Horatio Hornblower's Very Bad Day
by Bev F.
Note: If you haven't read the hhfic stories, there are spoilers to
follow. Of course if you haven't read the hhfic stories, this whole
story will be complete gibberish!
"Mr. Kennedy, what are you doing here in the sick berth?"
"Mr. Hornblower, what are you doing still wearing your frilly
"But I'm not..." Horatio's words trailed away as he looked down.
Damnit, Archie was right! He *was* wearing his frilly nightshirt. He
distinctly remembered donning his smart Lieutenant's uniform before
leaving his cabin. How could he be so wrong?
"I - I was concerned about your health, Archie, so I wasted no time
in dressing. " There, that explanation would have to do, until he
could think of a better one. "I am very concerned, Archie. You don't
look at all well. Did you fall?"
Archie plucked at the blanket covering him. "To tell the truth,
Horatio, I don't know. When I awoke - well, I was here in the sick
berth. As far as I can tell, my shoulder hurts, my chest hurts and my
stomach hurts - in two places. My hand's broken. My
head's pounding - obviously I was knocked unconscious during the
battle and don't remember. Did we win?"
"What battle, Archie? The last week has been entirely uneventful."
Archie must have had another fit, fallen, and injured himself
severely. That was the only explanation.
A tall foreign-looking gentleman with long, graying black hair strode
into the sickberth and advanced on Archie.
"Who are you?" chorused Horatio and Archie.
"Must be a Spanish prisoner," said Archie, "From the battle where I
received my wounds. Call the Marines!"
"There was no battle, Archie." Horatio turned his gaze on the
stranger, who had advanced to the side of Archie's cot, and taken
hold of the blanket covering his friend. "And you sir, harm this man
in any way and I'll have you in irons!"
"But I am Dr. Sebastian," the strange fellow answered calmly, and
folding back the blanket, started prodding the bandages swathing
"Dr. Sebastian?" chorused Horatio and Archie.
"Where's Dr. Hepplewhite?" Horatio watched as Dr. Sebastian, or
whatever he insisted on calling himself, laid a hand on Archie's
flushed skin and shook his head. Well, the fellow seemed to know
something of medicine; probably a landsman pressed at their
last port of call, who fancied himself a surgeon. Horatio edged
towards the door, and opening it slightly, called to a crewman
walking by, "You there, find the Captain of Marines and tell him that
Lieutenant Hornblower wishes him to come to the surgery with a
few of his men. Quickly now! " There - that should put a stop to
this foolishness. Only too late he realized that a squad of Marines
would shortly materialize here, and he was still clad only in his
"So where is Dr. Hepplewhite, Dr.- er - Sebastian?" Archie was asking
as Horatio resumed his place by his side.
"Left behind in Gibraltar, I believe, Mr. Kennedy. Surely you
Aghast, Horatio realized that he himself did not remember what surely
would have been a momentous occasion. Obviously, the impostor was
mad; and being mad, lived in his own world - a world where Mr.
Hepplewhite had indeed been left behind in Gibraltar.
The door opened. The Marines at last - come to restore this poor
babbling fool to his rightful place - the brig. He'd make sure that
the man was not punished for impersonating an officer; in his own
way, he was as sick as Archie seemed to be.
Captain Pellew stepped into the sickberth. "Good morning, Dr.
Sebastian, " he said to the foreign-looking gentleman. "I understand
Lieutenant Hornblower summoned the Marines. What seems to be the
"No trouble at all, Captain Pellew, " Dr. Sebastian answered. "Mr.
Hornblower is not himself this morning, it seems."
"Well, Mr. Hornblower, " Captain Pellew said, turning the full force
of his stern visage on Horatio. Horatio was speechless. "Come on,
don't just stand there with your mouth open - report, sir!" Then
Captain Pellew's eyes narrowed. "Whatever are you doing
standing there in your frilly nightshirt!"
"I - well, I - um, sir...."
"And speaking of nightshirts, I've heard a rumor that you've spent
the night with Her Grace, the Duchess of Wharfedale."
"Spent the night with the Duchess of Wharfedale?" chorused Horatio
"Well, what have you to say for yourself, sir!"
"I - um - I..... " Horatio sputtered. "I - only promenaded on cliffs
and had conversations with Her Grace, sir..."
"Damn your impudence, sir! Knew she was a spy in the pay of the
British government, and thought you could ingratiate yourself,
perhaps further your career, sleep your way to the top..."
"I do protest, sir..." Horatio desperately brought his thoughts to
bear on any possible explanation for a strange foreign doctor in the
sick berth and a captain who stood there accusing him of - well, of
not being a gentleman and treating every woman with
"Protest? How dare you! *I* am the only one allowed to sleep with Her
Grace and don't you forget it. And you a married man!"
"Married?" chorused Horatio and Archie.
"Have you become so besotted with an older woman that you've
forgotten your dear wife Pamela? I had thought a spunky girl like
Pamela would be a match for you, after your heartless abandonment of
Gemma. I see that far from having a glorious future before
you, you've turned into a dastardly philanderer."
The door opened once again. Surely the Marines had now arrived.
Horatio cast his mind quickly over the Articles of War. One of them
must cover the madness of a captain, and the proper procedure to
follow in that event. He'd wrested command of the Papillon
from Simpson with a few stern orders - but Captain Pellew was an
entirely different matter.
"Hello, Mr. Brandon, " Captain Pellew said, as a young boy, with dark
blond hair and large fair eyes, not much more than five feet tall , marched to the
other side of Archie's cot, and proceeded to prod Archie's other
"Mr. Brandon?" chorused Horatio and Archie.
"There, Mr. Kennedy, you mustn't excite yourself. We don't want those
stitches coming out, do we? How's your head feel?"
"It aches abominably, " Archie said, than looked at Horatio with
frightened blue eyes.
"I'll brew you some willowbark tea, " the young man said. Turning
away, his gaze fell on Horatio. "I hope your wife's leg is healing
nicely. I'm sorry the stitches were so badly done." Captain Pellew
chortled a little, and Dr. Sebastian smiled. Horatio
shook his head. Surely some of the morning fog must have somehow
penetrated his brain and muddled up his thoughts. If he did have a
wife named Pamela, why would talk of her stitches cause such mirth?.
Something warm and furry brushed past his bare leg. "What the devil!"
he shouted, then catching Captain Pellew's still stern look, pulled
himself up a little straighter and firmed his jaw - that at least was
better than standing about with his mouth open.
His captain might be going crazy, but Horatio could not shake his
respect for the office.
A huge brown striped rat hopped up onto Archie's cot and nestled
itself against Archie. Horatio had to move quickly; his friend Archie
was too ill to defend himself from such vermin so he must do it for
"Mr. Hornblower, whatever are you doing?" Dr. Sebastian gently
deflected Horatio's outstretched arm. "Surely you remember Bandit,
the ship's cat?"
"Ship's cat?" chorused Horatio and Archie .
"He's been of great value to me here in the sick berth - he lies with
my patients and they pet him - very soothing, I've been told . He has
done wonders for morale. I understand you yourself made use of his
services after you were wounded in - a duel, I believe?"
Horatio blinked rapidly. Well, he certainly remembered the duel - if
so, why had he no recollection of a cat?
"He's right, Horatio, " Archie said, stroking the large animal which
apparently was a cat, not a rat. "I feel very soothed."
The door opened again and a young man with curly dark hair and a wide
smiling face came in. The sick berth was becoming crowded.
"And who are you?" Horatio snapped the question. How many more
infernal strangers would come through that door before he could
escape and clothe himself as befitted a Lieutenant in His Majesty's
"Why, Horatio, don't you remember me? I'm Terry Whitehall!"
"I'm sorry, sir, but I don't believe I've had the pleasure..."
"Come, come, Mr. Hornblower, surely you recognize your old childhood
friend!" Captain Pellew said." I'm afraid, Mr. Whitehall, that Mr.
Hornblower is not himself today." .
"I can see that - why, he's still wearing his nightshirt. Sorry,
Horatio, I'm not here to see you. I've come to ascertain whether Mr.
Kennedy is fit to stand trial tomorrow."
"Trial?" Archie quavered.
"I know you'd like to forget about it, Mr. Kennedy, but there's no
getting round it. I do believe I have a good defense, but you must be
prepared to plead 'Not guilty' to the charge of murder."
"Murder?" chorused Horatio and Archie.
"May I inquire whom Mr. Kennedy is charged with murdering, Mr. - um -
Whitehall?" Horatio asked, laying a comforting hand on Archie's
shoulder. The thought of his friend murdering in cold blood was
simply not to be entertained.
"Why, Horatio, I'm surprised! You must know Mr. Kennedy is charged
with murdering Mr. Creps, of the Courageous. There is no doubt he
caused Mr. Creps' death, but I do believe there are facts in this
case I have not been informed of."
"Perhaps I may be of help here, " interjected Captain Pellew. "Mr.
Hornblower, surely you must recall our conversation that
Conversation? Christmas? "Um - ah - which Christmas might that be,
"Well, it wasn't the Christmas when you helped deliver that baby. And
it wasn't the Christmas when the turkey flew by my window. " Captain
Pellew tapped the side of his head slowly with his finger. "Aha, I
have it! It was the Christmas when I hit you with
Baby? Turkey? Snowball? By now Horatio had learned not to question
Captain Pellew's wild ranting. Perhaps the whole ship had conspired
to play a sick joke on himself and Archie.
"Come, Mr. Hornblower," Captain Pellew continued. " Surely you
remember the information you passed on to me regarding Mr. Kennedy
and .... Simpson!"
"Simpson?" whimpered Archie.
"I understand Mr. Simpson cast Mr. Kennedy adrift..." Horatio said.
"A minor matter, that, Mr. Hornblower. I was referring to ...."
Captain Pellew leaned his head towards Horatio and whispered, " ... a
possible case of rape..."
"Rape?" chorused Horatio and Archie.
Archie's fever-brightened face flushed an even deeper red. Good God,
Horatio shuddered, poor Archie - he will never trust me again. Though
for the life of me I can't remember...
The door opened again and a gangly young man in a Midshipman's
uniform stepped inside. "I beg your pardon, Captain Pellew, " he said
as he knuckled his forehead, " The dispatch vessel has just come. I
have letters here for Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy."
"Very good, Mr. Cousins." Captain Pellew answered, taking the sheaf
of letters from the boy and holding them out to Horatio.
"Mr. Cousins?" chorused Horatio and Archie.
Horatio tutored the middies and knew each one by name. Mr. Cousins
was a stranger. Perhaps there *had* been a battle and he'd been
knocked on the head, along with Archie.
"Stop your dawdling, Mr. Hornblower! I haven't got all day! If you
will please take these letters...." Captain Pellew shoved the letters
into his nightshirt-covered chest and Horatio grasped at them
clumsily. "Now, give Mr. Kennedy his and you have my permission
to read yours immediately."
"Yes - um, yes, sir." One letter was addressed to him - in his
father's handwriting, it appeared, by God! and three bore Archie's
name, all in a feminine script, but none of them written by the same
person. He laid Archie's on the blanket-covered cot, and
proceeded to open his.
"Dear Son:" the letter began. Had he received a letter from his
father before? He couldn't remember, but the way this day was going,
he was not surprised. Hastily he skimmed the careful precise
handwriting - 'enjoyed your Christmas visit - how is your young
friend Archie progressing - hope you have completely recovered
from your wounds - I mourn your absence - ' then skipped to the end,
to read his own father's name written there. Whatever was he going on
about? Wounds? Mourn his absence? Did his very own
father also suffer from the strange malady which had struck down
"Bad news, Mr. Hornblower?" Captain Pellew asked.
"Um - well - I don't know, sir. This letter from my father - " He
held the letter out and Captain Pellew plucked it from his hand.
"Why, this letter is dated only last month! Mr. Hornblower, you
sometime ago received a letter informing you that your father had
"D - died, sir?"
"Yes, indeed. Well, which is it then, Mr. Hornblower, is your father
dead or alive? Come on, answer me, sir!"
"Um - ah ..." Up to this very minute, he would have sworn Dr.
Hornblower was alive. Yet here was his Captain informing him that his
father was possibly dead. Of course, Captain Pellew was quite mad -
damn, was his father dead or alive? Now even he was not
He was saved from answering a question for which he had no certain
reply by a small cry from Archie.
"What's wrong, Archie, bad news? "
Archie looked up at him, a very bewildered look in his blue
eyes. "Horatio, have I ever made mention to you of a young lady named
Lucy Addington, or Amy Bradley, or Susan Northcote?"
"Not to my knowledge, Archie. Why do you ask?"
"Well, I seem to have received love letters from all three of them!"
"I don't know why you're complaining; I've been to bed with the
Duchess, abandoned Gemma and am now married to Pamela!"
"Well, at least you know the Duchess!"
"Now, now, " Captain Pellew broke in, "None of this childish
bickering now, Lieutenant Hornblower, Lieutenant Kennedy..."
"Lieutenant Kennedy?" chorused Horatio and Archie.
"But I'm only an Acting Lieutenant, " Archie said.
"Nonsense, Mr. Kennedy. You passed your exam with flying colors.
Which is more than I can say for Mr. Hornblower. You know you can
thank the Spanish and their fire ship for your promotion, don't you,
Mr. Hornblower?" Captain Pellew glared at him.
Horatio swallowed hard. "Um - yes, sir." At least he remembered his
botched lieutenant's exam and the fireship which saved him in more
ways than one.
"And Sir, " Archie continued, a letter shaking in his hand. " Susan
says I'm to become a spy!"
"What a splendid idea, Mr. Kennedy! You might very well end up
working with Her Grace - or should I say Kitty Cobham?"
Horatio gave up trying to keep his mouth closed. "You know, sir?"
"Well, of course I know! I'm surprised you would take me for such a
fool as not to recognize one of our most accomplished actresses. And
Mr. Kennedy, I do believe you've had the pleasure of working with
Miss Cobham before."
"Sir?" Archie said.
"Why in Drury Lane of course. I understand the play was "Romeo and
"Romeo and Juliet?" chorused Horatio and Archie.
"And a splendid job you made of it too, Mr. Kennedy. As a spy, you
may be called upon to fill many roles. Of course I am not surprised
at your talent - I seem to remember a certain Mr. Beadle in
Portsmouth that was quite taken with your talents."
"And you saved my life, Mr. Kennedy, "Brandon spoke up. "Now that was
a fine performance you performed for my father! You had me believing
you, I can tell you that!"
Horatio glanced at Archie, and Archie returned his stare. Did he look
as miserable and frightened as his friend? No doubt he did. He felt
as though he'd been suddenly thrust into a play himself; without
knowing his lines or seeing a script. He almost checked his body
for strings; thinking perhaps he had turned into a
puppet, at the mercy of some mad puppeteer. But no, no strings, only
that infernal frilly nightgown.
The door opened and Mr. Bracegirdle came in. The sick berth was now
"Thank God, it's Mr. Bracegirdle!" chorused Horatio and Archie. All
was not completely lost; now that Mr. Bracegirdle had joined their
"Mr. Hornblower!" Mr. Bracegirdle's voice quivered, and his normally
rosy round cheeks were decidedly pasty in color. In his hands he
clutched a newspaper.
"Good morning, Mr. Bracegirdle," Horatio said. "Perhaps you have an
"But, you're - Mr. Hornblower - you're ..."
"Well, out with it, Mr. Bracegirdle, we haven't got all day, "Captain
"Is something the matter, Mr. Bracegirdle?" Horatio reached out a
hand to the portly gentleman, but Mr. Bracegirdle cringed. "Is that
the Naval Gazette, you have? Is there mention of Muzillac, perhaps..."
"Here, read this." Mr. Bracegirdle whispered. Horatio attempted to
obtain the paper from him, but his fingers obstinately refused to
catch hold, so he was obliged to read the paper still shaking in Mr.
"LATE IN ACTION ... " he skimmed the words rapidly " 'signal tower on
the French coast' .... 'Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower ...' 'struck
down by a sniper's bullet...' 'buried at sea....' " The words made no
sense. "But what does this mean, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
"It means, Mr. Hornblower, that you are dead!" Mr. Bracegirdle
answered, jabbing him in the chest with his finger.
"Dead?" chorused Horatio and Archie, and Horatio looked down to see
Mr. Bracegirdle's hand buried in his chest.
Dimly Horatio heard a bell ringing. Opening his eyes, he found
himself where he might expect to find himself on awakening, in his
cabin on board the Indefatigable. Frantically he looked around. Yes,
he was in his cabin, not the sick berth - though still
earing his nightshirt. That was to be expected; after all, he was in
bed. A dream then. All those strange people, Captain Pellew
describing all those strange events, Archie wounded, he himself -
dead - all a dream! Of course. There could be no other explanation.
Quickly he rose and dressed himself in his Lieutenant's uniform - a
little the worse for wear after Muzillac, but still his uniform.
Clapping his cocked hat on his head, straightening his back, clearing
his throat, he opened the door cautiously, not altogether
certain he might not trip over a Midshipman named Cousins or a
surgeon's mate named Brandon.
"Watch where you're going there, sir!" Hepplewhite barked, as Horatio
careened into him. Oh dear, dear Hepplewhite! Horatio could have
kissed the man, sad excuse though he was for a ship's surgeon.
"A very good morning to you, Hepplewhite!" Horatio said, breaking
into a smile. Ah yes, the world was back in its proper orbit indeed.
Horatio climbed the companionway, checked quickly to reassure himself
that his uniform had not suddenly turned into a frilly nightshirt,
crossed the deck, and took the last few steps up onto the quarter-
deck with feet so light, he felt himself floating.
he sun shone warmly, but not too warm; a glorious wind filled the
sails; all around him the crew holystoned the deck with remarkable
vigor; and the Indefatigable plunged through the deep blue of the
ocean with a spirit that gladdened his heart.
Stepping up to the larboard railing, he clasped his hands firmly
behind his back, and took a deep breath of the clean tangy sea air.
"A perfect day, Mr. Hornblower."
"Yes indeed, Mr. Kennedy. I'm glad to see you looking so well. "
Here, standing beside him at the rail, was the best proof he could
have that the terrible events unfolded in the surgery were indeed
just the stuff of dreams.
"I can assure you, Mr. Hornblower, I'm glad to feel so well. I had
the most unusual dream last night..." Archie stared at him. "And I'm
especially pleased to see you so well turned out in your uniform
instead of...." His voice trailed away, and he looked
out to sea.
"Instead of my nightshirt, you mean?" Involuntarily he glanced down,
but his uniform still remained comfortingly in place.
"My God, Horatio, did we share the same dream?"
"And you're not married?"
"Of course not! And I swear, I've never laid a hand on the Duchess!"
"I suppose it also means I'm still an Acting Lieutenant? I could have
wished for part of it to be true."
"Still an Acting Lieutenant, I'm afraid, Archie. But to have the same
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt
of in your philosophy."
Horatio chuckled. " I don't share your appreciation for the Bard, as
you well know, Archie, but I do believe you have quoted him most
aptly on this occasion. I found the beef tasted strangely last night
at dinner; probably we were both victims of a digestive upset. "
That must be the explanation; somewhere on their
travels he and Archie had reason to come upon those names, and it
was mere happenstance that the tainted food had caused them both to
suffer nightmares. Turning his head, he surveyed the hustle
and bustle of the crew on deck, and the more orderly activity on
the quarter-deck. Yes, the sun traveled its appointed path across the
sky, and the Indefatigable was the very model of a fine British
frigate with a fine British crew.
"Carry on, Mr. Kennedy, " he said, his pride and sense of well-being
filling his soul completely.
"Aye, aye, Sir, " Mr. Kennedy said. But just as Archie turned to
leave, something brushed against Horatio's leg, and he glanced down
to see a big brown striped cat.
The End (or just the beginning?)