Horatio and Archie’s Kitchen Adventure
Author’s note: This was written from the prompt challenge, "Write a story that is 'Horatio and Archie's kitchen adventure."
Horatio Hornblower was acting as officer of the watch when he heard Bracegirdle and Captain Pellew talking on the quarterdeck. “Mrs. Pellew sent me some handkerchiefs for my birthday in her last parcel,” Pellew was saying.
“Oh really, Sir? And when might that occasion be?” Bracegirdle inquired.
“Tomorrow,” Pellew answered in a blasé tone.
But Horatio had heard magic words. Captain Pellew’s birthday tomorrow! I must, I really must do something to express many happy returns of the day, he thought enthusiastically. He accosted Archie Kennedy as he came up on deck for a bit of night air. “Archie, it’s Captain Pellew’s birthday tomorrow!” he hissed.
“Oh, really? How old is he?”
“Do be serious! We must do something to express how happy we are to have such a fine, inspirational, father-figure-ish commander aboard!”
“Now, now, Horatio, it doesn’t do well to say he reminds you of a father when all a man his age wishes to do on his birthday is forget how old he is.”
“I have decided, Archie, that we will cook Captain Pellew a smash-bang dinner for his birthday!” Horatio cried suddenly. “He’ll love that.”
Archie was uncertain as to how smash-bang-ish a dinner they could cook would be, and was equally uncertain how much Pellew would love it, but decided to join in what promised to banish the blues caused by the calm that the Indy was currently in.
The next day after Pellew had read the Sunday’s Divine Service, Horatio and Archie lurked by the hatch waiting to accost Matthews, Styles and Oldroyd in a seemingly causal manner. Finally those three ambled past and Horatio shot out an arm, stopping them. “Matthews, Styles—Archie and I need you to distract the steward.”
“Whatever for, Sir?” asked Styles, who had not yet learned to not question superior officers.
“We want some time alone in the kitchen,” Horatio said. “Two hours should do the trick.”
“Er—right you are, Sir,” Matthews answered. HE had learned not to question superior officers.
“Here he comes,” hissed Archie over his shoulder, having been keeping a lookout.
“Right. Go, go,” Horatio shooed the startled seamen away.
He and Archie waited until it seemed that the three had engaged the steward in a conversation by means of oblique insults, and then they slipped conveniently below.
They entered the dark kitchen. Archie sniffed deeply, and recognized a putrid smell as his future dinner.
“We can’t have the Captain eating any of that!” he agreed with Horatio.
The two set to work. Together they dug around and found two clean starched white aprons, and obligingly tied them on each other. “Ugh—not so tight,” Horatio grunted.
“Sorry, it’s too tightly knotted to undo,” Archie explained apologetically.
Ignoring a sudden feeling of claustrophobia, Horatio looked around and found a dusty Cookery Book sitting on a shelf. “Here we are!” he cried, lifting it off and plumping it down on the floury countertop. Archie leaned interestedly over his shoulder as he began riffling through the pages. “What’re we making?” he asked.
“I’m not sure yet. Hmm, this looks good. Think the Captain’ll like that?” Horatio said, pointing to a recipe and turning to look at Archie over his shoulder.
“Cock au vin,” Archie read aloud. His stomach gurgled. “It sounds delicious!”
“Then make it we shall!” Horatio cried. “All right—hmm, it seems we need a cockerel.”
“I’ll go get one,” Archie volunteered.
“Perfect. I’ll light the fire to cook the cock over,” Horatio agreed.
The two parted to their separate duties. Archie made his way to the main deck, where crates of chickens were piled. These were only served on occasion, and he knew he would have to have a good excuse in order to wheedle one away from the Marine who guarded it. He had only one, and he gave it sincerely: “It’s for the Captain’s dinner.”
“Right-ho,” agreed the Marine, who was sick and tired of hearing the thing crow anyway.
Together they hauled down a crate and the Marine opened it, wondering vaguely if he’d seen this steward before. On the one hand, he thought not, but on the other, he did not awfully familiar. Archie reached in to grab the cock and managed to bring it out by grabbing it wings, but it pecked his hand and he let go of it on instinct. The next moment, it was halfway across the deck.
“STOP THAT CHICKEN!!!!” Archie bellowed, and soon there were eleven Marines dashing after it, bayonets fixed. Suddenly Archie covered his eyes as a particularly loud cackle faded into nothing. A Marine marched up, apologetically offering the skewered chicken out to Archie. “’Ere you are,” he said. “Got a little hurt, like.”
“Got a little DEAD, you mean?” Archie snapped, plucking the chicken indignantly off the bloody bayonet. Oh well, he thought inwardly, at least now I don’t need to wring its neck. He trotted back down to the kitchen.
Meanwhile, Horatio had been trying to light the stove. It hadn’t been working, and so when Archie showed up, he pretended that he’d just been reading the recipe through more thoroughly. “I got the chicken!” Archie said triumphantly, holding it up with both hands so that its feet were thrust towards Horatio. Horatio wrinkled his nose.
“How did it get all bloody?” he asked.
“Oh—the Marines had cabin fever,” Archie explained. “I thought you were going to light the stove?”
“Oh—I was just reading through the recipe,” Horatio said. “Now I will light the stove—or would you care to do that while I pluck the cock?”
“No thank you, I’ll pluck,” Archie said. He sat down and began busily ripping the feathers out of the dead bird.
Horatio turned to the nearest lantern and lit a wick from it. He sat contemplating the stove for a few minutes, having already realized while Archie was gone that several obvious methods to light it didn’t work.
“Need some help, Horatio?” Archie said, looking up. A feather was stuck to the tip of his nose.
“No thank you, Archie,” Horatio said briskly. “Really, a child could do it.”
“Alright, go ahead then,” Archie reasoned.
Horatio bent down and touched the wick to the logs in the fire, which in his earlier desperation he had infused with cooking sherry. A belch of flame that followed rewarded him with a face of a hue to match his (now-absent) eyebrows. Arm still extended, he straightened slowly.
“A child could do it? Really, Mr. Hornblower, I would say it is inhumane to subject a child to a thing like that,” Archie said soberly.
Horatio stared him down. “Thank you for your kind input, Mr. Kennedy,” he smouldered.
Horatio saw Archie’s nose twitch. He was going to laugh.
“Archie?” he said.
“Yes, Horatio?” he replied helplessly.
Archie turned back to his plucking while Horatio consulted the Cookery Book, for real this time. He wrinkled his nose at it in concentration, propping his dirty chin in his hand. “Hmm. We had better get this cooking if it’s to be done in time for Captain Pellew’s dinner. How is that chicken coming along, Archie?”
“Done!” Archie cried triumphantly, standing up allowing a pile of feathers to cascade off his lap. He brought it over to Horatio. “So, shall I put it in the pot?”
“Hang on a minute, there are still some feathers here,” Horatio noticed, pointing to a pale and sticky wingtip.
“Oh, nobody will notice.”
“Archie, there’s still feathers all over this bird!” Horatio cried.
“Oh, come on, Horatio, let’s stick it in the pot.”
“Nothing,” Horatio insisted, “is going into the pot until every feather is stripped off this chicken. Do I make myself clear?”
“Alright,” Archie said heatedly, red spots appearing on each cheekbone, “let’s see you try to get those out, Mr. Hornblower.”
“Alright, I shall!” Horatio agreed. He slapped the chicken onto the counter and began prising away at the pinfeathers with his blunt fingernails. Archie watched in growing triumph. A lock of hair fell down onto Horatio’s sweating forehead as he persisted in vain.
“Alright, no one will notice,” he gave in crossly, tossing the limp chicken into the pot. “What else goes in?”
“Um—carrots, onions, mushrooms,” Archie read off the list. He looked up at Horatio. “We don’t have any mushrooms, do we?”
Horatio frowned. “Hmm. No, I don’t think so. Damn.” They looked at each other for a moment. “Oh, well. Anything else?”
“Port,” Archie added brightly.
“Ah ha, that’s right. Fine, I’ll chop the onions, you do the carrots.”
They set to work busily, and by the time they were done Archie was sucking a nicked finger and tear streaks were apparent to Horatio’s black face, from the onions. “Right,” he sniffed, “toss it all in.” Archie scraped the vegetables off of the counter and into the pot. “Now for the port. Mr. Kennedy, if you don’t mind--?”
“Certainly.” Archie brought the bottle of port off of the shelf and uncorked it vigorously, his hair bouncing. He sniffed it dubiously. “Does that smell right to you?” he inquired.
Horatio leaned over and sniffed. He frowned. “Perhaps we had better taste it and find out,” he said judiciously.
Archie nodded, frowning in agreement with the proclamation. “Good idea.” They found two brandy snifters and Archie poured them each a glass. Tentatively, they each took a sip. They nodded at each other.
“Not bad,” Archie said.
“Not bad, but do you think it’s suitable for Captain Pellew?”
“Let’s try again.”
They drank again from their glasses. “What do you think?” Archie asked.
“Better than last time.”
They drank again. “The Captain shouldn’t scorn this,” Horatio finally said.
“I agree. Let’s slosh some in.”
Horatio obligingly held the bottle horizontally over the pot and they happily watched the dark liquid glug in around the limp chicken. He lifted up the bottle. “Do you think that’s enough?”
“Just a skosh more,” Archie advised. One more glug went into the pot. “Excellent. Now what do we do?”
Horatio bent over the Cookery Book. “We set fire to the bird until the alcohol burns out. Then we cook the chicken until done.”
“Um, alright. Perhaps I should do the torching this time.”
“That is probably advisable,” Horatio agreed.
Archie lit a new wick and waited with it as Horatio briefly sautéed the chicken mess. “Go ahead,” Horatio said finally, stepping aside. Archie touched the wick to the steaming chicken/port/vegetable mix and the whole thing burst into flame. They watched placidly as it broiled away, but they started to get a little nervous as it continued to do so after a minute.
“Should we put it out?” Archie shouted over the fire.
“No…the Cookery Book says let it flame,” Horatio answered dubiously.
After a few more minutes, the fire died down. The two novice cooks leaned over the pot, peering through a cloud of smoke. Horatio dug a spoon under the chicken carcass and held it up out of the pot. One blackened wing fell off with a plop back into the pan.
They surveyed the blackened bird dubiously. “It is supposed to be charcoaled?” Archie asked, wrinkling his nose.
“I wouldn’t think so, but we just followed the recipe,” Horatio said.
“Maybe there was a little too much port…?” Archie hinted.
“Well, you told me to pour in that much, Mr. Kennedy!” Horatio protested.
“You were holding the bottle! I wasn’t forcing you, Mr. Hornblower!”
“Well, what do we do now?” Horatio asked, putting his hands on his hips.
“Do you think Captain Pellew will notice?” Archie asked.
“There’s still some un-burnt chicken in here,” Horatio said, poking the carcass with a knife.
“Excellent! Now what?”
“Apparently we just let it cook slowly for the next few hours.”
Just then, Styles came bursting into the mess. “Sirs!” he cried. “How much longer do we have to keep that damned steward outta ‘ere? ‘E’s gettin’ mighty impatient, an’ wants to get down ‘ere to work on tonight’s dinner!”
Irritated at the interruption, Horatio hissed, “Just keep him out until dinner, Styles.”
“But how, Sir?”
“Oh, I don’t know—just do whatever you can. Mr. Kennedy and I still need to finish this meal.”
“Oh—right you are, Sir,” Styles said, and left in desperation.
“Now,” Horatio said, “we need to make something to go with the chicken.”
“How about a nice pastry?” Archie suggested brightly.
“That’s just the thing, Mr. Kennedy!” Horatio agreed.
They found a suitable recipe in the Cookery Book, and set about happily measuring flour, sugar, milk and lard in ample quantities.
“Are we supposed to knead it?” Archie asked.
“I don’t know…” Horatio frowned. It doesn’t say to, but I seem to recall that one does generally knead bread products.”
“Well, maybe just for a few minutes then,” Archie suggested.
Horatio agreed and they turned the dough out onto the counter (remember what else this counter was used for?). Horatio took the first shift, sweating and straining as he attempted to push the dough into any other shape than the ball that is wanted to be. By the time he gave up, his hair was dishevelled and he had flour added onto his face, accenting sharply against the soot and tear-streaks. “You have a go,” he grunted. “It won’t budge.”
Archie took over and was soon pushing the dough around gaily. “You just need to show it who is in control, Mr. Hornblower,” he said smartly.
“Oh, is that so?” Horatio said, nettled.
“Well—I think it’s been kneaded enough,” Archie concluded. He tried to step away, but couldn’t. “Horatio—I’m stuck!”
Horatio quickly assessed the situation. The dough was stuck to the countertop and Archie’s hands. “You need some flour!” he decided. He ran to Archie with a cup of flour and dumped it on the dough.
“It’s not working!” Archie cried frantically. Horatio thought quickly. A lantern lit in his head. “Boiling water!” he cried, “that will do it!”
He quickly boiled some water over the fire while Archie struggled to get free, then he carried the kettle to the counter and sloshed it over the dough. “EEEAAARRRGGGHHH!!!!!!” Archie shouted as the boiling liquid hit him.
“Damn—it’s just making that flour solidify!” Horatio cried in consternation. He threw some more boiling water over the dough and Archie staggered back, finally freed.
“That scalded me!” Archie cried.
“Here, Archie—this always works on burns,” Horatio said, helpfully slapping some cool lard onto his friend’s hands. “Better now?”
“Thank you, Horatio,” Archie said honestly.
“Yes, well—” Horatio said gruffly. He never knew how to deal with emotion. “We have to deal with this pastry still.”
“Well, looks like we just put it on the pan and let it bake.”
“In the oven.”
“Yes, Mr. Kennedy, I believe that that is generally where one bakes pastry.”
“Alright, stick it in.”
“It seems a little liquidy,” Horatio frowned dubiously as he scraped it off the counter and onto the pan.
“Horatio—it’s going to bake,” Archie said with an air of “Duh!”.
“Right,” Horatio said, embarrassed at his momentary lapse of reason. He tossed it into the stove. “Now we need to make a dessert.”
“How about a custard?” Archie suggested.
“One of those jiggly things? Gosh, I haven’t had one of those for ages,” Horatio realized.
“And neither has Captain Pellew,” Archie pointed out. “He would love it.”
“You’re right!” Horatio snapped his fingers. “Let’s find a recipe.”
Archie riffled through the Cookery Book with his larded fingers and found a suitable page. “To Make a Lemin Custerd,” he read.
“Perfect! There are some lemons right here,” Horatio said, digging one out of the ship’s anti-scurvy pack.
“Seems we need some eggs,” Archie said.
Horatio looked at him. “Back up you go,” he ordered.
Groaning, Archie ascended to the deck again. He approached the Marine. “I need half a dozen or so eggs,” he requested.
“Right you are,” said the Marine, still wondering why this steward looked so familiar, yet he’d apparently never seen him before. He fished some eggs out of the cages and Archie bundled them into his lardy arms, deciding to ignore what seemed like a medical emergency that was occurring between Styles, Matthews, Oldroyd, the steward, and a gathering crowd near the mizzenmast. He hurried down to the mess again.
“Got the eggs,” he said cheerfully.
“Not skewered, are they?” Horatio asked darkly. “Here, hand them over, I’m at the egg stage now.”
He began cracking them busily into his bowl, which already contained milk, sugar and raisins. Suddenly there was a sharp crack and a foul stench filled the room. Archie looked up to see egg white spattered with the flour, tear-streaks and soot on Horatio’s thundercloud-looking face.
“Ugh, what is that putrid smell?” he cried. “That’s even worse than my dinner!”
Wordlessly, Horatio pointed to the bowl.
Archie stepped over and looked in. A greenish rotting egg sprawled over the other contents.
Without saying anything, Horatio stepped to the port hole and tossed the mess out into the sea. Then he came back. “Let’s try that gain, shall we?” he said tersely.
Archie went back up to the deck, trying to ignore the surgeon and loblolly boys that rushed past in the direction of the steward with a stretcher. He collected six more eggs and descended back to the kitchen. Horatio successfully completed the step and poured the custard into a mold. “Now we pop it into the oven.”
“Eh…with the cock and the pastry?” Archie queried.
“Where else would it go, Mr. Kennedy?” Horatio said in exasperation. He shoved it in and turned a triumphant rotten egg-flour-onion eyes-sooty face to Archie. “Well—let us hope that the Captain enjoys his smash-bang birthday dinner!”
“Here, here!” Archie cried, and they drank a celebratory glass of port.
Captain Pellew’s stomach grumbled at half-past six. “Mr. Bracegirdle, why haven’t I been served dinner yet?” he said irritably.
Bracegirdle coughed apologetically. “It seems the steward has met with an unfortunate accident,” he said.
Pellew looked up. “Eh? What sort of an unfortunate accident?”
“Seems he tripped over a rope coil on deck. Luckily the Boatswain and two of his mates were there and called Dr. Hepplewhite immediately.”
“So…he is in the Sick Bay?” Pellew asked, his heart sinking.
“He didn’t manage to make dinner?”
“So—I won’t be eating tonight.”
“Damn,” Pellew said unhappily. “It’s my birthday, too, Mr. Bracegirdle.”
“So you informed me last night, Sir,” Bracegirdle said.
“No dinner—damn.” Pellew’s stomach growled again as he consigned himself to a hungry birthday. He retreated sadly to his cabin.
He was drowning his sorrows in a meager glass of sherry when suddenly there was a knock on his door. “Enter,” he called.
His eyes nearly popped out of his head as his two Lieutenants marched in in aprons and shirtsleeves, bearing what smelled like…FOOD??!!...between them. They set it down on his table.
“Happy Birthday, Captain Pellew!” they chorused.
“Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy—what is the meaning of this??” Pellew ejaculated.
“Dinner for you, Sir!” said Horatio pertly. Archie lifted the lid of the dish and a wonderful aroma escaped. Pellew’s stomach growled.
“I—I—” Pellew didn’t know what to say. “Thank you, boys.”
“Enjoy, Sir!” Archie said brightly, and they two left, saying, “We’ll be back with the second course, Sir!”
Pellew leaned over the dish and sniffed deeply. My, it smelt good! He couldn’t identify it, but he certainly was hungry! He grabbed some cutlery and dug in.
He was barely done it when the two appeared again, this time bearing what looked like a cottage loaf. This reminder of Pellew’s childhood birthdays almost brought tears to his eyes. He dug into it with equal gusto.
He had finished this when suddenly the door banged open and Archie and Horatio came in singing “Happy Birthday to you…Happy birthday to you…Happy Birthday, CaptainSirEdwardPell-eeeeew……..Happy birthday to you!”
They placed a cake-looking thing down on the table in front of him, with a solitary candle burning in the center.
“Make a wish, Sir!” offered Horatio.
Pellew obligingly leant forward and blew out the candle. The young men cheered.
“Really, I don’t know what to say,” Pellew said. “Except thank you, thank you, boys.”
“It was nothing really,” they muttered humbly. “Let us know when you’re done, Sir, and we’ll come take away the dishes.”
Pellew invited Bracegirdle and Bowles to share a piece of the dessert with him, as it turned out ot be so stunningly delicious.
“They made you a whole meal?!” Bowles cried.
“Indeed! It was absolutely delicious! Candied onion and toasted chestnut fracas, cottage loaf and lemon-rice pudding cake—absolutely gourmet!” Pellew gushed. “I should put those two on KP more often!”
Meanwhile, Archie and Horatio were leaving, exhausted but satisfied, for their berth, when they suddenly heard noises ahead of them in the dark passage. “Who’s there?” Horatio asked warily.
Out of the shadows came Matthews, Styles, and Oldroyd, followed by a small crowd of other sailors. They all looked ticked off, and the darkness lended them devilish looks. Oldroyd leered eerily at them. “Where’s our dinner, eh, Sirs?” he queried.
“What is all this about?” Horatio cried. “Styles, Matthews—I would have thought better of you.”
“Well, Sir, turns out we ‘appen to be a bit peckish ourselves,” Styles said grimly. “And after we took care o’ that steward an’ all…”
“What?” Archie exclaimed.
“We were tryin’ to keep ‘im away from the mess, so we gave him a little…accident,” Styles smiled, and Horatio and Archie backed up a step.
“Well, erm, um…” Horatio thought fast. “There is dinner in the mass, but if you harmed the steward, you’ll have to dish yourselves.”
The sailors cheered and dashed off down the passage.
“Quick, to the berth!” Horatio shouted, and he and Archie took off. They got inside their room quickly.
“Bolt the door,” Archie advised, collapsing panting on his bunk. “Horatio…you know we dumped that slop out of the window.”
“You know that, and I know that, but they don’t know that,” Horatio reasoned.
“Never again,” Horatio wholeheartedly agreed.
“Did you seriously see Captain Pellew with your face like that?”
But they were unaware that Pellew was coming towards their cabin at that very moment, wondering how he should phrase his proposition. Let’s see… ‘Ever thought of taking up—’ no, that wasn’t it. ‘Would you care to trade your commissions in for aprons—’ no, wrong too. Hmm. At that moment, he heard a noise in the passage. “Who’s there?” he called.