"Susanna" Chapter 2
by Beth


Chapter 2 - The return from Muzillac


It was, by any account, an absolutely glorious day, as Captain Pellew
gazed out from the quarterdeck, and down onto the goings on below him.
Hornblower and Kennedy were engaged in conversation, and both seemed restored
to remarkable good humour. Considering they had only been back aboard since
yesterday afternoon, and all of the traumatic moments that had preceded their
safe return aboard ship, this seemed a most notable accomplishment. The
resiliency of a youthful spirit, Pellew reflected. Nonetheless, it was most
important to Pellew that Hornblower seemed well on the way to bouncing back
from his ordeal. He had gotten a full report from Major Edrington, and a bit
from Mr. Bowles as well, and so he knew all the salient points of the matter.
He himself had likewise had an initial go at restoring some measure of self
confidence to his young leftenant. If for no other reason, the fact that it
all boiled down to an officer's duty to be brave, for God's sake. The rest of
it, perhaps, would be best be handled by Mr. Kennedy, as the two certainly
seemed have become fast friends.

Now, if they could just be transported as safely and quickly as possible to
Plymouth, then perhaps all else could be set right again. Pellew had given
orders to make sail as soon as the dawn had broken through. This time, there
would be no attempt to hug the coastline towards Quiberon Bay. No sir, they
were heading out to open sea, Nor' by Nor' west, and then straight on in to
Plymouth. With a bit of luck, they might tuck into one of those fortuitous
tail winds that occasionally swept west across the mid-Atlantic, and they
would find themselves in Plymouth harbour before tea time. In truth, it
should be noted that Pellew had that very morning flirted very briefly with
the idea of returning to Quiberon, on the off chance that perhaps General
Charrette, or any of his troops, had managed to break free of the Republican
forces. Perhaps they were there, and waiting desperately for the
Indefatigable, who was promised to remain there as a means of escape for
them. But would such action resolve the Captain's nagging inner conflict at
having disregarded his order? After all, he could then say that he had in
fact made the Indefatigable available for their retreat. No. For, on further
reflection, the report from Mr. Bowles was such overwhelming evidence that
indeed all troops had been lost. And, when Bowles had last seen the General,
he had already sustained injury - chances were that by now he too was lost.
An utter disaster, any way one cared to asses it. Best to be well done with
it.

And so, the decision had been made, much to the relief of all on board,
perhaps most especially Major Edrington and his men (who, being infantrymen
that had yet to discover their sea legs, found that sea-sickness was a most
distressing way to spend their time), to return at once to Plymouth. As
Pellew stood in position on the quarterdeck, Mr. Bracegirdle delivered the
status of their course. They were about dead west of Quiberon now, but
considerably farther out to sea. So far, so good. There was no sign yet of
those favorable winds, but then they were still a bit far south to have
caught them. Yes, they would get into Plymouth harbour, and see to their
business. Perhaps, if all went well, and quickly, and there were, perhaps, no
orders to return at once towards the Continent, he could manage a retreat of
his own. He could be over to Exmouth, to the pleasures and relaxation of
home. Susanna would have returned there by now, the social season in London
having wound down for the summer. He could see to his lands, for the first
time this whole year, he realized - - amazed at all the time that had flown
by already. And, perhaps he could even find a way to bring the boys on board
his ship for the first time. It was all they ever talked about, he knew that.
What they hadn't told him, Susanna had. What Susanna left out, Julia had
been sure to add back in. The promised venture was like an eternal carrot
seeming to always be just a few tempting inches from grasp. Oh, the boys were
understanding - at least they tried to be. It was wartime, they had been
reminded repeatedly. Pownoll, the oldest, at eight, understood that the best.
He had been named at the Captain's insistence for Pellew's first great
mentor, the great Captain Pownoll, who had in fact expired in Pellew's very
arms. Thankfully, at Susanna's insistence he had also been given the nickname
Paul which had no doubt saved him from a most tortured early existence. His
second son, Fleetwood Broughton, age 6 (and likewise named for another of
Pellew's mentors, and likewise rescued from assured despondency by his mother
who had bestowed upon him the pet name of Frederick -- Thank the good Lord
that Pellew had run out of mentors by the time little George had come
along!), thought that the war only added to the excitement of cavorting about
his father's great ship, and indeed was known to often turn his nursery
chairs and other assorted furniture into make believe ships, forts and cannon
batteries, all in which to re-enact the great naval battles he imagined had
occurred.


The eight o'clock bells suddenly snapped the Captain out of his reverie, and
once again he reacquainted himself with the status of their course and the
direction the winds. All was on track.

Returning below decks, Pellew went to his cabin, to polish up, for what was
most undoubtedly the 15th or so time, his report to Admiral Lord Hood on the
Royalist campaign. This was no ordinary report for Pellew. If only for the
fact that he had been so blessed thus far so as not to have had to even write
a report of a failed mission that often, it was not an easy task. But, no,
that was not all. He needed to own up to disobeying his order to remain at
Quiberon, and he needed to defend his decision. Every word had to be the
right one. He read it again, and still once more, and agonized over whether
further revisions were needed. While he did make a few more changes, for the
most part he was in accord with his chosen words of last evening.

Suddenly an urgent knock sounded upon his door.

"Captain Pellew, sir!" It was Mr. Bowles. "French courvettes off the
starboard, sir! Two of them, sir!"

In a flash Pellew snatched his hat off the table and flew to the quarterdeck.
All hands were instantly into position, awaiting their commands. Bracegirdle
and Hornblower were peering through their spyglasses. Pellew did likewise.
There they were, and heading straight for his ship.

"They must have been lying in wait at Quiberon for us," Pellew muttered.
Bloody Hell, there were indeed two of them. Smaller ships, yes, but faster,
to be sure, and no doubt on the offensive. Pellew took note of the wind - was
there any way to simply outdistance them and stay out of range? Not yet, no
tradewinds thus far. Should he try and assume the offensive? Perhaps. But,
even with his greater fire power the two faster vessels could quickly out
maneuver him. No, best at this point to make ready - but for a defensive
stance only.

He gave the orders, and the watch continued. Mr. Kennedy reported their
advancement, while Hornblower attempted to assess their fire power. Both
ships were stocked with the usual artillery, but these Courvettes even had
infantry companies as well - picked up from those who fled Muzillac, perhaps?
Who knew.

Soon enough, the siege was underway. At first it was series of maneuvers,
with the Courvettes attempting to approach firing range, one on each side of
the Indy. Thanks to a delicate series of shifts and turns, Pellew outsmarted
them twice. Still, they kept advancing. With its larger guns, the
Indefatigable had the longer firing range, and since there was now no doubt
of their intent to attack, Pellew ordered the firing to commence. Soon all
three ships were engaged and the smoke began billowing all around them. The
deafening sound of cannon and musket volleys, and screams soon engulfed this
turbulent triangle of sea. It was a surprisingly lengthy battle, what with
the sheer tenacity of each of the ships, and the toll exacted was harsh.
Pellew and his officers abounded with disbelief as the Courvettes continued
to charge after them, on the offensive, even as the Indy was steered further
and further North. What were French courvettes doing this far into open sea
anyways, for Christ's sake? Were they rogue ships, hoping to hammer a final
nail into the coffin that was Charrette's doomed campaign?

As Pellew surveyed the scene, Bracegirdle raced through his report on the
status of the action thus far. There were three confirmed dead on the Indy,
ten injured, four of them seriously. One of the courvettes had sustained
severe damage to its masthead and was on the verge of being crippled, the
other was just now starting to fall behind. Report delivered, Bracegirdle
returned to his post in the action.

Suddenly, and with the most dramatic and divine gust of air as Pellew had
ever experienced, the tradewinds began to blow. It was not a change of wind
many other seamen might have noted, but Pellew caught it at once. If they
finessed it properly, especially considering that the Frenchmen would most
likely be clueless about it, they could be permanently out of range in a
matter of minutes. It was however, at that same precise moment that one last
volley of cannon and musket fire rained across the Indefatigable. As he
looked up toward the topsail, Pellew felt a burst of explosive and white hot
pain pummel through his right shoulder, sending him crashing into the
quarterdeck railing. Desperately, he reached to his shoulder, as unspeakable
pain seared through him. My God, he'd been hit. A musket ball, most likely.
He checked the front of his coat - no exit wound. Perhaps, he'd only been
grazed. No, the immensity of the pain told him otherwise. Cautiously, but
quickly, he looked around him - it seemed that everyone was absorbed in the
aftermath of the Courvette's hailstorm of firepower. Simultaneously,
Bracegirdle was guiding the wheel and the sails, as ordered by Pellew, to
take full advantage of the tail winds.

Could it be then perhaps that no one had seen him fall? Saints be praised. He
rose, gingerly, and struggled to breathe normally. He instinctively grabbed
his shoulder with his other good arm, and held it close, the pain more a fury
of numbness now. He quickly surveyed the deck , several more wounded, but
none looking seriously so, and only minor damage to the ship that he could
see. Best of all, thanks to Bracegirdle, they were now out of range and
securely tucked into this wonderful, glorious wind. Pellew uttered a silent
prayer of thanks. He called to Bracegirdle.

"Mr. Bracegirdle, keep us on course!" he ordered, but in that tone of voice
which told Bracegirdle that Pellew knew his senior officer was already right
on the money. "I seem to have bruised my shoulder, Mr. Bracegirdle," Pellew
continued, his voice suddenly not as strong. "I shall be in my cabin having
it bandaged. Please carry on!"

"Aye, aye, Sir," Bracegirdle answered. Navigating this wind, even with the
Captain's clear instructions on how to do it was quite a challenge, and yet
how exhilarating it was, to be learning and yet succeeding at the same time.

The Captain staggered below decks to his cabin, calling for Henson as soon as
he roughly bounded, or perhaps, nearly fell, down the steps.

"Henson, dammit, Henson, where are you, man?" he shouted painfully. Once
behind the closed door of his cabin he staggered back against the wall, and
leaned against it for support. Henson appeared from the other room, and
seeing his Captain nearly collapsed against the corner, went quickly right
over to him.

"Sir, you are injured, Sir! Shall I fetch the surgeon?" Henson offered,
somewhat hesitantly. It was never a good idea to try and guess what it was
that Captain Pellew wanted, unless of course he was going to be right about
it. A rather dicey prospect, he had learned.

"Not on your life, Henson, there isn't time for that now!" the Captain
scolded, and then gasped again. "We must manage this wind and there's no time
to lose about it." He took a breath. "If we handle her well, we could be in
Plymouth by nightfall, perhaps even before."

Henson nodded, all the while trying to see how exactly badly it was that
Captain was hurt, without asking where, of course.

ëCome on, man, help me off with this damnable coat. I fell against the
railing, I think. Knocked my shoulder about good."

"Yes, sir, of course, Sir." Henson nodded.

But it was soon clear that the effort of removing his coat from about his
right shoulder was nearly too much for Pellew to bear. He gasped and indeed
nearly went under as Henson lifted his arm to get the sleeve off. He found
his bearings again in a few breaths, and then Henson was able to get the
weskit off, and the right sleeve of his shirt. Pellew panted for breath and
tried to regain his composure. But now Henson was eerily quiet behind him.

"Just bind it, up , Man, come on, see to it!" Pellew said in a forced voice.

"But, Sir, " warned Henson, as he surveyed the Captain's shoulder, reaching
for a linen napkin that was lying about on the table, as panic began to
overtake him. "This is surely not a bruise, Sir! Sir, you've been shot,
sir, why, I'm sure of it! We must see to the bleeding, and get the doctor,
sir!"

"Now listen to me, Henson, and listen good." Pellew warned, and then jolted
as his servant applied pressure to the wound. "Look, I'm not sure exactly
what happened out there. Perhaps, I was grazed by a ball, then," the Captain
groaned, losing patience. For God's sake what the bloody hell difference did
it make what it was! He had to get back on deck and right away, was he the
only one in this room who seemed to appreciate this? "Bind it up, Man, and I
assure you we can have Hepplewhite see to it later."

"Well, yes, Sir," Henson was still starting to panic, as he wiped away the
blood. Arguing with his master was not his intention, and yet, what was plain
was surely plain! "But, I fear, sir, that is, I would wager, sir, that the
ball is still in there! Surely, you cannot mean to go on and --"

"Henson, for the last, and I mean the last, time, bind it up!" Pellew had
mustered up enough strength to voice his frustration and his voice boomed
with anger.

That was enough to settle it or Henson. He did as he was told. Fine, he
thought, let the poor sodding fool bleed to death. See if he'll listen to me
then, he thought. Doesn't want to listen to someone who's plain as the day is
long is looking right at gunshot wound, right there in front of him, go on-.

Quickly, and indeed, most firmly, he wrapped the Captain's shoulder up and
tied the layers of linen solidly into place. Once Henson had resigned
himself, he managed to do a most secure binding. He pulled the Captain's
shirt back down over his arm and helped him tuck it into his breeches.
Finally, he got him back into his weskit and frock coat, and with each pull
against his shoulder the Captain gasped and jolted at the pain.

"There, Sir," Henson muttered. "I suppose that'll hold you for a bit-But I
will not be responsible, Sir, if you go toppling over that railing- what with
loss of blood and all-"

"Yes, thank you, Henson." Pellew stood up, mustering his fortitude. "As you
were."

He strode firmly out the door. He could do this. He most assuredly could do
this.