An American Encounter, Part Three
by Skihee

Ch 17 Concussion

Pellew sat in his shirt sleeves and waistcoat at the desk in the after cabins of Indefatigable. The sun glinted off the water through the windows of the stern gallery and the warmth it brought was welcome, as well as the light. The peace of his surroundings brought an uncommon balance to recent activities. On the desktop before him lay sheet after sheet of paper, reports of varying kinds generated by his officers, from repairs, to medical reports, to work orders, and damage assessments. Picking up the one from the ship-wright, his eyes traced the words across the paper and an intense concern shown in his features. With a shake of his head and a soft sigh, he lay the report down and picked up another. He jotted a note onto a half filled work bill. Tossing the quill, Pellew picked up the report from Sebastian and leaned back in the chair. Try as he might, this one would not wait its turn to be read. Three pages. He shifted a sheet to the back of the set as his eyes moved across the words. At last, he lay them down on the desk, then closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose, pressing his thumb and fingers over either eyebrow, ending by squeezing his temples, inhaling slowly and then, exhaling.

What had he done, he thought? *I never should have let Hornblower keep the Frenchmen as crew. Stupid, stupid, Edward,* he berated himself, *stupid. Thank God he and his men are still alive.* Standing, he walked over and stared through the windows onto the shimmering sea. Pursing his lips and squinting at the bright water, he thought *It is the life... the life of a sea officer...a sea officer at war.* He bowed his head. *Hornblower will understand. If he does not, it is time he did. No...he knows. He has not been with me these six years and not know. Him above all my leftenants know the cost we pay as men in his majesty's navy.* His thoughts touched on Pamela, a subject he was avoiding, other than to think *He is alive. He will see you and the child. Nearly my... my....* He turned and wiped a hand down his visage, then finished the thought *my ... grandchild....like Drake, if not more so.* He shook himself out of the thought sternly. *Stop it, Pellew. You have not the time to consider such ... such ... * Turning, he grabbed the topcoat from the chair back, pulled it on, and then slung the cape around his shoulders. Snatching the hat off the side table, he exited into the corridor, his footsteps ringing smartly on the wooden deck.

Outside in the waist, the brightness of the sun and the crispness of the air assaulted Pellew's senses. Men labored in the rigging towards the bow. The shot from the seventy-four had nearly sprung the bowsprit. The ship-wrights were balancing the standing rigging to take the strain off the damaged timbers and spread it along temporary lines attached at other points of the chains and foremast, which in turn would need adjustments all the way back to the mizzen. Pellew frowned and considered that Indefatigable was in nearly as bad a condition as those ships of the line they had been in convoy with at the outset of this journey.

Thoughts sprang immediately to the vision of the approaching ship, flying the recognition signal flag and a white ensign. If only he had been sharper, but...she knew the signal. Brows furrowed, anger rose in his heart. The Admiralty would need to know. The signals would have to be replaced. The shock of being fired on by what appeared to be one of their own was galling.

Bracegirdle approached and saluted.

"Captain Pellew, sir."

"Mr. Bracegirdle." His voice was low and throaty. "Has Locker determined when we might set sail again?"

After collecting the remnants of the men from Renard de Mer, and a very few survivors of the two enemy ships, Indefatigable had turned her bow towards home. Soon after, Bowles noted the strain the ship was experiencing. While some repairs, such as the shot holes and the damaged planking, could be done under weigh, when the stress was found in the bow lines, Indy was hove to for repair. She had been sitting thus for the last two days while remedies were discussed then put into place. Sebastian was glad of the reprieve for the wounded. Relative calm was always preferred for wounded and healing bodies, but Pellew was anxious to be off. Like a horse that knows its nose is aimed for the barn, Indefatigable's captain wanted to bolt for England.

"He believes soon, sir, and recommends slow and steady until we can see how the lines will hold under the press of wind. Perhaps, as soon as noontime."

Pellew nodded. "Very well. Keep me informed, Mr. Bracegirdle. I am going to speak to Dr. Sebastian."

"Aye, aye, sir." Bracegirdle nodded and gave that slight turn of a smile that was barely there. The captain had been quiet since the return of the ship's company. The strain Pellew felt was hidden behind the mask of captaincy, but Bracegirdle knew it was there. He could see it in the slightest glance of eye in his captain. He watched the commander descend to the gun deck.

The men at work with routine deck and gun maintenance either avoided their captain's approach by tending to the task at hand, or saluted him. They knew where he was going, and they knew how badly the second leftenant and the ship was wounded. No sane man would want to give pause to the ship's captain under these circumstances.

Nearing the sick berth, Pellew slowed his step and searched for the ship's physician. He wanted an update on the casualties before he spoke to one in particular. The mild sway of the sick berth hammocks revealed the heavy presence of injured men. Pellew caught the eye of one of the loblolly boys. The boy stepped over to Sebastian and whispered the arrival of the captain. The doctor stepped quietly to the commander.

He offered a slight reassuring nod. "Captain."

Pellew inhaled deeply. "How are they?"

"You know I always consider our idleness a God-send, sir."

Pellew quirked a frown, but waited and listened.

"Those with burns are resting and quiet. Those suffering from exposure to the cold water and temperatures were released back to duty this morning. The few splinter wounds show no sign of infection as yet." Sebastian paused and added softly with concern, "He is the worst of the lot, if you do not count Matthews' stripes. Mr. Cutter is healing nicely."

The mention of the rating and the midshipman's flogging brought a flash of rage through Pellew's blood. The reports by Kennedy and Cutter, with Matthews reluctant assistance, filled in the blanks. It was Effington's revenge for the destruction of the ships last May. He knew, too, what was done to Hornblower and realized the magnitude of the humiliation, not to mention the dastardly plan to flog and hang his second leftenant. The captain felt a certain amount of anxiety about Hornblower, hoping to assess what the experience might have done to him and to help his officer through any anguish or unfounded responsibility he might be feeling. He knew his young officer well, and he knew he would feel the weight of command, command he was not fully responsible for since it was he, Pellew, that sent him off with a French, and now known to be pirate, crew. Pellew sighed in that his path had once more crossed that of the renegade English lord. But it was over, and he could not change the facts of what the lunatic had done. He forced back the irate feeling towards the situation. *It is my responsibility, for what was done last May that would bring such repercussions on my men. Not yours. Not yours, Mr. Hornblower,* thought Pellew as he rehearsed what might come to be voiced.

Sebastian was speaking. "He has sustained two more head injuries, Captain. Three serious blows to the head in less than the space of a year. Concussed, certainly, by this last one, from all the signs. It is fortunate it did not take off the top of his head. He has been in and out of consciousness." Sebastian stopped and studied the commander, then added. "I want you to send him home when we get back to England. I intend to place his name on the sick and wounded list."

Pellew listened without comment. Reception of the request was visible in the captain's eyes, though he gave no verbal acknowledgment. Blinking and turning his head away briefly, Pellew met the doctor's gaze and gave a single nod.

"I am not sure how he is going to take the idea, Captain."

"You have not told him?"

"No, sir. He... he has been unusually quiet. Since having to restrain him when he did not recall where he was or what had transpired, he ... is either asleep or pretending to be. I woke him last evening and insisted he take nourishment. He asked about the men and I told him he was not to be concerned about them, that you had things in hand. That seemed to give him a grudging satisfaction, but it also seemed to make him melancholy. He asked if you were well and I told him you were."

"Is he awake now?"

Sebastian sighed. "He may be. As I said, I think he ..." Sebastian was not sure how to phrase the next. "I think he may be brooding or... possibly worse, Captain. He would not talk with me. As I said, he either sleeps or feigns it. I know he needs the rest, but ... I know what was done to him. I can think of nothing worse for Mr. Hornblower than being restrained and helpless, though the humiliation ..."

"Yes, Doctor, I see," said Pellew his tone etched slightly with aggravation and halting the doctor from saying more. He did not need to be reminded of what was done to Mr. Hornblower. He knew it well, and he knew the ire. "I will speak with him unless you do not wish it."

"I believe it will do him good to see you, sir." Sebastian took a step aside and bowed his head reassuringly.

Pellew inhaled and walked passed the physician into the sick berth. He paused within the hammock area to glance over the men. Those whose eyes met his, he gave an affirming nod, but he did not speak. A step around the infirmary brought him in sight of Hornblower, his hammock separated from the rest. Cutter was gone, having been released back to the midshipman's berth.

Hornblower was covered with a blanket and dressed in a light blue flannel night shirt. The apparel was odd and Pellew thought it must belong to Sebastian. It was cool down here despite the proximity of the galley stove on the deck below. A hanging pan of coals was near the other hammocks, but the dispensary blocked its radiant heat and it was cooler on this side. Hornblower's head was bandaged around with white wrappings. The extra padding under the band over his left ear revealed where the wound lie. Sebastian told him it had taken a dozen stitches to close the rend in his flesh made by the flying splinter, but that the scar on the side of his head would be hidden beneath Hornblower's hair, when it grew out. Pellew gazed upon the strained features of his second leftenant. Stubble grew on his sunken cheeks. Pellew did not remember him looking so gaunt and thin when he left him less than a week ago. He lay the back of his hand against Hornblower's cheek.

Softly he said, "You need a shave, Mr. Hornblower."

Pellew's voice brought a quick intake of breath by Hornblower who opened his eyes and turned his head to the superior officer.

"Captain Pellew, sir!" Hornblower's speech was thick and raspy.

"Rest easy, now." Pellew pressed his shoulder back against the hammock gently. "Would you like a drink of water?"

Hornblower's lips parted, but he could not make the request of his captain who was already reaching for a cup from a nearby ledge. Pellew held it to Hornblower's lips, and though the leftenant tried to hold the cup, Pellew did not release it but assisted him to drink.

"Thank you, sir," Hornblower's voice was barely above a whisper and he seemed to be blushing.

Pellew managed a slight smile. "More?"

Hornblower cleared his throat, then answered a little more clearly. "No, thank you, sir." Hornblower stared into the eyes of his commander, trying to read his thoughts on how he had failed in his assignment. Feeling the prick of tears behind his eyes, he turned his head away and swallowed hard.

Pellew pulled a stool over and sat down beside the hammock and waited. He was comforted to see Hornblower cognizant, and, yes, he could see he needed a talking. Pellew would need to temper what he said with gentleness. It was clear the man, as he knew full well, had been heaping recriminations upon himself.

To Pellew's surprise, Hornblower raised a hand to cover his face and he saw Hornblower's shoulder tremble. Pellew put a steadying hand on his shoulder and squeezed it gently. The captain kept silent until the emotion passed.

Hornblower shook his head no, hoping Pellew would leave, but the firm hand remained affixed to his shoulder. Sniffing, he wiped his face, and slowly turned to his captain. Reddened, watery eyes met the steady gaze of the commander of Indefatigable. *I failed. I failed,* thought Hornblower. He tried to make his voice say the words, but he knew if he did, he would melt into tears. Why was he like this? Why was he so weak to degenerate into tears? He reviled himself for the weakness.

Then, as if Pellew were reading his thoughts, the captain said, "You did not fail, Mr. Hornblower."

Once the words were uttered, Hornblower turned his face away again, and the two sat in silence. A large, hot tear rolled down the right side of Hornblower's face, melding with the bandage around his head and wetting the hair over his ear. Then, Hornblower spoke, barely audible into the hammock's side.

"Dr. Sebastian would not tell me. H...ho...how many? How many did I lose?"

Pellew felt a prick of tears behind his eyes. Was this part of what was weighing on Hornblower's mind? His crew? He thought he lost his men? Pellew fought his own prick of tears, blinking them away. Taking a long breath, he answered. "You did not lose any," a pause, "but Sergeant Blaine succumbed to wounds he received, according to Mr. Cutter, and two of his marines were slain by the French pirates."

Hornblower covered his face again, tears rolling silently with relief that more were not killed, though those three were bad enough. In the navy, and in a navy at war, loss was to be expected. He recalled Renard de Mer in flames, and he thought far more must have been lost and Sebastian was keeping it from him. There was so much he wanted to know, but his current emotional state would not allow him to form the questions. He felt Pellew's hand, and Hornblower realized his shoulder was trembling.

"I want you to rest now. I will come to see you again soon." Pellew pulled the blanket up over Hornblower's shoulder, then quietly walked away.

Pellew stopped to speak to Sebastian before he left sick berth. "Has he not spoken with the other leftenants or Lord Edrington since his return?"

Sebastian inhaled a breath. "They have all been by to see him, separately....but... he was asleep."

The gaze the two shared revealed like minds. Hornblower was avoiding contact with anyone, at least on some of those occasions. Sebastian's assessment of Hornblower's mental state was correct.

Another sigh from Sebastian and he spoke that which largely went unspoken. "The classroom for commanders is the wide world and the lessons do not come from books but experience."

Pellew's concern eased. Sebastian always surprised him with what he understood about command.

"Doctor...Mr. Hornblower could not have a better physician. I know you want him to rest and I can see he needs it. Do not hide from him what has occurred. I know you mean well. But every captain needs to know his command is secure. He knows, now, that his men are. It is not an easy question for a captain to ask because it means he must hear the answer." Pellew inhaled slowly, "Next, will come the weight of ... of losing the ships." Gazing at the deck, he continued, "Financial loss is nothing compared to loss of life." His eyes darted back to the surgeon. "But guilt over losing the ships may come next, I know."

Pellew lowered his eyes as he thought about what might plague the young officer. Not only had he lost Renard de Mer, but also, Le Petite Canard, two prizes that would have enriched the pockets of the men, but the loss of those ships was tied to the destruction of the enemy. The crew of Indefatigable was back. From his source, who had contacts with life below decks, Pellew knew the men did not blame Hornblower for the loss. That was not what they focused on despite the fact that they all needed and wanted the extra money. No, and the attitude of the crew made Pellew proud. They understood what Hornblower went after, not only his ship, but more importantly, his crew. Feeling his heart swelling with pride, Pellew was pleased to bursting with all of them. He felt blessed to command these men, from Bracegirdle all the way down to the smallest powder monkey. Indefatigable was a dream ship for any captain.

"Is Matthews still in sick berth?"

"Yes, Captain."

"I would like to speak to him."

"He is in the bunk there," motioned Sebastian, "next to the dispensary. His wounds require him to lie on his stomach or side."

Pellew nodded and stepped quietly to the place. Matthews' face was to the wall. Pellew took a stool and sat down beside him. He placed a hand on the old sailor's shoulder, not wanting to startle him. The man turned and startled anyway upon seeing his captain.

"Cap'n Pellew!"

"At your ease, Matthews." Pellew gazed at the man before removing the pressing hand from his shoulder. "How do you fair?"

"Better, sir. Dr. Sebastian says I can go back to work soon. I ask him every day, sir."

Pellew lifted the corner of the light sheet draping his back. "May I?" he requested.

"Yes, sir."

Pellew stood and lifted the sheet. The wounds were healing but some remained weepy and yellow with suppuration. Many were scabbed.

"It itches a bit," mumbled Matthews.

Pellew sighed and gently lowered the sheet and sat upon the stool.

"Mr. Cutter tells me you took command of the men under Armant, once he was removed and detained. Even Mr. Bentley has given me a written report about your decisions." Pellew gazed askance down his nose at the rating.

Nervous eyes strayed and returned to those of the commander. "He threw Mr. Hornblower overboard without so much as a how-do-you-do, sir. I know it were wrong to help the enemy, sir. It's my fault, there's no denyin'."

"Your fault? Fault is not the word I would use, Matthews. Your decisions preserved Mr. Hornblower, Lord Edrington, Mr. Cutter, and maintained my men. I do not find fault," he said softly. "When you are better, Mr. Bracegirdle will discuss with you your new duties."

"New duties, sir?"

"Unless you already know those required of a boatswain?"

"A bo... I... I'm ta be promoted, sir?"

Pellew nodded. "You know Mr. Hornblower is here with you in sick berth, do you not?"

"Yes, sir. Dr. Sebastian says he's sleepin' lots. I know he needs the rest, sir."

"Yes. True, ...but he is awake now. I've just left him." then thoughtfully, he changed the subject, "I do not know what that man Dooley might have in mind..." Pellew's eyes flashed to Matthews. "It seems he, too, is owed a debt." Would Matthews pick up on his use of inclusion? Pellew knew Matthews' quick thinking saved Hornblower and Edrington.

"I owe him, sir, that's true. It were him what got me off Renard before she exploded... and others, by all accounts."

"Indeed, as I am given to understand," nodded Pellew. "Mr. Hornblower may not be aware of all that occurred since he has been incapacitated."

"No, sir, I imagine there's much he don't know." Matthews eyed the captain. He wanted him to speak to Mr. Hornblower? Officers would make life much easier if they could just say what they wanted, like giving orders. They knew how to do that. Why did Pellew not just come out and say 'I want you to talk to Mr. Hornblower?' *I reckon they can't,* Matthews told himself, *not a rating like me.*

Pellew had an oddly pleased expression on his face. "Get well, Matthews." He rose to his feet.

"Aye, aye, sir."

Matthews watched the captain of Indefatigable, his cape swirling behind him, advance aft between the rows of silent cannon, the man seeming larger than life. He saw some of the men stop working, once Pellew passed by, to watch him, too. The captain of the ship, taking the time to speak to him, a rating, and promoting him? Matthews lay his head down in wonder.


Hornblower sniffed and wiped his cheeks with the palm of his hand and thought about the times he had done that for Pamela. Opening his eyes, he was startled by the man sitting and watching him.

"Dr. Sebastian. How long have you been sitting there?"

"Long enough to confirm you are in distress of another kind." Pausing, he let the words sink in. "I am a physician of the body, but you know, too, I am always ready to listen. Captain Pellew tells me I have kept vital information from you."

Hornblower blushed. "I...I suppose he means... the men."

"Please accept my apology, Mr. Hornblower. It was not my intention to increase your worries, but to decrease them. I should have realized your need to know their circumstances. All your division, all Mr. Kennedy's division, and those men of Mr. Connors, and all the marines save three, are returned to the ship's company." Then, he added. "And Lord Edrington, Mr. Bentley, and a rather large African man named Dooley."

Hornblower smiled and chuckled, despite himself. "Thank you, Doctor, for that report." Captain Pellew. This his doing. "Captain Pellew must have delivered the information quietly."

Sebastian smiled broadly. "He did...and I am grateful."

Hornblower's eyes closed.

Sebastian stood and stroked Hornblower's bandaged brow. "How is the head? Are you having much pain?"

Hesitantly he answered, "I do have a headache, sir.""

Sebastian saw the brief levity gone from Hornblower's expression, like a flame that flickered, then went out.

"What else weighs on your mind? Let me have your burdens, Horatio."

The use of his first name registered across Hornblower's bandaged visage though his eyes remained closed. He shook his head no. There was more, as Pellew surmised.

Sebastian sighed and continued to pet Hornblower's curls and forehead lightly.

"Mr. Kennedy and Lord Edrington have been by to see you, but you were sleeping. Mr. Rampling and Mr. Bracegirdle, too, and the midshipmen," he added. "The man Dooley had some interesting things to say."

Hornblower's eyes opened a slit to eye the doctor, then closed, and he sighed, too tired, suddenly, to ask what.

Sebastian canted his head. "He has nothing but praise for you as a ship's captain."

A frown shown on Hornblower's lips. Sebastian was not surprised by its appearance and he shook his head. Is this self-abasement what makes Hornblower the man he is?

"I do not understand you, Horatio. You cannot see what we see, can be the only explanation."

"I nearly caused the destruction of Indefatigable, Doctor. It is you who does not see."

Hornblower's voice was low and tired and strained. Had Sebastian turned a key on the door to the man's thoughts? Could he open the door now that the lock was withdrawn?

Sebastian ceased petting him and sat down in thought. The destruction of Indefatigable? How did Hornblower see himself as being responsible for the destruction of Indefatigable? She was not destroyed. Did not Kennedy and Edrington conclude it to be the mine Edrington constructed that destroyed the attacking seventy-four? Did not Edrington's actions also bring about the destruction of the remaining ship of the line?

Sebastian pursued the thought from another angle. The proximity of Hornblower's command ship to Oceanus is what caused Renard's destruction but that same proximity gave a harbor of sorts to the men of Indefatigable. Time was a factor. On this occasion it could only be on their side for a limited time, but it was enough. Their lives were preserved if not the ship. It was just wood, hemp, and canvas. A thing that can be replaced. Sebastian sighed in frustration.

"You are right, Mr. Hornblower. I cannot see the connection. Will you explain it to me?"

Hornblower remained silent, his face turned to the side. Sebastian might have thought him asleep except for the flexing muscles along the officer's jaw line.

"I am going to brew you one of Brandon's concoctions he devised for the captain for his headaches. I will be back shortly." He added before leaving, "I believe it is similar to one your father prescribed for Mr. Kennedy."

Hornblower heard his steps depart and he raised a hand to cover his face as he quietly laughed and wept at the same time. Nelson, his father, Kennedy, Brandon, Pellew. All these men recalled to memory in one comment by Sebastian. He turned onto his side and pulled his legs up towards his chest as far as the hammock would allow.

Hornblower drifted out of emotion into a light sleep despite the headache. He returned to consciousness feeling a hand on his shoulder. Not Pellew again already, he questioned? He stretched his legs out and rolled onto his back, surprised and pleased by whom he saw.

"Matthews!"

It did Hornblower's sick heart good to see the worried expression on his man openly change to pleasure.

"Mr. Hornblower," he smiled. "It's good ta see ye awake, sir. I've brought yer tea here, from Dr. Sebastian. It's a might hot still. Would ye let me spoon ye a few sips?"

Hornblower's smile remained. "I would, if you wish it." Hornblower watched the old sailor dip into the cup and blow across the spoon, then carefully move it to his lips. He let his eyes take in every feature of the old sailor. What would he do if ever anything happened permanently to Matthews? Seeing him flogged was the worst, and the man was still draped in a sheet. His face became serious as Matthews passed the next prepared spoonful. Taking it and swallowing, he asked, "How are you, Matthews?"

"Oh, me?" He brought out another hot spoonful of tea to cool. As he moved it to Hornblower's mouth, he continued. "I'm doin' well, sir. Dr. Sebastian says there's no sign of infection. I might be able ta go back ta work tomorrow. He wants all the wounds to scab over before he lets me go." He passed another spoon to Hornblower.

Silence held as Matthews passed several more spoons of tea. Hornblower finally gathered the nerve to ask, "How... how are the men? I've been told everyone made it back. Are they well?"

Matthews' brow creased considering what to say. "Oh, yes. There was a few with burns but they was minor considerin'. Was that swim from Oceanus and the wet clothes." Matthews chuckled. "Damn, that water was cold!" His face straightened. "Sorry, sir."

"It's all right, Matthews. Please continue."

"Yes, sir." He passed another spoonful. "Ol' Renard was on fire then. Later she blew up like a ball o'flame. We was all off when she blew. I dint see Oceanus blow, you know. I was below decks. Was Dooley come fer me. He got me out. When I saw you was hurt, I pointed ye out ta Mr. Kennedy. Ye shoulda seen his face light up, sir. He thought ye was dead there was so much blood comin' out o'yer head. It all happened so quick. He and Edrington was tryin' to rouse the men to jump overboard. When Oceanus blew it was all so quick," Matthews repeated. Major Edrington said it was them on Oceanus shootin' at Renard what saved them, since they was all hunkered down.

"When she blew, you and Styles was the only ones standing. The mizzen blocked ol' Styles long enough to keep him from being struck by debris. Good thing, too, considerin' how that mast looked." Matthews stopped speaking as he recalled the broken splintered mast and shook his head. "Yep. Styles woulda bought it, if it weren't fer that mizzen.

"Anyway, Mr. Kennedy is yellin' at ya, but the blast was so loud from Oceanus, I figured either yer hearing was gone or that blow ta yer head had ye dazed. Twas old Dooley then that took charge. He's got a quick mind that one. He climbed over all the debris to get to ye. Snatched ye up like ye was a three year old and tossed ye overboard. Then, Edrington shouts 'I'll get him, Kennedy.' and that seemed to sit well with Mr. K 'cause I could tell he warnt leavin' the ship till he knew every man alive were off." Matthews chuckled with the memories.

"Dooley starts climbin' back towards me 'cause I was just sorta stunned by all the wreckage and what I saw. I could see stuff fallin' out o the air from Oceanus and her listin' and sinkin'! What was left of her. Cor, what a sight!" Matthews paused, looking into space and seeing the vision.

"Then, I looked starboard and saw the sweetest sight under heaven through the smoke. Indefatigable, sir. Her sails was like angel wings comin' to carry us home." He paused. "That's when Dooley made it back to where I was and grabbed me up and jumped with me. He told Mr. Kennedy there warnt no more of us below decks." Matthews looked into the thoughtful face of his officer.

The sailor's face became somber. "Dr. Sebastian asked me a question, sir."

His and Hornblower's eyes met, then Hornblower looked away.

"Ye know what question," he said seriously. "It's who and what we are, sir. You could not keep Cap'n Pellew from comin' after you. Just like Mr. Kennedy could not talk you out o'comin' after us. That's all I'm gonna say...fer now anyway, except nobody knew there was three seventy-fours a waitin' and especially not that madman. Not you and not Cap'n. It's what happens. It's just what happens. I'm thankful we're all alive, sir, and we'll mend." He paused and then continued. "I think ye been beat about the head enough for one year. Don't make Mr. Kennedy feel like he's got ta ...speak... to ya, sir. If ye don't mind my sayin' so." He looked at Hornblower sheepishly and hoped what he was about to say would hit home... but not too hard. "Don't make yerself a burden on Mr. Kennedy."

Matthews moved the cup to Hornblower's lips. "Not much left. Drink this down, sir."

But it was too hard. Hornblower obeyed, still reeling from the final words the old sailor spoke. A burden to Kennedy? Is that what he was? His emotions vacillated between anger, amazement, and humility. He knew Matthews meant well, though he felt like he had just been punched in the stomach.

"You rest now, sir. Dr. Sebastian said to see ye drank it all and then to let you rest."

He gave a nod absently to Matthews who departed.

Matthews' words gave him much to ponder. It was good to know the final moments of Renard de Mer, that all the men were safe, that Kennedy stayed with the ship until the last. Pride rose in his chest. He and Kennedy agreed it was Edrington's barrel bomb that caused the destruction of Ulysses, and it was Edrington that blew up Oceanus. A wry smile came over his lips. Should he not be reveling in the accomplishments of his good friends? Friends? Were there two? His face lost the mirth and he thought of Pamela. Edrington saved his life...more than once, but...

*No, no, Indy could have been destroyed. It was Archie and Edrington that...* the thought stopped as another bullied its way into his consciousness. *You're jealous! It was not you, it was Edrington that destroyed two seventy-fours, no, three seventy-fours!* He felt nauseous. Feeling the rise of the tea from his stomach he turned to hang over the side of the hammock. The wave of sickness brought back the feelings as he stood lashed to the grating waiting for the cat to strike his back. His head was spinning and he found himself on the deck on his hands and knees vomiting.

Dr. Sebastian heard the tumble and was immediately at his side. Grabbing a bucket he placed it for Hornblower who heaved again emptying the contents of his stomach. Sebastian helped to support Hornblower and pulled a cloth from his coat pocket and wiped Horatio's mouth.

"I did not expect this reaction to the tea, Mr. Hornblower."

"It is not your tea, sir," he panted. It was the stark fear of the impending flogging, and the humiliation of being stripped before his men and lashed to a grating.

Sebastian helped him to his feet, then moved the stool next to the side of the dispensary and sat him on it. Holding him in place, Sebastian knelt beside him. He dried Hornblower's hand and wiped remaining dampness from his chin. The leftenant still panted. Though Hornblower held his bandaged head, Sebastian could see the cold sweat on the visible part of his brow. Hornblower's body was trembling.

A loblolly boy emerged from around the edge of the dispensary.

"Lunden, hand me that cup of water and get a mop to this right away ...and clean it well," Sebastian added as he took the cup.

"Yes, sir."

"Drink, Horatio. Slowly now." Hornblower's breaths eased. "A little more."

Hornblower held his head and began to weep. "What is wrong with me, Doctor? What is wrong with me?"

"You have a concussion. It is the concussion, Horatio." Sebastian could think of no other cause. He had never seen Hornblower in tears like this. Angry, yes. Commanding, yes. Obedient, worried, humbled, possibly on the verge of tears, but never in tears AND out of control. Sebastian embraced the young officer. The concussion was the only answer. Was it pain or something else? Did it matter what brought them? Maybe it was both. As far as he knew, there was nothing amiss with Hornblower's marriage. Squeezing tightly, he repeated, "It is the concussion. You will get better. It will take time. Give it time."

"No, it isn't. It's me. I'm no good. I disobeyed my captain. I acted without orders. I put everyone in danger. I lost my ship. I lost my ship, Doctor. I exposed my men to jeopardy and I lost my ship. I lost Mr. Kennedy's ship, too. No, it was Mr. Connors ship, but then it was mine, or Kennedy's. I'm no good. I did not..." His voice caught and he could not say he failed where Kennedy and Edrington had succeeded. "It was Kennedy and Edrington. I brought the difficulties. It was all my fault, sir. Indefatigable could have been destroyed. I could have caused your death, the captain's, Mr. Bracegirdle and Mr. Rampling, all the crew!" For a brief moment, he halted the short accusatory sentences, panted, then, groaned. Hornblower pressed the side of his head. "My head hurts. My head hurts like hell."

Sebastian listened to the outpouring and wondered how much was truth, how much was self-recrimination, and how much was brain injury. Was he wrong to let Matthews speak to him for so long? He had listened in on some of it, but it seemed to be going well and he went to check on Hardy.

All Hornblower's weight fell against Sebastian as the leftenant groaned and pushed harder against his right temple. Suddenly, Hornblower was limp in his arms.

"Horatio?" Sebastian placed his fingertips on the carotid artery and released the held breath...alive. "Dear God in heaven... give me wisdom."

Lunden and Blocker were finishing up cleaning the floor, stealing glances of the doctor and the leftenant.

"Lunden, move the blanket and steady the hammock." Sebastian lifted Horatio and placed him back into the cot, then covered him. He pulled the stool next to the hammock and took Horatio's hand. Placing his fingertips over Hornblower's wrist, he assured himself the man's heart still beat, then, he hung his head in prayer.

"Doctor Sebastian!"

He raised at the voice, its sound incredulous.

"I was told he was awake. What is it?" asked the fourth leftenant.

Kennedy approached the cot. He was dressed in a clean uniform, covered over by an oil skin coat. His hat was shoved up under his arm and the hair on his head was disheveled. Pink cheeks revealed recent exposure to the wind above decks, he smelled of sea spray, and his clothing gave off a general cold damp feeling as he drew near. Kennedy stared at Hornblower, then, saw the empty bucket and the damp decking.

"What happened?"

Sebastian sighed and shook his head. "I have been foolish, Mr. Kennedy. We all want him well too quickly. I need to speak to Lord Edrington or Mr. Bentley or both."

"I shall get them." Kennedy took long, quick strides across the planks, swinging the hat at his side with each elongated step. He disappeared around the dispensary.

Sebastian pressed his hand against Hornblower's arm. "Too much too soon."

He rose tiredly and went to the dispensary. Measuring out the feverfew, lemon balm, and ginger, he added a bit more ginger, and a measure of peppermint. Grinding the herbs together in the mortar and pestle, the doctor talked to himself. "This should not have made you vomit. In fact, it should have had the opposite effect." Scratching his head, he decided to add a bit more ginger. It was a calmative.

Emerging from the dispensary, he checked the kettle nestled in the coals of the hanging stove. Hearing steps ringing on the deck, Sebastian looked up.

Kennedy arrived, his features strained. "I've found Edrington and Bentley. They will be here shortly. What happened, sir?"

Sebastian sighed and motioned him to follow him to the dispensary.

Matthews saw the two enter the little room and he rose and went to stand in the doorway.

"What's happened, sir?" Matthews asked.

The doctor and Kennedy glanced his way.

"I do not know, Matthews. He fell out of the cot and vomited. Then, he became emotional and said all manner of irrational things."

"What do you mean, emotional? asked Kennedy.

Sebastian hesitated and held Kennedy's gaze. "He was in tears. I do not know if it was emotional distress or pain or both. He said his head hurt and then he passed out. This is not good. Not good at all. It is the third day since the injury."

Matthews shifted on his feet. "I been thinkin', sir, that maybe I said too much....and upset him." Matthews bowed his head.

"What did you say, Matthews?" asked Kennedy softly.

Matthews bit his bottom lip, and his face was pained. "I shouldna said it. I was just tryin' to shake him out of himself."

"What?" asked Kennedy helplessly.

"I... I told him he shouldna be a burden on ye, sir. He looked kinda funny when I said it. I shouldna. It's my fault, sir. I am sorry. I wouldna do nothin' to hurt Mr. Hornblower."

"Matthews,..." Kennedy was at a loss for words. Something like that might make Hornblower mad, but he doubted it would bring him to tears. He had only seen Hornblower in tears once, last June, after separation from Pamela, and that when he was partly drunk. Drink might loosen his emotions, but... words? Horatio was tougher than that,... wasn't he? Could the blows he received make him this way? Kennedy could remember his fits used to leave him on the edge emotionally. He never let anyone see his tears though. They were hidden in the dark, and it had been ages since he felt that way. Kennedy did not wish to think that far back. He liked Matthews and knew what he said was true, that he would not hurt Horatio intentionally. "It will be all right, Matthews. Do not worry. I know he would tell you so himself if...he were himself.," he added softly.

"I... I just thought if that was it, it might help fer ye ta know. Sorry, Dr. Sebastian."

"Thank you for telling me, Matthews. Any and all information may help. Do you recall anything else?"

"He... he were upset when he saw me... my back, when we were on Renard. I tried to keep it from him. I figured he had enough on his mind he din't need to be bothered, but he found Dooley doctorin' me."

"That was my doing," admitted Kennedy. "I followed Dooley on Renard and saw what was going on. I told him where you were. He thought you were avoiding him because of what happened on Oceanus. That you were ashamed of him. I knew you were not," said Kennedy. "But he is so damned stubborn. I knew the evidence of your back would convince him that was not why you were avoiding him."

"Ashamed of him? I never could be." Matthews' expression softened from worry. "He were somethin', he were," Matthews shook his head ruefully, recalling Hornblower's demeanor below decks on Renard.

"Why do you say that, Matthews?" asked Sebastian gently.

Matthews inhaled long. "I think he was..." Matthews could not bring himself to say that he thought Hornblower might have been emotionally charged then. "Well, I saw the bruise on his chin and figured Mr. Kennedy mighta had to get his attention."

"Bruise on his chin?" Sebastian turned to Kennedy.

Kennedy blushed. "You astound me, Matthews."

"I know what it took in It'ly, sir."

"What? What? What are the two of you talking about?"

Kennedy looked sheepishly at Sebastian, then bowed his head to the floor. "You know what a state he was in last June, Doctor."

"Oh! The fight!"

"You know?" asked Kennedy astonished.

Sebastian smiled. "Yes. He told me."

"Horatio told you?"

"Yes," said Sebastian. "I had forgotten about it. So, you had to strike him recently?"

"Yes. When did I hit him?" Kennedy wondered out loud. "Indy approached and stopped the flogging, everyone was watching and waiting to see what would happen between the two ships. Effington had gone to the quarter-deck for a better view. I slipped over to Horatio and started to untie him. He did not want me to, but I did anyway."

"That was when you struck him?"

"No, but he was acting strangely then. I had to shake him and it did not seem to be helping. It was what led me to go overboard with him. I remember. I struck him once we were on Renard de Mer."

"And why?"

"Oh he was babbling about not being the captain of Renard. I just did not have the time to put up with it all."

"Wait. Go back to when you untied him on Oceanus. What was he saying then?"

"Crazy things, doctor. That he should hang there and be made to watch Ulysses attack Indefatigable. He said he wished he had already been hanged. It did look hopeless. They had our signals. Pellew thought, ...well you know, you were here."

"Yes, but what else about Horatio?"

"Let me see. He was just totally focused on what he thought was going to happen to the Indy and blamed himself for it. I suppose because he came after Renard. But we did not know she was sailing to meet up with three seventy-fours. I am sure if he had known, he would not have attempted to follow with Le Petit Canard."

"He was blaming himself for what was happening," stated Sebastian thoughtfully.

"Yes. But that's Horatio for you. And, I do not like saying this, but his emotions seemed very close to the surface then, but I know what was done to him was very humiliating. I also have to say, Horatio has undergone far worse and it never resulted in tears before." Then, he added quietly, "Thank God they did not get the opportunity to flog him."

Edrington and Bentley arrived as Kennedy was speaking. The lord's left arm was trussed to his torso. Kennedy could not help smirking when he saw the billowed linen shirt and empty left sleeve of the dark green coat Edrington wore over tan trousers. Bentley was dressed impeccably with color coordinated coat and trousers of dark gray and a silver gray vest. The white shirt beneath was clean and crisp. All the colors set off Bentley's graying hair and clear blue eyes.

Styles stepped beside Matthews to listen. He had been talking to Barkley, a current sick berth resident, when he saw the gathering at the dispensary.

"Doctor Sebastian. You wanted to see us?" asked Edrington.

"Yes. I am trying to get down a few more specifics about Mr. Hornblower's injuries....and his behavior."

"How are you, Mr. Matthews?" asked Bentley kindly.

"Better, Mr. Bentley. Though I may have put my foot in it with Mr. H."

"What is wrong, Doctor Sebastian?" asked Edrington worriedly.

"Tell me about the first time he was hit on the head." Dr. Sebastian looked from Edrington, to Bentley, to Matthews.

"Well, it were sometime in the morning watch. If they brought him down right after it happened, it woulda been close to four thirty in the mornin', I reckon," informed Matthews.

Sebastian was sitting and jotting down notes. "How long did it take for him to return to consciousness, Matthews?"

Matthews shook his head slowly and frowned. "Never did, sir. They hit him hard. He was out cold."

"When did he come to?" Sebastian moved his gaze to Edrington and Bentley.

"He did not come to in the water, I can tell you that. It was well into the morning, right Bentley?" said Edrington.

"Yes, my Lord. He even suggested the time once he came to. Was it not like six hours later? I was very impressed that he knew the time by the sun's level on the horizon," added Bentley pleasantly.

"He was unconscious for six hours? After falling into the freezing water?" Sebastian was writing rapidly. "Did you try to rouse him?"

"Bentley got us both out of our wet clothes and the jostling did not seem to faze him, Doctor," added Edrington. "We were both too cold to move, but he was unconscious as well."

"How did he seem when he came to?"

"Maybe a little dazed, but that was to be expected. Normal, I would say, except that he decided to try to go after Renard in our little boat. I cannot say that is a rational idea, but it may be for Mr. Hornblower. He said something would present itself, and Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Connors did."

"He did seem to fade into thought on a few occasions," added Bentley.

"Yes. He was not forthcoming in answering questions," said Edrington with a frown.

"Introspective, then," mumbled Sebastian.

"Horatio has always been introspective, Doctor," stated Kennedy.

"What does all this tell you, Doctor Sebastian?" asked Edrington.

Sebastian sighed heavily. "It tells me we are lucky he is still alive. >From what you tell me, the first blow was substantial, and I would say there is a good chance it was the first concussion. Then, he received a second from the flying debris caused by the explosion of Oceanus. The two blows would be bad physically. In combination with the way he rides himself already, the injuries seem to be playing out in his emotions, too. From the way he is behaving, I think he cannot help himself. Things that he would normally cope with, he has not the abilities to do so, and ... I think he knows it, which may exacerbate the situation even more."

"What do you recommend?" asked Edrington.

Sebastian shook his head. "Time. It is what I said to him before he went unconscious. He needs time to let his body, his head more specifically, heal." Sebastian addressed Matthews. "If what you are suggesting is true, Matthews, we must all be careful in what is said to him. Do not give him any more fuel to berate himself."

"You...will let us see him, then?" asked Kennedy.

"Yes, Mr. Kennedy," smiled Sebastian. "I think he needs to know you are there. Just ... be careful what you say. And, I do not think he needs to be hit anymore.... for a while anyway."

"Yes, sir," smiled Kennedy sheepishly.

"You struck him, Kennedy?" Edrington asked.

Kennedy nodded.

"Cannot say as I blame you. He can be quite maddening... but then so can you. It is a wonder the two of you have not come to blows before."

"Look who's talkin', if ye don't mind my sayin' so, sir," chimed in Styles accusingly, recalling the fight Edrington and Hornblower were in after the rescue at Toulon.

"Ahem. Yes, well, that was a different matter entirely, and I was not the instigator, well, you know what I mean," defended Edrington. "Please let us not bring up Mrs. Hornblower." Edrington pinked with the reminder.

"I think that is a definite," agreed Sebastian. "Do not bring her into whatever conversation you have."

"Aaaa....that may not work, Doctor,' said Archie warily.

"Why do you say that?" asked Sebastian.

Archie held up a sealed letter. "The captain gave me this. It's from Pamela."

"Argh...the post vessel," said Sebastian, closing his eyes and shaking his head. "Well...maybe it will help. I do not recall him mentioning her during his confessional. Perhaps a reminder of his wife and impending child is what is needed. I do not know. I just do not know. Mr. Kennedy, be sure I am with you when you give it to him."

"Yes, sir."

Sebastian sighed and looked at the gathering of men. Hornblower was well loved to have so many concerned and these were just the few who knew there was a problem.

"Thank you for coming, gentlemen."

"Doctor, I've just finished my watch. I would like to sit with him for a while," said Kennedy.

"I think that is a grand idea, Mr. Kennedy."

The men dispersed. Styles spoke parting words to Matthews. Bentley left to see about Edrington's boots. Only his lordship and Archie remained.

"May I see him?" asked Edrington.

Sebastian gave an affirmative answer to the inquiring expressions of the two men.

Kennedy inclined his head. "Come on."

They stepped quietly on the planking. Kennedy lay his hat on a bulkhead ledge and pulled off the heavy coat. Edrington pondered the sleeping man as Kennedy sat upon the bedside chair.

"He looks so frail with that bandage on his head," commented Edrington gently. "I did all I could to protect him, Kennedy."

Archie smiled wryly. "You have nothing to reproach yourself with, my Lord."

"Are you sure? I ...I got him inebriated that night the French escaped from their confinement. If it had been him making the rounds that night, maybe..."

Kennedy was shaking his head emphatically. "No. It would not have mattered, Lord Edrington. Captain Pellew learned from one of the French sailors before they were transferred to Vengeance that they had weapons hidden in the bilge. No one would have thought they would do that. What reason would anyone have to check there? They were pirates with a plan and a contingency plan. It would not have mattered who made the rounds that night. They would have done what they did. Neither you nor Horatio can take the blame for what occurred." Kennedy spoke softly. "Under the circumstances, I do not think it would be fruitful to bring the matter up...." Kennedy's eyes moved to Hornblower, "unless he does."

"I see your point, Kennedy," agreed Edrington. He placed his hand on Kennedy's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "Let me know how he fares. I would be glad to sit with him. There is not much else I can do," he added motioning to his wrapped arm.

"Thank you, my Lord," acknowledged Kennedy.

Edrington nodded and departed.

 

Kennedy sat with Hornblower through lunch, though Sebastian had a bowl of stew delivered by Wiggins, and Archie ate it quietly. At first, Kennedy stared at the features of the young man he called friend. Hornblower's eyes were blackened from the blow to his head. There was some swelling. But the thing that was noticeable to Kennedy was a certain amount of strain revealed, despite the bandage on his brow. The lips looked tight, pulled thin. Archie straightened the blanket over Hornblower. Touching the reclining man's shoulder, Kennedy felt the cold registering in the fabric of the night shirt. Quietly slipping away, he procured another blanket to cover Hornblower. As he sat on the chair with a sigh, Archie saw Horatio's eyes were open. Making sure he saw correctly, he leaned over for a better look.

The expression on Hornblower's face did not alter and Archie wondered if he were truly awake. Hornblower looked withdrawn, his expression vacant except for the mild constant strain his visage seemed to reveal. Kennedy did not speak to him, but held Hornblower's hand. Some of the fingers were very cold and some were not. Kennedy wrapped his hand around the cold ones to warm them. An expression of reassurance lay on Archie's countenance, but Hornblower did not see it. Feeling Hornblower's digits were warmer, Kennedy released the hand.

Reaching with the backs of two fingers, he stroked Hornblower's cheek and said very faintly. "You need a shave, old man."

Hornblower gave no sign of hearing Kennedy or seeing him, though he stared blankly at some point toward the foot of the hammock.

"Horatio."

Kennedy said his name ever so softly and watched for a response.

Inhaling, he said, "You've had a rough time of it. But, I know you are going to pull through this."

Still no sign that Hornblower knew he was there. Kennedy lay his hand on top of the back of Hornblower's. It was cold and Kennedy rested his there, imparting warmth. He watched the injured man for some moments, thinking many things he would like to say but felt silence was what was needed. Finally, Kennedy spoke very softly, barely more than a whisper.

"You got them all back, Horatio. All your crew is back on the Indy."

He paused and watched Hornblower's features for a sign he was listening.

"Not a one hurt anywhere nearly as bad as you."

Kennedy dodged his head slightly to see in the frail light. There was a tear, gently rolling out of the side of one eye down Hornblower's stubble. He reached to wipe it away with a finger.

"You did it. It was all you. It was all you, Horatio."

Another silent rivulet headed down the puffy, yet sunken, cheek.

"I would never have attempted it. I would have looked at Le Petit Canard and said there is no way this little unarmed supply ship could come up against a corvette. But you brought her up against three ships of the line and a corvette, as well."

Kennedy could not stop the brief chuckle at the immense folly of such a word picture.

"Only you, my friend, only you, could have such luck. To be so out-gunned and out-manned and be the lone surviving captain."

Kennedy's mouth eased into a comfortable soft smile, one that revealed the great affection he held for this man he considered closer than a brother. Archie followed the gaze of Hornblower's eyes to the hammock foot.

"Your feet aren't cold are they?" asked Archie. He rose, eased over, and put his hands under the blanket, finding Horatio's bare feet. They were cold as ice. Kennedy frowned and clasped one foot between his hands. He watched Horatio's face, but his countenance did not change. Taking the other foot in his hands, Kennedy warmed it and watched Hornblower's eyes flutter closed.

Sebastian peeked around the corner to check on Kennedy and Hornblower every now and then. Kennedy asked Sebastian to call one of the cabin boys.

Wiggins returned, the oldest. He quietly kept his head bowed, stealing glances at the resting second leftenant.

Kennedy sent him to his sea chest to get a pair of woolen boat socks his old aunt sent him two Christmases ago soon after their release from El Ferrol. Kennedy had not worn them since the last cold season and they were clean and warm. The thick, slate-blue woolen socks would be just the thing.

He stayed with Hornblower until time for his next watch, then called for Edrington to keep the injured officer company. Edrington arrived bearing a book.

Kennedy whispered. "He wants quiet. If you talk to him, do not talk too loud."

Edrington nodded. "Does he reply?"

"No, not verbally. Just make sure he stays warm and quiet, and if the ship should rock excessively, try to steady the cot so he is not jostled."

"Very well, Mr. Kennedy."

"I will be back in four hours. If you need relief before then, let Sebastian know."

"Yes," answered Edrington, as he sat.

Kennedy was gone. Edrington squinted in the low light to try to see Hornblower's bruised face.

Eyebrows raising, Edrington commented quietly, "They cannot blame those black eyes on me. They were none of my making."

He sighed, then opened the book. Turning on the stool, he tried to get situated so the most light fell on the page. It was too dark to read. He lay the book on the floor and stared at Hornblower.

With a slight shake of the head, he said, "What a sight you are. I must have looked even more dreadful when Pamela and the others picked me up. I am not talking too loudly, am I?" he asked softly, leaning towards Hornblower.

Edrington twisted a frown, neither seeing nor hearing a response. "I do not know what I would have done if it had not been for your wife. Well, actually, I do know. I would probably be dead. I know. I know. You might think that for the best, under the circumstances. Well, I am alive, and I owe my life to her and those others in her party. But, no, to her the more so, for she came to me, when I was as you are. Injured, alone, though you are not truly alone. You know, I think the entire ship is quiet because they know you are not well? I have never heard the ratings mess so quiet as it has been since your return. Everyone speaks in hushed voices. When they pass near sick berth, they crane their heads seeking for a sign you are better. I do not know if my men would miss me so well."

Edrington paused and canted his head for different views of Hornblower and tried to determine if he were listening.

"Are you listening to me, Horatio? I know my voice is no where near as melodious as that of your sweet wife, but hers kept me in touch with the palpable world. She kept me from sinking into despair that night and day in that damn leaky boat. I do not know how she endured the discomfort to come scavenging for such as me."

Edrington stood and touched the back of his hand to Hornblower's cheek. The stubbled skin was cool. "Your cheek is cool." Edrington slipped a hand under the blanket to feel Hornblower's arms and chest. "Toasty warm there. I suppose a little coolness will help you rest better." He sighed. "I get the feeling this is going to be a long four hours until Kennedy returns, though I think he should get some rest himself, but I doubt he will heed my advice. You've got your old friend very worried, Horatio."

Edrington moved the stool to the other side of the cot and sat down. He lay the length of his forearm on Hornblower's side, letting his hand come to rest on Horatio's right shoulder. Edrington stared into the darkened sockets.

"Did she ever tell you of her home in North Carolina? Odd that I remember those bits so well. I've never been to America. You know her family home is near Wilmington. It is not far from the ocean and Cape Fear River. They have a little creek that runs off the river near the home, named after them, Dawson's Creek. The home is called Swan-Phoenix, did you know that? I found it rather quaint that her father named the home. She told me it was burned to the ground at one point and they rebuilt. She says it has a wide porch that goes around the building completely. The house overlooks the creek and there is a bench swing in the oak between the two. The reason he named it Swan is because of the two wings and it is painted white. Do you think you will go to North Carolina someday? I imagine you will. Perhaps when the war is over. She has a sister, nieces and nephews. That makes you an uncle. Hm. Uncle Horatio. Uncle Horatio," he repeated thoughtfully. "I suppose you will be called 'Da' before you will be called uncle." Edrington smiled. "Fatherhood. Does it frighten you? It would scare the bejeebers out of me, I can tell you. Though, I suppose when it comes, I will be ready. Oh! Crikey! I'm not supposed to talk about Pamela!" he whispered. "Tell me you are indeed asleep and have not heard a word I have said." Edrington looked closely at the resting man. There was no sign of wakefulness. "Well, thank goodness. What else shall we talk about, then?"

After a time, Sebastian arrived with a cup of broth for Hornblower.

"Any sign of waking?" asked Sebastian.

"No, Doctor," said Edrington.

Sebastian stroked Hornblower's cheeks. "Mr. Hornblower. Horatio. Horatio. I want you to wake and take a little broth."

The barest negative wag was given.

"Yes. You will do as I ask, and then, I will let you be."

There was a visible sigh, but he did not open his eyes.

Sebastian moved a spoonful to Hornblower's lips. "It is not too hot, and I do not think it will upset your stomach. Open, please."

Hesitatingly, Hornblower obeyed.

The three men were silent except for the occasional order to "Open," coming from Sebastian, and the sound of the spoon in the cup. Hornblower ceased obeying. "Last one, Horatio. Take this one and I will let you alone."

Hornblower opened his lips, took the nourishment, then, let his head gently fall towards his right shoulder, so as not to press on the wounded side.

"Very good, Horatio. Rest easy," soothed Sebastian.

Edrington's expression revealed concentrated thought.

"What is it, my Lord?" asked Sebastian.

"Has he been awake the entire time?"

"I have no idea. Why?"

"Just curious."

When Kennedy came off the first watch, he brought with him the smell of the cold sea. He found Sebastian sitting with Hornblower. The doctor appeared drawn and tired and dozing. Kennedy touched the doctor's knee.

"Doctor Sebastian. Go to bed. I will sit with him."

"Archie, you must be near tired as I."

"I am fine. Please. Get some rest, sir."

"All right. Just an hour or two. Then, come and wake me," instructed Sebastian.

"Yes, sir."

Kennedy lay his hat on the ledge, but remained in the boat cloak as he sat. He gave a slight smile of reassurance despite the fact that Hornblower's eyes were shut.

"Hello, old man. I've come to sit the night with you," he said softly.

There was a slight movement to Hornblower's chin, reminding Kennedy of a dog on the scent of some prey. Grinning, he glanced at the damp coat he wore.

"Yes, Horatio, it is the sea you smell. Good bit of spray tonight. It's cold and damp up there. Be glad you are cozy and warm down here."

Kennedy unbuttoned the stiff coat and dropped it onto the deck, then resumed a seat.

Kennedy moved the blanket off of Hornblower's arm and took his hand in his.

"They are all worried about you, Horatio. The ship is so quiet. Can you hear? Nothing but Indy creaking a soft lullaby for her fallen leftenant. You know, I think the old girl was even taking the rollers easy for you. We need you, you know. Don't think we do not. We do. It is never the same when you are gone from Indefatigable, this is almost worse, but then... not, in another way. I won't babble anymore. I know you need to rest." Kennedy scooted the chair closer, then rested the upper part of his body across Hornblower's stomach and closed his eyes.

Hornblower moved two of the fingers on his right hand to touch Kennedy's sleeve.

Archie opened his eyes to see and confirm the slight movement and touch he felt. Smiling, he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

 


The next afternoon, the pounding in Hornblower's head lessened and he opened his eyes. The light that met them caused him to close them immediately, the blood pumping through his temples increased, and with it, the pain. He stretched a hand across his eyes and pressed on the sides which caused him to cry out. The left side of his head was bruised and sensitive to touch. He turned his head into the hammock and pressed against his forehead and panted till the piercing stabs of agony eased.

"Horatio, are you all right?" It was Sebastian. "What is the matter?"

Breath easing, he answered angrily, "I forgot my bloody head is stove in and I pressed against it."

Sebastian smiled despite Hornblower's discomfort. "It is not quite stove in, but it may feel that way from your side."

Hornblower was in no mood for quips at his expense. "How many damn lanterns have you got burning down here? The light is too damn bright."

Sebastian's expression changed to one of concern. There was only one lantern lit. It was a good eight feet away.

"I know you are not feeling well, Mr. Hornblower, but language in this situation is uncalled for."

Hornblower's hand covered his eyes. He said nothing.

Sebastian waited. When Hornblower did not respond, the doctor asked, "Would you like me to turn the wick down?"

"Did I not already make that clear, Doctor?" rasped Hornblower.

Sebastian's eyebrow rose and he commented under his breath as he stepped to the lantern, "Yes, I suppose you did." Returning to Hornblower's side he asked, "Is that better?"

Hornblower let his eyes blink open once then he closed them again. "Did you turn them all down?"

Sebastian looked around. There was only the one. "Yes, they are all down. Would you like it, I mean, them turned out?"

Hornblower thought. "Yes, turn them all out but one."

Sebastian twisted his mouth and sighed. All he could do would be to move the lamp further away so the dispensary wall would block the light fall, so he did.

"Done, Mr. Hornblower."

"Where am I," he asked, lowering his hand and trying to keep his eyes open, "sick berth?"

"Yes." Sebastian observed the patient curiously.

"On Indefatigable?"

"Yes." Was the leftenant's memory affected?

"I want to get up."

"After what happened yesterday, I would not recommend it."

Hornblower was quiet. "What...what...happened?"

"You were physically ill, for one," said Sebastian. If he did not recall breaking down, he saw no reason to embarrass Hornblower with the memory.

"For one?" asked Hornblower.

Amazing, thought Sebastian. The head injury was wreaking havoc on this young man, yet his thinking was as quick as ever. It was obvious he neither remembered the emotionalism of the previous day, nor being sick.

"I do not think it necessary to go into details, Mr. Hornblower," advised Sebastian.

Hornblower opened his eyes and blinked and squinted at Sebastian.

"Is the light still bothering you?"

"A little." He held his right hand over his eyes to shield them, opening them briefly, then closing them again.

"Do you know who I am, Mr. Hornblower?"

A flash of mild panic flew across Hornblower's features. "Of...of course I do."

"Who am I?"

"You're...you're...the ship's doctor." Horatio's breathing rate was slowly increasing as he tried to remember. "Seb...Sebastian...you're Dr. Sebastian." His breathing increased to a pant and he pressed against his forehead. "I'm going to be sick."

As Hornblower leaned over, Sebastian grabbed him to keep him from falling onto the deck and jostling his head. Beset with dry heaves, since he had taken no nourishment, Hornblower was held steady by the doctor.

"This has got to stop," said Sebastian softly. "You will do yourself a further injury. Becker!"

The assistant came at the call. "Yes, sir?"

"Bring me the bottle of laudanum."

"No, Dr. Sebastian, please. I do not want it," rasped Hornblower, his tone sounding more like his old self.

"Horatio, you have got to rest and give the wound time to heal. We have tried it your way and I agreed with you. But, now we must try the other. If it does not seem to be helping, I will cease giving it."

"Promise me. Promise me," he begged.

"I promise I will only give enough to dull the pain and let you rest." Sebastian eased him back down on the cot.

Becker returned with the dark bottle. Sebastian poured a small amount into a spoon.

"Open your mouth, Horatio." Sebastian waited. "Come on, leftenant. We need to get you well and that is not going to happen if you do not rest."

With a sigh, Hornblower parted his lips and swallowed the bitter medicine.

"Cold compresses, doctor. Cold compresses might help. Could you get cold compresses?" asked Hornblower anxiously.

"Yes, yes, Dr. Hornblower. I will do as you ask."

Sebastian held him in place as he waited for the opiate to take effect. Hornblower's knowledge of medical practice was generally helpful, though in this case, it was proving a trial. Sebastian had given in to his request not to be given laudanum, but the pain was too great, and no doctor should doctor himself or he would have a fool for a patient. Hornblower would have a fool for a doctor if Sebastian let him continue to choose his regimen.

"Becker," said Sebastian quietly, "go topside and get a bucket of cold water.

"Yes, sir."

Hornblower drifted into half consciousness. The pain of his head dulled, and the queasiness of his stomach eased. The coming days were filled with quiet, a dull pain, and echoing voices. He recognized most of them, Archie, Edrington, Pellew, Sebastian. Some whispered along the edges of his memory, like ghosts in the mist.

Waking merged with dreaming. Pamela came to him. He was on a beach and the sand was hot coming through the soles of his shoes. The woolen uniform magnified the heat of the sun. Pamela floated with the swells of waves as they came to the shore, and she beckoned him to join her. But, he could not, could he? Was he not on duty? She came in towards the shore and rose from the waves. Her hair hung in ringlets on her shoulders and the water glistened off her naked skin. She was not pregnant, but slender and supple as he had known her the first night of marriage. As her eyes held his, he became aware that his clothing was removed, and he too was naked.

He stepped into the surf and felt his hand clasped in hers. He tugged on her hand and she halted and turned. He stepped next to her, the fronts of their bodies barely touching. Her beautiful lips parted and he lowered his upon them. Embracing her, his hands slipped over her smooth wet back as he pressed her against him. He melted into the kiss, and the caress of their warm, sensitive tongues became the only sensation.

His mind formed a question and she motioned to the sand. When he looked where she indicated, he saw a small basket and instantly they stood beside it. Pamela leaned over the woven receptacle and her hair fell forward dripping water onto the small babe. The child broke into a toothless grin and he giggled. She lifted the naked baby and gave him into Horatio's arms. Hornblower looked into her eyes with deep affection and she said, "You gave him to me, and now I give him to you." Horatio looked into the happy face of his son. The child was plump and pink and trusting. Horatio cradled the boy in the crook of one arm and with the free hand, extended a finger. The baby grasped it tightly. Hornblower gazed at his wife. "I love you, Pamela." He leaned to kiss her, pressing the child between the two of them.

Suddenly, an enormous bell sounded in his head. The beach turned into the heaving deck of a ship on a tossed sea. Cold and wet with his uniform soaked in sea spray, he tried to get to his feet. The bell clanged in the whir of wind and rain and he clasped his hands over his ears. The noise rocked him to his bones and he groaned. Locating the belfry on the ship, he saw the thing was huge like the clock tower in London. The clinker hit the side and the deep throaty tone of the huge brass bell sounded for a third time. What was the watch hour? How many tones would be rung? Who was ringing the bell? Hornblower saw the back of the man who held the bell rope. The toss of the deck threw him towards the man. Hornblower grasped his shoulder and turned him around. The view that met his eyes startled him. He gasped as the bone white skull grinned with naked teeth. He fell backwards onto the deck. A wave came over the side, tossing his head against a cannon and sloshing his body towards the gun ports like so much flotsam and jetsam. He lay there, unmoving, waiting for the sea to subside and for the pain in his head to cease.

The weight on his chest became centralized in two points, lifting, pressing, lifting, pressing. It ceased and the weight lightened from the two points to one wider one, but it pressed against his chest, throat, mouth, and nose. He pushed at it with one hand and it moved. Again, the two points of pressure in his chest resumed, lifting, pressing, lifting, pressing. It stopped and he felt something cold by his ear, sniffing and breathing and whirring. Hornblower tried to go back to sleep. Something was stepping on his chest and then, flop! His mouth and nose were covered. He pushed it away.

"Are you trying to smother me?" asked Hornblower. His voice sounded weak, unaccustomed to use.

"Merrow phfrrrr phfrrr."

Hornblower opened his eyes in time to see a furry head butt into his chin. "Bandit, for mercy's sake. Are you trying to kill me?"

The cat rubbed his head and then his body along Hornblower's chin.

"That will be enough!" He pushed the cat none too gently down towards his stomach and rested his hand on the feline's back. The cat kneaded his claws into the blanket covering Hornblower, then pulled out from under Hornblower's resting hand and butted against the leftenant's chin again.

Hornblower sighed and pressed the cat down against his chest. He scratched under the cat's chin and then drifted off to sleep, both hands lightly holding the cat in place. The sleep did not last long as he became aware of pressure on his bladder. He groaned and pushed the cat off his abdomen.

"Bandit, give a fellow a break, eh?"

Hornblower opened his eyes and tried to remember when he had relieved himself last. No memory. He had to go. Thoughts of raising up made him realize his upper body felt like it was weighted to the spot. Carefully, he raised a hand to touch his forehead. No bandage. He touched the left side of his head lightly. No stitches. The nerves on that side of his head reported a numbness and the touch of his own fingers felt strange.

The cat tread back over his swollen bladder and then propelled himself off the hanging cot.

"Bandit! Oomph!" Hornblower winced. "I've got to get up!" He rolled onto his right side, gathered his strength, what there was of it, and his will, and was preparing to swing his feet up and out.

"Just a minute! Where do you think you are going?" Sebastian held him in the cot and Becker arrived to take the opposing side.

"Dr. Sebastian, ... nature calls," said Hornblower looking aghast at the two men holding him in place.

"The pot is right here, Horatio. No getting up yet." Sebastian snugged the chamber pot between Hornblower's hip and the side of the hammock.

"But, sir?"

"We have been doing this for the past seven days without difficulty. Shall I help you or can you manage alone?"

Hornblower stared at the medical man. Sebastian gave him a moment and then started to lift the cover off Hornblower.

"I can do it, sir!" stated Hornblower, incredulously, pressing the blanket down.

Sebastian snorted. "It is not as if I have never..."

"Please, Doctor Sebastian!"

"I do not want you to toss yourself onto the deck." Sebastian waited.

With mild consternation and some embarrassment, Hornblower started to lift the blankets, then looked back at Sebastian.

Sighing, Sebastian said, "Very well. I will cast my gaze elsewhere, but I mean to steady this cot." He turned his head to look back over his shoulder. That was as much privacy as Hornblower was going to get. Becker turned away, also.

It took Hornblower an extremely long time to empty his bladder. Once done, there was such a sense of relief, he lay back in the cot with a sigh and closed his eyes. Becker removed the chamber pot.

Suddenly, Hornblower's eyes sprang open.

"Seven days?" He tried to sit up.

"No, no," ordered Sebastian, pressing him down.

"Seven days? I've been out for seven days? Mr. Bracegirdle must ..."

"Mr. Bracegirdle nothing. I am your commanding officer right now, Mr. Hornblower. And I will be for some time to come."

Hornblower swallowed. "But..."

"You are going nowhere until I say so."

"But..."

"Nowhere. Understood?"

"But,seven days? Where are we? What is happening?

Sebastian kept quiet as he considered what he was willing to inform.

Hornblower searched the doctor,s countenance.

"Please, sir. I will obey your orders, pleaded Hornblower.

Sebastian considered the promise and he knew Hornblower would know soon enough, better not to cause him agitation.

"We are just south of Ushent. Sebastian watched the young officer assimilate the news.

"England?

"Yes, England. Sebastian paused, then asked, "Does the light bother your eyes?

"No, sir.

"How does your head feel? Any pain?

"No, sir.

Sebastian released a sigh of relief.

"When may I return to duty, sir?

"Two months I should say, answered Sebastian without hesitation.

Horatio,s grin faded as he realized Sebastian was serious.

"Two months! But, sir, I cannot

"Yes, you will, he stated emphatically. "You and Indefatigable will be in dry dock.

"What? What ails the Indy?

"I am a doctor not a ship-wright, but by all reports, she needs some serious maintenance on her bow sprit if not complete replacement. I am sure they will determine her needs as I have determined yours. You are going home for rest and recuperation. Sebastian narrowed his eyes and continued. "I will hear no protests, young man. You have sustained three serious injuries to your head, two very close together. I have had you incapacitated with an opiate to insure that you rest. Next, when we are moored, you will be going either to hospital or to your father,s home. I understand Captain Pellew sent a letter to your father informing him of your needs. No doubt you will be expected.

"I pray Captain Pellew did not unduly alarm my father.

Sebastian stared thoughtfully at Hornblower, a bit surprised that that was his first concern. He hoped that since the ship would be out of commission, that Hornblower would be less likely to protest his separation from the ship.

"Is the ship to be paid off?

"I do not know.

Hornblower let his shoulders release their tension and sunk into the bedding of the cot. His brow furrowed with concern. *I want to see my wife,* he thought.

"Dr. Sebastian, I would like to write my father myself and let him know I am well.

"Harumph. Well? You are hardly well.

Hornblower frowned and tried to rise.

Sebastian frowned back and pushed him down with one finger.

"What must I do to get better, sir?

"Rest. Eat. Behave yourself. Follow your doctor,s orders, said Sebastian.

"Have I been that difficult?

"Always, Mr. Hornblower. I am going to order your broth. Do not try to get up. Am I understood?

"Yes, sir, he answered meekly.

Once Sebastian was gone, Hornblower tested his limbs one by one. First, lifting one leg, then the other. The exertion tired him and he rested a moment. He lifted his right hand and held the arm out. After a moment, his muscles began to shake and he dropped it to his side. He released the held breath. *I,ve got to get stronger.* Tensing the stomach muscles, he tried to raise his shoulders. He released the muscles and collapsed against the bedding. The pain in his temples told him he was trying too much too soon. He would have to follow Sebastian,s orders, and the idea frustrated him.

The next few days his weakened state was brought home to him repeatedly. The spoon of broth refused to reach his lips without splattering on his chest when he tried to self feed. Too shaky, he was forced to depend on Sebastian, Archie, Edrington, even Styles had been present on one occasion. He did enjoy seeing each man, though he hated the dependence upon them for food. He asked questions, when his mouth was not occupied, to avoid embarrassment, hoping it would seem that it was information he needed more than their assistance.

He pestered Sebastian to give him more solid food. He would get his strength back, he determined, and set up a series of minute exercises to strengthen his muscles.

"Horatio?

The voice startled him and he ceased the tensing of leg muscles.

"What are you doing? chuckled Archie.

"Archie! Just a bit of exercise. I am not harming myself. You need not inform the doctor.

"I won,t tell on you, old man, he grinned.

"Why do you call me that? asked Hornblower, feeling the aggravation of the nickname, which he had heretofore ignored.

"Call you what? Old man? Archie snorted. "I,ve been calling you that for years and now you ask?

"I am not old. In fact, you are at least three months older than I, answered Hornblower defensively.

"Yes, chronologically, I am older. Archie smiled warmly at his disgruntled friend. "But mentally you are decades beyond me. So duty oriented. Yes, sir. No, sir. Let me plot our next mission, sir.

Hornblower sighed and looked away. "You exaggerate, Archie."

"Do not get your nose out of joint. You asked and I told you honestly. Besides, it does not make me love you less. Archie chuckled again. "Actually, it is quite endearing since I have come to know you better over the years. Hornblower did not return Archie,s gaze. "Come on, old man. No pouting.

"I am not pouting, insisted Hornblower.

"I won,t argue with you, Horatio. He saw Hornblower yet avoid his gaze. "I,ve made you angry. He paused and waited. No response. "Do you want me to leave?

"No. At last, Hornblower looked at his smiling friend. "You love me, eh?

"More than my own kin, said Archie, the vague smile remaining.

Hornblower held Archie,s eyes with his and searched them deeply until Kennedy spoke.

"What are you hatching in that calculating mind of yours? I can see the gears whirring away, said Archie, doubtfully.

Hornblower averted his eyes. "I miss I miss Pamela.

Archie,s hand flew to his breast. "Oh! Pamela! I,ve a letter for you!
He removed the sealed packet from the pocket of the uniform jacket. "I,ve been carrying this around for more than a week. The captain gave it to me to give to you, but you,ve been out of it.

Hornblower took the letter and stared at his name. The address read: Lt. Horatio Hornblower, HMS Indefatigable and was indeed written in Pamela's hand.

"I will leave you to it, old man, said Archie softly, and he walked away, glimpsing over his shoulder to see Hornblower part the sealing wax from the paper,s edge and unfold the letter.

 

 

October 25, 1799

 

 

My darling Horatio,

It is seven days, five hours, and thirty-two minutes since I saw Indefatigable disappear on the horizon. I pray for you constantly, my love. I miss you so. Forgive me for telling you so quickly how much you are missed, but I could not have you think otherwise.

Drake and I are well. He has been a comfort to me and a good and happy companion. I almost think you orchestrated his presence for my benefit.

Uncle Daniel left a few days after you. He had to return to take care of the business. I never thought I would be sad to see the back of him, but I was and am. Though the extent to which I miss you is far more, my love.

I am ever grateful for the time Captain Pellew gave us on Indefatigable, when he could have sent me back with Maria, and I am grateful for the time he gave us here. Having you in our bed is a memory I replay each night. I find myself sitting recalling you everywhere in the house, falling into reveries of you, your touch, your kiss. I can still put my nose to your pillow and inhale the scent of you, my adorable man. I miss you, Horatio. I want you with me. Forgive me for writing it. I am being cruel. Forgive me.

 

 

Hornblower let the shaking letter fall to his chest. He pressed it there tightly then, he closed his eyes and brought to mind the vision of his wife in Gibraltar. Moisture formed at the corner of one eye. Breathing deeply, he raised the letter to read.

 

My love, my love, I love you now and always.

Drake sends his regards to you and all the crew and especially to his godfather. He is such a little man, but I know he misses the Indy, as much as I, if not more.

Please be careful, darling. Know my prayers are with you and all the officers and crew. I pray for peace. The Lord guard you and guide you, my love, my darling.

All my love from my heart to yours,
Pamela

P.S.

Our son grows more and more each day. I long to hold him in my arms, knowing he is a gift from you. I love you, Horatio.

P

 

 

 

He read it a second time then, closed his eyes, held the letter to his chest, and felt the hot tears roll down the sides of his face.