An American Encounter
By Skihee :)
Chapter 20 All Things Work Together For Good
McMasters left Pellew's cabin feeling the singe around his clothing. The furor emanating from his Captain over learning of Kennedy sitting on the quarterdeck was unmistakable. If he had realized how much it would enrage him he would have sought a way to avoid its telling. Having been the officer on watch, Pellew hearing the commotion of Kennedy being transported to his cabin, he was ordered to report when his watch ended. McMasters sighed, and catching sight of Midshipman James informed him the Captain wanted him. McMasters ceased his exit hearing the rather loud orders to find Mr. Kennedy and, to his surprise, Mrs. Hornblower. He had regained his forward motion when Midshipman James, one step above the most junior midshipman, tripped over his own feet leaving Pellew's cabin. James glanced at McMasters as he passed him, fear written over his face.
Kennedy resting in his cabin since his consultation with Sebastian, feeling decidedly more at ease, and cooler, rose from his bunk. Discussing his feelings with Sebastian had probably been the wisest thing he had done in some time. Concluding it was an infatuation, brought on by despondency over his injuries, and he had to admit, some envy. But, beyond all this, considering his friend, he felt, once again, that inner happiness for Hornblower. So solitary in his relationships, to have found a woman equal to his disposition, a woman who did not fawn over him, but one that might challenge him with her own independence, and that loved him, brought a smile to Archie's lips.
It was nearly time for lunch. He had no duties to perform. His life was pretty much a series of rest, eat, rest, eat, rest, sleep, eat, rest, ad nauseum. As idle as a king, he thought, remembering Sebastian's story. He opened the door of his cabin just as Midshipman James was about to knock. Leaning back to keep from getting pounded on the chest, his reflexes were still in good order .
"Oh! Sorry, sir! Mr. Kennedy, Captain Pellew wishes to see you in his cabin if you are able."
If he were able? Could this mean his captain knew of his *episode*? "Why would I not be able, Mr. James?"
"Er, well, sir, you're, you're, you're faintin' an all, sir."
"I see," said Kennedy.
"Excuse me, sir, I must find Mrs. Hornblower," said James embarrassed to bring up Kennedy's situation.
Kennedy grabbed his coat tail. Smiling he said, "You mean MR. Hornblower."
"No, sir. Mrs. Hornblower." James headed off once more, Kennedy in tow.
"Does...does ...why do you need Mrs. Hornblower?" asked Kennedy mildly apprehensive.
"Captain wants to see her, sir."
Something about this request gave Kennedy gooseflesh.
They were nearing Bracegirdle's cabin. There outside stood Pamela and Horatio. Kennedy grabbed James'coat tail again, first pulling him back, then, putting his hand over his mouth, holding him in the crook of his left arm. Something in their stance caught Kennedy's attention.
"Shhh!" said Kennedy as they melted into the shadows. "Promise me you won't talk and I'll take my hand away," he whispered into James' ear. "Promise!"
James nodded. Kennedy took his hand from his mouth, resting his arm over James chest and shoulder.
"What are you doin', sir?" asked James, whispering fearfully.
"Quiet, Mr. James," he whispered.
Kennedy's eyes were fixed on his friend and his wife. "Look at the play of colors in their clothes. Her dress that aquatic blue of the Indies fading towards the color of deep water in his navy topcoat." James tried to turn to look at his superior wondering if he had gone raving mad. Archie felt a smile grow on his lips. A singular revelation beginning to spread throughout his being. He did not feel jealousy or envy. At seeing the two of them together, he felt...love! He loved both of them, as a couple, as his friends. His smile broadened. He relaxed against the wall behind him with a sigh.
McMasters, approaching the two, walked slowly up behind them wondering what had transfixed their gaze. He entered into the shadows that hid them from view, close enough to hear what Kennedy was saying, close enough to see what they were watching.
"See how they gaze into one another's eyes. He leans towards her, she to him."
Sebastian arrived next seeing the three huddled in the corner. He was the tallest of the lot having a clear view. "Mr. Kennedy!" he whispered.
"Shhh. He's going to kiss her, I know it."
"Mr. Kennedy..." whispered Sebastian again.
"Shhh. This is like sighting a rare bird!" he whispered back.
Next, the officer's mess cook came up behind them. "Oh, here you officers are..."
"Shhh!" said Kennedy, James, and McMasters.
"What?" said the cook in a normal voice. Sebastian put his hand over his mouth moving him into position to see.
Hornblower looked up, gazing down into the darkened corridor. There was a chorus of silent inhalations as the group of men sought to meld into the darkness around them. Not a breath was heard. Hornblower turned back to his wife concentrating on the face before him. The men quietly relaxed releasing breath at different rates but all in silence.
Kennedy began his narration again. "Ahh. Look how his fingers trace down her arm, following the curve of her sunkissed skin. He speaks softly to her, gazing at those soft lips, those eyes...."
Pellew sat at his desk in agitation. Where were they? James had been gone at least fifteen minutes. He was not used to being kept waiting. "Powers!" he bellowed. There was no response. "Where the devil is everyone?" Pellew exited his cabin. There should have been several men nearby ready to do his bidding. "Damn!" he muttered, knowing this was another offshoot of having his crew spread over three ships. Stopping to stare at the Marine guarding his cabin, he asked "Have you seen Powers?"
The guard was startled Pellew was speaking to him. "No, sir."
"Where is everyone?" he asked again.
"It's lunch time, sir, perhaps they're below havin' lunch," suggested the marine.
Was he going to have to find Kennedy himself? He made his way to the officer's deck. Walking along the corridor, he noticed men bunched in the hallway. It was as if there were a logjam ahead and it had captured a number of officers and ratings. All seemingly stuck, and all very quiet, enraptured by something taking place ahead of them. He could see Sebastian standing there, so apparently it was not a medical emergency. Pellew walked silently up behind the group aware of someone speaking softly.
"She smiles at him. Lifting her delicately curved chin, bringing her soft lips nearer to his. How much longer can he resist his own vision of lovliness? His for the asking, his for the taking. His finger tips glide up her arm, over her slender neck, resting on the curve of her chin. Just a slight lowering... of his own... their lips within a breath of one another...lower, lower..." Every man held his breath as they watched the two consumate the long awaited kiss. "She reaches up to touch his soft, brown hair, pulling herself closer..."
Pellew watched all this so utterly taken aback he could not move. The nearest man to him, grinning broadly, became aware of him standing next to him. He shuddered, grabbing his mates sleeve. One by one, each man becoming cognizant of their captain in the corridor, peeled away from the group like skin on an onion. He got down to Powers who was standing next to the cook.
"I was checkin' on yer lunch, sir!" whispered Powers, giving him a salute and taking the cooks arm in hand.
"Dr. Sebastian! I'm surprised at you!" whispered Pellew.
Kennedy remained enraptured by the kiss of the two lovers, continuing to speak softly "...nothing so remarkable beneath the visiting moon..."
Pellew looked at his acting leftenant, his left arm resting over James' shoulder, then back to his second leftenant embracing his wife, unaware of the audience the two had acquired. He found himself hesitating, caught in the moment. They did make a nice couple. He hoped they would survive. Survive! Yes! Damn it, he had a ship to run! This is not a garden party! He looked back at Sebastian motioning with his head to move out of earshot.
"Dr. Sebastian, how could you....how could you...." Pellew was at a loss for words.
"It is a therapy, Captain," said Sebastian softly.
"A therapy? For who? The whole damn crew?"
"It is a long story. Mr. Kennedy..." he started to explain.
"Mr. Kennedy? Mr. Kennedy? I'll talk to Mr. Kennedy! Tell him I want him in my cabin now, Dr. Sebastian. Do you hear? Now!" Pellew stormed off, not liking what was happening to his command. Not liking it one bit!
Sebastian reached over grabbing Kennedy's arm, pulling him to the space recently occupied by Pellew.
Kennedy grinned at him. "I'm all right Dr. Sebastian! I could look at the two of them and feel nothing but happiness for both of them! Ha!"
"I am very glad, Mr. Kennedy, but Captain Pellew wants to see you."
"Oh, yes, I know, James here told me."
"And, I've got to go tell Mrs. Hornblower, too," said James. Sebastian grabbed the Midshipman's arm.
"Really, doctor, I appreciate your concern, but I am fine. Just fine. I'm off to see the Captain." He ambled away.
Sebastian gave up on trying to warn Kennedy. "Mr. James! Where are you going?" asked Sebastian in a slightly louder than normal voice.
"I've just told you, sir, I've got to tell Mrs. Hornblower Captain wants to see her." Sebastian pulled him back once more.
"What did you say, sir?"
"I've got to tell Mrs. Hornblower!" said James looking at the doctor with dismay.
"Ah, well, I am looking for the dear lady, myself. Her cabin is just down the hallway here."
"I know that, sir!"
Sebastian looked down the hallway to see the two had separated, standing awaiting their approach.
"Mrs. Hornblower!" said Sebastian.
James interposed himself ahead of the doctor. He had a message from his captain and he would not be delayed further. "Mrs. Hornblower, Captain Pellew wants to see you, ma'am."
"Yes, ma'am. Right away."
Hornblower looked at Sebastian. "What's this about, doctor?"
"I do not know, Mr. Hornblower. I am here to remove your ... A, Mr. James, you have delivered your message. Inform the Captain she will be there directly."
James glanced around at the threesome. He had done his duty. "Aye, aye, sir."
They watched him leave.
"I am here to check your stitches, Mrs. Hornblower, and hopefully remove them."
She blushed, amazingly enough. "Very well, doctor. But shouldn't I..."
"I believe the Captain is busy at the moment. Removing your stitches should not detain you to any great length." He motioned for them to enter her cabin. "Coming, Mr. Hornblower?"
Horatio nodded and entered with them.
Kennedy strolled to his captain's cabin and stood outside waiting. He could hear Pellew having words with someone within. He felt that old knot returning to his stomach. He swallowed realizing his idle days had made him somewhat complacent in his attitude towards his position. He tried to tuck his shirt in better with his strapped arm sticking out under. Adjusted his neckerchief, pulled at his topcoat. Holding his hat between his knees he tried to smooth his hair to make it neater. Placing the bicorn back on his head he moved to look out the doorway to Indefatigables main deck.
Powers emerged from Pellew's cabin red faced and in a hurry. He brushed past Kennedy to regions unknown.
Archie turned to see his captain standing at the doorway, hands on his hips, and an expression on his face that could only be described as fury in a bottle.
"Y-yes, sir!" Kennedy approached his captain removing his hat. He sucked in his breath feeling thankful he was at a rank above corporal punishment, moved into the cabin.
Pellew followed closing the door. He eyed his officer noting his arm still bound to his torso. He paced before the windows, glancing at Kennedy, stopping as if he were going to speak and then pacing again.
Kennedy pulled himself up in as rigid attention as he could muster, eyes forward, expression stoney.
Was there some softening in Pellew's demeanor, wondered Kennedy? Perhaps this strapped arm would be his salvation. He waited to discover what he might have done to merrit the impending onslaught by his captain.
The two continued in this manner. Finally, Pellew spoke.
"I am speechless, Mr. Kennedy! Completely at a loss of where to begin! What is your rank, sir?"
Kennedy looked at him. Did he really want him to answer this question. He swallowed, "Ac-acting leftenant, sir."
"Oh? Really?" Pellew paced again. "You could have fooled me!" Pellew paced. "Keep your eyes forward, sir!"
Kennedy snapped them up from the deck where he had let them fall. "Aye, aye, sir!"
"Do you know why you are here, Mr. Kennedy?" Pellew moved in close to his face.
Archie reddened, wondering how to respond, but in truth, he did not know. He opened his lips deciding on a broader answer. "To serve my king and country, sir."
His response completely disarmed Pellew. He snapped his head around to see if Kennedy were mocking him. He stepped closer to him. "Indeed? Have you behaved as a king's man today, sir? And, I warn you, do not answer quickly!"
Archie found the key in the word *today*. He thought about going to Pamela's cabin to warn Horatio he should not be there. He dismissed that one, Sebastian would not tell. Shaving, eating, stitches removed, deck, Pamela, fainting, Sebastian, James. He stopped there. Whatever he had done had occurred somewhere between Bracegirdle's deck and James knocking on his door. It dawned on him and he shuddered. He bowed his head, "No, sir."
Pellew eased immediately. Kennedy could see in his field of vision that his captain was waiting for more. Confession was good for the soul, he had heard Sebastian say many times. He prayed he was right in his assumption. "I...I...I was sitting on the quarterdeck, sir."
"Does that honor your uniform, Mr. Kennedy?"
"Does it honor your rank?"
"Does it promote discipline among the ratings, Mr. Kennedy, to see an officer in His Majesty's Navy sitting on the command deck of one of his fighting vessels?"
"I despair, Mr. Kennedy, I really do." He paced again. "What am I going to do with you? Your injury prevents you from doing watch duty. I cannot tie you in the rigging either. Flogging has crossed my mind. Tell me, Mr. Kennedy, what punishment can I mete out to you?"
Kennedy looked at his captain. "I'm sorry, sir. I did not think. I... You could demote me, sir. Send me back to the Midshipman's berth. Or, or, have me arrested and court-marshalled, sir. Or, confine me to the sick berth, sir." This last one was so quietly spoken, Pellew was not sure he heard him.
"What was that last you said?"
Archie inhaled, "Confine me to sick berth, sir." he said louder, head up, but eyes dropping.
Pellew, his fury abated at the contrition of his officer, said softly, "Would that be a punishment, Mr. Kennedy?"
Pellew watched Kennedy's mouth struggle to answer, watched his eyes, somewhat red, meet his, "Yes, sir. I would be ...deprived of my ...my fellow officers, the deck of the Indy, hearing the wind in her rigging, seeing the spray cross her bow." Kennedy blinked. "It would be a punishment, sir."
Pellew expanded his chest turning away. He wondered why Kennedy was not there anyway, except that he was mobil discounting his arm. Sebastian should take some of the heat for this. But he did not question his physician's prescriptions just as he would not expect the good doctor to question his orders. No doubt his answer would be that allowing Kennedy to roam about was "therapy." And that word brought a whole nother situation to mind. He lowered his shaking head. He looked back at Kennedy, his head hung low on his chest. He walked over to him. "Chin up, Mr. Kennedy!" he spat. "So be it. You are confined to sick berth until further orders. If Dr. Sebastian has any questions, tell him to see me."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Did Mrs. Hornblower ..." he sighed, "Ask you to sit beside her?"
Kennedy swallowed, "She said if it would get me in trouble that I should not, sir. It was my decision."
Pellew raised an eyebrow. "Dismissed, Mr. Kennedy."
Exiting Pellew's cabin his eyes met the Hornblower's standing together.
"What's going on, Mr. Kennedy?"
Archie smiled softly at the two of them. "Nothing to concern you." He placed his hand on Hornblower's shoulder briefly. "See you."
Pamela and Horatio exchanged anxious looks over Kennedy. "I'll find out. Don't worry."
Pellew stood feeling emotionally exhausted. Such a triviality to fuss over but everything in a disciplined service. He rubbed his forehead feeling a headache coming on. He felt for Kennedy. It had been a while since he had a dibilitating injury, but he could recall the anxious frustration at being confined to sick berth. A knock at his door roused him.
"Come," he called absently. He did not turn, assuming it was Powers. He sat at his desk massaging his forehead. "Pour me a glass of brandy."
She did as requested bringing it to him. She sat it on the desk in front of him. Opening his eyes he took it to sip.
She stood behind him studying his attitude. His body language was saying tired, tense, frustrated. Moving behind him she began to massage his shoulders. Moving into his neck muscles she moved up into the tendons at the base of his head. At first, he was startled that his man had thought to do this for him without his asking. It felt wonderful! He groaned as she moved into his hair massaging his head.
Pamela smiled remembering doing this for her dad. She kneaded the tense muscles again in the shoulders. Pushing him slightly forward, she pressed across his shoulder blades, massaging the muscles over them and on his side.
Powers entered the cabin. Shock crossed his face at what he saw. She smiled at him shaking her head for him to be quiet.
Powers moved closer to him.
"Get one of those powders, Mr. Brandon fixed for me. I have a splitting headache."
She continued to massage him. "Powers," he said slowly, "You are really doing a marvellous job, man, and I hate to tell you to stop but I really need that powder."
She stopped as Powers delivered the potion. Pellew looked at him strangely. "You are very quick today!" He downed the medicine. She returned to doing his massage.
"Don't be angry, Captain," she said softly. He stiffened under her touch realization dawning, seeing Powers out the side of his eye. "Let me do this for you. I used to give my father massages when he had a difficult day."
He stood turning to face her. "Mrs. Hornblower. I...I.... You are a very exasperating woman! Do you know you have turned my crew upside down? Powers, get out! No! STAY! What are you doing here?"
"I was told you wanted to see me, sir. I knocked. You told me to come in."
"But, I...Why did you not announce yourself?"
"Well, you looked tired, sir, so I did as you asked."
"I did not ask you to...to...."
"No, sir, you are right. You reminded me of my father sitting there. I do apologize, Captain. It was very forward of me. Please, forgive me."
He stood with his mouth open. "Blast!"
"I can be frustrating, Captain. I know you shall be glad to be done with me. Do you want me to go? I would be glad to continue your massage, if you would let me."
"No! Go! Yes, go!"
"What did you want to see me about, sir?"
"Nothing! I have changed my mind! Please, just go."
The rest of the afternoon seemed strangely quiet. Hornblower found Kennedy once again housed in the sick berth. When questioned why, he would only say he changed his mind about his *options* deciding he would rather be in a sling than a strap. Indeed, it was cooler and was perhaps a god send. As for the meeting with Pellew, he sighted it as a discussion of quarterdeck protocol and he had to agree with the Captain's views.
Kennedy asked how Pamela's meeting had gone. Hornblower confessed he did not know why she was called in and, blushing, told Archie what she had done. Archie laughed heartily, thinking about requesting a massage for himself, but thought better of it. Horatio left with a promise to visit again.
The latter half of the first dog watch found Hornblower next to McMasters, officer of the first dogwatch.
"Can't keep away, eh Mr. Hornblower?" smiled McMasters.
"I would gladly do more, sir, if Dr. Sebastian would let me."
"Yes, well, I dare say we shall all be glad to get back to one ship and on station in the war we're supposed to be fighting."
"I do not expect the Captain ever imagined aiding that American ship would so complicate our lives."
"And yours even more so," smiled McMasters.
"Ship to windward!"
Glasses extended, Hornblower and McMasters looked to the direction called by the masthead lookout.
"Lateen sails. British colours. What can a ship that size be doing out there?" questioned Hornblower.
"Perhaps some adventurous yachtsman on a bet," offered McMasters. "I've heard of such. Men with more money than sense. I'd best inform the Captain. Orders are any sail sighted, he is to be called. Mr. Matthews, inform the Captain!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
Hornblower and McMasters watched as the sloop drew nearer. She could not be more than thirty feet in length. Her hull painted white with blue trim on the thwarts. A dandy to be sure. Pellew joined the two, McMasters handing over his glass.
"She doesn't seem to be in a great hurry, gentlemen, but definitely on course to meet us. Call me when she's nearer. Mr. McMasters go ahead and heave to for night station. Signal Kaliakra and Dolphin. I'll expect their Captains in one hour. You will have the watch then, eh Mr. Hornblower?"
Dolphin was riding between the two larger ships. Rampling acknowledged the signaled order, then Bracegirdle in kind. Hornblower watched as both ships backed the mainsails, turned the helm hard over, and took up the prescribed position.
Hornblower was feeling out of the loop. His time away from Indefatigable, his injuries, and limited usefulness left him feeling redundant. And now, he was left out of the meeting. Presumably it would contain no more information than what the Captain had shared with him earlier concerning his fears of the pirate union and a possible take over attempt. While these thoughts clicked about, another set were analyzing the approach of the *yacht*. It seemed to him the ship had purposely slowed. Were they being cautious?
The sun was sinking into the far western ocean when he deemed it time to recall Pellew. Bracegirdle and Rampling had come and gone. Hornblower noted the additional men placed on night watch of each ship. This approaching vessel, though curious, he could see as no threat to them. It carried no cannon. The amount of men she could hold would be a negligible force if she were hostile, yet he felt a certain apprehension. She was tacking to come around on Indefatigable's starboard side. Was this because she did not wish to come between the Indy and Dolphin? He could see the men on watch on the two sister ships watching her approach as well. Only two men could be seen on her deck, one at the tiller and one amidships to work the sail.
Pellew stood at his side as the ship came nearer.
"Who goes there?" called Pellew.
"Astarte! Out of India! Transportin' this here yacht for Lord Effington!"
"Why are you not with convoy?"
"Lost *em comin' round the cape! Got blown off course! We're low on water and wondered if ye could spare some! Grog even better, sir!" called the man at the tiller.
Pellew exchanged looks with Hornblower.
"Do you believe them, sir?" asked Hornblower.
"What are your intentions, sir?" asked Pellew.
"Permission to come along side, sir?"
"You may and come aboard," replied Pellew.
Styles and Oldroyd held the lines to keep the ship next to the Indy. The tiller man climbed to the main deck. He looked to be in his fifties, grizzled with a graying stubbley beard, stringy hair. His trousers were a faded blue thinning in the knees and seat. The once white shirt was stained with sweat and God knows what else. A tattered vest hung open with only one button, holding by a thread, as witness it ever had any. He grinned at Pellew revealing a gaping whole on the upper left side in a line of surprisingly white teeth.
"Mighty glad to see ye, Captain...?"
"Pellew. And you are?"
"Captain John Griswald, sir, at your service and that's me mate Wiley," he said motioning to the man standing on Astarte's deck. "We be nigh out o' drinkin' stuff, sir, blown off course and lost from our convoy. Think we may be on track now. We be about two days off the coast of Spain, ain't we?"
"That would be a close supposition, sir."
"Eh? Well, anyway, we figures if ye could let us have a keg o' water or somethin' we'd be most considerable in your debt, sir."
"What are your intentions, Captain Griswald?"
"Are you looking for assistance in your journey?"
"Eh? No. No, sir, just water....or somethin'," he smiled. "We'll find our way. We don't need to join up with ye if that's what yer askin'."
"Indeed." Pellew eyed the man. "Mr. Hornblower, see a cask of water is provided."
"Captain Griswald, do you have papers for this ship, Astarte?"
Griswald smiled a cagey grin at him. "Thought ye might ask that, Captain." He pulled a folded paper from his pocket. "Here ye go. We're legal. See?"
Pellew opened the note reading it over quickly. It sighted Griswald as Captain transporting Astarte for a Lord Effington. He returned the paper.
"Guess ye thought we might be pirates or somethin'."
Pellew stared hard at the man. "Why would we think that, Mr. Griswald?"
"Oh. There's talk. Talk about pirates in these waters."
"Indeed? And what have you heard, sir?"
Griswald glanced around the decks of the Indy. "Talk is they be banded up. I wasn't sure o' ye until I got close enough to see ye uneeforms." Jesturing to Kaliakra, he added, "Especially that *un there," He took steps noisily to larboard and seemed to increase his vocal level. He looked back at Styles and Oldroyd checking for their attention. "Talk is they got a ship like that *un." He looked back at Pellew, glanced from face to face of each man on deck to see they were looking at him. He glanced at the masthead lookout. "I see yer keepin' a watch, sir. Best ye do that. Pirates are a sneaky lot. Yes indeedy, they're a sneaky lot."
"Well, there's your water, sir. I am glad we could be of assistance to you."
"I thankee, Captain. Indeed, I do."
The cask was passed to his mate. He followed it over the side. Styles and Oldroyd tossed the lines back, the mate pushed off from Indy, Griswald at the tiller saluted Pellew, Astarte sail reset gliding off leeward. Griswald looked at Indefatigables quarterdeck, then moved his eyes forward, squinting in the growing darkness at the two black figures crouching in her chains. A grin slid over his expression. "They be a sneaky lot. Indeed, they do." He began to chuckle to himself and then sing, "Ten men sittin' on a dead man's casket, yo ho ho and heave away home. Best be watchin' or your bound for heaven yo ho ho and heave away home..." he chuckled again, before resuming his song fading off into the blackness of the night.
At midnight, clouds appeared to block the stars. The change to the middle watch was done quickly and quietly and settled into the monotony of the nightwatch. Midshipmen James and Cutter shared the duty with two ratings. They murmured greetings to one another, commented on the two ships riding to larboard, then began to quietly pace the quarter-deck, stopping on occasion to check the other men at station on the mast heads, peering into the dark night surrounding the three ships. Cutter pulled his glass to eye focusing on the quarter-deck of Kaliakra. Finding the officer of the watch engaged in the same activity startled him and he dropped the glass to his side quickly.
"Damn it, Barkley!" he exclaimed in a whisper.
"What is it, Mr. Cutter?"
"Nothing, Mr. James. Barkley's over there watching us through his glass!"
James chortled, "That'll teach you to go peeping at your neighbors."
"I'm just trying to do my job, that's all." he answered defensively. "What should I do peer into the decks of the Indy?"
"You'd gain as much, I dare say."
Two shadowy figures flowed over the side onto Indefatigables deck, watching the watchers, slithering to the ladder leading below decks. They left the two middies talking to one another, then entering the gundeck with the sound of snores reaching their ears. Like black oil they glided past the cannon, to the next ladder one more deck to go. Light from a hanging lantern glinted off the blades in their teeth. The silence screamed in their ears. A lamp forward revealed two redcoat clad marines seated at a table playing cards, one standing at a door musket to hand, a fourth standing over the two playing cards, his musket leaning against the wall.
Pulling a bag from his waist, the first dark figure dumped its contents onto the floor. He rolled a white ball away from the marines. The flattened shape clattered towards it.
"Here! What's at?" said one of the seated marines.
"That thing! Is it a spider?"
"A spider! Where?"
The black figure rolled another white ball. The flat creature tapped towards it.
"Quiet! You want to wake the whole damn ship!"
The two seated marines were standing. The one moved into the darkness towards the clattering creature. He stood dead still as the thing held its claws up towards him.
"It's a crab! A bleedin' crab! What the devil's a crab doin' down *ere?" Two more marines moved into the darkness to view the creeping critter. They began to chuckle over it when the two black figures struck. Their movements so quick and quiet before a minute had passed two marines lay unconscious on the floor, the other two with throats slit bleeding onto the deck of the Indy. The crab stood backed against the wall, claws raised and open, ready to fend off attackers. Keys jangled. The padlock removed, the two figures shushed the captives, unlocking their chains.
"I knew ye'd come fer us!" whispered Sid Craven, "I knew ye'd come!"
"Shut up, Craven. Where's that idiot brother of yours?"
"Don't speak bad o'me brother!" spat Craven as he pushed the black clad compatriot against the wall.
"Effington is livid that ye lost his ship. Where's *Orace?"
"Bitch killed him!"
"A woman? Just as well. Save Effington the trouble!"
"I'm gonna get her, O'Malley!"
O'Malley grabbed Craven's wrist. "You ain't doin' nothin' but gettin' off this ship!"
"I'm takin' her with me unless I kills her first!"
O'Malley pinned him against the wall. "You do anythin' to spoil this rescue and Effington will skin you alive! You got *em Ty?"
"Aye, they're all loose," whispered his cohort in reply.
"Listen, men," whispered O'Malley. "Ye've got to be silent as mice. They've got four on watch and lookouts on the masts. Ye've got to watch *em, then go when they ain't lookin'. Magie Noir should be waitin' fer ye off the starboard side. There's no moon, and clouds are blockin' the stars. Now, go!"
"I ain't leavin' without that murderer what killed me brother!"
"You're as stupid as that addle pated brother of yours, Sid. You ain't doin' nothin to mess up this operation," O'Malley held his knife blade to his throat. "Do you die here or are ye comin' with us? Makes no difference t'me."
Craven stood breathing hard to control his anger. "I'm with ye."
"I always said you was the smarter of the two. Live t'fight another day! Right, mate?" O'Malley held the knife at this throat waiting for his answer. "Right?"
"Right, O'Malley. Live to fight another day."
"Go on! Quietly!"
O'Malley and Craven reached the gun deck. Looking aft, Craven could see a guard at one of the cabins. "She's there! I know she is!" he whispered to O'Malley and moving that direction.
O'Malley grabbed him from behind putting his knife at his throat once more. "I said NO!" he whispered. The two padded quietly up the last flight of stairs to the waist. Another marine lay before them in an expanding pool of blood.
Kennedy was awake in sick berth reading. Thinking he heard something he rose from his bunk. He walked over to peer down the corridor. Between the sick berth and the officer's quarters lay the gun deck. He took a couple of steps into the corridor until he could lean over to see the guard at Pamela's cabin. Moving back into his straightened position he bumped into someone. "OH! Stephens! Don't sneak up on a man like that!" he whispered.
"Sorry, sir. Thought I heard somethin'."
"So did I. Wait....there it is again." whispered Kennedy. The two moved to the stairs leading to the deck below them. Listening they heard it again. Someone was moaning.
"What's going on, sir?" It was Carden the other man still left in sick berth.
Kennedy looked at him with a sigh. "Well, here we are. The sick berth trio, barely a one of us with two good hands."
"Or arms," added Carden with a smile holding up his stub.
"Sorry, Carden," said Kennedy. They heard the moan again and headed down the ladder.
The lantern hung from the beam gave a faint light. Another moan.
Craven and O'Malley crouched in the chains preparing to lower themselves into the water. With a swift move, Craven grabbed the knife, knocking O'Malley from their perch. He held onto the lines connected at the chains.
"Craven! Don't do this!" he whispered.
"I ain't leavin' without her. Go on. I'll wait till I see ye at the boat."
O'Malley shook his head and let himself drop silently into the dark water. He gave one last glance at Craven dog paddling to the black launch waiting off the stern of Indefatigable. Behind the launch loomed a larger blackness invisible in the starless night.
He could make out men going up her side, noted her forward motion moving silently towards Kaliakra.
Craven kept his word. Once he saw O'Malley in the launch he slipped back over onto the deck, creeping in the shadows to go below, below to take vengeance on his dead brother.
Something clattered on the deck. Kennedy caught sight of it and jumped causing the two men behind him to do the same.
Stephens, backing his feet as far up the wall as he could, asked, "What is it, sir?"
Kennedy peered down at the oval shape waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darker deck. "It's...it's ...a crab!"
"What the devil's a crab doing down *ere?" asked Carden bending and grabbing it quickly from behind with his remaining hand.
Kennedy peered at the thing before his face. "I don't know, but I think these marines were wondering the same thing."
One of them groaned again. Stephens bent to check which. Kennedy moved into the prisoner holding area.
"Damn!" Stephens and Carden looked in his direction. "The prisoners are gone!" He jumped over the body of the marine nearest him. "Carden, go get Dr. Sebastian for that man there. Stephens come with me."
Carden bounded up the ladder still holding the crab headed for sick berth and Dr. Sebastian. Kennedy and Stephens were hard on his heels. Something made Kennedy look towards Pamela's cabin. Her guard was gone! Stephens bumped into the back of him.
"We've got to tell Cap'n, sir!"
"Wait!" whispered Kennedy. He stepped softly toward the officer's quarters. Sight of the marine on the deck brought a gasp from Kennedy. Pamela's door opened. Instinctively, Kennedy backed away. A scraggly bearded face peered at him from over Pamela's right shoulder. Her hands were bound. A gag in her mouth tied about her hair. A trickle of blood dripped from her lower lip. The man's left arm came around her to hold her in front of him, his right held a knife at her throat.
"One sound from you and she's dead!" Craven whispered.
"I...I..I won't say a word," stuttered Kennedy. Seeing Pamela in her nightgown suddenly made Kennedy aware of his own similar attire. He put his left arm out to hold Stephens against the wall next to him. Pamela was shaking her head no at Kennedy, a pained expression on her face.
The pirate leered at Kennedy. "Guess this mighta been yours." He moved his left hand onto her right breast, kneading it. "Right nice it is, too."
"You filth!" He started to move towards him. Stephens held him back. The pirate pressed the knife against her throat, a thin line of red began to appear.
"We're leaving. You go up ahead of us. Anybody there, you tell *em she's dead if they try to stop me. Go!" He motioned for Kennedy and Stephens to go up the stairs. He followed holding Pamela in front him, knife in place.
"Don't hurt her," pleaded Kennedy. Stephens stepped onto the deck first. Kennedy whispered for him to get Pellew. Looking up at the officers on watch he called to them, "Don't fire! He has Mrs. Hornblower!"
James and Cutter stood at the railing their pistols aimed at Craven. Kennedy glanced at the dead marine near Pellew's cabin wondering if he could get his weapon, anything. What could he do?
Reaching the deck, Craven back stepped to the gun port entry. Pellew entered the waist behind Kennedy. Craven looked at him, laughed, and jumped still holding the girl. The men ran to the side.
"Don't shoot! You might hit Pamela!"
They watched him swim to a waiting boat, a black launch, pushing Pamela over into it.
"Mr. James, douse the lights!" called Pellew. In a moment not a single light was left lit upon Indefatigable.
On Kaliakra, hearing a shout, Barkley was standing glass to eye. Before the lights went out on Indefatigable, he saw what looked like men on deck in their night clothes. "Mr. Bracegirdle, Mr. Hornblower, sir!"
The two leftenants were at his side. "Somethin's happened on the Indy! They've doused the lights!"
"Do the same, Mr. Barkley," ordered Bracegirdle. He looked to see Dolphin had gone dark as well.
The clouds that had been blocking the starlight began to move off northwest. A crescent moon shed her silver beams upon the dark water. Hornblower looked larboard aft. "My God!" he whispered. A looming mast of darkened sail moved into position next to Kaliakra.
"Black ship and black sails, Mr. Hornblower! To match their black hearts. Plan B, sir." said Bracegirdle calmly.
"Aye, aye, sir." Hornblower jumped to the deck. Finding Crabbe he ordered the first signal. Crabbe blew out three long blasts on his pipe. Men began coming over the side from Magie Noir onto Kaliakra. The clang of sword and ax told the fight. Hornblower made his way next to the stairs to light the slow match. They would have five minutes to evacuate the ship. He was about to order Crabbe on the next signal when a sword came crashing down on the deck to sever the match from its glowing end.
"Now, now, what would ye be doin' there?" asked an unfamiliar voice.
Pistol to hand, Hornblower shot in the direction of the voice. A grunt of pain was followed by a thud on the deck. He grabbed his linstock, slipped down the hatchway, grabbing the remaining match.
"Captain Pellew, the prisoners are gone, sir."
"Yes, Mr. Kennedy. Mr. McMasters get that shroud over the larboard side!"
"Where's Mr. Hornblower, sir? Shall I get him?" asked Kennedy at a loss for what to do.
"Mr. Hornblower is on Kaliakra, Mr. Kennedy. We are in Plan B."
"Plan B, sir?"
Pellew stared at his acting leftenant. "You're a gunnery officer, Mr. Kennedy. Beat to quarters."
"Aye, aye, sir!" Kennedy called for the drummer. Men and marines came flooding up from below decks. In a matter of minutes he had men stationed at every larboard cannon ready to fire.
Matthews stood on the taff watching the black launch rowing towards the black ship. Running to Pellew he asked. "Sir, they're taken Mrs. Hornblower to that black ship, sir. Let me go tell Mr. Hornblower, sir. He should know."
No. Its too late. We shall have to get her later."
"She won't live till later, sir, I know it."
"There is nothing you can do!"
"I can swim to Kaliakra board her and board that black ship, sir."
"You'll never make it, man, before she blows!"
"Let me try, sir, please sir."
Pellew hesitated half a second studying Matthews, "Go!"
He was over the side in an instant. Swimming madly through the swells, he heard the next signal. Two short blows of the pipe, then a long. Retreat. The signal repeated. Reaching the shrouds hanging from Kaliakra's starboard side, he began his ascent. Meeting a man on his way down, the man grabbed him.
"Matty! What are ye doin' here? Yer goin' the wrong way!" said Styles.
"They've got Miss Pamela!" He hurried on past Styles. Jumping onto the deck, he spotted the two leftenants engaged in sword fight. Without a thought, Matthews ran at the man Hornblower was fighting sinking his knife blade into his ribs. Hornblower gasped at the rapidity of Matthews arrival. "They've got Miss Pamela, sir!" he shouted. At that moment a woman's scream sounded from the other ship.
"Mr. Hornblower! We've got to go!" shouted Bracegirdle thrusting a final blow into his opponent.
A fraction of a second and Hornblower was headed for the black ship!
"Hornblower!" shouted Bracegirdle.
"Go without me!"
Styles ran into Bracegirdle. "I'll get him, sir."
Bracegirdle swept the deck with his eyes. Most of his men were over the side. "Jump men!" he shouted. Marines on the deck of Dolphin fired up into the deck of Kaliakra giving covering fire for the men in the water. Dolphin began to move off clearing a path for the men in the water to Indefatigable. Marines on the Indy fired at Kaliakra as well.
Crewmen began coming through the gunports onto the Indy. Pellew stood watching. Finally, an officer appeared. "Mr. Bracegirdle! Good to see you!"
"Thank you, sir! Hornblower stayed behind."
"Matthews made it then."
"Yes, sir, and Styles joined them."
"How long till the explosion?"
"Not long, sir, as long as no one stops the fuse."
Hornblower stood on the railing of Kaliakra looking onto the deck of the other. A heap of white clothing on the deck showed him what he sought. Two men were arguing over her. He needed a diversion to call them away from her. Matthews and Styles stood beside him. There was no time for planning. They would have to take their cues from him. Pulling his last pistol from his belt, he grabbed a line to swing himself over. Choosing a man on the deck of the black ship he fired at him as he swung. The pellet met its mark. Landing feet first on the deck, he pulled his sword from its scabbard. Hurrying to Pamela, he pulled her to her feet. Matthews and Styles appeared at his sides. He placed his body in front of her, holding her with his left arm behind him. She leaned onto his back.
"Horatio." she whispered through swollen lips, clutching his topcoat.
"Well, what have we here?" said a very aristocratic voice. "A rescue?"
Hornblower backed her to the larboard side. "Jump, Pamela." he said quietly to her.
"I won't leave without you," she whispered.
"Shoot them," ordered the lofty man.
A black clad man lowered his gun on Hornblower. Seeing the movement, Styles threw his knife hitting the man squarely in the chest. The gun fired. Hornblower heard the bullet whiz by his ear.
"You ain't taken her!" shouted Craven lashing out at Hornblower with his sword.
Hornblower repelled his blow. "Styles, Matthews, take her and jump!"
"No! I won't leave you!" Pamela grabbed hold of the lines.
Styles and Matthews defended her from approaching enemy.
The aristocratic man stood watching with mild interest. "Do kill Craven for me and save me the trouble." He waved off the ratings attackers. "See to Kaliakra."
"Styles, Matthews! Get her off this ship or I will have you both at the GRATINGS!" shouted Hornblower.
Styles took her hands to peel them off the lines. "Please Miss Pamela, don't make me have ta hit ya." She looked into his kindly face, leaning to cry into his shoulder. Grabbing her around the waist he jumped with her followed by Matthews.
Hornblower and Craven exchanged strikes of the sword. Craven found strength to beat him back. Hornblower fell to the deck. Craven lunged at him. Rolling, he regained his footing. Craven turned to attack again. His blows were forceful against Hornblower, causing him to back to the quarter-deck wall. Craven pressed his sword against his. Face to face he sneered at Hornblower. "She murdered my brother and I'm going to kill her. Maybe not tonight, but I'll find her. And, before I kill her, I'll have my way with her. Have my way all night long. Then, I'll kill her for breakfast! Just wanted you ta know so you can take that thought with you to HELL!"
Hornblower pushed him off with a Herculean strength! They struck blow upon blow, Hornblower beating him back to the rail. His opening came, he thrust his sword into the man's chest. He stood panting over him. "You first!" he sneered back.
"Bravo! Good show, old man. Well, no, I guess you won't make it to be an old man."
Hornblower felt the tip of a sword in his back. He dropped his sword.
"Wise move. Wise move, indeed," said the man. He allowed Hornblower to face him.
"Who are you? Why are you doing this?"
The man bowed slightly at the waist, clicking his heels, "Lord Effington, at you service. And, why? Well, I haven't the time to explain it to you," he said with a smile.
"You're right about that," replied Hornblower.
"Right, because I am about to run you through?"
"No. Because you ship is about to explode."
He chuckled. "Nice try, Mr....?"
"Hornblower. Leftenant Horatio Hornblower of His Majesty's Frigate Indefatigable."
"Nice try, Mr. HORNblower."
"I speak the truth LORD Effington. See for yourself. Dolphin and Indefatigable are warping out. She is going to blow." He motioned starboard with his left arm. The two ships were indeed a distance from them.
"You wouldn't....you couldn't... a fine a ship as that?"
"Maybe I wouldn't or couldn't, but my Captain could and has. Slow match, sir. You might have a minute."
Effington moved to the side to call his men to look for the fuse, when it blew. The concussion knocked him and Hornblower to the deck. Debrie rained down onto the black ship setting her black canvas alight. Hornblower regained himself scrambling for the side. His next breath came as he broke the surface. He found himself gazing up at the stern of the black ship. Magie Noir, Black Magic. It was a name he would not soon forget. The fire on board her lit the surrounding area. He looked for any signs of life about him as he back swam away from the ship. How long would it take for the fire to reach her powder magazine?
"Mr. Hornblower! Mr. Hornblower! Over here, sir!" It was Styles calling. The three of them were in one of the black launch boats of Magie Noir.
He swam for them. Climbing in the side, the fire found the powder. Magie Noir exploded into the night.
Pamela lay curled in the bottom of the launch shivering from cold or from fear. He gathered her in his arms. "It's all right, darling. It's all right." He rested his cheek on her wet hair, his tears mingling with the saltwater of the sea. Watching the hull of Magie Noir turn, her remains sank below the waves. Beyond he saw pin points of light appear on the horizon, then off white sail reflecting the moonlight. It was the Indy coming for them.
Styles stood in the stern of the boat shouting and waving his arms. Oldroyd spotted him, throwing him a line.
Hornblower was impervious to what was happening around him. He was exhausted. Holding her, keeping her warm, keeping her safe was his total duty at this point. Styles and Matthews were speaking to his Captain, but he did not comprehend what they were saying. And, then there was blackness.
Pellew ordered the launch be hauled up with the two in it. Styles stood next to the Captain. "He's wounded, sir. Big gash on his right arm."
The boat rested on the deck safely in the arms of Indefatigable. Pellew looked into the launch at his officer and his wife. He placed his hand on Hornblower's arm, shaking his head. "Mr. Hornblower?" he said softly. He tried to move Hornblower's arm off of Pamela. It held fast. Pellew leaned over next to Hornblower's ear speaking softly to him. "Mr. Hornblower, you and your wife,...you and Pamela are safe now. Let me take her to Dr. Sebastian. Mr. Hornblower." Pellew reached to stroke Hornblower's head smoothing his wet hair from his forehead. "Let her go now, son, so we can help her...and you...Horatio?" Pellew watched his hold release.
Pulling her up, the wet nightgown clinging to her figure, Pellew called for a blanket to wrap her in. Styles reappeared. "I'll take her, sir."
Kennedy stood looking into the launch at his friend and smiled. Looking at Pellew, he said, "Well, guess I won't be alone in sick berth for a while." Two men came to take Hornblower below.
Pellew stared tiredly at his acting leftenant. "Mr. Kennedy, you are out of uneeform."
Kennedy looked down at his nightshirt and grinned, "Yes, sir, I am."
Pellew grabbed him by the neck, "Come on. I need a drink. Mr. Bowles!"
"Double rum for the men!"
"Aye, aye, sir."