One Night in Portsmouth
By Roz Wyatt-Millington
Disclaimer: All characters in this story are owned by the A&E/Granada
Television and Forester Estate. No copyright infringements are
This story has not been written for profit, and no financial gain is intended.
Captain Pellew read the dispatch one more time he wasn't happy about what was about to happen, but then again time couldn't stay still. And the transfer would be a good career move for the lads.
He stood up and rapped on the cabin skylight: "Midshipman of the watch. Pass word for Lts. Hornblower and Kennedy to report to the captain."
Dimly he heard the reply: "Aye, aye sir." And then the scamper of feet as somebody went from the quarterdeck to find his two officers.
The captain returned to his desk and continued to brood. He was about to lose one of the brightest officers he had ever had, and another who had proved his worth since returning from a Spanish prison. But the loss of Hornblower was the real blow in many ways he felt like a father to Hornblower, not that he would ever tell him that. Then again this transfer was a promotion of sorts, from 3rd lieutenant on a frigate to 3rd lieutenant on a ship of the line. At least this meant that the lads would get to sea again Indefatigable had another six weeks at least in dock to repair the damage done in that last fight with the French.
A knock on the door disturbed the passage of his thoughts. "Come."
The door opened and the two young lieutenants walked in. "Lts. Hornblower and Kennedy reporting as ordered, sir."
Pellew sat as his desk for a few moments before replying the contrast between the pair was as apparent as ever. One was a blond-haired and smiling whereas the other was dark-haired and serious. He fought the smile that was trying to appear on his face, and cleared his throat. Both officers looked nervously at him neither could think why they had been summoned to the captain and unusually together.
The captain let the silence ride a few moments longer, and then relented. "I have a dispatch here concerning you two gentlemen. It appears that I am about to lose the pleasure of your company."
"Sir?" came the querying reply from Hornblower.
"You are being transferred Mr. Hornblower both of you. To the Renown."
"The Renown, sir?" was the comment from Kennedy.
"Yes, Mr. Kennedy the Renown. You know her I assume?"
Hornblower replied, "Aye, sir. A 74 gunner under the command of Captain Sawyer. She has a distinguished record, as does her Captain. He was one of Nelson's captains at the Battle of the Nile."
"Correct Mr. Hornblower. She was involved in a major sea battle some months back and lost two of her lieutenants, and a number of crew. Being as we are stuck in this dammed dock for a while, their Lordships have decided to deprive me of two officers their reasoning being I suppose that I can cope without two watch-keepers while the Indefatigable is in dock.
I have also been asked to find a bo'sun and a bo'sun's mate. I thought Matthews from your division would make an excellent bo'sun Mr. Hornblower. And so as not to separate them, Styles I am sure will make a good bo'sun's mate."
"I would agree with you, sir. Matthews is ready for the responsibility, and Styles will back him up."
"All credit to you, Mr. Hornblower. You have changed that division beyond recognition from what came from Justinian. Now the pair of you get gone you are to report to Renown in two days. Check with Mr. Bracegirdle that there is nothing further that he needs you for, and then you can have an evening's leave. Just make sure you are back by midnight."
"Thank you sir," chorused the two lads, and left the cabin. Captain Pellew looked thoughtful as he watched the pair of them leave. He would follow their careers with interest, particularly that of Mr. Hornblower. He had never told the lad, but in many ways Horatio was the son he had never had.
Meanwhile, the two lads in question were in the wardroom, checking their uniforms before proceeding ashore - and discussing their good fortune at the same time.
"Serving under Captain Sawyer, Horatio. Who would have believed it? The two of us to serve with one of the greatest fighting captains ever."
"Indeed Archie. Although we do serve under another renowned captain at the moment. Captain Pellew is one of the best frigate captains in the British Navy. But to serve on a ship commanded by one of Nelson's own that is a true honour."
"It is Horatio. But come on we are wasting time. We should be out celebrating, not just talking about it. Lets carry out our orders. Where will old Bracie be I wander."
To Archie's bemusement an answer came not from Horatio, but another one who had come quietly into the wardroom while they had been talking.
"I am here Mr. Kennedy. What did you and Mr. Hornblower require me for?"
Archie blushed, and started as to make an explanation, but Horatio quickly took command of the situation. "The captain required us that is Mr. Kennedy and I to inquire if you needed us for anything. We have been granted an evening's leave, if our duties are done."
"Indeed Mr. Hornblower. As it happens I have no further duties for you. But what has got you two lads excited as I can see you are."
Archie burst in, before Horatio could answer: "Our next posting, sir. Hora Mr. Hornblower and I are to join the Renown under Captain Sawyer. To think of it, serving under one of Nelson's own."
"Ah I see. Congratulations, but now I have to go through the bother of training two new lieutenants to the Indefatigable's standards. Oh well our loss, is Renown's gain I suppose. I assume the pair of you want to go and celebrate. Well just make sure you are fit enough to carry out your duties tomorrow."
Horatio managed to beat Archie to an answer for once: "Of course we will Mr. Bracegirdle. And thank you."
"There's nothing to thank me for Horatio. Just make sure you and Archie do nothing to disgrace the name of this ship. Now be off with you."
"Aye, aye sir" came the cheeky reply from Archie, who grinned at the first lieutenant, as he pulled on his jacket. Horatio said nothing, but shared a wry smile with Mr. Bracegirdle behind Archie's back. The two smartly attired lieutenants left the wardroom and proceeded on deck. They found Styles and Matthews conversing at the gangway decked out in their best.
"Styles, Matthews. I guess the captain has seen you then."
"He has sir, and given us leave for the evening. I guess you and Mr. Kennedy also have are off ashore."
"Indeed we are Mr. Matthews, and for much the same reason. You know we are to go to the Renown as well."
Matthews seemed a little startled by the use of the honorific 'Mr' that he was now entitled to as a junior warrant officer. But Styles piped up, "The captain told us sir. And right glad we are to to be staying with you and Mr. Kennedy aren't we Matty."
"That we are sirs."
The cutter that was to take them ashore finally came alongside at this point and the four sailors entered it strictly according to protocol, so that Horatio was last into the boat, but would be first out on landing. While Archie and Horatio made themselves comfortable in the stern alongside the young midshipman in charge, Styles and Matthews settled into the bows where several envious stares were sent their way by the crew of the cutter.
On reaching shore, the four clambered out, and up the sally port steps. There they parted company Styles and Matthews respectfully knuckling their foreheads to the two lieutenants, before wandering off to find a hospitable tavern. Horatio stood for a few moments watching the cutter making its way back to the Indy, before turning to Archie: "Well Archie are we going to drink Portsmouth dry or what?"
"Well we can make a good attempt at it anyway. Lead on Horatio."
The two lieutenants walked swiftly towards the dockyard gates and their destination the Red Lion Inn, an accepted haunt for officers. A chilly wind was blowing and both lieutenants were glad to get into the warmth of the common room, where a blazing fire was raging as defence against the chilly autumn night.
Archie went straight to the bar and ordered two pints of beer, while Horatio snaffled a table near the fire. When Archie returned with the drinks, the two lads sat down with their legs outstretched to take advantage of the heat of the fire. They sat in silence for several minutes, both enjoying the silent company of the other, and the warmth seeping through their bodies.
Then Horatio raised his tankard and said, "A toast, Archie. To the Renown and our future."
Archie raised his tankard in reply and both took a healthy swig. Then Archie said, "And to the Indefatigable, and all who sail in her."
"The Indefatigable" Horatio murmured before taking another swig. The tankards were soon empty, and Archie grabbed a passing barmaid to get refills. After three pints, both lads were starting to feel the effects of the alcohol on an empty stomach, so they got bread and cheese from the barman.
As the pints flowed, the toasts got sillier, from a sensible "To Captain Pellew" to the sublime toasting of "The Foretopmast of the Indy". The two lieutenants managed to sink ten pints each before the barman called time. Arm in arm the two friends staggered out of the Red Lion and after some brief discussion turned the correct way for the dockyard.
It made quite a sight on the Portsmouth streets two young naval lieutenants staggering along arm in arm. Periodically the shorter blond one started to sing at which point his dark-haired companion pulled a face and hushed him. "Archee I may be drunk, but music is as painful as ever."
"Sorry, Horaysho. I plain forgot."
They staggered in through the dockyard gates, and slowly made their way to the sally port tacking from side to side as they walked. Unfortunately for them their antics were noticed by a commanding, grey-haired captain who happened to be passing.
"You two there yes you two lieutenants. What ship?"
Horatio slowly pulled himself upright, and saluted knocking Archie off balance with his right arm as he did so.
"We have the honour to serve on the Indefa Indefati on the Indy sir." Horatio gave up and used the nickname he was in no state to pronounce the full name.
The captain grimaced slightly, and said: "I don't know what Pellew is thinking off letting two young cubs loose as he obviously has done. It wouldn't happen on my ship no sir it wouldn't. Your names gentlemen?"
"I am Lieutenant Hornblower and this is Lieutenant Kennedy, sir. May I inquire as to your name sir?"
"Captain Sawyer of the Renown, Lieutenant. Well what is done is done and you are not my responsibility. I'll leave your captain to decide what to do with two officers who set such an example to the men."
With that Captain Sawyer left them not realising he'd left two fairly chastened young lieutenants behind him. "Not a good introduction to our new captain Archie. I hope he doesn't hold it against us."
"What was that Horaysho"
"I said oh never mind. Let's get back to the ship shall we."
They continued on their way, least erratically than before the encounter with Captain Sawyer had sobered Horatio up somewhat, although Archie was as bad as ever. He started to sing again and once again was hushed by Horatio. Eventually they reached the sally port, and Horatio breathed a sigh of relief as he saw Matthews and Styles there Archie was sliding into insensibility, and he was too heavy for Horatio to manage alone.
"Matthews, Styles bear a hand with Mr. Kennedy. Have you engaged a boat yet?"
"Aye sir we have. Here let us take him sir."
Between them the two seamen got Archie into the waiting shoreboat and Horatio clambered in himself somewhat unsteadily, but under his own steam. The boatman, on seeing his passengers all aboard, headed off for the Indefatigable. The passengers all remained quiet Styles and Matthews due to the proximity of the officers, Archie because he was semi-comatose, and Horatio on account of his thoughts about what the captain and first lieutenant would do on finding Archie and himself in their current state.
The hail of 'boat ahoy' from the Indy, and the boatman's reply 'Aye, aye' brought Horatio out of his thoughts. They had reached the Indefatigable. Then he was aware of a quiet voice: "Horatio, I gather we are back home."
"Indeed we are Mr. Kennedy and now we have to get you back on-board before the captain or Mr. Bracegirdle see you. Matthews, Styles, bear a hand here and get Mr. Kennedy up."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Styles and Matthews hoisted Archie to his feet, and made as to help him up the side. "Wait men Mr. Hornblower should be first, and I will manage on my own thank you."
The two sailors looked across at Horatio, who gave them a slow nod, before scrambling up the side himself. On reaching the deck he realised that there was no chance of keeping Archie's state from the first lieutenant as he was on deck to greet them. Horatio sighed and then turned to lend a hand to Archie if required but Archie was stubborn enough to manage under his own power. Once on deck however he staggered slightly and Horatio hurriedly supported him to stand upright. Mr. Bracegirdle crossed over and said: "A good evening was had I see, Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy. I just hope you didn't run into any senior officers in that state."
Horatio stammered slightly as he said, "Unfortunately we did sir our new captain no less. I hope he doesn't hold it against us. He did say he would leave it up to our captain to decide what to do with two officers who set such an example to the men."
"And what example was that Mr. Hornblower?"
"We werewell sir, to be honest we were obviously drunk tacking from side to side up the street, and being rather loud."
"Not a good introduction to your new captain I fear. I think I'll leave it up to him to deal with you and your heads in the morning will be enough punishment I suspect. I expect you and Mr. Kennedy to be up with the men at 6 bells of the morning watch. Till then go and try to sleep it off."
"Aye, aye sir."
With that Horatio, supporting Archie who appeared to have lapsed into his semi-comatose state again made for the wardroom and the privacy of their own cabins. He was suddenly aware of the weight on his arm lessening and turning his head, saw Styles and Matthews half-carrying Archie between them. With their help he got Archie into his cabin, where he turned to the sailors, "Thank you Matthews, Styles. I can manage from here."
"It was nothing sir. Goodnight sir," said Matthews echoed by Styles before the two sailors left. Sighing Horatio turned back to Archie, to discover that he was compos mentis again.
"There go two good men, Horatio and so loyal to you. I remember them when we were on the Justinian you have made such a difference from then."
"I have done nothing Archie, but my duty."
"Aye, well that may be so. Anyway enough of that. I think we did our part tonight we made a valiant effort to drink Portsmouth dry."
"Indeed we did Archie and no doubt we will know about it in the morning. But to sleep now we've less than six hours before we have to up again."
Horatio turned and left the cabin for his own. Archie smiled at his back and thought, 'My friend, how well I know you and how little you realise about yourself. You will go far Horatio, and I will be pleased to see it. Your friendship brought me out of the darkest places of the world, and I am happy to be serving with you again. You are my truest friend. And the old quote is so true for us: "Greater love have no man than he should lay down his life for his friend." I hope it never comes to that, but I would be willing to die for you Horatio though you may never realise it.'