Hornblower: The Even Chance


January 1793.

The british fleet lies at

anchor at Spithead.

Ships and men rot in idleness.

Across the channel,

revolution in France is sweeping away

the old order.

- Shore boat, ahoy!

- Aye, aye!


You'll be all right!

Welcome to purgatory.

Mr. Eccleston, sir.

- Come aboard, sir.

- Your name?

H- h- Horatio Hornblower, sir.


Eccleston, first lieutenant.

Mr. Chadd, lieutenant of the watch.

Did you bring your dunnage

aboard with you?

My seachest is coming

aboard for'ard.

I'll see it's sent below,

where you should go too.

Get out of those wet clothes.

Yes, sir. I mean, aye, aye, sir.

Mr. Kennedy, take Mr.Hornblower down

to the midshipmen's birth.

Aye, aye, sir.

Mind your step.

Difficult to say

who smells the worst,

the men or the beasts in

the manger for'ard.

One gets used to it.

Watch your head.

There goes His Majesty's latest

bad bargain.

Belay that, Styles

unless you want

to find yourself at the gratings.

Aye, aye, sir.

They're not bad men for

the most part,

provided they're kept busy.

But this, endless waiting

most of us have been here

six months already.

Discipline, you see?

Things will be different once

we transfer to a fighting vessel,

I don't doubt, but who knows

when that may be.

Our only hope is that the

unpleasantness in France

might come to something.

You've heard the latest rumours,

of course?

that Louis was captured just

before Christmas.

What do you think they'll do

with him? You can't kill a king.

It's as my father explained

to his gillie

Perhaps some of these people

have missed the odd meal or two

but lopping the heads of the nobility

isn't going to fill their bellies,

is it?

Still, that's Johnny Crapaud for you.

Well, allow me to introduce

the midshipmen of His Majesty's

ship of the line, Justinian

Known elsewise to her intimates

as the good ship

Slough of Despond.

What's this, Archie?

Another mess mate, gentlemen.

And whose pretty rear did you neglect

kissing to find yourself

among the fleet's forgotten, eh?

- Well, speak, Apparition!

- My name is Hornblower.

What an infernal piece of

bad luck for you.

How old are you, Mr. Hornblower?

Seventeen, sir.

Seventeen, sir! You hear

that Cleveland?

If you wanted to be a seaman, boy,

you should have started at twelve.

I doubt he even knows the difference


a head and a halyard.

No, but I'll make sure it's the first

thing I look up in...

in Norrie's Seamanship.

Now, gentlemen, if you will

excuse me.

- Seasick!

- Seasick in Spithead!

Your pardon, sir.

There. Just lie quiet until you

feel yourself again.

The captain's coming aboard.

Captain Keene...

if ever a man was wrongly named.

He looks frailer by the day.

I must thank you for your

earlier kindness, Mr


You mustn't mind Hether

and Cleveland.

It's just their way till they

get used to you.

Present arms!

Your father writes that

you are a solitary boy.

Well, on a vessel of over 800 souls,

you are unlikely to find either time

or place for solitude.

How is the good Doctor Hornblower?

Well, I trust?

Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.

He said to be sure to thank

you for accepting me

in Justinian as midshipman, sir.

One good turn deserves another.

Your father is an excellent


Yes, sir.

The son of a doctor! Ha!

You'd have done better to choose

a lord for your father

if you wanted to make a career

in His Majesty's navy.

How far did your education go?

I was a Grecian at school, sir.

- Speak up.

- I was a Grecian, sir, at school.

You construed Xenofot, then,

as well as Cicero.

Yes, sir. But, not very well, sir.

You'd have done better if you knew


about sines and cosines.

Better still if you could foresee

a squall

in time to get t'gallants in.

We have no time for ablative

absolutes in the navy.

- No, sir.

- Obey orders, do your duty,

and no harm will come to you.

That will do.

Ah, the Indies, now that's

the place, Horatio

Clear blue skies, and waters too.

I should very much like to see

that, Mr. Hether.

So you may,

if we ever get off this stinking

hulk and put to sea again.

You're in my seat.

The head of the table is my place.

Come on, up!

How now, my sweet brother officers?

No cheer for Jack's return?

We took you for a lieutenant

by now, Jack.

- Did you?

- Your commission?

- Refused.

- Oh, bad luck.

Bad luck indeed.

So, acting lieutenant Simpson is

once again

Mr. Midshipman Simpson.

At your service.

What's this? A new face among

our august company. Mr?

Hornblower, sir.

Pleased to meet you.

What have you there?

Mutton, sir.

Very fine. Very fine indeed.

A mite salty for my taste.

What do you mean by helping

yourself to my vittles, sir?

I should have thought my intention

was quite obvious.


You'll acquaint young Snotty here

with the way of things

or have you forgotten so soon?

N- n- no. I,

Mr. Simpson may levy a toll upon

our seachests for fresh shirts.

Likewise, our issue of spirits,

and the best cuts

of meat go to him.

- Why?

- He is senior officer in the mess.

We are all midshipmen.

That smacks of republicanism

to my mind, Mr. Hornblower.

Is that what you are?

To my knowledge there is nothing

in King's Regulations

I pee on your regulations!

There is but one law in this mess

render unto Caesar

And I'll leave it to you to figure

which of us is Caesar

and which is to do the rendering.

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C.S. Forester

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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