An American Encounter
A Doctor's Assistant
The two Indy leftenants emerged onto the open deck of Foudroyant. Hornblower blinked in the bright sunshine, raising his arm to block the rays. He found his eyes increasingly sensitive to light. He squinted at the figures walking in the glare of the lowering sun. Reaching the quarter-deck, the two presented themselves to the officer of the watch.
Leftenant Craig was his name. He informed Hornblower the Captain had been called to sick bay and that the doctor had completed his examination. Craig expressed his appreciation that Pellew had sent the two of them and let them choose who would take the first watch and who the middle. Hornblower offered to take the middle, the midnight to four a.m. duty.
That settled, Hornblower began inquiring about battle arrangements, which pleased Archie. Something was still there of the Hornblower he knew. While they were speaking, the watch changed for the first dog. Leftenant Craig took them below to discuss gun crews. It was decided to give Kennedy the Indy men for a fighting crew and Hornblower would take Dodd's crew. Kennedy observed the men assessing him and his friend.
Finding themselves nearing the sick bay, they overheard the Captain and Sebastian speaking. Spotting the two leftenants, the captain spoke.
"Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy, I trust Mr. Craig has acquainted you with your duties."
"He has, sir. Might I inquire how the leftenant is doing?" asked Hornblower.
The Captain inhaled glancing at Sebastian. "I will see to your requirements, doctor, while you inform your shipmates. Dudley, here, will answer what he can concerning our medical supplies." The man he indicated nodded to Sebastian.
"I'm all they've got fer a doctor, doctor. I've 'elped before, and I can do the basics, but..."
"I understand, Mr. Dudley. I am glad to have you. If
you would begin preparation on those items we discussed, it would
be most helpful." Turning to Hornblower and studying him
as he replied, he said, "I believe Leftenant Dodd has appendicitis,
Mr. Hornblower. What did you do to your lip?"
"It is nothing, sir. Will you operate?"
"Yes. I was just discussing with Captain Brown the possibility of heaving to. There are several problems involved. Would you care to give your opinion, Mr. Hornblower?"
Hornblower blinked. Sebastian sought his opinion? "If you believe it would be of help, sir, certainly."
"It is late, Mr. Hornblower, and to perform this operation, I will need light. I am mildly concerned about the ship's motion. An appendectomy is a simple operation, but solid ground would be preferred, but, of course, is impossible."
Hornblower waited momentarily for more information but realized Sebastian's description was complete. "Well, sir, when I was on deck recently my observations of the weather were that the seas would remain as they have been, calm for the most part. We are still only doing about three knots. I do not believe the water will alter much from what you have experienced since our arrival. As far as light, I would suggest additional lanterns be placed overhead with perhaps some additional hand held light from whoever you might employ to assist you. My father often asked for assistance when light was a difficulty. The other option would be to perform the operation topside, but that would require waiting until tomorrow and a new day. I do not suppose there is a mirror on board. If the man is serious, I would not wait. How long has he been bedridden?"
Kennedy listened enraptured with Horatio's assessment and watched Sebastian, waiting to hear the answer to the question.
"He has been abed for two days, ...Mr....Hornblower."
"In that case, sir, I would not wait. If it is indeed the appendix, it could rupture and a putrefaction occur in the body."
Sebastian grinned at him. "I concur, sir. Very astute, Mr. Hornblower. On how many such operations did you assist your father?"
Horatio dipped his head in embarrassment. "Three, sir."
"Good. You will assist me, as well, then."
Hornblower opened his mouth to refuse, but knew, in all conscience, he could not. "Yes, sir. I would be happy to do what I can."
"And you Mr. Kennedy?"
"Not I, sir. I have the first watch." Kennedy backed away from them. "I might be found RESIDING in sick berth, but NEVER working. ....Sir!"
"The first watch is not for at least three hours by my reckoning, Mr. Kennedy. Go with Becker and locate some more lanterns, if you please."
"Where will you perform the operation, sir?" queried Hornblower.
"The mess table. Here." He handed him an apron. "Help me wash the table down with vinegar."
The two, hunched over, accomodating themselves to the low deck
beams, pulled off their topcoats and slipped on the aprons.
Sebastian tied Hornblower's for him and asked, "What was that about a mirror?"
"The reflective properties of a looking glass could enhance the amount of light. If there were one on board, it could be set at such an angle to focus on where you are working."
Sebastian stopped and grinned. "Indeed?"
"It is an exercise in triangulation. You need only consider how the reflection of mirrors are used for signaling, sir. They produce quite a bright light."
"That is fascinating, Mr. Hornblower."
Hornblower scrubbed more diligently at the table.
"I appreciate your help."
"You had fine beginnings for a career as a physician."
"Not your choice however, eh?"
Sebastian stood from his bent position, eyeing the young man before him. He was only expecting an answer about ship motion, not a confirming diagnosis.
Hornblower stopped to return the stare. He looked down at himself, assuming Sebastian was eyeing him critically.
Another opening, thought Sebastian. Hornblower's own suppositions about himself would do more to bring home the need for his well being than any verbal harangue.
Two ratings arrived with another wooden plank and placed it over the table. Hornblower and Sebastian began to wash this one down as well.
Hornblower felt relaxed doing such a mindless chore as wiping a table. In fact, being aboard Foudroyant seemed to have a calming affect on him. Even Sebastian seemed less grating. Was he? He asked his opinion about Dodd. That was a surprise from nowhere. What he learned from his father poured out quite easily, things he had not pondered for years. He hoped he would recall what to do. It is a simple operation, really, as the doctor said.
*You agreed with him.* he told himself.
*Yes, I did.*
His inner arguement continued.
*You admitted you were thin.*
*Well, it's true isn't it? I mean, look at me. I've hardly eaten enough, as Archie said, to keep body and soul together. Don't you want to see Pamela again?*
*Yes, damn it!*
*Then, we better start eating...and you've got to stop pining for her. She told you she would wait for you. Don't you trust her?*
*You know I do.*
*Yes, we love her.*
*I miss her.*
*Don't start that now!*
*I know, I know.*
*At least here, on this ship, there isn't a reminder around every corner, on every deck.*
*No..........not so many reminders.*
*You've got a job to do.*
No reply to this.
*You've got your duty. You know Pellew would tell you. He won't approve and I cannot believe you are still considering.*
*You can't do it. You know you can't*
*I know what you are thinking. You cannot do this, Horatio. What would Pamela say? She would not approve. You know it.*
He stopped wiping the table and stared into space. *That is the only thing that stops me. That and the fact we are headed in the wrong direction.*
*We're headed in the right direction and you have GOT to stop thinking about quitting. You can't. You cannot! You know you cannot!*
*Don't tell me what I can and cannot do!*
He sighed audibly. *Don't you think you have wiped this table enough? Sebastian is watching you.*
*I don't care what he is doing. I am getting a headache.*
*That is because you have not been eating properly or getting enough rest.*
*Don't start. Leave me be.*
*What do you mean, leave you be? I am you.*
*Tell the doctor*
*I don't want to tell him.*
*You will. And, do it now.*
*If I do, will you be quiet?*
"I'll eat more," he said out loud to Sebastian, then thought to himself, *Does that make you happy?*
"Good," stated Sebastian.
*Yes. I am really tired and the headache is getting worse.*
Archie and the others arrived with the ship's carpenter to hang the additional lanterns. Hornblower frowned at the sawdust dropping on the freshly washed operating table. "Are you quite finished?" He asked Archie.
Kennedy grinned. "Ask the doctor, Mr. Hornblower."
Horatio looked at Sebastian.
"That should be enough, Mr. Kennedy."
Hornblower bent to wipe the table down again. "It is too bad Brandon went back to England." Horatio looked up from his wiping to watch Sebastian's reaction.
"Yes. I miss Mr. Brandon. If he were here, though, you would not be helping me."
Horatio chewed his bottom lip. "You do not need my help."
"But, I do, Mr. Hornblower. When the man arrives with the hot water put these in it for me, please." He handed him several instruments. "You remember their names?"
Hornblower studied them. "Scalpel, clamp, ... I've forgotten this one's name. The one that holds the body open." He looked up. Sebastian was walking away from him.
"At least you recall what it is for."
"Where are you going, sir?"
"I am going to pray. I will return shortly. Call me when the hot water arrives."
Pray, for whatever good that would do. That was Sebastian, all right.
Hornblower was feeling very tired. He looked back along the deck. At the far end, half of the men were finishing their evening meal. The talk was subdued. Word had spread that Dodd was going under the knife. Moving over to the next table, he sat down heavily, folded his arms and lay his head down. His thoughts turned to Pamela. He held her picture before his mind's eye and traversed the vision. He concentrated on her smiling face and lowered his lips to the soft cherry ones that were hers.
Becker arrived with another man from the galley, each carrying two buckets of steaming water, and saw Hornblower asleep. He watched the leftenant for a moment. He had never seen an officer sleeping before. He did not look any different from any other man he had seen sleeping. He moved his jaws as he chewed on something.
"Put the buckets down 'ere, Sully. I'll find the doc." The lanky brown haired youth sauntered off with a slouching frame. He was around six feet tall and had adopted his peculiar walk to avoid banging his head into the deck beams.
He returned shortly with Sebastian.
"Mr. Hornblower's asleep, sir," whispered Becker, still chewing.
Sebastian retrieved the instruments and dropped them into one
of the buckets of water. "Leave him while I check Dodd."
Four men were standing watching Hornblower. One of them whispered to Becker.
"Hey, lad, why's your leftenant sleeping this time o'day?"
Becker shrugged and chewed.
One of the other men spoke quietly. "It's that Captain o' theirs. Pellew. I've heard he's a mean ol' bastard. Probably had 'im on watch on watch fer something."
"Hm. You think this one is a trouble-maker and Pellew pawned 'im off on Brown?"
The four men looked at each other and at Hornblower.
Becker had not spent much time around anyone but Sebastian and he offered no substantiating information.
"Jonas'll be on his gun crew. I guess we'll find out what he's made of then, we will." whispered a bald, short man.
"Dodd handles Jonas," offered another wiry man.
"Yep, we'll see what this one'll do, I'll warrant."
Sebastian returned. "You men, come with me. Becker, waken the leftenant."
Becker stood over him, watching him sleep, chewing. Where should he touch him? He touched his shoulder briefly and wiggled his hand on it. No effect. He did it again, leaving his hand longer. Still sleeping. He grabbed his shoulder and shook it broadly.
"Hm? What?" Hornblower came to and stood up immediately hitting his head on the beam. "Ow!" He staggered with tiredness. "Oh, Becker. Is the hot water here?" He looked around for the instruments. Walking over to the buckets, he spotted them in the water. The sound of moaning brought his head up to see the doctor coming with four men and a stretcher. So this was Dodd. The group successfully transferred him to the table.
"Becker," said Sebastian. The boy came over with an empty bucket and a jar of vinegar. Sebastian turned to Hornblower as he washed his hands under the small stream. "Do the same, Horatio."
Hornblower looked around at the men hearing Sebastian call him by his first name. He frowned, but did as he was told. Sebastian got the instruments and spoke to him as Hornblower rinsed his hands.
"My tray is here with the instruments, gauze, two pre-threaded needles, bandages. When I ask you be ready to give them to me."
"I remember, sir."
The two men locked eyes. Hornblower realized his answer was not for Sebastian but for someone else... his father. Sebastian grinned and Hornblower pinked. "We will make a grand team, Horatio. Can I persuade you to adopt a new career?"
Dodd moaned again precluding an answer from Hornblower. Sebastian looked around at the group of men assisting. "You men know what to do?"
"Aye, Doctor. Hold 'im down."
What was he doing? This was not what Pellew sent him to do. It was not what Brown expected either.
Why did he not want to be a doctor? He found himself falling into this quite naturally. He had helped his father, and eagerly so. Anything to be near his father. He overcame his squeamishness. He would not appear faint before the man he most admired in the whole world. The man whose wife he had taken from him. No, no. His father did not blame him for his mother's death, he did. Rather, they both took the blame. *Remember, Horatio?* he asked himself. *It put us both in a closer relationship. We were both responsible for her death.* He responded to the conversation going on in his head as a listener and as a participant in the discussion. No, it was God's fault. God took his mother. That was what one old lady told him. God needed another angel and took his mother. *Angels. I don't believe in angels.* That is a stupid concept. Does that mean you don't believe in your mother? *My mother was real. Real and beautiful......like........Pamela.*
"...I said clamp, Mr. Hornblower."
He followed where the doctor indicated and clamped the vein. Taking a folding of gauze he sponged the wound. *Pay attention, Horatio* he told himself. Then, who is to blame for my mother's death? Silence ensued within his mind. Why was he thinking about his parents, about his mother?
Sadness took his features. A fever. It was a fever that took his mother. A disease. He could not win there. He had already been defeated. The enemy had taken his most precious possession and he would never get her back. Never. He could never win in the battle against so powerful an adversary. One that invaded without soldiers, without sailors, that needed no ships or horses, or cannon.
He was very weary. Very weary. He is sewing. Sponge the blood so he can see. Becker was doing a good job keeping light on the surgery. Did he just say that aloud?
That is why he was not a doctor. The battles are too strong, and the defeats come too often.
Sebastian leaned up from his sewing. The body was closed. He rinsed his hands and took Dodd's wrist. The pulse was strong. He taped a bandage over the seeping wound. "Good," he said quietly. He looked around at all the men attending. "Well done, men. Well, done. Stretcher him to the holding bunk. I want him as flat as possible for those stitches. Let us be careful when we move him. Gently now."
Horatio gathered the instruments and dropped them into the hot water. He wadded the blood soaked gauze throwing it into a rubbish bucket. He and Becker began to clean the operating table with the vinegar and generally straightening up the area. When Sebastian returned, he found everything tidy.
"I am impressed, Mr. Hornblower. I shall have to tell Captain Pellew he has another doctor on board."
"I will never be a doctor, Dr. Sebastian," he replied tiredly. He knew it would be fruitless to ask him not to tell Pellew.
"Pity. You would make a fine one, sir."
Hornblower shook his head. "You fight battles that are too strong, and the defeats come too often. It is not a service I could ever choose."
Sebastian gazed at the weary young man. These words he would have to think about. "I want you to go eat and get some sleep. You will sit with Dodd for the middle watch."
"Dr. Sebastian. I am a watch officer, not a physician."
"You are a physician now and do not argue. We are here to assist Captain Brown because his leftenant is down. Dodd will need close scrutiny until the wound can close properly. He will be most crucial in the first twenty-four hours. You know medicine and you know it is true. It would be criminal for you to refuse. I will speak to the captain."
Hornblower sat blinking, brow furrowed, his mouth agape, unable to choose the right moment to jump in and object. "Oh, very well."
He stood slowly, removed his apron, rolled his sleeves down, and replaced his topcoat.
"I will call you, Mr. Hornblower. Do not worry about listening for watch bells."
"As you wish, Doctor."
Sebastian watched him stump heavily to the stairs. Sleep deprivation gave access to Hornblower's thought processes. It was almost like having an encyclopedia. He answered when questioned about subjects not intimately personal to himself and assumed he was queried on all relevant data to the situation. Sebastian had never given thought to Hornblower's relationship vocationally with his father. What a boon it had been today! He was impressed! He sponged without being told, knew where to clamp, anticipated his needs. If another doctor had been present who did not know Hornblower was a leftenant, they would have assumed him to be... at least a surgeon.
What was bothering the man? None of his fellows understood it. Kennedy, his best friend, was beside himself. Pellew's choice of sending the three of them together had him puzzled, but prayer calmed him, and he left the choice in God's and Pellew's hands. Hornblower was recently married, had an adoring and adorable wife, had spent nearly a week with her ashore. A sailor's dream! Why so solemn? What anxiety has crept into his soul? Falling into prayer came naturally for Sebastian, and he conversed with his Maker.
Hornblower's feet were leaden. He went below and peeked into the wardroom, but decided he was too tired to eat. Finding his cabin, after two attempts, he removed his topcoat. Looking down at his trembling hand, he realized he had gotten blood on his sleeve. Undoing the clamps of the braces, he pulled his waistcoat and shirt off in one movement, without undoing a single button. He half laughed at the feat. Ribs were visible under the pale shimmer of white skin. A twinge of regret reminded him he told Sebastian he would eat. Climbing into his hammock, sleep took him immediately.
Sebastian was writing in his medical log. Nearby, Dodd lay quietly. Archie appeared in the dispensary doorway.
"Where is Mr. Hornblower, Dr. Sebastian?"
"I sent him to eat. Is he not in the wardroom?"
"I just came from there. The servants were asking if he were still here and when to expect him for dinner."
Sebastian frowned. "I told him to eat first."
Locating the cabin, they entered to see his half naked skinny body sleeping deeply. Sebastian opened a blanket over him.
"You're going to let him sleep?"
"Yes, Archie. He has pushed himself to exhaustion. Only his anger was keeping him going and that seemed to let go once he was presented with concern for Dodd."
"What is he mad about? I don't understand him, doctor. That night on the foc'sle....I told you, he thought Pamela would leave him, but he seemed to move passed that notion. I thought he would ...get better, but ... there must be more to what is preying on his mind. Today, I suggested he would be better off having never met her, and I thought he was going to kill me. I did not mean it, of course. I mean he is going to be a father."
"He told you that?"
"Did he say how he knew?"
"I assumed Pamela told him."
Sebastian heaved out a sigh. He knew the burden. It was one he could never forget. He knew the guilt. To be gone when the woman you loved was to bear a child? It was a death knell in his own heart, but how could Hornblower be privy to such knowledge? It was somehow connected to the comment he made about doctoring. When Hornblower spoke the words, it was like a red flag began waving in his mind. Somehow that opinion was related to Hornblower's insomnia and self-imposed starvation. And, somehow it was equally entwined with his wife...and ....his child.
"Mr. Kennedy, what do you know about Hornblower's father?"
"Not much, sir, other than he is an excellent physician."
"Yes, most likely. What about his mother?"
"Mm. Horatio loved his mother dearly. I know that from seeing his face when he looks at her picture."
"He has a picture of his mother?"
"Yes. Here." Archie lifted the blanket from Hornblower's shoulder. Finding the chain in the folds of his skin, he gently lifted the locket. He could see the repair to the chain links done in Portsmouth years after Simpson had ripped it from his neck.
Sebastian leaned to examine the small portrait. "She resembles Mrs. Hornblower. Pamela. You know what I mean."
Archie squinted at the picture. "She does, indeed! I never thought!"
"You said, - loved -, his mother has passed?"
"Yes, sir, when he was around ten or eleven, I believe."
"Do you know the circumstances of her death? Was it in childbirth?"
"No. Horatio is an only child. I believe she died of a fever."
Sebastian hung his head in thought. Son of a doctor, a doctor who could not save his own wife. The words echoed in his mind *...You fight battles that are too strong, and the defeats come too often.*
"What is it, Dr. Sebastian?"
"He said something I want to give more thought. But, at least, one bodily requirement has won. He is sleeping. I will regret coming to wake him at midnight, but it must be done. Not just for Dodd, but for him. His salvation lies on this ship, Mr. Kennedy. We are very close to losing him. I can sense it." He wondered if Pellew had as well.
"You mean he might die?"
"No, I will do my best to see THAT is not the outcome if I have to tie him to a bed and force feed him."
"Then, what do you mean?"
"Let us see what the coming days bring. I will speculate no further."