Upon a Painted Ocean
by Ali

Captain Sir Edward Pellew stared at the two paintings hung side-by-
side in his quarters. They were a curious juxtaposition. The first
was of a ship some hundred or more years past, tossed regally in the
night upon a stormy sea. If one looked closely, small dark flecks
became the desperate figures of men aloft, hauling in the battered
sails. His eyes were always drawn to this painting above all else in
the room, for its qualities of light and motion were remarkable.
Alongside it, the frame slightly damaged, the other work depicted a
still life of some fruit after the Dutch school. It was like no
other fruit Pellew had ever seen. All the items appeared slightly
misshapen, such were the crudity of the lines and brushwork, and the
light was reflected off at all angles. No eye could ever be deceived
into thinking that it beheld anything but a poor imitation, and
beside the superlative rendition of the angry ocean, it was all the
more ridiculous.

At his word, Hornblower entered.

"Ah, Mr. Hornblower." A faint note of surprise sounded in his voice,
as though the young man had appeared of his own volition and not at
his Captain's summons.

"Sir you requested my presence, Sir." Pellew maintained his silence
for a few moments. His meal lay hardly touched on the table,
alongside the Admiralty dispatches that had evidently distracted him.

"I have received word remarkably fast word, I have to add - of one
of our ships, lost off the French coast, near La Rochelle."
Hornblower digested the information, frowning in thought. They had
left El Ferrol behind some days ago and could not be too far from La
Rochelle at this moment.

"Lost, Sir? Sunk or taken?"

"According to the report, she is wrecked." Pellew had chosen his
words carefully. There had been a port at La Rochelle for centuries
because of the natural harbour. There were no treacherous reefs
awaiting unwary ships, only a battery mounted high on the cliffs and
armed with guns and men aplenty. "We are to salvage what we can."

"But Sir, the French w-"

"She was lost but two days ago, Mr. Hornblower. In a storm that
persists, I am told."

"Then that is indeed fast news, Sir." They had received the
dispatches from the Fleet only that afternoon.

"We are not looking for men, as such, of-course." Hornblower nodded
his understanding. "I want that is, I request and require - that
you and Mr. Kennedy will undertake the necessary action, as and when
we reach the Colossus. Those are my orders, Mr. Hornblower."
Pellew reached for the wine, as good a signal as any that the
interview was concluded.

 

 

"Those are my orders, Mr. Hornblower." He wasn't sure whether Pellew
had been referring to those he was giving or those he'd received. No
captain would be well pleased to send his ship on a little detour
under the noses of French guns, but Hornblower sensed that there was
some other cause for his preoccupation. He joined Kennedy who, newly
promoted to Acting-Lieutenant, was on watch and hunched over the
faint light from the binnacle.

"Reprimanded again, Mr. Hornblower?" Kennedy smiled gently but did
not look up.

"For my many sins, Archie. They are yours by extension in this
instance."

"What have we done?"

"I know no more than you. The price, however, is to board the
Colossus." Kennedy looked up at last.

"Doesn't sound so terrible."

"She is wrecked."

"Ah." Both men were silent for a moment. The breeze had dropped to
a mere breath, which caressed the rigging with a sigh. Anything less
and they were becalmed upon the sea. "I dare say," ventured
Kennedy, "we are expected to erect a jury-rig, rescue her cargo and
sail her with all due haste for Spithead." Hornblower looked closely
at his friend. The days since they had rejoined the Indy had seen
Kennedy lose the haunted look he had had while a prisoner of the
Spanish, and even some of the diffidence that had always plagued him
aboard the Justinian. In quiet moments, though, Hornblower knew the
ghosts of the past still dragged at him. It would take a long time
for those particular wounds to heal. Every day and night that passed
without his falling victim to a fit seemed to increase his strength
and confidence, just a little, but after his days of capture and
confinement he no longer cared to hide a certain cynicism for life in
His Majesty's Navy.

"If it can be done, Archie, then I for one intend to do it."

"Aye, Sir, of-course. I also. Those are our orders, then?"
Hornblower demurred. Pellew had been vague at best, but then,
dispatches of command were wonders of wording. He imagined the Lords
of the Admiralty strutting across polished floors, dictating their
whims to weary scribes like gods on high. 'Take this ship' or 'harry
and distress' that one, just as they pleased, as though in England's
name it were easily done.

"Whereaway is she, Horatio?"

"Somewhere near La Rochelle." Kennedy thought for a moment.

"Well that explains why it falls to us. Who else would be mad
enough to risk captivity for a shipwreck?" Though he acknowledged
the quip with a smile, Hornblower prayed inwardly for favourable
winds to speed them to the stricken vessel.

 

An ugly sight for any sailor to behold when a ship is claimed by the
ocean. Still worse is it when the agony is prolonged and a part of
her protrudes from the surface. A man at sea needs no reminder of
his mortality, for it follows with every storm, every engagement with
an enemy, every case for treatment by the doctor. The midsummer
tempest that had raged along the coastline thereabouts had left
behind it only a fitful wind that blew in squalls from dark clouds
that hurried overhead. There seemed to be dust even in the damp air
that left greyish smears on faces and arms just from walking the
length of the waist. To the east lay the port of La Rochelle, the
fortifications of its coastal garrison just visible as a dark shape
atop the cliff. From a distance, Colossus appeared a monstrous
flying fish, forever suspended in its moment of re-entry to the
water. As they drew closer, Hornblower looked through his glass.
She was showing her hull at her stern, and was presumably nosing
whatever had struck her at an angle close to forty-five degrees. The
distance and the interminable motion of the waves made it impossible
to be sure, but he thought he could detect a slight movement of the
hulk against her surroundings. It was likely that she would sink
from sight before too long. Mercifully, he judged her to be out of
range of the French guns, but it would be by a matter of yards and no
more. If they were too long at their task, they could face the
threat of a column of artillery moved on to the curvature of the
rock. Worse still, a chain of signals along the line of defence
could rally French ships from the north and the south, brought in
haste, perhaps, out of ordinary, but crewed with desperate men.

Hornblower retired from watch expecting a summons from Pellew, but
none came. He left Kennedy nervously studying his 'Dictionary of the
Marine' and arrived on the Quarterdeck in time to catch a glimpse of
the elusive sun. Pellew stood alone at the rail, given his
accustomed wide berth by his crew. Hornblower stayed well to
larboard and had to content himself with looking to the empty western
horizon.

"Mr. Hornblower." This could not have come soon enough. Worse than
whatever awaited them was having to endure this forced inertia. He
joined the Captain to starboard.

"Sir."

"What do you make of her?" Matthews stood a little way off,
overseeing a repair to the standing rigging of the mizzenmast.
Although he did not take his eyes off the men at the spars, he
listened with interest. How could you answer a question like that?

"I am unsure of what holds her out of the water. With respect, Sir,
I submit that we take a boat to her as soon as we can."

"Quite so, Mr. Hornblower. Captain Balmane would agree with you."

"Captain Balmane, Sir?"

"The Colossus is his ship. Or it was." Hornblower kept silent.
Imprudent to question the abilities of an absent and superior officer
when in the company of another who may well have personal feelings on
the matter. "At sunset, be ready with Mr. Kennedy and take four men
with you. Keep to windward of her - but I don't need to tell you
that. Leave two men armed and waiting in the boat."

"I thought we might leave all four there, Sir, assuming -"

"Assume nothing, Mr. Hornblower. Nothing. From what we are able to
ascertain, there is no-one alive remaining on board, but observations
from this distance can only be conjecture." Was there then a threat
from Englishmen? With some difficulty, Hornblower overcame his
desire to ask.

"Aye-aye, Sir."

"Sunset will mean you've enough light, but it'll be too late for the
French to cause you undue trouble." An exact time for sunset would
be difficult to establish, given the hurrying clouds, but Hornblower
appreciated the wisdom of his captain's plans. "You are all
impatience, I assume, Mr. Hornblower?"

"I confess I was anxious to begin the task at hand, Sir."

"Youth is always impatient. No doubt you will learn to wait, when
waiting would be the prudent course. Be prepared for anything."
Pellew's countenance was so grave that Hornblower knew a moment's
doubt. He returned his direct gaze, and could not recall having seen
such an expression in his eyes before, even before they were to board
the Papillon.

"Sir, I trust we are looking for Admiralty papers?"

"They are your priority, yes, but anything else that is useful and
comes to hand" There was a sudden restlessness in the older
man. "I leave it entirely to your discretion. Do you what you w -
what you can. Carry on, Mr. Hornblower and good luck."

 

Within half an hour, the boat cast off from Indefatigable carrying
Hornblower, Kennedy, Matthews, Styles, Oldroyd and Kincaid. Kennedy
sat shivering, trying not to think of the relative comforts of the
midshipman's mess. They had all sacrificed the protection of pea-
jackets for greater mobility on what they hoped would be a short and
straightforward duty. While the hands had at least their work at the
oars to warm them, he and Hornblower sat motionless in the cooling
evening. The spray that reached them was bracing.

"Nearly there, men." Oldroyd was glad that he was unable to see the
upended hulk of the ship, but faced back towards the Indy. What
officers did and why was something he'd long ago given up trying to
understand. Sometimes, orders made perfect sense, and others, none
at all. Whatever was to be had from the Colossus was either sunk or
gone to the frogs, and here they were hauling over from an evening's
sport to skulk around within spitting distance of the coast. He
caught Matthews' eye but said nothing. It was a gentle reckoning
that he had been made to pay for his allegiance to Hunter at El
Ferrol, but it was a reckoning nonetheless.

"Matthews, Oldroyd, you will remain here. Stay alert, stay armed,
and if you see anything, anything at all, be sure to call to us. The
rest of you gentlemen, come with me." Boarding the Colossus from
this angle was no simple matter. Styles and Kincaid swung ropes with
grappling hooks to catch over the rail and then scaled hand-over-hand
against the timbers. There was no easy way of remaining upright on
her planking, either, as every surface angled down towards the deep.
Hornblower wondered if it would have been worth taking the boat
around her to see if whatever held her fast was visible below the
waves, but Pellew had been clear on that point. Keep to windward,
which was good advice, and it was anyway unlikely that they could
refloat her.

They made their way as best they could along the slanting
quarterdeck. Little more than the Captain's cabins and the wardroom
remained above the waterline. She lurched underneath them with each
wave, a hideous parody of her movements afloat, and the moans of
protest from the submerged decks were as the death agonies of some
unearthly creature. Styles cursed aloud and immediately apologised.
Hornblower saw him look at his hands, on which, even in the fast-
fading light, he could see the blood. He looked at his own hands and
was startled to see blood there too. His single-minded concentration
had left him unaware that the rails they clung to were sharp with
splinters. Whatever had finally sunk Colossus, she had come under
heavy fire.

The Captain's cabin bore further witness to battle. It was a ruinous
mess of splintered timbers and debris, but they managed to drag a sea
chest clear and force the heavy lock. Their apprehension of the act
made itself felt in the sound of their breathing, audible amid the
groans of the ship around them. Inside lay fresh shirts and linen,
and Hornblower's cautious probing produced a box that had been placed
in such a way as to have padding provided by the clothes. It was
about a foot square, and a seascape was exquisitely carved in relief
on the lid. A cursory attempt to open it revealed that it was locked.

"Allow me, Sir." Styles slid forward, securing his legs around a
table and pulling a small knife from his belt. Hornblower was glad
to relinquish the box, since the bar they had used for the chest was
far too large to open anything smaller without serious damage. No
doubt the hands were far more at home at such precarious angles than
he and Kennedy. Styles set to work carefully, and with slow
precision worked the thin blade up and down in the small space until
the lock yielded with an audible click. As he opened the lid, there
began a buzzing sound, as though a sleepy bee were the occupant, and
then a sweet succession of musical notes from a hidden mechanism came
clearly to them. The contents were a strange mix. To either side
lay a bundle of letters; one pile appeared to be sealed and the other
read. Between them was an assortment of things: an orange pomander,
a battered peg-doll, a handkerchief initialled BB. They looked on in
silence as the melancholy little tune came to an end. A violent
shudder was felt synonymously with the sound of a gun booming across
the bay.

"Horatio!" Kennedy was nearest to the window. "They're firing from
the south!" Hornblower needed no further prompting. The boat lay
exposed to fire from the unseen guns, and if they were to lose it,
they would in all probability lose their careers and their freedom,
if not their lives.

"Mr. Kennedy, tell Mr. Matthews to take the boat around to the north
of us with all haste. We will re-embark there." Another crash, and
this time the reverberation was accompanied by a muted creaking from
far below them.

"Which way should he go?!"

"Whichever way he thinks best, Mr. Kennedy. Quickly now!"
Hornblower caught the fear in his friend's tone and regretted his
harsh response. It was a sensible enough question, he had to own,
but every moment's indecision could cost them a life.

"After you, Sir." Styles was still strung between the frame of the
desk at floor level, seemingly as at ease as when hanging from the
shrouds or scrambling about in the hold. Kincaid, tall and gangling,
was wedged between a cupboard door and the other end of the desk.
The situation was as ludicrous as anything from 'Will Wimble' or some
such and made him smile.

"No, no, Styles, after you." He got the briefest flash of Styles'
ear-to-ear grin as he let himself slide towards the bulkheads. "Mr.
Kennedy, are they clear in the boat?"

"They are." Another rumble from the guns, but no corresponding
impact meant that this time they were not hit. Hornblower retrieved
the two piles of letters from the box, took off his coat and made a
bundle of them as securely as he could.

Heedless, this time, of either dignity or splinters, the four men
scrambled to the far side of the quarterdeck, jumped into the water
and swam to the boat. Oldroyd had caught the bundle that Hornblower
had thrown to him, hoping it was nothing unsavoury.

"I'm sorry, Sir. We did keep a look-out, but we saw no guns outside
the fort, Sir."

"Not your fault, Matthews, neither did we. Everyone aboard? Then
let's to the Indy."

"Beggin' yer pardon, Sir, but we went for'ard a bit, while you were
on t'ship." He concentrated on rowing for a few moments after this
comment. Hornblower was torn between impatience to reach the
Indefatigable and impatience to hear Matthews' report. Kennedy
shivered beside him, looking to the south. Now that they had a clear
view of the shore, all was dark against the gathering gloom. Not a
single light gave evidence of any human activity, and the guns were
silent. "That's why we came from leeward, Sir. 'Twas the quicker
way around. We couldn't be sure, but it sounds daft, but I think
what's underneath 'er is, well, Sir, another ship."

Pellew had been dressed and in the waist to receive them. Doubtless
the firing could be heard from the decks, though she had dropped
anchor out of range of any guns ashore. Once in dry clothes,
Hornblower and Kennedy repaired to Pellew's day cabin. While his
steward poured the wine, they recounted briefly what had happened,
prior to writing a full report.

"You saw no-one aboard? Alive or dead?"

"No Sir, no-one." They had none of them looked too closely at what
floated in the twilight among the debris, but the smell of
putrefaction in its early stages had not reached them.

"Would you say there was evidence of anyone having been there before
you, in the wreck?" The two men exchanged glances.

"It was difficult to say, Sir. They had been under fire, as we
mentioned, and all was in some disarray."

"These papers," Pellew tapped the piles of letters on his desk, "they
were in a box, you say?"

"Aye, Sir. The desk drawers were empty -"

"They had not been forced?"

"- No, Sir, unless it were very skilfully done." A Captain was
expected to keep his head and vouchsafe his orders, or dispose of
them by any means necessary, rather than deliver them into enemy
hands. It appeared that Captain Balmane had had time enough to take
them, but where was he, and where were they, now? Hornblower found
himself staring at the painting of the ship that was hung to his
right.

"You will find no answers there, Mr. Hornblower."

"I expected none, Sir, but that picture, it is the same as that on
the lid of the box in the Colossus." Pellew said nothing, while
Kennedy turned to stare at the painting. "I do not believe I am
mistaken - "

"What of it?" The younger men knew discomfort then, and coloured.
Pellew rose and paced the confines of the cabin for a few moments,
coming to rest before the paintings. "Knowing your enemy is a wise
course of action, Gentlemen. What I tell you now, I tell you as your
senior officer and one who has seen a great many sacrifices in the
name of duty." Hornblower fixed his gaze upon the spread of papers
on the desk, each one of the nearer pile bearing the name of 'Captain
Bartholomew Balmane, RN.'

 

The men clustered around those newly returned to the lower gun deck,
wanting news. What was in the ship? What was under it? Why were
they fired on from south of the port? Matthews shrugged them all off
with a curt reminder that they were all tired, and Styles and Kincaid
wet through from their plunge into the sea.

" and where were you when we were being fired on, eh?" Oldroyd
ploughed the straight furrow, as always, and got a slap on the head
from Styles for his trouble.

"They were 'ere, weren't they? Captain didn't give the order to fire
on 'alf the French army that might be camped out over there. Funny
that."

"'alf the French army, I bloody 'ope not, but
som'at's 'appened 'ere. Those guns came from out o' nowhere."

"At least we 'eard the end of the tune though, eh?" Styles, by now,
was swigging beer, and in better humour for it. The men began
yarning with him, and Matthews was relieved to keep his own counsel.
The guns were unexpected, but which ship lay underneath the Colossus?

 

"We were no older than you, Tolly and I, when we served on the
Licorne. He was First Lieutenant, and I Second. When Spring came,
we were sent as part of a small squadron to survey the Spanish, who
reputedly had men-of-war ranged the length of the Patagonian coast."
Pellew's speech was measured, as though an outcome depended greatly
on what he chose to say. He rarely indulged his memory, and his two
listeners paid rapt attention.

"We had taken fresh provisions at Madeira, and had fair winds for the
Straits, but we were scattered nonetheless, and there was typhus
aboard. Of the Spanish we saw little, which was well, though every
man was keen to smite an enemy. A day in late July saw us in a
heavy-running sea off Port St. Julian. There was a ship, at anchor
in the foul weather, that we took for Spanish. We anchored, also,
lest we were run aground. They call that place 'The Island of True
Justice'. No doubt you both know why, as we did. It does not need
a gibbet to start talk of ill omen. Captain Cadogan was indisposed
with fever. It fell to Lieutenant Balmane to command La Licorne,
while I was to take charge of two boats to capture the other ship."
He paused to drain his glass, and refilled it before continuing,
gesturing to Hornblower and Kennedy to do likewise as they wished.

"We had thought - we had assumed, that ours were the advantages of
surprise and strength of arms. Our probable isolation in Spanish
waters, and the ravages of sickness among our men had decided us upon
a night-attack as a course of action." Hornblower longed to ask
questions, but held his tongue. "We were wrong." Six bells could
just be heard, followed by muffled noises. They showed no light that
would reveal their position to the lookouts on shore, rendering the
duties of the ship more onerous than usual. Presently, all
settled. "The Marisol de Deus was Spanish, but not one of King
Charles'."

"A privateer, Sir?"

"Yes, Mr. Kennedy. To be more accurate, a pirate ship, but well-
armed and well-crewed, and we were no match for them. They had put
up no boarding nets, and we felt ourselves secure. As soon as we had
boarded her, they weighed anchor and headed to shore."

"Something of a risky venture for them, Sir."

"Indeed, but they were the most desperate and daring men and cruel."

"You were all captured then, Sir?"

"We were taken prisoner, yes." Shouting was heard from the deck.
Pellew seemed not to hear it, but waited in silence until the
inevitable cautious knock at the door.

"Sir, there is a boat come alongside. The occupant asks permission
to board." Lieutenant Bracegirdle's tone suggested he would favour
withholding that permission.

"Who is the occupant? Will he announce himself?" If Pellew were
surprised, it did not pierce his annoyance.

"Ahh, he- he says he is, ahem, a Captain of the French Navy, Sir."
He stifled a smile, while Hornblower and Kennedy exchanged knowing
glances. Only a madman would claim to be a French naval officer
while requesting permission to board an English ship of war, and what
genuine captain would sail alone in a boat?

"You are quite sure he is alone, Mr. Bracegirdle?"

"Yes Sir, we've made certain of it, and there are armed marines on
deck to look after him." Pellew sighed.

"Very well, I'll come." He paused to look the three of them up and
down. "If you care to come with me, Gentlemen? You will have to do
your best to impress upon this `Captain' the extreme efficiency of
His Majesty's Navy."

Six marines stood with their muskets aimed overside at the boat. The
man held a horn lantern which he sheltered with his cloak. His
features were exaggerated in the faint light, and the flickering
leant him a look of the grotesque.

"Whom do I have the honour of addressing, Sir?" Pellew
unsuspectingly opened the floodgates.

" Monsieur! Je suis venu cette nuit pour demander votre aide ! Je
suis un Capitaine de la Marine Révolutionnaire, Monsieur, mais ma
mère était un Bourbon ! Je veux voyager avec vous, Monsieur, dans
votre bâteau célèbre!'' The man in the boat continued with his
passionate entreaty while nearly a dozen faces stared down at him
from the darkened deck.

"What the devil is he babbling about?"

"He says, Sir, that though he is a Captain of the, ah, the rebel
navy, he would like passage on ourour famous ship because his mother
was a Bourbon "

"His mother - ?"

"- was a Bourbon, Sir, yes, so he has blood ties to the royal "

"I know the implications, thank you, Mr. Hornblower." Pellew put his
hands to his mouth and called down, competing with the voluble
Frenchman. "What is your name, Sir?" The stream of French broke off
mid-flow.

"Hi am Capitain de Corveille!"

"We will receive you, Sir!" He turned to his officer and lowered his
voice. "Thank heavens. Mr. Bracegirdle, I do not think it fit to
greet our unexpected guest with the customary ceremonial at this
hour, but please make the necessary arrangements with the wardroom."

"Aye-aye, Sir." The visitor ascended speedily to them, though the
effort seemed to exhaust him. Pellew cast a glance overside, but
there was nothing to be seen in the darkness except the faintest
outline of the boat. Once he had recovered breath, de Corveille
continued in near-flawless, though heavily-accented English.

"You think I do not look like a Capitain. I am in disguise. This
is `ow I am `ere." He drew himself up to his full height, which was
some way short of his English onlookers, who stared down
incredulously. Underneath his cloak, his clothes were those of an
ordinary seaman and, from their ill fit, probably came from a ship's
communal chest.

"You are most welcomeerr, Captain." Pellew gave a cursory and
rather awkward bow, which met with a courtly flourish that saw the
man's doffed hat almost scrape the deck. "Err, tell me, Sir, where
is your ship - ?" De Corveille puffed out his chest and opened his
mouth, spreading his arms wide as though he would pour forth another
torrent of woe and flattery. " - right now, where is your ship,
right now, Sir?" He could not fail to note Pellew's intonation, and
merely pointed, out beyond the boat that had brought him to the Indy,
and straight to the wreck of the Colossus.

 

Captain Pellew had hesitated to offer spirits for his refreshment,
fearing it might loosen the Frenchman's tongue even further. They
wanted information, but he had no faith in the adage that truth is
found in the cups. By rights they should have sat as equals, Captain
to Captain, alone in his cabin, but he was irked at the thought of
wading through the flummery he would undoubtedly hear, only to have
to repeat it to his officers, and thus Bracegirdle and Hornblower sat
with him. Hornblower was tired after his day's exertions, but
nonetheless pleased to attend his captain. There was always the
possibility that the man was some crazed martyr, prepared to
assassinate an English officer for the revolutionary cause and his
own reputation. De Corveille didn't seem to take it as an insult,
however, and his florid features lit up at the sight of Pellew's
Madeira.

"You say that the Colossus is your ship, Sir?" The three Englishmen
kept their composure while they played their bluff. De Corveille
turned dark eyes that glittered like gimlets to Hornblower, who had
posed the question.

"Monsieur Horrenblower," he made a special effort to pronounce
the `H', "You know very well that this ship you speak of is Eenglish,
built by you yourselves of your Eenglish oak and with your Eenglish
" he gestured expressively, causing Bracegirdle to flinch
involuntarily from the Madeira which came perilously close to his
sleeve, "- shapes." Here he nodded vigorously to add emphasis. "My
ship, the Résolu, is underneath your ship, out there, in the dark,
the cold, the impitoyable sea." It appeared that the hapless Captain
was about to cry, so strong were his emotions. Pellew poured more
Madeira and Bracegirdle tugged self-consciously at his waistcoat.

"How did your ship come to be there, Captain De Corveille? And how
do you come to be here? We saw no sign of you this afternoon as we
neared this vicinity."

"Aha! But I saw you, Capitain Pellew and you Monsieur Horrenblower,
you with your men in a boat, proceeding to the sunken ships. It is a
brave thing to board `er, no? I thought so." He raised his glass in
an impromptu toast which was hastily joined by Pellew and
Bracegirdle, with murmurs of `hear hear'. Hornblower swallowed and
tried not to squirm in his seat. "May I ask, what did you find?"
Before his question could be answered, Pellew intervened.

"I daresay, Sir, that there was little more of discernible interest
or use on board her than there is now in your ship the `Résolu' you
say? You were about to tell us what happened to her."

"Well Capitain, she was sunk, yes?" Pellew did his best to smile at
the joke. A moment ago the man had been nearly inconsolable in his
loss. He seemed now to perceive his host's impatience. "Forgive
me. I am a man who, as you say, must laugh if `e will not cry. It
is a long and sorry story, gentlemen, but in brief I tell you, that
Résolu was sent under my command to embrace your Eenglish ship as she
approached La Rochelle in the storms. Warning guns were fired, I
assure you, and were ignored. I did not wish to engage your ship,
because I wanted to make good my own escape, with my men, to
Eengland, to you."

"You disobeyed your orders, Sir?!" Such insubordination was heinous,
even in an enemy, and Pellew took no trouble to dissemble.

"I would not open fire on this ship. I thought it better to
negotiate."

"What was the reaction of the English Captain to your
negotiations?" De Corveille flung wide his arms again.

"I shall never know it. We were still within range of the guns in
the fort. They fired on us. Our guns had no chance against theirs.
We were never able to " he sketched with his hands the vertical
trajectory of a gun's elevation, "to reach them. Within minutes we
were put through, up `igh and in the `old. So fast, we sank, that
your ship, she pulled `erself over to avoid us and then straight into
the path of these guns, which carry away the big mast and then she
cannot steer. All was madness. I `ope never to see such things
again." His agitation had subsided into melancholy. The others were
silent, picturing the chaos and carnage of two great warships impaled
upon each other under fire, their backs broken.

"What of the men, Sir? Yours and ours?" He shook his head sadly.

"Many were drowned, or killed with the guns, as you would guess.
Their bodies were pulled from the water by brave fishermen near the
shore when the storm was done. The rest of them are prisoners of the
People of France."

"And you? Why are you not a prisoner, Sir?"

"I was detained also. My men are very loyal to me, Capitain Pellew.
They give me their clothes to `elp me. The authorities force the men
to fight for the Republic, but they will kill their officers like
dogs. I think per'aps you know this? My men told them that Capitain
de Corveille is lost in Résolu and I join them in the town to wait
for another ship. I see you from the shore, because I am looking
always for escape. Then, when it is dark, I take a boat and `la."

"Did none of your men care to come with you, Sir?" Hornblower could
ascertain no reason for the man to lie. No spy would dare take such
a risk, unless he were careless of his life.

"They did not. With me, on a ship, they would make for Eengland,
where we could fight on for our beloved France, but to steal away."
He stared morosely into his glass. "This is their country, my
friends. Would you leave Eengland, even an Eengland bloody with
revolution, to come to France?" Pellew, Bracegirdle and Hornblower
all met his eye as he looked from one to the other, but none felt
able to answer. "I leave because I `ave lost more than they and
yes, I `ave still more to lose." His hand flew to his neck in a
gesture that left nothing to their imagination. Pellew shifted
uncomfortably in his chair, and Hornblower recognised his captain's
upright stance.

"Gentlemen, it grows late. I propose that we transport you to
England, as you have requested, Captain de Corveille. You are
fortunate in that we are bound for London, so you may state your case
to the King and to Parliament, as you will. My officers will make
you welcome aboard." Eight bells sounded.

"I'm to take the watch, Sir." Bracegirdle looked to Captain Pellew,
who gave his assent. There could be no sleeping on watch in hostile
waters, and his First Lieutenant was blessedly competent. When he
had gone, de Corveille motioned to Balmane's letters, still strewn
over the desk.

"Are these the spoils of war, Capitain Pellew?"

"For the moment, it would seem." He looked pointedly towards
Hornblower as he replied. Whatever information they contained was
not a matter for careless discussion.

"Will you go back for more?" Damn the man's infernal questions!
Pellew began to suspect that the popular insult of likening Frenchmen
to gossiping women was not far from the truth. "You `ave not read
the papers, Sir, or you would not `esitate to answer. Per'aps what
you want is there, in that `eap in front of you. Or per'aps it is
still on board the sinking ship, with not even the rats for company."

"What do you know of the things I seek?" Hornblower was acutely
aware of the strange undercurrent to their conversation. Both men,
as Captains, were used to getting what they wanted, with or without a
fight.

"You should know, Capitain, that I spoke to your fellow Capitain,
Balmane, before `e died, and `e told me that you would come, an
Eenglish ship, and that what you wanted" that nodding again, "what
you wanted was to be found, waiting for you." The effect on Pellew
was obvious. He rose, the chair rasping along the wood of the deck,
and went to stand at the windows. Somewhere in the direction of his
gaze lay the Colossus, slowly yielding to the beckoning sea, and
underneath her the Résolu, vanquished bearer of a proud name. Light
from the east diffused the darkness to shades of black, one on
another in the moving water.

"How did he die?"

"'E was to be executed for attempting to incite mutiny." Hornblower
saw that Pellew's expression, for one moment, registered disgust at
the unproven charge. "'E would not co-operate, and `e took `is own
life before they could shoot `im." Only silence was a fitting wake
for his words, but de Corveille could not hold his tongue for
long. "I am sorry, for `im and for you, but for Eengland "

"England has a great many loyal subjects, Sir." It was meant to put
an end to his loquacity, but he pressed on.

"- but surely, Capitain, you must go back, and soon, if these papers
it is Providence that she is "

"A Providence for fools, man! I will not send my officers aboard a
sinking ship that may be fired on again!" Even de Corveille had no
rejoinder for the moment.

"Ha-h'm, what do you know of the artillery to the south of the port,
Sir?" Hornblower had rarely seen Pellew lose his temper, and never
so much so that he shook with it.

"That is something of which I know nothing, Monsieur Horrenblower.
When I saw them firing at you this afternoon, I was as surprised as
you. There is much talk of an invasion `ere, but I think it is all
talk." The man's shoulders slumped in resignation, and in seeing him
Hornblower was suddenly consumed with the need for sleep. He bit his
lip in consternation. This was not the time for dozing.

"We should all to our beds, gentlemen. Mr. Hornblower, kindly report
to me with Mr. Kennedy at the next watch." He spoke absently, still
staring out into the darkness.

"Aye-aye, Sir." Hornblower held the door for their guest and
followed him out. He did not look back, but he heard the rustle of
the papers upon the desk, and the single word "Tolly."

Pellew began with the smaller, sealed pile which Balmane had written
with the intention of sending when next he joined the Fleet. The
character of the hand was so familiar to him that it recalled
wardroom memories with painful clarity. He had written, as he did
everything, as if racing against the end of the world. Mostly they
were short missives concerning business matters; to a shipwright
asking preferential rates for planking it would amuse him to
present it to the Board if it compared favourably to current charges;
to a wine merchant regarding some dispute over a bill and, bizarrely
enough, to his barber, enquiring about the time of fitting for
powdered wigs. Pellew could not see him as a court man, unless he
were under duress. Among the few more personal items of
correspondence was a letter to his wife which was incomplete and
therefore unsealed. Here he hesitated. He had no wish to pry into
their particular relations, but then, perhaps the years had brought
them to an understanding which allowed for his confidence in her. A
brief glance at the content told him they had not. The phrases he
used were cursory where they were not borrowed from the expectations
of etiquette. He put the letter aside with the rest, suspecting that
it was unfinished only because it was the hardest to write.

In contrast, the larger pile was comprised entirely of personal
letters. He leafed through months-old news of London Society from
friends and patrons there, and rural society from the steward of his
small estate near Winchester. There was even a letter from a married
lady, though it contained nothing that would directly compromise her
honour, should it ever fall astray. None of them were from his wife,
nor were there any that pertained to his career.

Pellew let the last letter slide from his fingers to the desk and
rubbed his eyes. It was light, although the sun was not yet risen,
and his surroundings began to resume the warm hues of the day.
Hornblower and Kennedy would soon be at his door. What had he to
tell them? None of the papers in their possession could be of value
to the Admiralty. If they existed, if this Corveille were telling
the truth, then they were lost or they were taken. Surely they were
not still in the ruins of the Colossus? So many `if's was
scant
basis on which to send capable officers against such appalling odds.
The painted ship, in its eternal night, seemed a silent warning.

 

"You slept well, I trust?" Kennedy was baiting his friend,
whose
eyes were bloodshot and his face unshaven.

"Were you then unable to hear Captain de Corveille from your
berth,
Archie?"

"He snores?! Or does he declaim speeches about the patriotism of
running away?" They were in the waist, heading for their
appointment
with Captain Pellew. Bracegirdle intercepted them.

"Good morning Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy. It seems our friends
to
the south are tired of our company already." They turned to see.

Not much was visible to the naked eye, but there was definite
movement, headed around towards the town itself. "There's a
column
of infantry and the artillery's at the rear, but they're a
sorry
sight. I'd say they've been fighting elsewhere."

"They fired on us by chance then?"

"We were too good an opportunity to miss, Archie."

"They did miss us though, Sir, didn't they?" Oldroyd was
leaning on
his mop, beaming cheerfully at his officers.

"Oldroyd! Get back to work there!" Matthews was stood
behind him
with his starter, but his shipmate knew him well enough to discount
its threat, and continued to smile as he resumed his cleaning.

"They found one target." Hornblower pointed to a shot
hole in the
side of Colossus. From this distance it was the only damage to be
seen above the waterline. He and Kennedy made their way to
Pellew's
cabin in silence.

 

"There were no other papers than these, Mr. Hornblower, you are
sure?"

"Aye, Sir. The chest contained only clothing and the box."

"Mr. Bracegirdle informs me that the guns are moving from the
south."

"We saw them ourselves, Sir. Do you wish us to return the
Colossus?" Kennedy would have his answer, in the hope that it
might
stop his churning thoughts. Addressed directly, Pellew could no
longer postpone the issue. The wreck lay in his line of vision. In
the gentle undulation of the waves, she appeared permanent,
unchanging as a rock. Conversely, there was something obscene about
her, as though she were dredged from the farthest corners of an
unreasoning mind, a horror in full view of men who had once had their
counterparts in her own crew. He drummed his fingers agitatedly on
the sill.

"Was there anything in the box besides these letters?"

"Only personal items, Sir." He continued at a look from
Pellew. "A a handkerchief, I think, and a doll of
some sort.
There was something else a pomander, an orange pomander, stuck
with
cloves."

"My God." Pellew's whisper was barely audible. He sat
heavily in
his chair. Kennedy looked wide-eyed at Hornblower. What would the
Admiralty want with these baubles? "Mr. Kennedy, call for my
steward
if you please. We shall have coffee."

"Aye-aye, Sir." When he was again seated, Pellew took a deep
breath.

"You will recall I was captured aboard the Marisol de Deus?"
Both
men murmured affirmation. "I have never, before or since,
suffered
such indignities. My men were killed in front of me, and thrown
overboard. They kept me alive, I can only assume for purposes of
bartering, but I was wretched enough to wish I were dead." His
words
had such resonance for both the young men who sat before him that
they paid no heed to Pellew's steward, who poured the coffee and
retreated in haste. He had served a Flag-Captain under Admiral
Jervis, and had perfected the art of being simultaneously on-hand and
unobtrusive. The bitter, scalding liquid tasted good to each of them.

"I guessed La Licorne to have retreated to open sea as she
should.
I thought I heard boats that came and went, but I was in the hold,
and had no idea of time, day or night. Often they came to force me
to talk to them, but we could not understand one another. One
of my
men, whom they had shown no mercy, had spoken some Spanish. It was
almost I wanted to laugh at them. I did laugh at them, and
they -
my health declined. They sent boys with water and well, it was
not
burgoo." His smile appeared a grimace, but he kept his
voice low
and level. Anyone hearing that he spoke, but not his words, would
think he conversed on mundane matters. "Then, how much later I
do
not know, he came. Thaddeus was Tolly's son. Tolly had married
young, and the boy had been born at sea. He pretended to be mute, so
they would not know him for English. They took him for a simpleton
and were as brutal to him as to any and all. I feared for
him as I
feared for myself if I should no longer see him. Such a small
thing
to make such a difference. It were easier to live without hope than
to feel each day the desperation to escape. They had left to me
the
muskets I had when I boarded. It seemed to them a fine joke that I
had not the means to fire them, as both, of-course, were empty.
Thaddeus brought me a pomander, and this, too, made them laugh. You
can imagine that it was wholly ineffectual. I thought at first
perhaps he had lost his wits, and when I was once again alone, I
could think of nothing but to eat the orange." The room was lit
by
the rising sun, sudden and piercing through the stern windows. To
the younger men, blinking as they adjusted to the light, Pellew
became a dark silhouette on the instant.

"He had wrapped powder and shot in greased parchment, folded
small
and concealed in the centre of the fruit. I hatched and abandoned a
dozen plans, more. Yet what saved me was my decision to wait
until
I had the boy with me. I determined he should have a musket, if he
so wanted, for the service he had done me. The hardest lesson
learnt is one of patience, gentlemen. Time passed in misery is
immeasurable. I was half-mad for the small chance I should have
and only when he came for me did I know that it was lunacy to have
attempted a lone escape. I knew not their numbers, nor their skill,
not even the scant advantages of a deserter and I could barely
stand
unaided. Thaddeus helped me from the hold and up through the ship.
It was night, and in my rags I was took for one of the brigands.
There were too few awake even to be called a watch. The air"
he
paused for a moment as though he could not go on. " it was
so. I
was light-headed. We reached the rail, and I saw he meant us to swim
a short distance, to a boat moored on the shore line. The bay curved
back from her stern, and once we had manned her we would be shielded
from the Marisol within seconds. I hesitated." He paused
again. "It cost us dear. One of their number, a man I
recognised,
approached us and started muttering in Spanish to Thaddeus. The boy
shot him, and so did I: two shots spent, one wasted, and the whole
ship to rise against us. I heard another shot and fell back, half
overside. The boy pushed me and I fell to the water. With the
shock, I knew I was hit, and I struggled for the surface. He was not
with me. They shouted from the deck and I saw they had him there.
He shouted to me to go in English."

Pellew was silent for a long time as the steam from the coffee
diminished into wisps, illumined by the sun. From somewhere on the
open deck came a shout of `Look lively!' hastily followed by
a harsh
reprimand of unintelligible words. It seemed to recover Pellew to
the present and he rose to pace the deck.

"Captain Cadogan had resumed command, and was somewhat surprised
to
see me with little more than a wounded shoulder. I had been at sea
in the open boat for two days, following the northward course I
guessed La Licorne to have sailed as best I could. Luck is so fickle
a creature that I wondered it was she, when she hove to view, and not
a Spaniard, or even, by some freakish chance, the Marisol de Deus.
They had thought us lost and so we were, all except me. I could
not
face Tolly, my fellow officer and my friend, unless it were to find a
way to restore his son to him. We sat in Cadogan's cabin,
much as
you do here. He heard our report and we heard his refusal. He
was
right, of-course. There could be no doubt of it. So much risk for
one life, that possibly already. The captain was not yet
well." He
spoke these words with a slow deliberation. "That night, he was
taken again with fever and returned to his cot by Doctor Ennis.
Tolly would contemplate returning south no more than Cadogan, even
though the winds favoured us. I said I would take a boat if he would
not risk the Licorne, and there were any number of men who would come
with me, to rescue their officer's only son, and to avenge their
shipmates. Still he refused me." Pellew stood again before
the
painting, as though it held a secret imparted only to him. He
sighed. "I instructed the men of my division to lower a boat in
the
night. They believed they were to come with me, but I cast off
alone, and armed with my muskets. It were not possible to overcome
the Marisol de Deus with even a boatload, and nor did I intend to
try. Stealth was the only option and if not
that." He did not
finish his sentence, and Hornblower knew with a shock that he
referred to a bargain of his life for the other. "Never follow
me in
my dishonour, either of you."

"Surely it were an honourable thing, Sir, to " Kennedy
voiced the
thoughts of them both.

"It was at best misguided, Mr. Kennedy, and at worst - it was the
worst, I tell you now. If it were not for my actions that night, we
would in all probability not be here now. We should not delay
further."

"We will return to the Colossus, Sir?"

"Yes, Mr. Hornblower, we shall lose no more time."

"Sir, you you were recaptured?" Kennedy could not but
ask.

"That is correct, Mr. Kennedy. I was once more a prisoner of the
Marisol de Deus, and this time I knew they would kill me."

 

De Corveille was strutting about in the waist already, spruce in
sponged clothing. It seemed to Hornblower that even the faintly
ridiculous plume in the man's hat had revived in the night. As soon
as he saw the three officers, he bore down on them with an
ingratiating smile.

"Captain de Corveille!" Pellew was just a fraction quicker than his
French guest. "We have an urgent matter to attend to and then we
shall make sail for England." De Corveille's smile was gone.

"This urgent matter would be another boat to your dead ship, I think?"

"You need not be concerned with our business here, Sir. Please
partake of some breakfast or or something else that would be
acceptable to you."

"What I want is to help -"

"Out of the question. I'm sorry, but I'm sure that as a captain
yourself, you will understand why I cannot allow it." Pellew's
manner was brisk. Few men would have continued to press him, and
already he had turned his attention to the boat, which was being
lowered for its journey.

"I do understand, but Sir, I must insist!" Pellew turned back to him
in a fury as the man gabbled on. "These papers, they are as
important to me as to you. France is my country, overrun by these
parvenus, and the Résolu was my ship. When your Capitain Balmane
went to 'is death, only I was there, only I knew of 'is great
sacrifice for 'is country. It is for me I ask to go." Everyone
in
earshot waited for Pellew's answer, which was strangely
unforthcoming. He only stared at the Frenchman, whom it seemed to
unnerve. "I will, eerr, not of-course take command. That I leave to
Mister Horrenblower. Of-course."

 

This time, besides de Corveille, Hornblower took only Styles with
him, to row them to the ship and back. More men would make no
difference against shore-mounted guns. The French had presumably
believed whatever had been Captain Balmane's story and not imperilled
lives and boats in stormy weather to prove it false. That they had
accepted the loss of Colossus' innards hadn't stopped them firing on
her, however, when they had seen Les Anglais mount their earlier
exploration. The sun was clear of the horizon now and the wreck
before them darker than ever in the water. Hornblower shivered
involuntarily. She was already a tomb for uncounted men, and here
were a few more who could not keep from her.

On the Indefatigable's quarterdeck, Pellew and Kennedy stood watching
the passage of the boat on the calm sea while Matthews tried to stop
himself joining them. His duties lay elsewhere and it was anyway of
no help to anyone if he gawped out after them. When he did cast a
glance away from his tasks it was invariably to the battery on
shore. He handed Oldroyd a mop, squinting to see if any soldiers
could still be seen to the south. Oldroyd complained at his constant
cleaning detail.

"It's Sunday, Oldroyd. Everybody cleans Sunday, for the Captain's
inspection, and you know it."

"I bet the French don't. I bet th -"

"If you want to join the Frogs, just you go and do it. It's the only
way you're leaving that mop in a hurry I can tell you, now get on
with it!" Kennedy caught the agitation in his voice, and guessed the
cause. He felt much the same although envy claimed a small - a very
small - part of his anxiety. Sailing to an unstable wreck in an open
boat with one oarsman and an overbearing Frenchman was not exactly
appealing, but he didn't doubt that his friend would come back
having
bested the situation, as always. One day, he knew, would see his own
chance to gain honour for himself and his country, but he wondered if
his nerve, and his luck, would hold.

De Corveille's humming sounded louder in the lee of the Colossus, and
Hornblower found it intensely irritating, not least because it was
meaningless sound to him. What sort of man sang when he confronted
danger? From Styles' expression, he felt the same way, and it was
suddenly reassuring to have a reliable man alongside the unknown
quantity of De Corveille. If it had been just himself and the
Frenchman, he could have hummed the Marseillaise without Hornblower
being the wiser. The cannon on shore remained silent and each second
seemed like a new blessing, and equally a moment nearer upon a
countdown to death.

"It is the Eenglish way to keep silent into battle, eh Mister
Horrenblower?"

"Indeed, Captain." It was evidently not the French way, and the man
felt no constraint to behave in a manner foreign to him.

"You do not like me, Hi see this." Styles was already throwing the
grappling hook up and over the side, as before. This was no time for
even Frenchmen to converse.

"Sir, may I suggest we climb aboard?"

"After you, Mister Horrenblower. I follow your command." Hornblower
wasted no time in climbing the rope, feeling ungainly in the eyes of
the little Frenchman behind him.

"Shall I make for the other side, Sir?" Styles stood peering up at
them from horribly far below in the boat.

"No Styles. There's no way of telling where exactly they'll fire
from if they fire. Stay here and keep a lookout and if there's any
sign of danger, call out and move her astern of us!"

"Aye-aye, Sir!" Hornblower had wound `kerchiefs around his hands as
he spoke, while De Corveille pulled on a pair of kid-leather gloves
from inside his cloak. If she had shifted position in the water, the
angle of the deck had not increased, and they were able to make their
way across to the captain's quarters without careening down a sheer
drop. They braced themselves against the bulkheads, around which the
water now lapped to their ankles. Underfoot, the wood had started to
blister and swell as the moisture seeped in. It felt like walking on
rush mats. The faint odours of wood and hemp, tar and brine and
bilge, smells that always commingled in a ship's cabin, seemed
concentrated in the dead air. Half underneath the desk, its content
of linen spilling out from under the lid, stood the chest.

"Sir! Sir!" Styles could just be heard, though he was doubtless
bellowing from the boat. De Corveille manoeuvred to the window as
Hornblower rummaged for the box.

"Dieu! There is a boat! They sail for us!"

"Let's in haste then, Captain, I have the box. To the stern!" They
scrambled together to the open deck and pulled themselves up by the
remaining railings. Hornblower struggled with the box wedged
uncomfortably in his jacket and digging into his chest with each
upward heave. At the stern, he grabbed tentatively at the bowsprit.
If it were secure, it would allow an easier journey over the length
of the hull that projected out of the water. He allowed himself one
short, sweeping look over the shoreline as the Frenchman clambered up
behind him. A boat, barely bigger than their own, headed smoothly
over the waves towards them. It flew no flag, but Hornblower thought
he could see, among the seated figures of the rowers, the outline of
a gun. Just then he heard the swish of oars and realised that Styles
was coming about at the stern. He turned to De Corveille and with a
familiar lurch realised that his companion was as disinclined to
heights as he himself.

"We shall have to jump, Captain." The man nodded vigorously, staring
wide-eyed at the water. "Styles! Catch this!" Balancing
precariously over the edge of the stern rail, Hornblower hastily tied
around the box a short length of rope he had brought with him to
secure the lid. He spared no glances for the boat, which would be
preparing to open fire within seconds. "Jump now, Captain. We won't
let you drown!" Styles caught the box, balancing like the practised
sailor he was, and stowed it safely in the bottom of the boat.
Hornblower, preparing to dive into the water, turned to see De
Corveille staring intently at the boat. "Sir! Come with me!" He
held out a hand towards him as a high-pitched whistling sound was
heard. A near-deafening splash sent up spray which almost reached
them, coinciding with the boom of the carronade. A yell from the
boat indicated that spray had more than reached Styles.

"Sir, we have no time!"

"It is me they want, Mister Horrenblower. You go back, before they
reach us. Leave me `ere!"

"No! Come on, man, we can make it to the Indy!" The Indy would not
reach them, for certain, and were she to try, she could well expose
herself to the battery ashore. Still de Corveille would not move.

"She's repositioned Sir, she's reloading!" Styles was standing in
the boat, ready to haul them from the sea. In desperation,
Hornblower flung his weight against de Corveille and together they
fell to the water, bumping painfully into the stern on their way.
The brief shock of submersion brought both men gasping to the
surface, and Styles was reaching for the nearer of them. Hornblower
dragged de Corveille, who spluttered incomprehensible curses in
French, and helped heave him into the boat.

"Row Styles, row!" He reached for the other oars but the Frenchman
had them already in his gloved hands. The boat was perilously close
to them now. Four men could clearly be seen at the sweeps and a
further two manned a gun which pointed straight towards them. Even
as he looked, he saw the flash and puff of smoke which told of the
gun's firing and knew they were helpless. "To the deck!" They
leaned down to minimise the chance of decapitation, braced for a
shattering hit to the boat. The dread whizzing of the shot grew
loud, abruptly cutting off as it told. In place of the smashing of
timber came an agonized scream from De Corveille.

"Sir!" Hornblower crawled to him where he lay writhing, his hand
pressed to his chest. The blood ran freely through his fingers.
Beyond him was a hole just above the waterline where the shot had
continued its passage.

"You should have left me Mister Horrenblower." His breath came in
shallow gasps. Hornblower could only look in dismay from the man's
plainly mortal wound to his face. Styles had resumed rowing to take
full advantage of the temporary shelter of the Colossus while the
boat rounded.

"I I could not leave you, Sir."

"Sir, the Indy, Sir! They're coming for us!" The frigate was making
sail for them, standing in to danger, even, to discourage their
pursuers in the boat. He could rouse no answer to Styles. The man
in front of him was calm now, as the blood drained from his body.
His eyes seemed to lose and regain focus as he looked up at
Hornblower.

"Not even a man you despise?" Hornblower could only shake his head
in misery at his failure. "You thinkI lie? That I abandon my
country? My my men?" De Corveille slowly held up his free hand to
grasp that of the young officer. "Tell me are you a man of God?"
Perhaps the question was not unexpected in the circumstances, and
Hornblower felt he ought to affirm his faith, but the words seemed
caught in his throat. There was not enough time to assimilate his
thoughts; of what the notion of God truly meant to him, of what he
should say. "You see Mister Horrenblower. What is honour? What
you say or what is in your heart?" Captain de Corveille died
smiling up at the man who had tried, and failed, to save him.

 

Pellew sat in his cabin with the box on the desk before him. The
rope that Hornblower had tied around it remained fastened. It was as
well that they were underway, out of the reach of further French
guns. Only the Colossus was hit and, as with any creature, it had
been a blessing to end her misery as she finally hid her ruined frame
beneath the waves. For once, an incalculable risk had paid
dividends, and his Lieutenant, his seaman and his boat were snug
aboard. Hornblower's exhaustion, and his visible upset, were good
reasons for delaying the inevitable hour of telling his story's end.
He had never seen Kennedy look happier than when he had given the
order to up anchor and make for the boat. That look discomfited
him. What was the last thing he had ever heard Tolly say? Something
about the Admirals leaving off the business of war. I would rather
every Captain were with me and every Admiral against me. Then I
would know I were right-thinking. Pellew now drew the box towards
him. This, and not death, would be the end of their friendship.

Even the picture in relief was undamaged, a microcosm of the painting
which adorned the wall. As if from habit, he turned the tiny handle
at the side before he opened the lid. The sad-sweet notes pierced
the air unbearably. He put out his hand for the pomander, and before
he could pick it out his vision was blurred with uncontrollable and
unashamed tears.

 

What did he next remember? The ship? The boat? Waking on a bed?
Not that. It was hard ground under him, and he was pushed to it from
a height. For one moment he wanted to lie still and let fate decide
his future. Every movement drained his strength, already so depleted
in the time since his recapture. Even thinking was exertion. How
long had it been? Under him, the earth started to vibrate as though
it were quaking. Sharp points were driven into his cheek and he
heaved himself to his feet in weary resignation. It was evening, and
he stood with the boy among his captors on a rocky shoreline. They
faced a road which wound up and away from them, through undergrowth,
towards the summit of a slope. He realised as he stood up that the
tremors were caused by something approaching them from the hill. The
men waited in silence behind someone he had never seen before,
dressed a little less shabbily, perhaps, but holding his battered hat
in his hands.

Only madness could account for what emerged from among the trees.
Pellew felt his legs begin to buckle and a prickling sensation over
his chest and back. Beside him, the boy moved closer and he placed
his hand on the small shoulder half in reassurance and half in
gratitude for the support. Dazzlingly ornate, a wide-beamed coach-
and-four descended slowly, while two liveried coachmen kept up a
stately pace just behind, carrying wick lamps on long poles. The
horses stepped with military precision, as one. It would be a
splendid sight on any thoroughfare in London or Paris, and was a
fantastic spectacle in this wild and remote place. The coach pulled
to the side and drew to a halt near to the man at the front. From
the salt stains on his dark breeches, he had presumably been at sea
with them, but had not deigned to inspect the English prisoner, or
not when the latter had been conscious. Pellew tried to concentrate
on steadying himself. At almost five feet nine inches, he was
considered tall, but the rear wheels of the carriage were easily his
height. The panels were painted with what appeared to be allegorical
scenes and were surrounded with carved gilt in intricately beautiful
designs. Two cherubs embraced in a central motif, each linking one
fat leg to its smaller neighbour either side and in this way forming
a continuous frieze. It seemed to Pellew that it embodied
Continental decadence and was all the more bizarre for it, so far
from its natural milieu. The postillion rider dismounted and opened
the door nearest to them. A daintily-shod foot stepped on to the
rung below the doorframe and the slightest man Pellew had ever seen
swept to the ground with exaggerated gravitas. His pale eyes passed
over them all before fixing their stare on the grubby young man
dressed in the tattered remains of an English naval uniform. The man
in the salt-stained breeches leaned forward as though about to
intercept the newcomer, but was stopped by the coachman taking just
one step in his direction.

"I have the honour to be His Highness, Alonso, Duke de Parrios de
Questina." His Highness bowed low before the Lieutenant, who was
painfully aware of his beggarly appearance. The Spanish Duke was
dressed with as much regard to fashion and adornment as his coach
would suggest, and the waft of pomade from his powdered hair in the
warm evening made Pellew dizzy.

"Ahem I am Edward Pellew, Second Lieutenant aboard His Majesty's
Ship La Licorne."

"Please." Astonishingly, the Duke removed his coat and proffered
it. It would be a definite faux pas to refuse it, but the thing was
so light and soft in his hands that he felt unable to wear it against
his roughened and grimy skin. Now the Duke beckoned to him as the
coachman again held the door. He kept his hand on Thaddeus'
shoulder. "Your boy will be looked after, Lieutenant. This way."
The boy moved away slightly and bowed to the Duke, who nodded his
acknowledgement before climbing back into the coach. Pellew knew he
was compelled to go, in the way of nightmares that seem to have their
propulsion from somewhere beyond control. Seated in the plush
interior, he caught a glimpse of a dozen or so swarthy faces standing
on the shore before the coachman closed the door upon them.
Unexpected relief suffused him, making his limbs feel heavier than
ever. The coachman leaned in.

"I have the honour to be His Highness' coachman." He had the same
pale eyes as his master, and his lips opened in a smile to reveal his
feral teeth.


The doors slid straight back into concealed compartments in the
panelled walls. They sat in what the Duke called the Winter Garden.
The room was floor-to-ceiling stone, either marble or agate. Gilt
screens covered the window, and attached to these mock trellises were
coloured-glass bunches of grapes, brightly enamelled birds and
butterflies. As if to complement their lifeless counterparts, real
songbirds twittered in two enormous and elaborate cages at either end
of the room. The gloom behind the window screens was such that only
occasionally could be glimpsed a flash of their brilliant colours.
The constant trickling from the central fountain did nothing to
soothe Pellew's agitation. Such extreme artifice and ornamentation
had always disquieted him, and the clothes that had been laid out for
him after his bath were stiff and uncomfortable.

"You have eaten enough, Lieutenant?"

"Thank you, yes." Every conceivable delicacy lay arranged as
biddable morsels in fine porcelain dishes. The sight of them had
made his mouth water and his stomach ache, but a few mouthfuls had
quickly outstripped his desire to ingest. Were he to continue, he
did not doubt he would succumb to sickness. The Duke nodded to his
wife, even tinier than he, who had supped with them. Obediently she
rose, dropped a curtsey to her husband's handsome young guest, and
quit the room.

"Now shall we to business?" Pellew nodded his assent, having no idea
what was wanted of him from this man of apparent wealth and
rank. "Will you help me to find your ship?"

"La Licorne? What do you want of her Your Highness?" He had not
informed the Duke that the correct form of address, in English,
was `Your Grace'.

"Nothing terrible, Mr. Pellew, I assure you. I wish to build such a
ship for my use here. You know all too well, I think, the dangers
of these waters?"

"Are those your men?" The Duke laughed outright, a loud, raucous
sound, quickly stifled as he dabbed at his eyes with a
laced `kerchief.

"No, Mr. Pellew. Ha ha! No, they are not `my men'. They are not
anyone's men. I merely dealt with them in order to receive you."

"I am flattered you set such store by my ship, Your Highness, but how
can I help you to find her when I am here?"

"Come now, a man of your abilities can surely predict her position?"

"No-one can predict the elements, Your Highness. She will not be
altering course in my favour, that I can promise you."

"Not even were she to know you were here? In safe port and my
care?" Something in his tone was disturbing. The man opposite could
not be much older than he, but it seemed that the Duke held an
exalted position along this coast. It was entirely possible that he
was His Catholic Majesty's official envoy, and seeking, in an
underhanded way, the advantage of English ship design. Flushed with
wine and secure in his own powers, his face betrayed a childlike
eagerness that reminded Pellew of the ship's boys baiting rats in the
cable tiers. Usually, the rats were caught and eaten.

"How could she know that?"

"I have messengers, Mr. Pellew. I have the means to send signals the
length of the coast from St. Katarina's to the Cape. If your ship is
keeping to shore, perhaps she already knows of your presence here.
If not," he shrugged narrow shoulders, "with your help, I can launch
a vessel that will find her."

"She may well be found, Your Highness, but Captain Cadogan would not
contravene his orders for one Lieutenant. In all truth, I think it
unlikely that I can be of help to you."

"Please please do not say that." The Duke sat with his elbows
resting on the arms of his chair, his hands clasped under his
chin. "I have paid a great deal of money for you, Lieutenant. I am
used to getting what I pay for."

"I've no doubt of it. I will do what I can to help you, but you must
understand that I cannot compel my ship or indeed any other to
come to us wherever we are."

"I understand that it is in both of our interests for your ship to be
here. We should help one another. One day, we may be thankful that
our paths have crossed." Pellew said nothing. The food and the
late hour after so much deprivation were beginning to make him groggy
with sleep and he stared into the middle distance. A painting stood
on the floor in the direction of his gaze, resting at the foot of one
of the bird cages. "Please, I do not know where is best for it in my
home, but this painting is worth some small fortune. With pleasure I
give it to you to hang in your ship." With some difficulty, Pellew
focused on the picture, a garish attempt at a still-life. He thought
it would look ill hung anywhere, valuable or no.

"My, ahh thanks to you, Your Highness. I fear that nothing in the
wardroom will equal its worth." The Duke nodded, smiling, and
suggested he may wish to retire. One of the ubiquitous servants lit
the way to the room and he had an eerie parting impression of his new
patron, alone among the shadows in his Winter Garden. Was he a
Duke? Or just a pirate and common thief? The indigo of the damask
which lined the walls was so glaring, even in the candlelight, that
he almost shielded his eyes. Impulsively, he stopped and ran his
forefinger along one panel. It had the fibrous texture of paper.

He spent the next day consulting the impressive array of nautical
charts that the Duke possessed, along with a compass and a sextant,
pristine in its case of velvet-lined wood. Even as he used them, he
wondered whether they had been bartered from the same source that had
brought him here. It was no use to think of the fate of the original
owners, as it was no use thinking of resistance to, or escape from,
the Duke's plans. He had been given the run of the house, which was
far bigger than his family seat in Cornwall, but in every room except
his own were silent watchers, stood to attention by the doors.

Once he had imparted his estimations to his host, the matter was
done, and he had but to wait. Aside from the evening meal, when he
dined with the Duke and Duchess, he spoke to no-one. When once or
twice he glimpsed the Duchess in the gardens surrounding the house,
she inevitably turned away with a shy smile. After repeated
requests, Thaddeus was brought to him on the third day.

"Thaddeus! Are you well?" He was scrubbed and tidily dressed.

"Aye Sir, quite well Sir. Sir?" Pellew raised an eyebrow. "They
say she's coming, Sir. The Licorne."

"That is the desired result. It is by no means certain, however "
The boy cut him off in an urgent whisper.

"But Sir, there's something happening! Below the house, t'wards the
bay. I don't know what it is but `tisn't aright."

"I see." He replied in a loud voice, steering the boy by the
shoulder. "We had best get you some fresher air then, boy. This
way." Once they were outside, he discreetly allowed Thaddeus to
lead. When they neared the ha-ha that bordered the gardens, he
looked back and saw that they were followed, at some little distance,
by a liveried servant. "Would you care to join us?" The man
hesitated. Seemingly he had not understood what was said, or
implied. "Perhaps you could guide us, in the absence of the Duke?"
Pellew strode back towards him, at which he turned and hurried in the
direction of the house. "How very uncongenial!" Thaddeus laughed,
looking up at his father's friend with all the adoration of hero-
worship.

They headed on through a wooded area, hoping they would not be called
to account, and soon reached a ledge above a clearing. A low
rectangular stone building stood at its centre, from which men came
and went with wooden casks. It was as active as any victuallers,
though they could discern no markings upon the goods. The men were
of similar appearance to the pirate crew of the Marisol, and each was
strong and sure-footed in their path. Pellew waited a few moments to
see if there were any likely chance of discovering their purpose, but
continued absence from the house would only draw attention to them,
and reluctantly he drew the boy back towards the gardens. He had
half-expected to find preparations for a shipyard, in advance of the
Licorne's imminent arrival on these shores, but he had seen no
timber, no tools, no tar or hemp or canvas. How could any ship be
built without these basic materials? If the Duke were lying, and
they intended to capture the English ship, then why lure her here?
She stood a fair chance in open battle with the Marisol, which was
nowhere visible on the horizon, and that was in the assumption that
Marisol in fact belonged to the Duke. There were no fortifications
here. The land sloped gently, in the main, from the rocky shoreline
up to the neo-classical house. Only a line of rose bushes stood as
sentinels against coastal invasion. Whatever the prospects, of
hostility or friendly trade, neither Cadogan nor Tolly, if he
retained command, would venture close enough to risk running
aground. These men could not hope to capture her.

Pellew was none the wiser by the time he retired to bed, though he
had thought of little else all day. He lay restlessly between silk
sheets which seemed to slither coolly around him with each of his
movements. From far below his window, the sea rushed in and
retreated in a continual torment, and he longed for his life there.
A lizard crawled slowly across the bed canopy above his head.
Abruptly, he sat up and pulled on trousers and a shirt. He had not
formulated a plan, but he would find his way, somehow, to the
storehouse they had seen. A noise stopped him. It came from
somewhere by the door. Slowly, as he looked, the brass knob twitched
and turned with a slight scraping sound and the door eased from its
frame. He darted behind it as it opened, though he was armed with
nothing but surprise. A small figure crept in.

"Thaddy." The boy was only startled for a second, and then an impish
smile lit his face. He too was dressed. "Why are you here?"

"Aren't we going back to that place, Sir?"

"No, I am going back to that place. You are going back to bed." His
smile vanished.

"But how will you get past the guards, Sir?"

"We-ell well I'll never mind how I'll do it! How did you get past
them anyway?" He was smiling again. It so transformed the childish
features that it made him want to smile in turn.

"Practice, Sir. They don't stand watch at night, they patrol."
Pellew tried to avoid thinking of the child running about in the dark
among these men. "I can take you safely." The boy tugged at his
sleeve, still smiling, as he reached for his empty musket.

"Very well but should we be caught, you must say I made you come
with me. That is an order, Master Balmane."

"Aye-aye, Sir!"

"And what is that you're carrying?"

"It's- it's the painting, Sir. The one the Duke said you were to
have." He looked a little shamefaced, but his chin was high. It had
been wrapped in string and paper.

"Well why on earth bring it with you tonight?"

"In case we've to run, Sir." He looked down at the boy's grave
expression. He held the bundle tightly under his arm. "I I like
the colours, Sir." Pellew recalled the vivid red of the apple at the
centre of the piece. It was exactly the colour of blood.

 

They moved through the silent house like ghosts, seeing no-one. The
cold stone yielded not at all to their footfalls and the creaks and
groans to be heard in a timber house, or a ship, were altogether
absent. It was black as pitch, a thin moon mostly hiding behind
clouds, but Thaddeus led him with a sure sense of direction down a
narrow staircase and across the main hallway from the back of the
house, through a parlour of some sort, and out through glass doors to
the terrace. The house was so English in style that Pellew wondered
fleetingly if it had been appropriated, perhaps in some violent
fashion, from its previous owner. Avoiding the paths, they trod the
soil which made no sound to betray them. Once they dropped to the
ground while a man ambled past, yawning loudly, and just beyond the
ha-ha they came within a few yards of a guard, lying prone and
snoring at their feet. Soon they were skirting the ledge for the
easiest drop and scrambling down to the clearing. The scent of night
jasmine, so potent in the gardens, faded with the assault of briny
sea air as they neared the building. All was hushed, and so still
that the rush and hiss of the waves somewhere below seemed unreal.
Pellew held a finger to his lips and motioned to the boy to keep
close as he took the lead. Double doors of large wooden beams, about
ten feet high, provided the point of ingress for all the workers they
had seen scurrying to and fro earlier in the day. These were at the
southern end of the structure, and against them sat the inevitable
guard, his hat firmly over his face. They stole around to the east,
and seaward, side, but the two glass-less windows were squat and
barred, as they had been to landward. At the northern end was
nothing but a blank stone wall. Pellew made his decision on the
instant. He did not care to risk the boy's life, but then, if things
were afoot here, their lives were as good as forfeit already. If
not, if the Duke were what he purported to be, then he would see
reason, and no harm would come to either of them. Once more outside
the doors, Pellew tapped the dozing guard lightly on the shoulder.
The man jerked forward and fumbled for his hat, and the blow was
dealt with the barrel of the empty musket. Together they heaved the
unconscious man to one side and swung the great bar that held the
doors closed.

Inside, their tread was silent on a floor of coarse matting. They
moved cautiously in the darkness, holding out their hands in case of
obstruction, but there was only empty space. Something unnerved
Pellew, of which he was unable to grasp the full import. Beside him,
he heard the boy's sharp breaths, and the faint crackle of the paper
that wrapped the painting. The new moon, released from the clouds,
cast a sudden brilliance through the small windows. Where they stood
was largely empty, but not far in front, an iron grille ran the
height and width of the room. On the other side of it, the casks
were stacked almost to the roof. A single door within the ironwork
was padlocked and chained. Pellew looked down to Thaddeus, who was
staring anxiously about him, and noticed how the floor sparkled here
and there in the moonbeams. He cursed himself inwardly for a fool,
restricting his exclamation to a sudden indrawn breath. What was
missing, of-course, was the smell. The expected musty odour of an
outbuilding on this humid coast was hardly noticeable, because every
effort had been made to keep the place dry, to the point of having a
frieze floor.

"Sir?"

"Thank God we didn't think to bring a candle, Thaddy! There's enough
powder in here to -"

"- to blow the English away from Spanish land and Spanish seas for
always!" They spun about in time to see the Duke, resplendent in a
frock coat of woven gold, in the closing gap between the double doors.

 

"I demand that you let us out! Your Highness! At least let us know
your intentions, and release the boy."

"No." This single word was accompanied by the clanking of a chain
and lock.

"Please! Release the boy! He does not deserve your displeasure. He
merely followed my orders." They heard only retreating footsteps
from outside. Pellew leaned against the door in frustration at his
own foolishness.

"There is one thing, Sir." Thaddeus looked up at him. He was
pulling something from a pocket. A pomander. His smile, at that
moment, was so like his father's that this time he got one in return.

"Thaddy, we cannot risk firing a weapon in here. Even our boots
could be the death of us. In fact" he began taking his off. "
you do the same. It should have been obvious to me the moment we
entered." The workers, of-course, had been barefoot. Thaddeus took
off his boots in resignation. "Still I daresay that with an orange
we shall not starve for a day or so." He shook the boy's shoulder
affectionately. "Since they mean to leave us for the night, I
suggest we try to sleep."

***

There was little comfort to be had from the rough nap of the floor,
and they spent a restless night. The sun rose early and beat down
upon the tiled roof, so that the only place for air was close to the
windows. Unlike the previous day, no-one came to move casks in or
out, and they were entirely alone.

It was near to sunset. Pellew could remember the orb of deepening
orange, and how it set the sea aflame with a thousand, thousand
points of glittering fire. The boy's face had been pressed to the
bars. How proud would his father be. Not a word of complaint had
escaped him, at his hunger, or fear. He was profoundly grateful that
Thaddeus had not asked the things he would expect from most fellow-
captives. The questions of their likely chances, and the possible
methods to be used for their demise, were questions for which Pellew
could find no positive answers.

"Sail ho, Sir!"

"Whereaway?!" They had resumed their sailors' ways as a matter of
course, and comfort. Thaddeus pointed as they beheld her, as
beautiful as her mythical namesake, as perfect an illusion as any
landlocked mariner could wish for. "It's La Licorne!"

"Papa! Papa has come for us!" Pellew felt the boy's arms around his
waist. It was his closest human contact in many months. His
shipmate, who had saved his life once already, who shared his current
danger, was after all yet a child.

Though the Licorne was under full sail, she moved slowly in the
lightest breeze. They were forced to watch her, so tantalizingly
close, maintain her distance from shore as the sun dipped lower.
Thaddeus never tired, keeping his eyes upon her. Pellew, pacing the
floor in his stockinged feet, wondered alternately what the boy was
thinking, and of how the Duke was planning to destroy them all.

"Thaddy." Eventually he hailed him. "They must come for the
powder. When they do, we must be ready. I will aim the musket at
the powder and threaten to shoot, and you must run as swift and as
sure as you can for the shore. With luck they will have sent a boat,
and you may swim to it and warn them." It would be a desperate
attempt, with so many enemies, but he could see no other way to warn
their ship. They could not hope to escape together, and were they to
wait, they were bound to be the first in a long butcher's bill of
English seamen along this coast.

"Sir," the boy looked suddenly doubtful. "I don't think I can."

"I understand, but Thaddeus, we "

"No Sir, I would do it, Sir, but look!" He indicated the bend in the
cove, where, just coming into view, was another ship. The snub lines
of its bow were as familiar to them as the sleeker Licorne. The
Marisol De Deus, a dark shape at the edge of their field of vision,
awaited its prey.

Pellew threw himself at the doors in a rage. They gave to the extent
that a crack of light could be seen between them, then thudded
sonorously to their chains. A fine dust seeped from the wood grain.
He wanted to yell and curse at their helplessness, and knew that part
of his rage was for himself alone. For all the maturity that had
been forced upon him in his youth at sea, he could no more survive
such trials as these than could a stripling boy. He thought of his
childhood heroes, Boscawen, Cook and Anson, battling extreme odds but
maintaining always their dignity and their wits. Was this to be
defeat? From somewhere not too far away he heard laughter, and
strangely it settled him. If they were to die, then they would die
as Englishmen. He returned to the window. Since the setting of the
sun only minutes before, the light had dropped considerably. Marisol
had not revealed more of herself and he guessed her to be at anchor.
Licorne, too, was still, and while he could be sure of nothing in the
twilight, he realised that the probable explanation for her inaction
was that she had not seen the Marisol. It was just possible, given
the jutting formation of the rocks at the entrance to the cove. The
angle from which they now looked upon the scene suggested that each
ship were bound to see the other, but Marisol rode to her anchor
between sheer cliffs below the house on one side, and a rocky outcrop
on the other. The water may well be adequate to her draught, but the
strait was narrow for tacking, and without a fair wind through she
would be taking divers risks: wrecking, grounding, or a battering
from Licorne's guns. Thaddeus was looking up at him.

"It is nearly dark, Sir." The recognition in his eyes made Pellew
almost give way. Despair is an abyss. He remembered the saying from
sermons heard in boyhood. Night, of-course, was Marisol's ally.
Tiny points of light flickered at Licorne's stern as her lanterns
were lit. Tolly would have ordered it so. They were not approaching
in enmity, but in friendship, believing him and the boy to be guests
of the Duke. Soon they would send a boat. Soon it would be night.
Oddly, he thought of the Duke and his wife, their slight frames
dwarfed by the grand dimensions of their house, picking delicately at
dinner dishes, supping wine.

"We cannot save them." He kept his voice even.

"But we have the powder! We can warn them!"

"No, it would not do!" It was cursed fate to be here with this boy,
this boy among all others. The twists of parchment were in his open
palm, held out.

"There is enough. Sir, tell me you had not thought of it." Pellew
clenched his jaw and said nothing. "If it were only you, you would
do it. If we are to die anyway?"

"They may not kill us. Perhaps perhaps they will let us go, all of
us, or or as many as survive. We can return home overland." For
the boy's sake, he posited these theories, and for a few moments he
thought himself believed.

"Even if we could survive or escape, Sir it would be a different
sort of death for us." Imposibly young for such words were the eyes
that held his, the hands that held the powder, but they were Tolly's
eyes, and Tolly's words. The boy did not doubt Pellew's courage, any
more than he doubted his own. Pellew took the parchments, and
reached for his musket.

"You are your father's son."

Captain Pellew looked from one to the other of the young men. How
bittersweet not to know what their futures held.

"One of the poles for the carriage lamps lay discarded in a corner
and with it I managed to prize open one of the nearer casks through
the grille. Our only hope was that the iron bars would shield us
from the worst force of the blast, but it was as likely that they
would crush us utterly. We huddled in the far corner and I aimed the
musket, but it would not fire. I tried again, and as I did so we
heard them coming for the powder. The doors were thrown open as I
aimed once more, and in their second's confusion as they adjusted to
the darkness, I fired."

Kennedy swallowed. To take oneself through the rigours of this
service were harsh enough. To be responsible for the fate of your
Captain and your ship such things were unimaginable. Pellew was
leaning back, his stance relaxed, but his knuckles showed white where
he gripped the arms of his chair.

"I have no recollection of anything from that moment until I was
awoken by the stinging of salt. It was night, and I was lying alone
at the tidewater. I became aware of the ships' guns blazing in the
bay. One ship was alight, but I could not see which she was, and the
din of battle and the groans of men, though distant, were infernal.
High on the hill, the house glowed red from the blazing trees, and
odd shapes flitted before the flames. I know now that they were men,
laden with the treasures of the house, but then I had the notion that
I was truly in Hell. My left arm was pinned underneath some weight
and I looked to see if I could free it. The boy lay in my arms. It
surprised me - how we had come to be there. His face was hardly
scratched, and he still held the painting. His arms were stiff
around it.... Out to sea, a dark shape came scudding over the waves
towards me, propelled by leg-like oars. Perhaps, I thought, this
would be Heaven."

 

The parchments lay unfurled upon the table, tiny sails scrawled over
with ink. A distinct tang of orange made them hunger for its juices.

"The Admiralty is in your debt, Mr. Hornblower." From a distance, it
appeared a mess of intersecting lines and swirls. Peering closely,
they crystallized into a map. Between the northern coast of France
and the southern coast of England were a fleet of tiny crosses
clustered around a single tricolour flag and flanked by arrows
pointing steadily north. A series of letters and numbers and a
symbol key appeared in inland France, and a spattering of dots in the
areas of Plymouth and Chatham appeared against cursory renditions of
the St. George Cross.

"I have done nothing beyond my duty, Sir." De Corveille's words, and
the senselessness of his death, still weighed heavily with Hornblower.

"It was a duty well done. Mr. Kennedy, I advise you to encourage Mr.
Hornblower to accept a compliment when one is due, and offered."

"Aye-aye, Sir." Kennedy had listened to his friend's spare
recounting of the events aboard Colossus during her final moments.
He was sympathetic, but as always, incredulous at his modesty. That
he blamed himself for the death of a Frenchman, royalist or not, was
absurd in the face of their ultimate success. He would inveigle
Bracegirdle and Mr. Bowles into joining them for a game of whist,
which would surely cheer him.

"Dare I suggest, Sir, that Mr. Kennedy has his own duties to attend
to in advance of any service he may render me. A small matter of
navigation and the principles of safe wearing in stormy weather, in
preparation for his examination?" Hornblower kept his face a mask
of gravity, and it was Pellew who visibly stifled a smile.

"I had best begin." Kennedy smarted a little under this needling.
Trust Horatio, of anyone, to detect the single weakest point in his
studies. "With your permission, Sir." Pellew nodded, as Hornblower
rose to join his friend.

"Good day Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Hornblower."

"Sir?" Pellew looked up from the charts to where Hornblower hovered
in the doorway. "Sir, you mentioned knowing your enemy. To whom
did you refer?" He had been expecting this.

"Upon our return to England, Tolly and I received our separate orders
and served no more together. Captain Cadogan was already dead of the
fever when I was hauled aboard and, once home, Tolly was made Post-
Captain of a sloop lately taken of the Spanish. Within two years it
was my fortune, also, to attain this rank. We corresponded not at
all."

"He he blamed you for the loss of his son?"

"I think so but he did not make it known. Instead, he railed
against the service. By the time it was discovered that I had taken
a boat and gone, a galleon was sighted away to the north. Cadogan
saw only prize money, and would not allow Tolly to turn back. Our
captain was a man much favoured at the Admiralty, not for any
excellence that we could discern, but he had patrons enough. There
was no way but his, and only when he was delirious on his deathbed
could Tolly take command. Without those days of delay." Hornblower
nodded. He had heard the tales and read the snippets of news
alluding to Balmane's endless challenging of Admiralty rules and
even, it was said, the very Articles of War. Opinion was hotly
divided, some saying that such men undermined the fabric of England's
navy, while others claimed that England's greatness owed much to
these outspoken individuals. None that Hornblower had heard had ever
speculated as to the origins of Balmane's rebelliousness.

"You think that he betrayed his country, Sir?"

"Men do so for reasons less worthy, Mr. Hornblower."

"Yes, but" He broke off, deep in thought. Could men be driven by
such an insane desire for revenge? It could have availed him nothing
to join the French rebels. Even ultimate victory, an England broken
in defeat, would bring no more than a bitter sort of satisfaction.
It seemed that the Admiralty suspected him capable of such motives.
Pellew waited patiently, allowing him to draw his own
conclusions. "Sir, do you concur with the Admiralty?" It was an
audacious question.

"I did not wish to, but he had the plans already as he neared La
Rochelle. I can only think that he was detailed to take it to an
arranged rendezvous."

"But why transport them by sea if they are French plans?"

"These are not French plans, Mr. Hornblower. I am able to translate
this code. These were drawn in England." Hornblower felt sick. He
would rather spend every day at sea, in open sight of the most
ferocious enemy, than pass a single night in the company of false
friends. "It is entirely possible, of-course, that Colossus was
ordered to engage the Résolu. Since we do not have the orders, we
shall never know." They were both aware that the Admiralty would not
make public its intentions when they had so evidently ended in
failure. Readers of the "Naval Chronicle" would learn that the
Colossus had been sunk while engaged with the Résolu off the coast of
La Rochelle; that the brave action had ended in much bloodshed,
including both Captains, and that the Indefatigable had been able to
pre-empt French scavengers in rescuing priceless information
regarding a planned French invasion.

"If he intended disloyalty, Sir, why did he not destroy these
papers? Or hand them to his captors? Surely they or - ?" His
thoughts came faster than he could speak. "Sir, do you think -?"

"- He is dead, Mr. Hornblower, do not doubt it. Tolly would not have
left this," he gestured to the box at the side of the desk, "if he
had expected to live. I had not thought of him for many years until
these last two days, but now I feel I know him I have remembered
him. In my opinion, and it is only that, he came by the plans how
is irrelevant and he decided to use them against us, but he found
himself unable to do so." Hornblower thought further.

"Then, Sir since I am of your opinion, should we not say that we
obtained these papers from a certain French captain?"

"Mr. Hornblower! You would slander Captain De Corveille?"

"I do not think he would take offence, Sir. `Twas no more than he
would have done, had he in fact been in possession of them."
Pellew's look remained sceptical. "What is honour, Sir?"

"A man may have more sons." Dr. Ennis spoke in a low tone to Pellew
outside Balmane's cabin. For several days as they journeyed home,
Tolly had kept largely to his cot, endlessly playing the musical box
that had belonged to Thaddeus. Ennis, to whom death was everyday,
found such displays of grief mawkish and unbecoming a ship's
commander. Pellew did not argue, but said he would speak to him. He
knocked and entered.

"Did I say `come'?" Balmane lay sprawled, unkempt, on his cot, an
empty bottle beside him.

"Sir, we are concerned for you."

"So I hear. `A man may have more sons.' What good sense from a man
who saves lives! Tell me Ed'ard, what does our chaplain say? Eh?
That ought to be worth hearing."

"We have no chaplain, Sir, as you know."

"I have no wife, Sir, as you know. I told you she was against him
coming aboard. Now she will never forgive me."

"Sir "

"Sir? Why such respect, my dear friend? Am I no longer Tolly, good
at the tables, steady for a drink, an eye for the ladies and the
other for a fair fight? Eh?!"

"You are drunk, Tolly."

"And you are the pride of the whole bloody Navy! Surely I am drunk,
Sir!" Balmane tried to stand, but instead he rolled with the slight
motion of the ship and his reeling brain and fell heavily to the
deck. He appeared to shake violently and Pellew thought for one
moment that he was in seizure, until realising that his friend was
hysterical. For about a minute, Pellew stood over him, waiting for
the laughter to subside. When it did so, tears were streaming down
the man's cheeks. He spoke gently.

"I am sorry, Tolly."

"More sons?" He gasped as though in physical pain. "How can I? I
cannot feel such grief again." Pellew put his arm around his friend
and heaved him back into his cot. "Sorry Ed'ard it's me who should
be sorry. I am ashamed. You shall not see me like this again."

"Just try to rest."

"No, there's something the picture." Pellew knew the one, the
exquisite seascape that had been copied and carved on to Thaddy's
box. "I want you to have it, Ed'ard."

"Tolly, I do not think "

"Have it, I say. It will remind you, as this reminds me." He picked
up the box and held it to him. "Once we are done with this voyage, I
doubt we shall meet again."

 

They were past the Isle of Wight now, and almost home. Pellew took
one last look at the plans before sealing them in their packaging.
They still carried a slight scent of orange. From beside them,
hidden in his drawer, he pulled a tightly wound pellet of parchment.
Even unfolded, it remained a tiny scroll. It read: "For the day of
vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come."
What is honour? He fed it to the candle flame and watched it rise,
burning to nothing.