Retribution - Part One
by JOAN CURTIN
Retribution is the story of Horatio's voyage back to England following
his promotion to Commander after the events in Santo Domingo. I figured
something must have happened in those weeks! Right now, I am not sure
how long it will be, or in how many segments it will be posted. So, I
hope you enjoy this first part and will look for the continuation.
The ship had been called La Gaditana. In Kingston that name
had been painted over and now the word Retribution graced her
hull in gilt letters. She had been scrubbed from stem to stern,
timbers caulked, sails mended and replaced where necessary. Her
stores had been restocked, and her eighteen guns cleaned and fired
to test for accuracy and range. She was anchored in the harbor,
looking neat as a sixpence with the proud British Ensign floating
against the Caribbean blue sky. Retribution, a fitting and proper
title for a prize that would now be a weapon against her former
masters. And she belonged to him.
Horatio Hornblower's heart was pounding in his chest as he sat
in the gig rowing him out to Retribution. His battered cocked hat
was tucked beneath his arm, and he could not help but be reminded
of the day he and Archie Kennedy had left the Justinian for a new
life on board the Indefatigable. Ah, Archie. I wish you could see
this, could share this joy with me, Hornblower thought. His ship,
his men. His first true command. It was what he had dreamed of for
With each stroke, the Retribution grew closer. Horatio reached
into his breast pocket and pulled out the parchment orders that
officially made him Captain Hornblower. He had been on board the
Retribution as a Lieutenant, overseeing her refit, and never
dreaming that the command would be given to him. He had made
her as right and proper as he could for her captain, whoever he
might be. He had thought he might advance to second Lieutenant
on the Renown, behind Bush. Then unexpectedly, he had been
called from Captain Cogshill's dinner by Admiral Lambert.
With his usual pessimism, he thought some part of his action in
Santo Domingo had resulted in a reprimand. Had he acted too
independently? Had he misconstrued the orders given to the mad
Captain Sawyer? No. He had been completely exonerated by the
Board of Inquiry. He had saved the Renown from capture by the
Spanish. Then what could Lambert want of a lowly Lieutenant? To
be made Commander was beyond his wildest speculations.
But the weight of the epaulette on his shoulder was real. The
words on the parchment were clear: "You are hereby requested and
required to take command of the vessel HMS Retribution and
return her to England to report for duties with the Channel Fleet."
Then the walls of the hull and the entry port were looming
above him. The coxswain called out, "Raise your oars ..." and the
gig glided to a halt. Horatio climbed up the ladder, and heard the
magic chords piped out; the indication that a Captain was coming
on board. It was the only music Horatio could appreciate. He stood
before the ship's company and read the orders giving him official
command. The words could not have sounded finer to his ears.
Reviewing the ranks of sailors and officers caused Horatio
some embarrassment. He was not comfortable with the pomp his
rank now accorded. Even the commander of an eighteen gun sloop
warranted salutes, deference, and utter respect. He might wear an
epaulette on his shoulder, but it was on the same coat he had worn
through the confrontation with the Spanish in Samana; it was
powder-stained, scorched, and a musket ball had torn a rent in one
sleeve. He heard the amused echo of Captain Pellew's voice in his
mind; "Bet you wish you had that new uniform now. Eh, Mr.
Hornblower?" Indeed, he did. But there would be time for that
once they returned to England.
He walked down the ranks of the ship's company. Eighty-five
men. Not a full compliment, but enough for the six weeks sail to
England. Most had been transferred from other ships, a few
pressed from the docks. He would have to keep his eye on those
men for a while. Resentment was a sour and contagious disease in a
And his officers. Two Lieutenants: Bates and Williams. Four
Midshipmen: Canning, Trimble, Thomas, and Reeve. His Sailing
Master, a huge Cornishman named Trelawny. The Surgeon, Dr.
Allen. At least he was sober. All of them, except for Reeve and
Trimble were his age or older. He was a Captain at twenty-two.
Did they envy him? Horatio was angered by his own distrust. Good
God, was this how Sawyer had begun? Or was it just his doubts as
to his ability to command? He could not deny them; doubt was as
much a part of him as breathing. He felt Lieutenant Bates stir at his
side and realized that he was expected to say a few words.
Anxiously, he cast his mind back to Pellew, who had managed to
inspire him to fervor when welcomed to the Indy.
He turned, his hands linked firmly behind his back and cleared
this throat. "Thank you, men. As you know we will set sail
tomorrow for England, where we will be assigned to the Channel
Fleet as a dispatch vessel. And hopefully to engage the French in a
few fights that they will not forget!" To Horatio's surprise, cheers
actually rose from his crew. He was heartened enough to continue:
"Meanwhile, we have six weeks, granted fair weather, to become
accustomed to this ship we have been given courtesy of the
Spanish. (More cheers). So let us show her that the English are the
masters of the Sea! God Save the King!"
There, that was done. A regular chorus rang out from the crew
as they echoed his sentiments, and Hornblower knew he was
blushing. He nodded at his first Lieutenant. "Mr. Bates, make
certain that all preparations for tomorrow morning are complete. I
will be returning to Kingston to receive our final orders from
"Sir, will you be on board for dinner?"
Dinner. He had forgotten that he would now be expected to
entertain. Regretfully, he thought of Pellew's elegant table that even
in hard times made their limited rations seem palatable. He drew a
breath, "Yes. You gentlemen will join me this evening?"
"Yes, sir." Bates' tone was completely neutral. Hornblower
was familiar with the tactic, he had used it often enough. What else
could he expect? They knew so little of him, or he of them. Six
weeks. Would it be enough?
His appointment with Lambert was delayed. To fill the extra
hour, Horatio stopped in one of the taverns on the waterfront. It
was a better quality establishment than most. Lamps were lit, and
the food had a spicy, pleasing aroma. To add to his surprise and
pleasure, Lt. Bush was seated alone at a corner table. He rose with
a smile and an informal salute when he saw Horatio.
"Please, sir. Will you join me?"
It still struck Horatio as odd that Bush should call him ësir,' for
it had been only a few short days previous that their positions had
been reversed. The awkwardness was all on his part; Bush had no
difficulty with Hornblower's rank. He motioned for the serving girl
to bring a second mug of ale. "How is the Retribution, sir?"
"Fitted out, and ready to sail. We leave tomorrow. I am seeing
Lambert in an hour to receive our final orders."
"Do you anticipate any changes?"
"No. If we can avoid the weather we should dock in
Portsmouth in six weeks, and from there go out to the Channel. It
will be very different than here." Horatio smiled. "I shall miss the
warmth, but not much else."
The smile was a surprise. Bush had known him for nearly three
months, and could not recall seeing it before. Hornblower in repose
was a revelation. He seemed suddenly very young, more vulnerable
than Bush had ever seen him. His thin, nervous hands were relaxed
on the tabletop. The epaulette glinting on his shoulder should have
belonged to a much older man, someone not so slender, not so
weary. But that slender, weary man had saved Bush's life and the
Renown from the Dons. Hornblower had taken the fortress at
Samana, and bluffed the commandant into surrendering
unconditionally. Lieutenant Buckland owed his career to
Hornblower. One careless word could have destroyed him, but
Hornblower had not spoken it.
There were not many men in this world that Bush admired. He
had been at sea since thirteen, and had served on six ships, under
both exceptional and incompetent Captains. He admired Nelson --
well, men worshipped Nelson. And Hornblower... if he ever had the
honor of serving with him.
"I wish you every good fortune, sir." Bush raised his glass.
"Thank you, Mr. Bush," Horatio responded gravely. "It has
been an honor." That particularly charming smile came again. "I
would have been proud to have stayed on the Renown." He
extended his hand in friendship.
Bush's ruddy cheeks darkened. Those simple words were more
than most men would have given to a subordinate. "Sir, we will
meet again." He took Hornblower's hand in a warm clasp
"You know, I believe we will. Goodbye, Mr. Bush." Then
Hornblower was gone. Bush drained his mug and called for
another. He had one hundred pounds in his pocket and had sworn
not to leave Kingston with more than ten left.
Admiral Lambert's orderly kept Horatio waiting for another
hour at Government House. By the time he was able to return to
the Retribution, it was past dark. He gave a hurried salute to the
officers of the watch as he was piped on board. He was late, and his
officers were waiting for him, their dinners cold, their duties
He pushed open the door to his quarters and halted in
mid-step. There was no one there. His table was set with white
linen, but there was service laid only for one. He was puzzled and
vaguely disappointed. Why should he be offended if his officers had
better things to do that wait upon their disgracefully tardy Captain?
He stripped off his coat and sank down in the chair, his head
throbbing. His stomach was vaguely queasy, and he realized he
should call for his dinner, but he made no move to do so. He
slouched down in his chair with a sigh. There was a light tap on his
door and he straightened his spine. "Come."
Lieutenant Bates entered hesitantly. "Sir -- "
"Yes?" Horatio's voice was sharper than he intended. He
cleared his throat. "What is it, Mr. Bates?"
"The steward is reheating your dinner, sir. If you would still
"I apologize for my lateness, Mr. Bates. Please extend my
regrets to the other officers. I imagine you grew weary of waiting."
"Of course, sir. But we were not waiting -- I mean, sir. When
you did not return, I took the liberty of arranging for you to dine
alone. I thought you might prefer that, sir. If I was presumptuous
Horatio nearly laughed. Bates, who was at least ten years his
senior was quaking like a green Midshipman. It was the first time
Horatio felt that he had actual power; it was rather heady and
mystifying. He could have smiled at Bates, but he did not. Instead
he nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Bates. Tell the steward that I am ready
to eat. I hope that you and the others will join me tomorrow
"Mr. Bates, do you play whist?"
Bates looked surprised. "Yes, sir."
"Then perhaps we can have a few rubbers of whist as well."
"Yes, sir." Bates thought for an instant that he saw a hint of a
smile on his stern young commander's mouth, but it was gone so
quickly that he was not sure. "I will send in the steward, sir."