by Joan C.
This is a sequel to Healing Hands.
(Three days after the events in Healing Hands)
The clock down the hall struck five. Horatio reluctantly opened his eyes.
He had heard it chime three, and then four. It had been a very long
night; the third since his arrival home. He shifted his weight slightly,
and bit his lip as pain radiated from his fractured collarbone. He
supposed it was a good sign; an indication that the bones were mending,
but it had increased incrementally each day, until he was no longer
certain that it was, and yet was too ashamed to complain to his father. He
was a enough of a burden on the household without whining like an infant
over his discomfort. Somehow it seemed worse, in the quiet hour before
dawn, and lonely.
Horatio wondered if Archie were sleeping. He knew that Archie suffered
from insomnia; not as frequently as he had thanks to Dr. Sebastian, but
still often enough so that he occasionally was awake when Horatio came
from the midnight watch. They would talk quietly for a while, and perhaps
share a dram of rum before retiring to their cabins. He wished he had that
companionship, now. Instead he lay there, waiting for the next bell to
sound the half-hour.
Horatio sighed. Using his good arm to raise himself up, he swung his legs
over the side of the bed and went to his window. Outside, the half-moon
was fading as the sky lightened with early dawn. He raised the sash,
ignoring the pain the effort cost him. The air that came in was cool and
fresh, and he imagined that if he were to concentrate, he could just pick
out the salt tang of the sea. Imagine, indeed. Waltham Chase was miles
from Portsmouth. It was mere desire on his part that made him think he
could taste the ocean on his lips. He had been home for less than a week,
faced at least ten more days of convalescence, and he was yearning to
return to the Indy.
He was not a patient invalid. He hated weakness, hated being dependent on
others for the simplest things. Until his shattered collarbone healed, he
could not cut up his own food, or dress himself: even bathing and personal
needs were a chore, and for him a deep embarrassment. Thank God for John
Dabney and Archie. If not for them, he would have been at the mercy of
Margaret Dabney and his father. Oh, they were kind enough -- too kind. And
that was the trouble. They hovered, with worried looks on their faces,
until he writhed inwardly. What wouldn't he give to be free again?
Horatio dug his fingers into the dark curls at his temple and tried to
ease the headache burgeoning there. There was nothing to be done for it,
but to go back to bed and wait until he heard the household waking. He
sat on the edge of his bed, depressed that his strength seemed to have
deserted him again.
"Horatio?" The door opened a crack, and Archie peered in. "What are you
doing out of bed?" he asked in concern. He closed the door behind him.
"Should I get your father?"
"God, no," he sighed. "I'm all right." He looked at Archie's breeches-clad
form. "Couldn't you sleep, either?"
Archie's blush was evident even in the half-light. "Navy time. You know,
"Yes." His mouth softened with a smile. "Navy time." He shivered as a
breeze stirred the curtains.
Archie was too observant. "You're freezing, you idiot. Get back into bed."
He crossed to the window and closed it on the chilly air.
"That's Lieutenant Idiot to you," Horatio said wearily as Archie helped
him lay back down and pulled the covers over him.
"Aye, aye, sir." Archie mocked him with a salute and settled in Horatio's
chair. "Seriously, Horatio. You must take care of yourself. Captain Pellew
expects you back on the Indy in ten days."
"Tomorrow wouldn't be too soon."
Archie's brows arched. "Is that just a hint of impatience I hear in your
"Screaming impatience, Archie."
"I cannot bear being so helpless. Having my father and Margaret hovering
Archie watched Horatio's thin fingers worry at the blankets. There were
times when he did not understand his friend. His own life had been so
devoid of tenderness, that he would have drunk in the kindness that
Horatio resented like a man dying of thirst. To have one's wounds tended
by compassionate hands, to know that you were watched over as you slept,
to wake in the morning with the knowledge that you had a place to call
home ... Dear God, to be a beloved son! He shook his head.
"What?" Horatio asked irritably.
"Go back to sleep, Horatio." Archie rose, gave the blankets one last pat,
and left Horatio to puzzle over his expression.
Horatio did sleep, despite his conviction that he would not; proof that
his body was wiser than his mind. When he woke, the sun was streaming into
his room. He heard Margaret Dabney's steps in the hallway, and braced
himself for her entrance. He refused to let her see that he was not
feeling well. She would fuss, and go for his father, and he could not bear
She bustled in, a covered tea tray in her hand. The aroma of fresh baked
bread, bacon, and coffee filled the room. "Good day, Master Horatio. How
are you feeling this morning?"
"Very well, Margaret." He struggled to sit, grateful that her hands were
filled with the tea tray so she would not try to help him, and finally
succeeded despite the pain that dogged his every move. "Thank you."
"Well, you still look poorly to me, sir. White as a sheet and thin as a
rail, you are." She whisked the towel from the tea tray, and Horatio
sighed at the sight of the golden biscuits and strips of bacon.
"I've dreamed of food like this, Margaret."
She sniffed. "Well, y'can't eat dreams, Master Horatio. What passes for
food on those ships, according to Mr. Kennedy, ain't fit for human
consumption. Weevils in the biscuits, indeed. You won't find anything
living in my biscuits." She watched with approval as he began to eat.
"I'll send John up in a few minutes, sir."
"Thank you, Margaret. Is father home?"
"He went out quite early with Dr. Blakeney. You'd think they'd give the
man some well-deserved rest." Margaret complained. "He's not as young as
"No, but if he gave it up entirely, he would be miserable." He would not
say that he was grateful for his father's absence.
"Aye, there's that." Margaret stood with her arm akimbo, frowning at him.
"You eat every morsel, Master Horatio."
"Aye, aye, Captain." He picked up a biscuit, and paused with it halfway to
his mouth. "I promise."
Her eyes narrowed. "I'll be back for the tray, then. And there'd better
not be a crumb left." She bustled from the room, sneaking a backward
glance just to be certain that his word was good; then slightly appeased,
but still worried, went downstairs.
Horatio set the biscuit down with a sigh. He knew he had to eat to get his
strength back, but whether it was because his stomach was used to less
rich fare, or the relentless knot of pain gnawing at his shoulder, he
could not force down another mouthful. He lay back against the pillows and
closed his eyes.
Archie came quietly up the stairs, and opened the door to Horatio's room.
His cheerful greeting was choked off before he could utter it. He had not
noticed earlier how pale Horatio was; not simply pale, but actually grey
with fatigue and something else that Archie recognized immediately. He
stood there, in the doorway, and could not decide if he should enter, or
go in search of Dr. Hornblower.
"You might as well come in, Archie." Horatio opened his eyes. "You can
shield me from Margaret's wrath."
Archie sat on the side of Horatio's bed, and eyed the tea tray. "She has
every right to it, Horatio. You have to eat, you know."
"I might feel more like eating if I were dressed and out of bed."
"Your father said --"
"Damnit, Archie! I know what my father said! And frankly, I'm sick and
tired of being treated as though I were made of glass! Dr. Sebastian
merely said I should be cautious, not turn myself into an invalid."
"Well, Dr. Sebastian didn't know that you spiked a fever and were half out
of your mind with pain after the trip home!" Archie retorted. He picked up
half a biscuit and thrust it under Horatio's nose. "So eat, and maybe you
will be able to get up tomorrow."
Horatio's dark eyes glared at Archie, but he could not argue with him. He
took the biscuit from Archie's fingers and took a rebellious bite.
"Between you and my father --"
"You might just recover enough to enjoy your remaining leave."
"Enjoy?" Horatio shook his head. "It will be the longest continuous time
my father and I have spent together for years. I don't know if either of
us will enjoy it. We tend to rub like holystones and wind up grating on
each other's nerves."
"Surely that has changed." Archie poured coffee into a cup. "May I?"
Horatio nodded. "Have some biscuits and bacon, too. Anything to keep
Margaret from standing watch over me as I eat."
Archie chuckled. "She loves you, Horatio."
Horatio crumbled a bit of biscuit between his fingers, discomfited as
always by emotions that he did not understand. Margaret cared for him as
she cared for his father. It was her duty, much as it was his to be aware
of the welfare of his men. He swept the loose crumbs into a tidy pile with
his fingertip, and with a sigh, moved the tea tray aside. "She will love
me a bit less, I fear."
Archie gave his friend a crooked, wistful smile. "She won't. But if it
will ease your mind, I will take the tray down before she sees that you
haven't eaten more than three mouthfuls. Are you sure you are all right?"
"Yes!" Horatio spoke with as much conviction as he could muster, daring
Archie to see that he lied; but as soon as the door closed, he sank back
against his pillows, worn out with pain, and wondering how much longer it
would be before it subsided into a bearable ache.
Dr. Hornblower found a worried Archie waiting for him in the library when
he returned from rounds with Dr. Blakeney. He could read that open
countenance easily, and he did not like what he saw in those blue eyes. He
set down his black bag with a sigh. "What is it, Archie?"
"Sir, have you seen Horatio, today?"
"I looked in on him earlier. He was sleeping peacefully. Why do you ask?"
"I think he is in a great deal more pain than he is letting on. He can
scarcely eat, and he looks --" Archie would not meet Dr. Hornblower's
eyes. "Sir, I know what it is like to hurt. And Horatio looks as if he is
hurting quite a lot."
Dr. Hornblower nodded. "I should examine him, if he will let me. God
knows, he will try to hide it, though. Thank you for telling me, Archie."
"Sir, will he be all right?"
"Yes, as long as there is no more infection, he will heal. But it is hard
work, for a body to mend. And I fear there will be good days, and bad. It
is to be expected." They sounded like weak words of comfort, entirely
lacking in conviction.
He left the library, leaning heavily on his cane. Yes, pain could be
expected; it was his longtime companion; somehow a comfort to him at
times, prodding him to an acknowledgment that life, no matter how limited,
was preferable to numb death. Though a bit of numbness might be helpful
when it came to climbing stairs, he thought ruefully as he made his way to
Horatio did not move as Dr. Hornblower entered, not even turning his head.
He lay with the preternatural stillness of a man who knows that the
slightest movement will cause him agony, scarcely breathing, and with
utmost patience, waiting for pain to cease. Dr. Hornblower stifled a
paternal impulse to rush to his side. Instead, he limped forward into
Horatio's field of vision and fixed him with an intense gaze.
"Good morning, Horatio. How are you today?"
"Well. Thank you." The effort of speaking nearly left him breathless. He
steeled himself, forcing his voice to strength. "Very well."
Dr. Hornblower's eyes narrowed, but he merely nodded. "Good. I will need
to change the dressings on your wound."
Horatio felt faintly nauseated at the suggestion. "Now?" he asked.
"Yes, why not?"
Because if you touch me now, I will scream, Horatio thought. "Later,
Dr. Hornblower realized he would never see his son as clearly as he did at
that moment; in the melding of the frightened child and the stubborn man,
looking out from those dark eyes. "Horatio," he said gently. "I have been
a physician for forty years. If you think I do not know what a man in pain
looks like, you are sadly mistaken. How long have you been feeling like
"Not long," he said too quickly. And then whispered. "Hours."
"Hmm. I'd better take a look." Dr. Hornblower called down the stairwell
for Archie to come up, and to bring the doctors' bag with him. Then with
Archie's assistance, he helped Horatio from his nightshirt, and unbound
the strapping on Horatio's arm, carefully cutting away the bandages
covering his collarbone. He began a cautious exploration.
His hands were light, scarcely skimming the surface of Horatio's skin, yet
he felt him shudder even at that slight pressure. The expression on his
face changed, become grave. He straightened, frowning at his son. "I wish
you had told me sooner, Horatio."
"What is it?" Archie asked.
"Several splinters of bone are working their way to the surface of the
wound. They must have been dislodged during the trip from the
Indefatigable. It is a small matter to remove them; but they are like
razors cutting through muscle and tissue. No wonder you are in pain, lad.
Now, I'm afraid I shall have to cause you more pain in taking them out
before they do further damage."
Horatio closed his eyes. He felt Archie take the pillows from his back and
lay him down flat. He heard water splashing in a basin, the metallic clink
of his father's surgical instruments, felt a hot towel swabbing his chest,
then a cool slick of a pungent ointment that tingled slightly on his skin.
"Give him this to drink," his father said.
Archie's hand slipped behind his head and raised him. Horatio choked on
the bitter draught of laudanum, and pushed it aside. "No more, please."
"Horatio --" Archie objected softly. "You will need it."
"No." He knew it was illogical to refuse the laudanum, but he hated it,
and feared becoming dependent on it for comfort. "No." He turned away
Archie cast a rather desperate look at Dr. Hornblower. "Sir?"
Dr. Hornblower shook his head. "There is no use in forcing it down him,
Archie. He will only gag on it." He came to Horatio's bedside, a scalpel
and a set of probes in his hands. "I will try not to hurt you, son."
Horatio looked at his father. "I know." His lips barely formed the words.
He could feel his heart beating quickly; his throat was dry as dust, and
it ached fiercely. He cursed himself for a coward. "I'm ready."
"Archie, hold him." Horatio felt the mattress give as Archie sat near him.
His hands were warm as they held his shoulders, and Horatio told himself
that Archie had been through much worse; that a few moments of pain, at
the hands of a skilled surgeon were nothing compared to the hurts dealt to
him in the past.
And then he felt the chilly steel of the scalpel on his skin ...
He managed somehow, not to cry out, or become ill. He felt rather dizzy
with pain, disconnected from his body, confused. He tried to focus on the
tree outside his window, as if somehow the view could carry him outside of
the agonized shell of his body. Eventually, even that became too much of
an effort, and he felt the world shrinking around him, the light being
absorbed by a growing darkness ...
"Horatio! Come on, lad. It's all right." A sharp scent of ammonia stabbed
at Horatio's nostrils and his head jerked up.
"What?" he mumbled. His eyes opened to look into Archie's worried blue
ones and his father's equally concerned expression. "What happened? Is it
"You fainted, and yes, it is over. The rest of the bone is smooth, and
should knit quickly now." Dr. Hornblower dried his hands on a towel
stained with water and blood. "You did well, son. But if you had not been
such a martyr to pain, it would have been much easier for all of us."
Horatio did not have the strength to argue the point. He closed his eyes,
relieved that he felt nothing more now than dull discomfort. He was
exhausted, and he wanted only to sleep.
Dr. Hornblower looked down at his son's pale, stubborn face. He brushed
aside a lock of dark hair and checked for a fever; Horatio's skin was warm
and moist -- healthy. Pray God, he would heal without further setbacks. He
straightened from the bed slowly, his back stiff, and his hands aching. "I
don't know about you, Archie. But I could use a bit of brandy."
"Yes, sir." Archie smiled. "I wouldn't refuse it, myself."
"Then come and join me, and we will let this foolish boy of mine finally
get some rest." He spoke gruffly, but his hands, as he smoothed the covers
over Horatio were so gentle in their touch that Archie was envious. He
followed Dr. Hornblower downstairs to the library.
As the doctor poured the brandy, Archie heard the chime of glass against
glass and realized that Dr. Hornblower's hands were shaking. He crossed
the room quickly, taking the decanter from the doctor. "Sir, let me. You
must be very tired."
"How tactful, you are, Archie," Dr. Hornblower murmured. He sank down in
his chair, grateful, and yet ashamed of his trembling fingers. How he had
managed to hold his scalpel, he could not say, much less find the courage
to use it on his own son's flesh. True, it had been simply a matter of two
small, neat incisions, not deep, or dangerous, but frightening
"It is not tact, sir, to be concerned about you." Archie handed Dr.
Hornblower a snifter of brandy and sat in the chair opposite. He recalled
Christmas Eve, when he had opened his heart to this kind man, and for the
first time, admitted to Simpson's abuse. "You have been more of a father
to me, than my own. And Horatio the best brother and friend I could ever
"Bless you, Archie. Horatio would say the same of you. He has always been
a solitary boy -- partly through my fault, and partly due to his own
nature. It has been a grief to me these years past, and I feared he would
never allow another soul to brook his isolation."
"He saved my life, sir. I owe him everything ..." Archie spoke softly.
"Come now, Archie. The debt is not entirely on your side."
"Perhaps not. But I will never forget what he did for me."
Dr. Hornblower smiled. "He has the courage of a lion, and yet will not
admit to it, nor to being worthy of trust, respect, and love. What am I to
do with him?"
Archie did not know how to reply. It was a question to ask Captain Pellew,
or Dr. Sebastian. Not him, for he was struggling with the same
difficulties. Perhaps there was no answer, but time. He sighed and stood
up. "I thought I would take a walk, sir. Is there anything you need me to
do before I go?"
"No, lad. Go out into the sun. I have some things to take care of in the
surgery. I will see you for dinner, eh?"
"Yes, sir!" Archie smiled. "I, at least, will not disappoint Mrs. Dabney."
Horatio opened his eyes to twilight. He turned his head to the window, now
just a faint blue rectangle framing the fading colours of the sunset. He
drew in a breath, feeling the familiar ache from his injured lung; but the
agony of the last few days was gone, replaced by nothing more that the
soreness of a healing wound. He sat up cautiously, and when that did not
bring on a wave of pain, slid out of bed and took up his nightrobe from
the chair by his desk. He slid his good arm in one sleeve, and pulled the
other over his shoulder.
He made his way down the stairs, heard voices in the library, and looked
in. His father and Archie sat over a chess board. Horatio suppressed a
smile. Archie and chess did not seem to be a logical combination, but his
father was explaining the elements of the game and Archie was nodding, a
slight frown creasing his forehead. Horatio eased his way into the room.
"I would be careful, father. If Archie takes to chess as he has to
gunnery, you will find yourself in deep peril before you know it."
"Horatio!" Dr. Hornblower reached for his cane, but Archie was quicker,
coming to Horatio's side and helping him to the settee. "You should not be
out of bed."
Horatio had a suspicion that his father was right, but he would never
admit it. However, he let Archie settle him against the cushions, and lay
a light blanket over his legs. "I am much better," he protested.
Dr. Hornblower stood frowning over his son. "You have had three surgeries
in three weeks, survived a wound, an infection, and a journey over rough
roads. Are you determined to undermine your health permanently?"
"I came downstairs, father. I did not ride a steeplechase," Horatio
replied in exasperation.
Archie could have sworn a line of fire ran from one pair of dark eyes to
the other, so similar were the expressions of father and son. How two men
who cared so deeply for each other could be at constant loggerheads was a
mystery to him. He was in mind of two magnets, pole to equal pole, and
unable to meet. He turned to Dr. Hornblower. "Sir, should I see if Mrs.
Dabney has anything for Horatio to eat?"
Dr. Hornblower sighed. "If he is well enough to come downstairs, he must
be well enough to eat. I'm sure Margaret will find something suitable." He
watched Archie out the door, and then turned his attention to Horatio.
"You are feeling better?"
"Yes. Thank you, father."
"For God's sake, Horatio! Do not thank me for doing my duty!" It was not
until he spoke the words, that he realized how cold they sounded. "Son
..." he said in despair.
Horatio's mouth had drawn into a severe line, and his head dropped back
against the cushions. "No. Duty, I understand," he said softly.
But would you understand love? Dr. Hornblower wondered in silence. Unable
to voice the thought, he merely laid a gentle hand on Horatio's brow -- a
gesture that could have been either a medical assessment, or a caress.
Horatio felt that feather-light touch, and did not flinch from it. He
sighed softly, just a breath. "I'm sorry, father. But you helped me ... I
was in pain, and now it is better -- and for that ... thank you."
Archie's return spared Dr. Hornblower the necessity of a reply. He carried
a tray over to the settee. "I have decided that I am in love with Mrs.
Dabney." He raised the cloth, revealing a cup of clear broth, two slices
of bread spread with butter, a pot of tea, and a small dish of creamy
Horatio smiled. "Then you shall have to get in line behind Squire
Whitehall, the Vicar, and several of the local nabobs, who have been
competing for her talents for years."
"God knows why she chooses to stay with a crusty old country doctor," Dr.
Hornblower chuckled from his chair.
"She loves a challenge?" Horatio suggested wryly, and Archie blinked.
Horatio so seldom jested, that it was startling to hear him do so. And as
Dr. Hornblower returned his son's laughter, Archie suddenly knew why Mrs.
Dabney stayed, why he had broken down and confessed his deepest shame in
that very room, and why he felt safe the instant he set foot across the
Hornblower threshold. It was love.
He thought it odd that he, who had lost it so early in his life, should
recognize the emotion, while Horatio and his father, who had shared it for
years, should deny its existence. Archie felt pity for Horatio, and at the
same time, inexplicable anger, for being so blind. Not knowing what to
make of those feelings, Archie kept silent.
Dr. Hornblower, noting his withdrawal, spoke to him. "Archie, would you
like to continue the lesson?"
"Yes, sir." He looked to Horatio, who was showing a great deal more
interest in his food than he had for days. Mrs. Dabney, bless her, had
made certain he would be able to eat it one-handed, without assistance, so
Archie went back to the chess table, and Dr. Hornblower nodded in
Horatio ate and watched his father and Archie as their game progressed.
His father's face was warmed by the firelight, softening the lines worn by
time and care. And though he was bent with arthritis, he seemed somehow
younger, as he instructed Archie in the fundamentals of the game. The same
kind illumination lit Achie's blonde hair with reddish glints, and brought
bright colour to his cheeks. They seemed to belong together. His friend,
who had endured such pain and loneliness, was alone no longer, and for
that Horatio was glad. Why that should make him feel more lonely, he
couldn't say, but the ache was there, nonetheless.
He was too tired to puzzle over emotions. As he listened to his father's
voice, and Archie's quiet replies, he began to drift in a haze of warmth,
pain-free for the first time in days, and was soon so soundly asleep that
he did not rouse, even when John Dabney lifted him in his strong arms and
carried him up to bed.
Later, before retiring for the night, Archie went to Horatio's room to
make certain he was sleeping. He was not alone in that thought. Dr.
Hornblower had drawn a chair to the bedside, and sat there, holding
Horatio's hand in his, studying him intently. Archie wished that Horatio
would wake up just then, and see the love in his father's eyes. For love
it was; clear even in the pale wash of moonlight. Archie shook his head
and silently closed the door. Horatio was his friend, his life dearer to
Archie than his own, but he could not say he understood him. Or the
doctor, for that matter.
Archie lay on his bed for a long while after that, watching the
moonlight's slow progress through the window. It was nearly dawn when he
finally heard the soft thump of Dr. Hornblower's cane as he left Horatio's
room and went to his own bed. Archie yawned, curled himself around his
spare pillow, and fell asleep.
Two days later, Archie came downstairs to breakfast and instead of Dr.
Hornblower, found Horatio, dressed and at the table, tucking into a plate
of eggs and bacon with good appetite. When he heard Archie's footsteps, he
looked up and grinned. "Good morning, Archie."
"I thought I'd have to send Margaret with a Bosun's starter to get you out
"Are you sure you should be --"
"For heaven's sake, Archie! Yes, I am fine -- and yes, my father knows
that I am here, and if you don't hurry, I will take the last serving of
Archie was not sure it was an idle threat. He crossed to the sideboard to
fill his plate, and cast a sidelong glance at his friend. Horatio seemed
recovered; other than the white linen sling slanting across his chest, and
the rather pronounced hollows below his cheekbones, there were no signs
that two weeks ago he had been near death.
"Where is he?"
"My father? Visiting the sick." Horatio smiled. "He will not give it up. I
think he would still go out if he had to be wheeled in a Bath chair." He
crumpled his napkin and sighed. "Do you know what I would like to do
Archie's eyes narrowed. "What?" He half expected Horatio to tell him to
pack his bags for the return to the Indefatigable.
"Get some fresh air. Go for a walk, anything to get out of this house
before I start resembling a vegetable. God, what wouldn't I give to be on
the Indy!" He gazed out the window at the sunlit landscape.
"Mmm, Mr. Bowles would have her in fine trim, sailing like the wind,
wouldn't he?" Archie smiled at the thought, and then shook his head. "But
in case it has escaped your mind, the Indy is in port, and more likely
we'd be stuck in the hold doing supply inventories, or at the dockyards
fighting for spare parts. I cannot imagine Captain Pellew is in the best
of humours, either. You know how he hates being idle."
"As do I," Horatio said quietly.
"Well, you're idle for a reason -- and while some fresh air will do you
good, a walk might not."
Horatio opened his mouth to protest, and then realized that Archie was
right. The last thing in the world he wanted was to have another relapse;
if Pellew received orders, the Indy would not be able to wait for his
return, and Horatio was certain that would kill him. "I'll have John hitch
up the pony trap, then." He rose, still feeling stiff, and a bit weaker
than he would have liked. Time, his father had said. It would take time.
Very well, Horatio thought. I have no choice but to accept that, but I
don't have to like it.
Archie reined in the pony trap at the top of the rise overlooking the
Hornblower house. In the distance, he could see the chimney tops of the
Whitehall's manor. In the hollow below, apple and cherry trees were in
bloom, and the lilac bush outside Dr. Hornblower's library was laden with
heavy, fragrant blooms. Archie breathed deeply. He felt a warm, sweet
emotion welling in his breast. This place, this house, was the home of his
heart, not the cold grey stones of Kennedy Manor.
He slid from the seat, and stood waiting unobtrusively as Horatio steadied
himself on his shoulder and stepped down. They walked over to the low
stone wall marking the boundaries of the property. Horatio hitched himself
up to sit on the wall, and Archie followed suit. For a few minutes they
were silent, appreciating the warmth of the sun, the lovely setting, the
light fresh breeze ruffling their hair.
"What was it like growing up here, Horatio?" Archie asked curiously. He
had no real expectation that Horatio would give him more than a one word
answer, but he wondered what he would say. He felt Horatio's shoulder move
in a shrug.
"It was wonderful. Then my mother died, and it changed. I wasn't here
much, but for school holidays. And my father ..." Horatio fell silent,
studying the tips of his boots. He shook his head. "I think I could walk a
bit, Archie." He stood and took a few paces, then looked back at Archie
"Your father, what?" Archie asked when he had caught up with Horatio's
"My father scarcely noticed when I was here. I am surprised he notices
Archie thought of Dr. Hornblower's grave kindness, of his anguish at
Horatio's injuries, of his patient vigil at his son's bedside, and could
keep silent no longer. "Why do you speak of him like that?"
"Like what?" Horatio's voice was low-pitched and terse.
"As if it were impossible for him to care! You're wrong, Horatio. You are
completely misreading his feelings." If he had seen the look in Horatio's
eyes, he might have realized that he was treading on dangerously thin ice.
As it was, he was so occupied with his thoughts that he did not notice the
ominous crack of Horatio's breaking temper.
Horatio quickened his pace despite the burning he felt at the edge of his
lung. He did not trust emotion, for it had betrayed him before, leaving
him flayed raw with despair. Damn Archie! His words had unwittingly laid
open those old scars, promising hope like a cooling salve. And if he were
wrong? Horatio recoiled from that as if offered a cloth soaked in gall.
"Of course you have a right to say that, having known my father for the
length of two weeks." He struck out blindly to protect his wounded heart;
he did not even consider the effect his biting sarcasm would have on
The shock of it froze Archie in his tracks. Hurt came first, and then an
anger so hot that he was scarcely aware of his actions. He grabbed
Horatio's arm and forced him to a halt. His eyes blazed blue fire at
Horatio. "Stop it!"
Horatio rounded on him fiercely. "By God, if we were on the Indefatigable
"Well, by God, we're not! And you are going to hear me out, Horatio. Do
you know how lucky you are? I would give my soul to have what you do. You
had your mother for eleven years! You remember her. I remember my mother
in my dreams, like a shadow. That is all. You have a father who is proud
to call you his son. I've been cast off as a weakling who disgraced his
family because he had fits, and was good for nothing but cannon fodder --
or worse. You have this --" He swept his arm along the horizon toward the
Hornblower house. "A home to come to when you are hurt, a place to heal --
and a father who would do anything to help you." He nearly choked on his
words. His hand dropped helpessly to his side. "I'm sorry, Horatio, but to
see you and your father, the two of you too stubborn to admit to caring --
it rankles, it does."
It was the longest, most impassioned speech Horatio had heard from Archie
in their time together, and it startled him into immobility. As he looked
into Archie's face and saw the hurt there, his anger bled away. "No, I'm
the one who should apologize," he said, his voice weary. He sank slowly to
the ground, his knees trembling from the force of his emotions. "I was
wrong to speak as if we were on the Indy, and more wrong to say what I
did. Forgive me, Archie."
"On the Indy, you are my superior officer before you are my friend -- it
has to be that way, and I know that. But here, I am just your friend,"
Archie said evenly. He sat next to Horatio. "And I do not understand why
you and your father --" A thought came to him and he asked, "How did your
Horatio did not answer for the space of several breaths. "My mother died
because a fever she caught from me weakened her heart. She was in her
grave before I even knew she was dead. Two weeks later, I was sent away to
school with no other explanation than it was for my own good."
Archie's mind balked at the implication. "Surely you didn't believe that
your father blamed you for that!"
"I was eleven years old, Archie! What else could I think?" Horatio said
bitterly. "Aside from holidays, I was banished for six years, and when I
did return home, I was scarcely unpacked before my father settled with
Keene for my commission. On the Justinian." Horatio fairly spat out the
word. "Can you doubt that I was in despair?"
"We were all in despair, Horatio," Archie said softly.
"I know." The gentle comprehension in Horatio's voice nearly broke Archie.
"I never told my father the truth about the Justinian until Christmas. I
never knew that he felt anything but regretful duty towards me until then
-- and now, I fear that it is too late."
Archie's first impulse was to cry out that surely it was never too late;
but his own trust was so fragile, that he could not offer assurances, nor
believe it himself. "You have to give your father a chance, Horatio. He
does love you, that much I know."
Horatio lay back on the grass, pillowing his head on his arm. The warmth
felt good, easing the ache of his collarbone. He wished it could ease the
ache in his heart as well. He feared vulnerability more than death. To
open his heart to trust and love when it had been so wounded in the past,
was he feared, beyond his ability. And yet, he recalled his father's care
of him, the healing touch, his gentle hand on his forehead, the quiet
voice reading to him, taking him out of his pain. He found himself
desperately wanting to believe it was love and not duty or guilt. "Do you
think so?" he asked Archie.
Archie looked at Horatio and knew that he would never again be as close in
this life to seeing the essence of his friend's heart. Those dark, guarded
eyes were open as they had never been, and what he saw in their depths was
shattering. Trust, courage, faith, honour, all suborned to that most basic
of human needs, to be loved.
Archie had no reason to believe that he himself was capable of giving or
receiving love, but he knew the hunger for it was in his soul. Why he had
ever thought it was different for Horatio, he couldn't say. "Yes," he said
simply, his blue eyes shining with conviction. "I have seen it."
Horatio wondered, not for the first time, why Archie had faith, and he did
not. There were times when the cold truth of logic served him well; in
plotting a course, in assessing the wind and the waves, in battle, where
emotion could be a liability. Yet there were times, and this was one, when
he felt cast adrift. He sighed, and with a wry twist to his lips simply
said, "Thank you." He raised himself upright. "We should get back."
Archie stood up and offered his hand to Horatio. "Come on, then." He
pulled Horatio to his feet, and then kept a hand on his shoulder, as he
had done after Muzillac, as they walked back to where the pony grazed.
Horatio felt that light touch, and was infinitely grateful that his pride
had not inflicted irreparable damage to their friendship.
Back at the house, Dr. Hornblower took one look at Horatio and gave him a
gentle scold for over-exerting himself, sending him up to rest, and
brooking no argument over the issue. Horatio had the grace to look
repentant, but he smiled at Archie as he left the library.
Dr. Hornblower massaged his arthritic fingers. "Well, I shall see if Mrs.
Dabney has luncheon ready. Hungry, Archie?"
"Yes, sir." He grinned. "I've only three more days to stock up on Mrs.
Dabney's repasts, then it's back to beef and biscuits, I'm afraid."
"It seems too short a stay. I'll miss you, lad."
"And I, you, sir." After Dr. Hornblower had left the room, Archie sat down
with a contented sigh. He always thought of this room, with its book-lined
shelves, warm paneling, and mellow light, as the heart of the Hornblower
household. His eyes went to the portrait of Louisa Hornblower. Perhaps she
was the reason for it. He studied Horatio's mother. There was a serenity
about her, and the portrait conveyed not only that, but also an aura of
watchful care. Her eyes were the same colour as Horatio's; a rich
amber-brown that changed intensity with light and emotion. As Archie gazed
up at her, he could swear that she was smiling slightly at him.
Dr. Hornblower returned, and came to his side. "I wish you could have
known her, Archie. I see much of her in Horatio ... courage,
determination, even kindness. A truly great spirit ... I wish he would
allow himself that vision."
"He does not see it, sir. Even when it is obvious to everyone else. It is
why the men trust him, and follow him ... it is why I would die for him,"
Archie said softly. "But he would call it duty, when it is love."
Dr. Hornblower looked rather sharply at Archie. "Dr. Sebastian has said
the same thing to me. He has accused me of not knowing the difference." He
sounded defensive, and Archie had to suppress a smile.
"Dr. Sebastian can be very ... insightful."
Dr. Hornblower cleared his throat. "Damnably so, I fear." He took Archie's
arm. "Come lad, Mrs. Dabney has set out our food, and will read the riot
act over us if we allow it to get cold."
Horatio had been dreaming of his mother -- it did not happen often, but he
always knew when he did, for he felt a lightness about his heart for a
moment until full awareness returned, and with it bittersweet grief. He
could not remember the particulars of this dream, but he heard briefly,
the echo of her laughter. She laughed like a young girl -- this woman who
had borne him late in life.
He smiled at the memory and sat up, pushing the hair back from his
forehead. The afternoon shadows were long, and he was hungry. He splashed
some cool water on his face, combed his hair and re-tied his queue ribbon.
His reflection in the mirror was not as pale, or as gaunt as it had been
just a few days ago. He hadn't thought much about the passage of time;
illness had somehow telescoped it into a compressed reality. He thought
back. He had left the Indy on Saturday, lost three days to pain, spent two
days recovering -- today was Friday, then. And Archie was due back on the
Indy the coming Monday, because the Sunday was Easter ... which meant
today was Good Friday.
He remembered sitting with his mother in the village church as she prayed.
As a child, he had not questioned her faith, though he could not say he
had any beliefs of his own. He knew that she found comfort in prayer, her
lovely face lit with peace. He supposed that like most small boys, he was
aware of the solemnity of the church rituals, but his mind had been
engaged in other thoughts -- he and Terry Whitehall would exchange glances
across the aisle, each of them wishing mightily to be outside in the
sunshine. He would fidget, and his mother would caution him, her dark eyes
smiling even though she tried to look severe. His father seldom came to
church, save for Christmas and Easter, and the occasional funerals,
weddings, and baptisms of his patients. And then his mother had died, and
the last vestiges of Horatio's faith had burned away with her fatal fever.
As a prisoner in Spain, Horatio had seen another faith. There had been a
chapel on the grounds of the prison, most naturally in a country like
Spain, where Catholicism had retained deep roots. Out of curiosity,
Horatio had stepped inside. Unlike many churches, this one was plain,
though gold glinted in the flickering light of the sanctuary lamps around
the altar. Suspended over the altar was a cross depicting the torment of
the crucified Christ in graphic detail. Blood dripped from the wounds in
his hands and feet, and sheeted his ribs below the wound in his side.
Rubies had been set in the forehead of the figure, glinting like fresh
blood drawn by the crown of thorns. Horatio had been both fascinated and
repelled by the implication that salvation was earned by suffering.
How could anyone believe that pain was an instrument of good? He had seen
it firsthand -- blood, and fear, men blasted into fragments by artillery
and crippled for life. His best friend had suffered beyond comprehension.
What good had come from Archie's loss of innocence and trust? Could God
justify the horrors of a monster like Simpson as being necessary for
salvation? Was Horatio himself a better man for having endured the pain
from his wounds?
No, he decided. He was different, perhaps, but no better or worse than he
had been before. I'm sorry, Mother, he thought. I cannot believe blindly.
I am like Father ...
The realization struck hard, and Horatio sat on the edge of his bed,
considering what that meant. He had never believed he had anything in
common with his father other than his colouring, and his bent for matters
scientific and mathematical. He raised his head and met his own dark gaze
in the mirror. *I am like Father ...* Not unable to feel, but unable to
express those emotions because they caused pain? To hold oneself aloof and
remote to avoid hurt? Is that what they had been doing all these years?
The answer was undoubtedly, yes.
A bit dazedly, Horatio wandered downstairs, and went to his father's
surgery where he saw a light burning. Horatio entered quietly. Dr.
Hornblower was bent over the counter where he mixed his remedies. He had
finished grinding some powders, and was rubbing his fingers to relieve the
ache of manipulating the pestle. "Come in, Horatio," he said, without
turning from his labours.
"How did you know?" Horatio asked, amused.
"I am arthritic, not deaf. My hearing is quite acute actually, and you are
wearing boots." He straightened away from the counter, untied the apron he
was wearing, and set it aside. "I was mixing more headache powders for
Archie before he leaves. He will not tell me much about himself, but how
is he, Horatio?"
"He is much better. He has not had any fits in months, and his headaches
seem less frequent, though he still suffers from them. I think having Dr.
Sebastian on the Indy has benefited him greatly. And he swears by your
Dr. Hornblower smiled. "Good. That is what a physician likes to hear." He
shook the powders into several small envelopes, sealed them, and gathered
them together in a bundle. "Well, I am finished for the day. Join me in
some tea, Horatio?"
"Yes. Where is Archie?"
"He went into town. When I told him of the bookshop, he nearly bolted out
"He would!" Horatio took the key to the surgery from Dr. Hornblower and
locked the door for him. "Shall I tell Margaret we are ready for tea?"
"No. She knows to bring it." He shot Horatio a glance. "Are you feeling
"Yes. Very well."
Dr. Hornblower could detect no falsehood in the statement. Horatio looked
much better, and it seemed the pain from his wound was nearly gone. But
there was something in his expression ... To press the issue would cause
Horatio to withdraw into himself, so the doctor left it alone for the
moment. It warranted watching, he felt.
The promised tea was set up in the library. Margaret had the foresight to
include more substantial fare in addition to the light repast Dr.
Hornblower customarily preferred, and Horatio settled happily at the
table. Dr. Hornblower was heartened to see that he ate with the healthy
appetite of any young man his age. He was on the mend. And in a week, he
would be gone again, back to Captain Pellew and the Indefatigable -- and
The thought lingered unhappily. He could not keep Horatio here, he could
not withhold him from his duty, or the life he had come to love. His eyes
went to Louisa's portrait as if she could give him some reassurance that
Horatio would be safe.
Horatio finished his tea and looked up to find his father's gaze fixed on
the portrait. Horatio wondered if Dr. Hornblower were thinking the same
thoughts he had earlier; recalling the past when his mother had been
alive. They had not spoken much of her death; each too stricken, too
afraid to inflict further damage on hearts already torn beyond healing.
Horatio would not intrude on his father's sorrow. He wandered over to the
bookcases, and pulled a familiar volume from the shelves. It was the
Odyssey -- oddly, the same translation as his father had read to him on
the Indefatigable. The book fell open to a marked passage and as Horatio
read it, his hands trembled.
*Laertes is still alive ... He mourns terribly for his son who is gone
away and for his wise wedded wife who, when she perished, brought the
greatest grief on him, and put him in raw old age ...*
Oh God, he thought. How blind have I been? He laid the open book on his
father's lap, then without a word, went to stand by the window overlooking
Dr. Hornblower glanced down at the passage. He knew it well; he had marked
it, hadn't he? The first time he had read it after Horatio had boarded the
Justinian, he had wept bitter tears of bereavement for Horatio, who was
so far away, and for Louisa, lost to this world forever. Two thousand
years, and the world had not changed; fathers still mourned absent sons,
and husbands yet grieved over beloved wives.
Dr. Hornblower set the book aside and went to stand next to his son. They
stood side by side in silence while the light faded, and the birds began
their evensong. At last Horatio cleared his throat slightly. "Father?"
"Do you mourn my absence?" His brow arched slightly, an expression so like
his mother's that it gave Dr. Hornblower a pang of grief.
"Every day, Horatio. Every day," he sighed. "And not a night goes by
without my dreaming that your mother will be at my side when I wake. But I
do wake, and she is not there -- and your room is empty." He laid his hand
on Horatio's shoulder. "I cannot ransom your mother from death, but you
are home, now. And for that I am most grateful."
Horatio's throat ached. To hear those words now, was nearly unbearable. He
could not speak, or meet his father's eyes. To do so, would unman him. Dr.
Hornblower's hand tightened briefly, and he spoke to his son. "It is a
great pity to be able to acknowledge one's flaws only from the distance of
age. I have been told twice, in the space of two weeks, that I have too
often mistaken duty and love. I tell you now, Horatio. That it was never
duty that guided my errant choices for you." He turned to look at
Horatio, and saw the tears glittering on his lashes. "Son ..." he said
gently. "Is it too late to forgive my blindness?" Horatio's shoulder
trembled beneath his hand and he wondered if he had asked too much of this
stoic man his son had become.
Too late? Horatio thought of all that he had been through, all that he had
seen. There was only one finality -- death. He thought of Clayton, of
Hunter; of Bunting, who had died at his hand, of Mariette -- an innocent
victim of his best intentions. He could not make peace with any of them,
and God knows they haunted his dreams. But his father was here. His hand
was warm on his shoulder, and he was asking for the one thing Horatio had
to give before he too was gone beyond regret.
After a pause that seemed eternal; Horatio looked at the doctor through
the brilliance of his tears and smiled. "Archie and Dr. Sebastian would
say that it is never too late, father. I think we owe it to them to prove
they are right." He drew in a deep breath, and the ache he felt was good,
he knew that now. "Shall we have a game of chess, while we wait for Archie
to come home?"
Dr. Hornblower nodded; what could he say? There were no words to express
his overflowing emotions. Words would come later, and healing could not be
rushed. He feared there would always be scars; but what was a scar, if not
a sign of suffering endured, and overcome?
Later that night, Horatio lay in bed, waiting for sleep. He felt odd;
tired, but not weary, and light -- he had no other word for it, the
feeling that he had no weight of care bearing him down. He wanted to
sleep, but part of him wanted to remain awake, to savor this unfamiliar,
but pleasant sensation.
There was a soft tap on his door, and Archie looked in. "Horatio?" he
"Come in, Archie. I'm awake." He pushed himself upright. "What is it?"
Archie sat on the edge of the bed. "I was only gone two hours this
afternoon. When I left, you and your father were barely speaking to each
other, and I come back to find that completely changed -- the both of you
so altered that I scarce know what to make of it. What did I miss?"
Horatio laughed. "Nine years of aching misery!" He lay back against the
pillows, his eyes dark, his skin silvered by moonlight. "You were right,
Archie. Thank you."
Archie shook his head. "As Dr. Sebastian told me once, You always knew
the way, I just lit the candle.'"
Horatio's brows drew together. "And I'm supposed to understand what that
Archie's lips curved in a smile. "Think on it, Horatio. It will come to
you." He rose and stretched. "I could sleep for a hundred years, and I've
only got two more nights to do it," he sighed. "Goodnight, Lieutenant
"Goodnight, Lieutenant Kennedy." He lay back down, yawning. He felt the
cool glissade of the spring breeze through his open window, and turned his
cheek to his pillow. Before he drew ten breaths, he was asleep.
One Week Later
Julius Hornblower stood at the bottom of the stairs waiting for Horatio.
John Dabney had already carried his portmanteau to Squire Whitehall's
waiting carriage, loaned for the return journey to the Indefatigable. As
he waited, he was unavoidably reminded of that day, more than three years
past, when Horatio had been embarking for the Justinian. He had come down
those steps; a tall, gangly youth in an ill-fitting Midshipman's uniform.
He had been as white as the patches on his collar, determinedly brave,
horribly vulnerable. And they had gone off, with so much unsaid, separated
by a gulf wider than any ocean.
Not this time, Dr. Hornblower swore, not this time. He heard Horatio's
tread on the stairs and looked up. He had been so focused on the past that
the sight of his son made his breath catch in his throat. Horatio came
lightly down the steps; awkward no more, his Lieutenant's uniform tailored
to his slender frame, his boots gleaming with polish. His arm had been
passed through his jacket sleeve, but was supported by a sling, though
even that would not be necessary in another week. He still looked
vulnerable to his father.
He reached the last step and stood in front of the doctor. "Well, I had
better be off, father."
"I could still come with you," he said.
Horatio shook his head. "No, I would not have you endure hours on the road
just to see me safely to the Indy. You would regret it for the next week
-- yes, father, you would," he added when the doctor began to remonstrate.
"And I ... I should worry."
"Horatio ..." He was deeply touched. They began walking slowly out to the
carriage. As they reached the threshold, Dr. Hornblower took Horatio's
arm. "Son, I -- God knows when we shall see each other again. And I would
not have you leave without these words. I sent you off three years ago, so
coldly, without a thought as to the character of Keene, or the nature of
the Justinian. I have had nightmares ever since -- yes, even though you
tried to hide your despair, I knew of it. Perhaps if I had the courage to
tell you then, what I am telling you now, you would not have felt so
obliged to endure the misery of that life."
He paused, giving Horatio enough time to whisper, "But that is so far in
the past --"
"It is not, Horatio. Not for you, not for Archie, not for me. When I spoke
to Captain Pellew on the Indefatigable, he told me that inevitably you
will be transferred -- perhaps to a better ship, perhaps to another
Justinian. I could not bear it, if you felt you had no place to call home
... no other recourse. I love you, Horatio. And as long as I live, this
will be your home."
Horatio stood still, his gaze going out over the fields he knew so well.
The perfume of lilacs filled the air, the sweetness of the new grass; yet
as much as he loved the scents of his childhood, he yearned for the salt
tang of the ocean, for horizons as wide as the world, for the life of
adventure, adversity, and duty that awaited him. He breathed deeply, and
turned to his father, his hand extended. "I will remember that, father. I
will miss this place. It will always be home, with you."
Dr. Hornblower felt his hand enfolded in Horatio's warm, gentle clasp, two
hands to his one. "Good bye, Horatio. Be careful."
"I will, I promise." Then he climbed into the carriage, his eyes a bit
narrowed against the glare of the sun, and perhaps his tears.
Dr. Hornblower raised his hand in farewell, and heard Margaret Dabney's
stifled sobs as she came to his side. "Come now, Margaret. He will be all
"He's just a boy ..." she sobbed.
"No, Margaret. He is a fine man. An officer in His Majesty's Navy. And I
could not be more proud of him if he were the First Lord of the
Admiralty." He watched as the carriage disappeared over the crest of the
hill, then he squared his shoulders and took up his own life of duty.