A Life of Duty - Captain Pellew and Dr.
by Sarah B.
Captain Pellew did not think it was possible to feel so old and still be alive.
He paced the length of his cabin, turned and paced it again, waiting for Dr. Sebastian to arrive. The cabin was brightly lit with the day's sunshine, incongruously so; Pellew found himself furious that the day should be so bright and cheerful when his men - when they were all -
- when the sun had gone out for all of them.
A minute passed, two. Pellew stopped and ran his hands over his face. Memories of his shore leave, of his frantic hours with Sophie, of the desperate sorrow he had tried so hard to erase from his soul, just for those few brief passionate hours... everything came rushing back, and Pellew sank to his desk with a moan.
It could not be borne. Surely, no one could feel the depth of grief that was coursing through him, through the entire ship, and yet survive.
But he was surviving. Would survive, for Hornblower's sake. For the memory of a man who should not have died, but died knowing that it was for a good cause.
Whatever that cause might be.
Pellew frowned. Did he really see Hornblower standing in the shadows that night at his home? No, it must have been a phantom of the sorrow he felt. But still...still there was something in the air that night, a portent perhaps, a sense of something that would happen because Hornblower had died, that would not have happened if he lived. It was still there, hanging like an invisible sail over the ship.
Pellew fingered the letter on the desk in front of him, and contemplated this. He knew what he felt was important, but he did not know what it could mean.
Pellew started. Then he rearranged his face into the appropriately commanderlike mask and said, "Come."
The door opened, and Dr. Sebastian entered. Normally there would be respectful salutations and a polite waiting for acknowledgement, but that did not happen here; as Pellew watched, the tall half-Spaniard walked slowly toward the desk, sat down in the chair before it and leaned forward, gazing at Pellew with great dark eyes that missed nothing, including it seemed what was in men's souls.
For a long time Sebastian said nothing, merely looked at Pellew carefully; finally he said in a low voice, "I have prayed for all of us, during my entire journey here."
So much sympathy in that deep voice, so much concern for others when Pellew knew how Sebastian's own heart must be breaking. He looked down at the desk and nodded.
Sebastian spoke again. "I can see, just from my brief journey on the quarterdeck, that there is much for me to do. I am ready, sir; set my hand to whatever you need."
Pellew looked up again, gauged the compassion in that olive-skinned face and silently thanked God that Hepplewhite was no longer aboard the Indefatigable. With a deep sigh he tapped the letter on the desk and said, "I am to report to the admiralty as soon as possible. Orders, most likely...I suspect we will be setting sail again soon."
Sebastian nodded understanding, but only regarded the letter sadly.
Pellew cleared his throat. "I have been informed...have you spoken to Mr. Kennedy since you came aboard?"
"Only briefly, sir; I asked him to come and see me when he could."
"He said nothing to you?"
Sebastian shook his head.
Pellew pursed his lips briefly, weighing his words before he spoke them. "Mr. Kennedy... has brought a young lady to Portsmouth with him, and it is his intention to marry her before we leave port."
Sebastian's eyes widened, and he sat back a bit. "Indeed, sir."
"Indeed. I fear it might be - somewhat rash - but I am no marriage broker and can say nothing except that which I have already said. He will be on board this ship when it sails."
"Who is the young lady, sir?"
"Lady Josephine Silverthorne," Pellew replied, half-smiling at the poetry the name invoked. "A childhood sweetheart. He sent for her while returning from delivering Mr. Hornblower's sea chest to his father."
Sebastian's eyes were full of thought as he absorbed these words. He turned away a little and nodded to himself, for some reason Pellew could not decipher. It was almost as if he was thinking, 'of course he did.' But the doctor said nothing.
Pellew paused, then met Sebastian's gaze and held it. "Doctor, I need your help. If we are sent upon another mission I know I shall be sailing with a shell of a crew, with men whose very hearts have been torn asunder by the loss of one they would gladly have followed into hell itself. My men are stricken, Dr. Sebastian; I need them whole."
Sebastian tilted his head. "I cannot tell them to stop grieving, sir, nor can I assist those who do not come to me. But if you ask me to ensure that they are physically well, I will do my best and see about their souls while I check the soundness of their bodies."
Pellew cast his dark eyes to the neatly written letter on his desk and replied, "That is all I can ask." He paused, and his eyes softened. "My apologies, doctor, for interrupting your shore leave under such tragic circumstances. I hope that you found some peace at your home before you were called back here."
Sebastian smiled sadly. "Thank you, captain, my shore leave was in fact quite restorative. In fact, I felt called to return to the ship before I even received your summons. It was clearly God's will that I return."
Pellew's expression clouded, and he folded his hands on the desk and shook his head. "I only wish I knew God's will in this, doctor. For such a man of promise and ability as Hornblower to be killed in such a senseless manner..." he pressed his lips together, fighting the anger that rose up within him.
There was a long silence, then Sebastian said, very seriously, "Yet even now I feel that his spirit is seeking to help those left behind."
Pellew started at these words; it was like his vision...no, but that was not real. "Why do you say that, doctor?"
Sebastian's smile was knowing this time. "Does it not make sense, Captain Pellew? Those of us who knew him, would we hesitate to say that he would not leave this earth until he knew that the work he embarked upon would be successfully completed? I felt it, most strongly, as I prayed in the chapel on my estate, before your courier arrived."
Pellew's heart lept; but it was not a captain's place to discuss religion, nor in his interest to speculate on Hornblower's spiritual remains. And yet some irrational part of him very much hoped that what Sebastian was saying was true... "I - cannot comment on your feelings doctor, I only wished to make you aware that you have much work ahead of you, and precious little time to do it. Now you are dismissed, and you may go look after my crew."
There was a long moment's silence, then Sebastian said, "A carpenter always sounds a ship by starting at the front. I will follow that example and begin examining the crew by starting with the captain."
Pellew's eyes shot up warily.
Sebastian's gaze was sharp, but not unkind as he leaned forward again and asked in a soft voice, "Captain Pellew, please tell my everything that has happened since I left. And then tell me what I can do to help you."