SMALL ARMS DAY
By Ruth W.
He could smell the bitter tang of burning biscuit as he came to the
head of the companionway. Cook must be dishing up the breakfast
coffee. As Lieutenant Hornblower descended, he pondered that a
lesser man at sea might sell his soul for a hot, aromatic cup of
genuine arabica, but if he was far from home, that man might wish in
Entering the wardroom, he smiled as he threw down his hat, surprised
to find a friend there.
"You are not on watch again already, Archie?"
Kennedy had been on deck at midnight, and could only have been in
his cot for a few hours. Now, wearing only his shore-trousers, he
was seated in the slash of early morning sunshine at the big,
polished table, finishing his breakfast. The liberated weevils from
his biscuit still traversed his pewter plate with purpose.
"Today is Friday." He reminded crisply. "Small arms day. We have
twenty-two landsmen on board, who don't know a cutlass from a
catfish, and as junior lieutenant, it is my fortunate lot to
initiate them into the mysteries of boarding and landing." He
tapped his biscuit thoughtfully to evict a few more tenants, then
took a bite without looking too closely.
"But why do you have to do it?" Hornblower lifted the lid of the
coffee-jug, sniffing it suspiciously. Had it contained real coffee
he would still have been doubtful, given the quality of the water
which would have been used to make it, but six weeks into the
voyage, Renown's wardroom could no longer boast such luxury. The
pot contained only the hot water and burnt crumbs, which would have
to serve until they reached the West Indies. He poured himself a
cup with a resigned sigh. "Is that not what Hobbs is for?"
"He's a fine gunner, Horatio," Archie responded with customary
philosophy, "Second-to-none…but he is no teacher. His approach to
training amounts to: `There are the pistols – there are the
cutlasses – There's the manual, for those who can read… Remember to
point them at the enemy not each other." He shrugged. "I don't
mind with the old hands – they need no instruction. But I'm
responsible for small arms, and I've told him I will be training the
new men myself."
Hornblower pulled off his coat and seated himself opposite. "How
did that go down?" he asked.
"I've no idea. You can never tell what Hobbs is thinking." Archie
smiled. "I don't really care, so long as we have the crew properly
trained by the time we reach Santo Domingo. I don't want to die or
lose the ship because Hobbs has neglected to tell them which end of
the pistol to point at the enemy."
Horatio looked at the pile of indifferent biscuits in the centre of
the table and decided he was too tired to eat. "I know your
intentions are good, Archie, but it's a lot of work for you on top
of your other duties."
"It's my job, Horatio. I am privileged to be junior lieutenant,
with all the weight of command that worthy position carries.
Noblesse oblige. Which reminds me," he stood up abruptly, "I wonder
if young Martin has finished mending my things."
"Just done, Mr. Kennedy." The light voice piped up from behind the
great gun, at the far end of the stern window,. The officers had
not been aware of him until now, and they exchanged a look of
unease, each trying to recall what he had said and its effect should
any if it reach the ears of Gunner Hobbs.
They need not have worried. Even had young Martin Miller's agile
brain not been occupied with dreams of coconuts and flying fish, he
was the most discreet of servants. Captain Pellew had found him for
them – the pick of his own volunteers, a willing, handy lad of
twelve. Indefatigable had limited space, being a modified frigate,
and her officers had grown used to sharing attendants. Miller
had `done' for Hornblower and Kennedy for six months before
transferring with them to Renown. He would sooner have sold his
soul to the Devil than betray their trust.
"I did the other things last night, sir" he told them brightly, "but
the shirt was another matter. I'm afraid I had to patch it." The
boy stood up and pattered across the wardroom, trailing the white
linen on the deck. "It was quite a rent, sir…"
Indeed it had been a bad tear, the result of an accident the day
before. A sailor of Kennedy's division, one Goodright, a landsman,
had accompanied him into the topmast to study the horizon. It was
an exercise all new men had to repeat many times before they were
allowed aloft to fulfil any worthwhile purpose. The man had been a
chandler's assistant in port, and had never in his life climbed any
higher than the vicar's apple-tree. He had been fine until a minor
adjustment of the sails had caused the ship to heel, so that they
lay over the sea.
He seemed to realise all of a sudden that he was on a wooden
platform, eighty feet up, with only the lieutenant between him and
certain death. Kennedy's clothing had suddenly taken on the role of
a lifeline, and it had cost Archie forty minutes' gentle persuasion
to talk him down. When they had finally found their feet on deck
again, Goodright had been full of remorse for the damage. Two of
Kennedy's sleeve-buttons were missing, three inches of trim was
detached from his coat collar, and the frill of his shirt had come
away at the neck, leaving a tear the length of a man's thumb.
Now Kennedy took the garment from his servant and examined it in the
pearly dawn light from the stern windows. It was beautifully
darned, the lace re-gathered and re-attached, the hole sewn up and
made good with an artful selection of invisible stitches. Worth his
weight in gold, this child.
"This is excellent, Mr. Miller. Thank you," Kennedy
congratulated. "Where did you learn to do this?"
"Don't really know, sir. I just always did it. My mother and
sisters used to darn and embroider, and I used to watch them, so I
suppose I picked it up. Then fellows at school used to bring me
their socks to darn, sir, in exchange for favours – a slice of cake,
or a tot of spirit…"
He might have been hinting, but Kennedy and Hornblower thought not.
If he had wanted anything in the past, he had always come straight
out and asked for it.
"I doubt there's a slice of cake in the ship that doesn't belong to
the Captain," Archie pulled on the mended garment, "and your daily
grog issue is sufficient for a man your size… but I am grateful,
Martin. Perhaps, in return, you would like to come with me to watch
me train the new hands?"
The lad's face lit up and then darkened again. "Oh… oh, thank you,
sir, but I have too much to do. I have your shore boots to clean,
and Mr. Hornblower's, and I have the wardroom brass to polish, and
your swords, and my own socks to darn… all before dinner!"
To most lieutenants in the Royal Navy, that would have been that,
but Kennedy was too stubborn to let brass and boots – mere inanimate
objects – stand in his way. Besides, he did not want the child to
miss what could be a valuable experience. Young Miller would be in
action soon enough, and would need all the help he could get. He
would also become an officer one day, and might be training the crew
himself. Maybe he would remember some of it from Archie's example.
Kennedy gave him a bright smile. "I'm sure Mr. Hornblower and I are
capable of cleaning our own boots just this once," he decided, "And
how are your skills with metal-polish, H'ratio?"
Hornblower rallied bravely. "Of course," he agreed, adding
wickedly "And I'm sure Mr. Kennedy is capable of darning socks too.
We'll help you later. Go and get Mr. Kennedy's coat, Martin - and
As the boy scampered out, filled with glee, Horatio rolled his eyes
at Archie. "Two lieutenants in a ship of the line," he commented
softly, "cleaning boots and polishing candlesticks? I hope the
Admiralty never hears of this!"
Wellard had mustered the new hands in ranks, and when Kennedy and
little Miller appeared from below, he brought them to attention with
a brusque command. Too loud, Archie thought at once, and not
confident enough… Wellard could do with a little practice.
Lieutenant Kennedy tried to ignore the initial formality of all
this. He knew it was necessary to impress his authority, but try as
he might, he could not get used to reviewing sailors, whom he was
sure must all be better men than he.
"How many, Mr. Wellard?" he asked briskly.
"Thirty-four, sir," came the crisp response. That was better.
Sounded more like a man with responsibility. "Twenty-two come
aboard at Plymouth, six seamen from the Portsmouth press and six who
missed last week's session with Mr. Hobbs, sir."
"Thank you, Mr. Wellard." Archie put on his `official' face and
walked slowly along the line, hands clasped behind him, feeling like
an actor playing a part.
"What's your name, sailor?" he asked, stopping in front of a gangly,
middle-aged fellow whose face seemed far too leathery for a
"Metcalfe, sir," answered Metcalfe nervously.
Nervously! What Archie might be, or might have done, to inspire awe
in a man twice his age, he could not imagine!
"Relax, Metcalfe," he coaxed calmly. "You are here to learn, not to
Kennedy overlooked the response, making a mental note to use simpler
language. "What were you ashore, Metcalfe?" he asked.
Archie closed his eyes patiently. "What was your job, man? What
did you do for a living?"
"Oh, I were a dock cooper."
"Try and remember to call me `Sir', Metcalfe."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"When I give you an order, you must respond `Aye, aye, sir'."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Archie took off his hat and pushed his hair back, trying to ignore
Hornblower's amusement in the background. As Renown headed steadily
south, the air was definitely getting warmer. One could feel it now,
even in the early morning sun. He observed Metcalfe and the others
thoughtfully. Had they been stupid, he would have gritted his teeth
and got on with it, working all the harder to make them understand.
Had he suspected levity he would have given them an officer's
broadside. But he sensed only confusion, a sentiment he understood
only too well. These were honest, decent men – not very bright for
the most part, or they would not have come, or been dragged, aboard –
but they were doing their best to adjust to their new life. It
would take time and patience…
"Have you ever borne arms before, Metcalfe?" Kennedy pursued calmly.
"Nay…" The dawn of understanding began to grow in the man's
face. "Nay, sir, Mr. Kennedy, sir. Warn't much call for `em,
fightin barrels, sir. Them buggers wanted `ammers an' a decent `ot
fire to bring `em in line, sir, not pistols!"
Kennedy smiled. This was more like it.
"You will find the enemy much easier to deal with, Metcalfe!" he
promised warmly, moving on down the line. "Goodright! How are you
Goodright touched his forehead, still grateful. "I'm fine now,
thanks Mr. Kennedy," he responded affably. "How's your coat?"
It was highly irregular to be addressed so casually by one of the
lower deck, and for a moment Kennedy was thrown. He decided not to
make an issue of it. He needed the new hands to be on his side.
"It's short of a few buttons," he admitted ruefully, "but I have no
complaints. I'd rather lose the buttons than the man!" He turned to
Wellard. "Sit the men about the deck in a circle," he ordered, keen
to begin, "and let's get going…"
* * *
Below, in the wardroom, Hornblower forced himself to eat breakfast.
Then, having braved the hard-tack and `coffee', he felt a little
brighter and could not resist the temptation to go back on deck, in
the rosy glow of the rising sun, to watch the lesson.
By the time he had found himself a vantage-point on the quarterdeck
where he would not be noticed, Archie was in full swing. He had
taken off his coat and waistcoat and was seated on the port
quarterdeck ladder, a service pistol in his hand.
"…And though the buccaneers were only wounded," he was telling them
lugubriously "not a man of `em lived!" He paused for dramatic
effect. "Fearsome weapons, y'see, firearms; not like swords or
cutlasses." He held up a pistol ball for all to see. "Get one of
these hiding in your innards, there's not a surgeon in the world can
be sure of finding it. Add to that the bits of cloth, button, and
bone that would be driven in as well – and the heat to cause
infection – you can see why not a man of those poor devils
survived! All were dead within a week!" He gave them a broad and
mischievous grin. "Some would say they deserved it for taking on
the Royal Navy!"
The last comment was greeted with universal approval – `Ayes' and
the nodding of heads and the odd low cheer. Even the pressed men
looked more cheerful at the thought. Archie was pleased. They
seemed to be responding already to his gentle but colourful
induction. He gave the weapon to Wellard.
"Here, Mr. Wellard, please pass this around. Let the men get a good
look. I need not add," he went on, "that the item does not have any
loyalties, nor does it give favour nor quarter… It is equally
deadly when fired at a Spaniard, a Frenchman, a privateer, or an
Englishman, so watch yourselves. When boarding, single out the man
with the gun…shoot him before he has the chance to shoot you, and
don't ever allow yourself to be distracted."
Seated quietly in his corner of the quarterdeck, Hornblower found
himself disturbed by all this. In ten years at sea he had known
about the hazards of small arms without any of it really sinking
in. But then he had neither Archie's wide taste in reading nor his
lurid imagination, and had never pondered on the business of
pirates, smugglers and other demons of the High Seas. He had to
admit that, had he been Fourth Lieutenant, his approach would have
been very like Hobbs's, with the added dimension that he might have
bored the men to death in the process, whereas Kennedy seemed to
have them in the palm of his hand…
"Now," Archie stood up, "I don't want to move onto loading the
pistols today. We'll have Sergeant Whiting help with that next
week. You won't have time to reload in action anyway. So long as
you know the range, keep your head, and remember to aim and squeeze
the trigger the way I've told you, all will be well." He tucked the
pistol down his belt, continuing, "Let's talk now about the sailor's
friend, the cutlass." He drew his own sword, which was a little
longer and slimmer, and looked a good deal finer, but was
essentially the same weapon. "Goodright," he invited briskly, "grab
one of those cutlasses and come at me."
"Pardon, sir?" The big, sandy sailor was bemused. His life as a
chandler's assistant had given him some experience of pokers, pots,
pans and buckets, but very little of edged weapons.
Kennedy skipped lightly into the waist and raised his sword.
Goodright was clearly terrified.
"Sir… I'd rather not…" He backed away, folding his arms decisively.
"Oh…" Kennedy was obviously disappointed, but he had no desire to
embarrass or frighten anyone. "Er… very good… Styles?"
"Sir?" The big bosun's mate often sat in on these sessions to lend a
hand, as did the bosun himself.
"Come on, man. Take up a cutlass."
Styles grinned, wishing he could show off his vast experience. He
had done it once, and had scared the hell out of the then junior
midshipman of the old Justinian, Mr. Hornblower. New to the
service, the young gentleman's style had been elegant, but too
gentlemanly for the brutish and deadly business of boarding. But
this was an exercise designed to keep these new recruits alive, and
a display of naked brutality would not be constructive at this
stage. The rough stuff could come later.
Matthews handed his mate a cutlass from the rack. "Behave yourself,
Stylesy," he warned, with a `look'.
Still smiling to himself, Styles took the weapon, squared up and
made a half-hearted swing at Kennedy's head. The lieutenant twisted
the cutlass away with an easy stroke of his sword and brought the
point in for the kill.
"Mr. Styles is too modest," he said graciously, drawing back. "He
knows his attack was completely wrong. Can anyone tell me why he
It was a pleasant, blue and gold morning of fresh breezes and flying
clouds, with the sun kissing the topmasts and the sea mist rolling
away. Kennedy and Styles were enjoying themselves. The new men,
too, were beginning to relax.
"Sword's bigger'n a cutlass, sir," one of them decided.
"You're a toff, sir," a lad of about ten piped up from the
back. "Toffs are always better at everything!"
Styles and Kennedy exchanged a look which in Archie's case
said "that boy will make admiral some day!" and in Styles's "Not
from where I'm standing, mate!"
"You're both wrong," the lieutenant said, straightening his face
dutifully. "Mr. Styles presented the edge of the cutlass, not the
point. Those of you who were taught to use a sword must now forget
all you've learned. Boarding is too close for formal
swordsmanship. Lift your weapon for a decent swipe at your enemy –
you will find his dirk buried in your ribs!" Out of the corner of
his eye he saw young Martin Miller watching him with round eyes.
The lad could fence – horseplay in the cockpit with belaying-pins
had proved that – but this was not gentlemanly competition. This
was life and death.
"Mr. Wellard…?" Archie invited, really in the mood now.
Obediently the midshipman took the cutlass from Styles's hand. He
was not new to this. When Renown had been in service with the
Channel Fleet, he had watched Kennedy and Hornblower honing the
finer skills of the lovely art of swordsmanship, and had sometimes
joined in. Like Kennedy, it was something he had done from the
cradle, and had always been good at, and it was thrilling to find a
worthy opponent who was not too proud to spar with a midshipman.
Wellard took off his jacket.
As a concession to the midshipman's youth, Archie laid his sword on
the quarterdeck and drew another cutlass from the rack. He was
already bigger and stronger than Wellard. It would be very
unsporting to use a superior weapon as well…
He saluted his partner formally, sword raised, and squared up.
Henry Wellard tried to behave. He really did. But sparring was such
fun. Besides, Kennedy had an expression of mischief and a way of
carrying himself in these exchanges, which got the blood up. The
older and more experienced men ignored it, or neutralised it with
sly smiles of their own, but Wellard was young and anxious not to be
made to look silly. It was a dangerous combination.
They started sensibly enough. Wellard went in with the point, and
Archie turned it neatly. The boy tried again, with the same result.
"Notice how you don't need to raise the blade too much to turn your
opponent's point," Kennedy told them. "Don't do anything fancy. It
may feel right, but you could pay a high price. On the deck of an
enemy ship, style means nothing. Brutal is best. And always be
ready – for the unexpected!"
Wellard had been so intent on the cutlass that he had not noticed
the pistol in Kennedy's belt.
"Sir! That's not fair!" he said as he found the weapon abruptly
nuzzling his ribcage.
"You expect your first encounter with the enemy to be fair, do you,
Mr. Wellard?" Something in the smug tone affronted the midshipman –
not seriously. You could never be truly offended by Archie
Kennedy's cheerful brand of insolence – but enough to prompt swift
revenge. With a brisk twist of the cutlass, Wellard knocked away
first the blade and then the pistol, and went into the attack.
"The unexpected, Mr. Kennedy…!" he said triumphantly. "You should
always be ready for it!"
It was not a tactful thing to say to a superior in front of the
lower ranks. Nevertheless Kennedy would have absorbed the laughter
from the men and the general affront to his person, had not
Wellard's blade come hideously close to his face at high speed. He
reacted like a spurred stallion, springing back and whacking
Wellard's cutlass sideways. They forgot they had an audience, and
their natures began to get the better of them…
The flurry of cutlasses sent them all over the maindeck, and had the
men scattering from their path. Then Kennedy remembered with a
twist of conscience that he was supposed to be in control. He began
to draw back, to pull his blows in case Wellard should come to harm.
It was a mistake…
So thrilled was the midshipman that he appeared to have an older and
better opponent on the run, that he could not resist the urge to
push home the victory and finish the business off. Pinned against
the quarterdeck ladder, Kennedy could only defend. He was not going
to give in – that would be too much to ask – but he could not very
well kill Wellard either.
Hornblower was on his feet now, wondering whether Archie's pride
would survive the blow if he were forced to intervene.
It had to end in tears…
In dodging the nimbly-wielded cutlass, Archie finally dodged the
wrong way, and found he was pinned by the sleeve to the quarterdeck
ladder. Suddenly shocked by his own audacity, Wellard sprang back,
leaving the weapon stuck horizontal into the wood, swaying gently in
"Archie…!" Hornblower came quickly down the wooden steps, revealing
his presence for the first time. He observed the scene for a few
moments and then gave a pleasant smile to put everyone at ease. "A
refreshing sight, Mr. Kennedy!" he greeted, hiding his relief that
the encounter was over, but making no move to help. "It's not often
someone is able to pin you down!"
Archie gave him a very dirty look, but said nothing. He did not
attempt to move.
Matthews and Styles were on their feet now, hovering in the
background, obviously alerted to the fact that something was wrong.
"What's going on here, Mr. Kennedy?" said a quiet voice from the
poop. They had not realised that Second Lieutenant William Bush had
heard the noise too, and felt he should investigate. If he found
the sight of his junior lieutenant pinned by the coat to the
quarterdeck ladder amusing, he did not say so.
"Just small arms practice, Mr. Bush," Archie responded firmly but
clearly as the senior officer would expect. He still made no effort
"Looks over-lively to my mind, sir," came the crisp
response. "Kindly keep control if you please!"
When Bush had gone, Archie tugged at his pinned sleeve
ruefully. "Come on, H'ratio, don't just stand there grinning! Pull
the damned thing out!"
"Maybe I should leave you there – an example to junior lieutenants
"Horatio, this is not funny." Kennedy's voice was a tense undertone
now, obviously not meant to be overheard by any but the
officers. "The blade is pinning ME to the ladder, not just my
Hornblower looked more closely. There was indeed a spreading dark-
red stain on the underside of the white sleeve. "Good God!" he said,
Wellard was instantly distraught. "Oh, Mr. Kennedy! Oh, sir, what
have I done?"
"Calm yourself, Mr. Wellard," Archie said dryly, "It's only a snag,
and we're not in the tropics yet. I'll mend!" He winced as
Hornblower took hold of the cutlass and firmly drew it out.
The boy stared at the stain on the wood in dismay. "But I could
have killed you!"
"Well fortunately for us both, you have not, or you would have
dangled from the yard! Pass my coat, H'ratio…" Archie put up a hand
to hide the mess on the torn sleeve. "For God's sake, Henry,
behave! Think of the men."
"Yes, sir. Sorry sir."
Little Miller arrived, having had the presence of mind to fetch the
jacket from where it had been tossed. He held it dutifully as
Kennedy put it around his shoulders to hide the evidence. His eyes
widened when he saw the blood, but a look from Archie kept him
"I think we'll allow these men an early dinner," Kennedy decided
with a determined smile. "Mr. Wellard, please dismiss them." He
turned to Hornblower. "Let's get below, H'ratio," he said more
grimly. "I need a drink!"
* * *
"If you're going to stand there gawking, Henry, at least push the
Lieutenant Kennedy, sitting shirtless on the wooden chair in his own
small, canvas-walled cabin, was finding it hard to suppress the
irritation in his voice. "For God's sake, H'ratio, stop poking at
it! It's really nothing… just a scratch. It will heal well enough if
it's left alone. To be honest, I'm more worried about the shirt.
That has Breton lace on the cuffs and it cost me two guineas."
Little Miller, his face pale with worry, held out the bowl of water
for Hornblower to wash the bloodied linen clean. "I'll mend it
again for you, sir," he promised in an anxious mumble.
"You never do anything by halves, do you, Archie?" Horatio responded
tensely. "See for yourself. It's a nasty jagged wound. If you
don't want to arrive in Kingston minus an arm, I suggest we call on
Dr. Clive straight away."
Kennedy and Wellard exchanged meaningful glances. "We can't do
that, H'ratio," Archie said quietly. "He'd have to report to the
Captain, and Sawyer would be down on Henry like a ton of bricks."
He flinched as Hornblower pressed the wet linen against the wound in
a vain attempt to stop the bleeding. "Will you please stop messing
"This is dangerous," Horatio, told him with an expression at once
aggressive and defensive, irritated beyond reason by this
unnecessary piece of folly. "It needs careful attention, and it
needs stitching. It won't heal otherwise, Archie."
Stitching… Kennedy's expression cleared. "Martin, my man," he said
cheerfully, "it looks as if the buck stops with you!"
* * *
Mr. Bush found it interesting when he came off watch, his sextant
tucked underneath his arm, that the two junior lieutenants and
Wellard and Miller were closeted in Kennedy's cabin. When they
heard him come into the wardroom there was a silence, then the
urgent rustling and shuffling of evidence being removed from view.
The canvas door of the cubicle opened and Hornblower emerged,
looking tired and sober and guilty as Hell.
"Mr. Bush!" he greeted with a faint smile, doing his best to appear
"Mr. Hornblower," the senior lieutenant returned stiffly. He
straightened. He was used to being treated as an outsider by these
younger men, and suffered it as the burden of command, but it
worried him that something was going on under his very nose, which
they did not feel able to share with him. And his nose had alerted
him to other things. There was alcohol loose in this cabin… yet
none of them appeared to have been drinking. And during his twenty
years in the Navy, William Bush had learned to recognise the smell
of fresh blood.
Archie's innocent face appeared at Hornblower's shoulder. "Mr.
Bush," he said cheerfully.
The senior officer looked him up and down briefly. "Mr. Kennedy,"
he returned the civility. "I trust your shirt is reparable," he
said in a level tone, "after its encounter with the quarterdeck
"Oh… I'm sure Mr. Miller here can fix it," Archie responded
lightly. "He has a great skill with a needle and thread," he gave
Miller a wink, and the boy blushed back. Mr. Bush took due note.
"I shall remember that next time my stockings need attention," Bush
promised. "Mr. Wellard, you should not be in the wardroom."
Wellard blinked. "My apologies, sir."
"That was my doing, Mr. Bush." Hornblower's quick brain spun
abruptly into action. "I…er…needed Mr. Wellard's help."
"Help, Mr. Hornblower?"
Knowing how lying went against Horatio's grain, Kennedy
intervened. "Indeed sir, there was a…rat loose in Mr. Kennedy's
Bush's brows lifted. "And the two of you are not capable of
cornering a rat, without sending to the cockpit for a midshipman?"
"Well, yes," Kennedy admitted, "but Mr. Wellard has a way of …
charming them…" he finished with his lopsided, lame smile, which
folk who were not Second Lieutenant Bush found disarming and
convincing. Bush, though, was neither disarmed nor convinced. The
corners of his mouth twitched, clearly against his will, but he
managed to keep the rest of his face straight.
"We have extremely talented young men in this ship," he commented
mildly, noting the tiny bloodstain on Kennedy's white
trousers. "Needlework and sword-skill, and now rat-charming. What
a fortunate vessel we sail in! Did you catch it, Mr. Wellard?"
"The rat, Mr. Wellard. Is he drawn and quartered, and bound for the
"Um… Alas, no, sir. He escaped."
Bush nodded sympathetically. "Hard lines," he commiserated, noting
also the faint streak of blood on Miller's temple, where he had
shoved his hair out of his eyes with careless, stained fingers.
Suddenly Lieutenant Bush tossed his precious brass and ebony sextant
across the wardroom directly at Kennedy. "Catch!" he said slyly.
With the reflexive speed of a cat, Archie caught the instrument with
both hands, but was unable on the spur of the moment, to stifle the
jar of pain which the sudden arm movement cost him. His expression
changed only a little, but his eyes registered all, and Bush read
the look in them with ease.
Being the very soul of discretion, though, he said nothing of it.
"We would do well, gentlemen," he said soberly, "given the present
atmosphere in this ship, to avoid gathering behind closed doors.
Whatever business cannot be conducted openly in the wardroom is best
not conducted at all, for the safety of every one of us. We should
avoid giving fuel to talk on the lower deck, and we would not wish
to attract the unwarranted attention of the captain…"
There was a meek chorus of "No, sir." and "Indeed not, Mr. Bush."
He favoured them with a faint smile. No use alienating them all
"Get thee back to the cockpit, then, Mr. Wellard," he said mildly,
taking his sextant back from Kennedy without further comment, and
went to his cabin to put it away. Out of the corner of his eye, he
saw the other four exchange furtive glances, and wished he was ten
* * *
The days passed by, and as they sailed further south the weather
became warmer and the sun hotter. Dolphins followed in their wake,
or shot along just in front of the bow wave, as if playing dare with
the rest of the pod, leaping out of the water just in time, as the
ship ploughed by. New seabirds flew overhead… species which most of
the crew had never seen before, and now and again an albatross
sailed by the top rigging, looking as stately and graceful as Renown
herself. It was a whole new world, delightful and enticing…
A week after the incident with the quarterdeck ladder, Bush was once
again on watch when the fourth lieutenant emerged from below to
supervise small arms training. Kennedy was without hat or coat –
unusual for him, but not unreasonable if he intended to work as hard
as he had done the previous week. Bush watched, amused, as the
young officer gave his initial speech, this time to a group of
topmen, more used to canvas and yardarms than pistols, expecting at
any minute that fireworks would break out as Kennedy went into
action. But nothing happened.
On the contrary, Bush had never seen the young man so subdued. He
sat halfway up the quarterdeck ladder, speaking steadily but without
much enthusiasm, and eventually seemed to give up and hand the
lesson over to Styles, who happily demonstrated the art of making a
cutlass into a living nemesis.
Bush drew nearer, watching Kennedy carefully, without appearing to
take much interest. With a shock, he realised that the small-arms
tutor was leaning his head back against the wooden ladder, and his
eyes were closed. Even to a man as prosaic as Bush, this seemed
abnormal, especially for Kennedy, who usually in these sessions
would be running about the quarterdeck like a flea on a hot griddle.
Rather than cause comment and conjecture on the lower deck, Bush
waited until the session ended. Kennedy, who had been watching the
men through narrowed eyes for the last ten minutes of the lesson,
stirred himself to congratulate them on their progress and dismissed
them below to get their dinner. As he turned to confer with Styles,
Mr. Bush came to the quarterdeck rail.
"Mr. Kennedy, come up here, if you please." he ordered simply.
With an occluded glance at Styles, the junior lieutenant crossed the
deck and carefully hauled himself up the steps. He offered a salute
which would have been smart enough for a midshipman, and made an
attempt to stand like an officer, with some success, but the lack of
grace was so unlike him that Bush found it worrying.
"Are you quite well, Mr. Kennedy?" Bush asked, his eyes on the sea
beyond. "You…are not yourself this morning."
Archie could always manage the smile when he wanted to, damn him!
"Yes, thank you, Mr. Bush," he responded evenly. "I'm quite well."
"Good! In that case, please take a glass aloft and scan the
horizon. We are in the Caribbean, and there are godless men about
these waters in nameless ships. It would not do to be taken by
Kennedy hesitated, stifling his reluctance. The last thing he
wanted to do at that moment was to go crawling about the rigging,
but orders are orders, and he had no choice. He had claimed perfect
health, and must live with the consequences.
"Aye, sir," he responded neutrally.
He took the glass from Bush's hands and went to the rail, climbing
slowly onto it, one hand on the shrouds. Suddenly alarmed, Bush
leaped forward and grabbed his hand as he swayed over the sea,
pulling him back onto the deck. Once his feet were back on the
planking, Kennedy wobbled like a foal taking his first steps, and
Bush had to steady him with a firm hand under his arm.
"Good God, man, what on earth ails you?" he demanded quietly. Since
the captain's very odd behaviour at the start of the voyage, they
had adopted the habit of absolute discretion, and Bush would not in
any circumstances have revealed to the rest of the crew what Kennedy
was trying so hard to hide.
Archie's eyes were slightly unfocused as he strove to remain
upright. He gave an unsteady little laugh. "My apologies, Mr.
Bush… a momentary lapse." He detached himself from Bush's grasp and
put a hand on the rail to regain his balance. "I will be perfectly
all right in a moment."
Bush straightened, glancing sideways to see Hobbs observing them
curiously from the waist. "Are you ill, Mr. Kennedy?" he asked more
discreetly, taking the glass from his hands before it went in the
Kennedy's eyes gave him an embarrassed apology. "A little… under
the weather…" he admitted with a sheepish grin. "Perhaps the heat."
"Go below, man, for God's sake. I'll stand watch for you when mine
comes to an end." Bush looked up to find the ever-vigilant Matthews
hovering nearby, looking innocently at the horizon. "Bosun,
accompany Mr. Kennedy to his cabin."
"Aye, sir!" Matthews sprang to help, but something in Kennedy's
manner warned him not to do more than act as sheepdog. It would not
do for the men to see the fourth lieutenant being helped below
decks. It might look as if he had been drinking, or had yellow
fever, and could cause speculation and unease. Archie managed to
walk steadily to the companionway, Matthews following like a
When they had gone, Hobbs came to stand at Bush's side, and for a
few minutes both watched the horizon in silence. Finally the gunner
said softly "Is Mr. Kennedy unwell, sir?"
Bush stiffened, but continued to stare out to sea. "Conditions are
changing day-by-day, Mr. Hobbs. Mr. Kennedy is fair-skinned, and
will suffer more from the heat than the rest of us. I sent him
below for a drink of water."
"Shall I inform the captain?"
No, damn you, that's my job!
"Kindly confine yourself to your duties, Mr. Hobbs. I'm sure Mr.
Kennedy will be back on deck as soon as he has refreshed himself,
and if not, I am here to stand his watch." Bush met his eyes with a
clear challenge. "A change of watch-officer has nothing to do with
the trim of the ship, Mr. Hobbs. There is no need to report to the
captain. All is well. Carry on, if you please."
* * *
The afternoon passed pleasantly enough. The sky was clear and the
horizon shimmered in the heat, despite the breeze which filled the
sails and made Renown skim like a bird across the calm ocean.
Bush's watch came to an end, and Kennedy's began. There was no
sign of the Fourth Lieutenant. As he had promised, Bush stayed
beside the binnacle and assumed the watch. Fair weather and a
following sea… an extra shift in these conditions would be no effort
for a seasoned sea-officer.
Then the Captain came on deck.
Bush was immediately aware of his presence from the look on Hobbs's
face, but he did not turn round. He knew that Sawyer would be
looking for trouble, and he felt the man's eyes on him, like a
predatory spider waiting to pounce.
Finally it came.
"You are not on watch, Mr. Bush," the captain informed him
sharply. "This is not your watch, sir. Your watch finished an hour
ago. Whose watch is this, Mr. Bush?"
Nothing for it but to take a deep breath and give an honest answer,
since the man would find out from Hobbs, if not himself.
"Mr. Kennedy's, Captain," He replied evenly.
"Indeed ?" Sawyer stalked across the quarterdeck, coming to stand
beside him. "And where is that gentleman, that he would oblige a
fellow officer to do his job for him?"
Bush kept his voice even and calm as he replied "Mr. Kennedy was
unwell, sir. I sent him below."
Sawyer stalked off across the deck, stood looking out over the
taffrail, and suddenly turned, glaring. "Unwell, sir? Unwell!?
What is he? A little whimpering girl who forgot her parasol? Does
he know he is in the Navy, sir?"
"I… assure you he would not allow himself to be stood down without
good cause, sir."
Sawyer glowered out over the ocean for a moment before returning his
gaze to his Second Lieutenant. "Ha! His `good cause', Mr. Bush, is
skulking about below, getting into mischief! I tell you, he is too
clever for his own good, is Mr. Kennedy…! `Unwell'!!! He will be
unwell enough when he dangles, sir, for failing his duty, as dangle
he shall! He will know what `unwell' is then…!"
Bush felt that there must be some way of soothing the deluded
captain, but for the life of him he could not come up with one, so
he kept his peace. There was a pause, as the wind whispered through
the rigging, singing in the maintop and echoing the creaking and
groaning of the timbers. Renown was making good way, and Bush hoped
the cut of the sails would be sufficient distraction.
But no: after five full minutes examining the deployments aloft and
watching the sailors working, Sawyer suddenly swung round and
Young Wellard came running. He was a good boy, and keen as mustard,
and he knew how little the captain liked to be kept waiting.
"Sir!" he touched his hat smartly.
Sawyer gave him a benign smile. "Captain's compliments to Mr.
Kennedy, and would be kindly present himself on deck immediately.
He has two minutes before I consider taking disciplinary action…"
Wellard stared at him, but dared not glance at Bush for approbation.
"Close your mouth, boy, before a flying fish lands in it," the
captain joked mildly. He appeared to enjoy his own jest, and turned
away, a not entirely unpleasant smile on his face.
"Aye, sir…" Now Wellard risked a quick look at Bush for
confirmation, and got a nod in return. He sped off to minimise any
delay, which would surely anger the captain even more.
Sawyer lapsed into silence, staring out across the sea with a blank
expression on his face. He insisted upon his officers wearing full
uniform, including hats, no matter how warm the climate, and the
sun, which was now almost tropical, beat down on the deck from a
blue-white sky, making the men on the quarterdeck wish fervently for
snow in Blighty.
After a commendably short time, here came Kennedy, taking the steps
briskly, young Wellard following in his wake like a dutiful puppy.
Despite his unease, Bush's mouth twitched. In defiance of the
captain's blatant attempt to catch him out, the fourth lieutenant
was dressed impeccably, hair and stock neatly tied, hat on. Even
the buckles of his shoes looked polished. Only a very slight
fatigue behind his eyes showed how much the bright reappearance had
Sawyer looked him up and down, his face still unreadable. "This is
your watch, is it not, Mr. Kennedy?" he asserted evenly.
"Yes, sir…" Kennedy even tried a placating smile.
"And yet I come onto my own quarterdeck, an hour into your tour of
duty, and I find Mr. Bush standing here instead. How do you explain
your dereliction, Mr. Kennedy?"
Archie blinked. "I was ill, sir. Mr. Bush allowed me to stand
down." He glanced to Bush, not so much for support as to try to
define what was going on, but it was obvious the senior officer
could be no help.
"You were ill?"
"And have you reported this lamentable lapse of constitution to Dr.
"Er…no, sir." For the first time, Kennedy's bold front wavered.
His eyelids fluttered nervously. "It was not thought serious enough
to report, captain. I did not need treatment."
"No?" Sawyer's hawk-eyes bored into him. "And yet it is serious
enough to keep you from doing the King's business, sir."
Archie had no answer to make. Bush's eyes met Hobbs's briefly
before the gunner turned away. Hobbs fixed his eyes on the distant
horizon. This was patently not his business, and it would not do to
be seen taking too much interest.
"What ails you, Mr. Kennedy?" Sawyer demanded without the slightest
hint of sympathy.
Time to be conciliatory. Archie tried a smile again. "Just a touch
of the sun, I believe, sir."
Captain Sawyer gave him a look of contempt. "The sun? We are still
a thousand miles North of the Tropics! Were you passing out when we
were in the Mediterranean, Mr. Kennedy?"
"Well then I suggest you pull yourself together, sir. When we are
in Santo Domingo, you will not be able to have a nice lie down every
time the sun shines. If you are feeling the heat, perhaps you will
take the rest of this watch in the maintop." He speared the young
man with a keen glare. "It is cooler up there!"
The fourth lieutenant met his gaze, unwavering. There could be no
other answer but "Aye, sir."
Topmasted! At twenty-six, and fourth lieutenant of a ship-of-the-
line. Kennedy must be unhappy with his bizarre `punishment', but
Bush was appalled. What kind of message would this send out to the
men, that commissioned sea officers were not to be trusted and could
be treated like mere midshipmen?
For now, though, the most pressing worry was that Archie would make
it to the topmast without falling in the sea. Bush gave him the
telescope as he began to climb the shrouds. No point in him being
aloft without something to do. His progress was slow, but steady,
and he spurned the lubber's hole in favour of climbing over the edge
of the platform, as he had done since he was a boy. Mr. Bush found
that admirable, if a little rash, but it was some comfort that the
lad was capable of it. Sawyer's face was blank. If he had noted
the little piece of bravado, he did not show it. After watching the
distant figure in the maintop for a while with satisfaction, the
captain finally grunted and returned to his cabin, leaving the deck
to Mr. Bush.
So Kennedy sat in the maintop for the rest of the watch, prey to
the wind and the hot sun, and almost too sick to be angry – almost.
Where there was injustice, Archie could always find enough mental
energy to generate a little indignation. Bush could almost feel the
heat of his mood from the quarterdeck.
The watch wore on, and all was quiet. The captain stayed in his
cabin, and the only distraction from the roll of the ship and the
flap of the sails was Hornblower coming on deck to stretch his legs,
as he did every afternoon at about this time. He strolled across
the quarterdeck to where Bush stood and took up station beside him.
"Mr. Bush," he greeted formally, touching his hat.
The third lieutenant looked about him, brows creasing in
puzzlement. "Where is Mr. Kennedy, sir. This is his watch, is it
Bush allowed his eyes to stray, not for the first time, into the
rigging. "Topmasted, Mr. Hornblower," he responded dryly.
Horatio frowned. "You mean he has gone aloft, sir?"
"No, I mean the captain has topmasted him – ostensibly for failing
to report sick to the doctor…"
Hornblower's eyes grew wide as he followed Bush's gaze up to the
maintop where a very still Archie Kennedy sat dutifully scanning the
horizon with the telescope.
"Is he ill?" Hornblower asked tensely.
"He says he is suffering from the sun. To me he looks like a man
with a fever."
Their eyes met, and it seemed to Bush that Hornblower knew more than
he was prepared to say, but they had no time or opportunity to
discuss it further. A cry from the maintop told them Kennedy had
"Deck there! Sail-ho!" The fourth lieutenant was on his feet now,
braced against the mast top, training his telescope on the distant,
"What is she, Mr. Kennedy?" Bush demanded in his usual measured
"Can't tell yet, sir!" Archie's voice failed to lose its well-bred
tone, for all he was eighty feet above the deck. "I'd say she was
one of ours from the look of her t'gallants." Then a few moments
later he added, with a touch of excitement, "She is flying British
"Shall I call the captain, sir?" Hornblower asked quietly.
"It might be as well to inform him. I doubt he will come. He has
not come on deck the last three times we've passed friendly vessels."
It was a message best not left to a midshipman. Hornblower went
below himself. Meanwhile Bush strained his eyes to the horizon,
trying to make out what Kennedy could see. They could just make out
the topsails from the deck now, and the pennant fluttering in the
soft breeze. Finally the word came down from the topmast – "She's
hull-up now, sir! Frigate, Mr. Bush! Thirty-six. I think she's the
Contrary to everyone's expectation, the captain appeared on the
quarterdeck, pulling on his jacket.
"What is this all about, Mr. Bush. We pass a friendly ship, and you
call me from my supper, sir?"
"I thought you should know, Captain."
"Did you, Mr. Bush? Did you indeed? Are they likely to fire on us?"
"No, sir…" Bush took a deep breath. It seemed to him that nobody
could do a thing right in this captain's eyes – a sinister trait in
any superior, but a very great threat in a man who controlled life
and death, in a ship on detatched duty. "I felt it would be safer
if you were informed, sir, since you are the most able and
experienced of all aboard."
He could see Hornblower watching him as he delivered this
breathtaking piece of flattery, and sincerely hoped the man did not
despise him for it. Certainly he and Kennedy would never in a
million years have sunk so low. But the captain clearly responded
to such overtures, as a dog will respond to a pat on the head, and
if the ship could be kept upright by sycophancy, then so be it.
"I am, sir… I am indeed. How well you know me, Mr. Bush!" Sawyer
paced the deck for a few moments, up to the rail and back. Then he
squinted up into the maintop. "Who first spotted her…?" he
demanded. "Who is that up there?"
"It is Mr. Kennedy, captain," Bush replied dutifully.
"And what is a lieutenant in my ship doing skylarking in the
Oh dear, thought Bush, here we go again…
"He is there by your order, captain. You sent him aloft to… um…
take the air, sir, since he was feeling the heat."
"So I did. And a very wise precaution, Mr. Bush. He will be the
better for it, and I can't have my officers skulking about below.
Idle hands, Mr. Bush… not good for the ship."
Bush and Hornblower were speechless. Bush nodded his assent, but
Hornblower just stood, rigid, beside him, staring across the sea to
the approaching frigate. What he was thinking was anybody's guess.
"Call him down, Mr. Bush. Tell him to go and get his dinner." He
gave them both a benign smile. "You see my humanity? Even the idle
and undutiful may expect mercy from me, in the hope that they will
mend their ways."
Neither of the lieutenants replied. To say anything at all would
endanger the peace of the quarterdeck, and they were rapidly
learning not to do that.
"Signal captain," Kennedy's voice called down. "She wants to
Sawyer narrowed his eyes at the distant ship. Of course she would
want to meet them, exchange news from home and the Indies, take on
board any letters in the mail intended for her crew. It was a
confounded nuisance, but he had no excuse to deny the request.
"Heave-to, Mr. Bush, and send a signal. `The Captain of the Trojan
will be welcome aboard my ship'." He squinted up again into the
shrouds. "And get young Kennedy down from there if you please,
sir. He has redeemed himself by spotting the approaching ship. I
won't have you ignoring my order to release him."
Bush opened his mouth to object, but shut it again, and his eyes
strayed automatically to Hornblower, but that gentleman was as
expressive as a stone.
Rather than shout once more into the shrouds, Bush turned to
Wellard, who was standing just to his right. "Mr. Wellard, please
go up and give Mr. Kennedy my respects. Ask him to return to the
quarterdeck, if you please."
They watched him climb nimbly up the shrouds and over the side of
the maintop, and they saw Kennedy lower the telescope and look down
at the deck for confirmation. Bush nodded minutely, his bicorne
exaggerating the action of his head, and the lieutenant aloft
touched his forehead to acknowledge the order and began to climb
down. He still would not use the lubber's hole, but his descent
over the edge of the maintop, usually for him a matter of ease and
grace and a chance to show off his compact power, was slow and
uncomfortable. And Wellard appeared to hover below him as if
expecting at any moment that he would slip off and tumble to the
deck eighty feet below.
Hornblower and Bush realised they had both been holding their
breath, and they exhaled self-consciously as Kennedy jumped more
heavily than usual onto the deck, swaying as he landed. Captain
Sawyer eyed him for a moment as if reaching a decision about him,
and then turned on his heel and disappeared in the direction of his
Kennedy and Hornblower exchanged a look, which might have been
simply mutual support, or might have encompassed the complete works
of Shakespeare for all Bush could deduce. He wished he knew a
fraction of what passed between these two when their minds met.
"The captain wishes you to go below and find your dinner, Mr.
Kennedy," Bush said quietly. Then in answer to the fourth
lieutenant's perplexed expression, he added, "He feels that a taste
of his magnanimity will help you mend your ways."
Kennedy took a deep breath, finding a smile from somewhere
within. "I'm sure it will, Mr. Bush." As he went below, the ever-
faithful Matthews found a good excuse to follow him down.
Hornblower remained impassive on deck until Bush turned to him with
a blank face. "Perhaps you might also find your dinner before you
are due on watch, Mr. Hornblower."
Predictably he third lieutenant was only too glad to accept the
* * *
In the tiny cabin below decks, Archie Kennedy sat shirtless while
Hornblower gingerly uncovered the slash in his arm. The wrappings
were stuck in places, and difficult to remove without water to soak
the dried blood, but neither of them made any comment until the
bandages were free and the state of the wound could be seen.
Wellard and little Miller hovered in the doorway, watching
anxiously. "How does it look?" the younger boy wanted to know.
Hornblower made an exploratory poke at the inflamed flesh, drawing a
slight wince from Kennedy, but when he looked up he met a calm
expression, if not a smile. "It seems… a little slow to heal…" he
admitted carefully. He looked up into his friend's face and as
their eyes met something passed between them, which was not intended
for the youngsters. "I think there's some dead stuff in there,
Archie. I think you must see Doctor Clive."
Henry Wellard tried to hide his worry, but he was visibly distraught
by all this. He knew as well as any other sailor the consequences
of an untreated wound in a ship of war, but he also knew what would
happen if the captain found out what had really taken place on the
quarterdeck a week ago.
"It doesn't look too bad." Kennedy was insisting quietly. "It'll
no doubt go a day or two longer…"
Hornblower took a deep breath, saying softly, "You're taking a great
risk, Archie, and in the end, it's just putting off the inevitable."
"It is indeed, Mr. Kennedy."
The voice was Doctor Clive's, and it came from the wardroom on the
other side of the thin screen. And there he stood with Mr. Bush,
bag in hand, obviously well aware of the whole story.
Wellard and Miller stepped back, a little stunned to find him
suddenly in their midst. Kennedy and Hornblower merely looked up
calmly, determined not to appear guilty. Kennedy flashed a covert
glance at Bush, but otherwise neither of them reacted to finding
their space suddenly invaded by authority.
"May I…?" Clive was polite, but determined.
Hornblower stood back for him. There was no alternative. The two
younger boys hovered outside, listening.
Archie waited patiently while the doctor examined the wound in
contemplative and professional silence. He touched it gently, and
sniffed at it, reluctant to speak until he had his conclusions -
with their Latin terminology - lined up. Finally he
straightened. "There is some morbidity… a little necrosis and
oedema… with a concomitant risk of mormal and eventual cachaemia…"
he decided neutrally, "but all is not lost. I can amputate, and have
a good chance of saving your life."
Kennedy balked visibly. Up to the word `amputate', he had found the
good doctor's wonted attempts to blind him with medical gobbledegook
more funny than alarming. But that one word changed everything.
Archie pulled himself together instantly to manage a calm nod, but
Horblower's eyes were hawk-like, and beyond the door of the tiny
cabin, Wellard drew a sharp breath of horror, as he went into a
downward spiral of shame and dismay. Little Miller was silent, his
hand creeping into Wellard's for comfort.
"Or I can cauterise… a little traumatic, and the chance of success
is less, but if we do succeed, at least you keep your arm. Neither
option particularly savoury, and without prescience, I am not in a
position to advise you. I'm very much afraid the choice is yours,
Archie stared at him for a moment as if he had been struck. He was
no fool, and knew there was some infection and therefore danger, but
to have Clive speak to him of amputation and mortal peril was a
shock. To have him hand the decision over wholesale and leave him
to make it was almost overwhelming. Kennedy took a deep breath.
His eyes flickered for moral support to Hornblower, still standing
in the doorway.
Hornblower managed a smile of encouragement, but he did not dare
attempt to push him in the direction of either option. "What are
the odds, please, Doctor Clive?" he asked unexpectedly. If the
scientist and mathematician in his nature were to be given no
answers, then the gambler might be luckier.
But the doctor would not be drawn. "I could give you odds if we were
in home waters," he said soberly, "I would expect seven out of ten
patients in this condition, when treated with cautery alone, to
survive. But you must understand, in this climate, with the
temperature rising every day, the element of chance is greater."
Not much help in that. Kennedy and Hornblower passed another
intense glance, short-lived, but filled with meaning.
"The devil and the deep, blue sea…" Archie breathed softly.
Clive's mouth tightened. Decisions like these were simple in the
heat of battle. Wounds were easy to assess when there were another
forty casualties waiting for attention, and the appropriate
treatment usually suggested itself. But given time and space, and
the knowledge that a life was at stake, the thing became much more
complex and difficult. "Unfortunately there is no time to think it
over," he said, not unkindly. "Time is critical. This has been
left far too long already."
Kennedy looked up like a condemned man. "You want a decision now?"
"If you please, Mr. Kennedy."
Archie licked his dry lips nervously. "Cauterise it, then." His
mouth tightened into a grim smile. "Thank you, Dr. Clive. I find I
have become rather sentimental about my limbs. If it can be
achieved, I would prefer to remain attached to them all…"
Clive nodded, calm and businesslike. He had seen this situation
dozens of times, and was not thrown into dismay by it. "Very well,
Mr. Kennedy." He turned to Bush. "Please have a fire lit for me in
the galley. And ask Mr. Styles to come down and assist. He is
probably the strongest man on board…"
To Fourth Lieutenant Kennedy, his words were not a comfort.
* * *
It was not quite the best hour of Archie Kennedy's life, neither was
it the worst. His father would probably have described it
The pain was nothing. He was used to pain, and although it was
extreme, Clive was efficient and considerate. The real anguish came
from being held still – having his shoulders locked by Styles's
gorilla grip, whilst his arm was extended by a loblolly boy for the
doctor to cut away the dead flesh and sear it with a hot galley-
iron. It felt like torture, and no matter how he tried to adjust his
thoughts to reinforce the positive nature of what was being done to
him, no matter how Styles tried to encourage him with rough words of
support, it nevertheless made him feel helpless and angry, until the
cockpit began to turn slowly, and it all became distant and fuzzy,
and considerably less unpleasant.
He had refused the leather pad to bite on, knowing it had been used
by countless smelly sailors before him, many of whom had bad teeth
and revolting habits. The result was a bitten and bleeding lower
lip, which was the first thing he began to feel again as he was
lifted into a cot to recover.
And slowly as the pain died away to an angry throbbing in his arm
and shoulder, he began to be aware of his surroundings once more… of
voices flattened into a monotone by his own disorientation… of
someone holding his head and trickling water into his mouth…
He choked slightly. "H'ratio…?"
"It's me, Mr. Kennedy," Styles told him, grinning. "Mr. Hornblower
will be down by and by. Have another drink, sir."
With a wry smile of gratitude, Archie took the cup from him and
drank. He was still drinking when Dr. Clive came to stand over him
in the dim cockpit, drying his washed hands on a clean towel.
"Well, Mr. Kennedy, we did well, sir. I was able to remove all of
the necrosis. Let us hope your natural constitution is strong
enough to overcome the tendency to suppuration and gangrene."
"Yes..." Kennedy gave him a smile, falsely cheerful, adding with not
quite enough sarcasm to trouble the good doctor, "Let us hope so."
Five minutes later he was back in his own cabin, sitting up in his
cot, propped with pillows and drinking small beer from his old
"This is all Bush's fault," he mused quietly. "If he had kept his
thoughts to himself and not brought Clive in…"
"You would be getting worse by the hour!" Hornblower pointed out
"Well after that, I confess, I don't feel much better!" Kennedy
lapsed into moody silence.
"You've given yourself the best chance. It's all you can do."
Both men looked up as there was a scratch on the cabin wall, and
young Miller put his head round the canvas frame, saying
reluctantly, "Captain requires Mr. Kennedy in his cabin in five
After the first wave of disbelief that Captain Sawyer could make
such an irrational demand, the sheer incongruity of it seemed to
occur to them all at once, and they both burst out laughing.
* * *
Given the captain's unhappy tendency to abandon reason in favour of
whim, Kennedy thought it best to appear before him with some
despatch, but nevertheless impeccably dressed, so that whatever
fault was found with him was not invited. It was a scramble, but at
least he had the assistance of Miller and Hornblower, and the effort
took his mind off the throbbing in his upper arm.
When, exactly five minutes later, Archie responded to the captain's
pleasant `Enter!' and went into the cabin, he found Doctor Clive in
attendance, sipping a convivial glass of madeira.
"Ah, Mr. Kennedy!" Sawyer's face was benign. Whatever the urgency
of his summons, it was obviously not bad news. "I hope you are
feeling better, sir."
Archie looked from the captain to the doctor, unsure how to
respond. He felt like hell, and would have been much happier to
spend a few hours sleeping off the worst of the effects of Dr.
Clive's ministrations, but the good doctor was giving him one of
those warning looks, and it seemed unwise to go against the
"Yes, sir," he responded dutifully. "Much better."
"Splendid!" He turned to Clive. "See how even the least likely of
our officers is a strong man underneath!"
Kennedy's brows rose. This expression of the captain's opinion of
him was a revelation. Had he not spent the first half of his career
at the bottom of the barrel, he would have been hurt, but these days
he found it more a source of wry amusement than pain.
"Have you been fighting, sir?" Sawyer suddenly demanded, still in
the same amenable tone.
Archie blinked at him. It was the last question he had
expected. "Fighting, sir…?"
"You may try to hide much from me, Mr. Kennedy, but I am a great
reader of men, and you cannot hide all. I notice things, and right
now I am noticing your lip, sir. It is damaged, is it not?"
Before Archie could speak to defend himself, Clive put in
quickly "Not the result of a fight, sir, but a natural eventually of
surgery, where a patient is not always in control. Involuntary
muscular contraction of the jaw can cause such damage to the oral
"Indeed? How interesting." Sawyer sounded as if he was not the
least bit interested, but the doctor's hint was taken, and he made
no more of it.
"So…" Sawyer went on, still speaking to Clive, "he can leave
immediately, and we may be on our way!"
Kennedy stared at him, and then switched his startled gaze back to
the doctor. What in God's name was going on now? "Leave…? Sir…?"
he repeated tensely
Clive cleared his throat self-consciously. "We are heading into
ever-warmer waters, Mr. Kennedy," he explained, "and in your own
"We are heading into action, sir!" the captain cut across him
sharply. "Into battle! We can't have passengers and walking
wounded slowing us down."
Archie was nearly speechles. Nearly… not quite. "Passengers, sir?"
he found himself responding pointlessly.
"Quite so, Mr. Kennedy." Clive intervened, trying to keep the
atmosphere calm and under control. "It is our carefully-considered
opinion that you should transfer to the Trojan, for your own good,
and for the good of the ship. She is England-bound, and you would
have the chance to recuperate, as she already has a full complement
Archie's eyelids fluttered nervously and he licked dry lips. "But
my place is here, sir." It sounded lame, even to him.
Here with my shipmates… with Horatio…
But the captain was implacable. "Your place is where the Navy
decides to put you, Mr. Kennedy, and at this very moment, your
captain and your physician consider it wise that you should be
elsewhere, heading for England.
Panic rose in Archie's throat like a noose, tightening until he
could hardly breathe. "But you will be under strength, sir, when
you go into action."
"In action, sir, the last thing I will need is a lieutenant dying of
"Rest and a cooler clime is really the safest way, Mr. Kennedy.
Perhaps a spell of shore-leave in England. I do advise it."
"And I order it, which is more to the point. Be kind enough to pack
up your dunnage and report to…?" Sawyer raised a brow at Clive.
"Doctor Flinchmore," the other said quickly. "My colleague aboard
the Trojan. A good surgeon. You'll be safe with him."
The name might ordinarily have caused him some amusement, but
Archie's mouth merely twisted with a frustration he could not hide.
Clive saw it, but fortunately Captain Sawyer had already turned back
to his madeira.
* * *
"Well, H'ratio…" Kennedy held out his good hand, as he was about to
step over the coaming onto the embarkation ladder.
Hornblower took it firmly. He had only had a matter of minutes to
take all this in, and was still in some confusion, half believing
that it could all be some elaborate practical joke. But here were
Bush and Buckland, both sober, honest men, giving weight to the
affair, and it would seem that Archie Kennedy, his wounded arm tied
up safely under his jacket, really was about to walk out of his
life. All he could do under the eyes of the men was to wish his
departing friend good fortune. "The best of luck, Archie," he said
"I won't need much, limping back to Blighty." Archie found a smile
from somewhere, and wore it with dignity. Then in answer to the
sober look on Hornblower's face, he added more brightly "Come,
H'ratio, it's nothing. Just slings and arrows! All's well, my
The other met his eyes, and found the spirit to nod cheerfully.
"Good luck to you too, " Kennedy added. "Look after him, Mr. Miller."
Martin nodded dumbly. He had been holding back tears since he had
heard the news, and would not last much longer. Archie added more
confidentially "Chin up, Martin. We'll meet in Portsmouth as soon
as you return, and swop adventures."
"Aye, sir…" but the child did not seem convinced.
If Miller was downcast, Henry Wellard was distraught, still berating
himself for his moment of madness on the quarterdeck, which had
brought so much trouble. For him, Archie could say little,
except "Be watchful, Henry…" with a wink and a `meaning' look.
Wellard nodded, shaking his hand in turn.
A good many of the men were there to see him off as well, led by
Matthews, Styles… even Hobbs watched, expressionless, in the
background. It was enough to make young Kennedy feel popular!
Then he was over the side, and they watched the jolly-boat carry him
across the smooth swell to the homing Trojan. Feeling peculiarly
hollow and isolated, Hornblower turned his face away, towards the
Indies and his future, finding solace in the thought of the hard
work ahead. The sea was uncommonly calm, yet the sails filled
ominously quickly as they were loosed, and there was a grey band of
cloud above the distant horizon, threatening heavy weather…
"Looks like we're in for a blow, Mr. Hornblower," commented Mr. Bush
with some satisfaction. There would be plenty to keep them busy
As every seasoned man on board had predicted, the storm blew in
without warning, and for three days Renown was tossed about like a
child's ball on massive seas. Visibility was cut to little more
than the range of a broadside. It was impossible to see the stars
at night or the sun by day, to work out with any accuracy where they
were. Men were hurled against the bulkheads, or went sliding across
the deck with every roll, keeping Doctor Clive hard at work with
bumps and lacerations, concussions and fractures. Horatio
Hornblower, like all the officers aboard Renown, was kept
delightfully busy during this time with a multitude of tasks, so
that his mind was unable to stray to what his friend was doing
aboard the Trojan, somewhere out there on the riotous ocean. In all
probability, Kennedy was equally occupied keeping his new ship
afloat and riding out the storm.
When, after four days of turmoil, the calm came again, as they knew
it would, Hornblower arrived on deck to find the rolling sea
behaving itself, and Renown rising and falling with majestic
slowness on the moderate swell. To his amazement, the good ship
Trojan was still in sight, just within hailing distance, keeping
station despite the difficult conditions. And to his further
surprise, here was her jolly-boat, swooping over the waves,
obviously bound on some urgent business with Renown.
"Good heavens," said the voice of Mr. Buckland at his side, "I would
have thought they'd be long gone!"
"It was quite a blow, sir. Perhaps they felt it would be safer to
stay in our vicinity."
"Indeed… well," He turned to Wellard. "Inform the captain, Mr.
Wellard. Trojan is still keeping station, and their boat is coming
When he had gone below, the two lieutenants turned their full
attention on the approaching boat. There was a light sea-mist,
obscuring the figures therein, but as it bumped against the side of
Renown, the officer stood in the sternsheets and jumped easily onto
the ladder, climbing the tumblehome as though he was born to it.
Both Hornblower and Buckland stared at him, bemused.
"Archie!" Hornblower said hoarsely.
Before Kennedy had time to speak, the captain was on deck, looking
him up and down more with interest than displeasure. "Well, Mr.
Kennedy, we had thought we had seen the last of you, sir!"
"Indeed, sir… and my apologies for turning up like a bad penny!"
Kennedy have him a winning, rueful grin. "I'm afraid I am fit as a
flea once more. Doctor Flinchmore is of the opinion that I am ready
to return to duty aboard Renown."
Captain Sawyer observed him, with the air of a horse-dealer
appraising the value of a nag. "They couldn't wait to get rid of
you, eh, lad?" But the remark was an obvious jest this time. The
captain was in a good mood. "And you are happy to return to duty,
Mr. Kennedy, despite your recent indisposition?"
"Of course, Captain!" There was no hint of doubt there, and Sawyer
made the mistake of taking his willingness to serve aboard Renown
The captain beamed. "Well, gentlemen, here's a fine show of
loyalty! You are most welcome, Mr. Kennedy! Do you have your
Archie avoided Hornblower's eyes, as he responded, "My sea chest is
in the boat, sir."
"Well then, bring it aboard, and let's be on our way! We've wasted
enough time already! Welcome back, Mr. Kennedy!"
"Thank you, sir!"
When Sawyer had gone off, smiling like a cat full of cream, Buckland
gave Kennedy an uneasy look. "You were on your way home…" he
pointed out, mystified. "You could have left all this behind."
He did not say exactly what `all this' might be, but his implication
was clear. Anyone finding an honourable escape from this nest of
adders must be mad to walk back into it again. Archie could not
resist a broad grin. It was fun to confuse Buckland occasionally.
"I wanted to see the West Indies, sir," he responded simply.
Buckland eyed him as if he believed the young lieutenant might be
better housed in Bedlam.
* * *
Now well-and-truly in tropical waters, Renown was ploughing through
the blue Caribbean, borne on the benevolent trade winds, as the
third and fourth lieutenants, off-duty and glad to be free, stood in
their shirtsleeves in the main chains, watching flying-fish. There
were hundreds of them, disturbed by the wake of the ship, churning
out of the water and gliding over the waves, little flashes of
silver in the dazzling sunshine. Hornblower and Kennedy couldn't
help grinning at the sight. They were in good spirits. The captain
had been calm since Archie's return, and his moods seemed to be
mellowing and settling. Perhaps it was the warm breezes blowing
over the deck and in through the cabin windows, but the atmosphere
on board was definitely looking up.
"I wonder why they do it," Horatio mused, watching another winged,
silvery missile hit the side of the ship and fall back into the
clear blue sea. "They have a perfectly good life underwater, and
yet they insist upon tempting fate by leaping into the unknown like
"They must have their reasons," Archie responded easily. "Perhaps
they seek the sun. Safety is not everything. Sometimes the pull of
other things is stronger."
Hornblower eyed him meaningfully. "And what was the `pull of other
things', which brought you from the relative safety of the Trojan
and a voyage home, back into this floating Gordian knot?"
Archie smiled the closed smile of the Sphinx. "Perhaps I do simply
want to see the Indies, you know. I might never have another
But Hornblower's expression of suspicion did not change, so Archie
added carelessly, "Well, I am a great believer in Fate… I looked out
of the wardroom window when the storm cleared, and lo and behold,
there was Renown, still keeping station, right next door! It would
have been a shame to ignore the hint of Kismet." He laughed
carelessly. "I fear you can't get rid of me in this life,
H'ratio." Then his broad grin faded to a fond smile. "Like it or
not, we are fated to be locked together unto the bitter end!"
Hornblower grinned back. "I fear you may be right, Archie," he
And such was their ease with Kennedy's wit and gallows humour, and
so pleased were they to be together again, that neither of them felt
nor saw any shadow…