Hidden Danger, a Missing Scene
by Skihee

 

"Breakers! Breakers! Breakers off the larboard beam!" shouted the mast
head lookout.

With but a glimpse, Bowles called to the helmsman, "Hard a'starboard!
Hard a'starboard! Heave on the starboard braces! For all your worth, men!
Heave!"

The men in the waist hauled against the lines, reaching high and hauling
down with all the weight of their bodies.

"Come back on those halyards! Turn her! Turn her, damn it!" cried
Bowles.

Pellew emerged quickly from his cabins, forgetting to put on his hat.
The tone of his sailing master's voice was never so full of dread and
anxiety. Wild-eyed, he made for the quarter-deck ladder when the long
scraping groan began. The sudden stop threw him against the larboard rail.

"Damnation!" he muttered, feeling the pain in his side.

Kennedy was thrown to the deck as he and Hornblower responded to the
voices they heard above decks. Hornblower would have joined him flailing on
the floor had he not reached for the handrail of the companion when he did.
He thrust out a hand.

"Archie! Are you all right?" He helped Kennedy to his feet.

"I am. What's happened?" he asked as he righted himself and followed
Hornblower topside.

"What the devil is going on?" questioned Bracegirdle coming up behind
Kennedy and Hornblower.

Climbing to the quarter-deck, Pellew leaned out over the larboard rail
and peered into the pea green sea. As the water cleared from white peaks, he
could see it beneath, black and gray. Indefatigable was on a reef!

"Dear God in heaven!" voiced Pellew.

With the thought came the harsh grating of timbers, excruciating to
Pellew's ears. Wood against rock, she teetered. The jolt on her keel was
agony, tormenting cries, like a beached whale, Indy's freedom stolen away.

"Archie! We're aground!" cried Hornblower.

Suddenly, the abrasion and jarring stopped. She was free and floating
again. The scramble on deck and in the yards continued. Bowles was shouting
orders to get her sail turned to catch the wind and carry her away from the
hidden obstacle.

Both officers gasped when gravity pounded in their knee joints as the
ship landed against the rock a second time. The water disappeared from under
her and she tilted and slipped towards her beam ends. The free fall was
halted as the tide water returned and floated Indefatigable upright, rocking
on the water and rolling into a wave. Hornblower got his footing and ran to
the larboard side. The ship turned slightly to starboard with the sails
altered for the new course. Hornblower saw the beach was far distant. What
had happened? It looked like deep water. No sign of any danger. Then,
there it was.... briefly... white water...but for an instant, not more than
twenty feet away. The green sea went smooth and you would never know what
skulked beneath.

"Lord!" breathed Hornblower, and he swallowed hard.

Kennedy came up beside him. "What?"

"Watch there, Archie!"

After nigh on a minute, foaming waves revealed the rock and then went
smooth and remained so, camouflaged by the fluctuating tide.

"Oh, damn." Kennedy looked to the quarter-deck. Rampling was on watch
and was as red as a beet. "Poor old Rampling. I'd have never seen it!"

"None saw it but the lookout," said Hornblower. "That was Harkins that
shouted breakers."

Breakers? Hornblower could not believe what he was hearing when the call
came. When the cry reached the officer's mess, he had been writing a letter
to his father and listening to Kennedy complain about his shoes wearing out.
Now they were all topside and wondering about the seaworthiness of their
faithful ship.

Hornblower saw Bracegirdle beside Pellew. Talking to Bowles, the captain
was hatless and running his hand over his hair. With a nod, Hornblower
motioned for Archie to follow him to the command deck. As they drew near,
Pellew was heard to speak.

"Do not fret yourself, Mr. Rampling. It's uncharted, I know," stated
Pellew, then, calmly ordered, "Mr. Rampling,... if you would, sir,... go and
check the well. Get Starns to go with you."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

As Rampling passed Hornblower and Kennedy on the way down, Hornblower
gave him a consoling and supportive nod and Kennedy touched his back. The
two drew nearer to Pellew.

"I've got to have a look. I've got to." Pellew sighed heavily.

"Wait for Mr. Rampling to return, Captain," advised Bracegirdle.

Pellew inhaled, running his hand over his hair again, a nervous response.
What had happened to his ship? He latched onto the rail, bowed and shook
his head, eyes closed. "Damn," he whispered, "at least we're not sinking, at
least she is not still on that reef."

Kennedy and Hornblower glimpsed one another. Could it be that bad? Indy
was still afloat and making way. What was taking Rampling so long?

Pellew paced the weather side.

"I'm going below to see what's keeping him," said Hornblower.

Pellew came near the helm. Hornblower halted his departure and listened.

"Rampling has started a pumping crew." Pellew pulled off his neck cloth
and stuffed it in his coat pocket. "Heave to, Mr. Bowles." He removed his
coat, lay it over the rail, and began undoing his waistcoat buttons.

"Aye, aye, Captain. Hard a lee, helmsman. PREPARE TO LUFF UP!" Bowles
shouted. "Reef sail!" He did not want to take any chances of losing Pellew
by Indefatigable being taken by an errant wind. There had been enough
surprises for one day.

"Let me go, Captain," offered Hornblower, removing his coat and tugging
at the knot of his neck cloth.

"I will go, Leftenant. She's my ship," said Pellew.

Hornblower started on his waistcoat buttons. "But sir, you shouldn't go
alone."

"Leftenant...." he frowned at Hornblower. "Very well."

Pellew pulled off his shoes and stockings. Hornblower lay his clothing
beside Pellew's. Both men were barefoot and clothed only in breeches. The
two men descended to the waist and stood by the entry port. Hornblower
fought the shiver in the November airs and concentrated on the feel of the
sun against his skin.

Dr. Luis Sebastian, the ship's surgeon, came on deck and saw the two half
naked men. "Captain...No."

Pellew put up a hand to silence his physician.

Rampling arrived, saw Pellew at the starboard entry port, and reported.
"Water is flooding the well, sir. I've started a pump crew."

"Very good, Mr. Rampling. Mr. Hornblower and I are going to have a look
at what lies beneath."

Sebastian spoke. "If you already know she is taking on water, it is not
necessary to go in, Captain."

"I did not ask for your opinion, Doctor."

"Nevertheless, the water will be quite cold, sir," argued Sebastian
pointedly. "It will be a useless enterprise. You know she is damaged."

"Doctor Sebastian," Pellew stared at his surgeon, meeting the worry in
his eyes. "I must make a decision as to whether we will stay at sea and do
our duty, or be forced to put in to Portsmouth for repair. I cannot make a
guess, and I cannot determine the situation by putting the ship in jeopardy
and opening up her bottom from the inside. Certainly you can see that!" Why
the devil was he explaining it to this man anyway, except that he of all
people on board could stop him, with cause, from being Captain of
Indefatigable. Pray God no doctor would ever declare him unfit for command.

Hornblower listened anxiously to the two older men and knew what the
doctor was implying. The water would be very cold. Dangerous. Men could
die from such temperatures if exposed too long. Sebastian's arguments were
too convincing.

Pellew sighed heavily and looked at Hornblower. There was no need in
endangering his second. Hornblower should remain on board. The man hadn't
an ounce of fat on him. "He is right, Mr. Hornblower..."

"Very well, sir. I will go alone," and he dove into the water.

"Mr. Hornblower!" Pellew stepped onto the gunwale and dove in after him.

"No! Captain!" Sebastian raised his hands in frustration. "Holy Mary,
Jesus, and Joseph! Get some blankets!" He turned to Kennedy and Rampling.
"Where are the safety lines? Why do you not have a boat in the water?"

Rampling and Kennedy stared at the physician, mouths agape! Kennedy
chuckled suddenly and answered.

"Aye, aye, Captain Sebastian! Men! Let's lower a boat!"

"Safety lines! Matthews, Styles!" called Rampling.

"I'll get the blankets!" volunteered Oldroyd.

"Daniels! Bring a bottle of the captain's whiskey," called Sebastian,
and thought to himself, *Both of you, hard-headed, stiff-necked ...Pellew,
you have trained him to be just like you and in concert with his native brash
proclivities...Oh Lord!* Sebastian frowned. Looking well out over the side,
he could see neither man. "Dear Jesus, watch over them."

Styles passed the mumbling surgeon, took a line and climbed down the
battens, stopping just above the waterline. Leaning out and looking forward,
he could see the two men treading water at the bow and faintly hear the hot
discussion.

"Mr. Hornblower! I did not ask you to volunteer!"

"But sir..."

"Don't but sir me, you knew very well what you were doing!"

"Sorry, sir," he could not prevent his teeth from chattering. He took a
breath and sunk beneath the water.

"Get back on..... Hornblower! Damn it, man!"

Taking a deep breath, Pellew followed after. He swam along underneath
the hull, seeking the keel. A caressing movement of water flowed over his
legs. He looked to the right and saw Hornblower was beside him and heading
slightly forward. Reaching the keel, the two slipped back towards the middle
of Indefatigable.

Pellew's lungs pressed him for air. Where was Hornblower? With a push
against the hull, he propelled himself beyond the side and up. Breaching the
surface, he sucked in a breath and spun around treading water looking for his
officer.

"Hornblower?"

He glimpsed the bottom of the launch swung out overhead. He sucked in
several quick short breaths to expand his lungs, and then, dove. When he
reached the keel, Hornblower was there. The leftenant motioned him further
abaft and patted the hull. Pellew saw him push against the hull and head for
air on the other side of the ship. He moved towards where Hornblower had
indicated, glimpsed the damage, and then, followed him up.

"Mr. Hornblower!" he sputtered.

"Sir!"

"Get out of the water! You'll freeze, man."

"Yes, sir." Taking a breath he dove under the ship.

Pellew filled his lungs and dove under for a final survey of the damage.

Hornblower held onto the keel, fanning the water, waiting for him. A
stream of red was flowing from Hornblower's arm. Pellew motioned for him to
go up. He watched Hornblower push himself deeper to avoid being scraped
again by Indefatigable's barnacle-spotted, and now damaged, hull.

On closer examination, Pellew saw it was the garboard strake, stove in
about twenty-five feet or so beginning just foreward of mid-length, worse in
some spots than others. The garboard strake was the first range of planks
running along and outside the ship's keel, the hardest to caulk,... in fact,
nigh impossible. He gave it a last look, confirmed in his mind the length of
the injury, then followed in the direction of Hornblower. When he broke the
surface, Pellew saw Sebastian and Kennedy urging Hornblower to get in the
launch.

"Nnnot until the ccccaptain comes up, sir. He mmmmight need me."

"Hornblower! Get out of the damn water!" ordered Pellew.

Hornblower turned to see his captain swimming towards him. Before he
could make any motion to climb in, Sebastian ordered Styles and Matthews to
drag him into the boat. The ratings grabbed him under the arms and hauled.

Hornblower's flesh was white and ice cold except for the trickle of blood
growing more effusive. Sebastian saw the rip in Hornblower's flesh. Taking
a cup of the whiskey from Matthews, he poured some over the open wound,
squeezed the muscle to make it bleed and doused it again with the alcohol.

"You are going to need a stitch.," informed the doctor.

Hornblower winced and let out the slightest moan, feeling faint with cold
and the sudden pain of the astringent.

Sebastian pulled his neck cloth off and wrapped Hornblower's upper arm
tightly, then snugged a blanket around him.

"Th..th..thank you , s..s...sir," shivered Hornblower, trying to stop the
quivering of his body.

Sebastian sat next to him, seeking to stimulate the blood flow from his
center by rubbing his back. Hornblower's full weight fell against him.

Pellew climbed in with Styles' help. Matthews placed a blanket around
Pellew, then handed him a cup.

"Whiskey to warm ye, Cap'n," said Matthews.

The rating tried to hand one to Hornblower, but he could not raise his
hand and shook his head to refuse it. Matthews leaned towards him and tilted
the cup into the leftenant's mouth. Taking a gulp, Hornblower coughed and
turned his head.

"Th...thank you, Mmmatthews."

Pellew frowned. "You are too thin, Mr. Hornblower, for such antics."

"Yyyes, sir," he admitted. "Ssssorry, ssssir."

"Styles, come here. Unbutton your coat," ordered Sebastian, pulling the
blanket away from Hornblower and revealing the blue-cast skin. The leftenant
was too cold to do anything but sit and endure the ministrations. "Straddle
the seat and hold Mr. Hornblower against you."

Styles pulled Hornblower's back up against his chest and enfolded his
coat around the leftenant as best he could, feeling the weakness of the
officer.

"Thththank you, Styles," whispered Hornblower. His wet head leaned
helplessly against the man.

The rating hugged him closer and whispered in his ear. "I've got ye,
sir."

"I nearly lost my ship and now I am nearly losing you, sir?" bellowed
Pellew. "Did you ever kiss the gunner's daughter before you came aboard my
ship, Mr. Hornblower?"

Sebastian frowned at Pellew's bluster. The captain's emotional furor
would be enough to warm him.

Hornblower stared at his captain, shivering with cold. "Yyyes, sssir."

Matthews and Styles glimpsed one another.

"Be thankful you are a leftenant, Mr. Hornblower," spat Pellew.

"Yyyes, sir."

"I think you both need your senses examined," muttered Sebastian.

"Gggarboard strake, sir," managed Hornblower.

"I could see it was the damn garboard strake!" yelled Pellew. "Did I
need you to confirm it?"

"Nnno, sir," he answered softly, shivering in Styles arms. "Ssssorry,
sir."

Hornblower did not want his captain to go alone into the icy water, but
he thought better of saying so aloud. It was best to let his commander blow
off steam, as he should do at him, for "avoiding" his orders. He might get a
few days of watch on watch, he supposed. At least, he knew the captain was
safe. His eyelids felt heavy as he tried to assess his state of being and
form a thought. *I feel as weak....as weak.. as a new born ... a new born
ki....* Passing out, his head lolled against Styles.

The rating canted his head to see Hornblower was indeed unconscious.
Reaching behind Hornblower's back, he unbuttoned his shirt, shifted the
material away, and pressed Hornblower's cold flesh against his torso. He
splayed his big hands over the leftenant's chest, using fingertips to pinch
the coat around the man, and hugged his thighs tightly against the cold wet
clothing of Hornblower. The heartbeat was slow, but Styles could feel the
pulse beneath his palm.

Styles looked up to see Pellew watching him and smiled gently. "He'll be
all right, sir," he offered quietly.

Hornblower was in that half state between waking and sleeping. He knew
he was warm and dry and with that thought he drifted back into sleep. Not
many minutes later a sound pierced through the light dozing and he jerked his
head and rubbed into a stiff cloth. Still half dreaming, he roused enough to
state mentally. *I'm not a midshipman.* Mental activity ceased for a second
and then he asked himself, *Why am I in a hammock?* which was the thought
that caused him to tell himself he was not a midshipman. He had his own
cabin, sort of... Archie..., and slept in a bunk. Not only did the fabric
report-- hammock, but there was a gentle sway to the contrivance. They were
moving.

He opened his eyes and studied the deckbeam above. *Where am I?* He
reached for the edges to rise.

"Argh!" His hand went immediately to his upper left arm and he felt the
bandage wrapping it. Besides that pain, his nerves were prickling with heat
like a thousand pins and needles.

"You cut yourself pretty badly. It took more than one stitch. It will
be sore for a few days, but you will mend. Welcome back to the living."
Sebastian pressed against his chest. "No, you are not getting up ...not yet,
anyway."

"What's happened? We're under sail. What is the time? I have the first
watch."

"Not tonight, Mr. Hornblower." Sebastian turned to the loblolly boy.
"Becker, go to the galley and get that soup for Mr. Hornblower."

"Doctor..." pleaded Hornblower.

"No, and I mean, no. Just what did you think you were doing?"

"Sir?"

"Nevermind. The time is two bells in the first watch. No! No!" he said
quickly pressing against the leftenant. "I thought that might have been what
roused you. You are suffering from exposure to cold. You do remember
swimming with the captain, do you not?"

"Yes, yes. Indy is badly stove in... the garboard strake ... at least
twenty feet or more. She's taking on water."

"Good. Your mental faculties are unaffected. Now, you only need regain
your strength."

"Who has my watch?"

"Bracegirdle has two of the midshipman taking the duty, Connors and
Cutter." Sebastian smiled wryly. "How does it feel to know it takes two to
replace you?"

Hornblower studied the doctor keenly, wondering if he were teasing him.
At any rate, he had no answer. He was supposed to be on duty.

"I am sorry to have let Mr. Bracegirdle down. It was never my intention."

"What was your intention?"

Hornblower looked away. "I... I knew the situation had to be assessed.
I expected to go."

"And, you hoped to spare the captain the job."

"I botched it."

"Self-recrimination?"

"The captain is not so indisposed, is he?"

Sebastian slowly shook his head. "No. But the captain has a bit more
protective tissue than you do."

Hornblower heaved a sigh.

"Here is Becker with soup for you." Sebastian held out the spoon.

Frowning at the implement, Hornblower reached for it and felt the
prickling. He grimaced at the sensations but gripped the spoon firmly.

"Hm." Sebastian was arching a brow.

Hornblower knew better than to protest or refuse. With soup bowl resting
on his chest, he lifted his head to take the spoon into his mouth while the
good doctor looked on.

Finishing it with dispatch, Hornblower asked, "May I get up now?"

Sebastian smiled, took the bowl, and answered, "You may try. Do not pull
out those stitches."

The doctor helped him out of the hammock. With each movement, the
prickling diminished and Hornblower knew that would be the remedy for
whatever effects remained of the cold water. He yanked the blanket out of
the hammock and wrapped it around his waist.

"I...," Hornblower bowed his head and blushed, "my clothes?"

"Not yet, come sit over here. If you finish the supper I had Wiggins
save for you, I will release you to your cabin."

Hornblower sighed and shuffled with the blanket lapping over his feet and
sat at the chair indicated. Sebastian draped another blanket around his
shoulders. He would never understand why people assigned to take care of
other people always got so much pleasure out of seeing those in their
charge-- eat. All he knew was, that with each bite Sebastian relaxed and
told him the news that Pellew decided to take Indefatigable in for repair.
They were going home.

As he was completing the meal, Captain Pellew arrived to look in on him,
and Hornblower stood. He grabbed at the blanket attempting to slip from his
shoulders.

"Sit down. You are up and about. I expected to find you still abed."

"Yes, sir," replied Hornblower sheepishly, "Sorry, sir."

"So you keep saying," replied Pellew with a creased brow. "Are you
releasing him from sick berth, Doctor?"

Sebastian sighed. "He appears to be recovered. He has a good appetite."

*Uh, oh. Here it comes,* thought Hornblower. *What's it going to be?
Watch on watch? And for how long?*

"I was impressed, Mr. Hornblower, that you recognized our damage to be
the garboard strake."

"Th...thank you, sir."

Pellew watched him as though he were expecting more.

"I have been reading about ship construction, sir."

"Have you?"

"Yes, sir." He paused. Was he to go on? "I feel the more I know, the
better I ... the better ... seaman I will make, sir."

Pellew's eyes crinkled minutely at the edges and the orbs themselves
twinkled. "If you do not freeze to death first, you mean?"

"Yes, sir," he replied quietly, avoiding his captain's stare.

Silence.

"I'm glad to see you well, Mr. Hornblower."

"Thank you, sir."

Pellew gave Sebastian a nod and turned to leave.

Hornblower stood. "Captain Pellew, sir."

Pellew stopped and swiveled his body to face the second leftenant. "Yes,
Mr. Hornblower?"

"My ... my punishment, sir."

"Punishment? Anxious, are you?"

"When will I know, sir, what ..."

Pellew considered the thin young man. "Yes, Mr. Hornblower, you did do
something you KNEW you should not have done." Pellew lifted his chin and let
his eyes bore into Hornblower's.

Hornblower reddened, swallowed, and tugged at the waist blanket; the one
across his shoulders fell away. He bent to retrieve it.

"You have the forenoon watch, Mr. Hornblower. He will be back on duty,
Doctor?"

"I see no impediments, Captain."

"Good. Plan on taking the afternoon watch, also. Your next assignment
would be the second dog, I believe. Take the first watch after it, too. He
is well enough to stand consecutive watches, Doctor?"

"I believe he is, but I will check on him, sir."

"Very well. The next time would be the morning and forenoon watches.
Will three additional such duties be sufficient for you to ponder the error
of your ways, Mr. Hornblower?"

Hornblower quickly charted his duty hours and thought *I will only have
two hours off between the afternoon and second dog watch before I have to
report back!* His eyes grew wide. "Yes, sir. Quite."

Pellew nodded. "Good." Pausing and frowning, Pellew added, "Dr.
Sebastian, either put him to bed or get him a uniform. Goodnight, gentlemen."

Hornblower smirked, and saw raised eyebrows on the doctor.

***

Returning to his cabin at the end of the afternoon watch, Hornblower
blushed with the descriptions Archie provided. Kennedy was putting away
returned wash and generally straightening his belongings and the shared room.

"You were like Styles' little brother all hugged up and close. Very
touching, really," he grinned. "I was glad for you, old man, that you
remained unconscious as he threw you over his shoulder and carried you back
on board Indefatigable like a bag of biscuit." Kennedy tossed Hornblower his
clean shirts.

"If I had been conscious, Archie, I could have come on board on my own,"
he defended, folding his clothes. His face flushed fire red. Just what he
needed, another appellation to add to 'the only midshipman seasick in
Spithead', the only leftenant carried on board like a bag of biscuit. He
frowned, knocked his sea chest lid down, and fell back onto his bunk. "Ow!"
He rubbed his head where it hit the wall.

"Good point. Indeed, Sebastian thinks old Styles may have saved your
life. There was no other quick way to warm you. Anyway, you probably took
Pellew's mind off our other problems. Just as well. Bad enough bringing in
a damaged ship from an accident. Tough one that. I mean, if it was from
battle that would be one thing, but running up on a rock! Even though it was
uncharted. I hope she repairs quickly before the word gets round.
Although.." he sighed, " I don't think it's going to be so. They'll have to
get her out of the water. God! We'll probably have to remove the cannon and
every damn loose thing on her. We could be in Portsmouth for weeks! Is that
such a bad thing? Listen, old man, I know these two girls that work at that
little pub just over off the Hard. You know the Sally Port Inn?"

Archie chattered away desultorily, planning their stay in Portsmouth.
The repair Indefatigable needed was a difficult one. Where would they all go
if they could not berth on Indy? Would there be another ship for them?
Would it be a frigate? This was serious, but here was Archie gaily drawing
scenarios with pub wenches.

What was Pellew thinking? Could England afford to have an entire ship's
crew idly wait by for repairs? She was at war! Ships were always in need of
replacements. Hornblower had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

The foreboding did not ease. When on watch, Hornblower studied the
captain closely when he came on the quarter-deck. Could he ever be as good a
captain as this man that had taught him so much? His captain seemed more
preoccupied than usual. On one hand, Hornblower wished Pellew would share
the thoughts he contemplated as he paced across the weather side. On the
other, ignorance was bliss, but no, that was a lie. Ignorance was hell. Was
he not in a living hell of not knowing?

With each watch he held in the coming days, Hornblower's thoughts would
eventually turn to these questions and ponderings. As happy as Archie's
thoughts were about being landside, Hornblower's were equally dark. The
misgivings wrapped themselves around his psyche, and he could not voice them
to Kennedy.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Indefatigable sailed passed The Needles and
entered the Solent. Hornblower glimpsed Pellew standing rigidly, Bowles on
his left, Bracegirdle on his right. This would not be easy, bringing in a
ship damaged not from battle. Hornblower lifted the telescope to his eye and
spied out the Dockyards. He rested the scope on the white dockyard clock
with the powder blue face. It was nearly five.

By six bells of the second dog watch, Indefatigable was safely moored. A
liaison officer from Admiralty boarded in response to Pellew's signal. The
ship settled in, became quiet, and the crew slept, except for those officers
on watch and those crewmen pumping.

Around two in the morning, Hornblower wakened and lay in his bunk
listening to Archie's steady breathing. When the watch bell sounded at
three, he sighed at his wakeful state, rose, dressed, threw on his cloak, and
went out on deck. The water quietly lapped at the hull. He stood in the
waist and closed his eyes and imagined the crew working her, the quarter-deck
filled with officers, a wind on her larboard quarter, pressing her canvas,
heeling into a following sea. He breathed deeply and smiled, then opened his
eyes, and looked wistfully about him.

"Who's that?" asked a voice from the quarter-deck.

It was Pellew.

"Hornblower, sir. I couldn't sleep."

His captain motioned him up and disappeared from view. When he mounted
the quarter-deck, he saw Pellew's shadowy form at the taffrail, appearing
massive in the flowing dark woolen cape.

"Sir?"

Pellew nodded a welcome.

"Mr. Hornblower." There was no moon, only the stars gave light. A deep
sigh came from the man.

Hornblower remained silent. Being here with his mentor seemed suddenly
precious. He wanted to say something, but none of the words that came to
mind seemed adequate.

"Captain Pellew, sir... it is an honour to serve with you."

Pellew eyed his second leftenant and said, "Present tense. I pray it
remains so." Pellew heaved another deep sigh, leaned on the rail, and
massaged his forehead. "It isn't good, Hornblower... this repair." He
stopped speaking and looked at him. "You should be sleeping. We have a busy
day tomorrow. And, an early one."

"Sir?"

"The lighters will be here at six a.m. We're going to strip her."

"They aren't wasting any time, sir."

"No, they're not. You best get some sleep."

"May I ask, how long you think the repair will take, sir?"

Pellew shook his head, thinking. "No idea really. Weeks, at the least."

Hornblower swallowed and ventured another question. "Will... will the
crew remain on board, sir?"

"For the time being...until they lay her over."

"What will... where ... I mean..." Hornblower could not ask the question.
It stuck in his throat like poorly chewed meat.

"I don't know, Mr. Hornblower." In the darkness, Pellew's dark eyes
glinted. The captain reached out and lay his hand on Hornblower's shoulder.
For the longest moment Pellew stared into his face, into his eyes, and
Hornblower could not move or speak or barely breathe. "You are a fine
officer, Mr. Hornblower. If you do not know it, you should, and I am telling
you now. Will you remember I said it?"

Hornblower hoped the captain did not feel the quake in his bones that
trembled through his body. What fearful thoughts plagued this man he admired
and looked up to, his teacher, his guide, his example? He had to reply. His
mouth was suddenly dry as dust, and he tried to swallow.

"I will remember, sir."

With that, Pellew removed his hand. "Good. Good. Will you sleep?"

Hornblower paused and decided to answer truthfully. "I doubt it, sir."

"Hm."

Hornblower could hear the frown in his voice.

"Neither will I, Mr. Hornblower. Chilly out." He shrugged his broad
shoulders under the cloak. I could do with some coffee. Want a cup?"

"It ... would be a pleasant thing, sir."

Pellew smiled. "It would indeed. Let's see who else can't sleep. Maybe
we could get up a hand of whist."

***

The day was long. Stripping Indefatigable of her teeth was as painful as
if it had been Hornblower's own. There were no guns left on her and she rode
high in the water. In the afternoon, her yards were taken down, her top
masts removed, and they lay like the dead on her decks after a battle. The
lighters would be back in the morning to take these pieces away. When
Hornblower came on deck that night, tears filled his eyes and ran silently
down his cheeks. He wiped them away.

The next day, Pellew was gone to meet with Admiralty. The lighters came
and her decks were cleared. The hatches were opened and every type of supply
was removed, from biscuit to wading.

Pellew came back on board at the beginning of the first dog watch.
Rampling saw him, and when asked about the captain's demeanor, shook his head
and said, "Storm warning."

The next day, with a dockyard ship along side to keep Indy stable, the
crew was busy gathering the ballast and pulling it topside to be taken off
ship. During the removal, Bracegirdle called down the first of many lists,
taking the crewmen of Indefatigable away to be dispersed among the ships in
harbor.

Matthews and Styles were called together. The two men stared at each
other, at Oldroyd, and then found Hornblower's gaze.

"Go on. You've been called. You best gather your things," Hornblower
had said. It was all so unreal. He had been with these men for nearly seven
years. Oldroyd's expression was pitiful. He was left behind, not going
with his best mates, though he was taken with the last group summoned.

Hornblower and Kennedy and Rampling watched them go, pieces of their
lives walking away and leaving them with an empty command. None of them
asked the question that was on all their minds. Where would THEY be sent?
Hornblower recalled Oldroyd's lost expression and wondered if he, too, would
go alone to a new ship. The hollow feeling inside, that had been gone for so
many years, returned.

What was Pellew going to do? Their captain was rumored angry. Only
Bracegirdle had spoken with him, having the divvying of men to do. The first
leftenant was tight-lipped and glum.

***

The officers sat at mess, taking dinner when Cutter arrived in the
doorway.

"What is it, Mr. Cutter?" asked Bracegirdle.

"It's a note for Mr. Bowles, sir."

"Give it to him, then," ordered Bracegirdle impatiently.

Bowles put down his fork and knife, sucked a tooth, and stared at the
sealed letter. He glanced around at his dinner mates, frowned and opened the
missive. He read silently and the other men watched him, unable to continue
the meal. Finally, he looked up at them and sighed.

"I've been assigned to Meteor. I'm to report at two bells of the
forenoon watch."

Cutter turned in the doorway to leave, when Midshipman Connors came up
beside him.

"Excuse me, sirs," he announced. "Captain Pellew requests your
attendance in the after cabin in twenty minutes."

"Thank you, Mr. Connors," said Hornblower.

Each officer turned to his own thoughts. There was no need for
discussion. Their fate would soon be revealed.

***

The men stood outside the cabin door as Bracegirdle knocked.

"Come."

Would that be the last time Hornblower heard that reply from this man
through that door?

The officers filed in and Pellew motioned for them to sit while he
remained standing. Taking a breath, Pellew began.

"As you can see, gentlemen, Indefatigable is in a sad state of affairs.
She will be repaired, of course, but once completed she will become...
someone else's ... command. There are a number of ships in port. Some of
them may need leftenant's. Your names and records will be made available to
those captains needing crew and I pray you will not be on shore for too long.
It saddens me that we have come to this, but such are the fortunes of war.

"Each one of you has served me well. I have not captained a finer crew
than you people. I pray you will remember our time together ... fondly. You
will be disembarking Indefatigable in the morning. Admiralty will send a
boat. They have arranged housing for you for a time. Have you any
questions?"

Silence.

"What is to become of you, sir?" asked Hornblower.

Pellew hesitated, but a moment. He knew they would ask. "I am to
captain Impeteaux."

"Impeteaux?" questioned Kennedy. "Was that not the ship that mutinied?"

"It was."

"Then, it's settled now?" asked Kennedy.

"No, but they expect I will ... settle it, Mr. Kennedy," he answered
acerbically.

"Can we not go with you, sir?" asked Hornblower anxiously. "I know..."

"No. You cannot, Mr. Hornblower," hissed Pellew, cutting him off.
"Admiralty informs me, I may take no one with me but my midshipmen." Pellew
paused and gained control of his temper. "Believe me, gentlemen, if I could,
I would take each of you with me to that hell ship." He turned away and
tapped his bottom lip. "It is not to be."

In the days to come, those words would ring in Hornblower's memory.

*****

Bracegirdle stayed on board with Pellew and the midshipmen and a light
crew, assisting with removal of the captain's personal stores and furniture.

Dr. Sebastian bid farewell, deciding to take a sabbatical and consider
his options.

Hornblower, Kennedy and Rampling were informed by the Admiralty personnel
officer that their names were added to the list and that the captains
currently in port would be apprised of their availability and proximity.

The three of them spent time in a popular pub of the navy and occasioned
a chat whenever they could, keeping their ears keen for information.

It was reported Renown needed a leftenant, but only one. They learned
James Sawyer was her captain and that his service was as impressive as
Pellew's though his ship was a ship of the line, not a frigate. The man
served with Nelson and was present at not only the Battle of Cape St.
Vincent, but also the Battle of the Nile. He had a record to stir the hearts
of any man with awe. Certainly he could inspire a crew to perform their
duties with distinction. But, Sawyer only needed one man and there were
three of them.

Rampling spoke. "Look. It has been grand serving with you two these
last years. The both of you hope to get a ship together, do you not?"

Hornblower and Kennedy, looked at each other, then at Rampling. Kennedy
shrugged.

"We may not have a choice, old man, of being split up," said Kennedy.
"Who'd have thought it would come to this?"

Hornblower had, but said nothing.

"Well. What are we going to do? Each of us try for Renown?" prompted
Rampling.

Hornblower glanced at Kennedy, then spoke to Rampling. "You go, Bryce."

"But, you are senior to me, Horatio," said Rampling.

Hornblower tossed his head. "I thought I might go visit my father. I'll
wait."

"You're sure?" asked Rampling.

"Yes. Go on. Go for it, man," smiled Hornblower.

Kennedy and Hornblower were left alone.

"You're lying," stated Kennedy.

Hornblower smiled wryly. "I might go visit him, if we don't get a ship
together."

Kennedy grinned. "Can't live without me, eh?"

"Don't press your luck!" Hornblower retorted.

"Another?" asked Kennedy, lifting his glass.

"Are you buying?"

Kennedy grinned a reply and took Hornblower's glass.

The two had nearly consumed the lot of those pints of beer, when Rampling
came running breathless into the pub.

Hornblower leaned back and smiled. "That was fast. Did you get it?"

"No! Quick! Come with me!" When the two friends continued to sit and
stare, Rampling took the glasses out of their hands and sat them on the
table. "Come with me!" he said urgently.

Kennedy and Hornblower picked up their hats and followed him into the
bright sun.

"Listen. I've just run into old Bowles over near Gieves & Hawkes
Uniforms. He says Meteor needs a leftenant."

"That's grand, Bryce! You'll be with Bowles!" grinned Kennedy.

"Yes. But there's more. Bowles tells me Renown needs not one but two
leftenants. It's the answer for all of us. Yes? Come on! You've got to
get over to Admiralty now. I hear Sawyer himself is there perusing the
lists. You might have an opportunity to speak with him in person. Come on!"

Hornblower held his hat on his head as they ran down the Hard to the
Admiralty offices. Entering clamorously into the vestibule, the three young
men were panting with a light sweat on their brow.

A tall graying captain stood by reception staring at a paper in his hand.
He looked up at the three leftenants with cautious but calculating blue eyes.

Hornblower swallowed and saluted him.

"Are you Captain Sawyer, sir?"

 

The End
Hidden Danger

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Authorr's Note:

Indefatigable did hit a reef and when Pellew finally took her into Plymouth,
soon after he was given the mutinied ship Impeteaux. Here are his words on
the event.

 

 

"Letter to Alex Broughton: "Lord Bridportdirected me to Watch and

prey off Brest, where I have been Nov. Dec'r and Jan'y in most

delightful Weather. However, we have weathered all storms and by

God's Providence have escaped from Ship Wreck even by a Miracle. She

took a most delightful thump upon a bed of Rocks called les Pont des

Saints. I believe we must look at her Bottom in a Dock, for which

purpose we are proceeding to Plymouth..."