Promise Given
by Mooney Andrews

 

"The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a
necessity of the present." - Nicholo Machiavelli, "The Prince"

 

      A promise given.  What did it signify?  And why had it been
given, so earnestly, so solemnly?  It was a weight on his heart that
he had not asked for, and did not want to bear.

 

      Sir Edward Pellew glared reprovingly at an offending fly
that knocked against the windowpane, disrupting his thoughts. 
Daringly, the loud insect ignored the stern gaze that had melted so
many a midshipman, and Pellew turned away from the glass.  Kingston,
Jamaica, was unbearably hot even in January, and the bothersome
nature of his thoughts did not help.  He had given young Hornblower
his papers mere hours ago, informing him of the good news of a
ship.  Though he was most unseemly proud of the young man, Pellew
had been slightly disturbed to see how easily the young man moved on
from the death of his best friend.  Of course, it was exactly what
Pellew would have counseled; no point in grieving to the point of
rendering oneself unfit for duty, but perhaps this was a measure too
much composure.  Hornblower had accepted his papers with a small
smile, and had walked out of the tiny cell, reeking of the lingering
smell of death as he moved toward a new life.

 

      Growling under his breath at his own foolish sentimentality,
Pellew suddenly strode from the room.  Walking with the brisk stride
of the commander of the quarterdeck, he quickly covered the distance
to the harbour.  There was the Gaditana, now the Retribution.  The
irony of the name had struck Pellew hard; he wondered if it had
occurred to Hornblower at all.  Looking out over the small deck, he
was not surprised to see Hornblower already onboard, moving around
freely, issuing orders in tones of supreme confidence.  He was
completely in his element; had he ever looked happier in Pellew's
memory?  Without a word to the crew of the Retribution, Pellew began
to move again, away from the harbour, and toward the outskirts of
the town.

 

      It was an ugly, squat excuse for a church - nothing like the
impressive cathedral that had served the Pellew family's religious
needs for generations.  Whitewashed and neat looking, it somehow
lacked any touch of feeling or personality.  The graveyard behind it
was little better.  At least it was green, in a hot, foreign way. 
It was wrong, somehow, that a British officer should be buried in
the foreign soil so different from the cool green hills of his
home.  Nothing to be done about it now, of course.  A burial at sea
had been out of question, of course, due to the nature of the crime
that Kennedy had confessed to committing.  Shame.

 

      Pellew wandered now, slowly, among the small grave markers
in uneven rows.  Here and there, small bunches of flowers that
looked as if they had been placed by children, picked raggedly and
deposited with love.  How many fathers and mothers, lost children
and lost loves, lost hopes and dreams lay buried here?  How many
promises, under the hot and unforgiving Jamaican sun?

 

      The mound was small and an ugly shade of brown.  A few
months would give it a fair green covering, but would obscure the
site entirely.  No marker for a convicted mutineer.  No honour, in
life or in death, for the worst of criminals to the Navy.  Pellew
shook his head.  If he could only believe that Kennedy had really
been guilty of the crime he had confessed to committing, this would
all be simple.  Justice would have been cleanly dispensed, and the
innocent left to get on with their lives.  A simple enough belief.

 

      But that young face kept looking at him accusingly with
wide, innocent eyes, and he knew he could not believe it.  How many
years had it been since he had last seen the boy?  The day
Hornblower and Kennedy had left the Indefatigable for the Renown, he
had spoken to both Hornblower and Kennedy separately before they
left.  Proud good wishes to Hornblower.  And then Kennedy; Pellew
had watched the boy grow over the years, had seen him become
stronger, more confident and capable, and was proud of him too, in
his own way.  Good wishes, and then, blurted out in haste - "Look
after him." Not that Hornblower needed watching after.  Not that the
boy before him could have really done much, if Hornblower himself
was not able.  But it had to be said, and Pellew turned away, ready
to dismiss the boy and see both young men go.

     
      "I will." Kennedy's voice was strong and confident as it had
been that day he volunteered to return to prison in Spain for
Hornblower's honour.  Pellew turned again to look at him, curious. 
Kennedy lifted his chin defiantly.  "He has saved my life many times
over. I will do whatever I can to protect him, even if it should
cost my life." His gaze met Pellew's, and the older man was
surprised by the determination he saw in the blue eyes.  "That is a
promise." A salute, and the boy was gone.

 

      The passing years had brought rare mentions of Renown, but
never of her lieutenants.  Though he wondered about Hornblower's
successes, Pellew did not dwell on the fate of one bright ex-
lieutenant much.  When he had been called to sit on the court
martial in Jamaica, his shock and horror at seeing Hornblower on
trial could not have been greater.

 

      Checking to see that no-one was in sight or earshot, Pellew
removed his hat in respect and addressed the small grave mound
quietly.  "He would have been hanged, but for you.  You promised
your life - but what of your honour?" It had been easy enough to
tell Hornblower comforting fictions to ease his grief and guilt, but
Pellew could not believe them himself.  An honest and honourable
young man had given both life and name for the sake of a friend, and
Pellew had handed him the rope with which to hang himself.  The
weight of guilt lay heavily upon him.

 

      A promise given.  Machiavelli had said something about that
centuries before - a cynical quip about the hopeless romanticism of
those who held to old traditions.  "The promise given was a
necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the
present." Necessity?  Perhaps for most, but the promise of one man
had been kept, at the greatest imaginable cost, and so an innocent
life had been spared.

 

      "You were the necessity in this case, my boy.  And you
bought him his future." Replacing his hat, Pellew looked up at the
sky.  A bright morning, with a sky the colour of the ocean that
called and took the noblest sons of Britain to herself and never
released them.  Of the two noble young men he had known, how could
he have so underestimated young Kennedy?  A wrong to be corrected in
the future, somehow - and a man to be remembered with honour and
respect.  

 

      Walking away from the small churchyard, Pellew thought again
of the young man they were all leaving behind, and the weight of
guilt, and of a promise fulfilled, kept his steps sombre all the way
back to his ship.