Measure Of The Man
As the young Midshipman Hornblower starred down at Mr Simpson he felt all the anger and resentment he'd harboured for the man bubble up towards the surface – as contempt swelled in his heart. The bullet wound in his armpit throbbed painfully – a physical manifestation of all the pain and grief the man now kneeling before him, pleading for his life, had brought to the hearts of so many men – and no doubt the scar would prove a constant reminder of for many years to come.
Nothing would give him more satisfaction than to shoot the man dead on the spot, and to rid the world of just one more rotten soul. Mr Simpson had spread fear and disorder amongst the men like black rats spread the plague throughout the fleet ever since he'd first set foot on board the deck of his first ship – and the time had come to bring the man's reign of terror to an end.
The young Hornblower's finger tightened upon the trigger, and his hand shook with the intense restraint it took to stop himself from releasing the bullet from the barrel. His heart was saying yes, that the world would be a much better place without a man like him to add to its millions, but his head was telling him no, there had already been enough bloodshed during this time of war.
But Mr Simpson had shown Clayton no mercy when he'd fired the bullet which had eventually killed him in cold blood, or when he'd cut the unconscious Mr Kennedy adrift – to float aimlessly upon a starless sea.
No, he'd shown no mercy – but what he'd done didn't necessarily make him a man either. Shooting him would make the young Hornblower no better than Simpson, and the young Midshipman certainly aspired to be more in his lifetime.
So to avoid all future temptation he fired the weapon up into the air – dispensing it's one and only bullet into the air above his head, rather than at the man he really wanted to see drop dead before him.
"You're not worth the powder." He spat as he tossed the spent pistol aside.
No – a bullet, like the gun from which it was fired from, was an instrument of war to be reserved only for use on the enemy, and only when necessary – Mr Simpson was no threat to Mr Hornblower anymore. For the first time he could now see the man cowering and crying beneath him for what he really was – no more than a bully and a coward.
He was worth nothing; a nobody – certainly not a worthy opponent – and so in a final gesture of indifference to the man who had held him a prisoner of his own fear for far too long he turned his back.
He had spared him his life, but only because he hadn't wanted to start his rather promising navel career with revenge in his heart, and a man's cold blood on his hands. He was determined to use his time in this world to make better choices and to become the best possible man and officer that he could be.
Not a coward and a murderer.
Mr Simpson could haunt the young Mr Hornblower no longer – the young man would never need fear the twisted cat and mouse games of the slightly older Midshipman again.