A FRIGATE AND A FOURTH!
The Indefatigable limped into New York Harbor with one mast
standing, one with a ten foot stump, and the foremast with its
top gone. It had
been an early summer storm they rode through, with loss of bits of fore and main
masts. The mizzen was the sole means of propulsion to bring them to a safe
harbor. The masts had been replaced once already when encountering a French
Corvette off the coast of Portugal. They won the battle by sinking the
enemy, but the price was high in terms of rigging. They no longer had the
spare materials needed for repair.
The ship requested a mooring which the harbor master allowed
badly damaged. He had pointed across a field to some low buildings on the
tip of a spit of land where they might find the goods they needed. Pellew sent Hornblower, Kennedy, Bowles and a squad of men in
search of enough supplies to rebuild the masts, being in need of lumber,
cordage, and canvas. Hornblower was not sure how they would get something
the size of the mast they needed to the ship, but decided the answer would
While making their way across a broad field, there was a general
on from the locals. American flags were flying everywhere. There seemed to
be a growing number of people arriving by wagon and carriage, unloading items
for a picnic. A few women could be seen spreading quilts onto the grassy
lawn and placing small children on them to crawl about, while older
children played a game of tag. The people stopped to stare at the British
Naval officers and their crew of sailors.
"What's going on, Horatio? It's not Sunday. What do
you suppose is about
with these Colonials?" asked Kennedy.
"I have no idea, Archie. Perhaps the town is having a party of some sort."
"Well, they're certainly patriotic! I've never seen so
many damn flags!"
Styles caught the eye of a young maiden standing with a basket
of food. He
smiled and turned to walk backwards to keep his eye on her. She
smiled back at him. An older woman noticed the exchange and pulled on the
girl's basket to get her attention. Matthews jabbed him in the ribs.
"Belay that, mate! You're just askin' for trouble,"
"Captain Pellew ain't in no mood to put up with any muckin' about with an
"Just enjoyin' the view, Matty," smiled Styles.
Oldroyd looked behind him to glance at Styles' girl, when a
piece of metal
hit him in the leg and he went sprawling. Hearing children's laughter, he
disentangled his legs from the metal hoop. A little girl stood staring at
"Oldroyd!" said Hornblower with some frustration.
Oldroyd looked into the little girl's blue eyes, strands of
curly blonde hair
blowing over her face. "Is this yours?" She nodded. He stood, handing her the metal hoop. "There ye go!" She took it and ran, looking back at him and smiling.
"Watch where you're going, man!" admonished Hornblower.
At last they reached the low building. Its front was strewn
netting, and rope. It seemed a likely place for inquiries. A man sat
inside mending a net.
"Good morning, sir, " said Hornblower.
The man jerked his head up at the sound of Hornblower's voice.
"I was wondering if you might have, or know where, we
might procure some items
to repair our ship," continued Hornblower.
The man blinked and stared, first, at Hornblower, then Kennedy, Bowles, and, bending to his left, to see the sailors behind them. Hornblower turned to follow his gaze. When the man did not speak, he began again.
"We are in need of lumber for masts, a good deal of cordage, and some canvas as well."
The man stared at him, then picked up a pipe to stick in his teeth. He was graying, with fuzzy mutton chops sticking out from his cheeks. His shirt was a pale blue with an open canvas vest over that. He wore an odd flat cap that Hornblower had never seen the likes of before. It had a small bill, like a duck, but not as long.
Hornblower looked at the faces of his companions, then tried once more.
"If you do not have these kinds of stores, could you direct us to an establishment that would?"
"Ya ain't from around here, er ya?"
"No, sir," admitted Hornblower.
The man looked at him again, pulling the pipe out of his mouth.
"The harbor master had us tie up across the field there,"
Hornblower, gesturing towards the outside.
The man rose, shuffling over the dirt floor to the door. He
looked across the spit of land at the Indefatigable, her one mast standing
with yards crossed and sail furled, white ensign flapping at the stern. He stood looking at her for some moments. Again, Kennedy, Bowles, Hornblower, and the men exchanged glances. Hornblower sighed, becoming agitated at waiting for some type of reply. He
looked up the shore to another low building about three hundred yards further.
"Frigate, ain't it".
"Yes, sir," he replied jerking his head back to the man.
"How many guns?"
"She's a 64, sir," answered Bowles, glancing at Hornblower. He had no problem giving the information. They were not at war with the United States.
"What happened to her,........ besides the obvious?" drawled the man slowly.
Hornblower sighed trying to maintain his calm. Were all men
in charge of
supplies alike? This one would fit right in with the rest of the dockyard
managers back home. "A storm, sir."
"Not a battle?"
Kennedy interposed for his frustrated companion. "We
were in a battle with a
French corvette. We lost some of our masts on that occasion. We repaired
at sea. Then, a ferocious squall took us by surprise, blowing us off course
for a week. It finally kicked us in the teeth by breaking our fore and main
masts, sir. We would appreciate any help you could offer in the way of
"Came in with just the mizzen?"
"Hmph." the man mildly chuckled.
"Can you direct us to a place to purchase what we need?"
"Won't do ya any good. Nobody's workin' t'day."
"It is Wednesday, is not, sir?" asked Kennedy.
Kennedy and Hornblower looked at one another.
"Birthday," said the man.
"What?" asked Hornblower surprised by the answer, feeling his face reddening.
"Birthday party. You won't find anybody wantin' to work today."
Hornblower stepped away from the building, his entourage in
stared at him.
"Horatio, between the blue and white of your uniform and
your face, you look
as brilliant as one of their flags."
Hornblower swallowed at his embarrassment. "Never mind, Mr. Kennedy."
Bowles snorted with understanding. "Let me try reasonin'
with the man, Mr.
Hornblower," said Bowles. He re-entered the low building, sat down across
from him and began speaking with animated tones and gestures, all
Kennedy and the crew watched the further goings on in the field.
band was assembling. Some men appeared to be setting up booths as one would
find at a carnival. "Birthday, huh? I wonder whose?"
"Must be somebody real important," offered Matthews.
"Think we could go to the party?" smiled Styles.
Hornblower was pacing. "Damn! Captain Pellew is not
going to like waiting."
He sighed. "What is Mr. Bowles doing?"
Bowles exited the building, a smirk over his lips. The man
followed him out
making long strides to a tent at the far side of the field. "We may be onto
somethin', Mr. Hornblower. Let's go."
"What Mr. Bowles?"
"Wait. I'm not sayin' anything else till I hear from
Mr. Sweeny. Let's make
our way back to the Indy."
"Mr. Sweeny?" questioned Kennedy.
The troupe began the walk back across the
field to the dock. They were nearly back to the Indy when a gunshot rang
out. Everyone flinched except Bowles who shaded his eyes to peer to the far
end of the field. Someone was waving one of the American flags rapidly.
"Hmm. I need to talk to the Captain," said Bowles.
"Good. Save me the trouble of explaining our failure," muttered Hornblower. "I suppose we shall have to wait until tomorrow."
Heads hung low, the group of men walked up the gang plank onto
Bowles went directly to speak with the Captain. Not long after, Mr. Bowles
and the Captain appeared on deck. Bowles went to the quarter-deck to have a
red flag hoisted. Pellew ordered the longboat lowered. He stared a moment
at Hornblower, allowing his cheeks to tug at the side of his lips.
"What's happening, sir?" asked Hornblower.
"Just preparing to get our supplies, Mr. Hornblower.
Get yourself over the
side and see to it."
"But how, sir?"
"A bit of old fashioned horse trading, Mr. Hornblower.
There is still
something you could learn from Mr. Bowles. Get back over there, now," he
said nodding toward the low buildings. "Mr. Sweeny will require our
assistance to move the supplies. Take your division and stop dawdling, sir.
I want this ship ready to sail with the evening tide."
"Aye, aye, sir."
By the time they returned to Sweeny's shack, he was there with
a small group
of men loading supplies onto the wharf. In a matter of hours they had all
they needed, the man paid, and rowed back to Indefatigable to begin repairs.
Pellew came on deck while Hornblower was overseeing repairs
to the foremast.
"Captain Pellew, sir," saluted Hornblower.
"Mr. Sweeny said to remind you to keep your promise."
"I will, Mr. Hornblower."
"Might I ask, how Mr. Bowles was able to convince the man to assist us?"
Pellew smiled wryly at him. "It has to do with the birthday, Mr. Hornblower."
Hornblower reddened and swallowed. "Sir?"
"Well, after their hospitality, how could I do less."
He walked away leaving
a very puzzled, crimson leftenant standing in the July heat.
The day went smoothly for all the disrepair of the frigate.
The men chatted
amicably taking a glance at the growing populace of the field. Music drifted
over to the Indy along with laughter, singing, and the shouts of children. A
small group of boys and girls stood on the dock watching the British men at
work on their ship of war. The men waved at them and they waved back
giggling with one another.
About four o'clock a man arrived in a wagon filled with crates.
the officer on deck, Captain Pellew was requested and he came out to speak with the man. Shaking his hand, Pellew ordered a few men to unload the wagon. The crates were stacked to larboard. A sweet smell emanated from them.
"What this, sir?" asked Bracegirdle.
"Apples, Mr. Bracegirdle, for the crew."
"Yes. It seems they wish us to have a birthday present."
"Well, whose birthday is it, sir? The mayor, their president?"
Hornblower heard the two of them talking and turned away from his Captain.
"Mr. Hornblower knows," said Pellew. Bracegirdle
turned to look at the
leftenant walking stealthily away from them. "Come, Mr. Bracegirdle, we have
much to prepare."
Working late into the afternoon, the crew was able to get all
repairs done to
both masts. Pulling up the yards for the various sails, adjusting the
standing and running rigging, and by dinner time, only the finishing touches were
necessary to have the ship ready to run.
After dinner, Pellew allowed the men on deck to eat their apples
the festivities on shore. He could hear his men skylarking with light
spirits, using apple cores as missiles. At five bells, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Bracegirdle were seen ordering the gun crews. Hornblower, trying to avoid any conversation concerning the day, had gone below.
At seven bells, the order was given to cast off. The harbor
master was back
to see them. Pellew had some moments of muted conversation with him, and
then, the master was over the side. The Indy stood in the harbor just off shore. The officers on deck and the men in the rigging waited for the
order from Mr. Bowles. Nothing was given. The Indy sat floating, men at the
ready. Finally, Hornblower approached his captain, but before he could say a
word, Pellew gave Bracegirdle the order to have the guns run out.
The men and officers responded. Whenever they were given an
order they were
to carry it out without hesitation.
Pellew stood on the quarter-deck. "Mr. Bowles, this was
your doing, you may
fire when ready."
"Fire, sir?" questioned Hornblower.
"Aye, aye sir," answered Bowles. He stood firmly planted on the quarter-deck. "Alternate guns! Fire!"
The loud report of the cannon echoed across the water. One,
two, three, the
cannon belted out the booming sounds repeatedly, one at a time until
twenty-one blasts were completed. A second's silence ensued and then loud
uproarious shouts were heard from the shore. A rattle of pops and booms began as fireworks lit the sky.
The brilliance of the bombs exploding in air gave added light to that provided by the starry night. Indefatigable silently moved across the calm harbor with the sounds of celebration rolling across the waters, her white sail billowing with a backdrop of bursting fireworks.
Pellew turned and smiled at his second leftenant. "Happy
Hornblower!" and turning to gaze towards the far shore, "Happy Birthday, America!"