An American Encounter, Part Three
Ch 28 Lost and Found
The cacophony of the storm deafened Hornblower's ears. The freezing, wet shroud sliced into his palm as he clung to it. On the uplift, the officer wrapped a length of loose ratline around his wrist and gripped the thick tarred rope, blood disappearing with the sundering sea. The bow bucked with the crashing wave and Indefatigable leaned over towards him. The canvas filled with water and plunged Hornblower into the cold sea. Its icy fingers stealing his breath and coming against the super heated torso.
Coughing, he expelled the bitter saltwater from his throat, then, bent into his shoulder to avoid another face full of the cutting wind and spray. A roll to larboard and Indefatigable raised him and the wreckage. The water drained away from his body and the broken spars, but only so far, and then, he felt the ship beneath him tugged down by the weight of water captured in the canvas. The lines seized his leg like an octopus before the nightmare scenario of plunging and rolling, leaning and binding began again, each see-saw motion entangling his left leg and right ankle and compressing the flesh. He was bound to the broken beams, and he rode the raging tempest like a rider on an untamed horse.
Lightning glinted off the sharp steel of the dirk as the sea snatched at the tempered implement and he clasped it, commanding the freezing digits to grip it tightly. Indefatigable must be freed from the dragging broad sail unfurling like a scroll beside and beneath him. Eternity was surpassed as time became a repetition of vain attempts.
"Let her go! Let her go!" railed Hornblower, persistently sawing at the web of cordage.
Illumined by the storm, Hornblower could see only a few strands remained and Indefatigable would be free. His shoulder and arm muscles were cramping in the stretch to reach them.
The lines tightened and others coiled around his leg. The swirling sea demanded another sacrifice. There was not much time, the choice already made. He looked up into the fearful expression of the man he knew as fellow officer and friend.
"Archie... tell Pamela I love her."
"What? Get back on board! Horatio!" cried Kennedy.
Another roll of the ship to larboard and Hornblower's face wrenched with pain. Automatically, he jerked his right hand towards the bound limb and the ratline cut into the wrist preventing movement.
Kennedy stretched out a hand. "NO! Horatio!"
The ship tilted back to starboard and relieved the stress on the leg. Hornblower concentrated his effort and the dirk sliced through the remaining strands. Suddenly, he fell away from the ship's side as a furious wave floated Hornblower and the debris beyond the crashing hull, ... but a cable remained. It twisted with another tethering him and the mass of wood, canvas, and hemp to Indefatigable. The movement of the ship and the water was hauling Hornblower and the wreckage frenetically towards the plunging prow. In a crack of flashing light, Hornblower saw Styles, tomahawk to hand, on the forecastle. **Cut the line, man!** he thought as he came nearer the wooden hull that raised to club him and the buoyant segment to which he was attached.
*Mr. 'Ornblower!* Hornblower could not hear the words, but he recognized them forming on the rating's lips.
Subconsciously, Horatio followed his own orders. The knife slid underneath the lines wrapping his leg and he sawed frantically against the cords. Hearing his name, he jerked his head up to see the hull of the ship loom beside him. He made a final ripping slice on the ropes squeezing his thigh. The beam to which he was lashed lightened against the leg and he dove away from the plummeting hull. Roaring, rushing water filled his ears and coiling lines tangled around his calves. The resulting force stung the soles of his feet and slapped water propelled him under and away. Trailing lines, like the tentacles of a massive jelly fish reached for him, twining his arms and legs.
Lightning lit the view beneath the sea. He was clear of the jagged mast beam, but was instantly aware the weight of clothing was dragging him down. He fought against perceived gravity and felt an upward suction of water swirling around him. He kicked his legs and fought the broad ropes, going towards the flash of light playing across the rippling water above.
When Hornblower broke the surface, he coughed and sputtered, his strained lungs sucking the water laden air. The pieces of serrated yard surged toward him, connected by canvas. He remained hopelessly captured in the smashed ruins and squirmed against them.
A burst of light gave sight through the black driving rain. Indefatigable was at least a hundred yards away and he was drifting farther from her. The oilskin coat drew him down. About to remove it, he heard a voice say, 'no'. Instead, he kicked his feet furiously to keep head above water and latched onto the floating beams.
The wreckage was bunched as the lines wrapped around the broken bits of wood. The yard had split in two where lightning struck; the pieces and a bit of the mast were sandwiched together. Hornblower tried to climb astride them but a heavy shroud yanked against his shoulder. Shifting violently, Hornblower was smacked by a body bobbing beside him, it strangled and drowned by the ship's rigging. Gulping water with a startled cry, he lurched away from the ghastly remains. The sea covered his head and the cold corpse followed after him. Seizing control of his fear, he struggled for the surface and spewed, coughing in the roiling sea, the rating at his side. In the flickering light, he recognized it as Crane, a topman from Rampling's division. He reached into the heavy coat pocket and found the dirk's hilt, the tip pierced through the fabric and thereby it hung. With an arm snugged over the buoyant wood that had careened into the side of his head, he cut at one line and then another until a wave carried the body away and it sank out of view. That might yet be his fate darted through his thinking.
He and the fragments were riding a rising wave. He looked down and could see in the twinkling the trough was forty feet below or more. Looking up, he was not yet on the crest. He had to disentangle from the lines. The cold driving wind cut as he moved higher out of the trough. Shivering, he escaped the binding ropes and swung a leg over the dual yards. With a piece of cable, he bound them together. Never in his wildest dreams did he think the knowledge of knots would aid in such a situation. He lashed the two pieces of wood together, pressing the thick tangled shrouds and broken chunk of mast between, giving a foot of space where he hoped to create a platform. The twisted sail underneath held it all in place.
He leaned over, grabbed the canvas, and sliced it, releasing it on one side. At last, he reached the crest. Halting the desperate activity, he peered through the rain for Indefatigable. The piercing light was too late. He was on his way down the other mountainous side of the wave. Rescue was impossible. He was on his own.
His mind was the clearest it had been since taking command during the battle with the French and for a moment he marveled how the winds had aided that desperate fight. A wave, a fluke of wind, and poor judgment by the Frogs aboard the seventy-four had accidentally destroyed the mizzen mast of the French corvette. It struck him funny and he chuckled at the recollection. The odd outburst shook him and he suspected his wits were not as clear as he thought.
He was alone... riding precarious debris... and he was shivering despite the high body temperature. He knew the cold could kill him if he did not drown first. He burned with fever and shook with chill. Frantically, he returned to the task of tugging the canvas, receiving a smashing blow to the butt of his hand between the spar and another fragment of churning mast.
He knew he would have to get off the wooden pieces to overlap them with the fabric, giving the frail craft more strength to support him. Wrapping a line around his wrist, he eased off into the water and sputtered to keep his head above the surface. The dragging weight of soaked clothing tugged him downward. This was a bad idea. It was sapping his strength and the ever present ropes tapped threateningly at his legs. He gave the canvas a final yank, then grabbed the sail covered wood and hauled his body back into the perilous sunken raft.
He rested and gasped for breath, discerning his efforts proved successful. He lay on his back, the rain striking his cheeks like needles, making it difficult to breath. Finally, he rolled onto his side and snugged his legs into his chest, the loosely strapped spars shifting and accommodating the wide position his body demanded. Reaching down into the neck of the rain gear, he yanked the wool sweater up over his head. A piece of canvas floated haphazardly beside the little craft, and he blanketed it over him. There was nothing else he could do but survive... or die. Would the sun rise in time and provide light and heat? Or, would death come before dawn?
His super heated body warmed the pool of ocean water where he lay. There were times when flux removed it and replaced it with cold, but it was better than letting the wind bite with glacial penetrating fangs. He positioned his head at an angle to keep his nose clear and drifted into the same old nightmare of cold, black water.
Was he awake or asleep? The experience was much like the dream, the Gibraltar dream, he termed it in his mind. Whichever the case, it seemed real, and was that not the stuff of dreams? Pamela was here. It had to be a dream. She embraced him and he felt the strength of her arms enfolding him, the softness of her hair beneath his chin, and the heat of sunbeams radiating from their bodies. The thought roused him near waking for this element of the dream had never existed before.
Drizzle dripped softly upon the exposed skin. There was a sound, too. It was a familiar sound but strangely muffled. His muscles protested movement. The sun was, indeed, shining, though a frail light. There was a noise of blowing, and then, another, and spray misted upon his nose. Easing the canvas and sweater from his forehead, he raised to peer over the edge of the raft. His teeth chattered mechanically in his head and a blow puffed, startling him painfully, making his muscles jerk. Fins. There were fins in the water. He looked around and saw three of them very near and another two behind. The other familiar reverberation was farther away and rose and fell in loudness.
He groaned and lifted from the watery perch and shivered with the accompanying breeze, teeth a-chatter. He was encircled by dolphin, and they were pushing him towards shore. It was surf he was hearing. A dolphin lay on its side and looked at him with one eye. The ever present smile on the face of the great animal deserved a reply and he wearily offered half of one. The dolphin seemed to nod and snort through its blow hole, then, swam off, but soon returned and watched him.
Hornblower lay back into the sunken boat and stretched his legs as far as the confining limits allowed. He moaned with the effort and brought a shaky hand out from beside his body. Every limb felt weighted with thirty-two pound shot. He raised a hand before his eyes and stared at the ring on his finger, amazed the exertions of the night had not ripped it from him. "Pamela," his voice rasped as her words echoed in his memory. //"When you see them, think of me."//
He could feel a clicking bounce against the half of his body that remained in the water. The surf timbre rose in pitch. All of a sudden, one of the dolphin leaped out of the sea, water glistening off the grey skin and shimmering like a waterfall back into the ocean. Hornblower rolled over onto the other side and rested a hand on the edge of the make-shift boat. A wave elevated the craft. He raised his head an saw the fins were disappearing back out to sea, but he was far too sick and weary to say thanks.
He scooted to sit up. The elevated view showed the vessel was encompassed with a mass of hemp. He was amazed the dolphin had not become fouled.
Shore was at least a cable length away and the water here was deep. He waited and let the swells drive him toward shore. Though it seemed calm where he was now, the surf looked rough. The craft stopped its forward motion. He gazed around and determined the lines must have wrapped around an underwater obstacle. It was time to move. He climbed out into the water and immediately sank with the weight of the clothing. The activity must have done something to release the sunken lines for he was advancing with the wreckage towards the beach. Without warning, a wave lifted him and the buoyant mass. It tossed him over and he feared being struck by the bulky yards that had saved his life. He attempted to maneuver to the back of them and felt his legs being entwined anew with the tangled sheets.
Solid ground, his feet touched solid ground. A struggle ensued with the underwater cordage, canvas, and surf. Each time he thought to gurgle to his death, the wave receded and he gasped a clear breath of brisk air. He was so close to salvation, if he could just walk onto the beach. The ropes unbound his legs as quickly as they had wrapped them. The water less than chest deep, he forced the muscles in his legs to respond to his command, but they were leaden and ponderous.
The sands were in sight. He would be safe. The sun would warm him. Where was he? France? Portugal? Spain? It did not matter if it was the coast of Canada. He was alive. He would live to see his wife and child. The thought spurred him to greater effort and he fought against the outgoing surf to exit the cold water.
He was nearly there and turned to see from whence he had come and saw it at the last moment. The yards had been pushed by the waves, jammed a point into the sand, held, and now were being flung at him by the tide. He raised his arms to protect himself, but his reactions delayed. The thick spar was slung at him and crashed against his head, then, recoiled, as the breaker receded.
The rope wrapped wood fell back onto the surf and so did Hornblower, bleeding from the clout against his skull. Laying face up with water washing over him and blood swirling, the tidal flow carried him to rest on the gritty soil. The hulking remains eased in beside him and together they lay, like so much flotsam and jetsam deposited by the sea.
On the cold windy beach, the ragged little boy ran ahead of his grandmother, kicking up fans of sand at his heels. He was dressed in layers of dark clothing, a knit hat, and gloves without fingertips. The elderly woman wore a thick sweater of dark blue wool, patched at the elbows, that covered a third of the gathered grey skirt. Bulky boots peeked out from the hem with sand clinging to the beaten leather.
It was a typical February day on the coast of Portugal and was the common practice to scavenge the beach, especially after the blow of the previous night. The two roused early to be first on the desolate shore. So far, the pickings were slim: seaweed, the bodies of jellyfish, and the remains of a hammerhead shark, it oddly flattened, having lost the substance that gave it shape.
The seaweed lay in great mounds, a sign of how strong the offshore storm had been. His grandmother dragged a hemp bag behind her, gathering the uprooted plants to dry and use for kindling.
The old woman's hair was tied over with a scarf; scant strands
of long silver-gray escaped the binding to tickle the lined face.
The boy bent to pick up a piece of pink and grey broken shell. He turned it over, wishing it were whole to add to the collection he kept by the chicken coop. But it was not and he hauled back and pitched it with all his might into the sea.
Seabirds called overhead. He watched them float upon the ocean breeze and felt the wind caress him with his own dark curls, cold on the front facing west and barely warmed on the back by the frail light of eastern risen sun. Giving a glance to his grandmother, he turned and ran down the beach. He could see another great heap of seaweed a little further and hurried to discover what might be caught up in such a vast pile. As he came closer, he saw it was not all seaweed, but rope, canvas, and wood from some ship. It was a tremendous find. It would be work, but the wood would come in handy once it dried out, for firewood or building materials. Running towards it, he pulled up short with a gasp.
"Grandmother! Grandmother!" He turned on his heels and sped towards the old woman, panting by the time he reached her.
"What is it, you little pickerel? Come help me gather the kindling."
Grabbing her hand and pulling, he shouted. "A man! A man! There's a man on the beach!"
She stood up from her gleaning and squinted. Her old eyes revealed nothing unusual, but she let her grandson tug her behind him.
"I think he is dead, Grandmother!" he said excitedly. "There is wreckage from a ship, too!"
The woman increased the pace.
"Like that washed up last year on Menango's beach! The crabs haven't gotten him yet, Grandmother! He must have washed in during the night. He's whole, too. The sharks didn't get him either."
The boy chattered on till they reached the body.
"See?" he pointed.
The old woman stepped carefully around the wreckage. It was a good find. There would be much they could salvage here. She looked down at the man. Good clothes. The great coat he wore would be a replacement for her own worn garment. She looked closely for damage to the coat but saw none. The boy was right. The man was recently dead. He was not green and could not have been in the water long. She looked the body up and down, no sign of violence. Did he drown or freeze? She bent down and reached tentatively to take the chin; he was certainly cold. Turning his face towards her, she noted the sand was tinged a light orange. Blood pulsed out from beneath the head covering, and she gasped, startled.
"Pando. He lives." She rose and gripped the left hand. "Take the other hand. Let's get him out of the water." She and the boy dug heels into the sand and pulled, grunting with the strain, until Hornblower's feet were clear of the cold sea water. "Go get Senor Ramieres. Tell him to bring the cart. Quickly, boy!"
"Yes, Grandmother!" Sand flying, he ran for all he was worth.
The woman looked at the man and then at the sandy, cold item
that slipped into her palm. Taking it with two fingers, she brushed
the sand away on the coarse homespun skirt and examined the ring.
Inside, she saw the inscription and read aloud, "May,"
the only word, and peered at two letters and some numbers. Looking
down at the young man at her feet, she asked, "Are you English?"
Pulling a chain from inside her clothing, she opened the clasp
and put the ring on it, then, tucked it away.
Bending to the find, she unbuttoned the great coat. The burgundy wool sweater surprised her. Lifting it, she saw the uniform. "Ay, ay, ay. Saved you, this" she said, pulling the sweater back down. "The Lord has guarded you." She lowered to her knees in the sand, clasped her hands, and prayed.
In the small stucco two room hut, a middle-aged fisherman and his son carried the cold blue tinged body of the Englishman into the old woman's room and put him on the bed. Hornblower's pale skin bore stripes of bruising on the right thigh, left calf and ankle, and the left forearm. Ramieres and his son turned to her.
"Are you sure you want this English in your bed, Old Woman?" The thick black mustache peppered with gray bounced above his lip when he spoke. Despite winter, his skin was tanned from long days in an open boat. He crossed thick arms over his chest, bulkier with the woolen sea coat he wore, and blew air over the mustache, peering with a serious expression.
She looked up a foot's length into the man's brooding face and poked the massive chest with a stubby finger. "You just remember who found that stuff on the beach. Do not cheat Pando and I of our share."
He stared at the thin body on her bed. "What about that as payment?"
She looked and saw the gold cross around Hornblower's neck, the metal acceptable compensation in any form. She shoved Ramieres' chest roughly. "He knows God! Would you bring the wrath of the Lord down on your head and mine for thieving the sign of His death and resurrection from an injured man?"
"I did not speak of thieving, but payment, Old Woman!" he growled.
"I pay you with half the wood, rope, and canvas! Leave the boy be!"
"He is no boy!"
"To me, he is a boy, and you are not much more!"
"Harumph!" voiced the fisherman gruffly.
She shoved his chest again and grinned. "Be a good and godly man, Ramieres! You already have a crucifix! You do not need his."
The man frowned and threw up his hands, then, pointed at her. "Be careful he does not strangle you in your sleep, Old Woman."
"God protects me." She thought the next, keeping it to herself. **He has sent this one into my care. That necklace he wears is a sign. You will not have the sign from God, Ramieres.**
He quitted her bedroom and she pushed both hands against his back.
"Remember, Ramieres, half that wood and rope is mine!
You bring it here like a good neighbor and I will pray for you.
You need prayer, you and that boy of yours. Was it not my prayers
that brought you home last November? Don't you forget it or I
will tell the Lord on you. You know he hears me!"
"Enough, Old One! Keep the cross! I do not want it! I will bring your share of the findings!"
"And canvas, you mullet! Half the canvas is mine, too. You are being well paid for your help."
"Aye, canvas, too! Get him well and put him to work!" he ordered and pointed back into the bedroom.
"Leave him to me and God. Off now, before someone finds
Pando on the beach and takes our pickings!" She closed the
door after them and went to stir the fire. Sparks jumped in the
cold breeze still circling from the recently closed door. She
picked up the blanket hastily thrown on the stone hearth and clutched
it to her chest, feeling and preserving the warmth.
Standing over Hornblower's bare body, she lay the folded blanket on his chest and pulled off the last vestige of wet clothing. Her eyebrows went up. "Praise God, you will make some woman very happy someday." Lifting the crucifix, she removed the necklace and laid it beside his head, then, threw out the blanket from its folds and tucked it around him. Taking each of his hands, she examined the cuts, abrasions, and bruises and held the long, icy, pale blue fingers. She frowned, pulled back the blanket and felt his chest. Cold, no sign of warming. "Aye yi yi."
She stepped to the door, closed, and latched it. Undressing,
and as naked as he, she covered his privates with a towel, then,
slipped under the cover on top of him. She stared at the scarf
wrapped around the head injury and thought she should have taken
care of that first. Too late. She was not getting up now. She
shivered at the cold flesh beneath her warm body. "It has
been a long time, young one, since a man has touched this old
body. Keep that package to yourself now," but he made no
reply. She hugged him closely, pressing the warmth of her body
into his, then, rested her head on his shoulder and moved her
lips in prayer.
Every few minutes she looked into his visage for signs. The lips retained the blue hue and she waited. A single thump resonated in his breast. The beats were far apart and she listened keenly for another, counting between the cadence. Moving both hands beneath his underarms, she lightly rubbed the torso. After a time, she felt his chest rise beneath her head. Lifting to spy out his countenance, she saw the lips were less blue. She slid up to rest her breasts more evenly with his, her head resting over his shoulder. Using her feet, she slowly massaged the muscular thighs, feeling the rough hair of his legs.
She stared into his face, wondering if he would wake, then, frowned at having to explain what she was doing, but then, thought he would not understand her, if he was English as she suspected. The frown deepened. Spying the lump under the hastily tied scarf, she pondered how to tend the wound. A tour down the young male face, her brow relaxed and rose as she considered his comeliness. Arched brows, long brown lashes resting on pallid skin, a rather large nose, which raised a wry smile at what she perceived lower down. From the look of the angular bones under the eyes--he needed a good home cooked meal. There was a bit of stubble showing on his cheek. The chin was strong. *Are you a brave man or an unlucky one?* she asked him mentally. The lip color was near normal. With a sigh, she moved her head down onto his chest and listened to the beat...thump.....thump.... still slow, but the palpitations were definitely closer together. She pressed his arms to his sides between her own short ones and squeezed more warmth into his body.
"Grandmother?" Pando tried to open the door. "Grandmother, are you all right?"
She rose, taking the blanket with her, and whispered at the door.
"Yes, Pando. I am fine. Go to the river, grandson, and get some ice."
"Ice, Grandmother? Why do you want ice?"
"Do as I say, Pando! Go and be quick!" She approved of the boys inquisitive nature on the whole, but now was not the time for answering questions.
Turning back to the patient, she noted the rise under the towel. She smiled and said softly, "You flatter me, young man, but most likely you are just being a male. Even though the mind is unconscious, that is not!" She threw up a hand and wagged her head a final time. The rest of the body pinked under the bruises. "Good. Good." She tucked the blanket around him, then, dressed and unlocked the door to the room.
The embers of the fire still burned and she added fresh fuel to it. The heavy iron pot that hung over the flame emitted the faintest puff of steam. She lifted the lid and stirred the contents. Bits of fish, shellfish, some carrots and onions rose to the top of the white liquid. With the kettle to hand, she picked up the large clay saucer, carried them to her room, and placed the bowl on a chair, then, sat on the edge of the bed and unwrapped the scarf from his head. The wound showed signs of swelling and was oozing. With a cloth, she gently wiped until it was clean of blood and sand, then, poured a small amount of vinegar onto a clean cloth and wrapped it to his head.
Satisfied nothing more could be done, she retrieved Hornblower's uniform topcoat and emptied the pockets. An oilskin wrapped several letters. Since all had been previously opened, she shrugged her shoulders and unfolded one. Staring at the words and turning the letters over, she found nothing recognizable but the word she thought spelled England. "English. You are English, I think." She lifted a lid on a worn wooden box and placed the letters inside. "This uniform stinks like a fish! You bring more work for me, English, but I do not complain. The Lord has sent you to me."
She picked up the wet and sandy clothing, took them outside, and spread them on the ground. The hemp bag she had been dragging behind her on the beach was propped against the door. She reached inside, felt for the handle, and removed the dirk. She stared at the weapon's bright blade, scratched at black tar on the edge, and quirked an eyebrow. If Ramieres had seen this, he would have insisted on taking it. Etched on the side was the letter 'H' and a word, and she ran a finger over it. Looking about her, no one saw. She took it inside and placed it in the box next to the letter packet and covered it.
Staring down at the unconscious man, she lifted the necklace and removed it. The simple cross lay upon her fingers and she wiped the surface with a thumb, then, pulled the chain over her head and slipped it inside the shirt she wore. "I do not keep it, English, except for safety, until you can look after it yourself. You can trust me."
The door of the hut opened, sending in a cold blast of air along with her grandson. He shut the door, replaced the heavy knife used to hack the ice, and carried the bucket to her side.
"What do you need ice for? Isn't the man cold enough?" he asked as he bent over the bed to peer at him. "He has a nice face for an English, doesn't he Grandmother? He is English, isn't he? He is pale like English," he observed, pointing at the bare shoulder. "Look, Grandmother! A scar! Do you think he has been in many battles? Do you think he was shot? Do you think he might be a pirate really?"
"Pando! You ask too many questions for which I do not know the answer! You will have to ask him when he is better."
"Will he get better? Why doesn't he wake up?" Pando jiggled his shoulder.
"Leave the man alone. He is injured. The cold nearly stopped his heart. Here. Sit and hold this pack of ice on his head." She pulled the boy to the seat she vacated. "How goes the salvage?"
"Senor Ramieres and Alejandro are chopping the wood small enough to cart. I brought our part of the canvas, Grandmother. It is by the goat shed. How long do I have to hold this on here? I am supposed to return for some of our rope. We can make many bags from it to sell at market. Will you make me new trousers from the sail? Senior Ramieres says the canvas is sent from God. He needed to replace that on his fishing boat. What will we do with his clothes, Grandmother?"
"Pando, you try the patience of the saints with your questions." She returned and checked the ice pack. "Hm. Go back to Ramieres and get the rope. The English and I need some peace and quiet."
"Yes, Grandmother!" The boy grinned and hurried out the door.
The old woman shifted the sweater over her shoulders as the cold air entered the hovel. Tucking the blanket over Hornblower's shoulder, she spread another blanket on top of that one, then, felt his chest. Warmer, he was. His cheeks were reddening. "Do not tell me you have a fever now?" She pushed her palm against the wrapping over his forehead. Clucking her tongue, she shook her head. "Saint Mary and Joseph! Lord, what have you sent me?"
Indefatigable sailed a wide zig zag course northward along the Iberian Peninsula. Each mast head was occupied by two lookouts, constantly sweeping the ocean in all directions.
The quarter-deck contained a curious sight for a fighting British warship. A hammock, somewhat like a sedan chair, though topless, was hung from the newly placed mizzen topsail yard and braced with standing rigging. Mr. Bowles, the sailing master, sat inside it with the injured leg supported horizontally. He was elevated just enough to be a little higher than where he normally stood to observe and command. He was feeling more at home in the contrivance, and after some initial smirks were met with the bellowing tones of the seasoned master, the men responded to him seriously.
Midshipman Connors stood nearby ready to relay any concerns Mr. Bowles might wish sent to the captain and secretly prayed they did not meet another ship in his majesty's navy. Though it was no fault of their own, they had done their duty sinking a French seventy four, but the injuries Indefatigable's complement sustained were a source of embarrassment to the young middy. He counted it a blessing that neither Major Edrington, nor his servant Mr. Bentley, were here to see this. And more so, that Mrs. Hornblower was not on board, although, perhaps she was in spirit.
Some of the men were confused in their thinking where she was concerned. Some saying women were always bad luck on a ship (even though she was no longer on board), and others arguing the help she provided in the past was a positive thing. The absence of Mr. Hornblower always came to mind during these quiet discussions and they soon fell silent and pondered the course of action in which they were now engaged.
When Pellew stood the quarter-deck, the eyes of the crew darted to study him and some of the men wondered if he had slipped his moorings. Some men not in Hornblower's division, or Kennedy's, or Connors' (those men being those who survived the recent pirate debacle), whispered the mission was vain, that no man could survive the sea Hornblower was cast upon. But when observed by those mates that served with the second leftenant, the rest of the crew ceased speculation. And, while they did not know what mission they were on, Matthews was there to tell them there was one and to do their duty as they were expected.
Though Matthews felt in his heart Hornblower was lost, he sadly reminded himself and others verbally of the character of the man and tried to inject perseverance in the spirits of his fellows.
"Mr. Hornblower wouldna give up on us so quick. He never has. Never. He come after us in that boat wi nary a hand on board but hisself. The major and Mr. Bentley weren't no able bodied seamen like us, and ... he'd of come fer us on his own if Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Connors hadna shown up. He woulda." He ran a hand under his nose and sniffed. "I know he woulda." He paused, thinking. "If Cap'n wants to search fer him till next Christmas, I'm with him."
Silence from his fellows was answer enough for Matthews.
On the deck below Bowles, outside the captain's cabin, First Leftenant Bracegirdle swiveled to see Fourth Leftenant Kennedy behind him, then, knocked.
"Mr. Kennedy and I are here, sir," informed Bracegirdle, shutting the door after waiting for the fourth leftenant to hobble in beside him.
Pellew sat reading reports. He looked over his shoulder and frowned at the crutch he saw Kennedy using and the bandage, slightly visible, taped on the back of Bracegirdle's head. His own pate was similarly covered, though on two sides, not one.
"Join me, if you please, gentlemen." He rose and stepped to the table where the charts lay. "Sit down, both of you." he ordered softly. With a pause, he spoke, not sure how to begin. "I see you took a sighting the day after the storm, Mr. Bracegirdle, and then set up a grid to search for our lost men, and, as you know, now that the ship is repaired, it is that grid which we presently ... sail." The craggy face stared at the charts and he could no longer deny the feelings of growing futility for the actions which the crew of Indefatigable was engaged. He lifted his eyes to trace over the wounded officers briefly and thought how many times he inquired of Hornblower the thoughts of the crew... and he missed the knowledge of those observations. The hope within him was slowly dying.
Kennedy tried to keep his head up and appear interested, but his eyes fixed on the chart, and for some reason, being with Pellew, he felt his spirits subsiding into the grief that incapacitated all thought.
The sinking sadness in the room was palpable for Bracegirdle between the two men so close to that one now gone. He never thought he would wish Kennedy's anxious actions of last spring would return, but he did. With all his heart, he prayed there could be such visible hope. The realization was slowly chilling the hearts of these two men for which he felt close camaraderie, and he was at a loss to know what to do.
Pellew rallied and cleared his throat. "Would you agree that we were no more than ten to fifteen leagues off the coast of Spain and Portugal during the storm? Possibly even seven?" His tone was thin with hollow conjecture.
Bracegirdle studied the chart. "I would say so, sir, give or take a mile or two." He tried to maintain the normal husky chipper qualities of his own voice. "Have you made a decision where we will begin the coastal search, Captain?"
That was the problem. The coast of Spain and Portugal was at least five hundred miles long, not counting the dips and crags of the coast. Even discounting the southern half, the rest, given a close search, could take weeks. Could Hornblower survive exposure for such a length of time? It was the third day since... If he even made it to shore... and there was no way of knowing if he had.
If he landed on the coast of Spain, might he have been imprisoned?
Or, if Portugal, was he well enough to seek assistance? He was
ill, after all. And if Pellew chose to search Spain first, there
was the chance of a land engagement. Pellew did not doubt the
abilities of Captain McCann to lead a raid, but human resources
were at a minimum. Any assault would have to be on foot unless
other provision could be made on land. The consideration of
such an idea was ludicrous.
What was he doing, thought Pellew, questioning. No other man... he stopped the postulation. The roundabout concept that always brought him to the same argument was rising in the back of his mind. They were waiting for Brecon to show, and since they had nothing better to do than float along the coast, they may as well look for Hornblower in the interim. He roused with an inhale.
"That is why I requested your presence, Mr. Bracegirdle, Mr. Kennedy. In your opinion, where should we begin? I have done some calculations with Mr. Bowles on current conditions, estimates of wind speed and possible shifts during the early morning hours of the storm. To be safe, we conclude starting with the northwest tip of Spain and then moving southwards to ... about.... here... "
"Time is a factor, Captain," voiced Kennedy, his eyes lidded, and the interruption distracting Pellew from what he was about to say. "May I be excused, sir?" he blurted, turning in the chair to rise, but checking himself. At the moment, he preferred to wallow in his grief. To sustain hope anew seemed too cruel. But would Hornblower have given up on him so easily? If it were Pellew that Hornblower had so analyzed a possibility of survival, would he not now be setting a course as Pellew was suggesting?
Pellew pursed his lips and gathered the words calmly. "Mr. Kennedy... would you rather I gave up?"
Kennedy's mouth opened to speak, but the words stuck in his throat. Biting his bottom lip, he bowed and shook his head, no. If Horatio's body were recovered, the knowledge would satisfy, and time would ease the pain. It would be something to give Pamela, something to give their child. Kennedy felt his throat constrict with the thought of Hornblower's little family. At least, he had had one. Kennedy's hand went to his forehead. He could not think on her this day.
"Captain, if you are considering where to begin the search,
I submit we start now, sir." Bracegirdle stood and pointed
just above Coimbra, then, raised his eyes to Pellew. "Here."
"What think you, Leftenant Kennedy?" Pellew asked steadily.
Kennedy shifted his eyes to look out the sides, aware both men were standing. What did it matter where the search began? One place was as good or bad as another. He rose to lean against the crutch and stared at the chart and where Bracegirdle's finger remained. He blinked away the moisture before he raised his eyes.
"If... if we are to make this search... the sooner the better, sir," he managed hoarsely, " where ever it is." He lifted his view to the commanding officer.
"I concur, gentlemen," said Pellew softly. "A search of the coast it shall be. We have given the sea a chance, taking the current into consideration, and we have nearly returned to the latitude at which Indefatigable was located the day after the storm." With a nod, he released Kennedy's gaze, turned, and stared out the gallery windows. "Mr. Bracegirdle, would you be so kind as to ask Mr. Bowles to turn the ship on an easterly course and ready the boats for lowering?"
"Aye, aye, Captain," he answered strongly. Even if this were a fruitless effort, they would be doing something, thought Bracegirdle. Where the hell was Brecon? Only his appearance would free them from the ghastly course on which they were embarked. The door closed after Bracegirdle.
Kennedy glimpsed the back of the captain. "May I go now, sir?" he whispered.
Pellew inhaled and clasped his hands at his back. "Straighten your shoulders, Mr. Kennedy." He could not allow Kennedy to continue as he was, but he saw no use in battering him over the head with concepts about duty. Kennedy had done his duty well, according the report given by Sebastian. Pellew could read between the lines of the brief report Kennedy gave of his actions, and there was Daniels, his personal source of information from the crew.
Archie stared at the man and did not alter his stooped stance of leaning against the crutch. He was injured, was he not?
"Obey me, sir," said Pellew lowly, not turning.
Kennedy hung his head. Squaring his shoulders was the last thing he wanted to do. He noted Pellew's back was ramrod straight, his head held high.
"You will present yourself as the fine naval officer I have come to expect, Mr. Kennedy. Nothing less will do." Pellew's words were crisp and commanding. "You have a duty to ... the men ... and whatever befalls us... " his voice caught as he recalled saying those same words to Hornblower, "whatever... we are officers in his majesty's navy."
A burst of heat reddened the lids and Archie fluttered his
eyes, listening to the expectation of his captain, hearing that
he was an officer with standing in his commander's eyes. Inhaling,
he brought up his spine, forced his shoulders back, and shifted
the weight of his body onto the right leg. "Aye, aye, Captain."
His voice wavered but was resolute, and whether or not he felt
like acting an officer, he was compelled by his position to play
one, something Horatio did, without thought, a natural, he knew.
Pellew turned. Appraised the young leftenant and nodded approvingly. "You are dismissed, sir."
With a nod, Kennedy limped out of the cabin, shut the door, placed the hat on his head, and gathered a breath before exiting into the waist.
The old woman and her grandson made the daily trek to the sea. Ramieres was there with his son, the fishing boat half in the surf, preparing the boat and stocking it with a day's supplies.
"A good day for fishing, Ramieres," said the grandmother.
"Aye." The fisherman stole a glimpse of the woman. "How is that wreckage of a man? Does he still sleep? Pando said he has a fever."
"He HAD a fever. It broke last night. He has not opened his eyes yet, but he will."
Ramieres coiled the ropes neatly in the craft and lifted some buckets into the boat. "What will you do with him when he does?"
"Feed him, dress him, send him on his way."
Hesitating and wrapping a length of rope around his elbow and crook of this hand, he suggested, "Someone might be willing to pay for him."
"And how would I know that? God will repay me with rewards in heaven. You would do well to store your treasure there," she pointed skyward, "than seek treasure here," and she pointed at the earth.
Ramieres responded with a grunt. "As you wish, Old Woman. Come, Alejandro! The fish are waiting to jump in our boat and be our earthly treasure." He grinned at the woman and revealed a missing front tooth beneath the bushy mustache. "Get in, Pando. You cook our dinner tonight, yes, Old Woman? And, he can keep extra what he catches to feed that English."
"It will be so, Ramieres! Good fishing and God grant you a bountiful catch!"
Ramieres, Alejandro, and Pando crossed themselves in the fashion of Catholics.
"Good fishing, Pando! Be a good boy!"
"I will, Grandmother!" He waved and the two older men pushed the boat into the surf.
She stood for a time, watched the sail rise, catch the breeze, and beat out to sea. She said a prayer for their safety, tugged her clothing close against the early February cold, and turned to trudge home, dragging the gathering bag behind her. The sun would shine most of the day today. It would be a good day to finish rinsing the clothes of the English.
When she arrived at the hut, her daughter came out to meet her. Somewhat taller than her mother, the young woman was dressed in ankle length indigo muslin, covered by a long sleeved pale blue smock that went to her knees, and a grey, heavy wool and leather hooded-coat. The head-piece hung down the back and the soft waves of dark ash brown hair shone in the sun. She was light complected, a clear olive-white skin, and her eyes acorn brown. The full lips wore concerned strain as she broad stepped from the hut.
"Gabrielle! What brings you to see me?" She was not expected this day of the week. "You will not take Pando from me?"
"No, mother. Word has passed in the village you have a man washed in from the ocean. I came to see if he had murdered you in your bed. Why do you do these things?"
"You have seen him, yes?"
"Yes. I see you allow him to sleep in your bed!" exclaimed the daughter.
"Yes," said the old woman. Going between the hut and the shed, she pulled the findings from her bag, some seaweed, some branches, and spread them out to dry. "He sleeps because he is injured."
"But he will not sleep forever, mother. What if he wakes and, and..."
"He will not harm me. I know." Stepping to her daughter, she squeezed her hand. "You are a good girl to worry about your old mother. How is that baby?" she asked rubbing her daughter's extended tummy, with a smile. Not waiting for the answer, she stacked the gatherings of yesterday into their respective piles near the goat shed.
"The baby is well and you know it," she answered in frustration. This would be her fourth and she never had difficulties carrying her children or giving birth. "Mother, do not change the subject!"
"God sent him for me to help. He will not harm me."
"God sent him." The daughter stated with a frown. "Why does God send you the orphans of the world? You are not rich. You are not skilled."
"It does not take a great deal of skill to feed someone and keep them warm...and to pray for them. God does the healing. I am only the reminder."
"What of that bandage on his head? What if he dies? What if old Diego says you caused his death?"
"Old Diego? Does he know of the English?"
"Not yet, but he will. He knows everything."
The old woman stared solidly into the brown eyes of her daughter and pointed a sandy finger. "Don't you tell him. Don't you meddle in the business of God."
"Besides, he will not die. God did not send him to me to die. He sent him to me so I could care for him. This, I know."
The girl huffed, "Mother," but knew it was a useless argument. "Can I do anything to help you?"
The woman looked up from the sorting and grinned. "You are a good girl, Gabrielle."
The daughter softened as she gave in. "Can I be anything else and be your child?"
"Come help me rinse this great coat of his before it rots. It is the last of his clothing not rinsed of the sea."
"Who do you think he is?"
The mother shrugged. "He wore the uniform of an officer. I think he is English. I think he is navy. That is all I know." She grinned at her daughter and raised an eyebrow. "He has quite a package!"
"Mother!" Gabrielle's color reddened.
"You want to see?"
"Mother! What will God think of such a conversation?"
The old woman laughed. "I take care of him. I cannot help but see. He is a nice looking man, is he not?"
Gabrielle crossed herself. "God forgive you, my Mother!" She glanced at the older woman slyly. "Is he any where near the size of Miguel?"
The two women giggled and made their way to the river.
The third boat was lowered from the deck of Indefatigable. The seven man crew went over the side with Midshipman Wiggins about to follow as their commander. Previously, two other boats had been sent at six mile intervals, two leagues, to search the shore. Indefatigable would be returning to the second drop point to collect the first boats crew, and so forth, in a leap frog manner.
"Mr. Wiggins," called Pellew.
"Whether or not you find anything, you are to sail out by eight bells in the afternoon watch. I do not wish to take a chance on not retrieving you before nightfall."
"Yes, sir. Mr. Kennedy gave me his watch, sir, and the compass is in the launch," replied the young midshipman.
Pellew liked what he saw in Wiggins. He had a good head on his shoulders and was not afraid of taking responsibility for his actions. If it had not been for Mrs. Hornblower and her stories, he might not have noticed this diamond in the rough, or at least, certainly not as quickly. Even though Wiggins had damaged the main course of the main mast, the boy had avoided injuring his mates and taken the punishment for his folly.
This was the first assignment as a midshipman in which the boy would take command of a boat's crew, it consisting of men of Hornblower's division, and that circumstance made the young man of additional interest to Pellew.
The captain continued, "Note the triangulation of the shore, that south marker," he nodded his head towards it, "and that northern one. Come out beyond the shoals and we will find you. Is that clear?"
"Aye, aye, sir. I will, sir." He saluted and climbed down into the waiting boat.
Kennedy was by the rail looking down into the launch.
Styles looked up into the mellow blue eyes of the fourth leftenant and gave him a nod.
With an expression of resignation, he returned it. **I need to speak to you, Styles,** he thought. **I do not blame you, man. Do not think I do.**
Kennedy recollected the chance meeting with Matthews. The seasoned sailor had encountered him near the number twelve gun on the lower deck, ostensibly to inquire about the gun, but Hornblower's man managed to question him.
"Do ye blame Styles, sir?" Matthews asked as he cleaned the touch hole.
Kennedy turned his head sharply and eyed the old sailor. Styles had angered him that night, stopping him, dragging him away from the forecastle, but it was not Styles that occupied his thinking. "No," is what he had answered. Then, Matthews saluted him, said, "Thank ye, sir," and went to the next gun opposite. Kennedy started to follow him, but Connors approached him with another requirement.
He had not found opportunity to speak to Matthews or Styles until Styles spoke quietly just before going over the side saying, "If he's there to be found, sir, I'll find him."
Kennedy watched the boatload of Hornblower's men pulling on the oars and wished he were with them. Watching them row off constricted his heart unexpectedly, as if he were seeing Horatio drop into the raging sea all over again. He caught himself up and stiffened his stance as Pellew stepped beside him.
"How is your ankle, Mr. Kennedy?" Pellew asked, eyes holding constant the boat pulling away.
"Better, sir. Thank you," answered Kennedy, glimpsing the commander.
The next day, the old woman was standing next to the bed that held Hornblower and she conversed, even though he was unresponsive.
"All right, English. When are you going to get up?" She closed her eyes and prayed silently, then, clapped her hands. "Good idea. It is a good idea. So be it."
Going to the wooden chest, she extracted the clean and dry
clothes, and starting with the easiest first, she pulled the socks
onto his feet.
"Grandmother, what are you doing?" asked Pando from the doorway.
"Ah, Pando, come help me dress him."
"The Lord says to dress him."
"Good. No one should lay about in his altogether all the time," agreed Pando. "Maybe the clothes will want to go for a walk."
"Hee hee! That's right, boy, maybe that is the way the Lord thinks."
After an amount of struggling and heaving, and comments like, 'he is heavier than he looks, and why doesn't he help,' the two of them had him clothed in trousers and shirt.
"Whew! This is why God makes children small!" commented the old woman. "I need a drink! Come, let us get some milk from Getana."
"I'll get the bucket, Grandmother."
Pando opened wide the door and the cold from outside swirled into the bedroom. Hornblower shivered with the caress of cold air and his eyes opened, but Pando and his grandmother were headed for the goat shed.
Almost an hour passed before the two returned. Pando brought in a supply of wood and kindling, the grandmother a bucket of water and the clean cook pot.
"Freshen the fire, Pando. I need to get this stew started or we will have nothing for dinner."
She poured a measure of water into the container, then reached in a bag and pulled out three handfuls of rice, and then added a fourth for the pot. Some pinches of salt, carrot slices, onion, it was close to the standard fare. They would go digging for clams or crabs or whatever shellfish might be added, or perhaps Ramieres would arrive with a fresh catch to share.
She remembered her patient and went to check him. She gasped.
"What is it, Grandmother?"
The boy quickly stepped beside her.
"His eyes are open! English. English, do you speak Portuguese?" she asked. With no response she moved closer, then turned her head to look at the ceiling where his eyes appeared focused.
"What is he staring at, Grandmother? Why does he not speak? Is it because he does not know our language?"
The old woman looked closely at his eyes and waved her hand over them. She sighed and sank onto the bed.
"He is still asleep. His mind is asleep, though his eyes are awake. He does not see, he does not hear."
"He blinks his eyes! How can he not see if they are open? Is he blind? Is he deaf?"
"I told you, Pando, his mind sleeps. I have seen this before, long ago." She shook her head. "I must pray harder. God did not send you to me for this," she said to Hornblower downheartedly.
She knelt beside the bed and prayed, and Pando went to finish the fire and hang the pot for cooking. The boy looked over his shoulder at his praying Grandmother and said a prayer of his own. He figured it would not hurt for the English to have two people praying for him. If the Lord meant him to get well, he would, and like his Grandmother said, God does not send her any but those she can restore, help restore, that is, he corrected.
That afternoon, Hornblower remained staring into space. The woman had placed cold packs on the wound. A lump still remained. She felt through his hair for other injuries and found the old ones, including the cicatrix over his ear. She did not know if they were normal lumps on his skull or some memento of other injuries as the scar suggested.
"English," she called. She lifted his hand, pressed it to her cheek, then, kissed it. "English, wake up. You must wake up." She took his other hand and pulled on him. "English, come. Come." She tugged, then, released him. Taking his knees, she swung the feet to the floor, then, levered him into an upright position, and sat next to him to keep him that way. His chin rested on his chest. His breathing seemed to increase and he lifted his head. She watched his eyes, they were no longer transfixed, but looked as though they had shifted. He was staring at her chest. She looked down and saw his crucifix had slipped out of her blouse.
"You want this? It is yours."
She removed it and placed it in his palm. His eyes were cemented to the golden object.
Her grandson opened the outside door and in came the cold air. Hornblower shivered. Saliva was seeping out the side of his mouth and she wiped it with a cloth.
"Grandmother!" Pando stood wide-eyed, staring at the man.
"Pando, get his sweater from the chest, then, bring his shoes. We are going to take him outside into the sun."
Pando positioned himself on the other side of Hornblower and they both lifted under the arms. Hornblower was rocky at first but found his footing.
"Yes. He needs the sun, the wind, and one day we will take him to the sea. He will waken. I know it."
The two maneuvered haltingly through the low door, out to the scrub and sandy garden, until they could sit him in the weather worn wooden chair. Sparse trees bent towards land from years of onshore winds, dotting the perimeter. Pando ran back for blankets.
The old woman stroked his curls, tucked them carefully behind his ear, then, tied his long hair in a queue. "The sun will be good for you," she soothed.
Pando returned, and she overlaid him with a blanket. The grandmother squatted and looked into the vacant gaze. Pando mimicked her stance. Hornblower's eyes blinked against the wind and squinted.
"What has he got in his hand, Grandmother?" Pando canted his head to stare at the gold chain falling between Horatio's fingers.
She took his clutched hand in both of hers and rubbed over the knuckles. He opened his fingers and she lifted the chain, letting the crucifix dangle from it, then, placed it around his neck gently.
His head lowered and his eyes followed the golden cross. She took his finger and touched it to the emblem.
"Is he crying, Grandmother?"
The old woman looked into his face and saw a single tear tracing down his cheek.
"It may be the wind and sun that irritates the eyes." She wiped the dampness away. "Go get my sun hat, Pando."
Taking Hornblower's face in her hands, she watched his eyes, but they did not meet hers. She stroked the uninjured side of his head. "You will get better, English. It will take time, but you will get better," concern and certainty in her words.
Pando brought the hat and she carefully placed it on Hornblower.
"Come, Pando. We have chores to do."
"Is he just going to sit there?"
"Should I try to talk to him?"
"Yes, but finish your chores first."
For the next several days, it became the routine. Hornblower came to assist in the outings by standing or sitting on his own, when prompted, raising an arm for shirt removal, lifting a foot for trousers to be pulled on or off. He would hold a spoon, but had not yet remembered to lift it to his mouth. His stare remained blank for the most part. She could place his fingers on the crucifix and he would touch it for a while, but then his hand would drop and he would sit and stare, until near the end of the week when Gabrielle came to visit.
He was sitting in the chair as he had done for days. She stopped and stared at the man and he appeared to stare back.
"Hello," she said, but he remained silent. "Mother! Mother!"
"Gabrielle!" She quitted the home swiftly hearing the frantic calls of her daughter. A glimpse told her nothing was awry. The English was sitting as he always did. "You are early!"
"What is he doing out here?" she asked nervously. "Why does he stare at me?"
"Is he?" Her mother watched him. "I think you are right! Come keep me company while I gather the eggs."
Gabrielle watched over her shoulder. "He is definitely watching me, Mother! It frightens me. What is going on?"
"Well, the Lord told me to dress him, then, he opened his eyes. Pando and I got him out of bed, and now he walks, and sits, and..." she peered around her daughter to look at him, ".. finds you interesting. Oh yes, and he said something, but neither Pando nor I could understand it. He is close to remembering to feed himself, I think."
"Mother! How long are you going to keep him?"
Her mother laughed and gathered eggs into the skirt of her dress. "He isn't a pet, Gabrielle! He is a man. He is still sick and I will keep him until he is well. Could you bring that pile of wood for me?"
Gabrielle picked up the stack of wood indicated and when she rose, he was standing in front of her. She yelped and dropped the wood from her hands. The mother watched as the English stared at her daughter.
"What does he want?" asked the daughter fearfully.
"He will not hurt you." her mother whispered.
Hornblower stared at Gabrielle for a long time, looking at her face, looking at the protruding stomach where the baby grew, and then finally back to her face. Then, he knelt and picked up the wood, cradling it in the crook of an arm.
The mother clicked her tongue in awe. "Come, Gabrielle! Come!"
She followed her mother into the house, both looking back to see him trailing after and carrying the wood. He was so strange in his stiff movements and unvarying stare. The women entered the hut and he followed, stopping in the open door.
Gabrielle raised a hand to her lips. "He is so tall! Standing there in the doorway, Mother, he looks so tall!"
"He is tall... to us, Gabrielle." She placed the eggs in a worn wooden bowl, then went to him. "Come, English."
He bowed to enter the doorway, then, turned to the old woman and for the first time, his eyes actually seemed to register that he saw her. She smiled at him. His lips twitched as if he were trying to mimic what he saw.
"Over here, English. Put the wood in the box."
She took his elbow and motioned to the quarter filled box. He
dropped the wood into it, then, turned to stare at Gabrielle.
"Say something to him, Gabrielle."
"What? What should I say?" She moistened her lips. "Hello, English," and she curtsied for good measure.
He stared and twitched a facial muscle in response.
The scream of a seagull sounded from the open door and he turned to the sound, then, walked out the door on his own.
"Gabrielle! Gabrielle!" said the mother excitedly taking her daughter's hand. The two women followed him outside.
He was standing shading his eyes from the sun and looking at the seabird overhead. He traced its flight as the bird circled and soared, and then, Hornblower collapsed, unconscious onto the ground.
Kennedy leaned against the cane and watched the men descend into the boat. The crew of Indefatigable had searched the ocean shore from Coimbra, Portugal to El Ferrol, Spain, that setting sending Kennedy and Hornblower's men into a steeper silence. El Ferrol, the place of imprisonment when La Reve was captured, yet leading to Kennedy's return. Then, it had been Kennedy who was lost...but was found. Could they be as lucky with Hornblower? Hope was wearing thin after so many days of unavailing search.
For all their efforts, only barrels were found with French markings bobbing near an outlying reef, possibly from the sunken seventy-four, but it could have come from any ship. The sea kept what she took, only returning the most meager evidence of that she held in her grasp.
In Spain, near the Portuguese border, some fishermen advised a man had been taken into the village and given to the priest there. Sebastian ventured in with Hornblower's division since he spoke Spanish. Finding the priest, Sebastian made inquiries and learned the man was French and that he had been sent on to a Spanish garrison not far from the coast. It was a close run thing getting out of the country before their presence was reported to the soldiers.
It had been nearly two weeks since Hornblower was lost and they had searched diligently for his remains. Nothing. And, there was no sign of Brecon. The subject of what they were doing was not spoken of, they merely did, like automatons, waiting for some lever to be lowered to stop them.
One night, while in the quarter gallery, Kennedy had become lost in thought and sat there long after it was necessary. Whispers came to his ears. His night shirt fell to his knees as he stood at the door and cracked it to listen.
"I fear to suggest it, Mr. Bowles," Bracegirdle was saying.
"We are living a never ending nightmare. His memory has got to be buried," whispered Bowles.
"If you can tell me how, I will, but until Brecon arrives... Hornblower was like a son to him."
"I know, " sighed Bowles. "What about her?"
"He will not go until he has Brecon's missives ... or Hornblower's body. He will never find it, I fear."
"The ship still needs a proper foremast, might we get him to go on to Gibraltar for that? If we run into a fight or a storm... plus we need replacements for the lost men. If we took a prize, we would not have the men to send with her," argued Bowles quietly.
"I know. I know. We are headed south again, at least. Once he's finished inquiring at the towns along the coast, I'll broach the subject of the mast... and the men," sighed Bracegirdle. "We can hope he will reach these conclusions on his own. But there is still Brecon."
"If it were not for waiting for Brecon, do you think we would still be engaged in this futile searching?" asked the sailing master.
Bracegirdle looked long into the old eyes of his friend. "I cannot answer that, Dick. I do not think he could answer it either. Get some sleep and let us pray Brecon comes soon. This is not healthy."
The two men parted to their own cabins. Kennedy sat on the quarter gallery ledge, lost in their words. They were right. The atmosphere on Indefatigable was bleak. She was not the same ship any more.
It was days before Hornblower opened his eyes again. It appeared they were back where they started. The lump on his head diminished. The wound healed, but his progress was slow and another three days went by before he reached the point where he had been that day he fell to earth.
Life for the old woman and her grandson went on as always. The two of them busied with producing hemp bags to sell at the coming Carnival of Entrudo. After cutting enough cloth to make Pando the trousers he wanted, some of the canvas was used to make sacks of varying sizes. These, too, would be offered up for sale during Carnival, first to shop owners for customers to hold their purchases, and then to the general public.
One day before the beginning of Carnival, the old woman and the boy packed their bags. There was a bag for food, oranges, some bread, cheese, flour, onions, rice, and dried fish. Another was filled with the many assorted drawstring bags the two fashioned from the canvas and rope. The last held blankets and what few extra clothes might be taken along.
Hornblower stood in the cooking room, silent, hands clasped behind his back, dressed in his trousers, shirt, and burgundy sweater. His eyes traced each of them on occasion, but he never spoke, or gave any intimation that he could. The old woman looked up into his eyes, patted his chest, and smiled, working around where he was planted in the small room.
"We will not leave you, English. You come with us. You can carry one of the bags, yes? But, I fear your own coat is too fine for where we go. I have made a poncho for you."
She shook out the broad piece of canvas and flapped it over his head. He looked up and watched the off-white billows come down over him as his head poked through the opening. Pulling up on his arms a couple of times, she said, "Lift," and he did. "Good boy." She pulled the poncho close to his middle, and using a piece of rope as a belt, tied it around him. "It isn't much, but it should provide warmth enough with your sweater." She turned away and proceeded with the business of preparing for the journey.
His bearded chin lowered to his chest and he stared at the rope and canvas covering his body. The old woman did not notice the furrow of his brow as he raised a hand to touch the fabric and hemp. His expression was one of pondering and confusion. Neither she nor the boy saw.
Opening the door, the old woman sat the bags outside and called to Pando.
"Have you fed the chickens well?"
"Yes, Grandmother! I've left enough feed for four days. The silly birds will eat it all of course and then be on their own till we come back," he grinned and tugged on the lead for the goat, Getana.
They would sell some of the goat's milk and get a better price at Carnival. People always paid or traded a little more at these fetes. Besides, they could not leave the poor thing with a swollen udder for three days.
Carnival was to be relished. If not for the distraction of their patient, and the goods washed in with him, waiting for the days would have been nearly unbearable, especially so for his grandmother, whom Pando would have hounded even more with questions in eager expectation of the day.
"Old Ruffle won't let his hens out of sight. That rooster is near as good as a guard dog." She stepped back into the house and emerged holding Hornblower's hand, pulling him behind her. She let go his hand, and he walked over to sit in the chair.
Pando laughed. "English thinks it is a day like any other." Pando stepped near and watched him, seeing him stare at the material of the poncho. The sun beat upon it and the reflected light lit Hornblower's features, despite the hat. "You like the poncho Grandmother made you?" he asked. But Hornblower did not look up and fingered the rough rope about his waist. Pando took his free hand. "Hold onto Getana's lead, English, while I get the buckets and cook pot."
The feel of the rope draping his palm brought a shiver, not from cold. He stared at it and did not clutch it. Getana, seeing a juicy bit of grass to her liking, walked towards it, and the line slipped slowly over his palm. The sensation brought about a quivering as he watched it hit the dirt and drag behind the nanny. He followed the goat, picked up the rope, walked back to the chair, looped it around the arm with a half hitch knot, and then sat down.
Pando brought the leather skins of water and buckets and placed them over Getana's back. He stared at the knot on the chair and then into the outward staring eyes of Hornblower. "Did you do that, English?" he asked quietly. "One of these days you are going to answer my question and I am going to jump out of my skin." Pando shook his head. "Grandmother! Come look what English has done!"
She saw the knot and saw his blank gaze. "Slowly, slowly." Securing two of the bags to the goat, she took Hornblower's hand and tugged. He turned his head to her and stood. "You carry this, English." She put the hemp bag into his grasp and took his other hand. "Bring Getana, Pando. It is a long walk to Coimbra."
The path they followed took them up a promontory that gave a view to the sea. The travelers stopped to peer at a far away vessel. It looked like a toy from this distance. The old woman studied the face of the English but there was no sign of recognition and she was not sure he perceived it, so she asked.
"Do you see the ship, English?"
He gave no sign that he did as he blinked at the wide blue expanse. She saw his nostrils flair at the cool, salty breeze coming up from the shore.
"We will take you to the beach when we get back. Maybe Ramieres will take you in his boat. Come on." She was surprised that it took two tugs to pull him away from gazing out to sea, but he followed her obediently.
The British Frigate, flying a white ensign, furled her sail to deploy a shore boat. If the travelers had stayed to watch they would have seen the launch begin the long haul to the coast.
It was a jolt back to reality to take note of the approaching vessel presenting the specified signals. Brecon it was. Indefatigable was already hove to and the search party was well on its way seaside to inquire at the fishing village.
"Shall I call the boat back, sir?" asked Kennedy of the newly arrived Pellew.
Pellew noted the small vessel in the distance. "No, Mr. Kennedy. Let them proceed with the inquiry. I expect Captain Brecon will be in attendance for a time. We may as well let them check. It ... it will be our last." Pellew turned on his heel and departed the quarter-deck.
Kennedy felt a chill at the pronouncement. Cessation at last. It was a measure of relief, the final admittance to Hornblower's demise. It meant sailing to Gibraltar and telling Pamela. Kennedy leaned against the rail for support feeling his soul drape in black. How would they tell her? His eyes turned to the approaching launch. Finding Brecon's grinning visage fixed on his, Kennedy watched the man's change of expression, Brecon's pine green eyes altering to wonder. The pipes were sounding to welcome him aboard.
Brecon stepped on deck, saluted Pellew, and then, the ensign. "Captain Pellew," he grinned, "Have you been waiting long? In truth, I am surprised to find you still here and especially so close into shore. Forgive my tardiness."
"Captain Brecon. Welcome aboard, sir," said Pellew.
"Mr. Bracegirdle, good to see you," said Brecon amiably, "and you, Mr. Rampling." Brecon's brow twitched seeing the sling encasing Rampling's left arm.
"Captain Brecon, sir," greeted the first leftenant.
Rampling nodded. "Sir."
Brecon motioned forward. "I could not help but notice your foremast, Captain. Have you seen battle?"
"We did, sir, about two weeks ago, but that repair is from a storm that came on us afterwards, not enemy fire."
"You shall have to tell me about it. My men have cargo to come aboard." and he motioned to them below. The blonde queue flashed over his shoulder. "This is like meeting old friends. I see Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Bowles. Where is Mr. Hornblower and Mr. McMasters? On that boat you sent ashore?"
Pellew lowered his eyes briefly. "Mr. Rampling, see to Captain Brecon's cases. Come to my cabin and let us have a glass of wine, Captain."
"It would be my pleasure," the joy of the reunion was fading from the intelligence agent. Something was amiss with Pellew's ship, that was clear. Kennedy had not looked pleased to see him and he counted the man a friend, despite the difference in rank. After all, he was not normally a sea captain.
Entering the after cabin, Pellew motioned for Daniels to leave. He poured a drink for the two of them. "Would you care to sit, sir?"
"I do not, Captain Pellew," his tone curious, "What has happened?"
"Nothing out of the ordinary," his speech mildly caustic, yet dismissive, "Do not be concerned. What are my orders?" asked Pellew, taking a breath and a seat. Conflicting emotions demanded his attention; he held them at bay.
Pellew stated one thing, but... either he was lying or... something catastrophic had occurred. Brecon lifted the wine and peered at the color, back lit by the stern windows, then, sat and eyed the warship officer. "You are to take me to Gibraltar."
Pellew received the information stoicly. It was not Brecon he meant to take to Gibraltar but Hornblower.
"Unless something has occurred to prevent you from fulfilling that task." Brecon fished for information.
"Take you to Gibraltar," repeated Pellew. The words echoed in his head and he spoke them to insist on their predominance for others were clawing for attention, the ones he had been holding back for two weeks.
"Aye, Captain." Brecon sampled the wine and found it pleasant, then, watched Pellew toss back the contents of his glass. "I promise I have no absinthe along this time," he smiled. The joke fell flat.
Pellew stood and stared out to sea. His heart ached and he knew the cause. The vain striving must end. "Very well. It is time we were on our way," replied Pellew softly.
"Captain Pellew, I know I am not your favorite son, but..."
"Mr. Hornblower is dead." blurted Pellew. There. He gave it voice. "So is McMasters." Silence. "Both of them fine young officers." Pellew bowed his head, then, faced the stunned guest.
"It is not something I would wish to hear, Captain Pellew. Is this a recent occurrence?" asked Brecon, the light accent of the French Canadian showed concern.
Pellew frowned. "McMasters, no." He paused. "Hornblower, yes. In the storm."
"May I offer my condolences?"
Pellew ignored or did not hear the offer of sympathy. Brecon sensed Pellew's loss of the men was keener than any commander should ever allow. The man had gotten too close to his officers. He knew that last August when Pellew had wanted to throttle him over the Toulon adventure. Brecon knew the dangers of friendship. He, too, made similar mistakes and he feared he would make them again ... and so would Pellew, unless he hardened his heart and became less the man that he was. Brecon was fairly certain the later would never come to pass. And, from his own experience, he knew there was nothing he could say or do that would ease Pellew's grief. Two weeks? It was surprising that after such a length of time the pain would be so near the surface.
"When did you wish to sail?" Pellew asked off-handedly, attempting to attend. The rush of grief was greater than he expected. Sufficient time had not yet elapsed and possibly never would. Hornblower would be a predominant presence along with the other ghosts of his past. What a company he was acquiring.
"As soon as your boat returns, if not sooner. Have they gone for supplies?"
Pellew breathed in long and slow and poured another glass of wine for himself and topped off Brecon's. Pellew tossed back the glass while Brecon remained holding his.
Indefatigable's commander rolled the wine stem between his finger and thumb. "You know, Captain, I think ... I think I would like a cup of coffee. Would you... would you excuse me for a moment?" Not waiting for an answer, Pellew walked into the quarter gallery and promptly threw up.
Brecon sat the glass down and inquired at the door. "Captain Pellew, can I get you something?"
Pellew placed his hands on the wooden wall and leaned. **God, I cannot let this affect me this way.** "No, Brecon. I... Could you ... give me a moment?"
"May I rely that Indefatigable can transport me to Gibraltar?"
"Yes, you may," answered Pellew strongly.
"Then, I will confer with Mr. Bracegirdle concerning my quarters. We will speak later, Captain, when you are well."
Pellew wiped his face, grimaced, and thought, **Christ, I will never be well.** He sat on the ledge, gathered his knees to his chest, and fought the emotion for all he was worth. **God, I cannot do this.** Taking deep breaths, he calmed... and felt a headache coming on.
Matthews and the men rowed into shore near the village. Leaving the boat with Barkley, Hanson, and Bradley, he, Styles, Oldroyd, and Hardy walked into the grouping of wind blown and sun bleached huts. Fishing nets were draped over horizontal poles, boats were turned keel up, washing blew in the soft breeze, and the aroma of cooking wafted in the air.
Matthews scrunched his nose at the few people he could see. Mostly old, infirm, and a middle-aged woman with a young girl and a bevy of small children in her care. The three sailors stopped about center the hovels and looked about.
"Where is everybody?" asked Styles.
"Beats me where these Portygeeze dagos go," said Matthews scratching his head. He pulled a paper from his waist band, opened it, then, accordioned his arm to read it silently. He approached an old man sitting against one of the huts watching them. Taking a breath, he looked at the words. "I hate speakin' this Dago lingo."
Styles poked him with an elbow. "Ask him in English first."
Matthews frowned and nodded and took a doubtful breath. "We come from the English Navy." He said slowly, motioning at the companions. "We are looking for a British Naval Officer. Have you found a man washed in from the sea? Have any of your people found an Englishman at sea? Hornblower's his name." Matthews squinted and waited for an answer.
The old man muttered, a single tooth in his mouth. "Não
The sailors looked at each other.
"What does that mean, Matty?" asked Oldroyd. "Does that mean he don't speak English or there ain't no English here?"
Matthews scrunched his lips, looked at the paper, and read the words in phonetic Spanish. It was the best they could come up with.
Styles watched the old man's countenance sharpen at the new attempt. When Matthews was finished, the old Portuguese said slowly and precisely, "O nenhum ingles aqui."
"Let's ask somebody else. Maybe the old man dint understand ye," suggested Styles.
Matthews frowned. The man sounded clear on the subject to him, but he was willing to give it another go. "Right. Come on." Matthews decided to approach the woman with all the young children.
She sat with a butter churn held between her feet, dressed in the common muslin and wool clothing of the poor, lifting the wooden paddle up and down and turning it methodically. Squinting in the sun, the woman eyed the three men and spoke to the young girl who gathered the smaller children in a huddle.
Matthews smiled at the woman and knuckled his head. "Good morning, ma'am. Might you speak English?"
She shook her head and maintained the motion. "Não English. Não, senhor."
Matthews read the Spanish note and the woman heeded the words, but shook her head. "O nenhum ingles aqui." She glimpsed the old man watching the sailors and her. "Desculpe-me." Standing, she spoke to the children and all of them entered one of the huts.
"I guess we ain't welcome," observed Oldroyd.
"I''d like to know where every body is," stated Hardy, joining the threesome. "The boats are here. Where are all the men? They ain't fishin'."
Styles pushed Matty on the shoulder. "Go ask that old man where every body is."
"He don't speak English, Styles," stressed Matthews.
"So? Donde todos los people? Ain't that all ye got to say?"
Matthews admired Styles persistence and returned to the old man sitting in the shade. He smiled. "Excuse me, sir, but.... a.... Donde todos," he splayed his arm in a sweeping motion.
"O carnaval em Coimbra."