Pellew's Dilemma
by Karin

Pellew's Dilemma
Commodore Sir Edward Pellew stood on the quarterdeck of HMS Impetueux while she was setting anchor in Kingston harbour. With the lessening of the wind the fierce Caribbean sun was already becoming uncomfortably hot. The heavy woollen coats of British naval uniforms were not made for this sort of climate. His gig was being readied to bring him ashore where he would have to report to the Admiral. Well, it had been a good campaign, the Impetueux and the smaller ships in his squadron ­ two frigates and a sloop ­ had again been successful in their mission to harass French and Spanish trade with their colonies. Three prize vessels had been sent to Kingston earlier, their prize crews should be waiting here to rejoin their respective ships. Yes, Pellew could be well satisfied with the achievements of the last few weeks.

Pellew scanned the ships lying at anchor in the port of Kingston. Apart from smaller vessels there were three ships of the line. He recognized Albion and scowled. This might mean that he would have to meet with her captain, and he had no friendly feelings for Hammond. He was a self-important fool, often unjust with those under his command, the sort that maintained control by terror. The sort Pellew despised. Then there was Superb whose captain, Collins, he had never met. He had a reputation of being a solid officer, though not overly brilliant.

He started when he recognized the third ship of the line, the Renown. He had not expected to find her here, she must have arrived in the West Indies during his absence. He had no acquaintance with Sawyer, her captain, though he knew him by reputation of course. But he did know two of Renown's lieutenants well. Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy had served with him on Indefatigable not so long ago, and indeed he had been sorry to lose them. But when Indefatigable had been paid out and he had been given command of the Impetueux he had been forced to take over her officers and had not been allowed to take any of his former staff with him. At least he had managed to have the two friends transferred together. And he had felt that to serve under such a distinguished captain as Sawyer, and on a ship of the line ­ Indefatigable had been a mere frigate, of course ­ could only help their careers.

They were both good officers, but Hornblower was something more. He had seen it in him early on, that natural ability to lead, that intelligence paired with imagination that made him come up with unusual plans that were at the same time thoroughly thought through. Yes, Hornblower would go far in the service, he was convinced of that. He had felt his loss keenly after his transfer to Renown, not only on a professional level. For though he would rarely admit it even to himself, he had been fond of the boy too. Well, he was not a boy anymore, must be about twenty five now. A grown man, probably ready for his own command. Perhaps it might be possible to meet him and Kennedy while their ships were both in port. He had not seen them since their transfer and he would be interested to hear about their adventures aboard Renown.

***

Admiral Sir Richard Lambert looked up from his desk as soon as Pellew was ushered into his office. "Ah, Commodore, I'm glad to see you back here in Kingston, and not a moment to soon, I might add."

The admiral seemed unusually friendly. And what did he mean by this last remark? Well, he would learn soon enough, he supposed. Pellew held out the reports of his latest campaign and the admiral took them, motioning him to a chair across from his desk. "I shall take the time to study your written reports in detail later, for now just give me a short account of the success of your mission."

Pellew briefly summarized their actions of the past weeks while Sir Richard kept nodding contently. "Excellent, Sir Edward, excellent. Though I had never doubted the outcome, of course." He paused. "I'm afraid your next mission might not be as pleasant. Your services will be required at a court-martial ­ in fact, since you are the senior captain in the panel, you will be presiding."

"A court-martial, Sir? On what charges?" Having just arrived in port after several weeks' absence, Pellew had not yet been reached by the gossip prevailing all over Kingston.

"Mutiny." Pellew felt his heart sink. A court-martial was an unpleasant affair under any circumstances. But if the charge was mutiny, then the expected outcome would be a verdict of guilty which would mean the noose for those accused. And it would be his distasteful duty to hand the verdict down and order the punishment.

He pressed on. "On what ship did this mutiny occur, Sir?"

"On Renown. She came into port two days ago ­ you might have seen her on your arrival."

My God. Renown. Hornblower. Pellew felt cold fear gripping his heart but he forced himself to remain calm when he asked his next question: "Were any lives lost in the event, Sir?" He held his breath while he waited for the admiral to answer.

"Captain Sawyer was killed during an attempt of Spanish prisoners to take over Renown. But this was not a direct result of the mutiny."

Pellew was confused. Spanish prisoners? But he had no time for that now while there was a much more pressing question on his mind: "What about the officers, Sir? Were any of them killed by the mutineers?"

Lambert looked at him with a strange expression. "It is the officers of HMS Renown that are charged with mutiny, Sir Edward."

Pellew felt as if he had been hit by a mast. Hornblower ­ and Kennedy ­ mutineers? It was impossible! And he of all the captains in the Navy had been chosen to preside over their court-martial, he would be the one to pass sentence on them and he would be forced to see them hang! The thought went through his mind like a flash and made him shudder. He was too stunned to speak and only dimly heard Lambert continuing.

"There are four officers so charged: Lieutenants Buckland, Bush, Hornblower, and Kennedy. Bush and Kennedy were wounded in the skirmish with the Spanish prisoners, so they will not be able to appear in court in person. Bush is on the mend according to the doctor's report, but Kennedy ­ well, it seems unlikely that Mr. Kennedy will recover, from what I understand. Which leaves Mr. Buckland and Mr. Hornblower to appear in court for questioning."

What was he saying there? Kennedy dying? Pellew tried hard to clear his mind and focus on the matter at hand. "What are the exact charges, Sir?"

"To have forcibly removed Captain Sawyer from his lawful command. Apparently they had him declared unfit for command and detained in his cabin. It was there that the Spanish later found him and shot him." Lambert pushed a stack of papers across the desk towards Pellew. "These are the official reports. I suggest you take them with you and study them. Hammond and Collins, who will serve on the panel with you, have already had a chance to do so."

Hammond! Pellew had not expected that anything could make him feel any worse than he already did, but the mention of this name sent a shiver down his spine. Hammond had a reputation as a harsh, resentful man, a man without pity. He would not look kindly on officers accused of mutiny, no matter what the circumstances. And he certainly would not look kindly on Hornblower... What was Lambert saying?

"You will meet with them first thing tomorrow morning to make arrangements on how best to proceed. The trial is set to begin at ten o'clock, if you have no objections."

What objection could one possibly have against an admiral's order? "Aye, aye, Sir," Pellew said, gathering the papers and rising from his chair. Lambert also rose and moved around the desk, standing in front of Pellew and facing him closely.

"I do not have to tell you, Commodore, that this is a very bad business. Any case of mutiny attracts much public attention, but in this instance ... Captain Sawyer was a national hero and His Majesty's Navy cannot afford to have his reputation tainted. I expect you ­ and indeed I'm sure admiralty in London expects you to conduct this court-martial with the utmost strictness. I trust you understand your duty in this matter, Commodore."

So he was as good as ordering him to reach a verdict of guilty. A neat outcome, an easy solution that would set the admirals at peace. Well, Pellew thought, if he expects me to just meekly follow the wishes of the admiralty then he might find himself in for a surprise. No, Pellew would never judge any man unjustly just because it would look better for the Navy. And in this instance, with Hornblower's life on the line... "I will endeavour to do my duty in this matter as I always have in any other task, Sir," he said evenly, hoping that his voice would not betray his real meaning.

***

Sir Edward was sitting at the desk in his cabin aboard Impetueux, staring with unseeing eyes at the reports spread out in front of him. He was deep in thought. The perusal of the official reports on what had happened aboard Renown had served to lift his anxiety a little. The situation appeared to be not entirely hopeless. The way events were represented it seemed to him that the four officers had not acted selfishly but with the best interest of the ship at heart. Their actions might be unusual but he thought a case could be made that they had been justified.

But then of course official reports never told the whole story. He had written far to many of them himself not to be very aware of that. There was one point especially that puzzled him. According to the report Dr. Clive had declared Captain Sawyer unfit for command. A ship's surgeon had the authority to do that and there was certainly no mutiny involved in such a step. A court of inquiry would have sufficed to deal with the events. But Admiral Lambert had ordered a court-martial and there must be a reason for this.

If Clive stood by his decision to detain the Captain, then the trial would be over before it had begun. And Lambert knew that. Of course it would not be the outcome he wished. Sawyer's name would be tainted and that must not happen. Much better to have four lieutenants hanging for mutiny! Lambert must have reasons to believe that Clive might go back on his opinion. It was perfectly possible that he had spoken to the doctor. Could it be that he had put some gentle pressure on him? The thought worried him.

If Clive were to step back on his decision, if he were to claim that he had been forced to declare the Captain unfit, forced by the lieutenants ­ then the situation would be serious indeed. There was no doubt in Pellew's mind that Captain Sawyer HAD been unfit for command. No sane captain would have manoeuvred his ship into such a hopeless situation as Renown had been in at Samana Bay ­ and then done nothing to get her out of it again! But it was not his opinion that mattered. And it was not a lieutenant's place to detain a captain, it would be an usurpation of power ­ yes, technically it would be mutiny. The articles of war left no room for doubt in such a matter.

So if this were to be the situation and if he followed the letter of the law, then he would have to condemn those men. He felt his stomach tighten at the thought and quickly got up from his desk, starting to pace. He wanted so badly to save them. As president of the court-martial his power was considerable, though not unlimited. He could certainly try to influence the outcome ­ after all, was that not exactly what Lambert had asked of him? Only he had had a different outcome in mind. But could he really use his influence to bend the law? No. His conscience would never allow him to let his personal feelings interfere with justice.

For that was the problem. He wanted to save Hornblower not just because he believed him to be a brilliant officer with a bright future who would do great deeds for the Navy in years to come. He wanted to save him because he was dear to him. He could not bear the thought of having to order him hanged, having to watch him die. Pellew stopped pacing and stared out of the stern windows, looking at the star-lit sky. That was his dilemma. He was torn between his duty to see justice done and his desire to find a way out of this miserable situation that would see Hornblower safe.

Pellew would have liked to convince himself that Hornblower would never commit any act that could be considered mutinous. But though he was certain that he would never usurp power just for its own sake he could not be so sure that he would not do so for a higher cause, for the good of the ship and her men. He remembered another situation, many years ago, when Hornblower had in fact stood up against an officer senior to himself. When he had had Simpson put in irons and taken command of the Papillon. In the event, his actions had saved the Indefatigable. But it had been his word against Simpson's, for nobody had seen Simpson shoot and thus Hornblower had had no proof. If Simpson had brought charges against him things could have gone very badly. Of course Simpson had been far to stupid to realize that and his challenge had provided a welcome way out of a potentially disastrous constellation.

If such a situation were to arise again, if the safety of the ship were at stake, then Pellew could well imagine Hornblower to take a course of action that would ill bear close scrutiny by somebody not familiar with the circumstances. And there would be no easy way out this time. The charges were made and the trial would take place, there was nothing he could do to stop that.

But there was one thing he could do, at least: he could try to understand those circumstances. So much was left unspoken in the official reports. The events leading up to the Captain's final detention were hardly touched upon. How could such a dramatic situation ever have arisen? What had happened during the voyage from England to Samana Bay? He needed answers and he knew where he would get them.

The sudden resolve helped him to feel a little calmer. He would see Hornblower early tomorrow, before he met with Collins and Hammond and he would have him tell the whole story. He knew him to be an honest man and he was confident that Hornblower would trust him. He would tell him the truth, even if it should be damaging to his case. Perhaps then Pellew would find a way to achieve both his goals: have justice prevail AND see Hornblower cleared of those charges.

***

The air inside the prison was hot and stuffy. Sir Edward Pellew was already sweating in his full dress uniform. He had even put on his ribbon and star today, something he only did on very rare occasions. But a court-martial certainly justified wearing any decorations one might have to display. The corridor was only dimly lit by the lantern carried by the marine who was leading the way. There was some light coming from a cell at the end of the corridor and he could see a shadowy figure leaning against the window. He recognized the silhouette: Hornblower. He was looking out ­ towards the sea, towards the ships at anchor in the harbour, perhaps wondering if he would ever set foot on one again. He was turning at the approaching footsteps now.

The marine unlocked the door. "Sir Edward Pellew 'imself to see you, Sir." He moved over to let the commodore enter. Pellew glanced briefly at Hornblower, then he said to the marine: "Very well, you can leave us."

"Your Honour, I shall have to lock you in."

"Then do it!" At these last words, spoken with much vehemence, the marine quickly got out of the cell, leaving his lantern, and locked the door behind him.

When he had left Pellew turned to the door, not facing Hornblower. He dared not meet his eye for fear that he might betray his feelings. Softly he began: "That it should come to this. You of all people..." He stopped, words abandoning him.

"It's good of you to come and see me, Sir." How on earth could Hornblower be so calm? Did he not know why he was here in this cell? That his life was on the line? Against his will Pellew felt anger rising in his breast. At least this enabled him to finally face Hornblower.

"This is no social call, man!" he exclaimed, his anxiety causing him to be a bit more forceful than he had intended. "Good God, Sir! In a few hours you'll be on trial for your life." And he decided to be absolutely blunt. "And unless there are extenuating circumstances, you'll hang ­ hang in front of the entire squadron."

And again Hornblower answered him in this totally calm, confident voice: "I believe it was our duty to restore order and discipline aboard ship, Sir."

With a few quick steps Pellew was standing in front of him, facing him closely. "Order and discipline! Black bloody mutiny, Sir!" he spat out. He paused briefly. Hornblower was looking past him, not meeting his eyes. "That's what the charge is!" As if that were not enough in itself! But he must make him aware of just how serious the situation was. "And against a captain who was a hero of the Nile and the battle of Cape St. Vincent ­ one of Nelson's own. Dear God!" With those last words he closed his eyes and looked away, despair almost overpowering him.

Slowly Hornblower turned his eyes to him. His voice had lost some of its calm. "It was for the good of the service, Sir. Hero or not, we were headed for disaster."

And finally he began his tale. Pellew never interrupted him. At one stage he moved over to the tiny window in the vain hope of some relief from the infernal heat in the prison cell. He took out his handkerchief and repeatedly dabbed at the beads of sweat that were forming on his forehead.

It was a depressing story and the more Pellew heard the more the sadness grew in his heart. The situation those officers had found themselves in was one that should never have arisen. Sawyer had not just been a cruel captain ordering unjust punishment ­ God knew there were enough of those in this Navy! Sawyer had taken his wrath out on the officers only, and most specifically on Hornblower. In fact, he had even been lax with the men, to the point of ill discipline and insubordination. Pellew could well imagine how frustrating that must have been for the lieutenants.

The only exception had been the incident during that storm when his senseless order had caused one of the men to fall to his death. But then again it had been one of Hornblower's men, so he had been the true target. And it was probably the same with Wellard: Sawyer had come down on him because he was Hornblower's protégé. And he himself ordered on continuous watch! It was not only an inhuman punishment, it was also as good as a death sentence. Who could possibly stay awake for such a long time?

But why? It almost seemed as if Sawyer had regarded Hornblower as a threat and had been trying to keep him under control. But Pellew knew his former officer to be an utterly loyal man, one any captain should be glad to have under his command. And Sawyer had a reputation as a brilliant leader, by rights the two of them should have formed an ideal combination! Certainly that was what Pellew had had in mind when he had arranged Hornblower's transfer to Renown ­ and none of this hell he was hearing about now!

It seemed evident to Pellew that Sawyer must have been mentally unstable long before that fall into the hold. He had offered Hornblower his pistol to shoot him, for God's sake! Was that something any sane man would do? Yes, Pellew became more and more convinced that Sawyer had indeed been unfit for command. And Dr. Clive should have declared him so much earlier. But from what he could gather from Hornblower's tale Clive was not a man of decisive action and he had probably been afraid of the consequences of such a step. To declare a naval hero unfit for command would take more courage than Clive seemed to possess.

So it all came down to the Captain's fall into the hold. A very convenient occurrence. It could provide a way out, Pellew could see that. If Sawyer had been unfit as a result of that fall, then his good name could still be preserved. A lamentable accident, a captain injured, the First Lieutenant taking command ­ a natural and not unheard-of chain of events. Yes, a very convenient occurrence. Too convenient, in fact, not to rouse suspicion.

But what really frightened Pellew was what had brought the Captain down to the lower gun deck in the first place: the meeting of the four lieutenants. What Hornblower had described was a mutinous assembly, there was no way around it. And the Articles of War were perfectly clear about the punishment for holding a mutinous assembly. Perhaps in this instance it had been the only course open to them and perhaps they had been right to discuss their options. But the fact remained. If this should come out during the trial, if the question was ever asked what the Captain had been doing on the lower deck in the middle of the night then Pellew knew he would have no choice but to condemn all of them. He prayed to God that this was a matter that would never be brought up.

The actual act of pronouncing Sawyer unfit for command on the other hand, that seemed entirely justifiable in Pellew's eyes. It had been an emergency measure, they had been in a desperate situation and this step had been the only option to save the ship. They would all have died or been captured had they left things in Sawyer's hands.

Hornblower paused and there was silence. He was standing at the door of the prison cell, perhaps hoping for some air to come in through the corridor.

"And so the ship was saved," Pellew said eventually.

"Yes, Sir."

Pellew had to be sure about one point: "It was Dr. Clive's opinion that Captain Sawyer was unfit to command?"

"Reluctantly, yes, that was his opinion." With that Hornblower turned to face Pellew for the first time since he had begun his tale.

"Well, that's something at least. But you do realize, Sir, it's your word against his." After what he had just heard Pellew was now fairly convinced that Clive would not stand by his decision. If it had not been his own decision to protect Sawyer's name then surely Lambert could easily have persuaded him to do so. And knowing Lambert, Pellew was certain that this was exactly what he would have done.

"It was for the good of the service, Sir. And for the safety of the ship."

He was still so young and so naïve! Pellew did not doubt his sincerity, in fact he never had. But Hornblower seemed unaware that the best of actions could be found fault with by those unfamiliar with the circumstances ­ or by those determined to find fault. "By God, Mr. Hornblower, I hope you can back that up with solid evidence, because from where I'm standing I wouldn't lay great odds on an acquittal," he could not help saying.

"No, Sir," Hornblower replied with a sigh. "I'm afraid you're right." So at least behind that calm demeanour he did realize the seriousness of the situation.

But there was one more question that needed to be dealt with. "So you say Captain Sawyer's condition was due to falling down the hatchway?"

"That's what seemed to push him over the edge, Sir."

For a second Pellew thought he had misheard. With a few steps he strode over and faced Hornblower closely. "That's a very interesting choice of words, Mr. Hornblower!" And he had to know then. "How did the Captain come to fall?"

Hornblower never wavered and looked him straight in the eyes. "He must have overbalanced, Sir."

Overbalanced, yes. Easily done on a moving ship. He studied Hornblower closely. And he could see something in his eyes that disturbed him. He was convinced that Hornblower would not lie to him. But he was not telling the whole truth either; there was more to it. Pellew hesitated. He was not at all sure if he wanted to know this. But he had come too far already. Finally he spoke again, softly this time, looking his protégé straight in the eyes: "Was that all that was to it, Sir?"

For a moment Hornblower held his gaze. Then he abruptly turned and rested his face in his hands. His voice was very low when he finally spoke. "Captain Sawyer was stepping backwards towards the open hatchway. He had pistols in both his hands and was pointing them at Archie ­ Mr. Kennedy, who was slowly approaching him, trying to calm him. I was behind him, right next to the hatchway, hidden in the dark. I realized that he was coming dangerously close to the opening ­ and suddenly I saw a solution there, a solution to all our problems." Pellew felt a sudden chill going down his spine.

"All I had to do is let him fall. There was also the consideration that if I shouted a warning I might frighten him and he might shoot Mr. Kennedy. But the truth is I wanted him to fall, Sir. He tripped over the edge of the hatchway, and I, I ­ I guess my conscience suddenly stirred and I did try to catch him ­ but it was too late, I was too slow". He turned his head slowly to finally look at Pellew. "I did not push him, Sir. But I could have prevented his fall and I deliberately did not. I am responsible for his accident, Sir."

Pellew had never taken his eyes from him. He exhaled ­ he had not even realized he had been holding his breath. For a tense moment he looked at this young man who was so dear to him, his fierce brown eyes penetrating him. His words eventually were terse: "Mr. Hornblower, I would advise you not to take on responsibility that is not yours. It is a dangerous habit, especially where a court-martial is involved."

"Yes, Sir, I understand, Sir." Pellew hoped to God that he really did understand. He would have liked to say more, would have liked to warn him, but there was no way he could advise him as to his testimony at trial. That was out of the question. He had gone quite far enough as it was.

They suddenly heard steps in the distance and Pellew assumed it to be the marine he had asked to come back for him at this hour. It was time to meet with his brother captains who would serve with him on the panel.

***

On his way over to the main building of Government House Pellew tried to process what he had just learnt. The interview with Hornblower had not done much to dispel his worries. On the contrary, a few new ones had been added when he had been told about the meeting in the hold and the circumstances of the Captain's fall. That was dangerous ground and he would have to do everything in his power to steer clear of it. A ray of hope was the fact that the court's primary task was to inquire into Captain Sawyer's being declared unfit and removed from his command, not into the reasons as to why he had been unfit. So the circumstances of the accident itself must not necessarily become a matter of investigation. And they would not if he could help it.

As to Sawyers removal from power he was more than ever convinced that it had been the only option in the circumstances, and he felt cautiously optimistic that others would see it the same way. The situation in Samana Bay had been desperate, that much was certain. So perhaps even if Clive did not stand by his decision a sympathetic panel of judges would still maintain that the officers had acted correctly. But there was the catch. At least one member of the panel would NOT be sympathetic at all. Hammond.

He had been on the exam board when Hornblower had taken his lieutenant's exam, all those years ago in Gibraltar. Pellew had heard the story from Captain Harvey, who had also been on the board. It had been Hammond who had turned a not exactly easy question from Foster into one virtually impossible to answer. He had declared him dismasted with Dover Cliffs under his lee ­ what was this supposed to be, a test of faith? For the life of him Pellew could not see what anybody could do in such a situation except make peace with his Maker!

And then the fire ship. After Hornblower and Foster had steered the burning ship clear they had been picked out of the water by Hammond ­ not fast enough for Foster's taste. Foster had challenged Hammond to a duel in which Hammond had been seriously wounded, though he had recovered eventually. But it had damaged his career: admirals did not look kindly on captains who rendered themselves unfit for duty for months at a time! Hammond had never stopped resenting Foster for that challenge (the idea that he himself could share any blame in the matter had probably never entered his head) and he resented Hornblower by implication because the latter had been responsible for bringing the whole situation about by his suggestion that they board the fire ship. No, Hammond would not be prepared to make any concessions to Hornblower. On the contrary.

***

When Pellew entered the small but elegant room they had been appointed for their meeting he found Hammond and Collins already there.

After formal greetings Collins observed: "A black day for us all. Particularly for the officers of the Renown." Pellew could not have agreed more but gave no answer. Instead, Hammond chimed in: "Not to mention Captain Sawyer!" Taking sides already, Pellew thought.

Hammond's next remark was aimed at Pellew: "Hardly the circumstances either of us would have chosen to reacquaint ourselves on Mr. Hornblower."

Pellew groaned inwardly. Hammond was not going to make this easy. But he was right, after all, so he forced himself to say: "No, they're not." In a tone of voice that he hoped would not invite any further uncalled-for statements.

But Hammond was not finished yet. "Still, the guilty must be punished."

Pellew would have liked nothing better than to just ignore the man, but this he could not let stand. "If indeed they are guilty, Captain Hammond, which is yet to be established," he said firmly. "Gentlemen, time is upon us. I suggest we get to work."

***

Pellew heard the firing of the gun that marked the beginning of the court-martial. It had a ring of finality to it: procedures had been set in motion now and could not be stopped. A moment later they entered the courtroom and everybody present rose. There was a fair crowd of spectators, Pellew noticed while they walked to the front of the room. He briefly locked eyes with Hornblower. He was glad to see him looking calm and confident. The man in a lieutenant's uniform next to him must be Buckland. Pellew also recognized Matthews and Styles far back in the room. He was not surprised to see them here: they were Hornblower's most loyal men. Naturally they would want to be present for this.

Pellew used his gavel: "This court is now in session." He then sat down, putting his gold-laced hat beneath the table. His brother captains followed suit, Hammond to his right, Collins to his left. Finally he read the formal charges: "Officers of HSM Renown, it is charged that you did forcibly remove Captain James Sawyer from his lawful command and in breech of the Articles of War laid down by King George II did commit the act of mutiny." Strange how easily the word came over his lips!

It was Dr. Clive who was called as the first witness. On his testimony much if not all depended. Pellew had agreed with Collins and Hammond that their first objective must be to investigate the circumstances of Captain Sawyer's detention. Their next step would be to inquire into the events that had followed, into the conduct of the lieutenants during the time for which Buckland had been in command. Pellew was hoping that this way they could neatly avoid any questions pertaining to Sawyer's accident.

They started by questioning the doctor about the Captain's condition during the voyage from England, the injuries sustained as a result of his fall into the hold and then finally about the circumstances that had led to his being detained. Clive was continually prevaricating, trying very eloquently not to say anything. The man should have been a politician!

Finally, Pellew's impatience got the better of him and he asked him directly: "Was the Captain well or no?"

"Yes, Sir."

Lord, give me patience! "Which?"

"He was indisposed, Sir. Temporarily. After his fall into the hold."

Pellew tried to pin him down: "Unfit to command."

"A bold choice of words," Hammond interjected. Bold? Either he had been unfit or not, and they might as soon call things by their names!

But Clive, seemingly grateful to Hammond, readily fell in: "Aye, Sir. And if I may say so, not worth a farthing."

Pellew turned to Hammond in time to hear him muttering: "Really?"

And Clive went on: "My consent was given only under duress, Sir."

Not that Pellew had really expected anything else, but it still came as something of a shock. There would be no fast conclusion to this trial then. He caught Buckland out of the corner of his eyes, growing pale. The room was very silent for a moment and thus he could just about hear what Buckland was whispering to nobody in particular: "O my God, he's killed us all." Pellew only hoped that he would not be proved right.

Hammond took up Clive's statement: "What do you mean be duress? Someone forced you?"

When there was no immediate answer, Collins, who seemed to have a penchant for drastic expressions, fell in: "What did they do, put a gun to your head?"

Pellew winced imperceptibly. He knew very well who had put a gun to whose head, but of course he could not bring that up. "Come on, man, did they or did they not?" he asked impatiently when Clive still would not answer.

Finally the surgeon was forced to say something. "Not a gun, as such. We were under fire, Sir, and in the heat of battle... "

"... the decision was taken to detain the Captain," Pellew finished the sentence for him, his patience wearing thin.

"That is correct, Sir."

It was Hammond who after a pause asked the question Pellew dreaded: "And who, might I ask, took that decision?"

"It was Lieutenant Hornblower, Sir," Clive immediately replied.

Pellew closed his eyes for a short moment. It was the answer he had feared ­ and expected. After all, Hornblower had given him a detailed account of how things had happened. It had been Hornblower who had insisted that Clive declare the Captain unfit. Still, the situation was serious now. If the matter were left at that there was a very real danger that all blame would be put on Hornblower alone ­ Hammond would have a field day!

And then Pellew suddenly remembered that Clive's statement was not quite correct. It had been Buckland who had sent for the doctor in the first place, while the other three lieutenants were working on refloating the ship. It would be important to establish that Hornblower had not acted on his own but with the support of the other officers. He tried one last shot: "But surely, Mr. Buckland was the senior officer. Why did he not give the order?"

"With respect, Sir, I think that is a question for Mr. Buckland."

Pellew knew that they would not get anything else out of Clive. They would indeed have to question Buckland to set the record straight. He therefore dismissed the doctor: "Thank you, Dr. Clive. That will be all for now. Please hold yourself at the court's disposal, you might be needed again."

Buckland was now called upon as witness and the next hour or so was spent questioning him over the events in Samana Bay. To Pellew's relief he did not deny that he had sent for Clive with the intention of having him declare Sawyer unfit. And he even managed to come up with an explanation why he had not taken more decisive action afterwards but had let Hornblower take the lead: a head injury ­ the scar was actually still visible ­ had left him temporarily incapacitated. Not that Pellew believed one word of it, but it was a plausible explanation and one that sounded better in court than the truth: that Buckland was simply not man enough to take the appropriate steps. Yes, better for Buckland AND for Hornblower to let the matter rest at that.

***

Having established what had happened in Samana Bay, the court moved on to inquire into the events occurring after Captain Sawyer's detention, first of all the attack on the fort. Since Lieutenant Bush, who had led the attack, was at present not fit to appear in court Hornblower as second in command was called as witness in his stead. Pellew felt his anxiety reach a new level but hid it well behind an inscrutable face. He need not have worried: Hornblower's testimony was given in a calm and confident manner that could not but make a good impression.

He started by outlining their ­ well, his ­ plan and mentioned one reason why they had deemed it important to take action: to restore morale after the desertion of over thirty seamen had been discovered. At this point Pellew interrupted: "The Captain injured, the crew deserting in droves ­ and yet Mr. Buckland chose to press on with his mission." He decided to give the credit to Buckland though he had a sneaking suspicion that the initiative had been Hornblower's.

"Indeed, Sir. With our full support, Sir."

Leaning forward to give more weight to his question Pellew inquired: "May I ask why?"

"It was our duty, Sir." Total confidence there.

"Duty," Pellew repeated, nodding. It was well worth stressing the point.

But Hammond would not leave it at that. "Duty to whom?"

"To our Captain, Sir. While he was..."

"... indisposed, yes," Pellew finished for him diplomatically. No need to use that dangerous expression 'unfit for command' more often than necessary.

At this point Collins saw fit to contribute: "A happy day for James Sawyer when you four gentlemen came aboard!"

The remark gave Pellew an uneasy feeling; the slight irony did not go unnoticed by him. Whereas Hornblower seemed to take it at face value when he simply replied: "Thank you, Sir." Pellew wondered once more at this young man's naïveté but managed to keep his face immobile.

Not so Hammond, who actually chuckled. "You speak of duty, Mr. Hornblower. But I would speak to you of ambition. For a man of your years, you have risen smartly through the ranks."

Pellew watched Hornblower closely at this but he remained perfectly calm when he answered: "Certainly I hold myself fortunate in my position, Sir."

Hammond was nodding: "Hm. And hungry to climb higher, I dare say."

"Not unless my service should warrant it, Sir."

Good answer. Still Pellew felt it was time to intervene: "O come, Sir, we can hardly condemn a man for proving his ability."

But Hammond was not to be stopped now. "Nor would I whish to, Commodore. But how often can a young man shine on a slow voyage far from the frontline of battle? Unless, I suppose, he spies an opportunity. A vulnerable captain, a first lieutenant preoccupied with the burden suddenly thrust upon him ­ a chance to leapfrog the chain of command!"

This was going too far. "Sir, I protest!" Pellew exclaimed.

"I apologize, Sir. I merely put the question. What would this young man do if he was hungry enough? And I will have my answer, Sir, you may depend on it."

Pellew slowly folded his hands, not taking his eyes from Hornblower. He did not like Hammond's insinuations one bit. It was time for the court to adjourn.

***

It was Hammond who spoke first, while he poured them three glasses of port. "Well, I take it we are all agreed that Captain Sawyer's good name must be preserved."

"Of course," Collins readily agreed while accepting a glass from Hammond.

Pellew watched the latter placing the other glass on the table in front of him. He weighed his words carefully. They were right, it would not do to taint Sawyer's reputation, especially since the man was dead and could not defend himself. But there was another aspect to this trial and that must not be forgotten. "Good. Yes," he finally said. "But together with the lives of those young officers caught up in a situation ... not of their making." The sigh he let out with those last words came from the heart. No, by rights such a situation should never have arisen.

And again Collins agreed: "Quite so." His words confirmed the impression Pellew had formed of him so far. Collins would consider both sides. He would not be easily swayed by Hammond ­ but not by Pellew either. Perhaps he was the only truly impartial judge on this panel, Pellew thought.

"I am simply concerned that we need a clear outcome." Hammond was still standing, out of Pellew's field of vision, which made him slightly nervous.

"What do you propose, Hammond? Hang 'em all from the nearest yardarm?" Collins asked dryly. Pellew wished he would not use such crude expressions. An image of Hornblower's body dangling from a rope unbidden came to his mind and it took some effort to shake it off.

"No, no. Nothing so spectacular, " Hammond quickly replied. "But if there were one man..."

"A scapegoat," Pellew said slowly. That would be the easiest solution, of course. But he would not let it happen.

"Yea. Guilty party." Out of the corner of his eyes Pellew could see him taking some newspaper that had been lying there on the table and rolling it up. "Maliciously motivated. Jealous. Ambitious."

Pellew kept his face expressionless. "Who do you have in mind?" As if he did not know!

"Ah, it's early days. But we will find someone..." With a sudden movement Hammond used the newspaper to hit a fly at the window crushing it with a loud slapping noise. Pellew jumped at the sound and turned round sharply. "... to take away the smell."

Pellew turned back in his chair. Sighing he closed his eyes. The events of the day had tired him, and this blasted heat was no help. And Hammond seemed determined to make his life difficult.

***

After the short break Hornblower resumed his testimony, relating in detail the attack on the fort. They let him talk uninterruptedly, clarifying questions could come later.

Not surprisingly, it was Hammond who started the questioning when Hornblower had come to a close. "It was an ingenious plan, Mr. Hornblower, attacking the fort via an underground route. Highly original!" What was that? Hammond praising Hornblower? Pellew immediately sensed that he must have an ulterior motive.

And he was not disappointed. Taking no note of Hornblower's "Thank you, Sir" Hammond went on: "Whilst leaving Mr. Bush and the rest of the contingent to fend for themselves, placing their lives in jeopardy."

Pellew intervened: "Yes, but the end result was a triumph, would you not agree, Captain Hammond?"

"And then to hoist the Spaniards with their own petard ­ a double triumph," Collins seconded him.

But of course, no success so complete that Hammond could not find a flaw: "Ah, yes. The hot shot." He paused for effect, pretending to look over his notes. "Nearly a disaster here, I fear. Were it not for Mr. Bush's sharp intervention."

If he had hoped that Hornblower would try to defend himself he was disappointed. "I am indeed indebted to Mr. Bush," was his immediate answer. If there was one man who would own up to his mistakes it was Horatio Hornblower! Pellew suppressed a smile at the memory of those many occasions when he had worked hard to convince his midshipman and later lieutenant that he had not failed in some imaginary way.

Hammond seemed still occupied with his notes. "Foolhardy actions, rash judgements, irresponsible adventures..." Pellew saw Hornblower inhaling deeply at this and setting his jaw, brows furrowed. "... is this to be the measure of your career, Mr. Hornblower?"

With an effort Pellew managed to suppress his mounting anger. It would not do for the president of the court-martial to use sharp words to one of the other judges in public. It could only damage Hornblower's cause, especially since Pellew knew Hammond suspected him of favouring his former lieutenant ­ even though he had so far been too clever to say so to his face. His years at sea had taught Pellew self-control and thus he forced himself to remain the picture of outward calm, hands folded, eyes half closed. But at Hammond's last words he could not help frowning deeply.

Fortunately Collins saved him from saying anything he would have regretted. "Come now, Captain Hammond, that is the blackest interpretation of these events I can imagine!" Even in his present mood Pellew found some amusement in Collins' words. Yes, Black Charley Hammond was doing himself proud, even though his jet-black hair that had earned him the nickname was now a dignified grey.

Silently grateful to Collins, Pellew emphasized the point: "Quite. Others might well be praising Mr. Hornblower for his ingenuity."

Hornblower, true to his character, would not accept the praise: "I only endeavoured to do my duty, Sir." Good enough. Pellew looked at him, not entirely successful in hiding the pride he felt, and giving him a hardly perceptible nod of approval.

But of course Hammond had to have the last word: "Well, I think we shall be the judge of that, Mr. Hornblower."

***

Pellew had adjourned the trial for half an hour because everyone seemed in need of a break. Hammond had gone to seek a bit of fresh air outside in the garden, though in the middle of the afternoon there seemed little hope of that. Pellew and Collins had preferred to rest in their little backroom. The heat was suffocating and both of them had taken their coats off which gave them some small relief. Pellew was using a newspaper as a fan in a vain attempt to make the heat more bearable.

Collins finally broke the silence: "Well, Commodore, I think our course is set."

Whose course exactly? Hammond's, certainly. But Collins'? Had he already given up his earlier impartial approach? Pellew decided to play along. "Yes. And one young officer condemned already, if we are to follow Captain Hammond's gospel."

"Yes, pity. I had heard young Hornblower was one to watch." There seemed to be real regret there. "He served with you, did he not?"

Pellew felt a stab at his heart and abruptly stopped fanning. He looked over to Collins quickly, trying to judge the man, trying to decide how much he could or should let on. A deep frown appeared on his forehead. Finally, in a very low voice he answered: "Yes, he was one of the finest. One of the very best."

"I can see how this would make you feel..." Collins was searching for the right word, probably not wanting to call Pellew's impartiality into question. "... uncomfortable," was the word he finally settled for. His understanding seemed genuine and was a welcome contrast to Hammond's attitude.

"Uncomfortable!" Pellew repeated forcefully. "I have never felt less comfortable in my entire life, Sir! But I will not hang out of hand a man so dear to me as my..." He abruptly stopped himself and quickly rose from his armchair. My own son was what he had meant to say. But it would never do to speak the words out loud, not to Collins or to anybody else. In fact, he had surprised himself with the thought, he had never admitted as much even to himself. Yet it was true, he did love Hornblower like one of his own sons. If he had not realized it before, he did so now when faced with the frightful possibility that he might not only lose him, but actually have to personally order his execution. "... as one of my very own," he said instead, wishing he could take back the first half of the sentence. Trying to keep his composure he stationed himself at the window, not meeting Collins' eyes.

Collins, now more aware of the difficulty of Pellew's situation than the latter would have liked, reminded him of the other side of his dilemma: "You have a duty to the law, Commodore." With those words he sat up and started to button his waistcoat.

But by then Pellew had completely regained his composure and replied in a much firmer voice: "Yes, and I have not forgotten, Sir. But I will not rush to judge any man because the admirals want to sleep peacefully in their beds. I will weigh the facts carefully, as we all will, I trust."

"You doubt it?"

Pellew drew in a sharp breath and cleared his throat. There was no point in admitting to Collins that he did indeed doubt Hammond's willingness to keep an open mind very much. "Just asking for a fair trial, Sir."

"And your man will have it. I only hope you are not surprised by what you find."

Pellew looked at him sharply, then nodded. Perhaps he had underestimated Collins. He turned round and taking his coat from the arm of the chair where he had left it put it back on. "As do I," he said, almost to himself.

***

If not for the circumstances of the court-martial Pellew would have enjoyed himself immensely listening to Hornblower's tale about the plan to install a ship's cannon on the top of the hill. The idea bore all the marks of Hornblower's original thinking and Pellew could not help feeling proud of his protégé. "Lifting a ship's cannon to the top of the cliff under the enemy's very nose." With that he nodded appreciatively and half turned to Collins with a look that clearly bespoke his pleasure.

"It was the only way of getting within range, Sir." Hornblower's words sounded almost like an apology, and Pellew turned back to him again, eyebrows raised in mild surprise and barely suppressing a smile. It was just like Hornblower to misinterpret Pellew's statement as criticism and to think his plan needed justification. "The Spanish ships had sailed beyond the reach of the fort's own cannon, and the water was too shallow for the Renown to enter the bay."

Pellew leaned back in his chair and folded his hands: "Quite an enterprise!"

"It was an opportunity, Sir."

At this stage Hammond intervened: "You speak of opportunity, yet only you seem to be the opportunist."

Hornblower shook his head slightly: "I don't follow, Sir."

"I think you do," was Hammond's only answer, spoken in a low voice.

Pellew decided to take the initiative again: "This piece of daring-do, Mr. Hornblower, was ­ your idea?"

"It was authorized by the Acting Captain, Sir."

That was not good enough for Collins, however. "And conceived by the Third Lieutenant." Pellew saw Hornblower hesitate at that and glancing down at Buckland who was sitting to his right. "Come, Sir, you're under oath. Never mind Mr. Buckland, " Collins insisted.

Finally, with a nod, Hornblower admitted: "My idea, Sir."

Pellew looked at him, and leaning back in his chair could not help grinning. This was exactly the kind of unorthodox but effective plan he had come to expect from his former lieutenant. And he was pleased that Hornblower had been given an opportunity to show the court what kind of officer he was. Collins was clearly impressed, and even Hammond seemed to be unable to find any fault in Hornblower's actions this time and only came up with a sigh and a muttered "Yes, I'll bet it was." Pellew ignored him. It was a very good note on which to conclude this testimony, and therefore he smiled at Hornblower and with a look that could not hide the pride he felt said: "Thank you, Mr. Hornblower."

Hornblower took his seat and Pellew told him he was dismissed for now but could be recalled at any time and would still be under oath then. The day had worn on and Pellew decided to adjourn the court before calling the next witness. Besides, to end the first day on such a positive note was a temptation he could not resist.

***

Back in his cabin on Impetueux Pellew tried to collect his thoughts and to go over the events of the day in his mind. All in all it had gone better than he had feared. Clive's testimony had been a setback, but not an unexpected one. And Clive or not, the events at Samana Bay spoke for themselves. The situation had justified the steps taken, of that Pellew was convinced. And he doubted that Collins or even Hammond would argue with that.

Hammond of course had turned out to be a problem, exactly as Pellew had expected. The man seemed determined to find fault with whatever Hornblower did. Fortunately so far he had no real hold on him. Still his line of questioning seemed to have made quite an impression on Collins and Pellew was not sure if the last part of Hornblower's testimony had been enough to undo that damage. And Hammond would not give up quickly; he was nothing if not stubborn. No, Hornblower was certainly not out of danger yet.

They would question Buckland next on the events after the surrender of the Spanish. Pellew was not quite sure yet what to make of the man. It was not his style to judge an officer by hearsay, but the impression he had got of Renown's First Lieutenant from the reports he had read and from Hornblower's story was not a very favourable one. He seemed weak and indecisive, and what little he had seen of him today and heard when he had testified as to the circumstances of Captain Sawyer's detention had not served to improve his opinion.

In the events following Captain Sawyer's fall Buckland had not presented himself in the best of lights. A situation like this would have been the opportunity of a lifetime for a good officer to prove his ability. Pellew could not help thinking back to similar circumstances he had been in himself, over twenty years ago. His own Captain had been killed in a battle with a French frigate, dying in Pellew's arms. As the First Lieutenant he had taken command. They had fought successfully and he had been promoted to commander as a result. It had been a harrowing experience, and God knew he would never have whished for his revered mentor's death, but nevertheless the incident had been his making.

Buckland on the other hand had clearly failed to use the situation to his advantage. On the contrary, he had most likely forfeited any chance of future promotion. After all, he had nearly lost the Renown on their way to Kingston and the fact that he had been caught asleep by the Spanish would be a black mark against his name for the rest of his career. Moreover, what success there had been in this mission he owed to Hornblower: it had been his plan to attack the fort, his plan to lift the cannon to the cliff top. It had thus been Hornblower, not Buckland, who had proved his ability in the event. Would Buckland resent Hornblower for it? It seemed not unlikely.

Pellew had no patience with incompetent officers and he saw no reason to go soft on Buckland. It was in the Navy's best interest that this man should never have his own command. There would be some harsh questions tomorrow. Not only about the Spanish prisoners' attempt to take over Renown. Buckland had blundered before. By having the marines shoot on the rebel slaves for instance. It had alerted the Spanish and almost resulted in the failure of the attack on the fort, had it not been for Hornblower's brilliant idea with the underground tunnel. And it had ultimately resulted not only in the loss of the fort ­ Pellew saw that under the circumstances that had probably been inevitable ­ but in the needless loss of lives.

No, Buckland would not cut a very positive figure tomorrow. The question was, how would he react? How would he try to defend himself? What was he capable of if he felt himself driven into a corner? Would he try to put the blame on others, to blacken his fellow officers' names to safe his own skin? Pellew suddenly remembered something he had read about in the reports last night: Buckland ordering Hornblower to blow up the fort. A dangerous mission, potentially fatal. Was it meant as a suicide mission? Had Buckland set Hornblower this task in the hope that he would never come back? Pellew involuntarily shuddered at the thought. Yes, Buckland could be dangerous, no doubt. He would need careful handling.

***

It was still early but the air in the courtroom was already hot and stifling. Pellew silently cursed the heavy coat of his full dress uniform while he listened to Buckland relating the events that finally led to Ortega's surrender.

Pellew decided to start the questioning himself. "A complete surrender! No mean achievement, for a First Lieutenant."

"Thank you, thank you, Commodore."

The use of Pellew's title and even more the tone of his voice marked an obsequiousness that Pellew found quite disgusting. He did not miss a beat: "Pity you weren't able to savour your triumph." Out of the corner of his eyes he saw Hammond looking a question at him but paid him no heed.

"Sir?" Buckland's voice was almost plaintive.

"The rebel slaves, Mr. Buckland. They already had most of the island within their grasp."

Collins saw where Pellew was leading and fell in: "But then you'd already encountered them for yourself."

Finally it dawned on Buckland: "Oh... it was a desperate affair, Sir. One of our boats was stolen, two of our men taken hostage. O one had no inkling of what lay behind it." The slight stammer underlined his insecurity.

"So you fired on them," Pellew stated.

"In hindsight, it was unfortunate." No "Sir" this time. He was obviously getting nervous.

Pellew's voice was stern, the kind of voice his own officers had come to know and fear. "In hindsight, it was a blunder, Sir, that later made short work of your fine victory and cost lives."

Buckland was clearly intimidated now. "I regret the loss of life," was all he could manage.

"Would you please tell us, Mr. Buckland, what happened immediately after the Spanish had surrendered." Pellew's voice had still not lost any of its sternness.

Hesitantly and haltingly, with a good deal of stammering Buckland proceeded to describe how the officers and men working the cannon on the cliff top had been attacked by the full force of the rebel slave army and had been forced to retreat.

The more Pellew listened to the man the more he came to dislike him. His manner betrayed an insecurity unbecoming an officer in his position. During one of the many pauses he put in: "I don't envy you, Sir. The Captain injured, the First Lieutenant takes command, never an easy thing in any circumstances." At least not for a man with a complete lack of leadership.

"We strived to do our best."

Pellew changed tack. "Tell me, how would you describe your Third Lieutenant?"

Buckland seemed mildly surprised. "Mr. Hornblower?" He hesitated. "I would say he has a precocious talent, Sir."

Hammond, who had shown little interest in Buckland's testimony so far, seemed to come alive as soon as Hornblower's name was mentioned. "That's certainly one way of looking at it," Pellew heard him mutter.

But Pellew was not to be distracted from his line of questioning: "Nevertheless, you work well together?"

"I would say so, yes."

"No hint of discord, or threat?"

"There was nothing of that, Sir."

Pellew distinctly saw Hornblower swallow hard at that. He leaned forward, piercing Buckland with his dark eyes: "Really?" He let Buckland squirm a little before he continued: "Mr. Buckland, would you please tell the court what your next steps were when the fort was being attacked by the rebel army?"

Again Buckland's testimony was given hesitantly and with none of the confidence that had marked Hornblower's yesterday. There were many holes in his story and Pellew for a moment considered calling attention to them. Why he had not noticed that Bush and Kennedy were missing. And more importantly why he had not left a boat on shore to pick Hornblower up after his mission. But Pellew had had quite enough of Buckland's dithering, and so in the end he decided to come right to the point: "So, Mr. Buckland, the destruction of the fort ­ did you expect Mr. Hornblower to survive it?" He had not taken his eyes from Buckland during the whole time and was still leaning forward in an imposing stance.

"Of course!" Buckland exclaimed. But the words did not ring true.

Pellew went one step further: "Did you want him to survive it?"

"I resent that, Sir!"

At this point Hammond interjected: "With respect, Commodore, I must object to this accusation which has no bearing on the charges before us!"

But Pellew would not be deterred now. "Your objection is noted. Mr. Buckland, resent it or resent it not, did you want Mr. Hornblower to survive?"

"I do not send men to their deaths, Sir." But his statement did not carry conviction. He sounded more like a petulant child than an officer confident of his actions.

Pellew leaned back and folded his hands, his eyes never leaving Buckland. He had heard enough. He had no longer any doubt as to what kind of man they were dealing with here.

Collins took over then and asked Buckland about the events of their journey to Kingston. Buckland became more and more uncomfortable as he went on and desperately tried to make his role during the prisoners' attack sound less embarrassing than it really was. Pellew could almost feel pity for the man. Almost.

When Buckland had finished there was silence. Pellew deliberately let it linger for a while before he went on: "And so, Mr. Buckland, under your command misfortune was, for a brief spell, turned to advantage. And then, what?"

"Sir?"

"A ship of the line, fallen into prisoners' hands ­ a calamity, Sir!"

"While this fellow lay dreaming in his bed." Collins' remark roused laughter from the audience and Pellew suddenly felt uneasy. "I fear it will be your epitaph: Here lies Buckland of the Renown, the captain who was caught napping."

As the laughter grew louder Pellew closed his eyes. Collins was going too far. Buckland was unpredictable, it was dangerous to expose him to ridicule in such a manner. Lowering his head and folding his hands he started to speak in order to prevent Collins from saying anything else that might provoke Buckland. "Thankfully there was at least one fellow officer..."

He never had a chance to finish the sentence. Buckland almost shouted: "You speak of Mr. Hornblower! Well, I'll tell you something, Commodore!"

"Have a care, Sir!" Hammond exclaimed.

But for once Buckland would not be intimidated. "The reason I'm standing here is because Captain Sawyer was mentally incapable of commanding a vessel!"

"That's enough!" Collins tried to sound authoritative. To no avail.

"He endangered the lives of every man on board that ship!"

Pellew made one last appeal to the man's reason: "I charge you, Sir, do not blacken the name of one of Nelson's own!"

"Heavens, Sir, I will speak!"

Pellew lost his calm then. "Sir!" He roared.

But Buckland had come too far now, he would not be stopped. "Captain Sawyer was unfit to command for one reason only. He didn't fall into that hold, he was pushed!"

"What?" Hammond's exclamation gave voice to what they were all thinking.

Pellew stared at him. What was this? How could Buckland know anything about what had happened down there? He had not been present! His voice was almost hoarse when he asked the question that was on everybody's mind: "By whom, Sir?"

"By Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower!"

In complete shock Pellew glanced over at Hornblower. This came totally unexpected. How could Buckland make such an accusation? And how could he possibly support it? Hornblower's face was a mask of calm and Pellew had to admire his self-control. He thought back to their interview the previous morning. Had he lied to him after all? But no, that was out of the question. Hornblower would never tell an outright lie ­ at least not to protect himself, of that Pellew was convinced.

Buckland's shocking statement had momentarily silenced everybody. It was Hammond who first found his voice: "Is there anyone else who can support this claim?"

Buckland's answer was firm: "Yes. I believe there is." He slowly turned until his eyes came to rest on someone in the audience, a middle aged man in a gunner's uniform. Pellew noticed Matthews and Styles turning round as well. Who was this man?

Finally Buckland explained himself: "Captain Sawyer when he had regained consciousness after his fall repeatedly claimed that he had been pushed and he also stated that he knew the man who pushed him. Mr. Hobbs was his most trusted man and took care of him while he was indisposed. I believe that the Captain confided in him."

Pellew called on his last reserve of strength to cover the inner turmoil he experienced at this new development and to keep his face immobile and his voice expressionless. "Very well, the court will hear Mr. Hobbs' testimony next. However, he will be given an hour to consider his statement. This court is adjourned."

***

Pellew was pacing up and down a secluded path in the garden of Government House. Although the air was probably even hotter than inside the building he preferred to be out in the open right now, not closed in by walls. Besides he had no desire for the company of his brother captains.

Things were looking black indeed. If Hobbs corroborated Buckland's accusation they would have no choice but to hang Hornblower. Pellew winced at the thought. The question was, what could Hobbs really know? He had not been a witness to the accident, all the information he could have would be what Sawyer had told him.

Pellew could not doubt that Hornblower had told him the truth. Sawyer had fallen and nobody had pushed him. But would that be how Sawyer remembered it? His memory clouded by the effects of the head injury, his mind further addled by laudanum ­ in such a state he might very well recall things that had never happened but were just a figment of his imagination. After all, it would not have been the first time. Had he not even before his fall in his delusion seen conspiracies all around him where there had been none?

So Sawyer had claimed to have been pushed. Pellew had no reason to doubt Buckland's statement in that regard. And if he had convinced himself that somebody had pushed him, he probably would also have convinced himself as to who that somebody was. He would have seen the three of them just before his fall: Kennedy, Wellard ­ and Hornblower. And given the way he had obviously felt threatened by Hornblower all along it was not difficult to guess what his conclusion would have been.

Pellew came to an abrupt halt and put his head in his hands. Hornblower's career ­ his life ­ destroyed by the deluded fantasies of an insane man. It could not be, it must not be. But the wheels had been set in motion and he could not halt them now. He could not prevent Hobbs from testifying. If Hobbs corroborated Buckland's claim, the only way to save Hornblower would be to prove that Sawyer had been out of his mind at the time he had spoken to Hobbs and that therefore not credit could be given to his statement. But Pellew knew very well that that was not really an option, not without Dr. Clive's cooperation. And that was clearly not something he would be able to call upon.

What kind of man was Hobbs? Sawyer's most trusted man Buckland had called him. It squared with everything Pellew had learnt about Sawyer that this would be somebody from the lower decks, not one of his officers. Given Sawyer had actually named the man he thought had pushed him ­ would Hobbs have believed him? If he had known his captain for a long time would he not have seen what state he was in? Or was he blinded by his loyalty and had refused to see the obvious? And if he realized that Sawyer's mind had been clouded, would he repeat his words in court?

The questions were quite futile of course. They would all know in a very short time. Pellew felt frustration overcoming him. He was a man of action. Sitting there and waiting for things to happen without the slightest power to influence the outcome was almost more than he could bear.

But it would not do. He must go back in there and look and sound composed. He must betray no hint of the tension that was tearing him apart. Pellew closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He had seen many battles in his long years at sea, and he had lost many a good man. It was the price of command. But this might be his sternest test yet.

***

Pellew called the court to order and the panel took their seats. "Call the next witness!" He watched Hobbs slowly stepping forward. He studied him closely while the clerk swore him in. Was this the man who would seal Hornblower's fate? Silence ensued and Pellew for a moment felt paralysed and could not find the words to begin.

Thankfully, Hammond took over as if by tacit agreement. "You know why you are here? To corroborate the evidence of Mr. Buckland."

Hobbs' answer was sure and calm. "I do, Sir. I would have gone through hellfire for Captain Sawyer."

Rather impatiently Hammond cut him off: "Yes, yes."

But Hobbs was not deterred. "In my book he was equal to Nelson himself."

Pellew glanced over at Collins with an expression that clearly marked that he was getting rather tired of the comparison. And so was Hammond: "Nelson, yes. But to the matter at hand, Mr. Hobbs."

"Sir."

"Who pushed him? Who pushed your captain into the hold?"

Pellew held his breath. He would have liked to call Hammond to order, to point out the fact that it had not yet been established that Sawyer had been pushed at all. But he could not trust his voice. It was all he could do to keep his face impenetrable and to hide the anxiety that was threatening to get the better of him.

Hobbs took his time with his answer and when he started to speak it was very deliberately. "My captain..." He paused and met Hornblower's eyes. Pellew's heart sank. So this was it. He fought the urge to close his eyes in resignation. "... was a leader of men, and he died in battle. But I'm afraid I cannot tell you who pushed him, Sir." He had not taken his eyes from Hornblower's and it was only now that the latter slowly averted his gaze.

Pellew hardly heard the cries of surprise coming from every corner of the courtroom. He felt the weight of the world being lifted from his shoulders. If he had ever felt so relieved in his entire life he did not recall it. As if in a dream, hardly knowing what he was doing he called for silence and then addressed Hobbs: "Thank you, Mr. Hobbs. That will be all. You are dismissed." Then, after a slight pause: "The court will adjourn for deliberation."

***

Without a word Pellew took off his coat and flung himself into one of the armchairs in their little back room. His head was still spinning from the scene he had just witnessed. He hardly dared believe what he had heard. Hobbs had not confirmed Buckland's accusation. Therefore there was no evidence that Hornblower had in any way been involved with Captain Sawyer's fall. Hornblower was safe. Or was he?

He looked up at Hammond, who was pouring himself a glass of water. He noted the expression of disappointment on his brother captain's face. The neat outcome he had already felt within his grasp had slipped through his fingers. Would he be able to come up with something else that would serve his purpose of using Hornblower as a scapegoat? 'He must not be given the chance. We must put an end to this before any more damage can be done,' Pellew thought.

With sudden resolve he rose from his chair: "Gentlemen, I'm asking you to halt this court martial. And save the life of a man willing to abandon his own life for others, a man for whom others would gladly give their own lives. We should not try to hang this man ­ we should promote him."

Hammond took a sip of water and seemed lost in thought. Collins, seated at the table, held Pellew's gaze for a moment and then turned to Hammond: "Captain Hammond?"

Finally the latter deigned to give them a reply: "Ah. Where the Commodore leads we must all gladly follow." Pellew regarded him with suspicion. It was not like Hammond to give up so easily. And he had his suspicion justified when Hammond continued, taking a step towards Pellew and facing him closely: "But, Sir, this heroic young man, I confess I fear for him. Mr. Buckland has slandered him, so for his own sake, we cannot let the insult stand. We must put the question to him and make an end of it: Did he push the Captain down the hold? And as a man of honour, he will answer it."

Pellew turned his head and stared unseeingly into the room. Damn it, why had he not thought of that? Hammond was right, of course, though he hated to admit it. Unless Buckland was willing to withdraw his statement, which seemed more than doubtful, they could not let the matter rest. Hornblower had not been cleared, after all, just not been condemned. And asking him the question himself seemed a fair enough solution. If only Pellew were not so unsure of what the answer would be.

Pellew glanced over to Collins, but the latter uncomfortably averted his eyes. "Very well, Captain Hammond, we will follow your suggestion. However, in view of the seriousness of the allegation I think it proper that Mr. Hornblower be given time to consider his statement. We will continue proceedings tomorrow morning."

***

Captain Sir Edward Pellew was standing at the railing on the quarterdeck of HMS Impetueux, staring into the night. The air had cooled down considerably and there was a pleasant breeze. It was certainly a better place to be right now than his stuffy cabin. The officer of the watch kept his distance. He had served his captain long enough to know better than to address him in his present mood.

Pellew was almost regretting that he had given Hornblower time till next morning. He wished it was all over, the tension had become unendurable. He knew he would find no sleep this night. Yet the delay had been necessary. The last thing he wanted was for Hornblower to be forced to give a hasty answer to a question that would decide his future. That would decide if he had any future, to be more precise.

Pellew's mind was going in circles, again and again returning to Hornblower's words during their interview in the prison cell: "I did not push him, Sir. But I could have prevented his fall and I deliberately did not. I am responsible for his accident, Sir." And the advice he had given him: not to take on responsibility that was not his.

Would he follow that advice? Which part of his statement would he repeat in court tomorrow? Would he simply say that he had not pushed Sawyer? Pellew dearly hoped so. Not that it would solve all their problems; they would still have to deal with Buckland. But it would be one officer's word against another's, and even Hammond had admitted that Hornblower was a man of honour, so he would have no choice but to believe him. Who could doubt the word of a man who had gone back to a Spanish prison because he had given his parole?

So why did Pellew feel such uneasiness? 'Because I know Hornblower too well,' he answered his own question. Because it would not be the first time he took the blame for something he did not do. Pellew had heard the story from Kennedy ­ not that Hornblower himself would ever tell him such a thing! During their imprisonment in Spain Hunter, foolhardy, stupid Hunter had planned and led an escape that had been doomed from the start. But when the attempt had failed and Don Massaredo, the prison commandant, had wanted to know the instigator Hornblower had taken the blame although he had been well aware of the consequences. He had felt that as the senior officer he was responsible for what had happened.

And now he felt responsible for Captain Sawyer's fall. Because he had not prevented it when he thought that he could have. 'I saw a solution for all our problems.' That is what Hornblower had said. And indeed it had solved some of their problems at least. So should he have prevented it? Had it not been infinitely better for the ship and her men that this accident had happened? If only Sawyer had died in the event... Pellew stopped himself, shocked at his own train of thought.

It was nothing if not true to character for Hornblower to feel guilty for not acting. Of course if he wanted to defend himself he could make a good case saying that he had not dared intervene for fear that Sawyer would shoot Kennedy. A credible explanation nobody would be able to refute. Only Hornblower did not see it that way. 'I wanted him to fall,' he had admitted. And he felt guilty for it.

But could a man really be condemned for his thoughts? Certainly not by a panel of judges. By himself on the other hand ­ yes by himself he could well be condemned. O Hornblower, why can you not overcome your eternal self-recriminations just this once! Would he really go so far as to claim responsibility for Sawyer's fall knowing that he would hang for it? Pellew would have liked to believe it impossible, but he could not be sure.

O how he wished he could just visit him again in his cell and talk some sense into him! To make him see that it would be folly to pay with his life for the failure to take action ­ when he did not even know that any action could possibly have succeeded! And moreover for the failure to prevent an event that had been for the good of the whole ship.

But of course as a member of the panel of judges he could not try to influence the testimony of one of the witnesses. Not even to save that man's life. Not for the first time today he cursed his own helplessness. He was so used to being in control that this forced inactivity almost drove him mad. All he could do now was pray that Hornblower had grown up enough to realize that sometimes it could be wrong to be too honest.

***

Pellew felt his stomach knot when he entered the courtroom. He was keenly aware that this was in all probability the last session of the trial. One way or another it would all be over in perhaps just a few minutes' time. He slammed his gavel down and everybody sat. With a grim expression he ordered: "Call the next witness."

He lowered his head pretending to study some notes, but in reality he needed to compose himself for the task before him. It would call for all his strength to look this young man who meant so much to him in the eye and ask the damning question. He was dimly aware of some commotion in the courtroom when the door was opened to admit Hornblower.

He looked up from his notes to find out the reason for the unrest ­ and almost gasped at the sight that presented itself to him. It was not Hornblower being led in, but Kennedy! Kennedy, barely able to walk, assisted by Dr. Clive. In utter amazement he slowly leaned back, watching with concern as his former officer almost fell and had to be supported by the doctor. The walk from the hospital to the courtroom must have cost him every last bit of his remaining strength. Surely judging from the way he looked it was not probable that he would survive the day.

In a flash, Pellew understood the situation. He could see with perfect clarity what Kennedy was going to do. He was here to take the blame for Hornblower. He was dying and had nothing to fear in this world. So he would sacrifice his good name in exchange for Hornblower's life. If he had to die anyway then he would at least make sure that his friend would live and be cleared of all charges. It was perfectly logical.

It was also incredibly unfair. He would be convicted of a crime he had not committed, he would lose his good name for a deed that had never even taken place! And what would it do to Hornblower to learn of his friend's sacrifice? Come to think of it, Kennedy must have planned this quite carefully and cunningly, because Pellew was absolutely sure that Hornblower would never have let him do this if he had known.

Pellew had a keen sense of justice and it went against the grain to allow such a thing. Nevertheless he stopped his urge to intervene. Kennedy had obviously thought this through. Like Pellew himself, he must have felt that Hornblower's answer would not be an outright denial. It was even possible that Hornblower had discussed his testimony with him. Pellew knew that he had been given permission to visit his fellow officers in the hospital. And Kennedy had come to the conclusion that the only way to save his friend was to prevent him from testifying at all. By first confessing to the deed himself.

Pellew was dimly aware of the court clerk asking Kennedy to state his name and rank and swearing him in. No, even if he could have stopped Kennedy ­ and he did not really see a way to prevent him from testifying ­ he would have no right to do so. The man was dying, and if it was his last wish to save his friend's life and reputation by sacrificing his own then this had to be respected. More than that, it deserved admiration. Pellew did not like it at all, but he would have to defer to Kennedy's judgement and accept his solution as the lesser of two evils. Nobody but Hornblower and himself would ever know the magnitude of Kennedy's last noble act of friendship, but they would always regard it as the legacy of a most loyal and honourable man.

Kennedy was holding on to the table in front of him, barely able to remain upright. Pellew was acutely aware that they would have to be quick, clearly the man would not be able to be questioned for any length of time. Pellew fixed his gaze on him, his dark eyes full of kindness mingled with pain, and his voice was almost gentle when he addressed him: "Mr. Kennedy, this court is currently inquiring into Captain Sawyer's fall into the hold. It has been alleged by Mr. Buckland that the Captain was pushed by Mr. Hornblower. We know that you were present at the scene yourself. Can you shed any light on what happened?"

Kennedy's voice was weak and hard to understand, but his answer was given confidently and without hesitation: "I alone pushed him." There was uproar in the courtroom, even as he repeated his statement: "I alone pushed Captain Sawyer into the hold."

At this moment Pellew saw the door of the courtroom opening and Hornblower being led in by a marine. And he knew he had to react quickly. Hornblower would never willingly let his friend die in disgrace. If allowed, he would in all likelihood try to take the blame himself. And Pellew could not let him do that. So before Hornblower could realize what was happening Pellew raised his voice over the tumult: "I think we've heard enough, gentlemen. Take this man down." With that he slammed his gavel down thus closing the proceedings.

Kennedy was immediately led out by marines, with Dr. Clive close behind to give assistance if needed. Hornblower had stopped at the door and Pellew saw the realization of what had just happened dawn on his face. Incredulity changed into pain and reproach as he met his friend's eyes for a long moment.

***

Deliberation did not take long. How could it? They had the clear outcome everybody from Admiral Lambert to Captain Hammond had been pressing for, Pellew thought bitterly. Even if it involved condemning an innocent man. Somehow he could find no comfort at the moment in the fact that Hornblower was safe.

It was agreed that Kennedy should be convicted of mutiny, technically of striking his superior officer, and be condemned to death by hanging under article 22 of the articles of war. However, the sentence should not be carried out until the state of his health would allow it. And tacitly it was accepted that this would mean never. Hornblower and Bush would be cleared of all charges and were to be commended for their conduct, whereas Buckland would also be cleared of charges but receive a reprimand for neglecting his duty in allowing the ship under his command to be taken by the enemy. That should effectively prevent him from ever being employed again, which was in the best interest of the Navy.

Pellew rose with a sigh and reached for his coat. There remained the distasteful duty to go back into the courtroom and pronounce the court's verdict. He wished he could just send Hammond or Collins but he knew that was not an option. It would fall to him to pass sentence on a man he not only knew to be innocent but knew to be exceptionally loyal and honourable. And he would have to do so feeling Hornblower's eyes on him ­ for to meet them he did not think he would have the strength. By rights he should feel relief and even joy at the outcome of the trial, considering what he had feared just half an hour ago. But Kennedy's sacrifice had cast a shadow that he could not shake off just yet.

***

Admiral Sir Richard Lambert finally looked up from the report and cleared his throat, which brought Pellew out of his reverie and back to the present. Frankly, he was exhausted. As expected the anxiety he had felt for Hornblower had hardly allowed him any sleep the previous night and the events of the morning had been emotionally draining. Then, after he had pronounced the court's verdict and ordered Buckland, Bush and Hornblower to be set free there had still been much work to do for the three judges. Reports had to be written and the business had not been concluded till late afternoon. Pellew longed to return to Impetueux and walk his quarterdeck once more in peace and quiet.

"A rather unexpected outcome, Sir Edward," Lambert finally said. "Well, at least this fellow Kennedy had the decency to own up to his crime in the end. He must have had some honour left in him."

"Mr. Kennedy is a very honourable man, Sir, whatever the court's verdict may say," Pellew replied with some vehemence.

He realized as soon as the words were out that this was a most unusual thing to say about somebody who had just been condemned to death by hanging. Lambert looked at him curiously. But something in Pellew's voice prevented him from remarking on it. Instead he replied: "Perhaps he was, Sir Edward."

Pellew caught the point immediately: "He was, Sir?"

"Yes, you might not have heard yet. Kennedy died in the prison hospital early this afternoon."

Pellew swallowed hard. Not that this came unexpected, especially after having seen him this morning. Still, he felt a great sadness envelop him. 'God have mercy on your soul,' he thought.

"It is unlucky", Lambert continued, "that he should thus have eluded his punishment. Pity we put up those gallows in vain. But then, it's perhaps just as well, it might not look so good for the Navy to have an officer hanged."

Good God, was that all the man could ever think about? How it would look for the Navy? How could he be so callous in the face of a promising young man's death? Of course he had not known him, and he was ignorant of Kennedy's noble sacrifice, Pellew tried to remind himself. Still, it cost him some effort to repress his anger and force out a calm "No, Sir".

"Well, I'm glad you brought this unfortunate affair to an end so quickly, and in such a satisfactory manner. Has the press been informed yet?"

"A statement has been drawn up and has already been sent over to the offices of the Kingston Chronicle. It was judged advisable that a report should appear at the earliest possible opportunity. It is hoped that it will make the evening edition." He took a sheet of paper from the inside of his coat and handed it to Lambert. "Perhaps you might wish to see a copy, Sir."

It had been quite a battle, wording that statement. Their first object had been to preserve Sawyer's reputation, so his indisposition had been wholly ascribed to his fall. At this point Pellew had insisted that for his family's sake Kennedy's role should not be mentioned. 'Captain Sawyer is dead, and Mr. Kennedy is dying ­ what's to be gained by making the whole affair public?' he had argued. That rumour would spread in Kingston could not be prevented, since the trial had not been closed to the public. But at least it could be hoped that it would not reach England if nothing was published in the newspapers.

After some argument they had finally agreed on describing the event as 'a lamentable fall' without any further elaboration. Ironically the press statement was in this regard much closer to the truth than the Admiralty report, but of course no one but Pellew was aware of that. Kennedy's name had thus been kept out altogether. To commend him for actions that had followed in the wake of Captain Sawyer's detention was out of the question, since that event had ­ according to the official version ­ been ultimately caused by the very crime of which Kennedy had been convicted. It was the price he had paid for saving Hornblower, and though it left a bitter taste with Pellew the fact that he had paid it knowingly and willingly helped to reconcile him to the circumstance.

They could not avoid mentioning Buckland because he had actually been in command, but they had kept that reference as neutral as possible which was in the man's own best interest since it also meant that his role in the prisoners' revolt was not touched upon either. All the praise for the successful actions had been given to Bush and Hornblower.

Thus the final version left out much of the story and only spoke of a national hero being worthily succeeded by his heroic young officers. It really could be considered a diplomatic masterpiece, Pellew thought not without a hint of sarcasm, relating events from a very distorted angle but without actually ever being untruthful. Drawing up statements such as these was not the kind of business Pellew relished. Give him an honest battle any time. But even tough he did not attach the same value to the Navy's reputation as Lambert obviously did he nevertheless had to admit that in a time of war it was an important consideration. The aim of a press report had to be to inspire those within the Navy as well as those without and this goal the present one would no doubt achieve.

Judging from his reaction Lambert was more than happy with their efforts. "Excellent, Sir Edward, excellent," he exclaimed. "I must say I'm very pleased with the manner in which you conducted this affair." He cast another glance at the report and nodded contently before he finally put it down on the table. "But to other matters now. I have your orders here."

Pellew was grateful for the change of subject. He was still not completely reconciled to the outcome of the trial and did not feel at ease being complimented about it. He therefore welcomed the opportunity to put his mind to other matters. He listened attentively to Lambert detailing their next mission and occasionally asked a clarifying question. Due to the complexity of the political situation in those parts of the world the briefing took some time.

"There is one other matter I would like to discuss with you, Commodore," Lambert went on when everything had been settled. "I have purchased the Gaditana into the service, one of the ships that were taken as prizes by Renown. I have renamed her the Retribution and she'll rate as a sloop of war. She needs a commander." He paused. "Now, the obvious choice would be the Renown's First Lieutenant, but after all that transpired Buckland naturally is not an option. Bush was second in command, but from your report I rather got the impression that this young fellow Hornblower might be the better choice. He seems quite capable. What is your opinion?"

Finally there was one point on which Pellew could wholeheartedly agree with Lambert. He had rather been hoping that the matter would be brought up. "Sir, I am convinced that you could not make a better choice. Hornblower is in fact more than capable, he is a born leader and I am certain that he will go far in the service. I think he is thoroughly deserving of this chance."

Lambert gave him a hard look. Had he overshot the mark, had he been too enthusiastic in Hornblower's praise? But no, the admiral finally nodded: "Very well then, Commodore, Hornblower it shall be. I'll sign his promotion right away. The orders are written, they only lack the address."

Pellew hesitated. He knew his request would be unusual but then he had nothing to lose by asking. "Sir, might I ask a favour? Would you allow me to convey the good news to Mr. Hornblower myself?"

"That would be a most exceptional procedure, Commodore!" Lambert seemed to hesitate. "But then, since it was your commendation that earned him the promotion, I guess it would be in order. If you can spare a few more minutes I will have the necessary documents ready." He then looked at Pellew searchingly. "You are rather fond of that young man, Sir Edward, are you not?"

Pellew was mildly taken aback by the directness of the question. After a moment's consideration he replied: "I endeavoured to be a mentor to him when he was in my service. It is very satisfying to watch this seed bear fruit, Sir."

***

Pellew was clutching the evening edition of the Kingston Chronicle in his hand, together with the orders for Commander Hornblower, Captain of the Retribution. He was on his way over to the prison hospital where he had been told he would find Hornblower. He had learnt that the latter had actually been present when Kennedy had died which made him feel strangely relieved. It was some comfort to think that Kennedy had not been alone but that his best friend had been there in his last hour. He hoped that the two had made peace with each other; for he could not help thinking that Hornblower would probably have reproached his friend for what he had done.

In his mind Pellew was trying to sort out what exactly he was going to say to his protégé ­ apart from giving him the good news of his promotion. He fully expected that the subject of Kennedy's sacrifice would come up. Nor would he wish to avoid it. He also realized that he would not be able to put Hornblower's mind at ease regarding the manner of his friend's death, his pain was far to fresh for that. But at least he could give him to understand that Kennedy's noble act had not gone wholly unnoticed by the world. Not that he could say so openly, of course, but he trusted that Hornblower knew him well enough to read between the lines.

However, there was another and perhaps more important matter in which Hornblower would need reassurance. He must feel guiltier than ever for not preventing Sawyer's fall because he would now have added Kennedy's disgrace to the burden of his responsibility. It would be his task to make his young friend understand that at least he, Pellew, approved of his actions. Perhaps an absolution from his mouth would eventually help to ease the guilt.

When Pellew entered the dark corridor of the prison hospital his mind turned back to another visit he had paid Hornblower ­ could it have been only two days ago? He remembered how full of worry and anxiety he had been then. Little had he dared hope that the outcome would be so favourable to the young man that had caused this anxiety. It had come at a heavy cost, however, and he was well aware that Hornblower would not be able to feel happy about the way things had turned out. But Pellew was hoping that he would succeed in finding the right words of encouragement that would set him back on the road to life.

***

A lonely figure was sitting on one of the hospital beds, in a position as if attending to somebody still lying there. For a moment Pellew was overcome with great sadness at seeing Hornblower in his grief. The emptiness, the loneliness must be heartbreaking. He paused at the door and took off his hat in silent respect for the dead man who had occupied this room so recently.

Finally shaking off his emotion he made his voice sound firm: "Mr. Hornblower, I thought you might like to see a copy of the Kingston Chronicle before you leave." Hornblower must have heard him approach but had not turned until now. Under different circumstances Pellew would have been irritated at an officer not rising for is superior. But he fully understood that Hornblower was not quite himself at the moment. He took the proffered newspaper and started to read while Pellew went on, summarizing the salient points: "Captain Sawyer, a great leader until the last. And you and Mr. Bush are highly commended. Won't be long before the London papers publish the story."

Without looking up Hornblower in a low voice remarked: "No mention of Mr. Kennedy."

"No. It was thought not... politic," Pellew said quickly. Damn, he had meant to start the conversation on a positive note. He should have known that there was only one thing on Hornblower's mind at present. This was not the place or time for long explanations. But he could try to give the reasoning behind their press statement in a nutshell at least, and so he added in a more solemn tone: "Nations need heroes, Mr. Hornblower. Heroes make us believe the impossible is achievable."

Hornblower's voice was very bitter: "Only if one knows their name. Mr. Kennedy..." He gestured at the bed as if to emphasize his point.

Pellew changed tactics, interrupting him: "Mr. Kennedy took a calculated risk when he pushed Captain Sawyer down the hold ­ for the good of the ship ­ and in all likelihood was right to do so." With those words Pellew took a few steps to face his protégé, who was still sitting, more closely. He looked at him very expressly, wanting to make sure that he fully understood the meaning behind his words.

Finally Hornblower looked up and held Pellew's eyes. There was a look of wonder and sadness, and, yes, guilt on his face that cut Pellew to the heart. "You think Mr. Kennedy was telling the truth?"

"I think Mr. Kennedy was a man of great loyalty, Sir." Pellew paused, never taking his eyes off Hornblower's. "He saw his duty and did it."

"And went to his grave without the merit of his good name." Despair was palpable in every syllable.

Pellew looked at him very earnestly: "But you and I will not forget it."

And with a quick shake of the head, almost as if a shudder had seized him he said only one word: "No."

Enough of that now. It was time to move on to more pleasant matters. And his sense of humour finally asserting itself Pellew could not resist teasing his young friend just a little bit. In a completely casual tone of voice he remarked: "I see the Gaditana has been renamed Retribution."

Hornblower, clearly at a loss what to make of this statement that seemed totally immaterial in the context at least was shaken out of his reverie and looked up slightly: "Oh..."

With a slight shake of the head Pellew continued. "Hmm. The paint is hardly dry and yet they have appointed a new commanding officer. Would you not like to know who is to command the Retribution?" The last sentence was spoken in a more animated tone.

Hornblower slowly raised his head and looked up at Pellew who was now smiling at him and holding out some papers. "Your orders, Commander," he said, emphasizing the title.

This totally threw Hornblower. He had clearly not been expecting anything of the kind. He probably had not had a chance yet to think about his future in the service. He took the papers slowly with both hands, an expression of incredulity on his face. Looking at them in wonder he finally rose and met Pellew's eyes. "But Mr. Bush, he was second in command, the honour should go to him..."

Relieved that he had finally managed to break his mood Pellew cut him short and dryly replied: "Mr. Hornblower, I advise you when offered promotion to accept it ­ otherwise it may not be offered again! Am I making myself clear?" With his last words he turned and went to the door, leaving Hornblower still standing there in disbelief.

Pellew turned round one last time in the doorway when he heard Hornblower's soft "Yes, Sir." He saw him standing there, finally smiling. And Pellew knew then that his task was completed. "I wish you..." He hesitated for a moment, looking at Hornblower, who met his gaze expectantly. There was much that might have been said at such a moment. But Pellew was no friend of sentimentality and he knew he could not vouch for himself if he stayed any longer. "... a safe voyage, Mr. Hornblower," was all he said in the end. With that he turned and quickly left without once looking back. And silently he was wondering where his life's journey would lead this fine young man and whether their paths might ever cross again.

 

FINIS