THE INNER VOICE
By Ruth W.

 

From:

Vice-Ad. Edward Pellew, Lord Exmouth,

H.M.S. Cleopatre,

Portsmouth,

July, 1806.

To:

Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N.,

H.M.S. Agile,

Plymouth.

My Dear Hornblower,

This young man has been presented to me by my friend, Dr. Seymour Norris, the Principal of the Portsmouth Naval Orphanage, in the hope that a place may be found for him to serve in one of His Majesty's ships as Volunteer First Class.

The mother named him after his father, a lieutenant with whom you and I had the privilege of serving some years ago. She lost touch with her man in 1794, when he was reported missing in action. She did not know until recently that he had survived several years of imprisonment in France and Spain, to serve his country faithfully until his death in the defence of his ship on the West Indies Station in 1802. He died not knowing he had a son.

Regrettably the mother is now also dead, and so the boy is alone in the world. Neither family acknowledges the orphan. The relationship was brief and covert, and not solemnized by marriage, though she later took the father's last name in his memory, and for the sake of her child.

I have had him under my wing while my ship completes for sea, but as I have no room for him when I sail, my thoughts turned to you.

He is twelve years old, and I find him a willing, plucky and honest child, of pleasant disposition, if somewhat volatile and outspoken and perhaps a little prone to panic. No doubt these things will ameliorate with maturity and good example.

It is his earnest wish to follow in his father's footsteps, and we seem to be his only hope. His father's name still bears, in Naval circles, a shadow not of his own making - a great sorrow to those who knew him, and, without remedy, an impediment to his son's career. Also, though the lad shows a high degree of intelligence, Dr.Norris tells me he suffers occasional grand-mal seizures. Whilst you and I know such an affliction need not preclude a man from useful and valuable Naval service, it will, I fear, prevent his being taken on elsewhere.

I see a way in which we may both repay some small part of a debt owed for far too long, and find a degree of absolution for the past. I know you will want to help him.

When you see his face, and hear him speak, you will not need to ask his name.

Believe me, my dear Hornblower,

your very faithful friend,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Captain Hornblower put the letter down slowly and stared at it as if it were a living thing. The morning sun slanted in through the stern windows warming his back and illuminating the words, making them dance and shimmer on the page. His mind was spinning, possibilities hitting him like roundshot in a broadside, and for just a short moment he felt quite ill…

But then he dragged himself out of the daze. This was nonsense. He could not sit here forever. Sooner or later he must take this matter by the scruff of the neck and deal with it. He swallowed nervously.

"Marine!" he called, "please send the young man in."

The door clicked open immediately, and a diminutive volunteer, starched and uncomfortable in his new uniform, with its over-high collar and overlong sleeves, marched smartly into the cabin, gave a shy half-smile to the marine as he passed him, and came to attention before the desk. The door closed behind him.

"Volunteer, First Class A.B. Kennedy, reporting for duty, Sir!" the young man announced in a voice which was light even for a child.

Had Horatio not been seated, he would have had to find a chair to fall into. "Good God!" he heard himself saying under his breath.

The boy’s expression faltered, his eyelids fluttering nervously, and he gave a quick glance to the side and behind to see what had caused the captain’s shock.

"Good God . . . " Hornblower said again, more reflectively this time. Then fell silent, gathering his wits before he could continue with the interview. He seemed unable to tear his eyes from the boy’s face.

VFC Kennedy waited patiently, an anxious swallow betraying his unease, until Hornblower remembered his manners.

"Forgive me, Mr. . . Kennedy," he cleared his throat and stood up, turning to the stern windows to buy time while he considered what on earth he should say to this child who stood innocently before him scorching and blasting him with memories. "You are . . . very like your father . . ."

"Aye, Sir. So I’m told." Oh, the light tone, the agility of the features . . . even the way he stood . . . "They say I have my mother’s eyes," the boy added with a shy smile.

But THEY did not know HIM . . . Hornblower thought, his heart twisting with an old sorrow, long buried.

He took a deep breath, mentally shaking himself. This would not do. He had not had a sentimental thought in years – probably not since that day in Kingston when his boyhood had shrivelled and died with his friend.

To business. No point opening up old wounds, and Archie’s child or none, he owed it to this young man to treat him as any other boy come aboard to serve.

"How long have you been with Lord Exmouth ?" he asked briskly.

"Two months, Sir," came the gratifyingly instant response. "I joined his company as the Cleopatre came into port in August."

"And what have you learned in that time, Mr. Kennedy? Can you tell the difference between a head and a halyard?"

The boy’s bright look became a smile, which lit up the cabin. Again, Hornblower was shaken by the way it affected him.

"I should hope I know a bit more than that, Captain," the lad promised firmly. "I had some training at the Naval Orphanage before Dr. Norris presented me to his Lordship. I have studied navigation, seamanship, maritime engineering and law . . . but I’m afraid I’m not very good at any of them, Sir!"

Oh yes, this was Archie’s son for sure. How many raw recruits, hoping to impress, would have admitted that?

"Your modesty is becoming, Mr. Kennedy," Hornblower answered gruffly, "but I’m sure you’re capable enough. I have his Lordship’s promise that you will not let me down."

Young Kennedy’s face became sober again. "You have my word on it, too, Sir."

No, Hornblower thought sadly, make no promises to me. No good will come of it . . .

The captain glanced over the letter of introduction once more. "You suffer from seizures, Mr. Kennedy?" he commented.

Again the nervous flutter of the eyelids. Hornblower had not thought such a trait – a mere mannerism - could be congenital, yet here it was, haunting, evoking, so painful to see again after all these years.

"I confess I do, Sir," the boy said quietly, "though I have not suffered one since . . . since my mother’s death. I am hoping the sea air will improve my condition."

Hornblower doubted that. The ‘sea air’ had never helped Archie’s. Only death had solved that problem.

"I’m sure it will help," he lied, and heard himself doing it. Lies to bolster a frail confidence – lies to keep a panicking underling at his post doing his duty – lies to escape the consequences of truth. He had done it to the father, why spare the son? Hornblower began to hate himself anew.

"Your initials are A.B., " the captain continued, fighting down the demons which clawed at him from the past, "What does the ‘B’ signify?"

Again the shy smile. "Benvolio, Sir," the boy responded. "He was a friend and kinsman to Romeo – from the play, Sir. It was just a little thing my mother and father had between them . . ."

"Yes," Hornblower was shaken even by this, "your father’s love of the theatre was famous," he agreed, wishing he could have met this woman who had given Archie all the things he could not.

"I am known as Ben, Sir," the lad added softly.

"Not Archie, Mr. Kennedy?"

"No, Sir. I was christened it, but my mother could not bring herself to say it. I think she found it too painful, Captain."

A point on which she and I definitely agree, Hornblower thought grimly.

"Then ‘Ben’ it shall be," he promised, "though of course on deck and for formal purposes I shall address you as ‘Mr. Kennedy’"

"Aye, Sir."

"You are too young to fulfil the duties of midshipman, Mr. Kennedy," Hornblower continued. "I have made a place for you where there really was none, so it will take me some time to find a role for you in this ship. Are you prepared to do whatever is decided?"

"Of course, Captain, although . . . " he broke off, clearly on the edge of a dangerous social precipice.

"Well, Mr. Kennedy, what is on your mind?" the captain demanded.

The lad compressed his lips, unsure, so like his father. "Permission to speak freely, captain?" he requested.

Irritation got the better of Hornblower, though with his new recruit or with himself, he was not sure.!

"Yes, yes, go ahead," he invited. Whatever revelation came out here, there was no-one to hear it.

The boy’s blue eyes danced as they flickered over the heaped table, with its accumulation of dockets, letters, manifests and Admiralty communications – the vast business of a ship in port. "It would seem to me, Sir," he pointed out reasonably "that what you need most is a secretary . . ."

 

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

"I just can’t shift the notion…" Bosun Matthews was saying to his mate thoughtfully, "that I’ve seen that lad before.." He pulled up the collar of his pea-coat and continued his walk around the deck, taking in the cut of the newly-trimmed sails, the taut rigging creaking away as the ship came round into the light wind of the bay, the hands at work aloft, "But I’ll be blowed if I can think where…"

"But you only saw him climb up the ladder,. You didn’t see his face …" Mr. Styles answered, walking with him. As the ship sailed there was much to do and not much time for chatting, but the two men kept company out of long habit and friendship, and they found time amidst the evolutions of putting to sea to pass the odd word. They stopped at the rail and Styles narrowed his eyes to the distant headland, watching tumbling clouds scudding over the grey hills. There would be heavy weather out in the Channel…

"I don’t need to see his face," Matthews insisted. "It’s the way the lad moves…"

Styles nodded slowly. He had seen it too. The new volunteer had shinned up the ladder like a squirrel, all strength and confidence. On the deck he had stood straight as a rod, and greeted Lieutenant Costain, the officer of the watch, like a seasoned salt, although they knew from scuttlebutt that this was his first ship. He was small and compact and, despite his youthful manliness, carried himself as light as a girl… They had seen all this only once before …

"It’s Kennedy …" Styles said suddenly, softly, "that’s who you recall… Comin’ on board Justinian all them years ago…"

As though they had been heard, there was a step on the deck behind them, and here was Captain Hornblower, flanked by his new young secretary. Both seamen turned …

And stared….

It was, to them, like skipping back almost two decades…

"Ha-hum!…" The captain said self-consciously, "Mr. Matthews, Mr. Styles … this young man has come aboard, and I’d like you to keep an eye on him while Mr. Costain is busy. Show him the ropes, if you would…"

The bosun and the bosun’s mate stood like figures carved in stone, their eyes riveted upon the sharp young face of the small volunteer – as if they had seen a ghost…

"May I introduce Mr. Kennedy…" the Captain added briskly.

Matthews was the first to regain control of his voice. "You may, sir," he said quietly, touching his hat. "It’ll be a privilege, captain… Welcome aboard, Mr. Kennedy…"

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

**"H’ratio . . .!"**

Shaking . . .

The swinging cot was juddering violently, or so it seemed. And something in the cabin had fallen or slammed, making enough noise to wake the dead. Hornblower stirred from deep sleep with a little gasp of shock and opened his eyes, disorientated.

Archie . . . was he having a fit in the bunk below, or had he fallen out of his hammock . . .? Or had the ship hit a reef?

Or had Hornblower simply been dreaming? Dazed, the captain sat up, blinking himself into consciousness, trying to piece the world together from the fragments of dreaming and waking which were all the signals available to him.

Archie . . .

The present came to him in a rush; the small cabin on a still, quiet night in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. No . . . no Archie. The vague ache of loss, which he felt every time he woke, returned to him and he welcomed it. It was his penance for all that he had cost his friend in life, and he did not begrudge it.

But the night was peaceful and they were far from land. Yet something had caused the commotion in his cabin. Something had woken him.

Suddenly uneasy, Hornblower threw back the blankets and climbed out of the cot. Chilly air hit him, bringing him fully awake in the darkness. With accustomed hands, he found his tinder-box and lit a candle. His empty tin slop-bucket was on its side at the opposite end of the cabin from the washstand, and there was a large dent distorting the base, as though it had been dropped. The cot still swung, where he had climbed out of it, but nothing else in the cabin moved. The lamp hung from the overhead, swaying gently with the swell of the sea, and his watch dangled, rocking lazily on its chain behind the door, neither item giving any indication that they had been disturbed …

Yet all was not well, and with a sense of urgency he had felt only once or twice before in his life, he threw on his clothes and hurried on deck to be certain his ship was not aground. Above him the stars shone down like blue fires on a lake of velvet. There was no moon, yet the starlight was so bright he was sure he could see the faint lessening of black where the ocean met the sky. The ship sailed smoothly over a silky sea and there was no sign even of a swell.

"She’s steady tonight," he commented softly to the helmsman.

"Aye, Sir, " came the calm response. "Lovely night for a sail, Captain. Nice breeze, but the sea’s just like a millpond, Sir."

Hornblower nodded, his unease fading a little. "So there have been no . . . anomalies . . . in the last half-hour?"

"A-whats, Sir?"

He gave himself a mental shake. Good captains use appropriate language for every man on board, from an admiral to the smallest powder-monkey. "Problems, Heath," he clarified briskly. "Difficulties? No sudden squalls or emergencies. No unexpected changes in trim?"

The helmsman shrugged. "No, Sir," He replied. "Just as you see. We’re holdin’ course beautifully, Captain."

Hornblower nodded. "Good . . . good. Carry on, Mr. Heath."

He began to walk back across the quarterdeck to his cabin, but something stopped him. Thinking about it afterwards, as he often found himself doing, he could not recall what made him turn in the darkness and stand, listening. The wind whispered softly among the half-a-million bits of rope and wood which constituted the rigging, and he thought – fool that he was – that he heard his name breathed up there among the cloaked yardarms. He waited, listening, his eyes scanning the huge lattice shadows where the spars and sails were outlined against the lesser black of the sky. Nothing . . .

He was about to berate himself for wasting his own time, when a muffled cry – a cry of fear – echoed to his ears, not from above but from the bowels of the ship below his feet.

His former unease returned with a rush, and he stepped briskly across the deck to the ladder. He would not run. It would not do for the men to see their captain streaking across the quarterdeck like a bolting hare. But when he came to the companionway to go below, he took the steps two at a time, and jumped the last four to reach the maindeck with a loud thump.

Where to next? Inexplicable fear gripped him by the throat as he looked this way and that, trying desperately to decide from which end of the ship the cry had come. Just down, he decided. He sped down the next companionway into the hold and without thinking or stopping to collect a lamp, he kept on going aft towards the cable tier.

Darkness engulfed him like a blanket, dripping and rat-infested. Not that he minded rats . . . on the contrary, he preferred them to many a human of his acquaintance. But in the blind void of the hold, their manic scurryings and scratchings were strange and unpleasant. The dank, musty smell of the cable, a long, wet mountain-range of woven, coiled hemp, filled the aft section of the ship, and he followed his nose until he could see a faint light gleaming in the very far corner.

Voices now, two, maybe three . . . no, more . . . subdued and tense, threatening. One louder than the others. Oh, my God, this brings back memories . . .!

Glad now that he had not brought a light to betray his presence, Hornblower ducked silently down behind the cable and edged around it, so that he could peer through the lesser coils of the cable messenger. What met his eyes in the light of the single tallow candle was so inevitable and so obscene that he had to bite his lip to hold back the cry of outrage which welled in his throat.

There were four of them. Three midshipmen and one of the master’s mates. Midshipman Spendler was obviously the instigator – tall and broad and impressive, he watched in amusement, snapping a coil of rope in the air while Orville and Prenton held young Kennedy, coatless, over a barrel gripping one arm painfully up his back. Spendler was muttering some low threat into the child’s ear. The words he used to seal the vile act of intimidation were not clear from behind the cables, but ‘mutinous dog’ and ‘coward’ featured, along with other flights of rhetoric which the captain felt it was probably as well he could not hear. The rope was flicking dangerously near the boy’s face, yet he was grimly, heroically silent.

Something exploded inside Hornblower. For the very first time in his life he knew what it was to really WANT to kill – not for honour or the King, or to save his ship, but simply for the sheer hellish pleasure of it. He was about to leap out of his hiding-place and grab Spendler by the throat, when a still, small voice deep inside him spoke softly to the calculating part of his brain and said:-

**"No . . . wait . . . What’s to be gained…?"**

He let out the breath he had been holding in a long, noiseless sigh, reason flowing back into him in a flood. Killing the bully would be a profound satisfaction, but he knew it was no answer…

What indeed, my friend . . .

A dead bully, certainly, which in itself would be good enough, but what of little Ben Kennedy then? Being saved from God-knows-what by the captain’s intervention would hardly enhance his self-esteem, or elevate him in the eyes of the other young men in the ship. No, there were better ways than that. There must be, but he would have to think of them fast before his protégé came to serious harm.

Like a stalking cat, Hornblower retreated silently, edging round the cable in the darkness until he could duck back into the shadows beyond. Once out of earshot of the others, he hurried to fetch a lamp from the maindeck and then carried it quickly back down into the murky gloom.

This time they must have heard his coming, as he made no attempt to hide or muffle his steps.

"WHAT IS GOING ON DOWN HERE?!" His voice bounced hugely against the shadowy wooden walls and echoed along the cable tier like the call of God.

Their scurryings and scufflings reminded him, cynic as he was, of the rats. By the time he had the lamp held up in the chamber and could see their faces, they had let Kennedy go and were standing well-apart from one another, trying to look innocent and managing only to look as guilty as sin.

"What is the meaning of this, Mr. Spendler?" he demanded with an air of detachment, which implied that he did not suspect them of anything worse than being in the wrong part of the ship at an inappropriate time of the night.

The older boy had dropped the rope, and was wiping his hands down his breeches to remove the stray fibres of hemp from his sweating palms.

"Sorry, Sir," he said immediately. "We didn’t mean any harm, captain."

Hornblower held up the lamp to look in his face. Spendler was new to the ship, having come on board as she came in for repairs after a beating in the Channel from a particularly vicious autumn storm. He was a good-looking boy with clear blue eyes and the face of an angel – not the sort of young man one would associate with cruelty. But Hornblower had learned long ago to take nothing at face value.

"What are you doing down here?" the captain asked sharply.

Spendler glanced about at the others, flashing them a warning. "Nothing special, Sir. Just horseplay."

"I heard a cry," Hornblower had no intention of wringing the truth out of them at this stage, but he would have to provide some motive for his own presence in the cable tier in the middle of the night. "Is one of you hurt?"

"That was me, captain." Kennedy admitted, without looking at Spendler to receive the sharp threat evident in his eyes. "We . . . er . . . were wrestling among the barrels. " The boy swallowed to hide his distress. Oh, God he was so like his father . . .

"Are you injured, Mr. Kennedy?" the captain asked more gently.

"N . . . no, sir, just . . . winded, sir. It was just an accident, captain." Was that fear of Spendler in the lad’s disclaimer, or loyalty to the Midshipmen’s mess?

"You boys should be in bed," Hornblower said sternly. "Horseplay is for horses, not for young gentlemen of His Majesty’s Navy! Were I a harsher man, you would each receive a whipping. As it is, I will reluctantly make do with the withdrawal of your privileges for a week. Now get back to the cockpit where you belong! And don’t let me find you here again!"

The four older boys exchanged shifty glances before shuffling off into the shadows towards the ladder. Kennedy had begun to breathe normally again, and was looking a little less traumatised. Hornblower still could not look into his eyes. The memories were just too painful.

"Mr. Kennedy, will you come to my cabin, please," he growled. "There is a matter I want to discuss with you."

He saw the other lads turn and stare at one another when he said this, so he added gruffly "As you are newly come aboard, sir, I infer that you have instigated this drollery on my ship. It seems you need to be instructed in your duty, Mr. Kennedy!"

Oh, Archie, forgive me . . .

He heard the other boys sniggering as they ascended the wooden ladder.

 

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

"Now, Mr. Kennedy, you have no need to fear me. I am . . . will always be . . . your friend so long as you are willing to be mine."

The boy sat at the other side of the desk, a glass of rum and hot water in his hand, bewildered that he was not to be trussed to the shrouds for causing trouble. When the Captain had singled him out for separate censure he had seemed immensely relieved and it was obvious why. But once away from the other boys, the Captain’s displeasure looked less attractive…

Now the child was eyeing Hornblower with suspicion. He had heard all about captains who promised friendship to innocent young Volunteers First Class . . .

Better to get to the point, then, and put his mind at rest.

"Mr. Kennedy, we are going to the West Indies," Hornblower sat himself down in the big chair opposite, indicating the map which he had spread out on the desk. "To Kingston. Are you familiar with that part of the world?"

The boy’s eyes locked with his, shocking in their intensity. He did not glance at the map. "I know every inch of it, sir," he promised soberly.

Hornblower nodded, unnerved by the emotion he saw in those blue eyes. He cleared his throat, suddenly awkward. "Of course," he agreed, "I expect you would . . ." He took a deep breath, trying to find the right words, but nothing came out. He simply had no idea what to say next.

Fortunately young Kennedy was not so tongue-tied. "Will you show me where my father died, Sir?" he requested quietly.

No! Not the prison. Not there . . .Hornblower had not wanted to leave the place once. Now wild horses would not drag him back . . .

"I will show you his . . . his grave," he promised gently. "I have not been back there since." He stood up abruptly and moved to look out of the stern windows at the gathering glow of dawn so that the boy would not see his face.

Early gulls wheeled about outside, in the first grey light of morning, picking off the fish churned to the surface by the wake, their cries echoing around the ship’s stern like the haunting of lost souls. Hornblower wished he was out there with them, instead of here in his half-lit cabin, with this solemn child, speaking of graves and death.

Suddenly the boy looked up. "Was my father really a mutineer?" he asked candidly.

Oh, my God, Archie, what am I to say to him? What would YOU have me say?

Hornblower took a very long, deep breath as if breathing in courage, and let it out slowly. To buy himself a little more time, he returned to his chair and sat down, folding his hands on the desk in front of him. Finally he looked up and faced those sharp, blue eyes with the same valour with which he always tried to face the enemy.

"Your father . . . " he said softly, "was the finest man I have ever known. He was the bravest, the truest, the most loyal . . . " He broke off, afraid of committing the sin of sentiment.

Still the lad’s gaze bored into him. This child was not going to be put off by flannel, however sincere. A true Kennedy, then . . .

"The voyage of the Renown," Hornblower explained carefully "was a very unusual and special circumstance. All those on board were involved in matters quite outside our experience. We were young officers, recently-promoted, trying to deal with a situation which was in truth way beyond us. His part in the affair . . . is very much to his credit rather than otherwise . . ."

The blue gaze did not waver. "Was he a mutineer?" he repeated relentlessly.

Oh, God forgive me . . .

There was no denying it. If Ben had not already read the transcript of the Court Martial, he would do so one day, and he must have heard rumours. He was too intelligent to accept kindly bluster.

"Yes," Hornblower finally admitted. "Yes, Ben, he was."

The boy did not move or avert his eyes. Hornblower realised that he must have lived with the knowledge for a very long time, and he grieved for him, and for his own dead friend.

"My mother called it a ‘moral maze’," Ben said gravely. "She told me he was not capable of wickedness, and that we cannot judge what we do not understand."

Hornblower smiled. "Your mother was worthy of him, then," he said. "And you, my young friend, are worthy of them both . . ."

He stood up again, restless, as though the need to be up on deck in the fresh wind had become too much for him. "I have something here, Mr. Kennedy," he said suddenly "which may be of interest to you."

There was an old, wooden sea-chest under the captain’s cot; the one he had used when he had first come to sea. He pulled it out carefully and lifted the lid, rummaging for a few moments before taking out a packet tied with black ribbon.

"Here . . . " He placed the paper package on the desk in front of the boy. "I think you should have these."

Ben Kennedy frowned, his eyes switching from the object on the table to Hornblower with a look of enquiry.

"These are letters, Sir," he said softly.

"Indeed they are, Mr. Kennedy. Letters from your mother to your father when he was in service with the Channel Fleet, long . . . long before you were born. When I first knew him . . . " Hornblower cleared his throat self-consciously. "He wanted these destroyed, but I always had a feeling they should be kept. I hope they will be of value to you."

The child took the package in both hands, turning it over as if it were some magical thing. He examined the inscription on the first envelope. "To Midmn. A.F. Kennedy RN, HMS Indefatigable."

"This is my mother’s writing," he said quietly.

"Well, I should hope so, Mr. Kennedy – unless he had several sweethearts which I don’t know about."

It wouldn’t surprise me, Archie. You never saw fit to tell me about this one!

When young Kennedy looked up again, his eyes shone with satisfaction. "I will take good care of them, Sir," he promised fervently.

"I know you will, Ben." Hornblower gave him a kind smile. "And perhaps you will read them. I have not done so, though I had his permission. I felt it would be . . . an intrusion."

True, when he had got over his shock at finding out that his friend had kept a whole side of his life secret even to those closest to him, Hornblower had decided that it should remain so, and had never sought to discover the details of the long-lost romance. It would be different for Ben. In order to become a complete person, it would be important for him to know all he could about the parents who had brought him into the world. He only hoped the letters would not contain anything which could endanger the innocence of a boy of twelve! With Archie, you could never tell . . .

Hornblower glanced to the windows, suddenly weary. "It is dawn, Mr. Kennedy," he said. "You and I must try to get an hour or two in our cots, or else we shall be running the ship aground when we next come on watch."

"Yes, Sir," Ben agreed ruefully, getting up, "and I have Navigation and Seamanship with Mr. Costain first thing in the morning."

"Oh, dear . . . " Hornblower followed him to the door, wondering whether the child was as sharp in such matters as his father had been. Then a thought occurred to him. "Mr. Kennedy," he began, "I was not aware that Portsmouth Naval Orphanage gave academic training to the young people in its care."

"No, sir. My Naval training was undertaken privately, Captain."

Hornblower’s brows rose. "Indeed, Mr. Kennedy. " He stopped himself from enquiring how this was achieved, given that all tutoring was expensive, but Ben anticipated his curiosity and saw no reason to deny it.

"I had a benefactor, Mr. Hornblower. You may have heard of him. Rear Admiral Sir Charles Hammond, Sir."

It was good that Archie Kennedy Junior had turned away to go through the cabin door, as Captain Hornblower could not have hidden his amazement for a million pounds.

 

 

 

By any standards the night could not be said to be stormy – on the contrary, the blue-black sky was clear and full of stars, and a bright moon lit the sea to the horizon - but there was a long, smooth swell which made the ship soar and dip like a condor in the Andes mountains – one moment climbing, rolling at the top and then dipping to swoop down into the trough, water pouring over her bows, each plunge a baptism which sluiced her decks from end to end.

Captain Hornblower stood on the quarterdeck, holding onto the binnacle, soaked to the skin. How glad he would be to get out of these waters and into warmer climes. Yet he knew there would come a point, as they neared the tropics, when the heat would become not a friend but an enemy – a hated, feared foe more capable of snatching life away than the war itself. An agent of disease and corruption and death…He should know…

For now, though, he just wanted the cold wind to stop clawing at him…

Lieutenant Costain appeared in the fitful glare of the binnacle lamps, pea-jacketed and willing, a straight, calm figure in the icy night, putting Hornblower’s reluctance and resentment to shame. "All is well below, Sir," he greeted, touching his hat, with a smile. "I should think you’ll be glad to turn in tonight…"

"I’ve known worse, Mr. Costain," Hornblower growled, pulling himself up to look more like a King’s officer and less like a cross old man. He had to keep reminding himself these days that he was only in his early thirties. He felt about ninety…

He glanced up into the acres of linen billowing aloft, silhouetted against a moonlit sky. She was taking this breeze comfortably, straining only in a seemly manner, like a thoroughbred horse. Perhaps he could let her be for a few hours, to get some sleep…

"She’s all yours, Mr. Costain," he told the young man, still gruffly. "Please call me if you need to make any changes."

"Aye, Sir…"

Hornblower pulled up the collar of his pea-jacket and did his best to quit the quarterdeck with dignity.

**"Nnnnggghhh!"**

Into his tired mind, seemingly from nowhere, had flashed a clear and powerful image of Archie.

Not the calm Archie who had taken control at the end of his life and rearranged its dispositions to suit himself, nor the jubilant, cavalier Archie, swanning around the fort at Samana Bay with barrels of gunpowder exploding at his back – but Archie the daunted – the victim of Jack Simpson, the terrified by gunfire across the river, the ‘prone to panic’ …

Hornblower froze in his tracks. He often had flashbacks of his friend, and it was true they were not always gentle memories. Their years together had been turbulent, and there had been hell as well as happiness. War had dominated their lives, and it was not surprising that the dramatic moments were often the ones which he recalled most clearly. And then the two young men had not always been in harmony… Like most close friends possessed of independent minds, they had had their share of discord…

But this was different… Not a memory of one incident, nor even the pain of old wounds reopened, but a whole new vista of horror and stress, manifest in the one brief image of his long-dead friend…

Hornblower mentally shook himself. The one thing he had clung to in the years since Kingston was the knowledge that Archie was now beyond the power of a terrible world to hurt him. The concept that he could be still in the reach of evil was almost too terrible to contemplate. And yet that so-powerful image burned like a brand on his heart, causing dread to rise in him like a tide.

He realised he had stopped breathing, and let out the breath with a long sigh… He would have a drop of brandy before he turned in, or else he would never sleep…

The child’s scream echoed over the rush of wind and sea. Urchins have powerful lungs when terrified...

Hornblower turned, straining his eyes for’ard, to the source of the cry, and here was Martyn Jenkins, all of seven years old and surely the smallest ship’s boy in the entire Royal Navy, skidding along on the wet deck, screaming and sobbing…

"They’m gone over’t side, Sir…!" he greeted the Captain with a frantic and eloquent wave of the arms. "They’m gone in’t sea…!"

"Who??! DAMMIT BOY, CALM DOWN!!" Hornblower grabbed his shoulders and shook him. Then he remembered the first rule of dealing with children – you get more co-operation if you can manage to smile. Through his desperation, he smiled, realising it probably came out as a grimace. "It’s all right, Jenkins, calm yourself. Who?? Who is in the sea?"

"M-Mr. Spendler, S-sir…" the boy stammered.

Hmmph, thought Hornblower, no loss there, then…

"And M-Mr. Kennedy went in after him, S-sir…!" Jenkins was shaking now, his teeth chattering with cold and excitement.

A grip like ice took hold of Hornblower’s heart. Archie’s child - that ultimate treasure - was in the sea. He could already be dead…

"Oh my God…!" he said softly.

He spun round to shout at anyone who might be listening: "MAN OVERBOARD!!" he yelled over the wind. " Mr. Costain, get the hands aloft!! For God’s sake, man get them moving!!"

By now he was becoming aware of a growing group on the quarterdeck. Lt. Costain had hurried for’ard to join him, shouting orders at the topmen as he ran. And now Matthews and Styles were there too with several good seamen. A little knot of boys had arrived from all corners of the ship – Orville and Prenton, the other two midshipmen, Carter and Carter the twin master’s mates, and a number of younger boys.

"Lower the boat, Mr. Costain…!" Hornblower ordered briskly. He would once have thought nothing of abandoning protocol to leap into the jolly-boat himself and take command of the mission. Mr. Costain was a very good officer, quite capable of holding the ship until his return. But no. Hornblower had changed since Kingston. He no longer allowed even a shred of sentiment to cloud his judgement.

Hating himself, he watched while the young lieutenant supervised the lowering of the little boat and appointed the crew of ten men. By hovering right under his nose, Matthews and Styles contrived successfully to be amongst the chosen. Good, Hornblower thought grimly. The best of his crew. If these men couldn’t find the boys in the heaving water, then nobody could…

Leaning over the side, shielding his eyes from the binnacle-lights, he could see in the moonlight the faint, white smudge of a shirt in the water dropping far behind even as the ship wallowed without impetus in the rolling sea. Down went the boat. It occurred to Hornblower only now that he was sending eleven good men after the two children into great and mortal peril, and only the thought that the men would have volunteered had they not been chosen comforted his stropping conscience.

The little jolly-boat looked minute in the heaving vastness of the grey ocean, disappearing from view behind the mountainous swell of each wave, to reappear like a cheerful cork every time. Costain was a steady, reliable officer when all was well, but so far Hornblower had not seen him deal with a crisis. Would he, in half an hour, bitterly regret his own sense of duty in staying with the ship?

Shouts across the dark water told him the boys had been seen, and with ponderous care the little boat began to work towards the white blob. And now the blob was disappearing and reappearing as though the sea were trying to swallow it. Obviously the children were getting tired, and going under more and more often. Hornblower’s desperation grew…

The jolly-boat disappeared into the darkness, and the white shirt could no longer be seen. The captain paced the deck, straining his ears to hear hopeful sounds over the rushing wind, but now all that came to him was the unending duet of the rigging and the sea.

"They’ll be lucky to fish ‘em out in this swell, Sir," Helmsman Heath commented, perhaps to break the tension on the quarterdeck.

Hornblower grunted grimly. "Thank you, Mr. Heath, your observation is noted…" he returned, enjoying in a perverse way the freedom to be curt and distant. The very last thing he wanted now was small-talk.

Oh, Archie, Archie, sometimes I truly wish I had died with you… Things would have been so much simpler…

More shouts now. This time there was an indefinably positive note about them. And they seemed now to be getting closer… Surely Lieutenant Costain would not be returning so soon if the boys had still been in the sea. Hornblower allowed himself to hope – something he very rarely did these days…

"Ahoy Agile!!" Matthews’ cry echoed on the wind. "We’ve got ‘em!!"

Hornblower caught himself hopping from one foot to another in excitement and stopped himself abruptly. It was bad enough that something like this had happened in his ship; far worse to be caught in a state of indecent agitation on his own quarterdeck. Deliberately he turned his back on the rail and strode firmly to the other side of the ship, striving to get his breathing under control once more, out of sight of the little knot of seamen and powder-boys, midshipmen and master’s mates who had gathered to watch the drama unfold. Composed again, he returned to watch as the jolly-boat came back into view, slick and silver-kissed in the sharp moonlight.

He could see Costain now, and Matthews, standing up in the sternsheets, fending with oars as the boat ground dangerously against the side of the ship. And there were the two boys, huddled together like the children of Famine, Pestilence and War, afraid even to sit up for fear of being claimed by the sea which had so recently given then up.

But they need not have worried. Having risked their very lives, the lieutenant and Matthews, and Styles and the other men were not about to let them fall back in again. With infinite care, Mr. Costain made them fast with a safety-rope before shepherding Spendler, with agonising slowness, up the ladder. The jolly-boat was bucking like an untrained horse, slamming against the side of the ship, so that they had to make a leap of faith onto the rungs. And Matthews clambered up with little Kennedy, refusing to let go of the child even when they reached the deck and safety. The two boys looked half-drowned, and all of them were soaked through.

"Get below!" the captain ordered, unsmiling, though his heart was light with joy. "Fetch Dr. Merchant to them, Mr. Costain… Spirits for every man involved, if you please. We’ll discuss the cause of this disturbance in my cabin in half an hour…"

To his immense satisfaction, young Spendler had the look of a condemned man…

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

"I want the truth and I want it now!" Captain Hornblower glowered with unbridled menace on the little crowd of boys gathered in the cramped cabin before him. Some of them were looking distinctly guilty, others just afraid – and there was one whose face wore the signs of complex occlusion, the cornflower eyes neutral and unfathomable as the deep-sea itself.

Only in those last few days in Kingston had Hornblower seen that look, and in one who until then had never hidden anything…

Or so he had thought…

"Now…" Hornblower decided, "we will begin with who was NOT involved."

Spendler looked up reluctantly. "None of the powder-boys was there, Sir," he offered in a subdued tone. There was a murmur of agreement among the others.

"Very well." Hornblower agreed. "The younger boys can go."

With relief, the smallest fry of the band broke away and began to file out through the door which Matthews opened for them. Except for little Martyn Jenkins, who seemed rooted to the spot.

"Please sir, I was there," he admitted in a small voice.

Hornblower turned his angry countenance from the boy to Spendler.

"DON’T LIE TO ME, MR. SPENDLER!!" he snapped. "I said I want truth. If this boy was there, then I don’t want him excused! Is that understood?!"

"Aye, sir." Spendler shot a venomous look at the little powder-monkey, but he knew not to give Captain Hornblower a sulky answer.

"Now," the captain continued more steadily, "let’s start at the beginning. What were you doing in the heads?"

Nobody dared snigger, as they would normally have done. Even Matthews kept his face straight.

"I jus’ went to do me business, sir…" Jenkins’ small voice answered. Only now did Hornblower realise the child’s face was bruised. Not just once, which would perhaps have indicated a simple accident, but in several places. His eye was puffy, his cheek was blue and there was an open cut at the side of his mouth. At some time in the last two hours he had suffered violence…

Hornblower put a kind hand to his chin and lifted it to the light. "What happened to you, Mr. Jenkins?" he asked gently.

Out of the corner of his eye he noted the look that passed like a bolt of lightning between the older boys, particularly Spendler and Kennedy.

"Nothin’, sir. I just tumbled down the steps in the swell, sir… Nobody ‘it me…Honest…"

Spendler shuffled involuntarily. Orville and Prenton exchanged a look of amusement.

Hornblower noted that Kennedy’s eyes switched from the powder-boy to the captain, to Spendler, where they caught the glance of the older boy and held it. Oh there was much going on here…

"You have a good deal of injury for a simple fall, Mr. Jenkins," the Captain commented. Yet he wanted these lads to be honourable and tell him the truth. He would not drag it out of them.

"He did fall, Sir," Spendler affirmed. Young Kennedy’s eyes were riveted on him, and the mouth that was so like his father’s compressed just a little…with anger? Or contempt?

Orville and Prenton nodded agreement, and the twin Carters made no denial.

"I am glad, Mr. Jenkins," Hornblower told him firmly. "Because if I find any boy laying hands upon another in my ship, that boy will be put over the gun, sir…Do you understand?"

Jenkins nodded, too scared to answer.

"Now…" Hornblower drew himself up impressively, "to the business of how two of you young gentlemen ended up in the sea, to the peril of eleven of my best men… Who will explain this to me…?"

"We fell, Captain…" It was Spendler again, becoming more brazen now, perhaps beginning to believe he could talk his way out of anything.

Hornblower glared at him, hawk-like. "You FELL, sir?!" he repeated. "Am I to believe all the young gentlemen in this ship are suffering from the falling sickness?"

Spendler met his eyes. "That is, I fell, sir," he revised smoothly. "Mr. Kennedy jumped in after me, because he knows I can’t swim, Captain."

Hornblower turned round to observe Ben Kennedy closely. The boy had flushed scarlet now, but his face was still carefully neutral.

"Is that true, Mr. Kennedy?" the captain asked quietly.

"Yes, sir." The response was simple enough to cover practically anything.

"Then you did well, sir. Very well. And just how did you come to fall in the first place, Mr. Spendler?" Hornblower demanded, merciless in pursuit of the truth. "A boy your age, at sea since he was ten, has no business falling from the heads in a moderate swell."

"No, sir…" Spendler looked up, all innocence, spreading his hands. "It was just skylarking, Captain. Fun and games. It was just a joke…"

Hornblower had turned away from him to watch Orville and Prenton for signs of guilt, but this little speech was too just much. He spun round, his face filled with a thunderous anger they had never seen in him before.

"THIS WAS NO ‘JOKE’, SIR! Mr. Costain, who risked his life to save you, with ten others ALL better men than you, did not find it FUNNY, Sir!!" he roared. "I will not countenance lies, Mr Spendler! I will have you beaten if you do not give me the facts of this business NOW!!"

Having said it, he knew he must do it, and he prayed that the lad would fear him enough to tell all. To his relief, Spendler had run out of courage, and his veneer of the waggish young gentleman cracked, revealing the ugly surface of the coward underneath.

"I was pushed, Captain," he admitted quietly.

The dismay was evident in all those present. The Carter boys gazed at Spendler in amazement that one of their kind could so-easily betray the awful secrets of the mess. Orville and Prenton were aghast, and Kennedy showed, with a flicker of alarm, the first emotion he had allowed himself during the whole of the interview.

And little Martyn Jenkins burst into tears.

"Please, sir, I didn’t do it, sir! I didden’t, honest!" he wailed. "Only ‘e was ‘ittin’ me an’ kickin’ me, sir, like a dog …"

There was a shocked silence. All eyes were on Jenkins now, with the sort of fascinated pity which decent people have for the condemned, and it seemed inevitable that the smallest ship’s boy was destined to kiss the gunner’s daughter…

But no…

"I pushed him…" The voice was firm and strong, and unflinchingly final.

The words fell into the room like an ice-block, bringing the proceedings to a dead stop. Even Jenkins’ tears ceased.

Hornblower and Matthews stared at Ben Kennedy, dumbstruck.

"I pushed Mr. Spendler into the sea," the boy repeated, in case what he said might be somehow misunderstood. Having said it, he stood, straight as a die, only the so-familiar little flutter of the eyelids betraying the immense tension within.

The horror of that moment was something Hornblower would carry in his heart until his dying day. Hardly believing his ears, he sat down slowly in his chair, to give himself time to think. But he was quite unable to turn his thoughts to anything but the dread which the words had disinterred. He was vaguely aware of Matthews by the door, staring at the child as though he were seeing ghosts. Everyone in the room had fallen silent.

 

Yet he knew there was nothing he could do. He would have to accept it. That was abundantly obvious from the very moment the statement had been made, or else call the gallant child a liar in front of the others. And there was the matter of Jenkins – How would he fare if the matter was pursued…? Surely he could drag the truth out of them with interrogation and threats, but the still, small voice in his heart that sounded so like Archie’s told him that was not the way. All over again, the real facts would have to remain hidden, vile injustice would prevail and the innocent would suffer… and he would simply have to accept it…

**Poor Horatio…!**

For a long moment he sat, motionless at his desk, staring at Kennedy as if trying to see into his soul. Then he stood up and came to stand over him, a huge figure in the swaying shadows cut by the little cabin lamp.

"Why?" he asked softly.

Ben Kennedy’s eyes were fixed on the bulkhead behind the captain’s desk. "I have no excuse, Sir," he responded in the clear tone of one who accepts his fate with resignation.

Yet Hornblower was not satisfied. "I asked for a reason, Ben, not an excuse," he responded, still gently but in a tone that would not be denied.

This time young Kennedy met his eyes, unblinking, without fear, for who could fear his father’s friend…?

"I have no reason, Sir," he added quietly.

The captain’s sense of powerlessness was almost overwhelming…

 

 

 

Captain Hornblower stood on his quarterdeck enjoying the keen wind sweeping by him and filling the sails above his head. The early morning sun was shining, and up in the rigging four of the boys played ‘tag’, jumping from shrouds to yards, swinging like monkeys from the backstays and chasing each other, with great danger to their hands and trousers, down the tarry ropework. Young Kennedy was one of them, obviously quite recovered and showing, four days on, no visible sign of stiffness or pain.

The beating had been over quickly, at least. In a matter of two minutes, Matthews had had the boy over the gun – nobody had needed to hold him there – and the six blows had been dealt with sharp and heavy efficiency. To his amazement and horror, Hornblower had found himself almost taking savage satisfaction in the boy’s pain. That would teach him, early in life, the folly of martyrdom. An experience like this would guard him against over-readiness in the future to carry the burden of blame for others…

Yet the logic was unconvincing. This was a Kennedy, the son of the father, and in their philosophy life’s lessons had very little bearing on affairs of the heart. Where Archie had chosen to squander his treasures – the jewels of his honour, his reputation and his life – he had done so easily, discarding them without a second thought, for loyalty and love. It was obviously an inherited trait…

There was a shout from Spendler, clinging precariously to the topmast shrouds. He waved to get their attention, and the other boys looked in the direction he was pointing. Dolphins! A whole school of them – a sure sign that they were passing into warmer waters. The lads in the rigging were laughing and shouting with glee, now, and there seemed to be no barriers between them. Spendler would have to try hard to regain acceptance from his shipmates, but spotting the dolphin school would certainly gain him some points.

Kennedy needed no such outside agency. Since his act of altruism, he had been treated first with awe by the other boys and then, seeing that he was not about to use his heroic deed to wield power amongst his peers, with friendly respect. To young Jenkins he had become something of a god…And now Spendler had been brought low, they were no longer afraid of him. Balance was restored in the Midshipman’s mess and the ship was all the happier for it.

And it had all taken place without any reference whatever to the Captain or his authority. Hornblower was beginning to see that now… that he could amass all the temporal power in the world, and still not be capable of the power for good wielded by such as Archie and his son, and the likes of Clayton and Maria, and Finch and Matthews… The power of utter selflessness…

And these people would make their own arrangements for the good of others, regardless of his attempts to steer them from their course...

"You can choreograph men’s deeds, Horatio, because that is your job, but do not try to direct their souls…"

Archie’s words to him during one of their franker exchanges on their last shore-leave in Portsmouth. Horatio remembered them well – in fact would never forget them. And they were as true now as they had been then. Good men and women will make their dispositions, in defiance of logic and their own welfare…

But they all died, for God’s sake, in the end, doing some stupid thing for someone else who didn’t deserve the favour…

The Captain was suddenly aware of Matthews at his side.

"Beggin’ your pardon, sir, but we’re runnin’ so handy, I wondered whether we might have some entertainment tonight… Bin awhile since we ‘ad a party, Mr. Hornblower. The men would be glad of it on a long trip like this, Captain…"

Hornblower turned from his thoughts to consider the request. "Would they, Mr. Matthews?" he said doubtfully. Entertainment in a ship of war usually meant music, dancing, the telling of outlandish yarns and the singing of horribly sentimental songs. Being happier with mathematics than culture, and tone deaf, he found this shipboard frivolity as alien as any pagan sacrificial rite. The whole thing was total anathema. Nevertheless he trusted his Bosun, and if Matthews said this exercise in mawkishness was necessary to the morale of the men, then it would come to pass, and with grit teeth and a carefully-sustained smile, he would attend…

"Please arrange it, Matthews," he invited with resignation.

 

 

"Noblest of men, woo’t die?

Hast thou no care of me? Shall I abide

In this dull world, which in thy absence is

No better than a sty?"

The Queen of the Nile pushed back her long, flowing Egyptian locks of unpicked rope, and cradled Marc Antony’s body with lyrical tenderness. In the dim glow of the lanterns, the carefully-arranged tableau of tragic lovers and handmaidens looked almost convincing. There was a deep silence on the gundeck, the only external sounds coming from rigging and timbers, the comforting music of a ship at sea.

The dead hero shifted in her arms – probably the deck was hard and cold, and they had not thought to put down a hammock for him to die on…

"The crown o’the earth doth melt. My lord!"

…the Egyptian temptress bewailed…

"O! wither’d is the garland of the war,

The soldier’s pole is fall’n; Young boys and girls

Are level now with men; the odds is gone,

And there is nothing left remarkable

Beneath the visiting moon…"

For Hornblower the words blurred. He had not heard this passage of Shakespeare for perhaps ten years… The intonation, the light voice were the same, and he was assailed with memories. The old sadness returned to him very suddenly, as it always did, taking him off-guard and filling his eyes with shameful tears. He was very glad of the dim lights and the fact that everyone was too focussed on the epic unfolding in the tableau to notice a silly, sentimental old fool like him.

"Come…" the Queen was saying, "we have no friend

But resolution, and the briefest end…"

Cleopatra laid her head on Marc Antony’s breast, and the handmaidens clustered about her, holding dramatic and tragic poses as the lamps were snuffed out. For a moment there was a stunned silence. Then the deck erupted into applause. The men were not used to such rich dramatic fare, and they had obviously enjoyed it hugely.

The doomed Queen stood up to bow, pushing back her stringy hair, and then turned to help Caesar’s lieutenant to his feet. Midshipman Spendler was cold and stiff, but nevertheless he bowed gracefully to the audience, adjusting his circlet of cooper’s iron and holding his bedlinen toga about his person lest it should slip and make him appear ridiculous in front of his public.

The handmaidens milled about, pulling off their wigs, revealing themselves as Midshipmen Orville and Prenton, the two Carters and a couple of the powder boys. Martyn Jenkins was the Queen’s (loyal and adoring) Indian servant – every queen had to have one! – with a borrowed silk waistcoat and Lieutenant Costain’s tea-cosy on his head, shadowing Ben Kennedy like a faithful gundog.

The Captain had recovered his spirits now, and was able to join in the applause with rather more warmth than he would have accorded the average Shakespearean death scene.

"Excellent!" he judged, rewarding the thespians with a smile. "Really excellent! You two young gentlemen certainly learn fast…Word perfect, and only a few hours to study the text…!"

Ben Kennedy pulled off his wig, grinning broadly. "Oh, we knew it already, Sir," he responded lightly. "I know most of the death-scenes backwards, and Harry – that is, Mr. Spendler, Sir - he knows ‘em too!"

"Not as well as you do, Ben," the older boy admitted, his smile diminished more by his physical discomfort than by any sense of inferiority in the matter of literature.

Well, well…a shared interest…Good heavens…! Thought Hornblower with satisfaction.

"We will have no need in future to go into port to visit the theatre, Mr. Matthews," he commented, covering his pleasure with facetiousness, as he always did these days.

"Aye, Sir…" Matthews agreed warmly. "Just like old times…"

**You see…Better already…** said the inner voice serenely.

 

 

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

 

 

The stone was smaller and more fitting than he had dared to hope. He should not have been surprised. Gold buys taste in this world, and he had left a large chunk of his prize money behind in Kingston for the provision of a memorial. Lord Edrington had offered to pay for it, out of friendship and comradely loyalty, but Hornblower had insisted the burden of cost should be his.

Now he was glad, and glad also that he had done without many things to afford the best and most subtle stonemason in Jamaica, for here he was, with his dead friend's child, and there was nothing ostentatious or cheap about the grave to destroy the sad beauty of the moment.

Only a few years had passed since he had stood here last. Little enough time for the world to move on, yet already lichens and mosses had found the stone, and were gently kissing it with colour. A plain grave, marked only by the name ­ Archie, not Archibald, Kennedy ­ the all-important and treasured rank of Lieutenant RN, and the two dates, 1775 ­ 1802. Horatio had toyed with the idea of adding some legend of his own devising ­ a small tribute to their friendship - but had changed his mind at the last minute. Archie had taken nothing with him out of this life ­ not even his good name. Somehow, now, the smallest deviation from absolute simplicity would seem too much.

Man and boy stood in silence beside the grave, as the sun dropped rapidly into the west, bathing the bay, with its lovely array of anchored ships, in red and gold. It was a good place to be. There was no sign here of dread, or infamy, dishonour or injustice. Just the sad tranquillity of too-early death.

Eventually Ben Kennedy turned his blue eyes upwards and said quietly "Did my father suffer, Captain Hornblower?"

All his life, Hornblower wanted to say, but he stopped himself. Now was not the time to acquaint Archie’s son with the sea of troubles his father had been heir to, nor the stubborn courage with which he had opposed them. Nor was it the time to tell the boy that Horatio Hornblower had been so distressed by the dreadfulness of his friend’s condition all the way to Jamaica, that he had made excuses to be elsewhere in the ship, and had welcomed the shortage of officers as a means to keep busy, so that he would not have to sit at Archie’s side, watching him cough blood, or gasp for air, or grit his teeth against the pain…

"Ha-h’m…" He cleared his throat, as he seemed always to do these days while he considered a question. "As you know, he was wounded as we left Santo Domingo," he responded evenly, "yet he lived for more than a week, to die here in Kingston. I imagine he must have found the voyage…somewhat trying…" He took a deep breath, forcing himself to go on. "I was with him at the end… I believe he died happy…"

Of course he did. He was, at last, able to receive the benefits of Dr. Clive’s painkillers, and in all other respects had got absolutely his own way. Had his position not been undeniably pathetic, he could have been called smug…

Ben seemed satisfied. He bent down and took up a handful of the dry earth, letting it flow through his fingers like the sand in an hourglass. "I’ve come halfway around the world," he said in a strange, thoughtful voice, "hoping to find my father…and now I realise he’s not here at all… He’s been with us all along…"

The depth of the statement made Hornblower uncomfortable. Archie would have understood such things, but metaphysics and the affairs of the spirit were outside his own terms of reference, and he was happy, on the whole, to keep them there…

The bright young face smiled up at him, a light to take the place of the dying sun. "Do you believe in ghosts, Captain Hornblower?" the boy asked, catching him off-guard with the old inherited candour.

The sea-captain grunted. "Certainly not…!" he returned gruffly.

**"There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy…"** said the inner voice with just a hint of mocking laughter.

Horatio Hornblower almost smiled.

Though in YOUR case, my friend, he said to the voice silently, I’m willing to make an exception…