An American Encounter
by Skihee

Chapter 20 - Interventions

Returning to Naples from the out regions was quicker than the trip there. The weary troop of men sat in the long boat as it was rowed out to Foudroyant.

>From the vantage of the narrowing distance, Hornblower could see men in the larboard rigging of Foudroyant, looking like a nest of bees.

"What is happening, Mr. Clay?"

The man at the tiller dipped his head solemnly. "They be hangin' that admiral, sir."

"What Admiral?"

"Of Naples, sir. Their navy. I can't rightly say his name. Carricholo er somethin'."

"Why?"

"Treason, sir."

Archie saw the color leave Hornblower's cheeks. They both turned to stare at the moored shipping. The long boat drew nearer, being abaft the stern of Foudroyant. Minerva, a ship of the Neapolitan Navy, came in view.

"Toss your oars!" called the tiller man. Every man in the boat turned to gaze at the horrifying sight.

The body was in its final death throes, hanging from the main mast yard arm, a rope of weights dangling from the ankles. The writhing ceased, and only the swaying of pendulum force remained. Though many viewed the spectacle, silence reigned. The boat drifted from the last pump of the oars, nosing more to larboard of Foudroyant, coming almost between the flagship and the death ship.

"God," said Kennedy softly.

Hornblower said nothing, but gulped audibly. He turned his head and closed his eyes. "Mr. Clay, kindly take us to starboard, sir."

"Aye, aye, Mr. Hornblower. Oars!" He pushed hard against the tiller. The boat came around handily under the stern.

Hornblower gazed into the galleries where Nelson's cabin was located. Was there someone staring out the windows? He was exhausted. Returning to this occasion made his stomach turn. He closed his eyes and commanded it to settle, taking a couple of deep breaths as quietly as he could.

The movement was not lost on Kennedy who stared quizzically, questioning his friend. Hornblower looked pasty and green but nodded he was well.

The boat thudded against the ship. Hornblower was the first out. Setting foot on the main deck, he saluted the flag and gave in to another glance toward Minerva, the body in plain view.

"Welcome back, Mr. Hornblower." Thompson followed his gaze and spoke quietly. "Not a pretty sight."

"No, sir."

"Mr. Kennedy. Good to see you, sir."

"Mr. Thompson," saluted Kennedy. "What has happened?"

"Admiral Prince Carraciollo." Thompson nodded his head towards the dangling corpse. "Tried in our wardroom this morning, sentenced, and executed. Swift justice, sir."

"What was his crime?" asked the amazed Kennedy seeking confirmation of what Clay reported.

Thompson sighed and spoke lowly. "Treason. The man fired on his own ship, the Minerva....joined the French and the Parthenopeans, Jacobins to some. Captained one of their ships and fired on Ferdinand's navy!" Thompson shook his head. "The man must have been mad to try such a scheme with us so near! He tried to escape. They found him hiding in a well." Thompson sighed. "I guess that would have been proof enough of his guilt."

Hornblower stared at the deck.

"But enough of him. Were you successful?"

Hornblower was entranced, considering the information.

"Mr. Hornblower? Were you successful? Did you get the supplies?"

"Hm? Yes, sir! To an extent. We were able to get some of what we went for."

Thompson looked at him closer. "What did you do to your chin?"

"I fell, sir."

"Hm." Thompson studied Kennedy's features though the man seemed to turn his head slightly. "Fill out a report and submit it as soon as you are done."

"Aye, aye, sir." Hornblower saluted and headed below, Kennedy following.

Hornblower entered the wardroom. He stopped, and tossing his hat onto the table, he noted how the room must have been set for trial. Going to the sideboard, he pulled a glass and filled it with brandy. He held the bottle to Archie.

"Yes, please."

Hornblower filled another glass, replaced the stopper, and handed the goblet to him.

"Are you sure this is what you need? I know you have a delicate stomach, old man."

Hornblower sighed heavily. Bringing the glass to his lips, he tossed it back in one gulp.

Kennedy's lips twisted as he sipped from the glass.

"I'm weary, Archie. I am going to our cabin. The report can wait a few hours." He swept his hat from the table, leaving before Kennedy could reply.

Archie stared at the placement of chairs, pulled one out and sat heavily, resting his elbows on the table. He, too, was worn out. The march back from the province was fast and exhausting. Hornblower seemed like a man with his tail on fire. All of the company was cheered to see the harbour come in view, and the commanding officer allowed the pace to slow. They covered in one day what had taken two.

Kennedy dropped his hat onto the table and rubbed the glass in a circle, watching the liquid roll up the sides as it spun. He blew out a sigh and massaged his forehead, then leaned back in the chair, stretching out his legs and slumping to rest his head on the back. Pursing his lips he shook his head mildly and pressed the sore place on his jaw. Highlights of the events of the last forty-eight hours replayed.

Hornblower seemed calmer, almost peaceful as long as they were en route. It was like he was on a mission, of sorts, and Kennedy supposed he was. The objective was to deliver the Cuccinella ladies successfully and gain the medical supplies. It was with these accomplishments that Hornblower's personality did another seeming about face. Would these convolutions ever cease? At least, he seemed to be headed in the right direction.

The second night out, Mrs. Cuccinnella informed they were very near to the village. However, Adrianna was running a slight fever and it was decided to stop for the night.
The troop bedded down amongst midsummer haystacks in a farmer's field. They were concerned for the little girl. Having the medicines they both knew would aid her, they prepared some tea.

Hornblower stood over the mother and child, watching sleep overcome. He turned away, leaving the encampment, and walked a distance to the fence near the road. Kennedy followed. Eyes became accustomed to the darkness away from the campfire. Hornblower peered up the lane, from whence they had come, and sighed.

"Nearly there, Horatio."

"Yes, Archie."

"Strange to be so far from the sea. I cannot remember when its airs were not in my lungs."

Hornblower glanced at him and paced away, but turned, head bowed in thought, setting himself in a quarter-deck length groove.

"What darkens your thoughts, sir?" he questioned ,when Horatio's pace brought him close by. Hornblower did not seem to hear him. When he made the round again, Kennedy said,
"You know, maybe we could rent you out as a plow. You are creating a nice furrow there."

"What?"

Archie chuckled. "What has you bedeviled now, Horatio?"

"Archie...." Hornblower blinked. "Archie...." He turned partly and slapped his hat against his leg. "Archie, damn it!"

Kennedy took a step towards him. "Have I done something?"

"No, no!" Hornblower twisted uncomfortably, seeking the words. "Mr. Kennedy, I...." He licked his lips and looked forlorn. "Archie. I've been a horse's ass. If ever a man should be turned in for treason, it's me. I...I was going to ....to...." he found it difficult to utter the words. "...to desert!" He sounded amazed as he said it, almost unable to believe what he was saying, but knowing he had considered it, planned it, attempted it! "Why didn't you turn me in? I should turn myself in. I'm unfit..."

Archie punched him in the face with a right cross. Hornblower reeled back from the blow.

"What the devil are you doing?" He held his chin.

Archie hit him again, a left cross. Blood trickled from his lip and he looked at it on his hand in the starlight.

"Are you mad?"

"Yes, damn it, but not the kind of mad you think!" He swung at Hornblower, but the officer ducked.

"Archie!"

Kennedy swung and connected once again. He gave Hornblower a moment to recover, then began another swing. Hornblower tackled him to keep from being hit again and felt his head ram into Kennedy's rock hard jaw. The two wrestled on the grass, neither gaining the upper hand.

Hornblower tried to reason with him. "Archie! Stop! Stop it, I say! Don't make me hit you! What's got into you?" Hornblower gained the upper hand, resting his full weight on Archie's chest, he held his wrists to the ground. "What the devil are you doing?" he panted.

"No more, Horatio! No more tricks!"

"What are you talking about?"

"This is another one of your plots to leave, isn't it? How long did it take you to think this one up, eh?"

"It isn't a trick!"

Archie's face took on a determined look as he lifted his legs causing Hornblower to lose his position. Archie rolled over on him, pinning Hornblower's hips sideways with his full body weight. Hornblower twisted, pushing him off with a thud. He tried to stand and walk away, but Kennedy caught his ankle. He fell to the earth. Kennedy was upon him before he could move. Now he pressed Hornblower's chest with his weight and held his wrists. Hornblower breathed heavily looking up at the face of his friend, knowing he could do the same with his legs, but relaxing as much as the press against him would allow. At least his face was no longer being pummeled.

"Archie," he panted.

"You aren't going anywhere, Horatio. Not by desertion, not by turning yourself in as unfit for command, or whatever other crazy scheme you're planning."

"I AM unfit for command."

Archie released a wrist and socked him across the jaw. Horatio's squeezed his eyes shut at the pain.

*So, the guilt has arrived* thought Kennedy. *I knew it would. Very well. You will have to answer me correctly before I desist.* "You're what?" he asked in a demanding tone.

Horatio's eyes opened, but did not look at him right away. He ran his tongue over his split lip. He turned his head to Kennedy, eyes ablaze.

"You didn't answer me!" He squeezed Hornblower's wrists more tightly.

"Archie..."

"Don't Archie me! Answer me! You're what?"

Horatio shook his head. "You know it's true! Don't..."

Archie hit him with a left. "Damn! You've got a hard head!" He squinted at his knuckles.

Hornblower took advantage of the distraction and rolled. The two wrestled and tumbled over. Kennedy grabbed his right arm and pulled it behind his back, forcing his head to the ground. He placed his knee in the small of Hornblower's back and grabbed his other wrist, holding it firmly. Hornblower sighed and relaxed his face into the grass.

"Archie," he panted, "...does this mean you will not turn me in?"

"How could you ever think I would do such a thing?"

"I apologize."

"If I tried such a stunt, would you have turned me in?"

"No."

Archie released him and stood up. He tugged on his waistcoat and top coat and brushed himself off. He rubbed his knuckles and propped his foot on a stone near the fence, heaving out a sigh.

Horatio rose to his feet, touching his bleeding lip gingerly. His eyes perceived the dark silhouette of his friend. Warily, he moved near him.

"Promise me you won't hit me again."

Archie did not answer.

"Will you let me finish what I was going to say?"

Hornblower paused, waiting for a reply. None was given, nor did Archie give any clue he was listening. Kennedy could feel the stare at his back. Maybe it was easier this way, for him to speak. It was high time something was said, if he could just keep from slugging him.

Haltingly, he began. "With what...I tried to do...back on Palermo...it was wrong of me. ... I ... I don't know what came over me....we were so idle.....I ... I miss her. I miss her still." Archie shifted his weight and Hornblower braced for a possible blow, but Archie did not turn nor utter a sound. "But..." he licked his lips, "...I... I seem to be able to think a little more clearly of late... and.... I am appalled." He turned away from Archie's back. Kennedy sensed the movement and glanced at him with a sigh. "Archie....I..am so...." he swallowed again, "...embarrassed. When I think of how I have behaved on the Indy, with Dr. Sebastian, with you...and on Foudroyant....I..... I....would like to crawl in a hole and never come out again." Archie's head bowed. "How could you want to associate with me? I... I am so .... ashamed. I deserve this," he motioned to his face. "...and more....no doubt." He stared at the back of Archie. "Would any man want to follow such an officer as I? Weak and weeping, lovesick and forlorn?"

"I do, Horatio." He turned and looked into the pummeled face and smiled wryly, but the twisted grin left as quickly as it appeared. "I know no finer officer than the one I follow. He just needs a little time to sort himself out."

"Sort myself out..." he mused. "You do not think me unfit?"

Archie raised his fist. Hornblower squinted, but did not move. Archie followed through slowly, knocking his chin gently. "No, Horatio, I do not think you unfit. But, I am not putting up with any more moping about. Should it appear after tonight, you can look to receive the same treatment and ...if any of your actions of the past month are recalled, I shall be forced to give you a swift kick in the pants."

Hornblower smiled gently.

"Besides, now you have something against me that is as bad or worse than what you once planned."

"What's that?"

"I have struck a superior officer."

"You? Who? Oh! You mean this? Why I tripped in the dark, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie grabbed the back of his neck. "Come on. Let me get you doctored up."

"I fell."

"Yes, I know, on both sides of your face."

That was the first good palpable sign Hornblower was on his way back to himself. The next came the following night. He recalled the look on Matthews the morning after their "discussion."

The squinting old sailor gave Kennedy the once over as he sought similar bruising readily found on Hornblower. "I see ye didn't fall as hard as Mr. Hornblower, sir," and he pointed at the greenish color on his jaw where Horatio's head had contacted.

"No, Matthews, I more stumbled than fell."

"Did it do any good, sir?"

"What's that, Matthews?"

"Mr. Hornblower's fall?"

"I....think so," Kennedy grinned.

"Good. He's been needin' a fall for sometime, sir, if ye don't mind my sayin' so."

Kennedy patted the grizzled seaman on the shoulder. He was as worried about Horatio as the rest of them. He wondered how Pellew was fairing with no word whatsoever about his protégé.

Having found the farm of Mrs. Cuccinella's cousin before noon the following day, Hornblower let the men relax in the afternoon. They were all moderately wined and dined in the early evening, and he cautioned the men to have a care and not over imbibe. Matthews kept a wary eye on all of them, including the marines.

It was far into the night. The officers shared a room on the second floor. Kennedy roused himself to his wakeful friend.

"What is it, Horatio?" He could see the moonlight brighten Hornblower's frilled shirt as he leaned against the window posts.

"I miss her, Archie."

Kennedy sighed resolutely, "Pamela?"

Hornblower shook his head slowly. "The Indy. Where is she? Why hasn't she come for us? I miss walking her decks. Hearing the moan of the wind through her rigging." He bowed his head and shook it. "Pamela was right."

"What about?"

Hornblower heaved out a sigh. He turned out of the moonlight, stepping into the darkened room.

Kennedy heard a steady pounding. Jumping from the bed, he went to Horatio, grabbed his right hand beating brutally against his chest, and pushed him flat against the bed. "Stop, Horatio!"

"It hurts! God! It hurts!"

Kennedy heard the stifled sob. "You love them both and neither are here. Pamela understands. God, Horatio, she understands! You need not feel guilty that tonight you chose to miss the Indy more than her!"

Hornblower's panting breaths slowed. "Don't .... don't look at me."

"It's too damned dark in here to see you, damn it. Let me be your friend. Don't you get it yet?" Hornblower relaxed in his grip. "Horatio....you're my best friend. I know you are going through a difficult time of it, and it is tearing you apart. Damn it, do I have to say this? Can't you just know it? I love you like a brother! I've told you! You lughead! Talk to me, damn it! Don't sit over here and beat yourself up! Didn't I do that enough last night?"

"Don't hit me, Archie."

Archie snorted. "I will if I deem it necessary. Is this going to become a nightly adventure with you? How ever did Pamela put up with it?"

"She loves me."

"Exactly! And...so do I, but it isn't quite the same."

"I do feel guilty."

"Well...don't. Pamela understands, and though I love the Indy almost as much as you, she is just a hunk of wood, hemp, and canvas." Archie waited, not sure Hornblower was ready for what else he had to add. "It's the men, Horatio, the service. Pellew, Bracegirdle, Rampling, McMasters, all the midshipmen, the warrant officers, Mr. Bowles, the ratings. It's command you miss, Horatio. You were born to lead and you have forgotten. I saw the spark that day in the road when we found Annabella and Adrianna. You have been idle too long. You need the Indy, not for the ship that she is, but for the opportunity to be what you are meant to be, a leader of men, the leader Pellew has helped to mold."

"Are you saying I should not love my wife?"

"No! Damn it! You aren't listening! That you have found such a woman as Pamela should enhance your leadership not hinder it! I will not lay that at her door! It is you and your backassed way of thinking! When are you going to get your head on straight? She loves you! She is waiting for you! She wants you to be who you are! Do you know how amazing it is to have such a woman? She let you go! Did she beg you to stay? Did she?"

"No."

"Would you want her to?"

He hesitated and thought. "No."

"Listen..." he sighed wearily. "How much longer are we going to go through this? I don't know if I can take it, but I will try because you are my friend. Jesus! Give me strength! Get hold of yourself! I know you can, Horatio! I'm the one prone to panic, not you!"

Both silenced, Archie from expending the energy to say things long left unsaid; Horatio because he was thinking.

"Look. I'm going to say this for the last time. Are you listening?"

"Yes."

"You are in love with Pamela. She is in love with you. You miss her. She misses you. She is waiting for you. She knew who and what you ARE before she ever said yes. Am I right?"

"Yes. I had a hell of a time talking her into marrying me."

"You are..."

"Was I wrong to ask her, Archie?"

"No! Damn it, no! Oh Christ!" He let himself slip to the floor and he held his head between his hands. "It's useless! Totally useless. I give up. I'm going to bed. No. I need a drink and I need to take a walk. You have completely woken me up and in the state of agitation I find myself, I will never get back to sleep."

"Good. Let's leave."

"You're not going with me! I will never be able to calm down!"

"No. I mean let us get the men and go back to Naples."

Archie walked to stand in the moonlight and peered at his watch.

"It's nearly two in the morning, Horatio!"

"It will be cooler traveling. It is a good idea you have, Archie. Let's go," and he struck the flint to light a candle.

At two in the morning, Hornblower roused the men. By two thirty, he had wakened Annabella to tell her good-bye. The entire household was turned out! God bless them! By three, they had food and fresh water packed for their journey.

No wonder they were all worn out, marching at a pace, until the harbour lay solemn and blue in the late afternoon.

The image of the Italian Admiral came to mind. Hung for treason. Archie looked at the wardroom door his friend had passed through. *I never thought I would say this, but thank you, God, for giving me a fit that day in Palermo.* With a sigh, he pulled himself to his feet.

In the shared cabin, his friend snored softly. He canted his head to look at him, noting the facial bruises. Pulling off the layers of clothing down to his shirt, he crawled into the lower berth sighing and dropping his shoes from his feet with a clump.

"Good morning, sir. You're up early, Mr. Hornblower!" commented Beeman as he sat a cup of coffee at his elbow.

Hornblower looked up from his writing. "Thank you, Beeman. I have been desirous of a cup of coffee."

"Shall I bring your breakfast, sir?"

"Yes, I am quite famished."

"Aye, sir. I did not think I saw ye in here for dinner last night."

"No. No, I slept very soundly after our trek."

"I'll have yer breakfast here straight away, sir."

"Thank you."

Hornblower put the finishing touches on his report, lay the quill down, and rubbed his hand down his face, wincing as he accidentally pressed on his bruises. That was why Beeman had looked at him so strangely! *It must look that I have been in a brawl." He wiggled his eyebrows wondering if anyone would ask.

Fingers lightly covered his lips. Blowing through them, he made his decision. If Indefatigable would not come for them, they would go to her. He needed to talk to Thompson first, not wishing to ruffle any feathers.

Beeman arrived with a substantial breakfast and Hornblower looked astonished.

"I reminded cook ye missed dinner, sir."

Hornblower grinned. "That was good of both of you, Beeman. Do extend my gratitude to the cook."

"Aye, sir."

Fried eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, fresh butter, cream, fresh bread! Being moored in port certainly had its advantages! He was hungrier than he realized and concluded the meal with dispatch. Sipping at a third cup of coffee, the man he needed to see entered.

"Good morning, Mr. Hornblower. You look well rested."

"And to you, Mr. Thompson, thank you."

"Finished your report?"

"Yes, sir."

Thompson's servant, Harley, entered with a similar breakfast.

"Need anything else, Hornblower," asked Thompson, nodding towards his empty plate.

"Actually, another slice of toast would be welcome."

"Harley."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Thompson stuck a bit of food into his mouth and looked back at Hornblower. Horatio became self-conscious and pulled his cup to his mouth and held it there, covering his chin.

Thompson continued to eat. Harley arrived with the toast.

"Thank you, Harley."

"Sir."

"Mr. Thompson...I am glad to have you here alone. I need to ask you a question."

"Yes?"

Hornblower exhaled. "I feel my men and I are redundant here on Foudroyant. It does not appear that Indefatigable is coming to Naples. I would like to request passage on a despatch vessel that might be headed to Lord Keith's squadron, ... in hopes of finding the Indy still with him."

"A sound idea, Mr. Hornblower."

"What channels shall I go through to make the request? Shall I put it in writing or simply ask to speak to Captain Hardy?" A twinge occurred in his chest saying the Captain's name. He still felt the mortification of his first encounter with Nelson's captain.

"Hm. Good question, Hornblower." Thompson mulled over the current situation. "Probably writing would be best. The captain stays busy with the admiral, especially with our passengers. I'd offer to speak for you, but I do not see when the opportunity would arise. More than likely a letter would get his attention more quickly than a verbal request. I'll be sorry to see you go, but I understand completely your desire to get back to your own ship."

"Thank you, sir."

Kennedy entered the wardroom and Rathbone behind him.

"Good morning, gentlemen."

"Mr. Kennedy," toned Hornblower and Thompson, "Mr. Rathbone."

The men took seats and the orderlies arrived with breakfasts and the leftenants' known choice of drink.

Archie spoke to Hornblower. "I did not hear you up this morning, Mr. Hornblower."

"I wakened early and was quiet. I know you were tired from our walk."

"Walk?" Kennedy chuckled.

Thompson studied the two men. Kennedy held his cup to his lips.

"What did you do to your hand, Mr. Kennedy?"

The flush to his cheeks and Hornblower's was rapid.

"That?" Kennedy sat his cup down and put his hand in his lap. "Knocking on too many doors, looking for our supplies." It was a poor lie. He picked up his cup with his right hand.

"Knock with both hands, do you?"

Kennedy fought the urge to look at Hornblower and just smiled.

Rathbone chuckled. "Indeed! From Hornblower's fall and your knocking, one might think fisticuffs were involved!"

Hornblower cleared his throat. "Ahem. Excuse me, gentlemen. I have a missive to write." He collected his writing implements. "See you later, Mr. Kennedy."

"Aye, Mr. Hornblower."

Thompson's gentle smile appeared thoughtfully through chews. "Not getting on each other's nerves, are you Kennedy? It is good of you to share a cabin for the benefit of us and our guests."

"No. No, Leftenant Thompson. Mr. Hornblower and I are fast friends. All is well."

"Hm. As you wish, sir. It is well you two are not under my normal command, or I might want to hear more about your....misadventures with falls and doors."

"Yes, sir," answered Kennedy.

"Let there be no more mishaps."

Kennedy could see Hornblower had stopped just outside the door and was listening. "No, sir, indeed not."

Late that afternoon, Hornblower was called by Admiral Nelson. His letter of request for the despatch vessel was addressed to Hardy. Nelson wanting him caused no little curiosity. Was it for information on the potion? The lemon-balm was located. Barwell was notified through Holloway, the surgeon's assistant that went with them. Perhaps the Admiral wished to thank him. He was at a loss to know why he was requested.

Hornblower entered the Admiral's office and stood at attention. Nelson was pacing at the stern windows. Lady Hamilton sat at a window seat and smiled and nodded to him when he entered. He nodded in return, but stayed at attention waiting for the Admiral to speak. Something in the man's demeanor gave him caution. This call was not to thank him for the herbs. He straightened his shoulders more stiffly and waited.

The admiral glanced his way briefly and continued his pace. At last, he strode over to Hornblower and stared up at him. The Admiral was a good five inches shorter than Hornblower.

Seething. Hornblower recognized it. Had he not been around Pellew when in this sort of mood? He felt his innards turn to steel. Nelson reached up and took his jaw. Turned it roughly from side to side. Released it and turned to pace again briefly. Was that it? Had someone said something about him and Archie? Had a guess been made?

He strode back over to Hornblower.

"What the devil have you done?"

It seemed a broad question. How would he answer?

"Sir?"

Nelson walked to his table and picked up a paper. He waved it in the air. "Are you assisting Jacobins?"

"Sir?"

"Don't play the fool with me! You are accused of aiding the enemy! Is this true?"

Aiding the enemy? "May I speak, sir?"

"Indeed you had better, Mr. Hornblower and pray God what you say sounds better than this translation."

"Admiral Nelson, may I read the charge against him?" asked Lady Hamilton.

Nelson softened at her intercession, gave her the paper, and stepped to stare out the stern windows.

Lady Hamilton smiled confidently at Hornblower. "Mr. Hornblower, it seems an army captain of Cardinal Ruffo's reports meeting up with a man of your description and the troop under your command several days ago. That you stopped him in the streets, forcibly, and took control of his prisoners, a woman who aided a Count Giacoman, who was accused of consorting with the enemy. He says the prisoners were not brought to the gaol and that it must be assumed that the British Navy is assisting the enemies of King Ferdinand and Queen Maria Carolina." She stopped reading and looked at the reddened officer. The twinge in her features revealed the recognition that he was knowledgeable of the events. She looked over her shoulder to see if Nelson watched. His back was to them. "Why don't you explain in your own words what happened that day? Shouldn't we hear his side of the story, Admiral?"

Nelson nodded but did not turn.

Hornblower felt a shudder. His actions were looked at as helping the enemy? He proceeded to tell the story of the nakedness of the woman and child, the brutality of the men, and the story related to him by Mrs. Cuccinnella about her employer. He ended by giving his opinion of her innocence and the conduct of gentlemen. "If I have overstepped my bounds, sir, I...."

Lady Hamilton grabbed his wrist and shook her head. He was ready to admit his guilt.

Nelson sighed heavily, agitation clearly audible. "Damn! Haven't we enough to do searching into the activities of the living? Polaccas full of obviously guilty men and women pleading not guilty! Now, we must question the actions of a dead man! My dear," he turned to Lady Hamilton, "I dislike involving you in these investigations."

"But, Admiral Nelson, Mr. Hornblower's intentions were clearly admirable. He did not intend to harm the monarchy of the Two Sicilies. Did you Mr. Hornblower?"

"No, ma'am, indeed not."

"But, damn it, this means we shall have to delve into the character of this man Giacoman to clear Hornblower!"

"Let me speak with Lord Hamilton, Admiral. The man's name sounds familiar. Perhaps we will remember and can speak for him."

"Very well, my Lady, do so!" He strode back over to Hornblower, his visage angry. "You had best pray Lord Hamilton can vouch for this man Giacoman!" He took Hornblower's jaw in his hand again. "And what is this? Did you fight with the damned Italian, as well?"

"No, sir."

"There is no mention of fighting in the letter, Admiral," added Lady Hamilton quickly.

"Who have you been brawling with then?"

"I fell, sir."

"Fell?!? Fell, be damned! Do you think I am ignorant of these types of injuries?" Nelson's sighted blue eye bore into Hornblower's brown ones.

Hornblower said nothing more. Lady Hamilton joined Nelson, laying her hand upon his forearm.

"Admiral you will give yourself apoplexy! Poor Leftenant Hornblower acted as any gentleman would! Do you not agree? Maybe he did fall. Does it matter? The army captain does not accuse him of assault."

Nelson breathed in and out, letting go some of the fury. He pushed some of the papers around on his broad dining table.

"Here! Here it is! I've had a letter from your Captain." He looked over at Hornblower, letter to hand. Nelson chuckled wryly. "He's in the clutches of Lord Keith, it seems." Holding the letter, he pointed at Hornblower and added, "And if you repeat I said that I'll insist you tell me how you ...fell, ...sir!"

"My lips are sealed, sir."

"Hm," grunted Nelson. "Pellew wants you back. Damn me, I'm ready to send you! But you'll go no where till this other business is settled." He held his head, scanning the mounds of paper on his table. "This means I shall have to rewrite the letter to Pellew! Damn it! Get out of here, Hornblower! I'll call for you when we know what's to be done with you!"

"Aye, aye, sir." He turned smartly and exited the rooms. Outside the closed door, he let go the breath caught in his chest and inhaled. "Pray hard, Pamela," he mumbled. "Those angels had better be as good as lawyers."

*****

On a tossing sea, over a thousand miles away, Pamela hung over the side of the bouncing boat and vomited. She pulled some of the salt water to her mouth and rinsed. Turning, inside the boat she panted and held the rail with both hands.

Night was coming rapidly with the darkened skies, but it was another four hours before the appointed meeting. Rain fell upon them haphazardly.

"Are ye all right, Miss Pamela?"

"Yes, Mr. Carden!" she shouted over the wind. The longboat sized ship tossed on the stormy sea.

Carden leaned on the tiller, trying to hold the rudder in place.

"I doubt they'll come forth in this weather, ma'am!"

"We must stay! There is nothing else to be done!"

"Come here, ma'am!" He nodded towards the bottom of the boat at his feet.

She slipped over the interior carefully. Her ribs were already sore from banging against the ship sides. She lay on the floor of the open boat.

Carden held the tiller between his left stump and his body and reached to pull an oilskin over her.

"Stay covered, now! Mr. Hornblower wouldn't like this, Miss Pamela."

"I can't control the weather!" she shouted at him.
Carden shook his head in response and scanned the horizon. Land was miles south, the coast of Africa. A wave came over the side to drench them and fill the bottom of the boat. She began to bail.

"Jose! Manuel! Bail!" she shouted to the man and young boy in the tossing bow.

Carden leaned against the tiller, turning the bow into the wind.

The fight with the sea continued. After struggling for a time, she gave in. She was in its grip. It was one of her rivals, and now it had her, too. She did not care anymore. Death seemed an easier solution than endurance. Let it come. Huddling in the bottom of the boat, she let the cruel saltwater cover and cool her, making her shiver in the stormy summer night. Sleep gathered her battered body in eventual exhaustion and no more thoughts of physical death surmounted.

Warmth upon one cheek, cool breezes on the other. A gentle lap, a slight toss, a flap.

"Horatio..."

She snuggled against the soft abdomen upon which she rested. Arms hugged tightly sought the warmth of the body. Stiffness, soreness, she stretched a shaky leg that craved extension despite the cool evaporation it permitted. Opening her eyes, she lifted her head and knew Horatio was not here. *Who is so kind to let me lay upon him?* She gazed the length of the boat. Jose, the hired helper, lay forward. Manuel, Maria's paid nephew, was near enough to break the breeze that dove within the boat. *Dear Mr. Carden. What have I put you through?* she thought thankfully and returned to a shivering sleep.

A voice woke her.

"Manuel. Here, boy." She felt herself lifted, movement in the boat, and a smaller, less padded torso slipped beneath her head and shoulders. "Jose. Raise the sail." She heard the rasp of line. Drops of water splashed her cheeks. Wind, made for movement; the boat had purpose.

"They will not come, Senor Carden. It is too late," appealed Jose. "We should go back."

Carden did not answer and Jose said no more.

Pamela could feel the motion of the boat. They were moving with, not fighting against, the sea. It was almost soft in comparison. The water lapped the hull and murmured her back into oblivion.

"Jose. See if ye can light the lantern."

A lantern door opening and a striking flint sounded in her ears. Manuel moved beneath her.

"Senor Carden! I see a light! There!" Manuel spoke in excited whispers and jostled the sleeping woman on his stomach.

"I'll be damned!" muttered Carden. "Give 'em the signal, Jose."

The lantern thumped against the side as it was raised and lowered, creating the three light flash observed by the coming vessel. The men waited breathlessly as the recognition glow was given.

"That's 'er!"

She felt the boat turning, heard the sail change positions with a slap, thunk.

"Miss Pamela. Manuel, waken the lady."

She felt a spidery grip on her shoulder.

"Senora Hornblower? Senora?"

Unable to stop the moan, she pushed herself up. "Lord!" Her body ached with cold, unused, battered limbs. The wind blew against her dampened hair, causing a shiver.

She peered over the edge of the boat and could see another similar black shape moving towards them. "You've done it, Mr. Carden." She managed a smile for the intrepid captain of their little ship. "Mr. Hornblower would be proud, sir."

"Proud? I ain't too sure, ma'am, after this night, if'n that's what he'd be feelin'. I'm just glad he's ignorant of these goin's on. I'd be obliged if ye didn't tell him none of it either. I seen that scowl of his enough times. Takes lessons from Pellew in scowlin' and he's got it down right well. I sure don't want none of it over what ye be gettin' me ta do. And, this is it, Mrs. Hornblower. No more! Ye hear? I nowt be doin' no more nightly escapades as this ever again. Thank the Lord, we ain't all drown. Now's ta see if we live through this'n or end up murdered by these heathen." Carden whispered his tirade, emptying the entire load of thoughts he rehearsed, during her slumber.

The sides of the little ships thudded on contact. Pamela sat up, cloaked to hide who and what she was.

Jose spoke to someone on the other ship in Spanish. Enrique, the middle man, informed them of the details of exchange, in order to deal with the sellers. Jose's voice seemed to be stating the terms. Affirmative off-accent Spanish words came in reply.

Two men on the other boat thumped a large heavy bundle athwart the gunwales of both vessels.

Jose passed a jingling pouch to the man he conversed with. The foreigner spilled the contents of the pouch into his hand. It was a pittance, but the goods might not last, and the sellers were eager for any remuneration. The gold coins glistened in the lantern light. He motioned and nodded for his partners to complete the transaction. Jose and Manuel assisted by pulling the bundle into the ship to drop with a thud.

As soon as the other vessel moved away, Pamela made a move toward the acquisition. Carden grabbed her.

"NO! Let Jose check first."

Jose bent to the bundle, seeking a way to reveal the contents.

"Well?" asked Carden.

"There is a pulse, but it is faint, senor." Jose looked doubtfully at the two in the stern.

Pamela made a move towards the man and once more Carden managed to restrain her and still hold the tiller. His grip was formidable.

"Check him, Jose. What's wrong with 'im? I don't want her touchin' him if'n he's got somethin' wrong with him other than wounds."

"Mr. Carden," she pleaded.

He held her tightly. "Wait! I said!"

Jose brought the lantern close to view the body. He handed it to Manuel and striped the wrapping blankets away from the head and torso. Squinting at the sight he beheld, a sound of revulsion issued from the Spaniard.

"He is badly wounded about the head, Senor Carden. But they are wounds, not sickness."

At that, he released Pamela's arm. She hurried to the casualty, gasping at the sight and raising her hand to her face.

"Lord!"

"I think the vultures were at him, senora."

She looked away fighting the empty nausea that rose at the sight. Pulling out a handkerchief from the pockets of her cloak, she reached over the side to wet it in the saltwater. Leaning over her patient, she began to bath the fresh gashes on his face, speaking words of comfort.

"You will be all right. You will be all right now. We will take care of you." Her voice broke near a sob.

His hair appeared to be blonde from what she could see in the dim light and beneath the dried blood. A wound to the right side of his head was massive and had bled profusely, matting his hair, drying on his forehead. Where the wound began and ended was difficult to tell. His eyes were blackened with scabs and whether those orbs that gave vision remained could not be ascertained. There was more blackened blood on his shirt, looking clotted and not fresh, she left it alone for the time being. It was a shirt of fine fabric, an avowal of his purported rank.

Jose looked back at Carden and shook his head doubtfully. Carden blew breath between parted lips. All this effort and peril for a dead man. He frowned at the woman crouching over the new charge and berated himself mentally for succumbing to her wishes.

Twenty-seven hours later, the boat crept into shore on the eastern side of the Rock. It was at least another two hours until dawn. The sailors, such as they were, were exhausted beyond measure. Carden had retaken the tiller from Jose about twelve hours ago, and by tacking back and forth, home was in sight.

Pamela cradled the man's head in her lap. She had bandaged his eyes, fearing to do anymore than protect them from the intermittent sunlight of the previous day. His head wound, she cleaned as much as she dare, and it, too, was wrapped around with white gauze. The wound in his torso was bandaged by someone else previous, did not bleed, and she decided to leave it until proper doctoring could be done. The newer gashes to his face actually looked to be healing. Only the salt water could account for it.

He felt feverish, but not to a point of panic, and she got him to drink a few swallows of cool prepared willowbark tea. A bit of cold broth was gotten down him from the corked crockery kept safe in a padded barrel. It was shortly after this sustenance that while holding his hand, he responded by gripping hers until he wandered back to unconsciousness.

She spoke to him, whether concious or not, telling him things about America and Gibraltar and whatever else popped into her head, except who they were. Maria insisted on anonymity in these excursions.

The cover of night, in which they arrived, was in the plan.

The bow slid into white sand in a moonlight shadow from the great Rock of Gibraltar. Dark figures scurried out to meet them with naught but a soft splash hidden in the small surf.

The lighthouse at Europa Point was manned by guards. The party would need to be quick in removing the injured man. Lifted handily, he was transported to a nearby cave. Pamela commanded weary and stiff legs to follow behind.

Manuel and Jose pushed the little boat back out, joining Carden, to return to sea and come around to the mole, proper.

"Senora Hornblower, how are you, my lady?"

"It is our charge we need be concerned with, Maria. We must get him to the gate before the next delivery."

"I know. I know." Maria assessed the young woman bent over and gazing at the new acquisition. She gave the man a closer look. "He doesn't look too bad."

"Oh, Maria! He looked awful when we got him! I've cleaned him up a bit. He's a wound on his chest, but someone bandaged it. I was afraid to change it. We should hurry!" Pamela clutched her hooded cloak about her chin. Sunken eyes and a bruise on her cheek gave her face an odd skeletal appearance in the dim lantern.

The two men assisting the rescue lifted the casualty onto the back of a pony. The man groaned and all heads turned in that direction.

"He's got to be quiet!" whispered Maria.

The man leaned against the pony's neck and moaned more softly. Pamela stepped to the side of the sturdy animal and placed her hand on the man's face.

"Shhh. Hold on, General. Not long now." She stroked his cheek and his body seemed to relax. "Hold on, sir."

"General?"

"I had to call him something and I figured that was safe. I didn't want to insult him, just in case."

Maria snorted. "I suppose a promotion might give him the will to live. Shh, now."

The party made a halting passage among the sand dunes and sea oats onto the shale and up the path towards the road. Guards could be seen on the battlements. Once on the level of the flats, they hugged the brush and stone outcroppings, moving with silence and stealth. Pamela trod carefully beside her patient, comforting him with a touch, and speaking lowly before he could utter a sound. About half way there, he took hold of her hand. It was an arduous walk after nearly two days in an open boat.

They neared the outer walls of the hospital and the gate used by the local delivery that brought a daily supply of milk to the barracks. This man would be the third of rescued wounded and presumed dead, a task begun on a whim and an accidental discovery.

The men eased him off the pony.

"Let them go alone, Senora!" whispered Maria.

"He won't let go of my hand!" Pamela whispered back. She walked quickly up to the gate, his grip firm.

 

Maria waited with the pony, leaning out and looking anxiously up the lane and back to her comrades. The creak of wagon wheels could be heard in the pre-dawn silence, accented with echoing ship bells.

"Hurry! Hurry!" she whispered.

Pamela knelt on the ground. "You've got to let me go, General!" she whispered.

The two men scurried back across the path to the hidden pair.

"Please!" Pamela leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "These are friends. They will help."

His grip relaxed. "Who..."

Pamela gasped at the word. "I won't forget you, General! Get well and get strong." With a final caress of his wounded cheek, she hurried away.

Barely reaching the cover of the sparse brush, she crouched and watched as the dairy wagon came near. The cart pulled up, the man dismounted from the rear, and gathered his milk pails. Maria and the two men slunk away. Seeing Pamela did not follow, Maria returned and grabbed her wrist, tugging her away from the scene.

The four separated at the cross roads, the two men taking the pony one direction. Maria and Pamela took the off-road path back to the townhouse. The pale pink of first light brightened the sky to dark gray while the two women slipped around to enter the back door. Pamela made her way into the kitchen and slumped onto the rush chair beside the door, heaving a great sigh of weariness.

Maria lit a candle and turned to look at her employer. Pamela leaned her head against the wall.

Shaking her head with a frown, Maria said, "I am glad your husband is not here, lady." Three steps and she stood before her pulling the hood from her head. Cupping Pamela's face, she turned it up towards her, examining the bruise and dark circles. "It was a rough trip, I think."

Pamela managed a cheerful grin. "He's going to be all right, Maria! I know he will!"

"No more of these, Senora."

"But why?"

"No more!"

Pamela sighed, too weary to argue. "What next, then?"

Maria chuckled. "Nothing for you! You are with child! No more!"

"But you can't even tell, Maria! I want to help. I know you've something else brewing." She did not know, but assumed there was and fished for it. The hidden avoidance revealed a tug on her hook. 'There is! What is it?"

"Nothing. There is nothing," insisted Maria.

"Don't treat me with cruelty!"

"Cruelty? It is cruel to keep you safe? To keep your baby safe?"

"I want to help."

"Senor Hornblower is of a different mind."

Pamela shook her head. "What he does not know will not hurt him."

"But if something should happen to you, my lady, what would he say? What WOULD I say?"

Pamela stood, took hold of Maria's hands, and squeezed them reassuringly.

Maria held Pamela's face and searched the young woman's eyes. "Content yourself with helping at the hospital."

Pamela pouted, "It isn't soon, is it?"

Avoiding an answer, Maria turned away and busied herself at the stove, rekindling it to make breakfast. "Hungry?"

"Hm hm," answered Pamela thoughtfully.

Maria turned to look at her mistress. "What are you thinking?" she asked warily.

"About the general. I will go to hospital and see how he is doing. Jameson was sent back to England, you know."

"Yes, I heard." She softened in her expression. "He has you to thank for that. I would not have bothered. He healed more quickly than I ever would have imagined."

"He has plenty to live for with a wife and baby at home," she answered wistfully.

"As does Senor Hornblower."

Pamela cracked a wide grin, "Yes," and then concern came as she remembered the falsehood of her letter.

*****

Hornblower was nearly knocked down the stairs by the scurrying midshipman.

"Sorry, sir, sorry!" saluted the man who hurried past.

*What the devil?* wondered Hornblower. *This is like living in a bleeding palace! Please, God, let me leave!* Indeed, prayers had taken thought and he believed that if he were permitted out of this Sicilian stupidity in which he found himself, there must be a God!

Ever since the arrival of King Ferdinand and Queen Maria Carolina, the ship was in a mild panic. What new madness occurred above decks could only be guessed. He knew the King was wont to saunter the quarter-deck this time of day, and knew he held levees which pleased the midshipmen no end. Hornblower, looking through the stairs, could see the young officer headed for Nelson's abbreviated quarters. The admiral had given his expansive cabins to the use of the monarchy.

Barwell opened the door to be assaulted by the excited midshipman. Lady Hamilton appeared behind Barwell and listened. Hornblower shook his head. How Nelson put up with it all, he had no idea. *Let me never be found in such a ridiculous situation!* He climbed the stairs in disgust.

Exiting onto the exterior deck, he could hear the hub-bub. Scowling, he made his way forward, hands firmly clasped behind, to stare out at the forest of ships.

"Horatio!"

Archie called and came up behind him quickly.

"Horatio!"

"What, Archie?" he asked with impatient disinterest.

"How's your stomach?"

Incredulity appeared. "My stomach?"

"You should see this! It's...it's....it's positively horrific!"

Hornblower sighed out a breath heavily, eyeing the quarter-deck behind Archie. "If it's anything to do with that lot, ...no doubt."

"We are in a mood, aren't we?"

"What? What is it now?"

Before Archie could answer, Lady Hamilton could be seen rising from below at the heels of the midshipman that nearly mowed him down on the stairs. Nelson followed behind her.

"God!" Hornblower shook his head.

Archie turned to see what was upsetting Hornblower.

"The admiral is worn out! Will they never let him be?"

"But Horatio, old man. It's the admiral!"

"I can see it's the admiral!"

"Not our admiral! Theirs!"

"Make sense, Archie!"

"Carricciollo! He's back! He shocked old Ferdy so badly he dropped his spyglass!" Archie chuckled.

"That is hardly funny, Archie."

"No, indeed. You are right, Horatio. In fact, it is quite gruesome."

Sighing, Hornblower rolled his eyes. "What is it? Has his body surfaced or something?"

"Worse. Go see for yourself. But, I warn you, it is not pleasant."

Hornblower glared at the gathered masses looking off the larboard quarter above him.

Walking quickly to the rail, he peered overside. There, seemingly standing in the water, chest deep, was the treasonous admiral. His eyes bulged from their sockets from strangulation and his skin was discoloured and swollen.

Hornblower felt a shudder and turned away, feeling sick suddenly.

"Are you all right?" asked Archie.

Hornblower's eyes were closed.

"Horatio?"

Hornblower said nothing but left to return below decks. Entering the officer's quarter gallery, his unsettled stomach let go its contents. Panting from the exertion, he splashed his face with fresh water.

Archie went below and found Hornblower in their cabin. His topcoat was thrown over the table. Waistcoat unbuttoned, stock removed, he was stretched out in the cot with his frilly shirted arm over his eyes.

"Sorry, Horatio."

"Forget it, Archie." He sniffed, angry with himself that his frustration brought the sting he could not prevent. It was what he deserved for thinking of desertion. It was his punishment. He had wanted to leave the service, and now that he wanted to stay, he would be forced to endure inactivity while the rest of the fleet carried out "real" duties, seeking out the French and Spanish fleets, not baby sitting pompous self-absorbed royalty.

Archie thoughtfully considered Hornblower's feelings. "Any news yet?"

Hornblower shook his head back and forth under his arm.

"Have you asked?"

"He is too ill to be bothered."

A half grin tugged the corner of Archie's mouth. "It doesn't seem to stop others. It's his job to be bothered."

"He will call me when he wants me. He said so himself."

"What about Lady Hamilton? Wasn't she going to inquire?"

"I don't know. I don't want to talk to her. I don't want to talk to him...." Hornblower's voice revealed his impatience.

"And, you don't want to talk to me either, right?"

Hornblower said nothing, but thought a lot. What was he doing here? Why did Pellew send him away? But it was not right to blame his captain. It was his fault he was here, mooning over loss of Pamela. He barely let himself think of her anymore. He could not. One thought and the ache would come. The thoughts would begin and it would be hard to stop them. He had to stop them or become enmeshed in a cycle of regret and remembrance. He could not let himself wallow in lovesickness anymore. It was the hardest thing to learn to control because he wanted to think about her. He wanted to remember. She was his addiction. He wanted to relive those impassioned nights of love making. Her kisses. Her touch. The feel of her beneath him. *STOP!* he screamed in his head. A stifled pant escaped him

There were no letters. Nothing. Not a word. He did not ask himself anymore, if she might have gotten his letter. And, by God, thinking what he had written, he hoped it was at the bottom of the sea! He sighed heavily. *What onus have I lain upon her? Maybe she hates me for hinting that I leave the service?* He writhed under the suppostion.

"Archie? I...I apologize. I don't mean to..." he moved his arm and Archie was not visible. "Archie?" He leaned over his cot edge to see beneath into Kennedy's cot. Without warning, he overbalanced, tumping onto the floor with a thud.

"Ow! Damn it!" He rubbed his head. Archie was not here, that was plain. He stood and brushed himself off, mildly embarrassed, and glad his friend did not witness the graceless fall. *Archie has witnessed far worse falls from grace by me than this!*

"I don't blame you for leaving, Archie. I am poor company, to be sure."

*****

It was two days before Pamela went to inquire at hospital. Exhaustion kept her away the first day. Fear that he had not survived stayed her now. After much pacing, she passed the sentry, who had watched curiously the woman walking back and forth before the gate. He recognized her from other visitations and wondered why she delayed. The quick pass left a breeze behind her.

The leftenant at reception for the hospital's head doctor recognized her and grinned.

"Miss Pamela! Good morning to you!"

"Good Morning, Leftenant Fisher. I've brought my book and wondered if I might read to some of the men today."

"I am sure there are any number that would be glad of your company, ma'am. The doctor is making his rounds. I am sure you will see him."

"I know what to do, sir. Do not disturb yourself."

Pamela went through the large door. Within, a dormitory of beds spread out before her. She walked at the foot scanning the occupants.

"Good mornin', Miz H!"

"Dudley! You're still here?" She advanced to take his outstretched hand.

"Yes, ma'am, but not for long. As soon as the wind is right, they'll be sending me. You're like a fresh breeze, ma'am. I've missed your visits."

"I apologize, Dudley. I've been busy. Can I get you anything?"

"I'd love another hunk of the bread you brought last time."

"I'll see what I can do." She patted his hand warmly.

"Your smile'll do till then, ma'am."

"Any new men, Dudley?"

"I think there be one, ma'am. Down on the end. He just showed up here like Jameson and Harshman."

"Does he have a name?"

"Haven't heard," he whispered, "...but they think he's army from his breeches."

"Indeed, so?"

She passed down the row of beds, receiving another call from someone who knew her.
She nodded and smiled. They knew where she was going. She checked on any new men appearing in hospital, thinking her man might be here, assuring herself he was not. That was the excuse she gave.

She could see long, wavy, blond locks resting on the pillow beneath a large bandage which covered his forehead and eyes. One cheek was dotted with scabs of healing wounds. His upper body was bare except for the wrapping that went over his left shoulder and around his chest. A light sheet covered him from the waist down. He was much cleaner and she sighed, pleased to see he still lived.

"Orderly?"

The word was but a breath and startled Pamela.

"Yes?"

"Water...water." The voice was weak and raspy.

She lay her book beside him on the bed. Pitcher and glass were on the bedside table. The water lapped into the glass. He turned his head towards the sound and licked his dry, cracked lips. His hand fell upon the book. Long refined fingers touched the binding and traced the page ends. She slipped her hand under his head, lifting, and held the cup to his lips. He drank it in gulps until it was empty.

"More," he panted.

When he finished the second, he lay back with a sigh. "You're... not ....an ....orderly." His hand rubbed over the book binding.

"Don't talk, sir, you need to rest."

All movement ceased from the man. If his eyes had been bare, he would have been staring straight at her. His hand reached out, but she did not take it. Reaching farther, he grabbed the skirt of her dress and rubbed the material between his fingers. His arm gave way and relaxed, releasing the cloth. His head lolled over to one side.

She sucked in a breath and leaned near his face, verifying that he still lived. She heard him breath in.

"It's.... you," he barely spoke.

"Shhh."

"Water."

His fingers lightly touched her hand as she held the cup.

"I see you've found our new patient, M...."

"Dr. Blakeney! How are you doing, sir? Yes. The poor man was asking for water!" Taking up her book, she felt the man's hand glide over hers. She needed to get away. He might reveal her secret! Maria would be upset. She did not think the man would remember. He must have been more concious, than not, while in her care. It was a fear she had pushed away from the one word question he had asked her that night, 'Who?'. Deny everything. That was the route. He was delirious. She did not know him. That was her answer, should anyone ask, including the man.

She looped her arm in the doctor's and tried to manuever him from the sick bed, but it was not to be. The doctor unlooped his arm with a kindly smile.

"Yes," smiled the doctor, "...I imagine he was." He went to lean over the bandaged patient.

Pamela held her breath and stood at the foot of the bed, hoping nothing would be revealed, listening to the doctor's assessment.

"It has me stumped, ma'am, where this man could have been. From his condition, I would say he spent some time in a desert. These wounds on the face, I....well, nevermind. But, he was in some type of combat, that is certain. A gash upon his head, powder burns around the eyes, a bullet wound to the lower left chest. And all his wounds have been tended! It is like someone picked him up in one place and sat him down in this one. Very odd. The only clothing left him were his shirt and breeches. Those seem to be of a quality and type worn by our army officers, but ..... I am at a loss. He could be a captain, a major, a leftenant. Until he speaks, we shall not know." All this thinking out loud was said as he checked the bandages, peering underneath the one on his chest. "This wound is healing nicely. I wish I knew what they put on it. Whoever THEY are."

"You mean he has not spoken?" As she said it, she recognized a slight flinch in the patient's head. Was he listening to all this? *Lord! Don't say anything! Please!* she thought.

"Nothing coherent, my lady. I see you have your book with you. It might be well if you could read to him for a while. I have noticed the men you read to seem to respond. I don't understand it, but observation tells me it must have some effect." His eyes peered at her over his glasses. The doctor sighed. "Would you be so disposed?"

"If you think it would help, doctor, certainly."

"He asked for water, you say?"

"Yes."

The doctor shook his head. "I suppose it must be that you are a woman. Though how he would know, blinded as he is, I have no idea."

"He's....he's....blind?" she asked softly.

"Well, I won't know until he wakens. His eyes were caked with....are you sure you want to hear this, ma'am?"

"Go on."

"His eyes were caked with dried blood. When we first started bathing his eyes, I was not sure what we would find. Apparently, however, the wound on the top of his head bled down and pooled there and dried. But he does seem to have some type of burn wound around the eyes. I don't know. If he wakens and remembers what happened to him, where he came from, perhaps the mystery will be solved. Orderly! Bring a chair here."

The doctor moved out of the way so the chair could be sat near the head of the bed. Pamela sat warily, gazing first at the reclining patient, then at the doctor.

"How long should I read, sir?"

"However long you feel so inclined. Call the orderly should you ...or he... need anything."

"Thank you, sir."

She watched the doctor move on to check other patients, then swept the room with her eyes. All the men seemed to be resting. His head was turned towards her when she looked back. A little gasp escaped her lips. It was like being stared at, but no eyes met hers.

"More water?"

He moved his head in one nod. She prepared the glass and helped him drink.

She sat, gazing back at his bandaged face. "Don't look at me!" she whispered.

A faint half smile tugged at his mouth. She looked nervously behind her to see if anyone saw. Opening her book, she began to read.

 

*******

Hornblower stood on the forecastle, leaning heavily against the lines. Ships came, ships went, but here he sat. He took a long tug of air into his lungs, held it, then let it go. What a life, no, not a life, an existence. He was not allowed on shore because of the incident. He was not allowed to leave for the same reason. It was like being a prisoner. Pamela was in Gibraltar. The Indy was God knows where. And, he was here. Interminably, here.

"Evenin', sir."

"Matthews."

The seasoned sailor looped an arm in the ratlines and leaned out over the side, peering into the dark water. "Tide's comin' in."

"Yes."

Matthews assessed his superior. "This is no good, sir."

"I know, Matthews." Hornblower stole a glance at the man, then gazed up into the fighting top, thinking. *Should I tell him?* He licked his lips in preparation. "I ... I've written a letter. I've requested, for what it's worth, that you men and Mr. Kennedy be sent on the next despatch vessel to Lord Keith's squadron, and, hopefully, to rejoin the Indy."

Matthews blinked, absorbing the implications of what those words meant. Despite his understanding, his face revealed the apprehension he felt at the prospect of leaving Hornblower.

"I am the one...in trouble.... Not you. I have not told Mr. Kennedy yet. I....I'm not sure how he will take it."

"I wish ye hadna done that, sir. We don't like bein' idle, but we...we don't want to leave ye here, sir."

Hornblower smiled sadly. "Captain Pellew may need you, Matthews."

"Captain Pellew is a fine man, sir, I'll not deny that, but....you're our officer, sir."

Gratitude for the loyalty the old seaman expressed was near overwhelming. He did not want them to go either. Lose his division? It was nigh on unthinkable. They had been together for years,... in battle, in prison, at work, and most recently, in idleness. These men were like his family, even though they were ratings, they were like brothers. Had not Styles and Matthews brought him his bride? He closed his eyes on these thoughts, feeling his throat constrict.

"We'd rather stay with ye, sir."

"I appreciate your loyalty, Matthews. But if they will let you go, you must."

Matthews mouth set in a line. His fingers played with the line in his hand. He lifted one of the belaying pins from its hole, twisted it around and dropped it back in. He put his hands on his hips and turned square on Hornblower.

Hornblower straightened himself and looked curiously at the seaman and waited.

Matthews opened his mouth, looked at the deck, then closed it. He raised his eyes to Hornblower's.

Hornblower looked at the struggling defiance and his own face softened into the faintest smile. Matthews did not want to leave him. He was touched. If the man openly defied him, what would he say? He waited, watching the struggle.

Matthews head seemed to nod faintly. His eyes averted from Hornblower's. "Aye, aye, sir." He turned away immediately and left the forecastle.

Hornblower watched him go with sadness and appreciation. Mumbled rants came from the old sailor as he made his way back below decks. He caught a few of the words, something about Mrs. Cuccinella, but Horatio could not feel badly about having helped her. It was the right thing to do. If he must pay with his own life, it was the right thing to do.

He climbed up onto the rail and began to climb the ratlines. 'You could probably see America from up there!' He grinned to himself as he recalled the words of the woman he loved. "I'd settle for seeing Gibraltar, my lady, or the Indy." He passed the fighting top and proceeded on to the upper most t'gallant yard. He grinned wryly, remembering the swat he delivered to her plump rear. Reaching the top, he breathed deeply. The wind blew through his hair. He gazed towards the setting sun, a mere orange drop in the distance that lit his face. He stood for a while, looking about him. Naples. Pin point lights became more prominent with the gathering darkness. Fires still burned spottily. Ships bells began to toll the hour. The first watch was about to begin. He sat down and watched the officers meet on the quarter-deck, exchange words, salute, depart, and stand watch. No such duties for him. He sighed and looked westward. "Pamela. You would not believe where I am. I can hardly believe it myself. It was such a short time ago that I captained Dolphin, and now...." He leaned his cheek against the mast and reflected on the past three months. From that fateful day when he and Mr. Bracegirdle looked through the glass and spied a ship on fire in the distance. Pamela's father was alive at that moment. "Mr. Dawson. You don't know me, but I love your daughter. I did not get to ask you for her hand. She is going to have our baby." He took his ring in his fingers and twisted it around. Sighing, he looked back westward. "I'll take care of her. I will. And, I will love your grandson, ...my son...our son. I will....and I'll tell him. I've promised Pamela. I'll tell him."

He never felt so resigned to his situation, nor so melancholy as to be conversing with his dead father-in-law.

Hornblower.

Did he hear his name? He looked down at the deck.

"Mr. Hornblower?"

It was Lady Hamilton. What did she want? He decided to pretend he did not hear her.

"Mr. Hornblower?"

*Damn!* he thought. Could Nelson want him?

"Mr. Hornblower?"

"Lady Hamilton!" he shouted, feeling silly doing it.

He could see her spin around looking for him.

"Up here, ma'am!"

He saw her countenance search upwards. Her beautiful face turned a brilliant smile, even in the growing darkness, as she spotted him.

"Oh my goodness! Is that you, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Shall I converse by shouting up at you?"

"No, ma'am. I...I'll be right down."

"Or shall I come up?"

He stared down. *God, no!* he thought. *Surely, she is joking!* He looked at her a last time, and began to make his way down. He swallowed. Now he remembered why he hated heights -- the going down bit. He wrapped his leg around one of the lines and began to lower himself, hand under hand. His palms burned at the friction. He began to imagine himself slipping all the way down to the deck, losing his grip, and landing unceremoniously on his bottom on the deck. He gripped the line more firmly. Nearing the fighting top, he reached out and grabbed onto the lines to make use of the ratlines. He looked down when he heard her gasp. Styles and Matthews were standing next to her, craning their necks to watch him. His men must have heard her shouting his name. *God, this is embarrassing! Women!* he thought.

He reached the deck. Taking a calming breath from the adrenaline of descending, he yanked on his waistcoat and topcoat to straighten them on his torso. Breathily, he greeted her.

"Lady Hamilton." He stole a glance at Styles who was smirking approvingly.

"That was magnificent, Mr. Hornblower!"

He bobbed his head sideways, taking another breath. "Did you need me, ma'am?"

"I've some news for you!"

"Yes?"

"There is a letter."

He waited. From Pamela? From Pellew? She said nothing else. "Yes?"

"The Admiral wants you."

His mouth dropped open, speechless that she would come herself to gather him.

She grabbed his hand. "Come on!"

He glanced at his men once more, feeling foolish that she held his hand. He pulled back.

"Ma'am. I beg your pardon. My hands...are dirty....I haven't my hat."

She fought a twisted smile. "Very well. Get yourself cleaned up and come right away. Go on!" She motioned for him to go.

"But..." he struggled. He could not go before her.

She smiled, shook her head, and selected Styles. "What is your name, sir?"

Styles straightened himself immediately. "Styles, ma'am."

"Well, Mr. Styles, would you see me below so Mr. Hornblower would feel free to go?"

Styles looked at Hornblower whose face turned from incredulity to a determined command with a dip of his chin.

"Yes, ma'am," he saluted. He was not stupid. He understood who and what she was. He understood the glare from his commanding officer, too.

"There," she pronounced. She looked questioningly at Hornblower.

"I will be right there, ma'am."

With a last signal to Styles to be on his best behaviour, Hornblower hurried below, brushing at the dirt from the lines on his hands. He looked down at his trousers. "Damn!" They were filthy. He began to unbuttom them as he hurried to his cabin.

Clean hands, clean trousers, hat tucked under his arm, he knocked on the door and licked his lips.

"Come."

Entering he beheld Nelson, looking somewhat less exhausted, turn disdainfully to assess the young officer. Captain Hardy was still standing from her Ladyship's return. The Captain pulled out a chair for her. She sat and beamed at Hornblower.

He stood smartly at attention. "Sir?"

"A letter has arrived, Leftenant Hornblower." Nelson let the words rest heavily on the young man. His precipitous actions in the affairs of the nation of the Two Sicilies were not taken lightly.

Nelson caught the radiance of Lady Hamilton's countenance and flustered. "Damn me, madam. I mean him to understand the weight of his actions!"

"Yes, Admiral."

"How can I do that when you sit lit up like fireworks on New Year's Eve?"

"I do not know, Admiral."

"Ahem." Captain Hardy cleared his throat and stepped to stare into the stern windows which reflected the interior room.

Nelson watched Hardy abandon the situation. The Admiral glared at Hornblower. Pulling his one hand behind his back, he strode over to Pellew's leftenant, looked back at Lady Hamilton, and then at Hornblower.

"Do you understand what you did? Do you know the crisis that could have resulted from your,.... your...."

"Chivalrous actions, Admiral?" filled in Lady Hamilton.

Nelson teetered on his toes. He turned on her, giving her his sternest stare.

She smiled more warmly and watched the naval officer soften.

Nelson walked to the stern windows and glared at Hardy. He turned around. "Read him the letter."

"Yes, sir." Lady Hamilton lifted the paper.

Dear Admiral Lord Nelson,

Concerning the incident of 28 June 1799, in relation to the actions of one Leftenant Horatio Hornblower and the squadron of Captain Pico, it is with pleasure that I, King Ferdinand and Queen Maria Carolina do hereby pardon said leftenant. It is our high regard for the assistance of His Majesty's Royal Navy that we accord a pardon. We understand that it was chivalry, not insurgence, that precipitated the leftenants actions. Upon investigation of Count Giacoman, we find the man innocent of all charges, hereby nullifying the guilt of one Annabella Cuccinella. It is with magnanimity that we absolve Leftenant Hornblower from guilt in these unfortunate circumstances.

His Majesty King Ferdinand

Her Majesty Queen Maria Carolina

 

 

"You can thank Lady Hamilton for that, man! She spoke for you."

"Thank you, sir....thank you, your Ladyship." He bowed to her.

Nelson breathed deeply, eyed Hardy, and scanned Lady Hamilton and Hornblower.
"There is a despatch vessel leaving tomorrow to return to Lord Keith. I have a letter for you to deliver." Nelson raised an eyebrow and eyed Hornblower. "You may as well know, he will not like its contents."

Hornblower could guess what that meant. Everyone on board knew Nelson had disobeyed orders twice more in as many weeks. This will make the third.

Hornblower swallowed. "I shall pray, sir, that he does not shoot the messenger."

Nelson cracked a smile, unable to contain the laughter. "Ha ha ha! Well said, man! You are a man after my own heart, Hornblower." He extended his hand.

Hornblower gaped in amazement. He took the proferred hand with his left. The Admiral's grip conveyed a regard that only another man would comprehend. Hornblower could not stifle the smile and saw the twinkle in the little man's blue eye.

"It has been a pleasure knowing you, sir."

"And you, young man. Perhaps we shall meet again."

"Yes, sir."

Lady Hamilton approached. "Fair thee well, Mr. Hornblower."

"Thank you ma'am, and thank you again for your intervention."

"I shall never forget you, sir. Your lady is fortunate to have you for a husband. I hope you see her soon."

"Thank you, ma'am."