Mr. Pipps and the Examination for Lieutenant
It was a quiet afternoon in the midshipmen's berth on board
Indefatigable. Archie Kennedy was frowning with effort as he counted his
allowance. Mr. Pipps, the youngest officer on the ship's roster, was
writing laboriously on a large sheet of paper. Both his cuffs and much
of his shirtfront were already blue with ink. Horatio Hornblower, the
apple of his august commander's eye, was surveying his worn and
tattered uniform jacket with a gloomy expression. Mr. Winthrop, whom
nature had endowed with an extraordinarily loud voice, was sitting in a
corner with an empty flour sack over his head.
"Archie," said Horatio as he threaded a needle, "how did you
manage to mend your jacket so neatly last week? I mean it was fairly
ripped to pieces when you accidentally hauled yourself up the mizzen
mast with the signal flag halyard wasn't it?"
"Um, yes it was. Both sleeves fell off actually."
"So what did you do?"
"Oh. Well I just took a new one out of my sea chest."
Horatio sighed and began stitching. Archie was such a pleasant and good
natured fellow that it was easy to forget he was also extremely well
off. His gold plated monogrammed telescope was a sizeable clue of
course, as was his silk lined hammock.
"How do you spell 'confounded'?" asked Mr. Pipps somewhat
indistinctly. He was chewing the end of his quill pen and his mouth was
turning the same shade as his cuffs.
Horatio spelled it for him and took a bite out of a weevil tart before
taking up his needle again. He was curious as to where Archie's family
had acquired their wealth. It was not a thing one generally asked in
polite society but he thought Archie would not object to a tactful
"Archie, where does your money come from?" he asked casually.
"Does your family have estates here or do they own sugar
plantations in the West Indies?"
"I'm not quite sure but I believe Mama generally gets it from the
bank," said Archie counting on his fingers.
"I see, but I'm really asking what your father does."
"Nothing much," said Archie frowning at his thumbs.
"So he's a gentleman of leisure?"
"Well I'm not sure Horatio, I've never met him you see."
"I've met my papa lots of times," volunteered Mr. Pipps "he
lives in the same house as Mama. How do you spell 'wretched'?"
Archie told him and was immediately corrected by Horatio.
"Does it really have a 'w' at the beginning?" said Mr. Pipps
"Yes," said Horatio, "it's called a silent 'w'."
"Well I think that's silly," said Mr. Pipps after a few moments.
"So, are you saying you don't know who your father is Archie?"
asked Horatio stitching away furiously. "Didn't you find that a bit
strange when you were a youngster?
"Not a bit," said Archie cheerfully, "besides, the house was
always full of jolly nice uncles when I was growing up."
"Does infuriating have two ffs?" inquired Mr. Pipps.
"What are you writing?" asked Horatio threading another needle.
"It's a letter to my mama."
"But you only came back from visiting her yesterday," said Archie
moving piles of guineas around with an abstracted air. The Indefatigable
had been anchored in Portsmouth for a fortnight and Saxamunny Towers,
the Pipps family residence, was a mere ten miles inland.
"I know but I'm telling her what Captain Pellew said when I
accidentally dropped the frog spawn through his cabin skylight this
"You're not writing all those words down are you?" said Horatio.
"Some of them are not quite the thing to put in a letter to your mama.
Here, you better let Mr. Kennedy have a look." Archie abandoned his
heap of guineas and went to sit next to Mr. Pipps. The page was already
half filled with his bold but childish handwriting.
"I can never find this much to write about," said Archie admiringly
"now let's see what you've put. 'Deerest Mama, I miss yoo
alreaddy. I liked Thomas new howse verry much and it was nise of yoo to
by him a frend to play with with. Can yoo sned me sum mor frogs pown? I
dropt it in Captin Pelloos sooop (not on perpuss!) and he wos verry
cros. He sed ..' Oh I say, is that an 'f'?" said Archie pointing
to a cluster of capital letters and exclamation marks further down the
"Yes," said Mr. Pipps after giving it some serious consideration.
"Well I'm afraid that whole word will have to come out," said
Archie scratching at it with the pen.
"There's four of them," said Mr. Pipps helpfully. When they were
dealt with Archie continued with the cutting out operation.
"Is this an "s" and an "h" together?" he said in a shocked
tone. Mr. Pipps nodded solemnly. Archie did his duty with the pen and
then picked off a few more stragglers before declaring the letter safe
to send. "You must have caught the Captain at a bad time," he said
sympathetically, "I know having some frog spawn land in one's soup
would certainly be a bit of a shock but apart from causing a small tidal
wave on the tablecloth I don't see that much harm could have been
"Sir Edward was not angry because the frog spawn fell in his soup
Archie," explained Horatio trying on his repaired jacket.
"Oh really? Then why all the fuss?"
"He went off like a cannon because he ate some before he realised it
Archie's blue eyes were wide with astonishment and his face went
blank with surprise. It was an expression his friends were used to.
"I didn't do it on purpose," said Mr. Pipps with the air of one
who had been unjustly accused of much in the past. "I was
jus'sitting next to the skylight and I sort of tipped the jar over
to get a better look at the frog spawn. Then it all fell out and dropped
on the Captain's table. He was reading a book and didn't notice when
it splashed into the soup. I was going to tell him but I accidentally
bumped the skylight and it banged shut. I runned all the way down to his
cabin but he'd already had two spoons by the time I got there. Mr.
Hornblower, should we let Mr. Winthrop out of the corner now?"
"Has it been twenty minutes?" said Horatio as he moved his right
arm tentatively. There was something out of alignment.
"Yes." Mr. Pipps scampered to the corner and took the sack off Mr.
Winthrop's head "you can come out but you're 'sposed to
whisper," he said solemnly.
"UNDERSTOOD," said Mr. Winthrop sotto voce.
"Now what were you going to say earlier?" asked Horatio as he
turned awkwardly this way and that trying to discover why his jacket
would not sit properly.
"CAPTAIN PELLEW'S COMPLIMENTS AND WILL MR. HORNBLOWER AND MR.
KENNEDY JOIN HIM IN HIS CABIN AT ONCE," said Mr. Winthrop under his
"So how on earth did the Captain manage to eat the frog spawn?"
said Archie with the air of a man who had been another dimension
entirely for the past two minutes.
"I runned as fast as I could," began Mr. Pipps indignantly.
"Never mind all that now!" yelled Horatio desperately "Dear God,
we've kept the Captain waiting twenty minutes! He's going to kill
us! Archie get your jacket on! Take your curling rags out and tie your
hair back! Quick man!"
Years of training paid off and Archie was ready for action in under a
minute. As he stood by the door with his uniform and hair in immaculate
order he cast an experienced eye over Horatio's turn out.
"Did you know you've sewn one of your sleeves in upside down?" he
"Oh #*&+#*!" shouted Horatio, "Well it's too damned late now,
come on!" and he propelled Archie out of the cabin.
When they had gone Mr. Pipps sat down and took up his pen. He was going
to need another sheet of paper.
Horatio knocked on Sir Edward's door and hurried in, not wishing to
keep his Captain waiting another second. Archie scuttled in after him.
The cabin was empty and they gazed about in admiration at the highly
polished furniture, the colorful curtains and the neatly combed shag
"Where do you think he went?" said Archie nervously. At that moment
an unobtrusive door on one side of the cabin opened and Captain Pellew
emerged from his private en suite sewing room and head. He was carrying
a crochet hook and a rectangle worked in a tasteful shade of burgundy
wool. He was also looking a trifle pale.
"Ah gentlemen," he said 'I'm sorry you had to wait so long. I
had an unexpected change in my diet earlier which has left me somewhat
"Oh we just got, ow!" said Archie as Horatio trod on his foot.
"What was that Mr. er, you?" asked the Captain, pouring himself a
stiff pint of brandy and sitting down at his desk.
"Nothing Sir," said Archie.
"So I should hope," said Sir Edward giving him a very severe look.
It was a look he had employed often and with excellent results ever
since he had read about it in that valuable little volume entitled
'The Five Minute Frigate Captain'. Having reduced Archie to a
quivering jelly he turned his attention to some papers on his desk. He
shuffled documents around while he mentally recited 'two four six
eight, always make the poor sods wait'. Then he crocheted a few more
rows of one of the set of twenty-four dinner napkins he was working on.
"Right gentlemen," he said at last "a board will convene ashore
next Thursday and I am putting one of you forward for the lieutenant's
"Thank you Sir!" said Horatio as his eyes sparkled with happiness
and his curls sprang to attention. He was to take his lieutenant's
exam at last! He had been ready for more than a year, and had been
studying during every available moment. He even made use of those
frequent occasions when Archie fell out of his hammock during the night.
Horatio would pick him up off the floor, rattle him awake and insist
that his friend test him with stiff navigational questions.
"Ah, Mr. Hornblower, no, I'm afraid it's not going to be you this
time my boy," said Sir Edward a little uncomfortably.
"Oh but Sir!" pouted Horatio "I've been studying really hard
and I've swiped more Frogs than all the rest of the midshipmen put
"You have indeed," said Sir Edward with a distinct air of pride,
"but I have very specific instructions here, direct from the
admiralty, and they state quite clearly that Mr. Kennedy is the only one
of you who is to appear in front of this particular board. I hope you
are pleased sir."
"Well, not really," began Horatio moodily.
"Not you Mr. Hornblower!" said Sir Edward turning his awful gaze on
Archie once again. "You sir! Mr. Kennedy, what do you have to say?"
"I, um, oh, me Sir?" quavered Archie.
"Hmm," said Sir Edward "I think, Mr. Hornblower, that you had
better give Mr. Kennedy some assistance with his studies. Do you have
all the books you need?"
"Yes Sir. I have Clerk's Advanced Level Seamanship and
Anstruther's Quarterdeck Compendium For The Frightfully Keen Young
"Yes, well you'd better take these as well." The Captain reached
into his deck drawer, pulled out a couple of well worn volumes and
handed them to Hornblower.
"Thank you Sir," said Horatio. He read the first title aloud.
"What Are All Those Ropes For? A Lubber's Guide to the Mysteries
of Sailing. Oh this will be helpful won't it Archie? And what's this
one? Cleats and Cross Trees for the Clueless. We shall make good use of
"Carry on then gentlemen, and remember Mr. Kennedy, the honor of the
Indefatigable goes into that examination room with you!"
"What's the matter with Mr. Kennedy?" whispered Mr.
Pipps half an
hour later as Archie sat sniveling into a cup of tea in the
"He's just a bit nervous about his lieutenant's examination,"
explained Horatio who was busy re-sewing his sleeve onto his jacket.
"Come along Arch. I'm going to give you lots of help. I know
you're going to pass."
"It's no good," sighed Archie mournfully "I'm just not clever
like you Horatio. Ugh! What's this?" he stared at the sticky mass
that Mr. Pipps had just pressed into his hand.
"Sugared weevils," said Mr. Pipps "the Captain's cook gave them
to me, but you can have them 'cos you're feeling sad."
"Oh, that's damned decent of you, I mean it's very nice, thank
you. It's not just the questions Horatio, it's the whole business of
walking into that room and having to face the examiners. I mean everyone
knows that they are always the most frightful collection of old coots. I
shan't be able to say a word! I shall probably have a fit of, well you
know." His voice dropped to a whisper as he alluded to his tendency to
recite yards of Shakespearean verse when under stress.
"Don't worry Archie, I've got a plan. You wouldn't be nervous
if you've already faced the board several times before would you?"
asked Horatio. He was wearing that maddening expression he always got
when he had thought of something terribly clever.
"I suppose not," said Archie doubtfully.
"Aren't you going to eat your weevils?" said Mr. Pipps eyeing
them with regret.
"How long ago did the cook give them to you?" said Archie looking
at them with a hint of distaste on his aristocratic features.
"I think it was last week, before I went to see mama."
"Never mind that now!" said Horatio impatiently. "Come along
Archie and help me move this table. We need to put it crossways."
"Why?" gasped Archie as he heaved and pushed.
"Because this is going to be the examination room of course. I'm
going to be the tribunal. Now go outside and wait for a while and when
you come in again I'll ask you questions."
"Can I ask questions too?" asked Mr. Pipps eagerly.
"Yes, you can be one of the examiners," said Horatio setting his
books on the table.
In five minutes all was ready and Archie was waiting outside in his
uniform jacket with his hat under his arm.
"Next young gentleman!" Archie wasn't sure but he thought the
voice sounded like Horatio pretending to be old and cross.
"Next young gentleman!" Yes, that was Horatio all right, but what
on earth was he doing? Before Archie could fathom it out he heard small
feet scampering across the deck. The door opened and Mr. Pipps stuck his
"That means you're s'posed to come in now," he explained.
Archie entered to find that Horatio, Mr. Pipps and Mr. Pipps' pet
mouse Jeremy had arranged themselves at the far side of the table. Being
so much shorter than his companions Jeremy was obliged to sit on the
table, rather than behind it.
"Can I ask the first question?" said Mr. Pipps.
"Oh very well" said Horatio, who was still leafing through a book
in search of suitable problems of seamanship to test his friend with.
"Have you ever fought any pirates?" asked Mr. Pipps eagerly.
"I'm afraid not," said Archie apologetically.
"That's not a proper question!" exclaimed Horatio. "You're
meant to ask him something about sailing."
"Pirates are about sailing," said Mr. Pipps staunchly.
"No, I mean it has to be a technical question. Like this one. Now
then Archie. You're under orders to sail at once, there's no wind at
all in harbor but you can see there's a lively breeze just out to sea.
Now what do you do?" he said with an encouraging smile.
"Umm," said Archie gazing at the toes of his shoes.
"I'll get you started shall I?" said Horatio helpfully.
"Oh yes please."
"Well first of all you would put the anchor in a boat and then..?"
"The boat would sink?" said Archie after struggling with the
problem for a few moments.
"No, of course it wouldn't sink!" said Horatio with a slight
"It might if it was a very small boat," said Mr. Pipps
"Yes, that's what I think," said Archie earnestly.
"But you wouldn't use a very small boat," said Horatio
deliberately. "You'd chose a boat big enough to take the anchor
without sinking. What's next Archie?"
"Er, well, can you row the boat and sort of pull the ship along?"
"No," said Horatio slowly, "try to think about it. You row away
from the ship, then you drop the anchor. Now can you say what happens
"Can you give me some sort of hint?"
Horatio sighed heavily. "Listen carefully Arch. You take the cable
that's tied to the anchor that you've just dropped and begin winding
it in with the capstan. So what will happen?"
'Oh well it's obvious isn't it?" smiled Archie in sudden
comprehension, "the ship will start to go round in circles."
Horatio gave a short cry of despair and looked up at the ceiling for
"Can Jeremy ask a question now?" inquired Mr. Pipps.
"I think he better answer the next one," said Horatio in an
exasperated tone. There was a sudden clatter of shoes outside and the
door burst open to admit Mr. Winthrop.
"Outside!" said Horatio at once. The midshipman retreated
immediately, closed the door and delivered his message.
"A NOTE FOR MR. HORNBLOWER FROM CAPTAIN PELLEW."
"Slide it under the door," said Horatio jumping up eagerly. He
could not remember getting a note from his captain before. He wondered
if it would be appropriate to have it framed. Perhaps he could hang it
next to his hammock. He opened it with trembling hands.
From the desk of Sir Edward Pellew
Opposite the Blue Boar Inn and just to the right of HMS
Dear Mr. Hornblower
Meet me in the cable tier right away.
Edward Pellew (Captain) (Baronet)
Member of the Honorable Order of Frog Swipers.
Don Drubber Extraordinary to His Britannic Majesty.
Member of the Society For the Improvement of Seagoing Décor
Other Honors Too Numerous To Mention In A Short Note Like This.
"Carry on with the questions Mr. Pipps!" said Horatio
hat and dashing for the door. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
"Ah, there you are Mr. Hornblower!" Sir Edward was
pacing up and
down in the cable tier crocheting furiously. "Something rather special
has come up. This could mean promotion my boy. We'll have epaulettes
on those broad shoulders of yours inside five years or my name's not
"What's happening Sir?" said Horatio eagerly. It sounded like he
was going to be asked to do something single handed again.
"Our visitor from the Admiralty has all the details," said Sir
"Who Sir?" Horatio peered about but couldn't see anyone else.
"Over there. In the barrel."
"The barrel Sir? Oh I see Sir." There was indeed a large cask in
the gloomiest part of the cable tier. He went and stood beside it
wondering who could be inside. A faint buzzing sound was coming from the
"Dammit! The fellow's nodded off again!" exclaimed Sir Edward. He
strode across and jabbed his crochet hook through the opening.
"Ooh! Oh I say! Is he here yet?" The voice was a cheerful one in
spite of the fact that its owner had just been poked in an unspecified
area of his anatomy.
"Yes, get on with it for heaven's sake!" barked Sir Edward.
"Absolutely. Now then Hornblower, my name's Carstairs. Oh bugger!
I've done it again! Not supposed to give out my name y'know. Do it
all the time. That's why they make me go about in this barrel
"Er, Yes Sir."
"Jolly good! Now then, a few of the chaps in the little room under
the stairs at the Admiralty have found out that someone is being damned
careless with information about the movements of our ships of war. It
looks like the Frogs have infiltrated naval circles in Portsmouth and
are picking up news at the card tables."
"Those French swine!" hissed Horatio.
"Just so. Now Hornblower, I hear you are a dab hand at whist and can
be counted on when it comes to having a crack at Johnny Crapaud."
"I'm your man Sir!" said Horatio drawing himself up to his full
height and smacking his head on a beam.
"Ah yes, well perhaps I should make it clear that we need you to
attend the Naval Wives Weekly Whist Drive and Pig Roast next Thursday
evening. Sir Edward, will you be so good as to give Hornblower the
"By all means," said the Captain thrusting a package wrapped in
brown paper into Horatio's arms.
"I'm sorry Sir," said Hornblower sheepishly, "I must have hit
my head harder than I thought. I could have sworn you said Naval Wives
Whist Drive just now."
"Just open the parcel there's a good chap," said Carstairs. "I
have another appointment at 2 o'clock and I need to get myself hoisted
out of here soon."
Horatio undid all the knots in the string and unfolded the paper neatly
to reveal several yards of sprigged muslin in a fetching shade of blue.
"Get someone on the ship to run that up for you,"
briskly. "We can't risk using a dressmaker ashore. Gossip and all
"Is this absolutely necessary?" asked Horatio faintly.
"Of course it is. Think for a moment man! If you're spotted having
a fitting in the town word of what we are up to could reach the Frog spy
and he'll pick up his skirts and run before we can nab him."
"Yes, I see Sir, but I was wondering if I really have to wear a
dress," said Horatio, who had turned a rather becoming deep shade of
"Well of course you do! If you go in uniform they'll think you're
a man and won't let you in. It's a Naval Wives Club d'ye see? The
ladies, bless'em, are chit chatting about their husbands' ships
during the whist rubbers. It's quite simple Hornblower. Just get
inside and when you spot the Frog in the frock, flush him out and our
chaps will be waiting outside to scoop him up."
"You're sure it'll be a man Sir?"
"Absolutely. Putting a man in dress is just the sort of filthy caper
the Frogs would stoop to. Report to me outside the banqueting room of
the Lamb and Flag next Thursday evening. I'll be in the umbrella
"Aye Aye Sir," sighed Horatio.
"Stand still Mr.Hornblower," said Sir Edward impatiently "I'll
never get this skirt to hang properly if you keep fidgeting."
"Yes Sir," sighed Horatio.
"There!" said the Captain getting to his feet "that's the hem
pinned up. Now turn round and let me have a good look."
Horatio rotated slowly while his commanding officer cast a critical eye
over his partly finished disguise. For two days they had been working
together in Sir Edward's private sewing room fashioning the frock in
which Horatio would fool the Frog.
"Well I think the high waist and the puff sleeves were most
definitely an inspiration," said Sir Edward in a satisfied tone.
"What is your opinion Sir?"
"Oh, well yes Sir," said Horatio "and may I say again that I'm
very grateful for all the help Sir?"
"Nonsense my boy!" said Sir Edward "always glad to help my finest
young officer, especially when we are looking at a sure fire promotion
when you nab this spy fellow."
Promotion! A figurative sack of bitter self-loathing fell heavily on
Horatio's head when he thought of poor Archie. He had promised to help
his friend with his examination but instead here he was dressed in blue
muslin and contemplating the selfish pursuit of his own glory.
"Cold feet Mr. Hornblower?" asked Sir Edward sympathetically
"No Sir. Not at all Sir. Completely ready for action Sir."
"I'd expect nothing less Mr. Hornblower but if your feet do happen
to get chilly I have a spare pairs of fluffy slippers. Lady Pellew's
always sending me the damn things."
"Th, thank you Sir," stammered Horatio. His ears turned scarlet at
this unwarranted glance into the marriage bed of his exalted commander.
To cover his confusion he admitted that he was feeling guilty about
leaving Archie in the lurch.
"You need have no fear on that score," said Sir Edward putting away
his pin cushion and tape measure in their mahogany cases. "Mr. Kennedy
has only to enter the exam room upright in order to obtain his
"But Sir, I don't understand," said Horatio, not comprehending.
"Since you are about to risk all for your country I think you deserve
an explanation, but what I am about to say must never leave this
room," said Captain Pellew returning his thimble to its wall
"I understand Sir."
"Mr. KennedyÖ." Just as Sir Edward began speaking very quietly
several loud noises came from the adjoining day cabin. "That will be
the men coming to put the double glazing in the stern windows,"
explained Sir Edward, raising his voice. "As I was saying, Mr. Kennedy
is.." The sound of hammering, breaking glass and swearing rose to a
crescendo and although Horatio concentrated on listening to his
Commander's voice, much of what he heard made no sense at all.
"Wrong side of blanket rhubarb rhubarb, crown argle bargle,
particular interest harrumph garumph. All clear now?"
"Good," said Sir Edward in a blessed oasis of silence that fell
when someone in the next room bellowed that grog was up. "We need
never speak of it again. Now cut along and don't forget to hang your
frock up before you go."
"Aye Aye Sir."
"You've got a letter from your father Horatio," said
was attempting to undo the knots that were securing his ankles to his
chair, "and that little parcel is yours too."
"Thanks Arch," said Horatio sitting down at the middies mess table.
He dipped into a bowl of cheesy weevils as he opened his letter.
Muttering in the Marsh
Things are going from bad to worse. Half the village has contracted
galloping foot rot and the other half are suffering from the blue
horrors. I am run off my feet and if that wasn't enough some
blackguard has pinched all my damn leeches. I am thinking seriously
about retiring from the doctoring game. My fourth cousin removed on your
late mother's side, Jedediah Gorringe, has invited me to invest in a
knacker's yard in Scunthorpe.
Mrs. Goggins sends her respects and a jar of jam. We nearly lost the
old bat last week. I happened to look in the outhouse and found her
upended in the washtub. She'd gone in after my drawers and hadn't
the strength to pull herself out. I shall have to turn her off soon.
What happened to that bottle of brandy you were going to smuggle in for
Your poor old father
Horatio sighed. How opportune that he should receive these
words so soon before embarking on an especially hazardous mission. He
unwrapped the parcel and took out a jar labeled ëdamson jam.' For a
few moments he was lost in happy memories of a childhood filled with
overcooked vegetables, underdone meat and rock hard pastries.
"I say Horatio, can you give me a hand?" inquired Archie who was
still struggling ineffectually to untie himself. "I was practicing
some knots but I forgot how to undo them."
"Of course Archie," said Horatio. He leaned over and tugged one end
of the rope, pulling all the knots out at once. "Glad to help."
On the following Thursday afternoon Archie walked nervously
streets of Portsmouth. He was on his way to the Admiralty Offices and
wished for the hundredth time that Horatio could be with him instead of
on some top secret Frog bashing caper. Still, Captain Pellew had allowed
him to bring another Midshipman along for support; at least Archie had
assumed that had been his intention. After all what else could "get
that wretched boy off my ship for at least three hours!" mean?
"Look, a pie shop!" exclaimed Mr. Pipps who was skipping ahead,
"can we go in?"
"We've been in three already!" protested Archie "and you've
still got half a dozen pies left in that bag haven't you?"
"But they might have different ones," observed Mr. Pipps as he
pressed his nose against the window.
"I really must be getting to the Admiralty" said Archie "I
mustn't be late you know, it might annoy the examiners."
"Can we go in on the way back?" asked Mr. Pipps skipping forward
"If there's time," said Archie "but I thought you wanted to buy
lemonade, bulls eyes, marbles, glue, a collar for Jeremy and a Gentleman
Jim the Highwayman penny song sheet? I'm not sure we can do all that
and fit the pie shop in as well."
"Oh" said Mr. Pipps slowing to a walk for a few moments while he
considered the problem. "Well I suppose I could manage without the
glue. Is it far to the Adm'lty Office?"
Archie's reply was interrupted when three young ladies of less than
respectable appearance called and waved to him in a very forward manner
from an upstairs window. They made several improper suggestions and
seemed very disappointed when he made it known that he would not be able
to visit them that day.
"Why was that lady talking about your marlin spike?" asked Mr.
Pipps "does she know a lot about sailing? Have you been studying with
"Er, well no not really, but she knows a lot about sailors,"
mumbled Archie. He took out his silver repeating watch, the one with the
built in bottle opener, and gasped in horror. "Come along!" he said
grasping Mr. Pipps firmly by the hand "I'm late! We shall have to
As soon as it was dark Horatio made his way quietly down the
the Indefatigable and settled himself in the sternsheets of Captain
Pellew's second best jolly boat. He had a good crew. Mathews, Styles,
Oldroyd, Lennon, McCartney and the Brothers Karamazov would be rowing
him to the steps outside the Lamb and Flag.
"Beggin' yer pardon Sir," whispered Mathews as they pulled away
from the ship "but me and the lads was just wondering," his honest
brow was furrowed and he seemed reluctant to speak.
"You were all wondering why I'm wearing a dress," said Horatio
"Oh bless you no Sir!" chuckled Mathews "We was just 'oping for
a chance to slip along to the Pig and Whistle while you're er, well,
busy ashore. You did say 'as 'ow you wouldn't need rowing back to
the ship until late Sir."
"I see," said Horatio "well I suppose no harm could come of it.
However none of you are to get drunk and I'll not tolerate any bad
language nor lusting after lose woman. And if I hear of anyone playing
dominoes I'll see that he's flogged."
There was a muttered conference among the seamen before Mathews replied
glumly. "If it's all the same to you Sir, we'll just sit in the
boat and get on with our whittling."
"I'm sure that will be best," agreed Horatio. "I'll see if I
can get a pot of tea and a plate of rock cakes sent down from the Lamb
and Flag. That'll keep you in good cheer eh?"
"That's right kind of you Sir."
"Not at all Mathews. So you don't think any of the men are curious
about my er, outfit?"
"Not a bit Sir, although Oldroyd did say he thought as how you looked
like a bloody great fairy when he spotted you twirling about in it
through the Captain's skylight but me and Styles soon put 'im right!
'You mark my words' I ses 'our Mr. Ornblower is only putting that
frock on because it's got something to do with 'aving a crack at the
"Thank you Mathews," said Horatio, touched by the old salt's
"That's all right Sir! And as I was saying to Styles the other day,
you could show me Mr. 'Ornblower togged up in set of pink frilly
underwear and I'd know he was only getting ready to knock the Frogs
for six! 'Yer right there Matty' he ses 'there's nothing funny
about our Mr. Hornblower."
"Yes, I think that's enough," began Horatio flushing beneath his
"Why if you was tied up to the mainmast and covered in treacle I'd
swear you was only.."
"Will you kindly shut up Mathews!"
"Right you are Sir. Shutting up Sir."
"Can we go soon?" asked Mr. Pipps. They had been
waiting in the
for three hours and it was already dark outside.
"Not yet," sighed Archie, "I have to wait my turn you know."
"But there isn't anyone else here," Mr. Pipps pointed out.
"Yes, I know but you heard what that officer said. The examiners are
having their dinner before they ask me questions. We'll just have to
wait until they've finished I'm afraid."
"We could peep through the door and see if they're nearly ready,"
cajoled Mr. Pipps.
"Um, well I suppose it couldn't do any harm," said Archie. He was
indebted to Mr. Pipps who had been very generous with his bag of pies,
not to mention his marbles and his catapult, during the long wait. They
tiptoed to the door and opened it a crack.
"They've all got red faces," whispered Mr. Pipps, "why have
they all got red faces?"
"Er, well I expect its warm in there," whispered Archie. He could
count six empty wine bottles on the table already.
"My Papa gets red in the face sometimes," confided Mr. Pipps.
"That's when Mama sends him to bed in the boot room. Do you know
any of these gentlemen?"
"Yes I do actually," said Archie. "The stout one with the red
hair is Captain Makepiece. I expect you've heard of Thunderguts
Makepiece haven't you?"
It was apparent at once that Mr. Pipps had not heard the nickname
before. He was so taken with it that he was obliged to hop and skip
three times round the anteroom chanting it at the top of his voice.
"Who else is in there?" he asked when the novelty had worn off.
"Captain Smith and Captain Jones," said Archie quickly. "Now
look, I have to step out to the privy for a moment. You'll wait here
"Yes," said Mr. Pipps, "but what if it's your turn while
"Don't worry," said Archie "they haven't started on the
bran.. er the pudding yet. I've plenty of time."
After only a few moments of solitude Mr. Pipps had the great good
fortune to discover a dead lizard in one of his jacket pockets. He had
originally found it during his recent visit home. A small cloud chased
across his cherubic features as he recalled that his Great Aunt
Persephone had shrieked and swooned when he had dashed into the drawing
room waving it aloft. His mamma had been cross because a few soppy
teacups had got broken. Being dead the lizard was very still and very
silent and not nearly as much fun as Jeremy but it was better than the
ball of string and the empty snail shells that his other pockets had
produced. He had just discovered that it was possible to send the lizard
sliding across the wooden floor in a very realistic way with the aid of
his catapult, when the door of the examination room opened.
"We're ready for you now," roared a gruff voice over the sound of
hearty laughter and chinking glasses.
"He's not here," said Mr. Pipps over his shoulder as he skipped
to the far end of the anteroom to retrieve the lizard.
"Dammit Sir! Don't keep us waiting!" The tone was rather like
that of Captain Pellew after he had found the ducks swimming in his
bath. Mr. Pipps thought it might be prudent to make it clear that Mr.
Kennedy would be back soon. On his way to the examination room he
noticed Archie's certificates sitting on his pile of books. It struck
him that the gentlemen might like to read them while they were waiting.
He picked them up, put the lizard down in their place, and entered the
Horatio stretched and took a deep breath of the clean night air. He had
done his duty and England was satisfied. He had spotted the spy within
five minutes of entering the upstairs room of the Lamb and Flag but had
not alerted Carstairs and his confederates for a full thirty minutes.
During that time he had managed to win almost twenty-five guineas,
mostly from the Mesdames Bracegirdle and Bowles. It would be more than
enough for a couple of new jackets and a dozen pairs of double lined
cold weather drawers. Once his reticule was jingling with coins he went
and stood behind the Frenchman.
"Eh bien, Monsieur," he whispered, "the game is up. Pretend that
you are feeling faint and leave the room with me."
"And if I do not?" said the spy contemptuously.
"I have a darning needle up my sleeve," hissed Horatio "and it I
shall not hesitate to use it!"
"Oh merde!" said the spy throwing his gloves and bonnet down in a
temper. As soon as they were outside he had been bundled into a coach,
together with the umbrella stand containing Carstairs, and had been
driven away at speed.
Horatio was just going to cross the street to the quayside and see if
his boat crew were still awake when he felt a hand grasp his right
"Well, well, Mr. Hornblower, out on your own?"
Horatio looked around and came face to face with Admiral Sir Guy
Strop-Hoopling. It would have been embarrassing in any case to meet such
a senior officer whilst clad in a blue frock but there was an additional
problem. Sir Guy had developed a strange fondness for Horatio on the
memorable day when the Indefatigable had won the competition for the
best decorated stern cabin in the fleet.
"Good evening Sir," said Horatio sweeping a hand up to the brim of
his bonnet in a smart salute.
"What a pleasure to see you my dear boy," said the Admiral
jovially, "and especially when you are dressed so charmingly."
"Ah yes," said Horatio awkwardly "The truth is Sir I got dressed
like this in order to trap a man who.."
"Well you've certainly succeeded," murmured Sir Guy, "and I
insist that you accompany me on board the flag ship for a late
Horatio was in a bind. He could hardly refuse a request from such a
high-ranking officer and yet it was painfully obvious to him that Sir
Guy was utterly deranged, although perhaps not quite so deranged as the
last time they had met. On that occasion he had apparently mistaken
Horatio for a young woman, even though he had been wearing his uniform.
He hoped the admiral would not be patting him on the bottom again.
"Aye Aye Sir," he said standing to attention.
"There's no need to be so formal," said the admiral steering
Horatio along the quay towards the spot where his barge was moored,
"my friends like to call me Daisy." Horatio leapt like a young
colt as the admiral's hand made sudden contact with his rump.
Mr. Pipps pushed the door of the examination room open.
"Come on then Sir! Let's have a look at you!" roared a voice from
the other side of the room. Mr. Pipps advanced to the table.
"Where the devil is he?" said another voice, somewhat slurred.
"I'm here!" said Mr. Pipps stoutly.
"I damned if I can see him" said the first voice, hiccoughing.
"Can you see anything Fluffy?"
"Not a thing Thunderguts. I say d'ye hear someone giggling? Who is
"Well it's not Gussie, he's fallen asleep in the plum duff."
"It was me!" explained Mr. Pipps, "your names are funny!"
"You impudent young devil!" roared Captain Makepiece, "show
yourself at once!"
"Just a moment," said Mr. Pipps. He fetched a footstool from the
corner of the room and stood on it.
"I say, is that a hat?" said Captain Fluffy Jones staring blearily
across the cluttered table.
"I believe you're right," said Makepiece "Is that you Mr.
"Well, he just.."
"Good. Let's have your certificates if you please."
Mr. Pipps held the papers aloft and Captain Makepiece leaned across the
table and snatched them up.
"He's a bit short isn't he?" whispered Captain Jones loudly as
he poured himself a generous glass of brandy. "I mean can we really
pass someone for lieutenant if he's not big enough to see over the
taffrail? I mean how can someone that size pass for nineteen?"
"Well I daresay he can pass for nineteen inches!" hooted Captain
"I'm three feet five inches!" said Mr. Pipps indignantly "that
makes forty one."
"So it does young fellow," agreed Captain Makepiece, "more than
enough." He ran a bloodshot eye over Archie's certificates.
Master's Mate (Failed)
Elementary Signal Flag Procedure (Failed)
Navigation (Failed Abysmally)
Personal Appearance and General Deportment (Triple Distinction.
Recipient of the Cornwallis Prize for Best Kept Uniform.)
"Well these all seem to be in order," he said passing them to
"Mr. KenÖ" Mr. Pipps began. He still felt that the examiners had
not fully grasped the situation.
"Take your hat off Sir!" snapped Captain Makepiece whose gout was
starting to make its presence felt.
Mr. Pipps sighed and tucked his hat under his arm.
"Where's the fellow gone?" asked Captain Jones peering across the
table, "I can't see him at all now."
"Just to the left of that dish of devilled calves feet," said
Captain Makepiece pointing to a faint nimbus of fair curls that was just
visible above the above the edge of the table.
"According to these certificates the chap's a complete
nincompoop," said Captain Jones in a confidential tone. "Are we
even going to bother to ask him any questions? There doesn't seem much
point if you ask me."
"Have you forgotten everything I told you earlier?" hissed Captain
"Yes, I think so."
Captain Makepiece groaned and proceeded to enlighten Captain Jones
again. Mr. Pipps could not help overhearing of course but as Captain
Smith was snoring loudly in the plum duff it was all rather fragmented.
"One of His Majesty's,"
"Kick him up promotion ladder."
This was all profoundly uninteresting to a person of four and three
quarters, especially one whose nose was close to an untouched dish of
gooseberry fool and an uncommonly fine fruitcake. His hand was just
about to discover if the cake was as sticky as it looked when he was
startled by a question from Captain Makepiece.
"Tell us how you would warp a ship out of harbor Sir."
"I know that one," said Mr. Pipps brightly.
"Do you by Jove?" said Captain Jones, evidently surprised.
"Yes," said Mr. Pipps in a tone of utter confidence. "First of
all you put a big heavy anchor in a small boat," he fell quiet for a
moment, considering carefully what might follow.
"Well Sir?" said Captain Makepiece impatiently.
"Then I think the boat sinks," said Mr. Pipps with quiet
"He's right you know," mused Captain Jones, "that happened to
me three times. It cost me a fortune in anchors."
"How much?" asked Mr. Pipps.
"Never mind that!" growled Captain Makepiece. "You're not
supposed to help the candidates Fluffy! I'll have to ask him something
"It's all right. I've got one," said Fluffy er, Captain Jones
pouring yet another brandy for himself. "You're close hauled on the
port tack beating up the Channel with a nor'easterly wind blowing
strong and with Dover bearing north two miles. The wind veers four
points taking you flat aback. What do you do?"
"I'm a midshipman," said Mr. Pipps.
"Yes, I know that," said Captain Jones "I meant what do you do
about the wind veering?"
"Can you say it again?" ask Mr. Pipps
"What? The whole thing?" complained Captain Jones, pouring himself
yet another brandy.
"Oh very well. You're beating up the Channel on the port.."
"Pass it this way," said Captain Makepiece interrupting, "my
glass is empty."
"The port man, the port! Pass it to me if you please."
"Oh, by all means my dear fellow. Now where was I? Oh yes, beating up
Channel on the port tack. North wind blowing strong and Dover bearing
nor' east four miles. Wind veers two point and knocks you for six."
"Six what?" asked Mr. Pipps
"The six. Are they the same things as the miles or the points?"
inquired Mr. Pipps.
"I'm afraid I don't follow you," said Captain Jones with a
"It's quite simple Fluffy," said Captain Makepiece loudly "did
you mean six points or six miles?"
"I didn't mean either," protested Captain Jones.
"My mamma says you should always say what you mean," said Mr. Pipps
Captain Jones' muttered reply was drowned out by the noise of a
"Look, a big rocket!" exclaimed Mr. Pipps pointing out of the
window with glee as a trail of red fire and sparks shot into the sky.
"The Frogs must be attacking Portsmouth!" exclaimed Captain
Makepiece. "Quick Fluffy! Save the port."
"What? Save the ships and the dockyard on my own?" said Captain
Jones looking bewildered.
"No! The bottle of port, you ninny! Get under the table with it!"
"I'll bring the cake," said Mr. Pipps helpfully.
"Good man!" said Captain Makepiece.
It was unfortunate for Archie that the Royal Naval Officers
Club was having its annual general meeting in the Admiralty offices that
night. He had to wait at the end of a long line of gentlemen who had
been indulging in large amounts of wine, port and brandy. When he
finally got into the privy his nerves were quite shattered. Once he had
attended to more urgent matters he decided to light up a cheroot and let
the tobacco give him a few moments of much needed tranquility. Science
had never been his strong point or he might have realised that it was
inadvisable to strike sparks in an atmosphere heavy with alcohol fumes
and methane gas. There was a blinding flash and he had the sudden
impression of rapid velocity, fresh air and a completely unexpected view
of Portsmouth. He just had time to take note of the fact that he was
flying clean over the Indefatigable before he plunged into the harbor.
On the way to the bottom he found time to regret the fact that he could
not swim. He wondered what his hair looked like underwater and hoped
that his mamma would not be too upset when Captain Pellew wrote to her.
This melancholy train of thought was interrupted when a strong hand
grasped the back of his collar and began to drag him rapidly upwards.
When he broke the surface he spluttered his thanks to his rescuer.
"Decent of you to pull me out!"
"Not at all Arch," said Horatio's voice. "I was just swimming
back to the Indy when I saw you drop in. What happened?"
'Oh thank you Horatio!" said Archie as his friend moved alongside
and steered him towards the ship. "Actually, I have no idea. The last
thing I remember is stepping into the privy at the back of the Admiralty
and lighting up a cheroot."
"Ah," said Horatio thoughtfully "I see."
"Do you?" said Archie admiringly, "I wish I was clever like
"Well, clever or not I shall be drummed out of the Service by this
time tomorrow," said Horatio morosely.
"Whatever for?" said Archie picking seaweed out of his hair.
"Didn't your top secret mission go to plan?"
"Of course it did. That's not the problem Archie. Here, grab hold
of the stern ladder."
They clambered back on board and hurried below.
"Tell me what happened," said Archie getting out of his wet shirt
"I ran into Admiral Strop-Hoopling..' said Horatio as he struggled
to get his frock over his head.
"Dressed like that?" said Archie pulling on a dry pair of silk
"No need to go on Horatio. I understand completely."
"Yes. He took you back to his ship and threatened your honor. What
did you do? Smack him over the head with a brandy decanter or punch his
"That's amazing Archie!" said Horatio wondering, not for the
first time, how someone who didn't know an oar from his elbow could be
so expert in er, well, in that sort of thing. "You're right of
course, except that you didn't mention that Sir Guy thought I was a
young lady. I mean there'd be no point in him asking me to have supper
with him if he thought I was a man, would there?"
"I don't suppose there would," said Archie smiling fondly at him
and wondering, not for the last time, how someone who still thought that
babies arrived in the doctor's bag could have such an enormous
understanding of how ships and cannons and rowing boats worked.
"He gave me no alternative," said Horatio pulling a shirt on,
"When he invited me to sit on his knee I told him I wasn't that
sort of a young woman. I thought it might help if I humored him you see,
but actually it seemed to have the opposite effect. In the end there was
nothing else for it."
"You hit him?"
"No Archie! I couldn't strike an officer. I jumped for it through
the stern cabin windows. I expect he will complain to Captain Pellew
about leaving without permission my first thing in the morning."
"He won't say a word,"said Archie soothingly, "you may depend
"Really?" said Horatio, "well that's a relief I must say. Oh
but Archie I've been so wrapped up in my own troubles that I forgot to
ask you about your examination. How did it go?"
"Well, I haven't taken it yet. The examiners were still working on
their dinner when I stepped out."
"Then we must get you back there at once. Come on!"
Within five minutes they had rounded up a boat and a scratch crew of
Burke, Hare, Burgess and McClean. Twenty minutes saw them jogging
breathlessly into the Admiralty. They would not have been quite so short
of puff if Horatio had not insisted on fruitlessly quizzing Archie with
seamanship questions on the way. They burst into the anteroom to find
Mr. Pipps sitting calmly on a bench in between the remains of a
fruitcake and half-empty dish of gooseberry fool. He was wearing a
lizard in his hat.
"Have they called him in yet?" asked Horatio anxiously.
"Yes," said Mr. Pipps, "but it's all right, I gave them Mr.
Kennedy's stifficates and after the rocket went up we all sat under
the table and they gave me this." He held out a piece of paper.
Horatio took it and read it.
"Congratulations Archie," he said in a tone that contained a hint
of a sulk, "according to this you've passed."
"No! Really?" A brilliant smile spread across Archie's face.
"Well that was much easier than I thought it was going to be."
"Can we go to the pie shop now?" asked Mr. Pipps.
Two days later the Indefatigable was warping her way out of
Harbor. No small boats were sunk in the process, a fact which caused Mr.
Pipps a certain amount of disappointment and which baffled Mr. Kennedy
entirely. He was still berthing with the midshipmen. Captain Pellew had
explained that there were no vacancies at present for a lieutenant with
his particular talents. Archie took this news in his stride. He was in
fact secretly relieved. He had been afraid that his success with the
examining board might have encouraged his superiors to give him
difficult things to do like deciding which sails to use and finding out
which way the ship was going.
As Captain Pellew strode up and down the quarterdeck, Mr. Bracegirdle
and Mr. Bowles stood on the other side nattering like hens.
"Fourteen guineas she took off my dear Aggie," said Mr. Bracegirdle
"Aye, and my Rosie was out eleven guineas," complained Mr. Bowles.
"What are you gentlemen discussing?" inquired Captain Pellew.
Heading out to sea always put him in a good mood.
"Well Sir," began Mr. Bracegirdle earnestly, "there was some
horse-faced hoyden in a blue frock at the Naval Wives Whist Drive the
other night and she had the nerve to.."
"Horse-faced hoyden?" roared Sir Edward, his good humor evaporating
like dew in the
Sahara. "What the devil do you mean by that remark?"
"I heard she was a great bean stick of a girl with sharp elbows,"
added Mr. Bowles rather unwisely.
"How dare you!" thundered Sir Edward "Mr., I mean the young lady,
or person, is a very handsome specimen I'll have you know."
"Do you know the young lady Sir?" asked Mr. Bracegirdle "I gather
she called herself Miss Backstay."
"Yes! No!" replied Sir Edward confusingly. He walked up and down
fuming until Horatio reported for duty ten minutes later. "There you
are Mr. Hornblower," he said beaming at his favorite young officer
"take charge of my telescope would you?"
Horatio blushed with pride and failed to notice the resentful looks
being thrown his way by the rest of the officers. They had just cleared
the harbor and were preparing to set sail when Mr. Pipps came skipping
onto the quarterdeck.
"Walk!" roared Sir Edward. "Hands out of pockets and get that
damned reptile off your hat."
"A boat just brought some letters," said Mr. Pipps unperturbed
"there's one for Mr. Hornblower and I can't, it's glued
on." He handed Horatio a folded paper and walked away with
exaggerated slowness, his arms held stiffly away from his sides.
The letter was a short, but urgent, missive from
You'll never credit what that daft cow Mrs. Goggins has gone and
done! It turns out that she left a bowl of damsons on the table in my
surgery a few weeks ago. She went back to get them later when she
wasn't wearing her spectacles and picked up my leeches instead. I
hope you haven't eaten the jam she sent you. Take my advice and toss
it over the side. There's an outbreak of spotted purple tongue in the
village. There's no rest for the wicked. That knacker's yard is
looking better all the time.
Your loving father,
Horatio turned pale, squared his shoulders and approached his
"Sir, may I have permission to speak?"
"Certainly Mr. Hornblower, certainly."
"Sir, do you remember that pot of damson jam I gave you as a token of
my thanks for your help in making my er, garment?"
"Yes, yes Mr. Hornblower indeed I do. I had some for my breakfast
this morning. It was just the thing spread on some freshly baked bread!
Any chance of getting another pot?"