Cut and Come Again
by Dunnage41

//
As he stood gazing down at the tranquil scene below, Horatio Hornblower engaged in the pleasant exercise of determining which aspect of his office he liked best. It might well be the floor to ceiling window behind his desk, the window through which he now gazed, which showed the broad green back garden of his office building and the gentle slope downward toward the charming, inexpressibly tidy quay and the tranquil, slate-gray waters of the Baltic beyond.
//
He turned then, and surveyed the rest of the space. He now faced his broad oak desk, made from timbers of the Pretty Jane, some of which had floated ashore in Puerto Rico, and which the dock master had indulgently given the admiral after Hornblower had found himself taken on a tour of the wreckage by Mendez-Castillo, and had done no more than express polite wonder that so much of the wood had survived. Brown had politely said, "Yes, my lord," when Hornblower had testily told him to "do something with it" and a scant six weeks later, drawing on the skills he had used to help Bush build the boat at the Comte de Gracay's villa, Brown had shyly shown Hornblower the results, and had proven gratifyingly pleased at his master’s genuinely astonished happiness. Thanks to Barbara, Hornblower was better at receiving gifts than he had once been. Undoubtedly he had mellowed.
//
To the left of the desk, tucked into a small wall niche where few but he could see it, hung a portrait of Barbara. Quite a good likeness, Hornblower thought. The lines were blurrier, the color brighter than he might have expected, but it was by far his favorite image. It had been painted by a protégé of one of her acquaintances, a French émigré named Delacroix, and had captured her elusive personality more precisely than a cool, perfectly traced likeness might have done. Somehow he had put into her eyes the warmth and depth that Hornblower alone knew lay behind her calm gaze, the tremble in her lips that Hornblower alone saw, the primitive passion that her hands displayed when she gripped his before the start of a long voyage.
//
He still remembered the tremble in her voice when she had said to him, "Come back to me, dear. Come back to me!" before he had sailed in Nonsuch … was it really so long ago? Fourteen years, thought Hornblower. And now he was fifty, and had long since resigned himself to the gray in his curls and the forehead higher than he might have wished and the occasional stiffness in shoulder or shin. He was proud, however, that he could usually climb the two flights to his office without undue exertion. Smiling at the thought, he sank into his chair and looked over the rest of the room: the small model of the Indefatigable on the shelf opposite, the grouping of a comfortable sofa and two chairs round a low table, and beyond them the side wall which was filled with a set of bookshelves in fine polished birchwood.
//
Hornblower's thoughts had now come full circle: recalling that he could achieve his office without becoming too scant of breath reminded him of what was still, and always had been, its greatest advantage. He had undoubtedly scandalized the office staff when, upon first inspecting the building granted to the commander in chief of His Britannic Majesty's Ships and Vessels in Baltic Waters, he had thoroughly scouted every corner and declared his intention to use for the space in which he worked the spacious, light-filled room at the top rear of the building. He had condescended to allow a space on the ground floor to be set up as a sort of parlor for receiving visitors whose age or infirmities prevented them ascending the stairs. On the other hand, the general inaccessibility of the upper story office prevented what Hornblower had found, whilst in Kingston, to be the chief irritant of his position: the tendency of every passing officer whose business brought him there to stick his head in and pass the time of day with him, to either gain or hold onto favor.
//
With the absence of so many needless encounters, Hornblower usually found his desk cleared of paper-work before dark; a circumstance that had proven increasingly pleasant in the last several months. As his four years in the Indies had ended, the Admiralty, scarcely giving him time to draw breath, had appealed to him to take the newly created post in Sweden, owing to his experience there surrounding the Battle of Riga.
//
On hearing that he was, after so much time away, to be sent out again, for another four years, Barbara had allowed the smallest of sighs to escape. Just one, that was all: but Hornblower had, on the heels of that infinitely small crack in her armor, found his lips shaping a wildly improbable plan: That she should sail out to meet him for the final six months of his tour, bringing with her Richard, who by then would be finished with Eton and would benefit from seeing a bit of the world.
//
Barbara, at first instinctively refusing, had gradually, through a series of long letters back and forth between Smallbridge and Malmo, come to accept the idea, even embrace it, and so in the teeth of a January snowstorm Hornblower had seen, through the office window, the unmistakable sight of Barbara and Richard on the pier and had, with a complete absence of dignity, run down two flights of stairs and out the back door, and only with great difficulty forced himself to slow to a walk as he crossed down to them and caught her up in an embrace, heedless of who might be watching.
//
With the gentlest of knocks someone was now tapping on the door of the office. Hornblower recalled his thoughts to the present and said, "Enter."
//
It was Spendlove. Hornblower repressed a grin; his secretary was clearly moving very carefully, as though his joints pained him, and when he opened the door to Hornblower's office he winced at the light that came through the window. From what Hornblower had been able to gather earlier that morning, when Spendlove had arrived half an hour late and all hoarsely murmured apology, he had finally received by mail the promise of Lucy Hough's hand in marriage, and in consequence had spent the night celebrating.
//
"My lord," he now murmured as inaudibly as he could manage, "by appointment, Mr. Anders Alborg, representative of His Majesty."
//
"Very well," Hornblower replied. Spendlove withdrew and in stepped Alborg, who, like many of the Swedes Hornblower had met, was tall and spare, with fine fair hair, equally fair skin, and very blue eyes. Hornblower stood and bowed, then invited Alborg to a seat.
//
"How might I be of service, sir?" By now his command of Swedish, negligible at first, was such that he seldom needed an interpreter. The pause which followed the question boded ill. If Alborg did not know where to begin, the news could not be good.
//
With infinite patience, Hornblower dragged out of him the whole, admittedly strange, story. It seemed that a group of two dozen men and women had become taken with a religious society that was flourishing in America and desired to sail there and join one of its communities. They had, in fact, a letter from a "Brother Isaac Hayes" in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, that promised a friendly reception. Alborg presented it and Hornblower looked it over briefly, noting the strange name of the group that followed Hayes' signature: "The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing."
//
Hornblower leaned forward, steepled his fingers, and said, "Again, sir, I ask how this office might be of service in this … matter."
//
Now Alborg looked at his feet. Another bad sign. Finally he spoke, but without meeting Hornblower's gaze. "They have come to us, my lord, because they have been refused passage everywhere they have sought it. American packets, English packets, Swedish merchant vessels … no one will take them aboard."
//
"But why not?"
//
The Swede shook his head slowly, the Nordic equivalent of the French shrug. "The captains will not say why; they only refuse."
//
"You wish me to speak to the captains? But surely you understand that merchantmen are their own masters."
//
"No, my lord. We thought, perhaps …" he left the painful sentence unfinished and in a flash Hornblower saw what he asked.
//
"You wish that one of His Majesty's ships should provide passage to 24 individuals from Malmo to … England, so they may travel thence to America? This is what you have come to ask?"
//
It appeared that it was. Alborg either had much to learn as a diplomat or was embarrassed for his superior that he was being asked to convey such a ridiculous message. It was on the tip of Hornblower's tongue to refuse outright any involvement in such nonsense, but relations in the Baltic were fragile enough that he must be careful not to give offense, no matter what Alborg had said. Hornblower consequently sighed.
//
"If you will have the goodness to return at this time two days hence," he finally said, "I will speak with you again. And," he added in a moment of inspiration, "bring … er … one or two of these people with you."
//
All that afternoon, through paper-work and other appointments, he turned the problem round in his mind. Packet captains made a tidy profit when they carried passengers. And there were packet routes to Harwich and Dover, at any rate. Surely these believers, once in England, would have less trouble finding passage to America, to … he glanced again at the letter … Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. Then again, it was hardly the business of His Britannic Majesty's service to convey them.
//
A sudden rush of noise outside the window interrupted this useless line of thinking. He rose and turned to gaze at the scene below. A crowd of a dozen or so had gathered to watch what appeared, astonishingly, to be preparations for a duel. Quickly as he realized what he was seeing, the shots were fired and both men fell. Damnation! They and the men clustered around them were all clearly English seamen and officers, which made the foolishness his business as well. With a sigh, he trotted down the stairs. Snapping at four nearby Marine sentries to follow him, he strode up to the group.
//
"Who are these men? What's happened?" he demanded, and the men's anxious buzzing ceased. They fell back and let him through, and finally one of the men slowly raised his gaze to meet Hornblower's.
//
"That 'un's Evans, my lord," he said, revealing a ripe West Country accent and gesturing with a thumb to one of the men, now grimacing in pain and clutching a shoulder. "An' that 'un's Helving, my lord. Off the dispatch vessel Emma, my lord." He gestured toward the other, who appeared the worse wounded, being doubled over in pain and with blood trickling from his belly.
//
The seaman's recital gained confidence as he discovered that the commander in chief was standing stock still and appeared calm. He had never met Hornblower in person and had no idea that his imitation of a statue was the surest sign of his rising fury.
//
"Where's your captain?" Hornblower snapped now, and the involuntary spokesman gulped.
//
"Still in the ship, my lord, he's ill."
//
"Fever?" Hornblower asked sharply, a new anxiety boiling up.
//
"No, my lord," and the seaman almost smiled at the thought of delivering mildly scandalous information. "Likes to drink a bit, is all, my lord."
//
"What's your name?" Hornblower snapped now, wiping the smile stillborn from the man's lips.
//
"Dixon, my lord. Bosun's mate," and his voice faltered again at the thought that the chalk-white face before him belonged to a man who could order him to be disrated, flogged, or worse.
//
Hornblower's lips tightened.. "Take these men to hospital," he barked at the Marines. "And send word to your captain that I wish to see him … at his convenience." His upper lip twisted at the knowledge that even this fool of a seaman understood the unspoken meaning of that polite phrase.
//
"You! Dixon!" he shouted as the seaman turned to obey, and Dixon paused. "Aye, my lord?"
//
"Did you say … Helving?"
//
"Aye, my lord. Half-Swedish, my lord."
//
"That'll do," and Dixon resumed his trot.
//
Hornblower then returned to the building, and was about to ascend to his office, but paused with one foot on the stair. If this fool of a captain were suffering from the aftereffects of an indulgent night, it would be arbitrary to make him climb to his office, and not knowing any more than he did about the situation, Hornblower hesitated to start the interview on a wrong note. Instead he sent word for coffee to be brought in to the ground-floor parlor and paced impatiently in the small space until the seaman arrived with the captain in tow.
//
Hornblower bit his lip to restrain a grin. The captain was unshaven and hastily combed. His eyes were bloodshot and he moved cautiously. Hornblower's incipient sympathy, however, was quelled as the man drew closer: he had obviously tossed back some wine in preparation for this unexpected and clearly unwelcome meeting. Hornblower's natural disapproval of such weakness now warred with his mounting desire to know what the devil was going on and his awareness of the delicacy of the situation in the Baltic. It scarcely helped that one of the duelists was half-Swedish. Hornblower restrained a sigh with difficulty and instead stiffly inclined his head in greeting and gestured to the chair he intended the captain to take.
//
"Hornblower," he said now as he sat, "and I have not yet had the pleasure, sir."
//
"Greeley, m'lord," the captain said, meeting his eye fearlessly, "Emma, twenty-six.."
//
"Are you in the habit, Captain Greeley," Hornblower began, "of allowing relations among your officers to deteriorate into duels?"
//
Greeley did not stammer or look away, which Hornblower abstractly recognized as extraordinary behavior, given what he was facing. He answered straightforwardly, if uselessly.
//
"What the young gentlemen do belowdecks is their own business, my lord, begging your pardon," he said. He kept any trace of insolence out of his voice, at least, but Hornblower's lips tightened. He sat in lengthening silence whilst his mind shot back thirty years.
//
"Aboard his ship, there is nothing outside a captain's control." That was Pellew snapping at him in their first meeting, after an impossibly young Hornblower had tried to excuse the ailing Keene's ignorance which had led to his own duel. The silence grew heavy as Hornblower recalled, with a sick twist of his stomach, Jack Simpson's unspeakable tyrannies to the midshipmen and his own rash and naïve hope for oblivion that had led him to challenge Simpson in the first place.
//
The oblivious Greeley finally grew uncomfortable with the silence and squirmed a little. Hornblower pressed his advantage.
//
"Were you aware," he said, making the question too specific for evasion, "that a challenge had been issued and accepted among two of your young gentlemen?"
//
Still Greeley temporized. He pursed his lips. "I could do nothing to stop it, my lord."
//
"Well, what precipitated this … duel?" Hornblower snapped, losing the little patience he had brought to the meeting.
//
Greeley all but shrugged. "As I said, my lord, what the young gentlemen do belowdecks is their business."
//
Hornblower narrowed his eyes. "Have the goodness to remain here, Captain," he said icily, spitting out the last word. "I will continue dealing with you once I have visited your officers."
//
Barely in time Greeley stood with Hornblower and said, "Aye aye, sir." Hornblower felt his lips tighten as he strode out of the room.
//
The interviews with the wounded officers would prove hardly more satisfactory.
//
"My lord," Evans stammered, and made as if to rise from his cot.
//
"At your ease," Hornblower said mildly and sat down on the hard wooden chair beside the unfortunate midshipman.
//
"Now, Mr. Evans," he said, wishing to put him at his ease, "what is your ship, sir?"
//
"The Emma, my lord," Evans said in some surprise. "A dispatch vessel, my lord."
//
For the moment Hornblower allowed himself to overlook the serious lapse of not seeing that dispatches meant for his office were delivered promptly. That was a matter, ultimately, for Greeley, and none of Evans' concern.
//
"Your first ship, Mr. Evans?"
//
"Yes, my lord."
//
"You've been in her how long?"
//
"Just over a year, my lord."
//
"Long enough to get to know your shipmates, eh?"
//
"Yes, my lord." Evans was gaining confidence with the easy questions, just as Hornblower had expected. Hornblower tried a ranging shot.
//
"Get along with them, do you?"
//
"Y-yes, sir," Evans gulped. He turned noticeably paler.
//
"Midshipmen's berth can be a strange place," Hornblower said meditatively. "I remember when I was first a midshipman in the old Justinian." He shook his head and permitted a smile. "Some of the older ones delighted in tormenting the younger ones." He slid a glance toward Evans. "In quite … er … imaginative and … unpleasant ways."
//
Evans had grown utterly still. He would not meet the admiral's eyes.
//
"Evans," Hornblower said quietly. He had already gone too far. He must take care not to influence the clearly malleable lad's version of events. He looked away, focusing on the wall. "Evans, how did you get along with Helving?"
//
"I … did not often seek out his company, my lord," Evans replied. The lad had potential. An honest answer but not a condemnatory one.
//
"Did he … seek yours?"
//
"No more than anyone else's." Dear God.
//
"And … how did he amuse himself?"
//
Stammering, gulping, and turning paler by the minute, Evans finally, reluctantly told him.
//
Hornblower found himself pacing for a time in the dim corridor of the hospital. What Evans had told him had made him feel ill; his temples throbbed and his stomach churned. From the sound of it, Helving had been about the same sort of business that Simpson had so enjoyed in the old Justinian. Even with the passage of more than thirty years, Hornblower still recalled with sickening clarity the effect it had had on Kennedy. It had taken Simpson's death and the passage of several more years before Kennedy had ceased his fits. At least he had told Hornblower they no longer troubled him, which could mean anything.
//
Hornblower paused, a foot in midair, then resumed pacing, his brow more furrowed than ever. If this man Evans were to be believed – and certainly his story did him no credit – Helving had been steadily blackmailing the midshipmen, threatening like a blackguard to tell the captain that it had been the other way round, that poor Helving had been unspeakably victimized by his tormenters. Wretchedly they had handed over half their meager pay to Helving, as well as their spirit ration or dinner when he demanded it.
//
Hornblower could well believe that such things went on, especially in a ship whose captain was, from the look of it, choosing to turn a blind eye. He knew, in fact, all too well that such things went on. His stomach clutched as he recalled the stubborn, prideful youth he had been, rashly challenging Jack Simpson to a duel which he had survived only by sheer blind luck and the alert intervention of Pellew – Keene's contrast in every measure. And the contrast, as well, of the captain of this dispatch vessel, the unfortunate Greeley.
//
Greeley was, it appeared, too lazy to be bothered with the discipline required of him by the Articles of War and the agreements he signed in taking on a midshipman. Hornblower's anger at Helving was temporarily deserted by thoughts of his anger at Greeley. His face reddened as he recalled how he had inexplicably allowed Greeley to get away with such insolence to an Admiral of the Fleet, a commander in chief – to him that mattered more than cheekiness to a peer of the realm, 1st Baron Hornblower, for he tended to dismiss his elevation to the peerage, though he occasionally allowed it to bring himself a flash of pleasure.
//
Angry or not, he now realized, he had to see Helving. Greeley was waiting and Hornblower, at least, was not prepared to return rudeness for rudeness. He started toward Helving's room but was halted by the sight of the doctor stepping from the doorway, shaking his head and wiping his hands on a bloody towel.
//
The doctor caught Hornblower's eye and shook his head, muttering something in Swedish that Hornblower missed.
//
"Do you mean he is dead?" he demanded sharply.
//
The doctor nodded, once, his lips tightening almost imperceptibly. Then he hurried off and Hornblower saw an attendant drawing Helving's eyelids closed. A service Hornblower had performed for poor young Jack Hammond on that awful beach. He shuddered. He hesitated momentarily outside Evans' room, then plunged on, back toward Greeley. Someone else could tell Evans; he would find out soon enough.
//
Stoked by righteous anger – anger at Helving, anger at Greeley, anger at death, anger at the youth he had once been – he found it easier to confront Greeley. He stormed into the room and barely gave Greeley, who was caught dozing, a chance to rise. Something of the fire in Hornblower's eyes caught Greeley's attention, for the salute was wholehearted and there was now fear on Greeley's face for the first time.
//
"My lord," he stammered, still standing at attention.
//
"Sit down," Hornblower snapped. Greeley did and Hornblower took a grim pleasure in standing, looming over him.
//
"In his ship, sir, nothing should be outside the captain's control," he bellowed, not caring who heard him. Greeley opened his mouth, then shut it again like a snapping turtle as Hornblower carried on. "I have heard of some lazy and despicable captains allowing their seamen free rein, which results in sullenness, grudges, and indiscipline. I have heard of shortsighted captains who are too free with the rum." He spat out the last word, fixing his glare on Greeley, who shrank back guiltily. "I have even had on occasion the misfortune to hear of a few pitiful captains who are too unwell to train up the young gentlemen under their command, sir." He paused and drew himself up to his full six feet. To Greeley, still shrunk back in the chair, he looked nine or ten feet tall, Mephistopheles himself.
//
"Never before today, sir, have I had to confront a miserable excuse for a captain who not only turns a blind eye to thievery and blackmail amongst the young gentlemen who are his to train up – but a captain who willingly turns his back on the basest kind of ... carnal infamy ... on ... sodomy ..." Hornblower actually choked on the word and his face twisted in hot disgust. He could no longer bear the sight of Greeley's face. He turned his back, giving Greeley a view of hands tightly clasped, long fingers twisting and contorting as though they wished to be around Greeley's neck. Greeley's gulp was audible.
//
Hornblower took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Then another. When he could trust himself to speak again, his voice was hoarse and low – somehow more threatening than his foretop bellow.
//
"You are fortunate indeed that I am not the sole arbiter of your fate. You will be held here until such time as a tribunal can be assembled. At which time you will be made to answer for your behavior with a court-martial."
//
"Court-martial?" Greeley said, his voice trembling. Hornblower rounded on him. He hated cowardice as much as he hated anything.
//
"Yes, court-martial, Captain Greeley. There are any number of articles you might be charged with disobeying.. Not making the necessary preparations for fighting; not encouraging the inferior officers to fight courageously; failure to faithfully perform your duties. You could even, I fancy, be charged with refusal to apprehend a criminal. Yes, criminal, Captain Greeley," he continued, warming to his subject, and seeing the look on Greeley's face and the mouth once more open in protest.
//
"I have no reason to doubt Mr. Evans' testimony, and if Mr. Helving had not been so unfortunate as to die," he snapped, watching with no pleasure as Greeley's eyes grew wider, "I have no doubt that he would have been charged with a violation of ... ha-h'm ... Article 29." He could not make himself say the word again. "In which case you could be charged with that refusal to apprehend. I fancy you still might. It will depend on whether the tribunal will choose to bring up the late Mr. Helving's deplorable behavior. At the very least I should think you will be charged with behaving in a scandalous manner unbecoming the character of an officer."
//
Quite calmly he summoned marines. Calmly he gave orders and watched the spluttering captain being led away. Only afterward did he ascend to his office, snap an order to the sentry, and close the door. He sank into a chair and buried his head in his hands, suddenly smelling the stink of bilge water and rotting rope that permeated the midshipmen's mess in Justinian. He was seventeen again and being roughly flipped onto his back with his hands pinned down, Simpson's ale-rotted breath close and hot on his face, seeing the sneer as Simpson had snapped off the miniature of his mother and it had spun on its chain before his dizzy and unfocused view.
//
"Fancier of other boys, perhaps? Or is it ... that your mother makes a living on her back?" Blind with rage, he had fought and struggled and gotten thrashed worse for his efforts, then punished by Mr. Eccleston, but it had been Archie Kennedy who'd had fits in the night.
//
"What ails us all." Clayton's quiet voice came back through the years, always with the awful stab at guilt of having as good as killed him.
//
Wearily he massaged his temples with his long fingers. What else could avail him this day? He longed for escape and for a moment thought wildly of getting drunk. He so disliked the loss of control that he seldom allowed it. But the duel and subsequent interviews had stirred up a host of long-forgotten and thoroughly distasteful memories.
//
"Leave me go!"
//
"This little whoreson needs to learn respect..."
//
"By God I'll trim the wall with your brains."
//
"I'll act as your second, of course. Have you ever fought a duel before?"
//
“Drop of grog in it to warm you through.”
//
"He'll kill you certain sure."
//
"I'm sorry. I didn't kill him."
//
"No! Simpson!"
//
"These are new times. You have no hold over us here."
//
"I'm going to kill you, Snotty."
//
He could feel the guilt and loathing, sympathy and disgust whirling round and round until he thought his head would explode. As he had steadily succeeded to rank after rank, triumph and tragedy together, he had steadfastly closed that dreadful beginning away and managed not to think of it. Now this lout of a captain and unforgivably loathsome half-Swedish midshipman had opened the door on a stinking miasma of awfulness.
//
Trembling from head to foot, he rushed from his office and only just achieved his private bathroom before his body convulsed: he was gagging, retching, shaking, sweat flying in great drops from his hair. He braced himself pitifully as he vomited, heaving uselessly long after there was nothing left to give. Finally he staggered back against the wall and slid down it, legs sprawled, a hand clutching his perspiring forehead, and shook with chills..
//
Thanks to a merciful Providence, Spendlove had gained Hornblower's leave to depart early, still nursing his headache, and Hornblower had somehow thought to slam home the bathroom door so that even if he heard anything the Marine sentry would hesitate to intervene.
//
At length he stood, shakily, and clutched the table with one hand while with the other he poured water into the basin, his trembling hand spilling half of it. He took up the cloth and mopped his face, then cupped his hands and tipped water down his throat, reveling in its cool purity. Dear God. He had just had an awful and proximate encounter with the mists of Hell itself, and he fancied he could smell sulfur penetrating his hair and clothes.
//
He ran a shaking hand over his hair and gave himself a cynical glance in the glass. To his astonishment, he looked little changed. So close a brush with the Pit should alter his appearance. He had half expected his hair to have gone snow-white in an instant.
//
Mechanically he buttoned his waistcoat and put his coat back on, ran a hand through his hair, and poked his head round the doorframe into his flag lieutenant's small office.
//
"My business today is concluded, Mr. Gerard," he said quietly. "I am going home."
//
"Shall I call the carriage, my lord?"
//
"No. I’ll walk." His voice was steady. It was close to a mile and a half but Hornblower desperately needed both the time and the exercise.
//
The walk at least calmed his shredded nerves but did little to improve his mood, so that on his return home he was short with Barbara, who read his signals as easily as a signal midshipman read the fluttering flags. She was – damn her eyes for being so understanding! – quiet, steadily cheerful, and did not try to talk too much at dinner.
//
Hornblower noticed Richard's absence only when he returned, slinking guiltily into the dining room at the end of the meal, as Hornblower sipped his port, taking great care not to drink too quickly.
//
Hornblower opened his mouth, then took a deep breath before he spoke. "Would you care to explain your absence, Richard?" His voice was so low as to be nearly inaudible and Richard paled.
//
"I – I'm sorry, Father, I'm sorry, Mother. I – I lost track of time."
//
Hornblower's lips twitched. "She must be pretty," he said smoothly, and saw the blush rise in Richard's cheeks.
//
"Yes – n-no – um," Richard said.
//
Hornblower ducked his head to hide his grin. Barbara, too, lowered her gaze studiously. If a girl's attentions were all that troubled Richard these days, he was very well served. And it would do him no harm to begin to court, although Hornblower thought it likelier that an English girl of good family would benefit Richard more than a Swedish girl, no matter how noble.
//
"Is she Swedish?" Barbara asked gently.
//
"Well – n-no – English," Richard said; then, "her parents are missionaries."
//
Hornblower frowned. He had no use for parsons and even less for missionaries.
//
"Missionaries in Sweden. Most unusual," he said.
//
"They – they're followers of a – a new way of living. It sounds very interesting," Richard said with a gulp.
//
Hornblower closed his eyes. His temples were beginning to throb.. "A way of living you yourself are tempted to explore?"
//
"Y – ah – n-no, sir, Father."
//
Hornblower was too sick and weary at the moment to take up this new problem and to be trusted not to do unforgivable damage to his wife and son in the process.
//
"Do us the kindness of passing the evening at home," he said only, and to Barbara, "Tell Brown I will have coffee in my study."
//
He tossed down his napkin and strode from the room without a backward glance. It was all too much. He yearned inexpressibly for the simplicity of being on board a ship, any ship, and for a moment entertained the wildly nonsensical thought that if Greeley were found guilty he, Hornblower, should volunteer to take the Emma back to England. Nonsense, sheer tommy rot. He snatched the coffee cup from Brown's hand so violently, and gave Brown such a filthy look, that Brown wisely set down the tray and backed out of the room, closing the door very gently indeed.
//
The next morning, though Spendlove had apparently recovered, it was Hornblower's turn to feel sluggish and stupid with lack of sleep. He had tossed restlessly half the night, and when sleep had at last come, with it had come awful nightmares. Twice he had sat up, eyes wide, his terror and revulsion rousing Barbara.
//
Now he read, for the fourth time, the letter from a Prussian merchant that Spendlove had rendered into English. The merchant was requesting permission to ply Baltic waters. It would seem to be a simple enough request on the surface of things; but Hornblower was learning that in Sweden a placid surface often enough concealed turmoil beneath.
//
Prussia was officially neutral, having switched sides back and forth during the late wars, but any kingdom that shared its coastline with Denmark was likely to be viewed with grave suspicion by Sweden, which had reluctantly joined Britain and Russia in signing a secret agreement against Napoleon in 1812, while Denmark-Norway had tried to remain neutral, a risky and impolitic position.
//
To make matters worse, a fleet of small Danish gunboats had that same year attacked much larger British ships in Danish and Norwegian waters. The decisive British victory at the Battle of Lyngor had put paid to any impossible Danish notions, sunk as surely as had been the frigate Najaden.
//
Neutral or not, Denmark-Norway had been overrun and roughly conquered by Napoleon, with Norway being ceded to Sweden in the Treaty of Kiel. That had left Denmark not only defeated but deserted, and even now, more than a dozen years after the Battle of Lyngor, Denmark was still sulking. Hornblower had to exercise great care with every action he took so as not to offend someone in the precarious balance held together by little more than geography and grudge.
//
And now this blithely oblivious merchant was pointedly referring to Prussia's "neutrality" (neutrality from what, Hornblower wondered) and stating that as an independent kingdom of Germany it was not bound by either Swedish or British naval conventions. Hornblower was deeply torn. He recognized the difficult position of the merchant captain, who had now to bear the expense of shipping his goods overland down the Prussian coast to below Denmark and putting to sea much farther south, where the permission he sought would greatly ease his efforts. Hornblower noted that a similarly worded letter had been sent to the Marininspektor of the Swedish Navy and wondered with grim amusement how soon he could expect Ehrenstrom, with whom he had had dealings in the past, to stand quivering with faultlessly polite indignation before his desk.
//
As if suiting thought to deed, he heard a knock on his door.
//
"Enter."
//
It was Spendlove. "Admiral Sir Edward Pellew, Lord Exmouth, to see you, my lord," Spendlove murmured, and having discharged that mouthful, withdrew.
//
"Lord Hornblower." Pellew spoke gravely but with real warmth in his voice. "Well, step out, let me have a look at you, man. Has it really been fifteen years since we laid eyes on each other?"
//
"It can't have been," Hornblower started to say, as he turned and clasped the outstretched hand; then he paused, his brain rapidly calculating. "Yes … indeed, my lord, that business with Chadwick." They'd corresponded since then, of course, but Hornblower had forgotten the upsurge of reassurance he felt merely from being in the same room with the man. Pellew looked remarkably unchanged. His hair was snow-white, of course, and cut short, as was Hornblower's, a fashion forced upon the Navy by the dictates of the fop Beau Brummell, whose high collars had made queues impractical. Pellew's face was more seamed and weather-beaten, but his shoulders were straight and his eyes as bright and penetrating as ever.
//
"Dear God," Pellew was musing, "when a child who was once my midshipman is now an admiral with gray in his hair, that must make me very old indeed."
//
There being no suitable reply, Hornblower made none, only stood respectfully before Pellew.
//
Well, you've scarcely changed, sir," Pellew said briskly, sitting down. "I still see the eager young midshipman in you."
//
"My hairline retreats, my lord," Hornblower said ruefully, "and my waistline advances."
//
Pellew clucked. "You're still in fighting trim. Not like poor Jervie. By God! I daresay gout's his own punishment, eh?"
//
Hornblower did not try to restrain his smile. "I should like to think I could still ascend to the fighting top," he said, "although I am very glad I shall likely never be forced to prove my words."
//
Pellew barked out another laugh. "Well. I see you've heard from that damned upstart Prussian merchant."
//
So that was it.
//
"Yes, and I'm surprised Ehrenstrom is not already in my office."
//
"He would be," Pellew said thoughtfully, "if his counterpart in Denmark were not in his as we speak."
//
Hornblower's sigh blew the unfortunate letter six inches to starboard on his desk. "It no longer seems ridiculous, in this sort of world, that a small but bloody war could erupt because a Prussian merchantman wants to eat his cake and still have it."
//
"H'm," Pellew said dryly. "Indeed. Well! What do you intend to do, sir? Jervie is most interested in your answer."
//
That explained Pellew turning up in Sweden. The matter was important and delicate enough for Lord St. Vincent to take a direct interest. Hornblower briefly closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose with a finger. The truth was, he had no ideas, and here was Pellew wanting an answer on the instant. Hornblower had in his hands the potential to infuriate the First Lord of the Admiralty, disappoint Pellew, frustrate Ehrenstrom, goad Denmark into impetuous action, anger the Prussian merchant, and start a war in the Baltic all with a single wrong decision. His mind was whirling so rapidly it might as well have been a blank. Unexpectedly he heard a chuckle.
//
"So you've no brilliant solution either."
//
The truth and no excuses. Nothing else would do.
//
"No, my lord."
//
"H'm. Well, I'm afraid we've got to come up with one, and quickly. Otherwise this damned impetuous merchant might plunge us all into God knows what.. This calls for a clever mind, sir." He fixed Hornblower with his keen gaze.
//
"I believe, my lord, the Prussian merchant takes too much latitude." Hornblower spoke reflectively. "His letter is phrased most impudently. He fully expects us to give him what he seeks. I wonder if no one has ever before crossed him."
//
"Crossed him, sir?"
//
"Yes, my lord." Unthinkingly Hornblower rose and began to pace, hands twisting restlessly behind his back. He could no more sit still and think than he could hold his breath. "It might be well to begin by reminding him that he depends on the graces and protection of His Britannic Majesty's Navy, and His Most Christian Majesty's Navy, and the office of the commander in chief of His Majesty's Ships and Vessels in the Baltic, to keep him and his ship and his goods safe. The war may be over, my lord, but privateers are unfortunately active in these waters, as you well know, sir." His eyes shone as he warmed to his thinking. "Could it be as simple as recalling him to his obligations?"
//
"Let us hope that Ehrenstrom comes to the same inspired conclusion, and quickly," Pellew said dryly. "Meanwhile, what other service can I perform whilst I am here?"
//
Hornblower unthinkingly grimaced. "I fear we must convene a court-martial, my lord," he said. "Foster is at Brest, is he not? He could be here shortly."
//
"A court-martial? Good God."
//
Briefly Hornblower told of the duel and, with much hesitation, its apparent cause. "Helving is dead, my lord. That makes our task the more difficult. I have, however, heard Mr. Evans' story and it has the ring of truth. I also have spoken with the captain of the dispatch vessel, Greeley, and he has been direct enough to tell me that things sometimes go on amongst his young gentlemen that is their … own business."
//
Pellew's face darkened. "A poor excuse."
//
"Indeed, my lord."
//
"The … charges?"
//
Hornblower made a few brief suggestions, Pellew nodding.
//
"Suppose you're right," he said. "Let's send word for Foster, then, and get the thing over with."
//
Hornblower had been on the wrong side of the gavel before and well remembered the sick knot that tension had made of his stomach. Poor Evans, still weak from the wound to his shoulder, sat stiff and pale, his shabby midshipman's uniform painstakingly brushed. With much gulping and stammering, he answered Pellew's questions, Hornblower occasionally leaning forward and asking an easy question to ensure that Evans did not actually give way during his testimony.
//
After Evans came another midshipman, Cooper, whose testimony had been permitted only after a prolonged and occasionally heated discussion.
//
"Hearsay," Foster had grunted, his mind already made up.
//
"The situation is complicated by the death of one of the principals," Hornblower said quietly.
//
"All the more reason," Foster shot back, taking a gulp of brandy. Hornblower repressed a grimace: the thought of brandy at that early hour of the morning made his stomach flop..
//
"The duel is irrelevant," Pellew said, to Hornblower's surprise. "We are here to determine whether Greeley has contravened the Articles of War in his management of his officers and men. Anyone under his command is witness to it; therefore, the man Cooper's testimony is relevant, sir."
//
"Harrumph," Foster had contributed before subsiding.
//
Cooper told much the same story as Evans, with more hesitation and blushing, having not already told the awful tale beforehand. Next came the seaman Dixon, who, as might have been expected, verged between wariness and loquacity, with no love or respect lost for his captain. Greeley's first lieutenant, a tall and saturnine man named Boyer, was much more careful. Picking his words slowly and carefully he told of early attempts to inform his captain of the doings belowdecks. He was diplomatic, taking great care to report nothing but facts.
//
Several times Hornblower found himself suppressing a yawn. A hasty covert glance at Pellew revealed nothing; the admiral's face was stone as always.
//
After Boyer came the sailing master, whose testimony was, if anything, even more unsatisfying. His answers were brief and unenlightening, and it was a welcome sound when Pellew gaveled the day to a close. Then Hornblower, with undisguised relief, did take Foster's offer of brandy, and had to restrain his appetites. He sat back in the chair and let the tension ease out of his shoulders. He pursed his lips, trying to take the measure of the room. It seemed to him that they all were inclined to charge Greeley with something but were uncertain as to what. As Pellew had noted, the duel was irrelevant. The only question was whether, by allowing the duel to proceed, Greeley had displayed a failure of leadership. More, there was the question of Evans' testimony.
//
Haltingly, reluctantly, Evans had told the same tale to the panel that he had told Hornblower in the hospital room. It seemed, however, that there was little precedent for charging a captain with having allowed such behavior aboard his ship when the man accused of its instigation was dead. Should that be the end of it?
//
Foster seemed to think so and was dropping hints that they might as well wrap the matter up quickly. Pellew, as usual, was withholding judgment. Finally, inevitably, Foster turned to Hornblower.
//
"Take some more, my lord," he said, topping Hornblower's glass. "What do you say?"
//
"Perhaps we should wait to hear Greeley's own words," Hornblower said as mildly as he could manage. He was tense, he was tired, and to be honest his mind was more on the Prussian merchant. He told himself he was dodging the unpleasantness of having to hear Evans' story again from another angle, but in truth he was unbearably weary. He wished he could simply order a punishment for Greeley as though he were a midshipman and be done with it. He was weary of captains like Greeley, weary of insolence, weary of belowdecks depravity. He caught himself. Pellew was staring at him.
//
"Sir?"
//
"Are you well, sir?" Pellew said dryly.
//
"H'm. Yes, my lord. Only … wool-gathering." He forced a smile and saw Pellew's seamed face relax. What had shown on his own face, he wondered. He stood, grimacing a little at the stiffness of his legs, and put down his brandy. "Gentlemen, I give you good night."
//
In the face of the quite possible loss of his career and livelihood, Greeley the next day was infuriatingly on the edge of insolence, as he had been in his interview with Hornblower. Pellew allowed Hornblower to take the lead in questioning him, and once or twice a faint smile played along Pellew's mouth as he watched Hornblower pin Greeley to the wall over discipline, duty, and responsibility.
//
"How long have you been a captain?"
//
"How long have you served the King?"
//
"When you were yourself a midshipman, would you say that what you and your fellow young gentlemen did was your own affair?"
//
"Would your captain have said so?"
//
"Whilst a midshipman did you have occasion to witness discipline?"
//
"What effect did it have on the men?"
//
"Whilst a midshipman were any challenges issued amongst the young gentlemen?"
//
"How old were you when you were promoted lieutenant?"
//
"How many times did you sit your examination?"
//
"Whilst captain, in how many battles have you engaged?"
//
"Describe the outcomes of these battles."
//
That was by far the most interesting answer; all the rest had been utterly predictable. Greeley described, in a self-pitying whine, how he had been surrounded; how he had been outgunned; how he had had to sink his dispatches several times (at least, thought Hornblower, he had done that much).
//
At long last his testimony was concluded and the three men retreated to discuss the outcome.
//
"It is as well we are no longer at war," groused Hornblower. "With such an unlucky captain in charge of a dispatch vessel we should still believe Bonaparte to be alive and plotting were we dependent on Greeley for our information."
//
Pellew looked his surprise but said nothing.
//
Greeley, however, had moved Foster in a way that the more junior officers had not. "Got to do something," he grunted. "No question of indiscipline. It's a matter of deciding the charges."
//
A younger Hornblower would have burst out indignantly his desire that Greeley be charged with the full slate of possibilities, most importantly the criminal charges related to the sodomy he had allowed to go on. Hornblower at fifty, though equally disgusted, saw the inevitably marginal unfairness of stating unequivocally that Greeley knew of Helving's actions and did nothing. He had at least some inherent humane pity that the man's life hung in the balance. Even charging Greeley with failure to make the necessary preparations for fighting called for conjecture; although from the descriptions of the battles Hornblower could well guess what Greeley had not said about guns fired late and aimed poorly and sluggishness in changing the direction of the ship.
//
Finally he stirred and said, "It seems simplest to charge him with behavior unbecoming the character of an officer. At the very least he has displayed that without question."
//
"Would you describe his indifference as scandalous, infamous, cruel, oppressive, or fraudulent?" Pellew asked.
//
Hornblower forced himself not to stiffen at the reasonable question. "Cruel and oppressive at the least, my lord, and I should say scandalous as well."
//
It was surprising how little time it took to undo a life. The punishment, without exception, was dismissal from His Majesty's service and so Greeley walked back into the courtroom to find the point of his sword toward him. Greeley was dismissed and Boyer appointed commander of the Emma. Hornblower sent a message requiring him to call to deliver, at long last, the dispatches.
//
With the distasteful business over he could at last feel human again and even join in the conversation with Pellew and Barbara at dinner. Richard, since his last tardiness, was faultlessly punctual to meals but also oppressively silent. In front of a guest Hornblower forbore to press him, but he wished he knew which way the wind was blowing. Of all things, the last Hornblower would have expected or wanted was for Richard to have been so swayed by bonnet-strings as to take up a new religion.
//
"What will Greeley do now, darling?" Barbara's question cut into Hornblower's brooding.
//
"Eh? Whatever he will, I suppose. He must make his own way back to England – I doubt he would choose to stay here – and find a different living."
//
"Not even half pay?"
//
"Indeed not. He's been dismissed.. His country owes him nothing at all." Hornblower tried desperately to keep the sharpness out of his voice. His wife was ignorant of such matters and naturally inclined toward womanly sympathies.
//
"Are many captains like him?" That was Richard. Hornblower started. Richard had not directed a word to him since that last ill-fated conversation several days ago.
//
"No." At last a question he could answer easily. "Only a very few allow sloth or distraction to prevent them doing their duty. A captain has a responsibility to every man in his ship, just as every man has a responsibility to his captain."
//
"That's so," Pellew said. "England would not have proved her superiority against the tyrant were the British navy habitually indisciplined." He allowed himself a small smile at the polysyllabic ending to his sentence.
//
"What of your religionists, then?" Barbara, in changing the subject, had all unwitting brought up one even more painful. Richard blushed and Hornblower took a mouthful of soup before replying.
//
"I was to have met with them today, but of course other matters interfered," he said. "I intend a meeting Tuesday. Meanwhile, I expect I will wish to speak to some of the merchantmen and packet-captains to see if they cannot be persuaded. It surprises me that they are not so inclined; two dozen passengers unlikely to drink or fight would tempt me, I should think."
//
Accordingly he went to the harbor Monday morning. As he stood on the cobblestones, watching gulls wheel and gray waves lap, he breathed deeply and felt at ease for the first time in days. Salt air smelled the same whether the water brushed the walls at Malmo or Plymouth, Kingston or Brest. He still remembered the lift in spirits he had felt upon finally reaching the sea in the Witch of Endor. As on that fateful morning, here dawn was just breaking and the white-capped slate waters were tipped with peach and rose.
//
At length he sought out the harbor-master and explained his business. The harbor-master sent boys scurrying with messages and offered coffee as they waited. After a tedious wait came three at once, two British packet-captains and a British merchantman.
//
Hornblower asked them why they were disinclined to carry the religionists. "Surely they will not be disruptive," he said persuasively. He was surprised at the vehemence of their responses..
//
"They call 'um Shakers, my lord," the merchantman said. "They worships with dancing and shouting. I won't have it, that sort o' thing's bad luck, begging your lordship's pardon."
//
Hornblower did not wish his pardon begged. He had expected this to be a simple matter and it irked him that no one any longer seemed to have any respect for authority. First Greeley and now these captains. Did no one recall that they were under the auspices and protection of His Britannic Majesty's Navy? At the same time, he could not directly order the merchantmen and packet-captains as he might Greeley – who, he reminded himself, was no longer an officer in the King's service and therefore no longer his headache.
//
That mildly pleasant recollection made him a shade kinder to the captains than he might otherwise have been and he even smiled as he thanked them for their time.
//
"You need not bother about seeing the others," he told the harbor-master. "I shall devise another solution."
//
Once back in his office, however, the problem slipped immediately from his mind because here was Boyer waiting for him.
//
Hornblower did not apologize for keeping him waiting; there was no need. Once he had been so invited, Boyer sat, keeping very straight in his chair as he handed over the dispatches.
//
"My sincerest apologies, my lord, that you did not receive these promptly," Boyer said.
//
"Thank you, Captain Boyer," Hornblower said, gratified to see the serious officer smile at the sound of his new, if temporary, title.
//
Hornblower quickly slit them open and picked up the first one. His eyebrows rose and only with an effort did he stop himself exclaiming. The dispatch, from Whitehall, confirmed French privateer activity in the Baltic and commanded Hornblower to put a stop to it. Already two Swedish brigs and a British merchant vessel had been taken. At the news of this last, Hornblower was more inflamed than before. While he could regard the loss of brigs, whether Swedish or English, philosophically, he felt deeply responsible as an officer in His Britannic Majesty's Navy for the safety of merchant ships under his supposed protection (even if those merchant captains had only recently displayed an irritating arrogance toward him). One might think it the other way round, and Hornblower occasionally reflected on his own contrariness on this matter, but the fact remained. Perhaps, he sometimes told himself, it was because captains of brigs might reasonably be expected to look after themselves, while the weaker background and softer character of merchants awakened his increasingly paternal feelings. Afterward he always scorned himself for allowing such sentiment to cloud clear judgment.
//
That the French were issuing letters of marque was worrisome; that anyone should consider Baltic waters safe for such activity was more worrisome; and the news made Hornblower the more irritated with the Prussian, who was at least seeking permission, albeit with intolerable conditions. With a sigh Hornblower set the dispatch aside and looked over the others. Fortunately none contained any urgent matters.
//
Hornblower was about to dismiss Boyer when a thought struck him. It was only a thought; but it was a possibility.
//
"Captain Boyer," he said slowly, "I assume you will need time to resupply your ship?"
//
"Yes, my lord."
//
"Then – be so good as to return here on the morrow. I wish to speak with you before you leave.."
//
"Aye aye, my lord."
//
Boyer had scarcely gone when the Prussian merchantman, Haupf, arrived. Haupf was short and barrel-shaped, with magnificent side-whiskers and a heavy gold watch-chain stretched across his red plaid waistcoat.
//
Hornblower greeted him with the stiffly formal courtesy he knew Prussians to favor and came straight to the point.
//
"Tell him," he said to Spendlove, "that he is as free as he likes to do business in the Baltic – under the regulations of both His Britannic Majesty and His Christian Majesty, which bind all merchant vessels in these waters.."
//
It was an inauspicious beginning. Haupf's face darkened and he spat out a flow of German, reminding Hornblower again what a barbaric language it seemed.
//
"He says, my lord," Spendlove said, "that Prussia wishes only to be amicable with all nations."
//
Hornblower's lips quirked. "Ask him whether Prussia has any regulations regarding export."
//
"But of course. All nations must."
//
"What is it about the regulations that he wishes to contravene? Ask it more indirectly if it will save him from apoplexy."
//
That earned him a quick smile from Spendlove.
//
"He finds it tedious to have to list all of his goods and have the ship inspected. It costs him a deal of money to have his boxes opened in two countries."
//
Hornblower was about to snap, "Tedium will save him from losing money to smugglers," when he froze. The intransigence of the Prussian combined with the recent dispatch seemed entirely too curious. Surely Prussia would not be so foolish as to smuggle goods in league with French privateers between two nations teetering on open hostility. And surely Haupf was not so naïve that he believed that Hornblower and Ehrenstrom did not communicate.. Hornblower had encountered numberless incidents of towering stupidity but this one, if his thinking was correct, bid fair to outdo most of them.
//
He was reminded again that he was becoming unutterably weary. Weary of foolish merchants and lazy captains, weary of smugglers and privateers. Was he weary of the King's service? Nothing had made his heart race so over the years save for the knowledge that he was fighting for king and country; and while at war he had longed for peace. Then it had come, and he had endured five long years before achieving the rank of admiral; then four years in the West Indies; and four more years here, of which only a few months remained. Then what? Smallbridge, village life, his seat in Parliament, Barbara, Richard. He wondered whether this time the tranquility would be welcome rather than constrictive. He realized abruptly that he hoped they should not name him First Lord after St. Vincent died, an activity in which he had been rumored to be engaged for more than a year. He could not bear the thought of another round of paper-shuffling and administrative headaches. Through the open window he listened to the slap of the sea and the cries of the birds and realized with relief the weariness came from a land posting.. If only he could get to sea again!
//
Abruptly he recalled himself. He had thought of a more interesting question for Haupf.
//
"Ask him what he transports."
//
Now the face relaxed and the hands gestured. Hornblower waited impatiently for the translation.
//
"Timber, rosin, rope, my lord – naval materials. Since the Battle of Lyngor Sweden has routinely used Prussian merchant ships who convey goods overland, to avoid the … er … dangers of the Baltic waters."
//
Hornblower's mouth twisted. No wonder costs had risen so abominably. The Swedish, cowardly as usual, were taking the coward's way out with shipping as well. They had become accustomed to getting what they wanted and now that the Prussian was holding them to account they were complaining.
//
Hornblower found himself with at least a glimmer of sympathy for Haupf. Nevertheless, it seemed possible – the glimmer of thought persisted – that Haupf’s intransigence might stem from using his vessel to work hand-in-glove with those damned French privateers to smuggle goods. If that were the case, then certainly he would not care to have his boxes opened in two countries. It doubled the chances of contraband being found.
//
“Tell him,” he said to Spendlove, “that given the fragility of Baltic relations at the moment, coupled with the most unfortunate presence of French privateers in these waters, I am afraid that it would be unwise to add to the Baltic roads the presence of a – h’m – neutral vessel carrying naval supplies. Tell him that if only the French privateers were not such a presence, things might go easier for him.. Tell him that, for the moment, I deeply regret my inability to permit him to transport his goods any way except overland so long as Prussia proclaims her neutrality.”
//
Haupf’s face turned purple at the translation.. He swelled with indignation and slammed a heavy fist on Hornblower’s sturdy desk, making Spendlove jump. He spat out something in German that was clearly and insult and stormed from the room, closing the door so vehemently that the portrait of Barbara shook and clattered against the wall for several seconds.
//
“God,” Hornblower muttered, and sank into his chair. “Go away.” He flapped a hand in Spendlove’s direction and the secretary obediently slipped out.
//
Hornblower’s gaze drifted toward nothing in particular as he cogitated. Haupf’s response might have been simply anger at having his wishes thwarted when he had expected them granted. Or it might … it might have been because of Hornblower’s hints at the doubtful nature of Prussia’s neutrality and the allusion to French privateers. Could Haupf, in fact, be in league with those damned privateers? Hornblower could not think of a way to prove it, if that were the case.
//
Now came Spendlove again. “By appointment, my lord, Mr. Anders Alborg, and several British subjects to see you.” He sounded doubtful.
//
“Very well.” Hornblower stood and forced a pleasant expression onto his face.
//
Alborg returned Hornblower’s bow and introduced, in turn, the two men and one woman with him. All three were very simply dressed, in clothing that was sober in cut but certainly not in color. The men’s long frock coats, utterly untrimmed, were a deep blue; the woman’s gown, with a front tucker, a high collar, and a full skirt, was a deep red. Instead of bowing, the men extended their hands, as did the woman. A bit surprised, Hornblower dutifully shook hands and invited the group to sit.
//
“Ha-h’m,” Hornblower said. Alborg leaned forward slightly.
//
“Brother Elijah Wild,” he said, “Brother Jonathan Hocknell. Sister Bertha Lindsay.”
//
“I … understand,” Hornblower said, addressing Wild and Hocknell, “you seek passage to … England and thence to America.”
//
“Yes,” Wild said simply.
//
Hornblower hesitated. “I am told that you worship with … dancing?”
//
“Yes,” Wild said again, though more warmly.
//
Hornblower was treading on entirely unfamiliar ground. “Pray be so good as to explain to me how dancing is a form of worship,” he said, picking his words with care.
//
This time it was Hocknell who spoke. “We live simply,” he said, with a slight gesture indicating their garments. “We possess as though we possessed not, and in our labor we seek perfection. We worship as the Spirit moves us…”
//
“The spirit?” Hornblower interrupted.
//
“Yes, the Holy Spirit. In our worship the Spirit comes upon us and we are moved to sing and dance, though perhaps not as you might consider it dancing,” Hocknell said with a smile that had, Hornblower fancied, a trace of condescension in it. “While singing, we may form great circles within circles, and move in opposing directions. Or we might form two loops, one of brothers and one of sisters, and move with set arm motions while we sing.”
//
Hornblower frowned. “You do this … dancing … because …” he was at a loss for description.
//
“Because we believe it brings us closer to God.” This time it was the woman who spoke, and Hornblower jumped a little. “The dancing is always very ordered and even, perhaps, sober,” she said gently. “We do not believe it would disrupt the ordering of a ship’s life – but the captains will not have us aboard.”
//
“Ha-h’m,” Hornblower said again. He tried a new tack. “Nevertheless, ma’am, it sounds as though this … dancing … would require a goodly amount of room.”
//
“Yes,” Hocknell said simply.
//
Hornblower restrained himself from the pacing in which he desperately wished to engage. Why did this trouble have to land on his desk? Still, he told himself, their answers had provided him with a way to deny their request. He could simply explain that no vessel was likely to have the amount of space they apparently demanded for worship. It seemed clear, given the quiet fervor they had demonstrated when speaking of it, that they would not agree to forgo their worship for the length of the passage.
//
Except, dammit, this Alborg was likely to persist bothering him until Hornblower agreed to take these religionists on. And then they would come round to pester him, so very politely, until he found them passage some way. With great difficulty Hornblower restrained a sigh and changed the subject slightly to give himself some time, though he had no idea what he might do with such time.
//
“I understand you live in community,” he said.
//
“Yes,” Hocknell said. “We have a letter from the community in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, inviting us to join them.”
//
“What sort of community is it?”
//
“Hands to work, hearts to God,” Wild said simply. “We farm. We manufacture, and sell, furnishings, farm implements, and we package seeds for sale as well. Brothers and sisters live … separately, putting away carnal desires.”
//
That caught Hornblower’s attention. “You mean…” he said, frowning.
//
“We live celibate lives,” the woman said primly, refolding her hands in her lap.
//
Hornblower blushed. He was about to dismiss them, no nearer to a solution than before, when he caught sight of Spendlove hovering in his doorway.
//
“Captain Boyer,” Spendlove mouthed. Ah. Boyer seemed dutiful, intelligent, and still new enough to the captaincy to be absurdly pleased were Hornblower were to ask a favor of him. And it would have to be a favor; as captain of the Emma, Boyer could refuse passage to these plainly dressed folk.
//
Hornblower stood, then, and addressed Alborg.
//
“Sir, if you would have the goodness to excuse me for a brief moment.” He nodded to the religionists, who remained seated as he left the room, and followed Spendlove out.
//
“Spendlove, let us have your office a moment,” and Spendlove obediently withdrew.
//
In a few sentences Hornblower sketched to Boyer the awkward situation Alborg had handed him. He drew a deep breath. “I would be most greatly obliged, Captain, if you could see fit to agree to transport these individuals to England. They claim to have need of a deal of space for their worship, but otherwise will pose no difficulty. Dispatch vessels, as you know, are more likely than other ships to have enough room to suit their needs, and … h’m …”
//
Boyer raised one eyebrow and let the silence rest until he was sure he would not be interrupting an admiral.
//
“With pleasure, my lord,” he said.. He was not quite as practiced as he thought he was; the air of satisfaction that showed on his face told Hornblower, as expected, that he thought it boded well for his career to have an admiral obligated to him. And so it did; but a more skilled officer would have let the fact go by without a change in expression.
//
Hornblower, with huge relief, ushered Boyer back into his office and effected the necessary introductions. The religionists filed out; Alborg, after much bowing and effusive thanks, was finally shown out; and Hornblower was now free to sink into his chair and wonder what the devil he was supposed to do about privateers.
//
To begin with, it was exceedingly risky for the young Republic of France to be issuing letters of marque, official commissions authorizing a designated agent to seize an enemy’s vessel. That enemy was supposed to have committed an offense under the laws of nations against, in this case, France; for French privateers to be operating fairly openly in Baltic waters meant, in the tangle of local politics, that France was claiming to have been offended either by Sweden or its colony Norway, or by Denmark. The latter was highly unlikely. Denmark, having been defeated and left entirely alone after the Treaty of Kiel, was still in a pet and had taken no action against anyone of late, much less action that could be considered offensive.
//
Certainly governments were in the habit of allowing privateering, particularly in these confusing days following the disorienting and destructive wars under Napoleon, but even the French had to know how fragile the Baltic situation was. The least move by any of the countries would likely inflame the others; and Hornblower knew that the northern nations were weary of war as the rest of the world. It certainly did not help matters that the recent dispatch had told that one of the ships seized had been Swedish. The tranquility of Smallbridge now looked very tempting.
//
Now here was Spendlove back to plague him.
//
“Well?”
//
Spendlove knew his moods as well as a wife would. He knew the clipped monosyllable, accompanied by the raised eyebrow and the sigh that was not given vent. The visitor he was about to announce, however, was a welcome one.
//
“His Lordship the Earl of Antrim, Flag Captain Archie Kennedy,” Spendlove murmured and, catching his breath, withdrew.
//
Archie stepped into the office with blue eyes dancing and bowed deeply to Hornblower as in times long past when they had amused themselves over-aping the grandeur practiced by higher-ranking officers. Now they were they higher-ranking officers and too long friends to greet each other with any formality at all.
//
Hornblower felt a grin spread across his face as he came round the desk and embraced Kennedy. “My God, it’s true about the nobility, they’re like rabbits, you can’t get rid of them,” all said with his face muffled against Kennedy’s shoulder as they thumped each other’s backs. At length they straightened and grinned at each other again.
//
“Well, how d’you like it?”
//
Each had spoken at once. Hornblower, blushing, gestured, but Kennedy sobered his expression. “My lord,” Kennedy murmured, conscious that in rank at least, Hornblower was his superior officer.
//
Hornblower could not restrain the foolish grin that seemed determined to remain on his face. With Archie he could be more honest than with anyone else; even than with Barbara, who must be protected from life’s hardest truths when possible.
//
“It’s as dull as it can be,” he admitted with a sigh as he poured sherry. “Nothing but paper-work and headaches, unrelieved by the thought of action, the mathematical demands of a ship and the confutations of a crew. The truth is, Archie, I’m happiest at sea.”
//
Now it was Kennedy’s turn to smile. “Only you would describe the mathematical demands of a ship as something to be missed! I know you must long for action – but in truth, you are so good at commanding a station, especially one so delicate as the Baltic, that the Admiralty are loath to have you do otherwise.”
//
“Clearly,” Hornblower said, so dryly that even he chuckled at himself, his sense of humor saving him. He raised his glass to Kennedy. “Now you, sir. How goes life as a …”
//
“… pampered pet of an admiral,” Kennedy finished with a gleam in his eye. Then he smiled broadly and lifted his glass in return. “Here’s to satisfaction, H’ratio, Providence be thanked that it has found us at last.”
//
Hornblower raised an eyebrow and leaned forward eagerly.
//
“By God, I’ve found my place in the world. Never would have guessed it! But here we are. My family are pleased – it seems flag-captain is a respectable occupation for the third-son-of-an-earl – I am pleased, because I need never again fear that I might panic in action, and there is yet more.” He paused to take a swallow of sherry. His face lit up with sheer boyish high spirits, a look Hornblower had not seen on his friend’s face in years.
//
“D’you know what being a flag-captain to an admiral entails, H’ratio? It’s acting.” Kennedy’s cornflower-blue eyes danced. “It’s a combination of playing the part and the basic manners I learned in the nursery.” Kennedy’s impish grin broadened. “I’ve never enjoyed myself so much in my life! And Lord Exmouth seems entirely satisfied with my services. I’ve yoked myself to an absolute dab of a position, H’ratio! No more … er … ‘thoughts of action,’ no more ‘mathematical demands of a ship,’ no more ‘confutations of a crew..’ It’s true enough, good gunnery was satisfying – but fleeting, always fleeting.” His look sobered momentarily. “But this … ah, this. Everything I actually enjoyed about being the third-son-of-an-earl coupled with everything I actually enjoyed about the Navy. The gods have blessed me, H’ratio, in more ways than one.”
//
“Trudy keeps well?” Hornblower asked. He was smiling at the flood of enthusiasm his friend showed, and truly glad that Kennedy had found himself at last; but surely this was not a social call, and if the admiral’s flag-captain were here on business it would be well to know what that business was.
//
“Oh, very well. H’ratio, how time flees so quickly! Only yesterday you and I were seventeen, and now our oldest children are that age. And how do Barbara and Richard find Sweden?”
//
Tempted as Hornblower was to confide his suspicions about Richard, that would have to wait. “They are well indeed, Archie. But might I guess that you were sent here on … other matters?” He smiled to take the edge off the none too subtle hint.
//
Kennedy laughed and nodded, looking a trifle sheepish. “Indeed, yes. The admiral is getting pressure from all sides about this Prussian merchant. You are far from the only officer who finds Haupf worrisome. What, his lordship wants to know, are you going to do?”
//
Hornblower set down his glass and began to pace.. “As you know perfectly well, Archie, privateers tend to pad their purses with smuggling. Haupf is so very touchy on the subject of having his cargo inspected, and his request for approval of behavior in which he has long been engaged is so inauspiciously timed, that I suspect he may in fact be in league with French privateers.”
//
“M’m,” Kennedy said musingly. “A spot of smuggling in amongst all those legitimate goods.”
//
“Indeed.”
//
“Hell,” Kennedy said, setting his glass down with a thump. “That’s all the powder-keg of the Baltic needs! Privateering is bad enough, without adding smuggling. What do those upstart Johnny Crapauds think they’re up to? It’s no way to prove oneself as a legitimate nation if one keeps acting the revolutionary.”
//
Hornblower paused in his pacing and blinked in surprise. Kennedy’s outburst had put a finger on the nub of what bothered Hornblower most about the French privateers – Haupf aside. 
//
“You’re on to something, Archie,” he said thoughtfully, sitting back down. From there the conversation devolved into the technical points of nation-building, and Hornblower was impressed. No doubt this was what Kennedy meant about the job of flag-captain combining what he was best at. As cradle nobility, he had a good head for the intricacies of politics that gave him unique insight into nation building, combined with the British nobility’s skepticism of the French, a skepticism that Hornblower shared and which doubtless colored his concern about privateering.
//
At length the conversation wound down. Though nothing had been resolved, Hornblower felt somewhat better about the situation. He sent Kennedy away with a note for Pellew inviting the two men to dine with Hornblower on the morrow and discuss the situation.
//
It was as well that Hornblower had not issued the invitation for that evening; when he got home he found Barbara visibly distressed about something. For his stoical wife to show her emotions in front of the servants was not only rare; it was extraordinary.
//
“Richard’s run away,” she said, her eyes wide with fear.. She handed him a note. It was brief and to the point. Richard wished only to be with Ruth, he said, wherever she was, even if it was … dear God … with her parents at this religious colony in Kentucky. Hornblower gulped convulsively and the color drained from his face.
//
“He’s on board the Emma,” he said hoarsely. “She’ll have put out to sea by now.” He bellowed for Brown.
//
“Whatever are you going to do, Horatio?” Barbara laid a hand on his arm. Hornblower gazed down on her. Dear Barbara!
//
“I’m going to bring him back,” he said calmly. “If it means trailing the Emma to England, I will, but I may catch her before then.. The Roebuck is handy enough. I must leave at once, however.”
//
On board the Roebuck, having at least thought to send a message to Lord Exmouth informing him of his plans, Hornblower sank onto his cot. It was extraordinary how, as soon as he set foot on the deck, he was flooded with a sense of well-being. All his worries seemed to vanish with the pitch of the bow, and when Brown brought in dinner from his hastily chosen provisions, he was able to enjoy his meal and even a couple of glasses of claret. Afterward, a walk on the windward side of the deck and the sight of the sun setting over the waters was all he needed to complete his satisfaction; and he descended to his cabin with his eyelids drooping and head nodding. Drowsily contented, he allowed Brown to undress him and was asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow. He had entirely forgotten Haupf.
//
He remembered him the next day when the cry of “Sail to starboard!” interrupted his morning walk. His heart leaped. Could it be the Emma? He knew his chances of intercepting her were good; thanks to the chance of geography, the Emma could take only one route from Malmo down toward Copenhagen; then up and around Denmark before reaching the North Sea’s open – and neutral – waters and heading for England’s friendly shores.
//
“Prussian colors!” the topman bellowed, and in an instant Hornblower’s heart began racing.
//
“Bring her within hail, Mr. Foreman,” Hornblower said, and the taciturn captain nodded and murmured his obedience.
//
“What ship’s that?” Hornblower called.
//
“The Friedrich,” came the reply. Damn. Hornblower’s German was poor indeed, and no Spendlove to hand.
//
“Mr. Foreman, do any of your men know German?”
//
“Yes indeed, my lord. Mr. Midshipman Hanover, my lord.”
//
Hanover was located and brought forward to interpret. Through his assistance, Hornblower stated his determination of boarding her so that he might speak with her captain.
//
No sooner, however, had he swung himself aboard with Hanover at his heels than he received an utter shock. Here was Haupf the merchant beside the stout Prussian captain. There was no mistaking those magnificent side-whiskers nor the red plaid waistcoat. Clearly Hornblower’s presence was a shock to Haupf as well; his face empurpled, he opened and closed his mouth without speaking.
//
Hornblower felt his pulses racing. He knew the symptoms of old. Here was action. Here was a chance for command. The time for diplomacy had passed. On the sea, he was untrammeled master and could make decisions without being fettered by nerves and worries about what one or another jumpy Baltic nation might do. The sea was his home, and he was utterly at ease upon it.
//
“I distinctly remember telling Herr Haupf,” Hornblower said to Hanover, “that owing to the regrettable presence of French privateers and owing as well to Prussia’s … h’m … neutrality, I would be unable to grant him permission to ply Baltic waters. Perhaps he would care to explain his presence.” He bit his lip to restrain a grin. This would be most interesting.
//
As he had expected, Haupf spluttered and stammered, his face turning darker and darker, but he produced no actual excuse. At length he gazed defiantly at Hornblower. Hornblower raised his chin.
//
“Have the men open and unpack every crate aboard this vessel.”
//
“He says you cannot, you must not, you are instituting an act of war against a sovereign nation, my lord.”
//
“Tell him,” Hornblower replied calmly, “that the Baltic Sea is under the sovereignty of the commander in chief of His Britannic Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in Baltic Waters … who happens to be me. I’ll have those crates opened on the instant or I shall start sending men to this ship’s gratings.”
//
Haupf’s face went from purple to gray and his shoulders slumped.
//
While the captain of the Friedrich obeyed Hornblower’s orders, transmitted through Hanover, to keep to a lively speed and follow the Roebuck – Hornblower had not forgotten his pursuit of the Emma – the forenoon ticked away with every crate being opened and unpacked. The decks became jammed with timber, rope, barrels of rosin – and more. Hornblower watched with undisguised interest as bolts of silk emerged, wheels of costly Danish cheeses, bottles of Swedish liquor. Haupf was smuggling everything he could get his hands on.
//
“My lord,” here was Hanover at his side, “their topman reports a sail to windward.” Hornblower fitted his glass to his eye. His eyesight was not quite what it had been. As the ship came closer, though, his heart began to race again. A French corvair! Hornblower’s glance darted upward. He had not troubled to have the Friedrich strike her colors.
//
Thinking rapidly, he ordered Haupf brought back up from below. He stuck the barrel of his fine ebony-butted pistol into Haupf’s fat chest. “Give the expected answers to your … friend …” he said scornfully, “or your words will be your epitaph.”
//
Haupf, resigned, answered the Frenchman and the corvair came up alongside. The Frenchman’s face made a comic change from pleasure to shock at the sight of Lord Hornblower standing on the Friedrich’s deck with a pistol at his chest; and in that instant Hornblower realized with sinking heart that the corvair could easily board the Friedrich if so inclined.
//
Thank God! The dour-faced Foreman was cleverer than he appeared. No sooner had Hornblower come to appreciate the dilemma he now faced than his ears were filled with the welcome sound of English voices roaring as they boarded the corvair. The Emma’s crew were boarding her! This would have to be a very carefully worded report, Hornblower thought, and even that did not dull his pleasure and relief.
//
In time, the Emma’s first lieutenant was put in command of the corvair as a prize, and Hanover in charge of the Friedrich, with so small a crew as to warrant a midshipman’s command.
//
Just like that, the thorny problem of Haupf had resolved itself, and with one French privateer captured, Hornblower fancied that others would come more easily; they would be running timidly instead of boldly, and would be liable to make mistakes.
//
Several days passed that, it seemed to Hornblower, would be utterly delightful were he not fretting over Richard. The weather was mild, the seas cooperative, the wind friendly, and he was aboard a ship.
//
At last they caught up with the Emma off Arendal. This time there was no racing of pulses.. Hornblower felt disappointed and found himself dreading the encounter with his son. He loved Richard desperately, but a seventeen-year-old in love does not know his own mind.
//
Richard had sat silent and sullen in the sternsheets as he was rowed back to the Roebuck, and once in his father’s cabin, refused to meet his eye.
//
Hornblower sat and gazed out the stern windows, using silence as a tactic.
//
Finally Richard spoke. “You’ve ruined my life, you know.” It was an audacious statement to make. It was both untrue and, more important, utterly lacking in the respect to which Hornblower was entitled. Hornblower tightened his lips and reminded himself that love makes a fool of any man.
//
“Did you hope to live with … Ruth … as man and wife?”
//
“Yes, of course … Father.” He still would not look Hornblower in the eye.
//
“Did you see yourself satisfied with unremitting labor, farming, and this … worship?” Richard had been as bored as Hornblower at church services.
//
Silence. “I love her, Father,” Richard burst out, blushing and at last meeting his father’s gaze.
//
“I understand, Richard,” Hornblower said gently. Richard stopped on the verge of what likely would have been an unforgivable outburst. The boy had remembered just in time that he was the child of his father’s late first wife, and he had just enough sensitivity to realize that a rash statement on his father’s inability to know anything about love would have been foolish in the extreme.
//
“I don’t mind all the other, if I can be with her.”
//
Hornblower cast his mind back to the queer interview with the religionists and Alborg. “These religionists live communally, Richard,” he explained. “The men and women live separately … and … ah …” dear God. “Uh … celibately.”
//
“Celibately?” Richard looked blank.
//
“Men and women do not live as man and wife. They do not … know each other.”
//
Richard looked his astonishment. Clearly his pretty young Shaker had neglected a portion of her love’s education.
//
Hornblower had the kindness not to make Richard face the Shakers again. He sent a midshipman over to collect Richard’s chest and deliver a note for Ruth.
//
Foreman, as ordered, set a course for a leisurely return to Sweden. As Hornblower had hoped, the days at sea acted as a balm on Richard’s broken heart. By the time they docked at Malmo, Richard had even confided in Hornblower his desire to apply to Sandhurst. Though it would lead to service in the Army, not the Navy, Hornblower had suspected for some time that Richard’s preference was not for the sea. That was well enough.
//
That night, flooded with relief in the knowledge that Richard was safely home again, Barbara was content to lay in Hornblower’s arms in bed, silent and at ease.
//
“Is there nothing that confounds you, dearest?” she murmured.
//
Hornblower smiled. “The way to a woman’s heart, perhaps.” He stroked her fair hair.
//
“You know full well the way to mine,” Barbara murmured.
//
Hornblower felt his eyelids beginning to droop. Sleep was overcoming him. “That is the only way I care to know,” he mumbled through a yawn. Strange how contented he was feeling. Though he cynically supposed it would be fleeting, he would enjoy it as long as it lasted.
*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
1.      Sherry Watson, first reader and gifted editor.
2.      The documentary “Ken Burns’ America: The Shakers.”
3.      Wikipedia, entries on “Treaty of Kiel,” “privateers” and “letters of marque.”
4.      MSN maps online.
NOTES:
            The Earl of Antrim exists, though no one at present holds the title, so I have given it to a worthy nobleman. The Battle of Lyngor, and The Treaty of Kiel, took place as described, as did the portioning of the Baltic states and their alliances.
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