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MEMORIAM
by Jan L.

 

"Archie."

The strained whisper made Kennedy glanced up from his letter. Letters
from home -- something he had never thought to see again. When he'd told
Horatio that he had never heard from his family, Hornblower had taken the
matter to Don Alfredo de Massaredo and it turned out that he had been
identified as one "Ortebold Canady" by some idiot Frenchman who had no
idea of how to spell a Scottish name.

Horatio's effort had at least put him on the official list of prisoners,
rather than Missing, Presumed Dead. It had made no practical difference
until their brief return to the Indefatigable, which had been carrying a
bag of mail for the neutral Portugese port of Oporto. On the off-chance
that there might be something within for his men, Captain Pellew had
caused the mail to be checked before they returned to prison. And much
to Kennedy's astonished delight, two of the letters were for him. He had
saved them to open later, behind bars, when he knew he would need a bit
of cheer.

His mother's joy at learning he was still alive was so strong it nearly
leapt off the page, and she had filled several more with family news: one
of his sisters had produced a set of twins, to the delight of her husband
and the distraction of the nurse. The rest of his family was also well.

But it appeared Horatio's might not be. Slumped on the bench below the
window, the newly-minted Lieutenant looked like he'd just been clubbed.

"Horatio -- for God's sake, what is it?"

"He's dead, Archie." He held the paper in both hands, fingers clutching
the heavy paper so hard it wrinkled. "My father's dead."

"Oh, no..." He left his bunk to sit beside his friend, reading the words
in a solicitor's tidy legal hand: 'Regret to inform you that your father
passed away in his sleep ... painless ..." Some legal language saying
that Dr. Hornblower had made provision for his housekeeper to continue
living in his cottage while his son was at sea, which looked to be an
indefinite tenancy... There was a bit more information than one would
expect in the usual legal notice, but it made sense that two educated men
in a small town would be socially acquainted. It was good that Dr.
Hornblower at least had a friend beside him, at the end.

Horatio lay the letter upon his knees and picked up the other envelope.
"This one is from my father," he said. "It's his hand... his seal." He
turned it over and over, as though studying it for some clue.

Kennedy waited. If he had received a letter from his own father, he
would have been reluctant to open it, too -- because he could be certain
that it would boast of some exploit of Ronald's, or how well Arthur was
doing in taking up the reins of the estate. He did not want to know what
stinging rebuke His Lordship would have in response to the news of his
son being taken prisoner. It had actually been easier to assume his
family thought him dead in battle.

But that could not be the reason for Horatio's hesitation. He had not
spoken of his father often, but when he had, it was with affection. "Do
you think he wrote it before he took ill?" he asked finally, impatient
curiosity getting the better of his resolve.

Horatio shrugged. He bit his lip, gave what might have been a laugh, and
Kennedy realized his was fighting back tears. "It's funny," he said in a
strangled voice. "It's as though -- I almost feel that as long as I
don't read it, he isn't really dead. Isn't that foolish?"

Kennedy patted his shoulder, inadequate comfort. "Not at all," he said.
"It's ... I expect it is the last you'll hear from him ..."

"Yes."

"Well, you --" Kennedy cast about for something consoling, and outdid
himself with inanity. "You could always read it over again."

"Archie!" Horatio looked at him with a sort of astonished disbelief.
Then his eyes brimmed over and he was laughing, much too hard, and then
just as suddenly sobbing.

Kennedy caught him, holding him tight for a moment of comfort before
Horatio's inevitable selfconsciousness could make him shut himself away
again. "Sorry, Horatio, I'm sorry, I can be such an ass..." He had been
so pleased to learn that Horatio had kept his sea-chest safe, to find
clean linen and half a dozen handkerchiefs, and here was a use for one
already. "Here, take this..."

His friend sat back, mopped his face and blew his nose. "My apologies,
Archie. I just --" He shook his head helplessly. "I so wanted to -- to
make him proud of me. Now I'll never have the chance."

Kennedy was on solid ground this time. "He was proud of you, Horatio."

"How --" Horatio blinked. "Archie, you never even met him!"

"I've met his son." Kennedy held his friend's eyes with all the certainty
in him. "And if he wasn't proud of you, he was a fool, and I can't
believe you were raised by a fool." He nodded toward the letter. "Go
on, Horatio. Read it."

A damp grin. "I can always read it over, eh?" He fumbled with the
letter, broke the seal. "'My Dearest Son,'" he read aloud, and his voice
cracked. "Archie ... would you --?"

"Of course." He took the letter, squinted at the handwriting. Why was
it doctors could never master penmanship? Letter in one hand, the other
rubbing Horatio's back, he began,

"'My Dearest Son,

'Please forgive the sentimentality; it is not my intention to embarrass
you, but I will not leave this forever unspoken. I ask that you forgive
an old man's blindness and inconsideration. Your Captain Pellew's
letters have convinced me that you chose wisely when you chose the
service of your country instead of the path I had hoped you would follow.
I now realize that it is not every man who can find fulfillment in
healing the sick, just as it is not every man who can stand on the deck
of a burning ship and steer it away from his comrades. I know that I
could not have done that. It astonished me to learn that my own shy,
studious son had become such a hero. To have Sir Edward Pellew himself
take pen in hand and sing your praises was an honour beyond my wildest
imagining. His letter is with my solicitor, Horatio, and I hope your
head will not swell when you chance to read it, as my heart did. Poor
Mrs. Griffith had to sew all the buttons back onto my waistcoat the next
day.'

"It appears you succeeded, don't you think?" Kennedy interjected. "Mrs.
G is his housekeeper?"

"Yes. Is there more?"

"Quite a lot. 'The fellow who is attending me tells me I am improving,
but I know full well he is either a liar or a fool. I wish that you were
here, so that I might bid you farewell, but you would not want to let me
go; you have that from me, at least, and you always were a stubborn lad.'

Kennedy could not resist another interruption. "As I have full reason to
know," he said. Horatio's eyebrows drew together, but one corner of his
mouth quirked upward. Good enough.

He went on, "'In a way this is more satisfactory. I have your mother's
picture before me, and I happily anticipate our reunion. I have missed
her terribly, son, and while it distresses me to think of your sorrow,
this is the natural order of things. I have finished my labours and am
ready to rest. You have great deeds ahead, I know, before we meet again.
And meet we will. I am as certain of that as I am that I remain, now
and forever,

your loving

Father.'"

 

Horatio bowed his head, barely keepng his composure.

"I wish I had met him," Kennedy said. "I wish --" He bit back the rest
of the remark as he smoothed the paper. It would be too self-pitying to
say 'I wish he had been my father,' in the face of Horatio's grief. "Oh,
and there's a postscript...

'I am looking forward to investigating this matter of 'divine
intercession' in the hereafter. If there is anything I can do to
expedite your release from prison, rest assured I shall do so. We cannot
have one of the finest young Lieutenants in the Fleet (your Captain's
words, not mine) wasting his time and energy in Spain. Godspeed,
Horatio!'

 

"Well." Kennedy cleared his throat. "He sounds quite positive. Shall
we unpack, do you think, or wait for the Indy's next pass down the
coast?"

"Archie..." Horatio shook his head. "Unpack, of course, once Don
Massaredo has checked our sea-chests for contraband. I know you want
your books." He took the letter and refolded it gently, then leaned back
against the wall. "You're right. I shall reread it. I wonder, Archie,
do you suppose there really is a hereafter? Or a God?"

Kennedy leaned against the cool stone and shrugged. "I don't know about
God. If he were all-powerful, don't you think he could have put a little
less misery in the world? I realize we're supposed to blame Adam and
Eve, but why would anyone create people who were so stupid, then --
Sorry, Horatio, I am not very pious."

"My father was a Freethinker. I don't believe much, either. But what he
said, about my mother ... I wish I could ask him why he was so certain.
I don't recall him ever speaking of that, before."

"Perhaps she came to him, as my--" The words were out before he could
stop them.

"What?"

The sudden hunger in Horatio's eyes, the hope, was almost more than he
could bear. "Horatio, I don't --" No. Unfair to toss out that hint,
and say no more. "Promise you won't think me mad? It is a very strange
story."

"Of course I won't, Archie. Go on?"

"My grandmother died when I was nine. My mother's mother. It was
sudden, and we were out in the country, and did not hear of it for
several days. But on the night she died, I woke up to find her sitting
upon the edge of my bed."

"Archie, that's --"

"Impossible. Yes. I know. But I was only nine, and I thought she'd
come down to visit -- my sister Eleanor and I always were her favorites
-- and I began to get up. She told me to stay in bed, that she had only
come to see me one last time ... and she told me some things and kissed
me, then smiled and turned away -- and she was gone. Just there one
moment, gone the next."

Horatio shivered. "What did she say? Weren't you frightened?"

"Of my grandmother? Never. She said not to be frightened, that she was
just going through a doorway, and not to be sad for too long. I didn't
understand what she meant by it. But the strange thing, Horatio, was
that the next morning Eleanor caught me as we went down to breakfast and
told me that Grandmother had been to say goodbye to her, too. So I asked
Mother if Grandmother was going away somewhere, and she said no. And
then the news finally came ... my parents were uneasy for a little while,
but they eventually forgot."

Horatio ran a hand through his hair, shook his head. "I expect they
wanted to."

"That's likely. But even now, it does not seem likely that Eleanor and I
would have had the same dream. If my grandmother could visit us that
way, I think there must be something more, when we finish here. Though
I've no idea what it might be."

"She didn't say?"

"She said --" He had to think about it, to remember that silvery voice.
"She said that she and her Andrew were dancing again. That was my
grandfather, he died before I was born. She always said I looked like
him. And she'd loved to dance, but had terrible rheumaticks in her last
years, so if she could dance again, I suppose the pain was gone. I
remember she seemed very happy."

"I hope you're right." Horatio sighed, and closed his eyes. Kennedy
could tell that his friend's analytical mind would find some cool,
logical reason to dismiss the notion, deny himself the consolation. How
was it that Horatio could give hope and strength to so many, and keep
none of it for himself?

He closed his own eyes, and could almost feel that last kiss on his
cheek, a sort of benediction. There was a little more that he had not
shared with Horatio, but he did not even understand it himself, not yet.
He would have to be strong, she had said, because he was learning the
greatest lesson of life. He would have to learn fear -- well, he'd done
that, hadn't he? And he would learn love. Perhaps... he glanced
sidelong at Horatio, who had refused to let him die, who had shown him
what courage meant. He had something now that he'd never had with his
brothers. A friend worth following back to prison, a friend worth
loving. Perhaps he was learning a bit of that, too.

But the last thing she'd said ... no, he would probably never achieve it.
"Act from love, my darling," she had said, "not from fear. One is real,
the other just illusion."

A lovely idea, though far too fine for himself. That was a motto for a
hero or a saint, and he was neither, only a small flawed human being who
thus far had achieved nothing of note. And he was in the Navy, after
all, where one was obliged to act from honour and duty, and love really
didn't enter into it at all. Unless perhaps patriotism counted as love
of country.

Had she found the phrase in her Shakespeare? It had a noble sound, but
he had never found it there.

He sighed, and decided he'd better persuade Horatio to lie down and rest
before he fell asleep sitting up. It wasn't heroic, but his friend
needed a bit of tending just now.

"Act from love, not from fear."

Perhaps someday.

< the end >