by Sarah B.
As soon as the marine guard left him alone in the privacy of his room, Horatio began to pace.
He needed to think; he needed to reflect and plan. He was in a bad situation, they all were; they needed a way out.
So he began to pace.
His rooms were very nice, although he hardly noticed them; an open and airy second-floor set of rooms, with slatted windows to keep out the worst of the noonday heat and a balcony to enjoy the fresh summer evenings. Potted ferns decorated the otherwise sparsely furnished living quarters, and at that moment the sun was just beginning its downward trek in the sky toward evening. Horatio noticed that his balcony faced west; the sunsets would be spectacular indeed.
If he ever bothered watching one.
No, Horatio decided as he walked the length of the room again, he needed to plan. The guard told him that he was not under arrest, not yet; still he was not to leave his room without escort, and he was not to see the other men of the Renown without consent. Doubtless the others were being told the same thing. They were not prisoners, but they were wards; and that was almost worse.
Suspected, but not accused. Looked at with uncertainty, even by Pellew! Horatio brought himself up short with that realization. To see doubt in his former captain's eyes, worse, to see pity! Horatio shook his head at the foolhardy discordance of it all; to have Pellew be witness to it made his shame complete.
What would happen now? Horatio walked toward the balcony and stepped out into the waning sun. He could see the Renown from his perch; the ratings were still bustling about under the midshipmens' direction, and likely would be until sundown. There was still so much to do...
But he would not be doing it. Pellew had been looking over the captain's log all afternoon, while the other captains - including Hammond, of all people! Horatio remembered feeling faint at the sight of that man, who had caused him no small share of discomfort - were interviewing Buckland, who was telling them God knew what. Horatio's eyes narrowed as he contemplated Buckland's nature, his cold and calculating manipulation of Horatio's loyalties. The man was out to serve only himself, and held the lives of his men cheap where his own hide was concerned; to Horatio that was the greatest failing a commander could have. Buckland would sink all of them to save himself; while Horatio...
Horatio sighed and walked back into the room, sinking into the nearest chair and gazing at the door sullenly. He wanted to leave very badly, and knew exactly where he would go if he was given the freedom. But they would never give it. He was suspected...
There was a knock on the door, and as Horatio stood a marine appeared, his pudgy face impassive. "The Commodore himself to see you, sir."
Good God, Pellew! Horatio hastily straightened his coat and hoped he did not look too dissheveled. The thought only got halfway through his head, however, for before another moment passed the marine stepped back quickly, and Commodore Sir Edward Pellew strode into the room.
How he had changed! Horatio stared at his former captain, awed. The rich brown hair was now touched with grey, the grand trim of a captain's coat replaced by the even grander opulence of a commodore's finery. Horatio had been too preoccupied to really look at Pellew on the dock, but now in the relative intimacy of the room and in a softer light he saw also the lines on his mentor's face, the undeniable burden of command. The years had dealt their blows; Captain Sir Edward Pellew was gone forever.
But the eyes - the eyes still snapped with amber fire, still fixed Horatio with their omnipotent gaze. Under that glare Horatio stood as straight as he could, and felt a thrill of nostalgic terror for his earliest days as a midshipman too used to the dying Captain Keene's frailty to be prepared for Pellew's energetic bombast. Gazing straight ahead Horatio nodded slightly and said, "Commodore Pellew, sir. It's good of you to come and see me."
"Dammit, man, this is not a social call," Pellew grumbled, stepping closer and removing the overly grand hat from his head.
Without his hat Pellew looked smaller, less imposing, but Horatio did not relax a bit. "No, sir."
"I have just come from a meeting with Captains Hammond and Collins," Pellew continued, in the same crisp tones that used to ring across Indefatigable's decks. "I have looked over the captain's log, and they have been conducting interviews with Acting Captain Buckland and some of the ship's crew." He paused, and sighed slightly as he squinted out the window at the setting sun. "It does not look good, Mr. Hornblower. The consideration is to charge you all with mutiny."
Horatio did look at Pellew then, in surprise. "All of us, sir?"
"*All* of you, sir," Pellew replied, turning and pacing the other way, just as Horatio had done. "We have no choice, with the revelations in Captain Sawyer's personal log coupled with his fall down into the hold. Sawyer has named all of you as conspirators and cutthroats, eager to take him down as a pack of jackals after its prey. It stinks, the whole lot of it, and it demands an answer, man!"
Horatio could tell that his former captain was working into a perfect frenzy, and knew better than to fuel it. Somehow, the tight knot in his belly felt comforting even as it pained him. He kept silent.
"Mutiny," Pellew shook his head again, "That's what the charge will be, and God help you if it goes to trial. Everything that has been worked for, the prize ships and your victory in Samana Bay rendered worthless - worthless! - by one vile act, one treasonous syllable by which the lot of you will be damned to hang. Hang, in front of the entire squadron, and your young life squandered in the most blasphemous way imaginable."
The acid and regret in Pellew's tone brought the blood to Horatio's cheeks, and before he could stop himself he said, "But it was for the good of the service, sir. What happened was unavoidable, if any measure of discipline was to be maintained - "
"Discipline!" Pellew barked, striding up to Horatio and standing at his ear. "Black, bloody mutiny! That's what Hammond calls it, and he knows no forbearance where this is concerned. Mutiny - and against a hero of the Nile and the battle of Cape St. Vincent. One of Nelson's own, dear God!"
These last words were said in a kind of despair that cut Horatio's heart. He looked to his side and saw a stricken look in Pellew's eyes, a fear that was unaccustomed there. Immediately he said, "Commodore, you know my record. I would do nothing rashly, nor take a desperate action if there was any alternative. Hero or not, we were headed for disaster."
Pellew stared angrily for a moment, and Horatio wondered suddenly if he had overstepped his bounds. But there was no eruption of fury; instead Pellew simply shook his head and turned away. "I hope you can back your assertions up with evidence, lieutenant; from where I'm standing, if this goes to trial I do not lay great odds on an acquittal."
Horatio looked at the floor. He knew what was arrayed against him: Buckland, Hobbs, the word of half the crew and the reality of Sawyer's incapacitation. "No, sir."
Pellew lifted his hat back to his head. "First thing in the morning you are to report to the Admiralty where you will be questioned." Pellew's eyes snapped round again, and Horatio nearly gasped at the intensity of them. "Remember you will be asked for the truth, Mr. Hornblower. I did not see you rise this far to dishonor the uniform you wear now."
Horatio lifted his chin and met Pellew's eyes steadily. "Never, sir."
Pellew eyed Horatio for a moment longer, as if confirming Horatio's words. Then he turned toward the door, which began to gently swing open as the marine standing on the other side anticipated the commodore's departure. "If there is anything you need, lieutenant, make the request and the Admiralty will see to it - "
Horatio's mind raced, and he took an impetuous step forward. "Commodore Pellew?"
Pellew stopped, turned; his expression was one of mild surprise.
Horatio didn't hesitate. "I would like to request permission to visit the wounded officers, sir."
It should not have surprised Pellew at all, he thought later, that Hornblower would request to visit his men in the Naval hospital. No, he mused as he accompanied the young man down the dusty street in the early dusk, it would be only natural that he would want to know how they were faring; Pellew was interested as well. He had not seen Kennedy, or the others either, since the ship docked; he hoped it was not too severe, for Hornblower's sake.
The Naval hospital was a well-kept whitewashed building by the seashore, the better to air the pestilent rooms with fresh salt air. As they neared the wooden front door Pellew glanced at Hornblower to read his face, and was surprised by what he saw there - concern, but over it a hot and unaccustomed anger, as if he was thinking of something that infuriated him. Keenly aware that Hornblower's behavior would be closely watched, Pellew made a swift decision and abruptly stopped walking.
Hornblower skidded to a stop as well, and turned back with impatient eyes. "Sir?"
Pellew narrowed his eyebrows. "Mr. Hornblower, before we go in there I must remind you that you are under very close scrutiny. I do not know under what circumstances your men came to be here, but you would do well to leave any quarrels you might have sitting on the front step. You are most welcome to retrieve them on your way back to your quarters."
Hornblower blinked, surprised, then colored to the roots of his dark hair and stared at the cracked stone walk beneath his boots. "Aye aye, sir. Forgive me."
The shame and exhaustion in his voice was evident, and so pulled at Pellew's conscience that he gave an acquiescent nod and said softly, "Forgiven, Mr. Hornblower."
Hornblower looked up then, at the candlelight that was just beginning to show in the hospital windows. He swallowed hard and shook his head slightly, and Pellew noticed a certain soft fear in his eyes, as if he did not know what he would see when he went through those doors; yet at the same time his duty and fraternal worry were pulling him forward. Puzzled, Pellew said, "Come, Mr. Hornblower. I'm certain your comrades are in the best of hands, and will be in even better spirits than when you saw them this afternoon."
Squaring his shoulders roughly, Hornblower turned to face the door and said, "My apologies, sir, but I did not see them this afternoon."
That was hardly surprising given the fact that Hornblower was the only able lieutenant left on Renown, but still - still there was something resentful in the way Hornblower said those words, and Pellew knew he was not a resentful man. Curious, Pellew said, "This morning, then. You are too old for petulance, Mr. Hornblower; it does not become a man of your rank."
"No, sir," Hornblower quickly admitted, blushing again as he cast his eyes to the ground. After a pause he asked, "Commodore, may I ask if you have been to see the men of the Renown?"
"No, I have not," Pellew replied, now more curious than ever. "Why do you ask, lieutenant?"
"I only wish - to be prepared," Hornblower said softly, turning his dark eyes to the windows wistfully. "I do not know what state they are in, or even if they are all still alive."
Something began to dawn on Pellew, and he asked slowly, "Surely not much could have changed since this morning. Were any of your men near mortality then?"
"I - do not know, sir. I did not see them this morning."
Good Lord! No wonder the lad looked exhausted; Pellew knew that Hornblower would have fought his way through ten decks of burning timbers to visit his wounded comrades if it was at all possible; but apparently his duties had prevented it. Giving Hornblower a look of sympathy, Pellew said quietly, "Well then, sir, I suspect you are most anxious to see them now. But not with that fire I saw just now in your eye; whatever you feel toward the men or circumstances that brought you here you must control them, or they will see you to the noose. Do I make myself clear?"
Hornblower must have recognized something in Pellew's tone; his posture straightened, and he brought his chin up stoutly. "Aye, sir. Thank you, sir."
Pellew studied his former charge for a moment longer; the eyes were quieter, the naked emotion now hidden in them. Satisfied, he nodded and said, "Very good, Mr. Hornblower. Now let us go visit your men."
With that Pellew began walking again, and Hornblower followed; and as the big wooden doors swung open to admit them Pellew made a mental note to have a serious talk with Acting Captain Buckland, who was obviously unaware that his overburden of duties had left Hornblower no opportunity to look in on his comrades.
The inside of the hospital was all whitewashed corridors and hushed voices; there was a large center corridor, divided into rooms that were further divided by screens, and all of it was white; not clean, just white. Despite the open windows, a certain muted foulness hung in the air, and mixed within it was the dull groans and cries of the wounded, along with the faraway muffled noises from the lunatic ward at the far end of the corridor.
It was into this world that Horatio entered to visit his friends.
It seemed surreal; for a few moments after he entered Horatio was engaged in battling his worry over the condition he would find Bush and Archie and Wellard in, combined with rage that Buckland refused to let him see them, even for a moment. Pellew had noticed his emotion, damn it; that made Horatio feel embarrassed, so he concentrated on conquering his terror at the thought of finding Archie dead, or Bush declining, or Wellard turning great suffering dark eyes at him, accusing him, asking why didn't you do something? That was what Horatio feared most, and he was so intent on mastering this so he did not shame his former captain that he didn't realize they had reached the Renown's ward until Pellew nudged his elbow, and he looked up in surprise.
For a moment Horatio saw nothing but white beds and red bandages, mixed with an indeterminate gray; then he blinked again, and saw beds, and men in them. Several men had been wounded in the attack, and a few others were ill or suffered injuries of other sorts; so the section of the hospital reserved for the Renowns was more than half full. But many of them were asleep; and, selfishly, Horatio knew there were only a small number he was truly, childishly interested in. He searched the room and found them at last.
He saw Bush first; the man had a tuft of brown hair on his head that grew wild when not combed and queued back, and that hairy beacon made him easy to spot. He was lying flat on his back with his eyes wide open, and tilted his head up as Horatio looked; thank God, his color was good and he smiled and lifted one hand in a weak wave. He was holding his own.
As he walked forward, Pellew at his side, Horatio's eyes scanned the ward anxiously until he found Archie, sleeping in his own low-slung iron bed just next to the one occupied by Bush. Horatio felt his heart sink; unlike Bush, Archie looked drawn and ashen. The thin sheet that covered his body was pushed down to his waist, and Horatio could see the bandage that wound around his chest was splotched with new blood.
Horatio swallowed a painful ache of fear and thought simply, oh no. I cannot lose him now. Then he forced himself to look away, before the fear could really take hold.
Midshipman Wellard was not too difficult to spot, because his dark mop of hair was such a contrast to the blankness of his surroundings; but finding him did not make Horatio feel any better. If anything he looked worse still than Archie, but he was much younger and Horatio bolstered himself with the thought that he might mend more quickly. He seemed asleep, but Horatio saw his hands twitch as they lay on the cotton sheet covering his chest, and as his bed was not too far down from Bush's Horatio could see the troubled expression that plagued the child, even in slumber. With a leader's instinct to look after the most vulnerable first, Horatio walked to Wellard's bed and stood there with his hat in his hands, feeling a heavy guilty weight settle on his soul.
As he stared at that pale, too-young face Horatio heard footsteps approach. "Commodore Pellew, sir. Can I be of assistance?"
"Dr. Sankey," Horatio heard Pellew say, "This is Mr. Horatio Hornblower, Third Lieutenant from the Renown. He requested, and was granted, permission to visit his shipmates."
"Oh! Indeed," Sankey replied, almost happily, and Horatio finally looked up to see a thin white-haired man looking back at him with twinkling blue eyes. He looks like my father, Horatio thought in shock, then amended himself; his father never looked that cheerful. With a professional smile Sankey bobbed his head toward Wellard and said, "I suppose you want to know about that one."
Horatio looked at Wellard again; the boy had turned his face away with a slight, unconscious moan. "If you please, sir."
"Certainly," Sankey replied in a chipper tone. "He's not as bad as he looks. By that I mean his wound is not mortally deep or infected. I suspect the Dago that shot him had a weak load of powder in his musket. In any case, he should recover with time."
Pellew's voice again: "Who is this young man, Mr. Hornblower?"
"Mr. Wellard, sir," Horatio answered, a hundred melancholy memories flooding his mind at once, "One of the midshipman, he did not...he found the Renown rather hard going. But he was - is - a good officer, and he did his very best."
Horatio turned to look at his former captain then, and saw sadness in Pellew's eyes as he looked down at the bandaged youth.
Sankey sniffed and crossed his arms. "Well, whatever his achievements on Renown I don't know that he'll be adding to them anytime soon. When he's awake he's shaky and disoriented; I've given him laudanaum, but the usual dose doesn't seem to quiet him much."
"No," Horatio said softly, remembering the bottles of tincture Clive would hand out as if it was sugar water.
Sankey shrugged and sighed, "Well, in any case he'll be a long time getting his strength back so I'll wager he'll be on the first ship back to England, once this business ends. Is there anything else you need, Commodore?"
Horatio could almost hear the pause in Pellew's voice; then he said, "These - other men, the officers who were wounded. What do you know of them, doctor?"
Sankey strode smartly away from Wellard's bed, and with a final regretful look downward Horatio joined him. You cannot help him, Horatio thought sullenly, except to ensure that he does not die disgraced, or live only to be hanged. That is your charge now, and you must honor it...
"The officers..." Sankey was saying thoughtfully, and stopped at the foot of Archie's bed. "This one is the worse of the two. Lower chest wound, missed the lung but just barely; nicked it, in fact. Another slow Dago bullet, but he's got a longer road ahead of him than young Wellard."
Horatio forced himself to look at Archie, really look at him, to see his condition. Unlike Wellard, Archie was perfectly still, his unbound hair lying unkempt and damp around his gray and haggard face. Up close, the blood on his bandage looked horribly ominous.
Pellew cleared his throat and asked, "Has he awakened since this afternoon?"
"Only once," Sankey piped in his irritatingly conversational tone, "But it was mainly to ask about the other men, like young Mr. Wellard there, and someone - oh, forgive me, it was you, Mr. Hornblower! He asked after you as well."
"Oh," Horatio replied numbly, thinking of the noose tightening around Archie's neck as well. Two loads to bear; still, it felt like nothing compared to what was being risked.
Sankey nodded and continued to chatter, leading Horatio and Pellew from Archie's bed to the other men's, and Horatio followed obediently and did what he could. The men who were awake seemed to appreciate seeing him; fortunately none of them seemed to resent him for what happened to Sawyer, or perhaps they were in too much pain to think about that at the moment. Bush was watching Horatio, he noticed, but seemed content to wait until the last to be seen. At length Horatio found he had talked to or seen all of the men from the Renown, and found himself at the end of Bush's bed.
"And this is our prize case, Lieutenant Bush," Sankey crowed, and Horatio noticed that the look Bush gave him was not very friendly, "His wounds are fascinating, and you can see he's recovering very nicely from them."
Horatio met Bush's eyes, and smiled. Smiled with relief because Bush had life in his eyes, and hope; smiled because he did not feel the weight of Bush's soul on him; rather, it almost seemed as if Bush would share that weight, and therefore lessen it.
Horatio would not let him, of course. But he felt gratified that the offer was made, however mutely.
Sankey was expostulating on the wonder of Bush's neatly stitched gash, and when he paused for breath Horatio looked up at Pellew and said, "May I speak to Mr. Bush, sir? I need to go over some requisitions for the ship, and he is the senior lieutenant."
Pellew eyed him carefully, but after a moment said, "You may have a moment, lieutenant. Dr. Sankey?"
Sankey nodded, clearly happy to be talking to the Commodore, and as soon as they stepped a few feet away from the bed Horatio sat down on the edge and asked, "How is it with you, Mr. Bush?"
"Well enough," Bush replied, "If that damned nattering charlatan of a doctor would stop using me as the latest fascinating clinical exhibit."
Horatio smiled again at that remark, and thought oddly that Archie might say the same thing, if it was happening to him. Glancing over to where his friend lay sleeping, Horatio asked, "How was it, in the sick berth?"
Bush paused. "We survived. I did what I could. The doctor - well, he didn't stop me at any rate."
"Young Wellard..." Bush licked his lips, as if searching for words. "He's sick. I don't know what's wrong with him. It's not the wound."
"I know," Horatio said solemnly.
"But he's not surrendering, and neither is Mr. Kennedy," Bush continued, a note of encouragement in his whispered voice. "We're behind you, Mr. Hornblower. We're in this together. I'll join you in the inquiry when I can."
Horatio nodded, not because he agreed with Bush but because he could tell that even that small amount of conversation was tiring him. Giving his senior officer and friend a parting smile Horatio said, "My compliments, Mr. Bush, for seeing to your task so ably. I am very glad to see you recovering."
Gratitude shone in Bush's eyes then, gratitude and a determination that Horatio could not help but respect. "I cannot succumb until this business is over, Mr. Hornblower. Everyone in my family is very stubborn, you see."
Horatio heard Pellew approaching and stood, nodding to Bush in farewell and turning with a carefully placed blandness to his expression, lest Pellew see the worry that was tearing his heart and ask him about it.
Pellew did look at him closely; however, all he said was, "Night is falling, Mr. Hornblower. We should leave these men to their rest and return to our quarters."
"Aye, sir," Horatio replied, his mind turning so furiously he was surprised Pellew could not hear its workings. Without looking at Bush or any of his men again, Horatio followed Pellew out of the room, all the time thinking one thought:
I must save these men.
He had thought it before, made that resolution many times since landing in Kingston. But it loomed huge now, not merely a thought but a command, written in blood upon white sheets and bandages. This affair had started badly, circumstances spinning out of control; there was a brief respite but now it was falling blindly, and there was none but him to redress it. Only he had the strength; but before now he was not certain of what would come after, if he did what he was planning to do.
Not certain, before - but certain now, because he saw courage and honor in Bush's eyes and knew that should the banner fall from his hands, Bush would pick it up. He would see that Wellard was sent home safely; he would see that Archie would be given whatever care he needed.
So it was that at that moment, Horatio knew he was free to take whatever steps were needed to protect his men, and preserve their honor.
Whatever it took.
Night was falling; the double wooden doors were opened, and Horatio followed his former captain toward them, already feeling the cool Jamaica night air on his face. As he walked down the hall Horatio passed a man leaning against the whitewashed wall with his arms crossed, staring into the Renown's ward thoughtfully. Horatio was so absorbed in thought that he merely glanced at the man as he walked past, and it was not until he was walking down the dusty street with Pellew toward his quarters that he realized that the man was in fact the gunner Hobbs. But by then it was too late to make amends, and Horatio was forced to let it pass.
Buckland knew his chances did not look good.
The Kingston night was warm; as soon as he was escorted back to his rooms at the Admiralty Buckland removed his woolen jacket and throttling neckerchief. Then he threw open every window and door and, pouring himself a glass of sherry, stood on the small balcony outside his rooms and stared sullenly at the stars.
The meeting that afternoon had gone as well as expected. Not much had been said or implied; Buckland met with the captains Collins and Hammond, had handed over Captain Sawyer's log along with his own. They had asked some questions, very general ones about the the success of the mission and the state of the ship. To a casual observer it would have appeared the most boring of recitations.
But Buckland knew better. There were arched eyebrows as Sawyer's notes were perused, and Hammond in particular was too curious about the events leading up to Sawyer's incapacitation. He did not ask many questions, but the ones he did ask were pointed enough to draw blood.
"How did the captain come to be injured?" was the first question; the obvious one.
Buckland was at least a little prepared for that one, and answered right away. "He fell, sir."
"Fell?" Hammond sounded like he didn't believe him.
Buckland had no choice but to repeat himself. "Yes, sir, he fell. Down an open hatchway into the hold below." Best not to say any more.
"When?" Hammond's eyes were piercing, like a hawk's.
"On the sixteenth of May," Buckland answered, quickly but with a little stammer that he cleared his throat to hide. "That - is recorded in the doctor's journal, along with the extent of his injuries."
"Hm," Hammond said, and reached for Dr. Clive's leatherbound journal.
As he flipped through the pages, Collins began asking other questions, about the fort and the mission and the state of the captured ships. Sensing that the captain was trying to change the subject, Buckland happily told as much as he knew, and was relieved when the interview was declared over not very long after. Hammond said nothing else, but was scrutinizing the journal too closely for Buckland's liking. And it was that scrutiny that Buckland pondered now, looking out over the gently swaying palm trees and to the shimmering sea beyond. Looking at them, but not seeing them at all.
A thousand things could go wrong at the inquiry, and every question mark had a noose dangling from it. Dr. Clive didn't want to declare Sawyer insane, and might declare that he was forced to do so; any of the wounded officers might - probably would - use their injuries to gain the board's sympathy and deflect suspicion off themselves. They would never deflect it to Hornblower - he was one of them after all, part of that elite little group - so naturally they would target Buckland. And as for Hornblower...
Buckland sighed and downed his sherry in one gulp, then went back for more. Hornblower had said he would speak up for Buckland, defend him, but damn it! Buckland set the decanter down with a solid *thud*; he did not want defending. He had done his best on this mission, had never wanted to risk lives by taking the fort, and wasn't it Hornblower's idea to force Ortega to surrender unconditionally, thus putting all those fire-eating Spaniards into the Renown's hold? If Buckland had had his way the Renown would have been home much sooner and with much less bloodshed; with three fewer prize vessels, true, but were those puny ships worth the lives that were taken? Buckland watched the sherry swirl around in his glass, and considered this argument. It might be worth trying.
God, it was stuffy in that room! Buckland went back out onto the balcony and drank the sherry down, knowing it would take much, much more before he would lose the terrible nervousness he was feeling, or think he had half a chance at acquittal. He knew Pellew was Hornblower's former captain, and of course would favor him; he knew Bush and Kennedy would rush to their friend's defense, because they had defied him at least once already and had no loyalty to their superiors at all. All the fingers would point to him, all the questions and doubts and suspicions would come to rest on his head, and Buckland scowled at the bright Jamaica moon, angry that there was no one's head that he could heap the accusations upon, and no way he could accuse Hornblower and make it stick. He very much wanted to get drunk.
There was a movement on the stone walk below, and Buckland looked down to see someone treading slowly along the moonlit path, head down and clearly deep in thought. A marine guard was with him, and after a moment Buckland recognized the man as Hornblower; a quick glance up the path showed him only more trees and moonlight, and the red-tiled roof of the naval hospital.
He went to the hospital, Buckland realized with a stab of fury. Damn him.
Hornblower went to the hospital, and now everyone would think he cared more about the wounded men than Buckland did, because Buckland had not been to see the men at all. Well - well, how could he, with inquiries all afternoon and this infernal heat making a man dizzy for want of something decent to drink? And of course Buckland had intended to go, and now when he did the men would all think they were not his top priority, and once again Hornblower would gather in the glory and make him look like a fool.
But not alone; certainly he had been able to trade a few words with Bush and Kennedy while he had been there, and Wellard perhaps as well. There was no way to keep them apart on shore; Buckland knew he had no authority to forbid Horatio on land the way he had on Renown, at least not without a damn good reason. Although come to think of it, suspected treason was a damn good reason...
Twenty-two years, Buckland thought sourly as he watched Hornblower slowly walk through the moonlight towards his own rooms, twenty-two years I've waited for command, and now it will be taken away. It's not fair, and it's not right. There should be a way to stop this. There has to be. Certainly there are men loyal to Captain Sawyer on the Renown, who would come to his first lieutenant's defense...
Yes, Buckland decided as he turned to get some more of that sherry, there had to be men who treasured Sawyer's memory and would not let it be dragged through the mud by a lot of upstart lieutenants. Tomorrow he would find them, and secure their loyalty. Buckland smiled to himself, and when he reached the table grasped the smooth neck of the decanter firmly, squeezing it tightly until it almost hurt. He blinked down at the throttled neck of the decanter and smiled woozily.
The shadows were long and dark in the sick berth on board the Renown, and for a change all was quiet. Dr. Clive was happy to have it that way; it had been far too noisy of late, and he needed time to concentrate on his work.
His work. The doctor sat down heavily in the small chair by his desk and pulled out the silver flask that had been his fondest companion, and took a long drink from it. He was only a little drunk - more tipsy than anything else - but the night was young and he no longer had anything else to do.
They had taken his captain that very evening.
Clive looked around the hollow room with saddened eyes. He had been so careful, had taken such care with Sawyer, and the men who took him hadn't even noticed. He had seen to the captain's deportment personally, had dressed him in his best uniform, laid him on a British flag, and arranged the hair and body so that anyone looking would see only the hero of the Nile, the champion of Cape St. Vincent and a hundred other battles - not the pathetic wreck with a bruised head and shaking hands, who had slipped from Clive's grasp into madness and never come back. No, Clive thought proudly, Nelson himself will not look better after he is gone, I'll wager my reputation on it.
Then Clive reconsidered. His reputation was probably not worth that much.
He sat back in the shadows and took another drink. Oh, well, anyway. After he had taken all that time and trouble, had laid his captain out as if he was on a bier in St. Paul's Cathedral, what had happened then? Eight marines had marched in, asked where Sawyer was, and without so much as a glance in Clive's direction bundled the body up in the flag and practically ran out the door with it. Oh, they were respectful enough, and Clive knew there would be great pomp and circumstance when the body of the great Captain Sawyer was brought to lie in state...
...still, it did not seem enough. Clive concluded that he was simply not to be appreciated in this world.
Well, that was that, Clive sighed as he looked around the too-empty sick berth. The wounded men were gone, taken to the shore hospital; Sawyer was out of his hands, to be jerked about and fussed over by men who had never known him, and would probably make a rat's nest out of that long hair of his; and all Clive had to do was wait until he was called to the inquiry and tell what he knew about Sawyer's injury and what happened after.
All he had to do was wait.
The sick berth door opened, and Clive winced; he knew the liquor was doing its work, because sounds were becoming distorted to him. He looked up and saw the gunner, Hobbs, standing in the shadows.
Hobbs looked around for a moment, his round face slack and spotted with bruises Clive hadn't noticed before . Then he asked, "Did they take him, then?"
"They did," Clive said, standing slowly, "Marched right in here and bore him away like Caeser on his shield. He deserved no less."
"No," Hobbs agreed, and turned away. There was a long pause, as if he was thinking of something.
Clive wanted to get back to his drinking. "Is there something you need, Mr. Hobbs?"
Hobbs turned back, and there was a measure of hesitation in his eyes. "We'll be called, you know."
"Inquired after. The court martial."
"Oh." Clive's spine stiffened, and he glanced down at the floor. "Yes, of course we will. We all will."
"And what'll you say?" Hobbs' voice had dropped to a whisper.
Clive was taken aback; frowning, he answered, "I'll tell the truth, like any good Englishman. Captain Sawyer was a great man, and his downfall should not have happened."
Hobbs looked him up and down. "Who do you think pushed him?"
The tone was curious, not accusatory. Clive decided to be cagey. "I haven't ascertained that yet; there are too many details that are not known, too many symptoms to diagnose the disease, as it were. But it will come out in time, I'm sure."
Hobbs nodded, as if this was the answer he was expecting. He walked a little more into the room and sat down on the edge of the desk. "I been to the hospital."
Clive pretended not to care; but he always resented it when someone took his patients, even if it was the Admiralty. He looked down at the flask in his hand. "Really. I don't suppose there's any news from there."
Another pause. "Saw the leftenant there, with the commodore."
There was no need to ask which leftenant Hobbs was talking about. Clive carefully raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Ensuring silences, no doubt."
The alcohol was working; Clive could tell because when he was sober, there was a part of him that hated that this whole thing had happened, and that part was now comfortably numb. He could be caustic, cynical, sneering at halfhearted attempts to cover a horrible deed, because in his current inebriated state the cynic came to the fore; the tiny sliver of him who admired Hornblower and his men, and knew Hornblower had in fact saved all of their lives more than once, was sleeping in the shadows of his mind. He wouldn't be waking that part up anytime soon, either.
As Clive considered this, he watched Hobbs shrug a little and look down at his hands. Finally the gunner said, "Ain't going to be the same, with the captain gone."
Clive had nothing to say to that, so took another drink.
"The same ship, I mean," Hobbs continued, lifting his head and scanning the sick berth with tired blue eyes. "It already feels different. Closer somehow. But - empty."
Clive lowered the flask and sighed. "I'm sorry, Mr. Hobbs, but I wasn't trained in any art that can lift melancholy. Unless you'd like a drink."
Hobbs made a face at the flask and shook his head.
Clive decided to get something out of Hobbs' visit, and asked, "So you've been to the hospital. How are the men doing?"
"All right," Hobbs said, brightening a little for some reason. "Mr. Bush is, at any rate."
"Hm. Not the others?"
Hobbs shrugged and said, "Dunno. Heard the doctor talkin'
to the leftenant, 'e said Kennedy was bad off. Wellard's all
restless when he's awake."
"Well, it's too bad the boy's not *here*," Clive said, reaching behind him and holding up a bottle of laudanaum, "I've known how to cure that for twenty years."
Hobbs just looked at the bottle, and didn't even blink when Clive set it back down again. "I suppose they'll all be dead by the end of next week."
"Perhaps," Clive demurred, "If the inquiry proceeds to trial and they are found guilty."
Hobbs eyes flickered around the darkness. "Then what?"
"Then," Clive replied, taking up his flask and walking the narrow confine of the sick berth, "We shall get a new captain perhaps, new officers, and set sail again as soon as the fates permit."
Hobbs seemed to consider this, then looked down again and shook his head. "It won't be the same. We'll get another one like Buckland, maybe worse. This whole crew will be at each other's throats in days."
Clive shrugged again; the liquor really was doing its job. "We were lucky, you and I; men like Sawyer only come along once or twice in a century. You can't expect to ever sail with his like again."
Hobbs nodded, but his face told Clive he didn't want to believe that; for a moment it looked like he might even argue the point. Clive waited, curious; the small part of him that wanted to believe that men like Sawyer still walked the earth roused a bit, and came a short way out of its stupor.
But no; the moment passed, and Hobbs simply leaned away from the desk with a weary sigh.
"You're right," he said, in a low and hopeless voice, "We didn't deserve him when we had him. Won't ever be anyone like him. Ever."
"Or even come close," Clive muttered, and knew who Hobbs was thinking of. But that was ridiculous; the cynic in Clive knew that Hornblower and his men were doomed, by circumstance and the venality of the acting captain. Even if Clive had words to save them - and he didn't - it wouldn't help. They were all, in their own way, doomed.
Hobbs had half-turned away, ready to make his way out of the sick berth and to his own cabin. At Clive's words, however, he paused and stared at the empty space where Wellard had been, and the expression on his face hardened into something like resentment.
Then, without another word, he gave Clive a curt nod and left, weaving into the shadows and becoming part of them.
For a few minutes Clive gazed at the path Hobbs had taken thoughtfully. It was true, with Sawyer gone the Renown felt like a body without a soul, an airless windowless place that had lost its very reason for being. Clive had used every resource he knew to heal his captain and still fell short; with that failure now complete, he had no reason to think that any kind of redemption was in the offing, for himself or anyone else. There was simply nothing left to do but wait for the inevitable disappointment of the rest of his life.
But there was enough to do in the meantime. Clive sat down in his chair in the dark, and took another drink.
End of Part Three