An American Encounter, Part Three
by Skihee

Ch 35 Wind in the Rigging

Hornblower was five days all together in the presence of Sean Hagerty. The old man made him eat almost hourly it seemed to Hornblower and he had put back on some of the weight lost, but he remained thinner than he had ever been.

The two of them took pains to prepare the boat more efficiently for Hornblower's final voyage. Barrel butts were secured to the boat's sides, upright, tarred thickly on the bottom half, the lid sealed with wax, and then covered with wax soaked tarps. One was filled with the bread cakes that had been cooked over a low flame for hours till they were nearly as solid as ship's biscuit yet not burned. Hagerty boiled eggs and put them in ceramic jars of vinegar. Pickled eggs were not one of Hornblower's favorite, but he could eat them if necessary. Cabbage was prepared similarly, a vegetable not his favorite. These were stored in another barrel filled with hay for padding. A third barrel was equipped with foods Hornblower would consume right away, including a few jars of the thick lamb stew prepared last night. The water casks in the boat were emptied and refilled with fresh water. Hagerty donated two sheep skins for added warmth. Finally, while the two of them stood amongst the trampled underbrush surveying their handiwork, Hagerty suggested the French markings should be painted over. Hornblower would be sailing into the main shipping lanes and he was liable to come upon British warships. If he did not want to be taken for French, found English and accused of running, he had best blot those out. Hornblower agreed and the two returned to Hagerty's home for the white wash.

"What'll ye name her? Pamela after yer wife?" asked Hagerty.

The idea made Hornblower smile. "Yes. Why not?"

The painting took three coats to cover the French words and numbers. With blacking he formed the new name on both the larboard and starboard bow and the stern.

"She's done, Mr. Hornblower," grinned Hagerty.

"She is indeed, Mr. Hagerty. How can I repay you?" Hornblower undid the leather strap that attached the dirk to his belt.

Hagerty held up a hand and shook his head. "I don't want your sword, man. You owe me nothing. You have been good company, sir." Hagerty held out his hand and Hornblower took it, each man squeezing warmly. Finally, Hagerty added. "Don't run, laddie. Go back. If ye don't, ye can never go back to England."

"I told you my intentions."

"I know. But the arms of a woman are sweet."

"She would not ask it of me." Hornblower paused, then said, "I know, she will not ask it of me."

"Those are the hardest requests to refuse, Horatio, the ones left unspoken." Hagerty looked long into Hornblower's brown slightly confused eyes.

At last, Hornblower said, "The war will not last forever."

Hagerty smiled wryly and nodded. "Let's home to dinner and a good nights rest for ye, eh?"

They tugged the boat closely into the trees' branches overhanging the waters edge and covered the rest with the cut limbs.

 

That early morning, Hornblower, at Hagerty's suggestion, wore the monk's robe over his other clothing, and he was out into the Atlantic before the sun was two points off the horizon. The cold mantle of winter persisted despite the proximity to the vernal equinox, but the ocean was as smooth as glass in defiance of the steady breeze on the larboard quarter.

Reaching into his pocket, he removed the small compass Hagerty had given him. It was a precious gift. Hagerty's wife had presented it to him early in their marriage, because he missed the sea, she had told him, and she had offered to let him return. But said Hagerty, there was no going back for him, not the way he'd left. They'd hang him certain sure. So, he kept it as a token and sign of her love, and what better use than for it to lead Hornblower back to his own heart's desire.

**My heart's desire,** mused Horatio, with a sigh.

He was alone. Felicia was happily placed with Hagerty's chickens and he promised not to eat her.

"It's just you and me, God, on this final leg of our journey."

Hornblower turned his head to the phrase he thought he heard. Then said aloud, "What do you mean, not final?" There was only silence and Hornblower knit his brow and yanked on the boom line to close haul the sail, seeking to hasten the passage before anymore adventures... or adversity.

The sailing was fine all that day. Hornblower was not dampened as he was wiser now to the necessities of sailing in an open boat. One of the sheep skins he sat on to cushion the hard wooden plank and the other draped his feet. He was quite comfortable, considering.

Late that afternoon, he watched for a night anchorage and found the inland waterway Hagerty suggested, there along the tip of the peninsula. Tomorrow, he could very well enter the Straits. With luck, he could be in Gibraltar in two days time. Keeping to the center of the channel, he watched for what he hoped would be an unobserved spot to drop anchor. Just as the sun lowered behind the squat dunes to the southwest, he nosed the bow towards the starboard shore.

Land under his feet again. It was good to be able to walk about after a day of confinement. The area seemed secluded. He carried the anchor far onto the land and dropped it, then took a walk to survey the environs. Scrub grass and sand was all he found, along with a little driftwood, and he considered a meager fire. As comforting as the heat would be the thought of not being in the boat made him uneasy and he decided against it. He would sleep in the bottom of the boat, not on land. The only account he could find for the caution was that phrase inside his head.

It was the sound of an argument that woke him, sharp words and angry tones. Hornblower lay there staring up at the stars, one sheep skin under his head and the other draping legs and feet, trying to decide if he was dreaming, or if he had heard something. There, the distinct sound of flesh hitting flesh and a curse with threats. Easing over to the side, he peeked over the gunwale. A single-masted sloop was gliding past. A light on the mast and the stern lit the struggle between two swarthy men with jet black hair scuffling in the after section of the sloop. Hornblower saw the glint off the blade as the man with the upper hand plunged it into the chest of the other, then he and another man, emerging into view, pushed the stabbed man overboard.

"The tide'll take him out to sea," Hornblower heard spoken with a heavy Spanish accent. "The sharks'll make short work of him," said the other gruff Spanish voice. One of the men spat into the sea defiantly. "British pig."

The sloop had barely disappeared from view as Hornblower lay on his back pondering what he had just witnessed, when a wet hand clamped onto the gunwale and startled him out of the reverie.

"Help me," said a rasping voice,

Though the words were English, there was a slight accent Hornblower could not quite place.

"Help me, please."

The hand was loosing its grip. Hornblower grasped it, pulled the man around the stern of the boat towards the bow and the shallow shore. Hornblower leapt over the body to the riverbank and dragged him out of the water. The man's front was covered with the pale stain of blood washed by the sea, however, a new stream of red was darkening it. Hornblower pressed his palm on the wound to stop the bleeding.

Only a fingernail moon hung high in the starlit sky and the man's features were faint in the spare heavenly light.

"Thank you, thank you."

The man clutched Hornblower's shoulder with amazing strength considering the wound. Hornblower could see the whites of his eyes and knew the darks were focused on his face. The sudden intake of breath startled Hornblower and he thought the man had breathed his last.

"Are you a ghost?" asked the man.

Hornblower did not know how much longer the man would live.

"Speak apparition," the man enjoined him.

"What would you have me say?" asked Hornblower.

The fingers pressed into Hornblower's shoulder. "Hornblower?"

Horatio's brow furrowed. "Yes. That's right."

The man shook either with laughter or the throes of death, Hornblower was not sure.

"Are you dead, man?" asked the dying man.

"No. But you soon will be if this bleeding does not stop."

White teeth shone and the man started to laugh, but stopped and merely grinned broadly.

"Not dead. Not dead."

Hornblower was not sure if the man referred to himself or to him.

"You don't remember me. Perhaps it is the stain and the black hair." The man reached up and pressed the palm of a hand to swipe over his forehead revealing white skin beneath. He paused for effect, then said, "I once danced with your wife."

The man waited and watched Hornblower closely.

"Brecon? Captain Brecon? Dear God!" said Hornblower astonished.

"We thought you were dead. Kennedy did not think so. Pellew did not want to. How did you do it, man?"

"You are the greater concern, sir." Thoughts flooded Hornblower's mind, first that Indefatigable had survived, then a frantic search of all he knew. What could he do with what he had to hand? He took the fingers that clutched his shoulder and placed them over the warm pumping vein of Brecon's chest. "Press here, sir. There may be a sailmaker's needle in the boat's locker. It will take me a moment to get the lantern lit. You won't lose consciousness, will you?"

"No," grinned Brecon, "no, indeed, I will not."

Hornblower removed the spare sail and covered Brecon. He returned to light the lantern and search the locker. There it was, needle and twine. The tip was huge. "Damn," Hornblower swore under his breath. He tossed everything he thought he might need into the blanket, including a small jar of salve and some binding cloth Hagerty insisted on giving him for his hands.

Falling on his knees beside Brecon, Hornblower placed the lamp as close as he could to lend light to the wound.

"I do not know how much I can do, Captain." Hornblower pulled off his neck cloth, hoping to preserve the clean bandaging for final use. "The needle is too big. Let me see. Press here until I can clear away some of the blood."

Hornblower had watched his father sew up many a gash. How deep this one was, he did not know. He ran to the water's edge and scooped up a cup of the salt water.

Brecon gasped as the briny fluid flowed over the open wound. "I am awake, Hornblower, these types of inducements are unnecessary," he said through clinched teeth.

Hornblower wiped away the fresh press of blood.

"No proper needles... nor razors neither," stated Brecon.

"What?" asked Hornblower. "A razor?"

"The beard."

"Captain, this is not the time ... We will discuss our mutual situations later, if you please. The bleeding has slowed somewhat. The blade must have only nicked the artery. Are you having any difficulty breathing?"

"No."

"Missed the lung, too, then. You are a lucky man, Captain Brecon."

"I'm not really a captain, you know."

"Would you rather I called you Agent Brecon, then?"

After considering a moment, he said, "Captain Brecon will do, Mr. Hornblower. You need a small needle, you say?"

"Yes, but I haven't one."

"My shoe, the right, in the heel."

Hornblower received this with astonishment.

"I cannot remember if it is a needle or a straight pin. Check it." Brecon raised his right leg and crossed it over his left knee; water flowed out of the boot.

Hornblower gripped the heel and pulled. Holding it in his hand, he slid back the metal cap. Inside were two pins, some kind of tablets, a tiny key, some slips of paper, and a pencil. He removed the two pins and held them to the light.

"You've one of each!" exclaimed Hornblower.

"Good, good. I shall have to put in my report that every agent should be so equipped for just such an eventuality," stated Brecon, "stabbed, then rescued by the son of a doctor who is a leftenant in his majesty's navy. Who, I might add, is supposed to be dead."

"Your memory amazes me, captain. Have you thread in the other heel?" asked Hornblower.

Brecon laughed. "I thought Kennedy told me your sense of humour was wanting."

"I was not joking, sir."

Brecon laughed harder.

"Please, Captain, now is not the time for jocularity." Hornblower lifted the sail-making twine and separated the strands. "Perhaps you should suggest the thread." Hornblower inserted the twine through the eye of the tiny needle. "This is going to hurt."

"I am familiar with pain, sir," said Brecon soberly. "Besides... it already hurts."

"I need you to hold the skin apart for me so I can get to the vein. I will be as quick as I can, but I am no doctor."

"Put my fingers where you want them, Doc."

Hornblower adjusted the lantern. "I can barely see. It looks that the blade nicked the collar bone. The vein is not cut in two. Two stitches at most, Brecon, hold on." Hornblower tied it off, then cut the twine with the tip of his dirk. "You can move your fingers, Captain. Now, the skin. Six stitches, I think. The bleeding is lessened."

Hornblower sat back and sighed with relief. After a breath or two, he said, "I haven't any extra clothing, sir, I shall have to wash these."

Hornblower helped Brecon to sit up and remove the coat and shirt. He opened up the sail putting the ensanguined side to the ground. The canvas was thick enough the blood did not soak through. Using the neck cloth, he wiped away the fluid's stain from the chest and shoulders and helped Brecon move over onto the sail, then pulled off the rest of the agent's wet clothing and wrapped the spy in one of the blankets. Cutting a strip from the sail, he fashioned a bandage around the man.

Brecon lay with his eyes open staring at the stars. Hornblower covered him with one of the sheep skins. He leaned down to peer into Brecon's face.

"You aren't dead, are you, sir?"

"No, Doc," he answered wearily. "Just thanking my lucky stars for ghosts with medical abilities. God must love England."

Hornblower stopped in mid-lean to collect the bloody shirt and coat and looked back at Brecon. "You believe in God, Captain?" asked Hornblower.

"I do tonight. Do you?"

Hornblower did not answer but stepped into the boat and leaned over the larboard side to rinse the shirt and coat. He was just finishing as his eye caught the glisten of water cut by a fin and a flash of tail. Sharks. He stared at the dark water for moments watching the fins dart around each other then disappear beneath the dark pool. In a flash, he recalled the dream last June in Gibraltar. He listened closely. Only silence. No baby's cry. He lay out the clothing to dry, then grabbed the last blanket and the wine flagon.

Brecon took up the wineskin and drank deeply. "A palatable red wine." He took another drink. "You did not answer, Hornblower. Do you believe in God?"

Hornblower thought about his answer. "He is my traveling companion... at the moment."

Brecon smiled. "Good. We can use all the help we can get."

Hornblower lay down beside Brecon, his back towards him, then covered them both with the last blanket and sheep skin. He settled and lay quiet.

"I owe you my life," said Brecon softly.

"Then, we are almost even, sir. Think no more on it."

"Why almost?"

"I owe you for my wife... and my men."

"Kennedy said you would carry the blame of being captured like a millstone. It's been six months, Hornblower. Let it go. You did your duty."

"Go to sleep, sir."

"I always try to follow my doctor's orders, Doctor."

Hornblower sighed heavily but said no more.

 

Brecon woke to the smell of hot tea and frying eggs. The gentle shooshing sound of surf drifted across the dunes from the sea side of the land spit. The morning was cold with a light breeze though the sun was up and on the rise.

Hornblower, aware the man had awakened from the change in his breathing, eyed Brecon briefly, then tended the food. The spy's face bore a white streak on the forehead where he had wiped at the stain. New growth of blonde hair was just at the roots of the boot black hair. Purpling bruises on the chin and cheek bone marked the blows Brecon had sustained in the fight before he was stabbed.

"You look like hell, Captain," said Hornblower.

Wincing, Brecon lay a hand on his chest and tried to rise but fell back in the attempt.

Hornblower raised an eyebrow and frowned. The man would need his help. He would take Brecon to Gibraltar. He would have to explain to Brecon that he must keep his secret, that he was alive and not lost at sea, until after he had some time with his family. Just a little time to hold his wife, to hold his child. Was it so much to ask?

"Thank you, Hornblower, for helping me last night." Brecon grabbed a fist full of the sandy soil and rubbed it over his face, scrubbing at the stain that darkened it and his neck.

"Here, sir!" Hornblower extended a long leg and crabbed over. "What happened? Did the disguise fail you?" Hornblower wiped at the sand and stain with the dampened neck cloth. "You're cold." He draped the second sheep skin on the agent.

"I don't know how they found me out. We seldom do."

"Close your eyes." Hornblower wiped hard against the skin. "Could we finish this after breakfast? The eggs may burn." He wiped his hands on the monk's robe and leaned towards the cook pan sitting in the small fire.

Brecon smiled crookedly. "What are you on about, Hornblower? Why are you dressed this way? Why the beard? Infringing on my occupation, are you?"

"Hardly," he replied but offered no further explanation.

Brecon pondered the silent response. "So I am to guess? I do not know how the devil you are alive. Kennedy said you have the luck."

"Indefatigable... is... all right, then, I take it," said Hornblower shyly.

"Thanks to you, by all reports. She dropped me off here some weeks ago. All were well, though the loss of a particular officer was keenly felt. It has been more than a month, has it not? Where have you been? How did you survive?"

"Here." Hornblower raised Brecon up slightly, supporting the man's back. "Let me help you. The tea will warm you." Hornblower helped to steady a cup of tea and Brecon drank. "Not too hot is it?"

"It is welcome, Leftenant." Brecon sighed as Hornblower eased him down.

Hornblower sprinkled a few grains of salt onto the cooked eggs. "Eat. It will give you strength."

Brecon accepted the food from Hornblower and watched him intently.

"I'm not run, if that is what you are thinking," said Hornblower unable to resist a reply to the steady gaze. "Indefatigable was to go to Gibraltar after we collected you. It would have been an opportunity ... for me to see my wife.... and my child." Hornblower helped the man up and this time Brecon leaned onto his elbow and drank without assistance. "They think I am dead?"

Brecon nodded. "What else could they think?"

Hornblower nodded and sighed and mulled over the implications. It was the perfect out. He could keep his honor with England as a dead man, and go to lead another life in another country. **I cannot...** he told himself as the thought of remaining permanently 'dead' crossed his mind.

Though he had quickly refused Daniel Dawson's offer to work for Dawson Import and Export, when the ache for Pamela rose in his breast, he reconsidered the idea. It was always niggling in the back of his mind, the opportunity to lead a normal peaceful life in a backwater country like the United States of America, working for an established firm, the in-law to a wealthy merchant man like Dawson. There would be ships and the sea if he so desired, or a landside job to keep him near to her, to raise a family, to have a home... and there would always be the sea and ships. But here he was, full circle again. England. Pamela understood him perfectly where England was concerned. What more is there than England? The answer came easily...Pamela,... my love... and ever would she be. With that final thought, he began the never ending cycle again, like treading the capstan of a ship.

"Did the Indy go to Gibraltar? Do you know?" asked Hornblower, shaking from the circle of thought.

"Yes ... and with some dread."

**Pamela.** //"Archie, tell Pamela I love her."// It was a memory he had not recalled until now. **Dear God! She thinks I'm dead!**

"Damn." Horatio stared at the slack water. "As soon as the tide is high enough, we're leaving. I'd have already gone except for the damn center board and the weight of two men." What would the news that he was dead do to her?

"I appreciate you including me, but you cannot go to Gibraltar... not yet," said Brecon.

"I damn well can and I will," said Hornblower. "What do you mean?"

"My mission,... OUR... mission is not yet finished."

Hornblower rose suddenly. "I'm not on any damn mission, Brecon. I'm going to my wife. I'm going to see my wife and my child." He turned away and looked towards heaven with eyes closed. **God. Not final? Not final? Is this what You meant? No. No. I won't. I will not help him. I want to see Pamela. I want to hold her. I want to hold our baby.** He bowed his head and kicked the dirt. **Please!** he begged, **Don't make me do this. I cannot be but a day away, two at the most. Do not delay me further.**

"I cannot do it without you, Hornblower. And it must be done. It is vital to England's interests."

Hornblower wheeled round, his eyes bitterly angry, his body trembling with the shout of refusal stifled in his throat. Lips parted and chest heaving, Hornblower spun and headed off down the windswept shore with long purposeful strides, refusal in his heart and rage in his soul. He pounded the sandy soil with furious foot falls, grains of the stuff exploding around the leather shoes. Stopping, he threw his body around. He could no longer see the boat or Brecon.

"I gave my life for Indefatigable!" he argued to no one.

**You did not die,** came the reply in his head.

"They think I'm dead."

**But you are not.**

**I could be,** he answered in thought.

**But you're not.**

Hornblower sighed, wagging his head in wondering frustration.

"I want to see her," he pleaded, letting his hands fall abjectly.

**You will.**

"Not soon enough," he said softly and dejectedly as he crossed his ankles and lowered onto the ground.

//You are an officer in his majesty's navy. Whatever... whatever befalls us ... you must never forget...//

Hornblower clasped his hands over his ears. "I want to see her."

////"Officers should not marry. At least not until they hold the rank of captain, Captain. Wives are a distraction, Pellew, a distraction, I say."////

Hornblower could hear and see Admiral Jervis saying this to Captain Pellew on the day of his land wedding. The high ranking officer spoke the admonition loudly. Horatio remembered darting eyes to Pamela. She had not heard the comment as she was intently listening to Rampling describe a boarding action for Elizabeth Langdon.

////They've not the responsibility of command, Pellew. Too much idle time for thought. Mark my words," nodded Jervis. "Nothing like the embrace of a woman to pull a man from his duty. I've seen it first-hand," nodded the older man, tipping back a glass of orange juice. "Makes 'em hesitate."////

"I'm not hesitating," replied Hornblower hotly to the long ago conversation. "I know what I want."

/////"Spoils a good man for duty. Spoils him to his damned core," added Jervis.

"Admiral Jervis. No doubt what you say may be true for some, but you do not know my leftenant. I have every faith in him. He is a fine officer..." assured Pellew, "and he knows his duty well."/////

Hornblower's shoulders sagged. "I do not want to remember this," he said woefully. And he had not, until now.

**Brecon needs your help,** came the thought.

"I want Pamela," he stated angrily, like a child demanding to have his way. "I have been put off long enough!"

The voice in his head silenced, replaced with the rush of waves pounding the shore. The immense quiet startled him, as if a door on a noisy room had suddenly slammed shut. There was emptiness. Hornblower looked all around him and felt a tremendous loneliness descend upon his very soul. Protest vanished and he rose to his feet.

"I'm not too late," he insisted. The feeling that a final straw had been broken, not on his side of the conversation, but on ... whose? God's? "I've only been waiting for the tide." He muttered the excuse, hurrying back to the small campsite. **One more thing? One more?** questioned Hornblower in his mind. "If that is what You want. I will do it," he said aloud. "Please. I'll do it. I promise. Please." He lengthened the stride.

But He who makes the heart knows all its secrets and these plans were made long ago. There was nothing new under the sun. Even a gambler can predict odds, and games can be won with knowledge of the players' hands and feeble strategies.

Brecon knelt by the shore with his head nearly in the water. The white flesh of his torso contrasted with the dark stain that remained on the back and sides of his neck. With his left arm pressed tightly against his chest, he rubbed violently at the black hair, the true blonde color emerged dimly.

"Captain! Have a care, sir," said Hornblower gingerly grabbing onto Brecon's shoulders.

"You haven't deserted me, then, eh Hornblower?"

The idea pierced Hornblower's heart of honour and he replied defensively, "I have not, sir."

Desertion. In the secret recesses of his heart of hearts the ominous consideration hovered.

Separation. The harpooned heart tethered with a savage cord that spun and wrapped tightly round, crushed the lungs, made breathing difficult, and disappeared like a gossamer strand of unbreakable metal all the way to Gibraltar, twining Pamela's heart, for the two beat as one. The cord needed easing; it needed slackening. Close proximity would abate the ache of the strain. She was oxygen.

Hornblower closed his eyes. He had allowed his emotions, his passions to wind about hers like invading tentacles of some ravenous sea creature. Now that he recalled the mission given Archie, new unrealized anxieties erupted. What would she do?

Dolphin. Rejection. /////He felt the slack muscles of her upper arms as he squeezed. "You are not a jinx to me or to any man. Stop thinking those thoughts ...I love you./////

**That was a lifetime ago,** Hornblower thought sadly, then wildly, **Why do I think on this? I will run mad.**

"You know, if I had a bit of soap this would come out quicker. I do not suppose you have a cake of it, do you, Hornblower?" asked Brecon.

"Soap? Soap?" He repeated the word in an attempt to get his preoccupied mind to understand the query. "Yes. There is soap in the boat locker."

Brecon lifted his head and rivulets of water rippled onto his skin, rolling down onto the lightly-furred muscular chest and dribbling into the grey woolen blanket wrapped about his waist. "Do you jest?" he asked astonished.

"No, sir. They would have used it to ease the sheets through the grommets. The damned French never use what they have. It remains perpetually new. Shall I get it?"

Blinking beneath the surreal circumstance, Brecon answered simply and with a sputter, "Yes, please."

Hornblower fell into mindless activity. The scant camping supplies were stowed. The brackish water of the inland waterway had risen adequately to sustain their combined weight and keep the keel board from dragging the bottom. Brecon was blonde once more despite the resistance of the salt water to lend a hand. His wound seemed less serious in the light of day, however, Hornblower would not let his amateurish abilities stand as the cause.

Pushing with an oar, Hornblower directed the bow away from the shore, coming about with the prow aimed west and north to return to the Atlantic. Brecon explained that the place he needed to go could only be reached from the ocean, and once in the Atlantic that the boat should turn south, and then east. At least that would mean Hornblower was headed in the correct direction, towards the Straits of Gibraltar.

Hornblower settled into the command position at the tiller, while Brecon lay in the bottom of the boat, his head barely high enough to see over the gunwale, partly due to the spy's desire to remain unseen should his 'friends' of last night reappear. Hornblower had made him as comfortable as possible, giving him his burgundy sweater to wear until Brecon's own clothing was dryer (the oversized knit garment was humorous on the spy and Hornblower wondered if he looked equally ridiculous in it, though he suspected it and the fever he recalled were what had preserved his life during the hours spent in the rough freezing storm waters, that is, if one did not count God as the saving factor). As the day progressed, he was glad to be shut of the woolen garment for the sun beat down upon them as spring had come.

At some point, Hornblower briefly considered the absurdity of exchanging a chicken as a passenger for a blonde Canadian spy. A spy, who by his own admission had rammed Indefatigable. That was water athwart the hawse. The man had rescued Pamela and his crew from the fort in Toulon, not to mention his own bumbling self. With a silent sigh, he remanded those thoughts to exile.

The day was fine, the sea agreeable, and the company... was acceptable.

Hornblower was aware that Brecon had shifted so he could view him at the tiller. The man had an odd look on his features. What was he thinking? And then, as if he had read Hornblower's wonderings, Brecon spoke.

"Affection is a coal that must be cooled. Else, suffered it will set the heart on fire. The sea hath bounds, but deep desire hath none." Brecon's mouth turned wryly. "You intend to go to your wife before telling the navy you live. That's it, is it not? That is why you dress this way, why the beard?"

"Yes," admitted Hornblower.

"The sea hath bounds, but deep desire hath none. Venus and Adonis," smiled Brecon, "Shakespeare."

"Ah," replied Hornblower. "You did sound a bit like Archie... when he falls into one of his ... moods." Kennedy came full into his remembrance, the face he had looked upon when an amnesiac, not recalling Archie's name, but feeling ... at home when those mirthful blue eyes full of warmth and affection settled upon Hornblower's. **You aren't here to slap me this time.** Hornblower dwelt in the a deep crevice of the valley of decision.

"Ha ha ha. Yes. Kennedy and I had some moments to trade a few lines of the bard while waiting to rescue you from that fort in Toulon. I like Kennedy... as I know you do."

Hornblower made no reply.

"He will be overjoyed when he learns you live. He is like a brother, is he not?"

Hornblower filled his lungs before replying wistfully, "Yes,... like a brother." Kennedy had not occupied his mind before. After all, Hornblower knew himself to have survived... and he had hoped Indefatigable had as well.

Brecon looked on Hornblower for a time, then said, "You have a lean look in the cheek, eyes sunken. Have you a questionable spirit, too?"

Hornblower gauged the spy seriously. "What are you on about now, Captain?"

Brecon canted his head one way and then another taking in Hornblower's person the more. "A beard neglected... a sleeve unbuttoned, ... hm... the shoes," Brecon glanced at the leather footwear, realizing Hornblower was not wearing the standard naval buckle shoes. "Why you do have an untied shoe!" and Brecon chuckled.

Hornblower looked down. One of the brown leather shoes was undone. Before he could say a word Brecon took the strings in hand and remedied the situation neatly.

The spy smiled and wagged his head. "Everything about you demonstrates a careless desolation."

"Captain...?"

"You are a man in love, Leftenant Hornblower. Shakespeare constantly amazes me. To think he could describe you... and many others. As You Like It. Fascinating man Shakespeare."

Though Hornblower's lips parted to speak a reply, he found he had none. Discussing his lovelorn state made him uneasy. What could Brecon be surmising?

"Ahem. Tell me more of our... mission, Captain," said Hornblower. "You said you thought you were caught because you ventured forth prematurely?"

"Yes, ... well... and a case of mistaken identity.... or.... a ruse to catch us... or me, seems more likely, Leftenant."

Horatio found himself squirming with Brecon's use of that particular appellation.

"Will they believe you are dead then?" asked Hornblower.

"Those that believe my demise a verity, yes. Those that do not know, no."

Hornblower's mouth twisted into a frown. "But you say ... the true vessel you expected may yet come?" Sailing into Cadiz was the other option, according to Brecon. Hornblower said a silent prayer the ship would appear. Attending a wounded spy in an enemy stronghold with nothing but a sword between them seemed foolhardy at best.

Brecon did not answer right away and Hornblower shifted his view to the too long silent man.

"We shall see," Brecon replied at last.

Hornblower inhaled and exhaled noisily. Brecon turned his visage towards the boat's captain and squinted and smiled.

"It is good of you to help, Leftenant Hornblower. I will not take you any further than necessary. Trust me."

The only reply from Horatio was a single nod, his eyes focused on the horizon.

Trust him? That had been Archie's advice that night when Hornblower saw Pamela dancing in that flimsy gypsy costume, surrounded by French soldiers, that fiend Descaine approaching his wife with a lecherous leer. And then, the over-dressed French cavalry officer appeared and Archie whispered, "It's Brecon." That had not instilled confidence until Archie's hasty explanation that the spy, England's spy, would rescue Pamela, with the admonition repeated to "trust him".

The turn eastward arrived and Hornblower's heart beat quickened. So close. So close.

**Please, God, let this mythical boat appear and release me to sail to Gibraltar.**

After thinking the prayer, he questioned whether God was listening anymore. The events of the morning 'encounter' on the shore pricked his conscience unduly. If the Supreme Being existed, what could He want of him? What was he doing wrong that might make this 'God' turn against him? Why had He brought Pamela into his life if he could not love her? Was it so wrong to wish for a peaceful life? Could anything he might do account for so much, or be something that any man could not do? Hornblower never considered himself highly. He merely strove to do his duty. Any man could do what he had done, or might do,... any man.

*"But you are the one chosen."*

Hornblower whipped his head around over one shoulder and then the other, his innards fluttering over what he thought he heard. He swallowed hard.

"Di... did you speak, Captain Brecon?" Fear was in Hornblower's tone.

Brecon's brow knit briefly. "No. Why? Did you hear someone speak?" he asked leaning to peer around Hornblower and ascertain there was no ship any where near, then looking all other directions. He knew how sound carried over water. After doing so, he set his gaze upon the young officer. "Are you hearing things?"

"No," Hornblower denied nervously. "No."

Brecon was silent for a time and Horatio did not look at the spy, but he knew Brecon's eyes were upon him.

"You said a strange thing last night, Leftenant. You said God was your companion. Why?"

Hornblower's face crimsoned. He glimpsed Brecon and looked away.

"Tell me what has happened to you, Leftenant. How is it you are alive?"

Hornblower closed his eyes, wishing Brecon would cease calling him leftenant.

"How did you survive the freezing temperatures and the storm? Kennedy was vivid in his description of your last night on Indefatigable, finally, when he was able to relate it. We've nothing better to do. It is likely that once we part company I will never see you again. Though that you were where you were last night, and so handy to assist me, is a wonder."

Hornblower pursed his lips and shifted uneasily on the bench. His eyes softened and like opening a book he said, "Pamela prays for me." The words were a shock and a revelation. They came from his heart, the heart that beat as one with hers. Swallowing hard, he forced back the tears. A fleeting grimace passed over his lips as he looked Brecon in the face. How was that received?

The spy did not laugh, but listened and waited.

"That is the only explanation... really. I have attributed it to that sweater you wear, to the raging fever in my body, but ... there is nothing to account for the... the dolphins... for Indefatigable to be as close in as she was, or for the waves to have pressed me towards shore." Hornblower's next thoughts he kept to himself, **Is this my answer? Was she only meant to pray for me? To seek intervention to keep me alive? Is this how you operate, God? Is this why prayer ... is what it is and does what it does? Is Pamela only in my life to pray for me? Like Finch was there to save me from drowning? Like Clayton was, to take the ball from Simpson's pistol?** Hornblower sniffed, turned away and wiped his sleeve over his eyes.

Hornblower felt Brecon's hand grasp his leg.

"You are a fine officer, Leftenant," said Brecon. "I was flippant with you last night. I believe in God. How can I not and do what I do? I have seen His preserving hand,... as you have. Sometimes I wonder when I embark upon a mission, will I survive this one? Then, I think, there is something bigger than just me. There is a greater purpose. Not just one country against another. There is a larger picture... and it is being painted over time. You, me, everyone else, ... we are merely threads of the canvas. Unless you step back you cannot see the full piece." Brecon watched for the effects of the words. "There is something else that preys on your mind. It is the delivery, isn't it?"

Hornblower nodded and lowered his eyes.

Brecon sighed heavily. "You must trust Him, Hornblower... all things work together for good. You must believe that. God is a good God. Trust His heart. My grandmama used to say when you cannot see His hand, trust His heart. Whatever befalls us, we must trust that His will is good and will be done."

Brecon sounded like Dr. Sebastian. **I just want to see my wife,** thought Hornblower. **I am not interested in the ultimate plans for the universe... just one beautiful lady that I love and that is mine.**

Brecon shifted and tugged the sheep's skin for a pillow. "I'm going to take a nap, Leftenant. Wake me should my transport appear. I do not relish taking on Cadiz. I pray the ship comes." Brecon yawned and closed his eyes.

The afternoon wore on. Brecon woke and insisted on taking the tiller so Hornblower could rest. Hornblower did not think he would sleep, but once his body stretched out in the floor of the boat and the soft fur pillowed his head, he slumbered deeply,-- dreams of Pamela, oak trees, and home, a boy, no, more than a boy, that resembled him, and a boat. Hornblower awoke to Brecon's fingers tightly squeezing and shaking his shoulder.

"What?" He was groggy with sleep. The sun had set, the evening stars were popping in the chill dusk and it was growing darker by the moment. He sat up gasping and wiped over his face and looked around. Where were they? The boat barely moved. Brecon was dressed in his own clothing.

"It's her," whispered Brecon. "Light the lamp."

Hornblower crawled forward to reach the light. In the distance, but closing fast, he could make out a dark silhouette of a single masted sloop. He sat the lantern on the gunwale, then using the blanket, he covered it, revealed, covered, revealed, covered, counted to three, revealed, and covered. The light filled his eyes and made it impossible to see the sloop.

"Once more, Leftenant," whispered Brecon.

Hornblower did so. This time the coded response came. Reveal, cover, reveal, cover, reveal.

"It is her," stated Brecon.

The sloop drew near. Hornblower prepared to toss the bowline to the man standing on the starboard side. As they came closer and Hornblower was ready to throw, the man called out, "Leave off!" and then motioned behind the craft. Confused, Hornblower shielded his eyes from the glare of the lantern. The sloop passed them and there it was, massive and imposing next to the small ship's boat, a seventy-four, a British man-o-war.

"Damn you, Brecon!" whispered Hornblower. He could see men in the rigging furling the luffing canvas. A man was in the main chains.

Brecon had lowered the sail and climbed forward and gripped Hornblower's shoulder. "They will not know you are a leftenant unless you tell them. You work with me. I will tell them you are my cohort and that you are to remain in these waters."

"Ahoy!" The man in the main chains called softly.

Hornblower stood in the bow and tossed the rope to the man. The boat swung round stern to stern and the rating eased the line so the battens were accessible.

"Tell them now. Tell them to let me go," whispered Hornblower.

"Brecon? Is that you? Come aboard, man," called a deep voice. "Who is that with you? I thought you were to be alone."

"He... is a comrade in arms, Captain Leyland. He will not be stopping with me. If you would be so good as to tell your man to let go the line."

"Sorry, Brecon, he will have to come aboard. I need to speak to you first. What is his name?"

Brecon hesitated, then said, "His name is Dandridge."

Hornblower looked at Brecon sharply. "Why did you tell him that?"

Brecon shrugged. "It was the first name that came to mind. Why? Did you want me to say it was Hornblower?"

"No, damn it. I do not want to board this ship," whispered Hornblower adamantly.

"If you refuse, you will make him suspicious. Come. I will convince him to let you go. Trust me," whispered Brecon. He hauled his body onto the battens with a grunt and Hornblower put a hand on Brecon's back.

"Captain, he is injured. Could you give him a hand?" called Hornblower.

In the blink of an eye, two ratings were over the side to steady Brecon up the ladder steps.

Hornblower stared into the dark depths of the mixing sea. It would be utter madness to jump. Where would he go? If he made it to shore, if indeed he could find the shore, he had not had the opportunity to judge where they were after waking, what would that gain him?

"Damn," muttered Hornblower, hesitating. "Oh hell." Grabbing the steps, he ascended the ship's side.

Hornblower found he stood on a broad deck, twenty guns were laced to either side. Automatically, he started to salute. Lowering his eyes shyly, he brought the hand down slowly and plucked at the robe, then raised his eyes to see the captain gazing at him curiously.

"Captain Leyland, this is Geoffrey Dandridge," said Brecon.

Hornblower bowed in greeting.

"Franciscan robes, eh?" commented Leyland. "Looks as though he could use a meal, Brecon. Take him below, Leftenant Smith, and feed him."

Hornblower peered sullenly at the backs of Leyland and Brecon as the two men disappeared into the dark corridor leading to the after cabins. He darted a quick view of the officers present, hoping he found no one familiar.

"Follow me, Mr. Dandridge. You are welcome to use the quarter gallery should you wish to clean up," said Leftenant Smith. The leftenant matched Hornblower's height. He wore a working uniform, was clean shaven, his queue ribbon neatly tied straight dark brown hair. The leftenant's darting brown eyes, friendly and curious, flashed over Hornblower.

"Thank you, sir."

"You are English," smiled the Leftenant. "For a moment, I thought you might be one of Brecon's Spanish spies. There's the quarter-gallery. I'll order you some hot water, shall I?"

"Thank you, leftenant," replied Hornblower. The wardroom was large. Two men looked up from reading and acknowledged their arrival. The officers' mess had its own after gallery of windows, a possible escape route. Could he get to the boat? With a frown, he opened the door to the small private room.

Once inside, Hornblower sighed long and eventually let his eyes rest on the image in the small mirror. What was it Brecon had said? *A beard neglected... a sleeve unbuttoned.* He raised his left arm and pulled back the robe's long gaping sleeve to view the missing button at the wrist of his uniform shirt. He scowled, then, gazed at his reflection. *You have a lean look in the cheek, eyes sunken,* was what Brecon had said. He was thin. He stroked the bearded chin, then clawed at the close thick whiskers with both sets of fingers. He raked his long curls. Never had he seen himself so ... furry. What would Pamela think? He pulled his hair back as in a queue and stared at the reflection. *Have you a questionable spirit, too?* Heaving a sigh, he leaned on his elbows and covered his face.

Knock, knock.

Hornblower opened the door and accepted the hot water from the leftenant.

"Here's a bit of soap, Dandridge."

"Thank you, Leftenant Smith," said Hornblower accepting the bar and a towel.

Smith smiled and nodded. "I'll see about some food for you."

"Thank you."

Hornblower closed the door and poured a measure of water into the basin. He splashed his face and neck, then soaped and rinsed and dried. Droplets rested on his curls. The curl on his forehead had grown long. He grasped it between two fingers, closed his eyes, and rubbed it between his fingers. The slight tug on his scalp brought memories. "Pamela," he breathed, "I am so close. So close, my love.
They must let me go. They must."

Hornblower emerged and sat at the place prepared for him. Smith sat to his right and poured Hornblower and himself a tankard of grog. The familiar taste of the beverage brought memories of Indefatigable, Kennedy, Bracegirdle, Rampling, Bowles. The plate held boiled pork, boiled cabbage, and boiled potatoes. A ship's biscuit lay on another plate. He broke a piece off and lay it in the juices of the main meal.

Smith smiled. "I see you have had some acquaintance with ship's biscuit."

Hornblower felt the flush in his cheeks, slowed his consumption, and did not look at Smith. Finally he said, "The food is welcome, sir."

"You look as though you have not been getting three squares a day. Have you been working with Brecon long?"

"In France... once before, ... and now,... though it is a subject best left alone," said Hornblower softly.

"Of course, of course," said Smith nervously, fearing he had overstepped his bounds. "We have just come from Port Mahon and before that, the Two Sicilies."

Hornblower looked up. "Indeed? Was all well with Admiral Nelson?"

Smith smiled broadly. "Last I knew, yes. He was to sail to Malta in Foudroyant."

"She is a fine ship," Hornblower bowed his head, shying from volunteering such knowledge.

"You know Foudroyant?"

"I had the opportunity to see her... last June."

"Ah. Then, you are familiar with the ways of the navy?"

"Some," said Hornblower.

"We were glad to find you and Brecon. There was word that he had been compromised. It is why we accompanied Hermes."

"I see. Your ship was a surprise," said Hornblower. "I do have other business in these waters. When will I be allowed on my way?"

"That will be the captain's decision. I am instructed to offer you a berth. It so happens we have one available here in the wardroom. Number 3 there is yours for the time being." Smith indicated the small room the cabin boy was preparing with bed clothes for the hammock, a candle, and a basin.

Hornblower could not hide the displeasure the suggestion brought.

"Do not be so disheartened, Mr. Dandridge. His majesty's navy will give you a night of much deserved rest. And, we will feed you well while you reside in ship."

Standing, Hornblower walked over to the windows, and pushing on a handle, he opened one.

"Not thinking of jumping ship, are you?" said Smith, jokingly.

Hornblower smiled. "Of course not, leftenant. I was curious as to how fast she's going."

Smith stepped beside him and looked down at the dark water.

"About three knots, I would say," said Smith, eyeing Hornblower closely.

Hornblower closed the window. "I believe I will take advantage of that berth you offer. I am tired."

Smith canted his head and motioned towards the small room. "It is ready when you are, sir."

"Thank you. And, thank you for the food, leftenant. Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Mr. Dandridge."

Hornblower closed the door and frowned and stared at the surroundings. He was warm and he pulled the robe off over his head.

"Mr. Dandridge, I meant to offer you a bran..." Smith stopped in mid-speech, having opened Hornblower's door. His mouth gaped.

Hornblower finished removing the robe from his arms, then faced Smith, wearing those parts of his leftenant's uniform except the topcoat and proper shoes. Swallowing, he said, "It was my last disguise, leftenant." Reaching, he took the glass from Smith's hand. "Thank you, ... for the brandy. Goodnight to you, sir."

"Goodnight... Mr. Dandridge. Sorry, I ... Goodnight, sir." Smith pulled the door to.

Hornblower sat the glass on the table, closed his eyes, and leaned his head back and sighed. "Do not do this to me," he whispered. "I've come so far. I am so close." He bowed his head, put his hand on the glass, and swirled the dark brandy, then lifted it to his lips and tossed it back.

Grabbing onto the overhead beam, he lifted his legs into the hammock and settled the rest of his body down. He would wait until the middle watch.

Archie came to mind. The last time he had been on a seventy-four it had been Foudroyant, and Nelson and Hardy were his superiors.

/////Nelson thinks you are such a fine young man /////

Hornblower clapped his hand over his forehead and eyes. "I do not want to remember Lady Hamilton's words. If I could rip them from my memory, I would," he whispered to himself.

Hornblower slept lightly and fitfully. Images of his past life plagued his dreams-- Pellew, Indefatigable, Caroline and Le Reve, the fire ship, Bunting, El Ferrol, Kennedy, Hunter, Edrington, and Mariette... Pamela.

He had instructed his brain to waken in the middle watch, but that was taken care of by an outside source. Someone was shaking his shoulder.

"Wake up, Hornblower," came the familiar whispering voice.

He started awake and saw Brecon leaning over him and studying his face.

"Listen, Hornblower. I had time to think this afternoon. Would it not be best for you to return to England and rejoin Indefatigable, then see to your little family?"

"No," he whispered insistently. "I am going to my wife."

"But she thinks you are dead. What if ... what if ... damn... if you could give me time, I could find out her disposition. Will you not reconsider?"

"No, Brecon," he said curiously. "I will find out her disposition for myself."

"Very well. I assumed I could not sway your decision, though I think it not a good one... for many reasons." He stared thoughtfully at the young man raised up on elbows. "Come, then. I keep my promises. Captain Leyland plans to take you back to England with me. It seems my people have been betrayed. He insists upon it for your safety and the safety of those not yet discovered, ... if there are any. It is a disaster of immense proportions, Hornblower."

Hornblower grabbed onto Brecon's forearm. "Pamela is not in danger is she?" He knew Maria worked for Brecon. The spy took too long. "Answer me!"

"I do not see how she could be. It has been months since she accompanied Maria."

Hornblower sprang out of the hammock. "Nothing will keep me from going now, Brecon." He seized the robe.

Brecon put a hand on Hornblower's arm. "Shh. I convinced the captain you would agree once you knew the situation."

The two men crept from the officers' mess, hearing snores from the cabins. Brecon went before Hornblower, checking to see the way was clear. He motioned Hornblower past the companionway that exited next to the bulkhead of the after cabins under the quarter-deck, thereby avoiding the marine that guarded the captain's quarters. They stealthily maneuvered the gun deck, silently gliding by the hammocks filled with the sleeping off watch ratings, to gain the forward ladder. Emerging into the damp chilling air within the dark shadow of the forecastle, Hornblower stopped and looked up into the tops. The middle watch was in place. Darting from shadow to shadow cast across the decking by a slivered moon, Hornblower and Brecon prepared to drop over the side into the main chains.

"You will pull your stitches," whispered Hornblower.

"I am fine. Come on."

The two men dropped onto the platform that contained the fixtures for the standing rigging. Hornblower took the line tethering the boat and slowly pulled it forward so as not to knock against the hull. He looped it around the back most standing rigging line and handed the loop to Brecon. Brecon took it and extended his right hand.

"Good luck, Hornblower. God go with you."

Hornblower smiled. "And with you, Captain Brecon."

He dropped silently onto the gunwale of the bow, with a hand on the seventy-four's hull to steady himself. Gaining a firm footing, he looked up at Brecon who tossed him the loosened line. Hornblower pushed the boat away from the ship's side and waited as she glided past under press of sail. The last he saw was Brecon's dark figure go over the railing of Hector. Accustomed to the night, Hornblower could see a good deal. Sitting and waiting until the ship was far in the distance, he stood to raise the sail, hauling on the halyard, then sat in the stern and aimed the tiller in a broad tack to make use of the late night breeze. He filled his lungs and relaxed. "I'm coming, my love. I am coming."

The day dawned bright and Hornblower sailed on. Hours went by and the sun reached its zenith. He eyed the distant coasts, being removed from either one. He peered at the protruding land forms visible from his vantage point and compared thems to past knowledge. He was indeed nearing the Straits, if not in them. He constantly searched the horizon of the north east shore, looking for the great jutting rock of Gibraltar. He decided it would be necessary to sail past if he arrived in daylight, then approach from the east and land on that side of the peninsula. He would then walk the short distance to ... home ... Pamela. It had been a long torturous journey, but he would prove all her fears invalid. She was not a jinx. He did not die. He would keep his promise, now, and in the future. Nothing would keep him from the woman he loved.

***

And so it was that just before daybreak of the following day, Hornblower landed on the eastern shore. Taking note of the lights of the early morning guards standing watch at Europa point and high up on the great rock, he had removed the boat's mast and rowed in as far as the keel board would allow. He disrobed and jumped into the cold chest deep water with a gasp. Holding high the canvas bag that held all his clothing, a blanket, and the dirk, he waded ashore. By the time he had toweled off and donned parts of his uniform and the robe, the sun had risen. He hugged the rock's base and dodged from scrub bush to scrub bush to avoid being seen or questioned. Once Europa point was behind him and the brushwood separated the embrasure from the road, he could walk more easily.

Weariness could not stay him for he had not slept since those last hours in the company of HMS Hector. Skinny, scruffy and bedraggled, bearded and robed as a Franciscan monk, Hornblower set one foot before the other. The long and winding road had but one end, in the embrace of his beloved. Not long. The roof of the house was in the distance and he scanned it, half expecting to see her anxiously watching and waiting, as desirous for his arrival as he was to be in her company.

**Neither time nor tide has kept me away, Pamela. I have kept my promise.**

He hastened towards the picket gate.

His coming would be a complete surprise. Drake was no where to be seen, neither did it look that Carden was caring for the rose garden. Dead fallings from the thorny bushes were strewn about the path, even the stoop was not swept. He rapped his knuckles on the door three times; his heart throbbing in expectation. He knocked again and tried the knob. Locked. Dropping the canvas bag containing the rest of his uniform, he stepped into the garden and tried to peer in the window, but the drapes were drawn. Walking around the side of the house, he checked the dining room window and found that curtain closed, too.

"Pamela, I am not dead, my love," he whispered.

Reaching the back of the house, he stared at the grounds, unkempt they were, and strode to the little barn that sheltered the milk cow. Empty. He turned quickly and ran to the back door. Locked. He knocked rapidly.

"Pamela? Carden?" Holding his forehead in thought, he ran back to the barn and searched the shelves. A spare key was kept in a bit of broken crockery. Grabbing it, he trotted to the back door, inserted the key, and unlocked it. Cold air met him as he pushed into the mud room, then entered the door at the back of the long corridor. Silence.

"Maria?" he called half-heartedly, the word echoing down the wooden hall. The kitchen was clean and showed no sign of recent use. "No. No. Pamela? You cannot have gone."

Light from the second floor quarter-round window lit the foyer and entrance to the parlour. He threw open the door. Every piece of furniture was covered over with sheeting.

"This cannot be!" He ran up the stairs. "Pamela!" Flinging open the door, he strode in and yanked back the curtain. The furnishings were similarly arrayed as those below stairs. Pamela's trunk from Dolphin was gone. The armoire was empty. He trotted to the back bedroom, the case of weapons, everything of a personal nature was missing.

"Where have you gone? America? England? God! Where is Maria?" He ran down the stairs nearly falling at the third step from the bottom but caught onto the railing.

An envelope on the small half-round table caught his eye. It was addressed to the Selby's. He tossed it in his hand. Slapping it down on the table, he strode into the parlour and threw open the front window drapes. Dust danced in the sunbeams. Identifying the small desk beneath a sheet, he uncovered it and the chair, too. The letter opener remained in the top drawer. Retrieving it and the letter, he sat down at the desk and carefully sawed under the sealing wax.

 

 

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Selby,

I am called away due to family concerns and likely will not be here upon your return.
As you will see, I have departed the house leaving it neat and tidy with the curtains closed to protect the furniture and coverings. I left the main keys with Mrs. Mueller next door and I pray you have remembered where the spare is located.

I expect you will have acquired a new servant by the time I return. However, if I may, I will call upon you to assess your needs as to acting in your service once more.

Yours, sincerely,
Maria Orego

 

 

No mention of Pamela or the child or Drake or Carden. It was like they never existed, that they had never been present on Gibraltar at all. No trace. No remnant. Nothing.

He opened each drawer of the desk. None of Pamela's letters from him were there, nor Edrington's. Shoving a drawer to with some difficulty, he heard a noise of tearing and leaned to peer inside. Reaching in with one hand and shifting the drawer with the other, he removed crinkled sheets of paper. Laying them on the desk, he smoothed and flattened them.


My darling Horatio,

Tears sprang out of his eyes and he wiped at them. He read again...

My darling Horatio,

Heart of my heart, how I miss you. The book of Sonnets Mr. Matthews gave me so long ago, when we were in Dolphin, upon the loss of my father... This I found and it saddens me, yet speaks my heart, my mind, my fears.

Ruin hath caught me thus to ruminate -
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

Hornblower read the words again. "No, Pamela. I am here. I told you I would come," he said to the paper. The words written were his, too, and they clutched his heart with cold clawing fingers. He lifted his head from his chest where it had fallen and shifted to the next page and read it greedily.

Oh my love, I weep for need of you. I write this knowing I cannot send it.

I long to see you and so I close my eyes and open my heart. In all your strength of presence you stand before me, my beautiful man. I can see the cutting jaw, the lips that fill me with desire. Your hand raises to cup my cheek and the slender fingers are warm and touch me tenderly. I fondle the velvety curl upon your forehead and see your eyes glinting softly with love and longing, as mine are. I recall our bodies entwining as the summer vine and as a single dew drop of morning falls to join another and becomes one, so are we, one flesh, one heart, one love.

I ache to see you. If I cannot pour out my craving here I shall surely go crazy. There is no one with whom I can share the deep longings of my soul but upon this orphaned sheaf. How can I say I love you and always will? The words are insufficient and my hand runs to your countryman, so adept and knowledgeable, he writ my life in you in a single sentence...

For where thou art, there is the world itself.

As you are mine, I am yours. I give away myself for you.

His words commiserate and lead me from the gloom of your absence. How he knows the core of my being. He is dead all these long years, yet shares my heart's hunger.

I am enormous, my darling. Our boy grows apace. Certainly our time can not be far, as I hope you are not. But whether you come or tarry, I long for your appearing.

Love is you. Love remains you.

Love eternally, from my heart to yours,
Pamela

 

Horatio read the sheets through once more. Groaning, "No," he pushed them away and they fluttered to the floor. He pillowed his head; exhaustion and futility overwhelmed the fragile emotions. Disappointed, he stood rapidly, causing the chair to fall backward. "NO!" Panting, he ran his fingers through his hair and gripped it. The long strands fell onto his chest. He released them and the wavy curls brushed the whiskered cheeks as he bowed his head.

She was gone. Where? How much longer could he absent himself from the service? He would need the navy to take him to England, or...

If she went to America...**I cannot wait years to see her. I will have to find passage, but ... how am I to know where she has gone?** Breathing deeply and resolved to the fact that his quest was not at an end, he unlocked the front door and climbed over the length of fence separating the two townhouse gardens.

He regretted not speaking to the mid-wife, but there had never been opportunity to do so. Mueller was her name according to Maria's letter. Poised to knock, he paused and attempted to brush away dirt from the well-worn brown robe, then smoothed his hair and prayed his inquiry would not be rejected. Moistening his lips and clearing his throat, he knocked and waited. His hands were dirty and he shoved them inside opposite sleeves.

The door opened slightly. An old woman with a pudge-face, greenish-brown eyes with drooping lids, and wispy brownish-grey hair that once had been restricted in a bun, peered out the crack and was silent.

"Good morning," he bowed, "I apologize for disturbing you, madam. I was wondering if you might know where the lady that lives next door may have gone?"

The woman eyed his clothing from bottom to top.

Hornblower waited uneasily and wondered if he should have tried to spruce up, or dress in the uniform badly in need of a proper cleaning.

"Are you Mrs. Mueller? Are you the mid-wife? Did you help my wife with her delivery? Surely the child is born by now. Please. Where is she gone? Can you tell me? Do you know?"

The woman finally spoke. "Ich spreche Englisch nicht."

"Ich spreche..." Hornblower's expression was pitiable. With an exhausted and desperate sigh, he thought wildly. "Surely you must speak English. Someone must speak English. Please. I must know. Where is she?"

"Ich spreche Englisch nicht. Ich kann Ihnen nicht helfen." She started to close the door.

Hornblower slapped his hand against it to keep it open. "Sorry. I do not mean to frighten you. The lady next door," he motioned with a hand, "she was expecting a baby," he rounded his hand over his stomach. "A baby. She was going to have a baby. Are you not the mid-wife?"

The old woman considered what he was trying to communicate. "Ich kann Ihnen nicht helfen." she shrugged helplessly.

Hornblower held his forehead. "I do not understand."

The woman pinched her lips together, then called. "Camilla! Camilla!"

The woman let the door open wider and Hornblower could see a young Spanish girl approaching from the recesses of the hallway. She was small and thin and young, no more than twelve, dressed in a black shift and a black sweater, an apron around her waist. Her skin was dark olive, her eyes like saucers of dark brown chocolate surrounded with milk, and her hair was the blue-black color of a raven's wing. She shifted her eyes from Hornblower to the old woman.

"Was will er?" said the old woman to the girl.

"What do you want, señor?" translated Camilla.

"The lady next door, where is she?" asked Hornblower softly and hopefully.

"Er will wissen, wo," the girl hesitated as if searching for the German translation, "das Mädchen von nächster Tür ist?" The girl darted her eyes to both adults, then lowered them and waited for the old woman to speak.

The old woman's brow furrowed, her eyes narrowed, and she glared at Hornblower. "Das Mädchen ist bei der Geburt gestorben."

The young girl bowed her head and avoided translating.

"Please. What does she say?" pleaded Hornblower.

The girl raised her eyes to Hornblower, then looked away. Biting her lower lip, she said gently, "She is... dead."

Hornblower nearly fell backwards and gasped. Recovering from the blow, he shook his head. "No. You must have misunderstood. She cannot ..."

The little girl looked at the floor. "No, señor. She says she died during the birth."

Hornblower tried to make his mind think and form a question. "What... what... was it? A boy?"

"Er will wissen," sighed the young girl thinking, "wenn das Baby ein ... ein Junge war?"

The old woman softened her features. "Nein war das Baby ein Mädchen."

The little girl glanced at Hornblower and lowered her eyes, shaking her head. "It was a girl, señor."

"A girl? We had a little girl?" he whispered. Hornblower swallowed. His eyes were blurring. "Where is she? Where is the baby?"

Camilla asked the old woman, who hesitated in the reply. The young Spanish girl looked up into Hornblower's moist eyes and shook her head. "The baby ... the baby died."

Stunned and silent, Hornblower roused. With but a breath in his lungs, he barely choked out the question, "Where did they bury my wife?"

"I did not comprehend, señor," said the little girl, watching him intently.

Hornblower licked his lips and asked clearly, "Where is Mrs. Hornblower?"

The young girl nodded, her understanding. "Wo ist Frau Hornblower?"

The older woman seemed to relax and replied, "Ach hat, ihr Onkel sie nach Amerika zurückgenommen."

"She says her uncle took her to America."

"Her uncle was here for the ...?" said Hornblower to himself. That was something, at least. Pamela had not been without family near. Hornblower's eyes burned. "He took her to America?" That did not surprise him. Dawson had lost a brother to the sea. He would not leave his niece to be buried on a foreign shore. Dawson had his way in the end, then. He had taken Pamela back to America. "He took the baby, too?" Of course, he would have, but the question was asked. Coming out of the spiraling depths, Hornblower heard the woman speak.

"Ja und das Kind."

"Yes, señor, he took the baby, also," said Camilla.

Hornblower's head hung low and he forced his eyes to meet those of the women. "Thank you. Thank you for telling me." He turned leaden feet away from the stoop and the door to the townhouse closed. There was no one.

He climbed over the fence as if in a dream. He walked into the cold deserted parlour and picked up the sheets of paper from the floor. He clutched them to his breast, folding in on himself, empty and aching.

Lifting his head, he stepped outside. He closed the front door, picked up the canvas bag, and walked out into the lane, stumbling as he went. Briefly, he considered going towards the naval grounds, but he walked south towards the shore from whence he had come. He released the grip on the pages she had written and they separated and floated away on the breeze. He dropped the canvas bag on the road and followed the path onto the beach. For a long time he stood and stared at the bright blue water, not seeing it, his mind numb and empty. Seabirds called overhead and he looked up. Time stepped backwards.

//////////He came up behind her, scooped her into his arms, and they fell together onto the bright white sand.

She let out a happy scream of laughter.

"Got you!" He grinned and wondered at the happiness. The two breathed heavily from the exertions, giving one another smiles to last a lifetime.

Pamela breathed out a cleansing sigh and rolled over onto her back staring into the brilliant blue sky.

"Look, Horatio!" She lifted a finger to point at the puffy white cumulous clouds. "It's a rabbit!"

He squinted. "No. No, it is more like... a hedge hog."

"A hedge hog? A hedge hog looks like a rabbit?" Pamela was up on one elbow watching him look at the sky.

"Yes, I mean, no, a hedge hog does not look like a rabbit. It's more of a, kind of a, ... well, it's a hedge hog! Don't you have hedge hogs in America?"

"I've never seen one."

"Really? Well, they are all over England. My father has a family of them living in the garden."//////////

Horatio's features contorted painfully. His father would never meet the woman his son loved, would never see his grandchild. Hornblower's head felt so heavy that he thought it would fall off his neck; his chin touched his chest.

//////////He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. "I think we best head back."

"Not yet!" She was up on her feet and running towards the surf, ripping the mashed straw hat from her head. He watched her stop and remove her skirt, flinging it towards the sand, where it caught on the wind and blew aside like a loose sail.

He stood and brushed the sand off, shaking his head as she ran headlong into the sea, screaming that the water was cold! She yelled again as he watched her sit down into the water.

"She's raving!" he muttered grinning. "I've married a mad woman!" He spread his feet, put his hands on his hips, and shook his head.

"Come in, Horatio! It is wonderfully cooling!"//////////

A smile eased over his lips. So impetuous. So full of life. He recalled her standing up and the water made what few clothes she wore cling to her body.

//////////His fingers were rapidly unbuttoning his top coat.

She looked down at herself and laughed. He held his coat out for her. She hesitated a moment, and then acquiesced to his offer. "Your coat will get wet!" she warned.

"It won't be the first time." He turned her to him and pulled the coat tight across her chest, tugging her closer by the lapels, then kissed her salty lips, wrapping her chill body with his heated one.//////////

"OH GOD!" he cried, and shook his head. "NO, NO, No!" With one movement, he reached inside the neck of his clothing and angrily ripped the chain from about his neck, flinging it into the sand. Tears flowed and he stared at the golden jewelry, the cross glinting in the sun, the dolphin ring half buried. He fell to his knees and grasped it with a handful of sand. Laying on the beach and curling into a ball, he called, "Pamela! No! Pamela!" and he wept himself to sleep.

 

When Hornblower regained consciousness, it was night and he shivered. His cheek was caked with damp sand where saliva had seeped from parted lips. He turned his head and stared at the bright stars, shining like crystalline jewels, then closed his eyes and was still.

The next morning, he had not moved. In a fog, he heard voices, but he cared not.

"I've tried to rouse him, sir. His eyes are open, but he doesn't answer. Looks half starved. And look here, sir." The man tugged the top of Hornblower's waistcoat out of the neck of the robe. "Them's navy buttons. What's an officer doin' dressed that way?"

"Sergeant Harris," said a man approaching and saluting. "I seen this lump yesterday from the wall, but I thought it was seaweed or something blown in from the ocean. When I finally come down to check this mornin', I thought bloody hell, it's a body. Then, I realized he warn't dead."

"Best get him to hospital and let them sort him out," ordered the sergeant. He motioned two men over with a stretcher.

Hornblower groaned unintentionally when they extended his legs to put him on the litter. The eyes were sunken and the skin of his face was tightly drawn.

"Got somethin' in his hand, Sergeant," observed a man.

The gold chain dripped between sandy fingers.

"He ain't openin' his hand," said one of the privates.

"Leave it,' ordered Harris. "Fetch him up to the cart and take him to hospital, men."

The two stretcher bearers raised the pallet.

"He's as light as a feather," commented the one at the front.

"He looks half-starved, Barney," replied the companion. "His eyes are open, but I don't think he sees nothin'."

Hornblower closed his eyes against the blazing sun overhead as they slid him onto the cart. He drifted off to sleep until he felt a hand slapping at his face. He moaned and turned his head away.

"Here, Lansing," admonished a voice.

"He won't let go of this handful of sand. He's got hold of some sort of necklace, Doctor Andrews."

"Do we know his name?"

"No, sir."

The doctor addressed Hornblower. "What is your name? Where have you come from? What ship? Why are you wearing the habit of a monk?" The doctor stopped asking questions and thought. "Listen. We want to clean you up before placing you in a bed. I see no wounds... at least not physical ones. Are you malingering?" He waited and there was no answer. The doctor sighed. "No. You are starving from the looks of you." Andrews gently took Hornblower's fist that was gripped tightly. "Whatever you have in your hand, I promise to give it back to you. Let us cleanse away the sand. Please. On my honor as a gentleman, I promise I will return to you the jewelry you hold." Andrews felt the fingers of Hornblower's hand go lax and the contents fell into the doctor's palm. "Give me that basin, Lansing." The doctor separated the gold from the sand and rinsed the cross, ring, and chain. "A link is broken, but ... I think you know that," he said to Hornblower as he wiped Hornblower's palm. The physician examined the marks of healing skin. Before replacing the items in Horatio's grasp, Andrews silently read the inscription inside the gold band. "There you are. I cannot say I have ever seen such a ring with dolphins on it. It is quite unusual."

Hornblower's fingers tightened around the gold. The doctor watched intently, then looked at Hornblower's face and saw the track of a tear.

"Lansing," he said quietly, "you may clean him up now. Come and fetch me when you have him in a bed. And, Lansing, take it easy with this one."

"Yes, sir."

After Andrews had gone, Lansing removed the monk's garb from Hornblower, then started in on the buttons of his waistcoat.

"What are you doing?" asked Hornblower, tiredly.

"Jesus! You scared the devil out o'me!" breathed Lansing, clutching his heart. "I am removing your clothes so we can get you washed and abed."

"Leave me be," said Hornblower, emptily.

"See here. I've got my orders."

"I don't give a damn about your orders," spat Hornblower mildly. "Leave me be. Where am I?"

"I thought you wanted me to leave you be? You are in hospital on Gibraltar."

"I do not need a hospital." He groaned as he tried to sit up.

Lansing assisted him.

Hornblower's eyes flashed angrily at the man and he teetered on the edge of the table. Lansing steadied him.

"Here now. I don't need to be picking you up off the floor."

"Sir," sneered Hornblower.

Lansing took a deep breath. "Beg pardon, sir, but you are missing some bits of your uniform. Just what is your rank?"

"What have you done with my bag?"

"What bag, sir?" asked Lansing.

Hornblower looked around the stark room. The robe was on the floor in a sprinkling of sand. There were some empty tables like the one he currently sat upon and a straight-back wooden chair pushed up against the far wall. A cupboard held medical supplies. He would recognize that anywhere. At the far end of the room, some orderlies were filling a hip bath. The sound of the water splashing into the tub reminded Hornblower of the dryness of his throat.

"Why didn't you..." started Lansing, still holding onto Hornblower's arm.

"I would like a drink of water," interrupted Hornblower.

Lansing's frustrated features sharpened to the situation. "Jamey," he called, "bring the officer a glass of water."

"Aye, sir!"

"You seem to have found your voice, sir," said Lansing, watching Hornblower crane his neck to look around the room. He instinctively kept a grip on the officer since Hornblower continued to weave slightly where he sat. "Why did you not answer Doctor Andrews when he spoke to you?... sir."

Hornblower ceased gazing about the room. "What is your name?" asked Hornblower as sharply as he could.

The orderly arrived with the water and stopped Lansing from answering as he passed the glass to Hornblower. Horatio tilted the glass back and gulped the liquid.

"Here! Here!" said Lansing taking hold of the glass and pulling it down causing some to spill onto Hornblower's clothing. "Not so fast, sir. You'll give yourself a cramp!"

Hornblower wiped his mouth on his sleeve. **How dare this man take my drink,** he thought. He stared at the sand and water smearing the back of his hand, touched the whiskers on his cheeks, then looked at his fingers and rubbed the sand on them between his fingertips.

"I need to wash," stated Hornblower, interrupting Lansing's speech about his rank and his duty.

Lansing ceased speaking abruptly, "Yes, sir, you do," and since Hornblower was neither listening to him, nor letting him finish a sentence, he said nothing more and waited.

Hornblower brought both hands to the center strand of buttons of his waistcoat and froze, staring at the left fist. He turned the palm up and stared at the fingernails pressing into the skin. He lowered his hands and his face went blank. She was gone. The woman he loved was gone. The baby he never held and never would hold... gone. Pamela's warmth and laughter, the mischief and headstrong attitudes, the scent of her skin,... **Oh God!** he thought with closed eyes, **the scent of her skin.** He sighed and thought of the silky soft feel of her hair, the irrational arguments that confounded him and that somehow deepened his love rather than lessened it. The way she responded to those things he loved, before she came, the sea and the ship, and how she instinctively understood him. His chin dropped to his chest.

"Sir?" asked Lansing, bracing his body against Hornblower's. "Jamey! Give me a hand here."

"What happened, Mr. Lansing? I thought he come to?"

The two of them lay Hornblower down on the table.

"He's had some sort of shock, that's all I can figure," said Lansing. "Help me get his clothes off."

 

When Hornblower next became aware of his surroundings, he lay in a hospital bed, clean, dry, comfortable. The room was quiet.... except for... the scritch of implement against paper. Someone was writing. He kept his eyes closed and hoped whoever it was would go away.

"Mr. Lansing says you spoke to him earlier."

The deep mildly raspy voice was so clear and unexpected, Hornblower jerked.

"I did not mean to alarm you. I am Dr. Andrews, the physician here at Gibraltar hospital." The man paused and took a breath, giving the patient a chance to volunteer a name, or look his direction in acknowlegment. "We have established that you are an officer... from your clothes, and the interchange with Lansing. A leftenant, yes? You look too young to be anything more, unless your name is Nelson, that is, and you are too tall to be Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson."

Horatio did not open his eyes, but his mouth twisted from the reminder of his brief time under Nelson's command.

"I am glad you are listening because I have something to say to you. In just a moment, I am going to ask an orderly to bring you a bowl of broth. I can count your ribs without touching you. Do you understand me? Was it those lumps on your head? Have you been ill? Or just recovering from the blows? You must be incredibly hard-headed to have survived them. I've seen hard-headedness of both types and I would say, from what Lansing told me of the earlier dialogue, you have both!" The chair creaked as Dr. Andrews leaned towards Hornblower; his next words were louder for two reasons, proximity and a restrained ire. "Now," said Andrews, "I expect you to treat my men with the respect due them, and I guarantee they will reciprocate, as I know they already have."

Hornblower pressed his cheek into the pillow away from the doctor. A cool hand pressed Hornblower's forehead and he sank away from it.

"You are running a temperature. You have a spring sunburn, and you are verging on starvation. Let us hope we can attribute some of your rudeness to illness." The doctor craned his neck to see Hornblower's left fist tightly closed. "Do you want to tell me about that jewelry?" Andrews looked over the pince-nez on his nose and waited. "Very well." Andrews looked over his shoulder. "Jamison, bring our officer some broth. He's awake."

"I do not want any food," said Hornblower testily. "I am not hungry."

Andrews whipped his head around and pinched the eye glasses from his nose.

"Well, my young friend, that is where you are wrong. You may not think you are hungry, but I can tell you, your body is hungry... and mark my words, you will eat."

"No."

Hornblower said the single word in such a way, that the doctor canted his head and sighed deeply, then sat on the edge of the bed.

"Do you want to tell me why you are refusing food?"

Hornblower's facial muscles had tensed sternly to bring forth that solitary declaration. He thought on the reason and his entire musculature relaxed.

"Hm? Come on. If you are going to die in my hospital, do you not think I should know the reason why?"

After some moments, Hornblower said hollowly, "I have no reason to live."

The physician's eyebrow rose. "Hm. I see." He was quiet for a few moments, thinking about the reply. "Then, logically, you must have a reason to die. So, if death is your desire, then might you not as well be of service? We have men dying in this war every day. Would it not be more appropriate to replace one of them rather than take up space dying in my hospital where a wounded man might be better served?"

Hornblower turned his head and opened his eyes and met those of the man who heretofore had only been an irritating voice. The physician was a heavy set older man, jowly, with thinning hair. The nose had a scar just above the bulb that ended in the crevice of the right cheek. Hornblower softened when he saw the sharp blue eyes...like his father's. He had forgotten about his father. He had forgotten ... everything.... but then... he wanted to remember nothing. Reluctantly, he turned his head and lowered his eyes. It was still there. He gripped it. He did not want to see it, but he could not let it go.

"Do you want to tell me about that?"

Hornblower shook his head rapidly, sucked a breath and turned his head far to the right. Sweat broke out on his face and his breathing increased.

"Here now, here. Calm down," said Andrews soothingly, placing a hand on the side of Hornblower's head. Andrews bent nearer and peered at the young man. "Hm. You've passed out!" said Andrews mildly astonished. The physician had experienced a great many things in all his years of dealing with wounded. How much of a challenge would this young man present? The doctor sucked a tooth, then gazed at the fist. Hornblower was clasping it so tightly the knuckles were white.

"Here's his broth, sir," said Jamison coming up beside the doctor.

Andrews sighed. "Best take it back to the kitchen for now."

"Yes, sir."

"Well, my young friend. This is going to be quite the voyage. It would help if I knew your name."

"How is he, Dr. Andrews?" asked Lansing arriving to check on Hornblower's progress.

"Who is he, Lansing? Something has happened to him. Something to do with that gold he is clutching so fiercely. P and H," said Andrews thoughtfully. "Are you P or are you H?" he asked the unconscious Hornblower. "If you are a gentleman, and despite your gruffness, I think you are, then you must be H. Who is P? Where is she and what ... has befallen you, ... or her?"

"You think it's a woman causing him trouble, sir?" asked Lansing.

"Just an educated guess, Lansing. He wants to die." Lansing pondered the young man's response to the suggestion about dying in service. What effect it would have would remain unknown for the time being.

That evening, Lansing was passing through the hospital wards and found Hornblower sitting up with his feet on the floor. The officer's left hand remained in a grip. Lansing shifted his eyes nonchalantly to Hornblower's face and started to speak, but instead sighed frustratedly and put his hands on his hips.

"Just what do you think you are doing, sir?"

"I want my clothes," said Hornblower.

"They've been sent to be cleaned, sir."

Hornblower jutted his chin, and turned his head down and away. These people irritated him no end... except perhaps that physician. But Andrews had let Hornblower know in no uncertain terms that he was merely taking up space in 'his' hospital. Though as he looked around the room, he saw only one other man, prone in a distant bed, with bandages circling his chest.

"When will they be returned?" he asked pointedly.

"I will find out for you if you wish it, sir."

"I do. Would there be a razor I might borrow?" asked the exasperated Hornblower.

Despite Hornblower's surly attitude, Lansing liked the young officer, though he could not have said why. He stepped nearer.

Lansing was in his forties. He was solidly built, brown eyes and hair with streaks of grey, and had been with Doctor Andrews for twenty of those years, moving up in rank to chief surgeon's mate. Andrews took Lansing with him whenever and wherever he was assigned, and the two men had been at the Gibraltar naval hospital for the past two months, replacing a Dr. Blakeney.

"There might be, but ... what did ye plan to do with it, sir?"

Hornblower's eyes darted to Lansing's and he considered what he might be alluding to. At last, Hornblower's eyes softened. He rubbed his cheek and grabbed hold of the long whiskers growing off his jaw line.

"I need a shave,...er, what is your name?"

"Lansing, sir." The surgeon's mate resisted becoming sarcastic in saying he had told the officer so earlier.

"I need a shave, Mr. Lansing. Nothing more. I will not slit my throat, at least not intentionally."

Lansing's cheeks perked mirthfully for a moment. "In your current unsteady condition, sir,... if I may say,... that might be the result. If you would extend your hand, sir, I believe you will take my point."

Hornblower considered the suggestion. Grasping the edge of the bed with two fingers of one hand, he extended the other. It shook uncontrollably and he pulled it back immediately and eyed Lansing defensively.

"Do you remember the last time you had a decent meal, sir?"

Hornblower's brow furrowed. "What... what...." he licked his lips, reluctant to ask the question, "What.... day is it?"

"It's the twenty-sixth of March, sir."

"The twenty-sixth..." Hornblower hung his head. Late, he was very late. He was too late.

Lansing gripped his upper arm and snatched Hornblower's thoughts from the precarious edge. He was standing so close, Hornblower had to look up to see the man's face.

"What are you doing, Mr. Lansing?" Hornblower's voice was melodic and soft as butter.

"I prefer not to have to pick you up off the floor, sir."

"And, why might that be necessary?"

"Because I know that hangdog look, sir, and what comes after."

Hornblower's brow twitched, wondering what the man was speaking of, but he did not inquire further.

Lansing fluffed the pillows and urged Hornblower against them, then helped his legs back into the bed and covered Hornblower, catching sight of the contracted fist.

"I am feeling tired," said Hornblower. "Could I have a glass of water?"

"Of course, sir. I will fetch it. How about a bit of soup, eh? It would please Dr. Andrews to hear ye'd eat somethin'."

"Very well."

Lansing studied his charge. The officer was as agreeable now as he had been disagreeable before.

"What is it, Mr. Lansing?"

"I was just wondering what your name was, sir."

"Hornblower, Leftenant Horatio Hornblower of his majesty's frigate Indefatigable."

"Pellew's ship?" smiled Lansing

"Yes."

"Damn my eyes! You serve with Captain Sir Edward Pellew?"

"Yes."

"I'll be," grinned Lansing. "I served with him when he was a leftenant with Captain Pownoll. The same year I met up with Doctor Andrews."

Hornblower gulped. "Doctor Andrews knows Captain Pellew?"

"Yes, indeed."

"I see."

"Here's your water, sir," said Lansing walking back from the middle nursing station. "Not too fast now."

Hornblower clasped the container with a hand and a fist to hold it steady. Though he wanted to empty the glass straight down his gullet, he dutifully spaced the sips and swallows until the glass was empty.

"May I have another?"

"Yes, sir," agreed Lansing. "Then, I am off to fetch that broth."

Lansing returned with the bowl and Hornblower bent over the lap tray and shakily brought the spoon to his lips. As Hornblower ate, Lansing pulled back the collar of the nightshirt and checked Hornblower's neck.

"What?" asked Hornblower as he sipped down a spoonful of brown beef broth.

"Just checking."

"For what?" asked Hornblower.

Lansing sighed. "Wait till you finish eating."

Hornblower ate quickly and laid the spoon in the bowl.

He felt of his neck. There was a rough streak near the back, like a scab.

"It's just a scratch," said Hornblower.

"Yes, sir." Lansing looked thoughtful.

"What is it, Mr. Lansing?"

The surgeon's mate reached into a pocket and brought out a string of leather with a pouch attached to it.

"What is that for?" asked Hornblower.

"It's for you to put your gold in, sir."

"Gold? I haven't any gold," smirked Hornblower. Horatio followed the trace of Lansing's eyes as they came to rest on his balled fist. He stared at the appendage as if it had suddenly appeared on the end of his arm.

Lansing waited and watched Hornblower's transfixed gaze, wondering if he would pass out. Instead he watched a battle of wills.

Hornblower's fist quaked as the young officer turned the finger side up. The concentration on his face was accented as the quaking transferred to Hornblower's head. All at once all shaking ceased, the fingers twitched and slowly opened. The ring dropped onto the tray. The chain remained caught in the creases of skin and the cross dangled on his palm. He stretched open his fingers and the lot of it fell out.

Lansing watched Hornblower closely. "It's good to have a faith in God," he said.

Hornblower's chin trembled and he shook his head, collapsing onto the pillows. "God ... has gone away... with...," he said choked, and turned his face away.

Lansing placed the jewelry in the leather pouch and tied it closed. He slipped the leather necklace over Hornblower's head and tucked the little purse inside the neck of the frilled nightshirt.

"There you are, sir. That leather won't chafe the skin. Can I get you anything more?"

Hornblower sniffed and covered his eyes with his forearm. "No," he said sounding stuffy. "Leave me be."

Lansing turned out a lantern, then looked back towards Hornblower turned on his side and whose shoulders were shaking with silent weeping. Lansing turned out another lamp and departed softly.

The officers' ward lay draped in darkness.

The door was open spilling a swath of yellow light at the end of the dimly lit corridor. Lansing found himself standing silent in the lighted entryway.

Andrews' pince-nez were perched on his nose. He looked up from the journals he was writing.

"What is it, Lance?"

"I thought you should know, that officer they found on the beach this morning..."

"Yes?"

"He's off Pellew's ship."

"Indefatigable is not here. I was just over there yesterday on inspection."

"I know. That is curious, isn't it. I mean, he's an odd one, ain't he?"

Andrews leaned back in the chair and removed the glasses from his nose.

"Go on, Lance. I know you won't rest until you've got this out of your system."

"He says he's off Indefatigable, but I know she was here only a night or two last February. He's been clutching that cross and ring like the gold of King Midas but yet isn't aware of it. He fights with himself..."

"Lance," poohed Andrews.

"He did! I watched him! He won though and he opened his hand and let it all fall onto the tray." Lansing wiped over his head nervously.

"What now?"

"Should I sit with him? I mean, ... do you think he might be a danger to himself?"

Andrews leaned forward. "Tell me the rest."

"He's weeping, sir. Not out loud, but... I know he is."

"Did he eat anything?"

"Yes."

"Well, that's a good sign. I don't think he will try anything... as you might fear, but... I'll look in on him. Did you get a name?"

"Yes, Horatio Hornblower, Leftenant."

Andrews snorted. "Horatio. I nearly hit it on the nose today then. Did he say who P is?"

"No, only somthin' about God, but I couldn't understand him."

"Hm," grunted Andrews wryly. He heaved a big sigh. "Very well, Lance."

"He wanted to shave, but ... I steered him away from it."

"Might be for the best till he's stable. Do you think he is lying about Pellew?" asked Andrews.

"Didn't speak much on Sir Edward," said Lansing.

"Hm. Bet we could bend his ear with some things he's never heard before," said Andrews cagily. "He's been gone for a while with that growth of beard, that's for sure," commented Andrews rising. He picked up the two pillows from his chair, puffed them by patting, and hugged them under an arm. "That beard's got to be more than a month old."

"My thoughts exactly, sir," agreed Lansing.

"All right, all right. Rest your mind and take pity on my poor back and buttocks."

"I'll do it, Doc, if you want me to."

"No. Best be me," sighed Andrews. "Bring us breakfast though, get the barber lined up tomorrow. The sooner we have him looking like a leftenant the better. And send over to Admiralty and see what that Maynard fellow can find out for us about Mr. Hornblower."

"Yes, sir."


Hornblower opened sunken eyes to gaze at the window two empty beds away. He had not noticed it the day before, but, as he thought on it, he recalled he had wakened there in the dark. The day was bright and sunny from all appearances, at least out of doors it was. He closed his eyes, exhausted with the effort of keeping them open.

"Breakfast will be here soon," said Andrews.

"Let me be," said Hornblower barely audible.

"Lansing tells me you had a bite to eat last night. I thought you might have decided to take me up on my offer."

Hornblower resisted commenting for as long as he could, but knew this man was not going to be easily put off. Yelling at him, he knew, was not an option.

"What offer, Dr. Andrews?"

"The offer of getting out of my hospital, Leftenant Hornblower."

"Give me my clothes and I will be on my way," came the muffled reply.

"Oh... well... it isn't that easy."

"Why not?"

"You're too thin. I cannot send you back to the service in this condition. They might send you right back."

Hornblower thought of Pellew and Sebastian. Andrews was probably correct. He did not feel he would make much of an officer at this point. If what he heard in the boat was correct, and he was "chosen", then, could he not negate the choice by insisting on dying?

"Then, I suppose you are stuck with me."

"You ate something for Mr. Lansing last night. What has caused this change?"

Hornblower shrugged.

Andrews sighed. "It will be unpleasant for both of us if I have to force you to eat."

"Please...." started Hornblower.

Andrews waited for Hornblower's voice had sounded as if he intended to say more.

"Just... let me be. You should have left me on the beach."

Andrews needed another tactic. "Mr. Lansing tells me you serve with Captain Sir Edward Pellew, that you are an officer from Indefatigable."

Hornblower's body tensed and he opened his eyes. He had a feeling he would regret sharing that information.

"You know, Pellew's wife is buried here... over in the cemetery, north side of the Rock. Amanda was her name. I only met her once, at some function, I don't recall it now. I was surprised he had married an American. Well, when he met her, the colonies belonged to us, so she was a British subject. Pellew and I had a chance meeting a few years after her death, and I was uninformed of her passing. It was a hurtful subject even then. He deigned not to speak of her, but thanked me for my inquiries. I respected his wishes. Edward Pellew is one of the finest sea officers I know."

Hornblower's eyes had reddened and moistened as he listened to Andrews, the light from the window on his face. Years ago, he had accompanied his captain to his wife's grave site here in Gibraltar. Captain Pellew never told him she was ... an American. **What must he have felt when he learned I had married Pamela? What were his thoughts when he met her?**

The seasoned doctor watched Hornblower's back. "I can respect yours, as well. Was Pamela your ... wife?"

"H...ho... how do you know about ... ?" Hornblower swallowed hard, fighting the emotion.

"You said her name in your rather fitful sleep. Has she passed away?"

Hornblower could only nod and mentally curse his dreams.

Andrews placed a warm hand onto Horatio's shoulder. "I can only offer my sympathies, leftenant. I take it ... it was unexpected. If you should wish to speak of her, I have a willing ear."

The orderly with the breakfast arrived and Andrews motioned him away, then called him back. He removed the toast caddy and a glass of water and sat it on the table next to Hornblower's bed.

"It is understandable that you might have little appetite, but, Mr. Hornblower, you must eat. I refuse to spout the Articles of War and besides, I know you know them. Until you have officially left this mortal coil, you are under their authority. I am leaving you some toast and water. Should you come to desire food, you need only ask."

Andrews walked away with his pillows to hand and met Lansing near the door.

"He wouldn't eat, sir?"

Andrews shook his head. "He's lost a wife... and one he must have loved fiercely. I'll give him till this evening. If he has not eaten by then," he sighed, "I suppose we will have to force him." About to leave, the doctor added, "Take him for that shave later."

"Yes, sir."

 

*****

Three days passed, a clean shaven Hornblower leaned against the high wall of the upper embrasure, the off shore breeze lifting his curly yet neatly queued hair in tufts and setting it down again. His thoughts were far away, but part of his mental faculties watched the coming and going of harbour boats, seeing to the needs of the warships of the British navy.

He was dressed in soft loose white trousers and shirt, with a dark blue robe tied at the waist and slippers on his feet, hospital issue. Hornblower suspected that Doctor Andrews was delaying the return of his clothing until he had gained the stone and a half of weight that would get him released from hospital, but it did not matter, he had given up. He did not want to think or act or make decisions. He did what he was told, and he avoided speaking to anyone. He just didn't care anymore, at least that is what he told himself, and in the current situation, that seemed to be the truth. If Andrews wanted to keep him here forever, that was fine. If they sent him back to war, ... on any ship,... he would do his damnedest to put himself in harm's way. He was fed up with life.

Hearing voices, Hornblower turned to watch an orderly guiding a man to a bench about twenty feet farther down the parapet. The man was clothed in hospital clothes as Hornblower, but his head was bandaged round about his eyes. The wounded man also carried a cane and a blind man's stick. Hornblower looked back out to sea and sighed.

**What if I were wounded in such a way? God, I'd rather be dead.** With twisted lips, he stared out over the water and shifted his weight to the other leg. Resting an arm on the top of the wall, he relaxed and thought about Pamela. Doing so had become slightly easier. The grief had eased and the tears that sought to unman him were held at bay... except at night, when nothing could distract him from recalling the intimacy they shared, being in her single company. He was thankful no one from Indefatigable was here to feel sorry for him, to question him, to remind him more than he already reminded himself... of her.

It was good to be alone and out of doors.

Lost in thought he did not know how long he had stood there, but something caught his attention out the corner of his eye and after a few moments, he turned his head to look for the blinded man. Catching sight of him, he called.

"STOP!"

He shouted it with such authority, the man instantly froze.

Hornblower looked about the area and realized they were the only two present, other than the watch guard. Reluctantly, he stepped over to the man and took his arm.

"Did that fool of an orderly leave you here alone?" said Hornblower looking down the steep drop.

"You mustn't blame him. He told me not to move, that he would return. I just wanted to test my skill with my stick, you see."

"If you don't mind my saying so, sir, a parapet is not a proper place for gaining such skill."

The man smiled. "Am I close to the edge?"

"Another step and you'd have been in the courtyard below. You gave me a fright, sir, indeed you did."

"My name is ... Barth... Barth Barnstable, lately leftenant in Duke of York." He freed up his right hand by shifting the cane to the other, then offered his hand.

Hornblower squinted in the bright sun, the white bandage around Barnstable's eyes blinding as he studied the face. He was that same man that had suggested Godwin's church that long ago day. In thinking on it, he was not ready to be recognized by anyone, especially not someone mildly connected to Pamela. He was getting a handle on the emotional bouts and he did not need erratic comments concerning her that might cause him to lose control. Whether Barnstable might recall the inquiries of a man named Hornblower so many months ago, he decided not to take the chance. He did not want to be drawn into a conversation concerning his late wife.

Hornblower took Barnstable's hand. "English, ... is my name."

"I must thank you, for rescuing me, Mr. English."

"Happy to help, Mr. Barnstable. Here let me take you back to the bench, or would you prefer to return inside?"

"No, please. I want to be out here. I've been indoors for far too long. I practically bribed the orderly to bring me up here. You see, it is another reason I do not wish to cause him difficulty. I might want to come again. When I could see, I used to take the long walk down to the lighthouse. Do you know it?"

"Europa Point Light? Of course. What sailor that ever passed through the Straits of Gibraltar would not know Europa Point?"

"Of course, I should have known you were a navy man, and a gentleman from the sound of you. Are you wounded?"

"Not really, but ... No. I am not wounded."

"Then, either you work in hospital or you are a guard." The man patted Hornblower's chest, touched his own clothing, then canted his head, questioningly.

"I am recuperating from an old ... injury, if you must know," said Hornblower.

"I apologize. I did not mean to pry."

"It's all right, sir. Let me help you to the bench."

"Thank you, Mr. English. I apologize for being such a bother."

"Not at all, Mr. Barnstable."

Once the man was seated, Hornblower returned to his spot across the width of the bastion. In a moment, he looked over to check on the blind man. He was walking again this time staying close to the wall, his right elbow turned out to touch it. Hornblower looked about and did not see any sign of the orderly returning. Frowning, he strode towards the man.

Coming along side him, he asked, "I thought you were going to wait for the orderly?"

"Mr. English! I thought you had gone. Do not fret yourself, sir. I will stay near the wall this time. I promise."

Hornblower thought of leaving but could not do it. The man could not see. If anything happened to him it would be another brick on top of many more to burden his beleaguered conscience.

"Where is it you wish to go, Mr. Barnstable?" he asked, trying to keep the consternation out of his voice.

"I do not wish to trouble..."

"It is no trouble, sir. I need ... a distraction. If you would be satisfied with a silent companion, I will accompany you."

"Very well." After some silent steps, the blinded man said, "Could you describe the day for me? It must be very bright. Despite the cool breeze, the sun is warm."

"Yes. It is a beautiful day," admitted Hornblower, not having considered it such before.

"Is the harbour busy?"

"Yes," confirming his answer with a glance at the ships dotting Gibraltar Bay, "Yes, it is." Hornblower kept his pace slow for the limping blind man. Barnstable was the leftenant in the admiralty offices. How did he come to go to sea? One of the things that confirmed he was that same clerk was the limp. "Might I ask... what happened to you?"

With a sigh, the man said, "We were in a skirmish with a couple of luggars. They decided to run rather than heave to for us to check their papers and their cargo. After having been on watch on watch, ... not a punishment, mind you, the officer whose watch it was had become ill. Bad egg, it seems. Anyway, I had been on my feet for nearly eight hours... though it isn't my feet that are the problem. Bad knee from another action years ago. If I had known before hand, I could have put on the brace, you see. We were about to fire a warning shot. The man pulled on the lanyard to light the powder, it flashed, my knee decided to buckle at the same time. Embarrassing, to say the least, to fall in the first place and then to get two eyes full of burning cinders, though the doctor says one is not as bad as the other. The gunnery officer said I was lucky the cannon recoil didn't kill me. In hindsight, I wish it had. Bad knee, blind. I'd be better off dead."

Hornblower agreed, but did not say so.

"Perhaps the service should take the blame. If you have a bad knee, then you should not have been in sea service."

"I was not supposed to be. I had a position in the port here, but ... I needed to ... I lied and told them the knee was better than it was."

"Oh," said Hornblower.

"I was running away, Mr. English. Foolishly running away from something impossible to run away from."

"Sir?"

"Oh, not the kind of running that you might associate with the navy. I was running away from ... a woman." The man stopped and leaned the cane against the wall, then scratched over the bandages covering his eyes. "Don't tell on me for doing this. The doctor has told me not to rub them, but they itch."

"Why were you running?" The cane fell to the ground, and Hornblower picked it up. "If you don't mind my asking," said Hornblower.

"Ha ha ha. Instead of running from the navy, I ran to it! I suppose this is payment for ... for being so stupid. Why was I running? She was already married and very much in love with her husband. I should not have allowed myself to fall in love with her. It is my own fault."

"Did she know?"

The man snorted. "Yes. I told her, though I never.... We were friends."

"Where is she? Here on Gibraltar?"

"No. Not anymore. She went home, as I have learned. And it is just as well. I would not want her to see me this way."

"Will you... will you see again?"

"The doctor doesn't know."

Hornblower eyed Barnstable then stared at the ground. Love. It was a treacherous emotion. Like the sea itself, it seldom ran smooth forever, but offered calm seas, roiling ones, and often death. But it was not his love that had died, merely the body which contained the beloved. Both women he loved most had been buried before he could say goodbye, first his mother, and now his wife. Was it better not to see the lifeless body? She would forever live and be alive in his memory. Forever young. He inhaled long and with the equally lengthy exhale, he tidied another portion of the room where he was slowly locking away the memories. His hand automatically went to the leather pouch around his neck. He fingered the ring through the material.

The two men walked on for a bit more until Hornblower heard running steps coming up behind them.

"Here! You should not be walking about, sirs! I must ask you to return to hospital."

"We've been caught out, Mr. English."

"Time to come about, Mr. Barnstable."

 

 

Hornblower avoided Barnstable's company in the coming days and since no one knew who Mr. English was, he was able to avoid any inquiries or refusals.

It was the tenth day of his confinement in Gibraltar hospital. Doctor Andrews had not visited him for several days, but Hornblower knew the steady weight gain was reported to the physician by Mr. Lansing. As of today, the target weight had been reached. Returning from his solitary afternoon stroll, Hornblower found not only the clothing he had worn beneath the Franciscan garment, but also the missing topcoat, the boat cloak, his father's sweater, the dirk, and the sadly damaged buckle shoes. He picked up the shirt and examined the cuff. A button had been sewn on, a tear at the elbow mended. The shirt was starched and ironed to perfection. Hornblower peeled off the hospital garments until he stood naked by the bed, and then he donned his leftenant's uniform. Lansing arrived, just as he finished buttoning the waistcoat and was about to pull on the jacket.

"I see you found your clothes."

"Yes, Mr. Lansing. Thank you for the care they have been given. My uniform is a well worn garment, certain sure. I see my bag was located as well." He held up the dirk before he fastened it on.

"Not surprising your uniform is worn from your record, Leftenant Hornblower," commented Lansing.

As he suspected, the powers that be had been checking into his past.

"I have done no more than any man would do, Mr. Lansing."

"Yes, sir. Doctor Andrews wants to see you. Follow me."

The uniform, though remaining slightly large from the weight loss, fit him like the proverbial glove, and tended to camouflage the leaner body mass. It was like a second skin and Hornblower walked straighter and felt taller in the beaten leather pinchbeck buckle shoes. The authority of his rank, which never left him, settled around him like armor. His experience as a British naval officer who had already commanded as a captain a number of prizes emanated from his carriage like a candle on a lamp stand. Heads turned as he passed, even though they might not have known why.

Hornblower was led into a formal office. Dr. Andrews sat behind a mahogany desk attired in the garb required by the position of the physician's warrant. He glanced up briefly from reading, returning his eyes to focus through the pince-nez to complete the paper to hand, then motioned to the chair opposite him and ordered Hornblower to sit down.

Andrews laced the fingers of his hands together and stared at the young man across from him. Hornblower became slightly uneasy and wondered if he should speak first.

"What are you doing here, Mr. Hornblower?" asked Andrews in wonderment.

Puzzled, Hornblower thought it was Mr. Lansing that brought him here at Andrews' request. Before he could ask the question, Andrews shoved an old issue of the Naval Gazette across the desk.

"Read it," commanded the doctor.

He picked it up, brow scrunching at the item he scanned. He looked up to see Dr. Andrews leaning back in his chair and resting his hands on his stomach. Hornblower read the article.

"Is that true?"

The information was submitted by Captain Pellew, telling how Hornblower though ill, had successfully led Indefatigable to defeat two French ships after nearly all officers of rank, except Lt. Kennedy, had been injured, and then went on to say Hornblower had given his life to free Indefatigable from fallen rigging in a subsequent storm, that he was lost at sea, presumed dead, and would be mourned by his father and young wife.

Hornblower lay the paper in his lap and stared into nothingness. There it was, out of the blue. She did not have to mourn his loss long at least. His eyes burned. This was a test. How quickly could he make himself recover? Watery eyes rose to meet those of Dr. Andrews and he swallowed.

"How do you come to be here, Mr. Hornblower? Why aren't you dead?"

At least the doctor offered no questions about Pamela. Hornblower stood abruptly and turned away. "I wish I were."

Andrews came to his feet and walked around the desk. He sighed as he looked upon the mournful young man.

"It is still too fresh, I see." Andrews took a step closer, but Hornblower flinched and Andrews knew it would be inappropriate to touch him as he might do in a gesture of comfort. The young man had chosen to steel himself. He could not blame him. Losing those one loves is never easy and each must find their own way to deal with ... the heartbreak. Andrews picked up a stack of papers on his desk and held them out to Hornblower.

Hornblower looked at the empty pages, then brought questioning eyes to Andrews'. The meaning dawning, Hornblower opened his mouth to protest but knew it was useless. His chest sunk and he dutifully took the handful of paper.

"You may use my desk, Mr. Hornblower. I have rounds to make. It should be an interesting read. If you need more paper, it is located in the third drawer, left hand side. Oh, and I wouldn't include that last bit. The navy might frown upon officers in their ranks with a death wish. They might be too dangerous."

"Where should I begin?" asked Hornblower helplessly.

"Where your captain leaves off, presumably."

"But, I did not know who I was for a time."

"Then, put that down."

Andrews departed, closing the office door after him. Hornblower sat in the heavy leather chair and placed the papers before him. He stared at the empty off-white sheets, put his elbows on either side, and ran fingers through his curls and held his head. At least this would force his thoughts away from Pamela.


A week later, Doctor Andrews and Lt. Hornblower stood before the court of inquiry. Dr. Andrews had spoken with the captains overseeing such matters, explaining that the head injuries that Hornblower had suffered could very well impair his thinking and his judgment in choosing to sail to Gibraltar rather than going to Oporto or Lisbon to seek a transport home to England.

Hornblower had left out of the report all reference to Pamela. He could not have withstood questions concerning her and he wrote the report as if his total impulse was to find Indefatigable which he knew was expected in Gibraltar.

When Andrews read the report, the doctor noted there was no mention of Pamela.

"No, sir," Hornblower had replied, "I see no reason for mention of my wife in a naval report."

Andrews knew Hornblower's wife was somehow involved with his appearance on Gibraltar, but Hornblower had never divulged anything concerning her other than that she was dead.

The report, along with Andrews' summary view of Hornblower's health, satisfied those members of the inquest and the event seemed more a formality than to imply that Hornblower was actually in trouble with the navy.

What the board seemed to find most fascinating was the event concerning the rescue of Captain Brecon. Hornblower had not known whether he should include that, for the spy had not instructed him. Since, according to Brecon, the intelligence agents had been compromised, he assumed people in Gibraltar would be aware.

It was this topic on which the captains questioned him most heavily and asked him more than once about HMS Hector picking them up.

To further this idea, the last thing the captains said before they dismissed Andrews and Hornblower was, "Information concerning Captain Brecon is not to be spoken of outside this room. Is that clear, Doctor? Is that clear, Leftenant Hornblower?"

"Aye, aye, sir," was the reply both men gave the captains succinctly.

Andrews heaved a sigh of relief in the corridor. "You were very cool in there, Mr. Hornblower."

Hornblower shrugged his shoulders. He did not care what they did to him, but he thought saying that to Andrews might not sit well, so he said nothing.

"I suppose you will be leaving for England as soon as possible?"

"Yes, sir. But you know that, since your medical report precludes my availability until the medical board releases me," said Hornblower irritably.

"I only have your best interests at heart. Go home and see your father. Have you forgotten him? He thinks you are dead, you know. Captain Pellew most likely informed him of your loss."

Hornblower sighed. He had not thought of his da. Andrews was right. It would mean telling his father about Pamela. Hornblower's heart ached. This ordeal was not over yet. As much as he wanted to lock her memory away he could not, not yet.

"There is a mail packet leaving for England tomorrow. The captains left it up to me when you would sail."

Hornblower stopped and faced the doctor. "Are you saying you will allow me to take the packet back to England?"

"I am, if you feel you are ready."

Hornblower walked on in thought. He had been put off from sailing to England so long, he had ceased to consider the idea. The two men stepped through the double doors of the admiralty building and from this vantage point, the azure bay was visible. A breeze off the water caressed Hornblower's cheek. She was calling to him,... the sea.

"How many masts?" asked Hornblower.

"What, Mr. Hornblower?" asked the doctor.

"How many masts has the packet? What sort of ship is she?"

"I'm a doctor, not a ship-wright. But I believe she has two masts."

Hornblower's face took on a sadly wistful expression. Two masts, a mere brig. The vast ocean lay beyond the bay of Gibraltar. Inhaling deeply despite slumped shoulders, Hornblower raised his head. The breeze lifted the curl on his forehead and the edge of his mouth rose wryly.

"It might be good... " he paused.

"What's that, Mr. Hornblower?" asked the doctor.

"...To hear the wind in the rigging," was the soft and sad reply.

~ * ~

 

The end of An American Encounter Part three.

 

The saga continues in An American Encounter Part 4 where the final epilog will appear.