by Sarah B.
The first thing Bush noticed when he came awake was the quiet.
He floated out of a gray-blue land of half-formed dreams to the deepest quiet he had ever heard. He almost didn't recognize it as quiet, thought he had somehow gone deaf; then as he came gradually more awake, knew what was missing. The sounds of the ship.
Of course. Bush smiled to himself as he marked the absence of gentle rocking, the lack of creaks and groans that were the pulse of any ship at sea. He had been so long at sea, had not slept in a real bed in months, and had forgotten what true quiet sounded like. Until now.
The night air was cool, and without opening his eyes Bush drank in the dark and quiet, savoring them. He hurt in every bone of his body, and the gash across his chest was on fire; but it was a drowsy fire, dulled with a little laudanaum and blunted by recent sleep. And of course, Bush had not moved in hours.
Yes, Bush thought lazily, a man could get used to rest and quiet. In a way it was like being home - although his bed at home was a lot more comfortable than this! Bush shifted on the thin mattress, grimaced as his sore back twisted against the rough sheets. Yes, at home it would be finer cottons and perhaps one of his sisters' quilts, and a pillowcase his mother had embroidered a scalloped edge on a few years before. Bush pulled himself back into sleep a little, remembering that pillowcase and the feathersoft mornings in his own room, when he was a boy...when the windows would be open and the birds would sing their impatient morning songs over flower-scented air -
- Nearby, someone groaned. And Bush started out of sleep for good.
He opened his eyes, lifted his head a little to look around, everything coming back to him at once: the mutiny, the attempted takeover, Kingston. Home was a million miles away, he was here, injured, and his comrades with him. A hearing, perhaps a trial, and they all might be dead in a week. Why the devil was he dreaming about pillowcases?
There was very little light in the hospital room; one lantern burned dimly near the door, with a sleepy-looking attendant dozing near it. Bush peered through the gloom, regaining his bearings. Now that he was awake, he was truly awake, and his first thought was to see how his men were doing. His conversation with Hornblower earlier that night was coming back to him, along with the almost painful look of burden in the younger man's eyes. Bush had seen it, and even now felt a little shame because Hornblower was a junior officer and should not have to bear any burden at all. Bush was senior; it was his responsibility alone.
Another groan, very soft. Kennedy. Bush's eyes went to the cot next to his, anxious for his friend's welfare, but a glance told him Kennedy was merely dreaming; his face, half-turned toward Bush, was slack, and his arms lay motionless and relaxed against the thin sheets. Satisfied, Bush turned his attention elsewhere.
All of the men in the room were asleep, it appeared; no one else was stirring at all. Very slowly, and wincing with the movement, Bush used his elbows to hoist himself up and looked around more thoroughly. He couldn't really see Wellard - the lad had been placed a fair distance away, over by the outer door - but what he could see of that dim faraway shape looked still and silent, so perhaps the lad was getting some rest at last. Bush hoped so, at any rate; Wellard's illness bothered him, and he hoped it would heal itself before anyone had to deal with its baffling nature directly. It would be very sad if Sawyer's affliction turned out to be contagious.
Bush sighed and laid back down. His insides felt like they'd been hacked by a saber. Which, come to think of it, they had been. Experimentally, Bush gingerly lifted one hand and pressed it against his chest, feeling for where he had been cut. Ouch, there! Dammit! Bush drew his hand away and cursed his curiosity.
But he would heal...Bush drew a couple of careful breaths and thought about this. Hornblower had come to see him, had seemed happy that he would recover; Bush was not prepared for how much that gesture had touched him. He was not expecting anyone to come visit him - least of all Hornblower, who as the only uninjured lieutenant must have a thousand things on his mind. And if Hornblower did come, Bush would have said his main concern would be for Kennedy, who was more badly injured and who was, after all, Hornblower's best friend.
His friend. Bush stared at the patterns the moonlight made on the stuccoed ceiling and thought about this. Buckland's words came back to him: *You're so full of yourselves, and each other.* He had never had any close friends, never needed any. His life was the navy, his pride and concerns for discipline and service, not befriending others. It was not that he was unfriendly, Bush reasoned; just...efficient. The less one talked, the more work got done. The fewer connections one made, the less time spent mourning their loss. It made him a bit aloof perhaps, but his father was that way and Bush loved and respected his father. That wasn't such a bad thing, was it?
But Hornblower, Kennedy...they didn't think this way. Kennedy never did, Bush could tell that the moment he came on board. Kennedy was mocking, sarcastic, and Bush had little use for him; another upstart aristocratic brat, just like the ones who would lounge around his uncle's smithy and make jokes while an errant pony's shoe was being repaired, so they could continue their afternoon's ride. No, Bush admitted as he watched the patterns waver against the ceiling; I didn't like Mr. Kennedy at all.
And Hornblower, he was very hard to read at first. Closed, controlled. Bush winced when he remembered seeing how close Kennedy and Hornblower were, knowing he would be shut out, expecting it - why would two junior officers trouble themselves about a superior, especially when the captain would hang anyone who looked at him wrong? Bush fully expected to be the odd man out, and accepted it. Until the captain's madness made him see that - in the words the old sage - if they did not hang together, they would certainly hang separately.
It was a terrible risk, Bush knew, going into that hold and asking to join the mutiny. They could have shut him out again, refused him, even reported him to the captain. Kennedy still didn't trust him, not after Bush refused to take Wellard's part earlier; if it had been up to him, Bush knew he would have been turned away, and perhaps justifiably so. But Hornblower had said all right, and then -
- then it was all right. And Bush had seen firsthand the remarkable authority in that slender youth.
He had never asked for Hornblower's friendship; but his respect would have been enough. Hornblower was quick, resourceful, realizing things Bush knew he couldn't figure out in a thousand years. Firing the cannons would release the ship from where she was stuck aground - taking the risk of being shot to convince Dr. Clive to declare the captain unfit - saving Bush's life by deducing that a tunnel ran into the fort where they were all trapped. Bush shook his head in the dark, marvelling at Hornblower's ingenuity, and knew he could never surpass it. His mind was not quick, his reasoning not imaginative; he was a capable member of His Majesty's navy, and never wanted to be anything more. But knowing Hornblower - and seeing what loyalty he inspired by his cunning and his compassion -
Bush knew he would follow him, even if he was a junior officer. He knew true ability when he saw it.
There was another groan, further away, and Bush lifted his head to follow it. In the corner, someone was stirring in the darkness, and moaned again.
It was Wellard. Damn.
Bush glanced toward the attendant, saw the man stir lazily and wipe the sleep from his eyes. He picked up the lantern and sauntered over, taking his time. Bush squinted through the dark, trying to see better, and could barely make out the lantern bobbing over, dipping down as the attendant bent to inquire after Wellard's needs. After a few moments' low conversation, the light bobbed back to its place again, and the attendant yawned and dozed off once more. Bush noticed that Wellard was still tossing in his bed and frowned; whatever the boy wanted, clearly His Majesty's hospital could not provide.
But perhaps he could.
Slowly - very slowly - Bush pushed himself upright, gasping with the exertion as his damaged midsection protested. Ignoring it as any good officer ignored the whining of his subordinates, Bush sat up and carefully swung his legs over the side of the low bed, planting them firmly on the floor.
Now push off, he commanded himself. One, two...
No, wait. Take a deep breath. Ow! Well, as deep as you can then. One, two -
A sheet of pain shot up Bush's body as he stood, and he realized too late that trying to stand up straight was not a good idea. Grimacing and cursing a blue streak inside, he doubled over a bit and grasped the rough, cold iron railing of the bed, feeling sweat dripping from his face. He was glad it was not daylight; he hardly looked inspiring.
But he could walk, he was sure of it. Bush began to move.
Suddenly the attendant was at his side, taking his arm in a sturdy grip. "Can I 'elp you, sir?"
Bush squinted up, saw the young man's face outlined in the moonlight. He shook his head.
"You should be in bed, sir," the attendant whispered, tightening his grip a little. "If you need something, a chamberpot, I c'n - "
"No," Bush replied irritably, and looked at Wellard, "He's one of my men."
"Oh - oh sir, don't worry 'bout 'im, 'e's all right. 'e just won't keep quiet is all. Biggest pain in the neck we've got."
Bush met the young man's eyes steadily. "I can order him to be quiet."
The attendant started. "Can you?"
Bush nodded. "Take me to him. I'll make your job easier."
The attendant apparently found this appealing, for his grip on Bush's arm lessened and he stepped aside, propping Bush up so walking wasn't such an ordeal. Bush thought he might pass out first, but with grim determination he found his way to the foot of Wellard's bed, and stopped.
Reflected in the low light of the lantern, Wellard looked pale and sick; he gazed up at Bush with glazed eyes, squinting as if even that weak illumination was too much for him.
Bush immediately turned to the attendant. "Give me a few minutes with him."
"Yes, sir." The attendant put the lantern down and walked away.
As soon as he was gone, Bush sat down - heavily - in a nearby chair and whispered, "Mr. Wellard, I hear you're somewhat restive."
Wellard blinked, and shook his head a little. "What, sir?"
Bush leaned forward - or tried to, it was not easy - and tried again. "Mr. Wellard, what do you need? Can I get you anything?"
The boy's eyes widened a bit, two black orbs in an impossibly white face. After a struggle he managed, "If I don't...if I don't survive - "
He seemed to choke on these words, and Bush put a hand on his arm. "The doctors are doing all they can, Mr. Wellard. You're young, strong; you'll lay all of us to rest one day."
Wellard shook his head again, looking at Bush desperately, "I told - told Hobbes what the captain said. He knows."
Bush felt a small jolt within him. "Knows? Knows what?"
Wellard paused, gathering his strength it seemed; finally he gasped: "Who pushed him."
Bush's eyes widened. "Can you tell me, Mr. Wellard?"
Wellard winced, took a painful-sounding breath and shut his eyes tightly. Bush felt him shudder beneath his hand.
"No...I don't remember anymore," Wellard turned his face away and hiccoughed; it sounded like a sob. "I can't think, everything feels - I'm dying - "
"No," Bush countered, leaning as far forward as his injury would allow. "Mr. Wellard, listen to me. You're sick, but you're going to get better. And we're going to walk out of here free men. And then you can go home."
Home! Bush knew the word would be comforting to this frightened, hurt boy, as it was a comfort to him. When Wellard didn't respond Bush tried again. "You try to rest, Mr. Wellard. Lie quietly, and whent the pain gets bad think of seeing England again. When we're through this I'll take you to your front door personally. That's a promise."
Wellard shuddered again, and turned his face to the pale lanternlight once more. Bush thought he would see relief there, or at least acceptance. He didn't; instead there was a knife-edged confusion, half-conscious but visible. "Home?"
Uncertain now, Bush nodded. "Yes. Home, back to your parents. Sisters? Brothers? Your family."
There was a pause, a brief moment when nothing happened except behind Wellard's eyes. The lantern gave off a feeble light, but Bush thought that even in total darkness he would have seen the fearful realization in those amber depths. Still, Wellard's expression was blank; it brought something to Bush's mind, but he could not think what it was.
Troubled, but becoming aware that if he did not get back to his own bed soon he would collapse, Bush squeezed Wellard's arm again and whispered, "Home, or wherever you want to go. My word on it, Mr. Wellard, we'll see you out of this safely. Now you're to get some sleep, right away, that's an order. Do you hear me?"
Wellard blinked, and nodded a little.
"I must go," Bush said, with a glance at the attendant who was standing not too far away. With too much difficulty for his liking, he rose to his feet.
Suddenly, Wellard reached out and grabbed the hem of his shirt. Bush looked down at him.
"Not home," Wellard whispered. Despite his obvious pain, his grip was intense.
Bush hesitated; but only for a moment. Placing his hand over Wellard's he said, "No, Mr. Wellard, not if you don't wish to. We'll find another way."
The youth relaxed his grip and rolled back onto the bed, and as Bush frowned in puzzlement the attendant reappeared and picked up the lantern. He waited, and before he turned away Bush glanced one more time at his wounded charge; but Wellard had closed his eyes, and there was nothing to do but go back to bed.
It was a slow and painful trudge, but at length and with the attendant's help Bush found himself back in the narrow bed. Before the attendant turned away Bush stopped him with a tug on his sleeve. "If Mr. Wellard awakens again, let me know immediately. Is that clear?"
The attendant nodded. "He won't cause no more trouble?"
"No. I don't think so."
"Good." The attendant grumbled, and was gone.
Bush lay back, wondering at how such a simple exertion as walking could exhaust a man so. What had he gone, twenty paces perhaps? Unforgivable...
Bush started a little, turned his head. Kennedy was awake, and looking at him with curious eyes. "Is it...Wellard?"
"Yes," Bush whispered, "But he's all right."
Bush hesitated; was he sure? For Kennedy's sake..."Yes. Go back to sleep."
"Can't," came the frank answer, slow and through a haze of woozy pain. There was a pause, then, "Horatio?"
"He was here earlier, with the commodore," Bush whispered back, one eye on the attendant who was back to dozing by the doorway, "I believe they will start the inquiry soon. Tomorrow, perhaps."
"I know." Another pause. "Commodore?"
"Oh, my God."
Bush heard the drowsy alarm in that voice and wondered if the night would have any end of mysteries. "What? What is it?"
Yet another pause. "Horatio...did he say...what he will do? When they ask?"
"No, but - from the look in his eyes I would say his first concern is the welfare of the men."
Silence. Bush decided Kennedy must have drifted off again and closed his eyes.
Then, very quietly, a small whisper: "Mr. Bush."
Bush opened his eyes again. "Yes?"
"Later...I might need your help."
"Of course. As I told Mr. Hornblower, whatever comes we will face together. Even if it is death."
A long silence. Then:
"No. Only one death."
Bush did not know what that meant; but he was too worn out to argue, and could tell that Kennedy was struggling to talk as well. So he let it go and settled into sleep, thinking that their melancholy situation would surely look better in the morning.
The morning. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, when the wheels of the inquiry would be put into motion and all of their fates would be decided. It would be both too soon and too long in coming, but strangely Bush felt no fear, and had not since he had seen Hornblower earlier that evening. Somehow he knew that as long as Hornblower was all right, then everything else would be taken care of. But his dozing mind still wondered as it slipped into the comforting darkness, and the questions swirled about his brain like worrying insects until he lost them in the void of sleep:
How would they escape the noose that wanted to tighten around all of their necks?
Whose death was Kennedy referring to?
And why on earth didn't Wellard want to go home?
The dawn came; slowly at first, reluctantly. It edged over the horizon, casting pale rays across the cooled stone of the Jamaican streets, through the stilled leaves of the palm trees, and finally through the windows of the room where Horatio had lain most of the night awake.
He rolled over at the hint of sunrise seeping through the shuttered windows, wiped his face and sighed. It would be a day of waiting, he knew, of pacing and not knowing; and of trying to calm the fear he had felt at seeing his friends wounded and helpless, with the jackals of the admiralty at their throats. No matter, Horatio resolved as he stood to splash his face and commence the day's inactivity; they would be freed. He would make sure of it.
Not far away, the HMS Renown stirred and came to life, her men eager to stretch their muscles with the day's toil. By the time the sun hit the mainmast the ratings were already hard at work, but concentration was difficult because the same question was on everyone's lips: would the officers hang?
It was impossible to escape it; it hung in the air like a fog, oppressing all who walked beneath it, including the sour-faced gunner with the bruised face who walked onto the deck, put both hands on the railing, and stared glumly at the still-sleeping town.
One of the ratings came up to him, a squat fellow named Mannert who used to work Hobbs' gun crew. "Mornin', sir."
Hobbs blinked slowly, but didn't answer.
Mannert sniffed and asked, "Heard anything, sir?"
Hobbs frowned. "About what?"
"About what! The officers, what else? You been called?"
"To the hearin'! The men figger you'll do the captain proud an' lay them bastards in their graves."
Hobbs turned to Mannert then, his face blank. "I suppose I will."
Mannert smirked. "Course you will! We're the captain's men ain't we, we don't let a bunch of snotty upstarts commit treason an' get away with it. Ye'll do it for Randall, think about that."
"Yeah," Mannert continued, nodding his glee, "Randall, he were a right old bugger! 'e'd tell ya, sir, ain't no pity to be wasted on the likes o' that Hornblower and his crew. You seen 'em, sir. You know. Captain might still be alive if it wasn't for them."
Hobbs turned back to the shoreline.
Mannert took a step back and said, "We'll have the gun carriages checked, sir, and I'll take stock of the ball and shot. But the lads just wanted ya to know, we'll toast ya when them officers is dead. With the king's own rum we'll drink your health till we burst!"
And Mannert walked away, very satisfied with himself. Hobbs watched him go, then turned back to stare at the shore with angry and uncertain eyes.
On that shore, Dr. Clive was just exiting the great double doors of the Naval hospital when he was stopped by a hand on his arm. He turned, and found himself face to face with Buckland. Several steps behind him stood a Marine guard.
"Oh," Clive said in his usual completely unsurprised voice; and tapped his hat. "Good morning, sir."
"Good morning," Buckland replied with a stiff smile, and straightened himself to his full height. "Yes...good morning, Dr. Clive, I was just on my way to the Renown to find you before the inquiry convenes at nine. How are things with my ship?"
Clive looked Buckland up and down. "Getting on, sir, as well as can be expected. I have just now turned in my requisition requests, and should have the dispensary stocked shortly."
"Excellent!" Buckland replied with another smile, warmer this time. His light eyes darted toward the doors. "And - the men. How are my men?"
"Varying," Clive looked slowly over his shoulder, "Most were still sleeping when I was within, and of course they're in Dr. Sankey's care now, so I suggest you direct any specific questions to him - "
Buckland nodded quickly, and extended a hand toward the walk. "Would you care to accompany me to the ship, doctor? I would be honored."
Clive paused, but only for a moment; then he set his face in its usual expressionless lines and said, "Of course."
They began to walk together, the Marine guard several steps behind them, and for a moment there was only the sound of the tropical morning birds cawing out their greetings to one another, and the rustle of the long-leafed trees swaying in the humid wind. Then Buckland said, "You say my men are doing well?"
"I did not say they are doing well; but as far as I know, they are doing no worse."
"Ah. I am glad to hear it. They are good men, you know, excellent men; we have Captain Sawyer to thank for that."
Clive frowned. "Certainly it would be politic to say so."
"Oh, politic! You know what I mean. Not the victim of unfortunate illness, of course not - I mean the captain you and I remember, the lion of the Nile, the hero of Cape St. Vincent. That Captain Sawyer was a champion among men, don't you agree?"
Clive nodded, but said nothing.
"If I could be half the captain he was," Buckland continued, "If I could have been...it was a tragedy, what happened, all of it. I never intended for things to go that way, but I was powerless to prevent it. Powerless! If there was anything I could have done..."
Clive looked at Buckland then, uncertainly. "Sir, might I ask what you are referring to?"
Buckland looked a little confused for a moment, then replied, "All of it, Dr. Clive. Everything that happened, the captain's illness, our running aground, the Spanish escaping the hold...I am concerned that the board of inquiry will slander my men - *our* men, will fault them in some way, and it cannot be their fault. Always they were loyal and true, they were never lax or derelict. Do you think they were?"
Carefully, Clive said, "Well, there were a few..."
"Oh! Of course, here and there, but nothing concentrated. Nothing to push the captain over the edge until...well, I can't put my finger on it. When do you think the captain first started to seriously slip?"
"I can't say."
"Oh, certainly you can, doctor! You saw it, you were his confidant and his physician. ``What do you think...eight months ago? Six?"
Clive walked on, silent.
"There was a time...when he had the boy Wellard beaten, that was about the time he began to imagine things, to go off-balance. Wouldn't you say?"
"Captain, if you're stabbing at something you would do better to simply ask the question - "
"Asking? I am asking nothing, only...only when they ask me at the board of inquiry when the captain became deranged, I wish to be certain of my answer. I was preoccupied with my duties, you see, and cannot be precise. I do not wish to confuse the board and prolong this ordeal, so I am asking for your assistance in this matter. When the board asks you when the captain began slipping, doctor, what will you say?"
Clive glanced behind him, at the guard. "I don't think it will do your cause much good to be seen asking such questions of your crew. It might seem like conspiracy."
Buckland laughed a little, but it sounded forced. "Nonsense! A conversation between a captain and his surgeon can hardly be called a conspiracy."
The two men walked on in silence for a few more moments, then Buckland said softly, "No, let us understand one another, doctor. The inquiry wants blood. We are of one mind, you and I, we do not wish to see our captain slaughtered on the altar of vanity and insurrection. What happened on board the Renown I was powerless to prevent, but - but certain people were not. My first thought has always been of the ship, but there might have been...there may yet be powers at work whose first thought is not the good of the service, but the advancement of their own careers. As a British officer, I wish to stop that."
Clive paused. "I see."
"I have nothing but suspicions, but if I am correct than Captain Sawyer's name may yet be preserved, and no one need ever know of his shameful condition. That is my ambition, but I need corroboration. I need to know that you hold that great man in the same esteem that I do."
"You know that is the case."
"Then help me," Buckland hissed, stopping short and casting a wary glance at the Marine guard, who was just out of earshot. "This is a dangerous journey we are on, Dr. Clive, far more dangerous than any shoal or Dago cannon. I have never pretended that I could be as great as Captain Sawyer, but I will not see his name ground under the heels of upstarts and usurpers. I need only your word that you feel the same, and I can go to the inquiry with a lightened heart. Do I have that word?"
Clive studied Buckland very closely. The eyes were determined, the mouth set in a hard and resolute manner; there could be no mistaking his intention. He was also taller than Clive, and was bending over him slightly, in an anticipatory if not slightly threatening way.
Clive studied all of this, very closely. Then he said slowly, "You have my word, sir, that I will do all I can for the good of His Majesty's service. That is what I am sworn to do."
Buckland leaned back slightly, and smiled. "Thank you, doctor. You always were a very practical man."
"Yes," Clive replied, and when Buckland walked on remained where he was standing for just a moment before glancing back at the hospital and muttering, "I also have an excellent memory."
Then he joined Captain Buckland, and together they walked back to the ship.
End of Part Four