Measure for Measure
by Dunnage41

//
Admiral Sir Edward Pellew sat down rather more stiffly than he would have liked in the chair which Brown had indicated. The day was fair but damp, and his knees were a trifle rheumaticky of late – he did not know any sailor over fifty whose knees were not.
//
Brown had been apologetic at the sight of Hornblower laid out on the settee, snoring gently, but Pellew had stopped him from rousing the man. Now as he sat a smile creased his face. The twenty years during which he had known Hornblower seemed to have passed in the blink of an eye, and here he was, in sleep looking almost like the seventeen year old midshipman he had been.
//
The forehead was a little higher now and the brown curls threaded with gray; but the typhus that had almost killed him in Riga had drawn the skin taut across sharp cheekbones, making him look much younger in contrast with the gray-laced hair, which had been allowed to grow during his sick-leave.
//
The brash impetuosity which had led the proud and stubborn young Mister Hornblower to challenge the monumentally foolish Jack Simpson had been tempered, of course – no, not “of course”; here Pellew checked himself. Plenty of young gentlemen never outgrew youth’s rashness as Hornblower had. And even then Pellew had seen flashes of possibility in the lad: unflinching sturdiness, obedience combined with judgment, a fierce devotion to duty. In situation after situation, from the cliffs of Cadiz to the parlors of the Peterhof, Hornblower had been by turns bold, diplomatic, headlong, courageous, stoic, and determined. More, he had proved refreshingly immune to empty praise as he had earned his plaudits over the years. But most of all he had been the kind of leader of men of whom the Navy could use several hundred more.
//
Hence the present task.
//
At that juncture in Pellew’s reflections, the breeze blowing through the open window freshened, ruffling both men’s hair. Hornblower blinked drowsily; and as he awoke, out of the tail of his eye he caught sight of Pellew and climbed stiffly to his feet.
//
“Oh – ah – good afternoon, sir,” Hornblower said, smothering a yawn. The men exchanged bows. “You are well, I trust, sir?”
//
“Very well, thank you,” Pellew returned. “And you – you’re looking considerably better.” It was true. Despite the hollow cheeks and deep-set, shadowed eyes, the commodore appeared relaxed and in remarkably good spirits in his enforced idleness.
//
Coffee was brought and Pellew gave an interested Hornblower the latest fleet gossip. At length they turned to business.
//
The Admiralty, discouraged at the quality of young gentlemen being turned out of the Academy, had decreed that students must gain approval from a panel of senior officers both on their records and with an oral examination before being eligible to be taken into a ship. Now that the Navy had become fashionable again, any number of young men from good families had become desirous of joining its ranks. Pellew and Hornblower were among the officers set to examine the academic records of these hopefuls and decide which ones might be put forward for further questioning.
//
Pellew made a sound that might have been described as a growl as he shuffled through the first set of papers. “Obedient to a fault but lacking initiative,” he read. “Weak in mathematics. Afraid of thunderstorms.” He looked up. “Good God. D’you suppose this lad actually wants to join the Navy?”
//
Hornblower grinned. “A worthwhile question, sir.”
//
In painstaking fashion, they worked their way through the pile of papers, each bringing his own outlook to the shared duty. Pellew, paternal as he might be to the young gentlemen under him, was experienced enough to be pitilessly knowledgeable about what a life in the King’s service required. Hornblower, though unceasingly hard on himself, had an imagination vivid enough to give him sympathy with the young men being tried in absentia on their records: at the same time, their records were a fair and diligent compilation of insights into their identities.
//
At last they came to the end of the pile.
//
“John Simpson Junior,” Hornblower read out unthinkingly, then froze. He and Pellew exchanged a look: and there was much in the look.
//
“Impossible,” breathed Pellew.
//
Hornblower’s face bore a calculating look. Simpson had been dead for nineteen years. If the child had been conceived in Simpson’s last days, which was just possible, he would now be eighteen. In a flash Hornblower recalled something that had not been in his memory before because of its trivial nature: Simpson, sitting in a chair at the inn, Hepplewhite bending over him, tending his wounded shoulder – and a servant-girl standing behind the chair and lightly brushing Simpson’s hair from his brow.
//
“Good God,” he murmured. The men looked away, then looked back at each other.
//
“It is … just … possible,” Hornblower said slowly. Pellew grunted.
//
“At any rate,” Pellew said briskly, “it is safe to say that Mr. Simpson junior’s … father … had no hand in his upbringing. We may be thankful for that at least.”
//
Hornblower flicked through the papers. “Diligent … shy … capable of displaying initiative…”
//
With only desultory conversation they perused the record of his schooling. At length, with no more to consider, they only sat and stared again. Each man was looking at the other and each past the other, and each man was wrapped in his own thoughts. At length Pellew spoke.
//
“I believe we owe him the courtesy of an examination,” he said. After a pause, he added, “After all, not every man is the measure of his father.”
//
Hornblower instinctively looked away to hide the stinging of his eyes. When he spoke, there was a catch in his voice.
//

“I agree,” he said. Silently he laid the papers on the pile with those to be put forward for examination.