The Doctor Dilemma
"Fire!!!!" yelled Kennedy as he roared at the top of his lungs. The cannonball spat and threw itself into the water only a few hundred feet away from the Indefatigable.
"Too close and too slow, gentlemen, we'll really need to speed our timing to crush the enemy. There'll be more Frogs bouncing around than cannonballs!" the cheery lieutenant quipped. Several chuckles could be heard among the gun crew.
"Come on, it's not bell time." The hands flew at their work, eager to please.
"Isn't he such a likeable happy fellow unlike Mr Horn--" Matthews abruptly stopped his comment to Styles when he realised that their subject had quietly appeared behind them.
"Well, Matthews carry on about your work." Horatio attempted to keep his grin slight and a steady eye but failed entirely.
"II aye sir" managed Matthews, blushing a shade pink.
"Who do you think you are, mister? Ordering my men about the way you do?" Archie smiled as he approached on the amused Horatio.
"Oh, please forgive me for denting your dignity-"
"Don't be silly Horatio; it's only a joke."
"I think I knew that."
"You looked so serious I could not tell." Archie said, tongue in cheek, willing Horatio to laugh which he did and breathed relief "have you had your meeting with Captain Pellew?"
Horatio nodded then looked as if he were to be sent to the guillotine. His face frowned deeply, flickered then flinched as the clang of cannon rods met the metal.
"Well?" Urged a curious Archie.
"The cannons are ready, sir!" yelled the gun captain simultaneously just as Horatio opened his mouth to reply.
Archie gave an exhale noisily, turned and said, "Right, thankyou Clarke."
He turned back impatiently to Horatio. "Sorry Horatio, it seems my duty is calling. We'll talk in the berth. Can you not tell me whether it is good or bad news?"
Horatio gave a small shrug that held nervousness and apprehensiveness that Archie had never seen in the composed and confident form of Horatio. "It depends" and he walked down the companionway to their berth.
Archie stared wonderingly at the retreating figure. He was jolted out of his thoughts as a sudden spray of water tickled his fine-featured face and a blast of gale tossed his ash-blond queue out of place. He brushed it back hurriedly and returned his thoughts to his duty.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Captain Pellew stalked up and down in his spacious yet crowded cabin. His bushy eyebrows were knitted more than usual. There was a faraway dazed look in his eyes.
Finally he sat behind his beautiful oak desk with a heavy sigh, looked about the growing pile of paperwork and set to systematically sort them.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Horatio was seated on the edge of his bed, miles deep in thought, when Archie entered the quietness of the berth. Horatio did not look up. Archie immediately tossed his hat onto his bed then tore off his soaked jacket and hooked it neatly behind the door.
"Oh Hullo Archie" His voice was nonchalant and strained.
"What's bothering you, Horatio?" Archie loosed his hair from its ribbon.
Horatio started and sighed, "Oh, I might as well need your opinion. Remember we lost Dr Hepplewhite and Dr Sebastian's been transferred?"
Archie interrupted, "Which means we have no doctor and need one. Do you feel sick?" concern flashed in Archie's blue eyes.
"No, no." Archie relaxed. "Well Captain Pellew said the Sick and Health Board couldn't find any Dr at present and asked ifmy father would do the deed." Horatio looked up from staring intently at his black boots.
"Your father?" By this time, Archie had retied his hair into an immaculate queue. He had laid back upon his mattress and now leaned forward to listen.
"You do know he's a doctor?" The reply was indignant.
"I'm sorry, of course. But is your father willing?"
"Oh, my father would do anything to serve on His Majesty's ship. But that's not the point. I'm worried. He's older than most doctors in the Navy. He walks with the aid of a cane."
"I understand, Horatio. You're concerned about your father's health and safety."
"Exactly, Archie." Horatio was glad his best friend sympathised with him. He cradled his head in his hands.
Both men sat in contemplation of the situation for a few minutes.
There was a weary moan from Horatio. "If I refuse to let my father, we are doomed if we are destined for a battle. If I let him, I ..I.. really don't know what's to happen." He brooded.
"To be or not to be.." breathed Archie, lapsing into his Shakespearean quotes when he thought no-one was listening.
"Oh nothing". Archie secretly gave himself a small smile. "But your father is to only serve for a few weeks before the replacement comes in, I think, you have nothing to fear. Captain Pellew is a caring and understanding man. He would not mean to keep Dr Hornblower for more than a season."
"What if he does?"
"Trust me, the Captain would not."
Horatio looked up at Archie and slowly registered his words, "Perhaps you are right I have nothing to worry about. We will be floating around about Portsmouth harbour for a while. Yes, I will write to father." Horatio stood, "will you do me the pleasure of accompanying to the mess?"
"Of course, my friend."
As they walked towards the stern, Archie suddenly grinned and said, "Besides, you'll be doing Pellew a great favour and the more he'll like you for it."
"Oh, do be quiet. The captain was intent on sending us to the hospital to look for a doctor."
"Thank God, there's no need to succumb to that!"
There was a companionable silence except for the clipping of their boots on wood.
"That's not very worthy of you."
"What do you mean?" Archie's soft voice was confused yet amused.
"Because we won't escape looking for a doctor after my father's goes."
"Right. But until then, let's not think about that. It'll be different having your father in the Navy with you!"
They had reached the mess and Horatio grinned as he reached to turn the knob. "I don't know whether to rejoice or dread it." Both men laughed with an equalled understanding.
etc etc etc..