Perspectives, The Fire Ships
From the Diary of Sir Edward Pellew
From the Personal Log of Captain Sir Edward Pellew:
July the 3rd, 1795
Well it has finally happened. I have stooped to the level of keeping a
personal diary. The next thing you know I shall take up knitting as a
prelude to my retirement.
Truly, I have regarded the keeping of personal journals as folly for the
weak. But of late strange thoughts have invaded my mind, and I hope
that in keeping track of them in this way I will not be tempted to invite
further confidences of an...unseemly nature with my men, thus
undermining my own position as captain.
It is not that I have no men worthy. Quite the opposite. In Bracegirdle,
Bowles, and, yes, Hornblower, I have the most worthy men I have
encountered since I lost Grey. Thus the temptation. And whatever my
personal desires, I must not to force the burden of my command on them.
I have just received dispatches from Admirality; orders permitting me to
appoint Hornblower to Acting Lieutenant have come through. It is
through the grace of his actions on Papillon that enable me to do this; it
would have caused much comment otherwise, with Cleveland and Hether
both more senior than he. I am hoping that in the act of promotion, I will
keep Gibraltar from foisting off on me another Lieutenant; I do not wish
to further disrupt the functioning of the ship. I have had enough change
in the past month with her officers.
Tomorrow, I am given to understand, is Hornblower's birthday; he will
be but nineteen. Young to be Lieutenant, even an acting one, but I hope
to keep him in that capacity for at least a year; we are at war;
examinations cannot take place so frequently as before, and the
likelihood of our being close by when they occur is not great. In that
way, he will have the opportunity to learn how to be a Lieutenant, and
will feel confidence when he approaches his exam.
When I think on Hornblower, I find myself returning to the disturbing
conversation I had with him on deck, the evening he learned his father
had passed away. It is certain that they had a poor relationship at best. I
cannot fathom it. For a father not to be proud of a son; to not feel pride
in his serving in His Majesty's Navy...how can it be? Perhaps I feel it
more keenly, for having been denied fatherhood myself, save for that one
wondrous afternoon, when I held my son...but best not to dwell on that.
Come on, Edward, be honest with yourself, man! What kind of father
would you have made, anyway? You would have been gone more oft
than not, and young William would have seen you little; he'd have been
left with a caretaker, and who knows what life he would have lead? Still,
I would have loved him, and that is something.
Perhaps it is the Lord's fate for me, then, that instead of being father to
one child, I have been a father-figure to many; the many men who I have
had fortune to serve over since being a Captain, some even younger than
Curse that boy, I never had such sentimental thoughts before he showed
up on my ship. Ah, well, it was bound to happen someday; I had hoped
to achieve flag rank before the Navy drove me batty. Not that being batty
ever kept someone from being promoted. Still, this nonsense is all
Hornblower's doing, and here I am rewarding him for it.
And I would not have it any other way.
July the 4th, 1795
By the hand of god, I swear, if the Navy were so cursed as to have all
their young men react to promotion in the manner of Hornblower, we
would not have an officer left.
Here I give the lad what ought to be the best news of his young life and
he acts as though I've had him transferred to hell. The boy looked at me
in shock, stood silent for some seconds, and then found his tongue!
"Captain Pellew, Sir, I understand the honor this is, but I must protest this
decision. Hether and Cleveland are both senior to me, Sir, and by
Bloody hell, I know they're senior to him. They also are not half as
talented, quick or resourceful. Would I want Cleveland in charge of the
Indefatigable, should mishap befall me and Mr. Bracegirdle? I couldn't
believe what I was hearing.
Naturally I pointed out that he was questioning my judgement in this
matter, and I did not appreciate it. Couched in different terms, of course.
And with a good deal more yelling than I could ever express on paper.
Done is done, after all, and I can't like a bloody fool send message back
to Gibralter saying: So sorry, I've made an error, the midshipman in
question is too stupid to know what's good for him, please send me a
reject from whichever ship has recently paid out and make him my
Last I saw Hornblower, he was receiving many congratulations, most of
them honest ones, from Bowles, Bracegirdle and a good number of the
men, and looking damned unhappy about it.
I despair of ever understanding that boy.
July 5th, 1795
It is early in the morning, my favorite time at sea. I am enjoying a few
moments peace after seeing to a change of course as we renew our patrol
of the Mediterranean.
I also had the pleasure of a few minutes conversation with Mr.
Bracegirdle. It was not, I think, so pleasurable at the time, but afterwards
I think on it with much satisfaction.
I came to the bridge on Mr. Hether's request for the course change, still
in a foul mood from my conversation yesterday with Hornblower.
Bracegirdle left me in silence as we changed tack, but as the most
complicated maneuvers were completed, he requested a word with me
about Mr. Hornblower.
"You misunderstand the boy, I think, Sir. I genuinely believe he does not
consider himself worthy of your approval."
I merely grunted at the time, pretending to be busy with glass.
"I think, Sir, if Hornblower performed an act that saved the entire Navy,
he'd still be cursing himself for not saving the army too."
I did not answer him, but mulled on that. It is true, he does not hold
himself in high regard. If he keeps up this kind of pressure on himself, he
will crack. I hinted as much to Bracegirdle.
"Perfection is impossible, Mr. Bracegirdle" I said. "He sets his standards
too high. Blames himself too much for when things go wrong. It is a
difficult way to live, Mr. Bracegirdle."
And as I turned back to my cabin I distinctly heard Bracegirdle say, "If
anyone should know, Sir, it would be you."
I did not dignify him with an answer, but now, with coffee and eggs, I
must admit there is truth in what Bracegirdle so insolently described. I
am a perfectionist, not just in what I require from others, but definitely
from myself. And somewhere, buried deep, are the insecurities I knew
when I first took command. I overcame them because of my friends and
my loyal shipmates. Hornblower, of course, has lost Kennedy, and that
shall make it harder for him
But I am no longer angry. Not worthy of my approval? More than
worthy, I think. But I'll have to get him to see that himself.
July 5th, Evening
Mr. Hornblower was Lieutenant of the watch this evening. He seemed
most uncomfortable standing beside me, after our difficult meeting
yesterday. I confess I was almost at a loss on how to begin myself. Then
I was struck with inspiration; I saw Hornblower follow, with some
concern, the actions of his divisionóspecifically Matthews and Finch, as
they headed up the rigging to some detail of work. Concern for his men,
again. Styles, below the others, came round with some pitch to make a
repair, and nodded at Hornblower as he turned. "Sir." He saluted at him,
and Hornblower nodded. And I saw my way.
"They are good men, Mr. Hornblower." I said.
He hesitated. "Yes, Sir. I am very pleased with them overall."
"Do you know, Mr. Hornblower, what caused me to promote you."
Hornblower swallowed and stammered a bit about the Papillon and the
incidents with the corvettes. I cut him off.
"No, Mr. Hornblower. Papillon enabled me to promote you over two
more senior Midshipman, but it is not the reason I chose to do so. I chose
you because of those men."
I do believe I shocked the lad.
"My Men, Sir?"
"Aye. You told me, not long ago, that there was nobody you would trust
with your life more than your men. And it has been quite apparent for
some time that they hold you in high regard. That is what becomes an
officer, Mr. Hornblower. Not the fancy guns or the skill at battle. What
makes an officer are the men who are willing to follow him, and just how
that man will lead them. All the men hold you in regard, Mr.
Hornblower, including those not of your division. Like it or not, boy,
you have a reputation, and have ever since the Marie Gallant. Cleveland
and Hether do not posses that capability."
He now had no argument. Question him on his fighting skills and he
would humble himself; on his mathematical skills he would call himself
only adequate. But I had used his own words against him; and I sensed
that his relationship with his men was his particular pride.
"Thank you, Sir."
I had left him there, perhaps a little more sure of himself. And with a
new insight into my own character. For I have realized that what I pride
myself on most of all is my men. And that, perhaps, is why I like what I
see in Hornblower so much
August 15, 1795
Hornblower has proven himself useful already.
I had not realized he had a full command of the French language. Which
came in very handy when we had a Spanish Captain as our short-lived
guest this morning,
The gentleman oh so kindly informed us that Spain is officially neutral,
and if we did not get our ship out of the harbor in six hours we could
expect to get blown to pieces by the shore batteries.
I do not know how I maintained my composure. Fortunately, I do NOT
speak French, or Spanish, with any kind of fluency, and Hornblower
translated my fury into a very appropriate sounding placating remark
prior to that damn Spaniard departing. At least, I assume it was
placating, since the gentleman smiled and bowed oh so very properly,
which he would not have done if he knew I was contemplating how best
to have him thrown off of my ship. Really, I let my emotions get the
better of me. After all, I expected no less than to see Spain jump into the
arms of whichever country seemed more appealing. Right now, that
would be France.
Shortly after we resumed sail I found myself very melancholy. Out loud
I wondered how long it would be until all of Europe were our enemy.
And Hornblower! He amused me out of my mood, although he'll never
know it, for he very forthrightly informed me that we would prevail, as
England had God on his side.
And he MEANT it! Oh, it was all I could do to restrain myself from
laughing, but I fear that would have hurt him. So I slyly replied that I
hoped God never opted to become neutral.
I do forget how young he is sometimes, bless him!
It is amazing how life sometimes seems to repeat itself.
Fifteen years ago I lost my best friend primarily due to the reckless
tendencies of then Commander William "Dreadnaught" Foster. This
afternoon I saw myself loosing Hornblower to him.
We picked the old coot up out of the sea, where he found himself after
yet another one of his imprudent battles cost him a ship. This time it
wasn't even hisóit was a supply ship whose command he had wrestled
from the unfortunate Lieutenant sailing it. The man, in his infinite
wisdom, decided it was more important to engage a Spanish Frigate,
thereby drowning some twenty-five crew men (three survived), rather
than surrendering. Naturally, he also survived.
I had forgotten how much I actually disliked the man until I heard the
reverence in Hornblower's voice as he realized whom we had picked up.
"Dreadnaught Foster, Sir?" His voice dripped with gratuitous
admiration. I almost vomited. I am afraid I cut him off rather sharply
Why does it irk me so much that Hornblower admires the man? After all,
his general reputation is quite stellar. And he draws much notice to
himself, which has never been my style. It is natural that Hornblower
would hold him in high regard, having never served with him, and not
having been in the navy long enough to hear the whispers from those who
have. I know well Hornblower's own prudent nature; if he is around
Foster long enough, he will see him for what he is.
I have had no choice but to invite the man to dine in my cabin, but have
lessened the possibility of my reaching out and throttling him by asking
the other officers to join us. Unfortunately, that means including
Hornblower. Well, I very well couldn't say to him "invite the other
officers, but you yourself are unwelcome", now could I?
Powers is fussing about getting the cabin ready. Best prepare myself.
August 15, 1795
I want that man off of my ship so badly that I would almost risk hanging
Dinner went worse, far worse than expected. I am afraid I made a bad
exit; I am more afraid that Foster has managed to make me look like a
coward in front of my officers. And HornblowerÖbacked him up.
I am not a coward. But I don't believe in the wanton waste and disregard
for human life. A battle should be fought whole heartedly, with every bit
of your soul. But to instigate a futile battle for no purpose does not seem
to me to advance anybody's cause.
So we were all at dinner, Bracegirdle and Bowles, McAnn, Andrews,
Foster and Hornblower. Foster was telling the story of how he managed
to get yet another ship blown out from under him, with Hornblower
hanging on his every word. Bowles asked, very sensibly, whether or not
the Spanish fired a warning shot? Foster replied that they had, and
seemed indignant about it! How dare they think he would just turn over
his ship? (Perhaps they might have thought so because they had four
times the guns and five times the manpower, at least).
I suppose it was the look of adulation on Hornblower's face that made me
decide to bring Foster back to earth. "What of the men?" I asked. I
thought I could stress the loss of life incurred in such a rash action.
More fool I. Foster discounted their loss as so much accounting, no more
than if I had asked how many guns he had lost.
Then he turned the tables on me. "Am I to assume you would have
The table got very quiet. Surrender. Like a coward. Surrender. He did
not say it out right, but the accusation was there. Surrender.
It was at that point that I had a clear vision of Foster swinging from the
yard arm. I hardly know what I repliedósomething about this not being
the place to discuss tactics.
Oh, but he wasn't done with me. For then he turned to Hornblower and
asked his opinion.
It was not a fair thing, not at all, and Hornblower knew it as well as I. He
hesitated, and I tried to interject, but Foster persisted. I could see my
prudent young acting Lieutenant struggling to find a way to get out of
this without offending either his captain or his distinguished guest. He
"I am...glad...the Spanish were deprived of our supplies." In other
words, Foster's plan of action suits him better.
I took my leave.
Why does it bother me so much then? I know my men know I am no
coward. And the young are often reckless; it is not so unlikely he would
find the more active option appealing. Yet I feel betrayed. And, if I am
honest with myself, hurt.
Perhaps a turn above decks will ease my mood.
August 15, 1795
I had forgotten that Hornblower was the officer on watch this afternoon.
We stood side by side in awkward silence for some moments as I scanned
the horizon. I broke the silence first, remarking that it was a cruel fate of
god to place a Spanish anchorage so close to Gibraltar. I then asked him
to report, and he backed up what I myself had seenónine ships with their
yards crossed. He seemed relieved to have me speak to him. What else
was I to do? He is still one of my most valued officers, and I hold
nothing against him for having an opinion differing from mine.
And then he apologized.
He was hesitant and awkward. But it was an apology nonetheless. I told
him his apology was noted and returned to my walk about the deck.
I should have said more. My stupid, stupid pride got in the way, and I
left him standing on watch, uneasy with himself. Because he is only
nineteen. And he did not have the tools to get out of Foster's fired shot.
The more I think on it, the more I believe he would not have intentionally
offended me. And I give Foster more power by acting as if he had won
something from me. No, I will not let the man see he has disturbed me in
In any case, we are at Gibraltar tomorrow, and I shall deposit him at his
own ship. What else could the man possibly do in so little time?
August 16, 1795
Never ask "what else?". Because the answer is: always something.
I am awaiting my next orders from Admiralty. Foster and I had a lovely
meeting at Gibraltar, where I witnessed him being subtly chastised for his
actions. I would have returned to Indefatigable in much better humor,
had only Foster not taken one parting shot with Hornblower that has
forced my hand.
As we were leaving the ship, Foster stopped to speak a few words to
Hornblower, starting with "I believe you will have your commission the
next time I see you." Hornblower looked properly stunned, and looked
over my shoulder, where I managed to keep my face impassive. Foster
pushed the issue, saying he presumed he would be putting himself
forward for the next round of examinations. And Hornblower, learning,
always learning, responded, "That is as my Captain wishes." I hastened
Foster off the ship to keep him from making any further mischief, and the
man shot my acting Lieutenant a knowing look, that clearly said he
thought Hornblower was humoring me.
I don't think he was. But that's a moot point now. I should not be
surprised that Foster saw potential in the boyóI'm not fool enough to
believe I am the only one with eyes. But he made that comment on deck,
in front of all of the officers, and the Bosun, the bosun's mates, and half
the men. If I don't put Hornblower forward it will look as though I'm
holding him back, or punishing him in some way for his comment made
at dinner. Even if the boy doesn't think that himself (and knowing his
disposition, that is EXACTLY what he would think), it is what the entire
crew would think. So I must put him forward.
And I'm not sure that he's ready. I wanted him to have time to learn how
to command, to see the pressures that come with command as well as the
benefits. Most of all, I wanted to see him develop the self-confidence he
will need to be an officer. He is so beset by self-doubt at times, and when
a crisis happens, there is no time to be second-guessing yourself.
Ah, well, done is done. I will inform him tomorrow.
The men who had been saved with Foster were given the opportunity of
joining the Indefatigable or the Dreadnaught, the two larger ships in port.
All three have returned with me to my ship. Apparently they had seen
enough of Foster in action. Skilled help is never unwelcome, although
one of the men, Bunting, seems to be a bit high strung. However, I did
get from him that he had served with one of the men in Hornblower's
divisionóFinchóbefore. I shall assign him to that division. Finch is the
man who saved Hornblower on the Papillion, and I believe him to be
steady and honest.
Once I'd dumped off Foster I was able to have a glass of wine with
Archibald Harvey, now in charge of stores at the Dockyard. It was good
to see him again. He had been a m'man while I was a young Lieutenant,
although I was transferred to another ship not long after. A good man,
although not a brilliant one. Our friendship has been cemented over the
years by our mutual dislike of Foster. His started when Foster ordered
him beaten once for daring to be right when Foster was wrong, and
continued through Foster's perpetual commandeering of stores in any
way possible. Harvey knows of my friend Grey's death. The comforting
result of this is that Harvey is always going out of his way to reserve the
best supplies for me, if only to tweak Foster.
He did slip with some disturbing news, however. With Foster's recent
engagement, Spain is now officially at war with us. Not only have we
lost the supplies Foster allowed to be blown to the bottom, but with the
stepped up patrols, it will be increasingly difficult to get another supply
ship in. Rationing is not far off.
I am glad to be the Captain of this ship, then. The men are well trained
and respect me. Rationing is never an easy thing, but hopefully will be of
At least, I pray so.
August 17, 1795
As I could have anticipated, Hornblower was startled but pleased that I
have submitted his name in the next round of examinations. I encouraged
him to study well.
Bracegirdle approached me shortly afterwards, as word went round the
ship of Hornblower's fortune.
"Sir, are you certain he is ready?"
Of course I am not certain he is ready. But I could not admit that to
Bracegirdle. Strangely, I could not lie to him either, and I skirted the
issue, remarking only that ready or not, examinations will be happening
shortly and it would be expected that an Acting Lieutenant would be
tested at that time.
Bracegirdle wasn't buying it for a moment, so I continued on brashly.
"After all, with Hornblower's reputation, it would have been a blow if I
had not submitted him."
"Not as much of one as if he fails, Sir."
I have been mulling on that last statement for some time. I had of course
perceived the possibility of his failure. There are about six thousand
questions they might dream up to ask you when you take your
examination, and if you have studied 5,999 of them inside and out, it is
inevitable that some over-done and bitter Captain on the exam board will
come up with the one you missed. But Hornblower's strength is his
brain, really. My only fear was that his self doubt would cost him under
the eyes of the committee.
It is his self-doubt that apparently has Bracegirdle worried. While I made
a point of reminding Hornblower that if he failed, he would be back with
the midshipman for several months' at least, I didn't follow what that
demotion would do to him. Many menómany good men, failed the
exam their first time out, but with Hornblower's tendency to berate
himself over tasks well done, what would failure do to him?
I know too well. For I hit question 6,000 in my own exam many years
ago, and was forced to wait for the next round.
I was misery itself. Little could console me. I wondered often and out-
loud how God had seen fit to make me so stupid. It was Grey, bless him,
who laughed me out of it, who kept me busy, and somehow found a way
to convince me that I was not mentally deficient.
But to this day, I will never forget the proper procedure of maneuvering a
ship off of a foul anchor!
Come to think of it, that Lieutenant's exam was when I first ran into
Foster. He tested ahead of me, and out of the twenty of us present, was
the only one to pass. He was a smug little devil even back then. I took
great pleasure when I made it to Commander and then Captain both
But enough of my long off days of boyhood. The material point is,
Hornblower has no Grey. Mr. Kennedy has not been heard of since he
was lost in the attempt on the Marie Gallant. He is probably dead.
Cleveland, if anything, seems resentful at Hornblower's success, while
not doing anything to gain his own. Hether has been working with
Bowles in particular and does not pay Hornblower much attention. The
new mids are even younger than he is. It is not that he is friendless, for
he is well liked, but I would be hard pressed to name one person he is
genuinely close to. He does not open up often.
I cannot think of a solution. As a Captain, there is only so close I can get
to him within the bounds of propriety. Bracegirdle is a bit too old for him
to consider as a friend. Oh, if only we had not lost Mr. Kennedy!
BELOW IS PART 6
August 18, 1795 3pm
Well, the word has just come down from Admiralty we should not
expect further supplies in the near future. Each captain, judging from his
own stores, must take appropriate measures.
I am awaiting a report from the Cook as to our exact amount of food and
water left. My hunch tells me, however, that we will need to go to at
least half rations on food. Water hopefully will pose less of a problem.
The men are all happy right now, and seem to be in good health. I have
spoken to Hepplewhite about recent visits to sick bay, and he reports no
incidents of scurvy or dental problems that would indicate malnutrition.
Physically, they should be able to withstand half rations for up to thirty
Mentally, though, I pray this rationing does not last more than a fortnight.
Hungry men do not fight well. It could lay the bed for mutinous actions.
I feel for the men. So many here because of the press. So few with any
real love of the sea. Unpaid for months at a time. And seldom well paid
when they finally do receive money. Sudden death frequently hanging
over your head in times of war. Preserved food, water so full of living
creatures it might as well be soup. Hard work. Flogging, though I try to
avoid physical punishment, using it only as a last resort. Still, I am
unusual in that regard.
Some of the menóHornblower's man Matthews seems to be oneóthrive
on this life. Too many others are destroyed by it.
Cook has reported. He's a good man, level headed, pressed from London
but the type who will always make the best of his lot in life. He's also
brutally honest, which is imperative in this situation. He laid it on the
line: At full rations, we have two weeks food at best. Water is
stable...we were fortunate enough to be able to restock at Gibraltar when
I dumped bloody Foster off. So it's half rations immediately; I had hoped
I could spend a week at 2/3rds. I must send a report off to Admiralty;
there has to be some way we can assist in getting a supply ship through.
My head is pounding; I fear nothing but the worst from this situation. I
could lose my men; I could lose my ship. All of this unnecessary
suffering and it's due to Foster deciding to engage a Spanish frigate for
Looks like it will be another sleepless night spent walking on decks.
I paced for more than an hour, hoping perhaps for an answer to my
dilemma in the stars above. Cleveland was on watch and I nodded
towards him. I almost hoped he would initiate some conversation...I felt
I needed the distraction. But Cleveland is uncomfortable around me, and
very seldom speaks. I continued on my rounds, dispirited.
As I turned the corner, a sudden leaf of paper took flight and I stepped on
Looking down, I saw thin, nimble hands reaching for it, and found myself
looking down into a familiar pair of brown eyes. Hornblower, sitting on
the deck, with his notes for his exam.
I was surprised, to say the least, and it must have shown in my face, for
as I handed the leaf back to him, he looked almost as if I had caught him
in a guilty act.
I was pleased to see him taking my admonition to study so to heart, but
why above decks, I asked him. He replied sheepishly that he had been
looking for some peace and quiet.
That effectively removed Hornblower from a conversational point of
view, and I apologized for interrupting him.
I think he was afraid he had offended me, but I cut him off. It's true he
wouldn't be able to study much bellow decks; from where I stood I could
hear the merriment of the men. After their spirits had been dulled, he
would find ample time to study, and I told him so.
"Sir?" He queried.
I informed him then of the burden preying on my mind...that we would
be going to half rations. And, seeing his shock, I was unable to keep
myself from adding, rather sarcastically I'm afraid, that no doubt Captain
Foster would be forced to do the same. And thus I returned to my cabin.
I wish I hadn't added that last bit. I know, in my heart, that I can only
make myself appear to disadvantage by bringing Foster up in a negative
way. Have I not always believed that actions speak louder than words?
I wonder, though, just what Foster will be doing. Has he gone over his
stores? Does HE agonize at the thought of the suffering of his men under
such a stringent requirement? I look around my own cabin at my
personal stores. Every captain, of course, stocks his own pantry, at his
own expense. I am fond of food. If I thought it would help, I would
sacrifice every bit of it to my men. But the personal supply from one
captain does not go very far amongst a crew of three hundred.
Perhaps, though, I could spare the liquor - my brandy may not be much
to the taste of the men, but they would find it better than no spirits at all,
and the seven bottles I stocked up on may go a ways towards easing
I have half a rasher of bacon left and about three dozen eggs. A pound of
coffee. Four chickens, I believe, and a pig. I must confirm with Powers
what else. But in any event, amongst 300 men, it's not much. And I do
not think the officers' stores are much better.
Enough of this useless worrying! I will send a letter to Gibraltar,
suggesting the Indefatigable on a mission to procure supplies, from
wherever they can find them. Surely we could prevent the French or
Spanish from harassing a supply ship?
By God! I'd like to see them try, with the Indy on the guard! We would
show them the difference between a frigate and a barge.
AUGUST 19, 7:45PM
Day one of rationing. Cook merely nodded when I informed him to put it
into effect, and I warned the division officers of the situation. I have
heard only a few grumbles, and Powers, in his inimitable way, has let me
know that the men are not terribly surprised of the situation. A few have
made the observation that the officersódown through Andrews, the
bosunóare not on half rations. But the officers' have their own supplies,
and they are not enough to augment the crew supplies.
In any case, within two weeks the officersóand Iówill be down to
Ship's rations as well.
Bracegirdle is approaching, I can tell his gait on the passageway to my
cabin. Best not let him see me with this journal.
AUGUST 23, 1795
Admiralty, in the fine tradition of doing nothing when I want to take
action, and taking action when I least think it prudent, has decided to sit
out the current food situation. They believe we will be able to get
through supply barges with smaller guard ships, rather than utilizing a
full-fledged frigate. They seem to feel a guard ship will be ample
protection against the entire French and Spanish fleets.
Of course, sitting in Gibraltar, with the food and the wine flowing, it must
have been a very easy decision to make. If I ever should attain flag rank,
may God protect me from becoming as foolish as those who got there
We have become so bureaucratic, so woefully bogged down in
appearances and regulations, that I fear for England in the long term.
How shall we keep an empire that was attained by daring and chance, by
men of bold vision, if we become conservative to the point of
But I am his Majesty's servant. So I sit in my ship and patrol the seas,
waiting for trouble to come to us, while my crew is half starving.
My own father, rest his soul, intended me for the Clergy, but recognized
that for one of my active nature it would not be the best career. Today is
one of the rare days I wish I had followed his path instead of my own.
AUGUST 25, 1795
Here's some irony.
I've just received private correspondence from Foster, agreeing with me
and lambasting Admiralty 'in such language as he would dare' for their
pettifogging caution. "You and I, Edward - " he writes (and when did he
start calling me Edward?) "Ought to be able to go into Spain with our
ships and relieve them of all their supplies by force, feeding the damned
Navy for a year...How does it look for His Majesty's Navy to sit here
and wait? It is intolerable."
Interesting. We are as different as can be, and see things from opposite
points of view, and yet we have reached the same conclusion.
Foster, mortified at inaction and the appearance of it, would take all on
Spain and humiliate them, and, oh, yes, pick up some food while we're at
it. And I? I will do anything to provide food for my men, even if it
means engaging ships twice my size.
I would, in this instance, value his support, even though I disagree with
his motives. My men must be fed.
Foster also mentions Hornblower in his letter. He is most pleased that I
have submitted him for examination, as he knew I would most assuredly
do. His only regret is that it is unlikely he will be sitting on the exam
"You're a lucky dog, Edward..." (There he goes again). "A man of such
unlimited potential - I understand you picked him up off of a channel
barge? I would be honored to have such a man serving under me!"
I wonder just what Hornblower would think of "William" if he were to
serve on the Dreadnought? Perhaps I over-estimate myself, but I do not
think it would be a happy marriage at all!
Maybe I should send a note off to "Wills", thanking him for his support
with admiralty, and emphasizing the fact that with Mr. Hornblower as
MY second Lieutenant, even if only acting, any plan of action will be
sure to succeed!
Hmm...I seem to be getting a bit punchy. Time for bed, I think.
AUGUST 27, 4:45 PM
Bad news from Hepplewhite. We've had our first case of rationing-
related illness, and it has struck one of Hornblower's men ñ Finch.
Finch is an older man, and slightly built. Apparently he took a nasty fall
from the ratlines earlier today, weak from lack of food. Hornblower's
taking it hard, which is understandable, as he owes his life to this man.
He looks quite frustrated, which is pretty much how I feel.
Hepplewhite's prognosis is not good, unless we get more food in soon.
The man has been feverish since striking his head, and his body is unable
to fight it off.
Bracegirdle, on the other hand, appears worried about Hornblower. He
hasn't said anything to me, but he's walking around with creases in his
forehead, and is always keeping an eye on the boy.
I confess, I had no idea to what extreme Hornblower would take my
advice about studying. Whenever not on duty, he can always be seen
with at least one book in his hand. Perhaps Bracegirdle is worried about
I must speak with him about this soon.
Bracegirdle was reluctant to enter conversation with me on the subject. I
fancy he feared it had the appearance of telling tales on Hornblower. I
assured him this was no witch-hunt, I just wanted any insight he might
have into what was troubling him.
He hesitated and then confessed that he feared that Mr. Hornblower had
come too much under the influence of Foster.
Apparently Hornblower had made some imprudent remarks in the
officer's mess indicating his displeasure at our continued inaction.
The story stung me , although I did not let Bracegirdle see that. The
simple truth is that I WANT to take action, suggested taking action, and
was rejected. Of course, Hornblower does not know this, and to his
appearance here I sit doing nothing while my men starve to death. I do
not like knowing that I have, however unjustly, failed him in this regard.
But I have never intentionally disregarded an order in my life, and do not
intend to start now.
Bracegirdle told me he had rebuked Hornblower at the time, and I am
satisfied with that, and told him so. Hornblower may not like it, but he is
as much a stickler for orders as I am.
Before Bracegirdle could leave, however, he added to the story. It seems
he had earlier come upon Hornblower buried in his books after ordering
the men to quiet down. Bracegirdle emphasized his concern on
Hornblower's relationship with the men, which quite surprised ME, as I
thought it had been one of his best traits. However, it seems the
overwhelming pressure of preparing for the exam has made him loose
site of this.
Oh, how I wish I had not put him up for exam! The timing, with the
sudden rationing, could not have been worse.
Still, Bracegirdle reports that the boy has taken his words to heart and is
trying to work with the men more. I hope he is right.
I have noted, however, that I seldom seem to come upon Hornblower off
duty. He sticks to his duties and to his books. I miss our conversations.
Will a supply ship NEVER come?
September 2, 1795 9pm
I decided to make a trip to sick bay, where Hornblower's man Finch is
still laid up. As I entered, though, I found myself ducking off into the
shadows, for I had stumbled upon Hornblower sitting with him, and did
not wish to interrupt.
But I do not have such scruples that I minded listening in on their
conversation for a few moments.
Hornblower was presenting Finch with a book, and requesting the honor
of his assistance in studying for his exam. Finch was gamely
endeavoring to stay awake enough to quiz him. Hornblower smiled at the
man, and took great pains in taking a lot of time to answer what were
surely easy questions for him, and queried Finch back, calling on him to
remember things from his entire experience at sea. He treated him as an
Hepplewhite said that a good deal of Finch's fighting the fever hinges on
his being able to stay awake. This was Hornblower's way of helping
I blinked quickly and brushed my hand across my face. Damn! I have
become soft. I would not have expected to be so touched by such a
I returned softly to my cabin, convinced in the knowledge that I was right
about Hornblower, he did care deeply about his men.
But this man is gravely ill, and unless a supply ship gets through soon, he
will surely die-WHAT THE DEVIL?
I was interrupted from my earlier entry by such a commotion on my ship
as made me certain that mutiny was well under way.
Bracegirdle's pounding on the door sounded like cannon fire, to be sure.
But my intended rebuke froze on my lips when I opened the door and he
announced with glee: "A supply ship's been sighted".
Fine, fine news it was! I grabbed my hat and headed to the bridge, where
I stood with Bracegirdle and Bowles, and Cleveland, who had been the
first to sight it. Hornblower rushed up, out of breathóhe must have
come right up from sick bay. He paused by me, and our eyes met. For
once I made no show of hiding my emotions, and it would have been
hard pressed to tell which of us was more elated.
He stationed himself beside me. "A Fine Sight, Mr. Hornblower!" I
said. "Indeed, Sir!" He replied. Our eyes met again, and I sensed that
once more we were fighting on the same side.
Until we saw the spark.
A fire ship - A Spanish fire ship! The guard ship too far to do anything
about it. Perhaps, if the Indy had been there, we might have been able to
But we were miles away, and watched as the supply ship caught fire and
The men, milling around below decks, the stunned agony in their cries,
the total disbelief that this had happened; Hornblower behind me, his
breathing agonized, and I could not bear it any more. All of my rage and
frustration got the better of me, even though I tried to control my voice.
"GET THESE MEN BELOW DECKS!"
I ought to have made some sort of inspirational little speech, but I don't
think the men would have bought it.
And now I rest in my cabin, Powers sensible enough to stay away. I have
been fuming for some moments, but now I feel my anger sinking into
There is a knock on my door. Who would dare disturb me?
Hornblower. Who else?
He looked in at me in some awkwardness for a moment, and then said
quietly, "I don't suppose, Sir, there is anything I can do?"
"Can you turn back the clock, Mr. Hornblower?" I snapped.
There was no answer. And he nodded and was about to leave, when I
called him back.
I am ashamed to say I bated him terribly. "Orders from admiralty are that
we sit and wait out this embargo. Do you agree with this?"
He did not agree with it, any more than I did, but that was not the point.
To his credit, he gave me the correct answer. "They are orders, Sir.
They must be obeyed."
"Thank you, Mr. Hornblower. How very prudent of you." I sneered.
He blushed then, and I cursed myself silently. He had dared to inquire
after me when nobody else would have tried, and this is how I repaid
him. He nodded again and went to leave, and again I called him back.
"Wait. I am afraid you find me very frustrated this evening. You could
give no other answer, any more than I can, and I amÖsorryÖI said that,
Mr. Hornblower" I replied quietly. "That is all."
And this time, he did depart. Well, at least he now understands that this
inaction is not my doing.
What disturbs me the most at the moment is the thought of what those
poor souls on that supply ship went through, knowing they were doomed,
their ship on fire. And if the Spanish have learned the use of fire ships,
there is no reason to believe they might not unleash their might on the
rest of the fleet.
This campaign, which started so promisingly, is looking bleaker by the
September 3, 1795 8:00pm
Finch died at this morning, somewhere around breakfast time.
Hornblower's man Bunting, who joined us from Foster's exploits with
the supply ship, discovered the death, but did not report it. That was left
to Hornblower, who was taking some of his own food down to Finch
The burial was this afternoon. Bracegirdle read the service; unlike
Eccleston, I noted he needed no prompting for the man's name.
Hornblower stood by, dignified but distressed, while the rest of his
division watched. Except again for Bunting, who is most agitated by this
turn of events.
I noted afterwards, that as Matthews was attempting to auction off
Finch's belongings for the man's widow, that Bunting bought the lot, and
then pitched it overboard. I must keep an eye on that man. I noticed him
as excitable when he came aboard, but hoped Finch would calm him
down. Now what would happen?
Hornblower, too, made note of his behavior, and I observed him speaking
to Matthews with an eye on Bunting. I must not interfere; Hornblower
must learn the ways of his division on his own, and in general he has
done a good job. But Bunting concerns me. He has not been with us
long, and will feel no loyalty to Hornblower, or me, or to any other man
on this ship. Time will tell how damaging this could be.
We have been fortunate in only one thing, and that is that we have not
been engaged by the enemy for some time. Normally the crew and I
would rail at the inaction, but with their energy levels decreased by lack
of food, it is enough to keep the ship going.
I have notified Admiralty of our first loss to the rationing. With the
recent events with the Fire ship, surely they must be forced to action
September 4, 1795, 10:00am
As I suspected, after men have started dying, we are to take action.
I have just notified Hornblower that we are to accompany the Supply ship
Caroline on a supplies mission to Oran. We have a consul there who will
surely sell supplies for gold, and as it is not our usual route for supplies,
we should be able to keep both the Spaniards and French at bay. At any
rate, the other frigates will attempt to occupy them here near Algiceras.
Bowles will be readying the ship for sail shortly, but we will not be able
to leave until Mr. Tapling, from the diplomatic service, joins us, in order
to conduct negotiations. Like all diplomats, he is late already. And when
I am most anxious to get underway! Hornblower is on watch and will see
him on board.
I must head above decks myself. This agonizing waiting is at last at an
Tapling is much as I expected him to be: pampered, over weight, whinny
and presumptuous. A useless specimen. Well, I have made him to be
Hornblower's special project; after all, what are junior officers for but to
handle that which the Captain finds distasteful? Besides which,
Hornblower will have to deal with many such fools on his own one day.
I am certainly in ill humor today. I'd say something I'd eaten must have
disagreed with me, but since I now have been reduced to biscuit and
pease that can't be it. Unless I swallowed a bad weevil!
The Caroline has a minimal crew of fifteen; just enough men to set sail
and tend the animals. The do not have a gun crew with them, as that is
what WE are here for. Hornblower shall convey Tapling to Oran (do him
good to see other cultures!) conduct the negotiations (another skill
learned), transport the grain and beasts to the supply ship (and who
knows, that might be what the exam board questions him on!), and then
return Tapling to the Indy while we set sail together with the Caroline,
daring the Spanish and French to disturb her!
Of course, the frightening thing is, Hornblower is looking forward to
everything I've outlined! Ah, the joys of youth.
Perhaps I am feeling the effects of rationing myself. Ah, well, the worst
of it is now over.
September 5, 1795.
I have just had report from the master at arms. Bunting was found in the
hold last evening, steeling food.
Hornblower and Bunting are on their way up to me now.
I am so very tired. But that cannot show. I must be forceful and angry.
And I must order done that which I most avoid doing.
We were so close to getting out of this without any damage to morale...
There they are now. Time to become Captain Sir Edward Pellew, the
fierce, once more.
In half an hour I will watch Hornblower and Matthews lead Bunting
through the Gauntlet.
To run the Gauntlet is, in essence, to be flogged 200 times. A sword
before you and a sword behind you, your shirt off, and your angry ship
mates waiting to lash you, as you are walked around the deck.
I could have ordered him to hang, but I spared him his life. Perhaps, just
perhaps, I will be able to reach him, although I have often wondered how
beating a man near to death does anything to inspire him.
I remember all too clearly the first time I saw a man truly flogged.
Floggings are, of course, a way of life in the navy, and an occasional
dozen lashes is visible often on many ships, even more so when I was a
young, fifteen year old midshipman. And of course, as a mid you are
much more worried about the bosun and his cane than the floggings of
the older men around you.
But when I had been at sea but six months I accompanied my Captain, Sir
Artemis Kent, to dinner on Captain Thomas Lucas' ship, the Avalon. To
be chosen among many Mids was an honor and a privilege; I was both
nervous at how I should conduct myself and delirious at the thought of
the food that might be served. After all, a steady diet of biscuit and salt
beef for a boy of fifteen leaves one thinking of food constantly.
As we arrived on deck, it was soon evident that something momentous
was occurring, for all of the crew were assembled there. Captain Lucas
arrived promptly and apologized to Captain Kent for the delay in dinner
(he barely acknowledged me) but there were matters he must attend to
first. One of his crewman had been caught organizing a gaming ring on
the lower decks. Those men with him had been flogged a dozen times
each; but this man, Carson, was to be flogged a dozen time for each man
he involvedóthere were six.
I did not at first appreciate what this meant. I was oh so busy looking
around at the environs of a new ship, checking to see what was different
in how the Avalon performed versus my own ship. I did notice Captain
Kent was pale and serious. Perhaps sensing my own lack of care in the
matter, he made a point of dragging me forward, to where we would have
a good vantage point of the punishment.
The man was tied, naked from the waist up, against the gratings. I was at
once struck by the silence of the crowd around him. The Captain made
an announcement of the sentence, and when he boomed out "seventy-two
times" a murmer ran through the crew, quickly silenced by their
commanding officers. When the Captain made sure he had everyone's
attention, he ordered the flogging begun.
I recall the first blow, the red welt suddenly appearing on his skin. The
man did not scream or cry out; he merely squirmed, but seemed (as so
many seamen had before him) to want to bear his sentence with as much
dignity as a man at the gratings can have. By the tenth lash, however, I
heard him grunt, saw the sweat straining from his brow, and noticed that
a thin flow of blood now trickled down his spine.
By twenty, the man was screaming, his body jerking at the bite of the
lash, the blood flowing more freely, spattering the deck as the cat was
jerked away from his raw flesh. My throat constricted; my breath came
heavier, and I remember Captain Kent putting a hand on my shoulder,
By fifty the man was a mess. Blood seemed to be everywhere; I would
have been hard pressed to tell where the skin was left. His screams were
searing, non stop and mixed with low cries of agony that felt inhuman.
His legs slumped and would have been unable to bear his weight were he
not tied there. I felt tears sting my eyes and manfully tried to blink them
At sixty, he was rendered unconscious. The bosun took a bucket of cold
water and doused his face, reviving him. I was relieved, for I had feared
him dead, until I realized that the punishment was to be continued. And
the next twelve were received not with screams, but with a guttural
moaning, for I don't think the man had energy or life in him for anything
I remember little else of what happened that evening. Dinner was served,
and the officers around me joked and laughed and drank their wine.
Captain Kent kept a watchful eye on me, and made sure I had two glasses
of claret. I do recall having little appetite otherwise, for a corpulent
Lieutenant across from me joked that I must be unused to having fresh
food in my diet, for I had evidently lost my taste for it.
Not until our return trip in the boat that evening did Captain Kent make
comment to me, and his words have stayed with me to this day. "Mr.
Pellew, you have witnessed the worst of this Navy. Sometimes it is
necessary. But if you always try to keep your ship performing the as best
of this Navy is capable of, it won't be necessary often."
Since I have become a Captain, the words have been with me every day.
And I have found them to be true. If you keep your ship in top order,
your men well trained, if you command with force, but also with fairness,
if you try to ask yourself what the problems of the men are, how they
feel, how to understand them, then you have their respect, and their
obedience. But of course, part of keeping your ship in order is keeping
your men well fed, something I have been utterly unable to do for the
past month. I have feared all along that something like this would be
And so Hornblower shall see also the worst of this Navy. And perhaps,
then, there is some small gain to be made after all.
I will never forget both of them standing before me, Hornblower looking
straight ahead and not blinking as I raged, and Bunting near tears. When
I announced Bunting's punishment, Hornblower tried to speak for him,
taking the blame on himself.
I don't know what he was thinking. No matter what he may have heard
Bunting muttering about earlier, I have no doubt that he tried to handle it
conscientiously. Besides, if every rumor or angry thought was dealt with
by flogging, I would not have many men left fit for service. There is a
difference between thinking an act, and performing one.
I suppose Hornblower was trying to get me to mitigate the punishment,
but it cannot be done, and that is why I ordered him to lead Bunting
through the gauntlet. Let him see, up close, what such a punishment can
do to a man. To watch the blood drip to the decks, and hear the man first
stoically take each blow, then grunt, then scream and cry out in agony.
Let him see the rage from the hands as they take their frustrations out on
one of their own.
It is time.
Bunting has been dealt with. He rests below decks now, having survived
Hornblower trembled through most of the walk, his jaw clenched
fiercely, but his sword never wavering as he stared an agonizing Bunting
in the eye.
After announcing that the next man caught steeling from the hold would
hang from the yardarm, I returned to my cabin and promptly vomited. So
much for the feared Captain.
I could hear Tapling complaining to Hornblower as he walked by, but
Hornblower did not even stop to comment. Only after I heard Tapling
shut himself in his quarters again did I emerge, walking towards the
officer's quarters, only to hear the telltale retching from within.
I headed back above decks, looking for air, and knowing it was best to
leave Hornblower to think this out on his own.
SEPTEMBER 6TH, 1795
We have reached Oran. The Indy and the Caroline stand at the ready;
Hornblower has departed in the long boat with his men (minus Bunting,
who has been excused from his duties today), Cook, the Marines, and of
course Mr. Tapling, not to mention a King's ransom of gold. It seems a
woefully small crew to be taking to a strange land, but Tapling has no
fear of the Muslims, and he would be the one to best judge them.
I was relieved to see some of the youthful excitement in new experiences
returning to Hornblower's face. Although I wanted to expose him to the
tribulations that come with being an officer, I had no wish to dispirit him
In fact, I saw him last evening on deck.
I was trying, perhaps, to lose myself in the starts, letting the sea wind
cleanse me of the distasteful duties I had performed today. In my walk, I
saw at one point a shadow move ahead of me, but was distracted by Mr.
Hether, who called for my opinion on some minor matter of navigation,
resulting from an increase in wind. A scant five minutes later I resumed
my stroll, and saw Hornblower in the distance, smoothing out the canvas
cover on the long boat, no doubt ruffled by the recent gust. I am
apparently not the only one restless this evening.
He did not see me, but seemed to be drinking in the air as I was, clearing
his head, looking for tomorrow, putting today behind him.
I wanted to call out to him. The urge to explain myself to him, to make
sure he understood why I had ordered HIM to lead Bunting through the
gauntlet was overwhelming. And I wanted to tell him: he is a good
officer, a good leader; this one man does not change that. There are some
men who will not be lead. The suddenness of this need shocked me into
silence, and I let him pass, returning below decks, probably to a sleepless
I have always been guarded with praise, believing it to be more effective
in small doses. Otherwise, my sincerity might be questioned. So why the
sudden impulse to heap it on Hornblower now?
And yet, the same desire came over me this morning, as he was readying
to depart. I thought for a moment of pulling him aside, and repeating
what I had said to him so long ago, after the incident with Simpson: I see
things in him!
I did not, of course. It would have been even less appropriate this
morning than last evening.
I suppose I fear that he questions my opinion of him now, and I really
ought to make sure he knows his place on this ship, that he remains a
valued officer. After he returns from Oran, and we have rid ourselves of
the odious Tapling, then I shall talk to him. For after a successful
mission, I will have something legitimate to praise him for, he will have
his confidence back, and still three weeks remaining to study for his
Lieutenant's exam. Perhaps we shall talk, then, of Bunting, and how and
why I handled it this way, and together discuss if there is to be any way
of redeeming him. With the shock of yesterday more worn off, he will be
able to see the event more clearly, and I will help him work through this,
and by my help he will see that I have not held this against him at all.
Yes, his return from Oran will truly be the time to make him understand
SEPTEMBER 6TH, 1795
It is the worst that could have happened.
I find myself this evening returning to the fleet, to report to Admiralty
that our quest for supplies is probably a complete disaster, for in all
likelihood I have lost the Caroline, the supplies, and twenty of my men.
With them, of course, Hornblower.
It was but 3pm when I heard the sound of Hornblower's voice, calling to
me from the long boat. He was asking to speak to me, but declining
Bowles request that he come aboard and do so. I hurried to the side,
Bracegirdle behind me, wondering what could have happened? After all,
it was too soon for him to have completed the movement of stores. Had
there been a glitch in the negotiations? And why could Tapling not
Somewhat tersely, I came forward and announced my presence, thinking
he had made some error in judgement.
"Bad news, SirÖThe Plague is at Oran!"
I felt as if the mast had fallen on me.
Bracegirdle, giving somewhat tactless voice to my thought, gasped,
"Then they are already dead!"
"Enough of that" I snapped.
And yet what he said is true enough. Chances are that the hours they
spent in negotiations would be long enough for at least one man to
contract the dread disease. But there would be no way of knowing who
had until the symptoms manifested themselves. And so all twenty men
would stand together in quarantine, waiting for the first to get sick, and
knowing then the rest had probably been infected in quarantine. And one
by one they would allÖALLÖdie.
Hornblower, bless him, remained remarkably stoic, and offered a
suggestionóto save the supplies they might serve their quarantine on the
Caroline instead of at Oran, thus transporting the grain and cattle to
Gibraltar three weeks later. It was our only true hope of retaining the
food, so desperately needed. It was unspoken between us that this was the
only chance of saving Hornblower and his men as well, for certainly if
they were to quarantine in the diseased port there would be no chance of
escaping the Plague.
Bracegirdle performed his duty as First Lieutenant in reminding me that
it was most likely they would all be dead in a week anyway, and we
would lose the Caroline with them.
I had an image of the lone ship, sailing to no purpose, a crew of twenty
dead men and some two hundred dead cattle rotting in the sun. A lone
body by the wheel, not yet twenty years of age and struck down by fate
and by a Captain who thought a simple supply run to Oran to be harmless
and not worth the attention of an officer more senior.. .
I gave Hornblower permission to take the Caroline. The fleet does have
to have those supplies. And if I shall have to face an inquiry on the loss
of the Caroline, then so be it. It will be no worse than what I will face
myself every night for the rest of my life.
Hornblower, seemingly unfazed, requested that someone fetch his books
for his exam! Bracegirdle went to see about it.
I thought again of everything I had wanted to say to him last night, and
everything I had wanted to say to him this morning, and everything I
planned to say to him on his return, and cursed myself. And now, with
the long boat pitching in the wind and waves, and the men around me
looking at Hornblower and his mates as though they were demons from
Hell, all I could get out of my blasted mouth after Hornblower requested
his books was "I hope.. .you find time to study them."
Hornblower saluted and thanked me, and I went over to Bracegirdle to
make arrangements for the transfer of the Caroline's crew to
Indefatigable, so that Hornblower and his men might board her.
Later, as Hornblower had taken possession and begun to see to the
loading of supplies, I realized my new obligation was to remove my own
ship from danger.
One last report had come through from Hornblower: The man Bunting
was with him, a prisoner after an attempted desertion earlier. Naturally,
he, like Mr. Tapling, would have to remain on the Caroline. There would
be a trial, then, in three weeks. A trial, or an inquiry into my
performance as Captain that would question why a British supply ship
had been rendered useless by plague ridden bodies. Either way, three
weeks from now would find me in Gibraltar an unhappy man.
"He'll be alright" I had muttered to myself prior to leaving. It was more
of a prayer than a statement.
September 13, 1795.
The life on a ship goes on, even after losing twenty of her crew.
We have temporarily gained the fifteen from the Caroline, who have been
so happy to be spared the plague that they have worked twice as hard as
I reported to Gibraltar on the 10th, where I was questioned sharply about
my decision to let Hornblower command the Caroline. However, since
they have been able to get only a trickle of supplies in otherwiseóall
ships are now at half rations, and my own supplies have been only
augmented enough to keep my men aliveóthey finally agreed that any
measure that might procure food was worthwhile, even if risky.
Foster saw me, and proceeded to complain about his own food situation,
mentioning that he had not tasted fresh beef in over a week.
And here am I, having lived myself on biscuit for the past three!
But then, damn him, he chided me about Hornblower's plague exposure!
What a shame to lose such a promising young man in such a way. The
way he said it, you'd think I'd done it on purpose.
Yes, I know what I've lost, Foster, more than you ever will or ever could
I do not walk the decks in the evening any longer, but remain in my
cabin, pretending to read, or write, or plan. When I go above decks I see
his spirit, expecting any moment to come across him lost in thought, or
studying earnestly. I remember his pose as he rested against the railing,
after learning of his father's death.
Most of all, I see him on deck with Mr. Kennedy, that time prior to the
Papillon, when both of them were in such high spirits. I remembered at
the time comparing their friendship to mine with my old friend Grey,
wondering which one of them I would lose, thinking dispiritedly at the
time that I would probably lose them both.
Now Mr. Kennedy was gone, and perhaps Mr. Hornblower would soon
be joining him. Two young men who once stood on my ship and saw an
unlimited future in their joyous eyes. Men who had both overcome much
from their first ship, and would perhaps thrive on mine. I had lost Mr.
Kennedy, thanks to Simpson, but thought I could still save Hornblower. I
Perhaps he is fine. Perhaps he is successfully commanding the Caroline.
Perhaps, this remarkable young man will show up in Gibraltar in two
weeks triumphant, and I will look at Mr. Bracegirdle smugly as if to say
"I told you so."
Would that it were true!
September 20, 1795
It has been a long day.
Powers woke me this morning from a dream. I saw Mr. Hornblower
returning with a fleet of seven ships filled with every food delicacy
imaginable and with a cure for the Plague. After all, his father had been a
doctor and he had picked up some knowledge here and there. Bunting
had run away and joined the French Navy, where he was now trying to
lead an insurrection against Napoleon, doing more for this Navy in
desertion than he ever had in its service.
The largest ship in Hornblower's fleet is captained by Mr. Kennedy, who
Hornblower found floating around in the ocean, where he had been
subsisting for the past year on fish and rain water. Hornblower was
instantly promoted to Commodore, and now serves under me , for I am
Vice Admiral. Foster has been demoted to common seaman and is now
under command of Hornblower's man Styles, who has him cleaning out
the bilge twenty hours a day.
All in all, a very good dream in deed!
Then reality took over and the daily chores began. And a few out of the
ordinary things happened as well. I bade good bye to Hether, who has
been transferred to Orion as Master's Mate, a position he had been
performing here for the past year. Orion is a larger ship, and this is an
excellent opportunity for him.
In return, I have welcomed a Mr. Hunter, formerly a midshipman and
now a Master's Mate himself. He will train with Mr. Bowles as well.
Hunter seems smart enough, although of short temper. He's a bit of a
Foster in that way, always looking for action, but not always thinking
first, according to reports. He had failed his Lieutenant's exam twice.
It was reading that on his report that reminded me: I needed to send some
information on Hornblower to Admiralty prior to the exams. He would
have his papers in his sea chest, and I would need them for reference,
since he was not here to answer my questions himself.
I have elected to go through his sea chest myself, for when I told
Bracegirdle he looked at me with some pity, no doubt wondering why I
was taking such pains for a dead man. So I sent off Bracegirdle to see
Hunter settledóI may ask him to keep a special eye on him, as he seems
to be a bit of a loose cannon. And I resolved to search through
Hornblower's things for his papers.
As I opened his sea chest up, I thought of having to return in a week's
time to this chest, to bundle it for shipping to England in the event of his
death. I fumbled quickly through his meager possessions and finally
pulled a bundle of papers from the bottom. The top ones were letters
from his father, about twelve of them, tied neatly and with great care. A
stack of notes fell below them from a journal, followed by one last letter,
addressed but never sent.
It was to his father, dated the day before his duel with Simpson. His
father, of course, was already dead, but he had not known that at the time
of this writing.
I read it before I thought about what I was doing:
I hope and trust that this finds you well.
I feel I must tell you, in case the outcome of the next two days goes badly
for me, of my circumstance.
Due to an unverifiable attack on myself by a fellow midshipman, I find
myself getting ready to participate in a Duel tomorrow, and may not
survive. I know you will find this hard to understand, as you have
dedicated your life to ensuring men live. But it is something I must do,
and not just for my honor, but for the well-being of any Midshipman or
Ships' Boy who ever comes in contact with Mr. Simpson, my adversary.
This situation has existed since my days on the Justinian, and although
Captain Pellew has done everything in his power to prevent this from
happening, it has been, I think, inevitable.
I am writing you because I know, father, that we have been avoiding the
issue of our parting since I have been at sea, over a year now. Neither of
us realized, I think, that it would be so long until we could see each other
I know you wished me to become a Doctor. And I know I disappointed
you in choosing to join the Navy instead, although you did everything in
your power to assist me in doing so. And for some time, on board
Justinian, I feared you to be right. I felt a failure, although I never told
you of the events there. But since joining the Indefatigable, and serving
with Captain Pellew, I have learned that I am truly meant for the sea.
I wish, father, you could meet Captain Pellew. I feel certain you would
like him. Of course, you know him by reputation, but even that does not
do him justice. He is awe-inspiring, and yet he is both beloved and
respected by his entire crew. There is not a man on this ship, save
Simpson, who would not give his life for him.
And having served here for this time I have realized that even if I die
tomorrow, I have made a far greater success with my life that I ever could
have had I stayed at home. Father, this truly is my calling; I could never
have been so good a Doctor as you are, and would always have felt I let
you down. But with my career in the Navy, I am certain that one day you
will be proud of my service here. And if my career ends tomorrow, I
want most of all for you to know how proud I always have been of your
work, and to know that I have always regarded you as a hero yourself.
With love and affection,
I ought not to have read it, of course. For many reasons; I was invading
his privacy, violating his trust. But mostly, it caused me so much pain. It
brought him, you see, so vividly to life. My heart broke for him, that his
father never got to read the loving words his son had hoped would mend
their breech. And then there was his opinion of me, contrasted by the
stupid way I reacted when Foster was on board. Who am I, indeed? The
respected and beloved Captain, or the bitter and jealous officer with the
biting wit? At times like these I wonder why any man would follow me
I folded the letter and replaced them where I had found then. Returning
to my cabin, I submitted his paperwork, despite believing in my heart that
I had lost the man who would have been one of England's brightest stars
one day. The exam will never come. And the boy will die on a supply
ship somewhere, thinking that nobody lives to mourn him, never knowing
how much at least one man does.
September 23, 1795
I inspected the ship as usual, today, noting the overall good work of the
men, even short handed as we were, and despite the continued rationing.
Food enough remains for two weeks, thanks to the minimal supplies
Gibraltar has managed to smuggle through, but we are still at half rations
and until Hornblower returns we subsist on biscuit and pease.
(Of course, it's very likely Hornblower and his men are dead, at this
moment rotting in the belly of the Caroline, never to be heard from
The image does not ever leave me for very long, and has not since we left
him at Oran. In my mind, I witness his fever, see him wipe the sweat
from his brow, watch his despair as his men die one by one. I see him
alone, the last living man, just barely hanging on, and as he coughs
violently he falls to the deck, his frail body wracked with pain until he
draws his last breath.
Bracegirdle occasionally gives voice to equally morbid but less graphic
thoughts, and I am afraid I jump on him mercilessly, unable to bear
agreement in this matter.
So when he approached me at the end of the inspection I assumed the
worst, and reacted accordingly.
"What is it NOW, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
He blinked but remained unfazed. "Sir, we've just received signals from
the Orion, despaches are being sent over from Gibraltar."
And here I sit now, with their contents before me, and damned if I can
make out what it's all about.
One was from Port Admiral Hale:
You are hereby requested and required to report to Admiralty house on
the 24th of September in answer to an Enquiry on the behavior of one of
your officers, Lieutenant (Acting) Horatio Hornblower in a recent
encounter with HMS Dreadnought.
Then there was another one, from Dreadnought Foster himself:
I expect you will be shortly notified that I intend to file charges against
your Acting Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower, for insubordination and
conduct unbecoming an officer. As he is currently unable to answer for
those charges himself, I expect that you will be attending the Enquiry in
his absence. I look forward, Sir, to hearing your Explanation of his
Extraordinary behavior in our meeting with the Admiral.
Capt. William Foster
What the devil was this all about? Foster last saw Hornblower, to my
knowledge, right before we deposited him at Gibraltar. Since then, he
has made mention of the lad twice, once in a glowing letter where he
more or less offered to take him off of my hands at any time, and recently
lamenting his plague exposure. And since Hornblower has served with
me, only the Bunting incident could possibly count as any kind of poor
indication on his performance, and that a minor one. Besides which, how
would Foster have heard of that, and furthermore, what difference would
it make to him?
I called in Bracegirdle and he seemed stunned by the accusation. He
agrees with me, we know nobody less capable of Conduct Unbecoming
an Officer than Hornblower. But I am very uneasy after the conversation
with Bracegirdle. I always knew he held Foster in poor regard, but he is
truly concerned that if Foster goes after Horatio, it will end up a witch
hunt that will permanently damage the boy's career.
After I pressed him on the matter, I discovered an acquaintance of
Bracegirdle's fell victim to Foster in a similar manner. A fourth
Lieutenant with a bright career ahead of him, crossed him over some
minor personnel issue, and was formally written up on charges.
Although the Admiral found the charges to be baseless, Foster used his
considerable reputation to leave the young man with a black mark against
his name of the most insidious kindóthe kind spoken of behind your
back, when you cannot defend it. In the end, the young man left the
Not this time, Foster. I will not let you damage the name of Horatio
Hornblower, even if he is now dead.
Especially if he is dead.
September 25, 1am
I am afraid to put the events of this evening down on paper, but until I do,
I do not think I will ever believe it was anything more than a dream.
But first, the enquiry -
I reported to the Admiral, ready to defend Horatio to the death if
necessary from whatever charge Foster may have mustered against him.
We were shown into the room where we were to meet with Port Admiral
Hale. Foster, chin jutting out and swaggering with self importance,
sauntered over to me where I stood by the window.
"Captain Pellew, Sir, Have you no discipline on that ship of yours?"
I stared him down coldly. I could feel my pulse quicken but held myself
steady. With my eyes I dared him to take this further.
Naturally, he did. "That pup of yours had the audacity to challenge me,
in front of my men, about my right to procure supplies for my ship!"
I held my voice steady. "I do not understand, Sir. My second Lieutenant
is at this moment commanding a Plague ship, assuming he is still alive.
How is it possible you spoke to him?"
"Oh, the damned jackanapes is alive alright. I happened upon his ship
while he was ashore obtaining water, and I sent a battalion of my men on
board to take a couple of sides of beef."
My temporary elation at knowing Horatio and his men were alive
evaporated when I realized what Foster had done.
"Do you mean to tell me, Sir, that you exposed your men to the Plague
for the sake of one cow?"
I will admit, I did nothing to hide the shock and disgust from my voice
There are reasons quarantine is three weeks. No known cases of plague
have happened more than three weeks after exposure, but any time prior
to that point the men are still at risk, especially men who are transporting
food and beasts from an infected land. So Foster risked his men by
sending them on board, himself when they returned to his ship, and for
that matter, anyone he met at Admiralty today, including me!
"Sir, the quarantine was almost over, I will not have my judgement about
my ship questioned by you or by your impertinent Acting Lieutenant
Hornblower. What I choose to do with my ship is nobody else's
I was now in complete shock; this man did not grasp whatsoever the risk
he had taken. "So, Mr. Hornblower objected to your exposing your men
to the plague, and that is why I am here defending him from charges?"
"He had the audacity, Sir, to impugn my character. He indicated, Sir,
when I implied I would take the cattle by force if necessary, that his duty
was to the men, but the cattle and the responsibility were mine!"
Well, good for Hornblower, I say. I am proud to know that he has sense
enough to keep Plague out of the fleet. I would very much have liked to
seen the conversation. Of course, there was Foster, insisting he would
have opened fire on a British supply ship in a fit of pique. Amazing.
The man continued to rant on, but I managed to keep myself under
control until he used the right word: Mutiny.
He called Hornblower a mutinous dog he would have hanging from the
yardarm on HIS ship.
And I am afraid I lost all control then.
"Sir, As I understand regulations, the Admiral is the highest order short
of the King in His Majesties Navy. If the Admiral issues a regulation
requiring three weeks of quarantine, and my Lieutenant is dutifully
serving his three weeks of quarantine, and you, Sir, willingly and
knowingly violate that quarantine, then the mutiny would seem to be
Oh, to have been able to capture his face then! He became purple. He
sputtered. He was two seconds away from challenging me to a duel ñ I
considered how I would explain THAT to Hornblower, when a voice
cleared his throat from the doorway.
It would seem that Admiral Hale had been standing there from the
doorway and heard most of our conversation.
I mentally drew up how I would prepare for Hornblower's defense, but
before I could open my mouth, it became obvious there would be no
"Pellew's right, Foster. You took grave risk for no good reason. If
Lieutenant Hornblower had more firepower, he'd have been justified in
blowing the Dreadnought out of the water for the sake of the fleet. Under
no circumstances, Sir, are you ever to again conduct such action. Have
some sense, man! Now, do you have anything else on which you base
these charges? Or have you called me from important issues to discuss
Foster was stunned, and stuttered out a few more words related to the
same incident for some time, until it became evident that he had no real
Remembering Bracegirdle's story, I quickly interjected, requesting a
written retraction of the charge from Foster, which should be added
permanently to Mr. Hornblower's record.
Foster looked like he an overheated cannon, but Hale smiled at me and
replied, "I don't see that that's any problem, Captain Pellew. And I'll go
one step further and see that he's commended for his service on the
Caroline. I must say I'm relieved to hear he's still with us."
Hale dismissed us both, but before we could walk out the door, he issued
one further comment: there would be no Dueling between captains
serving under his command.
Foster strode away, still seething, issuing me one parting glance that said
should we meet again, I had best watch my back.
I turned the collar of my cloak up and stood on the steps of the building.
The fog was drawing in thick around me, and I felt a chill that cut to the
bone, although it was truly not that cold.
I left with the intention of calling on Archibald Harvey for a drink.
I would never find him
And this, my God, is where this journal entry takes a strange and
September 25, 1am entry, continued...
My state of mind was not of the best, despite my recent victory of sorts
over my old foe. Hornblower was much on my mind still. Granted,
according to Foster he and the crew were alive and well, or at least feisty,
as of three days ago, and with God's will, I would be seeing Hornblower
punctually in four day's time. But the enquiry had served to remind me
just how much I valued the young lad. And with the weather as it was I
felt a slow melancholy surround me. My mood returned to my earlier
despairing belief that Hornblower was dead, the Plague having struck
him late, after Foster's encounter; or that he would not live to see
Gibralter, being cut down by a Spanish or French ship in that woefully
under-manned and under-gunned supply vessel.
Such was my mind-set as I walked the narrow streets, barely able to see
my way, only judging by instinct where the Tavern I had met Harvey at
previously would be. Twice I saw a figure ahead of me, but when I
moved forward it seemed to vanish in the mist.
At last, I came upon the tavern, several regulars standing by the bar, one
man alone in a table in the corner, hunched over his ale. I took a table in
the opposite corner and called for a pint, which the bar keep was happy to
oblige me with.
In my mood I stared into my beer, thinking over my relationship with my
Lieutenant. So much had passed in the time he had served with me. I
could still see is bright smile, a smile made all the brighter as it was rare
that he used it. I pictured the determination of his jaw as he set to
whatever task he was assigned. I saw him grow, in my mind, the way he
had from someone just barely out of boyhood to the young man he had
become. But I could not see the future, could not see the man he would
be, and I wondered again if I ever would.
"A Navy Captain, are you, Sir?"
I looked up suddenly. The older gentleman from the other table had
joined me. Before I could reply, he motioned to the barkeep. "Another
pint for the Captain, Sir!"
I would have hesitated, but after all I had come here looking for Harvey,
to take my mind off of other matters. In Harvey's absence, this man
could be just as useful a distraction.
I shall now endeavor to describe him as I noted him at the time: An
impossibly thin man for someone of his age, which I judged to be just
over sixty. He was in appearance frail, but had an energy about him that
suggested he was anything but. His hair was grey, but must surely have
been dark at one point, and fell in a mass of untidy curls bound loosely in
the back. His face gave the impression of a man who had suffered much
heart-ache, but his eyes were clear and steady. A man, I thought, with no
The ale was served, and the barkeep moved away. I drank deeply, and
sensed that the man would speak first.
"Something preys on your mind, Captain?"
"I am concerned for one of my menÖwell, twenty of them, to be exact."
"Ah." He paused, not touching his own ale. "But perhaps more so for
one of them?"
"Yes. One in particular." I paused, and wondered how does one explain
Hornblower to a man not in the Navy? "A fine officer, and a fine young
"Your son, perhaps?"
I smiled at the thought. "No, not my son, though I would not be ashamed
to call him that." This I could admit to a stranger not in the service,
although it would never do to say it in front of another officer, or other
men of the sea.
"You have no children of your own, then?"
The familiar pain rippled through me, but somehow I felt no reserve in
telling this man the deepest secrets of my life. "I had a son. His mother
died in childbirth, and he shortly afterwards." I drained the ale and
motioned for more, but the bar keep did not see me. My companion
pushed his own untouched drink to me, insistently, and I took it.
I felt it my turn to query him. "And you, Sir?"
"My wife has passed away. I have a son, but he is lost to me now."
"How so?" I asked, genuinely curious.
"In a way I cannot explain. Suffice it to say he shall never see me again."
"It is what it is, Captain. Trust me when I say I cannot make it
This saddened me. "Do you not miss him?"
"More than he would ever believe. Unfortunately, we parted badly when
"Where did he go?"
He smiled at me. "He is in the Navy, Sir. That is one of the reasons I
wanted to buy you a pint. I would hope my son to have such a fine
Captain as you to look out for him."
I winced. "You do not know I am a fine Captain."
"I know you sit here despairing for the life of a valued man. And you
strike me as one who would be a good judge of men, Captain.. .?"
"Pellew. Sir Edward Pellew. And you are?"
He smiled, and shook his head. I had the impression that he was reluctant
to answer because of his son.
"I have heard of you, Captain Pellew. A tough man, but a fair one. A
friend once told me you'd be a fine man for my son to serve under."
"And that is?"
"A man now dead. Captain Wallace Keene."
A shiver ran through my body, but addled with ale I did not appreciate it,
and merely drew my cloak around me again.
"Do you?" He smiled at me, a smile of such warmth that I let the cloak
fall away, and his brown eyes twinkled. "No, perhaps not."
He continued. "Keene was, unfortunately, a very sick man. He had not
the command of his ship that he ought to have, or so I hear.'
I could not deny this, knowing what I know now.
"Did your son serve with Keene?"
Again he smiled, and again he turned the subject.
"When I came to this table, you looked at me to judge me by what you
saw, did you not, Captain Pellew?"
I admitted as much.
"You thought, perhaps, that here is a man with no regrets?" I started at
that. "You were wrong. I regret my relationship with my son very
"I regret that I did not pay him more attention growing up. I was so
wound up in my own work that I often did not see him. And then, when
my wife passed away, I found that even looking at him hurt, he reminded
me so much of her, in his manners and his demeanor, although others
have told me he looked more like me. I shut him out of my life Captain,
and I believe he felt it keenly."
Somewhere, in the back of my head, I heard a whispered voice saying, "It
was the only time he regarded me at allÖ" but I paid it no mind.
"And then," the old man continued "He decided to go into the Navy.
Naively I had always believed he would follow me into my profession,
and I reproached him bitterly. Such a smart lad, to waste his time on a
ship. No offense, Sir."
I remained in my stupor. "None taken."
"When it came time to leave, I brought him to the dock with barely two
words. Until he started towards the small boat we had procured. As he
turned to me to say good-bye, I looked him in the eye and said, ëYou've
disappointed me, Son.' And that is how we left it. I would never see him
Tears were in his eyes now, and he blinked them away. "Time, Captain,
is the enemy. I believed I would always have time to remove the sting of
those words, for I regretted them as soon as I said them. But stubbornly I
held out for a time when I should see him in person. He wrote to me
often, and I would write back, talking of news of the town, the people he
knew, anything but what I most needed to say. Of course, he held much
back from me in those letters. Perhaps he is as stubborn as I."
Again, he smiled, and the tears seemed to vanish. "But I ran out of time,
Captain. He'll never know, now, that I could not be more proud of a
I could not understand at first. His son alive, and he sits here talking of
never being able to reconcile with him? But slowly, through the ale and
the fog of my mind, a hazy thought became clearer, and I felt the hairs
stand up on the back of my neck.
Holding the side of the table to quell a slight shake in my hand, I asked
one more question. "What, Sir, was your profession, exactly?"
"Come now, Captain Pellew, that is not worthy of you. Judge for
I inhaled sharply. "I believe, if I had to guess, I should say you were a
"You know I was." He stood to take his leave. "I thank you, Sir, for the
opportunity. I only wish there had been two more people present. I
would have enjoyed playing a game of whist again."
He walked to the door, as I sat there in some shock. Then he turned back
to me. "Take care of my son, Captain Pellew. For he is alive and well,
and I dare say will yet come to make you as proud of him as I am." He
held his hand out to me.
I gathered my courage, stood and took it, shaking it firmly. "Doctor, I
can assure you, Horatio already has."
He smiled and nodded, and headed out the door. And a few moments
later, I followed him, procured a boat and returned to my ship, where I
dodged Bracegirdle's anxious questions on the pretense of filling out a
report. I am much shaken, and yet relieved at the same time. Horatio is
alive, and will be returning to the Indefatigable.
I only wish there was some way I could repeat this conversation to
Hornblower, without ending up locked away.
The night grows colder. And I am tired. But I must relay the events of
the enquiry to Bracegirdle, for he is also most anxious for the boy, and it
would be cruel to keep him waiting.
September 28th, 1795
I am waiting in my cabin for word of an event I have prayed for, hoped
for, finally believed in, but still fear will not occur.
Today is the day Hornblower should return.
Unless I am the victim of bad Ale, I have been assured of Horatio's
safety. Of course, I go back and forth believing my own eyes and ears; if
anyone else had told me such a story I would not believe them sane. But
I am calmer now, all the same.
Bracegirdle has noticed the change. In the days after my enquiry, and its
subsequent .. .. events.. .. I have been considerably more sanguine. Less
likely to bite a man's head off, essentially for not being Hornblower.
Bracegirdle has still been the harbinger of doom, but has ceased making
any comment regarding the boy in front of me. To a certain extent, the
story I relayed from Foster probably convinced him that Hornblower,
alive as of a week ago, might survive this ordeal. Mainly he is glad
Horatio survived Foster.
His eyes fairly gleamed when I told him of the Admiral's reaction to the
Meanwhile, the exam for Lieutenant is tomorrow, so if he does not return
today, he shall miss it. I am not sure whether or not I am wishing for
that. On the one hand, I know no young man better capable, as he has
proven yet again; on the other, I am not sure that the day after one's
return from a three week quarantine is the best time to report for an exam.
Bracegirdle exposed his weakness when I expressed this to him. "But
Sir, what could be better to prepare him than three weeks of uninterrupted
I can see now that my First Lieutenant for whatever reason, has never had
extended command of any sort of vessel! A supply ship with 200 head of
cattle, under-crewed and with a deserter on board, being raided for sport
by ignorant Captains, with the threat of death over your head the entire
time, is NOT an easy command!
What stirs above? Is that cheering on deck? Oh, to hell with waiting
calmly here. The entire ship knows I am awaiting the return of the
Caroline, why pretend otherwise to myself?
September 28th, 1795
Hornblower shall be returning to the Indefatigable shortly. He is at this
moment reporting to Admiralty, the Caroline at anchor, her stores soon to
be divided amongst the ships.
If I live to be a hundred, I do not know if there will ever be a prouder
moment in my life than watching the Caroline sail into harbor this
Surely no ship ever looked so beautiful! Oh, yes, she was beaten-up, for
she was not built for the arduous three weeks at sea she had covered.
And there was certainly a smell of the farmyard emanating from its hulk
as it passed.
But all I noticed was Hornblower, standing proudly on deck, hands
clasped behind his back, in every essence the perfect and unflappable
officer. His men, loyal, to the last, surrounded him, performing their
duties yet greeting the Indefatigable as they made their way into port.
And my lieutenant, who at this moment was in deed and acts a captain
and my equal, saluted me as he passed. And I wished he were not so far
off, and could see the slight smile I gave, as I returned his salute in kind.
My men were agape, the stories beginning to be told already. My dream
may not have been far off; by the time the crew has told the story of
Hornblower and the Caroline to their children and grandchildren, no
doubt he WILL have cured the plague!
When the simple truth is, all he did is save himself, and his men, oh, and
probably the entire Mediterranean Fleet!
As if that is not enough!
But there will be a few snags when he reports.
Mr. Tapling requested to come aboard a few hours ago, to have a word
There will be no court-marshal of Bunting; Mr. Hornblower was forced
to shoot the man dead while he was in the act of deserting a second time.
Tapling fears Hornblower has taken it hard.
Quite frankly, I had a hard time taking in the whole story. My heart was
so light with Hornblower's return and my head so stunned by the change
in TAPLING! He said so much it is difficult for me to remember what is
important enough for me to record. Well, first there was...
"...I may be quite frank, Sir, when I tell you that I have never seen a
young man with more courage than he. At one point we feared a case of
plague had struck, and Mr. Hornblower risked his own life and staved off
a panic by proving the man to be merely drunk..."
Lord, this man was gushing with praise...a man who, three weeks ago,
had acted like my ship, and indeed all things Naval, were nuisances to be
borne for the sake of the job only, barely worth his notice.
Of course, he proceeded to inform me that he had served Mr. Hornblower
as.. . Cook's Mate?
"Sir, though I found the sight of freshly butchered beef revolting at
first, I soon realized the difference to the men. Why, that alone served to
keep their spirits up-men who should have been on the edge of sanity
with worry could only extol their Captain for providing them with some
of the best food of their lives. It was a brilliant decision."
Of course, I could hear the reprimand now from some clerk in stores,
chiding him for opting to serve fresh beef instead of subsisting on the
sacks of weevily biscuit that they were provided with. An easy
reprimand from someone not requesting the work of twenty men with a
possible death sentence hanging over their heads.
In fact, remembering my recent meals, I almost wished I'd been
quarantined with them.
It took some time for Tapling to come to the point. Well after all, he is
still a diplomat, even if a more agreeable one. It finally dawned on me,
though, that he was praising Hornblower to such a degree in order to
mitigate any disciplinary action I might order for his handling of the
What sort of man did Tapling think I was, that I would fault one of my
men for performing his duty? Is it preferable that Bunting was shot? No,
it is not. But was it avoidable? Doubtful. Would I have done it? In a
heartbeat. After all, I shot Simpson, did I not? A man whom I'd have
rather seen stand trial for his crimes. But I had to act as the situation
dictated. If I had not, Hornblower would not be here now. If
Hornblower were not here now, then my men would still be on half
rations, and twenty of them would be dead at Oran.
I assured Tapling, somewhat acerbically, that I understood the situation
perfectly, and that Hornblower had taken no inappropriate action while
Captain. Thus relieved, Mr. Tapling has returned to his natural habitató
high societyówhile I await Hornblower to return to his.
September 28th, 1795
Mr. Hornblower has returned at last!
He was tired and smelled a bit.. ..gamey, when he entered my Cabin.
And Tapling was right, with the events surrounding Bunting, he looked
rather down on himself. What was it Bracegirdle had said to me once?
That if Hornblower had saved the Navy he'd curse himself for not saving
the Army as well?
I asked how things had gone when he'd reported himself in at
GibraltarÖwas the Admiral himself there?
"No Sir, I reported to Commodore Davis."
"I see." I then decided he must be filled in. "I of course, saw the
Admiral last week."
"Yes, I had to answer for charges made against you by Captain Foster."
"Sir!.. .I could see about seventeen different statements coming to the his
mind, and he was unable to decide which one to spit out.
"At ease, Mr. Hornblower. I am aware of the circumstances of your run
in with Captain Foster, and you were entirely within your rights. No
Captain has the authority to undermine the Admiral, and even less
authority to endanger the fleet."
The shock of this was too much for him, and he seemed to stagger a bit. I
motioned for him to sit down and he did, gratefully.
"Captain Foster said he'd see me at GibraltarÖ" He muttered. "I did not
grasp what he meant." He rubbed his temples with his hands.
I cleared my throat. "It might amuse you to know, Mr. Hornblower, that
I came within five seconds of having to defend your honor in a duel."
He looked up sharply then. "You, Sir? But howÖIÖyou don't
"Fortunately, Admiral Hale agreed with me entirely that Foster was the
only person guilty of disobeying an order, and insisted that the matter end
here. I might note, that I requested and received a written retraction of
the charges from Foster, for your record."
Hornblower exhaled. "He must not have liked that, Sir."
I then suggested that for both of our sakes, it would be best we avoided
Captain Foster in the near future.
I cleared my throat again, and sat down opposite him. I remembered the
conversation with the.. .. stranger.. .. at the tavern, about time being the
enemy. There was something that must be said.
"You have done well, Mr. Hornblower. It was your idea in the midst of
the crises that not only saved the lives of your men, but brought food to
the entire fleet, probably saving countless more lives. I am very.. .. proud
to have you serving on my ship."
I will never forget the anguished look on his face; his eyes were like
death. "Sir, I cannot accept such praise. I have killed one of my own
I closed my eyes. "Mr. Tapling has informed me of the man Bunting." I
tried to reassure him that he had only performed his duty as an officer.
He insisted that he had failed his real test, the one Bracegirdle set him to
a month ago.
No, I told him. Needless death was sometimes the price of command.
He had done everything within his power.
Finally, I decided that I should keep him from dwelling on this, and asked
him if he still intended to present himself for examination tomorrow?
As I suspected, this quite flustered him out of his mood. Not giving him
time to even think about answering, I told him he could tell Mr.
Bracegirdle he had permission to take the ship's boat. He was in some
state of excitement now, and rose rapidly to leave.
Ah, not so fast, Hornblower! I was not done with him yet.
I could hear Grey from beyond the grave tweaking me for my sorry sense
of humor, but I could not resist.
"Mr. Hornblower, I understand you allowed your men to feast on fresh
He did not even flinch, but looked me straight in the eye. "Under the
circumstances, I thought it best."
"YOU thought it best? Mr. Hornblower, I'm surprised at you." I kept
my voice controlled and dangerous, the way I usually do when I'm about
to thoroughly dress down an officer. "Fresh beef when there were other
provisions on board? Wanton extravagance! I'm surprised at you."
Hornblower, so different from the young man he was a year ago, did not
pale, or start, or even move to defend himself and explain away his
actions. He simply said, "Sorry, Sir." In such a way that we both knew
he stood by his decision, and in the same circumstances, would do the
And I could not feign anger any longer. "Good to have you back on
board, Mr. Hornblower" I said, facing the window.
But I caught the smile on his face, and the twinkle in his eye, anyway.
And there were a few seconds of complete understanding between us,
before we returned to our respective duties.
September 28, 1795
It had been a long evening, and somehow this day seems a fitting
conclusion to the events of the past six weeks.
I tried to be nonchalant as I ate my breakfast this morning, with Powers
darting in and out, ostensibly to serve me. In reality he dropped little bits
of information in my lap like so many pearls. Hornblower, after rigging
up some type of shower (to erase the after effects of his barnyard voyage,
no doubt) had in desperation borrowed one of Bracegirdle's shirts. Now
that must have been a site, indeed.
Then, as my coffee was being refilled, I learned that Hornblower had
bribed the steward with his spirit ration in order to obtain a flat iron. His
neckerchief had not fared well during his recent voyage.
And, from what Powers has lately informed me, as I ready myself to
leave to watch him depart, his hat has fared even worse.
So now I get ready to see him off, to watch how his men react to his
departure. He surely has been up all the night studying.
Well, it is out of my hands, and in God's now. I hope I was not too
precipitate in this!
Hornblower's been gone but a few hours and I am a wreck already.
Oh, not that anybody would notice, but I know! And I do not like feeling
this way, not at all. I am used to having things under my control, and this
situation is so far from my reach that I might as well be watching a staged
One, I might add, that has the makings of a Shakespearean tragedy.
Ah, but let me explain!
I saw Hornblower off at 10:00. He was to take the ship's boat into
Gibraltar. Mr. Hunter would row him out with two men, returning with
dispatches and supplies we might need. Hornblower would have to
procure a boat back to the ship himself when the exam was done.
Hunter, Bracegirdle reported, had no emotional reaction whatsoever
when the request was made of him. But surely it must rankle? I cannot
get a handle on that man. I dearly wish Mr. Hether were still with us.
In any case, I witnessed the pleasing spectacle of Hornblower's men
giving him three cheers, not once, but twice. It is a comfort that the men
appreciate Hornblower as much as his fellow officers, and I, do. They
are sincere in wanting him to succeed.
He blushed a bit at the sight, as he lowered himself over the side. But he
was not at all unhappy. He gave his men a smile of pride as he lowered
himself towards the boat. And off he went.
And until Hunter had returned, twenty minutes ago, I was wondering how
we would celebrate his passing the exam.
But Hunter, punctual but taciturn as always, returned with supplies,
dispatches, and news of grave importance. Not that he realized it.
He had run into two other midshipmen at Gibraltar, who were there
procuring supplies for their ships while their Captains were serving on
the exam board.
Indeed? I asked, in a highly jocular tone. I was more amused that
worried when I asked which Captians they would be.
"Captain Hammond, Sir, was one of them."
Hammond? That old ninny. No harm in him. Wouldn't want to depend
on him in a battle, the cautious old fool, but he's useful enough on an
exam board. Horatio should have no trouble with him.
Bracegirdle, next to me, snickered. I merely raised an eyebrow, and
started to sort through the dispatches, when Hunter continued.
"The other was Captain Foster."
"Foster?!?" Five voices cried out in unified horror. Bracegirdle, Bowles,
and myself, with Styles and Matthews joining in from a few feet away,
where they were scrubbing the deck.
I glanced at the men, and Styles and Matthews immediately redoubled
their scrubbing energy, but glanced significantly at each other.
"Thank you, Mr. Hunter, that will be all."
And so Hunter was on his way, not knowing the turmoil he had thrown
his superior officers into.
"Damn!" Bracegirdle muttered, slamming the glass closed.
I inhaled sharply, and grasped my arms behind me. "Mr. Bowles, can we
please see to it that the main sail has been repaired?"
"SirÖ" He began, but thought better of it. "Aye Aye, Sir."
I continued. "Mr. Bracegirdle, perhaps you would see to it that Mr.
Hunter has no other news from port?"
Bracegirdle welcomed the distraction.
Only after they walked away did I stride over to where Matthews and
Styles were working. No one else was nearby to hear us.
"Well, men, out with it." I said quietly but firmly. "You were on that
ship with him. You saw the encounter with Foster."
They glanced at each other, and Matthews seemed to take the lead. "Aye,
Sir, that we did."
"Well?" I hesitated. "Tell me, man, do you think the incident serious
enough to prevent Foster from passing him."
Styles answered immediately, before Matthews could stop him.
"Foster'd no more pass Mr. Hornblower, Sir, than a bloody frog would
pass a bottle of wine."
Matthews muttered "Belay that, mate." But Styles' unfiltered evidence
was no worse than I suspected myself.
No, Foster, whom I'd humiliated, AFTER he'd been dressed down by
Hale, AFTER Hornblower had already stood against him, would not look
kindly on the lad in an exam. And I am certain that he had the most
difficult, least answerable exam question at the ready, just waiting for
him to walk in the room.
Matthews added his own opinion here. "Sir, we'd not know how these
exams work, exactly, but is it true there'd be three Captains on a board?"
I told him there were, but that it was unlikely that one would overrule
another. I know full well that Hammond hadn't the backbone to do it.
Of course, I'm not sure who the third is, but a decision to pass must be
unanimous in any case.
Matthews shook his head. "What I'd be most afeard of Sir, is that Mr.
Hornblower goes and loses his head when he see's him."
Fool that I am, I momentarily thought Matthews mean Hornblower might
physically attack Foster. But I missed his meaning totally.
"Sir, You didn't know him on the Justinian. He's bright, Mr.
Hornblower, and he's strong, but Sir, he doubts himself. He's not used to
standing in front of powerful men, defending himself with words. Now,
put him in a boat, and let ëim prove his worth, and he'd do it a hundred
time. But to face a bitter man like Foster, and he'll loose his senses."
I closed my eyes then. "And so Mr. Hornblower will be back with the
midshipmen for six months at least."
And Styles, despite Matthews urgings to keep his mouth shut, gave word
to what I was thinking. "Tisn't Fair, Sir!"
I did not reprimand him, but walked away after thanking them for their
How could I reprimand him for being correct? It isn't fair. But it is
September 29th 1795
The smell of smoke lingers. I have what just might be a vague hangover
from one two many glasses of Port. Powers is under strict orders not to
disturb me unless it is a true emergency. Amazingly, my ship is still
afloat, showing no ill effects of our harrowing experiences last night.
How could so much happen in twenty-four hours?
The main thing is, my men and I are alive, and my ship is in one piece,
thanks to Mr. Hornblower. Given the opportunity, he did, in fact, risk his
life for my ship, my men, and myself.
My excitement began last evening, as I was eating alone. I considered
possibly recruiting three others for a game of whist, but with Hornblower
in Gibraltar for who knows how much longer it seemed unlikely I could
find a worthy trio. Just then, the thunder of footsteps came down the
passageway. There was a sudden pounding at the cabin door, and I had
no sooner said "Enter" than Cleveland cried out, "Sir, oh Sir, we've
spotted a fire ship, and she's headed dead for us."
What can describe my feeling in those moments? I snatched my coat and
bound to the deck, thinking all the while that I would rather face the
entire French Navy alone than one fire ship. I stood a chance at perhaps
out maneuvering standard ships, but fire is an element of God, and cannot
Not, at least, by a ship at anchor.
Bracegirdle, frantic himself, stood at the helm as I arrived, and handed
me the glass. I attempted to sound without fear, despite the knot in my
stomach, as I said "Thank you Mr. Bracegirdle. Ah, there she is. A small
ship, to be sure. But then I don't suppose they'd destroy a 74 gunner for
a stunt like this."
Apparently I was able to make myself sound calm enough, for
immediately the men, Styles to Bracegirdle, became a little less panicked.
And panic would have been fatal.
"Tell me, Mr. Bowles. How long would it take for us to get under
Bowles looked around the ship; we were at anchor in the port of
Gibraltar. Repair work had been done throughout the day, and would
have been continued into tomorrow. Our sails were mostly in; to loose
them would take considerable time.
"Forty five minutes, Sir."
Yes, at least that, though Bowlsie had his men well trained and was
perhaps the best master in the fleet. And it spoke well of his discipline
that seconds after he had made this announcement the men were at the
ready, preparing to get us under weigh with all possible speed.
"Shall I give the order, Sir?"
I trained my eye again on that Fire Ship. Pointing directly at us, she was
not more than fifteen minutes away. Evasion, I knew would be futile;
and to spread more canvas would only increase the danger. I made my
decision just as I heard the general alarm from the Port.
"No, Mr. Bowles. We shall prepare to fight fire with water!"
Immediately the men sprang to action, garnering buckets, pumping water.
The decks were swabbed down. Spars were readiedÖperhaps we could
fend her off that way.
The men knew what they were about; the ship was in mortal danger.
Bracegirdle likewise looked at me.
"Sir, is there any hope?"
"Aye, Mr. Bracegirdle. We may hope the winds change. Otherwise, we
are in the hands of God."
And God was not looking favorably on us at that moment, for the fire
ship drew slowly but steadily closer. The men braced themselves. I
noticed in particular Hornblower's division, without a leader but not
without sense. Matthews had lined them up on the side of the ship, with
spars and buckets. They had willingly put themselves where their own
lives would be in the most danger.
The smoke drew thick around us; the heat began to rise. I saw
Bracegirdle swab his face, smearing it with soot. I'm certain I looked as
Bracegirdle told me afterwards that he never saw anybody as calm in the
face of certain disaster as I was, for to look at me you would think this
only a ship's exercise. I am not sure how I managed it; for with every
beat of my heart the words seemed to pound in my head: the ship is
And then Bracegirdle muttered: Is she changing course?, meaning the
And the smoke momentarily cleared and I saw it: Hornblower, standing
at the wheel of the Fire Ship, surrounded in flames, steering her away
from us. Saving us all.
"Hornblower?" I said aloud and with wonder. Bracegirdle likewise was
agape at the site.
Thus, the Fire Ship only nicked us, the worst of the flames steered away,
and a small fire, quickly extinguished, was all the damage we sustained.
"Thank you, Men! Mr. Bowles, an extra ration of spirits for the hands
once everything has been cleared!"
And I headed below to my cabin, to file a report, and wait, hopefully, for
my new Lieutenant to return.
The voices of the men came to me from the skylight, and I shall endeavor
now to record what I heard:
Oldroyd: "Eh, now, was that Mr. Hornblower I saw at that bleedin'
wheel. What's he doin' out there?"
Styles: "Saving you're sorry life again, Oldroyd."
Matthews: "Just like our Mr. Hornblower, that is! Never saw someone
better in a tight spot than ëe is, even if he's only a boy."
Styles: "Tween him an the Captain, boys, them Frog's don't stand a
Oldroyd: "But how'd he get there, is what I want to know, when he's
supposed to be takin' his exam?"
Matthews: "Those exams are nonsense, anyway, if you ask me. Why
anyone with a brain can see that Mr. Hornblower's worth two of any
other midshipman on board here."
Styles: "Any exam Simpson failed all those times can't be all bad."
Hunter: All right you men, get yerself bellow decks before I report the
lot of you to the captain.
I felt Mr. Hunter broke up the group in a somewhat over-brusque fashion
that will not endear him to the men, I fear. Perhaps Matthews comment
about Hornblower's worth angered him?
I cleaned myself up and gave word to Mr. Bowles that when Hornblower
returned he was to be given time to ready himself and then report to me!
Strangely, I never was concerned that he might not return; somehow,
after surviving the plague, it never occurred to me that fire could harm
him. All I could think, now, was that this time even Hornblower could
not deny my right to praise him!
September 29th 1795
Only after an hour passed, did I grow concerned for his fate. Surely he
had escaped the ship? Perhaps I should have sent a boat crew after him?
Damn it all, what if he had jumped to the sea with no means of escape?
The water is cold; he might not make it back to a boat! Why did I not
consider this earlier? I beat myself up without mercy for a good five
Finally, Bowles tapped on my door. "Sir. Mr. Hornblower has returned."
I exhaled and held on to the side of the desk for support. Praise God, he
has cheated death again.
"He is changing now, Sir, and will be reporting shortly. He asked that I
give you this."
The letter was from my old friend Harvey. I enclose its contents now:
"Hail Sir Edward!
Please forgive the lack of formality in this letter. I do not wish your
young Mr. Hornblower to catch his death of cold while I prevail upon
him to wait while I write it. But you must hear the interesting details of
this evening, my friend, and since Mr. Hornblower appears to be as
reticent as someone else I know (ahem!) I fear I shall be your only
The evening did not begin well for the young man, I confess. The poor
boy was number 39 out of 40 to report. You know as well as I do how
badly that bodesÖto have a tired and cranky bunch of captains judging
you after you've been waiting on pins and needles for four hours. And
then naturally, Foster insisted on questioning himÖpressed for it when
he saw who was waiting in the hall. I had been under the impression,
when last I had the pleasure of your company, that the boy was a favorite
with him? Let me assure you this is no longer the caseóor is it? But I
get ahead of myself. Anyway, AT THE TIME OF THE EXAM Foster
seemed to want the lad's head for some incident at Oran. Well, Mr.
Hornblower can add his name to the long list of decent men who have run
afoul of Dreadnought.
You're not going to believe this, Edward. As the boy came in, obviously
a nervous wreck, Foster hit him promptly with this..Dover cliffs under
your lee, wind veers four points taking you flat aback, what do you do?
I'm not sure I could have answered it quickly. And after all, acting upon
it in a real life situation (when you are watching for wind changes and
have known for some hours where your ship was located) is very
different from suddenly being thrown the question while on dry land in
an exam room!
In the time it took me to write that question down, Hammond informed
Hornblower that by now he was dismasted.
Now the boy was rattled, and I felt sorry for him. There was no way he
was going to pass this, and yet could there have been a more arbitrary test
of his skills? Foster then snidely asked if we were to have the fountain of
his wisdom, or did he leave his tongue on the plague ship? You should
have seen the look Hornblower gave him!
It was at that moment that Hornblower was saved by the warning shot,
and we learned of the fire ship's presence amongst our fleet.
Hammond, Foster and I obtained a boat and I prepared to see them off to
their ships, while I would head to the Caroline to ensure the safety of our
supplies. Naturally, the two of them argued as to whose ship they should
head to first. And then Hornblower leapt into the boat with us.
Hammond was quite put out, but Hornblower pointed out that the fire
ship was headed to the Indefatigable. He was in agony, Edward, that he
should be away from his ship while she was in danger. After Hammond
pronounced you lost (before the damned ship had even touched you),
your boy suggested, most emphatically, that a man aboard the fire ship
could steer her away from the Indy!
Hammond denied it possible, but to my surprise Foster agreed, although
he looked embarrassed about it, either because he was agreeing with
Hornblower or because Hornblower and not he, the famed man of action,
had come up with this brilliant idea. I wanted particularly to lay stress on
the fact that it was Hornblower's idea, in case Foster should think to take
the credit for it.
In any event, we rowed out to the fire ship. Hornblower boarded first,
and, as you know, steered her well out of the path of the fleet, thus saving
you and your ship. What I have since heard, but did not observe, is that
Hornblower in fact saved Foster's posterior, going back to rescue him
from some life endangering situation.
Hammond had been a bit delinquent in plucking our unlikely duo from
the sea, as he was over-cautious as always. Foster, steaming mad despite
his dip in the water, accused him of cowardice. The result of it is that
there will be a duel tomorrow morning, and who knows when our exam
board will meet again? So for now, Acting Lieutenant Hornblower
remains just that, Acting. Which is an example of how supremely stupid
the Navy can be, because if ever a man DEMONSTRATED the
capabilities of command, it was Hornblower, this evening! And I can
assure you that I will file a report on the matter.
One last bit, Edward, and then I shall return Hornblower to you, with this
letter. The boy had your sense of humor. (Of course, most people don't
think you have one, but I know of your capacity for sarcasm and quick
wit.) For as we were sitting there listening to Hammond and Foster
bicker like children, the poor boy was half shivering to death in stupefied
silence. Eventually the duel was decided upon. Then Foster finally
remembered the boy, and admitted to him that his life was in his debt.
And Hornblower looked from Foster to Hammond, and back to Foster,
and said, "Not for long, it would seem."
Ha! Quite the fine lad you have there. I expect to be filling supply
requests for his own ship not too many years in the future.
Seriously, Edward, we must try to keep this one alive. He would have
gladly laid down his life for the Indefatigable. Or for you.
With deepest regards,
As I recall it in the morning light, in the end, it may have been the most
satisfying evening of my long career.
Of course, that could be after effects of three glasses of vintage port
Horatio presented himself to me within minutes of my finishing Harvey's
letter. He had changed into a dry uniform, but his hair was still damp
from his unexpected swim. As usual, he seemed a bit stiff and wary, but
I was used to that look from the young men who report to me.
"Mr. Hornblower, Sir, a glass of port to warm you up."
And Hornblower, who usually avoids spirits, accepted gratefully.
Although I have never been one to over indulge in praise, this was a time
when it was both allowable and necessary, and I was going to enjoy the
I had prepared my statement:
"In all my years at sea I have witnessed many an act of courage, but that
Sir must rank amongst the most remarkable. My men owe you their
lives, and I owe you my ship. These events will be noted in your records.
He responded with a simple thank you, and we both drank deeply. The
smooth liquid slid down my throat, easing the gruffness caused by all the
smoke we'd endured earlier.
Hornblower could not allow himself to live in the moment, and inquired
after his examination.
I was afraid he might do that, knowing he would consider his failure of
obtaining his commission before his accomplishments this evening. I
tried to smooth it over, pointing out that the exam board would probably
not meet again, what with Foster and Hammond possibly blowing each
other away tomorrow.
The disappointment was so clear on his face, that I had to be more direct.
"From what Harvey told me you were flat aback about to lose your spars
with Dover under your lee-it was the warning bell that saved you, was it
He admitted it.
After I let that sink in, I brought him back around to my original purpose:
to remind him of everything he'd succeeded in.
"I think we've seen you face and pass a sterner test"
He looked puzzled.
"You've tasted the bitter brew that is a captain's life-" Bitter as I know
only too well. "I think next time you'll be better prepared."
I drifted off for a moment then. The bitter brew-how sadly I am
familiar with it. The need to hold myself so damned above my crew that
left me almost in solitary confinement. Well, not this evening.
I turned back to him and raised my glass.
"Mr. Hornblower, it has been an honor to serve with you."
He raised his head, and met my gaze with warmth and admiration. "And
with you, Sir."
We sat then, for some minutes, in a companionable silence. I offered to
refill his glass, and he accepted; I filled my own as well.
"WellÖ" I began "It must have been quite a moment when you realized
Foster was on the exam board."
He rubbed his forehead with his hands. "Sir! It was NOT pleasant."
And before I knew it, we both started laughing.
Oh, it was a relief, that, after so many months of tension I had lived with.
And I confessed as much to him, that there were moments during the
rationing that I felt as though there would never be laughter again.
He got a very far away look in his eye, then. "I understand, Sir.
Sometimes, when things are at their worst, when the responsibility is at
its heaviest, it seems as though there can't be very much happiness in this
world. And then, I find myself on deck in the evening, or up in the
fighting-top, and the sea is calm, and the breeze is soft, and I think that
everything will be alright, after all."
It startled me, for Hornblower was always so guarded with what he really
felt and thought. It must have startled him as well, for he blushed.
"I'm sorry, Sir, that must sound very silly to you."
No, I told him, it was much what I felt myself.
And that's when I poured myself that third glass of port. Hornblower
declined this time; his second glass was only half gone.
Finally, he roused himself with a sigh. "I'd best be going, Sir; I might as
well move my things now."
"Move your things?"
"Back to the midshipman's berth, Sir." He said with a wry smile.
It took every ounce of restraint I had left in me not to laugh again. "Mr.
Hornblower, did you hear me say you failed that exam?"
He drew his brow together in puzzlement. That boy will have permanent
wrinkles in his forehead if he doesn't quit worrying so much. "Sir, as
you said, the warning bell saved me. One more minuteÖ"
"You do not think much of me, Mr. Hornblower, if you think I would
have you demoted after you've saved my ship."
"You are still my Acting Lieutenant. Do I make myself clear? I've heard
nothing from Gibraltar which changes that." I growled.
"Aye, Aye, Sir."
I softened then. "And after all, I see no point in asking Gibraltar for
clarification. Best let it lie. Now, let me get some rest, Lieutenant; I am
not so young as you are."
He smiled at me. "Yes, Sir. A good evening to you, Sir."
Well, in the end it was a good evening. And today is a better day. And
soon we'd have new orders in, and will return to the open sea. I do not
know what we shall face there, but I know I would have no other ship,
and no other crew, to face it with.