Perspectives--The November Files
November 1, 1795
Finally, repaired and revictualed, I have received Admiralty orders regarding our next mission.
Actually, they came in the form of two letters, both from Admiral Hale; one formal, and one more personal.
The first stated, in the usual language, that we are not to resume patrol of the Med with the rest of the fleet, engaging in the blockade in the area of Gibraltar. Instead, we would strike out a lone path eastward in search of the French ship L'Etoile, which our information says is beating a return path from the Americas for France.
L'Etoile, if my knowledge serves me correctly, is a smaller ship-bigger than La Reve, but by no means the Papillon. A 24 gunner at most. There is nothing important about the ship itself, so there must be something about the passengers, or the cargo. Naturally, Hale did not enlighten me on the need for this particular ship's capture, only that if intercepted, she was to be boarded and returned in tact with personal to Portsmouth. If we found it necessary to destroy her, we would instead report such to Gibraltar.
The thinking is that, with the rest of the fleet keeping the French and Spanish bottled up in the Med, The Etoile will be without assistance.
The personal note has me rather miffed. Hale suggested he was looking forward to my report of my success, and would be interested to hear on the progress of my officers other than Hornblower. Specifically, he was looking to see how the newly transferred Mr. Hunter would perform!
The implication is clear. Hale implies I favor Hornblower. Well, I do. He also implies I do it in disregard of my other officers. Not so. Bracegirdle is extremely valued and knows his way about running a ship better than any man I've ever seen. But he is not the man I would choose to send headlong into a covert action against an enemy ship. His forte is planning and preparation. Bowles, on the other hand, would probably be very handy as a man of action. But he is far too important to the functioning of this ship for me to risk in direct combat.
Excluding McAnn, Andrews, Cook, and the Carpenter, Dickens, that leaves me with Hornblower, Hunter, and Cleveland; oh and my remaining four midshipmen, who range in age from twelve to fourteen. So in reality, it leaves me Hornblower, Hunter and Cleveland.
Since the preferred result of this expedition is to obtain control of the ship, we will have to plan on maiming her-but not so badly she can't be repaired to sail home-and boarding her. It's not like we'll be able to sneak up on her, as we did the Papillon.
Once we are under weigh, I will ask for a meeting with all the officers and see what can be done. I shall have to leave the boarding in the hands of Hunter and Cleveland, and retain Hornblower and his men on the Indy, in charge of the guns. In short, the opposite of what I would choose on my own.
I dislike the taste of this mission from the start.
November 2nd, 10am
After battling the winds all evening, we were finally able to set sail, heading out into the Atlantic.
As always, there is much speculation about our mission as we start out. Especially since we are headed away from the rest of the fleet!
I have not confided plans in anyone, only informed Bracegirdle that I wanted all officers in my cabin for dinner. They will put two and two together and realize we are not there for social conversation.
The sea is particularly rough today, and the ship has been rolling mightily. Despite the frustrating orders from Hale, I have found amusement today in watching Mr. Hornblower attempt to regain his sea legs in these new environments. I have often noted that whenever there is a change in motion it throws him temporarily. The rest of him may have been born for the sea, but someone forgot to tell his stomach!
We were not out for two hours when Hunter had a problem with one of our younger men, Mr. Philip Lane. Lane is my youngest Midshipman, almost thirteen years of age, and has been on board for less than a month-his father was employed in the Government at Gibraltar. He is learning quickly, and I find him adequate, fitting in well with the other young men.
I could not ascertain what Hunter's verbal barrage was for, as he dragged him up from below. Lane's face became paler every minute. I inched inconspicuously closer in an attempt to discover what the problem was. Mr. Hornblower arrived there first, quietly interrupting Hunter.
"Can I be of some assistance, Mr. Hunter?"
Hunter is, as a Master's Mate, of lower rank than Horatio. "I believe I can handle this."
He, deliberately or not, left off the Sir.
Horatio stood a bit more rigidly. "Mr. Hunter! I believe I asked if I could be of some assistance?" He stared him down.
Now Horatio is at least ten years younger than Hunter, but he spoke with calm and firm resolution, and Hunter took his meaning.
He was equally forceful, though, in his answer. "I said I can handle this...SIR."
There may have been a trace of mockery in that last word.
And Horatio looked down at the pale face of Lane, and then returned his piercing eyes to Hunter. His chin jutted out just slightly. "I have no doubt you can handle this Mr. Hunter. Never the less, I should like to hear just what the matter is."
Hunter half smirked. "SIR...I found this boy rummaging about in Mr. Bowles cabin. I was on the verge of calling for the Bosun's mate...SIR...when you interrupted."
I believe I have made clear my personal dislike of physical discipline, although sometimes it is necessary. Still, this boy Lane reports to Mr. Hunter, and he could order him beaten if he so chose. I felt for the boy, but could not risk undermining my officer's authority. But I planned on having a talk with Hunter soon. This would not be a frequent occurrence on any ship of mine.
But Hornblower, also firmly set against the needless caning of boys and flogging of men, had one more question before he would let Hunter carry out his intent.
He asked the boy, who now trembled slightly, for what reason he had been about the officer's cabin? "Mr. Bowles, Sir, sent me to pick this up...(he held forth Mr. Bowles log) he's in the cable tier waiting for 'em. He ordered me to get them for him."
Obviously, Bowles had needed to refer to his log in order to make some repair to the ship.
Hunter looked a bit crest fallen. "Why didn't you tell me that in the first place?"
Of course, as far as I could tell, Hunter had not given the lad two seconds to speak in.
Things further reached a peak when Bowles, steaming mad at having been kept waiting, stormed up on deck with the Bosun already trailing behind him. Lane, seeing him coming, looked as though he'd like to jump overboard, and he blinked once. He thought he was due to kiss the gunner's daughter for sure.
Now Bowles does not get angry often, but never keep a ship's master waiting for an important piece of material. However, I had seen enough.
"Mr. Bowles," I intoned. All eyes now turned to me.
"I am afraid that Mr. Lane was unavoidably detained by Mr. Hunter. Is that not so, Mr. Hunter?" I asked.
Hunter grudgingly admitted as such. Bowles, appeased, then snatched the logbook from Lane and returned to the tier.
Hunter, after taking a long glance at Hornblower, followed after him, possibly to try to make amends with Bowles. A stunned but relieved Lane turned with something like reverence on Hornblower. "Mr. Lane. I believe there are some repairs on the forcastle that need attending to."
"Aye Aye Sir."
I can not tell you the disgust I felt at Hunter's behavior. He acted rashly, in haste, without trying to discover the circumstances. It was of small consequence in this present matter, but what would come when he had to make decisions on larger issues? Bracegirdle, who picked that moment to appear further augmented my opinion. "I do not think I trust that man Hunter, Sir."
Of course, I could not agree with him, as I am about to hand Hunter an important mission. Still, this has decided it, Hunter will only co-lead the attack, participating with Cleveland.
But I think I shall have Hornblower working with the mids more. Bowles is certainly over extended. I shall have Horatio conducting classes daily for them. Perhaps there might be another gem in the bunch.
November 2, 10pm
Dinner in my cabin was brief. There was little conversation between Hornblower and Hunter, most probably the result of this afternoon's incident. Of course, Hornblower's seasickness might have something to do with that as well. None of the other officers made mention of his lack of appetite, but Hunter made a point of passing every particularly greasy dish right under his nose.
Finally, dinner cleared, we came to the point of the mission. I highlighted the pertinent details of the Etoile, what little we knew of them. I explained that we had it on good authority that she will be returning, within a week's time, along these lanes, and that our objective was to meet her, disable her, and board her, and then return her to England.
The men absorbed this in silence, none objecting to the task at hand.
Then came the difficult part. Once disabled enough to be boarded, I continued, Mr. Hunter and Mr. Cleveland will lead their divisions on to her, to effect her capture. Mr. Hornblower and his division would remain with the guns, offering fire if necessary, but avoiding any unnecessary damage to our prize.
Bracegirdle looked like he'd just about fall off of his chair at this announcement. Bowles, who saw Hunter's practical intelligence, was less surprised. I was afraid to look at Hornblower at all.
Hunter was all enthusiasm, as was Cleveland, though Cleveland tempered it more. In fact, I could see he felt this was a means of impressing his skills to me, and perhaps he shall. Hunter, meanwhile, preened like a damned peacock!
Hornblower spoke then, calmly and unemotionally. "Sir, do we know what cargo she is carrying? Will that affect our attempts to take her?"
I finally turned to him then, and felt relief. He was very professional, and I sensed no hurt or mortification at his being passed over for this assignment. "No, Mr. Hornblower, we have no idea what she's carrying. She could be loaded with explosives, for all I know. Therefore, we must use every caution in bringing her to heel."
"So a shot at the mast, to cripple her, would probably be our best option?"
Bracegirdle recovered himself somewhat. "Your men, Mr. Hornblower, should be well able to handle such a feat."
Hunter snorted, but said nothing.
I dismissed the men, but called back Hornblower and Bowles.
"Mr. Bowles, how is your time, Sir?"
"My time sir?"
He confessed with a joke that he could use another four hours in the day.
"Then my suggestion is this. Let Mr. Hornblower take over educating the Midshipmen for the time being." I turned to Horatio. "You certainly are well versed enough in Mathematics, and if they were to learn a little French, it would not be a bad thing."
Bowles appeared overjoyed at the suggestion. To my surprise, Hornblower seemed eager as well.
As Bowles left, I detained Hornblower alone.
"You have no objection to this?"
"None whatsoever, Sir. I enjoy working with the Midshipmen. Some of them show quite a bit of promise."
I waived aside the young men. "I mean with the raid on the Etoile? No objection to your assignment there?"
Hornblower looked surprised. "Sir, I assume you've made your assignments for a reason. I would not presume to question your judgement." The ship pitched, and he grabbed the desk quickly. I put one hand on his shoulder to steady him, and he blanched, fully embarrassed. Quickly I dismissed him before his stomach overcame his head further.
Just as well. I was on the verge of committing the unpardonable sin of admitting that MY own judgement would have had Hunter far away from any raid, but that admiralty had other ideas.
And that would never do.
November 3, 9pm
Day one sailing on our new coordinates, no sign of Etoile as of yet.
Hunter and Cleveland are preparing their men for the boarding, however, having exercised them for two hours and going over plans until they are blue in the face, and his men are worn out. Hornblower has been considerably more sanguine, merely explaining the assignment to his crew, their goals, and his expectation that once the time came they would be up to the task.
Meanwhile, I observed the tail end of Hornblower's first class with the Mids. A navigational task set before them. Five out of six actually got the answer correctly, and the sixth was not far off. He seems to have an easy patience with the boys, and as he is young himself, he is not so intimidating to them, though they regard him with respect enough. Naturally, as I walk through, they all stiffen up and try to look as proper as possible, without calling undue attention to themselves. To my amusement, Hornblower still does the same thing, all though not in as obvious a fashion.
Later on, while dining in my cabin, I could hear through the skylight Hornblower and Lane involved in a quiet conversation.
"So, Mr. Lane, what think you so far of the Indefatigable?"
"Is going to sea everything you had hoped for?"
"Oh, yes, Sir. This is what I've always wanted."
"You performed quite well at the exercises this afternoon."
"Thank you, Sir."
"Your French, of course, could use a bit of improvement."
"Yes, Sir." He hesitated, then continued. "Sir, is it appropriate for me to thank you for your assistance yesterday?"
"I offered you no special assistance, Mr. Lane, so thanks are unnecessary. I only ensured that justice prevailed."
Horatio, after a moment's pause, continued. "Besides, Mr. Lane, I know what it is like to run afoul of a more superior shipmate. Especially when you are new on board."
"You, Sir? On this ship?"
"Not on this ship, Mr. Lane. On my first ship, the Justinian. We had one senior Midshipman who enacted a reign of terror. I was not sure I would survive."
"But, Sir...surely you, of all people, would be able to bring him down."
"No, Lane. I needed help. I needed watchful Lieutenants and a fair and sensible Captain, as we all do if a ship is to run well. And that you have here, on the Indefatigable. Never doubt that. Now, you'd best get about your rounds."
"Aye Aye, Sir."
I wonder which captain it first was who discovered the incredible efficiency of skylights in delivering information? I remember my own mortification during my first command, as a young commander, when I realized that if I could hear through my skylight, so must every captain of every decent sized ship be able to do so-in short, every captain I ever had! Someday, no doubt, Hornblower will stand in his own cabin, the first large enough to have a skylight, and come to the same realization! I imagined the look on his face, and chuckled slightly.
The skylight, and Powers. The omniscient Captain, indeed!
November 4, 1795
Mr. Hunter will be the death of me yet.
I was engaged in some rather difficult log entries skirting around my personal desires and the needs of admiralty, whilst Hunter was running exercises with his and Cleveland's crew, in order to test their readiness for the impending raid. One of the items he had them doing was racing up the ratlines in an attempt to loose the sails-much the same task Hornblower had when we took the Papillon. It is doubtful in this case that we would need such measures, since the ship will be under weigh as we board her, but it's not bad to be prepared for any contingency, and exercise keeps the hands from getting dull until we do encounter Etoile.
Bracegirdle interrupted me. "Sir, I think you'd best come above decks."
When I arrived there, Hunter was in the process of abjectly humiliating the midshipman who had been last in the race-Lane. As I have mentioned, Lane is new to Indefatigable, and it is not surprising that the ratlines should still trouble him. However, with noted lack of sympathy, Hunter had, with Bowles apparent permission, ordered Lane tied into the riggings, for the period of the watch, and was now standing in front of the suspended boy, taunting him mercilessly.
Bracegirdle, like myself, was loathe to undermine an officer. But Mr. Hunter is superior by courtesy only. I could force him into the midshipman's berth, but had chosen to confer on him the same respect Hether had earned during his time here. And Bracegirdle knew well enough of my own feelings for my men...all of my men!
Hornblower was Lieutenant of the watch, and stood by the wheel, pale and furious. There were no signs of seasickness at this moment. No, it was the face of a man angry enough to kill.
"Mr. Hunter!" I roared.
He jumped slightly. "Sir!"
"I wish for you to report to me in my cabin AT ONCE."
He turned away, looking first at Lane, and then at me. "Aye Aye, Sir."
I cleared my throat. "Mr. Hornblower, how long has Mr. Hunter ordered Mr. Lane confined to the riggings?"
"Till the end of the next watch, Sir." His voice was strained, and he was pale to the lips.
"Mmmm hmmm. That is unnecessary. When THIS watch is over, see that he is promptly cut down." I could not properly override Hunter, but I could mitigate the punishment-an hour more in the riggings would prevent resentment while at the same time preserving authority. I could see Hornblower would have liked to cut him down now, but that was just not possible.
I could do one thing more. "LET ME MAKE ONE THING CLEAR. ANY MAN ATTEMPTING TO TAUNT OR OTHERWISE TAKE ADVANTAGE OF MR. LANE IN THIS SITUATION SHALL ANSWER TO ME. DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR."
I nodded at the various men. "Mr. Hornblower, please be sure that my orders are taken heed of."
"Aye Aye, Sir." He looked relieved, and gradually the color of his face returned to its normal pallor.
Now, I had to deal with Mr. Hunter.
When I returned to my Cabin he was awaiting me, and I motioned him inside. I was churning. I wanted to chew him out as badly as he'd chewed out that young boy, but I was afraid of two things. First, he was the type who would turn around and take his frustration out on his men, which was what I was trying to avoid. And second, I had the upcoming mission to think of; I could not have him undermined in front of his men, or even in his own mind. Not that there was much fear of that.
"Mr. Hunter." My voice was firm and unyielding. "I understand you are relatively new to this ship, and to the way I prefer things run."
"Sir, I have been here now a month. I believe I understand how you want things run."
I eyed him coldly. "You will speak when addressed, Mr. Hunter." I snapped. "I expect a good deal of discipline from all of my men. My officers down to the most common seaman. And I have no problem meting out punishment to a man, or boy, who exhibits behavior that warrants it. But I do not believe the wanton punishment of men or boys adds to the discipline of the ship; in fact, I feel it undermines it. Now, may I ask for what reason you chose to order Mr. Lane's punishment?
"Mr. Bowles gave me authority to discipline the men as I saw fit, in preparation for the raid."
"DAMMIT, MAN, I AM NOT QUESTIONING YOUR AUTHORITY." I hesitated, and then calmed down. "I want to know...for what...reason...you specifically punished Lane?"
Hunter stood more erect and directed his eyes forward. "He was the last down the ratlines in our practice, Sir."
I knew that, of course. But I wanted to hear if there had been anything else behind it. Apparently not.
"And you felt...that tying a twelve year old boy in the riggings...for two watches....would inspire him to be faster next time?"
"He needed to be made example of. It just happened to be him."
"And you felt that TAUNTING and humiliating him would improve that result?"
"Sir, the boy is weak. He will never survive the raid on Etoile as he is."
The thing is, he is right. Not that the boy is inherently weak, but that he cannot survive Etoile under these circumstances. He is still new to all of this, still learning. He might have had an officer who inspired him beyond those things. Mr. Hunter is not that man. And a decision had to be made.
"Very well, Mr. Hunter. If you feel you will be unable to lead Mr. Lane into battle, I have no choice but to move him from your division. Effective immediately, he will report to Mr. Hornblower; Mr. Cousins will report to you." Cousins is a solid fourteen year old, big for his age and agile, although not long on brains.
Neither, it would seem, is Mr. Hunter, for I detected a very decided smirk when I said Lane would report to Hornblower.
"Do you have a comment, Sir?" I was on edge now, ready to pounce.
"No, Sir; I think that is a much better fit...all around."
I knew what he was saying, of course. He considered Hornblower weak as well as Lane; possibly he considered me so, as well. He had best learn otherwise, and fast.
I finished him off. "Mr. Hunter, perhaps this is not how you would prefer to lead a command of your own. However, until you actually achieve one..." He winced at that. "You will be forced to obey my orders. All I have going for me in these decisions is the observation of thirty-four years at sea, twenty four of them in command of my own vessels. All I have succeeded in is never having lost a ship at sea, never having been captured, and having myself taken some fifty enemy vessels over those passing years. So I see no reason to change my style of command now. DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?"
He had withered visibly. "Yes, Sir."
I dismissed him, and sat weakly in my chair. Damn Admiral Hale and his stupid orders. Hunter may well learn from Bowles how to maneuver a ship and keep it running smoothly, but he will NEVER be a leader of men.
I see nothing but dark days ahead in this adventure.
Perspectives-November 1795, Part 4, message 1 of 2
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and mean no disrespect to CS
Forester or the creators of the miniseries in borrowing them for a bit.
Author's note: The continuing saga of Horatio's life after The Fire Ships and Before Duchess and The Devil, from Pellew's eyes, of course!
November 6, 1795
The change in leadership from Hunter to Hornblower has done Lane a world of good. Likewise, Mr. Cousins seems thrilled at being able to participate in the raid more directly. I would say it was one of my wiser decisions, except I fear Cousins may die for it.
For the longer we wait for Etoile to show her face, the worse feeling I have about this. Hunter has shown little improvement, except he no longer is quite as free with his temper. He now knows that even when I am not above decks, I will find out if he has become, over exuberant, shall we say? But whenever we have discussed the mission, what we would do right at this moment if Etoile should show up, he gets this queer light in his eyes that I just don't like. He speaks enthusiastically of boarding her, of cutting her men down, he speaks of the FIGHT, and not the result.
Cleveland is just the opposite, seemingly determined to steady him, continuously trying to bring him back to earth. He talks of specific steps to gain her control; what to do if her crew acquiesces easily, and what to do if they do not. I am almost pleased with him; he is somewhat over cautious, but I think he is driven to that by Hunter's indulgences.
Hornblower, on the other hand, is quietly confident in his men. I have heard him working them, in free time, on gunnery maneuvers. Lane was inclined to be awkward at first, but Hornblower held him back, let him watch how the men worked the first few times. Now, he is confident and sure, when operating around them. I have noticed he never works them too long.
Hunter sneers at him for this, while at the same time acting surprised that such a simple act (!) as gunnery would need any practicing. He and Horatio have settled into a cold dislike of one another, and do not spend much time in each other's company. Since Horatio is well liked by the other officers, and since Hunter disdains association with "the boys" as he calls the midshipmen, he has begun to live a rather lonely life on this ship. He is neither one thing, nor the other, and it becomes awkward.
After my conversation with Hunter two days ago, I made a point of seeking clarification from Bowles. Yes, Bowles did give him permission to punish the younger midshipmen as he saw fit, if they should commit any egregious errors. The difference lies in what one would say constituted an egregious error. Bowles was thinking in terms of insubordination, gross carelessness, laziness, and the like. It never occurred to him that Hunter would consider it a mandate to abuse the boys even when they are trying their best. So Bowles has removed his authorization; now any disciplinary action must be cleared through him.
And still we wait, and no sign of the French. I hope to the heavens that Admiralty was right and she is heading this way, else I'll be in the Americas with one restless crew.
What is that I hear? A sail, sighted? Perhaps it is the Etoile at last!
November 6, 4pm
In fact, it was the Etoile.
I shall put the details down now of our encounter as I saw them happen. Perhaps it will clear my mind enough that I will figure out how the devil I am to word my report to Hale.
When I got above decks, the beat to quarters had already sounded. The men were at their ready as I grasped the spy glass from Bracegirdle. Sure enough, there she was.
We approached cautiously, but her maneuvers were strange. It was almost as if she were of two minds; at one point swinging away to flee, and at another, turning as if she meant to fight. Finally, she got one...and only one...cannon shot off; strange not to hear more than that one gun. It was a lucky hit on their part, causing some damage to a gun port on the starboard side, and felling one man. Hornblower quickly moved into gear, and on my command, he gave the order to fire.
Our guns went of successively, each one aimed at the masting. We were still farther away than I would have liked, and several shots went wide, but three told, causing minor damage; a forth brought down their topsail, properly disabling her.
Bowles did not need my command to bring us in close enough to board, as her men...some of them...recovered the damage. As soon as possible, Hunter, Cleveland and his men were off, swords brandishing, calling out for surrender.
At least, Cleveland called out for surrender. Hunter never did. He swung wildly with his sword, and exhorted his men to do the same. One Frenchman attempted to wave him off, and Hunter shot him dead.
And things went crazy, then. The men...all of them, this time...on the French vessel, seemed enraged. One of them seemed prepared to fire a small 9-pounder right into us; Hornblower prepared his men, and stepped back, anticipating a direct hit to the side. Hunter lunged at him then, jerking the 9-pounder around just as it was fired. The shot went airborn hit one of our masts.
I could see it happening as if in slow motion. The mast was falling...on Horatio. He had not seen the misdirected shot. But I had. And now I would watch my young Lieutenant die.
Perspectives-November 1795, Part 4, message 2 of 2
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and mean no disrespect to CS
Forester or the creators of the miniseries in borrowing them for a bit.
Author's note: The continuing saga of Horatio's life after The Fire Ships and Before Duchess and The Devil, from Pellew's eyes, of course!
However, I was not the only person to see the shot tell. Lane had seen it also. I heard, somehow, his shriek, even above the suddenly increasing cannon fire. He charged at Hornblower, pushing him wildly out of the way...I don't think Horatio ever knew what hit him. And so Lane saved Hornblower's life, and paid for it with his own. The mast crushed him.
I saw the shocked anguish on Horatio's face as he grabbed for Lane's limp arm, but he realized almost immediately it was futile. And, as an officer does, he put grief aside and returned to his duties. There would be time for sorrow later. He had living men to protect.
On board Etoile, hell was literally breaking loose. A shot at one of their gun ports seemed to have started a small fire.
"Mr. Bowles!" I gasped. "Move us aback of her, in case that fire spreads!"
We would send out the boats for our own men, but we had to make sure that the flames did not touch her. I did not want a repeat of our events at Gibraltar.
The voices of one of Hornblowrer's men came up to me. Styles, it was. "Sir, that smell...smells like RUM, sir."
Hornblower saw it as quickly as I did. "Good God, she's carrying Rum! Cease fire, lads, or we'll blow her to kingdom come, and us with them."
He turned to me. "Sir! It's Rum, sir, and she's on fire."
The Rum, of course, would have been highly flammable, and, tightly casked, would have an explosive effect.
"Get us AWAY FROM HER, MR. BOWLES."
Hornblower, meanwhile, was trying his best to alert the men on board her.
"Mr. Hunter, Mr. Hunter, it's Rum, she could blow up. Retreat, Mr. Hunter!"
Hunter, of course, acted as though he heard not a thing, and perhaps he didn't.
Hornblower, in desperation as we moved away, sought another avenue. "Cleveland, for God's sake get off her, she might blow."
Cleveland did hear him, and began directing the men into the water. I ordered a boat launched, with the caution it would keep its distance. I hoped all of our men on her could swim.
A few of the French also hit the water, as the fire gained. But Hunter was still wild with anger, and ran through the officers without thought to his own peril. Cleveland finally charged up to him and threw Hunter forcibly in the water, only to take a shot from one of the dying Frenchmen. He staggered overboard. Hunter, finally showing some sense and decency, swam with Cleveland, helping him along. They just made it out of danger when the explosion happened, and the Etoile, who we were supposed to capture, was captured by Posseidon instead.
The boats, I knew, were trying to gather what was left of our men, and any of the French. But I could see only one thing. Hornblower, returning to Lane, gently lifting the mast off of him, with Styles' and Matthew's help, and kneeling beside him. He softly folded the boy's arms across his chest, and laid a hand gently on his forehead. He bowed his head, and his men stood respectfully beside him. His shoulders twitched, but then stiffened suddenly, and he rose, tall and in command of himself, and surveyed the damage to the ship.
I had seen enough.
"Get to work shoring up the damage, Mr. Bowles. Have Mr. Hunter and Mr. Cleveland, if he is capable, as soon as they are back on board. Then I would see any of the French, to ascertain the meaning of their strange behavior."
Bracegirdle interjected. "You'll need Hornblower for that."
I hadn't thought of that. No, he would not be ready. And I decided instead that interviewing any prisoners could wait until tomorrow. Instead, after I met with Hunter and Cleveland, I asked for a meeting with the rest of the officers, over a good bottle of brandy.
We will be needing it.
November 10th, 7pm.
We sat in my cabin, Bracegirdle, Hornblower, and I. We sat without words and without tears, each of us no doubt cursing the outcome of the mission for different reasons. Twice Bracegirdle looked at Horatio as if about to speak, then thought better of it. Horatio was in a controlled fury. I think he feared speaking, in case he would either rage or cry.
And I? I was-and still am-misery. Our mission is a failure; our prize destroyed. And in its failure, I had lost ten skilled and valued seamen at least; and one midshipman, in Lane.
And then Bowles returned from Hepplewhite with the final butcher's bill-an additional two seamen succumbed to their wounds, and another midshipman-Cleveland!
Horatio sat back in angst then, one long finger running between his brow, his lips pursed into a thin line against his pale, blood spattered face.
He had lost Lane-a midshipman he had devoted much of himself to. A boy with promise, who had looked up to him, admired him. Who had died in the act of saving his life. And now, Cleveland. Whom he had served with since his days on the Justinian. This was a very painful lesson to learn. It is a lesson, in fact, that I am still learning to this day.
Bracegirdle finally spoke: "A hard loss, Mr. Hornlbower."
Horatio swallowed twice before he spoke. "Indeed, Mr. Bracegirdle. I was not as close with Mr. Cleveland as I might have been, but nevertheless, we had served together for over two years now. He will be missed."
I stood abruptly and wheeled to the window, and the men stood behind me. I sensed their concern, but had no answer to give them, no platitude to ease their minds, or mine, and I dismissed them, on the excuse of needing to prepare my report.
What to write? "Dear Sirs, thanks to your needless interference, I sent an incapable man into a battle who had so little appreciation for the needs and goals of this mission that I have lost fourteen valued men. Mr. Hunter, naturally, remains alive, and rejoices in the destruction of the enemy vessel, as it means he has killed many Frenchmen, regardless of loss of his compatriots or the needs of the admiralty. Meanwhile, Mr. Hornblower, forced to relative inaction on board the Indefatigable, had to watch while a twelve year old boy under his service was crushed to death, while saving his life, as a result of Mr. Hunter's botched assault. I have additionally lost the only other midshipman of lengthy service, as Mr. Cleveland was valiantly trying to prevent a complete loss of our men, only to be mortally wounded. Meanwhile, your prize rests at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean."
That sounds about right!
November 11th, 1:00AM
I encountered Hornblower above decks, as I felt I might. He was walking as he usually did, taking long deliberate strides, hands clasped behind his back. He has gotten taller since he came on board; he seems to almost have outgrown his uniform. He will need a new one should we ever get back to England!
He spotted me and gave me a half-smile, a rueful one. He knows that I am perhaps the one person on board that can understand the night-walks, the attempts to cure you ailments in the stars and the breeze. He is also full aware that I am above decks for the same reason.
I stood next to him. "A deceptively fine night, Mr. Hornblower."
"Yes, Sir. It seems wrong that it should be so."
Well, what did the stars know or care of the human folly to be found on one small frigate rolling about the Atlantic? Could the wind and the spray know there were fourteen less souls on board her to appreciate their gentleness?
"It reminds us, I suppose, of our place in the universe. It is quite humbling."
He inhaled deeply. "Sir, does...this ever get any easier?"
I closed my eyes and remembered a too long list of men lost. "No, it never does. Not if we keep our humanity. You cope with it; you accept it; you learn how to hide your hurt, but it never gets any easier. And it shouldn't. Though this is the Navy, and we know that loss of life is inevitable, we should never cease to regret the loss of good men."
He nodded, eyes scanning the Horizon. "You must write, I suppose, to Hale's parents, Sir?"
"Yes, among others."
"Would it be alright, Sir, for me to enclose a personal note, as Hale's commanding officer? He did save my life."
"I think it would be quite appropriate."
"Thank you, Sir."
I thought of the shy boy we had lost; I wonder if Hornblower had been the same sort of lad at that age? I wish the Navy did not take so many boys into the service. It seems wrong, somehow. And how much behind had Hornblower been, really, for starting at age seventeen, instead of twelve? It seems wrong for a boy to die fighting a man's war.
"I shall need your help tomorrow morning, Mr. Hornblower. I will need to interview the French prisoners."
He turned back towards me, returning to focus. "I anticipated that, Sir. Their behavior this afternoon was quite unusual. I expected, in fact, you might wish to interview them earlier."
I sighed. "Well...I felt there would be no harm in waiting a day. To give us time to recover. To bury our dead." I shrugged slightly. "Perhaps Hunter is right; perhaps I am a weak man."
I had not meant to speak that last bit out loud.
Hornblower was indignant. "If I may, Sir, Mr. Hunter is the last man who's opinion I would ask for, or believe if given. Ask any other of the three hundred men on this ship, Sir, and you'd not hear such a thing."
I was moderately embarrassed. It was as if I had sought the compliment, and that is not my style.
"Ahem, well, Mr. Hornblower, I ought to employ you as my agent with the newspapers back in London. With such copious praise, I might draw as much press as Dreadnaught Foster."
Hornblower turned a deadpan face to me. "Since you bring him up, Sir, I know Captain Foster is looking for another officer. Perhaps.. . we can arrange a transfer.. .?"
I was about to splutter a suitable rejoinder when he continued:
".. .of Mr. Hunter."
And so I returned to my berth, gentle humor left behind me,
to write letters to dead men's families. To explain to a father
that his twelve-year-old son had died in a valiant act of courage,
saving the life of an officer whom had been kind to him. And
perhaps in that act, preserving the sanity of his Captain as well.
Author's note: The date of this last entry is purposeful. Although there was no Veteran's Day back in 1795, and even though it's a bit late in real time, this portion is dedicated to all those who have fought valiantly0 for their countries, and specifically my father, a Private First Class, Purple Heart recipient, and POW in WWII.
November 16, 1999
From Sir Edward Pellew to Admiralty:
I respectfully report to you on our recent engagement of the French ship Etoile.
In accordance with Admiralty instructions, we set course to meet the Etoile. Mr. Wallace Cleveland, Midshipman, and Mr. Thomas Hunter, Master's Mate, were to be in charge of boarding her should the opportunity arise.
When we encountered her, her behavior was strange, in that she attempted alternatively to flee, then to fight, and then made move as if to surrender. In such an atmosphere of uncertainty, our men were forced to assume the situation unstable. Unsuccessful at obtaining a direct surrender, our men on board ship were engaged in hand-to-hand combat, while our gunnery crew, under direction of Acting Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower, provided cover.
Unfortunately, in the process of combating the French crew, a fire was started on board the Etoile. Thanks to the quick work of our men-specifically Able Seaman Joseph Styles, working with Lt. Hornblower, we identified the Etoiles cargo as rum, and were able to move clear aback of her prior to her destruction in an explosion.
I must say that Midshipman Cleveland was instrumental in saving many of our men on board Etoile, including Mr. Hunter, who fought unendingly and without regard to his own life. Unfortunately, in the act of saving Mr. Hunter from the doomed vessel, Mr. Cleveland suffered a wound that would later prove mortal. I cannot say enough in regards to his conduct in this mission.
Another worthy mention in this matter is Midshipman Philip Lane, who performed on the Gunnery Crew. He was lost in the act of saving the life of his superior officer, Lieutenant Hornblower, removing him from the path of a falling mast. His loss is felt keenly.
I regret to inform you that the Etoile was totally lost; we have returned fifteen of her men to Gibraltar as prisoners. We were unable to obtain any information from them that would be new to Admiralty.
Our losses total fourteen men, as listed below.
Captain Sir. Edward Pellew
From Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower to Hugh Lane:
My dear Mr. Lane:
It is with great regret that I must inform you of the loss of your son, Mr. Philip Lane, in our recent engagement with the French ship L'Etoile.
Although I am aware that you will also be hearing from Captain Pellew in this matter, I wished to enclose a personal note.
I had the honor of being your son's commanding officer at the time of the attack, and had been acting as his tutor, if you will, during prior events. I found your son to be exceptionally bright, with a willing attitude and an open mind. I believed he would have a bright future ahead of him.
Unfortunately, during the action, a wayward shot brought down a bit of masting. In the heat of the action, and expecting the shot to hit us broadside, I did not see the shot tell. But your son did, and I felt him shove me to the side. Another second and we both would have been clear. But as it was, in the act of saving my life, he gave his own.
I realize that my words must sound painfully hollow in the wake of the shock you have received. But please believe me, if I could change the outcome of this battle, I would. Your son was brave beyond his years, and the entire navy, in addition to his commanding officer, has lost a fine man.
Lt. Horatio Hornblower
From the personal effects of Midshipman Lane, to his father, returned as part of his sea chest, an unfinished letter...
I hope the family is well, as always.
I am glad to tell you that I am no longer reporting to Mr. Hunter. Captain Pellew has moved me to Lieutenant Hornblower's division. Although this means I will not be able to take part on the attack of Etoile, I am happy to be working with Mr. Hornblower. He is the youngest of the officers, Father, and he is a very fine man. Mr. Hunter sneers at him behind his back, calling him the Captain's Boy, but he is otherwise universally liked and respected by the crew and other officers. I have learned much about navigation from him already, and he is endeavoring to teach me French as well, although I confess he is having a tough time of it. Still, I owe him much. I know you must have worried from my last letter, that I was not happy. Now I feel at last that I belong here.
I am grateful indeed father that you allowed me to come here. I admire Captain Pellew and the other officers greatly. Although I miss you and Mama, I have begun to think of the Indefatigable as a second home.
From Captain Sir Edward Pellew, to Archibald Harvey, Gibraltar Dockyard:
I would give anything to have five spare minutes to spend with you over a pint, but I understand you have been called away for a few days. No doubt by the time you return, I shall be back on my way to rejoin the convoy in the Med.
But if I do not get the details of this wretched mission out to a human being of equal rank, I shall burst. I must have someone to say to that which I cannot say to my men. So you shall bear the burden, friend.
I do not know what details you know of our failed expedition after the French Ship Etoile. Suffice it to say the mission was lost. The ship now lays at the bottom of the ocean, thanks to Admiral...well, best not give vent to THAT. In any case, we lost a ship that we'd been chasing, with out knowing why we were chasing her.
It was only after the loss of fourteen men that I questioned...with Mr. Hornblower's help...our French guests. We soon found ourselves with an enraged ship's Master, I believe, who wanted to spit on us.
Apparently, they had been sailing for six months in barbaric conditions, with a captain who was a cousin of Bonny himself. The man was, from description, totally insane, starving his crew, beating his men for sport, tormenting his Lieutenants. Finally, one Lieutenant, Mr. Clement Lussier, decided to take action. He was in fact only half French; his mother was a Scot. In any case, Lussier contacted our Admiralty about surrendering the ship to US. He would ensure that they were travelling in our direction, and with most of the men on his side, should be able to surrender her easily. In return, his men would receive clemency and be able to join our Navy.
I don't know what anyone was thinking by not telling us this. In stead, we were left utterly puzzled by the conflicting actions she took when we approached. And unfortunately, the expedition was in the hands of Mr. Hunter, who is a Dreadnought Foster disciple...shoot first, ask questions never. Unfortunately, one of those he opted to shoot was Lieutenant Lussier, while the poor man was trying to surrender. Which of course enraged the men whom Lussier had been protecting.
You are the only person I am giving these details to. My impression from Admiralty is that they would rather not know that I know what the deal with the French Lieutenant was. So we played this lovely little charade when I reported. But since everything that went to pass was a direct result of his orders, or the incompleteness of them, Hale was rather limited in how hard he could come down on me.
Hornblower and I left our interview in stunned disbelief. We said nothing to each other; we didn't have to. Our mutual disgust was obvious enough.
On a better note, I must thank you for your letter after Hornblower's exam. You're right...the lad never would have told me any of that on his own. He's got some bright idea brewing for when we rejoin the fleet. I would give him your regards, but whenever anyone reminds him of his exam, he looks quite seasick. Of course, in his case, that could be genuine!
Hoping to be seeing you in better days.
Sir Edward Pellew