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An American Encounter, Part Three
by Skihee

Ch 19 A Friend in Need With Friends Indeed

 

By three in the afternoon on the following day, Indefatigable moored in Portsmouth Harbor amongst her sister ships. Pellew was gratified to see Vanguard in one of the dry-dock berths. Vengeance was sitting high in the water, unloaded in preparation for careening, and a camel alongside to steady her. The yard was busy. Sweeping the southern end of the Solent with a spyglass, towards Spithead, Rampling informed Pellew he could see Zealous and he recognized several of the prizes dotted about. That was a relief. At least all the seventy-fours made it back safely. The dockyard proper was but a stones throw away. Pellew ordered the ship would remain in discipline until all particulars were known as to damage repair and sailing orders.

Edrington and Bentley had been topside during the sail into the harbour, watching the crew of Indefatigable perform under Bowles masterful eye. Edrington had been gone from England nearly a year. Bentley, who had not left his native country's shores since the Edrington family took a holiday to the Brittany peninsula, had been gone nearly three months to collect the wounded heir. He was packing his lordship's things into the valise kept in the cabin Edrington occupied. The two men would be disembarking when Pellew was rowed to shore. Bentley was quietly ecstatic to be leaving the frigate. Edrington was having mixed feelings, and he could not place why.

"Bentley, I am going to see Dr. Sebastian...about my shoulder."

"Yes, sir." He straightened from the bent position of packing, stepped to the doorway, and watched his lordship walk hesitantly across the busy gun deck. It never ceased to amaze Bentley what these men found to do. They kept as busy as servants at the estate. There was a certain excitement in the overall vocal tones. Bentley wondered if the men would be leaving the ship.

Reaching sick bay, Edrington peered this way and that seeking Sebastian. Finally, he found him dressing a hand wound where one of the men had descended a backstay too quickly.

"Excited to be back to Portsmouth, are you Gainley?" asked Sebastian as he placed the bandage and circled the man's hand.

"I am, Doctor S. Hoping to see me sweetheart this turn. Prize money, Christmas. What could be better?" he smiled.

"Indeed. Be more careful in your descent, next time. There is no need to cause your sweetheart undo concern."

"No, sir," grinned Gainley.

"Come back tomorrow and we will see how it heals."

"Yes, sir. Thankee, sir."

As the rating left sick berth, Sebastian caught sight of Edrington waiting patiently staring about the enclosed area.

"Well, Lord Edrington. You have completed another stint in the Navy. Is it for you?" asked Sebastian warily amused.

"Doctor Sebastian. I know you jest. Give me a horse and solid ground any day," smirked Edrington.

"Forgive me. I thought I caught an expression of... regret?" Sebastian teased.

"HA! Regret?" Edrington breathed deeply and sighed. "I do not think it is regret, but... there is something I cannot put my finger on."

"Come," Sebastian motioned him nearer, " let me remove your bindings and examine your shoulder a last time." The doctor removed the tawney suede coat slung over Edrington's left shoulder and pullled it off his right arm. He untied the knot of the strap that held the limb in place. "I will give you a sling to wear. You will not be engaging in any battles between here and your estate, will you, my Lord?"

Edrington chuckled. "Not unless Bonaparte has achieved his objective, sir."

"Ahhh," sighed Sebastian. "You and Mr. Hornblower have kept me company these past days," he unbuttoned the blue-gray waistcoat, "...keeping him inactive, and you, your arm. Remember those exercises I taught you to keep the muscles toned. No heavy lifting, and wear the sling at all times, until your physician tells you other wise. I have a written report for him." Sebastian pulled the white silk shirt off the injured side and pressed the warm, pale, scarred skin with his finger tips. Gently, he elevated Edrington's arm. "How does it feel?"

"No problems, Doctor."

"I will lift a little further. Tell me if there is discomfort." Sebastian kept his gaze on Edrington's features and raised the arm. At about seventy-five degrees up from the body's side, he saw the major wince. "There is your next point. Do not force it beyond there. Ease into it with a gradual rise. Mr. Bentley will continue to aid you with the exercises?"

"Yes."

"Hm. Good, good." He brought Edrington's arm around to the front and lifted, watching the muscles under the skin, then darting his eyes to Edrington's features.

"It is getting better, Doctor. No pain when lifted this direction."

Sebastian nodded, let the arm down easily, and tugged the shirt closed. "I will get that sling."

Edrington buttoned the shirt, then pulled on the waistcoat.

"Let me help you, my Lord." Sebastian slipped the coat sleeve onto Edrington's left arm and held the coat for him to insert the right.

"Thank you, Doctor Sebastian."

Sebastian placed the sling over Edrington's head and slid the left arm into it.

The sling reminded Edrington of anothers care many months ago. He was slightly inebriated then, after imbibing a large glass of whiskey to dull the pain in his shoulder. Dr. Sebastian was a far cry from the loveliness that had leaned against his body, her bare neck so near, so tempting. The impulse was to press his warmed lips to it and then, to the cherry mouth that recently chided him. Surely it would have ended with a slap in the face, but he probably would not have felt it. It was just as well he resisted.

Sebastian pulled the neat queue out from under the cloth of the sling and slipped the knot so it was not in the way. The blonde queue wrapped with black ribbon lay long and straight behind the peers back, the bottom silk tip neat and evenly tied.

"There, sir. I would not send you back to Mr. Bentley with anything amiss," smiled Sebastian. Recalling the earlier discussion, he said, "Might I suggest that any discomfort you feel at leaving Indefatigable might rest ... in leaving the friends you have made here?"

Edrington's thoughts were shoved back to the present. "That is one thing I like about you, Dr. Sebastian. You do not mince words." He released a long breath. "You for one?"

"If you count me a friend, I am honored, my Lord." Sebastian bowed.

"More importantly, sir, do you count me as one?" emphasis on 'me'.

Sebastian smiled wryly. "I do, sir."

"I think you have hit the nail on the head, Doctor, that may well be the source of my dismay. When will I see the lot of you again?" Edrington turned away throwing up his right hand. "Oh, this is ridiculous! To think I am going to miss the Navy!"

Sebastian laughed heartily. "You are one of us, my Lord, and ever shall be."

Edrington gazed warmly into Sebastian's dark features. "Thank you, Doctor."

"You will find him in his cabin, I think... that IS the real reason you came to sick berth is it not?" Sebastian smiled. "It pleases me that you were able to resolve your differences."

"Yes," replied Edrington, absently. "You know, if it were any other man, I would not have relented in my pursuit. I think I almost had her at Toulon.... before she saw him again."

Sebastian's visage became warmly serious and he shook his head. "Just remember, sir, she would not fit into your world. If she had succumb to your advances, eventually, you both would have learned it, and been unhappy for it. You have made the right decision to retreat."

Filling his lungs, Edrington stared at the doctor, and finally nodded agreement. "She has the best man. She does." He did believe it, however, part of him did not want to.

"Yes."

"Goodbye, Doctor." Edrington extended his hand.

Sebastian took it between both of his. "Goodbye, Lord Edrington."

Shortly, Edrington stood at Hornblower's cabin and knocked. Rampling passed by on his way to the ward room.

"They are not there, my Lord. They've been called by the Captain."

 

 

One deck above, Hornblower and Kennedy stood outside Pellew's cabin and waited for the invitation. The two of them shared doubtful looks. While on the quarter-deck earlier today, Hornblower thought he sensed some coldness in his captain, but he was at a loss to know why, and discounted it as irritability at the coming dealings with higher ups in Portsmouth.

"Come."

Both men inhaled as the door was opened and they entered. Each felt the electricity sizzling in the air from the command to enter. Swallowing, Hornblower came to attention and Kennedy did likewise. Seated, Pellew's back was to them, and they exchanged fearful glances. Hornblower furrowed his brow in question of Kennedy, who shrugged innocently.

"Shut the door!"

Kennedy did so quickly and returned to attention.

Pellew rose and the scowling frown upon his visage came in view, though the two officers' eyes were focused on a point forward. Both men tensed and straightened their shoulders. Kennedy's gulp was audible; his features pinked.

Pellew paced slowly but smartly across the cabin whose aroma betrayed a recent shave. Except for a hat, the captain was dressed in a full gleaming-gold-braid dress uniform, with each button polished to snatch the lantern light and wink in the gathering dim. His hair was combed neatly and the queue ribbon was tied in a broad black bow. Upon his craggy, furrowed brow was a fringe of small flat intermittent curls, despite the receding hairline, and the sharp brown eyes glinted and flashed like heat lightning on a dark summer night. The chin jutted slightly beneath firmly pressed lips that aimed downwards at the corners, and behind and below, one hand grasped a white-knuckled fist.

Hornblower gathered his courage and spoke. "You requested..."

"You do not have permission to speak, sir!" spat Pellew. He continued to pace, back and forth. "What am I going to do with you?" Pellew questioned himself lowly. Stopping, he turned and approached the rigid leftenants, pushing an apparent wind like a billowed sail. "Mr. Hornblower, do you recall our conversation in this room when you first signed in to Indefatigable?"

Eyebrows rose with the intake of air. How could he forget? It was one of the most frightening experiences in all his brief naval career up to that point.

"Yes, sir," he answered succinctly.

"And do you recall that I informed you that there is nothing outside a captain's control on board his ship?"

Hornblower's mouth was as dry as a sun swept deck in July. Indeed, he remembered it well. "Yes, sir."

Pellew grumbled, "I've a good mind to..." he bit back the words. "You do know that I have written your father of your injuries?"

"Dr. Sebastian told me, yes, sir." Hornblower shifted his eyes toward Archie slightly, wondering why Kennedy should be here to hear this.

"I intended to inform him when we arrived in order that he might know when to expect you."

Hornblower felt his face reddening.

"I was going to finish that missive today!" he said bristling. Pellew's visage was taking on a darker color of its own. Indignation grew. He stepped within two inches of Hornblower's nose. "Now, I find that I will not," he said lowly. "For you are going no where, sir,...no where. Not home....not ashore,... and most certainly not to Gibraltar!" His voice rose with the last word and his eyes darted to Kennedy. Slowly circumnavigating the two men, he continued. "After all Dr. Sebastian,... I,... and this crew have gone through," shifting view back to Hornblower, "to bring you back to health, I will NOT have you squander it in some leaking, bouncing packet back to the south of Spain!" Finishing one glare at Hornblower, Pellew shifted the next to Kennedy, then, back to Hornblower. "NOT IN THIS LIFE AND NOT IN THE NEXT! AM I UNDERSTOOD?"

"Aye, aye, sir!" answered Hornblower.

Pellew stalked off towards the stern, letting his rage fall from boil to simmer.

Hornblower felt dizzy. This was a blow. Damn that Pellew had informants amongst the crew. It was obvious it was not Kennedy who told. His friend was unaccustomed to the Captain's high dudgeon and he could sense his friend's discomfort. Hornblower should have been more circumspect in his conversation, even so far below decks. His stomach felt unsettled. Pellew was not through with them yet.

"Mr. Hornblower, you are, as of today, assigned to me. There are innumerable reports to be written and you will write them. Do I make myself clear?" The captain's voice was edgy and stern but also aloof.

"Aye, aye, sir." Hornblower answered without faltering.

"Mr. Kennedy. You will assist Mr. Bracegirdle and Mr. Bowles and the dockyard crews in whatever is needed with our repair."

"Aye, aye, sir." Kennedy kept his eyes steadily forward. Mr. Beadle popped into mind and his eyes widened. *Oh dear,* he thought. *Well, perhaps the man will not remember me. It has been six months.*

Pellew was speaking.

 

"Neither of you is to go ashore without my express permission, not as a duty and most assuredly not for pleasure. I have already informed Mr. Bracegirdle and Mr. Bowles." He turned and paced, then, glimpsed the two men.

"Mr. Kennedy, you are dismissed. Report to Mr. Bracegirdle."

"Aye, aye, sir." Snatching a peek at Horatio, he pivoted on his heel, and exited, closing the door. *What is this going to do to him?*wondered Archie, *and how did the captain find out? I did not tell him, Horatio. I did not.* With a wag of his head, he made for the outer deck.

Pellew stared out the stern window, watching the shipping lights gain strength against the darkness, waiting for the sound of the closed door. Breathing deeply, he glanced at Hornblower.

"The very idea..." Pellew demurred. "Do you know how valuable you are to me as an officer, Mr. Hornblower?"

The leftenant did not answer, but closed his eyes, briefly.

Pellew sighed irritably. "You know I like your wife, but there are days when I wish I had never sent you with Dolphin."

Hornblower blinked repeatedly and his chin lowered. His feelings were still raw and he swallowed hard, dropping his head further. Pellew did not know, did not understand, that if he did not go, he might never see her again. Pellew would say he was imagining things, that he was letting sentiment get the better of him. The captain will not understand. Hornblower turned away, stared unblinking at the deck, and wiped his cheek.

Pellew looked back in astonishment. Starting to rail at the man for such insubordination, he heard the sniff and stopped. *Good God!* he thought. Sebastian told him Hornblower could be susceptible to bouts of emotion. He had not seen it since that first visit, after Hornblower regained consciousness,... until now. With a sigh, he stepped close and started to lay a hand on Hornblower's shoulder, but thought better of it and withdrew. "Lord St. Vincent was right." He stared out at the moored shipping. "He always maintained that officers should not marry unless they were at least captains."

Hornblower swallowed, turned around, and came to attention. "My apology, Captain."

Pellew peered into Hornblower's affected features and sighed. "Dr. Sebastian is correct, I fear. You are not recovered. However, you will remain with me, writing reports, until I can arrange for you to be taken to your father's home."

Hornblower frowned. "Taken, sir?" The thought was worse than being kept in sick berth.

Turning to lean on the chart table, Pellew lightly tapped it with a fist and spoke deliberately. "If that is what it requires, I will have you taken under guard."

Hornblower could not think clearly. All he knew was that his plans had been quashed, and he was no longer sanguine about retrieving Pamela. He resolved he would not break down in front of this man, but felt his chest constricted and heaving, unable to obtain a clear breath.

"Do you wish me to start today, sir?" asked Hornblower shakily.

"No. I am given to understand Dr. Sebastian has allowed you back into your cabin. Go there and rest. I am going ashore to meet with the Admiralty. You may be requested to answer questions of them. It is probably just as well I am keeping you here for the time being," his tone softened.

Pellew reflected on what transpired. Was it merely sentimentality?

"Do you want to tell me what is troubling you?"

Hornblower felt the flush. He shook his head hastily, no, and canted it pleading, his eyes avoiding Pellew's gaze. "Please let me go, sir. Please? I will be careful not to get injured. Dr. Sebastian has put me on the sick and injured list. Indefatigable is going no where. Please, let me go."

Pellew was astonished. Hornblower's statements were an admission to all Pellew had been informed. And this demeanor. Never had he witnessed his second leftenant in such a light. "Why? Why should I grant this request?"

Hornblower screwed up his face. "I cannot explain. You will not understand, sir."

"Even if I were to say, yes, which I will not, the wind is against you, man!" he said softly.

Hornblower turned, as if to exit, without so much as a by your leave. He trembled as he fought to hold his body and his emotions in check. "Am I dismissed, sir?"

Pellew waited, thinking. Hornblower's persistence pained him. What was the rush? The man had worked himself into such a state, Pellew was at a loss to know what to say. He would be remiss in his duty, as Hornblower's commanding officer, to let him go, like a loose cannon, in his present condition, beating back to Gibraltar. He was injured. The ship's surgeon judged him disabled, for the time being. The man, despite the coming rehabilitation, was in his majesty's navy, and was expected to comport himself as such.

*Damnation!* thought Pellew as he considered how he might get Hornblower back down to Gibraltar. Every which way he thought, he knew would be folly. At this juncture, not even his ship was fit. The wind would not favor and the weather in general would be most disagreeable. He did not know, but felt sure, the new orders would have put him in the channel for the duration of the winter, watching French ports. Indefatigable's damage would keep them in harbor, unquestionably, until the weather would worsen, and there was no possibility of making it out channel.

With a sigh, he came up behind the officer and submitted the only thing he could. "Mr. Hornblower, I can promise nothing. With the repairs needed, and the winter, I do not see us leaving port until early spring." Pellew inhaled. "If I can, I will try to get us out sooner. All I can do is let it be known at Admiralty that I will make the Gibraltar passage should one be necessary. Although, if they know I want to go, it is nearly certain, they will not send me. I have nothing else to propose, neither can I see how this quest can be fulfilled."

Hornblower was silent. It was all Pellew could offer and far more than Hornblower ever would have asked.

"Would you do something for me?" asked Pellew, feeling more like a father than a captain.

Hornblower raised his head and answered clearly and somberly. "I am yours to command, sir."

"I want you to rest, eat, and get better...

Hornblower heard those words echo across the years, from his own mouth, encouraging a despondent friend, and now, he was hearing them, applied to himself. He listened to his mentor, revealing a caring and a concern, as he had, once, long ago.

"...here... and in the warmth of your father's home," Pellew was saying. "Mr. Hornblower, you are one of the finest officers I have had the privilege of commanding. You are an asset to me... and to the service. I do not want to lose you, unless it is to your own command. One day, you will be a brother captain." Pellew raised his chin, feeling pride in this man that was like a son. "I have every faith that you will serve England with distinction, as you already have."

Hornblower straightened, faced Pellew, steady watering brown eyes meeting kindly ones, and answered softly and calmly. "Thank you for your confidence, sir."

"I am pleased you appreciate it. You are dismissed, for now. I will call for you tonight, if I do not return too late."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Hornblower exited, stopping just outside the closed door. Breathing deeply, he squared his shoulders and stepped out into the bleak winter-like late afternoon. The men were preparing to lower the jollyboat in the cold misting rain, for Pellew's row to shore. Hornblower twisted his mouth out of the frown forming, glimpsed Kennedy, watching him from the quarter-deck, then, proceeded to do as ordered and return to his cabin.

The small room was cold, dark, and damp, like the rest of the ship. Staying in his cloak, he dropped his hat on the table and lay down, sighing. He pulled the closed frame beside his head and lay his hand on the wood, leaving it closed, not ready for the ache seeing her would bring. With a trembling lip, he closed his eyes, and resolved to rest.

He heard the cabin door open, then close. The blanket under his feet was being pulled from beneath them, then tossed out over his long frame, and tucked at his back. Archie was like a mother. He felt him sitting at the foot of the bunk, and Hornblower thought it an unusual thing for Kennedy to do. *He must want to speak me,* determined Hornblower. Sighing, he turned to look at his cabin mate.

"Alexander! I thought you were Archie!"

"No, no, do not get up." He patted Hornblower's calf. "Sorry, Horatio."

"What are you sorry about?"

Edrington's eyes lifted briefly, then gazed ruefully at Hornblower. "He certainly can be vocal. I must agree, however, you need to let your head heal. I should know." He lifted the arm encased in the sling. "It does not do to injure and reinjure. I speak from experience. My injury is only a shoulder. Yours" indicating Hornblower's head, "is far more serious. So, I am led to believe, anyway," he teased.

"How much did you hear?"

"Enough to put together you were planning anything but that which is expected." Edrington crossed the loose arm over the other. "Kennedy knew?"

Hornblower sighed. "I should have known Pellew would find out. It is my own fault for underestimating him. I am a fool," he berated.

Edrington listened, intrigued. "I see what Kennedy means. You are far too hard on yourself, Horatio."

Hornblower frowned in the silence.

"I've come to say goodbye."

Hornblower stared at the Lord, jealousy rising that Alexander could come and go as he pleased.

"Where does your father live, might I ask?" said Edrington.

"Haslemere, about two thirds of the way to Guildford from Portsmouth."

"The Hornblower's of Haslemere, eh?" smiled Edrington. "If you will be there through the new year, perhaps I will make a social call."

Hornblower reddened and looked away. "You will be disappointed. My father does not have a fine house... far from it."

"I make exceptions for friends." Edrington waited for a response. "Besides, he has a fine son. I would like to meet Dr. Hornblower."

Hornblower sighed. "Everyone wants to meet my father." He too was brightening at the prospect, now that no other option was open.

Edrington snorted. "If your head could stand the strain, I would be delighted if you and Kennedy would visit me at the estate. I promise you, it will be more comfortable than this."

Hornblower sighed. "That is kind of you, Alexander. Do not expect it, however."

"Your father would be welcome, as well," he added, hopefully.

No response.

"Will you shake my hand?" He offered it to Hornblower.

"Of course, I will." Horatio's features softened from his selfish concern. "I can never repay you." Hornblower would never be clear of the debt to Edrington. In some measure, he understood what it was for the lord and the captain to feel indebted to his wife. In fact, he, himself, should feel indebted to her, but mainly, he just loved her beyond all reason and sense.

"But your lovely wife has already done so. Besides, we are both working for the same king. You will let me know upon the birth of your child? I insist. Perhaps I can send him his first pony. Would you let me?"

Hornblower smiled wryly and shook his head. Sighing, he answered, "Of course. We can keep it with the cow."

"Ha ha ha!" laughed Edrington. "That's the spirit, Horatio. I feel better about leaving you now." The two clutched each others hands tightly.

"Thank you for watching over her when..."

"How can I answer that without making you angry? It was a pleasure. And do not take the meaning wrongly."

"I will not." Hornblower's smile was genuine. "Let me out of this bunk. I will see you and Mr. Bentley off. At least someone is going ashore."

 

Hornblower and Edrington climbed the companionway to the exposed deck. Bentley stood next to the entry port, misting rain saturating his shoulders and hat, with Rampling, equally doused and waiting. Pellew was just emerging from his cabin, and saw Hornblower at Edrington's side. Kennedy climbed down from the quarter-deck, with Bracegirdle and Bowles close behind.

"Mr. Hornblower, forgive me for being forward, sir," said Bentley, "you kept your promise. We are in England."

Hornblower blushed, glimpsing Pellew. "Not by my efforts, Mr. Bentley."

"Indeed, by your efforts, sir. I will say no more," countered Bentley, extending his hand.

With the barest smile, Hornblower gave his. "Goodbye, sir."

Bentley nodded to Kennedy.

"We could not have done it without you, Mr. Bentley," grinned Archie.

"Careful going down the side, Mr. Bentley," advised Bracegirdle cheerfully, "the battens will be slippery."

"Lord Edrington," smiled Kennedy, "are you sure you do not wish to switch your commission to the navy?"

Edrington saw expectant expressions all around. "I am positive, Mr. Kennedy." He shook each proffered hand, Kennedy's, Bracegirdle's, Rampling's, Bowles', and finally, there stood Hornblower.

"I recall doing this on a far warmer day in the Mediterranean Sea," smirked Edrington. He placed his hand on Hornblower's shoulder, then, slid it over to grasp the back of his neck. Holding Hornblower's gaze, Edrington said, "Take care of yourself." Edrington released him and raised an eyebrow at Captain Pellew.

"Over the side with you, Major," said Pellew gruffly. He turned his eyes on Hornblower. "You've said your good-byes. Rest."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"The ship is yours, Mr. Bracegirdle."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

The pipes trilled as Pellew followed behind Edrington. Nightfall and misting rain obscured the land. The men in the boat adjusted coats and cloaks to suitably cover their clothing and huddled in the small rowboat. A buoy sounded faintly across the water as the oars dipped into the blackness and pulled for shore.

"Mr. Kennedy, see to the placing of another lantern near the entry port," ordered Bracegirdle.

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Best follow the captain's orders, Mr. Hornblower. Wiggins will inform you when dinner is served."

"Aye, aye, Mr. Bracegirdle, sir," obeyed Hornblower quietly.

"Horatio...is all well?" inquired Kennedy, latching onto his arm.

Hornblower canted a bowed head and gave an uncertain nod. "I obey, ... Mr. Kennedy," and he quit the deck.

The ship grew quiet. Odors of boiling salt pork and pease met Hornblower's nostrils as he went below. He hesitated at the base of the companionway and looked into the gun gallery, now set for mess. The mist on his cloak glistened in the lantern light. A couple of the men passing saluted him. He was much like these men, these ratings, denied their freedom to go ashore, denied the comfort of ... wives. The level of his chest lowered. Escape... is this what led the common sailor to jump ship? Desperation? *I would be no more than a common sailor ...or a soldier, if ... if my father had not bargained his services.* His view rested on the topcoat sleeve of his uniform exposed beneath the cape. *It is yours, father, ... all of it... and ... mother's.* His chin quavered and his eyes lowered in a hollow stare.

Wiggins, the oldest cabin boy, approached the immobile officer. The boy waited for some movement, some recognition, but the second leftenant remained stationary.

The ship's doctor had taken Wiggins into his confidence concerning Hornblower. *"If you should see him in a reverie, Wiggins," Sebastian had said, "encourage him to return to his bed."*

"Mr. Hornblower," he said softly. Wiggins looked up into his face. "Mr. Hornblower." He waited a moment more, then, lifted Hornblower's hand off the stair where it rested, and pulled him around. "Come, sir."

The young man tugged at Hornblower's wrist and led the officer to his cabin, opened the door, and pulled him inside.

"Come. Rest, Mr. Hornblower. I will let you know when dinner is ready."

"I do not want dinner," said Hornblower, void of emotion and statue-like.

Closing the door, Wiggins reached up and removed Hornblower's hat. He unclasped the chain that held the leftenant's cloak together. "Let me help with that, sir. I'll put it where it can dry." He took it off Hornblower's broad shoulders and lay it over the chair. Moving the blanket, he gently pushed Hornblower back. "Sit down, sir." Hornblower obeyed and Wiggins removed his shoes. Taking a towel from the table, he dried Hornblower's cheeks, chin, and forehead. "You rest now, Mr. Hornblower. Please, sir, lay back and rest." Hornblower lay on his side. Wiggins covered him with a blanket and the one from Archie's bunk. "It's right cold in here, sir. I'll bring a pan of coals to warm you. You rest now, sir. Rest is all you need. I'll be back right quick, sir."

When Hornblower became wakeful, he was aware of light through his eyelids, then, the sound of quiet sighs, turned pages, and a shuffle of shoes on planking. Rolling onto his back, with a sweep of an arm, Hornblower tossed the blankets off, and narrowly opened his eyes, seeing his cabin-mate lounging in his frilly shirt with a book to hand.

"Good God, Archie. It is like a sauna in here," complained Horatio. He stared at the hanging pan of coals in the little space of their cabin, then saw Sebastian who was tipped back in one of the chairs with his feet propped on the writing table, reading. Wiggins sat on the deck, looking up from a copy of Norie's seamanship with curiosity and concern revealed in his brown eyes, and Hornblower returned a like visage of wondering. "What is my cabin now, a bleeding library?"

"Tch. Grumpy,... you win, Doctor." Eyes fixed on the page he was reading, Archie flipped a shilling to Sebastian who caught it handily. "It is quite warm in here, Horatio, and you have just cost me a shilling. Nice to be in shirt sleeves though."

"Well, I am not in shirt sleeves," he grumbled as he sat up. Hornblower yanked off his topcoat and threw it at the foot of his bunk. "What are you all doing here? Haven't you some place else to be?"

Sebastian placed a bookmark into the center of the book and slowly closed it, then, raised a disapproving eye to Hornblower. The changes in personality that Hornblower glided through were often aggravating and it was all Sebastian could do to keep from yanking him up by his arm and giving him a thrashing, at least that was what he felt like doing after receiving the report from Kennedy about the plans for Gibraltar. Only previous such encounters with Hornblower's mercurial demeanor stayed Sebastian, for the doctor was moderately certain, like a mother or father who knows their child, that this would pass with a mild reprimand, and Hornblower would display an entirely different attitude in a matter of seconds.

"Wiggins reports you are declining sustenance," said Sebastian sternly.

Hornblower colored at the accusation, then, met Sebastian's firm countenance, blanching slightly, drawing back, as a small boy might that was scolded.

"Just because I have released you back into your cabin does not mean you are out of my care," stated Sebastian. "Wiggins, go get his dinner."

"Aye, aye, sir." The boy gathered himself up from the floor, eased his lanky form beside Sebastian's chair, and slipped out the door, leaving his book sitting on the deck.

Horatio inhaled a great, shaky breath and lay back on the bunk, exhaling. Staring at the monkey in the plank over his head, he reached a finger to trace its form, his face becoming melancholy.

Sebastian watched the officer's countenance change from disgruntled to retiring to a profound sadness. It was amazing to observe the changing emotions in the heretofore inscrutable officer. Where before Hornblower wore the mask of command without effort, now his state of mind was revealed almost moment by moment, if one was attuned to the alterations. He tracked Hornblower's arm to the wood knot.

Hornblower turned defiant eyes on the doctor, then, relaxed the features, switching to a mild and repentant expression. "I apologize, Doctor. Did I say I would not eat? I do not remember."

Sebastian put his feet on the floor, as well as the chair's legs. "You do not remember?" The tone of his voice, Sebastian thought, as he uttered the last word, was too rough for the person he was speaking to now, as opposed to the one a minute ago.

Hornblower took the question like a challenge and scrunched his brow in thought. He remembered coming below, the ratings, wives, desertion. Wiggins steered him back to the cabin. His words echoed in the recesses of his memory and a twinge of pain shot through his temple. He blinked the discomfort away.

"I did say I do not want any dinner, but that was then, and this is now. I could eat something," he covered. Not only was he confined to the ship, but there were spies everywhere, even though their intentions were for his good, it aggravated him to be so observed. In truth, he did not want food, but Sebastian would think the worse of it. He would make himself eat, maybe it would help him heal.

Hornblower glanced a frown towards Sebastian, then darted his eyes away. He did not understand the rampant emotions that beset him. Fighting them left him mentally and physically tired and more often than not, they won the battle, gaining free rein, before he grasped what was happening, leaving him with regret or shame. The worst was when he was totally overcome, as he had been earlier today in Pellew's cabin, barely able to regain control and not before doing further damage to the image of himself. Sebastian was a barometer for the fierce feelings that escaped Hornblower's psyche for the doctor knew immediately how to check him, as he had just done, not by confronting him with the nature of the emotion, but with a look and a vocal tone. Something about Sebastian's reactions made him think of his father. Hornblower viewed his feelings as a deft enemy that sneaked up on him, ambushing him at close quarters, to close. Shutting his eyes, he pondered whether they were the cause of the exhaustion, or the effect of it. He did seem to be falling asleep at the drop of a hat of late. Before he realized that he was speaking, the thought exited his mouth in the form of a question. "Why am I sleeping so much, Doctor?"

Sebastian eased while he watched the leftenant thinking, another glimpse of the officer's former self. If Hornblower was willing to eat, that was good, and now he posed a question about his condition, revealing Hornblower's self study. Sebastian answered him as he would a colleague, and observed his response to being treated as one.

"When the body is at rest, it can concentrate on healing whatever hurts it has sustained. You are not expending energy as you would in a wakeful state and thereby you allow all your systems to concentrate on the healing process."

The doctor's words confirmed what Hornblower surmised. It made sense and seemed logical, but still, it was irritating to be less than his best, and it seemed to him, he was much less than his best of late. Perhaps he could gain a better state of mind, if he released the plans to return to Gibraltar altogether. Pellew was set on not letting him go and the idea of being escorted to Haslemere under a marine guard made him squirm. On the bright side, Pellew was aware of his desire and the captain said he would help him get back to Gibraltar when Indefatigable was once again sea worthy. That was a thread he could grasp. Peace settled over his thoughts, and there was his father yet to be considered.

A feeling of satisfaction rested on Sebastian. There were times when Hornblower displayed much of his previous demeanor, and at the moment, as the doctor watched him turn over the information given, he recognized the familiar spark of Horatio's personality. Time was key, in conjunction with rest.

The doctor recalled Kennedy's reluctant revelation of what occurred in Pellew's cabin, that the captain learned of Horatio's plans to sail back to his wife. A ridiculous notion with the recent head wound, and it took Sebastian's age and maturity to control his own feelings, first as a physician with a difficult patient aspiring to such folly, and then as the outraged parent of a noncompliant child. According to Kennedy, Pellew displayed a similar frustration with Horatio. Sebastian told Hornblower not two days ago he felt fatherly towards him and the truth of those words hit home today, in spades. Hornblower was not just a fellow officer, or a patient, but, of late, like a son.

"I want to see my father," stated Hornblower, out of the blue. The unexpected words hung in the air and waited for comment.

The statement jarred Sebastian as it mirrored his own contemplation, and he and Archie exchanged glances. Another element of how Hornblower was not himself, the desultory thinking that was demonstrated, the man slipping from one subject to another, child-like in its nature.

"I think that would be a good idea, Horatio," said Sebastian, supportively.

Something in Sebastian's tone irritated Hornblower. It seemed almost like condescension, and he felt anger rising. He closed his eyes, and ordered himself calm, taking slow, deep breaths.

"I agree," commented Archie, turning a page, and not lifting his eyes, "you should see him."

Hornblower shifted his view to Kennedy. So he was listening.

Wiggins arrived with the dinner. Horatio shifted from his bed to the table. Boiled pork, vinegary mint sauce, rice, cabbage, biscuit, and grog. Visually, the meal was not very appealing, but this was the navy. Out of the corner of his eye, a movement caught his attention.

"Wiggins, sit on my bunk. The deck is cold and uncomfortable," ordered Hornblower, absently. The command rolled off his tongue effortlessly. Hornblower glimpsed Sebastian's slight smile and the leftenant's cheeks pinked. "What?" he demanded defensively.

"Nothing, Horatio. Eat your dinner," said Sebastian.

The doctor latched onto any sign that the leftenant would come to himself. Even as simple as an order for Wiggins' comfort gave him hope. Hornblower was attuned to the needs of the crew, even if it was just the cabin boy.

"It is good to see your mental alacrity, Leftenant," admitted the doctor.

Hornblower looked over his shoulder at Wiggins, then, picked up the fork, and scowled at it. He was not sure what the doctor was talking about. Making unsuccessful stabs with the utensil, Hornblower lay the fork and knife down, closed his eyes, unable to eat, for the question pressing to be released.

"What do you mean, Doctor?" Irritation colored the question.

"I was merely making an observation, Horatio," Sebastian said calmly, noting the edge to Hornblower's voice. "Would you like me to visit with you while you take the meal, or would you prefer I read my book?"

Blowing a sigh, Hornblower rested his elbow on the table and rubbed his forehead with an index finger. "I am feeling tired, Doctor."

Sebastian propped his feet up on Hornblower's bunk, tilted the chair back, and opened his book. Then, he said, "I do not doubt it. You have been doing a lot of thinking. I want you to eat now, and then you may go to sleep."

The hint for the doctor to leave did not work. Kennedy acted as if no one else were here, he was so engrossed in reading, or at least he was pretending to be. Bending his neck sideways, Hornblower read the spine, Henry V. Sighing, he lifted the fork, and thought, *Once more unto the breach.*

 

 

While Hornblower was eating, Pellew returned to the ship, sought Dr. Sebastian and was informed that the doctor was in Hornblower's cabin. Reflecting on the disclosure, the captain sent word for both of them to attend him. As Pellew was slipping into the comfortable smoking jacket, Mr. Connors rapped on the door.

"Mr. Hornblower is taking his dinner, Captain," relayed Connors.

"Dinner?" Pellew stopped from saying 'at this hour'.

"Yes, sir," replied Connors.

"Is Mr. Kennedy with them?"

"Yes, sir."

"Return and tell all three of them to come when Mr. Hornblower completes his meal."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Hornblower's schedule was altered from the normal routine due to his injury. Due to his injury, how many times did Pellew think that phrase to himself in the course of a day? He missed Hornblower's efficiency, his quick assessments, and attentiveness to duty. He missed seeing him on watch, hearing the men reply "Aye, aye, Mr. Hornblower," and he missed the familiar pace over his head when Hornblower was on duty. "We haven't had a decent game of whist since I can remember either," he complained lowly to no one.

McMasters was gone, and it was almost like Hornblower was gone, two leftenants down. Every officer was taking up the slack, in some way, without complaint, Bracegirdle, Rampling, and Kennedy, the midshipmen, when they could. Pellew knew Kennedy was bearing the greater burden, not only because of his and Hornblower's friendship and the extra duty, but because he also cared for the man when needed. Hornblower was back in his cabin and Edrington was out of Kennedy's, but Pellew doubted Kennedy would avail himself of the private quarters, and truth be known, Pellew was glad of it. Old Hornblower, he knew and could depend upon to behave rationally, but after this morning's events, he feared Hornblower doing something irrational.

He sighed with all these concerns, another weight to his captaincy, but he did not despise a one of them. This was Hornblower, his own....Hornblower. "Pray God time will heal you, man," he whispered. Pellew considered whether he would behave any differently, if it were himself with a head injury, inactive, and a pregnant wife a thousand miles away. "Ha!" he laughed, mockingly, "I'd be far worse." Pellew saw Daniels quake at his sudden outburst. "Yes, Daniels, I am talking to myself," he said brusquely.

The servant went about his business, accustomed to his captain occasionally muttering and mumbling when his mind was greatly burdened. It was the loudness that startled him. The ship, Hornblower, the admiralty, it was a wonder Pellew did not display a worse quirky nature. Daniels was nearly finished with the captain's uniforms and laying out his night wear, prepping the shaving stand for the morning, and making sure the bed was turned down.

*Dear God,* Pellew thought as he paced along the stern benches, *if we had to worry about desertion before, Mr. Kennedy... Damn. I've got to get him home, away from the sea. Why did I not suggest he bring Pamela with him? God, I am a fool. Damn it, Pellew, you did not know he was going to be concussed.* He ran both sets of fingers into the hair on top of his head and held them there, intertwined, then groaned. Smoothing his head, he paced more rapidly, his soft shoes shushing on the carpet.

"Captain!" Daniels called. The servant pointed at Pellew's feet.

Looking down, he asked irritably, "What?"

"Change your path, sir." Daniels was referring to the carpet that was becoming thin from Pellew's constant pacing.

"I know I told you to remind me, Daniels, but not now!" Huffing in exasperation, Pellew took a long, exaggerated step away from the windows, tossed Daniels a defiant look, and started to pace anew. "Oh, for heaven's sake! Daniels, give me a glass." He strode to the wine cabinet and pulled out a bottle of Madeira and filled the container. Tilting the tumbler into his mouth, he downed half of it, then filled the glass once more. Pacing again, Pellew felt the drink do its work, and he sat down and read the recent report covering the sail into Portsmouth Harbour. What was taking the officers so long?

 

 


In Hornblower's cabin, Horatio was dilatory in completing the meal set before him. He had not stopped, but rather slowed to less than a snails pace since hearing the Captain wanted him. He kept his eyes on the food, the plate, in general, eyes aimed downward, not wanting to look at Kennedy, who was in full uniform now, or Sebastian, lest they know, he did not want to go. Connors had come and gone, delivering the message to come when Hornblower finished eating and to bring Kennedy along. There was but one bit of food left on his plate, and he toyed with it, while looking askance to see what Sebastian and Kennedy were doing.

"Mr. Hornblower," said Sebastian calmly, "you may leave that if you do not want it."

Hornblower shook his bowed head. "I want it."

Sebastian traced his eyes to Kennedy whose visage was one of mild amazement, amusement, and concern.

"The Captain is waiting," reminded the doctor.

Hornblower sucked a quick breath. "I know."

He rose from the chair swiftly, nearly knocking the table over, and nervously avoided Sebastian.

"Careful, Horatio!" declared Kennedy, catching the tilting furniture.

The trepidation unveiled in the expression of his patient was not lost on the doctor.

"Mr. Kennedy, would you wait outside?" asked Sebastian.

Once the door was closed, Sebastian tarried, hoping the officer might break the silence first. At last, the lowest whisper was made.

"May I go to sleep now?" asked Hornblower.

"The Captain is waiting for you."

There was an audible swallow, and Hornblower was slowly shaking his head.

"Horatio... you are his second leftenant."

Hornblower's shoulders rose and fell with swift repeated intakes and exhales of air. He did not seem to be able to catch a breath. Then, a hand went up to clutch his brow.

"Archie told me about this morning," admitted Sebastian. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Hornblower turned rapidly, "Archie does not know!" Hornblower caught his breath, looking from eye to dark eye of the Spanish doctor. "I mean..." Hornblower bowed his head and turned away, panting. "You mean... you mean..." his breathing was fast, "the ship... the ship to Gibraltar?"

Sebastian weighed the words against what he was observing. Something else happened with the Captain after Kennedy left, and because of it, Hornblower was not ready to return to that place.

"Yes, the ship to Gibraltar," he concurred warily.

"You... you are angry with me, too," stated Hornblower.

"As your doctor, yes, mildly so."

"It would not be... it would not be good ... for me... to be on a ship ... just now," he stammered.

"No. No, it would not."

"All right. All right. I won't go. I won't. I won't. I promise. I won't go."

"Lay down, Horatio," ordered Sebastian calmly.

Hornblower blinked hopefully, glancing from eye to eye. Did the doctor mean it?

Sebastian nodded, a glimmer of a smile, he could read Hornblower's thought so easily. "Lay down. Rest. I will tell the Captain you are too tired to meet with him this evening. Lay down."

Hornblower's breathing eased and he sat on the bunk.

Sebastian opened the cabin door and called for Kennedy. Speaking softly to Archie, the doctor had him remain and he departed to keep the meeting with Pellew solitarily. There was something else he needed to know, that no one knew, but Hornblower and Pellew, and that was a second good reason to have Kennedy stay.

The two young officers were alone. Horatio lay down on the bunk carefully and covered his eyes. Archie gazed at the figure of his friend, with a sorrowful countenance. The Captain had called them and here they were, not obeying his command. This was not the Hornblower he knew. Archie's eyes burned and he pressed them. He could not slug his friend to bring him to his senses, and he could not argue with him.

*What can I do? Dear God, what can I do?* prayed Archie. Horatio was never one to talk. Would he talk to him if he asked? That seldom worked, but what else was there? Moistening his lips, he inhaled slowly, steeling himself for the repulse he expected.

"What is troubling you, Horatio?"

After quiet moments, Hornblower spoke. "I do not know what is wrong with me, Archie. I ... I am too embarrassed to say."

Archie sat on the edge of Hornblower's bunk. Gazing kindly at his friend, he reached a hand to lift the hair that covered Hornblower's head wound scar, then silently shook his head.

Horatio moved the arm covering his eyes, fixing them on his long time friend. "What?" He noted the downcast expression seldom seen in the cheerful Kennedy. "What, Archie?"

Twitching facial muscles pulled at the corners of Archie's normally merry lips, and he averted his eyes. With but a moment to consider, Kennedy took the plunge and answered Hornblower's inquiry.


"You scared me to death that day." Archie rose from the edge of the bunk and put his back to Hornblower.

"Archie?"

Kennedy shifted around, disclosing a pink face and reddened eyes. "I thought you were dead," he whispered. "You do not know what it did to me to see you lying there motionless, blood streaming out of your head."

"Archie."

"I am sorry, old man, I ruined your plans to get back to Pamela," he blurted.

"It is not your fault." Horatio propped up on his elbows. "Do not blame yourself."

"Do you blame me?"

Horatio sat up and saw the hurt and worry displayed in his friend.

"No. Never." He rose to his feet. "I chose to tell you. I should have been more circumspect. It is not your fault the Captain found out. Only mine. It is my own fault."

Archie never thought hearing Hornblower blame himself for something could sound so good. It was a glimpse of the old Hornblower, peeking out through this muddled one. Kennedy's lips twitched a wry smile.

"When you left the deck this afternoon, I thought you were angry and blamed me."

"No. No, my friend." Hornblower hesitated, then put his hand on Archie's shoulder. The oddest desire to hold Archie came over him and he pulled Kennedy against his chest, and wrapped his arms around him. Closing his eyes tightly, he pressed back the emotion. The warmth of his friend's body felt good. "Archie..."

Kennedy held the gawky frame of his friend tightly, and the two were silent. Finally, Kennedy gathered a breath and spoke. "Promise me, Horatio, that you will never die."

Hornblower chuckled silently. "You would not wish immortality on me, would you? That, too, would be a cruel fate."

The two released and held the other at arm's length.

"Then,... let me go first." Archie swiveled one hundred and eighty degrees, unable to say the words to Horatio's face. "You are more than a brother to me. The feeling I have for you almost frightens me. I could not bear to see you die again."

"I did not die, Archie."

Archie looked over his shoulder. "No, you did not...you did not." Sucking a long breath, he pressed against his eyes and chuckled, "Thank God no one can see us. Two of his majesty's finest," he mocked, "blubbering away like old women." He sniffed and wiped a hand across his nose.

"Oh," sighed Hornblower, sitting heavily on the bunk and pressing his palms into his eyes. "Thank you, Archie."

Kennedy sat beside him. "Thank me for what?"

Elbows resting on knees, Hornblower held his head. "Making it easier for me ... for me to... feel the way I do." Hornblower covered his face so only the tip of his nose showed. "Oh God. Archie..." he said at length, "I ... I broke down in front of the Captain today. I begged him to let me go. What is wrong with me?"

Archie put his arm around Horatio's shoulders and squeezed. Silence. Releasing Hornblower, Kennedy spoke.

"It's the concussion, Horatio. That is the only explanation. It cracked that shell of yours wide open."

"Shell?"

"You are not even aware of it, are you?" Kennedy frowned wryly. "I can see why you are having such trouble handling your emotions. You seldom let them out and when you do, it is brief."

"Tell me, Archie." His voice was almost pleading, looking for an answer to what he had become.

"Horatio..." Archie studied the searching brown eyes waiting for answers. "You... you have always been so reserved, so duty bound, so mired in the rules set before you. It is not wrong. It is what is expected of you as an officer. Always quiet, capable, unflappable, respected by your men, by your enemies, brave, courag... "

"Stop, Archie. I do not feel any of those things."

"But, you have, and you will again, when you are better." Pausing, Archie added, "Pamela softened you."

"What do you mean?" Hornblower searched the eyes of his friend eagerly, desiring to hear her name spoken. He wanted to remember Pamela with someone that knew her.

"She ... she brought out an ease about you. I do not know how to explain it. I do not know why she did. I suppose love could be the answer. You were just... just...so closed up and I know you opened up with her."

"Tell me more," he asked wistfully.

"What do you mean? About Pamela?"

Horatio nodded and closed his eyes. Hearing her name was like receiving nourishment after a fast, a sweet aroma of expectation.

Archie smiled gently and chuckled. "Well, the first time I ever saw her, you and she were on the top yard of Dolphin..." Archie grinned and chuckled, "Kissing of all things." He laughed again. "Pellew was beside me up in the foremast. I think we both saw you at the same moment. God, Horatio, he was angry."

Horatio chuckled and crimsoned. "Yes, I know. He called me back to the Indy and confined me to my quarters. I could not imagine what I had done, other than running from the French for lack of powder. I assumed he knew and was angry with me for not thinking to check the stores."

"Oh, believe me. I worried about that enough for the both of us!" stated Archie.

"That would make three of us then," said Hornblower.

"The next time I saw her, you two were in a clinch in the main cabin on Dolphin. You could have knocked me over with a feather when you told me she was your wife."

"Oh, those days, Archie. Those were glorious days."

Horatio contemplated the weeks he spent with his wife silently, growing more somber. The melancholy sinking upon and enveloping Hornblower was palpable. Kennedy was about to speak when Hornblower did.

"Archie, will I ever see her again?"

Kennedy rose suddenly expressing exasperation as he fell into pacing. "Do not torment yourself with questions like that! Yes! Yes! Great God in heaven, yes! Believe you will! If I could only press that belief into your brain!" Back and forth, back and forth, Kennedy traced his steps. "Look. Repeat after me. I will see Pamela again."

Horatio scoffed. "Don't be silly."

"I am not being silly. Say it."

Giving in to the command, Hornblower obeyed. "I will see Pamela again." The slightest glimmer lightened his heavy heart, despite himself.

"Again."

"I will see Pamela again."

"Again."

"Archie..." Half doubting, half hoping, he repeated the phrase. "I will see Pamela again." The simple statement instilled hope.

"Now, the next time you start to think otherwise, think that instead."

Hornblower smiled wryly. "Where did you come up with such an idea? You sound like Pamela."

"Where did I come up with the idea? The day I saw you laying on the deck of Renard de Mer, as I gathered the men not moving to jump ship, I kept saying, Horatio is not dead. Horatio is not dead. Horatio is not dead."

"Archie."

"Do not disbelieve me."

"I apologize, my friend."

Archie laughed and turned his face to the ceiling. "I do not know that I want you better!"

"Why do you say that?"

"Because, old man, in the last ten minutes you have called me friend twice."

"But that is what you are."

"Yes! But you never let yourself say it except under the most dire circumstances."

Hornblower bowed his head. "I... I never knew it would mean so much to you for me to say it. I thought it went without saying." He looked up at Archie sadly. "Was that not true?"

Archie sat beside him. "Yes. Yes." Archie sighed, "But it is good to hear it, too."

Hornblower's brow was creased, as he sadly lowered his eyes. "I must ... I must have been most displeasing to you."

"No, you great fool." Archie draped his arm over his shoulders. "You are brilliant. The best thing about being in the navy is knowing you, serving with you, watching you plan and carry out the most ... the most crack-brained schemes... and they work! I mean, whoever heard of using artillery cannon on the deck of a ship!"

"But we did not use them."

"But we could have. We tested them. They worked fine. You retrieved your men and the ship."

"It exploded," said Hornblower twisting his mouth.

"But your men did not!"

"But that was thanks to you, Archie!"

"But if you had not taken me there in the first place, I would not have been there to help."

Hornblower sighed and was quiet. Giving a final squeeze of the shoulder, Archie removed his arm.

"You keep my life exciting. I do not know what I would do if you... weren't around. Life in the navy would be very dull without you, Horatio." After a moment of quiet, Archie laughed mildly. "Even this is different."

"Will I get better?"

"I believe you will."

"But you will not like it."

"Yes, I will."

"Do you think I will... I will break down again?"

Archie's lips relaxed in a serious line, and he studied Hornblower. "That is what you are worried about, isn't it?"

Hornblower sucked a long breath and nodded, not meeting Archie's gaze.

"No. You will not."

Hornblower faced him. "How do you know?"

"I just do. So stop worrying about it."

"Archie, I..." licking his lips, Hornblower tried again, "I... begged the captain to let me go today."

"So you said."

"Do you not think the less of me?"

Archie muffled a snicker. "No, I think you've got a lot of balls."

Horatio reddened, biting his lower lip. He had not considered it from that point of view.

"Consider yourself lucky he has not thrown you in irons! And, be glad of the history you have with Captain Pellew."

"History?"

Archie shook his head and smiled. "Horatio... I suppose some people cannot see the forest for the trees."

"What do you mean?"

"If you do not know, I am not going to tell you."

Hornblower scrunched his brow, disturbed that Archie would keep the observation a secret. Putting his hands on Archie's shoulders, he pressed him down on the bunk.

"What are you doing?" chortled Archie.

"Tell me," ordered Hornblower, pushing down against Archie's shoulders.

"No," snorted Archie. "Figure it out for yourself."

"Tell me, Archie."

Kennedy shook his head. "No."

Hornblower grabbed Kennedy's sides and tickled him. His fingers were fast, finding those spots that sent Archie into fits of giggling, too swift for Archie to return the maddening sensations.

"Stop! Stop, Horatio," jerked Kennedy, writhing away from his fingertips and trying not to laugh.

"Tell me," chortled Horatio, seeing Archie's intermittent sniggering.

"I am not going to tell you," Archie laughed. "Now! Stop!"

"What do you think you know?" whined Hornblower, smiling, reaching from one point to another, grabbing Kennedy's seeking hand to protect himself, prodding the prone areas he knew would cause Archie to retreat when he could not attack.

"Horatio..." Kennedy giggled, "This is not fair. I do not want to hurt you. Sebastian will have my hide if you hurt your head. Horatio!" Kennedy twisted and jerked and giggled until he fell off the bunk onto the floor head first. "Ow!"

"Sorry!" laughed Horatio, "Are you all right?" He helped Archie right himself.

"No thanks to you!" said Archie rubbing his head. "I suppose that was nothing compared to your bump on the noggin."

"If I guess, will you tell me?" asked Horatio, brushing dust off Kennedy's uniform.

Archie frowned. "I might."

Hornblower picked up his waded topcoat from the bunk, straightened the arms, and pulled it on.

"What are you doing?" Archie sighed.

"The Captain wants to see us."

"Sebastian has been gone at least twenty minutes, Horatio," advised Archie, unsure of the elapsed time. "Are you..."

"Raving?" Horatio finished for him. "Perhaps so, but since it will not get me Pamela, no, I am not. If he is angry with us, it will be your fault."

Archie put his hands on his hips. "And just how is our being late my fault?"

"You convinced me I could handle it," he said lightly, handing Kennedy his cloak, draping on his own, finding his hat, and passing Archie his.

"My fault," stated Kennedy, mashing on his chapeau, and highly dissatisfied with Hornblower's reasoning.

Hornblower opened the door, and as he passed through it, Kennedy kicked him in the arse.

"Oomph!" Facing Archie briefly, Horatio rubbed his posterior. "That hurt!" Hornblower heard Archie take preparatory steps to strike again and gyrated quickly to keep from being struck. "Ha ha!" he grinned.

"That's one place I do not have to worry about affecting your head," said Kennedy, stepping quickly after Horatio, hoping for another opportunity.

 

*****

 

"Dr. Sebastian! Where are they?"

"I regret, Captain Pellew, Mr. Hornblower ... "

"I see, Doctor. What of Mr. Kennedy?"

"Forgive me, sir. I requested that he ... stay... with Mr. Hornblower."

Pellew breathed deeply then, exhaled quietly. "Damn," he whispered as he stepped to the stern windows, head bowed, hands clasped behind him. Raising one to rub his brow, "I ... I don't know what to think, sir," he said hopelessly. "Should he be in hospital?"

"He... he needs rest, sir. With time, he will regain himself."

"I pray you are right, doctor." Swiveling round, Pellew met the doctor's gaze. "Do you know?"

"About Gibraltar? Yes, sir. Mr. Kennedy told me."

Pellew frowned and shook his head. "Can I blame the man for being in love? A child on the way? I should have had him bring her to England."

"It is too late for that, Captain."

Rubbing his forehead, "Yes. Yes, I know. God. As head strong as he is, I fear I will have to send him home under guard." Meeting the doctor's eyes with his own, the two locked the gaze. Pellew struggled but a moment wondering whether to reveal what occurred. "You ... Do you know he... " turning his lower lip beneath his teeth and inhaling, "...he ... he broke down?"

Sebastian took the revelation calmly, no surprise. This was what Hornblower was loathe to unveil, but since he was recalcitrant, it was a good sign, thought Sebastian.

"It is the concussion, sir. His emotions rest on a knife's edge."

Pellew twisted his shoulders and turned away.

The doctor could see the torment of the commander for his prize protégé Sebastian took a step closer. "Captain,... please. You leave me in a quandary to know whether to give you caution or hope. Which would you prefer?"

Pellew faced the physician. Sebastian, another trophy of his command, his wisdom and knowledge rarely wrong.

"Give me ... hope, sir."

Sebastian's lips smoothed into a mildest hint of a smile. Choosing his words carefully, breathing in silently, "He did not tell me what occurred here, in your cabin."

Pellew wrinkled his brow in thought. Hornblower hiding his weakness? This gave hope? Or was it merely... shame? "So am I to take this as hope that he is returning to his right mind in seeking to keep it to himself, or... as a caution that he wishes to secrete this new ... debility?"

The doctor nodded singly. "You must decide, Captain." Sebastian reached into his pocket and fingered the pouch of tobacco but released it. "I hold hope for his resiliency."

"As do I, Doctor, as do I," sighed Pellew. "I will take it as hope." Pellew glimpsed the physician matter-of-factly. "He goes before the Admiralty tomorrow, he, Kennedy, and Lord Edrington, have been requested... and required."

"To report on the encounter with those blackguards?" queried Sebastian.

"Indeed, sir. Partly because Hornblower never submitted a written report. When I reminded them of his injury, they asked that Kennedy and Edrington accompany him. Lord Edrington has been informed by now, being at the Rose and Thorn." Pellew thought wryly, *First, Pamela constantly returns, now his lordship.*

"He and Mr. Hornblower parted on good terms, sir,... after enduring the joint adversity. Lord Edrington did rescue him, twice."

"Three times if you include the explosion of Oceanus, Doctor,... from all accounts." Pellew raised an eyebrow. "So be it. He is expected at admiralty at four bells in the forenoon watch." Pellew raised his chin. "You will see he is prepared?"

"I will go with him, sir, if you please."

Pellew considered the request. "I suppose it may be for the best. The five of you will make quite an entourage."

"Five, sir?"

"The two marines that will attend him."

Eyebrows quirking, "As you wish, Captain," bowed Sebastian. "It may be the prudent path, under the circumstances."

"Very well, Doctor. I will bid you goodnight. It has been a stressful day, and I am ready to retire."

"Goodnight, Captain Pellew." Sebastian pulled the cabin door open, revealing Mr. Hornblower positioned to knock.

Pellew saw him immediately, though he was surprised. Sebastian stepped back.

"Mr. Hornblower! Come in," ordered Pellew, eyeing the doctor briefly.

"Forgive my tardiness, Captain," stated Hornblower, coming to attention, and Kennedy, likewise beside him. "You requested Mr. Kennedy and myself, sir?"

Pellew brightened at the old familiar tone of Hornblower's voice. "I did, yes." No use in belaboring the point of their late arrival, in light of Hornblower's illness. Pellew spoke, "Your presence at the Admiralty is required at four bells in the forenoon watch. They wish to question you about the incident with Lord Effington. Mr. Kennedy is to attend, as well, and Lord Edrington, also, has been informed and requested."

"Aye, aye, sir," replied Hornblower, again sounding more his old self.

"Answer their questions to the best of your ability and recollection. Mr. Kennedy, you and Lord Edrington may be called upon to fill in where Mr. Hornblower cannot."

"Yes, sir," answered Kennedy.

Pellew inhaled tiredly, scrunching his face in a frown. They were given to him while waiting for the interview, but should he withhold them, under the cirucmstances? The only answer was, ... no. If he were in the same situation, he would want them and the sooner the better. He glimpsed Sebastian, wondering what his opinion would be, but there was not time to inquire. Lifting the coat from the back of a chair, he pulled letters from the pocket. Left eyebrow rising, he held them out to Hornblower. "These were at Admiralty House for you."

Horatio's brow wrinkled. With but a glimpse of the writing, his face shifted to a beam of pleasure, back to the serious expression, though the previous sought liberation. "Thank you, sir!"

Pellew shook his head. "I hope those give you a lift, but don't let them make you capricious, or I shall regret delivering them." Pellew was aware of Sebastian inhaling long and holding his breath. Eyeing Hornblower momentarily, he added, "She's resourceful, I will give her that," his eyes fixed on the letter and he nodded towards them.

Horatio brought them closer to read in the dim light where he stood. They were written to him in care of the Port Admiral. Withholding the broad smile was impossible. "Yes, sir." The joy etching Hornblower's few words failed restriction.

Pellew put his hands on his hips and looked from man to man, shaking his head. "Mr. Hornblower, you are like a fourteen year old schoolboy."

"Yes, sir, sorry, sir." He bobbed his head trying not to look so pleased and blushed seeing the doctor observe him.

"Captain..." started Sebastian who paused to release the breath he suddenly realized he held, "he IS going to be a father."

Hornblower ducked his head to hide the smile and hoped to straighten his face, biting his bottom lip hard. Looking up, eyes dancing, "Thank you, sir. Thank you very much, indeed."

"I am the deliverer, Mr. Hornblower, not the writer," said Pellew huskily. "I order you to get a good night's sleep, sir."

"I will, Captain. Aye, aye, sir!" Hornblower's happiness flowed over onto the men present.

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, " mumbled the doctor, crossing his arms over his chest and looking askance at the captain.

Pellew cocked an eyebrow at the physician. "Sit over there and read your letters, Mr. Hornblower, before the good doctor has apoplexy."

Hornblower hustled to the leather stuffed chair bathed in candlelight, separating the seal and unfolding the pages as he went. He parted the sheaves swiftly; this one had three pages. His eyes flew across her words, devouring them like a starved man, knowing he could go back and read at his leisure, but for now, he had to know all was well.

Pellew eased over quietly before the doubtful doctor.

"They are his letters, Dr. Sebastian. Would you have me keep them from him?" whispered Pellew.

"No, but, Captain, was ... was this the best time? I pray you know what you are doing."

"I do not know what I am doing where affairs of the heart are concerned. I am a sea captain, not a... not a romantic advisor for ... for the lovelost! If I had had the opportunity to stop their wedding, I would have."

"Hindsight, Captain?"

"Opportunity more likely, sir, I never had the chance. Who would have thought HE would fall in love! And with an American, no less! My capable duty-bound officer? My serious, circumspect ...hell, I never would have thought it possible."

Sebastian eased his fearsome thoughts. "Listen to us, Captain. As difficult as it is to find ... to find love in the world, how can we begrudge him? She has made him as happy as he has made us distraught."

"And if she dies, Doctor? Have you considered that?" mouthed Pellew, completely blocking the conversation from Hornblower, and Kennedy who still stood at attention. "Or the child? I do not like to think what it would do to him. God forbid."

Hornblower cleared his throat and the men silenced and looked his way. His face was flushed as he went to the next page, and cleared his throat again, but his eyes did not leave the words before them.

Glancing at the Captain and Doctor in quiet consultation, Kennedy sidled nearer to Hornblower.

Horatio looked up at Kennedy briefly, shook his head, and fanned his reddened face with the pages.

"What is it, Horatio?" whispered Kennedy.

Hornblower licked his lips and peeked around Kennedy at his superior officers. Glancing at Kennedy, his face burned. He took a deep breath, and blinked several times. Opening the next letter, he inhaled and began to read. "Ahem," said Hornblower, twisting his neck, and pulling at his collar.

"Is all well, Mr. Hornblower?" asked the captain, "No, bad news, I pray?"

"Ahem, no, sir, ahem. All is well. She sends her wishes, ahem, for ... for a safe journey here, sir. Drake send his regards."

Pellew turned back to Sebastian, his expression questioning the physician.

Meanwhile, Kennedy pressed again. "Horatio?" he whispered, "You are as red as a beet. What is it?"

Hornblower stood next to his friend. Licking his lips, Hornblower breathed and swallowed. "Archie..." blinking at his friend, he licked his lips and swallowed again. "This is the most ... erotic ... literature I have ever read." Hornblower looked down at his lap and breathed a sigh of relief. "Beats the pants off Captain Pants." Hornblower fanned himself with the last letter. "I ... will be spending some time in the quarter gallery tonight, I fear."

Kennedy laughed out loud, but stifled it with his hand immediately.

"Shhh!" said Hornblower.

"Then, all is well, Horatio?"

"Well, ... yes," he whispered.

The two young officers turned to see the older officers awaiting some word.

"All... all is well, sir. Th...thank you, sir," gulped Hornblower, "for bringing these... here," he nodded bashfully. "Thank you... sir. Will there be anything else, sir?"

Pellew eyed the two officers, taking note of Hornblower's colour, perceiving some moisture on his brow. "Are you sure you are well, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Oh, yes, sir. Very fine, sir. Indeed," he nodded.

"Well, doctor, shall I release him?"

Sebastian sauntered nearer to Hornblower, his eyes steadily upon the officer.

Hornblower shifted his shoulders, stood up straight, and held the gaze of the physician.

Seeing a gleam in Hornblower's eyes, the flush of his skin, a tug of a wry smile possessed the doctor's lips. "They are good letters, Mr. Hornblower?"

With a single nod, Hornblower felt his cheeks redden despite all his efforts. "They are, sir. She is ... well, though ... she ...misses me."

Sebastian smiled, quirking the muscles to keep back the grin. "I see." The doctor's eyes darted to Kennedy, who blushed, under the unexpected contact, making Sebastian's smile broaden. "Captain Pellew, I perceive no ... distress."

"Ahem," Hornblower cleared, twisting in his collar.

Pellew eyed each man, noting the complete look of innocence Kennedy had adopted.

"Very well, dismissed... except you, Mr. Kennedy. I wish to speak to you a moment."

Both Kennedy's eyebrows raised, and he resisted meeting the gaze of Hornblower or Sebastian. "Aye, aye, sir." His fingers tightened around the held bicorn, both palms breaking into a sweat.

"Goodnight, Captain," smiled Sebastian, holding the door open for Hornblower.

"Goodnight, sir," added Horatio, grasping a glimpse of Kennedy.

"Goodnight, gentlemen," answered Pellew.

Once the door was closed, Pellew posed in a quarter-deck stance, jutted his chin, and looked long at his junior leftenant.

"Well, Mr. Kennedy?"

"Sir?"

"Do not make me ask you, man."

Kennedy licked his lips. "I don't know..." his brow furrowed, and his voice cracked the next words, "you... you mean... hi-his letter, sir?"

"I do." Pellew's stare was unrelenting.

Kennedy hesitated.

"Do not make something up, sir. You know I have ways of knowing what is about my ship. I would think the events earlier today would have made that abundantly clear to you."

Kennedy cocked his head, and met the captain's gaze...the secret trip to Gibraltar they had planned. The young officer's Adam's apple rose and fell. "But, sir,..."

"I know you are loyal to him, Mr. Kennedy. And you should know I have his best interests at heart. If there is anything, anything that might affect him for the worse, if he has another plot to ... to go barreling off to Gibraltar, you had best tell me now."

"It is not a plot to go to Gibraltar, sir."

Pellew waited.

Kennedy moistened his lips and said nonchalantly, "They were love letters, sir."

"That's bleeding obvious, man!" railed Pellew quietly.

"Very much... love letters, sir," assured Kennedy, but seeing that did not suffice. "Extreme... extreme love letters, one might say."

Pellew's visage was curious and displayed listening but was immovable.

"E- e-er-erotic ... was the word he used, sir."

Shock and surprise exploded across Pellew's visage, and he cleared his throat immediately, coughing for good measure. "Erotic?"

"Y-yes, sir." His voice cracked.

Pellew turned away and grabbed hold of his mouth, stopping the chortle with another cough. Clearing his throat deeply, "Ahem, thank you, Mr. Kennedy." Pamela would never cease to amaze him. Still working her magic from a thousand miles away, disrupting his command in the nicest way imaginable, and bringing consternation for him, and ... what, for Hornblower? Pellew closed his eyes. Well, the two of them were married, he could say no more.

"Is that all, sir?"

"Hm? No. About tomorrow, there will be two marine guards with you. Keep him OUT of trouble."

"I have done since you sent me with him last June, sir," stated Kennedy boldly.

The corners of Pellew's eyes tightened into a squint of perception. "So you have, sir. Continue. I pray his mind for duty will return. Love is such a fragile thing... as we are. A country and a king are far more palpable, do you not think, Mr. Kennedy?"

After a moment of reflection, Kennedy said, "Yes, but far less pleasing in the clinches, sir, they give no offspring, neither do they warm the bed."

"True enough. True enough," Pellew admitted. "It is our loved ones for whom we fight, ultimately, king and country their benefactor, but there must be a balance." Pellew's silhouette was framed against the stern windows which allowed the bright beams of moonlight to stream through.

"I agree, Captain."

"Do you know what is troubling him, Mr. Kennedy?"

Kennedy hung his head, emitting a heavy sigh. "Yes, sir."

Cocking an eyebrow, Pellew proceeded to silently prepare a glass of brandy for each of them, the clink of the glass and gurgle of amber liquid the foremost sound, rising above that of the lap of water against the ship's hull.

"Come sit, Mr. Kennedy," he said softly, holding the glass out.

The watch bell was sounding, muffled through the oak wooden walls, punctuating the late hour.

Kennedy approached, took the glass, and sat on the firm stern window seat cushions. Cold seeped through the glass windows but was counteracted with the warming liquor. Sipping, he glanced at his captain, then looked out the windows and up at the clearing sky that permitted the moon to shine out, bathing Kennedy's face in pale blue, accenting his clear azure eyes, wide and wondering at the life he led, his good friend winding his way precariously through his own, and the man next to him that, with all the power and might of his position, thought of his men, worried about them, and offered a flexibility Kennedy never thought possible from one of his stature. His life had been, and was, strangely blessed in the company of Horatio.

"He has a notion that he is never going to see her again," Kennedy offered suddenly and bowed his head and wrinkled his brow.

"Why?"

"I don't know, sir," he sighed, "I don't think he knows. It's ... a feeling... he has."

Each man, without the knowledge of the other, felt a shudder at the admission. Mr. Hornblower was known for acting on his hunches, or playing out a gamble. He was not always right, but, more often, he was.

Pellew pivoted where he sat, leaned out over his knees, resting his elbows, and rubbed his forehead with both sets of fingertips. "God," he moaned. This was why Hornblower was pleading earlier. He understood why he could not tell him, and he wondered that Kennedy knew of it. Evidence of the concussion? Were Kennedy and Hornblower closer than ever? Did Sebastian know? He would have to ask Sebastian, if he did not forget. He was beginning to feel the necessity of taking notes. No, that was Sebastian's job. He would keep the broad view, with potent particulars. Pellew sighed. "Thank you for telling me, Mr. Kennedy. Do not feel you have betrayed a confidence. I needed to understand his motives. This explains it...not mere ... lovesickness... but ... fear. I do know it."

"If he had told me to tell no one, I would not have, sir. I think it more that he was afraid... others would find his worries... unfounded, and ... reject them." Confessing dismissal, Kennedy wondered if his treatment of Horatio's anxiety was dismissive. But he tried to color it with hope, to hope for the best, not brush his concerns aside, but replace them with a positive attitude. No second guessing, the advice to his friend was the best he could offer.

"Understandable." Pellew wiped a hand down his face then, looked back at Kennedy. "Finish your drink. It is late, and you answer to their lordships tomorrow."

"Yes, sir." Kennedy downed the brandy. "Thank you, sir."

"Hm? For the brandy? Don't mention it."

"No, sir, not the brandy." Kennedy watched Pellew give him his full attention. "We are fortunate to have you for our commander. If I may say, sir, for Mr. Hornblower and myself, thank you for your understanding. Many captains would not ... would not be ... so supportive."

"I have no reason to cast either of you adrift, Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Hornblower will come to himself. He must, for England's sake. You know," Pellew straightened from the bent position, "I am pleased with his influence upon you, sir. You have come into your own... with his ... friendship... and your steadfast loyalty and bravery does you credit. Do not think my eyes only perceive Mr. Hornblower. As I told him many years ago, I judge a man by what I see him do, and you, sir, have not disappointed."

Kennedy's cheeks appeared purple with the blush and blue moonlight. Praise from Pellew was unexpected. He saw the gentleness of the captain's face viewing his own amazed expression, and shied from the contact.

Pellew patted Kennedy's knee roughly. "Get to bed, Mr. Kennedy. Make sure he has not done himself an injury with those....letters."

Kennedy muffled a snigger in his chest. "Aye, aye, sir. Thank you, sir. Goodnight."