Chameleon
by Rose2LadyUtena

 

Pellew regretted the actions that occurred in Kingston, especially
those concerning his pride in one particular officer. He would admit
no such shame to anyone, not even his beloved wife, but war was no
time for being sentimental. His duty was to King and Country in times
of peace and war, not to securing the life of the most promising
lieutenant. The hierarchy of the Royal Navy must be obeyed at
present, even at the expense of the future.

Although Pellew knew his stone façade encouraged strength in his
juniors, he was crumbling. The winds of change could be attributed to
this erosion, especially with the threats of mutiny in times of war
as the quality of officers decreased; but he was sculpting this into
personal issues, with the loss of life in Archie Kennedy and the
living lost in Horatio Hornblower. His guilt was weathering his
temper, no matter how he displaced his grief, so he stood before the
mountain in hopes of moving it with rogue tactics.

He bowed with the social grace his angelic wife had instructed him
with years ago, "Lord Kennedy."

The man across from his perfected poise was absorbed in thought,
staring at his empty wine goblet. He had the appearance of the
aristocrat with his fashionable frocks, but the cloth could not
conceal the form that had indulged in the pleasures of life. The
powdered hair was askew, revealing short wavy red hair that
complimented the wrinkled and freckled face concealed with powder.
The paleness of hair and skin enhanced the darkness of the eyes,
which appeared jovial as it glared at the glittering goblet which
reflected Pellew in his solemn stance.

The distracted man detected Pellew, clearing his throat before his
bawdy voice spoke, "Oh, hello Commodore, or shall I say Admiral?"

Pellew was startled by the forwardness of this man, but it had been
one of the striking features of his son, "Uh, let us not be hasty
where Fleet gossip is concerned, my Lord."

The man chuckled as he shifted in his seat, "It's no better than
dandies and all that fashion nonsense."

Pellew allowed the corners of his mouth to upturn, "Quite right, my
Lord."

"Now what brings your here to my cottage?" the man grinned as he
galvanized Pellew with his lecherous ogling. "It certainly can't be
because the Admiralty needs more funds!"

Pellew shifted his eyes from the blackened smile, "No, my Lord."

"Now, on to business, eh?" the man laughed as he poured wine into his
goblet. "But off course, all business needs a glass of wine for the
pain!"

Pellew was relieved as the man focused his gaze upon the canter
beside him, "Yes, my Lord."

The man spoke as he poured wine into another goblet, "I heard from
one Captain Bracegirdle how you could drink Portsmouth dry and still
keep a level head."

Pellew stiffened as the man stared at him, "I fear gossip is
exaggerating my abilities, my Lord."

"All gossip has truth," the man replied as he passed Pellew his wine
goblet. "Now, please cease this my Lord this and that business. Win
yourself another battle or two, and you'll have a Lordhip yourself.
Now, what were you going to tell me?"

Pellew cleared his throat, "This may be quite difficult, as it is
regarding your son."

The man rolled his eyes, "Oh, did Archie do anything else besides
push Captain Sawyer?"

"No," Pellew replied as the man exhibited the unfulfilled amusement
common to aristocrats. "The fact is, he did no such thing."

"Huh?" the man smirked. "Interesting, but do not lighten things for
me so that my soul can be at rest. He may have an unmarked grave, but
he had it coming anyway."

Pellew raised his eyebrows at this admission, "Pardon me?"

The man chuckled, "I expect he was putting on a show, like he always
did to impress everyone with his education and his sportsmanship. But
he was little more than a gentleman dandy, reading the society pages
rather than his Latin--even as a child! Thank God his tutors found a
student in my ghillie after the money I wasted on Archie."

Pellew shook his head at the smiling man who slandered his own
blood, "It is not my impression of your son, considering how he could
spend hours quoting Shakespeare and the Classics."

"Oh, he was fond of theatre, I can say that," the man smirked. "But
it was more for the women behind the curtain, if you know what I
mean."

Pellew stumbled as he recollected, "Well, I know he had several
actress friends, including Miss Katherine Cobham,. But I never saw
him scandalize any woman."

"Oh, he could be discreet, when he wasn't drinking," the man grinned
before gulping from his wine goblet. "I could blame that on his older
brothers, but the boy could make seaman jealous with the way he drank
ale."

Pellew was startled, "I'm afraid I rarely saw him touch liquor, even
his daily rum ration."

The man rose his glass as if he were drinking toasts, "Hmm, it sounds
like King George's Navy was able to reform the dandy. I'm impressed,
but he still turned out for the worse."

"Well, he did not die in vain, as I said before."

"But all the same, it was to make the Admirals sleep happily, though
I would've thought Hornblower would be hung. He had no connections,
if I recall what little Archie wrote."

"Yes, but Archie had lethal wounds-"

"A duel?"

"No, a bullet to his lung from the Spanish."

"Hmm, they probably wanted revenge for all the problems he caused at
El Ferrol."

"My Lord, if you please-"

"You listen to me, Sir Edward!" the man roared as he arose from his
comfortable chair. "Don't come to me, trying to make Archie the hero!
He was the black sheep of the family, and no lies are going to make
him into the lamb led to the slaughter. He could the perfect
gentlemen, I know my son."

Pellew countered, calm as the painted ship upon the painted
ocean, "But you do not know him as an officer."

The man laughed, "Oh, I've read the Admiralty reports, the Gazette,
and everything about the Navy."

"And they writing does not lie."

The man paused, glaring at Pellew with pessimism, "But I still don't
understand."

"Yes, my Lord?"

"How did he end up in the Navy?"

Pellew allowed himself to smile, "He obviously enlisted."

"Yes, but I'm surprised," the man grumbled, as he paced before the
poised captain. " I figured he'd get smart as to why Ghillie took him
to some channel groper at Spithead, and he'd come running home,
begging for one more chance to reform his becoming conduct for a
Kennedy."

Pellew paused, surprised at how this conflicted with his
knowledge, "Hmm, I was informed by his fellow midshipmen that he had
runaway to Drury Lane, hoping to become the greatest thespian in its
history. But when he was rejected for one of the roles in Othello, he
decided to join the Navy so that next time he auditioned he would
have the authenticity of a seaman."

The man roared, "That's a bit too dramatic and drawn out for Archie.
Oh, he'd run away to Drury Lane for some actresses, but he'd join the
Navy because they all rejected him, or worse."

Pellew pondered, recollecting the conversations he had eavesdropped
between Horatio and Archie, "Besides Miss Cobham, the only actress he
expressed interest in was one named Mary."

"Ha! Which one?" the man bellowed as he glowered at the perplexed
Pellew. "There are probably twelve dozen Marys he's left broken-
hearted in London."

Pellew contradicted, "I still can't imagine Lieutenant Kennedy
behaving in such a manner. Why, he honored his parole from El Ferrol
to save lives, even if he'd been there almost two years and had the
possibility of freedom in his grasp."

The man shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, "That's another
thing that confound me to, unless he had some women back there."

"The only he had were other English Officers."

The man grimaced, glaring at Pellew with suspicion, "Hmm, unless his
interested had become more, uh, Grecian."

Pellew was astounded by the attitude of this gentleman and would
tolerate his antagonism any longer, "My Lord, I must say, it is
astonishing how a father can besmirch the honor of his son when there
are several witnesses who can attest-"

"Oh, bring out the sea lawyers!" the man interrupted, stepping nearer
to his sparring partner. "I still say everyone's ignoring the truth
because Archie Kennedy is of noble birth!"

"He never used his status to his advantage!"

"Ha! I bet he bragged everyday!"

Pellew reasoned, "My Lord, he was the scapegoat of the Admiralty, but
I assure you that the truth speaks otherwise!"
"Then speak!" the man yelled. "It amuses me so!"

"He sacrificed his lives so that his fellow officers and friends
would be spared the noose."

"Oh, how noble."

"They were all condemned, but he made the decision himself since he
believed himself to not have the most promising career."

"Now with that last part, I can agree," the man replied, more solemn
than his speech had been that evening. " He had no career
aspirations. except to sink his own ship."

"But he had a promising career! He was wise in the ways of men,
motivating them to do things they would not do otherwise."

The man snorted, "Are you sure you're not confusing him with that
Hornblower fellow? Foster's said his share about that character, but
I wouldn't repeat it since he's your, uh, promise for England's
future."

"Sir, I'm afraid you are mistaken about your son," Pellew was
exasperated. "Whatever he was before the Navy, the sea disciplined
him. Did you not see yourself upon his return from Spain?"

"He never came home," the man shrugged his shoulders. "Even his
Mother and Sisters' teary letters wouldn't bring the cold hearted
snake back here."

Pellew scanned his memories for images of Archie, "I knew that he
penned letters regularly, but I'm surprise as he recalled you warmly."

"He must've had a brain tumor!" the man roared before becoming the
glutton with his wine. "Or the pox!"

Pellew furrowed and frowned, "When I dined with the Midshipmen, he'd
tell me about all the hunting expeditions you went on, the visits to
Coffee Houses, and all the theatre shows in-"

"Hunting? Why, Archie couldn't shoot at a still target!"

"On the contrary, he was an excellent shot."

"And coffee houses? Why, he drank nothing but alcohol."

"As I shed before, he was not known to drink his rum ration."

"But with the theatre, I agree. He'd go there, but not for the shows."
"You mentioned that previously."

"Sir Edward, you humor me!" the man chuckled, slapping the attentive
officer with his calloused hands. "Did Foster send you here on one of
his practical jokes, or did Hammonf? Last time, he sent-"

"My Lord, what did your son look like?" Pellew blurted.

"Well, you should know!" the man snorted. "I haven't seen him since
he went aboard Justinian."

"I am serious, my Lord."

"Well, he's short and dumpy like a French horse, like his Mother's
side. And he's got a terrible temper, just like Old Lord Kennedy did.
Too bad Archie didn't end up like..."

Pellew was interested in what the man left unmentioned, "My Lord?"

"Oh, it's nothing," the man dismissed him before drinking more wine.

"Please, to whom do you refer?"

"Well, my ghillie of course!" the man smiled, though it was with
melancholy. "He's the brightest little boy this side of heaven!"

"What became of him?"

"Oh, he got an actress pregnant, and jumped ship to America. That
surprised me, considering how mannered he was."

"Mannered you say?" Pellew raised his eyebrows. "Interesting."

"Yes," the man grinned as his eyes glazed over. "Even if his mother
was the scandalized wet nurse for Archie, the bastard could've become
a Lord himself!"

Pellew continued his interrogation, "You said he was educated
alongside Archie?"

"Why yes, considering the little devil deserved more than just
learning to read the Bible, especially when he could recite the Song
of Solomon!"

"As he could recite Shakespeare?"

"Yes!" the man continued, chuckling though tears filled his darkened
eyes. "His favorite was Antony and Cleopatra, after he saw Miss Kitty
in that. He might've only been thirteen then, but he had good taste
in women even at that age."

"Hmm, I only have one more question."

"Yes?"

"Did he have, uh, what you might call fits?"

"Oh, on occasion," the man answered, absorbed in memory. "It was
mainly when I was away on business, and the older boys decided to do,
uh, mean things."

"Well, I apologize for interrupting your evening, my Lord," Pellew
coughed as he placed his wine goblet near the canter. "I have
business with the Admirals this evening-"

"And give my regards to Foster," the man choked. "Good night, sir."

Pellew observed Lord Kennedy depart, stumbling with both drunkenness
and grief. The man was in mourning as was Pellew, but neither were
sorrowful for Archie Kennedy--whoever and wherever he may be. It was
this Ghillie who caused misery for both, although Pellew would never
inform Lord Kennedy about the deception of his son and his servant.
It was better to retain this secret for himself, although he was
tempted to inform Horatio; but it would cause controversy if the
truth was revealed, especially with the Admiralty. After all,
discretion was the better part of valor, even at the expense of his
personal convictions.