To Return With Honour
by Joan C.

Part Seven

Oldroyd looked fearfully around him as he waited in the shadows of the lower deck. He should not have been there; every man was needed on deck to help with repairs, but when Cleaver had approached him and told him to go below, he felt he had no choice but to agree. He hoped Styles had seen him leave the deck. He hated skulking like a criminal when he was innocent of everything but doing what was right. At least his mum would be proud of him for trying.

Where was that bugger Cleaver, anyway? Tellin' him he should go below and wait. Well, how much longer could he wait before Mr. Hornblower noticed he were missing? Oldroyd began counting. When he got to the three minute mark, he turned to leave the companionway and nearly shouted in alarm. Cleaver was standing not two feet away.

"Jesus! Y' about scared the living' daylights outer me!" Oldroyd whispered. "Whatchoo want?"

Cleaver came closer and reached out to grasp Oldroyd's shoulder in a ham-sized fist. "I told you to wait. Where were you goin', eh?"

The young man's eyes widened and his ruddy complexion paled. "Back to work afore Mr. Hornblower sees I'm gone. He won't like it, I tell ye."

"Afraid he'll give you a scarred back? Like he did Styles?"

Oldroyd blinked. "'E never --" and then suddenly realized that Styles must have told Cleaver that Hornblower had him flogged. "'E's never touched me yet, " he amended. "An' I don't want 'im to start now."

"Yeah. Right -- you ever been flogged, Oldroyd?"

Oldroyd shrugged. "Nah, been caned a few times, is all. Cap'n Pellew ain't one ter call fer the cat."

"I'm a bosun's mate. I've flogged a few tars in my time. Got real good at makin' em scream. You know how you do that?" Oldroyd swallowed and shook his head mutely, and Cleaver's eyes gleamed. "You soak the cat in saltwater, so's its heavy, and then you work it one side to the other, over and over until you c'n see the bones. You ever get salt on a cut, Oldroyd? Burns like hellfire, don't it?" He grabbed Oldroyd by the collar, holding him close. "You betray me, and that's what will happen to you, boy. Understand?"

Oldroyd's knees nearly buckled, and a coppery taste rose in his mouth. He thought of all the cruelty he had seen -- men flogged, gagged, hung in the riggings. He'd never thought much of it -- not when the worst done to him was a few quick swipes with a bosun's starter. He could not repress a shudder, and when Cleaver felt that tremor course through his body, he laughed.

"That's right, boy. Think on it good. Now, listen. That lousy Dutchman didn't do us no favor by showing the white flag; but I reckon t'other ship out there has got a bit more gumption and guns than old yaller Hans. Know what I mean?"

Oldroyd nodded, relieved by the change in Cleaver's manner. "Yeah, I know."

"We'll wait, then. Lie low. Stay away from that bastard Hornblower. He's damned sharp, according to Styles. And keep your distance from his pet, Mr. Kennedy. Them two's thick as thieves. It ain't natural."

Oldroyd's cheeks flamed from anger at the implication, but Cleaver took it for embarrassment, and laughed. "Christ's bones! Yer blushin' like a virgin bride. Yer all right, Oldroyd!" The hand that had seemed so menacing gave him a friendly slap on the arm. "Get outta here."

Oldroyd fled, feeling as if he were emerging from the bilges into the sunlight. As his eyes adjusted, he saw Hornblower and Kennedy standing together on the quarter-deck. Cleaver's insinuations made his skin crawl. Oldroyd was innocent, not naive. He knew what went on belowdecks -- some of it consensual, some not. But he would have staked his life on it not being like that between those two. Damn Cleaver and his filthy mind and dirty plots. Oldroyd did not often think back to the Indefatigable -- he accepted where he was each day, be it the Justinian, Spain, the Skylark ... but at the moment, the memory of that great ship was so painful it made his throat ache.

"Oi, Oldroyd -- you all right?"

Matthews. Brisk and bracing. Oldroyd felt his world settle in its rightful place. "Yeah, I'm awright. Just sick of this."

Mathews laid an arm across his shoulders. "Yer doin' the right thing."

"It's hard, Matty. Real hard."

"It'll come out right in the end. You'll see. Mr. Hornblower'll get us back to the Indy."

Oldroyd could only nod. Then Master Pyne came over, blue eyes snapping, telling them that there was too much work to be done for them to be standing around complaining about their lot in life. Matty gave Oldroyd an encouraging pat on the back, and they returned to their duties.

~~**~~

Horatio and Archie watched in silence as the Skylark's boats began ferrying Schenk and his crew back to the Guilder. Skylark had not been able to spare much, saving enough canvas to allow them to patch their less tattered sails, and several spars. Schenk claimed to have enough provisions to last; it was not as if they were marooned in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where another ship might not pass by for weeks. The Guilder could easily expect aid within a few days. The storm might have wreaked havoc with normal shipping, but it would recover; the Guilder would be rescued, and Schenk would be back to preying on innocent ships within two months.

Horatio cast a glance at Campion. He looked profoundly unhappy. Horatio did not envy him his choices. He had to let Schenk go, for the Skylark could not lose a moment's more time or risk taking on men who would be only too glad to participate in an impending mutiny. Was that worth letting the Guilder slip through their fingers? Five American ships and their captive crews were waiting; no doubt they would consider it a very small price to pay for freedom.

"Mr. Hornblower!"

Horatio turned to Campion's hail. "Aye, sir?"

"Inform Mr. Pyne that we will set sail as soon as the jollyboat returns. I want us on our way with all expedition."

"Aye, aye, sir." Horatio relayed the message, and watched as the last Dutch sailor climbed up the ladders to the deck of the Guilder. They would be under way within minutes.

Archie brushed a strand of blonde hair out of his eyes. "Well, it sounds like we're on the way home," he sighed, "and not before time, either."

"Are we? You're forgetting about the Marseille."

"Hardly. But perhaps we will be able to outrun her. Captain Campion seemed confident of that before the storm."

The look Horatio gave Archie might have been described as pitying. "That is a fond hope at best, Archie. I wish I could say it was more."

Archie's expression hardened. "Fine. But is it any more of a fond hope than your being imprisoned in El Ferrol? Or my being sent there from France? My God, Horatio, if anyone had faith in long odds, it should be yourself! Excuse me, but I have duties to attend to before we set sail." He straightened from the rail with a jerk and rather stiffly left the quarter-deck.

Horatio stared after him for a moment, before turning back to watch for the return of the jollyboat. The sun finally came through the last lingering clouds and danced on the waters, dazzling Horatio's eyes and making his head ache. He rubbed his forehead and grimaced as his wound throbbed. At the moment, his over-riding hope was that the Marseilles would remain out of sight until he felt better.

He closed his eyes against the glare, and when he opened them, Campion was standing at his side. "Sir!"

Campion peered at him intently, seeing pain in Hornblower's fine features, and weariness shadowing his eyes. "Lieutenant, thank you for your help these last hours -- but I am ordering you to go below, get something to eat, and for God's sake, rest. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir. As soon as --"

"Now, Mr. Hornblower. I would be a poor captain indeed, if I could not direct my own ship to weigh anchor."

Horatio nodded, too tired to argue. There was no need for his presence on deck unless the Marseilles appeared, and at the moment, she was not even a smudge on the horizon. Perhaps Archie *was* right ... it would be a miracle -- and Horatio did not believe in miracles. He touched his hat, and quit the quarter-deck.

After a meal of barley soup, biscuit, and water, he went to his cabin. He lay awake, waiting for the throbbing in his head to cease. He considered going to Mr. Martin for a draught of something for the pain, but decided against it. Martin most likely would want to give him laudanum, which Horatio despised. *Think of something else,* he told himself, and found himself mulling over Archie's reaction to his comments on the quarter-deck.

A fond hope. That was the best Horatio could offer. Surely Archie saw that, too? They were one small ship being hunted by an enemy three times more powerful, beset my treachery inside and out. Yet Archie clung to that shred of hope. Why?

Horatio sighed heavily. Perhaps the question he should be asking himself was why did he feel it necessary to strip away Archie's illusions? His father believed people needed to be given hope, whether or not it was a realistic expectation. He said no one cared to be told that they were dying without being told that there were such things as miracles. But what if there was no hope? Horatio had asked. Dr. Hornblower had looked sad and thoughtful for a moment. *I have seen just enough in life to believe that there is much that cannot be explained ... I will not hold out false hope, but neither will I say that a patient should lie down and wait for death.*

But Archie had ... and would have died, if Horatio had not given him ... his mind balked at the word, but there it was glittering before him like a diamond through smoke. Hope. Perhaps Archie was just repaying the gift. Horatio closed his eyes, and let exhaustion take him into a dreamless slumber.

~~**~~

He might not have slept so easily if he had known what was transpiring below, in the cargo hold where Cleaver had gathered his conspirators together. There were now ten. Cleaver had selected his recruits carefully, choosing men on the same watch as himself. His plan would not have a chance of success if their absence were noted, but with the damage caused by the storm and the encounter with the Guilder, no one was likely to give them a second thought once they were off-duty.

They met in the half-dark hold; the only illumination coming from shuttered lanterns hanging from the beams overhead. In that eerie, downcast light, they had the appearance of ghouls; features emphasized and eyes glittering malevolently from shadowy sockets. . An oblique shaft of light lit Oldroyd's blonde head, like an angel amidst a brood of demons, Styles thought. The lad looked scared to death, but he was a game'un for hanging in there with Cleaver.

"You ready, mate?" Cleaver asked, and Styles nodded. "There's no turnin' back once we get started."

"Ye think I give a bloody rat's ass about that?" Styles asked. "I told ye, I'm in."

"Yeah, you did." Cleaver grinned and gave him a shove forward. "C'mon, let's get goin."

The stood side by side. Two big men; one grinning, the other grave. The muttering fell silent and Cleaver stepped to the fore. "If there's any among you who ain't here of yer own free will, now's the time to leave. As long as yer keep yer mouths shut there won't be no trouble, clear?"

No one moved and Cleaver nodded. "Right. Now we lost a good chance when Hans showed the white flag and scampered off, but I ain't worried. There's a big Frenchy ship out there waitin' to do the dirty. All we got to do is wait for the right time."

The unasked question was in the air, and Styles closed his eyes and took the biggest gamble of his life. "When is the right time? When the damn Frogs is boardin' us? Ye ain't seen what I seen, Cleaver." He challenged the group of men. "The Mar-say is a bloody frigate, mate. Thirty-two guns to our twelve. We'll be splinters before ye can blink."

"You scared, Styles?" Cleaver sneered. "You want out?"

Styles raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "Hey mate, I'm just pointin' out that it ain't gonna be easy."

"And I never said it was -- but you take no risk, you get no reward, right?"

When a murmur of assent ran though the group, Styles nodded. "Aye, right enough. But I say we can't depend on the Frogs doin' what we want'em ta do. I say we pick our time and do it quick-like. Why wait for the bloody Frogs to make their move?"

Cleaver's eyes narrowed. "When?"

"Tonight.We take the Skylark, an' we won't need no jolly boat. I reckon we c'n outrun the bastards. Campion thinks 'e can."

Cleaver smiled then, and it made Style's blood run cold. "Awright, say we go tonight. Say Wright just happens to leave the armoury open, and at midnight --"

"Not midnight," Styles interjected. "At watch change, when there's a bit o'confusion as to who's going where. On Carlyle's watch. He won't know what hit 'em." He tried to grin like he hadn't a qualm, when in truth, he was about ready to vomit. He happened to see Oldroyd's face, the shock in it, the doubts in his eyes. Damn! There was no help for it but to hope that Oldroyd would go to Matthews and that somehow the message would get passed on to Kennedy and Hornblower. If not, he'd just signed his soul away to Old Nick.

Cleaver's laugh made Styles' skin crawl. "I knew you were a smart'un, Styles. Listen, you men. When the watch changes, we go to the armoury, right? Get yer weapons and head for the hold. Me and Styles here'll take care of the Marines. Krause, you get the officers below, and Oldroyd, you take Carlyle."

Oldroyd's eyes opened wide. "Take 'im where?"

Cleaver laughed harshly. "Damn my eyes if you ain't a babe, Oldroyd! Take him to the devil! Where else?"

Oldroyd shook his head. "I ain't no murderer!" he protested and then gasped as he found himself staring down the barrel of Cleaver's pistol.

"Then maybe we don't need a coward --" Cleaver's words were cut off by a murderous grip on his forearm, as Styles forced his aim down and away. "Hey!"

"Yer an arse, Cleaver! We need every man. So what if 'es too lily-livered to kill Carlyle? I c'n take care of that. Besides, he's a good man in a fight if it comes to that. Keep 'im on the deck an' ye won't regret it." He held his breath, waiting for Cleaver's response, praying that he carried enough influence with Cleaver to stay his murderous intentions.

Cleaver grunted in assent and stuck his pistol in his belt. "Awright, on yer word, Styles." He looked around nervously. "We gotta get outta here before we're found out. We go at the watch bell. We kill the officers, take the ship, and make a run fer it. "

There was a silence as the men weighed that statement. "What if we can't get away, Cleaver?" One of the Skylarks spoke up. "What about the men who stay loyal?"

Cleaver nodded. "Aye, there's that. But is there a man who don't want to be free? Who would turn down his share of wealth? It ain't like we're stealin' from the mouths of babes! The Dagos got more money where this came from. And I sure as hell don't owe a penny to King George! Here, Styles. Do you?"

Styles laughed. "Jesus Christ! I reckon King George owes me!"

After the general laughter had died down, Cleaver raised his hands for silence. "Once we take care of the officers, the men who join us'll share the rewards, and those that don't, we kill if they resist, or lock up if they don't have the sense to become rich. They ain't worth savin'. Understand?"

A rumble of agreement came from the throats of the gathered men, and they drifted away into the shadows. Styles watched Oldroyd disappear into the companionway. He had to get the boy without Cleaver getting suspicious. All he needed was a minute. One minute to remind him of loyalty, and to reassure him. One minute to save the life of every Indefatigable on this ship. One minute to save his soul.

"You worried about yer man, Styles?"

"Nah, like ye said, he's a babe. Needs a bit of buckin' up. But he'll do what needs ta be done, don't ye fear."

Cleaver spat. "See to it, then. If I see him doubtin' what I want him to do, I'll kill him. I swear it, Styles. And then I'll kill you."

*Not if yer a dead man yerself.* Styles directed a stony stare at Cleaver's retreating back. As soon as he was out of sight, he set off in search of Oldroyd. He did not have to look very far, for Oldroyd was waiting for him. He reached out and snagged Style's arm, pulling him to a dark recess between the ribs of the ship. Oldroyd's eyes were opened so wide that his irises were surrounded by white. He looked terrified.

Styles hastened to reassure him. "Easy, boy, easy. It'll be all right. You'll see."

"He wanted me to kill Mr. Carlyle! What if 'e asks me ta kill Mr. Hornblower or Mr. Kennedy? Or Matty? Ye know he ain't gonna go along with this even if it ain't fer real."

"D'ye trust me, Oldroyd?" Styles' unwavering gaze held his until Oldroyd swallowed hard and nodded.

"Aye."

"Then listen -- ye got to get t'Matty and tell him about tonight. That's the only way we c'n get word to Mr. 'ornblower. Cleaver don't trust me over'n inch."

"Yer outta yer mind, Styles! He had a pistol at me throat!"

"He thinks yer a coward, Oldroyd. Not a traitor. You see Matthews, ye hear me? If ye don't, we're all dead men. And stay away from Cleaver."

Oldroyd managed a smile at that. "Ye don't have ta tell me twice."

"Then let's get out into the light, eh, mate?" It seemed he had been spending far too much time in the darkness lately.

~~**~~