Hornblower and the Admiral's Daughter
by Midshipman Bob
The gusty westerly winds were unrelentingly chopping up the English Channel, causing the ten-foot high waves to crash even more forcibly on the bow of the HMS Indefatigable. She was a large 74-gun frigate, with only her lower sails unfurled to compensate for the cantankerous gales. Inside the wardroom, situated on the starboard side of the upper deck, four men, all officers, were eating at the large table, apparently oblivious to the rolling and pitching of the ship. They were in a heated discussion.
Second Lieutenant Buckland directed the conversation to Captain Pellew (who was more interested in eating), "If we go in from the north, sir, we will have the currents and a good strong wind behind to increase our attack speed."
"But sir," interrupted fourth Lieutenant Hornblower, waving a fork in mid air with more confidence than his 21 young years should account for, "they will see us coming a mile off. I suggest we attack from the south so the island there will hide our approach."
Buckland leaned forcibly back in his chair and glared at the young upstart. The second Lieutenant had only joined the Indie a week ago, so he found it difficult to understand how a newly commissioned Lieutenant like Hornblower could be allowed to speak so disrespectfully to his superiors. He continued. "And how do you propose we sail in the leeward side of an island? Unless the winds obligingly change direction for us, we will be becalmed!"
Hornblower smiled sheepishly and gave a quick wink to Acting Lieutenant Kennedy, who was listening with keen interest and amazement at his friend's audacity. "If we sail far enough south of the island, we will still catch a breeze. It may take us longer, but we'll be able to sneak up on the Frenchies and " he stabbed his potato aggressively with his fork, " we'll take them by surprise."
Captain Pellew regarded his fourth Lieutenant's enthusiasm with the hint of a smile, between mouthfuls, which aggravated Buckland further. "We'd never traverse those waters in this ship it's way too shallow!"
"Nonsense!" Hornblower protested. "Not if we "
"That's enough, gentlemen!" The Captain had had enough. He normally ate alone in his cabin, but had decided for a change to dine with his officers; a decision he was beginning to regret. "I'm trying to digest this somewhat impalatable meal, and I suggest you both do the same. We can discuss our battle strategies later this afternoon."
"Aye aye, sir," they chimed simultaneously.
"And Mr. Hornblower," the Captain warned with his own fork in hand, " I would suggest you show my second Lieutenant a little more respect. He is your superior officer after all."
Hornblower bowed his head and acknowledged with "Aye, sir." Then turning to Buckland, he offered a sincere apology. "Sir, I meant no disrespect. I was merely offering a possible alternative method of achieving our common objective." It took all of the Captain's self-restraint to suppress his smile.
"Yes well," Buckland answered indignantly. "You would be wise to be a little less argumentative in future, Mr. Hornblower."
Again, the now red-faced fourth Lieutenant replied with "Aye, sir". The rest of the meal was taken in silence, except for the occasional conversation between Buckland and the Captain. The table condiments and mugs continued to slide to and fro atop the table.
Meanwhile, the men on deck were performing their rostered duties, as the ship ploughed smartly through the choppy seas, sails straining against the winds. First Mate, Styles, was supervising the tying off of the mainsail sheets, after having just reefed the mid-fore main. "Jones!" he screamed above the roar of crashing waves. "Get tha' line secured b'fore we lose th' whole beam!"
"Aye, sir," came the muffled reply, as the young lad strained valiantly on the rope. Another man nearby rushed over to lend a hand. first Lieutenant Bracegirdle and third Lieutenant Bracken watched activities from the upper deck. They each had one hand on their caps, trying to prevent it from escaping in the gusts, but pride prevented them from hanging on to the rail. A true seaman could ride a lurching deck in any sort of weather.
They had only left Plymouth the day before and were already facing some of the most wretched weather Bracegirdle had ever encountered in his long naval career. "Well at least it's not raining!" he yelled to Bracken shivering beside him. Before Bracken could reply, a rogue wave crashed across the bow, drenching Bracegirdle where he stood.
Bracken looked at the dripping expression on the officer's face and burst into laughter. "Yes sir, it is indeed good that it's not raining!" He was about to cackle again, but the warning look on Bracegirdle' face made him think twice.
"I'm going below for my spray jacket," Bracegirdle grumbled. "You have the watch, Mr. Bracken." He bowed his head into the wind and turned towards the ladder. Just then there was a loud, slow crack and someone yelled "Heads! The main mast is coming down!"
Before Bracegirdle could turn to look, Bracken tackled him to the deck, a split second before the massive mid-fore mast, sails and all, came crashing on top of them. Fortunately, the top deck rails fore and aft of where they were broke the mast's fall, but the three men who had been half way up the mast weren't so lucky. They crashed heavily onto the upper deck in a tangled mess. One of them was screaming in obvious pain, although he had been lucky to have been partly suspended in the sails as they fell. The other two men lay motionless.
Lieutenant Bracegirdle and Bracken clambered their way on top of the pile and surveyed the damage. "Call for the doctor! All hands on deck!" yelled Bracegirdle as he ran aft to where the three men lay. The call was echoed down through the levels of the ship.
Captain Pellew and his other officers below decks had felt the sudden difference in the attitude of the ship when the mast snapped, and raced aloft. Pellew emerged first and scanned the situation in one rotation. The mast had broken off about a third of the way up, and only the still attached lines prevented it from falling off the side.
"Let's get this under control," Pellew directed to his three officers. They each ran off in different directions.
"Secure those loose sails!"
"Pull in those lines!"
"Get a rope around that mast and secure it to the deck!"
Men ran fore and aft of the ship obeying orders without question - their hours of monotonous training serving them well. The squalls were still strong, but with the mid-fore sails down, the ship was not being buffeted around as much.
Once the rest of the crew and the ship were safe, Captain Pellew went to check on his casualties. "Report, Mr. Bracegirdle."
The third Lieutenant stood up from assisting the doctor. "Sir, we have two men dead and Pendleton here has two broken legs, but the doctor says he is stable." Bracegirdle noticed the Captain eyeing the mast, now secured out of harm's way. Bracegirdle continued, "These men were on the mid beam when the mast broke. In fact, Mr. Bracken saved my neck by knocking me out the way." Bracegirdle scanned the surrounding mayhem for his saviour, but he was nowhere in sight.
"You can thank him later." The Captain turned and studied the damage to his ship. The deck had collapsed in places where the booms had impacted. "Mr. Bracegirdle, we need to weather-proof these holes in the deck. You might as well use these sails to cover them." He pointed to the sails still fixed to the now horizontal mast.
"Aye, sir." Bracegirdle walked off in search of available hands.
Then the Captain spied Hornblower and Kennedy standing aft, and called out to them. When they were close enough to hear over the wind and spray, he said, "Those mid-aft sails up there have been badly torn. Get them down and stow them below."
"Aye, sir" Hornblower replied, and off they went to canvass some available men.
Lieutenant Buckland joined the Captain. "The fore quarter is secured, sir. No visible damage."
"Good." Pellew furrowed his brow in thought, and then sighed. "We need to turn about and head back to Plymouth. Lay in a course and when everything is secured I want all officers to report to me. I'll be in the wardroom."
Buckland touched his cap and acknowledged with "Aye, sir". Several minutes later they were sailing at a moderate pace back towards England. The wind was now behind them and almost seemed calm since they were running with it instead of fighting against it.
"How the blazes would the mast snap?" Captain Pellew asked furiously of his officers, midshipmen and boson who were crowded around the wardroom table, most of them standing. Eyes lowered or looked elsewhere to avoid the Captain's glare, but no-one spoke.
Finally, reluctantly, the boson, Mr. Matthews, succumbed to his duty. "Sir, it looks like some stray bits of metal had penetrated the mast and provided a weak point probably when the deck cannon blew up." He was reluctant to add that last point, but he knew the Captain would pry it out of him sooner or later, and sooner would mean his neck would be less throttled.
"When the cannon blew up, you say." The Captain's glare moved around the table to find fourth Lieutenant Hornblower, who squirmed and all but hid under the table. During a live-ammunition exercise on their last voyage, Hornblower's men had been so eager for their division to win the bottle of rum that Hornblower had offered as an incentive, that in their haste to fire first, the gunpowder had not been packed down properly. Luckily Hornblower had recognized the signs that the gun was about to explode, knocking the men out of the way. Unfortunately however, the deck and some of the nearby sails had caught alight. Afterwards third Lieutenant Bracken had commented in front of all the officers that Hornblower had given new meaning to the words "live-fire exercise", which everyone found most amusing yet another stigma Hornblower would never live down, and now it seemed the consequent damages were still accumulating.
The Captain sighed. "Alright. Well now we know the cause, has everything been secured and sealed?"
first Lieutenant Bracegirdle, being senior to everyone else, acknowledged after receiving an affirming nod from Matthews.
"Right then," continued the Captain. "Back to your duties everyone. We'll be back in Plymouth tomorrow, if this wind holds." And I've got to explain to Admiralty why we were dismasted after only one day! he thought to himself, and his anger stirred within him again. "Mr. Hornblower!". He spied his cheeky but highly promising Lieutenant trying to sneak out behind Acting Lieutenant Kennedy.
"Yes sir," Hornblower replied, and stepped back to allow everyone past before approaching the Captain, hands clasped respectfully behind his back. He had been hoping his previous punishment had been enough to erase the exploding-gun incident. Perhaps not.
Captain Pellew remained in his chair and toyed with his pen. "Mr. Hornblower," he said without looking up, "did you or did you not inspect the deck and surrounding area for damage after the gun exploded?"
Hornblower knew he was in trouble no matter what answer he gave, so he wisely stuck with the truth. "I did, sir."
Pellew raised his head and peered at the nervous Lieutenant "And did you or did you not think to inspect the surrounding structures, including the masts?"
Again, a double-edged sword if he didn't, he should have, and if he did, he didn't do it properly. "I " He swallowed nervously and tried again. "I did, sir but I didn't think the blast would have reached that high up sir."
Pellew searched the young officer's eyes and saw innocence behind the fear. He also knew that his fourth Lieutenant hadn't been too remiss in his duties the fracture had been surprisingly high. "Very well then. Dismissed." The Captain resolved he would have to take his frustrations out on someone else.
On exiting the wardroom, Hornblower let out the breath he didn't realize he had been holding, and found Kennedy waiting for him. "Well?" Kennedy was an excitable 19 year old, who was forming a growing affection for his commanding officer. They had survived much together over the past years, including being captured and imprisoned by the Spanish, and now with the worst behind them, they had become almost inseparable.
Hornblower smiled. "Honesty is always the best policy, my young friend. Remember that."
"Oh I will, sir," grinned Kennedy, following Hornblower down the corridor. "Like the time you accidentally dropped your sword overboard and you told Hobbs you wanted to be issued with a second sword so you could practice double-handed dueling?"
"Oh shut up Archie "
"Or the time Bracegirdle caught you with a flask of rum during your watch, and you said "
Hornblower whirled and threatened Kennedy with his fist. "I know what I said, you cad. Put a cork in it before someone hears you!"
Just then third Lieutenant Bracken approached and tried to squeeze past, eyeing off the junior Lieutenants' guilty expressions. As a pre-emptive measure, he warned them to keep out of trouble. Secretly however, he longed to join in on their shenanigans he had come to think of them fondly as younger brothers but now that he was third in the chain of command, he had to maintain a certain amount of discipline. He shook his head smiling as he continued down the hall, reminiscing about his younger days.
The sky was much clearer as they sailed into Plymouth Sound, making their demasted battleship look all the more ridiculous. All hands were top-side to bring in what sails remained, and to provide passing honours to the other vessels anchored in the harbour. The dock on their right was clear at the south end, but Captain Pellew had to first obtain permission from the Admiralty before docking, so he called for his third in command to guide the ship into anchorage he knew he needed the practice.
Buckland looked nervous as he stepped forward to take command, but he steeled himself as all eyes turned to him. Peering ahead, he could see there was a gap on the port side between two anchored ships, and that looked as good a spot as any.
"Four points to port!" he called out to the helmsman.
"Four points to port, aye" came the rote reply.
Buckland calculated in his head the best place to drop anchor, allowing for wind speed, wind direction, tide flow, ship speed and proximity to the other boats and to the shore.
"Bring in the top sails!" They were coming in a little too fast, but if they lost too much speed, they would lose control of the ship's maneuverability.
"Prepare to let go the fore-anchor!" They glided quietly past the first ship, a relatively small frigate, whose remaining skeleton crew watched with interest. Not much else to do.
"One point to starboard!" Buckland had to compensate for the effects of the tide, which at this slow speed caused the ship to crab to the left. The second Lieutenant held his breath as the vessel approached the best drop-point, according to his calculations.
"Fore anchor away! Bring in all sails!" The silence was shattered by the torturous sound of the anchor chain sliding across the metal clinches. Finally, the grapple found bottom and dug in, and the boat made a slow 180 degree turn to face the way it had come. "Away the aft-anchor!"
The Captain stepped forward again. "Not bad, Mr. Buckland."
The Lieutenant bowed his head. "Thank you, sir".
"But we're a little closer to shore than I would have liked. Luckily we'll be gone before the tide goes out on us."
Filled with shame, he avoided the Captain's gaze. "Sorry sir. The strong current caught me off guard a bit." No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't quite master the mathematics of sailing. Most of the time he just had to use intuition and cross his fingers. Of course, no-one knew this, and he must have managed to fool most everyone to finally be appointed second Lieutenant after 12 long years. Still, he couldn't fool himself, and this knowledge kept him awake most nights.
"Alright then," the Captain was saying to third Lieutenant Bracken. "Mr. Bracegirdle and I are going ashore. Organise my long boat."
"Aye aye, sir," Bracken said, before he about-faced and signaled for the men from his division.
Captain Pellew turned back to Bracegirdle. "Go and get into your dress uniform and I'll meet you at the long boat in five."
"Aye, sir." Bracegirdle marched off.
The Captain started to follow, but then turned back with a gleam in his eye. "Mr. Hornblower! Report to my shore party in five minutes in full dress uniform." Wide-eyed, Hornblower acknowledged and raced off below. Acting Lieutenant Kennedy was unable to hide his astonishment, so the Captain indulged him. "Mr. Hornblower is about to see first-hand the chain reaction of consequences caused by his negligence. Then he turned and made his way below, after yelling "Mr. Bracken, you have the watch!" Bracken acknowledged, and headed over to see what Kennedy was so bemused about.
Less than five minutes later, the three officers in their best uniforms were stepping one-by-one into the shore boat, while the remaining officers saluted and the men stood to attention to pay their respects to their departing Captain. As they cast off, Lieutenant Kennedy managed to signal "good luck" to Hornblower with two crossed fingers, before Mr. Bracegirdle could catch sight of it. Hornblower discreetly acknowledged, but spent the rest of the arduous trip to the dock contemplating its significance.
"Well well, Sir Edward. I didn't expect to see you back here so soon. Did you forget something?" Admiral Bennetts was in an unusually jovial mood; very much in contrast to Pellew's. The Admiral was sitting at a large mahogany desk in a lavishly-appointed office, which Hornblower couldn't help but gawk at as they entered. He hadn't been near Admiralty since he sat for his Lt's exam, and he had been way too nervous to notice his surroundings then. Pellew introduced his two officers, and the Admiral motioned for them to have a seat.
Once pleasantries were exchanged, Pellew braced himself and then proceeded to explain. "We ran into a spot of bad weather, Admiral, which fortunately isolated a weak fracture-point in one of our masts. I say fortunately because it would have been catastrophic if it had broken in the midst of battle, or if we had been far from a friendly port. It may have cost many more lives than just the two we lost. Anyway, sir, we will require a few days to repair the damages, so with your permission "
Hornblower had never heard his Captain ramble on so nervously, but then the Admiral's mood changed instantly, and Hornblower understood why.
"How could you set off on a six month voyage with a fractured mast?!" the Admiral roared. "Wasn't it inspected? You were docked here for weeks preparing for that trip. What were you doing all that time? Sunning yourselves?!"
Bracegirdle and Hornblower shifted uncomfortably in their chairs during this torrent, but the Captain merely leaned back until the Admiral's anger was spent. Once the storm had subsided, Pellew continued, much more composed than before. "Sir, we obtained some damage to the mast during a previous battle which was undetectable by the naked eye." A slight exaggeration, but not far from the truth. "The incident was unforeseeable, so there is no point trying to lay blame on anyone. All we can do is fix the damage, write off our losses and continue on."
Hornblower had been holding his breath waiting for his name to come up in the verbal report, but was surprised and relieved at the Captain's version of the events. Admiral Bennetts however was not. He grumbled for a while about the costs to the navy for masts and sails and experienced seamen, but eventually he relented. "Alright. You can pull in at dock five, but I'm only giving you until Monday morning. We're expecting some more ships in then." He filled out some forms and handed them to the Captain.
"Thank you, sir." Pellew stood and bowed his head. "You won't even notice we're there." The three officers left and made their way down the long, lavishly decorated corridor. As they walked, Hornblower noticed there were portraits of Admirals down the right wall, and paintings of various naval ships along the left. Being more interested in the latter, he keenly gazed at each vessel as he absent-mindedly followed his Captain and first Lieutenant, without even missing a stride. He noted that each painting had the ship's name, conscription date and retirement date (if any).
He was peering at the fine details of the third canvas, when his right arm, which was holding onto his hat, bumped into someone. Expecting it to be an irate Bracegirdle, he turned to apologise, but instead was spell-bound by the presence of three pretty young women. The one he had knocked was profusely wiping a stain on the front of her white lace frock with her matching white lace handkerchief. A half-empty glass of coloured liquid matching the stain was in her other hand. She was mumbling something about "people watching where they were going" and "never get this stain out".
Eventually she gave up, and was about to abuse the dumbfounded Hornblower when their eyes met. Then she too was lost for words. Such a handsome young face, with kind eyes and soft, dark brown curls. She realized she was staring and, blushing, cleared her throat and said, "You have ruined my dress."
Hornblower blinked at her, and then bowed to the waist and apologized in his most courteous voice. "I beg your pardon, miss. I didn't see you there. I will compensate you, of course." He reached into his pockets.
The vision in white smiled at his innocence and charm, but held up her hand in protest. "There's no need for you to do that. It was obviously a simple accident." Hornblower relaxed and smiled at her.
Meanwhile, Pellew and Bracegirdle were almost to the front door by now. The Captain was saying, "Well Mr. Hornblower, did you learn anything from that meeting?" He turned to find Hornblower, not behind him as expected, but twenty yards back down the hall. Not only that, but he was chatting to a group of young girls!
"Mr. Hornblower!" the Captain called back, astounded at the Lieutenant's audacity. Hornblower was jolted back to reality like a torn kite in the wind. "I have to go! It was nice meeting you." He quickly bowed again, but before he could leave, one of the girls discreetly shoved a folded piece of paper into his hand and said, "Why don't you come to our party tonight?"
Hornblower looked down at the official-looking invitation like it fell from the heavens. Eventually he said, "I'd like to, but I don't think I can leave the ship."
"Oh please come," pleaded the first girl, placing her soft delicate hand on top of his. "You owe me that much." As a final incentive, she batted her long lashes and produced her sweetest smile.
Hornblower's heart missed a beat and the room spun, as he tried to catch his breath. Enjoying the feeling, he allowed himself to visually consume her beauty. Her eyes were a deep blue, and her golden hair fell in soft curls around her shoulders and breasts. Hornblower blushed when he realized he'd been staring at her
"Mr. Hornblower! Report here on the double!" This time Hornblower jumped. "I'll see what I can do," he said, before running down the hall.
"You can bring some friends if you like!" called out one of the other girls, but Hornblower didn't turn to see which one. He was more concerned with what lay ahead.
Captain Pellew was standing with his hands on his hips, with Bracegirdle frowning beside him. Hornblower's stomach churned (a totally different churning to what he had felt a few moments ago) as he halted and stood to attention in front of the pair. He looked straight ahead between the two officers, avoiding their eyes.
"How dare you keep us waiting!" The Captain hissed at Hornblower before he had even fully come to attention. He moved to within inches of Hornblower's face for full effect, and lowered his voice to a menacing growl. It raised the hairs on the back of Hornblower's neck.
"Here I was talking to you and you were lagging behind to chat up the local girls! We are not here on an excursion, damn you! We are here on official business, and time is of the essence. The tide is retreating on us, and we have to dock the ship before she's stuck aground for the night as you are well aware!" He stopped to catch his breath, so Hornblower jumped in to explain.
"I'm sorry, sir. I accidentally bumped into one of those girls and spilt her drink all over her white dress, so I thought it prudent to apologise appropriately as an officer and a gentleman should."
Pellew squinted at the cunning young Lieutenant, and gazed down the hall and saw that one of the girls did in fact have a stain on the front of her dress. It was almost as if she was standing there so that he could see it. He faced Hornblower again, who swallowed nervously. "That might be so, Mr. Hornblower, but the next time I call you, you are to come immediately. Is that understood?"
"Yes sir. Aye aye, sir."
"Good. Now take these orders to the dock master on the double." He handed Hornblower the papers the Admiral had signed. "And meet us at the launch."
Hornblower took them and said, "Aye aye, sir."
"And make sure you get there before we do!" Pellew added as a threat.
"Aye aye, sir," the anxious Lieutenant replied, before turning and running through the open doors and down the stairs. As he ran, he hid the invitation inside his coat for later study.
The Captain and Lieutenant Bracegirdle continued down the stairs in the same direction. As they walked, Pellew smiled ever so slightly, shook his head and said, "You have to watch that one, Mr. Bracegirdle. He has a plausible answer for everything."
"I know, sir," the Lieutenant replied with a sigh. "Believe me, I know."
Twenty minutes later, they were back on board the Indefatigable, with the usual assembly and ceremony expected when the ship's Captain returned from shore. All the men stood to attention aft of his port entry point facing forward, while the officers lined up facing port, and the guards were mid-ships across the deck facing aft. The boson and his mate blew their whistles in three long tones, and the Captain walked along absent-mindedly inspecting his officers.
Lieutenant Bracegirdle followed behind, and Hornblower slipped into formation in the gap left between Bracken and Kennedy. As he did so, he gave the junior Lieutenant a quick wink. Kennedy couldn't return the gesture because Bracegirdle was looking sideways at him, but once the first Lieutenant passed, he clenched his fist and punched Hornblower on the leg.
Hornblower jumped slightly and grinned, which caused Bracken to glare at him until his grin vanished. But Hornblower didn't care he was just so relieved to be back on board the Indie after the long and tedious lecture he had just received from the Captain during the long boat ride back to the ship.
The Captain and the first Lieutenant walked up to the top deck and at Pellew's command, Bracegirdle addessed the men. "Officers, about face!" The line of smartly uniformed men turned towards the centre of the ship. "At ease!" Everyone on deck spread their feet, clasped their hands behind their backs and turned their heads to face the Captain.
Pellew stepped forward to the rail. "We'll be docking at the last bay. Then we have until first thing Monday morning to repair our damage. We'll have to work shifts around the clock to finish in time" Some of the men groaned, and Bracegirdle yelled "Silence!" at them.
The Captain continued. "If we get the work done on time, we'll have a half-day Monday afternoon as a reward." There was a half-hearted cheer. "And we'll open a keg!" Loud cheers all around. Pellew didn't want his men starting out on a long voyage feeling disgruntled, so a little celebration while they were still in the English Channel would help lift their spirits.
The Captain took a step backwards. "Mr. Bracegirdle, take her into dock five."
"Aye aye, sir." Bracegirdle stepped forward and addressed his Lieutenant's. "Man the anchors! Hands to main sails and sheets!" There was just enough of a northerly breeze to coax her into shore. "Throw out the fenders!"
The Lieutenant's yelled more specific orders to the men of their divisions, and before long, like a well-oiled machine, the Indie was gliding up to the dock, while the Captain and the first Lieutenant supervised from the top deck.
"Away lines!" The 74-gun ship slowly came to a halt as the dock men tied off her bow and stern lines. The sun was almost down to the horizon now. "Secure the sails and rigging!"
The Captain said something into Bracegirdle's ear, who then yelled, "All officers report to the wardroom!"
As the Lieutenant's and midshipmen made their way below decks, Kennedy caught up to Hornblower and squeezed along beside him. He was keen to find out what had happened ashore. Hornblower lifted his eyes dramatically to the ceiling and rested both hands on his heart. "I met the most beautiful girl I have ever seen."
"Really?!" Archie exclaimed. "Who was she? What was she like?" At that point they arrived at the door to the wardroom, so Hornblower said in a low voice, "Let's just say I think I'm in love, and I'm hoping to see her again soon."
"What! How? " the Acting Lieutenant started to ask, but he had to suppress his excitement as they sat down at the large table. The midshipmen stood along the walls out of harm's way.
"Right," Captain Pellew said even before he had sat down in his chair at the head of the table. He was keen to finish up for the day. "We need to organize work parties to get the repairs completed on time. Which divisions are on duty tonight?"
Bracegirdle, who was sitting at the other end of the table, answered, "Mr. Hornblower is on for another hour, then Mr. Bracken, followed by Mr. Buckland, and Mr. Kennedy has the dog watch." Each shift was four hours long, and Hornblower's shift was due to finish at 6:00pm. As first Lieutenant, Bracegirdle did not have a rostered shift, since, like the Captain, he was considered to be always on duty.
"Mr. Hornblower," the Captain continued, "get your men started on repairing those sails, and Mr. Bracken, you can continue with the repairs."
"Aye aye, sir," they both chimed.
"Then Mr. Buckland, you can organize your men to remove the broken mast, so the next watch can set to repairing it."
"Aye aye, sir."
"I'll come out in the morning to inspect the progress." The Captain seemed satisfied. "Are there any questions?" There were none, so he stood and left.
As everyone else filed out after him, Kennedy held Hornblower back, eagerly awaiting the details of Hornblower's shore side encounters. "Tell me everything!" Kennedy almost danced on the spot in anticipation. The two of them had become quite good friends in the last few months, although Hornblower had to keep reminding himself that he was Kennedy's commanding officer, and therefore had to keep his duties ahead of any friendship. But he was certainly finding it enjoyable having someone with whom he could confide in.
He smiled and adopted a wistful tone again. "Ah! What a beauty! In fact, all three of them were beautiful. If only you had been there "
"Three?!" Kennedy was almost drooling now.
Buckland, who had caught their conversation as he was heading out the door, stopped and growled, "Mr. Hornblower, aren't you still on duty?" Hornblower's smile vanished, as he bowed his head and replied with "Yes sir" as he headed for the door. Before leaving, he discreetly hand-signaled to Kennedy to meet him up on deck in ten minutes. The covert training they had received during training came in handy from time to time.
Hornblower had half his men gathering up the damaged sails and laying them out on the just-cleared dining tables. The crew had had their dinner during the officers' meeting, so they had use of the tables for quite a few hours before the next meal, and by then, Bracken and his men would have taken over.
Once Hornblower was satisfied that each man knew his task, he headed aloft to look for Kennedy. He'd actually been longer than ten minutes, but he still found Archie on the quarter deck, perched beside the side rail, peering across the darkened bay. "Well, Mr. Kennedy!" Hornblower said in his official voice, succeeding in startling the young Lieutenant "What are you doing here at this time of the evening?"
Archie let out a quick breath, but recovered immediately. "Waiting for you sir." He imitated contempt and insubordination. Hornblower laughed and sat down beside him, partly hidden from view of the top deck, where the Captain or the other officers would stroll if they wanted to "do the rounds".
Before Archie could open his mouth, Hornblower pulled out the untouched invitation from his inside pocket, and gazed at its front cover. It was pearl white with lace around the edges, and had gold lettering. Hornblower had never seen anything so delicate and fancy in all his days, and he re-visualised the beauty that had given it to him and touched his heart.
Archie stared open-mouthed over Hornblower's shoulder at the folded paper. "What's it say? Open it." It was almost a whisper. Hornblower, brought back to the present by Archie's voice, carefully folded back the paper and turned it toward the dock's dim lighting. He read, " 'To my esteemed friend. Please do me the honour of attending my coming of age ball, which will be held on Friday night from 6:00pm at ' (her address - bla bla) and it's signed 'Sarah Bennetts'." They both sat in silence for a while digesting the information, conjuring up images of music and dancing, food and drink, beautiful young women, and
Kennedy couldn't stand it any longer. "Are you going?"
Hornblower sighed. "How could I possibly? I would have to get permission to leave the ship while we're docked. The Captain would never allow it, especially after what happened today on shore."
"Why, what happened?"
Hornblower filled Kennedy in on how he had bumped into the three girls, while Kennedy sat enthralled. At the end, Hornblower sighed wistfully at the thought of attending the ball.
Kennedy rubbed his chin for a while, deep in thought. "Who's the deck guard on the next shift? Isn't it Paddington?"
"I think so. Why?" Hornblower looked at Kennedy queryingly.
Kennedy smiled. "He owes me a huge favour. I'm sure I could persuade him to look the other way while we sneak off."
"What do you mean, we?"
"Well, if I can guarantee to get you off the ship and back on undetected, doesn't that deserve an invitation too?" The pleading look in Kennedy's eyes caused Hornblower to laugh out loud, which attracted the attention of Lieutenant Bracken, who had obviously been looking for him. Hornblower saw him at the same time, and quickly rose. "I'd better go," he said to Kennedy, stuffing the invitation back into his pocket. "I'll meet you in the cabin after my shift and we'll discuss it further."
Kennedy got to his feet as well, seeing Bracken walking quickly over to where they were. When he was within earshot, Kennedy said formally to Hornblower, "Thank you, sir. I'll keep that in mind tonight when we're repairing the sails."
Hornblower played along. "Very good, Mr. Kennedy."
Lieutenant Bracken arrived, looking very annoyed. The two junior Lieutenant's touched their caps. "Mr. Hornblower, I have been looking for you everywhere. What are you doing out here?"
"I wanted to discuss with Mr. Kennedy how he planned to repair the sails tonight." This was a reasonable request, with Hornblower being Kennedy's direct superior, but Bracken was not convinced, remembering the laughter he had heard.
He continued in the same admonishing tone. "Well, why not discuss it from your duty station, Mr. Hornblower. Or at least inform somebody of where you are going!"
"Aye aye, sir. Sorry, sir."
Bracken was unappeased, and continued venting his anger. "I don't appreciate spending my free time traipsing around looking for one of my officers, especially one who is supposed to be on duty!" There was nothing Hornblower could think of to say.
Bracken then turned to Kennedy. "That will be all, Mr. Kennedy."
Kennedy touched his cap again, replied with "Aye, sir" and marched off. Bracken turned back to Hornblower, who was still standing to attention. "I want to co-ordinate the repair of the sails. Come with me to the mess hall." They then spent the next twenty minutes planning the men's duties for the next two days, co-coordinating their shifts.
"I don't know. It's too risky." Hornblower was sitting on the edge of the chair in Archie's cabin, contemplating his shoes, while Kennedy was lying on his bunk, studying the awe-inspiring invitation. It was just after 6:15pm, and Hornblower had not long completed his watch. Kennedy sat up to plead his case. "Come on, Horacio. I spoke to Paddington and er persuaded him to look the other way. That will give us nearly four hours of liberty. How often does a chance like this come along?"
Hornblower chewed his bottom lip for a while, while his head and his heart fought the battle of all battles. After Kennedy pleaded continually for what seemed to Hornblower like an hour, he finally relented to his heart. His mother had always said 'follow your heart'. "Alright! But," he warned with a wagging finger, "if we get caught this was all your idea. I've been in enough trouble as it is lately."
"No problem, sir," Kennedy chimed, rubbing his hands together excitedly. He dragged out their dress uniforms and laid them on the bunks. "I took the liberty ha! liberty, get it? - of pressing our best shirts while you were on watch. So let's hurry if you please, sir." Even off duty, a subordinate couldn't order his commanding officer around.
Donned in full-length overcoats to hide their dress whites, they decided to head aloft separately, so as not to arouse suspicion. Kennedy went first, so he could send Paddington away. Hornblower followed three minutes later. They only had five minutes to alight, since that was the longest the guard was willing to be away from his post.
Kennedy strolled casually around the quarter deck, contrary to the wild beating of his heart, pretending to be studying the stars. Then damn! out of the corner of his eye he spotted Lieutenants Bracegirdle and Bracken strolling along the top deck, talking quietly together. He expected Bracken to be there he was the officer of the watch but Bracegirdle must have been making one of his random inspections. Double damn!
At that moment, Hornblower stuck his head out of the lower companionway, but soon pulled back at Kennedy's frantic signal. Then the commotion began. Paddington had caused a diversion by throwing something over the port bow, and Bracegirdle and Bracken walked over to investigate.
Now was their chance. Kennedy frantically waved Hornblower on, and they quickly but stealthily ran down the gangplank. Then they ran along the dock, their eyes darting from side-to-side in case anyone was watching, until they were past the ship docked in front of the Indie. Then they slowed to a casual stroll, so as not to arouse suspicion. It was normal for the officers and men of the other ships docked there to be ashore at night, so unless someone recognized them as being from the Indefatigable, they were safe.
Once they were out the gates, they relaxed a little, and Kennedy started prancing around at the thought of meeting some girls. "How far is it, sir?" he asked. Hornblower had memorized the map that was printed on the back of the invitation, and was looking for street name and landmarks. "It should be up here a bit, and around the corner." Kennedy's excitement was contagious, and he quickened his pace to match his increased heartbeat.
The mansion for it was no ordinary house was set high on the block and back from the street about 100 feet. There were a handful of carriages lined up on the front lawn, which relieved Hornblower. He had been worried that this was going to be a large, formal gathering, which always made him nervous. However, his relief turned to fear when he looked in through the open front windows. There were close to a hundred people, and most of the men were officers, all in dress whites!
"Let's get out of here!" Hornblower turned to leave, but Kennedy grabbed him by the arm.
"What's wrong?" All Kennedy saw was a sea of women and hoards of fine food.
"We can't go in there. It looks like a damn naval ceremony in there!"
"Well, what if someone recognises us, or asks us what ship we're from?"
Kennedy paused for a split second, and said, "We'll just avoid the question, as well as anyone who might know us. I don't think anyone would."
Hornblower looked doubtful, but Kennedy was persistent, as always. "Look sir, there's enough civilians in there that we can mingle with to avoid any military interrogations. And if anyone does start asking too many questions, I'll pretend to be sick and you can escort me out." There were those pleading eyes again. "Please sir. We've made it this far. Let's not chicken out now."
Hornblower sighed heavily. "Oh very well, but we'll have to keep our wits about us if we hope to pull this off. Remember what's at stake." If they were caught AWOL during wartime they could be charged with desertion, which could mean death if the navy wanted to make an example of them.
"Aye, sir. You can trust me." Hornblower let out a short laugh, remembering the countless times Kennedy had got him into hot water.
After checking their coats and caps at the foyer, the two very nervous Lieutenants entered the large ball room. The ceiling went right up to second-storey level, to which a matching pair of curved white stairs led, one from each side of the ballroom. Upstairs there were a number of closed doors.
A passing waiter offered them a drink, which they both accepted eagerly. It was some sort of bubbly white wine, the likes of which neither of them had ever encountered before. Hornblower concluded that it must have been some of the new wine that had been confiscated from one of the French frigates. After each sculling only one glass, it left them both feeling very light-headed. They searched around for another.
The banquet table was at the far wall, around which stood several small groups of young men and women, most holding plates and eating while they conversed. Other groups were lined up around the other walls, talking or watching the couples dancing in the centre of the room. There was barely enough room to swing a tackle.
"Ah! You made it!" Hornblower and Kennedy turned to the source of the sweet voice, and were stunned momentarily at the vision before them. The same three girls Hornblower had bumped into only that morning were somehow now even more beautiful.
Eventually Hornblower found his voice, but could only emit a stuttered "Yes" in reply. One of the other girls smiled longingly at Kennedy and said, "And you brought a friend with you. Great." For once, Kennedy was speechless as well, so the girl whose dress Hornblower had ruined introduced her group. "I'm Sarah - which you probably saw on the invitation," she winked at Hornblower flirtingly, "and this is Jane," - the tallest of the three - "and this is Kimberley. We're best friends, and we're inseparable." Hornblower and Kennedy looked at each other and smiled. The latter said cheekily, "That suits us just fine!" which earned him a punch in the thigh from Hornblower, who responded, "I'm Lieutenant Horacio Hornblower," bowing low, "and this is Lieutenant Archie Kennedy," who followed suit.
Sarah boldly held out her arm to Hornblower and said, "Would you care for some food, Horacio?" Hornblower smiled charmingly and took her arm gently in his. "Delighted to, Sarah." Kennedy then smiled and offered an arm each to the other two, and the five of them squeezed their way through to the buffet table.
The food was excellent, and for a while Hornblower & Kennedy were so immersed in sampling all the different delicacies, that they forgot their hosts, who stood back and watched bemusedly. Eventually though, Hornblower became self-conscious of how he and Kennedy must look, in less-than-pristine uniforms, scoffing down large mouthfuls of food, so he elbowed Kennedy and guiltily joined the women. He bowed his head and apologised in his most eloquent voice. "Please forgive us, Miss Sarah. We are not accustomed to such find food, and we have not had the chance to partake of any sustenance since early this morning." The girls giggled at his imitation of a lordly gentleman, and Sarah replied in the same formality. "That is quite alright, Mr. Hornblower. We understand how it is serving on a ship."
"Thank you," replied Hornblower, bowing again, although he wondered how a young girl could possibly understand.
Just then he noticed with a gasp as a trio of Admirals descended the left-hand stairs, resplendent in dress whites and gold braid. Kennedy followed his gaze, and automatically ducked down behind a large gentleman standing in front of him.
"What's wrong with you two?" Jane laughed. "You both look like you've seen a ghost."
Hornblower laughed nervously. "We didn't know the Admiralty were going to be here. Our - um - uniforms are not quite up to inspection."
Sarah nodded knowingly, and the three girls left the cowering Lieutenants and - astonishingly! - joined the Admirals.
"Hello father," Sarah kissed the stern-looking Admiral standing in the centre. "I was wondering when you were going to make an appearance." The music and dancing had ceased, and every officer stood to attention at the first sight of the 'brass'.
Sarah's father addressed the whole room. "As you were." The officers relaxed and continued breathing as one. "I just wanted to make sure you were all enjoying yourselves. Pretend we're not even here." With that the music resumed, along with the conversation.
"Oh my God!" exclaimed Hornblower in a whisper. "That's Admiral Bennetts! I met him this morning. Quick Archie, over here." Hornblower and Kennedy retreated into a secluded corner of the room, eyeing off the potential hiding place behind a large potted bush next to them. "He's about the only person who could recognise me. We've got to get out of here!"
"Wait!" Kennedy held up his hand, as he looked over the crowd. "They're not coming any closer. With a bit of luck they'll leave soon."
Hornblower, who had been half-cowering, noticed a couple of Lieutenants eyeing them suspiciously. They headed over to where Hornblower and Kennedy were obviously hiding. "Well well, Mr. Stacey. What do we have here?" the taller officer said to his offsider, who replied, "Looks like we have a couple of shirkers in our midst, Mr. Hollingsworth." The two of them were smiling deviously, which made it difficult for Hornblower to determine their intentions. He bowed his head respectfully and replied casually, "I don't know what you are referring to, sirs. We are simply minding our own business, as any gentleman of any breeding would."
"Ooh, touchy!" laughed Hollingsworth. "Don't worry. We won't turn you in. We love an adventure as much as the next man."
"Maybe more so," added Stacey, prodding his mate in the ribs. They both laughed, and Hornblower and Kennedy relaxed, simultaneously noticing the Admirals returning upstairs.
Hornblower introduced themselves, purposely leaving off which ship they were assigned to, and the four Lieutenants immersed themselves in a long and boisterous conversation. They mainly discussed trivial matters, such as the latest exploits of Bonaparte, the gossip on each of the fleet Admirals and Captains, and the quality of the food and the wine - they were informed it was called 'shampane'. Meanwhile, the waiters kept their glasses filled.
An hour later, Sarah and her friends found the Lieutenants jigging about to the music in the same corner, laughing hysterically. "Hello gentlemen," she greeted the four of them. "I see you've made some new friends." Then she moved next to Hornblower and said seductively, "I've been looking for you everywhere. Have you been hiding from me?"
Horacio's head swam with the combined effects of alcohol and infatuation. "Of course not," he smiled. "But you never told me your father was the fleet Admiral."
"Don't let that worry you. He prefers me to date officers to seamen or civilians. He says they're more trustworthy."
The other three Lieutenants looked at each other and chuckled, so, after glaring at them, Horacio boldly took Sarah by the arm and said, "Then would you please do me the honour of having this dance, Miss Sarah?"
She smiled in agreement, and they left the three young men to flirt with Jane and Kimberley.
As they made their way to the crowded dance area, Hornblower told Sarah, "I must warn you, I am a hopeless dancer, but I just had to be alone with you."
She smiled as she clasped her hand in his, turning side on to join in the dance. They glided this way and that, spun and pivoted, Hornblower following her lead and the movements of the other dancers. A number of the turns caused him to stumble a little as the blood spun in his brain, dulled by too much liquor. Each stumble caused Sarah to smile affectionately, endearing Hornblower to her even more. He watched her every move, and the rest of the room disappeared in insignificance.
After what seemed an eternity, the music stopped for a minute, and everyone clapped. Hornblower, taken by surprise, stumbled into Sarah's arms, who blushed and giggled but didn't pull away. In a daze, Hornblower stood there with his hands on her waist - he didn't know how they got there! - looking deep into her eyes, unable to move. He was aware of his deep breathing, the intoxicating smell of her hair, and the curve of her delicate waist, but nothing outside of them existed. Were her lips edging closer to his, or were the walls moving further away? Their lips touched ever so gently.
Suddenly, out of the haze, Kennedy was tugging at his arm. "Horacio, the Admiral's coming!" Hornblower looked around to see Sarah's father working his way through the crowd towards them, and he instantly snapped out of his stupor. "Where's the head - I mean, the bathroom?" he asked desperately of Sarah.
"Out the door and to the right," she pointed.
Hornblower and Kennedy ducked through the crowd, giving the Admiral a wide berth, and then casually straightened up and walked through the same doors they had entered via, barely avoiding the other two Admirals on the way out. Then they darted into the large bathroom and locked the door behind them.
Meanwhile, Admiral Bennetts finally reached his daughter on the far side of the dance area. He was glancing around angrily. "Who was that you were dancing with, Sarah?"
She smiled innocently and tried to soothe his temper. "I don't remember his name. Why, father? What's wrong?"
"Don't act innocent with me," he growled under his breath, so as not to cause a scene. "You know very well what's wrong. How dare you dance so close to him. I saw you encouraging him. Why, he had his hands all over you, the cad!"
"Oh father," she soothed. "He tripped and we just ... we were taken by surprise. I'm sure he meant no disrespect."
"No disrespect?!" he grunted in disgust, still looking around for the offender. "If I find him I'll show him some disrespect!" He turned back to his daughter. "Now where did he go?" He squeezed her arm until she winced. "Tell me, Sarah, before I cancel your party and send you upstairs for a flogging!"
She was almost in tears when she relented. "He went to the bathroom."
Meanwhile, Hornblower and Kennedy were pacing the lavishly decorated bathroom, trying to decide what to do. The night was still young, and neither of them wanted to head back yet - they were having too much of a good time; very rare for a pair of young Lieutenants in His Majesty's Navy during war time. But Hornblower knew Admiral Bennetts had seen him embracing his daughter, in front of everyone. He mentally kicked himself for being so inappropriate at his first formal ball.
Kennedy interrupted his chastising. "So what do you want to do now, sir?"
Hornblower stopped pacing and pondered the question. "Do you think the Admiral got a good look at me?"
"I don't know. You did have your back to him."
"Yes, maybe we can ..."
There was a solid pounding at the door, and Kennedy put his finger to his lips. "There's someone in here!" he replied.
Admiral Bennetts' unmistakable voice replied, "Come out this instant!"
Hornblower frantically looked for a place to hide, and found a closet, but there was not enough room. Then Kennedy pointed to the window and Hornblower nodded. After Kennedy gave Hornblower a leg up, he splashed some water around in the basin to cover the noise of Hornblower climbing out. Before Hornblower disappeared, he signaled Kennedy to meet him out the front in five minutes. Kennedy nodded, and Hornblower was gone.
As Kennedy opened the door, he was accosted by a red-faced Admiral - and two guards! The former was about to grab him, but pulled back when he realised he had the wrong man. He straightened his jacket and composed himself. "Lieutenant, have you seen a tallish, thin Lieutenant with dark curly hair come out of here? the Admiral asked gruffly.
"No sir," Kennedy replied truthfully, and he smiled to himself as he walked back into the hall at the fortunate wording of the Admiral's question. It was a punishable offence to lie to an Admiral.
Kennedy knew it would have looked suspicious if he left straight away, so he went to find Sarah to say goodbye. He found her talking with her friends near the bottom of the stairs.
"We have to leave now," he said to Sarah. "Your father is on the hunt for Horacio, so it's not safe to stay."
"Oh, what a shame." She was clearly disappointed. "Please give Horacio my sincerest apologies. Oh, and give him this." She pulled out her lace handkerchief. "Something for him to remember me by. I have a feeling I won't be seeing him again." She smiled sadly.
"I will, although I doubt he'll have any trouble remembering you. Thank you for inviting us." He turned to encompass all three girls. "Perhaps we'll run into you some other time."
They all exchanged farewells, and Kennedy headed for the door. On the way out, he almost bumped into Admiral Bennetts, who eyed him suspiciously, but returned his nod nonetheless. Kennedy waited for the Admiral to dissolve back into the crowd before retrieving their hats and coats, and quickly exited the house.
He found Hornblower leaning against a tree amidst the shadows in the front yard, looking dejected. Kennedy tried to cheer him up. "Well, it was fun while it lasted, sir."
Hornblower sighed. "Yes. I'm sorry I ruined the evening. I don't know what came over me."
"I do," Kennedy laughed. "It was a beautiful girl name Sarah. Oh, by the way." He reached into his pocket. "She wanted you to have this." Hornblower took hold of the handkerchief like it was spun gold. He could just make out her initials on it in the dim streetlight, and he lifted it to his face and breathed in the sweet scent.
Kennedy sighed dramatically. "Come on, Romeo. We need to get out of here. The Admiral's still looking for you, and he's even got a couple of guards with him."
"Really?" This news snapped Hornblower back to reality like a bucket of ice water. "Let's go then!" They ran stealthily back to the dock, and managed to sneak back on board the Indie without detection, thanks to the obliging Paddington.
Back in their cabin, unable to sleep and killing time until Kennedy's watch, the two Lieutenants discussed the events of the evening. The affects of the alcohol had all but vanished, leaving in its place a melancholy, exacerbated by the brevity of their liberty.
Kennedy, never one to dwell too long in his sorrows, said, "Never mind, sir. A couple of hours of ecstasy, however short, is better than none at all."
This philosophy did nothing for Hornblower's somber mood, as he toyed with Sarah's handkerchief. He had never been so affected by a girl not that he'd had much chance to; he'd been in the Navy since he was 17, spending most of that time at sea.
Tired of the morbid atmosphere, Kennedy stood up and said, "I'm getting a drink. Would you like one, sir?"
Hornblower looked up and considered the question. He wasn't sure he liked the dizziness which accompanied alcohol, but it was certainly better than this depression. "Alright, but where are you going to get it?"
Kennedy smiled and touched the side of his nose. "I have my sources, sir. Sometimes it's beneficial to be at the lower end of the command chain. Follow me." With that, Kennedy led Hornblower out the door and down to the very depths of the aft cargo hold. Kennedy grabbed a nearby lantern and led Hornblower to a secluded corner where boxes were placed in a rough circle obviously a meeting place of some sort.
Kennedy offered Hornblower a seat, and then dashed off for a few minutes and returned with two large flasks of rum. Hornblower opened his mouth to query the source, but Kennedy interjected. "Don't ask, sir. You wouldn't want to know." Shrugging, Hornblower took the flask offered to him, and gulped a quarter of the fiery liquid down in defiance of his melancholy. Kennedy smiled and followed suit, and before long their disappointments were forgotten as they told raunchy jokes and sang every mariner song they knew.
All too soon they heard the ringing of the eight bells, signaling the end of Buckland's watch and the beginning of Kennedy's. Hornblower staggered to his feet and slurred, "I'll come wit' ya, Arshie. I can keep ya comp'ny."
"No thank you, sir," Kennedy replied, coaxing him back onto the crate. "You've had more to drink than me. You sleep it off over there in the corner." He pointed to a pile of old rags.
"Nonshenshe!" Hornblower tried without success to fight the strong hands that pressed him down.
Kennedy smiled. "Do I have to tie you to the crates, sir?"
"Over my dead body!" protested Hornblower, but he was too inebriated to offer any further resistance. He eyed the makeshift bed with sudden longing, and as he laid his weary body to rest, Kennedy said, "I'll come and rouse you for your shift, sir."
Hornblower mumbled something and descended instantly into a deep sleep. Kennedy shook his head and smiled, doused the lantern, and quickly headed aloft to relieve Mr. Buckland for another four hours.
"Mr. Kennedy reporting for duty, sir."
Lieutenant Buckland turned and acknowledged Kennedy's salute. "You're late, Mr. Kennedy."
"Yes sir. Sorry sir." Having been holed up far below decks, they hadn't heard the ten minute warning call.
Buckland moved in closer. "Is that rum I smell on your breath?"
"Er yes it is, sir, but I only had a few sips, sir." A sailor could down a whole flask in a few 'sips', so it wasn't far from the truth.
"Show me how well you can walk a straight line," Buckland said as he pointed along the boards of the deck.
"Aye, sir." After years of walking along heaving, swaying, lurching decks, Kennedy knew he could walk the line of a docked ship even if he'd had twice as much to drink, and he proved it.
"Very well. You have the watch, Mr. Kennedy." They exchanged salutes again, and Buckland went below to retire to his cabin for a well-earned rest. It was just after 2:00 am.
As Buckland passed the wardroom, he noticed a light in there and looked in to find the Captain scribbling in his log. Pellew looked up and beckoned his second Lieutenant in. "Any news to report, Mr. Buckland?"
Buckland stood at ease with his hands behind his back. "No sir but" he hesitated.
"Spit it out." The Captain was tired and in no mood for dawdlers.
Buckland continued. "It's just that I'm concerned about Mr. Kennedy, sir. He showed up late for his watch just now, and he was half drunk."
"Yes sir. And I've been noticing that he and Mr. Hornblower have been bordering on insubordination lately when they are together. Mr. Bracken has noticed it too."
"Indeed." Pellew wasn't surprised he had noticed their irreverent behaviour of late as well. "Well, you and Mr. Bracken are responsible for their discipline. Why don't you deal with it?" he growled.
"It's just that" Buckland was treading in dangerous waters now " I didn't think you would want me to discipline Mr. Hornblower too much, sir." He held his breath.
"What?! Why not?" Pellew couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"Because, sir, you seem to have a soft spot for him."
There was a long pause while Pellew glared at the half-cowering Lieutenant. Soft spot? For Hornblower? Admittedly, he saw of lot of himself in Hornblower, and he sometimes thought of Hornblower as the son he never had, although he fought hard to conceal it obviously, not hard enough. He eventually found his voice. "Well! I don't know what makes you think that, Mr. Buckland, but I assure you, I want Mr. Hornblower to be just as disciplined as the next man if not more! He has a promising future ahead of him, and I don't want to see him throw it away through lack of discipline. Do I make myself clear, Mr. Buckland?"
"Nip this insubordination in the bud, and that goes for Mr. Kennedy as well."
"Aye aye, sir." Buckland bowed his head and left, smiling at the thought of finally wiping that arrogant grin off Hornblower's face.
Hornblower woke with a start, not sure of his whereabouts. It was pitch black, his bed was on a floor somewhere, and his mouth was bitter with the after-taste of excessive alcohol. As he licked his parched lips, he slowly remembered the previous night's events in reverse order. He slowly rolled to a sitting position and groaned at the throbbing pain in his temples. There he sat with his head in his hands until the ship stopped spinning. Then he fumbled around in the dark until he found the lantern, and was nearly blinded when he lit it.
He gingerly made his way up to his cabin, tonguing for a huge helping of his daily ration of water. Having no idea what time it was, he glanced at the hour glass, disappointed to see he only had five minutes until the start of his shift.
Shortly after, Kennedy rushed in. "Thank God you're here, sir!" he said. "I couldn't find you down below, and you're almost due for your watch."
Hornblower rubbed his throbbing eyes. "I know. I don't know how I'm gonna scrub up in time."
"I'll help you, sir." Kennedy retrieved Hornblower's uniform while the latter drained two full glasses of water, and then splashed some on his face.
"Hurry sir," Kennedy urged. "I think I heard the Captain stirring, so he might be getting ready for that early morning inspection he mentioned."
"Hmmph! That would be right!" Hornblower grumbled as he staggered into his pants. "The one time I'm late."
The dreaded eight bells sounded as Kennedy was helping Hornblower on with his jacket. Kennedy said, "I'll have to run back up on deck now sir. Are you all right now?"
"Yes thank you, Archie." Hornblower smiled affectionately at his young friend. "And thanks for last night. It really was a once in a lifetime experience."
Kennedy returned the smile with an added wink. "Anytime, sir. I consider it my duty to see you have a good time." And with that he darted out the door
And collided hard with the Captain in the hallway, causing him to drop his eye-glass.
"What the ?! Mr. Kennedy!" growled Pellew, rubbing his arm.
"T-t-terribly sorry, sir," stuttered the wide-eyed Lieutenant, before stooping to retrieve the rolling telescope.
"What's the emergency, Mr. Kennedy?!" the Captain barked.
Kennedy opened his mouth, but realized he'd be in more trouble if Pellew knew he hadn't handed over his watch to Hornblower yet, so he discreetly warned the emerging Hornblower back into their cabin.
He searched his tired brain for a plausible excuse, but couldn't find one. "I, um, no excuse, sir."
"Damn right there's no excuse!" The grimacing Captain was still massaging his throbbing shoulder. "You damn near broke my arm!"
Kennedy swallowed nervously. "Sorry sir."
The Captain snorted. "Well don't let it happen again. Carry on."
"Aye aye, sir. Thank you sir." Kennedy turned and ran up the hall.
"At a walk, Mr. Kennedy!" yelled Pellew after him.
Hornblower listened for the retreating footsteps, and then cautiously made his way aloft. With his hat in hand, he cautiously poked his head above the top deck ladder for a quick glance. Pellew was strolling along the lee-side of the ship, heading forward to inspect the men's work.
Suddenly a hand clasped him hard on the right shoulder, and Hornblower actually jumped and let out an involuntary gasp, before turning around in fear. Then his fear turned to both anger and relief at seeing Kennedy standing at the bottom of the ladder, grinning from ear to ear.
Hornblower jumped to the lower deck, donned his cap and stalked menacingly toward Kennedy with his hands outstretched, targeting Kennedy's throat. In response, Kennedy held up his own hands as protection and retreated backwards. "Easy sir, it was just a joke," Kennedy pleaded, but Hornblower kept stalking with feigned murder in his eyes. Kennedy laughed nervously, not sure whether Hornblower was serious or not. As his superior officer, Hornblower had every right to punish him for the mock-attack. Then Kennedy bumped into the rail behind him and Hornblower lunged at him, knocking him to the ground and pinning him down with his legs. Hornblower's hands were around his throat in an instant. The exaggerated choking look on Kennedy's face was so ridiculous that Hornblower couldn't suppress his amusement any longer. He let go of Kennedy's throat and they both burst into laughter.
"What the hell is going on down there?!" Captain Pellew was glaring down at them from the top deck, unable to believe what he had just witnessed. He pointed to the deck beside him and yelled, "Front and centre, both of you!"
The two dismayed Lieutenants climbed the ladder to their dreaded fate, and stood to attention in front of the Captain. "Mr. Hornblower," he snarled, "what was that all about?"
Hornblower tried to swallow the nervousness that had risen in his throat, and then smiled weakly. "Sorry sir. We were just fooling around a bit." Hornblower felt the deck sway under his feet, but wasn't sure if it was caused by the swell of the sea.
"Are you drunk?!" Pellew moved in closer. "You've been drinking rum!"
Hornblower stood with his mouth working, but no words formed, so Kennedy tried to assist. "Ah, sir, he had a little a few hours ago, but "
"Thank you Mr. Kennedy, but I wish to hear it from Mr. Hornblower." He turned his glare back to Hornblower. "Well?"
"It's true sir. I only had a small amount over four hours ago. I must just be tired."
"You didn't appear to be tired a moment ago when you were acting the goat with Mr. Kennedy! You two are Naval officers, damn it! What sort of an example do you think you're setting for the men, carrying on like that?" The Captain's nostrils were flaring on his reddened face.
"Sorry sir," they chimed quietly.
"I wouldn't tolerate that sort of behaviour from my midshipmen, let alone from Lieutenants, commissioned or not! Not on deck in front of everyone!! And especially not when we're docked in front of Admiralty and half the fleet!!!" Pellew caught his breath, and then turned away and started pacing to try and calm himself down.
The lads were almost sweating now, even though it was a brisk Autumn morning. They noticed out of the corner of their eyes the curious gazes from the men on deck, which further added to their immense discomfort.
After a few paces of the small top deck, the Captain whirled toward them. "Mr. Kennedy! You are confined to your quarters for the next four hours without food."
"Aye aye, sir."
Kennedy quickly went below, glad to be able to breathe again.
Pellew turned his attention to his fourth Lieutenant, who braced himself for what was to come. "And now to you, Mr. Hornblower." At least he was no longer yelling. The Captain spoke slowly and deliberately. "I expect more of you, Mr. Hornblower. You are Mr. Kennedy's commanding officer and should be setting an example for him." There was a pause.
"Aye, sir," Hornblower replied softly to fill the gap.
Pellew stared at Hornblower, choosing his words carefully. "I see a lot of potential in you, Mr. Hornblower. You work extremely well under pressure, and the men look up to you and respect you. This is a rare quality." Another pause. "Don't throw away a promising career for a bit of 'fun with the boys'".'
Hornblower wasn't sure what to reply with. "No sir. Thank you sir," seemed appropriate.
"Now," the Captain raised his voice slightly. "For your misconduct, you are to work a double shift, starting now."
"Aye aye, sir."
Pellew blinked and glanced forward at the men standing idly around. "And that reminds me," look out, he was frowning again "why is it your men don't have anything to do?"
Hornblower glanced at them quickly, and they were all standing around the bow, watching with amusement at the predicament of their commanding officer. "Well sir," Hornblower hesitated, framing his words carefully. "I only just started my watch, and I haven't had a chance to give the men their tasks yet." As soon as he said it he knew he was in trouble.
Pellew pulled out his watch. "It is now 20 minutes into your shift, Mr. Hornblower," he hissed through clenched teeth. "I've only been up here for 10 minutes. How do you explain that, Mr. Hornblower?!"
Hornblower gulped again, wishing his head wouldn't hurt so. "I was late for my shift sir."
"I, um, over-slept. I didn't hear the 10 minute call."
"No doubt because you had been drinking?"
Pellew could feel his anger rising again. This new information meant that Hornblower was skylarking with Kennedy while his men were awaiting his instructions. At length, he said, "I am very disappointed in you, Mr. Hornblower."
Hornblower was so weary he hardly cared anymore.
The Captain continued, "Go and set your men to work, and then report back to me immediately."
"Aye aye, sir." Hornblower saluted, and took his first steps tentatively, not sure if his wobbly legs would do as they were instructed.
He returned 15 minutes later to find Bracken being chewed out by the Captain, so he waited respectfully off to one side until they were finished. Finally, Pellew beckoned him over. Hornblower stood to attention in front of them.
The Captain snarled, "Mr. Bracken is going to deal with you, Mr. Hornblower." Then to Bracken he said, "Carry on."
"Aye aye, sir," saluted Bracken.
The third Lieutenant turned his obvious discomfort on to Hornblower. "Your irresponsible behaviour has landed me in hot water." As Hornblower's commanding officer, he was responsible for Hornblower's actions.
"Sorry sir," Hornblower replied, but inwardly he sighed. Here we go again! he thought.
"The Captain informed me you've earned a double-shift for skylarking. Well for being late for your shift and not tending to your duties, I'm giving you four double-shifts!"
Hornblower sighed. "Aye, sir."
Bracken moved in closer. "And if you ever carry on in such an undisciplined way, I'll see that you're demoted back to Junior Midshipman. Do I make myself clear?"
Hornblower swallowed. "Perfectly sir."
"Now get back to work. Your men have already lost 20 minutes this shift. Make sure they make up for it."
"Aye aye, sir." Hornblower saluted and joined his men where they were clearing the deck for the new mast. Only seven and a half hours to go, he sighed to himself.
"Call for the Captain! Call for the Captain!" The ship's runner yelled as he descended the ladder towards the wardroom. He found the Captain pouring over maps with Lieutenants Bracegirdle, Buckland and Bracken, who all looked up enquiringly at the intrusion. "What is it, Mr. Hocking?" asked Pellew.
"Sir, Admiral Bennetts sends his compliments, and requests permission to come aboard." Admiral or not, a Captain had full authority over who was allowed on or off his ship.
"Oh, in 10 minutes, sir."
Pellew wondered what could possibly cause the Admiral to want to come aboard with so little notice. "Very well, Mr. Hocking. Spread the word for Admiral's inspection in 5 minutes." Bracegirdle was already clearing the table.
Less than a minute later, the boson's whistles were piping the men to stand for inspection. Hornblower looked up from supervising his men, who also stopped work and rose dumbfoundedly. After a pause, Hornblower found his wits. "You heard them, men! Go forward and fall in for inspection. Look lively now! Oldroyd! You'd better go below and change your shirt. You too, Styles!"
"Aye aye, sir," they chimed.
Hornblower followed the men toward the bow of the ship, and nearly dropped to the deck when he saw who was standing impatiently on the dock. Cripes! This was it. The end of his career possibly of his life! If they charged him with desertion he could be hung from the nearest yardarm in an instant. Then he remembered Kennedy. The Admiral would definitely recognize him as having been at the party. He decided to sneak down below, and ran to his quarters.
"Archie! Have you heard?!" Hornblower rushed in through the door.
Kennedy was pacing, twisting his hands together. "Yes, I have. I'm as good as dead."
"No you're not." Hornblower grabbed hold of Kennedy to stop him from pacing. "I won't let them hang you. I was the senior officer I'll take full responsibility."
"No way, Horacio. I was the one who talked you into "
"I don't care!" Hornblower interrupted. "There's no point in both of us taking the blame, and with me being senior I will inevitably cop most of the blame."
"No, there's got to be a way out of this." Kennedy paced again for several seconds and then turned abruptly. "The Admiral may have only seen you from the back, so he'll be looking for your hair mostly that's how he described you to me."
"So what can I do in a couple of minutes?" Hornblower asked.
"Go use some of Buckland's hair wax and flatten your hair down and sprinkle some of his powder in it too to make it lighter."
"Alright, I'll try anything, but what are you going to do?"
Kennedy rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I am confined to quarters, but you and I both know the Admiral will ask to inspect everyone." He turned to Hornblower and held him by the arms to convey his seriousness. "I need you to break my nose."
"What?!" Hornblower pulled away in shock.
"I'm serious, Horacio. The only way I can be saved is for my face to be covered in bandages, and I haven't got time to argue."
Hornblower could see the logic, but the thought sickened him greatly.
Knowing the seconds were ticking by, Kennedy urged him into action. "You go fix yourself up first, and then you can do me."
"Alright," Hornblower steeled himself. "I'll be right back."
While Hornblower was in Buckland's cabin, Kennedy pulled out his blade and, bracing himself in front of the mirror, made a couple of long slashes on his face in strategic locations one above his right eye, one along his chin and one on his left ear. Added to a broken nose, and his face should end up almost fully covered in bandages.
When Hornblower rushed back in, looking ridiculous under greasy-looking flat grey hair, he almost convulsed when he saw all the blood pouring from Kennedy's self-inflicted wounds. "You didn't knick any arteries did you?" Hornblower checked.
"Of course not. I'm trying to save my life, not take it," he grinned quickly, wincing as the cuts stretched. The final whistles piped again as a final call to fall in. "Quickly, sir. Punch me hard on the side of the nose."
Kennedy braced himself against the desk and closed his eyes tightly, but Hornblower hesitated. "Why not slosh some blood all around your nose and just say it feels broken. If you persist, Dr. Wood will have to set it, just in case."
Kennedy considered this, but not for long. "Do you really think it's worth the risk?"
Now it was Hornblower's turn to consider. "No, it's not. Brace yourself."
It took every ounce of his will power for Hornblower to punch his only close friend, but he made a good job of it. "Lie on the bunk and I'll send the doctor." Kennedy lay writhing in agony, moaning involuntarily, but relieved at the same time.
Hornblower found the doctor on deck waiting for inspection. He stopped and whispered into Dr. Wood's ear on his way to lining up beside Bracken, which sent the doctor scurrying down below, much to the consternation of Captain Pellew. They had obviously been waiting on Hornblower's arrival, for as soon as he straightened to attention, the pipes sounded and the Admiral walked on board.
"Welcome aboard the Indefatigable, Admiral Bennetts." Captain Pellew snapped a smart salute, which the Admiral reciprocated. "To what do we owe the pleasure of your company, sir?"
"Not what, Sir Edward," Bennetts leered, "but who."
Pellew was taken aback by this statement, and his eyebrows worked toward a solution. Finding none, he asked, "What do you mean, sir?"
"Did anyone leave this ship last night, around 8 or 9 o'clock?"
"No sir. No-one had permission to leave. Why?"
The Admiral was eyeing the line of Lieutenants. "Last night at my daughter's Ball, a young Lieutenant disgraced himself and the Naval service by groping my daughter in front of everyone, and then running off."
Pellew gasped. "I assure you, sir. None of my officers would conduct themselves so."
"We'll see about that," and he stalked over to the ship's officers, standing smartly in a perfect line.
Pellew initiated the drill. "Officers, sa-lute!" The Lieutenants and midshipmen touched their caps as one. After releasing them, the Admiral turned to Pellew and said, "I want to see their faces, Captain."
"Hats off!" The Admiral proceeded to walk slowly down the ranks from First Lieutenant down, with the Captain following closely behind. Lieutenants Bracegirdle and Buckland were both grey-haired and well into their thirties, so the Admiral ignored them.
"Your name?" Bennetts asked of the third in line.
"Third Lieutenant Bracken, sir."
The Admiral studied his features, particularly his dark wavy hair. Bracken was about the same height as his suspect. "Where you around 8:30 pm last night?"
Bracken raised his eyebrows and glanced at his Captain, who added, "Answer him Lieutenant."
"Um, I was here, on watch, sir."
Bennetts looked at Pellew, who nodded an acknowledgement, so the Admiral continued down the line.
Hornblower was so nervous he had to strain for a split second to think of it. "H-h-Horacio Hornblower, sir." Then he quickly added. "fourth Lieutenant."
Captain Pellew was staring at Hornblower's strange hair in complete puzzlement, which unnerved Hornblower all the more.
The Admiral continued. "I recognise your face, Mr. Hornblower, as well as your name."
"Yes sir. We met yesterday morning in your office, sir." Was it truly only yesterday?
"Oh." Bennetts couldn't hide his disappointment. The colour of this one's hair was all wrong anyway, so he continued down the line of midshipmen. No-one else looked even remotely similar to his mental picture, so he walked disappointedly back toward the gang plank, until he remembered something and turned to ask the Captain. "Are any of your officers missing from this line-up, Captain?"
Pellew had forgotten his junior Lieutenant. "Yes sir. Acting Lieutenant Kennedy is confined to quarters at the moment."
"I wish to see him at once," Bennetts ordered, and he made his way toward the companionway.
"Aye, sir," Pellew replied, about to follow but Hornblower cleared his throat loudly.
Pellew turned, and asked, "What is it, Mr. Hornblower?"
"Sir," Hornblower began, but then he realized that in the rush, he and Kennedy had forgotten to collaborate their stories. He continued, framing his words carefully. "Mr. Kennedy has been injured and is being attended to by the doctor." The Captain would want to find out who assaulted Kennedy they certainly couldn't pass his injuries off as an accident.
As Hornblower pondered what else he should say, the Admiral grew impatient. "Well show us the way, man!"
"Aye aye, sir." Hornblower donned his cap and marched as slowly as he dared down to sick bay, crossing his fingers all the way. He opened the door for the Admiral and the Captain, almost too nervous to follow them in, but curiousity got the better of him.
He walked in to hear the doctor describing Kennedy's injuries. Hornblower still could not see him, so he walked around behind the Captain before almost dropping with relief. Archie was sitting on the bed, propped up with pillows. The only thing you could see of Kennedy's face were his eyes and mouth, and they were obviously suppressing a smile at the sight of Hornblower.
The Admiral had already lost interest in the young Lieutenant the moment he saw his fair hair, and he led the officers back up on deck before the Captain could even ask Kennedy what had happened. Bennetts stopped at the top of the plank to return Pellew's salute, and left without another word.
Pellew watched him leave, intrigued by these events, and then turned and dismissed his officers, who in turn dismissed their divisions. Bracken turned to Buckland and asked, "What was that all about?" Buckland shrugged his shoulders, as the Captain called out to his quickly retreating fourth Lieutenant, "Mr. Hornblower!"
Hornblower cursed under his breath and strode back to where his three superior officers stood, saluting as he approached.
"Remove your hat if you please, Mr. Hornblower," asked Pellew. Of course, that was as good as an order, so Hornblower complied. They all stared quizzically at his hair, until Bracken was no longer able to suppress his laughter.
The Captain glared at Bracken, before interrogating his fourth Lieutenant. "What happened to your hair, Mr. Hornblower?"
Hornblower had been rehearsing several answers to this inevitable question while they had been standing on parade, so he chose the most plausible one. "I stuck my head through the mast hole to inspect the repairs to it, not knowing the edges had been greased. Then when I was rushing to remove it from my hair for the inspection, my talcum powder fell off the top shelf onto the top of my head. That's why I was late for inspection, sir, and I apologise." So much for the truth but a small lie was only a miniscule infringement, he justified to himself, compared to the much larger one it was covering.
Pellew stared deeply into Hornblower's eyes. He had an uneasy feeling that this young man was hiding something. He attempted to delve into the very depths of Hornblower's soul, trying to unravel the complicated intricacies within. But Hornblower's face was a mask, revealing nothing. Pellew growled in a low voice, "If I find out you've been lying to me, Mr. Hornblower, your life won't be worth living."
Hornblower swallowed his fear so he could reply, "Aye, sir."
The Captain continued, "What happened to Mr. Kennedy?"
This piece of the puzzle Hornblower hadn't resolved yet, and didn't know if Archie had invented something either, so he avoided the answer. "I think you should ask Mr. Kennedy that, sir."
"Do you now?" The Captain couldn't believe the audacity of this young officer, and he was losing what little patience he had. When a commanding officer asked a question, he expected a direct answer. "And why is that, Mr. Hornblower?" he hissed.
"Because I do not know all the facts, sir, but I believe Mr. Kennedy does." Hornblower was starting to wonder (not for the first time) if their night's liberty had been worth all this trouble. He tried to remember the passion he felt for Sarah, but it was stifled by his immediate concerns.
Finally the Captain surrendered. "Very well, Mr. Hornblower. Return to your duties."
"Aye aye, sir," Hornblower saluted, and went forward to find his men back at work preparing for the new mast. He still had another hour until his second watch, which Bracken was scheduled to share with him, and he sighed as he realized it was going to be a long, long day.
The repairs continued day and night, until finally at around 3:00 am Monday morning they were completed. Pellew and Bracegirdle inspected the repairs as best they could in the light of their lanterns, and then gave the orders to set sail. It was still dark as they cast off the last line, but the moon was almost full and high in the sky, providing a natural white glow to their surroundings.
Once they reached the relatively open waters of the English Channel, the winds picked up and swung around from the north a little. Pellew was pleased for the first time in days for this meant they wouldn't have to change tack at all on their way to their destination.
And what a destination Sardinia! Pellew read the orders again to relive the excitement of his first reading. Their original orders less than a week ago, amazingly had been to rescue a captured frigate at St. Nazaire, but after their unscheduled return to Plymouth for repairs, Admiral Bennetts had dispatched the HMS Dependable to carry out the mission. Now a more challenging adventure awaited the Indefatigable and her crew.
Their new mission was to meet up with the HMS Defiant and then to sail around to Sardinia, avoiding being destroyed or captured through the Strait of Gibraltar. Together they would then gather intelligence of the Spanish and French activities in the area, particularly around Corsica and Majorca, and prevent trade between them and the mainland. Any French or Spanish ships they could capture in the process would be an added bonus.
When the Captain informed his senior Lieutenants of their new orders, he received mixed reactions. Buckland was relieved at the chance of some calm sailing, mild weather and beautiful scenery, but Bracken was disappointed. He was keen for an all-out battle none of this skulking around in sheltered waters pretending to be spies. Nonetheless, there was nothing he, or anyone else for that matter, could do about it. Naval officers and their men went where and when they were ordered, without question.
With the winds still backing consistently from the north as they headed south 100 miles off the coast of France, at midday Pellew gave the men their promised afternoon off, and ordered for a keg to be brought on deck. Distributed between over 250 men, they were lucky to each fill their mugs, but it was enough to raise their spirits. Of course, the officers and the guards were excluded from the festivities, since they had a responsibility to maintain the smooth running of the ship.
Lieutenants Bracken and Hornblower leaned casually against the aft rail of the top deck, watching the men below as they danced and sang. Hornblower was smiling at their antics, but Bracken seemed annoyed. At length, Hornblower noticed this and asked, "What's wrong, sir? Are they making too much noise?" He straightened as if preparing to carry out an order.
But Bracken shook his head. "Sometime I wonder if it wouldn't be better to be a simple seaman. All you have to do is obey orders, and you don't have any responsibilities or worries like how long the supplies are going to last, or how many lives will be lost during the next battle."
"Well! You are down in the dumps today, aren't you, sir," Hornblower said, risking being too familiar with his superior, but thinking that he needed to talk. Having shared four shifts with each other over the last three days had allowed the two Lieutenants to get to know each other better. This had been beneficial to both men Hornblower was forced to become more diligent in his duties, and Bracken now had a sympathetic ear to hear his grievances.
Hornblower continued. "I know what will cheer you up, sir. Why don't we drill the men hard tomorrow? I wager my men will thrash your men in a dummy firing match."
Bracken smiles. "Do you now? How much?"
Hornblower considered. He was now on the last hours of his double shifts, so he could do with some time off. He smiled and said, "Two shifts."
Bracken whistled at the high stakes, but took a few moments to consider it. If he lost, he would have to work two of Hornblower's watches in addition to his own, but if he won he would have 36 hours straight with no watches at all. It was work the risk. "Alright, Mr. Hornblower. You've got yourself a bet."
They shook hands, and strolled together around the lee-side of the deck, both looking forward to the next day's challenge.
Hornblower and Bracken decided to hold the competition at 8 bells in the morning watch (10:00am), as this was the changeover of shifts between Buckland and Kennedy, and Hornblower's and Bracken's men would all be rested. They each lined their divisions up along the 36 port-side guns; Bush's on the aft 18, and Hornblower's on the fore 18.
The men were all as eager to win as their commanding officers, since they too were going to be rewarded with two free shifts. Two impartial Midshipmen were chosen to time each division, and they stood at the centre of the row of guns. first Lieutenant Bracegirdle joined in to judge.
"Ready?" yelled Bracegirdle, when everyone was in place.
"Ready!" replied Hornblower and Bracken a split second apart.
Hornblower and Bracken yelled orders out to each of their men. "Load powder!" "Run 'er out!" "Fire!" "Reload!" Of course, they were only firing blanks. No point in wasting live ammunition.
As the two Lieutenants ran up and down the lines, the powder boys came running in with refills. These boys were volunteers in the Royal Navy, sometimes as young as 10 or 11, who usually went on to become career seamen or officers. The sea was either in their blood, passed on by their fathers, or it was the best place to escape the drudgery of living on the land.
Suddenly the ship lurched violently to the opposite tack and back again, taking most of Bracken's men by surprise as they lost their footing. Surprisingly, none of Hornblower's men were hampered at all. One of Bracken's young powder boys tripped as he approached one of the guns, and black grains spewed all over the floor. Bracken cursed, but ordered his men to keep firing, while he reached for a bucket of water.
Bracegirdle intervened quickly. "Belay that! You can't leave that there!" he yelled over the roar. "Cease fire! Cease fire!" The order was passed verbally each way down the line, and eventually the noise died away.
Hornblower came limping down his line. "What happened?" he asked the Lieutenants.
Bracken cursed again, glaring at the poor lad who had tripped, who then turned and ran toward the door in fear. "Come back here!" Bracken yelled out after him, but Bracegirdle held him back and said, "Let him go. It wasn't his fault the ship lurched."
Bracken then turned his fury onto Hornblower. "Why did Kennedy tack the ship? He knew we were having this competition."
Hornblower shrugged innocently.
Bracegirdle frowned, "He'd better have a damn good explanation for that crazy maneuver."
Hornblower glanced from Bracegirdle to Bracken and back again, and finally had to ask the question, "So, sir, did we win?"
Bracegirdle grudgingly relented. "Yes, you won, by default." Hornblower's men cheered, while Bracken and his men grumbled and moaned. That meant two double shifts for them, while Hornblower and his division relaxed for the next day and a half.
"Come on you two," Bracegirdle said to Hornblower and Bracken, "I want to find out what happened on deck, before the Captain goes up."
They found Kennedy wielding his telescope, eyeing the waters they had just left behind. In the distance Hornblower could just make out the zigzagged wake of the ship.
"Mr. Kennedy!" bellowed Bracegirdle.
"Sir?" replied Kennedy automatically, almost dropping his eyeglass from surprise, and then wincing from the stab of pain in his nose. It was still plastered, but painkillers allowed him to continue his duties.
"Report! Why did we just switch tacks for a second back there?"
Kennedy glanced at Hornblower briefly and then back to Bracegirdle before answering. "Sir, I though I saw a huge whale just ahead in the water, which we would have hit for sure if we hadn't taken some evasive action."
"A whale?" Bracken asked skeptically. "In these waters?"
"Y-yes, sir," Kennedy answered haltingly. "At least, I think it was a whale, sir."
"Hmmph!" Bracken was unconvinced, and then, remembering something, he whirled on Hornblower. "How come your men hardly missed a beat when we tacked? I saw them. They all happened to be hanging onto something at the exact moment And so were you, now that I think about it!" He jabbed Hornblower accusingly on the chest with his finger. "You planned the whole thing!"
Hornblower was shocked at the implication. "That's ridiculous! sir. I fell forward onto one of the gun tracks and twisted my ankle. As for my men, they must have just been lucky, I think. That's all."
"Hog's wash!" Bracken persisted, forcing Hornblower back a few steps. "You cheated!"
Bracegirdle stepped in quickly between the two of them. "That's a very serious accusation, Mr. Bracken," he warned. If Bracken offended Hornblower's personal dignity, a dual would be required to assuage both parties, and the Captain had already warned Hornblower against any more of those.
Bracken paused to re-think the situation and then turned to Bracegirdle for advice. "Well, sir, did you see anything unusual with Hornblower's men?"
Bracegirdle looked at Hornblower. "I didn't want to say anything, but I must admit, Mr. Hornblower, your men did appear to have anticipated the ship's sudden change in attitude. There's no doubt about it."
Hornblower held his hands out imploringly. "I swear, sir, I didn't arrange it."
"Then who did?" Bracegirdle demanded. Slowly, the three officers turned toward Kennedy, who had been listening in from a few paces away. He suddenly found a speck of dirt on his eyeglass and rubbed it furiously with his sleeve.
"Mr. Kennedy!" Bracegirdle growled accusingly, as they walked over to join the apprehensive Lieutenant. "Who put you up to this?"
Kennedy feigned innocence, "To what, sir?" but his nervousness gave him away.
"You know damn well!" Bracken growled, but Bracegirdle held up his hand and said, "I'll handle this, Mr. Bracken." He towered menacingly over the wide-eyed Acting Lieutenant, who was anxiously still toying with his telescope. "We know someone coerced you into causing the ship to lurch violently during the firing match, causing Mr. Bracken's men to falter. Now who was it?"
Kennedy knew he couldn't reveal his source because if he did the culprit would inform the Captain of his and Hornblower's unauthorized trip ashore at Plymouth. Somehow this unscrupulous person had found out about their escapade and was keen to use the information for whatever gains he could.
"We're waiting, Mr. Kennedy." Bracegirdle warned. "Or should we take this up with the Captain?"
Kennedy swallowed, and then blurted out, "It was me, sir. I did it to help Mr. Hornblower win."
"What?" "You?" "Why?" The three Lieutenants were dumb-founded, especially Hornblower.
"Well," Kennedy faltered, realizing he hadn't planned this out very well. He decided his painkillers were probably dulling his judgment. He stumbled on, addressing Bracegirdle. "Mr. Hornblower had been punished for skylarking which was really my fault so I wanted to make up for it by making sure he got some time off sir."
The three officers stood there in disbelief. Finally, Bracegirdle responded. "You risked injuring the men and the ship just to make up for a few extra shifts? Do you realize what could have happened? Good God, there was gunpowder flying everywhere down there?"
Bracken added, "Not to mention everyone on ship would have been flung from one side to the other. There could be all sorts of chaos happening below as we speak!"
"Yes," continued Bracegirdle, "have you totally lost your mind?"
"Probably, sir." Kennedy studied his telescope without really seeing it. He knew there was no way out of his predicament without literally risking both his and Hornblower's necks, so he succumbed to the inevitable. "I know it was stupid, but I wasn't thinking straight." Then he added as an after-thought, "Perhaps the drugs I'm taking affected my judgment?" He looked hopefully at the three men.
"Perhaps," Bracegirdle said, "but we'll have to let the doctor be the judge of that. In the meantime, you are relieved of duty and confined to your quarters indefinitely. You had better pray that there's no damage down below."
"Aye, sir," Kennedy sighed, before saluting and heading dejectedly below. He made a mental promise to himself that he would never, ever, go AWOL again, as long as he lived which at his present rate probably wouldn't be long anyway.
Bracegirdle watched Kennedy leave and then turned to Hornblower. "My compliments to Mr. Buckland. Ask him to take over Mr. Kennedy's watch. Then join us below in the wardroom."
"Aye aye, sir," Hornblower saluted.
Then Bracegirdle said to Bracken, "We'd better find out the state of affairs below, and then report all this to the Captain."
Bracegirdle added, "I'm surprised he didn't come up to see what was going on."
Captain Pellew was in his cabin nursing his left wrist, while the doctor was pouring out a measure of painkiller. "Hurry up, Doctor," he scowled. "I've got to go aloft and find out what's happening."
Dr. Wood was unphased by the Captain's restlessness. "Just sit still, Captain, and give that plaster a chance to set."
"I can't imagine what could have happened," Pellew pondered, mumbling to himself. "Perhaps the rudder broke but she's sailing fine now. Or there may have been a freak gust of wind." He remembered the firing competition, and stood up and tried to pace, but there wasn't enough room so he sat down again exasperated. His pent up frustrations were released in a growl. "Where the hell is Mr. Bracegirdle? He should have reported by now!"
The Doctor handed Pellew the vial. "Here, this should help to relax your nerves a little."
"My nerves are just fine, Doctor!" he yelled, almost throwing the drug across the room in disgust. The Doctor pushed it toward him again. "Then take it for the pain. That's an order, Captain."
Pellew growled again, but submitted, downing the creamy liquid in one gulp. "Now just sit there, Captain, and let it take effect "
There was a knock at the door, and Bracegirdle and Bracken stepped into the cramped quarters.
"Ah, finally!" Pellew sneered. "Report, Mr. Bracegirdle!"
Bracegirdle and Bracken both gaped at the Captain's plastered arm, and their thoughts immediately went out to the luckless Kennedy just a few cabins down the hall. Bracegirdle diplomatically decided now was not the best time to administer the Acting Lieutenant's punishment. "Sir, um, there was a little confusion up on deck which made it necessary to change course momentarily, but the situation is under control now and is being dealt with."
Pellew could spot a cover-up a mile off, especially from his first Lieutenant. "That's a very vague report, Mr. Bracegirdle. I want details and names." He tapped his foot impatiently.
Relenting, Bracegirdle reluctantly told the Captain the full story, including the names of some men who had been slightly injured during the impromptu maneuver. Two men had been concussed when they fell and hit their heads, and another had been scalded while carrying a pot of just-boiled water.
The Captain was shocked at the thought that one of his officers could have caused so much mayhem just to influence the outcome of a bet. "Where is Mr. Kennedy now?"
"He's confined to his cabin, sir," Bracegirdle replied. Then he added, "I don't believe he's solely responsible, sir. He seemed to be covering up for someone."
"Then I want to hold an immediate hearing," Pellew stated, rising to his feet. "Doctor, I'll need you there."
But Doctor Wood shook his head. "I have to attend to my other patients. I could join you in, say, half an hour?"
Pellew pulled out his watch. It was almost 11:00am. "Alright then. We'll convene the hearing at 3 bells in the wardroom. I want you two there," he addressed Bracegirdle and Bracken, "as well as Mr. Hornblower."
"Aye, sir," they nodded, and left to prepare the room.
"What the hell were you thinking, Archie?" After finding the wardroom empty, Hornblower had gone to see Kennedy to try and find out the truth before all hell broke loose.
Kennedy sat forlornly in his chair, toying with his pen. Finally he said, "I had no choice, Horacio." He didn't want to burden Hornblower with the knowledge that someone knew their secret, but his pride forced it out. "I was blackmailed into it."
"Blackmailed? By whom?" Hornblower sat down on the bunk in disbelief.
"O'Hare. He saw us leave the ship on Friday night. He was on watch up the mast."
"Damn," Hornblower whispered. It was all starting to make sense now. O'Hare was in his own division, and would have earned two free shifts for him and his mates if they had won the bet. His disappointment turned to anger. "How dare he try to blackmail us! That's a hangable offence in itself!" He stood resolutely. "I'm going to have a quiet little chat with Mr. O'Hare."
"No, you can't!" Kennedy stood as well to protest, but there was a short knock and Bracegirdle stepped in. He was about to address Kennedy, when he saw Hornblower standing there and said to him, "What are you doing here? You were told to meet us in the wardroom."
"Um, I did, sir," Hornblower replied, "but there was no-one there, so I thought I'd check in on Mr. Kennedy. I was just leaving."
"Very well," Bracegirdle grunted, "but go and help Mr. Bracken prepare the room. The hearing's at 11:30."
"Aye aye, sir." Hornblower glanced at Kennedy who pleaded with his eyes for Hornblower not to make things worse, but Hornblower shrugged apologetically and left.
Bracegirdle turned to Kennedy. "The Captain's holding a hearing. We'll call on you when we need you."
"And I remind you, Mr. Kennedy, you will be under oath," warned Bracegirdle.
With that, Bracegirdle left Kennedy to contemplate his dismal future.
As Hornblower passed the wardroom, he glanced in to see Bracken arranging the table and chairs. He glanced at the hourglass and decided he had time for a quick chat with O'Hare even if he didn't, it was imperative for Kennedy's sake that he sort this mess out. He thought about what he would say as he walked quickly down to the mess area.
He found the men from his division celebrating their victory, drinking and laughing, some dancing to the music being played on a violin and a harmonica. Slowly the laughter and the music died, as one-by-one the men noticed the savage look on their Lieutenant's face.
Hornblower said nothing for a while, letting the uneasy silence do the work of unsettling his men. Eventually he softly growled, "I hope you're all proud of yourselves." Most of the men dropped their eyes in shame, but a few remained defiant, staring straight at Hornblower. He continued. "I've never been so ashamed of my men as I am of you lot. You're all a pack of cheats!" He paced with his hands behind his back as he had seen Captain Pellew do on many occasions. Then he stopped in the centre of the group and single out O'Hare, while still addressing the whole division. "You are no better than the damn frogs," he said this last word with as much contempt as he could muster, causing several men to visibly squirm "and I doubt I'll ever be able to trust you again."
O'Hare looked Hornblower defiantly in the eyes and said, "We learns from your great leadership, sir." There was only the slightest hint of sarcasm, but it was enough to boil Hornblower's blood. He moved to within an inch of O'Hare's face, and whispered, "I'll see you outside, Mr. O'Hare."
The tall, fair-haired Scotsman knuckled his forehead with contempt and walked out. Hornblower addressed the rest of the men. "You can forget about your free shifts instead you can work 4 double shifts, and I'm going to work you to the bone, mark my words!" With that, he turned and left, amid moans and groans.
"Mr. O'Hare!" Hornblower snarled, bringing the defiant seaman reluctantly to attention. "Do you know the penalty for blackmailing an officer?"
O'Hare blinked, but answered defiantly. "It canna be any worse than desertion sir."
Hornblower peered up at the contemptuous individual and said, "No. They're both 'death by hanging'."
O'Hare swallowed but maintained his insolent expression.
Hornblower continued with fire in his eyes. "I'll have you strung up within a minute, if you like. I don't care if the truth comes out. It will be worth it to see your wrung neck and bulging eyes!"
Now O'Hare was starting to worry. He had already seen the Lieutenant's ferocious courage in the face of death, and didn't doubt his words for a second. At length, he asked tentatively, "Wha' do ya wan' me t' do, sir?"
Hornblower paced a little, while he thought about it he hadn't expected O'Hare to renounce so easily. "I want you to go up to the wardroom and take full responsibility for what happened this morning."
"But, sir!" he pleaded. "They'll flog me fo' sure!"
"Well you deserve it, Mr. O'Hare! Your greediness put the whole ship at risk. Besides, it's got to be better than being hanged. I won't tell about the blackmailing if you don't tell about our night ashore."
O'Hare considered this, but was not fully convinced. "Why should I takes all th' blame, while you an' Mr. Kennedy get off Scott-free? It doesno' seem fair."
"Mr. Kennedy and I didn't risk injuring anyone, or damaging the ship for that matter. I'm sure the Captain would consider your blackmailing a lot more criminal than our harmless shore leave. Would you like to put him to the test?" Hornblower stared into his eyes challengingly.
Finally O'Hare sighed and said, "No, sir. I'll do as ya say."
"And you won't try to blackmail Mr. Kennedy or myself again?"
"Very good," Hornblower said, glancing up at the nearby hourglass. "Come on then, we're late."
Captain Pellew, first Lieutenant Bracegirdle and third Lieutenant Bracken were sitting on one side of the wardroom table, the Captain in the centre, and Kennedy was standing to attention on the other side. Doctor Wood sat off to one side.
"Well, Mr. Kennedy?" Pellew asked.
Kennedy was sweating under his jacket, wishing he had had the foresight to down a glass of water beforehand. He licked his lips nervously. "I don't really know why I did it, sir, except that I wanted Mr. Hornblower to win the bet."
The Captain leaned forward in his chair, being careful not to bump his left hand. "I don't get it, Mr. Kennedy. You're not telling us the whole story, and I want to know why." He added a threatening tone to his voice. "Do I have to stretch you over a gun to make you talk?"
Kennedy swallowed and opened his mouth to speak, but there was a knock at the door, and Hornblower stepped in, hat in hand. All eyes turned at the interruption.
"Mr. Hornblower!" Pellew snarled. "Where have you been?"
Hornblower gasped when he saw the Captain's plastered arm. "S-sorry, sir," he replied, "but I have found the real person responsible for all this."
Pellew raised his eyebrows. "Oh, who?" he asked.
Hornblower turned and signaled to the seaman waiting outside the door, who came in wringing his hands and wide-eyed with fear. He had never been to this forbidden part of the ship before.
Hornblower led him over next to where Kennedy stood. Mr. O'Hare here is one of the men in my division," Hornblower explained, not trusting O'Hare to tell the story without mentioning the blackmailing part. "He persuaded Mr. Kennedy to unsettle the ship during our firing match, then he pre-warned the rest of my men so they would all be prepared for it."
"Is this true, Mr. O'Hare?" the Captain asked.
"Y-y-yes, s-sir," he stuttered.
"Why did you do it?" Pellew demanded.
"I er " O'Hare stammered, so Hornblower jumped in.
"Mr. O'Hare wanted to make sure he won the two free shifts for himself and the others "
"Thank you, Mr. Hornblower," Pellew bluntly cut in, "but I'm sure Mr. O'Hare can speak for himself! Go on, Mr. O'Hare."
The Scotsman wiped his brow nervously with his sleeve, before remembering he was supposed to be standing to attention. He quickly spoke before anyone could chastise him further. "Er it's like Mr. Hornblower 'ere says, sir. 'Twas my idea t' get Mr. Kennedy t' rock th' boat, as it were, so's th' other team'd lose they's footin's, an' we's 'd win."
Pellew and the other officers frowned as they tried to picture the events, but something was missing. Finally Pellew queried the junior Lieutenant further. "But, Mr. Kennedy, why did you agree to do it? What was in it for you?"
Hornblower glanced nervously at Kennedy, who blinked as he tried to come up with a reasonable response, knowing he was under oath. Then he remembered what he'd told Bracegirdle earlier, and he repeated that. "Sir, I felt I owed Mr. Hornblower a debt because he was punished for skylarking which I had initiated. So I thought assisting him in winning a couple of free shifts would help make up for it."
Hornblower almost smiled with relief, but he held his composure.
Now it was Pellew's turn to blink. "Is that it? Is that your only reason, Mr. Kennedy?"
Kennedy's eyes darted anxiously, but he replied, "Yes it is, sir."
Pellew shook his head sadly. "Then you are both to blame," he said, leaning back in his chair. "Let me get this straight. Mr. O'Hare, it was your idea, and Mr. Kennedy, you were the senior officer responsible and you executed the plan." They both warily affirmed. "Very well then. You are both sentenced to a flogging over a barrel " they both gasped " and you'll each receive a dozen cuts." Pellew hated ordering beatings, but sometimes it was necessary to maintain discipline. He rarely issued more than a dozen he didn't see the point of thrashing someone senseless, as the agony was about the same, but it took them longer to recover.
Pellew picked up his pen and wrote in his journal as he completed the order. "Mr. Bracegirdle, take these two to the gun room, and call for the boson and his mate. We might as well get this over and done with."
Hornblower and Kennedy looked at each other mortified. It was very rare for a Lieutenant, even an Acting Lieutenant, to be caned. Probably the Captain's broken wrist made the severity necessary. Endangering the crew and the ship was a serious offence in the Navy Kennedy was probably lucky not to have been demoted back to Midshipman as well.
"Gentlemen." Bracegirdle directed the doomed men to the door, towards which they stiffly headed. Hornblower followed behind Bracegirdle, wishing there was something he could do to reverse Kennedy's punishment. Suddenly he turned back to the Captain and said, "Excuse me, sir, but what about the painkillers Mr. Kennedy was taking? Couldn't they have affected his judgment?"
Pellew stared at Hornblower in disbelief. "Are you questioning my decision, Mr. Hornblower?"
"Um no, sir I just "
"For your information, Mr. Hornblower," the Captain fumed, "the Doctor already testified that the level of painkillers administered to Mr. Kennedy would not be sufficient to impair his judgment in any way. If you had been here on time you would have heard all that!"
"Oh," Hornblower lowered his head apologetically. "Sorry, sir." He started backing out the door. "I'll just leave then, shall I?"
Bracken did his best to hide his amusement.
"Yes, I think you had better " the Captain began, but Hornblower was already out the door. Pellew cursed through clenched teeth in exasperation. "Doctor!" he yelled, causing Bracegirdle and Bracken to jump, "have you got anymore of those painkillers?!"
The caning went well, as far as canings go. O'Hare went first, sweat trickling from his brow, and his eyes bulging with fear. He bent across the barrel of the gun indicated by Bracegirdle, his hands held securely by Styles, the boson's mate. Matthews walked around behind him with his cane, as Pellew, Bracegirdle, Bracken, Hornblower and Kennedy looked on with distaste. The boson waited for the Captain to give the order. Eventually Pellew nodded and said, "Twelve of the best, Mr. Matthews."
O'Hare did his best not to cry out, but he found it all the more difficult because of what he thought was the unjustness of his punishment. He had half a mind to tell the Captain right now what Hornblower and Kennedy had done back at Plymouth, but Hornblower's warning still rang in his ears, so he kept quiet.
At long last, the flogging was over, and O'Hare rose stiffly and stepped aside for Kennedy. As he passed Hornblower, he gave him a contemptuous glare, which Hornblower returned with the same passion. Pellew noticed the exchange, and wondered at the meaning, but he had no time to question it at that point. Matthews was waiting for the order to proceed on Kennedy. The Captain tore his gaze away from Hornblower, and said, "Another twelve, if you please, Mr. Matthews."
Up on deck, a dozen men were gathered around trying to listen to the proceedings. They knew O'Hare had just copped a beating, but they couldn't tell who the second offender was. As they counted the whacks, one of them, Jefferies, said impatiently, "Swing me over th' side an' I'll 'ave a quick peek through th' port-'ole." A few of the swarthier men held his legs and lowered him slowly over the side of the ship, while the others looked out for the ever-vigilant Buckland, who was last seen heading aft.
"Oh my God!" he exclaimed. "It's an officer! I can't see who yet." For a while he hung there, suspended in mid-air. He had to wait until the dozen had been administered before he could get a look at the poor devil's face. Finally the Acting Lieutenant stood up slowly, shaken and sore. "It's Mr. Kennedy!" The other men gasped and shook their heads in amazement. One of them said, "Well, he was the one who ordered the ship to tack."
"Yeah, but why?" someone else asked. "That's wha' I wanna know." The others nodded in agreement.
"What's going on here?" Buckland demanded, causing the two men holding Jefferies to almost drop him into the water. They quickly pulled him up while the other men crowded around them to hide their activities. Someone answered boldly, "We was jus' watchin' th' fish, Mr. Buckland. We was tryin' t' count 'em."
Buckland narrowed his eyes at the lot of them, noticing the guilty looks, and pushed his way through to the back. The men moved aside for him, and he glanced down over the rail into the water. Nothing seemed to be out of place. He turned and grumbled, "Well don't block the deck. Those of us on duty need to be able to walk around here, you know."
"Aye, sir," they replied, before quickly walking toward the companionway.
Buckland looked over the side again, trying to imagine what they had really been up to, but gave up and strolled forward to the bow.
Meanwhile, after everyone else had left the gun room, Hornblower stayed behind to offer his condolences to Kennedy. "Sorry, Archie," he said. "I was hoping O'Hare would cop the full blame."
"As was I," Kennedy replied, grimacing as he raised his hands to fasten the front of his jacket. "Maybe I should have said he put a musket to my head," he joked, but it fell flat.
Hornblower smiled sadly. "This is all my fault. I never should have agreed to go to that damn party. What was I thinking?!" He rubbed his weary eyes.
Kennedy started to protest, but just then Bracken walked back in and said formally, "You can resume your watch now Mr. Kennedy."
"Aye, sir." Kennedy bowed his head and departed.
Bracken commented to Hornblower, watching Kennedy walk stiffly out the door, "A most intriguing morning, Mr. Hornblower."
"Indeed, Mr. Bracken," Hornblower replied casually. The bells chimed 6 times only an hour till Hornblower's next shift. "Care to join me for a spot of lunch, Mr. Bracken?" Hornblower asked, playing down the seriousness of the events just passed.
"Splendid idea, Mr. Hornblower."
The Indefatigable and her crew continued their journey south for several days, now 20 miles off the south-west coast of Portugal. They were approaching their designated meeting point with Captain Sydney and the HMS Valiant, as per their orders although only the senior officer knew this. Even though the sun's rays were warmer, the northerly winds still held a chill, especially when the sky became overcast.
Captain Pellew and his four Lieutenants stood on the top deck, peering toward the shore. It was early in the morning 3 bells rang out indicating it was 7:30 and the sun's rays bouncing off the water made their job all that more difficult. Bracken's telescope was trained to the east at Cape St. Vincent, and Buckland's was to the north-east searching for Cape Roca.
Pellew tapped his right hand impatiently against his leg, annoyed that his plastered left arm prevented him from clasping his hands behind his back. It amazed him how the disruption of his normal habits badly affected his composure. He wondered how long it would be before he would be free of the cast, and his impatience intensified. "Mr. Buckland," he growled, "haven't you sighted it yet?"
"Yes, sir. I think it's damn!" The ocean swell was particularly menacing today, adding to Buckland's difficulty in distinguishing the cape from the surrounding landscape. "Yes, there it is We're still at least 10 miles further north than we should be, sir."
"Very well," Pellew said. "Maintain this course for another hour and we'll check again."
"Aye aye, sir," Buckland replied.
Hornblower, who was officer of the watch, went down on deck to oversee his men's duties. True to his promise, he drove them much harder than usual, till they were sweating and exhausted. Then after they completed their tasks, he ordered them to mop the deck, before re-joining his superiors. Captain Pellew observed all this with a glance, but spared no thought for it. His officers were expected to discipline their men without interference, unless they requested assistance.
Pellew's nagging headache finally got the better of him, and he turned to Bracegirdle. "I'll be in my cabin. You have the bridge. Send for me when we are near our destination."
"Aye, sir." The first Lieutenant touched his cap and respectfully watched the Captain leave. He had been with Pellew on board the Indie for many years now, and they had formed an agreeable working relationship. They even shared the odd joke, and a game or two of whist, but neither man tried to become overly familiar with the other. They both held the strong belief that familiarity often led to mayhem and possible death in the heat of battle. They knew it was vital, when every second counted, for every officer to obey his superior's orders without question or hesitation, and they tried to instill his attitude all the way down to the lowest midshipman, deck hand and powder boy.
A voice from the mizzen mast look-out interrupted Bracegirdle' thoughts.
"Ship ahoy! Dead ahead!"
Every available eyeglass turned forward to find the barely visible white sails of an as yet unidentified vessel.
"Mr. Hornblower," Bracegirdle said to the fourth Lieutenant, who was standing next to him eagerly trying to be the first to identify the ship. There was a standing agreement between the Lieutenants that the winner would have the pick of the food at dinner. "Go below and inform the Captain, if you please."
"Aye aye, sir," Hornblower replied, disappointed at having to leave the bridge. He ran most of the way in the hope of being back before she was identified. However, on his return trip, he was frustratingly relegated to following the Captain back at a slow walk. He repeatedly slapped his eyeglass against his left palm to vent his frustrations, until the Captain stopped at the foot of the companionway and glared at him.
"Report, Mr. Bracegirdle," Pellew said when he and Hornblower reached the upper deck.
"It's the Valiant, sir," Bracegirdle replied. "Mr. Bracken recognized her first."
Hornblower swore to himself, a little too loudly.
The other Lieutenants all turned and smiled at his disappointment, especially Bracken, but the Captain frowned. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Hornblower!"
Hornblower smiled apologetically. "Sorry, sir. Of course, I'm glad it's the Valiant. I was just hoping for a few less weevils in my bread tonight."
"Hmmph!" the Captain grunted, eyeing the restrained grins on the others. "I'm not sure I approve of all your competitions, gentlemen. In fact, now that I think about it, most of the previous mishaps on this ship have been caused by your rivalry, either directly or indirectly." He eyed Hornblower again. "Haven't they, Mr. Hornblower?"
"Er yes, sir," Hornblower squirmed, as he realized at the same time as the Captain that he himself had been involved in almost all of the 'mishaps' as well.
To divert the focus away from himself, he raised his eyeglass to the Valiant and announced, "She's carrying an Admiral on board, sir!"
Everyone checked, and confirmed she was flying the Admiral's flag.
Pellew rubbed his chin. "Hmmm. I wonder who it is. Mr. Bracegirdle, have the signalmen stand by."
"Aye aye." Bracegirdle went forward to prepare the men with their multitude of signal flags. It wasn't long before the Valiant was in plain view, and signals were exchanged.
"It's Admiral Perkins, sir," translated Midshipman Joyce. Most of the signals he recognized by memory, but occasionally he had to discreetly refer to his handbook. "He's heading to Rome, sir, but he's assuming command of the convoy until then."
Pellew raised an eyebrow, annoyed that a desk-ridden know-it-all like Perkins would use his authority so he could play war games one final time. He was not far off retirement, and probably decided this would be his last chance to relive his glory days. Pellew realized he was scowling and quickly set his face back to a neutral look. Only Bracegirdle, who had had many years to learn the subtle variances in the Captain's facial expressions, had noticed.
"Sir," Joyce called out, "they're asking us to heave to within 100 feet, and to send the Captain and senior officers over." The two ships were only half a mile apart by now, the Valiant already heaved to.
"Very well. Acknowledge, Mr. Joyce."
Bracegirdle heard the Valliant's request as much as everyone else did, but they all had to wait for the Captain's order before carrying it out. Pellew merely nodded to Bracegirdle, who yelled, "All hands to braces! Prepare to heave to!"
Men and boys, Midshipmen and Lieutenants, scurried to their stations, some up the masts, some to the lines, the latter as supervisors.
Bracegirdle expertly analysed the speed of the Indie and the distance between her and the Valiant, and at the appropriate moment yelled, "Helm to windward! Back the top sail! Brace all others!" The mighty 74-gun wooden giant turned slowly into the wind, and then settled into a stationery balancing act where the forces of the wind driving her back were negated by the forces on he single top sail pushing her forward. All the helmsman had to do was keep her facing at the same angle into the wind, which meant he could tie the wheel off if the wind remained constant. The Indie rolled majestically on the sea swell, and all seemed peaceful.
"Mr. Hornblower!" called the Captain, interrupting his moment of appreciation. "Lower my tender."
"Aye aye, sir," Hornblower replied, heading toward the lee side of the ship. "Captain leaving the ship!" he called out to warn the men.
Pellew turned to his three senior Lieutenants for a quick inspection. "Mr. Bracken, give those shoes of yours a quick polish and then join us in the tender."
"Aye, sir." Bracken marched off, slightly embarrassed, in search of a clean rag.
"Gentlemen," Pellew directed to Bracegirdle and Buckland, "you're with me."
The tender was lowered into the rolling sea, and the Indie's Captain and her three senior Lieutenants disembarked in reverse order to the shrill of whistles. Only the uncoordinated Buckland stumbled as he stepped down into the small boat, almost falling overboard, but Bracken grabbed him in time. Buckland thanked him, but his tone was hardly civil.
As Hornblower watched from the deck, Kennedy, looking disheveled and half-asleep, fell in alongside and asked, "What's happening, Horacio?"
Hornblower glanced at him and smiled. "We have an Admiral in our midst."
"Really? Which one?" Kennedy squinted at the flag which confirmed the news.
"Perkins. Apparently he hopped a ride with the Valiant for Rome and has taken command of our little mission."
Kennedy chuckled. "I bet that pleased old Pellew no end."
"No doubt. He didn't have much to say after that."
"I can imagine." Kennedy counted the uniforms in the tender. "So you're in charge now, are you, sir?"
Hornblower beamed at the realization and looked down his nose at Kennedy and nodded.
Kennedy snapped to attention. "I humbly await your orders, Captain Hornblower."
"Shhh!" Hornblower glanced around nervously, hoping no-one overheard. No-one was within earshot, so he relaxed and played along. "My first order of the day is " He glanced around to inspiration. " breakfast for you and coffee for me."
Kennedy moaned and rolled his eyes. Meals on a naval war ship which had been at sea for weeks were nothing to look forward to.
Hornblower shrugged. "It's the best I can come up with at such short notice. Besides, I really need a caffeine boost."
"Aye aye, Captain." Kennedy saluted unenthusiastically. "But I have to wash up first."
"Alright. I'll meet you in the wardroom."
They split up and Hornblower set to securing the ship and finding some more strenuous work for his men to waste time on. He handed the watch over the senior Midshipman, Mr. Potts, confident that his presence would be not required on deck until the Captain returned.
On board the Valiant, Admiral Perkins introduced himself and Captain Sydney. Perkins was a short, stocky man with strands of grey hair on an otherwise bald head. In contrast, Captain Sydney had jet black hair and an abundance of it, with only a few streaks of grey visible. The two Captains then introduced their Lieutenants, and the Admiral led the way to the Valliant's wardroom, which was almost identical to that of the Indefatigable's.
"Gentlemen," Admiral Perkins began from the head of the table. He was holding a packet which bore his name and a broken seal, but he gazed at each officer in turn. "We are about to embark on a vital and dangerous mission. There have been rumours circulating that France are planning to try and take Sardinia again, so we are being sent to dissuade them. There has also been some further movement into Italy as well, so we'll be keeping an eye on that area as well. Any trade ship that we can prevent from getting in or out of France will be an added bonus."
He paused to let the information sink in, noting the eager looks on the men's faces at the thought of prize money. It was standard procedure during war time that any ships involved in the successful capture of an enemy vessel would receive a proportion of the jackpot, and each officer on each ship also received a relative portion.
The Admiral continued. "We will head straight for Porto Torres initially to assess the situation, and once a game plan has been established, I will leave you in Captain Pellew's capable hands and continue on to Rome." Pellew nodded coldly at the compliment, looking forward to being in charge again. "Are there any questions?" Perkins asked. The men looked at each other, but no-one spoke. "Very well," the Admiral continued. "I would like to discuss the more privileged details of the operation with the Captains and the first Lieutenants, so if you other gentlemen wouldn't mind leaving ?"
The "junior" officers left the five men to their classified discussions and went aloft. Bracken turned to Buckland and said, "We may as well head back to the Indie, sir. They could be hours in there yet."
"Yes, alright," Buckland reluctantly agreed. He then turned to the Valliant's second Lieutenant and touched his cap. "It was good to meet you, Mr. Phillips."
Phillips returned the gesture, and Buckland and Bracken unceremoniously lowered themselves into the tender and made their way back to the Indie. The men at the oars struggled against the wind and waves, which had increased in strength since their trip over.
Meanwhile, Hornblower and Kennedy were enjoying their mid-morning coffee. Kennedy was particularly reflective. "You know, Horacio, I think I've finally found my feet again I mean, I feel like I could conquer the world."
Hornblower gave him a puzzled look over the top of his mug. "What, even after your flogging last week?" he stirred.
Kennedy instantly winced at the memory, but his smile remained. "Did you have to remind me? But seriously, ever since we were released from that Spanish prison, I feel like I'm a stronger man, strong enough to survive anything else that life throws my way."
"That's great, Archie," Hornblower relied warmly, lowering his empty mug to the table. "I was really worried about you back then. I thought we were going to lose you for sure."
Kennedy smiled, slightly embarrassed by the sentimentality of their conversation. "Well you can't keep a good man down," he said lightly.
Hornblower rose to refill his mug and grinned cheekily. "What good man? I thought we were talking about you?"
Kennedy smirked and grabbed his bread roll, throwing it toward Hornblower. The latter managed to sidestep it, only to turn and watch it bounce off Buckland's mug of steaming coffee, the second Lieutenant having just walked into the room behind Hornblower. The scalding coffee leapt out of the mug and all over the front of Buckland's best white shirt, which he had worn for the meeting with the Admiral. Bracken, who had entered behind, almost wore his own coffee when Buckland jumped back in surprise.
Buckland gasped at the searing pain and quickly pulled the hot sticky cloth off his burning chest. When at last the liquid cooled enough for him to catch his breath, he glared at the stunned young Lieutenants. "What the hell do you think you're doing?!" he growled. "Officers do not throw food in the wardroom! Not if they want to keep their commissions, they don't!"
"Sorry, sir," Hornblower blurted, reaching for a rag to help clean the mess, but Kennedy had already jumped up and found one and was pouring cold water onto it.
"It was my fault, sir," Kennedy said quickly. "I threw the bread roll."
"Then you are going to pay the penalty, Mr. Kennedy!" Buckland warned, removing his shirt.
"But, sir," Hornblower interjected, "I was the one who caused Mr. Kennedy to throw it. I should be the one to be punished, sir."
Buckland looked from one to the other and finally said, "Then you shall both be punished!"
Hornblower and Kennedy glanced at each other in frustration.
"Mr. Kennedy," Buckland said, holding out his stained shirt, "you will take this down to the washroom and clean it carefully, mind you and hang it out to dry."
"Aye, sir," Kennedy replied, eyeing the shirt disdainfully as he took it.
"Then you will meet Mr. Hornblower and myself up on deck in 5 minutes."
Kennedy glanced at Buckland, wondering what he possibly had in store for them up there maybe some strenuous exercises, or
"Move it!" Buckland yelled, snapping Kennedy out of his mental guessing-game.
"Aye aye, sir!" he saluted and retreated quickly out the door.
Buckland turned to confront the other culprit. "Mr. Hornblower, go to my cabin and fetch me another shirt."
"Aye, sir," he replied without hesitation as he darted past the amused Bracken.
After Hornblower had left, Buckland sighed heavily as he angrily swabbed his sticky chest with the damp rag. "I've had it with those two," he grumbled to himself. "I'll teach them for carrying on like undisciplined midshipmen in the wardroom yet again."
"Surely, sir, they were only fooling around," Bracken offered as a means of cooling his superior's frayed temper. "I'm sure they didn't mean to scald you." He himself didn't see any harm in playful antics, as long as they weren't detrimental to the ship or the crew; and coffee could be washed out easily enough.
"That's not the point, Mr. Bracken!" Buckland growled. "What if it had been the Captain that had just walked in, or worse yet, the Admiral. It would have been you and me that would have had to answer for their lack of discipline. The wardroom is for officers only, and as such should be maintained in a disciplined fashion. I mean, good God! What would the rest of the ship be like if the men saw the officers throwing food at each other?"
Bracken tried to restrain his smile at the thought of this last statement, but he failed.
"Do you think this is funny, Mr. Bracken?!" Buckland yelled, feeling like the whole world was against him. "Maybe it is you who is to blame here!"
Bracken started to protest, but Hornblower walked into the room looking very uncomfortable after having overheard the last part of their conversation. He hesitantly handed Buckland his fresh shirt, noticing the scowls on both men's faces. He inconspicuously stepped back and glanced nervously from one to the other. The silence was thick and foreboding.
Finally after Buckland had re-dressed, he directed the others to the door. "After you, Mr. Hornblower. It is time to show Mr. Bracken here the meaning of the word 'discipline'. Apparently he seems to have missed it in his 8 years in the navy!" Bracken grimaced, but dared not let Buckland see. Hornblower's eyes were wide from shock as he led the way out.
Up on deck, Buckland directed them to the starboard quarter-deck, where Hornblower's men were already swabbing the deck. Buckland ordered them to stop working, and after Kennedy arrived he addressed the intrigued sailors. "Men, Lieutenants Bracken and Hornblower and Acting Lieutenant Kennedy are going to take over your chores." Some of the men actually gasped as they looked at each other in surprise. The Lieutenants were even more shocked.
Buckland turned to the three officers and continued, "For conduct unbecoming an officer, you can each grab a rag and a bucket and wash every inch of this deck."
Bracken and Hornblower opened their mouths to protest but buck held up his finger and warned, "And if you say one word in protest, you'll be swabbing the port-side deck as well." They both closed their mouths in submission and set to work. As Kennedy picked up a bucket, he stared at Bracken wondering why he was copping Buckland's wrath as well. He planned on asking as soon as Buckland was out of earshot.
Buckland supervised the Lieutenants for a while, while Hornblower's men stood off to one side, snickering at the Lieutenants awkwardness. Not having had much recent experience at deck-swabbing, the Lieutenants were already finding it difficult to maintain the kneeling position required. Hornblower glared at his men and yelled, "Knock it off, you lot!" The men tried their best not to laugh, but it was difficult when being ordered by an officer who was on hands and knees cleaning an already-spotless deck.
Hornblower tried again. "If you are looking for something else to do, you can go for'ard and swab the fore deck!" His men looked at Buckland hoping he would countermand the order, but he simply said, "You heard him." They grudgingly picked up the remaining rags and buckets and trudged to toward the bow.
Once Buckland was satisfied with his Lieutenants' efforts, he went back down below to enjoy his long awaited coffee. He smiled with self-satisfaction at the humiliation they must be experiencing, remembering his own mortification at the hands of his superiors on his previous ships. His own misdemeanors back then had been less insubordinate than what he had just witnessed, so he felt certain he was doing the right thing.
The meeting aboard the Valiant finally finished, and Admiral Perkins led the officers to the lee exit port, below which waited the Indie's tender, rising and falling with the sea swell. Pellew saluted the Admiral. "I look forward to our next rendezvous, Admiral," he said, being careful not to mention their destination in front of the men.
"As do I, Sir Edward." Perkins returned the salute.
Pellew turned back to the Valliant's Captain and said, "It was good to meet you, Captain Sydney."
"You too, sir," Sydney saluted. Bracegirdle did the same as he passed them, and the two Indie officers stepped down into the tender.
As they approached their beloved home away from home, Pellew watched the bustle on deck as the men fell in for inspection. No doubt there had been a man on watch to give the usual warning of their Captain's approach. Pellew stepped on deck to the piping of the whistles, saluted the guard and gave the men a quick inspection.
Then he headed for his officers, and immediately noticed something strange Buckland was looking self-satisfied, like a cat that had just swallowed the pet canary, and the other three Lieutenants were sweating profusely and their knees and sleeves were wet!
"What " Pellew started to say to Buckland, but decided to leave it go for now. There were more important matters to deal with. Instead he shook his head and turned back to Bracegirdle, and ordered, "Prepare to make way."
"Aye aye, sir," Bracegirdle replied, touching his cap. He then turned toward the men on deck and yelled, "Man the sheets and lines! Prepare to raise the anchor!"
The Lieutenants and Midshipmen headed for their stations and bellowed orders to their men. Within a few minutes they were making their way behind the Valiant, heading south-east towards Tangier. Once the course was double-checked and verified, Pellew turned to his first Lieutenant. "Mr. Bracegirdle, you have the watch. Please have the rest of my Lieutenants report to me in my office."
Pellew headed below, wondering what could have possibly transpired during his short absence from the ship.
"Well, Mr. Buckland?" the Captain asked, standing on the far side of his desk, hands clasped behind his back. The four Lieutenants were standing on the opposite side with their hats in hand.
Buckland cleared his throat and answered proudly. "Well, sir. These three gentlemen were insubordinate to me, so I decided to make an example of them. I had them swabbing the deck "
"You what?!" Pellew interrupted, stunned. "Swabbing the deck? In front of everyone?!"
"Y-yes, sir," Buckland stuttered, his smugness quickly fading. "I wanted to teach them some discipline as you yourself ordered me to do, sir."
Pellew's jaw dropped for a second, but he quickly regained composure. "What exactly did they do, Mr. Buckland?"
"Well, sir. Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy were skylarking in the wardroom and threw a bread roll at me, which spilled my hot coffee all over my best shirt "
Pellew raised an eyebrow at the two men.
" and Mr. Bracken thought it was funny and tried to countermand my administering of their punishment."
Pellew's jaw dropped. "Is this true, gentlemen?" the Captain asked of the three less senior Lieutenants.
"Sir," Kennedy jumped in before anyone else could. "I was the one who threw the bread roll, so it was all my fault." Then he quickly added, "But I was aiming for Horac um, Mr. Hornblower. I didn't even know Mr. Buckland was there, sir."
"Indeed?" Pellew said, leaning forward on the desk. "Do you think it less offensive to throw food at a fourth Lieutenant than a second Lieutenant?"
Kennedy hung his head in shame. "No sir, I guess not."
"And what possessed you to throw the bread roll, Mr. Kennedy?"
Kennedy glanced at Hornblower. "Um, it was nothing, sir. Just a comment Mr. Hornblower made about me in jest, it was, sir."
Pellew frowned at Hornblower, and said to him, "Weren't you supposed to be on watch, Mr. Hornblower?"
"Yes, sir," he replied, "but I was grabbing a quick coffee."
The Captain grunted and turned his attention to his third Lieutenant. "And you found the whole thing amusing, did you Mr. Bracken?"
"Well, um, not the whole thing, sir," Bracken stumbled nervously. "It's just that Mr. Buckland was obviously gonna throw the book at 'em, so I tried to talk him out of it, sir."
"In front of the Lieutenants?!" Pellew indicated Hornblower and Kennedy. He would not tolerate his officers undermining each other's authority.
"No, sir. It was when we were alone."
"Oh," Pellew said, relieved. "So who gave you permission to question Mr. Buckland's authority, Mr. Bracken?"
Bracken fidgeted and mumbled, "No-one, sir."
The Captain eyed each Lieutenant n turn. "I don't know why you men can't maintain your own discipline. I shudder to think how you discipline the rest of your men!"
They diverted their eyes in shame, Buckland gloating at their discomfort, which enraged the Captain even more.
He continued. "Mr. Buckland, it's all find and good to mete out punishment to your officers as you see fit, but you can't do it in a way that causes them to lose the respect of their men. You should know that."
Buckland's smirk vanished. "Well I've tried everything to get them to respect me, sir," he protested, obviously exasperated. "Double-shifts, confinements to quarters nothing seems to quash their irreverent behaviour."
Pellew rubbed his aching temples. "Then you will have to come up with a more imaginative way of disciplining them," he growled. "I can't be expected to intervene every time you reprimand one of your Lieutenants. That's what the officer's manual is for. I suggest you all read up on the code of conduct in the regs."
"I know!" Buckland leapt in, obviously not even listening to the Captain. "They can swab the officers' deck where the men won't see them in here and in their quarters."
Pellew gave up. "Very well. See to it."
"But, sir." It was Bracken's turn to protest. "We've already spent an hour swabbing the deck top-side. Surely that's enough punishment?"
Hornblower and Kennedy held their breaths, but their Captain was past caring.
"Have you three learnt your lessons?"
"Yes, sir," they heartily agreed.
"And are you satisfied with the execution of their punishment, Mr. Buckland?"
"I suppose so. Yes, sir." Buckland still seemed disappointed.
"Then we'll save the swabbing of this deck for next time." The Captain turned to leave, but then leaned forward menacingly on the desk. "But I warn you, gentlemen, there had better not be a next time. This squabbling and insubordination is to end right now. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir." "Perfectly, sir." They replied.
For the next few days, the Indefatigable and her crew followed the Valiant through the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean Sea. The change in the weather was unbelievable, for those crewmen who hadn't sailed this idyllic area before. The sun's rays had quite a sting in them, and the land masses of Spain and Algeria on either side of them prevented the worst of the westerlies and southerlies from buffeting the convoy.
On this particular morning, however, the clouds were threatening to group and release their accumulating moisture, and the wind was gusting from the north-east, unrestricted in it's approach. This annoying change in wind direction had occurred in the early hours of the morning, forcing a complete change in course. Instead of heading north-east straight towards Sardinia, they would now have to beat a zigzagged path into the wind, changing tacks whenever they approached too close to land. This course made them more vulnerable to enemy attacks for two reasons. Firstly, the convoy was forced to travel much closer to enemy territory than normal, increasing their chances of being sighted, and secondly, if they were attached while on a starboard tack (heading toward Spain) and if they didn't have time to turn about, they could be forced into the enemy's shore. Tensions ran high through both ships as double the normal hands kept lookout in the mizzen masts for both land and ships.
Even though it was Kennedy's shift, all the Lieutenants were topside to keep an eye on things. Captain Pellew, Bracegirdle and Buckland watched from the top deck, while Hornblower kept Kennedy company on the starboard quarter-deck. The Indie was on a starboard tack, heading towards Majorca as far as their calculations indicated. They hadn't sighted land since Cartagena, and the clouds of late had restricted their celestial readings, so their exact location could have been anywhere within a 20 mile radius.
"Ship ahoy!" came a cry from above. "Port-side, two points!"
All telescopes trained on that general direction, but the deck was too low as yet to see over the horizon.
"Come on, Horacio!" Kennedy whispered, excited. "Let's scoot up the mast for a better look."
"Right you are!" Hornblower grinned.
They raced each other up the rat lines, trying to look dignified and confident while they scrambled. Kennedy being the more agile of the two reached the top first, puffing and exhilarated. He directed his scope in the heading pointed to by the lookouts and exclaimed, "There she is! Quickly, Horacio!"
Hornblower clambered into the "crow's nest" and pulled his eyepiece out of his jacket, trying to catch his breath. In no time at all he spied her. "She's definitely Spanish," he said, "looking at her sails."
"Yes," Kennedy agreed, "but she's no fighting ship."
"No, she's not." Hornblower cupped his hand and yelled down to the deck. "Spanish merchant ship, sirs!" Then he smiled and waved at the obviously frustrated Buckland and Bracken. "We'll share this win, Archie," he said to his offsider.
"Thank you, sir," Kennedy smiled, rubbing his hands with glee.
Hornblower took another look at the small ship before following Kennedy back down the mast. He thought he had seen something, and decided he had better report it to the Captain. However, before he could, the Captain rounded on them. "Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy, I thought I made it clear that I did not want any more competitions between my officers, did I not?"
Hornblower was taken aback, but bravely answered, "Actually, sir, you said you weren't sure if you approved of our competitions you didn't actually say we had to stop them."
Kennedy and Bracken exchanged glances of shock and fear at Hornblower's audacity. The Captain was livid. "Don't you come the sea lawyer with me, Mr. Hornblower! I know what I said, and we all know what I meant by it!"
Hornblower held out his palms in innocence. "Honestly, sir, I wouldn't disobey your order if that's what I thought it was, but you never officially ordered us to cease."
Pellew's jaw dropped, as Kennedy and Bracken's eyes darted from Captain to fourth Lieutenant. Pellew finally found his voice. "Well, Mr. Hornblower, I'll say it " but he was interrupted in mid-sentence.
"Captain!" Bracegirdle yelled. "She's seen us and is turning tail and running!"
Pellew squinted at the Spanish ship's distant form. He was like a blood-hound in these matters; running away from him was only an invitation to a chase. "After her, Mr. Bracegirdle!"
"Aye aye, sir! Helm! Two points to port! All hands to stations! Loose all sails! Man the starboard guns!"
The Captain added, "Signal the Valiant!"
"Sir," Hornblower meekly approached the Captain, who eyed him warily.
"What is it, Mr. Hornblower?" he asked gruffly, turning back to supervise the men.
"When I was atop the mast I noticed something unusual with that ship." He paused, not sure if the Captain was even listening.
"Well?" Pellew growled, turning his head to face the Lieutenant. "Spit it out!"
Hornblower had a brief comical flash of what would happen to him if he followed that last order to the letter, but luckily it didn't stay long enough to cause him to smile. "I thought I saw a woman on board her, sir."
Now Hornblower had his Captain's undivided attention. "Yes, sir. I'm sure of it."
Pellew peered at the French boat again and rubbed his chin. "I wonder what a woman would be doing on a merchant ship," he muttered to himself. "Mr. Bracegirdle!" he called out.
The first Lieutenant came running. "Yes, sir?"
"There may be a woman on board that ship, so try not to destroy her. I would prefer if we take them all alive."
"Aye, sir." Bracegirdle saluted and headed below to inform Buckland and Bracken, who were controlling the guns.
Pellew turned to his young Lieutenant. "Very good, Mr. Hornblower. Go and see that Mr. Kennedy and his men are prepared to board her."
"Aye aye, sir." Hornblower headed forward, disappointed. He had been hoping to board the Spanish ship himself.
The chase was on. The merchant ship was quite nimble for her size about 50 feet long but she was no match for the two English giants barreling down upon her.
"Fire a warning shot across her stern!" the Captain yelled, as they drew closer. Bracegirdle relayed the order below. Within seconds the Indie reverberated as the forward gun released it's venom.
The men on the merchant ship scrambled for safety, yelling frantically at each other. They were obviously unprepared for a fight, not expecting English ships in the Mediterranean, and they quickly lowered their colours and their sails. Pellew guided the Indie alongside her, and Kennedy and his men jumped across to secure her. They met with minimal resistance; the Spanish crew's fear was evident as they huddled near the stern with their hands raised.
"Lemon! Knight! With me!" Kennedy yelled as he waved his musket and disappeared below decks. His two men followed. Several minutes later, Lemon led a small group of men onto the deck, and Knight prodded them from behind towards the rest of the prisoners. Shortly afterwards, an elegantly-dressed but disheveled woman staggered on to the deck, followed by a grinning Kennedy.
Pellew shouted across the short distance to the now tethered vessel. "Report, Mr. Kennedy!"
"Sir!" Kennedy replied, quickly counting the number of prisoners. He then cupped his hands around his mouth, yelling into the wind. "She's the "La Reina Del mar", sir, "The Queen of the Sea"! Twelve prisoners, including one woman! Cargo of wine!"
"Very good, Mr. Kennedy!" the Captain replied, calculating in his head the expected prize money they would receive. "Bring the prisoners on board!"
"Aye aye, sir!" Kennedy directed the male prisoners to jump across to the Indie when the swell of the sea raised the La Reina's deck almost to the Indie's deck height. But the woman posed a problem. He scratched his head for a bit, knowing all eyes were on him, and then he organized a hoist line and makeshift chair from the La Reina's boom. With quite a bit of persuasion and heated exchanges in Spanish, the woman finally allowed herself to be unceremoniously swung across to the English war ship.
As her feet touched the deck, Hornblower stepped forward eagerly to assist with arms outstretched. Just as she timidly extricated herself from the rope chair, the Indie's deck dropped away from her, and she stumbled forward into Hornblower's arms, grabbing his shoulders for support. Hornblower blushed as he felt her bosom press against his chest, and he quickly helped her find her feet. They smiled shyly at each other, Hornblower unable to take his eyes off her.
She was about 22, and obviously awkward with the opposite sex, even though she was quite attractive, in a Spanish way. Pellew walked across and said, "Mr. Hornblower, I want you to board her and take her to Sardinia "
"Board her?!" Hornblower exclaimed, still lost in the Spanish woman's perfume. He grinned and blushed again at the sexual innuendo, eyeing her voluptuous form. She must have understood some English, for she too blushed coyly and fanned herself vigorously.
"Mr. Hornblower!" the Captain exclaimed, clipping him on the arm with the back of his hand. Hornblower jumped back to reality and made an effort to reverse his grin. "Sorry, sir. You were referring to the Spanish ship, weren't you?"
"Of course I was, Mr. Hornblower!" Pellew growled. "Now be gone before I change my mind and send Mr. Bracken!"
"Aye aye, sir." Hornblower snapped a smart salute and joined Kennedy and his men on the La Reina. Pellew cursed under his breath as he watched Hornblower and Kennedy laughing over what had just happened. He had half a mind to call them both back, but decided that would make him look indecisive in front of the prisoners. Instead he stomped off to find Bracegirdle, to arrange the prisoners' sleeping arrangements.
The convoy of now three ships continued on until it was almost dark, when the Valliant's flags signaled for a congregation. Once they were all heaved to, a tender from the flag ship brought the news that the Admiral wished to organize a celebration dinner, for their first capture of the mission. Pellew agreed but offered to hold the dinner on the Indie, since it was they that effected the capture. The flag signal came back affirmative, so Pellew, Bracegirdle and Buckland set about arranging for the feast. They only had two and a half hours to organize it.
The celebration dinner was held in the Captain's room at 8:00 pm. A crisp white table cloth had been laid out on two joined tables, which were topped with sparkling cutlery and glasses, along with pure white plates and servers. Hornblower wondered as to the origin of these fine place settings, as he had never seen them in all his time aboard the Indie.
Admiral Perkins sat at the head of the table, closest to the door, as his rank dictated. Pellew was sitting on his right, looking decidedly uncomfortable at not being in his usual seat, while Bracegirdle, Buckland, Bracken and Hornblower filled out the remainder of that side of the extended table. Kennedy sat at the far end of the table. The other side was occupied by Captain Sydney and his four Lieutenants.
The glasses were filled and Captain Pellew, as host, raised his glass to the first toast. "To England, and His Majesty, the King," he said. Everyone repeated the toast and sipped the deep red wine, which Hornblower had brought with him from the La Reina. Kennedy screwed up his nose at the bitter taste, which caused fourth Lieutenant Jenkins next to him to grin, but Admiral Perkins seemed to appreciate it. "This is a fine vintage, Captain," he said to Pellew. Then he too raised his glass and addressed the whole table. "To victory over the French and the Spanish. May all our battles be as successful as our last one."
"Here here!" everyone cheered, as they took another swig. All glasses were emptied except for Hornblower's and Kennedy's, who decided they wanted to maintain clear heads in front of the Admiral and the Valliant's officers. The waiters, dressed in white for the special occasion, refilled their glasses, while Pellew signaled to the stewards to bring in the first course.
Their plates were piled high with tender toast lamb, accompanied by fresh vegetables and roast potatoes and pumpkin, lavished in gravy. Hornblower's mouth watered enthusiastically as they bowed their heads while the Admiral gave thanks. A split second after the Amen, they were all digging into the delicious food with forced restraint. Once again, Hornblower was amazed at his Captain's ability to arrange such a fine meal on such short notice, and he made a mental note to strive to do the same when he became Captain. He smiled at himself for indulging in such fantastic dreams, as he piled a sample of each food group onto his fork.
Conversation was limited for a while until the men's bellies were filled sufficiently, but soon after the table buzzed with relaxed discussions on various topics. The Admiral the two Captains re-capped the successful strategies of their brief battle, while the Lieutenants closest to them listened with pride.
Jenkins eyeballed Hornblower and Kennedy while chewing. Eventually he said to them, "I recognize you two from somewhere, but I can't quite place where."
Third Lieutenant Ball concurred. "Yes, now that you mention it, so do I."
Captain Pellew, overhearing this, glanced down toward them, but just as quickly returned his attention back to Captain Sydney.
Hornblower and Kennedy searched the two junior Lieutenants faces for familiarity, but found none. Kennedy said, "Sorry, sir, but I don't think we have met before today." Hornblower shook his head as well.
"Oh well," Jenkins shrugged. "It will come to me eventually."
Hornblower cast a slightly concerned glance at Kennedy, who simply smiled and shrugged, unperturbed.
With the main course finished, dessert was brought in. Pellew smiled when he saw the look of surprise on everyone's faces. Admiral Perkins couldn't withhold his astonishment. "Bread and butter pudding!" he exclaimed. "How did you manage that, Sir Edward?"
Pellew's smile extended into a grin, and he touched the side of his nose. "Let's just say, sir, that there was more than just wine on board the La Reina."
"Well," Perkins smiled. "Far be it for me to question your sources. Let us simply enjoy this delightful surprise without further thought," he proposed to the others, plunging his spoon in enthusiastically. Everyone followed suit.
After the table was cleared, their glasses were re-filled and the conversation continued with more animation as the wine took effect. At length, Captain Sydney mentioned Admiral Bennetts' name, and Lieutenant Ball almost leapt out of his seat in excitement. He addressed Hornblower and Kennedy. "That's where I've seen you two! You were at Admiral Bennetts' daughter's ball "
Hornblower and Kennedy suddenly froze.
" back at Plymouth three weeks ago."
Then Pellew and Bracegirdle froze with their glasses suspended in mid-air.
"That's right!" Jenkins added with the same gusto. He pointed at Hornblower. "You, sir, were dancing with his daughter." He nudged Ball and winked at him cheekily, "and he was somewhat how shall I say forward with her." The two men laughed out loud, unaware of the deadly silence on the opposite side of the table.
Kennedy's eyes surreptitiously darted up to the other end of the table to find every eye upon them. He slouched back in his chair in an effort to hide, but there was no retreat. Hornblower sought cover behind Bracken.
Captain Pellew recalled those few days they were docked at Plymouth. He remembered Admiral Bennetts' inspection as he scrutinized his officers, searching for the Lieutenant who had offended his daughter. Then he recalled the strange state of Hornblower's hair, which was now obviously a disguise, and the apparent lie Hornblower had told regarding it. Pellew slowly lowered his glass to the table in shock.
"Oh my God," he whispered, as he also recalled Kennedy's injuries and his resultant bandaged face, realizing this too was a disguise. They never did find the culprit responsible for Kennedy's attack. Pellew's mind boggled at the implications of all this, and his face deepened in colour as his anger stirred. In contrast, Hornblower and Kennedy were both pale from fear and the realization that his could well be their last meal.
Admiral Perkins, finally realizing the apparent implications of his junior Lieutenants revelations, quickly retrieved his napkin from his lap and rose to his feet. "Well," he said, clearing his throat awkwardly, "it is time we made our way back to the Valiant. Thank you, Sir Edward, for a wonderful meal."
Pellew rose stiffly, still in a daze, but Perkins held up his hands and said, "Don't bother so come up, Captain. We can see our way off the ship. Under the circumstances, we'll forego the usual ceremony."
"Very well, Admiral," Pellew dully agreed. "Thank you, sir."
Indefatigable's officers got to their feet, as Perkins led Captain Sydney and his officers toward the door. Before leaving, Lieutenant Ball mouthed a silent apology to Hornblower and Kennedy, who both smiled weakly at him.
Once the visitors were well and truly out of earshot, Pellew walked slowly around to the other side of the table and stood opposite the doomed Lieutenants. Hornblower didn't think it was possible to be any more apprehensive than he already was, until he saw the look on his Captain's face. It instantly caused his stomach to drop to his knees, which no longer seemed able to support his weight. He swallowed to stifle the rising lump in his throat.
"Did I hear correctly, gentlemen?" Pellew asked, praying it was all just a misunderstanding. "Did you two leave the ship without permission when we were docked at Plymouth to attend a party?"
Hornblower swallowed again and eventually mumbled, "Yes, sir," avoiding the Captain's gaze.
Pellew's prayers were dashed, allowing his fury to rise unchecked. He leaned forward onto the table menacingly and growled, "And did you both disguise yourselves the next day so that Admiral Bennetts wouldn't recognize you during his inspection?"
Bracegirdle and Buckland gasped as they too pieced together these previously unrelated events. Bracken remembered their drunken behaviour earlier that morning and shook in head in amazement.
"Yes, sir," Hornblower acknowledged again, wishing the interrogation to be over so they could get on with the hanging. It would probably be less painful.
"And Mr. Hornblower," Pellew continued, trying to control the trembling in his voice, "do you remember my warning to you that day when you explained what had happened to your hair?"
Hornblower furrowed his brow trying to recall the conversation, but he was so anxious he could hardly remember what had happened yesterday. "Um no, sir."
Pellew spoke slowly for effect. "I said that if I found out you'd been lying to me, your life would not be worth living."
"Oh," was all Hornblower could muster from his voice box.
The Captain turned away in disgust and paced the length of the room a few times. Then he turned back to face the trembling Lieutenants and said, "Mr. Buckland, take these two scum below and lock them in the brig."
"Aye aye, sir."
"And isolate them. I don't want them collaborating their stories before the court martial."
Even though Hornblower knew it was inevitable, his heart still sank at hearing those dreaded last two words.
Pellew shook his head sadly as he watched them leave. Bracegirdle did the same, but said, "Well, sir, at least we now have somewhere to house the female prisoner."
The Captain knotted his eyebrows at Bracegirdle, who elaborated. "We can put her in Mr. Hornblower's cabin, sir."
Pellew grunted non-committedly and left, already tasting the rum he was planning on pouring himself.
The convoy continued through the night, tacking from port to starboard and back again, beating into the north-easterly wind. Two Midshipmen, Bonsey and Fitzgibbons, had been re-assigned to command the La Reina. Finally by sunrise the gusts had died down and the wind swung around from the west again, allowing the ships to coast directly toward Sardinia. If the wind held, they would reach Porto Torres in four or five days.
After breakfast, the Captain called his three senior Lieutenants to his office for the hearing. They all walked in somber and subdued, still in shock from the previous night's events, and dreading what was about to unfold. There was almost a smell of death in the air.
Once they were all seated on one side of the table, facing the door, Hornblower and Kennedy were escorted in by two guards, followed by Midshipman Phillips, who was to take notes. The offenders looked surprisingly relaxed, perhaps due to lack of sleep, and they stood to attention with their hats under their left arms.
The guards retreated out the door and the officers rose to their feet. Pellew then cleared his throat, almost to rid the foul taste that had risen, and initiated the proceedings. "I, Sir Edward Pellew, Captain of the Indefatigable, do hereby convene this hearing to determine the facts of the case against Lieutenant Horacio Hornblower and Acting Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy, and to set punishment as this court sees fit." He nodded to Phillips, who picked up a Bible and asked the accused to each "swear to tell the whole truth", which they did.
"Be seated," Pellew directed. They all obliged, Hornblower and Kennedy finding their chairs behind them. The Captain picked up his papers and read. "Lieutenant Hornblower and Acting Lieutenant Kennedy, you have been charged with 1) desertion; 2) trying to mislead and pervert the course of justice; 3) lying to a superior officer, namely myself and Admiral Bennetts; and 4) conduct unbecoming an officer with regards to the Admiral's daughter. How do you plead?"
Hornblower and Kennedy glanced resignedly at one another and replied, "Guilty, sir."
"Very well," Pellew said while scribbling on his pad, "but for the record, I wish to hear all the facts as they happened. Mr. Hornblower, please recount for me the events that transpired on the night of Friday, 6th September."
Hornblower stood hesitantly and proceeded to tell of the events leading to that night; of literally bumping into the Admiral's daughter and her friends at Admiralty; of them slipping him an invitation to their party; of Hornblower and Kennedy sneaking off the ship
"Just a minute, Mr. Hornblower," Pellew interrupted. "How did you two sneak off undetected?"
"Well, sir," Hornblower paused, not wanting Kennedy to be blamed for anything unnecessarily, "the guard on duty that night was distracted by something on the other side of the ship. That's when we made our move."
"I see," the Captain frowned, not believing they could have been that lucky, so he added, "and did you arrange for him to be distracted remember, you are under oath."
"No, sir," Hornblower replied truthfully. He prayed that Kennedy wasn't asked the same question.
As if reading his mind, Pellew looked at Kennedy and asked, "Did you arrange for the guard to be distracted, Mr. Kennedy?"
Hornblower inwardly swore as Kennedy rose to his feet. "Yes, sir, I did," the latter replied.
"Indeed." Pellew scribbled some more, and asked, "What was the name of this guard?"
Kennedy hesitated, so Pellew leaned forward and warned, "I can look up the log if you prefer, Mr. Kennedy, but your punishment will be the worse for it."
Kennedy gulped and answered, "Private Paddington, sir."
"Very well. Go on, Mr. Hornblower. You had just left the ship what time was this?"
"About 6:30, sir," Hornblower replied. "We then made our way to the address on the invitation." Hornblower went on to describe the ball, and how he accidentally stumbled into the arms of Miss Bennetts while they were dancing Pellew half-smiled as he easily imagined Hornblower's clumsiness on the dance floor, having seen him attempt to dance on previous occasions.
"Admiral Bennetts thought I was fondling his daughter, so Mr. Kennedy and I panicked and hid the bathroom. Then I escaped out the window when he came looking for me "
"You climbed out the bathroom window?" Pellew interrupted, leaning forward.
"A commissioned Lieutenant in the Royal Navy climbed out the Admiral's bathroom to window to escape his wrath?"
Hornblower lowered his head in shame. "Yes, sir," he mumbled.
"Shocking!" Pellew exclaimed, looking to Bracegirdle and Buckland for their reactions. They shook their heads in dismay, although was there a slight gleam of amusement in their eyes? Pellew probed for further information, and Hornblower explained how they returned to the ship undetected again.
"And then when the Admiral showed up next morning you two decided you had to disguise yourselves?" the Captain asked.
"Yes, sir. If he had recognized us then well, we wouldn't be standing here today, that's for sure."
Pellew's eyes narrowed. "So after you deserted the ship, you tried to cover it up with lies and deception?"
Hornblower sighed. "Yes, sir."
Pellew recorded further details, shaking his head. "So how exactly did Mr. Kennedy break his nose?"
Hornblower licked his lips nervously, and mumbled, "I punched him."
"Speak up, Mr. Hornblower!"
He took a deep breath. "I punched Mr. Kennedy in the nose, sir, to purposely brake the bone."
It took Pellew a full minute before he could speak. He pictured Hornblower hanging from a noose, and it sickened him. "Why did you do it?" he finally asked.
"To save Mr. Kennedy's life, sir. If the Admiral had recognized us, we would have both been hanged in a minute."
"Well, you have probably only prolonged your deaths by a few weeks, but now you have tarnished your reputations as well!" He rubbed his aching temples.
Kennedy rose and timidly added, "Actually, sir, I insisted that Mr. Hornblower break my nose. It was totally my idea."
Pellew snarled at Hornblower, "So now you're taking orders from your insubordinates as well, are you Mr. Hornblower?"
"No, sir," he replied indignantly. "Mr. Kennedy's logic made sense at the time, so I decided to go along "
"Logic?!" Pellew pounded the desk, causing everyone to jump. "I haven't heard any logic from either of you since we started! Logic, indeed!" He was disgusted at the thought of losing two good men. "Where was your logic when you decided to desert the ship, eh?"
"Actually, sir," Hornblower explained nervously, "when I agreed to go, I didn't see it as desertion "
"When you agreed to go?" Pellew interrupted for clarification. "So leaving the ship was Mr. Kennedy's idea as well, was it?" He glared at Kennedy.
Hornblower cursed under his breath at his slip of tongue. "Well not really "
"Yes it was," Kennedy jumped in. "I talked Mr. Hornblower into it, sir, and I said I would take full responsibility."
"Is this true, Mr. Hornblower?"
Hornblower glared at Kennedy, but had to admit the truth. "Yes, sir but I was the senior officer, so I should take full responsibility "
"I'll be the judge of that, thank you Mr. Hornblower!"
The Captain made some more notes. "Continue, Mr. Hornblower."
"Um," he tried to remember what he had been about to say. "Oh yes. I didn't believe we were deserting, sir, because the ship was in no condition to fight any battles the way she was."
Pellew raised his head in renewed interest, as Hornblower continued.
"I didn't think we were risking the lives of the crew or the ship because she couldn't have been sent out for battle, and the chance of being attacked at Plymouth in the middle of the fleet was negligible."
Pellew leaned forward. Maybe, just maybe, here was the loophole that would spare their lives after all. "Go on," he urged.
Hornblower shrugged. "That's all, sir. I would never have agreed to leave the ship if there was any chance at all of a battle while we were gone."
Pellew rubbed his chin, his brain churning. Yes, that was it their saving grace. He scribbled for quite some time and then asked, "Do either of you have any more to add?"
Kennedy raised his hand tentatively. "Only that it was all my idea, sir. Mr. Hornblower would never have done what he did without my urging. He's normally too responsible."
"Thank you, Mr. Kennedy," the Captain said, still deep in thought. "You too can wait outside." He nodded to Buckland, who rose and led them out the door and instructed the guards to watch them until they were called in again. When Buckland returned, Pellew asked him to send for Private Paddington. "We'll just clear up a few loose ends and come to a decision."
Buckland returned a few minutes later with a concerned-looking Paddington. He had seen Hornblower and Kennedy waiting outside, surrounded by guards, and knew something was up. He stood nervously in front of the tribunal in his red guard's uniform, his left hand twitching on the sheath of his sword.
"Private Paddington," Pellew began, after he was sworn in., "do you recall the first night we were docked at Plymouth three weeks ago?"
"Yes, sir. I believe so."
"Do you remember seeing anyone leave the ship that night?"
"No, sir," he truthfully replied. He had purposely avoided witnessing Hornblower and Kennedy's escape, in case of an interrogation such as this.
Pellew narrowed his eyes in scrutiny of the man before him, but saw nothing untoward. He continued. "Did you leave your post at any time during your watch?"
"Er yes, I thing I did, sir. If I remember correctly, that was the night one of the fenders fell off the side of the ship. I went across to investigate, though it was only for a few minutes."
Pellew leaned forward. "Did you arrange for this to happen, so that Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy could sneak off the ship undetected?'
Paddington sputtered, not sure how to answer. Eventually he relented to the truth. "Yes, sir." Then he quickly added, "but I had no choice, sir." Immediately the words left his mouth, he regretted saying it.
"Why did you have no choice, Mr. Paddington?" Pellew asked, keen to find out why a mere Private would risk his career for a couple of Lieutenants. As a marine, he wasn't even in the ship's normal chain of command.
Paddington mumbled, "I'd rather not say, sir."
The Captain gaped. "You might well 'rather not say', Mr. Paddington, but you will say. You are under oath, and I have just asked you a direct question. Now answer it! We haven't got all day." His head started to throb again.
Paddington bit his lower lip in contemplation for a minute, praying for a lightning bolt to strike him where he stood. Realising the Captain was about to let loose another outburst, he quickly answered. "Sir, I I " He racked his jumbled brain for a way out, but found none. He sighed. "Mr. Kennedy asked me to do it, because I owed him a favour." Paddington hoped that would be enough information to satisfy the court. It was not.
The Captain persisted. "What sort of favour would justify you risking your career, or for that matter, your life? You realize you could be hung for deserting your post, don't you?"
This time it was Paddington's turn to gape. "But " he started, but relented, slumping his head and shoulders.
Recognising his resignation, Pellew pushed further. "Unless you have a very good reason for carrying out Mr. Kennedy's request? Then your life might be spared."
The desperate soldier looked up again, considering his options. Finally he sighed. "Mr. Kennedy caught me in a passionate embrace with one of my fellow guards." There, he had said it, and a great weight lifted from his shoulders. Now everyone would know, so there no point in trying to hide it any longer.
The officers gasped at the soldier's admission, trying hard not to visualize the event. This sort of thing was probably rampart on a ship full of men spending months on end at sea, but no-one wanted to acknowledge it.
Pellew cleared his throat. "Yes, well," he said, suddenly uncomfortable. "That certainly explains it." He added some lines to his almost full page. "That will be all, Mr. Paddington. You are confined to your quarters until further notice."
"Aye, sir." The guard walked out feeling both dejected and relieved at the same time. He wondered if the officers would let his secret be known, and he smiled when he realized he no longer cared.
"Well, gentlemen," Pellew said, stretching. "Certainly an informative morning."
"Indeed, sir," Bracegirdle replied, shaking his head.
"Most intriguing, sir," Buckland agreed, never one to be left out of a conversation.
Pellew stood. "Perhaps a coffee break before we pass judgment?"
"Excellent idea, sir!" Bracken said, jumping to his feet so enthusiastically that he knocked his chair over.
Pellew raised an eyebrow at the embarrassed Lieutenant as he walked past him toward the coffee pot.
After what seemed like hours, Hornblower and Kennedy were finally called back in to the Captain's office. Hornblower could just about feel the noose around his neck, and he rubbed his throat to ease the sensation. They both stood to attention in front of their judges, awaiting the inevitable.
"Ahem," Pellew cleared his throat, shuffling his papers. "Lieutenant Horacio Hornblower and Acting Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy, it is the judgment of this court that you are both guilty of the following charges: 1) leaving the ship without permission; "
Hornblower's heart skipped a beat the charge had been down-graded to a non-hangable offense!
" 2) trying to mislead and pervert the course of justice; 3) lying to a Captain and an Admiral; and 4) conduct unbecoming an officer. In addition, you Mr. Hornblower are also charged with dereliction of duty, for not maintaining discipline over Mr. Kennedy. And Mr. Kennedy, you are also charged with 1) insubordination and 2) blackmailing a King's Guard for personal gain. Do either of you have anything to say before I pass sentence?"
"No, sir," Hornblower replied quietly.
Kennedy opened his mouth to object to the last charge. He didn't see it as blackmail, but then he closed his mouth when he realized it wouldn't make much different to his final punishment anyway. "No, sir," he submitted.
"Very well. You are both hereby sentenced to " Pellew purposely dragged out the suspense by skimming through his notes. When he saw the beads of sweat on their foreheads, he finally continued. " to be flogged around the fleet at our next port of call " He paused to let that sink in. " and you are both demoted to Midshipmen, as of now."
Hornblower and Kennedy blinked in dismay. Although they were both relieved they would not be swinging from a yard-arm after all, in retrospect the pain of that sentence would have been short-lived compare to what they were about to experience. Still, Hornblower thought to himself, cuts from the whip would heal soon enough, and he might be able to get his commission back one day. He sighed when he realized he would probably have to serve another ten years as Midshipman to wipe these charges from his record. So much for his promising career.
His thoughts were interrupted by the guard tugging him on the arm. It seemed he had missed the last few minutes of the hearing, and he stared imploringly at the Captain as he was dragged out the door.
Pellew's stomach churned knowing the full implications of his sentencing, but he also knew that if he had let them off too lightly, Admiral Bennetts would have demanded a full re-trial, probably with deadly results. No, he consoled himself, his decision was the best for all concerned in the long-term.
The guards led Midshipmen Hornblower and Kennedy back to their cells, located deep in the bowels of the ship. As they were led past the La Reina's prisoners, the Spanish sailors hissed and jeered at the British uniforms. Kennedy, who was in no mood for dissidence, lunged at their outstretched hands, but the guards managed to grab him before he could do any significant damage.
"Archie!" Hornblower warned. "You'll only make things worse for yourself if you get into more trouble."
Kennedy sneered as he shrugged off the guards' grips and stalked past them toward his cell. The others followed him to the next block, which was located around the corner and out of sight of the Spanish.
After Kennedy entered the nearest cell, Hornblower was about to continue on to his own cell at the farthest end, when he asked the guards if he could relocate to the cell next to Kennedy. The guards wavered initially, but finally relented, acknowledging there was no longer any need to keep the two prisoners separated. As the guards left, both Midshipmen lay on their bunks and silently and solemnly contemplated what lay ahead for them.
For the next few days the Indefatigable continued to follow the Valiant toward Sardinia, with the La Reina Del Mar bringing up the rear. Making good use of their time, Captain Pellew held regular meetings with his officers to discuss battle tactics and strategies, and the officers in turn drilled their men repeatedly on the various battle scenarios. One afternoon the Captain decided to make use of the La Reina and each division practiced pulling up alongside and boarding her, under the watchful eyes of Pellew and Bracegirdle, their fob watches in hand.
"Not good enough!" Bracegirdle yelled across to the Spanish vessel, after Potts' men, previously Hornblower's division, struggled to even board the bobbing ship. The two senior Midshipmen, Potts and Phillips, had been promoted to Acting Lieutenants to replace Hornblower and Kennedy. It was vital to maintain the chain of command while sailing in enemy waters, in case of an attack.
"Do it again!" the Captain ordered.
Potts glared at the disgruntled seamen. He knew they had the potential to be the best division in the fleet he had observed their excellence under Hornblower's direction, but they seemed to be reluctant to display their skills under their new leader's supervision. The Acting fourth Lieutenant called the men in around him, and he stared at each one of them in turn. "Come on, men," he encouraged. "I know you're not happy with me replacing Mr. Hornblower, but that's no reason to jeopardize our mission. If the Captain thinks we're not fit for action, he'll send another division and we'll miss out on all the glory. Do you want that to happen?"
The men looked at each other as they considered this. Grudgingly they all shook their heads.
Potts rubbed his hands together in anticipation and raised his voice for all the crew to hear. "Very well, men. Let's show these other divisions how a boarding is supposed to be done! Double-rum if we do it the fastest!"
The Captain moaned, rolling his eyes. "Not again," he said to Bracegirdle. "I suppose he learnt that from Mr. Hornblower."
The first Lieutenant smiled. "Quite probably, sir."
Pellew sighed as he signaled the division to proceed.
This time Potts' men deftly jumped to the cargo ship before her sides even touched the Indie's. In not time at all they had her lashed to the larger ship, overpowered the mock enemy and forced the Midshipman in charge to hand over his sword. Potts and his men eagerly turned toward the Captain and first Lieutenant in anticipation of their results.
Pellew and Bracegirdle compared times, shaking their heads in amazement. Finally Bracegirdle called it out. "Two minutes, twenty-three!"
The triumphant men cheered and Potts beamed with pride. "Well done, men," he applauded. "We'll celebrate tonight!" Another cheer, and the elated men returned to the Indie amid adulation and awe from the rest of the crew.
As Pellew and Bracegirdle headed down below, the Captain breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank God for that," he said. "I was expecting there to be another accident."
"As was I, sir," Bracegirdle agreed. "Did you notice Mr. Styles lost his footing when he jumped across to the La Reina and almost slipped between the two ships?"
"Yes I did. Remind me at our next briefing to remind all my officers not to use such tactics to inspire their men. It is simply too dangerous."
"Aye, sir," Bracegirdle replied, ducking his head under a low beam and thus hiding his disappointment. He would miss the added excitement the challenges invoked.
That night, Potts and his men celebrated in exuberant fashion. The Acting fourth Lieutenant had to draw from his own rum rations to fulfill his promise to his men, but he didn't mind. He was more of a port man anyway. He was a stocky fellow, in his mid-twenties, who had been a Midshipman for six years. In the past few months, he had had to swallow his bitterness when Hornblower and Kennedy had both been promoted ahead of him, but he resigned himself to the fact that they were both incredible leaders in time of battle. All he could do was watch, imitate and learn from their fine examples. Then he remembered his two heroes were both locked in a cell below, and he smiled at his own good fortune.
"You're looking mighty pleased with yourself, sir." Acting fifth Lieutenant Phillips sat down beside him, placing his mug on the table. The officers didn't usually socialize with their men for reasons of discipline, but Potts wanted to 'bond' with his new division, and Phillips was never one to miss out on a party.
Potts smiled at his friend. "I was just basking in my latest victory. Here's to many more in the future." He raised his mug in a toast and their two mugs clanked together before tilting half their contents into their owners' mouths.
Suddenly there was a loud crash as the ship lurched to the starboard side. Potts lost the contents of his mug down the front of his shirt, but he spared little thought for it as he jumped to his feet. He was not the only man who knew what the noise had been cannon fire, and a direct hit to the port side of the ship!
He led Phillips and the rest of the men quickly up on deck to find the Captain and the other Lieutenants already there. Men and boys were running every which way, as "Battle stations!" was echoed through the ship. Another cannonball whistled high above their heads and crashed into the main sail, tearing it in two. The boom the rigging supporting it cracked from the impact and slowly crashed to the deck. Fortunately the sailor below had enough time to avoid being toppled.
Potts ran below to his duty station on the port gun deck, with his men close behind. They quickly took their positions on the aft guns and had them loaded and ready to fire within minutes. All they had to do was wait for the command from above.
Meanwhile the Captain and Bracegirdle were trying desperately to track the enemy ships. Being a dark cloudy night made their task almost impossible, and yet whoever was firing on them seemed to have no trouble at all targeting their prey. Pellew cursed softly. He could hear cannon fire ahead and behind on both the Valiant and the La Reina, so he knew there were at least three ships on the attack, but his instincts told him there were more.
"There they are!" Bracegirdle pointed across the port bow, and then yelled down to the relay callers. "Fire as we bear! Four points off the port bow!"
The Captain squinted into the darkness, only just making out the shadow of a ship. "Their sails must be painted black, Mr. Bracegirdle! The cheek of them!"
"Indeed, sir," he replied grimly. "We are like sitting ducks here if they can see us but we can't see them."
Just then the ship lurched as some of the Indie's guns fired on the ghost ship. One hit home with a crash, but the others were wasted in the sea.
Pellew fumed, frustrated with the situation. "We need to light them up! Perhaps if we " but his sentence was cut short as the debris from a nearby explosion sent him hurtling backwards.
Bracegirdle was immediately at his side. "Captain! Are you alright?" He tentatively lifted the Captain's head, which fell limply over to the side revealing a bloody gash above his right ear. "Call for the doctor! Priority One!" Bracegirdle yelled, pulling out his handkerchief and pressing it firmly against the wound. He then grabbed a piece of nearby rag and wrapped it around the Captain's head to hold the makeshift compress into place. As much as he would have liked to have stayed there until the doctor arrived, he knew he had to take command of the Indie before they all perished.
Another crash sent the men on the forward gun flying in all directions, and yet another toppled the mizzen mast, sending its occupants into the sea. Bracegirdle was feverously wracking his brain trying to come up with a plan to outwit their invisible foe, when a foreign voice called out from behind him.
"Capitaine of ze Engleesh sheep! We have you zurrounded! Do you zurrender?"
Bracegirdle turned, amazed to see the faint outline of a second ship closing in on their starboard side, preparing to board them. The Indie's guns were not even manned on that side. They had no chance.
The first Lieutenant looked sadly around him at the war zone his ship had become. He knew they had taken some hits below deck which were probably still be patched by the repair crews, and he could feel that the ship was taking water by how low she was now riding on the sea. At least half the men on deck were either dead or injured and the remainder were disoriented and disheartened. Bracegirdle sighed as he drew his sword in surrender.
Hundreds of the French crew jumped on board the Indie and rounded her survivors into a group while Bracegirdle handed his sword over to the French Captain. The bosons blew their whistles to inform the rest of the ship.
"I am Capitaine Bonancieux de La Distingue. You are now my prisoner, Captitaine ? "
Bracegirdle removed his hat and bowed, even though it was almost too dark to see the gesture. "First Lieutenant Bracegirdle of the Indefatigable. Captain Pellew has been injured."
"That iz most unfortunate. I trust he will recover?"
"I don't know. May I find out the status of his condition, Capitaine?"
"Of course, Monsieur. I have your sword, and I shall post a guard with you so that you may continue your duties."
Bracegirdle bowed in gratitude. "Merci."
Bonancieux followed Bracegirdle to where Pellew had fallen, to find Doctor Wood still tending to his wounds.
"How is he, doctor?" Bracegirdle asked, looking over Wood's shoulder.
The Doctor glanced up, first at Bracegirdle and then at the foreign officer standing beside him. "He should recover, but it is difficult to see in this light. I've stabilized him so we can move him to sick bay now." He looked again at the French Captain. "With your permission, sir?"
"Of course," Bonancieux answered, stepping back to make room for the stretcher-bearers.
As the doctor, the first Lieutenant and his French guard followed the stretcher below, Wood said to Bracegirdle, "I'm going to need help with all the injured, and I'll have to set up cots in the cabins adjoining sickbay."
"Very well, doctor," the first Lieutenant replied, suddenly weary. "I'll organize it for you."
Within an hour, the dozens of injured men, including those plucked from the water, were settled in their cots in the enlarged sick bay guarded at each exit by two French guards. Doctor Wood still had hours of surgery ahead of him, but at least his patients were all stable. He was washing his hands to prepare for the next operation when Bracegirdle strolled in, followed by his guard. "How is the Captain, Doctor?"
Wood glanced at the patient lying unconscious on a cot separated from the others by curtains. "I've given him a few stitches and I had to re-plaster his wrist. He was badly concussed, so all we can do now is wait and see how he is when he wakes up. I want to keep him here under observation until then."
"Very good, Doctor," Bracegirdle replied matter-of-factly. It was the early hours of the morning and he still had many duties to perform before he could hope to catch any sleep.
The French invaders had earlier charged below to secure the rest of the crew. They met with minimal resistance, since the men had all heard the 'surrender' whistle. They were all herded down to the cargo deck and crammed into the holds to begin their new life as prisoners of war. Some of them who had had the misfortune of previously being imprisoned broke down at the depressing thought of what lay ahead. It was a sad day for the Indie and her crew.
Hornblower and Kennedy, still locked in their cells, had heard the commotion and had deduced what was happening. Then when they heard the Spanish prisoners' cheers in the next cell block, they knew the Indie and her crew were taken. They were standing at the cell bars waiting for the French invaders to find them, when Hornblower came up with an idea.
"Quick, Archie!" he whispered, unbuttoning his jacket. "Take off your jacket!"
Kennedy immediately obeyed, having learnt a long time ago that Hornblower's plans were usually ingenious.
"Now mess yourself up a bit. We have to pass as La Reina's crew."
Kennedy smiled and nodded as he realized Hornblower's intentions. They rolled around on the dusty floor, messed up their hair and scuffed their boots. Then they quickly hid their uniforms under their blankets, just as two French hoards marched around the corner.
Hornblower immediately let out a Spanish-style cheer, as he had just heard the Spanish prisoners do moments ago. Kennedy quickly joined in and added "Gracias, muchas gracias!" Kennedy was almost fluent in Spanish, and had taught Hornblower how to speak it when they were imprisoned by the Spanish. The guards smiled and one of them searched through the keys which they had 'borrowed' from the cell guard. They tried a few of them, while Hornblower discreetly signaled to Kennedy with his hand behind his back of his intentions. Kennedy nodded minutely as the guard found the right key and the door was opened.
Hornblower and Kennedy chatted in Spanish as they walked out of the cell. When they were level with the guards they deftly grabbed onto their rifles and head-butted the stunned Frenchmen. The shock caused the guards to release their grips for a split-second, which was all that was needed for the Midshipmen to wrench the guns away. They both stepped back and pointed the dangerous ends of the rifles at the dumb-founded guards, who raised their hands in submission.
"Your swords please," Hornblower said, pointing to their sheaths. They unbuckled them and passed them over. "Now in there!" Hornblower ordered, indicating the cell he had just vacated. "La-dedans, faites vite!" The guards reluctantly entered the cell and watched dejectedly as Kennedy locked the door.
Hornblower furrowed his brow in thought as he looked down the hall. Then he aimed his rifle at the Frenchmen again and said, "Take off your jackets and hats, if you please." They looked at him blankly so he repeated it in French.
"Non!" they protested. "Jamais! Never!"
"We've got the guns, stupide!" Hornblower threatened. "If we have to we'll just shoot you se lancer, mise!" He shook the rifle at them for effect. It worked. They removed their jackets and hats and handed them over, cursing profusely in French. Hornblower knew what most of the profanities meant, but they didn't have the same affect in a different language. He smiled and waved at them and said "Ta ta" as he and Kennedy walked off.
The Frenchmen found the English uniforms under the blankets and threw them to the ground and stomped on them. They then had a tug-of-war with them until they were in shreds. It helped to satiate their frustration.
Around the corner and out of sight, Hornblower and Kennedy donned the French uniforms, dusted themselves off and checked each other for fit. Hornblower's jacket was hanging loosely on him, being as skinny as he was, but he decided it would have to do.
"What do we do now, Horacio?"
Hornblower blinked as he considered. "There's two of us against God knows how many of them. We'll have to lay low until we can analyse the situation and come up with a strategy."
Kennedy grinned. "Covert operations then?"
Hornblower nodded. "If we run into any frogs, we'll have to limit what we say. Our accents would give us away in an instant."
"Aye, sir. Your French is better than mine, so you can do the talking."
"Right. We'll march around like we know what we're doing and we'll do a head-count of the enemy as we go. We'll work our way top-side."
They headed up to the next deck and wandered the corridors, poking their heads into as many rooms as they could. Although they were sweating with nervousness from mingling with the enemy, they managed to conceal the majority of their fear from their faces. At one point they nearly jumped out of their skins when another French guard called out to them, but he was merely chasing a light for his cigarette. Hornblower mumbled "Pardon, Monsieur," and they quickly continued on their way.
By the time they had circulated their way top-side, it was almost dawn. They did a quick count of the enemy on deck from a deserted area of the quarter-deck, and then discreetly made their way back down toward the lower decks. As they were passing the officers' deck, they spotted the French Captain heading into Pellew's office.
Hornblower grabbed Kennedy by the sleeve and silently pulled him into the nearest room. They locked the door behind them. Hornblower whispered into Kennedy's ear, "We need to be able to hear what they are planning in there. Do you know a good place to hide in the Captain's office?"
Kennedy chewed a finger nail while he considered. "There's his sea chest, but it's full of books" He suddenly smiled like a Cheshire cat. "I know the perfect place! When I was a Midshipman, I used to hide behind the drapes. They're usually pulled back against the wall. Hornblower gave Kennedy an inquiring look, so he explained. "I wanted to know what our secret missions were so I could be one jump ahead of the other Midshipmen."
Hornblower shook his head admonishingly, but Kennedy shrugged and smiled with self-satisfaction.
Hornblower continued. "Do you think I could get in there undetected?"
Kennedy nodded. "If you sneak in via the Captain's sleeping quarters, and then when they all leave, take up position in the office."
"Right. You go and check out the armory, and find out where they're holding the officers. Meet me in our hiding place as soon as you have some information."
Hornblower checked the hallway and then proceeded towards the Captain's cabin and office. He listened outside the door before slipping quietly into the sleeping area. The room was dark except for a wisp of light coming through the drapes from the office. He carefully moved closer, listening to the voices as he searched for a suitable and comfortable position. There wasn't any cover behind the drapes with them being drawn closed, but he managed to crouch behind the Captain's bunk. He listened with interest to the French dialogue, wishing he was more fluent in the language.
In the meantime, Kennedy strolled to the gun deck and past the armory with his rifle on his shoulder. He casually eyed off the guards. There were four of them, which was going to make it difficult for Hornblower and Kennedy to overpower them, but Kennedy was confident they would find a way.
He continued down to the cargo decks and found that four of the holds were being guarded by two men at each door. No doubt that was where their men were being held. Each hold was separated from the next by a hallway.
Still looking for the other officers, he continued back to the brig area, but found no-one there. It was a gentleman's agreement during war that captured officers would be afforded the dignity of not being locked up with their crewmen. While he was contemplating where else on the ship the officers might be imprisoned, he saw Lieutenant Bracegirdle heading toward him, followed by a French guard. With nowhere to hide, he walked boldly toward the first Lieutenant and gave him a quick wink when the guard wasn't looking. Bracegirdle opened his mouth in shock as he recognized Kennedy, but quickly turned away and maintained his stride as they passed each other. Bracegirdle smiled with new hope as he continued down the hall.
Kennedy marched on in the opposite direction, wishing he could have asked Bracegirdle where the others were. He considered following him, but he knew the only thing in that direction was the sickbay. Then he realized with a sinking feeling that there were probably a lot of the Indie's men down there, and he started to worry who might have been injured, or even killed. Curiosity got the better of him and he about-faced and re-traced his steps.
When Kennedy saw through the open doors how many injured men there were, he was flabbergasted. Unfortunately, he couldn't go in for a better look because of the guards at each door, but he glimpsed enough to stir his anger. One of the guards raised an eyebrow at him queryingly, so he pretended to be looking for someone and turned and headed back up the hall, before his emotions gave him away.
Finally Kennedy found where the officers were incarcerated; they were in the Midshipmen's quarters, safeguarded by a pair of French guards. For a minute he considered trying to overpower them, but he realized he didn't have much chance, and he would have risked blowing his cover. Instead he continued past, frustrated by his impotence.
After taking a few deep breaths to ease his frustrations, he suddenly felt exhausted and decided to grab some food before meeting up with Hornblower. The mess hall was packed with frogs; dirty seamen, uniformed Midshipmen, guards. They were in high spirits, boisterously talking and gesticulating with their hands as they sat and ate around the large tables. More than a few were complaining about the English swill they were being forced to eat.
Kennedy's empty stomach growled, but he dared no enter such a large and confined gathering of the enemy. Instead, he headed directly to the stores. The Frenchies obviously saw no need to guard the swill, as there was no-one else around when he arrived. He grabbed an empty sack and hastily gathered up enough food for he and Hornblower for a few days; bread rolls and biscuit, salted beef and hard cheese. He hurriedly snatched a bite of the latter before tossing the sack over his shoulder and heading for their pre-chosen hideout.
Kennedy found the animal stalls empty and deserted as expected. He chose the cleanest smelling stall and set it up as their new sleeping quarters. With a few inches of fresh straw on the deck and the sack laid on top, their makeshift bed was more inviting than the hammocks that their new rank of Midshipman would entitle them to. After swinging the grated door shut, Kennedy laid his weary head on the pile and was instantly asleep.
In the middy's quarters, Buckland, Bracken, Potts and Phillips were quietly discussing their options, when the door was unlocked and first Lieutenant Bracegirdle entered. His personal guard re-locked the door and remained outside to chat to his fellow Frenchmen, as Bracegirdle approached the Lieutenants.
"You would never guess who I just passed near the brig," Bracegirdle said in a low voice.
"Who?" Bracken asked, eager for some news.
"Mr. Kennedy," he whispered, "wearing a French guard's uniform."
"Wow," Potts replied, as Bracken whistled his amazement.
Buckland frowned. "What was he doing, sir?"
"Nothing. He had a rifle, but he just walked straight past me and my guard, and he winked at me."
Buckland was furious. "What?! He had a rifle and he didn't use it on your guard? What the hell is he doing, sir? He'll be hung if he's joined the other side!"
Bracegirdle rolled his eyes at the second Lieutenant's stupidity. "He's obviously gone undercover, probably to devise a plan to over-throw the enemy. No doubt Mr. Hornblower will be wandering around too somewhere."
"No doubt," Buckland grumbled, doubly angry at having just made a fool of himself, and at the fact that their freedom was now in the hands of those two insubordinates. "Well, they should let us in on their schemes, instead of trying to do everything on their own."
"I am sure they will rescue us when the circumstances permit, Mr. Buckland. In the meantime, I suggest we prepare ourselves for an escape."
"What should we do, sir?" Phillips asked eagerly.
Bracegirdle looked around the room and said, "We need to fashion some weapons. See what you can find."
Hornblower fumbled around in the dark for a while until his
Finally he found what he was looking for. "Archie," he whispered through the
wooden slats of the stall door. "Is that you?"
Kennedy rolled over and stretched like a cat. "No, it's the King of England,"
he replied sarcastically, sitting up and opening the door.
"Shhh," Hornblower warned. "Move over, I'm coming in."
"Aye aye, sir," Kennedy grumbled. He was always cranky after being awaken from
a deep sleep. He rubbed his eyes. "What did you find out from the frog
Hornblower settled into a comfortable position on the straw.
"Not much. Is
that food I smell?"
"Mmm. Good idea." Kennedy retrieved some rations and handed half of them to
Hornblower. "Is this breakfast, lunch or dinner?"
"Who cares. I'll eat anything, I'm so hungry."
They munched in silence for a while, trying to tap the weevils out of the bread
without being able to see them. When their hungers were satisfied, Hornblower
continued in a low voice. "I've got some bad news, Archie. They destroyed the
Kennedy gasped. "The devils! Any survivors?"
"I don't know. If there were, they were probably captured and imprisoned. I
only caught bits and pieces of the conversation, so it was a bit confusing."
"What else, sir?"
Hornblower shifted position so he could see if anyone was coming. "They're
taking us to Minorca - it's the closest island with a prison."
"Not if I can help it," Kennedy whispered with conviction. "I refuse to be a
"I concur, but we will need to use our heads if we hope to re-take the Indie."
"That reminds me, Horacio. Bracegirdle saw me earlier,
so at least he and the
other officers should have worked out what we're up to."
"Excellent! If we can make contact with them, they can help us release the
"They are locked in the middy's quarters, with only two guards. All we need to
do is overcome the guards and we will have seven or eight of us with four
rifles. Surely that would be enough to take the four cargo holds the men are
"It certainly would," Hornblower said, smiling in the darkness. "We'll do it
tonight then, when most of the frogs are asleep. But we need to alert the
Captain and the others. How can we contact them?"
They sat in silence for a while until Kennedy suggested they
see if they could
find Bracegirdle again and slip him a note, while Hornblower distracted his
"That might work," Hornblower said, "but it is too risky. We have no idea
where Bracegirdle might be, and when we find him and his guard they might not
be alone. Someone might see you pass him the note, and then our cover would be
"But how else can we get a message to them?"
Hornblower rubbed his chin. "I know. We'll go to the
deck below and make a
hole in the ceiling. Then we'll be able to pass notes back and forth to each
"Perfect!" Kennedy replied keenly. "Shall we go now, sir?"
"Yes, why not? We've got nothing else to do."
The two lads extricated themselves from the tiny stall, dusted
and headed toward the door. Hornblower was deep in thought, planning their
next moves, when Kennedy asked, "Which room is directly below the middy's
"I was just thinking of that. The whole area is for sleeping quarters, so
we'll have to estimate how far forward to go. With a bit of luck we'll be able
to hear the officers talking above."
"Let's hope there's no Frenchies down there ."
"Shhh!" Hornblower warned. They were now out in the hall and were approaching
a couple of seamen, who ignored them as they passed each other.
Kennedy let out his breath. "Phew!" he whispered.
"That was close."
"Yes, we'll have to be more careful ."
"Les viola!" came a cry from the far end of the hall,
where stood two shirtless
men pointing toward Hornblower and Kennedy. They were obviously the guards
from whom Hornblower and Kennedy had stolen their uniforms. Behind them were
two other guards and a French officer.
"Les capture!" The five Frenchmen headed toward them at a run.
"Let's get out of here!" Hornblower yelled, turning
heel and bolting in the
opposite direction. Kennedy was only a split second behind him. They bolted
around the corner and headed for the stairs, but just as they got there, they
were obstructed in their ascent by half a dozen men descending them.
Hornblower looked around frantically. "This way!" He ducked behind the
stairwell and led Kennedy down another hallway. They could hear their pursuers
not far behind.
They had just rounded another corner when Hornblower said,
"In here!" and
ducked into a storeroom. He quickly shut the door behind Kennedy and quietly
locked it. They waited with ears to the door, listening for the slightest
noise. It took all of their self-control to quiet their heavy breathing.
Footsteps raced past the door, but then stopped further down
the hall. Then
there was the sound of door being opened, and footsteps getting closer.
Hornblower moved to one side of the door and signaled Kennedy to wait at the
other. They held their breaths as the door handle rattled, and an order was
Suddenly all hell broke loose as the door was kicked off its
hinges, and the
two uniformed guards raced into the room. Hornblower and Kennedy only just
managed to surprise them, knocking them on the backs of their heads with the
butts of their rifles, moments before the guards had time to fire their own
weapons. The Frenchmen collapsed on the floor in a heap and Hornblower and
Kennedy jumped back either side of the doorway.
The two shirtless guards, having seen what befell their comrades,
yelling with their heads low and aiming their rifles around the door at
Hornblower and Kennedy. The latter quickly fires, toppling the guards to the
deck, and then turned to see the officer enter with a musket in one hand and a
sword in the other. He pointed them at each of his English foe. "Drop your
Hornblower and Kennedy glanced at each other, both unwilling
to surrender so
easily. Even though their rifles were now empty, they were still two against
one. Hornblower blinked three times in quick succession and then casually
tossed his rifle across the room. When the officer glanced at it, he and
Kennedy pounced as one. Kennedy used his rifle to knock the sword out of the
way and then grabbed the Frenchman's hand and slammed it against the wall,
forcing him to release his grip. At the same time, Hornblower grabbed the
barrel of the musket and pushed it away from him, the bullet barely missing him
as the gun discharged. Kennedy then reefed the officer's hand around behind
his back and pinned him against the wall.
The shocked officer reluctantly raised his free hand in submission,
deftly stripped him of his ammunition bags and released him with a shove to the
far side of the room. He then retrieved the two unfired rifles, tossing one of
them to Hornblower, who walked over behind the officer and directed him out of
the room. He then him to the adjoining room, locking him inside and slipping
the key in his pocket.
Back inside the doorless room, one of the guards was beginning
to come to his
senses, so Hornblower unbuckled the guard's belt and secured his hands behind
his back. Then he tied his neck-scarf around his mouth to prevent him from
yelling out. Kennedy followed suit with the other unconscious guards, while
Hornblower checked the shirtless guards for signs of life. There were none.
"What do we do now, sir?" Kennedy asked. "Our
cover is obviously blown, so we
won't be able to wander around much longer."
"Indeed," Hornblower admitted, looking at the weapons on the deck. "We won't
have time to rescue both the officers and the men. It looks like we will have
to carry out our plan without the help of the officers. We have six rifles,
one musket and a sword. That should be enough to overthrow one set of guards,
if we are lucky."
Kennedy beamed. "No problem, sir. There were only two guards at each hold
last time I looked, so it should be smooth sailing."
"Don't get too cocky, Mr. Kennedy," Hornblower warned.
"Everyone will be on
alert now, so it may not be as easy as you think." He picked up the musket and
two more rifles. "You take the sword and three rifles, and I'll take these.
Let's re-load them, quickly now. We won't have long till they start searching
for these men."
Minutes later, the two English officers still disguised as
French guards were
marching cautiously toward the cargo deck. Hornblower had decided it would
appear less conspicuous if Kennedy carried all but one of the rifles in a pile
across his arms, while Hornblower escorted him with his rifle on his shoulder.
This would also free Hornblower's hands for defending them if he needed to.
Fortunately, the Frenchmen they passed along the way did not
appear to be on
the lookout for any escaped Englishmen, so they were able to reach the cargo
deck without further incident. They hid just around the corner from the
nearest hold, before Hornblower casually strolled past for a discreet glance
from the end of the hall. He pretended to have forgotten something and turned
around and went back the way he had come.
"There are six of them now," he informed Kennedy.
"Damn!" Kennedy whispered.
"We'll have to make every shot count. Can you fire two rifles at once?"
Kennedy widened his eyes. "I've never tried, sir. Have you?"
"No. Belay that. We can't afford to risk missing." Hornblower paused for a
moment to think. Then he said, "I'll take my three guns over behind that other
wall, then we'll squat down and lay the extra rifles on the deck beside us. On
my signal we'll crawl out around the corner and fire each rifle as quickly as
possible. Make sure you'll be able to reach the rifles from where you'll be
crouching, and make sure every shot his its target. Understand?"
"Yes, sir. Aye, sir."
Hornblower took two of Kennedy's rifles to add to his own,
took a deep breath,
and marched across the hall to hide behind the opposite wall. Then he and
Kennedy both laid out their spare rifles on the deck, just out of sight of the
guards, and crouched down and prepared to attack. Just as Hornblower was about
to nod his head, he heard footsteps from behind. He turned just in time to
avoid being stabbed in the back by a Frenchman's sword, and he rolled out of
the way and pulled his musket from his belt and fired, dropping the officer to
As soon as the gun exploded, Kennedy took initiative and commenced
the hall at the guards, before they had time to react. Hornblower quickly
jumped into position and joined in, downing all but one of the stunned guards.
The one that was left standing had already fired his weapon, so Kennedy jumped
up and charged down the hall toward him, drawing his sword and yelling.
Hornblower grabbed his attacker's sword and did the same.
The guard quickly reached for one of his mate's guns, aimed
at Kennedy and
pulled the trigger, but it too had been fired. Kennedy pounced on him and
lunged the sword through his chest. They couldn't afford to have any survivors
left to alert the others, even though the gun shots would be enough to do that
anyway. The astonished guard looked wide-eyed at his attacker and slowly
collapsed to the ground.
"Quickly, Archie!" Hornblower called as he grabbed
the keys. "Help me grab all
the weapons and ammo and bring them inside." He opened the doors. The men
inside had obviously heard the gunfire and now they all cheered once they
recognized their officers in the foreign uniforms. Hornblower raised his hand
to silence them, just as Kennedy came in with an armful of weapons Hornblower
closed and locked the door behind them. To the men he said, "Quickly now, we
need to re-load these guns and release the other men."
The men keenly grabbed for the rifles, muskets and powder that
gathered and had them loaded in record time. Meanwhile Hornblower and Kennedy
listened at the door and discussed their next move.
Up in the Midshipman's quarters, the Lieutenants were pacing
the deck, having
heard the distant gun shots and wondering what was going on. Buckland was
fuming as usual. "I will lay good money that Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy
are trying to rescue the men all on their own. It would be just like them to
want to take all the glory."
"Now now, Mr. Buckland," Bracegirdle soothed. "I'm
sure they would not attempt
such a mammoth task on their own. They are not that stupid."
Buckland grunted. "We will see."
Bracegirdle walked over to the locked door, not for the first time, and
listened. "They are probably on their way here as we speak."
Hornblower counted their accumulating weapons; twelve rifles,
three muskets and
six swords. More than enough. He armed the best of the men and quickly
explained the plan to the one hundred-strong force. Then they cautiously
unlocked the door and opened it slightly. They were instantly met with a
volley of bullets.
"That's it, you French idiots," Hornblower whispered
derogatively, "use up all
your ammo on the door." He opened the door slightly again and another half a
dozen shots fired. When they stopped, he poked his had out on the end of his
rifle, but there were no more shots. "Now!" he yelled, charging out the door,
Kennedy and the others close behind.
The five stunned guards retreated down the hall, unable to
re-load their rifles
and muskets, but they were too slow. Hornblower and Kennedy and the first few
men through the door fired on them and downed the lot of them. They then
grabbed their powder bags and re-loaded as they headed for the next cargo bay.
Some of the unarmed men picked up the Frenchmen's swords, grinning at the
chance for revenge.
Although each hold was well guarded with between four and six
men, they were
easily overcome by the Englishmen, and it wasn't long before all of Indie's men
were released. The 500 or so men followed Hornblower and Kennedy to the armory
and swamped the guards there. They then distributed the weapons and powder
amongst themselves, and Hornblower separated the men into eight groups,
assigning each one a leader and an area of the ship to conquer. He and Kennedy
then led their groups topside.
The enemy on deck fought bravely but it didn't take long for
their 35 men to
fall to Hornblower's 100. He and Kennedy leapt to the top deck where the
French officers were and demanded the Captain's sword. Bonancieux was
indignant that these two young men, whom he had never seen before, could have
the audacity to ask for his sword while dressed as French guards, and he told
them as much. "You do not adhere to ze rulez of war, Monsieur .?"
"Hornblower. Midshipman Hornblower," he added with a smile for further insult.
The French Captain spluttered with rage but several of Hornblower's
surrounded the officers with swords and rifles drawn. Bonancieux reluctantly
drew his sword, muttering profanities, and handed it to Hornblower. The other
French officers did the same.
Hornblower bowed and said to his men, "Escort these prisoners
below!" The men
cheered. "Mr. Kennedy, let's get our ship turned around before we run into any
"Aye aye, sir," Kennedy saluted enthusiastically.
Buckland heard the cheers and "hip hip hoorahs" and
slumped into a chair. "I
told you," he growled to no-one in particular. "They have re-taken the ship
Just them the door opened and a hoard of English seamen, led by Matthews,
stormed in ready for a fight. The other Lieutenants cheered and rushed over to
shake their hands, while Buckland put his head in his.
Bracegirdle beamed and said, "Well done, Mr. Matthews.
Is the rest of the ship
"It should be just about by now, sir."
"Excellent." Bracegirdle rubbed his hands together with delight. "Let's go
topside and see what's happening." He noticed Buckland and added, "Come along,
Mr. Buckland. Just be grateful that we've got the Indie back."
Buckland grumbled and reluctantly followed the others out the door.
The next day the officers were all sitting around the Captain's table, relaxing
after the last few hectic days. The Captain was finally up and about, looking
somewhat comical with a large white bandage around his head to match his
plastered wrist. Hornblower was tempted to ask if he was trying to disguise
himself from somebody, but naturally thought better of it. He decided instead
to share the joke with Kennedy at a later time. He grinned at Kennedy in
anticipation of his reaction, and Kennedy smiled back queryingly.
"So Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy," Pellew said
softly, wary of the potential
agony in his head. The doctor had warned him to keep calm and still for a few
days, but the pain was more of a deterrent. "I believe you two saved us all
from imminent imprisonment. Is this true?"
Hornblower and Kennedy smiled uncomfortably, and Hornblower modestly replied,
"We were lucky, sir. Not everything went as planned, but the end result was
the same. We are just fortunate the frogs are so dense."
Everyone laughed, except Buckland who interrupted. "I
would like to know, Mr.
Hornblower, why you did not rescue us first. It was your duty to release the
officers, so that we could take charge of the operation."
Hornblower was amazed, but answered calmly nonetheless. "We were about to make
contact with you to arrange your release, but our cover was blown and we knew
we wouldn't have much time before the whole enemy would be on alert for us. So
we had to choose between rescuing you officers or the men. We decided we would
have more chance of re-taking the armory and the rest of the ship with hundreds
of men, rather than half a dozen officers."
"Mr. Hornblower!" Bracegirdle exclaimed, feigning
indignation. "That's an
insult of the highest magnitude!" Pellew and Bracken tried hard to contain
Buckland smirked and added, "Yes it is, Mr. Bracegirdle, and I think they
should be punished for it."
Pellew rolled his eyes. "Mr. Buckland," he said with restraint. "I believe
they made the right decision, and the proof is in the results. We have the
Indie back, the French are locked in the brig, and we are back on course for
Sardinia. What more do you want?"
Buckland slumped in his chair and said nothing, so the Captain
adopting a serious tone. "That reminds me, gentlemen. We have some unfinished
business when we arrive at Sardinia, don't we Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy?"
The two Midshipmen gulped and went pale, having totally forgotten
scheduled punishment. They lowered their eyes to the table, therefore not
noticing the winks exchanged between Pellew and Bracegirdle. The latter played
along. "Their flogging around the fleet will be decidedly less painful for
them now that we only have one ship instead of three, sir."
"That's right, Mr. Bracegirdle," the Captain said, rubbing his chin in mock
contemplation. "Perhaps we should enlist the help of a couple of local boats.
We could swear their Captains into the Royal Navy for a few hours, and then
discharge them at the end of the day."
Hornblower and Kennedy raised their heads at this preposterous
stared wide-eyed at the Captain and the first Lieutenant, who were now grinning
from ear to ear. Pellew laughed, but winced at the resultant pain. "Actually
gentlemen," he said more formally to the whole ensemble, "I have decided to
drop the charges against Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy in light of their
outstanding bravery and skill in rescuing the Indie and all on board her."
Everyone cheered, except of course for Buckland. He sat in icy silence.
Pellew continued. "So you can both have your previous
ranks back, as of now,
and the flogging has been cancelled." Hornblower and Kennedy grinned at each
other, but the Captain leaned forward and pointed at them sternly. "But I warn
you two, if you ever pull the sort of stunts that you pulled back at Plymouth,
I will personally throw you to the fishes. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir," they both gulped.
"Good." The Captain sat back in his chair and looked around the table. "Now,
is there any other business to discuss?"
Five weeks later, the Indie was docked back at Plymouth, about to undergo
repairs again. They had stopped in at Porto Torres on the north coast of
Sardinia, replenished supplies and carried out some makeshift repairs, while
Captain Pellew and Lieutenant Bracegirdle visited the island's leaders. They
had all agreed that with only one badly-damaged ship left, the mission would
have to be aborted.
Before leaving Sardinia, Pellew had held a funeral ceremony
Perkins, Captain Sydney and the crew who had lost their lives during the French
attack. Sadly, 22 of the 463 lost were from the Indie, and the men had stood
for a minute's silence in their honour.
But that had been a month ago, and now the Indie's officers
and crewmen were
eagerly preparing for their next mission. All except Buckland, whom the
Captain had transferred off his ship the first chance he got. Pellew couldn't
tolerate incompetence and shortsightedness in his officers.
It was a chilly winter's morning, and Hornblower and Kennedy
were heading back
to the ship after just having lodged some more requisition forms with Admiralty
for supplies. They were in particularly good spirits, with the worst of their
The minute the Indie had docked the day before, Admiral Bennetts
had sent for
them, as had been expected. He had given them an intense dressing-down for
what they had done months before, which had them both sweating under their
neck-scarves, but Captain Pellew managed to talk the Admiral out of any further
disciplinary action. The Admiral had read Pellew's report, so he knew the bulk
of what had transpired during their last voyage. Pellew simply filled in the
finer details, emphasizing the Lieutenants' bravery when they had
single-handedly regained control of the Indie from the French captors.
Bennetts had reluctantly agreed to let their previous indiscretions rest,
although he did warn them to stay away from his daughter and her friends.
Hornblower and Kennedy had acknowledged the order, but they
were finding it
very difficult to comply with. It seemed everywhere they went when they were
ashore, the girls would appear, like a beautiful rainbow out of a dark and
rainy sky. Now as the Lieutenants strolled toward the ship, they ran into them
"Hello Horacio. Hello Archie," Sarah Bennetts said.
"You've been avoiding us,
haven't you?" She batted her long lashes and smiled sweetly. She was well
aware of the effect she had on men, but was particularly keen for Hornblower to
respond. He stopped in mid-stride and gazed slack-jawed at the girl he had
been dreaming of for the past three months. His imagination had not done her
beauty justice, and his heart melted again along with his knees.
He finally cleared his throat to reply. "Hello Sarah.
Actually, your father
has ordered us to stay away from you, so we don't have a choice in the matter."
"Ah, but he hasn't ordered us to stay away from you, has he?" she grinned
Hornblower looked questioningly at Kennedy and then shrugged. "I guess not."
Sarah smiled. "Then this is allowed because we came over to you." She linked
arms with Hornblower and led him over to the shade of the dockmaster's
building. The others happily followed.
The five of them chatted for several minutes, catching up with
what had been
happening, until Hornblower noticed Captain Pellew and Lieutenant Bracegirdle
watching them from the top deck of the ship.
"Ahem", he cleared his throat anxiously, "we had better get back to the Indie,
Archie, before we get chewed out again." He and Kennedy had been reprimanded
only yesterday. As the ship had been coming in to be docked, Hornblower had
discreetly waved at the girls, who just happened to be standing on the
dockside. The girls had waved back, so Kennedy had raised his hat to them,
which had earned him an even friendlier wave. That had been when the girls had
recognized who they were.
Not wanting to be outdone, Hornblower had removed his hat and
produced a regal
bow the King himself would have been proud of, which produced a cheer from the
girls. So in the spirit of the competition, Kennedy had jumped up on the side
rail and with one hand on the nearest side stay, had bowed down below the rail.
Unfortunately he had over-balanced and to save himself, he had swung around
the taut line and dismounted flamboyantly onto the deck, facing the girls with
both arms in the air. The ladies were most impressed, but the Captain hadn't
been. He had issued them both with double shifts to "help make use of their
excess enthusiasm". They were still working them off.
Before the Lieutenants could leave, Sarah pulled Hornblower
closer to her and
whispered seductively, "Do you think you could get some leave tonight?" Her
hands rested on his chest.
Hornblower could barely breathe. They were close enough to kiss and all he
could do was stare longingly at her luscious lips.
At length she smiled and said, "Well, Horacio? What about
He blinked back to his senses and blushed. "Oh . um . I don't know. I'm on
duty until 10:00, and Archie's off at 6:00. We could ask for permission to
leave, but somehow I doubt we would get it."
Kennedy added, "Especially if the Captain is pacing the deck right now because
of us. We had best be leaving, Horacio."
Hornblower looked over at the Indie. "Yes, you're right." He held Sarah's
hand in his. "Wait for us tonight at the... where's a good place to meet?"
"The Regent is good. It's on the way to my house, on the left."
"Right. Wait for us there. If we're not there by 10:30, you'll know we
couldn't get away." He kissed her hand and he and Kennedy marched off quickly.
Back on the Indie, the junior Lieutenants were relieved to
see that Pellew was
no longer on the bridge, until Lieutenant Bracegirdle informed them that the
Captain wanted to see them in his cabin straight away. They knew that was a
sign of trouble.
As they apprehensively approached the Captain's cabin, Hornblower
do we always manage to get into trouble when there are pretty girls in the
"I don't know, Horacio," Kennedy sighed. "Our brains just turn to mush when we
see a skirt."
Hornblower smiled, stopping just short of their destination. "Maybe we should
use that tactic on our enemies. Our first line of defense could be a row of
gorgeous women. Then we could sneak up and attack while the Frenchies are
standing there mesmerized."
Kennedy chuckled. "Except the frogs don't like our women.
I overheard one of
them say he was arrested for shacking up with a dead woman, and he pleaded his
innocence by saying he didn't know she was dead - he thought she was British!"
They both laughed out loud, until the Captain angrily poked
his head out the
door and barked at them to get inside. He was absolutely ropable at having
been made to wait for them, and he made them sweat for it. After he had vented
his anger on them for a full ten minutes, he took a deep breath and addressed
the real issue.
"Gentlemen," he said, pacing in front of them, "we
have a problem. You two
have been ordered by the Admiral to stay away from his daughter and her
friends, and yet you insist on disobeying him. Twice now since only yesterday
I have seen you talking with them, and you were just now holding hands with
them! I am putting an end to it right now. Either you give up any ideas of
spending time with these ladies, or you give up your naval careers. It is your
choice." He stopped in front of them to wait for their answers. "Which is it
going to be, gentlemen?"
Kennedy looked at Hornblower for his reaction, but the latter
was too busy
weighing up the pros and cons in his mind. He was fairly sure he was in love
with Sarah, but he also knew he couldn't live without his Navy. It was his
life; his passion; his whole existence. The thought of giving it all up for
mere girl, no matter how attractive, was inconceivable to him. He voiced his
decision. "I will stay with my career, sir."
The Captain struggled to hide his relief. "And you, Mr.
He stiffened and replied, "I, too, wish to remain in the Navy, sir."
"Very good," Pellew said. "Then you must see no more of these ladies, and
start putting all your energy into your duties. Do you both agree?"
*Finally!* Pellew thought to himself. *All this time, all
I had to do was just
reason with them!*
"Very well," he said out loud with new enthusiasm. "We've got a ship to
prepare, and new orders being drawn up. Let's get to work on making this the
best damn ship in the fleet."
"Aye aye, sir!" Both Lieutenants saluted enthusiastically and returned to
their stations, and they never thought again of those pretty young girls.
Actually, they thought about them quite a lot, but they buried themselves into
their work, and Hornblower vowed to never again let a woman's beauty cause him
to forget his sense of duty.