Title: Those we Watch
Word Count 865
Disclaimer Not mine
Those We Watch
4 Bells, Afternoon watch
Mr Bracegirdle raised his watch.
His voice was a deep shout, quite unlike his usual affable tone. This was meant to carry through smoke and fire. It was meant to hearten men, to bring obedience forth from confusion.
They stopped moving, stood dripping sweat, smiling. They knew they had done well.
The air was shivering with the ghost of the cannon now. This was silence that felt like sound.
“Very well done lads.” He said. The cannon was hot to the touch. They stood back from it, leaning against the bulkhead, sweating.
“ A twenty second improvement,” Mr Bracegirdle held the watch high.
“Now there is a good gift to help Mr Hornblower recover,” He said “He will hear of it tonight. And I shall tell him that his division is one to be proud of. You men are dismissed.”
The men of Hornblower's division streamed away, toward the cooler air of the deck. Bracegirdle was still smiling, as he turned to the man standing beside him. He spoke to Kennedy, but pitched his voice to carry to everyone.
“We beat you this time, Mr Kennedy,” He said. “But not by much, you almost had us, By God.”
Kennedy, in turn, dismissed the men of his division. They were laughing as they left, glad to leave cannon drill behind them.
Mr Bracegirdle had a mild gaze. His eyes were a faded blue, they were forgettable. They suggested the gentle herbivore. He had known for years that he could rake with them, without causing alarm or offense. He did this now. He missed nothing
Mr Kennedy was soaked with sweat, exhausted. His hair hung wet, lank over his face, smuts of soot were wiped across the bridge of his nose. His own watch, was a lovely heavy thing, , better than Bracegirldle's own. He held it, forgotten, in his hand. These things were usual. Bracegirdle thought nothing of them. But he made a particular note of other things. There were brackets around Archie Kennedy's mouth, there was a fine tremor to his jaw, his lips were pressed together, white.
John Bracegirdle said nothing of this. He would speak of it later, but not to Archie Kennedy.
5 Bells, Afternoon Watch.
Captain Pellew looked up from his desk. His smile was wry. Captaincy was paperwork, days of it. Bracegirldle had said once, that he believed that all the papers would be a boon to future Naval historians. Pellew strongly doubted that. He hoped that the unknown future would not be so dull. He understood, of course, the need for documenting. But he did not have to like it. Sometimes at night, he dreamed, not of his wife, or the sea, but of endless writing. He saw, behind his own closed eyes, his own small black script, going on and on to the edge of vision.
Bracegirldle closed the door and stood waiting.
“Sit down,” Pellew indicated a chair. His own gaze was dark brown, intelligent and penetrating. But it had been years and years since he had underestimated Bracegirldle.
“I am of two minds here, I find.” Pellew said at last. “What is your sense of it?”
John Bracegirdle nodded. “I think – yes.” He said. “We can manage. And it would be a kindness. Shall I pass the word for him?”
“No.” Captain Pellew pushed his writing aside. “I'll go down myself, presently.”
2 Bells, Dogwatch
Horatio was sleeping more easily now, than this morning. His head was turned away from the light, but Archie could see the grey-green shadows beneath his closed eyes. He was still rasping when he breathed, and he was thinner.
Archie pushed the dark hair back, to feel the fever. Yes, cooler. Horatio whimpered sleepily at the touch, Archie took his hand away. He heard himself murmur some soothing nonsense. It was something from his own days as a sick little boy, nothing he would admit to in the real day, but it seemed to help Horatio rest.
He pulled the blanket up, careful not to jostle Horatio's arm. He would watch and read, for a while. He had just settled in his hammock when a quiet knock came, at the door.
“No, no, as you were, Mr Kennedy.” Captain Pellew filled the doorway, but he was very quiet as he came into the room.
“How is he today?”
“A little better, I think, Sir.”
As Archie had done, the Captain reached out. He pushed the dark hair back, and rested his hand on Horatio's brow.
Sensing some strangeness, Horatio's eyes opened. They were bleary and confused. He was not awake.
“Father?” He whispered. The dark eyes spilled with tears.
Captain Pellew cleared his throat. He pushed the hair back again, in something very like a caress.
“A father, indeed, but not yours, lad.” He said. “Just your old Captain.”
He cleared his throat again, and turned to face Archie. His voice was soft.
“Mr Kennedy, I have a task for you,” He said