Orders: A Renown Vignette
by Nereus

"Would you have done it?" Archie Kennedy asked.

"Would I have done what?" Horatio Hornblower said. He knew well
enough what the question was about. He simply did not want to
answer it.

"Would you have obeyed that order, if Clive hadn't distracted him?"

"It was an *order*, Archie," Hornblower said, as though that were an
answer.

"It was an order that would have got good men cut down and achieved
nothing. You cannot believe he was even thinking of the military
situation."

Although they were alone in the wardroom, Hornblower found himself
glancing nervously around, lowering his voice, already low, still
further.

"You should not speak so of the captain."

"Do you disagree?"

Hornblower swallowed, trying not to relive that scene on deck. They
had been studying a newly built French fort, from well outside
firing range; he had ventured to share his own conclusions (which
had been stupid, when would he learn?) and Sawyer, enraged, had
promptly ordered him to take a boat load of men and launch an
attack. In full view and broad daylight. They would have been
blown out of the water.

Luckily Clive had been on deck and stepped in, distracted the
captain with some reminiscence. Five minutes later Sawyer had
forgotten he had ever given the order, had commanded that Renown
should sail further up the coast instead. It had been a close
thing, though. It might happen again any day, any time.

"A naval officer cannot pick and choose which orders he obeys,
Archie."

"It would be an unfortunate principle in general," Kennedy
replied. "But do you think there are no circumstances in which it
can be needed?" He, too, had his voice very low. " 'The laws of
God and nature are above those of man', Horatio."

"What was that?" Hornblower asked curiously. "You sounded like you
were quoting something."

Kennedy shrugged and smiled a little. "Part of the conclusions from
the inquiry of the Scots Parliament into the massacre of Glencoe.
Do you know about that, Horatio?"

"Of course I do." Hornblower grimaced. "You must have heard Seaman
McEnery on the subject. From the way he talks you'd think it had
happened in his lifetime, instead of over a century past."

"Ah well, that's Highlanders for you. A grudge only improves with
age."

"You're a Scot yourself, Archie."

"A Lowland Scot, and therefore," Kennedy grinned "a civilised one.
Haven't I taught you the difference yet? Anyway, you know about the
massacre."

Hornblower frowned, trying to put together the fragments he'd
gathered from McEnery. "It was the soldiers being quartered on the
people they then killed which caused the outrage wasn't it?"

"Yes. A terrible breach of honour, by both Highland and Lowland
standards - and even English ones. The actual killing might have
been overlooked," a slight, sarcastic grimace. "They *were*
technically rebels, even though the rebellion had mostly petered out
and choosing one group to make an example of was mostly pure
vindictiveness - or so I understand it. But it was the breach of
hospitality that was considered shocking."

"How do you know so much about it?" Hornblower asked. His friend
had never been a student of history.

"Family tradition." Another half-smile. "My father told me. One of
his great-uncles, or maybe it was great-great-uncles, was a
lieutenant in a company sent to the glen - not one of those
quartered there, part of a supporting force. Anyway when they
understood their orders he and another lieutenant refused to take
part. They broke their swords and were placed under arrest. The
old boy's rather proud of that. He made a point of quoting that bit
out of the Parliamentary Inquiry to me when I joined the Navy."

"What happened to them?" Hornblower asked, reluctantly
fascinated. "The lieutenants, I mean."

"Oh, nothing in the end. The whole thing was so widely denounced
that the charges were dropped. But it was a very brave thing to do."

"But hardly in the same category as refusing an order that is
merely..." Hornblower groped for an acceptable way of putting
it, "...likely to result in high casualties."

"I didn't say it was, Horatio," Kennedy said quietly. He usually
knew when not to push too far. "I was just arguing a point about
orders in general."

No more was said, but the question still hung in the air.

'Would you have done it?'

Hornblower did not know.

 

#Author's note:- It is true that two lieutenants refused to take
part in the Glencoe massacre and were placed under arrest. No trial
appears to have been held. Their names are not known for sure, but
may have been Francis Farquar and Gilbert Kennedy. The notion of
making Gilbert Kennedy and Archie Kennedy relatives was too good to
resist!