August 8th, Gibraltar...
Well, tomorrow it is back to the Indefatigable for me, and back to my duties as First Lieutenant. I do not mind so much, to be honest; my transport off of Indefatigable happened in such sudden circumstances that I would have felt peculiar, never having been back to say good-by and offer instruction to Horatio so the lad doesn't implode. Besides, I have been given the eventual command of the sloop Georgina, once she is refitted, and will have time to prepare both myself and my new ship as I would wish to.
Not that I have had any complaints with my men here on Sophia, those whom I inherited from Captain Clark. They are all good men, and Clark had them well trained. Young Mr. Owens I feared would either be the death of me or my career, with his often unrepentant wit! He is generally a good lad, but I cannot say what Captain Pellew would have thought of him. In any event, I have just completed descriptions of them for Mr. Kennedy, who shall have the joy of sailing Sophia back to England. Anything I can do to give him an advantage and make him feel at ease in his first command.
It still strikes me as strange that Pellew chose him for this mission; I must attribute it to his desire to grant the young man a bit of leave (and lord knows, he deserves it). But Archie has never held a solo command before, and to have one's first command be a lengthy sail to England, and a short staffed one to boot, will be nerve wracking.
I had honestly expected the honor to go to McGill. Mr. Hornblower is still recovering, and McGill is more than adept at such matters, though he is a bit of a plodder with little imagination. And yet, there was something about Pellew, who visited my ship the other day, and his thought process on this one. While he was here he was observing everything, and most complimentary to my performance, to my delight. But he paid particular attention to young Mr. Wheeler, whom he transferred over from Dunbarton. The boy reminds me a bit of Hornblower, and I would have attributed his attention to this resemblance, except for the concern I saw in his face. I tried to observe Wheeler for any signs of unusual behavior, but although he is reserved and quiet, I see nothing to concern me.
Not so for the Captain. As he was leaving, he again watched Wheeler. The boy was, at that moment, standing watch, his stony gaze fixed on his old ship. And Pellew nodded once, and muttered, "Yes, Kennedy is the man for this one. Kennedy will fix it."
Fix what? I wondered. I am a bit discouraged that he has noticed something in my men that I did not, but when I asked him what was disturbing him about Wheeler, he merely shook his head and said I would have had to been on Dunbarton to understand it. So yet again, it goes back to Captain Strong, the blackguard! I thought Foster was bad, but the destruction and damage that man managed has made old Dreadnought look like a pussy cat!
Once Mr. Kennedy takes over, I have a more unusual engagement coming up. After what has been now several months of good-natured abuse from Pellew on the subject, my wife will be hosting Pellew and Bowles for dinner. I should have liked to have Horatio as well, but he is still limping around, from the sounds of it. I wonder what Cecilia will think of them? In her last letter, she sounded quite nervous about making a good impression, but as I know her cooking to be superb, I have told her she need not worry! It has been more than four months since last I saw her, and am quite looking forward to the reunion.
Really, I am a very lucky man. It was by the slightest chance that Admiral Parker recommended me to Indefatigable three years ago, when I desired transfer from Dreadnaught before Foster took over. It meant going from first Lieutenant to third, but I knew I had to get off of that ship. Who could have predicted that we would lose Eccleston and Chadd almost immediately after my arrival? And though I knew his reputation, I had no idea of exactly how fine a Captain Pellew was. It has been an honor to serve with him, and I feel I have learned as much from him in our time together as I have in my entire naval lifetime previous.
Funny thing about Pellew; our personalities are quite different, and yet we seem to work together all the better because of it. I do know that he fought quite hard for me on this promotion; which is more than most Captains would have done. He is a truly generous man, and I will always be thankful to him for the opportunities he has given me.
Back on board the Indy! I feel as though I have arrived home.
Any reservations I might have had about Mr. Kennedy's upcoming trip have been erased within five minutes of my return, for the ship has been impeccably run in my absence, and it is his doing. As short staffed as they'd have been, Archie must have been doing the work of three , most of it unfamiliar work at that. Yet the men are just as well behaved, the deck as well-kept, all orderly and familiar.
I complimented his work to Captain Pellew, who admitted that Mr. Kennedy's performance was exemplary in every manner. He then went on to say that he may have been a bit acerbic towards the young man during his tenure as first Lieutenant. I caught Mr. Brandon's eye as he said that, and I do believe we were thinking much the same thing: *Not YOU, Captain*.
We are to be in Gibraltar until the sixteenth, and will join my wife for dinner on the 12th; I shall be able to remain for three days. Pellew apologized for the paucity of leave, but under the circumstances I hardly expected more.
Horatio is above decks, limping still but working his way around as best he can. Drew keeps a sharp eye on him and is quite forceful about making sure he does not overdo things. It is frustrating to Horatio, no doubt; he reacts just as well to illness as Pellew does, which is to say not at all.
Young Reg Cousins was by my side for most of the morning; with Kennedy already transferred, he is the best source of information on the little details that one might not find in a log. He seems to have been of great assistance to Archie, and is most desirous to be of help to me now.
Cousins. I cannot think of him without remembering that night when Pellew was shot, and he held the watch for over twelve hours. Hammond had found him near exhaustion and had the effrontery to wish him practically strung up for it. It was fortunate I arrived above decks when I did, to save him, yet I consider that moment my worst failure. How could I have forgotten the situation of the men in my concern for Pellew? I abandoned the deck and Mr. Cousins with it. By rights he ought to hate me. Yet he does not; indeed, I doubt he has ever blamed me for the situation.
I remember that once, prior to his exam for Lieutenant, I bade Horatio test his readiness for leadership with the men. Yet twice on this campaign I have failed my own test! There was the failure with Cousins, and that followed by my failure with Brandon! Behaving with blinders on, I saw myself only to be doing a good thing in praising his medical skills in the Gazette. It never occurred to me that there might be far-reaching implications; for never once had I wondered why Pellew kept him listed as Midshipman only, when in reality he is so much more. And he suffered terribly for it, and would be suffering still if not for Archie.
Pellew, trying to make me feel better, had said that it was a 'well-intentioned error.' I am certain that as his father was beating him to a pulp the fact that I had meant well was top of his mind!
But these things, and the way Pellew observed Wheeler yesterday, have made me wonder about my own skills. Perhaps I lack his imagination...the ability to see beyond what is in front of me. I must dedicate myself to changing this lack in these next months, for it will no doubt be an important part of having a successful command.
Today was the first day of the new, more observant Anthony Bracegirdle. I am determined to pay attention to every detail in order to predict problems before they become major.
After an early breakfast, I enjoyed a morning stroll above decks to observe the men. Mr. Hornblower was pacing off to one side, gingerly exercising is knee. He was absorbed with not limping, so I did not pursue him. Instead, I watched him from the relative safety of the quarterdeck. He was frowning furiously and staring at the offending leg as if he wished Brandon had cut it off. Though he did not wince, I could see the slight thinning of his lips with each step. Obviously, his knee still pained him.
Fifteen minutes into my day and I had already made a discovery. I was quite proud of myself!
Following up on my new found information, it seemed to me that the best thing to do would be to seek out Mr. Brandon.
I found him in sick berth, naturally, where he looked rather half awake. There was a cup of tea by his side, and he was working on one of the men-Thomas--whose gums were sore.
"Have you been drinking your lemon juice?"
"Don't much care fer it, Sir."
Scolding the man in an almost friendly way, he suggested he mix it with his spirit ration to make it more palatable, unless he wished to kiss his teeth goodbye. "And then, it will not only be lemon juice that will be missing from your diet...you can forget ever enjoying a nice bit of beef as well!"
I smiled behind the young man's back. He certainly had a way about him of dealing with the men in terms they could understand, without sounding patronizing in any way.
As Thomas left, Drew stretched out his body, arms reaching above him with a slight grunt. "Early start to the day for both of us it seems, Mr. Bracegirdle."
"I hope you have not neglected your breakfast, Mr. Brandon."
"I admit I have. I will remedy that shortly, though.. I am so hungry even the biscuit sounds appealing." He crossed his arms before him. "But I would be glad to assist you first, Sir."
"I do not seek assistance for myself, Mr. Brandon. I merely wished to let you know that according to my observation it seems Mr. Hornblower's knee is still troubling him, and I know he would be reluctant to tell you so himself."
The smile disappeared from his face, and his brow furrowed. "I do not understand, Sir. How did you notice this?"
"He tried to hide it as best he could. But I could tell from the set of his mouth as he walked that each step still troubled him."
Dre's face grew impassive. "As he walked? As he walked where, Sir?"
"Why, he was above decks quite early this morning exercising."
Impassive turned into white-fury. "Was he? Was he INDEED?"
And with little more than a nod Brandon flew past me, heading above decks. And it occurred to me that perhaps...in his exuberance to get well, Horatio had not checked with Drew to see if it was wise for him to be working his leg so much.
Lesson number one, Anthony. Think the implications of your observations out BEFORE you take action on them.
I saw Captain Pellew about one hour later.
"Good morning, Sir."
Jaw set firmly and lips pursed, I would have been a dullard indeed to believe that Pellew considered it so. I am NOT a dullard, and have worked for the man long enough to know when he is in a state.
"Lieutenant." He squinted his eyes at the horizon. "A good wind for sailing. Pity we're stuck here in this blasted harbor."
"Indeed." I said, soothingly. He would either go on or not; I wait for his lead on this one.
"I did not get a chance to finish my coffee this morning. If you can call that treacle we are served coffee."
"Did you have an interruption, Sir?" Oops. Bad idea. I could see the words hovering in the air between us, unable to snatch them back.
He squinted further, and his jaw went even more marble. "You could call it that. I had Mr. Brandon storm into my quarters forty-five minutes ago."
If there had been a hole in the quarterdeck, I would have sunk into it.
"It would seem that Mr. Hornblower has been standing on his last nerve, and WILL NOT obey his orders to take it easy."
"I...assume you spoke with him, Sir?" And gulped in anticipation.
"I did. I have ordered him confined to his quarters, with a marine on the guard, for at least one week. For one hour daily the marine will escort him on a walk above decks."
Closing my eyes, I imagined Horatio's reaction to the order, and it was not pretty. "A bit hard on him, Sir?"
Pellew glared at me. "When Mr. Brandon came to me asking whom I shall appoint in Horatio's place when he is led from Indefatigable a cripple, I do not see that I had much choice, Mr. Bracegirdle. But it was a damned annoying way to start my morning in any case. They actually had an argument about the situation in MY presence."
Thinking out loud (something I really must stop doing) I asked, "What is to come of the lessons he was conducting with the midshipmen?"
He arched his brows. "I had not thought of that. I cannot spare either you or Bowles. Very well, he shall conduct classes during your watch with all of the midshipman, in the ward room. I shall have him under guard still in any event, lest he think of making an escape. You will inform him of that."
"Oh, Sir, I am certain he would not disobey your order..." And the full meaning of his sentence came to me. "When you say 'all the midshipmen' Sir, surely you don't mean, well, all of them?" Brandon immediately came to mind.
"Well dammit, man, why should any of them be excluded? Or do you indicate that Mr. Brandon and Mr. Hornblower are incapable of being in the same room for two hours at a time? Good god, I will not tolerate such dissent among my officers!"
Powers appeared and indicated the Captain's breakfast, and a fresh pot of coffee, were ready.
"Blast it, man, I will be there when I choose." He snapped. Powers, as ever, was totally unfazed and moved quietly away. Shaking himself, the Captain muttered under his breath, "Inexcusable behavior, really, both of them Any other man would have had them both flogged," as he turned.
I wiped the sweat from my brow, at least happy in the knowledge that there wasn't a shot in hell of Pellew flogging either Hornblower or Brandon.
But the situation was not looking up, not at all. In misery,
I headed below decks, to where I would no doubt find a seething
Hornblower about to learn of his continued punishment.
He took it about as well as I expected. "I do not think that it is wise to put Mr. Brandon and myself in the same room at the moment, Sir." He said, just this side of control.
I played the party line. "The Captain will not tolerate dissent among his officers, Mr. Hornblower, and I must tell you he is already displeased with being forced to mediate this dispute. I would not carry it further."
Horatio suddenly looked glum, like a child who has lost his best friend. "I don't understand why he did that to begin with, Sir. There was no reason for that."
I coughed. "Perhaps he felt you were not being responsive to his requests."
"They weren't request, Mr. Bracegirdle, they were ORDERS. And I am his superior officer."
"Not when he is performing in a medical capacity, Horatio. His rank is overridden by his knowledge. You know that."
He closed his eyes. "Yes, Sir. I do. But this is all most frustrating." He sighed. "If only he'd not caught me above decks this morning..."
I made a hasty retreat before I gave anything away, and went to repeat my warning to Mr. Brandon.
"I did what I felt was necessary, Sir." He said, stoutly.
"Perhaps it might have been better not to disturb the Captain but to address Mr. Hornblower directly?" I suggested.
"Sir, he is *just like the captain.* He cannot abide by idleness, and nothing I was going to say to him would have guaranteed his rest."
"As you said, he is much like the Captain. But I do not believe he intentionally meant to slight you, Mr. Brandon."
I then told him that he, too, would be required to be present for lessons.
With a grim smile, Brandon shook his head. "This ought to be priceless, Sir. He cannot stand the sight of me right now."
"Come now, Mr. Brandon, it is not so bad as that."
The look he gave me told me that we both knew I was patronizing him.
"Just remember, if the Captain gets wind of any further difficulties between the two of you, I cannot vouch for his reaction."
Face somber, he nodded. "I understand, Sir. And believe me when I say that I do not desire to have the captain angry with me. I will do my best to make sure it does not happen."
I left the situation and headed for my watch with a pounding head. Whatever had I gotten these two men, formerly the quite fond of each other, into?
Things seem to have quieted down a bit. I have taken to writing down my observations in a journal rather than speaking them out loud or acting on them immediately. Instead, I re-read them the next day to see whether or not they actually require action. More often than not, I find that the situation has resolved itself.
The Captain's mood is not much improved, save for the prospect of dinner with my fine wife this evening. Well, a good bit of roast pork, which I believe she is preparing, can do quite a lot to restore a man's cheer. It always works wonders for mine.
I noted Mr. Cousins on watch shortly before we prepared to depart.
"Courage, my young friend. We shall return bearing leftovers for our less fortunate mess-mates, I am certain."
He gave me half a smile. "Thank you, Sir. I have heard you say that your wife is an uncommonly fine cook."
"Indeed she is, Mr. Cousins!" I said, with real warmth at the thought of our impending reunion, however brief it may be.
I took a look around the ship, but Mr. Cousins had nothing to worry about from the looks of it. We were safe at anchor, after all. "You should have an easy watch this evening, Mr. Cousins."
"I would hope so, Sir." He said evenly.
I studied him quietly. Was there something behind this, then? For he looked not as relaxed as usual. He is normally an easy-going young man, with a ready smile. Instead, his demeanor this evening was almost reserved...it reminded me, in fact, of the days after Hammond's attack on him, before Pellew had fully recovered. There was an uneasiness there.
Curse all of this observation! I am certain I was not so exhausted when I did not look for things wrong in every man I see. In all likelihood, he had been up to the normal mischief of a seventeen year old boy, and was worried he would be found out. And nine times out of ten such mischief is NOT serious, and is to be winked at, unless brought to one's attention. Then, the price must be paid.
So, I made the decision not to query Mr. Cousins further. When I returned in a few days, his behavior would show whether this were a serious issue or a fleeting one.
And so, nodding to him as I was away, I put observation out
of my mind, thinking only of a bit of fresh meat, a fine wine,
and an evening with my lovely wife.
I had procured Cecilia respectable apartments in a secure district of Gibraltar, where my name, and more importantly my Captain's name, commanded enough respect to assure her safety. There were two other naval wives in the same house, and they were able to commiserate together over every storm observed and every battle fought. Since all three husbands fought on different ships, on different routes, their combined knowledge probably left them with better understanding of the Gibraltar based fleets than anyone short of Admiral Hale. In fact, knowing Hale's intelligence, they probably can surpass him.
As we entered, and the servant took our capes, I waited in earnest delight for the first sight of her.
"Mr. Bracegirdle, you have certainly made good time!" She trilled from the doorway to the drawing room, coming forward.
She was lovely, radiant, to me, anyway, and anyone else be damned. Though her face had a spattering of freckles and her figure was inclined to be round, she moved with a grace and sureness that I had noted from the first of our acquaintance. Her brown eyes, with those remarkably fine long dark lashes, let me know she was eager to see me. I took her hand and pressed it to my lips, saying with my own eyes, I hope, that which I could not say before my captain!
Dear, God, My Captain! "Mrs. Bracegirdle, May I have the honor of presenting my Captain, Sir Edward Pellew, and my good friend, Mr. Wallace Bowles."
They bowed deeply and she curtseyed nicely, though evidently nervous. "Gentleman, I have had the privilege of hearing so much about you through Anthony's letters that I feel I know you already."
The Captain smiled, unable to resist. "And yet, Madam, your husband was so effective at keeping you a jealously guarded secret, that I am afraid you have much of an advantage over us both!"
Bowlsie also grinned in affirmation. "One would not have supposed old Tony to be so well equipped for espionage. Although, after seeing you, I can understand why he wished to keep you to himself."
She beamed at the flattery. "You do both of you live up to your reputation as gentlemen!" She motioned us towards her dining area. "This is where I ought to say that my cook is of uncertain temperament and does not wish to be kept waiting, but as I am my own cook, that will not due."
"And yet," I teased. "You ARE of uncertain temperament my dear, so perhaps that is not all wrong."
She beamed even wider, and tossed her gleaming red curls. "Too true, Anthony. So before we upset myself, let us begin our feast. I am confident that I can outdo whatever salty cask you have opened recently."
With feeling, Bowles responded, "That would not be hard, madam!"
We were all quite jolly in the meal. Though Celia insists on doing her own cooking, she is not above having her servant wait on us. There was roast pork, a stew of apples, freshly pureed potatoes, and green beans cooked in the french style.
"My apologies, gentlemen. But though I know them to be the enemy, I must say their method of preparing vegetables to be infinitely superior to the English fashion of boiling everything to death. Boiling is best to be used for cleaning the household, not as a means of food preparation when there are other options."
"Our doctor would agree with you on that, at least as regards cleanliness." Bowlsie replied.
"Dear Mr. Brandon! I did so hope to meet him, as well as Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Cousins."
"Egads, madam, would you leave me without an officer on my ship? A rival captain could board her and make off with my men, and that would never do!" Captain Pellew teased.
"That settles it, then, one of these evenings when you are in port, I must do the cooking on the Indefatigable! For the officers, anyway, if not all the men." She replied stoutly.
I looked to the Captain to see how he was responding to this bit of mirth about my wife cooking for upwards of two-hundred fifty men, not to mention usurping Powers' place in his pantry, but he was lost in thought, and in a mouthful of the other vegetable my wife had served
"Madam, I must know, what is this?" He said, clearly savoring the sunny puree.
"It is a stew of vegetable marrow, Sir, mashed."
"Vegetable marrow?" He exclaimed. The enormous gourds were generally not credited with being fit for human consumption in England, at least not among the finer classes. I tasted the velvety concoction gingerly. More fool the finer classes, then. And lucky barnyard animals whom had been feasting on it for so many years.
"One of the wives here was born in the Americas, though she married an English sailor, and gave me the recipe. Apparently it is a common enough dish there, as it is a hardy plant that can survive in even the rockiest of farm conditions."
"Indeed, madam, and how do you prepare it?"
She smiled that Captain Sir Edward Pellew was asking her for cooking tips. "I roast it, although it can be boiled as well. Then I mash the soft pulp with a bit of milk and molasses."
The Captain was thinking hard again.
Bowlsie asked him first. "Sir, whatever are you thinking?"
"Just this, Mr. Bowles. Vegetables are a scarcity on board ship, and it seems to me that vegetable marrows would transport well."
"But the milk does not." I pointed out.
"True, true, but molasses do."
"If I did not have a supply of milk at hand," Celia murmured, musing as she sipped the wine delicately, "I should just leave it roasted, and brushed with a bit of syrup."
"Hmmm." I could see the Captain's mind spinning this one over.
Bowlsie, ever practical as master, was giving it good thought. "They do transport well, sir; I've seen 'em on supply ships, for the beasts. But they're pretty big."
"Well, it is a consideration, at least. I would try anything to improve the men's food situation, especially on a long journey."
We all murmured assent, and I thought back to our days of rationing, before Horatio's little encounter with the plague and the fire ships. There had been no worse moment on all of Indefatigable than those days, and the Captain has still not recovered, I think.
The men, of course, have a way of not always seeing what is good for them. And they are often strangely stubborn about changes in their diet, even if it is for the better. They trust in the salt beef and pease porridge and weevily biscuit, and the bit of cheese they sometimes get. The lemon juice is tolerated only because they have been convinced that it keeps them from spitting out teeth.
Celia made her way to exit the dining room, so the port could go around, but one and all we decried such unnecessary formality.
Bowlsie put it well. "We would be sad gentlemen indeed, Mrs. Bracegirdle, to banish you from the room when there are no other women to keep you company. Besides, we keep each other company far too often. You are a welcome change, Ma'am."
I smiled, and could not but blush with pride. The Captain and Mr. Bowles were just as taken with her as I had hoped they would be.
So we took Port together (Celia had another half glass of wine) and then coffee, talking over our lives on ship, and being informed of the way of life in Port. Finally, my friends made to leave, and the Captain gave me a knowing look.
"I shall expect to see you back by noon the fifteenth, Mr. Bracegirdle." He kept his countenance stern, but I could detect the twinkle in his eye, even as I nodded with a firm, "Aye, Aye, Captain."
Mentally, I again thanked God for sending him The Duchess...er...Miss Cobham. Before she came into his life, I would have feared how he would react to such a homey scene. But his love has made him more human; or at least, it has made me understand his humanity more.
Celia had one more job: Packages of food, left over and also a supply of baked goods, "for all the poor young men who could not make it this evening." Pellew accepted it with deep gratitude; any person who shows consideration for his men automatically rises a notch or two in his esteem.
As the door closed behind them, Celia came up behind me and wrapped her arms around my waist. "You are tired, Anthony?" She asked, giving me a gentle squeeze.
It had been so long since last I saw her. Hell, no, I wasn't tired! "Not a bit of it, madam," I said, turning to embrace her in a firm hug.
"What a pity! I had been going to suggest that we retire to bed, but if you are not tired..."
"On second thought..."
I was awakened the next morning by the bright sunlight streaming in through the windows. Nine O'clock, as they would say on land. I have slept rather late, but then, I did not sleep so much last evening as I am accustomed to on board the Indy!
Cecilia entered quietly, with a tray of coffee, and I watched her with love. Her dressing gown, which I had purchased for her with our last prize-winnings, was of a deep green silk with a golden brocade through it; the halo of red hair around her face makes me think of her as a Christmas angel. I grinned appreciatively at the swell of her figure; no scrawny women for me, thank you very much! No, my lady is a healthy lass with a fine sense of humor and deep passions, as my pleasantly exhausted-nay, almost sore--body reminded me this morning!
"Dear Anthony, awake already?" She murmured, coming into bed with me.
"Ships habits die hard, my love, even under such strenuous circumstances as these." I ran my hand over the silk shaping her hip.
"I have gained a bit of weight, I am afraid, Anthony; I feared you would find it off-putting. Did you notice?"
Now, in all man's history with women, there is no good answer to this question. That I prefer her not to be a bony toothpick will not matter; if I say I had not noticed, she will be angry with me for being unobservant, and if I say that it does not bother me, she will think I have accused her of gluttony and will not ever believe that I can still desire her. Diplomacy, Diplomacy. "Given our activities of last night, my love, I am surprised to hear you ask the question."
Holding her closer, I realized she HAD put on a bit of weight; I could feel it more than I could see it. And she smiled as I gently squeezed her chest to me; then she moved my hand to her abdomen. It had only been four months since last I had the pleasure of her touch, but I know that she is rounder there than she used to be.
Celia blushed. "It is a temporary condition, Anthony. One which another five months should cure."
I am dense, sometimes. I wondered what cure she could be talking about? And then I felt myself start shaking.
"A child, Celia? We are to have a child?"
And eyes sparkling with mirth, her smile trembling, she nodded. "Yes, my love. A baby."
A baby. I had almost given up hope at my age of finding fatherhood. But this! A baby. A daughter with her mother's temperament, or perhaps a son, to follow in my footsteps. As long, of course, as he has his mother's head of hair!
Concerned, perhaps, that I had not said anything out-loud, she nervously asked, "Anthony, you ARE happy about this, are you not?"
"Happy?" I repeated. "Happy, madam?" And suddenly I laughed, bounding up from the bed, unable to contain myself. I tore to the window and threw it open, leaning out over the street as far as I dared.
"Anthony!" Celia gasped, but I paid her no heed.
For I had an announcement to make.
"Good Day, Gibraltar! Lieutenant Anthony Bracegirdle is to be a father, and HE IS OVERJOYED!"
I was about as happy a man as a man could be, as I returned to the Indefatigable, ahead of my scheduled time. My wonderful, lovely, talented wife was with child. I was going to be a father. All was right with the world.
The heady feeling of impending paternity lasted until I reached Indefatigable's deck. I was bursting at the seems to tell Bowlsie and the Captain of the blessed event, but was forestalled immediately by Pellew's booming and crisp voice.
"Lieutenant Bracegirdle! I should very much like a moment of your time if you please. In my Cabin, Sir!"
One glance at his stony countenance told me this was not to be a happy interview.
I stole a quick glance at Mr. Cousins as I passed him, on my way to Pellew's cabin. His face was taut and stressed. Damn it all, I ought to have pressed him further on his problems before I left! I was not certain, of course, that he was the center to this incident, but it seemed as likely as anything else at the moment.
I entered the cabin; Pellew was facing out the windows in a particularly rigid stance that told me how deeply troubled he was.
"Yes, Sir. You asked to see me?"
He turned abruptly, and paced a few steps. "Lieutenant Bracegirdle, I am at a complete loss." He stopped abruptly and sat with a sigh, motioning for me to be seated also.
Rubbing his temples, he sat back. "I do not need to explain to you, I am sure, that although I am quite pleased with all my men and officers aboard this ship, I am particularly fond of both Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Brandon; I have been through much with them in their time here, and I believe they have bright futures.
Of course he didn't need to explain that to me, we all knew he regarded both of the lads practically like sons. My only surprise was that he articulated these feelings out loud, to me. He does so like to feign indifference about all of us. "I am aware of that, Sir."
"So you can imagine, then, that it particularly pains me to see the two of them at such loggerheads that they are hardly on speaking terms any longer."
I felt my stomach twist. "It is that bad, Sir?"
"Yes, Mr. Bracegirdle. I happened to see Mr. Cousins leaving lessons yesterday, and he looked quite bewildered; upset, even. I pulled him aside and though he was reluctant, I finally got him to admit his troubles to me. It would seem, that in order to exact revenge on Mr. Brandon for having him placed under guard, Mr. Hornblower is leading him the devil's own time in the classroom."
"How so, Sir?" I said, faintly.
"According to Mr. Cousins, the entire lesson consisted of Mr. Hornblower drilling Mr. Brandon, out loud, on problems that a commissioned Lieutenant of some experience would have a difficult time answering. He pays little attention whatsoever to the rest of the young men, but essentially taunts Mr. Brandon for his stupidity."
I was stunned. Never, in a thousand years, could I have imagined Horatio behaving in such a manner!
Pellew closed his eyes. "I would be more certain on how to proceed, but it would seem that Mr. Brandon is not entirely innocent in this situation. Which also pained Mr. Cousins to admit. But the young man has been bordering on impertinent, and Mr. Hornblower is in fact his superior officer."
A deep sadness came over me. "Poor Mr. Cousins."
"Yes, he has had the devil's own luck to be placed between his best friend and an admired officer in a situation where neither of them are blameless."
I tried to sooth him a bit. "Sir, even the closest of brothers WILL have their squabbles..."
"Mr. Bracegirdle, this IS the Navy! I cannot send both of them to their rooms without supper!" He groaned. "What I want to know is, what brought this on?"
I gulped. "I am afraid, Sir, that I might have unwittingly instigated this situation."
He raised his head in surprise. "How so, Sir?"
"After leaving Sophia, Sir, it became evident that I was not quite so observant about my men as perhaps I ought to be. So I decided to teach myself to be more so. Therefore, when I saw Mr. Hornblower exercising above decks, I was pleased to be able to deduct that he was still experiencing discomfort."
Pellew smiled. "Yes, Horatio was trying to sneak above decks most mornings to exercise his leg. I would send him back below immediately."
Well, now that would have been the more sensible thing to do in hindsight! "Unfortunately, Sir, my reaction was to notify Mr. Brandon, who then came to you, which led to Mr. Hornblower's being put under guard...which led to..."
"Yes, yes, you do not have to tell me the rest!" He grumbled, annoyed. "What in the lord's name made you think I had any complaints with you about your observation skills, anyway?"
"I...it is a long story, Sir. The important thing is, how do we fix this now?"
"No, Mr. Bracegirdle, how do YOU fix this now!"
"Yes, Mr. Bracegirdle. If I am forced to handle this situation, it is rapidly reaching a point where I will have to see both of them disciplined. Mr. Brandon beaten, or worse, and Mr. Hornblower receiving a written reprimand, or losing his commission! I think you understand that I do not wish any of the above to happen. Alternatively, I would have to see ONE of them transferred off of this ship. You might as well ask me which arm I should like to have cut off!" He shook his head. "No, Sir, you will handle it, you will have both of them on at least professional terms, and it will be done within the week. Do I make myself clear?"
Crystal clear, Sir, though I am entirely clueless as to how to bring this about. "Aye, Aye, Sir."
"Good. Get to work on it right away. I give you a free hand. You understand me well enough for me to feel comfortable with your choices."
Which was his veiled way of telling me not to wantonly try to beat sense into both of them, unless other options were exhausted first!
My good cheer was gone. We would soon be busy with readying to make sail on the morrow, so I decided to waste no time. "Mr. Cousins, where might I find Mr. Brandon?"
"Sick berth, Sir." He said. He met my eye and then looked a bit ill as he noted my expression. Well, a little worry wouldn't hurt him.
He was indeed there, staring in glum frustration at notes from his lessons this morning. It was very clear he had no comprehension of whatever problem Horatio had set for him, and I almost let myself feel sorry for him. Almost. But with a week to fix the problem I had no time for compassion. There would not be any dances done in fixing this situation.
"Mr. Brandon!" I intoned sternly.
He looked up quickly, and started to smile, but stopped on seeing my face. "Yes, Sir?"
"Follow me, if you please." I snapped, trying not to notice how pale he went as he shut his book and meekly rose. Thinking about what I specifically had to address Horatio on, I had an inspiration and grabbed the boy's book firmly in my hand.
I turned and made fast strides, Brandon obediently behind me--not above decks (which must have been a relief to him), but to Horatio's quarters, guarded by a marine. With a nod to the sentry, I pounded twice on the door and then entered, guiding Mr. Brandon in reluctantly with a firm hand on his shoulder and closing the door behind me with a slam.
Horatio had been resting on his bunk; startled by my forceful knock he had sat up, but now froze on seeing Drew with me. Not very gently, I pushed the young doctor to a seat on Mr. Kennedy's vacant bunk.
"Gentlemen, I am going to speak. I am going to say these things once, and I will not be repeating them, so I expect the both of you to listen, and listen hard. For your own sakes I would not interrupt me. Is that understood?"
Both of them pale as death, they murmured a quick, "Aye, Aye, Sir."
"Good. I cannot tell you, Gentlemen, how ashamed I was to return to the ship this morning and hear of your behavior. It would seem that you have both stooped to new levels of personal instigation."
Opening Mr. Brandon's text to the lesson written out, I scanned it, then tossed it to Horatio. "Mr. Hornblower, can you, Sir, look me in the eye and tell me this is an acceptable problem to assign to a midshipman still new to the skills of navigation? I would submit, Sir, that Mr. Bowles would have a tough time answering it. And these comments you have written on the paper he gave you yesterday, are rude and insulting. I cannot imagine that having someone speak to YOU in such a manner would do anything to bolster your confidence."
He opened his mouth to speak, and I silenced him with a stony glare. Then, slowly, I turned to Mr. Brandon. "And before you, Sir, take comfort in my pronouncements, I would like you to ask yourself whether or not you might have been in any manner disrespectful to your superior officer, to a man whom has gone out of his way to be exceptionally helpful to you in the past and whom is widely admired by all on board this ship!"
He made no move to answer, and cast his eyes downward.
"Very good. Now that both of you can fully understand that you are in the wrong in this circumstance, I must tell you it has been left to me to correct it."
"From this point on, any unprofessional behavior between the two of you will cease. Mr. Hornblower, you will assign the same problems to all midshipmen, you will explain them all thoroughly and you will not single any one man out for abuse in your class. And Mr. Brandon, you will at all times conduct yourself around Mr. Hornblower in the same manner you would be expected to show to the Captain or myself. You will follow any order he gives you as your superior without question. However," I paused, "On medical matters, Mr. Brandon will still have final say. Your status on returning to duty, Mr. Hornblower, will rest with Mr. Brandon, and you are not in any way to attempt to bully him into changing his opinion."
I cleared my throat and looked from one to the other; Drew looked miserable; Horatio had retreated into a stony façade that could not have more mimicked the Captain if he tried.
"Gentlemen, I would hate to be forced to take any FURTHER ACTION. And I doubt very much whether either of you would like that, either. Do you take my meaning?"
"Yes, Sir." Drew said quietly.
With a slow nod, Horatio echoed him. "Yes, indeed, Sir."
I looked at each of them, and tilted my head. "I must add one thing, gentlemen. I returned to this ship this morning in the highest of spirits, for I have just learned I am to be a father. I must congratulate both of you on somehow managing to thoroughly ruin my mood, not to mention making me pray fervently for a daughter! Mr. Brandon, you are dismissed!" I said, tersely.
And blinking, face red with shame and embarrassment, he quickly took flight for refuge in the sick berth.
Horatio looked at me like a fish out of water, totally discomfited and uncertain what to say next. Once I had heard Mr. Brandon's footsteps echo far enough away, I turned my attention back to him.
"Horatio, I know you are most frustrated by the forced inactivity of your injury. But that is no excuse for your treatment of Mr. Brandon, even if he has occasionally gotten a bit above himself. You should have spoken with me about it, and that would have been handled. But to bait a man so mercilessly who cannot fight back-for you are well aware that as a Midshipman he is subject to punishments far harsher than a Lieutenant ever could be-is nothing but cruelty. I am surprised at you. I am less than six months away from handing the position of first Lieutenant over to you, and I must now question myself whether or not you can handle the power, Sir. And power it is, for as a first Lieutenant you hold the happiness of all the Midshipmen in your hands. Or have you forgotten what it was like to be a Midshipman on Lieutenant Eccleston's watch?"
THAT shot home; I had not served with Eccleston long, but I know that Horatio and Archie both had suffered miserably while Eccleston had been too self-absorbed to see why. I could see the pain in his eyes as he admitted the truth to himself. And sighing, I made my way to leave.
"Take your time to think on it, Horatio. I know you are capable of far better leadership than this."
And I returned above decks, my head pounding but in no desire to return to the sick berth for comfort. I was certain what I would find there would only upset me more.
Five days later, well on our way with the squadron towards Madeira, I found myself sitting at dinner with the Captain and the other officers, wondering what the devil to do about them both still.
Not to say that they had disobeyed my orders, or given me any cause to need to discipline them further. Oh, no, they were both total professionals now. Mr. Hornblower sets fair, comprehensible problems for the young man, and offers help if he his not quick of understanding them. That it is offered indifferently, with out the gentle consideration and friendliness that he used to use, is hard to quantify.
And Mr. Brandon behaves towards him with utter subjugation. How does one explain, then, that he no longer laughs above decks, that the spark of mirth in his eyes disappears in a superior officer's presence? That he no longer speaks his mind, no longer offers suggestions like he used to, ones that were often as keen as they were outrageous?
This evening was no exception to their generally stultifying existence.
The chicken went round.
"Mr. Brandon?" Horatio handed it to him.
"Thank you, Sir." He said politely, not looking him in the eye.
"Mr. Hornblower, how is your recuperation coming along?" The Captain asked, purposely skirting dangerous grounds.
"It is well, thank you. Mr. Brandon says I will be able to resume my normal duties by Monday."
And Brandon continued: "Yes, Sir. There have been no complications."
Bowles tried. "Gentlemen, what think you of the situation in Madeira? Shall the crown decide to take it over, do you think?"
A spirited debate was enjoined by Mr. Cousins, Mr. Bowles, and Captain Forbes. I tried to bring Horatio into the discussion, but he would not take the bait:
"Mr. Bracegirdle, I must say, it seems precipitous to worry about that. With so much trade being attempted by the Spanish and French to occupy us, we had all best concentrate on them."
Captain Forbes, perhaps the least aware of the strain of those present, turned to Drew. "What is your opinion, Mr. Brandon?"
Drew sipped from his cider in the momentary pause, and chose his words carefully. "Oh, as ship's doctor, Sir, I am not qualified to concern myself with such problems. But should any of the men fall ill while we are in port in Madeira, I am well prepared to care for them."
I drifted off in memory to a different conversation, just a year ago, when Horatio first had disappeared, and we had learned that some of our men were imprisoned, but did not know who had lived and who had died, or how to get them back:
Mr. Cousins had asked the question. "Sir, certainly Mr. Hornblower will attempt an escape? Might we find him then?"
The Captain, deeply affected, responded, "That would be providential. However, I don't believe Mr. Hornblower would attempt an escape unless he was certain of its success."
And I, with my usual sense of pessimism, was forced to state the worst. "Sir, I hate to say this, but we are assuming that Mr. Hornblower is alive."
Pellew had looked right at me. "Yes, Mr. Bracegirdle, it does bear pointing out that if Mr. Hornblower perished in surrendering Le Reve, I place much less likelihood on a successful escape attempt."
And unbidden but without pause, Brandon, at the time the youngest Midshipman, whom by rights ought to say the least, spoke in soft but certain tones. "He survived, Captain."
We had all turned to him, and he blushed, but would not be contained from a point he had realized, and thought important to contribute: "If he had been killed on Le Reve, what do any of us think the chance was of Mr. Hunter surrendering without losing the entire crew in the fight?"
He had been right, of course. And that was what we were used to from Drew. Though not impertinent, he seldom shied from giving an opinion, even if it differed from the general consensus. You could count on him for that.
THIS evening? The overall tone of civility was so mind-numbing, the Captain did not even suggest a game of whist after dinner! Normally such a game would have seen me joined with him, Brandon and Hornblower. But this night, if we tried it, there would be no joyful banter; only quiet, expected bids, kind compliments, and cautious play. It would have cut us both to the quick.
Everyone made to retire for the night, and Captain Pellew called to me.
"Mr. Bracegirdle, if you would not mind staying behind ."
I caught a glimpse of Brandon's face, and the fear on it, as I did so. I did not like to see him afraid on board Indefatigable. It was wrong. And really, there was no reason for him to be frightened. They have obeyed my command to the letter. And I cannot order two men to be friends.
The pain in Pellew's face hurt me. "This is the best, I suppose, we can hope for." He said, in tired resignation.
"I am sorry, Sir. I blame myself."
He shook his head. "The situation was ripe for this. Mr. Brandon is neither one thing nor the other, and it becomes difficult to know how to treat him. If I had the freedom to appoint him officially as ship's physician, there would have been no trouble. He would essentially be an equal to Hornblower, would report to me, and Horatio would never have chaffed so vocally at his orders for recovery."
No, that was not right. "You are too generous, Sir, in taking the blame. I feel this is again another failure on my part in the handling of the men."
He looked up at me sharply. "How do you mean ANOTHER failure, Sir? When have you ever failed me before?"
I blushed. "Cousins, the day you were shot, when Hammond nearly ordered the boy beaten to death. Brandon, when I commended his services as physician, almost resulting in getting him pitched out of the Navy. Wheeler, on board Sophia...I still do not understand what you saw in him for such concern. Failures, all. And this, the result of my trying to correct the shortcomings that lead to the other three."
Pellew gave me a grave smile. "Lieutenant Bracegirdle, you are far too hard on yourself. Cousins was subject to Hammond's wrath because I managed to get myself shot, by a man I had become complacent around. You can hardly be faulted for either your concern on my behalf, or blamed for Hammond's idiocy. And Brandon's exile was a direct result of my not having the foresight to explain to you the reason for his unusual status. Both can be said to be as much of my fault as yours."
"I am serious, Mr. Bracegirdle, and what is more, I do not think either man in question ever thought to blame you for their circumstances. If you had been the unfeeling, unseeing man you portray yourself to be, neither of them could ever have forgiven you." He paused, pouring us both glasses of port. "Mr. Wheeler is a different circumstance." He looked with great sadness into the depths of the wine before continuing. "I pray for that boy, Anthony..." He whispered, in a rare breach of formality. "You were not on Dunbarton to see the carnage, and YOU did not discover Captain Strong's private diary in his desk. After I did, I particularly regretted that he committed suicide. I should have liked to have hanged him myself."
"Sir?" I queried, totally shocked at hearing him speak so about any Captain, even Strong.
He would not look at me. "The man, Sir, made Midshipman Jack Simpson seem like a novice. Strong was...a predator, Sir. And the boys were his prey."
"Dear God!" I whispered, catching his meaning. "Poor child!"
"Yes, not many would have seen the damage in Wheeler; he was so stoic, so serious, so conscientious. But I knew, you see, what must have been festering inside."
Whistling, I thought of them now, for they must just be reaching England, tomorrow if not today. And I thought of something else. "Kennedy! So that is why..."
"Yes, THAT is why. If anybody can save that boy, it will be him. I have faith in his recognition of a young man in need of help."
We sat in silence for some moments, and I wished I had spoken of these things with him before I had ventured on my new-improved-Anthony Bracegirdle journey.
"Poor Mr. Kennedy, when he returns, to find Drew and Horatio in such a state." I said quietly.
"I rather wish he were here now, though I know he is needed on Sophia. For had he been here, he could have laughed Horatio out of his foul mood, and gently reigned Drew in from any untoward behavior. I had not quite realized what an important asset he is to the general mood on board ship. Horatio and Drew are both so damned stubborn!"
And despite myself, I laughed.
"I do not see what is funny, Mr. Bracegirdle!" Pellew spat out.
"Sir, do forgive me for what I am about to say; but I know you consider both of them as you would sons; it would seem that somehow, despite no natural connection to you, they have inherited many of your traits!"
His face screwed up in a wry grimace. "Yes, they both have my stubbornness; Horatio has my stoic temperament and Drew my sarcastic one! Upon thinking it over, it is rather a miracle they have not killed each other before now!"
Pellew looked at me. "What of it, Mr. Bracegirdle? Should it help if I spoke to them?"
Unwillingly I shook my head. "I think it would mortify them both to know they had hurt you, Sir, and might just make them angrier at each other. No, I think time will heal this, or perhaps an extraordinary occurrence that should bring them together." I frowned. "If worse came to worse, we could always lock them in the hold until they have it out!"
With raised eyebrows, the Captain looked as though he considered it for a moment, then sighed. "It would never be that easy, Sir."
"No, no of course not."
But wheels were spinning in my mind.
The little idea that began growing in my mind since that night in Pellew's cabin had finally been polished into a positive gemstone. But it would take some finesse to work it through, and nervously I entered Pellew's cabin to try and start it in motion. He had summoned ME, but as we will be in Madeira tomorrow, I know now is my moment to try and pull this off.
"Ah, Lieutenant Bracegirdle. Excellent timing, as always, Sir. I will be calling on Mr. Hornblower shortly, but I wished to speak with you about my orders." He frowned hard, so I knew whatever they were, they were not palatable to him.
And seized by sudden angst, I could not stop myself. "Not another Muzillac, Sir?" I gasped.
He raised his eyebrows, and let his mouth twitch ever so slightly. "Hardly, Mr. Bracegirdle, though I do not find this mission particularly tasteful, and am rather vexed that you can read me so thoroughly. The sooner you are off my ship, Sir, with a command of your own, the better of for my ego, I say!"
I grinned at him. I was better than most at knowing when the Captain was making a joke, especially when it was at Horatio's expense. I did not mind being subject myself to the occasional barb.
Scowling openly at his orders, now, he crossed his arms in front of him. "The admiral, blast him, wants me to..."
"I believe, Sir, he requests and requires you to..." I deadpanned.
Eyes wide, he agreed. "But of course, that is what I said, he REQUESTS and REQUIRES me to present myself to the home of one Senor Juan Carlos de Echevarria, Portugal's governor adjunct, or whatever they go about calling it, to the Island of Madeira. I am REQUESTED and REQUIRED to impress Juan Carlos with my stunning knowledge of English capabilities, and lay the groundwork for a future alliance with him, so that we might, at one point, lay claim to the Ports of Madeira for his majesty and thereby deprive the French, and Spanish, of a pivotal resting point on their transatlantic shipping routes. It is expected, in fact, that I might make myself agreeable to Juan Carlos for the period of one week."
This was just too ideal, for my purposes. "And what, Sir, shall the Indefatigable do while you are making yourself agreeable to Juan Carlos?"
"Why, the Indefatigable shall remain here, an appropriate time, the Admiral suggested, to stock up on tropical fruits."
"And tropical diseases," I groaned. "I can see I shall have to keep the men working double time to keep them from the natives, and the wine. What of the rest of the squadron?"
"The rest of the squadron? Captain Clark, on board Dunbarton, is to lead them on our usual circuitous travels to continue disrupting any trade with our enemies."
"I see, Sir." I paused, then decided to lay the groundwork for my plan.
"You said you were to call up Mr. Hornblower to brief him next. Might that be because you were intending on bringing him with you?"
"I certainly did not plan on enduring my misfortune alone, Sir. And Mr. Hornblower does speak French, which will be useful, unless Juan Carlos does not, in which case it may well be the longest week, with the least said, ever in the history of British negotiations."
Time to lay it on the line, Anthony. "Mr. Cousins speaks French as well, I believe."
Pellew looked surprised. "Yes, he does."
"And he is handy with a pistol, as we have all seen."
"To be sure. But I would hope never to let my guard down so badly as I did the last time we saw him use it."
"I know, Sir, but it never hurts to be prepared. And if you are going to make him an acting Lieutenant in the near future, the lessons he might learn could be invaluable."
"Am I to understand, Sir, that you do not think I should take Mr. Hornblower with me?" He said, now intrigued.
"Yes, Sir. I confess I had him in mind for other duties that I would not care to elaborate on."
"And I do believe I shall have Mr. Brandon assist him with those duties."
Again, there was that slight twitch in his mouth. "They have been behaving most professionally, Mr. Bracegirdle. They have given us no cause for further action."
And tired of the charade, I sighed. "Damned their *professional* behavior, Sir! I want them back the way they used to be, no more of this stiff, formal, 'Yes, Sir, Mr. Hornblower,' or 'As you wish, Mr. Brandon.' I miss the way things used to be."
His eyes softened. "As do I, Sir. Would you care to share your plan?"
Inhaling, I shook my head. "I would not, Sir. I am the one who got us into this mess, and I would like very much to get us out of it."
He arched his eyebrows, but nodded in resignation.
And exhaling in relief, I added the last. "I might, however, need some money."
Opening a drawer, he procured a bag of coins for me without question. "Well, I did give you a free hand, Mr. Bracegirdle. And who knows when in your future this lesson may prove helpful to you. I leave you in command." He sighed. "Now, then, do send Mr. Cousins up to me, will you? So that I may get him working on his ulcer as soon as possible."
I chuckled again. "Of course, Sir. And I thank you, Sir, for your trust."
He met my eye. "In all my years at sea, Mr. Bracegirdle, there has been only one man I have ever trusted more. I thank YOU for all of your service on the Indefatigable."
Swelling with pride, I thanked him for the complement, and then quickly left.
I found Mr. Cousins on the Quarterdeck offering advice to Mr. Holloway, and, playing Pellew, I strode up behind him.
"MR. COUSINS." I said, abruptly and in a rather loud voice.
He jumped about two feet in the air.
"Yes, Sir, Mr. Bracegirdle." He said, well startled now.
"The Captain, Sir," I said, forcefully. "Wishes to see you in his cabin. AT ONCE." I added, in a deep baritone fraught with meaning.
He went gray for no good reason, and barely acknowledged the order before running off to the Captain's cabin. And I smiled widely behind his back. He would be so relieved NOT to find Pellew angry at him that he will be positively thrilled at the idea of a little jaunt to see Juan Carlos, or whatever his name is.
Now, on to Horatio and Drew!
Now well settled at anchor, the Captain has been making his preparations to head to Echavarria's estate on the island. Mr. Cousins, nervous with anticipation, stood waiting to be told to enter the Captain's barge. I walked by him, and heard him muttering to himself...
"Bonjour, Monsieur De Echeverria. C'est mon plaisir...no, no, that's not right...Je voudrai de presenter...is that it? Damn!"
"Are you expecting him to answer you from land, Mr. Cousins?"
The young man, just recently turned eighteen, jumped. "Huh? Oh, no, Sir, I, uh...the Captain is counting on my being responsible for translation and I am trying to remember the right words..."
"At ease, young man. I am certain the Captain will be well pleased with whatever you remember, as he has little language skills himself. He is at your mercy, Mr. Cousins!"
He relaxed a bit, but not much. "Mr. Hornblower says I will be fine once Echavarria starts speaking to me; then everything will come back to me."
"Of course it will. What could go wrong?" And just as he sighed, I added, "So long as you do not start a war with Portugal..."
Before he could recover from my little jest a great voice boomed out. "Today, if you please, Mr. Cousins. I do not know what sort of a man Echaverria is and it would be best if YOU do not keep him waiting."
"Aye, Aye, Sir..." he responded, heading forward but giving me one backward glance in alarm. I smiled back at him in encouragement. He is a bright young man and he will be fine. He is just unused to the attention.
Horatio came up beside me, finally walking with no limp. I wondered if he had been surprised by the choice of Cousins to travel with Pellew? I would have, had I been in his shoes. But his face was impassive as the boat was lowered.
"Have you any plans for keeping the men occupied while we await the Captain's return, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
"Yes, yes, I do." I said, with no intention of being more forthcoming. "But first I must plan a trip into port myself, to see what supplies are available. I will go in this afternoon. In the meantime..." I looked at him innocently, "It would be best if we behaved just as though we were at anchor in Gibraltar."
He was thoroughly puzzled. "Aye, Aye, Sir."
"Check with Cook to see if he has any special requirements, and prepare a list for me. And then do the same thing with Mr. Brandon, see if there is anything on this island they might need for sick berth."
I was curious to see how he responded to that, but he did not even flinch. "Aye, Aye, Sir, I will get right on it." And looking every inch the perfect Lieutenant, he headed off to do my bidding.
A few minutes after he disappeared, I headed down to sick berth and hid myself in the shadows nearby, hoping not to have some well intentioned loblolly boy notice me!
None did, however, and about ten minutes later, Mr. Hornblower, no doubt returned from cook, arrived to speak with Mr. Brandon.
"Mr. Brandon." He said without emotion.
Drew looked up from his studies and then quickly rose. "Yes, Sir?"
"We have set anchor in Madeira, as you no doubt are well aware."
Brandon flushed. "I guess THAT would be why the ship has stopped then!" He muttered, voice dripping with sarcasm. As an after-thought, he added a "SIR!" the tone of which would have made Mr. Hunter proud. Horatio crossed his arms in front of him, and took two steps forward, so that he practically towered over the boy.
"Did you say something, Mr. Brandon? I did not catch it." His eyes were forceful.
I thought for a moment Drew might actually repeat himself, but fortunately he thought better of it. "I had noted that were at anchor, Sir." There was still a hint of exasperation behind his tone, but no more.
Horatio gave him another look designed to quell any further outburst, in any event. Then he continued on. "Mr. Bracegirdle requests a list of any supplies you feel you might need from the island."
"Medical supplies, Sir?"
"Of course." Horatio said, with his own patience wearing thin.
Drew set his shoulders, and they stared at each other for a few seconds, then he grabbed a scrap of paper and his pen. He chewed on his lip for a moment, then wrote a few things out. "That is all I think we are in need of, Sir."
Horatio arched his brow. "Do you not KNOW what you are in short supply of, Mr. Brandon?"
Standing to attention, Drew did not back down. "Yes, Sir. Of course, Sir."
"Good. Then I expect it is on this list." Horatio nodded to him. "Back to your studies, Mr. Brandon."
"Aye, Aye, Sir." There was no mistaking the sullen tone of his voice now, but Horatio did not seem to hear it. Perhaps he did not wish to.
He also was gone before he could see what happened next. I did. After he strode out of the berth, Drew put his head in his hands for a moment-I could see his shoulders shaking in anger-and then he picked up his ink-pot and flung it, with all of his might, against the wall, where it crashed, black ink oozing down to the flooring.
Instantly he regretted it, I could tell, and his eyes welled with tears which he tried to blink away. He looked angry at himself this time. "Damn, what the hell was I thinking!" He sighed, then grabbed the mop and pail and began to clean up his mess, scrubbing furiously at the literal black mark in his otherwise impeccable confines.
I was not pleased. Horatio had not been charitable, to say the least, and Drew hat started out frankly insubordinate. And his outburst! Although I understood his frustration, if it had occurred even a few moments earlier, when his commanding officer was present, the consequences would have been harsh. Well, let them stew in their stubborn silence while they could...it would not be much longer now.
I just needed to find the opportunity to put my plan into effect. It was in search of that opportunity that I would be heading into port this afternoon.
Having sent Mr. McGill in search of the listed supplies, I spent a fruitless hour chatting with other officers, British, Portuguese and American, from ships in Port. Sadly, my communications with the foreign officers were limited, thanks to my own language difficulties. However, as I have found previously, the Americans were more than willing to chat, especially as at this particular moment in time, we are not fighting each other.
This is how I found myself in a local...um, well, I guess it was a tavern of sorts, enjoying some kind of wine with fruit steeping in it. Sangria. Tasty, although I could see that the over indulgence of this might result in a rather nasty headache.
I was commiserating with a Captain Franklin, a privateer formerly of the sloop Independence. Formerly, because she was run aground by some of the small uninhabited islands that form a part of the Madeira chain.
"Lieutenant, my men and I were fortunate, not only to get away, but that we were then able to get back and at least sell of most of our cargo. Another five pounds and I will have enough to repair her and pay off my men, and get her moving again. But I cannot find a taker for anything else on her."
"Terrible bad luck. What were you transporting?"
"Mainly livestock...I should probably not tell you this, but we were trying to smuggle it into the French. They have had no luck getting their own supply ships."
"As I am well aware. However, since you failed, I see no need to ever make mention of your mission again." I sipped delicately. "So all of the livestock were sold?"
"Sold, butchered, and eaten by now. What I am left with, unfortunately, seems to be of no value on Madeira. A large quantity of American cotton, which, with no mills on this island, is all but worthless."
I frowned. It had no worth that I could justify either, for it is not as though we are heading right back to England, and Gibraltar would be singularly ill-equipped to do anything with raw cotton.
But Franklin continued. "Unless, of course, I can interest you in a large quantity of Pumpkins!"
"I...what did you say?"
His eyes twinkled at me. "I am sorry, forgot myself. VEGETABLE MARROWS, Sir. Had been using them to feed the livestock, but they were so damn sea-sick that barely a third of our supply is gone. Now I have about a thousand of the blasted things rotting in her hold."
My face lit up. A miracle, this was! "Not rotting, surely; they're fairly durable?"
"Well, there not rotting yet, I grant you; but they will be before I can get my ship repaired."
I pulled out the bag of coins and held it before him. "Captain Franklin, I have a bargain to make with you, Sir! But.." I paused. "I must ask for you to accept my unusual terms..."
He sat back, looking at me as if I were insane. Indeed, by the time I explained myself, no doubt he would be certain that I was!
The next dawn found me in high spirits, above decks, handing out some rather hefty work assignments all around.
There was much to be done, and a crew to keep going, away from trouble. The most likely to be difficult on land were assigned to a complete scrubbing, repainting, and recanvasing of Indefatigable, under the watchful eyes of Mr. Holloway, to be relieved by Mr. Anderson. Bowlsie, of course, oversaw the entire proceedings.
Most of the Marines and the rest of the men, under Forbes and Mr. McGill, would be taking out all of our boats, save the smallest. Half of them would be taken over to the stranded ship Independence, AND LEFT THERE. Forbes was to good a Marine to question the request, and McGill was not bright enough a midshipman to do so!
Once they had the boats secured, I was essentially sending them on a fool's errand...they were to proceed to chart and investigate one of the uninhabited islands near the ship. At sundown...set to happen rather late today...they were to return to Independence, and such boats that were ready were to be sailed back to the Indy.
"Ready? Ready how, Sir?" Forbes said.
"They will be loaded with supplies. I would expect them to be rather heavier, you will need your strongest backs for them, may even need to rig up the sails. Upon your return, I am afraid that we must unload them, but with the full crew it should take a short time."
"But how will they get loaded, Sir?" He asked, puzzling over this.
I wished that it were McGill doing the asking, but he seemed supremely disinterested! With such little care into the day-to-day operations of a ship, he will never be more than a second-rate master.
"Leave that to me, Forbes." I said, with a smile. "Now, get your men going, if you will."
"Aye, Aye, Sir."
It was an hour later when Horatio sought me out.
"Lieutenant Bracegirdle?" The confusion was unmistakable.
"Ah, impeccable timing, Mr. Hornblower."
"Yes, Sir...I see there has been much activity already this morning...I am surprised you didn't call for me earlier."
"It was not your time yet, Mr. Hornblower." I said, hands behind my back, waiting.
"Where are all the boats going, Sir?"
"Here and there."
He sensed I was not to be forthcoming with any additional information until I was damn well ready. So he stood stoically next to me, in the naval pose of officers everywhere, trying to look like he wasn't damn curious about it all. I fought down a smile.
But his wait was short, for I had already sent Styles to fetch me Mr. Brandon, and he arrived to report to me promptly.
"Mr. Bracegirdle. Mr. Hornblower." He said, in much the same tone Horatio had used earlier. "You sent for me, Sir. Are you unwell?" His forehead creased.
With a grin, I responded. "Not at all, never better, thank you. In fact, Mr. Brandon, you are needed as a midshipman this day, and not a doctor."
"I am willing to assist in any way I can, Sir." But I could sense his uneasiness growing; he was acutely aware of Horatio next to him.
"Mm. Gentlemen, this is a mission for the two of you. A very unusual one."
Drew stared straight ahead, unblinking. Horatio cast him a quick sideways glance. "Unusual in what way, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
I handed him the glass. "Look to the south east, if you will. I believe you can just make out masts of a grounded ship if you do so."
With patience, he scoured the horizon. "Yes, I see her, Sir." He looked down to Brandon, and then handed him the glass. It took him a bit longer, especially as Horatio would not offer him any guidance in how to use it. But at last he nodded, and handing the glass back to me, waited.
"She is carrying a cargo of vegetable marrow's, or Pumpkins, as the Americans so quaintly call them. I have sent the men over to secure several of our larger boats so that we may load them for transport to the Indefatigable."
They were not getting it. "Where do we come in, Sir?" Drew asked innocently.
"You are to take that boat..." I pointed, "together, row over to Independence, and take care of loading the Pumpkins."
Horatio looked around at the deck, which was almost empty save for those men furiously scrubbing under Holloway's command. "Which men shall we bring with us, Sir?"
Now was the time. "Men? I did not say you and Mr. Brandon were to OVERSEE the loading of the marrows, I said you were to take care of it. Yourselves. Together."
Horatio's eyes were so wide they could see the whites of them back in Gibraltar, I am certain. But it was Drew who found his voice first. "SIR? How many vegetable marrows are we talking about?" His jaw was down around his ankles.
It would soon be lower. "Somewhere in the vicinity of a thousand, I believe." I said, with no inconsiderable cheer.
That stunned the speech from Horatio, alright. "Sir! That is impossible. Two men alone cannot possibly handle such a task."
I did not answer, just looked at him.
Trying, desperately, to get me to see reason, he added, "And how on earth are we to get them back to the Indy? Drew and I cannot row a boat full of marrows back here?"
"Ah! Some of the men will be by this evening to take care of that feat for you, at which point Mr. McGill will hand you further orders. I have taken the liberty of throwing some provisions in the boat for you. Now, I would like to see you on your way within ten minutes if you please."
I turned to move away, but Drew called to me with a plaintive, "SIR?"
I turned back to them, a man of iron will. "Gentlemen, you have gone quite a way towards impressing all of us this past week or so of your inability to work with others. Since you work so well on your own, I do not believe you to need any assistance. You will handle this task. Or you will answer to me for it. Good luck, Sirs."
And I hurried into Pellew's cabin, so that I might not smile within their vision.
Fifteen minutes later, I was back outside, watching the two of them rowing towards their penance. Bowles was beside me. "I hope they do not kill each other, Tony."
I shook my head. "At heart they are quite fond of each other, Bowlsie. They will resign themselves to working together, and by the time they are done, they will be fast friends once more. Of course, they may never speak again to ME, but it is a price I am willing to pay."
"The four boats they will be filling cannot possibly hold all the marrows."
"They will realize that. Not that they are likely to be able to do more than fill the four in one day, anyway. Those marrows are all the way down in the hold, and they will take no considerable amount of effort just to get them up to the deck."
"Mmm. So then what?"
I grinned. "Wait and see!"
On board Independence:
POV Mr. Hornblower:
Our row out to the stranded ship was made in what I could best describe as complete, stony silence. I spoke twice, both times to assist Mr. Brandon with his share of the rowing. It was something he had never had to do for himself before, and I could well imagine the blisters he'd have. Not that I was going to fare much better; it had been a long time since I'd been forced to handle an oar myself.
I suppose we'd gotten ourselves into this. I have not been pleasant to be around, to be certain, but Drew has been equally insolent to me. I thought since we'd been able to project a semi-professional image, we would escape Bracegirdle's further ire. Not so. He is far more astute than I gave him credit for. And, of course, now that I think of it, it is certain that our behavior did not escape Captain Pellew's notice, either, and it probably caused him pain. Somehow that makes me feel lower than anything else I've thought of on this sorry trip.
"Left, Mr. Brandon, Left...steer it up to the ladder, for god's sake..." I said, a bit more harshly than I intended, for I was now angry at myself, and that came through in my voice.
Drew's face flushed. "I am trying...Sir." And, of course, he WAS trying. His best, and I cannot ask for more. Nor did I mean to. But that was not how he was interpreting it. In fact, he actually looked a little scared of me, which was even more sobering than realizing I'd hurt the Captain.
We secured the boat by the ladder, and I held us steady, motioning to him to head up first. I followed, neither of us particularly graceful in the endeavor. Physical feats are not our strong point.
For some reason, as I swung my legs over her side, I had an image of myself on Papillon, stepping into a pile of buckets, and only the fact that I was a fairly fast shot kept me from getting blown to pieces. I smiled grimly, then looked around at our prison.
Drew, wiping his hands off on his trousers, also looked around. "I suppose they are in the hold, Sir."
"That would be where cargo is usually kept." I snapped, and regretted the outburst instantly. I looked over the side, and saw the four boats waiting for their treasure.
Drew joined me, and did not look pleased. "They'll never hold a thousand, Sir."
"Just as well. We'll never finish a thousand." I looked up at the scorching sun. "Do we have enough water?"
"A full cask, Bracegirdle sent us over with. Not too green. Sir."
I mopped at my forehead. "Well, I suppose this would work best in two parts. Get the damned things up to the deck, and then rig a tackle up and get them to the boat."
He met my eye in shock. Then anger. "Aye, Aye, Sir."
I stared at him, surprised by resentfulness of his tone. And he was not done yet.
"Where..." He asked, through clenched teeth, "Will you be stationed while I am doing all of the work, *Sir*?"
I realized then how what I'd said had sounded. "That was not an order for you to do the work, Mr. Brandon. I do not expect you to carry this out yourself."
"An officer helping a useless midshipman? Should you sully your hands in such a way...Sir?"
I counted to ten, else I might have actually struck him, which would have been unconscionable. Instead, I tossed off my jacket to the side and walked past him, headed to the hatch. "Enough. Let's see how bad this will be."
Fifteen minutes later we had our answer: very, very, very bad.
The damned things were in the very belly of the ship...which still smelled very much like the cattle barge it apparently had been. Down several staircases, two hatchways and around the largest lot of cotton I had ever seen. "Careful with the lantern around that stuff." I murmured to him.
"Yes, Sir." No resentment, just resignation. "This is not good, Sir."
"No, it is not." I undid my neck-kerchief and the top of my shirt.
Drew continued timidly. "I had hoped we might be able to rig a tackle to get them up to the deck, also. Sir."
I smiled grimly. "I had the same thought myself. We cannot, however. And there are only two of us, so using a line and passing them off will not work."
"Not for long, anyway. Sir."
I did not know what was more depressing, the thought of him ending every one of his blasted sentences with 'sir' or the thought of carrying these stupid things, one at a time, around the cotton, up the stairs, through the hatchways and then up to the deck. "Well, we've dawdled enough. We better just get started, unless we want Bracegirdle to have our hides." I picked one of the orange beasts up. Heavy thing.
Drew, no longer angry, looked more miserable than I'd seen him since he thought he was being removed from service as he followed suit. "With all due respect, Sir, Mr. Bracegirdle cannot have YOUR hide."
Point well taken. It is against regulations for a Captain to order a physical punishment to a Lieutenant, hanging excepted. Theoretically he could have Drew beaten black and blue. Whereas I could only lose my commission or be put on watch and watch for eternity. Which would be appealing only from Drew's perspective.
We started on our mission, but soon encountered many difficulties. It was hard for Drew to hold the marrow and the lantern; without the lantern, our way was pitch black and we should never find our way out. It took us fifteen minutes to get our two measly marrows to the ladder up to the main hatchway.
"Hell!" I screamed. Drew shrank back from me. And I did something I have not done since the day I found out my mother was dead...I threw a full blown tantrum.
Most people would not believe I have a temper. I can be acerbic and cunningly vengeful-Mr. Brandon can testify to both--but few have ever seen me angry. The truth is that I have a long fuse, but when it finally blows, it is not pretty. The day someone finally told me my mother had died (I was just recovered from a fever myself) I charged out of the house and to the stables, where I threw everything that could be thrown, and kicked everything that could be kicked. My father was in his surgery, where he had boarded himself up since her death, nearly insensible with grief. So my Aunt's husband was sent to deal with me. Which he did by literally picking me up and throwing me halfway across the barn. The he stood over me, yelling for what seemed an eternity, about how I was too old to behave in such a childish manner, and did I think this was what my father needed? No, it was well time for me to grow up now and accept responsibility for my actions! He was always a sympathetic man!
The same rage I'd felt that day boiled over in my breast today. In truth it had been a long time building; since Muzillac, since before Muzillac when I learned that the girl I'd loved back home had died miserably. When I was a child, my target had been the bales of hay; here they were bales of cotton, which I attacked with a vicious relish, cursing in a way few have heard me do. I pounded them, threw them, and screamed all the while, a good ten minutes. Until, spent with exhaustion, I backed away, and then set up to give a nearby bale one last good kick...
"Mr. Hornblower! No!" Drew cried.
...with my bad leg, stupid me. "Arrrrghhh!" I fell to the ground, grabbing my knee.
He was beside me in a flash, grabbing for my leg, rolling my trouser up to expose the knee, and feeling it, bending it gently.
"Damn." I grunted, pounding at the floor.
"Easy, Sir." He said, with more calm that I could believe. He continued flexing my leg.
"Well? Aren't you going to yell at me, Doctor Brandon?" I spat out, frustration again overcoming my better intentions.
"You've yelled enough for the both of us in the last ten minutes. Sir." He looked about him for something, then stood up. "I will be right back. Sir."
I laid my head back on the deck. How had I gotten into this? Two weeks ago I was an officer with a promising future, and now I was crippled and about to abysmally fail an order from a superior officer.
Drew was back with a bit of sack he'd torn into strips, and two flat pieces of wood. "It doesn't seem you've done much damage, Sir. I am going to splint your leg to keep your knee from bending, or hyper-extending at all, but you will be fine."
I shook my head. "You cannot splint my leg, Mr. Brandon. How will we ever get our work done?"
He shook his head. "I do not know, Sir. But I would rather report back with a complete failure of obtaining vegetable marrows, than report that you have been crippled for life. Whatever Mr. Bracegirdle does to us." He added with a sigh, as he worked on my knee gently.
Oh, God...how I have failed him! But I could not, in my self recriminations, voice my regret. I was still a Lieutenant in the Navy...for now, anyway, and it would look very bad for me to suddenly burst into tears for hours. Which is what happened after the last tantrum, not entirely due to my uncle's ample inducements.
It was as he was finishing tying up the splint, and I was staring upwards at the patch of daylight in despair, that I got the idea. Not terribly brilliant, but it would save a world of work.
"Drew..." I said. "We could rig a tackle from here to get the marrows up above."
He looked up at me startled, though I didn't realize why. "That would work, if the marrows WERE here."
"We could roll them here."
"Around the cotton?"
I thought about it. "No, Drew. We'll move the cotton up and out of the way with the tackle first."
He thought it over. "That deck will get pretty crowded."
"We'll toss them over." He looked shocked at my imprudence. "Well, after all, Bracegirdle didn't mention that we had to transport the cotton, did he? We are only obeying our orders."
Drew almost smiled. Almost. Then, with a sigh, he got up. "I've never rigged a tackle before. You'll have to show me how."
I told him what we'd need to do even as he extended his hand
to help me up. I was so happy that he'd stopped ending every damned
sentence with Sir, I did not even mind accepting the help.
It was two and a half hours for us to clear all the cotton. Drew, always slight, looked worn out, for he was bearing the brunt of the work; I did as much as I could, but every time I would attempt to do too much, he would shoot me such a withering look I soon backed down. Looking over towards the sack of food we'd been sent with, I gave my only command of the day. "We shall take a break, Mr. Brandon." I said with authority. "I need one." I added. Not true; but HE did; if I phrased it like that, though, he'd balk sure enough.
"Aye, aye, Sir." He answered crisply, but he moved slowly over to our provisions.
Meanwhile, I rigged up a sail for shade, hobbling around deck as best as I could. Soon, we were seated together beneath it, munching on biscuit and some dried beef that was so tough our speech was extremely limited. But even after we finished eating, we sat in silence for a few moments. Drew needed the rest badly.
Finally, gazing up at the sky, he looked at me. "Think it's about one, Sir?"
"And sundown is around seven this evening, that's when the boats are coming. If we spend three hours getting as many marrows up to the deck as we can, and then another three dropping them into the boats...well, it will be something, anyway, Sir."
I shrugged, getting up gingerly. "It will be the best we can do, in any event. Let us return to our duties, then, Mr. Brandon."
"Aye, aye, Sir."
Seven O'clock was both too long in coming and too soon here. But we had three and a half boats filled, though that damned hold still had a far sight to many of the things to make me happy. And I saw the Indy's crews approaching; the remaining boats filled with men to be divided up on our barges so our labor could be towed away.
McGill would have orders for us, Bracegirdle had said. What they could be, I could only guess.
Picking his coat up, Drew shuffled over next to me, face blank. I could feel his fear, for in essence though we had done the best we could, we had failed our orders. Lieutenant Bracegirdle would be well within his rights to see us both punished. I could not look at Drew, but addressed him. "This is my fault, Mr. Brandon. I will take all responsibility for our failure."
He shook his head. "We are in this together, Sir."
Under McGill's guidance, the boats were bound together, to be towed. More sensible that way, I suppose.
McGill came up the side, looking at us with complete lack of interest or compassion, or even mirth, for God's sake. "Mr. Bracegirdle's regards, Sir." He handed me the envelope. "You are to open it now, and I am to wait for your reply."
Drew brought his breath in sharply as I slipped open the document.
"Well, Mr. Hornblower, it would seem you have survived campaign so far. You were requested and required to load a thousand vegetable marrows for transport to the Indefatigable. I have one question for you: Have you done so? If you have, then my felicitations, and you and Mr. Brandon are to return with your prize. If the answer is no, then you have failed, Sir. I do not tolerate failure. You therefore, will remain on Independence overnight, to begin again tomorrow. McGill will see your cargo safely stowed on Indefatigable, and the boats will be returned to you at dawn, where I expect you to complete your task, or you shall answer for it."
With a sigh, I handed the letter over to Drew, to put him at ease. "Thank you, Mr. McGill. Our orders are to stay here on Independence overnight. Please tell the Lieutenant that we will be finished tomorrow."
And with quick salute, he went off, and Drew and I watched our boats pull away. I caught glimpse of Matthews in one of them, staring at me in frank concern. I smiled, only because I knew he was too far away to see it.
Drew sank down to the quarterdeck with a groan, and I followed his example. He pulled over the supplies again. "Looks like Mr. Bracegirdle never expected us to finish today, Sir. He's sent over enough food to last through tomorrow."
"No. No, I guess he must have known it was impossible." I sighed, accepting the biscuit he handed me. "it does not seem to be growing cooler with darkness, Mr. Brandon."
"No, Sir. If anything it seems more humid and oppressive."
"It will be worse bellow decks, Mr. Brandon. I believe I will sleep out here."
"Mr. Hornblower, I do not believe I would have the energy to move anyway, Sir."
I was in the mess enjoying a nice glass of wine when Mr. McGill reported.
"Two boatloads of marrows have been stored, Sir. We haven't any room for more."
I had expected as much. "Dump the rest of them in the ocean, Mr. McGill."
"Yes, Sir. I assume this means we do not need to send the boats back to Independence tomorrow."
"On the contrary. I want them there first thing."
For once in his life, McGill balked at the order. "Sir, what is the purpose when we have no space for them?"
"The purpose, Mr. McGill, is that it is my order."
He blinked. "Yes, Sir." Then, bravely, he did make one valid point. "The men will not be happy to tow them back only to dump them in the sea, Sir."
Hmm. "Tell the men that they who assist without complaining will have double spirit rations until the end of the week."
That did it. Much cheered, McGill saluted and went off to deliver the good news to our crew, but I stopped him.
"How looked Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Brandon when you left them?"
"But not fighting?"
"No, Sir, they were standing quite together when I arrived."
"Very good, McGill, you are dismissed."
Bowles looked over at me with a chuckle. "Tony, you are enjoying this!"
"I confess I am. And it does appear to be working."
"Still, I would not wish to be you when they see all of tomorrow's hard work being sent to the bottom!"
"They'll get over it." I said with a laugh. "They
will need three days of sleep, perhaps, but they will get over
Sleep was hard to come by. Even on the quarterdeck, where Drew and I have both sprawled out, the air is oppressive. So we laid there, side by side, each of us using our jackets for pillows, and watched the stars come out one by one.
Drew sighed. "Rain would be nice, Sir."
I looked up at the clear, cloudless sky. "Aye, it would be, Mr. Brandon." I said softly but with resignation.
He was quiet again for a few minutes. I hoped that he, at least, had found sleep. No such luck. "How is your leg, Sir?" He finally said.
"My leg is fine, thank you. It is not even paining me. My hands, however..." I held them ruefully before my face. "Ouch!"
"Oh!" He said, and stiffly got up. "I had forgotten..."
"Mr. Brandon, where are you going...you need to rest..." I said, rising up on one elbow.
He returned with a package that he had brought with him. He had made a mad dash bellow right after Bracegirdle's orders this morning. Now I see why...a pot of that salve and some linen.
"Well planned, Mr. Brandon!" I said, with admiration.
"I hadn't planned on needing this for YOU, Sir." He half smiled at me. "But I knew what my hands were going to be like after rowing that boat!"
He tended to both of us gently, far more gently than he ought to have in my case! "You ought not to work any more tonight, Drew." I chided him kindly. "You are exhausted enough."
He re-closed the salve. "This work I do not mind." And he gave me a full smile before he collapsed back onto his jacket.
"I must ask you, Mr. Brandon...why you started the day ending every blasted sentence with Sir, but now have relegated it to every other sentence!"
He chuckled. "I am surprised you have not noticed why, Sir."
I gave him a gentle tap on the arm. "Stop that, Drew! We are alone out here, for heaven's sake."
"If you wish." No 'Sir.' Hmm.
I thought on it a few moments, but gave up. "I am too tired to think this one out, Drew. Please, explain.
"I take my cue from how you address me. If you say Mr. Brandon, I say Sir. If you address me as Drew, then I do not." He exhaled deeply. "You have not used my Christian name often of late."
No, I didn't suppose I had. And his method made sense. "I think, Drew, we can both of us suspend with formality until Bracegirdle sees fit to free us from our penance."
"So this is Purgatory."
I shivered despite the heat. "Don't, Drew!" I said with more anxiety than I would have expected, and he turned to me.
"What, Mr. Hornblower?"
I put my hands over my head. "Archie said that to me...when I first came on board Justinian...there he was, all smiles and happiness on the outside, and those were the first words he said. 'Welcome to Purgatory.'" I shivered again.
Drew turned his face back to the stars. "He was wrong. That was hell."
"People do not escape Hell."
"They do if they were not meant to be there to begin with." I thought that over as he continued. "Purgatory is where you go when you've done something you have to atone for. I cannot believe that either you or Archie can have ever done anything to deserve being sent to Justinian, Mr. Hornblower."
Very true. Whatever faults I might heap on my head, I know that there was nothing in this world I did to deserve Simpson. And as for Archie, his stolen innocence could never have been deserved.
It was at that second that something else occurred to me. "Why, if we are suspending formality, do you insist on addressing me as Mr. Hornblower?"
"Why...because...because you are my superior officer!"
"So is Archie, yet you can call him by his first name." I pointed out.
He gulped once. "Horatio? I don't know...somehow it just doesn't seem right."
"Well, God knows it's seldom seemed right to ME, Drew." I said, wryly.
That got a laugh out of him. "Beg your pardon, but what WERE your parents thinking when you were christened?"
"My father!" I groaned, throwing my hands over my face in mock-despair. "Shakespeare lover! Champion of wisdom and practicality! Combine the two and which character do you get?"
"It's a good thing he wasn't a champion of vengeance and despair, I suppose, or you'd have been Hamlet Hornblower..."
My turn to laugh, and I did, dabbing at the tears in my eyes. I never before would have thought I could consider my name fortunate, but he'd just presented me with a frightening option. With some effort I composed myself.
"You should laugh more often M...Horatio." He replied. "It is good for you."
"Yes, Doctor." I said in a purposely teasing tone. I returned my gaze to the stars, and felt a flood of shame overcome me as I recalled the devil's time I'd led him over the past weeks. Even when he baited me, I ought to have been above that. "I am sorry, Drew." I whispered.
"Me, too." He replied, a bit shyly.
But I could not forgive myself as easily.
Sensing my rigid angst, he asked me gently, "What are you thinking on... Horatio?"
"My father. What must he think of me at this moment, at what my behavior has been? At my predicament now?"
Drew looked over at me. "I did not know your father, but I've always imagined him to be a bit like Captain Pellew." He looked back up at the stars. "In which case, Horatio, I would imagine he is having one hell of a good laugh, so long as nobody can see him!"
And again I chuckled, for the picture was so like my father, and the Captain, that I could not help it.
"I wish you could have known him, Drew."
"So do I." He said softly. "You must have had a good childhood." A bit of longing there, and not unreasonably so, knowing what I did of his father.
"I did...at least until my mother died."
"You never talk about her."
"I was not encouraged to do so after she was gone. I believe it caused my father pain to be reminded of her. So now, she's become this memory I have, that I take out and hold on to when things are low."
"Like that story Archie told in sick berth, when I was operating on you?"
I blinked. "Archie told a story?"
He nodded. "To keep you calm, keep you from thinking about the pain. About fishing with your father, and your mother finding you out."
Dear Archie! "I remember dreaming of that while I was injured, but I did not know it was due to Archie's influence."
The stars seemed brighter as he made a confession. "I was very envious of you in that moment, Horatio. I...I almost HATED you. It shames me to tell you that. But I...well, Archie got to the part about your being curled up next to your father, and that it was the safest you had ever felt in your life, and it almost HURT. Can you understand that, Horatio? MY father was never that to me. I was never safe with him, or from him, for that matter."
So this was partially the cause for his change in behavior towards me. Strange, but it had never sunk in before, even knowing, for as long as I had, about his family circumstances, even after seeing the violent abuse his father had heaped on him during his temporary banishment. Whatever problems my father and I had in our lives, I knew that we loved each other. And if he was not always obviously affectionate, nevertheless he was there for me. His love showed not in hugs and kisses, but in bandaged knees and worried glances, in the way he would laugh with me when he would not with anyone else, in the patience he showed a young boy who could pepper him with questions from dawn to dusk. I had been a fortunate child, and I could understand how he could resent that. If I were the praying type, I would say one now, in the hopes that my father could understand how thankful I was for his love.
"My father was a good man. I hope someday, if I should be blessed with children, that I can be as good of a father as he was."
"I am never having children."
That shocked me. "Come now, Drew..."
"I am serious, Horatio. The thought of it scares me to death. I could not live with the possibility of someday hurting a defenseless child the way my father hurt me."
"You are not your father, Drew."
"I do not know that. And I do not wish to find out that I am."
He sounded so adamant, so serious. Were Archie here, I had no doubt he'd make a comment that finding the right woman would change his mind. Given that my record with woman was not even as good as my record sailing prize ships back to England, I felt THAT was a bad idea.
"You are as good a doctor as my father. Perhaps you will be as good a parent." He didn't answer. I tried again. "Your children will be as safe with you as I was with him."
I saw a tear run down his face, and his voice broke slightly. "How could I make a child feel safe, when I do not feel so?"
I reached over and stroked his hair gently, the way the captain had when he'd hugged him on his return to Indefatigable. "You are safe here, Drew. You are safe now. Go to sleep." I continued rubbing his head and watched him until the tears were blinked away, and his breathing became first gentler, and then the steady rhythm of sleep. A slight breeze picked up, freshening the air, and I laid back, feeling better about myself than I have in a very long time.
I was enjoying my breakfast while filling out the logs in Pellew's cabin at the height of good cheer. In the past I had maintained command of Indefatigable from my own cabin, but for some reason he had been insistent on my moving into his this time.
I'd had a brief message from the Captain that arrived late yesterday:
Mr. Cousins and I have arrived safely at Juan Carlos' estate. He seems to be a most charming gentleman with a full command of English, much to Mr. Cousins disappointment, as he now feels useless on this mission. No more useless than I feel myself, because although Juan Carlos is all hospitality, he has no interest in handing the island over to England. Surprise! Ah, well, I shall endeavor to look on it as a weeks' vacation..."
I clucked in sympathy for poor Mr. Cousins. We all know how well the Captain handles inactivity.
"...I trust everything is running fine on Indefatigable? Does your special mission go well? I hope it does, for all of our sakes!"
I had chuckled at what he was avoiding mentioning, and sent him off a brief reply just before dark, with two sentences only:
"1. Operation Pumpkin is proceeding well according to my plans; 2. Do not drive Mr. Cousins to desertion; he will probably be the only young officer still speaking to me by the time you return."
That ought to befuddle him properly!
I was startled from my reverie by a conversation above my head between Mr. Anderson and Mr. Holloway.
"D'you think Mr. Brandon will be okay? Mr. Hornblower's been quite nasty to him." Holloway asked.
"There's no real harm in Mr. Hornblower. And I would never speak to him the way Drew has." Anderson replied.
"Drew's been here longer than we have."
"Even still, Mr. Hornblower is a Lieutenant."
"Yeah." Holloway paused, wistfully. "D'you think that Lieutenant Bracegirdle will notice I broke the glass?" He asked, frightened.
"Not for a while, anyway, and then who's to say how it happened?"
My jaw dropped.
"But it was an accident; the ship took that awful roll! And I was knocked off balance...I didn't think we could move like that at anchor..."
"I know, but still, he'll kill you if he finds out about it."
Damn! If I had not been sitting in Pellew's cabin underneath the skylight, I should have had no idea of this. What if we were to set sail back for England to discover the glass was broken? We might have been put into real danger.
I decided to take a stroll above decks.
"Gentlemen, good morning."
Mr. Anderson saluted me quickly and moved away with an expressive look at his friend, a look that clearly said: keep quiet, idiot. It was Mr. Holloway's watch, not his.
I went up to young Holloway. "A fine morning, is it not?" I said, full of hearty cheer.
"It is." He replied, not believing it.
And, much to my pleasure, giving himself a slight shake, he handed me the glass.
"Lieutenant Bracegirdle, Sir. I have to tell you, I've broken it, Sir." He said in a strangely pitched voice.
Good man! I kept my face stern, however.
"How did that happen, Mr. Holloway? I suppose you were playing recklessly about with it, tossing it in the air, showing off for your friends?"
Quaking, the boy nevertheless answered quickly. "Oh, no, Sir, I would never do such a thing, never!"
I waited expectantly.
"The truth is, Sir, I was taking a look over towards that stranded ship where Mr. Brandon and Mr. Hornblower are, and we pitched violently and about knocked me off of my feet, and the thing went flying."
"Ah. Yes, I felt a pretty big roll myself, when that Portuguese ship that had been near us left port. Even at anchor, Mr. Holloway, a ship is liable to be an unstable beast!" I kept my voice even and low, giving away none of my thoughts.
In abject misery, he looked at me, having no doubt given up all hope of leniency.
"However..." I continued, more gently. "It does seem to me that this was purely accidental, and might have happened to anyone. And we are at port, where it shall be easy enough to get a new one. If the accident had happened later, or had not been discovered..." I laid emphasis on this, "...until later, then we might have found ourselves in a real bind." I cleared my throat, prior to reading my final sentence. "I cannot let this go entirely, however. So you are hereby relieved of your spirit ration until the end of the week."
Color returned to his face gradually.
"Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir."
I nodded at him. "About your duties, Mr. Holloway."
I returned to the cabin, wishing I could come up with some justification for punishing Mr. Anderson at his suggestion that Holloway lie to me. But then I would have to explain how I had heard and...
I looked up at the skylight, stupefied.
I had heard EVERY word spoken up on the quarterdeck. And could now here every word there! Why, it was as good as being above decks myself!
And here all this time I was sitting in amazement at Captain Pellew's uncanny observations, his sixth sense in command, the miraculous way he knew everything that was going on with his ship! The skylight! By God!
Oh, will he ever hear this from me!
I had slept finally, but not for long, for dawn came around 5:30, pale over the Horizon. The temperature had dipped a bit, and a light breeze was blowing. Stretching, I sat up slowly, looking over at Drew. He had curled up tightly on his jacket, arm crooked around it, and still slept deeply. The breeze increased for a moment, and he gave a slight shiver, curling up even tighter. Smiling, I took my own jacket and laid it over him; it would be the only time today he would need it, that was certain.
Somehow standing despite the splint I'd been subjected to, I hobbled my way quietly over to the side. I could see our boats approaching, for McGill was nothing if not prompt. And I watched with almost amused resignation as they secured the four empty boats to Independence.
McGill was as personable as ever, as he stoically went about his duties. He makes me look like a chatterbox. Forbes, on the other hand, was far more considerate.
"I have more water for you, Mr. Hornblower..." He called out. "How are your supplies, otherwise?"
"Enough to last us through the day, Forbes; I thank you." I answered in a loud whisper. Forbes took my meaning as he headed up the ladder.
"Mr. Brandon still sleeps?"
"Yes, soundly. He worked hard yesterday."
Forbes smiled at me in sympathy as he came up the side with small water cask, which I took from him. "As you both did, I am sure." At that point he looked down and frowned. "Did you hurt yourself, Mr. Hornblower?"
I shrugged. "Re-aggravated my knee yesterday morning, I am afraid, so Mr. Brandon has had to shoulder more work than would have otherwise been necessary. I tried to do as much as normal, but you know Mr. Brandon, Forbes; any attempt to over-exert myself resulted in the most frightful looks I have ever seen!"
Frowning, Forbes mused, "Did not Mr. McGill notice this?"
"I do not see how he could NOT have, Forbes It's a rather ungainly thing, this splint. But Mr. Brandon thinks it will be fine."
Handing me a smaller packet, he added, "Johnson has sent you this as well...willow bark and a small batch of salve he seemed to feel you gentlemen might want. Said he can't make the stuff as well as Drew, but it ought to be functional."
I smiled. "It is certainly welcome, I can assure you."
Looking at my still-bandaged hands, he gave me a smile and a slight nod. "Well, now, you take it easy, Sir; we need both of you back in one piece."
"I thank you, Forbes."
The men were off, as I understand it, to resume a mapping exercise of the other small islands in the area. I looked over to Drew; he was now sprawled out face down on his jacket, still dead to the world. Knowing how he would be feeling when he got up, I hobbled around to find a spirit lamp and get some of the willow-bark steeping.
It was about half an hour later when I finally went over to wake him up. I managed to lean over awkwardly and give his shoulder an easy shake. "Drew! Drew!"
"Mmrrrrmmmph." He lifted his head and looked about him, almost like a turtle, and I fought hard not to grin. He blinked a few times and then rolled over. "Arrgh." I extended my hand and helped him to a seated position.
"How are you feeling this morning." I asked, sympathetically.
Rubbing the sleep from his face, he met my eye seriously. "There are over 500 muscles in the human body. I believe I have strained them all."
"Well, let us see if some willow bark cannot help that, eh?" I said kindly, and extended my hand once more to lift him to standing.
"Johnson?" He asked.
"Yes, he sent that over along with some more salve."
Drew smiled impishly. "We'll see if he can make it as well as I do!"
"He told Forbes that he doubted it would be, but it is better than nothing!"
And, with neither of us moving any too quickly, we made to
start our day.
Just before the noon hour, I opened a new dispatch from Captain Pellew.
Operation Pumpkin? I do not know what to make of your jest, Sir, but can only assume it is in regards to our temperamental young men, and am glad to hear it marches as you had planned.
And I do NOT torture Mr. Cousins. Indeed, he has proven most useful; Juan Carlos, it would seem, is a large fan of Chess and Mr. Cousins has volunteered (well, alright, I volunteered him!) to learn the game from him. Which has freed me up to explore his extensive library.
As you can see, our negotiations are proceeding exactly as I had expected....not at all! I would wonder at Parker for sending me on such a fool's errand, except that no doubt it comes from a higher authority than his.
I shall be returning to the Indefatigable on Sunday, and look forward regaining my normal routine!"
I chuckled. Poor Pellew, this was exactly what he LEAST enjoyed of all possible duties required of a naval captain. Well, I thought, looking at the skylight, it served him right!
I was startled by a knock at the door, and even more startled when my visitor entered, for it was Captain Forbes!
"Captain Forbes? Why are you not on your mapping expedition, Sir?" I was too puzzled to be angry-yet--for I cannot conceive of FORBES ever disobeying an order!
He looked a bit pink about it. "Beg your pardon, Sir, but after we dropped off the boats to Independence, and began our mission, I got to worrying, Sir, about something, and I decided that the best thing I could do was to head back and see you, Sir. So I took Mr. Hornblower's men and rowed back to the Indefatigable. Perhaps it was wrong of me, Sir, but thought you needed to know."
Sorting through this rather convoluted statement was causing me headache! "I do not take your meaning, Captain Forbes?"
"I brought fresh water up to Mr. Hornblower, along with some medical supplies...excuse me, Sir, but did Mr. McGill let you know yesterday that Mr. Hornblower was injured?"
I gaped. "Injured? Injured how?"
"His knee, again, Sir. Mr. Brandon had it all splinted up for him."
Spluttering, I barely got my words out, "But...they loaded almost four boats...how the devil...with Horatio injured..."
"He is not incapacitated entirely, Sir, but Mr. Hornblower did indicate that as a result Mr. Brandon was shouldering a bit more of the burden he would have liked."
I felt my face go red. "Horatio has Drew doing the work!" I seethed.
Forbes eyes went wide. "Oh, no, no it is not like that at all, Sir! He was most concerned for the young man's well-being, and was making a point of not awakening him earlier than necessary. As he pointed out to me, you know how Mr. Brandon is with an injured patient! Mr. Hornblower, from the looks of it, did more than he ought to have, anyway. It is a rather big splint!"
I was still angry, but at another, now. "And you are certain that this injury happened yesterday?"
"Yesterday, early, from what Mr. Hornblower said."
Damn it all, why did McGill not mention it to me? The whole point of this was to get these two men to re-establish a friendship, not to maim them! Drew and Horatio combined cannot weigh more than 250 pounds...how should one of them alone be able to manage such a burden? And, as was pointed out to me, it is not like we have any use for more of the damned things...I would have sent back for them if I had known!
I nodded to Forbes as I put my hat on and followed him out of the cabin and up towards the deck. "You did the right thing by alerting me, Captain Forbes. You showed excellent forethought and a strong concern for the well-being of the men, and I am in your debt. If you would not mind, Sir..." I grasped my hat and blinked into the bright sunlight, scanning the deck. "I would appreciate it if you and your chosen crew would row me out to Independence to fetch them both."
Forbes nodded. "Of course, Sir."
"Mr. Bowles, the ship is yours. I shall be returning presently."
By shortly after noon Drew and I were sprawled out under our sail-shade, too tired and hot to even eat, but happier, as the last orange beast was dropped into the boats. We had finished, and now had nothing to do but wait out the return of our boats, and return to the Indefatigable, where if Bracegirdle has any heart at all he will let us sleep for a month.
But the heat was growing, and without words we simply passed water back and forth. I looked over at my young friend; his face was pink with sun, though he had tried to keep covered. He had not removed his shirt, despite the heat, for exactly that reason. I myself fare not much better in direct sunlight.
"It is hot." He said, unnecessarily.
"Indeed it is, Drew." I replied quietly.
If the ship had been moving, or at least in the open harbor, there would have been more of a breeze, and that might have offered us relief. Instead, we could only listen to the waves lapping gently at our stationary vessel, teasing us mercilessly.
Unhappy with sitting still, even in this heat, I got up and worked my way over to the ship's side, where our boats were tethered. Then I wandered over to port. Independence had run aground on a sand bar; the water was relatively deep on the other side, but here it was a shallow blue pool that glinted in the sunlight, not more than five or six feet deep, surely. I could tell by the shading changes of the water that it eventually deepened farther out again, but the area right up next to the ship it would be safe...if only...I looked down at my splinted leg and sighed.
I hadn't heard Drew come up behind me until he also leaned over the side of the ship, noting my glance. After a few moments staring at the water, and then looking up into the sun, he asked, "How would you get down there?"
Hopeful, I responded, "We could sling a rope over the side; it would not be so hard after everything else we have done."
"WE couldn't." He said, with heavy emphasis on the first word, and my heart sank, even though in my heart I knew that with my bad knee it might prove troublesome. But he surprised me, then. "YOU, however, most certainly could; you can take the brace off for a brief swim, if you promise me to be careful climbing back aboard." And he sounded very dejected about it, as he mopped the sweat of the back of his neck with his kerchief.
"But why just me, Drew?"
"I cannot swim." He said, and looked even more morose.
I looked downward again, then bent to remove my splint, and was damn quick about it, too. My shoes and stockings were soon dispatched with; I decided to keep my shirt on, as protection against the sun. Throwing a rope over the side next to where Drew was standing (so very, very still he was!) I gave him a nudge. "I'll go first, Drew. You follow."
He looked at me as if explaining something to a very small child. "I cannot swim... really!"
"But surely you are not AFRAID of the water?"
He opened his mouth, gulped once, and did not answer me.
"Look, Drew, I am an excellent swimmer; this section does not seem to be more than six feet deep because of the sand bar. I will go down first, and if you follow, I will make sure you do not drown." I nudged him again gently. "I have to; if you drowned Bracegirdle would probably charge me with your murder, the way we have been lately."
That got a slight smile out of him, at least. And taking a deep breath, he softly said "All right, Horatio."
"Excellent!" I grinned at him in encouragement, and headed over the side.
Whatever nervousness he felt about himself soon disappeared in almost parental concern. "Mind your leg, now; do not bend it if you do not have to!"
I hit the water and let go of the rope. As I suspected, the water was not even six feet deep; I could stand on my toes in the sandy bottom and keep my head above. Not that I did; I immediately dunked myself fully; it was cold enough to be bracing, but not so cold it hurt. I let myself float to the top lazily and then shook my head to fling my hair out of my eyes, and looked up at Drew, leaning nervously over at me.
"How is the water?" He called down.
"It is HEAVEN!"
I could see that he wanted to be in so badly he could taste it. He ducked out of sight, I could hear him tossing his own shoes off, and then swung himself over the side, gingerly working his way down. He looked round his shoulder at me.
"I am here, Drew!" I encouraged. "If you let go, I will not let you go under!"
He went another foot down before he did so, coming down with a splash. I grasped him just as he did so, and made certain that his head stayed above the surface. Most new swimmers are understandably wary about that!
He clutched at me awkwardly for a moment, and then used the end of the rope to hold himself up. He was breathing fast but did look refreshed, if a bit nervous.
"It's not that deep," I soothed. "Barely over my head. If you did go under you would be able to plant your feet and shoot yourself up to the surface with no problem." He began to calm himself and breath regular. "There now. Use your legs to keep yourself propelled outward; you don't need to thrash at the water; think of the motion's of a bird's wings."
He followed instruction well, and was soon treading water, though he was not yet ready to let go of the rope. Closing his eyes, he muttered, "You must think I am the most colossal idiot ever to join the Navy."
"Tcha! Not at all. Why, half of the ratings can't swim, Drew!"
"Really. I am surprised, though, that growing up in the country as you did that you had no occasion to learn."
"My brother George tried to teach me when I was five. By throwing me in the lake. In November."
"Ah." That explained it then. My father had taught me to swim at the same age, by encouraging me to follow him into the pond. He would never have thrown me in outright, although there are people who swear that works. Still, it wasn't necessary in my case; I trusted him implicitly and would have followed him anywhere. "I had no brothers, so I did not have your problems!"
"Stan went in after me, so I suppose it is as well that I had SOME brothers. We were both were sick for two weeks afterward. I never had any desire for swimming since then."
"I would imagine this water is a bit warmer."
He gave me a short laugh. "It is almost like bath water, Horatio! The sun is still hot, though."
"You would be cooler if you go under and get your head wet, even for just a few seconds.
He looked hesitantly at me. "I dunno."
"If you let go and push away from the ship, and then down, I will follow you. When your feet hit bottom, push upward. And don't breathe in!" I added quickly, as he followed instruction. I sank towards the bottom myself, eyes wide open (his were screwed tightly shut); we hit bottom together and I grasped his wrist quickly so he would know I was here with him; and together we pushed upward.
We broke the surface together; without thinking about it, he had resumed his treading motion and was staying afloat. I decided not to mention the fact. He shook his head to move his hair, breathing out with a whoosh and a cough, and raised his eyebrows at me.
"Don't breathe IN? I said I couldn't swim, not that I couldn't think, Horatio!" he spluttered, coughing still.
"Well, you know, some people forget that!" I defended myself lamely. "Besides, you look like you DID breathe in."
"I didn't breathe in, I started laughing!" And he splashed water at me.
Naturally, I felt bound to defend myself.
Any fear Drew had felt about the water was gone by this point, although occasionally he did grab for the side of Independence to steady himself. Mainly, though, he gave as good as he got, and soon both of us were laughing out loud even as the water flew furiously. It reminded me very much of the snowball fight I got into with Pellew; and I wondered if I told Drew about that if he would even believe me!
The truth is it has been a long time since I was a child, though I am not so very old; from the day my mother died I had been trying to impress everyone I met with how much of an adult I was, how serious I was. There have been so very few moments where I could act my age, let alone act younger. But in this moment there was no Indefatigable, there was no war, there was not even a Navy. We were two young men having fun and skylarking somewhere off the coast of Madeira. At least we were, until...
"Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Brandon? WHAT THE DEVIL ARE THE TWO OF YOU DOING? GET YOURSELVES ABOVE DECKS AT ONCE-AT ONCE!"
(Mr. Bracegirdle's POV).
The row over to Independence took almost an hour, which was just long enough for me to silently work myself into a dither about the welfare of the two valued young officers in my care. Drew, at his size and in this weather, how could he possibly have handled such a workload? And Horatio I know well enough to believe he might try to help the boy out to the detriment of his own physical well-being. As I have said, at heart the two are really quite fond of each other.
I was relieved to see two plus loads of marrows in the ship's boats as we approached. At least they had both been well enough for that. Securing our own launch, I turned to Forbes. "You gentlemen stay here; once secured, you might want to start tossing those marrows overboard. No reason, after all, to ferry them back and dump them. I am going aboard her."
"Aye, aye, Sir." Forbes said.
I took the ladder double time and was rather out of breath hauling myself on decks. For a moment I stood still and scanned the area.
There was a canvas set up to offer protection from the raging sun. On the quarterdeck, I could see both gentlemen's jackets had been tossed; strangely, their shoes and stockings seemed to rest across from me. There was no action; a disused tackle was abandoned by the open hold. Perhaps they were moving more of the beasts down bellow decks? It was strangely quiet on board here, and my heart was in my throat at the thought of the young men suffering dehydration, heat exhaustion, injury...
A splash interrupted my dire thoughts.
"I'll get you!" Drew's voice faintly came to me.
Hell, whatever were they doing to each other now?
I rushed forward and leaned over the port side deck, only to be greeted by the spectacle of two officer's in His Majesties' Navy (two officers, moreover, whom I had just been worrying and fretting about)PLAYING in a pool of water below; tossing and splashing water to each other with complete wanton regard of their appearance or their dignity!
"Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Brandon? WHAT THE DEVIL ARE THE TWO OF YOU DOING? GET YOURSELVES ABOVE DECKS AT ONCE-AT ONCE!"
Mr. Brandon, face flushed with both sun and embarrassment, was the first over the side, as I waited, arms clasped behind my back tightly in order to keep me from throttling them both. Drew turned around to the rope and reached over to grasp Horatio's hand. Their eyes met, guiltily, as Horatio threw one leg over, and then the second one, more gingerly, kept straight as Drew watched him. So there HAD been a leg injury; Forbes was not wrong about that.
I held my breath as the two of them came reluctantly forward, and stood to attention, side by side. Of course, any attempt at dignity they might muster was completely impossible to achieve in their current state.
"LOOK AT YOU BOTH!" I seethed. "DRIPPING WET, YOUR HAIR IN YOUR EYES, NO SHOES, NO STOCKINGS, I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE BEHELD SUCH A SORRY SPECTACLE FROM OFFICERS. HAVE YOU NO SHAME, SIRS? YOU ARE BOTH A DISGRACE TO YOUR SHIP, YOUR CAPTAIN, AND YOUR SUPERIOR OFFICER! WHAT EVER WERE YOU THINKING?"
Drew's eyes were shut and his mouth quivered. Horatio met my eyes evenly, but did not speak. He did move, slightly, closer to Drew, but in my rage I did not process the meaning of that movement.
"I came here, because Captain Forbes was concerned enough about your welfare to notify me that you were injured. Foolishly I felt it imperative that I hurry over here to secure you from permanent harm from this little exercise. I was worried about you both. But what do I find when I get here? The two of you playing around like a couple of boys playing hooky from school! Mr. Brandon, you are the doctor! Can you give me an accounting of how Mr. Hornblower injured himself and what your diagnosis is?"
Drew swallowed once and opened his eyes, meeting my glance with resignation. "Sir, he strained his weak leg while we were moving the cotton out of the way of the marrows, early yesterday." I noted Horatio start at this slightly. "I found no serious injury but was anxious that his knee, already weakened, would not become extended in the wrong way and cause major damage, so I splinted it. I also took up more of our workload, despite Mr. Hornblower's protestations, in order to protect him, Sir." His voice never wavered, even if his glance did.
"And yet this splint you had no problem removing in order that he could take a swim?"
Before Drew could open his mouth again, Horatio intervened. "That was at my insistence, Sir. I was very hot and it Drew gave in to my obstinacy about removing it, but he did caution me strongly against bending my knee at all."
Drew was looking at him in surprise...something was amiss in
this tale. Not meeting the boy's glance, Horatio continued, "Indeed,
Sir, our folly is entirely my fault. When Mr. Brandon told me
he could not swim I...I decided he needed to cool off as well.
I...I threw him in. He is not responsible, Sir."
I could not miss the outright shock on Drew's face, his mouth agape as he stared at Horatio. "Sir! I..." He started, but Horatio gave him a very stern look.
"That is enough, Mr. Brandon! Do you understand me? THAT IS ENOUGH!" They stared each other down for a few moments, and Drew gave in. "Yes, Sir."
I was now rapidly becoming more confused than angry. Trying to maintain my burn, I swept on. "Responsibility is a good word, Sir. I cannot comprehend how you could be so irresponsible to partake of such folly with your work not yet done."
Hornblower's eyes widened. "But Sir, our work IS done. We finished loading the last marrow before noon. Sir, I would never, EVER have left a job uncompleted."
"I..." I could feel myself deflating. "Already done, you say?"
"Of course, Sir."
I fought to find something to find fault with here, and began to feel rather guilty. Certainly Pellew had allowed men skylarking to take a dip in hot weather, provided all tasks were complete and we were in water favorable for the activity. My reaction had been largely due to my fear that one or both young men had been injured during my exercise. I swallowed, speechless for once, wondering how the devil I should get out of this gracefully?
"Sir..."Drew piped up slowly, hesitantly.
"You have a comment, Mr. Brandon?" I said, without letting my conflicting emotions show.
He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "A question, Sir." And with great resolution, he asked me in a steady voice, "Sir, what was the PURPOSE of our assignment here?"
Ah. He had me there, and I suspect he knew it. I turned away from both of them and strode towards the ship's side, looking overboard at Styles, Matthews, Oldroyd, among others, as they prepared to dump out the useless marrows. The purpose, of course, was to reform a relationship between two valued young men; to force Horatio and Drew to learn to work together and work through their problems. I thought again of the sight that had first greeted me, of the two of them splashing around and laughing with each other. I remembered how Horatio had moved protectively towards Drew when I first went on my tirade. By all accounts, the mission was a complete and utter success.
And it was hotter than hell out, and I was jealous that I had not been in the water with them!
Despite myself, I began to laugh, a slight chuckle first, and then I gave in to an outright roar. Slapping my knee, I turned back to them, wiping my eyes.
"Gentlemen, I do beg your pardon for having maligned your work ethics. I ought not to have gone off like that. Although you are both a sorry sight right now, I understand well you were not expecting visitors until sundown. I will forgive your little indiscretions, if you will forgive mine."
The relief was written all over Drew's face, and Horatio, on seeing that I did not mean to draw and quarter them, sighed.
"Thank you for your understanding Sir." Then he frowned, "What indiscretion, Sir?"
"Hm? Well, you see, Gentlemen, it seems that vegetable marrows take up quite an amount of space, more, in fact, than the Indefatigable had. We could take on little more than half of your supplies yesterday, and were forced to dump the rest. So as for your work of this morning..."
And in stupefied silence, Horatio and Drew came forward and looked over the side, in time to see Matthew's tossing a gourd to the deep, followed by Oldroyd...followed by Styles.
They stood for some moments in utter silence, mouths agape at the sight, as marrow after marrow went over. Drew looked finally at Horatio, and both of them gave a half laugh, under their breath. They looked too worn out to do anything more.
"Well, Gentlemen, I suggest you gather up what is left of your uniforms and try to make a semi-respectable appearance for the sake of the men, at least, before we return to the Indefatigable."
"Aye, Aye, Sir." They both murmured.
Good men, the both of them, my earlier reaction not withstanding. And better men now, I dare say, for having come to terms with each other.
There was a part of me that wanted, very much, to ask each of them of what they talked these two days, of what had been at the heart of their disputes and how they had resolved them. But I suspect it is best left as is; the important thing is, the dispute is over, and the camaraderie on the Indefatigable shall be as normal again.
August 26-that Evening
Upon our return, Drew and I stumbled into sick berth. Bracegirdle has been kind enough to not only forgive us for our unprofessional behavior, but we are relieved from further duty until tomorrow. I immediately slumped down into a chair as Drew set to work with willow-bark for us both.
"It is good to be back." I sighed, leaning my head backwards.
"Indeed it is!" He sat down himself as we waited for the pot to boil, folding his arms on the table and resting his head on top. He kept his eyes on me, however, and I began to wonder if I had some freak injury I had been unaware of.
"What is it, Drew?"
"You lied for me." He said it in all wonder.
"Huh? Oh, yes, well, it ended up being unnecessary, once Lieutenant Bracegirdle calmed down."
"But you didn't know that. You told him you threw me into the water to spare me his wrath."
"I..." I could feel my face growing hot; I was getting sentimental, and that sits badly with me. "I did not wish to see you harmed." I said, lamely, embarrassed about that fact for some reason.
He gave me a slight smile. "Thank you."
"Yes, well...you lied too, you know. Telling him I hurt myself moving the cotton, instead of telling him that I pitched a tantrum any five year old would be proud of."
Lifting his head, he feigned innocence. "Lie? What lie, Sir? I distinctly saw that bale of cotton move a good six inches when you kicked it."
I rolled my eyes at him with a smile. "That is a technicality, Mr. Brandon!"
"Indeed it is, Sir. But the truth is I am a terrible liar, and can only pull it off if I can find at least a basis of reality in the lie."
The water was boiling and he began steeping the willow-bark. We were silent for some moments as he poured us both out a cup of the brew, and we sipped gently. He broke the quiet at last.
"I do not think it is possible we could have behaved more stupidly over the past weeks, Mr. Hornblower."
I grimaced. "Mr. Brandon, if I am capable of more stupid behavior, I hope I never find it out."
And we smiled at each other once more.
There is something to be said for the peace and serenity of a well-run ship, especially one just lolling about in a neutral port. I have come up with enough exercises and rewards to keep even our questionable men busy. Horatio and Drew have been nothing short of exemplary since their return; Horatio obeys orders regarding his injured leg readily, and Drew is most diplomatic in how he issues them.
But what gives me the greatest pleasure is watching...or, more to the point, listening, to them skylark on deck. There is a camaraderie there that had NEVER existed before; Drew holds Horatio less in awe, now, but respects him always, and Horatio sees Drew as more of an equal; a young officer with a promising future.
This morning I listened in on them unabashedly.
"Good morning, Mr. Hornblower. A fine day."
"Indeed it is, Mr. Brandon."
There were a few moments of silence, and I envisioned them looking furtively about them for any signs of another officer. Apparently they found none.
"I wouldn't mind that swim today, Drew."
"Bracegirdle would have us swinging from the yard-arm, Horatio! But it is damned hot out."
"Haven't had any letters from your sister, have you?"
"No dispatches have gotten through recently, I assume we will be back in Gib before they do. Worried about Archie?"
"More than I care to admit. I hope he faired well."
"I do not believe my sister will refuse him."
A few moments of silence fell, followed by Horatio's slight chuckle. "I was speaking of his Lieutenant's exam, Mr. Brandon."
"Oh! But I've never worried about that. After everything he's been through, how bad could facing an EXAM BOARD be?"
Horatio groaned. "Spoken like someone whom has never had to face one!"
"And probably never will, thank goodness."
"You could pass easily enough when the time came, Drew!"
"But for what purpose? Although being an actual midshipman, and having an understanding of how injuries happen and what men must do in their daily lives, will help me in being a ship's doctor, in the end, that is what I am meant to be. A doctor. It is only because of my father that we all pretend otherwise now."
"You are not pretending, Drew. You are a fine midshipman. But a better doctor."
I could imagine his blush from here. "Thank you, Horatio."
I chuckled lightly as I returned my attention to the most recent dispatch from Pellew, received this morning:
You are a scoundrel AND a tease. What is it you mean when you say I must 'see for myself' as to the relative health and well-being of Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Brandon? As if I have not had enough to tax my patience these past five days! Echaverria has delighted in spending all of his spare time teaching Mr. Cousins chess. Thank heavens the boy has showed aptitude for it, else he'd have been trying to instruct me. However, I have ended up feeling utterly superfluous to this adventure. I cannot wait to get back to the Indefatigable, and head back for Gibraltar. Let some other man form his reputation on diplomacy. The sound of gunfire is more my style.
I will see you this evening, Sir, when I hope to have some more answers to your rather cryptic missive!"
I grinned and sat back, my hands behind my head. This was not a bad life, not at all. But I would be glad to have Pellew back. I look forward to resuming my duties as first lieutenant for the next few months until my own command is ready; no doubt it will be easier to establish command over men who have no knowledge of me. The work with Horatio and Drew has been most emotionally exhausting.
There was a sharp rap at the door, and I sat up, trying to look Captain-ly. "Enter" I said in an offhand way.
Horatio stood before me, the watch having just changed. "Sir, all is well above decks. The weather is fair and the men are swabbing the deck."
"Excellent, Mr. Hornblower. The Captain will be back this evening and I would wish the ship to be in perfect shape."
"Of course, Sir." He nodded sharply. Nobody had a greater desire to win the Captain's approval than he did. "I would be happy to do an inspection for you, Sir, and make sure that everything is proper."
I smiled. "In a moment, Mr. Hornblower. I have a few questions for you first, though, if you don't mind."
A year ago that request would have sent Horatio into a paroxysm of worry and angst. Older and wiser now, he was most calm and confident in the tone of his reply. (I suspect, however, that he has merely learned to internalize his fear!) "Of course not, Sir. What is it you wish to know?"
I motioned to the chair, and he sat down. "You have resumed your classes with the young men?"
"How do you find Mr. Anderson to be coming along?"
Whatever he might have expected, this was not it. "He's doing well in mathematics, adequate in French." He searched my face. "But that is not what you really want to know, is it?"
Astute lad, as always! "No, Mr. Hornblower. I am curious as to any defects in temperament you might have come across?"
"I see, Sir." He frowned. "Nothing obvious comes to mind. He is, if I may, YOUNGER than Holloway, not in age but in his behavior, as I observe it in the mess. Not as mature, I guess, would be my observation."
"Ah." I changed tacks. "You are aware, of course, that Mr. Holloway's spirit ration has been denied for the week."
"Yes, Sir. I understand he accidentally broke the ship's glass while he was on duty."
"That is true. It was a pure accident, and I am pleased that Mr. Holloway owned up to it, instead of trying to cover it up." I thought of the skylight, and kept that out of my tale, not wanting to reveal Pellew's ace in the hole. "It has come to my attention that Mr. Anderson encouraged him to hide the incident instead."
Horatio raised his eyebrows. "I am surprised indeed, Sir. Though not about the fact that Mr. Holloway owned up to it; he is a good, honest boy."
"You are surprised that a young man...little more than a child, really, might feel compelled to lie to escape punishment?"
He turned his head in thought for a moment. "In this instance, yes. For two reasons. One, this is not, if I may, a terror ship for a young man. He might be punished, but not with undue harshness."
I nodded at that. "We are none of us Captain Hammond, here."
"Exactly, Sir. But in any case, in this instance it was not the boy who expected the punishment who thought to lie. Anderson, who had nothing to fear, was encouraging the dishonesty. And that is very, very bad, Sir."
"Potentially much more damaging than breaking the glass, indeed. In the end, we all must be able to trust each other. Our lives depend on that. But I am uncertain as to how to proceed. Can I order a man punished for THINKING a misdeed, which was never followed through on?"
"Yes, I see your point. If Holloway HAD lied and you had found them out, punishing both of them would be an easy choice."
I looked at him hopefully. "I am open to suggestion, Horatio. You work with them every day. Can you not think of a way to, well, reinforce the need for honesty?"
He smiled knowingly. "A lesson in trust? A valuable lesson for us all, indeed." He rose slowly. "I shall think on it, Sir, and report back to you. In the meantime, I have an inspection to do."
"Thank you, Mr. Hornblower."
He looked back at me from the doorway. "No, Sir. It is I who thank you."
I blinked, and then smiled. A lesson in trust, he said. Well, I still trusted him with managing our midshipmen, all of them. As much as Pellew trusted me to manage him.
I was there to greet Pellew when he returned, of course, as were all the men.
"Welcome back, Sir."
He wore a scowl like thunder and strode forward. "Lieutenant Bracegirdle, Sir, I trust that everything has been as normal in my absence." He looked about him, eyes squinted, not betraying one positive feeling.
"Everything in order, Sir." I said, cheerfully.
"Mmm. We shall see about that, Sir." He strode ahead, arms behind his back, and did a quick tour of the deck. As he did, I was momentarily diverted by the sight of Mr. Cousins, face pale, looking about him. He caught my eye and gave me a timid smile, which I returned.
Pellew was only somewhat mollified at the state of the Indy. "Well, Mr. Bracegirdle, I see the Indefatigable has not ceased to function in my absence. Well done. I will expect the officers and midshipmen for dinner in my cabin this evening...I assume it will be ALL of them?" He raised an eyebrow, asking his question without words.
I matched his stone face with one of my own, which I knew was baiting the lion, but I could not help it. "Of course, Sir. All of them." Then, I remembered. "Save Mr. McGill. He is on his last day of watch and watch, Sir. A lesson needed in attention to detail."
"Hmm. You must explain that later." He shrugged. "Well, then..." He mumbled, and turned away, with one parting shot. "I assume, Mr. Cousins, that YOU will be joining us as well, if you think you can handle another day of my company."
"As you wish, Sir." Cousins answered him, just as smoothly as I had.
As Pellew disappeared, I approached the young man. "Glad to be back, Mr. Cousins."
"Mr. Bracegirdle, you have NO IDEA, sir." He said, with emphasis.
I choked back a laugh. "Very well, young man, you should have ample time to prepare yourself for dinner. Perhaps your friend Mr. Brandon can give you some dosage to revive you."
"Yes, Sir." He hesitated, and set his shoulders. "Is he...is everything...?"
"Everything is fine, Mr. Cousins," I soothed. The boy had been tortured enough for the past week. "I do not fear that we shall see a repeat of the atmosphere of our last dinner. Indeed, I think a hand or two of whist is not unlikely; I would expect Mr. Brandon and Mr. Hornblower to manage to pick up some winnings."
"That is good to hear, Sir!" And his grin was wide.
"All good enough for you, young man; it is my pocket that will be picked."
And with an easy laugh, he headed below decks, and I looked with pride at the ship around me. A special one, she is, the Indefatigable. Even if she is not, technically, my first real command, I know that in many ways this ship will live with me forever as foremost in my heart.
Pellew, annoyed with me for not being more forthcoming about the resolution of Drew and Horatio's situation, was rather gruff as we all sat down to the table. But his face lightened as the young men filed in behind me. They both looked a tad embarrassed, but it didn't take a genius to see that they were comfortable with each other.
Pellew looked cautiously optimistic. "Mr. Hornblower. I notice you are still favoring your knee? Nothing too serious, I hope?"
Horatio blushed, as he did for some reason whenever his knee
injury came up.
"No, Sir. A very slight re-injury. Just being careful to make sure it does not get worse."
Drew spoke up immediately. "Indeed, Sir, I have no reason to believe there is any permanent damage. The knee is bandaged to make certain that it is not further aggravated."
"So you are pleased with his recovery?" Pellew pressed.
And Drew could not help but smile in answer. "Oh, yes, Sir. Everything is fine."
And Horatio added, "Yes, Sir." With emphasis. "Everything."
Sunlight might as well have dawned in the cabin, then. "Excellent! I am most glad to hear it!" Pellew himself poured out additional helpings of wine to all but Drew and the two boys, Anderson and Holloway; Holloway was still excluded from spirits; Anderson drinks slowly, and Drew had a juice of native fruits. "Well, gentlemen, Powers will be serving soon. I think Mr. Cousins will agree with me when I say we are looking forward to English cooking!"
"Yes, Sir!" Cousins grimaced.
"Rather heavy with the spices, are they?" Bowles asked, passing the basket of biscuit.
"Very heavy, Sir, and very Hot!"
Drew took the basket from him. "Hot in temperature, you mean?"
"No, Mr. Brandon. Mr. Cousins refers to the fact that the food stark cold could burn a hole in your mouth!"
"Cayenne pepper, I think." Cousins said, sipping wine. "A tablespoon of it in each dish, it seemed. And wine was no help for it, either."
Pellew leaned back. "At times the dishes actually made me sweat."
Horatio was surprised. "The FOOD made you sweat sir?" He turned to Drew. "That seems a most unusual phenomenon, Mr. Brandon."
Frowning, the young man was lost in thought. "Unusual and interesting, Sir. I wonder what the scientific reasoning for that, or if the reaction would be psychological in nature?"
The two of them might have commandeered the conversation towards matters of science if left to themselves, but Pellew was not having any of it. His mood had swung 180 degrees and he would have his sport with the men.
"I do hope, Mr. Brandon, you are not implying that I IMAGINED my reaction towards the food...?"
He gulped. "Oh, no, Sir, I..."
"...Because I can assure you, Mr. Cousins felt much the same way! Did you not, Mr. Cousins?"
Cousins, perhaps enjoying the chance to tweak his friend, joined forces with Pellew. "I did indeed, Sir. And it is widely acknowledged that I HAVE no imagination!"
"Tcha! Well, we cannot all be men of wisdom, now, can we? Mr. Hornblower, perhaps you could share your opinion of imagination, since you were so free with your opinions of spicy food?"
Horatio and Drew caught each others eye in wry misery, well aware they were being made fun of and utterly unable to fight it. They were saved by Powers bringing in a surprise...Fresh beef, a roast of which Pellew had brought back with him from Echaverria. At such a pleasant sight, all of the men were most willing to drop any torment of their fellows.
Pellew carved, and as he did so, I asked what was foremost on MY mind. "Our next orders, Sir?"
"Ah, yes..." He slid a healthy amount of beef on the plate and passed it down to Holloway, the youngest man. "Our squadron should be rejoining us the day after tomorrow. Once we are all together, we make for Gibraltar, attempting to annoy both French and Spaniards on our way."
Mr. Hornblower caught my attention, dabbing at his mouth and leaning forward to speak. "So we are to remain inactive in port for at least another day."
"I do not care for the word inactive, Mr. Hornblower. AT ANCHOR, yes, we shall remain."
He picked up the goblet and sipped it. "In that case, Sir, I have an unusual request to make." He looked around at all of the midshipmen, starting with cousins and ending with Anderson, pausing a second on the last, before meeting my eye. "Mr. Bracegirdle and I have discussed the need for a particular lesson with the midshipmen. I would like permission to conduct it tomorrow, but it will be instrumental for me to have Mr. Bracegirdle present. I was wondering if it would please you for someone else to cover his watch. Perhaps Mr. McGill..."
It was McGill's watch now. Mine would come around tomorrow afternoon. And I wondered what the devil Horatio had come up with!
Pellew chewed on his beef thoughtfully, looking between the two of them. "This is not something that could have been accomplished before my return, Sir?"
"The lesson was not...planned before, Sir. Besides, the more I think on it, the more I believe Mr. Cousins will be instrumental for its success."
Cousins looked at Mr. Hornblower in surprise and then at his best friend in question. Drew could only shrug. Whatever Hornblower had cooked up, he was not sharing with anybody else. Even I was damned curious.
Pellew smiled, one of his rare ones, in anticipation. "I assume that I may also be present for this mystery lesson, Mr. Hornblower."
Surprised, he covered nicely. "Why...of course, Sir, I hadn't thought you would wish to, but naturally you are welcome."
"Most intriguing, Mr. Hornblower. I have been bored stiff for the past week and this promises well!"
Just at that moment Powers slid in with dishes of vegetables. Fried potatoes, and...
"Vegetable marrows puree!" Pellew exclaimed with delight. "Bracegirdle, how did you ever manage it? Did you smuggle your wife on board?"
"No, Sir. We had an opportunity to lay in a supply while in Madeira and I gave Powers the recipe."
"Amazing, Sir." He helped himself mightily, and then passed around the dish, to myself, Bowles, Forbes, and Cousins, who went to hand it to Mr. Brandon.
"Drew!" He exclaimed before he could stop himself. "er, Mr. Brandon, are you unwell?"
Drew was as green as last week's dried beef. He took the bowl with hands that shook just slightly and looked down to Anderson. "I am...fine. It is just that I cannot...eat this." He looked across at Horatio, who was so pale as to be translucent, and whom was holding his napkin to his face, covering his mouth. "I believe I speak for Mr. Hornblower as well." He firmly set the dish down in front of Anderson.
Pellew was concerned and confused at the same time. "Truly, neither of you gentlemen look well. Really, it is not such a bad dish. Can I not persuade you to at least try it?"
There is little either Horatio OR Drew would not do for Pellew on a normal basis. But this was out of the question.
"I believe, Sir, they must pass. More for the rest of us then."
"Here here!" Said Bowles, who enjoyed the dish as much as he had at my wife's.
And Forbes, taking pity on the both of them, passed the potatoes down instead.
Bowles, despite knowing the story, was too full of good food to worry about tormenting our young friends. "What was the American name for this, my friend?"
"Pumpkin." I replied, gently.
And a faint glimmer of understanding came into Pellew's eye. "Ah. Pumpkins. Yes." He looked at me, and smirked.
And having his full attention, I leaned back, and deliberately and pointedly, looked up at the skylight, keeping my eyes on it for at least five seconds. Then I brought my glance down to him, raising my eyebrows, crossing my arms before me, and leaning back.
He opened his eyes in the worst feign of innocence I have ever seen, and shrugged. I drummed my fingers on the table, not letting him off the hook. And his face crinkled again into that wide grin, and he laughed a bit, a most shocking sound to the men assembled. It shook Horatio out of his queasiness.
"Sir? Is everything alright?"
Pellew tried to look dignified. "It is fine, Mr. Hornblower. Mr. Bracegirdle and I were just having a conversation on the omniscience of a Captain."
He gaped, brow furrowed. "Sir? Conversation? I heard nothing!"
Drew must have stepped on his foot rather heavily then, for he winced and looked across from him; Mr. Brandon's face had a definite "cease and desist" written all over it.
And Pellew and I managed to look rather superior as he shook it off, and returned his attention to his beef and potatoes. But the Captain would not let it rest at that.
"One day, Mr. Hornblower, I am certain you WILL hear. All of it." And he raised his glass to the young men around us.
As I had predicted, Pellew called for a game of whist, which featured Horatio, Drew and I in participation. The other gentlemen were excused. Much might have been said at such a moment, but nothing was; Pellew was content to leave the situation "handled"; I was rather proud of myself for having done so; and the general tone of the dinner had taken care of any uneasiness Drew and Horatio might have felt, for I was certain they were more than a bit ashamed of their past conduct.
It would seem, however, that though I had predicted the game, I had not entirely predicted the outcome. Drew was the handy winner; Pellew pocketed a bit of change, and Horatio and I were both considerably down. Not a situation I am unused to on my part, but certainly new for Hornblower! He was obviously distracted by tomorrow's upcoming lessons.
As Pellew gathered up the cards, he looked over the three of us with great contentment. "Gentlemen, I cannot tell you how happy I am to be back on board. Drew, Horatio, I bid good evening to you both."
Startled but pleased at the quiet familiarity, they exchanged warm glances as they rose.
"A good evening to you as well, Sir." Drew said, with a smile.
"Indeed, Sir. It is good to have you back." Horatio added. And they were gone.
Pellew poured me a glass of wine from a bottle I had not seen before. "Native to Madeira. Interesting stuff." He waited for me to taste it, and I murmured approval. "Dare I ask how you accomplished this, Sir, and how these Pumpkins are involved?"
I smiled. "Nothing much to it, Sir. I stranded them on a ship to load marrows, alone. It put them in a situation where they were forced to work together for their own sakes."
"Hm. Well done, indeed. I would give much to have heard the conversation on that ship."
"I feel the same, Sir. But that is between them, and I am content to leave it at that."
He leaned backwards, savoring the wine. "And what of McGill, then?"
"Ah. Mr. Hornblower, while left on that ship, re-injured his knee as you know. Mr. McGill, in bringing them supplies, noted the injury but failed to make me aware of it. I should have brought them back sooner if I had realized either one of them were in peril. I felt he needed to be taught to be more observant. It was Forbes who told me."
"Forbes!" Pellew spoke warmly. "Is a good man, a very good man." He rubbed the back of his neck. "One last question, and then I feel I could sleep for a week, Anthony. What is with this lesson Horatio is conducting tomorrow?"
How much to tell? How much to leave to Pellew's own observation? With a sigh, I decided to tell Pellew of the entire incident with Anderson, Holloway, and the glass, and my discovery of the situation through the skylight.
He digested the information slowly. "Well, I had expected you would realize the significance of the skylight, Anthony, but wish it had not been in such a matter! Such a tendency in Anderson MUST be discouraged. What does Horatio have in mind?"
"I confess I do not know, Sir. He works with them so closely, I felt he was best situated to come up with an answer."
"And how does Mr. Cousins fit in?" He mused.
That one I had been thinking over since dinner. "Sir, if you will, Mr. Cousins is the very opposite of Anderson. He is brutally honest about his mistakes, and has never put what might be considered his personal well being over the best interests of the ship."
"The mizzen mast disaster..." He mused. "He knew he would be punished for it, but as soon as he realized his error he came to me immediately."
"Yes. Now, you might say he's smart enough to know that we would figure out his role eventually, and it would have been worse for him to hide it, but I don't think that is where the truth lies. He will always accept responsibility for his actions."
"Yes." His fingers drummed lightly on the table. "There was one other time...a gun went off when it shouldn't have. His division. He accepted all responsibility for that, and even tried to shield the man of his who had actually been responsible." He smiled at the memory. "That man, I have noticed, sticks to him like glue now. Loyalty is not bred in an abyss, Anthony."
"No, it is not. Which is why Anderson's behavior is such a worry. If he had claimed HE was responsible for the damage to the glass, it would not have upset me so much."
"A benign lie, if you will. Admitting damage but protecting another man."
"As it is..." I continued. "...How should the men ever trust him to tell the truth, if we cannot?"
Pellew sighed. "Well, I am certain Horatio has a means to the end of this. We shall see!"
A sleepy Cousins stood outside my cabin door. "You asked to see me, Mr. Hornblower?"
I smiled warmly at him, hoping to disarm any suspicion or fear he might have been feeling after my strange pronouncement at dinner. "Yes, Mr. Cousins. Do come in, please."
He did as told, and at my bidding sat on Archie's bunk. A slight wistful look crossed his face; probably the only thing he would miss from his days at Echaverria's was sleeping on a solid bed.
I leaned forward. "I need your help, Mr. Cousins. For tomorrow's lesson. It is one, from all I have heard and seen, which you are expert in. Honesty. Trustworthiness. Responsibility."
Even in the dim lamp light I could see the deep blush of his face. "I...thank you, Sir. I would hope to always be all of those things." He stammered.
"They are good qualities to have, Mr. Cousins. I would not wish any of our young men to be deficient in them. But what I have in mind...may not be easy for you, and I would think no less of you if you were to bow out of my plan."
He searched my face carefully. "Sir, all I ask is to understand in full the situation we are facing. Other than that, I am content to follow your lead."
I sighed with relief. "Good man. The situation concerns Mr. Anderson..."
And I watched him settle in, for what I hoped would not be too long a conversation.
Pellew and I arrived in the midshipmen's mess at the appointed hour. Cousins, Brandon, Anderson and Holloway were already there; Drew smiled easily as we entered, Cousins tensely; he seemed very aware of his surroundings. Anderson and Holloway looked clueless, and nervous as we entered.
"Where is your instructor, Gentlemen?" Pellew asked, taking a seat behind the table. I sat myself next to him.
Clearing his throat, Cousins replied, "Beg your pardon, Sir, but he said he had something to fetch, and would be right back..."
Before Pellew could make any comment, Hornblower came in, with Matthews and Styles following.
"Ah, I see everyone is here. Styles, Matthews, do have a seat please. Captain, Lieutenant Bracegirdle, I thank you for joining us." He looked about the room calmly. "Gentlemen, there are things learned out of books, and then there are things that no amount of reading will ever teach you. Today, we focus on the latter. I have an exercise in mind that will demonstrate the need for communication, trust, and loyalty; all vital things to keeping a well-run ship."
He paced before us, hands behind his back. "This is a scavenger hunt. There shall be two teams, competing against each other. Each team shall have a leader, who will represent the Captain; a first mate, who shall represent all other officers, and a crewman, who represents the crew. Team A is as follows: Mr. Cousins, leader, Mr. Anderson, first mate, and Mr. Matthews, Crewman. Team B is Mr. Brandon, leader, Mr. Holloway, first mate, and Mr. Styles, Crewman." Styles smirked at the formality of the 'mister' and then he an Matthews removed to their respective leaders. Drew was anxious looking; it was seldom he was required to act as a midshipman, and to suddenly be thrust in the role of leader, no less, must have been nerve wracking. Pellew looked over to me with forehead raised, but said nothing.
Horatio held two sealed envelopes in his hand. "Here, gentlemen, I have your orders. I shall give them to the leaders presently. However, I feel compelled to let you know, Captain Pellew and Lieutenant Bracegirdle shall stand in judgement of your performance. And though this is a game, like real life, failure has dire consequences. Understood?"
"Aye, Aye, Sir." Brandon and Cousins replied together.
Horatio nodded. "Then get to work, men. You have one hour."
Each team separated to different corners, as their "captains" opened and read their instructions. There were furtive murmurs; Drew looking over his shoulder once at Cousins, then turning to his men as they drew into a tight circle. Cousins bent down in a crouch, his men following suit, as he made a diagram on a slate. Matthews nodded in understanding. Then, in a rush, each team made its way out of the room.
I turned in surprise to Hornblower. "Dire consequences, Mr. Hornblower?"
Pellew noted something else. "They are not fair teams, Mr. Hornblower. Mr. Cousins has far more experience than Mr. Brandon, and though Styles is a good man, Matthews has the longest time in service save me!"
"They would not be fair teams, Sir, if the competition were not rigged." He blushed slightly at the admission.
"It is a scavenger hunt, Sir, but Mr. Cousins' team cannot win. The failure will fall on Anderson's shoulders. I want to force him to admit responsibility."
I was struck between awe at the preparations he had made and concern. "Rather hard lines on Mr. Cousins, is it not, Mr. Hornblower?"
He smiled. "Mr. Cousins, and Matthews and Styles, are in on the plan, Sir. The other men are not."
Pellew and I exchanged glances. "I suggest, Mr. Hornblower, that you put US in on the plan as well," the Captain deadpanned.
He smiled at us both. "I had planned to do so. In fact,
I need your help. What I foresee happening is this..."
One hour later saw the two teams returning to our judgement. Mr. Cousins looked surprisingly calm and self-assured; Mr. Brandon's face was tense with worry and resignation.
Horatio held court. "Well, Mr. Brandon, Mr. Cousins. Each of you, when you left, were given a list of items to find, and one clue or problem to solve which would lead to one item. Finding that item would supply you with clues and problems to the next items. Each item was then to be brought to your bag, which was kept in a stationery position. You also had certain stipulations about those items. Mr. Brandon, those stipulations were?"
Drew spoke calmly. "That each item could only be secured if we had solved the problem or performed the task to back it up. No item could be found by accident; if we did, we must not take that item until the problem was solved. And above all, no item was to be taken from the other team's bag."
"Ah. And Mr. Cousins, where were these bag's held?"
"In the sick-berth, Sir. Which is currently unoccupied, as Mr. Johnson is not on duty."
"So each of your bags were alone. How could one assure that the items were not stolen?"
"By our honor, Sir." Cousins said softly.
"Well then, Mr. Brandon. Have you all of your items, Sir?"
I leaned forward.
"No, Sir. Not exactly."
"That is not a good answer, Mr. Brandon. Do you care to explain?"
He nodded, looking at a grim Styles and Holloway. "We had six items to find, Sir, and a navigational problem for the first clue. It took us about ten minutes to solve, for it is not my strongpoint, but we got through it together. It lead us to the fighting top; Styles is the strongest and he went up to get our first item...our spy glass, Sir. He also found there a list of five clues and problems. Since it had taken so long for us to solve the first one, I felt it was in our best interest to split up the problems according to each man's ability, so I did so."
"A good idea, Mr. Brandon."
"Thank you, Sir. We worked quickly then, and did manage to secure the other five items with about five minutes to spare. Mr. Cousins' team had already completed their tasks and I passed them as I headed to sick berth to deposit our last item."
"But did you not just say that you DID NOT HAVE all of your items?"
Looking apologetically at Mr. Cousins, he took a deep breath. "When I returned to our bag, Sir, our spy glass was gone."
The silence was deafening. Horatio let it remain that way for a few seconds. Then: "Do I understand, Mr. Brandon, that you are accusing Mr. Cousins' team of THEFT?"
Drew looked like he might faint. "I...Sir, I do not accuse...I have no evidence, only that I know that we did find the glass first off, and when I went to pick up the bag, it was not there."
"I only have your word on that."
Styles interrupted. "Beggin' yer pardon, it's OUR word, Sir. I climbed up t'get it, and our other clues, Sir."
"Ah, that is an interesting point you bring up, Styles. How would you have found the other clues if you did not first find the glass?"
I sensed sudden uneasiness on Cousin's team. Mr. Anderson shifted, and Mr. Cousins, now pale, looked over his "men".
Horatio turned to Mr. Cousins. "Well, CAPTAIN Cousins, I assume you have found all of your items?"
"Y-yes, Sir. First a dueling pistol, after we solved that problem. There were the rest of our clues, just like in Mr. Brandon's circumstance. Like Mr. Brandon, I opted to divide up our duties by ability. We did not know which item we would find at the end of each problem. I only know that when we rejoined each other forty-five minutes later, we had all of our items."
"Hmm. An interesting situation. Any advice on how to resolve this, Lieutenant Bracegirdle?"
I leaned back into my role. "Well, Mr. Hornblower. You set up the game. The only item both teams had in common was a spyglass. Did you put both of them in the same place?"
"No, Sir. I did not. The new one rested in the fighting-top. The old one, which I understand to have been recently broken," Mr. Holloway winced,"...was placed by the number four gun; since any damage to it did not matter."
Pellew made a sound of disgust. "Ah, Mr. Hornblower. I am afraid you ought to have told me that earlier. I was on my rounds this morning and discovered it lying there. I even berated poor Mr. Andrews for carelessness when I picked it up. Berated him rather badly, I believe. He is most upset."
Horatio looked surprised. "So there WAS no glass by the number four gun? Yet that was where Mr. Cousins' clue was to have lead him. So if there was no glass there to be found, how is it, Mr. Cousins, that your team came to be in possession of one?" Horatio stood before him now, drawn up to full height, staring him down.
Cousins drew his shoulders up. "I must conclude, Sir...not honestly."
Hornblower did not take his eyes from him. "Not honestly. I see." Carefully he took the glass from Reg's bag and returned it to Drew. "Well, Mr. Brandon, it would seem that your team has won the day."
Drew did not look happy about it. In fact, he looked downright sick. "Sir, there must be some mistake," he whispered. "Reg would never...never play dirty like that."
Horatio shrugged. "Wouldn't he? Which of his men, then, do you think responsible? Anderson? Matthews?"
The poor boy had no good answer. "I...I can't say, Sir. It just all seems so unlikely. We're all friends, Sir, all in the berth together. You don't play tricks like this on your friends."
"Hm, so you suspect Matthews, do you?"
Styles went purple in anger, and started forward, but Drew held him back with an indignant look. Eyes wide, he disagreed. "Matthews? Oh, no, Sir. Never. Not Matthews!"
"But he is not in the berth with you, is he?"
"But he wouldn't Sir. He just wouldn't. You know that yourself!"
"Well..." Horatio drawled out. "I must confess it would surprise me greatly. But the truth will not be known to us, unless someone confesses."
He strolled back to Cousins, now standing ramrod straight at attention. "Well, Mr. Cousins, whom on your team had responsibility for retrieving that glass?
He met Hornblower's eye fearlessly. "I do not know, Sir. And as I do not know, I must take responsibility for the theft myself."
Drew gasped out, "Reg!" And then looked at the Captain and myself pleadingly. "This isn't right!"
Pellew, hiding what I knew would be very real sympathy, said coldly, "That will do, Mr. Brandon. Your team has won fairly; the resolution of this problem is not your concern. I must order you to refrain from further comment."
Not happy, but obedient, Drew shut his mouth.
"Well, Mr. Cousins. You are a failure and a thief, it would seem."
Cousins was pale to the lips, but steady. "Yes, Sir. It would seem so."
Matthews started, "Mr. Hornblower, Sir, we didn't steal anything...", and Cousins cut him off. "At ease, Matthews. However that came to be in our possession, I take the blame."
I cast a glance at Anderson. Blast him! Not even a hint of concern for his commanding officer! Cold as the North Atlantic in February. On the outside, at least.
Horatio addressed me. "Mr. Bracegirdle, what should happen to a Captain whose mission was an utter and complete failure?"
I answered tersely. "Court-marshal. Loss of command. Loss of honor. Disgrace."
"Hm. And what is the current penalty for theft?"
Pellew answered that one. "Hanging. From the yard arm."
Cousins actually started to shake, and I thought Drew would have a fit. Only Styles was able to hold him back from further protest.
"Well. Under the circumstances, I do not think that seems appropriate. Still, theft is theft, and combined with failure to perform, and an attempt to cover up the theft, for I must assume that is the reason no man has stepped forward to admit culpability, Mr. Cousins, I am afraid you have let yourself in for harsh measures." Horatio said smoothly.
Pellew stood up and leaned forward. "Especially under the circumstances. Mr. Cousins has a history of failure to adequately perform his duties. The damage to the mizzen mast, the ignoring of an order in action that cost us a prize ship, allowing that bastard DeVergess to get a shot off at me..."
Drew's rage now overflowed. "He SAVED YOUR LIFE, SIR! How can you do this?"
Styles wrapped his arm about him, covering the boy's mouth. "Easy, man." He whispered. "Or it'll be yer hide were scraping up off th'deck."
Pellew glared at him. "Not another word, Mr. Brandon, if you wish to remain in my service!"
Drew gulped; he has no greater fear than being sent back to his father, so that was more than enough to silence him. I wondered that he believed the Captain could ever do such a thing, but then the shock of the day was far to great for him to be thinking clearly at this moment.
Pellew paced in front of Cousins. "Yes. You are eighteen now. There is not much good in having you caned, is there? So flogging it will be. Twenty lashes for failure in your mission, thirty for theft, and another twenty for your general poor performance during your tenure here."
Cousins trembled. A single tear ran down his face, and he chewed his lips. But Drew? He passed out cold at the sentence, slumping down into Styles' arms. Holloway knelt beside him frantically. "Drew? Drew? Are you okay?"
"Get him to sick berth, men." I said, gently. Styles looked to Hornblower in a silent question, and Horatio shook his head in answer to it. He nodded in resignation, and they carried the boy off.
Pellew continued addressing Cousins, in front of Anderson and Matthews. "May god give you the strength to endure this lesson, and learn from it. If you survive. Pity for you I came down so hard on Andrews this morning. You shall bear the brunt of his anger, I think." He nodded to me. "Get Forbes, Mr. Bracegirdle. Have Mr. Cousins placed under arrest in the spare quarters until such time as I deem the punishment appropriate. We shall give him time to think on it, eh?"
And he strode out of the quarters, leaving Horatio and I to
handle the details.
Half an hour saw four men sitting in Pellew's quarters-Pellew, Myself, Horatio, and, of course Mr. Cousins. Reg looked remarkably unafraid for a man sentenced to seventy lashes, perhaps because he knew there was no chance of it being carried out. What he did look was just plain furious. Horatio, meanwhile, held his head in his hands.
"HELL!" He exclaimed, not for the first time.
Pellew tried to sooth him. "This was unexpected, I know, Mr. Hornblower, but we must persevere!'
"Theft! Theft! I had not thought him capable of THAT!"
What Horatio had expected was that Mr. Anderson (whom Mr. Cousins had handed this task very specifically) would, when finding no glass by the number four gun, do one of two things. He could take the road of honesty, admit the problem to Mr. Cousins, and together they would place themselves on the mercy of the "board" they were reporting to. Where we would laud them for truthfulness and decide against any form of punishment at all, since their failure was accidental.
Or, as I expected, Mr. Anderson would try to lie to cover his tracks, perhaps even blaming Matthews for the failure. Mr. Cousins would take responsibility, Pellew would order him punished (though we had not been thinking of anything like seventy lashes) and Mr. Anderson would, in guilt, admit his culpability. We had never intended, of course, to lay one blow to Reg; if Anderson did not step forward, Horatio would go over the tasks one by one, until Anderson was forced to admit his failure. The degree of his punishment would be decided by how long it took him to own up to his offense.
Nobody had expected him to steal Mr. Brandon's glass, which is why we all had such a surprise when Mr. Brandon announced his mission a failure!
Reg spoke quietly now. "It is all well and good, Sir, to say we must persevere. Persevere how? When I told Mr. Hornblower I would be happy to assist in the lesson, even if it meant sustaining damage to my ego, I did not plan on ending up on the receiving end of the cat!"
"Don't be absurd, Mr. Cousins! I have no intention of any such thing happening." Pellew snapped, angry at himself.
"I did not believe that you did, Sir." Cousins continued. "But if not, what next? Do we confess it all to Mr. Anderson? It is his word against mine that I handed him that particular task. And we are back to square one."
Horatio got up and paced about Pellew's quarters, not an easy thing to do in any event, and less so when four people were seated there. "I should have foreseen this! I practically suggested the theft in my instructions!"
I shook my head. "By appealing to everyone's honor? Horatio, it is a large step from lying to stealing, and none of us expected Anderson to make it in such circumstances. Now do sit down, man, you are giving me a headache."
Disconsolate, he threw himself back into the chair.
I looked at Pellew, who was standing, looking out to the window. "Why seventy lashes, Sir? That is particularly harsh for you."
Pellew sighed. "I wanted to make it horrific enough that Mr. Anderson would be forced to admit his guilt. And I made the punishment specific to Mr. Cousins' age, his double failure, and tying it in rather weakly on his past performance, so that Anderson would know he would not be in for the same punishment should he turn himself in. I am sorry, by the way, for maligning your performance here, Mr. Cousins, which I hope you know has been exemplary."
"I understand, Sir." Reg looked on the Captain with gratitude. "However, I might point out that we all see just how concerned Mr. Anderson in fact is with my well-being." He added, wryly. "Note him rushing up here to protect me now!"
I clucked under my breath. "THAT I do not understand! You have no bitter history with Mr. Anderson, do you Mr. Cousins? No reason for him to WISH to see you harmed?"
Reg sank back in the chair, with a half smile. "When I started on board here, Sir, the senior Midshipmen were Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Hunter. I had two examples of how to treat a junior which I might follow. I believe I chose wisely, Sir." Horatio met his eyes in warmth, and Reg smiled wider. "Mr. Anderson has no complaint to make of me, Sir. None."
We were interupted by a knock. Pellew went to the door himself, shielding Mr. Cousins from view in case it should be someone not in the know.
In fact, it was Styles, looking sheepish and a bit worried.
"Yes, Styles, what is it? No word on Mr. Anderson?"
"None, Sir." He looked about. "Truth be told, it's Mr. Brandon I'm worried about, Sir."
Pellew sighed deeply, and I saw Horatio put his head back in his hands.
"He's workin' 'imself up into quite a dither, Sir, and started to soon as 'e come out of that faint, if you will. He's just sick with worry. Johnson, Sir, he's tryin' to keep 'im occupied; one of th' men, Sir, he got an infected splinter and Johnson's got Mr. Brandon workin on it. But I think he's resolving to come up here after an', well, rightly I don't know what he's meaning to do. But he ain't happy, Sir."
Oh, Dear! This mess grows worse and worse.
Pellew nodded sadly. "Thank you, Styles. It is best we are all prepared. Keep an eye on Mr. Anderson for me, will you?"
He nodded grimly. "Aye, Sir. Reckon we'll all be keepin' an eye on him from now on."
Shutting the door, Pellew returned behind his desk, and looked pleadingly at Horatio.
"I suppose it was out of the question to let Mr. Brandon in on the plan as well?"
Horatio shook his head. "He is a terrible liar, Sir. He could never have been convincing in believing Mr. Cousins to have been in danger, and Anderson would have sensed something amiss. Again, I did not plan on having the purported danger to Mr. Cousins' person to be so extreme."
Anger was fading from Cousins' face, replaced by sadness. "However angry I might be at Mr. Anderson right now is nothing compared to how angry Mr. Brandon is going to be with us, Mr. Hornblower. He's never going to forgive us for this."
Horatio swallowed hard. "I am afraid, Mr. Bracegirdle, I seem to have undone your good work from earlier in the week."
"Nonsense!" I said, attempting to sound jovial and failing badly. "Why, he'll probably have a good laugh at it, once he realizes you're out of danger, Mr. Cousins."
The jest fell flat. "Once he realizes I was never in danger, Mr. Bracegirdle, is when I really will be IN danger, Sir!"
We were interrupted by fast footsteps and a sharp knock on the door. Pellew motioned Mr. Cousins into his private rooms. Only after he disappeared did Pellew call out a terse, "Enter."
As expected Mr. Brandon, face taught, eyes on fire with fury, strode into the room, shutting the door behind him. The cords of his neck stood out, his jaw was clenched, and from my seat I could see his hands clenching and unclenching behind his back.
"Captain Pellew, Sir." He said, through teeth clenched. "I have come to accept my portion of responsibility for the fiasco this afternoon, and am ready to take the punishment."
"I...WHAT?" Pellew's eyes just about started out of his head. Horatio nearly hit the floor, and I think I WOULD have, if I had not been seated.
"You heard me, Sir. The blame this afternoon is on both teams, and as the Captain of team B, I must insist on taking half of Mr. Cousins' punishment."
"Thirty-five lashes?" Pellew gaped. "Are you mad?"
He raised his eyebrows. "Do you not think I can take it? I am probably more capable of handling it than he is."
Good lord, how was he standing there so calmly proposing such a thing? No matter what he was used to from his father, the cat is a different beast altogether!
Horatio somehow found his voice. "For what reason do you accuse yourself so, Mr. Brandon? Under what justification should we split this punishment?"
Without flinching, he went on. "When I returned that glass to the bags in sick berth, I believe I might have placed it in the wrong bag. Therefore, no theft occurred. You might blame Mr. Cousins for failure in his mission, but you cannot blame him for anything else. However, since it has the appearance of theft, I am willing to accept the guilt for the commotion my carelessness caused."
We were silent, perhaps in admiration and shock, for a few seconds. Then Pellew taxed him further. "Was it not Styles who retrieved the glass?"
Drew didn't waver. "Yes, Sir."
"Then was it not him who returned it to your bag?"
"I..." His face flushed; Horatio was right; the boy was a terrible liar and we'd just called his bluff. "No, Sir. I took it from him and returned it to the bag."
I cleared my throat. "Of course, if I were to call Styles up here before all the officers, he would tell us that it was you, and not him, who stowed it?"
He paused for just one moment too long, coming up with a reply. "Naturally, Sir, he would deny it, claiming he was in charge of it. To protect me. That is the sort of man he is."
Horatio bit back a slight smile. "A man who would lie to protect another man, is he?"
Drew managed to meet his eye with a straight face. "Yes, Sir. He is."
Shaking his head, Horatio called him on it outright. "Mr. Brandon, those bags were very clearly marked. I marked them myself. Furthermore, yours was of bleached sailcloth; Mr. Cousins' bag was a burlap sack that recently held biscuit. A functional idiot could not have mistaken the two, and neither you, nor Styles, nor even Mr. Holloway, are functional idiots."
Drew's eyes narrowed to slits. "Nevertheless, you cannot PROVE that my story is not the correct one. Can you?" Bless me, the boy was so very stern, so very serious. "I will not stand by and see Mr. Cousins risk possible death for this. Do you understand?"
Pellew, rising slowly from behind his desk, walked up front to Drew, and stared him down. "You are insisting, Mr. Brandon, on sharing equally in Mr. Cousins' punishment?" He said in that soft, dangerous tone of his.
The boy was pale but composed, and he never blinked, never even flinched. "Yes, Sir. I am."
They continued the silent war, eyes shooting fire, each daring the other to back down.
Suddenly, Pellew did, backing away from the boy and slumping his shoulders. "Yet again, Mr. Brandon, you are unexpected." He walked over to the door to his private rooms, and a gray to the gills Mr. Cousins walked out. I may be mistaken, but his eyes may even have been a bit moist.
Drew's impenetrable mask fell into an expression of confusion. "Reg? I...are you not under arrest?"
Since nobody else seemed capable of finding their voice, I spoke up. "He is not under arrest, Mr. Brandon. The entire situation this afternoon was a ruse."
"I do not understand...a ruse?" His confusion deepened, and his face began to grow red.
"Yes, Drew." Cousins said softly. "We were trying to catch out Mr. Anderson in a lie when he didn't find that glass. Instead, there was the theft and it's left us all a bit..."
"Us? Us ALL?" Red was rapidly heading towards maroon. "Excuse me, just who exactly is "us all"? Were all of you in on this?" He turned to Horatio. "Mr. Hornblower?"
With some resolution, he nodded. "I set it up, of course. I took Mr. Cousins and Styles and Matthews into my confidence last evening, and told the Captain and Mr. Bracegirdle after you departed on your hunt."
"STYLES AND MATTHEWS? You told Styles and Matthews of this AND NOT ME, Mr. Hornblower? How could you put me through this?"
Trying to retain command of the situation (not easy when Mr. Brandon's rage was entirely justifiable) Horatio said plainly. "You cannot lie, Mr. Brandon. You are not good at it. You have told me so yourself."
He folded his arms in front of him, seething. "I cannot lie, Mr. Hornblower? HOW IS YOUR KNEE, SIR? You know, the one you re-injured MOVING COTTON on board Independence?"
Hello? I have missed something here. Apparently, though, Horatio knew well enough of what he was speaking, for he blanched and looked a bit sheepish.
"Well, I...basis of truth, you said."
"I think I could have come up with some rationalization for this situation, Sir, if anybody had thought to trust me with it." He was now shaking, and looked at each one of us in turn. Dear God, I thought, the boy is going to explode! Then, suddenly, muttering something under his breath, he strode out of the cabin, slamming the door behind him, his footsteps echoing away loudly.
Horatio rose to go after him, but I grabbed his arm. "Leave him be, Horatio. He needs to blow this off; talking to him before he does so is useless."
We all sat in stupefied silence for a few minutes; only when there was a faint sniffle did I realize Mr. Cousins WAS crying, silently, which startled me. I do not believe, even when Hammond was threatening to have his liver for breakfast, I have ever seen such a thing. Pellew handed the boy a handkerchief, without saying anything to embarrass him further, and Cousins managed to compose himself.
Finally, raising his head, he looked at us all. "He risked everything for me. Do you know what it must have taken for him to come up here and offer himself like that? And how have I repaid him?"
"It is my fault, if anything, Mr. Cousins." Horatio said.
"Fault is not the issue here, Sir. I have lost his friendship. There is no repairing this."
Pellew shook his head. "The wrong man. We baited the wrong man."
I shook my head suddenly. "Come now, we are all doing it again. Mr. Brandon is upset because we did not trust him, and we repay him by trusting him still less. Yes, he is angry, and he has reason to be. But as you said, Mr. Cousins, look at what he was willing to do for you. That sort of friendship does not die easily, and we do him a great disservice in believing he will be unable to forgive any of us."
Reg looked at me hopefully. "I pray you are right, Sir."
And more certain on this than I have been in anything in my life, I said firmly. "I am right." For although I am fond of him, I have not the deep emotional tie to Mr. Brandon that the others do. Pellew sees him as a son; Horatio as a brother and Reg as a best friend. Since I see him as a valued officer and worthy young man, I am perhaps removed enough to see the truth of the situation. "But we have other problems to deal with first. For Mr. Anderson, you see, HAS NOT come to seek his share of the blame."
More footsteps and another knock at the door. Before Pellew could answer, Drew's voice said evenly, "It's me, Sir. Mr. Brandon."
My three brother officers, including my Captain, remained frozen, and it was I who got up to let him in.
His face was now composed, as he shut the door behind him, although I could still see traces of anger.
"I wanted to let you know, Sir, that Mr. Anderson is currently in the mess very calmly enjoying his dinner and showing no concern at all for Mr. Cousins' well being. I believe he has decided that your anger will pass and you will not carry out your threat. So what I want to know is, what do we plan on doing next?"
We were all so shocked at his very appearance that none of us could come up with an answer. Drew looked at each of us in turn, shaking his head. "No plan? I am surprised at all of you." He cleared his throat. "Captain Pellew, I understand you have a live pig in your stores?"
Pellew tried to look the master of the situation. "I do, Mr. Brandon. A gift from Echaverria."
"Good. May I suggest you give Powers orders to slaughter it this evening?"
With a trace hint of a smile, Pellew nodded. "Very well, Mr. Brandon. But for what purpose?"
"We shall need the blood, Sir."
Since Mr. McGill was on his last night of watch-and-watch, I found both Anderson and Holloway sleeping in their hammocks after midnight when we sought to carry out Drew's plan. Pellew, Hornblower, Mr. Cousins and Mr. Andrews were already deep within the cable tier. Matthews and Styles were behind me.
"Mr. Holloway! Mr. Andrews! Look lively, now. Captain's orders, and your to follow us." I said, as Matthews gently roused Holloway. Styles was considerably less kind to Mr. Anderson, nearly dumping him onto the floor. "Belay that, Styles." I muttered, but not too seriously, and I saw the knowing glint in Styles eyes even as he said, "Sorry, Sir."
Both boys dressed sleepily. "What is it, Sir?" Mr. Holloway said, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
"Captain Pellew wishes you to observe Mr. Cousins' punishment."
Holloway's mouth gaped, and Anderson almost choked. "Sir," he said. "The Captain isn't really going to do...to do...that to him, is he?"
I drew the words out, emphasizing each one. "Flog him, Mr. Anderson. With the cat. Seventy strokes on his bare back."
"If he lives to feel 'em all." Styles mumbled.
"He'll live, alright. Captain has Mr. Brandon there t'make sure of it." Matthews added.
Holloway blanched. "Oh, no, Sir, he can't make Drew watch this."
I raised my eyebrows. "He can and will. Mr. Brandon does not want to be sent back to his father. Should Mr. Cousin's lose consciousness, Mr. Brandon will revive him. If he cannot take all seventy tonight, I dare say the punishment will continue over to tomorrow."
"Live or not, he won't be the same. I've seen it set men mad, that many strokes, or cripple 'em fer life. An he'll never make leftenant, not with 'is back lookin' like that."
Holloway looked sick; Anderson looked stunned. And we led them towards the cable tier.
Anderson's voice was strangely high. "Sir, why now? Why here?"
I feigned surprise. "Surely you know that it is against regulations for a Captain to flog a midshipman? There would be too many witnesses if he did it above decks. Here, in the cable tiers, after midnight, who is to know? Only his most trusted men. And a Captain's word will shout down a single voice quite handily."
They bought it, the both of them. Only Holloway could find his voice now. "So why are we being sent for, Sir?"
"Captain wants neutral witnesses to make certain that Mr. Cousins leaves the tier alive."
We arrived to a cleared area, a few dim lanterns casting strange shadows around us. Mr. Cousins was hanging there, his hands tied together and suspended from a hook in the rafters, his knees nearly dragging on the floor and his shirt removed. Andrews would have plenty of room to maneuver the cat, and see that each blow found its place.
Pellew and Horatio stood together, and nodded to me as I brought our "witnesses" in. Pellew strode up to Mr. Cousins upon our arrival. "Well, young man, I hope you live to remember this..." He seethed.
"Please, Sir..." Cousins whispered. "Oh, Please..."
I cast a subtle glance at Anderson, who looked frozen. Instead, it was Holloway who wiped away tears.
Pellew continued on without mercy. "I have spared you all the leniency you will ever receive in my command, Sir." Standing back, he motioned to Andrews. "Have you the cat ready, Sir?"
Andrews, now in on the plot, came forward with a very nasty scowl on his face. "Aye, Aye, Sir. Freshly made." He lifted it dramatically from the bag and held it up for all to see.
"And nicely knotted, as appropriate for theft." Pellew said, with an evil grin. "Remember your anger from this morning, Mr. Andrews. It was Mr. Cousins responsible for that."
Andrews, face distorted by the shadows, looked like Satan himself. "I remember, Sir. Don't you worry about that." He flexed his arms and took a few practice swings that whistled in the air dangerously close to Mr. Cousins face. Brandon moved about in the shadows, looking like a man who had been ordered to kill his best friend. A bucket of sea-water was beside him, for the usual reasons. Holloway gagged, and Anderson shivered.
Pellew came over to the both younger boys, all smiles and benevolence. "Ah, my young men. Perhaps this is too much for you after all? I must have witnesses, but you only need to know he is alive afterward. He patted Holloway on the head in sincere kindness, and then mimicked the same for Anderson. "Mr. Bracegirdle, remove them to where they cannot see this. It will not be a pretty sight. They can check Mr. Cousins' status as he is carried out."
"Aye, Aye, Sir. Come, lads." I moved them off to where they could not see, but where they would certainly be able to hear.
"Mr. Hornblower, be so good as to keep the count if you please."
"Aye, Aye, Sir."
"Mr. Andrews, begin."
There was the swish of the cat, and the sound of it hitting flesh, followed by a strange grunt from Cousins. "One." A few deliberate seconds passed, and the same noises. "Two."
"Bless me," I murmured. "He's trying to be brave. Won't work. He'll be weeping like a child soon enough."
'Soon enough' came at ten strokes, when a broken Cousins began to sob between strokes. As "Eleven" struck home he gave a cut-off shriek.
Holloway had already been weeping for him, and I was sorry we'd dragged him in on this. But he would need to know how much he could depend on Anderson, or not. Anderson himself sank limply to the floor. Good, I thought. He won't let this continue too long.
"Twelve." The shrieks continued.
"Twenty." The shrieks were now replaced with a low, gurgling groan, and separated by high-pitched pleas for mercy. And I grew angrier and angrier, for Anderson sat there as if turned to stone.
"Thirty." Struck home to a dull thud.
"He's out, Sir." Mr. Hornblower said.
"Mr. Brandon, revive him, if you please."
Holloway, past tears, leaned numbly against me. "How...how will he..."
"A pinch of Asafetida under his nose. The smell jars one awake, and then cold water on his face until he has his senses back. Then..."
"Thirty-one". And the ungodly shrieks continued.
At "Fifty" Horatio called, "Out again."
"Check him, Mr. Brandon."
I could not believe it. Could not believe Anderson had let this continue for so long. I could throttle him myself right now, I could. He sat on the floor, slumped against a coil of ropes. At least he'd had the decency to shed a few tears by now.
"Sir..." Drew's shaken voice came to me from the shadows. "Sir...he's almost gone, Sir. It's shock. If you continue tonight, you WILL kill him. Please, Sir, I beg of you..."
"Oh, very well. We will continue tomorrow, then. Mr. Brandon, you know what to do."
"Oh, but Sir..."
"Yes, Sir." Drew moaned.
Anderson looked up at me in misery that I had no pity for. "What...what."
"Salt water. Prevents infection."
Holloway shoved his wet face into my waistcoat. "Salt? Oh, no, Sir!" He moaned.
Just then there was a splash, and simultaneously the most ungodly scream one could imagine an eighteen year old boy making.
"Get his shirt on him. I don't want the boys seeing his back like that. Then get him to sick berth, and start getting him ready for tomorrow, Mr. Brandon."
I could hear Mr. Brandon's shaky, "Aye, Aye, Sir" through his tears.
Moments later, Matthews and Styles dragged Mr. Cousins past us. His face hung limply downward, he made no attempt at supporting himself at all. And his shirt was plastered to his back with blood, deep and red, and dripping copiously down to the deck.
"Oh, God, no, no Mr. Cousins! No!" Finally, Anderson broke, sobs racking his small body. And he threw himself at Pellew's feet. "No, Sir, it's me, it's my fault, Sir, I did it, I stole the glass, I just couldn't admit that I failed, couldn't admit that I couldn't find the thing, so I stole Mr. Brandon's. I didn't think you'd go through with it, not like this, Sir, and then it started and I was too scared to say anything. Oh, God, please, Sir, don't kill him, it's not his fault, it's mine. MINE." And he was reduced to sobbing mass, and I almost allowed myself to feel sorry for him.
Holloway spoke the first, of all of us. "You? But...but why..." He looked in disbelief at the boy he'd started with, at the one whom had become his friend over these past months. And he sat on the cabled rope in shock.
With a sigh, Pellew shook his head at me. "Andrews!" He said softly to the Bosun.
"Get Mr. Anderson up to our spare quarters for this evening, and place him under guard. Nobody is to speak with him this evening." By which I understood that we were to let him labor under his beliefs. "I will deal with him in the morning. Make certain he is kept watch on, if only to protect him from himself."
Andrews nodded. "Aye, Aye, Sir." And he picked up the sobbing heap that Anderson had become, and carried him off.
Only when he was out of sight did Reg straighten up, lean over, and heave into the shadows.
"Gruesome, Mr. Cousins." I said.
"Hell!" He said, still gagging. "Did you SEE what the cat did to that bloody pig carcass? Lord almighty, that might have been me!"
Drew, looking composed again, said cheerfully. "Cut that thing right down to the bone, it did, Reg. Flayed the flesh right off of it. Worse than I've ever seen in surgery."
This time Reg and Horatio both gagged. "Have mercy, Drew!" Cousins pleaded.
He jumped on that one. "Mercy? You want Mercy, Sir? After what you did to me this afternoon! No, you are not off the hook yet, either one of you. I reserve the right to throw this in your face for at least the next month, do you hear me! Mercy, indeed!"
I could swear I saw Pellew, tired and worn as he must be, smile at that. But it was Holloway who brought us back to reality.
"M...Mr. Cousins? You are not hurt?"
Reg came over and gently knelt before him. "I am sorry, Mr. Holloway, for this deceit. But I am not hurt. See?" He removed his now ruined shirt and tossed it away, and turned. "Not a mark on me, Mr. Holloway." He returned his face to the boy. "We knew, you see, that Mr. Anderson had taken the glass, but we wanted him to admit it on his own. It is so very important that you can trust the men you work with, to be honest, even when it scares you, to own up to your mistakes. Without trust, Mr. Holloway, we could never survive. Do you understand?"
"I...I think so, Sir." He sniffled.
Reg reached up and tousled his hair. "Good man. Now, you ought to get back to bed, get a little rest, eh?" He rose stiffly and held his hand out to the young midshipman. "There you go. Off with you. Drew and I will be right behind!" He looked to Styles, who nodded in understanding, and followed the shaken young man off to his quarters, to see him safely in.
"Well..." Pellew said gently. "Quite the mess we've left down here. Can't have that on any ship of mine, and somebody better get what's left of that pig overboard before it turns. Mr. Cousins, Mr. Hornblower, I suggest you take care of that now. Take a good look at it. When you become Captains, it will do you well to remember what it looks like before you order wanton punishment of men."
Though both looking a little green, they obeyed and headed for the distasteful task.
"Matthews," He continued. "You give Mr. Brandon here a hand cleaning up the blood from the decks. Then you may both retire. As for Mr. Bracegirdle and I, I think we have both earned our beds this evening." He looked at me. "See me first thing in the morning to discuss Anderson."
"Aye, Aye, Sir."
And bone-tired, I followed his last order most willingly, glad to be done with this exhausting day.
Pellew and I walked past Forbes into our guest quarters, most recently occupied by that bewitching creature the Duchess of Wharfedale. It now housed quite a different person, in the miserable form of fourteen-year old Mr. Anderson, under arrest.
He did not rise when we came in, which strictly speaking was not proper. But not surprising, either. He lay out on the bed, eyes open, dark circles underneath them, staring at the wall unseeing. Forbes leaned over to us before he left. "Hasn't slept a bit all night; spent about three hours crying and then gave up, just staring at the wall like that." He whispered.
Pellew nodded. "Thank you, Forbes."
We approached quietly, Pellew pulling over a stool to his bedside. "Mr. Anderson, I know you can hear me. Is there anything you have to say for yourself?"
He blinked once. Then asked, quietly, "Is Mr. Cousins going to be alright, Sir?"
Pellew looked at him thoughtfully. "Do you care whether or not Mr. Cousins is alright?"
"Yes, Sir." His head turned on the pillow, finally looking at Pellew with those tired eyes.
"I believe, Mr. Anderson, you would have a hard time convincing HIM of that. Wouldn't you agree, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
"I would have to say, Sir, that Mr. Cousins probably would not believe a bit of it."
Anderson closed his eyes. "I am...sorry. It all got...out of control."
I looked at him sternly. "Lies have a way of doing that, young man." I was still angry at just having to listen to that ordeal last night.
Pellew, however, shook his head at me gently. "Mr. Anderson. Honesty is essential to our way of life here. And I am disappointed that you found yourself so afraid of repercussion that you would rather lie than accept responsibility for your action. Before last night, have you ever known me to be cruel?"
He looked back to the wall. "No, Sir." He whispered.
"Your lie put Mr. Cousin's life in danger, Mr. Anderson. And am I wrong, or did I not understand that when Mr. Holloway broke the spy glass, you encouraged him to lie as well."
In shock Anderson turned to Pellew, mouth open. "Yes, young man, I really do know everything that happens on this ship, and no, Mr. Holloway did not tell me about it. Never mind that. The thing is, if Mr. Holloway had followed your advice, it would have put the entire ship, and every man aboard her, in severe danger. And what so very bad happened to Mr. Holloway anyway? A week without spirit rations? Mr. McGill, on watch and watch for inattention? Mr. Brandon and Mr. Hornblower, forced to manual labor for a few days for quarreling? Mr. Cousins, caned once, months ago, for an error in judgement? Is not any of that preferable to our finding the ship blown out from under us?"
He nodded slowly. "Yes, Sir." And he did look miserable.
Pellew exhaled. "Whatever am I to do with you, Mr. Anderson."
He turned back to the wall, tears in his eyes. "Your worst, Sir. God knows I deserve it."
Pellew smiled then. "My worst? And what would that be? Hm?"
Anderson shivered, unable to say it.
"Mr. Anderson, Mr. Cousins is fine. He was not flogged last evening. Not a blow struck him. I do not disobey regulation, Mr. Anderson, and would never take the cat to an officer. I do not even like doing it to the men, I do not believe that scarring a man for life is an effective means of changing his behavior. Do you know what you are, Mr. Anderson?"
"A liar, Sir." He said.
Pellew shook his head again. "No, you are a fourteen year old boy who has made a stupid mistake. I must see you punished, but believe me when I say your life is not over. We may just make an officer out of you yet."
He stood quickly. "You are confined to these quarters for the rest of the day. By tomorrow morning we will be underweigh, bound for Gibraltar. You will, at dawn, be tied in the riggings for a period of twenty-four hours. Perhaps, from that position, you will be able to think on what it takes to keep a ship running well."
He looked startled at being let off so easily. I was surprised myself that Pellew chose to do so. "And Mr. Cousins is alright? Really alright?" He said, finally.
"Utterly unmarked. A bit hoarse from faking those screams, and tired from the late night, but otherwise fine." Anderson closed his eyes. "Thank you, Sir. You have been far kinder to me than I deserve."
"Perhaps. It is my weakness, not that I would have that get out for general knowledge. Rest yourself, Mr. Anderson. You will not be sleeping much tomorrow."
I followed Pellew out and above decks. Only in the clear did he speak to me. "Say it, Anthony."
"I am surprised, Sir, that after everything he did you are not at least going to see him caned."
"Hm. I had considered that. But I felt the riggings would be worse for him, to be on display with everyone knowing the reason why. I have no doubt that however trustworthy Styles, Matthews and Andrews are, it will be all over the ship by tomorrow." He squinted up at the sky. "Besides, his worst punishment will not be at my hands."
"Sir?" I asked, in confusion.
"His mates, Mr. Bracegirdle. He served Mr. Cousins up on a platter and let him, to his knowledge, take fifty brutal strokes before accepting blame. Mr. Cousins will not be quick to forget that, nor will Holloway, who listened to the screams and believed them, nor will Mr. Brandon, who was brave enough to offer up his own body to save his friend."
"You believe they will abuse him, Sir?"
He shook his head. "No, I think far too much of Mr. Cousins to believe that any such disorder would be permitted to take place in the mess. But they will look at him differently, Mr. Bracegirdle. They will be cordial, but not open, they will be fair, but indifferent. They will look at him sideways until he can prove he has earned their trust again. A lonely thing for a boy. And a hard lesson to learn indeed."
I began to understand. I thought of Kennedy and Hornblower, and Cousins and Brandon, and indeed, their interaction with each other, and how hard it was to be without a friend. And with odd fondness I looked over at Bowles, who was wandering around the ship in confusion. He approached me.
"Anthony, I swear, it is the strangest thing! I heard somebody throwing something overboard last night. And what do I see floating off board this morning? A bloated pig carcass! It must mean something!"
I grinned. "Aye, Bowlsie, it does."
He looked at me expectantly.
"It means you've been hitting the Port too hard at night. Better lay off!"
He rolled his eyes at me. "Oh, very funny, Anthony. Will nobody tell me what is going on with this ship?"
"Oh, very well, come with me to the mess and pour me a cup of coffee, and I might consider it."
And we walked off together, a new day beginning.
I sat in the confines of my cabin, writing furiously in my journal.
"Back safely in Gibraltar one day now, we are, after having a few small battles on leaving Madeira. Just a few small ones that saw us pulverize two French supply ships and do some rather nasty damage to a French Frigate, who only eluded capture because of luck with wind. I do not speak French, but it seems to me that after this war if one were to look up "devil" in their dictionary, it might be spelled "Pellew".
A few rather interesting developments to note. First, regarding young Anderson, our repentant liar.
It did not take me long to see how right the Captain was about his being in a hell of his own. The day of his solitary confinement, I could almost see the story being spread over the divisions, and I knew the men would lead the boy the devil's time of it. But it all began to change when Cousins himself, looking rather worn-out by his exploits, came above decks. The Captain told him of his planned punishment, a day in the riggings. And everyone waited. I know most of the men felt, as I did, that Pellew was being rather lenient, and we all expected Cousins to protest. He did not. He thought it over and nodded once. "That is fair, Sir." I thought I heard a few murmurs, but if he, the aggrieved party, could accept this, then nobody else was going to take issue with it.
Then, Cousins asked, "Can I see him, Sir?"
Even Pellew was caught by surprise with that one, but he allowed it. Reg was in there ten minutes, and I do not know what was said, but he emerged looking calm and unflappable, and went cheerfully about the rest of his day.
We set sail, and a composed, if somewhat frightened, Anderson began his time bound in the riggings. The day was hot, and it was Mr. Cousins who, with Pellew's permission, gave the boy water during his confinement. And it was Mr. Cousins who, at dawn the next day, very gently cut him down and assisted him to his berth.
I observed the situation carefully over the next days. When Mr. Anderson had the watch, Mr. Cousins would approach him cheerfully, offering assistance, or just a few moments of chat. I spoke with Horatio. In the classroom, he had noted that the first day they were all together, Mr. Cousins purposely sat next to Mr. Anderson, when the boy had himself taken the furthest seat from the rest of his mates. During lessons, he offered help with problems, helping correct his mistakes and understanding the reason for the answers.
It stands to reason, that Mr. Brandon and Mr. Holloway have followed Mr. Cousins' lead, and have NOT ostracized Anderson in any way. Though every now and then I do catch a glance from Mr. Brandon, and I know he is thinking Mr. Cousins to be crazy. But he will not cross him in this.
Truth is, we were all of us more than a little surprised by his charity. I had been meaning to tax him on it, but with our various skirmishes, there has not been the time for it. Until this morning..."
I found him in the midshipman's berth, studying over some problem Horatio had set for him. I was able to take a moment to observe him in quiet, and realized that at some point over our years together he had become a man, and not a boy any longer. His face had filled out, his shoulders were set, and his eyes were steady and sure. How had this escaped all of our notice?
"Mr. Cousins." I said, and he looked up with a smile and started to rise. "At ease, I wondered if I might have a word with you, off the record as it is."
He nodded quizzically, and motioned to the seat across from him. "Of course, Sir."
I took a deep breath. "We are, all of us, rather in awe at your kindness to Mr. Anderson. I, especially, since I was there to here your supposed torment, and almost believed it despite myself, find it to be remarkable. I know that at the time, you were quite angry. Tell me, what changed this? What prompted this forgiveness?"
He met my eyes steadily. "He is fourteen, Sir. I was fourteen, once. Fifteen, in fact."
I shook my head. "I am afraid I do not understand."
He sat back, and closed his book thoughtfully. "When I first came on board here, Sir, it was shortly after you arrived, shortly after our cutting out expedition with Papillon, which already had something like legendary status in Gibraltar. I was fifteen, and Dan Carlysle and I started within a week of each other. Mr. Hether was the senior in the midshipman's mess, but was really more of a Master's Mate, indeed he was close to qualifying for Master himself, and had been accorded special privileges. That left Mr. Cleveland and Mr. Hornblower. Mr. Cleveland, as you remember, was not much of a personality, rather benign. Mr. Hornblower, though I did not understand this at the time, was in deep mourning for Mr. Kennedy, and thought he was kind, he was rather inclined to keep us younger boys at an arms distance."
"Things changed, gradually. Mr. Hornblower was promoted acting Lieutenant, and we went through rationing. Yet the more difficult things were, it seemed the more human Mr. Hornblower became. Even though he was no longer in our mess, he was still very much one of us, the first to answer, the first to help, the last to scream, if you understand, Sir."
I smiled at this rather accurate description of Mr. Hornblower's personality. "Yes, I can quite see how it must have been."
"Do you? Well, I did not. I was fifteen and full of fire, and waiting for battles that didn't seem to be happening. Even after the incidents with the fire ships, I remember my first thought being that it was all rather tame, all Horatio had done was steer a boat out of the way, and what was the big deal of it? I was, if you will, an idiot."
"Then two things happened. Mr. Lane...do you remember him, Sir, transferred on board. A nice chap, slight, but willing. And Mr. Hether transferred off, and we got Mr. Hunter instead."
"The other day, Sir, I said I had two examples of how a senior in the mess might behave, and I chose wisely. That is not quite true. At first, Mr. Hunter seemed the answer to my prayers."
"He was brutal, he was intimidating, he was fearless, he was strong, and he had been around for so long and seen so much, and I thought him rather wonderful. Not for me, all of this book learning and chart plotting; no, give me a battle and a pistol in my hand, that was the life I wanted. And Mr. Hunter encouraged me in it."
I sighed in remembrance. Yes, good old Mr. Hunter. He would certainly have held appeal for an ambitious, athletic young man hell-bent on conquering the world, the way so many of our young men are when they first arrive. "That is not as surprising as you think, Mr. Cousins."
He smiled sadly. "Maybe not. But in any event, Mr. Hunter was leading poor Lane the devil's own time, and though I felt bad for him, I remember thinking it was damn unfair that Lane was set to go on his mission, to board Etoile when we found her, and I would be stuck with Mr. Hornblower, manning the guns. Well, Pellew swapped us about, and we were both thrilled!"
He leaned forward and put his head in his hands. "I don't have to tell you what happened next, Sir. The mission was a complete and utter failure, thanks to Mr. Hunter's wanton disregard for the plan Captain Pellew laid out for us. I SAW it, sir, but of course I was helpless. As soon as we boarded, he just set out slaughtering men, disregarding that the ship was set to blow at any minute, disregarding that some of the men had been trying to surrender. It...was, and remains, the worst mission I've ever been part of, and all I could do was try and get our men off of there alive."
"I remember." The ship had been carrying two things: rum and an important passenger important to the British Navy. Hunter killed the man, and set the ship ablaze, without noting the danger of her contents. It had been an ugly day, and obviously had made quite an impression on the young man before me.
"When I got back to the Indy, lucky to be alive, my world was inside out. Lane, who'd saved Mr. Hornblower's life, had paid for it with his own, and Hunter, who was alive only because of the assistance of Mr. Cleveland, was utterly indifferent to the fact that Cleveland had been mortally wounded in the process. I saw Mr. Hornblower's grief, and his agony at the mission's failure, and Hunter's callousness, and sheer joy at just having the chance to put some enemy to the sword. And I knew then just how foolish I'd been."
"You are too hard on yourself, Mr. Cousins. You were, as you said, but fifteen. It was not an unlikely mistake for you to make."
Reg shook his head. "In war, Sir, it's the kind of mistake which, once made, usually does not give you the chance to correct it! I had that chance, and I grabbed it. When Drew started, I took pains to protect him from Mr. Hunter, and steer him towards Mr. Hornblower. And I did the same with any of the midshipmen, or the ship's boys who might seek out advice. I patterned my behavior, always, on what I saw from him. And have never regretted it."
I was not understanding why he was telling me this. "I fail to see the connection, Mr. Cousins, between your situation, and Mr. Anderson's performance. If anything, he should have been all the more willing to protect you from his mistake, with the consideration you have shown him!"
"You think?" He smiled. "Then I should have been more willing to follow Mr. Hornblower from the start."
"But there is no Hunter here for Anderson to be impressed by!"
"No. But there is Mr. McGill."
McGill? He was hardly Mr. Hunter!
The younger man leaned forward, anxious to explain. "It's like this, Sir. The night after our little performance for Mr. Anderson, I was pretty keyed up, and damned angry. Let's face it, another Captain and I might not have BEEN acting; or if it had been a battle, I might have been killed. Drew and I got back to our hammocks, and poor Mr. Holloway had already fallen fast asleep. We went to bed but didn't sleep, Sir, instead chatting, mostly me apologizing to him for not telling him about the plot, and him threatening to wait till I was asleep and tip me out of my bed onto the floor! Finally, McGill came down, tired, I'm sure, from his time on watch-and-watch. But he just growled at the both of us to bloody well shut up, thank you, he was damned tired and didn't care to listen to us squabble."
Shaking my head, I could not conceal my disappointment. "He had no cause to speak to you in that way, and no authority."
Reg shrugged. "We're used to it, Sir. He's never really cared to make friends with any of us. So Drew just rolled over and went to sleep, giving me one good punch from bellow, to remind me that I was at his mercy. I remained awake, though, getting angrier and angrier at both Anderson, and Mr. McGill for not even caring enough to ask what the devil we were talking about."
"Not half an hour later, I heard a thump; Mr. Holloway had fallen out of bed during a nightmare. Drew slept through it; McGill snapped at me to please maintain SOME quiet. Disgusted, I got down and helped Thomas back into his bed; quieted him down and soothed him back to sleep as best as I could, all the while wondering what sort of a man McGill could be, that he could be so indifferent about the welfare of one of his mates. And then it hit me."
He met my glance. "Anderson, you see. He was emulating McGill. You...you're not in class with us, not often, but his bent is more towards being a Master than a Lieutenant. He's fascinated by how the boat works, what joins the ship, how she moves. And that is what McGill does; oh, nowhere near as well as Mr. Bowles, not even as well as Mr. Hether, from what I can remember. But much better than me, that is certain. And how often does Anderson get to spend time with Mr. Bowles, anyway? No, he wants to be a Master, McGill is training for one, and that is whom he follows. And McGill is not a bad man, but not interested in the rest of us, unobservant of another man's pain, as you noted with Horatio. McGill acts solitary, as if he could stand alone. So that is what Anderson thought he had to be. Tough-like. Without time for pity. And self-serving, so much so that he thought nothing of lying for it."
I sighed. It was too accurate a picture of McGill's nature, though I have never caught him in a lie. More like the absence of truth. When I had asked him why he had not told me of Mr. Hornblower's injury, he had said, most insulted, that I had not ASKED. By that point, we had never ASKED if Anderson had taken the glass, either.
"I had not forseen this, Mr. Cousins."
"Nor, I, sir. So the next morning, I asked the Captain if I could talk with Henry, and he let me. Any doubt I had that he had gone through the same sort of mind-numbing experience I'd felt on realizing my error in judgement was gone. He begged my forgiveness, even though by now he knew I was unharmed. He offered to insist that Pellew have him flogged as retribution. And he didn't understand why I would not turn him in, couldn't understand it at all."
"How should you have turned him in?"
"He was certain that I knew he had gone for the glass, Sir. He only had one problem to solve; I took two and Matthews took two; and that was it. How hard could it have been for me to figure out whose responsibility it was!"
I smiled. Anderson had been sharper than any of us realized. "What did you tell him."
"That it had BEEN my responsibility. A superior officer is ultimately responsible for the behavior of those beneath him, and likewise, the behavior of the men always reflects on the superior officer."
"A circle of trust." I nodded.
"Oh, I am an idealist, I know. But that is how it ought to be. That is how it is here."
I stood stiffly, understanding everything at last. And I took one look at the young man before me, a thoughtful, intelligent young man whom had grown up without any of us realizing it. How had we not seen this?
I must have been staring at him, because he blushed. "Sir?" He asked.
"I was just thinking, Mr. Cousins, that you might have suffered from being in the shadow of Mr. Hornblower."
He shut his book slowly, and rose. "On the contrary, Sir. I have thrived in it."
With a satisfied smile, I returned my pen to my journal.
"The Captain seemed quite surprised when, after leaving my conference with the man, I approached him and asked him to seriously consider making Mr. Cousins Acting Lieutenant. He pointed out that the boy was even younger than Hornblower had been. I rather jovially threatened that if Pellew did not make him Acting Lieutenant soon, I should offer him such a commission on MY ship! Besides, with my leaving he would need a third lieutenant anyway. He caved in, then, a bit surprised at my insistence, but said it would depend on the outcome of Mr. Kennedy's exam, which we still are unaware of..."
The voice bellowed down the passageway, startling me to the point where I broke the tip on my quill! What the devil could cause such a...
"HORRRAAAAAATTTTTIIIIOOOOOO" Came the sound, louder, and pounding footsteps ran past my door, to the officer's mess. Damme if it didn't sound like Mr. Brandon, but what the devil was he doing running around down here, and screaming out Horatio's name like that? And his CHRISTIAN name, no less! Whatever would the men think if they heard THAT!
Sternly I threw open the door and followed, arriving in the mess just in time to see Mr. Hornblower reading a letter handed to him by Mr. Brandon, and then both of them let out a "whoop" and laughing grabbing on to each other, they jumped like excited children being handed candy!
I opened my mouth to scream when...
"WHAT THE DEVIL IS THE MEANING OF THIS? MR. BRANDON, MR. HORNBLOWER, I AM SHOCKED, SHOCKED AT SUCH IMPROPPER BEHAVIOR ON MY SHIP!"
Captain Pellew. Um. Exactly what I was going to say.
Both young men calmed themselves instantly in a flurry of dismay and embarrassment. They tried, they really did to come to attention, but their excitement was evident despite Captain Pellew's wrath.
Seething, Pellew strode up before me. "Lieutenant Bracegirdle? What is the meaning of this?"
"I do not know, Sir. I was coming along to investigate myself."
"INDEED! So I am not the only person who heard this commotion? Mr. BRANDON!'
"Yes, Sir." Drew said, meekly.
"I KNOW, I JUST KNOW, THAT I DID NOT HEAR YOU SCREAM MR. HORNBLOWER'S CHRISTIAN NAME, OUT LOUD, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY, ON BOARD THIS SHIP!"
Gulping, he could only say, "I am afraid that you did, Sir!"
He said nothing for some moments. I could see that Horatio wished to defend him, but could not think HOW.
Resuming a more natural, but still stern, tone, Pellew walked up to Brandon. "I assume, Mr. Brandon, that I will never hear such a thing in such a manner, again!"
Shaking his head, Drew said more calmly. "No, Sir, I give you my word that you will not."
"You had best keep it." He looked at both of them with no hint of softness whatsoever. "I expect you both to behave as officers, and not as heathens, Gentlemen." And he started to walk away.
Playing with fire, Mr. Brandon called out to him.
"Captain Pellew, Sir?"
The man turned around and glared him down. "Well?"
"Would it please you to know, Sir, that Mr. Kennedy passed his lieutenant's exam?"
One. Two. Three.
I could see him struggling with this.
He nodded finally. "Yes, Mr. Brandon. It does please me. Any other news?" He asked, off-handedly.
"Yes, Sir. He is to marry my sister."
"I see. So it would seem that we can expect Mr. Kennedy back here in a timely fashion. Perhaps HE will know how an officer is expected to behave."
Nice parting shot, Sir, I must say.
"Mr. Bracegirdle, if you would be so good as to attend me for a few moments in my cabin."
I smiled, behind the Captain's back, at the now more quietly exuberant young men I left in my wake.
We got to his cabin and he went immediately to the Madeira wine and poured two copious glasses, handing me one. Only when he turned around could I see his face.
If he has ever smiled wider, or had eyes that more danced with mirth, I do not know when it should have been.
He tossed his off in a gulp. "Well. WELL, Anthony, Well done for Mr. Kennedy, eh! Yes, By God!" He smacked me rather hard on the arm, and I let myself grin. "He passed. HE BLOODY WELL PASSED! HA!"
He sat himself down in his chair and tilted himself backward precariously. "I hoped, I really did, but the exam boards can be so nerve wracking, and OH MY GOD! HE DID IT! HA! HA! That's two, TWO midshipmen I've seen up to Lieutenant in a scant three years! A record, yes, by jove, that's it! HA!" He leapt up to the window and paced violently. "HE PASSED!" He screamed to the gulls outside, or to his own reflection, I do not know.
And I finally spoke. "A damn good thing to."
"Hm?" He looked at me quizzically.
"It might give this ship at least one officer who knows how to BEHAVE, Sir!"
And together, we broke down and laughed.