Now My Soul Hath Elbow-Room
by Michele

 

`Shore-leave... `T'would almost seem redundant.'

Acting-Lieutenant Archie Kennedy happily breathed in the fresh, early
December air as he and Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower walked through
the streets of Portsmouth. Archie half-breathed the words, a strange
combination of animation and wistfulness.

`Or, perhaps, almost a contradiction in terms,' Hornblower
added, a touch of witty irony in his voice.

`Yes..' Archie agreed, more wistful now than anything.

And with good reason. The two young men were enjoying their first
shore-leave since their release from the prison at El Ferrol, Spain,
three months before. The transition back to the routine of shipboard
life had been an easy one for Horatio, but for Archie, the adjustment
had been difficult, on many levels. Nonetheless, Kennedy had worked
hard to put the pain and isolation of the past three years behind
him, showing amazing courage and determination; and Captain Pellew
had rewarded him -- and perhaps (although Sir Edward would NEVER have
admitted it) taken an opportunity to encourage him -- by granting the
young man the field promotion of Acting-Lieutenant. And the ruse had
worked: Archie's self-confidence and sense of self-worth had
increased dramatically at the promotion, and more, at his
captain's
show of confidence in him. Still, he found himself having to work
hard to remember things about his job and about the ship that, before
his capture, had come so easily to him. It had been a very
frustrating time for him, but after so many years with nothing at all
to do, he had welcomed the challenge, and indeed been extremely
grateful to Captain Pellew.

Now, Kennedy mused at the strangeness of how good it felt to be on
land, after so many years of separation from the sea he loved.

`So, Mr Kennedy, where to next?' Horatio had spent many
hours alone with Archie in the wardroom, taking care to be sure no
other officers were present, as together the two friends had talked
through many of the demons from the past -- demons which BOTH men had
had to deal with as unwelcome residual from their experiences. Both
had found themselves plagued with nightmares at first, but while
Hornblower's had ceased soon after their return to the Indy,
Archie's
persisted even now. And his waking thoughts often became suddenly
dark as well, with that all-too-familiar shadow behind his eyes
prone to return without warning.

So at the moment, the Lieutenant spoke cheerfully, seeking to take
his friend's thoughts out of the past -- something at which he
had become well-practised.

It worked. That was something Horatio had always found interesting
about his friend: No matter how bad things had been for Archie in
the past, somehow you could always bring him back round with a good
meal, a lively conversation, or, most especially, a good book.

`Well, let's see, H'ratio,' he said, hefting a
slightly weighty, medium-sized, brown-paper-wrapped package from one
hand to the other, and regarding the two smaller packages Hornblower
was carrying, `we've already been to the bookshop, the tea
shop,
and to Cutler & Gross, for your new buttons and my new neck-cloth..
What would be *your* wish?'

Hornblower rubbed his reddened hands together, blowing warm breath
onto them. `I believe a good meal would not go amiss,
Archie.'

Kennedy smiled. He, too, was feeling chilled, tired, and felt the
need for some comfort from within. `I fear it has been some time
since I have been in Portsmouth... Is there any establishment you
would recommend?'

`Any requests??'

`I don't care,' Archie answered, a wicked smile on his
handsome, but still-pale face. `As long as they DON'T serve
Spanish
food....'

 

*******************

A roaring fire beside Horatio, and a large, meticulously-cleaned
window next to Archie, the two officers had been pleased to find the
best table at the Rose Of Sharon Inn available when they had
arrived. It hadn't escaped Hornblower's notice that since
their return to the Indy, his friend had sought out every window, and
every opportunity to be abovedecks that he could. Even foul weather
had proven no deterrent, as Horatio had watched his friend
desperately trying to make up for lost time. It broke
Hornblower's
normally analytical and logical heart to see the young man grope for
all the free air he could take, and shamelessly revel in the simple
act of standing on deck, looking up at the blue sky or at the stars,
sometimes for hours. Horatio had noted that whilst off watch, Archie
would take a book to a deserted corner of the deck, and sit and read
until there was no more natural light left to do so. Usually, his
voracious reading was interspered with getting up every half hour or
so to stretch his legs and walk the deck -- sometimes leisurely and
seeming at peace, and sometimes nervously pacing, or walking as
quickly as he could, appearing frustrated that there was no room to
run, and that there was no more space than the confines of the ship
in which to wander.

It was going to take him a while to recover. If EVER he would.

Now, Archie was savouring the inn's best ale, enjoying every line
and embellishment on the heavy, expensive tankard in which it was
served. He didn't know it, but Horatio had saved up some of his
pay and had surreptitiously slipped a bit of it to the serving woman,
to be certain she would see they get the best accoutrements (and
service) that the inn had. Hornblower could certainly not be
considered a rich man by ANY means, but what he had, he wanted well-
used, and he could think of no better use than to treat his friend in
any way he could -- without letting the man's pride be damaged,
of course.

Horatio took another sip of coffee -- his preferred beverage, and one
he needed at the moment for its warming qualities -- and perused the
simple, three-selection menu. `What do you fancy, Archie?'

Kennedy smiled. `It is a fine thing there is nothing involving
beans on this list, Horatio, for I believe that if I never see one,
or its derivations, again in my life-time, it shall be far too
soon.'

Hornblower smiled and wrapped his hands round his fine china cup.
`I must agree, Mr Kennedy -- unless, of course, we are speaking
of
the coffee bean.'

`I believe I should like the chicken pie,' Archie said,
placing his
menu on the table, toward its edge, so the serving woman would know
he had made his selection. `And for you, sir?'

The brown eyes made one final studious pass over the short list,
before looking up and meeting the blue ones of his companion. `A
fine filet would be very welcome.' Suddenly he grinned widely.
`I suspect Mr Hunter would have approved.....'

Archie laughed out loud. `Don't forget the fruit for
dessert, then!'

***************************

Kennedy's insides felt warm, and he felt loved and cared-for, as
the hot, savoury bites of chicken-and-vegetable pie found their way
down. He had never remembered ANYthing ever tasting so good, or
making him feel so comforted. Well, perhaps with the exception of
his late mother's cooking. The woman had so loved the creative
process, and had possessed such a strong, natural nurturing instinct,
that more often than not she had insisted upon chasing the servants
out of the kitchen and (much to her stodgy, overly traditional
husband's dismay and sometimes irritation) had insisted upon
preparing many of the family's meals herself. It had made her
feel good, and young Archie had found her care immensely comforting.
After her death, he had sorely missed such things, and sometimes
still felt intensely sad at the thought that he would never find such
comfort again.

So, it was at times like this, sharing a meal -- or even just a
conversation -- with the one person he loved and trusted more than
anyone on earth, that he felt most comforted, and most safe. It was
sometimes almost enough to drive him to tears, so overwhelmed would
he become with emotions so long, of necessity, dead.

Now, in the warmth, light, and spaciousness of one of the best inns
in Portsmouth, Archie felt free, and safe, and loved. Another bite,
a sip of his second ale, and he could not suppress a sigh of
contentment.

`What is it, Archie?' Horatio swallowed a bite of his steak
and looked up at his friend.

`Now my soul hath elbow-room; it would not out at windows, nor at
doors.'*

`Hmm???' Hornblower looked puzzled.

`It's from King John.... I feel free, H'ratio... free,
and safe, and comforted. It's been... it's been far too
long since
I have
truly felt that way....' His soft voice trailed off, and his
gaze
with it. The candlelight and firelight of the subtly lit room
combined to bounce dancing shadows on and off his glowing features.
Horatio noted that his friend at once looked wistful and contented.
That happened a lot in the last couple of months, so he was not
concerned; if anything, he was comforted, because he knew that Archie
was on his way to healing.

Hornblower was silent for a moment as the serving woman returned to
re-fill his coffee cup. The middle-aged woman had been kind and
attentive to them, but not overbearing, and for that he was
grateful. He took a sip and turned his attention back to his friend,
speaking gently and earnestly.

`I promise you, Archie, hereinafter you shall always breathe
free, and nothing shall ever again take another moment of your
life.'

Kennedy was moved, but held his tears. He had wept so much over the
past three years, and it had not stopped over these last three
months, although the good moments had been taking much more of his
time of late than had the bad.

`O, let us pay the time but needful woe,
Since it hath been beforehand with our griefs.'*

`Archie??'

`Nothing, H'ratio...' he smiled. His quote had merely
been his way of affirming to himself that he had been through enough,
and had shed enough tears for a while; and that now was the time to
be happy, to enjoy the moment, and to embrace the future -- for he
knew he indeed had a bright future awaiting him, a fine,
understanding, and encouraging captain to serve under, and most
especially, a true and caring friend who would not only bring him
through the bad times, but with whom he could share the good ones as
well.

Good moments like this one: Safe and warm in a lovely inn, good food
before him, fine spirits; some new books and fine treats and comforts
to take back to the ship with them -- and no sad or fearful thoughts,
no painful memories. All was right with the world. And nothing
would ever be wrong, or frightening, or uncertain, or dark again.

Archie knew he would be all right. And so would Horatio. They both
still had some difficult memories to deal with, but everything would
be just fine, because they knew they would, as they always had, be
there for each other.

The worst was over, and the best was yet to come.

 

 

 

 

 

*King John; V, vii