Home Fires
by Beth

Part One

April 1802, the Caribbean Sea

 

Commander Horatio Hornblower adjusted his stance as Retribution rocked
steadily alongside HMS Buckler. An unscheduled stop to receive dispatches -
usually a welcomed occasion for any sailor - Hornblower included. It meant
mail for some of the crew, the ones what could read anyway, he mused,
sometimes as well a chance for news of their former mates, and of the outside
world. But in the Caribbean, and on an unusually cloudless and breezeless day
of stifling heat, even on the water, as this one was, it was a welter of
torture to stay still. He felt the sweat trickle down the back of his neck as
Buckler's Captain saluted, the transfer was completed and he prepared to
resume course. Hornblower returned the gesture, permitting himself the
slight inward thrill that third party acknowledgement of his commander status
still gave him.

He brought the small pile of dispatches down to his cabin and after doffing
both hat and frock coat, proceeded to sort through them at his desk. One was
from Captain Hammond in Kingston, so he supposed he was rather compelled to
open it first. Hammond was not requesting his return there, thank God, as he
still felt he'd had more than enough to do with Jamaica for a good while,
with Hammond as well, for that matter, he reckoned. But no, he was to alter
course for Haiti and there join up with a convoy of several ships bound for
Plymouth.

 

Plymouth - England, by God. He was being sent home. He read on. It was
official then, the much rumoured peace was for real, the cessation of
hostilities and withdrawal of forces begun. But there was more. He was also
to retrieve from Port-au-Prince and bring home as well one Lieutenant Richard
Harward, former second Lieutenant under Nelson on the Foudroyant, and another
protege of Cornwallis', or so Hammond wrote, and no doubt one with a standing
invitation to serve under either man when the time cameagain. whenever
that, thank the man's lucky stars, should come.

Goodness, to be in the good graces of both Nelson and Cornwallis: heady stuff
indeed, thought Hornblower. It nearly made the prospect of being just a
lieutenant once again seem desirable to Hornblower, as compared to his
current status of lonely Commander, and a temporary one at that. He stifled
an uncomfortable burst of envy and read on. His envy evaporated when he
learned that his soon to be guest had very recently survived a near fatal
bout of yellow fever, one of the few that had actually survived the disease.
Indeed Hornblower couldn't remember a colleague who had not succumbed to it.
This Harward fellow was a most fortunate soul. Well, God willing none of
them would manage to catch it whilst in port to collect him.

The course was ordered, the dispatches and letters all sorted and
distributed, and Hornblower went aft to see that arrangements could be made
to accommodate the Lieutenant. Retribution did not provide for much in the
way of officers' quarters - his own cabin was ridiculously small - as small
as his berth back on Indefatigable. A sloop was a sloop, he reflected. He
wondered if Harward might still be in need of a cot in what passed for the
meager sick berth - hoped for his sake that he would not, and realized that
if that was the case Hammond should not have assigned him to Retribution in
the first place. And so he went on to inform his own, and only, lieutenant,
the ever nonplussed Mr. Henry, that he would need to bunk up with Mr. Wilton,
their wide-eyed and apple cheeked senior mid, for the voyage home.

Home. A word he must take care not to bandy about so casually - as no doubt
it did not mean to him what it surely meant to nearly every other soul
aboard. For certain they would each look forward to it - to home - to
England, to see their wives, lovers, children, parents, brothers and sisters
and God knows who else. Even Styles, a poster child for wanderlust if ever
there was one, took great pride in listing off the names of various women he
claimed to have 'open invitations' to return to - when the peace came. Dear
Matthews even had a missus in Portsmouth - no children - but someone,
somewhere, to be welcomed home, presumably - when the peace came. And now it
had come, the peace.

 

And Horatio Hornblower? What did peace, and going home, mean for him? He
shuddered. Family? Well, he had no family, at least none to speak of. A
grizzled old housekeeper who had had the care of his father in his last days
- and the house, yes of course it would still be there - tucked away in that
dormant village amongst the rolling Cotswolds meadows. The odd uncle or two
lurking somewhere in the adjacent town or countryside, assuming, and that was
a task in itself right there, that either were still living. But no real
family, not anymore. No family business to step into - Lord knew he was no
medic. And no one to love - or one to profess love for him. And worst of all,
no means of support - aye, there was the real nut of it all. He was about to
be poor. Poor! Whatever prize money he'd earned had been frittered away and
by now was no more than a memory, and so he would have to make do with half
pay now. And half pay at Lieutenant's rank - as he reminded himself that his
promotion to Commander only applied while he had command of Retribution. A
lonely and bleak prospect to say the least, and one he dared not ponder too
long lest it overwhelm him.

Against this brooding backdrop, Commander Hornblower returned above deck and
informed the crew of Retribution that after a stopover in Haiti they would at
long last be headed home. The news spread like wild fire and was an immediate
source of jubilation, with Styles leading the whooping cheers. It had been a
long year, and then some, for all of them. He must let them have their
exhilaration, even though he did not share it.

Slowly, he observed each one on deck as they sailed, each of them to a man
now lost in northeasterly bound daydreams though they managed their jobs
without missing a beat. Each of them with his own separate set of hopes,
dreams, and forestalled realities - - and Hornblower was besieged once more
by the prospect of coming days that might offer him nothing more than
loathsome idleness, solitude and poverty. God, enough of that. He must quell
this constant tugging of uneasiness and dare he say it, downright fear. He
must. He must remain unfazed, nonchalant. He must be the Commander - - act it
if he could not be it - - whatever was to befall him. WHATEVER. How those
cherished underscored tones of Captain Pellew rang through and true to him
even now. He had to play his part to his men, and so he must do so. There
could be no other way about it, could there?

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

Arrival into Haiti went off without a hitch and instantly all the crew were
swept up in the convoy's preparations for the journey home. The whole harbour
of Port-au-Prince was abuzz with the pending departure of the England bound
ships and Hornblower was given his assignment for placement in the assembly,
a veritable flotilla of returnees to the homeland, with Valiant to lead the
way. The atmosphere fairly bustled with anticipation. Men who had called this
island home for nigh onto ten years were returning now with wives, children,
possessions. Some, for a myriad of reasons, understandable given the vast
array of human natures, were forced to leave behind such mementos, human or
otherwise, and so poignant good-byes could also be overheard amongst the
dockside hubbub. Indoors, whispered gossip mixed with bellowed
prognostications on the peace, and how long it would last, and wafted through
the beery din of the taverns.

On board Retribution, provisions and fresh water for the long haul home to
Plymouth were filling the hold nearly to bursting, but it made the men happy
to see such stocks and know that their welfare counted for something. And
just off in the hazy midst of the chaotic crossings back and forth of jolly
boats and cargo barges, Hornblower caught sight, off the larboard side, of a
young dark haired lieutenant sitting erect in his boat. His sea chest tucked
in behind him, he was staring straight towards Retribution. Hornblower
trained the glass on him for a closer look. Of medium height, if his upper
half was any indication, thin to the point of emaciation - well, that could
not possibly be a surprise, given his illness, and pale, of course, but at
least not jaundiced - at least not noticeably so from a distance. The man had
a firm tilt of his head and an unwavering smile at his ticket home. And
relief, written as plain as day into his gaunt features, if Hornblower was
any judge of expression. Joy, even? Seemed so. He ambled toward the railing
to greet his guest and fellow officer.

"Mr. Harward? Welcome aboard, Sir!" He extended his hand to assist the young
man up onto the deck.

Lieutenant Richard Harward, twenty five, and of Irish descent (on his
mother's side), and thereby blessed with her coal black and glossy ringlets,
still tied back in a proper queue, and her same piercing green eyes, took the
offered hand gratefully and smiled. He took a moment to catch his breath and
to offer a salute to his new captain. His heart was pounding and his face
quite flushed from the exertion, which for now obscured the marked pallor of
his complexion. He had suffered through the throes of the awful fever nearly
four weeks ago, but had not done anything since quite so arduous as climbing
up a side ladder, and his breathing was labored.

"Steady, Sir. Get your bearings, now," Hornblower said, warmly. "We're glad
to have you with us. Why, I hear you're one lucky man to have survived the
yellow jack - God knows not many do!"

"So they've all told me, Commander" answered Harward, with just the slightest
hint of an Irish lilt to his husky voice. "and I am indeed grateful for your
welcome!" Hornblower guided his guest over to the railing and they watched as
his sea chest was brought on board, along with all of the other remaining
provisions.

"I want to be sure we provide you with all that you require, Mr. Harward,"
offered Hornblower. "as you know we are a but a mere sloop, and so cannot
offer you a fully equipped sick berth or even a surgeon, to be sure, but we
will do all-"

Harward raised his hand politely. "That is most kind of you, Commander," he
smiled. "But if I still needed all of that I suppose they should have forced
me onto Valiant, for as much as they claimed she was full up, and in any
event I much prefer to be here with you, away from all the fuss!" he said.
"And, thankfully, I am no longer in need of anything but a simple cot and the
fresh salt air. Why, it is a tonic all its own, after those weeks in that
stifling excuse of a hospital. And you must not say another word in apology
for your ship - she is a fine sloop and she is headed home to England!"
Harward took another careful breath and continued. "They told me that after
this convoy it might be another two weeks for the next passage to England,
and then only on a merchant ship - maybe- at least that's what Captain
Collins was guessing. Well, I am sorely delayed in reaching home as it is,
you may well imagine. I think I should have jumped at passage on a channel
barge!"

"Indeed!" answered Hornblower. "So anxious then, Mr. Harward, to get home to
unemployment?" The words tumbled out before he could stop them. *God, that
was damned stupid of me,* he thought. *Just because I am about to be in
desperate straits does not mean he is!*

"Well, yes, there is that, of course you are quite right, Sir," replied
Harward with the utmost of tact. "But, I confess I was actually compelled by
a more personal force - one of the heart." Harward looked down for a moment,
still smiling. "As it happens, I have a most important wedding to attend in
June, Commander.mine I am to be married, you see!" He paused, but looked
up again, smiling. "I fear what with my illness and delay my fiancée must be
wondering what in God's name has kept me from her all this time. I cannot
wait to get home and reassure her in person that I am recovered, fit - well,
nearly so, and that I still intend to be her groom, if she will still have
me, of course!"

 

Hornblower could not help but notice the way Harward's pale features lit up
once more like a torch flare as he spoke of his upcoming nuptials. He felt
the returning envy as nearly a physical thing - a palpable symptom, and
valiantly bit it back with a smile. "My congratulations to you then, Sir! Did
you write to your intended bride to inform her of your illness, and the
delay?"

"I did - yes, of course," smiled Harward, pushing a stray tendril back
towards the rest of his queue. "Once I could, that is. That being nearly two
weeks after the fever hit before I could even dictate the words to the
nurses. But yes, I have sent word. I pray she has received it - or shall, in
any event, and soon. And," he said, looking towards the open water, "assuming
the sea and the fates are kind to us, I should be home with at least a week
or two to spare before the happy day!" he said, his chest heaving once more.

Hornblower chuckled. "Yes, yes, " he said. "God and a fair wind willing, as
they say." And Hornblower noted a sudden twinkle in Harward's eyes, as if
that comment suddenly called something, or someone, to mind.

Then he was more aware of the rapid rise and fall of Harward's chest and
grew concerned. "Forgive me, Sir, I must not tax your strength entirely in
your first few minutes aboard, must I!" he said, and the Lieutenant smiled
and nodded in resignation.

"I suppose you're right, Sir," said Harward. "much as I am loathe to admit
it."

"Nonsense, let's get you below and settled in, and then get ourselves
underway so that we keep our place in line, eh?" offered Hornblower. "And
then perhaps you would be so kind as to dine with me this evening,
Lieutenant?" he asked. "I confess I should love to hear all about Foudroyant!"

"I should be honored, Sir!"

"Of course I cannot match the splendor of such a ship as that, nor the
company of Lord Nelson -"

Harward chuckled as he reached the bottom of the steps. "Forgive me, but
there you go again, Commander, apologizing once more for your fine vessel!"
He turned so as to look up and face Hornblower. "I am ever in your debt, Sir
- and above that, I am so honored to have at last made the acquaintance of
the esteemed Commander Hornblower, of whom I have heard so much about - - and
all of it most complimentary!"

 

Hornblower blushed at the praise, but returned the smile of his colleague.
Damned if he still wasn't rather envious of this young man, who seemed to
have survived a veritable freefall into Hell itself only to emerge as if God
was now in his heaven and all well with his world. And, perhaps it was, or
was about to be, for Richard Harward, now. Well, never mind that. He found
himself liking his guest Lieutenant enormously, and suddenly anticipating
this voyage in a way he had not thought possible before. Now there would be
relief from those endlessly monotonous watches and meals with only the
company of Mr. Henry, who certainly meant well and tried hard, but seemed
doomed to forever remain unarmed in a battle of wits, or that of their well
meaning bumpkin of a midshipman, young Mr. Wilton, who reacted to every word
Hornblower uttered as if it had tumbled from the lips of almighty God
himself. Here, finally, was the company of this engaging young gentleman to
turn to, whose dedication seemed as passionate as his own. A true
contemporary. "You are too kind, Sir," he said. "Until this evening, then,
Mr. Harward!"

"Indeed, Commander," answered Harward, and off he went to see to his quarters.

 

As Hornblower turned from the stairway back towards the main deck, he saw
Matthews supervising the re-coiling of all the ropes used to sling the
provisions and supplies on board. Another several lengths or so and the deck
would be clear. All that was needed now was the signal from Valiant to weigh
anchor and they'd be underway. Matthews saw his Commander approach and
offered his salute. Styles, never one to let an opportunity for face time
with Mr. Hornblower pass him by, ambled over as well.

"A fine afternoon, Sir!" said Matthews.

"Indeed, Matthews," said Hornblower. "Styles," he nodded, turning slightly in
a greeting to his ever amiable crewman. "So, I take it the men are ready to
go home, then?"

"Oh aye, Sir, and then some! Can hardly wait meself!" said Matthews, grinning
broadly. "And what about our guest, sir! Such a smile on 'is face! Couldna
looked no 'appier! Looked like the goose what missed being served up for
Christmas lunch, if y'ask me - an' just as scrawny, to be sure!"

Hornblower tried not to laugh, managing a wry lift of his eyebrows instead.
"He is a lucky man, Matthews. Made it through the yellow jack. No small task,
that."

"Aye, ain't that the truth, Sir!" Styles agreed. "An' no wonder 'e looks
light as a feather, then. Best keep 'im away from the railing, Sir. One good
blast an 'e's a goner!"

"Thank you, Styles," said Hornblower curtly. "I'm sure Mr. Harward is quite
adept at self preservation. If not for his own sake, but for the fact that he
is getting married on our return to Plymouth."

But Styles flashed another of his famous, wicked grins. "Wot? An that don't
make 'im WANT to drop 'imself in the drink, eh?" He shook his head. "Must be
true love, then. As fer me, Matthews, you've my standin' orders what to push
me over th'side if I ever thinks of getting meself 'itched! Got that?"

"Ha!" cried Matthews. "That would mean you'd managed to find a lass what'd
have you, Styles!"

Hornblower shook his head with a smile. "As you were, both of you," he
muttered. "And see that you don't miss the signal to weigh anchor!"

"Right you are, Sir!" said Matthews, with a flourish.

 

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

They had been underway for three hours and the cook's boy was just setting
the finishing touches to the table in the tiny officer's mess. Hornblower had
passed word for Mr. Henry and Mr. Wilton to go in earlier and thus give him
the later chance to dine privately with Mr. Harward. Now the table was set
for the second sitting, the more immediately perishable of their fresh
provisions offered up in fine, if simple, presentation.

"A toast then, Mr. Harward, to a safe voyage, your complete recovery, and to
your wedding day, Sir!"

"And to your hospitality, Sir, for which I once more thank you most
sincerely," smiled Harward, foregoing the wine for just a bit longer. On
account of doctor's orders, guessed Hornblower, and Harward shrugged and
nodded reluctantly, sipping instead at a glass of water.

"Nice to be underway at last?" Hornblower asked the question as he tucked
into his food, the slices of roasted ham and potatoes a delectable
combination. A plum duff sat waiting in its pan for later, one of his
favourites.

"Oh, you have no idea, Sir!" exclaimed Harward, pausing to take his own
bites, with not so much as gusto as Hornblower but nonetheless quite
respectable for one in his condition. "Well, perhaps you do, but I swear,
there were moments when I really wondered if I'd survive, make it back to
sea, back to England," he said soberly. He caught himself looking down and
appearing pensive, and quickly shook his shoulders as if to brush away any
remaining demons from his normally sunny nature. "I wonder, Sir" he said,
changing course now, "if I might ask, that is, if it is not too impertinent
of me, as I know we have just met..But, if you have no immediate plans when
we arrive in Plymouth, Commander, perhaps you would be so kind as to
accompany me and do me the honor to be present at my wedding? Why, it would
mean the world to me!"

"Well" murmured Hornblower. He was admittedly rather taken aback by the
offer, and sipped his wine cautiously for a moment. At first, his immediate
reaction to such an invitation was one of sheer relief and utter gratitude at
being offered a reprieve from confronting his awaiting and inevitable poverty
so immediately upon making landfall. Then again.. He did not even know the
intended bride's name or where she lived, come to that, and for God's sake,
if joining the festivities meant forking over serious coin for a decent inn
then perhaps it was not such a blessing after all. But he had felt such an
immediate kinship with this man. And it had been so long since he'd felt the
beginnings of such a friendship with a colleague - God, not since Archie
Archie.

"I would be most honored, Mr. Harward," said Hornblower. "But surely you dare
not assume such a welcome for me by your intended bride! By God, sir, I have
yet to even ask you who the young lady is, haven't I?" He continued. "Please,
forgive my lack of manners!"

"Not at all, Sir," said Harward with ease, "and if I may be so presumptuous,
I believe I can safely say that you would be most welcome at her family's
estate."

Ahestatenow there was a nice word - so presumably an inn would not be
needed, then. Hornblower's face brightened.

"Indeed, Sir" continued Harward, "why, I venture to say that my future
father-in-law would in fact be downright insistent at your attendance - well
you have in fact served under Commodore Pellew, have you not?"

"Commodore Pellew?" Hornblower gasped for a second and nearly inhaled his
wine. He set the glass down unsteadily. "Why, are you saying then that your
fiancée is his-"

"Miss Julia Pellew, Sir." Harward set down his fork, smiling, and produced a
small locket on a chain from his waistcoat. He opened it carefully, gazed at
it with open faced longing for a brief second, and gingerly handed it over to
Hornblower. "I am the luckiest man in the world, do you not agree, Sir?" he
smiled.

"CommodorePellew?" Hornblower gasped for a second and nearly inhaled his
wine. He set the glass down unsteadily. "Why, are you saying then that your
fiancée is his-"

"Miss Julia Pellew, Sir." Harward set down his fork, smiling, and produced a
small locket on a chain from his waistcoat. He opened it carefully, gazed at
it with open faced longing for a brief second, and gingerly handed it over to
Hornblower. "I am the luckiest man in the world, do you not agree, Sir?" he
smiled.

Oh, my. The locket glistened in the soft candlelight as Hornblower took it.
As he drew it closer, a precious store of stowed away memories came unlocked
and swept down over him. Memories of those very special few days he and
Archie had spent with the Pellew family - God, how many years ago had that
been? He sighed. It seemed a lifetime ago. Well, it was. Archie's lifetime.
And Pellew. Pellew his careful guidance, his nurturing concern, the
brilliant leadership that seemed a small lifetime ago as well. He missed him,
missed them, missed it - missed all of it.

Slowly, or so it seemed, the portrait came into focus before him. "Good
Heavens," he murmured. A young auburn haired beauty stared keenly back at
him. There were those same keen eyes he remembered so well in the face of a
then precocious girl on the cusp of adolescence. He recalled freckles and
braids, her love of adventure and heroic stories, and her occasionally off
color choice of words. Her fierce devotion to her father, and to her brother
who had been so ill that trying time. The freckles were gone now and in their
place bloomed a complexion as sweet and pure as Devonshire cream. Miss Julia,
all grown up to womanhood. "You are a lucky man, indeed, Sir. On many fronts.
Why, to count Commodore Pellew as your father-in-law is an honor alone!"

Harward nodded, as he carefully closed the locket and restored it to its
place. "Aye, you're very right about that. He has been so gracious to me. I
was afraid he would insist that we wait to get married until I had been made
captain. Apparently his own father-in-law had prevented him from marrying
Lady Pellew until he made Post Captain, even! So, I was prepared to face the
same fate, even though I have known Miss Pellew for years - my family's farm
is not far at all from Exmouth, just up near Exeter. I even served under the
Commodore on the Impetueux, before I transferred to Corinthian, as part of
Admiral Mitchell's squadron."

Harward paused for a sip of water, and Hornblower polished off the last of
his ham. The plum duff was spooned up next, Harward accepting just a small
portion, Hornblower his own and the rest of Harward's. "So, he gave his
permission, then, Mr. Harward?" asked Hornblower.

"Well, actually he was hesitant at the beginning," he said, in between a few
careful bites of dessert. "I was only 22 when I first approached him, though
Julia was by then 19. I'm sure he was concerned for her security, how solid
my career would be, my ability to provide for her. Now the farm is nice, to
be sure, a good sized one and ship shape, so they tell me. But it's no
Exmouth Hall and God knows I've no title to speak of!"

 

Hornblower smiled and nodded sympathetically at his new friend.

"And his oldest daughter Emma had just got married the year before to Captain
Halsted, excuse me, make that Captain Sir Lawrence Halsted - well, I couldn't
match that either," continued Harward, "or maybe I suppose when a father sees
his first born married off it gives him a jolt or two - maybe he just wanted
us to give it a bit more time. But he never said no, and never discouraged
me. Just asked me to wait awhile." Harward folded his napkin beside his
plate, and sat back in his chair. Hornblower noted with some concern that his
guest had not eaten a great deal, but chalked it up for now to a still
recovering stomach, no doubt. He made a mental note to keep tabs on his
guest's recovering appetite, and then was once more rapt with attention at
his young lieutenant's story and urged him on.

 

"Well, somehow, just last year, everything changed. He just changed, Sir."
Harward leaned back in his chair. "Turns out it was after his stint
overseeing the West Indies squadron, when he came home from Jamaica. I was
now on the St. George, but Julia wrote me - often - and told me that
seemingly out of nowhere her father's letters were suddenly so agreeable to
her wish to marry me, more emotional than ever before, urging her to seize
the moment, not waste any opportunity. So I knew something was up. Julia told
me I should write to him, or try to see him again on my next leave and plead
my case in person, as the time was right." He paused, to catch his breath.
"Even Lady Pellew wrote me, Sir, to tell me - in her own discreet but
revealing way - that I was quite likely to hear the answer I hoped for now.
How did she phrase it, something like the Commodore had 'come to feel the
toll of recent events most deeply' and wanted only to see his daughter secure
her happiness, " Harward paused again. "Now, I hadn't yet heard all that much
about your court martial, Sir, but I'd heard enough," he said. "And I had a
feeling what those 'recent events' must have been." He stopped and regarded
Hornblower intently. "It seems, Commander, that in a strange, and ironic
twist of fate, your ordeal may have led to the fulfillment of my heart's
dream." Harward let his voice trail off to silence, let the poignant message
just linger.

 

Hornblower bristled and shifted in his chair at the words 'court martial,'
wondering with trepidation at just how much this young man knew about his
past. And yet something much greater struck him even harder. Was it true that
there was more, seemingly much more, that *he* did not know about how all of
it had affected Pellew? This was territory he had not ever explored. "So you
went to see him, then," said Hornblower, trying carefully to control his
anxious curiosity.

"As quickly as I could, sir!" Harward chuckled at the memory, and Hornblower
smiled and nodded appreciatively.

 

"I got to Exmouth about a month or so after he did. Turned out that my luck
in finding him at home was sadly due to his own misfortune - he'd been very
seriously ill on the voyage back to Plymouth and so was still at home
recuperating. They tell me the news of his illness made the rounds throughout
the Med, not to mention the Admiralty, of course, though it never did reach
me - not till I got there. From what I hear, it was rough going for some
time - why, Julia told me that he very nearly died. Seems everything caught
up with him, Sir, exhaustion, a near fatal bout with a violent fever and
horrible stomach disorder. Not yellow jack, thank God, but just as bad,
apparently," he said, shaking his head. "When he reached Exmouth, he was
still quite ill and confined to bed for some time. He was placed on three
month's leave, much to his distress, but it was unavoidable. When I arrived
for my visit, he was just getting up and about, and still being housebound,
well, you can imagine, I had quite the opportunity for conversation."

The young man paused, as if re-living that fateful encounter once more.
"Conversation at least from my side, anyway. My God, it wasn't just how
fragile he looked - about like me now, I suppose. But, he was just so quiet!
Lord knows I can still talk up a storm. You're letting me, tonight, anyways!
But he, he just let me talk. Asked but a few questions, how I was faring, and
let me say my piece, how Julia and I were as determined as ever, and all the
while he just sat there, staring at me, or out the window to the sea. When I
finished, he got up slowly, came over to where I was standing, God, I'll
never forget it as long as I live! He came to me, embraced my shoulders, and
said, "Love her, Mr. Harward. Just love her."

Harward's voice broke on those last few words, and he paused for a moment to
regain his composure. "I nearly thought I saw a tear in his eye, Commander,"
he whispered. "God knows my own eyes welled up too." Harward shook his head
and his pale countenance took on a sudden most serious expression. "Why, he
gave us his blessing right then and there. I was stunned," he said, his voice
still rather unsteady.

Hornblower looked down at the planking, his own mouth quivering as he fought
to control his emotions. How far reaching was the impact of life's mysterious
twists and turns, then. Could it be? That apparently even the stalwart and
unwavering Pellew had not escaped unscarred or unmoved by the events in
Kingston? That he too had felt brought to the brink of overwhelming despair?
And then staggered by the unthinkable loss of Archie? That ultimate
sacrifice, that potential so untapped and now forever silenced. His martyred
friend's intended gift of freedom and a clear upward path, a gift so
seemingly without peer, yet encased in such guilt and remorse for the taking
of it as could never be fully dissolved.

With a nearly audible ache, Hornblower recalled that fateful moment in that
dreadful empty sick ward when Pellew had handed him his orders for
Retribution. His mind had been awhirl with the news. And yet, just as Pellew
was about to leave him, he had suddenly turned back to wish Horatio well -
and then Pellew had paused, in mid-sentence. Stopped cold. Caught short?
Could that have been grief after all - tucked away in those suddenly
fathomless dark eyes, those eyes that had so often nailed him to the wall
with their fire and severity? By God, it seemed so.

With a nearly audible ache, Hornblower recalled that fateful moment in that
dreadful empty sick ward when Pellew had handed him his orders for
Retribution. His mind had been awhirl with the news. And yet, just as Pellew
was about to leave him, he had suddenly turned back to wish Horatio well -
and then Pellew had paused, in mid-sentence. Stopped cold. Caught short?
Could that have been grief after all - tucked away in those suddenly
fathomless dark eyes, those eyes that had so often nailed him to the wall
with their fire and severity? By God, it seemed so.

 

"How much do you know of what happened in Jamaica, Mr. Harward?"
Hornblower asked hesitantly. "What did the Commodore later tell you, of the
court martial?"

"Not so much detail, Sir, he is far too discreet for that," Harward answered
calmly. "And we both knew that by then I'd heard plenty on my own, through
the grapevine, about Captain Sawyer, what it was like on Renown. Gossip is a
fact of life isn't it. But the Commodore made it clear to me, though - quite
clear, that he was always convinced of your heroism - please make no mistake
there. He spoke of it often and with such conviction. But, was there a toll
taken on him? I think, yes, Sir, there was," said Harward. "And though he
was more careful with his words, I sensed as well his deep regard for Mr.
Kennedy. God, the events on the Renown affected him deeply. Deeply, indeed."
Harward raised his eyes and regarded Hornblower intently. "He thinks so very
highly of you, Sir. He really does."

Hornblower pursed his lips together tightly, to quell what felt like an
oncoming tidal surge of angst. "Thank you, Mr. Harward." He sighed. "I must
say this is all rather overwhelming to me just now. And I am disturbed to
hear he has been unwell - why, I had not heard this before. I am relieved
that he is recovered, now. He is, is that not so?"

"Oh yes, Sir. Back to his usual fighting form, and then some, so I hear. He
rejoined the Mediterranean Squadron after his leave, still in command of
Impetueux, God, did you hear about his action off Brest?"

 

"Yes, yes, of course, I recall it now - another series of prizes and
victories, which no doubt aided in securing the peace."

Harward nodded in assent. And gradually a blessed silence settled in and sat
amongst them now. A silence of conclusion, a silence in acknowledgement of
the peace, almost like another guest at the table. The peace, once more, the
peace.

"And now, Mr. Harward," uttered Hornblower at last, reaching for the small
decanter of port, offering it to his guest, knowing full well he would
decline. He poured himself a small glass, nonetheless, and leaned back in his
chair. "What awaits us all now?" he asked. "Well, no surprises for you, I
suppose, you've got your honeymoon to think on, you lucky man, but what
service awaits us?"

"A good question, Sir," shrugged Harward, exhaustion beginning to creep over
his fine features. "One that Commodore Pellew could answer much better than
I. Half pay is a given, of course. I suppose I am fortunate to have my
family's farm, though I can't say as I look forward to it, I really mean to
make my career in the service, as do you," he admitted. "For God's sake, I
still have trouble remembering which is hay and which is straw half the time,
and I shall no doubt just get in everyone's way trying to appear useful. But
it will be a new home for Julia, not far from Exmouth, thankfully, and I
shall do my utmost to make her feel settled and welcomed there." Harward sat
up to stretch his arms and continued. "Of course there are those who say the
peace is to be but short-lived, that this arrangement is no more than a ruse,
and a temporary one at that. God knows I should like to know more about all
of it - the Caribbean is a damned unfortunate place to be when all the
decisive action is on the other side of the sea!"

"Hmm.. you are certainly right there, Mr. Harward," sighed Hornblower.
"Well, I shall certainly look forward also to hearing the Commodore's views
on the life expectancy of this peace. I, for one, find myself with no family
business, as it were. This is the only career I have ever known. Much as one
hates the human cost of war, God knows it has kept me out of trouble.well,
in a matter of speaking, I guess"

 

"Perhaps you could request channel duty, then, Sir. Have you considered it?"

"Do you think I stand a chance at getting it?"

"As good as anyone, it all depends on who's got in before us, I suppose.
Coming from here doesn't help you there, either, does it?" Harward shrugged
sympathetically. "There's always the merchant trade as well."

"Yes, I had thought of that, though I must say I would find it hard to be
enthused about hauling cargo to and frovery hard, " he sighed. "But, beggars
can't be choosers, can they now." Hornblower glanced up to see his guest
stifling a yawn.

"And here I have once more taxed your strength! Your eyes are hooded Mr.
Harward, yet you continue to be so polite in entertaining me." he said,
chiding himself for his inattentiveness. "I apologize! You must get your
rest, or Miss Pellew shall hold me accountable - not to mention the Commodore
himself!"

Harward smiled, though he was in fact, exhausted. "Not to worry, Commander.
Common sense is common sense and you are quite right."

 

"Very good," nodded Hornblower, as they both rose and replaced their chairs.
"Besides, we have the next several weeks to share even more stories and
memories! Why I still have to hear about Lord Nelson and the Foudroyant! My
God, the liberation of Naples, and you were there!"

"And you, Sir, you must tell me every detail about your time on
Indefatigable! And the fire ship attack on Gibraltar! You and Dreadnought
Foster at the wheel - incredible, Sir!"

"All in good time, Mr. Harward. We shall regale each other most thoroughly, I
have no doubt of that!"

"And," said Harward, "you must allow me to do my fair share, Commander. I
insist on it."

"In good time as well, Sir," answered Hornblower, ushering his guest out the
doorway towards his quarters. "We shall see what you are up to, a watch here
and there, perhaps. While I admire your enthusiasm, I do have a duty to
deliver you back safe and sound, and not to just anyone!"

"Good evening, then, Sir," nodded Harward. "It has been an honor and a
pleasure."

"Get your rest, Mr. Harward," said Hornblower. "I shall see you in the
morning, then!"

***********

The night was calm and pleasant, the sea nearly still, the lights of the
convoy ships bobbing gently up and down to the fore and aft of them, and the
sky awash with stars. Hornblower took his final turn on deck, as he did every
evening before retiring. Normally this routine was his time to put the day's
events away, each in its proper compartment: the men, their stores, their
course, anything untoward, etc. Tonight, though, his mind was awhirl. Simply
awhirl. With a myriad of memories, painful and wonderful. With thoughts of
the future, with dread and hope, fear and excitement, at what awaited him in
England. Each thought, each memory spun round in his head, each vying for his
mind's eye, with no chance of settling, as he stared out at the crystal black
sea.

"A fine night, Sir."

It was Matthews, jarring him gently back to the present. He shivered and
blinked his eyes to focus. "Yes, Matthews.It isquite fair."

"The kind of night where the stars could almost make you believe anything is
possible - anything at all, wouldn't you say so, Sir?"

"Do you think, so, Matthews?" smiled Hornblower, staring up at their
glittering backdrop.

"Aye, Sir, it's what me Mum used to say."

"Why, then, it must be true," nodded Hornblower. "Steady as we go, Matthews."

"Aye, aye, Sir.g'night to you then, Sir."

Hornblower nodded, continuing on his round. Anything possible? Anything at
all? He smiled.

////to be continued/////