Hornblower and the Widow McCool
Author C. S. Forester
Publication Apr 1951
Publication Order
Preceded by
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
Followed by
Lieutenant Hornblower
1799 1799
Preceded by
Hornblower and the Hand of Destiny
Followed by
Lieutenant Hornblower

Hornblower and the Widow McCool (vt Hornblower and the Big Decision, Hornblower's Temptation) is a short story by C.S. Forester, first published in Argosy in 1951, and then collected with the unfinished Hornblower and the Crisis in 1967, together with another short story The Last Encounter.

Plot summary Edit

HMS Renown, Captain James Sawyer commanding, as well as the remainder of the Channel fleet and the French prize Espérance, under the command of Admiral Lord Bridport, are rounding Berry Head and taking shelter in Tor Bay. Boats are plying to Brixham and Torquay for letters and fresh water.

Soon Hart, masters-mate, assigned as prizemaster of Espérance, reports aboard Renown to Captain Sawyer. Hornblower signalled to the Flag that Barry Ignatius McCool is aboard Espérance. Flag calls court martial aboard Renown forthwith. McCool had deserted Renown to France while on Channel fleet patrol near Penmarch. Hornblower later finds out that McCool was read aboard Renown by the name of O'Shauhnessy. Hornblower was assigned by the Captain and First Lieutenant Buckland to be in charge of McCool during the court martial, to prevent suicide or other injury and to ensure that there was not communication between McCool and any of the crew. The other Lieutenants compare McCool with Wolfe Tone and Fitzgerald, historical Irish revolutionaries.

Lieutenant Payne on the Admiral's staff arrived to do a thorough search of McCool and his personal possessions, and found nothing. Hornblower then ordered food and drink for McCool as well as a mattress. McCool was locked in a storeroom under guard by the master-at-arms and two corporals.

The court martial finds McCool guilty of desertion and he is sentenced to death by hanging. Rear Admiral Cornwallis meets with Hornblower in the captain's cabin and directs to him that McCool is to make no speeches, not to utter a word as he was to be hung.

Hornblower discusses the situation with McCool who gives his word to say nothing at the hanging if Hornblower promises to deliver his sea chest and a letter to his widow, Hornblower agrees, but, only after reading the letter.

The hands are called to witness punishment, boats with crewmembers from the other ships surround Renown. McCool comes up from below guarded by Hornblower. He takes position and the noose is placed. Ten crewmembers take hold and raise the noose. McCool is hung until dead, never uttering a word. It was usual that the body remaining swinging until nightfall, but, with the gale at hand, he was taken down, sewn into weighted sailcloth and dumped over the side without ceremony.

Hornblower begins to wonder about the letter containing a poem and McCool's sea chest. After opening and examining the chest, which was well made and had McCool's name in raised letter 'B I MCCOOL' on the lid, he turns back to the poem. Reading the lines and trying the letters, Hornblower managed to move them in accordance with the instructions of the poem. Lifting the lid, there was a secret compartment inside the lid containing a large sum of money, a list of names with notes beside each, and a draft proclamation ready for printing to incite another Irish rebellion. Later, Hornblower is informed that McCool had no widow.

Hornblower wrestles his mind about what he found in the chest and in a few days and nights came to the conclusion that it was best to arrange for all to go over the side at sea.

So ends the story of McCool.

The Poem Edit

Ye heavenly powers! Stand by me when I die!

The bee ascends before my rolling eye.

Life still goes on within the heartless town.

Dark forces claim my soul. So strike 'em down.

The sea will rise, the sea will fall. So turn

Full circle. Turn again. And then will burn

The lambent flames while hell will lift its head.

So pray for me while I am numbered with the dead.

C. S. Forester

This poem was included by McCool in his letter to his widow, which were, as discovered by Hornblower, instructions as how to open a secret compartment in the lid of his sea chest. His first and middle initial and his last name were contained on the lid as raised letters. Hornblower figured out the sequence thusly:

Pull the 'B' up from the lid,

Turn the 'I' about,

Tap the 'M' so that it sinks into the lid,

Slide the first 'C' upward,

Slide the second 'C' downward,

Spin both 'O's all the way around, opposite directions,

Pull up the 'L', it was hinged on the bottom.

By following the instructions contained in poem, Hornblower discovered that there was a secret compartment in the lid which contained a large sum of five pound notes, a list of names and explanations for persons to contact to restart the rebellion, and a draft proclamation to be distributed to restart the rebellion.

Ultimately, Hornblower threw the entire sea chest overside.

Characters Edit

Ships Edit

Locations Edit

Licensing: Edit

The text in the poem on this page is copyrighted. The individual who uploaded this work and first used it in an article, and subsequent persons who place it into articles, assert that this qualifies as fair use of the material under United States copyright law.

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