Hornblower and the Widow McCool (short story)

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Published as Hornblower's Temptation in the U.S., this is a short story by C.S. Forester, published with the unfinished Hornblower and the Crisis as was another short story The Last Encounter, published in 1967.

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, is 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, reported aboard Renown to Captain Sawyer. Hornblower signaled 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 the Honourable Sir William 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 give parole 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.

Characters Edit

Lord Bridport, Admiral of the Channel fleet

Buckland, First Lieutenant of HMS Renown

Clive, Surgeon of HMS Renown

William Cornwallis, Admiral Honourable Sir, Commander-in-Chief, Channel fleet

Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Historic Irish Revolutionary (mentioned only)

Hart, master's mate, HMS Renown

Horatio Hornblower, Fourth Lieutenant of HMS Renown

James, signal midshipman, HMS Renown.

Jack Ketch, executioner for Charles II (mentioned only)

Barry Ignatius McCool (aka O'Shaunessy as crew member of Renown), deserter, Irish Rebellion activist

Payne, Flag Lieutenant

Roberts, Second Lieutenant, HMS Renown

James Sawyer, Captain, HMS Renown

Smith, Lieutenant (Third, later fourth), HMS Renown

Wolf Tone, historic Irish rebellion activist (mentioned only)

Ships Edit


HMS Renown

HMS Victory, flagship, Channel Fleet

Locations Edit


Penmarks (Penmarch)(mentioned only)

Battle of Cape St. Vincent (mentioned only)

Tor Bay


Trafalgar (mentioned only)

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