Who's on Watch?
The wind blew hotly across the deck of Indefatigable. July
in the tropics
could dry spit on a deck in less time than it took to say it's the bloody Indy,
AND the sun was down. Only the breeze made life tolerable when you were this
close to the equator in summer. The dry heat coming off the Sahara didn't
"Ach a pee pee why." He touched the tip of the pencil
to his tongue. "Be I
are tee ach dee a why. Is that right?"
"Hm? Let's see. Yep. 'Cept ye need a capital "H" and a capital "B"."
"Damn. I best start over." He wadded the paper
and threw it over the side.
He smoothed another sheaf down across the barrel head, holding it with a big
rough hand, then, glanced at the moon to shift so as not to block the light.
"Wot's he goin' ta do then?"
"Haven't the foggiest."
"Well, I know wot I'd do."
"Have meself a rum, that's wot." He bore down on the paper deliberately.
Completing the word 'Happy', he stopped and looked at his mate.
"Wot do you
mean, oh that?"
"Nothin'. I don't mean nothin'."
"Maybe a skirt, too."
"A skirt? Oh, ye mean with the rum?"
"Aye," he grinned, eyes bright.
" Hm..." Matthews wagged his head from side to side
like a ship settling
after being hit abeam by a swell, then nodded, "Aye, a skirt would be a topper,
but it ain't likely fer him or you, seein' as how we're at sea... but... the
rum... aye... he could take himself a rum."
Whispering, Styles said to himself as he bent to the task,
be," he looked up eyeing his mate, grinned, then, attended seriously to the work,
"I are tee ach dee a why. Does mister get a capital?"
"Aye, it do. But ye can abbreviate it."
"I can do wot?"
"Wot the hell does abbreviate abbreviate mean, Matty?"
"It means ye can shorten it."
"Shorten it 'ow? Like a sail, ye mean?"
"No, lumphead. Here. Write a capital 'm'. Now. Write
a little 'r'. Good.
Now, put a period after it. That's how ye abbreviate mister."
"Mer. It looks like mer."
"Well, it ain't. It's mister."
Styles scratched his head and leaned into the paper. "Ornblower
an oh don't it?"
"No, Styles, it starts with an 'h'."
Styles grinned. "I know, Matty. That was a writin' joke."
Matthews glanced at his friend doubtfully. "And don't
ferget to capitalize
"Right. Ach oh are in be el oh are."
"Bloody hell, Matty! Don't startle me like that."
"Ye didn't write that last 'r' yet, did ye?" He
peered at the scrawl.
"There's an 'e' before the 'r'. We ain't got no more paper. Don't mess it up."
Styles bent closer, formed the lower case 'e' then added the
'r'. "Done," he
announced. "Do ye think he'll be surprised?"
"Gettin' this from me, ... you and me?"
"Wot do ye mean? 'Cause he know ye can't read ner write?"
He thought for a few moments. "I don't know, Styles.
He might think ye got
someone else ta write it fer ye."
"Damn. I hadn't thought o' that." Styles was crest
fallen. "Oh hell, wot's
the use then?" He wadded up the paper and tossed it over his shoulder.
"Wot did ye do that for?"
"How's he goin' ta know it was me, then?"
"Ye coulda told him, ye bloody great fool!"
Styles frowned. "Mr. 'Ornblower'll probably have birthday
wishes from ever
soddin' officer on board anyway. He won't care if he gets a wish from the like
"Ye may be right, man," sighed Matthews.
Ding ding Ding ding Ding ding Ding ding
"Our relief'll be comin'. Midnight. It's officially
the day," said Matthews
picking up his knife and marlin spike. "Mr. Hornblower's got the middle
watch. We could be the first ta tell him."
"Nah. I ain't in the mood now," said Styles grudgingly.
If he could not
make it special with his first attempts at writing a full blown message, he did
not care anymore.
"Buck up, mate. Once we're below ye can write it again."
"I got a cramp in me hand now, Matty. Fergit it. Writin' ain't fer me."
"Have it yer own way, then. Here comes Farley and Cudgeons.
She's all yers
boys." Matthews rubbed a salute off his forehead. "Goodnight, mates."
Hornblower was met with a blast of hot wind as he mounted the
He saluted. "All well, Mr. Rampling?"
"Aye, Mr. Hornblower, if you don't mind the furnace we're
in. Nothing to
report out of the ordinary."
"Very well. Consider yourself relieved." He nodded
towards the waist.
"It's worse down below. At least there is a breeze here."
"Aye," breathed Rampling. "I've a mind to sleep
in the fighting top if I
didn't fear this wind picking up and tossing me into the sea. That would be a
fine kettle of fish, eh?" he smiled. "Goodnight, Mr. Hornblower."
Hornblower nodded, then, assumed the quarter-deck stance.
After a few
moments of gazing at the stars and mentally comparing them to the charts and their
position, he sauntered to the taffrail to stare off the stern.
Indefatigable was kicking up quite a wake, and he swiveled
to glance at the
billowing sails, white and glowing in the moonlight, the dark figures of the
topmen silhouetted, taking their ease in the footropes. Was it any cooler up
Returning to look aft, he saw the wake of the Indy was tossing
up green and
glowing water and the officer allowed a small smile to ease upon his lips.
**Well. There is a bit of fireworks for my birthday. I doubt a soul will
remember it. Just as well. Damn that I was born the same day as the Americans
declared their independence.**
He twisted his mouth in a frown, recalling last year when Archie
Alexander had teased him mercilessly in Portsmouth for celebrating King George's loss
of the colonies. The two of them were three sheets to the wind and talking at
the top of their lungs about it. Being only two sheets leeward himself, he
had walked out of the tavern and into the dark night only to be accosted by two
ladies of the evening.
Kennedy and Edrington followed after him, laughing and accusing
him of being
a revolutionary until they caught sight of the women and ceased chattering for
a moment and went to giggling their fool heads off. Hornblower felt
mortified by the entire situation, excused himself from the presence of the two women,
and looking back, saw them latch onto Kennedy and Edrington. Then, the four
of them proceeded to follow him down Broad Street towards the sally port.
**God.** Hornblower rolled his eyes and shook his head at the memory.
He leaned back, suddenly startled by the great fish leaping
out of the water.
Spray fell upon his cheeks and he grinned watching the antics of a pod of
dolphin in chase of Indefatigable. Some were passing her. He could see the
dorsal fins slice the water to starboard and larboard and making a boiling sea at
KERSPLASH! The fluorescence dropped like a million green
diamonds back into
the sea. The sight made him grin broadly with pleasure. Moving to the
larboard side, he watched the great grey mammal leap again and noted a notch on the
leading side of its dorsal. He was a huge dolphin, longer than Hornblower
was tall. One leapt again and Hornblower looked for the notch. It was the same
animal. Magnificent! The dolphin was gaining on Indefatigable and
Hornblower took steps forward along the side rail to keep up with him. He breeched the
water again, causing Hornblower to inhale in surprise. He stepped quickly to
the companion ladder.
"Helmsman! I am going forward," he called.
"Aye, aye, Mr. Hornblower," acknowledged the man.
The leaping dolphin jumped again and was moving up quickly.
strode across the waist, checking for the speeding companion, and took the ladder
to the forecastle two steps at a time. He reached the bowsprit and looked over
the rail. There was Notch, taking up position on the pressing wave of the
bow. In the space of walking the length of the ship Hornblower had given the
animal a name and it was his,... his birthday present.
Tossing his hat to the deck, he climbed onto the rail by the
sprit and held
onto the lines, then, made his way out to the tip and rested a knee on the
incline to watch the show. "Ha ha ha!" he laughed. "Row you beauties! Row!"
The ship had become a chariot pulled by a hundred horses and he was their
Spray from the bow bounced up to shower and cool him, the droplets
into the heated woolen topcoat. Standing, he took a deep breath and stared at
the stars, then, knit his brow. Something was caught between a couple of the
lines. Shifting where he stood, he grabbed a line and shook it, releasing the
glob to fall haphazardly towards him. Reaching out seaward, he was just able
to catch it.
It was a wad of paper. Carefully dismounting the bowsprit,
he opened the
scrunched sheaf. There was some writing on it and he turned it to the moonlight
to read. With a furrowed brow, he read, 'Happy BirtHday, Mr. HornBloer."
Someone had remembered.