Black Bloody Mutiny
Horatio Hornblower stared gloomily out of the barred window . At least his cell was open to the outside; once in a while a fitful breeze blew in, relieving the heat a little, and he could watch the comings and goings of those blessed with the freedom to move around outside. Pellew had appeared grateful for the moving air also; he'd looked almost unwell, a fine sheen of perspiration on his face, as he'd stood and listened to Horatio's story.
He supposed he was fortunate that Pellew was sitting at the court-martial. Not that Sir Edward would attempt to thwart the due authority of the panel of judges, but there was some small hope that he might put certain events in a more positive light. Oh, Pellew had fumed and blustered, but Horatio knew his former captain had believed him when he'd said their actions had been for the good of the service. Nevertheless, he carefully kept his thoughts neutral; what was done was done, and there was no point in either entertaining false hopes or wallowing in despair.
Despair came easily enough, God knew. He had only to think of Archie, bound to his bed more firmly by that dreadful wound, than by any iron bars. He'd watched as Archie and Mr. Bush, along with the others injured in that desperate attempt to take the Renown, had been carried up on deck, preparatory to being ferried ashore.
Bush's wound was serious, but not as deep as both Horatio and Clive had thought on first glance. Barring an infection -- always a possibility -- he would recover. He too had been locked up -- along with Archie -- but though he had cast his lot with them down there in the hold, he had less to fear than the rest of them. Pellew had come directly to the heart of the matter -- the question of how Sawyer had come to fall down the hold. Bush had simply not been there.
But Archie..... If there were to be a hangman's noose waiting for them all at the end of this whole wretched affair, he could only wish that Archie died first, rather than have life snatched away from him in that manner. His friend had shown a brave face, when Horatio had last seen him, but his breathing had been laboured, and fresh blood spotted the bandage encircling his midsection.
Since then, there had been no word. He had already asked for permission to visit his friends, but received no answer in return, nor any news regarding their health. Perhaps the guard had laughed secretly at his prisoner, with no intention of passing on the request.
Another fitful breeze blew gratifyingly against his face. Would Archie and Mr. Bush have even this small comfort in the gaol sickberth? Did they lie there and ponder their fate, as did he? Did worry eat away at their reserves of strength, strength they both needed to mend? Somehow he must see them, somehow put their minds at ease, though he knew not how. Somehow Archie must find the will to live -- somehow!
The guard had pulled the iron-barred door shut with a clash, and Commodore Sir Edward Pellew followed him back up the dank stifling corridor, and away from the spartan cell now occupied by Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower. Pellew's own eyes might have been on the back of the guard, as he walked directly ahead, his booted feet echoing loudly in the enclosed space, but he was seeing another pair of dark eyes in his mind.
On arriving in Kingston, Jamaica, the Commodore had expected to be irritated by all the petty squabbling and mean-spirited dealings that seemed to dog the ships and men of His Majesty's Navy wherever they found themselves. What he had not expected was to find himself appointed to oversee a court-martial -- the court-martial of, among others, a man who he had predicted would enjoy a glorious career in the Service. Hornblower stood charged with mutiny, and behind the charge, the specter of the hangman's noose was chillingly clear.
As a member of the court, it was his duty to remain impartial and to judge the case as the facts were presented to him in due time. But his duty be damned! Truth had a deadly habit of being mocked and twisted, no matter how many oaths might be taken, and how righteous a witness might appear. So he had experienced no qualms of conscience when he decided to visit his young protege, and hear from the man himself exactly what had happened on board Renown.
"It was for the good of the service, " Hornblower had assured him. "We were headed for disaster." The story which the young Lieutenant then proceeded to relate left no doubts in Pellew's mind that they were indeed headed for disaster. An increasingly irrational captain. A captain who beat a boy for no reason. A captain who pampered the men and even encouraged drunkenness and sloth. A captain who treated his officers as the enemy. The Spanish would have made short work of a ship under the command of a captain like that -- and very nearly did. Of course, Sawyer's fall down the hold only exacerbated his condition.
The guard swung open the door leading outside, and Pellew blinked his eyes against the stark brilliance of the hot Jamaican sun. He supposed he should enjoy this change from the damp and cold which he had left behind so recently, but sweat was already running down his face, and he mopped at it with his handkerchief. Some cool lemonade would be most refreshing right now.
Ah, yes, Sawyer's fall. His condition had been much worsened by that fall, to the point where Dr. Clive had finally declared him incompetent, and not a moment too soon, from Hornblower's account. After that, though Hornblower was very circumspect in his retelling of the events, Pellew knew quite well that neither Mr. Buckland nor Mr. Bush could take credit for conceiving any of those daring actions that allowed the Renown to reach port in Kingston, three prize ships in tow. No -- the surprise attack on the fort, the swaying up of the cannon, the retaking of the Renown -- all Hornblower's doing, he'd bet his life on it.
Hibbert House, where Sir Edward had been graciously offered accommodation during his stay in Kingston, was only a short distance from the gaol, but he was breathing heavily by the time he reached the front doorway. A young serving girl curtsied to him as he passed into the blessed shade within and requested that a pitcher of lemonade be brought up to his room. The girl bobbed her head and scurried off while Pellew trudged wearily up the curving staircase. Damn, now his head was starting to ache! Blast this infernal heat anyway!
Gratefully, he stripped off his heavy wool jacket and waistcoat, and loosening his shirt at the neck, dropped into a high-backed easy chair.
'The fall is what seemed to push him over the edge, ' Hornblower had said.
'An interesting choice of words. Just how did Captain Sawyer come to fall down the hold?' How he wished he'd never asked that question.
'It appeared he overbalanced, sir,' Hornblower had answered. Had he lied? No, perhaps he hadn't lied, but there was something -- something in his face, in his eyes -- something that had made him believe that neither was the man telling the whole truth. Pellew had taken his leave then -- if only he'd done so sooner and left that question unasked. 'For the good of the service' Could he have -- would he have..... ? It didn't make any sense. There were no guarantees -- a fall down the hold -- the man might have died, or just suffered a few bruises.
He remembered clearly the first day Hornblower stood before him in the privacy of the Captain's cabin on board Indefatigable. Pellew had formed no good judgment of the young midshipman -- he had no patience with those who settled grievances with duels, and this was beyond belief -- a man who, having provoked the duel, then allowed another to fight in his place. But he'd reserved his judgment, even when the young puppy dared argue with him.
The capture of the Marie Galante had given him an opportunity to test young Hornblower's mettle. An officer, even a midshipman, served to command. An inability to command was more easily hidden on board a ship of a hundred and eighty souls, but a ship the size of the captured prize was less forgiving. Hornblower had lost the vessel, of course, through no fault of his own. He'd brought his men back, along with the French prisoners, and never laid the blame for the Marie Gallante's loss where it belonged -- a hull holed by an imprudent shot.
From that time, young Hornblower had gone from one incredible incident to another -- flying the French flag to achieve surprise when attacking the French corvettes. Coolly suggesting that he and his men serve their quarantine while ferrying those precious supplies, when most would have given up and waited for a nearly inevitable death. Boarding that fireship and saving both the Indefatigable and the lives of the men on her. Risking life and limb to rescue the enemy from the sea and then returning to prison simply because he had given his parole. Even during that misguided debacle that was Quiberon, Hornblower had been the one to ferret out the true location of the French army.
An original thinker, that Hornblower. And never one to wander up and down in the byways of indecision. He saw his duty, and he did it, if sometimes in an unorthodox manner. The irrationality of Captain Sawyer must have goaded him beyond belief. Might he, in one rash moment, compounded a situation already in the making -- for the good of the service?
More worrisome by far, was his belief that Hornblower was quite capable of standing up in front of the three of them, and candidly bearing the blame for Sawyer's fall -- or whatever the devil it might have been -- if he in any way felt himself responsible. Again he could too easily call to mind another incident where Hornblower had presented himself in his captain's cabin -- and this time, the interview terminated in tears. Pellew's heart had cried also for the young man, who somehow blamed himself for lives lost -- both British and French -- when the real culprits at the Admiralty had perhaps shrugged and managed a disinterested "Well, we tried", before enjoying a good dinner followed by a fine brandy.
There was a hesitant tap on the door.
"Come," Pellew said, and the young girl entered with a tray containing the lemonade and a glass. She filled the glass and then fled. Pellew drained it in one long swallow, and filled it once again. He could feel a slight breeze from the open window, and yet if anything, the heat seemed more deadening than before. His head pounded, and he realized he was starting to feel dizzy.
How was Hornblower standing it, shut up there in that gaol cell? He needed to be free, on the deck of a ship, fighting the enemy -- not Sawyer's ghost, or Captains set in judgment against him. Hammond, Collins -- how would they see him? Hammond had watched him fail miserably his exam for Lieutenant, but was also present to witness his mad act of courage, as he and Foster steered the fireship away from the Indefatigable. And Collins? Ah, he knew the man well -- knew him to be fair and reasonable.
Collins. He'd agreed to meet him for dinner. A good-natured fellow, if rather phlegmatic at times. He didn't envy him -- given command of Renown, almost before the blood of her previous Captain had been scrubbed from the deck. A step up, of course, from the old Taurus, an aging hulk that set her bows outside the precincts of Kingston harbor only on the fairest of days, and only for the shortest of missions. .
But neither Hammond or Collins knew Hornblower like he did -- knew the stuff whereof the man was made. Whatever had happened on Renown, had indeed happened for the good of the service. Yes, Sawyer had been a hero, a great leader, one of Nelson's own. But any man might falter, with no blame inferred.
Good God, just as he was faltering now. What the devil was wrong with him! Had that damned serving girl put something in his lemonade -- rum perhaps? No, he had not tasted anything untoward. He reached out his hand and lifted the glass up, but somehow, his fingers had no strength to grasp it, and the glass fell. He felt the wetness soaking through his breeches, and heard the glass smash on the tile floor. After that, he knew nothing at all.
"And how long is this court-martial to be postponed!" Hammond blustered. He had paced up and down the room a dozen times and Captain Collins wearied of watching him.
"Until the Commodore recovers, " Collins answered.
"And when is that likely to be!"
"Come now, Hammond, you'd think Pellew had contracted the yellow fever just to vex you. The man is seriously ill, I believe, and may indeed lose his life!"
"Yes, well..." Hammond took two more turns of the room and then dropped heavily into a chair. "Mutiny -- always a bad business -- I don't want to see a moment wasted in disposing of this particular case."
"And what is particular about this case, if I may be so bold as to inquire?"
Hammond shot him a disgusted look. "Think on it man! Sawyer is a legend! To have his name blackened in this manner is not to be tolerated. And after that Hermione fiasco ..."
"I see little resemblance between the foul mutiny on board Hermione and what ever events might have transpired in the case of Renown. Why, her officers have brought her safely into a British port, with three Spanish prizes in tow. Hardly the same case as Hermione!"
"Nevertheless, Captain Sawyer was relieved of command. And that, Mr. Collins, is mutiny!" Hammond once again jumped to his feet and commenced his interminable pacing.
Well, Hammond was correct. Technically, that was mutiny. There was a story to be told here, he was certain of it. Pellew was certain of it. Collins had never seen the Commodore in such a vile mood in all the years of their acquaintanceship. Granted, the man could be forgiven for being somewhat out of sorts, arriving in Kingston just a day or so before Renown, and then immediately being thrust into heading this panel. The young Lieutenant -- Hornblower, devil of a name that -- had served under him for some time on Indefatigable, Pellew's favorite command. Not the kind of circumstances under which he might want to meet him again.
His own situation left much to be desired also, if he were honest with himself. He should have welcomed his transfer to a decent 74, a fighting ship indeed, and his chance to shake himself loose from the backwater he'd found himself in. He'd read himself in that morning, but this deuced court-martial looked fair to rob him of his full complement of officers. And to what degree had the men themselves been tainted? His presence was required on the quarter-deck, not sitting in this stuffy Government House room, watching Hammond pace.
"Nevertheless, Hammond, there's nothing to be done, in my opinion . We must await the outcome of Sir Edward's illness. The ship is in no danger of going the way of Hermione; get some new officers aboard her, and she can be about her duty. Hard luck on those awaiting trial, but there you have it. " And perhaps not such hard luck after all; a court-martial where mutiny was the charge could always end in an execution; let the poor bastards enjoy a few more days of life. And best all round that they await Pellew's recovery (or death, not an option he wished to dwell on, but a more probable one, for all that). He knew Pellew had a fondness for Hornblower, and that fondness might well temper his handling of the court-martial. He would not wish to endure Sir Edward's wrath, if events were allowed to proceed, with an outcome not to the Commodore's liking.
Suddenly a loud noise boomed forth, and then another, and another.
"What the devil...!" Hammond strode to the window and pushed the curtain aside; Collins jumped to his feet and crossed the room to join him. A ship was just gliding into the anchorage in Kingston harbor and a few final puffs of smoke from her side signaled the end of her salute. Collins glanced round the room -- yes, a telescope lay nearby on a small table. Grabbing it up, he extended it and placed it to his eye.
"Can you make her out, sir?" Hammond asked, tapping impatiently on the window glass. Collins could, and did.
"Vanguard, 74, it looks like."
"Captain Sir Thomas Williams, " Hammond said. " Mr. Collins, I believe we have our panel complete once again."
Boom! Boom! Boom! The familiar sound of cannonfire echoed faintly through the open window. Horatio looked out -- the anchorage was visible, but he'd give anything to have a telescope with him. A ship coming into port, and saluting -- he could see that much. The fact had nothing to do with him though, and sometimes he wished he could not see the ships anchored in Kingston harbor. Bad enough to be imprisoned in this tiny cell; but worse still to watch the ships of his Majesty's Navy riding at anchor, and wonder whether he would ever go aboard one of them again.
He took his watch from his waistcoat pocket and checked the time. He had expected to be summoned before this; the court-martial would not begin without him, and he had been told that it would convene at 10 AM precisely. Well, 10 AM had come and gone some forty-five minutes ago, and the only disruption of his solitude had been the guard with his breakfast. At least the food was tolerable; far better, in fact, than he was accustomed to on Renown. Paltry recompense for loss of his freedom, but welcome, none the less.
Damn! He could not abide this waiting about! He paced to the iron bars of the doorway, back to the window, and back to the bars again.
"Guard!" he called. He could not see the man, but assumed that he stood no great distance away. "Guard!"
The scrabble of booted feet on the stone floor of the prison finally greeted his shout, and the red-coated sentry appeared on the other side of the barred entry.
"And what do you want?" the guard asked sullenly.
"When am I to be taken for ...." he hesitated. "When will I be required to appear before the court?"
The man scratched himself. "Damned if I know. They don't say much to the likes o' me. "
"Dammit, man, they must have told you something!"
"All I know is -- I was t'take yer over this morning, and then they said there'd been a delay."
A delay? And just what the devil did that mean? Perhaps some more information had surfaced, or a witness was unavailable, though he didn't see how either of those two eventualities could be true. Perhaps the whole proceeding had been put off indefinitely; perhaps someone in authority had decided that a court-martial was unnecessary. He didn't believe that either.
"And Mr. Buckland? He has not been taken either?"
"No, sir. Right testy bastard, that one."
"I don't believe it your place to make such judgments."
The man shrugged and turned to go. "Ye'll know when it's time, " he said, " I doubt they'll ferget ye!" and he walked off into the gloom of the corridor.
A bitter smile crossed Horatio's lips. A testy bastard. Well, Buckland had a right to be testy. He'd seen his chance for recognition after all these years slip away; the story must be all over Kingston by now -- tied up in his bed by the enemy, his Captain slain for his carelessness. No matter that it might have happened to any one of them -- because it hadn't, it had happened to Mr. Buckland. And the man must be desperately worried about this court-martial. Horatio had warned Buckland and the others, during that grim meeting down in the hold, how events might appear when they reached Kingston. Then fate had overtaken them all. If they had not met -- no, no point in dwelling on the matter. They had met, Hobbs had cried 'Mutiny', the captain had .... fallen down the hold. Whatever the result of the actions at Samana Bay, the fact remained that command has been wrested from Captain Sawyer. Perhaps Buckland, despite all, had believed that no further action would be taken, no court-martial, no board of inquiry. If so, the man was indeed a fool.
If only he could see Archie, or at least have news of him. He'd asked the guard again this morning about the two injured officers, but the man had no information to give him, or no intention of passing along any he might have. Perhaps Archie was already dead? But if he lived still, might that not portend well for his eventual recovery? God, he felt so helpless!
William Bush moved gingerly on the hard mattress of the gaol cot. The fire that enveloped his midsection seemed to have abated somewhat, which surely was a good sign. He'd refused Clive's offer of laudanum; he would forever think of Sawyer's descent into madness whenever laudanum was mentioned. Which had come first, he wondered -- the laudanum or the madness? He'd only been aboard Renown since Plymouth and for most of his time since then he'd been the odd man out. Hornblower and Kennedy had mistrusted him at first and rightfully so, for he'd looked up to Sawyer, until it was painfully obvious that the hero of the Nile had changed into a crazed old man. Even when his thinking had come round, he knew he still stood apart. Perhaps he'd been mad to throw in his lot with them, despite the evidence of his own eyes.
In fact, would they have gone ahead, forced Clive to declare the Captain unfit to command, taken over the ship -- if Sawyer had not fallen down the hold? He suspected that the particulars of that fall might be what would save -- or destroy -- them all.
Three men had been down there with Sawyer -- Hornblower, Kennedy and Wellard. He supposed he could take some comfort from the fact that he had not made a fourth Perhaps he could use that fact to save himself, if necessary. Perhaps he could. Yes, William, you could say 'Honored members of the court, I swear, under oath, that I was not present when Captain Sawyer fell.' But he knew that when he joined Buckland, Hornblower, and Kennedy down there in the hold, then he was as much a part of events as any one of them, whatever might have happened.
A low groan, followed by a shallow cough, broke into his thoughts. He turned his head towards the man who lay beside him on an hard cot identical to his own. Mr. Kennedy was in no condition to escape, except by death, but he too was implicated in the so-called mutiny and so he too rested here behind bars.
"Mr. Kennedy?" he called. For a moment there was no answer. The rise and fall of Kennedy's chest was very slight; Bush knew that even breathing was difficult for him.
"Mr. Bush." Archie's voice whispered across the space between them. "I'm still alive, if that's what you're wondering."
"Despite Dr. Clive?"
"I'm fortunate. Dr. Clive has seen fit to leave me along."
Because there was nothing Dr. Clive could do for him, Bush knew. As he felt himself gaining some small measure of strength, he could see that Mr. Kennedy losing his.
"They will have started..." Archie coughed again, and fell silent.
"Yes, I expect they will have." Bush groped for some reassurance, however frail or false, to offer up to Mr. Kennedy. " I understand Commodore Pellew is to be in charge of proceedings. Surely a good sign. I'm sure the whole business is just a formality. "
There was no answer from the adjoining cot. Archie's eyes had closed, but his chest still rose and fell slowly. Just as well he'd drifted off again. While Bush had declined Clive's proffered opiate, Mr. Kennedy had not, and rightly so.
"A black business this!" Captain Sir Thomas Williams had joined Hammond and Collins in the small sitting room. He looked decidedly out of sorts and Collins for one did not blame him. Mutiny -- even a hint of it -- was always bad business. Williams' squadron had run into foul weather crossing the Atlantic and scattered; Vanguard was the first to limp into port. He surely had other concerns on his mind than being called to serve on a court-martial.
"A black business indeed," Hammond agreed. "Captain Sawyer, of all men...."
"And these officers -- they had the audacity to murder their captain?"
"Certainly not, sir, " Collins said. " Sawyer was killed by the Spanish. "
"Spanish prisoners, " Hammond continued, "The blackguards escaped from confinement on board Renown and attempted to take her."
"Then where does mutiny come into it?" Williams huffed.
"Captain Sawyer had been relieved of command. That is the issue we are called upon the resolve, " Collins said.
"Relieved of command,eh! Is this sickness another hazard of the West Indies, like hurricanes and yellow fever?"
Yellow fever. Collins had stopped at Hibbert House the previous evening to inquire after Sir Edward. The lady of the house had no encouraging news to give him. Pellew, for all intents and purposes, lay on his deathbed, a matter of much greater import for His Majesty's Navy than the possible guilt or innocence of three young Lieutenants and a very much older one.
"Antoinette, her captain and first officer killed. And Hermione -- dear God, poor Sir Hugh! " Williams, like his fellow Board member, liked to pace.
"You knew Captain Pigott then?" Collins asked.
"Our families are acquainted. Terrible business that, terrible!"
"I believe there was talk of cruelties..."
"Cruelties? Proper discipline, Mr. Collins. His Majesty's ships would founder indeed without it. And had there been proper discipline at Spithead and the Nore, the Admiralty and his Majesty's Government would not have needed to bow down to an illiterate, carping rabble!" Williams' ire found release in a solid thump of his fist on an unfortunate sidetable, which shivered delicately but managed to remain in one piece.
Collins was quite unable to follow Williams' logic . The man seemed to believe that the severe discipline which had led to the Hermione mutiny would have prevented the Great Mutiny of 1797. Hopefully, he would display somewhat clearer thinking when it came to the matter at hand.
"But more to the point, sir -- my sister's young boy was serving as Midshipman on Hermione. A boy! Dead along with the rest of them." He pounded the table again and Collins winced.
"I believe what we have here gentlemen, is a situation quite different, " Hammond said. " The men did not mutiny, but the officers did."
A sharp rap at the open doorway drew all their eyes towards the uniformed gentleman standing there. "The court is ready, sirs." the man announced.
Collins stood. "I find your statement to be somewhat premature, Hammond. This court-martial has been called to deduce the truth of the whole situation."
"Truth. Ah yes. The truth. I for one have an interest to hear that young Hornblower's part in all this. "
"Hornblower? " Williams said, giving a tug on his uniform jacket. "Who the devil is Hornblower?"
"A protege of the Commodore, " Hammond said. "But Pellew's not here to whitewash this whole affair, and I think perhaps we may get at the truth!"
"Only one truth as I make it out to be, " Williams answered. " When a great Captain like Sawyer is forcibly removed from his office, then the only verdict must be black bloody mutiny!"
Horatio had queried the guard once again as his breakfast was served; once again the man had no information to give him. But now he heard the tramp of feet coming along the corridor; many feet, and not just the one guard returning.
A red-coated Sergeant thrust a key into the lock, twisted it, and swung the bars open. "Sir!" the man said, standing aside. "Your presence is required at Government House." With a sweep of his arm, he indicated that Hornblower should step outside his cell.
Three more soldiers stood to attention in the corridor, their claypipe belting brilliantly white and their backs rigid. Buckland stood there, also.
"Mr. Buckland, " Hornblower said, taking his place beside him.
"Mr. Hornblower." Buckland answered. Two guards preceded them, and two guards fell in behind them; the little cavalcade processed swiftly through the dank -walled corridor.
"Are you well, Mr. Buckland?" Even in the dim light Horatio could see that Buckland looked decidedly pale.
"Well, Mr. Hornblower? Well? We are on our way to our deaths, sir! No, I am not well!"
"Sir, this is not the place -- " Already one of the guards had swiveled his head round to stare.
"Hmf!" But at least Buckland said no more. Of course the man was afraid. He'd be foolish not to have some apprehension. They were not being escorted to a ball, or even to an informal court of inquiry. What awaited them was nothing less than a full-fledged court-martial, the charge mutiny, and the possible outcome, death.
The First Lieutenant was obviously paying the price for his initial cavalier attitude towards Sawyer's removal from command. The Admiralty looked only to the Articles of War and nowhere in the Articles of War was it written that a Captain retained his authority through the good graces of his officers. Hornblower supposed that their lives rested in the hands of Dr. Clive. A captain could be stripped of his command -- if the surgeon deemed him incapable of continuing. And better that these facts be kept firmly in mind, from the beginning. Was Buckland remembering his words down there in the hold, and wondering how he could have held such an innocent belief?
How good the fresh air felt as he stepped outside -- even the harsh Jamaican sun was welcome after the gloom of his cell. Though the Marines kept up a sharp pace, Horatio took the time nevertheless to glance round him, at the exotically colored flowers, the palm trees that lent a glamorous foreign air to the surroundings, the dark-skinned men digging in the gardens, and shuffling by with impossibly huge loads on their backs. He'd enjoyed some fresh fruit with his breakfast that morning; it was juicy and sweet, though he'd no idea of its name, and he'd taken a moment to feel a little sorry for himself, in a tropical port at last, yet cut off from its strange excitements. But if events went well, and he must always hope for the best, then perhaps he and Archie.....
The small bubbling up of hope and enthusiasm swiftly fled.
By now they'd arrived at Government House. Up the wide stairway, down a cool hallway, six noisy pairs of booted feet ringing on the flagstones, then a sharp turn into the courtroom. Mr. Buckland seemed to stagger a little; Horatio raised a hand to steady him, but Buckland cast it sharply away, tugged on his jacket, and continued on.
A loud buzz had emanated from the room, but as the small procession entered, the noise quickly died away. Horatio kept his head forward, but glanced surreptitiously to either side. The courtroom was full. Most, he knew, had come to glean what entertainment they could from another's mortal peril and in their hearts, looked forward to a hanging.
Some more familiar faces were sprinkled here and there. Clive, of course. His testimony could be damning, or not. By damning them, he might well damn himself. And Hobbs. Horatio could understand his allegiance to Captain Sawyer; just such a dilemma might have befallen himself in other circumstances, were he still serving under Pellew, and Pellew fell victim to the kind of ghosts and devils afflicting Sawyer. In the end, he believed he and Hobbs had reached a kind of -- guarded respect perhaps? -- for each other. What the man might say on the stand, if called to testify, could not be predicted. Matthews and Styles were sitting stiff and grim-faced. At least two men in this courtroom looked for acquittal and not blood. The thought comforted Horatio. He'd cautioned Matthews the moment a word had passed his lips regarding unrest on the Renown. For once, the heavy burden of the Articles of War lay on the officers, and not on the men. Pray God he would not let them down!
Two chairs stood empty in the front rank. The Marines stood back, and he and Buckland took their places.
"All rise!" A guard at the front of the room had stood smartly to attention, and his voice boomed out over the whispering crowd, cutting off all noise at once, and bringing them all to their feet.
Three men paraded into the room. Three men, bedecked in all the gold and glitter accruing to the loftiness of their rank and the solemnity of the occasion. Three men who wielded the power of life and death over the officers of the Renown, and who might, in the course of the proceedings, arrive at the truth. Or who might not.
The first was a short, thickset man, with somewhat the appearance of a bulldog about him. To Horatio's eye, he looked open and honest, though Horatio could not have explained exactly why he thought so. The second -- dear God, was that Black Charlie Hammond? It was, and the years had not changed his cool skeptical eye, which had glowered at him during that fateful examination for Lieutenant so many years ago in Gibraltar. He remembered too the petty quarrel between Hammond and Foster in the launch. A ridiculous matter.
And then -- what? What was this? He could not comprehend -- But, no, his eyes did not deceive him. The third man should have been Pellew. Should have. But was not! Where was Pellew? Had something happened to him? He was to serve on this court, he'd made that much very clear during his one visit to the gaol. He clearly outranked the other members....
The three men took their places at the table set at the head of the court. The third man could have *been* Foster, he resembled him closely in height and size. A fierce light blazed from his eyes; a fanatical light almost, and he alone of the three, glared at the two men awaiting judgment.
Horatio glanced across at Buckland. There was no change in Buckland's face, but of course Buckland had no knowledge of Pellew, or what his absence on the court might mean for them all.
So this was the officer Pellew had been so upset about. Oh, he hid it well, but Collins had easily seen the tense worry in the Commodore's face. Collins, of course, had never met the man, nor heard aught of him for that matter, but if Hornblower had caught his former commanding officer's very particular and discerning eye, then he must be an exceptional man. Which meant that this worrisome, tedious court-martial might have surprises for them all.
The two officers charged looked steady enough, though the older of the two -- Buckland, he supposed -- had a rather more worried look on his face, and Collins wondered whether a sharp noise might serve to propel the man out of his chair in an absolute fit of nerves. He had something to hide, of that, Collins was sure. Buckland was rather old to still hold the rank of Lieutenant, but even in wartime some men never caught the luck. Or were passed over. To finally find himself in command of a 74 must have been the shining achievement of his career. And to come to this, instead.
The other officer -- Hornblower -- looked straight ahead, his
head held high, his angular face immobile. Harder to make any
judgments about this man -- Collins would hate to meet him for
a game of cards. Behind that face could easily lurk the blackest
treachery or the purest innocence.
An interesting contrast the two of them made -- age and experience, youth and -- what?
The charges were read out. Yes, Buckland flinched just slightly as the word 'mutiny' rolled off Williams' tongue. Hornblower might have tensed his jaw a little, though it was hard to be sure from here. Interesting in the difference between their reactions. Whatever events aboard the Renown would reveal, Buckland was unsure, and Hornblower was not.
The first witness called was the ship's doctor. Clive, yes, that was the fellow's name. A serious business to declare a captain unfit for command. Clive apparently had done so -- yet he looked decidedly uneasy as he took his place on the stand. Was he now questioning his own judgment? A firm testimony by the doctor would quickly determine the tenor of this court martial. A firm testimony could mean that the whole business would be over by the end of the day, with Renown's officers back about their business, leaving himself and his fellow jurors with no greater matter to discuss than the likelihood of obtaining a decent meal.
Sir Thomas was quick to put the question to the Renown's doctor. "Dr. Clive, I understand that Captain Sawyer was found unfit to command the Renown. You yourself came to that decision?"
"Well, I -- that is..."
"Come, come, Dr. Clive. You are under oath. Was the captain well or no?"
"He was -- temporarily indisposed. After his fall down the hold. " The man's wig was just slightly askew. The least he could do was present himself to the court well-turned out. Probably a drunkard, like so many ship's surgeons.
"So he was unfit for command, " Collins said.
"A bold choice of words, " Hammond interjected. A bold choice of words? A bold course of action for any doctor, and only defensible if the captain had indeed been unfit. But Clive was already starting to evade a direct answer.
"And if I may say so, sir, not worth a farthing. My consent was given under duress."
"Someone forced you."
"What did they do, put a gun to your head?" Collins felt like putting a gun to the man's head himself.
"Not as such, sir. We were under fire and in the heat of battle the decision was taken ......."
"To detain the captain?" Sir Thomas asked.
"Yes, " Clive agreed.
"And you yourself made this decision, I gather."
"No, sir. The decision was taken by Lieutenant Hornblower." For the first time, Hornblower turned his head and looked at the Renown's surgeon. His brow was creased a little; the man was worried no doubt, as well he should be. If he had usurped the power normally held by the ship's doctor...
"But surely Mr. Buckland was second in command. Why did he not give the order?" Collins asked, and for once Clive gave a direct and sensible answer.
"With respect, sir, but I think that is a question for Mr. Buckland."
Collins could see that Clive was vastly relieved to take his place amongst the spectators in the courtroom. He half expected him to snatch off his wig, and mop the sweat trickling down from underneath it. Devilish contraptions, those wigs -- Collins was happy that the fashion had changed. Perhaps the man's medical abilities were as antiquated as his choice of headgear, and his opinions as well.
Buckland appeared as unprepossessing as the surgeon. He sported a fresh wound on his forehead -- that might make him more sympathetic in the eyes of Hammond and Thomas -- Collins knew little enough of his fellow Captains to judge their reaction to an injury.
"And so I put the question to you, Mr. Buckland, why was the order given by Mr. Hornblower. He is only -- what, Third Lieutenant aboard the Renown? "
"Yes, sir. "
"Then why in God's name was the decision left to him?" snapped Williams. "I see you have been wounded, sir. Were you perhaps indisposed yourself at the time?"
Collins could see the man visibly relax. No doubt Williams had thrown him a lifeline, inadvertently or not.
"I had just been injured, sir." And now there could be no mistaking the look Hornblower was directing at his senior officer, though it was fleeting and instantly hidden by that impassive stare.
"And Mr. Hornblower was the only other officer present?"
"Very well, Mr. Buckland. Since you cannot add to our understanding of this particular event, I see we shall have to call on Mr. Hornblower. You may sit, sir."
Buckland's relief was even more evident than Clive's had been. The man had said so little -- 'I had just been injured' In his career in the Navy, Collins had seen officers stay at their post and in command of their men with limbs missing and their life blood pumping away. Perhaps the blow to Buckland's head had addled his senses.
Hornblower now stood. He kept his shoulders straight, his head high.
"So now we come to you, sir, " Sir Thomas snorted. "I suppose you will put the question off to a powder monkey!"
A small titter ran round the courtroom, and was hastily cut off by the banging of Sir Thomas's gavel.
"No, sir. The Renown was aground in Samana Bay and under fire from the Spanish fort. The captain appeared somewhat agitated, and I called upon Dr. Clive for his medical opinion as to the Captain's ability to command."
Aground. "And how may I ask did the Renown come to be grounded?" Collins asked.
"I was -- below decks, sir, and therefore cannot answer the question.."
"A prudent answer, sir, " Hammond said. "Nevertheless, you managed to find your way on deck, and instantly come to the conclusion that the Captain should be relieved of command. Quick thinking on your part, Mr. Hornblower."
"And left your station to do so, it would appear."
"No, sir. Mr. Bush, Mr. Kennedy and myself were attempting to kedge the Renown off the bar. I was merely reporting to Mr. Buckland our intentions to use the firing power of the guns ..."
"A desperate situation, it would appear. Yet you took the time to have the Captain declared incompetent. What did he do -- threaten your life with a pistol?"
Damn. That was exactly it. Collins could see from the tightening of Hornblower's jaw. His life threatened by the Captain, in the heat of battle?
"Come man, you are under oath, " Collins prodded him.
"He was agitated, sir. I do not hold him accountable for his actions."
"Good of you, sir, I must say, " Hammond said dryly. "I assume that Dr. Clive succeeded in inhibiting Captain Sawyer before he discharged his pistol."
"The pistol had already been discharged, sir."
"Then you were in no danger after all, Mr. Hornblower."
"No, sir, it later appeared not. But the Renown and her men *were* in danger, sir, and that was my first concern."
Collins had never listened to so many words that managed to explain so little. He certainly was none the wiser as to the events leading up to Sawyer's being relieved of command. He started to speak, but already Sir Thomas had carried on.
Deftly the senior Captain led Mr. Hornblower on to further describe the events immediately following Sawyer's detainment. The Renown finally shaken loose from the sand bar, and sailing to safety. A desertion of a number of the crew under cover of darkness. A bold plan to attack the Spanish fort overland.
"Your captain incapacitated, the crew deserting, and still Mr. Buckland chose to risk all in a potentially foolhardy scheme to attack the fort, without benefit of the Renown's guns?"
"Yes, sir, with our full support."
"May I ask why?" Hammond said.
"It was our duty, sir."
"Duty to whom, may I ask?"
"Duty to our captain, sir."
Good God, the man sounded sincere. Put the whole business of trussing up Sawyer like a chicken in a different light. At least the action could not be blamed on cowardice. And if Sawyer had survived to reach Kingston, he would have taken the glory, and the lion's share of the prize money. Any captain might pray for such subordinates.
"A happy day for James Sawyer when you four came aboard." Collins could not forbear to comment.
"Thank you, sir." By Jove, the man seemed pleased by the words. A guilty man would read something quite different into them, and respond defensively.
"You speak of duty, Mr. Hornblower." Hammond seemed less than pleased with the answer, though. "But I would speak to you of ambition. For a man of your years you have risen smartly through the ranks."
"I hold myself fortunate in my position, sir."
"And hungry to climb higher, I daresay." Hammond's voice droned on. Collins only half listened. .....vulnerable captain....leapfrog the chain of command....hungry enough......
The man was not on trial for showing initiative, after all. "Come, sir...."
Hammond squinted at him, and said " I *will* have my answer!" Williams brought his gavel down and the three captains stood.
"We are all agreed that Captain Sawyer's good name must be preserved?" Hammond asked. It was Hammond who had suggested -- no, ordered -- that they meet before adjourning for dinner. A decanter of port stood on the side board, and Sir Thomas poured a glass for the three of them.
"Of course." Collins rather thought Sawyer's good name was in little danger. An accident aboard ship, the captain injured and unable to command, responsibility for his ship passed on to the First Lieutenant, as was meet and right. The Spanish fort destroyed, and Spanish prisoners and prizes brought to Kingston. The Mona Passage free now from privateers.
"I am simply concerned that we need a clear outcome." Hammond persisted.
"This was bloody mutiny, after all, " Sir Thomas said."Let these men get off scot free, and mark my words, it'll happen again.
"What do you propose, Sir Thomas, that we hang them all from the nearest yardarm?" Collins asked.
"Oh, nothing as spectacular as that. But if there were one man...." Hammond mused.
"A scapegoat?" Like Byng. Executed for his failure to fully engage the French. No matter he had made his decisions without benefit of complete information. Someone had to take the blame.
"A guilty party. Maliciously motivated. Jealous. Ambitious."
"I say, that Hornblower chap seems very pleased with himself. Obviously pushed Mr. Buckland aside in his hurry to have the Captain restrained." Sir Thomas said.
"Ah, yes, Mr. Hornblower. I sat on his examination board in Gibraltar."
"Well, Sir Thomas, the man was on the verge of failing. Lucky for him, the Dons saw fit to choose that moment to send a fireship into the harbor. The upshot of it all was that Hornblower and Foster -- you remember old Dreadnaught Foster? -- damned difficult little man -- jumped aboard and steered the ship away from Pellew's Indefatigable."
"Ah, so the lad saved Pellew's ship." Collins said.
Hammond sent a sharp look his way. "That he did. Reckless action. The man obviously doesn't stop and think."
"He could not have made matters worse, I'll grant you that. But I fear his impetuosity may have led him to graver deeds. "
"Such as mutiny!" Sir Thomas' voice rang out sharply.
"Yes, mutiny, " Hammond said.
Hammond set the glass down on the table. Lucky he'd not broken it, the way he'd been gripping the delicate crystal. Picking up his bicorne, he clapped it on his head and said " I believe our dinner awaits us, gentlemen."
Dinner. Probably the reason Hammond had held out for the court-martial being held here at Admiralty House, rather than on the Renown, where it should properly be taking place. Certainly Kingston offered greater opportunity for culinary delights than the dining cabin aboard. But Collins missed the movement of a ship under his feet -- somehow the whole process seemed unreal and perhaps he could attribute his uneasiness to that fact.
"I don't like it, Matty, " Styles said. "The captain were mad, he were, we could all see that."
"Don't make a difference, Styles. You 'eard the articles o' war enough times t'know -- ye can't disobey a superior officer, 'n' that's what Sawyer was. "
Rank had its privilege, even when the rank was only that of warrant officer -- bo'sun and bo'sun's mate. They'd been given leave to attend proceedings, and were not expected back on board Renown until night fall. A good a chance as any to try out some good Jamaican rum at the Flying Fish, but Matthews would cheerfully have traded all his shore leave away to be back at sea, bucking a head wind and treacherous waves, enduring cold and damp and another meal of half-putrid salt beef and weevily biscuits. Back at sea, with Lieutenant Hornblower in his rightful place, on the deck of a man-o-war, not locked up in a dirty stifling gaol cell.
They'd all be at the bottom of Samana Bay, the whole bloody lot of 'em, if it hadn't been for Mr. Hornblower. And he didn't like by half the weasily words coming out of the mouth of that bastard Clive. And Buckland! Looking to finish what he'd started by sending Mr. Hornblower off to blow up the fort. A man with no conscience, indeed!
"Then 'ow's 'e goin' t' escape the noose?"
"'Cause they'll find out Sawyer was barmy. And if it 'adn't been for Mr. 'ornblower, they'd 'ave no Renown and no prizes neither!"
"But what of Captain Pellew? I 'eard 'e was s'posed to be there."
"Caught the Yellow Jack, they say. Goin' to die, most like." That worried Matthews more than he wanted Styles to know. Not the fact that Pellew might die, though Matty'd been proud to serve under him -- he was a fair man, and Matthews knew his bo'sun's rattan might have withered for lack of use, if he'd held his present rank back on the old Indy. No, Pellew knew Hornblower, knew he'd only act with good reason. He would have known the right questions to ask. Pellew would not see his boy hang. And he was Commodore now, had the rank to swing those others round to his way of thinking.
The door of the Flying Fish opened, and another man dressed in the uniform of the British Navy filled the entrance.
"There's that bastard 'obbs!" Styles started to rise from his seat, but Matthews was quick to gather a handful of his jacket and jerk him back down.
"That's all we need, " he grumbled, "You clapped in irons fer fightin' "
Hobbs glanced their way, hesitated and then took a seat on the other side of the room.
"'e'd like ter see Mr. 'ornblower swing, make no mistake about that, Matty. Stickin' up fer Sawyer when it were plain as the nose on yer face ......"
"'ed served with 'im a long time, Styles. S'pose we'd served with Mr. 'ornblower till he was a captain. And then s'pose 'e started t' act strange. Wouldn't we stand up fer 'im?"
Styles grimaced, and then drained his tot of rum. "I still say 'ed do fer our Mr. 'ornblower if 'e could!" He held up his empty glass and a serving girl hurried over.
Hobbs was still sitting by himself. A scattering of Renowns peppered the noisy crowd in the Flying Fish, and one or two looked his way, but no one had seen fit to join him. Perhaps Randall had taken the gunner's cronies with him when he'd deserted. Matthews had wondered about the wound on Hobbs' head that night. Hobbs had not taken part in the desertion, though whether that was due to himself or Randall, Mathews supposed he'd never know. But he hadn't missed the nod of the head Hobbs had given Mr. Hornblower when he'd returned from blowing up the fort. The beginning of respect there. Somehow, Matthews felt in his bones that Hobbs might at least be fair.
"You mark my words, Styles, by the end o' this, why, they'll be givin' Mr. 'ornblower a medal, and makin' 'im a Commander, fer what he did!"
"I'll raise me glass fer that, Matty!" and so Styles did.
"To Mr. 'ornblower!"
"And to us servin' with 'im till this bloody war is over!"
Matthews gladly drank. Despite his brave words, however, he was not nearly as cheery as he sounded. This was a court martial. And when court martials, and captains, and the Admiralty were concerned, anything might happen.
A guard swung open the cell door and Dr. Clive entered. Would there be news today, Bush wondered? The court-martial had been postponed, Clive had informed him yesterday, but had no more details to add. Another day to live, he supposed.
"Ah, Mr. Bush, and how are we doing today, sir!"
"I suspect you are doing much better than I, Dr. Clive."
In fact, he was feeling better. Surely if the wound were to become enflamed, it would have done so by now. And Clive seemed to agree with him, as he examined it. The doctor appeared somewhat agitated, though, as he replaced the bandage over Bush's mid-section.
"The court-martial, Dr. Clive?"
"Started today." He pulled the thin blanket over Bush's chest and stood upright.
Clive took a second to adjust his wig. "Some testimony was given. That was all."
"Testimony? Whose testimony? Come on, Dr. Clive, we have to know. Our lives depend on it...."
"Hm. Yes, Mr. Bush, I realize that. Mr. Buckland testified, and I -- I gave my account of events."
"Your account of events? I should like to hear that!"
"Mr. Bush! I have my own reputation to consider! I may not have been named in the charge to the court, but I am in a perilous position, no more than you!"
"I'm sure you are. So I gather you testified that Mr. Hornblower forced you to declare Captain Sawyer unfit for command. "
Clive thrust his hand inside his jacket and pulling out a small flask, raised it to his lips. Of course. The man had been sitting in a courtroom all day long. Bush supposed he was fortunate that the surgeon had come directly here, rather than stop at some tavern along the way, and quietly sink into oblivion.
"Well, Dr. Clive, I'm waiting! Did you accuse Hornblower ..."
"Not as such."
"Not as such. I see. Well, I suppose we can be thankful that Commodore Pellew is serving on the court."
"Why, yes. Both Hornblower and Kennedy served under him for many years. I should think that his knowing their abilities and devotion to duty will serve us well ."
"But Pellew is not on the court!"
Bush started to sit up, but Clive gently pressed him back onto the cot. Bush had never met Pellew but he knew his reputation. A dashing and gallant Captain, fair to his men. He'd sensed that there had been a special bond between Hornblower and Pellew -- on the few occasions when Pellew's name had been mentioned. In the best of all possible worlds, a man might expect to receive proper justice when brought to trial -- a proper justice based on truth. But this was not the best of all possible worlds. This was Kingston, Jamaica. The court was an Admiralty court. The charge was mutiny. And the penalty for mutiny was death. If Pellew were so inclined, he could guide the evolution of the "truth" in a favorable manner. Just as another man might do so in quite a different direction.
"And who *is* on the court, Dr. Clive?"
"Hm. Captain Hammond. Captain Collins. Captain Sir Thomas Williams."
The names meant little to him. He'd heard of Black Charlie Hammond, but only as a name dropped in a conversation. He'd heard of Captain Sir Thomas Williams, but once again only as a name dropped in conversation. Of Collins he'd heard nothing at all. Well, no point dwelling on the matter. The events transpiring in the courtroom were entirely beyond his control, and lying there fretting about them served no purpose.
"Now, I must see to my other patient, " Clive said, and turned to go.
"Dr. Clive!" Bush laid a hand on Clive's sleeve. "How is Mr. Kennedy?" he lowered his voice, although a quick glance in the direction of the other cot reassured him that Archie was asleep -- or unconscious.
"Are you asking me if he will live, Mr. Bush?"
Damn the man! Could he never give a straight answer? "Yes, Dr. Clive, that is precisely what I am asking."
"The ball is still in place, of course, and in my estimation has effected considerable damage to the internal organs. He is still spitting blood -- not a good sign...."
"Dr. Clive, will he live or no!"
"In my opinion -- no, Mr. Bush, I do not believe he will."
Pellew ill? Perhaps dying? But only two days previously, Pellew had been in his cell, speaking to him, speaking of the court-martial. He'd looked -- well, yes, he'd looked fevered -- but the cell was stiflingly hot, except for that slight breeze -- and Horatio expected that he himself might have looked fevered also. How could this be?
He'd caught sight of Captain Collins in the corridor outside the courtroom, and to the extreme displeasure of the man charged with guarding his person, had stopped Collins and inquired after his mentor and friend. The news of Pellew's battle with the dreaded yellow fever, coming so hard on the heels of the hideous wounds sustained by Archie and Mr. Bush, was almost unbearable. Was no one to survive this whole affair?
"I must stop in the sick bay, " he declared, as the red-coats wheeled towards the entrance of the prison block.
"Sorry, sir, don't have no orders regardin' that," the sargeant of the detail answered.
"Then I demand to see your commanding officer!" Damn, did the man think he was going to stage a daring escape, dragging two wounded officers behind him?
"Don't have no orders regardin' that either!"
"For God's sake, Mr. Hornblower, " Buckland whispered. "Must you always cause a stir?"
Neither the guard's obstinacy, nor Mr. Buckland's timidness would deter him now. He needed desperately to see his friends, and the thought of returning to his solitary cell without assuaging his loneliness and worry for at least a moment or two, suddenly seemed unbearable. He remembered his early days on Justinian, when he would have given anything, even his freedom, for some solitude. That solitude weighed heavily on him now.
"Your commanding officer -- is this his post?" Hornblower stopped at a doorway just inside the main entry.
"You'll be clapped in irons if you keep on!" the guard blustered, as only a man with a small measure of power can.
"What the devil's going on!" A man appeared in the very doorway Horatio had indicated, an officer of some standing judging by the decorations on his red tunic.
"Sir, this 'ere prisoner..."
"Well, bless my soul, I was right! It *is* you, Hornblower!" He turned to the guard, who in turn was staring at him with a shocked -- almost comical -- twist to his features. "You there -- take one of your men and return Mr. Buckland to his cell. You other two -- wait outside until you are required. Now, Mr. Hornblower, if you would follow me..."
Horatio felt just as bewildered as his guard, as he followed the officer into the small chamber that did indeed appear to serve him as an office. The man apparently knew him, though try as he might, Horatio could call up no answering sense of recognition. No matter. Perhaps now he could make his simple request known, and have it granted.
The man walked around behind a plain table which served him as a desk, its surface littered with paper, and took his seat. Horatio stood rigidly to attention before him, trying to dredge up from his memory that nondescript face. No, it was no good.
"Damned paperwork! " the man said, grabbing up a sheaf of paper, and then throwing it down in disgust. "Not quite what I had in mind when I bought my commission!" He looked up, and waved his hand towards a wooden chair. "Have a seat, Mr. Hornblower."
Who the devil could he be? Cautiously, Hornblower sat; somehow he felt even less at ease now.
"You don't remember me, do you, Mr. Hornblower?"
"Please accept my apologies, sir, but I do not."
"Oh, no apology necessary, I assure you. Some lemonade?" The officer reached over to a small sidetable, and lifting a jug, poured a glass of yellowish liquid.
"Um, yes, sir."
The glass was handed over, and another poured. The lemonade tasted good, and Hornblower realized he'd been thirsty. Nevertheless, he sipped slowly, and replaced the glass on the desk top still partially full.
"Muzillac. I was at Muzillac. Captain Wickham, though just a Lieutenant then. Major Edrington's second-in-command."
Hornblower started. Muzillac. Another disaster.
"I am sorry, sir, that you seem fated to always see me at my worst!"
"Nonsense, sir! I believe all our bones might now be whitening in France where it not for your brilliant deduction regarding the whereabouts of the Republican army."
"Yes, Major Edrington may have had his suspicions, but it was you, Mr. Hornblower, who came to the heart of the matter."
Horatio did not answer. What could he say? Perhaps Wickham was correct, but the whole affair was a disaster nonetheless. Unlike, he supposed, the case of Renown. A disaster for the four of them -- and Captain Sawyer and poor Wellard -- but a victory of sorts for the Admiralty and England.
"This court-martial -- as is usual with such affairs, I may presume that events are not as straight forward as they seem?"
"That is for the court to decide, sir."
"Hm, yes, of course. Forgive me, Hornblower, I was not attempting to...." His brow furrowed. "Damn, a bad business!"
And Horatio realized that perhaps he had one friend amongst those above him in rank and authority, and felt somewhat abashed at his bluntness.
"Now, as to that slight altercation which I interrupted earlier, " Wickham continued. "If there is any favor within my powers to give..."
"I wished only to visit the sick bay, " Horatio answered.
"Ah, yes. Lieutenants Bush and....?"
"Ah, yes, Kennedy. In this matter at least I can be of service. I shall draft a standing order that you are to be escorted to the sick bay whenever you wish, with no strictures on your time. I assume you wish to proceed there now?"
"Yes, sir. You are most kind." Horatio stood.
"Would that all the petitions I receive were so easily granted." Wickham pushed back his chair and stood also.
A thought crossed Hornblower's mind. "Then perhaps, sir, you might grant me one more -- Mr. Bush and Mr. Kennedy might also enjoy some of your excellent lemonade."
Wickham chuckled. "Done! And for yourself?"
The sick berth was nothing more than a larger cell, more open to the airs, but circumscribed none the less with stone and bars. Two narrow cots stood side by side, each of them holding one supine body. Horatio knew from the comfort -- or lack of it -- of his own cot, that Archie and Mr. Bush would much prefer one of the Renown's hanging cots to these motionless beds.
The door clanged shut behind him, and for the first time Horatio was reminded of that much smaller gaol cell in El Ferrol. Wickham had made no mention of parole -- Horatio's word that he would not repay the boon granted him with an attempt to escape. Escape! He'd never once considered escape, because a freedom on the run, with a charge of mutiny hung round him like the vilest noose, was no freedom at all. And even when his warden was the Spanish enemy, rather than the British Admiralty, his escape had come from his ideals of honor and duty, and not from some brute attack on gates and locks. Of course, on that occasion, his conscience had been somewhat clearer.
He glanced across at Archie, and images of Spain once more arose in his memory. Finding Archie in El Ferrol had struck him with all the force of a true resurrection -- Mr. Kennedy, set adrift, lost, most probably dead. But there he was, alive, and eventually his spirit, as well as his body, had come alive too. This time he was not so sanguine in his expectation.
"He's sleeping, " Bush said.
"Sleeping, or unconscious, sir?"
"Dr. Clive has been giving him laudanum......"
"Laudanum! Of course, what else would he do!" Laudanum! Dear God! Did the man treat every affliction with that damned laudanum?
Bush must have seen those thunderous thoughts reflected on his face, for the Second Lieutenant was quick to speak. " He may not be entirely wrong, Mr. Hornblower. I don't believe he quite knows how to proceed with Mr. Kennedy's case. "
"You mean he is doing nothing!" Horatio walked to his friend's bedside. Archie looked pale, as though his life-force had been drained from him already. A thin trickle of dried blood was the only spot of color on the ashen skin and Horatio needed no medical experience to know what that, and Archie's labored breathing, might portend.
"I'm not sure there is anything to be done, Mr. Hornblower." Horatio turned back towards Bush.
Bush shook his head. "Perhaps all we can do now is pray..."
"Prayers be damned!" He drew a deep breath and took a second to compose his thoughts. Unfair of him to take out his dark thoughts on Mr. Bush, who was responsible neither for Archie's present condition or the efficacy of his treatment.
"Forgive me, Mr. Bush. I suppose my nature prevents me from accepting the fact that nothing can be done. But laudanum...." He could have added that laudanum might have caused all their present difficulties. Who could tell now if Sawyer's madness had been ameliorated or exacerbated by Dr. Clive and his little bottles of oblivion.
"Mr. Kennedy has been in great discomfort. It is probably for the best...."
"And is that Mr. Kennedy's opinion also? Well, I suppose it makes no difference. " He paused for a moment. "But forgive me once again, Mr. Bush. How are you faring, sir?"
Bush plucked at the thin coarse blanket covering him. "Tolerably well. Barring any unforeseen setbacks. I hope to be on my feet in a day or so. And I must ask also, Mr. Hornblower, how *you* are faring."
Horatio shrugged. "The court-martial has started."
"Yes, Clive relayed that much information to me. He was less than forthcoming about his testimony, though."
"The man was in a difficult position. " *And I pushed him into it.* He was fortunate that the surgeon had said no more than he had.
"But more worrisome, Mr. Hornblower, is another small item of information I was able to wrest from Dr. Clive. I believe the Commodore is no longer on the court!"
"No. He is gravely ill with yellow fever."
"And surely that will affect the outcome of the court-martial."
" I would hope the facts will be weighed carefully, whether Pellew is on the court or not."
"Pellew not on the court?" A whispery voice came from the other cot.
"Archie!" Horatio covered the few paces necessary to reach his friend's bedside. "You're awake!"
"Somewhat. I'm afraid Dr. Clive's favorite panacea keeps my mind somewhat clouded." A ghost of Archie's old spirit caused his lips to curve upwards in an attempt to smile, and Horatio's heart ached. The Devil take both Sawyer and the Spanish!
"Laudanum, Archie? Has he forced it upon you?"
Archie closed his eyes briefly, and then opened them again. Their blueness seemed faded now and Horatio felt as though Archie's spirit was fading along with it. "No, Horatio, he has not. In the beginning, perhaps....."
A terrible cough racked Archie's body, and Horatio stood helplessly at his side. He could tell by the grimace on Archie's face, that a frightful pain accompanied his friend's struggle. Laudanum might be a curse to some, but it could also offer blessed relief.
Finally Archie lay quiet once again. At least no blood showed on his lips. Surely a good sign?
"Is there nothing that can be done?"
"I think not, Horatio. But you have more to concern yourself with than the state of my health. What is this of Pellew? Not on the court?"
"Apparently he has contracted yellow fever. His place has been taken by Captain Sir Thomas Williams. "
"You think that Pellew would have -- influenced the court in some way?" Influenced the court? This was not the first time he had thought of Pellew's contribution to the proceedings in just such a light -- an influence. As the Renown had sailed onwards towards Kingston, none of them had discussed the fate which might await them there. Although there had been no discussion, nevertheless he suspected each had their own peculiar thoughts on the matter. He himself had spent little time in conjecture. Events had occurred, he had made decisions and taken actions which now could not be revoked. At some point in the future, he might be called upon to describe those actions. And defend them. He had never put faith in a miracle, as some might call the unexpected presence of Sir Edward Pellew in Kingston at just this point in time. And he had been right not to, for there would be no miracle. That Pellew would actively use his rank to sway the court had surely never been a possibility.
"He thinks of you as a...."
"He knows me as an officer who has served under him, Archie. He is constrained by the niceties of the law as much as any other man sitting in judgment. I am confidant that Captain Williams will carry out his duty to the court as well as Sir Edward would have." Horatio was *not* confidant on that particular point. The man seemed suspicious of every answer offered. But Archie need not concern himself with the details of questions and answers, recriminations and excuses.
The door banged open behind him. Damn! Wickham had given his word that there would be no time limits to his visit. He turned ... to find a soldier advancing into the cell, gingerly holding a tray containing an earthenware jug and some glasses.
"Lemonade, " the man barked. "Courtesy o' Captain Wickham." The man placed the tray on a small table nearby, and left. Courtesy of Captain Wickham. Horatio felt absurdly pleased. Wickham was obviously efficient, and a man of his word.
"Lemonade indeed!" Bush said. "And who do we have to thank for this?"
"Ah -- Captain Wickham, in charge of this garrison, sir. "
Horatio welcomed the small flurry of activity involved in pouring the lemonade, and carrying one glass to Mr. Bush and one to Archie. Bush managed to pull himself upright a little, so he could drink from the glass on his own. Archie of course could not.
Horatio slipped his hand behind Archie's head, and raised it so he could drink from the glass. 'You're going to drink and you're going to eat, and you're going to get better'. If only matters were that simple now. Archie seemed to have difficulty swallowing, and some of the liquid ran down over his chest, but he seemed to appreciate it none the less.
Archie's head settled back onto the thin pillow and he gave a small sigh.
"Will you come again?" he asked.
"I have been given leave by Captain Wickham to visit at any time."
"Captain Wickham. And why does the garrison commander look so fondly on his prisoners."
"He served with Edrington at Muzillac. I do not recall him, but he clearly seemed to remember me." Archie's eyes had drifted shut, and Horatio wondered whether he had even heard those last words.
For a few more minutes he stood at Archie's bedside. His friend seemed to have settled into a peaceful sleep, his chest rising and falling shallowly. Pellew's words, as he'd entered his cell two days ago, echoed in his mind. "That it should come to this!" If he'd stood quietly by after the disaster in Samana Bay, let Buckland sail off to Jamaica, Archie would not have sustained this grievous wound. No, his body might be whole, but his neck would still be in danger of stretching. Sawyer would still have fallen down the hold, and had command wrested from him. The charge would still have been mutiny ...
Bush's voice jerked him back to the reality of the sickberth. Damn these tortuous thoughts. He needed a clear head, and clear thoughts, for the courtroom tomorrow. The lives of his fellow lieutenants lay, not just in the hands of Dr. Clive, but in his own ability to answer the questions put to him, so that those sitting in judgment on the four of them might have some understanding of the events which had taken place on board Renown.
"Just daydreaming, sir." He poured Bush another glass of lemonade, called the guard, and took his leave.
Back in his cell, he picked aimlessly at his supper. The loneliness of his position was weighing him down. Captain Wickham's kind order that he be allowed to visit the sickberth whenever he wished was much appreciated, but the visit had only served to make his own circumscribed quarters more unbearable. Damn! How dare he feel sorry for himself. He had come through all the fighting unscathed. He had suffered nothing but some piddling blows to his pride -- the hot shot debacle, for one thing. But even that had come right in the end.
Mr. Bush would mend. Archie? Bush seemed to think the only option now was to pray. Horatio supposed that miracles did happen, but they happened through some circumstance not yet understood by even the most learned of men. That a miracle might happen because he clapped his hands together and pleaded with some vague being in some vague location was a ludicrous thought that he could waste no time in entertaining. But if a miracle could be brought about by fervent wishes, than Archie might indeed have a chance. More to the point, if Archie could be tended by a physician more intuitive and less constrained by the ordinary than Clive, a miracle might indeed occur.
He thought back to the shore leaves he and Archie had spent in Waltham Chase, with his father. Dr. Hornblower had helped Archie then -- with his headaches -- and other matters weighing heavily on his friend's mind. If the doctor were here -- damn! He must not allow himself to wallow in these useless thoughts! Archie lay dying in a gaol cell -- that could not be changed. He and his fellow officers were on trial for their lives -- that could not be changed. The events leading up to the court-martial could not be changed either. Their futures now all lay with the nature of the questions put to Buckland and himself, and the answers the two of them gave. He had little faith in Buckland. Did he have faith in himself?
The plate of food in front of him no longer held his interest and he pushed it away.. Tomorrow the court would turn its attention to the events leading up to the attempted capture of the Renown by the Spanish prisoners and the death of Sawyer. At least on this his mind was clear.
Collins found himself caught up in Lieutenant Hornblower's accounting of the taking of the fort at Samana Bay. His own rise through the ranks had been rather sedate -- he'd had the good fortune to be sponsored by a Rear-Admiral, his name put on the books long before he himself had set foot on the deck of a ship. He'd passed his examination for Lieutenant handily and at a young age -- he'd a head for figures, and his examination had dealt primarily with navigational matters. Looking back, he wondered if that too was due to the helping hand of his sponsor. Several years had passed, and he'd doddered away his service on ships that seemed always leagues away from any action. Then he'd had the infernal good luck to be Third Lieutenant on a frigate engaged in an action which saw the Captain and the First and Second luffs killed. The battle at that point was nearly won; he had only to rally the men round him, lead the boarding party onto an enemy bruised and bleeding and his promotion to Commander was assured. From Commander to Captain -- another pull of the string held by that obliging Rear-Admiral and then it was just a matter of staying alive. Now he was starting up the ladder, where nothing but death could stop him. Even here in Jamaica his luck had held, just as Sawyer's had run out. The Renown. A ship of the line. His own ship now.
But oh, how he envied those young men of Renown -- if not for their present predicament, at least for the giddy rush of excitement they must have felt as they realized the fort was theirs. Hornblower of course gave nothing away in his steadfast recounting of the events. But Collins fancied he could see the glitter in the young man's eye.
"An ingenious plan, Mr. Hornblower -- attacking the fort by an underground route." Hammond was asking.
"Thank you, sir."
"Leaving Mr. Bush and the rest of the contingent to fend for themselves. Did you know previously that there was such an underground route?"
"No, sir, but I surmised ...."
"You surmised. In other words, you guessed, did you not, Mr. Hornblower? "
Collins glanced over at Hammond. He simply did not understand the man. Must he look at every gallant act perpetrated by this young man in the light of what might have gone wrong, and not what invariably seemed to go right? He could not let this pass.
"Captain Hammond, with all due respect, the end result was a triumph. And then to hoist the Spaniards with their own petard, wouldn't you say..."
"Ah, yes, the hot shot. Nearly a disaster there, I fear. Were it not for Mr. Bush's intervention..."
"I am indebted to Mr. Bush." Hornblower answered.
"Foolhardy action, rash judgments..." Once again Hammond droned on. He seemed to have some kind of personal animosity towards the young man. Going all the way back to the fireship incident, perhaps? Hornblower had been transferred directly from Indefatigable to Renown, directly from the aegis of Commodore Pellew to that of Captain Sawyer. What little could Hammond know of the man?
"Come, Captain Hammond, that is the blackest interpretation of these events I can imagine!"
Mr. Hornblower was evidently not willing to stand silent as Hammond labeled him an irresponsible adventurer. " I only endeavor to do my duty, sir." By God, if the British Navy had more Hornblowers and fewer Bucklands, they'd have thrashed the Frogs to their knees by now.
"I think we shall be the judge of that, " Hammond said, and Sir Thomas brought his gavel down.
"Well, Collins, I think our course is set." Sir Thomas held himself stiffly erect, as though the rigidity of his own backbone could somehow counteract the infernal heat and humidity which even the cool stucco walls of the Admiralty building could not keep without. He seemed to succeed, at least partially, for the frills on his shirt were still crisp, and the skin of his face dry and colorless.
"Our course?" Collins himself had unbuttoned his jacket, and would have preferred to remove it altogether, and loosen the neck of his shirt also, but Captain Williams' perfection kept him as he was, in sweating discomfort.
"I had heard he was one to watch....."
"Well, all of Kingston shall be watching when his neck is stretched."
Collins gaped. "But surely, Sir Thomas, there has been no evidence..."
"Evidence? No evidence you say! Why, the man browbeats the surgeon into declaring the captain unfit for command, and then dashes about taking foolhardy risks. He clearly has his eyes on something quite other than the good of the service. He has eyes on his own advancement!" Williams formed one of his thin hands into a fist and thumped the table.
"With all due respect, Sir Thomas, I fear you have been taking Hammond's pratings too much to heart."
"Damn your eyes, sir, are you insinuating that I cannot make a judgment in my own mind?" Two spots of color had now appeared high up on William's cheeks -- good God, the man looked like he was on the verge of an apoplexy!
"I was merely trying to say..." Collins stopped. What had he been trying to say? Sir Thomas was a Baronet, several orders of magnitude ahead of him on the seniority list, and some said quite influential in certain circles. It would do no good to alienate the man. Diplomacy was called for here; and of the utmost finesse. "We all abhor the very thought of mutiny, Sir Thomas. There is no dispute on that count. But the fact that Mr. Hornblower showed some initiative after ...."
"After he snatched command away from Captain Sawyer -- say it plain, man ...."
"I believe .... he could not have snatched command away from Captain Sawyer. Mr. Buckland was next in line as First Lieutenant, he then assumed command."
"Ah, Mr. Buckland." Captain Williams sniffed. "You think he was in command?"
"Then I can call you a fool, Collins. "
The three judges filed back into the courtroom and took their place at the long table at the head of the room. Following their example, Hornblower, Buckland, and the onlookers sat also.
Matthews followed Mr. Hornblower's testimony as he described the swaying up of the cannon, the attack on the Spanish ships, the advance of the rebel army, the blowing up of the fort, and their final sailing from Santo Domingo with three prizes of war, and a hold crammed with Spanish prisoners. Through Mr. Hornblower's words, he could see in his mind every detail of those daring events. That was the thing with Mr. Hornblower -- you never knew where'd you'd end up next, but somehow he always saw you safe. A man like that, why, you'd follow him into the jaws of hell, you would.
Those bastards sitting up there -- with their gold braid so heavy on their uniforms it were a wonder they could lever themselves up and down -- why, you'd think from the look on their faces that Mr. Hornblower spoke of ravishing their wives and daughters rather than soundly thumping the enemy . Matthews ventured his silent opinion that not a one of 'em knew anything about the jaws of hell. Now Captain Pellew were a different sort, all together. A fellow just knew that he'd have no fear of showing his gold braid up on the quarter-deck, as the bullets and shot and splinters flew; to let his men know he was fighting right there along of 'em. Hell, 'twould make no difference if Hornblower were a stranger to him -- certain sure Captain Pellew would follow every word, and know that the Navy would be a damn sight better off with more like him.
But these three....bah!
Hammond had sat on that examining board when Mr. Hornblower stood for his lieutenant's exam. The Indy's might all be dead if Mr. Hornblower hadn't steered that fireship away. Damn lucky for 'em all that he'd been ambitious that night, for sure. From the way Hammond were carrying on so, he'd most likely swear that Mr. Hornblower'd done it only to make Lieutenant 'cause he'd botched the exam.
And Williams -- A Sir, like the good Captain Pellew. No other likeness though, Matthews would bet on the grave of his mother. He sat there with his pasty face all screwed up. Hadn't said much, so far, but a fellow could see he thought Hammond had the right of it.
Now, the last fellow -- Captain Collins -- well, he didn't look such a bad sort. Sort of square and steady -- Matthews could picture him foursquare on the quarter-deck, like a scrappy little dog. Not that he liked 'im going on about Mr. Hornblower's ideas. Best not give Hammond any more shot for his cannon.
Matthews watched as Lieutenant Buckland stood, and started to relate the details of the Spanish surrender. He'd nearly done for 'em all, firing on the slaves while his men were on their way to attacking the fort. Without that gunfire, the men of Renown would most like come upon the Dagos in their sleep, and walked in nice and easy. And that Collins seemed the only one to mention the incident.
And now the bloody bastard was crowing about the destruction of the fort. Not like he'd laid his life on the line to do the job.
"You say Mr. Hornblower stepped forward and volunteered to fire the fort." Matthews didn't like the sound of Williams' voice. And he liked Buckland's answer even less.
Matthews had guessed already about the nature of Mr. Hornblower's volunteering. Buckland lacked the guts to order his Third lieutenant to certain death, so he'd used the force of his office to have him volunteer. Pellew asked much of his men also, but he'd not leave anyone, not the smallest powder monkey, if a rescue could be attempted without risk to his ship. And damned if Matthews could see where the risk to Renown had lain. The rebels might have had ships, but none of them lay in Samana Bay. There was no further danger to Buckland's ship in launching a boat. And indeed, the three of them -- Hornblower, Bush and Kennedy -- had been rescued in a timely manner, with no effect on the small squadron of ships.
Not that he'd expect Buckland to open his mouth and let spill a tale of his black deed. And no questions were asked. A lieutenant volunteers for a dangerous duty. An acting captain decides he cannot risk his ship to take him off. The captain was almighty God on board ship, weren't he? And these three buffoons saw nothing odd? Pellew would have! Pellew would smell something here, damned if he wouldn't!
"Mr. Hornblower again, I see, " Hammond commented. "Rather quick to push his way forward, I would say. How do you see him, Mr. Buckland?"
"I -- I would say he has a precocious talent, sir."
"Well, that's certainly one way of looking at it."
Precocious. Matthews wasn't quite sure what that word meant. But certain sure Mr. Hornblower had a talent and Buckland had none.
A precocious talent. One way of looking at it. An excellent way of looking at it, Collins thought. Why, if it hadn't been for Hornblower, the Renown's sailing to Santo Domingo would have ended up a pointless exercise, with nothing to show for it but a Captain confined to his quarters and a few shot holes. Oh, he supposed Captain Sawyer would still be alive, had Buckland chosen the prudent course and sailed for Kingston immediately. Nevertheless, if all His Majesty's ships held the safety of the Captain to be the foremost of their priorities, than that fellow Bonoparte would no doubt even now be raising a glass in London itself.
"And what happened then?" Hammond asked.
"Sir?" Buckland seemed to sag. Collins saw a little of himself in the aging First Lieutenant; in other circumstances, he too might still be striving for a command of his own. He'd not been fortunate to have a man as able as Lieutenant Hornblower under him, yet he'd managed some modest successes nonetheless. And here Buckland, given the gift of a resounding victory by his Third Lieutenant, had let it slip away. Oh, he'd heard the stories, all right. Buckland's ignominy was the talk of Kingston. And while he knew that any officer, no matter how capable, could stagger through no fault of his own, he could easily believe, watching Buckland squirm under the scrutiny of the court, that the debacle had been solely due to his incompetence. Damned if he wanted the man to continue as his First Lieutenant!
"Your ship was taken by the Spanish prisoners, was it not?" Sir Thomas continued."A calamity, sir!"
"While you lay dreaming in your bed, " Collins could not resist adding. A titter worked its way around the courtroom. " I fear it will be your epitaph -- here lies Buckland of the Renown, the captain who was caught napping!" The titter had now become full-scale laughter. Sir Thomas' gavel banged down, and gradually the noise died away.
"Thankfully there was one fellow officer..." Collins continued.
"You speak of Mr. Hornblower!" Good God, the man was actually raising his voice! "Well, I'll tell you something...."
Hornblower had now turned his head and was watching Buckland closely. What the devil is the man going to say, Collins wondered. Hornblower seemed expectant, as if he knew...
"Have a care, sir," Hammond cautioned.
But Buckland was not to be gainsaid. "The reason I'm standing here is because Captain Sawyer was mentally incapable of commanding a vessel, he endangered the lives of every man on board that ship!"
Sir Thomas brought the gavel down with such force that Collins flinched, half expecting the head of it to fly off.
"Captain Sawyer was one of Nelson's own, " Sir Thomas spluttered, " Do not impugn his good name!"
But Buckland was not to be silenced, neither by the force of the court, as represented by Sir Thomas' gavel, nor by Sir Thomas himself.
"Damn you, I will speak! Captain Sawyer was unfit to command his ship for one reason and one reason only -- he didn't fall into that hold, he was pushed!"
Dear God! Pushed! Surely this was the raving of a desperate man!
"By whom, sir! " Hammond asked.
"By Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower!" There were no titters now, nor a hint of laughter, but gasps and mutterings filled the room. And Collins himself had gasped as Buckland had thrown the accusation out. Sawyer pushed by Hornblower? Certainly not! Collins stared at the young man, whose death sentence had most certainly just been assured, and was chilled to realize that his impassive face held no hint of surprise at the accusation of his superior officer. Throughout the trial, he'd kept most emotion hidden; was this a further example of his stoic demeanor or .... did Buckland speak the truth, and Hornblower had only heard what he expected? Surely Buckland's words were a petty, if dangerous, attempt to hide his own incompetence by deflecting the court's interest onto someone else. A scapegoat.
Damn! Why had he made that mocking statement -- simply for a moment's hilarity at the discomfiture of another officer? Did they not all laugh because any one of them could have been standing in Buckland's place, and their show of glee was partly relief that indeed on this occasion at least, they were not.
"Is there anyone else who can support this?" Hammond asked. For the first time, Collins welcomed one of Hammond's questions.
"Yes, I believe there is. " And Buckland turned to stare at a stocky man in a petty officer's uniform, sitting near the back of the court.
The gunner's mate stopped in the midst of the roadway, and turned his dour face towards Matthews. He looked no pleasanter than he had the day before, but the day before he was the enemy. Now the matter was not so clear cut.
"So what do we want wi' the likes of 'im?" Styles muttered at Matthews' back. Earlier, before Hobbs' testimony, Styles had called the man a Judas, and spit in his face. Not an action befitting a bo'sun's mate perhaps, but one Matty could understand. But the man had surprised them both, and no telling how surprised that bastard Buckland had been.
"Ye might want t'take back yer spit, " Matthews replied. "Don't seem like 'e's earned it after all. Mr. 'obbs, a word if ye please."
Hobbs glanced behind him, as though checking that he could escape through the motley mix of Marines, sailors, ladies both of high station and low, and blacks, or whether any of his belowdeck cronies were in sight.Matthews wouldn't have blamed him if he'd made off right now, not after Styles had accosted him in front of that infernal gallows. Matthews didn't care to even think on those gallows, and who might be swinging from them in a day or two.
"Mind yer tongue, Styles, " he whispered, as the two men approached Hobbs.
The gunner's mate made no attempt to speak. A right sour bastard, Matty found him to be, but a fighter, he had to admit, and loyal to his captain, even when the man turned mad as a hatter.
"Mr. Styles here .... " and he gave his companion a sharp nudge, "has somethin' 'e wishes t'say to ye."
"Matty..." Styles hissed.
"Do it, Styles!"
And so he did, though the mumbled apology was less then gracious. Hobbs nodded his head in response, and turned to leave.
"A question, Mr. 'obbs, if you please. Ye said that ye didn't know who pushed the Captain..."
"That's what I said."
"An' it's the truth, is it?"
"I was under oath."
"Mr. Buckland seemed t'think ye'd go along with 'im. Ye 'ad a chance to avenge yer Captain...."
"I wasn't there. I -- Captain Sawyer -- " Hobbs fell silent.
"The man were mad!" Styles said.
"Styles!" Matthews knew he'd never get Styles to hold his tongue. Thank the Lord his mate'd not been called in front of the court. They'd all of 'em be clapped in irons, they would!
"If your Mr. Hornblower pushed 'im, then he deserves to hang, " Hobbs said. "But I didn't see it, so I couldn't say. He treated my captain with dignity when he died, and he said aught against 'im in court."
"And you wasn't there?"
"I said so, didn't I?" The man might have startled them all with his testimony, but he was no more cheery in his manner. "But there was something odd going on, make no mistake." Hobbs adjusted his jacket and started to edge away from them. "I expect we'll all find out the truth, won't we? Your Mr. Hornblower won't lie under oath, just as I did not." With this, the gunner's mate fell back amongst the passersby and melted from sight.
"Come on, Styles, " Matthews said. He knew a boat would be waiting for them at the jetty; they'd spent a few pence at the local inn, but he'd not felt like carousing, nor had his mate, this once.
"And what do ye think Mr. 'ornblower's goin' to say tomorrow?" Styles asked, as they walked along the dusty roadway.
"Like 'obbs says, Styles. 'e'll be under oath, and 'e'll tell the truth."
"But Matty, what if....." Matthews didn't need to hear the end of that thought. He didn't like to think on it, he didn't. The captain fell, and that was that, though he'd heard the rumors going the rounds of the fo'c'sle. 'Should we look to our conscience where the Captain was concerned', he'd asked Mr. Hornblower, as they'd stood side by side on the deck of Gaditana. 'Yes, even there', Mr. Hornblower had answered him.
They'd passed the gallows a few minutes back, but the noose seemed to be swaying in front of his eyes still. If Mr. Hornblower stood in that courtroom on the morrow and swore that he'd had aught to do with the Captain tumbling down that hold, would his words see an end to the whole affair? He himself would be willing to state on oath that the Captain had been mad, during that sorry attack on the Spanish fort. He could still see the useless puffs of rock dust, as the Renown's shot slammed harmlessly into the cliff face. And that gut-wrenching lurch, as the ship ran aground. Why, without Mr. Hornblower, they'd all have been blasted to pieces, and none of them'd be here in Kingston to tell of it.
No, he couldn't believe that Mr. Hornblower would've pushed Captain Sawyer so cold-blooded like, no matter what. He'd say so and they'd all be back on board Renown, ready to fight the enemy, who they should be fighting, and not themselves. Everything would be all right.
The day passed interminably. Bush had attempted to sit up; he'd managed to stay upright for a few minutes but then gratefully maneuvered himself back to a prone position. He felt so helpless. His fate was being decided by others, and he lay here powerless. Though what good could he do if he were seated with Buckland and Hornblower in the courtroom? Lend his voice to the descriptions of Sawyer's increasingly erratic behavior?
Kennedy had been drifting in and out of consciousness all day. Even the laudanum seemed to have little effect now; his struggle to breath and his involuntary moans of agony were painful to listen to. Where the devil was Clive? More to the point, what the devil could Clive do now to help Renown's fourth lieutenant. Well, perhaps Kennedy were better out of this whole sorry mess.
As though in answer to his silent question, Clive appeared in the corridor outside the cell, and was admitted by the the guard. He turned first towards Bush, but Bush waved him away. "See to Mr. Kennedy, if you please, Dr. Clive. I believe I will live."
Clive, for once, did not argue.
"Do you know who I am?" Clive said, and Bush could see that Archie was lucid once more.
"You're Clive, you old fool!" Bush had to smile. Mr. Kennedy had not lost his quick tongue. Hornblower and Kennedy made an interesting contrast. During his first days on board Renown, Bush had not quite known how to read Hornblower. He seemed to hold himself aloof, his face a mask. Even during the despicable baiting and beating of Wellard, the third lieutenant remained impassive, with only Kennedy speaking out against Sawyer's actions. To no avail, of course. Sawyer was captain after all, and Kennedy's words futile or worse.
Only gradually, over time, did Bush realize that Hornblower's face was indeed a mask, a mask that cloaked an inventive mind and staggering fearlessness. Fearless but never foolhardy. He weighed the odds, that was for sure. Hard to believe that Buckland sounded the fire-brand during that ill-fated meeting in the bowels of the ship, and Hornblower the calm reasoner. Had Sawyer's fears of mutiny, and his subsequent fall down the hold, not changed the situation so dramatically, would Horatio have supported Buckland in his bid to usurp command? Would Buckland, in the end, have balked at the last moment? Easy to talk -- down there in the hold -- easy to be brave in the dark.
Bush knew one fact for sure. Once Hornblower had determined a course of action, he pressed forward -- not unmindful of repercussions -- but in spite of them, because he believed that the course of action was correct. That took bravery of a special nature.
The barred door clashed open once again. Hornblower himself this time. For a fleeting second, Bush glimpsed a frightening grimness on the man's face, but even as he watched, the mask slipped into place and Horatio could have been coming from his lover's bedchamber, rather than a court of death.
Hornblower looked in his direction, nodded his head and then turned to Kennedy. A few words spoken and then Clive was shaking Hornblower's hand. Good God, that looked like a good-bye! What the devil had happened? Was the court-martial done with? If so, with no good result, judging by that initial look on Hornblower's face. Bush lay very still, and strained his ears to catch the words exchanged between the two men.
"And when they ask you, how did Sawyer come to fall down the hold..." Archie's voice, stronger than Bush could have believed possible.
"Are you asking me that question now?"
"No, I am not." God, even the man's best friend was afraid to ask, afraid to ask that damning question. Bush remembered the one occasion he had attempted to bring clear in his mind just what might have happened -- Horatio had given some meaningless answer about Sawyer overbalancing and then Wellard had interrupted their conversation. Horatio's face might appear masked, but by that time Bush had realized that if one looked carefully enough, one could see... And what had he seen? Evasion? Not even quite that. But he felt quite clearly that Sawyer had not simply overbalanced. So he never asked again.
"Then I will answer it when the time comes. Until then, I see no reason to speculate." There it was again. Clive had been charged with prevarication, and the surgeon was certainly guilty of it; but another man from Renown might also be charged with the same sin.
Hornblower, giving a small nod in Bush's direction, stood at the doorway until the guard fitted his key in the lock and then swung it open. In a moment he was gone.
Another shockingly rough cough pulled his attention back to the man in the other cot.
"Good God, Mr. Kennedy! What the devil..."
Kennedy was attempting to pull himself upright -- attempting, but failing miserably. He struggled a second or two longer, then sank back onto the cot.
"I must be able to stand, " he gasped.
"Stand? Have your senses left you, man?"
"Tomorrow..." Archie paused, took several shallow breaths, then continued. " I must testify in front of the court."
Testify? Bush knew he had not overheard all the conversation amongst Kennedy, Hornblower and Clive, but he'd certainly not reached that conclusion from what words he had managed to grasp. It appeared that Hornblower would be asked a very damning question but.....
Suddenly the pieces all flew together in his mind, and he knew exactly what Mr. Kennedy planned on the morrow. He intended to take the blame. He intended to stand -- if indeed he could stand -- and confess to pushing Sawyer down that infernal hatchway. And hope that the confession would appease the three captains sitting in judgment over the Renown's lieutenants.
Archie coughed again, and a shimmer of pain ran over his features. The man was barely surviving lying quietly in his cot -- how the devil would he manage to appear in a courtroom? Gingerly, Bush levered himself upright, swinging his feet over the edge of the bed. The stitches pulled with a sharpness that made his head swim. For a moment or two he remained motionless, then he cautiously took his weight on his legs, leaning back against the edge of the cot for support. There -- he was at least upright, and once the spinning in his head stopped, he found he could take the few steps to Archie's side without folding up into a heap on the floor.
"What are you doing?" Archie whispered.
"The laudanum..." Clive had left the bottle and a glass on a small table beside Kennedy's bed, but it was awkwardly placed and Bush knew that Kennedy could not reach it on his own.
"No. No laudanum. I must keep my head clear."
"Just a little, Mr. Kennedy. To dull the pain."
He poured a small measure into the glass, and hoped he had judged the draught correctly. Certainly Clive had given a larger dosage than this, but the larger dosage had resulted in Archie passing out. Carefully, he assisted Kennedy in the taking of it, and then gratefully returned to his own cot. But he did not lie down. He had to know.
"Mr. Kennedy, I suspect you plan to confess to the court -- that you, and you alone pushed Captain Sawyer down the hatchway. Am I correct?"
"It must be done, Mr. Bush."
"But I also suspect that this confession will be a lie. Am I correct in this also?"
"Why would I lie?"
"To save your friend." To save Hornblower. Saving Hornblower would undoubtedly save himself and Mr. Buckland also, but Mr. Kennedy would not have the first and second lieutenants in mind. He felt no resentment. In his years of service, he'd learned that some situations existed, and you accepted them and that was that. "What *did* happen down there in the hold? You were there, after all. "
Archie remained silent for so long that Bush thought he must have dropped off again. I have no right, he thought, to bedevil the man this way. What small shreds of strength he might have left, had best be hoarded for his fool-hardy plan.
"I -- I'm not sure. But I was to blame. I advanced on Sawyer, he retreated, and the hatchway was open behind him."
"But surely that means he overbalanced and I believe we need not quibble about the precise meaning of that word. You think Hornblower will say that he pushed him?"
"I believe so. If the question is put in exactly those words. Something else happened down there, Mr. Bush. But it happened so quickly that I'm unclear in my mind exactly what I saw. As the Captain started to overbalance I tried to reach him but I could not move fast enough. But Wellard was there, and Mr. Hornblower, and both had their arm outstretched. "
"And you think that one or both of them might have assisted his fall? Surely their reaction was only natural -- to reach out as Sawyer fell, even though in all likelihood there was nothing they could do at that point."
"Perhaps you are right." Archie closed his eyes, and then opened them again. "But why -- you must have heard his answer to me."
"If he did not push Sawyer -- then why not say to me -- when they ask the question, I shall answer -- I did not push the captain. He wanted to know, Mr. Bush, whether I was asking him that question now. Dear God, I was afraid to ask. "
*Just as I was afraid to ask, after that one occasion*. And if Kennedy had feared asking the same question, then he must have sensed that Hornblower was indeed hiding something.
"But no matter, " Kennedy went on. "Were he to answer no to the question, the court would not be appeased. I fear they are looking for blood. Well, mine has been spilt already -- let them have what little is left."
"I'm dying, am I not? Come, Mr. Bush, do not treat me like a child. I see it in Clive's face when he looks at me, I see it in your face now, and I feel it in my own body. I only pray to God for strength enough to see this whole business through -- I have no fear of the rope for I'll cheat that handily enough."
"But surely -- a clerk could take your statement..."
"No. A piece of paper can be waved away. I must meet their eyes when I speak. I must."
Damn! He hated the small rectangle that was his whole world now. Best that tomorrow would see an end to it, one way or the other. He had told Archie there was no reason to speculate. But speculate he must, for the question would be asked, and he would be required to answer.
If they had stood together..... Buckland had snapped, after that boorish laughter in the courtroom, after Captain Collins had pounded home the brutal facts of Buckland's incarceration in his own cot. Collins had presented the only reasoned voice during this whole court-martial, in marked contrast to Sir Williams' hatred of all mutineers and Hammond's distaste for acts of what he perceived as unreasonable ambition. And yet it was Collins' words had driven Buckland to make that accusation...
The man was afraid. Horatio knew that. The First Lieutenant had never expected to find himself in such a desperate circumstance. Somehow, he had counted on the staid Admiralty accepting that one of 'Nelson's Own', as Williams insisted on labeling Sawyer, could be relieved of his command without question. Then the prevarication of Clive. And finally, Collins and his goading.
Easy to blame Clive, or Collins. Easy to blame Buckland himself. The man was weak. "I should have acted differently," Horatio said out loud. The sound of his voice seemed to echo in the damp confines of the small cell, and he stopped his pacing, shocked that he had spoken. The guard was not visible, but he knew the man loitered close by. Best not give him words to pass round the garrison.
The sun had set. Horatio fumbled with the lantern and managed to light it. The glow at least was comforting, though he had no need of a light. Here he was denied even the company of his few volumes to while away the hours.
*I must think, I must.*
No, he could blame no one but himself for Buckland's words. He himself had driven the Renown's 1st Lieutenant to make that desperate accusation. Hammond had labeled him hungry. Buckland had called him a man in a hurry. He supposed he had appeared that way to Buckland. His only goal had been to see the Renown's orders carried out, to see the enemy bested. Or did Hammond and Buckland see something in him that he himself could not admit?
If he had been more circumspect in his actions, more convoluted in his suggestions.... Perhaps the suggestions should have come from Mr. Bush. Perhaps....
It was no use. What was done was done. And tomorrow the question would be asked. Did you push Captain Sawyer down the hatchway.
Others had asked him that question -- Buckland, Mr. Bush. Even Archie, just a few hours ago. He had given no suitable answer to any of them. But now he must frame an answer for the court on the morrow. He supposed he and Buckland had more in common than the commission of Lieutenant. He had held the memory of those few minutes down in the close confines of the Renown's hold at a distance, as Buckland had also chosen to ignore what might await them in Kingston. But now that memory must be brought up close and examined.
He had watched from his hiding place as Sawyer and Hobbs and the men had entered the confined space, looking for mutineers. And he'd watched as Hobbs and the others left their Captain alone. What he had not expected was Archie's appearance. He'd thought himself alone , and the others off to a place of safety. He'd hid in the shadows and watched as Archie advanced, and Sawyer retreated.
Why had he not cried out? Sawyer held a pistol in either hand. At any moment the Captain could pull the trigger and Archie would die. Or had he feared that an outcry from the dark would startle the Captain and provoke just such an action? Or had he been fascinated by the slow inexorable movement of Sawyer's feet back towards that gaping open hatchway?
Only when Sawyer teetered on the edge did he spring forth from his hiding place. Inexplicably, Wellard was there first. Wellard's arm had reached out, and his own had reached out also. To save or......
Horatio paused in his pacing, and fitting his fingers around the bars on the small window, he stared out. A few ships' lights showed in the distance, and somewhere a man laughed. To save or.... He closed his eyes, as though to see the scene more clearly. Sawyer starting to fall. His reaching out. And he knew that in that instant a thought had passed through his mind, a flickering faint thought, just a fragment of an idea really, a tenuous picture that appeared and disappeared so rapidly..... A picture of Sawyer, on the deck below, injured or worse....
Dear God! The coolness of the iron bar against his hand suddenly became the stuff of Sawyer's coat as he touched him. Touched him. Pushed him. No matter that at that instant, perhaps neither he nor Wellard, even acting in concert, could have saved the man. No, the time for salvation had been earlier, before Sawyer's feet reached that yawning emptiness. He'd done nothing. He'd made no sound. He'd done nothing. And even at the end, his gesture had not been a gesture of salvation.
Well, he had his answer. And the court would have their answer. Another man might lie, he supposed. He felt no moral superiority knowing that he was compelled to tell the truth. Whether a lie would save him or not, he would never know. Whether the truth would save Buckland, Bush and Kennedy, he would learn on the morrow.
Never, during Sawyer's most irrational moments, had Horatio entertained the notion of removing him by physical violence. Such was always a possibility of course, for any of them. Those two French frigates -- a stray ball from one of them might have taken Sawyer's head off. Or he might have fallen down a companionway at any time, drugged as he often seemed to be, with Clive's laudanum. Or the night Sawyer had come upon him, brandishing a pistol. The man might have stumbled, the pistol gone off accidentally, the captain killed.
Horatio found himself smiling ruefully. He'd forgotten about that night. Had that incident in the hold never happened, nor the attempt by the Spanish prisoners to take Renown, if Sawyer had lived to reach Kingston, why his own life might still be forfeit, he supposed. Asleep on watch. He'd been in Sawyer's power, right enough. The Articles of War were quite clear on that point. 'No person in or belonging to the fleet shall sleep upon his watch, or negligently perform the duty imposed on him, or forsake his station, upon pain of death'. Of course, there was some leeway on this particular charge --' or such other punishment as a court martial shall think fit to impose, and as the circumstances of the case shall require'. Matthews had tried to cheer him with his own experience -- a flogging instead of a hanging.
But for other charges there were no options. 'If any person in or belonging to the fleet shall make or endeavor to make any mutinous assembly upon any pretense whatsoever, every person offending herein, and being convicted thereof by the sentence of the court martial, shall suffer death.' That, he supposed, covered all four of them down in the hold. There was no convenient escape in that particular Article, no exceptions when the captain was irrational, a danger to the ship, and her crew.
And again, 'If any officer, mariner, soldier or other person in the fleet, shall strike any of his superior officers' -- death again. Once more he felt Sawyer's body against his hand, his fingers not clutching to catch hold of the coarse wool, but his palm flat.
Buckland had worried about being double-damned. To be damned once would do for them all, Horatio had assured him. Double damned he himself was for sure, and to be damned once would do for him.
He suddenly realized that he'd been gripping the bars so fiercely he might almost have expected them to break free under the force. Carefully he extended his fingers, easing out the cramps, and dropped his hands to his side. No cooling breeze blew through those bars this evening. He felt hot and sticky; what wouldn't he give to feel the cooling sea water from the washdeck pump sluicing over his body once again. But even that had nearly ended in disaster. Were it not for Matthews and Styles.......
The force of wind and weather and raging seas, the vagaries of enemy shot and shell, the ever-present risk of sickness and injury -- one expected these to be capricious in their choice of victim. The irrationality of a mind diseased was a far more formidable foe to battle. Looking back, he realized he had regrets. Had he been too forward in his ideas, too relentless for Buckland's abilities? Had he been less than diplomatic in his dealings with Clive? Could a more experienced officer have perhaps persuaded Clive to declare the Captain unfit without need of meetings in the hold, with the concomitant horrific fact of Sawyer's tumble. Or would any attempt to run the ship in a rational, realistic manner been fated to founder? The Captain had a God-like authority on his ship. And in the Admiralty's eyes, the officers of the Renown had flouted the rule of God.
No, he might have been inept in his methods, but he could not in all conscience have stood by and let Sawyer sail them all to perdition. The Renown had completed her mission; her Captain had died in battle. And he, in all likelihood, in the end would be just one more casualty.
He blew the dim light out, and lay down on his cot. Perhaps he should believe his words to Archie. Until then, he would speculate no further. After all, anything might happen. He'd already been surprised this day -- not by Buckland's damning statement, but by Hobbs' failure to avenge his Captain. Indeed, anything might yet happen.
Horatio checked his timepiece. The guard had arrived a few minutes early and he realized that he just had time to stop in once more at the sickbay. He harbored no illusions about Archie's condition, just as he harbored none in regards to his own fate. Any time spent with his friend might be all the time they had left.
The guard of course grumbled. But Horatio had no need to mention Wickham's name to have his wishes obeyed. Silently he thanked the man who had made his sojourn here at least a little easier to bear. He thought back over the conversation he and Archie had shared the previous day. He must look cheerful. Let Archie believe that the question which would be asked of him this morning posed no threat to his future. Let Archie believe that all would be well.
The sight of the empty cot did not immediately register. He'd even prepared the words he would use, and now that those words did not suit, he could only ask "Where is he?"
This morning Bush was on his feet. One of them at least seemed to be progressing. "Oh, he's up and about."
Up and about? What the devil did that mean? Bush was up and about too, but he had not mysteriously disappeared. Up and about? He was hardly out seeing the sights of Kingston. Perhaps Clive had taken him elsewhere, to treat his wound perhaps...
"I was hoping to see him before I was recalled."
"And see him you shall..." God, what was Bush saying! He'd come to stand close to the bars, as though to.....
The awful certainty crashed down around him. "Where is he!"
"Wait, man, wait .... it must be done!"
It must not be done. Frantically he hammered on the door which had already been locked shut behind him. "Marine!" It must not be done.
The guard had to run to keep up with him. He must reach the courtroom, he must. Surely they would not start proceedings, call a new witness, with the accused not seated. He would demand to testify first. Archie would kill himself doing this! How the devil had he managed to even rise from his bed! Damned fool!
The walk to Government House seemed interminable. "Can't you hurry!" he barked at his guard, as they lagged along behind him.
"Cor, sir, we can't keep up. "
"Never seen a man so eager to hang!" another man muttered, but they could have been saying anything , for all he cared.
Finally they were up the stairs and down the hallway to the courtroom. But even before he reached the doorway, he could hear the loud chatter from within. Good God, had he testified already...
But no. A quick sweep of the room showed that the long table at the front was empty of the gold braid and epaulettes of high rank. So proceedings had not begun for the day. He was in time...
A small knot of men were clustered near the back of the room. Clive, Matthews, Styles, several men he did not recognize. At first he could not make out what attracted their attention, but as one face and then another and another turned his way in shock, he knew. Men moved aside as he approached and now he could see.... Oh dear God, not Archie!
Quickly he dropped to one knee. Archie lay there, his head cradled on Matthew's knee, blood trickling from his mouth. His friend's blue eyes met his own, and he tried to speak, but only a strangled noise could be heard.
Horatio framed Archie's face with his hands. "Ssh, Archie, ssh" he said. "You must lie still. Let Dr. Clive help..." but as he searched Clive's face for some hope, any hope, all he could see was a shake of the head.
"Horatio, " Archie croaked, and another freshet of scarlet gushed from his mouth, the light seemed to dim from his eyes, and his head fell to one side.
"Dr. Clive?" Horatio whispered desperately, but he knew the answer, even before Clive placed his fingers to Archie's neck, and then shook his head once more.
Oh, Archie, why, why! His eyes were blurred, and he knew how close he was to tears. If Archie had stayed in his cot, if only ... Archie, you did not have to do this thing! Gently he laid his friend's head back down. If only he'd lied to him, told him everything would be all right, that he hadn't pushed Sawyer, and would say so. But his stupid pride hadn't allowed him to lie, and he'd skirted the issue, and this had been the result.
"What the devil's going on here!" He looked up to see that Hammond had joined the small circle around Archie. "What's this man doing here!"
Horatio opened his mouth to answer, but Clive had already arisen and was answering. " I believe Mr. Kennedy wished to testify, sir."
"Hm. Well, the man's dead. Get him out of here!" With that, Hammond turned away. The bastard. The bastard! Horatio started to rise, but he felt a firm hand on each of his arms, firm hands helping him rise but holding him back at the same time.
" Easy, Mr. Hornblower, " Hobbs said.
"It won't do no good, sir, " Matthews said.
"Order! Order!" Thomas was smashing the gavel down again and again, and already members of the guard were lifting Archie's body, and heading out the door.
It might have been someone else being led up the aisle to the chair occupied by Horatio Hornblower during this court-martial. It might have been anyone. Horatio felt numb. Sawyer had won. Dimly he was aware of sitting down, and then standing again, as his name was called.
The three members of the Board sat eyeing him. Hammond. Thomas. Collins. But not Pellew. Captain Pellew was dying. Horatio's hands felt sticky. He looked down and realized they were sticky with Archie's blood. Pellew dying and Archie dead.
"Mr. Hornblower!" Captain Sir William Thomas' voice rang forth. "Did you or did you not push Captain Sawyer down the hold!"
Collins accepted the brandy readily. To the last moment, he'd wished that young Hornblower would have a logical explanation for Sawyer's fall down the hold. Some logical explanation for Sawyer being in the hold in the first place, some explanation that would neatly sidestep Buckland's accusation. Some explanation that would miraculously make the whole charge of mutiny disappear. Some explanation that would allow himself to face Pellew, if Pellew were indeed to survive his illness, with news of a happy outcome. Some explanation that would ameliorate his own conscience. What might Buckland have said, had not the courtroom erupted in laughter. Collins very clearly recognized the grim reprisal of a man made a laughing stock.
Hornblower had no explanation. His answer had been short, unequivocal. Yes, he, and he alone, had pushed Captain Sawyer down the hold. After that, there was no point in pursuing other options. Though what those options might have been, Collins had no idea.
"Well, gentlemen, it seems we shall have no trouble reaching our verdict. The man has condemned himself." Hammond said. "Now you see where ambition can lead !"
"Damned mutineer! Damned murderer! " Sir Thomas muttered. He had already downed one goblet of brandy and now poured himself another.
"You think he was telling the truth?" Collins asked.
"The man was under oath," Williams answered. "Now, had he answered differently, then I might question his veracity indeed."
"Do you think Sir Thomas, that a man who would not lie under oath, even to save his own skin, would deliberately put his captain in harm's way?"
"That is exactly how the situation appears, Collins." Hammond said.
"And this fellow Kennedy, " Collins continued . "The man was at death's door already. He wanted to testify, Dr. Clive said ..."
"If that were true, then I expect he would have lied to protect Hornblower." Sir Thomas drained the second tot of brandy.
"But a deathbed confession, as it were..."
"You think the dying all speak the truth, Collins? No, the verdict is clear. Hammond here agrees with me, and you yourself cannot argue the fact, in view of the man's own words."
Sir Thomas was correct. He could not argue. He had tried anyway, knowing his effort would be futile. The trying had been for his own benefit; he had never expected it to aid Hornblower.
"No point in prolonging this whole affair." Hammond said. "Another brandy, Collins? Sir Thomas? Then let's get on with it. The gallows await."
The gallows! "What do you mean, the gallows!" Collins had not even considered the means of execution, until right now. Of course, he'd passed the workmen the last few days, busily erecting the platform, but the point had been lost on him.
"Well, the man's been found guilty of -- not just mutiny, but murder, not to put too fine a point on it." Hammond said patiently, as though he were explaining sums to a school boy." He is to be hung. And if I had my way, he'd be taken to Renown, where his evil deed was perpetrated and hung from the yardarm. By Jove, you're right, Collins. We should not be thinking of the gallows."
Hell, he was making the whole situation worse. *Careful, Henry*. "I agree, Hammond. Take him to Renown. But for God's sake, the man's an officer. You cannot hang him like a common sailor!"
"He's no better than a dog, " Williams said, taking a moment to adjust the lace at his cuff. "As such, he deserves to be treated like a dog."
"What's Pellew got to do with this."
"You know Hornblower was a favorite of Pellew's...."
"And you think that excuses his behavior?"
"Of course not, Sir William. If Pellew were sitting on this board instead of yourself, sir, he could do no different than find the man guilty also. But I believe he would agree with me, when it comes to the question of the manner of execution. You know he has much influence, and I believe he would be most displeased to hear that the man was hanged."
"Hmf! Pellew's dying, too, I understand."
"On the contrary. I hear he is much improved." Hornblower might have been under oath, but he, Collins, was under no such burden. And Pellew might indeed recover.
"Well, I suppose we can be charitable in that respect." Hammond said. "After all, the matter has ended satisfactorily. The Renown is still in English hands, the fort at Samana Bay is destroyed, we are in possession of three Spanish prizes, and we have a clear verdict in this court-martial. Let Hornblower be taken to Renown on the morrow, and be dispatched of there by firing squad. Let those men see what happens to mutineers and murderers. "
Williams arose. "I still register my protest over this matter, gentlemen. However, I am prepared to be charitable also. We have come off rather well in this whole business. Oh, Collins -- since this method of execution was your idea, I believe it only fair that you be responsible for its satisfactory conclusion."
With that, Williams swept from the room, followed by Hammond. "Forgive me, Sir Edward, " Collins muttered, and brought up at the end of the small procession towards the court room.
Bush walked gingerly back and forth within the confines of the gaol sickberth. The deep slice across his midsection still burned but the stitches were holding, and he at least could stay on his feet for minutes at a time. But was he practicing only to take that final walk to the gibbet? He glanced over at the empty bed. Archie had been gone for hours.
If walking were this painful for him, how in heaven's name had Mr. Kennedy managed to don his uniform, stand upright, and take those halting footsteps? Even with Dr. Clive's supporting arm, Archie's feat seemed nothing short of miraculous. Bush had found Kennedy to be a capable officer, but he had never guessed at the depths of fortitude the man possessed until he'd watched that herculean effort. Bush had no illusions about Archie's sacrifice. He did not risk his life and immortal soul for Buckland or William Bush; he did so for his friend Horatio Hornblower. Bush could only wish that someday someone would hold him in such high regard.
But would his taking the blame for Sawyer's fall down the hold be enough to save them all? Would the court go further and inquire what the officers were doing belowdecks in the first place? Mutiny. They'd talked of it, but had taken no action. Until that fall.....
Sometime during the morning, a light meal of bread and cheese was brought to him, along with more lemonade. Hornblower had credited the provision of lemonade to the good graces of Captain Wickham, but somehow Bush believed that Wickham had been prodded to do so by Horatio. He'd enjoyed it, however its manner of coming to him.
Where the devil was Archie? What was happening? This waiting was unbearable. He walked the length of the room several more times, and then lay down on his cot again. Perhaps he could sleep for a few minutes....
He opened his eyes to find Dr. Clive bending over him.
"I'm here to accompany you back to Renown. "
"Back to Renown?" His mind was still groggy with sleep. Back to Renown. What did that mean? He shook his head to clear it, and sat up. Kennedy's cot was still empty. Perhaps he had already been returned to the ship. But.....
Clive had obviously followed his gaze. "Mr. Kennedy has died."
"Oh." He was not surprised. "Was he able..."
"To testify? No."
Damn the man and his close-mouthed ways! Did he have to pry everything from him? "Is -- is the court-martial then over?"
"And Mr. Hornblower?"
"Has been found guilty. He is to be executed tomorrow."
Kennedy dead. Hornblower sentenced to a like fate. He was almost afraid to pose the next logical question. "But Buckland. Myself..."
"Oh, you needn't worry, Mr. Bush. There will be no further charges. That is why you are being taken back to Renown. You're still Second Luff there, I believe. As Buckland is still First."
Clive thought he was only interested in his own skin! Well, perhaps he had been, waiting here, not knowing. But now -- how could this be? They'd all been down there, in the hold. " But Mr. Clive, Buckland, myself, we...."
"Mr. Bush!" For the first time, Clive spoke with authority. "I believe it politic for you to keep your thoughts to yourself. Do not let Mr. Hornblower go to his death, knowing you have foolishly thrown away your life too."
"Damn your eyes, Clive! You knew what Sawyer was like! Whatever might have been the cause of his fall down that hatchway makes no difference! The man was mad already! But you were too cowardly to state so to the court! " If he'd had any strength, Bush would have struck the man.
Clive at least had the good grace to color a little at his accusation." That may have been so, Mr. Bush, but the court was not prepared to listen. Sawyer's good name has been saved. A scapegoat has been found. You and Buckland are free. Mr.Kennedy would have died of his wounds regardless. A pity that Hornblower has to pay the price. But that is the way of things."
The Renown's surgeon helped Bush on with his jacket, and strode ahead of him out of the cell. Bush had no option but to follow, but his mind was still unable to get around the enormity of Clive's news. Kennedy dead? Hornblower guilty, and as good as dead?
"Dr. Clive, if you please..."
Clive stopped his breakneck rush down the dank corridor and waited for Bush to catch up. "Excuse me, Mr. Bush. I had forgotten to make allowance for your injury." The man was shaking. Was his haste engendered by a need for drink, or a greater need to have Bush out of the way, safe back on Renown.
"I have not testified, sir...."
"There was no reason, Mr. Bush. The Admiralty has found the man responsible for Captain Sawyer's condition...."
"Good God, man, how can you say that! You were there! Sawyer was mad...."
"Enough, Mr. Bush!" Clive's voice reverberated through the stone corridor. "The court is disbanded, and will entertain no more testimony! Now come along!"
For a few more twists and turns of the hallway, Bush followed Clive's ringing footsteps. The flickering lantern light soon gave way to the brighter glow of daylight, and for the first time since Renown had discharged him onto land and into the Kingston gaol sickberth, Bush could glimpse the outside world and freedom.
Hornblower. Where was Hornblower? Still locked away, or taken on board Renown?
"Mr. Bush, you are trying my patience!" His patience, or more likely his need for a brandy.
"Where is Mr. Hornblower?"
"Mr. Hornblower's whereabouts are not my concern..."
"Is there a problem, Dr. Clive?" A man had appeared in the doorway of a small room to the right of the exit out of the jail. A man in a military uniform. An officer's uniform.
"Captain Wickham?" Bush asked.
The man inclined his head affirmatively, and glanced over to Dr. Clive. "Do you need aid, Dr. Clive?"
Clive shrugged reaching into his jacket, pulled out his ever-present flask. The red-coated officer turned his attention back to Bush.
"Are you Captain Wickham?" Bush asked again.
"Yes, I am, sir."
"Lieutenant Hornblower. Is he still incarcerated here?"
A shadow seemed to pass over the man's face. "Until the morrow."
"May I -- may I see him, sir?"
"You know that he is under sentence of death...."
"I know that, sir. I served with him on Renown. I would like to take my leave of him, if I may."
"Ah. You must be Mr. Bush. On the mend, I see."
"Yes, sir. I must thank you for your kindness in providing myself and Mr. Kennedy with fresh lemonade."
"Ah, yes, Mr. Kennedy." The officer turned back the way Bush and Clive had come and shouted "Lewis! McKay!" Two guards clattered down the hall way and stood to attention . "You must thank Mr. Hornblower for the lemonade, Mr. Bush. It was his request."
Bush had thought as much. A simple gesture, and he wondered whether he would have thought of it, were he called upon to sit in that courtroom, his life in the balance, and Mr. Hornblower lying injured in his place. Probably not.
"Please escort this man to Mr. Hornblower's cell. " Wickham was speaking to the two guards. "Allow him to stay as long as he pleases, and then return him."
"I do protest, sir!" Clive blustered.
But Bush waited no longer on Clive's word. He turned back into the gloom of the prison, and the two guards fell into position, one leading and one following. Only when they had turned a corner away from the daylight, did he realized what he was doing. What could he say to the man? Hornblower had born the brunt of this whole ordeal and now he would pay the ultimate price. He needed a man of the church perhaps, but certainly not his Second Lieutenant, a man who had held Sawyer in such high regard, a man who had come to see the rightness of their course of action only at the last minute, and to be honest, a man who had agreed to Hornblower's mad scheme to attack the fort, only after considering such action as possibly saving all their necks when they arrived in Kingston.
Well, he'd been wrong there. Resounding success in carrying out Sawyer's orders had made no difference in the end. No, he couldn't do this. Couldn't face the man who had taken on the guilt of them all, and would die so he and that bastard Buckland would live. For a moment his feet dragged, but in the end he did not stop and retrace his steps. He had no idea how he would indeed face Hornblower, but he knew that if he did not, he would never face himself.
The guard stopped, and one of the men inserted a key into the lock, and turning it, swung the iron-barred door open. Bush stepped inside, and the door crashed shut behind him. Horatio had been standing in front of the window, looking out. He turned around and seemed surprised to see the man standing there just inside the doorway.
"Mr. Bush! You are recovering, I see..."
God, this was hard. "I -- please accept my sympathy -- Mr. Kennedy -- " He hadn't meant to talk about Kennedy. But to talk about Kennedy was easier than to talk about -- other matters.
Hornblower's jaw firmed, and his back straightened. "Thank you, Mr. Bush."
"He -- so wanted to -- "
"Testify. It was not his place to do so, Mr. Bush. The blame was not his. I fear that in making his attempt, his life was shortened. That was not what I wanted."
Damn! "Mr. Hornblower, you must believe -- it was what he wanted, more than anything! And we were all to blame..."
"Please, have a care, Mr. Bush! " Horatio's eyes drifted over to the doorway and Bush's did likewise. The guards were no longer in view, but Bush had no doubt that they were well within earshot. Even now, he supposed, there might be danger in loose words. Even now, Hornblower had thought for someone else.
"And did you push Captain Sawyer?" Bush asked, lowering his voice, and walking closer.
"That was my testimony."
"And was your testimony the truth?"
"Mr. Bush, will you not let this rest?"
"But I must know...." He stopped, and suddenly realized what he needed from Hornblower. He needed absolution. If Hornblower died because he had laid hands on Captain Sawyer and literally shoved him over the edge of the hatchway into the hold, and only because of that, why then, both he and Buckland were truly innocent. By God, neither of them was there. Kennedy had been, and Wellard, but the Articles of War could no longer touch them. But he and Buckland ......
Then he remembered Kennedy's words. Sawyer had walked backwards because Archie had advanced. Had Archie not been there -- had that meeting not taken place -- there would have been no cries of mutiny, no frantic search in the deepest darkest spaces in Renown and Captain Sawyer would have drowsed away the night in his cot. Officially, he bore no guilt in Sawyer's fall, but neither did he deserve the absolution he craved.
"I repeat, Mr. Hornblower, we *were* all to blame ....."
"But it was my hand on Sawyer, Mr. Bush, not yours. And that was the question I was required to answer. "
"Surely the Captain was falling, was beyond saving...."
Horatio closed his eyes briefly and then reopened them. "Do you seek to turn me into a martyr, Mr. Bush? Believe me, I am not that. "
"But...." What the devil was he doing? The man was sentenced to die on the morrow, and all Bush seemed able to do was browbeat him. Into confessing -- what?
For a moment the two men stood silent. How could Hornblower appear so calm? Or was his situation any different than waiting for that first broadside from the enemy. Of course, the outcome in this case was sure.
"Yes, Mr. Bush?"
"I -- would like to thank you for -- for saving my life, several times over. " He felt again the rush of water closing over his head as the Renown's anchor plummeted to the bottom of Samana Bay, taking him with it. And he felt again the bullets chipping the stone wall of the fort, as he and his men waited to be slaughtered by the Spanish. He still suffered the pain of that cutlass slash across his skin, a slash that might have finished him, had he been left to the tender mercies of Ortega and his men. And while the walls of Kingston gaol still enclosed him, in a short while, he would be allowed to walk free, and Hornblower would not.
"God in heaven, man, it's not right! Who gives a damn what happened down in that bloody hold! Sawyer was mad! Mad! He needed to be stopped! Was that not brought out in court? Would they have preferred Renown blasted to pieces in Samana Bay, and all her men dead? "
"Mr. Bush, please...." Bush felt Hornblower's hand on his arm, and realized he'd been shouting.
"Excuse me, Mr. Hornblower. I -- I'm sorry..."
"The Admiralty needed a resolution, Mr. Bush. "
"And so you are their whipping boy, just as Wellard was Captain Sawyer's. " Bush's midsection was beginning to throb. He'd forgotten that only the previous day even to stand was almost unbearable. But the pain focused his mind, and he sighed. He'd come to offer what comfort he could -- the least he could do was control his anger.
"I suppose you are right, Mr. Hornblower. But -- I believe the men of the Renown know the truth of the matter, what ever might have been said in that court room. You will not be alone tomorrow."
For the first time, Horatio seemed to tremble a little. "Thank you, Mr. Bush, " he answered quietly. "It's been an honor to serve with you, sir." He held out his hand and Bush clasped it. So had Buckland, as he sent his Third Lieutenant to his probable death. So had Clive. Was his handshake any less a Judas kiss?
"And I with you, Mr. Hornblower."
"Guard!" Horatio called.
The sound of the footsteps in the hallway dwindled and then died away, and Horatio was left alone. It was good of Mr. Bush to visit; he had expected no one. And another man might have asked the same questions Bush did, and been resented for doing so, but Horatio could see the shock and disbelief in the other man's face, and knew the questions arose from concern and not any prurient interest.
Somehow, now that the court was adjourned, he felt more at rest. Now there need be no more fevered thoughts. The penalty for a moment's rash deed was steep; but the penalty for many rash deeds in His Majesty's Navy was steep. Sawyer had been right in that -- the Articles of War did indeed apply to his officers as well as his men. He alone knew the tenor of his thoughts as Sawyer's body teetered on the edge. And he alone knew how justified the punishment was.
Damn! Why hadn't he told Bush the truth. The truth! *In that instant, I hoped that Sawyer would die, and the decision not hang over our heads. In that instant, I laid my hand on him, and perhaps made a difference*. He'd admonished Bush not to think of him as a martyr. Then why had he not admitted to being guilty as charged?
Footsteps sounded again in the hallway. Just the guard changing, he supposed. The time seemed about right.
*I don't want them to think badly of me. As I think badly of myself* The thought rose in his mind, and he knew it to be true. He'd been proud of his service in the Navy. Somehow, from that inauspicious beginning back there on Justinian, he'd managed to find his way. He'd not always made the correct decisions, but events had usually come right in the end. He'd earned the trust of the men, and the respect of his superior officers. He'd been proud to serve. Proud. Perhaps pride had somehow turned to arrogance. Perhaps he'd come to think that his past successes had meant that success was his due. What was that old adage -- Buckland would know it, certain sure -- ah, yes, pride goeth before a fall..... A fall.
The light was fast disappearing. Once more he walked to the window and looked out. How many times had he done so in the past few days? Stared out at the stone walls of the fort, and beyond that to the anchorage. Closed his eyes and imagined himself once more on deck. Tomorrow -- he'd be on deck again -- for the last time...
For the first time since the gavel had banged down in the court room and he had read the news of his death in the eyes of the Captains set in judgment over him, tears pricked his eyes. Damn! I will not feel sorry for myself. So many dead, over the years, so many.... And now his dear friend Archie gone too.
His hands had been washed clean of the blood, but he could still imagine it staining his skin. He had only to close his eyes to see Archie bleeding to death there on the floor of the courtroom. He had come prepared to face the court, to answer the question. He had not come prepared for that. At least he had arrived in time to spend those few precious seconds with his friend, before death dimmed Archie's eyes forever. He could hardly remember answering their damned question after that. He could remember not caring though -- he could remember that clearly enough. At least, the court-martial had ended after that one damning question. No one had seen fit to ask why they'd been down in the hold in the first place, nor had mention been made of the cries of mutiny which had reverberated through the ship and brought Sawyer there. At least Mr. Bush was spared, and Mr. Buckland. Only Archie's blood had spilled.
And tomorrow it would be his . On how many occasions had he weighed the odds, and taken the chance. Simpson. An even chance. That drunken sailor on board Caroline, where chance had been taken out of his hands altogether, but the luck had stayed with him. Don Masserado, furious that those British scum would attempt escape, and kill his men. He'd not even thought of his chances then.
Sawyer. Twice Sawyer had trained his pistol on his Third Lieutenant. Twice his Third Lieutenant had escaped. But tomorrow there would be no escape. One man might miss, but a firing squad would not. In the heat of battle, the chance always stood -- a cannon ball might cut down the man not a hairsbreadth away from you, or a splinter disembowel him, or a sharpshooter's bullet send him to the deck, yet leave you in the best of health. Tomorrow, the odds would finally turn -- irrevocably.
Thank God the gallows here in Kingston would go unused. Thank God the yardarm would sport no swinging body. He was afraid to die, as any man would be afraid, but death was ever a shipmate of a naval officer. He was more afraid to die badly. He had seen hangings -- sometimes the poor bastard jerked at the end of the rope for tens of minutes. He'd known what the verdict of the court would be, as soon as he'd answered that damned question. That the sentence was to be death by firing squad had come as a blessed relief.
At least he left no wife and child to mourn him. Somehow, despite the precariousness of an officer's life in the navy, he'd always felt the time would come for such things. A lieutenant's pay was piteously inadequate to keep a family; especially when that lieutenant had no extra funds to call on. His relations with women over the years had been mostly unsatisfactory, in one way or another. A young French peasant girl , dead now too, because of him. A few -- a very few -- nameless whores. An actress as lady-like as any Duchess. He supposed Kitty might mourn his passing briefly.
And his mother. Dead these many years but always she had been with him, living on in his heart. Even now the miniature of her likeness nestled in his pocket. He'd never repaired the chain after Simpson had snapped it, never worn the locket again. Never would he have her memory held up to such derision as had fallen from Simpson's lips. But always he knew she was close. Slipping his fingers into the pocket, he brought her serene face up into the light of the window. And for the first time he was relieved that she was gone, and would never know the manner of her son's death.
No, best he had no family. Except....
Captain Pellew, almost a father to him. He did not deserve Sir Edward's regrets, if his former captain would indeed felt regret at his death, or even survived himself to have any thoughts at all in the matter. At least he would not have to face that stern visage, that air of disappointment, a look of disgust, even. He'd tried to explain Sawyer's state of mind before that fateful meeting in the hold, but he knew that Pellew was upset and angry with he left him.
And Dr. Hornblower. He remembered how frail his father had appeared on the last hurried visit he'd made to Waltham Chase. They had wasted too many years -- circling each other warily -- neither one letting the other into his heart. Luckily, they'd come to their senses, and had realized that they did indeed love and respect one another.
And now his father would receive the news of his son's death -- not in the service of his country, but in its disservice.
"Guard!" A red-coated marine appeared instantly in the doorway, regarding him warily, as though his sentence of death were somehow like the plague -- catching.
"I would like some writing materials. " he said.
"I dunno...." Now that the prisoner was as good as dead, the guard obviously felt he need not answer to him.
"Captain Wickham will authorize it, I am sure. "
The guard scratched his head, shrugged, and slouched off down the corridor. Captain Wickham was most probably sitting down to a good meal at a local tavern. The guard would see that the small office was empty, and return without quill, ink and paper.
That at least was Horatio's expectation. He had made the attempt, and chastised himself for not having the thought earlier. What he did not expect in the least was Captain Wickham himself, a few moments later, the requested items in his own hand.
"Mr. Hornblower, " Wickham said, laying the writing materials on the small rough table that constituted fully one-third of the sparse furnishings of his cell.
"Thank you, sir. I did not expect....."
"That I would come in person? My duties have kept me busy, and I apologize for not inquiring whether you might be in need of anything. " Wickham looked behind him at the barred doorway. "Other than a key and a cutlass, of course."
"Of course, sir."
"You think I jest, Mr. Hornblower? " Wickham glanced round the small space, as though he had never had occasion to view one of his cells from this vantage point before. " Shortly after I took command of this garrison, Captain Hamilton put in to port with his own ship Surprise, and the Hermione, recently captured from the Spanish. You no doubt have heard of the Hermione?"
"Of course, sir." The Hermione. Black bloody mutiny indeed.
"Her crew at that time was entirely Spanish, but in the two years since then we have had occasion to entertain a few of her original mutinous crew and they in turn have entertained us by dancing on the end of a rope, not entirely willing, I might add."
Horatio made no comment. Civil of Wickham to supply pen and ink, but the price was dear, if he were expected to attend to a lecture on mutiny.
"Were I to find an audience, " Wickham continued, " I could argue that had there been an enterprising young lieutenant on board Hermione, obliging enough to assist Captain Pigott in tumbling down an open hatchway, then the remaining officers might still be alive, as well as those poor bastards swinging for our enlightenment. "
Captain Wickham reached inside his red jacket and pulled out a small flask. "Mr. Hornblower?"
Strong drink had never been his friend, either in despair or celebration, but he most gratefully accepted Wickham's offering, letting the rough brandy burn down his throat.
"Keep it, Mr. Hornblower, " Wickham said, but Horatio returned it nonetheless. He doubted his courage to face what waited him a few short hours hence, but he trusted himself more than any fortitude drink could give him.
"I listen to my men, Mr. Hornblower -- any officer who does not do so is a fool. And I've been listening to what they've been saying about this court-martial, and what they've heard from the mouths of the men of Renown. Add that to my own knowledge of yourself, and I can only say the Admiralty and those Captains pronouncing judgment on you are a pack of bloody fools! "
"Yes, yes!" Wickham waved him aside with one scarlet-encased arm. "Their duty, you are bound to say. They are only doing their duty. Perhaps Pigott thought it *his* duty to make the lives of his men a living hell. I can tell you this for certain -- the Admiralty may see the specter of Hermione behind every breach of discipline but I for one can find no comparison between a ship shorn of her officers and given to the enemy, and one returning to port with prize ships in her wake, and her mission completed!"
Captain Wickham thumped his fist on the table. Both Horatio and the writing implements lying there jumped.
"A cutlass and a key," Wickham said. "Would that it were in my power to hand these over to you, along with safe passage from this accursed place. Though I suspect you would not accept them."
"Then please, sir, accept my respect." Wickham held out his hand, and Horatio clasped it. The Marine captain stood silent and still for a few moments, than turned and motioned for the guard to release him.
After he had gone, Horatio moved to the small table, sat down on the rough-hewn stool that served as a chair, and picking up the quill, dipped it into the ink.
Matthews had never been much of a drinking man -- oh, he enjoyed his tots of rum, but he'd never saved them up to revel in mind-numbing drunkenness, nor coaxed some of his messmates to give over their tots to him. Over the years, as he'd earned the trust of his superiors, he'd been granted shoreleave more often than not, and enjoyed it too, but had never been hauled back to his ship insensible. And he'd been flogged a time or two, though not since joining Indefatigable all those many years ago. Flogged, but never for drunkenness.
No, Matthews had never been much of a drinking man. Until today. They'd sat in the Flying Fish, him and Styles, as they'd sat there a day or two earlier, their tankards of rum in front of them, but the hope all run out.
For once, even Styles seemed at a loss for words. Several times he'd started to say something, had managed to get out the words "But Matty..." and then fallen silent.
Matthews found little to say in return. What could he say? The courtroom was so fresh in his mind, it was like being there all over again. Mr. Kennedy coming in -- there'd been gasps when he appeared -- for all anybody'd heard, he was a dead man, yet there he was, dressed in his uniform, walking up between the chairs, that bloody Dr. Clive behind him, with one hand under Kennedy's arm. Matthews knew, soon as he saw him, what was up. Kennedy and Hornblower had been friends and fellow officers since Justinian. Course Mr. Kennedy'd never be the man Mr. Hornblower was, but then, there were not many in the whole sodding Navy who were. Mr. Kennedy'd had his troubles, right enough, what with his fits -- though they didn't seem to trouble him now -- and his bouts of panic, but he'd turned into a fine gunnery officer -- not that Sawyer'd had any use for that -- and still had time for a light remark now and then.
He'd looked as white as a ghost, he had, as he walked. Matthews had no doubt of his bravery -- not since that day when he'd dashed back across that bridge in Muzillac and rescued his chum. But this took something special -- if he'd walked the whole distance from the gaol -- with that wound he'd received -- something special indeed. He was going to save his friend again. You could see that; you could see that determination in his face, if it took the last breath from his body.
A huge groan had come out of everybody -- a groan like the one what came out of a timbers of a ship as she was going down -- as Mr. Kennedy had stopped, took one more step and then tumbled to the floor. Another few minutes and he'd have made it. But the good Lord hadn't seen fit to give him those few minutes. The hubbub hadn't nearly died down when Mr. Hornblower appeared. It was like he knew what he'd find. Matthews would never, in the whole rest of his life, forget the look on the young Lieutenant's face, when he went down on one knee at Mr. Kennedy's side.
He hadn't lost him back then, in Samana Bay, but here in this courtroom in Kingston, as Mr. Hornblower stood, and went his way to the front of the court, Matthews knew that he had lost him now. The lad looked dazed, and when that bugger Williams asked the question, Mr. Hornblower'd answered like he'd no interest anymore -- "Yes. I pushed Captain Sawyer down the hold. " almost like he didn't care anymore.
The Flying Fish had nary a seat empty. Damned sharks, the lot of them -- they'd smelled blood and looked to make a celebration of it. The dusky barmaids were hard put to keep up with the business, and now and again, one of them gave a little shriek, as a patron become over friendly.
" 'e never did it!" Styles blurted out, thumping his tankard on the table top.
" 'e were under oath, Styles. Why would 'e lie?" Why indeed? So quick Mr. Hornblower always was, to keep others from saying any words which might be reek of mutiny. 'Have a care, Matthews, " he'd said, though Matty knew Mr. Hornblower had taken note of his words nonetheless. Well, what if he had pushed the Captain? Why, he might have done the deed himself. given the chance. That poor lad Wellard. He'd had a bit of a rest from the rattan after that last time, but Matty'd had no doubt the young midshipman would be married to the gunner's daughter again. A man who'd have a boy beaten for no reason at all -- a boy who couldn't fight back -- was no man at all.
"But...." Styles stopped and looked across the crowded common room towards the door. Matthew's fingers clenched around his tankard. Mr. Hobbs had entered the Flying Fish -- the gunner stopped, looked around and then headed for the bosun and his mate.
" Bloody 'ell!" Matthews muttered. Already he could feel Styles tense beside him. Hobbs never pointed a finger at Mr. Hornblower in the courtroom, but he'd be sure to lord it over them now. And Styles had just enough of the drink in him to answer back with his fists.
"Mr. Matthews. Mr. Styles. " Hobbs' voice sounded flat. "I -- I'm sorry events have turned out the way they have...."
"Now that's not bloody likely!" Styles growled.
"Easy, Styles, easy!" Matthew's said. "Let the man speak!"
Mr. Hobbs turned his hat round endlessly in his hands. "I -- you must know, Mr. Hornblower was not alone down there. I always thought Mr. Wellard had a hand in -- Captain Sawyer's accident."
"Do ye blame the lad?" Matthews said.
"I -- well, no matter. We none of us knows what happened down there. That's all I got to say. " Suddenly he stuck his hand out ; the movement was so unexpected that for a moment all Matthews could think to do was stare at it. Then slowly he raised his own hand, and Hobbs enveloped it in a firm grip. Astonishingly, he then reached towards Styles.
Styles' mouth gaped open, and Matthews would have laughed, had he had any laughter in him this dark day. A sharp jab to the ribs and his mate shook hands with the gunner also.
"Now you DO know what it's like to lose your hero, just as I lost mine. " Hobbs said. He started to turn away, but stopped in the midst of his movement and added " I saw Captain Sawyer hold a razor to Mr. Hornblower's neck. He had him at his mercy, but Mr. Hornblower never flinched, but treated my Captain with the greatest respect. I -- well, that's what happened." With that, he was gone, not even stopping to have a bit of a drink.
"So what was that all about?" Styles said.
"I think 'e was tryin' t'say....." What? Matthews wasn't sure. "We don't know what 'appened down there, do we? Mr. 'ornblower was thinkin' of the ship and the men, whatever 'e did, and 'e's payin' the price for it now." Hobbs was right, they were going to lose their hero. Suddenly the buzzing voices in the Flying Fish hurt his ears and the rum in his tankard burned his throat.
"Come on, Styles, " he said, pushing back his chair. "I can't stomach this place."
The air was still hot as they stepped out into the dusty Kingston street. Oldroyd had always wanted to sail to the Indies, but their old shipmate was lucky not to have made this trip, that was for sure. Tropical diseases, Styles had warned him. 'Twas one of those damned tropical diseases that had done for Captain Pellew; and done for Mr. Hornblower too. If Pellew's been President of the court, he would have known the questions to ask, and the questions not to ask, and even that bugger Buckland would have been put down.
Matthews raised his eyes to the forbidding bulk of the Kingston garrison. Somewhere behind its stony face, Mr. Hornblower was spending his last night on this earth. Was he looking out this very minute, perhaps watching as two of his men shuffled down the street in freedom? They'd all faced death together many times over the years since Mr. Hornblower had boarded Justinian, a sea-sick young lad with more gumption than any of them suspected. But tomorrow he'd be facing death alone.
If only he could speak to him once again, knuckle his forehead and tell him how much the men respected him, no matter what the Court-Martial had to say. Well, he was a bosun now, but even a bosun couldn't storm that that gaol.
"God be with ye, sir," he whispered and made his way down to the jetty.
"You are not exerting yourself unnecessarily, Mr. Bush?" Dr Clive asked. They had almost reached the jetty, and Bush could see one of the Renown's boats tied up there.
"I'll manage, " he growled, but as if reminded that he was indeed injured, and just a few days previous had thought himself at death's door and in no better condition than Mr. Kennedy, he crossed his arm protectively across his stomach. The slash throbbed more insistently and he counted himself fortunate that he need travel only a few more steps.
An officer already sat in the sternsheets and Bush realized that the officer was Lieutenant Buckland. Freed too, after Hornblower's damning testimony. "You three -- you are so full of yourselves." Buckland had said to him, after their triumphant -- and perhaps unexpected -- return from the cliffs of Samana Point. He'd sounded envious -- but there he sat, alive and waiting to be returned to a ship where he was still First Lieutenant, if no longer acting Captain, while one of the three was already dead, a second as good as dead, and the third....... Bush gulped. Yes, he WAS alive -- saved by Mr. Hornblower once again.
Mr. Bush was well aware of the effects of shoreleave on the British seaman, but he was seeing none of that here -- no boisterous high spirits, no men reeling or perhaps passed out from the effect of the drink. A heavy fog seemed to lay over everyone.
Two more crew approached, and Bush recognized them instantly. Matthews the bosun -- a steady chap -- he'd never relished administering punishment, not like some Bush had known over the years he'd served in His Majesty's navy. Matthews and Mr. Hornblower had been friends, or as near to friends as men separated in rank could be. Surely he would be taking Hornblower's fate badly; the man had never been among the crew that heartily enjoyed Sawyer's liberal gifts of tots of rum and half-duty Sundays. Lagging behind Matthews was a larger man -- that Styles, Matthews' mate. A hot-headed chap and one he, Bush, had somehow rubbed the wrong way.
Suddenly Styles darted forward, and Bush caught his words. "There's the bloody bastard, " Styles growled, a hand raised, and Bush had only to look in the direction the bosun's mate pointed to see Buckland cowering in the sternsheets.
Styles took only a few steps in the direction of the jolly boat before Matthews stepped in front of him and forcibly held him back, his two hands gripping Styles' shoulders. The black look on his face left no doubt in Mr. Bush's mind that the man was on the verge of exploding; his rage seemed entirely aimed in the direction of the Renown's First Lieutenant.
Gingerly Bush hurried his steps, and reached the two men.
"What's going on here? " he asked. "Matthews?"
Matthews gave his mate a hard look, dropped his hands from the other man's shoulders and knuckled his forehead. "Nuthin', sir" he answered.
"Nothing? You, Styles...." Styles glared at him, and then looked away.
"Yes, you, Styles. Look at me, man!" Bush noticed the furtive little cuff Matthews gave his mate, and knew it was that, and not his own words, which finally made Styles turn his sullen face towards him.
"You were referring to Mr. Buckland, Styles? He is your superior officer and is due your respect."
Something was going on here. Both men looked first at each other, then at Bush, and then Matthews slid furtive eyes towards that hunched figure in the sternsheets. If Mr. Hornblower were here, he'd get them to talk. Damn, but they'd be spilling their guts right now!
Bush took a deep breath and then winced as his wound reminded him that deep breaths were still not a good idea.
"Sir! Yer still 'urt..."
"I shall be quite fine, Matthews. " He paused for a moment to let the pain subside, and then continued. "You have my permission to speak freely. I must know what is going on here."
Once again the two men exchanged looks. Finally Matthews took a step forward. "Well, sir, it were the court-martial. Mr. Buckland -- well, sir, 'e said Mr. 'ornblower 'ad pushed the captain down into the 'old. So then they 'ad to ask 'im, didn't they? And we know what 'appened then, don't we?" For a second Matthews' old eyes looked suspiciously bright. God, but Hornblower had gained some fierce loyalties among these men.
"So you are saying...." Bush was trying to get his mind round the enormity of the news Matthews had just given him.
" 'e saved yer neck, though, didn't 'e? 'imself and you both!"
Bush could see Matthews turning to admonish his mate once again, but held up a hand to stay his words. "No matter, Matthews. I've given you both permission to speak freely." He glanced over at Buckland, there in the sternsheets. The man looked up, startled, and then turned his face away. The crew had already taken their places in the jolly boat, and a few stragglers had followed them. Dr. Clive had disappeared; obviously the Renown's surgeon was not returning to his ship. The fine rum of Jamaica called more insistently than his duty as the Renown's surgeon. But Bush would in a matter of moments be stepping into that jolly boat, and sitting patiently as the men rowed them all out into the anchorage to the side of Renown. Once more, he would be a Lieutenant on board one of His Majesty's ship. If Buckland had made no accusation against Lieutenant Hornblower, would the three of them (for Mr. Kennedy would in all probability have died regardless) now be free to take up their duties? Or would all three of them await the dreadful fate Mr. Hornblower now faced alone?
Buckland may indeed have saved his neck. With guilt, Bush realized that a part of him thanked God (and Mr. Buckland) that his precious neck had been saved. But there had been four of them down there in that hold, and hard now to believe, it had been Mr. Buckland prepared to restrain the captain and take command, and Mr. Hornblower cautioning restraint. Mr. Hornblower's guilt or innocence in regards to Sawyer's fall now seemed unimportant. Except to the court, of course.
Bush thought back to those last words which he had shared with Horatio Hornblower. What HAD happened down there in the hold? Perhaps Hornblower was not entirely sure himself. Perhaps if Bush himself had been present, he might have -- in a moment's madness, or sanity -- taken an opportunity to ensure Captain Sawyer would no longer endanger the lives of all the men on board Renown.
"Steady there, sir." Suddenly Styles' hand was under his elbow, and Bush realized that his knees were on the verge of buckling under him. He'd been on his feet too long; the pain in his midriff had intensified, and his discomfort had apparently been quite obvious to the man now supporting him. Bush was reminded of that day back on Renown, when those same hands supported his head as he lay bleeding on the deck. For the first time in his life, he cared desperately that one of the men think well of him.
"Much obliged, Styles, " he said gruffly, and Styles quickly snatched his hand away. But before the big man could turn and walk away in disgust, as his grim face signaled he was preparing to do, Bush blurted out, " I derive no satisfaction in the manner of my acquittal." The words thrown out, he now realized how true they were. "But Styles, you would do well to heed the Articles of War in regards to Mr. Buckland. We are losing one good man to their dictates -- His Majesty's Service cannot afford to lose another."
Styles paused and knuckled his forehead. "Aye, aye, sir. " he said and Bush could discern no insincerity in the manner of his speaking. "Sir, are you able ...."
"Yes, Styles, but thank you for your concern."
He now turned and followed the two seaman, as they made their way wearily back to the Renown's jolly boat. He had reminded Styles of the rigors of the Articles of War; he himself would need all the restraint he was capable of to stay within their boundaries himself.
Once again Collins stood at the door of Hibbert House, lifted the ornate brass knocker, and let it drop. The Strap & Block's finest victuals lay heavy in his stomach, and he wished now he'd asked Captain Hammond's pardon and begged off the proffered dinner invitation.
The young girl who answered the door had no need to take his card; she had become quite used to Captain Collins' visits by now, and showed him into a small drawing room while she went to fetch her mistress.
Hammond. Even now Collins could not quite believe the tale the man had regaled him with during that wretched meal.
"You take exception to the verdict, " Hammond had said, as he poured himself a liberal bumper of the Strap & Block's excellent but potent rum punch.
Collins thought carefully before answering. Hammond had some influence, after all; now that he commanded Renown, he had no wish to further hinder his hopefully inexorable climb towards the exultant ranks of Commodores and Admirals, by arguing a verdict already given.
"There was no choice, Hammond, I admit to that. Though I suspect we did not hear the complete story."
"Regarding Sawyer's state of mind, I suppose."
"Among other matters -- yes."
"Had Sawyer exhibited serious symptoms previous to that incident in the hold, I am sure Dr. Clive would have taken the appropriate measures. No, the culprit has been named, and will pay the penalty. The mutton stew here is particularly fine, Collins --- you there!" and he snapped his fingers at a serving girl hurrying past. "Two portions of your mutton stew, and be quick about it!" The harried girl bobbed a perfunctory curtsey in his direction and scurried off.
Mutton stew. Collins suddenly realized that he had no appetite. Would Hornblower's last meal be a plate of fine mutton stew? Would anyone remember to serve him a last meal?
"Hornblower! I see the man has fooled you as well! Here, have some of this excellent punch, man! It might just settle your mind a little." Hammond filled a second cup and pushed it across the table. "No, Hornblower saw his chance to advance, and he took it. By God, if the Renown had been longer at sea, who knows what dire accident might have befallen Mr. Buckland, or Mr. Bush for that matter!"
"I cannot subscribe to your viewpoint, Hammond! Surely you must admit to his bravery and coolness under fire...."
"Bah! His version of events. "
"And you yourself were witness to that fireship incident..."
"Ah yes, the fireship. I suppose the man was prepared to take extreme measures at that point. I believe I mentioned that he was on the verge of failing his examination for Lieutenant, and failing it most miserably indeed! In my opinion, he was merely attempting to curry favor with Foster..."
"Dreadnaught Foster?" The serving girl set a bowl in front of him. Mutton stew -- hot and steamy. A dish he would welcome ten times over in the midst of a wet and miserable winter day on blockade duty in the Channel, but which here in Kingston only caused the sweat to drip off his brow even more quickly.
"Dreadnaught! What a trumped up title for an impossible little man!" Hammond spooned some of the stew into his mouth with relish. "He had the nerve to chastise me for not pulling him from the water in a timely manner. Can you believe that! Why, I had to demand satisfaction!"
Collins' head was beginning to swim -- from the cloying heat, the heavy taste of the mutton, and Hammond's importunate ramblings.
"Exactly, Collins! And the man had the audacity to wing me! You can imagine that I was in no agreeable frame of mind when he and Pellew came to me with the ridiculous notion of awarding Hornblower his promotion regardless."
"But he WAS promoted..."
Hammond wiped his mouth with a napkin, and then waved his hand airily. "And who was I to counter the great Dreadnaught Foster and the famous Sir Edward Pellew! I might have expected Harvey, who also sat on the examination board to see my view, but the man's spineless, and gave in without a moment's thought!"
Collins stirred his spoon round and round in the stew.
"Well, I'll be happy to pass this information onto *Dreadnaught* Foster -- let him know I was right about the man all along!" With that, Hammond upended his cup and banged it down on the table in high good spirits.
Now, as Collins sat in the drawing room of Hibbert House, and pondered on Hammond's words, he understood. Hammond, God help him, had used Hornblower's predicament to avenge himself on the man who had bested him in a duel -- a duel seemingly as ridiculous as all duels were. Couple that with Sir Thomas' obsession with rooting out any hint of mutiny -- to avenge the death of that young Midshipman.....
"Captain Collins. " Sarah Hibbert bustled into the room. "I have news..."
Collins had jumped to his feet on her arrival. "News?"
"Sir Edward appears to be holding his own. I cannot promise a recovery, but his situation is less desperate, at least."
"Thank the Lord. And thank you, Mrs. Hibbert. " Holding his own. Even this morning Collins would have exulted in the news. Now ? If Pellew were to recover, he would do so only to receive the dread news of Hornblower's fate. At least I will not be here to face him, Collins thought, and immediately felt ashamed of his reaction.
Only as he closed the door of Hibbert House behind him, did he realize that the lie he had told to his fellow jurors earlier in the day was indeed the truth.
How much longer must he endure this cramped hole in the ground? Archie needed him. His men needed him.
Horatio opened his eyes. It must be night; darkness surrounded him but at least the rain had stopped. He peered into the blackness; something seemed different, but he was not sure what. He could hear a furtive rustling close to him -- God, some live creature must be down here with him, and what form it might take he couldn't bear to think on. Gingerly he reached a hand out towards the noise.
Where were the walls of his prison? His fingers should have met the slimy coldness of those ancient stone walls. And he seemed to be lying down. That was the worst of his imprisonment -- the crouched position he'd been forced to adopt. His muscles had cramped and knotted, and though he'd twisted his body constantly to bring relief, relief had eluded him.
Perhaps he'd fallen asleep, and been taken back to the relative comfort of the small cell he shared with Archie and Hunter. Perhaps Don Masserado had taken pity on him. Perhaps Hunter had confessed to his part in the escape. If only he could think more clearly....
The rustling sounded again. And now he felt a whispery plucking across his chest. Without thinking, he brought his hand up to brush away the disturbance, and his fingers recognized the hairy pelt of a rat.
"No!" The word burst from his lips, and he struggled to a seated position. A small thump and a frenzied skittering assured him that the rat -- by God, it *had* been a rat, had made good its escape. Horatio fought to control his breathing. The Devil take the French, the Spanish, and Hunter with his damned rabble also. If only he were free...
Suddenly he realized that he could see more clearly. He had been released then from that accursed hole, that vile prison which had nearly claimed Archie's life...
Archie! Oh dear God, Archie! Sawyer -- the Renown -- the court-martial! How could he have believed himself back in Spain? No, he was here, here in Kingston, and tomorrow...
Tomorrow he would stand on the quarter-deck of the Renown once more, and in front of the whole ship's crew -- some strangers, some old friends -- be shot. Shot for raising a hand against his Captain, shot for mutiny -- black and bloody.
Hot tears pricked his eyes. How could he bear it? How could he bear those eyes watching -- with hate, with disappointment. He'd failed Archie, he'd failed Sawyer, he'd failed Captain Pellew. He'd failed his father. And he'd failed himself. A moment of madness. Sawyer would have fallen anyway. But he'd reached out his hand in enmity. And now -- a strangled sob burst from his lips and he covered his face with his hands. The guard. He mustn't let the guard hear.
Perhaps there was a way. They'd left him with no pistol, no sword -- only a lantern, the quill, ink, and some paper. God, even hanging seemed impossible. Wait -- his razor. But no, he remembered now. It was never left. The lantern then -- surely there must be some sharp edge that could slice open a vein.
By God, he'd do it! Dead, he'd not have to face those eyes on the morrow, dead he would cheat those out to gloat over his disgrace. Dead, he'd never know.... He swung his legs over the edge of the cot, but before he could push himself upright, the manic energy ebbed away as quickly as it had arisen.
He was afraid. Afraid to face all those he'd failed. Afraid to face the bullets that would snuff out his life. But more afraid to take his own life. A failure. He would die a failure. Archie had died in a final supreme act of loyalty.. Even Wellard and Sawyer had died bravely facing the enemy. But he would die because he'd flaunted the Articles of War, struck down a superior officer, turned his back on his duty. Let the dawn come. Let the men of Renown see what happened to those who thought themselves above the rigid rules and regulations which melded the glorious Royal Navy into the fighting force that it was. Let them all learn.
The voice nibbled on the edges of his mind.
"Mother?" He had no recollection of opening his eyes, but he could see his mother clearly. Why, she looked so young, like she'd just stepped out of his miniature.
"Dear Horatio." She seemed to float across the space between them and settle so lightly on his cot that he could scarce feel her presence.
"You shouldn't be here, Mother. Tomorrow..." Yes, tomorrow they would shoot him. His mother shouldn't see that, shouldn't see her son die.
"I know." A gentle soothing breath of air seemed to bathe his face -- she'd raised her hand towards him, and he reached out, but somehow could not grasp that hand.
"I -- I'm sorry, " he whispered. "I thought to be a credit to you and Father. How will he bear..."
Again he felt that calming breathe, and it seemed to stop his lips.
"You have always been a dear son to us, Horatio. Do not doubt yourself now. "
"Look for your true worth in the hearts and minds of your friends, Horatio. In the hearts and minds of those who live because of you. And do not be afraid."
Somewhere a cannon boomed. Horatio started. For only a second his mind groped confusedly, and then the events of the past few days slipped into his mind in complete clarity once again. This was it, then. A pale light filtered through the bars on the window, the last day he would know. Do not be afraid. His mother's words echoed through his head. God, his mother! What dreams he'd had. First he'd thought himself back at El Ferol, and then his mother.....
Stiffly, he stood up. They would come for him soon. Donning his waistcoat , he slipped his watch out of the pocket. Yes, soon. Would they send his watch back to his father, or..... Well, he had no further use for it. He tucked it back in, and then reached into the other pocket brought forth the small locket.
Do not be afraid. Only a dream, of course. Only a dream....
The locket was replaced as the watch had been. He then tied his neckcloth, adjusting it carefully until it met with his approval. Carefully he retied his queue and shrugged into his jacket. He was ready now, if a man could ever be ready for what awaited him this morning on board Renown.
His gaze drifted over to the small table, where his letter lay. Unfinished. He'd written what he could, knowing that these would be the last words he could impart to his father. But he had left it unsigned, because the words had stopped coming. Now, covering the short distance to the crude bench, he sat down and dipping the quill into the ink, added a final paragraph.
Do not be afraid.
"Thank you, Mother, " he whispered, as he
signed his name.
The bosun's pipes twittered as first Captain Hammond and then Sir Thomas made their way through the entry port. They'd seen fit to come separately, Collins noted, as though neither one wished to share the pomp surrounding their arrival. How different had been Mr. Hornblower's appearance a half hour previous -- never had he heard a ship-of-the-line so deathly quiet; the very lines and timbers seemed to hush in respect.
For one extravagantly insensible moment, Collins' mind had conjured up a wild scheme -- rifles empty, a death feigned, a young man secreted below until such time as he could be spirited away to a safe place. A wild scheme indeed, and one whose planning quickly halted, with the first glimpse of the braided bicorne appearing over Renown's side. The previous day Williams had sniffed: "I assume you will ensure this distasteful business is concluded satisfactorily. I for one am sick of the whole affair and no longer wish to soil my hands with it." Obviously he had thought better of that sentiment. Hammond and Williams had come to see blood shed, and blood would be shed indeed, damn their eyes. .
Hornblower was waiting quietly, flanked by four Marines -- Marines who had accompanied him from his prison cell. At least for now he was spared the indignity of having his hands shackled. That the young man would attempt some desperate last-minute escape did not seem in character and apparently this had been recognized by whoever had responsibility for him back in Kingston.
The Spithead nightingales sang again followed by a shouted "Hands aft to witness punishment!" The bosun's voice seemed to break on the last word. Collins had already passed the word to Sergeant Whiting that his Marines -- those not detailed for the firing squad -- were to keep a vigilant watch over the men as they assembled. He'd spent too little time aboard his new command to judge the mood of the crew with any accuracy. Whether they would rejoice in the execution of an officer instead of one of their own or deplore the waste of a good man, he knew not. Best to be prepared, in any eventuality.
Gradually the men shuffled into position, and he knew he was right to have taken precautions. An ominous silence had settled over the Renown, a silence that did not speak of cowed spirits.
Hammond cleared his throat and Williams consulted his chronometer. "Are we to get on with this business today, Mr. Collins?" Sir Thomas said. "I've come away without my usual repast, and am not inclined to linger."
A mumbled curse came from forward, followed by the sharp slap of a starter. Collins had been unable to make out the words, but he hoped that whichever officer had chastised the man, had gone easy on the rope. But in one respect at least, he was in agreement with Captain Williams. He too was not inclined to linger, though Williams' apparent hunger had little to do with it. A false kindness to prolong Mr. Hornblower's agony. Best to have it over.
Collins, a neatly folded linen blindfold in his hand, approached the young man where he stood waiting. He saw no fear in Hornblower's eyes; he could discern no trembling of limbs, no wavering from the young officer's stiff-backed stance, as though he was merely keeping watch on Renown's deck. Collins could not begin to comprehend the depth of courage required to appear so steadfast. He dared not imagine how he himself might meet the fate awaiting the condemned man -- a fate only minutes away.
Several trite phrases had come to Collins' mind. "My deepest sympathy" -- how dare he offer sympathy when he himself had been one of those passing judgment. "You go to a far better place, sir." -- Bloody nonsense! "Justice must be served, sir!" -- Sir Thomas could say those words without a twinge of conscience, but he could not.
In the end he knew he sounded like a foolish child. "If there is anything...."
"Yes, sir. I have a letter for my father..." Hornblower fumbled in the pocket of his coat, and drew forth a folded paper. "The direction is written on the cover." He held the letter out, and Collins could discern just the smallest tremor.
"Of course, sir. I will see to it."
Hornblower's jaw had then squared slightly. "And if I may inquire -- Captain Pellew, will he recover from his illness?"
"I stopped round to Hibbert House last evening. He is still delirious, but there is some hope now." He had lied to his fellow jurists as to Sir Edward's state of health; at least he need not do so to the Commodore's doomed protege.
"Thank you, sir. If you would -- thank him for all his kindnesses in the past."
"I will do so, Mr. Hornblower."
"And Mr. Kennedy -- "
"He is to be buried at sea from Renown with all honor, sir. " The young man's face for an instant lost its immobility, and Collins for the first time guessed at the bond which might have existed between the two Lieutenants. Impulsively he touched Hornblower's arm and said, "He will not be alone."
Then Collins raised the linen, and Hornblower gave his acquiescence with the barest tilt of his head. The blindfold was tied in place, and Hornblower's hands secured behind his back. He was then led to the aforedesignated spot on the deck, assisted to a kneeling position, and awaited the fatal shots.
"Marines, present!" Sergeant Whiting's voice boomed out. "Fire!"
As simple as that.
A cheery soul. He'd joked so casually after that action in Samana Bay. What a bloody black joke! Matthews wiped the tears from his face with the back of hand. When he slipped his cable, a cheery soul might indeed be found to sew him up in his hammock. He was just a seaman, after all, and who would miss him? But no cheery soul provided for Mr. Hornblower this day.
"Come on, Matty," Styles said, plucking at his shirt. "Let the sailmaker do that."
Matthews shook Styles' hand away. His mate meant well. But he couldn't -- couldn't let anyone touch.....
At least they hadn't hung him. Matthews had seen men hang, watched their desperate struggle as they were hoisted up to the yardarm. Sometimes they kicked and writhed for what seemed like an eternity. At least the Marines' muskets had killed mercifully. Hornblower looked at peace, only a small thread of blood at the corner of his mouth to show that he was not merely sleeping. So young. He was still so young. Matthews saw him once again, such a short time ago, when he had indeed been only asleep. Thirty-six hours on continuous watch. That bloody bastard Sawyer! The penalty for sleeping on watch was death. Matthews was only too pleased to thwart the captain, allow his third lieutenant a few minutes of needed rest.
When they'd led him onto the deck of the Renown and placed the blindfold over his eyes, even then Matty had hoped -- for what? Had his opinion been sought, he could have offered none. But surely, some how, someone....
The shots had rang out. The body crumpled. There'd been no magic telescope to wrest from Styles' grasp this time This time the miracle never happened.
Dr. Clive had been called. He'd only taken a minute before he'd nodded his head. Dead. And that Sir William from the court-martial -- the one that went on so about bloody mutiny -- as though the Renown had become Hermione in the man's mind -- had walked up to Mr. Hornblower, and nudged him with the toe of his shoe.
"You have orders to set sail immediately?" he'd said to Collins. "Once you clear the harbor, throw this man over the side like the offal he is."
It had been Styles this time who'd put his hand firmly on his shoulder, and muttered under his breath, "Easy there, Matty," or he'd be twisting from the yardarm himself, run afoul of the Article which said that a man daren't lay a hand on a superior officer.
And now he crouched here, taking one stitch after another, until finally he was done. At least Collins had more heart to him than he'd shown in the courtroom. As soon as all that gold braid had been piped away, he'd motioned Matthews to him and given him his instructions.
"Mr. Kennedy is to be buried at dusk, Matthews. I believe it possible that the service might accommodate two. But it's to be done quietly, with no mention of that."
"Aye, aye, sir." He'd knuckled his forehead and then taken his chance. "But word might get round, sir..."
Collins had hesitated. Looked like the man was damning himself now, for that remark about Buckland. "Yes, Matthews, it might indeed. I'll not hold you responsible if such should occur. "
Matthews now reached out and touched the white canvas gently. "God be with ye, sir, " he whispered once again.
William Bush stood to attention. His upright stance still pulled at the edges of his wound, but the pain was much diminished. Looking around him, he saw that a goodly portion of the ship's company had mustered for the proceedings.
Mutineers were dispatched with little ceremony -- enlisted men left to hang and rot, as a warning for others who might harbor like ideas. And officers -- hastily disposed of, an embarrassment which the representatives of Admiralty justice wished to dispense with as quickly and quietly as possible. Yet today a self-confessed mutineer and murderer lay side-by-side with an officer of His Majesty's Navy who now was entitled to the full majesty of burial at sea.
Hornblower had accomplished that for his friend. Kennedy had struggled to reach the court, prepared to give up his good name -- for the vagaries of war had already snatched away his life -- but in death his name had been restored.
Many of the men lining the catwalks and standing in the rigging had flourished under Sawyer's commanding, spending their days half drunk and idle. Hornblower had made them work, had made them fight, had risked his own life to save theirs. Had started to give them pride. No doubt some of the slower witted among them still longed for the old slack times, never knowing the joy of serving in a taut ship, with a fair Captain. But he could see regret in the majority of those hardened faces, and a deep hush that came only from profound respect.
Even Hobbs had come round. He'd had his chance there in the courtroom, his chance to side with Buckland. The Hobbs he'd known on his first weeks on Renown would have lived to see his notion of justice done, his Captain avenged. He stood now, a few paces away, and Bush wondered if he had come to see in Hornblower a young Captain Sawyer, destined for greatness.
Those among the crew who had served with Hornblower on the Indefatigable were as broken men now. Styles, pressed, with a right to be bitter. A hard man, a fighter, quick to anger. And Matthews. A steady man, one any officer could depend on. How many years had he served? How many young officers had they both served who had not a tenth of their experience, yet enjoyed the power of life and death over them? Either one of them would have relinquished life and chosen their own death for this young man, without his even asking, much less shaping an order.
He had been surprised and pleased to catch the word that Mr. Hornblower was to be given a proper burial at sea and not dumped without ceremony overboard as Captain Williams had ordered. Bush had heard of that incident which had occurred months before he'd joined Renown -- a young boy dead on the deck. He was guilty of nothing but inexperience, yet Sawyer had ordered him treated like offal also. Perhaps Collins sought to redeem himself somehow for his part in the judicial proceedings. Perhaps he merely hoped to throw a sop to the men, stop discontent from fomenting. He had no knowledge of Collins, but he'd not make the same mistake he'd made with Sawyer and judge the man before time.
Collins stood with the prayerbook in his hand. The other officers of the Renown stood beside him. Coakley, transferred from Vanguard. Salter, Renown's senior Midshipman, now Acting Lieutenant. Mr. Buckland however was missing.
Buckland had also been absent during -- the execution. Somehow, afterwards, Bush had made his way down to the wardroom, just in time to hear another shot, loud and echoing. The door was ajar -- no question where the sound had come from. Gingerly he'd pushed it open, not knowing what he might find. An accidental discharge perhaps or....
Buckland sat there, the pistol still in his hand, the air heavy with the reek of gunpowder. A flask of wine stood nearly empty on the table in front of him, and the hand that held the pistol shook. The man himself was very much alive, but it took but a moment for Bush to understand. Carefully he pried the weapon from Buckland's fingers. Buckland looked up at him with the heavy-lidded stare of a man drunk, and then had then buried his face in his hands.
"It's over, " Bush said abruptly. "I suppose you might consider yourself successful in this, if nothing else."
"I never meant...." Buckland cried, his voice muffled.
"Oh, I think you did. But you'll get no joy of it, sir. " Carefully Bush laid the pistol on the table, and left the wardroom.
Now, as the words of the service were read he wondered whether another shot had resounded through the wardroom. Wondered, but cared little. The man was dead anyway, whether his body lived or no.
Already Mr. Kennedy's body had been received into bosom of the sea. Now Collins' voice reached to where Bush was standing. "We therefore commit the body of Horatio Hornblower to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, (when the Sea shall give up her dead,) and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who at his coming shall change our vile body, that it may be like his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself. "
As Collins' voice died away, the plank was lifted, and the body slipped off. A soft sigh enveloped the whole ship's company, and then there was silence. In death, as in life, Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy voyaged together.
Cheated. That's what he felt, Bush realized. He felt cheated. For a brief time, he'd been privy to something special, something he would never see again. He knew that the grief Matthews and Styles shared, the grief that Pellew, if he survived the yellow Jack, would know, was a grief he did not have the audacity to call his own. He'd known Hornblower for too short a time, and part of that time, he'd been in needless opposition to the man, not knowing what fires burned beneath that stoic face. But for a few days, he'd been part of it. Part of the special friendship between Kennedy and Hornblower, part of a recklessness that nevertheless seemed to turn out all right. For a few days he'd understood what duty and loyalty truly meant.
Or he thought he had. He'd been cheated not just of Hornblower's leadership and brilliance, but of his own faith that one need only do one's duty to the best of one's ability, and one would be all right. That was gone forever. If Hornblower's death was needed to press home some kind of lesson, some kind of warning to other officers, then it was not in vain. He, for one, had learned that lesson well. The men were moving now. Back to their stations, back to the duties of their particular watch. Bush clapped his cocked hat on his head and joined them.
Where the devil was his lemonade? How long had he been sitting here waiting? No -- he was no longer sitting. His head still ached, and his body too, but he seemed to be lying down.
Opening his eyes, he saw Purvis, his steward, sitting in a chair at his bedside, eyes shut, and a faint snoring sound whistling from his nostrils. What was Purvis doing, sleeping in that chair? Why did he feel as though he had drank his way through his complete stock of burgundy? And what was that smell -- like a sickroom -- sweat and vomit and worse?
Purvis gave a particularly loud snort and jerked awake. "Captain Pellew, sir!" he exclaimed, but seemed able to do nothing more than stare at him with goggling eyes.
"I believe that is who I am, Purvis! Now tell me what's been going on." He struggled to push himself upright, but somehow he felt so weak and light-headed.
"Why, it was the fever, sir, we thought as though you were, well, going to die, sir, but now we can begin to hope...." Purvis's voice finally trailed away. He took a great gulp of air and said, a little more slowly, "If you'll just rest easy, sir, I'll call for the doctor, and then make you a little more comfortable. "
Pellew closed his eyes again; the chore of keeping them open was beyond him, right at the moment. The fever, Purvis had said. Vaguely he remembered -- what exactly did he remember? Calling for some lemonade -- some strange phantasmagorical images -- he must have been delirious, and something else, something else he needed to remember. Feebly he clutched at the bedclothes, but nothing more came, and darkness overtook him once again.
The next time he regained his senses, the doctor was prodding at him. "I'm not dead yet, sir, " Pellew croaked, his mouth desert-dry and his tongue seemingly swollen too big for it. The doctor nodded, and Purvis, lifting his head slightly, held a glass of cool water to his lips.
"No, I can see that you are not dead, " the doctor said, as Pellew greedily drank the water, not caring how much of it spilled back out of his mouth. "Though it was a close-run business, sir. "
"How long ...."
" Over a week, sir, and I recommend another week in your bed before you think of being up and about your business."
His business. He'd been about some business, but damned if he knew what it was.
The doctor left and Pellew allowed himself to be bathed, and his bedlinen and nightshirt changed. Another small nap, and this time when he awoke, he could actually say that he felt somewhat refreshed.
"Some broth, sir? " Purvis asked. Purvis looked dreadful; his aging face haggard and drawn, his eyes barely managing to stay open.
"Yes, Purvis, some broth would do well. And then, man, get some rest yourself."
"Yes, sir. Oh, and there has been a Captain Collins inquiring after you. He's been around everyday since you fell ill. And Captain Hammond is presently awaiting below. If you feel up to it, he does seem most anxious to speak to you."
Collins. Yes, of course, Collins. And Hammond. Once again a memory hovered just out of reach.
"Send him up, Purvis, if you will."
Sir Edward this time managed to pull himself upward a little in the bed, though his heart raced alarmingly as he did so. And he managed a somewhat decent "Come!" when a hesitant knock sounded on his door.
It took only one look at Hammond's strutting gait and the faintly sour look on his face for the memories to come crashing through the ghostly web of illness that had clouded his brain.
"Good God, the court-martial!" The startling return of his faculties was so sudden, so complete that he thrust his bedclothes aside and almost attempted to leap to his feet. But his head threatened to explode, and his limbs trembled alarmingly as he sunk back onto the mattress.
"Commodore, please, do not exert yourself!" Hammond exclaimed, glancing backward towards the door where Purvis has disappeared after escorting him in. The damn fellow looked liked he expected him to drop dead any minute! But he had to know....
"I assume the court-martial was postponed, " he said. Damn! To think of Hornblower languishing in that infernally hot cell, waiting, waiting....
Hammond stood silent for a moment, a very strange expression on his face, and a chill possessed Pellew, body and soul, a chill the depths of which he had never felt before. "Not postponed?" he asked carefully. "Then perhaps it was put off altogether?"
Hammond cleared his throat. "No, Sir Edward. Vanguard arrived in port a number of days ago and Captain Sir Thomas Williams did us the great favor of taking your place."
"And the court-martial went ahead as scheduled." Tell me, tell me, your fool! he wanted to scream. Yet if the news were -- not what he might want to hear -- then for a little while longer he could pretend otherwise.
"Dammit, man, you must tell me!"
Hammond raised one eyebrow. "Come, Sir Edward, you must not exert yourself..."
"I'll have you court martialed yourself, Hammond, if you don't bloody well continue..."
"No need to get excited, Commodore. The court martial is over and done with. Mr. Buckland made the accusation that Mr. Hornblower had pushed Captain Sawyer down the hatchway. Although the witness he called to give corroborating testimony was unable to confirm or deny the accusation, the court felt that the question must be put to the accused."
Pellew closed his eyes wearily. He remembered that fleeting look on Hornblower's face, that subtle shifting away of his eyes. " And I am quite sure that Mr. Hornblower took the blame for the Captain's fall."
"Yes. He admitted quite candidly to having pushed Captain Sawyer."
"And did no one else offer testimony on this point?" His questions seemed pointless now; perhaps he asked them to postpone Hammond's relating of the eventual outcome of the proceedings.
"Mr. Buckland called on a Mr. Hobbs, a gunner's mate, I believe, to corroborate his accusation. One wonders why, as the man admitted having no knowledge of the perpetrator of the foul deed. And another officer came forward just before Mr. Hornblower's testimony, but the man collapsed and died in the courtroom before uttering a word. Possibly he might have shed some light on the matter, though in view of Hornblower's admission, I cannot see how it might have made a difference. "
Kennedy. Prepared to lie for his friend, no doubt. A dying man anyway -- he had nothing to lose. And doubtless less of a stickler for the niceties of the truth.
"And so Hornblower was found guilty of mutiny. "
"And sentenced ....?"
"Oh dear God!" His eyes blurred as his mind unbidden conjured up the picture of a body jerking and kicking from the end of a rope, a slow wretched death. "Dear God!"
"No, Sir Edward, though the man deserved nothing less. You can thank your friend Collins for preventing a hanging." Collins. Had he perhaps worked a miracle somehow, had the sentence commuted to imprisonment, or even expulsion from the service.... Deep in his soul, he knew such a miracle was unlikely, but somehow he had to hold on to such hopes for as long as possible.
"Yes, indeed, " Hammond continued. "The man was most adamant that you would be quite put out to see your protege hung like a common criminal and even though...."
"You never expected to see me alive again -- yes, go on, Hammond!"
Hammond cleared his throat and at least had the decency to look somewhat chagrined. "Well, as a consequence of his representation on your behalf, the man was taken to Renown instead and shot."
Shot. The word itself was like a bullet through Pellew's own heart. Shot. Surely he was still in the grip of the yellow fever, surely he was still delirious. Shot.
"Like Byng." Pellew whispered.
"Exactly like Byng, " Hammond said. "These people must be made examples of. One cannot flout the Articles of War, sir, especially those officers themselves charged with their upholding, and no matter how promising you might have found Hornblower when he served under you, even you yourself could not have found him innocent, after his testimony."
"But was no mention made of Captain Sawyer's condition before -- before the fall down the hold." Pellew remembered too clearly the desperate tale Hornblower had divulged during his visit -- oh dear God, his last visit!
"The court saw no reason to examine the issue. Dr. Clive had not declared him unfit for command until after the fall. "
"Of course. Dr. Clive." Sir Edward closed his eyes, and opened them again, but Black Charlie Hammond still stood before him. Black he would indeed stay in his memory, from this day on.
"I wish to be alone now, Hammond, if you please."
"Of course. " Hammond hesitated, and then laid a letter on the small bedside table. "Collins has already taken the Renown to sea -- it was thought politic to get that rabble out of Kingston as soon as possible -- but he has sent this to you." For yet another moment, Hammond stood where he was, but Pellew had no more words for the man. Once again, he closed his eyes, and this time, when he opened them, Black Charlie had departed.
Pellew could contain himself no longer, and made no attempt to stifle a groan. Purvis stuck his head in the door anxiously, but was waved away.
The enemy might just as well have carved out his heart with a rusty cutlass; that surely would not pain as much as Hammond's words Condemned. Shot. Dead. For a bitter moment, he wished that the fever had claimed his life also; that he had not had to bear the waking up to such grim news. But how dare he think of his own discomfort, his own grief. Mr. Hornblower could no longer think of anything at all.
Those fools! His hand gripped the folds of the bedlinen so hard that his fingers cramped. How many lives had Hornblower saved over the years of his service! And how many blows to the enemy would have resulted as he advanced up the ladder of naval rank and privilege. For he would have advanced, Pellew had no doubt in his mind of that. How many glorious feats written up in the Naval Gazette and cheered by the people hungry for heroes! All this gone -- gone to shore up the reputation of an aging sick man -- a great man, in his time -- but no equal in fire and spirit to the young man sacrificed at his altar.
No one would ever learn just what had transpired in the hold of the Renown. Hornblower, Kennedy, Wellard, Sawyer -- all dead now. But if Hornblower had felt the only way to bring the Renown and her men through the trials awaiting them at Samana Bay was to push Captain Sawyer down that damned hold then Pellew knew he would go forward, and not dither about the possible repercussions to his own person. For the good of the service, Horatio had said. A lesser man might have accomplished the same deed for petty personal reasons. A lesser man might have hidden behind a rhetoric of duty and service. A lesser man would have lied, oaths be damned. But Hornblower lived that ideal of duty and service, and always had.
Pellew felt the unaccustomed wetness of a tear slipping down his cheek. He was reminded -- as though only a few days had passed, rather than years -- of a young man standing in his cabin, unable to control his own tears -- crying because he could not control, could not make right, a situation beyond the control of any of them. He'd talked to him of duty, to his country, his ship, his men. And what else had this whole dreadful business been about but duty -- a duty he had fulfilled with stunning success, a duty even to the poor mad Captain whose power he had usurped. A duty which had killed him.
The tears flowed faster now. He'd not even had the chance to say good-bye. This young man -- as dear to him as his own son -- no, by God, dearer, for Hornblower had never disappointed him, never asked for any privileges he had not earned -- would never stand on a quarter-deck again or feel a brisk breeze against his face. Gone -- forever gone.
Only later, after he'd dropped off into a fitful sleep, and reawakened, to find his grief unassauged, did he remember the letter which Hammond had left. He reached across and plucked it from its resting place, and breaking the wax seal, began to read.
Renown, January __, 1802
Dear Sir Edward:
If you are reading this letter, then you have recovered from your illness and I assume have been acquainted with the outcome of the court-martial of the officers of the Renown.
My deepest sympathy is extended to you in the loss of Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower. I know he was a favorite of yours, and from the little I came to know of him, rightly so. I believe we may never know the truth of the events on board the Renown which led up to this terrible outcome.
At this time, I must take upon myself the blame for a turn of event which in all probability resulted in the condemnation of Mr. Hornblower. I can only hope that you have not yet read the transcript of the court proceedings, though I do not intend in any way to moderate my culpability ; I wish only for you to hear of it from my own lips first.
I know you had occasion to speak with Mr.Hornblower before you were struck by the yellow fever but I do not know how much knowledge you have of the circumstances on board the Renown during the attempted takeover by the Spanish prisoners. The man Buckland is a fool, and had the infernal bad luck to be caught in his bed by the Spaniards. I unwisely goaded the man with this fact, and made him the laughing stock of the court. In retaliation, Mr. Buckland accused Mr. Hornblower of pushing Captain Sawyer down into the hold. It was this injury which eventually led to Sawyer's being found unfit to command.
Once the accusation was made, the court saw no other alternative than to put the question to Mr. Hornblower himself. And when that question was so put to him, he answered yes.
Previous testimony by both Mr. Buckland and Mr. Hornblower himself, had led me to believe the latter to be a resourceful and brave officer, whose duty to his country and his ship were beyond reproach. I cannot reconcile that impression with a man who would in cold blood deliberately lay his hands on a superior officer with the intention to do him an injury. Nevertheless, so Mr. Hornblower testified, and so he was condemned. You of course know this young officer much better than I, and perhaps can understand
Of necessity, the verdict was guilty, and the sentence, death. I hang my head in shame that the only service I could render was in convincing the court that sentence be carried out by firing squad, as befitted an officer and a gentleman.
Renown was under orders to sail as soon as this sentence was carried out, and as I write, she is being readied to get under way. The only solace I can give to you, Sir Edward, is the fact that Mr. Hornblower met his end bravely, and death seemed to be instantaneous. I am expected to dispose of his body as quickly and unceremoniously as possible after clearing port, but rest assured, he will be buried at sea with all dignity.
At the end, Mr. Hornblower wished me to thank you for your past kindnesses, which I now do. I also have his seachest in my possession and will await your orders as to its disposal.
These paltry services in no way lesson the guilt I feel for my part in this whole lamentable affair, and I will not think less of you, sir, if you think less of me for it. And I have not undertaken these services to in any way ingratiate myself amongst the men of the Renown. I saw a young man who served his country in an exemplary manner. And I saw him lose this fight to an embittered embarrassed old Lieutenant, to a Captain perhaps resentful and suspicious of his ambition, and to another Captain so blinded by his fear of mutiny that he needed to make an example of someone, anyone.
Let us pray that no other young man, so needed by England in her desperate struggle, will be wasted as this one has been.
Y'r obedient servant
Sir Edward let the letter fall to the coverlet. Had he taken his rightful place as President of the Court, could he have tempered the outcome? He'd reached the rank of Commodore, outranking both Hammond and Collins. Surely that would have counted for something. Yes, as an officer in His Majesty's Service, he had command of men, and of ships, and by force of rank could possibly sway even the outcome of a court-martial. But rank could not change the winds, nor stem the tide, nor bring the dead to life.
A few months later......
Bush swung himself up into the saddle with less than the usual enthusiasm he might have shown at the prospect of a pleasant ride through the country on one of those rare spring days that promised bright sunshine and a somewhat less than frigid temperature. As a lad he'd had the pleasure of riding daily -- though the funds expended on the upkeep of his father's small stable often meant the family sat down to plain fare. Perhaps this was what he missed most, serving in His Majesty's Royal Navy, and he was disgusted to realize that he harbored some resentment at the reason for his ride today.
He remembered only too well his vacillating emotions as he'd turned back into the gaol to spend those last few moments with Hornblower. He'd never regretted it, of course; his conscience was eased in one respect at least. But the greater guilt would never depart. This journey to Waltham Chase was also a penance. He did not want to visit Dr. Hornblower. He did not want to see the sorrow he knew he would find in the old man's face. He did not want to remind Horatio's father that his son was dead, but others, equally as guilty, still lived.
Renown had spent a number of weeks in the Caribbean, before news was received of the Peace. Now he found himself in Portsmouth, on half pay, with little likelihood of further employment as a Lieutenant. At least he'd some prize money -- blood money, but money none the less, that would see himself and his sisters at least saved from starvation for the immediate future.
In fact, he could ill afford the cost of this horse, for this day, but he had spent the money nonetheless, and now turned the animal's head towards the road out of Portsmouth, the road leading to an appointment -- or perhaps a confrontation -- that he did not anticipate with any joy.
He assumed that Dr. Hornblower was already in receipt of the news of his son's demise. The thought that he might arrive at the door making that assumption, only to find that he was the herald of death, horrified him. Surely the Admiralty would have sent word. News of the court-martial, conviction -- and execution -- had already been printed in the Naval Gazette. The entry had been terse: "Kingston, Jamaica, January, 1802 -- In the case of the court-martial of the officers of HMS Renown, one Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower found guilty of mutiny, and sentenced to death. Sentence has been carried out."
Bush discerned the heavy hand of Commodore Pellew in the brevity of the entry, though he might have been wrong there. Pellew had recovered fully, and left Jamaica for England shortly thereafter. Bush would have liked to speak to him, but of course their respective positions did not allow for that. He wondered if the sentence and execution weighed heavy on the Commodore's mind. Would his sitting on the court have made a difference? The service was rife with nepotism. Pellew was said to possess a forceful personality -- would he have used it to swerve the predilections of the other judges, or at least mitigate the sentence? Or would he have been disgusted at the behavior of one of his own, and concurred with his fellow jurists?
Damn! No sense wallowing in such useless speculation! Hornblower was dead, and no amount of such speculation would restore him to life. The only duty left now to Bush was to attempt to resurrect his good name with the person who counted most -- his father.
It was Matthews who'd told him about Dr. Hornblower. The weeks on Renown had been lonely for Bush -- a new captain, two new lieutenants -- and Buckland. The man had degenerated into a hopeless drunk. If he'd not been paid off at the cessation of the war, he most certainly would have been cashiered for drunkenness. Bush had stayed well away from him. Just looking at the man turned his stomach, and on more than one occasion, he'd been thankful he'd not had a pistol in his hand, for Buckland would be dead and he himself convicted of murder.
So the two of them -- Matthews and himself -- had drifted together, and often their conversations turned to Horatio. Time and again, Bush saw the bo'sun struggle with his emotions, at mention of the name. The man was a veteran of years at sea, and a competent and fair bo'sun. Hornblower had gained his respect -- and love, though Matthews would never admit it -- many years in the past.
Bush felt he had come to know Hornblower -- through Matthew's eyes -- better in death than he had ever known him in life, and now he felt doubly cheated. Perhaps things had turned out for the best -- the Peace of Amiens might give him the opportunity to leave the Service, make an end to it, find some line of work which did not exact such a terrible price from its brightest young men. At this moment, he could not envision the nature of such work, but surely something would turn up. Horses. Perhaps his familiarity with horses might lead to promising employment.
Horses. Hornblower had hated horses. Matthews had passed that little piece of information along to him, and Bush had to smile. A man who hated horses but rode one when required. A man afraid of heights who nevertheless went over the cliff's edge, whether to save a cannon and a young midshipman who rode it, or to jump into the sea. A man who stayed at sea, bedeviled by seasickness. "Seasick in Spithead, 'e was, sir, " Matthews had said. "The joke of the fleet."
The joke of the fleet. Executed for mutiny. Between these two damning epithets, lay a life of honor and duty, a life which embued those sometimes hackneyed words with their purest meaning.
Damn Hornblower! Bush had looked upon his naval career as a series of mundane steps. You learned the job, and you did it. Some officers were fair and able leaders, some officers were bastards. You tempered your actions to suit their foibles. Life and death were meted out by the hand of fate -- at the end of the day, if you'd not been taken by illness, accident, or the shot of an enemy ship, you could count yourself lucky. You rose in the ranks by that luck, and the bad luck of those above you. You learned by experience and often painful studies. You were naturally apt in some ways -- gunnery, for example, and always a bumbler in others -- navigation perhaps. That was the way of it. You accepted your lot. For a few mad weeks, Hornblower had given him a glimpse of another reality. Hornblower had shown him that anything was possible.
His fingers strayed to his pocket. It was during one of those late-night watches that Matthews had handed over a small packet.
" 'is watch and a likeness of his ma, " Matthews had explained. " 'e 'ad 'em in his pocket when -- when I was layin' 'im out. His da might like to 'ave 'em."
The English countryside had never looked more glorious, with the brilliant green of spring growth, a drift of blossoms on the apple trees, and the sweet singing of little unnamed birds in the hedgerows, going about their serious business of bring new life into the world. New life. New life all round. Bush sighed. Better the day be cold and rainy -- to match his gloomy thoughts. I can still turn round. I don't have to do this. Dr. Hornblower is not expecting me, and in fact does not know I exist. For a moment he even pulled back on the reins , but only for a moment. The next few hours would be difficult, but not as difficult as facing his guilt if he did not go on.
The little hamlet of Waltham Chase reminded him of his own birthplace. He stopped to ask directions of a prosperous looking gentleman in the street. The directions were given, though reluctantly, and the gentleman called after him "But I am not sure if the Doctor is receiving visitors." Did that mean that Dr. Hornblower had indeed received news of his son? Bush prayed to God that it were true.
He pulled up in front of the small cottage, tethered his horse and stepped up to the door. Raising his hand to knock, he yet hesitated. Why am I doing this? I need only to remount and leave; those inside who might notice my actions will think it strange, but I will never know. But even as his thoughts turned rebellious, his hand reached forward and lifting the small brass knocker, let it drop.
He waited. No one seemed to have heard him. He knocked again, and made himself stand there a full minute. If no one answered now, he could turn around and leave, with no blame. The watch and miniature could easily be sent by post. Yes, that would do quite well. No need to linger here. And he was actually on the verge of leaving, when the door opened.
The woman standing there was elderly, and wore a black dress. Well, that certainly seemed to mean that the inhabitants of this unassuming little house had indeed received the grim news. He was spared that much at least.
"Is Doctor Hornblower at home?" he asked.
"He is, sir, but is not receiving visitors at this time." she answered.
The man in the village had warned him of that. Very well. That put an end to the whole affair.
"Then I'm sorry to have bothered you, ma'am. Good day." He turned away and had almost reached his patiently waiting horse when the woman spoke again.
"Sir, may I tell him who called?" She looked at him strangely, and Bush realizing that she was staring at his uniform. Of course. She knew he served in His Majesty's Navy.
"My name is William Bush, ma'am...."
"Oh my goodness!" The woman laid a gnarled hand on her bosom, as though to still a racing heart. "Mr. Bush! Well, sir, please come in! I will inform Dr. Hornblower that you are here! He would not want you to leave without seeing him."
Now what the devil was going on! How could two old people in a rustic hamlet like Waltham Chase know aught of Lieutenant William Bush? And what could they know to make the door of the ivy-covered house open so magically? For the woman had stood aside, and Bush had no option but to step within.
"Now you just wait here and I'll go and tell the good Doctor you've arrived." She bustled off with an alacrity that belied her years, disappearing through a doorway just to his right. He stood ramrod stiff just where she had left him, his hands clasped behind his back but his eyes took in everything there was to see. Not much, by the looks of things. He'd always suspected that Hornblower lacked financial resources -- his uniforms were shabby, and his shirts threadbare. This small home -- or what little he could see of it -- though painstakingly clean and neat, spoke very clearly of straightened circumstances. He of course was making no judgment -- his own background certainly precluded that. So this is where Hornblower had spent his youth -- not that he could imagine him as a little boy.
"The doctor will see you, sir, " the woman said, reappearing in the small entry hall. "He is quite frail, and of course still suffering from..." she took a deep breath and then continued, "So if you would take care not to upset or tire him..."
"Of course not, ma'am."
He followed the plump woman -- the housekeeper no doubt, as he knew that Hornblower's mother had died a number of years previous. The room to which she led him was lined with books; the priority in this home of small means was very evident, and he remembered the books in Horatio's tiny cabin on board Renown, and how eager he appeared to escape to them -- when he wasn't on continuous watch -- damn! Did all thoughts lead to...
"Mr Bush?" An old man sat in an overstuffed armchair, a blanket tucked over his legs. God, but he looked like Hornblower -- a Hornblower aged and infirm, but the likeness was very evident, nonetheless. A shiver went through him; he felt he'd been catapulted into the future, but a future which could never be.
"Oh, excuse me, sir. " He must have been standing there goggling; Dr. Hornblower would think him fit only for Bedlam. " Dr. Hornblower?" He stepped forward to shake the proffered hand. Hornblower's hand, long and slim, though spotted with age, and shaking slightly.
"I thank you for coming, sir, " the old man said. "Margaret will bring us some tea. Please, sit."
For the next few minutes they chatted about the weather, the condition of the road from Portsmouth to Waltham Chase, the possibility of the peace lasting. Margaret brought in the tea tray, poured both Dr. Hornblower and Bush a cup of Britain's finest, and then retired. The social niceties had now been observed.
Bush cleared his throat. God, what could he say?
"You have come about my son," Dr. Hornblower said.
"Ah, yes. I -- ah, I'm ..." Damn! He'd almost said he was pleased the Doctor had received the bad news previously. Pleased that he himself had escaped the onerous duty, was more to the point. *Why in Hell did I come?* What did I think I could accomplish. "I -- understand you have received word ..."
"I have, Mr. Bush. Captain Pellew himself brought the news. Along with .... his sea chest." Dr. Hornblower paused and took a sip of tea. Composing himself, Bush guessed. He could not imagine how the sight of his son's belongings would have affected him.
"Pellew himself? "
"Yes. A very illustrious officer, I've been told. For him to have taken the trouble ..... " Again Horatio's father faltered. "He -- he appeared most distraught, and seemed to blame himself somehow."
Well, Bush could help him with that mystery, at least. "Captain Pellew was stricken with yellow fever, and consequently his place on the court-martial was taken by -- another."
"Would that have made a difference, Mr. Bush? Forgive me for asking -- I know so little..."
At once, Bush was glad he had come. "We can only guess, Dr. Hornblower. Captain Pellew knew your son, and the officer taking his place on the court did not. Pellew might have gone harder on a man he had come to hold in such high regard, in response to a disappointment, or he might have eased the way to an acquittal. I do not know the man, so I cannot say." He felt it safer to cloud the truth a little here. Pellew *would* have made a difference -- he felt it in his gut. But he would not bedevil Dr. Hornblower with his own musings, when they could not serve to ease his heart. "But if you wish, I can tell you a little of the events which led up to -- the court-martial. "
Dr. Hornblower nodded his greyed head slowly. "If you would, Mr. Bush. But first -- Mrs. Dabney brews a fine pot of tea, but perhaps something a little stronger might be more appropriate." He waved his hand towards a small sideboard. "If you would be so kind..."
"Of course, sir." Bush stood and walking across the room, poured both himself and Dr. Hornblower a generous glass of brandy. He placed one glass on the small table beside the tea things, and taking his place once again, availed himself of a generous sip of the brandy. Neither the best or worst he had tasted in his lifetime, it nevertheless warmed his innards comfortingly.
"And now, sir...." Dr. Hornblower, after fortifying himself also with the strong drink, clasped his hands on the blanket covering him, leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
Bush took a moment to compose his thoughts. Despite the loosening effect of the brandy, he nevertheless was nervous. After all, he had known Hornblower for such a short time. Had he any right to speak of the son's accomplishments to the father, when such a recitation would forever after color the father's recollections of his son? He could only be honest, he supposed.
"According to the Articles of War, " he said, "I suppose your son was guilty of mutiny. But then so were we all. We all saw that Captain Sawyer had lost his reason. We all saw that he no longer could command the ship capably, especially as we sailed towards the enemy. In fact, Mr. Hornblower pointed out quite clearly what might await us in Kingston were we to take that command away from Captain Sawyer. It was the fall down the hold..."
"Yes, Captain Pellew told me that much. When asked whether he had pushed Sawyer, my son answered that he had. I could not believe he would deliberately put another man in such peril, despite the circumstances." Dr. Hornblower had opened his eyes, and Bush had no trouble seeing the stricken look in them.
"I must admit to you, Dr. Hornblower, I was not present when Sawyer fell. Your son was, along with Lieutenant Kennedy and a young midshipman, Mr. Wellard. Mr. Kennedy seemed to feel he himself was at fault, for as he advanced towards Captain Sawyer, the Captain retreated, forgetful of the fact that the open hatchway lay behind him. He overbalanced, Kennedy said, overbalanced and fell. After that, there was no question of his incapacity to command."
"If if the man overbalanced, why did my son..."
"Testify that he had pushed him? Perhaps he felt that by not crying out, warning Sawyer of the danger, he had done as good as pushed him. Perhaps he reached out as Sawyer started to fall, and believed that his touch had made the difference, a difference that made the fall unavoidable. Perhaps he felt responsible for Sawyer being in the hold in the first place. The captain was searching for mutineers -- had gotten the notion that mutiny was brewing. Well, he was right. " Bush had prefaced all his statements with a prevaricating 'perhaps' . Better even now that Dr. Hornblower have speculations to think on, and not the truth as Bush had received it from Horatio's own mouth.
"And it was my son who first discussed -- relieving the captain..."
Bush paused, searched his memory. Who had first discussed such an act? He had stumbled into the conspiracy, as Sawyer would have named it, down there in the hold, just moments before that accursed fall. Who had called the meeting? He had no idea. To listen, Buckland appeared the fire-eater, and Hornblower the calm reasoner. Had the initiative come from Buckland, or had the idea been planted by someone else? He couldn't see Kennedy swerving Buckland, but Hornblower?
"To be honest, sir, I cannot answer your question. I must admit I was treated with some reserve by the other lieutenants on board Renown -- I led them to believe when I first came on board that I looked up to Captain Sawyer. I suppose they were right in not including me in any confidences regarding the nature of his command. I only divulged my own doubts to them, after they had already gathered in the hold.
Bush availed himself of another courage-enhancing sip of the brandy. "I only know that your son pursued with vigor the question of the chain of command after Sawyer was incapacitated by the fall. Doctor Clive was most loath to declare the Captain incompetent, both from fear for his own future, and also from loyalty towards a man with whom he had served many years. Even with Sawyer's pistol pressed against his breast, Horatio did not flinch but insisted that Clive make his decision. Had Sawyer not been confined, we might all be dead now. "
"You say Sawyer threatened my son with a pistol?"
"I was belowdecks at the time, but that is my understanding of the situation. Sawyer in fact fired his pistol, forgetting that he had previously discharged it. Horatio would have died, Dr. Hornblower -- he had no way of knowing the pistol was not loaded. "
"He risked his life..."
"Indeed, Dr. Hornblower. He risked his life to save the lives of those on board Renown. The plan of attack on the fort at Samana was his also, just as his guess there was an alternate route into that fort saved the lives -- or at least the freedom -- of the men sent to attack. The capture of the three Spanish prizes were entirely due to his clever thought. The Renown herself would be a Spanish prize were it not for his timely intervention from one of the prizes. Your son was a brave, resourceful officer, Dr. Hornblower, and never did he forget his duty. You have no cause to feel shame on his account, regardless of what official sources might say."
For a long time, Horatio's father sat silently. Bush thought perhaps he might have fallen asleep, he held himself so motionless. But finally, with a small clearing of his throat, as though he did not trust himself to talk straight away without this preparatory action, he said "I was not close to my son for many years, Mr. Bush. I fear we both were solitary men, and we let our reserve come between us. I consider myself fortunate that we eventually reached a closer understanding. If that had not happened, my burden now would be doubly hard. You have made it a little easier to bear."
"Your son fell in battle, Dr. Hornblower, as many courageous men have in this war. He was given all honor by those who knew him -- the men of the Renown. Remember him thus."
Bush stood, and once again took the doctor's hand in his own. "I have one question, though. Both you and your housekeeper seemed familiar with my name. Might I inquire how...."
"My son wrote a letter to me. Captain Pellew brought it with him. " Dr. Hornblower reached towards the small table where his half-empty glass of brandy sat. He retrieved a piece of folded paper and handed it to Bush.
Bush looked down at the letter. "Sir, this is your letter. I should not...."
The truth was -- Bush was afraid. Afraid he could not read the last words written by Horatio Hornblower, without reacting in some weak emotional manner. He had come to provide some solace for the Hornblower household, and for that he had needed strength. Now he feared that strength would not be enough.
Slowly he unfolded the paper and looked at the unfamiliar handwriting. Had he ever had occasion to peruse Hornblower's handwriting? If he had, the circumstance were unremarkable and he had not committed its idiosyncrasies to memory.
With heavy heart, I am penning this letter to you, my dear father. The news accompanying this will inform you of my fate. You, sir, in the course of your ministering to the sick, have seen death many times, and though we might not have discussed the possibility, death hangs very closely over those entrusted with defending England at sea. I only regret the manner of my passing, as I would not wish it to bring shame and dishonor to you. It was never my intention to cause you grief,sir.
I have always endeavored to do my duty, and my ship Renown and her crew bested the Spanish enemy and made landfall in Kingston safe and I am content in that respect.. Some of my decisions were perhaps unwise, but at the time, I could not see my way clear to proceed in any other manner. I was always ready to answer for those actions.
I regret that I shall no longer serve with Lieutenants Kennedy and Bush. Mr. Kennedy had grown very well into his rank of Lieutenant, in no small measure due to the tender care he received at your hands. With great sadness, I must inform you that Mr. Kennedy died of wounds received aboard Renown. My acquaintance with Mr. Bush, our second Lieutenant, was of rather shorter duration, but he has shown himself to be a competent officer and a fine person, and I feel that, had more time been allotted to me, I would have found him a steadfast friend, as Mr. Kennedy has been to me.
It is the nature of the Service that its followers are absent from home for extensive periods of time. Think only that I am still serving at sea, Father. As you know, I have no faith that there is life after death, but neither do I now believe that I can know the opposite with certainty. Perhaps there is a place and time where my ship will make port once again and you and Mother will be waiting for me.
Your affectionate son,
Bush carefully refolded the letter and placed it back on the table within reach of Dr. Hornblower. What to say? He was afraid to say anything. Afraid Horatio's father might break down, but more afraid that he might do so also.
"You have been that, Mr. Bush."
"A steadfast friend. I thank you for troubling to bring me news of my son."
Breathe deeply, William. You can get through this. "I believe..." he groped for the words. "I believe that there *is* a place....."
"Where my son's ship makes port once again? For a long period of my life, I would not have agreed with you, Mr. Bush. But now? " Horatio's father glanced upward, and Bush followed his gaze. A portrait hung over the fireplace, a portrait of a woman "I do believe that Horatio's ship will come home, and both myself and my dear Louisa will be waiting."
The portrait held them motionless. Finally Bush broke the silence, as he remembered the small bundle in his pocket. "These belonged to Horatio. One of the men -- retrieved them and passed them on to me. " Carefully he unfolded the small scrap of fabric and laid the watch and the miniature on the table beside the letter.
The gratitude showing in the old man's eyes was more than Bush could bear. " I must be on my way now, sir..."
"Of course, Mr. Bush."
The housekeeper was summoned and showed him out.
"I wish ye all the best, Mr. Bush, " She said.
"Thank you, ma'am. I hope I have eased Dr. Hornblower's mind to some extent. "
"I know that ye have, Mr. Bush. It's not been easy -- " Mrs. Dabney paused for a second. "-- not been easy for either of us. But to think that two grand officers -- Captain Pellew and yourself, sir -- have come all the way to Waltham Chase -- well, sir, that speaks well of our poor dear Horatio, make no mistake!"
Bush nodded. What else could he say, for God's sake! It had not been easy for him, and he'd known the man for a few weeks only. He could not begin to comprehend the grief of these two -- Mrs. Dabney, who he suspected had been more of a mother to young Horatio, than merely the housekeeper in that small cottage. And frail Dr. Hornblower. A rift between the two, the Doctor had intimated. A rift mended. And now this.
Bush swung up on his horse and flicking the reins, rode away. The robin's egg blue spring sky had turned sullen whilst he had been inside the small cottage, and now a damp wind plucked at his uniform. Strange that the weather seemed in exact opposition to his mood. On the journey towards Waltham Chase, his thoughts had been dark; now, though the sky blackening minute by minute, he felt lighter than he had since that dreadful day back on Renown. Nothing he could say to Dr. Hornblower would ever bring his son back to him, but Bush was pleased that he had made the trip nonetheless. He had been able to do little enough for Renown's Third Lieutenant -- perhaps somehow the man -- wherever he might be now, if indeed he was anywhere at all -- would know that Bush had traveled these miles, to perhaps ease the burden on an old man.
His horse shied as the freshening wind picked up the dust of the roadway and hurled it skyward. A few heavy drops spotted Bush's jacket, then a few more, and almost instantly he was soaked, as the skies opened up. The pleasant temperature of the morning was now replaced by a much colder air, and he shivered slightly. This was a condition he was well used to -- being wet and cold.
Damn, but he missed the sea! Despite the debacle of Renown, despite the inexorableness of the Articles of War, despite a lingering memory of the sword scything through his midsection -- he missed the sea. How long would this peace last? He wasn't the only officer at loose ends in Portsmouth, and the general feeling amongst them was that the peace would NOT last. The devil of a thing to wish for the return of war, but the return of war was inevitable, and he supposed he might find himself back aboard a ship when that event occurred.
Well, he'd been changed -- he surely had. He'd seen the worst the Navy could do -- a mad Captain, a brave officer paying the price, but he'd also seen the best the Navy could be. Perhaps in his own future, he might remember that officer, remember what duty, bravery and loyalty truly could mean.
The rain pounded down even more heavily now; the dust of the roadside had turned into mud which sucked at his horse's hoofs, but Bush's heart soared. Whatever the future held for him, he would meet it firmly, and do his best. Command or death -- promotion or half-pay -- if he could meet his fate, however glorious or ignoble, one-half so well as Mr. Hornblower met his, or leave a memory in the mind of a simple seaman one-quarter as kind as the memories Matthews and so many others held of their departed comrade, then his life would be well lived.
Finally Portsmouth came into sight, and Bush deposited his poor, bedraggled mount at the Inn where the beast had been rented. Slipping an extra coin to the young lad who took the reins from his hand to ensure a good rub down and extra measure of oats for the trusty animal, he stepped once again into the pouring rain and walked the short distance to his lodgings.
"Mr. Bush, why ye're soaked to the skin, " his landlady tutted, as he stepped through the doorway. The room was warm, and he caught the scent of fresh bread baking.
"Maria, come take the gentleman's jacket, " Mrs. Mason called and Bush was only too pleased to surrender the sopping garment to the young woman who came forward. Yes, life could still be good.
Of course I'm not the first one to kill Horatio! And I must thank the hhfic poster (I can't remember now who it was) who tossed off the notion that the events be rewritten so that both Archie and Horatio hang. As you can see, I wimped out on the hanging.
Captain Sir Thomas Williams actually existed and was Captain of Vanguard in the Caribbean at that time. He had been married to Jane Austen's cousin, who was killed in a riding accident (which seems to be a favorite method of naval fiction writers to rid themselves of unwanted female characters!) His enmity towards mutineers is entirely fictitious.
I've never been happy with the fact that Retribution has the Court Martial taking place on land with only three members on the board. But I wanted to change as little as possible, so I did not tamper with that. Removal of Pellew from the Board and prevention of Archie from testifying could very definitely have led to the conclusion I've presented.
Naval fiction writers have portrayed court martials in which the members of the court have gone into the proceedings with very fixed agendas which have nothing to do with determining the truth. I'm sure this was true of the time, as it is true of many court cases today. Unfortunately, with execution following so closely on condemnation in those days, there was no chance of an appeal. Byng's execution certainly fell into this category, as not too many years later his case was looked on in quite a different light.
I DO believe that Horatio *pushed* Captain Sawyer, in just the way presented here. Sawyer was already falling, and I think Horatio just helped him out a little. His refusing to answer Archie just before that final court scene very definitely shows he had something to hide.