Mr. Pipps and the Royal Visit
The action follows on from Mr. Pipps Visits the Doctor.
I am back from staing with Mr. Hornblowa and his papa. It was a long ride in a coche. I met a nape called Albut. He cood tawk. Reely he cood. We caut sum frensh pies. I shotted them with my peashoota. Mrs. Goggins makes horried jam.
Can you send me a new penni wisel? Captain Pelloo got cros and thru my uther wun over the side. He did it on perpuss!!
Is papa well. I hop so. Mr. Kennedi haits pudding.
Yor loving sun
P.s I wood lik to sleep in a big cubud wen I cum home. I hop Tomas is well and Oldroiyd too.
It had been a tense few days aboard His Majesty's frigate Indefatigable since Horatio and his fellow travelers had returned from Muttering-in-the-Marsh. Following her extensive refit in dry dock she had been testing her nice new mahogany decking by beating up and down the Channel and getting it all thoroughly wet. At last her captain, Sir Edward Pellew DD, FFF and AAA, (Drubber of Dons, Flogger of the French and Absolute Anathema to Albanians) pronounced himself satisfied with the performance of both her timbers and her crew and gave the order to make for Portsmouth.
Just as the ship had gone about Mr. Pipps, the youngest middy
on the ship's roster, came scrambling up the ladder to the quarterdeck,
ran to his commander and tugged urgently at his sleeve.
"What is it Mr. Pipps?" enquired the captain testily. "Where is your hat sir? Speak up boy!"
"Can I borrow a boat?" piped Mr. Pipps.
"Borrow a boat sir! Mr. Bracegirdle did you hear that?" exclaimed Sir Edward turning to his first officer in astonishment.
"What the devil do you want a boat for?" demanded the captain with a scowl.
"My toad fell in the sea sir."
"His toad fell in the sea Mr. Bracegirdle!" said the captain as if he could not quite believe his ears.
"Yes sir. It's all very"
"And what of your hat sir, eh, where is that?" asked Sir Edward as he fixed Mr. Pipps with a stare that could normally freeze a lieutenant at fifty paces.
"Oh that's in the sea too. I threw it after my toad."
"Was that so the little chap could cling to it?" enquired Mr. Bracegirdle sympathetically.
"No" replied Mr. Pipps with a hint of impatience, "my toad's been dead for ages."
"Then why did you throw your hat overboard?" barked Sir Edward.
"So I'll know where to look for my toad when the boat is lowered," said Mr. Pipps as if explaining matters to one who was not quite twenty shillings to the pound.
"You know, I'm not so sure your toad will float," mused the first officer. "I mean a swimming toad is one thing but a toad that doesn't move at all is quite another. Although I suppose that with the water being salty one might expect"
"Mr. Bracegirdle!" snapped the captain "you are meant to be sailing the ship sir, not giving a paper on the floating properties of moribund toads to the Royal Society! I absolutely forbid a further mention of toads on this quarterdeck!"
Mr. Pipps recognized that his cause was lost and sighed heavily. "I don't suppose I shall get another," he lamented.
"Well you'll just have to write to your mother and ask her to send you one," said Sir Edward in a kinder tone. Seeing a puzzled expression on the boy's face he added "I'm speaking of your hat of course, not the toad."
As the anchor dropped in Portsmouth harbour, Horatio Hornblower, senior midshipman, fearless thrasher of the French and apple of his captain's eye, came up from the hold. He had been supervising the replacement of the fore end grobble twanging flanges for several hours and was thoroughly mired with grease and potato peelings. His men crawled out after him, besmirched and exhausted.
"Will that be all sir?" gasped Mathews. "Just say the word if you want us to get back down there sir. We can work all night if we have to sir."
"No thank you Mathews, I think eight hours is enough," said Horatio permitting himself a slight smile. "See that those men who lost fingers get themselves to the surgeon by the end of the week."
"That's right kind of you Mr. Hornblower. Now, if it's all the same to you sir, me and the lads are goin' to fall down on the deck for a while."
"Certainly Mathews, take ten minutes if you have to." A few ragged cries of 'hooray, 'ray' came from the heap of weary men as Horatio walked away.
"Arch my dear fellow!" he said, greeting his best friend Midshipman (Lieutenant Elect) Kennedy who was looking as immaculate as ever in a uniform that appeared to have been plucked from the hands of the tailor not five minutes before.
"Horatio" said Archie with a look of cheerful vacancy, "whatever have you been doing downstairs all this time?'
Horatio briefly considered giving his friend a complete run down of his recent labors in the bowels of the ship before he remembered that Archie's grasp of technical matters did not extend much beyond the tying of a hair ribbon.
"Oh, this and that" he answered. "I must look
like a complete scarecrow. I wonder if I can possibly persuade
a few of my men to make one last effort and work the deck wash
pump while I scrape all this dirt off myself?"
There was a sudden commotion of rushing feet behind him mixed with the sounds of pushing, shoving and swearing. Horatio swung around to find the pump already manned by several sweaty grinning crewmembers, led by Styles and Mathews.
"We're ready sir!" cried Mathews. "We'll wash
your clothes too won't we lads?"
"That we will!"
"Toss'em over 'ere sir!"
"They seem willing enough," said Archie smiling.
"Yes, and they really are the best of fellows you know" said Horatio earnestly as he removed his breeches to reveal a colorful pair of much-patched drawers.
"I say Horatio," said Archie, studying his friend's undergarments. "Have you been using one of the signal flag thingys to mend your small clothes?"
"Archie!" exclaimed Horatio "Did you recognize it on your own?" He smiled in an encouraging fashion as he draped his drawers over the taffrail.
"Well, actually, yes" admitted Archie turning a becoming shade of pink. It wasn't often that he got a chance to impress anyone with his knowledge of seagoing equipment. "You won't get into trouble will you?" he added in a whisper. "I mean, will they be needing that one for anything?"
"Great Heavens no!" laughed Horatio as a stream of icy water hit him in the solar plexus. "I swiped it from a Frog prize ship. It's the one they use when they are running low on Camembert."
"Mr. Hornblower! Get your, er, that tackle cleared away at once if you please!" roared the captain. "Admiral coming on board!"
"Who is it Archie?" said Horatio as he hastily dried himself off with the ship's cat.
"Um, let me see," replied Archie getting out his monogrammed gold plated telescope. "Well there's a boat pulling away from the Incontinent. No wait a minute, it's a barge. Oh I say, it's Admiral Sir Guy Strop-Hoopling. He seems to be in a dreadful hurry to get here. He's standing up in the front and looking in our direction with his glass."
"Bow, Archie bow," chided Horatio.
"I think I should at least wait until he arrives," replied Archie "and anyway, I think I'm supposed to salute aren't I?"
"No, no!" said Horatio "I mean he's standing in the bow. Boats don't have fronts!"
"Well he's certainly losing no time getting here," said Archie, who was less inclined to give ground to Horatio on naval matters now that he had passed his examination for lieutenant. His promotion had been completely unexpected and was all the more remarkable because he had achieved it without setting foot in the examination room. Furthermore he had spent part of the test unintentionally airborne over the parts of Portsmouth that lay between the privy at the rear of the Admiralty building and the harbour.
"He must be bringing orders for Sir Edward" said Horatio eagerly as he banished the moisture from his glossy brown curls with a small square of number seven sailcloth. "We'll be fighting the Frogs again soon Archie!"
"Oh! Do you think so?" said Archie nervously.
"Bound to be!" replied Horatio who was now studying the fast approaching admiral's barge through his own glass. "Um, Archie?"
"Do you happen to know what the correct response is if an admiral waves at you?"
"In this case Horatio, since you are out of uniform, I would recommend standing perfectly still."
Admiral Sir Guy Strop-Hoopling ran up the side of the Indefatigable with all the energy of a man twenty years his junior. After mumbling a brief greeting to Sir Edward he ignored the line of officers waiting to pay their respects and tore along the deck to where Horatio was just pulling on his jacket.
"Ah," he said staring at Horatio as if he were the
last slice of plum duff on the plate, "Mr. Hornblower."
"Sir?" said Horatio hoping desperately that the admiral would not begin a discussion that involved frocks.
"You're in uniform I see," Sir Guy went on with an air of disappointment.
"Yes Sir," said Horatio whilst mentally screaming 'frocks off the port bow!'
"I don't suppose you still have that fetching little blue fr"
"May I be of any assistance Sir Guy?" interrupted Captain Pellew, who was managing to look both respectful and annoyed. "I am of course ready to carry out any orders that you may have brought from their Lordships."
"Eh? Oh yes indeed!"
"Then shall we perhaps go to my day cabin so you can inform me of their Lordships' requirements?" said Sir Edward taking a firm hold of the admiral's elbow and steering him towards the stern of the ship.
"Oh good heavens!" muttered Horatio. "Archie,
the poor old duffer is obviously getting worse. He's still confused
about me being a girl."
"No, he isn't, Horatio," said Archie patiently. Here, he thought, was an opportune moment to take Horatio's education a little further. He judged it safe to proceed even without having a mustard bath in reserve. On such a pleasant afternoon with a lively breeze off the sea Horatio was safe within his element on board the Indy and, following their encounter with a pair of dairy maids in the barn near Sheepsbladder Cottage, he was already somewhat acquainted with the ways of the world. "Come over here a moment. I have something important to tell you."
Archie sat his friend down on a coil of rope and began talking quietly into his ear.
A few seconds later Horatio shot to his feet and whispered fiercely "Archie! Are you utterly insane?"
"No," said Archie calmly pushing Horatio back onto the rope again, "Just keep listening, there's a good fellow."
"Have you been at the grog?" demanded Horatio after another minute. "You've never been quite right since the Frogs captured you and forced all that pastry on you. Oh it's all my fault for letting the men throw you out of that window!"
"Horatio, I'm going to upend this bucket of potato peelings over you if you don't let me finish!" said Archie with unaccustomed firmness. Passing his lieutenant's exam had really done wonders for his self confidence.
Horatio sat with his arms folded until his friend finished his extraordinary explanation of Sir Guy's confused behavior.
"You see?" said Archie, "do you understand things better now?"
"Oh Archie," said Horatio smiling indulgently and shaking his head "whoever told you all that?"
"Well it was..."
"I mean, really. That has to be the most complete flummery I have ever heard. It's absolute bagwash! I'm afraid they saw you coming there Arch."
"But Horatio you don't seem to.."
"I wonder what the new orders will be," said Horatio getting up and leaning on the taffrail. "Let's hope it's a crack at the Frogs eh?" He gazed longingly towards the open sea. He was so lost in dreams of firing cannon and capturing enemy ships single handed that he never noticed Archie upending the bucket of peelings over his own golden head and immaculate uniform.
Mr. Pipps had been perched on the mizzenmast crosstrees for some time with the contents of his pockets as his only source of amusement. The length of string and the mummified seahorse had proved to be diverting enough for the first half hour or so. The little creature had danced and fluttered in the wind just like a kite until a stiff gust had snatched it away.
Luckily for Mr. Pipps he had several dead beetles wrapped in his handkerchief and was able to pass some more time by giving each of them name and an extensive history before launching them seaward. He had just sent Captain Bartholemew Six Legs on his final journey when the head and shoulders of seaman Styles hove into view.
"Captain Pellew's compliments sir, and would you kindly
stop dropping bloody insects on 'is 'ead?"
"Have you got anything to eat?" enquired Mr. Pipps hopefully.
"Not with me sir but I've got half a pickled rat stowed with me 'ammock."
"I don't like those," said Mr. Pipps shaking his head. "Did the Captain say I could come down now?"
"Not that I 'eard sir," said Styles settling himself on the crosstrees. "What did you do to get sent up 'ere anyway?"
"I don't know," said Mr. Pipps spreading his arms
wide to demonstrate the extent of his bafflement. "I was
jus' standing next to the captain and he said that no one was
to say 'toad'. And then the next time he said something he said
'toad'. And I said 'you just said 'toad' but you said nobody was
to say it'. And he got cross and said I was to come up here. Do
you think you can get me another one?"
"Another wot sir?" asked Styles, who was cleaning out his ears with his knife.
"Another toad of course."
Styles looked doubtful but before he could reply Mr. Winthrop
appeared panting slightly and waving a slate. He was an awkward
young midshipman and was possessed of an extremely loud voice.
He had recently been forbidden to speak within one hundred feet
of his captain. The only exceptions to this rule were alternate
Wednesdays and any occasion upon which the guns were run out and
"Captain Pelloos com, compl.. I can't read that word. What does it say?" asked Mr. Pipps. Mr. Winthrop sighed heavily.
"Buggered if I know sir," said Styles cheerfully "but I reckon you should get down on deck and follow the rest of the officers into the captain's cabin."
Mr. Winthrop nodded heartily in agreement before sliding down a backstay.
"Gentlemen," said Captain Pellew casting his penetrating
gaze about his day cabin "once again the Indefatigable has
been selected for duties which demand the utmost skill and delicacy."
Horatio sat up straight in his chair, his chest swelling with pride at his commander's stirring words. So it was to be a crack at the Frogs! It would be such a relief to leave dry land behind. On the way back from Muttering-in-the-Marsh he had reluctantly promised Archie that he would go with him to spend an afternoon at Madame Dolly's Quayside Tart Shop. Orders to sail would be the perfect excuse to break the appointment.
"Admiral Hoop-Stroopling has informed me that we are to.. what is it Mr. Bracegirdle?"
"It's actually Admiral Strop-Hoopling sir."
"Yes, thank you Mr. Bracegirdle but I believe everyone knew who I meant."
"Oh yes I'm quite sure"
"After all it's not as though there are many British admirals with a similar name Hmmm?"
"There's old Billy Hunt-Buntling," offered Mr. Bowles, rather unwisely.
"Are you personally acquainted with Sir William?" asked the Captain pinning Mr. Bowles to his seat with a severe look.
"Er, no sir."
"Then kindly do not.." Sir Edward's reproving words were interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Enter! You're late Mr. Pipps! Sit down sir."
"I can't. There aren't any seats left."
"Eh? Then you may take my seat. I prefer to pace about and make people nervous when I stand behind them. As I was saying gentlemen, Sir Guy informed me that the Great Heavens boy, whatever is the matter?" Captain Pellew gazed at Mr. Pipps who was wriggling about in evident discomfort.
"Do you need the heads?" whispered Mr. Bracegirdle sympathetically "I know what it's like during these long meetings."
"I don't like this chair," complained Mr. Pipps "it's too hard."
"Then change with somebody else boy! Quickly now!"
Sir Edward frowned and paused behind Archie's chair.
"Sir! I volunteer to change places with Mr. Pipps sir," said Horatio jumping eagerly to his feet.
"I would expect no less of you Mr Hornblower," said Sir Edward growing slightly moist about the eyes.
As Mr. Pipps scrambled under the table to sit next to Archie, Horatio moved swiftly to the head of the table and lowered himself reverently into his esteemed commander's best lyre-backed carver.
"I smell potatoes!" said Mr. Pipps wrinkling his
nose. "I smell smelly old potatoes. Can you smell potatoes
"I rather imagine he can," said the Captain severely. "What do you mean by presenting yourself in my cabin in this sorry state sir?"
"Um!" squeaked Archie "I beg your pardon sir. I thought I had removed them all." He fished a peeling out of the back of his collar and stuffed it hastily in his pocket under his captain's disapproving gaze.
"Well I sincerely hope you tidy yourself up by next week Mr. Kennedy," said the captain in a much more jovial tone "otherwise you will not be ready to aide me in welcoming His Majesty aboard!"
There was an amazed silence in the cabin for a few seconds and then a hubbub ran around the table. It might have been followed by a brou-ha-ha if Sir Edward had not roared "Silence!" and brought the meeting to order again.
"There is not a moment to lose gentlemen! The Indefatigable must look her absolute best when His Majesty sets his foot on her deck. Her brasses must gleam, every rope must be coiled to perfection, the men must be washed and," he paused a moment, his brow furrowed in thought, "I'm definitely going to have to replace these curtains!"
Two days later Horatio was hurrying through the streets of Portsmouth with a bulky brown paper parcel tucked under his arm. He was just passing a run down inn called the Colicky Cow when a short stout gentleman in dusty clothes, who smelled strongly of leeches, came hurrying down the front step and almost knocked him on his stern.
"Father!" exclaimed Horatio picking his parent's
wig out of a puddle "whatever brings you here?"
"King and country my boy!" said Dr. Hornblower clapping his dripping wig back on his head. "As soon as I heard that His Majesty is to visit your ship I jumped in a stage coach and here I am." His normally bad tempered countenance was wearing an expression that could almost be described as cheerful. The effect was quite alarming.
"But no one's supposed to know about that yet!" said
Horatio glancing about, ever alert for Frog spies. "How did
you find out Father? You must tell me!"
"Eh? Oh, very well but let's go inside," said the doctor leading the way into the Colicky Cow's gloomy dining room. "Have you had breakfast yet? They do quite a decent baked hedgehog."
It took all of Horatio's self control to remain calm while
his father ordered the food and directed the serving wench to
dry his wig at the fire. Having eaten already at the crack of
dawn Horatio would only take an individual starling and mushroom
pie and a pot of tea.
"Father, I really must ask you how you came to know about, well, you know, about it" he murmured once the girl had clattered the serving dishes onto the table.
"It was Squire Brackett," said the doctor as the
butter melted on the underside of the steaming hedgehog. "I'd
just given the old fool his weekly enema when he let it drop that
his cousin would be coming to Portsmouth."
"Squire Brackett's cousin is the King?" said Horatio as his father began dipping enthusiastically into his meal with a spoon.
"No, no Horatio! His cousin is Master of the Royal Chamber Pot at Windsor Castle."
"Oh I see," Horatio paused a moment to take a swig
of tea. A strange expression came over his face. "So I suppose
he is privy all kinds of information."
"Naturally," agreed the doctor "a man in that position is bound to have the King's ear isn't he?" he picked up a small baked leg from his plate and gnawed on it.
"I made a joke father, do you see? Privy to all kinds of information because he's Master of the Royal Chamber Pot," explained Horatio smiling hopefully at his parent.
When it became clear that the doctor has failed to grasp his meaning Horatio groaned and leaned his head on his hands.
"No one ever laughs," he muttered to himself "well, except Mathews that time when he was drunk."
"You're not costive are you my boy?" enquired the
doctor "because I have a supply of my red powders with me.
They're very effective. Mrs. Goggins has taken to using them to
clear out the kitchen range flue."
"Oh no, thank you," said Horatio hastily getting to his feet. "I'm afraid I really must go father. Captain Pellew is expecting me."
"Yes, and you must speak to him my boy. It's very important that I am aboard when His Majesty arrives next Wednesday." The doctor's voice was not much muffled by the remains of the hedgehog and Horatio thanked Providence that the dining room was empty.
"But why must you be there father?"
"According to Squire Brackett's cousin" said the doctor, very indistinctly, "the King has these funny little turns." He paused to swallow the last of his breakfast.
"What!" exclaimed Horatio flapping his hands in distress.
"Oh please don't go on Father! You know how I dislike to
hear about intestinal matters!"
"No, no, turns," said the doctor as he washed the last of the hedgehog down with a quart of ale. "Apparently he does all manner of strange things for twenty minutes at a time. The Queen is said to be quite displeased as he tends to unravel her knitting and put her under garments on his head."
"But what has this to do with?"
"I wish to present His Majesty with a box of my Dr. Horace Hornblower Patented Pacifying Pills. I am convinced they will set him right. Think of it my boy! I will be able to put a sign up, 'By Appointment to His Majesty'. I left Mrs. Goggins digging the holes for the posts. She sent you a cabbage upside down cake by the way."
"Well that was very kind of her I'm sure."
"The other passengers made me throw it out of the coach just after Threeping in the Wold. How's that young feller Kennedy? Has he fainted again lately?"
Archie sighed. Negotiations were proving to be more difficult
than he had anticipated.
"Very well then," he said. "As soon as you have given the lady the bouquet and read your poem to His Majesty, I'll give you the bag of pies."
Mr. Pipps considered things for a moment. His mamma had once made him give flowers to a grand lady who had come to visit Saxamunny Towers. He had greeted her politely and then shown her where all the earwigs were hiding among the petals. The lady had screamed very loudly and then thrown the flowers away.
"Will they be apple pies from Mrs. Bunchley's apple pie shop?" Mr. Pipps asked. His arms were folded and he was perched on the end of the table in the middy's mess, swinging his legs.
"Oh absolutely," said Archie with a winning smile.
"Well I s'pect I could do it then," conceded Mr. Pipps.
"That's the ticket!" said Archie. "Now there's just one more thing. The Captain thinks it would be rather jolly if you were dressed as Britannia when you greet His Majesty."
"Britannia? But that's a girls name isn't it!" said Mr. Pipps, much shocked.
"Ah, but it's a splendid costume. It has a helmet and a spear and everything," said Archie cheerfully.
"Does it have a dress?" demanded Mr. Pipps with utmost suspicion.
"Umm," said Archie, who wasn't terribly good at lying.
"Well I'm not wearing it. My Mamma says I'm too old for skirts!" said Mr. Pipps with dreadful finality.
"Oh and she's absolutely right of course," Archie agreed "but this is actually more of a robe, you know, the kind of thing that a hero might wear."
"I've seen a robe before," said Mr. Pipps darkly, "and it looked jus' like a dress."
"I'll give you a present," said Archie with a desperation born of imagining the captain's reaction to Britannia's absence.
"I need a new toad."
"I'm not sure I can get a toad, isn't there anything else you'd like?"
"Yes, but I'll have to whisper," said Mr. Pipps covering his mouth with his hand.
"It's all right, there's no one else here," said Archie encouragingly.
"Jeremy is!" said Mr. Pipps indignantly.
Archie took a deep breath, apologized solemnly to Mr. Pipps pet mouse, and bent his head to listen to his diminutive colleague's terms.
Horatio ran up the gangplank of the Indefatigable and dashed along the deck to the stern cabin. He hoped he was not so late as to displease his captain.
"Where the devil have you been sir? I've had my patterns laid out this past hour!" Sir Edward waved a hand at his splendid mahogany dining table, which was covered with tissue paper and other sewing paraphernalia. "Time is of the essence Mr. Hornblower hand over that parcel if you please!"
"Yes sir, I beg your pardon," gulped Horatio "I met my father on the way back through the town and"
"Yes, well, I'm sure that was very gratifying," said the captain unwrapping a quantity of wine colored damask which was dotted with small cream colored fleures des lis, "but I must get these curtains sewn and hung in my quarter gallery in short order. Not to mention the padded cover for the seat of ease."
"A cover sir?" enquired Horatio, who had not been aware that such an item existed, or was indeed even necessary.
"Yes, most certainly," said the captain spreading the material on top of the table. "His Majesty is the Patron of the Society for the Improvement of Seagoing Décor, of which I am currently the Chairman, and I have a reputation to uphold Mr. Hornblower!"
"But will His Majesty have occasion to visit your quarter gallery sir?"
"If His Majesty should need to answer the call of nature while he is aboard then he will undoubtedly visit my quarter gallery," replied Sir Edward rolling up his sleeves and seizing a pair of shears.
"Oh I see!" said Horatio going a little pink. He was suddenly reminded of his earlier conversation with his father and wondered if now was a good time to mention the doctor's desire to meet His Majesty.
There was a knock at the door and Mr. Bracegirdle bustled in.
"What is it now?" said the captain as he deftly sliced his way through the cloth.
"Well sir I've brought the.."
"Yes, yes, put it down," said Sir Edward turning a side seam under and pinning it.
"Sir, some of the officers were wondering.."
"Absolutely not Mr. Bracegirdle!" said the captain sharply, "I simply cannot entertain
any more requests for family members to come aboard during His Majesty's visit. We shall be crowded enough as it is. If just one more officer's wife's sister's cousin is clinging to the shrouds we shall be in danger of foundering just as our Sovereign steps on deck. How would that look, eh?"
"Oh I agree"
"Splendid. Don't let me keep you from your duties Mr. Bracegirdle. Oh, and would you send the carpenter to me? I must get the hooks that hold my cot strengthened before Lady Pellew arrives." The first officer bustled away to attend to this and other important matters.
"I'd give my eye teeth to know how all these damned people
found out about next Wednesday Mr. Hornblower," Sir Edward
confided as he sat tacking with long even stitches, "Are
you well sir? You've gone quite pink. I trust you are not costive."
"Oh, no Sir!"
"Good. Hand me my number two thimble and pick up the list that Mr. Bracegirdle brought. I'm going to entrust you with a task of the utmost importance."
"Now men," said Horatio half an hour later, "I
expect you are wondering why I have asked you to meet me here
in the hold with your instruments."
"Beggin' yer pardon sir but is it because you want us to play for the King on Wednesday?"
"Well, yes Mathews," said Horatio "The captain feels that His Majesty will enjoy hearing some of his loyal jack tars giving him a musical greeting."
"Well you can rely on me and the lads Mr. Hornblower sir. Isn't that right lads?"
"Bloody right," said Styles who stood behind an ingenious instrument consisting of rat skulls of various sizes, which were to be struck with a pair of carved beef bones.
"So what's it to be sir? We could start off with."
"I have a list of suitable tunes here, sent from Windsor Castle no less." Horatio hesitated a moment and then decided that honesty would probably serve him best. "I don't have much of an ear for music," he said, vastly understating the case, "so I shall have to rely on all of you to do your very best. 'Thine is the Glory' is first on the list so, er, fire away men!"
"Beggin' yer pardon sir but we don't.."
"I know that one Matty," said Styles with a grin and a wink.
After a hurried conference the group stuck up their fiddles and pipes and produced a sound that struck Horatio's tone-deaf ears as a medley of shrieks, wails and screechings. After three minutes they stopped and looked at their young officer with lively anticipation.
"Good, good," he said, "now how about 'The Earl of Salisbury Rode Forth'?"
Once again the men went into a huddle, emerged wearing large grins and launched into another cacophony.
"Well that went very well," said Horatio, much relieved when all the tunes on the list had been successfully played. "And I'm glad to see you all in such good spirits."
"Aye, we're right eager to play for Old George," said Styles with a glissando on the rat skulls and yet another unquenchable grin.
Mr. Pipps had been balancing a sugar lump on the end of his
nose for the past two minutes. He was the picture of concentration
as he stood on the middies' mess table dressed in Britannia's
flowing robes with his eyes crossed and his mouth set in a firm
line. Archie was sitting nearby with his pocket watch in hand.
"Just three more minutes," he said in an encouraging tone "and the cheesy weevils are yours. How's that hem coming along Mathews?"
"Very nicely Sir, thank you kindly for asking," said the seaman cheerfully as he whipped his needle through the cloth at Mr. Pipps' ankles. "And to think sir, that this is the gown 'Is Majesty will be standing alongside next Wednesday. I'm that proud sir I could just burst! Three cheers for.."
"For Heavens sake Mathews!" said Horatio as he came striding through the door "belay the cheers!"
"Belay the cheers it is sir."
"You seem a little agitated," said Archie who was coming along by leaps and bounds now that he had some extra braid on his jackets. "Are you feeling"
"No! I am not costive!" said Horatio slamming his hat on the table with such force that the sugar lump toppled from Mr. Pipps' visage.
"You did that on purpose!" said the indignant infant marching up the table with Mathews in his wake.
"What!?" said Horatio running his hands through his becomingly disarranged hair.
"Well he's not getting any weevils, is he Mr. Kennedy?"
"Certainly not," said Archie soothingly "and if you can stand on one leg for the next two and a half minutes that will count just the same as the sugar."
"Really?" said Mr. Pipps instantly mollified. "Are you sure? Cos that's not hard at all you know."
"And you have to count backwards from one hundred," amended Archie, "inside your head of course."
Mr. Pipps lifted one foot from the table, closed his eyes and clenched his fists by his sides as his mental labours began.
"Now Horatio what's the matter?" said Archie keeping
one eye on his watch. "I'm sorry that there hasn't been time
to cut along to Madame Dolly's but we're all feeling the pinch
you know. If you need to take matters in hand there's a little
cupboard next to the bread room that most people find quite useful."
"What!? No, no, no!" said Horatio. "You don't understand Archie. It's father. He's here in Portsmouth and wants to come aboard next Wednesday but Captain Pellew won't allow any more visitors."
"I could play my penny whistle," said Mr. Pipps apropos of nothing. Counting backwards was already turning out to be rather dull.
"And how is that supposed to help?" said Horatio sharply.
"I could play in the band with Mathews and Styles but I've just remembered I can't." replied Mr. Pipps beginning to swing his arms in the manner of a windmill. "Captain Pellew threw it overboard. He really doesn't like music. Oh, sorry Mathews."
"Never fret sir! I should have kept my eye out of the way of your hand. Just let me dig the needle out of my thumb and we'll have this fr, er, robe finished in no time."
"Mamma will be happy to let your father come aboard with her," said Archie kindly "I'll write her a note as soon as I've finished meeting with the cooks. The Captain has asked me to see to the catering you know." He smiled happily at his friend. There was no doubt that his confidence had improved tremendously since passing his lieutenant's exam.
"But I thought your Mamma was staying with your uncle George," said Horatio.
"Yes, she is," said Archie patiently "and she will be with him when he comes to pay us an official visit next Wednesday Horatio."
"Why is Mr. Hornblower lying on the floor?" asked
Mr. Pipps "I can't hear what he's saying. Can you hear what
he's saying Mr. Kennedy?"
"No, but I can guess. Take this bag of cheesy weevils and cut along there's a good chap. Mathews, mix up a bowl of mustard. We'll have Mr. Hornblower back on his feet in no time."
"Would you like another cup of tea Horatio?" said Archie kindly "or how about some more hot water on your feet?"
"No, I'm perfectly fine Archie," said Horatio removing his bright yellow toes from their mustard bath. "Thank you for explaining everything to me."
"Not at all my dear fellow, you just have to remember that he's not my real uncle, just a good friend of my mama, so it really doesn't make any difference at all. Nothing's changed between us. I'm still just plain old Lieutenant Kennedy."
"Well not quite," said Horatio putting on his stockings "I mean your promotion hasn't been confirmed yet has it?" He wondered if his friend might not be getting a little over confident about his prospects.
"It's bound to happen one day," said Archie cheerfully. "And Captain Pellew is giving me quite a lot of things to do lately."
"I think that's splendid Archie. Now if you'll excuse me I must get along and see how my men are doing with the triple bracing of the aft fratchet nubbings."
"Oh, um, yes," said Archie a little blankly.
On his way out of the middies mess Horatio cannoned into the cook and two of his assistants. Since they could only muster three and half legs between them the collision caused the trio to go down on the deck like a set of ninepins.
"Beg pardon sir, sorry sir," they chorused as they struggled to get up.
"That's all right men," said Horatio "I won't give your name to the bosun this time. Hurry along now, Mr. Kennedy's waiting for you." He climbed nimbly up the companion ladder, unaware that he was being followed by their adoring gaze.
An hour later Archie knocked at the door of Captain Pellew's
day cabin. It was not something that he would normally have volunteered
to do but the success of the entire Royal Visit was at stake.
Archie gulped and stepped through the door to find Sir Edward about to emerge from his quarter gallery, brushing maroon threads from his breeches.
"Ah, Mr. er, you sir! Step in here and see what you think of my new curtains."
"They are very handsome sir," said Archie as he stood shoulder to shoulder with his commander in the confined space "and may I say that the seat cover is particularly fetching."
"Oh you think so do you?" said Sir Edward giving Archie a penetrating look. "Well maybe we'll make an officer of you yet."
"Thank you sir. Sir I have a request "
"But you should probably avoid standing quite so close to a superior officer Mr., Mr, young man. It don't make a very good impression."
"I beg your pardon sir. Perhaps sir if you would be kind enough to step aside I could.."
Archie gestured past his captain to the day cabin.
"Eh? Oh, very well!"
When they were safely in the larger cabin Archie made his request.
"I wonder if you would lend the cooks your bath sir. They are hoping to make a trifle for dessert when His Majesty is aboard and none of the regular pans are up to the job."
"A trifle you say? I daresay that will go down very well. I'm quite fond of trifle myself. Tell them they may fetch the bath on Tuesday evening when Lady Pellew has finished with it."
"Thank you sir," said Archie. Even though he had taken extra care with his hair and uniform he could not help being nervous under the stern gaze of his commander.
"And what else are we offering His Majesty?" enquired Sir Edward putting his thimbles away in their mahogany case.
"A wide variety of dishes sir but the center piece will be a seagull pie, served with candied pork rinds and dried peas au gratin. There will be weevils in blankets of course and rat ribs marinated in lime juice and cooked in brandy on the barrel of a thirty two pounder."
"Any plum duff?" asked Sir Edward raising an eyebrow.
"N, no," said Archie going a little pale at the mention of the pudding with which Simpson had so cruelly filled his breeches. "I mean, I suppose we could, if you think we should sir."
"No, I shall trust your judgment. You are somewhat acquainted with His Majesty after all. Would you care for a brandy?"
"Thank you sir," said Archie accepting the brimming half pint mug. He took a large swig before adding, "sir, do you recall that Mr. Pipps is to greet His Majesty dressed as Britannia?"
"Well of course I do dammit! There's nothing wrong with my memory Mr., Mr., you puppy!"
"No sir," agreed Archie, bravely resisting the urge to squeal and run. "It's just that in order to secure Mr. Pipps' services I was obliged to promise him something."
"Oh were you indeed!" said Captain Pellew standing behind Archie and frowning at the back of his head, "and what might that something be?"
Archie told him
"You said he could have what?"
Archie told him again, hoping that Sir Edward would not begin pacing up and down to his rear.
"In the first place," bellowed the captain, striding up and down behind Archie's back "you had no business offering bribes to a person scarcely out of petticoats. In my day midshipmen did what they were told and considered themselves lucky if they were only thrashed twice daily and three times on Sundays! And secondly, have you any idea of the degree of expertise necessary to make such an item? It would require work of the utmost delicacy and precision. I doubt if there are two people in Portsmouth capable of the task."
"Would it be correct to say that you are one of them sir?" ventured Archie, having fortified his nerves with a large gulp of brandy.
"Me sir? Have you taken leave of your senses? Are you seriously suggesting that the captain of the best damn frigate in His Majesty's navy should spend his time"
Sir Edward appeared to be too shocked to continue and paced in silence for a few moments. Then, after taking a couple of turns about the dining table he came to a halt in front of Archie.
"I won a scholarship to the Royal School of Needlework when I was young you know," he said in a calmer tone.
"No sir, I did."
"Oh yes, I was quite the lad. I was making my own shirts at five years old and tailored my first jacket at six. Gave it all up to go to sea. Broke my father's heart." He paced a little more with his hands clasped behind his back and then appeared to reach a decision.
"Very well Mr. er Kennedy, yes that's it, I never forget a name! You may leave the matter with me and you may tell Mr. Pipps that the item will be ready on time. You may also tell him that he and I will be having a serious talk once these Royal shenanigans are over. You are dismissed."
"Yes sir," said Archie turning pink with relief and making rapidly for the door.
"You may leave the glass behind."
Mr. Pipps was full of toasted weevils and contentment as he
lay in his hammock that night.
"In two days the King will be here," he said to his pet mouse a Jeremy. There was no need to whisper as Mr. Winthrop's snoring was loud enough to drown all normal conversation. "It will be ready then. Mr. Kennedy said that the captain is helping to make it so I 'spect it will look just like a proper one." He yawned and later on, when Mr. Hornblower had taken Mr. Kennedy to the heads and made Mr. Winthrop go down into the hold, he fell sound asleep. Jeremy on the other hand lay awake long into the night, his eyes bright with anticipation.
Early on the Tuesday evening before the Wednesday morning of
the much anticipated Royal Visit a barouche drew up on the quayside
next to the Indefatigable. A stylishly dressed lady, who could
be said to be in the first bloom of her early middle years, was
handed out by a postillion. She glanced up at the quarter deck
and began to wave enthusiastically.
"Yoo-hoo! Neddy dearest!'
It so happened that most of the ship's officers were in attendance
having been called together by their commander to report on the
readiness of the ship for His Majesty's impending arrival.
Captain Pellew swept his hat from his head and held it aloft. At the same time he raked the entire deck with a fearsome glare that instantly quelled the fledgling ripple of snorts and guffaws that his wife's greeting had given rise to. It was very fortunate that the first lieutenant had the presence of mind to pop a sizeable ball of sugared weevils into Mr. Pipps's mouth and so muffle his giggles.
"Lady Pellew has arrived sir," announced Mr Bracegirdle
cheerfully in an aside to his captain.
"Yes, thank you, Mr. Bracegirdle but I had already noticed," replied Sir Edward clamping his hat firmly back on his head. "You have the ship sir. I am not to be disturbed for the next hour." With that he slid swiftly down the ladder to the main deck.
"Is his name really Neddy?" enquired Mr. Pipps with
great interest. It had not taken him long to dispatch the weevils
"No, it is not," said Mr. Bracegirdle firmly.
"But I heard that lady call him Neddy," insisted Mr. Pipps "It sounds funny doesn't it? Oh! Thangoo vewwy mwu!"
It seemed that Mr. Bracegirdle's pockets concealed a larger store of weevily treats.
By the time Sir Edward had reached the top of the gangplank
Lady Pellew was eagerly awaiting him. Clasping hands, they made
for the captain's cabin at a swift pace which remained just on
the right side of dignified.
The marine sentry on duty outside the door was an experienced soldier, hardened by battle and the British Navy diet, but he grew pale as an order was hissed fiercely in his face.
"If anyone attempts to come through this door in the next half an hour you are to shoot them! Do you understand?"
"Er, y y yes M'Lady," he stammered coming to attention and accidentally crashing the butt of his musket on his left foot.
Later that evening, during dinner in the main cabin, the assembled officers noted the becoming flush on Sir Edward's cheeks and observed that Lady Pellew's eyes were very bright as she attacked her second helping of haddock soup. She also made sizeable inroads on the various dishes of fried, roasted, glazed, curried and jellied beef that graced her husband's splendid captured French dining table.
During the cheese course, when everyone was occupied with tapping
the weevils out of the biscuits and squeezing them out of the
holes in the cheddar, Mr. Bracegirdle broke the lull in the conversation.
"Lady Pellew, it must be very gratifying for you to have Sir Edward's expert help in matters of décor when he is at home."
"Oh, indeed it is," said Lady Pellew non-commitally as she watched her husband gallantly extract the little invaders from her biscuits as well as his own.
"It's a very great pleasure for both of us," asserted Sir Edward as he spooned extra weevils on to his wife's plate in an affectionate manner. "Do you recall my love that when I was home for those two days four years ago I made up those handsome yellow velvet curtains for the drawing room?"
"Vividly," replied Lady Pellew.
"Do they still look as charming when the morning sun catches them my dear?"
"Even more so, since the constant exposure to light has faded them to a very agreeable deep shade of pink," said Lady Pellew as she dabbed mustard on her weevils.
"Pink! Are you quite sure my dear?"
"Absolutely my love."
"But I don't see how.. Well no matter, but now they must be quite out of harmony with the lilac wall paper."
"Never fret about that dearest. The wallpaper was also affected by the sunlight and is now a becoming shade of eggshell blue."
"Dear God!" exclaimed Sir Edward "The whole effect must be quite dreadful!"
"One grows used to it," replied Lady Pellew avoiding her husband's eye. "Well now gentlemen I believe I will leave you to your plum duff."
The officers all stood as Lady Pellew took her leave and Sir
Edward gave her his arm as far as his sleeping cabin door.
"I shall join you soon my dear," he murmured.
"Yes, do not be long Neddy," she said tugging his neck cloth playfully. "Did you remember to speak to the carpenter about the cot again?"
"Yes, yes," said the captain hastily.
"Now gentlemen!" said Sir Edward when the door had
closed behind his wife and he had resumed his place at the head
of the table "I have here a note from one of His Majesty's
aides with some very particular instructions regarding tomorrow's
proceedings. What I am about to tell you must go no further, but
it appears that His Majesty is subject to occasional er, spells,"
"What sort of spells?" asked Mr. Pipps with great interest. Formal dinners were a trial for him and he was often obliged to retire beneath the table with Jeremy and couple of toy soldiers to seek amusement. "Does he get turned into a rat or a toad?"
"Of course not boy!" said the captain, although not
in a cross tone. In fact he seemed to be in a very good mood and
went on to explain in a kindly manner "it just means that
he has funny little turns."
"Oh God not that again!" groaned Horatio who tended to be a little dull of hearing after a glass and a half of brandy.
"Well my Mamma says that he is not quite twenty shillings to the pound," said Mr. Pipps who was not allowed to have brandy but could be quite strongly affected after a third glass of lemonade.
"Oh does she indeed?" remarked the Captain before returning to the note in his hand. "I am informed gentlemen, that in order to avoid any unusual incidents, we must avoid using certain words in His Majesty's presence."
"Can I guess the words?" enquired Mr. Pipps eagerly. "I'm good at guessing!"
"Certainly not!" said Sir Edward glaring over the top of the note, his kindliness evaporating "but you may go to your bed sir, at once!"
Mr. Pipps left the cabin with a slice of plum duff in each hand and the air of one who had been hard done by.
"As I was saying," resumed Sir Edward "the words
which are to be avoided at all costs are rhubarb, haddock, frock
and syllabub. It is also advisable to refrain from bringing mad
doctors and cold baths into the conversation. And now gentlemen,
let us raise our glasses and drink to success on the morrow!"
"Ah yes, Mr. Winthrop sir, I have a very particular task in mind for you"
Mr. Pipps stared at the red-faced man with very shiny shoes
buckles who stood in front of him. He seemed to be waiting for
something. Mr. Pipps was waiting for the King to arrive. He knew
he could not be far off because the people on the quay were cheering.
"Recite your speech," encouraged Mr. Kennedy in a whisper.
"But I'm only supposed to say it for the King," Mr. Pipps pointed out.
"This gentleman is His Majesty," whispered Mr. Kennedy giving him a little nudge in the back.
"But he's not wearing a crown!" said Mr. Pipps as if he took a dim view of any monarch who left home without the proper attire. "My mamma says that kings wear crowns."
"I have your special present in my pocket," whispered Archie "do you want it or not?"
Mr. Pipps immediately launched into his recitation and, at the end of it, handed a bouquet to the very pretty lady who stood next to the gentleman who was said to be the King. All this he managed without faltering over a single word, or dropping his spear.
"Oh how sweet!" cried the lady kissing him soundly
on the cheek. "And what is a dear little girl like you doing
on such a great big ship?"
Mr. Pipps drew an indignant breath and was about to declare himself firmly in the camp of those who habitually wore breeches when the ship's band struck up with a lively air and drowned him out.
"Well my boy," said the King shaking Archie warmly
by the hand "how are you, what? You look splendid! Good,
good!" Here His Majesty paused to blow his nose loudly into
a fine silk handkerchief while muttering about the damned salt
air making his eyes water. Sniffing loudly he turned his attention
to the captain of the Indefatigable.
"A pretty ship sir! Yes, by Jove she is. What's that tune Sir Edward? It's a lively one, what?"
"I regret Your Majesty, that the name of it escapes me at present," replied Captain Pellew.
"Oh really?" said the King in a disappointed tone, "I wonder if Archie knows." He turned around to ask and then exclaimed, "For Heavens sake Kitty, leave the boy alone!"
"But I haven't seen my dearest boy for simply ages! Have I Sweetikins?" said the lady with the bouquet kissing Archie on the nose.
"No Mamma," said Archie kindly "but I'm a lieutenant now you know. I have important things to do. Sir, I believe the tune is called Sally's in My Hammock."
"Ha!" laughed the King. "Well it's a great improvement on the dirges they usually play when I step down from a carriage. Whatever you do Sir Edward, pray do not speak of that wretched fellow Handel and unspeakable music my presence."
"I shall not Your Majesty," promised Sir Edward. "Please allow me to present my officers to you."
By the time the Royal party reached Horatio he was feeling quite tense. After the first few notes of 'Thine Is the Glory' had echoed around the harbor Sir Edward had fixed him with a glare that made him feel like a badly coiled rope discovered during a Sunday inspection. The din made by Mathews et al had made it impossible for Horatio to follow the conversation taking place a few yards away but the shocked glances he was receiving from the other officers, and more particularly their wives, had given him a clue as to the nature of his disgrace.
"And this is Mr. Hornblower Your Majesty," said Sir
Edward in a tone that did not suggest that he was speaking of
his favorite officer.
"Hornblower! Damned extraordinary! Kitty, remember that scrubby fellow in the dreadful wig this morning, the one with the pink pills, what was his name?"
"Hornblower, Your Majesty" replied Mrs. Kennedy. She had managed to enslave all the officers she had met, merely by bestowing a dazzling smile on each one.
"Thought so!" said the King triumphantly. Then he stepped very close to Horatio and lowered his voice. "Tell me young man, what kind of a doctor is your father, exactly?"
"The usual sort Your Majesty," replied Horatio, a little puzzled.
"Broken limbs, dropsy, flatulence, gout, that kind of thing?"
"Yes Your Majesty."
"Nothing up here at all?" murmured the King, tapping himself on the forehead.
"Er, well, obviously he is a man of intelligence Your Majesty, otherwise he could not be a doctor," replied Horatio.
The King stared at him for a few seconds and then threw back
his head and brayed with laughter.
"Ha! Ha! Capital! Capital!"
Horatio was in a state of happy bewilderment. Somehow, in a few brief seconds, he had gone from being unable to raise a laugh from the ship's cat, to causing public mirth in his Sovereign. The King moved away and Sir Edward followed him, pausing only to instruct Horatio to go and sort the damned music out at once.
Having delivered his speech Mr. Pipps dropped his helmet and
spear inside the nearest coil of rope. He would have torn off
his white robe as well but he did not want to let Mr. Kennedy
get too far away. He trotted after him and tugged urgently at
"Can I have my present now?" he demanded.
"Oh it's that dear little girl again!" gushed Mrs. Kennedy "What does the darling poppet want?"
"This I think Mamma," said Archie pulling a very small brown paper parcel out of his breeches pocket and handing it over. "Now off you go youngster, and stay out of trouble."
"Is she really your Mamma?" whispered Mr. Pipps.
Mr. Pipps lingered a few moments but could not think of any words to express his sympathy and so departed. He was about to seek a private place in which to unwrap his gift when he found his path blocked by a group of small girls in white dresses.
"Hello" said the tallest "What have you got there?"
"It's a secret," said Mr. Pipps warily. He had met girls before and found them to be generally untrustworthy.
"I've got a thecret too," declared one of the smaller girls. She pulled lace hanky out of her pocket and opened it up to reveal a large juicy slug.
"That's a big one,' said Mr. Pipps admiringly.
"Yeth, we're going to put it in Milly'th dinner later on."
Further enquiries revealed that Milly was the nervous looking lady who had just arrived at the top of the gangplank.
"She's supposed to look after us but she gets sick in carriages," said the smallest girl cheerfully. "She gets sick every time we go out."
"Have you ever been thea thick?" asked the slug owner.
"No," said Mr. Pipps truthfully, "but Mr. Hornblower has, a lot."
"Lady Milford!" called the King, who had finished
meeting the officers and was about to be taken on a tour of the
ship. "Bring the Princesses along if you please. No dawdling!"
"At once Your Majesty," she replied, shooing at the group of white clad figures in front of her in a short-sighted manner. "Let us follow your Papa my dears, and be sure to stay close to me." It seemed to her that her group of charges had grown but it was hard to tell without her spectacles. She hoped the girls had not hidden them again and she wished that the ship would keep still. She was beginning to feel ill already.
Horatio made his way purposefully towards the musicians and
reached them just as they brought their first offering a close.
"Look lads it's Mr. 'Ornblower. Three cheers f.."
"Belay that Mathews. Did you and the men just play Thine is the Glory?"
"Not as such," admitted Mathews after a slight pause "It were more like Sally's in My Hammock, sir".
"What were you thinking?" demanded Horatio, his ears pink with vexation.
"It's bloody boring is all that Handel sir" said Styles with feeling. "We thought we'd give His Majesty summat a bit more lively! He'll thank us for it sir, you wait and see."
"That's all very well but you simply cannot play anymore sea shanties. We have all these ladies on board and it will not do!"
'I see wot you mean sir." said Styles looking suitably chastened. "How about if we play some dance tunes sir. You know, the kind of thing they play at balls. Very respectable is that sir. Nothing to shock the ladies there sir."
"Just be sure.." Horatio broke off as he spied his father coming aboard. He was wearing a large sign about his neck extolling the virtues of Dr. Horace Hornblower's Patented Pacifying Pills and was carrying a large leather satchel and a small folding table.
"Just see to it Styles!" said Horatio over his shoulder as he sped off to intercept his parent.
"Right lads, you 'eard Mr. 'Ornblower. We're goin' to play summat nice and respectable. Do we all know Molly in the Haystack?"
"Flags!" said the king suddenly as the Royal Party made its way aft.
"Your Majesty?" said Sir Edward pausing at the foot of the main mast.
"How do they work? Often wondered. Dashed handy arrangement I should think, what?"
"Is Your Majesty perhaps referring to signal flags?" ventured the captain.
"That's it exactly! Why don't you explain 'em to me Archie my boy?" said His Majesty eagerly.
"Oh yes do!" added Mrs. Kennedy squeezing her son's arm with affectionate pride.
"Um, er, yes," said Archie painfully aware that all eyes and ears were now turned his way. "Well you see, some of the flags are letters and some are sort of messages on their own and actually it's rather confusing. But anyway you attach the er, flags, the ones that spell out the message you see, and the letter ones too, and you string them up on the rope thingy.."
At this point Sir Edward could stand no more.
"Come now Mr. Kennedy," he chided, "We must not misinform His Majesty. Kindly use the correct name! Rope thingy indeed! The proper term is a ha umph!"
Sir Edward stared in pained astonishment at Mrs. Kennedy who had just delivered a swift but surreptitious kick to his right instep. She stared back at him with the ferocity of an angry kitten.
"What sort of signals do you send?" asked the King
with keen interest. He had been too busy gazing up at the masthead
to notice either Sir Edward's remarks or his lady companion's
"Oh you know," said Archie nervously "things like 'have you got any decent biscuits left?' or 'did you happen to see the enemy recently?' Important naval messages like that."
"Oh you're so brave and clever!" said his mother, giving him another kiss on the nose.
"Splendid!" said the King looking around the deck "let's have a look at one of these cannon!" While His Majesty was making a beeline for the nearest gun Sir Edward had a whispered question for Mrs. Kennedy.
"May I ask madam why you saw fit to kick me?"
"You were about to say one of those words, and you know very well that you are not supposed to!" she whispered back.
"What!" Sir Edward was quietly outraged. "Do you seriously suppose madam than an officer of my experience is likely to say 'haddock' when I am clearly referring to a halyard?" he hissed.
"Shh!" shushed Mrs. Kennedy reprovingly as she swept off to join the King.
"Have you ever heard the like?" complained Sir Edward
under his breath to Mr. Bracegirdle, who, as always, was hovering
at his elbow.
"No Sir, I .."
"Not now Mr. Bracegirdle if you please, we must keep up with His Majesty. I don't want Mr. Kennedy explaining anything else to him!"
"What are you doing father?" said Horatio anxiously
as Dr. Hornblower unfolded his portable table and set it on the
"Ah there you are," said his parent in an unusually affable tone. "What an opportunity this is my boy! I believe I shall sell a good few boxes of my Pacifying Pills today. You must be sure to thank young Kennedy. His mother was most obliging and wrote a note that got me on board. I wish she had let me say more than just 'good day' to His Majesty this morning. I was hoping to offer him a box but I'm sure you can arrange for me to speak to him later."
"I really don't think that Captain Pellew will allow you to set up a stall," said Horatio glancing doubtfully at the Royal Party. "I'm already in trouble because of the music."
"Why's that?" said Dr. Hornblower "it sounds suitable enough to me."
"Really?" said Horatio.
"Yes, the fiddler in the tap room of the Giddy Goat plays this all the time."
"No!" Horatio uttered a howl of despair and hurried away.
"I'm sure that boy's costive," said the doctor thoughtfully. He shook several boxes of pills out of his satchel and began offering them to the Indefatigables and their visitors at a shilling each.
"Oh Your Majesty, Your Majesty I cannot find them anywhere!"
cried Lady Milford.
"Cannot find who?" asked the King testily. He was enjoying Sir Edward's account of a recent drubbing he had given the dons and did not care for the interruption.
"The princesses, Your Majesty!"
"Are you sure? Which ones did we bring?" asked the King. In an aside to Sir Edward he added, "I'm never sure how many there are y'know."
"Oh dear," said Lady Milford pressing a handkerchief to her brow. "Well there's Maria Louisa Theresa, Charlotte Maria Louisa, Theresa Maria Charlotte, Louisa Charlotte Maria, Charlotte Theresa Louisa and one more that I just couldn't place."
"How did you come to lose them dear?" enquired Mrs. Kennedy kindly.
"Well I scarcely know," twittered Lady Milford. "We were all looking over the side at a dead seagull and I'm afraid that the bobbing motion of the bird on the water made me feel dreadfully ill and when I had recovered enough to look about me they had all gone!"
"They'll turn up dammit! Always do! Especially when new dresses are needed!" pronounced the King. "What's next Sir Edward?"
"May I suggest coffee in my day cabin?" answered the captain "Lady Pellew has seen to arrangements with some of the other officers' wives and they are most anxious to welcome you Your Majesty."
Mr. Pipps, the princesses and Jeremy were comfortably settled
on the nice mahogany decking underneath the dining table in Captain
Pellew's empty day cabin. A double damask cloth hid them from
any potential prying eyes.
"Are you going to open your prethent now?" asked the Slug Princess.
Mr. Pipps nodded his fingers already busy with paper and string.
"Oh!" The young ladies gave a collective gasp of approval as Mr. Pipps held up his prize.
"You must put it on him at once," encouraged the Tallest Princess.
Mr. Pipps needed no telling. He was already pushing Jeremy's front legs into the sleeves of the tiny mouse size middy's jacket. It was a perfect fit. The breeches were also beautifully tailored and had been designed to allow their new owner's tail to pass through without injury. A jaunty hat topped off the outfit and the little dirk made from a pin added a pleasing touch of realism.
"Can he walk in it?" asked the Smallest Princess "it doesn't hurt his little legs?"
Mr. Pipps placed his splendidly outfitted companion on the deck. Jeremy scampered away at once as if to demonstrate that his new breeches were no impediment at all.
Mr. Pipps and the posse of princesses were just about to follow him out from under the table when the door of the cabin opened and any number of adults came trooping in.
"We must conceal ourselves from the enemy," whispered Mr. Pipps solemnly. He had heard Captain Pellew say that in a meeting once and had liked the sound of it. All the princesses nodded in agreement.
"I do hope Jeremy dothn't get thquathed," said the Slug Princess anxiouthly.
"He's very good at hiding," said Mr. Pipps with pride "and he knows his way to the captain's stocking drawer."
Coffee was much enjoyed by all, as were the various little
pastries that went with it. His Majesty pronounced himself very
much taken with the salt pork and cheese tartlets and Mrs. Kennedy
begged the recipe for the weevil chip dainties.
"Handsome curtains," remarked the King waving a hand at the stern windows.
"Thank you Your Majesty," said Sir Edward, managing to look both modest and proud at the same time.
"Is there a privy hereabouts?" enquired the King "Coffee goes right through one, what?"
"Allow me to conduct you to my private quarter gallery," said Sir Edward "I think you will find it adequate." He did not mention the new padded seat, hoping that His Majesty would be pleasantly surprised.
His Majesty was indeed gratified to find himself enthroned in comfort and while nature took its course he looked about the little room taking in all the finer points of the décor. He was in the process of admiring the highly polished deck when he spied something truly astonishing in one of the corners. It was a mouse, in full naval uniform.
"Well I'd better keep quiet about you," he said peering gloomily at the little rodent 'or they'll have me in a cold bath before you can say haddock."
While the King was in the quarter gallery having his encounter with Jeremy, Lady Pellew drew her husband over to the stern windows for a private word.
"Neddy, I was looking around your sewing room this morning and I could not help but notice the large blue gown that is tucked away right at the back of one of the drawers. Have there been some changes in naval uniform that I was not aware of?"
"No my love, I can assure you that the Admiralty is not about to send us all to sea in skirts," replied Sir Edward in an amused tone. "That particular garment has an honorable history. It was worn by one of my officers during a recent dangerous secret mission. It involved a card playing French spy. I would tell you more if it were not a matter of national secrecy."
"Then I shall not ask," said Lady Pellew brushing a crumb from the front of her husband's gold braid trimmed jacket. "Would you care for more coffee dearest?" she murmured.
"If it is hot and strong I should like it above all things," replied Sir Edward in a caressing tone.
"I shall fetch it at once," whispered Lady Pellew playfully "and do you suppose the carpenter will be able to repair your cot again by tonight?"
Mrs. Aggie Bracegirdle, leading light of the Naval Wives Weekly Whist Drive, rose from her seat on the cushioned locker beneath the stern windows and went in search of her good friend Mrs. Rosie Bowles. She didn't normally hold with profiting from conversations overheard by accident but she was prepared to make an exception this time. She had been harboring suspicions for some weeks that Mr. Hornblower and the gawky Miss Backstay, who had attended one of the regular Thursday evening drives, might be the same person. Sir Edward's remarks about the blue dress and its wearer had certainly confirmed them. Mrs. Bracegirdle's normally sunny countenance wore a frown. Losing 14 guineas to 'Miss Hornblower' had been a public blow to her pride and she was determined to bring the young officer to account. She was certain that Mrs. Bowles would also be keen to recover the eleven guineas she had lost.
As Mrs. Bracegirdle took her leave of the day cabin a tall
young woman swept in.
"Edwina Pipps" she said announcing herself to the company at large. "Ah, coffee, how splendid!"
A small figure in a white robe emerged from under the dining table and flung itself at her knees.
"Mamma, Mamma, did you bring me another toad?"
"I'm afraid not dear," said Mrs. Pipps kissing her offspring fondly, "and I am truly sorry to have missed your speech this morning. I'm afraid I got held up just east of Little Heaving."
"The roads can be quite dreadful can't they?" said Mrs. Kennedy sympathetically. "It's such a pity that you could not see your little girl greet His Majesty. It was terribly sweet!"
"I had no trouble with the roads ma'am," said Mrs. Pipps a little stiffly "I was held up by a highwayman."
"Was it Gentleman Jim?" asked Mr. Pipps with great interest.
"I did not ask him Algernon dear," replied Mrs. Pipps with emphasis on her son's name, "and after I had shot the scoundrel he was in no condition to say. Now tell me, did His Majesty speak much to you?"
"I've forgotten," confessed Mr. Pipps, "and anyway he wasn't wearing his crown. I have to go now I'm busy playing with some girls under the table. One of them has a really big slug."
"Oh how interesting! And I expect they are wearing white dresses like yours aren't they?" asked Mrs. Kennedy.
"Mine's a robe!" said Mr. Pipps indignantly. "It comes with a spear and everything!"
"Of course it does," agreed his mother "Run along dear and enjoy yourself with you new friends, but I advise against dropping spiders down anyone's back. Girls tend not to like that sort of thing."
Without more ado Mr. Pipps dropped to his hands and knees and crawled back under table, pausing only to give his mamma a jaunty wave before dropping the cloth behind him.
"Oh I do apologize for mistaking your little boy for
a girl!" twittered Mrs. Kennedy as she offered Mrs. Pipps
the two remaining weevil chip dainties. "Do you know the
same thing used to happen to my Archiekins, even when he was seven
and eight, didn't it dear?"
"Yes Mamma," sighed Archie, "but I think it had something to do with the fact that you didn't let me wear breeches until I was ten."
"Oh, but you always looked so adorable in your"
"You'll have to excuse me I'm afraid," said Archie smiling sweetly. "I must go and see that the Precision Lead Swinging Team is ready to entertain UncHis Majesty."
"I sure that will be lovely dear," said his mother. "I do hope he's not going to be too much longer."
A few minutes later Admiral Sir Guy Strop-Hoopling entered
the cabin looking a trifle worn around the edges and calling loudly
"Thankee Pellew," he said as Sir Edward handed him a brimming pint glass.
"Pray don't mention it Sir Guy. Did all go well in London?"
"The usual," replied the Admiral after a couple of swigs. "I was obliged to sit through interminable meetings and watch sea lords fall asleep. Half of them should be towed out into the channel and scuttled. I had hoped to be back in time for His Majesty's arrival but I got held up."
"Was it the roads?" asked Mrs. Kennedy, who was at a loose end now that the princesses were found, Archie had gone to attend to his duties and His Majesty was still occupied with private matters.
"No ma'am. I was delayed by a pack of highwaymen just outside Little Heaving."
"How dreadful! I hope they did not rob you of much," said Lady Pellew much concerned. "You look at little peaked. Would you care for one of these miniature ship's biscuits? The cheesy weevil topping is rather good."
"I thank you no, ma'am. My nerves are still a little unsteady. The wretches were not interested in my purse but wanted me to sign a petition, of all things! Apparently they were disgruntled because some female in a coach had shot one of them earlier in the day, instead of fainting and handing over her jewelry. They were complaining that such unsporting behaviour unfairly deprived them of their livelihood."
"Well I suppose one can see their point," mused Mr. Bracegirdle aloud. "I mean what with the price of oats and horseshoes. And I daresay those cloaks and masks cost a pretty penny too."
"Are you done sir?" said the captain glaring impatiently at his first officer.
"Yes, quite done, quite done up in fact," said the
King in a dispirited fashion. It seemed that he had crept quietly
out of the quarter gallery during the admiral's account of the
highwaymen's revolt and now stood staring unhappily at his shoes
in the center of the cabin.
"Are you feeling melancholy Your Majesty?" inquired the admiral. "Allow me to offer you one of these. Some doctor fellow pressed them on me as I came aboard." He took a pillbox from his pocket. "I've already had a couple and I believe they are starting to have a beneficial effect."
Horatio made his way through the crowds assembled in the waist
of the ship. He had given Styles and Mathews instructions to play
nothing but hymn tunes until further notice and hoped that this
change of pace would get him back in Sir Edward's good graces.
Suddenly he was assailed by a strong smell of leeches and mildew.
"Ah! There you are my boy. Do you know I've sold out of my pacifying pills? I just gave the last box to Admiral Streep-Tootling." Dr. Hornblower's pockets were jingling with a large quantity of coins and his round face glowed with triumph.
"The admiral's here?" said Horatio. As usual, he was hoping to avoid Sir Guy, who was liable to pinch his rear end without any provocation at all.
"Yes, and I really should have warned him about drinking brandy with 'em but I dare say it will be all right. Is there anything to eat? I could fancy a jellied pigeon just about now."
The King had firmly refused Sir Guy's offer of the pills.
"Can't abide them. Only thing worse than a pill is a cold bath," he said morosely.
"Oh I quite agree," said Sir Guy, "I abhor a cold bath, although being so much at sea I have too often had occasionOooh!"
"Would care to continue looking over the ship Your Majesty?" said Sir Edward steering the King quickly towards the door. "I believe the men have some diversions planned for you."
"Better had I suppose," sighed the King "Wouldn't wish to disappoint."
"You stamped on my foot madam!" whispered the admiral accusingly to Mrs. Kennedy as they filed out a little way behind His Majesty.
"That's because you said haddock, and you know very well you were not supposed to!" she chided.
"I did not know and I said no such thing!"
"I heard you quite distinctly!"
"Well really!" said the admiral. He was so put out that he was obliged to swallow another of his recently purchased pink pills in order to calm his nerves.
Lady Milford, who had been left behind in the day cabin to
keep an eye on her charges, tottered into the captain's quarter
gallery. The effects of two cups of coffee combined with the strong
smell of seaweed coming from an open stern window were having
an unfortunate effect on her system.
"Well this is a refinement one wouldn't expect," she mused as she sat in comfort on the padded seat. "And the curtains are really quite fetching." Her eye wandered around the little room noting the cleverly made fold-down sewing table, the various drawers and the thimble cabinet with a dear little stuffed mouse on it.
"What's that?" asked Mr. Pipps as a faint shriek
penetrated the tablecloth.
"It sounds like Millie," said the Tallest Princess cheerfully.
"Yeth, and she hathn't even theen my thlug yet!"
"Your Highnesses?" quavered Lady Milford "can you hear me?"
"I'm going to lie down in the captain's bed for a while. My nerves are in absolute tatters. I've just seen a.., well never mind. While I am resting you are on no account to go out of this cabin door. Is that understood?"
As soon as the sleeping cabin door had closed behind the governess Mr. Pipps and the princesses came tumbling out of their hiding place. They swiftly gathered up all the left over refreshments and took their booty over to the stern window lockers. There were a few moments of silence as a number of tartlets and miniature ship's biscuits were disposed of.
"Oh look, there's a little boat down there!" said the Tallest Princess leaning out of the window.
"Do you know how to row, Algernon?" asked the Next to Smallest Princess, a cheerful child who lacked her two front teeth.
"Of course I do."
"Let'th go for a ride!" said the Slug Princess eagerly.
"You don't go for rides in boats," chided Mr. Pipps. "It's called a voyage."
"Do you think we should?" asked the Princess Who Had Not Yet Spoken. "Only Millie said we mustn't go out of the door," she added doubtfully.
"Well this is called a stern window," said Mr. Pipps stepping through it and leading the way down the ladder, "so I spect it's all right, but you all have to do what I say."
"We will!" came the excited chorus.
"Oh thank you Algernon! You can hold my thlug later if you like."
"There you are Horatio," said Archie, "I've
been looking everywhere for you."
"I had to speak to Styles and Mathews about the music again," said Horatio frowning. "I really wish the captain had put me in charge of something else. How did the lead swinging demonstration go?"
"Oh, um, quite well for the most part. Two of the middies got their strings and those little weight thingys entangled at the end and fell in the harbour but nobody seemed to mind. It certainly cheered Uncle George up a bit. Listen Horatio, I think Sir Guy has had a bit too much to drink. He was just asking me where you were and well, you know how he gets."
"Confused," said Horatio firmly, "He gets very confused. Thank you for the warning."
"Well it wasn't much of one I'm afraid. Here he comes now. I'd stay and help but I have some important duties to carry out." With that Archie hurried away to see how the preparations for dinner were coming along.
Horatio's eyes narrowed as he assessed the situation. The admiral was advancing unsteadily to starboard and was, in Horatio's expert opinion, at least three and half sheets to the wind. In this condition he was likely to utter the word frock within three seconds of reaching Horatio's position. A glance port revealed that Mrs. Bracegirdle and Mrs. Bowles were sweeping towards him with very displeased expressions on their faces. He was in no doubt that they meant to discuss his recent skirt clad visit to the Naval Wives Weekly Whist Drive. The Royal Party was approaching head on and would be within earshot inside twelve seconds. Horatio looked down at his only avenue of escape, a companion ladder behind him leading to the lower decks. Almost at once, inspiration and resolve were combined in his agile brain.
"My dear Mishter Hornblower," gushed Sir Guy, slapping Horatio's arm playfully "you elushive boy! When am I going to see you again in that lovely blue f...aargh!"
There was a collective gasp of horror as the Admiral appeared to lose his footing and plummeted headfirst down the companionway.
"Oh dear! Oh my!" shrieked Mrs. Bracegirdle, all thoughts of recovering her winnings gone,"is the poor gentleman dead?"
"Thankfully no ma'am," said Horatio stepping aside.
All those assembled, including His Majesty, pressed forward to peer into the depths. The Admiral's rear end and legs could be seen sticking out of a hip bath which appeared to contain a large amount of trifle. A number of the cook's monopedal assistants, who had been moving the oversized dessert, lay on the deck, having been flung off balance by the Admiral's unexpected arrival.
There was a shocked silence, broken only by some unseemly noises as Sir Guy struggled in the grip of the custard.
"Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!" roared the King. "Dammit Pellew if this ain't the most entertaining occasion! I'd have to say it's even better than when a camel ate the Queen's wig!"
Archie was in the galley discussing the final arrangements
for the dinner with the cook when a flustered assistant came hopping
in with the news of the trifle's utter ruin.
"Can none of it be saved?" wailed the cook in despair.
"Well, some of the bits around the edges of the bath are still all right like," said the assistant doubtfully.
"No, no," said Archie firmly, "that won't do, not if they all saw the admiral flailing about in it. Do you have anything else that can serve as a dessert?"
"Well there are a couple of dishes that Lady Pellew had me make special for the Captain Sir, but they was to be saved for this evening, after His Majesty's gone."
"I see," said Archie, his brow furrowed in thought. He was aware of the two men, each shuffling their foot, waiting for his decision. Only a few weeks ago the weight of command would have sent him spiraling into a fit of the Shakespeares and he would have fallen to the deck a verse spewing, quivering wreck. Now, with his lieutenant's exam safely behind him, Archie asked himself 'what would Horatio do?'
"Use the Captain's personal desserts," he said, squaring
his shoulders "I shall take full responsibility."
"Aye aye sir."
"Oh, and I've just remembered that I have a bag of individual apple pies from Mrs. Bunchley's shop. They were meant for Mr. Pipps but I'm sure he will be happy to add them to the table."
"Aye aye sir."
Having dealt with the crisis to his satisfaction Archie hurried away. It was time to see if the napkins on the Captain's dining table were being properly folded.
Mr. Pipps was seated in the stern of the rowing boat, acting
as coxswain, while four of the princesses pulled gallantly, if
somewhat ineffectively, on the oars. The Smallest Princess was
keeping a lookout in the bow.
"Pull you lubbers!" roared Mr. Pipps.
The princesses giggled.
"Call uth thome more nameth!" demanded the Slug Princess excitedly.
"Row you swabs!" yelled Mr. Pipps obligingly.
"What's that over there?" called the Royal lookout. She was pointing to a floating bunch of seaweed with a pale green object at its center which was drifting towards the Indefatigable's bows.
Mr. Pipps stood up to get a better look and gasped in surprise. Taking a firm hold of the tiller he shouted "put your backs into it you, you girls!" and began to bring the boat around.
Admiral Sir Guy Strop-Hoopling was pulled from the tender grip of the trifle with a watery squelch. Slippery, speechless, and liberally coated with cream he was set carefully on his feet under the concerned gaze of the Royal Party. In order to prevent any further outbursts of mirth, from anyone except His Majesty, Captain Pellew stepped forward and took command of the situation. Wearing his best giggle quenching expression he ordered Mr. Bracegirdle to escort the Admiral to the comfort of the stern cabin. Then he dispatched a flag lieutenant back to the Incontinent to fetch Sir Guy a clean uniform.
"Would you care to continue inspecting the ship Your Majesty?"
asked Sir Edward when all was taken care of.
"I should say I would!" replied the King, who appeared to be in good spirits once more.
"Lead on Pellew!"
A few minutes later, just when Sir Edward was in the middle of explaining how well the nice new mahogany decking had held up during its recent Channel trials, a series of piercing shrieks announced the arrival of Lady Milford.
"Whatever is it?" asked Mrs. Kennedy, "I thought you were resting with the Princesses."
"Resting!" exclaimed Lady Milford with an unsteady laugh, "how can one rest with the ship heaving about so? Not to mention that horrid little mouse coming to life and running about in uniform. I had to lie down after that and had just closed my eyes for a few minutes when an officer burst in covered in my least favorite pudding and fell on top of me, the brute!" The governess's voice had risen steadily throughout her complaints and she finished on a high C.
"That's the best news I've heard all day!" said the King cheerfully "horrid little mouse, eh! Ha! Ha!"
"Oh!" screamed Lady Milford stamping on the deck and bursting into tears.
"There, there," said Mrs. Kennedy soothingly as she dabbed at the custard on Lady Milford's gown with a handkerchief, "it's all been very trying but you must tell us where you have left the Princesses dear."
"Their Highnesses are about fifty yards off the port bow
sir," murmured Horatio in his Captain's ear.
"So they are," agreed Sir Edward. "Er, Your Majesty, it appears that you daughters are being shown around the harbor by one of my midshipmen."
"What, what!" said the King looking over the rail "oh quite, yes, very good. Perhaps he could keep them out there for an hour or two. I say, what's the little fella doing?"
He pointed at Mr. Pipps who was standing up in the boat and hitting at something in the water with an oar.
"Mr. Hornblower! I believe that Mr. Pipps may require some assistance," said the Captain.
"Yes sir. I'm on my way sir. Leave it to me sir. I won't let you down sir," said Horatio, his jacket almost splitting with pride.
The day was not lost after all! Sir Edward had forgiven his blunder with the music and was placing trust in him again. It was only small mission to be sure, but one that he would complete successfully in front of the King as well as Dr. Hornblower. He wondered how he would look back on this moment in the years to come and..
"Mr. Hornblower!" roared Sir Edward.
"Stop daydreaming and get on with it man!"
"Sorry sir! Aye aye sir! Mathews and Styles, to me!"
"To you it is sir. Shall we bring our instruments?"
"No Mathews! Just get in the damn boat and row me out to Mr. Pipps!"
"What's that man doing under the seaweed?" asked
the Tallest Princess.
"I don't know," said Mr. Pipps darkly as he brought his oar down near the unfortunate swimmers head "but he's a very bad man. He's got my toad."
'I love toadth," observed the Slug Princess. "I put one in Milly'th reticule onthe and she thcreamed like anything!"
"Oh what a horrid man!" exclaimed the Smallest Princess. "He's made your poor toad go all dead!"
"My toad's been dead for ages," said Mr. Pipps as he prodded viciously beneath the water with the oar.
"I say!" gasped the swimmer from beneath his toad crested seaweed helmet, "do leave off with the hitting, there's a good chap."
"Albert?" said Mr. Pipps faltering in mid-prod and stepping back "is that you?" The voice sounded uncannily like the talking ape that he had met during his stay at Dr. Hornblower's cottage.
"Ah, er, no, but I'm actually a very good friend of his."
"Do you know if he has anymore coconuts he could send me?"
Albert's friend's reply to this was drowned out by a squeal of fury.
"You nathty boy! You've thquathed my thlug!"
In a trice Mr. Pipps had been pushed out of the boat by the enraged Princess and landed squarely in the centre of the seaweed.
"He's a plucky one is our Mr. Pipps," said Mathews
glancing over his shoulder as he and Styles rowed Horatio away
from the Indy. "Look sir! He's jumped right in on top of
whatever it is."
"Just keep rowing Mathews," said Horatio peeling off his jacket and tossing his hat aside, "he needs our help. That's a Frog spy in the water if I'm not mistaken."
With a flash of sleek curls, smooth flanks and slender, yet manly, limbs Horatio entered the water making barely a ripple. He soon reached Mr. Pipps who was clingingly tightly to the intruder's head.
"You can let go now," said Horatio treading water with strict naval precision, "I shall deal with Monsieur le Frog."
"Oh now look here!" came the voice from beneath the toad. Horatio recognized it immediately.
"I beg your pardon Mr. Ca, I mean Alb.., er sir."
"It's not Albert, its his friend," spluttered Mr. Pipps "and he's got my toad but he's promised to give it back but it will have to be later because my toad's on act..act.."
"Active service," said Albert's friend helpfully.
"I see," said Horatio, who did, "are there anymore of you guarding His Majesty?"
"Well it's all very hush hush of course but the men in the little room under the stairs in the Admiralty thought it best. Do you see a dozen dead herring floating nearby?" whispered Carstairs "that'll be Carruthers."
"It's a very impressive disguise," said Horatio wrinkling his nose. "If you'll excuse us we had better stop drawing attention to you sir. Mr. Pipps, climb back in with their Highnesses and head back to the Indy."
Mr. Pipps, who was aware that he was not welcome among the
Royal young ladies at present, was about to utter a mutinous 'no
thank you' when he was saved by an outburst from the Slug Princess
who declared that if the young midshipman set foot in the boat
she would be 'thick', preferably all over his shoes. In the face
of this imperial anger Horatio had no choice but to send Mathews
over to row the Princesses. In no time they were all on the deck
of the ship where Mrs. Kennedy cooed over the youg ladies and
was sympathetic about the slug's loss.
"You must look in the garden for another," she said kindly "I'm sure Lady Milford will help you tomorrow."
Mrs. Pipps greeted her son warmly when he clambered back on
"There you are Algy dear! What brave and splendid things have you been doing?"
"I've found my toad Mamma!" said Mr. Pipps proudly "and those girls don't like me anymore 'cos I trod on their slug but I didn't do it on perpuss!"
"I'm sure they will forgive you soon," said Mrs. Pipps calmly. "Look what I've found."
She held out Jeremy who was curled up around his tiny hat and sleeping peacefully.
"Oh how thweet!"
This girlish cry was followed by four others and Mr. Pipps was once again surrounded by admirers.
"Look Papa," cried the Tallest Princess, "Algernon has a mouse that wears a uniform. Is it not the dearest little thing?"
"Very taking!" exclaimed His Majesty beaming at Jeremy and his small owner. "Gave Lady Milford a turn did he?" added the King in a conspiratorial whisper.
"I don't know," replied Mr. Pipps cautiously.
"I hear he did and I'd say a reward is called for, what!"
"What?" said Mr. Pipps.
"Hold him up," said His Majesty taking a pearl headed pin from his neck cloth.
"Why?" said Mr. Pipps putting a protective hand over the little rodent.
"Have to dub him properly!" said the King bringing the pin down on an imaginary shoulder.
Instantly solemn, Mr. Pipps held up the palm that couched Jeremy and watched, pink and speechless with pleasure, as his furry companion became Sir Jeremy Pippsqueak, Commander in Chief of His Majesty's Own Marine Mice.
"By Jove, these knighting ceremonies always leave one
hungry, what!" said the King as his newly created baronet
was made much of by Mr. Pipps and the Princesses.
"I believe we can soon remedy that Your Majesty." Sir Edward stepped to the side of the ship waving his hat in the air and at once a stentorian voice echoed around the harbor.
"YOUR MAJESTY, MY LORDS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, PRAY BE SO KIND AS TO MAKE YOUR WAY TO THE STERN CABIN WHERE YOUR DINNER AWAITS!"
"What, what!" exclaimed the King looking about. "I say Pellew, that fellow has an uncommon loud voice! Where is he?"
The captain pointed to a small boat at the mouth of the harbor, some half a mile away. The solitary figure of a naval officer could be seen standing upright in it.
"Mr. Winthrop's vocal talents helped us to capture a Don frigate not so long ago," said Sir Edward ushering the royal party aft. His account of the young officer shattering the peace of the siesta aboard the Hispaniola and confusing the castanets out of the enemy pleased His Majesty very much. So much so that he insisted that Mr. Winthrop be brought back from his distant outpost and given a place at the dinner table.
"Very well Your Majesty," said Captain Pellew, secretly relieved that today was a
Wednesday upon which young Winthrop was required to maintain silence while aboard.
"Horatio my boy," said the good doctor hurrying aft
with the change in his pockets jingling furiously, "what
sort of a table does Pellew keep? I confess I could destroy a
brace of battered rooks just now."
"Well then I think you might enjoy the seagull pie father," replied Horatio squeezing the water out of his shoes. "Did you happen to see me out in the harbor? I had to undertake a mission for the captain. It wasn't terribly important but I"
"Eh? No, I'm afraid not, two of the ladies fainted when the admiral fell down the stairs and I was obliged to get my corset slitting shears out. That's the trouble with doctoring, your time's never your own. It's a pity old Streep-Tootling didn't get a warning about my Pacifying Pills and the brandy. He obviously didn't drink nearly enough. Do you think the captain will object if I store my folding table in his quarter gallery?"
With that the doctor bustled off, anxious to get a good seat for dinner.
Mr. Winthrop's morning had been lonely and damp. He was still
a growing lad and the small packet of weevil sandwiches that he
had stuffed in his pocket before leaving the Indy had done little
to keep hunger at bay. It was with huge delight, therefore, that
he read the signal summoning him back on board. The brisk row
into the harbor sharpened his appetite further and he practically
ran up the side of the ship. His joy knew no bounds when he found
out that he was to share a royal feast.
"Beggin' yer pardon sir," it was the chief cook hopping along at his side and tugging his forelock.
Mr. Winthrop nodded in an encouraging fashion.
"Sir could you give Mr. Kennedy this message? It's about the desserts sir. Only I can't very well go in there sir."
Mr. Winthrop nodded again, took the rather greasy scrap of paper that the cook was holding out, and hurried to the feast.
The seagull pie caused quite a stir among the guests when it
was brought to the table. One or two of the Princesses shrieked
until they were reassured that the heads and gaping beaks poking
through the pastry belonged to birds that were quite dead. Lady
Milford took one look at the feathery host and fainted away. The
King attempted to eat the head that decorated his slice until
Mrs Kennedy whispered that it was meant to be a garnish only.
Dr. Hornblower crunched his way noisily and enthusiastically through
one head and begged half a dozen others from his neighbors.
The racks of rat ribs proved to be a most popular item, especially in the cooking. They sizzled wonderfully on the barrel of a thirty two-pounder and the brandy flames had a very cheering effect.
Altogether the meal was proving to be a success and Archie was beginning to wonder if the Captain might actually have some words of praise for him once it was over.
"Decent dinner Pellew!" said the King picking his teeth with a rodent bone "I could fancy a little pudding, what!"
"And I believe we can offer you some, Your Majesty," replied Sir Edward in a jovial tone "although perhaps not quite what was originally planned!"
"Ha! Ha! Y'know I'm sure I shall never forget the sight of Sir Guy swimmin' in the trifle!" chortled the King "and I shall lose no time in telling the Queen all about in when I see her next." He raised his wine glass to the unfortunate Admiral Strop-Hoopling who was sitting between Mrs. Bracegirdle and Lady Pellew and looking unusually glum.
"Mr. Kennedy?" said the Captain as the dishes were cleared away, "can you tell us what His Majesty can expect for dessert?"
"Umm, well, actually," Archie stuttered, "No, I'm afraid not. I forgot to ask what, umm. I think Mr. Hornblower knows." He flashed an apologetic smile at his friend. Strictly speaking Horatio could not be expected to have knowledge of what was about to appear on the table next but Archie had enormous faith in his abilities. He always seemed to know which way the ship was going and was never flustered if the captain asked him a question about the sails. Cleverest of all, in Archie's opinion, he could also explain why the ship didn't go around in circles whenever the capstan was used.
All eyes looked towards Horatio who had just done his own swift
visual sweep of the table and noticed a red-faced Mr. Winthrop
dropping a loaded knife and fork and fishing a piece of paper
out of his pocket.
"Well Mr. Hornblower?" said the captain, as if a favorite dog was about to fetch his slippers.
"I believe I shall be ready to report as soon as Mr. Winthrop hands me his dispatch sir."
"Oh very good!" said His Majesty draining his wine glass and beaming at Mr. Winthrop "dispatch eh? Why don't you read it aloud young fella?"
Anyone who was even slightly acquainted with the Indy's most vocally endowed midshipman clapped their hands over their ears at this and Sir Edward hastened to intercede. He pointed out that it would be best to send Mr. Winthrop some distance away before allowing him to speak, thus delaying the appearance of the puddings.
His Majesty was mollified and the cook's note began its journey to Horatio's hand. It made fast progress through the line of princesses until it reached the smallest royal young lady.
"Can you read?" she whispered to her neighbor as she opened the note and squinted curiously at its contents.
"Of course I can," said Mr. Pipps matter of factly.
"Show me," demanded the princess.
Mr. Pipps studied the words for a few seconds, frowned, and then called across the table in a penetrating tone.
"Mamma, do I like 'roobarb silabub'?"
There was a short silence and then several things happened.
Lady Pellew threw a ship's biscuit at Archie and struck him
squarely on the forehead.
Mrs. Kennedy, enraged by the attack upon her dearest boy, grabbed a dish of candied pork rinds from a passing steward and emptied them over Lady Pellew's head. She also kicked the Captain on the shins and berated him for allowing the forbidden words to be uttered.
Sir Jeremy Pippsqueak, who had been enjoying a short nap under an upturned soup ladle, was much alarmed at the uproar and scampered to the nearest safe haven. He chose the bosom of the recently revived Lady Milford, who had been sipping nervously at a glass of sherry.
Dr. Hornblower, who had been waiting impatiently for some pudding, any pudding, saw the lady's predicament and, taking out his trusty corset slitting shears advanced upon her shouldering other would be rescuers aside.
Meanwhile, His Majesty, looking pale and wild-eyed, threw down his wig and ran to the stern windows. Flinging them wide he began declaiming in ringing tones.
"Blow, winds and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!
You cataracts and hurricanes spout, what! What!"
Much later that night, when the ship was dark and all but the
watchmen were in bed, Horatio lay musing in his hammock.
"Archie?" he whispered "I was just thinking that perhaps His Majesty might be your real uncle after all and actually related to you. I mean it's a bit of a coincidence isn't it, the both of you suffering from fits of the Shakespeares?"
"Yes Horatio, a similar thought had occurred to me too," came the reply in the dark, followed by a noise, which suggested that someone was hitting their head repeatedly on a pillow.
"He's very limber for a man of his years isn't he Archie? I never would have thought he could climb so far up the mainmast," said Horatio thoughtfully. "Especially with so few of his clothes on. It was lucky that my father was nearby with his Pacifying Pills wasn't it? They seemed to calm the King down in a very short time."
"I think at least ten people gave him one of those pills Horatio. If he'd been any calmer they would have had to start planning the next coronation."
All was peaceful for the next few minutes apart from the distant rumbling of Mr. Bracegirdle's snoring.
"Did you have the chance to ask your father about Mr. Plunkett?"
"Who?" said Horatio vaguely.
"Mr. Plunkett. The gentleman who lives just up the lane from your father and who looks exactly like you."
"Er, no I didn't Archie. It just didn't seem very important. Anyway, I'm sure there's a very simple explanation. Good night"
"Good night Horatio," sighed Archie.
Mr. Pipps was enjoying the slumber of the innocent. Sir Edward
had been a little cross with him for reading aloud at the dinner
table until Mr. Bracegirdle had reminded his captain that the
smallest midshipman had been sent away early from the meeting
during which the forbidden words had been discussed.
All in all it had been a satisfying day from a Pippsian point of view. His beloved friend Jeremy had been elevated to the peerage and his Mamma had taken them both to tea at the Crown and Crosstrees. Full of lemonade and the best iced buns that money could buy, he had returned to the Indy to find that a special messenger from the admiralty had delivered his toad in a handsome straw-filled basket.
There was one other small disturbance that night when Sir Edward
slipped on a small patch of rhubarb syllabub and collided with
a folding table that some inconsiderate person had left near his
quarter gallery. The string of curses that followed this slight
accident made the marine outside the captain's door blush.
"Really my dear," remonstrated Captain Pellew limping back to his cot, "such language!"
"Oh I'm sorry Neddy, but you know how I dislike to see you hurt. Now get back in here quickly and bring the cocoa with you."