them. And, truth to tell, they would most
likely do a better job of it without his help.
Still, that gun was his responsibility...
Hardy gave the word, and it began. Archie swallowed
hard, instinctively tried to clasp his hands behind
his back and swore sharply as the gesture sent fresh
torrents of pain streaking through his broken one.
Bringing the hand carefully to his chest and cradling
it in his left, he unconsciously began counting the
seconds under his breath, while shifting his weight
from one foot to the other. Hardy was leaning far over
the side now, and still motioning down. Idly, Archie
wondered where his first responsibility would lie
should the boy fall overboard -- to drowning
midshipman or dangling cannon. He lost count of the
seconds, and had to start again.
"There!" Hardy shouted. "Avast lowering!" He dropped
to the deck and turned to Archie. "They're getting the
rig on her now, sir," he reported. "And a beauty she
is, too! Never seen a new one before. Can't wait to
see her in the line-- They've got her, sir," he
reported at the hail from the lighter. "Aye, sir,
Archie drew a deep breath, uttered a quick, silent
prayer, and turned to Matthews. "Get her up!
"All right, lads," Matthews called to the men at the
capstan, "you ëeard Mr. Kennedy -- HEAVE!"
With a hard, collective grunt torn from them by the
strain, the men threw their shoulders, their backs,
their legs, into it and forced the capstan to turn,
slowly lifting two tons of grudging iron from its rest
upon the lighter. Step by step they moved, with
Matthews' "heave!" ringing out at regular intervals,
driving the capstan by brute, determined force.
"Handsomely, handsomely!" Archie called. Please, God,
please, do not let her fall! Do not let the cable
break, do not let the wind shift, do not let the gun
shift, do not let the men fall--
"She's up!" Hardy cried joyously. "Aye, she's up, the
beauty! She--" He frowned slightly, his enthusiasm
dimming somewhat. "She's smaller than I expected--"
"What?" His resolve to remain stoically detached
shattered, Archie rushed forward and hoisted himself
upon the side of the ship, staring strickenly at the
rising gun. "What in God's name is THAT?"
Hardy looked at him as if he had lost his mind. "It's
a cannon, sir," he answered helpfully.
"Yes, I can SEE that!" Archie snarled. In a fury, he
dropped to the deck and spun about. "Avast hauling!"
he shouted harshly. "Lower her back into the lighter!"
Matthews blinked in confusion. "Lower-- But, sir--"
"You heard me, Matthews! Put her back down! NOW!"
"Aye aye, sir!" Matthews answered quickly. "You ëeard
ëim, lads -- down she goes!" These young officers were
sounding more and more like Captain Pellew every
As the bewildered men at the capstan reversed their
efforts, Archie climbed onto the gangway and stared
down at the equally confused crew of the lighter.
"You, there!" he shouted. "What is the meaning of
The seaman in charge looked up and scratched his
grizzled head. "Sir?"
"That gun!" Archie pointed an accusing finger
downward. "It is an eighteen-pounder!"
The man frowned more deeply still, puzzled by this
statement of the obvious. "Aye, sir, so she is."
"We requested a twenty-four!"
The man dropped his hand from his head and gazed down
at his mates in the lighter, then at the gun that had
been returned to them, and finally back up the young
officer glowering murderously down at him. "Don't know
nothin' about that, sir," he answered at last. "All's
I know is that Leftenant Powell at Ordnance told us to
bring ye this ëere gun. Said ye was a frigate, and
frigates get eighteens. Reckon ëe thought there'd been
Archie drew a deep breath and let it out slowly,
clenching his jaws and his hands -- even the broken
one. "There... was... no... mistake," he ground out
through gritted teeth as a flush rose in his face.
"Believe it or not, we KNOW the difference between an
eighteen and a twenty-four, and we would not have
REQUESTED a twenty-four had we MEANT eighteen! We want
-- no, we REQUIRE -- a twenty-four!"
"But, sir," the man frowned again, "ye're-- ye're a
"Yes, I know we're a bloody frigate!" Archie shouted
in vexation. "But we're a bloody frigate with bloody
The man sighed deeply, well familiar with the odd
thinking of officers. "Beggin' yer pardon, sir," he
said with as much gentleness as the distance would
allow, "but everybody in Ordnance knows frigates only
"Hell and damnation!" Archie swore, turning away from
the man and struggling to contain his temper. "Bloody
damned fool--" His seething gaze dropped to number
five, sheltered securely behind her closed port, her
long barrel plainly showing her to be a twenty-four--
"Matthews!" he called sharply.
Archie looked at him and smiled. "Take two gun crews
and run out numbers three and five."
Matthews froze in the act of saluting and stared in
shock at Kennedy. "What, sir?" he wheezed, certain his
hearing was going.
Kennedy drew himself up to his full height and settled
his most imposing stare upon the man. "You heard me,
Matthews," he said clearly, calmly. "Take two crews
and run out numbers three and five. They don't believe
we carry twenty-fours, and I will not argue the point
with them. It is said that seeing is believing. Well,"
he smiled again, "I want them to believe!"
Matthews grinned and saluted, having to admire the
young man's audacity. "Aye aye, sir! Come on, then,
lads, let's show 'em our teeth!"
In his cabin, Pellew glanced through the report of
repairs completed so far given him by his first. "Very
good, very good," he murmured. "I believe if we had
to, we could put out again today!"
"We could, sir," Bracegirdle agreed, "but I would not
recommend it." His blue eyes twinkled. "Not if we wish
to remain in our carpenter's good graces."
Pellew chuckled quietly. "He is rather exacting, isn't
he? Well, I should not w-- What the devil is that?" he
asked sharply, distracted by the distinctive scrape
and rumble that had been part of his life since
Bracegirdle, too, recognized the sound. "Guns, sir?"
he breathed incredulously.
Pellew scowled and flung the report onto his desk. "We
are at anchor in Spithead, Mr. Bracegirdle!" he hissed
between clenched teeth, hurriedly tugging on his
jacket. "Why the bloody hell are we running out guns
while at anchor in Spithead?"
As the crews each gave a final heave, the guns were
free of their blocks and rolled through the ports, two
wicked black barrels framing the lighter fore and aft.
In the boat, the crew stared up in open-mouth
astonishment, feeling more than a little uneasy at the
sight. Reason told them the frigate would not fire on
her own countrymen, but no man likes to stare into the
gaping muzzle of a death-belching gun.
"Well?" Archie called down. "Have I your attention,
"MISTER KENNEDY!" came the unmistakable bellow from
the deck behind him, badly startling him and very
nearly sending him over the side into the harbour.
"What is the meaning of this?"
Collecting his wits -- and his nerve -- with an
effort, Archie turned and watched Captain Pellew
striding briskly toward him, the dark eyes filled with
fire. However, refusing to be shaken, he jumped down
to the deck and waited with tightly held composure for
his captain to draw up before him.
Pellew stared at the guns, then at his
acting-lieutenant. "May I ask, sir, why we have run
out our guns at anchor?" he rasped.
"To make a point, sir," Archie answered, rather
surprised to realize he was not stammering.
"A point, sir?" Pellew hissed, stopping mere inches
from the young man and staring holes into him. "And
what point requires this?"
"Sir, Ordnance sent us an eighteen-pounder rather than
a twenty-four. These men," he gestured vaguely toward
the lighter below, "said their lieutenant considered
that we had made a mistake in our request, as we are a
frigate and frigates carry eighteens. They seemed not
to believe that we know the difference between the
two, and I was merely trying to prove that, indeed, we
The answer -- and its calm, assured delivery -- took
Pellew somewhat aback. Letting go his anger, he
studied Kennedy closely and saw the confidence in his
bearing. "I see," he said at last, his tone
thoughtful. "Rather a dramatic way to make a point,
don't you think?"
"I could see no other way, sir," Kennedy answered,
clinging firmly to his resolve. "Standing here and
arguing the point would have served no purpose except
to waste time. I could have accepted the smaller gun,
but," his gaze met his captain's unflinchingly, "I did
not think you would find that acceptable."
"Indeed not!" Pellew said tersely, torn between
irritation at Ordnance's blind stupidity and
admiration of his young officer's imaginative
response. "We require a twenty-four, and shall accept
nothing less." He arched a dark brow and lifted his
chin slightly. "And was your point taken, Mr.
"I-- cannot say, sir. You arrived before I could
"Did I? Well. Can't leave the job half-done, can we?"
He strode over to the side and stared down at the
lighter. "Well," he shouted in a voice accustomed to
making itself heard in a gale, "which is it -- an
eighteen or a twenty-four?"
The seaman swallowed, and swallowed again, looking
from cannon to captain and back to cannon, not certain
now which would be the more deadly. "Oy, sir," he
called weakly, "she-- she be a twenty-four, all
right." He swallowed yet again. "Ain't no mistakin'
"Then be so good as to take that damned eighteen back
and tell your lieutenant to send us what we need!"
Pellew roared. "I will not tolerate this! We are a
ship of war, damn it, and require a full complement of
guns! PROPER guns! And if your lieutenant still has
doubts as to what armament we carry, I shall gladly
run them ALL out for his benefit! Cast off that
tackle, there, and do not come back unless you've a
twenty-four with you!"
"Aye aye, sir," the man muttered, saluting with a
shaking hand. "Ah, sir, Cap'n, sir," he stammered,
"what-- what of-- this 'ere twelve, sir? Does she be
what ye're needin', sir?"
Pellew turned back to Kennedy, staring into the boyish
face before him. "Well, Mr. Kennedy?" he asked
quietly. "Does the twelve meet with your approval?"
Archie blinked, his resolve slipping for a moment. "My
Pellew smiled slightly, and again arched that
expressive brow. "Yes, Mr. Kennedy, your approval. You
are the officer in charge here; the guns are your
responsibility. I would not dare intrude upon your
Archie was flabbergasted by the level of trust
implicit in that statement, and very nearly reeled
before it. But he was determined not to disappoint
that trust, and to prove himself worthy of it.
Gathering his wits quickly, he turned and went back to
the side, staring over and studying the gun intently.
She was in every way a beauty.
"She will do, sir," he said at last, turning back to
his captain. "She will do nicely, I think."
Pellew stared at him a moment longer, then smiled
slightly and nodded. "Then, by all means, Mr. Kennedy,
carry on." As the young man saluted, Pellew returned
it easily, then turned and walked away.
Startled by the amusement he had glimpsed in his
captain's face -- and the approval he had heard in his
voice -- Kennedy turned slowly, rather dazedly, back
to Matthews, who was smiling broadly at him. "You
heard him, Matthews," he said quietly. "Letës get that
gun in. And bring in three and five," he added. "I
believe we made our point."
"Aye, sir, that we did," Matthews answered. "To
Night had fallen, and, with it, work on Indefatigable
had ceased, bringing a welcome stillness and quiet to
the ship. The watch had retired, and, exhausted by
their hard labours, the crew had quickly fallen into
deep sleep. The only sounds to be heard now were the
creaking of timbers, the gentle lap of water against
the hull, the constant humming of the rigging, and the
clear ringing of the ship's bell every half hour.
Lulled by the familiar music of a ship at rest, Mr.
Bracegirdle made one final pass through her, as was
his habit before turning in. It was not that he
expected to find anything amiss; it was simply his way
of reassuring himself that all was well, and thus
discharging his responsibility to the captain.
At last, content that all was as it should be, he
started back toward the officers' quarters, determined
to turn in himself. Yet as he came to the wardroom, he
stopped, startled to see a single figure seated at the
table, with books, papers and journals spread about
him. The lamp had been pulled close to spill its light
over the litter of pages, and the young man sat
hunched over, his fair head bent, his bandaged hand
laying useless across one page while, with his left,
he scrawled awkwardly into his notebook. Bracegirdle
smiled slightly, recognizing the signs of a young
would-be officer torturing himself with preparations
for a looming examination. It was a sight he had seen
repeated on every ship in which he had served, and
doubtless would see until his career came to its end.
And always it filled him with amusement, and sympathy.
How many young men had turned themselves inside out,
denying themselves hours of much-needed sleep and
reducing themselves to frazzled wrecks all in pursuit
of a commission?
As he watched, the pencil slipped from between
Kennedy's fingers to the table, and the young man's
blond head drooped, his shoulders slumping. But with a
jerk, he roused himself, lifting his head sharply and
forcing his eyes open. In that moment, he saw
"Sir!" he called in surprise, starting to rise to his
"At your ease, Mr. Kennedy," Bracegirdle ordered
affably, going to the table and settling himself onto
the bench across from Kennedy. "Shouldn't you be
Archie grimaced and dropped his gaze to the table.
Sleep did not come easily to him, and was not always
welcome when it did. The nightmares were still too
frequent, still too ready to bring the horrors of his
past to hideous, lurid life. But he had found that by
working himself into utter exhaustion, he could often
forestall the terrors of the night. But none of this
could he explain to his superior. Only to Horatio
could he be so honest.
A shrewd wit, however, lay behind Bracegirdle's placid
demeanor, and he had long ago discerned the reason
behind Kennedy's actions. Though he had never spoken
of them, he knew of the fits that had plagued the
young man all his life, and, having long experience in
ships, could guess what torments he had faced in
Justinian and that still haunted him in his dreams.
Yet he had also come to an appreciation of Kennedy's
qualities and abilities, and, like Pellew, would not
hold the past against a young man in the face of such
He nodded toward Kennedy's bandaged hand. "How is it?"
Archie shrugged slightly. "Not so bad, now. It was
throbbing terribly at supper, and Horatio had me get a
few drops of laudanum from Dr. Hepplewhite. It eased
the pain, but--" He grimaced and stared down at his
books. "It has made it damned difficult to
concentrate!" He sighed and shook his head. "And
writing is almost impossible. I am simply no good with
my left hand!"
Bracegirdle chuckled quietly. "Good thing for you the
examination is an oral one, then. But I would not
advise laudanum before it." He folded his arms and
rested them upon the table, leaning forward and
studying the young man with an amiable candour. "God
bless me," he said, "I believe you are even more
anxious about it than was Mr. Hornblower!"
"I cannot help it," Archie sighed, his blue eyes
almost black with worry and fatigue. "I have always
known it must come, but-- It all seems so sudden! And
I feel so-- afraid."
"Of what?" Bracegirdle asked quietly, not prying, but
genuinely interested. And concerned.
"Of failing," Archie breathed miserably, too ashamed
to meet the older man's kind gaze. "Of disappointing
the captain-- He has shown such faith in me, has given
me chances when any other captain would simply have
written me off as a loss--"
"Captain Pellew does not believe in throwing away good
men," Bracegirdle said gently. "He does not hold a
man's past against him, and does not judge a man by
any standards but his own. On the other hand, he does
not waste effort on a man he considers unworthy of it.
He would never have given you those chances, Archie,
if he did not truly believe you merited them."
At the sound of his first name, Archie lifted his head
and stared at the first lieutenant, feeling more than
ever the effects of the laudanum, but fighting against
them. "You-- you think so?" he asked softly.
"No," Bracegirdle said. "I know so." He sighed and sat
back, unfolding his arms and clasping his hands. "You
have had difficulties, there is no denying that. And
those difficulties -- let us be honest -- would have
crushed many man far older than you. I have known men
who returned from imprisonment scarred and broken and
utterly unable to return to any sort of normal life.
Or who were able to make a life only away from the
Navy. But look at you. You were the first to volunteer
to go back with Mr. Hornblower, when by all rights you
should have fought to stay with us. And ever since
then, you have shown sure signs of growth as an
officer, and as a man. Look what you have done with
the guns! You have a talent for it, anyone can see it.
Or do you think the captain would put just anyone in
charge of them?" He smiled slightly. "He is, I
believe, quite selective in whom he chooses for such
Again, Archie's drugged gaze slid to the tabletop. His
hand no longer hurt, but -- like every part of his
body -- felt heavy as lead. "That is what Horatio
said," he murmured, his voice beginning to slur.
"Ah, yes, Mr. Hornblower," Bracegirdle said softly,
watching as the inevitable sleep stole slowly upon the
young man. "He casts rather a long shadow, doesn't
Archie looked up sharply at that, blinking owlishly.
Bracegirdle smiled slightly. "That is part of it,
isn't it?" he surmised. "He is a brilliant young man;
everything seems to come so easily to him. Even when
he seems to fail, he manages to turn it to triumph.
For those of us who must often struggle against
circumstance, or against ourselves, it can be
difficult to exist in the shadow of unflagging
perfection. It can make us doubt ourselves all the
more, don't you think?"
Archie continued to stare at Bracegirdle, startled to
have feelings he had barely understood put so
succinctly into words. "But-- he is my best friend,"
he whispered. "He has done so much to help me--"
"And that can make it all the worse, can't it?"
Bracegirdle asked gently. "When measured against the
standard of perfection, we must inevitably appear
failures, no? Who among us can ever hope to be as good
as, much less better than, a Hornblower? Or a Pellew?
We are doomed from the start, if we try."
Archie swallowed, trying to understand. "But-- if they
are the standards--"
"Whose standards, Archie?" Bracegirdle asked softly.
"The Navy's? Hardly! You know as well as I how rare
such men are in the Navy. If the Admiralty demanded
perfection from every officer, then I dare say we
should have no more than a handful of ships at sea.
Their own standards, then? Yes, I dare say the captain
and Mr. Hornblower hold themselves to a rigid standard
of perfection. And fall sadly short, if only in their
own eyes. Surely you must know how Horatio doubts
himself. Would you be surprised if I told you Captain
Pellew is prey to the same doubts?"
The shock of that drove back the encroaching numbness
of the laudanum and sent a hard jolt through Archie.
"The captain?" he gasped. "But that-- that is--
"Why? He is a man, is he not? And so is subject to a
man's hopes and fears. Do not mislead yourself, Archie
-- any man who does not at some time doubt or question
himself is no man to follow. He is a calamity waiting
to befall those about or under him. Doubts and
questions are not a sign of weakness. Indeed, they may
be the greatest sign of strength I know. The challenge
is to master those doubts, to answer them, to admit
mistakes and learn from them, and all without being
crippled by them. To doubt is normal, and good. But to
be consumed by doubt, and to let the doubt master you,
is where disaster lies. It is the chasm in which we
Archie leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table
and cradling his head in his good hand, his mind
growing increasingly sluggish. "I don't think I
"No," Bracegirdle chuckled, "not with the laudanum in
you! But," he captured the young man's wide, unfocused
gaze with his and held it, "I want you to listen to me
now, and understand this if nothing else. You cannot
judge yourself by Horatio's standards, or the
captain's, or your father's, or anyone else's. You
must be the standard by which you measure yourself; no
other will suffice. You cannot be another Horatio
Hornblower any more than he can be another Archie
Kennedy. You can only be yourself. And, believe me,
lad, that is all anyone is asking of you. Perhaps it
is time you asked the same. I think you will find it
is more than enough."
Archie blinked slowly, his eyelids almost refusing to
rise. "And-- the examination?"
Bracegirdle smiled and shrugged. "If you fail it this
time, you will certainly not be the first ever to have
done so. And, should you pass," he winked, "then you
will have done more than your best friend, brilliant
officer that he is, managed to do. Either way, you
shall be in very good company." He watched Archie's
eyelids sink again, and chuckled. "Off to bed with
you, Mr. Kennedy. You'll learn nothing from these
books by falling asleep atop them!"