by Sarah B.
Archie was dreaming.
He stood at the railing of a ship, the sea spray cool and gentle against his face and his eyes gazing at an endless ocean that merged with a slate-gray sky. He could feel the rough planking beneath his hands, the salt wind in his hair, and smiled as he breathed that perfume deep. He had missed it; only gone from abovedecks a week, and Archie found his heart singing to be there again. He had no idea...
And he knew where he was. Without turning, without looking, without even listening Archie knew where he was, and *when* he was. He put a hand to his chest and felt not constricting bandages or a painful wound, but the fine cotton cloth of a midshipman's shirt, and over it the square-cut wool jacket that even now had not changed much.
He was on Justinian. And he was very young.
But I don't feel afraid, Archie thought as the light breeze caressed wayward bangs against his eyes, why is that? I feel...calm. Relieved, almost... almost...
Archie shook his head and looked down at his hands. Perhaps there was no word for what he felt, but it was not an emotion he had ever felt on Justinian before. It was very odd.
Footsteps, then someone was standing beside him. Archie smiled as warm recognition encompassed him, because again he knew without seeing who was with him. Knew, and accepted it, the way one always accepts the impossible in dreams.
But he had to look, just one quick glance. Archie had not seen Henry Clayton in many years.
He was unchanged, of course; the gentle brown eyes, the helping smile, the slender frame that had come when it could between Archie and the horrors of Justinian's nights was still the same, and leaning against the railing in a casual but studied way. And Clayton was eying him very keenly.
Feeling as if his mind was being read, Archie looked away and drew in his breath.
"It might not be needed," Clayton said softly, as if they'd been having a long conversation.
Archie frowned and picked at a splinter in the railing. "What?"
"What you're planning."
"Me?" Archie raised his eyebrows in calculated dismissal. "Don't be foolish; I'm lying unconscious in a hospital bed. How can I be planning anything?"
"Trust me on this, Archie, I'm an expert," Clayton said archly, and moved a little closer so Archie couldn't ignore him. "Mr. Kennedy, if you'll do me the honor of looking me in the face..."
"If I do, will I die?"
"Only if you fall out of the bed onto a wayward poisonous snake."
Archie did look at Clayton then, because he'd completely forgotten that man's sense of humor and was suddenly unsure this was a dream. He met those brown eyes again, full of wisdom and sacrifice.
"Oh God - I *am* dead, aren't I?"
Clayton shook his head. "Do you want to be?"
"I - well, no, of course not. No, there's so much to do - "
Archie dropped his eyes and thought, damn. He could feel his cheeks burning. "If I have to. You know Horatio, and I'm probably dying anyway. I can save him."
"He can save himself."
"He saved *my* life."
"For living; not for dying in his stead."
"He'll confess," Archie insisted, "We're all hurt, he thinks it's his duty, dammit! It's the oubliette, Quiberon, he'll weep himself hoarse for all of us and then he'll hang with our weight on his shoulders. Are you saying I should simply let that happen?"
"I am saying," Clayton replied evenly, "That his life is not worth more than yours."
Those words were quiet but insistent; the conviction behind them struck Archie like a cannonball. He turned away a little, and after a moment's reflection said, "Well...you thought it was worth more than *yours*, once."
"Do you think Horatio agreed with me?"
Archie thought about that, thought of the lost and guilt-ridden look in Horatio's eyes, the gloom that would not let him celebrate their transfer to Indefatigable. He pursed his lips.
For what seemed like an eternity - an instant - there was no sound on that phantom ship except the lapping of ocean waves and the creaking of the wind in the rigging. Archie turned his face up to it, like a flower to sunshine, instinctively. He thought of Indefatigable, of Pellew, of how happy Clayton might have been there. *It was so wonderful,* he realized, *we weren't trapped or alone anymore. We were free.*
"And that is what you need," Clayton replied, just as if Archie had spoken to him, "all of you, free. And none of you dead. Do not be so keen to play the martyr, Archie; there are stronger chains to break than these."
Archie frowned; Clayton had been enigmatic, but what he had just said did not make sense at all. Attempting a lopsided grin he said, "Why, Clayton, as you can see I broke those chains years ago. And I've never forgotten you, or the help you gave both of us. Why talk of chains now?"
Clayton smiled a little and replied, "It doesn't feel like before, does it? Here, I mean. On Justinian."
Archie's eyebrows shot up; but he shook his head, fearing that Clayton would fade or shatter before that mystery could be cleared up. Looking about Justinian's decks Archie said, "No. The fear's gone. It feels like..." He tried to think of a word again, and when one didn't come wrapped his arms about himself and murmured, "It feels like it did when my mother was alive."
"You feel - protected?"
Archie felt a small shock of realization go through him and blurted, "Is this what that feels like? It's...it's been a long time."
Clayton's eyes showed understanding as he nodded. "It's no small gift, Archie. Remember that."
Archie blinked and looked at the deck, feeling not like a hero but confused and helpless. *It will all be for nothing if Horatio hangs* he thought, and suddenly felt very tired. He put his back against the railing and slowly slid down until he was sitting on the deck, still hugging himself. He closed his eyes.
For a moment's eternity there was only the wind; Archie could feel himself being pulled away, like sleep within sleep, and put his head down into his crossed arms, feeling the weight of the coming storm upon him but not knowing how to fight it, if not with his life. He almost felt like crying.
Then there was a touch on his arm, and Archie heard Clayton's voice, low and gentle. "Rest, Archie. Build up your strength and think no more about dying. This battle hasn't been lost yet, but there are others. He'll need you to stand beside him and fight."
Archie lifted up his head, slowly, could feel the dream coming apart around him, but he didn't want to go yet. He looked at Clayton and whispered, "You didn't mean *my* chains. Did you?"
Clayton's eyes grew sympathetic, and he smiled once more. "The answer is in your jacket pocket."
"My - " Archie started at these nonsensical words, and he glanced down at his midshipman's jacket. When he glanced back up, Clayton was gone.
Gone...and the rolling world Archie was in began to tilt and slide, and he knew he would lose this dream, fade into another and the answer would never be known. With fumbling hands he opened his jacket and dug into the inside pocket, but there was nothing there except a small hand mirror. Archie drew it out and as the ship and sky dissolved like sand around him, hung onto the dream just long enough to look into that shiny metal surface -
- and saw Wellard's eyes looking at him in return.
Some time later, as the Kingston church bells were striking nine, Commodore Sir Edward Pellew made his way down the varnished halls of the Admiralty building to the room where the inquiry would take place. He carried with him his satchel of notes and papers, but he knew there was nothing of real importance written there; everything about this inquiry he knew, he carried in his head. And as he turned the gleaming doorknob of the chamber door, Pellew prayed that his much-vaunted wisdom would not fail him now. He would need every scrap of it.
The morning was warm already; as Pellew entered the room he saw that the tall windows were already shuttered against the coming day's heat. And waiting solemnly in that mahogany gloom were Collins and Hammond, Collins seated at the large table that dominated the room and Hammond standing by the blinkered window with his arms crossed.
"Good morning, gentlemen," Pellew said softly as he shut the door and approached the table. He swiftly read their faces before he sat down: Collins looked apprehensive, Hammond looked determined. Not the best combination.
"Commodore," Collins said genially, rising with an uneasy smile.
"Sir," Hammond chimed in, not moving from the window but bowing a little in Pellew's direction.
Pellew cleared his throat and set the papers on the table. "Come, let us begin this business without delay. Have both of you gentlemen had sufficient time to review the Renown's logs and the answers given to us by Acting Captain Buckland yesterday?"
"Aye, sir." Both men nodded, although Hammond looked none too happy as he finally moved from the window the table.
"And do you have any questions before we call him before this inquiry?"
"No questions, Commodore," Hammond replied as he sat down heavily. "But I do have suspicions. Suspicions I believe are shared by every man in this room, although it pains one to express it."
Pellew frowned; but this was not unexpected. "Express it you must, Captain Hammond; that is the purpose of this inquiry."
Hammond's sharp black eyes met Pellew's for an instant; then, raising his eyebrows a bit, he said, "I believe we are all agreed that Captain Sawyer's good name must be preserved."
Collins nodded. "Of course."
Pellew indicated approval as well, "But not at the expense of those officers caught up in a situation that was not..." he searched for the right words. "Of their making."
"Are you so certain of that?" Hammond snapped, leaning forward and clasping his hands. "You've read the log, Pellew, the same as I have. Frustrated lieutenants, an open sea and an ailing captain whose very frailty seems ripe for exploitation. I call that opportunity, sir. For the wrong sort of opportunist."
Pellew winced. "Opportunity! Pray let us stick to the facts, sir. Until this inquiry is finished we have no way of discerning what occurred, who was responsible or what they intended the outcome to be. For the sake of England's honor let no prejudice contaminate these proceedings."
Hammond's gaze grew keener. "Wise words, Commodore Pellew. Yes, let us have no prejudice between these walls - of *any* sort. No man is guilty unless we think there is reason for him to be so." His eyes narrowed. "But none of them are to be thought *innocent*, either."
Pellew straightened in his chair; he knew what Hammond was hinting at. "Sir - "
"I think we'd better not keep Captain Buckland waiting." Collins interjected, and when their eyes met Pellew saw a little nervousness there. "We should endeavor to end this quickly, after all."
Pellew sat back again and took a deep breath. He leveled his gaze at Hammond, who didn't flinch. Damn the man! He was right - it was no more acceptable for Pellew to assume Hornblower's innocence than for Hammond to assume his guilt. I must be careful, Pellew thought, and examine only the facts. Only the facts...
...even if they were damning.
Pellew took another breath, and nodded. "Quite right, Captain Collins. Please call in Captain Buckland."
At that same moment, in the hospital, Wellard awoke.
It was drowsy, drugged sort of awakening. He felt dragged to it, and when he opened his eyes it was as if he was underwater. He tried to breathe; everything seemed to work, but unwillingly. Why were his hands twitching? And he hurt...
Wellard opened his eyes a little wider, felt them sting at the sunlight that was coming in through some high window. He vaguely remembered where he was, and how he came to be there, but his memory was prickled like a porcupine's quills - there were thoughts, memories that wouldn't make sense. The confusion made things worse, and as he struggled to rise above the pain and fear Wellard groaned.
Someone came to his side almost immediately; but the sunlight threw the figure into shadow, and Wellard couldn't see who it was. He turned his head a little, but everything was either very dark or blinding white; nothing made sense.
"Good morning, Mr. Wellard!" a cheerful voice said, "How are you feeling?"
Wellard thought very hard and still did not know who this person was; the person seemed to know him, however. Suddenly desperate to make himself known, Wellard opened his mouth and whispered, "I think ...I'm dying."
"Nonsense!" the voice retorted crisply, and suddenly Wellard felt the sheet that he had been clutching flipped away from his body. He didn't have the strength to move; but Wellard tried to grab the sheet again, even though he couldn't see it in the blinding light.
"Now don't panic, Mr. Wellard," the voice continued, and Wellard felt hands on his chest, not hurting him but not exactly feather-light either. "I'm merely examining your bandage. Yes, everything looks all right..." The dark shape loomed very close, and Wellard heard a distinct sniffing sound. "There's no sign of putrefication. You have no other wounds and..." a hand on his forehead, slap! Wellard started a little. "Hm, a bit of a fever I think. We'll bleed you if it doesn't go away."
This man must be a doctor, Wellard thought. *Focus*. Wellard tried to get his eyes to focus, but they wouldn't work. The effort exhausted him, and he closed his eyes and whispered, "Hurts."
"Yes, I imagine it does," the figure removed its hand and tucked the sheet back around Wellard's frame. "But you have a simple wound, very boring really, so it will not lead you to your grave."
Wellard stirred at those words, and he tried to open his eyes again. "I'll live?"
"Of course! And you'll be going home, as soon as this business with your shipmates ends."
The dizziness returned, a thousandfold. Wellard tried to shake his head to clear it, but it wouldn't go away. He forced his eyes open as wide as they would go, and stared mutely at the ghostly image standing by his bed. "Home?"
"Yes, son, back to England on the first ship. I'll wager you've had enough of this shipboard life anyway, eh? Oh - " the figure reached out and stopped another figure hurrying past, "Mr. Wellard's awake, see that he makes use of the chamberpot and then try to get some food into him. And here - as needed."
The second figure nodded and took something from the first. Then the first figure patted Wellard's arm and hurried away, leaving Wellard alone.
But no - hands were around him, gently sitting him up in the bed. Wellard didn't fight it, but pain tore through his chest and he gasped.
The hands stopped. "Did I hurt you, sir?"
Wellard tried to pull air in, was sweating with the effort. "I - I can't..."
"Here," the shadowy figure pressed something smooth and cold into Wellard's shaking hand. A small bottle. "That'll help."
Wellard looked down at his hand, but everything was blurry and wavered. "What is it?"
"Laudanaum. From the doctor. As it is needed, he says."
As it is needed. For one infinite moment Wellard stared at the bottle and felt suspended , like he couldn't breathe, couldn't think. Then a berserk and frightening want suddenly filled his being, and he brought the bottle to his lips and drained every drop.
Buckland was confident as he walked down the echoing halls of the Jamaican admiralty. He knew his ordeal would end in triumph.
He wondered blankly, as he followed the solemn-looking doorman down the hall to the inquiry room, if the Admiralty was designed to intimidate. His own footsteps seemed to echo forever; the ceilings were so high it seemed no one could ever reach them; and everything seemed tall, narrow, and oversized. They mean to make me feel small, Buckland thought as he glanced around at the gleaming floors and windows bright with the day's glare. But they won't; I have seen to that, at least.
They approached the great doors that led to the inquiry room, and Buckland ran his eyes over them as the doorman grasped the polished handle and turned it. Oversized too, and very heavy judging by the heft it required to open them. Yes, heavy with the import and seriousness of this occasion, of every occasion within these walls. Buckland decided he would play that seriousness out; the commodore and his captains wanted blood to run beneath those doors. Very well; but it would not be his.
The inquiry room was smaller than he thought it would be, and darker; the windows were shuttered, thankfully since it felt like a furnace in there already. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom Buckland saw Commodore Pellew seated at the center of a great table that took up most of the room; Captain Collins was on his right-hand side, Captain Hammond was on his left. Buckland bowed a little in respect, and waited for their word.
"Captain Buckland," Commodore Pellew said, glancing at some papers in front of him, "Do you understand why you are being summoned here?"
"I do, sir," Buckland replied, humbly because he was not a fool; the upstart Hornblower was in Pellew's pocket already, and he would gain nothing by being haughty or defensive. "You wish to know what happened on the Renown."
Pellew nodded, and motioned toward a nearby chair whose leather upholstery was cracking and worn. "Please be seated, captain, we have much to discuss."
"Thank you, commodore," Buckland said, and setting his bicorne on the table took his seat. Don't blink too much, he reminded himself, and for God's sake look them in the eyes. You have nothing to fear.
Buckland thought the questioning would start right away, but it didn't. Instead, his questioners sat studying their papers for a few moments, as if deciding on the best way to proceed. The delay was unnerving; Buckland tried to will himself not to sweat.
Finally, Commodore Pellew sat back in his chair and took a deep breath. "Captain Buckland, this inquiry has been called to decide whether the actions which occurred aboard His Majesty's Ship the Renown are dire enough to command the charge of mutiny. This is not a trial, you will not be asked to swear to anything and no testimony will be offered against you. We are simply here to establish the facts. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir," Buckland answered immediately, "But before we begin, may I offer my condolences on the death of Captain Sawyer. His passing is a tragic loss for us all."
"Tragic, yes," Captain Hammond piped in, his voice cutting through the heat like a flash of lightning, "And avoidable as well."
Pellew shot an irritated look in Hammond's direction. Collins said, "That is what this inquiry will endeavor to decide, Captain Hammond."
Hammond looked none too pleased at being put down, and Buckland took careful note of the entire exchange. Whatever their official capacity, these men did not get along; that information may be useful, later.
Pellew leaned forward and put his hands on the papers. "Captain Buckland, I believe it is best if we start at the beginning. According to your report and the ship's log, the Renown underwent a series of adventures after leaving Plymouth at the beginning of the year, culminating in the taking of three prize ships and an attempted takeover that resulted in loss of life, including Captain Sawyer's."
Buckland didn't flinch. "Yes, sir."
Pellew clasped his hands together and looked into Buckland's eyes, his gaze dark and penetrating. "Do tell us, in your own words, just what those adventures were."
Buckland cleared his throat and paused, although it was more to give the impression of deep thought that actually engaging in it. He had been rehearsing this speech for days; he knew every word he would say. Still his heart was pounding; his future depended on what would happen in the next hour. Slowly, he began to speak.
"As you know, I have been first lieutenant on the Renown for many years, under Captain Sawyer. A finer captain - a finer *man* - never sailed the English seas."
"Yes, man, we know all about Captain Sawyer's worthiness," Hammond snapped, "What we want to know is what the bloody hell happened to him! Pardon my language, Commodore."
Pellew shot Hammond a look, which Buckland took a little satisfaction in; if these men became intent on firing upon each other, he may escape unscathed. After another pause he said, "We set sail from Portsmouth after the first of the year, and journeyed to Samana Bay, where we did battle with the Spanish, and eventually gained their unconditional surrender."
"Yes, so you've reported," Pellew took the papers up into his hands, "A most remarkable achievement. But not without its difficulties, hm?"
"Er - no, sir," Buckland admitted, wincing inwardly, "There were blacks in rebellion there, and they made things very hot for us. They were a large number, and crafted in a way of fighting that was underhanded and deceitful. It was hardly dignified to even fight them, yet we were forced to."
"Yes," Pellew said, a little more darkly as he frowned at the report, "After they killed a member of your crew, *Captain*."
"It was a dreadful mistake," Buckland blurted, "made by the sergeant of my Marines. I never told him to open fire, and once he had what could I do? My men were still ashore, and it was always my intention to bring them home safely."
Pellew's eyebrows raised. "All of them?"
Buckland sat back a bit. "I'm not certain what you mean, sir."
Pellew's eyes grew keener yet. "Tell me about your lieutenants, Captain Buckland."
Buckland's instincts lept up, panicking. *He knows about Hornblower* he thought, but that was impossible. He was very careful to word his report as noncommitally as possible...Buckland studied Pellew's eyes more closely and was relieved to see only a vague suspicion, not the bright-eyed gaze that Sawyer sometimes wore just before he sprung one of his traps. He only suspects, Buckland thought. He doesn't know.
"My lieutenants..." Buckland took a deep breath. "They were Captain Sawyer's lieutenants first, sir, and I am certain he had every confidence in them. Mr. Bush was somewhat new, very capable, although somewhat irresponsible at first. Mr. Kennedy was able enough and had a ready wit that leads me to believe he would have been very well suited to the theater..."
"And Mr. Hornblower?"
Buckland paused. "Mr. Hornblower has...a precocious talent, sir. He was of great assistance when we took the fort."
"In what way?" Collins asked.
"He and Mr. Bush led the attack, with Mr. Kennedy and my men in support. By the time I went ashore it was ripe for surrender."
Pellew nodded and looked down at the papers, a faint smile on his face. "It has been said that many aboard Renown respected Mr. Hornblower's leadership and ingenuity. It says here that he located a hidden tunnel that enabled your men to enter the garrison, and later lifted a cannon to the cliffs so that the fort may be fired upon when the waters of the bay proved too shallow."
Buckland swallowed. "Yes, sir. As I said, he was very valuable."
Pellew looked up again, and cocked his head. "And this did not cause any friction between you? Any jealousy?"
Buckland knew if he lied outright Pellew would catch him at it. So he said, "I do wish I had possessed Mr. Hornblower's talents at his age, sir. But as captain of the ship I am content to allow my lieutenants all the creative freedom they require."
Pellew squinted, and Buckland was not sure whether he had been caught out anyway; but there was nothing in his words that wasn't true. As Pellew leaned back in his chair and studied Buckland thoughtfully, Collins said, "It says in your report that you sent Mr. Hornblower to blow up the fort and then set sail with your prize ships for Kingston. Are you *certain* you weren't jealous of his popularity with the crew?"
"Mr. Hornblower volunteered for that assignment, Captain," Buckland corrected, "There was nothing I could do about it; he has a naturally heroic character."
"But you nearly lost all three of them!"
"Not by my own devices!" Buckland protested; this time his alarm was genuine. "Mr. Bush and Mr. Kennedy defied my orders and snuck back ashore, quite without my permission, I assure you. If Mr. Hornblower can be said to have any fault, Commodore, it is that he inspires his men to take quite inappropriate actions on his behalf. You should have been on the quarterdeck when the fort exploded. For a few moments I was quite convinced they were all dead."
Collins glanced at Pellew, who Buckland saw was eying him keenly. Well, he wasn't going to see anything, damn it. "As for setting sail for Kingston, I had no choice. I had a ship full of Spanish prisoners and three prize vessels to look after. But believe me when I say, I never would have left those men behind if I had any other choice."
There, that was one hurdle over. Buckland paused and looked over at Hammond, who so far had not said a word. That made Buckland rather nervous, because he knew that Hammond would ask the most painful questions about Sawyer. But at the moment he was merely looking over the papers. The sleeping tiger.
"The Spanish prisoners," Pellew said, shifting the topic, "Yes, quite a lot to look after, Captain Buckland. What precautions did you take to secure them once they were aboard your ship?"
"I put the prisoners in the holds, sir, men on one side and women on the other, and set the Marines to guard them."
"Not well enough, apparently," Collins muttered.
Pellew's mouth twitched and he glared at Buckland sternly, "Mr. Buckland, in your opinion did you take all precautions necessary to ensure that your prisoners would not escape?"
"Then how do you explain this calamity, sir? Dozens of armed men running about your ship, lives lost and the Captain himself mortally wounded. A disaster by all accounts!"
"And you caught napping in your bed," Collins added.
Buckland winced and looked down, seething inside but forced to hide it. "It was a disaster, sir, one that I will regret to the end of my days. As you've read in my report, one of the Dago women seduced a Marine into letting her out. They're a wicked race, Commodore, hardly a shred of decency in them, and they attacked Captain Sawyer in his weakened state without my being able to lift a finger to help him. They are dishonorable beasts, and I would have slaughtered them as such if I could - "
"But you were somewhat preoccupied," Collins smirked.
Pellew turned on him with a warning glare, and there was
an awkward silence for a moment before Pellew said, "Go on,
Buckland nodded, secretly hopeful that it seemed none of these men liked each other, and took another deep breath. "I did everything I could to secure the ship once the rebellion was put down; I set upon the prisoners most severely, cut their rations and placed them under every guard I had available. I thank God that we were not far from Kingston, so that my wounded could be looked after properly; Dr. Clive was most helpful in seeing that those injured in the uprising were tended to according to my wishes."
"Yes," Pellew said softly, "A most unfortunate situation indeed, seeing as how your folly left you with only one able lieutenant."
Buckland swallowed hard. "Mr. Hornblower was - invaluable to me in those days, Commodore, he is ... to be commended highly. He did the work of ten officers, and did it all well."
"And was never afforded time to see his injured comrades." Pellew said.
Buckland froze, shocked. How had Pellew found out that he had refused to let Hornblower see his men? Worse, how could he explain it? On the verge of panic, Buckland fought to remain outwardly calm. "Sir - "
"Well, do you deny it?" Pellew continued, arching his eyebrows in challenge, "I was told by Mr. Hornblower himself that his duties gave him no time to see his shipmates, and no opportunity to see firsthand their welfare. This is a lesson you had best learn well, sir, if you are ever to command a ship of your own: the bond of the men is the net that catches you when you fall. Be diligent about tending to it."
Buckland blinked, confused for a moment. Then he realized that Pellew knew nothing of his edict; he thought it was simply a matter of time. Buckland almost sagged with relief, but was careful to put on a contrite face. "Wise words, sir, and ones I am sure Captain Sawyer lived by as well. I did my best to lighten Mr. Hornblower's burden, but with eight hundred souls to look after it was impossible. And you know he does take much upon himself."
"Yes, I do." Pellew muttered, and Buckland knew he was over the worst.
Well, almost. Hammond was glaring at him, and as soon as Pellew ducked his head barked, "And what of Captain Sawyer, sir?"
Feeling as if he could surmount anything, Buckland put on the blandest face he could manage. "Sir?"
"You heard me," Hammond continued, his face florid, "We have looked over his journals, read the reports, but we have heard little firsthand, and it is a matter of grave importance. When you left Plymouth, was the captain well?"
Buckland nodded sagely and said, "Captain Sawyer had been under the care of his physician, Dr. Clive, for some time before we left Plymouth. The burden of command weighed heavily on him, and the good doctor prescribed medicines which seemed to help his condition."
Hammond frowned deeper. "So what happened?"
Buckland's eyes swept over to the other two men. Collins looked merely curious, but Pellew was watching him warily. Someone else is in fear now, Buckland thought, and was amazed at how smug he felt. "Captain Sawyer suffered an accident shortly before we reached Samana Bay which severely affected his mental processes."
"What sort of an 'accident'?" Hammond wanted to know.
Buckland was ready. "I was not present, sir, but I am told by those who were that he fell down an open hatchway into the hold. It was Dr. Clive's opinion that the injury inflamed his brain lining and, ultimately, rendered him unfit for command."
"Told by those present?" Collins cocked his head. "Who was that?"
Buckland leaned forward a little and said, "Commodore, if I am not under oath am I obligated to answer every question put to me?"
Pellew's eyebrows went up again. "Unless you have a very good reason not to, Captain Buckland!"
Buckland winced, and hoped the gesture did not look too theatrical. "The net you spoke of before, sir - I owe much to my men and I do not wish to place any of their necks in the noose. Captain Sawyer was an excellent captain and I would much rather not dwell on the manner of his downfall..."
"'You'd rather not' be damned to you!" Hammond's voice was nearly a bellow. "This is a court of inquiry, sir, our duty here is to inquire. When a question is put to you you answer it. Who was present when Captain Sawyer fell into the hold?"
Buckland sighed. "Lieutenant Kennedy and Midshipman Wellard. And Mr. Hornblower."
Hammond leaned back in his seat, looking satisfied with himself. Buckland saw the wariness in Pellew's eyes turn into a deeper kind of uneasiness, and knew the suspicion was off of him for good. He relaxed completely.
"After Captain Sawyer was brought back to his cabin Dr. Clive examined him. The captain was unconscious, and did not regain his senses for some hours afterward. He remained in command, however, until Samana Bay."
Hammond's eyes were black ice. "What happened there?"
Buckland winced again. "It is a painful memory, sir, a jumble of things happening at once. It is possible that others have a clearer recollection of events than I do. We had a man at the knots who did not know his way around them, and went aground. Mr. Wellard was present, you should ask him about this as well..."
"Mr. Wellard will be summoned when he is able," Pellew said, "But in his current injured state that might not be for some time."
Buckland's heart lept a little; there was a chance Wellard might not be able to testify at all, or remember much if he did. "Very well, sir, forgive my impertinence. The captain was on deck, but he was not feeling well, and I asked Mr. Wellard to fetch Dr. Clive. I set Mr. Hornblower to breaking the ground's hold on us, which he did admirably well, but by the time we were free Dr. Clive had arrived and declared the captain unfit for command."
"Your report says it was Mr. Hornblower who issued the command to place the Captain under arrest," Hammond noted severely, "Why did it not fall to you, as senior officer?"
Buckland smiled a little, gravely. "As I mentioned before, the young man has a precocious talent. He saw an opportunity and took it."
Pellew frowned. "Opportunity?"
"To secure the ship, I mean."
"Of course," Collins said. But he did not sound convinced.
"Captain Sawyer was in a great deal of pain, and Mr. Hornblower's actions saved him from further suffering," Buckland offered helpfully, "I then took command of the Renown and we made our way out of the bay and made our plans to storm the fort. The rest I believe is in the report."
Hammond spread his large hand on the papers before him and asked, "So, in your opinion, Captain Sawyer was ill before his accident, but not enough to incapacitate him?"
Buckland thought carefully; no danger in replying here. "I believe so, yes."
"And the fall caused the injury that removed him from command?"
Buckland paused; but his ground here was firm. "I am not an expert on such matters, Captain. But I believe if you ask the Doctor, you will find his opinion concurs with mine."
"Hm," Pellew looked down at the report, but Buckland noted with immense relief that no further questions seemed to be on his lips. The other men were also glancing down at their papers gravely, as if contemplating something. Buckland hoped he was right in guessing what that something was.
Feeling the need to fire a closing shot, Buckland set his face into the most sincere lines he could manage and leaned slightly forward, waiting until the Commore looked up to speak. "Commodore Pellew, I have brought the Renown home in one piece, and with three prize vessels to accompany her and as many prisoners and glory as the crown could wish for. But I count it as too cheap a reward for the life of Captain Sawyer, and the forfeit of the garrison at Samana Bay."
"Not to mention the well-being of two of your lieutenants, and your other men," Pellew replied archly.
"Oh," Buckland amended hastily, "Of course. Of course."
There was a thick silence in that room for a few moments; then Pellew glanced at the other men. Each one nodded and he turned to face Buckland again. "Captain Buckland, thank you for your time. You are dismissed until further notice."
"Thank you, sir." Buckland rose and gave a bow to the men at the table.
The great door creaked open behind him, and Buckland turned and strode out, trying very hard to hide the self-confident smile that he could feel inside. He felt light enough to fly. The first round of inquiries was over, and he had come through with flying colors. They did not even make much of him being tied to the bed. He would escape the noose - and humiliation - yet.
And he did not much care who went there in his place.
Horatio slowly drew open the shuttered doors to his balcony and sighed as he looked out over the crystalline vista.
It had been hours since dawn, and the sun was climbing its way toward noon. He had dressed - lightly, in his trousers and linen shirt; eaten; and then spent most of the morning pacing up and down the well-appointed confines of his room. He was too preoccupied to shave, and had not even tied his hair back. He felt as if he was exploding.
He knew what had to be done, and was anxious to do it. His dreams had been full of hazy and disturbing images: Archie lying in a sick berth hammock covered in blood, Bush gasping on the quarterdeck, Wellard shuddering in a hospital bed, and all of them looking to him for redemption. Or if they were not, they should have been. It was up to him to save their names, if not their lives.
Horatio frowned at the early heat, and squinted at the sky-blue waters that stretched forever to the horizon. Beyond that water lay America, and across from it England. Such a long way to go, but how much farther till this business was over! Would any of them see their home again? The captain dead, his damning journals in indifferent hands, and hanging in the air like a pestilence one word: mutiny. Mutiny, mutiny...
Indifferent hands? Horatio shook his head; not entirely. Pellew had been sympathetic, but he was a practical man, and Horatio knew the odds were stacked against them. Captain Sawyer's word would be taken first, and in his less lucid moments he thought they were all out for his blood; and those moments were surely the only ones commited to paper. If Sawyer's words had any weight with the inquiry, the nooses would be made before sunset.
Of course, voices could speak in their favor, but those would be difficult to find. Dr. Clive had always stood behind his captain, and would not risk his reptutation by admitting the captain should have been detained long ago. Buckland would certainly look out only for himself. Hobbs' loyalty was obvious, and what had Matthews said that night on Renown? A third of the men were with them...but that meant two-thirds were against them. And their voices would be the loudest.
So that left, who? Horatio wiped a fine sheen of sweat from his forehead and tilted his face to the cloudless sky. Three men, besides himself, who knew the truth behind Sawyer's condition and were not afraid to reveal it. But those men were wounded, perhaps - perhaps dying, and could not defend themselves against any attack mounted against them. They were brave men - damn, Wellard was still a boy, younger than Horatio when he first went to sea! He did not deserve to be dragged gasping to a dark and forbidding room, would not survive the kind of anger and accusation that would be heaped upon his head. He should be cleared, exonerated of any wrongdoing, so he could go home. Bush as well, he was a fine man with the kind of iron courage that Horatio admired - he should see England again, not the dank interior of a prison cell. And Archie...
Horatio sighed and dropped his gaze. Archie could not have gone through all of his trials to have his life end like this. It was simply too cruel.
Horatio paced back into the room, his mind once again spinning to the inquiry. Buckland was there now, of course they would want to talk to the highest ranking officer first. That was damning; Buckland's nature was self-preservation, and it would go hard on all of them if he cast the blame for Sawyer's incapacitation at their feet. There was one solace there, however: Pellew would not be so easily won over, would question every accusation and draw Buckland out. And whatever the man said, Pellew would verify it. The other men might take a captain at his word, but Pellew would dig until he found the truth, no matter how long it took.
Horatio had already resolved to tell that truth - his truth - and redeem them all. It was the only action duty would allow.
But the day was so long! Horatio raked his hands through his hair and paced to the table, where fruit and bread had been laid out for him. He had no appetite, but had nibbled at a little of the bread, and was now disgusted by the mess of crumbs he had made. Sweeping the mess off the table into his hand, he walked to the main door and opened it to throw them away -
- and pitched the crumbs squarely into the chest of a young marine private who was standing at the other side of the door, his hand raised to grasp the knocker.
"Oh!" Horatio exclaimed, startled.
The marine looked at him in surprise, and then down at his chest, where a few crumbs still clung to the crossed white straps of his uniform. Then he looked up again with wide brown eyes and said, "Sir?"
"Ah - " Horatio brushed his hands on his trousers absently. "My apologies."
The marine nodded and lowered his hand. "Commodore sent me to see you, sir."
Horatio had turned to go back into his room, but at the mention of Pellew's title turned back again. "Yes?"
The marine put both hands on the barrel of the musket he was carrying and blinked. "Wanted me to tell you you've got his permission to go around. Anywhere you want he says, long as I go with you."
Horatio's heart jumped. "To the hospital?"
The marine blinked again, slowly. "If you like, yes, sir."
"Yes," Horatio answered swiftly, his mind moving to what he must do to make himself presentable. He rubbed his chin and winced. "Give me a moment and then we're off. Understood?"
The marine looked at the floor. "Yes, sir."
Horatio nodded quickly and hurried to the washbasin for his razor. His mind began to race. He could go anywhere, which meant he could finally see how his men were doing instead of wondering about it. Perhaps he would go back to Renown and gauge the winds there, see how Matthews and Styles were getting on. It may be that he would only be getting his house in order, but at least it would be better than waiting in a gilded cage for the cat to arrive. It would be -
Horatio looked up, only one cheek shaven. The young marine had not left as he presumed, but was standing not ten paces from him, looking down at the floor. Curious, Horatio said, "Yes, private?"
The marine hesitated, then said, "Just wanted to say, sorry, sir. I feel badly over what's happened."
Horatio went back to his shaving. Now it seemed there was too little time. "Thank you. Captain Sawyer's death affected us all."
Damn! Did he nick himself?
"That ain't what I meant, sir."
He *did* nick himself. Grimacing, Horatio dabbed his face with a towel and straightened up to gaze at this youth who was speaking riddles. "Well, man?"
"The one who let the woman out," the marine said, still not looking Horatio in the eye, "He was a disgrace to the navy, sir, shouldn't have been allowed to put on a marine's uniform. Don't know if anyone's said it, but - very sorry the others got hurt, sir."
Horatio frowned; he tried, but couldn't remember any marine saying more than two words to him in his whole life. And here was one who for some reason was carrying the collective weight of their sins. "Thank you, private, but the guilt belongs to the man who commited the crime. And he's paid - "
"That was my brother, sir."
Horatio stopped, surprised. "Your - "
"Yes, sir," The young marine lifted his eyes then, and Horatio noticed for the first time how young this marine really was. Seventeen, perhaps? Eighteen? "But he was never no good, only joined when he got in trouble at home. I tried to keep him out, but..." The eyes went back down again. "Well, sorry, sir."
Horatio became aware that he was holding his hair ribbon in one hand, and did not remember picking it up. He tied his hair back carefully, and studied the young man before him. Average height, dark blond hair, sturdy build ... suddenly something clicked. "You were with us at the fort."
The eyes came up again. "Yes, sir. Saw you blast through the door. Grand sight it was, most action I've ever seen."
Horatio tied his queue to his satisfaction. "Probably not the last you'll ever see, I'll wager." He turned to get his jacket.
The marine's voice followed him. "I saw the men follow you. The officers, everyone...most remarkable thing, sir. Damnable thing."
"Thank you," Horatio replied as he picked up his jacket and began to put it on.
The marine toyed with his musket for a moment, then said softly, "Commodore said I was to stick with you, but I stand guard at the doors of the inquiry too." Another pause. "You want to know what Captain Buckland said?"
Horatio had just finished pulling his queue out of his jacket, and turned to the marine in surprise. "What?"
"I can hear everything through the doors. You want to know what he said at the inquiry?"
Horatio straightened his jacket and tried to think of the proper answer.
The marine seemed to sense his discomfort and looked down again. "My apologies, sir, if I was forward, it's just - I feel like I should make up for things, is all. I thought you'd like to know things that was going on, at the hospital and the inquiry. I can tell you if you want, or you can tell me to keep me mouth shut if I'm out of line. Wouldn't be the first time, knowin' me."
Horatio's eyes went to the young man's face. Here was a wealth of information, but should he partake of its riches? "What's your name, private?"
The boy blinked. "Russell, sir. Tyler Russell."
"Well, Private Russell, I would do nothing that would compromise the integrity of either of our ranks; and I am not certain it would benefit me to know too much of my own destiny."
"However," Horatio continued, his mind turning, "You may tell me if the wind sets foul or fair, and it would be no breach of conduct to let me know what kind of temper the inquiry panel is in. And if it would ease your conscience, I would very much like to know how my men are doing."
Russell's face brightened a bit, as if having this responsibility eased his burden. "Yes, sir. It would be my pleasure, sir. Are you ready to go?"
Horatio nodded, and as Russell proceeded him out the door added, "You mustn't hold yourself accountable for your brother's folly. Each man must choose his own path. I am sorry his ended in his own destruction."
"Thankee, sir," Russell replied as he opened the door, but his youthful face was set in stone, "But my brother was always that way. He was thinkin' with the only brain he ever had."
By the middle of the morning the gun crews were hard at work fixing the caissons, and Hobbs went ashore to see if there were any spare cannons to be had to replace the one left in Samana Bay. Once ashore, and his business concluded, he put his footsteps in another direction, and soon found himself in the whitewashed halls of the Admiralty hospital.
He was in a dark mood, dark and depressed. The heat was bad, and seeing the Renown so wounded made enduring the heat worse. His captain was dead, and there was no one for Hobbs to rely on anymore, no steadfast keel to fix his rudder on. What leadership there was would soon be extinguished at the end of a rope, and maybe rightfully so; in any case, there was no salvation to be had there either. So Hobbs was miserable when he entered the hospital and asked to see his mates. And he knew that seeing them would make him no better.
Why even try? He asked himself this question as the attendant led him down the hall. It was all a waste; his life had been a waste. He was no longer young, and everything he'd believed in had turned to dust. When they called him for the inquiry, he would have to tell the truth, and he was not certain what that was except his captain had been mad, and been stripped of his dignity much too soon. Stars lived forever, didn't they? The seas stayed constant, the sun and the moon never changed. But men did, and there was no one to rely on. It was all very disheartening.
So it was against his will that Hobbs went to the hospital. A large part of him had already given up and wanted to find a tavern, get drunk, perhaps pick a scrap. But instead he was shown into a large and brightly lit room, and left to look around for himself. As he suspected, the sight did nothing to cheer him.
Most of the men were dozing in the shuttered room; two of the less badly injured ones were squabbling over something in the corner. Attendants moved among them with water and bandages, and the doctor - what was his name? - was there as well, his cheerful voice cutting the silence like the hum of an annoying insect. Hobbs picked out men that he knew and saw that their cots were still occupied, then glanced at the officers. Bush was propped up in his bed reading, and it looked like Kennedy was dozing next to him. A moment's further scrutiny revealed to Hobbs that Bush's lips were moving; he was reading aloud.
Finally, reluctantly, Hobbs turned his eyes to Wellard's bed. He had surprised himself by being afraid to look.
His fears seemed to be unfounded. If anything, Wellard looked better than he had the previous evening: his colour was better, and instead of stirring restlessly in his bed the boy looked sound asleep. It was a bit of a turnaround.
For a moment Hobbs' spirit was lightened, but it was only a moment before it was cast down again. Suppose Wellard pulled through, then what? He had the misfortune to be mixed up with the lieutenants, and that was a guarantee of the noose. He'd live through this week only to die in the next, and Hobbs did not think he could do much to stop it. He was not even certain he should.
With a scowl, Hobbs walked to a wall near Wellard's bed and leaned against it, crossing his arms in thought. Mannert's words came back to him, mingling with Randall's to form a cacophony of discord in his head. *Do the captain proud, lay the bastards in their graves.* Mannert had said. *Captain might still be alive if it weren't for them.* It was true, Hobbs had seen it: Kennedy and Bush conspiring, and Buckland too. Wellard had been their puppet, and the four of them had brought Sawyer down like a pack of dogs. If he hadn't been so old - so sick - so... so not the man he had been, Sawyer would have had them lined up and shot where they stood. It never would have come to this.
Randall would have rejoiced at a sight like this. *Serves the buggers right*, Hobbs could hear him saying, *Now's our chance, eh mate? They're done for, save yourself and make it as bad as you can for them. Bloody officers, when did they ever care for the likes of us?*
Never. Never, but...Hobbs' eyes slid to Wellard's sleeping face and he winced a little. He wanted to see the situation in black and white, but it insisted on going gray on him. Sawyer was a prince among captains, the best man Hobbs had ever served with...but didn't the caning of Wellard seem a little, well, excessive? Would the Sawyer of ten years ago order a boy beaten for countermanding his order? Hobbs shifted uncomfortably; he didn't want to think about that question.
Others came, though: The officers were bastards, but didn't Bush come to his defense on the beach, after the bosun's mate taunted him about Randall's death? Hobbs accepted it then as Bush shutting Styles up, but he still remembered being mildly surprised that the lieutenant had stuck up for him at all - he had to know who had tipped off the captain.
Hornblower was the hardest one to read of all. He lay in wait for the captain, wanted him to fail, and then when the situation wasn't deteriorating fast enough he took matters into his own hands. All of them, together, conspired to bring Sawyer down, but Hornblower was behind it. He wanted Sawyer dead.
But...but Hobbs could not deny that Hornblower had held his tongue many times when he could have incited mutiny by loosing it. Fully a third of the crew wanted to see Sawyer removed - even if they did not openly talk of such things their sentiment was obvious. He kept silent during Wellard's beating, urged restraint when Kennedy wanted to act, and when threatened with a straight razor wielded in the captain's own hand did not attack him as Hobbs thought he might, but actually succeeded in calming the distraught older man down. His words had glowed in praise for the man he had incapacitated, and he seemed more concerned that Sawyer would harm himself than anything else. It was a strange sight to behold.
Then there was the whole business with the fort...Hornblower had the devil's own brashness, had thought of ideas when there were none to be found, and been so bold about his business that not one but both of the other lieutenants went back for him against Buckland's orders, and ordered all three of them into the sea to save their lives. It was insane, it was mutiny...
it was something Sawyer would have done, as a lieutenant and in his prime.
No, Hobbs thought as he scowled and shifted his weight against the wall, stop thinking like that. No one was like Sawyer, and no one ever would be. Hornblower's no different than a thousand other officers. He'll do what he can to save his own neck; Sawyer's greatness means nothing to him. His men had the misfortune to follow him, even young Wellard. They're all fools, and Buckland's a bigger fool, but it's his word against theirs and he's the captain. There's nothing I can do. Let it go.
In this black frame of mind, Hobbs settled himself against the cool wall and gazed at Wellard's slumbering face, and contemplated serving under the next worthless captain of the Renown.
"Exeunt Nym, Pistol and Bardolph, followed by Fluellen. Boy: As young as I am, I have observed these three swashers; I am boy to them all three: but all they three, though they would serve me, could not be man to me; for indeed, three such antics do not amount to a man."
Bush paused in the words he was reading aloud and glanced away from his book to look at his wounded companion in the next bed. Kennedy was lying still, his clasped hands moving slowly with the rise and fall of his bandaged chest, his eyes closed in his too-pale face. At the pause, however, he creaked one eye open and fixed Bush with a curious little glare. "I'm still listening, Mr. Bush."
"My apologies, Mr. Kennedy," Bush said in a low voice, "I thought you'd fallen asleep."
"I cannot sleep," Kennedy whispered, shifting himself on the hot, thin-sheeted bed, "Having slept since sometime last week, I find that the heat and this infernal injury has driven Queen Mab far from this bed."
"And so you want me to read you plays?" Bush asked.
"Of course," Kennedy turned his head and opened both eyes, "What else shall I have to do but play the theater in my mind? Please read on, Mr. Bush."
Bush sighed and found his place again. "This isn't my calling, I'm afraid."
"Perhaps not, but you have nowhere to go either."
Bush tilted his head to acquiese the point, and kept reading. "'For Bardolph, he is white-livered, and red-faced; by the means whereof, 'a faces it out, but fights not. For Pistol, he hath a killing tongue, and a quiet sword; by the means whereof 'a breaks words, and keeps whole weapons. For Nym, he hath heard that men of few words are the best men; and therefore he scorns to say his prayers, lest 'a should be thought a coward; but his few bad words are matched with as few good deeds; for 'a never broke any man's head but his own; and that was against a post, when he was drunk'...Mr. Kennedy, are you all right?"
"Yes, I just happened to think that sounds like some men we know and - damn! It hurts to laugh."
"Oh. Do you want the doctor?"
"Oh, God, not him! No, I - " Kennedy had become a little flushed, but the color eased as he placed one hand where a faint patch of red showed from his wound. He breathed out, then in, then out again slowly. "I'm all right."
Bush nodded, relieved, and turning his eyes back to the book was about to begin reading again when he glanced over to where Wellard was sleeping and said, "I see Mr. Hobbs is back again."
"Mr. Hobbs is not in 'Henry the Fifth.'"
"I wonder why he keeps coming back here. Do you suppose Buckland's put him up to it?"
"Mr. Bush, there is a stage full of players in my imagination who are glaring at you very rudely right now..."
"Mr. Hornblower's here."
"What?" Kennedy opened both eyes fully and tried to lift his head, for indeed the doors to the hospital had opened and Hornblower, accompanied by a young marine, had just entered. Hornblower immediately went to Dr. Sankey, and as Bush watched they began to walk slowly around the large room, doing just what he had done the previous evening: seeing to his men.
"Is he faring well?" Kennedy asked, and Bush realized he likely couldn't see much from his supine position.
"Fair enough; he looks exhausted, though. I imagine he'll be around to us before very long."
"Oh," Kennedy laid back, took another deep breath. "and ... Mr. Wellard?"
"He's still sleeping."
"Very good, Mr. Bush...your wise words I'm sure."
"I hope so." Bush's gaze followed Hornblower around the room, and he noticed Hobbs was watching the young man as well. "At the moment, words are all I have."
"Words, words, words," Kennedy whispered, and closed
his eyes again. "Please continue, Mr. Bush."
Hobbs watched Lieutenant Hornblower walking about the hospital room in grudging astonishment. Astonisment that he was back - he had only been there the night before - but also astonishment that seeing the lieutenant again did not fill him with immediate hatred. No, it was some other strong, hurting emotion that Hobbs felt as he watched Hornblower go from bed to bed, leaning over to say a quiet word or two or nodding while Dr. Sankey described a patient's condition. Something burned in him when he saw the upturned faces of the wounded men, some impassive and a few hostile but many with almost admiring looks on their faces, as if Hornblower had performed some miracle. As if he was a captain...
Then Hobbs realized that what he was feeling was jealousy.
Jealousy that these men admired and respected Hornblower, like he had admired and respected Captain Sawyer. Jealousy that those days were gone for him. Jealousy that they would never return.
Hobbs felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned to see Dr. Clive standing at his elbow.
"What are you doing here?" The doctor asked in his clipped tones.
Hobbs shrugged. "Came to see how the boys are getting on."
"Oh," Clive swept a critical eye over the sea of bandaged and bedbound souls. "Anything I should be aware of?"
Hobbs glanced down at Wellard. "Mr. Wellard seems to be feeling better."
"Ah." There was a pause, and Hobbs saw Clive tilt his head toward Wellard, as if surveying his condition. "Yes, he seems to be over the worst." His eyes flicked upward. "I see Mr. Hornblower is here as well."
Hobbs hunched over a little more. "Yeh. Don't know why he's here; he's got little enough to gain."
The two men watched Hornblower for a moment, bending, talking, straightening to move to the next cot. Then Clive spoke.
"After the battle off Cape St. Vincent, Captain Sawyer paid such a visit to the sick berth. If I were a religious man I would say the men's faith in him cured their wounds."
Hobbs turned to look at the doctor; then he looked at Wellard again, and wished Sawyer was alive. "That won't happen here."
"No," Clive's voice was stiff and unbending. He paused, and Hobbs saw his eyes were still watching Hornblower.
Then he took a deep breath, and said again, "No."
"'...which makes much against my manhood, if I should take from another's pocket, to put into mine; it is a plain pocket-up of wrongs.'" Bush looked up from the Shakespeare book. "Good morning, Mr. Hornblower."
Hornblower smiled in greeting. "Good morning, Mr. Bush. How are you feeling?"
"Well enough to reenact a menageric, it seems," Bush sighed, thinking that Hornblower looked weary to death. "Mr. Kennedy, we have an upright man in our midst."
Hornblower had already turned to Kennedy, who once again opened his eyes and managed a weak smile. "Hello, Horatio."
"Archie. How are you?"
"Restless and bored beyond belief." Kennedy took another slow breath. "Have you been called?"
"No, not yet. But don't think on that; concentrate on getting better."
"Yet it bears thinking upon, Mr. Hornblower," Bush said gravely, his eyes fixed on Hobbs, who was standing with Clive by the door and watching them all, "We will have to be careful, all of us."
Hornblower didn't look over his shoulder, kept his eyes on Bush and Kennedy. "I've been given permission to go where I will, provided Mr. Russell here accompanies me. Is there anything you need from the ship?"
"My writing instruments," Bush answered immediately.
Horatio nodded, then turned aside a bit. "Archie?"
Archie appeared to think a little. "'Julius Caesar'. 'Much Ado About Nothing.' And see if you can't find my volume of Henry Vaughan, it's the one with the dark blue cover. You remember."
"Of course," Horatio smiled a little, and shifted his hat in his hands. "Anything else?"
Bush was about to speak again, when loud voices from the corner of the hospital interrupted him.
"What did you say?"
"You heard me! Hang 'em like dogs!"
There was the clatter of falling objects, and Bush turned in his bed to see what was going on. Dr. Sankey was already crossing the room.
"They're fighting again," Bush muttered, craning his neck; because of the distance, however, he could see nothing but other beds and the backs of those also trying to get a look. Kennedy could do little more than peer upward quizzically. "They've been doing it ever since we came here."
"Take that back or I'll slit your throat!"
"Dogs! Worse than dogs!"
Bush shook his head and turned back to Hornblower. "You would think they would learn - "
He blinked; Hornblower was gone.
"Bloody hell!" Bush whispered under his breath, and looked over his other shoulder. The sounds of fighting continued as he finally caught sight of the lieutenant, walking swiftly to the contentous corner with Russell at his heels.
"Belay that racket, both of you!" Hornblower called out in his commanding voice as he brought himself up before the two quarreling men. "What is this about?"
Bush could only see the upper half of Hornblower's body, and what looked like the back of one of the quarrelers' head. Both men fell silent.
"Answer me!" Hornblower insisted, as an attendant came to clean up the mess.
"'e was slanderin' your good name, sir!" The man Bush could see spoke, pointing a finger. "I can't abide that. Whut you did 'ad to be done, it 'ad to!"
"Suck up to the one that's livin', are yuh!" The other man growled, and Bush could see Dr. Sankey giving quick restraint. Even wounded, these men were clearly both brawny and both fighters. "Yew fergot yer captain, forgot yer loyalty! You should 'ang with 'em!"
"That's enough!" The shoulders straightened, first one then the other, and Bush smiled to himself as he saw how swiftly Hornblower's mere presence silenced the dissent. Oil on troubled waters...
Kennedy turned his head. "What's going on?"
Bush shook his head quickly; he sympathized with Kennedy's frustration but anything could happen at any moment. He had to hear...
"I couldn't keep silent no longer," the second man complained, "Captain Sawyer was a good man, 'e didn't deserve the kind o' death 'e got. An' 'e'd still be here, but for some."
"Don't you - " The first man lunged, but Russell held him back. Thus confined, the man gave a scornful snort and continued, "Don't listen to 'im, sir, they're just upset that the captain went mad. It 'appens, sir, ain't nobody's fault. But 'im and Randall an' 'is crew, they held the higher-up too long, an' we want it back. We'll give it back fer yer, sir, don't worry. We're with ye, sir!"
Bush saw the light in the man's eyes: pure adoration, the kind of unquestioning respect Sawyer must have enjoyed, once. Hell, Bush remembered when *he* felt that way. And there should be no question that Hornblower would appreciate it...
...but that did not seem to be the case. Hornblower turned, and Bush saw hot anger in his eyes, directed at both of the men. In a low voice he said, "Now listen to me well, both of you. We are not here to fight each other for any reason, but to mend our bodies and spirits to return to fight for England. Captain Sawyer is dead, and Acting Captain Buckland along with all of his officers are engaged in matters of the utmost consequence. As we are thus engaged you are all depended upon to comport yourselves as the proud men of Renown, do you understand? Not as squabbling children throwing stones in the schoolyard."
"But sir - " the first man struggled a little in Russell's grasp. "But sir, a third of the men are on *your* side."
"And I am on the side of England," Hornblower replied with a bold tilt of his chin, "As Captain Sawyer was, and Acting Captain Buckland - there is no other side, anywhere. We are all shipmates, all on the same side. However this business concludes, I expect every man to remember that we have only *one* duty, only *one* aim, and only *one* sovereign of authority. All loyalties come from that; and all must return to it, in the end. Return to it healed, and well, and ready for battle. Understood?"
The first man nodded, his head hanging low.
Hornblower turned, to the other man. "Understood?"
Bush could not see the man; but there was no further noise from him, so Bush assumed that there was a silent nod of assent.
"Now," Hornblower squared his shoulders again, "Give your apologies to these fine men whose time you have wasted with your quarreling, and put yourselves up to mend. You are needed on the Renown, as swiftly as you can mend yourselves. You are all sorely missed."
There was a reluctant shifting of bodies, a general grumbling of acquiesence. Bush saw Russell's grip relax, and knew that the crisis was over.
"Whew!" Bush leaned back against his pillows and looked at Kennedy. "Well, what the devil are you smiling about?"
Kennedy managed a soft chuckle. "Call it nostalgia, Mr. Bush."
After a few moments, Hornblower returned, his face flushed and his eye still flashing. "Forgive me, gentlemen. I was - "
"Unavoidably called away," Bush finished the sentence with an admiring smile. "I see being halfway to irons has not diminished your leadership skills, Mr. Hornblower."
Hornblower ducked his head modestly, "You would have done the same, sir, had you been able. My apologies for proceeding without orders."
"Not at all. That seems to be your calling."
Hornblower brought his head back quickly, and glanced at the ceiling. "So! If I recall correctly, the request is for writing instruments, 'Julius Caesar,' and 'All About...' no, 'Much About..'"
"'Much Ado About Nothing,'" Archie answered, "Thank you, Horatio."
The light faded a bit, and Hornblower's shoulders sagged as if he were a giant coming down to normal size. "Only get better, gentlemen. We have a long road ahead of us, and I need all my men beside me."
"Speaking of which, have you seen Wellard?" Archie asked, lifting his head again.
Hornblower shook his head, and turned in that direction. "No, I will though."
Bush glanced over in that direction as well, and said before he could think, "Oh, Hobbs is gone."
Hornblower turned back, a puzzled expression on his face. "Hobbs was here?"
"Yes; Dr. Clive too. You didn't see them?"
"Well, as I said they're gone now. I daresay you must have impressed them!"
Hornblower shrugged. "I doubt they noticed. Well, good morning to you then; I shall return when I can with your requests."
"Oh, and the Henry Vaughan if you can find it," Kennedy remembered.
Hornblower smiled once more in farewell, and went on his way with Russell beside him.
"Henry Vaughan?" Bush said lightly as he reopened the book, "Another playwright?"
"No, a poet," Kennedy sighed, closing his eyes again. "Dr. Sebastian gave me that book, a long time ago."
"Oh, that's right, you don't know him. Our surgeon on 'Indefatigable.'"
"A ship's surgeon who reads poetry? Now there's a man I'd like to meet!"
"I hope you will, someday." Kennedy scrunched his shoulders around on the thin sheets. "I do hope Hobbs and Clive aren't conspiring. They could make it hard on Horatio."
"Now, Mr. Kennedy, you heard the man. No time for discord; just mend yourself and fight for England."
Kennedy slitted one eye open again, and grinned weakly. "That a command?"
"Then play on, Mr. Bush."
And the eye closed again, and Archie folded his hands across his bandaged chest.
Bush leaned back against the pile of pillows, allowing his gray-blue eyes to shift to Wellard's bed, but only for a moment. Wellard was asleep, Hornblower was already moving in that direction, and Clive and Hobbs were gone. There was nothing left to do but read. "'...which makes much against my manhood, if I should take from another's pocket, to put into mine; for it is plain pocketing-up of wrongs. I must leave them, and seek some better service; their villainy goes against my weak stomach, and therefore I must cast it out.' Exit boy..."
Clive had left the hospital room first, as soon as the fight was over. Hobbs followed him, and as soon as the two men were out in the strong Jamaican sunshine said, "Well, that was quite a row."
"Yes," Clive said, stopping and turning quickly. His expression was agitated. "And not the last, I fear. Bad business."
Hobbs noticed the doctor's sudden nervousness and said, "What're you doing here?"
"I've been called to the inquiry," Clive replied, drawing himself up and looking back at the hospital, "I must go and tell them what I know."
Hobbs looked at his shipmate closely. "What will you say? About the captain, I mean."
The agitation decreased; then diminished further. In one swift motion Clive reached into his coat, pulled out his flask and drank from it. His eyes never left the hospital, and Hobbs knew they both had to be thinking of the same things. Of Sawyer, and men who could lead. Of battles and broken men, and what it would take to fix them again. Of what was beyond repair.
Clive licked his lips and took another drink. The agitation dimished further, until it was only in his eyes. Then he put the flask away and looked Hobbs squarely in the face.
"I will say what is required of me," he said shortly. Then he raised his eyes to the hospital and whispered, "Damn, I wish I'd listened to my mother and become a greengrocer."
With that, he turned and walked away.
There was so much work to be done on Renown that for a few minutes that morning Matthews didn't think about what was happening on shore. There were sails to be mended, decks to be scrubbed, rigging to be checked and stores to be put in order and it was all done under his watchful eye. So for a while at least, Matthews walked the decks supervising the work, and didn't think about Mr. Hornblower and the others at all.
His forgetfulness was shattered, however, when he met Styles at the base of the gun deck stairs.
"We got trouble." Styles said in his low, muttering growl.
Matthews frowned, but after a moment almost smiled and said, "When haven't we, mate?"
"No, I mean trouble," Styles repeated, glancing over his shoulder. "Heard some men in the mess, talkin' 'bout what's goin' to happen when Mr. Hobbs gets back."
Matthews' eyebrows went up. "Oh?" he said, and took a quick step forward. "We'll just see about - "
Styles stopped him with a hand on his arm. His gaze was flint-hard as he whispered, "I'm tellin' you so you know, so Mr. Hornblower can't say I didn't do my part. But we can't stop 'em, Matty."
Matthews backed up a step and looked at his compatriot in surprise. "What are you saying, Styles?"
Styles leaned forward a little, his face in the shadows. "Mr. 'ornblower c'n talk all he wants, but some on this ship don't like that bastard any more than we do. There's too many men on this ship with bruises on 'em like what I got, an' too many places for 'em to hide. Let nature takes its rightful course like it does on every other ship, Matty. Do your best but if it 'appens don't interfere. It's better for everyone this way."
"I'll not listen to this rubbish!" Matthews insisted, and pushed past Styles to walk down the narrow corridor toward the mess.
"So keen to obey orders now, are ya!" Styles cried after him, not loud but loud enough to make Matthews stop in his tracks and turn around. "Sure, it wasn't Randall's fists breakin' *your* ribs, was it? Nor Mr. Hobbs givin' 'im leave to do so! You would have done the same for Simpson if Mr. 'ornblower 'ad asked ya, I suppose!"
Matthews glared at Styles hotly before taking a step toward him and hissing, "This ain't the same, Styles, and you know it!"
"Oh, isn't it! The blows feel very much the same, if you ask me. Randall an' Hobbs were a pair, mate, and it won't takeHobbs long to find another rating to do 'is dirty work the next time 'e takes a dislike to me, or some poor lad like Mr. Wellard."
Matthews winced. "Styles - "
"Tell me it ain't true! 'e's a bad one, Hobbs is, an' somethin' in me says the sooner 'e can't do nobody no more harm the better."
"Are you suggestin' we disobey orders and let 'im get killed? That's mutiny, Styles."
"No - " Styles looked over his shoulder again, and lowered his voice. "No, I ain't suggestin' we disobey Mr. Hornblower, just - just maybe not stick our necks out so much is all."
There was a heavy pause, and Matthews regarded his shipmate closely.
Styles seemed to catch that look, sighed and leaned against the companionway post. "I know, orders is orders and we got to do as we're told. And - and Mr. 'ornblower's just lookin' to keep things even on the ship, same as he always does. But he don't know, Matty! 'e's not down here with us, he don't know how scared most of the men were when Hobbs and Randall teamed up. 'e don't know what it feels like to get beat on by the gangs that prowl around down 'ere. And when you report 'em, what do you get? Nothin'."
"That's changed, Styles. Captain Sawyer's gone - "
"Yeah, but Buckland don't care about nothin' but his own skin."
"There'll be another captain come along soon."
"But what are the chances he'll be better? Half the men here set to beat on the other half, Sawyer's men and our men, how many captains give a damn how the ratings feel about things so long as the work gets done? And now with Sawyer dead and Mr. Hornblower gone, it's a boiling pot set to go over. It'll be bad, Matty, mark my words."
Matthews shook his head. "You forget we're not ratings anymore. We can stop that nonsense."
Styles shook his head. "We can report things, get men beaten, maybe get one or two killed. But we can't stop it, any more than Eccleston could stop Simpson."
"But letting the men go after Mr. Hobbs will stop it?"
Styles blinked slowly. "He did it to 'imself, Matty. Treat men like dogs and you get bit."
Matthews looked down for a moment, then up at Styles, and saw the smoldering anger in those dark eyes.
"Anyways," Styles said, leaning away from the post, "I thought I'd let you know trouble was brewin'. Don't worry, I owe too much to Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy to get meself in trouble over the likes of Hobbs. I won't do nothin' to 'im."
"But if anything happens you'll do nothing to stop it?" Matthews asked.
The slight grin on Styles' face was chilling. "I'm just returnin' the favor, Matty. He did as much for me."
With that Styles walked up the companionway stairs and Matthews watched him go, the lanterns on the upper deck throwing his shipmate and friend into shifting patterns of light and dark.
End of Part Five