H E A R T A N D S O U L
By Ruth W.
It's in the rhythm of the dancer,
In the standard flag unfurled,
It's in the bright eternal answer
Of every child across the world,
Heart and soul,
Heart and soul . . .
The bell of the little chapel near the civic buildings began to toll.
The knell was ragged at first, as though the bell ringer was unsure, and then became more steady as the slow, sad signal of universal mourning began to tell all of Kingston there had been a death.
In the shimmering heat of midday, as even the flies dozed on white walls, giving mankind a break from their taunting, Styles and Matthews sat on a step on the quayside, pretending to watch the coming and going of wagons, the swaying on and off ships' boats of boxes, bags, casks, hogsheads and loose women. Normally they would have enjoyed the scene, so different from the deck of a ship, which was all their eyes had had to enjoy for over four months. But this morning their minds were occupied elsewhere, and to be enjoying colour and life seemed somehow obscene.
When the bell began to toll they exchanged a look and removed their hats. It had been inevitable, but in the end, had come more abruptly than either of them had expected.
"Poor lad . . ." Matthews said simply. "Let's hope he gets a bit of peace now they've all finished wi' him."
They lapsed into a sad silence. Both men had known Kennedy since the day he had come aboard Justinian as a twelve-year old volunteer. He had grown up a little since those days.
They had watched for over a week during that long, last haul to Jamaica; watched the slow decline, aching with sorrow for him. They wondered if they were the only ones who could see that there was no hope, that there was nothing to be done but wait. It was hopeless trying to mourn someone who so stubbornly, wantonly refused to die. But now the waiting was over, thank God. The grim, futile fight for life had, after the final awesome act of altruism, suddenly been relinquished. The lad was somewhere better. They could all breathe again and try to pick up the pieces. No easy task...
"That lass from the infirmary did a good job," Styles growled. "I reckon they'll hear that bloody bell in Portsmouth!"
"An' that would be no bad thing," Matthews responded grimly. "Come on, Styles. Let's find Mr. H. and make nuisances of ourselves . . ."
* * *
They had to hover outside the prison building for over an hour in the tropical heat before there was any sign of activity. First came Commodore Sir Edward Pellew, striding forth as he always did, as though on God's business. The two men watched him go by in silence. Once they had thought he was God, but the miscarriage of justice they had witnessed that morning in Pellew's own court, and the man's seeming lack of humanity towards one of their own had left a sour taste. Deep down they knew he had been right, and hesitation in court could have undone all that Mr. Kennedy had dragged himself off his deathbed for. Just the same, they felt it could have been done more kindly, and they would not be in a hurry to take ship with Pellew again.
And here came Lieutenant Hornblower, face unreadable, squinting in the brutal glare of the midday sun with eyes focussed on the middle distance so that he would have walked right past them had they not pulled off their hats and made haste to get in his way.
"Mr. Hornblower, Sir," Matthews began firmly, knowing of old that only a formal approach would do in these circumstances, "I know we speak for all the Renowns when we say 'ow sorry we are, Sir. All the men liked Mr. Kennedy. He was a good - good man."
"Aye, Sir." Styles added more vehemently. Formality or none, it did not hurt to show a little feeling, and Styles had never been one to hide his allegiances.
Hornblower stared at them as though he had not heard. Then his face changed. His expression became that of a senior officer accepting on behalf of the Navy the condolences of the hands.
"Thank you, Matthews, Styles," he responded quietly. "Please convey my thanks to the men on Mr. Kennedy's behalf. I know he would have been . . . " he seemed to find the word hard to say." . . . honoured . . ." he concluded and for a moment there was a flash of dismay before he caught the reins again and had himself under control.
The two seamen pretended not to notice.
"Does . . . er . . . Mr. Kennedy 'ave many friends in town, Sir," Matthews ploughed on soberly. The business could not wait. He needed answers.
Hornblower was momentarily thrown. "Friends, Matthews?" Then his puzzlement turned to bitterness at the memory. "Apart from his old shipmates, I shouldn't think he has a single one. What makes you ask?"
"Well, Sir, you'll need bearers . . ." Matthews reminded, grimly practical.
Once again, Hornblower was lost. His eyes narrowed. "Bearers . . .?" he repeated blankly.
"For the coffin, Sir," Styles fulfilled. "Not like at sea, is it, Sir? If they're goin' to plant 'im on dry land, they'll need bearers to get 'im from here to there." Despite the careless language, the lifetime habit of seamen, their sincerity was palpable, and Hornblower had to look away to take himself in hand once more.
"Yes . . ." he agreed slowly, turning back with a frown. Somehow he had not thought that far yet. Of course there would be a funeral . . . something quiet to cause no embarrassment to the Royal Navy . . . and it would have to be within twenty-four hours, in this heat . . . He caught his breath, realising with horror that the thought had come to him coldly. That in spite of his grief, he had been able to contemplate hideous reality with stark detachment.
He turned away again. "Are you offering your services?" he asked formally, his eyes on the hazy, distant horizon, where he would have given his soul to be.
"Aye, Sir, if you will." Styles promised.
"It's the least we can do is to send him off decent, Sir." Matthews agreed.
Yes, thought the lieutenant darkly, decency is something the likes of you men and Archie Kennedy would know all about . . . I used to think I did too. . .
"Well," Hornblower commented sadly, "He wouldn't have wanted any fuss, but we must make an effort. At least there will be three of us . . ."
* * *
Hornblower never really knew what happened to the next twenty-four hours. He walked, he ate, he slept, he woke again, unrefreshed and washed himself and ate again, distressed to find that he was not incapacitated by grief; that he was quite capable of carrying on as though nothing had happened. Bush was about, of course, sharing his lodgings. Sharing the room which, but for the coquetry of a pistol-ball, Hornblower would have shared with Archie . . .
But Mr. Bush had steadfastly left him to himself. Men were killed in war all the time. They were swept away by the broadside or drowned in sinking wreckage, or died slowly from blood-loss and shock and infection . . . Those left behind simply had to get on with it until it was their turn. And if their turn, by some peculiar whim of the gods, failed to materialise, then they became admirals and retired rich and elevated men. That was how it was and how it would always be. And they had all known that when they joined the Service. No-one had been more keenly aware of the Reaper's sweeping scythe than Archie Kennedy.
Bush seemed to be merely about, producing the neckerchief which, in his distraction the night before, Hornblower had left over the washstand to slip down the back onto the floor - or calling down to Mrs. Dowles for hot water so that they could wash. The hot, Caribbean sun shone in through the open window, carrying the sounds of the port and the sea in on the breeze. Had they been three, they would have taken a hearty breakfast of bread rolls and eggs, with hot, sweet tea, and then strolled down to the quayside to assess the opportunities for spending their prize money during the fortnight it would take to complete their respective ships. No doubt Kennedy would have enjoyed the attention of the local girls, and Hornblower would have been mildly uncomfortable, while Bush would have looked on, letting the scene unroll before him before venturing to take part.
But they were not three. They were two, and they had a funeral to attend.
Their near-silent preparations were interrupted by a knock on the door, and without waiting to be invited, the landlady's ten-year-old son unlatched it and peered into the room.
"Beggin' your pardon, Sirs, but there's a gent to see Mr.Hornblower..." the boy said, extending his hand for a reward. Both men ignored the gesture.
"A gent?" Hornblower demanded. "Didn't he give you his name?"
"Yessir, but I forgot it." The hand lifted with obvious optimism.
"You hardly deserve a reward, then do you?" Bush remarked drily.
The boy straightened indignantly, trying to look mature and managing only to look younger. "I had to run up four flights of stairs to tell you that, Sirs," he protested. "That's forty-four stairs, and another five for the landings . . . that makes . . . an awful lot of stairs, Sirs . . . and I'm only little . . ."
Hornblower thought of Archie, who would have had his hand in his pocket before the lad had got so far as opening his mouth. It was something to have the golden memory of his example. To Bush's obvious scorn, Hornblower took a coin from his coat pocket and put it in the child's hand. "You are a good boy," he stated quietly. "Please tell the 'Gent' I will be with him directly."
The lad's eyes lit up when he saw the silver in his hand. "Cor . . . Thank you, Sir," he said, clattering off down the forty-nine stairs.
Hornblower hoped Archie was watching . . .
"You'll never be rich," Bush observed mildly.
* * *
Mrs. Dowles ran a respectable lodging-house used frequently by naval officers who wanted more homely accommodation than that provided in the naval establishments. Her house had four rooms for paying guests and a small private lounge for their use when entertaining visitors. It was small and sparse and lit only by a small, shuttered window, which would have been dismal in Portsmouth. Here, in the building heat of a Caribbean morning, it was quite comfortable.
On his way downstairs, Hornblower met the boy again, hurrying about with bedlinen.
"Robert," he arrested the child, "If my guest stays more than five minutes, please bring us some tea."
The boy gave him a broad grin, which gave no hint of having anything to do with silver coin. "Aye, Mr. Hornblower," he responded crisply.
Expecting Commodore Pellew, Hornblower pushed the door open wearily. The man would be looking to the future, while only the past seemed to hold any joy. But it was not Pellew. This visitor was a man about his own age, or perhaps just a few years older, impressive in plain black coat and straight trousers which had obviously cost a months' wages in naval terms. He turned round.
"God, Hornblower," he greeted quietly and with complete sincerity, "What can I say?"
Hornblower stared at him for some moments before responding. Sometimes, when a familiar face is seen away from its normal ground, recognition is elusive.
"Edrington . . ." he said finally, and with some confusion, allowing his hand to be taken and firmly squeezed. "Well . . . this is . . . a surprise. What are you doing in the Indies?"
"Family business," Samuel Lord Edrington replied a little less formally. "The curse of having foreign interests is that someone has to shift themselves halfway round the world every now and again to sort them out."
"Have you left the army?"
"Good God, no. I was wounded in India and shipped home. Don't look at me like that, Horatio, it really was nothing, but they gave me six months' leave of absence, and my loving family judged that a second sea voyage would best benefit my health, not to mention the Edrington fortunes . . . I've been here for a month or so. I knew the Renown was expected." His voice became suddenly sober again. "I had hoped to show you gentlemen the pleasures of Port Royal . . ."
Hornblower turned his eyes away, unsure where to look. To his relief there was a loud knock on the door and Robert brought in the tea tray and set it on the little low table. This time Edrington paid him, again in silver, and he almost skipped back out again.
"Please," Hornblower invited "sit down while I make a dog's dinner of pouring this. I'm afraid Mrs. Dowles' teapot has a mind of its own."
Edrington sat but did not comment. He had never found himself in the difficult position of having to pour tea, and admired the Lieutenant for attempting it.
"I really am extremely sorry, Horatio," he said quietly as he was handed his teacup and saucer.
Hornblower took a deep breath. He was not going to be alone for the rest of the day, and may as well get used to the torment of company. "Thank you," he responded. "Forgive me if I appear maudlin, Samuel. You must have lost a good many brothers-in-arms in your long career."
"Ah, but none so dear to me. I do not underestimate your loss, believe me."
Hornblower watched a tealeaf swirl around on the surface of his tea before it wandered into the vortex he had caused with the sugar-spoon and was sucked down into the depths. "It was almost ten years," he said, trying to keep his voice light. It would be unthinkable to sink into pathos now. "With a few years missing when he was a prisoner-of-war in France and Spain, we had served together for nearly a decade."
Edrington smiled down into his teacup. "A good innings, then, Mr. Hornblower," he reminded gently. "Some soldiers and seamen do not see a decade of their wives in a lifetime, let alone their brother officers. It was a fortunate friendship."
For me, perhaps, thought Hornblower grimly, and all the bitterness came flowing back. But the barrier was up again, and he answered simply "Yes..."
"If I know Archie," Edrington said, realising that the conversation had come too close to sentiment, "he will open that big mouth of his too wide and offend one of the angels, and God will toss him back!"
Hornblower found himself smiling, enjoying the image despite himself.
"I was not in court yesterday morning," Edrington continued, as though his train of thought were leading him somewhere. "I gather I missed Archie's coup de grace . . . "
Black humour and gallows wit. Kennedy had always appreciated it, but Hornblower had not and still found it vaguely offensive. Had he doubted Edrington's sincerity and fondness for Archie, it would have been satisfying to strike him. As it was, he could not bring himself to comment.
"I know how the Navy works," Edrington stirred his tea thoughtfully, "and what is more, I know how Archie worked. He didn't do it, did he? It was not his style. He was covering for someone else."
Hornblower sat rigid in his chair, his face blank, wondering how he could possibly salvage what rags of honour he had left. That he had to lie was immediately obvious, if he were not to give Edrington a blunt and discourteous snub. His regret at having done that to Archie the night before his death would never leave him if he lived a thousand years. He would lie, then, and throw away the rags, if by doing so he could keep faith with Kennedy and fulfil his dying wish.
"He did not take me so far into his confidence," he responded mildly, hoping that the intelligent and sophisticated Edrington would not see right through him. In essence it was the truth, since at no point had Kennedy ever said to anyone whether or not he was guilty. But Horatio knew the truth, and Archie knew that he did, and Edrington appeared to know that they both did.
My Lord was merciless. "Oh, come, come, Horatio," he objected "Are you expecting me to believe that you and he were not confederates to the end? I see he has managed to bind you even in death. A man of sound common sense. But we both know Archie could not fight unless his blood was up. He would never ride to hounds, you know, when he came to me in Hertfordshire. He said he had too much sympathy for the damned fox. He had not the sang froid for calculated violence. God, I have kitchen maids harder than he was. He could no more have done what he confessed to than I could captain the Renown from here to Plymouth . . . And I do assure you, I am a very poor sailor . . ."
Hornblower's mouth set grimly, a signal to Edrington that he had said too much. To probe further would be a gross invasion of the most sensitive, private business between two gentlemen.
"Very well, then. He must have had his reasons, and I am not here to judge them. I will not ask it again. He said on oath that he did it, and Archie was an honourable man."
"Yes . . ." Hornblower had to agree once more. "he was . . ."
"The good is oft interred with their bones . . ." quoted Edrington quietly. "So let it be with Archie . . . Which reminds me, I discovered they were planning to inter him in the public cemetery. Did you know?"
Pain sliced through Hornblower's heart like a sword. He had thought the dreadfulness could get no worse. Now he realised that the doctored article in the Kingston Chronicle was only the start.
"No . . . " he said lamely. "No, I did not."
"Did you not realise there was that possibility?"
"I . . . " He was grasping at straws now. "I doubt if Archie would care."
Edrington grunted impatiently. "I care, Horatio, and so should you. If not for his sake, then for the sake of his family. Kennedy was a naval officer and he died a naval officer in the gallant defence of his ship and his king." He was becoming heated now. "Mutineer or none - and I have expressed my own opinions on that score - he has earned his place with the elite. I do wonder you have not pursued this yourself."
"I . . . It simply didn't occur to me," Hornblower confessed. In his dazed state, the concept of a suitable resting-place for his friend had completely passed him by. And Edrington would not understand that it was not a matter of preference or status but simple practicality that sailors always expected to drown or be buried at sea. He and Archie had never discussed it. It had been taken for granted. But now the thought of leaving him on land made Horatio distinctly uneasy.
In Portsmouth or Plymouth, where it was almost midwinter, with ice in the air and a harbour full of small boats, it would not have been difficult to arrange. At least there would have been time.
If only he had given the matter a moment's thought . . .
But then, if this had happened in cooler home waters things might have been different. Had Archie caught his pistol ball in service with the Channel Fleet, he might not have died . . .
If only . . .
"Well, I came to the West Indies to sort things out, and Edringtons have never been good at minding their own business. I have been to Admiralty House this morning and informed them that in the opinion of the Ninth Earl of Edrington, Kennedy should either be buried with his fellow officers in the naval cemetery, or the whole case should be re-opened as an unsafe conviction. The confession of a dying man is not, in my opinion, a very sound reason for condemning his reputation to the cesspit, particularly where his shipmates are saved from the gallows thereby. The whole thing stinks like a fishwife's basket . . . I frightened the wits out of them, to the extent that Archie now has a resting-place well-suited to his temperament and status. I chose it myself. I trust you will be satisfied that I have done my best for him."
Hornblower fought the sense of unreality to say softly "Thank you, Samuel. I could not have done that."
I could have tried, though, he told himself heavily. He had not realised how the Navy could mistreat one of their own after half a lifetime's faithful service. Archie had known, though, he was certain. Archie the cynic; which somehow made his sacrifice all the more monumental.
"It was the least I could do, I assure you." Edrington promised. "It irks me that I did not do more while I had the chance. I would have liked to see him before the end . . . and had I been quicker off the mark, he would not have died in prison, Horatio." It was a simple statement of fact, and was not intended to be judgmental. Nevertheless the words cut Hornblower to the bone. Having accepted Archie's breathtaking parting gift, a decent man would have ensured him decency in death.
Decency . . . Hornblower suddenly wanted to weep like a girl.
Edrington put down his teacup and stood up. "I must leave you in peace," he decided abruptly. "You look awful, Horatio. Does your good Mrs. Dowles run to spirits? You could do with something a little stronger than tea."
"I will . . . I will ask her," Hornblower responded, shaking the offered hand, thinking that however awful he must look, he actually felt worse. And what was more, he deserved to.
"You know," Edrington paused in the doorway, "We are all diminished by this. I do regret my hasty judgement of him when we first met, Horatio. He was a formidable man."
Hornblower could only nod a response. He could not trust himself to speak.
* * *
Lay me low,
Lay me low,
Lay me low,
Where no-one can see me,
Where no-one can find me,
Where no-one can hurt me . . .
(Ancient English folk song)
The afternoon walk to the British Naval cemetery on the seaward side of Kingston was something Hornblower knew he must endure without resentment, despite his aching eyes and his heavy woollen uniform and the hammering heat which struck both up from the white track and down from the sky.
"We'll help one another," Bush had said when Horatio had worried that a wounded man should not stir himself in such a tropical swelter. Hornblower was not the only one who had made a promise to Kennedy in those last desperate hours, and William Bush would die now rather than betray the handclasp he had given as they had parted. As it was obvious Bush was not going to be left behind, Hornblower had dropped his objections. For all he would have preferred solitude today, if he had to attend a funeral it would be good to have the support of a fellow officer.
As they left the harbour behind and headed up the path to the Admiralty building, they found a little knot of about twenty seamen waiting for them. They recognised them all immediately - Renowns every one, from Hornblower's division and Kennedy's - waiting patiently in the punishing sun. Waiting for Archie.
" 'ullo, Mr. 'Ornbloor," "Gooday, Mr. Bush," "Mornin' Sirs," came their greetings from left and right. Hornblower was not too dazed to realise that these men had turned out in what they considered to be their Sunday best ship's box clothes, in the middle of their shore-leave, to show their solidarity for their officers - and to pay their last respects to the man who had always done his best to be on their side.
His eyes tried to fill with tears, but here were Styles and Matthews, touching hands to their hats, forcing him to be neutral.
"Beggin' your pardon, Sirs, but you're late," Matthews accused, betraying some of the anxiety with which he had been eagerly awaiting them. "You've only just made it before Mr. Kennedy, Sirs," He indicated back down the hill, where men pulled off their hats and caps as white dust swirled up from the road from the heavy iron wheels of . . . a gun carriage?
Hornblower and Bush stared at one another, then turned back to watch as the coffin, on its worthy transport, was drawn up the last steep bit of track by an ever-changing retinue of seamen.
"My idea, gentlemen," Samuel Lord Edrington was at Hornblower's elbow now, watching with satisfaction. "The navy weren't forthcoming," he explained discreetly, "and I seem to remember Mr. Kennedy was not impressed last time he had to ride a dung-cart, which is all the Royal Navy could find for transport around these parts. They tell me they would have cleaned it off for the purpose, for which, no doubt, the Kennedy family owe them a great debt. I thanked them as politely as I could, and applied to the army. His service to my battalion in Muzillac was discussed at some length, and they were happy to oblige. At least the Junior Service knows how properly to honour the dead."
"No horses, my Lord?" Bush asked with a lift of the eyebrow.
"In Kingston, Mr. Bush? He would have to be an admiral to achieve that status." Edrington responded mildly.
Hornblower was almost embarrassed, knowing how little Archie liked the fuss to be centred around him. "Would it not have been easier simply to carry him up the hill . . .?" he suggested, tactless as ever.
"Easier," Bush agreed with a faint smile, "but not nearly so much fun."
"Do you think he would have liked it?" Edrington asked implacably.
Hornblower had a wonderful vision of Archie's bemusement. "Oh . . . I think he would have been . . . amazed," he answered honestly.
The proud little procession came slowly up the hill, Old Macy the fiddler leading, playing a lively shanty which was far too cheerful for a funeral but seemed to be keeping the mens' spirits up. Then followed the guncarriage, with its precious burden smothered in wildflowers garnered from every corner of Kingston, and the raggle taggle of ill-dressed sailors pulling, pushing or trailing along behind. Even Bush, walking at the back with Hornblower and Edrington, was trying not to show that he was moved.
And at the very last, in an open carriage horse-drawn and fine, a man in sober but immaculate civilian clothes and two bonneted ladies sat under a parasol. Somebody, then, had access to horses in Kingston. Edward Pellew, Commodore Lord Exmouth with his two wards, his nieces, Alice and Leonora Duncan. Hornblower remembered them from the Chatham naval ball at Christmas the year Archie had, at last, gained his commission. Glowing in his coveted new uniform, he had been full of confidence that night. No wonder the ladies' heads had turned very obviously everywhere he went. And he had spent the whole evening dancing with Pellew's nieces, to their joy and to the consternation of their uncle, who considered them to be too young for such devoted attention, even from one as well-meaning as Kennedy.
As the guncarriage came to an uneven halt outside the cemetery gates, the sailors stood back for the chaplain, a small, round man with the proprietorial air of a nesting wren. He fussed and fluttered, dusting the simple softwood coffin with his sleeve, shushing the seamen, crying out with dismay when the carriage wheel shifted on a stone and its burden slipped to one side.
Edrington took Hornblower's arm. "Come," he said softly. "Let us do our duty."
At first only the three of them stepped forward to take up the coffin, then Matthews and Styles came in behind them and together they lifted it onto their shoulders. It was surprisingly light, no burden at all. Only Bush winced briefly as he straightened his back. Then, without a word, another of Kennedy's old shipmates came forth and took up the last station beside Styles. Gunner Hobbs' face was as unfathomable as ever.
And so, followed by the respectful rabble of seamen, Archie Kennedy's friends took him on the last part of his journey, up the steep little path to the top of the rise overlooking the naval anchorage. This was a wonderful spot, as Edrington had promised. To the west the bay glittered, inviting, with its adornment of little ships bobbing in the breeze like charming toys, and across the water the land shimmered in the haze, all velvet green and palm trees and tiny white buildings.
And there was the Renown, anchored close by, close enough for those on the hill to see that there were hands in the rigging and on the yards, and lined along the taffrail. And Renown was not the only vessel to be beaded aloft with seamen and officers. Other ships were similarly adorned, as though some wordless communion were taking place under the very nose of the Royal Navy. Hornblower noted it without taking in its significance. His mind was occupied with Bush, who seemed to be feeling the strain more with every step.
Now it was Pellew who stepped up to take his turn, allowing Bush to stand down gratefully. The Commodore, looking strange and more approachable out of uniform, said nothing, but his eyes met Hornblower's as he took up the burden, communicating all that was necessary. And now Dr. Clive came out of the crowd to help as they drew near the grave, and here were Oldroyd (Styles had to knock his hat off because he forgot to remove it), and Ward from the old Indefatigable, no doubt in Kingston with Pellew's squadron. So many familiar faces; so many old friends . . .
The little chaplain began to flit about giving directions, fretting over their inexpert handling of the coffin, worrying about the unevenness of the ground. Hornblower could almost hear Archie sniggering.
Nor did things become any more sober when they set the coffin down in the green earth and the religious part of the business began.
"I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord," the chaplain began earnestly. "He that believeth in me, though he be dead, yet shall he live . . ." He broke off to stare over his spectacles at the still-murmuring sailors. "Come on, you men, be still and listen . . . you might learn something . . . "
"Silly old fool," Edrington said under his breath.
Hornblower was not really listening. He was watching the horizon, where the sky was turning dark. Rain was hanging in the clouds out there, coming upon them fast with the prevailing wind. Though the sun still shone brightly on land, the distant rumble of thunder made brightly-coloured birds take to the air, and out at sea flashes of lightning barred the slate clouds. The nervous little chaplain stopped reciting to look up fearfully at the sky. "Oh dear . . . " he said, wincing. "I fear we are in for some rain . . ."
"Come on, man, it's only a bit of weather!" Lord Exmouth said, irritated. No doubt the commodore had better things to do than attend the final rites for the man who had saved his protege from the noose.
"Ahem . . . " The chaplain coughed, still eyeing the sky. "The sting of Death is Sin . ." he continued but with little conviction. The sky was growing very obviously darker. "The strength of Sin is the Law . . ."
Hornblower's eyes closed. What in god's name was all that about? What did this holy man know of Archie, or his relationship with either sin or the law, or even death, for that matter. Anger and resentment began to build in him again as the chaplain read nervously from his brown book. These were not the words they should have brought here for Archie Kennedy. He should have had Dante or his beloved Shakespeare, Homer or Sophocles . . . Or maybe none of them. Perhaps a long, sad silence . . .
Great, fat droplets of rain began to spatter on the parched ground, tossing up little plumes of dust and mud. The wind began to blow. Nobody moved. The sailors were well used to heavy weather, and Pellew's nieces seemed to be made of stuff as stern as their uncle.
Only the little chaplain was seriously disturbed. "Oh, my . . . " he fluttered anxiously, "Perhaps we should retire until the storm is passed . . ."
"Don't be ridiculous, Mr. Spears," Pellew growled. "We'll come back to find a grave full of water. This poor man will think we've buried him at sea after all . . ."
A flash lit up the hillside and an almost simultaneous explosion of thunder made the earth tremble. Hornblower looked instinctively to the frail wooden coffin as though he could feel Archie flinching.
The minister stepped back, clutching his breast. "Oh, my old heart," he complained, gasping for breath. "Oh my goodness . . . I cannot continue, my Lords . . . I must retire . . ."
Edrington, who had sat on horseback through many a storm and many a hail of artillery, snorted in disgust. Bush the implacable was trying to suppress a smile. Archie would have enjoyed all this. Like most intelligent men of his class, he had suffered fools only so far as they could afford him some entertainment.
Pellew handed his hip flask to the nearest sailor. "Take the chaplain to my carriage and get some spirit into him," he growled, unaware of the subtle ambiguity of the words. "Here, man, give me the damn book . . ."
This was a scene the commodore knew only too well. He had stood on the deck of his ship countless times to read the sparse but necessary offices for the committal of his fallen to the deep. Sailors in his command tended not to be religious, and hardly ever gave any instructions, either in words or writing, with regard to their own burial rites, but they were very sensitive indeed to the disposal of their shipmates, and there was an almost superstitious need for customs to be observed and reverence to be paid, as though to do less would imperil their safe voyage to the afterlife.
And so it was with an air of great solemnity that Commodore Sir Edward Pellew took the prayer-book in his hand and stepped up to the graveside.
"We give thee hearty thanks for that it hath pleased thee to deliver this, our brother, out of the miseries of this sinful world . . . "
As he said the words his eyes locked with Hornblower's and something passed between them which hardly had meaning, so deeply did it connect to all that lay beyond mere conscious thought.
"For as much as it hath pleased God of His great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother, Archie Kennedy, here departed . . ." Pellew broke off suddenly to clear his throat, as though the words were difficult to say. And the rain poured down like a waterfall in flood.
Archie! Hornblower thought with some amazement. He called him Archie . . .
" . . . we therefore commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life"
Pellew felt he had said enough. True, the service in the prayer-book carried on for another four pages, but he knew in his heart that any more would have been surplus to requirements, for the mourners and for Kennedy himself. He stood back. "Mr. Hornblower, will you do the honours," he requested quietly.
Realising with a shaft of pain that this would be the last physical act he could ever perform for Archie, Horatio bent and picked up a handful of what should have been earth, but was now soft mud, and let it go into the grave. The gentle thump as it hit the coffin seemed a very, very long way down. Distress began to build inside him again.
Bush and Edrington added their handful of earth, and Matthews and Styles, and now Oldroyd, who true to form, picked up a handful of gravel in his, together with a small brick. This geological confection hit the coffin lid with a bang and a clatter which should by rights have woken Kennedy up.
For God's sake, Horatio, tell Oldroyd if he wants to give me a drum-roll, he might be advised to buy a drum . . .!
Styles cuffed the young cockney round the ear.
As suddenly as it had begun, the storm was over. The rain began to ease, and far out on the western horizon a blaze of white light on the sea heralded the return of the sun. To Hornblower's prosaic eyes there was nothing symbolic in this simple piece of meteorology, but it did occur to him that Archie would have been thrilled by its beauty, and the thought was inestimably comforting. It was in that moment that he realised how much his thoughts were still filtered by an awareness of Kennedy, as though their minds and hearts and souls had been so easily shared for so long that it would take some time to separate the part of him which was Horatio-and-Archie from the part which was merely Hornblower. And then . . . then he would be truly alone . . .
A dull boom from across the bay jerked him from his sad soliloquy,
and he narrowed his eyes to see what was going on in the little
anchorage below. Another boom, and then another, evenly spaced
- they were coming from the gundeck of the Renown. And
another . . . and another. Five reports. Then the great guns
fell silent again.
Five for a lieutenant . . .
Surely not. Hornblower's puzzled gaze turned to Lord Exmouth, whose expression was sober but not displeased. He had obviously not had anything to do with it. Looking about him, though, Horatio saw that there was something very smug in the expressions of Matthews, Styles and . . . He looked again, more closely. And Bush . . .
"Lieutenant Pritchard, exercising the gun crews, Sir," Hobbs explained neutrally.
Pellew nodded his approval. "Does the Renown only have five guns, Mr. Hobbs?" he asked facetiously.
"It was a limited exercise, Sir," Hobbs responded evenly.
"A very limited exercise," Pellew agreed, "and a very interesting one. Do you always dip your ensign when you undertake gunnery practice, Mr. Bush?"
"Signals training for the midshipmen, I imagine, Sir," Bush answered equably. "Probably one of the young fools has his halyard tangled in the cleat . . ."
Hornblower stared down at the ship floating in the bay to find that the flag was indeed standing at half-mast. And so was every other flag in the fleet.
"Sloppy," Pellew commented, his fierce gaze riveted on the Renown. "Could be misinterpreted, gentlemen."
"I think not, Sir," Hobbs responded, locking eyes with Hornblower in a silent communion.
"Sometime, Mr. Bush," Pellew commented mildly, "you and your fellow Renowns must find the time to explain to me the educational value of turning up a whole ship's company into the rigging to watch your crews fire five guns and your midshipmen make a pig's ear of raising a flag . . ."
"Aye, Sir," Bush agreed with a smile which only touched his eyes.
And as though all this was not enough, from the deck of one of the ships anchored in Port Royal, a piper began to play "Flowers of the Forest", the lilting tones echoing across the water and rolling about the green hills as the same simple tune had done for centuries in the land of Kennedy's birth. It was probably the only part of this sad little farewell which Archie would truly have enjoyed.
He had always disliked cannon fire. He had sensitive ears for a sailor, and had been known to suffer hours of pain and deafness after working the guns. Like most men, he had obviously preferred to be assaulted by Mozart than by the roar of powder and shot. Flags and banners made him suspicious, probably because his aristocratic mind associated them with the Revolution in France, with all its horrors and injustices, and as for gun-carriages . . . Horatio suspected Archie might just have preferred the dung-cart . . .
But in that lone piper, pacing the deck of one of the pretty little ships below, with the sun breaking through the iron-grey cloud and bathing the blue green bay in vibrant colours like butterfly wings, Kennedy would have taken such delight that it hurt Horatio to think of it.
"'appy co-incidence, is that. Old Mackay choosin' just that moment to do 'is pipe-practice," Matthews stated, bold as brass, presumably for Styles's benefit. But he made sure all the officers heard him as well.
"Aye," Styles agreed calmly. "Who'd 'ave thought it?"
Now the sailors were putting their hats back on and were beginning to wander towards the cemetery gates. Ward and Oldroyd came to shake Hornblower's hand and express their sorrow. No doubt he would see more of them before leaving Kingston. Matthews and Styles had replaced their hats, and they came to shake his hand also.
"Nice spot, Sir. He'll be all right here . . ." Matthews said quietly but with a kind smile. Despite the determination to be cheerful, his eyes looked as though he had a cold or hay-fever. Perhaps the rain had affected him . . . or the heat, Hornblower thought vaguely.
"We 'eard you was takin' Gaditana back to Blighty, Mr. H.," Styles said. "With Renown in dock for a bit, we're free to sign for another ship. If you'll 'ave us, we'll be glad to ship with you."
Hornblower frowned, looking from one to the other. "But you would be taking a step back by joining a sloop of war," he reminded. "You should not think of doing this for me . . ."
In fact they were not. Nor were they even thinking of themselves. They were just fulfilling a promise given to an old friend in their last days together on the old Renown, as she sailed steadily towards Kingston. A secret promise. One hardly even voiced aloud, but echoed in the hearts and minds of those who had been together for so long they needed only a look or a hint to seal a pledge.
"Course, if you don't want, us, Sir . . ." Styles sniffed, turning away.
"No, no . . . I would be honoured," Hornblower assured him, suddenly fearful of giving offence.
"Take no notice, Mr. H. He's just windin' you up," Matthews said easily. "We'll be along when we see your flag hoisted, Sir."
"Thank you, Matthews," Hornblower said, suddenly seeing the prospect ahead of him slightly less daunting. "Thank you, Styles."
As they moved away, he noted for the first time the tall, silent figure of Lieutenant Buckland, still as a stone, standing behind all the others, his eyes fixed on the open grave. He was obviously suffering, but it was impossible to guess whether his heart was filled with shame or regret for his junior lieutenant - or even envy.
And here was Dr. Clive, grave and solicitous as ever, his hand firm and charged with sympathy. He knew perhaps more than any man present how things had been between Kennedy and Hornblower.
"I did my best for him, Mr. Hornblower," he said quietly, as was his habit, "which was no more than he deserved. He was a very brave young man. It saddens me deeply that my best was not enough . . ."
Grief rose in Hornblower like a tide, but to his shame the distress was not so terrifying as the fear of losing his composure in front of his fellow officers and his men.
"Thank you, Dr. Clive," was all he managed to say before the surgeon turned to follow the others down the path.
Lord Exmouth, steaming gently in the renewed heat, replaced his hat and walked slowly around the grave, watching with interest as the sexton began the arduous job of filling it in. It would have been fitting at this point for Pellew to say something appropriate about the achievements, or at least the personal qualities, of the all-too-young man they had come to honour, but he had a reputation to think of, and it would not do to seem sentimental.
"There's to be a small celebration this evening to mark the successful action in Samana Bay, gentlemen," he announced curtly. "and the capture of the prize ships. I trust you will all attend?"
Hornblower was taken aback. He had expected Pellew to act as though Archie had never existed. The great man had never really taken very much notice of Kennedy, and had, to Hornblower's knowledge, signally failed to commend him for anything he had done in life. Why should things be any different now? But to stand over Archie's grave and invite them to a party was too much. He could see the others were equally unimpressed.
"I thank you, Sir," Hornblower straightened stiffly, "but I must be excused . . . "
Pellew looked him up and down with the eyes of a hawk. "Nonsense, man," he said gruffly. "You are the hero of the hour. You must be there. It will do your career no harm, Mr. Hornblower. Nor yours, Mr. Bush . . . " He inclined his head respectfully to the grave. "He would have understood."
Yes, he would. He always did. It is I who have always had trouble understanding . . .
"Besides, look at you. You'll be getting maudlin if we leave you in solitude. You need company . . ."
I have all the company I need, thank you . . . I have a decade of memories. . .
"I'm sure Mr. Hornblower is capable of making his own mind up, Uncle." The voice belonged to Leonora Duncan who had come up behind His Lordship and was standing with her sister. Their expensive lawn dresses clung damply about them and their ruined bonnets hung limply from their hands but they were not dismayed. Not by the weather. For the first time Horatio realised these two girls were not here for the afternoon out. Both had red eyes and pallid faces, and showed no sign of a young woman's excitement at the prospect of a party.
Well, well, well . . .
No doubt there would be many more pretty red eyes when the news reached Tower Hill - and yet more as the next Naval Chronicle told the rest of the British Empire.
Oh, Archie, what a trail of broken hearts . . .
"Admiralty House at eight," the Commodore persisted, and with a final sharp look to dispel resistance, he turned to stride back down the path. His nieces exchanged a tired smile with Hornblower before following their uncle.
"Well gentlemen . . . " said Samuel Lord Edrington softly, "I suggest the Navy can whistle for us tonight . . ."
* * *
It was past midnight in Mrs. Dowles' parlour. A single candle burned low on the table, throwing giant shadows across the walls and ceiling, entirely failing to light anything but the faces of the three men who sat in a relaxed circle, talking quietly. William Bush had had several generous pots of Jamaica rum and water and, unusually, he seemed to have plenty to say. Since his companions, Lord Edrington and Commander Hornblower had also enjoyed the benefits of Mrs. Dowles' hospitality, he did not feel handicapped by the need to speak just a little more carefully than usual in order to keep his speech level and clear.
"I'll admit, I was wary of him," he was admitting, half to himself. "A man with that kind of intelligence is always a threat . . . I didn't like the way you and he conducted yourselves on deck, using first names and holding wordless communion every time there was a crisis. For the first week, it was like waiting to be invited to join the most exclusive gentleman's club in London . . ."
"With a membership of two," My Lord Edrington commented with a smile. He knew the feeling.
"And I didn't approve of his easy way with the men . . ." Bush continued.
"I think it's called 'grace', Mr. Bush," Edrington put in drily.
"Indeed, but pleasantry and charm is sometimes affected . . ."
Hornblower took a deep breath. Thus far he had preferred to listen rather than speak, but he could not let this remark go unchallenged. "He never affected anything in his life," he swore loyally. "With Archie, what you saw was exactly what you got . . ."
Edrington smiled faintly. "Kennedy was no saint, certainly," he admitted. "I frequently had the urge to wring his neck, and one rainy afternoon in Plymouth, I could cheerfully have thrown him into the dock . . . But a man would have to be quite a churl to sustain a serious dislike for him."
"Well, from the first, he did his level best to rub me up the wrong way," Bush agreed, "always stopping just short of committing a punishable offence. It would be a poor second lieutenant who would haul a junior officer in front of the captain over a bit of sly wit . . .I just used to wonder why he chose me?"
"He did not choose anyone, Mr. Bush," Hornblower said without moving. He was tired beyond reason, but did not see why he should award himself the comfort of his bed while he could keep vigil with these good men. "Archie simply spoke as he found. He paid no false compliments and challenged men to deal honestly with him in return. It was not an instantly endearing trait, but men who could weather it usually found his friendship the more rewarding because of it."
"Amen," Edrington said softly into his tankard.
"Well, I couldn't dislike him," Bush admitted. "And the stupid thing is, most of the time he eventually had me agreeing with everything he said." His voice became low in the semi-darkness. "I even tried to argue with him when he was refusing Clive's opiates in prison. For the last two days, once he knew the truth of his condition, he would have none. He told us he didn't need them, but it was obvious he did. I now realise he wanted to keep his head clear, because he wanted that agile, devious brain of his to serve his turn right to the end." He poured another round of rum and water from the jug. "Have no fear, Mr. Hornblower, I saw enough of him in that last week to know why you are grieving now."
There was a long silence. The candle guttered, burned almost down to the china dish in which it stood. Bush lit another from the waxy pool and stood it firmly in the place of the old one.
Hornblower stared down into his cup. There had been no time in that last week to be any sort of friend to Archie. With two lieutenants severely wounded and a good many of the crew killed or hurt, and with the troublesome Spanish prisoners still below, Renown had needed every hand on duty round the clock all the way to Kingston. Then had come arrest and trial, in which Hornblower seemed to be playing the central role, and his attention had been utterly riveted upon his own part in it. Fiercely single-minded, he had never had Archie's skill at juggling multiple trains of thought.
By the time all was resolved and they had peace and space to be together, it was all-but too late. Kennedy had spent himself like gold from an open purse. Only minutes remained in the whole of Eternity to say all the things which ached to be said, and even then, Archie's determination to lock his friend into his own salvation overrode all else. In that last week it was Bush who had been constantly at Archie's side, watching him die by degrees, arguing with him, sharing the battle with the old demons, offering the sort of understated, wordless comfort which was the only way to keep panic at bay, and finally colluding with him in his last, monumental design.
Hornblower's sore eyes closed, but he knew that if he went to bed he would see pictures in the darkness of things he could not deal with yet. Better to stay here with his companions - the men who had known Archie and who therefore knew best what he had lost.
Suddenly Edrington looked up. "Is Clive competent?" he demanded abruptly.
Hornblower met his eyes with a level stare. What was coming now? "He seems to be as competent as any other naval surgeon," he returned quietly. "Why do you ask?"
Edrington gave a diffident, British shrug. "It occurs to me that naval medicine must be regressing," he commented. "My history books tell me that an identical wound failed to see off Alexander the Great on the banks of the Indus, almost twenty centuries ago. Had Dr. Clive read the same books, he might have discovered how the miracle was achieved."
"Clive did all in his power," Bush put in firmly, "but he was not plying his trade in the shore hospital in Chatham. And Alexander the Great did not have to wait his turn with seventy others in Renown's stinking cockpit, with old blood festering on the deck, to have his wound searched with salted instruments and purged with stale vinegar . . ."
"And Archie was no Alexander," Hornblower added sadly.
Edrington smiled again. "Oh, I don't know," he mused. "If you ask me, young Kennedy had more than a little of the old 'Unconquered' in him . . ."
It was what Hornblower needed to hear at that moment, and it warmed him. That others could see it too. Several times in recent years the seemingly unlikely parallel between Archie and Alexander had crossed his mind. Brought up on the classics, such things amused and intrigued him. Quite apart from the undeniable physical resemblance, there was the bloody-minded determination to move forward and never, ever look back. True, he had not possessed Alexander's ambition, but had always had immense optimism and a boyish delight in life as well as loyalty and rigid fortitude. And, as the shadows had grown around him, the sheer, all-encompassing will to live . . . the grace with which he held himself at the end . . . his luminous beauty, even in death . . .
Dear God, Archie was dead . . .
In that moment, Hornblower vowed silently that if he lived to be a hundred he would never again put himself in the desperate danger of loving another human being.
"We owe him a toast," Edrington said finally. "Horatio, you must propose it. You knew him best . . ."
"And he did save your life," Bush added soberly, "even if it was unintentional."
Hornblower's eyes narrowed. "He saved both our lives, Mr. Bush," he pointed out quietly, "and Buckland's too . . ." If they thought the rum would wrench the truth out of him at this late hour, they were seriously mistaken.
"I don't mean the gallows," Bush returned mildly. "I mean Ortega's pistol-ball."
There was a deadly pause. Edrington's signal for discretion came too late.
"What . . . what are you talking about?" Hornblower asked faintly.
"I'm sorry . . . I thought you knew," Bush had realised now what a bombshell he was releasing, but it was too late to pull back. "Kennedy was hit by sheer chance. He got in the way. Ortega was aiming at you . . ."
Hornblower stared at him as if he had been struck. He had thought nothing could deepen his sense of pain and shame or magnify the depth of his grief. How innocent he had been . . .
Dazed by this final blow which was almost too much to bear, he rose slowly to his feet and lifted the little horn cup.
"Archie Kennedy . . ." he said softly.
The other two men hardly murmured the name, and drank in silence.
* * *
"Life is full of accommodations, Horatio.
Nobody is ever completely wrong, the same as no-one
is ever completely right. If people disagree with you, that is their
prerogative. You cannot have your own way all the time. You have
to make accommodations . . ."
Hornblower lay in bed an hour or so before dawn, staring at the ceiling. Beside him William Bush slept soundly, his conscience quiet. Hornblower envied him.
Just take it, and say goodbye. That was all Archie had asked of him in the end. A simple, elegant solution. It had been a profound and shaming compromise for everyone involved, but the essence of the deal was its simplicity. It was necessary, and so there was to be no agonising afterwards. No regrets. If nothing else, Archie had, in the last decade, taught Hornblower the value of good, old-fashioned compromise.
He had not required a military funeral or a sacred plot, nor any five-gun salute. He had never aspired to the support of half the fleet - with musical accompaniment. He had simply slipped away, out of Hornblower's life, as easily as he had slipped into it, still smiling.
The men had needed those things because it comforted them in their frail mortality to have their shipmates 'seen off proper'. The likes of Edrington and Bush had standards of respect and decorum to observe for those who were considered worth the effort. Noblesse oblige . . . Even the two young women with the tiny candle still burning in their hearts for the man who had danced with them at a ball, were no doubt lulled into some kind of sentimental comfort by seeing him treated with kindness in death. And the Navy, in the end, could do little to prevent, because mens' hearts are always stronger than their heads, and for a time cruel politics were washed away by the tears and the rain.
And Archie Kennedy would have been happy with any kind of burial, if the truth be told, because he had not wanted to die, and had had to be coaxed to it, And having accepted what even he could not remedy, cared only for those who would live on.
Nevertheless, Hornblower was shocked at how violated he felt, not by Archie's death, which had somehow always been written in the stars, but by the awful trap into which they had all been drawn, and in which Archie had been left alone at the last, abandoned by all to struggle and die in silent desperation, like a butterfly on a collector's pin. Horatio's heart twisted anew with rage and impotence. He knew he would never have complete trust in anyone or anything again.
Undismayed by the knowledge that he had just passed another night without sleep, he arose and splashed water on his face and chest. He could not get used to the heat in this place. Nor could he forgive the West Indies for being so merciless.
He wandered over to the open window to look out at the sea in the pearly light of dawn. Duck-egg blue and tawny gold, the first lonely day was beginning. Light airs blew fresh on his skin, inviting him outside to play with them, reminding him that he was a sailor, and his ship was waiting . . .
"Just take it . . ."
The words seemed to float in his mind like a banner - the only three words in the whole of the English language which could give him any peace at all. Kennedy had risen from his deathbed to take on the might of the Royal Navy in all its cold glory. He had confounded the lesser enemies who would have seen his friends hang. He had probably hastened his own death, perhaps by days, to carry the business forward to a point which satisfied him. He had done it alone, his own way, in a manner which could not honourably be undone. The result had been a sublime victory for decency and humanity. Then, with three simple words, he had even given his absolution. Despite the terrible urgency of those last few minutes, he had made sure he left no shadow of doubt behind.
It would be a dreadful thing to darken that bright horizon with cowardly self-pity or reproach - desperately sad to mar the joy of their friendship with vitriol. All the black was painted in Hornblower now, and it was time to let it go.
Perhaps there was hope. Maybe one day he would be able to face Archie's memory with only pain and sorrow and a great deal of love - without the acrid taste of bitterness. He knew it would be a hard road, and it would take a long, long time. Thanks to the bravest man he had ever known and the best friend he would ever have, time was a commodity which Horatio Hornblower had in abundance.
(NOTE: I have attributed the atmosphere of 'witch-hunt' at the end of Retribution to the effects, still being felt, of the great fleet mutinies of 1797, which left England, for a short time, completely defenceless. The fear this, and other high-profile mutinies such as the Bounty affair, engendered in the higher ranks of the Royal Navy at the time, would be a likely cause (but not a justification) of the paranoia displayed by Hammond and other officials at the court martial. On the other hand I feel there would be a great deal of sympathy from the other ranks in the Navy for the officers involved in reasonable conflict with unreasonable superiors 'for the good of the service.' This sympathy I have tried to convey.)