A Day (or So) in the Life
by Sue N.
**Chapter Ten: The Measure of a Man**
By midafternoon the following day, Indefatigable
looked more like a ship ready for action than she had
in some time. McCready -- as exacting a man as had
ever lived -- pronounced himself satisfied with every
deck, every spar, every beam, every plank, while the
caulker, sailmaker and ropemaker also declared
themselves content. Every inch of sail and cord had
been inspected before rigging, and again afterward.
For once, the ship's artificers had the luxury of
time, and they did not let it go to waste.
With McCready's blessing, Pellew had dispatched
Hornblower and a party to the dockyard to secure a
supply of paint. He had no desire to see Beadle again,
and had no doubt that his young lieutenant would be
more than able to handle the obnoxious little man.
Hornblower had been told to return either with paint
or the dockyard master's head, and the lad was
scrupulous in following orders.
Though, truth to tell, Pellew would prefer to have
paint AND head...
Now, seated at his desk, stripped down to
shirtsleeves, he sipped at his coffee and read through
the endless lists and reports with which the Admiralty
sought to drown their captains. He disliked being so
near the prolific office, hated being within easy
reach of innumerable busy clerks.
Much better by far to be out in the middle of the
ocean, where none but the enemy could find you...
The knock at his door sounded his release from tedium,
and he dropped the papers with a sigh of relief.
The door opened and Bracegirdle entered. "You wished
to see me, sir?"
"Ah, Mr. Bracegirdle, yes," Pellew answered, rising to
his feet and turning to his first. "Any word from Mr.
Bracegirdle grinned. "None, sir. But neither have I
heard the sound of gunfire, so I assume all is going
well. I must say, though, Captain Clarke and his
Marines were rather disappointed at not being
dispatched with the party."
"Yes, well," Pellew said gruffly, "if I know our
dockyard master, they may yet have their chance. And
how is the gun replacement coming?"
"Number four is in, sir, and secure, and Mr. Kennedy
declares himself quite pleased with her. Though," his
blue eyes twinkled, "his expression when he said it
was much the same as he wore when gazing upon that
young Miss Addington. If ever I have seen a man in
love with a gun, it is Mr. Kennedy."
Pellew immediately fixed the whole weight of his
attention upon his lieutenant. He trusted
Bracegirdle's judgment without reservation; indeed, he
had never had a first he trusted more. "He went to
Ordnance for the gun himself, did he not?"
"Aye, sir, he did. Said he would not trust such a
matter to the judgment of some lieutenant who had no
more sense than to send an eighteen when a twenty-four
was required, and would see himself that the Indy got
what she needed. I have rarely seen him either so
determined as when he left, or so pleased with himself
as when he returned. Indefatigable now has all her
teeth, thanks in no small part to Mr. Kennedy."
"Hm." Characteristically, Pellew began to pace about
the cabin, his face a mask of concentrated thought.
"Tell me, Mr. Bracegirdle, how do you rate his chances
for succeeding at his examination?"
Bracegirdle was surprised by the question, for it was
not one the captain routinely asked. He had supposed
that in putting Kennedy forward, Pellew had already
formed his opinion. "Well, sir, he has progressed most
satisfactorily in mathematics and navigation. Indeed,
he shows an excellent grasp of both. His sailing
skills also show a profound improvement--"
"No, no," Pellew interrupted, "I do not necessarily
mean his grasp of the subjects; I am quite satisfied
on that point." He turned to Bracegirdle with a deep
frown. "What of his confidence? I have little doubt he
could answer any question put to him by you or Mr.
Bowles with ease. Yet I cannot help but wonder how he
would take the same question put to him by an
examination board of five captains. I am worried he
does not trust himself as he ought."
It was Bracegirdle's turn to frown. "Sir?"
Pellew sighed and resumed his pacing, fretting over
the possible harm one of his men might do himself. "He
has all the makings of a good officer, a very good
officer," he mused quietly, his brows knitting over
his thoughtful eyes. "He has proven himself in battle,
and with the men. And," a small, tight smile tugged at
his mouth, "yesterday's incident with the guns
revealed a certain-- imaginative thinking that was
quite encouraging. I have no doubt he would make a
very good lieutenant."
"And yet?" Bracegirdle asked.
"And yet," Pellew sighed, "I cannot help but wonder if
he knows it! I have watched him as I watch all my men,
and I know his capabilities as well as I know
anyone's. As I said before, when asked a question by
yourself or Mr. Bowles, or by anyone else in
Indefatigable, he can answer with ease and confidence.
Yet let me ask him the simplest of questions, and he
is immediately consumed by doubt. Will not the same
happen when he is faced by not one, but five captains
whose sole purpose is to judge him deserving or not of
"Then why put him forward, sir," Bracegirdle asked
quietly, puzzled, "if you are not certain of his
Pellew turned to him with a sharp sigh. "Because--
because I want him to see what I see!" he said
harshly. "These young men-- they are the future of the
Navy. Of England! In just a very few years, the fate
of our nation may well rest in their hands. And it is
my duty, my obligation, to see that they are prepared
to accept so heavy a responsibility! I know how close
Hornblower and Kennedy have become, and I know how
much Kennedy relies upon Hornblower. But they will not
always be together. At some point, perhaps in the very
near future, Kennedy will be required to stand upon
his own, and it is my task to ensure that he will be
able to do so when the moment arrives! But first,
first of all, HE must be convinced that he can. And
the examination is a very good place to start. He will
be alone in that room, on his own, facing five
captains. Hornblower will not be there to help him; he
must succeed or fail upon his own merits. And I want
him to find it in himself to succeed."
Bracegirdle stared past his captain, deep in thought.
He remembered how uncertain -- no, how afraid -- the
young man had appeared last night, alone at that table
and surrounded by shadows, yet recalled just as
plainly the lad's exuberance earlier today at finally
having gotten the proper gun in and secured. He had
worked all morning with an easy confidence, directing
the men as if born to it, encouraging them when they
needed it, scolding when they required that, and then
commending them generously afterward on a job well
done. There had been not a touch of arrogance, and
neither a hint of doubt, but only a self-assuredness
that had been a pleasure to behold.
"It is the difference of night and day," he said
softly, never knowing whence came the intuition, but
knowing with a certainty that it was correct.
"What?" Pellew asked, bewildered by the cryptic
Bracegirdle shook his head to clear it, and
concentrated upon that intuition. "It is-- something
Mr. Bowles said to me once, not long after I joined
Indefatigable. We were talking about past assignments,
and he mentioned Justinian. Coming here from there to
here, he said, was ëthe difference of night and day.'
He said it was the darkest, bleakest ship he had ever
known, with corruption and decay all about. And he
said the young men, the midshipmen, had the worst of
it, that the ship's darkness had gotten into them in
ways few men could understand." He glanced up at
Pellew, who was staring intently at him. "Hornblower
and Kennedy were both in Justinian," he said quietly.
"Hornblower has made his way out of the darkness.
Kennedy, I believe, is still trying."
Pellew exhaled deeply and turned away. He, too, had
his suspicions about what evils had existed in that
wretched ship, and could not imagine what sort of
captain could have countenanced them. To allow young
officers to be poisoned was, in his mind, an
"Why do I feel," he asked softly, "as if, in putting
Mr. Kennedy forward, I am leading a lamb to slaughter?
He CAN do it, I have no doubt. He would make a fine
officer, or I have badly misjudged him. And yet, if my
presence alone is enough to make him doubt himself--"
"Perhaps we need not worry so much," Bracegirdle put
in, frowning thoughtfully. "May I speak plainly, sir?"
"By all means, Mr. Bracegirdle," Pellew sighed with
relief. "I would welcome it after a morning spent
reading those damned, circuitous Admiralty reports."
The lieutenant considered his words carefully, going
over in his mind all he knew of Kennedy and recalling
their talk last night. "It is no secret, sir," he
began at last, his face set along unusually serious,
reflective lines, "that our young officers hold you in
the highest regard. Indeed, you are rather like the
Almighty come down from the mountain to them. They
know you hold yourself to the highest, strictest
standards, and they know you expect the same of them.
And it is their greatest desire to live up to your
Pellew listened with keen attention, staring intently
at his lieutenant and taking in every word. One of the
reasons he so highly prized Bracegirdle as his first
was the man's unfailing insight into human nature.
Bracegirdle also was able to get closer to the men
than he ever could, and so had a vantage point he
"You know, of course," Bracegirdle continued, "of Mr.
Hornblower's regard for you, and the entire ship knows
of yours for him. His merits and accomplishments as an
officer defy description. And he has become the
standard by which the other young gentlemen have begun
to measure themselves. But he has only your standard
to live up to, sir. The other men, young Kennedy
included, have two -- yours and Mr. Hornblower's. And
both are, if I may say so, sir, dizzyingly high
Pellew lifted his chin, but said nothing. He was still
much too intent upon listening.
"Now, let us consider Mr. Kennedy." Bracegirdle began
to pace slowly, his face screwed into a mask of
thought. "He is, by any standard, a good officer, and
one any captain should be pleased to have in his
company. He has proven himself more than once, and he
is good with the men. He has fine instincts, if only
he will trust them. But he does not. For whatever
reason, he cannot see his strengths, his
accomplishments, but only his weaknesses. What he
terms his ëfailures'. He measures himself against
Hornblower, and because he is not Hornblower, he
considers that he has failed to be what you expect all
your officers to be. And he does not want to fail you,
sir," he said quietly, turning to face his captain.
"He is keenly aware of the chances you have given him,
of the trust you have placed in him, and he does not
want to appear unworthy of either. He wants
desperately to be what he believes you expect him to
be, yet all the while he is convinced it is
impossible. In Mr. Kennedy's eyes, you are God, and he
is Jeremiah -- unworthy even to speak your name, much
less carry your standard."
Pellew turned away with a low groan and bowed his
head, more troubled than ever. "It has never been my
desire," he rasped quietly, "to place impossible
burdens upon my officers! I do not believe in
crippling a man's spirit in such a way. I expect
nothing more from my men except they do their best and
give their all. I do not measure them against one
"No, sir, but they measure themselves against you. To
some men, success comes -- or seems to come -- as
easily as breathing. To others, it comes only after
great struggles. And Mr. Kennedy has struggled,
perhaps far more than a lad of his years ought to. He
has struggled, and he has fallen. Yet while we have
seen him get up again, he sees only the falls. And he
is afraid that is all you see. That is why I say
perhaps we need not worry so about his examination.
Before you, he will always feel at a loss, and will be
waiting for the next fall. Because, in his mind, since
you know of his past falls, you will be waiting for
the next one also. But before captains who do not know
him, and to whom he will be simply one more face among
many, with no more past than what is recorded in his
certificates and journals, he may well be able to
forget himself and all that has gone before. He may
see this as his one true chance to be tested solely on
his merits, and not measured against some impossible
standard he can never hope to reach. He may see
himself more clearly, more truly, through the eyes of
strangers than he ever could through yours."
"Merciful God, let us hope not," Pellew sighed
dejectedly, turning slowly to face his first. "You
see, Mr. Bracegirdle, among the countless
communications I have received from the port admiral
is one that arrived this morning, informing me that
Captain McDonald and Intrepid have been ordered to the
Mediterranean as soon as possible, thus depriving the
board of its fifth captain. And I have been asked to
sit in his place. So you see," he gave a pained,
bitter smile, "once again, Mr. Kennedy will have to
stand before me, and be measured by me."
"Dear God," Bracegirdle breathed strickenly, his last
hope dissolving. "Do we tell him?"
"I cannot see that we have a choice. It would be cruel
not to, and I have never enjoyed cruelty."
"And if he wishes to withdraw?"
Pellew raised his head sharply, his dark eyes
flashing. "Then I shall let him, and think none the
less of him for it. As I said, Mr. Bracegirdle, I do
not enjoy cruelty, and I will not subject one of my
own men to torture simply because I may! I will tell
Mr. Kennedy, and I will leave the decision up to him."
"Shall I send him now?"
Pellew sighed and resumed pacing. "No, not now. There
is work still to be done, and I do not want him
distracted. I will tell him this evening. I have an
invitation to dine with my brother, and will tell him
before I leave. Then, he may decide for himself,
without the added distraction of my presence. Damn!
Why did Admiral Clifton have to ask me?"
Bracegirdle smiled wryly. "Perhaps, sir, it is an
indication of his regard for you."
"Yes, well," Pellew fumed, "there are times, sir, when
I could live quite easily without the high regard of
our beloved Admiralty!"
Archie opened the door at the summons from within and
entered the captainës cabin, exhausted in every part
of his body and gingerly cradling his broken hand to
his chest. He had re-injured it while working with the
gun, and it now hurt excruciatingly all the way
through his wrist. But there would be no laudanum
tonight; he would need a clear mind for his final
night of studies.
"You wished to see me, sir?" he asked softly, taking
his throbbing right hand into his left.
Pellew turned away from the stern windows to face the
young man. He was resplendent in his dress uniform,
his black coat heavy with gold braid and buttons, his
waistcoat and half-breeches spotless white, his black
cravat perfectly knotted at his throat, his wrists
overflowing with lace. He and Israel would be dining
not aboard Swiftsure, but at an excellent inn they
both knew well. It had been a long while since he had
last dined ashore, and he was, quite frankly, looking
forward to it.
Though he was not at all looking forward to what must
"Good evening, Mr. Kennedy," he greeted amiably, his
gaze falling to the young man's bandaged hand. "It is
troubling you, I see."
Archie knew he should probably let his hand fall to
his side and pretend all was well, but could not bear
to. As much as it hurt now, allowing it to hang down
would only intensify the pain. And clasping it behind
his back was entirely out of the question.
"I injured it again, sir, when we were getting in the
gun," he explained quietly. "The men required some
assistance, and I -- well, I forgot about it. Until I
got it caught in that rope."
Pellew winced deeply in sympathy. "Has Dr. Hepplewhite
Archie blushed faintly. "No, sir, I-- I have not had
time. There has been so much to do--" He grimaced and
shook his head. "And, to be perfectly honest, sir, I--
I feared he would give me more laudanum."
A dark brow rose at the odd choice of words. "You
feared, Mr. Kennedy? Most men with a broken hand would
welcome relief from the pain."
"And so would I, sir, if only it did not make me so
Two brows lifted this time. "And is that so
undesirable?" Pellew asked quietly, remembering the
many nights he had walked the quarter-deck and seen
the young man there, when by all rights he should have
Archie had no wish to discuss his feelings about sleep
-- and the reasons behind them -- with his captain.
Instead, he answered simply, "I had thought to study a
bit before tomorrow, and merely wish to be
"Ah." At the unfortunate tack in the conversation,
Pellew began to pace. He did not want to approach the
subject of the examination just yet. "I called you
here," he began at last, "to thank you for your
diligence in getting the new guns in. I know it can be
a difficult, nerve-wracking task, and it certainly
does not help when the Ordnance Office seems
determined to sink your efforts at the outset." He
turned to the young man and smiled warmly. "You did an
excellent job, Mr. Kennedy. You and your men are to be
The words took Archie completely by surprise. Whatever
he had been expecting to hear from the captain, it had
not been this. Nonetheless, a slow smile of sheer
delight spread over his face, and, for a few moments
at least, he ceased feeling the pain in his hand.
"Thank you, sir!" he breathed, his blue eyes shining.
"The men outdid themselves with those guns. I shall
pass your words along to them!"
"Just remember, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew urged quietly,
"the words are for you, as well. In my experience, the
men generally are only as good as the officer leading
them. The men's diligence to their duty mirrored your
own, I believe, just as the spirit with which they
worked reflected their regard for you. You have
handled them well, and not only today. Since you were
given charge of the guns, I have seen a marked
improvement in the performance of their crews. The men
respond well to you, Mr. Kennedy. That is an
invaluable asset for an officer."
Archie was startled and overwhelmed by the praise, and
could think of no profound answer to give. "I merely--
treat them as I would wish to be treated, sir," he
"Yes, it sounds ridiculously simple, does it not?"
Pellew asked wryly. "And yet how many officers has
that one truth eluded? Treat men, even common seamen,
with respect and decency, and they will follow you to
the ends of the earth. Treat them as brute, mindless
animals, and they will become so, turning on you in a
heartbeat. So simple, and so profound." His dark gaze
held Kennedy fast. "The men want to know their
officers care for them, Mr. Kennedy, they want to know
their officers regard them as men, rather than beasts
of burden without minds or souls. And they know
instinctively when they have that; we cannot fool
them." He nodded at Kennedy's hand and smiled
slightly. "There are few things that will win the
heart of an English sailor so completely as an officer
with a broken hand who pitches in to help get a
twenty-four pounder in place, and who forgets he is
hurt until he hurts himself again. You have won your
men, Mr. Kennedy, and that is why they have worked so
hard for you. Never forget that."
"I will not, sir," Archie said softly, amazed that the
captain -- God and father in one -- should be speaking
to him in this manner. Yet he knew also moments such
as this were exactly why he and the others felt about
Pellew as they did. God and father he was, indeed; but
he was teacher, too.
Gazing into that young, open face, a face where, for
once, no uncertainty, no fear could be seen, Pellew
dreaded more than ever the news he was bound to break.
And as Kennedy moved his right hand slightly, then
winced deeply in obvious pain, he was granted a
"Look, lad, if you will not ask Dr. Hepplewhite for
laudanum," he asked gently, "will you at least accept
a glass of brandy? 'Twill give but little relief, I
know, but surely any easing of the pain would be
welcome?" At Kennedy's hesitation, he smiled slightly.
"A small glass only, I promise. Not enough to cloud
Archie sighed and nodded. "Yes, sir," he breathed
gratefully. "Thank you, sir."
Pellew crossed the cabin to a small table and
unstoppered the brandy, pouring a single small glass.
"Now you see why in boarding we use pistols and
cutlasses," he joked. "I cannot have all my men
breaking their hands on the jaws of the enemy." He
returned to Archie and offered him the glass. "No
sipping, drink it down at once," he instructed. "It
will burn your throat, but I dare say your hand will
go nicely numb."
Archie took the glass and raised it to his mouth.
Closing his eyes instinctively, he drained the
contents in a single swallow, almost choking as the
liquor seemed to explode against the back of his
throat. Tears stung his eyes and for several moments
he could not breathe. But soon a comforting warmth --
and numbness -- was spreading through him, and he
exhaled slowly. A few moments later, the throbbing in
his hand had, indeed, receded to a much more tolerable
"Thank you, sir," he rasped, handing back the glass.
Pellew took it with a slight smile. "Do not tell Dr.
Hepplewhite I have been practicing medicine, else he
shall insist upon trying his hand at sailing!"
"I wouldn't dream of it, sir," Archie answered softly,
awed that the captain should be joking with him.
Pellew returned the glass to the small table, only now
admitting he might have had another reason for
offering that drink. Knowing the unpleasant business
could no longer be avoided, he made his way back to
the stern windows and stared out into the harbour,
praying the brandy would do its work. "Before you go,
Mr. Kennedy," he said quietly, "there is another
matter we must discuss. I realize you may regard it as
unfortunate, though I hope you do not. It is about the
Despite the brandy, Archie went still and cold inside,
his wide blue gaze fixed to the captain's back as a
feeling of dread awoke within him. "Sir?"
Pellew continued to look out the windows, wanting to
spare the lad the discomfort of his gaze. "One of the
captains on the board -- Captain McDonald of Intrepid
-- has been ordered out to sea immediately, creating a
vacancy. As you know, an examination on a home station
requires a board of five." He kept his voice as
matter-of-fact as he could. "This morning, I received
a communication from Admiral Clifton, asking me to sit
in Captain McDonald's place."
Archie stiffened and went white, and a violent shudder
ran through him. He tried to speak, but could not. For
one horrible moment, he feared he might be sick.
Hearing the soft, stricken gasp behind him, Pellew
closed his eyes briefly but did not turn around, still
determined to do Kennedy the courtesy of allowing him
to come to grips with his shock unobserved. It was, he
thought, the least he could do.
At long last, Archie found some semblance of his
voice. "You, sir?" he rasped, almost choking upon the
words. "You-- you will be s-- sitting on the board?"
Pellew heard the panic in that voice and sighed
softly. "Yes, Mr. Kennedy, I shall. With Admiral
Nelson and his fleet preparing to put out and other
captains being ordered out as well, I am one of few
available. And God alone knows when another shall
present himself. If there is to be a board, I must sit
on it." He finally turned to face Kennedy, who was
deathly pale but outwardly composed. "You can
understand that, can you not?" he asked softly.
Archie nodded, then whispered, "Yes, sir." His stomach
was engaging in slow, queasy rolls and, now and again,
the deck seemed to shift under his feet. Captain
Pellew... on the board...
"Now, look," Pellew said gently, going slowly toward
the young man with an expression of deep and sincere
concern, "I know it cannot be a pleasant prospect to
be examined by your own captain. God knows, I would
have been appalled to find myself in such a situation!
So, I-- I offer you this choice: you can proceed with
the examination as you have planned, or you can
withdraw and wait for the next round." He collected
Kennedy's stricken gaze with his own and tried to be
as reassuring as he could. "You must understand that,
should you choose to appear, I cannot offer you any
preferential treatment. I must treat you as I would
any other candidate. And should you choose to
withdraw, I certainly shall not hold it against you.
Your duties will continue as they are now, and I shall
think none the less of you for it. But the decision
must be yours."
Archie's first impulse was to declare his withdrawal
immediately and avoid humiliating himself before his
captain's eyes. But no matter how he longed to speak
them, the words would not come; some force within him
held them back.
"I do not require an answer now," Pellew said kindly,
reading the conflict in those anguished eyes. "I am
dining in Portsmouth with my brother this evening.
Think about it, consider your choices carefully. Do
not make any hasty decisions. You can give me your
answer when I return. That should give you the time
"Yes, sir," Archie whispered dazedly.
"That is all, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew said gently. "You
"Aye aye, sir," he answered from habit, turning to
leave. At the door, however, he stopped and turned
back to his captain, his expression one of confusion.
Pellew looked up. "Yes, Mr. Kennedy?"
Archie frowned. "You-- you did not-- have to tell me
this," he said softly. "You could have let me discover
it tomorrow. Why-- why tell me now?"
Pellew returned the perplexed gaze evenly. "A few
moments ago," he said, "when we spoke of your men, you
said you treated them as you would wish to be
treated." He inclined his head slightly. "I would not
wish to be surprised at my examination by the
unexpected sight of my captain sitting on the board. I
would much prefer to be told beforehand. Therefore, I
considered that I owed you the same courtesy."
"Yes, sir," Archie breathed. "Thank you, sir." He
opened the door, still terribly confused. "Good night,
"Good night, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew said gently as he
left. "And pleasant dreams to you lad," he added,
almost as a prayer.