An American Encounter, Part Three
by Skihee

Ch 21 Changes, Turn and Face the Strain

 

The jolly boat slowly made a way back out to Indefatigable. It was late, dark, Pellew compared the different ship lanterns, positive he recognized Indy's in the nearing distance. They were crowded in the small boat. Sebastian sat forward of Pellew with Kennedy and Hornblower across from them.

The day in Portsmouth ran long and the doctor, Kennedy, Hornblower and the marines ended in waiting for Pellew on the quay rather than take a chance on him returning and finding the boat gone. Glimpsing Hornblower, he could see the man was leaning against Kennedy's back and fast asleep.

"Doctor?" questioned Pellew.

"He is worn out, Captain. He is not used to the physical activity, not to mention the luncheon ordeal. He generally sleeps after them, and he did not have the opportunity today. I have much to enter in my records," sighed Sebastian.

"I want to hear about that luncheon ordeal when we get back. Damn me, I thought he'd run."

Sebastian smiled crookedly. "You will be pleased with what I have to report, sir," said Sebastian lowly.

"I will?"

"Yes, Captain."

"What did the six of you do, once I left?"

"The major took Horatio and Archie to Gieves. He insisted on purchasing them both new uniforms as a Christmas gift."

"Indeed? Very generous of Lord Edrington," commented Pellew quietly.

"Yes," smiled Sebastian, "It was. Very generous."

Sebastian thought back to the moment when Edrington told Hornblower what he intended. If Archie had not encouraged acceptance, Hornblower never would have allowed it. It seemed a plot to Sebastian on Kennedy and Edrington's part. Sebastian knew Kennedy's family had no problems in keeping him clothed satisfactorily. They were good men, Edrington and Kennedy. If Hornblower suspected the complicity, he did not let on, though Sebastian could tell it was difficult for Hornblower to accept Edrington's generosity. Hornblower's words echoed in Sebastian's memory, "But... my Lord...I cannot..." and Edrington stopping him with, "But, Horatio, you have already given me the best gift," and Horatio looking puzzled, and Edrington's devious smirk, making Horatio ask. "What?" shrugged Hornblower, and Edrington saying softly and seriously, "You have given me your friendship, Horatio. There can be no finer present. These things are but material gifts, that will wear out, shred, or get left behind," said Edrington laughingly, "I shall always have what you have given me." Sebastian was touched as he listened in.

"Nothing for you, Doctor?" smirked Pellew, breaking in on Sebastian thoughts.

"Hm? Oh yes, it is being delivered tomorrow."

"Delivered?"

"Yes, sir. Two pounds of pre-rolled cheroots in an air tight container. Ha ha ha," laughed Sebastian. "That is why I do not have it with me." He chuckled again, and wagged his head.

"Hm. Sounds like I should have spent my afternoon with Lord Edrington."

"Fear not, Captain, something is coming for you, as well. I will not ruin the surprise,... and something for the crew."

"The crew? Dear God, I know the man is well off, but.... What is he sending the crew?"

"Chocolate, the makings for hot chocolate."

A fleck of white, and then another, landed upon the sleeve of the man closest rowing. Then, more and more came dancing lightly among the oarsmen, resting on hats, and shoulders. It was snowing, quietly, softly falling, and frosting the ratings and officers.

"Well,..." Pellew was speechless, and thought for a while, then looked askance at Hornblower receiving a sprinkle of white. "Do you think Pamela will ever know?" He looked up and a flake landed on his eyelash, melting quickly.

"That Edrington rescued him from the jaws of death? I do not think Horatio will tell her. Not because he does not want to give Edrington credit, but that he would not want to worry her. I think she would understand, but ... it is up to him."

"This is looking to be a good Christmas, Doctor, and the date has not yet arrived," said Pellew, feeling thankful. "Now, if only my ship and my second leftenant were well..."

"Both need tender love and care, Captain. Both have gotten it and will, I have no doubt."

Pellew's chest rose and fell with the deep breath. "It has been a good day then, despite the worries and aggravations. Mr. Cutter," frowned Pellew, "I have to go back to the Admiralty, again!"

"Hm. Well, I have another bit of news for you. Before I left his lordship, he pulled me aside to explain Bentley's errand."

"This concerns us?"

"Hm, yes, Captain. He sent Bentley for Dr. Hornblower."

"Did he? Major Edrington has been a busy fellow," said Pellew amazed.

"If the doctor is not otherwise engaged, Bentley should be returning with him,... perhaps tomorrow." Sebastian met Pellew's view. "Will we let him go?"

Pellew gazed at the sleeping man, Hornblower's mouth open slightly. Kennedy glanced his way, then looked askance over his shoulder, knowing Hornblower was sleeping against him.

"Yes, yes, it is for the best." Pellew set his mouth firmly. "God, do not let him do anything foolish."

Sebastian smiled. "My exact thoughts, Captain."

"Ahoy the boat!"

"Indefatigable!" called the coxswain.

Sebastian nodded to Archie and Archie reached a hand back to touch Hornblower's leg, tapping softly just below the outside of the knee. Hornblower's hat was shoved back slightly and snowflakes were nesting in his chestnut curls and on his exposed eyebrow.

"Hm?" he said groggily, sucking in a breath and loose saliva. The boat bumped against Indy's hull, rattling the second leftenant into wakefulness. "We're home?" he asked groggily.

"Yes," whispered Kennedy, stealing a glimpse Pellew's way.

Pellew was looking down, and Archie did not see the smile just before the captain tossed his chin in the air, and stood to exit the boat. The pipes were trilling, and Hornblower jerked away from Kennedy's comfortable back.

Sebastian tapped Hornblower on the shoulder, and the young officer rose and climbed the battens, the doctor right behind, and Archie next.

"Welcome back, Captain," Bracegirdle said.

Pellew nodded and turned to see Hornblower coming in behind him, tripping through the gun port. The captain caught him before he fell. "Are you all right, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Yes, sir, sorry, sir," blushed Hornblower.

"Get yourself below and get to sleep, man"

"Aye, aye, Captain," saluted Hornblower, the captain first, then the ensign, then Bracegirdle. "Sir."

"Mr. Hornblower," said Bracegirdle, nodding, and watching Hornblower stagger towards the companion.

Kennedy slipped in behind Sebastian. "I'll see to him, Doctor."

"Thank you, Mr. Kennedy." Sebastian sighed. "I am almost as tired as he is."

"Come with me, Doctor. I want to hear about the ... ordeal," ordered Pellew. The snow was coming down heavier and whiting their cloaks. "Up for a drink, Mr. Bracegirdle?"

"Aye, Captain!"

"Come along, then."

Below Kennedy saw no sign of Hornblower until he entered the cabin. It was dark. Hornblower had not bothered to light the lantern. Kennedy reached into the darkness, banged his knuckles against the lamp glass, and grabbed the hanging lantern. Returning to the cabin, he heard the light snores of heavy breathing. With the lamp light high on the deck beam, he saw Hornblower had fallen into his bunk, hat, cloak, shoes and all. Snorting and sighing at the sight, he removed his own hat and cloak.

"Come on, Horatio," said Kennedy tiredly, removing Hornblower's shoes, hat, and reaching under his chin to unlatch the catch on his cape, now damp with melted snow. Pushing behind Hornblower's knees, he got his feet inside the bunk, then covered him with the wool blankets.

"Sweet dreams, Horatio." With a heavy sigh, Archie plopped into his own bunk, dropped his shoes onto the decking, tossed the blanket over his body, yawned and went to sleep.

*****

Pellew left the dockyards, and walked the mile or so to the Rose and Thorn. A stretch of the legs was a good enterprise for a normally ship bound man. The land sights were pleasant after weeks at sea, though the day was grey and cold. The walk warmed him as the afternoon was going off chill, and snow flurries were expected any time from now until morning. Weatherwise, what the next day would bring was as great a mystery as when Indefatigable's next sailing would come.

Edrington's notice arrived just after noon stating that Doctor Hornblower was present and resting from the coach ride, suggesting a meeting time with Sebastian at three, and Pellew at four, plenty of time to conclude with Admiral Whitsmith and Cutter.

Pellew's presence was more a courtesy than anything else, though he did look forward to meeting the doctor in person. Heretofore, the two men whose lives entwined that of Horatio Hornblower, had only corresponded, the exchange of letters necessary last when Hornblower was learned to be in a Spanish prison, two letters sent, and two received in return. Not until recently did Pellew have cause to write a third time. In those letters from the elder Hornblower, Pellew considered the doctor's turn of phrase, and the nature of his son, assurance he would be meeting a man of intelligence, and most likely, courage. An apple does not fall far from the tree.

Walking briskly, the broad navy blue, woolen coat draping his knees, Pellew pulled the worn nickel-plated pocket watch and clicked it open. The Roman numerals on the face reported it was after four. Sebastian should have had a good hour with the doctor, briefing him on the injuries of his son, and sharing whatever Sebastian deemed appropriate concerning Horatio's recovery. *Two doctors discussing a patient,... or a son,* thought Pellew, considering how Sebastian had taken on Hornblower's care. Hornblower's father should be pleased. Pellew knew he would be, were it one of his own in Sebastian's care.

*How is Hornblower taking the separation?* wondered Pellew as he turned down a cobbled lane lined with barren trees as grey as the slate flagstones of the footpath he trod.

Sebastian and Pellew decided not to tell Horatio until they were sure his father had arrived. Edrington notified Pellew he secured lodgings for the doctor at the Rose and Thorn, a double twin bedded room, should Pellew wish to send Hornblower in to stay for the night.

Sebastian was to tell Hornblower before he left the ship, and Sebastian wanted Kennedy to escort Hornblower to the inn since he would not be there to do so. Dr. Sebastian was unsure how Hornblower was going to react to being separated from Indefatigable, since he would be taking his dunnage with him, and felt Kennedy would be a stabilizing force in the change the second leftenant was about to undergo, considering his fragile emotional state.

Pellew wondered about that, too. Was anyone wondering how 'he' was going to feel having Hornblower and his dunnage taken from the ship?

"Bah!" he said aloud gruffly to no one but himself, and he picked up his pace.

At last, the coach drive of the Rose and Thorn came into view. The blackened timbers outlined the overhang where horse-drawn conveyances halted to disembark passengers under cover, should the weather be inclement. Rooms were evident over the archway, flower bedecked tables visible behind the glass, defining a dining room of the inn, the overpass joining another wing.

Coming under the arch, Pellew turned left and the entry door was opened for him by a uniformed employee. He glided through the entrance and approached the desk, finding Edrington at his side before he had a chance to properly inquire.

The major was dressed as a civilian in tan trousers and waistcoat, an ivory shirt, and a hunter green thigh length coat, dutifully wearing the sling, his hair neatly queued and in place.

"Captain Pellew," smiled Edrington, eyes twinkling. "I have been watching for you. We have commandeered one of the inn's sitting rooms. I suggest you remove that cloak, it is quite warm with the fire blazing. After Indefatigable, it is near a veritable hell in temperature," he grinned. "What would you like to drink, sir?"

"If a decent Madeira is on the premises, it would be well received. If not, perhaps a claret. Thank you, my Lord," answered Pellew gratefully, swirling the cape from around his shoulders and over his arm.

"I'll take that from ye, sir," curtsied a young girl.

"Thank you, Miss," said Pellew handing over his hat as well, and accepting the claim check. "How does it go, my Lord?"

"In truth, I do not know. I left the two medical men to discuss the patient. Dr. Sebastian knows you were expected at four. We shall get our drinks, then, I will let him know you are present."

At the bar, Edrington gave the order, then, jotted a note and asked the waiter to deliver it. The barman placed the drinks on the counter.

"Put it on my bill, Thomas," ordered Edrington.

The man nodded and gave a salute.

"Come sit, sir, and drink your Madeira. You walked from the Dockyards?" asked Edrington. He led Pellew and they sat on one of the flowered tapestry cushions of bench seats having a view across the foyer of the inn. Edrington sat his drink on the small, round, dark table at their knees, his demeanor one of nervous glee.

"Yes. You know, Lord Edrington, your enterprise on Mr. Hornblower's behalf astonished me," declared Pellew quietly, setting the drink down, and resting against the wooden back of the bench.

Edrington calmed immediately. "You know the reason why. How can I not take care of the man she loves, and ... my good friend. I do not think I have done more than you would do, if you had the time. You have a great many men to care for, while I have only one," he teased.

Pellew sighed. There was a spark of truth in that.

"How is Dr. Hornblower? I rely that he is not unduly alarmed."

"He seems as logical as his son, Captain. Plus, the letter you sent had already prepared him somewhat."

"Hm," commented Pellew, raising the Madeira to his lips.

The waiter returned, Sebastian coming into view behind him.

Pellew and Edrington rose.

"Captain," greeted Sebastian.

"How has he taken the news, Dr. Sebastian?" asked Pellew.

"I believe the seriousness of the injury surprised him. He is concerned, as are we all," answered Sebastian.

"What time is Leftenant Hornblower due to arrive?"

"I told Mr. Kennedy to leave the ship at two bells in the first dog watch." Sebastian saw Edrington's face take on a concentration. "Five o'clock, my Lord."

"Right," said Edrington.

"Come, Captain. He is anxious to meet you."

"I will order fresh drinks," called Edrington.

Sebastian led Pellew through a seating area opposite the bar to a private room with a bay window facing onto the cobbled courtyard. Several prickly holly bushes were planted in large white stucco plant pots across the way, adding a smattering of color to the gray day.

An elderly man stared through the glass. The waning light of an overcast afternoon barely lit the slight wrinkles around his eyes. The gray frosted, once dark, hair was receding slightly at the forehead, and a familiar wave took the lower trails of the restrained locks. The shoulders were slightly lowered, due to age, weariness, or worry, it was unknown. The height of the man almost equaled that of his son, as did the overall physique. His clothing was dark, and the color indistinguishable in the darkening evening. Suddenly, the doctor's gaze fell upon them, and the frailest smile dissolved onto his lips, lit by a standing candelabra.

Pellew saw immediately what young Hornblower inherited from the elder. The leftenant had his father's lower facial features, full lips, double creased dimples to parentheses the mouth, and a strong chin, though the leftenant's nose was a bit larger than his da's. Otherwise, the face was unknown. The eyes were blue, like Kennedy's, and it struck Pellew strange that Hornblower's friend's eyes would be so similar in hue. Leftenant Hornblower might resemble his mother in the upper aspect of his countenance then, and Pellew thought that could be a comfort or a sad reminder, knowing Dr. Hornblower's wife died many years ago.

"Captain Pellew?"

"Yes, sir," Pellew extended his hand, coming closer, hearing a slight vocal resemblance in the two men, though the Doctor's voice was obviously deeper and aged. "Dr. Hornblower, I cannot tell you how pleased I am to meet you at last."

"And, I, you, Captain. Horatio has nothing but the highest praise for you, sir."

Pellew felt his cheeks warm slightly, while the group moved to the plush chairs, and he offered a friendly smile to the older man, unconsciously noting the wooden cane the doctor used.

"Does he? That he would write of me seems odd. I am the one usually to sing the praises of the men," chirped Pellew.

"He thinks very highly of you, and after speaking with Dr. Sebastian this afternoon, my own opinion has been cemented. He is fortunate to have you as his commander, and I thank you for all you have done to help him recover his injuries."

"He is worth every effort, sir. He is a remarkable young man."

"I have always thought so, Captain, but I fear my view may be prejudiced," Dr. Hornblower smiled as he lowered into an overstuffed chair.

"Prejudiced with good cause, I would say, sir. It is unfortunate that we finally meet under these circumstances," growled Pellew lightly.

"Yes, Captain. He will be distraught to leave Indefatigable, whether he shows it or not, you may be sure he will miss her."

"She is our home,... and I expect him to return," added Pellew hastily, his brow crinkling in concern. "I rely on you to make him well, Doctor."

"Yes. Dr. Sebastian informs me of his health. Rest does appear the best prescription. When do you expect to return to sea, Captain?"

"I wish I could answer that question, sir, but I know not. The dockyard crews do not seem to be in a hurry to do anything in this inclement weather, both for its inhospitable nature and its keeping us in port," frowned Pellew. "I will have to set a fire beneath them, one way or another."

Hornblower's father chortled. "Something of which I think you quite capable, Captain."

Pellew crimsoned to his eyes. "Just what has Leftenant Hornblower been writing you, sir?"

The men chuckled and the question went unanswered.

Dr. Hornblower gazed round at the seated men. "My son has made admirable acquaintances, gentlemen."

"I pray he sees me as more than an acquaintance, Dr. Hornblower," said Edrington.

The doctor's eyebrows quirked and his eyes twinkled. "You surprise me most of all, my Lord. Do not take offense at what I am about to say, but Horatio seemed rather unimpressed with the peerage in the past. Perhaps the navy has changed that opinion," his voice rose with the statement, "I hope he continues to judge a man by his worth as a man, not his title, or lack of one,... which must increase your estimation, sir."

Edrington's face played a lexicon of emotions from curious to inquiring and opening his lips, light laughter escaped. "Doctor, I can see where Mr. Hornblower gets his forthrightness. If I may say, recent events have led him to encounter both sorts in the peerage."

Pellew cleared his voice loudly as a reminder that Effington was not to be spoken of, and grabbed a swift look at Sebastian and wondering what parts of the recent action he felt compelled to share with Hornblower's father as a physician. Still, it was best to avoid speaking about the traitor.

"And, he is bound to meet different kinds of men in his career," covered Edrington, "do you not think it true, Captain?"

"Yes..., indeed,... my Lord. How was the trip down from Haslemere, Doctor? Has your home been visited by snow as yet?" asked Pellew changing the subject abruptly.

The doctor's face bore an expression of amazed curiosity, and then he answered. "We had the barest frosting last night, Captain, but it did not stick."

*So Effington is not to be mentioned,... as Dr. Sebastian warned,* thought Dr. Hornblower. Sebastian told him of the man and the peer's mistreatment of his son to further explain the complications and emotional effect from the twin concussions, Sebastian entreating him to silence concerning the peer, unless his mention should become absolutely necessary. Sebastian, also, revealed the existence of Horatio's bride. So, she is what Horatio had hinted at in the last letter received so many months ago. Horatio's letters had become more sporadic over time. He understood his son had a job to do, and he did not expect him to write as often. They each led their own lives.

Sebastian was a bit embarrassed when he learned Horatio had not told his father he was married. Dr. Hornblower swiftly allayed Sebastian's fears, and promised not to let Horatio know he knew unless it became necessary, and, that should Horatio tell him, he would treat it as new information, to which Sebastian was relieved. Doctor Hornblower ignored the twinge of disappointment in not knowing of the marriage, and denied the jealousy towards this physician with whom Horatio shared his life. *It must be necessary,* he comforted himself, *for someone to know about Horatio's comings and goings, no matter of what sort those may be.* It was his duty, now, to see Horatio stayed put. Part of the reason Sebastian spoke of 'Pamela' was to warn him that Horatio wanted to go to her, being detached from Indefatigable, which, he agreed with Sebastian, was not a good idea in light of his injuries and the nature of the sea this time of year. All these men, sitting so near, were involved in his son's life, as he never would be, except now, to give a respite of healing and hopefully home.

Home. A comforting visage came to mind, and for a fleeting instance, anxiety. Dr. Hornblower dismissed the idea. Horatio was a grown man. He would understand, at least, he should, especially now that he had a wife of his own. But if Horatio's emotions were as raw as Sebastian described, care may well be needed. Edrington's man Bentley understood, it being necessary for certain explanations to be made to both Bentley, and other parties, before leaving Haslemere so precipitously. How much had Horatio changed in the years since their last parting when he brought Archie Kennedy home with him? Much happened in his own life in those two years. The amount of time Horatio stayed with him would dictate what of his own life he would be forced to share, for good or ill.

Dr. Hornblower was anxious to see Horatio. Their mutual discretion where women were concerned slightly amused him, and brought the beautiful countenance of his wife, Louisa, to mind. She would always mean the world to him, to both of them, he felt sure. A shadow of apprehension flitted over his thoughts like a thick dark cloud on a sunny day.

*****

 

The ship tossed unexpectedly and the top of Hornblower's sea chest crashed down with a bang, Horatio's hand barely escaping the closing. Hornblower, his cloak already fastened about him, looked up at the deck beams. *What are you trying to tell me, old girl?* he silently asked.

Archie swung into the room, holding onto the door latch and laughing. "Good God! First rates put out a hell of swell, Horatio!"

"What ship?"

"Victory. She's in for a refit. Are you about ready to go? Styles and Matthews are waiting to take your dunnage."

Hornblower looked down and after a time, said, "I don't want to go, Archie."

Ceasing to grin, Kennedy sat beside his friend.

"It's just for a while, old man, until you are better. You will get your bearings at home," he encouraged. "I know you will." Kennedy paused observing Hornblower's reception of the words, seeing Horatio's eyes resting on the painting of Pamela open on the table. "It's been two years since you've seen your father."

Hornblower sighed. "I do want to see him. I just... don't want to leave."

Inhaling long, Kennedy thought those words a good sign, considering all he had been through with Hornblower in the past six months. "You will come back. In fact, you will have to come back to Portsmouth soon when Gieves notifies you the uniform is ready. Come say hello when you do. I may still be here."

"That's another thing. I feel like I am not pulling my weight as regards my duty. I have been in sick berth too long," he bowed his head guiltily.

"Horatio... You did your duty and you were injured. There is no shame in that. We will manage without you... somehow."

A rap at the door sounded.

"Yes?" asked Archie.

"Is Mr. Hornblower's sea chest ready, sir?" came the familiar voice of Matthews.

Breathing deeply, Hornblower closed the painting of Pamela and placed it inside the chest, padding it with the few remaining clothes he owned. He gave Archie a nod.

"Come in, men," ordered Kennedy holding wide the door.

"Sir," greeted Matthews with a nod. He and Styles lifted the narrow chest easily and departed the cabin.

Kennedy heard the nervously released sigh and met Hornblower's resigned gaze. "You are going to get better, Horatio. I have faith in you... and in your father."

Hornblower snatched his hat from the bunk, bowed his head, and exited the room, feeling Kennedy's hand on his shoulder then tracing down his back. Once in the corridor, he put the hat on his head and shifted the woolen cloak around his broad shoulders. Walking to the companionway, his eyes flitted over the cannon, the men, the accouterments of war stashed on the deck beams. Indefatigable creaked and his eyes darted to the familiar wooden walls, his features wistful.

*I will go, but I will come back. I will get better.*

Each step up the ladder brought a change to Hornblower's countenance. Now that he was truly free to leave, though injured, he did not want to depart. *Am I so fickle? Do I not know what I want anymore? This confusion must go.* Upon reaching the outside, his face was emotionless and almost stern. The decks were wet from a light drizzle of sleet and the cold assaulted him, sharpening his observations. A few men were busy on deck, presumably to lower a boat since the captain's remained ashore. He caught a few men of his division glancing his way somberly. Hardy saluted him.

"Get well, Mr. Hornblower."

The words flashed out at him unexpectedly, and he turned to the speaker, old Starns, the ship-wright. Suddenly, Hornblower realized a bevy of men were huddled to starboard. Darting from one face to another, he saw they were the men that had traveled with him on the last expedition aboard Renard de Mer, even the marines were standing at attention in the cold mist. Starns outburst gave courage to others.

"Aye, Mr. Hornblower. Indefatigable wouldn't be the same without ye, sir," assured Oldroyd.

"Get better and come back to us, Mr. H.," said Langly.

Another group of men seeped aft from forward positions where work had been feigned, Kennedy's and Connor's men, all survivors of the pirate debacle. And, there was Dooley, big and black, and white teeth shining like snow in sunlight.

Many mumbled 'ayes' came from the loose assembly, and then, there was silence.

The open deck became a tableau. Officers, Bracegirdle at the exit port, Rampling, Connors, James, and Bowles on the quarter-deck. The men, Matthews and Styles releasing the lines used to lower Hornblower's sea chest. The ratings with eyes fixed on the man who came for them, who rescued them from the hands of an enemy. Kennedy at Hornblower's side, the cold gray misty air, Indefatigable's sail giving a flap, soft coos in her timbers and in her rigging, a buoy bell ringing, the call of a lonesome gull.

A heavy drop of moisture thudded against Hornblower's bicorn, splashing on his jaw.

Hornblower's eyes fluttered and he gave a slight nod. "Thank you, men." He moistened his lips and tasted the damp salt air coating them. "You know your duty." The last word rang in his head like a two ton bell. *Listen to yourself, man!* he berated. *That's your answer. You know it. What do you have to do? Carve it on your chest? It's your duty, you fool. Your duty to king and country. That is what you want to do. Even Pamela knows it.* His lips parted and he gasped. Like a floodgate opening, the answer was so simple, and reminding the ratings was like voicing it to himself.

"Are you alright, Horatio?" Kennedy whispered, hearing the gasp.

"Yes, Archie," he answered softly, overwhelmed with the simplicity of the answer and feeling as though he heard it yesterday. He pressed a temple, feeling an ache in his head, trying to remember. *I did hear it yesterday. It is what I told Sebastian. The reason I did not try to...* More than ever, he knew they were right to send him away. He needed to sort out his thinking, organize his priorities, gain control of fearful thoughts. Was it the cold air clearing his thinking? Bracegirdle was standing next to the exit where Hornblower was expected to leave.

"Mr. Bracegirdle," saluted Hornblower.

"Take care of yourself, Mr. Hornblower." Bracegirdle's blue eyes twinkled merrily. "You will be missed in more ways than you know."

A fleeting smile across his lips, Hornblower answered, "Thank you, sir." Hornblower's mouth hung open, words failing, he saluted the ensign, then proceeded down the side.

Bracegirdle smiled wryly as he thought, *It almost seems pipes should be trilling for you, Horatio.* Softly, he added out of Hornblower's hearing, "Get well."

The boat arrived at the dock much too quickly to Hornblower's mind. He and Archie watched the sea chest placed upon it, then carried to a waiting wagon.

"I'll see if I can get a carriage," stated Archie.

"No!" spouted Hornblower. "I ... I want to walk."

Kennedy caught the questioning expressions of Matthews and Styles, who would be in charge of seeing the dunnage to the inn. "Go on, men. If you should see Dr. Sebastian, let him know we are on our way."

"Aye, aye, sir," saluted Matthews.

"I do not suppose you would let me walk there alone?" asked Horatio.

"Please, do not ask it, Horatio. I will not speak, if you like."

Hornblower nodded and the two set off, seeing the back of the wagon disappear up Queen's Street.

Silence reigned between the two in the brisk walk inland, their breath puffing out like steam from boiling kettles. Horatio, his head bent down, his body leaning forward, was making a good pace, for a recuperating man, and Kennedy felt his legs stretching out to the maximum to keep up with him. The two were winded when Hornblower drew up to a halt, staring in the distance. The Rose and Thorn was visible. Hornblower looked around, then headed off at an angle.

"Horatio, where are you going?" asked Archie, grabbing a breath and trotting to catch up.

Hornblower pointed towards a playing field on a green. "I want to sit a moment."

*Thank God for that!* thought Kennedy, sucking another breath and striding.

The two headed halfway around the park to a wooden bench. Hornblower reached it first, sat and hunched forward over his knees. Archie slowed his step, huffing, and lazily approached the bench, eyeing his friend. He sat down and leaned back, taking a quick breath and releasing it. Shifting his eyes to view Horatio, Kennedy would have liked to ask what his thoughts were, but he kept quiet. Silent snow drifted down onto Horatio's cloak.

At length, both of them breathing easily, and lightly dusted, Hornblower said, "I... I do not know what to say. What am I going to say, Archie?"

"To your father? Say hello. Say... it's good to see you, sir."

"I never wrote him." Hornblower shrugged hopelessly. "I forgot. I was busy. I..." Hornblower, remaining in the hunched position, turned his head to look at Archie. "I never told him I was married."

"He will understand," chuckled Archie.

Hornblower stared at the ground, and scratched his forehead. "Am I... Will he... I mean... What if he.. if he disapproves of... of Pamela?"

Archie was astonished. Is this why they were sitting on this freezing cold bench when they could be inside a toasty inn downing a warming drink? "Horatio..."

"Why did I not write him? It would have been so much easier. How am I going to tell him? Do I just blurt it out? I cannot recall if we ever discussed America. What if he disapproves her nationality?" Horatio stood, then, wandered in a small circle.

Archie could not stop the laugh and shook his head. "Horatio..."

"Archie, this is serious. How am I going to tell him? Have I betrayed my mother's memory?"

Archie rose to his feet and grabbed Horatio by the shoulders. Eyes meeting Hornblower's through the snowfall, Kennedy spoke. "Your father thinks the world of you. No, no, do not look away from me." Kennedy inhaled, becoming very serious. "This must be another view of that rattled thinking of yours. Horatio... nearly every man Pamela came in contact with liked her. Why should your father react any differently?"

"But I should have told him."

"Yes, yes, by now, certainly. But you have not. When the opportunity arises, you will tell him. After all, he is going to be a grandfather. God, Horatio, everything is going to be fine. Please, believe me. The only thing that is not fine are my feet. My toes are numb and I am freezing. It is snowing. Can we please go to the inn now?"

"I'm sorry, Archie. You should have said something sooner."

"Yes, I am sure, I should have," he mumbled following along side his friend, striding across the green.

"I like the cold," stated Hornblower innocently.

"You would," muttered Archie.

Matthews, Styles, and Sebastian were seen at the edge of the overhang looking down the street, peering in the gathering darkness.

"Ahoy!" shouted Hornblower

All three men looked his direction.

"Thank the Lord for that!" commented Matthews.

"Mr. Hornblower, where have you been? Did you lose your way? Why are you coming from that direction?" asked Sebastian, clearly perturbed.

"I was thinking. Sorry, Doctor," apologized Hornblower.

Sebastian made a face at Kennedy. "Look at the two of you, covered with snow. Get under here and brush yourselves off."

"We been waitin' fer ye, sir. Where d'ye want yer chest put?" inquired Matthews.

"I think I can answer that."

Hornblower jerked around hearing the familiar voice, his lips stretching in a smile. Eyes meeting, both were silent, but both expressions seemed exceedingly pleased.

"Father." He extended a hand and the elder Hornblower took it.

"Horatio."

Shaking hands, the younger Hornblower grabbed the forearm of the elder.

Dr. Hornblower looked his son up and down and said, "You don't look any worse for wear, son. Dr. Sebastian has been bending my ear this afternoon. I thought you would be bandaged head to toe," he teased.

"He is a good physician, sir," grinned Hornblower. "You remember Archie?" He released his father's hand.

"Indeed, I do. How do you fare, Archie?" asked Dr. Hornblower.

"I am well, sir. Certainly your ministrations did much in that regard. However, I feel I need to speak with you about your son," said Kennedy, casting a questionable gaze Horatio's way and releasing the doctor's grip.

"Been difficult, has he, Archie?" asked Dr. Hornblower.

Kennedy nodded slowly.

"I can see I shall have to keep the two of you apart. Archie is given to exaggeration, Father," defended Horatio, jokingly, imparting a quick frown at Kennedy.

"You will have to leave that up to me to decide, Horatio," said his father, giving him a wary gaze.

Matthews smiled, leaned towards Styles and whispered, "Mr. Hornblower resembles his da, don't he Styles?" The two men removed the dunnage from the wagon.

"Aye, he does. May be like him, too. It don't sound like he's goin' ta let Mr. H get away with anythin'," Styles whispered.

"Hm. Good," whispered Matty.

"Ahem." Hornblower cleared his voice. "Father, do you know where I am to put my sea chest?"

Dr. Hornblower stepped nearer to the ratings and gazed at the baggage. "Oh, that brings back memories. It was a good many years ago when my father sent me off to school with that."

Horatio was distracted having noticed his father using a cane.

"I thought this was Mr. Hornblower's chest, sir," blurted Matthews before he realized what he was saying. "Beg pardon, sir," he bowed his head.

"It is his. Um...?" said Dr. Hornblower questioning the man.

"Matthews, sir," Matthews saluted, then felt foolish saluting a civilian.

"Mr. Matthews." Smiled Dr. Hornblower, glancing at his son. "It became his when he went to sea. Handy that... that his mother chose to name him Horatio, giving us the same first initial."

"What be yer name, sir, if ye don't mind my askin'" said Styles.

"Ahem." Horatio cleared his voice in warning.

"You are?" asked Dr. Hornblower.

"Styles, sir. I'm in Mr. Ornblower's division."

"Ah. Are you, indeed? Does my son meet with your approval, Mr. Styles?"

Styles, Matthews, and Hornblower were reddening, and Hornblower was shaking his head and rolling his eyes with embarrassment.

"He does right well, sir," answered Styles. "I got no complaints."

"I am glad to hear it. When the chest was mine, the H stood for Hubbell. Now that the chest is my son's, the H stands for Horatio. My wife liked the name Horatio." The doctor shared the fleeting sadness with his son as their eyes met briefly. "I think it suits him well."

Styles stared at the letters on the chest. He could see the two capital letters were the same.

"Hubbell. It's a good name, sir," commented Styles.

"Thank you, Mr. Styles."

"Father, where are they to put it, sir?" said Horatio pointedly, hoping to stop further conversation between his father and the ratings.

Dr. Hornblower pulled a key from his coat pocket. "We are in room number five, top of the stairs and to the left."

Matthews accepted the key. "Aye, aye, sir."

"I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Matthews and Mr. Styles. How long have you been with my son?"

Matthews grinned. "Since Justinian, sir."

"That long!"

"Father, please. Dr. Sebastian, are we to chatter in the drive the entire evening?"

"More than one kind of chattering," muttered Kennedy softly, hugging himself.

Horatio turned to look at Archie, but no one else heard him.

Sebastian absorbed the banter, observing the various reactions, considering Dr. Hornblower and his son.

"We are at your father's disposal, Mr. Hornblower. If he would like to speak with Matthews and Styles, that is his prerogative," stated Sebastian.

Horatio was abashed and looked it. Of all the things he considered about his father, being embarrassed by him and in front of him, along with his men, had never entered into his thinking. It was a capability of his father he had forgotten. With that memory, he recalled that his father was also capable of denying any such intention. He was never sure which was true, another irritating factor. He saw his father lean onto the cane, and his thinking was swept clear with that concern. Why was he using a cane?

"It is cold out. Perhaps Captain Pellew would permit me to buy you two a drink sometime during your stay in Portsmouth. I am sure Leftenant Hornblower and myself may be back at some point in the future," suggested Horatio's father.

"Thank ye, sir. We'd like that," nodded Matthews, picking up the end of the chest. "Nice ta meet ye, sir." With a final embarrassed glimpse at his officer, Matthews pulled his end of the chest, and Styles with his end, into the foyer.

Dr. Hornblower smiled wryly at his son. "I am glad to know your men approve of you, son."

Reddening, Horatio swallowed, "Thank you, sir," and hesitated a moment, contemplating asking about the cane.

"Something, Horatio?"

His father was as quick as ever.

"Nothing, Father. I will ask you later." Horatio's chin ducked in towards his chest and his father's eyebrows rose. The old signals were falling into place.

How many years had it been? Nine? Ten? The first time he and his father had fallen into silent signals was when a particular girl happened along. He remembered thinking how odd it was that his father picked up on his thoughts so rapidly. He could no longer recall the girl's name, but he could see her face. She had eyes the color of blue topaz and bright as sunshine golden hair. Every boy in the village was smitten with her. Horatio had noticed her, and much to his chagrin, his father had noticed, he had noticed.

"Dr. Sebastian, I fear I may be keeping Captain Pellew and Lord Edrington waiting," suggested the elder Hornblower.

"Not to worry, Dr. Hornblower," said Sebastian, wagging his head felicitously.

'It is a bit nippy out, isn't it?" he commented watching the gaslight reflecting off the falling flakes. "Are you freezing, Archie?" The question was asked without facing Kennedy. "A little cold is good for the constitution, do you not think, Dr. Sebastian?"

The two doctors went into the inn before the two leftenants. Archie pinched a smile and Horatio blew a breath between his lips and shook his head, wondering if he would survive the evening.

As it turned out, he did survive. Unintentionally, the dinner companions paved the way for that which he had failed to inform his father. Climbing the stairs after bidding Archie and the others farewell, Horatio thought about the high points of the evening, starting with, not his injuries, but those of Edrington, leading to broaching the subject of ...Pamela.

"If it had not been for Horatio's wife, I would not be here, Dr. Hornblower," said Edrington.

"Horatio's wife?" questioned Dr. Hornblower.

Silence fell like rapid nightfall on a winter's eve. Sebastian and Archie found immense interest in what remained on their plates. Pellew was sipping his claret when his eyes shifted to the younger Hornblower whose downcast countenance was reddening.

"You..... have not told your father about Pamela?" guessed Edrington, wryly smirking and somewhat chagrined.

Opening his mouth to speak, Hornblower shifted his eyes from Edrington to his father and back to Edrington. "No,... my Lord, I have failed to do so." Setting his gaze on Dr. Hornblower, "Father... I ... am married, sir. Forgive me for not telling you sooner."

"The parent is always the last to know, right, Dr. Hornblower?" said Pellew seeking to smooth any possible disruption of the amiable assembly.

"Indeed? This is a surprise, Horatio. How did you meet her? Her name is Pamela? When did you marry? More importantly, where is she?"

Swallowing and taking a breath, he answered his father's questions.

"She's American.... but living in Gibraltar?" questioned his father, "Why did you not bring her here?"

"I do not know, sir. I should have. I ... well, ..." Why had he not? The reason came to him in a flash. It was primarily a financial one. Her bank account was in Gibraltar. "We decided it best she remain there for the time being, until...." Horatio bit his lip, shifting glances at the men, who knew them both, seated around the table. Swallowing in preparation for the next bit of information, he felt his face warming anew. "She ... she is with child, Father." Horatio watched his da's expression.

Dr. Hornblower avoided looking at Sebastian. The good doctor had not told him everything.

The spark Horatio saw in his father's eyes told him he was forgiven his tardy explanations.

"I am to be a grandfather?"

"Yes, sir," smiled Horatio, "you are."

"And you a father?"

"Yes, sir," said Horatio, a nervous flutter of laughter escaping, and his cheeks pinking. "I am afraid so."

"Well. I look forward to hearing more about the lady," commented Dr. Hornblower, astonished.

Pellew was amused seeing someone else catch Leftenant Hornblower out. "I believe you will make a fine father, Mr. Hornblower."

Horatio blushed effusively, bowing his head, and looking back at the older men at the table, and seeing Edrington and Kennedy were enjoying his... predicament.

Hornblower could not recall where the conversation went from there. His mind wandered to Pamela and she took over his thoughts. At one point in his musings, he became aware his father was watching him, and he tried to pay attention to what was being discussed, but it seemed unimportant chatter about surgeons in the service and soon he was thinking of Pamela again. Lifting a hand to his chest, he felt the rectangular lump in his breast pocket, her recent letters. Eyebrows rising, he reminisced about the subject matter, but quickly forced his thoughts away from what the love letters contained. His attention was drawn back to the dinner attendees, when Captain Pellew rose to his feet, and Horatio realized they were in the throes of saying goodnight.

Mild panic took hold. Pellew, Sebastian, and Kennedy were going to leave him...leave him here, with his father. He was going home, but they were going back to Indefatigable. Hornblower accompanied them to the cloak room, where his shipmates gathered their cloaks and hats. Giving his things to his father, Dr. Hornblower said farewell, and retired to their room. Edrington was engaged in reading a note the desk clerk gave him, Pellew and Sebastian were discussing with the clerk a means of how to get back to the ship.

"I need a breath of air, Archie," said Hornblower, turning and exiting the foyer of the inn.

Archie followed him outside. The temperature was colder than before, the damp more intense in its invasion of body heat.

"It's damn cold out here, Horatio. You best go back inside."

"I am fine, Archie." He eyed his friend nervously. "I ..." He stopped himself from saying 'I don't want you to go.' and changed it to, "I am going to miss you... and ... everyone." He motioned with his hand, flapping it in the air.

"We will miss you, too, Horatio. Take care of yourself, and get well."

Hornblower turned and walked out of the lightfall of the foyer into the darkness. Archie glanced through the panes of the door and saw Pellew and Sebastian were donning their cloaks, but Edrington returned and was speaking with them.

"You gentl'men need a carriage?" asked a man appearing out of the darkness.

"Aye, sir. I believe we will," answered Archie.

"I'll bring me cab up then," and he disappeared as swiftly as he had appeared

Archie stepped closer to Hornblower. "You best go in, old man. You will catch your death of cold."

"I like the cold, Archie. It clears my mind," said Hornblower, turning around to face him.

For a long moment, in the fragile light, the two searched each others shining eyes uncertainly. Finally, Hornblower extended his hand. Archie looked at the outstretched palm and smiled wryly. He took Horatio's hand, then, embraced him. At first stiff, Hornblower eased and returned the hug. When they separated, Archie was shaking his head.

"What, Archie?"

Should he tell Horatio he felt he was returning to his old self? That forcing that brotherly hug out of him was proof of it? Could he tell him?

"Nothing, Horatio. You take care of yourself, that's all." Kennedy turned, and took a step closer to the inn doors, checking on the departure of Pellew. A firm hand was on his shoulder, pulling him around.

"Archie..." Hornblower nervously moistened his lips and steeled himself. He let his hand drop from Kennedy's shoulder. "Thank you...for being such a good friend." Both arms lifted and dropped to his sides.

Archie looked at him hopefully. "Thank you for being you, Horatio. Get well, old man," smiled Kennedy.

Horatio glanced at Pellew and Sebastian through the door panes, taking a step towards exiting the inn. It was now or never. He threw his arms around Archie awkwardly, pinning Kennedy's arms to his side, then released him, and stepped back blushing.

Kennedy chuckled. "Thanks, old friend."

Hornblower smiled. "Old friend? Not old man?"

"You are both, Horatio," grinned Kennedy.

Horatio put his hand on top of Kennedy's hat and smashed it around on his head.

"Hey!" Archie objected. Hat falling to the stone drive, Archie dodged around Hornblower, scooped a handful of snow from a window ledge and threw it at Hornblower, the powder dusting Horatio's nose and clothes front.

Hornblower laughed and followed suit. By the time Pellew and Sebastian walked through the door, the two young men had managed to pelt each other handily, from head down. Kennedy had a hold of the neck of Hornblower's coat and dropped a fist full of balled ice down his back. Horatio gasped, and pulled his shirt out to allow what had not melted to fall out the back of his clothing.

Pellew stared in amazement at his two officers, grinned, made his face serious, and put his hands on his hips. "Behave yourselves! What kind of impression are you giving of His Majesty's Navy? The very idea!" he gruffly spoke in an offended tone, then turned so only Sebastian could see his face, and smiled mischievously.

*Boys would be boys, and captains would be captains,* thought Sebastian. "Mr. Hornblower, I would like a word with you."

Hornblower had his hand reached up the back of his shirt, still brushing away the ice flakes that had not melted. Glancing at Kennedy, he approached the older men. "Sorry, Captain. Yes, Doctor?"

Sebastian sighed and waited for Pellew to move out of range of listening as the captain spoke to Kennedy and the carriage driver.

"Horatio..." Sebastian eyed his patient. He had not been with Hornblower all day and he was not sure how he was feeling. "Are you all right... with ... going home?"

Horatio's face became serious as he finished tucking the tail of his shirt back inside his trousers and shivering his shoulders against the cold damp of his clothing. "I know... Doctor... that ... I need some time... to ... to get ... to sort through some things," he nodded. "And, I will enjoy being with my father over the holiday."

"You will be in good hands medically," confided Sebastian, "although he is your father. I trust ... I trust that he will know what is best for you. Obey him, Horatio. Your father is not a young man."

The cane his father carried came immediately to mind. "Is there something you know that I should, Doctor?"

"That is for your father to say."

Horatio furrowed his brow.

"Do not do anything that would unduly upset him. Am I making myself clear?"

He was sounding like Pellew. "Yes, sir," answered Hornblower.

"When you come back to Portsmouth, check in with the ship. If I am there, I want to have a look at you."

"Yes, sir."

"Horatio." Sebastian rested a hand on Hornblower's shoulder and hesitated. "Promise me you will not try to sail to Gibraltar." That was plain enough. He knew no other way to make himself understood than to speak plainly. It was ridiculous to beat about the bush over what Hornblower had schemed to do. "Promise me."

Hornblower's shoulders rose with an inhale, and he intensified his thoughts. Deep down the fears remained, that he might never see Pamela again, but here was his father, and questions were unanswered, and there was his own health to consider. Weighing those facts, his eyes rose to meet Dr. Sebastian's.

"I promise, sir,... but I live in hope that Captain Pellew's request to be used to go to Gibraltar will manifest."

Sebastian nodded. "That is good enough. I will see you when you return."

"Yes, sir."

These were the predominant recollections of the evening. Reaching the top of the stairs, turning left and stopping at room number five, Hornblower hesitated, then, tapped on the door and turned the knob.

"Ah, Horatio. I've requested some hot water for you. You've said your good-byes?"

"Yes, Father, for the time being." He closed the door. "Lord Edrington has provided lush accommodations, has he not?"

The doctor looked over the room and nodded. "The Rose and Thorn is known for its posh qualities. I cannot see a man like Edrington staying anywhere else." He inclined his head towards the two stuffed muted green chairs by the window. "Come and sit, Horatio."

"Yes, sir." Horatio felt uncomfortable accepting Edrington's further generosity, but he knew his father was used to such applications. His career as a physician had taken him from the most humble of patients to the most haughty, though those were rare, and he was accustomed to such treatments.

Horatio looked down at the thick floral oriental rug of greens, tans, browns, and mauve covering the majority of the bare wood floor and mentally registered the silence it provided. The fireplace, fitted with a coal burning stove, radiating into the room overwarmed him immediately, and he frowned as he passed it. Glimpsing the painting of hounds and horses in a hunt over the mantel reminded him of Edrington. Reaching the chairs, he sat down. Father and son were feet apart, looking one another over.

"You seem well, Father."

Hubbell nodded. "I am well, for a man of my years."

With the reference, Horatio scrunched his brow. "Why are you using a cane, sir? Have you injured a leg?"

"No, no." He offered no information but rose from the seat and stepped over to his son.

Horatio leaned back in the chair, looking up at his father.

"Let me see your head, Horatio."

Obediently, Horatio turned the side receiving the blow. Hubbell bent down and lifted the hair, running a finger over the scar.

"How does it feel?"

"Numb, sir."

"Hm. That's normal. The nerves have been severed, but they will mend after a time." With both hands running through Horatio's hair, his fingers stopped over a lump. "When did you get this one?''

"Renard de Mer."

"And this?"

Sighing, resigned to his father's need to know, "That one ... Dolphin, last May, sir." His father's touch was comforting. It was the touch of not only a fine physician, but also, that of a concerned parent. "Father... I love you." A fierce burning filled his cheeks. Analyzing what he had just blurted, he could see the restraints in his mind, normally in place, were what brought on the massive flush. His emotions were not yet checked. His father's fingers resumed the examination of his scalp after halting at the outburst, but he had not yet commented, and that was making Horatio feel anxious. "Father?'

"Hm?"

Horatio looked up into his father's features. "Did you hear what I said?" The reserved part of Horatio's mental make-up was nervously covering his eyes and his ears inside his head, running both hands over his face, wishing this emotional side would stop.

"Yes, I did. I love you, too, Horatio... but you have always known that, haven't you?"

His fathers soft blue eyes met his and a fragile smile eased over Horatio's lips.

"Yes, sir, I have."

"I'm glad you told me though. It should be said now and then. It has been a while since anyone said it to me." He limped over to the fireplace, steadying himself with a hand to the wall. "This stove heats the room quickly, I am going to close the grate to see if we can't slow it down a bit."

"Father, why are you limping?"

Straightening from the bent position, Hubbell sighed. "I do not want to worry you, Horatio."

Horatio came to his feet. "Sir, you are my father. I have a right to know."

Hubbell turned and looked at his son somewhat amused. "Have you reported your injuries? Your marriage? Your impending fatherhood?"

"But you know them now, sir," defended the son.

Hubbell smiled wryly. "Do not think I am upset with you, Horatio. I understand. You have your own life to lead."

"I should have told you."

"You are forgiven. War keeps you busy. It must, by its very nature. I understand." He passed by Horatio, grasping his arm instead of the wall, released it and sat down in the chair. "Sit."

Horatio did, though he sat on the edge. "Tell me," he pleaded.

Hubbell darted his eyes from Horatio and studied the design on the thick curtains covering the window. Sighing, his eyes met his son's.

"I had a stroke about a year ago."

"A year ago? Why did you not tell me sooner?"

"What would you have done? Come home to care for me?"

Horatio frowned and stared at his hands. "Are Mr. and Mrs. Grayson still with you?"

"Yes, yes. The Graysons have been a God-send," his eyes darted away and he continued the sentence in his head *and others.* Looking back at his son, Hubbell wondered how Horatio would receive... the other.

"I've... I've failed you," said Horatio down-hearted.

"No, you have not! Are you still so critical of yourself?"

"Father," he sighed, not really knowing what he wanted to say, then stood and walked to the mantel and hung his head. His father had a stroke and he did not know. He immediately fell into silent conversation with his deceased mother as he often did when a child and at a loss to know what to do. *Mother, I've failed you. I have not written father as I should. I am the worst son, Mother. I have not taken care of him, nor do I see how I can in future.* A heavy hand was felt on his shoulder and he turned to look into the face of his sire.

With pulling fingertips, Hubbell took his son into his embrace and held him, squeezing him until Horatio lightly lay his arms around him, his grasp increasing slowly. Neither spoke.

His father had never held him, barely touched him his entire life except for the occasional hand on his shoulder, and the compulsory handshake. The arms were strong and the pressure elicited an emotion Horatio seemed to be facing with regularity of late.

Horatio eased the grip on his da. "I'm getting your coat wet," he sniffed.
Horatio felt his father's head wag against his.

"I do not care about my coat," stated Hubbell, and he was rewarded with a tightening of Horatio's arms. "You know, I used to watch your mother do this with you, so many years ago. I confess I do not know which of you I envied more, ... probably both of you. It has taken me a lifetime to learn the healing of an embrace. I could not do it now, Horatio, if... if you had not told me you loved me."

It was an idea Hubbell had come to question over the last two years, but he always held out hope his son did love him, and comforted himself with the fact that the service kept him away, that his son was serving king and country.

"You must not think you have failed me. You have not," said Hubbell.

Horatio exhaled, feeling his chest sink. His father knew him so well, even after years of separation and he gripped his father securely.

"You have begun a path you were meant to follow. I know it, son. The men you work with ... their estimation of you and your abilities, make me so proud. I know your mother is. My Louisa is so puffed up with pride over our son, the angels must be astonished."

Horatio half laughed and half cried. When the two of them released one another, though his father's hands rested on his arms, one moving to cup his jaw, Horatio was surprised to see his father's eyes as moist as his own.

"Let's get you well, eh?"

Horatio's brow knit recalling the reference to angels, though if his mother was somewhere, certainly she was in heaven. He blamed God for his childhood loss, and he thought his father did, as well. It was curious. Had his father's mind changed about God? His father turned away from religion when his mother, Louisa, died, except when a patient required Dr. Hornblower's acquiescence and the doctor thought it in the best interest of the patient that he play along.

The vicar tried for years to get the Hornblowers back in church. It was the whist playing the reason his father kept the minister's company. The one time Horatio was bold enough to question his father on why he feigned trust in God around the more ignorant of his patients was the only time his father had nearly struck him. Horatio still did not understand why his father reacted in such a hostile manner, when previously the doctor had let his son know in private how much he disdained God.

It did not take many words for Horatio to know it. Actions always spoke louder than words, and Horatio saw the double-standard his father came to live by, his public view of God, and his private one. When on another occasion, Horatio thought his father's mood was milder, he asked, why he pretended to believe God would help the sick and dying. He would never forget his response. He said, "Horatio, some men and women need that kind of belief because often, they have nothing else." In his childish naiveté he asked his father, "To what do you hold, sir?" And his father answered after some thought, "My own intelligence. My own abilities. And,... an acceptance of the human condition."

Horatio had not been sure what he meant when he said the human condition, but in years since, when he pondered this conversation, he had come to believe the human condition was, that they would all die at some point. Life ends, sooner or later, and he, too, had come to believe as his father.

Pamela. Why did she not blame God for the death of her father? Was it because she saw the man who killed him? Her belief in God was strong despite the tragedy and he knew how much she loved her da. Was he not wearing her cross? But that was out of love for her, not God.

As these thoughts ruled his thinking, the hotel servant arrived with hot water, he removed his clothing, washed with the warm water, dried, pulled on his frilled nightshirt, and was about to slip beneath the covers, when he saw Pamela's picture frame sitting on his bed. So immersed in his own thoughts, he did not remember setting it there. Nor had he thought to take note of his father sadly observing his scars. He looked over at him now, sitting up in bed, spectacles perched on his nose, reading.

Hubbell looked up and smiled at him. "You have been in deep thought, Horatio." He patted the bed. "Come here."

Horatio sat on the edge watching his father reach toward his chest and lift the cross hanging from the chain. Their eyes met.

"It is Pamela's. She wanted me to wear it. It means nothing," shrugged Horatio.

"You know, Horatio, at different points in a man's life, he must reevaluate his beliefs."

With a creased brow, he felt the cross tap his chest when his father released the charm. "Why?" asked Horatio.

"Why?" his father shrugged non-committally. "Sometimes ... you learn, something, are shown, something, experience, something. It is different for every man, or it is the same. It is the response that makes the difference."

Horatio snorted. "You are speaking in riddles, Father."

"Life can be a riddle, Horatio. You must solve your own," said Hubbell. "I will help you, if you ask."

//You only need ask.// He turned his head as if Pamela were in the room speaking those words. His body shivered with a tingling sensation. Without comment, he walked in a daze to the window, and opened it. As the cold air flowed over his body, he took a deep breath, revived by the temperature. Unexpectedly, he felt the ropes tighten around his wrist, felt the cold air hitting his body. The men's eyes were on him, half naked and at the mercy of the man wielding the cat, flicking it upon the deck, its report meeting his ears. The events of that morning......

//////////Effington gave a toss of his hand and Hornblower was taken to the grating, his arms lifted and the wrists tied in place.

*Pamela, Pamela!* he thought, *I thank God you are not here to see this. I love you, my lady. Take care of our child. Father, I will never get the chance to tell you, but I am proud to have been your son. Thank you, for all you taught me....I love you, sir.* Hornblower glanced at his men, then closed his eyes and forlornly leaned his forehead against the weather worn wood of the grating. The good-byes said to those closest to him, he now cursed himself for failing his men. He twisted his wrists ineffectually against the bindings, frustrated, angry, his eyes stinging. *Forgive me, men. I failed you. I failed you miserably. Captain Pellew will be most displeased. Archie, do what you can for them. I'm sorry I got you and Edrington into this. Perhaps I should have done as you wished and rejoined Indefatigable first. Too late for should have dones.*

"Do what you're going to do, Effington, and get it over with."

Effington stepped closer to the restrained officer. "In a hurry, are you?" Effington turned his gaze to Hornblower's pristine back, except for the scar left by Sid Craven's henchman. He reached out his gloved hand, removed the garment, and stroked Hornblower's flesh. "It will not feel this smooth ever again. Of course, you will not live anyway." Effington nodded to his boatswain. "Let the cat out of the bag."

Hornblower took a deep breath and gripped the grating. He heard the uptake of air by the boatswain as he hauled back with the whip.

CRACK!

The man came down on the deck to the side of Hornblower, who jerked at the report. The cat bit into the deck leaving nine trails in the yet unwashed planking.

The tickling cold on his chest startled him. He jerked his head down and hit his forehead on the slats but saw that which touched him. Pamela's cross. His breath ceased, then caught. Hanging his head, he watched the bright golden symbol swing and dangle from his neck. *Do not do this to her. God, do not do this to her. She is not a jinx. She is going to blame herself for my death. Do not let her. God, I beg you.* Hornblower turned his eyes to the blue sky. It was a beautiful, crisp, clear, azure blue. The cold cross flattened against his chest. With the contact of the charm, he heard her words echo in his memory, 'You only need ask.' "Help us," he whispered faintly. "God, help us."//////////

His body was visibly trembling.

"Horatio? Horatio?"

The down comforter was wrapped and held around him. He felt faint and collapsed onto the floor. His father was kneeling over him.

"Horatio!" Rising with some difficulty, Dr. Hornblower retrieved a towel from the wash stand, having dampened it with water from the jug. He knelt and tamped Horatio's cheeks and forehead with the wet towel, leaving it on his forehead as he stepped over Horatio's body to close the window.

"Horatio, speak to me, boy!"

"Father, Father, I ... I did not mean to... I... I'm all right. I'll be all right." His limbs were as limp as a dish rag, and he could not right himself.

A bottle of brandy had been sent to the room by Lord Edrington earlier that day. Hubbell filled a glass, and took it to his son.

Dr. Hornblower sat on the floor and cradled Horatio against his chest. "Here, son, drink this. Slowly, now, just a sip."

"Father, I... I'm sorry. I did not mean to frighten you."

"Lay quiet now. Another sip." His father held the glass until the drink was taken. Dr. Hornblower placed the brandy glass on the table with a shaky hand, then crossed his arms over Horatio's chest. "You scared me, boy."

"Maybe I should go back to Indefatigable."

"No, no. You are coming home with me. I've seen this before, but it has been many years. You need the change."

"What do you mean you have seen it before?"

"After the war, with your wife's America. It is a kind of shock, coupled with injuries. Do you want to tell me what you were remembering?"

Feeling his eyes warm with tears, he could not answer and only shook his head no.

"It's all right. It's all right. If and when you feel ready to share it, I will listen."

Horatio turned onto his side and out of his father's lap. "I was not hurt, Father. Why ... ?"

"Of course you were. You sustained two head injuries. I cannot answer why, Horatio, until you tell me what you were thinking, what you were recalling. Is there someone who knows that could tell me?"

Horatio pressed his eyes and lips tightly shut. Archie was there and knew most of it, but he could not tell that to his father. He could not tell anyone. He HAD received the first blow to the head long before he was tied to the grating. Was it that first injury affecting his thinking that morning?

"Are you upset with me for marrying an American?"

"No!" his father amazed at the question, coming from nowhere, as Sebastian had warned. "No. If you love her and she loves you, that is all that matters."

"Do you want to see her?"

"Yes, I would very much like to meet her."

Hornblower turned onto his back and looked at his father. "But would you like to see her?"

"Well, ... yes." Had he not just answered that question? "Wait." He placed a hand on Horatio's shoulder to press him back. "Do not get up yet. What do you want? I will get it for you."

Horatio studied his father, giving in to being waited on. "The wooden frame on my bed....there is a painting inside."

"Indeed?"

Hubbell retrieved the frame, bringing it closer to Horatio, who was now laying on his other side watching him.

"May I?" he asked before lifting the top.

Horatio nodded, a sparse smile on his lips as his eyes fixated on his father's expression.

Hubbell's gasp was followed by astonishment, amazement, and a pleased expression. Pamela reminded him of Louisa, but should he say so? His eyes traced to those of his son. "She is beautiful, Horatio. Whatever does she see in you?" he teased.

Horatio smiled and snorted. "I don't know, Father, but ...I am glad she did."

Hubbell's body lost all tension. Knowing his son had found love gave him a relief he did not know he needed. "I cannot express how pleased I am, Horatio. I was happy before, but seeing her,... makes her more tangible. You have made me very happy, son, very happy indeed."

"Do you... do you think she looks like Mother?" Horatio asked carefully.

"A little, yes."

Hornblower smiled and nodded his head against the carpet, rubbing his cheek. "She's amazing." He pressed his forehead feeling the ache in his head.

"You have a headache. I will ring for a servant to bring a pot of hot water. I have my case with me."

"No, Father, do not trouble yourself. I will sleep it off."

"In my experience, Horatio, sleeping it off, often, does not work. I am the physician, am I not?"

"Yes, sir."