The Duel
by: Skihee

DISCLAIMER: I do not own these characters and am not intending any disrespect to the great CS Forester or the creators of the miniseries in wriiting about them.
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Captain Pellew watched as the second boat rowed toward shore carrying Hornblower to his unknown fate, a second duel with Simpson.

"What was it they first fought over, Mr. Bowles?" he asked of his sailing master.

"As I heard it , sir, Mr. Simpson accused Mr. Hornblower of cheating at cards."

The Captain's face revealed severe agitation that such a triviality should cost the life of Clayton and now possibly two more men. Men needed in His Majesty's service. He was aware Simpson lacked ability in commanding his former division. It was not the quality of the men that made the difference. It was the quality of the man leading them. He despised dueling. It is a waste of time and a waste of life, in his opinion.

"Damn!" he said as he paced across the quarter deck. Why had he allowed this to happen? The impudence of Simpson to accuse Hornblower of cowardice! His actions had saved his ship and his crew from certain defeat by the three French Corvettes. Could Hornblower be right that Simpson had shot him? Why would he? Certainly there must be more to this than an old arguement over cheating at cards. It does not make sense. Hornblower was the wounded party in being so accused of cheating. Why would Simpson shoot him now? Why did Clayton duel instead of Hornblower? Something is amiss. Something he should know about these two men who will still be under his command should they both survive.

"Mr. Bowles, call my gig and have two marines join me along with yourself."

"Aye, aye, sir."

As the boat made it's way to shore, he could see the dueling preparations. Two figures were removing their blue topcoats. He eyed the coast and spotted the low cliff he would ascend.

"You men, Mr. Bowles, come with me." They hurried out of the boat and quickly mounted to the vantage point. The two men below were removing their vests. He was in time to see what would befall them. He watched as they paced off, then turned to face each other. He could hear faintly the numbers being counted off as Simpson and Hornblower leveled their guns at each other. Then, after the count of two, Simpson fired!

"By God!" uttered Pellew in shock and anger. "Give me that gun!" he said as he snatched the musket from one of the attending marines.

He continued to watch the spectacle unfolding below him. Hornblower was moving. Thank God he was still alive. He could tell the dueling master was trying to get the situation in hand. Hornblower was on his feet facing his adversary. Pellew watched, gun still in hand, and cocked.

What was this? Simpson on his knees! He gasped in agitation and dismay! The coward! Would Hornblower shoot him? The man had every reason to take his turn. He was frozen as he watched Hornblower level his gun at the kneeling man. His thoughts were in a whirl over what his eyes beheld! Then, Hornblower raised his gun to the sky and fired. Pellew was astonished. Mercy. He had chosen mercy for his enemy! By God! He felt a surge in his chest over what he had seen this young man do. He could see the blood staining his shirt. How long would he need to mend? But what was this? Simpson was on his feet grabbing a knife from Mr. Cleveland's belt. Pellew's reflexes took over as he brought the musket to his eye. The shot rang out! Simpson stopped in his tracks and dropped to the ground. The bullet had hit him square in the heart.

Hornblower turned to see who had fired the gun that saved his life. To his amazement it was his Captain he saw lowering the musket.

"An exceptionally fine shot, sir," said the sailing master.

"Thank you, Mr. Bowles." He breathed deeply as he looked at the face of his young officer. Dr. Heppelwhite was moving to attend him. It was finished. Hornblower would mend.

"Back to the ship, Mr. Bowles."

"Aye, sir."

Reaching the foot of the cliff, Pellew glanced once more at the figures on the shore huddled around the wounded man. His topcoat was thrown over his shoulders. Two men assisted him at his side. Another two were carrying the body to the waiting boats.

"Shove off," commanded Pellew.

Mr. Bowles looked at the figures on the shore, then glanced at his Captain whose steady gaze was on his waiting ship.

As they mounted the sides of the Indy, the shrill pipes sang out. Pellew saluted and silently climbed to the quarterdeck. From there he allowed himself to look again at the returning boats carrying the dead and wounded. He became aware of a peaceful feeling settling over his heart and mind, a totally opposite feeling from the ones he had last felt while standing here.

He watched out the corner of his eye as Hornblower made his way up the side one handed. His man, the big burly one, followed close behind him, craddling his body from slipping. When on deck, Hornblower looked at the burly man.

"Thank you, Styles," he said, embarrassed that he might need help up the side even though he was wounded.

The doctor and other midshipmen closed around Hornblower to see him below for tending. Hornblower's men looked up to their Captain standing above them on the quarterdeck.

Matthews, Finch, and Oldroyd averted their eyes from their Captain's gaze. Styles looked steadily at him, and nodded his head at his Captain. Pellew felt a slight smile forming on his lips and stopped himself. He gave a slight nod of his head at Styles and then turned to pace to larboard.

Styles and the others giving quick parting glances at their Captain muttered in low tones as they descended to the lower decks.

As Pellew gazed overside at the gentle waves, he knew he would want a full report from Heppelwhite of Hornblower's wound. He pursed his lips, squinted and said to himself, "He will be all right."