Mr. Kennedy's Examination

By Marge

The cabin door opened without warning, and a dark, curly head appeared in the opening. The slap of sails and sighing of the brisk wind that filled them was clearer than they had been, as were the calls of orders given and acknowledged up on deck. Archie Kennedy ran an exasperated hand through his blonde hair, making it even more disorderly than it had been.

"Archie," Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower began, "Captain's compliments. The wind's freshening, and he wants to take advantage of it after we were becalmed yesterday. Please report to the deck and....." Horatio's voice trailed off as he saw the open books in front of his friend, and the papers that had been blown to the floor by the breeze he'd let in. "Sorry, Archie. Still trying to study for the Lieutenant's examination?" Horatio moved further into the cabin and bent to pick up the papers on the floor. He noted, with concern, the redness in his friend's weary blue eyes as he handed the papers to Archie.

"No, it's all right, Horatio. I actually think I know the material fairly well. It's just that I'm so bloody nervous about facing all those captains on the Review Board. What if I can't talk, or..... I have an attack right there in front of them? I'll not only not be promoted to Lieutenant - I might end up as a common seaman!" Archie hastily tucked the papers into one of his books and replaced them in the desk drawer.

"You know, Archie, dreading it is even worse than the real thing. Maybe I can think of a way to give you an example of what it will be like...... I've got it!" Horatio grinned at his friend, giving him a hearty clap on the back that had him staggering slightly, like a man without his sealegs under him. "Leave everything to me, Acting Lieutenant Kennedy!" Horatio barely ducked in time to avoid the low lintel as he went through the cabin door.

Archie couldn't help smiling back at the rare but infectious grin, but also shook his head. Horatio was always eager to help, but Kennedy wasn't sure what his friend could do for him this time. He couldn't come along and convince the officers on the board that Archie Kennedy was fit for promotion. Archie sighed, straightened his uniform coat, and headed up on deck.

When Archie appeared, Mr. Bracegirdle sent him forward to supervise the setting of additional sails. Following Captain Pellew's orders, Horatio had set his own men to swabbing down the deck, then returned to where Mr. Bracegirdle was standing.

The senior officer was keeping an eye on young Mr. Kennedy's progress, but turned when he heard Horatio clear his throat. "Yes, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Mr. Bracegirdle, I wonder if I could ask a favor of you, sir."

"Certainly, Mr. Hornblower. What may I do for you, sir?" Bracegirdle gave the younger man his full attention. He knew that the Captain had great hopes for the young Lieutenant's career, and Bracegirdle himself found Mr. Hornblower very personable. He turned his sharp gaze on the other man's face.

"Well, sir, it's really not for me - it's for Mr. Kennedy. You know how hard he has been studying since the Captain recommended him for the Lieutenant's exam, and I remember when I was in similar circumstances, you told me that understanding the men was an even more important matter for an officer than book learning." Horatio paused for a moment and received an understanding nod from the older man. He had taken Bracegirdle's advice very much to heart, and wanted the same insights for his friend Archie, as well.

"I have seen that Archie knows the men - he worked very closely with them on the bridge at Muzillac, and Matthews mentioned how bravely Archie acted in coming for me as I was crossing the bridge, even though the gun powder was about to explode." Hornblower looked away for a moment, clearing his throat at the thought of the lovely young Frenchwoman, Mariette, who he had been trying to bring to safety across the bridge. Bracegirdle allowed him a moment to compose himself.

"So, young Mr. Kennedy has impressed even Matthews. What else do you think we need to do for him, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Well, sir, it occurred to me that a sort of mock Examination Board experience would be of value to him. He knows the material, and knows the men. Now he needs to be allowed to field questions, think on his feet. You told me that you remembered your own exam for lieutenant. Would you help me, sir?"

"Well, you know Mr. Hornblower, that it would mean imitating a captain. I believe that carries a hefty penalty." But Horatio could see the beginnings of a smile on the corners of the other man's mouth, see the sparkle in his eyes. "Done, sir," Mr. Bracegirdle announced. He held out his hand to Horatio, and the co-conspirators shook on it.

As the week went by, the Indefatigable sailed on under a fair wind. Archie continued his studies, while Horatio conferred with Mr. Bracegirdle and even asked the men of his division for suggestions.

"A question for Mr. Kennedy you say, sir?" Matthews rubbed his head for a moment. "He do know a fair bit about cannon, sir. When we were at that there Muzillac, sir, he..... Oh, I'm that sorry, Mr. 'ornblower..." the older man's voice trailed off as he saw the quick flash of pain in Horatio's eyes.

"No, it's all right, Matthews. I know that our mission to Muzillac was important for Mr. Kennedy. He learned to keep his head under fire, even saved my life for me, since I was so careless of it at the time." Matthews was reassured by the wry smile that kicked up the corners of young Mr. Hornblower's mouth. "Cannon, you say? A fine suggestion, Matthews." Matthews chest puffed with pride at the praise from his commanding officer.

"'ey, Matthews ain't the only one what can get a good idea, Mr. 'ornblower." Style's tone was a bit belligerent as he elbowed the older sailor aside. He wanted a chance at praise from the Lieutenant, as well. "Mr. Kennedy's a fair 'and at knot-tying, sir. You might ask 'im about that - and which sails to set when you're headed west nor west and..."

"With Dover Cliffs on your Lee..." murmured Horatio, remembering his own examination for lieutenant and the almost impossible question he'd been asked. Luckily for him, the warning gun from the harbor had distracted the captains and Horatio's own heroics in boarding the Spanish fireship and turning her away from the Indy had earned his commission for him, despite his inability to answer the captains' question.

Horatio awoke from his musings to find Styles, Matthews, and Oldroyd looking at him questioningly. "Thank you, men. You gave me some excellent ideas for Mr. Kennedy's examination."

Horatio turned from where the men were working and came face to face with a nervous looking Lt. Bracegirdle, who was coming up on deck from the direction of the Captain's cabin.

"Mr. Hornblower, I think I may have jest averted disaster, sir," the older man told Horatio.

"How so, Mr. Bracegirdle? Please sir, sit down. You look as though you could use a rest."

Puffing slightly, Lt. Bracegirdle sat. "Thank you, Mr. Hornblower. As I said, sir, I think we may have just escaped a strong squall in the path of our examination. The Captain saw you and I conferring a number of times, and wanted to know what we were planning. At first, he thought that we were doubting Mr. Kennedy's abilities, but then I think he saw the wisdom of our plan."

"Well, then, all is well, is it not, Mr. Bracegirdle?" Hornblower looked confused by the concerned frown on Bracegirdle's face.

"I would think so, sir, except that I saw a very thoughtful expression on the Captain's face as he dismissed me, and I heard him mutter something about 'showing the boy how a real captain asks questions' as I was leaving."

Horatio sank down next to the other officer, his own brow creased with a frown. "Oh, Mr. Bracegirdle, I hope your hearing was not sharp in this instance, sir." Bracegirdle nodded, but the two men exchanged concerned glances before they parted to go about their duties.

A week or so later, Archie Kennedy came down from the deck and made his way to a little-used storage area between decks. He had been looking forward to some time with his books before hitting his hammock, but a special request from his friend Horatio to help him organize the store room was too important to the young officer. He felt like he'd barely seen Horatio since he had begun to study so hard for the Lieutenant's examination. Archie opened the door and automatically ducked his head to avoid hitting it on the low timbers inside the cabin. He looked up and gasped in surprise at seeing Horatio and Mr. Bracegirdle behind a table in their shirtsleeves, surrounded by books and papers and looking exactly like Horatio had described the examination board he'd faced in his quest for a full commission.

"So, Mr. Kennedy, ye have come before us seeking yer commission. We'll see how much ye know, sir!" Hornblower's voice carried the perfect hint of a Scots burr and the rapid-fire speech that made his imitation of "Dreadnought" Foster well-nigh perfect. Bracegirdle had to rub his hand across his mouth to hide a smile. He never would have believed that the normally serious Horatio Hornblower would be such a gifted mimic, except that he'd had to stifle laughter as he stood in the shadows of the officer's mess while Hornblower and his friend Kennedy had delighted the other junior officers with an almost uncanny impression of their own Captain Pellew.

"Aye, you're right, Captain Foster. We'll soon find out if this young upstart is equal to the task of answering our questions!" Bracegirdle was not sure how effective his own imitation of Captain Hammond might be, but he was willing to give it a try.

Archie Kennedy's mouth had fallen open slightly as his head swiveled back and forth, looking at both the lieutenants seated before him. He saw the twinkle in Horatio's eyes, and noted how he fought to keep a smile from curving that generous mouth. Mr. Bracegirdle had a little more practice at keeping a straight face, but Archie could see the smile reflected in his eyes, as well.

Horatio had been holding himself tensely, waiting for Archie to protest or even turn around and leave, but he felt himself relax as Archie's grin of understanding flashed for a moment before he pulled himself to attention and said, "Acting Lieutenant Kennedy reporting for the examination as ordered, sir!"

A half-hour later, Horatio kept an eye on Archie as he bent over a slate, figuring a problem of distance and trajectory for delivering a shot at the waterline of an enemy frigate. Archie had been nervous at first, but had grown in confidence as the answers to each question had come easily to him. Horatio remembered how Archie had struggled with mathematics while they were studying aboard the Justinian, but this problem did not seem to be giving Kennedy any problems, whatsoever.

Archie felt his friend's gaze and looked up from the slate, smiled, and held it out saying, "If you please, Captain Foster?" Horatio smiled back and reached for the slate, but the opening of the door and a sudden gust of salt air interrupted. Alarm chilled his blood as he saw Archie's smile fade along with the high color in his cheeks. Archie shot to his feet, and Hornblower and Bracegirdle, reacting on instinct, followed suit. "Attention!" Archie called out, his voice sounding oddly strained.

Horatio closed his eyes, hoping to block out the inevitable, but his ears told him that he was hearing the firm footsteps of Captain Pellew.

"At ease, Mr. Kennedy. What, fellow captains standing at attention? Whom do I have the honor of serving with on this examination board?"

Horatio opened his eyes then, resigning himself to seeing fury in the eyes of his commanding officer. But, to his surprise, he saw the hint of a twinkle in the captain's dark gaze. "Captain Foster, at your service, Sir Edward," Horatio said, managing to insert the touch of Scots that he had practiced to imitate the famous daredevil. "And, of course, ye know Captain Hammond," he added, indicating Bracegirdle.

"Of course. Forgive me for being late, gentlemen, but I had some trouble finding you," the Captain's voice carried a touch of irony. The two lieutenants had been careful to hold their examination where no one, especially the Captain, would think to look. "I see you have tested Mr. Kennedy in mathematics," he continued, looking over the slate of neat charts and figures. "Very good, Mr. Kennedy." Archie's fair skin flushed with pleasure at the praise from his commanding officer. "Now, I should like to pose a question to you."

The junior officers watched as the captain paused a moment to gather his thoughts. Archie was tense, waiting for a difficult question. Horatio, though a bit nervous on his own behalf, was mostly concerned for his friend. Here was where Archie would face the true tension of the examination for lieutenant. Practicing with fellow-officers was one thing; actually facing questions from a captain was quite another.

"You are ordered to land a number of troops in enemy territory in company with three other ships. Unknown to the commander of those troops, a copy of his orders may have been slipped to the enemy that waits on shore. Your orders state that your ship, alone of the four, must wait offshore to aid the troops in case of difficulties. Word reaches you that the enemy has indeed, learned of your ally's movements and has attached in force. You have been ordered to remain on station, yet some of your own men are with another group of allies in another location, and could be rescued if you sailed to meet them. What would you do, sir?"

Archie gulped. The parallels to their own situation in Muzillac were plain. Bracegirdle, who had heard the pain in his captain's voice when he'd spoken about "the mathematics of defeat", cast a concerned look toward Hornblower. Would young Archie be able to answer the question that came from deep within the captain's conscience?

Facing Pellew's piercing gaze, Archie Kennedy stiffened his spine. 'By God,' he thought to himself, "Horatio and I worked together with the Frogs and the Lobsters in Muzillac, and we brought as many of our men as we could back to the Indy. That's something to be proud of!' He answered the question with that pride showing in his face. "A captain has the power of decision aboard his ship, and the responsibilities that go along with it, sir. I would ascertain that I had done all I could for the allies on shore, then move my ship to where my men and the others were, to mount a rescue attempt."

"Indeed, sir," Horatio Hornblower chimed in. "The needs of the living far outweigh the needs of the dead, however gallantly they may have fallen." In that moment, Horatio came to terms with the fact that he could have done nothing else for Mariette after the Republican bullet took her life there on the bridge at Muzillac.

Captain Pellew looked around at his three officers, meeting their gazes in turn: Archie Kennedy, young, proud, and sure that the captain and crew of the Indy were the best anywhere; Horatio Hornblower, also proud of himself and the crew, but slightly scarred by the events at Muzillac; and Bracegirdle, whose experienced advice had been so important to his captain during their recent mission to France. The captain smiled slightly in answer to Bracegirdle's nod; Pellew could take heart at the support of his junior officers, because they did not speak from a desire to curry favor with him, but because they believed he had taken the right course.

Captain Pellew cleared his throat. "Very good Mr. Kennedy. Answer all questions at your examination with such assurance, and you will have the board believing everything you say is correct." The captain turned toward the door, and felt the reduction of tension in the air behind him. He turned, and watched the younger men stiffen to attention again. "Thank you all, gentlemen, for allowing me to take part in this examination." As he pulled the door shut behind him, the captain reflected, 'Can't let these men relax too much!'

Inside, the three officers looked at each other for a moment before chuckling. "Well, Mr. Kennedy, I think that you will find no more formidable examiner at the Admiralty than Captain Pellew," Bracegirdle remarked.

"I think you are correct, Mr. Bracegirdle," Kennedy said. He grinned at the other men as he shook their hands. "Thanks to both of you, I feel much more confident about facing the examination for lieutenant now!"

Two weeks later, the Indy stood moored at Portsmouth. Many of the officers and men of the ship were idling at the Peddler's Pig, trying to look like they had not a care in the world, but their frequent glances at the inn door gave them away. Matthews, Oldroyd, and Styles had overheard young Mr. Kennedy arrange with Mr. Hornblower to meet after his examination for lieutenant was complete. The information had moved through the crew like wildfire, and many in the ship's company had 'just dropped in' to the Peddler's Pig to while away their leave.

Finally, as the door of the busy tavern opened for what seemed like the hundreth time, the patience of Horatio, Bracegirdle, and the others were rewarded. Archie Kennedy entered the tap room on a gust of sea air. His normally open face gave no hint of his mood. The formerly noisy room hushed as Horatio stood, the legs of his stool scraping along the floor, and everyone's nerves, as well. "Archie?" The name came out as a question.

Kennedy's quick blue gaze travelled from Horatio to Bracegirdle, to Matthews and the others at a nearby table. "Well, I see almost the whole ship has come to hear my news. I'm sure there have been a few wagers on the subject," his eye rested on Styles, who had the grace to flush. "I'm sure that the odds must have favored my failure, gentlemen, but I must disappoint those who wagered against me. You see before you COMMISSIONED LIEUTENANT KENNEDY!" The last came out as an exuberant shout that was echoed by Horatio, Bracegirdle, and all the assembled crew.

"Let's have three cheers for Mr. Kennedy!" Oldroyd urged. "Hip-Hip, Hoorah!" Everyone joined in, and Archie had to brace himself under the numerous congratulatory slaps on his shoulders and back.

In the midst of the laughter and shouts, Horatio saw the door to the private parlor open, and Captain Pellew emerged, drawn by the noise. "ATTENTION!" Hornblower called out. Everyone snapped to attention, with Archie attempting to straighten his neckcloth, which had be disarranged by the hugs and slaps he'd received.

"I would say 'as you were', gentlemen, but I would not be able to be heard above the shouting when I attempt to congratulate our newest Lieutenant. Very well done, sir," the captain praised as he shook Archie's hand. "I'll leave you to your celebration, Mr. Kennedy. You may well feel very proud of yourself, sir. You have faced a major hurdle in your career and taken it very cleanly."

"I know I have some people to thank for helping me succeed, sir," Archie said simply. "Thank you, Captain, and Mr. Bracegirdle, and Horatio. I was able to believe in myself when I saw how firmly you all believed in me."

"You're very welcome, Lieutenant. Very welcome, indeed," said Horatio, speaking for all of them.

The End.

Please send feedback to

Back to the home of Hornblower fan fiction: