FELIZ CUMPLEANOS SENOR KENNEDY!
By Ruth W.
A stiff but pleasant breeze blew spray off the Atlantic Ocean onto the two young English officers who sat on a grass ridge atop the cliffs.
One of them had just opened a small book, which he closed to let the spray blow over and then opened again. He wrote at the top of the page with a piece of thin charcoal and looked up, narrowing his eyes at a ship far out on the horizon. He wondered if it was, as they both suspected, his beloved Indefatigable, lurking like a shark, endlessly patrolling the waters around the enemy port of El Ferrol
Their home. Their prison.
"I come of age today, Horatio," he said softly, as though he needed to break the silence, and this topic would do as well as any other. "I am twenty-one years old."
The other pulled himself out of his daydream with a look of surprise. "Really, Archie ?" he responded, "You've kept that very quiet. I should have realised, but the last year has gone so quickly" He offered his hand. "My congratulations !"
Recently-promoted Acting Lieutenant Kennedy took the clasp with a sigh. "Thank you, Horatio," he said quietly, adding as though he could not stop himself "It may have gone quickly for you" Then he looked up with a half-smile as he heard himself say the words.
"I'm sorry. That was tactless," he added politely, not sounding sorry at all. "I just never imagined I'd be spending this day-of-days here, d'you see?"
His companion showed no sign that he was in the least perturbed. "What would you have done then, had you been at home?" he asked.
Archie gave a rueful grin, squinting at the hazy, distant horizon. "I don't know," he admitted, adding more generously "Something outrageously expensive, I suppose. Or damaging to the health . . . I am probably better off here."
Casting about for a casual topic of conversation, but with a young man's lack of subtlety, Lieutenant Hornblower said: "You never did tell me, Archie, whether you have a sweetheart waiting for you in England."
Kennedy's face did not change, but a very slight hesitation before he gave his answer warned that the question was volcanic. He doodled absently with the charcoal in his diary. The steady breeze ruffled his hair and lifted the edge of the page under his hand.
"I did have once . . . before the Papillon," he responded frankly. "Seems a lifetime ago. A lot of water under the bridge since then, Horatio. We would hardly know one another now." He shrugged. "I wrote to her from France, releasing her from any obligation she might still have felt, but I don't suppose she ever received the letter. I expect she has married wisely and settled down to raise a brood of offspring." His voice changed slightly as he relaxed a little. "I doubt she would have married me anyway, an epileptic midshipman . . . Respectable young women want at least a post captain these days."
"Does she have to be respectable?" Hornblower enquired facetiously, "Or even young?"
The other gave a little chuckle. "She has to be perfect," he declared. "I'm a well-brought-up lad, Horatio. And we Kennedys have high standards."
"And what does that mean, you have to marry a princess?"
"Oh, nothing quite so dramatic. What it means, my friend, is that I may bed whomever I want, in or out of marriage, but when I go to church it must be with the very best . . . and there are not many young ladies who would cross the road for a middy, let alone plight their troth to one . . ."
Hornblower was sure his friend had not always been so cynical. "You will not be a midshipman forever," he reminded firmly. "Now Captain Pellew has made you up, only your examination stands between you and your commission. And as for the fits . . ." The issue had been on his mind for some time, and he was glad to have the opportunity of broaching it, "Have you ever thought of turning landsman, Archie ?"
Kennedy's eyes narrowed suspiciously. Most of Hornblower's casual questions carried a hidden agenda, and there was no reason why this one should be any different.
"Why should I?" he wanted to know.
"Well . . . you would find more leisure to become a husband and father . . . if that is your intention," he suggested carefully.
"So would you," Kennedy pointed out, equally carefully.
Hornblower nodded. "But don't you think" he added "that you would be safer on land ?"
"Well of course I would," came the dry response, "and so would you. We would both be a lot safer if we didn't have to patrol the oceans, dodging roundshot with half a ton of gunpowder under our feet, or leap aboard enemy three-deckers full of blood-lusting frogs! That's no excuse for jumping ship!"
Hornblower's eyes were on the horizon, and he did not turn. "I don't suggest you desert, Archie," he said softly, "but you would merit a medical discharge. I would speak for you, and my father would, too."
Out of the corner of his eye, Hornblower could see that his friend was very still. The charcoal rested, redundant, in his hand.
"No, thank you, Horatio."
It was said quietly and emotionlessly and with enormous finality. Archie Kennedy returned his attention to his diary. Gulls screamed overhead, involved in some squabble with an aggressive family of ravens.
Hornblower sat beside his friend in the hot afternoon sunshine, on the scrubby, flower-dotted grass, wondering how to pursue the argument. He should have said all this in Justinian, after witnessing the first fit. Knowing what he did of epileptic convulsions, he was certainly not going to keep his opinions to himself now he had a second chance. He let the minutes pass by, as Kennedy continued to write carefully in the book, shielding it from the spray-laden wind, as though he considered the matter closed. Finally Hornblower opened his mouth to speak.
But Archie knew the workings of his mind and forestalled him.
"I don't need compassion," he cut in without looking up from his writing, using the brisk tone he might once have employed to order bread and cheese at his local hostelry. "I have been at sea since I was thirteen, and I know no other life. I do thank you for your care," They both looked up at once and their eyes met. "but I do not need it."
Most men would have made a tactful withdrawal and given up the cause, but Hornblower was made of sterner stuff. He ploughed on regardless.
"You are more valued by others than by yourself, it seems," he noted soberly. "I don't think that's healthy, Archie."
Kennedy slapped his book shut, finally losing patience. "What is the point" he demanded "of arguing about my career, either on land or at sea, when we both sit rotting in a Spanish prison?"
Hornblower could have taken deep offence, but he merely gave a benign smile. "Well, that's why we must escape," he stated calmly.
Archie closed his eyes with a weary sigh. He thought of hitting his friend, but could not bring himself to strike a superior. He sat back against the grassy bank and stared out across the misty expanse of the bay with narrowed, angry eyes. In the burning blue sky above, the screaming seabirds had retreated, and only the steady 'Cronk, cronk' of the triumphant ravens remained.
"Horatio," he began quietly, "there is no cure for this condition. I will probably have it until I die, which may be sooner or it may be later. Sooner, I should imagine, if Don Massaredo catches us trying to get out of here again. I may never have another fit in my life, or I may have many . . ."
"And you may have one atop the main t'gallant yard," Hornblower pointed out firmly.
"Yes, I might," Kennedy was becoming defensive now, "or I could live quietly in England and fall downstairs or off a horse, or drop a candle in my bedroom. Life and death are so much a matter of luck, are they not?"
Hornblower was surprised to find himself in agreement, in principle. He had known many a sailor survive a string of fierce engagements at sea only to find his wife and children dead ashore of scarlet fever or smallpox. Nevertheless he knew that Archie only had fits when the stress became acute, and England would certainly be quieter than the deck of a King's ship in wartime.
"At least on shore you risk . . ." He broke off, suddenly aware that he might be pushing friendship too far.
Archie took a deep breath, his eyes on the diary. "I risk only my own neck, you were going to say."
There was no point in denying it. Another long silence fell
between them, and both felt the strangeness of it. Once Archie
had always been happy to fill the gaps. Finally Hornblower spoke
There was something he wanted to get off his chest.
"You know it was I who knocked you down, the night of the Papillon?" he ventured.
"Yes," the response was low, giving no sign of emotion. "Nothing was too clear that night, and at first I couldn't remember much about it, so I assumed it must have been S - Simpson." Even the passing of many months did not make the name any easier to speak.
"He was in the bow," Hornblower reminded gently.
Kennedy nodded. "Yes, I know. I worked it out eventually." Still he gave no hint of either blame or forgiveness. "Does it matter?"
"Of course it does. I am truly sorry, Archie." Anxious to avoid sentiment, Hornblower said the words as though they were the correct procedure following an atrocity, rather than the heartfelt apology he had intended.
"No, you're not! It was your duty to silence me, and you did it, and you're not sorry at all."
Somehow Hornblower found Kennedy's resignation and dry, heady candour more difficult to take than anger and blame, and it unnerved him.
"You knocked me down," Archie went on mercilessly "for the same reason you could not leave me to starve to death. Because you are Horatio Hornblower."
Hornblower was silent. He had other reasons for that. Pity. Yes, difficult though it had been to admit, his first feeling for the friend he had found broken and discarded in the prison cell had been pure pity for his altered state. Guilt, also, as the author of that pathetic episode. Gratitude had also played a part, for a friendship patiently, guilelessly and generously given. And love was in there somewhere, though that was only subconscious, hidden away, where he would not have to admit it. But to say even a fraction of all this would be sailing perilously close to the wind of sentiment.
Yet Archie had not finished. "And what's more," he concluded, confronting manfully a truth which Hornblower himself had not acknowledged except in the deeps of his mind, "if I had another fit in another boat, you would do the same again. Deny it if you can!"
"I don't deny it. That's what troubles me."
Archie turned away to watch a little lizard basking on the white rock beside his hand., and his lack of response held an almost tangible element of triumph. This time the silence was enduring, until Hornblower felt obliged to break it again.
"Perhaps," he began "I should not have interfered in your affairs, Archie."
"But you have, so I must answer," Archie insisted, and it struck Hornblower painfully how the years in France and Spain had left their mark on him. He seemed even older now than poor Clayton.
"I'm sorry you fear for me, Horatio," Kennedy said honestly, "but I could not survive ashore for more than a week. I am more use now to the King's Navy than I would ever be on land. I make sure any captain unfortunate enough to inherit me is fully aware of my indisposition. Then the onus is on him to use me as he sees fit, and to take whatever risks he deems appropriate." His eyes were fixed on the little ship, still tantalising on the horizon. "I love the sea. If you knew how much you would not think of asking me to leave it. And I'm not afraid to die, Horatio."
That, at least, was now patently obvious. Kennedy had his moments of panic, because he was volatile - what Hornblower's mother would have called 'highly-strung' - but he would not flirt with death and embrace martyrdom, in the way he often did, without first making some sort of peace with the Reaper. Hornblower had nothing to say.
"I had a fit in church once," Kennedy continued in a more conversational tone. "after a row with my father over some silly thing. There were good neighbours who moved their hymn-books to another pew. At least " he lifted his eyes to the blue sky with a gentle shrug as another flock of gulls wheeled in and screamed overhead. "At least when I have a fit in front of my shipmates, they take no note of it," His face softened, "or only hit me with the tiller . . ."
Hornblower smiled, despite himself.
"I am of use at sea," Kennedy concluded, understating carefully. "And I value my place in the running of things. But I will sail my own ship, Horatio, even if you sail every other. And if my doing it falls short of your high standards, I can't help that. I will never be you."
Hornblower's brows lifted in amazement. "You are not required to be me, Archie," he said. "Sufficient that you are yourself." Then, seeing his friend unimpressed, he added "Preferment in the Navy, and advancement in life, are a matter of sheer luck most of the time."
"They are a matter of strength, Horatio," Archie replied patiently. He would not be patronised, even by a well-meaning brother-in-arms.
"Well, you are strong."
Kennedy smiled wanly. "No, I'm not. At home I had a mother, a nurse, a governess and three sisters older than myself. My brothers were away at school or in the army most of my life. In Justinian I had Jack S-Simpson." Again, he had to will himself to say the name. "It was a shock." He let out a wry little laugh, the first sign he had given in the whole conversation of true bitterness. "Listen to me. I despise men who make excuses for weakness."
Hornblower tried not to show how greatly he was moved. He shook his head emphatically. "We were boys in Justinian," he insisted, observing his friend's shadowed face and eyes narrowed from many sleepless nights.
"No, Horatio, I was a boy. You were a man."
"Things are different now. We are different." Seeing that he was not getting his point across, he risked causing Kennedy serious embarrassment by adding frankly "In my opinion, you are one of the strongest men I know."
"Then you do not know many, is all I can say," came the light but deliberate response. Then his tone darkened as he added. "There's an end of the matter, Horatio. You don't know what you are suggesting. I have landlocked myself for you once. Don't ask me to do it again."
The cause of the disturbance in the sky became obvious as a peregrine falcon swooped in over the cliffs, diving after the weak and the young like a parody of their old enemy. They watched it with interest until its stoop took it below their line of sight behind the hazy grey cliffs, then Kennedy put down his book and stretched, cat-like. The lizard gave a start and, with an angry tail-swish, skittered off across the rock and into the shadows beneath.
"You've made me maudlin," Archie complained briskly. "And this is supposed to be a day of celebration. Cheer me up, Horatio. Life is not all fits and starts."
Smiling at the rather poor joke, Hornblower cast quickly about in his mind for some subject which would bring them back to small-talk. "How shall we mark your birthday?" he demanded suddenly. "A five-course luncheon?"
Archie picked up the book and got to his feet, dusting the earth and grass from his jacket. "Break your half-a-loaf into five pieces," he suggested with a smile. "and wash each bit down with water from a different well." He put a hand down to pull Hornblower to his feet. "Do you think Don Massaredo could be persuaded to part with one of his bantams, if we remind him that we shouldn't even be here?"
"I doubt it," Hornblower clapped him on the shoulder and they began to walk quickly back along the cliff path towards the fort, for their parole lasted only until sundown, and at these latitudes the sun set quickly.
"We will think of today when we get back to England," Hornblower suggested, ever hopeful, "and we will celebrate properly. You can take me to Drury Lane to see 'Her Grace' on stage in something frivolous by Mr. Shakespeare . . ."
Midshipman Kennedy had a moment of joy at the thought of meeting once more the woman who had been the centre of his adolescent fantasies. Then he thought how he would look in his middy's shore kit beside the handsome, grave and impeccable Lieutenant Hornblower, and the joy turned to wistful resignation.
Some people, he decided dryly, are hard to live without . . . but even harder to live with....
* * *
Made bold by the peace of the warm, scented night, the local cicadas were rasping to each other their messages of love and fidelity as dusk fell upon the fortress at El Ferrol. In the exercise yard Hornblower's men were rolling dice about in the dust, while the two officers sat at their table in quiet conversation. They had said nothing to the men about the significance of the date. The sailors had no way to make a fuss of Kennedy, which would be sure to frustrate them, and Archie was quite happy to let the day pass by unannounced.
The first part of the evening, while it was still light enough
to see without lamps, had passed in study. Since their reluctant
return to Spain, they had not wasted a moment of their precious
youth. Hornblower had taken the opportunity of enforced leisure
to re-examine the tactics of warfare, and was currently reading
Plutarch's 'Life of Alexander' in the original Greek.
Kennedy had been teaching Hornblower Spanish, and studying seamanship and navigation, the better to pass his examination for lieutenant when his freedom was returned.
He had also - eventually - been persuaded to talk about escape, though the entire subject filled him with morbid dread. In five failed attempts, he had gleaned a lot of information about the coastline, and had applied his excellent memory to recording detail and drawing maps, which he kept in the back of his diary. It was too dangerous to bring out in the middle of the yard. Since their gallant return to imprisonment, Don Massaredo had treated them with courtesy if not warmth, but they had both learned the price of resistance and had no illusions about their position. The matter of escape was therefore discussed only covertly, without recourse to visual aids, and never in front of the men.
"What is the point of planning which part of the coast to head for," Kennedy was saying softly, "if we can't come up with a plan to get outside the fort? It's the wrong way about, Horatio."
Hornblower did not respond at first. It did seem ridiculous to apply so much time and effort to the second stage of the plan without even having a first stage. On the other hand, men had escaped from prisons before, and Hornblower was convinced that inspiration would come to one or other of them, and he said so. "Besides," he added, "most escapes fail because the flight has not been considered. The prisoner gets outside the wall and then looks about him and says 'What now?' "
Kennedy nodded. "I did that the first time," he agreed ruefully. "Then I did things properly - made proper provision - four more times." His voice dropped even lower. "It is not possible to get out of Spain, Horatio," he insisted.
"Then we will call this an exercise," Hornblower replied evenly, "to keep us sharp in between the lessons." He dropped his voice, adding with an intensity most men found hard to resist "The war could last twenty years, Archie. Can you really face that?"
Kennedy did not answer, so Hornblower added reasonably "You won't even consider a tunnel . . ."
"NO tunnels . . . !" the words came out so sharply that the men looked up from their dice, but they were used to brisk exchanges between these two and had learned to ignore them.
"The fort is on bedrock, Horatio," Archie pointed
out, dropping his voice to a murmur again. "The only part
built on earth is Don Massaredo's private garden . . ."
Hornblower shrugged. "A mere detail to resourceful men like us," he commented mildly.
Kennedy wondered whether he might get away with hitting him
just this once, but a fortunate distraction came along in the
shape of two of the Governor's personal guards who had emerged
from the main building and were walking informally to their corner
of the courtyard.
They stopped in front of the table, only the muskets in their hands warning that they were bent on serious business.
"Senor Kennedy," said one of them, politely but firmly, "Please follow me . . ."
It was usual for Hornblower to request an audience with their host, or to be sent for on routine business, but none of the others had ever been summoned before. An uneasy precedent. Archie went rigid, his eyes flicking with alarm from the guard's face to that of his friend. "H'ratio . . .?" he breathed tensely.
Hornblower got to his feet, asserting his authority. "What's the matter?" he demanded. "Where are you taking him?"
"To El Comandante Don Massaredo" came the neutral response. "Now, please, Senor Kennedy."
The men had abandoned their game now and were on their feet, fidgeting and awkward, the maternal instincts which all seamen have for their usually-younger junior officers stirring in their generous hearts.
"Por que ?" Archie demanded clearly, opting for Spanish, which, he knew, would be swifter.
There was a rapid exchange of dialogue between Kennedy and the guards, of which Hornblower understood very little. No-one was smiling.
"They say he wants to see me about a serious matter," the midshipman reported quietly. He met Hornblower's eyes, not in a state of dismay yet, but sobered. What if the diary, behind a wall-brick under his bed, had been found?
"Mr. Kennedy is one of my men," Hornblower pointed out stubbornly. "I have the right to be present at any interview he has with Don Massaredo."
Archie translated carefully. He had no intention of getting this wrong.
The guard hesitated only for a moment. "Si, Senor," he agreed finally. "Quickly, please . . ."
"Better do as he says, Archie," Hornblower advised calmly, taking his arm to coax him to his feet.
Midshipman Kennedy felt anything but calm. The diary had been found, and he would be obliged to take responsibility for it, and they would put him in the hole again, and he would rather die in a flurry of gunfire here in the yard, but Hornblower or one of the men could be caught in the confusion and the risk was too great. Now he fought panic in earnest, though he walked sedately across the yard for the sake of the men, and to show the Dons how an Englishman could meet his doom.
Even with the fighting man's speed of thought, he could not come up with a solution before he found himself in the doorway of Don Massaredo's dining hall, flanked by the two guards, with Hornblower at his back.
Don Massaredo was at the table, about to begin his evening meal. Light from a large silver candlestick lit silver cutlery and spotless linen, a bowl of fruit and a little stand of sticky sweetmeats. Dinner was obviously cooking in the kitchens, aromatic and tantalising whiffs of heaven drifting in through the narrow stone archway. A generous carafe of wine stood before the Don, waiting his pleasure warm, red wine probably not the best, but certainly better than Archie had tasted in a very long time
Two other places were set at the table, but the chairs as yet unoccupied.
"Mister Kennedy," he greeted solemnly, "Mister Hornblower. Come in, please."
Kennedy considered a last, desperate bolt for oblivion, but abandoned it when he felt Hornblower's hand on his shoulder. For the sake of God, why was Horatio always in his way?
"It's all right, Archie," said Horatio, the voice of common sense, in his ear, "I think "
He took two steps forward, pushed from behind by Hornblower, but still stood like a condemned man on the threshold. His thoughts were becoming reckless now. He wondered long it would take to die in that hole in the ground, if he simply stopped drinking? And whether he had the courage to kill himself all over again
What the Hell. What did he care? What did he matter, anyway?
"Now, Mister Kennedy, you have let me down," the Spaniard told him, still worryingly sober. Lit by the candles, his shadow looked huge on the wall behind him.
Archie opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out. He felt the dry-mouthed light-headedness of one who has gone through the barrier of fear and come out at the other side. Yet he was a man facing death. Because he knew, beyond any doubt, that if the Don put him back in the oubliette, he would die.
The Governor rose from the table and walked slowly to his open window. "You have let the sun go down," he accused "without telling me you came of age today." He waved his hands expansively. "Mister Hornblower informed me too late to allow me to start the day with a congratulation!"
Kennedy felt the room turning, and he struggled to remain upright. Was this the same man who had buried him alive in the courtyard only a short while ago?
Don Massaredo indicated the empty places at the table. "Please sit down and join me, gentlemen," he invited. "I can at least offer you the hospitality of my house."
Archie turned to Horatio. "Did you know what this was all about?" he demanded quietly, his voice hoarse with the lifting of panic.
The gallant lieutenant gave an enigmatic smile. "I swear I wasn't told," he promised, "but maybe . . . well, maybe I did have an inkling . . ."
Kennedy managed a false little laugh. "Really . . . ?" he said brightly, "Well how kind of you to let me enjoy the surprise, Mr. Hornblower!" But the look in his eyes told Horatio that all was not lovely in the garden of their friendship, and it would be discussed in detail later.
And court-martial for striking a superior officer might follow . . .
PS I don't know whether it's feasible for Kennedy to have celebrated
his 21st. Birthday in El Ferrol. It may be stretching possibilities
a bit, in which case, call it artistic licence!! Covers a multitude