An American Encounter, Part Three
by Skihee

Chapter 27 After the Storm

 

In a town house in Gibraltar, Pamela sat on the kitchen stool with her head propped in her hands. Dressed in a teal nightgown and matching open wrapper, the gown was drawn tight over her middle bowing with the growing child. Her eyes were red, the skin under them dark and sunken from lack of sleep.

"I hate to see ye fret yerself this way, Miss Pamela. It was just a dream. Yer worried. That's all. Navy wives always worries about their men. You know that." Carden poured hot water into the teapot. Giving Pamela a final consideration, he tossed some coal into the iron stove, and shut the door with a clang.

She said nothing and stared into the cup in front of her, not seeing the gay red flowered porcelain.

"Please, ma'am," he begged. Lifting the lid on the sugar bowl, he spooned a scoop into the cup, added milk, stirred the white mixture, then, poured in the tea. "There. Just like you like it. Drink now, and stop worryin'."

"It is kind of you to fix the tea, Mr. Carden," she said vacantly. Standing, pushing against her lower back with one hand and shoving her loose hair back with the other, she shuffled out of the kitchen and towards the front stairs.

Carden frowned at the untouched cup and stepped out into the hallway. Seeing her turn into the parlor instead of going back upstairs, he followed, his shoulders shivering in the cold passage. He rubbed the aching stub of his left arm and paused a moment by the stairs, feeling a cool breeze coming down from the second floor. Abrading the stubble on his chin, he muttered. "Ain't had time to shave and damn me it feels like she's opened that window again."

Walking haltingly into the parlour, he saw her standing at the cold fireplace, gazing at the portrait, and lightly touching Hornblower's lips. He stopped at the end table and pulled a handkerchief from the drawer. Pressing it into her hand, he knelt with a grunt onto the marble hearth.

"No good you catchin' yer death of cold," he mumbled, brushing the ashes into the dustpan, "with that baby due most anytime." Carden heard the back door open. Looking up, he saw no response from his employer, so he called. "Maria? That you? We're in the parlor!"

The Spanish woman's quick steps rang on the wooden flooring till they stopped abruptly at the door. She pushed the dark blue cape's hood away, revealing her slightly silver streaked black hair encased in a net. "Madre de Dios! It is freezing in here!" She snatched the cloak from the hall tree, advanced on Pamela, and wrapped it around her shoulders. She took Pamela's hand between hers and pressed. "You will take a chill, Miss Pamela! Mr. Carden, why is the house so cold?"

"Do not blame him, Maria," said Pamela listlessly, "I opened the window."

"Where is Consuela?"

"There is nothing she can do. Do not worry her," Pamela said emptily, as she let Maria encourage her to sit on the settee.

The woman placed a pillow behind her back and threw the dark green lap blanket over her legs, forming the thick wool around her snugly. She stroked the mussed hair consolingly and Pamela leaned her head onto the upholstered back of the couch.

"What has you so sad today?" asked Maria with a soothing voice. She knelt alongside the furniture, the skirt of the dark grey dress fanning out beneath the blue cape. Maria took Pamela's hand that held the linen and covered it with hers. "Your hands are like ice, my lady."

After a moment of silence, Carden spoke.

"She's had a nightmare about him." Carden rose from the hearth. The fire flickered to life and the kindling nested the coals in flame. "Must have been a bad one," remarked Carden further. "I'll get her tea."

"Pamela," said Maria with a shake of her head.

"Maria... something dreadful has happened. I've been uneasy for days. Something... something... awful. I know it." Pamela covered her eyes. "I know it."

"Come. Return to your bed." The worn features of her mistress disclosed the sleepless nights.

"No. I cannot." She clasped a forelock. "I cannot go to sleep. I do not want... Something has happened." She stared into the handsome face of the portrait and ran her fingers through her mussed hair. "Something has happened," she whispered.

Maria drew Pamela onto her shoulder. "It is the baby making you anxious that gives you such unsettling dreams."

"Something is very wrong. I feel it," she insisted.

Maria sighed. "You need food. That boy inside you is hungry. Here, Mr. Carden has brought your tea." Maria took the cup and saucer from Carden and offered it. "Drink. It will warm you."

Pamela's weary countenance gazed blearily at Maria. "I don't know what to think anymore... but Leftenant Barnstable and Amelia were right to counsel me not to go to England... you, too." She was quaking. "He isn't there anymore. I feel it. I would have missed him and had no one. Oh Maria! What would I do without my good friends? You, Amelia, Mr. Barnstable, and Mr. Carden, Drake, Manuel, Consuela. And now..." She put a hand to cover her face. "I wish Reverend Godwin were still here."

Maria sat the cup and saucer on the carpet and took Pamela into her arms. "My dear, my dear!" She held Pamela tightly and waited for the flood to cease. "What is it you think you know?"

Pamela sniffed. "The storm... It was the dream about the storm."

Maria knew of what she spoke. It was a dream that had been haunting the young American since her English leftenant departed. "You have had this dream before."

Pamela shook her head. "It was different this time. It felt different. I do not know why." She shivered. "I heard six bells when I opened the window,... the middle watch."

"Speak English for me, lady."

"Three in the morning, Maria," she answered fearfully. 'I saw him. I ... I have prayed since waking."

"You opened the window at three this morning? No wonder it is so cold in here. Carden, go close the bedroom window. See if Drake is all right."

"Aye, ma'am." He unbent from poking the fire.

"I did not think of Drake!" gasped Pamela.

"He will be all right, if a little cold. He is a tough little boy," assured Maria. She hesitated bringing up Hornblower, but she knew the subject would never be forgotten. "What do you mean, you saw him?"

Pamela rested a cheek on Maria's shoulder, glimpsed the portrait, then, inwardly studied the picture in her mind. "As clear as I can see you, he was talking to me about something. I remember a smile,... and ... I knew... I knew how much he loved me." Her eyes and face softened.

"He does love you. You do not doubt his love?"

Pamela shook her head, an expression of concentration on the memory of the dream. She covered her eyes, and her shoulders shook.

Maria felt helpless. Pamela had told her the dream that late afternoon.

//////////Drake ran frantically into the kitchen, grabbed her hand, and dragged her towards the stairs. He was afraid to wake Pamela from the nightmare. Seeing her asleep and in a much agitated state, Maria thanked Drake for getting her, then, ushered him out of the bedroom and shut the door.

She sat on the bed next to Pamela, said her name softly, and caressed her forehead.

"Pamela, Pamela, wake up. It is a dream. You are having a dream," she told her gently. "Pamela, wake, my dear."

With a gasp, Pamela opened her eyes. Frantic terror filled them as if she could still see the specters haunting her sleep. Panting, half-rising, she came aware of the familiar bedroom.

"Oh Lord, Maria!" She collapsed upon the pillow and placed both trembling hands over her face.

"It is only a dream. Quiet now," she soothed.

Pamela lowered her hands, giving a tight shake of the head. Turning, Pamela stared at the vacant side of the bed and rubbed the back of a hand over the cool pillow case.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Maria watched the telltale movement disclosing a swallow. Pamela closed her eyes and continued to glide her hand over the pillow. The edge of her voice cut through the silent room.

"The ship... was ... was in a storm." Eyes opened. "He was the only one... but ... there were others there, but... only he..." eyes closed and she shook her head, taking deep silent breaths. "I've had this dream before." Her voice was deep with emotion. "I don't want to have it anymore." She covered her eyes, the strong sob squeaking her voice. She took a breath and control. "Maria..." Red, moist, fretful eyes turned on her. "I don't want..." //////////

Stark fear had Pamela in its grip, and all Maria could do was hold her and tell her it was only a dream... as she was now.

The two women listened to Carden's footsteps across the landing and then heard the window close. Steps to Drake's room sounded on the hallway above. Carden and Consuela could be heard speaking, but the words were unclear, then, a door closed.

"I want my husband, Maria." Pamela dried her cheeks with the linen. "I want Horatio."

"I know you do. I know. He will come back." Maria rocked the young woman back and forth. "He will come. He wants to see his son."

"Pamela pinched her eyes and lips together. **Yes, he does. He said it in my dream. Our son.**

Maria felt Pamela's arms tensing tightly around her shoulders. "You still see him as an Admiral, do you not? All dressed in navy blue and bright gold? A red sash across his chest?"

Pamela could not hold back the sudden relief through brief unbelievable laughter and nodded. "Yes!" She could not understand that either, and often wondered if it would be their son, and not Horatio, who would come to hold the rank, yet the vision was so like Horatio,... but their son might be the spitting image of his father.

"Then, you see, all will be well. Hold to that dream, not this frightful one." Maria petted the mussed curls. "I am going to make you some breakfast."

 

*****

Far out to sea, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, off the Spanish Peninsula, the British warship lay hove to, rising and lowering with the swell and remaining chop of blue-grey water. Upon closer inspection, a small division of men worked to rig a jury mast onto the foremast recently decapitated by a wave and by a strike of lightning. The rest of the ship topside was in remarkable order, considering. The watch officer paced the quarter-deck slowly and quietly, squinting at the sun and hoping the sky would remain clear for a noon sighting. The horizon was rimmed with billowy clouds, some grey.

The smell of frying pork seeped out the uncovered hatchways, and the muffled clatter of the bilge pumps drummed its way through the openings. On the next deck down, Dr. Sebastian and a detail of men completed moving the wounded back to sick berth.

Two more men died during the storm, both amputees. Grayson and Carmoddy were finishing sewing the dead into their hammocks. Very little was spoken by the worn and weary crew, only the barest and briefest words necessary to accomplish the tasks at hand. None was in a mood for jesting.

"Dr. Sebastian."

"Mr. Bracegirdle. It is good to see you up and about."

"Indeed. I have come to take you up on that willow bark tea, sir," he said with a cringe.

"Come sit down, Anthony." Sebastian took the first leftenant's arm and steadied him over to a chair. The sea was calmer relative to last night, but that was not saying much for an injured man who needed to keep his footing. "Rest yourself while I get it." Bringing a mug and a kettle, he poured the warm liquid through a strainer into the cup. "Be careful. It is hot."

Bracegirdle lifted the steaming brew to his nose and sipped. "Tastes terrible, doctor, but the warmth is quite welcome."

Sebastian smiled wanly as he tapped the loose leaves of the strainer back into the pot. "I will change your bandage while you drink." With scissors to hand, the doctor removed the soiled wrappings. "Bend you head a little, Anthony. That is quite a slice you have on that lump." Sebastian moistened a cloth with vinegar and daubed at the dried blood and stitched wound on the back of Bracegirdle's head. Slathering a salve on a clean cloth, he placed it gently over the wound. "Hold this."

"How does it look?" asked Bracegirdle with a wince.

"Not too bad. You will heal, with time." Sebastian went round and round with gauze to bind the pad.

"Well, that's a relief." Bracegirdle smiled. "How is the captain this morning?"

Sebastian's face darkened with the question and he tied the knot more brusquely than he intended. "I do not know. I told him not to... He has not wakened."

Bracegirdle beheld Sebastian's weariness. "You need to get some rest, Doctor. Have you slept at all?" Bracegirdle thought through what he knew of yesterday and last night's scenario and found no time the doctor would have had for repose.

"I will rest when there is time to rest."

"Or you keel over?"

Sebastian had no answer for that, then asked, "Will you do as Mr. Kennedy wishes? Will you search for him?"

Bracegirdle sighed long. "As soon as the ship is repaired sufficiently, ... if the Captain has not taken command. In case he inquires... But... in all truth... I feel it is hopeless. I've lost count of Hornblower's nine lives. Surely he has surpassed those by now." Bracegirdle paused in thought. "No man could survive in those seas and especially in these temperatures." He peered at Sebastian looking for an expression of confirmation, but the doctor's face remained unaltered in any way. "If it were anyone but Hornblower... no... no man I know could survive that. But I would have to be able to answer the question when the captain comes to... should he ask. No, he WILL ask," said Bracegirdle, knowing that 'should' did not enter into it and finally, ceased the see-saw self-argument. "Do you hold with Kennedy, Doctor? That there is a chance he lives?"

Bracegirdle regretted the question when he saw the weight of it lowering on an already exhausted man. But, he could not take it back and so he waited for the answer.

"I do not know, Anthony. Like you, I know the facts." Sebastian turned away.

"Have... you been to see Mr. Kennedy this morning?" asked Bracegirdle standing, his voice lowering a tone.

Sebastian shook his head. "Not yet. Though the last time I checked him, he was sleeping. Sleep is what he needs... for now." Sebastian's head hung low, the dark features sinking with concern. He raised his eyes to meet Bracegirdle's.

"Get some rest as soon as you can, Doctor," said Bracegirdle, holding the doctor's upper arm.

"Aye, Mr. Bracegirdle," he nodded. "Watch yourself. You and the midshipmen are all we have for the time being."

"Connors and Wiggins have earned their wages, I'll warrant. James, too. The captain seems to draw good men to him, God bless him," commented Bracegirdle.

That brought a smile to Sebastian's lips. "That goes for you, too, Anthony."

"And you, sir," grinned the first leftenant assuringly.

The smile slowly evaporated from the doctor. Entering the small dispensary, he sat heavily on the chair, nearly falling with it but for grasping the table edge. He covered his face with his large hands. "Oh, God. I am too weary to form a prayer." He breathed in long, knowing the most favored prayer he could always say, but he wondered, and doubted, for the first time in a long time, if it were appropriate. "Forgive my doubts." His voice was low with fatigue. "Thank you. Thank you for..." there was a catch in his throat and a sudden heat in his eyes, "...for preserving our lives. If there is any way..." He halted. His shoulders drooped with what he viewed as a presumptuous request. "Not my will,... but Yours." Sebastian lifted his head slightly, saw the open herb drawers, and he closed them slowly, one by one.

***

Oldroyd held the cup of steaming liquid between his hands and walked slowly. The vapor rose to warm his cold nose. Stepping to one of the far cannon on the gun deck, he sat on a truck and looked down at the man under the clump of blankets. Matthews was one of many that had no sleep for the last twenty-four plus hours. Between the battle, the repair, and the storm, he had not ceased to toil at one task or another until the sea calmed her tossing enough for the topmen to climb down from the main mast and turn it over to a fresher crew. Though now, the ship sat, immobile, except for the wind on her hull and the current beneath. The sail was furled and the only men on the masts were look-outs, or those completing the repairs started yesterday, or starting the new repair. But everyone was exhausted, physically and emotionally and they were moving slow. The gaps in their numbers were greater than they had been yesterday, losing valuable men from the fore mast top and ... an officer.

Oldroyd's brow furrowed with the memory of the grey dawn argument

//////////"You are not going up there!" said Sebastian angrily, pressing Kennedy to the chair.

"I've got to look for him, damn you!" and the fourth leftenant made to stand.

Sebastian pushed harder and the leftenant and the chair fell to the deck. Kennedy attempted to rise and Sebastian fell on him and pinned his wrists to the planking.

"Let me go!" demanded Kennedy, red-faced with rage.

"Your ankle is twisted and swollen. No climbing!" ordered Sebastian hotly.

Oldroyd had never seen the doctor in such an agitated state. Only recent circumstances and the fatigue and strain from which they all suffered could explain it. Mr. Kennedy, too.

Kennedy contorted his shoulders against the doctor, raising, then, falling back against the wooden floor as the doctor exerted greater force.

"Oldroyd! Hold his legs!" Sebastian lowered his torso onto Kennedy's.

The rating did as he was ordered and felt the strong muscular thighs of the fourth leftenant pushing against the weight of his body. If Kennedy had not been as overworked as they all were, Oldroyd doubted he and Sebastian would have been sufficient to keep him down.

Kennedy grunted trying to raise his hands from where they were held, then, gave up. "Please, Doctor!" he begged.

"I know you are grieving! But I will not have you try to climb those precarious masts in this weather, in these seas, on a fruitless task! We have lost one officer, I will not be responsible for losing another!" argued Sebastian. Kennedy forced him to say it. Sebastian did not want to verbalize it... not yet, but he had forced him to say it. Hornblower was lost.//////////

Oldroyd rubbed his forehead, distraught. Mr. James, his arm in a sling, had stood by watching the exchange between Sebastian and the heretofore acting captain and his expression was filled with dismay. If Kennedy were no longer captain, and Pellew was unconscious again, who was in command? Oldroyd was not sure which of the midshipmen had seniority, it had never been something he thought he would need to know. For a brief moment, he considered what Sebastian would be called if he were planning to take over. It was too much for his limited mental abilities. They were in a pickle.

He huffed out a sigh and blew away the contemplation. Bracegirdle was on his feet, thank the Lord. How much longer would the marine be required to guard Kennedy's cabin was the only question. Indefatigable was encountering new ground every which way he looked and Oldroyd wanted her back to normal, though, how could she be with Mr. Hornblower gone and Captain Pellew unconscious in his bed?

Oldroyd looked up at the deck beams and bit his bottom lip, recalling the exchange at breakfast. He thought Styles was going to murder Farley. Farley had dared to ask in a whisper what the captain, the true captain, was going to do when he was informed golden-boy was gone? Styles flew into a rage and it was all he and Hardy could do to keep him from pummeling Farley. Quick talking on Farley's part, he explained he didn't mean nothing by it, that Hornblower was Pellew's golden-boy and that he liked Mr. Hornblower as much as the next man. Styles disappeared after that, but Oldroyd found him. Styles was in a sorry state.

"Matty? Matty? I've brung a hot grog," said Oldroyd quietly. He wanted Matthews to wake up and make their existence sane again.

A bandaged hand snaked from beneath the coverings, reaching, and Oldroyd lowered the cup. The graying pate emerged to take the lip of the container and tilt it slightly. With a gulp, Matthews lay his head on his forearm, but soon lifted and took a longer drink.

"It's got a lot of rum, it does," observed Matthews quietly, taking another drink.

"How's yer hands?" asked Oldroyd.

Matthews shrugged and took another drink, finishing it. He held it up to Oldroyd. "Can I get another?"

Oldroyd bent a smile. "I'll get ye one."

Matthews lay down face up on the blankets, wiped over his grizzled cheeks, then stared at the white gauze wrapping both hands. He ached and could not remember the last time every muscle, every bone, in his body, felt so beleaguered. And to top it off........ He sucked a gasp and covered his mouth, the bandages rough against his lips. His eyes were hot and his chin trembled. He looked at the two long cannon. "T'weren't you that done it." He rolled onto his side away from where Oldroyd would be returning. It was not long and he heard his mate speaking softly and the mug lowering to fit his wrapped palm.

"Matty. Here's yer grog, man." Pausing a moment, Oldroyd laid a hand on Matthews' shoulder. "Ye don't..." Oldroyd hesitated, mustering his courage, "... ye don't blame Styles, do ye?" Oldroyd's eyes fluttered waiting for a reply. He saw Matthews shake his head.

"No. I don't blame Styles. He don't think I do, does he?" asked Matthews, sounding nasal, speaking towards the gun's wheel.

Oldroyd bit his lip, and looked around the quiet gun gallery, though men were awake and mobile. "He ain't doin' so good, mate." Worry and dismay etched the few words.

"Ain't none of us doin' so good today, Oldroyd," stated Matthews with a sigh. "Leave him be for a while. Take him a grog, like ye done me."

"Did ye want to move to a hammock? Doc said ta ask ye," said Oldroyd.

Matthews shook his head. "I ain't in the way here. I don't wanna move just yet, not till... not till an officer wants me." The catch in his voice was audible and so he drank the grog. "Leave me now, mate. I'm terrible tired." The mug tipped and a small amount of liquid flowed onto the timbers, casting the aroma of hot rum to the cool surroundings.


*****

After knocking, with no reply, Wiggins slowly opened the cabin door and listened to the deep snores. He hated to wake him. Harley said the doctor had been sleeping about three hours. At least, he had been able to get some rest, and after all, it was his own order that precipitated Wiggins' visit. Treading quietly to the bunk, the midshipman saw the doctor slept dressed in his working uniform.

"Dr. Sebastian? Dr. Sebastian, sir?" Wiggins bent lower and laid a hand on Sebastian's arm. "Doctor, the captain is awake. Daniels said you were to be called. Dr. Sebastian?"

"Hm? Wiggins? What is it?" The doctor wiped over his face. "What? What is it?"

"I'm sorry, sir, but the captain's steward says to tell you the captain is awake, sir."

Groaning, Sebastian levered himself up to a sitting position.

"I've brought you a coffee, sir."

A knock sounded on the door and Wiggins opened it. "Thank you, Lydle." He accepted a bucket from the small slim boy. "Water for you, sir."

"All right, all right, Wiggins. Tell Daniels I will come."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Ten minutes later, Sebastian stood beside Pellew's bunk. "Captain?" Sebastian held the limp wrist and felt the steady pulse beneath his finger tips, then, rested his palm lightly atop the back of Pellew's hand and waited.

The captain's brown eyes blinked open. "Doctor." He shakily lifted a hand to his brow and felt the bandage wrapping his head.

"How are you feeling, Sir Edward?" asked the doctor inquisitively.

"Like someone has been using my head for a drum to beat to quarters," he closed his eyes. "Are you inciting my men to mutiny? I told Daniels I wanted Bracegirdle."

"Daniels is under orders to report..."

Pellew waved his hand dismissively, then, dropped it heavily. "Never mind, Sebastian. How is my ship? What of my men?"

"Indefatigable is in better shape than you are, Captain," he said softly. "You need not fear for your command.

"And my men?" When an answer did not come readily, Pellew opened his eyes and gazed at the silent physician.

"Do not concern yourself about ...." Sebastian cut the words, reconsidered the answer, and steeled himself for a different reply. "We suffered fifty-one dead, thirty-seven wounded, and twenty-two walking wounded."

"Fifty-one?" The whispered question unveiled alarming awe. Pellew closed his eyes and covered them, a slight shake of the hand evident. Considering the unspoken accusation he inflicted on himself, the captain said, "Not sparing me, eh, Sebastian?"

The doctor inclined his head and pierced his superior with a querulous look. "You informed me when Mr. Hornblower was injured it would be worse not to know. Have I erred?"

"No, Doctor," he sighed. "Thank you for your honesty." It was a blow, but Sebastian was correct to notify him of the numbers. **A captain must know the affairs of his command,** thought Pellew. A dire silence fell. Finally, Pellew mustered his courage to accept the facts. "I need to know," said Pellew resignedly. The loss of men was part of the bitter dregs of command. **Fifty-one?** It was an appalling number. **Should I have run from the fight?** It was a useless and ludicrous question of which he already knew the answer. No.

"Mr. Cutter has prepared a list of names... when you are ready to see it," offered Sebastian, hoping he would not ask for it, trying to be mindful of the cares this man must carry, despite his injuries, and wondering how in heaven's name to inform him about Hornblower.

The man had received enough of a setback already; the price of command was exacting upon the emotions. Sebastian knew Pellew was not a heartless human being, despite his gruff and growling demeanor. Hornblower's loss. Would it rend Pellew's soul? Sebastian silently prayed for wisdom, aware the captain was physically weak. A night of rest and a decent meal in the morning would make a difference... he had to delay telling him. Pellew needed to be put off until he was stronger. Whether the captain would forgive him for not disclosing the knowledge immediately remained to be seen.

If there were a shred of hope for the young officer's survival... but it was nearly twenty hours since Hornblower went into the chill sea, far less time could kill him. It was too late. They could do nothing when he was lost. Darkness and the turbulent storm forbade any possibility of mounting a rescue. Not until early morning, with the cessation of rain and a lessening of wind,... but the seas remained rough and Indefatigable was wounded... in numerous ways.

"My officers? Is Bracegirdle all right? I want to speak to my first leftenant."

"Mr. Bracegirdle has returned to duty, Captain. I would prefer you wait to speak with him, however, at least, until tomorrow. And..." Sebastian paused, aware what he was about to suggest would not be well received. It was not his desire to upset the injured commander. "I want you to take it easy for the next few days."

"Take it easy, be damned," Pellew growled lowly. "Nearly a third of my crew is dead or injured and you tell me to take it easy?" He was verging on a roar as he raised slightly from the bed, then, lowered down onto the pillow.

Sebastian pursed his lips into a frown. "Captain, there is nothing you can do that is not being done that will not wait until daylight tomorrow. If you insist on me waking Mr. Bracegirdle, I will do so, but I prefer you not rise from your bed this night."

Pellew silently fumed and it made his head ache. He commanded himself to calm and appraised the situation. The ship was riding a light chop and bells were sounding. He counted them. Seven. "First watch?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," answered the doctor, relinquishing the information.

"How long have I been out?"

"You wakened earlier today, but you returned to sleep, sir. You do not recall?"

"No. Who is on watch?"

"Mr. Connors." Sebastian saw Daniels return from the door with a bowl. "Is that the soup I requested?"

"Yes, Doctor," answered Daniels. Sebastian motioned him over.

"Who is taking the middle watch? I want to speak to him," stated Pellew.

"Wiggins, I believe," sighed Sebastian. "Here," he offered a spoonful, "I want you to eat some soup, Captain."

"Wiggins?" Pellew asked doubtfully as he accepted the food. "Where is Mr. Kennedy? How is Mr. Hornblower?"

"Captain, I have answered many of your inquiries this evening. As your doctor, I am now requesting that you do something for me. I want you to finish this soup quietly,..." he spooned in another, "...without questions that may disturb your digestion. The food will build up your energy for the morrow when you can catechize your officers at length."

"You are being impertinent, sir," frowned Pellew, taking another scoop of soup. His stomach found the food warm and rewarding and he considered asking for something more substantial.

"I am being a physician, sir. The job to which I am called aboard this ship, and you are my patient." Pellew started to speak, but Sebastian hurried his speech, not giving him a chance to counter. "I must insist you eat, and, preferably without protest. Please, Captain."

Pellew took the spoons of soup, solemnly biding his time, and he fully intended to hear the answers about the leftenants as soon as he accommodated the doctor. He studied the man that was his ship's surgeon and thought over what he divulged. The numbers were daunting, but he had the distinct feeling there was something left unsaid. His eyes shifted to Daniels, sitting in one of the chairs nearby, resting, with his head dropped onto his chest. Tracing his eyes back to Sebastian, Pellew said, "I can read you like an open book, Doctor," drawing the word out suspiciously, "What are you not telling me?" He paused and his mind raced to a guess. "You are not intending to lay me up for weeks as you did Hornblower, are you?"

Sebastian lips smiled wryly. "No, Captain. I merely want you to ... to eat, rest,... at least, until tomorrow. Please, Captain."

"Hm," said Pellew, accepting another spoon of soup. His eyelids were feeling heavy. Odd, since he had slept most of the day. He could scarcely keep them open. "Sebastian..."

"Yes, Captain?" The doctor watched the commander's body relax as he fell asleep.
The doctor sighed, then, looked over his shoulder at Daniels. "It is best he get a night's sleep before ... before some of those questions are answered." He passed what remained of the soup to Daniels. The opiate had done its work. Covering Pellew, Sebastian stood. "Call me should he wake again."

"Yes, sir," answered the servant.

 


The seas calmed further and the sun shone unhampered by horizon clouds. A shaft of sunlight bobbed on the cabin wall coming closer to spotlight the sleeping figure. At last, it reached its mark and played the whiskered chin off and on. The eyes shut tighter pulling the skin on the forehead, eliciting a moan from Pellew. His body felt like a lead weight. Shielding his eyes, he opened them. The glare off the ocean was shimmering above the bed. Attempting to look where last he had seen his servant, his eyes were met with the brilliant sunshine. "Damn," he winced. "Oh," he groaned, as he pulled back the blankets. Sliding his legs over the side, he lifted from the recline. He held his head with one hand and the edge of the bed with the other. "Damn," he repeated, then, stared at his bare calves and wiggled his toes. "Daniels!" The boom of his voice was louder than even he expected.

A thud sounded. The disheveled but anxious servant came to the door of the sleeping cabin. Amazed to see the bandages crowning two blackened eyes above a swollen cheekbone, he answered with a frightful expression, "Yes, Cap'n?"

Pellew motioned him over. Resting an arm over the servant's shoulder, he stood. "Take me to the quarter gallery," he ordered gruffly. Opening the door and stepping in, he said, "Get me hot water. I intend to shave and dress. Not a word to Sebastian! Do you hear? Send word to Bracegirdle I want to see him in thirty minutes. And get me some breakfast. No more of that damn watery soup! I want two fried eggs, no, three,... ham, and a pot of steaming coffee..." his stomach growled. "See? That's what that soup has done. I need some solid food, man. Get it!"

The servant hesitated.

"Get on with you, damn it!"

He closed the door and Daniels heard a muffled comment. "Sebastian is trying to starve me to death with his damn soup! GOOD GOD!" Pellew must have glimpsed his countenance in the piece of mirror in the water closet. That was the only thing Daniels could think of that would elicit such a resounding exclamation, and he was momentarily undecided whether to inquire if all was well. Under the circumstances, he chose not.

In thirty minutes, Pellew was sitting at table, tucking away the generous breakfast, and sipping coffee with a wobbly hand. There was a knock at the door and thinking it was Bracegirdle reporting, he called, "Come."

When Pellew looked up, exasperation covered his countenance and he glared at his physician. "Dr. Sebastian..." he altered the caustic words on the tip of his tongue, "...good morning, sir. Have we installed a bell from my cabin to yours?"

Sebastian smiled and felt an immense relief seeing the captain sitting up, dressed, a massive meal in progress of consumption, and his gruff demeanor in place, yet restrained. "It does my heart good, Sir Edward, to see you eating such a sumptuous repast."

The captain half frowned but continued the feast, slicing through a thick piece of ham.

"May I sit, sir?" Sebastian, too, was rested, despite the early rounds to visit the wounded which was when he overheard the captain's breakfast order relayed to the galley. After seeing to the most critical men, he headed topside. He was dressed in the bottle green coat that overlay a buff waistcoat, crisp white shirt, and matching bottle green trousers, his hair neatly combed and queued.

Pellew motioned to a chair. "Bring a cup for the doctor, Daniels."

Sebastian sat and observed the emptying plate. Pellew was slicing open a biscuit and slathered it with fresh butter, evidence of the cool weather and the proximity to England, and then, overlaying that with black currant jam.

"Would you like one?"

"Yes. Thank you, Captain."

Pellew motioned at Daniels and a plate, knife, and napkin were placed before the doctor.

Sebastian prepared a biscuit and took a bite. "Mm," he said approvingly.

Pellew ate and watched the doctor enjoy the food. He glanced over to the door, wondering what was detaining Bracegirdle. It was not like him to keep him waiting, but since Sebastian was here, he thought it might be best the first leftenant delayed.

Sebastian held up his coffee cup. "May I?"

Pellew motioned to Daniels and he filled the cup.

"Are you going to eat that last biscuit, sir?"

Pellew dabbed his lips, "No, doctor," then, leaned back in the chair and patted his full stomach, "Have at it."

"You look well this morning, Captain." Receiving no reply, Sebastian looked up at the commander of Indefatigable, "How is the head?" then, took a bite of the biscuit.

"Not too bad."

"Shall I prepare some willow bark tea, sir?" He took a drink of coffee.

"No. I can handle the discomfort."

"Any dizziness from venturing about the cabin?" Another bite and he was nearly finished.

"Not much and I feel steadier by the moment." He saw Sebastian staring at the quaking cup in his hand and he placed it on the saucer. "If you are finished with your ... questions, doctor, I am expecting Mr. Bracegirdle."

His view lowered, Sebastian said, "I am glad he is delayed," then, he met the firm glare staring out from the blackened eyes of his commanding officer, "I ... feel I should be the one to tell you," and he watched Pellew's eyes change to wary expectation.

Since waking, Sebastian pondered the previous night's interview, and he knew the brunt of Pellew's ire over not being informed about the second leftenant should be his. He had an opportunity to tell Pellew about Hornblower. Indeed, the captain had inquired about him specifically, and Sebastian had avoided answering.

"I know Mr. Bracegirdle is your first officer, the second in command of all the men,... but... in light of ... your condition..." his voice trailed off.

Sebastian rose from the table and walked to the stern windows and stared at the lively sparkling blue waters, diamond edges full of light, unseeing. He despised being the bearer of this news. He knew he was about to inflict another wound on his commanding officer and on a man he respected and counted as a friend. He realized the relating of Hornblower's demise could be detrimental to their working relationship, not to mention the fragile friendship. But like a parent informing a child of the death of a beloved pet, he knew it was his duty. He was the physician of Indefatigable, and now, he bore news that would cause pain, but there was no time remaining to hide the facts. It would not be right to put this burden on Bracegirdle. The relationship between the captain and the first officer was far more cogent than that of captain to surgeon. It was a hated thing, yet needful, his sacrifice, not Bracegirdle's. His thoughts turned to prayer.

Pellew had shifted in his seat and watched Sebastian walk stiffly aft. The heaviness he perceived on his physician did not go unnoticed. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Daniels quietly leave the cabin. This halting speech. Whatever the doctor was attempting to tell him, was causing the doctor to vacillate. Remembering the feeling last night, that there was something more to be said, Pellew felt his stomach knot around the undigested food.

"This is ... this is difficult," said Sebastian, his hand flying to his forehead. He straightened his back, and begged an impossible prayer that Hornblower was alive and well in his cabin, but he knew the only person in that pitiful space was a distraught friend, possibly drunk, with a swollen ankle. That prayer was impossible. **But are you not the God of the impossible?** he argued plaintively. An unexpected groan sounded.

Pellew rose to his feet and steadied with a grip on the chair. "What is it, Doctor? Out with it man," he ordered, his tone, unsure, rough, but kindly commanding, yet apprehensive.

Sebastian faced the captain, his eyes hot and burning, knowing what he was about to say would pierce a father's heart. Faltering, he cast his gaze from the glinting walnut brown eyes of the commander, felt the moisture building within the confines of the lower lids, and dampening at a corner of the dark tan weathered skin, then, he forced himself to meet Pellew's increasingly uneasy stare. "Hornblower is... gone, Captain." The third word was forced from his gulping throat.

Pellew's intense expression did not alter and he waited, hoping Sebastian was going to say more, such as, where Mr. Hornblower had gone, but fearing his thoughts were frivolous, he remained silent, watching Sebastian's eyes blink away the wetness that appeared to evaporate in the heat of those sensitive orbs.

Time stood still... motion ceased... and then the world tumbled out of place.

Pellew opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. Tremulously, he lowered onto the chair, sitting abruptly. Gone? Pellew concentrated to stop the mental spiral swirling him into ancient oblivion, to a night an eon ago when he lost a boy-child. He barely knew that baby that was flesh of his flesh. This young man that walked into his life seven years ago, appearing a troublemaker on the surface, but he knew he would find out the truth by what he saw him do. And what he saw him do had continually amazed and delighted. Lungs compressed. Rousing, he breathed suddenly.

"What ... what do you mean he is gone?" Pellew asked, stunned. It was a delusive hope that he had misunderstood the doctor. Sebastian was not prating upon a stage. This was not a performance. Was he being cruel to make the man be specific? Was it the fever that took him? Pellew looked up into the physician's face. No. Nothing so benign. His eyes traced to the deck and Pellew spoke.

"Hornblower came out of nowhere with an ax." The captain's voice seemed distant in his own hearing, and his expression was blank watching the memory of the cold night, the rain pelting them and the ocean surging across the open decks. "As he is wont to do when disaster strikes," he whispered. Swallowing, his gaze traced to the sorrowful countenance of Sebastian. Why did not the doctor say something? Pellew shook his head, unaccepting, frowning deeply and his throat constricting. **Washed overboard?** he thought, unable to voice the question. His head quaked negatively and he could not stop the twitching. Standing, he held onto one of the supporting timbers and turned away from Sebastian. Only then could he utter two words. "Tell me."

Sebastian filled his lungs. There was no going back. "He climbed onto the fallen shrouds to cut them away and became tangled in the lines. When the wreckage was released, he...." Sebastian halted when Pellew fell forward onto the column. "Captain?..."

"Go on. Tell me the rest. Was there no one to help?" His hand strayed to the second injury he sustained to his head.

"I am not aware of ... I ... " Sebastian gripped the myriad of thoughts tumbling through his head and started over. No one had written a report. No one. "I was checking the wounded when the mast was hit by lightning. One of the men told me he saw Mr. Hornblower walking on the gun deck dressed in an oilskin. I thought the man must have been out of his head or dreaming, but I was in a hurry to get topside, fearing you would...." Sebastian paused, then resumed. "When I came up the interior ladder, I was told by the marine that Hornblower was in the waist. About that time, Styles came in carrying you unconscious and bleeding. Styles said he was going back to help Mr. Hornblower. Mr. Kennedy, too, must have intended to help, but he sprained his ankle coming down from the quarter-deck."

Sebastian could see the distraught leftenant, pinned against the hallway wall by Styles, the marine frantic and doubtful to see the officer in such a manner, and Kennedy saying over and over, //No!//, and Styles saying, //He's gone, sir! I can't let ye throw yerself away!// Sebastian ran his fingers through the neatly combed hair and loosened the strands. He was reliving a nightmare, but it was not a nightmare, it was ...an undeniable fact. **God have mercy,** he thought, both those men had to have seen Hornblower go. The doctor resumed the tale.

"Styles informed me Mr. Kennedy had injured his ankle and..." Sebastian saw Archie struggling in the big crewman's arms, "...that was when Styles said Mr. Hornblower was gone. He said the leftenant's leg was entangled in the wreckage and ... he could not free himself." Sebastian placed a chair beside Pellew. "Captain. Sit down."

Pellew sank slowly onto the chair. **Not Hornblower. Not Hornblower,** he thought. **No.** Pellew stared into nothingness, his stomach doing somersaults.

"Captain?"

Pellew looked back at Sebastian but did not see him. **Hornblower cannot be dead. He cannot be. He has a wife. A child nearly here. A career in the navy. A most promising young officer. Not dead. NOT dead. Not Hornblower. Not this officer. NOT this man. No. No.** He fingered the bandage over his forehead. How was he going to handle this? He had lost men before. Lost officers before that had wives and growing children. It was to be expected. This was the navy. England was at war.

"I know how you loved him, Captain," whispered Sebastian sympathetically.

"Do not tell me how I loved him!" His words were shaded in anger but sorrow asserted itself "Leave me, Doctor," he commanded hollowly.

Before Sebastian could speak, a knock at the door sounded.

"Come."

The voice was strong and if Sebastian did not know what the Captain had just been told, he would have thought nothing amiss.

The door opened and Bracegirdle entered, his expression immediately wary when he saw the odd configuration of the two men. "You sent for me, sir?" The captain's back was to him and he questioned Sebastian with a look but comprehended the situation without a reply. Pellew knew.

"Mr. Bracegirdle." Pellew's voice was oddly wispy.

"Sir?" The first leftenant's eyes tracked from one man to the other.

"I am given to understand that Mr. Hornblower is no longer on board Indefatigable. Is that not so?"

"I fear it is, sir," Bracegirdle answered quietly.

"Is there a report?"

Bracegirdle's chin dimpled. "I am sorry to say, sir, there is not."

Pellew slowly swiveled on the chair to see his first leftenant. What met his eyes was not much unlike what he saw in the mirror whilst he shaved, though he got the impression from Bracegirdle's calm but perplexed mask, that his own face had been previously viewed by his senior officer. He wagged his head twice, then, averted his eyes to Dr. Sebastian. Standing, he turned away from his men and leaned against the deck column.

Bracegirdle and Sebastian watched the captain's shoulders shake, not sure whether he was laughing or crying.

"Oh, God, I've got to...," sniffed Pellew, wiping those portions of his face not bandaged carefully. Facing his officers, Pellew parted his lips, then, set them in a serious configuration. "Report, Doctor. I want to understand the full extent of the damage to my command. Mr. Rampling?"

"His left forearm is fractured and he has glancing splinter wounds about the face."

"Mr. Kennedy is unscathed except for a sprained ankle?" asked Pellew.

"Yes, Captain."

"Bracegirdle and I are beat about the head." observed Pellew. "What of my midshipmen?"

"Cutter has a foot injury. James was grazed on his left shoulder. Mr. Bowles suffered grape shot to his left thigh."

Pellew bowed his head, considering the comical sight they would make on the quarter-deck should all be in attendance at once. Would the men feel assured or doubtful? "And... Hornblower..." All sign of levity disappeared. "How is Mr. Kennedy?" he asked the doctor quietly.

"Not good, Captain." Sebastian glimpsed Bracegirdle.

"Come on. Tell me," ordered Pellew softly. He contemplated the ship's doctor, the strain of all their mutual injuries carried upon his shoulders, and listened as Sebastian related the incident of twenty-four hours previous. He accepted the news that Kennedy had been under a marine guard for his own safety. It was understandable, in light of all they had suffered, that the man would be over wrought, losing one so senselessly and so... close.

Pellew managed to order that Kennedy be made presentable and told Bracegirdle to write a report, and have Kennedy do the same, of what occurred in the last forty-eight hours. Then, he dismissed the two men.

**Hornblower's division will be feeling an empty hole in their midst with their leader gone,** thought Pellew. Something would have to be done with them. Fifty-one men gone, there would be a number of holes to close. Command. Duty. There was not time for ... remorse. Those lists of Cutter's needed viewing.

Using the chair to push to a standing position, Pellew moved to the stern gallery and shoved open one of the windows. The cold salty air rushed in to ruffle the frilled shirt sleeves and he shivered. The empty ocean... inert, lifeless... dead.

Outside the closed door, Sebastian blew out a breath.

"I do not care to think what you went through to tell him," offered Bracegirdle warily. "You should have left it to me, Luis."

"No, Anthony. He asked me specifically last night." He met Bracgirdle's sympathetic blue stare.

"A hateful task indeed." With bowed head, Bracegirdle said, "And now Mr. Kennedy. He was well on his way through a second bottle of port when I checked him yesterday."

"I know. I know. It was useless to try to reason with him. He is angry with me," confessed the doctor.

"Mr. Kennedy is angry at the world. It is a good thing he is immobile, I think."

The two men emerged into the blazing sunshine yet chill day, the wind whipping around the masts and strumming the lines. Sebastian squinted at the furled sail and saw James on the quarter-deck, the sling about his left arm glaring bright white. The midshipman acknowledged the two.

"Our debility is daunting, Anthony." Reaching into the inner pocket, Sebastian removed the worn tobacco pouch filled with rolled cheroots. Pulling one, he stuck it between his lips. He could not remember when last he smoked. "No match lit, I suppose," said Sebastian, searching for the flint.

Bracegirdle cracked a smile. "Surely you jest, Doctor. This is Captain Sir Edward Pellew's ship Indefatigable. Look around her. Other than that jury mast on the fore, does this ship look to have been in battle recently?"

Sebastian gazed at the mended planks, the yards and spars. The ship-wrights cared for their patient efficiently. Time for healing needed by mortal man was not a question with inanimate objects.

"Do you think her crew would dare not have match prepared?" questioned Bracegirdle, mock amazement etching the words. "This is a fighting frigate. If beat to quarters sounded this moment, these guns would be ready in the blink of an eye" He lifted the lid off the sand barrel and removed the lighter. "Let me hold this for you, sir."

With a wry smile, Sebastian bent over the fusing, cupped a free hand around the cheroot, and drew air through it. The odor of the lit tobacco and curl of smoke swirled around the two men's hands. Sebastian took a long drag, and then, expelled the smoke from his lungs.

"Thank you, Mr. Bracegirdle. I almost feel ready to broach Mr. Kennedy," grinned the doctor resignedly.

"Come down when you finish your smoke. No rush." Bracegirdle peered at the empty ocean, then, glimpsed the mast head lookouts. "They would tell us if there were."


On the next deck down, Bracegirdle knocked and laid a hand on the door latch. Receiving no response, he opened it and entered the dark room. The odor reaching his nostrils was of vomit and urine and he stepped out and peered down the companion.

"Granby!"

"Close the damn door!"

A book glanced off Bracegirdle's broad back. An eyebrow arching, he bent to pick it up and noticed an assortment of other small items near the door, two empty bottles, shoes, books, a pillow. That which struck him, however, was a volume on longitude and latitude. Hornblower's name was written on the upper left corner.

"Restrain yourself, Mr. Kennedy!" ordered Bracegirdle curtly. It was too dark to see Kennedy's reaction, but the sound of shifting bedclothes rustled with an unintelligible rebuke. Finding the lantern, Bracegirdle took it to light.

"Mr. Bracegirdle, sir?" said the breathless Granby, seeing Kennedy's door ajar. "I tried to see to him, sir, he ordered me out and pelted me with... with all sorts of things, sir!"

Bracegirdle laid a hand on the boy's shoulder. "I understand." He returned to the reeking cabin and hooked the lantern. "Get that slop jar out of here. Come back with water and coffee."

"Hot or cold, sir? The water I mean."

"Let's start with cold."

Nearly gagging, Granby said fearfully, "Aye, aye, sir," and took the filled container distastefully in two hands, one pressing the lid down, some fluid overflowing the edge despite the attempts to clamp it closed.

"It stinks in here," commented Bracegirdle. Fanning the cabin door to replace the air with fresher, he closed it. "Archie. This is not going to bring him back."

Kennedy snaked an arm from under the covers to press the pillow down over his ears.

"We all mourn his loss," said Bracegirdle.

"Go away," said Kennedy hoarsely, then added, "Please. Just ... go away."

"The captain wants a report."

Kennedy made no reply or movement.

"Did you hear what I said, Leftenant?" Bracegirdle's voice was sharp.

"The captain be damned! Leave me be!"

"Mr. Kennedy, you are an officer in his majesty's navy!"

"The navy can go to hell!"

A knock prevented Bracegirdle from reacting verbally. Opening the door, he took the bucket from Granby and restrained from tossing the contents on the cabin's occupant. Bracegirdle's eye was caught by Pamela's portrait as he sat the water down. A letter lay open on Hornblower's bunk. He took the corner of a blanket and pulled it off Kennedy. The young officer was dressed in an unbuttoned shirt and wrinkled trousers, his feet naked, the left, which revealed a swollen black and blue ankle, was elevated. A half filled corked bottle of whiskey lay at his side. "Get up, Archie."

"No," he answered defiantly.

"We need you, Mr. Kennedy."

"No," he said softly, "I am injured." The last thing he wanted to hear was that he was needed. Could not the first leftenant see his ankle made him immobile? Did he not know he was under guard and that Sebastian wanted him on his back? Why did Bracegirdle not leave him alone? He wanted to be left alone.

"So are we all," said Bracegirdle calmly.

Kennedy knew they were down a man and every officer wounded one way or another. Bracegirdle slowly pulled the pillow away from Archie's head. His hair was tousled, two days growth of beard shadowed his cheeks.

"Do not look at me!" He covered his eyes.

Bracegirdle sat on the edge of Archie's bunk and sighed.

"I could not get to him. I... I tried," said Archie out of the blue. "I told him to come back on board. Damn you, Horatio! Why? ... Why?"

"It is not your fault, Archie. From what Wiggins told me, and Matthews, it all happened so fast. You did your best... for him and for the ship."

"Empty words. I failed him."

"You only fail if you do not try."

"I tried. I tried to get them to ... to look for him. Damn Sebastian for stopping me."

"Dr. Sebastian has worked unrelentingly for this crew. He has just taken the task of telling Captain Pellew that Hornblower is dead. Do you think that was easy? Horatio gave his life for this ship, for the crew, for the captain, for the navy... for our country. We all loved him. He was a fine officer. I know you grieve the more. He was your bosom friend, heart of your heart. Do not besmirch his choice, that he laid down his life, by wallowing in self pity. I will not stand for it. Now, listen. You are going to make yourself presentable and then, you are going to write a report." Bracegirdle rose. "Sit up."

Slowly, Kennedy obeyed and bowed his head abjectly. Loose hair fell onto his forehead. He pulled the alcohol and vomit stained shirt over his head. Shivering, he wrapped his muscular middle crossing both arms. The light hair on his chest was matted to his skin. "I... I do not feel well, sir," he said his voice cracking with emotion.

Bracegirdle lifted the half empty bottle of whiskey. "If this is what you have been drinking, I do not doubt it." He sat it on the table.

Archie glimpsed the whiskey bottle, and Bracegirdle wrapped a blanket around Kennedy's shoulders.

"Mr. Bracegirdle, sir. We've brought the hot water and coffee," came a voice from outside the cabin.

"Come in, Granby," answered the first leftenant.

Granby and Lydle were weighted down with a second bucket of steaming water, the rinsed slop jar, and a mug of coffee. Bracegirdle gave the boys the dirty clothes and told them to take the empty bottles away.

Sebastian stood in the doorway as the boys were leaving. Bracegirdle's wry glimpse betrayed the circumstances. "How are you feeling, Archie?"

Kennedy would not look at either man.

"The doctor asked you a question, Leftenant," stated Bracegirdle.

"How do you think I feel?" Archie asked hoarsely.

Bracegirdle appeared ready to take the young officer to task. Sebastian held up a hand to stop him and indicated he would handle it.

"Mr. Kennedy, the captain expects a written report and you presentable. I suggest you not disappoint him," were Bracegirdle's parting words. He gave Sebastian a doubtful nod as he departed.

Sebastian closed the cabin door, then, squatted and lifted the trouser leg to view Kennedy's ankle.

"The swelling is lessened." The doctor saw the half empty whiskey bottle and the uneaten plate of dinner.

Kennedy's arms tightened around his middle and sweat popped onto his brow.

Sebastian shifted the empty uncovered slop jar nearer. Before he could get out the question of was he about to be sick, Kennedy fell onto his side as his body convulsed over the porcelain bowl in dry heaves. Sebastian dampened a towel and wiped Kennedy's face.

"How can you assist me after ... after the way I behaved yesterday?" asked Kennedy, resting a cheek on the bunk edge and staring into the empty bowl.

Sebastian smoothed the hair away from the fourth leftenant's cheek and forehead, wiping the damp cloth into his hair and over his head.

"How can you stand to look at me? To be in the same room with me?" asked Kennedy hopelessly.

"Archie..." Sebastian shook his head.

Archie looked anywhere he could but at the doctor, but at last, he met the kindly gaze. "I am sorry, sir. I did not mean what I said yesterday."

"I know."

Kennedy felt the tears threaten to unman him and he covered his eyes. "Please go," he asked, voice quavering.

"It is best to let it out, Archie," said Sebastian softly. "You loved him more than a brother. The two of you were there for each other for the past three years. It is your right to grieve his loss."

Kennedy shook his head quickly and gasped a breath trying to withstand the emotion.

Sebastian sat on the bunk, tugged Kennedy upright, wrapped the blanket around him, then, pulled the officer against his shoulder. "Let it out, Archie." He could feel Kennedy shaking his head no. "Do not fight it," said the doctor in a whisper.

"It hurts!" choked Archie. "I do not want ..."

Sebastian embraced the young officer tightly.

Kennedy wept. The deep silent sobs wracked his body. "He cannot be dead, Doctor."

Filling his lungs with air, Sebastian remained silent, holding the grieving man firmly.

Kennedy's emotion slowly subsided, and he whispered, "I failed them. Amelia. Pamela. How can I face them? I thought he was safely in his cabin, and then... I failed them and him." Kennedy gulped for air.

"You did not fail anyone, Archie," soothed Sebastian.

"No. I did. Amelia told me... asked me."

Sebastian released Archie who, with elbows resting on knees, remained upright, holding his forehead.

"I failed everyone," said Archie listlessly. He reached for the whiskey bottle.

Sebastian took Archie by the wrist. "This will only serve to make you ill, Archie."

"I know," he replied emptily, letting the bottle drop, and his upper body drooped abjectly.

Standing on the good leg, Archie leaned and retrieved the open letter from Horatio's bunk. "Listen." He licked dry lips, then, read. "Dear Archie. I have not heard from you and I know it may only be the delay of packets. I swore I would never write without first getting a reply, but I feel, for her sake, I must tell you, ask you. I have rued the day you walked into my shop, damn you. You made me care."

Archie's voice was hoarse as he read haltingly, taking a breath and continuing, doubting that Sebastian would be interested in all of the letter, but it was easier reading it straight through, without picking out certain parts.

"I did not want to care. I do care. And now, I care about this young woman that has treated me ... so kindly, as an equal, not the dismissive attitude I have come to expect as the rejected wife. She considers me her friend. Can you believe it? But this letter is written for her, Pamela and her husband, your friend, Horatio Hornblower." Archie's voice cracked as he said the name. "She fears for his safety. This is a silly thing to be writing, is it not? Do not all navy wives fear for their men? But, yet, ... I have to ask you, for she will not write it to Horatio. The foreboding she feels, it surfaces in some way each time we meet, and finally, I made her tell me. She has this dream, of a storm, and her husband lost in it. Should you find your ship in such a situation, please, watch over him. Guard him. This is why I write to you. I hope you are well." Archie lowered the shaking note. "Amelia Holly. I bought clothes from her shop for Drake. She and Pamela have become friends. She and I ..." Archie hung his head, "...are ... "

Kennedy looked searchingly into Sebastian's eyes. "You see? I thought about the letter that long night on the quarter-deck and I thought, thank God, Horatio is safe abed. It was one less thing for me to worry about. Then, he was there before I knew what was happening. There was such confusion and he seemed to be helping. Styles was there... and the captain... and then, they were gone and before I could get down to the waist..." Archie covered his eyes and his mouth formed a frown full of despair.

Sebastian clamped a hand on Kennedy's shoulder. "Archie. You must not blame yourself. You tried."

"I should have helped him."

"There was nothing you could do more than you did."

"Why, Doctor? Why Horatio?"

Sebastian inhaled deeply. "We cannot know the mind of God."

"Do you blame Him? Should I blame Him?" asked Archie.

"Blame?" Sebastian shook his head. "There is no one to be blamed. God has a plan for each of our lives."

"Was his plan over for Horatio?"

Sebastian rose to his feet. Faith was a fragile thing for some. He had tried to instill a measure of it into this open young man. The answer he gave could have implications for eternity and he weighed his words carefully.

"I do not have the mind of God, Archie." He paused, then, added, "We must trust that all things work together for good. I know these words must ring hollow in your grief," he turned to face the despondent and desperate young man, "but... we must trust and have faith that God is in control. Horatio saw the ship in danger and did what he could to free her ... and her crew. I have prayed and asked God ... if there was any way... but... We must face the facts. A storm, the temperature of the water... " Sebastian saw Kennedy's head lower and his shoulders stoop. "I like it no more than you... but ... there is a time to every purpose under heaven. And yet, God is good and... He is the God of the impossible."

Archie looked up. "Are you giving me hope?"

Sebastian smiled wryly. "I cannot give you anything... but what life and my relationship with the Father has taught me."

Archie swallowed. "Bracegirdle said the captain knows."

"Yes,...he does."

Archie searched Sebastian's features, afraid to ask the captain's reaction. Dropping his head to his chest, he asked, "Should I hope for the impossible?"

"You must do as your heart dictates."

Archie crumpled the letter in his hands. "What of Pamela's dream? Horatio said she saw him an admiral. How can both be true? That he would die in a storm and become an admiral?"

"I do not know, Archie." Sebastian picked up the basin from the floor and sat it on the table. "You will feel better if you get cleaned up and have some food. Do you need help?" asked the doctor.

"No, sir," Archie answered quietly as he placed his shaving razor and soap beside the basin. "Thank you, Doctor, for letting me..." Archie hung his head, embarrassed at the tears shed so recently, "... for letting me grieve."

Sebastian patted his shoulder. "I am going to get you something from the galley."

Outside the cabin, Sebastian leaned against the closed door and breathed out a long sigh.

 

*****

Pellew entered his cabin tossing off the cloak towards the table and missing and slapped the log down on the chart table. Shifting one chart atop another, he studied the longitude and latitude lines and rubbed a finger over the bandage crossing his forehead. Opening the log book, he peered at the numbers on one page and then another. With the dividers, he plotted points on the map and compared and measured them. "Damn," he whispered once and then again, "Damn." He looked up and out the stern gallery windows, then, paced three steps back and forth quickly. The charts were gathered up into his hands along with the log book. He shoved them under his arm and exited the cabin swiftly, startling the marine guard and Daniels.

"Did ye need somethin', Cap'n?" asked Daniels as Pellew exited the companion into the waist and immediately descended the ladder to the next deck.

Pellew rounded the base of the stairs and walked briskly to the officer's mess, surprising Lydle and Granby who were clearing the table from lunch. The captain laid the charts on the table and opened them, then, went to rap on Bowles door.

"Mr. Bowles?" He rapped again anxiously.

"Captain?" came the surprised voice from within. The sailing master opened the door."What is it, sir?" amazement in the question. The man was dressed in a shirt only, the bandage around his fish-belly white thigh visible beneath it.

Pellew reached in and wrapped an arm around him and helped him to the officer's table. "Damn Kennedy. There was no way you were going to take over from him that morning," muttered Pellew. "Come, Mr. Bowles. I want you to have a look at this."

With the sailing master settled in a chair, Pellew shifted the charts for his view. "Look here," he pointed at the chart, "this was our position two days ago. We gave chase to that bloody seventy-four."

"Aye, sir. After firing on us, the Frenchy seemed to change his mind and run."

"Aye, that's how I remember it," said Pellew lowly, then, continued. " When we reached this point, there was a struggle with conflicting currents and the erratic winds from the storm to the southwest.

"Aye, Captain," agreed Bowles.

"Yesterday, this was the noon sight," informed Pellew pointing at the chart.

"Yes, sir. That storm spun us round in circles and pushed us south, I'd have ta say, or we would have run up on a lee shore."

"Exactly my thoughts, Mr. Bowles, exactly my thoughts," agreed Pellew satisfactorily. It was the confirmation he needed. Pellew fell silent and paced in the small space, mulling over his next move.

Bowles stared at the chart and listened to the captain's footsteps and pondered why this was significant. For Pellew to bring all this here for him to see, there had to be a reason and in a flash, he knew what it was. He looked up at his pensive commander.

"You think he might have made it to shore, sir," stated Bowles.

Bowles watched Pellew's expression become bright with expectation, the glinting eyes connecting firmly with his own.

"I am very pleased you have arrived at the same possibility, Mr. Bowles."

Bowles filled his lungs. He knew, everyone knew, it went without saying, how Pellew felt about Hornblower. But would it be cruel to agree with this hope? Pellew lost officers over the years. The tragedy of command was not a new occurrence, though for this one remarkable young officer, maybe it was. He decided to err on the side of caution.

"Captain... the water temperatures alone...and it has been nearly two days. If he did make it to shore, there might be nothing but a... a body to be had." Bowles regretted the words, but they had to be stated.

Pellew's head lowered. "Yes. Yes." Pacing. "But, ... Brecon has not yet appeared, and we may as well look while we wait." Pellew stepped beside the master. "Let me help you back to your cabin."

"I'd rather be topside, sir," stated Bowles as he accepted the assistance.

"Do as Sebastian orders. I need you well and whole, Mr. Bowles."

"I can manage from here, sir," Bowles advised, stopping at the cabin door.

"Very well." Pellew gathered the log book and charts.

"Are you going to tell Mr. Kennedy?"

Pellew sighed. "He will know soon enough."