Sharing the Watch
DISCLAIMER: Suitable acknowledgments to the creative efforts of CS Forrester and the people at Meridian and A&E. I will make no monetary profit from this. I am merely having a bit of fun.
NOTES: Missing scene from "Mutiny". Bush and Kennedy share the watch on the morning after Captain Sawyer's fall into the hold.
An eventful evening, Lt Bush mused to himself. An evening that had involved more panicked scrambling on his behalf, than half the sea battles of his career.
He cast another glance back at young Hornblower, sprawled in a corner, catching up on the sleep he been deprived of for days. The lad didn't look entirely comfortable but, at this point, Bush suspected that Hornblower would scarcely have cared.
A complex character for one so young. You could see that he took account of everything around him, every sight and every sound, every action taken and every word spoken. But what conclusions he drew from his observations; those he kept to himself. If Sawyer had also recognised this trait in his Third Lieutenant, no wonder his suspicions had targeted Hornblower.
To have someone watching you and analysing you, never saying a word to you; it did feel like being judged. And you would have to wonder what actions such a person might take, based on their judgements.
Bush paused in his musings and looked up to see Kennedy, watching him as he watched Hornblower.
Kennedy was practically the antithesis of his friend when it came to keeping his own counsel. Any thought that entered young Mr Kennedy's brain seemed to make it's way directly to his mouth, entirely unimpeded.
At first Bush had thought this was due to arrogance. The words being delivered in Kennedy's rather aristocratic accent and often disdainful tone had perhaps fuelled this impression. But now Bush could see that it wasn't so. Or rather, perhaps it was a form of arrogance (for the Second Lieutenant also dismissed the theory that it was mere stupidity) but it was not a form of arrogance born of any belief Kennedy held in his own superiority. Rather, it was an arrogance that stemmed from some kind of intense and rather implacable honesty. It was almost as if Kennedy had decided, "This is what I think and I'll damn well say it, even if I swing for it!"
It was a type of arrogance that Bush found himself almost admiring. But such a trait could be damned dangerous for a young naval officer. In fact, it could most likely prove fatal.
And that would be a pity, for he thought that he might be growing to like brash young Mr Kennedy.
He was fairly sure that the liking was not returned though. Kennedy still seemed rather suspicious of him but Bush couldn't really blame the lad. Both Kennedy and Hornblower had suffered for months under Sawyer's erratic command, whilst simultaneously trying to protect young Wellard from the unwarranted wrath of the captain. And during that time, Bush had found himself quite inexplicably in Sawyer's favour.
Bush well remembered Kennedy's indignation on the quarterdeck, when he had virtually demanded that the Second Lieutenant intercede with Sawyer on Wellard's behalf. He remembered the young man's righteous fury when the demand had been refused.
Interestingly, when he had briefly exchanged a glance with Hornblower, Bush had read a measure of understanding in the other's fierce dark eyes. But it was not exactly surprising to find Hornblower subtle enough to understand how precarious the situation had been.
No such subtlety with Mr Kennedy. In that implacably honest way of his, he genuinely could not see that provoking the captain further would have only increased young Wellard's punishment. And Kennedy would not forget the incident quickly.
Last night's events, with the meeting of the lieutenants below decks and their shared adversity in the near discovery by the captain, had clearly not been enough to allay Kennedy's suspicions. Although what exactly he suspected Bush might be planning, the Second Lieutenant really didn't know. Perhaps trying to buy favour with Sawyer by exposing the collaboration of the night before?
Kennedy couldn't think him that stupid, could he? Maybe he could. The younger lieutenant scarcely had a high opinion of him. Maybe they were sharing the current watch because Kennedy did not want to let Bush out of his sight. Suspected of conspiring against fellow conspirators? Bush fancied that there might be a strange irony to that.
He only just managed to suppress his amusement when he remembered the cool unsmiling formality with which Kennedy had offered to share this watch with him. So clearly an attempt to be proper and civil and yet it could not disguise the young man's underlying mistrust. If he had truly believed in Bush's loyalty to their cause, then open, honest, direct and affable Mr Kennedy definitely would have offered a smile.
Bush glanced at the man in question to see him standing ramrod straight and staring at the activity below with a carefully schooled dispassionate expression, one quite unlike the genial countenance that Bush had usually seen him wear.
The Second Lieutenant was not usually one for idle conversation while on duty but he suddenly felt a need to speak with Mr Kennedy. He needed to gauge what the younger man was thinking. He needed some indication of how he would react when the next inevitable confrontation with Sawyer and his supporters occurred.
After all, he scarcely knew if he could rely on Kennedy and Hornblower to support him during the coming turmoil. There was no doubting their loyalty to each other. He had yet to see anything to make him doubt their loyalty to their men or to the Service. But did they have even the slightest loyalty towards him?
Not gifted in small talk, the Second Lieutenant offered neutrally, "Looks like fair weather ahead."
Kennedy seemed to pause for a moment and continued to gaze dispassionately at the deck below rather than Bush, as he replied.
"Yes, there'll be no need to shorten sail. Almost a pity."
Bush was torn between wanting to smile and wanting to sigh. In the end, he merely raised his eyebrows. Another candid observation from Mr Kennedy that stopped only just short of open disrespect for his captain. The lad certainly was consistent, if nothing else.
"Well, we may yet have to make a full report of all other incidents that occur during this watch to Captain Sawyer."
Kennedy turned to look at him slowly, the carefully schooled bland expression beginning to crack. "Indeed?"
Bush nodded somberly. "As Mr Buckland has already pointed out, Captain Sawyer is still in command of this ship. If he wakes and Dr Clive refuses to pronounce him medically unfit, then I would expect him to demand a full report of all that occurred while he was indisposed. Wouldn't you, Mr Kennedy?"
"And would you relish the opportunity to make such a report, Mr Bush?" A faint tone of derision, a touch of the aristocrat again.
Bush quashed the trace of resentment that he felt beginning to burn, the resentment that he had once mistakenly allowed to flare in response to another comment made by Mr Kennedy in a similar tone. He didn't want to squabble with the man. There was far too much at stake here.
He had already given his allegiance to his fellow lieutenants and he wasn't going to rescind that. If only he could make the young fool understand it. He took a moment to calm himself before he spoke.
"No, I would not relish it but nor would I relish disobeying a direct order from the officer in command of this ship."
"Fit to command?" At least, by not actually mentioning a name, Kennedy left the question slightly ambiguous. Perhaps the lad could begin to learn a little subtlety, after all. One could only hope.
"That remains a matter for Dr Clive. None of us should preempt him."
"Accept what comes to us, whatever that may be?"
"There is a danger in anticipating events too early. They have overtaken us once already. They may do so again."
Kennedy openly smirked at that comment. His amusement was blazoned across his face, as he turned his gaze back down toward the deck below and Bush found it rather disturbing.
"Something amuses you, Mr Kennedy?"
"No, sir. I was merely thinking that we can hardly stand back and hope for such serendipity a second time."
"What would you have us do?"
"Us?" Kennedy turned back to directly into his eyes and again there was a faintly mocking coolness to his tone. "Myself, I would not want to preempt anything. I would not presume. What would you have us do? No, better yet, what would you yourself do?"
"I would do my duty." Bush heard his own voice becoming dry and sardonic.
"To whom?" There was definitely something implacable in Kennedy's words now.
"To this ship and to the Service."
"I meant in terms of people. Men of flesh and blood, not abstract ideals like the call to 'King and Country'."
Bush raised his eyebrows. The subtlety had slipped completely again. Kennedy's inner thoughts were bared and what he saw of them came as no at all surprise to the more senior lieutenant.
"The shipped is crewed by such men, Mr Kennedy. It is such men that comprise the Service."
Kennedy's eyes widened slightly, as if the answer surprised him. Then they narrowed and his head tilted a fraction, as if he questioned the sincerity of Bush's "duty to the men".
Bush knew that he shouldn't allow himself to be goaded into rash comments but Kennedy's reaction still rankled him.
"That somehow surprises you? Some of us come from quite humble beginnings, Mr Kennedy, and although we may try to better ourselves, we have not forgotten them. To be quite honest with you, some of us are often not allowed to forget them."
Even as he spoke the words, he felt himself wondering if someone as well-born as Lt Archibald Kennedy clearly was could ever comprehend what he meant.
But the faint flush that crept across Kennedy's face seemed to indicate that some form of understanding had hit home, even though he defiantly held Bush's gaze. Then the young man's face broke into a smile, one unlike any other smile that Bush had seen him wear before. It was gentle and rueful and he seemed to mock himself with it.
"I think you might be surprised, Mr Bush, by exactly how much I know about the subject of humility."
Before now, Bush had no doubt that he would have been very surprised indeed. "Humility" was perhaps the last word he would have associated with Mr Kennedy. But seeing that strange sad smile, he felt his perception alter. He didn't know what it meant, exactly. But it was so far different from the arrogant condescension he had expected that it made him wonder.
"I might be, indeed." It seemed an inadequate answer but he sensed a connection, a "truce" perhaps, forming between the two of them and he feared breaking it.
There was a brief moment of awkward silence before they both, by unspoken agreement, turned their gazes back towards the activity on the deck below where the men worked under the firm and able direction of Gunner Hobbs and Bosun Matthews. There was another fierce reminder of the divided loyalties that plagued the Renown.
Both Hobbs and Matthews were experienced and capable seamen and both were loyal to a fault but where their loyalty lay differed significantly.
Hobbs had always shown great personal loyalty to Captain Sawyer that went far beyond mere duty. He also appeared to have the captain's ear, a position of considerable trust and influence. Bush had taken heed of that early during his days on the Renown. Sawyer relied more on the gunner than he did on his First Lieutenant. It was not a practice that Bush considered entirely proper or befitting of a captain in His Majesty's Navy. But looking at the capabilities of the gunner and the deficiencies of Mr Buckland, Bush could see why Sawyer might choose to do.
Matthews, on the other hand, had just as clearly demonstrated a personal loyalty to Mr Hornblower. Although Bush had not directly inquired about them, it seemed clear that the two had served together before. The young lieutenant was clearly very capable, perhaps even exceptional. That he inspired such loyalty from his men, not to mention friends and fellow officers like Kennedy, surely said something about his integrity as well as his abilities.
It seemed slightly odd that he felt that he had thrown in his lot with Hornblower and Kennedy, rather than with Buckland who was the senior officer amongst them. Well, not so strange perhaps. He was not such a fool as to look to Buckland for decisiveness and leadership. But Bush himself was senior to both Hornblower and Kennedy and yet he certainly did not feel as though he was leading them.
No the impetus amongst them definitely seemed to come from Hornblower, even if the lad tried to hide behind a pretence of deferring to Buckland. And Bush really had very little idea of the kind of man Hornblower was beyond young, clever and capable of quickly inspiring loyalty in others, including apparently Bush himself.
He glanced back towards where the young man slept in a corner of the deck and remembered how he had accepted the punishment of another 72 hours of continuous watch. Everyone present had known that it had been a virtual death sentence and yet Hornblower had faced his legendary captain with a look that somehow combined stoic acceptance with unflinching defiance.
"He certainly has courage." Bush wasn't aware he had spoken aloud until Kennedy answered him.
"You don't know the half of it, Mr Bush."
He looked up to see that Kennedy had followed his gaze and the younger lieutenant's face showed open concern for his friend.
"I'm sure that I don't," Bush replied politely.
"He would say that he was only doing his duty but then he goes and takes risks that, quite frankly, border on the insane."
Bush raised his eyebrows. "Reckless stupidity is one thing that I wouldn't have expected from Mr Hornblower."
Kennedy snorted softly. "Oh, he can be reckless. Yes, he most certainly can. Perhaps not truly stupid." A pause as he considered. "No, insane but not stupid. You see, Horatio, quite maddeningly, always seems to have had some kind of plan. Usually something remarkably 'clever' that the rest of us wouldn't have considered in a thousand years." He sighed. "I fear one day he will be too clever for his own good."
Then, suddenly, Kennedy's face broke into an ironic but amiable smile. "Mr Hornblower needs to be protected from himself occasionally, Mr Bush."
A sudden pang of guilt caught Bush unawares. "Protected from himself," Kennedy had said. So was that what they were doing for Captain James Sawyer, Hero of the Nile? Conspiring to relieve him of his command? Inviting him to scramble around below decks in the dark? Allowing him to knock himself senseless, falling into an open hold?
But Kennedy did not notice and continued to speak, clearly not yet anticipating a response. "It's a difficult assignment but worth the effort. After all, Horatio himself would do almost anything to protect his ship and the men."
Do almost anything? A disturbing possibility occurred to the senior lieutenant, a possibility that he didn't want to consider but now found impossible to dismiss from his thoughts.
Even though his mouth had turned dry, he tried to sound nonchalant, as he commented, "He can be somewhat unorthodox in his approach to a problem."
Perhaps he had let something slip in his tone because Kennedy looked at him sharply again. "His 'unorthodox' ways have saved lives, Mr Bush. I, for one, will not condemn them."
"I am not condemning. As a lieutenant whose captain has been temporarily relieved of command, and in the manner that he has been, I certainly would not be moved so quickly to condemn."
Kennedy's gaze upon him was very incisive now. "Are you concerned that last night's events in the hold will not stand up well to scrutiny?"
Yes, too incisive by half. Bush couldn't help but wonder what had happened there. He didn't want to contemplate the possibility that Captain Sawyer's fall was anything more than an accident, an accident that proved most fortuitous for his four lieutenants. But Kennedy had asked a question and stood waiting for an answer.
"I don't honestly know but all of us will face the scrutiny together. Division between us would undoubtedly prove fatal to all."
Kennedy's face took on an odd expression, as if the answer both pleased and saddened him.
"You weren't there, Mr Bush."
No, Bush hadn't been there but now he wished to God that he had been.
'Events overtook us'those had been his own words. He had been so relieved at not having to actively remove the captain from command that he'd failed to even consider that someone might have orchestrated these events.
He didn't want to consider it.
It was true that Hornblower sometimes deviated from standard naval protocol if he thought it was for the good of the ship and it's crew. But not to the point of assaulting his commanding officer, surely.
"No, I was not there, Mr Kennedy, but the events of the entire evening will reflect on us all. There is nothing that I should know about what occurred in the hold, is there?"
Kennedy's sad smile persisted. "No, there is nothing you should know."
Young Wellard came up from behind them. The boy was almost shaking with nervous energy. "Mr Kennedy? Sir?"
In contrast, Kennedy was the essence of calm competence. "Yes, Mr Wellard?"
"I need your help, sir." He glanced nervously at Bush. "On the foredeck, sir."
Kennedy inclined his head towards the more senior lieutenant. "Mr Bush?"
There was no irony or derision in his tone, merely the appropriate deference to a senior officer. Mr Kennedy was suddenly the very model of naval protocol.
Bush nodded his assent and the two younger officers departed for the foredeck, leaving him alone to his uneasy deliberations.
He glanced at the sleeping Hornblower again. The lad briefly stirred and seemed to mutter something but he didn't wake. Restless despite his exhaustion. Could it be from a guilty conscience? Bush didn't want to believe that.
After all, they were all still embroiled in more than enough troubles to prey on Hornblower's mind. No reason to suspect anything else.
Hornblower, Kennedy, Wellard – Bush knew that he had thrown his lot in with these men, placed the safety of the ship in their collective hands as well as his own. He had to know what deeds they were capable of. He had to know if he could trust them.
Lord knew, he desperately wanted to trust them.
Lt William Bush made no claim to real cleverness or subtlety. But he had to ask Hornblower about the events in the hold. He had very little desire to get embroiled in a game of subtlety with the man. He had little doubt that if he did so, the clever Third Lieutenant would probably run rings around him.
But now that even the vaguest of suspicions had been raised, he could not simply ignore it.
There was nothing else for it. He would just have to ask him when he woke.
He simply had to know.