An Honor & A Privilege
A sultry summer had descended on London in this year of our Lord 1802. With not so much as even a whisper of a breeze, the quiet street shimmered in the heat of the late afternoon sun. Thunderheads, dark and heavy with the prospect of rain, moved overhead, taunting the few passersby on the street below with the promise of a brief respite from the sweltering heat by evening.
Standing at her bedroom window, staring out at nothing, Abigail Rose Kennedy MacKenzie was as unaware of the weather this day as she had been all of the days preceding it. The oppressive warmth of this summer, the bone-chilling cold of the winter only just past sun, snow, wind or rain it made no difference to her or the world in which she now moved. That world remained as it was; indeed, as it had been these last five months stark, barren and empty devoid of all color, all light, all sound bereft of the very essence of life itself.
February 21st. . . . .The date echoed in her mind. Odd, she could still recall the weather on THAT day. Gray skies above and the soft beauty of new fallen snow blanketing MacKenzie Manor, as well as the surrounding Highland countryside. Everything stood out with remarkable clarity; even what she'd been doing on that particular day the day the letter had arrived.
She had been standing at the window then, too albeit in the sitting room of the Manor instead of where she presently found herself enjoying the serenity of the scene before her. She'd been thinking of Archie somewhere in the West Indies by now, surely, though there'd been no word from him as yet.
"You should be here, dear heart," she whispered with a smile, knowing how much he loved winters in Scotland.
These thoughts had been interrupted by the sound of the door opening. Michael, the elder of her two stepsons, came toward her, a letter in his outstretched hand. Thinking it held belated Christmas greetings from Archie, Abby took the letter, smiling her thanks. But it had not been from him the writing more ornate than his was wont to be. As she scanned the few lines it contained, Abby felt a lighting bolt of pain sear her heart.
My dear Mrs. MacKenzie,
. . . . .the letter had begun. . . . .
I write this at the request of your brother, Lieutenant
Archie Kennedy. He bade me do so as he is unable
and did not want this news to reach you second-
It is my sad duty to inform you that,
during an action at sea, Mr. Kennedy was gravely
wounded and has, since, succumbed to his
wound. Please be assured that he died as he had
lived with courage and honor.
It was my privilege to have been his attending physician,
and I offer you my most humble and sincere condolences.
I remain, your obedient servant,
It was at that moment that the world she'd always known shattered completely. She remembered the way she'd felt when death had laid claim to Robert his struggle with the cancer that had ravaged his body for so long finally at an end. She'd expected it, prepared for it yes, even prayed for his release. But THIS Archie DEAD. . . . .it could not BE!
She recalled handing the letter to Michael, turning once more to the window to hide the desolation she knew he could now see within the depths of her dark eyes. He'd read the letter, his sobs magnifying the pain she felt a hundred-fold. And just as she'd done when his father had died, Abby took him in her arms, comforting the man as once she'd comforted the small boy.
She had traveled to Edinburgh the very next day. David, her younger stepson, was attending medical school there. He and Archie had been so close. He'd wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly, silent tears falling from azure eyes so like his uncle's.
"How can you bear it," he asked, "first Father and now, Uncle Archie?"
Abby had no reply, save to hold him until his grief had spent itself.
It was a scene she would replay time and time again over the next months, consoling those that had known her brother and mourned his passing even Archie's dearest friend, Horatio Hornblower. Yet through it all, her own grief remained locked within the depths of her heart and her soul. She moved in her new world alone existing from one day to the next even the release of tears and the comfort of sleep denied her.
"Perhaps, though," she thought, turning from the bedroom window and surveying the baggage piled neatly in the corner, "that will change once I get to Kingston."
A sudden knock at the door caused Abby to look up.
"Yes," she said as the door opened and Mary Donovan, her housekeeper looked in.
"Your pardon, Miss Abigail," the elderly woman said, "but Lord Peter is downstairs."
The heat. . . . .God, how he loathed the damned heat! It was bad enough to feel such heat in the dead of winter when one was used to the cold and damp of a northern climate but this. . . . .heat such as this, and the summer only just begun. It was intolerable! How he longed to return to England away from the heat away from this accursed place away from his dreams and memories and most of all, away from the guilt.
Raising a tanned, muscular arm, Gunner's Mate Hobbs wiped sweat from his brow as he rose slowly to his feet. Easing cramped leg muscles, he straightened; his inspection of the starboard deck guns completed. Shielding his eyes from the glare, he peered up at the washed out cerulean of a cloudless sky. The sun had reached its apex, indicating the hour to be noon. Automatically, Hobbs reached into the pocket of his waistcoat, removing his watch. A cursory glance confirmed what he already knew. Replacing the watch, he looked out across the bay, an inexplicable sadness in his blue eyes as he beheld the city spread out before him.
Kingston, the largest commercial city on the island of Jamaica, lay placidly drowsing in the noonday sun, unaffected or so it seemed by the heat or by any lingering memories of the events that had so recently befallen her. If she felt any remorse at the outcome of those events, she did not show it. Hobbs sighed heavily, turning from the tranquil scene.
"Why," he thought for the ten-thousandth time, his memories overtaking him yet again. "Why did you say it?"
If only he could rid himself of that thought. But he could no more exorcise it than he could the tide of memory that now washed over him, threatening, as always, to engulf him. Once again he was in the courtroom, watching as Lieutenant Archie Kennedy made his tortured way up the aisle to stand and face the tribunal and spectators.
"NO," his mind had screamed, "YOU MUSTN'T!"
It was as if he had known what Kennedy intended to say even before the words left his lips. His heart sank now as it had then hearing those words echo once more within his mind.
"I alone pushed him," Kennedy had calmly declared. "I alone pushed Captain Sawyer into the hold."
And he'd said nothing simply stared at the wounded young
officer. He could not refute the testimony just given by a dying
man, even though he knew it to be untrue. He himself had already
stated that he could not say who had pushed the Captain into the
And that was true enough, after all! Young Wellard, with his dying breath, admitted that Captain Sawyer had never revealed the name of the person or persons responsible.
"He didn't say," the young boy had whispered to Hobbs and then taken his final breath.
Now, those words of Kennedy's, spoken with such quiet dignity, were forever seared upon his soul. And that look the one Kennedy had given Lieutenant Hornblower as he was led from the courtroom! Was there no end to the man's courage!? Hobbs shook his head, trying to stem the torrent of memories as he had so many times during the past six months. Slowly he sank to the deck, unashamed of the silent tears sliding down his face.
He had come to admire Lieutenant Hornblower, who was now Commander Hornblower and captain of his own ship, the Retribution. Yet, if truth were told, he had given very little thought to the man who, with his dying confession, had made that command possible. If he'd spared any thought at all to Archie Kennedy, it was to think of him only as Hornblower's friend not as an officer and certainly, not as a man. And as so many before him, who had dismissed Kennedy out of turn, he had learned to his great sorrow just exactly the sort of man Archie Kennedy had been.
Of course, now it was too late! There was nothing to be done. But that wasn't precisely true, was it? While he could not restore Kennedy's good name or assuage the guilt he felt for the part he'd played in helping to sully that name, it was still possible, was it not, that he might lessen the grief he felt for the man's death?
Rising to his feet, Hobbs brushed the remaining tears from his face. Once again he turned and looked out at the city. Although he was too far away to see it, he knew the place his eyes instinctively sought a small cemetery situated on the outskirts of Kingston. It was a place he'd come to know quite well the only place that now afforded him any peace. A sad smile came to his lips as he reluctantly tore his gaze from the land and made his way below decks. His watch would end soon, but in the meantime, there was work to be done.
"And when it's finished," he thought, taking immense comfort from that thought, "then I shall go there."
"And to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure," Abby greeted her brother as she entered the parlor, hands outstretched in welcome, a warm smile on her lips.
Peter Kennedy, the present Lord Dinsmore and member of Parliament
by virtue of his marriage to the only child of the late Sir Percival
Dinsmore, literally unfolded his 6'4" frame from the chair
he occupied and stood up. Taking Abby's hands in his, he bent
down, placing a gentle kiss upon her cheek. He was three years
her senior a handsome man with a lean, aquiline face; a
shock of curly dark brown hair; and mild gray eyes.
"Dearest Abigail you are well?" he inquired in his customary quiet voice, his hands still holding hers as his eyes roamed over her face, taking special note of the dark shadows beneath her eyes.
"Very well, thank you," she replied, letting him go as she settled herself on the sofa. "And you are as handsome as ever! Now tell me how are Eugenie and the children?"
"They are all well and at present, enjoying the delights of the Emerald Isle," he said as he seated himself beside her.
"And you're not with them?" she scolded fondly. "Really, Peter, surely the House of Lords is capable of functioning quite well in your absence so that you might enjoy a well deserved holiday with your family!"
"Rest assured, I shall be joining them shortly," he said, taking a folded sheaf of papers from his coat as he spoke. "However, there is some business I need to attend to before I go."
Unfolding the sheets he held, Peter handed them to Abby. Quickly she leafed through them, already knowing what was written there. She'd been given access to the entire transcript of which, what she now perused was but a small part several months ago through Commodore Pellew's kindness. Yet she read the words again the ones that had branded her youngest brother a mutinous traitor. Slowly she raised her eyes to meet Peter's gaze, inexpressible sorrow written within their brown depths.
"Oh Peter. . . . ."
. . . . .the words were almost a sigh. With deliberate care, Abby smoothed and refolded the papers, holding them out to him proud of the fact that her hand trembled only slightly as she did so. Rising, she walked to the window. Wrapping her arms about her, she stared out at the miniature square beyond the wide expanse of the boulevard fronting her house. Replacing the papers in his coat, Peter stood, his eyes on the woman standing before the window. Although she was now 38 years of age, he still thought of her as a child as his little sister.
"Softly, old boy," he thought, "you must tread with caution just now."
She was hurting the pain in her face evidence of the deep wound she'd suffered. He would require every skill he'd learned in the service of Parliament not to twist the knife farther into that wound. Heaving a sigh, he made his way to her side.
"Abigail," he began, placing a hand on her arm, "I beg you please listen to what I have to say."
Gently, he turned her toward him tipping her chin until their eyes met.
"It was not our intention to cause you any more pain," he continued, "but, after your letter to Father, we thought. . . . ."
". . . . .Our?" she interrupted, bitterness creeping into her usually quiet, even voice as she tore her gaze from his.
Almost at once, Peter realized he'd made a dreadful mistake, yet he could not retract the words he'd just spoken. She moved some distance away and turned to face him once more all of their fiery Scottish ancestry apparent in her voice and the defiant tilt of her head as she stared back at him.
"Oh, I see. This visit was not your idea alone, was it?" she spat. "What did you do have a family meeting with Father, Harry and Tom to decide how best to handle little Abby and her fit of temper? I assure you, I meant every word of that letter!"
"It was not like that," he answered. "Look, I've made a bad beginning, and I'm truly sorry. It's just that Father was so distressed upon receiving your letter that we Harry, Tom and I thought it best if one of us came to see you. We knew you would never believe Archie capable of committing so heinous an act without some sort of proof."
"And so it was decided that 'Peter the Peacemaker' should deliver this proof and bring me to my senses, is that it? Did you honestly think I would then renounce Archie as the murderous scoundrel all of you believe him to be or beg Father's forgiveness for being such a stubborn little fool?"
"Abigail. . . . ." Peter shook his head in exasperation, his voice trailing off.
God, she could be so obstinate at times it was enough to try the patience of a saint! He had no wish to argue with her had, in fact, wanted to avoid that at all costs. He knew, better than anyone, how much she'd loved Archie.
"You'll never believe it of him, will you," he asked quietly, not at all surprised by her depth of feeling, "even when presented with his own words?"
"That's just it, Peter," she sighed, "they're only words and words are so easily spoken are they not?"
"I'm afraid I don't follow, Abigail. What do you mean 'they're only words'? Do you deny the proof you've just seen? They ARE his his own words spoken before the court."
"No, Peter, I don't deny it. I believe Archie said those words. What I do not believe what I shall NEVER believe, is that he committed the act behind them."
"You think me naïve," she continued. "No, it's all right I see it in your eyes. But, allow me to ask you something, Peter. You don't have to answer just think about it."
"Suppose you had been badly wounded so badly, in fact, that there was no hope of recovery. Now suppose, you and three others are on trial for your lives the charge: mutiny against your captain. One of those on trial with you is your dearest friend. This man has also been accused of attempted murder for pushing his captain into the hold of the ship. You know he is innocent the captain's fall having been accidental. You also know that this man, if given the chance, will sacrifice his honor and his life, testifying that he is, in fact, guilty as charged."
"You are dying," she went on, "and yet, you have the opportunity simply by uttering a few words to save another's life. And all it will cost is your honor and your name. What would you do, Peter?"
"Dear God, Abigail do you realize what you're saying? The Kennedy name slandered and vilified and to what end? To save his friend? It's it's inconceivable!"
"Do you really find it so, Peter? I wonder, then, which of us is the more naïve? After all 'What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet,' if I may be permitted to quote Mr. Shakespeare."
Peter felt a small smile touch his lips as she finished speaking thinking how very alike she and Archie were. He was filled with wonder at the woman who stood before him now unshakeable in her belief that the brother she loved more than life itself had not died a cowardly and ignominious death. No to her, he'd made the ultimate sacrifice giving his life and his honor for a friend. In her eyes, he was a hero and so he should remain. He bowed his head, suddenly tired and wishing he'd never agreed to this visit. There was nothing left to be said. And he was not entirely sure that he could say it, even if there were. Yet, there remained one other reason for his coming today this one, perhaps, more important than the other.
"Very well," he said, "I shall not try to dissuade you from your belief. To do so would cause an irreparable rift between us and I don't want that. But, there is something else I need to discuss with you. . . . . ."
His voice halted as his eyes came to rest on a well-worn chest standing in the far corner of the parlor. Abby had been so intent on her brother when she'd entered the room that she had taken no notice of it. Now, her eyes followed his. She swallowed past the lump in her throat as she realized what it was and who had been its owner. Wordlessly, she made her way to the corner, her hand tracing the name written in gilt letters upon its lid A. Kennedy.
"It came to the Manor," Peter said, his gray eyes brimming with unshed tears, "and I am afraid that. . . . . ."
He swallowed, tried to go on and found he could not speak.
"Father didn't want it dirtying his house, did he?" her tone was flat, emotionless.
Slowly he shook his head, although her back was to him, and
he knew she could not see the silent acknowledgement he gave.
The truth in the words she'd spoken tore at his heart.
"I thought you might. . . . ." he started, then stopped, trying to find the right words, yet knowing there were none.
"It's all right, Peter," she answered, coming to him. "I thank you for bringing it to me."
Reaching up, she placed her hand against his cheek, feeling the wetness of his tears. Taking her hand, he kissed the palm.
"I did love him, you know," he said, his voice breaking, "as I love you."
"And I you," she smiled, giving him the response that, for so many years, had belonged to Archie alone.
Dusk had settled on the island the sun no more than a fiery orange glow upon the horizon, as Hobbs made his way through the streets of Kingston. A mild wind blew, cooling the incessant heat of the day, and he lifted his face to it, grateful for the relief it brought.
The afternoon had passed far too slowly; the remainder of his watch prolonged by a seemingly endless progression of meaningless minor tasks to be completed all of which required his personal attention or so Captain Buckland seemed to think. Hobbs shook his head in amazement still unable to believe that the Admiralty had actually chosen to promote this man to Captain and to retain him as commanding officer of the Renown. In his opinion, Buckland was every inch the 'born fool' Hobbs had once proclaimed him to be.
"Ah well," he thought, "some are born to command and some are not. It's just my misfortune to serve under one who is not."
He smiled wryly, continuing his journey through the city's streets. There didn't seem to be much point in belaboring the subject of Buckland's fitness to command. Things were as they were.
"And you, my friend," he said aloud, "are only a sailor in His Majesty's Navy. It is not your place to question orders merely to carry them out."
Hobbs grinned once more, his spirits lifting perceptibly as
he came, at last, to his destination. Rounding the tiny, whitewashed
church, he entered the cemetery. Winding his way through the
rows, Hobbs reached the far corner and the solitary grave
that stood there. He knelt, placing the lantern he'd brought
on the ground beside the mound of earth. Carefully, he began
clearing the weeds that had grown up between the stones surrounding
that mound. Pausing for just a moment, his eyes drifted up, resting
upon the white cross standing firmly at its head. A gentle smile
came to his lips as he stared at it. Bending his head, he resumed
his work, patiently, pulling weeds from the ground, aided by the
light of the lantern as darkness overtook him. When he'd finished,
Hobbs rose, picked up the weeds he'd pulled and tossed them casually
over the white picket fence that encircled the cemetery.
"There you are, sir," he spoke in a hushed, almost reverent whisper. "All's shipshape again."
Brushing dirt and grass from his trousers, Hobbs took a last look around. Satisfied with his efforts, he picked up the lantern, his gaze once more directed at the cross.
"I shall see you again at week's end," he said, the lantern casting a soft glow upon the lonely grave. "Until then, rest easy, sir."
It was late the casement clock in the downstairs hall having just chimed midnight. Abby closed her book, well aware that for the past hour she'd done nothing but stare at the same page. Now she rose, wrapped her dressing gown about her slender figure, and taking a candle, she stepped out into the hall.
Silently, she wandered from room to room a ghostly figure clothed in ivory lace stopping to straighten a pillow here, smooth a coverlet there until she stood before the parlor door. Opening it, Abby entered the room, making her way to the corner where Archie's sea chest still stood, bathed in the delicate illumination of a full moon. She had been unable or perhaps, unwilling to open it while Peter was there; somehow knowing it was something she must do alone. Briefly shutting her eyes against the now familiar ache in her heart, she placed her candle on a low table and raised the lid.
"Oh Archie," she whispered.
The chest seemed far too large and far to empty a testimonial to the gentle soul whose life was recorded by the meager possessions contained within. Carefully, she picked up several well-worn books volumes of his beloved Shakespeare. Opening one, she could almost hear his quiet voice as she read.
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, un-
Again she closed her eyes reciting the rest of it from memory for it had been one of Archie's favorite sonnets.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade;
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
So long as men can breath, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Placing the books on the table, Abby turned her attention once again to the chest. She picked up his rapier, running her fingers over the hilt. There were several shirts folded neatly, each with a freshly pressed neckerchief placed just inside the collar. There were two pairs of trousers and some ribbons, as well as his brush and comb. She brought out a packet of letters, tied with black ribbon, recognizing Emily James' handwriting and her own. In the bottom there lay a pair of boots, as well as a pair of shoes, their silver buckles slightly tarnished. His uniform coat had been folded and placed to one side, the brass buttons gleaming in the light of the candle. Tenderly, she removed it, pressing it against her heart, smelling the salt tang of the sea that lingered there still. Carefully, she refolded the coat, her eye caught by something that lay at the very bottom of the chest. Reaching in, she withdrew a small, blue velvet box.
Placing the box on the table as if to delay its opening as one might a treasured Christmas or birthday gift, Abby began replacing her brother's possessions in the chest. When she'd finished, she closed the lid. Picking up the small box, she crossed to the sofa and sat down, the light of the full moon reflecting the pain in her eyes.
She knew what was in the box, even before she lifted the lid. After all, it was she who had given Archie the watch that lay upon the velvet inside. She brought it out, touching the tiny catch the lid springing open. She did not have to read the inscription she knew it by heart.
He'd been 18 that year. A young midshipman in His Britannic Majesty's Navy; full of hopes and dreams the memories washed over her now, as gently as a summer rain and the promise of the man he'd eventually become. It was also the year he had fallen hopelessly in love with Emily James, vowing one day to make her his wife.
It was not fair it was an injustice and it was stupid. . . . .
. . . . .and she railed against the futility of her thoughts but could not stop them. He should have married and he should have had children and he. . . . .he. . . . .
. . . . .HE SHOULD HAVE LIVED!
"But you did," she thought suddenly, "you lived and died as only you could have done, little brother. And I have NEVER been more proud of you than I am at this moment."
Looking down at the watch she held, Abby smiled. Retrieving her guttering candle, she left the room, closing the door softly behind her.
Portsmouth. . . . .since the time Henry VII had fortified its
boundaries with stone and built docks upon its shores, it had
been Britain's foremost base of naval operations.
Now, as a mantle about the shoulders of some ancient monarch, twilight settled over the city the sky above, overcast, as it had been the entire day. The air was warm, humid, oppressive the dank smell of saltwater assaulting the senses like some harlot's cheap perfume. Lamps were lit; lights appearing along the waterfront as the taverns made ready to receive the brisk evening trade brought about by sailors who, having finished with their day's labors, sought the company of a pint a woman or both.
Ships of varying size and importance lay anchored in Spithead Channel among them, His Majesty's Ship, Retribution. A lone man appeared, making his way from the jetty through the narrow streets of Portsmouth. He was tall, just over six feet in height the uniform he wore accentuating the thinness of his frame, gold epaulettes proclaiming his rank as Commander. He was, in fact, the captain of the Retribution. His lean, handsome face, lit by the light spilling from the lamps, was haggard, careworn sorrow mirrored in the depths of his dark eyes. He continued on, leaving the waterfront behind. . . . .seeking. . . . .what?. . . . .he was not entirely sure. His only conscious thought had been to disappear from the claustrophobic atmosphere of his ship to seek a brief respite from the solicitous attentions of his crew. He knew they meant well, but he could no longer abide their concerned looks even the stalwart, quiet presence of his First Lieutenant was too much for him to bear. They could not understand and he could not explain it to them for he himself scarcely understood why, after all this time, he could not put his grief aside and get on with the business of living. It should have been relatively easy or so he'd thought. He was, after all, solitary by nature. But his friendship with Archie Kennedy had forever altered that nature. And so, Horatio Hornblower had fled venturing even farther into the city, until at last he found himself standing before an inn, the rumblings of his stomach a good-natured reminder that he had not eaten since early morning.
The Royal Crown was a quaint, yet fashionable, establishment situated in the older part of the city. Tonight, the door was wide open a welcome invitation to the weary traveler subdued lamplight spilling through the lace of the curtains. As he stepped inside, Horatio was struck by the understated elegance of the place. The graceful furnishings, the paintings that hung upon the walls all gave voice to the quiet ambiance within. A wonderful aroma assailed his nostrils and again, his stomach rumbled.
"Dinner's to be served in ten minutes, sir," said an amused voice at his elbow, "if you'd care to step this way."
Horatio turned to find the innkeeper, a rotund gentleman with a merry twinkle in his eyes, indicating an open doorway just to his left.
"My apologies, sir," Horatio said, a dull flush rising on his thin cheeks.
"Entirely unnecessary, Commander," replied the little man, with an answering grin. "We are not busy at the moment. Just go in and sit wherever you'd like."
Nodding, Horatio took his leave and entered the dining room, noting the few patrons scattered among the tables. His eyes were drawn to a recessed corner and the figure seated there, a tattered book in her hands. She was the last person he'd expected to find in Portsmouth, and yet, it seemed fitting that she should be here this night. Silently, Horatio made his way to her table, bowing as Abby looked up from her book.
"Mrs. MacKenzie," he said, "this is an unexpected surprise."
"I'd say 'shock' might be a more appropriate word, Commander," she replied, closing the book and placing it on the table as she extended her hand, "judging by the look on your face."
"Forgive me, ma'am," he said, taking the hand and placing a light kiss on her fingertips, "it's only just. . . . .that I had not expected to see YOU in Portsmouth."
"It's all right, Commander," she smiled up at him.
"Please," she continued, indicating the chair opposite, "do sit down and join me for dinner, won't you?"
"It would be my pleasure," and Horatio smiled in return.
Sitting down, he picked up the shabby little book, not at all surprised to find it was a copy of Shakespeare's sonnets. Placing it back on the table, he looked up his dark eyes meeting her own.
"A gift from my mother," she said in response to his unasked question, "a long time ago. I take it with me wherever I go so that I keep a part of her with me at all times."
As she finished speaking, Abby raised her hand, unconsciously fingering the tiny silver cross at her throat. Horatio swallowed unsure what to say. He'd recognized Archie's birthday gift to her and knew her thoughts were on her brother.
At that moment, dinner arrived and the conversation lapsed the only sound in the room, the muted chink of silver against fine china as they ate. The food was excellent and Horatio ate heartily, not realizing until he looked down at his empty plate, just how hungry he had been.
"Forgive me for asking, Mrs. MacKenzie," he said as the table was cleared and he poured more wine for both of them, "but what are you doing here in Portsmouth?"
"Please, Commander," she said, "call me Abby."
"Very well," he replied, "and I am Horatio."
"As to why I am in Portsmouth," she continued, "I have passage aboard the Artemis sailing tomorrow, bound for Kingston."
"I am going to see where he rests," she finished, gently placing her hand over his.
Horatio nodded, not trusting himself to speak. His eyes looked down at the hand on his, then up at her face. Abby saw the despair etched upon his handsome features the pain he now fought valiantly to conceal from her.
"Horatio," she said softly, "I am extremely
glad that you are here tonight and grateful for the
opportunity this chance meeting affords me."
Removing her hand, she reached into her reticule, taking from it the watch she'd given to Archie so long ago. Taking his hands, she placed it in them, closing both of them around it.
"I want you to keep this," she said, holding his eyes with her own. "I know that he would have wanted you to have it."
Opening his hands, Horatio stared down at the watch running his fingers over the worn initials inscribed on its lid. Tears welled in his eyes and coursed silently down his face. Impatiently, he wiped them away and looked up, meeting her gaze once more.
"I am honored," he said.
"I don't like it, Abby," Terry Whitehall said as he strode back and forth across the dock, brown eyes flashing. "I don't like it at all!"
He'd arrived in Portsmouth late last night, determined to make her listen to reason. He remembered well their first meeting when Abby had offered him the position as her family solicitor. Patiently, she'd listened to all of his arguments, then simply informed him that she would have no one else handle her affairs. He'd admired her from the beginning her tenacity and strength of will yet always a lady in the truest sense of the word. An easy friendship had developed between them, and for her part, Abby had come to think of him, not as her lawyer, but as a member of her own family.
"I believe we've had this argument before, Terry," Abby replied, her eyes glinting with amusement as the diminutive lawyer continued his tirade, "several times if memory serves. I'm going, and there's no use in trying to talk me out of it."
"I'm not trying to," he continued, drawing himself up to the full extent of his 5'3" height. "All I'm saying is that I think it would be best if Michael, or David, or I accompany you. There's so much that could happen at sea. It could be dangerous and you shouldn't be alone. And just so you know, THEY like it no more than I!"
"I know full well how my sons feel about this trip,"
she said, pausing as a bout of coughing assailed her. "They've
made their feelings well known just as you have."
"Besides," she went on, "I won't be alone. Or have you conveniently forgotten the ship does have a captain, as well as a crew?"
"You know what I mean," he retorted, glaring up at her.
"And then, there's that," he ranted on as she began coughing once more. "Tell me, what did the doctor say? God why did I EVER agree to book this passage for you?!"
"Possibly because you had no choice," she replied, her voice quiet, steady. "And you know perfectly well what the doctor said."
It was true; he had known. When it had first begun, she'd ignored the cough, but as time went on, both Michael and David had begged her to see their physician, Dr. Jameson. Reluctantly, she'd agreed, only to be told she was in the early stages of consumption.
"I would have found a way to get to Kingston," she said now, "with your help or without it."
"And don't I know it," he smiled ruefully, looking up at her. "You are a formidable woman, Mrs. MacKenzie."
"I suppose that's one word for it," she laughed.
"You won't change your mind, will you no matter what I say?"
"You know me better than that, Terry."
"Yes yes, I do, indeed," he said, shaking his head.
At that moment the launch that would take her out to the Artemis appeared. Offering her his arm, Terry led her down the steps of the stone jetty, settling her into the small boat.
"Goodbye, Abby," he said, kissing the hand still in his. "You will keep safe, won't you?"
"You have my promise," she answered, gently squeezing his hand.
"Ah, but have you any intention of keeping that promise, Madame?" he asked, a mischievous twinkle in his dark eyes.
"With all my heart, sir," she laughed and blew him a kiss as the boat drew away.
Once again he stood at the ship's rail, the sun sparkling upon
the crystal water. A mild breeze blew in off the water, and Hobbs
turned his face to it gratefully, closing his eyes for just a
moment. His head ached abominably, every muscle in his body a
lead weight. He shivered in the heat of the day; his body wracked
with chills, although his handsome face was flushed and feverish.
He waited for the nausea he knew would come.
"Just ride it out," he thought, "you've been through this before you'll get through it now."
True enough. After all, malaria was common in the West Indies. Hobbs knew the cycle well his symptoms having begun almost a month ago. After the first occurrence, he'd gone to Dr. Clive, who'd given him a dose of quinine, the accepted course of treatment.
"The symptoms will recur," Clive had told him, wanting him to be prepared. "Every two to three days, you'll be overcome by the fever, chills and nausea. You may experience headaches, as well as muscular pain. Once the attack has subsided, your body will perspire as your temperature returns to normal."
"Keep in mind," the doctor had continued, "between these attacks, you'll be weak. You may also suffer from anemia, that is, a lack of iron to the blood. I can order bed rest, if you desire."
"Thank you, Doctor but I'd rather not."
Hobbs hated the sick berth wanting to spend as little time as possible there.
"Very well. But I shall expect you to return weekly for the quinine. And it is extremely important to drink as much fresh water daily as you can."
"If that is all, Doctor," the Gunner replied, bowing slightly, "then I shall return to my duties. Thank you for your time."
In the weeks that followed, Hobbs battled the malaria as well as he could. He hated the weakness the malaise that followed each attack. Yet, he steadfastly refused the bed rest Clive continued to offer.
Turning now from the rail, he was about to make his way to the sick berth his weekly dose of quinine due when the nausea overcame him. Dropping to his knees, he clutched his abdomen, retching painfully. The remains of his breakfast, laced with blood, spewed onto the deck. He tried to rise and found he could not. The world swam before his eyes as a wave of dizziness, followed by another bout of nausea, swept over his body.
"Mr. Hobbs. . . . ."
. . . . .he was aware of the voice calling his name, but as if from a great distance. He tried to look up, but the dizziness came again.
"Aye," was all he managed as the world grayed out around him and then suddenly went black.
"How is he?" Buckland snorted, pursing his lips as he stared down at the sleeping figure lying on the cot, disgust etched in every line of his face.
"He looks," Clive thought, "as if he believes Hobbs contracted the malaria just to spite HIM."
Command had certainly changed the former First Lieutenant and not necessarily for the better. True, the promotion had given him the confidence he'd lacked as First Lieutenant of the Renown, but it could not instill in him the attributes of leadership so essential in a good captain. Strict adherence to naval discipline had become the hallmark of his command, earning him a reputation among the crew as a martinet. And while the same camaraderie existed among the men as before, the fierce loyalty Captain Sawyer had inspired was noticeably absent under Buckland's leadership. Not that he cared a wit for how his men felt about him. He ran a tight ship a fact noticed and admired by other captains within the fleet anchored in Kingston. And to Buckland, their opinions were the only ones of any consequence.
"His fever's broken," the doctor responded now, careful to keep his voice neutral. "Always a good sign. And he seems to be resting more comfortably."
"How long," Buckland asked, fixing the doctor with his steely gaze, "until Mr. Hobbs is fit to return to his duties?"
At Clive's frown, he pressed on, "He is Senior Gunnery Officer, Doctor, and as such, vital to the smooth operation of this ship."
"With respect, sir," Clive said through clenched teeth, his anger rising, "it is difficult to say at this stage. These bouts of malaria have left him weakened and extremely anemic; hence, the reason for the severity of this afternoon's attack. He has, in the past, refused bed rest following these attacks. However, it is essential that he now get that rest. I'll NOT have him leaving this sick berth before he is well enough to do so, SIMPLY because the ship may not be able to function without him."
"Very well," Buckland nodded, clearly not happy with the doctor's response. "I'll leave it in your hands, but bear in mind, if you please sir, what I've said. I do need him and as soon as possible."
"I'm sure Mr. Hobbs would be pleased to hear you say so, sir," Clive smiled, his sarcasm lost on the Captain, who'd turned on his heel and marched from the room.
Turning back to the cot, Clive placed a hand on Hobbs' forehead. Satisfied that the fever had, indeed, broken and his patient slept soundly, he sat at his desk, opened his medical log and began to write.
He was standing near the shoreline, blue eyes staring out at the wide expanse of ocean before him. Whitecaps rolled toward the shore, the waves breaking upon the sand in a never-ending dance that had fascinated him since childhood. God, but he loved the sea!
For 25 years now it had been his home ever since that fateful night his mother had accepted three shillings from a drunken sea captain for her son glad, at last, to be rid of the stigma her illegitimate child had brought to her. Not that he'd blamed her. He had no regrets even now. He had been extremely fortunate. Four years after that night, at the age of 12, he'd had the good fortune to attract the attention of James Sawyer. The Captain had taken an instant liking to the intense youngster with the piercing blue eyes and had arranged to have him transferred aboard his ship as cabin boy. He'd served with Sawyer ever since rising to his present rank of Warrant Officer and Senior Gunner's Mate.
"He was a fine captain and an even better man," said a voice, startling him from his memories.
He knew that voice. Turning, he spotted its owner seated on a rocky outcropping directly behind him. Archie Kennedy smiled, his face as handsome in death as it had been in life. His eyes were the same vivid sapphire; his voice, the same soft baritone. He was casually dressed in his naval uniform, although the coat had been removed, the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up to reveal his lean, tanned biceps.
"I'm not really here, am I?"
"No, Mr. Hobbs. You are dreaming and what you see around you are shadows as am I."
"And yet, 'A dream itself is but a shadow'," Archie finished, smiling up at him.
Hobbs grinned in spite of himself, shaking his head. Even in death, Archie Kennedy could not refrain from quoting his infernal Shakespeare. He moved to stand by his former Lieutenant, his expression quickly sobering.
"Mr. Kennedy," he said, "I am so very sorry for what I've done or rather, for what I did not do."
"Please don't be, Matthew," Archie replied, using his Christian name. "One should never apologize for telling the truth or for doing what one feels is right. It's bad form."
He flashed a lopsided grin, one eyebrow raised, and Hobbs felt the sting of grief once more. He knew that smile well, not realizing until this moment how much he'd missed it.
"But, sir," he went on, "please, you must listen. It is true that I spoke the truth at the court martial when I said I could not tell who'd pushed Captain Sawyer into the hold. But, when you confessed that you'd acted alone in pushing him, I SHOULD have said something and I DID NOT choosing, instead, to stay silent. I took the coward's way out, sir, and let you take the blame."
"Matthew," Archie's voice was soft and oddly gentle as he continued. "You are many things, but a coward is not one of them. It is time you stopped blaming yourself for what happened in that courtroom. What you did took courage. By keeping silent and with your testimony you prevented Mr. Hornblower from being hanged. You saved his life, man!"
"And your life, sir what about that? And your name? I let everyone believe you were guilty. How do you justify that, sir?"
"I was dying anyway, so what does it matter?" Archie shrugged. "And as for my name. . . .well, when all is said and done, it's only a word, after all."
Again, Archie flashed that grin.
"I have always held it true, Matthew, that a man should be judged by his deeds, not by the name he happens to bear."
"And does your family feel as you do? Will they understand the reason behind your confession?"
"There's but one member of my family whose opinion I value," Archie answered, a tender smile on his lips and a trace of sadness in his blue eyes. "And I know SHE understands."
"Each of us played our part," he continued, his eyes locked on the Gunner's, "and did what was necessary so that a good and honorable man might live. You should be proud of that, Matthew."
Hobbs ducked his head, knowing that Archie had spoken the truth. He looked up, staring at the face before him, dimly aware of the tears that blurred the handsome features.
"Mr. Kennedy. . . . ." he began, swallowing past the lump in his throat. . . . .
". . . . .I am honored to have known you, sir."
"The honor, Mr. Hobbs," and Archie smiled a final time, "was all mine. Sleep well, now."
His eyelids fluttered open as he focused on the flame from the candle on Clive's desk. The dream was fast fading, but he remembered sapphire eyes and a lopsided grin upon a handsome face.
"Mr. Hobbs," the doctor said, noticing that his patient had awakened. "It's good to have you back with us, sir."
"Thank you, Doctor," Hobbs answered, a crooked smile, reminiscent of a certain Fourth Lieutenant, lighting his face, "it is good to be back."
Slowly Abby circled the main deck, pausing now and then to marvel anew at the beauty of the ship on which she now sailed. For it was true she was lovely, this ship of the East India Company. While not one of its flagships, she was still tastefully appointed as befitted a merchant vessel of her size and stature within the fleet; her passenger cabins, large and elegantly furnished. And how well her name, Artemis, Greek goddess of the hunt, suited her. She was sleek powerfully built boasting three masts and a complement of 84 guns.
They had been at sea nearly a week, and it had become Abby's custom this daily walk about the ship. She stopped at the rail now, gazing out upon the ocean. The sky above was overcast, giving the water below a drab, olive green appearance. Yet Abby smiled as she observed several dolphins frolicking near the ship. She turned her attention skyward, watching as a crewman scaled the rigging, bound for the fighting top and his duties as lookout. Her thoughts turned to Archie. She could see him his lithe, graceful body agilely ascending those same ropes. At last she understood why he'd loved this life so much for in the short time they'd been at sea; she had grown to love it as well.
"And if I'd been fortunate enough to have been born a man," she thought, "we might very well have been sailing this same sea together."
The thought amused her, causing her to laugh softly as she imagined herself in full officer's regalia, tromping about the deck of some ship, destined for adventure in far-off lands and exotic ports-of-call. Perhaps someday it might just be possible, although certainly not in her lifetime, for women to serve king and country aboard a naval vessel. An intriguing thought, surely, and Abby laughed again as she focused her attention once more on the playful dolphins keeping pace with Artemis.
"Why Abby MacKenzie," the deep baritone sounded at her elbow, startling her from her reverie. "This is, indeed, a pleasant surprise!"
Turning from the rail, a smile of genuine pleasure lit Abby's face as she recognized both the voice and the handsome face smiling down at her. Dropping a curtsey to the tiny woman at his side, she held out her hand.
"Sir Andrew," she replied, delight in her voice, "and Lady Ffolkes as it is for me. I had no idea you were sailing with us."
Andrew Ffolkes took her hand in his, placing a kiss on her slender fingertips. He was tall slightly over six feet in height, with hair the color of spun gold and eyes a gentle azure. He was dressed in the latest fashion, the cut of his coat accentuating the muscular outline of his trim physique.
Lady Ffolkes, the former Suzanne de Tournay, was truly lovely.
She was petite, with a heart-shaped face framed by doll-like
curls of the same gold has her husband's. She, too, was dressed
in the latest fashion, her gown of pale green perfectly complementing
those golden curls.
"Poor Andrew," Lady Ffolkes said, the lilting voice revealing a hint of French accent, "I'm afraid this hasn't been a very good trip for him so far."
She laughed the sound light and musical a ray of
sun to brighten the gray day.
Abby looked from one to the other, her eyebrows lifted in mild interrogation. Seeing the expression of surprised confusion on her face, Sir Andrew laughed aloud.
"I'm afraid my wife has been indisposed since we left Portsmouth," he said by way of explanation, "and as this is the first day she's felt up to leaving her bed, some fresh air and exercise seemed to be in order."
"You're feeling better then, my Lady?" Abby asked.
"Much better, Mrs. MacKenzie," answered her ladyship, smiling softly. "Though I fear the color of my face still matches that of my gown."
"You've nothing to fear on that account, my Lady. You look absolutely radiant. One would never have known you'd been ill. . . . .and please, call me Abigail or better still, Abby."
"You'll pardon the interruption, ladies," Sir Andrew smiled indulgently at his wife, then turned his attention to Abby, "but to what do we owe the unexpected pleasure of your company on this voyage, ma'am? A holiday, perhaps?"
"I'm afraid not," Abby answered, shaking her head, a shadow of sorrow flickering within her dark eyes. "I am on my way to Kingston to visit the place where they've buried my brother."
"Forgive me," Sir Andrew said gently, taking both of her hands in his. "We'd heard the news about Archie, of course. . . . ."
". . . . .and you have our most heartfelt condolences, Abigail," Suzanne interrupted, laying her hand on Abby's arm. "It cannot be easy to lose someone you love."
Abby bowed her head, overcome with emotion by their kind words. She swallowed, unable for the moment, to speak.
"Thank you both of you," she said, when she could trust her voice once more. "Your words mean more to me than you know."
"And what about you, Sir Andrew," she asked, smiling to lighten the somber mood that seemed to have descended upon them. "Is your trip one of business or of pleasure, sir?"
"Ah, dear lady both, actually. Business for me and pleasure, I hope, at least, for Suzanne."
"In that case, I wish you success on both counts. Now, if you will excuse me, I shall leave you to your walk."
Smiling, Abby turned to go. As she did so, Suzanne reached out, touching her arm once again.
"Abigail," she said in her lilting voice, "we would be pleased, Andrew and I. . . . ."
She stopped, glanced at her husband and caught his imperceptible nod of agreement.
". . . . .if you would stay with us while you are in Kingston," she finished. "That is, of course, if you've no other plans."
"You are most gracious, my Lady," Abby responded, "I don't know what to say. I had planned to stay at an inn within the city. . . . .."
"You'll do nothing of the kind," Sir Andrew interrupted, his voice adamant, the tone brooking no argument on the subject.
"Please," he went on, his blue eyes intent upon Abby's face, "it would be our pleasure, I assure you."
"Then, how can I possibly refuse?"
"Wonderful," Suzanne replied, smiling, "it's settled you'll stay with us. We shall discuss it further over dinner this evening."
"I shall look forward to it, my Lady Sir Andrew and, thank you."
Somewhere above them, a bell rang. With a smile, Abby took her leave and retired to her cabin.
Cautiously placing both feet on the floor, Hobbs rose from his hammock; mindful of the warning Clive had given him regarding dizziness and weak limbs. He'd been released from the sick berth three days ago, much to his immense relief; the attacks of malaria gradually subsiding in frequency as well as severity. Making his way to the washbasin, he stood, assessing the face staring back at him now from the mirror hanging on the wall above. It was gaunt, that face, the skin beneath the heavy tan a sickly yellow.
"All in all, though," he thought with a wry smile, as he studied his reflection, "not too bad, considering the alternative."
Quickly he washed his face; ran a comb through his blonde hair,
tying it neatly back in its queue; and dressed. Coming above
decks, he inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with the salt-laced
air; grateful once more to be free of the overpowering smell of
medicine and death that seemed to permeate every inch of space
within the realm of Dr. Clive.
Slowly he circled the ship, his eyes scanning the deck cannon. With Renown now patrolling in potentially hostile waters, a complete inspection of all guns above and below decks was a necessity. Bending over the Number Four cannon, Hobbs set to work.
"Ah, Mr. Hobbs, there you are."
The clipped, slightly nasal voice caught him unaware, and Hobbs looked up, startled by the sound. Automatically he stiffened to attention and saluted, seeing Captain Buckland standing before him.
"Sir," he began. . . . .
". . . . .so good to have you back with us," Buckland interrupted, giving him a perfunctory smile. "I trust you are well?"
"I am," Hobbs answered, "and happy to be back thank you, sir."
"Glad to hear it. . . . .glad to hear it. You've been sorely missed, you know."
As he spoke, Buckland directed a pointed glance at Number Four then up at his Senior Gunner's Mate. Hobbs understood the meaning behind that look, yet he waited for Buckland to continue.
"I understand Dr. Clive has recommended 'limited duty' for now?"
"I, too, do not want you to overextend yourself, Mr. Hobbs," Buckland said, eyeing the Gunner with what he hoped would appear to be genuine concern, "however. . ."
Hobbs resisted the urge he had to laugh aloud at the patently false expression on Buckland's face. It was pathetic how transparent his commanding officer was. He focused his attention once more, listening as the man continued to prattle.
". . . . .as you are aware, we now patrol in dangerous waters, and must be prepared for the worst. Consequently, I believe a thorough inspection of all the guns, above as well as below decks, is warranted. Do you not agree?"
"Yes sir," Hobbs said, "I have just begun and with your permission. . . . ."
"Good good," Buckland replied, nodding absently. "By all means, carry on."
"Aye aye, sir," Hobbs saluted as Buckland walked
aft, then turned his attention once again to his work.
At age 45, Jonathan Teague, Captain of the Artemis, was a creature of habit. He ran his ship with the precision of a finely crafted timepiece, believing firmly in a system of ample reward for a job well done, as well as swift retribution when it was not. He was also a man who believed in the notion that passengers aboard his ship were to be treated as one would honored guests in one's home. He enjoyed fine dining within a congenial atmosphere both of which he provided in full measure each evening to those who sailed with him.
To that end, he looked around his cabin now, surveying the people gathered there. They had just finished dinner wine, cheese and fruit now being served amid casual conversation. He nodded in satisfaction, noting this was the first evening since they'd left Portsmouth that all of his passengers and ship's senior officers were assembled together.
He'd known that Lady Suzanne Ffolkes had spent much of the past week in her cabin overcome, or so he'd been told, with a severe case of seasickness. He observed her ladyship now, standing at the window deep in conversation with her husband, Sir Andrew, and Mrs. MacKenzie. If she had, indeed, been ill, Teague saw no evidence of it this night. Suzanne was lovely dressed in a gown of palest blue satin, her blonde curls pulled back, cascading down her slender neck. She laughed gaily just now, causing at least two of his officers to cast admiring glances in her direction as they'd done when she'd first entered his cabin.
Teague's eyes moved on, coming to rest on the smiling face of Abigail MacKenzie. He'd taken an instant liking to her from the moment they'd met her soft voice; the warm, ready smile and the dark eyes tinged with sadness. He knew the cause of her sorrow and greatly admired her loyalty to a man considered by all within the Navy as a traitor to his king and country.
Seated at the table to his right were his three senior officers Lieutenants Stafford, Peale and Briggs. To his left, his back to the trio by the window, was Lieutenant Daniel Wetherford of the Royal Navy. Teague took a moment to study the young man who was speaking with Timothy Callahan, a merchant in the linen trade. The Lieutenant was quite young. . . . .
". . . . .possibly no more than 28 or 29 years of age," Teague thought.
His hair was black his eyes, olive green in color. He was short, this lad, yet his bearing contained all of the self-importance his youth and aristocratic birth afforded him for he was, in fact, of noble blood. He smiled often, yet there was something disconcerting in that smile, and Teague admitted to himself that he harbored a vague dislike for the man. Frowning, he looked up, realizing that Stafford had addressed him. He had not been aware that his officers had risen from the table and were now standing at the door.
"With your permission, sir," Stafford said again, indicating Peale and Briggs, "we shall return to our duties."
"By all means, Mr. Stafford," Teague smiled at his First Lieutenant.
The three saluted amid a chorus of 'good evenings'. As they left, the Captain rose, joining the pleasant little group at the window. He took a glass of wine from a tray and sipped appreciatively. He glanced over at the table, hearing Callahan's lilting Irish voice.
"So, you're bound for Kingston, then, are you, young man?" the merchant asked.
"Aye, Mr. Callahan," the young lieutenant replied with his customary grin. "I am to join His Majesty's Ship, Renown, as Third Lieutenant."
"A great responsibility for a young lad," the Irishman replied.
"Indeed it is, sir, but I believe I am up to the challenge," Wetherford said, a note of pride in his voice. "My only regret is that thanks to a bastard name Kennedy I'll not have the opportunity to serve under Captain James Sawyer one of the greatest heroes our Navy has ever known!"
The room fell deathly silent and Teague froze, his wineglass halfway to his lips. Suzanne gasped, her small hands covering her mouth in shock. Sir Andrew shot a quick, distasteful glance at the table, his hand tightening around the glass he held. All three looked at Abby for her reaction, concern etched on their faces. She said nothing, only smiling at them as she turned to face the man at the table.
"Pardon me, Mr. Wetherford," she asked, "but
were you acquainted with this man. . . . .this. . . . .
"Not personally no ma'am, I was not," he replied, looking up at her.
"Ah," she said, "I see."
"You see what, ma'am?"
"That it must be your custom then, sir, to converse on topics about which you have no knowledge."
Her voice was soft, her hands folded together before her her eyes never leaving his face. He looked at the floor as someone snickered, suddenly uncomfortable a scarlet flush staining his pale cheeks.
"Well, Madam, while I may not have been personally acquainted with Lieutenant Kennedy," he answered, eyes flashing in anger, "I am thoroughly knowledgeable, having heard the stories, of what transpired when he served aboard Renown. I know exactly what sort of cowardly, mutinous, poor excuse for a man he was. They should have hanged him from the yard, wounded or not. But no, the coward died before they had the chance."
Again, Suzanne let out a small gasp, as her husband moved in, placing himself between Abby and this young upstart of a lieutenant. Seeing the wrath on Andrew's face, Abby smiled, shaking her head slightly. He nodded, her message understood, and stepped back to stand at her side.
"As I'm sure you're aware, Mr. Wetherford, stories, rumors and innuendoes are far from the truth," she observed quietly, turning back to the young man. "And as they are subject to individual interpretation, you must admit, they are a poor substitute for firsthand knowledge."
"I'd be wary, sir, were I you," she admonished, giving him a smile.
"Of what?" he hissed between clenched teeth.
"You are familiar, are you not, with the old adage regarding 'loose lips and sinking ships'?"
He made no reply, simply stared at her in anger and humiliation as both Captain Teague and Timothy Callahan chuckled loudly. He clenched the hands hanging at his sides into fists as Sir Andrew and Lady Ffolkes exchanged amused glances. He shut his eyes, breathing deeply trying to control his frustration knowing that, somehow, this woman had gotten the better of him.
"If you will excuse me," he heard her say now, "I am rather tired and so I shall take my leave. I bid you all goodnight."
She crossed the room and stood at the cabin door, her hand on the knob. Turning, she smiled once more at the assemblage. Opening the door, she stepped into the passageway, pausing as her ears caught the whispered remark that came from inside.
"And just who the devil does she think she is?"
Wetherford looked from Teague to Sir Andrew to Suzanne and then, at Timothy Callahan. His face turned scarlet once more as he saw Abby standing in the open doorway.
"My name," she said, her voice filled with quiet dignity, her gaze never wavering from his, "is Abigail Rose Kennedy MacKenzie. Lieutenant Archie Kennedy, 'that bastard', as you've so eloquently referred to him, Mr. Wetherford, was my brother."
Abby paced the floor of her cabin, arms folded and pressed
tightly against her body; her fingernails digging into the soft
flesh of her upper arms as she fought desperately to suppress
the flood of rage that threatened to engulf her. Seldom had she
felt such anger, and yet, she had remained outwardly composed,
totally in control of her emotions throughout the confrontation
in Teague's cabin. She'd even managed a dignified exit, but now,
within the safe confines of her own room, she seethed with the
rage she'd kept carefully hidden earlier. It boiled just below
the surface; a volcano on the verge of eruption.
"Of all the arrogant, obnoxious, insufferable, supercilious, self-important, self-righteous prigs it has EVER been my misfortune to meet," she fumed, "THAT little man. . . . ."
She stopped suddenly, her breath caught in her throat, as his face filled her vision. It came again, the urge to wrap her slender hands around Lieutenant Daniel Wetherford's throat and throttle him. Glancing about, she spied her silver hairbrush lying on the dresser. Grabbing it with shaking fingers, she hurled it at the far wall, the sound, as it struck, reverberating throughout the cabin. Slowly Abby sank to the floor, her anger spent; her thoughts turning to the only other time in her life when she could remember experiencing such a depth of rage toward another human being.
It had happened shortly after her marriage to Robert. They'd returned from their wedding trip Robert going on to Lochcarron, while she went to Kennedy Manor. Just before the wedding, Robert had spoken to her father; receiving Sir James' consent that Archie should come to live with them in Scotland, attending school there. Abby had longed for this day the day her brother might know the love of a true family.
"And we shall be," she thought, "Robert, Michael, David, Archie and I."
But her joy was short-lived. Upon arriving at the Manor, she learned that Archie had been sent to sea. He was now a young midshipman, serving aboard the Justinian in Portsmouth. As she listened to her father, Abby felt the anger welling within her. She pressed her lips together in unconscious imitation of her mother, her hands clasped tightly in her lap.
"But Father," she'd said, striving to keep her voice even, "I thought we'd agreed that Archie was to come and live with us after the wedding."
"I believe I know what's best for my son," Sir James
"I understand that," Abby tried again, fighting to keep her temper in check.
"No more, Abigail," Sir James glared at her. "I weighed both alternatives and found the Navy far more suitable than his living in Scotland with you. You've mollycoddled him for too long! It's high time the boy grew up and stood on his own two feet!"
"The decision," he finished as she opened her mouth to protest a final time, "is irrevocable. There will be NO MORE discussion on the subject."
With a curt nod to his daughter, Sir James left the room. When she'd heard the study door slam shut, Abby rose from her chair her only coherent thought to get away from that house and her father. She'd called for a carriage to take her into the city; spending the night in the London townhouse. She had been livid the world around her veiled in the red haze of her anger.
How could he be so cruel?! Archie was his son! And yet he'd
discarded him with no more thought than one gave a cast off piece
of clothing that had outlived its usefulness.
She'd paced her bedroom and as she remembered, thrown something that night, as well. What had it been? She couldn't remember only that she'd startled Mrs. Donovan as she entered with the tea tray.
A knock at the cabin door interrupted her memories. She rose from the floor, smoothing her skirts. As she opened the door, Abby saw that Jonathan Teague stood in the passageway, an awkward smile on his face.
"Forgive the intrusion, Mrs. MacKenzie," he said, "I wanted to be sure that you were quite all right and to ask if you'd care to join me for a walk on deck. 'Tis a lovely night, ma'am."
"I'm fine, Captain Teague," she replied, "and yes thank you I'd be happy to accompany you."
Fetching her shawl and wrapping it about her, she took his arm. Together they emerged from below decks and made their way to the aft railing. It was a clear night and Abby gazed up at the stars littered among the heavens like some child's forgotten playthings. Teague cleared his throat, not entirely sure how to begin.
"Mrs. MacKenzie regarding what happened earlier this evening," he paused, searching for the right words, "I'd like to offer my apologies. Mr. Wetherford's remarks concerning Lieutenant Kennedy were uncalled for not to mention exceedingly rude and offensive."
"Thank you, Captain," she replied, "however, offensive or not, I fear Mr. Wetherford's views regarding my brother are shared by many, if not all, within His Majesty's Navy."
"Aye, you're right about that, ma'am. But, do you ever wish you could change 'em people, I mean, and what they think of him? If he'd been my brother, I know that I'd move heaven and earth to get 'em to see the truth."
"I used to feel as you do, Captain," she said, "but.
. . . .I've long since given up 'tilting at windmills',
as my husband used to say. I'm afraid it is our fatal flaw
this perversity we have always to believe the worst of someone
else and I fear it will always be so."
"Yet in the end, it doesn't really matter at least not to me," she continued, watching the sea below them. "You see, I KNOW the man my brother was, and that's what's most important not how others perceive him based only upon what they've read or heard."
She thought about what she'd just said. While it was true she'd been furious with Wetherford earlier, it was also true that she DID know Archie. And that knowledge, as well as the love she would always carry with her, had caused the anger to fade gone with the sound of a brush striking a wall. She smiled, her eyes still intent on the ocean.
"I do have one, though," she finished, so softly he scarcely heard her.
"Ma'am?" he looked at her, trying to read her face
in the darkness.
"A wish," Abby said, "there is one that I have."
Once more she turned her gaze to the stars, no longer aware that Teague stood quietly at her side.
"It is my fondest wish, Archie," she said, her voice a tender whisper on the night air, "that you have, at last, found the peace and happiness you so deserve."
Hobbs paused, his hand poised just above the latch on the cemetery gate, struck, as always, by the tranquil silence that enveloped this tiny corner of the world. He did not fully understand why he found such comfort in coming here, yet he accepted it without question, finding the burden of living eased each time he came. Lifting the latch, he entered, making his way once more through the rows to the solitary grave at the far end of the cemetery. There was a deal of work that needed to be done to put it in order, Hobbs saw after all, he'd been away for the better part of a month. And there was something different, too. The small, white cross had been removed replaced by a headstone of pale gray granite. He smiled softly, reading the words written upon it.
Sleep Well Your Watch is Done
How fitting those words seemed! He recalled hearing them once before not so very long ago. Thinking back, Hobbs remembered the day they'd buried Archie Kennedy. He'd stood at the side of the church, well out of sight of those gathered there, knowing he was not welcome among them. It had been such a small group only Commodore Pellew, Commander Hornblower, Lieutenant Bush, Matthews and Styles in attendance. It had been Hornblower who'd uttered those words his soft voice carrying clearly on the breeze blowing in from the sea. Briefly Hobbs had closed his eyes, whispered 'Amen', and then turned to go, careful not to disturb the men still standing around the gravesite.
Rousing himself from his reverie, Hobbs removed his coat and began the task of setting the grave to rights. With a scythe he'd borrowed from the church sexton, he began cutting the grass around the site, as well as inside the stones surrounding it. Finishing with the scythe, he laid it aside and started to pull the weeds that had grown up around the headstone. When both tasks had been completed to his satisfaction, Hobbs wiped his hands on his trousers and stood, his head bowed, his thoughts turning to the young lieutenant who lay buried there. So absorbed was he with these thoughts that he did not hear the approaching footsteps only becoming aware of her presence as a shadow fell across the grave. Startled, he raised his head blue eyes meeting deep brown.
"Forgive me, sir," she said, her eyes taking in the
uniform he wore. "I apologize for disturbing you, but I
didn't think anyone would be here."
"It's all right, ma'am," he replied, picking up the scythe, "I was just leaving."
"Do you come here often?" she asked.
"When I can," he said, "I like to make sure everything's shipshape. . . . ."
". . . . .for him," he finished, nodding toward the headstone.
"You knew him well, then?"
"Not as well as I would have liked but I did serve with him."
"Then I must thank you for your kind gesture in looking after his grave, Mister. . . . ." her voice trailed off as she extended her hand to him.
"Hobbs, ma'am," he answered, taking her hand and
placing a light kiss on the fingers. "Gunner's Mate Matthew
Hobbs of His Majesty's Ship, Renown. And no thanks are
necessary it is an honor and a privilege for me to be able to do this."
"A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Hobbs," she smiled up at him, "and I am Abigail MacKenzie."
"Forgive my asking, ma'am," he nodded once again toward the stone, "but were you a friend of Mr. Kennedy's?"
"In a manner of speaking. I am his sister, Mr. Hobbs."
"My sincere condolences for your loss, Mrs. MacKenzie," he said quietly, "and now, if you'll excuse me, I'll leave you alone."
Bowing slightly, Hobbs turned and headed toward the gate. Abby watched him for a moment, then turned back to the grave. Seating herself on the grass, she placed the flowers she'd brought on the mound of earth, her hand resting there for just a moment, her eyes fixed on the headstone.
"Hello Archie," she said, a slight tremor in her
voice. "I'm sorry it's taken me so long to
come. I. . . . ."
She swallowed, unable to go on. She lowered her head, the hands in her lap clasped tightly together. With tears welling in her dark eyes, she looked up, focusing once more on the stone.
"Please," she whispered, pleading, "Archie, please help me. I miss you so much! I know. . . . ."
She paused again, trying to smile as the tears spilled down her face.
". . . . .that everyone always thought you were the one who depended on me," again she swallowed, trying to keep her voice steady, "but it wasn't true ever. It was not you who depended upon me, but I on you and I never told you. I should have, I know especially after Robert died. But I thought you knew."
"You remember, Archie," she went on, "it was you who taught me how to live again after he died. And now I. . . . .please, Archie. . . . .I. . . . .oh God, please. . . . ."
Abby bit her lower lip as the full force of a grief so long denied hit. Burying her face in her hands, she sobbed, yet try as she might, she could not stop the storm.
At the gate, Hobbs stopped, hearing her anguished sobs. He turned, hurrying back to the grave where she sat, her body shaking with the force of her grief. Kneeling beside her, he took her in his arms, holding her tightly against him. His hand reached up, softly stroking the head that lay upon his chest. Through her tears, Abby listened to the slow, steady rhythm of his heart as he held her in his comforting embrace. Slowly her sobs quieted, and Abby came back to herself. Gently, she disengaged her body from his arms and stood, wiping the tears from her face.
"Thank you, Mr. Hobbs," she said, smiling into the clear blue eyes looking up at her with such tender sympathy.
"I'm sorry," her eyes drifted to the headstone, "I know that he's dead. . . . ."
"But you've not grieved for him until now, have you?" he asked, standing beside her.
"No," she shook her head, "I haven't been able to until today."
Taking a deep breath, she turned, her dark eyes meeting his.
"Mr. Hobbs," she asked suddenly, "I wonder, sir if you've no other plans or duties that require your attention would you do me the honor of joining me for tea?"
"It would be my pleasure, ma'am," he answered, giving her a brief smile.
"If you'd give me a moment, then?" and as Hobbs looked on, Abby knelt once more in the grass.
"Goodbye Archie," she said, placing her fingers to her lips, then pressing them against the stone. "I love you."
The White Rose stood on the outskirts of Kingston
a charming, old-fashioned inn its grandeur reminiscent of
the great manor houses found scattered about the English countryside;
its staff, second-to-none.
Of particular note was the afternoon tea, served on a flagstone terrace overlooking a lush garden where the somnolent buzzing of insects intermingled with human voices engaged in quiet conversation as white-gloved waiters passed unobtrusively among the wrought-iron tables.
Seated now at one of those tables, the air redolent with the scent of tropical blossoms and the late afternoon sun casting soft shadows upon the well-manicured lawn below the terrace, Hobbs felt at peace for the first time since Renown had sailed from England. He shifted his gaze from the garden to the woman sitting across from him, delighting in her graceful movements as Abby poured tea for them both. They had walked from the cemetery to the inn in silence enjoying the summer sun and the soft breeze blowing in from the sea content just to be in each other's company.
"Here you are, Mr. Hobbs," she said, smiling as she handed him the fragile china cup.
"Thank you," he replied, returning her smile.
Hobbs took a sip of the tea, his eyes straying once again to the garden, and then looked back at Abby.
"Tell me about him, please?" he asked.
Setting her cup on the table, Abby folded her hands in her lap, her eyes taking on a wistful, faraway expression as she retreated into the past telling him about the man who had been her brother. She told him briefly of their childhood of the young boy teased and tormented by his elder brothers simply because he was smaller than they. She told him how, at the age of 12, Archie had been sent to sea and how much he'd grown to love that life. She told him of the young man who had taught her how to go on with her life after the death of her husband.
"Without fail," she said, "whenever I felt that I hadn't the strength to continue, there would be a letter from Archie, usually relating some droll tale of shipboard life or just to offer words of comfort and love."
She paused a moment, smiling at the recollection and then continued telling him, with no small measure of pride in her voice how, time and again, Archie had struggled and overcome the adversity that seemed so much a part of his life.
"You've always been close," it was not a question, but a statement.
"Yes," she nodded the wistful expressing returning.
"Archie was very special. I've never known anyone with
the extraordinary capacity for love or the ability to give of
oneself that he
possessed not even Robert. He made my life richer beyond measure simply because he was a part of it."
Hobbs said nothing as he placed his empty cup on the table.
He turned his attention once more to the garden, closing his
eyes as he considered all that he'd just heard. He thought he'd
known and understood Lieutenant Kennedy, but in truth, he had
He'd never really thought about the man beneath the uniform only seeing him as an officer a superior: someone whose orders were to be obeyed and nothing more. Yet he thought about that man now the one Abby had known and loved so well. He thought about quiet courage, glimpsed all too briefly within a crowded courtroom the selfless act of loyalty that had damned a dying man while ensuring that another would live.
"And you let it happen," he thought now, "with your silence, you let it happen."
Suddenly the peace he thought he'd found was gone erased with a final thought.
"You've got to tell her. She has to know the part you played in her brother's dishonor."
"Mrs. MacKenzie. . . . .," his voice was hesitant as he shifted his gaze back to the table, picking up the napkin that lay there, the desolation he felt now reflected within the depths of his blue eyes.
". . . . .I've something I must tell you something
I've done, or rather, did not do
something. . . . .unforgivable."
Carefully, with great deliberation, Hobbs folded and refolded the napkin he held, avoiding her gaze. He started as a hand fell on his. He looked up, hoping she could not see the guilt that still lay so heavily within his heart.
"It's all right, Mr. Hobbs," she smiled reassuringly, unconsciously placing her hand in his. "Whatever it is surely, it cannot be as terrible as you imagine it to be."
"Perhaps you believe so now," he replied, gently squeezing the hand he held, "yet I tell you quite truthfully that it is. And once you've heard me out, you'll agree."
"Then, tell me please and let me be the judge."
"I suppose it all started to go wrong the night of the storm," Hobbs said, "the same night a young sailor fell from the yard and was killed. Do you know about that?"
They had left the terrace for the garden, meandering through the flower-laden pathways, the sheltering branches of the trees overhead casting his face in shadow as they walked.
"Yes Archie wrote about it right before the ship sailed," she replied.
"I should have know then perhaps I did. I suppose I just didn't want to acknowledge the fact that there could have been something seriously wrong with Captain Sawyer. He was, after all, not just my Captain he was my mentor someone I deeply respected and admired."
It was almost as if he was speaking to himself that he'd forgotten she was at his side, her arm in his. Yet Abby knew such was not the case, and so she remained silent, letting him tell the tale in his own way. Robert had been much the same. Strange, how similar this man was to her husband. Perhaps that's why she felt so at ease in his company had done, in fact, since they'd first met.
They walked on, stopping before a recessed bower bedecked with heliotrope, a small stone bench at its center. Hobbs had noticed she moved with a slight limp when they'd left the cemetery for the inn, yet now it appeared somewhat more pronounced. Guessing his intention, Abby sat down, grateful he'd not mentioned the limp. Folding her hands in her lap, she watched as he paced restlessly up and down. Finally he turned the intensity of his gaze startling her as he began to pour out his story.
He told her all of it from the first flogging inflicted on Mr. Wellard as punishment for the torn sail incident to the continuous watch Mr. Hornblower had been forced to stand.
"The Captain believed Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Wellard had conspired to rig the sail so that it would tear," he said, "and so he dealt them both the harshest punishment he could mete out."
He went on telling her of the increasingly erratic behavior of the Captain his paranoid delusions of mutiny by his officers. He told her of the night he'd discovered young Wellard on watch in Hornblower's place the wardroom deserted no sign of Renown's officers anywhere.
"I was convinced they were planning something some action against Captain Sawyer," his voice was soft, quite without expression as he spoke. "So I went to him, telling him of my suspicions and that's when it happened."
He paused a moment, looking down at her, then continued his narrative telling her how Captain Sawyer had called for the marines, and the search for the four lieutenants below decks.
"It was that search that led to his fall," he said. "I still don't know exactly what happened. When I arrived, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Wellard were standing, looking down into the hold. Mr. Hornblower was below, kneeling beside the Captain."
But there was more so much more he needed to tell her and tell her, he did.
He told her how Captain Sawyer had regained consciousness and seemed to recover as they neared Santo Domingo; how he'd ordered the arrest of her brother, Second Lieutenant Bush and Mr. Hornblower on charges of mutiny. He told her of the ensuing battle at the Spanish fort; how the ship had run aground because the Captain had refused to heed the advice of his First Lieutenant; leaving Renown at the mercy of the fort's cannon.
"And STILL I refused to believe that they could be right that he should be removed from command."
Shaking his head, Hobbs fell silent, resuming his relentless pacing once more. Abby waited until she could bear it no longer the silence, the anguish she saw in his eyes, and the heavy tread of his boots. As he strode by yet again, she reached out, touching his arm. Startled, he stopped, looking down into her dark eyes. Abby saw the pain reflected on his handsome face so intense that it tore at her heart.
"What is it?" she asked so softly he barely heard her. "Please, tell me what troubles you so."
He looked up, closing his eyes briefly. God how could he do this her?! How could he tell her what he'd done to her brother?! Yet he had to he knew as he turned back to her. With a heavy sigh, he sat down. Keeping his eyes fixed on the ground at his feet, Hobbs took up his tale once more.
"But he was removed," a slightly bitter smile crossed his features, "through Mr. Hornblower's intervention. With the Captain pointing his pistol directly at his chest, Mr. Hornblower pleaded with him and Dr. Clive. He told the Captain he was endangering the ship and his men. And do you know what he got for his plea?"
Without waiting for an answer, Hobbs rushed on, "Captain Sawyer fired just as all of the cannons on board were fired in an attempt to shake the ship free. Thank God the gun was empty!"
Again he was silent, his hands now clenched tightly together the knuckles white.
"They removed him from command, then. Had him taken to his cabin and locked in in a straightjacket."
Hobbs drew a deep breath and began the final chapter telling her of the desertion of Randall and his group and the ill-fated decision by Acting Captain Buckland to attack the Spanish fort. He spoke quickly now, recounting the taking of the fort and its subsequent loss to the rebel slaves; how they'd left the island, bound for Kingston; and how the Spanish prisoners had tried to take over the ship.
"It was how he was wounded your brother during the fighting," he whispered.
He finished telling her of the court martial once they'd arrived in Kingston.
"I was called to testify," he said, swallowing past the dryness in his mouth and throat. "It had been charged that Lieutenant Hornblower was responsible for 'pushing' Captain Sawyer into the hold. It was thought that I could corroborate the testimony, but I couldn't I could not tell them who'd pushed him because I did not know."
"And then," he stood, tears clouding the perfect blue of his eyes, "on the day Mr. Hornblower was to be recalled to settle the question once and for all, Mr. Kennedy. . . . ."
Oh God, he couldn't do this. . . . .not to her. . . . .and
yet, she had a right to know the
truth and his part in it.
". . . . .Mr. Kennedy," he closed his eyes, steeped within the memory of that day, "walked into the courtroom and testified that he'd acted alone that it was he who had pushed Captain Sawyer into the hold."
"And I sat there," he sank back onto the bench, his head in his hands, "and said NOTHING! I COULD have stopped him. . . . .I SHOULD have stopped him, but I DIDN'T! I let him speak and sat there silently while he did so letting him take the blame. Dear God, Mrs. MacKenzie, I'm so very sorry. I let an innocent man. . . . ."
". . . . .do exactly what he wanted to do," she said. "Matthew, look at me, please."
Hobbs did as she asked, surprised to hear her use his Christian name. A single tear slid down his tanned cheek and she slipped her hand into his.
"And what would you have accomplished by speaking out? Don't you think that Archie knew exactly what he was doing what he was risking by going into that courtroom and knowingly confessing to something he didn't do?"
"But you don't understand," he protested.
"Yes, Matthew, I do more so than you realize. I understand that what happened was an unfortunate accident. I also understand that someone needed to be blamed for that accident. And I understand, had Archie NOT done what he did, another honorable man would have taken that blame upon himself a man who was very dear to my brother."
"And so Mr. Kennedy gave it up," he said, looking at her his eyes pleading with her to understand. "Not just his life but his honor and his good name. And I let it happen, I let them take that honor and his name."
"No, you didn't. Archie gave his life to save a friend. That, Matthew, is the greatest honor there is."
"And what of his name?"
"It's just a word, Matthew nothing more."
He looked at her for a long moment, tenderly squeezing the hand he held.
"And you can live with that," he said softly, "and with what people have said or will say about him."
"Again, Matthew, they're just words," she said, smiling up at him, "words spoken by those who do not know Archie as I did. And yes, I can live with that. . . . .the question is can you?"
"You make me believe it's possible, Abigail," he answered, kissing the hand in his.
Dusk once more. The sun fiery red had just dipped beneath the horizon as he entered the cemetery one last time. Orders had been received just yesterday Renown was being recalled to England. They were to sail with the morning tide.
Making his way through the now familiar rows, Hobbs came to a stop before the grave for what would be his final visit. He'd already made arrangements with the sexton to look after the site in his absence giving the man a month's wages for his trouble the promise of more to come. Yet, THIS time, he would do the work himself and kneeling down, he quickly set it to rights.
When he finished, Hobbs bowed his head offering a silent prayer then raised his eyes to the name written on the stone. At long last, he felt at peace as he read the words inscribed there. Through the time he'd spent with Abigail MacKenzie and the stories she'd shared with him about her brother, Hobbs thought he now knew and understood exactly the sort of man Lieutenant Archie Kennedy had been.
"Farewell, Mr. Kennedy," he whispered with a smile as he rose to his feet his hand briefly resting on the headstone.
Slowly he walked to the gate and lifted the latch then turned to look back a single tear sliding down his cheek.