Just What Happened to Midshipman Oldroyd?
by Hannah S.
It was a fine day indeed. There was a fair wind
blowing and a clear sky overhead, and the morning had
come and gone with no problems whatsoever. Not even
maggots in the ship's biscuit today. Captain Sir
Edward Pellew was in a fairly content mood, contrary
to his usual routine of keeping an aggravated tone and
a menacing stare. This was odd, though, considering
the fact that he had lost a cannon or two, and a few
expendable sailors, to a completely and utterly
pointless war with the French Republicans. He had even
had to suffer through Mr. Hornblower blubbering
ceaselessly for a minute of his precious time, over
something he couldn't quite place. Strange fellow,
that Hornblower, thought Pellew to himself. Something
is terribly wrong with that boy, but at least he's
smarter than the others. If only it were contagious,
then perhaps my crew would be a little less
disorderly... He thought to himself for a moment, and
decided that the word "shambles" might be more
appropriate. Glancing absently over the chart, he
prepared to head for the upper decks, when a noise
caught him off guard.
It had to be Mr. Bracegirdle. Pellew had known many
different variations on the word "fire" in his
lifetime, and among the crew there were several,
including the well-appreciated "fiyah" among the
senior officers, with the occasional "fah," and once
an odd "fiyuh" emanating from an Acting Leiutenant.
These had become almost calling cards for his men, so
that if he were for some reason unaware of an attack,
he could be certain of who was taking control.
At least...it sounded like Mr. Bracegirdle...
Pellew stormed out on deck, screaming the British Navy
equivalent of "What in tarnation is going on here?"
A mop flew over his head, nearly disrupting the
precise position of his hat.
"Silence!" Pellew shrieked.
No one was listening. NO ONE was LISTENING. Pellew
fumed as the men rushed past him, carrying...mops.
Dozens of mops. Loads of mops, and.......began
to....stuff them into his cannons....
Another volley of mops exploded from the cannons and
shot into the water.
I must be dreaming...Pellew thought, surveying the
insane scene around him. He tugged maniacally at his
wig, stuttered for a moment, and hollered once more,
Mr. Midshipman Oldroyd stopped in mid-"fah". He
dropped his mop.
"You! You!" Pellew stomped up to the vacant-minded
sailor and shook his fist. "I'll have you hanged from
the nearest yardarm! I'll have you butchered like
beef! What are you DOING, commanding my men like this,
making a laughingstock of my ship, disregarding every
word--" He suddenly realized that the entire crew of
the Indy were cheering their heads off. But not for
"Pardon me, sir." Styles interrupted, saluting the
Captain half-heartedly. "A word with Mr. Oldroyd."
He turned to Oldroyd and his sincere expression
changed to one of glee. "She's going down, sir!
Congratulations, and on your first command!"
"Aw, it weren't've been nothing without the 'elp o'
these fellows..." Oldroyd gave a toothy grin, seeming
proud of his accomplishment. He looked out to see the
Spanish frigate disappearing under the waves.
Pellew spluttered fitfully. "WHAT IS GOING ON??"
Mr. Bracegirdle came up. Ah--Pellew thought, a sane
soul at last...Maybe he will straighten things out...
"Begging your pardon, Captain. Mr. Oldroyd...well,
conducted a splendid act of command at this
hour...sunk a Spanish frigate, in fact..."
"I don't care if he sunk an entire armada, Mr.
Bracegirdle! He is not commanding officer of this
ship! He has no authority to take charge of any
situation whatsoever! Just tell me what is going on
"Well, you see, Captain, he came up with a brilliant
plan--in the nick of time, or we would have all been
done for in seconds. I was looking for you, in fact,
but it seems the crew had already set about listening
to Mr. Oldroyd, taking orders from him even. And oh,
how it payed off, sir!----b--begging your pardon. He
constructed, you see, these devices to target the ship
below water--these devices--what did you call them,
"Torpedoes, sir." He began to explain to Captain
Pellew: "The mops, they was perfect for the job. Just
put'm loaded-up-like in the cannon, an' shoot'm
underwater! They'm never suspected it, sir,
y'see--took'm right off guard it did. If ya've ever
noticed, they've gotten great hydrodynamics, if y'take
"Enough!" Pellew shouted. "It goes against all
Articles of War for a despicable midshipman like you
to try to override their Captain! Mutinous acts, I
say! Do you hear?"
No response from the crew. They were all looking at
Oldroyd. Oldroyd shrugged a little.
"It was jest an idea, sir. I didn't mean nothing
personal-like. Jest when they started LISTENING to me,
Pellew's eye twitched.
"Well...it seemed all right-like, if you take my
"That's it! It's to the gratings with you, sah! If
you're not hanged before this day's over!"
Styles stepped forward. "Look, sir--"
"I won't have another word of it!!" screamed Pellew.
Next came Matthews. "We're standing by our shipmate,
Captain." Then Kennedy... "We need heroes, sir. Heroes
make the impossible achieveable!" Then..Mr.
Cleveland....Mr. Bowles??!!...the marines!....Mr.
Pellew's jaw dropped.
Even Mr. Hornblower.
Then the entire crew was standing between Pellew and
the humble midshipman.
Oldroyd shrugged a little. "Well, sir?"
"BAH!!!" Pellew stalked back below decks. "I
back! You haven't heard the end of this!!"
Dead silence for five straight seconds after he had
They heard a door slam.
Resounding cheers, followed by a hearty ballad of "For
he's a jolly good fellow" rent the air, as hats went
off to Oldroyd. Oldroyd shrugged a little, and joined
in the cheering.
Pellew sat hyperventilating, his face disfigured and
stretched in his whitened hands. Never, never had he
encountered such a problem as this...It was all too
terrible to imagine. A disgrace to His Majesty's Navy!
"Torpedoes", indeed...what was that silly little man
thinking? And what was wrong with all of his
crew--what had possessed them to ever follow him? As
far as Pellew or anyone else for that matter knew,
Oldroyd was always just the stupid, absent-minded
blonde kid with the funny high-pitched voice. He even
LOOKED like an idiot. What was he doing...trying to
take the Captain's place? Absurd...
But he was succeeding.
At that one sudden, brief, miniscule thought, Pellew's
eyes bulged in their sockets. How could he even allow
that to cross his mind...?
Because it was true.
What??? No, no, this couldn't be...
You cannot deny it. The midshipman is taking command.
Do my own thoughts betray me??
He thrust himself up out of his seat and splayed his
arms madly, toppling over a chalice of wine in the
I must do something to stop this...this...mutinous
villain...this rogueish ruffian...this..this...
Madness, of course, was not a good approach. It had
never worked for the other power-hungry captains of
his day. Why, think of Bluebeard...First Mate Jake...
Forget that. I must come up with a plan.
He rubbed his hands together, saw what he was doing,
and stopped. Then his mind gears began to crank.
"Thanks a million for the shipment of fresh avocados,
sir!" 1st Leiutenant Jamison Sutterby gave a hearty
salute to the shabby young midshipman waving off their
Midshipman Oldroyd shrugged a little. "Jest doin' my
duty t'serve my c'untry and fellow shipmen, 'at's all.
I'm sure the Cap'n won't mind a small act of charity."
Mr. Bowles praised Oldroyd with satisfaction as
Sutterby shoved off. "A fine act indeed, sir. A true
display of selflessness and concern for the betterment
of mankind. I commend you, sir."
Oldroyd's face turned an embarrassed shade of
mahogany. "Aw, it weren't nothing, sir--"
"Mr. Bracegirdle's compliments," interrupted Styles,
coming up between them. "He was wondering whether we
should put inland here for fresh water, since you gave
all've our stores to the Eastern Convoy's
"Why, yes, Styles, I think that'd be productive. Give
me thanks to Mr. Bracegirdle. An' give him a raise,
"Aye aye, Cap---Oldroyd."
Oldroyd blinked puzzledly for a moment after Styles
had left. "Mr. Bowles, dy'ou think we're a-lettin'
this get out o' hand?"
"Why, whatever do you mean, sir?"
"I mean, the men nearly callin' me 'cap'n' and all. It
can't bloody well be natural, if y'take my meaning."
"They only see you as a figure of admiration, Mr.
Oldroyd...and rightly so. You set an interminable
example for every man aboard this ship."
Oldroyd shuffled his feet. Then he looked over to see
Captain Pellew's head rising up above the hatchway to
peer out at the above-decks. "Good morning, Captain!"
he chirped. "A fine wind today, what?"
Pellew grumbled and surveyed the deck. He noticed the
jollyboat rowing back to the frigate Fearless, and in
a calm, controlled tone, he asked,
"What was that jollyboat doing here, Mr. Bowles?"
"They were picking up a load of fresh avocados for
their crew, sir. Mr. Oldroyd--"
"MISTER Oldroyd is not a senior officer of this
vessel, Mr. Bowles."
"Well, no sir, but we were considering--"
"CONSIDERING? IMPUDENT CUR!! I ASKED YOU NOT TO TAKE
ORDERS FROM THIS MAN!"
Before Bowles had a chance to respond, Pellew turned
and gave a fiery stare at Oldroyd. "You, sah..." A
growl began to rise in his throat, and he tried to
remain calm, but this only resulted in the pitch of
his voice growing higher. "I threatened you before,
and I can do it again. But don't take me for a fool,
man. You think you can slip by with ordering my crew,
well, no longer. We'll see if a spell in the rigging
can't teach you to trod more carefully."
"Trod more carefully?"
"Don't question me!" Pellew turned back to Mr. Bowles.
"Well?! Tie him up, Mr. Bowles! Don't waste another
moment! I think I see a storm cloud over there. Do you
want a fine storm to be wasted because of your
"Do as I say!" Pellew shrieked.
"Aye aye, sir," Mr. Bowles stammered.
Five minutes and four groans later, Oldroyd was taking
the pleasure of a cold thunderstorm in the rigging.
But, as Pellew would soon discover, he considered it
yet another benefit...
Leiutenant Horatio Hornblower stood on watch with
Acting Leiutenant Archie Kennedy, both swathed in
raincoats and dripping with rainwater. They were bored
out of their minds.
"But I tell you, 'Ratio, that thing you spit out in
your fight with Simpson was just WEIRD. What WAS that
"Mr. Kennedy, some things are not meant to be
discussed over watch duty."
"Come on, Horatio, lighten up already. It was so
GROSS..." Archie stopped to glance up at the
midshipman tied to the rigging as they passed by.
"Why, look, Horatio, it's the indomitable Oldroyd!"
Hornblower shielded his eyes (even though it was quite
dark out) and squinted up at the sodden figure. "Well!
Blast me if it isn't! What on earth got you up there,
"The Cap'n, sir. I guess since everyone was takin'
orders an' all from me?"
"No, that couldn't possibly be it," said Hornblower
after some thought. "I'm sure the Captain is simply
having a bad day, that's all."
"Well, it don't matter to me at the moment,
sir--y'see, I figured somethin' out while I was up
here...my cold's gone away after about the first hour
or so! Isn't that the oddest thing? But I'll be blown
if it wouldn't work for every man in the crew!"
Hornblower pored over this for a while. Yes, indeed it
was true, the entire crew had suffered from colds on
and off in this rainy weather. And Oldroyd looked
perfectly healthy up in the rigging...
"I say, a remarkable idea, Mr. Oldroyd!" burst out
Kennedy. "I think you ought to report it to Mr.
Bracegirdle. What do you think, 'Ratio?"
Hornblower grinned thoughtfully.
Four hours and seventeen aspirins later, Pellew
emerged from his quarters searching for his senior
officer. "Mr. Bracegirdle! I say, Mr. Bracegirdle!"
He traversed all the lower decks. Astonishingly, no
one was to be found, not below deck, not in the berth,
not anywhere. Pellew felt slightly agitated and
confused, though he would not admit it even to
himself. Then he heard cheers above him, and tromped
up above deck to see what the bloody heck was going
Suddenly he knew why he had had trouble finding Mr.
Bracegirdle. The answer was right before his eyes. On
his own ship.
A disgrace to His Majesty's Navy.
Every man of the crew of the frigate Indefatigable was
tied hand and foot to the rigging, in the pouring
rain. It was quite a sight, to anyone who might have
stood astounded: hundreds of sailors swaying in the
breeze, all the way to the topmost yard. But to
Captain Pellew, it was disgusting. Clearly the work of
"MISTER BRACEGIRDLE, REPORT!" he shouted.
"Aye, sir?" The distant call came from a mast to
"WHOSE IDEA WAS THIS?"
"Mr. Oldroyd's, sir. He suggested that--"
"QUITE ENOUGH, MISTER BRACEGIRDLE. DO NOT ANSWER ME
AGAIN UNLESS I QUESTION YOU FURTHER!"
The enraged captain turned, his wig bristling with
fury, to glare angrily at the cheerful Oldroyd.
"What is the meaning of this?!"
"An experiment, sir, and a right successful one, if I
do say so meself! Four hours in the rigging sets any
man immune to the common cold. Sir, I guarantee you,
your men won't never suffer from sinus congestion
again while aboard your ship!"
"Silence!" He looked over his crew. "If I catch
you following orders from this man I will have you
flogged! And as for you, sah..."
His grip was so rough that it tore Oldroyd free of the
rigging. "You, I shall deal with personally."
* * * * * * * * * *
Oldroyd shrugged a little. His immediate state really
wasn't that bad, considering he was already quite
sleepy and didn't mind the dark, damp quarters he was
placed in. "Confinement to the gratings until the end
of time" was what Captain Pellew had told him.
Honestly, it didn't sound too bad when he thought
Besides, he couldn't possibly have done anything too
extreme. He saw no crime in what he had done; in fact,
he saw only benefit to the men. He didn't dwell on it
too long. He was busy racing insects up and down the
walls of his little cell, and it was rather
Torpedoes...a cure for the common cold...
It was absurd. Dithering idiocracy. Yet so, so
ingenious...so deviously clever...
Captain Sir Edward Pellew dragged his face through his
hands once more. He was raving...no he wasn't...yes he
It's that Midshipman that's done it to me. It was
Oldroyd all along. He's brought the age to my years,
he's brought the pain to my loss. The lines to my
forehead. The maggots to my biscuits!
Pellew pounded the table with his clenched fist.
Something must be done. He must outwit this sly, (but
foolish!) peasant of a man, this cub who dared try to
overachieve whilst a member of his crew.
But no longer. The time had come to retaliate.
Pellew sawed through a chunk of mutton with a blunt
rusty knife as the images worked into his head.
Oldroyd, hanging from the yard--no, too quick.
Oldroyd, being flogged to death--no, too unoriginal.
Oldroyd, on his knees, begging for mercy, being sliced
into itty bitty pieces!!! Yes. Pellew could just hear
his little feeble screams...
SCREE, SCREE, SCREE.
Outside, Mr. Bracegirdle lurched at the undesirable
sound. He opened the door to the captain's quarters
and noticed Pellew dragging a kitchen knife over the
surface of a ceramic plate.
Pellew suddenly stopped. He concealed his malicious
grin once more, and looked down to see that the mutton
had been cut in two already. A few deep ridges
furrowed the plate. He cleared his throat.
"Yes, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
"Mr. Midshipman Oldroyd's compliments, sir. He'd like
to make a request."
"Whatever for? He's as good as dead now..." The smile
began to creep up his face, but he quickly reached up
and pulled it flat.
Bracegirdle decided not to question this odd behavior.
"Considering the Articles of War, sir, he is to be
kept alive, seeing as he has done nothing that calls
for these measures--"
A rusty kitchen knife screamed through the air and
slammed into the wooden doorframe, inches from
"On second thought, we should most definitely let him
die, Captain." The officer hurried out of the cabin.
The cook of the frigate Indefatigable looked
completely blank. "Uh...do you want fries with that?"
"It's all very simple," said Pellew patiently. "I
you to play a part for me. You understand that this is
all for the betterment of the men, for the honor of
His Majesty's Royal Navy."
"Well o' course, but they never covered dramatics in
"Don't think of that, man, think of your dreams. Up in
the ranks, all that rot."
A look of something slightly more than blankness came
over the cook's crooked-jawed face. "I 'ave to admit,
sir...I always wanted to...well...sing. I want to
sing...I want to dance!" He jigged across the creaking
floorboards, and soon was upon the table, singing a
raucous medley of sea shanties.
This would do. Pellew shoved a stack of papers into
the cook's hands. "On deck. Tomorrow. Four bells."
"Article number 65 and 1/2," Mr. Bracegirdle's voice
rang out over the sound of the choppy seas. "No man is
to ever, ever offer a shipment of fresh avocados to
another frigate, or he will be punished by DEATH."
Captain Pellew wore an undefeatable grin. He finally
had Oldroyd where he wanted him.
Oldroyd looked at the ground. "Requesting permission
to speak, sir?"
"You may not speak! A dead man speak? Ha! That's what
you are, isn't it? Good as dead, now..." He directed
his next words to the gathered crew on the deck. He
stood proudly at the helm, with his witnesses--the
cook and Mr. Bracegirdle--standing about him. "You all
just heard it. Midshipman Oldroyd has violated the
Articles of War, with a crime punishable by death!"
Hornblower ducked his head to one side. "Sir, if I may
say so, I don't recall that article ever existing."
"Um, all right."
Ha ha ha, what a wimp, thought Pellew. Now to my next
"Mr....what is your name again?"
"Andrews," the broken-jawed cook said brightly, "Nigel
Papworthy Andrews, at'cha service!"
"Ah, Mr. Andrews," said Pellew. "Can you tell
what happened last night when Midshipman Oldroyd
Oldroyd scratched his head. He didn't remember
escaping, except when, perhaps, the men dragged him
out that morning. Maybe he had been sleepwalking. Yes,
the must have been it.
Unfortunately, Nigel Papworthy Andrews did not have so
strong a memory. "Wot? Sir, I don't remember him
A sharp kick from Pellew's boot warned him to shut up
and read the script.
"Oh. OOOHH." The cook took something out of his
pocket, unfolded it, and with some difficulty read it
"Never in my life have I been so frightened Captain
the man came up behind me and whacked me on the 'ead
saying "Hand over your avocados cooky or I'll mop the
floor wi' you" "No" I said "That's against the
Articles of War Article number 65 and 1/2 punishable
by death" "Oh ho ho" said he "We'll just see about
that" And gave me another whack "All right I
surrender" said I and 'anded over the avocados I do
believe 'e's 'oarding them sir this very moment in
fact--" Here Nigel stopped to take a breath, and
promptly lost his place. "Er...ah...where was I?"
"I think enough has been said here!" Pellew
interrupted. "Mr. Bracegirdle, report!"
"Right here, sir."
"Show us what you and your men found in Oldroyd's bunk
this morning, sah!"
A gasp went through the crowd as Mr. Bracegirdle
revealed the box of avocados, carefully prepared by
"There you have it, men!" Pellew hollered. "Oldroyd
guilty! He will be hanged!"
The crew shook their heads in disbelief. Oldroyd
shrugged a little. "It was a noice life," he said, and
waved to Matthews and Styles. "See you fellows!"
He's not supposed to be happy about this, Pellew
thought distastefully. Then, suddenly, Hornblower came
forward again. Always the little hero...
"Oldroyd is not guilty, sir! There IS NO Article
number 65 and 1/2!!!"
Another gasp went through the crowd.
"Oh, no? Have a look for yourself!"
Pellew threw the book down at him, marked "Articles of
War, H.M.S. Indefatigable." Hornblower caught it
clumsily and there, sure enough, it was written. He
read it out loud, miserably, "'Article number 65 and
1/2. No man is to ever, ever offer a shipment of fresh
avocados to another frigate, or he will be punished by
death.'" Hornblower looked up. "I don't
know...something smells fishy about all this."
"I think it's Styles."
"Do shut up, Mr. Kennedy." He continued to read over
the mysterious article. "It appears...hmm...as if,
well, as if it was written over something."
"Let me have a look." Kennedy pored over the writing.
"By George, you're right, 'Ratio! You can just tell
"WELL, gentlemen," Pellew interrupted in a panicky
sort of way, "that's that. Come on, hand up the
Articles. Captain's business, you know.
And--oh!--would you look at that! It's time to hang
Oldroyd!" He laughed wildly.
"Wait!" Hornblower kept a firm hold on the book.
"There's no Article 66 in here! It goes straight from
65 and 1/2 to 67!"
A third gasp from the crowd.
"And there's something behind this!" Kennedy
exclaimed. "Look!" He peeled away some of the paper
around the words "Article number 65 and 1/2" to reveal
more writing behind it. "Yes! HERE'S Article 66!"
"But why would it be hidden by Article number 65 and
1/2?" Hornblower wondered.
"Hmm, isn't that odd," said Pellew absently. "Hand
over the Articles, lads. You're holding up the crew!"
"Captain Pellew, this is injustice!" Kennedy cried.
"Just what Mr. Hornblower said, there IS no Article 65
and 1/2, and we can prove it!"
"Ahem." Kennedy stood there for a moment, feeling
rather proud of their discovery. "'Article number
66,'" he read. "'Any man who ever, ever offers a
shipment of fresh avocados to another frigate shall be
commended by his Captain and promoted as well.' There
you have it, Captain!"
"You cannot prove this!" Pellew spluttered. "Mutinous
acts! Mutinous acts!"
"Yes, we can prove it. Your witnesses are phonies,
sir." Kennedy snatched the handwritten script from
Nigel Papworthy Andrews. "You made Mr. Andrews read
from a false testimony, and you rigged Oldroyd's bunk
to make it look as if he had hoarded avocadoes."
Nods of agreement from the crowd.
"No...no!" Pellew shouted. "My world! My beautiful
"Oldroyd is INNOCENT!!!!"
Pellew dived down from the helm, straight at Oldroyd.
Oldroyd, caught completely off guard (he had been
engaged in a mice game with Styles and Matthews), gave
a cry of surprise and tumbled overboard.
"Oldroyd!" Styles leaned over the railing,
horrorstruck. Nothing came to the surface, no curly
plastery head, no cheery voice to answer. Only a few
bubbles, and then he was gone. "Oldroyd..." For the
first time in his life, Styles sniffed.
"Your attention," Pellew ordered solemnly. His
furiosity seemed to have diminished after seeing
Oldroyd over the edge with dignity. "No one shall ever
speak of this incident again, is that clear? If they
do, they will be punished by death. I hope you all see
that this was all for the betterment of the crew, only
to bring grace to His Majesty's Navy once again."
No one could answer. But he was the Captain, after
all...and they all wished to live.
And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind
is in the trees,
When the Indy is a ghostly frigate tossed upon
When the ocean's a mirror of moonlight, shadowed from
boat to boat,
Oldroyd comes a-sailing,
The Fanny Fearless comes a sailing, its fearless
*** THE END *** or is it?