Let Nothing You Dismay
by Pam and Del

Companion Piece to the "Into the Game" series

"One is one
And all alone,
And ever more shall be, O!"

--"Green Grow the Rushes-O," Traditional.

PART ONE

 

24 December 1802

 

*Count your blessings,* Archie Kennedy told himself. *Be thankful for what
you have.*

He was alive. Nicholas Crawford, Earl of Kilcarron, and Doctor Charles
Latour had seen to that, when Archie had so nearly died of wounds and
infection in Kingston, almost a year ago. He was not imprisoned for life,
nor was he condemned and waiting to hang, despite his courtroom confession to
assaulting a superior officer. He was safe from any proceeding by the
Admiralty, in fact, since they thought he was dead. He had not been maimed
or crippled by his injuries as others had been; he was steadily regaining his
strength. He had not been thrust out of work by the Peace of Amiens, as so
many in the Service now were. He had, in fact, gainful employment as an
intelligence agent-in-training, and had even begun to be paid as such, three
months ago. And however difficult his new position or infuriating his new
employer, he was at least not stranded aboard a ship captained by a madman.

It should have been enough.

It was not even remotely satisfying.

He was alone, at Christmas.

Without his family, his betrothed, or his dearest friend.

*****

As the autumn had passed, the old year beginning to die, Archie had tightened
his mouth and pushed the memories down. For a time there had been the
prospect of action to divert his thoughts: word came to Edinburgh of the
conspiracy of a certain Colonel Despard against the Bank of England. The
entire division went on notice. But the London intelligence contingent had
finally managed without reinforcements: Despard had been arrested in November.

Since then, as December began, Archie had found himself more and more
restive, trying to ignore the ache of loneliness and block off the pain.

*Concentrate on the task at hand . . .*

Yet there did not seem to be quite enough tasks at hand. He prowled between
the armory, the practice range, the map room, and the stables; a silent,
discontented blond shadow, as impatient and tense as any watch-dog. Adding
the library to his circuit provided some solace: two volumes of Shakespeare,
borne back thankfully to his room. But one could not be reading all the time.

Archie's growing agitation did not go unseen by his commanding officer.
Carmichael noted the silence, the restlessness, and the return of certain
other symptoms in Agent "Stewart" that had not been evident since the
beginning of summer, frowned to himself, and rubbed his jaw with the back of
his knuckles. Soon there were extra duty assignments as often as Carmichael
could think of them; he lengthened their daily walks as much as the early
evenings and the onset of winter weather allowed, and proposed riding for
exercise when conditions made walking too difficult. Archie accepted the
additional activity with silent gratitude as the December days slipped by.

And now it was Christmas Eve.

*****

Evergreen branches had been hung in the dining-hall, there had been singing
earlier in the common-room, and some discreet gift-giving among agents who
were close companions. There had been mention, also, of parlor games planned
for that evening and the following day. And the lodge staff had prepared an
unusually elaborate dinner in the mid-afternoon. But for the most part,
festivities had been restrained; Archie was grateful for that. He had tried
to tell himself to consider this merely another day, in order to dull the
sense of loss and exile. It was not possible to succeed completely, however.
Late in the afternoon, he found himself staring out the common-room window
at the sky, wishing the cold could numb the pain even further.

"Who's for a ride, then?"

"A ride?" Agent Laura Grant, only recently returned from Portugal, echoed
Archie's surprise at Carmichael's question. "Where?"

"Edinburgh. For church, and a bit of a drink, after." Carmichael's eyes
traveled over Grant, Archie, and stopped on Rory MacCrimmon. "Still too hot
for you, I think," he said to the youth, whose notorious house-breaking
career had caused much irritation to the local constabulary. Rory shrugged,
but looked only mildly disappointed.

"I'll go," Archie heard himself say; anything was better than staying here
and brooding.

"So will I," Agent Jamieson said from the other side of the table where he
had been playing cards with Grant.

"And you?" Carmichael's eyes met Grant's, but she shook her head.

"I'll go in the morning with Rob and Caillean. You won't be back in until
well after dark."

"More like midnight," Carmichael agreed, and she laughed.

"Happy Christmas to the three of you, then!"

"And to you," Archie remembered to say as he followed Carmichael and Jamieson
from the common-room.

 

END PART ONE

*****

PART TWO

It was perhaps an hour's ride to Edinburgh under good conditions. Archie had
only been there twice since Doctor Latour had pronounced him fit enough for
riding. He trailed the other two as they proceeded at a moderate pace.
Although snow had fallen a few days ago, it had not been deep, and the ways
were clear. No one seemed inclined to talk or sing: silent on the road like
this, one could almost forget it was Christmas.

Christmas at sea, aboard the Indy, invited for dinner in the captain's cabin.
Sharing out a fruitcake, and teasing Horatio unmercifully about his lack of
appreciation for the music of the season--or for any music at all! And other
Christmases spent ashore: singing the old carols with his family, listening
to his betrothed on the pianoforte. He had held her close against his heart,
studying the ruby-and-pearl ring he himself had placed upon her finger; how
she had laughed when she had discovered the full extent of his strategic
maneuvers with the mistletoe!

*No more!* Archie dug his heels against the horse's sides, sent his mount
swiftly ahead of his companions and kept the pace at a near-gallop along the
road for almost ten minutes, trying to concentrate solely on the rhythm of
the hooves and push the memories away. Feeling some success at last, he
slackened the pace, let his horse drop back and rejoin the others again.

They rode together in silence for another half-hour, until Edinburgh came
into view. Carmichael drew rein at one bend in the road, apparently wishing
to pause before entering the town. Archie and Jamieson followed suit.

"Peace," Carmichael said, glancing up at the clear but darkening sky and
exhaling deeply. "Enjoy it for now, lads--it's not likely to last much
longer."

Jamieson's dark eyes sharpened. "Is there news?"

"A letter. Old Nick should be coming back up after the New Year. There's
some word of a mission--Ireland, maybe. Boney's been looking in that
direction again."

Jamieson nodded, resumed his characteristic silence. Thinking of Kilcarron's
return, Archie held his tongue as well. Carmichael directed his horse
forward again and they rode in single file, without speaking, the rest of the
way into town.

*****

"For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy."

Carmichael had led the way to St. Mark's with the ease of telling
familiarity. It was a small church at the end of a narrow street in what
looked to be a working-class neighborhood. Yet despite its humble size and
location, it imparted the same serenity that Archie had felt in other more
elaborate places of worship.

There must have been no more than twelve in the choir. Archie felt a pang as
the music began: Horatio would have winced or absented himself, while his
betrothed would have reveled in it. Although small, the choir acquitted
itself with skill and sweetness. The service was simple: three hymns, and
the parson's reading from the Gospel of Luke.

"And on earth, peace, and goodwill toward men."

After two more hymns the subdued congregation rose for final prayers. There
had been one space left next to Archie on the aisle at the end of the pew; as
he bowed his head and studied his own folded hands he was aware of the space
suddenly being filled. The new arrival was wearing blue, in a shade that
would always draw Archie's eye. Naval uniform, right enough. Archie's
glance slid further sideways. A lieutenant's uniform, to be precise, but the
jacket was in a sorry state, and one of the dirty sleeves seriously tattered.

Another bad sign: there looked to be buttons missing. Simply lost or
not-yet-mended--or was it a worse case? Buttons pawned, sold, or bartered
for want of money or necessities? Risking one more glance upward, Archie
noted the thinness and pallor of the face under its straight, red-brown hair;
the officer looked younger than Archie himself.

As the congregation filed out, Archie waited for his neighbor to step into
the aisle so that he and his colleagues could depart as well, but the Naval
officer did not move. He appeared to be in a brown study and did not lift
his head until the parson still at the lectern coughed and loudly closed one
of his books. The lieutenant gave a slight start, and turned as if to exit,
but something was clearly wrong: he reached out a hand, visibly supporting
himself on the back of the pew, then moved unsteadily into the aisle.

Archie followed--and was just in time to catch the young man as he crumpled
to his knees.

 

END PART TWO
*****

PART THREE

 

"Fainted," Archie reported to Carmichael and Jamieson, who had come up behind
him as he knelt on the floor, still holding the lieutenant. "Is he ill, d'you
think?"

"Does he seem feverish?"

Archie touched the young man's forehead lightly. "No."

"Could he be drunk?" This from the parson, now standing behind them in the
aisle.

"No." Carmichael shook his head. "Hunger, most likely--he looks to be
naught but bones. We'll see to him," he told the churchman, who looked
relieved enough to be dismissed, and withdrew.

"Here." Carmichael handed his flask to Archie, who took it thankfully, then
looked down as he felt the young man stirring against his knees.

"Easy now," Archie said quietly, carefully. There was a soft moan from his
patient, who then tried to turn over. "No, just lie still. You'll be
yourself in a minute."

The weight on his knees increased again as the other obeyed. Archie saw the
young officer blinking slowly as he took in his surroundings. The eyes under
the bluish lids were dark, almost painfully familiar, and looked far too
large for the thin, pale face.

"What--?" He was struggling to sit upright; Archie held his shoulders, still
bracing him a little.

"You--were taken unwell suddenly," he explained tactfully, and saw the young
man's fair skin flush painfully until it almost matched his hair.

"Oh--" the slight groan was followed by a low, not-quite-inaudible curse.
Royal Navy, certain sure: Archie barely kept back a smile. Glancing about
for a distraction, he discovered Carmichael's flask, almost forgotten in his
hand.

"Here--can you drink something?" Uncapping the flask Archie helped his
patient bring it to his lips. The officer drank briefly, then coughed and
gasped for breath, not an unusual reaction to Carmichael's liquor.

"*That*--would bring the dead back to life!" he rasped.

"Close enough," Archie's commander agreed, taking back his flask. "You don't
look like you've eaten today, lad. Best come along and have a bite of supper
with us."

*'Lad?'* Over the young man's head, Archie looked at Carmichael with
slightly narrowed, suspicious eyes. He knew just how faint that
north-country burr could be, had even heard it disappear altogether once or
twice. When the brogue became more evident, as it was now, it usually meant
Carmichael was play-acting in some way, or was secretly amused. He put aside
the question, though, to concentrate on a more urgent matter, as the
lieutenant again tried to rise.

"I can't impose on you like this--" he protested.

"Nonsense," Archie broke in quickly, trying to keep his voice light. "I know
what *he*," jerking his head toward Carmichael, "keeps in that flask. You
need some food or you'll never walk straight again!"

"And you don't want the constables taking you up for drunk and disorderly
now," Carmichael agreed. "It *is* Christmas." He put out his hand, helped
pull the other to his feet while Archie steadied him from behind. "The
King's Arms is just down the street. Come on, then."

*****

The supper that arrived, ordered privately by Jamieson while Archie and
Carmichael towed their new acquaintance to a table, was almost suspiciously
generous for men who had eaten well earlier in the day: bread, cheese and
soup to start them off, followed by roast chicken and boiled potatoes, then a
mutton pie, along with four tankards of ale.

As the drinks were handed out, the young man bristled. "I can stand my
round--"

"Nay, leave it be, lad," Carmichael overruled him. "Save your brass. I've
done my bit with the Army--we can give the Navy a hand if there's need."

The brogue had thickened again. He *was* playacting, a bit! Sensing another
point to this beyond mere dissembling, Archie concealed his frown behind his
tankard and watched.

Pride warred with honesty on the young officer's face, and finally
surrendered under Carmichael's guileless gaze.

"You're--all very kind." Again he flushed vividly; Archie smothered a
sympathetic smile.

"Nay, lad, don't be daft," Carmichael admonished. "Just eat your supper."

Their new companion's name was David Gordon, he confided, between spoonfuls
of soup.

"Third lieutenant on the Intrepid. Frigate--and the best ship in the fleet,"
he added proudly, and Archie felt the echoes in his soul. "Until we were
paid off four months ago, because of the peace." He paused again and took
another pull from his tankard; Archie silently passed him more chicken.

And he wasn't wholly penniless, Gordon asserted, trying to regain some small
shred of dignity after fainting in the church. It was merely that he hadn't
eaten since the previous day--trying to save what coin he could for a roof
during the night.

"I'd been to Leith," Gordon explained. "Hoping for a post, any kind of
berth. But there's been nothing."

"And your half-pay?" Archie asked.

"I send most of it on every month to my mam in Glasgow. There are three
younger than me at home--my brother's old enough to work but the lasses are
still bairns and need taking care of." Again that faint flush in Gordon's
cheeks. "I left Leith to come here--to find work or go home. But the
traveling cost more than I'd thought."

And found himself in low water much sooner than expected, but no need for
anyone to say that. Archie bit his lip silently; God send *Horatio* was not
in such straits.

"Nothing in Leith," Carmichael was repeating. "And you'd not find any work
here 'til day after tomorrow at best. In the midst of winter--might not be
much to be had. I think you're best off going home, any road."

David Gordon looked stubborn. "And be another mouth to feed? It's my duty
to provide for *them*."

"You can still do that at home, right enough," Archie countered. "Think of
your half-pay. Living with your family you'd have all of it to share,
instead of them only getting a portion. And you could look for work there in
Glasgow."

"And no rent to pay," Carmichael agreed. "Even if you found something
here--might be a week or more before they paid you, and you'd need lodging
and board in the meantime."

"I could work for no more than my keep and still send the half-pay on to my
family," Gordon argued. "There's bound to be something. Maybe the
farms--there are all the villages between here and Glasgow."

"But if they have any work they'll offer it to their own, first." Jamieson
broke his silence at last. "You'd be an outsider: last hired, least paid.
And the first let go when times are bad. A stranger in a small village--it's
always more difficult." His voice carried the conviction of personal
experience. "Coming back to live with your mam--you'd be familiar.
Accepted. If there's any work to be had, you'd hear of it."

David Gordon fell silent.

"Think of it," Archie urged. "At least--you've a family to go home *to*.
They'd welcome you, especially at Christmas."

Gordon took a long drink of ale, then looked slowly from one to the other of
his table-mates, apparently finding identical expressions of conviction among
all of them. A faint smile touched his mouth. "*At Christmas*," he echoed,
and his eyes met Archie's. "So I am now being counselled by Three Wise Men?"

"Perhaps not entirely *wise*," Archie admitted, with a slight smile of his
own . "But not wholly lacking in sense."

"Then in the morning--"

"Go home," Archie repeated. "You can put up at your mam's--there'll be no
rent, at least. Forget your pride, she'll just be glad to have you there.
Take what work you can find for the winter, and try Leith again in the
spring."

"Best listen to him, lad," Carmichael seconded. "Stop on for the night, then
start home in the morning. The shops'll be closed, but it's not
snowing--there'll be a carter or a waggoner or even a tinker likely on the
road, he could offer you a ride in exchange for a hand with the loading.
Might even make a shilling or two that way, before you get to Glasgow." He
set aside his tankard, considered what remained on the table.

There was bread and cheese left, and more than half the pie.

"Wrap it all up and take it with you for the road. Save you a bit more
brass."

"But you've paid for it--"

"Nay, then. We're in work, for the winter. Don't be daft, again."
Carmichael continued to sound sternly avuncular and apparently oblivious to
the young man's lingering embarrassment. Archie, finishing his own ale, was
tempted to salute the performance. His superior pushed away from the table,
rose with a grunt, and strode away with the air of a man bound for the privy.
Jamieson followed him.

"You know he's right." Archie looked around, found a spare napkin in which
to wrap the pie, and passed it to Gordon.

The reluctance was still plain on the younger man's face. "Once I was old
enough for the Navy I hadn't thought to burden my family again."

"They'll not see it like that," Archie assured him. He tried to think of
anything more he could do to help Gordon along the way. There were twelve
pounds in his pocket. He needed two to pay Jamieson for the reckoning but--

"I've ten pounds I can give you," he told Gordon, and saw the other's face
harden in the tell-tale sign of a young man's stiff-necked pride. "No,
listen. It'll get you a room for the night, and on the road in the morning.
If there's any left when you reach Glasgow you can give it to your mam for
the bairns. Please. It--it would be *my* pleasure." He found liberating
refuge in the truth. "My dearest friend is in the Navy. I've had no word of
him this age. Take it for his sake--and the day's." Seeing some of the
stubbornness fade from Gordon's expression, he pressed on.

"Call it a loan, if you want. You can write to me when you've a ship again.
Send it here, to the King's Arms. My name's Stewart," he paused, realizing
he would have to do better, "Archie Stewart. They'll hold a letter for me,
if I ask it."

Gordon squared his shoulders, nodded tightly as he accepted the money and put
it in his pocket. "For his sake, then. Your friend's. And I shall pay you
back." This last uttered with more than a hint of a challenge.

Archie only smiled. "I expect nothing less from an officer in His Majesty's
Navy."

The set of Gordon's shoulders eased, as did his expression. Suddenly, he put
out his hand. "Mr. Stewart--I will always be grateful for your kindness.
Might I wish you a Happy Christmas?"

Archie clasped the extended hand warmly. "Indeed you may, lieutenant. And a
Happy Christmas to you too."

*****

There was only a half-moon but the sky was clear and the stars bright: enough
light to ride by if they were careful. Traveling at a companionable pace,
Archie felt himself relaxing in the saddle. For the first time in what
seemed like weeks, sleep appeared a welcome possibility. The long ride, the
lateness of the hour, the church service, supper, the encounter with David
Gordon: some or all of these had brought him an odd inner peace. Or maybe
it was simply the ale---although he had not noticed it at first in the cold,
there seemed to be a humming in his ears from the spirits.

No, someone *was* humming. Musically. And as he listened further, the
humming resolved itself into words.

"God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay.
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day,"

Singing? Archie glanced sideways; Carmichael grinned at him, but was
definitely *not* singing. Which left . . . Archie looked to his other side
for the source of the carol.

"To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray--"

Jamieson, leaving behind his usual reticence for a surprising, pleasant
baritone. Perhaps it *was* the ale. Or even an excess of sentiment.
Whatever the reason, Archie found himself joining in softly as they made
their slow way home.

"O, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O, tidings of comfort and joy."

 

END PART THREE

*****
"Joyful all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies"

--"Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," Charles Wesley

 

EPILOGUE

 

24 December 1803

 

"I think they've left a window open!" Rory exclaimed, craning his neck for a
better look as they stood outside the church after services.

Archie tweaked his ear quickly. "None of that. You're respectable, now--best
act like it."

"Are you coming along to supper?" Ahead of them, Carmichael's voice was
impatient. Archie and Rory hurried to catch up.

The King's Arms seemed far more crowded than it had a year ago. It was only
chance that he was there at all, Archie thought, following the others to a
vacant table. Originally he, Rob Ferguson, and Jamieson, had been posted for
courier duty in the Irish Sea at the beginning of December. An urgent
summons requiring Kilcarron's presence in London had resulted in a delay of
their assignment until after the new year. Meanwhile, Carmichael and Rory
were scheduled to depart for France in three days. . . .

"Aren't you Stewart?"

The hailing of his "name" as an agent brought Archie's attention back to the
immediate present. Blinking, he looked around, saw the barkeep staring
pointedly at him. "Your pardon, sir?"

"You're Stewart, aren't you? This came for you." The barkeep handed Archie
what looked to be a well-travelled sheaf of paper, carefully folded and
tightly sealed.

With a murmur of thanks, Archie turned aside and broke away the sealing wax.
Inside were two five-pound notes. And a letter.

"Mr. Archibald Stewart:

My dear sir,

Be pleased to know that that I followed your advice, and that of your
companions, after the occasion which found me so shamefully overcome. Within
three weeks of my homecoming I was informed of the possibility
of employment as a clerk to a tobacco merchant, and was able to accept the
situation until the end of spring, when, as you know, the war came upon us
again. Thankfully I was able to leave my mother and sisters
well-provided for, and they will continue to have my brother's assistance. I
shall always owe the three of you a great debt for your generosity towards a
stranger, and for the wisdom of your counsel.

I remain, sir,

Yr Obt Svt

David Gordon
Fifth Lieutenant
H. M. S. Tonnant"

 

END

Now to the Lord sing praises
All you within this place
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace.
This holy tide of Christmas
All others doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

--"God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," Traditional

 

AUTHORS' NOTES

1) As far as we know, St. Mark's church in Edinburgh and the H.M.S. frigate
Intrepid are both fictional: any resemblance to historically existing
entities is entirely coincidental and we apologize for any unintentional
infringements upon the originals.

2) H.M.S. Tonnant (84), on the other hand,(already known to CSF readers) was
engaged in the blockade of Brest in 1803, under the command of Captain Sir
Edward Pellew.