An American Encounter, Part Three
AE3 Ch 26 The Battle and The Storm
The deck of Indefatigable was littered with dead and dying. The battle had been one of the worst in the ship's history. The gun crews were decimated. Hornblower stood in the midst of the slaughter unbelieving at the massacre of so many good men. His clothes and skin were splattered with blood and smudged with gun powder. Though it was late in the month of January, sweat trickled down his face through the mire. A shiver went through his heated frame with the cold blow that came to sweep away the remains of smoking cannon fire. It cleared his mind to an extent. He raised his left arm and stared at the splinter impaling it, then dropped the arm; it seemed too heavy to hold up longer. The injury was nothing in comparison to what met his eyes.
"You should go below, sir. Have that seen to."
The words meant nothing to him. He stood there in a daze.
"Mr. Hornblower, sir." Connors tried to get the second leftenant to look at him. "Mr. Hornblower," he said again softly, warm breath steaming in the cold. "Sir. Please. Go below. Let the doctor see to your arm."
He stared at the midshipman. "What did you say?"
"Your arm, sir. You're bleeding."
He lifted it and looked at it again. He was. His sleeve was soaked and blood was dripping onto the deck and splattering his shoe.
"I will, Mr. Connors, I will," he replied softly, but he remained standing there.
Connors muttered, fighting emotion, heading below. "Where is Mr. Kennedy? He'll get you to the doctor."
Hornblower looked out across to the French ship, a seventy-four. It was sinking slowly. He stumbled to the starboard side. The Frenchmen were yelling for help, but the Indy crews were devastated, the deck a shattered mess. They should send a rescue party, but fallen spars and rigging overlay the boats. He looked around for someone to command to clear away the wreckage, launch a boat, and help them, but there was no one to order. The few men moving were aiding wounded below decks, or comforting those who could not be moved. Hornblower went to the boats, positioned himself under one of the fallen yards, and lifted it with his shoulder. He grunted under the strain and then felt another man behind him helping to heave it off. He turned to see who.
"Bloody hell, Mr. 'Ornblower, what the devil are ye doin', sir?" The rating's face was spotted and smeared with the black of gun powder.
"Styles. We must launch boats. Pick up survivors."
"We're in no condition to rescue anybody, sir. Mr. Connors says ye are to go below. Look at your arm, sir."
"They'll drown, Styles."
"We cannot deal with Frog prisoners, sir."
"I order you. Help me, Styles."
Styles shook his head in dismay. "Aye, aye, sir."
The two shoved away the cordage and wood confining the boats.
"We've got to... to lower..." Hornblower stared upwards. The nearest yard to lift from was the top gallant. He stood looking up, his mouth twisted open, eyes closed slowly and opened again.
Hornblower's attention was jerked to the speaker. "Archie, Mr. Kennedy, help us get this boat swayed."
"Horatio, get below."
"We've got to pick up survivors."
"Horatio, the Captain is wounded, Bracegirdle is wounded....and... you are wounded. I want you to go below and get that splinter taken care of."
"McMasters? Horatio, McMasters died months ago in the Med." Archie took his good arm. "Come on."
"What about Rampling?"
"Wounded. Don't you remember?"
"Who's running the ship?"
Archie hesitated, knowing it had been Hornblower up till this moment. "I am...for the time being." The statement startled him. There was no time to think through the implications. He was the only ranking officer left to command. Bowles was in the orlop with his leg bandaged. He might be well enough to take over later. But at this very moment? The commander of Indefatigable was Lt. Kennedy.
"I out rank you." Hornblower pulled his arm out of Archie's grasp.
"Horatio, you're ill," said Archie plaintively, "The battle is..." Archie looked sadly at the chaos of the deck, "... won. You are in no condition to command."
Seeing the worry on Archie's face, Horatio recalled his friend coming for him.
//////////"Horatio? Horatio?" repeated Archie anxiously.
"Archie?" Hornblower was stupid with fever.
"Horatio. We need you. The wheel's been destroyed." Archie swallowed as he pulled Hornblower to a sitting position. "You've got to help me."
"We're fighting?" asked Hornblower. "I thought I was dreaming."
"Yes." Archie helped Hornblower on with his topcoat. "The captain... Bracegirdle, Rampling... even Bowles... injured. I need you."
"I'll come, Archie."//////////
Archie needed him to fight. It had been only Kennedy and the midshipmen left. A seventy-four, a corvette, the ship's wheel broken. Had the captain been mad to take on such a stronger force? Running was seldom an option, unless you had nothing to fight with.
Hornblower stepped haltingly to starboard in time to see the
French ship sink beneath the waves. Looking farther larboard
and abaft, the corvette sat dismasted. There was no sign of movement.
"Why don't they help their countrymen?" he asked hoarsely.
"Mr. Hornblower. You are out of your head with fever. Now, please, do as I say. You have done your duty. I could not have done it without you. But, you are ill." Archie was at a loss. Horatio was sick. Would he be forced to order him out right?
Hornblower wavered where he stood staring across the water. What was Archie saying to him? Did he say Captain Pellew was wounded? His eyes were beginning to blur. Hornblower lifted his hand to his head. He was hot. He did have a fever. Before the battle he had been in bed. Yes, he was sick, but he was needed to fight. They were up against a seventy-four and a corvette. No time to run. No time. He felt faint. "Archie, did you say the Captain was wounded?" his speech slurred through the sentence.
Styles caught him before he fell to the deck. "I've got him, Mr. Kennedy," he said, shouldering the leftenant's weight.
"Good man, Styles. Get him below." Archie
glanced at the corvette. Thank God they could no longer fire.
Both ships were dead in the water, and the seventy-four was making
its way to Davy Jones' locker. He looked back at Hornblower unconscious
and slung over Styles broad shoulder. "Thank God for your
blasted luck, Horatio."
Staring back at the corvette, Kennedy began to shake, the turning point of the battle vividly in his mind's eye.
Hornblower was ordering the men aloft, to what remained aloft, those that remained to replace those from aloft, and those on deck, to turn the ship. Through the hole in the waist, supplied by French shot, Hornblower shouted orders to Matthews who relayed them to men at the tiller, the only way possible to steer. Indefatigable was astern of the seventy-four and in minutes would come abeam of the corvette. Hornblower ordered the cannon to fire. Every bore emptied. Time seemed to stand still. The men all along the starboard side worked in slow motion reloading. Kennedy looked up from the number three gun and saw the Frenchmen running out their carronades on the quarter-deck. Indy was at such close proximity, he thought sure the end was near. And then, the wind died. Though there was noise from the men at work, the underlying sound of the wind in what remained of the rigging ceased. The turn to larboard the French were attempting ended as well.
"Fire! Fire when ready!" ordered Hornblower.
The cannon burst forth shot erratically as each gun was readied and run out. The motion of the ship remaining from the last breath of wind carried them slowly across the aft of the seventy-four, giving clear aim at the stern of the big man o'war. Kennedy saw a French carronade crew disappear into thin air. That portion of the ship splintered into so much kindling. The gallery windows shattered as shot after shot entered the ship's Achilles heel. The resulting explosion ripped away her aft quarter and she began to sink at the stern.
Now Hornblower was at the larboard side, taking stock of the gun crews' readiness, eyeing the sagging top gallants of the main and fore masts, and speaking to Wiggins.
Kennedy took a last look at the seventy-four. Indefatigable's starboard gun crews were reloading and firing into the doomed vessel, obedient to Hornblower's last command.
Kennedy watched Wiggins run starboard, cup his mouth and shout an order to Matthews. The ship responded to the shift of rudder and a gust of wind surged the Indy forward.
"Wait!" called Hornblower, then, shouted, "Fire as she bears!"
The larboard guns belched out fire and shot as each gun captain sighted the target, then, the well trained crew swabbed the cannons and reloaded speedily.
Kennedy stepped over bodies and debris to join them. A whistle overhead and then, an explosion sounded behind him. The gunner's mate who had been at his side blew apart over the deck.
Kennedy reached a trembling hand and nervously wiped at the hair tickling his forehead as the noise of battle in his memory faded. The wind was getting up and it brought him to the present. He swallowed as he made himself look where that man last stood, where he would have been standing if he had not chosen that moment to join in the fight with the corvette.
Was there a winner today? Only time would tell. Which ship could repair itself quickest would answer the question. The task became Kennedy's to see that every man not injured worked to get the ship in sailing order. When Connors came below looking for him, he was mentally ticking off a list of innumerable tasks to be accomplished.
Indefatigable had her masts, but many men were wounded,
many were dead. Kennedy stared at the quarter-deck, recalling
Hornblower there, taking command while he, Matthews, and the men
set the tiller below decks.
"Mr. Connors, you have the watch. I am going to check on the Captain and the other injured. As soon as the carpenter stops the shot holes, I'll send him to start on the ship's wheel."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Bailey, Oldroyd. Stay with Connors, but I want you helping to clear the wreckage. Should you need me before I return, Mr. Connors, send one of them for me."
"Aye, aye, Mr. Kennedy."
"And, keep an eye on that corvette. Let me know immediately should you note any movement whatsoever."
"Aye, aye, sir," said Connors nervously.
He shifted on his feet, looking at the corvette and back to the
destruction on the main deck, to that behind him, the mizzenmast
The recent past echoed the events leading up to the injuries of the senior officers. Connors was at the stern cannon. Hearing the shot hit the mizzen, he turned to see the yard fall between and on the two ranking officers, hitting the Captain and Bracegirdle and crushing the ship's wheel. A breeze caused by the falling wreckage blew Bowles' hat off his head and he reached for it. Fate had saved Mr. Bowles. Soon after though, grape shot grazed Bowles' leg and, fearing the sailing master would bleed to death, Rampling insisted he go below for mending.
Then, came those helpless minutes when Kennedy made the decision to try to rouse Hornblower to assist them. Rampling was left in charge with a busted arm. He and Wiggins were with him on the quarter-deck, with Cutter and James ordering the gun crews. Connors bit his lower lip, reliving how he had stumbled over Rampling's body and then, commandered men to take the leftenant below. The only ones not wounded of the officer class were he, Wiggins, and Kennedy. Connors vacant stare was wide-eyed with disbelieving astonishment at the magnitude of the injury and the destruction.
Kennedy entered the Captain's cabin slowly. Pellew's servant sat in a chair next to him, changing cool compresses on his head. The captain lay silently upon his bed, a lump on his forehead the size of a duck egg, his nose scraped raw on the bridge, and another swelling bruise on his right cheek. Kennedy felt a fresh wave of panic flow through him. Never had Captain Pellew been so injured. He stifled his nerves and straightened his spine.
"No, sir. He ain't budged," the man's voice cracked with concern.
Kennedy placed his hand on the man's shoulder. "He will come around, Daniels. The captain has a hard head."
The servant looked up into the kindly face of the young leftenant. "Aye, sir, he does that."
Kennedy patted his shoulder. "I'll be back."
Closing the door softly, Kennedy froze. He was indeed in command of Indefatigable. Arriving at the position this way had never crossed his mind. He always assumed the rise to command would be in an orderly manner, moving up the ranks over time, not like this. But surely they would all recover. Bracegirdle, Pellew, Hornblower, they had to recover, and Rampling, too. Care for the wounded and repair the ship, those were the priorities...and prepare the ship for heavy weather. Where would he get a detail for the dead? **Calm down,** he told himself, **the dead will wait. No hurry there.**
Third deck down, Kennedy located Starns putting on the finishing touches of a quick patch. Even something temporary in the hands of a ship-wright looked permanent. The calm and determined actions of the carpenter and his helper soothed Kennedy's spirit. The ship was running like clockwork. The men knew what they had to do to preserve all their lives. It was times like these that the training of the English seaman paid off.
Watching Starns work, Kennedy analyzed the cause of the shot hole. That the French would have fired into the hull was surprising since that was not their normal choice for battle tactics. It must have been a fluke of a wave that caused the lower gun elevation. The patch-ready fothered sail stanched the water long enough to allow installation of the wooden insert. Stuffing oakum in the seams, Starns smeared hot pitch onto that, pressing it into the oakum.
The smell of the hot tar reminded Kennedy of what was taking place in the orlop deck, and he had to swallow to keep from gagging. As long as he served in the navy, he would never get used to men having limbs sawed off.
Kennedy's mind assessed each of the situations coming to mind, Starns doing carpentry, Sebastian mending the wounded, Matthews replacing rigging, Hanraddy with the pump crews. Kennedy closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then, approached the carpenter.
"All well, Starns?"
"Aye, Mr. Kennedy. I'm nearly done."
"Ship's wheel next, yes?"
"Aye, aye, sir."
The sound of distant thunder met their ears.
"We've got to be ready for that storm, Starns. Steering the ship with the tiller during battle was bad enough."
"I understand, sir. I've got Billings in the hold now pulling the extra wheels and Lindsay has gone to clear the tiller cables. I'm headed there next."
"Good man. Carry on."
Kennedy went lower until he reached the orlop. The groaning of wounded men met him on every level. Descending the stairs, he recognized the bottom half of Styles. Funny that. To be around a man so often you came to recognize the body before you saw the face, recognize the carriage, as he had Horatio so many nights on watch.
How was Hornblower? God forbid he would ever have to tell Pamela if anything happened to Horatio.
Sebastian was bent over a rating, making the final cut through a femur. The man, thank God, had passed out. The stench of the orlop turned Kennedy's stomach, not to mention the sight. He turned away, seeking his fellow officer amongst the wounded. Hornblower lay passed out on a spread sail on the floor. A loblolly boy bent over him. The splinter was removed. Hornblower's jacket lay to the side and his shirt sleeve was torn asunder. The boy held a compress over Hornblower's forearm and wrapped it with a bandage.
"Need help?" Kennedy squatted beside him.
"Aye, sir, if ye could hold this whilst I tie
it, I'd be much obliged." The boy did not look up at Kennedy
as he tied the wrap tightly and knotted it.
Kennedy recognized the young man. Harley's younger brother, come aboard in Portsmouth. Brown hair and green eyes, too young for such doings, but he was handling it like a professional.
"It's just temporary, sir, until Dr. Sebastian can see to him properly."
The boy took a wet cloth and began to wipe Hornblower's face.
"I'll do that."
"Thank ye, sir." He handed Kennedy the cloth, pivoted where he knelt and began to work on a man behind him.
Kennedy inched closer to Hornblower. He remained unconscious. Wiping Horatio's face, Kennedy could feel the heat of the fever and shook his head.
"Horatio. Don't do this," he said lowly. He watched the loblolly boy step over the man next to Hornblower and see to another. Kennedy bent low to whisper in Hornblower's ear. "Don't do this, Horatio. Don't give in to this fever."
Archie checked Hornblower's arm. It was hard to tell if the bandage was red from peripheral blood or if it was still bleeding. He held it and squeezed gently and pressed. Turning to Sebastian, he voiced his concern.
"Doctor, I think he is still bleeding."
"Just a moment, Mr. Kennedy."
Sebastian held the sop of steaming pitch to the stub
remaining, wiping and covering the entire area of the wound.
"You men, take Dobson up to sick berth." He lay the
pitch paddle down. "We are done fighting aren't we, Mr.
Kennedy? That is thunder I hear, is it not? Damn," swore
Sebastian, suddenly realizing the amputee should not go up. "Belay
that on Dobson! Put him over there on the canvas. We're in for
heavy weather aren't we, Mr. Kennedy?"
"Yes, Doctor," answered Kennedy, just realizing Sebastian had used a swear word. Things had to be bad if the good doctor was swearing. Kennedy looked at Dobson's stub and felt his stomach turn. He averted his eyes swiftly.
To Becker, Sebastian said, "Bring Johnson over here."
"We're done whether we want to be or not," Kennedy said. "Our good fortune is that we both stopped fighting at the same time. As for the thunder, I would desire it desist as well, but I think nature has other plans."
Sebastian tossed a bloody rag into the bucket containing severed limbs, then, knelt beside Hornblower and worked quickly to unwrap the bandage. "Dear Lord be with him. I wish Brandon were here. Watkins, bring me a threaded needle. Archie, bring that lantern closer."
Kennedy watched as Sebastian sewed artery to artery and skin to skin. He was very fast.
"He's hot as hell, Doctor," informed Kennedy, worry covering his expression, as he sought Sebastian's eyes.
Completing the sewing, Sebastian lay a bloodstained hand over Hornblower's brow. "Granby! Where's Hornblower's concoction? Watkins, come clean and bandage the leftenant." Sebastian spoke to Kennedy. "As soon as Watkins is done, have Styles take him back to his cabin. Bathe him. Cool him down and get him into clean clothes. Make him drink what Granby brings you." Sebastian returned to Johnson.
Kennedy ran the cloth over Hornblower's forehead to
wipe away the crimson print imparted by Sebastian's hand. Granby
returned and provided Kennedy the medicinal tea.
He patted Hornblower's cheeks.
"Come on, old man, wake up and drink this," urged Kennedy.
Hornblower's eyes blinked but consciousness evaded him other than to drink down the potion, resisting the unpleasant taste at the last, then, he fell into a fevered sleep.
The assistant finished dressing the wound. Kennedy looked down the orlop for Styles. The burley rating was earning his keep today moving wounded to and fro as they were cared for. His clothing was spotted with the blood of uncounted wounded, some of it from Hornblower's dangling splintered arm.
"Help me get him to his cabin."
"Aye, sir." Styles grabbed Hornblower's right arm and pulled him over his shoulder.
Where Styles found the strength to carry the weight
of Hornblower up the stairs to the gun deck, Kennedy had no idea.
His leg muscles protested as he came to his feet, exhausted.
Spending so much time in one spot with Hornblower nearly did
Archie pushed open the door to Horatio's cabin, tossing the bloody jacket on his own bunk. The painting of Pamela gazed lovingly at them from its position on the wall. Hornblower had carefully mounted the painting when the trip into the Bay of Biscay insisted on bouncing it onto the deck. The two men glanced at each other, knowing Hornblower's wife would not want to see her husband as he was now, ... as they did not. Styles lowered him gently to the bed.
"Styles, undress him and get some water while I check on Rampling and Bracegirdle."
"Aye, sir." Styles unbuttoned the waistcoat, shaking his head. "Oy, Mr. Hornblower, yer hot as a deck in July," he muttered. "Miss Pamela'd be right put out if you was ta die, sir." He leaned the officer against his chest. "Come on, now. Come on." But Hornblower was unconscious and was no help to the loyal seaman struggling with the garments.
Kennedy walked ten steps to Rampling's cabin and opened the door gently. The leftenant lay silently in bed, his arm in a splint. Kennedy was about to back out of the room when the third leftenant spoke.
"That you, Kennedy?" The voice was worn.
"It is, Bryce. How are you doing?"
"Thankful to still have my arm. Ashamed I let
"You did not let me down, Bryce. You...passed out. The body will only endure so much. It's lucky you did not break that arm off, or... you might be like Dobson down there," ended Kennedy softly.
"How goes the battle?"
"The seventy-four sank. The corvette seems to be more wounded than we. No movement from her."
"He is still unconscious."
"I'm about to check him."
Rampling exhaled a deep sigh. "Lot of weight on your shoulders, Kennedy."
The gravest crooked smile appeared. "The Indy has a fine crew."
"Indeed she does, indeed she does," he replied
tiredly. "What of Hornblower? Were you able to rouse him?"
"Yes. He came through for us," answered Archie quietly.
Rampling sounded the barest chuckle. "I knew he would. He's a good man to have around, though I know, he had no business being up and about. I thought he looked ill yesterday, but when I broached the subject, he shrugged it off as being a headache."
"I know." Kennedy stared thoughtfully at the deck. "Do not worry about Mr. Hornblower. He will be all right." He has to, thought Kennedy. "He has a lot to live for."
"Aye, ....Captain," Rampling managed a smile.
There it was again, Kennedy's new found responsibility.
"Let us not be premature. Captain Pellew may come around," stated Kennedy. "Can I get you anything?"
"You've enough to do. I am fine."
"I will come back in a while. Try to rest."
"Aye. That I will, sir."
Kennedy opened Bracegirdle's door next. The officers on the quarter-deck had been injured early in the fray and Sebastian had taken care of them quickly. Bracegirdle had been clobbered on the back of the head by the falling yard. The new wardroom servant, Gibbs, sat with him, exchanging cool cloths as Daniels was for Pellew. Kennedy ascertained the first leftenant had not regained consciousness.
"Gibbs, when you have a moment, look in on Mr. Rampling. See that he does not go thirsty, eh?"
"Aye, aye, Mr. Kennedy."
He gave Gibbs a nod and closed the door quietly.
In the shared cabin, Styles had Hornblower stripped except for his under clothes and was wiping him down with a water soaked cloth. Carefully, Styles pulled the gold chain around Hornblower's neck to the side, glimpsing the gold crucifix. He looked around when Kennedy returned.
"This is what ye wanted, ain't it, Mr. Kennedy?"
"Yes. Sebastian said to cool him." Kennedy took another cloth and began to wash Hornblower's legs.
"He's afire, that's fer sure." Styles held Horatio's right arm and wiped it with the cloth. "The water's fair steamin' off him." He shook his head. "Finest bit of maneuvering I ever seen, sir. You and Mr. 'Ornblower make a team that canna be beat. I'm right proud to serve under the both of ye."
Kennedy could not prevent the small smile, though
it retreated quickly with concern for his friend and fellow officer.
"It was his call, Styles. We merely did as he commanded."
Styles' comment caused Kennedy to recall the recent occasion
that required he and five other men to steer the interior tiller
and hold the course transmitted from Hornblower on the quarter-deck.
Once he was sure Matthews and the men could handle it, Kennedy
returned topside hoping Hornblower was able to check his illness
and continue to command. Hornblower did not disappoint.
"Never easy to handle a ship from below decks. Don't sell yerself short, sir. If you don't mind my saying." He wiped Horatio's chest and jostled the chain around the leftenant's neck.
Kennedy sighed. "It is not something I would want to do everyday, that is certain sure, but let us thank the makers of ships that give interior rudder control...and Matthews and the men who took over."
"Him out of his head with fever, too." Styles shook his shaggy head. "Amazin', just amazin'."
"That...he has always been."
"Cap'n'll be proud when he hears."
"Of you, too..." paused Styles, "...Captain."
Kennedy halted. "Thank you for that vote of confidence, Styles."
"No thanks needed for the truth, sir." Styles picked up the crucifix, curiosity in his expression. "I never knew Mr. Orblower to be a religious man, sir?"
"It was a gift from her, Styles," informed Kennedy, inclining his head towards the portrait.
"Ah! That answers it," he grinned. "He'd do anything for her. Did ye want to dress 'em or cover 'em?"
"Let's cover him. If his fever is not down in an hour, I will mop him again. You had best return to help the doctor."
Styles threw the blanket over Hornblower and the two of them tucked it. The second leftenant shivered, yet his cheeks were crimson. Archie wiped Hornblower's face, resignedly, then, gazed at the portrait of Pamela.
Styles followed his stare. "She'd be worried."
A final glance at the officer and Styles departed, leaving Kennedy
standing by the bunk.
With the cabin door closed, Kennedy sat on the edge of Hornblower's bunk.
"Horatio," he said to the sleeping man. "I panicked." He wiped his hand down his face. "I panicked, Horatio. I... did not know ... what to do, but come for you. I'll never make a proper captain. I thought... I would do better. Poor Styles. I've succeeded in fooling him. God," he pinched his temples, "what would I do if you were not here?" He rose slowly to his feet, met the sparkling eyes of Hornblower's wife, and spoke to the portrait. "I'm worried, Pamela," he sighed. "Watch over him."
A swell hit the ship, causing a deep roll and yaw. Archie grabbed the deck beam to keep from falling. What now? He exited the cabin, leaning against the closed door as another wave came. This time the ship seemed to fall off sideways in the extreme.
By the time Kennedy reached the quarter-deck, the wind had freshened and was squally. A misty rain was falling. The broken yards had been thrown overboard and splintered wood swept from the deck. Canvas and cordage remained heaped here and there awaiting the sailmaker's determination for salvage. Starns and Billings, with the help of other ratings, worked to replace the ship's wheel. Matthews was above them, rigging a new yard arm on the mizzen. The spanker had survived and only needed some cordage rove. Kennedy blinked strabismal eyes against the rain to see the progress.
"Good work, Matthews!" Kennedy yelled.
The old sailor gave him a quick salute and kept working. They both knew time was of the essence. Kennedy strode to the larboard rail. The French corvette was drifting away on the swell, no movement on her decks. Walking to starboard, Kennedy squinted into the blowing misty rain, heavy one moment, light the next. The horizon was dark with water-laden clouds. Flashes of bright light rolled through the thunderheads, followed by distant rumbling. Kennedy returned to the helm.
"How much longer, Starns?"
"We've got the tiller rope wrapped on her, sir. Just the finishing touches here. We've got to splice the cables below next."
"Be as quick as you can, Starns. We've got to be able to maneuver or she could be broached. I don't like the looks of that sky."
Starns stared westward at the looming deep grey-purpled rain clouds, odd that the east was brighter, by comparison, than the west this time of day. "Aye, sir. We're in for a blow."
Looking up, Kennedy called and motioned Matthews down. The old sailor turned the job he was doing over to Cudgeons and slid nimbly down a backstay.
"Sir?" he saluted breathlessly.
"Matthews. With the storm brewing, and undermanned as we are, I think it best to get the stopwaters and hawser prepared. Lash it back here, and if things get rough, we'll be ready to release it if it looks we're to be broached. All we need now is a wave to poop us or lay Indy over on her beam ends."
"Aye, aye, Mr. Kennedy."
Kennedy studied the ship fore. "What blessing of God preserved our main mast and all our foremast and sail, I do not know. They will be our salvation in the troughs. We need those main mast yards replaced." These were the ones Hornblower saw missing in his hopeless attempt to launch boats.
"Aye, sir. I'll put Farley on it, sir."
"Excellent, Matthews. We've got to be as ready as we can. God knows how we will get through this without every able bodied man doing his part."
With a final salute, Matthews climbed the shrouds seeking whoever might be spared to begin work on the main mast repair.
Kennedy stared thoughtfully at the blackened skies. So much to do. He had to be sure he forgot nothing.
"I believe the galley fires were relit after the battle ceased. Tell cook he must have a meal ready immediately or there will be no time. I leave it to you to see the men are fed. Gibbs is sitting with Mr. Bracegirdle. Tell him I said to help the cook. Get Cutter to help you, or James, whichever is the most mobile with their wounds. See every man gets a rum ration, too. I think we are going to need it."
"Aye, aye, Captain."
The young midshipman halted and returned. "Sir?"
"I need a list. Who is left to man the ship. We may need to even the watches, though I doubt anyone will get much sleep this night."
"Will do, sir. Anything else, sir?"
"Yes." Kennedy smiled wryly. "I am proud of your behavior during the action today, Wiggins. Off with you, now."
"Thank you, sir," smiled the boy and he trotted off to do his captain's bidding.
Kennedy turned to Connors, standing watch. "You, too, Mr. Connors. the captain will know of your steadfast service."
"Thank you, Mr. Kennedy. I am only doing my duty, sir," said Connors.
"All the same, you've served well."
Kennedy looked into the waist and saw the bodies of slain men awaiting burial, the number growing as they were brought from below. With the sight, his head collapsed onto his chest. It could not be done. "God forgive me," he whispered.
Carlyle stood in the waist with hammocks ready to begin sewing up the dead.
"Carlyle," called Kennedy. The muscle-bound seaman turned, looking up to the quarter-deck. Kennedy shook his head no, and then climbed down to meet him. "We can't do it. There isn't time or crew available. We've got to throw them overboard. If we do not, we will lose precious minutes and manpower needed for repair and to prepare the ship. I've got to look to the living."
"I understand, sir." The big man nodded. "It'll be their last full measure, sir."
Kennedy nodded, feeling heart-sick at what he was about to do. "Come on. Help me."
Kennedy took the shoulders, Carlyle the feet, and
they swung a man overboard.
Men that were trying to lash the cannon among the chaos ceased working to silently observe. Heretofore, they had been stepping around and over the fallen comrades in arms, now they grudgingly followed their officer's example, grim in their countenance.
Two more men arrived from below decks with a body, followed by a man with a bucket of severed ensanguined limbs. They stared dumbfounded at what met their eyes and ears, as body after body splashed into the rising sea. The man with the bucket walked to the side to dump the container. A cold gust of wind circled them, coming from every direction, and ruffled their clothes.
Stepping to the side, the two men flung the deceased over. Going below, they soon returned with another, clearing Indefatigable of her dead, the wind moaning through the sheets in requiem. The misting rain altered to a heavier drop then, misted again, mixing with the blood on the decks, with the blood on their hands and on their oilskins, to drip thinly onto the planking, swirl, and pass into the sea.
In the coming hours, the British crew left whole battened down the ship. The hatchways were sealed, except for one, and once the really heavy weather arrived, it too would be closed. The cannon were plugged with tompions, the flintlocks covered with lead aprons, and the dry powder returned for stowing. Men were laying on additional lashings for the cannon. There could be nothing worse than a cannon rolling the deck in a stormy sea. It would cascade about and possibly release others of its kind to do even more damage. On the gun deck, the gun ports were closed and sealed for the most part. The shot garlands were emptied and the shot stowed. These cannon were double lashed like those on the open deck above.
Wiggins was able to enlist Cutter and James to help with the tasks given him by Kennedy. Though both were injured, they were ambulatory. Cutter, the worst of the two sat at a lowered mess table nursing a mug of brandy. With a bandaged foot resting on the bench opposite, he composed a list of survivors, a list of the dead, and of the wounded. Cutter, knew all three would be needed, and with the majority of the senior officers down, he stepped up to the task.
The day slipped into darkness without thought, each crewman did his duty and more beside. To the credit of the men, both the main mast main yard and top yard were replaced. Connors and James' division combined as a work crew to raise them. The top yard was completely done. The main lacked the sail and running rigging. Night made it impossible to finish. There would be tomorrow, God willing. All that could be done was done. It would be the top sails most needed in the coming heavy weather.
Mess groups formed to take nourishment, the first since breakfast. No group was left unscathed by the battle. Those that survived ate quickly and in silence. The emotional strain of losing so many comrades lay beneath the surface. The briefest word for the missing man, or men, in some cases, was spoken. Some were wounded and needed feeding, and the mess captains saw to it that food was taken. The doctor and his assistants could not do it all, they knew. And so it was that Hardy approached the sick berth with a square, followed by Harkins and Farley. Each searched for the man whose food they brought.
"Oy! Miller! Ye've been lucky to miss out on all the doin's, ye have," cheered Harkins. "We been workin' our arses off cleanin' up the mess you lot made!"
A smile appeared beneath the bandaged eyes. "Go on, Harkins. We wasn't alone in makin' the mess. Captain's fault is who," he added good naturedly. "Gave them Frogs a good hoppin', I hear."
"Aye. Tis true, that, poor bastards. If they'd known it were Pellew's ship they was up against, they'da turn tail steada fightin' wi' us," commented Farley.
"Who's that? Farley?"
"Aye, Miller. I've brought Jason his grub."
"Jason's here?" asked the blinded Miller.
"Aye, Miller," responded Jason weakly. "Hammock next ta ye."
"Rest now, Jas," ordered Farley. He spooned rice into the injured man's mouth as Jason's hands were wrapped in bandages.
Seeing Hardy meander through the hammocks, Jason asked around his food, "Who's Hardy come to feed?"
"Benson," answered Farley.
Jason looked into Farley's eyes steadily and moved his head from side to side slowly. Just then, Hardy looked over at Harkins and Farley, a quizzical expression.
"Where's.where's ?" asked Hardy. His countenance fell. "Benson fed me when I was wounded last August." His head bowed. "I Iwanted ta return the kindness."
"Ye can feed me, Hardy. No, need ta let that go ta waste," suggested another man. His chest was wrapped around with bandages.
"Manley!" sniffed Hardy, suddenly aware of the wounded man. "You been standin' in front o'grape again?" he jested, regaining his composure.
"Like you, Hardy, I'm a magnet for Frog metal," Manley breathed with effort.
Dr. Sebastian shuffled into sick berth with a sigh. Reaching behind, he tugged on the strings tying the blood soaked apron. The three meal deliverers glanced in his direction and nodded as his eyes met theirs. He could see these men were not wounded and the wholeness of their bodies made him glad. The doctor was bushed and staggered to a wash bucket.
"You've brought food for the wounded. It is good," he commented wearily. Wadding the bloody apron, he tossed it into a rubbish bin, then removed his shirt and did the same. From a bucket he sluiced his arms with sea water. How many times today had he washed blood from his hands and forearms? Sebastian canted his head and closed his eyes. **I do not need to do this again. I just did it.** He stared at the muscular arms. There was no blood, just the glisten of water clinging in droplets to the salt and pepper hair.
Becker appeared out of nowhere and a held a fresh shirt for him. The physician dried, then, pulled on the clean top, stepped into the dispensary, and sat heavily. Crossing his arms on the table, he rested his forehead and fell into prayer. "God give me strength," he whispered lowly. "A storm. Must we now endure a storm? The men that have lost limbs will be in for the worst of it. I beg you, send calm. Have mercy on us. Have mercy on our enemies. God help us. Help us all."
The doctor raised his weary head. "Mr. Kennedy." He rose to his feet. "What is it?"
"We have... the spare hammocks moved. Do you need a detail to help shift the wounded aft? The bow the bow will be the worst, sir, you know."
The doctor closed his eyes. "Yes. Yes. You
are right, Captain."
Sebastian smiled wearily. "Mr. Kennedy. The ship would not be as prepared as she is without your vision and perseverance."
"Doctor, I" Kennedy stopped to gather his thoughts. "I. I had to to throw the dead overboard, ... without benefit of of"
Sebastian stepped closer and held Kennedy's arm. "Do notdo not. God knows what is in your heart."
"Forgive me, sir, but it is not God that concerns me. It... it is the men. They must think I I am heartless to have done such a thing."
"Archie, Archie. There are men here feeding the wounded." He motioned to the ratings. "They have been fed themselves." He stepped out of the dispensary and peered into the gun deck. Motioning limply to a crew of men completing a patch at a gun port he said, "The ship is near repaired. You have battened down every conceivable loose item and you have come here to tell me to move my wounded for their benefit. The men will never think you heartless, Mr. Kennedy."
"Even so, Doctor, I wondered.I wondered if we might gather the menhere on the gun deck to remember the fallen. I hoped you might say a prayer for them, for us, sir." The ship took a side dip and the two jostled men held on to the deck beams. "There isn't much time. I do not know how much longer before the heavy weather arrives."
"You have seen it coming? It will get worse?" Sebastian had not been outside today at all. He gazed steadily into the clear blue eyes of the young leftenant.
Sebastian inhaled deeply and exhaled wearily.
Matthews and the men that were working aloft arrived. Rainwater dripped from their oilskins onto the planks. Matthews spoke.
"We're ready, sir, ta move the wounded. I've left a crew of topmen for each topsail, sir, and Mr. Connors is at the helm with a wheel crew. We need ta work fast, sir, if we're gonna do it."
Sebastian's eyes swept over the number of hanging hammocks containing wounded. It would be a hard task, and the worst should go first. The amputees were already placed. Now these that had been brought up earlier, before they understood fully what was coming, needed replacement. He stepped around the newly arrived crew into the opening of the gun deck.
"Men! Your acting Captain requests your attention. He has something to say to you." Sebastian turned and saw the flushed cheeks of Kennedy.
The ratings opened a path leading to the doctor's side as Kennedy approached. He glanced around at the attentive faces.
"Men," he sounded hoarse. Clearing his throat, Kennedy began again. "Men. We survived today. But many were lost. IThere was not time to properly bury our dead. Indeed they have been conferred into the deep" he stopped with a swallow. His expression revealed the pain of his decision. Matthews stepped to his side.
"Ye did what ye could, sir. Not a one of us thinks otherwise. Right, mates?"
"Aye," and "Aye, sir," and "Aye,
we done what we could," came wearily from the living.
"Ye've done us well, Mr. Kennedy," called a man.
"I've asked" Kennedy felt Sebastian clutch his arm.
Sebastian whispered. "You," and he nodded reassuringly.
"II ask you to bow your heads with me, now," his voice cracking, wearily. Kennedy saw every man follow his words. What would he say? He had heard the words of interment and read them a time or two, though he had never had to speak them over the dead. What would he say? He was not given to shared prayers. He was not a cleric. Shakespeare? Could he speak something from the bard? Not for these men. It had to be simple. It had to be now. He began.
"Great God of the universe, in.in heaven, I ask you to see our dead and receive them unto yourself. Not on my merit do I ask, but on the merit of your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for us. Receive them for they have been our mates, in deed and in life, having given their lives in the king's service as we all are sworn. Have mercy on their souls, and on ours. Amen." He looked up and saw other heads rise. "Dismissed, men. Let's get these wounded moved aft."
It was the feeblest thing he had ever spoken. Failure. How could those words bring comfort? Folly. He felt more a fool than anything else. And, God! He felt like Horatio! Berating himself for doing what he could...and he almost laughed. Is this what it is to lead? To always question and doubt? Was this the view from the top? Hornblower made it look so easy. Was he beset with doubts because it is what makes a leader of men? To always question if you have done your best for them? Done your best for the service?
"Thank ye, Mr. Kennedy."
The voice interrupted his thoughts and he looked up,
blinked, and nodded.
Another man passing near said it, too.
"Thank ye, Cap'n."
He nodded, and hid the surprise. "Get to work, now. That storm won't delay much longer."
Glancing at the doctor, Kennedy caught the wry satisfied smile before the man moved off to see to his charges. Maybe it was all right after all. He pulled out his watch. Ten o'clock. Thunder sounded and rain pelted the deck overhead anew. It was going to be a long night.
Just after midnight, the move of wounded was completed. Aft would be as still a resting place as the men would get, far better than the bow, that was certain. Of the two ship regions, fore and aft, the bow would be tossed the greater, plunging and plowing through the sea. It was all they could do to ease the wounded. Their bodies would be denied the serenity needed for healing and the amputees would suffer the most.
On the deck above, lightning lit the aft cabin. Through the windows, the foam of a storm tossed sea floated in the air, shone reflected light, then fell to ride the waves before beginning the cycle again. Sebastian held a deck beam with one hand and with the other pressed Pellew to his bed.
"Captain, I advise you to stay in your bunk. There is nothing you can do that has not been done."
"What time is it? Who has the watch?" Pellew gingerly held his throbbing head.
"It is nearly one. Mr. Kennedy is on the quarter-deck."
The ship defied gravity, hanging atop a wave. Both men rose and then thumped down as the ship responded to natural forces.
"Damnation! Let me out of this bed!" stated Pellew gruffly. "I prefer to take the pounding on my feet, sir, not my back!"
Sebastian agreed with the logic and complied. He held onto the captain as he stood, unsure whether the unsteady nature of his stance was due to his injury or the ship.
"I am having a hammock hung for you, Captain. It will be less bouncy. Have you a preference where?"
Pellew answered with an expression to rival the weather without.
Sebastian grinned. "Very well. I will choose." He patted a deck beam. "Here, Styles."
Styles glanced at the captain and followed the order. He did not like being in the position in which he found himself. Being this close to the captain was not a choice he would make. The officer seemed far from pleased with what the doctor wanted. Hesitating and receiving no protest from Indefatigable's commander, he proceeded to install the hook.
"You can let go now, Doctor. I have my legs," Pellew hissed. The captain held onto the stern gallery window posts, making way across it. Pulling on his coat, he reached for the oil skin hanging on the back of the door.
"What do you think you are doing?" asked Sebastian.
"I am going to the quarter-deck."
Sebastian took his arm. "Captain, as your doctor, I forbid it. You have a head injury. That deck is no place for you in this storm."
"It is the very place for me, sir. This is my command and I will see to it!"
The earlier grin was gone from the doctor's visage. He returned the hard stare and said. "Styles will accompany you."
The rating and the captain stared at the physician.
"I am quite capable of maneuvering the deck, sir!" informed Pellew.
The lightning flashed and complimented the hard angles set on the faces of the officers. A clap of thunder followed. Styles completed hanging the hammock and wished he were anywhere but where he was. Despite the cold, wet, and windy conditions, the storm without seemed more hospitable than the storm within. Reaching for the end of the hammock in Sebastian's hands, he said, "I'll take that, sir."
"Captain, I am the surgeon on this ship and at the moment you are under my care. Do not make me..." Sebastian realized the edge to his temper and did not finish the sentence.
Pellew's visage remained defiant. Now was not the time to engage in a shouting match with his physician. "Follow me, seaman." Turning, he grabbed his hat and winced as he pressed it on.
Styles attached the end of the hammock to the hook, gave Sebastian a sullen look, and followed the Captain into the corridor.
Pellew stopped at the door leading to the waist and watched
for an opportune moment to open it. Glancing behind at Styles,
he saw the doctor following.
"Sebastian! What the devil do you think you are doing?" he demanded.
"I am attending the wounded, sir."
"You are not following me on deck!"
"You are wounded. I will attend."
Pellew fumed and motioned at Styles. "Then, why is he here?"
"He may be needed when his captain is nearly swept overboard."
"I do not intend to go overboard, sir. I order you below."
Sebastian raised an eyebrow and stood his ground.
Pellew turned away, muttering, "Stubborn!" and opened the door.
The remains of a crashing wave swirled into the corridor. A cold wet blast of wind soaked the faces of the men. Pellew braced against the blow and bent his knees to accommodate the pitching deck. A safety rope was strung athwart, larboard to starboard. He held onto it. He did not need to look behind to see the two men following.
Sebastian stared at the storm tossed deck, heard the wind roar, and felt the pelting rain sting his face. "I must be as mad as he is."
Styles glimpsed the doctor, then, followed Pellew out, with Sebastian behind.
"If you get washed overboard, doctor," but the wind carried the words away and neither Styles nor Sebastian heard the remains of the threat.
The three made a way to the quarter-deck ladder, the wind and water pressing their clothing to the shape of their bodies and causing them to move haltingly. The noise of the tumult blocked all attempts at speech.
Kennedy and Connors held the ship's wheel with six other men, each braced to maintain position, yet were constantly flexible to keep a footing. Wind driven water pelted against the oil skins. Kennedy spied the three venturing on deck and fit his face with a reprimand. Were not his orders that no one was to come topside unless called? Who were these men that defied his order and risked their lives?
The first man reached the deck and holding onto the waist rail peered forward while the other two came up behind him. The three edged a way towards center, staying close one to the other. Kennedy readied the tongue lashing and waited for the man to face him for that fraction of a second when the weather would allow communication. At last, he turned.
Kennedy opened his mouth to speak, but quickly closed it and altered the angry expression to one of surprise, then delight and relief, and finally concern. The Captain? Pellew's face bore the marks of battle.
"Captain Pellew, sir!" he nodded, not daring to release the hold on the ship wheel handles. It constantly pressed each of them to set it free through silent violent urgings from the rudder.
"Mr. Kennedy!" Pellew knew the normal questions were fruitless. No doubt the position of the ship would not be known for some time. The direction they were headed had been south when the battle began. But now? He doubted anyone but almighty God knew where they were. He could only hope they were far from the lee shore. "Well done, Mr. Kennedy!"
"Thank you, sir!" he shouted over the wind.
Lightning flashed the quarter-deck. The ship shimmied one direction and then another. The timbers shuddered as the bow hung in mid-air waiting to meet the water. The view given by the night splitting light was of a surreal clockwork jerking motion, catching one movement and then the next without benefit of connection.
Pellew focused his vision seaward. In the next flash, he saw an immense wall of water, rolling at breakneck speed, towards them. Wind pushed the curse back into his throat. Styles must have seen it, too. The rating grabbed Sebastian and pushed Pellew towards the helm automatically without thought to their rank. Kennedy released one of the spokes to hold onto Pellew. Styles attempted to use his body to hold the captain and the doctor in place. The stern lifted and the bow lowered. The ship flew forward and downward. The crest of the wave broke and washed over the deck.
Styles felt his feet go from under him and he was slipping across the awash wooden planks, arms flailing. At the moment he thought to be swept into the waist, a hand grabbed onto his wrist. The strength of the grip made Styles turn and look up into the face of his rescuer. He saw the determined features of his captain. Finding a rung of the waist rail, he pushed against it with his foot. With Pellew's assistance, he regained his footing and gripped the hand rail.
"Thank ye, Cap'n!" he nodded.
Pellew nodded in reply. He peered through the wind and rain into the forward masts. The men he counted earlier standing in the stirrups of the top mast yards, main and fore, remained. He released the breath he held and eyed the topsails. Another reef, take another reef, he thought. With lightning and the flickering view, the clockwork figures were doing just that. Whoever was captain of the tops knew his business. The captain felt a swell in his chest. "Good men. They're good men." It was not said loudly, but the man next to him turned, and gave a nod of affirmation. Styles, too, watched the men in the tops.
Pellew made a way back to the helm. He could see Sebastian speaking into Kennedy's ear.
"Mr. Kennedy!" he shouted. "The watch will be relieved?"
"What officer?" Pellew squinted at Sebastian.
Blinking, he answered. "Mr. Connors will replace Mr.
Hesitating, Kennedy said, "Mr. Bowles will take her at dawn, sir."
The two officers stared steadily into the eyes of the other.
Finally, Pellew nodded.
"Well done, Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Connors, men!" Pellew nodded. "See you get a double rum when you come below!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
"I am going below, Dr. Sebastian. I suggest you do the same," stated Pellew.
The ship continued her plunge through the seas. The storm gave no sign of ceasing. The lightning flashed and the thunder shook the wooden walls.
It was on one of those mid-air shimmies and accompanying drops that landed Hornblower on the deck of the cabin. He groaned and shivered, dressed only in his underwear with a blanket twisted about his waist and sweat dotting his brow. Another bouncing dip and the cabin table fell on top of him. Coming conscious, he pushed the table off and stared at the dancing lantern overhead, swinging dimly.
His eyes moved to her portrait. Sometimes in shadow, sometimes in light, he spoke to it. "Pamela." His body shook with a chill. Tugging the blanket from around his waist, he got on all fours and pulled himself back to sit on the edge of the bunk.
The ship continued to make his life difficult as he pulled open the lid of the sea chest. A fresh uniform coat, trousers, waistcoat, shirt, woolen stockings. He knit a brow at the burgundy sweater peeking out from beneath the clean clothes in the chest. With the onset of the fever, he had stopped sleeping in it. The bandage on his arm caught his attention and he stared at it, waiting for his brain to engage and remind him how it came to be.
A glint of gold now. What was that? Reaching for
his neck, he found the gold cross swinging from the chain. He
fingered the metal symbol and let his eyes trace to Pamela. Her
beautiful face calmed him and the barest smile touched his lips.
*/////*Yes. He says yes.**///// A voice. Not so long ago,
this one. Summer. Signora Cuccinella. Closing his eyes, the
scene in the church emerged. He was kneeling beside her in Naples.
The woman told him Pamela was praying for him and that God's
answer to his question was yes. How could she know? He stared
at the ring on his finger. The signora had touched it and known
about Pamela and the dolphins. He let go of the cross.
He yanked the woolen sweater from beneath his things with a shiver and tossed it on the bunk. Reaching a hand, he touched the wool and felt its closely knit fibers. An old and familiar voice echoed in his head. /////*You'll get far more use of it than I ever will,* said his father.///// He lifted the sweater to his nose and breathed deeply, closing his eyes. Breathing in again, he analyzed each scent, cedar predominant, but home, too, his boyhood home.
He lay upon the sweater and stared at Pamela. "She made it for him," he said to the portrait. "I remember ." His face saddened. He turned into it and sniffed, a faint hint of vinegar on the sleeve, and fir.
His father had not known he was coming for Christmas. "He likes you, Pamela. He approves. He wants to meet you. He wants to" Horatio's brow furrowed with quiet amazement, " ...know our son. You should have heard him laugh when I told him how sure you were he is a boy. I have not heard him laugh that way for years...years." Horatio let his fingers stroke the moist brow. Was it real or was it fever? At this moment, he was not sure if it were memory or dream. In the low light, the rose colored dress she wore was very much like the color of the sweater on which he lay. He stared at the captured glint in his wife's eyes. His own flickered until he dozed and dreamt.
It was a dream from the past, one he'd dreamt before. It was too familiar and as unsettling as the first time. The cold dark water, the black night of danger, a baby's cry. The ship shook him awake and he sucked a breath. This time he fell on the overturned table and moaned at the bruising blow. Blinking, shivering, rising to grip the deck beam, he dressed, one hand for the timber and one for his person.
A fresh uniform covered the shivering body and he was immediately overcome with heat. He stared at the dirk attached around his waist. He could neither recall putting it on, nor why. Taking the sweater, he pulled it over his head. On top of this, he donned the heavy oilskin coat and finally the rain hat. Opening the door with one foot outside, he stepped back into the cabin, removed his watch and looked at the time. It was half past two.
The gun deck was eerily silent though filled hammocks were strung there. He had one foot on the bottom rung of the companion when a loud boom sounded through the ship, followed by a crash. The Indy shuddered as though mortally wounded. Hornblower picked himself up from the deck and climbed until he realized the hatch was sealed closed. Turning about, he headed for the wardroom and the interior stairs to the aft cabin. He opened the door and climbed the enclosed ladder emerging in the corridor outside Pellew's quarters.
The marine was startled by his appearance. The door to the waist was banging open and closed and open again. Eddies of water circled the decking. The howl of the storm filled the enclosed space.
"He's just gone out, sir!" spoke the marine loudly, his voice tinged with fear.
Hornblower strode to the open door. The deck was
awash in sea foam. Lightning flashed so close the air sizzled,
but there was another light. The foremast was on fire.
The top mast of the fore was cracked and bent with the sail over the side. It was dragging the bow under. There were men on deck, shouts, but he could not make out the words in the cacophony of the storm. He ran chaotically towards the confusion, but was stopped by the safety ropes.
The top yard was in the water, bashing against the hull . One of the topmen clung to it. The bow raised momentarily suspending the wreckage in air, but then dipped ever lower. Rain pelted his face and he wiped at it. When he looked again, the man was gone.
The men in the main mast top stared down from the precarious perch. There was nothing they could do. Their efforts would be even more necessary to furl or unfurl as the weather dictated in the troughs...but... another thought. None would do any good if the Indy sank at the bow. The semi-air-tight quality of battening down must be aiding the fight with the dragging sail, scooping water as it was. It had to be cut away.
Three men were tangled in the lines, one on the forecastle deck and two in the waist, the remaining topmen. How many had been there? The full compliment? Agony on their faces told the pain of the weight of the water on the sail pressing the fallen lines against them and preventing their freedom. The wash on the decks covered them and he saw the heads lift to gasp for air. Two men, unencumbered, struggled with the roping. He could not tell if they were trying to set the topmen free or release the hanging wreckage. Both were needed and needed now. Analyzing the situation, he could see that releasing the bound topmast would solve both. Hornblower returned to the aft cabin, grabbed an axe from the wall, and stepped towards the cold swirling confusion of the forecastle. He stepped over the lines binding the cannon in their places. A wave crashed over the ship bow, snuffing the flame of the foremast. Only lightning could reveal where to strike. He stepped near where one man struggled with the line. There was no time to think about the surprise on his face. Hornblower swung the axe down forcefully and it cut the thick rope in one fell with a snap.
"Get them loose, Styles!"
"Aye, aye, Mr. Hornblower!"
Hornblower? That one word was all he heard. Pellew lifted from where he was bent, chopping at the lines. The two men registered astonishment at seeing each other.
"Stand clear, Captain!" shouted Hornblower. He swung the axe down hard, chopping the line in two. The rise in the bow was appreciative.
"Mr. Hornblower! You have an uncanny knack of appearing at what would seem the most inopportune times most opportunely!" shouted Pellew.
"Sir!" Hornblower was taken by the injuries on Pellew's face. "You are injured, Captain," he shouted.
"So is Indefatigable! Free her man!" Was Hornblower still ill? Now was not the time for conversation.
The bow dipped low again. What had happened to lose the ground gained? A wave came over and washed Pellew towards the main mast, the force ramming his head against the base of it. Blood poured from the captain's temple.
Styles saw it happen as he returned from getting the three topmen to the aft cabin where Sebastian waited. He went to the captain and bent to pull him in his arms. Another wave crashed over the bow. Styles was swept from the captain but was caught in the lines lashing the cannon. He growled at the bolt rings biting into his side, grabbed Pellew and looked up to see Hornblower's worried visage. How the officer kept his footing, he did not know. The ship was lowering again and water seemed to permanently cover the deck.
"I've got him, sir. He's alive!" shouted Styles
over the din of the storm
With that assurance, Hornblower looked to the lone figure grasping the quarter-deck waist rail. Kennedy. In the flickering lightning, Hornblower saw Archie's face was drained of color. The two men met eye to eye for what seemed one of those eternities in a moment. Though he could not hear his friend, he recognized the movement of his lips to say his name.
With a nod, Hornblower turned to the task, swinging the axe with a strength he did not know he possessed. With each blow, the Indy was loosed a little further from her bindings. Hornblower worked his way forward, chopping as he went, waiting for a wave to pass that he might wield it. Finally, he came to one of the last great cables holding her. He swung and the axe blade shattered from the wood and bounced into the sea.
He breathed hard and stared at the remaining cable. What now? Reaching inside his coat, he pulled the dirk. Cutting the thick cordage would be like using a butter knife against a normal line. He swiveled around and stared into the sea. The sail still held, scooping water for all she was worth and dragging the bow down though more slowly. The circumstance seemed to laugh at him. What will you do now, it mocked.
Kennedy, the helm crew, the remaining topmen above, watched helplessly as Hornblower clinched the dirk between his teeth and climbed over the side, hanging precariously by the fallen shrouds.
"No! No!" shouted Kennedy more certain the choice was a bad one. With a final glance at the helmsmen, he made his way down to the waist, losing his footing on the ladder.
Styles was just emerging from the after cabin when a body came sliding past him. He grabbed onto the oil skin and threw his weight backwards, falling to the deck but keeping the man. Kennedy turned pleading blue eyes to the rating who grasped him.
The rating slung his water laden locks away to look forward. There was no sign of the leftenant. The fear, confusion, loss, dismay surged over his face like so much seawater washing Indy's decks. The bow was still going down.
"He's gone, Mr. Kennedy!" Disbelief in every word.
"No! He is over the side in the shrouds." Kennedy tried to stand and screamed with pain as he attempted to put weight on his left foot and crumpled back onto the decking. "Damn! Damn! Damn!" His ungraceful fall down the ladder had injured his ankle. His eyes filled with tears of frustration, pain, long-suffering of a night of cold and wet and now futility. The sea hid his weeping. The rating was lifting him. "No! Styles! Go help him! Go help him! "I'll be all right. Go!"
Styles left Kennedy with a hand gripping onto the safety line. Kennedy pulled himself up until his underarm captured it with his full body weight. Avoiding putting weight on the injured ankle, he hopped upright and tried to see Hornblower.
Styles gained the forecastle and saw the thick remaining cable. Looking over the side, he saw Hornblower hanging by a hand, astride the remains of the top mast, stretching out and sawing at a line.
"Mr. Hornblower!" he shouted.
Hornblower looked up briefly but kept sawing where it was thinner spliced to the larger cordage.
"Sir! Come back! If ye cut that ye may not make it back on board!"
Hornblower ignored his call.
Styles put a foot over and started to climb down.
"Belay that!" the officer shouted. "If you want to help, go get another axe and cut that line!"
"Come back aboard, sir!"
"Do as I say, Styles!"
Hesitating, Styles grudgingly did as ordered and Hornblower kept sawing with the dirk.
"What the devil, Styles?" asked Kennedy. "Is he lost?"
"No, sir. He sent me for another axe!"
Kennedy let his head fall to his chest. "Horatio, you obstinate mule!" Kennedy made his way over to the side and began the laborious climb over the lashed cannon to get to his friend. The cold helped to numb the pain in his ankle and he surprised himself at how quickly he made it forward. He could see Hornblower fighting the water and grinding at the thick cordage. He came in shouting distance.
"Horatio!" The wind carried the sound away. He shouted again. "Horatio!"
Hornblower sighed and looked up into the eyes of his friend.
"Come back on board!"
Horatio shook his head and kept sawing.
"Mr. Hornblower! I order you to come back on board."
"I out rank you, Mr. Kennedy!"
"But I am officer of the watch. Do as I say Mister or I'll have you court-martialed!"
Hornblower stopped sawing. There were only a few cords left to cut through. He would have it in a moment. Breathing heavy, soaked, he looked at the situation. What neither Kennedy nor Styles could see was that the motion of the water and the ship had caused a line to wrap tightly about his right leg. He could not come back on board if he wanted to. He looked calmly into his friend's face and shook his head.
"Archie...tell Pamela I love her."
Kennedy blinked incredulously. "What? Get back on board!" he cried. A wave came, lifted the bow high out of the water. In that moment, Kennedy saw Hornblower's face wrenched with pain as his hand went to his thigh. He saw the lines lashing the leg of his friend. He leaned against the rail and stretched out a hand. "No! Horatio!"
Styles arrived, dropped the axe and pulled Kennedy back into the ship. The officer appeared that he meant to jump overboard.
"Let me go, Styles! His leg is caught! Let me go!"
"Horatio! His leg is bound! Help him!"
Styles picked up the axe and stepped to the side. As he looked over, he saw Hornblower's dirk slice through the line. The wave floated Hornblower and the wreckage away, but another cable still remained. The movement brought the wreckage near and Styles shouted.
Styles looked on in horror. He could not see Hornblower, but he did see the final cable connecting the wreckage to the ship. He leaned out over the side trying to see if there were any hope for the leftenant.
"Mr. Hornblower!" he yelled and waited. No sign. A wave crashed over the bow. There was no way he could still live. The bow slammed onto the water. Grabbing the axe, Styles raised it then brought it down hard on the last shroud. It disappeared over the side rapidly with the motion of the ship. Styles dared to look over. A wave brought the wreckage out from under the hull. Lightening flashed. He saw the shards of mast and coiled lines lifted on a wave and carried away. There was no sign of Hornblower. Looking back where he left Kennedy, he saw the leftenant clutching the rail tensely, his head ducked into his right shoulder, covering his eyes. Was there anything else he could have done? What would he say to Pellew? Returning to Kennedy, Styles grabbed the leftenant's arm.
Kennedy pushed him away.
"No!" Kennedy looked furtively into the troubled ocean and waited for the lightning to give vision. When it came, nothing was in sight. The wreckage was gone.
"Come on, Mr. Kennedy!" shouted Styles. A raucous wave splashed over them.
"No!" Kennedy still looked into the water and shook his head. "Horatio! HORATIO!" He shouted at the top of his lungs.
"He's gone, sir! There's naught we can do!" said Styles, latching onto Kennedy's forearm.
"NO! NO! HORATIO!" Kennedy leaned over the railing.
Styles tugged the leftenant's arm to no avail. Grasping Kennedy around the torso, he lifted the resistant leftenant and struggled back into the aft cabins, the storm raging around them.
"He's gone, sir!"
"No, Styles! NO! HORATIO!"