An American Encounter, Part Three
by Skihee

Ch 14 Reminiscences, Rescues, Rejoinders, and Lunacy

Later that morning, Hornblower, Edrington, and Bentley settled. The officers' clothes were lain creatively about the craft to aid evaporation, though the salt in the water would prevent them from becoming completely dry. The two men were wrapped in blankets and sat silently watching the horizon, each with his own thoughts. The ocean lapped against the hull, the wind filled the sail, and the sun shone upon the displaced travelers.

After a time, Edrington spoke. "Horatio?"

The name startled Hornblower and for the first time he realized Edrington had been calling him that all morning. Canting his head, he responded, "Yes?"

"You know I am behind you one hundred percent in whatever you choose to do."

"Thank you, my Lord," he replied matter-of-factly.

Edrington looked over his shoulder out to sea. Nothing but blue water and blue sky. He returned the view to Hornblower and gathered his thoughts before speaking.

"Just what do you plan the three of us to do, unarmed as we are? Do you really expect to overtake this Armant fellow and the ship? I mean, does it not sail far faster than this boat could?"

Hornblower inhaled deeply and squinted in the bright sunlight, quiet for moments before his reply. "I cannot desert my men, my Lord. Something.... will present itself."

Edrington smirked and chuckled softly, glancing at Bentley. He laughed a little more heartily, gazed at the empty ocean surrounding them, smiled at Hornblower and said, "Of course, it will." And he laughed again.

Bentley looked from man to man, rolled his eyes, shook his head, then, cradled his chin in his palm. At least both young men seemed to be getting along. He was thankful for that. He stood up in the boat, causing it to bob from side to side, startling Hornblower and Edrington. Losing his balance, he had to grab onto the gunwale to keep from falling.

"Mr. Bentley!"

"Sorry, Mr. Hornblower. I was going to turn the clothes, sir."

"Just.... move a little more smoothly, if you please, sir," advised Hornblower.

"Yes, sir."

Edrington looked back at Hornblower, then voiced concern. "I suppose your reasoning is that if we are going to be lost at sea we may as well be lost looking for your men." A pause. Edrington had enough faith in Hornblower's abilities to follow his lead, but even he knew they had no compass, sextant, chart,... nothing. Kennedy taught him enough about sailing to know that. A little education is a dangerous thing. "I suppose the other choice would be getting lost on the way back to England, ...or landing on a hostile shore." With a determined look, he added, "I have no desire to fall into the hands of the French."

Hornblower listened to Edrington's astute assumptions but said nothing. Their lives were in his hands, at this juncture in time....but so were the lives of his men. He, Edrington, and Bentley were the only ones that knew their fate. He had to make the attempt, or know the reason why.

The blanket slipped from Edrington's shoulder. He held his left elbow and shifted on the seat, then reached for the wayward woolen cover.

Though Hornblower's thoughts lay with his men, Renard de Mer, and some vague plan of action, he had honed his reasoning abilities to observe multiple facets of his surroundings, both physical and mental. Something was not right with the major and he commented automatically, "You've ... you've injured your shoulder, sir."

"Damn it!" Edrington closed his eyes and huffed. Opening them, he stared pointedly at Hornblower, then calmed his features. "Would you... would you ... do me the honor of addressing me by my first name? I give you my permission." Edrington did not let his eyes leave Hornblower's angular face, the sun accenting the sharpness of his cheek bones and chin, and the peer waited, watching the man ponder the idea.

Bentley froze, holding a shirt in mid-air and stared at his lord and master, not believing his ears. His eyes shifted to the silent man holding the tiller. Hornblower's lack of response, made Bentley quirk his eyebrow and go back to turning the clothing.

Edrington frowned and turned forward, letting the matter drop. Perhaps it was too soon. Maybe it always would be. Ten minutes later, Hornblower was as silent as their surroundings, the slight whoosh of water beside the boat's hull, the vaguest of sounds.

Once the major turned away, Hornblower swallowed hard. Edrington heretofore had been a rival, a man who had spent time in Pamela's company, experienced adversity with her, carried her in his arms, protected her. Now, the man had saved his life. *It is only a debt to Pamela,* he told himself. But if that were true, why would he make this request?

The only time Hornblower was around peers of the realm was when he was a young boy. A visitor to the local manse had broken his leg while hunting. The London physician, the lord of the manor usually called, was away, and his father had been summoned. He attended as he always did, quietly assisting the elder Hornblower in his chosen profession. The brief exposure to wealth and position left Horatio feeling disdainful at what money and birth afforded, those with title living off what ancestors had won, not their own abilities, or efforts.

Of course, his father's profession was nothing to be proud of, though Horatio would never utter a word that his father might perceive as criticism. For while Horatio found the profession demeaning, he revered his father. Humble Hubbell, the boys of the merchant class had called his da, teasing Horatio mercilessly. Horatio took offense, balled his fist, and slugged a boy. He bloodied their noses and they his, in the boyish melee that ensued, and he let their taunting make him ashamed of his father's chosen career....but he loved his da and held him in the highest regard.

Years of watching the humble servitude of Hubbell Hornblower convinced him doctoring was not for him. Though quiet, Horatio had little patience for ignorance, and much of what he saw his father deal with stemmed from a wealth of it, that and superstition. He found his solitary nature an asset when it came to keeping silent about the illogic of the situations he observed. Often sitting beside his father in the small one horse carriage they owned, he was tempted to voice his frustration at the human condition and why his father continued to pamper those requesting his services, ill paid, and poorly thanked...but he held his tongue, and his father seldom commented upon Horatio's silence, silent himself.

Hornblower had lived a solitary life before entering the navy. He and his father had never had much,... enough,... but not much. He was accustomed to living on little. Often his father was paid with vegetables, a leg of mutton, a chicken, eggs, or homespun linen. It had been a hardship for Dr. Hornblower to pay the midshipman fees, bartering his services for Captain Keene's.

The cost of his uniforms was daunting to the doctor's meager purse. Some of the funds came from selling the last of his mother's clothing.

"She would be glad to know that she in some way made this career for you possible," said the doctor, forcing a smile, an attempt to ease both their minds.

Horatio remembered the hesitation in his father's hands as he released the Sunday dress and hat upon the counter to the mercantile man. It was not easy for Horatio to watch the transaction either, and he left his father's company for the rest of the day to walk the hills near home. The wind of the early December day had blown his curls, caressing his forehead, until he leaned against the bark of a tree and he wept. He missed his mother, and he was afraid. The selling of her clothing meant the purchase of his. He was going to sea after the new year, away from all that was familiar.

Two years of estrangement, that was what he and his father went through after Louisa's death. That night at the vicar's, the night he shared with Pamela, when he finally came to realize his father did not blame him, but himself for his mother's death. Horatio, in his mind, bore the responsibility anyway. Was it not the same fever he had that his mother succumbed to? All that was water under the bridge. Once he knew his father did not blame him, he eased towards his father, and the result was a bond that silently grew between them. His father had kept him close as long as he could, and with that, when so many boys were out making a way in the world, he knew his father loved him. But they both knew, though the subject had not been spoken, that Horatio did not desire to be a doctor. He had tried the profession for four years by working with and observing his da, but his pride would not let him succumb to such ignoble service.

Horatio recalled the late November day, seven years ago, on the way back from the home of a patient. He held the small, scrawny, white lamb on his lap, payment for his father's services, the two of them sharing each others warmth. The little sheep sat calmly, allowing him to rub a finger against the soft wool on its cheek. Dr. Hornblower said that the lamb trusted Horatio, commenting further about Horatio's graceful long fingers and capable hands. Horatio remembered it was such an odd thing for his father to say, indeed to be speaking so casually.

"Horatio, do not be upset by what I am about to say."

He looked at his father. Talking was strange enough. They seldom spoke on the way home from a doctoring call, unless it was about a patient when something more was needed. His father glanced his way, then, returned to watch the road and the horse.

"You performed well today, son, as you always do. If I have not expressed to you in the past how pleased I am with what you have learned about my profession, then let me say now, Horatio, you could make a fine physician."

Horatio hung his head. With his nose so close, he absently noticed the smell of hay lingering on the lamb's woolly head. What was coming next? Was his father going to suggest he should pursue doctoring? Never could he choose such a life for himself, but he could not hurt his father. To what was he about to let himself agree?

"But I think we both know, it is not a profession you would choose," stated the doctor.

Horatio jerked his head up and found his father's eyes sadly set upon him, but they crinkled at the edges, signs of a knowing, and a knowledge of his only and beloved son that pleased the older man.

The countenance of his son confirmed what he knew the boy was reluctant to admit. He continued, "You know I have been attending Captain Keene in Portsmouth."

"Yes, sir, the naval captain," answered Horatio. Was the other topic concluded? What would Captain Keene have to do with him not choosing to be a doctor, wondered Horatio.

"He is not well,..."

"I will go with you, sir, if you wish," he suggested quickly, fearing the subject his father was broaching, that he should try another trade. Though he did not wish to become a doctor, he did not wish to leave his father either. "I could tell Mr. Moody I could tutor his son on another..."

"No, no, my boy. There is nothing you can do to help with the captain." Dr. Hornblower sighed. He knew the sea officer was not long for this earth, suffering from consumption as he was, and it was another reason to take advantage before it was too late. "Keep your tutoring appointment. You will need the money."

"Yes, sir." Horatio hung his head low enough to let his lips touch the lamb's wool. He blew warm air upon it, feeling the air ricochet back to his cold nose.

"The captain and some other men in Portsmouth think war is in the offing. You know the troubles in France."

Horatio raised his head and stared at the tail of the horse, listened to the steady clop of its hooves and the creak of the carriage. War. What was it like to be at war? When younger, he did not recall noticing that his country was at war with her colonies. Of course, England and France seemed forever to be at odds with one another... and Spain.

"Yes, sir." At dinner, the two of them sometimes spoke of happenings in the wide world. Odd that his father should discuss them now.

"Should we go to war, the army and navy will both be expecting the villages to supply men for service." Dr. Hornblower glimpsed his son who listened silently, and he took a deep breath in preparation for what he was about to say. "Captain Keene has offered to take you on his ship as a midshipman in lieu of payment for my services, and I have accepted his offer."

Horatio felt his stomach doing somersaults. Leave his father? Leave his home? Before he could think another thought, his father was speaking again.

"I think you will make a fine officer, Horatio. I would not want to see you pressed as a seaman or conscripted as a common soldier. You are too intelligent for such a position. You know I have not the money to purchase a commission for you." He gazed at his beautiful boy, his features so reminiscent of the woman he loved. He would miss him, but knowing the possibility of him being taken from him for service, he felt choosing the way and the time was best for both of them. At least they would have the holidays together, and they could say the difficult good-byes at length and in their own ways.

Horatio clutched the lamb tightly to his chest, raising it to its spindly legs. Sea? All at once he felt a thrill within his heart but trepidation, too. He had been to Portsmouth and marveled at the great warships at anchor, sailing the broad oceans of the world. The officers in their woolen uniforms and cocked hats. The gold braid of the captains and admirals glowing in the sun, the glinting brightness of so many buttons. He remembered standing next to an officer when getting drinks for his father and himself at the Navy Inn by the dockyards. He had stared long at the fouled anchor on the button. The man had turned, saw his gaze, grinned at him and spoke.

"Shiny, aren't they, boy?" and the man laughed.

His laughter made Horatio blush. His father saw the interchange that day and seemed more introspective than usual for what remained of it. Was that the day the seed was planted to send him to sea?

Yes, he loved his father. Only since his relationship with Pamela had he come to admit it. Respect, admiration, an understanding, those words were easy to say in the same breath. But now, without hesitation he could think it and know it was truth. He loved his father, and the thought brought a gentle smile. Would he find the courage to say it to his face when next he saw him?

Hornblower inhaled deep and long. His father. Not much thought had been given him of late. Usually his thoughts were filled with Pamela, or the ship, or the service, pretty much in that order, but now... The proximity of home was calling his father to mind. Harvest would be ending by now. How many sliced feet and legs had his father sewn this year from some clumsy scytheman in the wheat fields?

Pamela and the baby!

With Edrington on board, he had hardly given the impending child a thought! What was his father going to say when he told him he would be a grandfather? Would the opportunity present itself or would a letter have to do? When had he last written his father? *God! It's been ages!* thought Hornblower. *I've got to write him as soon as paper comes to hand!* Calming, Horatio saw the vision of his father standing at the fireplace mantle where the painting was hung, looking into the sweet face of Horatio's mother. It warmed him like the sun. His father loved his mother deeply, even after these long years of absence, he loved her and was faithful to her memory.

In his mind's eye, Horatio placed Pamela's picture next to that of his mother and the two paintings melted into the living, moving women, both laughing and smiling at him. The two women he loved. He closed his eyes and concentrated his thought. *I love you, Pamela. I love you. God, how I love you!*

The little boat sailed on into the day. The passengers were quiet and Hornblower realized the two men with him were dozing like cats perched in a favorite window, soaking up the heat of the sun. Later that afternoon, the temperature of the air reminded them all that it was the month of November and with the low arc of the sun, it was growing chill. Hornblower addressed the man-servant.

"Mr. Bentley, toss us our clothes."

Edrington turned to Hornblower and the leftenant answered the unasked question.

"Our clothes will not get any dryer at this point, ...." he caught back 'my lord' but the word 'Alexander' would not pass his lips. "Our bodies will have to dry what moisture remains."

Bentley handed the clothing to Hornblower. Lashing the tiller in place and tying the sheet, Hornblower dressed. The shirt, small clothes, and trousers were quite dry, but the outer clothing was far from it. Horatio saw Edrington was not making much movement to clothe himself and he watched him and Bentley out the corner of his eye. He shook his head in disgust. A man Edrington's age and letting a servant dress him. The minute the thought formed, he regretted it. Neither Edrington nor Bentley saw him watching, and he knew the second thought was the truer of the two. Trousers and shirt in place, he stepped to the bench and stared down at Edrington.

"What?" asked the lord, looking into the officer's back lit face.

Hornblower glimpsed Bentley, then Edrington. "Let me see your shoulder."

"It's nothing," said the major.

"Fine," he agreed, "then let me see it."

Edrington resisted silently, not turning his body. Releasing a breath, he swiveled, making the shoulder accessible to Hornblower.

Horatio straddled the seat and sat down before Edrington. He slipped the blanket off the muscled joint. The skin looked swollen and pink beneath the scar. He lay his hand lightly upon it and felt the heat rising off the rosy area.

"How did you do this?"

Edrington did not answer.

"The man that pulled you both into the boat yanked him in by his left arm, sir," informed Bentley, peering over Hornblower's shoulder to gain a better view of the injury.

Edrington squinted his eyes at both of them irritably. "It will be all right. Do not be concerned." At that moment, Hornblower pressed into the muscle. "OW!" The shoulder jerked back automatically from Hornblower's touch. "Damn it, Horatio! Who the hell do you think you are?"

"I answered that question last night. I am the son of a doctor." Was it this confession that had lead him off into such a lengthy reverie about his father today? He let the analyzing go. "Help me get him dressed, Mr. Bentley." Hornblower eased the sleeve onto the left arm and talked as he and Bentley dressed the lord. "Cool compresses would be in order, but I suppose damp clothing will do for the moment. Once I get the sling back on, I want you to leave your arm in it. Is that clear? If I see you moving it at all, I will tear one of these blankets into strips and lash that arm to your body. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir," answered Edrington, his tone revealing a mix of sarcasm and irritation, with a dash of resignation.

Hornblower was blushing!

Edrington turned his face to the sea and his features eased, slightly smiling. The leftenant was concerned. *Very well, if this is what it takes, I will let them rip my arm to pieces,* he thought, but, damn, it does hurt like hell. "Bentley, pass me that bottle of cognac." He glimpsed Hornblower sullenly.

The major... injured again. Hornblower's lips twisted in consternation. Was he right to be taking them out to sea? Where was damn Armant going anyway? Was he a pirate? Bentley's words validated the uneasy feeling he suffered. He wondered what his crew was doing. Were they being treated well? Damn that they had been put into this position ...to feel they had to cooperate, or endanger the lives of their officers. What was Pellew going to say? Pellew! *Oh God.* thought Hornblower. *I've lost another prize. And this one is a danger to us all.* His head bent low. *I should have been more circumspect. I should not have drank all that wine. I might have noticed something on my rounds. What have I done? I am more a hindrance than a help. I should have deserted and taken Pamela back to America. But... could I? ... would I be diminished in her eyes? She expects me to be an admiral. I've failed again, and now my men are in danger. I've got to make it right. Somehow, I've got to make it right!*

He shifted his eyes to Edrington's back. *Something will present itself. Something MUST present itself. I've been nothing but trouble to the captain this entire year and more. Failing at Muzillac. Destruction...death....defeat....capture... injury. Running from the damn Frogs with Dolphin. Caught out of powder. Kennedy should have let me go, back on Palermo. It would have been for the good of the service. I nearly caused an international incident for His Majesty and Lord Nelson in Naples. Caught out at Toulon, too. Why in God's name would Pellew want me to stay? Now I've lost my crew. Matthews, Styles, Hardy. My division. Cutter...his very life in danger because of my bumbling.*

Hornblower lashed the tiller in position and tied off the sail, then, pulled the small telescope from his topcoat pocket. Extending it, he remained standing and surveyed their surroundings three hundred and sixty degrees. Staring at the main mast, the only mast, he wondered if it would sustain his weight. He needed to get higher. Gaining the mast, he grabbed hold and stepped onto the nearest seat. Testing the strength of the single pole, he yanked it with both hands.

"What the devil are you doing?" asked Edrington.

"I want to have a look round."

"Would it make that much difference?"

"It might."

"You might break the bloody thing!"

"I pray not, sir."

"Wait. I've a better idea. Stand on my shoulders." Edrington eased up and came to stand next to the mast.

"I think not, my lord. You are injured enough as it is."

Edrington frowned.

"I will do it, sir." Bentley stood with them. He was equal in height to Edrington.

"Good show, Bentley," said Edrington, trading places with him. "Horatio, use my back." He bent at the waist and looked up at the leftenant.

Hornblower slipped out of the wet shoes, put a knee on Edrington's back, then raised to his feet to step onto Bentley's shoulders. The top of the mast fit beneath his armpit as he steadied himself to extend the glass.

"Are you all right, Mr. Bentley?" he inquired.

"I am fine, sir," he said stiffly, pressing the tops of Hornblower's wet socks.

"Well, Horatio?" asked Edrington. "What do you see?"

"Two sail, sir. Heading...west nor'west. They will be upon us soon. Can't see the ensign." He frowned and continued to watch. The bows were turning more westerly. The lookouts must have seen them. "I'm getting down. Thank you, Mr. Bentley." Edrington presented his back. "Thank you, sir."

All three men gazed eastward, knowing there was nothing to be done. They could not escape...and considering the night temperatures, it might be for the best.

"You were right, Horatio. Something has presented itself," Edrington said quietly.

Hornblower had the sails and mast stowed by the time the two ships drew near, turned into the wind, and hove to.

Hornblower looked up into the deck of the ship. He could see a man that appeared to be dressed in a British naval uniform and a dotting of red-coated marines. If this were a British ship, why was she not flying one of the naval ensigns? It had no visible cannon. The ship was easing nearer with the last press of wind before the sail were turned.

"Mr. Hornblower?" said a shocked Kennedy, looking down into the boat.

"Kennedy?"

"Lost another prize, have you?" grinned Archie.

Hornblower ignored the quip as the small boat slid along the side of the larger craft, and he did not look at his friend. Archie and that sense of humour of his...this was not funny.

Archie could not see the perturbed expression as the officer steadied Bentley onto the batten. A moment later, the older gentleman stepped onto the deck beside Kennedy and exuded a sigh of relief.

"Praise God, it's you Mr. Kennedy!" exclaimed Bentley.

"Bainbridge, give his lordship a hand up," ordered Hornblower scowling.

"Aye, aye, Mr. Hornblower." The muscular seaman took a footing onto the edge of the batten and grabbed onto Edrington's right arm. "Careful there, sir."

Hornblower stepped into the bow to retrieve the line and tossed it to Cribbins, then returned aft to climb the side steps.

"Thank you, Mr. Kennedy." Hornblower assessed the lay of the ship. "Congratulations on your command, sir. I regret to inform you, I am taking her from you. I would like you to accompany Lord Edrington and Mr. Bentley to..." he peered over at the other ship to see her name, "...to Le Petit Canard. Who is that commanding? Connors? On second thought, it will be easier for me to go over there. I see no tactical difference in these ships. Belay that, Cribbins. Hold the line and pull her back to the entry point."

Kennedy's expression was wounded. Edrington's was stiffening.

"If you are going over there, Leftenant Hornblower, I am going with you," Edrington stated as he blocked Hornblower's path to exit.

"And, I, sir," added Bentley quickly.

"Just a damn minute,... if you please, sir," said Kennedy, reining in the anger at Hornblower's rash plans. He glanced round at the men listening. "Come below, Mr. Hornblower."

"I haven't the time, Mr. Kennedy."

Kennedy looked to Edrington.

"You owe him that much, Mr. Hornblower," said Edrington in deference to the fourth leftenant.

Hornblower saw the questioning and hurt visage of Kennedy and relented.

"You are not attending me, my Lord," he insisted, and he stepped to the ladder leading below. The expected rejoinder came.

"Oh, yes, I am," said Edrington, following closely.

Kennedy and Bentley exchanged glances. "They are still at it, Mr. Bentley?"

When Edrington reached the bottom of the steps, Hornblower turned on him. "Alexander, you have traumatized your wound once again. I must insist that you remain with Captain Kennedy."

Edrington was taken aback hearing his Christian name, but pleased, and adamant that he would stay with Hornblower. "I am most obliged for your concern, Horatio, but I must come with you," he said softly.

"Please. I...I beg you. Do not insist on this folly! I want you to stay with Archie." implored Hornblower.

"Well, I don't know where you think you are going, but if he is with me, he is coming anyway," said Kennedy, encouraging them into the small after cabin. Entering, Kennedy shut the door and blocked it with his body. "Now. What is going on, Horatio?"

Hornblower tried to think where to begin, when Edrington spoke.

"The Frenchmen retook Renard de Mer, having knocked Mr. Hornblower insensible. They threw him overboard, unconscious as he was, and I went after him."

"Then, that man, Armant, threatened to harm Mr. Cutter, too, if Mr. Matthews and the other men did not help him sail the ship," said Bentley, adding what he knew. "Mr. Matthews insisted he give his Lordship and Mr. Hornblower a boat or he said that Armant may as well kill them all, then and there."
The silence was brief. Kennedy said, "The prize is not sunk then, eh?"

Kennedy could be damned annoying at times, thought Hornblower.

"It is good to know your men are safe, Horatio," added Kennedy.

Ignoring the previous jibe, Hornblower said anxiously, "But for how long? I should have paid attention last night, instead of..." Hornblower glimpsed Edrington and did not finish the statement.

"Instead of dining with me?"

"It is not your fault... I ... I drank too much wine. I had no right...."

"I must share in the blame for that," stated Edrington.

"And, I, sir," added Bentley.

"It was I that drank it, gentlemen. The fault is no ones but mine!" He turned away and bowed his head. "Now my men pay the price." He turned to face Kennedy. "I have wasted enough time. I must go after them. Let me pass, Archie."

"I'm coming with you, Horatio. I do not know what you think you will do. Neither of these ships are pierced for cannon. The fact that these are prizes will make it easy to be captured, without incident, I suppose. I can tell you, should these Frenchmen allow us to live, you will not enjoy the hospitality of their prisons." Kennedy knew the inside of a French prison from experience. His first stop of many, after being captured at the fiasco of Papillon so many years ago. "Pellew will not approve," he added thoughtfully, "I am surprised he did not find you first. He could not have been more than two hours ahead of us. Would it not be better to locate him first, Horatio?"

"I want you to join him, Archie. Tell him what is going on. I will take Le Petit Canard and follow Renard de Mer."

"Follow her where? How do you know where she is?"

"According to what Mr. Bentley told me, they were on a heading west southwest."

"How can you be sure they did not turn east toward France? Or a more westerly course?"

"They are not true to the French navy. They are pirates, Archie. I know it to my bones. I don't know why I did not realize it sooner."

"I've just remembered, sir! Armant said HE slit the throats of the officers, Mr. Hornblower," Bentley recalled suddenly, his countenance satisfied with the recollection.

"Then, it is only by the grace of God and Armant's need of our men that has kept you alive, Horatio," stated Kennedy.

"What is the cargo of these ships, Archie?" asked Hornblower.

"Supplies for a small army between the two of them."

"Musketry?"

"Yes."

"I cannot believe the Frogs would send such a valuable cargo on unarmed ships."

"So thought Captain Pellew when last I spoke to him. He did not say it, but I think he feared for you last night. Indefatigable sailed straight away this morning, leaving us to catch up. Do you think Vengeance is all right?"

"You saw, Archie. The other cargo ships were as unarmed as these. Or so lightly armed any man choosing to fight from them would have been considered a lunatic."

"As you will surely be should you catch up to Renard de Mer," said Kennedy.

"We have muskets, you say? We will load them all and be ready when Armant comes at us."

"It is too bad there are no carriages," said Archie.

"Carriages? You mean for cannon?"

"Yes. Brass twelve pounders. I know what you are thinking, but there is nothing to mount them on, Horatio. If the mounts exist, they must be on the cargo vessels with Vengeance."

The company of men silently thought, each considering the opening options and how to apply them.

"Pity we aren't on shore."

"Why do you say that, Archie?" asked Hornblower absently.

"Canard has artillery cannon AND carriages."

Kennedy watched Hornblower's face brighten and gaze at Edrington.

"Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You cannot be serious! Do you know what kind of insanity it would be to have loose artillery on the deck of a rolling ship?"

"I'll do whatever I can to help, rest assured," said Edrington, ignoring Kennedy's protests.

"Horatio!" said Kennedy incredulously, nearing laughter.

"It cannot hurt to give it a try, Archie. What size are the artillery weapons?"

"We did not take that close an accounting!"

Archie opened the door and the four men filed out to return topside.

Hornblower felt the wind on his cheek and ordered the men to turn the main course sail to catch it, allowing it to blow them towards Le Petit Canard.

"Mr. Connors! Furl your sail and prepare to be boarded!" grinned Hornblower, waving at the midshipman on the nearing deck. Things were looking up. The something that presented itself was growing in enormity.

The ships thumped together despite the fenders thrown over the side. Connors' men turned the yards to keep from fouling with Juliet's.

"Bainbridge, get the men on those fenders to place them better, then, lash us fore and aft," ordered Kennedy.

The three officers boarded Le Petit Canard followed by Bentley. He was not going to let them out of his sight.

"Mr. Hornblower, sir!" said Connors amazed.

"Yes, it's me. Don't ask, Mr. Connors. I understand you have field artillery in the hold. We're here to have a look. Have your men open the hatchways."

"The hatchways, sir?"

"Yes. We are going down to the hold."

"Aye, aye, Mr. Hornblower," answered Connors uncertainly.

Kennedy, Hornblower, Edrington, and Bentley reached the bowels of the ship.

The men climbed over the crates to get where Kennedy indicated.

"Be careful of that arm, Alexander," warned Hornblower.

Archie stared curiously back at Edrington whose features revealed a pinched smile.

They located the cannon and disassembled gun-carriages. A brownish-yellow dust puffed into the air with the opening crack of crate upon crate. The artillery were found to be an assortment. Edrington identified one siege cannon capable of throwing a 24 pound ball, four 12 pounders, three 9 pounders, two 6 pounders, and two 3 pounders. Checking the gun carriages, they did not find one able to mount the siege cannon. Hornblower and Kennedy agreed Le Petit Canard's upper deck would not sustain the weight anyway and abandoned thoughts of using the large gun.

"What can you tell us about these, Alexander?" asked Hornblower.

Archie, surprised again at Hornblower's address of the peer, lowered his eyes and bit his bottom lip.

"If they are anything like ours, you will find them quite accurate and deadly. Brass, too, very fine. They recoil like yours and more so in that they tend to rear. You will want the men to give them a wide berth once they're lit. I'm not quite sure how you will manage breechings. The trail may dig into the deck somewhat. We will have to get a carriage together and have a look."

"Indeed," commented Hornblower.

A frail light fell upon them, illuminating the dust particles floating in the air. They looked up to see Connors peering down through the open hatchway.

"Well done, Mr. Connors. Rig the main yard tackle. We need to get the gun-carriage crates onto the deck before we lose the light."

"Aye, aye, Mr. Hornblower."

"This will take hours, Horatio," commented Archie.

"Yes, it means waiting until morning to sail after them." Sighing and wiping a dusty hand on his trousers, Hornblower continued. "Nothing to be done for it. This may give us a fighting chance, though it worries me to fire on her with my men on board."

"Perhaps familiarity in this case will work to our advantage, Horatio," suggested Edrington.

"What do you mean?" asked Hornblower puzzled.

"Armant knows these supply vessels. He does not expect them to be armed. If we could somehow camouflage their presence on deck..."

"Or mount some on the lower deck and pierce her sides." Hornblower was tapping his hand excitedly against his thigh. "Archie, let's check the water line."

Edrington remained below to indicate what should be raised.

The French crews of each ship were locked away below to free every Englishman to labor with the guns. Once the first carriage was out, one of the men sailing with Kennedy, found to have worked in a smithy, was summoned to assist with the assembly. The deck of Le Petit Canard became dotted with army gunnery bits and pieces. The men that would eventually man the guns labored at the task of putting them together. Hornblower was helping with a 9 pounder when Bentley approached him and pulled at his topcoat to remove it. Engrossed in analyzing how the gun would perform and its construction, Hornblower did not notice the man was attempting to disrobe him until the servant was about to remove his waistcoat and the cold wind made him aware of a chill.

"Mr. Bentley! What are you on about?"

"You'll catch your death of cold in that wet uniform, sir. His lordship sent me with these for you."

Hornblower stared at the plain clothing of a rank and file French soldier, newly pulled from one of the crates. Dry clothing would be welcome after the dampness of his jacket managed to soak through the previously dry shirt and trousers.

Edrington emerged from below attired in like fashion, a dark blue cloth sling in place of the wet white one. The major looked down at himself and gave a slight bow, then moved forward to observe the cannon laying on the deck.

Hornblower sighed. "Very well. But only as long as it takes my own clothing to fully dry."

"Of course, Captain Hornblower," said Bentley respectfully.

Archie heard and observed the interchange, bent back to his work, but could not stop the quiet laughter erupting from within.

Hornblower glowered in Kennedy's direction as Bentley pushed him back against the raised deck and removed his shoes and socks. The man was so quick and adept at what he was doing, Hornblower had not a chance to stop him except when it came to pulling down his trousers, and Bentley took over that task once Hornblower was seated again, the servant pulling off each trouser leg.

"Here, sir," said Bentley as he held the new, dry trousers open for Hornblower. The naval officer snatched them out of his hands and pulled them on himself.

"Very good, sir," commented Bentley.

Hornblower took the shirt next and pulled it on over his head, buttoning the few buttons at the neck. Bentley held the waistcoat open. Hornblower frowned as he put each arm into the holes and began buttoning the thing himself rapidly before Bentley could have a chance. While thus employed, Bentley gently pushed him back down onto the quarter-deck, took a foot and slipped a dry sock onto each pale, white, cold foot.

"Your feet are like ice, sir. I wish I could sit you down by a fire and put them in a steaming pan of hot water, a shawl over your shoulders, and a hot rum punch to warm you."

Bentley's babbling about shawls totally ripped away whatever protest Hornblower intended to make over the servant putting socks on his feet. Sitting with a shawl over his shoulders like some aged parent! Hornblower never would! The man was comparing two different size shoes to Hornblower's foot, then, slipped a black boot onto each, before he could utter a sound.

"Stand, sir, to seat your foot," said Bentley taking Hornblower's elbow to steady him.

Hornblower could hear Archie snickering and noticed some of the men were as well. He cleared his throat loudly in warning. "AHEM."

"Your topcoat, sir," said Bentley, holding it at the shoulders.

Hornblower succumbed to the servant's wishes and allowed him to button the coat while the naval officer lowered his chin into his chest and stared beneath his darkened brow at the men newly under his command, especially Archie.

"Thank you, Mr. Bentley... and thank his lordship," added Hornblower, darkly.

"I will put your uniform near the galley stove, sir."

Hornblower nodded the reply. He saw Archie bent low to hold the wheel as Gaines hammered on the hub cover. He took a moment and shifted his body inside the clothing, from his shoulders down to his toes. The new fabric was rough, but its dryness was welcome. His body felt warmer already.

"Well, Gaines, from a British navy leftenant to a French army private. I am not sure what our proper response should be. Certainly not Vive Le Roi. What do the Frogs, sAY..." Archie's speech was cut off as a wet wadded sock hit him square on the chin. When he looked up, he caught the top of Hornblower's head as he descended the ladder. "Carry on, Gaines." Catching sight of Bentley about to go below on Juliet, he called his name and tossed the wet sock over to him, then, he followed after Hornblower. He wasn't really mad, was he?

Archie found him a little forward amidships, slightly stooped, and staring at the wall.

Frowning, Hornblower said, "It won't work, Archie. The wheels will hold the gun too high. It's too close on this deck and I fear we could not fashion a proper sealing port with everything else we're fabricating. We'll have to leave them where they are."

"I agree. Connors is seeing Juliet shifted back out of the way. The 9 pounder is ready for a test. She stands up like a flagpole, Horatio. It must look ridiculous off ship." Archie smiled warmly and brushed at a bit of sawdust on Hornblower's shoulder. "Nice that Bentley has taken an interest in you, you being a commoner."

Horatio wrinkled his brow. The idea had not occurred to him. The two men headed back up to the open deck.

"It's that old Hornblower charm," grinned Archie.

"Archie, please," muttered Hornblower.

As Hornblower looked over his shoulder to see the mounted gun, his lips parted in dismay. Never had he seen such a thing on a ship's deck. It was huge! The wheels were nearly four feet in diameter. The trail stuck out the back like some thick lizard's tail, and she was as broad across her beam as she was tall. Hornblower shook his head silently, then nodded.

"Is she loaded?" he asked.

Edrington stepped away from the gun. "She is, indeed. A full charge. We decided it best to see first hand how she will behave."

Hornblower nodded and stepped closer, noting the lay of the breechings. A thick rope with a hook, similar to that used on the navy cannon, was attached to the side chains. Nothing across the back though, no ring to run a cable. A field weapon would not need the additional attaching point as did ship-board cannon. He grabbed the rope and tugged on it, then, stared at the bore. The level of it was above his waist. Raising his eyebrows, he imagined a deck covered with these. There would not be room for an opposite weapon with the long trail out the back. He scratched his head and sighed.

"I'm not sure these breechings will do," commented Hornblower.

"Our thought was that the trail might do to stop her recoil with the aid of the side cables," offered Edrington. "We won't know until we give her a try."

"Very well. Let's see what she'll do."

Edrington nodded. "I suggest we all give her a wide berth," his left eyebrow cocked doubtfully. "Mr. Bainbridge, if you will."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Bainbridge held the lanyard and waited till all bystanders were well clear, then looked to Hornblower.

"Fire away, Mr. Bainbridge."

The man jerked on the line.

The cannon burst out with an earsplitting boom! Her trail scraped into the decking, stubbed against the coaming, and the cannon reared up into the air She bounced, allowing the breeching line hooks to jump out of position, the lines fell away, and she pushed backwards with an incredible force. The trail bit into the larboard side, but the force of motion did not cease. It transferred from horizontal to vertical and the cannon rose upwards again. With a roll of the ship coming at just the wrong moment, she continued to rise straight into the air, teetered, and with a final encouragement from the sea, the precarious balance shifted seaward, the cannon falling backwards over the ship's side.

The men all backed away from the wildly careening cannon, raising their arms to protect themselves, should she come their way. As the sound died and the cannon ceased movement, she lay sideways and down, with the hot bore hissing in the sea water, her left wheel caught on the side railing and her trail sticking up in the air at a fifty-five degree angle.

"Holy Christ!" whispered Archie.

"Oh dear," said Edrington. "You are right, Mr. Hornblower. She needs to be better breeched."

Hornblower walked warily over beside the cannon, seeing the bore giving off a faint steam, the sea water cooling the muzzle.

"At least we didn't lose her over the side," offered Archie.

The ship pitched and the cannon slipped another notch toward doing just that.

"Bainbridge! Gaines! Quick! Get a line on her before we lose her entirely!" yelled Hornblower. "Damn! She's going to be a bitch to get back on deck."

With much grunting, heaving, and swearing, the 9 pound artillery weapon was brought to the deck, immediately rolling from ship-side to ship-side, as wheels were want to do when encouraged with the shift of platform beneath them.

"Chock her off, damn it!" cried Hornblower angrily.

Secured from movement, the officers and men stared at the looming artillery piece. Hornblower squatted beside one of the wheels and looked at the undercarriage, with a sigh.

"Mr. Barber," Hornblower called.

"Sir?" asked the rating, squatting beside him.

Hornblower pointed at the axle and wheel hubs. "What if we cut the spokes off the wheels here, at the hubs. She would still roll clear wouldn't she?"

"Aye, sir. they would rut the deck some, but..."

Hornblower stood and Barber followed. "And here, we don't need all this damn trail. Cut it off here." When the man did not readily agree, Hornblower looked his direction. "A problem, Mr. Barber?"

"Well, sir. The majority would be out o'the way, but what remained would dig into the deck, if she bounced at all, sir, I think."

"Then, what about a sled for the chopped tail to slide in, so she couldn't bite?"

Barber nodded thoughtfully. "That might work, sir. Take a bit o'copper and fashion a channel. But how long, sir? She's got a real kick to her."

Hornblower sighed and thought. The breechings. Barber was right. Stepping behind the gun, he found no possible place to loop a line through without considerable blacksmith work which they had not the time nor the facilities. He picked up one of the breeching hooks. "Get rid of the hook and tie the line directly to the side chain bolt. Put additional lines around her trunnions. If that doesn't do the trick, we could put similar cables and pulleys around the hub axle." Hornblower watched Barber absorb all he suggested.

"It might work, sir," smiled Barber.

"Get to it then. Let's get the wheels modified and trim her tail."

Extra lanterns swayed from the yards, casting additional light on the work area. With concentrated effort on the 9 pounder that became the prototype gun, a second trial neared.

Bentley and Cribbins made a way over the prow of Juliet onto the after deck of Le Petit Canard with pails of stew for the working men. To Hornblower's satisfaction, Barber and Hodges volunteered to keep working while their fellows ate. Hornblower stayed with them, denying himself sustenance as well.

Barber studied Hornblower testing the breeching lines and ventured to speak. "Beg pardon, sir, but I wouldn't worry too much about Matthews. He's a tough old bird, he is, and he's plenty smart. And should Matty be found lacking, Styles'll make up fer it in brawn."

Hornblower felt his face relax. Was his worry visible? Managing the barest smile, he replied. "Yes, Barber, Matthews is indeed resourceful. I appreciate your confidence in his abilities."

Barber was quiet for some moments, pondering Hornblower's words, and then he said, "I got the same confidence in you, sir."

The color rose in Hornblower's cheeks. "I hope it is not misplaced, Barber."

The rating smiled. "It ain't, sir."

At last, the cannon was ready for loading.

Kennedy lay his empty bowl on the low deck. "Let me do that, Mr. Hornblower. Bentley is anxious for you to get some food," he grinned. "Barber, Hodges, you, too. Go eat. Langley, Filly, let's load her."

"Full charge, Mr. Kennedy?" asked Filly.

"Aye. Full charge," he nodded.

Kennedy raised a brow at the squat gun, her hips broadly spread by the axle. Expecting the application to work, a permanent position had been chosen to place the gun and the copper channel hammered in place and greased for the stubby trail tail to slide in on the recoil. Harlan and Lipton took their places to run her out the freshly cut gun port.

"Ready, sir," advised Langley.

"Ready, Mr. Hornblower," called Kennedy.

Hornblower, Edrington, and the other men stood apprehensively. Bentley put his fingers in his ears. Hornblower nodded the go ahead.

"Run her out! Stand clear, men," cautioned Kennedy. The gun crew backed away. Kennedy yanked the cord.

BOOM! The cannon belched forth the nine pound ball. Smoke hung in the air and obliterated the gun. She recoiled, her tail scraping in the channel, and her breeching ropes brought her to a stand still.

The men stared at the odd low lying weapon, silent and still, a stream of smoke coiling out the muzzle, then in consort they erupted into a general shout.

"Hooray!" was followed by laughter and congratulatory slaps.

"Good!" grinned Hornblower, "Very good! Let's get to work, men! Mr. Barber, oversee the alterations."

"Aye, aye, Mr. Hornblower."

"Captain Kennedy, a word, if you please," requested Hornblower.

"Yes?" asked Kennedy warily, hearing the title given his name.

"Accompany me to the captain's cabin."

Kennedy looked questioningly at Edrington.

"Decide whatever you will, but I am staying with Mr. Hornblower," he advised.

Kennedy held his protests and followed Hornblower below and into the after cabin. Hornblower lit an additional candle.

"Archie, I want you to find Captain Pellew and let him know what has occurred."

"I'm not leaving you, Horatio."

Hornblower was prepared with arguments. "We have four twelve pounders, and three nines. It is doubtful we will have the time to rig the sixes. It isn't much to come up against a corvette armed with four times that many and twice the size."

"You inform nothing that I do not already know. What we have accomplished in arming Le Petit Canard is laughable in view of Renard's strength."

"All the more reason for you to return to Pellew. Besides, Juliet remains unarmed."

"Horatio..." Kennedy shook his head and stopped his speech to think. "You haven't enough men to operate that many guns. We could put half of them on Juliet."

"No, Archie. Dividing our strength is not the answer. I want you to sail Juliet to Pellew. And..." he paused, "You have brought up my next request. I need the majority of your division."

 

 

 

Morning came early. The men of the prize ship Juliet set sail with the first glimpse of the coming day to rejoin Pellew. Those on Le Petit Canard were stirring but slowly. The men on watch had no sleep, and those that were waking slept little more than three hours. Hornblower was among the watch crew.

A six pounder was brought out from the hold at four bells in the middle watch to even up the cannon on either side of the ship. On the starboard side lay two twelve pounders, one nine and the six. The larboard side had the other two twelves and two nines. The cannon were like long low spiders with two spindly extended legs. Hornblower eyed the armament critically from the low quarter-deck, then turned to pace to the starboard side and stare at the disappearing stern of Juliet. A twinge of guilt stirred over taking most of the division of Juliet's captain, but he needed them. What was Pellew going to say when he learned that he had lost Renard de Mer and was now taking a second prize in search of the first? If he lost this one, there would be hell to pay, he was sure. But his men's lives were at stake. He could not abandon them to whatever fate the French might mete out.

When the original crew of Le Petit Canard emerged from below to man the sail, they stared with mouths agape at what the British sailors had done to their ship and with the cargo. The majority of them were not French. There were three Belgians, two Portuguese, one Italian, a huge African, and those remaining, two French. Two more of their number had been transferred to Juliet, along with a few of the marines. The black man started laughing and pointed at the guns.

"Look what de crazy Brits have done to de boat! Ha ha ha ha ha!" The coal black African slapped his thigh, then, stared up at Hornblower and spoke. "Hey, you, Big Mastah, we not sign on for de fighting ship."

The man's English surprised Hornblower and he was tempted to inquire where he was from. Instead he kept quiet and stared. Another comedian.

The African grinned revealing gleaming white, huge teeth. "You got nothing to say, Big Mastah? Hey, Portuguese! We going to fight now. What you think?"

"Close yer yap there, Bucko," ordered Bainbridge. "Aloft with ya before I get a starter to ya!"

"Yes, Mastah," grinned the big black man bowing. He turned as he walked, and grinned at Bainbridge. He crooked his right arm and patted the huge muscle it created. "I usually handle de braces, Mastah, but if ya want me aloft, I be goin', I do."

"Put him on the braces, Bainbridge," ordered Hornblower a slight tone of exasperation coloring his instruction.

"Aye, aye, Captain. Hey Bucko, man braces! Watch yer footing there, Langley!"

The rating nearly tripped over one of the copper gun channels but managed to catch himself and give a salute to Bainbridge. Hodges was laughing despite the early hour and Langley grinned back.

"Watch yeself, Johnny Brit," said the black man to Langley. "De deck be littered with bangers."

Langley and Hodges exchanged bemused glances. "Where ye from that ye speak English?" asked Langley.

"I from de islands. I been on de British ships, de Dutch, de French. I guess now I on de British again," he grinned. "What de mastah's name be called?" he asked nodding toward Hornblower.

"That's Captain Hornblower," informed Hodges.

"Hornblower? Hee hee! Do he blow de horn? Hee hee! I knowed a man that blowed a horn. He was mighty good at it, too!"

"Quiet down there, Bucko. Langley, Hodges! Cut the chatter!"

The English sailors silenced and hauled on the lines. The black grabbed on with them and gave such a strong tug the resistance on the line disappeared for Langley and Hodges and they stared at the big black man.

He grinned his huge toothy smile. "I always man de braces. You go help them if you wants," he suggested, nodding at the three men opposite him.

Langley and Hodges looked back at Bainbridge while the black hauled away on his own. Bainbridge frowned and motioned them over to the other lines.

"Port your helm four points, Cribbins, and bring her into the wind," ordered Hornblower. "West, sou'west."

"West, sou'west, it is, sir."

Le Petit Canard gathered the breezes and leaned into the starboard tack. Her sails puffed out proudly and a lone happy tune-like chant emerged from her deck top.

"Haulin' on de sheets. Haulin on de lines. Haulin' on de sheets all day, until Big Mastah he do say, Well done, me hearties, well done. Well done, me hearties, well done."

The original crew of Le Petit Canard seemed to fall into a rhythm with the big black's words and a general feeling of calm and order swept over the deck as the men went about their assigned tasks. Bainbridge looked to Hornblower for a sign to quiet the darkie. Reading the question in Bainbridge's eyes, Hornblower shook his head briefly. Bainbridge viewed the men at work and listened to the deep resonant voice.

"We sailin' at de break o day. We sailin far to earn our pay, an all us lads can hear him say, Well done, me hearties, well done. Well done, me hearties, well done. We gwain to sail her at high tide. We gwain to sail her full an by. Until Big Mastah he do spy, well done, we done well done. Well done, we done well done." The big black grinned and continued the shanty. "And when we reach the shore at last. And all the chores of sailin's passed. We spect to hear de Mastah say, Well done, me hearties, well done. Well done, me hearties, well done."

Bentley emerged from below, stopped and stared at the chanting man, then, brought Hornblower a steaming tankard of coffee.

"Thank you, Mr. Bentley."

"Your are quite welcome, Captain." Bentley gazed at the decks of Le Petit Canard, alive with action, her sails filled, and men at work. Though the morning sun was dimmed with a rising high fog, the brass cannon gleamed. "You know, Captain, though I fear for our lives, I am glad to be on this adventure with you and his Lordship."

Hornblower listened without comment.

Bentley looked back at the current commander. "You must be exhausted, sir."

Hornblower did not know how to respond to Bentley's concern. It was his duty. It was expected. He was in command and he was leading these men on a desperate quest. What else could he do? He decided to change the subject.

"How is his lordship's shoulder?"

"He does not complain and I see he is following your orders, sir, regarding the sling." Bentley paused, and Hornblower could tell there was something more coming. "Forgive me for saying so, sir, but... we do owe your wife a debt of gratitude for ... for helping him."

Hornblower felt heat in his cheeks but it dissipated quickly. "I... I know she was glad that it turned out as well as it did."

"Forgive me, sir, but ... is your mother still living?"

Hornblower was starting to feel uneasy, though he liked the old gentleman. He was no shirker when a hand was needed. Why would he ask about his mother? "No, Mr. Bentley. She is not."

"I am sorry to hear it." Bentley paused, considering his words. "I know she would be proud of you, sir, if I may say so. I know, too, that Lady Edrington, his lordship's mamah, would want me to express her thanks, as well. I wish I had the presence of mind to thank your wife that morning on the docks, but..."

"It is quite all right, Mr. Bentley."

"When next you write her, would you convey our appreciation?"

"Of course, sir. I will."

As Bentley returned below decks, Hornblower considered his wife's activities from this new point of view. Edrington's mother lives. He felt a profound respect for mothers and he knew it grew out of the love he held for his own. She represented everything good about the female gender.

Pressing his fingers into his eyelids, Hornblower thought, *Pamela, how I wish I could lie down beside you and rest for a while. I am weary. I do not know what the day holds, but I must be vigilant. What will you say to me should something befall Matthews, Styles, Hardy, or any of my men, our men, that served us well on Dolphin? They have watched over we two as much or more as I have them. God help me find them. Lead me to them, Great God of the Universe. If you exist, let them be all right. Guard them with Your power.* Hornblower halted his thoughts. Was he praying? Before he realized, his fingers slipped inside the French uniform he wore to finger the cross that hung around his neck. He had not removed it since she put it on him that night, their final night. The words of the prayer were Pamela's. That last morning, he had come up behind her as she gazed out the window. He rested his chin on her shoulder and pressed his smoothly shaven cheek to her soft one and inquired for her thoughts. She gave voice to the words in her heart and revealed to him her prayer. No doubt of God's existence was evident in her speech. Inhaling, he turned away to gaze seaward from the weather side. The wind seemed to sting his eyes unexpectedly.

He did not know how long he had been staring into the deep blue of the ocean when he felt a hand rest upon his shoulder.

"Are you awake?"

"Hm?" Hornblower heard a slight chuckle and turned to face the man touching him.

"You didn't hear a word I said, did you? I'll take over for a while. Get below and get some rest. I want you as sharp as a tack when we meet your wayward prize."

Deciding not to protest, Hornblower turned over the command deck to his long time friend. Kennedy refused to leave him, and it was Connors that sailed away on Juliet. Being on the expedition to rescue his men was more important that captaining a prize, Kennedy had said. Would he ever have as true a friend as Kennedy? He was ashamed of the jealousy he felt not more than three nights ago, and Hornblower was thankful that Kennedy was resilient and tough enough to withstand his idiocy of trying to break with him.

"Archie," he said softly.

"Yes?" Kennedy gave his full attention, hearing Hornblower use his first name so strangely.

Hornblower opened his mouth a few times before the words escaped. "I want you to know how much I value your friendship."

Archie's features altered from mildly incredulous to an uncertain smile and he and Hornblower viewed one another for moments. So, he was forgiven for the night he pressed him on Indefatigable. The two had not a chance to speak after that confrontation, one of Kennedy's regrets now dispelled.

"I... I have never had as true a friend as you have been," said Hornblower. In the back of his mind, he thought curiously about what he was voicing. "Thank you, for choosing to come along, giving up ... giving up being captain of Juliet."

Archie's face had gone somber as Hornblower continued, for he wondered if Hornblower felt the end were near, he was so serious. The entire tone of the little conversation caught Kennedy off guard, it was so unexpected. Giving up being captain of a ship would be a great cost to the man, Archie knew, though for Kennedy, giving up serving with Hornblower would be costlier. Kennedy knew he could easily serve under Hornblower as captain. Would the day come when he would? Muscles tugged the corners of his mouth. Was that not what he was doing now?

"I could be no where else, Horatio. We will find them. Rest assured, and by all means, rest. I will call you, should any thing occur."

It was exhaustion, Kennedy told himself. That was what made the brilliant Mr. Hornblower address him so. Barriers were down because of it, and for once, his friend's thoughts were of him. *He does value me, as much as I do him, though he is the pearl of greater price. I knew all along, Horatio, you considered me so, though you have not made it easy,... for any of us, that count you as a friend.*

Hornblower begrudged his face a shallow smile and departed.

"Mr. Hornblower."

"Mr. Kennedy?"

"Thank you... for that."

Hornblower nodded and tiredly continued his journey below.

 

 

Less than a day's sail north and east, Captain Pellew was pacing in the spacious after cabin of Vengeance. Surrounded by mahogany and burgundy velvet cushions and curtains, it was nearly like being in a drawing room back home.

"Captain Driscoll, I ... " Pellew ceased. His mind whirred with possibilities. The uneasiness he felt was confirmed. Hornblower's ship disappeared during the night? Under his second leftenant's command, it would not. Hornblower would never sail away in the night without informing his superior. That only left the impossible idea that the Frenchmen on board had somehow overcome the marines and possibly Hornblower's men. Where would they go? Back to France? They had not enough men to fight to regain the supply vessels. Barely enough men to sail her on their own. Unless the British helped them.... but that was unthinkable. This whole affair, Renard de Mer's officers missing, it was a red flag he chose to ignore in his zeal to gain prize ships. *Damn me! Have I been greedy? Or over zealous? Or just too plain cocky for my own good?* wondered Pellew. *Where would I begin to look for them? And what would the Admiralty say? My orders are to accompany Vengeance and the others to England. I myself was ordered there to receive Indefatigable's new assignment.*

"Captain, there are times when we must cut our losses," suggested Driscoll.

Pellew knew he was right. It was the cost of being in his majesty's navy. You did your duty. Sometimes you won, sometimes you lost. Could he accept that scenario? Could he accept it for Hornblower? He sighed.

"I know you are right, Captain Driscoll," admitted Pellew.

"Either your men will escape, they will be killed, if they are not already, or they will be imprisoned in France. There is always the possibility of exchange."

"Yes. Yes," agreed Pellew thoughtfully. Pellew glimpsed Driscoll, but he did not really see him. His mind rapidly considered. "Captain Driscoll, I still have two prizes following. In light of what has occurred, I best round them up. If Renard de Mer is at large, they might attack those ships, though I do not see how, but I would not have thought the ship could be taken either. The supply ships are not armed, another curiosity."

"True, Captain Pellew. I know England would not ship weapons without the same to guard them. I can only assume the French do not think along those lines. More fool they! Eh, what?"

"Indeed, Captain, possibly. I just.... I just get the feeling there is more to all this than meets the eye," conjectured Pellew. "I will take my leave, sir. Will you go on to England?"

"You know how poorly Vengeance sails, Captain Pellew. She moves like an old woman. If there were a possibility to careen her and scrape her a bit, but alas, it cannot be done. Not here."

"Yes, Captain," sighed Pellew in dismay. What Driscoll said was true. Vengeance might cause more difficulties than she would solve. Plus, as slow as she was, following after Renard de Mer, IF he knew where she went, would slow him down. In a flash, it occurred to him. Either Renard would go back to France, or she would stay on her heading from when they first sighted them two days ago. Maybe the light armament of one lone escort vessel, Renard de Mer to guard the supply ships, was to be brief. Perhaps there were others she was to join and he and Driscoll just happened along at the right moment. Could that be? He wanted to examine his charts. Now.

"I bid you farewell, then, Captain Driscoll. Should I be successful, perhaps we will rejoin you, but under the circumstances with so many prizes, I think it wise for you to sail to England as soon as may be."

"Under the circumstances, Captain Pellew, I agree. Good luck to you, sir. We will keep an eye out for you, should you be able to join us."