The Weather Eye
Part Eleven: Message in a Bottle

by Liv

*********

[Cut to scene of Captain Pellew, rolling in his cot]

Captain Pellew got up, feeling irritable and numb. He staggered to
his feet and put on his night gown and his pink night cap. He
wandered up to the quarterdeck and looked over the sad, sullen
horizon.

He felt the presence of a lieutenant behind him.

"Dark for day" said Mr Bracegirdle.

"Yes, dark for day indeed" said Captain Pellew, without turning
around.

"Not dark for night" said Bracegirdle as an afterthought.

Pellew closed his eyes at the moronic comment.

"No, not dark for night" agreed Pellew, with all the patience he
could muster.

"Something troubles your thoughts, I fancy?" asked Bracegirdle,
waiting for the moment when his Captain would open up.

"I fear, Mr Bracegirdle -" started Pellew, then broke short, his
throat choked with worry. "I fear the safety of my men aboard the
Petrel. Six months at sea and no communication about their progress."

"Perhaps the men have been captured, Sir. Perhaps they are being
tortured by a group of natives as we speak."

Pellew refused to believe it. And he said so.

"I refuse to believe it."

"Just a conspiracy of cartographers, you mean?"

"I mean I refuse to believe that with Mr Hornblower as commanding
officer of the Petrel, the boat and all those aboard it are lost. He
is one of the best officers in the Navy, surely he wouldn't risk the
success of the mission by engaging his men in folly misadventure?"

"I don't know, Sir" was Mr Bracegirdle's non-committal reply.

Just then Pellew spotted something with his peripheral vision. He did
a double-take and saw it was a glass bottle, bopping around gaily in
the water.

"Pull up that bottle" ordered Pellew, and the crew cast a net over
the side and fished the object from the water.

"There is a note inside the bottle" observed Bracegirdle.

"Yes" said Pellew with patience.

"Perhaps you should read the note, Sir" he added.

"Yes, I am reading the note, Mr Bracegirdle" said Pellew with
irritation, unfolding the note which had been folded into eights.

Pellew read the note which was written in illiterate scrawl: "Plees
cumin hell-pus. Wer strandd so-so eest. Ina mormont will b simmning.
SOS! May Day! Scrood Croo! "

There was also a map sketchily drawn, which as far as Pellew could
make out, the boat was in the middle of the Pacific ocean, four miles
off the coast of Port Jackson.

Pellew looked at the note with horror while some dramatic diabolical
music played; Pellew held onto that expression until an ad break came
on.

When the ad break was over, Pellew was still looking at the note. He
unfroze and promptly gave the order for the Indy to start heading
South-South East in the direction of Port Jackson. He also ordered
Bracegirdle to order the watch to keep a look out for a group of men
in need of rescue along the way. Bracegirdle said "Aye aye, sir" with
amazing convincingness that would have earned him an Oscar, and gave
the order.

*********

Four days earlier:

"I saw this in a TV show once" explained Styles, stuffing the note he
had written into an empty glass bottle. "On the show there was these
group of men and women stuck on an island and they had a competition
to see who would get voted off last."

Oldroyd's eyes rolled in the back of his head at the mere thought
that such a concept could be considered entertainment, let alone
commercially viable.

"So you think this message in a bottle will work, Styles?" asked
Matthews doubtfully. Styles shrugged his shoulders. "We can't be in
any worse situation, eh Mr `Ornblower?"

"Leave me alone" snapped Mr Hornblower. He was really out of
character; audiences everywhere were wondering what was going on.

"Suit yourself" said Styles, and he chucked the bottle out as far as
he could to be transported along the express waves of the sea.

The men sat subdued in the boat; waist deep in water, wondering what
was going to happen to them. The boat they were on had hit a coral
reef, lacerating her with a hole on her starboard side, and was now
filling up fast. In another hour they would all be swimming. Yet here
they were in the middle of nowhere, with no food, no compass, no
chart, and not even an enemy French Captain to bug them with mutinous
suggestions. They were tired, unhappy, disillusioned, and waiting for
death.

Matthews was the first to spot something in the distance he
borrowed the telescope which just so happened to be in the boat with
them and squinted his left eye through. "An ISLAND Sir an
ISLAND". Then he chuckled. "Have a look AT THIS, Sir, have a look at
this, it's a NUDIST ISLAND!!!" Before Hornblower could have a look
for himself, Styles and Oldroyd tussled with the telescope to have a
look. Oldroyd won. "Cor blimely" he whistled "have a look at THOSE
GIRLS". Styles wrenched the telescope free, had a look for himself,
and laughed.

"Alright that's enough!!" said Hornblower, "give me that telescope at
once!!". But just like naughty children, Oldroyd, Styles and Matthews
kept fighting over the telescope until it slipped free from their
grip and tossed itself overboard, into the bottomless sea below.

The three of them were too ashamed to look at Hornblower. Hornblower
then had a wicked idea to punish them: "you three will strip nude and
swim over to that island to get us help."

"Oh but Sir!!" protested Styles.

"DO IT!!" rasped Hornblower.

"Yes Sir" said Styles quietly, and began to undo his trousers. He was
about to pull his leg out when a sudden heave of the boat sent him
sprawling straight into Hornblower's lap. The boat had titled heavily
on one side with the weight of the water and the men in it.

"It's no good, Mr Hornblower" said Mr Kennedy. "We're all going to
have to strip and swim for it."

"Very well" agreed Hornblower. "Hurry up now!! Every body strip and
swim towards that island!!"

In forty seconds flat every man had their wet shirts abandoned, their
trousers cast aside, and their shoes disregarded. "Swim, swim you
beauties!" roused Hornblower. They left the boat and swam for all
their might towards the island that beared promise of dry land and
beautiful nude women.

***********

The Indy lolled along the waves, inch by inch, stopping on the way at
a McDonald's Sail-Thru restaurant. ("Very modern" commented the New
York Times on that particular scene). Pellew ordered a QuarterDeck
Pounder while Bracegirldle ordered four Big Macs and a large fries.
Mr Bowles had the Port Side special consisting of two Junior
Lieutenant Burgers, six McNuggets and a large serving of rum in a
plastic cup in the shape of a Chinese junk boat.

The first officer of the watch was the first to alert that there was
some strange movement in the water. He made his report to Bracegirdle
who in turn made his report to Pellew.

"At first we thought they might be dolphins, Sir" explained
Bracegirdle to Pellew.

Pellew had a look through the telescope. "No, Mr Bracegirldle that
is a bunch of naked, wet men...wait a moment...that looks like Mr
Horn-...what in GOD'S NAME is Hornblower doing swimming around naked
this far south?!! He should be miles over there with his men carrying
out his orders in Port Jackson!"

Pellew angrily snapped his telescope shut and gave the orders for the
Indy to start heading towards the group of naked wet men.

**************

Hornblower and his men were making fantastic headway through the
water. They couldn't wait to reach the island. They had barely
reached the shore-line when Styles heard some lofty trumpet music
playing. He knew what that meant.

"IT'S THE INDY SIR!!! IT'S THE BLOODY INDY!! WITH THAT BLOODY MUSIC!!"

The men crawled onto the shore feeling disappointed and cheated. They
looked at the gorgeous Indy fast approaching the shore and turned
back to look at the gorgeous nude women who were smiling seductively
at them. They had to make a choice.

Eventually the Indy reached the shore line and laid anchor. When
Pellew saw the men had landed on a nudist island he did a double take
for the second time that episode. He was not impressed at all.

"Mr Hornblower!"

Mr Hornblower pretended not to hear him. He was too busy staring at
the women.

"Mr Hornblower!!"

No answer.

"MR HORNBLOWER!!" followed by a fired gun shot in the air.

That made Hornblower jump and turn around to address his Captain.

"SIR!!"

"GET YOU AND YOUR MEN ON BOARD THE INDEFATIGABLE THIS VERY MOMENT, IF
YOU PLEASE, MR HORNBLOWER!! I DON'T INTEND TO LOSE ANY MORE TIME
THROUGH YOUR DOODLE ER, I MEAN, DAWDLING, SIR!!"

"Aye aye, Sir!!" said Mr Hornblower reluctantly. One by one the men
left the shore to board the safety and morally-bound enclosure of the
Indy.

Hal was hanging back from the rest of the men, half wanting to get
onto the Indy, half not wanting to. Hornblower noticed his hesitation
and finally said "you too, Hal, you go with the rest of us."

"I -- I --," and suddenly Hal broke and ran away into the jungle.

"What the!" said Hornblower with surprise, and began to run after him.

"Let him be!" ordered Pellew. "Just get you and your men on here NOW!"

Hornblower did as he was ordered but could see the resentment in the
eyes of his men. "I'd wish we'd thought of that" muttered Oldroyd
under his breath.

"Maybe he'll find someone to take back to the ghost ship for
Vanderdecker" said another.

When all the men were on board and modestly wrapped in the Union
Jack, Pellew ordered Mr Bowels to give the men "double rations" to
speed their recovery. Which meant they all had cheeseburgers and
fries for tea.

Once the men were sufficiently refreshed and re-clothed, Pellew
summoned Mr Hornblower and Mr Kennedy to his cabin. They stood in
silence respectably before their Captain, and waited for the
inevitable question to be asked.

"Now if you two would like to tell me just what the HELL has been
going on over the last six months, gentlemen" said Pellew. "And leave
no detail to spare."