An American Encounter, Part Three
by Skihee

Ch 18 Out and About

Bandit lay log-like, vertically, on Hornblower's chest purring loudly. The officer scratched between the pointed fur-tuft ears and the cat's eyes were tightly shut with pleasure. The index finger of Hornblower's other hand stroked Bandit's under chin and the cat stretched his neck for further application of more fingers. The cat turned his head indicating another spot that needed a scratch and he opened his eyes just a slit to see Hornblower's attentions were purely physical. His mind was somewhere else. The cat pulled a long breath and lay his head down causing Hornblower to absently move his hand to pet Bandit's back in long smoothing strokes.

Hornblower inhaled slowly and watched the cat rise with his lung's filling. In the last two days, he had listened to those that visited him and picked up on how much of a bother he was to Sebastian. He was doing his best now to be a model patient. He could not help what was done under the influence of laudanum, but he would try his darnedest now at being as little trouble as possible.

Captain Pellew made it clear upon his last visit that he was under Sebastian's total control. Putting his right hand to his forehead, he sighed. *God, please let me out of this hammock,* he prayed without words. Before learning of his trials on the good doctor, he had harangued the man until he let him out of the hammock to sit up for a while. The experience told him how bad off he truly was. Having been supine for more than a week sitting up was a dizzying experience. To his annoyance, Sebastian knew. Well, what could he expect? Sebastian was a medical man, and a damn good one. Besides his own father, he had known no other doctor to be as good. He did not care to think of being in Heppelwhite's care, though actually, that doctor would have probably let him go days ago. Then where would he be? Six of one and a half dozen of another, he supposed. Still, this laying about might be suitable for cats, but for him...it was nigh near madness. *Please, God, just for a little. I beg you. If you care for me, send someone to take me out of this infernal cot!*

This line of thinking was getting him nowhere but into an agitated state of mind. He had to shift his thinking. *Pamela, what are you doing today?* He had started to write a letter to her, but the thoughts that filled his mind seemed to run in three directions. One dealt with recalling the last times he made love to her, he still had not decided whether he should finish that letter and tucked it beneath the pile of blank notes for consideration for another time. The second one, sharing what he had just gone through, was halted at the first thought. The third one, dealt with the soon coming departure from his ship. He wanted to see his father but he wanted to see her, too. Was there a way to get to Gibraltar and then make it back to Portsmouth when the Indy was ready for sea again? And, if he wrote of the so called 'free' time he was being given, how would he explain it without revealing to her his injuries? *I wish Pellew had not told my father about this,* he thought, unhappily.

His left hand strayed to his groin and he felt the enlargement. He sighed, moaned, and pushed against himself, looking down to see Bandit's eyes squinting at him.

"The merest thought of her, Bandit, brings this on," he whispered. "How am I going to live without her for another two to six months, eh? I cannot pace or exercise or... I've got to get out of this bloody hammock!"

"Well, I am here to do just that, Leftenant Hornblower."

Hornblower's view flashed to the man smirking beside the hanging cot.

"Lord Edrington!" How much had he heard? "I did not hear your approach."

"Probably because you were too busy talking to yourself, or that cat. He seems to be spending a good deal of time with you. Nearly every time I come by to see you, either he is here or there is evidence of his having been." Edrington picked up a tuft of fur from Hornblower's blanket and flicked it into the air. It hung there and then slowly floated to rest onto the planking. "I hope he hasn't got fleas."

"He keeps them to himself if he has, my Lord."

"Alexander, remember?"

"Alexander." Hornblower felt a slight merriment in his eyes. Even Edrington was good to see in his current confinement. Recalling the peer's first statement, he asked, "What are you here to do?"

"Sebastian has given his consent for you to be clothed and taken out for a bit, if you feel up to it."

"I do. I do!" Hornblower rose on one elbow and Bandit jumped from the cot.

"So long old chap," said Edrington to the cat.

Bandit gazed up at the tall blonde man and snorted as he padded slowly away.

"Kennedy is bringing your uniform. He should be here in a moment."

"My uniform?" Hornblower repeated hopefully and softly as his hand splayed over his chest. "Dr. Sebastian is going to let me get dressed as well?"

"Yes," grinned Edrington. "I guess you have been in that gown for a while, you poor old thing." He canted his head towards his left shoulder. The arm on that side was strapped to his side. "I sort of know how you feel. Sebastian has been on a rampage since our return," he whispered. "I think every man on board is afraid of getting sick or hurt and falling under his care. He's gotten very strict. Even Pellew blanches when he sees him. You would do well to watch your p's and q's."

Footsteps sounding on the decking drew their attention. Archie rounded the dispensary wall and broke into a wide grin when he saw them.

"Horatio! You are looking so much better! Especially since you've gotten a shave! I can see Lord Edrington has told you." Archie unloaded the clothing onto the nearby chair. "Let us help you out of there."

Edrington and Kennedy took position to help Hornblower to his feet. Once there, the three men paused and waited.

"All right so far?" asked Kennedy.

"Not too dizzy, are you Horatio?" asked Edrington.

"No...no, I am fine."

"Hold on to him, my Lord." Kennedy pulled the small clothes from the chair and tucked the trousers under his arm. He held open the small clothes at Horatio's feet and he stepped into them, then the trousers. Kennedy pulled the gown up and off over Hornblower's head.

"I never thought trousers could feel so wonderful," muttered Hornblower as he buttoned the fly.

Archie held the shirt and Hornblower inserted his arms and pulled down and tucked it neatly. Kennedy handed over the neck cloth while he completed buttoning the waistcoat. Seeing Hornblower's hands shaking, Kennedy took over the tying of it.

"You are looking more and more like a second leftenant," grinned Archie, holding Hornblower's coat for him. "Sit down, sir."

Hornblower eased down on the now empty chair. Kennedy knelt and removed the woolen socks he had loaned Hornblower so many days ago and pulled on clean thin off-white wool ones, then pushed on the shoes.

Edrington handed Kennedy the hair brush he was holding. Kennedy brushed gently through the dark curls which straightened then sprang back, taking care over the wounded areas. He pulled Hornblower's hair back and tied it with a wide black ribbon.

"Thank you, Archie," he said shakily. His own weakness surprised Hornblower and he realized he would not have been able to dress himself without going all quaky and out of breath. How long would he be this way? He inhaled and even the intake of air quivered. Swallowing, Hornblower wondered how much of it his friends could see.

"You look very fine, Leftenant Hornblower," Edrington assured.

"Indeed you do," affirmed Kennedy. "Are you up for a stroll?"

"Where am I going?"

"We thought you would eat dinner with us this evening, if you are up for it. Sebastian has given his permission," said Kennedy.

Hornblower swallowed and looked at his legs doubtfully. "I... I'd like that."

"Come on then," encouraged Archie. He and Edrington took opposing sides, Edrington on Hornblower's left, owing to his strapped arm.

Hornblower felt light-headed as he stood. He looked down at his clothing and stroked the front of his jacket.

"Wait." Hornblower took two hesitating steps to his cot, felt beneath the pillow, and removed a letter. He tucked it into the inside coat pocket. Turning shyly, he said, "Ready."

The two men took position once more and were prepared to support him should he need it.

Rounding the dispensary, Hornblower grabbed a nervous glimpse. Sebastian was no where to be seen.

"Where is he?" he asked his companions.

"Sebastian? I think he was afraid to watch," chuckled Archie. "He knows you need a change, Horatio," he said more seriously.

"I do. I do," agreed Hornblower.

Edrington felt Hornblower's left arm shake. "You are doing fine, Mr. Hornblower."

"Thank you, my Lord." Hornblower's face took on a determination as he gazed at the length of the gun deck that would lead to the officer's mess. He could see a few ratings noted his appearing. He straightened his spine and shifted his shoulders within the uniform jacket. Standing tall, he positioned his head and neck upright. "Ready."

Traversing the gun deck, Hornblower gave up trying to avoid the eyes of the men watching him. Blinking, he nodded and his response was met with wide grins, salutes, and greetings.

"Good ta see ye on yer feet, sir," said Starns.

"Mr. Hornblower!" smiled Harkins.

"We'd give ye three cheers, sir, but Dr. Sebastian said no," grinned Oldroyd.

Hornblower blushed and nodded. "Probably for the best, Oldroyd."

"Mr. Hornblower." It was Barkley stepping out and halting their progress. He knuckled and bowed his head. "Sir, I ain't had a chance to come see ye when ye was awake. I wanted to thank ye fer comin' after us. Matthews said ye would, sir. I believed him."

"Barkley, I could not let the Frogs take my best men, could I?" Hornblower stole the hesitation of movement to regroup his strength. He felt Kennedy's hand tighten on his right arm. His friend knew.

Hornblower glanced at Kennedy then focused on the corridor that would take him past the officer's cabins into the ward room. There, near the entry, was a huge black man, Matthews, and Styles. Dooley's face cracked into a broad white grin.

"Big Mastah," came his deep voice, "I am mighty glad to see you outta that hammock."

Hornblower could not stop the grin at hearing the ridiculous address and seeing the happy face of the African.

"Mr. Dooley, I understand I am in your debt."

"Naw, sah. You done paid me in ways you don't know."

Styles smiled broadly and gave Hornblower a nod, but Matthews was grinning as wide as Dooley.

"Mr. Hornblower!" was all Matthews could say.

"Matthews." Hornblower smiled warmly at the old sailor. "Are you better?"

"Oh yes, sir, yes, sir!" grinned the grizzled sailor.

"Excuse us, Matthews, I think it best we get him to the table," said Kennedy.

Hornblower felt Kennedy's arm around his waist and his body leaning heavily against Kennedy.

Sweat was popping out on Hornblower's brow. Passing by their shared cabin, Kennedy pushed on the latch and slipped inside. He pushed Hornblower sideways to sit on his bunk. He knelt in front of him.

"Are you all right, Horatio?" he asked anxiously.

Hornblower closed his eyes and lay down on his cot. "Yes, yes, Archie," he panted, "Just let me catch my breath."

"Get him a drink of water, Mr. Kennedy," advised Edrington. The major lifted a cloth from his coat pocket and wiped Hornblower's brow.

"Thank you, my Lord. I will be all right in a moment." His eyes focused on the brown lacquered wood beside his nose. Laying his hand on the wood, he felt the cool, smooth finish. Closing his eyes, his fingers found the opening and he pushed up the frame, turning it to his view. *Oh God!* he thought. His eyes devoured the vision before him. He closed his eyes and yearned for her. Opening them, he saw Kennedy and Edrington waited silently. Hornblower pushed the corner of the frame, keeping his eyes on Edrington's visage as the picture came into his view. He watched Edrington catch a breath and his eyes shift to Hornblower's.

"She's beautiful, Horatio."

Hornblower closed his eyes and nodded as he pulled the picture back around. He gazed at the painting of Pamela a last time and closed the frame. He started to push himself up and Kennedy and Edrington assisted him to a sitting position.

"All right, Horatio?" asked Archie offering the cup of water.

Hornblower took hold of the cup and Archie's hand and moved it to his lips, nodding. He drank shakily.

A knock sounded on the door and then a question.

"Is he all right?" It was Sebastian.

"Yes. Yes, Doctor. He wanted to see Pamela before dinner," grinned Archie.

"We are just coming, Doctor," added Edrington, taking his place at Hornblower's left side.

Hornblower turned to Edrington. "You saved my life, Alexander," he paused, "twice."

"Well. Yes, I suppose it was twice," answered Edrington looking into Hornblower's face, a little surprised. Did Hornblower know it was him that brought him back to the Indy? Someone must have told him, he surmised in a moment. "But it was Dooley that threw you overboard the last time. I merely pulled you through the water."

"With your injured arm," added Hornblower.

"Don't go all maudlin on me, Horatio," said Edrington wryly and somewhat embarrassed.

"Was it for her?" asked Hornblower softly.

Edrington was silent. Why were they having this conversation now?

"It was for both of you." Edrington paused. "I fear Mr. Kennedy and I are much alike. We love both of you, and neither of us can see one without the other. Does that satisfy you?"

Hornblower smiled. "You could have let me drown,... both times."

"Once would have done, I am sure," smirked Edrington. "On second thought, it might take two times to drown you." His eyes met Archie's doubtful gaze for his jesting. "Oh, all right. I confess, the thought did cross my mind," stated Edrington. "But only for a fraction of a second and only on the first opportunity. Am I out of your good graces with that confession?"

"No," smiled Horatio tiredly. "It makes me trust you all the more ... for your honesty."

"For heaven's sake, ..." Edrington's mouth hung open. "It's about time you trusted me. Only Kennedy could be a truer friend."

Hornblower was chuckling to himself as the two men helped him to his feet. He shook his head carefully. "I am in your debt, my Lord."

"Oh stop. I got you drunk that night on Renard de Mer," stated Edrington.

"No, you did not," argued Hornblower.

"Yes, I did."

"No, you did not."

"Would you two stop?" asked Kennedy. "Argue about it later. The other officers are expecting us, not to mention Dr. Sebastian."

Once out in the companion, Hornblower took his own weight. Edrington wiped his brow a final time.

"All right, Horatio?" whispered Kennedy.

Hornblower nodded and stepped forward. As he entered the ward room, the other leftenants stood and clapped. Bracegirdle was beaming with a happy grin, bright blue dancing eyes, and pink cheeks. Rampling gave a nod as he bit his lower lip. Bowles saluted him and then extended a hand for a shake. McCann, too, offered his hand. Pellew half bowed and pinched a smile at Hornblower's surprise to see him.

"I did not think you would be up to climbing stairs as yet, Mr. Hornblower, so Mr. Bracegirdle was kind enough to invite me to dinner."

"And welcome you are, sir," stated Hornblower. His gaze fell on Sebastian's doubtful stare. "I am all right, Doctor."

"Sure you are, Mr. Hornblower. Sit down," ordered Sebastian "before I change my mind about this little foray."

Several of the officers cleared their throats and sat following Hornblower's example.

Hornblower looked at his physician shyly. "Thank you, Doctor, for..."

Sebastian crimsoned with the unfinished comment.

"Well, Doctor, it would seem Mr. Hornblower is attempting to be a good patient," offered Pellew lightly.

"I do not think I have ever heard him so agreeable," added Bracegirdle winking at Horatio.

"All right, gentlemen. He is here." Sebastian sat and crossed his arms over his chest.

Pellew cleared his throat. "Yes. Well, we are all pleased to see you up and about and we all realize Dr. Sebastian does not consider you totally recovered. That said," Pellew nodded to his servant standing by the board, "Daniels, bring on the dinner."

Steaming bowls of soup arrived for each man, though Hornblower's came in a mug. It was a light broth of chicken with floating shards of green onion. Hornblower lifted the mug and held it with both hands as he leaned back against the chair and sipped the hot fluid. Drinking his soup thus he was able to watch each man at the table by merely shifting his view. No one seemed to notice and the talk at the table veered away from Hornblower and Sebastian to talk of their location and the ship.

"I think the line we've run to the main has her stabilized, Captain. As long as we do not meet with any more heavy water, she should make it to Portsmouth without incident," commented Bowles. "I've got a watch on her constantly."

Hornblower leaned towards Kennedy on his right and whispered. "The bowsprit?"

"Yes," whispered Kennedy before a spoonful of soup.

Suddenly it dawned on Hornblower, that every senior officer was present, including McCann of the marines. He leaned towards Kennedy again.

"Who has the watch?"

"The midshipmen." Kennedy turned to look at Hornblower mildly incredulous.

Pellew heard Kennedy's answer and smiled to himself after glancing at Hornblower.

"So at this rate, what do you think, Mr. Bowles, another three days to Portsmouth?" queried the first leftenant.

"Two, I think, Mr. Bracegirdle. Though we might want to anchor outside the Needles and wait for the final approach with a new day." Bowles turned his view to Pellew.

"Hm. Probably a good idea, Mr. Bowles," agreed Pellew.

"Would not Plymouth be as good or better as Portsmouth for her repair?" queried Hornblower.

Pellew and Bowles cast their eyes to the table. When Pellew raised his they went to Sebastian first and then to Hornblower. "We did consider Plymouth, Mr. Hornblower, but Indefatigable was ordered to Portsmouth so we are following those orders."

"I see, sir." Hornblower glimpsed Sebastian whose eyes were focused on completing the soup. Horatio set the partially finished mug down and with a shaky hand lifted the tankard of grog to his lips. He let his eyes roam the table. They were all having grog. Wine was generally the preferred drink for dinner meals. Looking up, he saw Edrington watched him. The major gave him a reassuring nod. Portsmouth when Plymouth was closer. Grog instead of wine. It was because of him, he knew. He knew it. Portsmouth was closer to where his father lived and he would not have as far to travel the rough country roads. Wine was probably too hard on his weakened digestive system. Chagrined, he lowered his head.

"Are you all right, Mr. Hornblower?" asked Pellew.

He jerked his head up, "Yes, sir," and blushed. "It is good of all of you to have me for dinner this evening."

Bracegirdle smiled warmly. "It is good to see you are healing, Mr. Hornblower."

Sebastian leaned to look in Hornblower's mug. Horatio lifted and drained it.
Hornblower did not have to look to know eyes were shifting between him and the doctor.

Soup bowls removed, plates were placed and a number of casserole dishes were laid on the table. As comments were made over the offerings, Sebastian proceeded to fix Hornblower's plate without asking. He was given a small boiled potato which the doctor cut into small pieces and rubbed a pinch of salt to sprinkle it lightly. A piece of a breast of chicken, also diced, a dollop of pease, and a spoonful of Brussels sprouts. Hornblower was making a frown when suddenly the doctor halted the spooning of Brussels sprouts and put it on his own plate. Hornblower began chuckling lightly. Sebastian looked at Horatio, smiled, and snorted back open laughter. Kennedy who had been watching the proceedings askance was unable to stifle his chortle and laughter erupted from his chest. All three men recalled the lunch time incident of last June. Shared memories were always the best, good or bad.

Edrington was astonished at the three men. "What is funny?"

"I do not like Brussels sprouts, my Lord," answered Horatio. "Thank you, doctor."

"Do not mention it, Leftenant. If you need help, you only need ask."

"Yes," said Hornblower thoughtfully, remembering similar advise from his wife, "so I've been told." He smiled softly as he considered whether or not he would successfully get forkfuls of food to his mouth. Then, he thought a thanks. *Thank you, Lord, for getting me out of that hammock. I am beginning to think you do listen, even to me...and grant requests.* Hornblower lifted the tankard to his lips and surreptitiously gazed at the men around the table. *Thank you for each of these men, willing to alter their nightly meal for my benefit.* Placing the tankard down, he lifted the fork and mentally ordered his hand to stop shaking. Spearing a piece of potato, he brought it to his mouth. Success. He chewed slowly and prepared for the next attempt.

Hornblower was the last to finish the food on his plate even after seconds were taken by most of the men present. Almost as if it were a cue, Pellew stood and was followed by the other men at the table, including Sebastian who rested his hand heavily on Hornblower's shoulder to keep him seated.

"Do not get up, Mr. Hornblower," ordered Pellew. "I have enjoyed eating with you gentlemen. I bid you goodnight. Goodnight, Mr. Hornblower. I am pleased to see you are following the wishes of the good doctor." With a nod, Pellew departed, followed by the other officers after similar kind farewells.

Hornblower thought the leaving was rather abrupt, but he was feeling fatigued and let it go. Edrington and Kennedy sat down with Hornblower. Sebastian motioned to Wiggins, and then sat as well.

"Have you had enough food, Horatio?" asked Sebastian.

"Yes, sir. I am very full. Thank you for your assistance." Hornblower turned to Kennedy and Edrington. "I fear I will need yours."

"Actually, Mr. Hornblower, I have arranged for other help back to sick berth. I was sure this outing would prove too much. You will indulge me," stated Sebastian.

Hornblower took a shallow breath and swallowed. What was he going to do, stretcher him back to sick berth? Fearing for his dignity, he cleared his throat and was about to protest. Seeing the furrow forming on Sebastian's brow, he acquiesced silently with a nod.

A moment later, Kennedy and Edrington were moving themselves and chairs out of the way. Dooley stooped to enter through the doorway. He smiled softly as his brown eyes settled on Hornblower.

"How do, sah." It was a greeting not a question.

"Dooley," answered Hornblower watching the large man approach him.

Slipping his arm behind Hornblower's back and under his knees he lifted the officer easily. Hornblower felt his cheeks redden and he wanted to push out of the big man's arms, but that would make him appear even more foolish. He braced himself for the looks he was about to get from the ratings on the walk back through the gun deck. Dooley ducked down to exit the ward room. Hornblower dreaded each footfall as they neared the open gun gallery. Once in it, he saw it was empty. Not a man in sight, except one. It was Matthews, and he nodded to his officer, and Hornblower nodded back.

Dooley was shaking his head and grinning and chuckling.

"You is somethin' else, Big Mastah. You is somethin' else!" declared Dooley. "I never knowed a officer as respected as you! My mama woulden b'lieve it. No, sah, she surely woulden b'lieve it. Every man a shiverin' topside or on the next deck so's not to embarrass ye. You is somethin' else."

"Put him in the chair near the stove, Dooley," commanded Sebastian.

Kennedy and Edrington appeared from behind the big African.

"Thanks, Dooley," said Kennedy.

"Glad ta do it. Goodnight, sahs."

"Goodnight, Dooley," said Hornblower mystified. Kennedy was at his buttons. "What are you doing to me now, Archie?" he asked tiredly.

Kennedy smiled. "Sebastian's got a warm bath planned, old man. Just sit here and relax."

Between the solid food and the exertions, he could not do much else but sit there and let whatever be done to him. His arms, chest, and back were bathed with warm wet cloths. The soap was some of his own, given to him by Pamela, and the scent brought back memories of his wife. Warm towels wrapped his upper body as his lower parts were washed and draped similarly. His eyelids were heavy and he fought to keep awake. He was aware of strong arms lifting him, and then, a clean fresh gown pulled over his head. Someone else was carrying him like a child, but it was not Dooley. The man was not as muscular or as big. He forced his eyelids open to see who. Styles. He let his head loll against the ratings shoulder. Someone was helping place him back into the hammock. The sheets were clean and fresh. He had never felt so warm and comfortable aboard a ship before. He knew men were speaking but he was too tired to understand the words. He felt someone tucking a blanket around him and then smooth his hair.

"Sweet dreams, Horatio." It was Archie.

Leaning down to the deck, Kennedy lifted the bundle of fur that had been leaning against his legs. "Bandit, old friend." Kennedy placed him at Hornblower's side. "Keep him warm now."

"Phrrrr phrrrr." The cat settled in the spot and squinted at Kennedy.

Reaching inside Horatio's topcoat, he removed Pamela's letter and stuck it back underneath Hornblower's pillow. Archie scratched Bandit's furry head. "Goodnight, Bandit. Watch over him."

The next day, Hornblower woke feeling rested and hungry. Sebastian allowed him out of the hammock to sit in the dispensary and take a meal of eggs and bacon. Afterwards, a few men arrived to be checked by the doctor. They were no longer ill enough to be confined to sick berth, but they had wounds to be observed or dressed.

They were Hornblower's men or the marines that accompanied him on Renard, and the wounds were either healing burns or splinter punctures. To see for himself that the men were well was a tonic, and his presence seemed to please them. Sebastian's temper evened and some of the unaccustomed gruffness of the doctor was easing away. After a period of sitting up, Hornblower felt the weariness moving in and Sebastian smiled when Hornblower suggested that perhaps it was time to return to the cot.

Waking from an afternoon nap, Hornblower was visited by Archie and they talked. The southwest coast of England was sighted and Indefatigable was slowly making her way up channel. It looked that they would arrive at the mouth of the Needles early the next day and Pellew and Bowles were to decide whether to sail on or wait for the next morning.

"I'm getting up, Archie." Hornblower slipped his feet over the side of the cot revealing his bare hairy legs and his feet covered in Archie's slate blue woolen socks.

Archie grabbed onto Horatio's arm. Once he was standing the clean off-white nightshirt fell to his calves, and Hornblower pulled on the robe Sebastian leant him.

"Walk with me to the quarter-gallery, Archie."

Archie smiled wryly. "All right."

Rounding the dispensary, Sebastian spoke.

"Where are you going, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Mr. Kennedy is escorting me to the quarter-gallery, sir. I would not attempt it if I did not think I could manage."

Sebastian looked at the officer thoughtfully. "You will see him back here, Mr. Kennedy?"

"Yes, Doctor."

"Very well. Be careful."

Sebastian watched the two men walk aft. Hornblower was regaining his strength quickly. Administering the laudanum had been something neither he nor Hornblower wanted, but it seemed to have done the trick to get him past a crucial time period necessary for healing. Hornblower's mood was more agreeable and he was not displaying the symptoms of light sensitivity or vomitous that cinched Sebastian's decision to give the opiate. Care not to hit his head in any manner was the new concern and Sebastian was anxious for, one, the ship to moor, and two, to get Hornblower off the moving vessel. The doctor was convinced that any head injury in the next six months to a year could be detrimental to the officer.

As Hornblower came near the companionway leading topside, he stopped, closed his eyes, and breathed deeply. The cold sea air fell to the deck and a light mist came with it. He could faintly hear the creak of rigging and the flap of a sail.

Archie watched him and smiled wryly.

"I know you miss it, Horatio."

Eyes still closed, Hornblower answered. "I do, Archie. I want to get back to work. I miss it like pleasuring my wife." Hornblower turned his head, eyed Archie, and revealed the smallest smile. "You never told me about Mrs. Holly."

Archie's expression was first astonished at Hornblower's candor about Pamela, and that after over a month, he was inquiring about Amelia. He smiled and laughed lightly in his chest. "Horatio...." he laughed lightly again, "is this new candor from being hit on the head or because you're... missing Pamela?"

"I definitely miss Pamela, Archie, you can be assured. All this free time is not doing my, ahem, well, ... let me say, I really need to do some pacing." Horatio's eyes twinkled and he twisted his mouth around several times to keep from laughing at himself.

The two resumed the slow walk aft. Hornblower clutched the robe tightly about his chest.

Archie chuckled. "I see. I understand. How much time do you plan to spend in the quarter-gallery?"

Hornblower laughed and glimpsed his friend. "Archie, the idea had not occurred to me. You might have something there! I do think it is more that my digestive system is trying to get back on a regular schedule of dealing with solid food."

"If you say so, Horatio," jibed Archie.

"You rake!"

"Look whose talking!"

"Tell me about, Mrs. Holly. Was she... nice?"

"She was very nice and I do not think telling you about her is going to help neither your nor my present situation."

"Ah, I see."

"Do you? I can only say that...she was definitely a pleasure to know and that I hope to have the pleasure again when I am next in Gibraltar," emphasizing 'pleasure' each time.

Hornblower smiled. "Very well. I will take that news with me to the seat of ease."

"Take your time, old friend."

"I will."

Horatio entered the small room and closed the door.

"Do you need something to read in there?" asked Archie leaning in towards the door.

"What have you got? I do not think Shakespeare is what I need."

"You do the bard an injustice, old man, but I think I have something of a bawdy nature for you." Archie could hear Horatio laughing inside. "I'll be right back."

From where he sat, Horatio looked up at the wall planking of the small room, ran his hand down his face, sighed, and said quietly to himself, "What I need is... Pamela." He looked down at his toes and wiggled them in the blue socks.

Knock knock.

"Here you go, old man. If you intend to read the entire thing, I will come back to check on you in about twenty minutes."

Hornblower pulled the door open and accepted the rolled booklet from Archie.
"Thanks, Archie." Door closed, Hornblower let the leaflet open. At the top in large letters was written, 'Captain Pants Meets the Pirate Women!' His chest jiggled with muted laughter. "Pirate Women? Plural no less. Where do you get this stuff, Archie?" he muttered. His eyes found the opening sentence.

***

Archie had the first watch, this night. Hornblower was dressed for dinner and supped with Kennedy, Sebastian, Edrington, and Bracegirdle. His hand was steadier and his food increased to double that which he consumed the previous night. In addition, he tucked away half a portion of cheese and fruit.

While Kennedy left to prepare for his assigned watch duty and Edrington sported at Backgammon with Bracegirdle, Hornblower returned to sick berth with Sebastian and sat with him in the dispensary, while the doctor filled in medical logs. Hornblower wrote to Pamela.

Sebastian noted that Hornblower's pen ceased to glide across the page, and he let his eyes slip to sneak a view of the young man. Horatio's face appeared profoundly sad to the point that it pained Sebastian. The doctor resumed scratching the quill pen across the paper, keeping an eye on Hornblower's own progress or lack of it. Quietly, Sebastian leaned back in his chair and observed the leftenant. Hornblower's eyes were fixed on some point on the table, and he stared, lost in thought, looking forlorn, as though he had not a friend in the entire world, though that was far from the truth.

"Horatio? Are you all right?" he finally asked.

The man took moments before he answered. "Sorry? Did you ask me something, Doctor?"

"What preys on your mind?"

'Hm?" He canted his head dismissively. "I don't... I mean....I am not sure what to say...in my letter. I do not want to worry her." He fluttered his lids bashfully, and turned his head away from Sebastian. Shrugging, he lay the quill down that hung suspended from his fingertips. "I will finish this later." He stood, bowed his head and held his forehead.

"Horatio? Have you a headache?"

"Hm? No. No, Doctor," he smiled gently, "I do not have a headache. I think...I think, I will turn in for the night. Excuse me, sir."

Sebastian watched as Horatio gathered his writing folder.

"Goodnight, Doctor."

"Goodnight, Horatio."

With a sigh, Sebastian picked up his quill and wrote beside Hornblower's name:

Lt. H. seems mildly withdrawn and introspective. I know he has much time on his hands for thinking and what preys on his mind, he will not share. I will continue to watch for moodiness, both sad and exultant, as a possible symptom of the concussion. I know such an unseen injury must reveal itself clinically, and when dealing with the mind, the vagaries must be uncountable and mysterious.

He tossed the quill, rested his elbows on the table, and rubbed his eyes. What double talk! What rubbish! He had no idea of what to look for or what it might mean.

Sighing, he rose and extinguished the extra candles lit for writing purposes. The smell of the curling smoke filled the small room. He tidied the desk top and replaced some jars of herbs back into a drawer. Placing the chairs under the table, he pressed his hand against his lower back and leaned to stretch the muscles of his torso. Patting the pocket of his coat, he removed the pouch of tobacco from it. He sat heavily and took out the small thin rectangle of paper, curled it between his fingers, and tapped some tobacco into it. Licking the edge of the paper, he rolled the cheroot, then, quickly inserted the entire thing into his mouth, removed it and inspected the seam. He repeated the action with a second making. Tucking the two cylinders of tobacco into his pouch, he lay the bag on the table, then picked up his heavy overcoat, draping it over the chair back. Deciding to be sure Hornblower made it into his cot without mishap, he stepped quietly beside the hammock, assuring he was covered from the chill air.

A sniff...and then another.

Sebastian's shoulders sagged and he canted his head. Should he allow Hornblower to know he knew or should he leave him to his privacy? Extending a hesitant hand, he lowered it softly onto Hornblower's shoulder. The young man jerked in reaction and hastily ran a hand over his face, then covered it with his upper arm.

"Why don't you tell me what is bothering you? It might help," suggested Sebastian quietly.

Hornblower shook his head. Reconsidering, he asked stuffily, "Do I have to?"

Sebastian smiled. It was Pellew's order that made him rethink his response. Now, Sebastian had to choose. Should he pry? Was it prying? Or did it have to do with medical practice? A brain injury was such a fragile thing.

"Well...I suppose I will have to let you decide. Is it such a terrible thing to tell? You know it will go no further."

"Not even into your log?" came the mumbled query.

"Specifics need not be entered, no."

Hornblower took a shaky breath, wiped his eyes and turned over onto his back.

Sebastian gave a slight upturn of a smile that left as quickly as it appeared.

The leftenant looked into Sebastian's Spanish features. "You will think me foolish." He averted his eyes to the corner of the hammock.

"I will not think you foolish, Horatio."

Horatio frowned with a quivering lower lip. "It's because of the concussion?" he asked. "Might ... might that be why? Is that what you will put in your report?"

Sebastian sighed. "If that worries you so much, I can close my book for the day." He canted his head and waited.

Hornblower sniffed and swallowed and wiped at his eyes. "I..." There was a long pause. Hornblower licked his lips and lay his forearm across his eyes.

Sebastian pulled the chair over and sat down beside the cot.

The watch bell sounded faintly in the distance.

At length, the soft whisper came against the darkness. "I will never see her again."

Sebastian tensed the muscles of his forehead. "Why do you think this?"

Hornblower shrugged. "Don't know," he managed to whisper.

"It could be a result of the concussion. ...these fearful thoughts."

Ragged laughter erupted briefly and then came the whisper, "I wish it were."

Sebastian thought about the reply. "How do you know it is not?"

Another time of waiting and watching Hornblower's chest rise quickly and catching a breath, moistening his lips, and swallowing, trying desperately to hold back his emotions. "Because ... I have known it... since our last night... in ....in Gibraltar." Hornblower raised his hand to press against his eyes. He turned over onto his side and gave in, his body quaking silently with the confession. "I've said it now. Pamela, forgive me, I've said it. She did not want me to."

"Is it the birth you fear?"

Hornblower shrugged.

"Your wife has a good constitution, Horatio. She is a strong woman physically and mentally." He paused. "It is not her love you doubt? Not Edrington?"

Hornblower shook his head and breathed shakily. "I know ... I know she loves me. She loves only me...that kind of love." He became calm and his body relaxed. "I know she loves me." His chest began to rise repeatedly again and he covered his face. "You will not tell anyone...about...?"

"No. No. I will not."

This onset of depression had either to be caused by the concussion, or, heaven forbid, it was merely revealed by it. Hornblower's soul was in torment.

"Horatio. No man can know his future ... not for a certainty. None of us know what time we will be given. I cannot tell you whether you will see her again or not. I pray you do. I ..." he paused to inhale, "I lost my wife, many years ago. I still love her and nothing and no one can ever replace her."

Horatio became quiet and listened. "I know. My father... my mother..." Finally, he asked, "How...how do you manage?"

Sebastian thought about the answer, not because he was not sure of it, but because he was not sure how Hornblower would receive it. "You told me many weeks ago that you were praying for Pamela, because of the strain put on your relationship. Do you remember our night in the fighting top, before the Toulon ... incident?"

Horatio sniffed. "Yes." He paused and thought. "Am I in the woodshed again? Am I to be in it all my life?"

"No. No. God is a loving father."

"How can you say that if he took your wife?" He thought but did not say, *He took my mother.*

"I will say again, Horatio. No man ... or woman, can know how much time they are to be given. There is a plan. You can either work with it or against it."

"A plan for death?" Horatio rolled onto his back and viewed his companion.

"There is a time for all things. You know that."

He did, but the knowledge did not help. "But I want her. I love her."

"I know you do."

Neither spoke.

"I can only tell you, Horatio, that had my wife lived, I would not be here now. I would never have left her side. The Lord knew that. He had a different plan, a different path, for me to take. I think I have done some good where He has put me. I know it is not a pleasing thought that you might not get what you want out of life. But sometimes there is a broader purpose, that we cannot see. That is where faith comes in, faith that all things work together for good."

"I want to see her. I want to hold her so desperately."

Sebastian sighed and squeezed Hornblower's forearm, rubbed, and patted it. "I pray you will." Sebastian stood. "I am going to make you some tea. We will have a cup together and then you will rest. Let me put it on to steep. I will return in a moment."

Sebastian paused before leaving.

Hornblower sniffed and covered his eyes.

Entering the dispensary, Sebastian pulled down the brown teapot from the shelf, opened the herbal drawer, and removed some chamomile leaves. He broke them into the mortar and crushed them with the pestle to release the flavor. Pausing, holding the pestle above the leaves, he reflected. Broken to release a sweet flavor. "Yes, Lord, sometimes you have to break us," he whispered, and continued to press the leaves lightly, "And often you must press us to bring forth Your will in our lives." He poured the leaves into the pot, then walked to the hanging stove to retrieve the kettle of water. The steam billowed forth as he filled the container. Having returned the kettle to the coals, he stared at the teapot and thought about his wife. Grabbing onto the door post, he leaned his head into his shoulder, and whispered faintly. "Lord, help us. Is the loss of...is my loss meant to comfort this young man? Is that part of Your plan? Give me the right words to speak. Can his fears possibly come true? I pray not. Let her live. Let the child live. Give to him that which I was denied. I beseech you. You know I will serve you, Father. I am yours."
For some moments, he stood there, then, Sebastian swallowed hard and rubbed the side of his face on the sleeve.

"Doctor..."

Sebastian turned to the voice. Hornblower stood behind him.

"I...I... apologize. I did not mean to upset you, sir, ... to bring unpleasant memories..."

"The memory of my wife can never be unpleasant, Horatio. I love her as much as you love Pamela."

Hornblower bowed his head nervously and looked away. Touching his forehead, he walked into the dark of sick berth, found a supporting column, leaned against it, and let Indefatigable take his weight.

After waiting, Sebastian walked quietly behind Hornblower, and placed a hand on his shoulder.

"You are right, Doctor. It has helped to talk about it." His voice was resigned and tired. "You cannot fight against the future." In his mind's eye, he saw Pamela's sweetly smiling face, chiding him for not taking his mother's advice...sufficient unto the day...

"It is much like jousting at windmills, Horatio."

Hornblower smiled wryly. "I suppose it is. She lives now," he said hopefully.

"She does."

"If I... If I prayed, do you think... He would listen? Do you think He... He would grant my request?"

"I do not know. But, it will not hurt to ask. Come. Have a cup of tea."

***

 

The next afternoon, Hornblower, hat in place, dressed in his uniform and winter overcoat, stood expectantly waiting for the good doctor to don his own bulky outer wear. His legs were fidgeting, impatient due to the slowness of Sebastian. He bit his lip and blinked wide eyes, doing his level best not to voice the impatience. He felt a rush of heat overtake his body, but he would burn in hell before he told the doctor. He quickly wiped his brow.

At last, Sebastian turned to watch Hornblower as he shrugged on the dark navy-blue wool overcoat.

"Calm down, Leftenant." He lazily buttoned the heavy coat. "The upper decks of Indefatigable are going no where. They will be there now or five minutes from now." With a shake of his head, he added, "You remind me of a terrier my father owned. The moment the dog knew it was time to go for a walk, he was prancing and hopping and making an utter nuisance of himself."

"Am I a nuisance, Doctor?"

Halting, he looked at Hornblower thoughtfully, then resumed buttoning. "Not in so many words. I will miss taking care of you once you can be left to your own devices. You have me feeling very motherly towards you, Horatio...and fatherly, when I think you are considering being disobedient."

Horatio hung his head then peeked up at the doctor and smiled mischievously, "My mother loved me dearly."

Sebastian chuckled. "I do not doubt it whatsoever, sir. And your father? Did he discipline you as well?" Sebastian reached for his hat.

Hornblower's lips parted and he became openly reflective. "My father... my father could order me with a glance, sir, and discipline me with a sigh."

"Could he indeed?"

Horatio gave a single nod.

"I am looking forward to meeting your father, Horatio, for many reasons." He clamped a hand on the officer's shoulder and the two began to slowly walk to the companionway that would lead topside. "He must truly be a fascinating man that has fathered you. And, if you obey him with but a glance and a sigh... Captain Pellew may wish to take lessons!" Sebastian halted their pace at the base of the stairs. "Though I think your obedience must be based in a profound respect for your father and ... love."

Horatio swallowed and met the doctor's gleaming eyes but made no comment.

"Careful now. Hold onto the rails and be sure of your footing before you advance anywhere...and wait for me."

"Yes, sir."

Sebastian's face molded to that of the serious physician in charge of a, so far, willing patient, that he was not sure would obey once given a taste of freedom. Pellew made clear to Hornblower how tightly he was in the doctor's grasp. It spoke of the man's value to Pellew and therefore to the British Navy. Whether the powers that be saw the young leftenant as an asset, his commanding officer knew he was, without question, and he was given into Sebastian's hands to be guarded as a priceless commodity.

Hornblower was made to understand that Sebastian was answerable to Pellew for HIS actions. The two men were extensions of one another. Hornblower could get Sebastian in trouble if he did not obey, and Sebastian was liable for reprimand if he did not administer every iota of care he knew possible to prevent Hornblower injuring himself further. It was Sebastian's belief that the slightest jolt to Hornblower's head could set him back immeasurably and the captain bought into his diagnosis. The thing was, none of them wanted to discover if Sebastian was correct. An ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure, so the old adage goes.

Once Hornblower began to eat solid food, he regained his strength exponentially. Sebastian did not quite trust the young man would reveal to him any possible continuing effects of the concussion that were not immediately visible, such as vomiting or open dizzy spells. The previous night's encounter was worrisome. The doctor attuned his observations to the most minute effects and questioned the young man on their causes. Admittedly, the questions irritated Hornblower until in exasperation, Sebastian told him outright why he asked and that he may as well get used to it, unless he wanted to constantly volunteer information.

Hornblower's brow furrowed at that idea. He preferred to answer Sebastian's questions and grudgingly accepted the circumstance of them being posed. He told himself that a question from Sebastian was the same as a question from Pellew and he had best answer as honestly and truthfully as possible...and so he did. But that did not stop him from trying to hide such things, as a popping sweat, that might cause the doctor to refuse taking him above decks.

He so longed to see the ocean, whether it be blue, gray, green or pink, he cared not. He wanted to see a horizon, the set sails, the men at work, the helmsmen, the topmen, all of Indefatigable, he hungered for these sights like he did the body of his wife. But the ship was here and the hunger could be sated whereas concerning his wife, starvation must be endured until such time as he could embrace her. With renewed hope and optimism, he endured, to know her womanly charms, the low sensual intonations of her voice, and the warm, soft, voluptuous body, that held his child, and supported the lady of his choosing. He breathed deeply, and turned his attention to the female most readily before him, Indefatigable, and took the steps up the ladder rungs with hesitant expectation, feeding on every sound, every smell, every sight, even his fingertips tingled at the touch of the wood railing slipping beneath his palm.

Hornblower was in such concentrated thought that he ascended the companionway more slowly than Sebastian. He closed his eyes, though he continued the upward motion, and catalogued the sounds he heard, the rush of water, wind in the rigging, quiet laughter of some seaman, in the shrouds above somewhere. What was he happy over? The sea? The ship? Nostrils flaring, the odor of cold salty spray careened by his olfactory nerves. The doctor reached the deck before him by four steps and turned to await his emergence. Opening his eyes, Hornblower watched the central mast come more fully into view, lines coiling around it, wet wooden decking, bolt rings nearby, black cannon in the background.

Kennedy, seeing the doctor on deck, stepped quickly to greet the expected Hornblower.

"Doctor Sebastian!" Archie grinned. "And the prodigal son!" Kennedy spoke as Horatio's head and shoulders were revealed and then, the rest of him issued forth.

Horatio glanced around and breathed in so slowly and so long it seemed he would deprive every other creature near him the oxygen of life. As he exhaled, a parting of lips revealed the barest smile, but his eyes widened and livened to the scene on which they feasted. The day held a gray-white sky, the air heavy with moisture, the sea like liquid slate topped with snow-white caps, and ... cold. Men at work, on deck, in the rigging, the ship was peopled with men in service. The sails set were few, owing to the delicate bowsprit, and the going was slow. A single wag of the head and another intake of air.

"Mr. Kennedy."

"Mr. Hornblower. I would say welcome to purgatr'y, but from the look on your face, I think heaven would be a more appropriate designation."

"Indeed, Leftenant Kennedy." His shoulders rose with another inhale. The hem of the heavy coat flapped against his legs. The climb up the ladder, or the wind and the chill air, brought a rosy stain to Hornblower's hollow cheeks.

Kennedy took Hornblower's side and prepared to support him should it become necessary.

On the quarter-deck were Rampling, Bracegirdle, Bowles, Pellew, officers all, and Edrington and Bentley. Hornblower's twinkling eyes met Pellew's, and Horatio nodded.

Pellew acknowledged with a twitch of his bottom lip, then his eyes traced to Sebastian.

Archie motioned to larboard. "England."

Hornblower saw the distant land, green over laid with gray from ocean mist against the shores of the southern coast. The sight caused him to lose his gaiety and suck a breath.

Sebastian rapidly viewed the officer and reached a hand to take his forearm.

"I am all right, Doctor." Hornblower said faintly, "England. It has been such a long time, and there were days I thought I might never see her again," but there she was, the country of his birth. The anxieties of the previous night asserted themselves, the spoken dread of never seeing England was mirrored by his fears about Pamela. Would those prove equally unfounded?

"A penny for your thoughts, Horatio," asked Kennedy solemnly.

Horatio's head lowered along with his view and he said vacantly, "Funny you should say that Archie. The person to whom my thoughts have turned said it to me last." Tentatively, he continued. "I wish... I wish she were here. I should have brought her with me." Vacantly, Horatio repeated, "I should have brought her with me. I do not know why I did not." His deep brown watery eyes met Archie's.

Kennedy's blue eyes sparkled with affection. "You will see her again, old man," he assured. Hornblower's hollow comment about Pamela left Kennedy feeling empty. The thought stabbed his heart like a cold, steel dagger. His shoulders shivered from the proverbial steps traversing ones grave. What was he missing by not sharing a cabin with Horatio these last days and nights?

"Come on. Don't you want a better view from the quarter-deck?" Kennedy asked, seeking a happy tone. He glimpsed Sebastian behind Hornblower's back. The doctor did not know him like Archie did, but from the look on Sebastian's face, he was learning.

The threesome altered their stance to accommodate the lay of the deck and stepped towards the raised platform. Kennedy, Hornblower, Sebastian, the trio climbed the ladder to the command position.

Hornblower continued his path towards the taffrail stopping just past the mizzen chains rigging to stare at the sea, the horizon, and the misty shore. Far to the west lay North America....to the south, the coast of Spain and.... North and east was Portsmouth. Horatio held onto the last line of the standing rigging and twisted his hand around it repeatedly. His other hand rested on the horizontal line, gripping and releasing the cold sea soaked roping.

Kennedy stepped up beside him merrily about to offer a quip about home, until he caught a glimpse of the desperation revealed in the expression Hornblower thought no one would see. Kennedy bowed his head and cleared his throat. When Hornblower glanced his way, his features were bland and almost blank. Kennedy studied swiftly the face of his friend. What was going on? Blank meant something to hide. *What are you hiding, Horatio?* thought Kennedy. *This expression might work with someone that does not know you, but it does not work with me.*

"What do you think, Horatio?" asked Kennedy, having been thrown off his earlier comment and unrecovered to offer anything more witty.

"It's been a long sail... home," replied Hornblower.

"Home. Yes, home it is..., isn't it?" asked Kennedy searching the profile of his friend.

Hornblower stared seaward. "Home is where the ... where the heart is."

"Your heart isn't in England," divined Kennedy.

Hornblower's rosy cheeks crimsoned.

"I ... look forward to seeing my father," clipped Hornblower, setting his lips together, and attempting to quash any speculations by his friend. Kennedy knew him too well. He must try to guard his words and his actions more closely. Eagerly, he looked forward to being sent ashore that he might make inquiries. No one here would approve.

Sebastian sauntered over beside them after speaking to Pellew. Kennedy threw him an agitated glance. He stepped closer. What was being discussed?

"I thought you might like to know we will heave to for the night and complete our journey tomorrow. Bowles says we will be moored by noon," advised Sebastian.

Hornblower nodded. "A good plan." Without looking at anyone, Hornblower inquired, "It is November 27th, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is, Horatio. Why?" asked Archie.

"I missed Pamela's birthday. I hope she liked the gift."

"What did you get her? I would have hardly thought you had the time," said Archie.

"I did not. While we were in town that Thursday, I noticed a cream white wool shawl with golden threads in the window of a shop. I gave the money to her Uncle and asked him to purchase it for me before he left. He was supposed to give it to Maria or Drake until the event." Horatio turned his head to Archie for a reaction. "I hope she likes it."

"If it came from you, I know she will love it, Horatio." Archie smiled. "Very thoughtful of you, old man, to remember her birthday."

"Hm. Drake reminded me, that Thursday morning. He said you were going to suggest a scarf."

Archie's eyebrow rose.

"Thanks, Archie, for bringing it to my attention."

"Don't mention it. You would have done the same for me."

"I want to go forward to have a look at the bowsprit. I would like to see the damage that is causing all the problems," notified Hornblower, facing Archie and Sebastian.

"There is not much to see at this point, but the new planks that replaced the damaged ones and some new rove lines," informed Archie. "The pivotal damage is below, next to the Sampson board."

"I would still like to go forward." He waited for Sebastian's yay or nay.

"Very well. Come along. As long as you stay long enough for me to have a smoke," said the doctor.

"I have no problem with that scenario, Doctor Sebastian." Hornblower aimed for the forecastle.

The three men were pelted by spray forward while Hornblower traced the new rigging installed to ease off the strain on the bowsprit. Not an easy thing to do. This fourth mast was crucial to the taut lacing that kept the ship together.

Sebastian lost the better part of his cheroot to the sea, its waters striking him at an inopportune moment. He tossed what remained of the soaking tobacco cylinder over the side, with a frown. He was ready to return to sick berth. Getting cold and wet was not his idea of enjoyment, though he could see for Hornblower it was. He leaned against the rail and waited, feeling his coat taking the brunt of the spray. When Archie turned to grin in merriment, he picked up on Sebastian's waning desire to remain.

"Horatio," he called, "Let's go below and I will show you the patch!"

Grinning like a boy playing ranger in the local woods, Horatio nodded, his chin dripping saltwater onto his coat.

Sebastian thought the wet worth what the trip topside would do for Hornblower's mental frame.

"Doctor, may I come back later?"

"We shall see, Mr. Hornblower." Sebastian motioned him to follow Kennedy.

Once below, Sebastian shook the water from his hands, pulled off the dripping bicorn, and confided Hornblower into Kennedy's care. He was going back to sick berth, get out of the wet clothes, and brew something hot to drink. Sebastian told Archie to have Hornblower back in twenty minutes. Unbuttoning the great coat, Sebastian watched the two young men traverse the gun deck to the downward companion. A few men at work among the cannon or on the deck motioned well wishes to Hornblower, or just watched the two leftenants pass.

"Do you fully comprehend how well liked you are, Horatio? I suppose they make up for how much you berate yourself. It may be just as well. If it went to your head, you might be insufferable. Lord, I am talking to myself," sighed Sebastian as he tented his coat over a chair to dry.

Hornblower and Kennedy were on the orlop deck, bent slightly and moving forward in the ship. Both carried their hats to avoid having to stoop lower. Grabbing a lantern from the deck head beam, Kennedy held it before them through a darkened space. Arriving at the solid broad Sampson board, he halted and lifted the lantern to hang on a hook.

"There. Have a look."

Horatio slipped passed Archie and moved so his body would not block the light. About two feet from where the mitered end of the bowsprit mast butted up against the Sampson board was a crack. The trunk of the mast was split and the break was barely visible beneath the rope wrapping it round and round.

"Locker and Starns debated whether to wrap it with copper first or just use rope. They compromised on half copper, like a splint."

"Hm. Probably a good idea. The copper would give some strength. There could have been play beneath the metal. The combination seems the wise course," commented Hornblower, studying the repair. He ran his hand over the blackened wood to stop over the sheeting loops, ducked underneath the high point of the mast to view the other side, then, returned where Archie stood. With one shake of his head, he said, "If she had broken clean through... we might still be sitting back there."

"Indeed. Even Pellew came down to see it."

"I bet he did." Hornblower tried to get a finger beneath the rope, but it was tied fast. "Good patch job." He patted the timber like it was the shoulder of a horse. "Good old girl. You've held together and done us proud. A stint in Portsmouth will put you right as rain."

Archie smiled listening to Hornblower allow him in on his thoughts, talking to Indefatigable. The man did love the life.

"I'm that glad you approve, sir, and I'm pleased to see ye about ship."

"Mr. Starns!" greeted Hornblower, surprised and pinking from the thought of being overheard by anyone but Archie.

The whiskery carpenter smiled. Nobody but Mr. Hornblower would address him as mister. They had quite a history between them, and there never was an officer he liked better. The leftenant was young, but he had a right fine attitude about learning ship, and it pleased the ship-wright. If Hornblower was ever given his own vessel, Starns hoped he might go with him.

Locker was Pellew's main man, and, so far, Starns' capabilities had been hidden for fear the admiralty would take him for another ship. He was equal in ability to Locker and having two master ship-wrights on a frigate was rare. Of course, he was not paid as well as Locker, but the prize money Pellew's career, luck, or bravado brought, made it worth Starns' while to stick around. Seldom was there an unhappy crewman aboard Indefatigable, unless as in the case of that odd-parrot Bunting, there was privation about.

"Yes, sir. I've come down to check her. Me or Locker comes every other hour to have a looksee. One of the helpers comes on the off hours. She be holding, she is. We'll make it inta Portsmouth. Don't neither one of ye worry, sirs."

"I know she is in capable hands, Mr. Starns. You did Dolphin well," admitted Hornblower, nodding.

"I thankee, Mr. Hornblower." Starns stared at the patched bowsprit. "Ain't nothin' amiss. I'll leave her to ye, sirs." He knuckled his head and withdrew.

The two officers watched the man disappear aft. Archie turned and stared at Horatio.

"What, Archie?"

"Are you going to tell me what's going on?"

"What do you mean?"

Archie sighed. "Do we have to play this game every time, Horatio? I know you are planning something. It would be so much easier if you would just tell me."

Swallowing, Hornblower looked away and leaned and rested his arm over the bowsprit mast. Eyes focused on some unknown point. Raising a hand to his forehead, he twisted a curl between his fingers, then lowered his hand, and met Archie's questioning patient stare.

"If I tell you, what will you do?"

"How can I answer that, if I do not know what it is?"

Hornblower's facial muscles twisted one side of his mouth and he looked away.

"I am your best friend, Horatio. Have I led you astray? Have I ever not helped you?"

Deep in thought, Horatio slowly ducked and came up on the other side of the mast. Resting his left arm on the round trunk, he leaned his cheek against his forearm. He lifted his view to Kennedy.

"No. You have done me good, I think. Except... well, no, not even that. It is good you stopped me from deserting. Otherwise, I would have missed finding Pamela in Toulon and six of the best twelve weeks of my life," he answered wistfully.

"Twelve weeks?"

"That is about all I have had with Pamela, Archie. Six of them in a row at Captain Pellew's benevolent hand." He paused, then added, "And I cannot discount the part you played, no matter what your reasons were."

"Thank you, I think," said Archie, trying to follow Hornblower's train of thought. As long as he remembered to include Pamela as part of the scenario, it was not too hard to keep up. "And? ... What now?"

"Archie... I want to see her again," said Hornblower, doubtful of Kennedy's reaction.

Kennedy waited, expecting more to be said. After all, did that not go without saying? When nothing more was forthcoming, he said. "Yes, yes. Is that not a given?"

"That I want to? Yes. That I will..." Hornblower swallowed and turned and walked forward the few steps the space would allow, letting his palm glide over and up the sprit where it came through the hull.

"Horatio..." Archie was close to losing patience. "Why in God's name should you think you will not see her again?"

The mocking laugh that emitted from Hornblower surprised Kennedy, and ceased quickly, as Hornblower hung his head.

"I cannot explain it, Archie."

"Why do you torment yourself with these... these imaginings? It is not her you doubt, is it? She loves you, Horatio. Surely, you know that."

Horatio sighed. Archie will never understand. The only evidence he could offer, that he would rather not believe, but did, was that he 'felt' it was true. Pamela hoped to stave off whatever was going to happen by letting him return to his destiny, as she called it. Sometimes the thought of his destiny irked him the most. Was he wrong to want to be with the woman he loved? Was he not going to be a father? Was he wrong to want to see, hold, and love his child and his wife?

If England were not at war, what would he do? What better opportunity could there be than to be married to a woman whose family was in the shipping business? The merchant marine would be different, but if peace abounded, would that not be as good a sea career as what he was doing now?

But England is not peaceful. France will not let her be. It was the same vicious circle he had been running around since he regained consciousness several days ago. Like the proverbial dog chasing his tail, he got no where and ran into the same walls every time.

He threw his hat to the deck and grabbed his head.

"Argh!"

Kennedy was at his side immediately. "Horatio! Are you all right?"

A brief chortle, he apologized, "I'm sorry, Archie. I did not mean to frighten you. I am well, physically."

"You scared the hell out of me! Is this what you have been doing to Sebastian? No wonder he looks worried."

Hornblower sighed. "Am I worrying the doctor? I do not mean to. I do not mean to worry you either."

"Do not clam up on me, Horatio. I want to worry about you," said Kennedy, clasping Hornblower's shoulder.

Horatio smiled wryly. "Archie." He shook his head. "How was I ever so lucky to get you as a friend?"

Kennedy squeezed his shoulder in response.

"We've got to get you passed this. Let's think it through. Why not have Pamela come to you?"

Hornblower's countenance brightened, then fell. "It would be too dangerous in her condition, to make a sea voyage, and I would be beside myself with worry."

Archie grimaced. "Worse than now?" he kidded.

Hornblower snorted.

"Can you not wait, then, until the child is born?" suggested Archie meekly, knowing that was not what Horatio wanted to hear.

"Even if I did, I would still worry about the two of them traveling alone. No. The only possibility is me going to her. Why did I not ask Pellew to let her come with me to England? I should have. Why did I leave her in Gibraltar?"

Archie stared and thought and sighed. "Well....what is it you are planning? I know there is something." Their eyes met.

Swallowing, Horatio began. "Sebastian says he is putting me on the sick and injured list. Indefatigable will be in port for a while,... however long it takes to get her new bowsprit." He patted the timber beneath his palm. "When we get into Portsmouth, I... " he paused, "I intend ... I ... I am going to look for a passage back to Gibraltar, Archie. It is all I know to do."

Archie was silent and weighed his words. "But. But, Horatio, the whole point is to get you off a rocking ship so your head can heal."

Hornblower slowly wagged his head, avoiding Archie's eyes, and sighed irritably. Turning, he threw a hand up in the air. "I AM healing! I will be careful! If I go as a passenger, I will be less likely to be in combat."

Kennedy backed off the confrontation. "All right. Let us play out this scenario. You locate a ship sailing to Gibraltar...IF you can. The winds will be blowing up channel this time of year. You know it. You may not be able to sail south. But for the sake of argument, let's say you get down there, and let's be optimistic and say you make the sail in ... two weeks. That would put you there ... just before Christmas. Then, let us be optimistic again, and say you find a ship to sail the two of you back here. Again, a minimum of two weeks, if all goes well. You might be back by the new year...maybe."

Hornblower blinked as he leaned his chin on his forearm that rested on the mast. He glimpsed Kennedy. "It is not impossible."

Kennedy sighed. "Fine. I will go with you. Let's ask Pellew."

"I could not ask you to do that. You have a chance to he home for the holiday, at least, for a while."

"You did not ask me. I volunteered. Do you not think Pellew might be more willing to allow you to go if he knows I am along to look after you?"

"If he does not pitch a fit that I am going in the first place, instead of resting at my father's home."

"Hm. It is well that you realize that might be his reaction."

"I was looking forward to seeing my father, too."

Kennedy leaned against his side of the mast and absently picked at the fuzz on the rope wrapping the bowsprit.

"Do not take this wrong, Archie, but I think I would have a better chance of going, if no one knew. Do not make me regret telling you."

"You do not want to tell Pellew," Archie stated, looking him in the eye.

Hornblower shook his head as his chin rested on his arm, eyes looking up and meeting Archie's.

"Fine. I will still go with you."

"You cannot."

"Why?" Archie knew what was coming.

"If you did not get back when you were expected, they could hang you for desertion."

"That is for me to choose," said Archie firmly.

"I cannot live with your death on my hands, Archie."

"I am going." Archie quickly added before Hornblower could speak the word he saw forming, "and do not say I am not. I do not want us to start sounding like you and Edrington."

Hornblower snorted and chuckled. "All the same, you are not going."

"Oh yes, I am."