Mr. Pipps Goes to France
This adventure follows the events in 'Mr. Pipps and the Royal Visit'.
The small tailor's shop of Messrs. Stitchitt and Tuck was just down the road from the back door of the Admiralty in London and had been producing uniforms for His Britannic Majesty's Navy for as long as anyone could remember. Hundreds of young men had passed through its doors as midshipmen and then lieutenants. A goodly number had gone on to glorious careers in the upper echelons of the service but, however humble or exalted, they all came out of the shop wearing the same slightly glazed expression. This was not because of any awe they felt at having just seen themselves splendidly clad in a full length looking glass, but was due instead to the fact that Mr. Tuck, who was in charge of fitting all the breeches, was inclined to cut them a trifle tight in the gusset.
On this rather damp afternoon a young man stood before the
glass in the back room of the shop gazing at himself with solemn
"There we are sir," murmured Mr. Stitchett with a hint of pride in his deferential tone, "I believe you will find it very comfortable." He smoothed the brand new dark blue jacket over the officer's shoulders.
"You will notice sir that I made the pockets extra large on the inside, just as you requested."
"Thank you," said the young man surveying himself critically.
"And now sir," said the tailor producing a hat from a box on the floor and placing it on its new owner's head. "Ah yes, that looks very well, wouldn't you agree sir?"
"Yes. Have we finished now?"
"Oh indeed sir, but I wonder if I might enquire why sir needed the extra room in his pockets?"
"It's so I can carry my toad with me, and Jeremy too."
"My pet mouse," confided Mr. Pipps. "He's a strordinary mouse you know, he was drubbed by the King."
"Yes, he's Sir Jeremy now," said Mr. Pipps nodding.
"Ah, I see sir," said the tailor respectfully "and has your toad also been dubbed a knight?"
"Of course not," said Mr. Pipps patiently, "he's been dead for ages."
While the Indefatigable's youngest middy was having his sartorial needs attended to, her captain, Sir Edward Pellew, was receiving orders vital to the conduct of the war from Admiral Hood.
"Well Pellew, can it be done it time? It's scant notice you've been given but that's the service for you."
"You may rely upon me my lord," said Sir Edward with the supreme confidence of one who had swiped more Frogs that he could count.
"I don't envy you," said Lord Hood staring at Sir Edward with an expression that, over the years, had reminded many an officer of a constipated owl. "It's a delicate task made all the more difficult by the loss of the original plans."
"Yes my lord," agreed Pellew "It will be a damned shame if the Frogs already know our intentions in this matter."
"The fellow was a fool to go walking about the town with such valuable papers in his pocket,' growled Admiral Hood. "not to mention taking a short cut through Pickpocket Alley! Still, it's my opinion that they didn't reach the other side of the Channel. Now then Pellew, when shall you make your move?"
"I shall waste no time my lord. I expect to have the curtain fabric and the paint picked out and delivered by the end of the day. The carpet will be here tomorrow."
"Good man!" explained Hood, with what passed for a smile on his normally grim face "I knew you were the fellow for this task when I saw that article about your cabin in the home and garden section of the Naval Chronicle. It's been a long time since this room was a fit place for the Sea Lords' weekly meeting and potluck luncheon. Oh and listen, while you're about it can you do something about that ruddy clock? It's never kept decent time in all the years I've been here!"
"Er, very well my lord," said Sir Edward dutifully as his lordship waved a hand in the direction of the handsome and ingenious wind gage that hung above the fireplace.
"Splendid!" said Lord Hood rubbing his hands together. "Now what of that other business in France you know, do you foresee any difficulty?"
"None at all my lord! I shall have the troops and the Fro, er the French gentlemen embarked by the end of the week," said Sir Edward confidently.
"Excellent, excellent," said Hood making for the sideboard, "a pint of brandy before you leave Sir Edward?"
"What do you mean it's not ready?" said Horatio,
an expression of dismay haunting his liquid brown eyes. "I
ordered my new jacket weeks ago!"
"Yes sir," agreed Mr. Stitchett "I'm very sorry but I'm afraid we had to give precedence to some of the larger orders that were received after yours. This young gentleman for instance, requested half a dozen new jackets and a brace of hats." He nodded approvingly at Mr. Pipps who was busy testing a theory that his toad would stick to the looking glass for a few seconds, if thrown with sufficient force.
"Well it was actually the young gentleman's mother," conceded Mr. Stitchett.
"Yes I'm sure," said Horatio impatiently "but was there really no time to?"
"And then of course we had that really big order come in. Let me see, a dozen lieutenant's jackets, eights pairs of breeches, four hats, two dozen monogrammed pairs of best quality linen drawers, quite a substantial list sir. Something to get one's needle and thread into."
"Great Heavens! Who can afford all that?"
"I believe the young gentleman is a shipmate sir. His mother came in with the order. A very kind lady is Mrs Kennedy."
"Yes, so I believe," sighed Horatio, "are you sure you have nothing ready for me?"
"Well I think the sleeves are done," conceded Mr. Stitchett.
"Is that all?"
"Yes, would you like to take them with you sir?"
Sir Edward swept down the steps of the Admiralty like a man
with no time to lose. He almost collided with Mr. Pipps who was
busy hopping up them.
"Where is Mr. Hornblower?" demanded the captain.
"He's waiting by the boat," panted Mr. Pipps. He pointed vaguely in the direction of the river as he continued his one legged ascent of the steps.
"This way boy, this way!" said Sir Edward testily "we must get back to the Indefatigable at once!" He strode towards the boat with Mr. Pipps skipping along at his heels.
"Did you get a new hat? I did," remarked Mr. Pipps in a carefree fashion.
He grew a little more serious. "I wanted to get Jeremy a new jacket but the tailor man said he didn't have any needles small enough"
"Is that what he told you?" snorted Sir Edward. He might have said more on the subject of Mr. Stitchett's obvious limitations in the field of bespoke rodent tailoring if he had not just caught sight of his boat and the large quantity of parcels that Mr. Hornblower was attempting to stow in it.
"What the devil is going on? I was under the impression that this was my personal conveyance Mr. Hornblower, but I see that you are in the process of turning into some kind of floating market stall!"
"I beg your pardon sir," said Horatio hastily kicking packages beneath the cross planks.
"Yes, well get on with it Mr. Hornblower! Get all this, this, out of my sight. We sail on the tide!"
"May I ask if we are in fact being sent on a mission against the enemy sir?" asked Horatio picking up Mr. Pipps and depositing him on a hatbox in between Styles and Mathews.
"You may Mr. Hornblower, you may. When we get aboard you are to inform all the officers that I wish to see them in my day cabin at once."
"Aye aye sir," said Horatio, his curls a-quiver with anticipation.
"On second thoughts Mr. Hornblower, you may ask them to attend me twenty minutes after we reach the ship. I must take a moment to write to Lady Pellew."
Sitting down in the stern Sir Edward reflected that the navy was a harsh taskmaster. He had been hoping spend some time at home with his good lady on the following Thursday but his orders now made it impossible. It would have been a very pleasant half an hour no doubt and he might have mused further on this missed pleasure if he had not become aware that his seat was unusually soft.
"What the devil?" he said, pulling a brown paper parcel from beneath his captainly rear end.
"It's a parcel sir," murmured Horatio apologetically.
"I can see that Mr. Hornblower, but what's in it?"
"I believe it contains Mr. Kennedy's new drawers sir."
Mr. Pipps giggled, as he always did when nether garments were mentioned, and was told to go to the mizzenmast cross trees immediately upon reaching the deck of the Indefatigable. And no, he could not have his dinner first.
Horatio staggered into the wardroom, his arms full of parcels.
Archie looked up from the lively game of tiddly winks he was having
with Mr. Bracegirdle.
"I say Horatio, whatever have you got there?"
"It's your order from Stitchett and Tuck sir," said Horatio dropping it all thankfully on the floor.
"It was jolly decent of you to fetch it all!" said Archie with a smile that was both brilliant and slightly vacant.
"Not at all sir," said Horatio helping himself to a cup of tea "I was in the shop anyway so it was no trouble."
"So I see," said Archie raising an eyebrow and walking around his friend. "Are those new sleeves?"
Well, yes sir," said Horatio self consciously, "nothing else was ready so I just had them sewn into my old jacket."
"I'm sure no one will notice," said Archie kindly "once they've faded a bit, and got a bit threadbare, and the sea spray has.."
"Yes, thank you sir, I think we should be going now. We're all wanted in the captain's cabin."
"What for?" squeaked Archie nervously. Ever since his promotion to lieutenant Sir Edward had been asking him hard questions like 'which way was the ship pointing?' and 'where was the coast?' If it wasn't for the nice uniform he might be having regrets about passing his exam.
"I think the captain has orders for a mission," said Horatio "I hope it's an invasion don't you?"
"An invasion of what?"
"France of course!"
"Wouldn't that be dangerous?" burbled Archie "I mean France is full of French people isn't it?"
"Oh sir!" said Horatio clapping his friend on the shoulder "you will have your little joke!"
"Oh I wish you wouldn't keep calling me sir," said Archie.
"I've already explained this sir," said Horatio patiently. "You're a lieutenant now and my superior officer."
"Well couldn't I just command you to call me Archie or something?"
"Come along sir," said Horatio taking Archie firmly by the elbow, "we mustn't be late."
"Gentlemen!" said Sir Edward regarding his assembled officers with pride. His eye fell fondly on Horatio who was sitting at attention with an eager 'let's have a crack at the Frogs' expression on his face. A young blond officer who he couldn't quite place sat on Horatio's far side and appeared to be trying to stay out of the captain's line of sight.
"I have just come from the Admiralty with orders that will send us on a secret mission which could deliver the blow that will bring Napoleon to his knees!"
At these warlike words Horatio leapt to his feet, his eyes glowing.
"Sir, I volunteer to hit Napoleon where it hurts sir!"
"I could stamp on his foot," offered Mr. Pipps, who had been allowed a short reprieve from the cross trees to attend the meeting, "or get my peashooter and shoot him in the"
"Yes, thank you both gentlemen, but if I may be allowed to continue?" said Sir Edward with one of his best scowls. "On Thursday afternoon we will sail for the coast of France in company with the ships Irresponsible, Inflatable and Ineptitude. We shall be carrying a small force of royalist Fro.. er, Frenchmen as well as some of our own brave soldiers, a company of the Royal Rutland Rifles. These combined forces will execute a raid upon the escargot farms near the village of Mucusac."
"What's 'S' cargo?" piped up Mr. Pipps "do we have any in the hold?"
"No, no," said Sir Edward impatiently. "Mr. Hornblower?" He looked at his favourite young officer with the air of man whose pet dog was about to demonstrate that it could read the newspaper.
"Edible snails sir," said Horatio leaping to his feet. "The escargot farms of Mucusac produce the very finest. Napoleon and his marshals dine on them every night. Cutting off their supply will be a tremendous blow to enemy morale sir. I should like to volunteer"
"Yes, yes, thank you Mr. Hornblower, that's all very clear. Now I.."
"Don't they taste horrid?" asked Mr. Pipps, much intrigued. "I think they must 'cos they're all squashy and slimy aren't they?"
"And a bit rubbery like whelks," agreed Mr. Bracegirdle. "Oddly enough my dear wife's mother is immensely fond of.."
"Mr. Bracegirdle! This is an important meeting sir, not a discussion about the comparative merits of mollusks!"
Mr. Bracegirdle subsided with a hurt expression while Mr. Pipps whispered loudly to his pet mouse Jeremy that the captain was 'being quite cross today'.
"Now gentlemen," continued Sir Edward "I shall
be sending a small party of officers and men with the invading
force to.. Sit down Mr. Hornblower! The party will be led by Mr.,
Mr" The Captain paused to study a list on the table in front
of him "Mr. Kennedy." Ah yes, he recalled him quite
clearly now. No doubt he would be the one attempting to hide behind
Mr. Hornblower. However when the Captain glared down the length
of his captured French dining table he could see no sign of him.
"Where is Mr. Kennedy?" he demanded.
"He's under the table," said Mr. Pipps helpfully.
"What the devil is he doing there?" demanded Sir Edward "Get him back on his chair Mr. Hornblower!"
"Aye aye sir," said Horatio miserably. His face wore a hurt expression and his curls had gone quite flat with disappointment. He reached under the table, seized his quivering friend by the collar and hauled him back onto his seat.
"Get a hold of yourself for Heaven's sake Archie!" he hissed. "You're going to be in charge of the landing party. You must show some spine!"
"That's just what I will be doing if some Frog cannon ball hits me in the back!" mumbled Archie going green in the face.
"Pull your self together Mr. Kennedy," admonished Sir Edward, "where are your guts man?"
"Oh! I think I'm going to faint!"
"Mr. Hornblower, you will accompany Mr. Kennedy ashore, as will Mr. Pipps."
"Oh thank the Lord!" whispered Archie going a more healthy color "you can do all the difficult bits with the men and the guns and everything can't you Horatio? They don't listen to me you know."
"Can I take my toy soldiers?" asked Mr. Pipps.
"Certainly not!" replied Sir Edward sharply.
"But we're taking real ones," said Mr. Pipps with an injured air. This argument, irrefutable though it was, did not sway the captain and the young midshipman had to content himself with taking a couple of his miniature warriors back up the mizzenmast.
The following Wednesday Horatio and Archie stood on the quayside
at Portsmouth awaiting the imminent arrival of the Royal Rutland
Rifles. Lieutenant Kennedy was still looking a little red-eyed
and nervous but he had at least stopped pulling out his hair ribbons
and bursting into tears when anyone mentioned France.
"It's going to be splendid sir," remarked Horatio with his hands clasped behind his back and an eager look in his eye. When his companion did not reply, he repeated his remark.
"Oh I'm sorry Horatio. Were you talking to me?"
"Um, what's going to be splendid?"
"Taking the war to the enemy. Cutting of his lines of supply. Hitting him right where it hurts, sir"
"Oh, I suppose so," said Archie without much enthusiasm. "I just wish we didn't have to go, well, over there to do it. I mean it's a bit risky isn't it?"
"It might be a little on the risky side," Horatio conceded, "but you've got to remember sir, they're only Frogs. Good Heavens! What's that dreadful noise?"
"Fifes and drums," said Archie pointing down the quay to an approaching column of soldiers. "It must be the regimental march of the Rutland's."
"I'm always glad I joined the navy when I hear a din like that," said Horatio cheerfully "can you imagine marching mile after mile with that in your ears sir?"
"I wouldn't mind the music," said Archie "but I should strongly object to wearing one of those jackets!"
"Why?" said Horatio taking another look at the soldiers. "Oh! I see. What an unfortunate colour."
"This must be the French," said Archie as another column appeared, coming this time from the opposite end of the quay. In contrast to the unattractively hued Rutlands, the French soldiers were decked out in fetching shades of red, white and blue and their uniforms were decorated with generous amounts of feathers and lace.
Horatio winced as the French drummers and buglers launched
into an ear splitting rendition of something Gallic and military.
He winced again as the Rutlands redoubled their musical efforts
The French commander snapped out and order and his men began to move at a faster pace towards the embarkation point. Not be outdone, the officer in charge of the Rutlands
urged his men to advance at the double.
"Are they going to fight?" asked Mr. Pipps climbing
on a barrel to get a better look. Jeremy was perched on top of
his hat, his small head swiveling between the converging columns.
"I shouldn't think so," said Archie edging behind a pile of wooden crates.
"The Frogs will stop first sir," said Horatio confidently.
"How do you know that?" said Archie admiringly.
"They won't risk spoiling their uniforms."
Horatio was soon proved right as the French column came to a sudden and ragged halt some twenty yards away. There were one or two cries of dismay from the rear as a few soldiers collided with each other and bent their feathers.
The Rutlands' commanding officer reined in his horse and looked down at the Indefatigables with a vacant expression.
"Good day Sir," said Horatio squaring his shoulders and stepping forward "This is Lieutenant Kennedy," he gestured towards Archie unaware that his superior had chosen that moment to bend down behind the crates to adjust his stockings. "I am Midshipman Hornblower and that small gentleman is Midshipman Pipps. We will be embarking you and your men."
The officer made no reply.
"I think he's ignoring me!" murmured Horatio, making ready to be affronted on behalf of the entire fleet.
Almost at once a Sergeant Major stepped across to the officer's stirrup and gave him a discreet tap on the boot with his baton.
"Eh? What?" said the officer blinking.
"The naval orfficer was speakin' to you my lord."
"I do beg your pardon!" said his lordship grinning sheepishly, "I'm afraid I quite often nod off on horseback."
"Squiffy? Is that you?" Archie stepped out from behind the crates wearing a delighted smile.
"Kipper? Kipper Kennedy?"
"Squiffy Eddrington! Whatever are you doing here?" said Archie reaching up to shake his old friend by the hand.
"Well I'm in charge of these fellows," said the young Major, waving a hand at his men "and we're, um, let me think now. Sar'nt Major?"
"We is going on a hexpedition to France my lord," said the Sergeant Major with ramrod straight posture. He spoke in a tone that a nursemaid might use to remind her charge to wash his face.
"Oh bad luck!" said Archie sympathetically "yes, I'm afraid we are too."
"Ahem, ahem," said Horatio discreetly in Archie's
"Would you like a bulls eye?" said Archie as he took a small brown paper bag from his pocket. "They're awfully good for coughs."
"No, thank you sir! I'm just letting you know that I'm going to greet the French commanding officer now."
"Perhaps I should do that," mused Archie "after all I am supposed to be in charge you know." He straightened his nice new lieutenant's jacket thoughtfully.
"He probably speaks French sir," said Horatio. He did not add 'and you don't' but it was implied.
The point became moot a few seconds later when the French officer, who had been staring rather intently at Archie, let out a squeal of delight.
"Kipper! You dear old thing!' he enthused with an accent that had more to do with Berkshire than Brittany. He jumped down from his horse and ran to give Archie a very un-British embrace.
"What color would you call that then?" said Mathews
frowning and pointing at the Rutland's coats.
"Buggered if I know what to call it" replied Styles "but it reminds me of the last time Mr. 'Ornblower was sea sick."
"Sorry Mr. 'Ornblower."
"Beggin yer pardon Mr. 'Ornblower sir," said Mathews knuckling his forehead and genuflecting
While Archie was exchanging greetings with the leader of the
French contingent Mr. Pipps climbed down from his barrel to have
a better look at Major Eddrington's horse. It was a splendid creature,
well muscled and beautifully groomed.
"What's your horse called?"
"Who's that?" said the major looking about in confusion.
"It's me. I'm down here."
The major leaned over to his right and saw a small face gazing up at him from beneath the brim of a middy's hat.
"How d'ye do young'un!"
"Very well thank you," replied Mr. Pipps politely. "What's he called?"
"Is that because he makes funny noises?" enquired Mr. Pipps
"How d'ye mean?"
Mr. Pipps explained what he meant at length. He used as an example the unfortunate nag with the explosive digestive system that he had met while visiting Doctor Hornblower at Muttering in the Marsh.
"His name's Lightning," he explained at the end of his detailed and graphic account.
"Ah," said the Major in a stunned fashion "Good Lord. Well, Thunderer doesn't do anything like that. At least, not much anyway."
"Would you like to meet Jeremy?" invited Mr. Pipps. "He's Sir Jeremy now."
"Is he really?" said the Major looking about for this distinguished person.
"Yes," said Mr. Pipps lifting his small friend up to be admired.
Thunderer, who up until now had been chewing contentedly on his bit, caught sight of Mr. Pipps rising hand and turned his head to take closer look. Being a warhorse he was a courageous beast, able to stand quietly while orders were shouted and cannon roared about him. He had often seen mice in his stable and never turned a hair of his glossy coat, but none of them had been wearing uniform or had regarded him with such a bold and glittering eye.
He skittered sideways, turned in a circle and came dangerously close the edge of the quay. Thunderer pulled up in time to save himself but his master had no such luck and toppled off his back and into the drink.
The commotion brought Horatio and Archie hurrying over with
the French officer.
"What happened here?" demanded Horatio.
"He fell in," explained Mr. Pipps who had climbed on top of another barrel to get a better view of the Major being hauled into the jolly boat.
"Well if isn't Squiffy Eddrington!" said the French officer with a laugh. "Trust him to be dripping wet eh Kipper?"
"Oh indeed," said Archie cheerfully. "Horatio I didn't finish introducing you. This is Montmorency De Montefort, the Marquis De Mucusac."
"Monsieur," said Horatio touching his hat rather stiffly.
"Oh just call me Fishface my dear fellow!" said the Marquis beaming.
"Fishface!" exclaimed Mr. Pipps with glee "Is that really your name?"
"You must call him Monsieur," said Horatio frowning severely "and only if he speaks to you first."
"But I like Fishface much better!" protested Mr. Pipps.
"It simply will not do!" said Horatio firmly.
"We think Fishface is a really good name don't we?" Mr. Pipps muttered rebelliously to Jeremy.
"I say, Fishface!" said Major as he squelched his way up the steps from the boat, "What a surprise!"
Mr. Pipps giggled and jumped up and down on the barrel three times in his delight.
"I see you're all wet as usual," said the Marquis shaking his old friend warmly by the hand. "Do you remember the time we tossed you off the school bell tower into the duck pond?"
The Major looked blank.
"Can't say that I do," he replied.
"That was me actually," said Archie, "If I recall correctly it was just after you set fire to my coat tails and ran me up the flagpole."
"Ahem, ahem," said Horatio.
"Are you sure you won't have a bull's eye Horatio?"
"No thank you sir! I was just going to suggest that we start loading all these men and supplies."
"Oh, I see. Good idea. I'll take these fellows over to the ship for a spot of tea. You can handle all the rest can't you?" said Archie with a vague wave of his hand.
"You can leave it all to me," said Horatio sending
his men running to unload carts with a mere incline of his head.
"Tell them to be very careful with that particular item," said the Marquis pointing to a cart that held a large rectangular object hidden under a tarpaulin. "It's essential that it reaches France in one piece."
"Never fear, sir. My men know how to handle cargo," said Horatio confidently.
"Wot the bloody 'ell's this?" said Styles snatching the tarpaulin away to reveal what appeared to be a very narrow shed resting on its back.
"Steady there Styles!" barked Horatio.
"Aye aye sir."
He climbed onto the cart and lifted the door of the shed up, opening it fully.
"It's a privy sir!" he announced, a huge grin cracking his face.
Mr. Pipps jumped down from his barrel and ran to have a look. He had not been this much entertained since meeting a very fat slug on the occasion of the King's visit to the Indefatigable.
"Are you sure?" said Horatio.
"It is indeed a privy!" announced the Marquis proudly "and with it I shall introduce my poor misguided and rebellious peasants to the advantages of the English sit down closet. Their days of standing on two planks over a pit shall be over!"
Later that afternoon Horatio climbed wearily aboard having
spent three hours supervising the loading of men, horses, supplies,
and a privy onto the decks and into the hold of the Indefatigable.
He had been looking forward to going below for a cup of tea and
some weevils on toast but this was not to be.
"Give me that plate you French bugger!"
Horatio sighed as Styles' strident and unmistakable tones came rumbling out of the center of a group of struggling jack tars and French troops.
"What's going on?" demanded Horatio striding up to the group with his best no nonsense look firmly in place.
"Look at this sir!" said Styles as he endeavored to wrestle a vegetable terrine away from an enraged Frenchman.
"Beggin' yer pardon sir but they've brought all kinds of foreign vittles aboard!" exclaimed Mathews brandishing a captured salmon mousse.
"It's not right sir! Is it sir!" said Styles breaking a baguette over his knee in spite of its former owner's annoyed shriek.
"No Styles it isn't," began Horatio.
"Hah! You'll be sorry now Froggy! Are you going to make'em do the hornpipe for twelve hours sir or will it be the cat?"
"But Je protest!" protested one of the protesting French soldiers "Vous cannot be beating nous!"
"No one's going to beat you," soothed Horatio.
"Lookee Frogee," said Oldroyd wagging a finger under the soldier's nose "we ties uppee yor trousie leggees and puttee ship's cattee inside and then throwee mousie after! Do you understandee?"
Amazingly enough the Frenchman did appear to grasp the essentials of Oldroyd's announcement because he went quite pale and grabbed the waistband of his breeches.
"Be quiet men!" said Horatio "Put the cat away Mathews!"
While Mathews was stuffing the bad tempered feline back into its sack Horatio explained to the French soldiers that they would have to hand over all their native dishes for the duration of the voyage.
"Never fear Messieurs!" he added, "We know how to treat our allies. You shall be issued with a ration of salt beef in weevil gravy for your suppers!"
He gave them a re-assuring smile and left to go below.
Horatio was obliged to knock three times at the wardroom door
before he could make himself heard over the laughter within.
He entered, hat in hand, to find Archie, the Marquis and the Major with their feet on the table hurling muffins at each other.
"Oh there you are!' said Archie genially "is everything done?"
"Yes sir," said Horatio putting out a hand to effortlessly trap a badly aimed pastry.
"Well do sit down and join us my dear fellow!" beamed the Marquis "These muffins are not half bad. I say Kipper, do you remember the time we bribed the school cook to make those really hard rock cakes and then pelted the Latin master with them?"
"Vividly," said Archie with a shudder "I was standing next to him at the time."
"I could not help noticing that your English is quite excellent Monsieur," said Horatio ignoring the offered pastries and opting instead for the weevil snaps "do you perhaps have relatives in England?"
"Dozens!" said the Marquis cheerfully.
"And of course he was at school with us," said the major needlessly.
"What school was that sir?" asked Horatio turning to Archie "I don't think you've ever mentioned it."
"Um, well actually it was Bartholomew's School for the Sons and Natural Sons of the Nobility," said Archie, seeming a little embarrassed to have attended such a large, well known and expensive place of learning.
"And you Mr. Hornblower?" asked the Marquis.
"Well, I spent a short time at Mr. Hogbane's Establishment for the Sons of Distressed Gentlefolk and Impoverished Doctors," answered Horatio "until father could no longer afford the fees that is."
There was a tipitty-tap at the wardroom door and Mr. Pipps came skipping carelessly in stopping just short of the table.
"What ho young'un!" said the major agreeably. His tone suggested that he was not aware of the small midshipman's part in his earlier dip in the harbour.
"You've got cakes!" said Mr. Pipps fastening his eyes on a particularly fine specimen of the baker's art.
"Pull up a chair my dear sir!" said the Marquis "would you care for some tea?"
"No thank you," said Mr. Pipps climbing on to a seat and reaching for a muffin, "do you have any lemonade?" He attempted to put his feet on the edge of the table like the other gentlemen and had to get down again in order to push his chair closer. Eventually he found he could get his feet high enough if he lay flat on his back. It was not too difficult to eat in this position and Jeremy ably retrieved the crumbs that would have gone down his neck.
"Did you have a reason for coming here?" asked Horatio, who was not at all sure that this sort of thing should be allowed.
"Oh!" Mr. Pipps frowned and began to recite the message that had slipped to the back of his mind.
"The captain sends his condiments to Mr. Hornblower and would he join him at at"
"His earliest convenience?" supplied Horatio, straightening his jacket and stockings.
"No, it wasn't that," said Mr. Pipps through a mouth full of muffin.
"At his leisure?" said Archie helpfully.
Mr. Pipps shook his head.
"At eight bells?" said Horatio taking out his watch.
Mr. Pipps finished his muffin and sat up, looking ready for another.
"It was at the back of the Lamb and Flag," he said.
"When?" demanded Horatio preparing to flee.
"In ten minutes," replied Mr. Pipps his eye fixed on a large currant filled cake.
"*!#*!" exclaimed Horatio dashing out of the wardroom.
"Is he always in such a hurry?" enquired the major holding out his teacup to be refilled.
"Another muffin young'un?" asked the Marquis.
"Yes please Monsire Fishface," replied Mr. Pipps politely.
Horatio raced into the yard at the back of the Lamb and Flag curls flying and hat askew.
"Where the devil have you been sir?" barked Sir Edward who was sitting on a barrel and crocheting a handsome case for his personal compass.
"I beg your pardon sir."
"I should think so! Tidy yourself up man."
Horatio hastened to brush off his sleeves and put his hat on straight.
"Now then Mr. Hornblower," said the captain giving his favorite young officer a shrewd look "do you have any idea why I have summoned you here?"
"Well sir, I should say you need to give me some very confidential information about our upcoming mission to France."
"Excellent Mr. Hornblower!" said Sir Edward, his eyes glowing with pride.
"Thank you sir," said Horatio his chest swelling, "and I imagine it has something to do with the method we will employ to destroy the escargot harvest. And I'm pretty sure that it will involve the use of thr"
"Yes, yes, that's quite enough Mr. Hornblower!" said Sir Edward swiftly "remember what I told you about letting other people have ideas."
"Yes sir. Sorry sir."
"Very well," said the captain with an approving nod. "There's someone here from the Admiralty to have a word with you." He looked meaningfully at a bale of hay in the far corner of the yard.
"Yes sir," said Horatio hurrying dutifully to stand in front of the rather dusty heap of horse fodder.
"Ah, there you are Hornblower!" The well-modulated tones of the Admiralty's top intelligence agent emerged from the middle of the hay, followed by a sneeze.
"Yes, sir." Horatio did not greet him by name knowing that Carstairs preferred to keep his identity secret.
"Splendid!" another sneeze followed. "Dash it! Er, now then Hornblower, the chaps in the little cupboard under the stairs at the Admiralty have come up with a fiendish plan to scuttle the French snails farms at Mucusac for good."
"To that end we have obtained five hundred mating pairs of mistle thrushes."
"I see sir," said Horatio eagerly.
"You do? Achooo!" said Carstairs.
"Yes sir! We distract the farm workers and release the birds who then settle down and breed like anything due to the plentiful supply of their main diet, namely snails. I calculate that the mollusks of Mucusac will be completely wiped out inside a year."
"Oh do you now," said Carstairs sounding a trifle peeved. "Yes, well, be that as it may Hornblower your main difficulty will be to keep the French troops aboard your ship from eating our feathered friends before you reach the other side of the Channel."
"I believe I have the answer sir."
"Achoo! Oh really?" said Carstairs sounding slightly more peeved.
"Yes sir, I shall tell them that thrushes are a great British delicacy. I guarantee they won't come within ten yards of them."
"Well done my boy!" exclaimed Sir Edward, putting his crochet work away in his pocket and rubbing his hands together "Now then are we done here sir? I have a ship to attend to!"
"I suppose so," the intelligence officer conceded. "I say, before you go do you see a donkey anywhere about?"
"Yes sir," said Horatio "there's one just over there by the stable door."
On Carstairs' instructions he untied the animal and brought it over to the hay bale.
"What do you think of Carruthers' disguise?" said the man from the Admiralty with unconcealed pride in his voice.
"It's remarkable sir!" admitted Horatio as the animal began to consume mouthfuls of fodder.
"Truly remarkable!" added Sir Edward as the donkey began to dislodge large clumps of hay with its front hooves. "Well gentlemen, we'll bid you goodnight. Come along Mr. Hornblower."
A few minutes later, as Horatio and the Captain were walking past the front of the Lamb and Flag they met a very strange looking creature hurrying up the street. On closer inspection it appeared to be a man, or perhaps two men, inside a donkey skin.
"Good night Carruthers," murmured Sir Edward without breaking stride.
"Are you sure that's really France?" asked Mr. Pipps
for the eight time.
"Um, yes, pretty sure," replied Archie surveying the shoreline anxiously.
"Well I think looks just the same as England," observed Mr. Pipps.
"Yes it does," agreed Archie sounding wistful.
"I say is that France?" ask the Major who had just emerged from below. His complexion had an unhealthy green hue. Between seasickness and his inability to lie in a hammock for more than ten minutes without falling out, he had not much enjoyed the voyage.
"It would be more correct to call it Brittany," said Horatio, who was on his way to personally oversee the transfer of the thrushes to the shore.
"Brittany?" said the Major with a puzzled expression "but I thought we were going to France! Did someone turn the ship around without telling me?"
"Brittany, my dear fellow" said the Marquis, who had just been down in the hold inspecting his personal privy for possible damage, "not Britain. It's the north west part of France do you see?"
"I call it dashed confusing," said the major shaking his head "It sounds just the same to me."
"It looks just the same too," added Mr. Pipps helpfully.
On the quarterdeck Mr. Bracegirdle was keeping the Captain
advised of progress.
"Sir, the Irresponsible, Inflatable and Ineptitude"
"Have finished disembarking troops and supplies. Thank you Mr. Bracegirdle. I can see that for myself. Signal them to return to Portsmouth if you please."
"Very well sir," replied the first officer somewhat stiffly.
"Are you sulking because I finished your sentence?" asked Sir Edward, brows raised.
"No sir," said Mr. Bracegirdle frowning, "I was merely.."
"Wondering why I am sending the other ships back to port and yet have informed you that we will remain here on station until the expedition to Mucusac is completed?"
"Perhaps," admitted the first officer grudgingly.
"It's all very simple Mr. Bracegirdle. How else do you suppose our brave lad, er lads, will get home? It's not as if they can ask the Frogs to lend'em a ship now is it?"
"Well, I suppose.."
"Not. Exactly!" said Sir Edward striding across the deck to frown at the coast. "Let's hope this fair weather lasts. Nothing worse than traipsing about on land in the rain, don't you agree?"
"Don't you agree sir?" repeated Sir Edward when no reply was forthcoming.
Mr. Bracegirdle merely nodded his head.
"Speak up man!" said Sir Edward impatiently.
"Yes sir, I.."
"Agree. Good. Pass the word for Mr. Hornblower if you please."
The captain continued to gaze at the shore for a while until a soft thudding noise caused him to turn around. He found his first officer bending down and making repeated contact between the taffrail and his forehead.
"Good Heavens man! Whatever are you about?"
"I was just attempting"
"To clear your head. Must be the breeze off this wretched Frog shoreline affecting you. I advise you to be more careful though Mr. Bracegirdle. You could sustain a nasty bruise doing that."
"Yes sir," sighed Mr. Bracegirdle.
Horatio was pleased that the disembarkation had gone fairly
smoothly. All the supplies, including a pair of cannon, the thrush
cages and the Marquis's portable privy were brought safely ashore.
He ran up the ladder to the quarterdeck to receive his last orders
from Sir Edward, who was looking a little moist about the eyes.
"Ahem, now then Mr. Hornblower try not to breath too much of the French air while you are ashore. It can be most unhealthful."
"Good, good. And have you got a sufficient supply of clean undergarments with you? I always recommend changing your linen once a day in foreign climates."
"Good man! Now remember, if you get your feet wet it's essential to take a bath in the best available brandy at the earliest opportunity."
"Yes sir. Sir?"
"Yes Mr. Hornblower?"
"I should probably be going now sir."
On shore, the Rutland Rifles were being chivvied into orderly
lines by their sergeant major while the French soldiers stood
about in groups bemoaning the fact that the sea air had made their
feathers and lace distressingly droopy.
"Are you ready to proceed inland Major?" enquired Horatio.
"Eh, Oh, yes I should think so," replied Major Eddrington, who was looking a good deal happier now that he was seated once more Thunderer's broad and glossy back. "Who is that fellow doing all the digging over there?" He squinted down towards the sandy part of the beach at a small fair-haired person who appeared to be building a fort.
"That's Mr. Kennedy," said Mr. Pipps who was sitting nearby on his large and well-filled canvas bag.
"I'd better go and get him!" sighed Horatio hurrying off.
"What have you got there young'un?" asked the major in a friendly fashion.
"All my important things," said the midshipman hopping down from his baggage "would you like to see some of them?" He reached into the top of the canvas sack and pulled out a brand new penny whistle. As he did so his toad, which had been perched on the brim of his hat, fell to the ground at Thunderer's feet. The horse eyed the dead amphibian with suspicion but stood his ground. All might have been well if the toad had remained quiet but within a few seconds it began, or so it seemed to the equine's ears, to emit the most appalling serious of shrieks.
"Whoa there! Steady I say!" cried the major doing his best to calm the animal. The horse backed rapidly away and became further alarmed when its hindquarters came in contact with a cart that had just been brought down to the shore to carry the thrush cages. Thunderer reared up and the Major slid off and landed on his back in the cart, which had not yet been emptied of its generous load of pig manure.
Mr. Pipps had not reached almost five years without realising that it is sometimes a good idea to make oneself scarce. He put away his penny whistle, picked up his toad, retreated to a sandy spot and began to play quietly with some of the toy soldiers he had brought along. Meanwhile the major was retrieved from the cart, brushed, soothed and returned to Thunderer's saddle.
"What on earth are you doing sir?" said Horatio looking
down at Archie who had already dug himself a sizeable trench in
"Um, well I thought I'd just get started on our defenses," explained Archie who had stuck his sword upright in the sand and hung his jacket neatly on it.
"But we can't complete our mission from here sir. We have to march inland to Mucusac," Horatio explained patiently.
"Is that really necessary?" squeaked Archie, "because I'd just as soon stay here."
"Come along sir," said Horatio hauling Archie up by his elbows, "we're only going five miles inland. We'll be back on the Indy before you know it."
"Oh very well," said Archie straightening his hair ribbons and reaching for his jacket, "but I think it's a very bad idea."
"This cart smells!" observed Mr. Pipps wrinkling
his small nose. Sir Jeremy Pippsqueak, Commander of His Majesty's
Own Marine Mice, was deep in his owner's pocket with his paws
over his snout in an attempt to escape the bracing odor.
"It bloody does an' all!" agreed Styles, who was seated next to him driving the offending wagon. 'It's even made them thrushes shut their traps." He jerked his head at the cages behind. Sure enough the birds, which had been noisily protesting about their situation ever since they had been taken aboard the Indy, were now silent and looking decidedly glum.
"Mr. Kennedy's a jolly good rider isn't he?" said Mr. Pipps looking ahead to where Archie, the Major and the Marquis rode together the head of the column.
"He looks like he's been in the saddle all his life does Mr. Kennedy," agreed Mathews, who was sitting on Mr. Pipps other side.
"I'd like to ride on the donkey," declared Mr. Pipps. "Do you think Mr. Hornblower will let me have a turn soon?"
Horatio was much relieved when the column came to a halt on the banks of a small river. He was not enjoying the ride up from the coast. There were stirrups hanging from the donkey's saddle but when he used them his knees came up almost to his chin and he tended to list over alarmingly when rounding corners. Having nearly capsized a few times he found it easier to let his legs hang down and use his feet as ballast. Unfortunately the donkey had legs that were on the short side, even when compared with the rest of its breed, and so Horatio's shoes suffered much on the journey.
"I do hope you are not too uncomfortable Mr. Hornblower," said the Marquis affably, "I'm sorry we could not requisition a more suitable mount for you but the local farms are very run down these days."
"Not at all Monsieur," said Horatio putting his feet firmly to the ground and allowing the donkey to walk away from underneath him. It immediately lay down on the grassy riverbank with a loud sigh and began to take a nap.
"Why have we stopped?" said Archie nervously "is the road ahead too dangerous? Are there enemy troops about?"
"No sir," laughed Horatio "It's just that we have to position the cannon at the bridge over there and find a place to conceal the thrushes until we deploy them tomorrow."
"Oh I see," said Archie "and which way are we going to point the guns?"
Horatio patiently explained that the plan was to put one on each end of the bridge facing in opposite directions to cover all eventualities. "That way we will be ready for an attack whether in comes from the coast or inland and once the explosives are set up we shall be ready to give any republican troops a very big surprise."
"You're going to blow up the bridge!" exclaimed Archie going pale "but how will we get back to the Indy? I mean the village is on the other side isn't it?"
"I wouldn't worry about it too much Kipper," drawled the Major, flapping a hand at the flies that had surrounded him ever since his encounter with the dung cart, "take a look over there."
They all followed his gaze and saw that Mr. Pipps, minus his shoes, was splashing happily in the middle of the river, where the water almost covered his ankles. He had attached a long string to his toad and was allowing it to float gently about. He was also tossing acorns at the hapless amphibian and shouting "Fiyah!" in a clear treble as he launched each nut.
"Well that's a relief," said Archie "no barrier to escape there. Oh, no, but wait a minute, that means that..'
"It means that if we have heavy rain the blowing up the bridge becomes essential to our strategy sir," said Horatio.
"Cheer up Kipper my dear fellow," said the Marquis kindly "I'm sure everything will go swimmingly. Mr. Hornblower, there is a shepherds' hut just down the lane where your men may hide the thrushes until tomorrow."
Within a few minutes Horatio had given Styles and Mathews their instructions and was ready to continue to the village. Mr. Pipps however was not.
"But I'm having a jolly time!" he protested when told to come out of the water and put on his shoes.
"No doubt, but all the officers are to be billeted in the village," said Horatio firmly.
"I like it here and Styles said he would teach me how to spit off the bridge," said Mr. Pipps showing no sign of paddling towards dry land.
"Would you like to ride the donkey?" said Archie.
Within seconds the toad had been reeled in and stowed his owner's pocket. Mr. Pipps trotted up the bank and, retrieving his shoes, squelched over to the dozing donkey.
As the rest of the column moved off Horatio tugged on the reclining animal's bridal while Mr. Pipps shouted encouraging remarks in its ear.
"Beggin yer pardon Mr. 'Ornblower sir but I reckon you could get it move if Mr. Pipps played a tune on his penny whistle," suggested Mathews respectfully.
"Aye, and if that don't work I can shove some gunpowder up its.."
The penny whistle was indeed most effective in bringing the donkey to its feet and Mr. Pipps was soon in the saddle and smiling broadly as Horatio led the beast over the bridge.
"Can I ride all the way?" he asked keeping a tight hold of his bag of possessions.
"Not all the way I'm afraid. The Marquis has insisted that I ride into the village."
"Why?" asked Mr. Pipps balancing his toad carefully between the donkey's ears.
"I believe he wants us to make a dignified entrance," said Horatio grimly.
Sir Edward stayed on the quarterdeck watching the shoreline
until the last man disappeared from view. It had in fact been
Horatio as it had taken him a little while to persuade the donkey
to go anywhere at all.
"Very good," said the captain turning to Mr. Bracegirdle "we shall set sail if you please."
"Oh but I thought"
"We were going to sit here until the shore going party returned? That won't be for a day or two Mr. Bracegirdle. There will be plenty of time for what I have in mind."
"May I ask sir..?"
"You may, Mr. Bracegirdle you may. There is a small town a few miles down the coast where they make the most exquisite linens. I promised Lady Pellew that I would get a dozen large table cloths if I was ever in the vicinity."
"But is that wise sir?"
"Is it wise?" Sir Edward frowned. "They are two guineas a piece in London and I shall be able to pick them up for a quarter of the price. Less if I take my pistol along. It's uncommonly wise sir! Now hoist the sails man!"
Marie-Suzette sighed as she looked around the four grey walls
of the schoolroom.
How many more interminable afternoons would she have to spend teaching these smelly little brats the thoughts of Chairman Robespierre?
Her eyes glazed over as she thought fondly of her life before the revolution when she worked up at the chateau and could look forward to getting her derriere pinched at least half a dozen times a day by the handsome young Marquis and his rich and attractive friends. Now there wasn't a decent looking man left in the village.
The sound of approaching hooves penetrated her ears and she walked sulkily to the window to see who might be coming down the main street of Mucusac. These days the daily departure of the snail wagon was the high point of the afternoon so any other traffic was most certainly worth investigating.
Her little heart began to beat with a fierce joy as she recognized the charming face and person of the Marquis passing the window. It worked its way up to double time as she took note of the two handsome fair-haired officers on either side of him. All three were mounted on splendid horses and rode with autocratic ease. Another officer riding on a donkey followed them. At first this sight made her giggle but then she noticed the young man's exceptionally nice curly brown hair, big brown eyes and broad shoulders. He was, she decided, the finest specimen of young manhood that Mucusac had ever seen. He would be hers and no one else's, or her name was not Marie-Suzette!
"Children!" she cried, "you must put away your books. The Marquis has returned and we must go out and welcome him."
"But he an aristocrat and therefore our enemy," said one of the older boys. His father was chairman of the local citizens revolutionary committee and the child took life seriously.
"Then it is our duty to go out into the street and mutter sullenly at him," replied Marie-Suzette slapping on some rouge. She was busy getting her charges lined up when the schoolroom door was pushed open and a small person in a dark blue uniform stepped over the threshold pulling a large canvas bag in his wake.
"Hello," he said in a friendly way, "my name's Algernon. I'm nearly five. Are you French children?"
"Ov corz zey air Frenge shildren," said Marie-Suzette "and zey air in an 'urri to go far wawk. Pleeze muv ut of ze vay."
Mr. Pipps could make nothing of her reply and who could blame him? Her accent was so thick that it could have been scraped off her tongue and used to plug shot holes on the deck of the Indy.
"I can't speak French," he said and reached into his pocket "do you like toads?"
It appeared that she did not. She shrieked and backed hurriedly away, tripping over a bench as she did so. By the time she had picked herself up and dried her tears the entire class was gathered around Mr. Pipps watching in rapt attention as he pulled one treasure after another out of his bag. It was fully twenty minutes before she could persuade the children to follow her out of the classroom.
As she shooed her charges towards the chateau at the top of the street Mari-Suzette surveyed the crowd for the young officer who had taken her fancy. She thought he could not be far away as the donkey he had been riding was having a lie down (a little unwisely) outside the butcher's shop. She spotted him standing on the chateau's front terrace with the other officers together with Monsieur Hulot, chairman of the citizens committee. The villagers were paying close attention to what the Marquis was saying.
"And I look forward to working closely with your representatives to improve the lives of each and every one of you. In the morning I will be unveiling something in the town square that will be greatly to your benefit and I urge you all to be there. To that end I declare that tomorrow shall be a holiday!"
Loud cheers greeted this announcement but were quickly followed by a few boos when people remembered that the Marquis was not supposed to be in charge anymore.
"Citizens, your attention if you please," said Monsieur Hulot. He was sweating quite profusely, as any man might when facing a detachment of armed enemy troops. "The Mucusac official revolutionary committee also declares that tomorrow shall be a holiday."
This declaration brought new cheers from the crowd including Marie-Suzette who jumped up and down and waved her arms in the air hoping to attract the attention of the brown-eyed young naval officer.
One of her pupils tugged at her skirt. She looked down in annoyance and saw that it was Monsieur Hulot's son.
"Ma'mselle! We should not cheer. This is obviously a royalist plot aimed at restoring the bourgeois rule of a petty monarchist," said the boy.
Marie-Suzette felt inclined to tell him to shut his revolutionary trap but suddenly thought better of it.
"You are right Henri. Let us voice our loyalty to the citizen's committee." She turned to the rest of the class and began to lead them in a rousing rendition of the Marseilles. It had occurred to her that the sound of childish voices raised in song would cause all eyes to immediately look their way, including those of the object of her desire.
Mr. Pipps, who had been standing with the other children, was not very familiar with the tune they were singing but was always happy to join in whenever music was being made.
"A rumpy tumpty tumpty tum te tum!" he warbled at full volume.
Horatio winced as the anthem got underway and he was not alone.
It appeared, even to those not afflicted by tone deafness, that
the singing tots were under rehearsed.
"Take these," said the Marquis handing him several small coins "and make sure they don't strike up for a second verse. Much obliged Hornblower."
"Aye aye sir."
Horatio made his way swiftly through the crowd, although his every instinct was to run from the dreadful noise.
Marie-Suzette saw him approaching and her heart swelled with triumph. She waited until he was a few yards away and then took up a dramatic pose in front of the little choir.
"Goo vay!" she cried "Do not 'arm an 'air on zer'eads!"
Surely he would not be able to resist the appealing sight of a brave young French woman defending her helpless young charges?
Just at that moment Mr. Pipps decided that some instrumental accompaniment was called for and he began to blow loudly and enthusiastically on his trusty penny whistle. He was standing right behind Marie-Suzette at the time and the sudden onslaught caused her to shriek and fall to her knees clutching her ears. Horatio deftly threw the coins over her head and the singing came to an abrupt end as the youngsters scrambled to pick them up.
By the time she had recovered and scrambled to her feet Horatio was already striding up the steps to the chateau with Mr. Pipps under one arm and his bag of belongings under the other. A few seconds later the Marquis, Monsieur Hulot and all the officers had vanished inside.
Title: Mr. Pipps Goes to France Part 6
Disclaimer: Young Pipps he is mine, the rest may be thine. Myself I'm not making a penny.
"Are we going to have dinner soon?" asked Mr. Pipps
as Horatio set him down inside the front door of the chateau.
"We will have dinner but it may not be for a little while," replied Horatio.
"What do French people eat for dinner? Will I like it? Did you know the children here all speak French?"
"Have one of these," said Archie holding out a bag of bulls eyes.
Mr. Pipps took one eagerly and was fairly quiet for the next ten minutes.
"This is a very handsome sort of house," remarked the Major waving a hand languidly at the imposing staircase with its marble balustrade. "How long is it since you were here?"
"It must be three years," replied the Marquis thoughtfully, "and things have changed a great deal."
"I suppose it has been knocked about somewhat, eh?" said the Major sympathetically.
"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed the Marquis peering into one of the large rooms which opened off the vestibule, "the family paintings!"
He grasped Monsieur Hulot by the elbow and rushed through open double doors, followed by the rest of the party.
"What has happened here?" the aristocrat demanded.
"Well Mons, er. Cit, er, Monsieur," babbled Hulot dabbing at his perspiring brow with a handkerchief.
"Answer me man!"
"We found them behind the stables Monsieur," said Hulot nervously.
"Thrown there by the ignorant peasant rabble no doubt," said the Major disapprovingly.
"No, actually it was my father," admitted the Marquis, "he liked to use them for target practice. He was a capital shot with a pistol. Do go on Hulot."
"Yes Monsieur. They were in um, rather poor condition so the Citizens Arts and Crafts Committee took a vote to restore them. This chamber is now in fact the Mucusac Municipal Art Gallery Monsieur."
"Well they've done a splendid job!" said the Marquis enthusiastically.
"Thank you Monsieur," said Hulot, the color beginning to return to his face. "Would you care to see what we've done with the rest of the chateau?"
Late that afternoon Marie-Suzette sat sulking on her little
bed. How dared the fates intervene with her plans to overwhelm
the handsome young English naval officer with her many charms?
She deserved some fun in her life. Things had been unbearably
dull since the revolution. When she was not teaching she had to
attend interminable committee meetings nearly every day. It was
no life for a girl. She would have run away to Paris but had heard
that the committees were even more numerous in the capital and
the meetings far longer.
There was a scratching noise at the door and she looked up just a note was pushed under it. She dragged herself across the room to take a look. It was probably a pathetic scribble from Pierre the butcher's son inviting her to the Mucusac Young Revolutionaries weekly snail roast. As she opened the folded paper her miserable expression gave way to a smile. It was not a feeble billet doux from the annoying Pierre but was instead a summons from the Mucusac Public Catering Committee. She was to report to the Bastille Communal Banqueting Suite (formerly the main dining room of the chateau) to help serve dinner for the Marquis and all the officers in his party.
Giddy with delight she crushed the note to her meager bosom and then hastened to bathe her ankles in perfume.
It was just after viewing the Citizens Public Reading Room
(previously the blue salon) that Mr. Pipps lost interest in the
official tour of the chateau. No one noticed as he slipped away
from the back of the group and wandered out into the entrance
hall. The staircase was wide and inviting and curved around as
it climbed to unexplored territory. He decided that it would not
be convenient to haul his bag of belongings with him, but where
to stow it? He spotted a small door at the far side of the hallway
and, on closer inspection, found that it led into a small dark
space that seemed to be an ideal resting place for personal baggage.
Keeping only some essential items in his pockets he ran smartly up the stairs. They led to a rather disappointing corridor with some uninteresting bedrooms on either side. Undaunted, he kept going and found another staircase, smaller this time, and made his way to the top. It had occurred to him that if this house were anything like Saxamunny Towers, where he had spent his tender years with his dear Mamma and Papa, the really interesting parts would be those nearest the roof. His instincts were correct and when he had climbed to the head of the fourth and narrowest staircase he found himself in a large attic. There were some interesting looking chests and baskets stacked against the walls. Before making a start on opening them Mr. Pipps took Jeremy out of his pocket and set him down on the floor so he too could explore.
After ten minutes of poking through old wigs and boots Mr. Pipps opened a small wooden chest and found several dozen toy soldiers. They seemed to be old campaigners as many of them were minus and arm or a leg and a few had mislaid their heads. He did not recognize any of the regimental colors and could not tell if they were Brave British Soldiers or Foreign Foes. This did not matter much as their final outing on the battlefield was to be a brave attempt to capture the Great South Sea Toad and they would all be fighting on the same side. He spent the next hour rolling and crawling about the floor as he directed a number of heroic attacks by plucky amputees against the giant amphibian.
Jeremy meanwhile was winning a small battle of his own. While
running around the edges of the attic floor he had found a mouse
sized hole in the wainscoting. Whiskers twitching he plunged through
it boldly and found a half dozen French rodents feasting on some
scraps of camembert and half a madeleine. They threw up their
paws in alarm at the sight of the uniformed intruder and hastily
retreated to the farthest corner of their nest. There they huddled
together, quite overawed by the quality of his tailoring, while
he made a leisurely lunch.
It was not until the end of the exhaustive (and exhausting) inspection of the chateau that Horatio noticed that Mr. Pipps was no longer with the party. They were all assembled once more in the entrance hall and the Marquis was expressing his thanks to the Citizens Committee Chairman.
"I have to say you people have done an exceptional job!" he enthused. "I was especially impressed by the way your people have tidied up the kitchens. In my father's day we used to have chickens and even the odd pig running about in there."
Monsieur Hulot shuddered and was about to reply when he was stuck on the back of the head by a dead toad which had just come sliding down the marble banister at a considerable rate of knots. His alarmed leap forward saved him from being struck in the back by the toad's owner who had also taken the fast way down.
Hulot was rather cross about the incident until the Marquis pointed out that the velocity of both toad and midshipman must be entirely due to the wonderfully polished state that the staircase was now being kept in.
Horatio took Mr. Pipps firmly by the collar and led him outside,
beckoning Archie to follow.
"We should go and see how the men are doing at the bridge sir," said Horatio.
"Oh yes, you probably should," agreed Archie yawning.
"I think you should come too sir," said Horatio firmly, "A visit from their senior officer will put them in good heart for tomorrow's raid on the escargot farms."
"Ah," said Archie nervously "I suppose you are right."
"Of course I am," agreed Horatio "and we'd better take Mr. Pipps along just to keep an eye on him."
Mr. Pipps was not at all enthusiastic about heading back to the river, as his exertions in the attic had left him quite hungry. Jeremy, on the other hand, had returned from his exploration of the attic floor with a bulging tummy and was now sleeping soundly in his owner's pocket.
"I think I can help you there," said Archie. "I left some of my baggage on the cart with the privy and one of the chests has a bag of pies in it."
"I'll go and wake up the donkey," offered Mr. Pipps pulling his penny whistle from his pocket and skipping away towards the slumbering beast.
They found Mathews, Styles, Oldroyd, and the half dozen or
so men who had been brought along as cannon fodder, in good spirits.
The explosives were all in position under the bridge, the guns
had been set up at either end and the privy had been taken from
its cart and stood under a nearby tree.
"Isn't that going to be needed in the village tomorrow?" said Archie from the back of his well-groomed and well-behaved horse.
"Yes sir, you are quite right," said Horatio leaping smartly off the donkey's back before it lay down again.
"Am I really?"
"Yes," continued Horatio, "but since the Marquis wishes to demonstrate the benefits of this particular model to the entire village tomorrow I thought it best to have the men stand it up and make sure that nothing had come loose during the voyage."
"Oh good idea," said Archie. "Anything else we should do while we are here?"
"I ought to speak to the men about the guns sir,"
"You go ahead Horatio. You know all about that sort of thing."
"Where are the pies?" asked Mr. Pipps plaintively. Riding on the front of Lieutenant Kennedy's saddle all the way from the village had driven hunger to the back of his mind for a while but now the pangs would not be denied. While Archie dismounted and began to rummage through his belongings Horatio, Mathews, and a few good men crossed the bridge to inspect the furthest cannon.
"Beggin' yer pardon sir but shall we just fire a round to clear its throat so to speak?" suggested Mathews "I've got it all primed and ready sir."
"Good idea Mathews" said Horatio, who could never resist blowing something up. He looked around quickly to make sure that Mr. Pipps was still safely on the other side of the river and saw that the midshipman was on the cart and among the baggage helping enthusiastically with the search for the pies. Archie was heading for the privy, to give it a final inspection no doubt. It warmed Horatio's heart to see his friend taking his responsibilities seriously.
"Oop a bit, oop a bit," said Mathews squinting along the gun's length "no, wait a minute. Down a bit, down.."
"Get on with it man!" said Horatio impatiently.
"Get on with it it is sir!" said Mathews cheerfully. "All ready Sir!"
"Fiyah!" yelled Horatio.
The cannon roared and no sooner had the echoing boom faded than the sound of faint hysterical shrieking came floating over the stream.
"Have we hit a Frog sir?" asked Mathews peering about in the gathering twilight.
"That's no Frog," said Horatio grimly and he ran back over the bridge.
Mr. Pipps was pointing solemnly at the privy with one hand while his other held a partially eaten pie.
"Archie! Archie!" yelled Horatio pounding on the privy "Calm yourself sir! Open the door!"
"Oh God! Horatio is that you?"
"Of course it is you si.., er sir. It's all right! You can come out now."
"But what about the enemy! They're firing on us!"
"No they're not sir. We were just testing one of the guns!"
After a couple of minutes the door opened and Archie wobbled out.
"Oh I'm sorry Horatio, but I'd just gone in to er, anyway, and then I heard the explosion. It was just too much after that last time, you know, in Portsmouth when it blew up and I landed in the harbour and nearly drowned and everything. I just panicked you see?"
"Yes but there's not need to worry!" said Horatio in a bracing but kindly tone. "Even if it had blown up and fallen into the river you were in no danger of drowning! There's not nearly enough water."
"Oh, well, that's a relief," said Archie mopping his brown with a silk monogrammed handkerchief.
"Can we go and have some dinner now?" requested Mr. Pipps through a mouth full of pie.
"Yes I think we should," said Archie collecting himself. "In fact I'm quite looking forward it, aren't you Horatio?"
Mr. Pipps sat on his chair swinging his legs as he waited for
his dinner. He hoped it would be something nice. He hoped it would
not be beef. He was not fond of beef at all and it was served
up very often on board the Indy. He had just asked Horatio for
the ninth time what he thought the first course would be when
a young woman came and put a bowl of something hot in front of
"What is it?" he said peering into his dish.
"Eet eez veshaytubble zoop," said the young woman, whom he now recognized as the person in charge of the schoolroom.
"I don't speak French," said Mr. Pipps slowly and clearly "but this looks like soup. I quite like soup, if this is soup."
"It is," said Horatio tucking a napkin into his young charge's collar.
Mr. Pipps nodded in approval and reached into his pocket to see if Jeremy was awake and ready to share some bread.
Marie-Suzette leaned over Horatio and prepared to place a bowl of soup in front of him. It was her intention to brush various parts of herself against him as she did so. It was unfortunate that the bowl was only half way down when she caught a glimpse of Jeremy. He was sitting next to Mr. Pipps' side plate with his hat off, sampling a small portion of baguette. Marie-Suzette shrieked and let the bowl fall. It turned a little in the air with the result that most of the soup attached itself to her apron and feet. All was not lost however as some of the vegetables had splattered the front of Horatio's breeches. She grabbed a napkin and prepared to wipe him down but before she could get close enough he leapt up, took the napkin from her, and made his own repairs.
"You'll have to forgive her," called the Marquis from the head of the table. "She's a little out of practice you know. Teaching is more her line now."
"I understand completely," said Horatio gallantly as he resumed his seat.
Marie-Suzette trudged despondently to the kitchen. Another girl had replaced Horatio's soup and now she would have to wait for the next course before she could once more try to capture his attention. She made good use of the time by borrowing a clean apron and washing her feet off in the horse trough.
Mr. Pipps had given up on his soup after a few mouthfuls. Instead
he was involved in a lively game with the Major. They had placed
a wineglass in the center of the table and were taking turns to
try and throw small pieces of bread into it. Mr. Pipps was ahead
by four pieces to one. Jeremy was busy eating any bits that missed
"Eer eez zum pock," said Marie-Suzette plonking another plate in front of Mr. Pipps.
"I don't speak French," explained Mr. Pipps wrinkling his nose and poking at the meat and sauce with his fork.
"Peeg, it is peeg," said Marie-Suzette impatiently before hurrying to fetch Horatio's platter.
"Peeg?" echoed Mr. Pipps. He tugged at Horatio's sleeve interrupting a conversation the older midshipman was having, or rather enduring, with the chairman of the Mucusac Citizens' Music Committee. "Mr. Hornblower, is 'peeg' French for pig?"
"No, actually pig is 'cochon' in French."
"What's this then?" asked Mr. Pipps stabbing at the meat on his plate.
"Pock! It eez pock!" repeated Marie-Suzette who was back again with Horatio's portion.
"I think she means that it is pork," explained Horatio.
"Then why didn't she say 'cushion'. 'Cushion' means pig doesn't it? Anyway I don't like to eat pigs. My friend Thomas is a pig you know."
"How is Thomas these days?" asked Horatio who was not eager to continue his conversation with his other neighbor. He gave Marie-Suzette only the briefest of nods as she put down his plate.
Mr. Pipps was about to give him chapter and verse when the Marquis noticed that his youngest guest was not tucking into the second part of his meal.
"Pork not to your liking young sir?" he enquired in genial fashion. He beckoned to Marie-Suzette who was lingering at the back of Horatio's chair. "Be a good girl and cut along to the kitchen and have them coddle a couple of eggs for my young friend."
She traipsed off unwillingly and had nearly left the room when he added "Oh, and would you go down into the front cellar and see if there are any bottles of ginger beer left? We always used to keep some for my English cousins. I'm sure Mr. Pipps would enjoy one."
Things were not going at all to plan thought Marie-Suzette as her clogs clattered across the chateau entrance hall. Instead of entrancing the handsome Mr. Hornblower she had dropped soup in his lap and then been ignored while delivering his pork. She was only condescending to fetch the wretched 'Peeps' child a ginger beer because being nice to him might put her in the nubile naval officer's good books.
She pushed the cellar door open moodily and went in, only to fall over a large canvas bag of the type that might be carried by a young person in His Majesty's Navy. Her encounter with the bag sent her stumbling down the cellar steps to land in a heap at the bottom with her cap askew.
Mr. Pipps was not the only one to have misgivings about the
pork. Horatio was finding that it lacked the robust consistency
and flavor that he was used to at sea and, moreover, it was covered
in entirely too much sauce.
"Don't tell me you're hankering after some of your naval cuisine Hornblower!" said the Marquis jovially. "For myself I think that the Citizen's Catering Committee has produced a damn fine meal. Quite capital!"
"I have to agree with you Fishface old dear," said Archie, who was enjoying his wine. "I remember when I used to come and stay with you in the school holidays and you had that dreadful cook. What was his name?"
"You must mean old Anatole," laughed the Marquis. "I can recall that one year he staggered in here drunk and emptied a bowl of crepe batter over someone's head. You should have seen it!"
"I did," said Archie shuddering "and it took me ages to get it all out of my hair."
"Oh yes, that was you wasn't it, I had quite forgotten. Hornblower, can I perhaps order you something else from the kitchen?"
"No thank you sir, I believe I will go outside. I must be sure that all is prepared for tomorrow."
"Didn't we do that already?" said Archie taking a gulp of wine as the earlier trauma at the bridge came back to haunt him.
"I meant, sir, that I am going to turn our plans over in my mind," explained Horatio.
"Good Lord!" said the Major looking up from his crumb throwing endeavors "do you do that often?"
"Constantly," said Archie beaming at his friend with pride as he swigged down some more of the Mucusac Viniculture Collective's finest Chardonnay, "he's always thinking, aren't you Horatio?"
When Marie-Suzette stumbled back into the dining room she was intensely disappointed to see that Horatio had left. She had managed to find two bottles of ginger beer and, in her vexation, she slammed them down on the table with some force. Mr. Pipps, who was acquainted with the volatile nature of that particular beverage, ducked under his chair just as the corks flew out of the bottles. Within seconds the Major's wig was drenched in fizzing foam and Archie was reduced to helpless giggles.
Horatio took a deep breath as he walked down the front steps
of the chateau. It was clear night and all seemed peaceful in
the village. The only sounds were the occasional hooting of an
owl and the soft snoring of a donkey. He began to stroll along
the main street, hands behind his back, frown in place. As he
did so he made a mental review of the plans for the next morning's
raid on the escargot farms. He was in the middle of revising his
estimated arrival time to allow for such contingencies as rousing
the donkey, retrieving Mr. Pipps from whatever might distract
him, and curbing Styles enthusiasm, when he heard a pair of clogs
come clattering up behind him.
"Meester 'Ornbleu, would yew bee zo cand az too escot mee eume?" said Marie-Suzette a little breathlessly.
"I am afraid I cannot understand you Mademoiselle," said Horatio in French "you must speak a dialect that I am not familiar with. It is rather late so I think I should escort you home."
This was more like it, thought Marie-Suzette, although it was rather annoying that none of the English officers could understand her. She had however convinced herself that speaking his native tongue would make a lasting impression on Meester 'Ornbleau and so she persisted. All the way to the schoolhouse she chattered on about how dull life had become since the Revolution and how hard it was to find any decent material for a dress these days.
Horatio nodded politely here and there while he speculated on the probable ratio of British thrushes to French snails and the number of weeks it would take to wipe out the latter completely.
The schoolhouse door was soon reached and Horatio took of his hat and bowed, preparing to continue his walk alone.
"Com izaid for a glaz uff wain," invited Marie-Suzette backing over the schoolhouse threshold in what she hoped was an enticing manner.
"I really must apologise for not being able to understand you," said Horatio "I thought I had a good grasp of the French language but I see that I am mistaken. Please excuse me now, I have much to do." He touched his hat politely and began to leave.
"Oh get in 'ere Owaysho!" said Marie-Suzette losing all patience. She lunged forward to grab his arm, intending to drag him inside. Before she could complete this maneuver a small person with fair curly hair came trotting up.
"They want you to come back," announced Mr. Pipps breathlessly.
"Who does? asked Horatio, disengaging his arm from Marie-Suzette's skinny fingers.
"Um, Mr. Kennedy and the Major. I think they've forgotten what they are s'posed to do tomorrow."
"Meester Hornbleau eez bizzee!" protested Marie-Suzette. "Ee will stope ere for a wail!"
"I don't speak French," said Mr. Pipps slowly. He tugged on Horatio's sleeve, "can you come back with me now?" he asked, "only I don't like walking in the dark by myself much."
"Yes, we must return to the chateau right away," replied Horatio briskly, "I have a feeling that Mr. Kennedy and the Major will need most of the night to absorb our plans."
With only a brief nod to Marie-Suzette he hurried away into the darkness, Mr. Pipps skipping at his heels.
After grinding her teeth for a few seconds Marie-Suzette slammed her door shut, and then threw her clogs across the empty schoolroom.
"I 'ate Meester Peeps!" she screamed.
Mr. Bracegirdle tapped on the door of Captain Pellew's day
cabin. His fearless leader had not been seen on deck since returning
from his expedition ashore to buy French table linens. The first
lieutenant had hoped to be invited to inspect Sir Edward's purchases
but no summons had been sent to the quarterdeck and he was beginning
to think that all might not be well.
Mr. Bracegirdle went in, a little concerned by Sir Edward's world-weary tone. He found the captain seated at his handsome captured French dining table upon which was scattered a quantity of folded tablecloths, napkins and runners.
"Sir, may I ask.."
"If anything is amiss?" said the captain in a bitter tone. "Well it is Mr. Bracegirdle. You see before you a man accused."
"Yes Mr. Bracegirdle. Your captain is no better that a thief. Here are my ill-gotten gains," he said waving a hand gloomily at the profusion of linens.
"Why do I say that? I'll tell you sir. It was not enough that I went into the wretched draper's with a handful of our stout lads at my back and persuaded him to drop his prices by half. Oh no, it was worse than that."
"Much worse? When the poor fellow finished wrapping the napkins I took him over to the window and showed him the Indefatigable lying offshore. I hinted that our guns were pointing at his shop and he threw in another brace of tablecloths and an extra dozen napkins for free. What else could the wretched Frog do?" Sir Edward stood up, poured himself a pint of brandy and took a large despairing swig.
"Why did you do it sir?" asked Mr. Bracegirdle, who was able to finish his sentence while the captain was busy taking another substantial mouthful of spirits.
"I was under orders from Lady Pellew," sighed Sir Edward. "She told me not to come home without at least a dozen best quality cloths for our new table."
"Then you are not to blame sir," said the first officer sympathetically.
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely sir! Why, whenever Mrs. Bracegirdle sends me on an errand I"
"Thank you Mr. Bracegirdle. Thank you kindly," said Sir Edward brightening visibly and polishing off the rest of his brandy. "You may set course for Mucusac. We must be ready to embark our brave lads. I do hope Mr. Hornblower has not taken a chill from the French air. It can be quite treacherous you know."
"Right everyone, do you all know what to do?" said
Horatio to the eager faces surrounding him. The morning of the
raid on the escargot farms was a bright one and the sun sparkled
on the shallow river as it babbled under the bridge.
"Aye aye sir!" said Mathews eagerly "shall me and the lads just cut along now and load the thrush cages on the cart sir?"
"Yes Mathews. Did you feed the birds last night?"
"That we did sir. We gave'em the last sack of English snails just before twilight."
"Ah!" said Horatio "so our feathered friends will be getting a little peckish I shouldn't wonder." He smiled at the hands, encouraging them to share the joke.
"Wot d'ye mean sir?" said Styles trimming his toenails with a fearsome looking knife.
"Well they are birds aren't they, and getting hungry?" explained Horatio.
"Well, aye, it's a while since they were fed sir," agreed Mathews obligingly.
"So they'll be getting peckish," repeated Horatio, his smile fading. "I expect they are looking forward to eating, with their beaks, you know."
"Well I'm hungry," announced Mr. Pipps. He was without his hat and it was very clear from the state of his golden curls that he had left his hairbrush behind on the Indefatigable.
"Nonsense!" said Horatio briskly, grateful for the opportunity to abandon the sinking wreck of his attempt at humour. "You had breakfast at the chateau not an hour ago."
"I only had a cwuzant," protested Mr. Pipps "that's not a proper breakfast!"
"The jam was nice though," said the major "would you say it was strawberry Kipper?"
"Oh, probably" replied Archie who was looking somewhat tense.
"Strawberry kipper?" marveled Mr. Pipps, "I've never heard of fishy jam before. Have you heard of fishy jam Styles?"
"No I bloody 'aven't!"
"Gentlemen, could we please return to the business at hand!" said Horatio crossly.
"Sorry Horatio," said Archie with a nervous smile. "Um, I was wondering if you could just go over the plan one more time."
"Oh yes, me too," said the major, "I always find this strategy business quite tricky."
The hands all groaned and hurried away to ready the thrushes while Horatio drew the two officers aside and prepared to explain matters one last time. Mr. Pipps wandered away to join the donkey who was cooling its feet under the bridge.
Horatio picked up a stick and began drawing on the ground as a visual aid.
"It's really not that difficult sirs," he said with all the cheerfulness he could muster. "Here are the escargot farms. We will advance to this position taking the thrushes with us. The major and his troops will be our escort in case of trouble."
"Trouble?" said Archie nervously.
"But I'm not expecting any sir," said Horatio soothingly. "The Marquis has detained all the locals in the village and will keep them occupied all day. It will be plain sailing, you'll see. We'll just drop anchor, launch our brave English thrushes at the enemy mollusks and watch them make short work of it."
"Yes, I think I see Horatio. What would you like me to do?" asked Archie.
"I beg your pardon sir?" said Horatio looking puzzled.
"What can I do to help, you know, with the attack thingy," explained Archie sounding braver that he looked.
"Ah yes sir. Well you will be our liaison with the major here, providing an important link between the two forces participating in this vital mission sir."
"Will I really? I mean of course I will Horatio. You can count on me you know!" said Archie turning pink with pride.
"Should I be doing something?" asked the major with a confused air.
Horatio could think of nothing to say to this and was relieved when the sergeant-major came to lead his superior officer away and put him on his horse.
"Not a Frenchman in sight," said Horatio half an
hour later as they stood looking over a hedge into a field where
thousands of large snails munched contentedly on assorted greenstuffs.
"Look at them big slimy buggers," said Styles.
"It's unnatural is that," added Mathews.
"I can't see!" protested Mr. Pipps. "Are they very big?"
"Bring up the wagon with the cages!" ordered Horatio, his chest threatening to burst out of his jacket in anticipation of the upcoming attack. "British beaks will soon be thrusting away for king and country!"
"Oh dear," said Archie fiddling nervously with his neck cloth.
"I want to see!" said Mr. Pipps jumping up and down.
"Hop up here young'un," said the major good-naturedly from Thunderer's back. He leaned down and offered his hand. Mr. Pipps ran forward eagerly. Thunderer turned his head and caught sight of the short person who, in the recent past, had heralded the sudden arrival of strange and frightening creatures. He was a valorous animal but charging enemy troops were one thing, and Mr. Pipps was quite another. The horse skittered sideways at speed and managed to tip his rider neatly over the hedge. The major landed with a strange squelching sound followed by a burst of swearing.
"I still can't see!" complained Mr. Pipps.
While the major was being extricated from the snail field Mathews,
Styles and the other hands brought up the wagon and pulled the
tarpaulin from the cages. The hungry thrushes at once started
up a tremendous din of whistling and chirping.
"Open the cages Mathews!" yelled Horatio waving his hat in the air.
"Open the cages it is sir!" shouted Mathews pulling the string that released all the doors together. In ones and twos at first, and then in dark fluttering clouds, the brave British birds streamed out of their confinement and descended en masse on the unsuspecting French snails.
"Oh! Those are big snails aren't they?" said Mr.
Pipps delightedly from his perch on the front of Archie's saddle.
"And look, the major's all covered in sticky messes."
"So he is," said Archie with quiet satisfaction. He was remembering an occasion at school when he had jumped into his bed only to find the bottom half full of slugs.
"Peck away you beauties!" cried Horatio who was standing on the wagon among the cheering hands.
"Our thrushes are tearing 'em to pieces sir!" said Mathews, who was almost pulling his forelock out of his scalp in his excitement.
"Of course they are!" said Horatio proudly.
"Why are they spitting the snails out again?" asked Mr. Pipps loudly.
"What?" said Archie who had been gazing up at the trees to avoid seeing the carnage.
"Look they're all spitting them out," said Mr. Pipps pointing at the nearest birds. "I 'spect they don't like French food. I don't like it much," he added.
Horatio's curls began to droop with disappointment as, one
by one, the newly released thrushes stopped making a meal of the
French snails. Worse was to come. The birds chirped quietly among
themselves for a minute and then fluttered onto the branches of
nearby trees. There they sat in silence for a few moments before
rising into sky as if in response to some silent command. They
circled the field once and then flew briskly off in the direction
of the Channel.
"Where are they going?" asked Mr. Pipps.
"Well, navigation's not my strong point," said Lieutenant Kennedy "but I'm pretty sure they're heading for Portsmouth."
"Suggestions gentlemen?" said Horatio jumping moodily down from the wagon.
"Well a change of uniform and a spot of lunch wouldn't go amiss," said the major.
"I meant concerning our present operation sir," said Horatio with a frown.
"Isn't it all a bit pointless without the birds?" asked Archie. "Shouldn't we just go home or something?"
"Of course we can't just go home sir!" hissed Horatio "and you really mustn't say things like that in front of the men. Now do you think you can hold the fort here while I go back to the village to consult with the Marquis?"
"I've got a fort at home in the garden," said Mr. Pipps helpfully. "I don't allow anyone in, except Mamma if she brings me cakes."
"Splendid!" said Horatio "just see that none of those snails escape." With that he climbed onto the donkey with as much dignity as he could muster and rode off towards Mucusac.
Marie-Suzette hurried along the lane towards bridge. She was
hoping to find Horatio there and was carrying an appetizing lunch
in her basket, especially prepared for a handsome young British
naval officer. In her prettiest dress, freshly laundered apron
and best clogs she was confident of arousing his interest in more
than just her ham sandwiches. As she approached the bridge she
noticed that a fast approaching cloud was blocking out the sun.
She paused and looked up as one thousand thrushes with upset digestive
systems passed over her head. At first she thought that she had
been caught in a sudden shower of rain but this idea was soon
dispelled when she looked down to find her skirts had turned white.
Shrieking with rage she threw down her basket and stamped on the ground. A distant braying caused her to look up and see Horatio coming around a bend in the lane. She could not allow herself to be seen in such a besmirched condition and so she scrambled hastily into a ditch. Her temper was not improved by seeing the donkey snatch up a sandwich as it ambled past.
"We are becalmed Mr. Bracegirdle."
"Yes sir I.."
"Not a breath of air."
"No sir. I had.."
"The sea is a smooth as a millpond Mr. Bracegirdle, with not a ripple in sight."
"Actually sir I"
"As idle as a painted ship upon.."
"Oh for crying out loud!" exclaimed the first officer. "I am perfectly aware that the wind has deserted us. I suspected as much when the sails began to hang off the yard arms like limp lettuce!"
All those within earshot gazed open mouthed at the first lieutenant as if he had reported for duty wearing only pink undergarments and a hat fashioned from the Naval Chronicle.
Sir Edward appeared to be equally astonished.
"Mr. Bracegirdle, you forget yourself sir!"
"I beg your pardon sir," said Mr. Bracegirdle, quite red in the face "but it's just that I cannot abide sitting here helpless while our brave lads are on land battling it out with the Frogs. And I'm sorry, but the quotation from Coleridge was the last straw. He is my least favorite poet!"
"I believe I know how you feel Mr. Bracegirdle," relied the captain in a more sympathetic tone.
"Do you dislike his poetry too sir?"
"No, no! I was referring to our inability to go to the aid of the landing party!"
"Oh I see.."
"We must bear up Mr. Bracegirdle, and I have just the thing to lift your spirits. Have the men lower a boat if you please.
"Aye aye sir."
"Hand me your telescope Mr. Winthrop."
"Aye aye sir" mouthed the midshipman. He was being allowed on the quarterdeck again for a probationary period and was being extremely careful to keep his exceptionally loud voice well muffled.
The Captain trained his glass on the small boat that was pulling the helpless Indefatigable inch by inch across the windless sea.
"I beg your pardon sir but do you think Mr. Bracegirdle is quite alright?"
"I am sure he is Mr. Winthrop. Why do you ask?"
"Well it's just that he's gone rather red in the face sir and I was wondering if he needed any help."
"Nonsense Mr. Winthrop, that's just a sign of healthy exertion."
"Yes sir but ought we perhaps to send a few men out to help him row?" whispered the midshipman.
"Whatever for man, he's doing a splendid job on his own! He must have pulled us over two leagues in the last hour. Pass the word for my servant to bring a pot of tea up to the quarterdeck Mr. Winthrop. Waiting for the wind to get up is a thirsty business."
"Aye aye sir."
The donkey entered the village square at a gentle pace. Indeed, it was ambling so slowly that Horatio was beginning to imagine that he was becalmed at sea. He had spent most of the slow ride back from the escargot farms blaming himself for the defection of the thrushes. Anyone with an ounce of commonsense, he thought, should have been able to foresee that decent British songbirds would have taken an instant dislike to foreign snails in general and French snails in particular. He did allow that perhaps naval intelligence in the person of Caruthers might have been expected to see the flaw in the scheme. Captain Pellew could not be held accountable in anyway, of that Horatio was certain.
Horatio left the donkey slurping noisily at a horse trough
and made his way across the length of the village square. He passed
a long column of sullen local menfolk who were shuffling slowly
towards the foot of the chateau steps. At the head of the line
the Marquis was sitting at a table conducting brief interviews.
His prized personal English privy was sitting a short way off
guarded by French troops.
"Good morning Hornblower!" said the Marquis cheerily "Is everything going to plan?"
"Not completely," said Horatio truthfully in a low tone, "May we speak in private?"
"It's not terribly convenient just now," said the Marquis.
He turned to the scowling individual who stood in front of the table. "Name?" he said, preparing to consult one of several lists.
"Escargot herder first class."
"Splendid!" said the Marquis writing this information next to Dubois's name with a flourish. "As Marquis of Mucusac I hereby order you to enter that privy and examine it closely. You are to pay particular attention to the mode of its construction."
"Long live the revolution!" replied Dubois with spirit. "I obey only the collective directives of my fellow citizens!" Some scattered cheering greeted his defiant outburst.
The Marquis signaled to a couple of his men and they stepped forward with bayonets fixed.
"Move along, there's a good fellow," said the Marquis.
Grumbling under his breath the hapless herder plodded unwillingly into the privy and the soldiers slammed the door shut behind him. Some of the women who were watching the proceedings from the far side of the square cried out in protest at such cruelty and one of them, presumably Madame Dubois, fell to the cobblestones in a faint.
"Sir, if I could just have a word," began Horatio.
"You'll have to wait a little while longer," said the Marquis. "I really am quite busy you know. Why don't you sit down and have a croissant? They're quite excellent."
Horatio sighed and took the chair next to the Marquis, but he waved the pastry impatiently aside.
"Let him out," ordered the Marquis gesturing towards the privy. "I think he's had enough."
The soldiers opened the door and Dubois tottered out looking pale.
"I hope you were paying attention in there," said the Marquis sternly. "One of my men will escort you to pick up an allocation of timber from the chateau stable yard. You have until noon tomorrow to build a replica of this fine outhouse behind your own dwelling. Failure to erect a proper privy, with seat, will result in a heavy fine. Of you go!"
"It's unnatural!" complained Dubois bitterly, "no decent Frenchman should have to use such a monstrosity!"
The Marquis said nothing but looked pointedly at his troops who were polishing their bayonets.
"Oh all right, I'll go!" said Dubois angrily, "but can I take the missus along to carry the wood?"
"Of course," said the Marquis graciously.
"Get that dozy cow on her feet!" shouted Dubois to the women before trudging off with his escort.
"Sir, I really must insist that you accompany me."
"No my dear Hornblower I'm afraid it's impossible. My work is here."
"Then at least, give me some of your men sir."
"Absolutely not! I need them all to oversee the building work. The village people will slack off terribly if they are not watched. Squiffy Eddrington has soldiers doesn't he? Why don't you use them? Now, if you'll excuse me, I really must be getting on. Next!"
Horatio returned to the escargot farms to find that discipline
had declined somewhat in his absence. A number of large snails
were advancing down the lane in an irregular line and were being
cheered on by the Indefatigables and the Rutland Rifles.
"What's going on here?" demanded Horatio.
"It's a race!" squealed Mr. Pipps excitedly. "Look, mine's in front! He's called Roger. He's going to win!"
"Where are the major and Mr. Kennedy?" asked Horatio spotting the missing officers' horses tied up to a nearby gate.
"The gentlemen is 'aving hay rest in the next field sir," said the sergeant major who was watching the snail that was coming in second very closely.
"Well go and give them my compliments and ask them to come here at once," said Horatio briskly "and then have your men fall in. We have work to do. Mathews!"
"Aye aye sir?"
'Tell the men to stop larking about!"
"Aye aye sir. Stop larking about it is sir!"
"But the race isn't over yet!" said Mr. Pipps indignantly, "and I'm going to win lots of pennies!"
"Where is the finishing line?" asked Horatio
"By that red stone," answered Mr. Pipps who was soon jumping for joy when Horatio moved the marker pebble back to a point about an inch in front of Roger's eye stalks.
"You can't do that sir!" protested Styles in a scandalized tone.
"Nonsense!" said Horatio briskly "This is war Styles. As soon as the winner is declared you can put the snails back in the field with all the rest."
"Oh hello Horatio," said Archie rubbing his eyes
as he and the major came wandering down the lane. "We were
just having a spot of lunch under a tree and then I must have
fallen asleep. Do you have a plan?"
"I do sir," said Horatio "and we are going to emerge victorious, in spite of a lack of support from either the thrushes or the Marquis."
"Isn't Fishface coming to help?" said the major yawning
"No I'm afraid not," replied Horatio frowning. "The village is just, pandemonium sir. Privies going up everywhere, and people protesting. No, we must shift for ourselves."
"Do you need my men?" asked the major a little uneasily "because if you do you had better speak to the sergeant major. I usually let him deal with all that sort of thing."
"I already have sir," replied Horatio whose curls were beginning to take on the glint of battle. "Now may I suggest that you mount your horse? You will have a better view of the action."
A few minutes later the Rutlands had moved to a position inside
the field and were drawn up in two lines, one behind the other.
The sergeant-major, his back ramrod straight stood to one side.
"Prepare to advance!" he shouted. Both lines of men took their bayonets in hand but did not affix them to the ends of their rifles.
"Number one, ten paces forward, slow march!"
The first line of men went forward at a stately pace, bending their knees up high and bringing their stoutly shod feet down with deliberate accuracy on the enemy snails. At ten paces they halted.
"Scrape boots!" came the order and the men did so with their bayonets.
"Number two!" shouted the sergeant major.
Mr Pipps giggled. Horatio had given orders that the youngest midshipman was not to be allowed to see the slaughter but the sergeant major's voice was clearly audible in the lane.
The second column advanced quickly to the rear of the first and then began its own leisurely but deadly progress.
In a little under an hour the business was all but done. Leaving Styles and some hand picked men to finish off the stragglers, the rest of the raiding party set off for the village.
"What do snails eat?" asked Mr. Pipps, who was riding on the front of Archie's saddle.
"Oh, um, leaves I think," said Archie who has fainted at the height of the carnage and was still looking quite pale.
Mr. Pipps snatched a sprig of greenery from an overhead branch and tucked it in one of his pockets.
"That's for your dinner Roger," he whispered.
The following morning Horatio rose early, slipped a ships'
biscuit and a bag of dried weevils into his pocket, and set off
to explore the countryside surrounding the village. He left Archie,
the Major and the Marquis all snoring in their beds. There had
been a long dinner the night before celebrating the destruction
of the escargot farms and the wine had flowed freely. Although
pleased with the outcome of the hastily re-thought plan of attack
Horatio was not inclined to rest on his laurels. Hostile Frog
troops could turn up at any moment and would be inclined to be
vengeful when they found out that their beloved Napoleon would
no longer be making a meal of his favorite Mucusac mollusks.
As he rode passed the scene of the previous morning's carnage the donkey actually began to speed up beneath him. Perhaps it was the eerie absence of the sound of munching that disturbed the beast, or the way the breeze whistled through thousands of cracked and broken shells. Only when they were clear of the devastated fields did the animal return to its usual ambling pace.
Some miles north of the village Horatio was torn from a reverie concerning bringing Sir Edward a small fleet of prize ships when the donkey tripped over something in the dusty lane. Horatio leapt from its back and stooped to pick up the offending object. It was a small rectangular box. He had seen others like it before. His nostrils began to flare like a young warhorse. He opened the box and found a variety of small brushes and metal instruments. It was a lace and feather maintenance kit of the kind that every French soldier carried with him, and it carried the crest of Napoleon's army.
Marie-Suzette was feeling miserable as she hammered the last
nail into the door of the privy. She had been ordered to construct
the hateful hut in the back garden of the schoolroom. She was
certain that girls who lived in Paris were not obliged to undertake
building work. She was going to leave Mucusac for good, but since
the carrier's cart did not go that way until the following Thursday
there was still time for her to have her way with the delectable
She frowned at the sight of her best dress, which was hanging on the line to dry. It was an unwelcome reminder of her encounter with a flock of bilious thrushes the day before. She sighed and then made up her mind to put her best clog forward. She had only to put the roof on the privy and attach the seat and then she would be free to make herself look charming and go in search of her brown-eyed quarry.
She hoped that the wretched 'Peeps' child would not be in evidence. Another frown added unbecoming lines to her forehead as she recalled the annoyance he had already caused. She fantasized about seizing the infant, throwing him on the donkey and sending the animal speeding away from the village with a hearty slap on its rump. No sooner had her hand connected with the beast's rear end in her imagination than she let out a shriek. Her attention had wandered too far and the hammer had hit her thumb.
It is a well-known fact that small boys and loud noises are
often close companions. It was not surprising therefore that
when Mr. Pipps woke that morning to find the air ringing with
the sound of multiple hammers hitting innumerable nails he was
not in the least dismayed. He rubbed his eyes with his fists and
smiled. The fact that he was in a tent was a great source of happiness.
It had been his second night spent under canvas and he was enjoying
it so much that he had decided to write to his mamma and ask her
to put up a small tent on the lawn of Saxamunny Towers so that
he could sleep in it the next time he was home.
He flung back the covers of his cot to reveal that he was fully clothed and ready for the day's adventures. Jeremy, who had been curled up on the pillow, woke and stretched. He too had slept in his uniform. Roger had passed the night on the floor inside Mr. Pipps' upturned hat and, from the evidence of the silver trails, he had circumnavigated his temporary bed several times. Mr. Pipps' toad, who never seemed to care where he lodged, was hanging from the tent pole by a piece of string.
After putting on his shoes and picking up his hat, Mr. Pipps put Jeremy in his pocket and stepped outside. It was a fine morning on the back lawn of the chateau. No one else was about so Mr. Pipps poke his head through the opening of the next tent. It was the major's and contained some uncommonly fine gear. The commander of the Rutland Rifles was sound asleep and did not have any objections to Mr. Pipps sitting down at his handsome traveling writing desk. It was well supplied with paper and pens and within half an hour the midshipman had executed several very fine drawings, including a rousing depiction of the battle of the day before. Having fulfilled his duties as unofficial expedition artist Mr. Pipps went in search of other entertainment.
Horatio came running into the village square shortly before
noon. He had been forced to abandon the donkey two miles outside
Mucusac when it had insisted on stopping to take a nap. He dashed
up to the Marquis who was just coming down the chateau steps with
a detachment of his troops.
"Sir!" he gasped "French soldiers!"
"What about them Mr. Hornblower?" said the Marquis glancing at his men.
"Not your soldiers sir! Republican troops! They are only five miles from the village. We must build defenses and prepare to repulse them sir."
"Well I don't have time for that this morning," said the Marquis. "The villagers have been busy building their new privies and I must inspect them all. Quite frankly some of these people are not terribly keen about putting up an English style outhouse and are not above a bit of sabotage. I can't allow that, d'ye see?"
"But sir, the enemy will be here by the end of the afternoon. We must begin putting up barricades now if there is to be any chance"
"That's all very well," said the Marquis with a touch of impatience "but I am otherwise occupied at present. You and your men are free to make any arrangements you like." He beckoned to his men and strode off round the back of the bakery.
Archie was just emerging from his tent when Horatio came dashing
up with his curls in battle formation.
"Oh hello Horatio, you're up early."
"Actually it's past noon sir, and I need to speak to you at once" said Horatio.
"Well do go ahead my dear fellow."
"Let's go in here," said Horatio ducking into Archie's tent "It's very im..Oh dear!"
He backed out hurriedly his cheeks scarlet and was followed by three giggling young women of the less than respectable sort.
"Come along," he said grabbing Archie by the arm "we need to speak to Major Eddrington as well."
They found the major sitting on his cot looking at a sheaf of drawings with a puzzled expression on his face.
"Most extraordinary thing!" he said, "I've been drawing in my sleep!"
"Have you really?" said Archie picking up one of the drawings and studying it, "they're awfully good aren't they?"
"Never mind that now sirs!" said Horatio impatiently "I've discovered that French troops are within an hour's march of the village."
"What! Where?" shrieked Archie going pale and diving under the major's cot.
"Well that doesn't really give us much time does it?" said the major nervously reaching for his jacket and putting it on inside out.
"I calculate that we have three hours to prepare sir. Being French troops they are certain to take two hours for luncheon, followed by a nap. That should be plenty of time to prepare a reception that they won't forget."
Archie groaned under the bed. He recognized the let's-have-a-crack-at-the-Frogs tone in Horatio's voice and was very much afraid that gunfire was about to make an unwelcome appearance.
"What does Fishface have to say about all this?" said the major trying to put his left foot into his right boot.
"The Marquis? Well I'm afraid he does not regard the matter as urgent sir. He says he will be too busy inspecting privies to help with preparing barricades."
"Really?" said the Major thoughtfully. "Well in that case Mr. Hornblower I am not inclined to send my men in to defend the village. If Fishface isn't going to make his fellows pitch in it's just not fair is it?"
"Not fair sir?" began Horatio "I hardly think.."
"I agree with Squiffy," said Archie scrambling out from underneath the cot. "I mean it's not our village is it Horatio? We've already destroyed the snails and anyway isn't Sir Edward expecting us to be back at the beach today? He's bound to be really annoyed if we're late."
Horatio assessed the situation silently for a few moments. It was plain that he was not going to get any support from his fellow officers and he had to concede that even he was not likely to be able to repulse a French attack on Mucusac by himself. The main objective of the shore party had already been achieved and His Majesty's Navy had no strategic use for the village. He lifted his nose seaward and imagined climbing back aboard the Indy and breathing in the bracing aroma of tar, salt pork and bilge water. Yes, it was time to get back to the ship.
"Very well sir," he said "I expect you will want to leave at once and take our men and equipment to the far side of the bridge."
"Oh absolutely!" said Archie scrambling to his feet and going pink with relief, "but what are you going to do Horatio?"
"With your permission sir I would like to offer my help to any of the villagers who wish to mount a defense. I'll follow you shortly and then we can blow up the bridge before we rejoin the Indy."
Horatio left Archie and the Marquis making arrangements to strike camp and trotted round to the front of the chateau. He met Mr. Pipps coming up the steps looking hot and disheveled. He was carrying something carefully in his hat.
"They wanted to eat Roger!" said the young midshipman in an indignant tone.
"Those French children did. We were having a jolly game of boats in the horse trough. We found lots of bits of wood everywhere and I made the best boat. Roger likes floating. He won all the races and then one of the boys lit a bonfire and tried to roast him! I'm not playing with them anymore."
"Cut along and report to Mr. Kennedy. We're leaving now so make sure you get all your belongings together."
Mr. Pipps looked thoughtful for a moment and then asked, "do snails like going to sea?"
"I'm not sure," replied Horatio "but I don't think salt water agrees with them."
"Oh," said Mr. Pipps and skipped slowly away, still wearing a pensive look.
Horatio found that the citizens of Mucusac were more than willing
to put down their hammers, leave their partly built outhouses,
and help him overturn carts at the bottom end of the main street.
They ignored the Marquis who was standing on the chateau steps
exhorting them to return to their former tasks. His position had
been weakened by the fact that his own men, who seemed quite taken
with the idea of an upcoming battle, were no longer interested
in watching people put up privies, English or otherwise.
The supply of carts and other suitable materials for the barricades soon ran out.
"These are still not high enough," said Horatio looking about the square, "we need more things made of timber that can be easily picked up and tipped over."
One of the villagers stepped forward. It was Georges Dubois, the escargot herder who had been mistreated by the Marquis and his men the day before.
"We know where to find more wood, don't we boys?" he shouted.
His companions all cheered enthusiastically and began leaving the square in small groups.
Horatio, who had immediately understood what was going on, ran to the back of the schoolhouse. There he found Marie-Suzette putting the last nail in the seat of a rather poorly assembled privy.
"I beg you pardon Mademoiselle," said Horatio politely "but I am afraid I must requisition this building. It is needed to strengthen the barricades."
"Wot air zu tokking abut?" asked Marie-Suzette who was extremely dismayed and annoyed that Horatio should see her wearing breeches.
"Be assured that your hard work has not been wasted Mademoiselle. This little hut will soon be helping your neighbors to defend.."
"Oh **** my neebors!" shrieked Marie-Suzette, quite overwrought, "I must 'av zu Owaysho! Kizz me!"
She advanced on him, wild eyed and still clutching her hammer. Something in the way she moved reminded him sharply of his alarming encounter with a milkmaid in a barn not far from his father's cottage. The exact details that afternoon were hazy but events had been so shocking as to cause him to end up naked in the rafters. Now his every instinct was telling him to run, and he listened. As he sprinted through the square with Marie-Suzette in pursuit he noticed in passing that the Marquis was about to be inserted head first into a privy by a group of jeering citizens. Curls streaming in the breeze he picked up his heels and headed for the bridge.
"Was that a breeze I felt?" asked Sir Edward narrowing his eyes and looking up at the rigging for any sign of movement.
"I beg your pardon sir," whispered Mr. Winthrop, "but I believe it was just me clearing my throat."
"Oh was it indeed," replied the captain not best pleased. He had run out of crocheting yarn and finished darning all his stockings and so was beginning to find the enforced idleness hard to bear. "You have the bridge Mr. Winthrop. I am going over the side for a swim."
It was ten minutes later and Sir Edward was on his twelfth lap of the ship when the sails began to flap in a languid fashion. Mr. Winthrop ran to the taffrail and looked over. He saw his captain rounding the stern and coming towards him.
"Sir!" he whispered "the sails are filling!"
The captain swam past doing a vigorous crawl. The sails began to billow out and the ship was definitely on the move. Mr. Winthrop decided that stronger measures were justified.
Sir Edward came to an abrupt stop, sank for a moment and then came spluttering to the surface.
"What the devil are you about Mr. Winthrop?" he exclaimed glaring up angrily.
"A wind sir!" whispered the midshipman.
In no time at all the captain was back on the quarterdeck dripping everywhere while his servant pursued him with towels.
"Crowd on the sails!" he ordered "we must return to Mucusac with all speed."
"Sir, do you think perhaps?"
"Think what?" interrupted the captain pulling on his best quality linen drawers (the ones with the double gusset).
"Well what about Mr. Bracegirdle sir?" asked Mr. Winthrop pointing at the first officer who had stopped rowing and was looking up with a horrified expression as the Indy bore down upon him.
"Hard a-port!" roared the captain. The ship turned aside and plunged on as Mr. Bracegirdle slid past to starboard. He was red in the face and gesturing wildly.
"We can reel him in once he's astern," said the captain as his servant eased him into his jacket and handed him a pint of brandy.
"Yes sir, but won't the?"
"What's that Mr. Winthrop?"
At that moment the line running from the ship the boat snapped taut and Mr. Bracegirdle fell over backwards.
"Never mind sir."
It took Mr. Pipps quite a long time to round up all his belonging.
At first he did not remember that he had left his bag at the top
of the cellar steps in the front hall of the chateau. When he
eventually tracked it down it was mid afternoon and he returned
to the lawn to find all the tents, including his, had been taken
down and packed away.
He rather enjoyed the ride from the village. Mr. Hornblower had decided not to use the donkey anymore and so Mr. Pipps sat on it and Mr. Kennedy led it by the reins from the back of his horse. When they arrived at the bridge he went to play in the stream, letting Roger cool himself off in the shallow water.
"Wot's 'appening Mr. Kennedy sir?" asked Styles as the major, the Rutland Rifles and the baggage wagon came lumbering over the bridge.
"Um, well Hor.. er Mr. Hornblower said we were to wait here a while. He's showing the villagers how they can fight off the Frog troops. Once he gets here we can blow up the bridge and then I expect we'll go back down to the beach," said Archie smiling nervously.
"D'ye mean they're throwing the marqwiss and his lot out sir?" asked Mathews, clearly puzzled this turn of events.
"No Mathews. Some other Frog troops have turned up. The bad Frogs actually."
"Well we'd best get the cannon loaded sir! We'll want to giv'em summat to think about!"
"Well I'm hoping they won't get this far but I suppose we had better be ready," conceded Archie, "you can manage all that can't you Mathews?"
"Oh aye sir me and the lads will 'ave things ready in no time. You can rely on us sir. They won't stand a chance sir. Before you can say."
"Er, yes, thank you Mathews, just carry on would you?"
"Carry on it is sir!"
Archie strolled over to where Mr. Pipps was splashing happily
about in the water.
"Come along young'un. We're leaving soon so you had better get your shoes and stockings on and dry your snail off."
"Mr. Hornblower said that snails don't like salt water," announced Mr. Pipps as he hopped about pulling his left stocking on. "Do you think Roger will like it on the Indy?"
"Well I suppose he would be all right below deck," said Archie giving the matter serious consideration. "It wouldn't do to get any salt spray on him of course."
"I won't," said Mr. Pipps. "Is there anything to eat?"
"Not much," said Archie gazing anxiously across the bridge "but I think you'll find a case of ginger beer on the wagon. The Marquis said you could have it."
Mr. Pipps climbed onto the wagon with a certain amount of caution. Every English child of even his tender years knew that few substances equaled the volatility of ginger beer. He had no trouble finding the bottles as they were all making a quiet but persistent hissing noise. The short but jolting journey from the chateau had been enough to set the fiery liquid fermenting again. Mr. Pipps watched the corks with fascination. They were slowly working their way out of the necks of the bottles. He looked up to warn Mr. Kennedy and his eye was caught by a figure coming along the road towards the bridge.
"Look it's Mr. Hornblower!" he said "I didn't know he could run that fast, did you Mr. Kennedy?"
Archie picked up his telescope and soon had Horatio's face in focus. He looked absolutely terrified. He was, and his fright stemmed directly from the fact that Marie-Suzette had been shrieking all sorts of improper and alarming suggestions at his back the entire the way from the village.
"Oh God!" yelled Archie, who had never seen his friend appear even mildly put out by danger before, "there must be hundreds of troops behind him! Get ready to blow the bridge Mathews!"
"I can see the first one!" said Mr. Pipps excitedly from the wagon "and he's got a pistol. Or is it a hammer?"
"Did you hear that Mathews?" shrieked Archie "Blow it up! Blow it up! They mustn't get to me, I mean us!"
"Blow it up it is sir," said Mathews obligingly "but shall we just wait for Mr. 'Ornblower to get across sir? He's nearly 'ere now."
And indeed Horatio's head and shoulders had just appeared over the crown of the bridge and were soon followed by the rest of him.
"Yes, of course we wait for Mr. Hornblower!" shrieked Archie, jumping up and down with anxiety.
Suddenly there was a loud popping noise, not unlike a pistol shot. At the same time Horatio's pursuer reached the far side of the bridge, weapon held aloft.
"I say, he's firing!" exclaimed the major as if he had caught someone cheating at cards.
"It's the ginger beer," explained Mr. Pipps picking up a bottle, but in the general excitement he went unheard. Then the cork shot out and hit Thunderer squarely on the hindquarters. The horse neighed with outrage and reared up sideways throwing his rider onto the wagon. The shock of the major's landing was enough to cause the rest of the corks to go hurtling skywards with much whizzing and popping.
"We're under fire! The Frogs are coming!" screamed Archie "Blow the bloody bridge Mathews!"
The spark ran swiftly along the fuse line, passing Horatio as he raced down towards Archie and the Indefatigables. A cheer went up as he reached his shipmates and collapsed in a panting heap.
"Keep coming Froggy!" taunted Styles as a second runner came over the top of the bridge.
"Hey oop!" exclaimed Mathews squinting at Marie-Suzette "Mr. Kennedy isn't that..?"
"Oh dear! Is there still time to put the fuse out?" said Archie doubtfully.
It seemed there was not. Just as Marie-Suzette uttered a wild shriek of "Owaysho!"a loud explosion blew everyone's hats off and it began to rain chunks of masonry. The last piece of debris to hit the ground was a charred clog.
"Do you think he'll be alright Kipper?" asked the
major kindly. He glanced at the solitary figure standing at the
edge of the stream.
"Oh I think so," said Archie who was slowly collecting his scattered nerves. "It's been a shock of course and I don't suppose he will ever really forgive himself but once we are back at sea he will begin to forget."
"It's always a nasty business when innocent bystanders get caught up in war," sighed the major as the sergeant major took hold of Thunderer's bridle and led his commanding officer away towards the sea.
"We had best be going," said Archie gently, as he
approached his sorrowing friend, "the Indy will be waiting
for us. There's no way you could have known," he added "it
was just awfully bad luck that one of the corks hit the pocket
that Roger was in. I'm sure he didn't feel a thing. Come on, I'll
let you hold my horse's reins the rest of the way.
"Can't I ride the donkey again?" asked Mr. Pipps in a small voice.
"He ran away when the bridge blew up," explained Archie "well, trotted actually. I expect he's back safe and sound in the village by now."
"All right," said Mr. Pipps, his chin quivering with suppressed emotion as he slipped his hand into Archie's.
They had not gone far when Horatio came striding swiftly up
the lane behind them.
"Any sign of the Frog troops?" said Archie apprehensively.
"Not yet, but I advise against dawdling sir," said Horatio glancing over his shoulder.
"Did you find what was left of, you know" whispered Archie.
"Yes," said Horatio.
"Really! That's amazing! How on earth did you know where to look?" said Archie wearing an expression of undisguised admiration.
"Well sir, I just calculated her position on the bridge when it blew, her height and weight, the prevailing wind and so forth."
"And where was she?"
"She landed in the corner of a field about a hundred yards away sir. Fortunately for her the farmer had decided to pile a large quantity of cow manure in that very spot so she had a soft landing."
"Was she very messy?" asked Mr. Pipps, temporarily emerging from his vale of sadness.
"Extremely so," said Horatio "and I'm afraid her temper has not improved one iota." He looked over his shoulder again.
"You mean she's still alive?" said Archie amazed.
"Yes sir. Do you think we might go a little faster?"
"Any sign of them Mr. Bracegirdle?" said Sir Edward
raking the French coast with a disapproving stare.
"Not yet sir."
"Are you sure we're in the right bay? This doesn't look at all familiar to me."
"Well, I believe.."
"Yes, yes!" snapped the captain "but it's not easy to tell since someone spilled tea all over the chart is it?"
"I beg you pardon sir," replied the first lieutenant stiffly "but it was a complete accident that the cup slipped from my fingers. I've been experiencing some strain in my arms lately."
"Hmmph!" said the captain, in a tone that suggested Mr. Bracegirdle might just have a point.
"Rutlands and Indefatigables on the shore sir!" came the cry from the fighting top.
"Give that to me!" said Sir Edward taking the telescope away from the first lieutenant's drooping arms. "Yes, I can see the major and his men, some of our lads. I don't see Mr. Hornblower yet or young Pipps."
"What about Mr. Kennedy sir?"
"Who?" said the captain sweeping the shore. "Ah! I see Mr. Hornblower now and another officer on a horse with Mr. Pipps up in front of him. They seem to be in a hurry. The enemy can't be far behind. Send the boats ashore Mr. Bracegirdle!"
"Aye aye sir."
"What in the name of..?" Sir Edward had the telescope trained on a besmirched demonic figure that was racing down the slope towards the beach shrieking horribly and brandishing a weapon. "Bring us about Mr. Bracegirdle! Raking fire at the top of the beach as soon as you can! Let's stop the rest of'em in their tracks!" He closed the telescope with a snap and strode over to the taffrail to get a better view of the consequences of his orders.
"Good lord!" said the major faintly as Marie Suzette
began her descent, "do the rest of the Frogs look as crazed
"No sir," answered Horatio "and fortunately for us they will not be coming. One of the lads from the village was able to tell me that he saw the republican troops settled in for an extra long lunch. Apparently they found some exceptional mushrooms about a mile from Mucusac and couldn't pass them up."
"There's the Indy!" shouted Mr. Pipps whose spirits had lifted somewhat once he had been set down on the sand. He stood at the edge of the water and waved his hat wondering if the captain could see him.
There was a loud whooshing roar as several cannon balls flew over the heads of those on the beach and landed on the sand further up, making a number of large craters.
"Did you see which way she went?" Archie asked Horatio quietly as the men cheered.
"Any chance of a soft landing this time?"
"I'm afraid not sir."
"Now then gentlemen," said the Captain as Horatio,
Archie and Mr. Pipps stood before his desk in a line, "from
what the major has been telling me you have all acquitted yourselves
very well in the past few days. I know from my own experience
that a mission carried out ashore in hostile territory is one
of greatest tests of an officer's mettle. Sometimes it is a challenge
that we may not always meet as completely as we might hope."
As he spoke he frowned in a somewhat guilty manner at a pile of
new-looking cloths and napkins that sat on his dining table. "Not
only does one have to be on constant alert for the enemy but there
are also civilians to consider."
Horatio gave a wet sounding snort and wiped his nose on his sleeve.
"Come along Mr. Hornblower!" said the captain reprovingly "and step back from my desk a little if you please!"
"I beg you pardon sir," said Horatio damply "it's just that there was this awful girl who wouldn't leave me alone and then there was all that dreadful business with the privies. They weren't wanted sir! They weren't wanted at all!"
Archie made a strange choking sound and buried his head in his hands.
"Stand up straight Mr., er, Mr. Kennedy!" snapped the captain.
Archie lifted his head up and began mumbling through his tears. Not much was clear but the words 'Privy', 'explosion', 'again', 'my nerves' and 'too much!' could be heard between sobs.
The captain had opened his mouth to utter some bracing words (and to ask Archie to move his dripping person a little further away) when Mr. Pipps let out a wail of distress.
The small midshipman did not attempt to hide the cause of his woes. In fact he broadcast them at the top of his voice and soon the entire ship was acquainted with the tragic circumstances surrounding the exploding ginger beer bottles and Roger's subsequent demise.
"That's terrible that," sobbed Styles on the lower deck before knocking back his entire ration of grog in one swallow.
"It is an' all," agreed Mathews tearfully "Three cheers for poor little Roger wot snuffed it."
An hour later the Indefatigable was making a good rate of knots
in graceful fashion on her way back to Portsmouth. The sun made
the sea glitter like rough blue glass and reflected brightly off
the white sails. Three figures were sitting on the cross trees
near the top of the foremast.
"Are you feeling better now?" one of them asked in a serious tone.
"Yes thank you," said Horatio.
"Yes, much better," added Archie.
"I am too," said Mr. Pipps, "I don't expect Roger would have liked being at sea very much do you?"
"I think you're right," said Archie blowing his nose.
"These are big handkerchiefs aren't they?" said Mr. Pipps holding up a square of fine quality French linen. "Does the captain always keep them ready in his cabin in case people cry?"
"I think they are actually table napkins," said Horatio scrutinizing one of the two that Sir Edward had thrust into his hand, "and I think we had better wash them very thoroughly before we give them back."
They sat in companionable silence for a while enjoying the view and the motion of the ship. Then the faint sound of the bell floated up from below announcing the changing of the watch and Mr. Winthrop called up to let them know that Captain Pellew said they might come down.
"I think I'm going to write to my mamma after dinner," said Mr. Pipps.
Being a copy of a letter sent to Mrs. Edwina Pipps by her son Algernon Sholto Pipps upon the conclusion of his expedition to France.
I hop yoo are wel. I am wel. Roger is not wel. Roger is
ded. He wos my frend and I fownd him in frans. He wos goin to
bee on the Indee with mee but a jinjer beer cawk hit him and he
wos ded. Mr. Hornblowa sed Roger wud not lik the see so I must
not bee sorri but I am.
I wos in frans. All the people speek frensch. The majer was in frans too. He has a nise hors but falls off a lot. Ther wos a donkee. Mr. Hornblowa let mee ride the donkee.
Mr.Kennedi let me ride his hors.
I plaid with sum frensch childrun but thay spoke frensch.
I am on the Indee now. It is beef for dinner agen. Can yoo send mee sum pies?
Yor luving sun