by Maggie M.
Matthews looked at his young Captain. Yes, young still. Not yet 30.
He thought back to the nervous young boy of 17 who had arrived on "Justinian" exhausted with sea-sickness to be greeted with Styles' harsh joke: "There goes another of His Majesty's bad bargains." He remembered young Kennedy's kindness to the lad and his furious words to Styles. Thank God HE had not been a part of Simpson's sick joke a few days later which sent the inexperienced youth up to the fighting top and left him dangling and terrified on the rigging.
The rigging. Matthew's stomach still turned when he thought of the boy, covered in bruises inflicted by Simpson, hanging on the rigging for in the freezing January rain. The misery and agony in those young eyes. Matthews' whole boy had ached to climb up and free the lad. It had not been possible though while Ecclestone had been on deck. He could only turn away and not join in the jokes of the other seamen. At last after two and a half hours Ecclestone had gone. With Kennedy he had helped to get him down and carry him to the sick berth. Together they had tried to rub life back into stiff and bruised limbs. Semi-conscious, the boy had whimpered with pain. He could be an uncaring bastard that Ecclestone.
Matthews looked back at his Captain.
"You are pirates," he was saying to the unfortunate Frog captain before him. "I am going to hang you."
A shiver passed through Matthews at the metallic ring in the voice he knew, and loved, so well. He was aware of course that his Captain was play-acting. This bunch of Frogs had cut out the "Amelia Jane", a West Indian packet, and Hornblower was trying to find out where their vessel was. But a part of Matthews was frightened that his Captain was ENJOYING his role as the blood-thirsty tyrant.
He thought about the inexperienced young midshipman who had been given command of the prize vessel "Marie Galante" and how THAT French captain had tried to brow-beat the youngster into making for Bordeaux. Characteristically the lad had stood firm. Probably only Matthews knew how fearful he had been of losing his first command. Only Matthews had seen the uncertainty in the eyes, the tremble in the hands, the quaver in the voice. Appointed petty officer, he had been forced to fill in certain gaps. The correct setting of the sails, the command of the Frog crew, the work at the helm. Ultimately he had been forced to persuade the heart-sick boy that the little ship must be abandoned. Till his dying day he would remember the tears in the lad's eyes as they pulled away from the sinking vessel. Dear God, he had even had to remind the boy to cock his pistol!
Yet the lad's courage and ingenuity had always been apparent. In the open boat he had refused to endanger Finch's life and had, somewhat theatrically, thrown the compass over the side: "Fish for it!" Even now Matthews could not restrain a wry grin at the thought of it. He had held this breath at the time though. For a split second he thought the furious Frog captain would shoot the impudent boy. But he only received a split lip. Had that hoary captain, in spite of himself, joined the long list of would-be fathers that the boy seemed to unwittingly attract? In any case the lad certainly outwitted the seasoned captain with his false plotting ruse. How the seventeen year-old had enjoyed that! Never told Captain Pellew though. Matthews knew that this was the punishment the boy had inflicted on himself for not realising soon enough that the rice cargo would tear apart the holed vessel. Matthews had been forced to whisper the truth to Pellew himself.
It had been a recurring feature of the boy's career that he would punish himself far more sternly than others were prepared to. There had been exceptions of course. The cold Ecclestone. Simpson, the perverted bully, who had nearly killed the boy three times. Only days after the "Marie Galante" affair, Lt. Bolton, perhaps a little jealous of the lad's flair, had given him a severe beating for a questionable charge of insubordination. Matthews had been forced to keep Styles out of Bolton's way for at least a week. Every time he saw him he made a fist and walked towards him. It seemed to be no good pointing out to him that the lad's pain would not be lessened by having to witness Styles swinging from the yardarm. Yet Captain Pellew too had been furious and when the opportunity presented itself, Bolton was replaced by the avuncular Lt. Bracegirdle. Then of course there had been Don Massaredo but he seemed to have acted entirely against how own wishes.
Matthew's revery was suddenly cut short. Hornblower had been listening to the French captain's pleas with a stony face. Without answering, he turned around to Matthews.
"Matthews", he said. "I'll have a hangman's noose on the end of that line."
The "Amelia Jane's" captain baulked at that.
"But you can't be meaning to hang the poor devils. Not in my ship, sir not now not without trial."
Hornblower's attitude towards him was apparently brutal:
"In your ship, sir, which you allowed to be captured. Pirates taken red-handed can be hanged instantly, as you know, sir. And that is what I shall do."
Play-acting still. Of course, yet a chill went down Matthews' spine.
Hornblower was a husband and father now. His little daughter was only days old. Yet instinctively Matthews felt sympathy for his wife. For she was married to a man who seemed to have lost a part of his soul. To a man who, once had had reported the "Atropos" ready for sea, had given no farewell to his wife lying in childbed, nor a last parting to his little boy and new-born daughter. Matthews had been saddened by such apparent proofs of indifference.
Inevitably he had thought back to the solemn boy who had cared so much for his division and for his friends. Oh yes, right from the beginning there had been a ruthless streak. Had he not threatened Styles, Oldroyd and Matthews himself with a flogging round the fleet when he had discovered them rat-baiting in the hold? Yet Matthews had understood that the lad had to stamp his authority on the ill-disciplined rabble that Simpson had turned them all into. Yes, he had understood that.
And there had been so many wonderful acts of concern and kindness. The boy had been devastated by Clayton's death at the hands of Simpson. That evening Matthews had surprised him sobbing at the taffrail when he thought no-one could see him. He had fought tenaciously for the life of Davey Williams and his shocked grief at the young seaman's funeral had been painful to watch. But more than anything else, Matthews had been delighted to witness the friendship developing between Hornblower and Kennedy. How the one relied on the strengths and weaknesses of the other. God, how Kennedy had suffered at the hands of that bully Simpson. The extent of the abuse was well known on "Justinian". Indeed young Kennedy had been reviled as the plaything of Simpson. Hornblower by his formidable strength of will had stopped all that. He had refused to bend to the will of the bully, yet he never showed any contempt for Kennedy.
Matthews sighed. Hornblower almost from the start had displayed the type of honour and courage that marked him out from other men. Captain Pellew had very quickly been dazzled by the brilliance of the boy. Yet he was also prey to bouts of crippling melancholy and self-blame. That was the reverse of the shining coin. Kennedy was the only person who could deflect these self-inflicted wounds. With that open smile and quick wit he would lead his friend safely away from the shoals of despair. Hornblower would only accept such attempts from Kennedy. It was as if he needed that piece of the puzzle to complete his personality. Quite simply, they had been good for each other. Hornblower built up Kennedy's confidence and self-respect, Kennedy corrected Hornblower's flawed self-perception.
Matthews remembered well the lad's despair after the Papillon cutting-out, when it seemed that Kennedy was lost. Simpson's death at the hands of Captain Pellew had been a boon for them all, yet for months Hornblower had carried out his duties like an automaton. Matthews could well imagine how the boy had been ripping himself apart. He had been forced to knock out Kennedy himself. In his eyes it had been his fault alone that Kennedy was lost. Finally Captain Pellew and Lt. Bracegirdle had been forced to take the lad in hand. Matthews was aware that many difficult interviews had taken place. Captain Pellew had refused to lose his brilliant young midshipman to self-inflicted despair. He had given him so many duties that the boy had little time for introspection. Gradually his depression had lifted. Appointed Acting Lieutenant he had been placed under the direct tutelage of Lt. Bracegirdle and had been moved from the midship berth with its unbearable memories to officer quarters.
The Frog captain had by now completely broken down. He had given the name and bearing of his disguised trawler. But Hornblower seemed reluctant to abandon his scowl.
"I'd be sorry to miss a hanging," he mused, seemingly half to himself. "It's against my better judgement, but I'll wait before I hang these men. Matthews, I'll leave you on board with Styles. Keep an eye on these prisoners and wait for further orders."
So the charade was over. Matthews wasn't sorry. He was torn between admiration and repugnance. His young Captain was a strange paradox. Often men would try to appear better than they were. Hornblower's complex personality seemed to relish turning things the other way round. He loved to appear like a cold bastard, when in fact Matthews knew that his heart would be full of love or fear or excitement. There had been times when he was prepared to show his heart more openly. He had fought like a lion for the life of Finch and the soul of Bunting. At only 18 years of age his command of a plague ship and turned a despairing situation into one where good humour and camaraderie had been able to thrive. And all at a time when he was desperately trying to study for his exam, deal with a suicidal Bunting and a whining representative of the Diplomatic Service.
It was just as well that the terrified Frenchies he and Styles were guarding did not know of Hornblower's actual hatred of unnecessary loss of life. How he had surrendered "Le Reve" rather than expose his men to the ludicrous fight to the death that Hunter would have preferred. How he had refused to attempt any hear-brained escape plans that would cause unnecessary risk to the men. How he refused to escape at all without Kennedy by his side, even while Mr. Bull-at-the-gate Hunter was more or less accusing him of collaboration with the enemy. When even Styles was losing faith in their Captain, accusing him of thinking only of "how to board Her Ladyship."
Fondly, Matthews thought back to Hornblower's care for Kennedy. They all knew that the boy had tried to escape many times and had finally been thrown into a hole in the ground for a month. Over and again Matthews had been driven to peer into that squalid narrow hole and shuddered. No wonder Kennedy, entirely alone, had been driven to the brink of madness. But Hunter would not stop goading Hornblower over his loyalty to his friend. And Hornblower refused to justify himself, repeating only the words: "Kennedy's one of us. We go together."
Eventually Hornblower managed to persuade Don Massaredo to allow the dying Kennedy into the infirmary. Two weeks went by. Matthews knew that a desperate battle had been fought between the two youngsters. One determined to die, the other determined that he should not. Of course Hornblower had won. But not without a price. He had returned every day to see his men, and each time he looked more worn. There were huge black circles around his eyes. His brisk walk had turned into a stumble. Matthews' heart had ached for the boy. He and Kennedy had been to the brink of hell and it was not a foregone conclusion that either would be able to pull back from it. And Hornblower could easily see that the stupid Hunter was stirring up trouble and was becoming daily more insubordinate. When Kennedy had at last returned to the compound, the situation did not improve. He still looked desperately ill and totally unready for any escape plan.
And so the inevitable had happened. That silly kid Oldroyd had joined them and Hornblower had landed up in the hole. It certainly could have been worse. Two of Don Massaredo's men had died and three had been badly wounded. For one horrible moment it looked as if the don was going to shoot Hornblower outright. Yet he had inevitably joined that long band of father-figures that the courageous lad seemed to attract. And the don had lowered his pistol. He had practically pleaded with the youngster not to accept responsibility for the breakout. Impossible of course he knew that. Hornblower HAD to take the blame for the actions of one of his men especially an injured and despairing one.
God how the long, gangling lad who loved pace and movement must have suffered down there. One night he thought he heard sobbing coming from the hole and he had shed bitter tears of impotence himself. The men had no way of knowing how long the don intended to keep the boy down there. For Kennedy it had been a month. But after two weeks he had relented. A lot of damage had already been done of course. The father-jailer had sent his own doctor to attend to the suffering lad, but for a few horrible days it seemed that the youngster might lose his eyesight. And the men could hear the cries of their young officer as his limbs were racked with agonizing cramping pains. Oldroyd wept when he heard them and even Styles let up a bit on the young seaman. These terrified Frenchies would be surprised to learn that the "bloodthirsty" English captain so keen to hang them had never punished a rating who had betrayed him so openly, nor even spoken one world of reprimand to him!
Kennedy's attention to his two invalids, Hornblower and Hunter, had been exemplary. Matthews had always known the lad had a good heart. Somehow he had retained it through all the horror of "Justinian" and imprisonment. When they eventually returned to the "Indy" it was that courageous boy whose support of Hornblower led the men back again to El Ferrol. No wonder the friendship between the two young men had deepened. God, life in the Navy was a cruel bastard .
They hadn't realised at first. Styles and him. There was something anonymous about powder monkeys, poor little devils. A million years ago he'd been one himself. Taken from a Portsmouth orphanage when he was 11 years old and pressed onto a ship. Luckily for him it had been a good ship with a good captain. He had learnt quickly and been given more and more responsibility, acquiring new skills as he went. In truth it had been a thorough, if tough, training for life at sea. By the age of 16 he had acquired the strength and knowledge to become a topman, one of the aristocracy as far as the ratings were concerned. A kindly midshipman had even taught him how to read and write. He did not resent the life. He had sailed around the world many times and seen sights that few rich men could boast of seeing. Of course he had seen other things too. Sudden and bloody death, disease, abuse, starvation, cruelty. But somehow he had been watched over by a kindly angel and none of these evils had touched his own life too disastrously.
His two years on "Justinian" had been the worst.
A dying captain, aloof officers, inactivity and idle crew. The
recipe for an unhappy ship. And it was. Evil had flourished
on that stinking hulk. By rights, as part of Simpson's division,
he should have stayed on her. But somehow that benign angel had
swung into action yet again, and the whole division had been transferred
to the "Indy" where salvation had lain in the hands
of a dark-haired gangling youth with a tendency to vomit and a
paralyzing fear of heights
Powder Monkey: 2/8
Matthews looked at that youth now. Physically he hadn't changed that much. The curls were still dark brown, the limbs were still gangling, although they did seem to work together better now than in the awkward days of adolescence. There was still a tendency to vomit when the ship's motion changed and as far as he knew the fear of heights had never been completely overcome. It was the infant ability to command that had developed and grown beyond all recognition. As Captain Pellew had known it would. He had heard the bellow from the other end of the, admittedly small, ship.
"IF McCULLUM DIES, HANGING WOULD BE TOO GOOD FOR YOU. YOU HAVE A FAT, FLESHY BACK. THE CAT WOULD SINK DEEPLY INTO IT. YOU'VE SEEN MEN FLOGGED YOU SAW TWO FLOGGED LAST WEEK. YOU HEARD THEM SCREAM. YOU WILL SCREAM AT THE GRATINGS TOO, DOCTOR. THAT I PROMISE YOU."
Matthews knew that Hornblower was addressing Dr. Eisenbeiss. He knew that one of the midshipmen was a prince of the royal blood and that this Eisenbeiss was his "High Chamberlain". The boy, aged about 12, had seemed to settle very well. Hornblower had allowed no special privileges for him. He berthed with the other midshipmen. Eisenbeiss had been appointed ship's surgeon but he had not settled so well to the life. He had quarrelled with McCullum and seriously injured him in a duel. Matthews knew that this McCullum was very important to their mission, although he had no idea why. The interview was over, but Matthews could see that Hornblower was still literally shaking with rage. Matthews thought he had never seen him so angry, even when that mad bastard Sawyer had forced him, as bosun on the "Renown", to repeatedly beat little Mr. Wellard for no good reason, and Hornblower had been forced to watch.
Hornblower looked up at Matthews. He looked exhausted and preoccupied. But he always had time for Matthews. He seemed to physically shake himself and ran a hand through his hair.
"Sir," said Matthews. "I know this ain't a good time. But soomat's come up. And it needs your attention."
Hornblower had known Matthews now for going on 12 years. He trusted his judgement implicitly. He had a huge, almost filial, respect for the little seaman.
"Of course Matthews. Tell me what it is."
"Sir, I need to take you into the hold."
Hornblower considered the matter.
"I must issue some orders about the removal of Mr. McCullum from the Maltese hospital Matthews. Then I will be down directly."
It had been Styles who'd found the little boy. He had heard whimpering when he'd stowed away some tackle gear. A little powder monkey. About 10 years old. With a shock of blond hair.
He'd bent down to see what the problem was. The child was thrashing around. Uncontrollably. As if he was in the middle of . My God, he was having a fit! His little body was covered in bruises. But there was something else. It wasn't just bruising, there were other marks on the boy. The child had been beaten, there was no doubt about that. Styles' stomach lurched. He was transported back to the discovery of another young boy suffering and alone in a ship's hold, the "Justinian". To little Archie Kennedy, who had, years later, been redeemed by Mr. Hornblower and had grown into a fine man and a fine officer. But he had not been saved by Styles. Oh yes, Styles had tried to help him from time to time, but had been warned off by Simpson. And after that had mostly stayed away.
"No' this time," he muttered fiercely to himself. "No' this bloody time. And no' on Mr. 'Ornblower's ship."
He had stayed with the boy, trying to hold him so that he did less harm to himself. He'd called for Matt who had gone to see the Captain. God, they'd both been struck by it. The likeness. Gradually the movements of the little body had calmed and the lad had fallen blessedly into a deep sleep. Just like Mr. Kennedy used to. The small bundle was now curled in on itself either trying to contain the pain, or making itself as small as possible. Then Styles heard footsteps and voices.
"Styles found the little lad, Sir. 'E were fittin'. An' 'e seems to have been beaten."
Hornblower looked down sorrowfully at the little form. He despised bullies. Lord, he'd been the victim of one himself and HE'd been seventeen. This little lad how old was he? Nine or ten years perhaps. He bent down.
"Styles be so kind as to get some water for the child."
Matthews was looking closely at his Captain. HE had seen the astonishing likeness immediately. Oh, not just the blond hair. Not just the blue eyes, now in any case firmly shut. But the wide forehead, the small nose, the rounded chin and the perfect set of the lips. Styles had known Kennedy as a child. He had been dumbfounded by it.
Hornblower could see that the little body was covered in bruising. He removed his uniform jacket and placed it round the boy. He used some of the water Styles had brought to bathe the small face and turned it towards him. Matthews and Styles saw him gasp.
He stood up.
"Who is this child/"
Matthews took a deep breath.
"'E's a powder monkey Sir. I think 'e came from a orphanage near Deptford, with some other lads. They came onto't ship jus' afore you did Sir."
The lad was stirring.
"Someone will answer for this," Hornblower hissed. "Set up a comfortable place for the child here. I will be back as soon as I can. I have to see that Mr. McCullum is safely settled on board. Then I'll be back."
The "Atropos" was a tiny ship with no sick bay. She was only a little bigger than the "Hotspur" on which he had been a Commander for two years. Hornblower thought longingly of the well-equipped sick-bay on the "Indy". For various reasons he could do with those facilities now.
Half an hour later he had returned. The child was now fully awake and was drinking some hot broth, which Matthews was painstakingly spooning into him. Hornblower noticed that he was trembling, though he now had a good, thick blanket over him. His eyes fixed onto those of his Captain, whose God-like figure he had only seen before at a distance.
Again Hornblower gasped. The resemblance was uncanny. His stomach lurched as he crouched down beside the boy.
"Hello," he said. "What's your name?"
The answer seemed to echo through the hold.
"Archie. I ain' go' no uver name." The child gulped in panic. "SIR!"
That's alright Archie," said Horatio gently. God he never thought he'd say that name again. The name that was so dear to him. Archie had been the only person in the world who'd said his own name as if he were loved and cherished. Perhaps his mother had, but he couldn't remember. On the lips of his father it had sounded cold and formal. At school and in his early naval career it had been cause for amusement. To his inferiors he was "Sir" and to his superiors "Mr. Hornblower". Maria insisted on calling him "Horry", which he loathed.
Feverishly now his mind was juggling with dates. He had discovered Archie in El Ferrol in '95 when they'd both been nineteen. Archie had already been there three months, one of those in the oubliette. But he had previously escaped from captivity in France. He'd been on the run for a time. He had said that a French girl had helped him. But he had not said they had been lovers. Desperately he cast his mind back to their deep conversations and confidences in the El Ferrol infirmary. In the long desperate nights they had spoken of so many things. For the first time Horatio had heard of the true nature of Simpson's abuse. He had been appalled. It was as if the last shreds of his childhood had been torn away. He remembered he had sobbed when Archie had fallen asleep. Sobbed for Archie, sobbed for himself, sobbed for a cruel and heartless world. But the divulgence had been cathartic. From that time, Archie had turned back towards life.
With difficulty Horatio dragged his whirling mind back to the present. If the child had been conceived during that escape bid, he would be about ten years old. That seemed about right. But how could he end up in the East End of London?
Then something so extraordinary happened, that it took Horatio's breath away with a horrible pain. THE CHILD SMILED. A wide, infectious smile. Instantly and unbearably Horatio was taken back to that other smile:
"WELCOME TO PURGATORY!"
Powder Monkey: 3/8
Matthews had led his Captain away. Damn, this was such a small ship. There was no privacy anywhere. Where was it best to take him? A remote corner of the hold would have to do. God, the wound was as raw and unhealed as ever. After three years. Just as Matthews had suspected. The heaving sobs seemed to turn Hornblower inside out. Matthews had only rarely seen him weep. After Clayton's death. At the Muzillac bridge of course when that young French girl had died in his arms and Kennedy had rescued him. He had come out of the ensuing interview with Captain Pellew in a bad state too. Kennedy had spirited him away up to the topgallants. Matthews, Styles and Oldroyd had followed. He could still feel the exhilarating joy of the wind and the freedom. But mostly he saw again the wonderful smile that had lit up the lad's face. Instinctively now Matthews put a protective arm around his shoulder.
"Sir," he murmured. "I' was mean' to be. Jus' like you was mean' to find Mr. Kennedy at El Ferrol. Think of the odds against THA'. Mr. Kennedy 'as sen' us 'is son. We'll care for 'im and mek sure the little lad 'as the righ' chances in life."
Gradually the soft murmuring of the well-known voice calmed the sobs a little.
"I know you miss 'im somethin' terrible Sir. We all do. But you 'specially."
Horatio made a huge effort to pull himself together.
"Yes," he whispered hoarsely. "I have dreams that we're all back safe. On the "Indy". But when I wake up .."
Another massive effort for self-control.
"I swore to myself that I would never love another human being. But you're right. Mr. Kennedy has given us this gift. And we'll do the right thing by him."
He wished that Archie had trusted him enough to speak of his relationship with this girl. But perhaps because of Simpson, Archie had always been shy of opening up his deepest feelings. Horatio was glad that his friend had found love and comfort during his terrible ordeals. In his heart he thanked this young French girl who had afforded them to him. He had never heard of another girlfriend. Perhaps secretly Archie had hoped to find the girl again one day. When the wars were over. He remembered asking in their cell:
"Do you have a sweetheart in England Archie?"
There had been no answer of course, for his friend had been busy. Trying to die. With bitterness, Horatio remembered that he had nearly left his concern too late.
"Is the Cap'ain cross wiv me Mister?" the little boy asked anxiously. "'E won' send me back to the orfnage when we ge' back, will 'e Mister? On'y I likes it be'er 'ere, even if I ge' bea' now an' then. Go' worse bea' in the orfnage anyways."
Styles closed his eyes. He sounded like a young Oldroyd. Oldroyd. Blown away by a Frog cannon ball when they were about to leave the "Indy" for service on the "Renown". At least the lad had missed all THAT heart-ache.
"No, young'un. He ain' cross with yer. 'E's worried 'bou' yer, tha's all."
The lad tried to absorb this amazing piece of information. He didn't think anyone had been WORRIED about him before. Perhaps his mother but he'd been left at the orphanage too young to have any memories of her. She had left one thing a brass button. He carried it with him always. It had some marks on it "RN", though what they meant he had no idea. He suspected they were letters. But he'd never been taught to read or write.
He had never known his father of course. He supposed he must have had one at some time, though his knowledge of such things was a little hazy. He knew people looked down on him because he didn't have one. None of the boys at the orphanage seemed to have had one either. And in a blurry kind of way he'd come to the conclusion that if their own fathers, and mothers, hadn't wanted them, why should anyone else? And then there were the fits. That had set him apart even from the lowest. The kids had either laughed at him or called him names. "Frasher" had stuck. Because he was told he thrashed about when he had a fit. Well, he could have worked that out for himself. He would come to remembering nothing, but covered in bruises. One boy had told him that there must be a bad demon inside him. Maybe his father had been a demon and that's why his mother had left him in the orphanage .
Later that day the little boy found himself with Matthews in the presence of God. Or the nearest to God the lad had ever been. Not only that, but he was sitting on God's bed next to the seaman, while God sat on a chair looking at him with huge brown eyes full of concern and something else that he couldn't quite make out. Yes, this looked like a pretty human kind of God after all despite the gold braid. The face was white and drawn. The brown eyes were tinged with red. The brown curls reminded Archie of the only friend he'd had in the orphanage who'd died last winter spitting out blood from his lungs. The voice was soft and gentle. Nothing at all like the one that sent cold, clipped commands ringing around the ship.
"Archie.." The Captain spoke his name in a way no-one else ever had. He had not had much experience of love. But he felt that if someone ever loved him, that's the way his name would sound.
"Archie, no-one on my ship should ever be beaten, unless they have done something very wrong and I know about it."
Archie thought about this. In the orphanage he'd been beaten most days for something or other. Hadn't moved quickly enough, hadn't answered quickly enough, hadn't worked hard enough. It had seemed natural to him that the procedure would continue on board ship. And it had. Sutton, the carpenter's mate, seemed to take particular delight in beating him. Not with a stick. With his huge fists. Never on the face either. No-one had questioned him about it before. He picked on other boys too of course. But unfortunately one of the beatings had resulted in a fit. And Sutton could think of no greater sport than to bring on another one. Earlier today he had succeeded.
Archie knew that men could be flogged on this ship. He had seen two floggings last week. The Captain had stood watching with a hard look on his face. It had been horrible. There was blood everywhere and screams had filled the ship. Archie's stomach had tied itself into knots. Afterwards he had vomited into a slop bucket. What he didn't know of course was that his stern Captain had done the same thing ..
He knew that if he grassed on Sutton, his life would become worse. If Sutton were flogged, his life would not be worth a farthing. And who would notice one less powder monkey?
"No-one ain' bea'ing me Sir," he stated.
Horatio almost smiled a wry smile. He remembered the conversation with Lt. Ecclestone after Simpson had nearly beaten him to death all those years ago.
"I missed my foot in the dark last night and fell Sir."
"Onto both sides of your face at once? Mm? Come, no more of this nonsense. With whom did you fight? Well answer me! Quickly now, that you may be dealt with more leniently."
"I fell Sir."
"Very well. We shall see if a spell in the rigging can't teach you to tread more carefully."
He had often thought about that conversation afterwards. Was Lt. Ecclestone really unaware of Simpson's evil reign on "Justinian"? He thought he probably preferred not to become involved. But then why issue such a vicious punishment? Horatio still shivered when he thought of those hours spent suffering on the rigging in a freezing January rain. He knew that Archie and Matthews had cut him down after two and a half hours when the punishment was for a whole watch. They had faced serious disciplinary action for doing so Archie a beating, and Matthews worse. Yet Ecclestone had done nothing. Perhaps he HAD felt guilty after all. To this day Horatio suffered from leg cramps when it was cold. Of course the stint in the El Ferrol oubliette had not helped ..
He reached out to take the child's hand.
"I understand that you are afraid of this man. But we need to stop him hurting the other boys as well. He will have no more power over you. We will move you to the midship berth."
Archie looked astounded. The midship berth. For toffs, wasn't it? Not for the likes of HIM certainly. He shook his head.
"I won' belong wiv them sor's Sir."
This time Horatio DID smile. Had he, the son of a country doctor, not berthed with Archie Kennedy, third son of a Viscount? Was it not fitting that THIS Archie, unsuspecting grandson of a Viscount, should not berth with His Serene Highness of Seitz-Bunau, Great Nephew of King George himself?
But he had to go slowly on this one. One step at a time. He ruefully remembered the obstinate streak in Archie senior a mile wide. Horatio had been forced to navigate round it often enough.
He went briefly out of the tiny cabin and spoke with a seaman posted there. No marines on this little ship. A few minutes later Midshipman Smiley knocked on the door and entered. He looked worried. Of course a summons from the Captain made ALL midshipmen anxious. Smiley could not think of any way he had neglected his duties recently, but he knew his Captain had been in a particularly bad mood this morning. And it was natural for any captain to take out bad moods on luckless midshipmen.
Yet here was the Captain smiling. He liked Smiley in any case. He was an intelligent fifteen year-old lad with brown hair, freckles and an easy manner. He reminded Horatio of Henry Wellard. Lord, so much potential abused and squandered. Horatio had placed the young "Mr. Prince" under Smiley's care. He had seemed to take on the role of big brother with relish and the Prince had settled well into the ship's routine. Good, he could be big brother to two youngsters as well as one.
"Ah, Mr. Smiley. I want you to take Archie here to the midship berth. He is to be given a hammock. He will be put on your watch, and I expect you to guide him in his duties. Is that clear?"
Smiley looked at the little powder monkey. He thought that he'd seen him around, but they all tended to look the same. He did not know why the boy was to be "promoted" and it was none of his business anyway. What a challenge! He looked rather a pathetic little runt. He'd soon have him racing up the ratlines and playing with a sextant!
As he ushered the little boy out, a thought occurred to him.
"Sir. What name shall I write down on the watch bill?"
"Archie Kennedy," he said.
Matthews stood to go out.
"The little lad'll find it 'ard Sir."
"I know Matthews. And I have no right to issue him a warrant. We'll have to wait until we return home before things can be sorted and goodness knows that THAT might be."
"And when I get back, I shall adopt him as my son. I think there is little point in informing the Kennedy family of his existence. They would never accept him. They seemed to find it hard enough accepting Mr. Kennedy "
"You're probably righ' Sir," said Matthews. "Then 'e'll be Archie Hornblower, not Kennedy. But how are you going t'explain it all to 'im Sir?"
"Slowly Matthews. Bit by bit. Youngsters are very adaptable. I think he'll do well enough. If he's got his father's determination anyway!"
"You've go' a bit o' tha' yerself Sir!"
Matthews smiled to himself, remembering again how his Captain had dragged Kennedy back from the jaws of death.
"Well then, as long as we pull together and not against each other!"
Horatio shook himself from his revery.
"And now I must interview His Serene Highness of Seitz-Bunau to see if I can cadge a uniform off him!"
His Serene Highness answered the summons immediately, looking as anxious as his predecessor had. And probably with more reason, thought Horatio. He was a pleasant enough lad, for royalty, and had settled down well to the ship's routine. He had a mischievous side though. Last week he had persuaded his High Chamberlain, Eisenbeiss, that he had to go on watch at midnight and conduct the watch from the fighting top. The portly ship's doctor had nearly killed himself climbing up there. Luckily Styles had seen him and had helped him down again. Horatio had authorised a spell of mast-heading for the royal personage and had warned him that another such prank would earn him a caning. A warning that he had taken amiably enough, though his High Chamberlain had been scandalised at such a threat.
"You asked for me Sir?"
He was a quick lad, there was no doubt. His acquisition of English had been phenomenal and there was hardly a trace of a German accent. He seemed to have picked up all the naval jargon too. More than once had had heard the shrill tones of Mr. Prince exhorting the seamen with "Vast heaving" or "Come on, you no-sailors, you!" He had worked his way around most of the stations on the little ship, and each department head had declared him a quick and willing pupil. Time and again he had seen His Serene Highness racing Smiley (midshipman of the maintop) from the masthead, sliding down all the way and disdaining to use the shrouds and ratlines. The boy had certainly improved beyond all expectation. He was beginning to look the part too. The ringlets that had been in evidence when Horatio first met him at the Court of St. James's, just after Lord Nelson's funeral, had long been scraped back in more naval fashion and his midshipman uniform had become satisfyingly grubby. In fact he was just about reaching the stage of the perennial problem for the adolescent midshipman. He would soon be spurting out of his uniform with no opportunity to hand of acquiring a better-fitting one. Horatio remembered ruefully when his last spurt towards manhood, in Spain, had stranded him in a uniform several inches too short!
"Well Mr. Prince," said Horatio. It was strange that he was having to invent surnames for his midshipmen on this voyage. "Mr. Smiley will tell you that there is to be a new member of the midship berth. His name is Archie. Unfortunately he has no uniform. As he is about your size, I was wondering if you might loan him some."
The young Prince grinned amiably.
"Eisenbeiss bought me too much of everything Sir. I will be happy to give Archie anything he needs."
"That is indeed very gracious of you Mr. Prince. I was wondering if you could do me another favour?"
"Somebody has been hurting Archie on this ship and I want to know who. He wouldn't tell me, but he might tell you."
The Prince looked pleased.
"Aye aye Sir. Trust me. I will find out!"
Powder Monkey: 4/8
And so the "Atropos" continued on its strange mission to Turkish waters. Horatio was to recover treasure from the wreck of the "Speedwell" in Marmorice Bay and McCullum was to direct the operation with his Sinhalese divers. But McCullum had been shot by Dr. Eisenbeiss in a duel, and the whole mission was compromised. The touchy Scotsman seemed to be dying. Horatio had so such on his mind. He knew little about explosives or diving. Everything lay in the recovery of this man who was so near to death.
Sitting in his cabin on his only chair (made by the ship's carpenter) Horatio's mind went round and round the problem, but there seemed to be no obvious solution. Sometimes he felt that some evil genie was in charge of his life. He never had one worry when three would do. There was a knock on his cabin door.
"Come in!" he called, a little testily.
And there was Archie. In the Prince's spare uniform. With Smiley propelling him further into the cabin.
"You asked for us Sir?"
Horatio studied his new midshipman. He was small for his age but the uniform was not ridiculously too big for him. It suited him well enough. But how would the rest of the crew treat their new "warrant officer"?
"Well Mr. Kennedy," said Horatio with a twinkle in his eye. "How do you like your new berth?"
The boy gave that heart-rending smile.
"SIR," he whispered excitedly. "I go' an 'ole 'ammock to meself! Don' seem righ'. Wiv the uvers sharin' like."
The child suddenly looked nervous.
"But Sir, why's people callin' me MR. KENNEDY?"
Horatio turned towards Smiley.
"Thank you Mr. Smiley for bringing Mr. Kennedy. You can return to your duties now."
"Aye aye Sir!" replied the young man.
Horatio saw that he couldn't resist giving Archie an encouraging wink as he went out of the door. He was a good lad Smiley, no doubt about that.
"Archie. Come and sit next to me on the bed," said Horatio. "I need to talk to you."
Archie sat down obediently. He was becoming less scared of this Captain who treated him differently to anyone else he had ever known.
Horatio cleared his throat.
"Archie. Do you remember anything about arriving at the orphanage at Deptford. Or has anybody ever told you about it?"
The little boy shook his head.
"I were on'y a baby Sir and no-one ain' never told me nuffink. I've allas 'ad this though. Funny fing. I' looks jus' like the bu'ons on me coa'."
He pulled out the brass button from a pocket and gave it to his Captain. Horatio gasped. It was indeed a midshipman's button, with RN inscribed on it.
"Archie do you know what those letters stand for?"
"No Sir. No-one ain' never taugh' me to read."
"Well Archie. The letters stand for 'Royal Navy'. And this button belonged to your father."
"Bu' Sir," said Archie. "I ain' never 'ad no farver. Tha's why I were in the orfnage."
God, this was going to be hard. Horatio had to give back the child his father. And then take him away again.
"Archie, you DID have a father. His name was Archie Kennedy. He was my best friend and I loved him dearly. We served on the same ship called the "Indy". After a mission he was imprisoned by the French and escaped. That's when he met your mother in France. But he was imprisoned again and sent to Spain. And that's where I saw him again in a Spanish prison. I had been captured and sent there myself."
The boy's eyes had widened to an impossible degree. The puzzled expression mirrored his father's so exactly that it took Horatio's breath away.
"ARE YOU MAD? SIMPSON'S RECKONED ONE OF THE BEST SHOTS IN THE NAVY. HE'LL KILL YOU CERTAIN SURE!"
Then a look of shame came over the boy's face.
"Bu' SIR. Tha' would mean I'm 'arf FROG."
Horatio sighed. There was no way round this one. And he was going to have to creatively fill in a few little gaps in his own knowledge.
"Your mother was very courageous Archie. She helped your father when he was tired and ill and hungry. She gave him the love and strength to go on."
Archie considered this. Well, that wasn't so bad then. A COURAGEOUS Frog mother.
"D'yer know wha' 'er name was Sir?"
Oh God. How creatively was he going to fill these gaps? No. He couldn't tell the child outright lies.
"Archie I don't know. Your father never spoke about her. I think he wanted to protect her."
In spite of himself, Horatio felt a little stab of hurt at the pit of his stomach. Why HADN'T Archie ever spoken of her? Was it a private memory that he wanted to keep locked in his head? Knowing Archie, he couldn't believe that he had simply forgotten her. Even the Muzillac affair, when Horatio had lost Mariette, had not nudged him into any confidences. Unbelievably if Archie had lived, he could have made enquiries about her on his return from Kingston after the brief Peace of Amiens. On his deathbed why had he not asked Horatio to search for her? Perhaps he had not wished to burden his friend. And of course he would have had no idea that a child had been born .
Horatio steeled himself for the next bit.
"Archie, your father had no idea that you'd been born. Otherwise he would have searched for you."
He had to get the worst bit over with, and NOW.
"And he died three years ago in a battle at sea. One day I will tell you more about it ."
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. It was His Serene Highness with a speech he had obviously prepared carefully on his way down.
"Mr. Still's respects, Sir," he said. "And there's land in sight on the port bow."
"Very well, Mr. Prince," said Horatio automatically. "Tell Mr. Still I will be up directly."
He turned towards Archie, whose little face was clouded with misery.
"Archie, your father was a very brave man. The bravest man I've ever known. Now come up on deck with me."
Hopefully the excitement of anchoring in Marmorice Bay would distract the child a little.
"Aye aye Sir!" he cried and not without a hint of excitement. Yes, he was very young. He would adapt to all these new features in his life.
Dr. Eisenbeiss had operated on Mr. McCullum and his life was less in danger. The whole ship seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, even though the crew and most of the officers could only guess at his importance in the "Atropos's" mission. But down in the midship berth a hammock was shaking with the sobs of a child. A life-time of hiding sobs however meant they were very quiet indeed. Not quiet enough though to go unnoticed by the Serene Highness of Seitz-Bunau, whose hammock was in any case only a few inches from the other child's.
The Prince jumped from his hammock and approached Archie.
"Archie. What's the matter? Has someone hurt you?"
A muffled negative from under the blanket.
"Please talk to me Archie. Maybe I can help you. Can I come into your hammock?"
A muffled affirmative.
Gradually the younger boy's sobs seemed to calm. He felt an arm round him and looked into a concerned face.
"I likes you," said Archie. "I never for' a PRINCE could be as nice as you."
The Prince laughed bitterly.
"But what exactly am I prince OF? Napoleon Bonaparte chased me out of my country. My mother died when I was born. And my father was killed by the French. All I have is that stupid Eisenbeiss. And my Great-Uncle King George, who couldn't wait to get rid of me."
"Blimey! Then you're a bleedin' orfan, like me."
"If I told you I was," Archie could hardly get the words out. "If I told you I was ARF-FRENCH, would yer 'ate me?"
"No," said the Prince, without a moment's hesitation. "That would be silly. YOU didn't kill my father or grab my country."
"My farver died in a battle. A' sea. 'E was a 'ero," declared Archie proudly. But then his misery overcame him again.
"First I didn' 'ave no farver. Then I did. Then 'e was dead. I won' ever know 'im."
The child was overtaken once again by sobs.
The Prince thought for a moment.
"But people on board this ship knew him?"
"Yer. The Cap'ain, an' Maffews an' Styles an' maybe a few uvers."
"Then you will know him won't you? They can tell you all about him."
Archie brightened up a bit.
"Yer," he said. "I 'adn't for' o' tha'. The Cap'ain said 'e was 'is best friend an' the bravest man 'e ever knew!"
Archie suddenly realised that he had asked the Prince nothing about his own family. He was not by nature a selfish child, and he felt bad about it.
"D'yer miss YOUR farver?"
"Well, I didn't know him very well. I knew my tutor better. You see, he was always very busy. Running the country I suppose. No-one ever used to call me by my first name. No-one ever used to speak to me much at all really except my tutor."
"Would you like ME to call yer by your firs' name?" asked Archie shyly.
"Yes, I'd really like that. My first name is Franz. I have a string of others of course. I don't think I can remember them all myself!"
"Oh well," said Archie. "One'll do. I'll call yer Frankie!"
"Will you two shut up!" a morose voice came out of the shadows. It was Horrocks. A rather slow and sullen boy who Hornblower was trying to train in signals.
"My watch begins at dawn, and Horny will have my hide if I get those damnable signals wrong again."
Actually Horrocks had already donated a bit of his hide to a furious Lt. Still, after his lamentable performance when the "Atropos" had gone into Gibraltar Bay. It was THAT performance that had alerted Hornblower to the need for more signals drill from his midshipman.
"A'righ'. Keep yer 'air on!" said Archie. And as young children will, the two boys giggled their way into each other's hearts.
Powder Monkey: 5/8
It was a week later. McCullum was getting stronger every day. Horatio had, with his instructions and his Sinhalese divers, managed to locate the treasure in the "Speedwell" by blowing open a section of the hull. But then a Spring gale had blown up. The lack of exercise and occupation had led to sulkiness and bad temper amongst the crew. Horatio hated having to wait through these empty hours before knowing if he could recover the treasure. He had to rouse himself from his own inertia and exert himself to re-establish the good spirits of the ship's company.
"Messenger!" he called. "My compliments to Mr. Smiley and Mr. Horrocks, and I'll see them at once in my cabin."
Half an hour later both watches were assembled on deck by divisions. Horatio had insisted on all the idlers being there too. The gunner's crew, the sailmaker's crew, the waisters and holders. It was a relay race, up the rigging of each mast in turn and down again, port watch against starboard. It was the inclusion of the men who rarely, if ever, went aloft that gave spice to the proceedings. Soon divisions down on deck were dancing with excitement, especially the Pegasus-winged topmen, as they watched the slow ascent and descent of some lumbering gunner's mate or ship's corporal. Until he completed the journey, they were not free to dash to the next mast and start again.
The Prince of Seitz-Bunau came shrieking round the deck, wild with excitement. Horrocks and Smiley, captains of the two sides, were croaking like crows, their voices failing them with the continual shouting as they organised and encouraged. The Prince and Archie were on opposing sides. Archie had been in the midship berth for less than a month but already he was becoming fleet of foot aloft.
"Just as his father was," reflected Horatio ruefully to himself, as he thought about his own miserable performances on the rigging. Yet his heart jumped several beats as he saw a miniature Archie Kennedy racing and laughing. THIS Archie, like his father, had already known traumas in his young life, but Horatio swore to himself that he would shield him from as many as he humanly could in the future.
Almost inevitably, the two young friends ended up racing each other at the last. Everyone in the ship seemed to be shouting and gesticulating. Up ran the Prince, the shrouds vibrating with the speed of his passage. Archie reached the cross-trees and started down again. He did not even look to see where to put his feet, and he was coming down two ratlines at a time. The Prince reached the cross-trees and leaped for the deck stay. Down he came, sliding at a speed that must burn his hands. The friends reached the deck together but the Prince had farther to run to reach is place with his division. Archie was first by a full yard.
"Port watch wins!" announced Horatio with all the pride of a fond father. "Starboard watch provides the entertainment tonight!"
The starboard watch were anxious hosts and the port watch were critical guests, but the evening was a great success. There were sentimental songs and hornpipes and pieces of poetry. The Prince, a great favourite with the crew, sang a German lullaby that was greeted with riotous applause, even though not a word of it was understood. The music and sentimentality of the evening were somewhat wearisome to Horatio's soul, but, due to his efforts, a sullen and quarrelsome crew had become a willing and good-natured one. Suddenly though he looked around and saw that both the Prince and Archie were nowhere to be seen. It was like an irritating speck of dust at the back of his mind. They seemed to have been vastly enjoying the evening's entertainment and he did not think that they would willingly absent themselves.
He decided to investigate as unobtrusively as possible. He drew a blank in the obvious places. In a ship this small there weren't many. He even glanced aloft to check they were not carrying out night-time dares in the masts, as boys will. No, nothing. Beginning to feel alarmed, he decided to inspect the hold.
What he found there could not but make a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. There was the powerfully-built carpenter's mate, Sutton, being securely tied to a bale of sailcloth by the two Lilliputian figures Horatio was searching for.
The Prince looked up at him.
"Sir!" he said, not without pride in his bearing. "This is the man who hurt Archie. He took him down here to beat him, but I noticed him pushing Archie and I followed. Then I arrested him and we tied him up, so we could report to you."
That rather inappropriate smile seemed to be tugging at Horatio's mouth again.
"And how did you arrest him Mr. Prince?"
"I freed a pistol from the arm's chest Sir!"
"WHICH YOU NEGLECTED TO LOAD OR COCK!" thought Horatio, reflecting back to his own ignorance and carelessness during the "Marie Galante" episode.
"Thank you Mr. Prince," he said out loud. "You did very well indeed."
His glance swivelled to the cowering Sutton, and all humour drained from his face to be replaced by a threatening glower.
"You are a coward and a bully and tomorrow morning you will become acquainted with the cat. Tonight I am quite happy to leave you where you have been so efficiently secured."
Naked fear stalked the man's eyes, but he said nothing.
The boys followed Horatio up to the deck. Archie had not said a word. He was pale and seemed ill at ease. For a few moments a nightmare flash streaked through Horatio's mind. He could hardly let his brain even formulate the thought. What had taken place before the Prince had "freed" the pistol and affected the rescue? And what had happened those other times? He sent the Prince back to the 'tween-decks where most of the crew were still gathered and led Archie towards the taffrail. Red-hot anger seemed to be coursing through his body, but he tried to keep his voice calm.
"Archie, I want you to describe how this man hurt you. Not just tonight, but the other times too."
Archie didn't hesitate.
"Wiv 'is fists Sir."
"Did he just pick on you, or did he beat other boys too?"
"'E 'it a lo' of us Sir."
"Did he particularly pick on you?"
The answer was so quiet, Horatio had to bend towards the boy.
"Why do you think that was Archie?"
"One time when 'e bea' me I 'ad a fi' Sir. 'E used to fink it were funny."
That was bad enough. Was there anything worse? Horatio's stomach seemed to be tied in unbearable knots. He HAD to know. If there was any God out there, which he was beginning to doubt, surely father and son could not have suffered the same appalling fate.
"Archie. Did he ever do anything else to you? Did he ever hurt you in any other way? Did he ever touch your clothing?"
"No Sir," said Archie, and there seemed to be genuine surprise in his voice. "'E jus' 'it me wiv 'is fists, like wa' I said."
Thankfully the boy seemed to be telling the truth. He was certainly not going to ask any questions of him more direct than that. To destroy a child's innocence would surely be a damnable sin. Yet there seemed to be something else on the youngster's mind. Horatio waited.
"SIR." Horatio knelt next to Archie to pick up the whisper. "No-one ain' ever suffered nuffink cos of me. D'yer 'ave to flog 'im?"
Horatio stood up and hugged the child to him. God, where, in this little boy's cruel experience of life, had he picked up such a sense of honour?
"Archie, what he has done is very wrong. He has hurt you and the other boys, when he is far stronger than any of you. That is called bullying. I cannot allow bullies to thrive on my ship."
Archie digested this as best he could. He gulped.
"'Ow many strokes you gonna give 'im Sir?"
Horatio was no tyrant, but his answer came immediately.
Archie thought back to the floggings he had seen. There had been so much blood for just twelve.
"PLEASE SIR," he whispered urgently. "PLEASE make it twelve."
Horatio was grateful that in the dark, the child could not see the tears that were welling in his eyes.
"Yes Archie," he said hoarsely. "For you I
will make it twelve."
Powder Monkey: 6/8
It had caught Matthew's eye almost as soon as the Captain's. A beautiful Mediterranean morning. All of the crew were aware now that the ship was filling with treasure. Many of them were no doubt spending sleepless nights trying to work out how they could appropriate some of it for themselves. Just as the Captain was no doubt spending the same sleepless nights wondering how HE would break into the lower lazarette and how he could defeat such an attempt. Silver had been loaded onto the ship by the ton and the first chest of gold had been eased onto the deck. The gold that lay concealed inside it would have built, armed and equipped the whole "Atropos", have filled her holds with stores for a year, have provided a month's advance pay for the crew, and still have left a handsome balance.
The red flag of Turkey was flying over the peninsula fort. Where no flag had flown since their arrival in the Bay of Marmorice. The fort had been manned overnight. There was a red flag flying above the fort on Passage Island too. The two gun batteries could sweep the entrance to the bay. The "Atropos" was trapped in Marmorice Bay like a cork in a bottle.
Instinctively Matthews watched his Captain who had flown up to the fore topmast head, telescope in hand. He could only guess at the emotions broiling in his head. Yet he descended with an impassive mask on his face and clear orders on his lips.
"Pipe 'hands to quarters'. Clear for action. Drummer! Beat to quarters."
It was a credit to the ship and to the training that Hornblower had persistently given them, that the astonished officers and men were cleared for action within minutes. It took a little more time to rig the boarding netting and to put a spring on the anchor cable.
Through all of this, Matthews had retained his faith in his Captain. Had he not, as a lowly Third Lieutenant on the "Renown", repeatedly saved the situation in another Bay, Samana Bay, with his cool thinking and ingenuity, when others senior to him were floundering in indecision and inactivity?
A huge old-fashioned ship came into the bay with the flag of the Prophet at her peak, the "Mejidieh". Now the trap was complete.
"Salute her!" ordered Hornblower, with all the coolness of the consummate whist player.
A last visit from the Mudir, the Turkish representative, had followed. There was no doubt that somehow Hornblower had been tricked into complacency by this strange little man. The crew held their breath to see how, or whether, their Captain could redress the situation.
Later that day Horatio ordered the Prince and Archie to his cabin. He looked at them sternly, for it was vital that they understood his orders and carried them through.
"We are in a dangerous situation," he said. "Soon we will be going into battle. If we are taken, you are to change into ordinary clothes, such as those worn by the powder boys. And I don't have to tell you to look out for one another. Do you understand?"
Horatio had heard of many situations where Midshipmen, even very young ones, had been executed out of hand together with the officers. The European rules of war would not apply here. Moreover, if the Turks realised who the Prince was, he would be held to ransom. Better by far that the youngsters could take their chances as "worthless" powder boys. It broke his heart to think of them enslaved but better that than dead.
The boys could see that this was not the time for argument. They nodded.
"Aye aye Sir!"
"Good," said Horatio, studying their grave faces. "But I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Perhaps none of this will be necessary. Go to your stations!"
The boys turned to go. Suddenly Archie ran back and hugged his Captain.
"I love you," he whispered. "YOU'RE me farver now!" And he flew out of the cabin door.
Three weeks later the boys were attending Mr. Turner's navigation class. Smiley had been teaching Archie to read and write and the Prince to read and write in English. He was a good, patient lad and his pupils were doing well. At the moment Mr. Turner, the Master, was trying to ballast the midshipmen with good solid mathematics about "doubling the angle on the bow" and "four-point bearing". "Atropos" was running before a heavy westerly gale up the Mediterranean to rejoin Collingwood and the Mediterranean Fleet. Horatio had been given orders to disorganise Spanish coasting trade, gather information by looking into harbours and then rejoin the Fleet off the Italian coast. From his tiny quarter deck he was smiling. The wind was bracing and stimulating. It set Mr. Turner's chart, and the youngsters' minds, fluttering wildly.
"Mr. Turner," he bellowed with mock severity. "Report any case of inattention to me at once and I will deal with it as it deserves."
That steadied the young men to a noticeable extent and made them restrain their animal spirits. Archie checked himself in the midst of a wink at the Prince, and the Prince's laugh was stillborn as a guilty grin.
It was all a far cry from that tense night when they had escaped Marmorice Bay with a king's ransom in the hold. Horatio had assembled the bear-foot crew as silently as possible. There were six turns of the capstan and then it was held. The ship had seemed incapable of action, but now silent men were swarming up the rigging and waiting for the signal. There was no clank from the capstan as the pawl had been thrown out from the ratchet. When the six turns had been completed they stood, breasts against the bars, feet braced on the deck, holding the ship steady. When the signal came she would be under command at once.
Five seconds later axe blades cut through cable and spring, sails blossomed and the "Atropos" was under way. In those five seconds she had transformed herself from something stationary and inert to a living thing, gliding through the water towards the entrance to the Bay. And she was clear of the "Mejideih's" broadside, for the old ship had no spring on her cable to swing her round. It would be at least several minutes before she could turn her broadside on "Atropos", and then it would be at a range of half a mile or more. Now the little sloop had to avoid the shore gun batteries. To the Master's horror, Horatio decided to take her through the perilously narrow channel between Sari Point and Kaia Rock. It was the final gamble from the ultimate gambler. Five minutes of pure seamanship and pure nerve and they were heading into the open sea.
"Course South by East Mr. Still!"
"Aye aye Sir!"
Horatio had sent Smiley and Horrocks up to the fore topmast head to look into the harbour at Cartagena.
"There's a ship of war in the outer bay, Sir!" shouted Smiley. "She's setting sail! I can see her cross Sir!"
Spanish ships of war had the habit of hoisting huge wooden crosses at the mizzen peak when action seemed likely. It was the "Castilla". The frigate was coming out to chase away this impudent little British sloop. In a stern chase like this "Atropos" had nothing to fear, newly coppered as she was and with a pretty turn of speed. Horatio looked up at the "Atropos's" main topsail yard. Smiley now had the starboard yardarm and His Serene Highness the Prince of Seitz-Bunau the port. Next to him was Archie. The race seemed to have made the boys mad with excitement. It looked as if they were doing a reel. The topsails in a man-of-war created the most exhilarating and the most dangerous playground in the world. Horatio opened his mouth to shout a reprimand. Before he could utter a sound the Prince's foot slipped. He fell heavily through the air, turning a complete circle. By the time they boy had reached the sea Horatio had torn the emergency lifebuoy from the taffrail. It smacked into the sea close beside the Prince. Somehow Smiley already had the jolly boat away, with Matthews, Styles and two other men at the oars.
Horatio spun round. A plan of action had formulated almost instantly in his mind.
"Mr. Horrocks! Signal 'Enemy in sight to windward'."
The quicker-witted signal rating beside the amazed Horrocks
was already at the halliards.
Horatio made a mental note to promote him.
"Good. Now another signal. 'Enemy is a frigate distant seven miles bearing west course east.' "
Even if the "Castilla" could not read the signals, she might work out their meaning. At the least, she would believe that another British ship was within signalling distance. Now Horatio had to turn the ship around to close on the "Castilla", giving them the chance to pick up the Prince. If there had been a powerful English ship down there to leeward it would certainly have given him that order.
For a worrying moment, it looked as if the "Castilla" would not hove to. Horatio felt sick with apprehension. Then a minute later the masthead lookout gave a hail.
"Deck there! The enemy's hauled his wind, Sir!"
Now to check on the Prince. The masthead lookout hailed again.
"Deck there! The boat's stopped pulling, Sir. I think they're picking up Mr. Prince, Sir."
Thank God. It was only now that Horatio could realise what a bad ten minutes it had been.
"Deck there! Yes, Sir, they're waving a shirt. They're pulling back to us now."
Here came His Serene Highness, wet and bedraggled but not in the least hurt, with a smile half sheepish and half defiant. Eisenbeiss came forward fussily.
"I have a hot blanket ready for him Sir," he said to Horatio.
It was at that moment that the dam of Horatio's even temper burst.
"A hot blanket! I know what'll warm him quicker than that!"
Angry as he was, Horatio knew that he would not take the cutting and bruising rattan to a boy of this age. He had suffered horribly under it himself and he'd been seventeen. He turned to Mr. Turner at his side, who carried a cane for navigational chart work.
"Mr. Turner, if I could have your cane for a few moments. Shut your mouth, doctor, if you know what's good for you. Now, young man "
It was some further training for the Blood Royal to display his acquired British imperturbability, to bite off the howl that a well applied cane, even one less devastating than the rattan, tended to draw forth. And to stand straight afterwards with hardly a skip to betray his discomfort, with hardly a rub at the smarting royal posterior, and with the tears blinked manfully back. Nevertheless, after his anger had worn off, Horatio felt a little sorry and something else was nagging at the back of his tired brain.
Horatio decided to keep an eye on the enemy. "Atropos" was like a terrier, yapping at the heels of a bull in a field. Mr. Still had the watch.
"Call me if there's any change, Mr. Still. I want to set more sail if the wind moderates further."
Horatio had been on his feet nearly all day, since dawn, and his legs were weary. He went down to his cabin. Soon there was a knock.
Instinctively Horatio knew who it was. He was remembering what he'd left undone, and it was something he did not want to face. There had been two boys playing on that yardarm. It was only by chance that one had fallen and one had not.
And there was Archie in front of him. It was nearly three months since they had discovered him and he had changed beyond all recognition. He looked healthy and sunburnt and he seemed to have grown at least three inches. Even his marked cockney accent was disappearing, to be replaced, Horatio noted, by the clipped naval twang used by Smiley and Horrocks and no doubt by himself.
"Sir," said Archie. "You know it's not fair."
"I know Archie." Horatio sighed. He passed a hand over his face.
Archie stood straight to attention, with his shoulders back.
"I want the same punishment as Fran as Mr. Prince Sir. Over a gun, on the deck."
"The Prince is two years older than you Archie and he's had months more training than you have. He knew what he did was wrong. He will understand."
A look of impatient disbelief filled Archie's eyes. Horatio had seen that look before.
"OH YES. IT WOULD BE JUST LIKE THAT!"
"But will other people?" asked Archie. I encouraged him Sir. You know it's not fair."
"I know Archie," Horatio repeated. "But I can't do it."
"Yes you can Sir. You won't let me live with dishonour. If you love me you'll do it!"
That wasn't fair.
"I'll mast-head you for a watch."
"How about if Matthews did it? He's the bosun, it's part of his job Archie."
He knew that was cowardly in the extreme.
"No Sir," said Archie. "YOU'VE got to do it!"
God this child was every bit as stubborn as his father. But Horatio knew he was right. As Archie Senior had usually been.
"Go and get Mr. Turner's cane," he sighed. "And then we'll go on deck together."
It was one of the hardest things Horatio had ever had to do. Harder than causing the death of Bunting. Even harder than repeatedly having to watch poor Henry Wellard being beaten when they were on the "Renown". His evil genie was at work again. Forcing him to inflict pain on Archie's child. The little boy was as brave as his friend had been and hardly flinched. But then he was well used to physical torment.
"Just one more beating," thought Horatio bitterly. "To add to so many others."
He felt sick inside. Is this what it was like to beat your own child? Would he one day have to beat his own little Horatio?
But afterwards Archie stood straight and looked up at his Captain with tears caused by pride more than pain shining in his eyes.
"Thank you Sir," he whispered. "You won't ever have to prove you love me again!"
"I hope not Mr. Kennedy," sighed a heart-sick Horatio.
Powder Monkey: 7/8
The Little terrier was still yapping at the heels of the bull.
"Deck there! There's a sail ahead of the enemy, Sir!"
"Get aloft with you, Mr. Smiley. You can go too, Mr. Prince and Mr. Kennedy."
That would show them that a punishment cleared the record in the Navy, and that they were being trusted not to try any more monkey tricks.
Smiley was soon reporting down to the deck.
"Two sail! Three sail! Captain, Sir, it looks like a convoy, dead to leeward."
There must be a British ship of war protecting that convoy. And it must be in "Castilla's" path.
"Up helm and bear down on the enemy. Call all hands, Mr. Still, if you please. Clear for action!"
A flurry of signals revealed that the British ship was the "Nightingale". Almost the smallest of the frigates, with 28 guns. Under the command of Captain Ford. Horatio prayed that he would have the sense not to close with the 44-gun "Castilla". The two British ships could play some pretty tactics with her until they could take her at a disadvantage. But Ford was far senior to Horatio. There was no possibility of giving him orders to deep clear and within minutes the two ships were indeed locked together. Now, heavily over the water came the sound of the first broadsides. All "Castillas's" guns could bear and there was the hideous tearing sound of "Nightingale's" foremast falling yards, sails and all.
Horatio thought quickly.
"Arm every man on the ship for boarding. Pikes, pistols and cutlasses. Mr. Smiley, muster your topmen for'rard. Mr. Prince follow him. Mr. Kennedy come with me. Stand by for a rush."
Young Smiley was the best fighting man of them all. Better than his slow lieutenants. Better than the elderly Mr. Turner. It was best to give him the command at the other end of the ship. Aft here he would have things under his own eye. Nowhere on this little ship would be safe in the teeth of "Castilla's" guns. He hated using children for hand-to-hand combat, but at least this way he could keep Archie within his sight.
The next five minutes flashed by in a haze of fighting madness. Then suddenly all opposition ceased and Horatio found himself glaring into a pair of wild eyes and realised that it was an English uniform a midshipman from the "Nightingale", leading the boarding party which had stormed into the "Castilla" along "Nightingale's" bowsprit. The Prince ran past him wild for blood. Now Horatio had to stop the killing and organise the prisoners against the ship's side. But where was Archie?
Desperately he scanned the deck. Suddenly he saw Matthews carrying a small form in his arms.
Something shrill and terrifying shrieked in Horatio's head. It took a moment before he realised that the shattering cry and come from his own throat.
Now Matthews was by his side.
"Li'le lad took on a dago that were a bi' big for 'im Sir. 'Is ribs is bruised, but 'e'll be righ' as rain soon enough."
Just in time, Horatio remembered to breathe again. And here was a thin-nosed, long-faced rat of a man approaching him.
"Captain Hornblower? My name's Ford. You arrived in time sir, but only just."
It made quite a spectacle, the three ships limping into Palermo. A close inspection of the battered and torn ships told of the din and the fury, the agony and the distress. That evening Horatio at last found time to open a private letter from Maria. She spoke of little Horatio running everywhere and little Maria as good as gold and cutting her first tooth. His tired mind tried, unsuccessfully, to make sense of these domestic imperatives in the face of a tyrant of frightful energy and cunning who was forcing England to fight for her life against most of Europe. He gave up the attempt. But somehow he knew, without actually formulating the thought, that it was for his children's freedom that he was fighting.
Then there was the battle with the Sicilian dockyard. Sicily might, under its worthless King Ferdinand, be an "ally" of England, but Horatio was entirely unsuccessful in gaining their help to repair his battered little ship. In desperation he took her out of the harbour and set about the repairs with his own resources and his own men. He was pleased to note that the flagship "Ocean" had arrived. Soon he would have his orders to join the Fleet.
Little Archie was recovering well, though his torso was still firmly bound to protect his injured ribs. To watch him with the Prince was a joy. A joy tainted with just a little envy. Horatio and Archie senior had never been children together. And when Horatio had joined "Justinian" at the grand old age of seventeen, Archie had long been carrying the dreadful mental and physical scars that Simpson had inflicted on him. Their friendship had grown quickly though in spite of all that. Perhaps because of all that. A friendship forged in the heat of shared suffering.
Horatio had forbidden little Archie from climbing the rigging until his full strength had returned and the child couldn't laugh without a grimace of pain. That didn't stop the wonderful smile though. Lord, what a legacy from his father! That full, delighted grin that embraced the whole world and poured balm onto deep wounds. According to the Prince, there had been no recurrence of fits since Archie had been found by Styles in the hold. As with his father, they seemed to be emotionally triggered. Horatio remembered with unease that his own sudden appearance at El Ferrol had triggered one. To his knowledge, the last that Archie senior had ever suffered. Even the miseries and tension of life aboard the "Renown" had not triggered any more.
"Signal from the flag, Sir," called Smiley, breaking in on Horatio's thought. "Flag to "Atropos". Come on board!"
Horatio responded with a light step. "Atropos" was again sea-worthy. Little Archie, and most of his wounded men, were recovering well. He rushed desperately to change into his better uniform and then he hurled himself down the ship's side to where his gig awaited him.
Half an hour later he returned with his Commander-in-Chief's unwilling words ringing in his ears:
"The fact of the matter, Hornblower, is that the King has asked for your ship to be transferred to his flag."
His gallant little ship. With its fresh paint and polished new wood. And all for the whim of a worthless, selfish and cruel puppet-king. The imbecile monarch who coveted a newly-painted toy.
Powder Monkey: 8/8
Two dreary days followed. It was painful to say goodbye to the officers and crew, good characters and bad. To the crew he had worked so hard to mould and train. To the good-natured and capable Smiley and the slow but willing Horrocks. All to be scattered amongst other ships in the Fleet. Collingwood would take the Prince into the flagship. He had been seven months in a sloop of war. Probably he had learned as much in that time as he would learn in seven years in an Admiral's flagship. Horatio himself was to return to Portsmouth on the "Aquila". All he had been able to do was beg that little Archie, Matthews and Styles would return with him. Embarrassed by the whole situation, Collingwood had agreed.
The night before the transfer Horatio called Archie and the Prince to his cabin. He explained the situation to the boys. He tried to depict the Prince's transfer as a promotion and an opportunity. He tried to persuade Archie that a quicker trip to England was a tremendous boon as they could organise his future. Something in his voice however, perhaps a waver that he could not conceal, seemed to have betrayed his real feelings. Archie stood very still in stunned silence. The Prince began quietly to cry. He approached Horatio and suddenly hugged him. Horatio could feel the sobs shaking his small body.
"You have been my father and my tutor," he whispered between shakes. "I shall never forget you and my friends on the "Atropos" ". Then he stepped back, saluted his Captain and left the cabin.
Through all this, little Archie said not a word. His face was very pale and his blue eyes seemed unfocused. Horatio's mind whipped back to how his father used to look when . Dear God, he was about to have a fit! He quickly moved back the tiny table and the chair, spread the meagre straw mattress on the floor with the two thin blankets and the sailcloth pillow at its head. Already the child's limbs were starting to thrash. He was oblivious to the pain the movement must have been inflicting on his ribs. Hurriedly Horatio removed the boy's uniform coat and stock and loosened his shirt. He lay him down on the mattress and held him as firmly as he could to avoid extra bruising.
He remembered that sometimes he could bring Archie senior out of a fit by talking quietly and calmly to him. He did this now, even though tears were coursing down his face. Too many memories. Too much hurt. Too many failures. He had been unable to save Archie senior from death and dishonour. He had been unable to save his little "Atropos" from the grasping Sicilian king. He had been unable to save little Archie from the grievous hurt of separation from his friend. How many other hurts would he fail to save him from in the future?
And so one Autumn day they arrived back at Portsmouth, himself and little Archie, Matthews and Styles. This was perhaps his true family. The family he had acquired through the agonies and ecstasies of life in His Majesty's Navy. No, that wasn't fair. He just had two families and he loved them equally.
He already had plans for his next ship. Collingwood had hinted that he would be rewarded with a frigate, the "Lydia", for his subsequent command. He thought of Archie senior's excitement when he had learnt that they were to be transferred from "Justinian" to the frigate "Indefatigable":
"AND WE FEW, WE FORTUNATE FEW.. KEANE HAS RECOMMENDED OUR TRANSFER TO .. (with a final theatrical flourish that was SO Archie) "INDEFATIGABLE"!"
Horatio had indeed been too devastated by Clayton's death at the time to celebrate. But now the thought of a frigate command filled his mind with happy plans for the future. He would strive to acquire the services of William Bush as his First Lieutenant. It had not been possible on the "Atropos" as Bush had been engaged in that capacity on a larger ship. He had been willing to take the lesser engagement to accompany Horatio on his first trip as Post Captain, but Horatio had refused. It was not in his nature to condemn a man to a veritable demotion to satisfy his own convenience. It could have even postponed Bush's promotion to Post Captain. Matthews of course kept his warrant as bosun whatever ship he served on. Likewise Styles retained his petty officer status as bosun's mate.
At length Horatio parted from his shipmates, making sure he could contact them as soon as his new appointment was confirmed. As bosun, Matthews would in any case hear from the Navy Board.
Horatio couldn't wait to introduce little Archie to William, for the latter had become very attached to Archie senior in those last days at Kingston. Horatio knew that he even envied Bush that final intimacy with Archie, when HE was caught up in that damned Court Martial, and was allowed to give so little time to his dying friend.
But he had the rest of his lifetime to look after the welfare of his son. On the idle passage home as guest of the "Aquila's" captain, he had thought long and hard about Archie. He would visit the orphanage at Deptford and try to find out as much as possible about the child and how he had arrived there. Then he would set in motion the official adoption procedures. Of course he would have to consult Maria. But she had a good heart. He could not believe that she would object to the plan.
All of that was the easy part. The harder part was that he had to make a lot of decisions about the boy's future and they needed to be made quickly. He could send him away to school. He could just about afford that on a frigate Captain's pay and likely prize money. But every instinct seemed to warn him against it. He had himself been sent away when his mother died and it had been a miserable experience, punctuated in the early years with bullying and beatings. He did not want that for Archie's son. And with the fits, things would undoubtedly be worse
Every instinct was to keep the child with him. He could take him onto the "Lydia" as a 'Captain's servant' to gain experience and serve his qualifying time. This was the 'young gentleman's' route to a commission. He would grow in years and knowledge, taking on more responsibilities and working around the whole ship. He would officially become a midshipman at least for the qualifying two years before taking his Lieutenant's exam.
Horatio thought fondly of his tutors on board the "Indy". The kindly Messrs. Bracegirdle and Bowles and of course Captain Pellew himself, the ultimate mentor continually stretching and challenging him. He knew that Mr. Bowles had retired from the service and now lived with his family in Sussex. Mr. Bracegirdle was a frigate Captain. And Captain Pellew was a Rear Admiral and still disdaining cumbersome 74's for his beloved swift-winged frigates!
This scheme had much to recommend it and Horatio thought that Archie senior would approve. For Horatio himself would always be there to deflect any danger of maltreatment. Moreover, he suspected this was the route that little Archie himself would prefer.
Horatio was aware that there was still some tough explaining ahead surrounding Archie senior's death. If the boy asked questions, he would have to answer them truthfully. One day, he would have to tell him anyway. Ideally when he was older. He couldn't bear to think of the child hating him as the cause of his father's dishonour
Horatio took Archie by the hand and they walked towards his mother-in-law's house. To passers-by they formed a touching pair. The tall dark-haired captain with his gold braid. The small blond-haired child in his midshipman uniform. Horatio thought that things were, after all, looking up again. He would have a period of freedom from all demands upon his patience and endurance. He was free to be happy for a while, to indulge in ambitious dreams of the frigate Their Lordships might give him. Free to relax in Maria's happy and indifferent chatter, with little Horatio running round the room, with little Maria making valiant efforts to crawl at his feet.
And with all his little family getting to know Archie and Archie getting to know them. Almost surprised at himself, he realised that he had complete confidence in Maria's acceptance of this new child. They had not spoken of it much, but she was aware of his terrible hurt at Archie's death. Indeed, he knew she had made certain allowances for him because of it. When she married him, that spectre had entered into HER life as well.
Maria answered the knock with a child in her arms. It was as if she were dazed. She did not notice a child behind her husband.
"Horry!" she said. "Horry! I thought you were the apothecary. The the babies aren't so well."
Horatio went inside, followed by Archie. He sat Archie down in the little room at the side and went up the stairs. A tiny little figure lay there, half on its side, one hand outside the bedclothes holding Mrs. Mason's finger.
"He's sick," said Mrs. Mason. "Poor little man. He's so sick."
Horatio tried to soothe his son's forehead. It felt strange. Like small shot felt through velvet. He knew what that meant. Smallpox. His children were dying. Maria had to be comforted. And Archie had to be sent away from the source of infection
(If anyone wants to write about Archie junior, please feel free. I would only request that no-one kills him off!)