"It is a pleasure to be serviced by you, Mr Hornblower."
Captain Pellew of HMS Indefatigable
On the highest spar of the foremost mast of His Majesty's Ship Indefatigable are standing Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower and his colleague, Archie Kennedy. The mast sways and the wind buffets them from behind as the gallant warship surges through the open ocean, yet our heroes stand firm in their place. Such brave young gentlemen looking forward to Adventure and Glory and another Trouncing of the Frogs on the High Seas! Were there ever two truer souls in the service of His Majesty's Navy?
As the wind shifts slightly, Kennedy leans across the mast and addresses his companion: "Horatio, how much longer are we to keep up this pretence?"
"What pretence?" responds our Lt Hornblower guiltily, glancing back at the aft masts where the other young officers are standing.
"Oh Horatio, they cannot hear us! You know damned well what pretence I mean."
"We are merely companions in adversity. The dangers we have endured together have brought us close as brothers," Lt Hornblower declares hopefully.
"I should not care to share the experiences I have had with you with my brothers," Kennedy mutters.
"Those were the expression of accumulated carnal lust, nothing more." There is a decided tinge of pink in the Lieutenant's cheeks.
"And so great were they that your own hand was of no service? Come, Horatio, do not talk nonsense! I know you feel the same love for me as I do for you."
"The love that one officer in His Majesty's Navy naturally feels for another, yes."
"No! Remember that Spanish prison, how you refused to let me die, all those months you nursed me back to health? Any other man would have let me choose my own path: shipmate or no, he would have given me up as a lost cause. Now tell me you have no feelings for me!" Kennedy's grin is triumphant.
"What about the women then? The Countess and that French woman..."
"Hah, you cannot even remember her name!"
"I can!" retorts Hornblower. "It was, um..."
"You see? You may have found them attractive at the time, but how quickly you move on! I, on the other hand, still rate in your affections."
"Hmp!" says the Lieutenant. "It does not do to be a fairy in the British Navy." His eye sweeps the deck below, as though he is seeking somebody in particular.
"I know why you persist in this foolish denial!" suddenly announces Kennedy in enlightened tones. "It's because of the Captain!"
"Yes! You hope to win the affections of Captain Pellew!"
"He is a hard man to please. I enjoy the challenge," Hornblower concedes, abandoning the cloak of deceit.
"It is a challenge you will not succeed in, Horatio!" cries Kennedy. "Can you not see that however ardently he returns your desire - " at the Lieutenant's startled look: "Yes he does, Horatio - I have noted the way his eye follows you and he always wishes you especial godspeed on any mission that takes you away from the Indy. But however much he returns your feelings , he must not show it! He is your Captain - he must be stern and aloof to maintain your respect. But I believe that although he keeps it from you, he is always pleased with your work as his Lieutenant. He will never want to exchange you for another, but neither will he invite you to his cabin."
Hornblower sees the truth in Kennedy's words. Indeed, he muses, it is very likely that should he conquer the Captain, he would no longer respect Pellew as his superior in the manner a Lieutenant should his Captain.
And here is Kennedy - here is Archie, whom he loves, who loves him, whom he bullied back to life in a stone-walled Spanish prison, because he could not bear to watch him die.. Do you have a sweetheart back home, Archie? Yes, he asked that, hoping to hear a no... Archie , who has been there ever since, on land, at sea, in the rigging, in his cabin...
"Archie," declares Lt Hornblower, "the pretence is over. I feel for you as you do for me and tonight you will come to my cabin at the hour of eight, whereupon we shall not satisfy our carnal desires - we will make love. The Captain can take to his bed alone, and good luck to him."
The look Kennedy bestows upon him near swoons him from his perch.
"An order I shall be honoured to obey, Lieutenant," says that gentleman.
His Majesty's Ship Indefatigable ploughs her way onward through the seas in search of Frogs to Trounce. The favourable wind at her back stirs the hair of her Captain as he stands at the forecastle, his keen eye watching over the waves. High above, that same breeze is felt by the two gallant young officers who stand together on the skymost spar. With youthful spirit they gaze into the future, anticipating all it holds, but perhaps with the greatest eagerness, they await the coming evening.