Horatio's Journal: The Duel, part one
by Lft. Michele

I arrived this day in Justinian, the Ship of the Line which is
henceforth to be my home. I do not believe the chill from my journey
here from shore has yet left me, nor do I believe it ever will.

To think that only this morning I sat, warm and dry despite the
freezing January rain outside, in the golden glow of the kitchen,
close to hearth, and shared a last meal with Father before I bade him
farewell... His eyes betrayed that he would indeed miss my company
and that he bore some concern for my well-being, though he maintained
a firm and stoic countenance, I must wonder more for his benefit or
for mine. My strongest feeling at the time was that sensation one
finds in one's entrails when one knows that he has done something
irrevocable, something that will forever change his life, but that he
feels certain he is not ready for, nor might he be able to bear.
That, however, is of no consequence, since I do now find myself IN
this situation, which is INDEED irrevocable, any relationship to my
Captain that Father may have notwithstanding....

My new friend Midshipman Archie Kennedy's words ring in my ears: "The
good ship slough of despond." Truer words were never spoken, with the
possible exception of his alternate description of this miserable
place in which I find myself, "Purgatory;" the only difference to the
latter being the implication that the unhappy souls which find
themselves in such place DESERVE to be there, by virtue of some
heinous sin which they had perpetrated in life. My only
transgression, as pointed to by Captain Keene, would seem to be my
low birth and lack of funds, which condition was, I fear, worsened
by fees for my schooling. I further fear that my schooling may have
been a waste of time and resources, as it would seem that the type of
education which I pursued might be of little use in his majesty's
Navy...

The infernal motion of this ship, quite shocking to me considering it
is only lying at anchor (I believe that is what they call it), is
doing nothing for the dreadful and relentless fluttering in my
stomach. I find that taking deep breaths helps calm it some, but even
that is difficult, given the strong smells which are always present.
How I am going to live with this stench in my nostrils is beyond my
capacity, although Archie Kennedy assures me that I will "get used to
it." I do not WISH to get used to it, I do not wish to perceive it at
ALL, but that is not my choice.

Abovedecks, as they call it, is not much better, for it is bone-
chilling cold, with constant howling wind, and with a smell all its
own, difficult to describe. My first glance around that deck made me
even more ill than I already was, as I do not believe a more desolate
sight I have ever seen. I remember thinking, "Oh.... oh no, is THIS
where I am to spend my life now -- is THIS the way it is always going
to be?"

When Archie brought me below, I fear I was so ill and in shock that I
can scarcely recall very much of what he said, only that he talked
quite a bit. I wondered if that may have been his way of attempting
to set me at ease, for, despite my dreadful, growing seasickness, I
sensed in him a desire, or perhaps a need to establish a friendship
with me. Once in the Midshipmen's Berth, he seemed to fit in with the
others well enough, but again there was something... I do not know
how to say it, different about him... I had seen it before in
Father's practice -- some of his patients had suffered so that it
showed in their faces, or their demeanour, even when they smiled...

Captain Keene echoed Father's words that I have always been "a
solitary boy." I suppose that is true. My shock at the number of
people in this ship, and how closely they are forced to live, is
indescribable. At once I could feel them closing in upon me, their
breath and their bodies hot and pungent, even in the January chill.
That alone seems more than sufficient to stifle a man, let alone the
animals aboard. Father would be appalled at the lack of cleanliness,
but I suppose I have little choice but to try to harden myself to it.
How I shall be able to spend quiet time engaged in a book, or ever
again be alone to collect my thoughts, I am certain I do not know;
such things shall never happen again, I fancy. I fear there are going
to be many things to which I must resign myself, for I am no longer
home, not MY home certainly, but in a place that is to become my
life...

Even so, I can see already that I am going to NEED friends here, and
I have a feeling that Archie Kennedy, also by the fact that he, of
all Midshipmen here, is closest to my age, will be as good and kind a
friend to me as Midshipman Clayton has already shown himself to be.

Which brings me to my finest hour, if I may write with a touch of the
sardonic. My shame and embarrassment know no bounds! How could I have
become so violently ill, like a child who has eaten too much of
sweets! And they all laughed... that made it all the worse... But
even so, I could sense that there were a few amongst them who,
immediately thereafter, regretted doing so, most notably Messrs.
Clayton and Kennedy. Archie came round to inquire as to my health
shortly after Mr. Clayton helped me to bed. (How ever they refer to a
scant piece of canvas as a bed, I do not know! But it would seem that
too is the way of things...) That is quite a story, as I did not
believe I would encounter such kindness and solicitude here, me being
a boy in a man's world (I can admit this now, for it is the truth...)
as I have seen from Midshipman Clayton. He is several years senior to
Kennedy and myself and, I expect, wiser in many ways. Already I can
sense a... hmm... a protectiveness, I suppose, from him toward Archie
and the young cabin boy I have seen in the Mess. I must wonder from
whence that protectiveness, if indeed I perceive it accurately, might
stem...

I am very tired now, and the day is not yet over, but thankfully, I
have not yet been assigned a watch for any time soon, so for the
present I shall rest as much as I am permitted. I fancy rest is not a
commodity which is easily come upon here....

Dated this day, 24 January, 1793, and signed, Horatio Hornblower,
Midshipman, HMS Justinian.


Now would seem as fortuitous a time as any to elaborate regarding my
new messmates. Although all have been introduced to me, I fear I have
not yet retained all of their names; I offer only my persistent
(though at times almost tolerable now) seasickness (and growing
homesickness) as excuse...

I have already written to some extent of Midshipmen Clayton and
Kennedy; both have shown me extraordinary kindness (despite their
initial, and quite probably natural, amusement at my... early
reaction to being aboard ship...). Both have also done all that is
within their ability to show me about, to impart knowledge regarding
ship's operations and routine, chain of command, what is expected of
me, and the like. Owing to their assistance and solicitude, I have
managed to adjust at least somewhat to my new situation.

I am certain I would have been much the better without M'Man
Cleveland's editorialising regarding my surname, especially
considering my circumstances at the time. His ally, M'Man Hether, was
neither of any help in my distress; although now, true to Clayton's
assessment, they indeed seem to have become used to my presence, and
are considerably more agreeable at present, and even amiable at
times.

There are two or three other Midshipmen berthed here, although I am
uncertain of the exact number because of the rather confusing watch
system, not all Midshipmen being present at once, at any time since
my arrival. These are the gentlemen whose names escape me at the
moment. Those with whom I have had occasion to converse (albeit not
much beyond the polite felicitations) seem decent enough fellows,
though again, they are quite a few years my senior...

The cabin boy, Nathaniel (for some reason that name sounds quite
familiar to me... I believe one of Father's physician friends had the
same Christian name...) is, of course, younger than even myself and
Archie, though he seems quite wise for his tender years. It appears
he has seen much in his young life, I imagine not all of it good, and
yet he has managed to retain a fair portion of his youthful
enthusiasm, and he has a decided eagerness for knowledge and a great
interest in learning. I am told it is unusual for someone of his
background to be so apt a reader, but knowing him, even a little, I
myself am not surprised.

I have not yet had sufficient time to acquaint myself well with many
of the higher-ranking officers, nor the men. I do, however, have
etched in my memory the hard words of a sailor -- er, seaman whom
Archie called Styles: "There goes his majesty's latest bad
bargain..." As I have said, I realise I am indeed a boy in a man's
world, and I suppose I must get used to hearing such things, for,
pale and ill as I was, I must have appeared quite a sight to
experienced men of the sea. Nonetheless, that is no excuse for
rudeness and insubordination.... I only hope that when the time
comes, I shall be able to control such men as Captain Keene may see
fit to assign under my command...

Oh dear.... how will a boy such as myself ever be able to command
men... men who have been at sea for longer than I have been alive....?

It would seem I shall have to ponder such matters in future, for our
evening meal shall be served presently; I will therefore close this
entry and look forward to, perhaps some mutton (I believe that is
what someone said we shall have). This will be the first meal I will
have here during which I am not impossibly seasick, though I must
admit I am still feeling somewhat unsettled... My messmates are
beginning to discuss exotic ports to which some of them have sailed;
I believe I shall find this conversation most interesting....

Dated this day, 25 January, 1793, and signed, Horatio Hornblower,
Midshipman, HMS Justinian.


I can scarcely write this, for the trembling of my hand; indeed, I
seem unable to control the quaking of the whole of my body.
Yesterday was the most horrible, fearsome day of my life, save that
when Mother was called to her reward. It would seem a madman has
come among us, with the name of Jack Simpson. Surely the depths of
Hades have vomited a demon and sent him to us, for never in my life
have I witnessed such cruelty, malice, and terror from one individual
as in the past twelve hours....

I did not know, when I heard those first words, "You're in my seat,"
what was to follow. His lean, somewhat pinched visage was half-
obscured in the flickering candlelight, but somehow I could already
feel an aura of evil pervade the tiny Mess as he settled his dreadful
presence at the table. The way he paused dramatically whilst pulling
his cloak around himself brought to mind tales I had read of
vampires -- those who are dead inside and must feed upon the living,
draining all life from them, taking their lives as they will...

The first thing he did, aside from his declaration that his
commission had been refused (of this I should not wonder, though I am
sorry of it, selfishly, for our sakes), was to help himself to the
fine piece of mutton which, moments before, had been doing its utmost
to nourish my body and my spirit. Pronouncing it fine yet too salty
for his obviously cultured palate, he then took my spirit ration as
well, which, though not given to regular consumption of spirits, I
must admit had been succeeding in warming the dreadful chill in my
entrails.

When I protested, in the most respectful fashion I could manage given
the circumstances, he shouted some nonsense about being Caesar, at
which remark I was at once convinced he was quite mad. He then
nearly lunged verbally at Archie's throat by way of bidding him
inform me of his own insane regulations. This was a strange thing in
itself, for I watched as instantly Archie went from a peaceful
countenance, enjoying tales of the Indies, to a terrified, downcast
gaze, unable to meet our tormentor's raving eyes, voice breaking,
eyes silently pleading that he might at once disappear and be spared
whatever was terrifying him so. I shudder to fathom what horrors
Simpson may have perpetrated in the past, to elicit such a response...

I then was subjected to the most demeaning, humiliating order an
intensely shy and homesick boy of 17 could be made to endure: The
madman bade me dance! He ordered Clayton to play his fiddle, and me,
barely able to distinguish one tune from another, to dance to it! I
was too terrified and shocked to think of protesting. Those moments,
whilst I, half in a daze, watched as my buckled shoes (seeming like
someone else's) tapped unrhythmically upon the wooden planking, felt
like an eternity. I could feel Cleveland and Hether laughing at
me... Moments before, I had finally begun to feel accepted, and
almost at home. Now, in one horrible moment, all has changed, and I
can see what my life is going to be like from now on, and the most
terrible reality of all is that I know there is nothing I can do to
change it.... There will be no life for me, and no escape, not even
in the blessed refuge of sleep, for "Caesar" has seen fit to deprive
me even of that haven....

I had hoped, indeed the last hope which I had harboured, that my lot
would appear better in light of day. It does not, and I fear it
never shall. If I had not believed that things could be worse than
they were last evening, I was most certainly mistaken, for the night
brought more dreadful cruelty than I had ever thought possible.

Simpson had ordered Archie to wake me every half hour, quite probably
for the rest of my life, beginning last night. I lay in my hammock
for that first half hour, needing sleep, closing my eyes in a
desperate hope for a few precious minutes of oblivion, but unable to
drift off, waiting for those few moments to be at any time intruded
upon. Making this worse was the knowledge that I had brought upon
Archie the same punishment, for he would not even be allowed a few
moments of refuge; I am afeared to think what rage Simpson might fly
into if Archie were to sleep through the time when he should be
awakening me.

But instead of feeling my friend gently and regretfully putting a
hand on my arm to jar me from sleep for the first time, I was stunned
and horrified to hear him cry out and fall to the floor. In the one
terrible moment this began to transpire, Simpson called out in anger,
concerned only that his insane edict be obeyed; my heart stopped as
some distant memory of one of Father's patients was recalled by the
sound of Archie's distress; and Clayton and I were up in a moment,
tending to our friend. I could barely feel the nighttime chill as I
did not even care that the collar of my shirt was open and my feet
bare; I was too terrified for Archie, and too torn apart with guilt
that somehow I had brought this upon him, and that I could do nothing
for him nor for myself. The poor young man writhed pathetically on
the hard, cold floor, convulsing violently, his cries tortured, his
face looking so young, and yet so worn with torment and unrest.
Clayton and I knelt beside him, doing the best we could to comfort
him, but feeling quite helpless, and I feeling more lost than ever.
Simpson's wanton cruelty escalated during our friend's time of
distress; how he was able to think only of his own comfort amidst
such suffering at once inflamed and terrified me. If he could show
such insensitivity toward the infirm, what horrors was he capable of
perpetrating against the rest of us? And what of Archie? What
terror in his soul had occasioned such a violent involuntary
reaction? Despite my recollection of that long-ago patient, in my
fear and weariness I inquired of Clayton as to Archie's ailment.
Clayton's answer was not surprising, but it rang with a finality, a
resignation that confirmed to me my OWN fears: That all hope was
gone, for all of us, and that one way or another there could be only
one escape for me, if only I had the courage to put an end to the
terror that my life had become...

At last the dreadful convulsions quieted, and a strangely peaceful
exhaustion settled upon our friend. Clayton and I gently lifted him
from the floor and put him back into his hammock, not an easy task on
a swaying ship, with only inches of space in which to work; and we
climbed into our own hammocks in another desperate attempt to get
some small amount of rest. The madman ordered Clayton to awaken me,
and though Clayton's weary features showed only resignation, nothing
more, I felt another piece of myself torn away, as I knew I had
sentenced yet another friend to the same punishment to which I must
resign myself. He performed his forced duty as gently and
apologetically as he could, his hand at once jarring and comforting;
but after this happened several times, I came to think of it, in my
sleep-deprived manner of thought, as a father comforting a child
after a nightmare, only in reverse: That the nightmare was occurring
whilst I was awake, and Clayton was comforting me for having to
return me to that nightmare-reality.

I had never known anything like this, not being allowed to sleep.
Each time I was awakened, some new and strange thought crept into my
exhausted mind. One time I thought of Father being awakened to go
and assist a midwife encountering difficulty, and later in the same
night again being summoned by an elderly neighbour whose wife had
stopped breathing. At this recollection I thought of how I envied
that woman! A terrible, morbid thought, but I too now wished for
advanced years, to hasten my escape from this nightmare world...
Another time when I was awakened, my thoughts turned to Father, and
to our home... how warm and safe it must be at this very moment, how
desperately I wished I could be there, that perhaps no one would
notice if I crept out during the darkness of night... No, I could not
do that. I turned, the best I could in my hammock, away from where
Simpson rested contentedly, and wept, praying that no one would see
or hear me in my weakness and despair....

Now the morning is here, though it feels as if night never came, and
I must take my watch. I feel cold, terribly cold, more so than ever
I have felt in my life, but I will welcome the chill air and
relentless gale, for perhaps they might serve to cleanse from me the
terror of the past night, and rid my soul of the dark and hopeless
thoughts that have already become my constant companions... I wish I
could write that I have hope of today being better, but I HAVE no
such hope....

Dated this day, 26 January, 1793, and signed, Horatio Hornblower,
Midshipman, HMS Justinian.

 

[To Be Continued...]