A Letter from Hell - Edrington's Reply
Tonight as the candles burned low and the very best sort of Port and Brandy was shared by good friends in the gathering darkness, one of my companions elected to share with me a very strange missive. One which, he vowed, had been passed around among many who were at one time in service aboard a corrupted, worm-riddled hulk known as Justinian, though I have never heard of a vessel by that name and therefore it could hardly have been of much importance to His Majesty. My companion swore that that despite the very peculiar circumstances of its receipt, that the manner of the author was so very familiar to him that the hairs on the back of his neck were made to prickle and it was as if the author's own foul breath polluted the very air that he inhaled as he read it with a combination of a familiar stench, and something more akin to the odor of rotting eggs.
I tell you, I do not believe in the Preternatural. Not during daylight hours, not at supper, nor after supper, and most assuredly not when ladies are present. But at four in the morning, pacing the halls as is my wont when there is something preying on my mind; then for a few brandy-sodden minutes, Mr. Simpson, I can admit to the possibility of things unseen. And set down these thoughts, which you may find of interest, as I clarify my own thinking on certain most un-preternatural phenomena that I have been in some position to observe.
I am acquainted with Mr. Hornblower, who you so cavalierly dismiss with the sobriquet of "Snotty". Seldom in my years of command have I seen a man of so few years and so much promise. If you did indeed subject him to the torments of hell on earth then your fire must have been the smithy sort that makes fine steel straighter and stronger, with a blade that holds its edge in battle. Lean, brilliant, and now honed for a single purpose, that of becoming the best Naval officer ever to grace the fleet--the object of your considerable hatred has gained wisdom and insight from his experiences with you and is all the better for it. That is how I see it, having had a very good vantage.
And what of his friend, Mr. Kennedy? Ah, now there I am on much more solid ground. It has been my great pleasure to extend our acquaintance into friendship, and I am made aware that had you not tormented he and Hornblower equally, that it is unlikely the two would ever have found true friendship with each other. For Hornblower, the combination of Kennedy's higher birth and pretty manners would have been an insurmountable barrier. And for Kennedy, the evident gifts of a mathematical mind in a boy solitary by nature would have rendered Hornblower someone to be alternately envied during lessons, then ignored as an unlikely candidate for pleasurable discourse. And yet, your torments created a shared experience for these two dissimilar young men, both of whom have gained much from the other that has been to their profit, and the preservation of both their lives. I do not know and should not care to know all that you did to Mr. Kennedy when he was under your seniority, but today he is a man who loves, and who is loved in return, and who has many friends and a wide acquaintance. His future is not without promise.
And what of Clayton, the unfortunate man whom you shot in a childish duel? Fie, sir, for your nature was easily discerned on this fact alone...that you would accept a challenge from one not much more than a child. No gentleman would have accepted such a challenge, nor would he have accepted the young man's proxy. I have it from Archie Kennedy himself that Clayton was a suicide. He wished to die, to leave this life, but not to incur the wrath of the Almighty in so doing, for as a secret Papist he regarded suicide as a mortal sin. You assisted him to move on to a better place than the one in which he had dwelled for too many years, and I am sure he looks down upon you over the gold bar of heaven and smiles his gratitude that your aim was characteristically true.
For the one thing that all who have known you have been able to put forward in your favor was that you were widely reckoned the best shot in the Navy. An honor that is now held by Captain Sir Edward Pellew, thanks in no small part to his efficient dispatch of you, which has been greatly remarked upon and only adds to the aura which surrounds this great man. But of this display of marksmanship, I am sure you need no reminder.
I am a man who is interested in results and facts; not sentiment, hand-wringing, or tiresome and unprofitable fixation on past events that can never be altered. Mr. Simpson, as I muse on all I have heard of you and the lives you have touched with your idiotic cruelty and petty meanness of mind and person I am forced to the inescapable conclusion that you have altered these lives you sought to ruin for the better. For it is not insignificant that in fairy tales and legends all young knights must slay a dragon in order to be worthy of their sovereign's regard.
Welcome to Hell, Mr. Simpson. For surely Hell it must be to know that you; vile, perverted, twisted creature though you were, had been in many ways a force for good, a bond of friendship, and a memory that spurs these two men, Kennedy and Hornblower, on to fight senseless cruelty wherever they may find it. Your favorite victims thrive, Mr. Simpson. They thrive, Mr. Simpson, they thrive and grow strong and may one day prosper. They are men to know, men I am proud to count among my acquaintance.
I find myself wondering, Mr. Simpson, as I walk the darkened hallways if I, too, might have profited from such a distasteful encounter? Was my own path too easy? Would I not gain empathy and sensibility from such an encounter? I envy Kennedy and Hornblower for the ease of their friendship and the trust they share. I wonder if I had it in me as a younger man to overcome what they overcame, and if it would have deepened my understanding. I hear the whispers...yes, I bought my commission. My wealth and title kept me isolated from the society of any who would use me ill, and still do. What would I be today, had my path crossed yours? A husband, a General, a father, a gin-soaked sot, a murderer, or a moldering corpse? Welcome to Hell, Mr. Simpson. What fires shaped a twisted man like you, and were you ever a boy like me?
I say to you that I do not believe in the preternatural, but I shall lay this letter upon my desk and lock the door of my study, then go to bed. And should I not find it there, unmoved, upon my desktop when I unlock the door on the morrow, shall I question the maids, the servants, or my valet? Or mayhap I will prefer that my question remains unanswered, for I have not been to Hell, Mr. Simpson, and do not care to believe in such a place except here on earth, for those who feel only hate, envy, and greed. Mayhap there is a second key, one known only to a servant, who entered the study, and mistaking the scrawl of an insomniac upon a crumpled bit of parchment for garbage, threw it onto the dying coals in the hearth and burned it.
Welcome to Hell, Mr. Simpson. And if you see my late ally, Colonel Moncoutant, remember me to him if he will speak to you, for if memory serves the Marquis had little use for amateurs.