Archie Takes Charge
by Drea

 

"Aye, aye, sir." Acting Lieutenant Kennedy stood rigidly in Captain Pellew's
cabin. In fact, it had already troubled him when the captain had sent for
him. Alone. He was not like his friend: Horatio would have argued with the
commander in this case. He would have done anything for his friend. Why
couldn't he be more like Horatio?

"All right, Mr. Kennedy, that is all for now." Pellew dismissed him without
another word. He had never expected the captain to react differently.

As he shut the door from the outside, he frowned and sighed. Why was he
forbidden to take charge of this mission? All right, 'mission' was a strong
word for what he had intended to do. But he had felt it his duty. He simply
*had* to do something.

Without noticing anything else Kennedy walked back heavily towards the
officer's wardroom. His steps sounded heavy on the wooden floor. Never had
he noticed that before. 'Strange,' he thought. 'The things you never notice
until you fret about something else.' Just before he opened the door to the
wardroom, he was stopped by the two junior midshipmen he had recruited for
his special task. They had been aboard the Indefatigable for only a few
weeks and they were still nervous around their senior officers, even if it
was someone as easygoing as Mr Kennedy.

"We have to stop it." Kennedy managed to deliver the bad news without his
voice shaking. "Captain's orders, I'm afraid."

The two boys stared at each other in disbelief. How could the captain know
anything? They had done everything secretly.

There must have been a spy somewhere.

Before he entered the mess, Lieutenant Bracegirdle, whose usually cheerful
face bore a shade of worry, greeted him. Kennedy's heart sank. He knew
instantly what it meant.

"It's best if you come to the sick berth immediately, Mr. Kennedy. Your
presence is needed. Hurry."

It was hard not to cry. Horatio had suffered enough. Why had he been hit? He
had just survived El Ferrol. When he had still been weak, he had taken
charge in that storm. That foolhardiness must have weakened him again, even
if it wasn't seriously. Fifteen days ago, they had been under attack from a
French frigate, a ship that had absolutely no business in this area. Horatio
had been among the first who had been hit. Why on earth was it always
Horatio? Why did it have to be him again? He had lost a lot of blood by that
hit, ... at least it looked like that to Archie, even if the doctor had
assured him that the wound looked much worse than it was.

Worrying about his friend's condition, slowly, he walked into the sick
berth. There, the door. He breathed heavily, tried to steady his trembling
body and opened the door.

Where was Horatio? He had not been able to see him since the day before
yesterday, yet the worry about his friend had never left him, no matter how
fully packed his schedule was. He looked around searchingly, still standing
in the door. "Over there, Mr Kennedy," the doctor advised him towards the
darkest corner of this damned room.

He nodded. "Thank you, sir." Uneasily, he moved forward with his eyes to the
ground.

"Mr Kennedy, what's the matter with you?" He was greeted by a cheerful,
amused voice.

Horatio? It couldn't be! Fearfully, Kennedy straightened. He saw his friend
only a few inches away from him - up and in an unusually good mood for still
being ill.

"Whaa...," stumbled Kennedy at that sight. "How..."

"I am all right, Archie. No need to worry. I'll be back on light duty
tomorrow. Even if the doctor doesn't allow it."

Kennedy shook his head. His friend was just as stubborn as ever. "You'd
better not. Try to get your strength back, Horatio. That's more important."

"How am I supposed to do that lying here? I can surely take part of the
watch from tomorrow." He leaned himself against the wall. "I am not going to
stay here even one day more."

Archie sighed. He knew Horatio only too well. What could he do now? Pellew
had refused Archie's request vehemently, so there was no argument on his
side to stop damn Lieutenant Hornblower from going back to duty. "I'll
inform the captain." Archie tried to soothe his friend. "He asked for news
about your condition. But I'll be back soon." He promised.

"He asked about my condition?" Hornblower worried. Why was the captain so
interested? What had he done? What was he going to defend himself for?

"Don't worry, Horatio. I'll be back soon." He repeated.

Horatio nodded his agreement as Archie hurried away.

Shortly before he reached the Captain's cabin, he met Lieutenant
Bracegirdle. Archie sighed with relief. He didn't think of what he should
do, he just broke out the news about his friend's condition and his
stubbornness to be back as soon as possible.

Bracegirdle nodded. That was just typical of young Hornblower. "Well, Mr.
Kennedy, I think the captain should be informed. Come on."

He nodded at the sentry and opened the door for Archie.

"Mr Kennedy," the captain's voice had a strain of impatience. "I didn't ask
for you. I don't need you now. You should be with Lieutenant Hornblower. Now
be off."

"Sir Edward," Bracegirdle began, "I think you'd better listen to what Mr
Kennedy has to say. I believe it's rather important."

The captain nodded in agreement. He could trust Mr Bracegirdle's judgement.
"Well, go on then, young man."

Again, Archie swallowed hard. There was still some impatience in Pellew's
voice. He described nervously what had happened in the sick berth. Pellew
nodded and hurriedly worked out a plan, which he told Kennedy right away.

Again, he had been dismissed but now he was much more at ease with himself.

"Finally," Hornblower greeted him impatiently when he came back. "Well?"

"Pellew agreed. He ordered you to stay here until tomorrow afternoon to
regain your strength and you should report to him before going to the
watch."

***

The next twenty-four hours went too slowly. Hornblower was impatient to be
back on duty. He knew being back would help him. When it was about time he
put on his jacket with much effort and made his way through the berth.

Strangely enough, he was cheered and greeted by every man he passed on his
way through the sick berth. Hornblower frowned. Why? At the door he met
Archie. He smiled. Such a wonderful friend to be here and support him.
Somehow he needed him and his help as his knees were still weaker than he
had thought. To climb the steps was an enormous effort and he wouldn't have
managed as easily without Archie's help. He was relieved that he wouldn't be
alone in Pellew's cabin to defend himself for his - presumably - foolhardy
action. He remembered nothing. He smiled at Archie in thanks.

Archie opened the door of Pellew's cabin and let Horatio enter first, who
couldn't believe his eyes. All officers were gathered together, holding
glasses of champagne, smiling and cheering him. He stared at them in
disbelief. What was wrong? Had he done something special before he got
injured? He still couldn't remember anything at all.

The captain himself gave him his glass. "Mr Hornblower, it's an honour to
have you on board. I am not only saluting you for all the miracles you
worked - especially bringing Mr Kennedy back. This is your birthday and I
congratulate you. May many more follow. Gentlemen, to Lieutenant Hornblower
and his birthday."