An American Encounter
by Skihee

Chapter 17: A Questionable Decision

A gentle breeze flowed over the decks. The first watch was about half over and the ship was quiet having settled in for the night. Only the men on duty and two other souls were up and about, and the two were leaning against the larboard rail watching the twinkling lights of Palermo.

"Enjoy your bath, Archie?"

"Marvelous!"

"Do you think we will be able to find the herbs?"

"I have no idea, Horatio. You were the one to suggest them. Sorry I haven't more with me."

"I wish Sebastian were here. I am not a doctor."

Archie glimmered. "It would make your father proud."

Horatio had not looked at it from that point of view. "Make my father proud." He pondered the idea and his frown softened to almost a smile.

"Dudley says they have feverfew. It is the other three that may be dodgy. Palermo is not as worldly as Gibraltar. There was plenty to be had there."

Horatio sighed and inclined his head.

"What, Horatio? I can hear the gears grinding."

"The letter. Odd that we would be there when a letter came from Troubridge."

"What do you mean? The one I opened?"

"Yes."

"That letter wasn't from Troubridge. It was from Lady Hamilton. I could not help but glance to see the author."

"Archie."

"I did not read more! There wasn't time." He grinned.

"What do you think of him, Archie?"

"I like him. I like him a lot. I can see why his men do. Can you imagine our crew calling Captain Pellew, Pels?" he grinned and chuckled.

"No, I cannot."

The two were as silent as the calm waters surrounding them, each encompassed in private thoughts.

"He seems sad, Archie. I suppose it is the weight of command.... And that coffin! Why in God's name would a man give him a gift of a coffin? It is like expecting him to die!"

"Rather poor taste, if you ask me," Archie whispered, "but he is quite proud of it all the same." Thinking, he added, "Barwell doesn't like it."

"How do you know?"

"He asked me what I thought of it. I answered as noncommittally as I could, and then, he told me he hated the thing. He's trying to talk him into storing it in the hold...until it's needed, he says."

"I would have to agree with Barwell. It is quite depressing for all the glory it stands for. I mean it was the death of many French, but it means his death as well. The crew must know of it. How can the death of a man they love be an encouraging thing?"

"You do not need to convince me, Horatio. Maybe you can convince him."

"Me?"

"He likes you."

"Archie. Now you are being ridiculous. I was fulfilling a need. Nothing more."

"Nevertheless. He likes you. What was that about shore batteries and potions? What did I miss before I came in?"

"I merely tried to convince him to try the tea. That's all."

"Hm hm," smiled Archie. "And you couched it in fighting terms, I take it."

"Well....it's what he knows. ..... Archie...."

"You're a born leader, Horatio. No use avoiding it."

"Please. I'm going to bed. What about you?"

"In a few minutes. I'm enjoying the quiet."

"Goodnight, then."

"Sweet dreams, Horatio."

*****

The next morning Kennedy and Hornblower were waiting to climb down into the launch. They were about to go on a mission to find the herbs used in Kennedy's potion and assumed they would be on their own. Contrary to that belief, they were going to be accompanied by the admiral, much to their surprise. Last evening, Nelson had revived with the help of the tea, and Hornblower accomplished the writing of five more dictated letters, so Nelson was temporarily caught up on his correspondence.

The admiral emerged from below decks, the sun catching and reflecting in the diamond ornament on his hat.

"Good morning, Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy."

The two saluted and replied in kind. Hornblower tried not to stare at the hat. It was the first time he was close enough to get a good look.

"You know, I feel better this morning. It must be your tea, Hornblower. Captain Hardy, you know how to reach me should I be needed."

"Yes, Admiral Nelson."

Nelson motioned for them to descend. The two seated themselves in the sternsheets of the launch and looked up to see the admiral descend the ship's side effortlessly. For a slight man with only one arm, he got around very well.

As Nelson settled into a seat he commented to no one in particular, "I lost an arm not a leg. Do not look so surprised."

Hornblower shied with embarrassment but Kennedy grinned.

"Excuse me, Admiral, but um...." Archie's eyes went to the spray of diamonds on his hat.

"My chelengk?" Nelson grinned. "A gift from the Sultan of Turkey for the Battle of the Nile. Here, watch." Removing the hat, he reached behind the trinket and turned a mechanism. He placed it back on his head. The center began to twirl slowly, glinting and sparkling, rivaling the bright sun that enhanced it, flashing off the spray of diamonds above it.

Kennedy grinned. "Oh my goodness! It's quite delightful, sir."

"Isn't it? It is one of my favorite prizes," grinned Nelson. "The Sultan took it off his own turban!"

Hornblower was speechless. He could not imagine wearing something so .... fantastic..., but if Nelson could do it, who was he to criticize? He felt his mouth in a tilt. The admiral was something else, something else indeed.

A carriage was waiting for them when they reached the dock. Hornblower and Kennedy felt the need to pinch themselves at what was happening. They were in company with Admiral Lord Nelson, Hero of the Nile, prime instigator of the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, heady stuff for two frigate leftenants. The admiral was most accommodating, friendly, and affable. This was more like an outing with a rich uncle than a commander of a royal navy squadron.

"I'm right that neither one of you speak Italian, am I not?" stated Nelson settling into the seat of the carriage.

"No, sir, we do not," answered Hornblower.

"I did not think so." He grinned. "I have a friend who does. We shall have an interpreter as we search for your herbs."

The carriage began a winding route through the little Italian village, out onto a country lane, then clattered up the drive to a spacious palazzo. White columns gleamed amongst lush green foliage surrounding the structure.

A footman opened the door. The three naval officers piled out onto the cobbled drive.

In a moment, a woman appeared, descending the steps in a long gown of coral and peach satin. She was not slight, but had a plump voluptuous figure. A moderate brimmed peach colored hat sat cocked on soft brown curls. A gentleman escorted her.

"Good Morning, Lord Nelson."

"Lord Hamilton. It is good of you to loan us Lady Hamilton. Good morning, dear Lady."

"How could I refuse a mission of mercy. I am glad she can be of service."

"Admiral Nelson," she smiled, eyes sparkling with admiration.

Hornblower was taken by her beauty. She was ravishing. Her skin, pure and creamy, eyes large with a lush brown softness, the mouth a petite bow, and her chin delicate. He felt his heart skip a beat and swallowed, feeling guilty to admire another woman. He would not be unfaithful to Pamela. He breathed in and glanced away not wishing to offend by staring.

"This is Leftenant Horatio Hornblower and Leftenant Archibald Kennedy. Lord Hamilton and Lady Hamilton."

The two nodded and greeted with a "Good morning, sir, ma'am."

Lady Hamilton turned her gaze upon them, her smile inviting and generous. "I am so pleased you have a remedy for our dear Nelson. He wrote to me of the tea that seems to help his poor battered head." She reached up to caress the scar lightly. "We shall find those herbs or I shall die trying! Even if I have to hunt the woods for them myself!" Her coarse British accent came as a surprise. For one so refined in apparel and company, it was unexpected.

"Ah, so you are the apothecaries. Good. Good. Take care of our admiral. Heal him well. We cannot have him less than he is. Good hunting!"

Hornblower blinked nervously, wishing all this store was not placed in a simple herbal remedy. Another unequivocal "Yes, sir," was his reply.

"We will take luncheon in the town, dear William. Do not wait for us. Cook knows."

"Yes, my dear."

Nelson held her hand as she climbed into the carriage. He sat beside her, then the two climbed in to sit opposite. The footman closed the door and tapped a signal to the driver.

Lady Hamilton smiled. "What a delightful day!"

"It is now, my dear," said Nelson warmly. "I do not know what I would have done without Lady Hamilton. She has been our advocate for some time."

Hornblower smiled his attention.

"Admiral Nelson, they do not know what on earth you speak of. Don't bore them, now," she patted him on the knee and smiled. "I thought I knew all the admiral's leftenants. Tell me about yourselves. Did the two of you come with Foudroyant?"

Hornblower prayed Archie would do the talking for once and was amazed his prayer was answered.

"Yes, ma'am, but we are really assigned to Indefatigable."

"Indefatigable?"

Hornblower eyed her with interest remembering the difficulty Pamela had with the name, then returned to stare out the window.

"Yes, ma'am. It's a frigate, a forty-four." Archie glanced at Nelson and wondered if he were talking too much.

"Is that another of your new ships, Admiral?"

"No, dear...Lady Hamilton."

Hornblower glanced at Nelson. He was certain the admiral wanted to call her something else. He was feeling awkward being in the presence of these two. Why did he ever mention his father's herbal remedy?

Nelson continued. "But I wish it were. I need frigates. They are an invaluable vessel when it comes to watching the damned French. But you know that, my dear." He pulled her hand to his lips, letting them linger there as he gazed into her eyes.

"I wish you a thousand, my dear Nelson," she returned his gaze with a breath. Finally, she said, "Do you think your captain could be persuaded to join Nelson's squadron? He would be in superb company."

Archie brought his eyes up from staring at the held hands. "It wouldn't hurt to ask," he grinned, "Though I believe the Admiralty would be the ones to decide."

"Oh, those stuffy paper pushers! What good are they, I say!" Lady Hamilton disdained, then laughed. "Our Brave Nelson knows how to run the navy. Didn't he win at Aboukir? Silly land bound Londoners! What do they know?"

Nelson chuckled.

"Well,....they do not know anything, my lord. Nothing at all!" she insisted.

He glanced at the two opposite. "They will think you are fomenting mutiny, my dear."

"Those men in London have no idea what is going on here in the Mediterranean. You just wait. You'll see." She pushed Hornblower's knee with her hand to emphasize her point.

"What ranking are you, Hornblower?" asked Nelson.

"Second leftenant, sir."

"How does Captain Pellew with the Admiralty?"

Hornblower squirmed. He knew Pellew hated any dealings with them and that he was always in a foul humor when returning from those encounters.

"Meetings at the Admiralty do not appear to be one of his favorite pastimes, sir."

Nelson guffawed. "Well said, my boy, well said."

The carriage clattered on, back into the town proper, and arrived at the village center.

Evicted onto the market square, they surveyed the possibilities. Lady Hamilton, apprised of what they sought, took the lead. She entered into one shop and then another.

Her knowledge of the Italian language was impressive. She seemed to be bartering with one man, gesturing back at the three of them, and speaking haughtily as the need arose.
She appeared to be quite the horse trader.

Hornblower found her antics interesting, and he compared them to Pamela. Lady Hamilton was vocally more forceful in getting what she desired, whereas Pamela would attempt to do the thing in her own power. A frown knit his brow as he recalled the worrisome line about helping England win the war. Would a letter from her ever find him? Would the Indy appear with his sea chest? Lady Hamilton was approaching quickly.

"He's got the turmeric. Oh, but he's a thief! And I told him so! Nasty man! I told him you would blow him out of the water!" She laughed. "Oh dear Nelson, I exaggerate...a little anyway. I did get him down on the price though. Here you are." She handed a sizable bag to Archie. "That is it, yes?"

He opened the bag and gave it a sniff. "The smell is right, ma'am." He held it towards Horatio for inspection. "Good show!" encouraged Archie.

She grabbed Archie's forearm and squeezed it with a triumphant smile, then gave Nelson that same warm grin with something more than satisfaction behind it.

He beamed his approval. "Where next, dear Lady?"

They were holding hands again as she led them down the lane. She chattered away about information she gleaned from the first two merchants. Horatio and Archie followed at a discreet distance.

Hornblower's visage was serious. He whispered. "I've never seen a man so besotted, Archie."

Archie's grin nearly cracked his face. "Remind me to give you a mirror when next we are in Gibraltar."

Hornblower stopped in his tracks. Did he behave so with Pamela?

Archie turned, still grinning from ear to ear, then pursed his lips and shook his head with a chuckle.

"Explain yourself. What do you mean?"

Archie laughed out loud.

"I never....well,....once....on Gibraltar, I held her hand in public. I...."

"Give it up, Horatio. You have no room to criticize."

"But he's married! And so is she!" he whispered defensively.

"That's a low blow," said Archie quietly.

Hornblower leaned into the incline of the road they were mounting. *I would never be unfaithful to Pamela. Never.* "You condone this activity, Archie?"

Archie breathed in a sigh with the exertion of the uphill climb. "I would not judge, Horatio. You know the life we lead. Months at sea. Death just over the horizon. When could he have last been in England?" They turned up another road. The climb was steeper. "And, look at him. Arm gone, a head injury that should have killed him, and, you know, he is sightless in one eye."

"No. I didn't know. He did seem to have trouble with his eyes last night," he commented thoughtfully. "I thought he was just tired."

"He has been in two of the best known battles of this war and innumerable skirmishes. His malaria comes on him at unexpected times."

"Malaria?"

"Yes, he contracted it when he was in the jungles of Central America."

"How do you know all this, Archie?"

Archie smiled wryly. "It takes a long time for water to boil. Barwell. He has been his servant for years." He stared at his feet, straining with the incline." And, though she is a bit plump for my tastes, Horatio, she is a beautiful woman. Quite beautiful. As a matter of fact, some of her ways remind me of Pamela." He raised an eyebrow to watch his friend's reaction.

Horatio's brow was knit in deep thought. She did. The touching, the exuberance, but if Pamela was a feather, Lady Hamilton was an ostrich plume. He shifted his eyes to Archie. "Are you trying to say that Pamela should be ...availing herself of other men? Or....or I, of other women?"

"Good God, Horatio! Neither! Where your mind goes these days!"

Horatio looked up, stopped, and looked around. They stood in an open area at the top of a hill. Nelson and Lady Hamilton were no where in sight. "Where are they?"

"Gad! We've lost them somewhere!"

The breeze blew past them to the sea below. The harbor was visible northeast and to the northwest the water shimmered a sapphire blue. The sun bore down upon them. Horatio removed his hat and ran his fingers through his damp hair, letting the wind cool his head with evaporation.

"It's beautiful here, Horatio."

Inhaling slow and long, the fragrance of summer flowers entered Hornblower's nostrils. Bees hummed in the nearby wildflowers. He peered westward, wishing the distance could be overcome with a thought and he could see his wife, see she was safe, tell her he loved her. He intensified and focused his thought, *I love you, Pamela. Hear me, my lady. I love you. I want you. Take care, my love. Take care.* He let his thoughts die slowly and looked around for Archie.

He was low on the rise tramping through the flora and braving the bees. He had a handful of yellow, white, red, and orange posies.

Horatio sat down on the grass. He pulled a tall reddish tipped weed and began to chew on the end. It had a sour taste. He continued to chew it causing the end of the weed to wave in its extension.

Archie sat down beside him and adjusted the bouquet. "Thinking about Pamela?"

"Mm hm."

"I envy you."

Horatio eyed him. "What happened with you and Natalie?"

"She said she would write, but when will I ever see her again?"

Horatio stared out to sea. "You might....if it is meant to be."

Archie raised an eyebrow. "A fatalist, now are you?"

Horatio sighed and stared at the bug climbing over his black boot. "What else is there to be? We are not masters of our future, only present players."

Archie was amazed at the philosophy and leaned over to shove Horatio's shoulder with his own. "Would you stop? You will see her again."

"We should be backtracking and trying to find the admiral."

"If he wanted us, he would find us."

Horatio stared at Archie, then sighed and lay back on the grass.

Archie lay back, as well, shielding his eyes by holding his hat between them and the sun.

"You trust her, do you not, Horatio?" He paused. "I mean, I do not think she would look ..."

"Yes, I trust her, Archie." Horatio answered, cutting of his qualification. Whatever it was, he did not want to hear it. "It is the men around her I do not trust. She is so....damned.... open." He sighed with frustration. He stood up, brushing the grass from his seat. "Get up. We should go looking for him."

Archie squinted at him and adjusted the shade for his eyes. "I don't think so, Horatio."

Hornblower looked at him quizzically. "What?" Hornblower looked about them. He was feeling hotter in his uniform. His squint softened. "You don't think..." he swallowed hard and pulled his hat off his head agitatedly. "Damn." he said softly.

"Whether it is true or not, now you know how the rest of us felt," Archie chortled and rested his ankle on his knee. "Damned hot, isn't it?"

"Shut up, Archie."

Hornblower paced a few times, then set off back towards the town. Archie raised his shoulders off the ground and turned to call to him.

"Where are you going?"

"Back into town!" he yelled.

Archie let his head fall back onto the grass. "Never satisfied. Here I was enjoying the day. A man of leisure. Well, of course! I'm one of the leisure leftenants! You're also talking to yourself. Yes, well, we are loony, too." He gazed at the diminishing figure of his comrade. "Wait up, Horatio!"

Hornblower did not turn but waved his hand and kept walking.

Archie laughed and rolled to rise. "Made you mad, did I?" he said quietly with a grin. He trotted to catch up, putting his arm over Horatio's shoulder when he reached him.

"Sorry!"

"About what?"

"Making you mad."

"I'm not mad."

Archie chuckled.

"I'm ...not....mad."

"Yes, sir."

Hornblower shook his head, refusing to give Archie more ammunition to fire back at him.

"You've got grass on your back," he grinned and brushed it off. "Have I?" He turned his back towards him.

Horatio flicked off a few bits, a little harder than he needed. They were leaning back, walking to accommodate the decline.

"What are we doing, Horatio? You don't really plan to hunt for them, do you?"

"We will stop at the first tavern we pass...and....have a drink."

"Now, that is a good idea."

A drink, a serving of eggplant parmesan, a little bread, a little wine, maybe too much wine, as Archie took to giggling and Horatio's face seemed in a permanent blush. The two stumbled from the tavern and careened down the lane, seeking out another herbalist or green grocer. After a failed attempt to be understood by one Italian merchant, Archie suggested he try Oldroyd's Italian.

"Oldroyd's Italian?"

"Hava youa gotta somma gingera?"

Horatio chuckled. "That's not funny, Archie."

"Then, why are you laughing?" Archie giggled.

"You're tipsy, my friend."

"I am your friend, Horatio." Archie put his arm over Horatio's shoulders, then let it drop off. "Damn, it's hot!"

"It's the wine, expanding the ...." he stopped, suddenly realizing what he was doing. *I am not a doctor!* he thought. He glowered at Archie's grin.

A couple of young girls giggled as the two passed them on the street. Their grandmotherly chaperone herded them onwards with broad open arms and an Italian admonition.

Archie grinned and tipped his hat to them. "Palermo could be interesting!"

Hornblower glanced at the two girls, then pulled Archie's arm forcing him forward. "And so might the barrel of their father's gun."

They reached the basin where the boats were docked. Foudroyant's launch and crew sat idly waiting for Nelson's return.

"Well, at least he hasn't left us. We best not go any farther. No need in causing the Admiral further embarrassment," cautioned Hornblower.

He turned away from the launch towards a mole supporting cargo shipping. A number of large ships sat in various states of loading. The two meandered down the dock, asking if anyone spoke English. The third ship out a man replied brokenly that he did.

Hornblower inquired about the various cargoes and the ships and their destinations.

The man replied that Palermo exported olives, olive oil, cork oak, that some were bound for Oran, some Portugal, and even one to New York in America. It was expected to sail with the morning tide. Hornblower was surprised and commented on the long voyage from here to America. The man told him the ship stopped at Gibraltar, to take on whatever water or supplies they might need to replenish.

Archie found the knowledge sobering as he watched his friend absorb the information. He also noted Horatio change the subject when he realized he was studying him.

"Horatio."

Hornblower turned back towards the town, giving no heed to Kennedy.

"Horatio." What Archie thought Horatio might be thinking would have been totally inconceivable a year ago, *Hell, even three months ago!* thought Archie.

"I think we should return to the market square, Archie. It is central and perhaps Lady Hamilton will seek us there."

"Horatio." Hornblower was too talkative. He was trying to throw him off the scent.

"Or would you like to get another drink? I noticed there was a little drinking establishment at the head of the mole. They might be open for service."

*Oh, you would like that,* thought Archie, *Get me drunk enough to think what you are planning came from a tap.*

Archie grabbed his arm, pulled him over behind a stack of baled cork, and pushed him up against it. Archie's mouth was set and his eyes fiery. He thought briefly that he looked very much like Horatio did on occasion when confronting the misbehavior of a rating. He stared from eye to eye.

"What are you doing, Archie?" He laughed a little and tried to move.

Archie pushed him back against the bale. "Not on your life!"

Horatio tried to avoid his eyes, sucked in a breath quietly, and looked back at his friend firmly.

"You're not throwing your career away," he said through clinched teeth.

"I don't know what you are talking about," stated Hornblower. He tried to move. Archie pressed him back.

"I think you do." A struggle of wills ensued silently, with glares coming from both, like young bucks sparring in the spring.

Finally Hornblower said, "It's my life!"

"It's desertion!"

"There is no war here! Why should I sit idle in this... this ..."

"Because you are under orders. You are obeying orders." The word that could bring home the point was on the tip of his tongue. "It is your duty to obey."

"Duty!" He said sarcastically.

Archie could not believe what he was hearing, what was in the tone, or that what he suspected was being confirmed by the moment.

"My duty is to my wife, to my child! Not sitting here being Nelson's nursemaid!"

Archie slapped him across the face. The action was so quick both of them had a look of surprise, but Archie's returned to anger quickly. He began to shake. He had struck his best friend, a superior officer, no less.

"Go on, then! Get your head in a noose!" He stalked off back towards the market square with long purposeful strides.

Hornblower stood dazed, staring at nothing, feeling the sting in his cheek. He reached up to lightly touch the red hand mark across his face.

Kennedy reached the market still filled with anger, rage, amazement! He paced staring at the ground, throwing his body this way and then the other as he fought the agonizing thoughts of what Horatio Hornblower was planning. He felt his chest heave with each angry possibility and he thought he should have hit him again and knocked some sense into him. He took a step back towards the direction from which he came but stopped. No. Hornblower was a grown man. His only decision now was whether he should turn him in or keep silent. He blinked at the turmoil within and tried to calm down. "Bloody fool!" he muttered. He commanded himself to slow his breathing. Finding a ledge, he leaned against it, crossing his arms over his chest. He glanced to see if anyone was watching and searched in a wider area for Nelson and Lady Hamilton. He felt sick to his stomach, took off his hat, and began to fan himself.

Time was out of joint and suddenly Palermo was turning into a nightmare. Where was Captain Pellew? Why were they here? Archie walked quickly behind a stable, just making it before he vomited behind a tree. His stomach heaved again, sweat breaking on his brow. He breathed quickly, staggered to the barn, and leaned his arm and head against the building. Opening his eyes, a little ragamuffin of a boy stood staring up at him with a ladle full of water. The boy held it up towards him. Archie took it and rinsed his mouth, taking a few sips.

"Grazie," said Archie as he handed the ladle back. It was the one Italian word he learned today.

The barefoot boy babbled in his native tongue and ran away.

With a sigh, Archie returned to his perch in the square, wondering how long he would be waiting for Nelson and what he was going to do about Hornblower and what explanation he would give to the admiral.

At last, the Lady and Lord Nelson returned. Lady Hamilton was all astonishment at having lost the two leftenants. She had in her possession another bag of herbs, the ginger. She revealed that the lemon balm was no where to be had, that indeed, it most likely did not grow on Sicily. She seemed genuinely saddened at the news. Handing the ginger to Archie, she asked where the turmeric was. He realized he did not have it, felt his face redden, and said Hornblower had it. Then, Nelson asked where Hornblower was. Archie lied, saying he had gone looking for the herbs and that he was waiting here in case they should come looking for them. Furthermore, that Hornblower would meet them at the launch if he should return late. All falsehoods formulated while waiting alone in the square.

The carriage appeared and whisked them away, returning Lady Hamilton to the palazzo.

Archie felt himself call on whatever aspirations he ever had for the stage to hide the trauma Hornblower's desertion was causing at the root of his being. It would be a performance worthy of accolade if he succeeded. Not only was he hiding the inner turmoil of his friend's betrayal, but his own falsehoods to protect him. To top that off, to pretend he was ignorant of what the two lovers most likely had done and be an alibi of a chaperone to Lord Hamilton. His stomach was feeling out of sorts at the number of fictions forced upon him from every quarter. He wanted to ball up in his hammock and sleep until Indefatigable came to get him. He felt empty and nauseous. A very odd feeling that caused his head to reel. *God! I'm not going to have a fit, am I?* He wondered suddenly. *Please, God, no! No!* That was the last conscious thought he had.

"Horatio?" Agitation of mind and spirit made him toss slowly on the pillow. "Horatio?" Archie woke himself saying Hornblower's name. The light entering briefly appraised him of his current state of being. Not good. He recognized the light sensitive headache that came with the aftermath of a particularly bad fit.

"There now, rest yourself, man," commanded a familiar voice. But whose? He felt he should recognize it.

"Horatio is here, but not the one you want, I think," said a kind, soothing, heavily-accented female.

Lady Hamilton. His memory was coming back.

He felt light fingertips trace over his brow, smoothing his hair out of the way. A cool cloth was placed upon his forehead, and he squinted trying to open his eyes for a longer period. His head pounded with pain and he closed them again. "Horatio?"

"I'M here, Mr. Kennedy."

The voice spoken roused him with trepidation. "Admiral Nelson! I did not mean.... I..."

"Calm down, sir. You gave us all a fright," ordered the Admiral.

Kennedy felt the heat in his cheeks. It had been over a year since a fit came on. The last one was so mild, he thought they might be gone forever. Not so. Embarrassment, frustration, and depression fell upon him, a pain in his head and a prick in his eyes. Could he embarrass himself more by breaking into tears? He held the cloth on his forehead and slipped it down over his eyes.

"The light bothers him, Horatio, blow out one of the candles," she said softly.

Lady Hamilton was calling the admiral Horatio. Archie realized that was what woke him and why he said the name on reaching consciousness. He thought Hornblower was here, but it was Admiral Nelson.

"I'll go see if Barwell has the tea ready."

*Barwell?* thought Kennedy. Had they sent for Barwell to make HIM tea? He pressed the cloth into his eyes. He could hear whispering, footsteps coming near, a familiar smell. A hand behind his head raised it, not a woman's hand, but a man. Barwell. He felt a cup pressed to his lips. The tea slipped slowly in, not too hot, but familiar and warming. The hand behind his head let it lower.

"Thank you, Barwell," he whispered. He lay a while longer with the cloth pressed, hoping the throb in his head would subside. "Would you blow out all but one candle, please? The light increases the pain."

He heard footsteps and the sound of breath over lips, puffing out the flame, the smell of smoke and paraffin reached his nose. The hand lifted his head once more and he drank.
Barwell was awfully quiet. He was a fount of information when last he had been alone in his company. Did the illness silence him? He pulled the cloth slowly from his eyes. The room was dark but for the one flame left burning across the room, much easier on his eyes and head. He scanned the room noting Barwell standing with his back to him, near the open doors that exited onto the wide porch of the palazzo.

"What is the time, Barwell? How long...how long have I been out?" He lay his fingers lightly over his eyes, hearing the steps approach, and stop. He waited for an answer to his question. An audible swallow came to his ears, and then a soft reply.

"It is nearly midnight, Archie."

Archie stared from beneath his fingers, squinting with even the slightest light. "What are you doing here?" He was not sure how that question was going to sound until it was spoken. It was not angry. It was slightly astonished but held no malice. It seemed to reach out and soften the emptiness between them. "Too tall, Horatio. You are making this difficult."

Hornblower's twisted grin bordered on sad relief. He knelt beside the bed, putting him at eye level. As he searched the worn and weary features, his own visage softened perceptibly. The silence could still be shared with this man. It lay upon the two of them like a common blanket, with a familiarity born of countless nights and days in the company of the other, in peril and in peace. But what of this perturbing situation? Hornblower had as much as admitted to what Archie concluded. In thought, he was near as close to Archie as to Pamela.

Archie stared at him a long while, not speaking. Anguish colored the face of his familiar friend. Was it for him, or himself? Was it because of the old illness rearing its head, or did Horatio fear Archie would turn him in?

"I did not tell them." He would put his mind at rest on that regard.

Horatio let out a choked laugh and looked to the ceiling, hoping the emotion could be tilted back inside. No words came. He did not know what to say, other than, 'you should have,' but he did not particularly want to go to prison, or be hung.

"You're the picture of misery, old man." Horatio did not allow this view to just any. Archie alone was privileged to see and feel his pain. *"Mr. Hornblower is a good man, is he not? You will stay by him no matter what, yes? Has he said anything to you about the future?"* Kennedy recalled Sebastian's questions. His future? Is this what Sebastian was getting at? Did he suspect that Horatio was contemplating leaving the service? *"His darkest hour is not yet passed, and may have many stages before the dawn."* How did Sebastian know? Was it knowledge born of age, being a doctor, a revelation from God?

Archie was not in love, as Hornblower was. He had no wife, no child. How could he truly comprehend his heart? *"He may say and do things you will not understand. Be a friend. Be there for him and be his friend."*

"I'm sorry I slapped you. ..... You could have me arrested."

"As you could me."

Archie grinned wryly. "And be in a cell with you? Again? And in the state you are in? I'd sooner be pressed into the whaling service."

 

 

Hornblower's smile was wane through beleaguered features.

"Trading being Nelson's nursemaid for being mine, are you?"

Hornblower bowed his head. It was a reminder he could do without. Those were words spoken in anger, a regret.

This was seeming a one sided conversation. His light teasing was not having the desired effect.

"You had better go. You don't want to be left. The tide does not wait. Pamela will be happy to see you," he whispered.

Hornblower buried his face in the bed clothes. Archie placed his hand on his head and ruffled his curls softly. It was not easy being Hornblower's friend, nor did it seem to be easy being Hornblower. Archie smiled wryly.

"Go on, old friend." His hand stopped its circular motion over his head. He sighed, turned his cheek to the pillow, and went to sleep.

Hornblower sniffed and raised to look ruefully at his friend. He moved Archie's hand and pulled the sheet to his chin. Standing, he paused before walking to the doorway. He looked back at Archie, resting, sound asleep. He sighed and stepped quietly to blow out the last candle.

The moon was nearing fullness and bathed the porch in its cold light. Hornblower hesitated at the doorway, then stepped through it and disappeared into the shadows.

Weaving his way past tables and chairs on the portico, he stopped and looked back to the open door. If he chose this path now, he might never see Archie again, indeed he might never see England again, or his father. He smoothed his cheek with the back of his hand, recalling the sting. Archie had never struck him before, nor been so angry. His comment about Nelson was uncalled for. How could he have said such a thing? Nelson had given of his talent and expertise to help their nation, not to mention the physical cost. He lowered his head in shame, the meanness of the comment assailing his conscience.

The night air was clammy and barely cool. He had time. It was near half past twelve. There was still time to consider, but the plans were made, the clothes acquired.

It felt strange putting his uniform back on to come here. He thought about the rough clothing to disguise the fact he was a British officer, recalled the unreality of laying down money to purchase the garments, giving weight to his first step towards treason. He knew the cargo ship would never take him as he was. If they were searched by a British warship, he might be found, arrested and executed. The cargo could be confiscated for abetting a deserter. Deserter. He quaked.

What of honour? *What honour? You will have none,* he told himself. Suddenly, he could no longer stand. Holding the porch rail, he lowered to sit on the marble floor. Was he acting precipitously? 'You're not throwing your career away!' echoed Archie's words. Anxiety overshadowed his visage.

Why did he have to put this uniform back on? But he knew the answer. Archie.
And, why did Barwell have to walk into his stable, the one he had chosen to hide in until the tide was right? The events of early evening replayed.

Keeping his head lowered and the slouch hat pulled low, adopting the broken English he had heard on the docks, he pretended to be cleaning the stable.

"Do you speak English?" asked Barwell. He considered the stableman and thought him unkempt.

"I speak."

"I need to get these herbs to the Palazzo Palagonia. I was told to wait at this stable until the coach came. I do not suppose you could tell me if I am in the right place?" He looked away from the stableman out the doors searching the lanes for the coach.

"Herbs? Per la cuccina? Cooking?" fished Hornblower, using the language he had picked up at the tavern. Had something happened to Nelson? Could he sneak it out of Barwell?

"No. It is medicine, not cooking."

"You navy?" That was a safe question. Barwell was English. Most Englishmen on Sicily were navy.

"Yes."

"The admiral, he sick?" This would be a bit of a close question.

"No. A leftenant. You are familiar with Admiral Nelson?"

Barwell was looking right at him. He tipped his head to hide his face under the hat brim and leaned further into his shoulder, scraping the dirt floor with the hay fork.
A leftenant? No. It could not be. But he suspicioned it was. For some reason, he knew.

"Every body know Nelson, signor," he chuckled mildly. "Who sick?"

"A leftenant, I told you, Mr. Kennedy, though that will mean nothing to you."

But it did. He could run and put himself in jeopardy, but he could not go without knowing Kennedy was all right. Something within would not let him. He shoved the pitchfork into the ground and left, leaving Barwell muttering in the stable. It would take him a while to get back to where his uniform was concealed and he would need an explanation as to why he was so late, but he would think of something. He would check on Archie and still be able to get away before the morning tide.

All the way back to his uniform, his conscience pricked. Bringing up every person to him, from Seaman Hardy to Captain Pellew. Was he really doing this? Could he?
Finally, he shut every question down by saying to himself *I have made my decision!* He could not think about his men. He could not think about Pellew. It was like betraying his own father. And, to an extent, he did not allow himself to think about Pamela. She was expecting him to be an admiral some day. He laughed at the idea whenever the slightest layer of her expectation descended on his thoughts, as he did now, standing on the portico.

How much time was left him? He removed his pocket watch and opened it. Standing, he tilted it to the moonlight to read. Light spilled onto the porch.

"Who's out there?"

It was too late to duck. What the devil was she doing awake anyway?

"Hornblower, ma'am. I was getting a breath of air."

"A breath of air, Mr. Hornblower? With your hat on?"

He snatched it from his head. She spoke before he could think of an excuse.

"How is Mr. Kennedy?" Lady Hamilton walked out from her apartments to meet him. She was wearing a low cut brocade dressing gown that shimmered in the moonlight.

"He is sleeping. It is best after these episodes."

"You have been with Mr. Kennedy a long while?"

"Yes, ma'am. A long while." He did not want to talk, especially about how long he had known Kennedy. She was even more beautiful in the moonlight. Was Nelson in her room? Or Lord Hamilton?

She looped her arm in his. "Come sit with me a while, Mr. Hornblower, I cannot sleep." She pulled him over to two chairs that would have viewed the grounds had the sun been up, but that was at least four hours away. He slipped his watch back into his pocket.

"It is very late, madam."

"Please, sir. Sit." She looked up at him with pleading eyes.

"What of Lord Hamilton, or..."

"They have gone to bed. Please?"

He sat with a mild agitation. He still had time to get back, change clothes, get to the mole but not a lot since he would be on foot to get back to the town.

"The moon is beautiful, do you think?"

"It has a bright reflection, ma'am."

She laughed. "Mr. Hornblower! Is there no romance in your soul?"

"I thought perhaps romance would be ...inappropriate under the circumstances, your Ladyship."

"You do not like me, do you, Mr. Hornblower?"

Her blunt statement threw him off guard. "Ma'am.... I.... I have a lot on my mind. If I have done anything to offend you, I beg your forgiveness!"

"And, I yours, it would seem." She studied his face a moment, then reached and held his hand. "What is on your mind, Mr. Hornblower?"

He swallowed nervously. Should he pull his hand away? Apparently, he had already offended her in some way. What should he do? He felt his face heating and was glad of the dark. "I ....I miss my wife, ma'am." Maybe that answer would throw her as much as her statement did him.

"You are married?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"How long?"

"Going on two months."

"Two months? Who is the lucky lady? Where is she?"

"She is in Gibraltar, ma'am. Her name is...Pamela."

"Oh." She released his hand.

He hoped the expelling of breath was not noticed.

"Oh." She smiled widely. "Then, it is she, you have been so preoccupied with! I am greatly relieved, sir. Nelson thinks you are such a fine young man and it distressed me that I did not meet with your approval."

He did? God, this was not what he wanted to hear. He was about desert the navy. He did not want Nelson to think anything of him.

"Is she pretty?"

"What?"

"Your wife. Is she pretty?"

He was flustered. Nelson speaking to Lady Hamilton about him? But now she was asking about Pamela. He closed his eyes. *Why, oh why, did I not leave directly?*

"Yes. She is beautiful," he blurted.

"Oh, I'm so pleased!" She stood and grabbed his hand. "Come with me."
She pulled him behind her into her bed chamber.

"Ma'am, I should not..."

"Oh bother! Be still and come here."

She stood at a large dresser looking through the drawers. She looked back at him.

"Come here, Mr. Hornblower! I am not going to bite you!"

He stepped nearer. "Ma'am. This is your ... your bedroom." He tried to see if anyone was sleeping in her bed without moving his head that direction.

She was considering items in the drawer. "Here. Come and look." She positioned a candle in front of her and gazed in a large mirror. "What do you think?" She held a necklace at her throat. "It's amethyst on gold. Do you like it?" The stones were cut in octagonal spheres with small gold balls accenting the chain in a symmetrical pattern. At the center point a single strand dove between her breasts.

"It is lovely, ma'am. Now I must..." He turned to exit the room the way he came, but she held onto his forearm.

"Just a moment, sir! I want you to have this for your wife and the earrings to match. Look! Aren't they lovely?" She held them up to her ears.

"My....my wife?"

"Yes! You did so much to make Hora...Lord Nelson feel better. Please. I want you to take them." She dropped the three pieces of jewelry inside a small satin bag of gold brocade and pulled the strings tight. Turning his palm up, she lay it there.

"But, ma'am. It is too rich a gift!"

"Nothing would be too much for our Nelson. It is a trifle, really, sir. Please. Show me you do not dislike me and take it for her."

His mouth was open. Would she offer it if she knew what he was about to do? He stared at the pouch in his hand.

"Take it!" she urged.

He hesitated. "I..." he looked back at the encouraging enchantress. The candlelight flickered over her ample bosom. He forced the words out over the mesmerizing image. "I...thank you. She will be delighted. I must go."

"Yes. Yes. You should. Are you sure you want to sleep on that couch in Mr. Kennedy's room?"

"Yes. I will be fine." He edged toward the porch doors.

"Here, here. Let me walk you back with the candle. I want to look in on Mr. Kennedy. Both of you are such nice young gentlemen." She looped her arm in his. It was too late to protest and besides, he just wanted to get out of her bedroom before someone found him there.

Entering Archie's room, she headed to light one of the candles. Glancing at the couch, she noted the sheets and blankets were not spread. She clicked her tongue, then went to Kennedy. She stared at him for some moments, turning her head one way and then another.

"Mr. Kennedy is a fine looking man. I do hope he will be all right." She sat on the edge of the bed, holding the candle and smoothing his brow with her finger tips. Satisfied that he was sleeping restfully, she whispered. "Now, we have to take care of you. Typical man!" Putting the candle down, she shook out the bed clothes over the couch.

"Really, your Ladyship," he whispered, "You need not do that!"

"I want to, Mr. Hornblower. You need someone to take care of you." Tucking the sheet and blanket, she looked him up and down. She took his hat from under his arm and placed it on the chair. "Here, now, take that off. You cannot rest trussed up in that uniform."

Lord! Was he going to have to undress again? Stuffing the necklace in his interior pocket, he unbuttoned his topcoat quickly, lay it on the chair, and lay himself on the couch, hoping she would leave.

She stood over him shaking her head. "You navy men! I declare! You are not on a ship, sir. Take off that waistcoat and your shoes!"

He stood and unbuttoned it, slipping out of his shoes as he did so, and lay down as fast as he could. "Thank you, ma'am," he said quietly and frenziedly.

"I'm going! I'm going! Don't sound so frantic!" she whispered. "Sleep well, now, Mr. Hornblower."

He sat up. "I should see you back safely, ma'am."

"I will be all right." She blew out the candles and proceeded to the door.

He was close behind her. "I cannot let you go into the darkness unescorted."

She stopped at the door, turning to face him. The two were silhouetted against the moonlit night. She placed her hand on his chest.

"Do you love her, Mr. Hornblower?"

He shuddered at her touch, it reminded him so much of Pamela. "I love her more than I can comprehend, your Ladyship."

"I like you, Mr. Hornblower. I know you are not assigned to Nelson's ship permanently, but you will look after him, won't you?"

He swallowed and hesitated. "I will, for as long as I can, ma'am."

She patted his chest. "I think your wife shall be proud, Mr. Hornblower. I think one day you will be an admiral, too." She leaned up to kiss his cheek, then walked out the door.

Hornblower returned in a moment, feeling the wet through his socks from dew formed on the marble decking. He tripped over his shoes, barely catching himself to sit on the couch.
He sighed as he placed his elbows on his knees and held his head in his hands.

Archie grinned to himself in the dark. Her touch had wakened him and he lay listening to the two of them whispering back and forth.

"I'm hungry, Admiral Hornblower."

Horatio jerked his head up to the voice. "Do I give a damn?" and he pitched his shoe at him.

"Ah. That is the Horatio, I know."

"Shut up, Archie."

The sound of a flint striking pierced the darkness with sound and light. Horatio lit a candle. Drawing near to Archie, he studied his friend. Then, picked up his shoe.

"How are you feeling?" Horatio put his hands on his hips, causing his waistcoat to hang open more widely. "Archie...?"

"Why are you still here? If you are going to desert, do it and get it over with. I'd rather not see you hanging from a yardarm. I'll feign illness until the deed is done."

"Shh!" He motioned for him to keep his voice down, looking behind him. "This was feigned?" He peered at him. No, it was not. Archie still looked drawn and drained. "I TRIED to leave!" he whispered loudly. "Lady Hamilton delayed me. I am surprised you agree." He went to his coat and pulled out his watch. It was nearly two. He was told to be at the ship by no later than five. Three hours. It would be a close thing to make it on time with travel and costume change. "How is your head?"

"Better. Your father's brew always does the trick." Archie watched him button his waistcoat and slip on his shoes. "If you live, what will you say to him?" He raised himself on his elbow and peered into the cup next to his bed. He lifted it to his lips.

*IF I live?* What kind of question was that? He stopped, hand paused over his topcoat. He had no idea what he would say to his father. He hoped he would understand, having lost the woman he loved so many years ago.

Kennedy moaned and lay back down on the bed, covering his eyes lightly.

"Still sensitive to the light, I see." Hornblower stood next to the bed, buttoning his topcoat.

"Don't do it, Horatio."

"I thought you agreed with my choice?" He found the pot of tea and poured another cup. "It's cold, but it should still work." He stood over Archie whose eyes were closed. Was he worse than he let on?

"I never said I agreed. Don't go thinking I do. I do not. Don't do it. Don't go. You will regret it. I know you will."

Hornblower slipped his hand behind Archie's head, holding the cup. "Still bad?" Archie's hand held the cup with his and he felt a mild shake.

"I'll be fine, Horatio." His blue eyes opened, dull with pain. "Do not stay because of me. Stay because of you. It is what you are meant to do."

"How do you know?"

"You're not listening. You're..." he took a quick breath. "Nelson likes you."

"Why do you keep saying that?"

"All right then, Captain Pellew. He recognizes your worth.... your steadfastness....your responsibility....your resourcefulness...your ingenuity. If you do this you cannot come back!" Archie pressed his forehead.

"You need to rest. Stop upsetting yourself."

"I am not upsetting myself. YOU are upsetting me with your stubborn thick-headed obstinate ridiculous plans!"

"I'm going. My presence is causing you agitation and your words are doing the same to me."

"What about Lady Hamilton?"

"What about her?"

"You did not hear a word she said, did you?"

"I'm lost, Archie. Stop talking and finish this tea." He helped him drink the rest, then took the cup to fill a last time.

"She told you. It is something about you, an aura, if you will. For some reason, women pick up on it." He chuckled. "...and Jonas."

"What about Jonas?"

Archie grinned and winced with the muscle movement affecting his headache. "You won't like it. He was calling you Admiral Horatio." Archie chortled softly.

"Maybe he meant Nelson. It means nothing."

"No. He meant you. He said, and I quote: I served under Captain Nelson and he is Admiral Nelson. I served under Leftenant Horatio and he will be Admiral Horatio. There was no confusion, oddly enough." He opened his eyes to gaze up at Horatio, contemplating his words. "Horatio, why did you come here?"

"I was concerned about you."

"That is the most straight forward answer I have heard from you in a while."

"I've got to go."

"Lady Hamilton detained you. Can you not see a pattern?"

"Archie ... I am not a mystic."

"Don't go."

"The ship leaves at dawn. It may be my only opportunity. We are doing nothing here! Please understand!"

"If we were fighting you would stay?"

"It would be my...duty...to stay."

"Horatio...you are not even listening to yourself, man! Don't do it."

Horatio took his hand. "You have been a good friend, Archie. I'm sorry...I..." He did not know what else he could say. He squeezed his hand in a firm shake.

"Horatio?"

He stopped at the door.

"The candle."

"Yes. Yes." He blew it out quickly.

"Horatio?"

"Yes, Archie?"

"If one more person detains you, will you stay?"

"If one more person detains me, I will have to. As it is, I shall have to run to the town."

"I'll pray, then. That someone comes."

"Good-bye, Archie."

"No. You will be back," he said to himself. "Please, God, send someone to stop him."

Horatio stood just outside Kennedy's room. All the talk kept him from thinking. He was getting tired and he needed a moment to get his bearings. He would not go towards Lady Hamilton's room. She might still be awake. Going the other direction would take longer, but would be safer, he hoped. He would need to flat out run once he was clear of the grounds.

Reaching the north stairs, he was about to descend when a smell of tobacco reached him. Looking behind, there sat someone puffing on a pipe. Each draw caused the tobacco to redden in the bowl and light the face of the smoker. Hamilton?

"Mr. Hornblower, isn't it?"

Where was his renowned luck? Did not any of these people sleep through the night?

"Yes, sir."

He did not say anything else, but stared at him and assessed the situation.

"You seem troubled, leftenant. Did not my wife take care of you?"

Whatever could he mean? Did he know about the chance meeting? "Sir?"

He stood slowly. "I am not the fool many think I am, Mr. Hornblower. I know my wife. I know my good friend, Nelson. I don't know you, however."

Horatio moved uneasily. "I could not sleep, sir."

"No one seems to be doing much of that this evening. Going for a stroll like Nelson, then?" As he came before Hornblower, he motioned out to the grounds. A hatted figure paced by the fountain below them. The moonlight sparkled off the chelengk.

Hornblower felt all his expectations dissolve. He was done for.

"Hot nights like these keep rest at bay...and doors open. Sound travels very well on such airs....even whispers. You know, desertion is never a good idea for any reason. It generally ends in death or at least a guilty conscience," offered Hamilton. "Nelson speaks highly of you. Naught but praise for someone he hardly knows. It would be a great disappointment to him should something befall you. Not to mention a reflection of his judgment of character. Do you not think this so, Mr. Hornblower?" Hamilton stared at him and sucked his pipe, the glow lighting the features of Hornblower seemingly in deep thought. "My wife, delicate creature that she is, had insight enough to realize our fleet needed provisioning. She was right and made a loyal friend." He motioned out towards Nelson. "Very loyal. Yes," he said thoughtfully. He turned his gaze to Hornblower, his pipe causing the orange glow. "There is a tray in the hallway outside Mr. Kennedy's room if you think food would help. Roast beef sandwiches, I believe. Or...perhaps you would join me in a drink?"

"Thank you, no, sir. Actually, I am feeling very tired after all. I think I shall turn in."

"No more late night strolls?"

"No, sir."

"I will hold you to that, Leftenant. It would cause such an uproar in the house should I need to call out a guard."

"That will not be necessary, sir," he said with resignation.

"On your HONOUR, sir?" he asked pointedly.

Hornblower straightened his shoulders. "On my honour, Lord Hamilton."

The man sighed and returned to sit and watch Nelson pacing in the garden. "Something is afoot, Hornblower."

Horatio turned to look once more at the pacing man. He knew what pacing meant. Thinking. Decisions to be made. Was something brewing?

He was exhausted. The adrenaline coursing through his blood left him and all the days tiresome exertions fell heavily on. By the time he stepped inside Archie's room, he had both his topcoat and waistcoat unbuttoned and he pulled them off in one motion. Shoes off, he fell face down on the couch.

"Horatio?"

"Yes, Archie."

"Who was it this time?"

"Hamilton ...and Nelson."

Archie silently mouthed, "Thank you, God!" He listened to his friend sigh. "Horatio?"

"Yes?"

"I am a little hungry. Truly."

"Sandwiches in the hall," he muttered. "I'll get them." Horatio slid off the couch and promptly ran into the chair. "Ow! Damn." finding the flint, he lit the candle.

Archie turned on his side, a gentle smile of relief firmly fixed across his thin lips.

Horatio, tray in hand, pushed the door to with his foot. There was no place large enough to set the tray, so Archie scooted up against the wall, making room on his bed. Horatio sat the tray down between them. Lifting the cover, a gateau plate was piled with an assortment of sandwiches, small rectangular ones.

He looked up at his friend who was still grinning. Hornblower was not feeling as distraught as he though he would. He began to put sandwiches on a plate for Archie.

"Say when." He glanced his way now and then waiting for the word. "Are you going to eat the whole damn thing?" He stopped transferring sandwiches and handed him the gateau plate.

"Thanks, old man."

Horatio grinned wryly refusing to let himself express the happiness he was experiencing. Why was he feeling so chipper? His plans had been foiled.

Archie took a bite and still smiled as he chewed.

Horatio turned the pitcher to look inside. "Lemonade. Want some?"

"Yes, please."

"Are you going to grin all night long?"

"Most likely. What happened with Hamilton?"

Horatio went to the open door and closed it gently. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he let himself slide to the floor, feeling the need of back support.

"He heard everything, Archie." A sandwich appeared before his eyes. Taking it from Archie's hand he waved it about as he talked of the evening's events. Finally, stuffing the sandwich in his mouth, a glass of lemonade was passed to him. "Thanks, Archie."

Kennedy passed him another rectangle. He ate that one immediately. He was passed another. Feeling tireder, he slipped to lay on the floor, finishing his tale of an evening gone wrong. A pillow was passed and he put it under his head.

"So, you see, I am not as lucky as some think." Gentle snores began to rise from the floor.

Archie lay prostrate, with his cheek resting on the edge of the mattress, gazing down at his friend. "Oh, yes you are. It is good to have you back, Mr. Hornblower."