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Oldroyde
by Simon

After leaving the Port Admiral's offices, Commander Horatio
Hornblower had reached the dock in Portsmouth where he would get the
jolly boat out to Hotspur. Sitting there, waiting for him were
several of his crew; Styles, Matthews Roberts, Bond and the others
who would row him out to the ship.

They rose as he approached. Distracted he merely said, "Let's go."

Looking up at not seeing the men jump to as was their custom when he
gave them an order, he noticed that they were shuffling their feet
and hesitating.

"Well, what is it?" He didn't have time for whatever it was they had
on their minds.

"Sir," Matthews stepped forward, "If I might have a word with you?"

Nodding, the two men moved a few feet away from the others.

"Well, Captain, it's like this. We was at the pub and when we came
out he was waitin for us. `E'd seen us go in, y'see. I thought that
maybe there was something that you could do, sir."

"Who was waiting for you? What are you talking about, Matthews?"

"Oldroyde, sir. `E's `ere. P'raps you could see `im?"

"Oldroyde? From the Indy?"

"Aye, sir. `E's in a bit of a spot."

Taking a breath, Hornblower asked. "Where is he? And what kind of
trouble is he in?"

"Well, he's just over there, sir." Matthews indicated the other end
of the dock. Sure enough, there he was, looking somewhat sheepish and
the worse for wear, but unmistakably Oldroyde. "'E'd rather tell
you `isself wot's the bit o' bother, if you don't mind, sir."

"Tell him to wait here until I send for him."

"Um, sir. Beggin yer pardon, `e really shouldn't be `ere on the dock
right about now."

"Right. Have him come out to Hotspur with us. He can have a few
minutes in my cabin after I finish with this paperwork. Now, let's
get going."

"Aye aye, sir."

As the jolly boat made the short trip out to the ship, Hornblower
took the opportunity to study the young man who had been part of his
division for several years. They had served together, fought together
and endured prison together. He realized that he knew almost nothing
about the man.

An hour and a half later Oldroyde got the word that the Captain would
see him. Hat in hand he knocked on the door.

"Come."

Hornblower was sitting at a makeshift desk in the tiny room. The
ceiling was too low to stand up right. The Captain indicated that the
younger man should sit across from him. "You went missing when we
were transferred to Renown. I never figured you for that."

Oldroyde didn't meet his eyes, looked at the deck instead.

The steady dark eyes appraised him for a minute, then, " I understand
that you're in something of a spot, Oldroyde. Do you want to tell me
about it?"

"Yessir. But it weren't my fault. I swear, sir."

"What happened?

"After we were released from the old Indy we was given leave, sir.
You remember?"

Hornblower nodded.

"I went to see me Mum up in Gloustershire. She was awful sick when I
got there, the farm `ad gone to ruin on account of she couldn't take
care of it. There weren't nothin for it, sir. I `ad to `elp `er out,
you see. By the time that was put to rights and she was feelin
better, well, by then you lot were gone."

"And you were labeled a deserter."

"Yes sir."

"And now I gather that the shore patrol is looking for you."

"Yes sir."

Hornblower studied him for another long moment, coming to a decision.
Sitting back in his chair he spoke, "Hotspur sails at dawn tomorrow.
I can use another good hand, Oldroyde. Are you interested?"

The blue eyes met his for the first time since he'd entered the
cabin. "Yes sir, I am. You know that I work hard. I'll do my best for
you, sir. You know that I will."

Nodding, the Captain asked him, "What's your first name, Oldroyde?"

"Sir?"

"I can't put you on the books as Oldroyde. You're wanted."

"Oh, right, sir. Percival."

"Right. Stay aboard until we sail and see Bosun Matthews for a
hammock, Mr. Percival."

 

Later that day First Lieutenant Bush approached his commander on the
small quarterdeck.

"New man? He seems to know your old division."

Hornblower glanced at him but made no comment. Bush thought that he
was being dismissed when he finally got his answer. "I had to let him
come aboard. If I'd left him in Portsmouth to hang, the rest of the
crew would have never forgotten. They have to know that the loyalty
goes both ways."

Nodding, Bush moved off.

Nearby, Styles smiled.