A Kingston Carol
by Nereus

 

*Part One - Clayton's Ghost*

As far as Commodore Sir Edward Pellew was concerned it was
definitely not going to be a good Christmas.

Barely arrived in Kingston, and he was confronted with this Renown
business. The ship was not yet in harbour, but report of events
aboard had preceded the docking and most certainly provided material
for a Court of Inquiry and, if Black Charlie had his way, for a
court martial. The news had arrived on Christmas Eve, and was
without doubt the most unwelcome Christmas present of his life. He
had spent a most disagreeable three hours wrangling over it with the
only other captains currently in harbour. Or rather wrangling with
Hammond. Collins had consumed a large amount of port, made
inappropriate jokes, then gone to sleep and snored. Hammond,
however, was more than capable of providing enough wrangle for three
other captains.

Hammond was set on a court-martial, and, by implication at least, a
conviction. And it really was very hard to find adequate reasons to
argue with the man. Certainly Pellew wanted Captain Sawyer's
reputation maintained. Certainly he wanted Naval discipline
preserved. Certainly he did not want a court-martial, but it was
very hard to find a way of saying that without laying himself open
to accusations that would be extremely awkward for a man in his
position.

Evening found Commodore Pellew in his own quarters suffering from
bad temper, indigestion and heat rash. Naval uniforms were not
designed for southern climes, but of course it was quite
inconsistent with his dignity to remove more than his coat, and even
that could not be shed in front of the common sailors. Dear me, no.

So he was not at all in a patient mood when he became suddenly aware
of a strange midshipman standing in front of him. Definitely not
one of his, so presumably sent with a message from one of those two
fools, er, captains, he had been speaking to earlier.

"Haven't you learned to knock before entering a cabin?" he barked.

"I do apologise, sir." With that the strange midshipman quitted the
room, knocked smartly on the outside of the door, and re-entered.
Pellew failed to bid him enter because he was too busy trying not to
choke. He had quite clearly seen the man pass through the door,
twice.

Without opening it first.

Pellew, however, was not a commodore for nothing. "Who the devil
are you, sirrah, and what do you mean by walking through my door?"
he barked in a voice only slightly less fearsome than it had been a
moment earlier.

"Midshipman Clayton, sir," the man replied smartly, "formerly of HMS
Justinian."

Justinian? *Justinian?* There had been no Justinian in the service
for more than eight years. Pellew hastily poured himself a glass
from the brandy decanter that stood on his desk and took a large
gulp. It made no difference. The stranger was still there. What
was more he was most definitely slightly transparent. Pellew could
make out the outline of the door frame through his person. He felt
that there ought to be something in the Articles against midshipmen
being transparent, but could not think of anything at that
particular moment.

"What do you want?" he snapped. "I'm sure you are breaking at
least six regulations."

"Very possibly, but I don't think Captain Keene will raise
objections. You and I have never met, sir, but we do have some
acquaintances in common. The fact that I died a notably noble death
has made it possible for me to arrange a certain intervention. You
are on the brink of making a mistake, sir. A very grave mistake. I
am here to prevent that."

"I do not take lectures from midshipmen!" Pellew
rasped. "Especially not dead ones."

"Tonight is Christmas Eve," Clayton went on, "the borders are very
thin, and that, sir, has made this intervention possible. You will
be visited, sir, by three spirits, one after the other."

"My time is limited. Surely they could make an appointment to all
see me at once?"

"The spirits who will visit you are the spirits of Christmas Past,
Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Come. They are here to
remind you of things you have forgotten. For you are not a bad man,
Sir Edward, you have merely got in the way of thinking like a
politician rather than like a sailor. You need to remember that
that way is not always either better or wiser."

"Impudence!" Pellew fumed. "How dare you speak to your superior in
such a way?"

"Being dead, sir, does alter one's perspectives. The first spirit,
sir, will visit you at midnight tonight."

"A deuced awkward time for a visit. I see him at nine tomorrow or
not at all."

But Midshipman Clayton had left the room before the sentence was
finished. This time he walked through a wall, which Pellew found
even more annoying. He drained his glass and made haste to pour
another. By the time that one was halfway consumed he was convinced
that Clayton's appearance had been a figment of his indigestion.
Transparent midshipmen absolutely did not appear in commodore's
quarters. He must get himself a new steward, the heated climate
appeared to have sent his present one completely to pieces. Perhaps
he could bribe Collins's steward away from his current master?

With that thought in mind Commodore Pellew betook himself to bed and
was rapidly asleep.

 

*Part Two - The Spirit of Christmas Past*

He was woken by a light shining directly onto his face, and started
upright using some decidedly below-decks language. As his eyes
became used to the brightness he made out a figure standing beside
his bed. In outward appearance it was that of a seaman, rather
small, no longer young and both hard-bitten and basically decent in
appearance. A man of much the same type as that fellow of
Hornblower's, what was his name? Mayhew? Manners? The same type,
but not the same man. Three things alerted Pellew to the fact that
this was no ordinary sailor. First, the fact that he was in
Pellew's cabin at all, an intrusion no ordinary seaman would dare to
make. Second, his clothing which was black, not the normal
blackness of cloth but an absolute black, like a window onto
infinite night. Third the lantern he held, which shone, not from a
candle within, but with its own white and brilliant light which
illuminated the cabin as clear as day.

It has been said that Pellew was not a commodore for no reason. He
was quite capable of grasping that the assumptions with which he had
gone to sleep had been severely overturned. Having learned from his
encounter with the ghost of Clayton he did not embark on futile
expostulations now.

"I assume," he said, with commendable steadiness, "that I am
addressing the Spirit of Christmas Past?"

"That's quite right, sir," the ghost replied cheerily. Pellew was
obscurely disappointed by how normal it sounded. He'd expected
something a bit more sepulchral. "Come to show you the past, I
have."

"And if I do not wish to be shown?"

"Oh, you don't get a say in the matter, sir. The past is what I'm
here to show you and the past is what I'm going to show you. That's
the way it works." The spirit reached out and grasped Pellew's
wrist with a hand that felt firm as a mortal's, and only slightly
colder. He knew that resistance would be both futile and
embarrassing, but did open his mouth to demand that he should at
least be allowed to dress. However he was given no time, for his
sleeping cabin had already dissolved around him. A rush of cold
air, a few seconds of a sightlessness that did not seem dark, and he
was standing in his nightshirt and bare feet on a snow covered slope.

Pellew's first reaction was fury at his undignified garb. A
nightshirt, even a navy blue nightshirt with gold braid on it, was a
sadly inadequate garment in which to visit the past. Or anywhere
else for that matter. His second reaction was to realise that he
did not feel cold, which under the circumstances was extremely
strange.

He was too taken up with these factors to perceive anything else,
until the spirit said, "You'll be knowing this bit of country, of
course, sir."

Pellew gazed around him at the snow covered landscape. "Why yes,"
he said slowly, "Yes, this is my home."

The Cornish countryside where he had spent, his youth, and still
spent his leaves. However the site of the old vicarage nestling
amongst the trees told him that something was awry with time. The
old vicarage had burned down some twenty years ago.

They passed over the snow covered ground at a speed faster than
walking, and entered, without the formality of opening any door, a
pleasant stone house. Pellew could not keep from exclaiming in
recognition.

"A nice place," the spirit said, "and a fine Christmas dinner
waiting."

"It's all just as it used to be," Pellew murmured, "just as it was
when I was a boy."

The silence was shattered by eager voices, the family, returned from
morning services and shedding warm outer clothes in the hall. A
woman's voice floated through, in tones which caused Commodore
Pellew to look down and shuffle his feet like a schoolboy.

"Really, Edward, of all the things to do! And on Christmas Day."

"He deserved it!" A ten-year old Edward Pellew bounced into the
drawing room, sporting an eye that was rapidly blackening. "Didn't
he, Father!"

"I respect your spirit, Edward," Samuel Pellew said gravely. "But
you must learn to when and how to stand up for things a little more
carefully. The churchyard on Christmas morning was hardly an
appropriate occasion to pick a fight."

"Tell him to apologise, Father!" urged Sam, the eldest of the
family. "Or that wretched worm's father will stop us fishing on his
land for sure." There was a chorus of support from the two youngest
boys.

"I'm not going to apologise just for some rotten fishing!" ten-year
old Edward announced. "I'll say sorry for hitting him in the
churchyard, if Father thinks I should, but I'm not going to say
sorry for anything else. Father's always saying we should stand up
for what's right and I was!"

"You'd make a good lawyer, Edward," his father smiled. "You should
indeed make a stand for what is right, no matter what the pressures
others put you under. Yes, I do ask that you apologise for brawling
in the churchyard, but I will not ask that you retract the spirit of
your opposition to that young man's peculiarly unpleasant remarks -
even if it does cost some fishing rights. You need to learn a
little discretion, Edward, but your instincts are very proper."

"Speeches to children," the adult Pellew muttered, "The right way to
talk to young minds, but adult ones know better."

"Well, I won't argue, sir," the spirit said, cheerfully, "It's time
we were moving on in any case."

The scene changed, almost in an eyeblink, and now Pellew found
himself on the deck of a ship in midwinter. Evening was just
drawing in, and the sky, though clear, had a pale tinge which spoke
of a cold Pellew himself still could not feel. They were standing
upon the quarter-deck, and not far away stood the captain, the gold
braid of his uniform just visible beneath his cloak.

"Why," Pellew exclaimed, "It's Captain Pownall! Philemon Pownall,
just as he used to be! All the best of my naval knowledge I learned
from him. To think of seeing him alive again, after all these
years!"

"He died in action, did he not?" said the spirit.

"Yes," Pellew said huskily, "he died in my arms." He blinked and
wiped at an eye. "How this cold makes one's eyes water! Philemon
Pownall.... I called my eldest son for him."

"Pownall Pellew," the ghost shook its head gravely, "Quite the
tongue-twister you contrived there. Your son may sometimes have
wished that your captain had borne a different name." Fortunately
Pellew was not attending to this speech.

"I suppose... could I speak to him?"

"Afraid not, sir. That would be far too difficult to explain. That
is to say, the you that I'm talking to now can't speak to him, if
you follow me, sir."

Pellew was about to say that he did not, when he caught sight of the
officer of the watch and was instantly silenced. For the lieutenant
on duty was none other than his own younger self, presently blowing
on his hands to try to get some warmth into them.

"Season's Greetings, Lieutenant Pellew." Captain Pownall's
unexpected voice made the younger Pellew jump violently.

"Oh. Ah. S-Season's Greeting to you also, sir."

"A cold watch, Lieutenant, but you have the cheer of a Christmas
meal to look forward to this evening."

"Yes, sir, thank you, sir," the younger Pellew hesitated, evidently
trying to summon up the courage for some utterance of great
moment. "Sir, have you, that is, I know some dispatches came
yesterday. Would it be grossly impertinent if I were to ask, did
they contain any matters arising from the court martial?"

"No, Lieutenant, they did not. Had you a particular reason for
asking?"

"It's only, Lieutenant Trimmer seemed to think your evidence would
count against you, sir, with the Admiralty."

Captain Pownall frowned at the younger man. "I believe I will be
frank with you, Lieutenant. When it became known how I intended to
testify, there were certain, well I hesitate to say threats, but it
was implied to me that such testimony might be against my own
interests. So far there have been no consequences. Perhaps there
will not be, I will admit to hoping so."

"But your testimony was true, sir. We all knew it."

"It was true, yes, but truth is often not what the men at the
Admiralty wish to hear. The vice-admiral is an exceedingly well
connected man. And he is also a fine sailor in the normal way of
things. I do not doubt that his lapse of judgement was due to the
fever from which he has been suffering."

"Lieutenant Trimmer, sir, said you should not have given the
evidence you did," the younger Pellew said, in a tone of deep
unease. "He said that the public shouldn't know that the vice-
admiral had made a great mistake, they might lose faith in the
service." He hesitated, "I told him, sir, that what you said was
truth, and that should be an end."

Pownall smiled. "That was a loyal act, Lieutenant. I believe the
views of Lieutenant Trimmer may have been somewhat coloured by the
vice-admiral being his second cousin. But you should know my
concern in this case was chiefly for a good man being made scapegoat
for a disaster that was none of his fault. Truth, Lieutenant, can
sometimes be concealed without sin, but injustice is injustice on
all occasions. I am only thankful Captain Garnett received no worse
a penalty than dismissal from the service. And he has private
means, but the injustice remains. And I believe I had the true
welfare of the service more at heart than those who made Garnett
their victim, that a man of greater influence and reputation might
escape unscathed."

"The Navy, Lieutenant, asks great loyalty from those who serve her.
But it is of no profit to simply demand loyalty: it must be earned.
We who are officers must display loyalty not just to those above us,
but to those beneath. A captain who treats his men fairly and
defends them from abuse will get three times the service of a man
who is neglectful of their interests. The same applies higher up
the ranks also. To so mistreat a loyal and able man undermines the
whole fabric of the service. Few indeed are the men willing to
display loyalty to an institution which deals only injustice in
return. And most of those are not such as I would care to have
serving beneath me.

"Moreover, I think it a bad principle that men can escape the
consequences of their own mistakes by laying the blame upon an
innocent subordinate. That leaves them with less reason to be
responsible. I have said that I believe the vice-admiral was ill.
But he made a mistake attempting to command in such a condition. If
the illness comes on him again, will he attempt command again? Will
other men in his shoes? The court-martial gave little reason not to
do so.

"That court-martial was corrupt, and the Navy is the worse for it.
Injustice and disloyalty are never the right path, and to pretend
they are does our country nothing but bad service." Pownall paused,
and gave a half-rueful glance at the younger man. "I am sorry to
have preached you a sermon, Lieutenant, but this affair has left a
most foul taste in my mouth. I fear I have used you to purge a
little of the poison."

"I am glad you did, sir," the young Pellew said earnestly, "most
glad."

"I remember that night," the older Pellew whispered.

"Of course," the spirit said cheerfully, "Captain Pownall is only a
captain. A simple fighting man. He would hardly understand the
political side of things."

"I've heard enough," Pellew said abruptly. "I wish to leave this
time."

"If that's what you wish, sir." Again the hand around his wrist -
and there was darkness.

Pellew could tell this was the hold of a ship. The motion, the
creaking, above all the smell of damp. Quite a strong smell. This
must be an old ship, in poor condition.

"I've no memory of spending Christmas in a hold," he said in
puzzlement.

"Oh, it's not just your own past we're visiting, sir." The spirit's
voice sounded loud in the dark. On its heels came other sounds,
someone was entering the hold, someone who was taking care to make
as little noise as possible. Then from a different direction
another noise, a scuffle in the dark that might almost have been a
rat, but was not.

"Horatio?" the soft word came from the direction of the
newcomer. "Horatio?"

"Archie?" another low voice, more unsteady than the first and from
the same direction as the scuffle of the not quite rat. "Is that
you?"

More sounds, Pellew could just detect a shifting in the darkness as
he heard someone move uncertainly past him, towards the second
voice.

"I've got a hot brick in a cloth here," matter-of-fact now, although
still cautiously low. "Clayton said you'd most likely feel the cold
for days after that spell in the riggings."

"How... how did you know I was here?"

"I didn't. I just tried the places I go when I want to get away."

More low sounds of movement. Pellew's eyes ached with straining at
the dark. "Thank you," one of the voices said, a little awkwardly,
then he heard a sharper movement, joined by a sound between a gasp
and a moan. "Sorry, did... are you all right?" No answer. After
a few moments a bleak "He's beaten you too, hasn't he?" More
silence. "He... why did he do it?"

"He doesn't need a reason." Unnatural flatness in the voice
now. "It... it's not as bad as the beating he gave you."

"How often does he...?"

"I don't know. He's... not predictable. Can we not talk about it,
please?"

Pellew swallowed hard. He had no need to wonder who they were
speaking of, having long since concluded Jack Simpson must have been
the worst type of bully, but there was a difference between knowing
a thing and confronting it directly.

There was a pause before the next words, spoken with forced
steadiness, "I brought these as well. Raisins in brandy. Left over
from the wardroom dinner, last night.

"Archie, how did you-?"

"I didn't *steal* them, Horatio, if that's what you mean. The cook
always sells the leftovers. He let me have these cheap because it's
Christmas."

"So it is.... Christmas Day." A slight pause, then, a bit
stiffly "I'll repay you for my share, of course."

"No need. I'd be sick if I ate all these myself."

"And you don't want to join me by being sick in Spithead?"

"Quite frankly, Horatio, no. Do have some. I don't want to have
come down here for nothing."

There was quiet then. Pellew could have stood in the dark for an
age, but once more the spirit's grip was firm upon his wrist, and
the hold was gone in an eyeflicker.

He blinked in the sudden light that streamed in through a small,
barred window. The room was a cell, and a young man in a worn
uniform was sitting on a bunk with his knees drawn up and head
tipped back against the wall. Midshipman Kennedy.

Quick footsteps outside, and Horatio Hornblower came in, carrying
with him a kind of eagerness that Pellew had never seen in his grave
young lieutenant. "Archie, the Don's sent over Christmas food from
his own kitchens. The men are getting up a celebration. Do come
out."

Kennedy seemed to make a visible effort to shake off whatever mood
had gripped him as he rose, "He has, has he? I'm surprised
Massaredo didn't invite you to have dinner with him."

"He did," Hornblower said, a bit awkwardly. "I told him I would
prefer to spend Christmas with my ship-mates."

"Generous, but you might cast a damper over the annual belching
contest."

"The - you think so?" Hornblower looked truly worried. Kennedy
sighed elaborately.

"That was a joke, Horatio. Your lamentable sense of humour has
deteriorated still further in my absence. Shall we go and join the
throng?"

It was the first Christmas dinner Pellew had ever witnessed in which
the diners sat on the ground in a dusty courtyard arranged in a
loose imitation of a formal table. Someone suggested an Admiral of
the Day should be appointed, Oldroyd was picked by universal
acclamation, and sat at the head of the mock table wearing
Hornblower's hat, with some pieces of an unidentified plant stuck in
it in lieu of a cockade. Shy at first, he soon got into the swing
of the part, stuck his chest out pompously and issued a string of
absurd commands, most of which were pointedly ignored.

Dinner was polished off with relish, despite some loud speculations
by the men about the exact content of some of the dishes.
Afterwards Oldroyd (prompted by a discreet whisper from Matthews)
sprang to his feet and announced that each man should take it in
turns to entertain the company. Hornblower looked decidedly
alarmed, but when his turn actually came he produced a chunk of Gray
which seemed to please the men. Kennedy sang a raucous ballard,
made the funnier by the contrast between the words and his demure
expression - Pellew would never have suspected the well-mannered
young gentleman of housing such depths. Styles produced an
impressive display of gymnastics, Matthews told a quite hair-raising
ghost story and the other men acquitted themselves successfully.

They embarked on a kind of charades afterwards and Matthews and
Kennedy brought the house down by impersonating a parliamentary
debate on whether it was true that the French had resorted to using
trained catfish against the British fleet. To his astonishment,
Pellew realised it was the first time he had ever seen young
Hornblower laugh. Watching him holding his sides like a schoolboy
Pellew wondered what other sides of his young protégé he'd never
seen.

"You know, Archie," Hornblower said, rather breathlessly, in an
interval caused by Styles and Oldroyd having a hasty discussion
about their next performance, "I think this is the best Christmas
that I can remember."

"How did you celebrate at home?" Kennedy asked, looking surprised.

"We didn't, really. My father would usually have a dinner
invitation, but..." he broke off what he was saying, and a couple of
moments later was distracted as the game got underway again.

"Time to be going, sir," the spirit announced.

"Must we?" Pellew could hardly having had more fun if he'd been
joining in the sport himself.

"One more visit to be got through, sir." The courtyard was gone.

Once again Pellew stood upon the deck of a ship, but this time he
needed barely a glance to know what ship it was. The quarter-deck
of HMS Indefatigable was beneath his feet, and not far away Horatio
Hornblower, in full lieutenant's uniform, was keeping watch. Pellew
was not at all surprised to see the ship's captain come up behind
the young officer and stand beside him, much as Captain Pownall had
done.

"A cold Christmas night, Lieutenant."

"Ah, er. Yes, sir."

Captain Pellew seemed to be meditating further speech. At length he
said, "It has been a difficult year for you, I am aware. But your
own conduct has been beyond reproach. That you should never doubt."

Hornblower looked acutely embarrassed, after a few moments
struggling in silence he burst out, "If I can ever do for my men the
half of what you do for yours, sir.... Your coming back for us at
Muzillac...."

Captain Pellew gazed at the horizon. "Would you understand me,
Lieutenant, if I said that I knew when I made that decision that,
whatever the consequence, I would never regret it?"

"I think so, sir."

"A wise captain once told me that loyalty must be given to those
below, as well as those above."

"I- I hope you know, sir, that it means a great deal, to all your
men, to have a captain whom they can rely on, absolutely."

"No!" Commodore Pellew shouted, turning on the spirit, "No! I know
why you are doing this! I will not be swayed from my course by such
means. I demand this foolery cease at once!"

"As you order, sir." Without seeming at all disturbed, the spirit
opened the door to the lantern it had carried all through, and
extinguished the light. All light. For several moments there was
utter blackness, then dim light returned, and Pellew was standing
once again in his own cabin.

*Part Three - The Spirit of Christmas Present*

For a few seconds he stood alone, and disoriented, there was not
much light in the room. Barely had he got his bearings when the
door surged open and a vast, though dimly seen, figure strode in as
though he owned the place.

"Well don't just stand there, man!" the figure boomed in tones
which, if they had not been supernatural, would undoubtedly have
woken the whole ship. Let's have some light on things!"

The tone of command was so absolute that Pellew found himself
fumbling with a candle. It flared up with much more than the usual
light and he stared up at a towering figure in full admiral's rig-
out, with a broad, red face and a rather overpowering air of good
humour. Authority was so firmly stamped in every line that Pellew
found himself as tongue-tied as he had been on his first day as a
midshipman.

"Hmm. Yes, I see, I see," the figure looked him over in a way that
made Pellew feel like a midshipman who had just failed to know the
difference between a bowsprit and a sternsheet. "Well, better not
waste time, man. We've only got one Christmas Day in hand. Follow
me and step sharp!" Reduced to complete subordination, Pellew
followed the Spirit of Christmas Present from his cabin without a
word.

And found himself standing in his own front hall. His home front
hall, back in Cornwall.

In wonderment he passed thorough the hallway, and, hearing voices
stepped through the door of the dining room. A fond smile came to
his face as he looked upon the family gathered within. Susannah,
his wife, in her accustomed place, and all four of the boys gathered
around, tall Pownall and Fleetwood, little George, and Edward the
baby. Their dinner was already well underway.

"Will Father be having a Christmas dinner?" Fleetwood wanted to
know.

"If his duties allow," Susannah replied.

"I bet you can't get proper Christmas food out there," George said,
and applied himself again to his plate. After a moment though, he
emerged again to say, "They ought to let him come home for
Christmas."

"It's much too far away," Pownall said loftily. "Anyway there's a
war being fought. The French don't stop for Christmas, silly!"

"Father's got his duty to do," Fleetwood seconded. "He'd always do
the right thing, wouldn't he, mother."

"I hope so," Susannah said, then looked as though she regretted the
words. There had been some... disagreements between husband and
wife over Edward Pellew's increasing involvement in the political
side of the Navy. "Your father is a good man," Susannah Pellew said
firmly. "George, *don't* lick your plate."

After that the conversation lapsed, except for occasional requests
to pass the salt and other exchanges of young boys with healthy
appetites. At length the spirit said firmly "Time to be going."
Pellew had forgotten he was not alone, and the longing to stay must
have been evident on his face, for the spirit added, "Home leaves
must be cut short when there is work to do." With a final backward
glance, Pellew slowly left the drawing room in the spirit's wake.

They stepped outside, and into a different world. A great cabin,
with tropical sunlight streaming through the windows, and two
captains, coats discarded, relaxing over cigars and port. Hammond
and Collins.

"Now that the business of eating has been completed," Hammond was
saying, "I wish to be sure I can count on you to take the proper
line over this Renown affair."

Collins leaned back in his chair. "Now, Charles, you know I never
take any kind of line if I can avoid it, and certainly not over
court-martials. That sort of thing can get you into real
difficulties."

"But you have, at the least, no intention of hindering me?"

"I never argue with you, Charles, it's far too fatiguing."

"And the commodore?"

"That's your difficulty. But I don't think he'll give you any real
trouble. I know the signs. Once captains start dabbling with
politics they end up tacking before the wind so much they forget how
to sail a straight line. And his admiral's promotion is due soon,
he won't want to jeopardise that. You may be his junior, but we all
know who has more friends in higher places."

"Young Hornblower was one of his."

Collins swirled the port in his glass. "One can always find another
lieutenant to mentor, Charles, supposing that to be your idea of
amusement, but an admiral's gold braid is quite another matter. Not
that I imagine Ned Pellew puts it that way to himself. These
virtuous men are all skilled in self-deception."

"Do you consider me a self-deceiver, Augustus?"

"You are no virtuous man. I wonder, I very much wonder, what your
game is here?"

"The good of the service, of course."

"You don't fool me. Pious men like Ned Pellew may twist their minds
into believing that black must be white, because white seems so
simple that it must be black, but I never tried to be a good man,
and I know the service needs no deaths in this case. What are you
up to, Charlie? Revenge on Pellew for being made commodore when you
were not?"

Hammond took a hard pull at his cigar and said nothing.

"Well, keep your reasons secret, if you will, but don't believe I'm
fooled."

"Tell me, Augustus, do you have any care at all for the outcome of
events?"

"As long as I'm not expected to exert myself, not the slightest.
You see, I have never attempted to be a man of principle. But in my
small way, I am a student of human nature and I expect to enjoy
quite a pretty comedy."

"And the fact that deaths are at stake does not concern you?"

"You can string them all up, if you want. Good Heavens, Charles,
you look quite shocked. But I'm no different to most men, you
know. What does not happen to me does not concern me. I'm simply
more honest about it than most."

Pellew swung on his heel and strode from the cabin.

He stepped straight into the stench of blood and death. The cockpit
on a man-of-war, a scene he knew too well, a dark place full of
wounded men. He noticed that the spirit moved through them gently,
stopping every now and then to stoop over a man racked by especial
suffering, place a hand on a contorted brow. It seemed to him that
those touched seemed to grow a little easier for the contact. So
the two of them came to the place where a dark haired young man in
lieutenant's dress stooped over a comrade who lay with bloody
bandages swathing his lower chest. He recognised Hornblower at
once, but it took a little longer to identify Kennedy in the drawn
and ashen face of the badly wounded man.

"Try, Archie," Hornblower was saying, "You need to keep taking
water."

Eyes closed with effort, Kennedy managed to swallow a little from
the cup that was held to his lips.

"A little more?" Hornblower urged.

"Can't," Kennedy whispered. "Horatio... need to rest."

"And so you shall."

"Not me. You."

"There is time enough for that."

"No. Horatio... the men. Must stay strong for them." The effort
seemed to have exhausted him, but after a few moments he forced some
more words out. "Just you ... and Buckland now. They... need you.
Can't collapse. *Rest*."

"He is right, Mr. Hornblower," another voice rasped. Pellew,
looking round, saw it came from a man he did not recognise, an older
man than Hornblower and Kennedy, also wounded. "You cannot exhaust
yourself here. You need to save your strength for your duties."
Hornblower's eyes were on Kennedy still, his face an agony of
indecision. "We will be well enough," the older man insisted, "Go
and rest."

"Yes," Kennedy whispered, "Rest."

Hornblower turned abruptly and left, with an open determination not
to look back. Pellew started, instinctively and involuntarily,
after him, but he must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, for he
ended up in a quite different part of the ship, where two men were
sorting through damaged sails. He recognised both, though their
names escaped him for the moment.

"T'ain't right" with the big man with the scarred face was saying
insistently.

"That ain't f'r us to say," his smaller, older colleague insisted.

"Well, who else is goin' to? It was a madman caused this an'-"

"*Shut up*, you fool! Gettin' yerself arrested ain't goin' ter to
do no manner of no good."

"Ain't nothin's goin' ter do no good, I reckon," the voice boiled
with rage. "But, I'll tell yer this, if they try an' put the blame
on one of our lads, there's men 'ere as won't stand fer it!"

" 'Old yer 'ush, fer Christ's sake!" The older man's voice dropped
to a frantic whisper. "What yer thinkin' of? They wouldn't want
yer makin' trouble, yer know that!"

"They didn't want any of this stuff that 'appened. But that didn't
stop it, did it? Yer want us ter stand fer it an' do nothin'?"

Pellew backed hastily from the room, overcome by the need to turn a
deaf ear before the conversation became even more mutinous than it
already was. The spirit seemed to have been expecting him.

"Step sharp, now, time is running short."

In the hours that followed they visited many places. Pellew saw
Christmas celebrated aboard ships in freezing northern waters and
amongst homesick exiles in Indian service. They penetrated the
darkness of the prison hulks and attended an officers' ball at
Gibralter. Briefly he even glimpsed the Prime Minster, taking an
hour for paperwork even on Christmas Day.

It was listening to carols being sung on Portsmouth streets that
Pellew realised his companion had grown stooped and the hair was
fallen from his head.

"My time of command is short," the figure said, as though having
registered his gaze. "It lasts only a single day, a day that must
be well used."

Pellew, however, had been distracted by a pair of skulking figures
who, unlike any others he had seen in these strange journeyings,
appeared to have seen both himself and the spirit.

"Ah, I knew they would be lurking somewhere, they never go very far
away," the spirit exclaimed, "Step out you villains, and let the man
see you face to face."

The men who stepped forward were two of the worst specimens Pellew
had ever encountered, filthy, slouching, mouths slack and sneering
both together, gaze shifty and truculent. "Take a good look and be
sure you will know them both again," the spirit commanded, "for you
have encountered both many times. Every naval officer is asked to
ship them aboard at some point in his career. This man," a skinny,
greasy-haired figure, "is Expediency. And this," a squat, sallow
man with missing teeth, "is Callousness. Mark them well, for my
time with you is done."

On the last words came a sound like a clap of thunder, and Pellew
found himself, not this time in his cabin, but on ship's deck in the
dead of night.

 

*Part Four - The Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come*

Barely had he caught his breath before a hand descended on his
shoulder. He spun around rapidly, prepared now for anything at all.

The figure behind him stood bathed in a pool of unearthly light. It
was dressed entirely in crimson: crimson coat, waistcoat, shirt and
neckcloth, breeches and stockings, even crimson shoes and gloves,
and a crimson hat of old-fashioned style with a broad brim that
covered much of the head. The only contrast was provided by the
mask it wore, which was gold in colour and covered the whole face,
although with holes above the eyes and mouth. The mask showed an
ordinary human visage, with features beautifully modelled but quite
expressionless.

"I assume that I am addressing the Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come,"
Pellew said steadily, by this time the appearance of a performing
bear would not have shaken him unduly.

The spirit did not answer, but merely beckoned him forwards with one
gloved hand, the other rested upon a gold-topped black cane. And
this silence, strangely enough, Pellew did find most unnerving. Yet
he mastered his nerves with an effort and stepped forward, the scene
at once dissolving around him in a now quite familiar way.

The room in which he stood was small, bare and shabby. Beside the
grimy window Horatio Hornblower sat in an uncomfortable looking
chair. There was a book open on his lap, but he was not reading.
He looked underweight and tired and his uniform jacket was badly
worn, but Pellew felt great relief at seeing him at all. The scenes
of Christmas Present he had seen had aroused in him a great,
although unspoken, anxiety.

There was a hesitant tap at the door and a young woman entered, and
stood twisting her hands shyly.

"I thought, seeing as it's Christmas Day you might like to eat with
mother and me, sir?"

Hornblower looked at her as though recovering his mind from a great
distance. Then he said, "Does your mother think that too, Maria?"

"Well, I, I asked her, sir, and it is Christmas." Pellew was wise
enough to guess that 'asked' was a euphemism for 'persuaded'. "I
thought you might be seeing some more of that friend of yours, but
as you're not...."

"What friend?" Hornblower asked, not sharply, but as if the matter
was of no great importance.

"The one who came visiting you here the other week."

"He wasn't a friend," Hornblower said, "I'd never met him before.
He just, well, he thought I might give him some information. I had
to tell him I could not."

"Oh, I'm sorry," the young woman said, inconsequentially, "But will
you eat with us, sir?"

Hornblower closed the book and stood up, unsmiling. "Yes, Maria,
since you are kind enough to invite me, I will."

"She's got her eye on him," Pellew muttered, as they went out
together, "but he hasn't seen it yet. Silly boy, he could get
caught that way far too easily."

But it was no use trying to gossip with the spirit, which merely
beckoned as inexorably as it had before.

Another plain room, somewhat larger and far more cheerful. A man in
lieutenant's uniform who seemed familiar; after a few moments Pellew
realised it was the second wounded man he had seen aboard Renown.
Two women, not in the first flush of youth, and like enough to the
man for it to seem probable they were his sisters. It seemed they
had just concluded a meal.

"Will you propose the toast, William?" one of the women asked, in
tones that made it clear this was a customary formality.

"To... Christmas, I suppose," the man said, receiving surprised
looks, but the toast was drunk obediently.

The next minutes tried Pellew's patience rather. The clearing away
of the meal and attendant domestic trivialities hardly seemed worth
the visit, but he could not summon the nerve to say that to the
silent spirit. It was increasingly worrying him that he could see
nothing of the personage beneath the clothes and mask, not even the
glitter of an eye.

The domestic matters done at last, the party moved into a smaller
room, which had a look as though it was kept only for the best
occasions. At least two of them did, one of the women had
disappeared.

"What is wrong, William?" the remaining woman asked her brother.

"What makes you think that anything is wrong?"

"Always before, ever since you first left home, always you have
proposed the toast to the Navy in one form or another. Why not this
time?"

"I admit," the man called William said slowly, "that I am not very
content with the Navy at present."

"Because of being out of work?"

"No. Nothing to do with that."

"Because of something that happened in the Indies, then? Was it
anything to do with what that gentleman who came here looking for
you wanted?"

"Yes. Yes it was. Always before now, Anne, I have been proud of
what I do. I have felt that there was honour in it. But in the
Indies something happened that made me ashamed of the Navy, that
made me feel it not worth serving."

"Will you tell me what?"

"There's no point in raking it all up again. I would rather forget,
if I can. I've already gone through it once these last few weeks."

"For the gentleman who came here?"

"Yes. He... wished to hear about his brother. I told him the
truth, as far as I knew it. I think he'd got far more of an earful
from some of the men, but I can't find it in me to be sorry."

"Yet you mean to go back, if you can get a ship?"

"What else can I do, Anne? I've tried the merchant service without
success. And you and Jane need the money - if she hasn't noticed
anything, don't tell her. I daresay this will pass. But today - I
did not feel like drinking to the Navy."

Pellew was not sorry to find the spirit once again beckoning him
from the room.

For the second time in what must be but the space of a few hours he
was back in his own home. There was a difference, however, and that
difference was that he was present, not just in his visiting form,
but in the scene before him. The other Edward Pellew stood before a
blazing fire, in informal conversation with festively dressed
Susannah.

"I am very sorry he refused the invitation," the other Pellew was
saying.

"Does it surprise you?" Pellew knew that note in his wife's voice
and it seldom boded good.

"Well, no. He's very independent, young Hornblower, perhaps too
much so for his own good. I am afraid he would look on it as
charity."

"What else should he consider it?"

"That which it is, a mark of affection."

"And why would he believe that after you left him to the wolves in
Kingston?"

"Really, my dear," the other Pellew said, "You do not comprehend the
circumstances," (oh dear, thought the visiting Pellew, when am I
going to learn not to patronise my wife?), "I have a very sincere,
indeed I might even say paternal, affection for that young man."

"Do not attempt to pull the wool over my eyes, Edward. I have not
been your wife all these years without learning something of the
Navy."

"Now, my dear-"

"Don't try to soft-soap me. I'm not a bit surprised that young man
doesn't want to visit. And as for paternal affection - if you
allowed one of our sons to be treated as he was in Kingston, to be
victimised in that completely unnecessary way, then I swear, Edward,
I would leave you."

The man who faced her opened his mouth, then closed it helplessly.
There was silence for several moments, then, with an air of business
done, Susannah Pellew walked away.

"Spirit," the visiting Pellew said hesitantly, "is this a picture of
things which *must* be, or only of things as they *may* be?"

But the inexorable beckoning of the hand was his sole reply.

 

A large room, and a formal assembly of men and women attired in
their best. This gathering must have been further in the future,
for Pellew could see himself not far away, somewhat greyer of hair
and wearing full rear-admiral's rig-out - despite all that he had
seen he felt a stab of pride at that.

A woman strode across the room towards that older self. She was
rather heavily built and not particularly handsome, but there was a
visible force about her. "You are Sir Edward Pellew?" she demanded.

"I am, madam," the older Pellew said. "And I have the honour of
addressing?"

"Mrs Carruthers. But my maiden name was Sawyer." With that the
woman drew back her arm and hit Pellew across the face, hard enough
to send him staggering.

"Madam!" he gasped "I don't -"

"You destroyed my father's reputation! You and the rest of your
tribunal!"

"Madam," the older Pellew pleaded, "the desire to protect your
father's reputation was our first concern."

"Balderdash! You could have hushed up events aboard Renown. I know
well my father was no longer the man he once had been, but without
you it need never have been proclaimed. There was no necessity to
hold a court-martial! What did it do to my father's name to tell
the world that an officer of previously good reputation had attacked
him? Did you not consider that people would ask *why*?"

"Madam, I consider that without unforeseeable events...."

"*Unforeseeable!*" Mrs Carruthers shouted. "Unforeseeable that a
young officer's family would attempt to defend his name!
Unforeseeable that the family of a man of aristocratic birth could
raise a worse stink than the family of Christian did over the
Bounty?"

"I much regret that the book published by Lt Kennedy's brother has
caused you such distress, but...."

"The book and the questions in the House of Lords and the writings
in the papers and too much more to list! My poor mother has never
been the same. My father's name is dirt, he is proclaimed to the
world as a lunatic, he is remembered by everyone as the captain who
forced his officers to turn upon him to protect their ship. And you
caused that!"

"Madam, I had only the best interests of the Navy at heart."

"You are either a liar or a fool," Mrs Carruthers said. "And my
father, in the days when he was his true self, would have hated to
see good men persecuted under circumstances such as those. Even
without concern for his own name he would have hated it. My father
was a good man.

"But tell me one thing, Sir Edward. Upon your honour tell me.
There have been many who suggest that young man's confession was not
even true, that he made it so that your tribunal should be
satisfied. Tell me, do you believe that he was guilty?"

The older Pellew's eyes flickered downwards. He opened his mouth,
then closed it again.

Captain Sawyer's daughter said, "Then God rot your soul in hell!"
And strode away.

"It didn't work...." the Pellew of the present whispered, "All
that... and it didn't even work. The truth about Sawyer was
exposed... horribly exposed."

The way of the politician is not always either better or wiser,
Clayton had said.

"The court-martial rebounded, the Navy was denounced... it didn't
work...."

Clayton had said he had come to prevent a mistake....

"Surely," he whispered, "surely it can be changed. I will change
it.... Tell me, Spirit, can it be changed?"

The beckoning hand was his sole response. "No more. Please. I
wish to see no more." Still the hand beckoned, he could not refuse
to follow.

A handsome room, furnished as a gentleman's study. A large desk,
with a silver haired man, dressed in rather odd looking clothes,
seated behind it, writing. At first Pellew thought he was a
stranger, then in the hard, lined face he picked out the features of
Horatio Hornblower.

There entered another man, much younger. He wore what looked like
the uniform of an expensive regiment, although the cut was somewhat
different to any used in Pellew's own time. In appearance he was
not very like Hornblower, but there was something in his expression
and bearing that reminded Pellew of his former lieutenant.

"Father. Is it true? That they've made their minds up about
Stanton?"

"Must we discuss that today, Richard?" Hornblower asked in an
irritated tone.

"Yes! I could not rest without knowing.... Is it true?"

"Yes. It's true."

"Can't you do something? Can't you intervene?"

"I have no intention of attempting anything of the sort. The choice
was right."

"But he is innocent! I know he is."

"That is beside the point."

Richard Hornblower looked stunned. "Beside...? Surely that *is* the
point?"

"No. The point is which solution will cause least damage."

"What on earth can you mean? Stanton...."

"I am sorry about Stanton," Hornblower said. "But the decision is
necessary. The good of one man cannot be allowed to weigh in this
matter."

"It is *wrong*. You know it is wrong."

"Morally perhaps. In other terms...," Hornblower put down the pen
he had been toying with. "You need to learn this lesson, Richard, if
you are to rise in your profession. You must, at times, be prepared
to ignore truth, deny justice and see good men destroyed through no
fault of their own, when your country demands it."

"A country I wish to belong to," the young man exclaimed, a little
incoherently, "would never make such a demand."

"Richard." For the first time Hornblower spoke with a note of some
gentleness, "I know this is painful. I felt as you do once. But I
saw a man who I respected above all others, whom above all others I
wished to be like, act in a way that was... unpleasant. Unjust,
even. Yes, unjust. But I knew it must be right, because he would
not do it otherwise. So I accepted what he had done - and what came
of it - although it was hard for me. Very hard. I have known since
that time that justice is a luxury that must not weigh with
practical men, and innocence is of no importance compared to
expediency."

Richard Hornblower was shaking his head. "No," he said in
denial, "No. I will fight this."

"That would be foolish," Hornblower said, as one humouring a
child. "You cannot win. I will not help you, do not expect me to
do so. You will only harm yourself."

"I don't care! And I want no help from you!"

"Richard," Hornblower sounded a little alarmed now, "Richard, listen
to me...."

"You have said quite enough." The young man crossed to the door and
opened it. "I have always been proud to be your son. Today,
Father, I am ashamed!"

With that he was gone, Hornblower's attempt to call him back being
cut off by the slamming of the door. Horatio Hornblower made as
though to rise, then seemed to change his mind, sighed, and again
took up his pen.

"No!" Pellew exclaimed. "No, this will not be. I will not permit
that this will be! Spirit, tell me I can prevent this! Why else
did you come to me? Tell me this can be changed!"

Still no word escaped the unmoving mask, but the Spirit took a pace
away from Pellew, raised the staff that it had carried throughout,
and with an apparent lack of effort, snapped that staff in two.

All was dark, and he was falling, falling, he could feel that he was
falling. But when the landing came it was not painful. The feel of
a mattress was beneath him, and when he opened his eyes it was to
find the grey light of dawn, filtering in on his own sleeping
cabin. It was morning.

"Greetings of the Season, sir," his steward said, bustling in. And
was amazed when Pellew seized his hand and wrung it hard.

 

*Part Five - The End of It.*

Pellew was humming as he strode into the chamber, and the beam he
sent his colleagues seemed to mildly disconcert Hammond, as he noted
with some satisfaction. He was not worried about the coming
encounter. Hammond did not have the Christmas Spirits on his side.

"Good morning, gentlemen," he greeted cheerfully, earning an
outright suspicious stare from Hammond. "Now that Renown is finally
in harbour, we can get down to business."

"Naturally," Hammond said with a confidence that didn't quite ring
true, "we should make arrangements to hold the court-martial as soon
as possible."

"Good heavens, we don't want a court-martial!" Pellew gave Hammond
a ferocious smile. "A court-martial is the absolute last thing we
want!"

"In the interests of naval discipline...." Hammond began.

"In the interests of discipline we need to avoid revealing the fact
that Captain Sawyer should have been relieved of command long
since." Pellew said firmly.

"Precisely so, and that is why...."

"That is why we must avoid a court-martial. It would only lead to
gossip, to rumour, to speculation as to why a captain of Sawyer's
experience should have been mutinied against by officers of
previously good record. At best."

Hammond drew himself up, "Do you propose we should let them get
away with mutiny?"

"Come, come, Charlie," Pellew said jovially, "You know as well as I
do there was no mutiny aboard Renown, merely officers striving to
protect their ship. The only way this business can possibly damage
the Navy is if we insist on making a mutiny out of a molehill. Do
you want a repeat of the Bounty affair?"

It was Collins who said, "The Bounty affair? What has that to do
with anything?"

"You cannot have forgotten the lengths Christian's family to which
went to try and claim his actions were justified? The reputation of
Captain Bligh has never recovered. In the Bounty case there was no
choice but to declare mutiny, for mutiny it was. Here we do have a
choice. If we make the wrong one it will rebound far worse than the
Bounty affair, for any attacks will be levelled, not just at the one
captain, but at the conduct of the three of us also. Were you aware
that the Renown's fourth lieutenant is a very well-connected young
man? His family could make worse trouble than Christian's - if they
so chose."

That did appear to unsettle Hammond, but he was an obstinate man,
and after a few moments said, "From what I have discovered there is
little against the fourth lieutenant in this business."

Good try, but not good enough, thought Pellew. "He is also a young
man with a marked sense of loyalty towards his shipmates." He let
that sink in.

"And you, Commodore," Hammond said, "have an old connection with
both the fourth and the third lieutenants, have you not? There
could be awkward questions asked on that issue."

Tut, tut, Charlie Hammond was plainly rattled if he was resorting to
such arguments as that. "The same could be said of you," Pellew
informed him. "If this matter rebounds against the Navy questions
will be asked as to why you were so eager for a court-martial. It
may be remembered that you came into contact with the Renown's third
lieutenant on an occasion where he distinguished himself and you,
shall we say, exercised your swimming skills." He noted with
satisfaction that that shot had gone home. "Of course *I* would not
suggest there was personal malice behind your attitude, but there
might be those who would.

"Consider the questions that might be asked, in newspapers, in the
House of Lords even. Of course, I am sure that damage to your
career is something you are prepared to risk," he beamed happily at
Hammond, who glared back, "but you must consider the risk to the
Navy if any such accusations are made. No, no, Captain, I cannot
reconcile it with my duty to allow you to make such a gross mistake!"

"Are you really so sure you can prevent it?" Hammond snarled. "If
I were to make an application for court-martial...."

"That," said Pellew, "would only prolong matters in a most
undesirable way. And believe me, I *will* oppose any such
application, *Captain.*" He stressed the last word, rubbing in his
own higher rank, "I would oppose the action on the grounds of the
good of the service. A court-martial conducted fairly, along the
proper lines, would either result in acquittals or severe damage to
Saywer's reputation, and by extension the reputation of the Navy. A
court-martial conducted on improper lines is likely to cause even
more damage in the long-term. Such things seldom go unprotested.
England is no tyranny, to suppress free speech. Consider the
effects of an attack on the Navy for making a mockery of the rule of
law."

Hammond glowered in silence. Collins, eyeing Pellew with something
that might have been surprised respect said, "And what do you
propose instead of a court-martial?"

"Naturally there must be a Court of Inquiry. But I foresee no
difficulties. Captain Sawyer suffered an accident of a kind common
on shipboard, which prevented him from taking any active part in the
taking of the fort. However he made a most courageous end. That is
the thing to stress. We may need to criticise the first lieutenant
for that prisoner uprising, but I foresee no problems there. The
others performed well at the fort, we should make mention of that
also."

"Pats on the back all round," Collins murmured.

"You agree?" Pellew pressed him.

"Oh, certainly." Collins bowed willingly before the prevailing wind.

"Well, Captain?" Pellew said to Hammond. "Are we in agreement, or
must I tell the Admiralty you were bent on a course liable to bring
the Navy into grave disrepute, result in the loss of loyal and
promising officers, and cause grave disaffection aboard HMS Renown?"

"Have it your own way!" Hammond was an ungracious loser. "But I
wish it placed on record that I was against the decision."

"Certainly!" Pellew beamed. "Anything you chose!" In fact Hammond
might yet prove awkward but - what was it his younger self had said
to Hornblower? Whatever the outcome this was one decision he would
never regret.

~~#~~

One year later Sir Edward Pellew leaned back in his chair, watching
with interest as his two youngest sons took unwonted liberties with
Horatio Hornblower. Both had taken a rapid liking to that young
man, possibly due to the absolute seriousness with which he treated
them.

His gaze slipped over to Lieutenant Kennedy, still a bit thin and
drawnlooking, it had been a long road back from that terrible wound
he had received in the Indies, but at least there was no doubt now
that he would make a full recovery. Pellew congratulated himself
inwardly on the stratagem of inviting Kennedy first, and leaving it
up to him to convince Hornblower to come. It had worked
excellently. He believed that in the past he had underrated the
strength of the attachment between those two.

Matters in Kingston had worked out perfectly well in the end. All
that had been needed was a bit of firmness.

Something stirred, at the roots of his memory, something about
Christmas, and peculiar visitors. When he tried to pin it down it
was gone, yet he was conscious of a great sense of relief, a
conviction that he had had a very narrow escape.

Something seemed to move in the glass of the great landscape picture
that hung on the opposite wall. For a moment Pellew thought he
glimpsed a slight, brown haired man smiling at him. A man who
seemed oddly familiar.

On impulse he raised the glass held in his hand. "To Christmas
Spirits," he said aloud.

~finis~