PASS THE PEN
Chapter 14: Liberty, Fraternity, Stupidity
by Liv


So it had come to this. Him of all people. Hornblower opened his eyes
to peruse what had come before him. Then he remembered: he had or
had he? been interfered with. Whether he had or hadn't he didn't
want to know, but as he mentally forced himself to meditate on the
state of his posterior, he was aware of being tightly bound up, yards
of aching, pulsating rope constricting his movements.

A dark figure silhouetted against a backdrop of silky satin sky
lurched above him, dipping a long, stiff oar into the inky black
water below. The spotlight of the moon gave a brief glimpse of the
figure's prominent features; that distinctive nose, that tightly
bunned hair of de Jourquin.

The flashing spotlight of the moon revealed two more figures in the
boat, both bound up, one hunched over his knees, the other sprawled
on the vessel floor. Hornblower didn't have to peer much at the
hunched over figure to know the spikey haired fellow was Simpson, and
the one sprawling on the deck floor was Ouimette. And then again,
Hornblower wondered "Have I been interfered with?" Certainly his belt
and that of Ouimette's was missing, but his shirt and trouser buttons
were all intact. As the little boat sallied through the night, a
moral question nagged at Hornblower: *How* did this happen?

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

Archie's heart pounded as he silently stepped foot on shore. Lamp
posts blazed bright orange in the darkness, so that the huge French
mansion where Horatio was kept prisoner was nudged into outline, its
pristine barred windows and doors staring at him from afar like a
monstrous face, His plan was simple but one he hoped would work to
ambush one of the French guards, dress up in his uniform, and then,
using his rusty French, ask to be taken to the English prisoner.

He picked up a few smooth pebbles from the shoreline and flung them
into the infinite darkness, hoping they would make a clinking sound
that would alert the guards. He heard the soft thud of the pebbles
landing not loud enough to procure the guard's attention.

He threw a few more pebbles each one making a soft thud! thud!
thud! landing. Archie grew exasperated and picked up a heavy boulder,
carefully bending at the knees so that he wouldn't hurt his back.
Archie released the weight of the boulder too soon so that it
plummeted straight down, crushing his delicate size 7 foot, and
causing him to yelp sharply in pain. THAT brought the attention of
the two night guards on watch who came rushing over to see what the
intrusion was, only to discover a most peculiar sight of an
Englishman hoping around madly on one foot.

"L'arrêter!" one of them shouted.

This wasn't the sort of plan Archie had in mind, he was planning to
hide in the darkness when the French guards came to inspect the empty
boat, then, creep up behind them and deliver a smart whack! in the
back of their heads.

Archie struggled to wrangle free from their tightening grip, all the
while his heart sinking faster than the Titanic about his impending
fate. Then, gradually he felt their grip loosening and the two guards
fell by the wayside, as if heavy chains that were once on him were
falling to the ground. Archie turned around to see what had caused
this turn in events and saw the swiney-toothed grin of Cutter, with
an oar raised mid-air.

"I couldn't let you go it alone Sir" Cutter whispered.

Archie smiled back at his courage and loyalty. "Thank you, Cutter.
Now help me get into these damned Frenchmen clothes..."

******

Meanwhile, Ouimette bent over his unconscious darling Horatio and
grazed his temple with a soft goodnight kiss. He sighed and ran his
forefinger from his chiseled chin, down to his chest across his hard
nipples, and finally to his bellybutton, and let it rest there for a
moment. What he had done or what he was about to do had more to
do with genuine affection that greedy lust. To have Horatio once was
a dream, but to have him forever, now THAT was something worth
risking his life for. It was with these feelings that led Ouimette to
firmly yank Horatio's belt out of his trousers and well as remove his
own. Then, he tied the two trouser belts together, and with his
secret skeleton key, he opened the cell gratings so that it was
swinging outwards and tied one end of the trouser belt extension to
the cell grating. After doing up Horatio's shirt buttons, he carried
him over to the window sill, tied him securely to his front so that
they were facing each other, swung one leg over the window sill, and
proceeded to climb down the trouser belt extension.

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

Dressed as a Frog, but with the heart of a lion, Archie Kennedy
strode confidently into French territory, looking keenly about him
for the first French guard he could find who would escort him to
Horatio. He had ordered Cutter to remain behind to watch the French
guardsmen, and also to act as a conduit between himself and Captain
Pellew should there be any need to call for reinforcements. Kennedy
shuddered at the thought of deliberately disobeying Captain's orders,
but he shuddered even more at the thought that Horatio might be dead.
He instantly put this thought out of his mind, and forced himself not
to notice the hideous guillotine that loomed large above him, casting
long, thin shadows down the very end of the road.

When he got to the mansion gates, he saw two guards conversing and
walking round in step with each other. Archie took a deep breath,
adjusted his hat, perched his bayonet smartly over his shoulder, and
approached the Frenchmen.

"L'Anglais est il calme dans la paternité?" he enquired.

The guards looked over him quizzically. Archie sternly met their gaze.

"Le pardon?" one of them asked.

"L'Anglais dans la paternité" Archie repeated slowly. "J'entend de
Jourquin a l'intention d'échanger lui pour un français captif."

Small pause.

"Vous aimeriez être pris à lui?" one of the asked.

Now they finally understood. They had asked him he would like to be
taken to see the English prisoner.

"Oui" Archie affirmed. What he *didn't know*, however, was that
throughout the discourse he had mistakenly asked for "The Englishman
in paternity" when he had meant to say "The Englishman in
penitentiary".

The French guards turned and escorted Archie into the mansion, down
the long, white corridor with the paintings of French aristocrats
adorning the walls. Then, two pairs of doors opened and Archie was
led into the enormous ballroom, with a blazing fireplace, and a
medium stout figure, resplendent in his fine linen, reclining on a
large, red plush chair.

The doors slammed shut and the two guards promptly aimed their
bayonets at either side of Archie's head.

"Que'le continuer de s?" Archie asked in confusion. He interpreted
the guards to say to the reclining figure: "This is another one of
those damned Englishmen, caught trying to rescue his friend, no
doubt."

"What? Er, I mean Non! Non! Ceci est une erreur!..." but it was too
late. Even if Archie had inadvertently blown his own cover, the game
was long over. The reclining stout man got up and, with a smug smile,
wondered over to Archie, standing within inches from him. The two men
eyed each other for a few brief seconds, until Archie felt a sudden
smart, hot, slap cutting through his right cheek. It took him another
few seconds to realise what this gentleman who was really no
gentleman at all had just done.

"You little fool" the man hissed. "You think I would not recognise my
own soldiers? I know each one like I know the back of my own hand."
As he said this, the stout man menacingly curled the hand that had
issued the blow to Archie's face. Then his smug smile returned.

"Monsieur Jacques Vincent de Jourquin" introduced the stout man. "To
whom do I have the honor of capturing?"

"Midshipman Archie Kennedy, from His Majesty's ship Indefatigable"
replied Archie defiantly.

"Midshipman?" repeated de Jourquin condescendingly. Then he
sneered: "You should inform your Captain not to send young boys to
rescue another one of his shipmates. Alright, Monsieur, I will take
you to your fellow officer, where perhaps the two of you can reflect
on your stupidity."

So with de Jourquin leading the charge, Archie was escorted up the
long flight of stairs to be taken to where Horatio was being held
captive. But no sooner had de Jourquin reached the top step when he
knew something was wrong. He saw in an instant the cell gratings
creaking wide open on his hinges, with the trouser-belt extension
dangling from it, trailed by the breezing sound of swift departure.

De Jourquin's high pitched scream made everyone jump, including his
guards; he ran to the window and saw Ouimette hurriedly making his
getaway in a row-boat with the curled body beside him.

"Get him! Get him!! GET HIM!!!!!" de Jourqin screamed, followed by a
line of filthy black obscenities.

It didn't take long for the alarm to resonate throughout the entire
mansion; within minutes everything was alight and a swarm of
Frenchmen de Jourquin included poured out of the mansion and down
to the shore to try and recapture the tiny row boat that contained
the precious Horatio Hornblower.

Cutter, observing the situation had obviously turned for the worst,
rushed back to the Indefatigable to inform a very red-faced Captain
Pellew what had happened. There was no choice now but to throw all
the weight of the Indefatigable behind the rescue in an attempt to
intercept the enemy.

*********

Simpson was still tightly bound up in his cabin, lying on his back,
fantasizing about all the evil things he would do if he were free. He
heard the shouts from above and conjectured that a battle must be
looming. His deduction was correct as a sudden heave-to of the
frigate sent him sprawling out of his cot, and slamming head first
into a table, before falling back onto the floor. He nearly cursed
out loud, except he noticed that the action had brought a sharp
scalpel within his reach. Simpson didn't waste any time taking the
object into his mouth and freeing himself with such lightening speed
that would put Houdini to shame.

******

Ouimette, like Cutter, had seen all the lights come on in the
mansion, and knew that the Frenchmen would soon be chasing after him
with full speed. But he also knew he had made enough headway to be
out of their reach; within minutes he would be in the mouth of the
Burgundy Canal where French frigates were too big to pass through.
All the same, Ouimette turned around three or four times to make sure
no one was within sight. Nobody. The fifth time he turned around, he
saw a sight that made him believe in the Devil. There, standing large
as life, madly rowing half a boat length behind him, was de Jourquin.

"How did he get here so fast?" Ouimette wondered out loud. He tried
to row faster, but was thwarted by de Jourquin who leaped upon him
and smashed him to the vessel floor. A few beatings later, and
Ouimette was lying unconscious, bound up in the boat, with de
Jourquin at the helm.

Meanwhile, Simpson, who also had a knack for hitching rides in
rowboats, was madly swimming towards the French escapees. If there
was one thing he hated more than the French, it was Horatio
Hornblower, and he felt this was his chance to take the glory for
capturing two enemy Frenchmen, as well as supposedly "rescuing"
Hornblower, thereby humiliating him into obliging future favours. He
was a strong swimmer, and the current was in his favour, so he was
virtually drawn towards the vessel like a magnet, and landed against
it with a gentle bump.

de Jourquin looked over and was surprised to see yet another lone
Englishman coming to rescue Hornblower. "What, this English Captain
has no army?" wondered de Jourquin, and with his oar he tried to push
Simpson away. But Simpson was good at a lot of things; he was very
good at snatching long, threatening, pointy objects. This he did to
the oar, and practically pulled himself into the boat.

de Jourquin would have none of it, and after a furious struggle
involving much biting, scratching, hair-pulling, shirt-ripping and
name calling, de Jourquin managed to bind Simpson up as well.

******

So it was these turn of events that effected the presence of two
Englishmen against two Frenchmen in the same boat. Hornblower, being
unconscious the whole time, could only imagine his own weird and
wonderful theories about how they all got there.

It was now dawn, and at the first appearance of sunlight, de Jourquin
broke out into a soft murmur of song as he paddled and wept. He
alternated between singing French Republican and French Royalist
songs.

Hornblower knew by this contradiction that de Jourquin was going mad,
and in a strange way he sort of felt sorry for him. But, as he was
later to discover throughout his long career, it would not be the
first time he would witness high and mighty noblemen fall so heavily
into madness.

******