Retribution - Part Two
by JOAN CURTIN
For a week they sailed eastward on seas as benevolent
as Horatio had ever seen. The Retribution was behaving like
a princess; the crew was learning her quirks and quibbles,
which were mercifully few, and becoming accustomed to
working as a company both in seafaring and warfare. Even
the men pressed in Kingston seemed to be adjusting to their
new situation. Life was nearly perfect.
In general, Horatio was pleased with his officers. Bates
reminded him a great deal of Lieutenant Bracegirdle, but
without Bracegirdle's puckish humor. Horatio had
discovered this through their nightly games of Whist. He
had also discovered that his first Lieutenant lacked
imagination. Success at the tables required stamina,
creativity, and mental agility. Bates was entirely predictable;
though surely that was not a bad thing as long as the ship
sailed on an even keel. Williams was certainly steady, and a
good Whist player. The Midshipmen ... well, they were
Midshipmen, the younger ones in awe of him, which he
found amusing; the older ones looking to make a good
impression. Sailing Master Trelawny was a marvel. He
made the Retribution run like silk over the waves. After the
dreadful constraint of the Renown, Horatio felt as if he had
been set free from a long imprisonment.
However, it was an idyll that Horatio forced himself to
guard against. He could not be lulled into a sense of
security. There were enemies about, French and Spanish.
And the ever-present threat of the storms that arose off the
coast of Africa and blossomed into deadly hurricanes in
these latitudes. Every morning he woke and checked the
barometer hanging on his cabin wall. He believed it was
functional; at least, he prayed it was functional.
His second week in command brought a change in the
weather. On Sunday morning, after he had conducted an
informal service, and read the Articles of War (a duty he
disliked intensely, having been exposed to those same
Articles by Captain Sawyer every Sunday on the Renown),
he stood on the Quarterdeck watching his men do the light
duties that he had assigned. There was no such things as a
day of rest at Sea. Sails needed mending, decks still wanted
cleaning and caulking, rigging had to be checked for signs
of wear, but they would forgo the physically draining
muster drills and gunnery practice that Hornblower called
on a regular basis.
And yet the tranquil scene did not dispel Horatio's
uneasy sense of impending trouble. He did not like the
heavy warmth in the air, or the rolling motion of the deck
beneath his feet. The barometer that morning had shown a
slight downturn and the Retribution rose and fell on long,
slow swells. Her sails hung limp on the yardarms. Overhead,
the sky was a milky blue, the clouds like streamers of gauze.
Another bad sign, those "mare's tails,' as Matthews used to
"Mr. Bates," he addressed his lieutenant. "Have you
sailed in these waters long?"
"Two years, sir."
"What does this weather say to you?"
Horatio sighed inwardly. "This weather. The sky, the
feel of the sea. Do you think we shall have a storm?"
Bates eyed the clouds overhead. "We may, sir. It would
not be unusual at this time of year. Do you wish to alter
"Not at this time, Mr. Bates. The deck is yours. I am
going below. Inform me of any changes in the conditions."
Bates saluted. "Yes, sir."
Horatio dreaded more than anything, the advent of a
storm. A fight with the French or Spanish, he could handle
as well as any Captain. Even outgunned, he was confident in
his ability to out-maneuver his opponents. But he could not
fight the elements. He could not hide from his crew the
onset of his damned seasickness. And he knew it was
inevitable, the curse of his existence.
As Matthews would have said, there was no point in
borrowing trouble. Lord, how he missed the Indy. Even
after two years, he was struck with fresh longing for those
days. They had not been carefree. They had been hard, and
painful at times, but he had not been so alone. Captain
Pellew had warned him of the "bitter brew," that was a
Captain's life, but Horatio had been too young then to fully
appreciate the truth in Pellew's words. The Retribution was
just a tiny ship on a vast, and nearly endless ocean. And he
He stayed in his cabin for nearly an hour, staring at the
meticulous Captain's log that he was required to keep. It
would tell the story of his first command; the triumphs, the
failures, the day to day events that made up the details of a
life at sea. At last he picked up his quill and made his entry:
"The weather is calm, but there is a hint of storm in the air.
He woke in the middle of the night. He had been
dreaming of his first day as a Midshipman when he had been
rowed out to the Justinian. The weather that day had been
relentless; sleeting, cold, the sea foaming with whitecaps.
The shore boat had bobbed about like a cork, and Horatio's
stomach, already nervous, was in a state of rebellion. He
had barely made it on board and been introduced to the
ship's company, when he had become violently ill, earning
him the unenviable reputation as the Midshipman who was
seasick while his ship was at anchor in Spithead.
He sat bolt upright, and was instantly aware of the
increased motion of the Retribution. The lantern above his
head swayed like a pendulum, and he turned his eyes from it
hastily. He dressed in the dark, with an economy of motion
acquired during his years at sea, and slung his boat cloak
over his shoulders before he climbed up on deck.
Lieutenant Williams was officer of the watch. He
sprang to attention when Horatio appeared suddenly at his
side. "Good evening, Captain Hornblower, sir."
"Mr. Williams. Didn't Lieutenant Bates leave
instructions that I was to be informed of any changes in the
"It wasn't so bad, sir. And you were sleeping."
"I said 'any changes,' Mr. Williams," Horatio snapped.
"Aye, aye, sir."
It was pointless to waste his energy in anger. Horatio
merely nodded sharply. "In the future, I expect it to be so,
Mr. Williams. What are the current conditions?" He listened
gravely to William's report. The weather had deteriorated
markedly in the last thirty minutes. The sails were snapping
in the wind, masts creaking as the canvas strained against
the riggings. Horatio peered at the mainmast overhead. He
could not afford to let the canvas flog itself to
pieces."Shorten sail, Mr. Williams."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Mr. Trelawny!" Horatio called for his sailing Master.
He appeared on the quarterdeck, looming over the
small knot of officers gathered there.
"T'is a fine blow we're having, Captain Hornblower, sir!"
His vivid blue eyes sparkled at the challenge.
"Aye, it is that, Mr. Trelawny." Horatio found himself
grinning despite himself. "How is she handling?"
"She's a good ship, sir. Stable. No leaking yet. I've had
the pumps readied, sir."
"Head her into the wind, Mr. Trelawny. Let's keep her
as steady as we can. Mr. Williams, have the steward and
cooks bank their fires. No sense in burning the deck out
from beneath us, eh?" The wind freshened, and the
Retribution shuddered as a wave broke over her bow. He
felt the first heavy spate of rain on his face. "We are in for a
rough few hours, gentlemen. I suggest we prepare ourselves
He turned to Williams. "Get your weather gear on, Mr.
Williams. Better have Midshipman Trimble wake Lieutenant
Bates and inform him of our situation Call out extra hands
to check that everything is lashed down securely ." He
hoped he sounded more confident than he felt. Even as
inexperienced as he was in these waters, he knew that the
Retribution was heading into more than a squall.
Within the hour, Horatio could no longer imagine that
he would be able to ride out this storm without
consequences. As the weather deteriorated, so did the state
of his stomach. The first signs of illness began with a faint
lightheadedness, as if it had been several hours since he had
eaten. Then a cramp of nausea, which he tried to quell with
lukewarm tea and a ship's biscuit. A sheen of perspiration
broke out on his forehead, and he felt chilled, and then too
hot. It was entirely too familiar. At last, when his cabin
seemed to close in on him, he returned to the quarterdeck.
The Retribution was holding her own in the gale. A
sullen dawn was breaking in the east. Ragged pennants of
dark clouds streaked across the heavy skies, and lightning
flickered on the horizon.The heart of the storm lay squarely
in their current path. Horatio could not risk the ship or the
lives of her men. He had no alternative for his next decision.
He snapped his spyglass shut. "Mr. Trelawny, alter course.
Take her south, see if we can skirt the edge of this infernal
Turning south meant taking the waves broadside, less
stressful on the ship itself, but increasing the pitch and roll;
Horatio's deadly enemies. While his crew battled the storm,
Horatio waged a quiet war against his own body's betrayal.
He paced the quarterdeck despite the lashing rain,
because the chill air seemed to quell his nausea slightly. And
when he did give in and go below, it was to heave his guts
out in the privacy of his cabin. His officers must think him
insane! Half an hour on deck, twenty in his cabin, then back
on the deck. He preferred not to look in the mirror. Surely
they would find the edge of this weather soon, and this
torment would cease.
The Retribution had been battling for five hours; and
still there was no cessation in the wind and rain. The seas
broke over her bows, and the gale screamed in the ratlines
overhead. All lanterns and cookfires had been extinguished.
The men were served cold porridge and grog when what
they needed was hot tea and rum. Yet, the pumps worked
steadily, and the ship handled well. Horatio could take pride
in that. It was something to be hopeful about. He shook
with a chill and dark specks swam in his vision. He tried to
blink them away. I cannot lose this, now ...
"Sir?" Bates addressed him with a worried look. "Are
you all right, sir? You look a might sharpish."
It was a fine time for Bates to become perceptive.
Horatio clenched his teeth and swallowed hard. "I am quite
well, Mr. Bates. You have been out here longer than I. Go
below and have something to eat and drink. That's an order,
"Yes, sir." Bates replied doubtfully. The captain
seemed poorly, that was for certain. His eyes were like
burned holes in his parchment white face, and he was gaunt
with nausea. But that hard chin and jaw were set like
granite, and he would not be moved; that much Bates knew.
He touched the brim of his hat and left the quarterdeck.
Before he went below he pulled Jack Trelawny aside.
"Does he think he's Joshua holding up Moses' arms?"
Bates grumbled to the Master. "Keep an eye on him, Mr.
Trelawny. A good wave could wash him overboard."
Trelawny peered at Hornblower's slight figure above
him. He was hanging on to the rails until his knuckles were
white. The lad's daft, he thought, and then realized that he
was thinking of his captain. "Aye, aye, sir. Though I don't
know what I can do about it."
"You must outweigh him by six stone. You'll think of
something," Bates said tartly, and went below.
Horatio was haunted by various nightmares; how could
he not be after all that he had endured? There was the sharp,
acrid fear of Jack Simpson, the stabbing grief of Muzillac,
the dying light in the eyes of Bunting after Horatio had shot
him; but the one dream that never failed to shake him to his
core, was the sight of the Marie Galant sinking below the
She had been his first, brief command as a Midshipman.
And she had sunk. Even though logic dictated that her loss
was no fault of his, his emotions at that time had never left
him. He had lost a valuable prize, he had not reacted quickly
enough, or made the right decisions; he had failed. Not all
the successes of his career since could salve that wound.
And the dream continued to haunt him whenever his
self-doubts were at the fore.
The Retribution was in a battle for her life; and Horatio
was sworn to save her, to guide her to safety, to prove that
he was worthy of the trust placed in him by Admiral
Lambert. If he failed in this, he might as well be dead. So he
stayed on the quarterdeck and swallowed his nausea until
the bile threatened to choke him. He clung to that rail as if it
were his only lifeline, as if his grip could keep the
Retribution afloat. He was vaguely aware of Trelawny's
bulk beside him. He was grateful for that anchor, but he
could not acknowledge it. He endured the rain and the
wind, with his stomach tied in knots, and his eyes burning
from salt and fatigue, and fought for his ship against an
enemy he could not defeat.
Jack Trelawny could read the Captain better than
Lieutenant Bates. He could see in Hornblower's dark,
intense gaze, the determination that drove him to the edge
of collapse, the pride that would not bend, and the fear of
loss. And so he stood at the Captain's elbow half in
admiration, and half in exasperation. When Hornblower's
voice failed completely, Trelawny bellowed out his
commands. When he stumbled with exhaustion, Trelawny
somehow steadied him without it being obvious. And when
the first sign of light at the edge of the clouds indicated that
they had indeed reached the end of the storm, it was
Trelawny who had the privilege of seeing the keen triumph
in Hornblower's eyes.
"We've done it, sir. We've outsailed her!" he cried out
Horatio drew his first deep breath in what seemed like
hours. "We have, Mr. Trelawny," he croaked from his
swollen throat. "My compliments on a masterful job of
"And mine to you, sir."
"Thank you." Horatio gave his sailing master a weary
smile, and then to Trelawny's dismay, he swayed and began
to crumple to the deck.
Trelawny caught Hornblower up in his arms and carried
him down to his cabin. He and the steward gently stripped
off his wet clothes and covered him with blankets. "Mr.
Graves, make certain that you get those cook fires going as
soon as practicable. When he wakes, he'll need some hot
food and drink," he ordered.
After the steward had left, Trelawny stood gazing
down at his captain. "Lad, you're a rum 'un for sure, with
more backbone than I've seen in a good many years," he
whispered. Even in exhaustion that stubbornness showed in
every sharp angle of Hornblower's features. The only
softness in that face was the sooty sweep of dark lashes
against pale skin. Trelawny smiled. The next six weeks
promised to be an adventure.