An American Encounter
Chapter 15 - Catharsis
Captain Brown stood next to the master as he called to reef sail. Hornblower and Kennedy looked back to the quarter-deck upon coming topside. Glancing forward, another ship could be seen east southeast of them.
"It's the Queen Charlotte!" exclaimed Kennedy. The two moved quickly to the starboard side for a better view.
The deck and masts were alive with activity. Men scrambled up and down the shrouds chopping away cordage and man-handling the fallen yard and mizzen mast top-mast. The deck and sides were draped spaghetti fashion with hemp. A group of men forward were replacing canvas in the foretop, some releasing the damaged sail to drop to the deck, while others were preparing to lift the new.
Hornblower turned to mount the quarter-deck and pulled his spyglass from the inside pocket of his topcoat. Stuffing his letters back down, he extended the glass and raised it to his eye. He began a scan of the waters surrounding them.
"Anything?" asked Kennedy.
"No, thank God."
"Storm damage, then. Still, not good to be caught wounded, eh?"
"No, indeed," mumbled Hornblower. "No sign of the rest of the fleet."
"Separated, like us."
"Yes, but the Indy is gaining fast now that were are furled."
"Do you think they will come looking for the Queen?"
"One of the sloops might be headed back, but you know how long that will take. The plan was to meet in Minorca should something unexpected befall them."
Cannon shot sounded. Startled, the two turned to the Queen to see the Union Jack flying on the mizzen stump shrouds. It was the signal for all captains to come aboard the Admiral's ship.
"Looks like Pellew and Brown will be paying Lord Keith a visit," stated Kennedy.
Sebastian exited from below. He glanced about, noted they were taking up station, and saw the other vessels. Pulling out his packet of tobacco, he extracted a ready rolled cheroot. He decided to light it from the match kept lit at the wheel and headed that direction.
"Dr. Sebastian! I was about to send a man to you," called Brown, stepping down the stairs.
"I have been called to Queen Charlotte. This may be an
opportunity to return you to Captain Pellew. Leftenant Dodd is
on the mend, yes?"
"He is, sir."
"I wish to express my gratitude, sir, for your good offices."
"You are welcome, Captain."
"I know Captain Pellew must value your service. I pray we will not need it again this voyage."
"Aye, sir. I as well."
"I do not know how long we will be in meeting, but I suggest you begin gathering your dunnage."
"I will, sir."
With a nod to Sebastian, Brown climbed over the side to the
shrill of the pipes.
His gig lay on the water, manned and ready.
Sebastian glanced up at Hornblower and Kennedy standing together. He had not talked with Hornblower since that night, other than passing pleasantries. The leftenant either seemed to be recovering or had made a decision that put his mind at ease. The possibility of leaving Foudroyant made Sebastian anxious.
"Mr. Hornblower, may I speak with you a moment?" he called.
Hornblower stepped down the stairs and joined him on the main deck.
Sebastian exhaled and stared at the young man. He began to nod his head slightly. "You look well, Mr. Hornblower."
"I am well, sir."
Sebastian smiled wryly. "You have been eating your meals?"
"Good. Good." Should he ask more? Was a decision made? Did he still consider resigning his commission? He stared into the dark brown eyes before him, hoping something would be offered, but Hornblower was ramrod straight and silent. "Captain Brown believes Captain Pellew will have me back." He paused and glanced up at Kennedy on the quarter-deck. Hornblower's good friend would stay with him,... surely,... since Dodd was still weak. "Leftenant Dodd should remain inactive for another day or two and then be on restricted duty."
Hornblower nodded slightly at the information. "Yes."
Sebastian steadily stared into his visage. "Take care of our men, Leftenant...and your self."
"I will do my best, sir."
Sebastian pinched the wry smile and nodded.
"I will have the men help bring up your medical chests, Doctor."
"Thank you, Mr. Hornblower."
The meeting with Admiral Keith was not lengthy. Brown AND Pellew returned to Foudroyant together. He commended Kennedy and Hornblower to Pellew in their hearing, giving them a wink and a half smile as he left them with their true commanding officer.
"It is good to see you, sir."
Pellew nodded stiffly and addressed the two. "Captain Brown gives a good report of your conduct." He stood, hands behind his back, taping his finger on his cuff, sizing up Hornblower. "He says the malaise from your *fever* is better, Mr. Hornblower."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," answered Hornblower succinctly.
Pellew studied Hornblower's reaction. Pausing, the captain continued. "Dr. Sebastian will return with me, gentlemen, however you and your men shall remain. Indefatigable will be leaving as soon as the doctor and I are back aboard."
"Leaving, sir?" asked Kennedy.
"Yes. Foudroyant will be accompanied by Queen Charlotte until she breaks to go to Minorca. The whereabouts of the French and Spanish fleet is still a mystery, but the Admiral is most concerned for our port at Minorca. I am to sail there post haste to determine her safety and hopefully join our other ships. The sloop Princess is expected to be looking for Queen Charlotte, but whether she finds her or not, I will inform the fleet Admiral Keith is well and on his way. I and Brown have a copy of orders for Princess to take my place until matters are ...ascertained." This enunciated with the agitation he was feeling at the turn of events. "I am not quite sure WHEN I shall receive you back." He stared up at the mizzen and main masts, craning against the stock around his neck. "Mr. Kennedy, would you inform Dr. Sebastian I am waiting?"
"Aye, aye, sir." Kennedy glanced at the two men moving over to the larboard side. He disappeared below.
"How is Admiral Keith, sir?"
He answered him quietly. "Most displeased, Mr. Hornblower. Admiral Keith is most displeased."
Pellew's eyebrow shot up at the question. Hornblower was returning to his old self, his quick wits and analytical mind impressive. He leaned against the rail with extended arms and nodded. "Admiral Keith is beside himself over the combined fleet of our enemies. He received a missive just before sailing confirming that the French fleet did indeed enter the Mediterranean at mid May. In addition, a Spanish fleet in Cadiz seems to have disappeared...a fleet of about twenty ship."
Hornblower swallowed hard. If the two navies were indeed combined, the force would be formidable. Without Nelson's squadron, they could be outnumbered four to one.
Pellew continued. "Minorca is a prime consideration. He feels Nelson should have joined Foudroyant, not the other way around...AND been here to fight, if needs be." Pellew stared at the rail and tapped his finger considering how he would feel towards Nelson. He found the majority of his temper agreeing with Keith. However, knowing Nelson's record, and some of the reported political situation in the Two Sicilies, it caused him to moderate his feelings, as indeed, the Admiralty must also. "Reportedly, Nelson thinks the enemy's fleet could be headed for him. And, damn, he could be right."
He gazed quickly at Hornblower. "So, here we find ourselves, a part of the Mediterranean Fleet for the time being, and I am off to Minorca while you and Mr. Kennedy continue to Palermo." He denied the anxiety of separation he was having of losing Hornblower. Indeed, the source of the feeling escaped him. He was a good man. He would serve his king and country no matter where he was employed.
He stood straight and looked Hornblower in the eye. "I value your service, Mr. Hornblower, ...as I do all my men, but ... you have a bright future in this navy, sir. I do not want to lose you." Why did he feel the need to express the man's worth? Was it because of his *malady*? Was it the fatherly attitude he seemed to feel towards the man? Was some of Pamela's fear for Hornblower's safety surfacing? Something was not sitting right with him about Hornblower, but he could not comprehend what. Something was making his world feel out of joint. It was most disconcerting.
Hornblower glanced away briefly from his captain's gaze. "Th...thank you, sir."
Pellew turned, hearing Sebastian's voice, and began speaking to the doctor.
Hornblower stared at the deck, telling himself Pellew exaggerated his worth. *Any man could do what I do. There is nothing remarkable about my efforts. It is plain what must be done. Anyone could do it. Anyone,* he assured himself.
Hornblower caught Sebastian eyeing him. Pellew turned, having followed Sebastian's gaze. Hornblower straightened and his face took on the blank stare that seemed ever present of late when around anyone but Archie.
Noting the change, Pellew wondered if he and Sebastian were still at odds. Was that the uneasiness he was feeling? He made a mental note to invite Sebastian to dinner this evening if the weather allowed.
Kennedy ordered Styles and Hardy about placement of the medical chests going into Indefatigable's launch. Becker was in the boat looking upwards, squinting and chewing. Matthews and Oldroyd appeared with the last of Sebastian's personal items and passed them down.
Giving Dudley some final instructions for the care of Dodd, Sebastian was ready to disembark. Turning to Kennedy and Hornblower, he grinned and held out his hand.
"Take care of yourselves, Leftenant Kennedy, Leftenant Hornblower. Perhaps I will see you in Palermo."
Both leftenants shook his hand and acknowledged.
Pellew eyed them and nodded. "Carry on, gentlemen. I have every confidence that you will perform your duty in all diligence."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Hornblower watched as the Captain took a place in the sternsheets. Pellew was leaving. The launch was leaving. Indefatigable was leaving. He felt a tightness in his chest, turned and made long strides to starboard to stare at his old ship. He took in each part where she once stood, moving his eyes from the bow, to the forecastle, to the waist, to the quarter-deck. His breath caught and he tried to fill his lungs. His hands gripped the rail, turning his knuckles white.
The launch reached Indefatigable, was emptied quickly, and swayed up.
Bowles called out orders to get her under weigh. Pellew took his place on the quarter-deck, viewing the two ships he was leaving behind, then took a firm stance staring forward next to Bowles.
Brown appeared behind Hornblower and Kennedy and watched with them for a moment. Placing a hand, one on each man's shoulder, he said, "You will see her again, gentlemen. Do not fear." Giving a quick squeeze, he released each shoulder and returned to his cabin.
Kennedy sighed, feeling the left corner of his mouth tugging downward. "They may be sailing into battle, Horatio."
"And we, as well. Well,... maybe,... eventually," he frowned gazing at the Queen under repair and this ship sitting idly by with half a crew.
"Damn!" said Hornblower under his breath.
"I should have gotten my sea chest." He left to go below in a decidedly foul disposition.
Entering his cabin, Hornblower slammed the door and threw his hat viciously at the wall. He paced hotly, back and forth in his small cabin. The Indefatigable was gone and his sea chest with her. *Is that what you are really concerned about? Or is it that they sail into battle? You don't know that!* he argued back at himself. *Damn!* he thought as he turned. *Damn, DAMN!* He turned again. Why did Pellew have to voice his confidence in him? *Anyone, ANYONE can do this!* He yanked off his topcoat and threw it to the deck. He grabbed his head with both hands and threw himself against his door, sliding down to sit on the timber.
Peering through his fingers with anguish of soul, he could see the tip of his telescope and the letters from Pamela in the topcoat. He closed his eyes and wished she were here. Out of the void, the tender voice called him. *Horatio, my darling. It will be all right.* His panting breaths began to calm, and he opened his eyes to stare at the coat pocket. *Come. Let me ease your mind.* Stretching out across the deck, he reached for the parchment papers. He handled them lightly, running his fingertips across the ink. Resting upon his woolen coat, he breathed in the light aroma of roses replenished by the latest letter and planted a kiss upon her name. He rolled over on his back, held the letters over his heart, and stared at the bottom of his cot barely swinging over his head.
*Pamela,* he thought. *I am so torn. I am so confused. I have lost myself.* He replayed the image of their parting, watching her grow smaller while the ship grew larger. *Somewhere between the dock and the deck, I disappeared, and I don't know who I am, or what I want, or why I'm here, or what to do,........ or.......where to go,... but ...that is not my choice, now. He closed his eyes and sighed.
There in his mind, the misting fog thinned, turning to wisps of clouded vapor, lightly swirling, revealing, the immense obelisk that blocked his path back to Pamela. It was what was in the fog. In the darkness and in the fog. He had run into it but backed away at the coldness and the hardness, not realizing the symbolism. Not wanting a candle, or a light, or the knowing, as if refusing to read the deeply cut letters would free him from their meaning. Running up against it but turning from it. Resisting,... but knowing he must comprehend. Reaching with his hands, he pressed against it, feeling the cold, hard, unmovable rock, and the indentation of the first letter. He bowed his head and thought about Pamela in contrast, warm, soft, loving. He shook his head, removed his hands, and turned away. No.
Archie's last words echoed in his mind 'They may be sailing into battle, Horatio.'
He closed his eyes and forced his body to turn, standing square before it. Opening his eyes, he felt his body tremble. A background of darkness framed the granite slab. The deep cuts created each hollow black symbol and as he perceived the individual massive vertical letter, a hammering blow resounded in his ears....D.....U.....T.....Y.
*When you put on this uniform, Mr. Hornblower, you entered into a life of adventure and adversity....but above all a life of duty....*
He stood up quickly, backed two steps to his door, and stared back at his topcoat on the deck. His features twisted. A sob escaped his throat and he covered his eyes with his forearm. The heavy breathing slowed and he lowered his arm, allowing himself to see his crumpled uniform on the floor. He wiped his face with his hands and sniffed. The telescope and letters, he lay on the table beside the open box from Pamela. He bent and picked up the garment. The coat was dusty. He brushed it off and gently lay it on his cot.
Lighting the candle, he sat down at the table and removed paper, ink, and quill from the box. He sniffed again, then opened her last letter and re-read it. He thought about the wording. *She wrote this before I left, yet her words are written as if I were already gone. You were far better prepared for our parting than I, my lady.* Archie's words returned, 'She's been through this before, Horatio.' He took a cleansing breath, wiped his hands on his pant legs, held the ink bottle in one hand and the quill in the other, and began.
My love, my lady,
I cannot express how much I have missed you. You have been ever constant in my thoughts and my ...
He struggled to write the next word and scribbled over the paper, then crumpled it. He lay the pen down. Resting his elbows on the table, he covered his face and thought. Writing again...
Pamela, my love,
I would give worlds to have you here with me, to see your face, smell your hair, feel your warmth. I find it incomprehensible to ....
He stopped again and stared at his words. He marked through the last incomplete sentence and thought about crumpling this one. No, at this rate, he would be through a packet of paper before dinner. He wrote beside it.
If you recognize this paper, you know Archie has given me -
AT LAST - the
box and your letter within. If I had known he was holding it back from me, I
would have fought him for it.
Dreadfully. You said, that you missed me dreadfully. If I
could conjure up a similar word that meant dreadful by a
hundred fold, it still would not express how much I have missed you, my love.
If anyone had told me how empty I would feel at our parting, I would have
thought him raving. But it is I that have nearly gone mad with your absence.
I will not burden you with my actions of the past week, but only say I believe
I have nearly driven my shipmates, including Captain Pellew and Dr. Sebastian,
insane with worry over my well being.
Do not let these words worry you, my love. That is not my intention.
Staring at what was written, he considered crumpling the paper, but stopped himself once more and continued.
I love you to the point of breaking. I am torn between you and my ...
Anger overtook him that he balked at writing the word. With huge strokes, he wrote it over the paper, in large letters repeatedly, with a final mimic of the word on the obelisk, over marking the entire length of the paper.
DUTY! DUTY! DUTY!
Standing, he dropped the pen. He grabbed the cording that hung his cot, pulled back his fist, and rammed it into the wall. The pain shot through his arm, but that was not what brought the tears that he smothered in his uniform coat. Clutching it, letting himself sink to the floor, he wept tears of frustration and anger. Frustration that he could not be with his wife; anger that his duty had to come first, before her, and most definitely, before him.
Tap, tap, tap.
"Horatio, are you all right? Wake up."
Hornblower felt the door of his cabin pressing against his back. His hand hurt and seemed to be stuck to his face. He pulled it off his cheek becoming aware of the raw wounds on his knuckles. He sought to untangle his other arm from his topcoat. Standing and wiping his left hand over his face, he glanced at the melting candle and wondered how long he had been sleeping. He staggered as he moved out of the way of his door. It opened.
"Good God!" He pushed into the cabin and pulled Horatio to the chair. His concerned face searched Hornblower's as he held it in his hands. "Horatio?" His voice sounded worried and lost. "Don't move. I will be right back."
Hornblower was groggy with sleep and heaviness. His gaze fell to the scribbled letter. He lay his right hand over it and was about to crumple it when he was caught by the pain registering from his hand and by the sight of dried blackened blood covering his fingers, knuckles, and skin. Cuts over his first two knuckles were bleeding afresh. It struck him funny and he began to chuckle. What DID his face look like to Archie?
Archie returned, closing the door softly behind him.
"Whatever do you find funny?" he asked as he lay the pan of water on the floor and knelt beside it.
Before he could answer, Archie began wiping the streaks and globs of blood from Horatio's forehead and cheeks . He held the wet towel against his face, softening the dried places. "At least you have not done damage to that handsome face of yours," he sighed and followed Hornblower's gaze to his hand. He shook his head. "Horatio..." What had he done to himself? Punched something, and then bled onto his face and hand. Seeing his face covered with blood scared the daylights out of him. He could not imagine what happened. What was he angry at now? Angry enough to punch...what....the wall? The floor? Whichever, he had hit it hard enough to split open the skin over his knuckles. They would need bandaging. He seemed better earlier. *I don't understand you, my friend.* he thought. Archie put the writing paper back into the box; he could not help but read the huge scribbled words. Putting the pan on the table, he gently lowered Hornblower's hand into the water and began to bathe the wounds. "I hope you haven't broken it," he said softly.
Hornblower winced at the fresh sting.
"Did you win?" asked Archie.
Hornblower shook his head. "No."
What did Pellew say to him? That word on his letter, that was Pellew. He did not get an opportunity to ask what they spoke about while he was below helping Sebastian. He was better earlier, before they went on deck. It had to be Pellew...or, maybe that the Indy had left. The ship was such a reminder to him of Pamela, maybe that was it. Maybe he was feeling her "loss" again. Archie smiled wryly and softly at his friend and dried his hand gently. "Hornblower in love. Can we survive it?"
"I ...I'm lost, Archie. I don't know..." His voice caught and he turned away. No, that was not right, he did know. He started to say to Archie what he had written in his letter to Pamela, but he remembered now, before he hit the wall, ...duty. That was who he was, a man of duty. Pamela knew it. He thought HE knew it, but he had forgotten it and now he did not want to remember it. He wanted the close loving relationship of his wife. Was that so much to ask? He had been half of one, and now half of him was missing, ...and part of him sailed away. *Why did Captain Pellew have to...* Fresh tears pooled in his eyes. *I cannot cry in front of Archie, again. I cannot!* he thought. *Leave, Archie! Speak it, you fool! Tell him to go before....* the hot tears ran down his cheeks as a sob erupted from deep within his chest. He threw his arm over his eyes and collapsed on the table. "Go, Archie," came the muffled order.
"You tried that once before, Horatio. I'm not leaving." But he needed to do something. He pulled the reluctant Horatio over to his shoulder, and held him. "You are my best friend, Horatio. I cannot leave you now. You need me, you silly sod. It will sort itself out, old friend." He could feel Horatio lower his arms and take hold of his back, fingers gripping tenaciously through his uniform, and the rack of his body with silent sobs.
He stared down at the letter lying in the open box. Duty. Horatio knew what he was here for. What all of them were here for. Maybe that was the message from Pellew. Maybe that was what Sebastian was trying to quiz Archie about when he went below to hurry him up. What did he ask him? "How is Mr. Hornblower doing, Mr. Kennedy? Has he said anything to you about ...the future?" He let the questions go, but thinking about it in light of all this, what was Sebastian trying to discover? "Mr. Hornblower is a good man, is he not? You will stay by him, no matter what, yes?" And then, Sebastian's final admonition. "Mr. Kennedy, his darkest hour is not yet passed, and may have many stages before the dawn." Kennedy nearly laughed but for the serious expression on the doctor. Had not Horatio improved immeasurably in the last few days? But what was happening now? Sebastian, facing him had crossed his right hand over to Archie's left shoulder. "He may say and do things you will not understand. Be a friend. Be there for him, and be his friend." It was a strange thing for Sebastian to say. Horatio WAS his friend, his best friend, and if he needed a shoulder to cry on, whether he understood the reason or not, he would be there. What could Sebastian have been getting at about Horatio's future? Those possibilities were endless. Closing his eyes, he held Horatio tighter.