An American Encounter, Part Three
by Skihee

AE3 Ch 12 Obligations, Debts, Promises, and Duty

The days turned into weeks, the weather became disagreeable, and the voyage back to England lengthened, due in part to the slowness of Vengeance, which brought them all to less speed than they were capable.

Nearing the northern coast of the peninsula, the lookouts were keen for any sign of opportunity. The ratings talked among themselves of the possibility of action anew now that they were nearing the coast of their old adversary, recalling the many prizes taken when last off the coast of France.

Hornblower held the watch when Pellew came out to pace. The captain peered northwest to the stern views of Vanguard and Zealous and then southeast to the bow of Vengeance. Pacing quickly, his head lowered in thought, he stopped abruptly beside Hornblower and sighed loudly.

"I feel Indefatigable is like a taut string, Mr. Hornblower, stretching between them," he nodded to the ships forward, "and her." With narrowed eyes and jutted chin, he stared aft at Vengeance. "Give me the glass." It was placed in his hand and he extended it, gazing long at the plodding seventy-four. "Every sail set....and that's the best she can do?" he muttered. "Sooner or later we're going to lose sight of them or her," he said in a normal voice. Pellew stepped close to the waist rail. "Mr. Kennedy!"

"Sir?" Kennedy turned his attention away from Edrington.

"Run out a gun and fire a signal to Zealous."

"Aye, aye, sir!" Kennedy grinned at Edrington. "Come on, old man. You wanted to see what naval guns can do." Kennedy spied a couple of idlers in the waist. "You there! Barkley! Call your gun crew!"

Edrington followed Kennedy forward and stood back to observe the loading of one of the twelve pounders. She was set with all but shot for signaling.

"Run her out!" Kennedy turned to Edrington. "Care to do the honors?" He offered the lanyard.

Smiling crookedly, Edrington took it.

"Stand clear!" commanded Kennedy.

Edrington gave a yank on the line. The blast boomed out and the cannon jumped and rolled backward.

"Damn me, she's got a loud voice!" grinned Edrington.

"You should hear the din in battle," chuckled Kennedy. "It's all you hear for hours afterward! Or nothing at all!" Kennedy's eyes were drawn aft to the signal flags flying.

Edrington followed Kennedy's gaze. The colorful cloths snapped in the breeze. "What is he signaling?"

"Parlé. With Hood, I should say." Kennedy nodded aft. "Vengeance is falling behind. Has been for the last couple of days." They turned their attention to the ships ahead. "See," pointed Kennedy. "Hood is furling sail, but not Brown. Vanguard is struggling, too,...taking on water....I'd lay odds....probably pumping round the clock."

Edrington studied the ships, trying to comprehend what Kennedy saw so easily. They just looked like ships under sail to him, though he could see Vengeance was further back than yesterday.

The report from the cannon alarmed Bentley, and he emerged from below. The worried countenance of the servant found Edrington.

Edrington smiled wryly, giving the concerned servant a reassuring nod.

Bowles had been calling orders during Kennedy's explanation and men had rushed by them to climb the rigging. Edrington looked up. Sail was being loosed and he felt the heel of Indefatigable as she advanced with the greater press of canvas. Left arm in a sling, he reached for the rail with his right.

Kennedy noted the major's observation. "We'll catch up to Zealous. Watch old Bowlsie!" Kennedy grinned. "He'll bring us right along side her!"

"I admire your pride, Kennedy," said Edrington.

Kennedy grinned more openly. "Aye! She's a grand ship! With a grand crew!"

Edrington looked back to find Hornblower. Pellew was standing near the watch officer, both of them in that supporting stance to accommodate the living thing upon which they rode. Nothing showed in Hornblower's countenance out of the ordinary. The man's face was a blank, unreadable, and then he saw the leftenant's eyes shift to his, and then, dart away to watch the approach to Zealous. Bentley came nearer, standing close by.

"Is all well, my Lord?" Bentley asked anxiously.

"I believe so, Bentley. We are going to have a bit of a chin wag, says Mr. Kennedy, with Zealous," informed Edrington.

"I see, sir." Bentley grabbed onto the rail, not having his sea legs after two weeks under sail.

Kennedy was correct. Bowles brought them along side Zealous, in shouting distance, furling the sail to slow Indefatigable to match the speed of Zealous. Astounding seamanship! All eyes looked starboard as Pellew spoke through the speaking trumpet to Hood.

"Captain Hood! Vengeance is lagging. Is Vanguard taking water?"

"She is, Captain Pellew. I told Brown we would catch up with him and not to slow."

"I have a suggestion, sir. I submit that you and Vanguard should sail on without us and I will remain in company with Vengeance."

"I agree, Captain Pellew. We are of a like mind."

"Very good, sir. We will see you in Portsmouth."

"In Portsmouth!"

Pellew blew air through his lips, turned to Hornblower and spoke, "Well. That was easy." He stepped closer to Bowles. "Bring us about, Mr. Bowles. We must needs inform Captain Driscoll of the decision." Pellew sighed and watched his men perform under Bowles' command, coming back on the halyards, shifting the sail, and turning her bow southeast to meet Vengeance.

Hornblower looked over his shoulder watching as Zealous unfurled her sail to catch up with Vanguard. Southeast. If only they were headed this direction permanently it would bring him closer to Pamela. No. There was work to be done. He breathed deeply, looked forward, and found Kennedy and Edrington in an animated conversation, first his wife, now his friend. With half a frown, he looked away and stepped beside his captain.

"Mr. Kennedy and Lord Edrington get on well, do they not, Mr. Hornblower?"

Hornblower's cheeks pinked. Was Pellew reading his mind?

"It would seem so, Captain." He glanced their direction briefly.

"They are both the sons of lords. I imagine they have some things in common."

Hornblower did not answer. It was only a comment and seemed to need no reply.

It was not long till they met up with Vengeance, relayed to Driscoll the plan to separate. While he was at it, Pellew informed Driscoll that should Indefatigable have a chance at a prize, that Driscoll should stay on course and Pellew would find him. With France and the Bay of Biscay on their starboard side, it seemed prudent to be ready for any opportunity. The crew heard Pellew's words and it gladdened their hearts. A little extra jingle in their pockets with a home port in the offing would be welcome, indeed. After that, Indefatigable slowed and dropped back to match the speed of Vengeance.

That afternoon, Bracegirdle, Kennedy, Edrington, Bowles, and Hornblower sat at dinner. It was the first time since Kennedy's week of punishment that he and Hornblower took a meal together as one or the other had been assigned watch duty, or one was sleeping. Bracegirdle made a stab at opening conversation.

"It looks we will be the last in port in Portsmouth," he commented. "Just as well, the more time we're at sea, the greater the chance of finding a prize or two, eh?"

"I would like to see our navy in action. How is it normally done?" asked Edrington.

Hornblower was pulling an empty fork from his mouth, left eyebrow raised. Glimpsing Kennedy and Bowles, he lowered his eyes and chewed.

Kennedy spoke. "First a ship is sighted. We try to determine the nationality. Even if there is a friendly ensign flying, we board and check to see there is nothing amiss. Usually if they are an enemy, they will try to run. If that is the case, we fire a warning shot. If they continue to run, we fire at them. If she's armed, they will fight back. If she's a merchant ship, they usually haul down their colors and surrender, unless they are in the mood to die." He smiled then took a bite of roast chicken.

"This chicken is good tonight, isn't it?" asked Bowles.

"It is tastier than usual," agreed Bracegirdle. "How do you find it, Mr. Hornblower?"

Hornblower was drinking and glanced at Bracegirdle. Placing his tankard down, he licked his lips and said, "The cook does seem to have added some spices not normally used. It is good."

"Good? It's excellent!" Kennedy grinned and kicked Edrington under the table. "This was your doing, was it not?"

"I merely suggested to Bentley that he might make a suggestion to the cook," answered Edrington.

"Come on. What's he done differently? I know you know," urged Kennedy good naturedly.

Hornblower stiffened at the interchange between the two men.

"I do not think your fellow officers care to know the tactics of Epicureans, Mr. Kennedy," said Edrington.

"No secrets, my Lord. Give out!" grinned Bracegirdle.

Edrington's visage held a smile of satisfaction. "It is a slow roasting method, Mr. Bracegirdle with the simplest of seasoning, a little lemon, pepper, light on the salt. No secret really, you see. Something I picked up from the field cook in India."

"That's all?" quizzed Bowles amazed. "We could have been doing that all along with no problems."

"Could lime be used in place of lemon, do you think?" asked Bracegirdle.

Edrington canted his head and nodded. "Perhaps."

"That would be another way to get in the juice, eh?" commented Bowles.

Hornblower pushed his chair back and stood. "Excuse me, gentlemen. I have the middle watch."

Kennedy stared at his friend and maintained a soft smile. "That's hours off, Mr. Hornblower."

But Hornblower moved quickly, was on his way out the door, and pretended not to hear the comment.

"You'd think his wife was still on board," said Bowles dryly.

Bracegirdle stifled a chortle.

Kennedy smiled and eyed Hornblower's plate. Half the food still remained. Surely this was not beginning again. Raising his eyes, he glimpsed Edrington and frowned.

Small talk continued for the remainder of the meal, a treacle dowdy, puffed and steaming with an aroma of lemon and ginger, was produced for afters, much to the pleasure of Bowles and Bracegirdle.

*****

Kennedy reported for duty having the second dogwatch, and Edrington arrived on deck shortly after. The temperature was chill with the arrival of November. After accomplishing the changing of the watch, Kennedy stood forward of the helm, and Edrington came to stand beside him. Both men were lost in thought, neither speaking. Finally Edrington broke the silence.

A heavy sigh, "What can I say, Mr. Kennedy? What can I do? Despite everything Hornblower is still angry. I fear I have lost him as a friend."

"I do not know, my Lord," answered Kennedy. "He is stubborn. You are in a delicate situation. I'll try speaking to him, if you wish."

"I doubt it will do any good. In fact, it might make things worse. I will not advise you. Do whatever you think best. I believe I see Dr. Sebastian on the fo'c'sle. Maybe he will share some of his tobacco."

Edrington managed the ladder one handed and approached the tall, dark figure near the bowsprit.

"Dr. Sebastian?"

The man turned. It was he.

"Lord Edrington."

"Good evening to you, sir."

"And to you, my Lord. How is the shoulder?"

"Of course, you would ask. It is about the same. Aa... would you have..." he pointed at the glowing cheroot, "... an extra one of those?"

"Certainly. Forgive me for not offering you one. I thought you preferred the pipe. I could get it for you..."

"No, no. Do not trouble yourself. One of those will do."

"Do you wish to roll it yourself, or would you like one of mine?"

"One of yours."

Sebastian pulled a ready made one from his pouch and handed it to Edrington.

Edrington put it between his lips and bent to touch the end to Sebastian's glowing cheroot.

"Careful, my Lord. The smoke will be a little warmer than you are used to with a pipe."

Sucking and puffing, the tip ignited. Too much smoke the first drag caused Edrington to cough.

Sebastian smiled. "Easy there."

Edrington took another drag. "You're right, it is a bit hotter." Another puff. "I think I'm getting the hang of it. Thanks."

"You are quite welcome."

The two men smoked in silence.

"The weather seems to be turning colder, do you think?"

"I do, my Lord. The water makes it even more so with the moisture in the air."

"Indeed. Perhaps we could share a brandy next," smiled Edrington, shivering.

"I would be happy to do so once we finish our smokes."

Edrington leaned against the rail and looked out to sea, then at Vengeance. "The other ship slows our arrival back in England."

"She does. A little. Are you anxious to get home?"

Edrington sighed. "Not so much to get home as to get off this ship." He gasped. "Doctor, I did not mean that as it sounded," he said hastily. "Indefatigable is a fine ship and Captain Pellew has been most gracious."

"The motion makes you seasick? I have something..."

"No, no, Doctor, I am not seasick." A slight smile and a titter of laughter he added, "Fortunate there, I reckon." He looked askance at the doctor, nervously. "I... I do not want to say I am not welcome aboard Indefatigable but.... I fear my presence ... is causing a certain amount of tension... with the crew."

"You mean officer, do you not?" said Sebastian.

"You do not mince words, do you, Doctor? Is it so obvious?"

"No,...not obvious, but understandable."

"I suppose it is understandable," agreed Edrington sadly. "The thing is, I value his friendship. Will he ever...."

"I do not know if he will ever... forgive... trust you? I do not know."

"Have you?"

"Me?"

"You were not pleased with me last I was a guest on your ship."

"If you feel you need forgiveness from me, my Lord, you have it. I bear you no ill will. I understand the lady kept her marriage to Mr. Hornblower secret. I understand you chose to ignore that she already had a husband. Mrs. Hornblower is a lovely woman. She bestows her affections to all equally, except of course in relation to her husband, where she bestows even more....as a wife should."

"I think she gave me a little more than the standard issue, ... but I know it was... it was because ... I had given up on life."

"Why don't you tell me about it?" suggested Sebastian.

"There isn't much to tell. They brought me back from those men that had me. I remember, in the boat, after they picked me up, hearing a beautiful female voice telling me I was safe, that no one would hurt me anymore, that they were taking me home. She fed me, held me, told me about America..." he smiled and laughed. "I know a good deal about North Carolina. It is amazing what I remember... but I latched on to her words, like a ship at sea seeks the lighthouse beacon to bring it safely to harbor. Then, when I was left at hospital ... she was gone. I was alone, realized I could not see. I gave up, closed into myself, didn't hear anyone, didn't want to hear anyone ... and then.... miraculously ... she was there.... speaking to me. You know she called me general." He laughed again. "I asked her why when I was better, and she said she preferred to err on the positive than the negative."

Sebastian chuckled. "That sounds like Pamela. Go on. What else?"

"Well. Even though it was good to hear her familiar voice... the fact remained I was blind and I was still despondent. She asked me what was wrong and I told her I was blind. She said it was not sure that I needed to give it time... time for my eyes to heal...and that is when I think she gave me a little more attention than she usually bestows."

"What did she do?"

Edrington sucked in a long breath. "She .... she dried my tears, lay across my chest and... in so many words, informed me she cared, that they had not all risked their lives to come get me for me to give up and die in hospital. A moment later I felt the ring on her finger. I knew then she was married, but... I needed her. I needed her so... desperately." Edrington leaned against the rail and held his head in his free hand. "I was not sure she was right ... that I would see again ... I was afraid." Edrington felt Sebastian's hand on his shoulder. "As the days passed and I began to get an inkling of sight,... I realized... it was no longer just a need, but ... I was falling in love with her. It was wrong of me... but ... it was too late. She constantly reminded me she was not free, but... I wanted her... I thought if I could... if I could kiss her she would know how much I loved her and I would learn that she really loved me. That she felt only loyalty towards her absent husband. I would know the truth in her kiss." He sucked a breath and paused. "There was nothing. Nothing behind the kiss, and I knew then, I had been deceiving myself, but my feelings did not alter." He paused again. "God forgive me, I still want her. I still love her." He laughed nervously and wiped at his face.. "But she doesn't want me. She is in love with Hornblower, always has been. He's got the world, you know?"

Sebastian squeezed Edrington's shoulder before he spoke. "I know it is hard for you to see, but you will find another. You are young, Major. You have a long life ahead of you. She was never meant for the life you will lead. You know that, do you not?"

"I do. I do know it." He paused, taking a final drag on the tobacco and then flicking the butt into the sea. "So how can I reconcile with Hornblower? The fool thing of it is, I want him for a friend and he is ... intransigent. Will he ever forgive me for loving his wife?"

"To that, I do not know the answer."

The bell was rung to begin the first watch. The single toll called Edrington and Sebastian's attention aft. They could see Rampling was speaking with Kennedy on the quarter-deck. The second dog watch was at an end.

"You are cold, Lord Edrington. Meet me in the officer's mess in a few minutes and we will have that brandy."

"All right, Dr. Sebastian. I did not mean to ..."

"It is well to unburden our souls, my Lord. I will say nothing of what has passed between us."

"Thank you for your confidence, Doctor."

Sebastian watched Edrington make his way to the waist and descend below deck. The doctor sighed and looked up into the foremast fighting top.

"Mr. Hornblower, you must be quite cold up there by now. I suggest you come down."

Sebastian could hear the shuffle across the wooden planking and saw the dark figure outlined against the stars as he climbed down the shrouds. Hornblower came within the sphere of the bow sprit light and glared at the doctor.

"Now you know how it was," said Sebastian, holding his gaze.

Hornblower turned and stormed off the forecastle. His long legs stretched as wide as they would go, reaching the stairs, down, and into his cabin. Archie was there and he startled him.

"Horatio! I was just about to come looking for you."

"Leave me be, Archie." He climbed into the bunk and pulled the pillow over his head.

"What the devil is wrong with you?"

"Leave me be!" came the muffled reply and then he added, "Please!"

"All right, old man." He placed a calming hand on Hornblower's back and felt the chilled clothing. Pulling the blanket out from under Hornblower's feet, he covered him, blew out the candle, and left.

Hornblower kicked the blanket away, pushed back the sob and punched the bedding. "This is ridiculous, Hornblower," he hissed through clinched teeth. "Damn! Damn! Damn! I did not want to know. Damn Sebastian for asking! He knew I would hear! Damn them both! Damn Edrington for getting wounded!" He sat up and punched the pillow. "God, Pamela! I miss you! I miss you!" He sunk his face into the stiff pillow, muffling the sound. "I miss you, Pamela," and he wept.

He looked into Pamela's sweet smiling face. Her eyes were gleaming. Stretched out in the shade of a spreading willow, on the cool green grass, his head rested in her lap. St. James Park, they were in St. James Park in London on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The air was cool and crisp but their bodies were warmed by the sun. A black swan paddled silently on the rippled water.

"He will look just like you, Captain. He will have your lovely curly hair, deep brown eyes, your nose," she smiled adoringly, working her way down, touching each feature, and tracing a finger over his lips.

"Not the nose, Pamela, do not wish on him the nose," he grinned.

"I love your nose. I love everything about you. I love you."

She bent down and kissed him lightly. He could smell the perfume of her hair, a light rose scent. Her lips were cool and moist and soft against his. Her fingers caressed his forehead. The tips were cool and she tugged at the curl. It had always fascinated her and the pull on the lock was mesmerizing and wonderful.

"Horatio," she said. "Horatio. Horatio."

"Hm?" He turned over onto his back. Her voice had changed and gotten deeper. It was suddenly dark and the sound of the lapping pond changed to that of water against a ship's hull.

"Horatio?"

He inhaled and brushed at the tickle on his forehead, knocking into a hand.

"Archie?"

Kennedy smiled sadly. "You were having a dream."

"A dream?" He questioned, still in a sleep stupor. "Was I talking in my sleep?"

"Not clearly. It is nearly time for you to go on watch. I've brought a basin of water for you."

"Th...thank you, Archie."

Hornblower swung his legs over onto the floor, rested his elbows on his knees, and wiped over his face. Pamela. He was dreaming about her. He inhaled until he thought his lungs would burst. Glancing at Archie, he saw his roommate was laying on his back, leg crossed, and reading. Bending over the basin, he tossed the water onto his face, cooled the back of his neck, and dried with the towel.

His eyes rested on Archie. *Should I apologize?* he wondered. *What would I be apologizing for?* He shoved his hat on his head and started to open the door.

"Take your cloak. It's cold out," ordered Archie, eyes never leaving the page.

Hornblower stared momentarily at his friend, pulled the cloak off the hook, and departed. Archie looked in time to see Hornblower pass through the opening and close the door. He lay the book on his chest and sighed.

"Here we go again. Well, old man, you lasted nearly three weeks. What new hoops and loops will you put me through now?"

The cold air hit Hornblower like a slap in the face. Relieving Rampling, he greeted the accompanying officers and men on duty, checked the compass, noted the time, made notations in the log, and then, took a position just forward of the helm. The stern light of Vengeance was visible, there was no fog, as yet, maybe there would not be. The ensign was flapping gently overhead. He eased into the routine of watch duty and the silence of the night. Only the familiar voice of Indefatigable did he hear. Time passed quickly and he latched onto his thoughts. What had he been thinking?

Edrington. He let go his shoulders and bowed his head briefly and knew he considered the man in a new light. *Damn Sebastian,* he thought twisting his mouth. Pamela had told him most of what Edrington said tonight, but now he had heard it in the man's own voice, with all its accompanying emotion..... heard from Edrington's own lips that Pamela had returned no ardency when he kissed her....she had shown Edrington kindness...and what was HE doing? His lips scrunched with the prick of conscience. He shook his shoulders. *This is not worth the mental energy I am expending! And besides, he is still in love with her. He said it just tonight!* Justification. No more consideration of this topic. With that, he took three long steps to starboard, stopped at the rail and stared out over the dark ocean. Turning, he strode to larboard as quietly as he could and stopped again. Peering heavenward, he found Orion.

Pamela cooed with delight at the brightness. "It almost looks as though you could touch them!

 

Hornblower smiled. "Indeed. He observed these sights many nights. The heavens impressed when he took the time to note them. It had been a while since he allowed himself the luxury. He reached his arm around her side seeking to give warmth. "There,s the Big Dipper....and the North Star, Polaris. I could sight off that one. Pointing opposite and low on the horizon, "There,s Orion. See the belt of stars... and the scabbard?,

"Beautiful!" she replied, affirmatively. Her left hand covered his right, resting at her waist.

"Look there. See the Seven Sisters?

"Where?

"There. Sometimes you have to avert the eye, and then you can see them. They are faint. Look here, then shift your eye.

 

She did as he said. "Oh, I think I see them. They are in a cluster!

 

"Yes!" He grinned, "That,s them. He squeezed her side.

 

"Oh Horatio, it is beautiful!

"Mr. Hornblower. Mr. Hornblower, sir."

He shook away the memory. "Yes? What is it, Mr. James?"

"Shall I waken Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Connors? Our duty is near done."

Hornblower pulled out his watch and leaned towards the binnacle light.

"Yes."

"Aye, sir."

Ten minutes after James returned, Archie arrived at Hornblower's side.

"Good morning, Mr. Hornblower."

"Mr. Kennedy."

"Quiet watch?"

"Very."

"We haven't had much of a chance to talk since putting to sea," commented Archie. "My watch on watch, and so forth."

Inhaling, Hornblower continued to stand, hands clasped. What was he supposed to say to that?

"Is... is... is there anything you would like to discuss?"

Hornblower turned a furrowed brow and stared at his friend. "Such as?"


"Well..." Kennedy shook his head, scrunched a shoulder toward his head, "I dunno. What you were mad about earlier?"

"No," stated Hornblower flatly.

"No?"

"I have nothing to discuss, Mr. Kennedy. You are early for your watch." Hornblower gazed forward, not meeting Kennedy's eyes.

"Only by a few minutes. I hoped to speak with you."

Hornblower teetered on his toes, hands clasped behind his back. "Why? Isn't Lord Edrington enough of a conversationalist?" The ice in his tone was unmistakable.

Kennedy's chin dropped and his eyes fluttered. "I don't believe it! I do not believe it!" Kennedy walked away three steps, then returned to Hornblower. "You're jealous!"

Hornblower's jaw muscles twitched beneath the skin. His chin lowered to his chest and his eyes peered out below the lowered brow.

"So, now it's Pamela AND me?"

Hornblower shot a glare at Archie. "Let's make it easy and just let it be Pamela."

He walked away from Archie, but Kennedy followed, pulling Hornblower around to face him

"Are you saying you no longer want me as your friend?"

Hornblower's eyes flickered. Hearing it voiced caused a knot in his stomach. Would it not be easier to cast Archie adrift than vie for what had already been his? If Edrington was preferred, was it not best to cut the ties between them?

Kennedy watched his face, realization dawning. "Is it that easy for you? Just walk away? Walk away from a friendship of over two years, not counting before I was lost at Papillon?"

Hornblower heard the hurt in Archie's voice, turned, and walked quickly to the taffrail, wishing James would ring the watch bell so he could leave.

Archie was fast up beside him.

"Horatio. Who is he supposed to talk to? Eh? He doesn't know Bracegirdle or Rampling like he does us. Captain Pellew is too busy. YOU won't talk to him!" Kennedy stepped to stay near Hornblower. "What is it with you? Do you want me to stop talking to him?"

"He is in love with my wife!"

"Yes! He is!"

"How can you... how can you....? Oh, damn! I do not want to talk about this. With you or with anyone!"

"Answer my question, Horatio. Do you want me to stop talking with him?"

"Don't be ridiculous, Mr. Kennedy!"

"You are accusing me of being ridiculous?" asked Kennedy incredulously. "Look. Have you ever been in love with a woman you could not have?"

"Archie,... Mr. Kennedy,... I do not want to have this conversation." He pulled his watch out and stepped nearer the binnacle light. "Damn!" he muttered lowly.

"All right, Mr. Hornblower. When I finish my duty I will move out of your cabin."

"You do not have to do that." Adrenaline sprang through Hornblower's nervous system. Such an alteration would only bring attention to a situation he wished would just go away. Tension between himself and Edrington was bad enough. Pellew would notice. Was his captain not already sensing a division between himself and Kennedy? In the long run, how would he feel to lose Kennedy as a friend? Could someone besides Pamela bring him heartache?

"You want me to leave."

"I never said that, Mr. Kennedy."

"Then, you want me to stay." Kennedy watched his friend struggle for an answer. "Horatio... YOU are my best friend. I do not want to jeopardize that. I like Edrington. He is having a tough time just now. He likes you. He wants to be your friend. Can you not forgive him for being in love with your wife?"

Hornblower canted his head and his face revealed a sarcastic disbelieving expression.

"It isn't like he is ever going to have her! You cannot turn love off like a lantern wick. It burns, then smolders like an ember before it goes cold. He's only human."

Hornblower walked quickly to the taffrail and gripped the railing. Kennedy followed. "Please stop, Archie," he implored quietly.

"All right. You have forced me into this." Kennedy stepped closely behind him, leaning into his ear, so no one but he would hear. "When we were in Muzillac....that day, when you had Mariette with you. The two of you were making for the bridge..."

"Archie... No. I told you I never want... I never want..." He closed his eyes to the painful memory.

"She was shot. You lost her. I came for you and we made it back across the bridge before it blew... well nearly. Do you remember how you felt?"

Hornblower shook his bowed head but did not speak. How could Kennedy be saying these things? He told him after it happened he did not want to talk about her. That had not changed. He had only given Pamela the vaguest of details.

"Just before we formed up to walk back to the beach, Edrington called me over. I had to bend my head back to look up at him on that great horse of his, and you know what he said to me? Look after him. He said, just look after him. He knew and understood that you had feelings for that girl, and he was worried about you." Archie heard an audible swallow. "And, to this day,... I know you don't know this, because, damn you, you won't talk about these things. When we got back on board Indy, and Pellew told you he wanted to speak to you, Edrington had already reached the quarter-deck to gain his ear. You never told me what Pellew said to you except something about doing your duty, but Edrington told me that he informed Pellew about Mariette. And, that his assessment of you as a field officer was of the highest regard, telling Pellew you stayed with Moncoutant until all hope was lost."

Archie eased back and placed a hand lightly on Hornblower's shoulder. "I know it's different with Pamela. I know," he said softly. "If you will only make the effort, Edrington isn't such a bad sort. If you overlook his bluster and self importance," Archie hesitated, "he just ...fell in love. You of all people should understand best of all, what it is to be in love with Pamela. Could you stop loving her because you cannot have her? Have you stopped loving her because you cannot have her?"

The watch bell was sounding and Archie looked over his shoulder to see James talking with Conners. He returned his view to Hornblower whose head was still bowed.

"Your watch is over, Mr. Hornblower. What have you to report?"

Hornblower turned and looked steadily into Kennedy's eyes, inhaled, and walked towards James and Connors, Kennedy following.

"Mr. James, please associate Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Connors with the records from our watch. Mr. Connors you are capable of running a log line?"

"Aye, Mr. Hornblower, sir," answered Connors, perplexed at the question.

"Then, my service is no longer necessary. Good ni... good morning, gentlemen." He nodded to Kennedy.

 

 


Four hours later, Kennedy was going through the same drill with Rampling, giving him the reins, greeting Bowles and the larger quarter-deck crew assembled for daytime running. Bracegirdle was up for a look round.

Some ratings were swabbing the main deck, some were putting hammocks in the netting, some were aloft making adjustments, ordered by Bowles. What occurred on Indefatigable was occurring on most any of His Majesty's ships at this hour.

Kennedy descended the ladder to the waist tiredly and approached Lord Edrington who was staring into what would be the southern reaches of the Bay of Biscay. Kennedy had done his best with Horatio and in the last hours replayed all he spoke. Had he pushed his friend too far? He knew the subject of Mariette was forbidden.

"Good morning, my Lord."

"Mr. Kennedy," Edrington glimpsed him and looked back seaward. "Good morning to you."

Leaning against the railing and propping his foot, Archie sighed.

"What did you say to him?" quizzed the major.

Kennedy looked at Edrington who still gazed across the water.

"What? What happened?" Kennedy worried. Edrington could be such a straight face, he did not know if Horatio had cursed him or kissed him, but he hoped it was something in between. He did not see any wounds about the major, nothing visible anyway. There had been no hullaballoo from below. Why was he taking so long to answer? "What happened, my Lord?" he demanded anxiously.

"Well,... he actually spoke more than two words to me this morning. Quite civil, as a matter of fact." With arched eyebrow, Edrington studied the young leftenant. " I thought so. You look too pleased with yourself. He is still a bit stiff lipped, but at least ... he seemed... less like he would like to throttle me." Edrington smirked, watching Kennedy's expression ease.

"I cannot tell you how pleased I am to hear it." Kennedy laughed, a mixture of nervous relief and joy. "I'm going below." Surely if Hornblower was taking steps to rectify his relationship with Edrington, he would pardon Archie for pressing a confrontation.

"Before you do, a question. Vanguard and Zealous would be far ...north...west? of us, would they not?"

"Well, ...yes. Why?"

"Then who do you suppose that is?"

At the moment Edrington asked, the lookout at the main mast shouted. "Sail ho! Off the starboard beam!"

"You've got a very good eye, my Lord!" Kennedy looked to the quarter-deck, saw the officers immediately train scopes that direction, then, proceeded there with Edrington following.

Bowles and Rampling peered through their telescopes. Rampling turned to Cutter and sent him to inform the Captain. Seeing Kennedy, Rampling said one word. "French," then riveted his eye back through the scope.

"How many?"

"I can see three, maybe four sail. Not large. Frigate or corvette, maybe, escorting a convoy. There could be more below the horizon."

Pellew arrived, taking the scope Bowles offered. "Mr. Bowles, set a course to intercept," Pellew commanded calmly. " Mr. Rampling, call the off watch and clear for action."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Hornblower arrived and removed his own telescope from the breast pocket and peered eastward. Lowering the glass to see the approaching sail with the naked eye, he noted Edrington beside him. He offered his glass. "Take a look, my Lord. You wanted to see the navy in action. You may get your wish."

Edrington smiled wryly, peering through the small spyglass. "I did not know you were listening, Mr. Hornblower."

"Even a leftenant knows what is about his own ship."

Pellew dropped the glass from his eye and looked at his second leftenant.

Kennedy stifled a chuckle that sounded like he was choking. Pellew, Hornblower, and Edrington turned to look at him. His face reddened and he coughed for good measure attempting to hide the grin by turning away and muttering, "Excuse me, sir." When he looked again, they were still gazing his direction. "Ahem. Ahem. Cough. Ahem. Forgive me, Captain." He was failing miserably at making his face blank.

Hornblower and Edrington looked back seaward and Pellew continued to assess the young officer.

"Mr. Kennedy, perhaps you need a drink of water," suggested Pellew.

"Insufferable, isn't he?" asked Edrington quietly of Hornblower.

"On occasion, my Lord," answered Hornblower lowly.

"Captain, it appears Vengeance intends to join us," advised Bracegirdle.

Pellew saw the larger ship with all hands on deck, adjusting sail and bringing her bow around on a course to match Indefatigable.

"How long will it take to meet them?" asked Edrington, leaning towards Hornblower.

Hornblower canted his head and gave a nod. "An hour, maybe two, maybe less." He looked over his shoulder at Kennedy; a crooked smile was plastered over Archie's face. Apparently, Kennedy could only stay half his face from the jovial Cheshire expression. Peering at the enemy vessels, Hornblower half frowned, an opposing view to his friend's visage. Insufferable failed to suitably depict Kennedy. The man would be grinning for days. Annoying and vexatious might describe him, intolerable, as well. *Maybe a dose of oatmeal in his shoe,* thought Hornblower.

Like marauding wolves, Indefatigable, speedy and swift, and Vengeance, slow and steady, confronted the enemy shipping. Oddly, the French corvette that was supposed to be protecting the convoy vessels seemed oblivious to the approaching British navy. Indefatigable drew near, fired and struck the Frog vessel. Close enough to see her decks, the Indy men watched the French crew in disarray.

Pellew was perplexed at such a sight. The Frenchman just sat there, not fighting, not firing, totally open to what Indy could throw her way. The Captain, hands behind his back, slapped one into the other and jutted his chin. Finally, he spoke.

"Where the devil are her officers?"

"I must say, this was totally unexpected," commented Edrington. "They can't all be this easy."

"No, indeed," said Pellew. "It isn't over yet, my lord." He swiveled around to see Vengeance firing across the bows of two of the convoy ships in lead of the others. Their colors were slipping down the halyards. Wise move. A seventy-four could make short work of supply craft. Two other ships on the far outside were making a run for it. The view reminded him of shooting fish in a barrel, hardly sporting, but this was war, and no matter how an enemy presented himself to be taken, the idea was ... to take him. Vengeance lowered boats with prize crews for the first gathering and was making to follow the skirters. Doubtful she would catch them, but she might swing round, head on, to stand in the path of three more bringing up the rear, ready to throw the helm a'lee and fire a broadside. The ship fartherest back was turning and running for home. Pellew's frown deepened

The corvette was the only one with teeth and Pellew stayed on her, allowing Vengeance to mop up the sheep of the fold. As the captain continued in amazement at the utter lack on the part of the French escort vessel to put up a fight, cagey scenarios ran through a lexicon of tricks. Were they planning to explode themselves and take Indefatigable with them? Were men lurking below decks waiting to spring at the boarders that would soon swarm over the gunwales of Indy onto .... what was her name?

"Hornblower," said Pellew, "Translate that."

Hornblower stepped nearer to Pellew to see the stern of the Frenchman. Softly, he read the French terms. "Renard de Mer. Fox of the Sea...Sea Fox, sir."

Pellew frowned. "HA! Most amusing. Keep a wary eye, gentlemen. Prepare to board her."

Hornblower passed Bentley and gave the man an odd glimpse, civilians on board during battle, strange.

Kennedy grinned at the older man and asked, "Come up for a look round, eh Mr. Bentley?"

"I have, sir. Are things liable to become awkward?"

Kennedy chuckled. "Awkward?"

"Yes, sir. It's his lordship, sir. If there is a fight, I am afraid he will want to join in," he said quietly.

Kennedy looked back at Edrington who was staring at the French corvette and speaking to Pellew. "Well... you could be right. We are preparing for boarding."

Bentley closed his eyes and shook his head. "His mamah would not want him fighting, injured the way he is. Since the report of his demise, she has been utterly distraught and most desirous of seeing his lordship safe and sound."

It was the most Kennedy heard Bentley say since joining the ship. The concern for the major was touching. Edrington said the man had been with him since he was born and that he was like a second father, nearly, but not to tell Bentley he considered him as such.

"I ... doubt you could stop him from fighting, sir, if he's of a mind to. The only thing that might deter him would be if you were to... sit on him." Kennedy grinned broadly, then passed Bentley to follow Hornblower to the waist.

As, Indefatigable pulled along side Renard de Mer, men came pouring up from below the Frenchman's decks, swords brandished. Pellew's suspicions were well founded. The British sailors let go grappling hooks to tether the ships together. Where were her marines? With the question came the men. Had they suddenly decided to fight? This was a curious thing to Pellew, but there was no time for analyzing. Renard de Mer's marines were forming up along the center of the vessel, aiming, and firing into Indefatigable.

Captain McCann gave a call and Indefatigable's marine force let go a volley into the spreading humanity on the enemy deck. The French expected the return fire and scattered at the last moment. Interesting tactic.

"This is a bit hotter," commented Edrington to himself. "I should have gotten up my pistols. Damn! I haven't even a sword!" He was so entranced by what transpired, or failed to transpire, he completely forgot about arming himself. Turning to seek weaponry, he ran into his man servant. "Bentley! Get below, man! You've no business being on deck!"

"I will be where you are, my lord," answered the older man, a bit breathless and wide-eyed as he heard a musket ball zing past his left ear.

"Bentley.....!" Edrington grabbed his arm and spun him around. "Get below, damn it! Mamah will never forgive me if I let something happen to you!"

"Nor I, should something happen to you, sir!"

"Don't argue with me!" He shuffled the servant off the quarter-deck, the two ducking at the sound of incoming fire. "Are my pistols loaded?"

"No, sir!"

"Oh hell!" muttered Edrington. "Who'd have guessed we would be hand to hand. I thought they fought with cannon with these bloody boats long before swords and pistols were needed." He glanced up to see Hornblower, Kennedy, and Rampling jumping upon the railing and down onto the slightly lower deck of the French vessel. "By the time I get my sword and pistols, it will be over! Hell and damnation! If anything happens to him Pamela will never forgive me! Hurry along there, man!"

"Sir, you are injured! You have no business in this fight! You are a passenger, sir, not one of the Captain's marines!"

"Bentley... I am a soldier in the king's service. This is war. This is what I do!" He pulled his arm out of the sling and steadied himself down the companion, passing by the servant and running to the cabin.

Bentley hurried after him and continued to throw wordy obstacles in Edrington's path, but the major refuted them handily, calling back over his shoulder, he rebuffed him, but did not take the time to stop and face the old servant.

Bentley huffed into the cabin behind him. Edrington shoved one of the brace of pistols in the man's hand. "Load that!" Edrington loaded the other, then rammed it into the waist of his trousers. "Hurry man!" The major buckled a sword about him.

"Don't go, sir!" pleaded Bentley as he handed over the loaded gun.

With a breath and a smile, Edrington met the servant's pleading gaze. "I will be all right, Bentley. I want you to stay here."

"But, sir...!"

"Stay .... here."

"Yes, sir," Bentley sighed resignedly and watched Edrington run down the deck and take the stairs two at a time. "Forgive me, Lady Edrington. I tried. I should have sat on him."

By the time Edrington reached the deck of Renard de Mer, the fighting had become isolated at the far reaches of the ship. There did not seem to be a great number of men at arms. The French vessel was smaller and Indefatigable seemed to have her out-manned. Firing had ceased from the Frenchmen, no opportunity to reload, and little sound of shot was coming from Indefatigable for fear of striking her own men. The majority of fighting was swords, pikes, and tomahawks.

He spied Hornblower's man Styles forward, swinging a belaying pin against the head of a French rating, then ducking a swinging ax and jabbing that assailant in the ribs with the same blunt instrument.

Someone landed on the deck beside him. The marines. Captain McCann was ordering them in two rows, one facing aft and one forward to order a surrender.

Edrington heard the clash of sabers coming from below deck and trotted to the darkened stairs. Were Kennedy and Hornblower down there? Neither man was to be seen topside.

Edrington held the cocked pistol and waited for his eyes to adjust to the dim lower deck. In seconds, he could make out several figures exchanging sword play. The closest was Hornblower. The leftenant blocked a thrust to his midsection and then, one to his head.

"I say. Hornblower... Kennedy....McCann has the upper deck," advised Edrington casually.

The fighting did not cease.

"Met vos armes!" said Edrington loudly and aiming his pistol at the nearest combatant.

The fighting Frenchman hesitated.

"Le bateau est le notre! Reddition!" called Hornblower.

The Frog dropped his weapon to the deck and panted, shifting his eyes to Edrington's gun muzzle pointing at his head.

Hornblower caught a breath. "I thought you did not speak French, my lord."

With a smirk, Edrington answered, "Just a bit of battlefield French, Mr. Hornblower. Put down your weapons is pretty standard fare."

Hornblower replied, "Indeed, sir."

Matthews tramped down the steps noisily. "Ah, sir, yer all right!" Visible relief eased his features as he saw Hornblower uninjured and the major assisting. He gave Edrington a knuckle salute with a nod. "Sir."

Edrington returned the nod and moved to the side to let Matthews gather the two Frenchies Kennedy and Hornblower had been fighting and then, herding them to the upper deck and into captivity with their peers.

Hornblower spoke to Kennedy. "I thought I saw at least one other man come down besides those."

"I agree, Horatio," replied Archie.

Both men peered into the darkness. There was no gun deck. These were the living quarters of the men.

"There is someone hiding down here?" asked Edrington.

Hornblower nodded and lifted a hanging lantern from its hook. Turning the wick up a might, he held it high and stared into the nooks and crannies revealed in the lamp light. "Monsieur! Reddition!" called Hornblower.

Edrington recognized the term now. Hornblower was calling for the man to surrender. Kennedy armed himself with light as well and was easing forward, his weapon at the ready.

Matthews, Styles, Oldroyd, and Hardy tramped down the stairs, armed once more with swords and pistols.

"Capn McCann's got em in hand, sir. Not an officer among em, Mr. Hornblower. Do ye think they're all down 'ere?" questioned Matthews, taking a position beside his officer and Hardy close behind.

"I don't know, Matthews, but there aren't that many places to hide."

Styles and Oldroyd joined Kennedy in the search along the starboard side.

"Monsieur! Reddition! Le bateau est le notre! Reddition!"

"What's that you're saying about the boat?" asked Edrington.

"That it's ours," answered Hornblower, not looking at the major.

A noise sounded forward. The men froze. A gleam of metal caused the Englishmen's muscles to go taut, battle ready. A lone figure emerged with hands raised.

"Je me rends," he uttered in French, then in English. "I surrender." The French accent was unmistakable.

"Your sword, sir," demanded Hornblower.

As the man came further into the circle of light, they could see he was no officer. He passed the weapon, hilt first. Hornblower took it and released the tension with a quiet sigh, it was echoed softly by the men around him.

"Is there anyone else with you? Where are your officers?"

The man studied Hornblower and the others before answering. "Dead. They are dead."

"From battle?" The question was out of Hornblower's mouth without a conscious thought, his ears keen for an answer, since Pellew first voiced the absence.

The man shook his head slowly, surveying the listeners. He noted the ratings and the man to whom they responded. He would watch them closely. "They fought with one another. Killed each other."

Hornblower raised his eyebrows at such a revelation and glimpsed his peers doubtfully.

"Who is in charge then?"

The man shrugged his shoulders and did not answer.

Chagrined, Hornblower ordered, "On deck with you."

Styles moved in, grabbed the man by the arm, and pulled him up the stairs. Topside, the marines were guarding the disarmed enemy while Sebastian, with Becker close by, was assessing the wounded.

The man in Styles' grasp flashed a glare of warning to those that met his gaze and they quickly lowered their eyes.

Hornblower stepped onto the deck and perused the prisoners. Approaching, he spoke in French. Rampling, Edrington, and Kennedy listened and watched. The Frenchmen stared at their feet and did not meet Hornblower's eyes.

Edrington leaned towards Kennedy and Rampling and asked, "What is he saying?"

Kennedy whispered. "He is asking where the officers are and if they are mutineers."

"Mutineers?" repeated Edrington. He twisted around and looked over the ship. "Is that likely?"

Kennedy sighed, shook his head, and whispered a reply. "There should be officers on board. What other answer could there be? They did not fight as we approached. It would seem the logical explanation. The incredible bit is that we would come upon it. Makes one wonder what is on those ships they're escorting."

Some of the Frenchmen were shifting in their stance, but no one replied to the persistent probing of Leftenant Hornblower.

"What has he said now?" asked Edrington.

"He's told them the Captain will not hold with mutineers, even French ones. To reveal them to us and we will deal with them," translated Kennedy.

Silence.

Edrington appraised the down turned countenances of the French. They were stonewalling....or scared.

Hornblower heaved a sigh, frowned, and shook his head.

Bracegirdle arrived on deck and approached his fellow officers. "Report, Mr. Hornblower."

"A search below for any absconders would not go amiss, Mr. Bracegirdle, sir. That man there claims to be the last, but I do not trust his word."

"What of their officers?"

Hornblower shook his head. "You see what we have seen, sir. I have asked them to turn over any possible mutineers, but.... to no avail."

Bracegirdle's eyebrows sprang upward and he eyed the prisoners. "I shall inform the Captain."

"Aye, sir," nodded Hornblower.

Captain McCann was sending a squad of marines to search below decks.

"What do you make of it, Horatio?" asked Kennedy.

Hornblower's visage revealed his apprehension. "Something isn't right, Archie. I can feel it."

"Aye, Mr. Hornblower. Death hangs over this ship like a pall," whispered Rampling.

The four ratings of Hornblower's division were close enough to overhear the officers. They exchanged uneasy glances.

"Mr. Hornblower!" It was Pellew calling from the quarter-deck, Bracegirdle at his side.

"Sir?"

"Call your division and take command of that ship. Captain McCann, leave a squad of marines with him. Mr. Hornblower you will need to pick a few of the Frenchmen to sail her."

"Aye, aye, sir!"

"Choose wisely, if what Mr. Bracegirdle suggests is true."

"Aye, sir!"

Hornblower's visage became more serious as he pondered how to proceed. If these men were mutineers, how safe would he and the rest be? McCann's marines should be able to keep them under guard. Who to choose?

"Who of you speaks English?" demanded Hornblower.

The man that surrendered below decks set piercing eyes on the British officer. "I speak your bloody language, monsieur. But I doubt I am one you would choose to keep." The sneer was barely hidden. The grey eyes were calculating and softened with his next words. "However....if serving under you will keep me out of irons, I will humbly obey, sir," and he bowed.

Hornblower listened to the little speech then looked at the other Frenchmen. "Any one else speak English? Step forward if you do."

Less than a dozen of the French sailors stepped out, some hesitatingly, following their fellows.

The bold Frenchman spoke again. "Only a very few of these men speak English. Keep me, Capitaine, I can order them for you. I know the best top men. The strongest, you can see. You speak my language. You would know what I am saying to them," suggested the man.

"What is your name?" asked Hornblower.

"Armant, sir," and he bowed again.

Hornblower set to questioning the men.

"I say, Kennedy. Is Pellew serious?" queried Edrington. "He is going to leave Hornblower on this ship where there are possibly men that have assassinated their officers?"

"A corvette is a fair sized rig, my lord. He will need the hands to sail her. Pellew is itching to go after them, I'll warrant," he said, nodding towards the fleeing ships to the east. "He is leaving a squad of marines. England lies less than a week away depending on wind and weather. If we stay together, he should be all right."

"Captain McCann, I'll keep these," Hornblower was saying. "Take the rest to the Indy." Hornblower turned his attention to Matthews. "Matthews, get the rest of my men. Tell Wiggins to pack my kit and send a set of clean clothing, my oil skin, and boat cloak."

"Aye, sir." He knuckled his forehead and went nimbly back to the Indy.

"Well, Mr. Kennedy, we part once more," said Hornblower, stepping beside Kennedy and Edrington. "My Lord," he nodded.

"I'm staying with you, Mr. Hornblower," stated Edrington.

Hornblower parted his lips though no sound came forth. Blinking, he found his voice. "My Lord, this ship is no place for you."

"Nevertheless." Edrington set his countenance and stared at the leftenant.

Kennedy's eyes sparkled with amusement.

"Mr. Kennedy, tell Lord Edrington this is nothing to play at," his voice full of astonishment.

"My Lord...." began Kennedy.

"Tell Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy, that I am not playing, that I do not intend to see him left unguarded."

"I have a squad of marines, my Lord," Hornblower said gritting his teeth at the lord's insistence.

"That is good," commented Edrington.

"You are injured, my Lord...."

"I am fine, Mr. Hornblower. I intend to stay."

"Captain Pellew will not allow it, I am sure!" argued Hornblower.

"I am sure he will!" retorted the major.

Hornblower turned frustratedly and then faced Edrington once more. "Why do you insist on this folly?" he asked heatedly.

Edrington stared at him for moments. "I keep my promises. I promised your wife I would see you safely to England. Whatever my other failings may be, Leftenant Hornblower, I stand by my word."

"I release you, sir. You need not...."

"I did not make the promise to you, sir,...."

"I am her husband and I release you!"

"No. I am staying with you."

"He is as stubborn as you are, Horatio, and he outranks you," offered Kennedy.

Turning, Hornblower stalked off and headed for Indefatigable. Edrington and Kennedy followed on his heels. Edrington knew his destination.

Pellew watched his officers enter the waist and saw the determined stalking step of his second leftenant. Edrington and Kennedy were following him like obedient ducklings after their mother.

Edrington passed a curious Bentley. "My Lord?"

"Pack my things, Bentley," ordered the major.

Bentley looked to Kennedy with a questioning countenance pitifully wondering.

Kennedy shrugged a reply as he followed the two men to the quarter-deck. He would not miss this exchange for worlds.

Hornblower's steps sounded loudly on the decking. Pellew pinched his brow at the approach.

"Something, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Aye, Captain. Lord Edrington is insisting on accompanying me in Renard de Mer. I submit, sir, that he is in no condition to do so. He...he is practically a civilian, sir, and has no business on a prize of war, especially with hostiles on board." Hornblower's countenance seethed with indignation.

"Lord Edrington?"

"I wish to attend the leftenant, Captain," stated Edrington coolly. "My injury is not that severe."

Pellew regarded the contained displeasure of his second leftenant. "Why, may I ask, my Lord?"

"I have a debt, Captain Pellew, and a promise." The two men met eye to eye and Pellew knew immediately he spoke of the same woman to whom he too felt a life long obligation. He and Edrington had both benefited from her who was Hornblower's wife.

"I release him from any .... promises, sir. He need not feel a debt." stammered Hornblower hotly.

"It is not him to whom the debt is owed, Captain," explained Edrington pointedly.

Pellew sighed heavily. It was not that many months ago these two men were fighting over the lady, though it was her husband, his leftenant, that started the actual fisticuffs. Edrington was a peer, though that had no sway on his ship, not on this voyage. Edrington was an army man. Pellew weighed the pros and cons rapidly. If it bothered Hornblower that much, he should learn from the experience.

"Very well, my Lord. You have your request. I trust you will not make yourself a burden?"

"I will not, Captain Pellew."

"Then, you best hurry with your dunnage. I have a ship to catch."

"Yes, Captain," smirked Edrington, and he departed.

Hornblower's chest sank, and he closed his eyes. It would do him no good to protest further. His captain made his decision. Blinking, he could barely meet his captain's eyes.

"Mr. Hornblower," his tone was conciliatory.

Taking a long breath, he answered down-heartedly. "Sir?"

"You will not harm his Lordship?"

"I will not!" answered Hornblower, amazed at the suggestion.

"Good. Good. I want you to think of this, Mr. Hornblower, as a furthering of your education in His Majesty's Navy. You will often be given orders of which you will neither approve nor agree, but you must make the best of them and obey without reservation. Do I make myself clear?"

Hornblower straightened, swallowed, and met his captain's eyes steadily. "Aye, aye, sir."

"Carry on, Mr. Hornblower. I'll see you in Portsmouth," said Pellew with the slightest smile.

"Yes, sir." Hornblower saluted smartly and Pellew returned it.

"Now, get off my quarter-deck. I have a ship to catch. Stay in sight of Vengeance. I will find you."

"Aye, aye sir."

Pellew gave Kennedy the mildest questioning glance. "Mr. Kennedy."

Archie lost his amusement quickly. "Yes, sir?"

Pellew eyed him briefly then stared forward into the rigging. "I have a job for you."

"Sir?"

"I'll need you to captain one of those ships when I've got them," he said, nodding eastward.

A smile spread across Kennedy's lips. "Aye, aye, sir!"