THE WEATHER EYE
Chapter 7 Sanity is Overrated
12 days later
"I refuse to believe it," Horatio Hornblower muttered.
The words were barely audible and there was no strength at
all behind them
but they made Archie Kennedy lean forward eagerly in his chair. They were
the first vaguely coherent words that Horatio had uttered in more than two
days. Hell, they even formed a grammatically correct sentence! It had to
be a good sign!
Horatio stirred again. "No! It's impossible!"
Archie risked a gentle tug on his friend's shoulder. "Come
Horatio slowly opened his eyes. They seemed to be still somewhat
confused but he seemed to recognise his friend, if not the rest of his
"Archie? Are we aboard the Petrel?"
Archie kept his voice calm and soothing, although he felt his
Matthews had warned him that Horatio's mind might not recover. But it
wouldn't do anyone any good if he were to panic now.
"No. Another ship. The Petrel was wrecked. Do you remember?"
"What?" Horatio made a weak attempt to shake his
head, as if he was trying
to clear his foggy memory. "What happened, Archie?"
What had happened, indeed!
They and their men had come aboard the ship of the mysterious
(to say the
least) Captain Vanderdecker. After escaping from pirates and savages, the
somewhat strange nature of the ship's crew had not been enough to dissuade
them from accepting passage on the ship. And furthermore, they had been
reunited with an old friend and compatriot, Hal Trevelyan (although he had
remained a trifle reticent about exactly why he was in this part of the
world or why he was in such company).
Horatio had been adamant that they try and make for the nearest
and Vanderdecker had agreed to sail to the penal colony in New South Wales
if Horatio could navigate them there.
So they had finally seemed to be making progress. They had
lost their ship
and they (well, Horatio and Archie, at least) would probably have to answer
for it. But they finally appeared to be heading back towards civilisation
(if the barbarous Antipodes could be called civilisation) and some sort of
Or so they had hoped.
Despite unruly weather, almost a week had passed without serious
and then disaster had struck yet again.
Horatio had been nauseous and unable to hold down any solid
food for several
days. This had not worried Archie unduly, as he had assumed that it was
merely due to the propensity towards seasickness that Horatio had never been
able to completely conquer, despite all his years at sea.
Since they had left the island, they had sailed through almost
storms and tempests. Although their new host had given them an
unconditional guarantee that the ship would not sink, it was still most
uncomfortable for the Petrels, and especially for Horatio.
Horatio appeared to be attempting to ignore his illness. As
seemed embarrassed by it and it made him quite irritable. Archie had made a
few attempts to humour him but then predominantly left him to himself,
certain that it was a minor ailment that would pass when the weather abated
to any significant degree.
Then, two days ago, Horatio had admitted to Archie that he
had also been
suffering from an infernal headache that seemed to be getting steadily
worse. For the first time, Archie had worried that it might be something
more than seasickness. Horatio had looked tired and slightly confused and
by the end of that short conversation his words had become garbled and
But Archie had still managed to convince himself that Horatio
overtired. After all, he'd been seasick for days and, even before that, it
had been a hellish voyage for all of them. Archie had suggested that his
friend get some sleep and he had been both surprised and relieved when
Horatio had complied without any protest.
A few hours later, it was painfully clear that there was a
Checking in on Horatio, Archie had found him unrousable and running a high
Their host, Vanderdecker, didn't seem able to arouse within
significant level of concern. Apparently, since he was invulnerable to such
ailments himself, he found it difficult to empathise with the anxiety it
induced in others mere mortals like Archie and Hal.
However, although not truly concerned, Vanderdecker *was* somewhat
that Horatio's navigational skills were no longer at his disposal and that
he was thus was forced to once again rely on those of a man who seemed to
have all the sense of direction of a windblown autumn leaf.
Archie himself was no incompetent when it came to navigation
but he was far
more concerned with his ailing friend than he was with plotting a course.
And thus Vanderdecker had given the task back to Johannes, whose mind (such
that it was) was at least on the job. (Archie wondered if they were even
vaguely heading in the direction of New South Wales anymore.)
Although he had been rather disturbed by their hosts' lack
Archie was grateful that he had been, at least, allowed to keep a continual
vigil by Horatio's bedside. More often than not, he was joined by Matthews
or Styles or Oldroyd or Hal. But they all seemed able to do very little
except watch as Horatio fluctuated from episodes of incoherent muttering and
restless movement to periods of deep unconsciousness and back again.
And, all the while, his fever kept rising despite all their
abate it. They had stripped him naked and doused his body with cold water
but still the fever would not break. It made his body shake times,
shivering as if he were unbearably cold and yet, all the while, his skin was
The very worst had happened just hours ago, while Archie and
been watching him. Matthews had taken over the task of bathing Horatio's
face and upper body and the patient was again muttering incoherently and
seemed to flinch from the touch of the cold water. Then, completely without
warning, Horatio's back had arched, his teeth had clenched and an awful
gurgling sound had seemed to erupt from the back of his throat. Matthews
instinctively took hold of his commanding officer to restrain his movements
but Archie had found himself rooted to the spot as he watched Horatio's
limbs begin to jerk spasmodically.
It had continued for less than ten seconds in all probability
Archie, it seemed like an eternity before Horatio's body suddenly went limp.
That seemed to cure his paralysis and he darted forward to kneel by the
side of the bed.
"Horatio?" he asked fearfully.
Matthews looked up and gave him a gentle, encouraging smile,
resumed the task of bathing Horatio with cold water.
"It's alright, sir. Ee's still breathing'."
Archie stared at him in profound shock. "But that... that was a... a..."
"Fit, sir? Yes, sir. It'll be the fever I reckon, sir.
We oughta keep
tryin' to keep im from getting' too hot."
"Yes, yes, of course." Archie fought to get his
internal panic under
control. An officer must remain in control in front of his men. Not that
Matthews hadn't seen him panic before. But he couldn't fall victim to it
now, not when Horatio...
For some reason, despite all the decidedly odd occurrences
of the past few
weeks, this seemed to rock the foundations of his reality more than
anything. Usually he was the one experiencing the fits. He'd never seen,
and never expected to see, anyone else undergo one and certainly not
Was this fear and turmoil what it was like for Horatio and
when *he* fitted? Suddenly, he had to know.
"Is that I mean, when I... I..."
Matthews glanced up at him again and offered Archie another
smile, as he laughed lightly. "Oh, *no*, sir! Yours are much worse than
that! Last longer an' with much more noise an' thrashin', sir."
"Aye, sir. An' you always get better after."
Archie made an utterly unreasonable bid for reassurance. "So,
Matthews sobered, seemingly not up to outright lying to an
that depends on the fever, sir."
Archie sighed and bit his lip. "Yes, I suppose it does."
Matthews looked straight into Archie's eyes, almost seeming
to judge whether
the young officer would be able to cope with what he was about to say.
"Y'know it's real bad when they fit, sir. I only seen
it once before
Archie's heart quailed within him but he forced himself to
keep his voice
"Well, that feller was never quite right in the head after it, sir."
*Never quite right in the head.* The words kept echoing in
He couldn't imagine Horatio without that bright keen intellect of his that
always seemed to be ten steps ahead of everyone else. He didn't want to
even contemplate the possibility, but he couldn't get it out of his mind.
He looked down and realised that Horatio was staring at him.
"Are you all right, Archie?"
Was *he* alright? Horatio, who still looked too weak to even
move his head,
was asking if he, Archie Kennedy, was all right. He could have almost
"I'm fine," he said and patted Horatio on the shoulder.
The fever was not
gone but it was definitely coming down.
"You don't look fine."
Typical Horatio. Archie had never been able to hide his unease
friend and Horatio wasn't going to let it go unchallenged.
"I tell you I'm fine!" Irritated with himself for
worrying his sick friend,
Archie snapped slightly. "I'm not the one who almost died a couple of hours
ago! So if one of us needs to fret over a friend due to some maudlin sense
of duty, it shouldn't be you."
There was a short silence.
"Well, death cannot stop an officer in the British Navy
from performing his
duty. It can only delay him for a while."
Archie stared at Horatio, Matthews' words again ringing in his ears.
"Yes, well, I always did think that sanity was overrated
as a virtue," he
muttered almost to himself.
Horatio could see that his friend was even more worried now.
Archie," he explained gently.
"If you say so," Archie replied, not sounding at
all convinced. "I have
repeatedly warned you about the poor quality of your humour."
"It's not of poor quality. It is, in fact, of an especially
rare and fine
variety that can only appreciated by a connoisseur."
"In other words, an acquired taste." Archie smiled
slightly but he still
looked concerned. "How do you feel?"
Horatio considered reporting that he felt fine but then realised
would not be believed, even for a moment. He decided that honesty might
indeed be the best policy.
"Tired and I have an abominable headache," he admitted
with a sigh.
"Actually, every inch of my body aches..." He made an abortive attempt to
sit up. "And none of my limbs appear to be working properly."
"Don't try to get up. You need to rest. You've had some
sort of brain
Horatio's eyes widened at the news. "Brain fever?"
"You've been delirious or unconscious for the past two
days with the highest
fevers I've ever seen. You even fitted last night, Horatio."
The tone of his voice conveyed how much this seemed to have
Archie, who was no strange to fits himself. It must have been a violent and
traumatic experience. People had been know to say strange and violent
things in the throes of delirium and, truth be told, Horatio found his
patchy memory of recent events littered with some disturbing images.
"I didn't say or do anything untoward, did I?"
Archie looked surprised. "No."
"Well, I can believe what you say about delirium. I now
seem to have some
very distorted recollections of our recent journey. I vaguely recall some
island natives appointing you as a rain god and selling me off to a very
amateurish group of pirates (who had apparently lost their navigator)."
"Oh?" Archie couldn't help being slightly amused.
Horatio caught the amusement in his tone and thought it was
due to the
preposterous nature of the story. "Oh, I know it was delusional," he
admitted, embarrassed. "At one stage, I thought I saw Jack Simpson back
from the dead and then we were aboard a ship whose captain and crew believed
they were immortal."
He decided to keep to himself the part where he remembered
seeing a manic
woman carrying a sheaf of papers and being ordered to do something by a man
who had short grey hair and strange dress and an even stranger tendency to
call Horatio some thing like "Owen". That was something Archie really
Then another memory or (from his point of view) potential delusion
"Is Hal Trevelyan here?"
Archie smiled encouragingly. "That's right."
Archie's face fell. "No, he's not." After a moment's
tentatively asked. "Do you think you remember Guido being here?"
Horatio shrugged. "I'm not even sure that I remember
*Hal* being here. It
just seemed reasonable to ask. Where *is* Guido then?"
"I don't know. He could be dancing a lead role for the
for all I know."
Horatio grinned. Now that was a mental picture that he wouldn't
forget in a
"But, I hate to be the one to tell you, Horatio."
Archie began, although he
looked like he really wasn't hating it in the slightest. "But those other
memories were not delusions. They actually happened."
"What? Simpson? And... what was his name? Vanderdecker?"
It was a joke surely! But Archie just gazed at him steadily,
as if waiting
for the news to sink in.
"Oh, come now, Archie! Don't be ridiculous!"
"Strange as it might seem, Simpson was alive back on that
island (and also
being worshipped as a rain god) and we are currently guests of the Flying
"It's not funny, Archie."
"It's not meant to be. I'm serious!"
"Which of us was it that had the brain fever? The Flying
Dutchman does not
and could not exist. And Jack Simpson is *dead*!"
Archie knew all that (well, sort of "knew" it) but
he also had seen the man
walking about that island with his own eyes.
"It *was* Simpson, Horatio," he said quietly but emphatically.
"He's *dead*, Archie. I saw him die. He was standing
as close to me as you
are now and I watched him fall and the life's blood drain out of him after
the captain shot him."
"So, you refuse to believe me." Archie managed to
sound both wounded and
indignant in equal measure.
Horatio sighed. "I'm not insinuating that you are lying,
just... there has to be another explanation."
"What other explanation? Believe me, Horatio, I have
*not* forgotten Jack
Simpson's face, nor the sound of his voice."
Horatio forced his tired brain to think. There simply *had*
to be some
"Could it not be someone of very similar appearance?
A brother perhaps,
maybe even a twin?" He looked Archie directly in the eye. "Come now, you
yourself have a cousin who is the very image of you!"
Archie had forgotten about Tony and the uncanny resemblance
between them but
somehow he just couldn't believe that a similar situation had arisen here.
He *knew* that man on the island had been Jack Simpson. He just knew it!
"And could it not be that he simply survived the wound you saw him receive?"
"He was shot *here*, Archie." Horatio's weary voice
adopted the clipped
tones of a man rapidly losing his remaining patience, as he raised a hand
and indicated the centre of his own sternum. "Such wounds are mortal. You
may take my word on it."
"I would like to remind you that both you and I have survived
illnesses that various doctors have predicted would kill us certain sure."
"I saw the body, Archie! No breath, no heartbeat! That's
dead! How could
anyone be dead and then not dead?"
"Well, apart from the fact that you are challenging one
of the fundamental
tenants of Christianity, one could argue that if the Fates or the Powers
That Be have decided that a man is not going to die, not even a wound that
every doctor in the world believes to be mortal is going to kill him."
"Oh, wonderful! Christianity, paganism and just plain
skewed logic, all in
the one sentence! And who are these Powers That Be then? God? The
Admiralty? Your Aunt Catherine from Derbyshire? Why is it that when you
make such statements, you claim to be a veritable font of wit, but when I
make them, I am accused of possessing a very poor sense of humour?"
"Well, the formidable Lady Catherine, much prized as she
is for both her
honesty and her directness, would certainly consider herself to be the
ultimate authority in such matters (and indeed in all other matters)."
Archie said dryly. "But as to your other question, any thespian will tell
you that the art of comedy is in the timing, Horatio. Some of us have that
timing and some of us don't."
Suddenly, Archie grinned, realising that his recent fears had
completely unfounded. He was undoubtedly conversing with Horatio the
*real* Horatio! His friend may have lost some strength and some memories
but he most assuredly still retained his full mental faculties and his
And suddenly Archie had an irresistible urge to bait him.
The tension of
the past few days and the sheer lunacy of the past few weeks had all built
up to a point where seriousness seemed ridiculous. And Archie had missed
tormenting Horatio it was one of those rare joys in life that one just had
to partake of, for the good of one's soul.
"So, what the answer then?" he demanded.
Horatio looked at him in surprise. "The answer?"
"Yes, you tell me that all my explanations are ridiculous.
So what's your
"To..." Archie waved his hands about, searching
for the words. "To...
Horatio looked at him consideringly and then shrugged. "42"
"42?" Archie shook his head in mock resignation.
Horatio had clearly
entered into the spirit of the game, probably thought he'd scored a point in
it too. "What sort of answer is that?"
"Well, how am I supposed to know? What sort of question
mimicked Archie's hand gesture. "...everything? You ask me like it is some
sort of mathematical problem to be solved." He grinned. "The answer is as
likely to be 42 as anything else. When you have formulated a better
question, ask me again!"
"That would be another of your lamentable attempts at humour, would it?"
This time, a flash of childish indignation enabled Horatio
to succeed in his
attempt to sit up. "And this would be you lamentable attempt at nursing,
would it? Goad the patient into health?"
Archie's eyebrows shot up in genuine astonishment at *that*
his voice almost shook from the effort to withhold his laughter.
"Well, I learned from a master. I seem to recall being
starvation in a Spanish prison and being berated by some lunatic about my
The flush that crept over Horatio's features had nothing to
do with the
recent fever. "Yes, well..."
Archie did laugh now. "Don't fret, Horatio. I know that
you can't accept
the reality of our situation but then you *have* had a terrible fever
recently and none of us will blame you for being slightly erratic and
delusional for a while."
"You as much as said it youself, less than half an hour
ago. As I said, we
all understand this. Just try and keep your truly insane ideas to a
minimum. They tend to worry the rest of us."
"Insane ideas? Me?" Horatio's indignation gave
way to a sigh of
resignation. "I am beginning to understand how Scully must feel."
"Lt Scully, first officer of the Spectre. You know, that
little sloop that
keeps getting involved in adventures that the Adniralty would rather not
"Captain Mulder seems to continually divert their missions
to pursue some
ridiculous flight of fancy... and he always gets away with it because he can
twist the facts to suit his own interpretation and thus produce some
convoluted justification for his actions."
"But you must admit that, so far, it has always turned
out that Mulder was
Horatio raised an eyebrow. "And thus...?"
"Well, if you are like Scully, then it follows that I
must be in Mulder's
position which means that no matter how preposterous my theory may sound, I
will eventually be proven right. There are more things in heaven..."
(At that moment Hal opened the door to see Horatio sitting
up stark naked,
glaring at Archie and deliberately and repeatedly poking him in the chest to
emphasise each of his words, while Archie seemed unable to conceal a sly
"Don't even think about saying it, Archie. I will take
haven't been dreamt of in *your* philosophy."
Archie chuckled. "You must be feeling better then."
(Hal's eyebrows shot upwards, his eyes went very wide and he
that it would be ill-advised to interrupt them at this point. So, he
retreated immediately, shutting the door silently behind him.)
Suddenly, the whole ship was rocked and the air was split with
the sound of
"What the hell was that!" Horatio had been thrown
out of his bed and,
despite Archie's protests, climbed unsteadily to his feet.
"Whatever it is, you are in no condition to do anything about it."
"It felt like we hit something. We could be sinking, Archie!"
"This ship *cannot* sink!"
"Oh, don't be ridiculous! They've never built a ship
that *cannot* be sunk!
Good God! If they had, every navy would build a fleet of them!"
"I don't think it's a question of how the ship was built.
It's more to do
with how it was cursed."
"Oh, don't start that again! I'm going up on deck!"
"You're not strong enough, Horatio."
"Just watch me!"
Actually, fuelled by his anger and that uncanny natural ability
of his to
rise to the occasion in a crisis, Horatio *did* look as though he would be
able to make his way up on deck, if somewhat unsteadily.
"What exactly do you think you will be able to achieve?"
"Look, I am not going to sit here and do nothing while
you cling to a
ridiculous delusion that this ship is incapable of sinking!"
"Suit yourself. Actually, speaking of suits, you do realise
that you are
currently as naked as the day you were born, don't you?"
Horatio hadn't realised. He looked down at himself and then
up at his
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Archie couldn't help
Horatio's indignation just a little amusing.
"We've been trying to keep your fever down for the past
few days. There has
been no reason to clothe you thus far."
"Well, there's a reason now, Archie! Where are my clothes?"
Archie smirked. "I must say that for someone convinced
that the ship might
be sinking, you seem overly concerned personal propriety."
"Archie, damn you! Give me my clothes!"
Archie merely raised an eyebrow.
"Look, I hate to spoil your obvious enjoyment of my predicament.
swear that, one day I'll bathe completely naked on deck in front of the
entire crew! Just give me my trousers now!"
"I'll hold you to that!" Archie grinned again, as he produced the garments.
"You *would* do it too!" muttered Horatio, as he
hurriedly pulled on his
trousers before making his way up to the deck.
* * * * * * *
Oldroyd and Johannes were just setting up their chessboard
had assured Oldroyd that a) they weren't needed to help with anything,
despite the fact that the ship had just hit a reef and b) he could remember
exactly where all the pieces had been before they had been knocked off the
board during the collision and he was sure that he had Oldroyd at his
Oldroyd was still completely befuddled as to why Mr Trevelyan
had wanted him
to learn this chess game in the first place. Mr Kennedy had suggested that
it was because it was good for teaching battle strategy but Oldroyd didn't
see why he'd need to learn that anyway.
If Mr Kennedy or Mr Hornblower told him what they wanted him
to do then he'd
do it. Joining in with the thinking and planning had only ever got him into
trouble. As far as he was concerned, he was better off not bothering.
And chess was a very strange game anyway. Mr Trevelyan had
that it was very popular in Russia and other really cold countries. And
Oldroyd just couldn't see how they could play it in weather like that. It
was alright here in this blazing heat but, in Russia, if you had to take off
a piece of clothing every time the other player took one of your chess
pieces - then you'd end up freezing in all that snow and ice!
Oldroyd shrugged. He supposed that you'd have to get very
good at chess
very quick if you were to play in Russia. Not such a problem here though
(although today he was developing rather bad sunburn).
Oldroyd stared at the board and after a moment pushed a pawn
suspected that he would resign soon, before he lost his last item of
clothing. Johannes tended to insist on adhering to the "rules" and was
himself already down to only his trousers. Oldroyd couldn't help wondering
if Johannes sometimes played to lose.
When someone boisterously came up on deck and knocked over
again, Oldroyd was enormously relieved on two counts. Not only did it put
an end to the stupid game, but he also recognised that the boisterous
newcomer was none other than Mr Hornblower, with Mr Kennedy following close
The last time he'd seen his commanding officer, Mr Hornblower
had been out
of his mind with fever. Now, he was striding across the deck with more
determined purpose than Oldroyd had seen in him since the Petrel had gone
Mr Hornblower was back in charge of things! Somethings was
to happen now!
Oldroyd cheerfully leaped up to follow his officers.
"What about the game?" Johannes called after him.
"No time fer that now." Oldroyd called back over his shoulder.
As he walked over to where Mr Hornblower was trying to reason
Vanderdecker, Oldroyd thought he heard someone behind him talking to
"I thought the Captain suggested that you try and teach
him some sort of
*ship* version of chess (maybe make it easier for him to understand) not a
*strip* version of chess."
Oldroyd shook his head. He'd worry about what the hell they
about, at a later time.
* * * * * * *
"I tell you, Mr Hornblower, I have had 300 years experience
of this curse
and I tell you that this ship *can* not and *will* not sink."
Horatio glared at Vanderdecker and Archie saw his friend visibly
if swallowing the bitter words that he would *never* say to any captain,
whether they served in His Majesty's Navy or not).
"Whatever you say, sir. But has anyone ever checked the
finer details of
that curse because, whether it causes us to sink or not, this ship has
definitely *impacted* on some sort of reef!"
"And a most colourful reef, at that, Horatio!" Hal
called from where he was
peering over the side of the boat, at what was presumably the area of
"What?" Horatio walked over to him and surveyed
the area for himself. The
weather had turned fine overnight and, through clear blue water, they could
see a vast myriad of colour.
"Coral," Horatio muttered, before turning back to
"Where are we, sir? As far as I am aware, the only known coral reef is on
the northern coast of the continent, nowhere near the colony."
"Then I would assume, Mr Hornblower, that we are some
distance north of the
"You *assume*? Don't you *know*?"
Vanderdecker sighed and barked at one of his men standing next
(Horatio noticed that the man appeared to be holding a chessboard and both
he and Oldroyd appeared to be stripped down to their breeches. He did a
visible double-take but decided to say nothing.)
"Johannes!" Vanderdecker shouted. "Where are we?"
"There you are, Mr Hornblower, we are *here*."
"You're all mad!"
"Quite possibly, yes."
"Doesn't anyone amongst you even *care* in which direction you are going."
"You'll find that it makes less difference to us than you would imagine."
Horatio shook his head in absolute amazement.
"So, you've all decided that this ship is unsinkable and
so there is no need
to bother with navigation at all? Next week, we could all collide with an
iceberg!" He suddenly threw his hands up in the air, before turning back to
face Vanderdecker again. "I tell you now, sir, if that happens, I will be
taking my men and launching the first available lifeboat and, as the rest of
you are all apparently immortal, I will *not* be turning back to look for
Hal put his hand up.
"Yes, Hal," Horatio snapped. "You can come too."
"No, it's not that."
"What is it, then?"
"Well, if we are impacted on this reef, how are we going
to get *anywhere*,
never mind the colony New South Wales."
All eyes turned towards Vanderdecker, who shrugged. "I
admit that I haven't
encountered this particular problem before."
Horatio fumed. "Do you think that you might formulate
Vanderdecker was getting heartily sick of others trying to
run his ship for
him. "I don't see why a should. It will make very little difference to
"We can't all just sit here until Doomsday!" Archie
identifying with Horatio's sense of frustration by this stage.
Vanderdecker just looked at him.
"Well, some of us can't," Archie amended, after a moments reflection.
"Then someone will need to take a look at the damage."
Horatio had that familiar determined look in his eyes and Archie
knew what he was about to suggest.
"Oh, no, you don't!"
"What?" asked Horatio testily.
"Don't even suggest diving over the side yourself. I've
already told you
that it worries everyone when you make insane suggestions!"
"It's not insane. It's *necessary*!"
"It's not necessary for you to be one to do it. For God's
You're not fully recovered from that fever. Don't think we haven't all
noticed how heavily you have been leaning on that side rail! You can barely
stand and you are definitely *not* going swimming!"
"Ee's right, sir," said Matthews, almost apologetically.
rest've us could go."
"It will be *me*, Matthews," Archie declared emphatically.
Horatio raised an eyebrow, his anger dissipating. He really
up to swimming and knew that Archie was more than capable of fulfilling the
"Oh, really?" he asked dryly.
"Indeed." Archie's face suddenly dissolved into a
boyish grin. "Since Mr
Hornblower will be unable to perform this particular duty, I, as next most
senior officer, will take full advantage of the opportunity to get out of
this infernal heat and into that clear blue water."
"Hardly altruistic, Mr Kennedy," Horatio chided.
Archie snorted. "Being second-in-command must have some
wandered across and peered over the side, before turning back to face the
rest and dramatically declaim "There is a tide in the affairs of men..."
That was enough for Horatio to lose patience. "Oh, for
heaven's sake! Just
Archie stripped his shirt off and deliberately threw it at
(but despite his slowed reflexes, the latter had no difficulty in catching
it before it hit him).
"I'm rather looking forward to seeing that coral up close,"
he murmured as
he slipped his shoes and stockings off. "It looks quite beautiful."
"Don't go in head first." If he couldn't participate
himself, Horatio was
unable to keep himself from at least giving advice. "You don't know how
deep it is."
"Thank you, Horatio." Archie managed to convey his
weary patience at being
unnecessarily lectured. "I'm sure I'll manage. A short swim is not going
to kill me."
And with that he went over the side feet first.
* * * * * * *
The water was marvellously cool, in contrast to the fierce
heat of the day.
By Hal's reckoning, it had to be mid-December. Back home it would probably
be snowing but on the other side of the world, the temperature was also at
the opposite extreme.
He was struck by how clear the water was and mesmerised by
the colours of
the coral around him. Shoals of equally colourful fish swam past him and
they darted away, as he reached out a hand to touch them. The beauty of it
all was enough to make him almost giddy with excitement.
Surfacing again, he waved up to those on deck.
"Oh, you just ought see it, Horatio!"
"It was you who told me that I couldn't!" Horatio
tried to sound peevish
but failed utterly. His friend's obvious delight in the spectacle was
contagious and Horatio found that he simply was not able to begrudge him the
Still, there was work to be done. "What about the hull, Archie?"
"Yes, sir." Archie gave a transparently theatrical
sigh, before taking a
deep breath and diving under the surface again. In truth, he welcomed any
excuse to return to the underwater splendour. The coral that the ship was
caught against was equally as beautiful as that elsewhere in the reef.
Archie thought he saw a shimmering distortion in the water
nearby but it was
probably just the way the sunlight was twisted by the waves on the surface.
This place truly was paradise!
Then suddenly his left arm was gripped by unbearable pain.
It was if
someone had wrapped a chain of red-hot metal around it. Instinctively, he
gasped out a hoarse cry of pain and belatedly perceived that to be a most
inadvisable course of action when one is completely submerged.
He choked, as he inhaled seawater and then rapidly passed out
from the pain.