An American Encounter, Part Three
Ch 15 The Madness of Kings
In another part of the Atlantic, south and west, a French corvette lay hove to near a ship of the line in company with two others. A stream of men were climbing the side of the warship from the longboat sent by her, one was a midshipman in his majesty's navy. The British sailors were met with an armed guard and pressed against the railing. Armant stepped onto the deck and saluted the man wearing an eye patch whose hand nervously played over the gold dragon head on his cane. The man's lips were set in a thin line, his emotions barely in check.
"Where are they? Where are my cargo ships?"
"My Lord, we were set upon by the British just as we were completing the disposal of the French officers. You know the entire crew was not with us. I had not time to convince them. They would not fight until the British were upon us, and then it was only to preserve their own feeble lives. I wrested Renard de Mer from the English as you can see and have come to report to you, sir. With your superior numbers, we can easily retake the supply vessels."
"Superior numbers? How many have they?"
"Only a frigate and one ship of the line, sir."
"You mean that was all you saw," spat the lord.
Stepping nearer the men of Indefatigable, he pierced each man with a one-eyed stare.
Armant continued. "We joined the seventy four in convoy. There was only that warship and our captured vessels. The frigate went after two of ours that ran back towards France. I do not know if he got them or not."
"You!" Effington raised the cane and pointed the index finger at Matthews.
Since that night on Magie Noir, the final moments, before she caught fire and exploded, Effington set in stone every word, every face. Each time the memory came, he vowed revenge, should he ever have the chance. This man. This aging seaman had been with that leftenant, that Leftenant Horatio Hornblower of His Majesty's Frigate Indefatigable. Those words came at him, at night, during the day, mocking him, stalking him, lighting the flames of hatred, vengeance. They had beat him at his own game. Kaliakra was one of the most beautiful ships ever crafted by man's hand, and that man, that captain of Indefatigable, by the words of his own leftenant, plotted and planned to destroy her. In so doing, he destroyed Effington's other prize possession, Magie Noir. The Black Magic that sailed where she would and took others with barely an effort.
He rounded on Armant. He would ask, but he knew, and only needed affirmation. "What ship? What frigate?" he asked, his eye wild with angry expectation.
Armant hesitated to answer seeing the frenzied emotion. He turned, wondering, to the ship's captain who stood silently watching the display. That fateful night last spring, when the lord received his injuries, his mind had become unstable. Mood swings, grandiose imaginings, other than the simple desire for riches, became his motivations. Far from what their original intentions had been, those of simple thievery.
"What ship, I said!" repeated Effington.
"It was... Indefatigable, sir," he answered cautiously and curiously.
"Argh!" screamed Effington. "That man! I hate that man!"
Armant glanced at Captain Sinclair. The fierce anger of Lord Effington was well known to both men.
Effington pointed at Matthews again. "Take him and lash him to the gratings! I will know how many travel in this squadron or have his life."
Matthews' mates tried to block him from being taken, but the men guarding them, pressed them back and yanked Matthews from their midst.
Armant's features pinched and his lips parted. This would be a mistake. Matthews was the leader of these men, despite the midshipman. They would harden against their captors and remain as silent as he knew the old sailor would. If there were more information to be had, this was not the path to take.
"My Lord, if I may...." offered Armant.
While he whispered in Effington's ear, Matthews' coat and shirt
were stripped, his arms spread and tied to a grating leaning against
the quarter-deck. Faint scars were seen across his back. The
man with the cat let the bag fall from the long nine strands.
With a flick of his wrist, the nine tails splayed upon the decking.
He waited for Effington's order.
He gave it, with a nod.
THWACK! The nine cords slapped against Matthews' flesh. The men of Indefatigable stirred and the guards pressed against them.
Armant hurried his words. He respected the old sailor, though he was an enemy. This was senseless. There was nothing to be gained. "My Lord, this man, though only a rating, is the true leader of these men. For some reason, they have a strong loyalty to their officers. The midshipman is the better take. They will not allow him to be beaten. They will answer all your questions."
Effington kept silent and watched as the cat o'nine tails bit into the flesh of Matthews repeatedly. His eyes shifted to the group of Englishmen, watching, their eyes filling with hatred, as his own were. It pleased him for them to feel as he did, the burning anger. At thirteen lashes, he spoke.
"Stop! Take the midshipman."
The captain of the ship came near Effington, glimpsing the events taking place on his ship. "My Lord, he is an officer," he protested. His next words were cut off by the vehemence of Effington.
"You question me, Captain? If you do not like what you see, then repair to your cabins," challenged the lord.
Sinclair silenced at the implied accusation.
Effington motioned for the sailor to be brought near.
Matthews' visage clearly revealed the pain of his stripes, though not a sound did he make.
Effington snarled a smile. "Silent to the end. Will your officer be as brave? Will you remain silent while his boyish white flesh is cut to ribbons by the cat?" He motioned for the men to release Matthews. "Wash him. His blood is staining my decks."
Matthews was pushed down. A tethered bucket went over the side, then, retrieved, full of cold saltwater. The contents were thrown over his back. The cool of the water, the sting of the salt, mixed reports by already sensitized and numb nerve endings, Matthews gasped. The red tinged water seeped into the scuppers, making a way to trickle into the sea. A man was mopping the deck where his blood had splattered, leaving a trail from the grating to Effington.
Matthews saw Cutter, disrobed to the waist. His pale skin shivering with the cold airs of November, or was it anticipation of what was about to be done to him?
Effington was speaking to Matthews. "A little reminder for you... What is your name?"
"In case you did not remember the pain of the cat, Matthews. Will you let this boy know its lick? His flesh has no such acquaintance, I see."
The man with the cat cleaned its strands and tossed it in the air to separate the cords.
Cutter looked skyward and bit his bottom lip.
Effington limped his halted step near the midshipman.
"Well, boy, not what you imagined your fate to be," he teased.
"I am an officer, sir." His voice betrayed the nervous expectation, but his eyes held steady, gazing into Effington's.
Effington chuckled. "So you are. How many ships travel with Indefatigable?"
Cutter's eyes shifted to Armant. "No, more than what he has told you. Do you not believe your own man?"
"Oh, I believe he reports what he saw," replied Effington. "It is Pellew that captain's Indefatigable?" His tone was tinged with anger.
"Yes, sir. Everyone knows that...especially the French," said Cutter, not hiding the pride from his voice.
Effington was considering the words and Cutter took the opportunity to speak.
"Sir, you are English. Why are you doing this? By all accounts of what I see, you do not lack in funds. Why ...why?" Cutter was not sure what the exact question should be.
"I'm English? Why? You ask." Effington mocked and laughed over the unknown joke. "Let us say, I am an ambitious man. Those ships your captain has taken are mine! Mine! Do you hear! I have paid for their cargoes to the corrupt Frenchmen who care more for their purses than the precious republic! MY cargo!" He leaned nearer to Cutter. "Do you know what they carry? Arms. Enough arms to outfit an army. My army. I am finished with being a lackey for an insane monarch. Why should I be, when I could rule my own kingdom?"
Cutter thought the man must be mad himself. Did he mean to
take over England?
He asked. "You think you can take England with three warships?" Cutter laughed.
Effington struck him in the face. Blood oozed from Cutter's left nostril.
"England? No,... not yet, but perhaps later, after I have established my own country. You think I am mad...as mad as King George." Effington ducked his head into his shoulder and turned it to look at Cutter askance. "Enough talk."
Matthews was up on his hands and knees after a second dousing of water. Though it stung, it also revived. Grabbing the railing, Matthews came to his feet. He could see Styles' eyes upon him, eyes of concern, eyes of anger, he looked down quickly, not wishing to provide the next man for a beating from the madman.
With a raised hand, Effington said, "One, if you please, Mr. White."
The cat sang out and landed across Cutter's exposed skin. He uttered a cry and gripped the grating. His entire body shivered. Nine red welts appeared, revealing the track of the cat.
"Matthews? Have you something to tell me?" asked Effington.
"Your own man told you the truth!" said Matthews.
"Two, Mr. White."
Cutter tried to stay silent but a groan echoed in his throat.
Matthews licked his lips and winced, remembering his own pain. "There's nowt else to tell, sir. Indefatigable was in company with one seventy-four."
"Three, Mr. White."
Cutter's knees buckled. Gasping for breath, he held onto the grate and pulled himself up. The muscles in his shoulder blades screamed with the effort.
Matthews could not see how telling this man about Zealous and Vanguard could hurt. He wished he were as bright as Mr. Hornblower. He did his best to twist around the feeble information he had. He did not know what Pellew would do once he learned Renard no longer accompanied Vengeance. The ocean was a big place. Could the captain possibly have an idea where they were? Was Mr. Hornblower somewhere at sea with Lord Edrington and Bentley? Had Mr. Hornblower's luck held and he been found by Indefatigable? What would Hornblower say if he were here? Those two ships sailed onto England days ago. Could that information appease this man and stop the beating of Cutter? He was a boy! Even the British did not flog a boy. Cane them over the gunner's daughter, yes, but not a flogging.
Effington was about to give the order.
"Wait! There was two others, but they sailed for England two or three days ago. Only Vengeance and Indefatigable remain. It's God's own truth, sir. Beating Mr. Cutter will gain you nothing. There's nothing more to tell."
"Why would the squadron break? I do not think you speak the truth." He nodded to White.
"Vengeance is slow, sir. The other two had to get to England. We stayed back with the slower ship, so she wouldn't be left on her own," said Matthews hurriedly.
"Why is she slow?" asked Effington curiously. He canted his head like a bird waiting for an answer.
"Bottoms foul with growth. She's been in the Indies,... on her way for a refit."
Armant stepped beside Effington. "That's it! I knew there was something wrong the day they attacked us. The seventy-four is slow. We still have a chance to get the ships back, my Lord. We waste time here on this boy who knows nothing. We should be under sail. We can take one ship or more with our strength and numbers. Perhaps, you might even have a chance at this Captain Pellew you so despise."
"My cargo. Sinclair. Send enough men with Armant to man Renard de Mer. Pray you are right, Mr. Matthews, that Vengeance is slow." Effington quirked a demonic grimace. "Vengeance. A proper name for what is about to occur...and if we fail, it will be executed upon you and your men." Effington tossed his hand in dismissal of the beaten sailor and the men pushed Matthews to join the others. Catching a last glimpse of Cutter, he saw the boy had passed out and fallen to the deck when they cut him loose.
Styles stepped out from the group. "Let me have him." He motioned towards Cutter. They allowed him to retrieve the young officer. Grabbing Cutter's wrist, Styles pulled him over his shoulder and carried him below with the rest of them.
The men of Indefatigable were separated into two holdings, one group locked in the sail locker and the other in the fodder hold. The doors to both rooms were wooden spindled in the upper half, and the enemy looped chains around them to fasten with a lock.
Matthews, Styles, and Cutter along with seven of their mates were in the cell with the hay. Before the door was locked, a bucket of sea water was given for the beaten men.
"Oh, Matty," muttered Styles. "They've done your back good."
Matthews wiped his nose with the back of his hand. "See to Mr. Cutter. It's best ye clean those whilst he's unconscious. They'll sting like hell with that saltwater."
"Poor bastard," muttered Styles. "He took it like a man."
Harkins spread Cutter's coat and shirt over the hay.
Styles eased the young officer face down onto the clothing and found a handkerchief inside Cutter's topcoat pocket. He dipped it into the water and dabbed the wounds gently to wipe away the blood from the raised and broken welts.
"Aye. For one that's never known the sting of the cat, he did," agreed Matthews.
"Mr. Hornblower'd be proud," said Harkins, ripping off the bottom of his shirt. He wet the scrap from the bucket of water and sponged the blood still issuing from Matthews back.
"Mr. Hornblower'd be mad as hell...will be mad as hell, when he finds out," stated Styles. "He ain't goin' ta like that either one o' ye has been harmed." Styles looked ruefully at Matthews and blurted. "Blaine's dead."
Matthews stared at his friend. "Who told ye that?"
"Hell." Matthews paused, saddened at the news. "He was a good man, even if he was a marine." Matthews wiped at his eyes. Tears came with the sting of the saltwater, but he did not cry, he just could not stop the tears. "Hornblower ain't goin' to like that neither."
"Do ye think he's all right?"
"Of course, he is. Mr. Bentley said he felt a pulse. He's all right and thinkin' how he can find us." Matthews frowned, recalling the company of this ship. "They've got three ships o' the line, Styles."
"I seen 'em," commented Styles.
"That's a lot to come up against," Matthews said warily.
"So's Pellew and Hornblower," smiled Styles.
Matthews laughed along with the others in their cell, wincing with the pain the movement brought. Would they come looking for them?
"Quiet down in there!" ordered the enemy guard.
Somewhere in between Le Petit Canard and Vengeance, the unarmed supply ship, Juliet, heeled with the breezes on a starboard tack. She was as trim as Connors could get her. Unable to withstand not knowing, Connors climbed to the mast head himself, extending the glass and sweeping the northeasterly direction in which they tacked. It was nearly noon and he keenly felt the gap doubling between Juliet and Canard, and prayed it reduced between him and Indefatigable. Surely Captain Pellew would gain Vengeance, learn Renard was missing and come looking for her. If he were Pellew, that is what he would do. Besides, at least he would come looking for him and Kennedy. The captain said he would, once he checked out Vengeance and the convoy. How much farther could they be? It had been over six hours since he left Canard. What was Pellew going to say when he learned what his second in command had done? And, he, Connors, was going to have to be the man to tell him. His throat constricted with the swallow. A glint of white caught his eye.
"Let it be the Indy. Please, God, let it be the Indy," muttered Connors to himself. He strained to see the ensign of the ship on the far horizon. "Yes! Sail, damn you, sail!" he said to Juliet and made his way down the mast.
Within the hour, the two ships were closing rapidly. Pellew had been notified that they approached one ship. Was it Renard? Juliet and Le Petit Canard were to sail together. Those were his orders and he expected them to be followed. Assuming it could be Renard, he had Indefatigable cleared for action. He joined Bracegirdle and Bowles on the quarter-deck.
"Well, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
The first leftenant was looking through the long glass. "It isn't Renard de Mer, sir. There are no gun ports. It looks to be the size of one of the prizes. If it is, I do not understand where the other one is. She's under full sail, sir. Hell bent in our direction."
Pellew received these comments as he himself peered through the telescope. All Bracegirdle relayed, he confirmed with his own eyes. "She is coming up fast. Be ready to heave to, Mr. Bowles."
The two ships, closing on one another, narrowed the gap swiftly. Juliet overshot and Connors had to put his helm over and adjust the sail to come up with Indefatigable.
Pellew watched the maneuvers, and as she passed, he saw it was Juliet, but that Connors was on board. He would swear Kennedy captained Juliet. As the little cargo craft came in shouting distance, Pellew cupped his mouth and called.
"Mr. Connors! Where is Mr. Kennedy?"
Juliet's bow turned straight onto the stern of Indefatigable. Bowles cursed under his breath, and Bracegirdle grabbed onto the waist rail expecting to be rammed any moment. They could hear Connors shouting to the helmsman. "Hard over! Hard over!" The ships larboard bow hit and scraped along Indefatigables starboard aft quarter.
Connors' face was scarlet as his ship continued to scrape along Indefatigable's side.
Pellew huffed a breath. "Bracegirdle, get a man to tether us."
"Aye, aye, Captain." Bracegirdle's footing was precarious with the ocean knocking the two ships together.
At last, Juliet's raised deck was even with Indefatigables quarter-deck. Connors had the presence of mind to haul Juliet's yards fore and aft and the sail furled to prevent coming foul with Indefatigable. Connors' crimson visage looked up at his captain and he spoke anxiously.
"Forgive me, sir. I have news. We came upon Mr. Hornblower and Lord Edrington adrift in a launch, sir. The French retook Renard de Mer."
"Yes, I know, Mr. Connors. Where are they?" *Why in God's name would the French set Mr. Hornblower and Lord Edrington adrift? Why not kill them outright, or keep them held for ransom or exchange?* thought Pellew.
"Mr. Hornblower took over my ship, Le Petit Canard. Mr. Kennedy insisted on going with him, so I was given Juliet to find you."
"Where are they?" he repeated.
"They've gone hunting for Renard de Mer, sir! The French have Mr. Hornblower's crew, sir, ... and Mr. Cutter."
Pellew pressed his lips together. "Canard is unarmed! Has Mr. Hornblower lost his senses or does he wish to compound my problems by getting himself and the prize retaken?" he said gruffly.
"Canard is armed now, sir. Mr. Hornblower had the army artillery in the hold brought topside and rigged the guns to work, sir. Mr. Kennedy's division switched with mine, and Mr. Hornblower kept the majority of my division to man the guns."
Pellew looked at the motley cargo ship crew, the marines, and the few English sailors left to Connors. "Mr. Connors, just where did Mr. Hornblower think Renard de Mer had gone?" He knew his own conjectures. Had Hornblower reached the same conclusions?
"He planned to set Canard's course on the same heading as that we found the convoy on, sir, west southwest."
He had indeed. Exactly what Pellew decided was a distinct possibility.
"And, sir, Mr. Hornblower thinks our enemy is not the French."
Pellew wrinkled his brow at this disclosure and waited for Connors to go on.
"He thinks they are pirates, sir."
Pirates, thought Pellew. This did not bode well. The French at least conformed to some code of warfare, but pirates were not so inclined. "What armament was Mr. Hornblower able to ... rig on Canard?"
"There were four twelve pounders, three nines and a six, mounted when I left him this morning, sir. We separated from them at three bells in the morning watch, sir, there abouts."
Pellew grimaced. That could hardly be considered armed in the face of what Renard de Mer carried. But there was more. If they both thought Renard de Mer was sailing southwest, then there had to be a reason to do so. Otherwise, France should have been her destination. The spring previous advanced to the fore of his conscious thought. The suspected pirate navy that attacked the American ship Cymbaline with Dolphin, then attacked Dolphin to retake her. The fight with Kaliakra and again, her compatriots came at them, ending with the destruction of Kaliakra to preserve Indefatigable. He could see the black sail of the dark ship blocking the stars unnaturally that night not so many months ago. Like a familiar unpleasant scent, this news was not good.
"Mr. Connors, sail on the same direction that you met us and you should reach Vengeance. Inform Captain Driscoll of what has occurred and accompany him to England. Any questions?"
"Aye, aye, sir, no sir."
"Good work, Mr. Connors. Mr. Bracegirdle, release Juliet."
"Aye, aye, sir." Bracegirdle motioned to the two men holding the tether lines. "Denby, Rayburn "
The lines lashing the two ships together released and Juliet fell away from the frigate.
"Seven hours," said Pellew, glimpsing his pocket watch, thinking out loud. "More, since they sail away from us. Damn. Fourteen hours. We must fly, Mr. Bowles. Make her fly!" he said softly but anxiously.
"Aye, aye, Captain! Set studding sails!"
To the south and west, the little cargo vessel with fresh cut gun ports, all sail set, headed towards an unknown destination. Mr. Hornblower, clad once more in the uniform of the British Navy stood on the low quarter-deck beside his friend, Archie Kennedy.
"What did you think of Lord Edrington's ... idea?" asked Kennedy.
Hornblower sighed. "I am not sure of the application, but it bears thought. If he should get the opportunity to try it out, it means we will be running for our lives." Hornblower raised an eyebrow. The thought was aggravating, but he had to confess its possibility.
"Sail ho!" called one of the Belgians from the mast. The cargo crew seemed amiable, though they did not like that the ship was rigged with cannon.
Hornblower and Kennedy looked in the direction he pointed. Sail were barely visible.
"I'm going up for a look," said Hornblower.
"I'm right behind you."
The two men ascended the shrouds in short order and both were peering through spyglasses. There, southwest of them, the suspected heading of the French ship they sought, came the enemy.
"Damn," said Archie quietly. "Who...? Is that Renard de Mer?"
"Yes," said Hornblower solemnly.
Hornblower looked down at Bainbridge watching them from the helm, his eyes shielded from the sun.
"Mr. Bainbridge! Bring her about!" called Hornblower. There was no time to be lost in waiting to get down from the mast. He and Kennedy had to grab hold as the ship answered helm and turned. "Armant has found them, and they are going for the prizes," said Hornblower to Kennedy as they descended.
"But, Horatio...we are one of the prizes."
The two British officers hit the deck. Striding quickly, yet maintaining the decorum of the unflappable officer, Hornblower reached the quarter-deck and reeled to eye the sail. He already had every inch of canvas on Le Petit Canard. He studied the lay of the wind. The luffing was ceasing and he looked down onto the deck to see the big black pulling back and adjusting the main course lines on one side, with his men on the other. Once the line was secured, the black looked at Hornblower who nodded his approval.
"How long can we stay ahead of them, Horatio?"
"I don't know, Archie, not long enough, whatever it is."
Hornblower looked aft. The four ships following were distinct on the horizon. "They're gaining fast. Coming about gave them an edge. They must be wondering about us for running. If they saw the gun ports... Damn!" Hornblower rubbed his forehead. Run or fight? Fighting would be insane against a ship of the line. Running was miserable. If they were lighter, could they run more swiftly? Would the time gained be worth it? What was better, to be caught, or to fight and be blown to smithereens? One crew lost already. He could not lose Kennedy's and Connors', too. He spoke out loud. "Renard de Mer is one thing, but ships of the line? Archie..." Hornblower looked at the cannon deck. They represented tonnage. Without them, they might gain some time by lightening the ship. Should he break off this tack for another? But to do so would lose time. They might catch him faster. What was he running to? Suddenly, the decision was clear. They had to run. Run and pray Indefatigable and or Vengeance would be over the horizon. Did Connors find them? Would Pellew choose to come for them, or decide to cut his losses and sail for England? All these thoughts hammered in his head.
"Jettison the cannon," said Hornblower, the decision taken.
"What? After all we went through? Horatio, are you sure?"
"There are three ships of the line, Archie."
With but a moments hesitation, Kennedy replied, "Right. Jettison the cannon it is. But how? We need the yard to lift them."
"No. Get a spar and we'll leverage them over."
Hornblower called to the gun crews standing by. "Come on, men. Over the side with the cannon. Bring that spar. Wedge it under the trail, use the block as a fulcrum. Heave men! Heave!"
With all their weight, some men's feet dangling in the air, they pressed down on the spar. The butt of the trail raised slightly. The black man watched the proceedings, coming to stand next to Hornblower.
"You want to throw away de bangers, Big Mastah?"
Hornblower turned into a wall of massive manhood. He was even larger this close. "Yes," he answered, looking up into the black man's deep brown eyes. "They must go over the side."
Hornblower's men had the trail off the deck about three feet and were adjusting the spar and block. The black man walked over, bent and eased his back up under the cannon. Rising with his muscular thighs, the cannon rose too and bounced to stand on her muzzle.
"Cut the lines! Cut the lines!" yelled Hornblower as the cannon teetered on the deck.
Archie took a tomahawk to the breeching cables. The black man stood upright and he and the other men pushed against the underside of the twelve pounder. Over she went with a splash.
"Larboard side, men!" Hornblower worried over making her unsteady with the shifting weights. They would zig zag down the deck until it was clear of all the heavy artillery. The huge black assisted until the job was complete. What would they have done without him? Certainly, it would have been more difficult otherwise. After a full nights work of placing the cannon, in less than the space of an hour, all eight were over the side
While overseeing the jettisoning of cannon, Hornblower caught sight of Edrington having his barrels brought into the stern of Le Petit Canard and lashed to prevent them from rolling. When Edrington first suggested doing this with the empty barrels, he could see no use at all. Now, it appeared they might provide the only aggressive action they would be able to take, if they worked as Edrington explained it.
Breathing deeply, Hornblower took a feel of the little ship. She was lighter, she was faster. How much time he gained was unknown. Mounting the quarter-deck, he stared aft at the warships hard on their course.
"Well, Mr. Hornblower. This is a sad turn of events. Those were very fine brass cannon," commented Edrington. He smirked that quirky smile, Hornblower was coming to know. "Better at the bottom of the sea than aimed at us, however. I concur with your decision." Edrington looked back at the oncoming ships. "It is a beautiful yet fearsome sight to behold, Mr. Hornblower. Today, we are the mouse..." He patted his barrels, "...or the fox."
"I hope your plan works out better than mine, my Lord."
"Your plan was a fine one, Mr. Hornblower. You did not know what we would be up against. Now, you have made another decision, and bought us some time. I have faith in Captain Pellew. He has not deserted you."
"You mean us," corrected Hornblower.
Edrington smiled at Kennedy, "If that is what you wish to believe."
Edrington was getting to be as ornery as Kennedy. He turned away from the major and watched the sail, checking for any sign of weakening wind.
"Exactly how will this work, my Lord?" asked Kennedy.
Edrington watched the larger ships for a moment and then spoke. "Well, assuming they stay on course, I plan to light the fuse, seal the barrel and then cast them overboard. We shall sail onward and so shall they. Hopefully, I will judge the timing aright, so that when they reach the barrel, it will explode beneath them, or... near them. It is a theory, Mr. Kennedy, and... it gave me something to do while you and Mr. Hornblower played with the cannon."
"How long a fuse did you attach?"
"I judged it to be three minutes in length. How close could they be in three minutes? Ah well. One of the unknown variables. Nice of the Frogs to supply us with all these weapons, do you not think? Of course, if they desire to fire upon us, we shall probably explode like fireworks on the king's birthday!"
"Timing, eh?" said Kennedy softly. "Let us check. I'll get one of the fenders. We'll put one of the red signal flags on her and time her until the ships meet her. Might that work?"
"It's bloody well worth a try."
"You get the flag. I'll be right back with a fender."
Hornblower gave the activities of Edrington and Kennedy little note, absorbed with sailing Canard as fast as he could make her go. When one of them shouted "now", he turned to watch them. Kennedy was looking through a spyglass, and Edrington held the small minute timer, watching it, Kennedy, and the flagged fender floating further behind them. After ten minutes, Kennedy sighed.
"I think they are too far back for this to be valuable, my Lord. We shall have to wait until they are closer."
"Or... we could put an extremely long fuse on one of the barrels and give it a go. Flag it and watch what happens," Edrington suggested hopefully.
Kennedy grinned. "Let's do it. What have we to lose? Where is the fusing?"
"There is a roll of it in the after cabin."
Kennedy bounded away.
"Bentley give me that bar. I need to pry open the lid."
"I will do it, sir."
Hornblower stepped back to peer inside the barrel. "You must be mad! Don't blow us to kingdom come, Alexander!"
"I do not intend to, Horatio."
"You cannot put a long fuse in there. It will jump over the coiling and more than likely ignite the thing in moments!"
"Hm. A good point, Horatio. What would you suggest? Something to separate the fusing so it could not jump?"
Hornblower inhaled staring at the configuration of the time bomb Edrington created. "What about slow match? Although, that might be too slow."
"Brilliant, Mr. Hornblower! Brilliant! Mr. Bentley, please tell Mr. Kennedy to bring slow match."
Kennedy returned with the slow burning fuse and the regular. Stretching out a coil of the slow fuse on the deck, he looked up at Horatio. "How long do you think, Horatio?"
"Two or three inches could go for sometime."
"That little?" asked Edrington amazed.
"That is why it is called slow match, my Lord," said Hornblower irritably. "Just do not blow us up while you are trying to blow them up!"
Kennedy looked at Edrington, the knife poised over the two inch mark. "Let's make it three."
Edrington nodded and Kennedy's knife sliced through the match. Sticking it into the canister, he lit it.
"Wait! Not yet!" Edrington ripped out the fuse, threw it onto the deck and snuffed it with his heel. "We've got to seal her back up and light her through the bung hole."
"Oh! Of course! Sorry," grinned Kennedy.
Hornblower shook his head frantically and pointed. "Keep your eyes on the course, if you please, Mr. Bainbridge!"
The rating returned his attentions from the bomb officers to the sail, seeing one flutter as he put the wheel back in place.
Finally, Edrington and Kennedy were ready to throw the barrel overboard, having lit the fuse and sealed the bung hole.
Kennedy dropped it off the stern. He and Edrington bent over the rail to watch it quickly fall behind them.
"Well, ... now we wait," said Edrington, staring at the watch Kennedy handed him. "I suppose we could prepare the others meanwhile. This entire episode is pure conjecture. If water gets into the barrels, it is all for naught anyway. Bentley, keep an eye on that barrel. Tell us if and when the ships come near it." Edrington passed the man the glass.
"Yes, sir," he answered, taking the glass hesitantly. After some moments of fiddling with the spyglass, Bentley announced. "I've got it! I can see it, sir!"
Kennedy and Edrington carried on the replacement of fuses, leaving the altered ones open, waiting for a report from the test barrel. It had been an hour since the thing was tossed overboard, and some minutes since Bentley reported the first ship had passed it.
"Three inches is definitely way too long. If we cut it in half...?" suggested Edrington.
"An inch and a half fuse?" questioned Kennedy. Eyebrows rose, and he held his thumb and index finger apart for the suggested length. "As you wish, my Lord."
Cutting the fuses, two of the barrels for alteration were fitted, closed, and ready for lighting.
"By all means," answered Edrington.
Kennedy lit the slow match, sealed the bung hole, and tossed the barrel overboard.
Five minutes later, a muffled noise was heard across the water. The men on Le Petit Canard looked back but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Kennedy, with glass to eye, saw the barrels just dropped over the side were in tact. He stared at Edrington.
"Could that have been our first barrel?" Kennedy looked back through his scope, training it on each of the ships of the line. One, two, three. The third one seemed to have some movement on her decks, though at this distance, it was hard to tell.
"They're closer, Horatio," informed Kennedy.
"I know, Archie." Hornblower was tapping his thigh, a sure sign something more was coming. He turned to look at the men manning the yards. They were a concern for the plan now hatching.
A splash fifty yards behind them was the first calling card from shot. They wanted them to heave to. Hornblower shook his head no in reply. How much longer could they flee? Fifteen minutes? Thirty? He looked at the lowering sun. If only it had set sooner, they might have had a chance in the dark.
"Throw your barrels over, if you're going to," said Hornblower.
"Now?" asked Kennedy. The barrels were in an assorted disarray. "The regular fuse, my Lord?"
Edrington looked back at the large ships of the line. "Hell, if I know. What do you think? About a foot of regular fuse?"
"We haven't much time," said Hornblower aloud to no one in particular, staring at the ships following. "Mr. Bainbridge, no, ... YOU!" Hornblower was pointing at the big black man standing near the main mast.
"Me, Big Mastah?" asked the man pointing at himself.
The large man climbed to the raised deck and looked around, watching Kennedy and Edrington fumbling with fuses. He leaned up on his toes to look inside one of the barrels.
Hornblower pointed at the launch boat trailing behind. "Get the launch line and pull her along side," ordered Hornblower, deciding the sequence of events.
"Mr. Bainbridge, call the men down from the yards. Put them, the marines, and as many of our men as will fit into her," said Hornblower, pointing at the boat. "Archie, take about ten minutes of that fusing and set it to the powder barrels below. My Lord, would you and Mr. Bentley please get into the launch?"
"I haven't finished the barrels. You've just requested the help of Mr. Kennedy... Are you going in that one?" Asked Edrington flustered with the rushing of the commander.
Hornblower frowned and shook his head. There was no use arguing with the man and he had not the time. "You! What is your name, sir?" Hornblower asked the black man.
A huge grin spread over the dark countenance, broken by lightening white teeth. "My name's Dooley, sir. My mama...."
"Yes, yes, I haven't time now, Mr. Dooley. Can you and a couple of men get the other boat over the side without use of the yard?"
"Jes Dooley, sir. Ain't nobody calls me mistah. If you don't mind that de boat get scratched up a might, we can do it, yes sah."
"Good. As soon as the first launch is away, do so."
Bentley and Edrington were finishing up the remaining barrel, lit the fuse within, closed the bung hole with pitch, and tossed it over the stern.
Hornblower held Canard on course while Dooley, Bainbridge, and three other men flipped the launch over that sat amidships. Making sure she was tethered at the bow, they lifted on the spars she was rolled onto, and the boat slipped over the side with a splash and a wobble, but remained upright. Dooley latched onto the line and snugged her close, the bow knocking the side of Le Petit Canard.
Hornblower saw Edrington and Bentley staring aft. He could see the half dozen barrels floating out behind them. "Lord Edrington, I must insist you get into the boat."
"Very well, Mr. Hornblower." Edrington wiped the tar from his fingers with a rag. "Come along, Bentley."
Archie stood at the ladder with the fuse. Wrapping it once around the top step, he lay the end on the first rung.
"Get in the boat, Archie," ordered Hornblower.
"Let me do this, Horatio...."
"Get in the boat, damn it!" said Hornblower.
Both men ducked and looked aft. One of the barrels exploded. The spray fell back to the sea.
Stepping to the entry port, Archie looked at the black man holding the launch beside Canard. "Don't leave him. Make sure he comes."
The black grinned and was as calm as if this were a Sunday picnic. "I'll surely do that, sah."
Hornblower was looking back at the ships. The barrel exploded just forward of the bow of the lead warship. Renard de Mer was tacking off to starboard aiming to circle Canard from the look of her. Hornblower took a moment to peer into her yards. He saw no one familiar. Not a one. Where were his men? He snatched a moment to view the three huge warships. Where his crew was, he did not like to think. His stomach flipped inside him.
Another exploding barrel. Hornblower peeked up over the raised deck, trying to see if it was close enough to damage any of the enemy.
"Horatio, light the damn thing and come on!" yelled Archie.
Taking the slow match, Hornblower lit the fuse, then strode to the side.
"Get in, Mr. Dooley."
"You first, Big Mastah," he grinned. "I done told that one I'd make sure you got in de boat. I keeps my promises."
Flustered that the man would jabber at him, Hornblower gave up, and went over the side into the space left for him. Dooley wrapped the line once around the rail then threw the loose end to Bainbridge. Bainbridge held on tight and hugged the launch up against the hull of Canard.
"Come on, man!" urged Hornblower.
The big black stepped into the back of the boat and she sank a little lower in the water.
"Release her, Mr. Bainbridge!" called Hornblower.
Bainbridge let go the loose end of the rope. As the force of Canard's forward motion let the rope run free of the lashing, the launch fell back from the cargo vessel. They watched as their ship sailed on without them and the launch came to a near standstill in the water. Every man gazed back at the approaching warships.
"Well, Mr. Hornblower, here we are again. We are a bit more crowded this time. Can you not keep a ship?" teased Edrington dryly.
Some of the men chuckled at the major's quip and Archie was grinning like a fool. They were about to become prisoners, thought Hornblower.
All eyes looked southward.
"That makes five if you include the first barrel. One of them was set with slow match. I give it another ...oh....twenty minutes before it goes off. Bentley, that last one, we did put regular fuse on her, didn't we?"
"I... I'm not sure, sir. If you will recall, Mr. Kennedy took that coil with him when he went to set the fuse Mr. Hornblower required."
"Oh." Edrington was silent. "Oh dear, yes. Well. Ahem. Damn." Edrington glanced back at Hornblower and Kennedy who were waiting for a response. "It may be a while before that one goes then."
Everyone turned in their seats to watch Le Petit Canard sailing off northeast, unmanned, and ready to blow.
"Too bad Renard de Mer isn't a little faster, eh Mr. Hornblower?" Archie licked his lips and pulled his watch out to look at the time.
Hornblower silently watched the ships around them in some grand ballet. There was no where to go. They sat and waited.
The men in the launch looked at the warships. The spray emerged along the starboard bow of the second ship of the line and they could see her bowsprit trembling from the shock.
"Damn me, Edrington. I think you got one!" said Kennedy amazed.
All eyes turned to Le Petit Canard. Renard de Mer was but a cable length away from her.
The men in the boats raised arms to protect their heads. Spray and splinter fell near them. Peeking out under their arms they could see debris had cut through some of the sail and rigging of Renard de Mer. One of her topsails was afire.
"Ha HA!" grinned Archie.
"Well done, Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy," smiled Edrington.
The men in the boat laughed. Some slapped each other on the back in congratulations. Turning, some looked to see how the wounded ship of the line was doing.
"Look, sir!" yelled Bainbridge.
The decks of the big gunned ship were alive with shouting men. All eyes were riveted on the two-decker.
"Is she holed, Mr. Hornblower?" asked Edrington, squinting to gain a sharper view.
Hornblower shook his head. "More likely the seams have opened to cause that kind of commotion. The blast must have done it. If she were holed, it could be fothered, but if the seams split..." he shook his head, "the damage would be far more profound."
They watched as the men abandoned ship, some in boats, some in the water.
"Good God," murmured Archie, seeing the ship lowering in the water.
"That water is damn cold," said Edrington, thinking out loud. His face was deadly serious. Not much more than a day ago, that had been his fate. It would not be forgotten.
The coming hour was spent by the enemy in retrieving the survivors of the ship of the line. The British were left to themselves, since it was obvious they were going no where, and no longer posed a threat.
Renard de Mer was the first up beside Hornblower's launch. Armant frowned at what and who he saw in the boat.
"You! I must say Capitaine Hornblower, I am impressed."
"Where are my men?" he asked angrily.
Armant's face quirked and twitched at the question, ending with a slight smile. "I confess, sir, that is not the first thing I expected to hear from your lips. They were alive when last I saw them, but after what you have done today, I would not guarantee their existence for much longer."
Hornblower looked back anxiously at the sinking warship.
"Oh, do not be alarmed, they are not on Falcon, but Oceanus, Lord Effington's flagship."
*Effington?* thought Hornblower. *No. It couldn't be.* His eyes traced to Archie who was looking back at him curiously.
Armant was grinning. "Ah! I see by your face you remember him! He remembers you, as well, and none too kindly." Armant started to chuckle. "And what have you done but blown up two more of his ships! And the cargo of arms. Oh, sir..." his face went serious, "I am glad I am not you. And I am very glad I am not on Oceanus just now. I almost pity you. I don't know if Effington will take the time to flog you or hang you outright. Was it your idea to create the exploding barrels?" Armant could not read the expressions of the men to learn the answer. "Most ingenious method of attack, though a bit hit or miss. I salute you."
"Apparently, sir," Hornblower nodded in the direction of the sinking warship, "it only took one to hit."
While the two conversed, Bainbridge threw the bowline to a man on Renard.
"Come aboard, Capitaine. Forgive us, if we do not pipe you on," Armant said sarcastically.
The other boat load of men from Le Petit Canard was towed behind Renard de Mer. Armant wisely feared the great number of British sailors setting foot on his ship. He sailed the corvette towards Oceanus. As they came nearer, there were still boats picking up men from the sea.
Hornblower, Kennedy, Edrington, and Bentley stood forward on the deck of Renard de Mer and watched the rescue in progress. It was Bentley that saw it first, tapped the lord's arm, calling Edrington's attention to the sight with a nod of his head. Edrington found what Bentley questioned and a slow excited, almost evil, smirk descended on the major's countenance. Edrington tapped Archie's arm and gave a slight nod towards a man in the water from the sinking ship, desperately clutching a floating barrel. Kennedy did not understand at first and then light dawned, and he too smiled, and whispered to Hornblower.
"We're not done yet, Horatio." He nodded towards the man being pulled into a rescue boat.
Hornblower wondered why that was of note to Kennedy, and then, he saw the barrel beside the launch. A last floating time bomb? But would it or the ships float away before it could explode? Then, the unimaginable occurred. One of the men in the rescue craft lifted the barrel out of the water and into the boat.
The three officers' visages each held a moment of astonishment.
"My Lord," said Hornblower lowly. "Is that the last barrel you threw overboard?"
"It is, Mr. Hornblower," whispered Edrington.
"From what you said earlier, am I given to understand that it is lit with slow match?"
"I believe it is, sir," he affirmed.
"Exactly how long a fuse did you give it?"
Edrington inhaled, "Well. I forgot that Mr. Kennedy had taken the regular fuse to explode Le Petit Canard, and I cut it rather long."
"How long, sir?" asked Hornblower.
Edrington canted his head and nodded. "I ...would... say ... a foot minimum."
"Twelve inches or more....of slow match," stated Hornblower quietly to himself.
The rescue launch began to pull for Oceanus.
Hornblower quirked a frown. "It looks as though I may have a third choice. Besides the possibility of being flogged or hung, I may be blown up."
"That's looking on the bright side, Horatio," quipped Kennedy. "Better that we're blown up together than hung separately."
"Kennedy..." Edrington stopped and addressed Hornblower. "How do you put up with him?"
Hornblower smiled immediately, hearing the exasperation in Edrington's tone. "Years of practice."
It was quite dark and well into the first watch when Hornblower and crew found themselves standing on the deck of Oceanus. The ratings were taken below. The officers waited under guard for their host. It was not too much longer when a man sauntered up to them, dressed in a type of uniform, predominantly black with red trim, golden buttons, and epaulettes on either shoulder.
"Good evening, gentlemen. Welcome aboard Oceanus. I am Captain Sinclair."
Hornblower nodded, holding his hands firmly behind his back. "I am Leftenant Horatio Hornblower of His Majesty's Frigate Indefatigable. This is Leftenant Archibald Kennedy, also of Indefatigable, and this is Mr. Alexander Edrington, and Mr. Bentley."
Edrington and Bentley both eyed Hornblower for the unusual introductions, and he gazed back at them with a meaningful nod, returning his attention to Sinclair.
"Ah. Leftenant Hornblower," nodded Sinclair. "I have heard of you, sir, and your ship. Who are Mr. Edrington and Mr. Bentley? They do not appear to be sailors."
"We were returning them to England. As you can see Mr.
Edrington is injured and Mr. Bentley..."
"Is his servant," said Armant joining the group and interrupting Hornblower. "Is that not right, Mr. Hornblower? And Mr. Edrington is Major Edrington. It is no use hiding his identity. He will suffer the same fate as you will, I do not doubt."
Hornblower bowed his head nervously, realizing his failed attempt to protect Edrington. Perhaps at this juncture, it would be best to reveal Edrington's title if Armant thought him susceptible to Effington's wrath. He might be ransomed instead. Hornblower glanced at Edrington seeking whatever thoughts his visage might reveal. Edrington's features were stony and blank, no emotion whatsoever shown. It was that command face Hornblower first became acquainted with during the Muzillac mission. He decided to offer no further information and leave that decision up to the man himself.
"Just where is Indefatigable?" asked Sinclair
"In truth, sir, I do not know. Perhaps on her way to England with a number of prize ships," Hornblower answered cagily. His words had the desired effect of irritating the host captain.
Sinclair looked to Armant for verification.
"Hornblower may be telling the truth. This other one might know, however. He was not on Renard with us when I tossed Mr. Hornblower over board," smirked Armant, pleased with his confession. "How did you come to be on Le Petit Canard?" asked Armant of Kennedy.
"I was her prize captain, so assigned by my captain," said Kennedy.
"And where is your captain, Mr. Kennedy?" asked Sinclair.
"As Mr. Hornblower told you, he is probably on his way to England with the other prizes... or... he might be just over the horizon. That is the thing about our captain. You never know what he might do," said Kennedy off handedly.
"Why are you not with him?"
"He was concerned for the other prizes and trusted me to bring Le Petit Canard along. I happened upon Mr. Hornblower and we decided to come looking for his crew."
"With an unarmed prize?" grinned Armant mockingly.
"Oh, we armed her, monsieur," said Hornblower pointedly, "With cannon from the hold. Of course, now, everything is at the bottom of the sea."
Sinclair and Armant exchanged perplexed aggravated looks.
"You might not be so smug, Lieutenant Hornblower, when Lord Effington interviews you," warned Armant. He knew the loss of the supplies on Canard would be more fuel to flame his lordship's anger, not the least of which was the loss of Falcon. It was incredible that a ship of her strength and size was now at the bottom of the ocean.
"Where is Lord Effington?" asked Hornblower. "Well, I trust? I am surprised to hear he lived through the explosion of Magie Noir. She made such a marvelous spectacle that night last May." Pamela came to mind immediately. With the day's events, she had not been present in his thoughts. The scene that night of her in a night shift, crumpled on the deck before Craven and Effington appeared in his mind's eye. He felt anger rising in his chest. Besides the threat by Effington to run him through, the memory of what the man allowed Craven to do to his wife returned.
"He is indisposed at the moment," answered Sinclair quickly. "You will see him ...tomorrow."
Armant eyed the Captain, knowing full well that Effington would normally question the prisoners, and especially would desire to question Hornblower.
With a lull in questions from their captors, Hornblower decided to go on the offensive.
"Where are my men? Have they been well treated?"
Armant's crooked evil smile and his darting black eyes pierced the naval officer. Armant knew something and what he knew Hornblower had the distinct feeling he would not like.
"Your men are my prisoners, Leftenant Hornblower, and no longer your concern," stated Sinclair.
"If they are alive, they are my concern. What about Midshipman Cutter? He is an officer. Will we be placed with him?"
Armant's grimace did not alter as he looked to Sinclair. The captain did not share the glance, however, and breathed a sigh. He disapproved of Effington's flogging of the young officer. It was not good practice. Since he, Sinclair, was in charge, he would apply the decorum that should have been afforded to the midshipman originally, as he was about to do with these men.
"You will not be placed with him, but if you wish, I will have him brought to you."
"I do wish it. Thank you, Captain." Sinclair was obviously British, as Effington was. What could have happened to make these fellow countrymen turn against England? Hornblower could not understand the reasons an Englishman would ally himself with a Frenchman against his native country. Sinclair's demeanor was much like his own. Had he once been an officer in His Majesty's Navy? And, if so, what could have possibly led him to this?
"Armant, I want you to return to Renard de Mer," said Sinclair.
"But, Lord Eff..."
"Is indisposed. Are you questioning my orders?"
Armant smirked evilly at Sinclair. "No, mon Capitaine." He bowed and departed.
Sinclair hesitated before he spoke to Hornblower, waiting for Armant's head to disappear down the side.
"Mr. Hornblower, I want you to know I did not approve what was done to Mr. Cutter. I... There is nothing more to be said. I will have him brought to you. Mr. Bartram, put them in the dunnage hold."
"Aye, aye, Captain."
The men were led below two decks and locked into a small room littered with chests of assorted sizes. Edrington and Kennedy sat down on them while Hornblower tried the door. It was secured on the other side and did not budge. Bentley hung the lantern given them on a deck beam hook and sighed. Hornblower looked back at the fellow prisoners.
"I am sorry I have gotten you into this, gentlemen," apologized Hornblower.
"I could be no where else, Horatio," said Edrington.
Kennedy smiled at Edrington's use of Hornblower's first name, then added, "It's all in a day's work, old man."
Hornblower's eyes gazed Bentley's way. "Mr. Bentley, I told you I would see you safely to England. I've failed you, sir. I wish you and his lordship had stayed on Indefatigable."
"Mr. Hornblower, as I told you before, a man of my age seldom participates in such ... adventures. If this is to be my death, then let it be in service to king and country. Do not reproach yourself. We performed magnificently today, sir. No one could have any other opinion than that we gave a full measure."
Kennedy saw that Bentley's words touched his friend and he was gratified that Edrington and his man proved worthy to be fellow captives with he and Hornblower. Those days under Don Maserado's kindly lock and key came to mind, but he got the impression this man Effington was not so disposed towards them.
A noise of chain rattling and a lock being opened sounded outside the door. All eyes turned expectantly. The door pushed open.
"Stand back there," came the order from a man. Hornblower could see there were armed guards with him. He dropped some blankets in the door, then passed in a bucket of water, and an empty one.
"In you go, you."
The man shoved in young Mr. Cutter who winced at the rough treatment. Once he could open his eyes, the astonishment they revealed was palpable.
"Mr. Hornblower!" he cried.
Kennedy thought the boy was on the verge of tears.
"Mr. Cutter!" Hornblower's features eased to see the midshipman well.
"I didn't believe it when Matthews and Styles said you would come for us. I didn't believe it! I should have. I should have, sir."
"It's all right, Mr. Cutter. Besides, I don't seem to have effected a rescue as of yet, and things are looking rather bleak," he added contemplatively.
Kennedy stood and clapped the boy on the back. "Good to see you, Mr. Cutter," he grinned until he saw the pain evoked by his friendly gesture.
Hornblower saw it too. Sinclair said something was done. Did they cane the midshipman? It was his back Kennedy struck. Did they beat him with something? Armant's words about being flogged echoed in the back of his mind. "What is wrong, Mr. Cutter?"
"Nothing, sir, just a little muscle strain. I'll be all right."
"What did they do to you?" demanded Hornblower.
Edrington was on his feet as the older men could see the boy was in some difficulty.
"Nothing, really, sir, really." He backed away from the officers. "The men will be glad when they hear you came, sir. I know it will lift their spirits. Matthews, Styles, Oldroyd, Hardy, they never doubted."
"Do not change the subject, Mr. Cutter. Where is your waistcoat?" Hornblower realized what was odd about the midshipman when he came in. He was out of uniform. "Remove your jacket," ordered Hornblower.
Cutter licked his lips and shook his head.
Hornblower stepped closer holding Cutter's eyes with his. He put his hands on the lapels of the middy jacket.
Cutter shook his head. "Please, sir."
"Come on," said Hornblower softly, pulling the jacket away. He watched the boy's pained expression as he carefully removed the garment. Reluctantly, Cutter was turned around. The wounds were still fresh and the shirt revealed red stripes from some and a yellowing suppuration from others.
Hornblower felt his stomach turn, first appalled, then angry.
"Good Lord!" gasped Bentley.
"The blackguards!" said Edrington angrily.
"Cutter, I didn't know..." apologized Kennedy.
Cutter sniffed. He wiped his nose, embarrassed because of his weakness and his wounds.
"I didn't want to tell you, sir. There is nothing you can do."
Hornblower blinked with frustration and anger. "Did Effington order this?"
The young officer hesitated before replying. "Yes, sir," answered Cutter meekly.
Hornblower closed his eyes and breathed deeply, gaining control of the anger swelling within. It would serve no purpose here, ... yet. "There is not much I can do, Mr. Cutter, it is true, but what I can do, I will. I've got to get your shirt off you. These wounds need to scab over and as long as the material is touching, they will not do that properly. I will try not to hurt you."
Here it was again. The knowledge he gained from those years of attending his father. He sighed in resignation. How could he not use what he knew to help? Archie, Bentley, and Edrington were already shifting the dunnage to provide a place for Cutter to lay. Bentley spread one of the blankets over the cases to provide a bed of sorts, or an operating table, if you will.
Bentley handed Hornblower his handkerchief once Cutter was bare, and he gently cleaned the wounds with the water left them.
"It isn't good, Mr. Cutter, but you will heal. Did the men do this for you before?"
"Yes, sir. Styles."
"So you were being held with the men?"
Cutter bit his lip and crossed his fingers, hoping Hornblower would ask no more questions. Before he was brought to the officers, he and the men had heard the explosions and knew something was going on. Some had said it was Hornblower come for them, but he had not dared believe it, to have such hope. When the enemy came to get him, he feared he was to be beaten again, or questioned about something he could not answer. Matthews had grabbed his arm and told him to have courage, not to give up, and that if it was Hornblower, not to tell him about their floggings, that he would have enough on his mind if he had anything to do with this hell ship. Matthews' wounds were far worse than his. Cutter had failed to keep his own wounds a secret. He did not know if he could do as the old sailor wished and not sure if he should, but he would try, rather than disappoint the man, or cause Hornblower any more difficulty than they already faced. There was nothing Hornblower could do about it now anyway.
"Were the men all right, Mr. Cutter?" Hornblower wiped carefully over the wounds.
"Yes, sir." He continued to bite his lip and crossed his fingers tighter.
"They didn't flog anyone else? Armant treated them well?" questioned Hornblower.
"Armant treated them well, sir," he answered and held his breath against the other question. He saw Kennedy watching him and closed his eyes. "Could I go to sleep now, sir?"
"Yes, Mr. Cutter. Take your ease."
Hornblower sighed and completed the cleaning. Taking a blanket, he covered Cutter from the waist down. He saw Kennedy sat on the deck, resting his hands on a wooden case, and his chin on his hands.
"What are you thinking, Archie?"
Inhaling, Kennedy sighed. "Nothing, Horatio." He paused, then added. "You should have been a doctor."
Hornblower frowned. "What time do you have?"
Archie pulled out the pocket watch. "It's after ten, why?"
"Just wondering when we might expect to explode. Although, I did not see the barrel brought up on deck, nor the boat hung from the davits. Maybe they left the barrel in the boat and the boat beside the ship. From what we saw today, that too, could wreak havoc. If I live through this, I shall have the men do a timing on slow match. I do not like not knowing."
"What is funny, Archie?" asked an exasperated Hornblower.
"That we might ever find ourselves in a similar situation and need to have that information."
"One never knows." He looked down at Cutter's wounds and tucked the blanket around his sides. This could be him sometime tomorrow, if he was not exploded or hung first.
Hornblower sat on the deck beside Cutter's make shift bunk. Edrington and Bentley found space to lean against the bulkhead. Their eyes were closed. With a final glimpse at Edrington's arm in the sling, he found himself wondering how much the man had used that arm today, and he felt his cheek tugging up a wry half smile. Sighing, he shook his head and thought, *Father... I've come a long way not to be a doctor. Going on seven years now that I have been in the navy and look at me. In this situation, I find the most I can do for my men is what I learned from you. What I once was so ashamed of, is most valuable now... but it still shames me. Not because of the profession, but because of my own disdain for it. Forgive me.* He let his head sag to his chest, feeling hot moisture in his eyes.
Two decks above and aft where Hornblower and the others were incarcerated, Captain Sinclair removed his jacket. Holding the garment, he flicked one of the epaulettes with a finger and dropped it on the black cushioned stern window seat with a sigh. Having the after cabin to himself was unusual. Generally, Effington remained here pondering his plans long after Sinclair retired for sleep, or to the quarter-deck for a final evening inspection of Oceanus. The solitude was refreshing, although the present situation was not. How long the instigator of the scheme in which Sinclair found himself would be out of operation was unknown. The captain only knew that his absence was replaced with a certain amount serenity. If he could have bottled these few moments to savor at will, he would have. Steps were heard outside the cabin and he paused before turning down the wick of the lantern. The expected knock came.
The door opened to reveal a man dressed in a dark grey frock coat with matching waistcoat and trousers. Holding the door and leaning into the room, he gave Sinclair a nod.
"Captain, he is awake, and he is asking for you."
Sinclair exhaled briefly. "How is he, Dr. O'Riley?"
"Mildly sedated," reported the red-haired youthful physician, his Irish brogue refined by contact with the English, yet unmistakable. "I do not expect he will be wakeful much longer. Under the circumstances, I felt it best to meet his request. I do not want him unduly agitated."
Sinclair donned the uniform coat. "Does he recall ..."
"No. No, I do not believe he does...though he may once the effects of the opiate wear away," the doctor bowed his head in thought, then added, "He has come back too soon, Captain Sinclair. I tried to tell him, but he would not listen. These injuries from last May..."
"He has an agenda, Doctor, a well set agenda. Whatever that blast did to his body and his brain, it did not diminish his goal." Sinclair inhaled slowly as he followed the doctor down the companionway. Guarding his speech, Sinclair thought, *If anything, it has made him more radical than ever.* The naval captain was beginning to regret his association with what any rational man would consider a raving lunatic, but he was in too deeply now. He knew Effington would not hesitate to kill him, should he show any sign of inconsistency. A two year association with the man, taught him that. After all, was that not how he had become captain of Oceanus? A field promotion of sorts, from first leftenant to captain in merely a step... over the body of his captain.
The business with these British navy men made him feel uneasy. It had not been that long ago that he had fought for his country alongside such as these, and he found himself sympathetic despite the treachery of that minion and his misguided and questionable commander who damned him from ever again serving his nation. Should he have appealed the decision? After all, it was not an out and out court martial, for want of details being swept under the rug, only a resignation. But those doing the sweeping were highly connected. No, that was why he had given up the idea. No one would take his part.
The bitterness of knowing that fact was what made him susceptible to Effington's wily ways of persuasion, that and the navy. It was all he knew to do. At his age, what would he do land bound? There was the merchant navy. Perhaps he should have gone that direction. Smiling wryly, he thought, *Then, I might have met Effington anyway, on the wrong side of a thirty-two pounder. Ah well,* he sighed, *the pay is better, and the uniform cuts a fine figure.*
Damn these turn of events, he frowned. More than anything, he wanted to get back to the island in the Indies. Why did this Captain Pellew, of all the captains in the bloody British navy that could have attacked the convoy, have to come along when he did? Effington was already walking a knife blade on the ridge of insanity. As far as Sinclair's naval situation went, this was like replacing his old captain with Effington, frying pan to the fire, as it were. Sinclair had set his sails, there was no reefing them in now.
O'Riley spoke. "Be as positive as you can. Try not to say anything that might upset him." The doctor pushed open the door to the lavish cabin off the dining area.
Sinclair stepped quietly across the deep black, gold, and green carpeted decking. He wanted to get a look at his employer first, before Effington became aware of his presence. The cabin was cool, but a light perspiration was evident on the reclining man's brow, the black strap of the eye patch running diagonally across it. The seizure that took the leader, when the explosions began, had unnerved every man on the quarter-deck. Thank God they were not battling another ship. But the man's difficulties had distracted them from what was occurring with the chase vessel and before any of them knew what was transpiring, Falcon was sinking and Le Petit Canard was blown from the face of the ocean. This "fit" their leader experienced was a new occurrence. Some of the more superstitious crew found it an evil omen, not good when coupled with the appearance of a previously successful adversary.
Sinclair's chin crinkled with the necessity of dealing with an invalid, who, unfortunately, was also the leader of this merry band of malcontents. What could he say that would not upset Effington? He was like a hair trigger. Sinclair would depend on the opiate to deaden any word that might set the man off. He lay a hand on top of Effington's sweaty one.
"My Lord. It is Captain Sinclair."
The man breathed fitfully, wrinkling his brow, struggling to open his eye.
"Yes, my Lord."
"Did we...? Is ... is Oceanus....?" His eye blinked open and attempted to focus.
Sinclair bent a little lower and Effington snapped out a hand to grab his lapel and yanked him closer.
"Oceanus is well, my Lord. Do not fret yourself."
"Something..." Effington pressed his eye closed, furrowing the sweaty forehead. "Tell me. Tell me."
"We captured the crew of Le Petit Canard. I am holding them for you to question."
"Do we sail?" Effington watched the ship's commander.
"I am waiting for first light, sir."
"Have her ready to sail an hour before dawn, Sinclair." Pausing, then, "Ulysses?"
"Less than a cable length away, do not worry." Sinclair implored O'Riley with his eyes.
"Who is it?" asked Effington, seeing the expression.
"It is I, my Lord, Dr. O'Riley." The physician stepped beside Sinclair and placed a cool soothing hand on Effington's where it clutched Sinclair's coat. "Calm now, sir, calm. You will be better after a good night's rest. Cease thought and rest."
"Falcon... Falcon. She's ... she's gone," whispered Effington.
Sinclair and O'Riley exchanged mild surprise.
"Pelleeeeewwww," whispered Effington. "Pellew's done it again." Effington's eye was closed and his voice was unnaturally soft. "Is that cub with him? Hornblower? Leftenant Horatio Hornblower?"
O'Riley nodded for Sinclair to answer, feeling it better to allow the truth. If the man was going to spin out of control, it may as well be with honesty than subterfuge, no matter how well meant the intentions.
"Yes, sir. He is locked in the dunnage hold and under heavy guard," informed Sinclair.
Effington's lips rose slowly into a smile as he inhaled and then, exhaled, holding the unnerving expression. Lips parting he laughed softly. "Good. Good," he sighed. With a final soft breath, he barely voiced, "Good." His body went limp.
Sinclair jerked his view to O'Riley, concerned.
"It is the drug taking hold. He should sleep now," said O'Riley.
Sinclair peered down, wondering what malignant scheme awaited Hornblower. His lips drew back in distaste and his eyes darted askance to O'Riley whose back was turned. If the doctor were not present, it would be so easy to dispose of the madman. A pillow over his face and the problems of many would die with him.
O'Riley turned, offering a glass of whiskey.
"Drink this. It will calm your nerves."
Sinclair eyed the doctor and accepted the strong spirits.
"You do not hide your discomfort well, Captain. But, if you were to do him in, what would you do with this band of cut-throats? It is his iron hand that protects us all, and believe me when I tell you there is murmuring below decks over..." he inhaled, "his ... incapacity. Effington's trust resides on you and so his men afford you that courtesy to lead. Be careful. Be very careful, Captain." O'Riley tossed back the contents of the glass.
Sinclair looked into the amber liquid, brought the glass to his lips, and gulped it down.
Forward and two levels below, Styles stood and held onto a wooden spindle of the door. It would not take a great deal of force to break the spindles out, but one of the guards had already soundly rapped his knuckles. He held on now, with wariness and defiance, keeping an eye for any movement from the man watching currently. He turned his ear towards the sounds that brought him to his feet and glimpsed Matthews laying on his stomach, motionless on the hay, his back blackening in spots with dried blood and many more places still oozing with fluids.
If more captives came aboard, Styles hoped some might be brought to share their lock-up and thereby gain news. Recently, Cutter was taken from them and Styles found himself worrying about the boy. He attempted to protect the young officer, as Hornblower would have wished, but to no avail. The enemy shoved him against the bulkhead and snatched the midshipman from Matthews grasp.
Footsteps, a number of them, accompanied by murmuring and admonitions to "shut it" were heard in the companionway approach. Styles felt joy and alarm as the men came into view. He recognized his ship mates, the men of Connors and Kennedy's divisions. There was a monstrous sized African and some others speaking what was gibberish to him. Questions bounded through his thinking. Not Indefatigable. Not the Indy. This bloody ship could not have taken the Indy. Upon realizing there were no others with the new arrivals from other divisions, he calmed and held out hope. He caught a glimpse of recognition from Bainbridge, Kennedy's main man, and watched the sailor shift to the side closer to Styles. The group of men were being divided.
Bainbridge kept his head down and shuffled nearer to Styles' cell. He could see a beaten body on the deck inside but could not see who. He let the information flee from his expression and rubbed at his bulbous nose, feeling the whiskers thereabouts.
Styles saw the guard coming out of the corner of his eye and released the spindles before the muzzle of the musket clattered against them.
"Get back! Ye whore's son!" snarled the guard. "You lot are nothing but trouble! We shoulda slit the throats of every man jack o'ye!" He motioned to his compatriot to open the lock.
Once open, the men nearest the doorway were shoved in.
"Here! Put him in there, too! We'll need to keep an eye on this big buck!"
The huge African was pushed but did not budge. The shoving by the pirate underling was comical. Dooley turned and grinned down at the man pushing against him. "Do you want me to go in there, sah?"
"Yes, I do, you bloody great oaf!" said the man pushing against him.
"All right. You only gots to say so. I ain't a British navy man though, sah. I was jus crew on Le Petit Canard." He ducked lower than he was already to enter the fodder hold and the Indy men stepped back to make room. He flashed one of his lightning smiles at Styles until he saw Matthews on the floor. A sad expression appeared and he gazed into Styles wary eyes.
The chain and lock were replaced and the remaining men shuffled down the companionway. Styles watched them go, glimpsed Bainbridge, and gave him a sign for silence. The armed guards returned to their table and chairs across from the cell and sat, gruffly complaining to one another in low tones about all the extra people now on board Oceanus.
Dooley sat on the deck and stared at the motionless Matthews. Styles gestured to Bainbridge. They moved as far from the door as they could, squatting on the mound of hay piled against the bulkhead.
"What's on, Bainbridge? Don't tell me they got the Indy?" whispered Styles, unable to wait for a long explanation.
"No," whispered Bainbridge, ducking to see if the guards were watching. "Pellew's gone to join Vengeance. Kennedy and Connors were given prizes. We came upon Mr. Hornblower adrift with that injured army man. Hornblower took Connors ship and here we are."
All good news to Styles' way of thinking until the situation they were in reaffirmed itself.
"What happened to Matty?"
"Bloody bastard!" spit Styles. "Took me a minute to recognize the old ... The man what runs this ship was that one what kidnapped Miss Pamela last May. He remembered Matthews was with Mr. Hornblower that night and did it out o'spite. You know Matty would never do nothin' to get hisself beaten on purpose. Then, he flogged Mr. Cutter."
"Flogged an officer?" Bainbridge frowned and blew air between his lips.
"Ain't none of us safe here, mate," stated Styles, ruefully. "I figured to be next, but Armant distracted that arse." Styles twisted his mouth at the unexpected gratitude to an enemy, especially a Frog one.
Both men were silently thinking.
"Mr. Hornblower's all right, then, eh?" asked Styles, hopefully, finding a reason to return Armant to the status he deserved. "Those French bastards clomped him on the head but good."
"Aye, and full o'piss and vinegar. He had us workin' through the night to arm that little pea pod of a vessel and then ended up tossin' every cannon overboard." Bainbridge glimpsed the seated Dooley and motioned towards him. "That one's all right."
"He helped get the cannon over the side while we were under full sail, running from these pirates. Hornblower dint have to ask him neither."
A commotion of complaints was heard outside the cell and Bainbridge and Styles eased apart, leaned against the wall, and watched the door. It was unlocked.
A guard stood in the doorway tracing over the men with his eyes and finally stopped at Dooley.
Dooley looked up, the worry over Matthews' wounds turning quizzical. "You talkin' to me, Boss?"
"Yeah, you! Get out here!"
"Yes, sah, but my name's Dooley." The big man came to his feet and stooped to exit.
While Dooley and the guard were gone, Bainbridge informed Styles of all he knew. He watched the satisfied countenance as he revealed to Styles his commanding officer's tactics. Hornblower's man listened attentively to Bainbridge describe the barrels Edrington and Kennedy put together that destroyed Falcon.
The two silenced when the guard returned with the heavily laden black man. The African carried a black cauldron in one hand and two buckets in the other.
The door was locked behind him. Dooley knelt on the deck and dipped a ladle of white mushy food into bowls for the prisoners.
Styles took the cup from Dooley's hand with a slight nod and eye of approval. The white stuff's taste revealed it to be over-cooked and under-salted rice. The last two bowls, Dooley lay on the deck near Matthews. He took a bite for himself, then crawled beside Matthews. As he ate, he washed Matthews' oozing wounds afresh.
Styles ceased eating to watch him.
The black man reached into his trouser pocket. Between his fisted fingers, Styles could see a white sprinkling of granules. Salt? The pain of it would be excruciating, but healing. He hesitated, vacillating between stopping him and letting it be done. Styles slipped near the black man who looked up from the task. With the wounds not yet scabbed over cleansed of the suppuration mixed with blood, he gently patted in the white sprinkles.
"This yore friend?" he asked Styles.
"Make him feel better, this will. Heal those hurts. I know," said Dooley solemnly.
"How'd you get the salt?" asked Styles.
Dooley smiled gently. "This ain't salt, Mastah. Salt, she hurt like the devil's own fire. This sting a might, but not like Miss Salt. This here be sugar. Sweet and light to prick these sores. Make him heal quicker."
"How the devil did ye get sugar then?" asked Styles more amazed.
"I gots a good nose," grinned Dooley. "I smelled it were in de barrel where he took me. When he warn't lookin', I helped myself."
Dooley reached into the deep pocket of his trousers and pulled another fistful which he gently dropped along Matthews' stripes. Styles watched the light touch of the thick black fingers of the monstrous hand over the flayed red and white back, patting softly. Matthews stirred but remained thankfully asleep.
Once finished, Dooley's sad brown eyes looked into Styles'. "Ye got to do what ye can, when ye can. That's what my mama taught me. Don't matter the color of your skin. Good is good and bad is bad." Crossing his arms over his chest, Dooley lifted the back of his shirt. The skin of his back was crisscrossed with masses of stripes. He eased the shirt back down without comment. Seeing the look it brought to Styles' countenance, Dooley spoke again. "Hatred don't do nothin' but eat you. I know. Forgiveness is better. My mama always said so. Don't hate 'em. Jus don't trust 'em neither... unless your heart tells you to." Pausing a moment, he continued. "I trust your Mr. Hornblower. I hope they don't hurt him too bad. He's a good man. I can tell. I can tell. He got all my mates off Le Petit Canard before he blowed her up. He thought he was gonna be las off de boat," grinned Dooley remembering, "but I wouldna let him be, whether that other officer told me or not, but I keeps my promises, to others and to myself." He smiled, then sighed as he looked back at Matthews. "I been flappin' my lips too much." He covered Matthews lightly with the coat lying beside the sailor, then eased back against the low wall and finished his rice, now cold.
The man brightened hearing the use of his name and nodded once.
Effington woke at four bells and came on deck in his dressing gown. Light was just beginning to dawn, and as ordered, Captain Sinclair had the ship under weigh an hour previous. Effington found the Captain pacing along the weather side when he arrived.
"Captain Sinclair," he grinned, "That's what I like about you, sir. Punctilious to a fault. Very good, my man, very good."
"Lord Effington," bowed the Captain. He watched the leader, finding no evidence that anything untoward had ever occurred with the ship's ultimate master.
Effington did not wait for the greeting but stepped to the taffrail to peer at the dark form of Ulysses following discreetly, just aft of the larboard quarter.
"Very good," he repeated softly, "Very good."
Sinclair watched the man limp back towards the ladder.
"Captain, join me for breakfast at seven bells."
"Aye, my Lord. Thank you, my Lord."
And the man was gone.
Sinclair breathed a sigh of relief. Effington seemed relatively normal. Did O'Riley know he was up and about? Whatever, Sinclair would be ready for breakfast in another hour or so. Effington's man always prepared the most elaborate morning meals. It was something to look forward to.
Hornblower was wakened by a fresh breeze upon his person and a hand shaking his shoulder. He had slipped to the deck sometime during the night and was curled up in a fetal position trying to stay warm.
"Here. Lord Effington wants you presentable for breakfast. Be ready." The unknown man placed a mirror, razor, basin, towel, soap, and a steaming pot of hot water on the chest near the door and left.
Hornblower groaned as each limb protested its straightening. He shivered and came up on one elbow, feeling the rough blanket against his chin. Shaking with cold, he saw Edrington leaning against Bentley and the older man's arm around the major, sharing a blanket. One of them had given him theirs in the night since he had given his to Cutter. He could not see Kennedy anywhere, but Cutter was curled up on the chests on his side and the blanket was pulled up over his shoulders. Reaching for the hot pot of water, Hornblower cupped his hands around the sides of it and shivered. The emptiness of his stomach made itself known. The disgusting taste of his mouth brought a grimace. Lifting the mirror, he stared at the reflection, shocked by the sunken eyes staring back at him. His cheeks were covered with stubble and created black hollows. The lantern hung from the deck head beams cast its shallow light enhancing the dark circles under his eyes, highlighting the glints of his pupils.
Shakily, he poured water into the basin and soaped his face. The scent of the soap reminded him of Gibraltar and Pamela. Closing his eyes, he recalled the warmth of the bedroom, the softness of the bed, and the sensual body of his wife beside him. Lifting his nose as if to inhale the perfume of her hair, he recalled the familiar scent and soft feel of her tresses.
He shook away a chill with the memory. The blade of the razor scraped on his cheek. Finishing the toilet, he stared at the clean shaven face. It was an improvement, but the lack of decent food and rest showed in the haggard appearance. He shivered. Dampening a corner of the towel, he wiped his face and neck. Peering at the sleeping men around him, he leaned up on his knees and saw Kennedy was surrounded by dunnage and curled up on the floor, as he had been. Still weary, yet somewhat refreshed, Hornblower slipped over beside his friend.
"Horatio?" asked Archie sleepily.
"I know." Hornblower eased down behind him, adjusted the blanket, and formed his body with Kennedy's, laying his arm over Archie's chest and hugging towards him. "Go back to sleep."
Hornblower felt Kennedy shiver.
"Did you shave?"
"I can smell the soap." Archie's teeth chattered intermittently. "Why didn't you do this sooner?"
"I was asleep."
"Oh. Good reason." Archie grabbed and held onto Horatio's arm. "You know you are the only man I would allow to do this."
Hornblower thought about the comment. The shadow of Jack Simpson fell over his thoughts then evaporated. The man had been dead for six years.
Archie smiled, eyes still closed, and wiggled his shoulders into Hornblower's chest. "I can see why Pamela enjoys your company."
Hornblower wrinkled his brow and cleared his throat. "Shut up, Archie."
"I only meant that you make a warm bed fellow."
"Go back to sleep," Hornblower paused, "and stop laughing."
An hour later, Hornblower lay awake embracing his sleeping friend. His stomach was growling off and on, and he kept expecting to hear the rattle of the keys in the lock. Sighing, he ducked his nose beside Kennedy's shoulder and blew his breath slowly to warm it. Finally, the expected noise sounded.
It was a little easier for Hornblower to rise. He tucked his blanket around Archie as he did so. By the time the door opened, he was upright and had smoothed his hair.
"What's going on, Horatio?" asked Edrington, sitting up beside Bentley.
Before Hornblower could reply, a little man was removing the pot of hot water left earlier and replacing it with another. The smell of hot coffee came in with him, and a tray was placed on the chest.
"Breakfast, for them, not you. Come here, sir. Lord Effington will want you presentable."
Hornblower saw the clothing brush in the man's hand and stepped warily nearer. He wished he had the wherewithal to refuse breakfasting with the man, but he was starving, and it appeared that his men, his comrades, were being taken care of as to food.
The short servant brushed his topcoat over front and back, adjusted his neckcloth, and motioned him to bend so he could smooth his hair. Hornblower was starting to feel silly with the man attending to his appearance. Bentley eased out of his place of repose and poured coffee for the three officers, who were awake now and watching Hornblower's tending. Archie, wrapped in one blanket and offering the other to Bentley, sat next to Cutter and helped him to come upright. The boy was moving slowly, feeling the skin on his back protest every idea of stretching as it would have done normally.
"There is a bit of dust you missed," offered Bentley, placing a cup of coffee into Cutter's shaking hands, then, pointing low on Hornblower's jacket. Both the man and Hornblower twisted to see where Bentley indicated.
"Thankee, my man," said the servant to Bentley.
Cutter, Edrington and Kennedy were sinking their teeth into a fresh scone and the sight made Hornblower's mouth water. His eyebrows quirked hopefully that he might have the same, and soon, but he was gratified to know they were being fed.
The servant looked over Hornblower from head to toe, frowning at the toe. Kneeling, he spat on Hornblower's shoe and rubbed fiercely at the leather. Sighing, the little man shrugged his shoulders. "That will have to do," he muttered to himself.
Hornblower watched the guard watching all these goings on. The pirate's expression seemed aggravated but patient. The idea of being the official sacrifice suddenly occurred to Hornblower. He read about such things of ancient native peoples. One person chosen as that to appease the gods, pampered, given the best clothes, the best food, then, taken to the slaughter. Stretched out over an altar, hands and feet bound, and a knife to cut out the heart while the victim still lived, it lifted, still beating, in the hands of the high priest. He shuddered.
"Follow me, sir," ordered the servant.
Hornblower inhaled strength with the air and looked back at his friends. Would he see them again? The door closed.
Up the companions, then down the corridor leading to the after cabins, the servant stopped opposite a door. He motioned for Hornblower to go in. It was a quarter-gallery.
"Be sure and wash your hands, sir, before you come out."
Hornblower inhaled and took advantage of the opportunity to relieve himself. He looked down at his hands. They were dirty despite the earlier shave. A pot of warm water stood next to the basin. Warm water to wash his hands? The rooms were warmer here, as well. *There must be a stove nearby,* he thought.
Exiting the quarter-gallery, he looked for it and found it hanging from the deck beam in an open area near a table and chairs. A man was sitting at the table, writing into a log book. Hornblower nodded, when the man gazed his way.
Suddenly, he realized they were not exploded. Stepping into the after cabin, further thought to explain why was stolen away. The room was lit by the sun streaming through the windows, he could see Ulysses off the aft quarter. She was beautiful with her billowing sail. The room was filled with warmth, light, and the marvelous smells of a fresh cooked breakfast. It had the atmosphere of an inn located in a well-heeled section of a village. He had been in such places on the rare occasion of his father being required by a wealthy merchant man and the patient wishing to be treated away from home. The cloth coverings of the room were black trimmed with gold. Extra cushions, covered in scarlet and gold trimmed, were leaning against the after windows. It was almost opulent, except for the muted manly overtones that prevailed in the choice of furniture. It was well made and chosen for its practicality. A desk, a built in bookshelf, a chart safe, collapsible chairs, the dining table.
A man turned to face him, smiling crookedly. It was Sinclair. His uniform matched the colors of the room. He bowed and greeted Hornblower.
"Good morning, Leftenant."
"Good morning, Captain."
The pleasantries seemed oddly out of place, but Hornblower played the game, not knowing what it was.
Effington entered. His clothing was immaculate and well fitted to his frame. Black coat, scarlet waistcoat, black shirt and trousers, black eye-patch, an ebony cane with a golden dragon's head, his clothing echoed the room or vice versa. His shoes gleamed with a shine, and the golden side buckles adorned the fashionable footwear. The black hair was streaked with a white shock the British naval officer did not recall from the earlier meeting aboard Magie Noir last May, but the acquaintance was brief and his attention divided by many sources of distraction. The man draped himself and his surroundings in the color that represented its absence.
Hornblower was aware his own shabby clothing and appearance were assessed by his host, and he felt a warmth in his cheeks.
"Mr. Hornblower," said Effington with a half smile and a tone of satisfaction. "I never thought to see you again. I see you survived our last meeting. There is something of a camaraderie in our mutual survival. Do you not think?"
Hornblower blinked and stared at his feet. Verbal sparring at this hour would not be his choice. He had to say something.
"Indeed, my Lord, since it had been your desire to run me through," he answered, surprised he arrived at such a quip to equal that of the host.
Effington chuckled. "Witty, Mr. Hornblower, witty. But let us set aside our ... oppositions. At least, until after breakfast. It is my favorite meal of the day. I am pleased you can join us." He held out a hand to the set table and limped to his regular seat. "Please sit yourself down. Captain Sinclair?"
Hornblower knew the emptiness of his stomach, but presented with the breakfast companions, he was not sure he would be able to partake. If he did regain his appetite, he would have to be sparse in consumption, not giving the man the satisfaction of knowing his great hunger.
Sinclair stood behind the chair on Effington's left, giving Hornblower the one on the right, allowing him a view out the windows.
"How is that woman you took from my ship? Did she survive the plunge into the deep?"
Hornblower felt his jaw tighten. "She did." He managed a slight smile.
Effington sighed. "I never did discover exactly why Craven insisted on bringing her. I assumed she was some whore he had collected and become dissatisfied with." Effington waved his hand in dismissal.
Hornblower kept his eyes lowered and checked himself for control before looking up at his breakfast companions. He wished he could have stayed with Archie and Alexander, Bentley and Cutter.
"Thank you, again, for disposing of Craven for me so handily."
Sinclair saw the warning signs. Effington's voice was taking on that faraway tone of remembering. If it was not stopped the agitation would increase and he would throw himself into a fit of temper. Sinclair interrupted Effington.
"My Lord, I suggest we not discuss the past as of yet, and let us enjoy the meal. Your chef has out done himself, as usual," said Sinclair, waving the servants to approach, "Let us enjoy the meal and discuss more pleasant subjects than old adversarial confrontations. Shall we?"
Effington's brow wrinkled when he finally turned his eye on Hornblower. "I apologize, Mr. Hornblower. Captain Sinclair is correct. Did you sleep well?"
Hornblower glanced at Sinclair. Was the man trying to be funny? He let his eyes turn to his captor. He was helping himself to eggs offered by the servant.
"I slept well, sir." Hornblower exchanged a glimpse with Sinclair. Neither man truly cared how he slept. The captain's relief in his choice of response was visible.
"Good. Good." Effington took bacon and sausages from the next man. "These look delightfully browned and the bacon is perfect. Do you not think so, Mr. Hornblower? Breakfast meats should be done just so. Would you not agree?"
Hornblower saw Sinclair give him a meaningful nod. "Yes, sir, the sausages look...delicious." The captain was giving him cues, and he decided to act on them. What kind of game were they at?
The conversation about each presentation of food continued along in the same vein until all three men silently consumed it. Hornblower ate slowly, contemplating. Effington was either some kind of sadist, which he thought from the first night he encountered the man, or he was existing on the edge of madness, or possibly both. The explosion of Magie Noir should have killed him, but here he was. Letting his eyes dart over the figure of the man, he realized Effington was not physically as filled out as he had been. Loss of an eye, the cane. Were these the results of that May night?
Explosions, yes, his thoughts were interrupted earlier. What happened to Edrington's slow match bomb? It should have gone off by now. He recalled the last thought before succumbing to sleep that he might never wake, or if he did, it would be to experience death by drowning, fire, or being blown to bits. None of that occurred. He frowned before taking another bite of fried potatoes and onions. All the food was delectable, but he consumed slowly. Perhaps the barrel had leaked and water gotten in to snuff the flame. Maybe the barrel had been opened and the bomb defused. Should he hope Edrington's estimation of the fuse length was incorrect?
Sinclair was tucking away another scone topped with butter and black current, and raised his eyes to meet Hornblower's.
"Delightful breakfast, is it not, Mr. Hornblower?" asked the Captain.
"Delightful, sir," said Hornblower without emotion.
"I am so pleased you have enjoyed it, Mr. Hornblower. Excuse me." Effington stood and the two men rose as well. "Such manners! The navy teaches you well, or someone has. Sit down, both of you."
Hornblower watched the man limp out of the cabin, before obeying. Seated, he raised the coffee cup to his lips and watched Sinclair over it. The captain did not look at him, but did speak.
"Yes, Mr. Hornblower. He is close to madness. He should not be out here. He should not be leading these men,... but he does." Sinclair brought his eyes up to Hornblower's steady gaze. "He has not been the same since Magie Noir exploded," commented Sinclair thoughtfully pondering the carpet of twisted jungle vines in black, gold, and green. "Does that give you satisfaction?"
Hornblower stared at the captain. Though he considered Effington an enemy, he would not gloat over his injuries.
Sinclair sighed. "If you need it, I hope it has." Sinclair stood and wiped his mouth. Twisting, he looked through the glass panes to see Ulysses. "Beautiful, isn't she? There is no more exquisite sight than a tall ship under sail." He did not need Hornblower's agreement. His own opinion was enough. With a sigh, Sinclair viewed the young officer. "I am sorry it comes to this. We all are, in some measure, responsible for our own ... destinies. At least, you have had a pleasant last meal." Sinclair nodded indicating something behind him.
Hornblower turned, and when he did, two men came to take him. Held between them, he was brought out onto the deck in the bright but cold November day.
The deck was filled with men,....Effington's, his own, and them guarded by the pirate crew. In fact, the deck was crowded with hundreds of men, an assembled audience of sorts, not just his division, but all the sailors and disarmed marines of Indefatigable. Even Armant had returned and looked as smug as ever. Renard de Mer was hove to, as Oceanus was, and less than a half a cable length to starboard.
Styles, Hardy, Oldroyd, Dooley with Matthews beside him, Kennedy, Edrington, Bentley, Cutter slightly shaking his head and looking at him mournfully, were near the starboard side. Turning, he saw Ulysses approaching to larboard, her sails aback to stop her very close, and her men taking to the rigging. Hornblower's eyes lowered to the prepared grate, leaning against the quarter-deck, and the man holding the cat in the bag. Hornblower swallowed and the servant from earlier approached him.
"Sorry, Gov," the man said as he unbuttoned his waistcoat. The men holding him pulled the coat off his arms.