PASSAGES: 1799
by Meanjean

Part One

January 1, 1799

Another new year beginning. Another crisp, cold evening on patrol along the
coast of Spain and Portugal; another stroll on board Indefatigable. The
stars seem particularly brilliant tonight; and though my breath frosts in the
still air before me, I do not feel inclined to return to my berth. I am
restless, and I must walk, walk, walk away these strange feelings that I
cannot name.

"Good evening, Mr. Hornblower."

"Good evening yourself, Mr. Cousins." The young man had the watch, and was
keeping a sharp eye on things. I expected no less. "A right cold one,
though. You'll not be sorry to hand the watch over to Mr. Howard, I
imagine."

"No, Mr. Hornblower, I will NOT!" He scanned the decks with his eyes, but
nothing was amiss, and he exhaled slowly. "Two weeks out of Gibraltar and
not an enemy sighted. The Dons and the Frogs alike, it would seem, choose to
spend their holidays in comfort!"

"I have learned better than to wish otherwise, Mr. Cousins." I said,
remembering the events of a certain fog and the folly of hoping to *be there
when the Don's left Cadiz*. "And our own holidays were not so very
terrible."

"They were not, thanks to the Captain. He made certain to lay in a good
stock of food for us all, I must say. But then, he always does." The
younger man set his shoulders proudly. "I hope that someday, should I be in
the position, I will be able to provide for my own men in the same way."

"You WILL BE in that position, I have not a doubt of it, Mr. Cousins. And I
think that nothing should make Captain Pellew happier than to see the lot of
us set out to do exactly that."

"Aye, there should be more ships like this one." He purposely ignored my
compliment, and understanding from my own nature his reticence, I opted not
to bait him.

I cleared my throat and resumed my gaze at the stars. "How is Mr. Brandon
handling our departure from Gibraltar, Mr. Cousins?"

His lips pursed in a struggle with his own dignity, but his good nature won
out as he allowed a smile. "In a bit of a daze at some points, Mr.
Hornblower."

Our eyes met, and I smiled myself. Mr. Cousins' and I were two of only three
men who knew of the existence of a certain young lady. I happened to see him
kissing her; Mr. Cousins was his most trusted friend, and he had told him
about her, and the third man was the young lady's father. Surprisingly, none
of the three of us had talked about his losing his heart out loud; most men
would have used the opportunity for merciless teasing, losing no chance to
embarrass a mate.

There was a good reason for that. After his father's final blow, all the
more painful for it being emotional and not physical, I was convinced young
Drew was walking an emotional tight-rope. Love was all that was distracting
him from that hurt, and I would not do anything to make him uncomfortable in
it.

Reg Cousins must have agreed with me, for he sighed deeply. "Sometimes, Mr.
Hornblower, I think he,s still brooding about his father. I catch him
looking at himself in the glass, almost disgusted with himself, as if to
wonder what is wrong with him."

"I am not surprised. You were not there; his father was most cruel to him.
To top off a lifetime of cruelty, even."

"Yes, well, fortunately, those moments are less and less often. I think he,s
recovering, but slowly." He smiled. "I am glad he has something better to
occupy his thoughts!"

"Indeed." I blew on my hands and my mind wandered. I feel strangely out of
place this evening, and I do not know why.

"Anything bothering you, Mr. Hornblower?" He asked, tentatively. He is
still making the transition from being a midshipman under my eye to an equal,
as Acting Lieutenant. But his question startled me, and I frowned to myself.

"Bothering me? I don't think so, Mr. Cousins. I feel..." I paused,
helplessly, for words. "I don't know. It is a new year. I guess I
am...curious. To know how it shall turn out."

He raised his eyebrows at me. "On January first? That is a long way to see
into the future."

"I know." I shrugged. "It sounds stupid, even to me. But last year at this
time...I was in a Spanish prison, after the rescue of Almeria. When I look
back on everything that has happened since...how very eventful a year it was,
Mr. Cousins!"

"Yes, it certainly was!" He gave me a timid smile. "A year ago at this
time, the Indefatigable had just left England. Captain Pellew was still
nursing a shoulder wound. I was still convinced that I had irreparably
harmed my career by causing damage to the ship, Mr. Brandon had not yet been
ordered home, Mr. Kennedy was not even an acting Lieutenant, and Mr.
Bracegirdle was still on this ship. If you had told me at that moment how
much should happen, I would have considered you insane. And frankly, it
would have scared the hell out of me!" His eyes twinkled. "Better, in the
long run, not to know, eh?"

"You are right, of course." But there was still that feeling, simmering just
beneath the surface. I am waiting...but for what? I shivered suddenly.

"I am going to turn in, I think, Mr. Cousins. A good evening to you."

"Good evening, Mr. Hornblower."

But I did not make it four feet away before a young marine approached me.

"Mr. Hornblower, Sir. Captain Pellew would like to see you, if you please."

If I please? As if I had an option, I thought, but contained the obvious
comment to myself. "Of course, at once." Not that I had an objection to
talking to the Captain...in some moments I have thought of him as a friend,
or perhaps more accurately as a father figure. He is unusually generous with
me, and strangely forgiving of my worst errors, though inexplicably blowing
up at the minor ones. And as force of habit, I began going over my day, to
see what, if anything, I might have erred on in my new role as first
Lieutenant, even as I walked through his door...

"You sent for me, Sir?"

He looked up at me; his face would be impenetrable to most. But I have
served with him long enough that I can spot the extra line in his forehead,
the hint of darkness under his eyes. He is worried, indeed, and not about
the ship this time. "Ah, yes, Mr. Hornblower. I thought it possible you
would be above decks at this hour." His lips twitched just faintly; we had
often walked the decks above together. As the door shut behind me, he
motioned me to be seated, and I was, though never quite relaxing totally,
even as he poured me a glass of brandy.

"I half expected you to be above decks yourself, Sir." I ventured, when he
did not speak right away.

"It is a mite cold out even for me, Horatio." He said, softly. And I tried
not to look so startled at his use of my first name. Though we were in
private, though I am perhaps as close to him as any man on board this ship,
though I am now his first Lieutenant, it is still strange to my ear. But he
did not note my look, merely sank back in his own chair, fingers balancing
against each other before his face, as he turned to gaze out the windows.

"Very cold, indeed, tis fortunate that we have not met an enemy and been
forced to fight, Sir." And I caught myself as I said it; it made me sound
like a coward, when I only meant that the conditions would not be ideal for
the men to be working in! But he smiled slightly as I stuttered out, "I
mean... Sir... though we are well prepared..."

"At ease, Horatio!" And his eyes twinkled faintly. "It does throw you for
me to use your given name, does it not? Had I known it would do so earlier,
I might have used it more frequently!"

I flushed, but almost smiled back myself. "One of these days, Sir...I will
understand why it is you have so much joy in seeing me discomfited."

"Do you think you shall? I rather wonder at that. Of all the things for you
to learn, Horatio, I believe a way of seeing your own image will be the one I
am least likely to teach you." His voice was wry, and he sighed deeply. "I
am worried, this evening; about my wife, if you must know. But then you've
probably already guessed at that."

"I had, Sir. It was the most logical thing for you to BE worried about."

He raised an eyebrow. "Not the ship, Mr. Hornblower?"

"I know perfectly well that the ship has never been better outfitted or in
better form than she,s now. Most of us have served aboard her at least four
years by now. The men are well disciplined, the food is plentiful, the wind
is fair. If you had told me you were worried about the ship, I would have
been surprised indeed."

"And yet winds do change, Mr. Hornblower." He pointed out, challenging me
slightly.

"They do. Food spoils, illness strikes, sometimes a fog puts you in the
middle of your enemy. It is well to be prepared for all of these things.
But to WORRY? I have never known you to seek out trouble, Sir."

"No, no I find it finds you well enough on its own." He chuckled lightly,
lifting up his glass to me. "Some of us more than others!"

I matched his toast. "To which of us, Sir, are you referring?"

"Both, I think." We drank; I must say the fine spirits did do a wonder
towards warming me.

"I do wish I had some word, Horatio."

"Shall we be in a likely spot to receive dispatches soon?"

He shook his head. "Unless a dispatch vessel finds us...and as our
requirements are simply to patrol this area and keep the Spanish and French
bottled up until our supplies run out, there seems little likelihood that
there would be a need to send one."

I finished my spirits and laid the glass down. "Mr. Cousins and I were just
remarking on the complete absence of enemy, Sir. Not complaining, mind you."

Relieved, I think, to have conversation that kept his mind off of his more
personal problems, he raised his head, eyes flinty. "No, Mr. Hornblower, I
think you are wise in tempering your reaction. Because they will come out.
They are weak, but they understand their weaknesses, and avoid them; they
will wait, like a shark that smells blood, until one of our vessels is weak
itself, and then attempt the kill."

I shivered again, this time at his analogy. What is the saying about a goose
walking over your grave? But what weakness can strike us now? "Then we
must take every precaution to ensure we do not become weak..." I said,
almost to myself. "Perhaps, Sir, I shall organize exercises tomorrow?"

His mouth twitched. "An excellent idea, Mr. Hornblower."

"Nothing too taxing..." I mused, several suggestions bounding into my mind.
I had a hard time dampening my enthusiasm.

"Reign yourself in, Horatio!" And he actually chuckled a little then. "I
trust you will come up with something that will keep the men entertained
without injuring them. I look forward to the surprise. Meanwhile, what say
you to a dinner with the other Lieutenants tomorrow evening?"

"And perhaps a game of whist afterwards?" I knowingly added.

"Indeed. If we can keep Lieutenant Brandon's mind in the game. Whatever has
gotten into his head lately, Horatio?"

I stared at him, at a loss of how to proceed.

He raised his eyebrows. "I am not so preoccupied that I have not realized he
goes about the ship in a private reverie that I do not understand.
Occasionally he seems down on himself, which I CAN understand, after his
father's actions."

"It has not interfered with his work in any way, Sir. I would address it if
it did." I stammered out.

"I am well aware of that. I am only curious."

The warmth of the Captain's concern for Mr. Brandon melted my resolve...of
all people, I cannot keep this secret from him. "There...well, the thing
is...he has a girl...Sir."

He blinked once. "A...what?"

"A girl. In Gibraltar. Morris' daughter, in fact. He is writing to her,
and has permission to call on her when next we are in port..." I was
blabbering, uncertain exactly how much I should explain.

And the Captain, after taking a full minute to absorb my words, roared with
laughter. A sound I had not expected to hear from him, ever. I watched,
stunned, as he wiped tears of mirth from his eyes.

Finally, he took a deep breath. "Good Lord, how on earth is it that this has
been such a well-kept secret on such a hotbed of gossip as a ship in His
Majesties' Navy?

"Only three men know, Sir; four now. And...we didn't want to see him
teased."

He shook his head at me. "But, Horatio, one must tease a man in love! He
expects it, in fact he revels in it! Do you think Mr. Kennedy really minded
any of those barbs being tossed at him in the mess? Oh, one might protest,
but in the end you enjoy being reminded of how damned lucky you are."

"Yes, but most men aren't in Drew's emotional state. Sir, really, I must beg
of you...he,s still setting himself to rights." I pleaded.

With some reluctance at the opportunity, he gave in. "Oh, very well, for the
time being he,s free from my verbal sparring." And a suddenly an idea, most
unpleasant, occurred to him; his eyes went wide. "Heavens, Horatio, does
this mean I should be having some sort of...talk...with him?"

Naïve as I am, it took me a few seconds to catch his meaning. Then it was MY
turn to laugh. "I don't think that's necessary, Sir. While from my
knowledge he,s by no means experienced, if you will, I might point out that
he has recently delivered a baby!"

Stupid man that I am, I have managed to talk the Captain back into his
worries, for back they came, with the mere mention of 'baby'! His face fell,
the worry back, the weight of the world once more on his shoulders. For a
man used to being in total control, this must be vexing indeed.

I am exceedingly sorry for bringing it up, but cannot find the words to say
so, so I rose to leave. "Yes, well...I do hope everything is fine, Sir."

"Thank you, Horatio." He focused on me once more, and as usual read me like
a book. "Stop it, Horatio."

"Sir?"

"You're blaming yourself for reminding me of Kitty's condition. Do not think
I know you any less well than I know Mr. Brandon!" I felt my color rising.
"Really, she has never been far from my thoughts all evening. And you HAVE
helped." He gave me a kind smile. "Have a good evening, Mr. Hornblower."

I returned the smile. "Thank you, Sir. I would wish the same for you."

Unfortunately, I realized as I left, his worries would probably not comply.

January 5th, 1799

Still no sign of the enemy, and our days tend to be somewhat dull. With
Archie on duty this morning, I decided to pay a visit to Drew in sick berth.

I found him grinding away at his usual variety of herbs and roots. Perhaps
because it reminds me of the happier days of my childhood, I feel comfortable
sitting with him here. When the ship is healthy, the berth is spotless, and
the only smells are of his potions, ones he learned from my father's notes.

He greeted me with a smile but was deep in concentration, so I perched on a
stool, basking in a quiet reverie, as he worked over the willow bark with
mortar and pestle. Closing my eyes, I can almost hear father's voice: "See,
Horatio? It works just as I thought...pray it is able to ease Mrs. Timmon's
pain; she says it is remarkable how much you've grown, by the way..."

"The sense of smell is an amazing thing, isn't it?" Drew cut into my
thoughts and brought them back to the Indefatigable. "I smell lavender and I
immediately think of my sister and am happy and safe, I smell port wine and
think of my father and feel sick and frightened." He gave me a half smile,
and I turned my eyes to him gently. But there is no extraordinary pain in
his face this day, a good day for him, then.

"You know me well, Drew. I had been transported into my father's surgery."
I sighed, and roused myself. "What smell, pray tell, makes you think of Miss
Violet?" I teased, knowing I was allowed to.

He grinned openly. "Baking bread. Which is what she was doing when last I
saw her."

I coughed slightly; what she had been doing when last he saw her was in fact
kissing him!

"What brings you around this morning, Horatio? You seem perfectly fit."

"I am. I suppose I just wanted to check in on you. Make sure you were doing
alright." I confessed.

He sat back, fingers drumming softly on the table edge. "Mostly alright, I
guess. Reg watches me like a hawk, keeps me from getting too mired down in
anything. Between the two of you, I don't really have a prayer of being
allowed to be morose." He arched his eyebrows. "It is harder, some days, to
put my father out of my life, than others."

I nodded in understanding. The last time we had seen the drunken and abusive
sot, he was reeling from a blow to the head. When Drew went to help him, the
man had almost thrown him away, disowning him on the spot. Even though I
knew his malevolence, I was unprepared for the anger of his words. They had
hurt, surely; though Drew was learning not to care for the man's opinions.
Thankfully he was kept busy enough to not think on it often.

"Anything else on your mind, Horatio?" He asked, watching me curiously.

"Nothing but a few free minutes and a desire to escape from my duties." I
looked at his textbook beside him. "Have you been studying at all for your
Lieutenant's exam, Drew?"

He almost fell off the stool. "Good lord, why? I do not wish to pass it!"

I had known, of course, that his recent promotion was more or less against
his will, and against the Captain's. But it still surprised me that he would
not even TRY to make a go for it. "But you COULD pass it!" I stammered out.

He blinked. "Well, it's flattering that you think so, I suppose. But I
don't want to be a Lieutenant, Horatio...I want to be a doctor. Passing that
exam would put me farther away from that goal, not closer to it." He was
genuinely surprised by my interest. "Why do you ask?

"I just would like to see you pass. I know you can." I tried another tack.
"And even if you fail, I should not like to see you fail abjectly!"

Arms crossed, he replied tersely, "I promise not to embarrass you, Horatio."

Rolling my eyes in futility, I groaned. "That's not what I meant..." I
struggled for the right words. "You've come a long way. I've seen you
perform above decks. And you have a fine head for book learning."

"Yes, I am an adequate midshipman when the need arises. No more. I am a
good Doctor, however..."

"An excellent one." I corrected, and meant it. "And you will need papers to
become the credentialed physician I know you are capable of being, not just a
common ha'penny surgeon ."

"I can be a ship's doctor without papers. The pay is not so great..."

"Exactly!" I pounced. "And you will some day have a wife to support, will
you not? A Lieutenant's pay is nearly double that of an un-credentialed
surgeon. You can save from that to afford the schooling you'll need to be a
physician."

I had him there. It may have been the expression 'wife' that gave him such a
jolt. His eyes were wide. "I never thought...Lord, Horatio, I am not
looking to get married soon!"

"No, no..." I soothed. "But if you are a Lieutenant now, you can start
saving. It's a greater share of prize money, too..." I coaxed. The simple
truth is, I hate to see him not even TRY to pass. "So why not be a
Lieutenant serving as Doctor?"

"But, Horatio..." He stammered, looking at me helplessly. "Just because I
can learn something out of a book, and recite it in an exam, doesn't mean
that I am the man you want on the quarterdeck trying to steer the ship out of
a storm!"

"I know that. Look, the simple truth is most of what it takes to be a good
Lieutenant is not learned from a book, or tested on an exam. I was not a
good Lieutenant when first promoted..."

He guffawed. I ignored him.

"...in fact, there is a part of me that still believes Matthews would be a
better lieutenant than I am. Yet I would trust you, and most of the men
would trust you, in most situations. The more you learn, the more you will
feel confident of your own abilities." I tapped the book. "It doesn't hurt
to learn it anyway, does it?"

"Except that it takes me from my regular studies," he said, but his shoulders
slumped just enough to let me know he was giving in. "Alright, Horatio, I
will study more. Don't expect me to be turning into Reg, though. I still
have men to heal."

I gave him my best grin, the one he said I ought to use more often, and he
could not help but respond in kind. "Fair enough, Drew; trying is all I can
ask." I got up with a stretch, and figured I should get on about my duties.
"Take heart, anyway; Captain Pellew is not likely to have you leading gun
exercises, Lieutenant or not."

His eyebrows furrowed as he still smiled at me, like he was questioning my
sanity. "You do realize, of course, that we,re not going to be in Captain
Pellew's service forever?"

If he had hit me with a brick, I could not have been more stunned. "What?"

"Lord, Horatio; surely you've thought of it? We are more stable than most
ships, but even then: Lieutenant Bracegirdle left us, the Captain has already
been promoted once; you might get transferred, Archie might. Are you really
depending on Admiral Hood to keep us sailing together forever?"

I don't suppose I HAD really thought of it before. I guess, when I looked
into my future, I hoped for a promotion to Commander...but saw myself serving
with Captain Pellew until that time. At least, I cannot imagine serving for
another man!

Drew saw my surprise. "I have thought of it ever since that incident after
Muzillac, when the Captain almost had me transferred, because he thought he
would be removed from service. It concerns me. How do I explain my
situation to another Captain? That I am not REALLY a Lieutenant?"

"Drew, you are more prepared than I!" I mused. "You are right; I guess I
have been so happy here that I never thought about leaving; not until..."

"Until you had a command of your own? That would be ideal, of course." His
mouth set in a determined half-smile. "But when have the admirals ever
followed along with what any of us would consider ideal?"

I managed a slight laugh at that, but this new worry hit me as I departed.
LEAVE the Indefatigable? Leave Captain Pellew's side? How was it even
thinkable? Yet, as Mr. Brandon so succinctly pointed out, it was inevitable.

I remembered my conversation with Mr. Cousins last evening...admitting that I
was restless, anxious for the new year. Perhaps I have sensed changes all
along and had just not taken the time to deal with them. And Mr. Cousins is
right. It is best to let everything unfold as it will. I will not rush the
future, and wish happiness away. I will take the moments as they come.

I returned to our cabin, only to find Archie scribbling away at a letter,
scratching out more words than he was keeping.

"Another letter to Mrs. Kennedy?" I teased. "She will need a cipher to
figure out your handwriting, I think."

"Oh, I'll copy it over once I've worded everything the way I want to. After
all, we are not likely to be in a position to send it off any time soon." He
bit his lower lip in concentration. "Have you ever realized how difficult it
is to keep finding new ways to tell a woman you love her?"

No, I have not, I thought, with a pang of jealousy that I refuse to let
Archie see. "I should have bought you a dictionary for your wedding instead
of that globe!" I reclined tiredly on my narrow bunk.

"I LOVE that globe, Horatio!" Archie looked at me seriously. "I look
forward to using it someday, showing my children all the places I've been."
He added, with a grin, "I,ll take special pains to point out El Ferrol!"

"Ugh!" I groaned. "I can hear it now. 'Here, kids...this is where your
Uncle Horatio and I wasted a pathetic amount of our young lives watching our
men organize bug races...'"

He laughed lightly. "Well, it's one of the better stories to tell, actually.
But I can see it, Horatio; my sons and daughters rolling there eyes at me,
'Lord, here goes dad again, telling how he and Uncle Horatio saved the Navy."

"Single handedly!' I put in for good measure. "If you must embellish, do it
fully!" Something of Drew's conversation returned to me. "Not that you need
to embellish, when you think about it. The reality of our service on
Indefatigable is enough."

"And then some." He looked around the berth. "She's a fine ship, Horatio."

"The best." I said, even as I began to fight sleep. "D'you suppose that's
what we'll be, someday, Archie? A couple of old men together, reliving their
glory days? Boring the youngsters who will wonder how on earth two old coots
like us could possibly know what it means to have fun?"

"I can think of worse things. Still, I guess it would be like the time
Captain Pellew told us he used to stand on his head on the yard arm...I had a
devil of a time seeing him ever even THINKING about doing that!"

I gave a little chuckle. "Funny, I can see it plain as day! But I don't
think of him as old, now, anyhow."

"No, no, strong as an ox, he,s. I should be so blessed with his
constitution." I heard him stretch slowly. "You seem to be in a pensive
mood this evening."

"Drew put me on it, I suppose. Talking about someday not serving here
anymore."

"Yes, that will be a sad day."

I lifted my head to look at him. "So you've thought of it?"

"Yes, once or twice. And I think about the funny twists of fate, too. When
we left Justinian, Horatio, what was it that made us be transferred together?
What if one of us had gone to Aresthusa? Keene may have had enough sense to
get us off his ship, but there was no particular reason to send us together."

Have I always lived in the moment, I wondered? Because none of this had ever
occurred to me. If I had not transferred with Archie... "I should never have
struck you down in the shore boat. You would not have been a prisoner. How
much better would your life have been!" I felt guilty once more for an ages
old transgression that I could not have avoided.

He looked at me in exasperation. "Well, let's carry that thought out, shall
we? I would be happily serving with that jackass Hammond. Would Simpson
still have dared shoot you, if he hadn't dispatched with me first? If not,
that leaves him still alive, for then Captain Pellew should not have shot
him. That would not amuse me, to be sure. With Simpson still around, would
he have found petty little ways to disrupt your career and make you
miserable, even if he hadn't dared more? I would not bet against it. Then,
you would have been taken prisoner anyway...I would not be there. Might that
effect whether or not you could stall Mr. Hunter? Might that mean that
Massaredo would have put you in the hole for a month, instead of two weeks?"

I blinked at him, but he just kept on going.

"And then there's the matter of our eventual return here. If I am not here,
who goes after Drew when he,s sent away to his father? Would he even be
alive still, do you think? And I should never have met his sister then.
Now, we get to France..."

"Alright, alright, let's not talk of France!" I said hastily. "You have
made your point well, Archie!"

"Good. No more talk, then, that we would have been better off not being
friends."

"Agreed." I sighed, reclining back into my pillow. Archie will never let me
be as solitary as my father feared, I thought. I am glad for it; but as is
my nature I cannot let well enough alone. For we will not always serve
together either, and I am already missing having this luxury in the future.

January 6th, 1799

When I saw Drew this morning, his face was etched with exhaustion, and I knew
he had not been sleeping. My initial thought was, damn his father for doing
this to him. He should be able to revel in his happiness, not be dragged
down by those wrathful words hurled at him when he had been only trying to
help. He just stared right through me at first, then gave his shoulders a
little shake and started towards the Captain's cabin. I decided to head him
off, for I know well that the Captain's mood is less than stellar, and Drew
did not need more heaped on his sensitive soul.

"Good morning, Mr. Brandon. Is there something I can help you with?"

He blinked up at me, and it was my turn to be startled. He wasn't upset, he
was worried, and over worked!

"I will have to report to the Captain, Mr. Hornblower, but you must hear it
as well. If you can, follow me."

We found the Captain scowling over his logs, his eyes burning with irritation
as he was interrupted.

"Mr. Brandon, Mr. Hornblower. I trust there,s reason for this disturbance?"

I have decided that any of us initiate conversation with the Captain at our
own peril, until he has word on Miss Cobham's condition!

"It is my interruption, Sir. I requested that Lieutenant Hornblower be
present as well." Drew, with more poise than any sixteen year old I have
ever seen, or am ever likely to, did not even flinch as the Captain merely
raised his eyebrows and stared him down. Most boys, hell, most men, met with
that stare would have been stuttering out an explanation fast! Not our Dr.
Brandon, though, who waited for Pellew to instruct him to go forward!

"Well?" The captain finally intoned. "Is it a medical emergency?" There
was a slight warning in the tone.

Drew responded with a simple, "Yes, Sir. I am afraid it is. Some sort of
putrid fever, Sir. Possibly contagious."

The anger went out of the Captain's face, and was replaced by shock and, yes,
fear. "A contagious fever?" He whispered. Short of fire, there is no worse
threat to any ship, especially one far out at sea.

Drew's weary face did not change. "It's early stages, of course. But I've
had five crewmen down with similar symptoms this morning...fever, vomiting,
shivers...I was hoping it was a food problem at first, but if it had been the
symptoms would have subsided by now. Instead, the fevers grow worse.
Johnson hasn't seen anything like it before. Unfortunately, it goes without
saying that neither have I."

I was thinking furiously. "Men from the same mess, Mr. Brandon?"

"No, Mr. Hornblower. Three different messes. It might merely be weather
related, but the food has been decent, and the cold has not been worse than
I've seen before. In any event, I felt you should both be prepared."

The Captain sat back, frowning. "It isn't the pox, is it? Or the plague?"

"No such signs yet, Sir. As I've said, it's nothing I've ever encountered,
even back in the village. And Johnson, I understand, has some experience
with Pox, so I think he'd have spotted it if that indeed is what it was."

"I see." Captain Pellew's eyes were wide with worry now, hands pressed
together. "And what treatment, Mr. Brandon? What relief? How might we
prevent this from spreading?"

Drew inhaled. "I don't have any answers for you, Sir. God knows I wish I
did. Willow bark seems to be helping the fever, but we have only a limited
supply of it. I am trying everything that might be suggested from my texts,
save bleeding. That will be used only as a last resort."

Fiddling with his pen now, the Captain nodded in understanding. We were both
well aware of Drew's opinion of bleeding as a healing art, and since he has
so far not lost a man to fever, we are not inclined to argue with him.
Rising abruptly, the Captain began to pace before the windows.

Snapping around to me suddenly, he frowned. "Mr. Hornblower, what was your
experience in handling the crew on the plague ship? "

I thought back on those weary days that seemed an eternity ago. "I tried to
keep them busy, Sir. To keep their minds off of our danger. We were so
short staffed, it was not difficult." Of course, I had the added incentive
of a supply of fresh beef to keep them happy as well, but there was no point
in even reminding him of that. It was not an option now.

Perhaps he thought on it anyway, there was a slight twinkle in his eye
despite our new worries. "Yes, I remember interviewing you on your return
from that sail." Then he sighed, a sigh that came from his heart and could
be felt by us all. "I do not want to start a panic, Mr. Brandon. I am
afraid if I tell men to watch for signs of fever, it could result in a witch
hunt in the lower decks."

A memory came to me like a jolt. "That nearly happened on the Caroline."

His stare was piercing. "Yes?"

"A drunk crewman; rumor went round that he had the plague. Men got together
and nearly pitched him overboard. I was only just in time to stop it."

The Captain's brow folded, a deep vee above his starkly dark eyes. "And you
handled this how?"

"I..." I remembered my young foolishness with embarrassment. "I figured,
Sir...I didn't think it was plague, being so many days past Oran. So I
grabbed the man and confirmed my own suspicion...ahem...with my nose."

Drew looked at me, mouth open. "Lord, Ho...Mr. Hornblower, the men must have
been in shock."

The Captain's mouth was twitching in a suspicious way, so I cleared my throat
uncomfortably, hoping to return to the main point. "In any event, aware of
their danger, the men behaved predictably when faced with suspicious
circumstances."

"It is a good thing, then, that their superior officer is not a predictable
man." He said, evenly. Then he looked helplessly around the cabin, and
finally his eyes fell once more on Drew.

"You are dismissed, Mr. Brandon. Please keep me advised of any further
developments."

"Aye, aye, Sir. I shall report to you frequently."

After he left, The Captain turned to look out the window, perhaps searching
deep into his thirty-year career for an answer to this problem. I cleared my
throat, and he returned his gaze to mine.

"We have an advantage over the situation I faced on the Caroline, Sir, with
the mere presence of Mr. Brandon and Mr. Johnson. They are skilled and
respected, and that perhaps will help avoid a panic."

He nodded. "Yes, for a while, perhaps." He closed his eyes. "Unless it
persists. Until men start dying. What then, Mr. Hornblower?"

I swallowed hard. It is an unenviable position to be in, indeed. I should
rather have faced the entire Spanish fleet in a fog again, than have this
happen. I would have more control. "I do not think there is much we can do
at this point but wait, Sir." I said softly.

"No. It is out of our hands, and in Mr. Brandon's." He admitted,
reluctantly. "Still, Mr. Hornblower, it would be best to notify all of the
officers, so that they might be prepared. And let us keep a sharp watch out
for any men stricken."

"Aye, aye, Sir."

I looked back at him as I made my escape; pensive and worried, reaching for
his log book to no doubt record this latest disaster. Of all things to take
his mind off of Kitty, this was not my first choice!

***
I am exhausted. The only thoughts keeping me going are a warm bed, a cup of
tea, and perhaps a few minutes of conversation before oblivion. Archie's
sense of humor often keeps me balanced, and able to face the day anew.

"Mr. Hornblower." Mr. Cousins called to me as I passed. "I see you have
spoken with Mr. Brandon?"

"Yes, indeed. A bad situation." I gave myself a shake. "You learned of it
early, I see?"

He nodded solemnly. "One of my best men, Glenn, was the second in sick
berth." His young eyes were deeply set, as wide as the moon. "I found him,
Mr. Hornblower; overcome with chills, shaking like a leaf in a summer storm."

"I am sorry to hear that, Mr. Cousins. Glenn has been with us some time. I
do hope he has a full recovery."

"It's a shock, Sir. He's strong as an ox, Glenn is. I've seem him lift
things twice his weight. I do not understand how a man so healthy can become
deathly ill so suddenly."

"I have never understood it either, not even with all I saw in my childhood."
And with strange, crashing pain, my own childhood illness came to mind.

One day, I was a normal, happy boy. I remember running over the fields,
swimming in a small stream. A quiet summer day. My father joking with me as
I came in for dinner, all mud and dampness, and my mother gently scolding me
before sending me to clean up. Then, suddenly, as I was trying to eat
creamed carrots, I remember the table seeming to spin...my father's voice
coming from a thousand miles away. My throat hurt. I could not swallow,
not even the cool water. I tried to tell my parents...but could not get the
words out as I suddenly headed crashing for the floor.

The memories afterwards are vague. Mother crying out. Father picking me up,
carrying me to my bed. Days and days of Mother and Father flitting in and
out of my conscious mind. Then, only Father. Then my Aunt. Not until
afterwards did I learn that half of the village, Mother included, had fallen
ill, and Father had been run ragged. A strange fever, lasting weeks with
some patients, who later recovered. Some, like my mother, stricken and taken
away within days. No reason. No sense. Nothing I have ever understood.
Why I lived. Why Mother died. Why Father never was laid up at all. Why?

A far away voice startled me. "Mr. Hornblower, Sir...Are you alright?"

I roused myself. "Yes, Mr. Cousins. Old memories." I exhaled, trying to
rid myself of my past with the air. "I,m tired. Time to turn in, I guess."

"Yes, Sir. Keep your strength up." His own face was pale in the moonlight;
my expression must have frightened him. "Good night, Mr. Hornblower."

My worst thoughts continued, though, as I left him and headed for my berth.
Do I have some sort of strange resistance to illness? My childhood disease
must have made me stronger, for I have never been truly ill since. Injured,
yes, but even after my confinement in the riggings on Justinian, in icy
weather, I did not even fall prey to a small cold. Perhaps...macabre
thought...perhaps I will be the only one to survive this ship! Perhaps I
shall watch my comrades die one by one, and be the only man left to tell the
tale! Why, it shall set me mad!

Stupid ass, Horatio! Keep your mind on the tangible. Five men ill are a
small number of this ship, and Drew and Johnson are well skilled; no man has
yet died. I am being ridiculous.

I opened the door to the berth, comfortable in the knowledge that Archie will
confirm my stupidity for me.

"Archie?" I whispered, looking over towards his bunk.

GOOD GOD! ARCHIE? "ARCHIE!...DREW...send for Mr. Brandon, quickly now!"
***

January 15th.

"At least the fever does not seem to be a contagious one after all, Sir."
Drew said.

The healthy officers had gathered around Captain Pellew's dinner table.
Chicken and pease, our standard order of fair around here lately. None of us
have any appetite, but the Captain glowers, commanding that we eat, that we
drink, that we try and keep our strength up. Lord knows we shall need it.

We are down two midshipmen, with Holloway and Howard stricken. Anderson and
one of our new lads, Coleman, have been diligently filling in, and McGill has
been a rock (albeit an often surly one); I am keeping a strict watch on them
to make certain they are not over-exhausted, which might lead to their
becoming ill as well. Archie is the only Lieutenant down, yet, but the
bosun, Andrews, is very sick indeed, as is our cook, Clarke. A total of
forty-five men are sick, with two fatalities, new seaman recently pressed.
"Can you be so certain, Mr. Brandon?" I asked, tiredly.

"Fairly, Sir. The rate of infection isn, consistent with an infectious
disease. Especially with neither Johnson or I showing any symptoms."

"Let us thank God for small favors, then, Gentlemen." Captain Pellew sighed,
and sipped delicately at this claret. "We are running with minimal crew;
another favor, then, that we have not yet seen an enemy." He drummed his
fingers slowly. "And thank God, also, that we are the only ship in the
squadron so inflicted."

Drew ran his hands through his hair, causing his bangs to stand on end. "I
wish I knew what was causing this! Or why some men get sick and not others!"

"That is the Lord's choosing, Mr. Brandon. None of us understand it."
Bowles responded, perhaps trying to sooth him.

"Perhaps, Mr. Bowles, but I cannot but feel that the Good Lord gave me a
brain to try and solve these puzzles, and I am failing miserably!"

"The lord helps those who help themselves." I muttered, and everyone turned
to look at me for an uncomfortable moment. I am well known for not being the
most religious man on board the ship, but in this instance I do side with Mr.
Brandon; I cannot believe in a God who would randomly strike men down of
illness; but perhaps I have learned to believe in a...spirit, if you will,
which would give us the tools to fight evils such as disease, if only we can
learn how to use them.

"Yes, well." The Captain looked uncomfortable, and then finished his glass
of wine. "I too am frustrated by the inability to take firm action; this is
an enemy that strikes without warning."

Good old Edrington's voice came to me unbidden: "I have little time for an
enemy that daren't show his face," and I had to fight not to smile.
Wherever is the Earl of Edrington now? Chances are a good deal happier than
I am, whatever the circumstances.

Drew inhaled. "As a matter of fact, Sir, I had an idea in that regard..."

We all leaned forward, anxious for any hope, any relief.

And with far more hesitation than I am used to seeing from him, he looked
imploringly at us all. "I don't know that it will work..." He was wide eyed
and cautious, most unusual.

The Captain, with a trace of acerbity, responded, "Whenever you wish to share
it with us, Mr. Brandon. We seem to have nothing but time on our hands."

With complete understanding, and only slightly ruffled, Drew continued, "Yes,
Sir. I would like to clean the ship, Sir."

More raised eyebrows. "I hadn,t been aware Indefatigable was dirty, man!"

"She's not visibly so, Sir. Naturally, she never is. But I mean clean the
ship in the same manner which I clean sick berth. Boiling water. Lye.
Perhaps that alcohol brew I use. And clean every inch of her, from the
farthest bowels to, well, to be blunt, to your own cabin." His face was
marked by two red splotches, as he understood full well that this was an
unorthodox request by any manner.

The Captain's patience is thin, to be sure. He has personal worries
magnified a thousand-fold by the turn of events here. And though he has
great personal regard for Mr. Brandon, I was afraid that this might drive him
right over the edge; Drew was, if you will, the straw that broke his back.

His lips were pursed into a thin line, as he finally responded. "Just out of
curiosity, Mr. Brandon, is there any reasoning WHATSOEVER for this request?
Do you have any logical purpose to it, SIR?"

Drew held himself steady (I should have expected no less) and replied
honestly, "Nothing I can bear out from my books, Sir. Just the experience of
my own eyes: Men who are not sick, are not getting sick from the men in sick
berth. Mr. Hornblower, for example, has visited Mr. Kennedy frequently, and
has no signs of illness. But it seems that once one man has been stricken,
several of those he has worked with also come down ill. The only difference
I can draw, Sir, is that the sick-berth is routinely cleaned as I described."

I rather wish he had not brought up my frequent visits to Archie; I suspect
the Captain is less than approving of the fact that what little free time I
do have is spent watching my weak friend try to regain his strength.

Dabbing his lips with his napkin, Captain Pellew stood. We followed suit.
The spark in his eyes was anger and frustration, and bad luck for Drew that
he managed to trigger it!

"I cannot spare men on fool's errands, Mr. Brandon, and what you are
describing sounds to me to be exactly that! Please, Doctor, when you have a
suitable request that is of an even remotely medical nature, do share it with
me. Until that time, confine yourself to reporting how many new men are laid
up on a daily basis. That would seem to be what you are best at!"

Unfair! Grossly unfair, and I gathered up my courage to defend Drew, but had
no time before the Captain gave out a terse, "Gentlemen, you are dismissed,
save Mr. Hornblower, if you please, Sir."

I swallowed my angry words for whatever private conversation we might have; I
glanced at Drew quickly; his face was still red, but his eyes revealed not
how he took the Captain's ire; I gave Cousins a quick glance and a nod, and
he nodded back, understanding I expected him to look after his friend. In a
remarkably short time, the room cleared, leaving the Captain and me.

He had turned to face the window, his back rigid and unmoving. Despite these
well-known warning signs, I persisted. "Sir, I must beg your pardon, but was
it really necessary to refuse Mr. Brandon's request in that manner?"

The Captain did not even move. "We've lost two men, Mr. Hornblower. Forty-
five more are still laid up and could be lost at any moment. God help us if
a ship comes upon us now; if it does, I should not wish to have my remaining
men on their hands and knees scrubbing the darkest corners of the cable
tier!" His sarcasm mingled with exhaustion; I know he has not been sleeping.

"I understand that, Sir. So would Mr. Brandon. Why not put it that way?"

He finally turned around. "I am the Captain, Mr. Hornblower. I cannot
always be concerned with the feelings of my men, when I must instead balance
their lives in my hands. Yours, included."

"Mine, Sir?" I said, suddenly becoming wary.

"You must cease your visits to Mr. Kennedy. That is an order."

I knew he would pick up on what Drew had meant as an innocent remark! "Sir,
I am only there in my free time. I can assure you, I have not taken any time
away from my responsibilities as first lieutenant!"

"Not yet. But what if you were to become sick, Mr. Hornblower? Despite Mr.
Brandon's protestations to the contrary, I am not convinced that my best
officer is not in any danger when surrounded by men with dangerous fevers!
Let me ask you this, Sir. I have noticed you keeping a constant watch over
our two young midshipmen, Anderson and Coleman. Why is that?"

Surprised by the conversations turn, I answered with a slight stutter, "With
but three midshipmen left, Sir, I want to make certain they do not become
over tired, and then more likely to be sick themselves."

"Indeed. I am most pleased with your regard for them on that account. But I
am responsible for you, as you are for them, and I will not see you over-
tired, worn-down. You ought to be resting in that free time, Mr. Hornblower;
taking whatever extra sleep you can. I do not doubt your heart is in the
right place with Mr. Kennedy, but I am asking you to use your head, Sir. You
would not accept such behavior from one of your midshipman, and I cannot
accept it from you!"

Resignation set in as we stared at each other. He was quite serious about
this, and, I must admit, probably right as well. "I understand, Sir. Might
I..." I could not have Archie believing I abandoned him. "Might I pay him
one last visit this evening, and explain to him that my responsibilities will
keep me away?"

And for the first time that night, his eyes softened just a bit. "I see no
harm in that, Horatio." He said gently. "If you agree to keep the visit
under fifteen minutes, that is. And do not worry too much about him; Mr.
Brandon will certainly have him in the best of care, for personal reasons."

"Yes, Sir. You are right there." Drew was Archie's brother-in-law.

The Captain sat again, looking most tired himself. "And you are right, too;
I ought not to have snapped at him." He gave a wry smile. "Any other
sixteen year old that,s ever served with me would have cowered in the corner
if I'd spoken to him like that! I do not know if Mr. Brandon is
exceptionally strong or if I am losing my touch." He sighed. "Anyway, he,s
well used to my temperament. Do explain my reasoning to him, Horatio."

There was real concern in his voice; I know he would not intentionally wound
Drew for the world. "Of course, Sir. And if I might be so bold, you look
like you could do with some sleep yourself."

He gave me a mock salute. "Aye, Aye, Mr. Hornblower. I shall do my best."

I straightened up and looked down my nose at him. "I expected nothing less,
Sir!" And we shared a tired smile before I turned around and went to obey
his order; he, I knew, expected nothing less of me.

***

"Feeling better today, Archie?" I perched on a crate next to him.

"The same, Horatio. No better, no worse." He whispered.

I looked at him with some concern. He looked too much like he had when he'd
been sick in Spain. Dark circles under his eyes, standing out in what was
otherwise a pale face; even his lips, chapped and swollen, seemed to have
lost color. I held water to his mouth and coaxed him to drink, as I did
then.

He must have remembered it also. "Still my personal nursemaid, Horatio?"

"You,ve done the same for me once or twice, eh?" I reminded him. "Cold?"

"A little." I pulled the blanket up to him.

His first days in the birth he had been racked with fever and chills; I
believe we all thought he was lost. The fever broke three days later, but he
could not take in much in the way of solid food for some three days more.
Now Drew was relieved to see him put away a few biscuits during the day,
along with a copious amount of water.

But a lingering weakness remained. His very limbs were tired; "heavy" he
called them; the effort of sitting up on his own exhausted him, and made
sweat break out on his brow. Drew and Johnson both guessed that it was time
that he needed, but nobody knew how much. The men first laid up sick are
suffering still in the same manor, two of them succumbing a few days ago.
The others mend, a bit stronger each day. But it was such a tiny bit, and
they had been so weak, that I look now at Archie, unable to lift his own
glass, and guess it will be a month at least until he,s back to normal.

"I must turn the role of nursemaid over to Drew, in fact. The Captain has
ordered me to be more attentive of my duties."

There was the faintest hint of sparkle for a second in his eyes. "More
attentive of your personal well being, you mean. I know well enough that
these visits have been at the expense of your sleep, and not of your duties."

I gave him a little smile. "You and the Captain know me too well." I patted
his arm. "I must leave now, he gave me 15 minutes to let you know that."

"I am rather surprised he didn't do anything sooner, Horatio. He can't have
you getting sick too." His eyes grew heavy. "Take care of yourself,
Horatio. You're a much worse patient than I am; you do not need to join me."

"Too true, Archie." I said, standing, but I was talking to myself, he was
sleeping again. So I turned around to make my way to our old doctor's
quarters, where Drew and Johnson took turns resting; tonight Drew was there.

The door had been left slightly ajar, as it has a tendency to stick. I
peeked around the corner.

Drew was leaning against the small table, a book in his hand, the lantern
beside him. But he wasn't seeing the book, for I saw him wipe his eyes; I
was right, the Captain's anger had affected him more than it might have even
a few months ago, though he had hidden it well.

I cleared my throat and he looked up quickly, then, on seeing it was me,
closed his book and blinked up at me, trying to look dignified. "I'm fine,
Horatio; Reg has already asked after me four times."

I sat on the bunk next to him. "You're not fine, Drew. The Captain didn't
mean to be that sarcastic, you know."

"Yes, he did, Horatio; oh, I know he,s not angry at me, that,s just how he
vents frustration; but at the core of it he's right. I haven't done a damned
thing to help the men get better. Hepplewhite could not have done worse."

"Hey!" I grabbed his chin and made him look at me. "That is BLATANTLY
untrue, Drew! Hepplewhite would have been holed up in this little room with
a bottle, while men were laying in squalor and filth, and he would not have
cared a jot." I gave him a little shake. "The men trust you, Drew. Like
they never trusted him. Without your medical expertise, I would be worrying
about preventing mutiny, as the disease got out of control."

"The Captain does not trust me, apparently." He added quietly, suddenly
transfixed by the flame in the lantern.

"Tcha! Of course he does. But he,s afraid to spare men for your request,
when we are already so short-handed. He,s afraid of being attacked from
outside, Drew." I grasped his wrist. "That,s your father talking, not you."

He chewed on his lip. "Perhaps, Horatio. Perhaps this is just a bad day."
He turned those steady blue eyes on me, imploringly. "I really do think it
would help, though, Horatio! I know I can,t prove it, but I feel it."

I stood; looking down at him, I could see just how serious he was. "Well,
Drew, I would suggest you write out this plan of yours, in a way that uses as
few men as possible; say maybe eight? If you can outline a way to clean the
ship using no more men than that, with exactly how it should be done, I might
be able to talk to the Captain on your behalf. Tomorrow, or the day after.
Whenever it would seem to be a good time."

His face relaxed, when he realized I was not going to belittle his strange
plan. "Alright, Horatio. Thank you." He sniffed once, then looked me over.
"You need some sleep, Horatio."

"As I am constantly being reminded!" I quipped. "So I bid you goodnight.
Tomorrow will be a better day, I am sure!"

***
January 16th

It has been a long time since I had been back in Lynchcliffe, the village of
my childhood, so it was a pleasant surprise to find myself there in the
morning-only it seemed to be afternoon. Not that I should know what time it
is...can I remember a life when my day was not regulated with bells?

Winter in England. The snow crunched under my feet-snow that made me think
of Captain Pellew, and I had to smile. The chill was noticeable, but not
unpleasant, and not damp, so that was new. Dryness on shipboard is often a
myth. I pulled my cloak around me tighter and walked along the slippery
roadway, careful with each step, secretly relieved that no well-meaning
neighbor passed in a cart to offer me a ride. I was enjoying the scenery.
Perhaps I was seeing it as I hadn,t before, in the days of childhood when my
life seemed wrapped up in, and even trapped by, the confines of the town.

How pretty the countryside is! Much prettier than Spain, even if Spain had
majestic cliffs I,d walked, and fragrant fruit trees I,d eaten from. Also
prettier than France; I pushed the ugliness that was Muzillac out of my mind.
How clean the snow smells! And there: there, in the distance, that is the
tree I was stuck in so long ago! Mother, bless her, found me there and
climbed up without a thought to rescue me. Frightened by a dog! What a
silly child I had been!

I came upon the house suddenly, almost without realizing it, I was so wrapped
up with my own thoughts. I entered not through the front door but into the
surgery, as I had always done as a boy. It was not unexpected for me to find
that father was there, his last patient obviously having gone. As he always
did, in the time before tea, he had turned to his outdated scope and his
cryptic notes, working with his herbs. "Father, how is your research going?"
I asked, as if we had last seen each other only yesterday.

"Ah, Horatio!" He looked up at me, eyes bright. "Pull up a chair, son, and
look! I don,t know what to make of it. But it,s something, to be sure."

I looked through the scope: a strange pattern of crystals and squiggles
emerged. I can do a complicated algorithm with ease, but have never been
able to understand things in my father,s world. "What is it, Father?"

"Mold!" He exclaimed happily. "Common, household mold!" Then he frowned.
"I don,t understand its use, exactly, but there is something there...bah!
Never mind, you are home! Your mother must have the tea ready by now!"

Mother?

I followed him, a lump in my throat threatening to suffocate me, from the
surgery into our kitchen, bright and cheery. And she was there, shorter than
I'd remembered her, but strong, radiant; she looked all the picture of
health, and not a day older than when I was a boy.

"Horatio! Look at you! Why, how you've grown!"

She reached up and kissed me lightly on the cheek, and it tingled. I
swallowed hard.

Father interrupted even as he eased himself into a chair. "For heaven's sake
my dear, feed the boy! He looks half starved to death...and I can use a
little food as well!"

I had forgotten my father's gruff banter, his teasing language. But I had
not forgotten the love in the look he gave her, watching her, holding her to
his heart with his eyes. So Archie looks at his wife...so Captain Pellew
looks at Kitty. God, I thought. I want that. Once in my life I want to be
able to look at a woman with my heart.

We sat down together at the table and a basket full of biscuits, still warm
from the oven, appeared. I felt my mouth water and was certain that as I took
one bite the lovely illusion would vanish. But not so; this is so real, I
can taste the melting butter-FRESH, not rancid, and strawberry jam, never so
sweet you cannot taste the fruit. The tea was hot and strong; Mother sat
across from me, her eyes tender. I blinked away tears in amazement.

"I have missed you both so much." I finally said.

"We know, dear." Mother smiled kindly, and squeezed father's hand; he looked
at her as if she were sunshine itself. "We have missed you. But you've made
us both very, very proud."

Father sighed, and gave me that appraising gaze. I felt like it was Captain
Pellew seeing me. "You have much to take care of on that ship of yours.
Keep your eyes sharp. And watch for the boys."

"I always do, Sir."

"And get somebody to listen to Brandon, will you? Sharp as a tack."

I smiled. "I shall try, Sir. He's usually not difficult at being heard."

"No, no, as stubborn as you are. You might be brothers."

"I wish we were, that he were your son as well, for his sake." How much more
might Drew have thrived, even, to have the gift of a childhood like mine.

Mother looked wistful. "I should have liked to have more children. But I
cannot complain, for look at how blessed I was." I blushed with pleasure.
My mother is perhaps the one person in the world who can make me feel that I
am a worthy human being.

Father sighed, still thinking about what I'd said. "That Lord Exton!" He
shook his head. "Well, the boy is safe now." He and mother both sipped
their tea. "Everything for a reason, I suppose, Horatio." He said, quietly.
Footsteps echoed outside the door, and Mother grasped my arm quickly. "You
are alive, Horatio. Everything for a reason." Her eyes were insistent, and
I tried to understand.

"Mr. Hornblower!"

"Mhph"

"Mr. Hornblower, Sir!"

And just like that, it was gone. I opened my eyes to see the beams of the
Indy, and found myself staring into the frightened face of Mr. Anderson.

"Yes...what is it?" I tried to pull away from the dream quickly, toss off
the cobwebs and focus on reality.

"Ship's been spotted, Sir. Captain wants you above decks now!" He was all
breathless and worried, but I am not an officer to bite off a boy's head for
waking me at the Captain's command.

"I shall be along immediately." And he relaxed instantly, and was gone.

So it was that I had no time to even relish my dream, as instead I hastily
pulled on my clothes.

But I did pause, for a few seconds, to touch my cheek.

Where she kissed me.

***
The Captain was alert, glass trained on the horizon. He did not break this
pose as I approached, but noted me anyway. "Mr. Hornblower, will you be so
good as to confirm my worst suspicions?"

I raised the glass. "Spanish. Eighty-four guns, I should say..." I paused,
and felt my stomach tilt as another sail appeared behind it. "Another
Spaniard." A second later it was more clearly in view. "Seventy-two guns."

"Thank you, Mr. Hornblower." He put his own glass down, his face immobile.
"Mr. Anderson, the positions of the remainder of the squadron?"

"Sir..." He pulled himself up. "The Dunbarton is in sight, Sir. Apollo and
Victoria left us yesterday."

"Yessssssss." He drew the word out, long. "Water ran out. No supply ship.
Timing, Mr. Anderson, is everything."

"Yes, Sir."

A few seconds evaporated. "Signal Dunbarton, Mr. Anderson. We shall try to
outrun them. Call hands to quarters, Mr. Hornblower."

"Aye, Aye, Sir."

Bad. This is very bad. Undermanned and out-gunned. I have seen enough of
Spanish prisons, thank you.

Let us hope we are faster, at least.

***

AS the sun grew higher in the sky, the tension grew at a rate two-fold on the
Indy. The Captain and Mr. Bowles kept us one step ahead of the Spanish;
Dunbarton did the same. The winds seemed non-committal; neither fair nor
foul. They did not gain on us; neither did we gain freedom from them.

I would like to say that I offered some sort of far-reaching insight into our
situation, but I did not. Mostly I watched; anticipating the Captain's next
move, pleased when it would match what I had thought he might do; surprised
when it did not. I still have so much to learn from this man...and yet I
wonder, shall I ever be a Captain capable of eluding ships bigger and faster
than mine? How shall I ever know what is the right step to take?

"Wind's shifting, Sir." Mr. Bowles expostulated.

"Damnit all to HELL!" The Captain snapped. "Prepare to tack!"

The order was repeated by Mr. Bowles and myself, but it was perhaps just two
seconds too late. We were taken aback, temporarily floundering helplessly.

I held my breath. Mr. Bowles swore.

But he has great skill, and our men are well trained. "Get her moving!
Morris, Thompson, steady now!" Good, willing men; men who did not need to be
told they were racing for their ship, and their lives.

Alas, there are not enough of them now, too many of those good men are below
decks, wracked by illness. Those few precious seconds slipped away and the
Spaniards gained steadily, smelling our blood.

"Prepare to fire..." The Captain called out. He might as well have said
'return fire'; for we all knew we would be fired on first, if the Spanish had
any skill at all.

And Archie, Archie who had the best sense of strategy with the guns, Archie
who knew artillery like the back of his hand, was one of those good men down.
Thank God for Reg...I looked over at an earnest, intense Mr. Cousins. His
face was flushed with excitement. Still young enough to not fully understand
the fear. Still, if I cannot have Archie here, I am glad to have so capable
a Lieutenant in his stead.

Our eyes met, and after a brief nod, Cousins and I ran to the guns...the men
straining to load, to aim...to...

The ship shook as the first round from the Spanish hit, more misses than
hits, thankfully; apparently they have no Archie Kennedy either. I vaguely
heard screams. File them away, Horatio.

"FIRE" I screamed, at the gun crew. Mr. Cousins' made the same cry, and his
guns echoed as well.

Another bit of splinter went past me as we were hit again; someone screeched,
I know not who. And I cannot spare the seconds to find out right now.

"FIRE!" I yelled again.

"FIRE!" "FIRE!" "FIRE!" The words echoed endlessly around me, my life an
amalgam of soot and splinter, heat and the acrid smell of gunpowder. We
would not go down without a fight, and though sight was becoming difficult, I
could hear Spanish screams and curses, and knew we would be taking some of
them with us, at least.

"CEASE FIRE!" The Captain's order hit me almost like a cannon blast itself.
Yet that is what he said...cease fire.

Cease fire? We are captured, then. For as brave as he is, he would not risk
all of his men's lives needlessly.

Images of El Ferrol intrude. I wonder if there is any room at Don
Massaredo's Inn? Are all Spanish prisons as decent? Probably not.

The smoke cleared, and I was finally able to clearly see what I had not
before noticed...The Spanish ship was decimated, damaged badly...and
surrendering to US? No, both Spaniards...for Dunbarton had wreaked havoc on
the sister ship. Dunbarton appears worse off than we are, but that was
nothing compared to what our mighty little frigates had done to the enemy.

A cheer might have gone up if any of us had strength. Five hours have gone
by since the ships were sighted. Five hours, or five minutes, I cannot tell.

I blew a wayward lock of hair off of my face. "Very well done, Mr. Cousins.
A very fine job indeed."

He did not answer me, and I turned to look at him. "Mr. Cousins?" He stood
not five feet away, staring blankly at the damaged ships before us.

Before I could call his name again, he collapsed, and I felt my heart in my
throat. Had he been hit? I did not see blood.

"M...m....ister Hornblower." He looked up at me with chattering teeth.

"Good God, Cousins, it's the fever!" I gasped, pulling my jacket off and
trying to wrap it around him for warmth. And with a sudden rush of guilt, I
recalled his ruddy face just before we opened fire. Curse my stupidity for
thinking him over-excited, and not realizing the REAL meaning of his flushed
face. "How long have you felt ill, Reg?" I whispered softly to him.

"S...s...since this m...m...morning, Horatio." He closed his eyes.
"T...tried to f...fight it. C...couldn't let you down."

"You never have." I soothed, frightened by the heat of his forehead. I
blinked quickly, and called out without thinking to two of the men I could
most count for assistance when needed. "Styles...Oldroyd...get Lieutenant
Cousins down to sick berth, if you please."

"I'll take him, Sir." Morris, who was one of Reg's men, nodded, and Matthews
came with him.

Matthews...he looks strange indeed. A stony look to his face, immobile, like
the Captain's when something hasn't gone the way he would have liked.
Matthews' eyes met mine and he tried to tell me something, without speaking.
Pain. He was in pain, though he was not hurt. And he,s worried for me,
though I am not hurt. I could not fathom his meaning.

Then I turned around to see what the hell was the matter.

Styles. Standing over Oldroyd...speared through with a splinter. Oldroyd,
lifeless, pale. Styles, immobile. And weeping like a child.

Oldroyd.

DAMN IT, NO!

I looked over Styles. Watching Oldroyd's death tearing him apart was awful,
and I did something I have never done before.

I put my hand on his shoulder. He looked away from me, but I would not move.
I gathered the courage to speak. "Styles, go bellow." I racked my brains
for some idea. "Get me..." I took a deep breath. "Go bellow to my cabin
and get me my other coat." I had, after all, given the one I'd had on to Mr.
Cousins. "Take your time." I added, more quietly.

"Aye, Aye, Sir." He wiped his face with the back of his hand, and stumbled
away. Leaving me standing there over Oldroyd, a very dead Oldroyd, who I can
only hope did not suffer terribly in his last moments.

He didn't look as though he had...his face was quite at peace, as if his eyes
might pop open at any moment, and he'd give me that easy, cheeky grin of his.
A good man, a loyal man, if not perhaps the brightest ever. But I will
remember him mostly for his kindness and compassion, in helping with
Lieutenant Cousins when Mr. Brandon treated him for burns. He'd always
wanted to go to the Indies...he'd talk about it like it was heaven, just
based on the stories older sailors had told him. Sun, sand, women, fresh
food...his eyes would light up at the possibilities, even when Styles tried
to talk him out of it ("tropical diseases...fever...").

Well, perhaps, if there is a heaven, that is where he,s now.

My men...my Justinian men...Williams, Stephens, Finch, Oldroyd, Matthews and
Styles. Only two remained.

"Mr. Hornblower, report if you please." The Captain called to me, and I
could not take the time to mourn now.

***
We sat together in his Cabin, and without words he poured both of us a glass
of Brandy. We sipped in silence; I cannot guess what occupied his thoughts,
but mine rested with a dead man, who was even now probably being sewn in
canvas for burial.

"Mr. Hornblower..." He finally spoke, his voice raspy from giving commands.
"How in the devil did we just do that, Sir?"

"I do not know, Sir." We looked at each other, the shock of our feat still
overwhelming.

"How many men were lost?" He asked, although we'd already had an accounting
above decks.

"Seven total, Sir. No officers."

"Seven. Hm." He rubbed his head. "Shakespeare himself, I think, would not
believe this scenario."

"No, Sir. It is remarkable." I tried to smile, faintly, but could not get
my mouth to move.

But he understood. "Was that Oldroyd I saw you standing over?"

"Yes, Sir. A good man. He will be missed." I said evenly.

"I hate losing men!" Sitting back, he tactfully did not look at me. "The
only good thing about this is that we only lost seven, and I am not even sure
how." He finished the glass off. "Do not, when you have your own command,
underestimate the importance of luck, Mr. Hornblower."

"No, Sir." I agreed wholeheartedly on this; luck is the only reason we are
free men still.

"Captain Clark is on his way over from Dunbarton, so we may figure out how to
handle our unexpected prizes." He rose, and I followed. "Did I also see
that Mr. Cousins has been stricken with fever?"

"Yes, Sir. Fought it for as long as he could."

"Tcha!" Frustration danced over his face. "And McGill went down with fever
this morning, after his watch."

"I did not know that, Sir!" And I blushed. As first Lieutenant I OUGHT to
have known that.

"There was no time to tell you, for the ships were spotted and we immediately
went to action."

He could excuse my inattention all he wants to, but how could I do this? I
hadn't noticed Mr. Cousins was sick, I hadn't noticed McGill was not above
decks. What kind of a man was I? Perhaps I should go count heads and see if
anybody has deserted on my watch!

The Captain was still to mired in thoughts of his own to notice my
expression. "Would you care to lead the service for the fallen, Mr.
Hornblower?"

"I would, Sir." That, at least, I can do; I had done it once for Bunting, a
man I felt I should not have lost. This was different; any Captain must be
resigned to losing men in a time of war; even if they were men you cared
about, even if you didn't like it.

"Good, Mr. Hornblower. You'd best make preparations." He was frowning.
"And join me for dinner tonight; we have some personnel issues to discuss."

My lack of attention to personnel, more likely. I winced, certain that he
meant to dress me down for not paying better attention to my men. Well, one
of them, at least, was going to need my attention badly in the next few days.
I was certain that Styles was not going to be handling Oldroyd's death well.

***
He greeted me with my jacket when I returned above decks, and remained by my
side as I read the service. He was stoic; numb, even. I felt my voice
tremor over the words, but they came out clear; and unlike the late
Lieutenant Eccleston, I did not need to be prompted for any of the men's
names. Certainly not for Oldroyd's.

"Guess I'd better gather up his things, eh?" Matthews spoke quietly to
Styles, as the men filtered away.

A tradition as old as service at sea. Oldroyd's possessions, whatever meager
treasures he had amassed in his service, would be sold, for a pittance, so
that something might be sent from the men back to his widow, or his family.
Oldroyd, I knew, had a family back near Portsmouth, and at least two sisters
that I can remember him speaking of.

Styles winced, not wanting any part of it. "Wish I was Buntin'..." He
muttered. "Ain't got no money t'buy em myself."

"Nobody's expecting you to, mate." Matthews said in surprise, but Styles
ambled away and went up the rat lines; perhaps the best thing for him, all in
all. Because I understood. To have the last items of a friend pilfered or
sold, even for cause, was like losing them all over again. Matthews was more
practical about it, and besides, he'd been in service longer than most of us.

When Archie was thought dead, I had stood guard over his sea chest, making
certain that nobody decided it was a good place to snag a clean shirt, until
the day we could ship it back to England. I could not have him violated in
that way.

So after I took a quick look around deck...Mr. Coleman was on watch...I
turned and followed Matthews down below.

***
I reported for dinner promptly, still wearing my second best jacket. I had
gone to retrieve my best one from Mr. Brandon, only to discover he was
adverse to my wearing it until it had been pressed and steamed, 'to kill the
sickness,' he said.

"You used it to wrap Mr. Cousins with, when he was at his most ill. I'll not
have you getting sick, too."

Cousins himself was still laid up, chattering, but not as feverish as he had
been, the willow bark working its magic. And McGill was there, too, as I had
been told, less ill than Reg but considerably crankier. Especially at having
to take orders from Drew, who looks as though he,d like to wring his neck.

"Have Johnson deal with him," I'd suggested, and he nodded at the idea. For
certainly McGill has a problem with Mr. Brandon in particular.

At least I am not entirely without sense when it comes to watching over the
men, I thought grimly, as I entered past the marine on duty waiting to have
my head handed to me for my thoughtlessness.

Captain Pellew's mind was not on me, however, even when I showed up to accept
his chastisement. Instead, we had a peaceful dinner, with small-talk that I
was certain masked what it was he really wished to speak to me about.

Only as I was finishing up the last of my chicken did he hit me with one of
the least expected questions I have ever encountered in my life.

"Can Mr. Brandon command a prize vessel?"

WHAT? I dabbed my mouth carefully and looked at him for a few seconds,
letting the reality of the question sink in. "Sir, I have to tell you...I do
not think that would be a wise thing. He has never even commanded a division
of men; he,s only sixteen, in any event, and we are both aware of how seldom
he has had to perform above decks."

"I didn't think so, Horatio. But I had to ask." He gave me an apologetic
smile. "Because I hate to have my first Lieutenant sailing a prize vessel
back to England."

"Me, Sir?" I gasped.

"Yes, you. And as meager a prize crew as you think necessary from this ship.
Captain Clark can spare men a plenty from Dunbarton, but he has only one
officer available to command a ship, plus one green Midshipman. His first
Lieutenant was wounded this afternoon, his second killed. Meanwhile, Mr.
Kennedy is recovering from fever, McGill and Cousins are just stricken. Mr.
Anderson is only fifteen, and this is not a schooner, it's a ship of the
line. So you are left, Mr. Hornblower. I shall have to rely here on Mr.
Bowles, and...Mr. Brandon."

"As first Lieutenant, Sir?" Oh, dear. "But he,s so needed below decks!"

"I am aware of that; effectively I will be asking him to perform double duty.
And Johnson will have to be given more reign in the sick berth. I am asking
you to explain this to him, Horatio."

I must have looked thoroughly lost as how to do this, for he gave me a slight
smile. "I think if you tell him that his option was captaining a ship of the
line to England, he will understand."

"You might be right there, Sir." I said, with feeling. I got up to make
preparations, but he called me back.

"Horatio?"

"Sir?"

"Your orders are to make for any port in England. As usual." He cleared his
throat. "If you can manage to make that port Portsmouth, I should be very
grateful indeed."

Portsmouth being where Kitty is currently living! I took one look at his
sheepish face, and forced myself not to smile. "I shall do my best, Sir."

"Good. Then off with you, Mr. Hornblower. You must depart in the morning."

***

Well, well, this was a fine mess, indeed. I headed first to sick berth,
where before I cornered Drew (he had briefly looked up from treating a man
who'd been wounded in today's action) I sought out Reg.

He was resting comfortably, sleeping soundly, fever broken. That it broke
early was a good sign, perhaps he,ll recover quickly enough to give Drew a
hand. I bent to smooth the blanket out and he opened his eyes briefly.

"Mr. Hornblower?"

"Yes, Reg, it's me."

"Did we win?"

"We certainly did, Reg. Thanks to all your efforts this afternoon."

He gave me half a smile and drifted back to sleep. I went over to Archie.

More awake, Archie looked frustrated, though I know he,s still weak.

"Wish I could have been there, Horatio!"

I smiled back at him. "I wish you'd been there too, Archie, especially now."

"How do you mean?"

"Guess who has to command one of the prize ship's back to England tomorrow?"

"Lucky dog. I wouldn't mind a quick trip to England."

"And I wouldn't mind you having it, either. As it is, I am counting on you
to recover fully before I get back, so that the Captain and Mr. Brandon do
not kill each other."

"Why should...OH!" He took my meaning. "Poor Drew!"

There was movement behind me. "I know I am going to regret asking this..."
Drew had come up from nowhere. "But why, exactly, am I so to be pitied?"

With a deep breath I explained to him our situation, and his expanded, role.

"Above decks? First Lieutenant? Are you both mad?" He gasped.

I clapped him on the shoulder. "It's fortunate that you've been reading up
on your above deck duties, eh?"

"Horatio!" He missed my feeble attempt at humor. Well, nothing new there.

"Look, Drew. You know all the basics. I'm certain that the Captain will not
ask for more than you're capable of. And Johnson can certainly handle taking
over more of sick berth."

"I'm not worried about Johnson; I'm worried about me!" He frowned hard.
"Where will you be, anyway?"

"Sailing one of those ships we captured today back to England."

Archie spoke up softly. "Drew, look, I am doing better every day..."

The 'doctor's' response was immediate. "You are in no condition to go above
decks yet, Archie."

"No, I realize that. But I am here, if you have any questions. I can still
think, you know."

Drew exhaled mightily. "Well, I don't suppose I have any choice in the
matter." He looked at me. "When do you leave, and will we have time to go
over my responsibilities before you do?"

"Tomorrow, Drew. Why don't you meet me in the ward room in fifteen minutes
so I can explain some things to you." I tried to be as soothing as possible,
but he was so tense as to be brittle.

"I'll be there." He said, not smiling. He was a most definitely unhappy
young man at this moment, and he left me to talk to Johnson.

Archie grasped my arm for a moment. "Godspeed, Horatio. Return quickly, for
all of our sakes!" He gave me a warm smile, and I returned it in kind.

I made my way towards the ward room, but there was a slight sound behind me,
and I turned.

"Styles?" I squinted in the dim light. "You should be resting."

"Yessir." He came forward. "Sir, I found...all Oldroyd's things, Sir.
They're with mine."

"Yes, they are."

"Sir...Matty...he wouldn't tell me...jus' said they weren't to be
sold...Sir... did you..."

"Buy them? Yes, I did, Styles. Or at least, I gave Matthews ten pounds for
them, to go to his family. I wanted you to have his things. It's what he
would have wanted, I'm sure."

"Ten pounds, Sir!" Styles eyes were wide. "Sir!"

"It's the least I could do." Actually, it had been the most I could do...it
was almost all I had to my name. "Do you have any objection?"

"No, Sir...it's just..." He looked up at me. "I never'd seen no officer do
somethin' like this, Sir. Not fer the likes of Oldroyd...or me."

I was getting rather flustered, and it showed. "Enough of that, Styles! The
likes of you? I valued Oldroyd, and I value you. I did what I felt was
right." I snapped.

Strangely, my little temperamental speech made him smile. "Aye, Mr.
Hornblower. You usually do."

"Well...get yourself off, then. We're to England in the morning...I'm not to
bring many men from the Indy, but I want you and Matthews with me."

"Thankee, Sir. I'll be ready. G'night."

"Goodnight, Styles." He disappeared back into the shadows.

He'll be alright. But all in all, I think it is wise to bring him with me to
England. I understand him, and I'll be able to keep him out of trouble.
Left here to mourn Oldroyd...and with Mr. Brandon so inexperienced...heaven's
knows what he'd do.

January 17th

I was up with the pale light of dawn the next morning. To my shame, I find
that I am excited to take command of a ship again. I looked over at my
charge, the seventy-four gun ship Santa Lucia. She was the less damaged of
the two, and a crew from Dunbarton had spent the evening shoring up the worst
of it. I found myself wondering how she handled...would she be sluggish and
awkward, like Le Reve had been? Or would she be more like Papillion, smooth
and agile, as I had been able to notice even as an awkward eighteen-year old.

At least I knew I HAD guns, this time! Quite a relief from Le Reve. And the
winds are fair for England, the weather seems promising, although how Bowles
knows this remains a mystery to me. There wouldn,t be need for deception, no
donning of enemy uniforms, no pathetic attempt to hide in a fog. I will sail
her with the ensign clear as day, proudly right into Portsmouth.

If only Mr. Hunter could see THAT!

"Good Morning, Mr. Hornblower!" A steady voice came from behind me.

I turned around. "Lieutenant Brandon!" I eyed him carefully. Faultlessly
spotless, hair neatly combed and queued, he stood squarely behind me, as
immobile as the tower of London. "You are every inch the officer, Sir!"

There was a smallest flicker at the corner of his mouth. "I decided the
least I could do was look the part, Mr. Hornblower."

"Do not fret so. You shall be fine."

"Better than I would be sailing off on that ship, certainly." He came up
next to me, joining me in looking over Santa Lucia. I realized he now came
up just above my shoulder; he must be at least five-seven now! Nearly as
tall as Archie, though thinner, as thin as I am. "When do you depart?"

"By midday. Prisoners were sent over to Dunbarton, and this morning we shall
load provisions." I looked over at my new charge, and felt my heart swell.
"She's a fine ship, though, is she not?"

He couldn,t suppress the smile. "For a Spaniard, I suppose. Me, I'll keep
my feet firmly planted on this one, until somebody drags me off of it."

"Ah, Lieutenant Brandon!" The Captain's voice came from behind. "Good to
see you above decks!" I caught the sarcasm in his voice, and I knew he was
in one of those rare good moods where one or both of us might be tormented.

"Good morning, Sir." Drew responded in his most professional tone. "It is
good to be above decks."

"Mhm. Nice to know you've become a decent liar in all your time here. At
least we taught you something." He was apparently serious, but I caught the
twinkle in his eye, and had to fight not to laugh.

"Indeed, Sir. I should hope I have learned more than that." He answered
smoothly, and I envied him. Normally the Captain's barbs left me utterly
without composure. "For everyone's sake."

The Captain noticed, too, that he had failed to shake his new first
Lieutenant up. "Everyone's sake, including you, eh?"

"Especially me, Sir." He stretched himself to his full height.

The Captain chuckled then, and I felt myself relax. As long as there are no
unusual situations that arise, that might cause Mr. Brandon to freeze, then
the Captain will have no cause to lose his temper, and they might actually
have fun with each other these next weeks.

"Captain Hornblower." He turned his wit to me. "I assume you are well
prepared to sail to England?"

"Yes, Sir. I expect to be in Portsmouth in seven days time."

It was my turn to fluster him a bit. "Remember, I said ANY port in England."

"I understand, Sir. I believe Portsmouth will be the most convenient."

"You might find yourself closer to Plymouth."

"I think I can arrange otherwise...unless, of course, we encounter a fog." I
could not resist the quip.

The Captain cleared his throat uneasily. "Yes, well...report to me in
fifteen minutes, Mr. Brandon, so we might go over the way we will arrange
things these next few weeks."

"Aye, Aye, Sir."

As we watched his back disappear, Drew said to me quietly, "God could not be
so cruel twice, Mr. Hornblower."

"To have me lost in fog?"

"No, to have me stranded with the Captain while you are missing. He was an
absolute BEAR the last time." And just faintly he flinched.

"Thank God, Drew. I was beginning to think you aren,t human!" I nudged him.

His smile flickered faintly. "Years of practice hiding my fear has come in
useful."

"Surely you do not fear Captain Pellew?" Disbelief must have been all over
my face.

His clear blue eyes met mine without faltering. "I fear him as you do,
Horatio. I fear disappointing him. I fear not meeting his expectations. I
fear his being ashamed of me."

"That," I said, firmly, "...will never happen, Drew." I gave him a slight
shake. "Do you understand?"

He didn't blink. "I am out of my element, Horatio."

"And he knows that. Do not think he would expect from you what he might from
me; anymore than he might expect me to mend a broken limb."

"I guess he wouldn't. He is never unfair." He sighed, and then seemed to
rouse himself. "Well, best prepare myself for the journey to the lion's
den." He paused. "While you're in Portsmouth, Horatio, do you think you
might do me a favor?"

"Of course."

"We are low on willow-bark, with all of the illness. Do you think you could
manage to bring some back?"

Medical duties would never be far from his mind! "Of course, Mr. Brandon. I
should be happy to."

"Thank you. Good luck to you, Mr. Hornblower."

"The same to you, Sir!"

He gave me a half-hearted smile and went off, and I began worrying again.
His explanation, 'I fear Captain Pellew as you do...' hit a little too close
to home. It is certain that every thing that I do, I do wondering if it
should be done well enough to meet with his approval. But Drew thrives on
that approval...he craves it like a man in the desert craves water. After
all, my estimation of myself rests largely, but not entirely, on the Captain;
in Drew's case, it is nearly wholly so.

I must trust the Captain in this circumstance. He knows Mr. Brandon as well
as I do, his strengths and his weaknesses. All will be fine here.

I had much better be worrying about my own new command!

January 18th

AN ENTRY FROM THE PERSONAL LOG OF LIEUTENANT HORATIO HORNBLOWER, IN COMMAND
OF SPANISH PRIZE VESSEL SANTA LUCIA.

We have been under weigh little more than a day now, and I am happy to report
that all seems to be going well. The weather has remained fair, if a bit
cold. Only Matthews and Styles are sailing with me from my own division; the
remaining lot are from Dunbarton, but as I would have expected from Captain
Clark, they are all a well disciplined lot.

In the back of my mind, though, is the memory that before they served with
Clark, they served with the notorious Captain Strong. I have never heard all
of that story-I was recovering from a badly injured leg at the time. I know
that when Clark was first assigned her, Captain Pellew called Dunbarton a
ship on the verge of mutiny. So I am keeping my eyes open; I have Styles as
petty officer of one watch, and Matthews another.

I also have a young man from Dunbarton, a lad about Mr. Cousin's age. He is
not a midshipman yet (no financial connections) but Clark had permitted him
to berth with the Mids on Dunbarton and he's apparently proven sharp. His
name is Ward, and he's a sturdy young man, with bright red hair, freckles and
a ready smile. The men from Dunbarton respect him, so that bodes well.

Styles has taken to wearing Oldroyd's neckerchief around his wrist, wrapped
and knotted. He is quieter than he might have been on the Indy, but perhaps
that is not bad. The strangers around him do not know enough to ask
thoughtless questions, and Matthews is too smart to do so.

Our sister ship is sailed by Dunbarton's third Lieutenant, Beck. I have the
lead of him, by virtue of being the senior Lieutenant, and have directed our
course. Naturally, we are making a direct line for Portsmouth!

I admit, I look forward to seeing Kitty again. By the Captain's
calculations, she ought to be on the verge of giving birth soon. I hope, for
my sake, she has already had the child by the time I get there; I do not wish
to fail the Captain by reporting her to be still with child, no further news
available.

Speaking of failure, I have been thinking much about Mr. Brandon's words to
me, and the differences between us. As hard on myself as I can be (and if
you listen to Archie's version, he will say I am unrelenting) I do not have
only Captain Pellew's opinion of me to rely on. There was my own father (our
bad parting notwithstanding) and, of course, my mother; there has been
Archie's long-standing friendship and respect found in strange places,
including my old prison keeper, Don Massaredo.

Drew has no foundation, though, thanks to years of being emotionally torn
down by his father, some of his brothers; his mother apparently a hopeless
laudanum addict. His sister could comfort him, but not much else. Although
he tries not to show it, I think he clings emotionally to the Captain, like a
barnacle to the ship. Poor kid. Other than that Doctor who first mentored
him, who else had ever paid attention to him before? Made him believe in
himself?

I do hope he,s doing well. I have come to be as fond of him as I am of
Archie. And somewhere, Bracegirdle is having one heck of a laugh.

January 18th

Diary of Andrew Brandon, Acting Lieutenant, HMS Indefatigable

Horatio has been gone one day, and I would give my right arm to have him
back. Except that would make it rather difficult to perform surgery.

I am proud to say, sarcasm high, that I have managed not to sink the ship
while performing above decks. I do not understand how I have avoided this,
because anything else that could go wrong, has.

Horatio was right in saying that the Captain would be charitable with me; he
really has been. Nevertheless, he keeps asking me for things, and I stare at
him, and then realize what he needs, and then try to find it, in about ten
times the amount of time Horatio or Archie would have used.

This morning he asked me to fetch something from supplies; it took me so long
to find it that I quite panicked, convinced he would kill me. And I ran at
full speed back up to the quarterdeck, a feat that would have been impressive
if I hadn't hit a wet spot on the freshly cleaned deck and gone skidding flat
on my back. I lay there mortified for a few seconds, only to have Morris (it
WOULD BE Violet's father, wouldn't it!) give me a hand up without comment.

Captain Pellew, out of sheer kindness, did not say a word, and the blush
faded from my face about half an hour later. However, I still have a sizable
bruise at the base of my tailbone and am moving stiffly; as is the nature
with these sorts of spills, the real pain has taken several hours to set in.
I feel like I've gone head to head with my father and come out the loser.

It's not that I don't know what to do. I'm just...slow. And clumsy.
Anderson, bless him, has been hanging around and giving me a hand whenever he
can. I am ashamed to remember that it was just last fall that I was barely
speaking to him, because he had lied and almost gotten Reg into a world of
troubles. He really is a good kid, and I owe him a great deal already.

If there is any consolation, it is that you really do reap what you sow...the
men, all the men that I have treated and cared for over the past months, have
been wonderful. Nobody has acted out (and some men might be tempted to take
advantage of an inexperienced Lieutenant). There have been no discipline
problems. I have not heard anybody laughing behind my back at my ineptness.
Not even with my rather acrobatic feat this morning.

I would like dearly to have a cup of willow bark, but that must be reserved
for the men with fever. So I crawl into my bunk rather painfully this
evening. It is not as though it's something I'm not used to. The only
novelty is that this time it is by my own hand.

January 20th

AN ENTRY FROM THE PERSONAL LOG OF LIEUTENANT HORATIO HORNBLOWER, IN COMMAND
OF SPANISH PRIZE VESSEL SANTA LUCIA.

Wind is excellent. By my calculations we should be in Portsmouth by the
23rd, fine indeed.

I have spent a great deal of time working with young Ward, and discovered
something peculiar: He cannot read. Well, not very well he can't. I put
some exercises to him and he got very flustered, yet these were problems that
I would have expected him to solve easily, based on his performance above
decks. I asked him whether or not he attended classes on Dunbarton, and he
said he didn't, because he wasn't an actual Midshipman.

Looking at his slate, which was half empty and half scrawl, I was confused.
I started questioning him. He became more and more agitated and anxious as
he kept saying "I dunno, Sir." Finally he just turned these great big eyes
on me pleading for mercy, and I realized he expected to be beaten. The idea
of it alone was sickening to me!

"Mr. Ward..." I asked finally. "How much formal schooling have you had?"

His answer? "None, Sir."

How old was he? "Seventeen, Sir."

Can he read? "Not very well, Sir."

And then he flushed bright red, and waited for me to order his punishment.

Had nobody ever tried to help him, I asked him? It would seem not...he's
only been on Dunbarton for six weeks, and Clark had excused him from
exercises, to his relief. His first ship was the Dreadnaught (surprise,
surprise), where he served a scant three months before Foster got rid of him;
it would seem that Foster "helped" him for his stupidity (his word, not mine)
by either having him beaten or tying him in the riggings. Which obviously
helped quite a lot, judging by the fact that he still cannot read.

By this point he had quite worked himself into a state, and at the end of the
story he begged me to have him beaten, because it was so cold out, he was
afraid of taking ill should he spend a night in the riggings.

Needless to say, I did neither. I would very much like to take the time to
work on his reading skills, but that is not to be; we have far too much work
to do. But I have stopped tormenting him with written lessons; instead, when
we are on duty I quiz him orally, asking for his thoughts on the winds, our
course, the set of the sails. Once convinced I was not planning on
tormenting him, he's proven to be a bright young man. I must speak with
Captain Clark when we return to the fleet...there ought to be a better way.

I am tired indeed, and the pressures are many when you are in command. And
this journey has been uneventful, as far as trips to England go. Certainly
there is no resemblance to my other voyages to England. But I feel that I
have done some little good with these men already, and the thought cheers me.

January 22nd

Diary of Andrew Brandon, Acting Lieutenant, HMS Indefatigable

I have settled somewhat uneasily into my dual roles as First Lieutenant/
Ship's Doctor. Johnson is handling most of sick berth; I see him daily to go
over cases. The men are healing well, but slowly. We have not had another
death, and few new casualties, which is encouraging.

Captain Pellew allowed me yesterday to assign a group of men to clean the
ship. I think he did it mainly because he feels sorry for me being so out of
my element right now. I could not oversee it myself, more is the pity, but
Anderson volunteered to do it, on what was supposed to be his free time. I
went over what I wanted with him, and he's very enthusiastic about it. And
for some reason the men are humoring me in this.

Anyway, what turned out to be interesting about their journey scouring the
bowels of the ship, is that I had our cook, Clarke, an old friend, assist
them in cleaning out the food storage areas. Anderson spotted something
peculiar on one of the barrels of salt beef...it has gone discolored in
spots, and was seeping through its seems. After noting it once, he made a
thorough search and turned up another fifteen unopened barrels in the same
condition. Captain Pellew is perplexed, but to err on the side of caution,
he ordered those barrels to be off limits as a food source. We will be in
Oporto tomorrow, probably staying for a few days, and the Captain will
inquire about replenishing our stock.

Johnson is at my door, wishing to discuss cases. I will relay more later.

January 22nd, Continued

Damn bloody McGill to HELL!

I ought not to let him get to me, I know. He is bitter because he,s a 25
year old Master's mate and I am a 16 year old Lieutenant (like I wanted to be
one). But there is something in him that just makes me want to pound him,
and I am NOT a violent person.

This all started from Johnson's request that I examine some of the men to see
if they were fit to return to duty. I was happy enough to clear five men,
who were equally happy to return to work (no malingerers here). Andrews was
frustrated, because I would not clear him, but he could not even stand up for
five minutes without teetering. Archie was the same way. Johnson said he'd
been giving him a bit of a rough time, but as he started to complain I just
LOOKED at him, and he shut up.

By the time I got to McGill, he had already dressed himself, and was
preparing to return to duty, regardless of what I said. He got quite
insolent when I insisted on checking him. True, Johnson had already examined
him, and found him (in his words) "remarkably and surprisingly recovered."

But I don't like those words. Remarkably. Surprisingly. In other words, by
any logic any of us have to work with, he SHOULD NOT BE RECOVERED. And what
harm would it do to have him rest for a few more days? Holloway is one of
the men returning to duty, easing our problems with a shortage of officers.

McGill ignored me. He is smart enough not to be openly insolent, but he
sneered and said he felt fine, it was his duty to return to action, and
didn't I have more important things to worry about than his health? The
implication was clear, that a first Lieutenant ought to be happy that a sick
man was returning to duty, and ought to encourage it. Who knew,, he added,
but he might be able to HELP me, when I was trying to LOCATE things I am
unfamiliar with, so I might not be in such a HURRY next time.,

I do not know how I kept my fingers from around his neck. He does not mean
to offer real help, only tweak me for my clumsiness and stupidity. And what
have I ever done to him, to offend him so?

Here I am getting upset again. I was furious in sickberth, and finally told
Johnson to go ahead and clear him, since he was too stupid to know what was
good for him; if he had a death-wish, who was I to stop him? Let him die.

I miss Reg. Miss having him to talk to, to talk me out of this mood. He's
still too sick to even hold a conversation for any length of time. And with
Archie still down, and Horatio so far away, I feel more alone than I ever
have. I cannot, like a child, go to Captain Pellew about this. This is
exactly the sort of personnel conflict a first Lieutenant ought to resolve,
to keep the Captain from being overwhelmed with petty problems.

Well, the decision is made; he's back in the rotation. The Captain will be
going into Oporto tomorrow, once we arrive, and I shall have charge of the
ship. How frightening is that?

January 23rd

Diary of Andrew Brandon, Acting Lieutenant, HMS Indefatigable

We arrived as planned, and the Captain pulled me aside to go over logs and
any possible problems we might encounter while safely hove-to in a neutral
port. He,s worried about me, I could see it in his face. He is concerned
that I cannot do this. He kept stressing that I should rely on Mr. Bowles
for assistance, should anything unusual come up. I know he meant well. But
it bothers me that he has so little confidence in me. Not that I can blame
him; how can I, when I have no confidence in myself?

There is no time for anything further; I can see I will have my hands full
today. Will write more once I have time.

January 23rd

An entry from the personal log of Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower, in command
of Spanish prize vessel Santa Lucia.

We are safely in Portsmouth this evening; I shall report to Admiralty
tomorrow, and see about obtaining passage back to the Mediterranean for
myself and my prize crew. I have no doubt I will have ample time to call on
the Captain's wife.

An interesting development in the case of young Ward...I was walking along
the decks late one evening (the ship has changed but my habits have not) and
heard a low conversation happening near one of the gun ports. I came forward
quietly and saw, to my shock, Mr. Ward and Styles, with a lantern and a
simple reader. Styles, showing patience I did not know he possessed, was
teaching the boy to read.

I moved quietly away, not wanting to disturb the scene.

But I did approach Styles the next day. He was quite sheepish about it. I
had known of course, that he himself could read, though he made no show of
it. But what I hadn't known is that it had been Oldroyd....OLDROYD...who'd
taught him, years ago, on Justinian.

My expression must have shown my shock, because Styles shrugged
apologetically. Oldroyd's two sisters, it would seem, were both pupil
teachers, and had made certain their young brother could perform basic
reading and arithmetic. They had even sent him away with some simple books.
He hated it, of course, hated the lessons and saw no reason for it. But he
had taught Styles...repayment for some kindness that he'd performed. He got
pretty red over that, and perhaps it is my over-active imagination, but I
fancy it might have involved protecting Oldroyd from Simpson.

In any event, those books had been in Oldroyd's possessions that I had
purchased for Styles. I'd never looked at his kit myself; just given
Matthews the money. So when Ward, whom now that I think on it bears a slight
resemblance to Oldroyd, had confided in Styles his shame at his failing,
along with the remark that he was surprised I had been so lenient with him,
Styles had this little idea.

You offered to help him? I'd asked.

And I'll never forget what he said.

"I dunno, Sir. Seems like I was passin' on what Oldroyd gave to me. An if I
did that, it's like there's a little of Oldroyd still left, still living on.
Like he's still with us, Sir. D'you understand?"

Yes, I'd said. I do understand.

How could I not? Was that not, perhaps, the exact reason I'd given my
father's old textbook to Drew? And every time our *Dr. Brandon* was able to
use willow bark, or fever-few, or some other home-grown remedy, did it not
please me to think that a bit of my father was still with me? And there
really was tremendous joy in watching how he ran with his lessons, in
watching him at his studies with much the same expression on his face that my
father would have when searching for knowledge. Oh, yes, Styles. I
understand you well.

January 23rd, Evening

Diary of Andrew Brandon, Acting Lieutenant, HMS Indefatigable

I managed to control the ship without too much in the way of disaster, until
(and there had to be an 'until') we had a man badly hurt while loading some
casks of water. This called me away as first Lieutenant for some time,
whilst I assisted an exhausted Johnson with his care. Sadly it was no use;
his injuries inside were too great and we lost him. I am afraid to tell the
Captain...he nearly handed me my head the last time we lost a man to stupid
injury while 'safely' in port. To be fair to him, he,d had a myriad of
problems that I,d no idea of, and it was my misfortune to bear the brunt of
what was a long-building anger. However, that last time he was angry with me
as a doctor; in this case it is not only on my medical watch that this
happened, but on my watch as first officer. I am entirely to blame no matter
how one looks at it; he was hurt under my care and I could not save him.

Meanwhile, as Mr. Bowles pointed out, I have now been up and working (and I
do mean WORKING) for about eighteen hours, and I,m worn out. The Captain
sent over word that he,s been delayed in Oporto, and has accepted an offer of
hospitality from the local Governor (or mayor or whatever it is they call
these dignitaries here) that he feels would be advantageous to our obtaining
supplies. He expects to be returning tonight, but possibly not until the wee
hours of the morning. Which, knowing how much the Captain LOVES to socialize
(ha!) means his mood will be most foul when I see him next.

And on this thought Bowles wants me to get some SLEEP?

Well, I shall...hang on...there's a commotion from the Ward room...

 

January 24th

An entry from the personal log of Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower, in command
of Spanish prize vessel Santa Lucia.

Only time for a brief entry, before I return to Portsmouth. Admiralty is
MOST PLEASED with our conquests, and seems (for once) to have no qualms about
paying out! Should I have this sort of luck with prizes all my life, I shall
end a very rich man indeed. The bad news is that we shall return on the
Elizabeth, a dispatch vessel bound for Gibraltar, in but two day's time. By
my calculations we should arrive back at Gib just after Indefatigable is
scheduled to return after her stop in Oporto. Most of our men report to
Elizabeth immediately, but I have wrung leave for myself and Styles.

It was the only way I found Admiral Parker to fail me as all one might desire
in a superior officer. Styles was with me at the time I made my request, in
the middle of the dockyard. Parker looked Styles over, and then whispered,
just a bit too loudly, "Good heavens, Mr. Hornblower, do you believe you can
TRUST this man?"

Now, Styles, by looks, leaves a lot to be desired. Even in expensive
clothes, he would manage to look rumpled in about fifteen minutes; and nobody
would mistake ship's issue as expensive. His hair is wild, even wilder than
mine is, and his face is pock-marked. At least, most people THINK they're
pock marks; I am one of the few who know the true cause of those scars. If
Parker knew it, it wouldn't enhance Styles reputation one bit.

But I'll not have him abused. He's a good man, loyal and valued. I met
Parker's eye with determination, set my arms behind my back, pointed my chin
and said, in what I hoped was a good imitation of Captain Pellew's low-and-
dangerous voice, "Not only do I trust this man with my life, Admiral Parker,
I,d trust him with the life of the King." Parker, impressed, gave us leave.

So Styles and I are set to depart for the streets of Oporto in half an hour.
I have secured us rooms at a tavern, but this afternoon I,ll call on Miss
Cobham, while I have given Styles leave to seek out Oldroyd's family.

January 24th

Diary of Andrew Brandon, Acting Lieutenant, HMS Indefatigable

NO ENTRY.

***
We walked side by side through the streets of Portsmouth; he had expressed a
wish to see me over to Kitty, before continuing on into the outskirts where
Oldroyd's parents and sisters lived. He had a sack slung over his shoulders,
containing Oldroyd's personal effects, as well as the gift of money I was
presenting to the family. I was in a cheerful mood; the sail had gone well,
we had secure passage back to Indefatigable, and I was about to renew
acquaintance with a most fascinating woman. Had I any sense of music, I
might have hummed quietly to myself.

The reverie was interrupted by Styles, who'd been quietly studying me since
our departure from Santa Lucia. "Yer in a fine mood, Sir."

"I suppose I am, Styles." I answered softly, smiling at the crisp day.

"Looking for'ard to seein' the Captain's wife, Sir?"

"I confess I am, Styles; she's a most fascinating woman."

"She warn't really a duchess, ware she?" He asked, hesitantly; and I
realized that he did not know of the rather unusual circumstances surrounding
Miss Cobham's entrance to our lives.

"No, Styles; she was an actress before the Captain married her." There was
no need to keep it a secret any longer; nor was there any reason to elaborate
on the fact that the Captain and she were not legally married; Captain Pellew
had partially explained the situation to me once, but he considered them
married in the eyes of God, and who am I to argue? Besides, she made him
happy.

"Ar. She must be a right fine one, then, eh, Sir?" And he did whistle a
bit; I was glad to see his mood had broken from the loss of Oldroyd, but
nevertheless I could not help but wince slightly at the (to me) painful
noises. He caught my eye and grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, Sir."

I was embarrassed by my shortcoming, so I made no reply, just returned my
gaze to the houses and streets.

Our shoes crunched on the thin layer of dirty snow. I changed the subject.
"Crowden Street seems rather out of your way, Styles. Oldroyd's family is
right in the other direction. I had not realized you were so keen on seeing
the Captain's wife again."

"Ah, well..." He scratched at his head. "Warn't sure of the area, Sir. Had
to make certain it was safe."

We arrived at the corner of Crowden; I could see number four, my destination,
just two buildings away. Before I could say a word further, Styles knuckled
his head, red faced. "See you right back 'ere in three hours, eh, Sir?"

"Yes, that will be fine..." I stuttered out. "You have your papers on you?
I don't want you being pressed to another ship, now!"

He gave me his familiar grin. "Got 'em here, Sir. Ain't no press gang going
to mess with you and Captain Pellew."

And he shuffled quickly away, leaving me to return to the statement he'd
made...he wasn't sure of the area? What did that mean?

Unless...bless him, he was PROTECTING me! Wanting to make sure I got to
Kitty's safely.

I didn't know to be absurdly pleased that he wanted to keep me from harm, or
absurdly annoyed that he thought I'd need the help.

Shaking it off, I approached number four. Just before I knocked, it occurred
to me, who was I asking for? Mrs. Pellew? Miss Cobham? Surely not the
Duchess of Wharfedale? And it's not like I can open up and say, Is Kitty
home? Well, best play it by ear, I thought, rapping sharply on the knocker.

The door flew open so quickly I almost rapped on the face of the woman
standing there. A sharp woman, all angles and harshness, who squinted right
at me and looked me over not once but twice. Then she spoke her piece.

"Don't you be tellin' me you're the husband, BOY. Because I won't be
believing it."

And in two seconds, my mind was made up.

"I beg your pardon, Ma'am." I said, haughtily, in my best Earl of Edrington.
"I had been under the impression that Lady Pellew, wife of Captain Sir Edward
Pellew, formerly the great actress Katherine Cobham, was residing here. Have
I been misinformed?"

It worked. The woman's face went pale. "LADY Pellew? Sir, Miss
Cobham...she never released the name of her husband, just said he was a Navy
Captain. I didn't know...I mean, I wasn't sure if she really..."

"Surely you did not question the validity of her MARRIAGE?" I said, all
shock and scorn. "Why, Lady Pellew is far too modest to make use of her true
title, and of course would not wish to be taken advantage of by anyone who
should know her status of life, but I can assure you, ma'am, she most
certainly is the Captain's wife."

"I see." She stammered out weakly. "And you are, Sir?"

"Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower." I said, trying not to lose any dignity.
"First Lieutenant under COMMODORE Pellew, on Indefatigable. I have come here
at my Captain's request, to inquire after her health."

"Oh, of course, of course, let me see if..."

Kitty's voice came lilting down the stairway, a welcome sound.

"Mrs. Baker? I am well acquainted with the young man and would be happy to
receive him."

Trying to hide the relief from the land-lady at knowing Kitty was at least
alive (why ruin the haughty impression I've left her with) I walked
deliberately upward until Mrs. Baker escaped into her own rooms. I then
bounded up the remaining stairs two at a time.

Kitty was waiting by the door. She looked tired, and her eyes were faintly
creased, but she was as lovely as ever. "Mr. Haitch!" She drawled out, in
that old Duchess voice, and I grinned even wider.

"Your grace!" I bowed low, surreptitiously glancing at her figure. She was
most definitely not with child, and I held my breath

She turned abruptly. "Do excuse me. Come in and make yourself comfortable."

"I hope my coming isn't a trouble to you, Ma'am." I followed her in, afraid
to say anything further, as I sat in a rather shabby arm-chair.

"Did Edward...did he not come with you?" She asked nonchalantly, but her own
face betrayed her worries.

"No; the privilege fell to me to sail a prize ship back to England, and it
was a strongly requested of me by Captain Pellew that if I could make
Portsmouth my destination, he would be most anxious of any news of you.

She closed her eyes, her face relaxing. "Thank God he,s alright. It has
been so long since I heard from him, I quite feared the worst."

I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees. "Ma'am, he,s equally
worried about you...beside himself, I might even say. I must ask...the
child?" I drew my breath in, fearing her response.

She opened her eyes abruptly. "You don't know..." Her voice trailed away.

And just then we were interrupted by the healthiest and most welcome wail of
an infant I have ever heard. Kitty sprang up, and unable to contain my
relief I followed to the back room.

The child was in a low bassinet, well blanketed. One arm had escaped and
waved impatiently; its face crinkled red beneath a blanket of dark hair.
"Hush, my love, hush, why 'tis only Mr. Aitch, her to pay you a visit, and
make a report for your father." Kitty soothed, sweeping the little one up.
The child began to quiet immediately as Mother rocked her softly.

"When..." I whispered, leaning closer for a look.

"Three weeks ago. She was a few weeks early, but fortunately she's healthy,
if a bit small. Did you...dear God, did Edward not get my letter?" She
looked at me in alarm.

I shook my head, swallowing hard. "We have not been in a position to get or
send mail for nearly eight weeks." I cleared my throat. "A girl, you say?"

"Yes, indeed, Horatio." She turned back to the child, holding her out for
me. "Beatrice, this is Horatio Hornblower, the finest man in his majesty's
navy save your father." She cooed.

I blushed even as I grinned down to the child, who was now stuffing one fist
in her mouth even as her blue eyes stared towards me. I knew she was not old
enough to see much yet, so I leaned in.

"Hullo, Beatrice." I grabbed her other tiny, tiny hand and she grasped it
firmly. "You have your father's glare, little one. He will be most relieved
to hear that you are doing well." I glanced at her proud mother. "She
cannot weigh more than seven pounds, Kitty.

"If that. She was just under five when she was born, and the Midwife said I
was lucky she was so healthy."

Apparently my visit had coincided with Beatrice's mealtime, for the child
began to wail again.

"Yes, I see you have your father's lungs, also!" I chuckled.

"Pardon me for a few moments, Horatio." She looked at me, and I did not take
her meaning at once.

Then, blushing pretty thoroughly, I made a fast exit into the main rooms!

***
Half an hour later, a more contented infant rested in my arms, cooing softly.
Kitty sank down into a settee near me.

"She,s beautiful, Kitty." I said, still unable to tell whether she looked
more like her father or mother. I looked up again, and realized Kitty had
dozed off. "Kitty?"

She woke up with a start. "Oh, dear, excuse me, Horatio. I am still not
used to the schedule she keeps."

I looked around at the rooms; they were shabbier than I would have expected,
but then apparently the harpy downstairs was off no assistance. "Where is
your help, Kitty?"

"Oh, I have no help, Horatio. A nurse for the first few days, but I felt it
was rather extravagant..."

I turned back to her. "Kitty, for heaven's sake...you know there is nothing
on earth that the Captain will not do for you! I thought he had made
provisions with his lawyer for your care?"

"Oh, he did, Horatio, he was most generous...but I felt...I was afraid...I
did not want to take advantage of him." She looked down at her hands.

If Beatrice hadn't been in my arms I might have screamed. "Take advantage of
him?" I said, reproachfully. "Kitty, if you could only have seen the
turmoil he's been in these past few months...he's been absolutely crazed with
worry. He loves you." I repeated it, emphasizing each word.
"He...loves...YOU." I looked again at the child. "If anything had happened
to you or the baby, it might have killed him. And if something happens in
the future, because you are not taking proper care of yourself, it will be
even worse. You are his world."

Tears ran down her face. "Oh, Horatio, I know. But...you don't understand.
Our situation is not legal. And I was afraid he might tire of me, and..."

"I DO understand your situation." I rocked the baby in my arms. "Captain
told me that your first husband is in an asylum, and therefore you cannot be
married. But he doesn't give a damn about a piece of paper, you are his
WIFE. And Kitty, he,s never, ever going to tire of you." I added, gently.

She ran her hands over her face, sniffling, and I continued on. "After all,
how could he, when you are so many different women in one, your grace?"

She laughed. "Oh, Mr. Aitch." And she came forward and took the child from
my arms; she'd fallen asleep. "You do go on."

I got up to the fire, and rummaging around I began to make some tea. "I will
find someone for you before I leave tomorrow, to help out."

"You don't trust me to go ahead and do it myself, then?"

"Not in the slightest, Your Grace." I quipped. "You may carry dispatches
for me any day, but in this circumstance I must insist on relying on myself
this time. And for the remainder of the afternoon, you must let me wait on
you"

"Aye, aye, Sir." She sank back down, and I waited for the water to boil.
"And you must tell me all about Indefatigable, and what you've been doing,
Horatio."

"With pleasure, Ma'am. I think you will find that my ability to handle a
quip and sally has improved immeasurably since Spain."

"Well, Mr. Aitch..." She raised her eyebrows at me. "You could only get
better."

***
I left Kitty to go meet Styles feeling quite good about myself...she rather
does have that effect on one. And I was happy to know I had given her a bit
of relief. I saw that harpy, her landlord, who was now quite afraid of me,
and arranged to have her tidy up Kitty's rooms and prepare meals for her for
the next couple of days. I made no longer arrangements; to put it bluntly, I
do not like the woman and hope to somehow find someone better.

I stood on the cold corner, visions of a kidney pie at the inn and a tankard
of grog floating in my head, my mind returning to the Indefatigable, for that
is where I had left her, telling stories. Most especially, she was concerned
about the health of the men, when I told her of the fever, and the sanity of
Mr. Brandon, currently acting as first Lieutenant.

"Poor lad! And with Edward in a dither over me, too!" She'd gasped.

I wonder how he,s doing? If he can only trust himself, he has instincts
enough to handle whatever might come up. Hopefully Archie will be back on
his feet to take over soon. Fortunately, he,s well respected by the men...
ours are a good lot, thankfully...and they will follow him easily. Still, I
knew he'd be doing practical cartwheels when he saw me back.

What I am more uneasy about is the ship's physical health. The fever was
unabated as I left; what if more men were stricken? What if the Captain
himself became ill? Or Mr. Brandon? He would be working so hard that he
would undoubtedly be prone to sickness. What if men had died?

I forced that thought out of my head quickly, shivering, and not just from
the cold. Where the devil was Styles, anyway? I blew on my hands.

"Sorry I'm late, Sir."

"Thank God, man, I thought you'd been pressed!" I snapped, the various
worries about other problems manifesting itself in my voice.

"No, Sir. No problem, 'Cept Oldroyd's family, his ma'am needed some work
done round the house. Din't feel right not helping."

"No, no of course." I calmed instantly, ashamed of my outburst. "How are
they doing, Styles?"

"A bit cut-up, Sir; specially his eldest sister, Sal. She was right close to
Oldroyd, but ever so grateful for the consideration, Sir. She's going to
have to find some work now; din't know it, but Oldroyd's Da, he died nigh on
a year ago."

"Oh." And an idea was born. "You think this Sal could help care for a baby?

"Course she could, Sir, but who..." And his mouth opened. "Oy, Mr.
Hornblower, d'ya mean to say that the Captain and his missus..."

"Had a baby girl about three weeks ago, Styles." I smiled again, remembering
the tiny Beatrice. "Captain didn't want the word all over the ship, but
that's why he's been so worried these past months."

"Blimey. Good on him, then. Good on 'em both." He chuckled appreciatively.
"And Sal, Sir, she'd be right happy of a good place; helped raised her
brother and sisters, she did, and a right good cook she,s, too."

"Is that your way of telling me you've eaten, Styles?" I asked, slyly.

He blushed. "Not exactly, Sir...just a few sweets and the like, Sir, while I
was doin' repairs. Not what you'd really call dinner, Sir."

"Mhm." I said, knowing my silence would goad him into more chatter.

"She was just bein' nice and all, Sal was. On account of me being her
brother's friend."

"Mhm." I coughed. "And tell me, Styles, pretty woman, is she?"

"I...well, rightly I dunno, Sir, she's close on thirty now, but she's got a
right nice head of hair, red blond like Oldroyd's, and a nice laugh she 'ad,
too, and bein' as how she used to be a teacher, she's prob'ly right smart..."
He deflated suddenly. "Too smart fer the likes o' me."

"Styles!" I said, in disbelief. "Good heavens, you've fallen for her!"

"No, Sir, T'aint like that...she wouldn't notice me, anyways..." He looked
so uncomfortable. "Would she, do ye think."

"She's already fed you. I'd say she noticed you already."

He stopped and stood stock still, as if he couldn't believe it himself.
"Reckon mebe I can ask her about workin' for Captain's wife tomorrow, Sir?"

I laughed. "I intended to have you speak with her. Now, let's get back to
the inn then, eh? I have enough in my pocket to be able to spring us a pie
and a few pots of ale, at least, and it's damned cold out here."

***
The inn was cozy, and I spotted an empty table I could wedge myself into, not
far from the fire. Styles, I fear, might be happier out of my presence,
lounging by the bar with a few other seamen who were in town on leave, rather
than dining with a superior officer. But I do hate to eat alone...

"Lieutenant Hornblower! Now this, Sir, is a welcome surprise."

The Earl of Edrington, Major, Lobster, Aristocrat and altogether a fine man,
if a rather sarcastic one, was by himself at a table.

"My Lord, a welcome surprise indeed!" I said, genuinely pleased.

"You must join me, Sir! I have had enough Army stories to last me a
lifetime."

I handed Styles about half the money in my pocket, and he looked relieved.
"Thank'ee Sir." He saluted to the Major, "Sir," and shuffled off towards
his fellows.

I sat across from Edrington and loosened my cloak. "You've saved him from a
fate worse than death, My Lord: being seen dining with a superior officer!"

"A genuine horror, to be certain! And please, given the surroundings, call
me Major Edrington, if you will."

I raised my eyebrows archly. "Such impropriety, Sir, for a peasant like me
to address you so informally. Whatever would the Marquis of Muzillac say?"

A thin smile cracked his face. "Heavens, Lieutenant Hornblower, was that a
joke? I had not known you capable. Your wit has certainly improved, even if
the attire of your men has not!" His twinkling eyes betrayed his own sense
of humor. "Good Sir! Two plates of your best beef, whatever vegetables you
have, some fresh bread, and a bottle of your best wine...mind it's not
watered down, now!"

"Of course not, milord."

I gaped, my mind going over the scant shillings in my pocket. "Major, I
protest, I,m not that hungry, or thirsty." I could feel my cheeks going red.

Edrington pinned me down with those sharp eyes of his. "Rubbish, you look
like you've been on ship's rations unabated for two months. I consider it my
duty to get you properly fed and possibly ripping drunk for once in your
life." He smiled even wider, as his voice got quieter. "I do insist, Mr.
Hornblower. Let this be my treat, in celebration of surviving Muzillac."

Well, if I can't be rich, I can at least be gracious. "Then I thank you for
the hospitality, Major."

The wine was uncorked and poured. "So what brings you to Portsmouth?" He
asked, leaning backwards.

"A prize ship, in fact, the Santa Lucia."

He looked at me in admiration. "Indeed, Mr. Hornblower. She was YOUR
charge? Quite an impressive catch for Pellew's squadron."

"You have no idea, Major!" And I relayed our amazing adventure to him.

He raised his glass to me. "I knew, Sir, that Captain Pellew was a
remarkable man, but I had no idea he could work miracles!"

"I have come to expect them." I said, very proudly and perhaps a bit smugly.
It takes very little drink to set me down the road for rip roaring drunk, as
the Major put it.

Two magnificent slabs of beef fell on the table before me. Good food, good
company, and a mission well accomplished. I was in paradise.

"Mr. Kennedy's nuptials went off well, I hope."

"Indeed they did, Major." I said, the beef melting in mouth. "She's a
charming young woman."

"Yes, I think I spotted her in London; at least, I saw Kennedy's father and a
lovely blond woman with him. I assume this was the fair Alicia?"

"It must have been; she has made her home with Mr. Kennedy's father, I know.
Did she look well?"

"She did; although I did not make it across the street in time quickly enough
to greet them. I had heard they are just returned from Gibraltar."

"Indeed."

"You were able to control her father, I assume?" There was a hint of
tightness there; I know there had been some scandal involving Drew's father,
one of his brothers, and Edrington's sister.

"Fortunately for all parties yes, with minimal damage." I remembered the
scene with Drew at the end of the day.

"Good. Glad to hear it. I liked young Mr. Brandon despite myself, for you
know I was well prepared to loath any relative of Lord Exton." He smirked.
"And how is your love life, Mr. Hornblower? Breaking hearts across the
Mediterranean?"

"I am hardly ever in a port long enough to do so." I said, turning red.
"Any battles for you recently, Major?"

He smirked and refilled my wine glass. "Pity my own sister is up country
now. I believe Eliza would find you a challenge, Mr. Hornblower."

I nearly choked. "The beef is remarkably tender. It is wonderful to eat
something not five months in the barrel." I said hastily.

"Yes, indeed; Eliza is hardly used to young men who pay more attention to
their food than to her. She,s also headstrong and outspoken, and remarkably
intelligent. I have a feeling if I put the two of you in a room together I
should not understand a word of the conversation."

I hastily drank down the wine, but before I could even rest it fully on the
table, he refilled it.

"She also has no interest in music, I might add. Finds it silly. So I
should not have to subject you an extensive parade of her skill on the piano
forte. Yes, the two of you would make a fine pair."

"Sir." I finally said, forcefully. "Major. I realize you are in fine good
humor." I set my shoulders as best I could with the amount of wine in me.
"But I do not appreciate being mocked."

He blinked. "Mocked?"

"Yes, MY LORD. Mocked. You know full well enough that even if your sister
were here, I am in no sphere to even talk to her. My father, Sir, was a
country physician; a good man, but not anywhere near your social realm.
Should I, in normal circumstances, seek your permission to call on your
sister, you would have me arrested, if not shot." I cleared my throat and
started to rise unsteadily to my feet. "I thank you for your hospitality, My
Lord. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

He grasped my arm. "Horatio!" The informality nearly startled me back into
sobriety, and I paused.

Edrington was in shock. "I must apologize. Truly, I was not meaning to
mock you."

I suddenly felt foolish. "No, Major, it is I who owe you an apology."
Spending time today with Kitty, discussing Archie and his wife, Drew with his
girl back in Gibraltar, hell even Styles it seems...I was getting to feel
rather depressed about it all! "I am afraid you unwittingly hit a sore
spot." I sat lamely back down.

He gave me a half smile. "I forget. I have been too long in the Army to
remember that there are still circles where the character of a man is not as
important as his estate." He coughed. And then waved to the barkeep to
bring another bottle. "You know, *I* would be honored for you to call on my
sister...stunned, given that she's a bit much to handle, but honored."

"Nevertheless, I ought not to have reacted so badly. You are hardly the
first man to have sport with me." I thought, thinking on my Captain.

He shrugged. "I take no offense, Mr. Hornblower. I guess the wine was in
and the wit was out, as they say."

And, naturally, I burst out laughing, which confused the hell out of him.

"I am not that funny a man, Lieutenant...my men can assure you of that fact.
Do you care to explain, Sir." He feigned indigence himself.

"I do NOT, Major." I gasped for air; he smacked my back. "There,s not
enough wine in England for THAT story." I raised my glass. "Here,s to
women, then. With luck I,ll find one by the time I,m thirty!"

"Ouch!" Edrington said, toasting anyway. "I,ve missed that mark myself!
And *I* have a mother standing over my shoulder, whining about an heir!"

"What's your hair got to do with anything?" I said, deliberately and slowly;
he was about to explain when he realized I knew *exactly* what I'd said, and
then both of us burst out laughing together.

***
AN ENTRY FROM THE PERSONAL LOG OF LIEUTENANT HORATIO HORNBLOWER, PASSENGER
ABOARD DISPATCH SHIP ELIZABETH BOUND FOR GIBRALTAR

January 25th

There is no word in the English language to describe exactly how lousy I
feel. The Major achieved his goal of getting the both of us embarrassingly
drunk (thank God the Captain wasn,t here) and Styles ended up somehow
bundling me up to my room. Good man, he has not said a word about it.

We managed to hire Sally Oldroyd to work for Kitty; the two have taken to
each other quickly and everyone is happy, except for me; I had to stop twice
today to throw up. Kitty told me not to worry that I was a bit "under the
weather" (as if she didn't know!); why, she said, Beatrice throws up like
that at least once a day.

I managed to take the money I saved by having Edrington feed me and lay in a
supply of willow bark and a few other items that should keep Brandon happy.
And, thankfully, I did learn something from my father. The water is boiling,
and a bit of that tea will soon be easing this blasted hangover.

Unfortunately, I can feel the boat pitch; one night on land and I have
already lost my sea legs. I do hate myself miserably! I should have gone
ahead and had Drew take this sail and stayed safely on Indefatigable; no
doubt he,s having a much better time of it than I am!

***
FROM THE DIARY OF ANDREW BRANDON, ACTING LIEUTENANT, INDEFATIGABLE.

January 25th

No Entry.

 

 

AN ENTRY FROM THE PERSONAL LOG OF LIEUTENANT HORATIO HORNBLOWER, PASSENGER
ABOARD DISPATCH SHIP ELIZABETH BOUND FOR GIBRALTAR

January 26th

I must say, I am not overly enamored of Elizabeth's Commander, one James
Johnson. He's not a Foster or a Hammond; but he,s no Pellew, either. We're
facing a three week sail to Gibraltar, during which time our men are working
with his men (nearly thirty of us in total). And therefore subject to his
discipline.

And he,s...strict. Nothing actionable. But in one day two midshipmen were
beaten, and one man flogged. For incidents that would have gotten them
nothing worse than a blistering verbal reprimand from the Captain or myself
on Indefatigable. But I am not in charge here, and I will not interfere in
another man's command. It does seem to me, though, that he,s punishing men
out of a sense of his own insecurity...as if he believes that a that goes by
when he does not prove his power over his men is a failure. Whereas Captain
Pellew considers a day when he,s forced to that length a failure!

I can only say, thank God I do not serve for a man like that!

Ward, bless him, has shown the good sense to stay clear of Captain Johnson as
much as possible. Johnson has, however, made it very clear that he does not
care to see ratings associating with officers, so I am taking advantage of my
free time to take over the tutoring Styles had begun. The young man is
progressing quickly, and can now read at the level of a ten or eleven year
old, a remarkable increase. He is quite shy around me, which seems so
strange! I guess I got used to the Indy's young men, Cousins, Brandon,
Holloway, Anderson...who looked up to me, but also saw me as human.

And I am human, too much so, as I am still reminded by a lurch in my stomach
every time the ship rolls. I do know fear, indecision, self-doubt. I do not
think I am the man every one seems to think that I am. How this mirage
started is anyone's guess, but it is becoming damned difficult to live up to.

FROM THE DIARY OF ANDREW BRANDON, ACTING LIEUTENANT, HMS INDEFATIGABLE

No Entry.

 

 

AN ENTRY FROM THE PERSONAL LOG OF LIEUTENANT HORATIO HORNBLOWER, PASSENGER
ABOARD DISPATCH SHIP ELIZABETH BOUND FOR GIBRALTAR

January 30th.

It is quite evident now...Captain Johnson both loathes and fears me.

He discovered that I am tutoring Ward. And even though Ward is not to remain
in his command (he,s one of Dunbarton's men, after all) Johnson blew up in a
most irrational way. Claims that I am trying to undermine his command. Me!
Of all the ludicrous statements I have ever heard, this must top it.

I feel sick about it, though, because he had Ward caned. Only six strokes,
and he did not even whimper, but still! The humiliation and the pain...all
because he took up my offer of help? To pursue an education that would make
him a better officer? I suppose I am lucky, Johnson might have ordered me to
take watch and watch, but since he already regards me as a damned nosy busy-
body (his exact words) he has requested that I remain in my cabin away from
other men. Grand mutineer that I am, he must fear my effect on them.

Ward did sneak down to see me...terrified about it, he was, and he shouldn't
have risked it. But he wanted to let me know it was okay, and he didn't
blame me at all. I promised to speak to Captain Clark about his continued
learning; I know and trust Clark to do what is right. And I told him for his
sake, and for all of our sakes, he should not risk conversing with me again.

It is going to be a long and lonely sail, I fear.

 

FROM THE DIARY OF ANDREW BRANDON, ACTING LIEUTENANT, HMS INDEFATIGABLE

One line entry, illegible and scratched out.

 

AN ENTRY FROM THE PERSONAL LOG OF LIEUTENANT HORATIO HORNBLOWER, PASSENGER
ABOARD DISPATCH SHIP ELIZABETH BOUND FOR GIBRALTAR

February 3rd

It is a dreary week. I did not bring enough books with me to occupy the
unexpected amount of free time I find myself with. I remember Spain,
watching Matthews, Styles and Oldroyd were racing beetles up the side of a
wall. I felt sorry for them, and perhaps a bit superior, that I did not need
to stoop to such levels to amuse myself.

But what I would not give for a couple of beetles now!

 

FROM THE DIARY OF ANDREW BRANDON, ACTING LIEUTENANT, HMS INDEFATIGABLE

February 3rd

Mr. Kennedy has returned to duty and is relieving me of my responsibilities
as first Lieutenant, and allowing me to return to my duties as a doctor.

The ship is safe from me now.

The men should be so lucky.

 

AN ENTRY FROM THE PERSONAL LOG OF LIEUTENANT HORATIO HORNBLOWER, PASSENGER
ABOARD DISPATCH SHIP ELIZABETH BOUND FOR GIBRALTAR

February 6th

My formerly dreary days are now gone. We are in the midst of a violent
storm, and Captain Johnson is terrified. On the first day of this blasted
gale his ship's master was lost, pitched over board into the waves. Tragedy
that this is, it seems to have scared him into his senses; he,s uncertain and
entirely ill equipped to lead a ship in such weather. This has forced him to
rely on Lieutenant Beck and myself, or risk losing his first ever command.

How on earth this man ever got a ship is beyond me!

Beck has the watch now. Though I am his senior in service, he is six months
older. He seems very capable, and has some background as a master, which is
most useful. Young Ward, whom Johnson so tried to terrorize, has also been
invaluable. He has an excellent head for the weather, and for reading the
wind; he knows when to take sail in, when to luff up, the best way to turn
the ship, almost on instinct. He reminds me of my old friend Hether, now
serving as a ship's master on the Valiant.

And Johnson, damn him, stands there yelling at his men to "do as Mr. Ward
requests at once, or you'll find yourself at the gratings."

The men's lives are at stake. They do not need to know that the skin on
their back is at risk as well to work hard. Any fool ought to know that.

This is actually day three of the storm, and it is the first day I feel I
might get more than half an hour's sleep at a time. No other men have been
lost, the ship is not rolling quite so mightily, and the pumps seem to
finally be making headway against the water in the hold. Beck and I are
managing to hold the men together, despite Captain Johnson. Styles and
Matthews have taken the crews in hand, without my even asking; they have
served long enough for one of England's finest Captain's that they know what
needs to be done.

In this situation, good organization and a clear mind can save your life.
Panicking can kill us all. And I am not ready to die yet.

 

FROM THE DIARY OF ANDREW BRANDON, ACTING LIEUTENANT, HMS INDEFATIGABLE

February 6th

Today is the same as yesterday. Everyone is behaving normally. As if
nothing has changed. I seem to be the only man who realizes... (words
crossed out).

Tomorrow will no doubt be the same again. And I will still not be able to
look in the mirror.

 

AN ENTRY FROM THE PERSONAL LOG OF LIEUTENANT HORATIO HORNBLOWER,
February 12th.

If anyone ever wanted a visual description of an imbecile, they ought to use
a drawing of Captain James Johnson!

For a man who both feared and loathed me (and Lieutenant Beck, to a lesser
extent) just a few days ago, he has now all but ceded command of the
Elizabeth to us. He will NOT make a decision. Change of course? Ask Mr.
Hornblower. Send the hands to dinner? Ask Mr. Beck! How does the wind look?
Perhaps we should see what Mr. Ward thinks.

The men are not stupid. All of them...the prize crews that Beck and I took
to England, AND the Elizabeth's usual men, do not seem to even look at their
Captain for instruction; they turn to both Beck and myself. Yet the simple
truth is that the amount of control we have could very nearly be considered
mutiny.

Beck said as much to me last evening: We OUGHT NOT to be making these
decisions, Hornblower.

I quite agree. But when a decision must be made, and the man who ought to
make it cannot, what else do you do? Should we simply flounder forward until
we run aground?

We ought to be back in Gibraltar tomorrow...we hope. I discovered that the
Commander Johnson's chart making was...creative...to say the least. Beck,
Ward and I sat up last night, praying for a glimpse of the stars so we might
try and right ourselves. I fear very much for all of our lives. Ward,
however, managed to pick up enough between the occasionally parting clouds,
to think that he has placed us pretty accurately.

Where was our Commander in all of this?

Eating his dinner, getting drunk on port, and gladly passing the chart on to
us. Then he went above decks to act as though the change in course was his
idea....was that a cry I heard?

***

Bless Ward. We have spotted Gibraltar. Safe at last! And oh, I cannot wait
to get back to the Indefatigable, for miracle of miracles, I could see her
sliding into port at the same time we were. Along with the rest of the fleet;
I found Ward and Beck equally delighted to see Dunbarton.

I must pen a quick letter over to Clark explaining my ideas with Ward...I
will not let the young man down.

But with the exception of my acquaintance with these fine men, I will miss
nothing of this sail!

February 12th, mid day

I held my breath as I headed up the ladder of the Indy. I was glad, but glad
indeed, to be home, to be back with my Captain and my friends. But I was
worried...last I had seen them, our men had been racked with fever and Drew
was a nervous substitute first Lieutenant. What, exactly, would I find here?

And the best sound I ever heard, before I had even gotten my head above the
railings, was a joyful voice greeting me with, "Welcome back from purgatory!"

I was grinning widely as I finally swung my feet back on board. "Mr.
Kennedy, glad to see you decided to put a little work in, Sir!" I grasped
his arm. He was still pale, but then he,s never very dark, and he was a tad
thinner than normal; otherwise, same old Archie! "How long have you been
back on duty, Sir?"

"A little more than a week, with Mr. Cousins just joining me yesterday. All
is close to back to normal here." There was a slight flicker on his face,
but before I could say a word, the Captain called out to me.

"Mr. Hornblower, report in my quarters immediately, if you please."

God, how nice it was to hear the voice of a man so totally reasonable, so
straightforwardly emphatic, so very CERTAIN! "Aye, Aye, Sir." I resumed a
more professional demeanor, and glanced back at Archie. His face relaxed,
and he whispered quietly, "Good to have you back, Horatio."

***
The first five minutes in the Captain's cabin were taken up, as required, by
my official report, details of my conversation with Admiral Parker, events of
my sail and dispatches. I was professional; the captain equally so, though I
could sense his anxiousness. Indeed; his hands betrayed him; he was
systematically tearing a piece of parchment to shreds without even realizing
it. Not that I would ever call attention to that fact.

At last, I concluded my report, and waited for him to go on. He sat back,
crumpled what was left of that parchment into a ball, and looked at me
blankly. "So...Portsmouth, Mr. Hornblower?"

I smiled at him. "Let me be the first to congratulate you on the arrival of
your daughter, Sir."

He closed his eyes and drew a deep, long breath. The ball of paper fell to
the floor, and he put his hand to his temple. I think I may have caught the
hint of a tear down his face, but I am not about to note it. After a second,
he swallowed hard and exhaled, and turned away from me, blinking, to get out
the claret. "And Kitty?" He said, indistinctly, his hand shaking slightly.

"Quite well, Sir, and surprised you had not received her letter, which is
probably waiting for you here. She was born on January 7th..."

He put the glasses down, more composed now. "That,s early, is it not?"

"Somewhat, Sir, but I can assure you she,s quite healthy."

He swallowed hard and raised the glass to his lips. His expression was
priceless; the relief from worry, from fear. He looked at me, his eyes still
misty, his hand still shaking ever so slightly, and I realized that he was
speechless. So many questions he could not even ask them. So I plunged on.

"Shall I give you a full report, Sir?" I smiled again. "She,s small, but
perfect. She has your eyes...not their color, for it is too early to tell
yet, but their stare; the way she looked at me I could have sworn it was you.
And a healthy set of lungs, as well, as I had reason to learn. Kitty says
she eats well, and has in fact gained two pounds since birth. Her hair is
dark, dark brown and appears to be slightly wavy, and she has a full mop of
it, framing her face. Oh, and Kitty has named her Beatrice, by the way; she
says it hopes it pleases you."

He was beaming now, and tears ran openly down his cheeks; he wiped them away
without shame, and cleared his throat. "It pleases me well, Mr. Hornblower."

I continued on. "Kitty herself looked well, but tired. She did not have
anybody helping her..."

"No help?" He looked startled. "But surely..."

"You know she can be stubborn, Sir, but I managed to get her to see reason,
and made certain she had reliable help before I left her. Oldroyd's sister,
as a matter of fact."

His relief was visible. "Thank you, Mr. Hornblower. I will always be
grateful to you for this favor."

"It was my pleasure, Sir." I felt myself blushing. "I only wish I could
have done more for you."

There were a few moments of silence, but not an uncomfortable one, as his
good fortune sank in. "Well." He finally said. "Well!" And he chuckled.
"I am a father, Mr. Hornblower!"

"Indeed you are, Sir." I grinned back at him.

"I must write Kitty right away, of course! Yes, yes, while we are in
Gibraltar. And dinner...dinner for all the officers in my office...and
perhaps I can get Harvey to procure me something special for the men, eh?"

"It would seem you are spending all of your prize money in one shot, Sir!"

His eyes were merry. "Perhaps, but well worth it, eh, Hornblower?"

I could not agree more.

He began, slowly, to come back to earth. "By the way, how was your sail
back? Dispatch vessel Elizabeth?"

Oh, dear. "It was...interesting, Sir. Horrible weather."

"Mhm, Bowles said he feared that the storms were bad...he's uncanny at that.
What commander?"

I felt my chest tighten. "A James M. Johnson, Sir."

His face became instantly immobile. "James M. Johnson? Short pudgy man?"

"Yes, Sir. Are you acquainted?"

"I had a midshipman Johnson sail under my command about ten years ago.
Surely it cannot be him...the man could not decide whether or not the ocean
was wet, if you asked him!"

I matched his wooden countenance with one of my own. "I believe it is the
same man, Sir."

His eyes grew wide and darker than normal. "Then I consider myself twice
blessed, Hornblower. Because I,m surprised you made it back to us alive."

"No more than I am, Sir." I said.

"James Johnson!" He shook his head, frowning. "Why, I should sooner have
young Mr. Howard in charge of a vessel."

"I agree, Sir. Even Mr. McGill, with all his faults, would have been an
improvement!" I added, wryly. I did not care for McGill as a person, but he
could certainly sail a ship...what the devil is wrong with the Captain? He
is aghast! "Sir?"

"I forget, Mr. Hornblower. I am sorry to tell you that Mr. McGill died of
complications from the fever at the end of January."

Oh, dear. "I am sorry, Sir. I guess I was so happy to see Mr. Kennedy and
Mr. Cousins above decks that I did not note his absence."

"Thankfully, he was the only other loss we had." And the Captain's face grew
dark. "And we found out why...at least, we think we do. Anecdotal only, but
the disease seems to have been the result of infected beef."

"Food poisoning, Sir?" I had never seen food poisoning to react this way.

"No...Mr. Brandon could perhaps explain the theory better than I. But after
finally deciding to allow Mr. Brandon the opportunity to clean the ship, we
came up with several questionable casks of beef."

"I still do not understand..."

"It seems that cows carry the disease, and if the meat is not preserved well,
it can be passed on to people. Not everyone falls victim, though."

I shook my head. "It seems a sad waste, Sir."

"Indeed." He said, in a clipped manner. "If I find out from Harvey that I
was given second rate beef there will be hell to pay."

"Captain Harvey would never do that to you, Sir!"

He nodded. "Not intentionally, Mr. Hornblower, but if it was given to him
unwittingly..." He shrugged. "He will be furious as well."

Another thought occurred to me. "Sir, how has Mr. Brandon been doing? I did
not see him above decks."

The Captain paused, and then slowly his face creased into a frown. "I do not
know, Mr. Hornblower...that I know the answer your question."

"Sir?" My heart sank.

"Mr. Brandon's performance above decks was exemplary. He was, perhaps, a
little over anxious in the first days..." The Captain gave a slight chuckle.
"Indeed, he nearly threw himself overboard in an attempt to do my bidding.
But he settled in quite well."

This was most puzzling. "He was not intimidated by the responsibility?"

The Captain shook his head. "Indeed he was not. Of course, much can be
credited to the fact that he already had the respect of most of the men as a
doctor. But after a few early jitters, he took authority well. He was not
condescending, but firm. When occasion happened that he had to discipline a
man, he did so, never unduly, and never harshly, but without hesitation,
either. It was as if he were running sick berth!

I could not help but smile. "When you put it that way, Sir, it is surprising
that we ever questioned his ability to take command...heaven's knows when
we've been ill, he's had no problem giving either of us orders."

"True enough! So when Mr. Kennedy was finally able to relieve him a week
ago, I made a point of praising him on his work. And you know I do not hand
out praise lightly."

"No, indeed! But Sir, forgive me, none of this seems like a recipe for
disaster. Where is the problem?"

He sat back, his long fingers touching each other pensively. "I do not know
that I can explain this, Horatio. But WHEN I complimented Mr. Brandon, he
did not react. At all."

"He may have been...surprised?"

"I,d have expected that. But believe me when I tell you there was no
expression on his face. No shock, no embarrassment, no pleasure. No denial.
He had this rock-still immobile face, didn't blink, just said very evenly
"Thank you, Sir.' And he went away. Horatio, he's been going around this
ship just like that ever since. Doing his duty. Being professional. But
not smiling, not laughing. He's just not himself." He closed his eyes.
"And for the life of me, I DON'T KNOW WHY!"

A memory stirred. "Do you remember, Sir, when he was being sent back to his
father? He withdrew in much the same manner."

The Captain slapped his hand on the log book. "Exactly! That is EXACTLY how
he,s behaving." He scowled. "But WHY?"

"I assume you have received no dispatches that might have contained bad news,
or correspondence from Lord Exton?"

"No, nothing at all! And Horatio, this is driving me mad! Why should he be
unhappy? What has caused this?" He rose slowly, as did I. "Mr. Kennedy
sought him out, but Drew merely responds that he,s tired; Mr. Cousins
receives the same answer. I am hoping you will be more successful."

A daunting task, that. "I will try, Sir. But if he will not reveal his
heart to even his best friend, then I do not know if I can get him to open
up."

"Find a way inside him, Horatio. I cannot. And the two of you are very much
alike , you know."

"I will do my best, Sir."

Archie was still on duty, so I began to work my way below decks, to perhaps
find Mr. Cousins. But before I found him I ran into Mr. Anderson in the ward
room, with a book. He smiled up at me as I entered.

"Welcome back, Lieutenant Hornblower."

"Thank you, Mr. Anderson. How do your studies..." I pulled up short as I
got closer to him. "Your face, Sir? What happened? And do not tell me you
fell, because I will not believe it."

For his face showed the distinct remnants of old bruises and marks; they were
well faded, so they must have been several weeks in the making, but the
beating he took must have been very bad indeed.

He nodded. "No, Sir. I did not fall. I was beaten by Mr. McGill, Sir."

I sat down near him. "What happened, Mr. Anderson?"

To my gratitude, the boy showed no fear or reluctance in telling me the
truth. "It happened the day after Mr. McGill was first cleared to return to
duty, when the Captain was away in Oporto. I had been helping Mr. Brandon as
much as possible, Sir, because I knew he was not as familiar as the rest of
us above decks. So whenever I could, even if it would normally have been
free time, I tried to make myself available. And even though Mr. McGill
returned to duty, I saw no reason to change that. Any extra pair of eyes was
useful when we were so short staffed, I thought."

"A good idea, Mr. Anderson, and I'm certain that Mr. Brandon was very
grateful." I said, gently.

"Yes, he was, Sir, and he made a point of saying that he was pleased with my
work right in front of the Captain, which was kind of him. Anyway, it didn't
occur to me that what Mr. Brandon found helpful, Mr. McGill would find
impertinent. He didn't say anything to me above decks, but that night in the
ward room he followed me down and felt he needed to teach me a lesson."

My stomach twisted. "What kind of a lesson?" I asked reluctantly.

He took a deep breath. "He had his starter, Sir, and he said he was going to
beat me like I ought to have been beaten last fall. I objected, naturally."

"Naturally." I said, wryly.

"I tried to pull away from him, and that's when he began to slash me across
the face with the handle of it. The more I fought him, the angrier he got,
yelling terrible things."

"Did nobody go for help?"

"No, Sir. Mr. Holloway was on duty, and Mr. Howard and Mr. Coleman are very
new; he told them that if any of them left, he would beat them worse, and
they believed him. They did not know that Mr. McGill's behavior would not be
tolerated." He shrugged. "Anyway, after I fell to the ground, he began to
hit me viciously with that starter; I tried to crawl away."

"How were you saved, Mr. Anderson?"

"Mr. Brandon, Sir. He had been exhausted, pulling nearly double duty, so
he'd retired. But suddenly the blows stopped, and I could hear him, well,
roaring, Sir. That Mr. McGill was out of line, he knew he was out of line,
and it was an insult to both him and to Mr. Bowles that he felt he could get
away with such egre...egre..."

"Egregious?"

"That's it...Egregious behavior. And he said a lot of other things, too,
that I didn't pick up on, but oh, he was MAD!"

"I can well imagine he was. And he should have been mad, Mr. Anderson. I
hope the other young men understand now that this sort of behavior is not to
be accepted on Indefatigable?"

"Oh, yes, Sir. Mr. Howard told me, after Mr. Brandon had Mr. McGill taken
away, that he came back and talked to them, not yelling or anything, about
why what Mr. McGill did was wrong, and how if anybody ever tries to harm
them, or if they see anyone harming another man, they must let one of their
officers know immediately, and justice would be meted out."

Good man, Drew. "So was Mr. McGill flogged?"

Anderson shook his head. "No Sir. He was confined to the riggings for eight
hours. The Captain wasn,t here, Sir, he was in port, and I think Mr. Brandon
was reluctant to have a man flogged. He wasn't quite sure about regulation,
because Mr. McGill was a Midshipman, but he couldn't have him CANED, Sir; he
was too old for that. And anyway, I think, because of his past and all..."

"Yes, I understand, Mr. Anderson." Drew, a long-time victim of child abuse
at the hands of his father, would be very reluctant to order a man beaten.
Not when there was an alternative. I stood up and sighed. "I am sorry Mr.
Brandon had to go through such a trial while I was away. But, though it is
wrong to speak of the dead, Mr. McGill certainly knew better than to attack
you. It seems to me that he purposely waited until a moment when he thought
he might get away with it, and I am glad that Mr. Brandon was so decisive and
strong in his reaction."

Hell, I thought. He's already a better officer than Commander Johnson.

"So am I, Sir. He really was something, sounded almost like the Captain or
you when he started yelling."

I stifled a smile as I turned to go, then paused. There was just the
smallest glimmer of an idea in my head.

"Mr. Anderson? When exactly did Mr. McGill die?"

"About three days later, Sir, just as we left Oporto. The fever relapsed
shortly after his punishment was over."

And the glimmer grew into a spark of light.

***
I found Drew in sick berth that was, refreshingly, nearly empty. Before he
noted me, I took a good look at him, and realized I would not have needed the
Captain to tell me that something was wrong with him. It was in the slant of
his shoulders, the drop of his head, the very stillness that he sat staring
at the book. He was studying, but not really, I thought. No word on that
page was getting into his head.

I made a slight noise as I started forward, and he looked up. He paled as
he saw me, his lips set thin. And slowly he closed the book. "Mr.
Hornblower?"

So formal. "Yes, Drew, I am back," I said with a friendly smile.

He would not give in. "Mr. Hornblower. I must speak with you, Sir." He was
quiet, eyes wide, a young man in deep turmoil. "In private."

I looked around. "In Hepplewhite's quarters, then, Mr. Brandon?"

He nodded. "That will do."

He rose slowly, and I followed him there. I had a faint idea that I knew
what this was about, but I was not certain as to the best way to resolve it.

He sat on the empty cot, and I sat in a chair opposite him. He seemed to
very much want to say something, but could not get the words out. "Well?" I
finally said.

"I am...glad...you are back, Mr. Hornblower. Because I do not believe there
is any other man who can understand what I am about to tell you. But I think
that you will understand it, and will take me seriously."

"I have always taken you seriously, Mr. Brandon."

He looked down at his hands for a moment, and then back up at me, with his
chin determined. "You must order me placed under arrest at once, Sir."

I watched him carefully. "For what reason?"

"Because I am a murderer, Mr. Hornblower."

"I see." I did not take my eyes off his; our stares matched each other. I
could see the weight of the world in his; his pain, his guilt. "And whom,
Mr. Brandon, did you murder?"

"I killed Mr. McGill, Sir." He did not move.

"I had been under the impression that McGill died from fever, Mr. Brandon."

"No, Sir. That is what everyone thinks, but it is not true. He died as a
direct result of my medical negligence."

"Medical negligence? Did you not treat his fever?"

"I did, but it was too late, Sir. However, I caused it."

The silence was heavy, as I weighed how exactly I should react to this news.
It was not merely a matter of laughing off his guilt...however wrong he was,
HE took these feelings very seriously indeed, and laughing them off would
only cause him more pain.

I decided to plunge forward recklessly. "Do you feel that you caused his
fever because you had him confined to the riggings, Mr. Brandon?"

What little color he had, left him. "So you know, Sir?"

"I know what Mr. Anderson told me about the bruises on his face. I know that
you prevented Mr. McGill from causing him permanent harm, or even killing him
outright. And as an officer, as the First Lieutenant, and as the man in
command of the ship at that moment, you took the action you needed to in
order to ensure that the behavior ceased. And that no man would think it
acceptable to happen again." I said that last sentence with some strength.
That, really, was the most important thing he had accomplished.

He have a half sneer of self-derision. "Oh, some officer! I was foolish,
Mr. Hornblower. I was insulted that he behaved in such a manner on MY watch.
I wanted to teach him a lesson, but in the end I was not strong enough to
order him flogged. I...could not...do it. Idiot! Instead, I confined him
outside, after just recovering from that fever, in freezing weather. How
could I not have known what would happen?"

"You are not God, Mr. Brandon. You cannot predict which man will get sick."
I spoke evenly, never taking my eyes off of him.

He shook his head. "The thing is..." He closed his eyes. "He wasn't ready
to be returned to duty to begin with. I knew that. Johnson could not find
anything wrong with him, but I had a bad feeling, Sir...it just was too soon
to have him recovered. Yet he got nasty, very nasty indeed, and started
sneering and being insolent just under the surface, where I couldn't reach
it..."

Like Hunter, I thought. Just like Hunter.

"And I gave in. If it were you, or the Captain, or any other man, I would
have stood my ground and risked any of you having my hide, to protect you
from yourselves. No way in hell would I have let anyone else return to
duty." He looked listlessly up at me. "I even wished him dead."

I could not let that go. "Drew!..."

"I did, Horatio." He trembled a bit. "I even wrote it down. In my diary.
I was so angry with him, that he could go ahead and die, for all I cared. I
WROTE IT DOWN."

"I see." I was still unsure what else to say.

Drew was not at a loss for words, however. "That night...did Anderson tell
you what I said to him?"

"Some of it. He was rather incapacitated at the time, it would seem." I
leaned forward. "Why don't you tell me, in your own words, exactly what you
said."

He nodded. "It had been a long day. We'd lost a man injured while loading
water, I'd been in charge of the whole ship for the first time, I was really
quite near the edge. Just as I started to fall asleep, I heard this
commotion from the ward room...it was the sound Mr. Anderson made when he hit
the floor. By the time I got in there, McGill was beating him mercilessly
with rope; I could see that Anderson was bleeding, crawling away, but McGill
kept going. And I just roared out for him to stop, and he did, turning to
me. 'What is the meaning of this, Mr. McGill? Did you think that with the
Captain not on this ship you could do what you pleased?' And he said, 'Go
back to bed, Doctor, and let the ship be run by men who know what they're
doing.'"

"That made you angry." I said, as he paused.

"Yes, it did. I...I...grabbed him, Sir, and flung him around...that quite
startled him, but I was so angry I didn't even know my own strength. I got
right up close to his face, and I said, 'No midshipman has the license to
harm another midshipman on this ship; no man has a right to strike another
and render him unfit for duty, and nobody has the right to be insolent to any
Lieutenant, even one who is only acting, and if you don't know that by now,
then it is YOU who has no business serving in his Majesty's navy."

"All of which is true, Drew." I pointed out.

"But I was out of control. I had him there, pinned in shock, and I spat out
the most vile threats, to his career, to his person; I made a point of saying
I could see him flogged, and I didn't think Andrews would object one bit.
And he tried to recover, tried to force a laugh, and said I would never do
it, I was too weak. And I...I pulled my arm back to hit him!"

He folded forward, hands on his knees. "I almost hit him, Horatio. Me. Who
swore I would never harm another human being. I just stopped myself, and I
panicked! What would happen next if I went down that path. And McGill saw
it, saw me hesitate, and he began to grow confident again."

Fingers running wildly through his hair, he looked up at me and repeated, "I
panicked. I couldn't let him get the upper hand, couldn't let the boys think
that he could get away with it. And all I could think of was, the riggings,
I could tie him there; it wasn't violent, but it would be effective."

I nodded from experience. "Very effective indeed."

He punched his own palm. "No, not effective...deadly. Captain Pellew came
back, I gave him a full report, he acted as though I had just defeated
Bonaparte, and I'm feeling all smug; twelve hours later I find McGill laid up
in sick berth with a worse fever than the first time. I tried...I tried
everything I could think of. But it was no use, he died." And drawing
himself together once more, he met my eyes. "I KILLED HIM."

I do know Drew. The Captain had that right; I can see myself, my guilt, my
anxiety, in his own behavior. And I took a chance.

"Very well, Mr. Brandon. The penalty for murder is hanging. Therefore, you
must hang."

If he was surprised by my statement, he didn't indicate it. Just looked at
me, resignation, as if he were glad that it had all finally come to a head.

But he underestimated me.

"However, it shall have to fall to Mr. Kennedy to do so, as I must hang
before you, for I am a murderer myself."

Now he blinked. "What?"

"Twice over a murderer, in fact. But they can only hang you once."

He stuttered out, "I-I don't understand."

"I killed a man by the name of Bunting before you got here. Shot him at
point blank range. The man was deranged from hunger, for we had been on half
rations, and he was grieving for a good man lost to malnutrition. He tried
to desert, and I pulled my gun on him, he grabbed it and it went off."

Drew shook his head, mouth open. "Sir, that would be an accident."

"Was it? I think not. I was his superior officer. I thought I could handle
him. I thought I could reach him. I failed. Had I been able to reach him,
he would not have taken those steps that led to his death. Then, if I had
been a more effective leader, he would not have challenged me when I pulled
my gun on him. No, no, his death is on my head, and it is murder as surely
as Mr. McGill's death is." I cleared my throat, as he sat there in shock,
and went on.

"And then, we have Mr. Hunter, who you did know. I was negligent of him; he
was much like Mr. McGill, in that he had the ability to be insolent without
being obvious. I disliked him greatly, and so I used to use my own abilities
to tweak him when I could. Don't think I didn't enjoy the fact that I was
more popular an officer with the men than he was. And don't think I didn't
take every opportunity to rub his face in it. So when the chance came for
him to get me back, he took it, taking the loyalty of most of my men away
while we were in prison. And I let him. I was derelict in my duty, and so
when the escape attempt happen, that ultimately resulted in his death, that
too is on my head."

He protested this one. "Horatio, Archie told me that Hunter wouldn't get
back in the boat on your rescue mission. He did not die as a result of the
escape attempt."

"Yes, he did. He was consumed with guilt for surviving the escape, and I
believe he opted not to return to the boat as a way of atoning for his
failing. But it was really my failing; if I had been a better leader, he
would never have been able to organize such mutinous actions."

Drew stomped on the ground. "This is NOT the same thing at all, Horatio!
This is not murder! Hunter was a grown man, as was this man Bunting; they
both knew full well the consequences of their actions!"

Aha! I pinned my finger into Drew's chest, stood up and leaned towering over
him, and spoke with stern force. "But was not Mr. McGill a grown man, Mr.
Brandon? Answer me, Sir...how old was he?"

He gaped, "But..."

"HOW OLD WAS HE?"

"Twenty-five?"

"HOW MANY YEAR'S IN THE NAVY, MR. BRANDON?"

"Ten, I believe." Each answer was more meek.

"Ten years. Ten years of having the articles of war read to him. The
articles of war, which CLEARLY STATES that there are dire penalties for not
behaving according to the requirements of your officers and your Captain, is
that not right."

"I..."

"IS THAT NOT RIGHT?'

"Yes, Sir."

"That is hundreds of times at least that Mr. McGill had been made aware that
you can not beat a young man of equal rank near to death and get away with
it. 520 times that he learned that there could be dire physical consequences
to this action. Now, how long has he served on board the Indefatigable?"

He trembled slightly, for I had him cornered. "At least three years, Sir."

"Three years. In all of that time was anyone ever lead to believe that such
violent behavior would be tolerated? By Captain Pellew, Lieutenant
Bracegirdle or myself?"

"Oh, no, Sir..."

"That's right. Never. And he knew that. So Mr. McGill knew that what he
was doing was wrong?"

"Yes, I guess..."

"There is no guessing, Mr. Brandon. He knew. And he went ahead and did it
anyway. You might have flogged him, to be sure; one of his welts might have
gotten infected and he might have died that way. You were acting, as an
officer, in the best interests of your ship and your men. You weighed the
lives and well-being of three hundred men against one, and came up with the
right answer. You did not kill Mr. McGill, Mr. Brandon." I took a deep
breath and sat again, my hand on his shoulder. "He killed himself."

He didn't say anything at first, just kind of hung his head down, thinking it
over. When he did finally speak, his voice was low but controlled.

"The Captain has been so complimentary about my performance. But I cannot
help but feel that I have failed as a Doctor."

I sighed. "I understand that, Drew. But let me ask you, if the Captain had
ordered McGill into the riggings, and then he had died, would you consider
the Captain to have failed?"

Shaking his head, he looked up at me. "No. He would have been doing his
duty."

"Now, you were acting as Captain in his absence. Although it is not your
preference, you were needed on board not as a Doctor, but as an officer. You
had a conflict within yourself, but tell me, at the moment you were making
your decisions, did you believe they were wrong?"

"No, Horatio. I did not." He closed his eyes. "But I feel like I should
have."

"Why? They weren't wrong. They were the same decisions any other officer on
this ship would have made in your circumstance. It just happens that the
rest of us are not burdened by having to think as a doctor as well." I
looked him over carefully. "You are tired?"

"I have not been sleeping well, lately." He admitted. "This has been eating
away at me."

I took a deep breath. "Repeat after me, Drew: you are NOT a murderer."

He managed a smile. "I am not a murderer."

"Good. Keep repeating that to yourself for the next week or so." I gave him
what I hoped was an encouraging smile. "Look here, Drew. We are to be in
Gibraltar for a few days at least. I think some shore leave might be in
order."

"It feels absurd to be rewarded for losing a man..."

"You are to be rewarded for a job well done, in exacting circumstances.
Besides, I think there's a young lady who'd be expecting to see you."

And slowly a blush spread from his neck to his forehead.

"There, you see, you're feeling better already!" I chuckled lightly. I
resisted the urge to pat him on the head as I stood; I know well enough that
he HATES that. "And no more talk of hanging, now, is that understood? Or
the Captain will hang ME."

"Yes, Sir, Mr. Hornblower."

"Good, now get some rest and I shall talk to the Captain about getting you
ashore tomorrow. Oh, and there is to be a dinner tomorrow evening in the
Captain's quarters, in celebration of the fact that he,s now a father."

As I expected, that news quite threw him out of his doldrums. "Then the baby
was born, Horatio? Boy or Girl? Is it healthy? How is his wife doing?" The
questions tumbled out of his mouth unchecked.

"Girl, very healthy, and Lady Pellew is fine but tired. The Captain is
overjoyed. Life goes on, you see, Mr. Brandon."

And perhaps beginning to forgive himself for not being perfect, he stood
slowly next to me and sighed. "Yes, I guess it does."

***

"Captain Pellew, Sir? A word, if I may?"

He looked at me sharply, having just returned from seeing port Admiral Hale.
Fortunately, it would seem that even Hale was unable to quash the unabashed
joy the Captain is feeling at having learned he,s the father of a healthy
baby girl. But I had been on a mission for him, and knew he would want the
answers I could give him.

"Is this pertaining to Mr. Brandon, Mr. Hornblower?"

"It is, Sir."

"Then you may certainly have a few moments of my time, Mr. Hornblower."

Following him to his office, I gave him a brief rundown of the rather
draining conversation I'd had earlier with Drew.

The Captain's face grew grave. "I'd had no idea, Mr. Hornblower..." He said
softly. "That he could ever consider himself responsible for Mr. McGill's
death. In fact, I was quite impressed with the poise he'd shown in handling
the situation. McGill's behavior was unconscionable, and his punishment
deserved."

"I agree, Sir, from what I've heard. But for Drew, it was a conflict of
interest, for lack of a better word. His responsibility as an officer,
against his responsibility as a Doctor."

The Captain grimaced. "A damned paradox, Horatio. As an officer, he could
have done nothing else than what he did do."

I sighed. "Yes, and I think I made him understand that. I have been in his
place once or twice, Sir..." Dark memories bit at my conscience. "Times
when I have lost a man, and wondered if I might have been able to save him,
if only I'd done something different."

"You and I both, Horatio." His eyes were pained, and I knew the list of men
he'd have on his conscience, rightly or wrongly, would be even longer than
mine. In fact, I had very nearly been one of them. "But I do wish he had
said something to me about this. He has been torturing himself for no
purpose for nearly two weeks now."

I hesitated, wondering if I could presume to put myself so thoroughly in
Drew's shoes, but I did not like to see the Captain brooding, when he by
rights should be nothing but happiness. "Sir, Drew has a tendency to use
that poise you spoke of like a shield. He said as much to me before I left
for England...that he has learned to become expert at hiding his fear. And
what he fears more than anything is disappointing you."

His brow furrowed, and his chin jutted out. "Disappointing me? But I went
out of my way to praise him for his work!"

"It was a bad situation for him, Sir. From his point of view, he was nothing
short of a murderer. Yet you were lauding his work. He believed his own
reflection to be the true one, but could not bear to let you down by telling
you how he had failed. He wanted your approval, but could not let himself
believe he deserved it."

The Captain sighed, gazing out to the windows. "You are right, Horatio. I
must remember to not get caught up in the appearance he presents to us.
After all, we all will try to put our best foot forward among those we
admire."

I smiled slightly, remembering more than once when I had done the same. "We
do indeed. In any event, Sir, I would like for Mr. Brandon to be given some
shore leave tomorrow. To call on his girl, and just get his mind off the
ship for a while. It's a heavy responsibility he's been bearing."

And he chuckled slightly. "Ah, young love, Mr. Hornblower. A panacea for
all that ails you."

"Or the creation of new and different ailments." I added, only half joking.

And the Captain's eyes twinkled even more. "I should have liked to be there,
Mr. Hornblower, to see you standing over him commanding him to answer you,
forcing him to admit that McGill was responsible for his actions, forcing him
to rearrange his thinking and admit he did everything he could. Yes, I
should have liked to have seen that very much."

I felt myself blush, but would not let him get away with it. Not this time.
"I do not know why you would need to, Sir. I learned how to do it from you."

"Uhm..." He swallowed once and looked away, shuffling papers about on his
desk. His face grew somewhat ruddy. "Anyway, while you're here..." He
cleared his throat and turned around to the window. "Blast it, where is that
dispatch!" He mumbled, irritated. And then it dawned on me.

This time, I had discomfitted HIM! HA!

I saw the papers I believed he was looking for in plane site before me, and
reached over and tapped them quietly. "Sir?"

"Ah, yes, thank you." He still avoided my eye, and I felt my mouth twitch.

"Something funny, Hornblower?" He growled.

I resumed a stony face. "No, Sir." But oh, how it hurt to not grin!

"I didn't think so." He cleared his throat once more. "Now, then...Admiral
Hale has asked me to write up details on our beef situation...I shall do so,
of course...but I have no interest in returning to Admiralty if not needed.
When my report is done tomorrow, I would like you to bring it there."

"Aye, Aye, Sir." I said, crisply.

"Think you can find your way there without getting lost?" He finally looked
up at me, trying to be angry, bless him.

"I believe so, Sir." I took no heed of his ire.

"Yes, well, see to it you do then. And if Mr. Brandon is to have leave, let
it be early tomorrow; after you drop this off you can fetch him back to the
ship before dark. Girl or no girl, Gibraltar is no place for a sixteen-year
old boy to be wandering about at night."

"I quite agree, Sir."

"I did not ask for your agreement." He said, evenly. And turned away again.
"You are dismissed, Mr. Hornblower. I appreciate your assistance."

"Of course, Sir." I rose to go. "Good evening."

But as I got to the door he hesitated. "Horatio?" He said, hurriedly, as
if afraid he would stop himself.

"Yes, Sir."

"I..." He swallowed, and then biting his lip got it out. "Thank you."

"It is I who thank you, Sir." And I did smile, this time, and made a hasty
escape before he got embarrassed again. I didn't wish to torment him, not
really. But my, how many times had he done just that to me?

Well, well, well, Sir. It would seem I have learned more than you meant to
teach me!

And in a quite fine mood, I went off to see if Archie was about.

***
February 13th, late afternoon

The report was written and I brought it to Hale, who is as irritating as
ever, and I made my way to return from the stench that was Admiralty House
with relief. Now I looked forward to a leisurely walk to Indefatigable, by
way of picking up Drew. The late afternoon sun was coldly brilliant, the sky
was clear. We had a week,s rest, as it were, before heading out again, into
whatever nightmare the Admirals might see fit to send us on this time.

Drew, when last I spoke to him, had been going to head towards the apartments
kept by Bracegirdle's wife, as that was where young Violet was assisting her
as a companion. I am certain he will also be delighted to see the young
child he delivered last December, the babe who now bore his name. He'd been
there, at a guess, for a good five hours, and ought to be ready to head back.
As requested, the Captain had willingly given the lad leave, provided he
return by nightfall; he was right in knowing that Drew is still boy enough to
be endangered by Gibraltar's rougher elements. But before I reached the
Bracegirdle door, a voice called out to me.

"Good day, Lieutenant Hornblower!"

I turned to find myself staring at a cheery, slightly plump woman, well
bundled, with shockingly red hair. She held in her arms a wriggling bundle
that appeared to be a healthy-sized baby about two months old. And though we
have never been properly introduced, I have a shrewd idea who she,s.

"Mrs. Bracegirdle, I presume?" I asked, bowing with a smile.

She walked up to me with a wide grin. "Indeed I am, Sir, and right glad that
I recognized you and saved you the walk, for I must assume that you are
inquiring after young Mr. Brandon?"

I stood beside her, peering down at the child. "I am guilty as charged,
Ma'am, not that I would not have attended you for your company alone." I
said, slightly stiffly, trying to pretend I was trading quips and sallies
with Kitty.

She laughed, a hearty laugh like her husband's. "Oh, and here Anthony said
you were a tad...reserved...with the ladies, if resourceful with a sword."

"Mr. Bracegirdle exaggerates on both accounts, I am afraid." I said, but was
somewhat stung nevertheless. I had a feeling that she had substituted the
word 'reserved' for something else. For I had once heard Bracegirdle refer
to me as gauche once, when he thought I was out of hearing. I am certain
that he had not meant to hurt me, yet the words had lingered. "Your son is
growing fast, I see!" I noted, changing the subject quickly.

"Yes he,s, aren't you, Andy?" She jostled the bundle slightly and the child
gurgled. "Eats like his father, he does!" She beamed up at me, pleased that
I had paid attention to the boy. "Do me the honor of escorting me to the
dressmaker's, Sir, and I shall be able to present you with our young Romeo!"

I fell into step beside her, taking her lead, as I had no idea where the
dress maker was. "He did not call on Miss Violet at your apartments, then?"
I asked, confused.

"Oh, he did indeed, Sir, quite pink in the face and half mortified, but he
did manage to get the words out eventually. However, as I informed him,
Violet is now working two days a week for Signora Danini; she,s quite skilled
with a needle."

"Signora?" I asked, surprised. "Is she Spanish, Ma'am?" Gibraltar was a
strange place for a Spaniard.

"No, indeed, Sir; she,s Venetian. Escaped to Gibraltar after Boney
threatened. It's currently under control of Austria, you know."

"I knew the Venetian Republic fell, of course, but had not realized the
repercussions. Still, why Gibraltar?"

"Her father, I believe, was a merchant Captain out of Venice; and her mother
was Scottish, so she does have some ties to both England and the Sea. But in
all likelihood, this is where she was able to get to with what money she was
able to flee with."

"Hard lines." I said, softly. "Especially for a woman."

"And one who must make her own way, too; I do not believe she has any family
left." Mrs. Bracegirdle murmured, holding the baby a tad tighter. "Oh, here
we are!"

The storefront was off the main way, a tiny shop indeed, but inside it was
filled with bolts and bolts of fabrics, from strong muslin to rich silks. At
our entrance, a soft voice called from the back, "Momento."

I took advantage of the quiet to note some very fine worked muslin in the
corner. I am in desperate need of new shirts; the few I have wear quickly on
shipboard. But the prices are prohibitive for me, at least until the prize
money comes through on our last deliveries. Next to the muslin was the most
extraordinary lace I have ever seen; stitches impossibly small and intricate.

A warm voice spoke suddenly from the door. "Oh, Mrs. Bracegirdle; you have
arrived for your dress."

"Indeed I have, Signora. And may I present Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower,
from HMS Indefatigable."

I turned to find myself bowing before a woman who was ordinary in every way.
Medium height, running perhaps fuller than my tastes prefer; hair much the
same shade of brown as mine, pulled back in a bun; eyes pleasantly brown as
well. She wore a simple green dress, only made remarkable by a shawl of that
same sort of lace as I'd just been admiring. Determined to prove I was not
gauche, around this woman or any other, I bowed easily.

"Delighted to make your acquaintance, Ma'am." And I gave her a full smile.

She matched it, and something seemed to change about her, though I could not
place it. "The pleasure is mine, Sir." Her voice was warm, slightly stilted
with accent, but otherwise it was perfect English. "Two fine officers from
your ship to call in one day. It is an honor indeed."

Mrs. Bracegirdle was trying to balance her bundle and the baby, and failing.
"Ma'am, permit me to walk you back to your lodgings." I gasped.

"Dear me, Mr. Hornblower; that is so far away. I have other errands to run,
and it will take you more than an hour to get me there and then come back for
Mr. Brandon, and return him to the ship."

I frowned. "Alas, Ma'am. I do not have an hour; the Captain expects Mr.
Brandon and I returned before dusk!" I turned to Signora Danini. "Is Mr.
Brandon here with Miss Morris?"

"Ah, no, I am afraid I have a soft heart indeed for them, and permitted him
to take her out walking. He seemed a most engaging sweet boy, and she was so
delighted to see him. How could I refuse? But he promised me solemnly to
return by four, and you can see it is but twenty-five minutes from now."

"If Mr. Brandon gave you his word, then, mark it, he shall be here."

And Mrs. Bracegirdle brightened. "Tell you what, Signora. I shall just pop
out on my other errands, and then return here to fetch Violet for her
assistance. Works out well for all of us. And Mr. Hornblower can entertain
you with his tales from the sea. As him about fire ships; that should be
interesting." And before I could protest at all, she'd placed her package
down and was gone, leaving me gaping foolishly before a woman I do not know.

That woman looked at me, eyebrows raised, smiling. "Fire ships, Signor?"

Well damn me, what do I say now?

Drew had darn well better be on time, or I might just be tempted to go ahead
and hang him!

"You do not need to explain, Lieutenant Hornblower." Signora Danini said,
and she smiled again, quite putting me at ease. "My father sailed many
years, captaining a merchant vessel, and I know the term well. You have
experienced a fire ship, then?"

"I have, and I can assure you it is not something I wish to repeat. Ever."
I grimaced slightly.

"That is most understandable." She looked towards the door. "While we wait
for your young friend, can I offer you a cup of tea?"

Protesting, I stuttered out, "I would not wish you to go to any trouble..."

Again, there was that smile. "I can assure you it would be no trouble at
all; I was in the process of making some for myself."

I found myself strangely at ease. "Then I would be delighted to join you."

She tilted her head slightly, and then disappeared around the bolts of fabric
into her back rooms, and I resumed my examination of the exquisite lace works
and embroidery her shop contained.

Before long she returned, noting my study. "Beautiful, is it not? It will
be a lost art, I am afraid; lace works from Burano, near my home."

"It is stunning." I turned to her and leaning against the counter, accepted
her offer of tea. "Mrs. Bracegirdle said that you were from Venice. The
political climate must be very frustrating to you..." My voice trailed off.
Surely a woman did not wish to talk politics.

"Frustrating is not the word, Lieutenant. Irate might be better. My father
was a longtime member of the Venetian senate. Many hundreds of years of
history have been swept away by that animal Bonaparte. He does not even
understand what he,s doing, I think..." She blushed, for I was staring at
her. "Forgive me, Sir. It is not delicate for women to speak of such
things, I know..."

"No, no." I hastened, not wanting her to think I found anything unseemly in
it. "Please do continue. I am very interested in your opinions of our
French friends..."

"Or enemies, it would seem." She shrugged. "The French Republicans...it is
not as though I don,t understand what drives men to revolution. Even in
Venice we were not perfect. But this is not the way to bring equality; one
does not change the world in one blast of a cannon; instead, a world should
be rebuilt brick by brick."

I was intrigued. "Yet some would say the Americans have done just that." I
challenged her.

Her eyes sparked. "Yes, they have. In a new land, with no history. When
one has no building, it is easy to decide, 'this is the building I want' and
then build it, even if one crazed architect will keep butting in. But if one
already has a house, it is not so easy to say, I will take this gothic
mansion and turn it into a modern dwelling. If you are not careful, you will
destroy the foundation."

"An interesting analogy, although I must protest. Did you just refer to my
sovereign as a crazed architect, Signora?"

"I believe I did, Sir. I hope you will not hate me for it. Biscotti?"

She passed me a strange sweet that could have passed for months old ship's
biscuit, it was so hard. I tried to bite into it, and she laughed, covering
her mouth with her hand.

"No, no, you must dip it in the tea first, like this. You see?"

I followed example and found it a bit more tempting then. "An interesting
idea." I took a sip of tea. "I must try this with our regular rations."

"Biscuit dipped in grog?" She asked, eyes raised.

"You are well versed in naval life, I must say."

"Indeed I do, Sir. I had the opportunity to sail with my father more than
once. He used to import silks from the orient." She sighed, looking around.
"The contents of this shop were his only legacy to me when he passed away."

"I am sorry." There was little more to say, as I know too well, but before
an uncomfortable silence could follow I tried to change the subject. "Tell
me what Venice is like, Signora. It is a city that has always intrigued me."

Her face brightened. "It is everything you have heard and more, I am
certain. Our architecture is unrivaled, if I may be so bold."

"An eastern influence in it, I have heard." I encouraged her to continue.

"Yes, a bit; but influences from Florence and Rome, and cities to the north
as well. It is a unique style. Have you ever seen diagrams of St. Mark's
Basilica, Lieutenant?"

"I have not...is it true it is composed of mosaic?"

"Almost entirely; during services the walls seem to glow, kissed by God, as
if we are receiving twice his blessing. But then, you are not Catholic, so
perhaps you do not understand how our emotions are so touched."

"I do not know that I am much of anything at heart, Signora. Nominally
Church of England, of course." I felt awkward, then, afraid she would be
offended by my lack of belief.

Thankfully she was not. "You are a man of science, then." Her eyes
twinkled. "Yet I sense hesitation, Sir. Do you deny a higher power?"

"I..." Did I? Before I entered the Navy, the answers came easily. As a
schoolboy learned and full of ideas, I scoffed at spirituality. But though I
had no credence in an organized religion, seeing what I had in my life so
far, could I really deny God? "I do not know that I have an answer for you.
I have seen much to make me wonder in my life."

"I see." She sighed. "I envy you that, I think. Perhaps your feelings are
deeper, because at your core you did not always believe. You are better able
to appreciate the miracles you experience."

I laughed. "I have not had any miracles, Signora?"

She turned her head. "No? Violet talks often of your ship. She tells me
that this man of hers, Mr. Brandon, had an unfortunate life before
Indefatigable?"

"That is true..." I answered, with hesitation.

"Yet a naval life can be more brutal than a brutal childhood, can it not?
You perhaps yourself have served on ships that are not so kind to a child."

How had she read that in me? My face grew hot. "There are some ships that
are as you describe. But not the Indefatigable, I assure you.

"No?"

I felt as if she were slighting my own home. "No. Captain Pellew is a fine
officer and he genuinely cares about his men."

"So I have heard from Violet. He is a compassionate man, your Captain?"

"Save for my father, he,s the best man I have ever known." I said, with
simple honesty.

"So...why is it Mr. Brandon ended up on your ship? Was not the hand of God
in that, perhaps?" She perhaps looked a tad smug.

"But not a miracle!" I protested.

"No? Do you think miracles happen with trumpet fanfare and the announcements
of angels? God is more subtle than you give him credit for. If you asked
the boy whether or not it was a miracle for him, he would say it was."

At that moment, the young man in question entered, pretty young Violet
tenderly hanging on his arm, blushing. He himself smiled rather meekly at
seeing me. "Mr. Hornblower, I had not expected you here?"

Heavens, had the time passed so quickly? He was early! "I had business for
the Captain and was fortunate enough to run into Mrs. Bracegirdle, who showed
me where I might find you." I glanced at his young lady, and she looked
shyly away. Drew brought his head back in from the clouds.

"Forgive my manners. Mr. Hornblower, may I present Miss Violet Morris. Miss
Morris, this is Lieutenant Hornblower."

She curtseyed sweetly, and glanced at me briefly. "Sir."

"My pleasure, Miss Morris." I bowed, but could not help but notice that her
eyes had already returned to her beau.

"And I see you have been introduced to Signora Danini." He looked at me
curiously.

"Indeed, we have just been speaking of Venice." Actually, the conversation
had gotten rather far away from that, but I could hardly elaborate.

The Signora walked from behind the counter. "Violet, Mrs. Bracegirdle shall
be returning for shortly; she requires your assistance back to her rooms."

"Thank you, Ma'am. I will get my things ready." She looked up at Drew from
under her fine eyelashes, and he inhaled. "Till tomorrow, then?"

"Tomorrow." She said, squeezing his arm, and then with a flurry of skirts,
and a remembered, "Nice to meet you, Mr. Hornblower," she sped away into the
back.

Signora Danini met my eyes, as Drew drilled holes into the back of my head
with his. "Indeed, Mr. Hornblower, I must second that. It was very nice to
meet you."

And with surprising ease I bowed to her again. "The pleasure was all mine, I
can assure you." Gauche? WHO'S gauche?

"I must thank you again, Ma'am, for allowing me to take Miss Violet out."
Drew added.

She walked us towards the door. "It was no trouble, Mr. Brandon. You see
each other seldom enough, that your arrival in port must be a festive
occasion. I also look forward to seeing you both tomorrow."

Both of us? I thought, in some confusion, as Drew and I headed into the
street. I had not intended to be back this way tomorrow, and certainly it is
unlikely that Captain Pellew would need me to run further errands for him.
Still, I must admit the idea of further conversation with Signora Danini was
appealing. Drew had already been given permission to be ashore each day, and
it would be just as well to make certain he,s seen safely back on board
before nightfall. He is sixteen, of course, and an acting Lieutenant, but he
IS small for his age...well, maybe not so small anymore...but it would not
hurt to ask Captain Pellew if I might retrieve him each day...

"What are you thinking on, Horatio?"

"Captain Pellew." I said, hastily.

"Oh." He looked straight ahead, only a discreet shift of his eyes made their
way to me, to judge my mood.

I ought to have some conversation with him, I suppose, after the events that
have tormented him recently.

"You had a good visit?"

"Yes." He said, the color rising in his face. "She got very angry with me."

I arched my eyebrows. "She did not seem angry when I saw her just now."

"No, we worked it out. But she was upset because I was being, well, stupid
about the whole situation with McGill. And I am, I suppose."

"*I* told you that!" I nudged him.

"You were right. So is she."

"Well, after all, Drew, from her point of view, you put yourself in danger.
You're no good to her hanged!" I teased.

"I don't suppose I would be, but then I'm not sure how much good I am to her
now." He looked chagrined, eyes watching his feet as we picked our way
through the slippery streets.

"She only had eyes for you, Drew. There must be a reason for that."

The snow crunched under foot, and I pulled my cloak closer around me. I
noticed my breath frosting in the air. It would be a relief and a comfort to
be back on the Indy, and besides, Captain Pellew was hosting dinner tonight.
Drew slipped a little in the snow and I put an arm out to steady him. He
murmured his thanks, and then we both continued in our private reveries.

Matthews was by the docks, several of our men waiting to row us to shore.

"A good day, Sir?"

"A very good day, Matthews, thank you."

I let Drew get in the boat first, and took one look back towards the way we
had walked, wondering what Signora Danini did in her free hours. It must be
a lonely life, especially for a woman so intelligent. Her face came to my
mind again, an easy, friendly, kind face, and I sighed.

Drew followed my eyes and for the first time since his baptism by fire into
the world of a Lieutenant, he gave me a full smile. But bless his heart, he
didn't say a word.

February 13th, Evening...

The Captain is hosting dinner this evening, in celebration of his having
become a father. Additionally, he managed to scrounge up a bullock for the
men...they, too, will dine well. I changed into a fresh shirt...the better
of the three that I own, which is not saying much. I noticed again that my
sleeves are fraying, and cannot help but think of that fine muslin I saw at
Signora Danini's today. If I only had a small amount of spare money...but I
cannot imagine the cost of that fabric.

Well, no use worrying myself over it, and I am thankful that I spend my time
among men who do not judge me for the appearance I am able to keep.

Archie, just off duty, paused by the door so we might walk to the Captain
together. Pulling my mind from thoughts more frivolous, I noticed he was not
particularly happy today; his mouth was drawn a bit too tight when he smiled;
his eyes lacked sparkle, and he seemed to blink rather more than normal.

"What is the news, Archie?" I asked him, as we began our walk towards the
Captain's cabin. "You do not look well. A headache?"

His tight smile became more taught, his skin stretching over his face. "No,
Horatio. It is more absence of news than news."

Ah, I thought. There had been letters dispatched today. Though I have long
been accustomed to not having any personal correspondence awaiting me when we
were in port, Archie would of course have several reasons to expect
otherwise. "Did you not receive a letter from your wife, then?"

His hands behind his back, he looked down at his feet, and then set his face
straight ahead. "Several, in fact. All very happy, very well, quite
contented in living with my father, quite worried on my behalf, and lamenting
the fact that there is no better means of communication between us."

I searched his face carefully, and tried to smile my encouragement. "Come
now, that does not seem to be a BAD letter, Archie. It sounds quite loving."

"It was." He shrugged. "But she was holding something back, I think. I had
hoped...we both had hoped...that she might be with child when I left her."

I stopped and took a long look at him, and then sighed, exasperated. He met
my expression with a puzzled one of his own. "Archie, it is but three months
since your marriage. If she,s with child, she might not be aware of it yet."

He frowned, his eyebrows drawing in close over his nose, and he bit his lower
lip slightly. "Do you think not? Is that possible?"

"Quite possible, Archie!" Even if I do not have the best track record in
wooing women, I am not without some common sense. "In fact, my father had
some patients who were five months along without realizing their blessing."

He grinned sheepishly. "I guess I am being silly; it is just that we left
each other so hopeful, and lord knows when I will be able to see her again."

I picked up the pace, a little more quickly this time; first Lieutenant or
not, I did not wish to be the man to keep the Captain waiting! But I could
not resist one last barb.

"After all Archie, if she,s not with child, the worst that can happen is that
you must try again. And again...and again..."

He slugged me hard just as we made our way to the Marine outside Pellew's
door, and I straightened up and swallowed my laugh.

***
Dinner was the Captain, Bowles, Forbes, Archie, Drew and myself. Mr. Cousins
had the deck above, though the Captain should have liked to have him here as
well, I know. Until we replace McGill we are rather short-handed.

"Gentlemen..." He began, pouring the wine for us all. "You are all aware of
my blessing by now, I know. But I am glad indeed, to have you all here to
share my fortune with."

"It is our pleasure, Sir." I said, warmly.

"Indeed it is, Captain. May I be the first to raise a glass to your lovely
wife!" Bowles chimed in.

There was a brief pause, for one was always uncertain what to call Kitty.
But I filled it quickly, remembering my honestly meant words to that nasty
landlady I encountered. "Here is to Lady Pellew and the lovely Beatrice!" I
said, meeting his glance.

He swallowed once, but our eyes locked, simple understanding between us.
Drew, beside me, raised his glass as well, as all chimed in, "To Lady Pellew
and her daughter." And he accepted the wishes silently, words not coming.
For that matter, I do not think he needed any.

"Pork, Sir?" Powers prompted him, as he set the roast before him.

"Ah, yes, thank you." I think he was glad to have something to occupy him.

"So, Mr. Hornblower..." Forbes began. "What news from England?"

I felt my face glow, a bit. I still am unused to being given the respect and
deference I had once given Bracegirdle without question. "I regret, Captain
Forbes, that I had little time to gather much. The general population seems,
from what I could see, to be doing well out of the war, at least."

Bowles nodded sagely. "War is always good for a man's pocket, if you're a
merchant in a coastal town."

Archie passed round the potatoes. "It,s always good for a merchant, and a
man of business. Less good for the poor bloke who ends up being pressed."

I was uncertain how the Captain would regard that statement, and I did wonder
that it was made by my aristocratic friend. But he immediately concurred.

"It is a sad fact that the Navy is so forced to rely on the services of men
who do not enter the life voluntarily." There was an unmistakable glint of
mirth in his eye as he looked from Archie to Drew, and back to Archie again.
"Though perhaps a few of them do manage to change their minds over time."

Archie laughed. "True enough, Sir. But it would take an extraordinary ship
to do that."

"And an extraordinary man." Drew said, softly, but with that quiet
conviction of his.

But the Captain demurred. "Extraordinary MEN, Mr. Brandon. Even a Captain
is only as good as the men he finds himself surrounded by. Sometimes, you
are lucky."

"Luck, or fate, Sir?" I asked. "Perhaps everything has its time and its
place, for its reason."

"That, Mr. Hornblower..." He said, dabbing at his face with a napkin. "Is
unusually philosophical for you. What occurrence brought this mood on?"

I took a deep breath. "Nothing happened, Sir. That is just how I feel."

The Captain looked right through me and on to Drew. "Well, Mr. Brandon, did
you notice anything unusual occurring to Mr. Hornblower this day?"

I held my breath, and could not look at him.

But I heard him pause quite deliberately, giving the question some thought.

"No, Sir. At least, nothing happened that was noteworthy in my presence."

And quietly, I let my breath out, along with a silent prayer of thanks,
though I did not even understand why I found it necessary.

"Hm, we shall have to watch this tendency for philosophy, then. I cannot
have my first Lieutenant with his head in the clouds, when the ship must sail
on the water."

I smiled. "Of course not, Sir. I believe I can say most assuredly that will
never happen."

Bowles was eagerly taking another serving of meat. "So, Mr. Kennedy, when
shall you be making Mr. Brandon an Uncle, eh?"

Ouch. I coughed, and tried furiously to find a distraction.

But Drew, embarrassment aside, ran with this new idea. "Have you had letters
from Ali...Mrs. Kennedy, then?"

"I have, Mr. Brandon, though nothing quite so exciting as the Captain's
blessing. She,s well, healthy and happy, and wishes to be remembered to you
all." He maintained a jolly demeanor. "In fact, she enclosed a letter for
you, as well, but I have not had the time to hand it over. You were most
distracted yourself, today; a whole day of shore leave! I am envious, Sir!"

"It is making up for the time you spent lolling around in sick-berth, leaving
me in charge." Drew jested back, and we all laughed.

"Whatever were you doing in Gibraltar all day, at this time of year?" Bowles
innocently asked him. Or perhaps not so innocently...is it possible he
suspects what I thought was still a closely guarded secret?

The Captain spoke with a deep intonation. "Now, now, Mr. Bowles. One must
not begrudge a young man the opportunity to stop and smell the roses." He
looked with some intensity at the mouthful of potato on his fork. "Or the
Violets, if that is what one prefers."

A gurgle went up next to me; Drew, choking on his wine. I smacked him on the
back, even as I looked ruefully at Captain Pellew. I never had told Drew
that I'd explained exactly what he would be doing on shore leave; never told
him that there were four men, not three, who knew of his girl in port.

Indeed, as the color returned to his face, I was silently screamed at by a
reproachful pair of blue eyes. He had just protected me, and my own confused
feelings, those eyes said. And I had repaid him how?

Worst of all, Archie had picked up on the statement. "Violet, you say?
Isn't that the name of the young woman who helps out at Bracegirdle's place
in Gibraltar. Alicia was asking me the if I had ever made an acquaintance of
her." But he still didn't get it, didn't quite put two and two together.

"Unusual name. I believe it is the name of Ollie Morris' daughter, as well.
Don't suppose it's the same girl?" Forbes added in.

"The ship's carpenter?" Bowles asked, in surprise. "But his family is back
in Portsmouth, aren't they?"

"No, no, I believe he brought them down to Gibraltar recently; was able to
take some of his savings and purchase a neat little house." Forbes responded
with great certainty.

Archie agreed. "Indeed, then, it must be the same woman, for my wife was
quite certain she had family on board the Indefatigable...but I wonder why
she was asking me about her?"

And poor Drew sat there, staring at the wine before him...a spirit he rarely
touched and never had more than a glass of even when it was a special
occasion such as this. The expression on his face (complete blankness, shock
at having what was his most sacred feelings bandied about at the dinner
table) was heart rending. I understood; it was how I would feel myself to
have my own emotions dragged out on public display, and ridicule. Not that
any of the men we ate with would look at it from that angle, or understand
how their words might mortify him. His reticence only I comprehended.

The Captain saw a glimmer of the hurt, unfortunately just a tad too late.
"Gentlemen, I believe we have had enough of this discussion. I do have some
news of importance to relay to you. Our stay in Gibraltar has been extended
for the entire week."

"A week, Sir?" Bowles was immediately distracted.

"Yes, we are awaiting the arrival of a special ship, a supply ship from the
Mediterranean. For whatever reason, she needs escort and it will be our
squadron that provides it to her."

"Sir?" I asked, trying to not notice that Drew had barely moved. "Is it not
unusual for them to give us so much information so early?"

"Highly unusual, Mr. Hornblower; but Hale says it is not a need for secrecy;
a simple request by a connected relation to his majesty for assistance in a
safe return to England."

"England?" Bowles, Forbes, and Archie responded together.

I could not resist. "You have heard of England, Gentlemen. A big damp foggy
Island Nor-nor-east of Ushant. I believe we shall be able to find it."

Archie groaned. "Heavens, Mr. Hornblower, wherever do you pick up such
feeble jests?"

Well, damn, it was funny the first time...my timing must not be quite right.

Bowles was ecstatic, however, and didn't pay any heed to my steeling the
Captain's humor. "England! And the weather, I believe, will be most fair,
by all I can tell. Should be a nice easy sail!"

The Captain and I shuddered together, though it was not cold in the room.

I have an unfortunate feeling about this.

Drew, had looked up briefly and was trying to rejoin conversation, but I knew
his mind was still elsewhere, and I longed to explain myself to him. But
there was no way to do so in present company.

But the Captain, I think, had realized that he'd hit a nerve. After one last
toast, he dismissed us all, but called on me to stay for a few moments more.

Only after Forbes had shut the door behind him did he speak.

"I should have heeded your warning, Horatio. Drew's emotions are still
frayed."

I could not agree more, but what was done was done. "He will be fine, Sir.
My only regret is that I did not let him know that I told you. At least then
he should not have been so surprised."

He stood slowly, stretching. "Yes, but I wonder how Archie's wife got on to
this? It seems as though she has."

"I do not understand that, but it is unfortunate, for now Archie shall be
relentless." Archie would look on Drew as a younger brother begging to be
teased. I have been on the receiving end of Archie's jests more than once,
and it would all be in good fun, but Drew was not ready. Still, I had hopes.

He looked at me, and gave me a slow nod. "You must tell him, then. Before he
can do more damage."

I shook my head. "I shall encourage Drew to tell Archie himself. Perhaps he
will do a better job of quieting him." And I remembered this afternoon, when
Drew and Violet entered the Signora's shop. His confident smile, more
confident than I ever remember. The way her eyes followed him, hanging on
his every word. And I wondered, perhaps, if I was over-reacting.

"Horatio?" The Captain asked, hands behind his back, staring out the window.

"Sir?"

"I hate to ask this, of the daughters of one of my most valued men, but I
cannot bear to see Mr. Brandon hurt further. Is she...is she worthy of him,
do you think?"

That was the easiest to answer. "Yes, Sir. Most definitely."

He turned to me, one eyebrow raised, and I smiled as I answered the unspoken
question. "Because she does love him, I saw that for myself today." I
drummed my finger on the gleaming wood of his table slowly. "He will see her
tomorrow, and she will again tell him he,s being silly, the same way she
apparently did today when he'd told her about McGill. She knows him, sees
through him, will not let him wallow in his perceptions, but forces him to
value himself. She really does love him, Sir." And I smiled a little wider,
at the wonder and peace of that love.

The Captain, meanwhile, was watching me carefully. "You are not envious of
him, Horatio?"

"Me, Sir?" I gasped in surprise.

"Because I do remember you were slightly envious of Mr. Kennedy not so long
ago."

Yes, yes, I had been. Jealous, in fact. One might as well call it what it
was. "I am not envious of him, Sir. Only happy for him. I do not know what
the difference is, to be honest. Except that seeing him with her today only
made me glad for him."

No, no, the only pang I had felt when Drew entered this afternoon, Violet on
his arm, was slight annoyance at having my conversation with Signora Danini
interrupted.

His eyes never left mine, but when he saw no further comment was coming from
me, he shrugged. "Well, I suppose you'd best go after him. Make my amends
as best you can."

For once, I am glad he did not read my thoughts!

I did not have to look far to find Drew; anticipating, perhaps, that I would
hunt him out anyway, he was by the rail, staring out towards Gibraltar,
perhaps wishing himself land-bound, for once.

I was relieved, however, as I approached, for he turned on hearing my
footsteps and gave me a very slight smile. I hadn't realized I'd been
holding my breath until I exhaled.

"I suppose it's a bit late to let you know that I had told the Captain about
Miss Morris?" I joined him by the rail, leaning beside him, following his
gaze towards the streets we'd walked just today.

"A few more hours notice might have been advisable." He admitted; I caught
him glancing at me sideways. "I ought to have anticipated it, though; you'd
have needed some excuse to get me shore leave."

"Actually..."

"You told him earlier, didn't you." He said, faintly accusing, though he
still smiled, and shook his head.

"Only because he was rather concerned about your mood; this is before we even
encountered our bout with fever." My defenses sounded lame so many months
after the fact.

"THAT long ago? I ought to count my blessings he did not find need to abuse
me earlier! Lord knows, in your time away, I gave him ample reason to do
so!" He sighed, deeply; the moon came out just then and we both turned our
faces to it; the night was still and not too cold; the air fairly fresh. "My
sister is a surprise, though; bad luck she should get inquisitive just at
this time."

"She must read minds." I said, still not certain how that had come about.
"You'd best tell Archie, though; he'll be like Styles with a rat until he
understands what happened in there!"

He gave a short laugh. "What an expression, Horatio! I am not even going to
guess where you made that up from, but take you at your word."

I stared at him, my relief mingling with wonder. His face was relaxed, his
eyes bright; the moon hit him in the face, and gone was the worried fourteen-
year old boy I remembered from his first days on the Indefatigable. A boy
who had crouched in shadows, cowered in terror at even the simplest order, a
boy whom I had feared would not survive even one year at sea. In his place
is a young man whom I am glad to consider a friend.

"You really are not angry, then?"

"I was at first, I admit. All along, you know, I'd been afraid to have
anybody else know. Afraid of being teased."

"I understand."

"I know YOU do, but you're about the only one here who could, Horatio. I was
afraid of making my heart known, only to have her change her mind. A part of
me was certain that she would, you know."

"Yes, I do know. Both of us, Drew, have had our share of losses. You wonder
sometimes if your luck will ever turn."

"Anyway, I was going to wait here for you, to have it out. But as I stood
here, looking out to Gibraltar, all I could remember was the time I spent
with her today. Just walking along, talking, being near her. And I realized
that she isn't going to change her mind. At least, I don't think so." His
brow furrowed momentarily, and then he shrugged. "It feels like it's a
forever thing, right now, Horatio. And I've decided I'm going with that."

"Good. Don't think too much." I wrapped my cloak around myself against a
sudden breeze.

He did not move, but his face in the light took a slightly wicked expression,
a crooked smile on his face, his eyes narrowed. "Your luck seems to have
turned, as well, I noted."

I said nothing, but leaned against the rail once again, elbows bent, hands
clasped before me, eyes trying to see into the distant port. An interesting
woman, but no more than that, surely, I told myself. Why, she,s several
years older than I am. And she,s certainly no classic beauty; I have always
liked taller, blonder women. Women just a slight bit more slender than the
Signora. Women like Jane Smythe, my long lost love from childhood. And
Mariette, whom I can hardly call a love, in hindsight, but for whom I had had
an undeniable attraction.

No, Signora Danini is not my sort of woman. The fact that she can converse
easily and interestingly on politics, on architecture, means nothing. It is
also insignificant that we were able to engage in a debate in which, I am
almost certain, she may have bested me. And the fact that her smile is
really quite sweet, and yet challenging...and the fact that I can see the
gleam of her chestnut hair, and that I remember the fine mist of lashes on
her eyes, the fact that I can call her face to mind quite clearly, and cannot
do so with Mariette, all of these things mean nothing.

"I wonder what she,s doing right now?" I whispered to the moonlight.

Drew, and not the moon, answered me. "Probably staring out into the harbor
wondering which ship is the Indefatigable, Horatio."

"Surely not..." My voice trailed away, though I felt a slight tremor of hope
at his words. Did he really think I had been remarkable in any way to her?

I caught a hint of his face, serious, but a faint crinkling at his eyes. "I
expect the Captain will be having you fetch me from Gibraltar tomorrow
afternoon as well?"

"If he can find an excuse to do so, I am certain he shall." I admitted.

"Hm. It would be most remiss of me, then, not to let you know that tomorrow
Violet does not work for Signora Danini, but will be helping Mrs.
Bracegirdle. However, it is possible that I might, what with everything that
happened at dinner, forget to let you know."

Huh?

"In which case..." He looked at me for emphasis. "It would not be unlikely
for you to call at Signora Danini's to inquire for me. I, of course, would
realize my error and meet you there, so we shall get back to the
Indefatigable on time."

I said nothing for a few seconds. The water lapped gently at the sides of
the Indy. The air was bracing. The moon was vividly dancing on the bay.

And very slowly, against my will, against my caution, against my own better
judgement, I smiled.

February 17th...

ENTRY FROM THE PERSONAL JOURNAL OF LIEUTENANT HORATIO HORNBLOWER:

As Drew has suggested, I have fallen into a pattern of visiting Signora
Danini each day, on the pretext of meeting him to bring him back to the ship.
Since Violet only works with her two days a week, I must seem very forgetful
to her indeed!

I have given up the pretense to myself that I do not have feelings for her,
that I am not attracted to her. How can I not be attracted to so perfect a
woman? One whom has studied the Greeks and Romans, one who can read the
night sky, probably well enough to steer a ship, and at the same time can
create such beauty with her hands. For as a seamstress she,s an artist
indeed. And, to my shock, she laughs at my jokes! ALL OF THEM! With no
explanation needed; and it is not polite laughter, either...she really
understands me when I tell them.

Drew, when I told him of this, said that if she were laughing at MY jokes,
she must be head over heals in love with me indeed.

Rubbish. My sense of humor is not SO bad. It is only that my timing is a
bit off when I try to use it. Perhaps it is related to my inability to
appreciate music as well...

Oh, this is the most amazing thing: while speaking of Venice today, she told
me of the architecture of the Opera House, one of Venice's most famous
landmarks. With some apprehension, I asked her if she enjoyed the Opera?

And she looked at me, and apologized, but said she was NOT! That she had
little ear for music herself of any sort, and a low tolerance of Opera in
particular! She went on to say the reason she,s so well versed in the
architecture of the Opera house is that on those occasions where she was
forced to attend a performance, she occupied her mind by studying its décor!

I told THAT to Drew as well, as we walked along towards the Indefatigable.
He smirked most annoyingly and said if there was any justice in this world,
the Signora and I would marry and give birth to a brood of accomplished
musicians.

He was fortunate to duck out of arms, reach before I could reach him!

Archie, meanwhile, has been most curious about my afternoon adventures. As
Drew understands, I am loath to mention anything to him until I am certain of
my own heart. But he finds it curious that I will not ask another officer to
take the task of fetching Drew each afternoon, and even more curious that I
am so contented on my return. I have been light-hearted in the mess over
dinner; less worried than in all the time since I have taken over
Bracegirdle's responsibilities. He knows something is up, indeed, and
pressures me constantly. But I am saved by the fact that Drew's relationship
is now more or less in the open; he took great joy in penning a lengthy
letter to Alicia about it, and I can always divert him from my behavior by
bringing Miss Violet up in conversation.

Yet the time comes near when a decision must be made. How DO I feel about
the Signora? I fear making the same sort of hasty decision that nearly was
my undoing in France. I cannot deny she has a hold on me. But the material
point is, in two days we shall be leaving for England (though it is believed
we shall return to Gibraltar in due time) and I cannot leave this to hang.
If I do not make a decision, I fear I will regret it forever.

So tomorrow, then, is the day. One way, or another, I shall know my heart
and hers.

Another even chance?

Pray this one results better than the first time I thought those words.

 

February 18th

I hurried along the snowy paths; flakes flew furiously in the air; Drew and I
would have to leave earlier than the past few days to make certain that we
return to the Indefatigable on time. But I was loath to squander any
precious moments I might have with Signora Danini, for tomorrow we are off on
our mission to escort a nifty little ship named the Serenity, on to England.

My mind drifted, for a few seconds only, to the Serenity's arrival in port
this morning. A privately held vessel, property of the Earl of Hampshire,
and carrying a vast array of riches, by all rumors. The Earl has been
exasperated at having several of his ships attacked, and had applied to
Admiral Hood for assistance. Which we had been ordered to provide.

"An easy sail to England." Bowles words came unbidden to my mind and I tried
to stamp them out in the snow drifts. Perhaps it is only my sudden
reluctance to leave Gibraltar, but I have not been able to shake a bad
feeling about this mission since the moment he uttered those words. They
remind me too much of that stupid ship, the Marie Gallant, and of how my
"easy sail" ended up the first time.

I turned the corner for the stairs leading to the dress shop, missed my
footing on the porch and went sprawling into a sizeable drift.

"HELL!" I exclaimed before I could stop myself.

"Lieutenant Hornblower!" I could hear the Signora call out, as she burst
forth from the door. "Are you hurt, Sir?"

Only mortified to death, I thought. She extended her hand, and I was not too
proud to take it; somehow I found my footing. "I am...well, Signora."

Nothing could be further from the truth; I am covered in snow up to my face.
And Signora put her hand up to her face to smother a giggle. "A talking
snow-man, Sir! Whomever could think of such a thing?"

And looking down at my uniform, I had to laugh with her.

"Come, Sir, let me get you some tea!" And she bustled me into the shop, with
no protest.

Even as she removed my cloak and coat, I felt the warmth of the room melting
the worst of it off. "Thank you, Ma'am. You are too kind."

Her eyes twinkled at me, as he arranged my outerwear to dry. "You have made
a mistake AGAIN, Mr. Hornblower. Mr. Brandon is not here today; Miss Violet
is with Mrs. Bracegirdle."

I took a deep breath. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. "It is no mistake,
Ma'am. I have deliberately come here to visit with you. Indeed, that has
been the case every day this week, save for my first day here."

She leaned against the counter, head tilted slightly. I noticed the shawl,
again, the same magnificent lace shawl she'd always worn. Today it covered a
dress of a deep berry-red silk, that seemed to warm her face and eyes. Those
eyes, which at the moment seemed a deep green. And like the snow that had
encrusted me, something within my heart melted as well.

"You are not supposed to admit that, Sir. That is not how the game is
played." She leaned on one hand, watching me, eyelashes blinking.

"I have never been very good at this game, Signora, and I suspect you play it
no better. I intend to ask for permission to write you, once we are away; I
would have asked your father, once, I suppose; but even were he here to grant
it, I have a feeling that without your own sanction his permission would
matter not. So there you have it; I have enjoyed our conversations; I admire
you greatly, and though I am not a poetic man, I can only tell you that I
think of you constantly, and have since the moment I met you. I must beg for
your honesty; please..."

My voice trailed off, helplessly. She was quite still, her eyes never
leaving my face. Then she turned and looked towards the back room. "The tea
is boiling..."

I swallowed hard as she started to leave to fetch it, and she noticed. "I,
as you said, am also bad at this game...I would very much like to have you
write to me, Lieutenant." She blushed then, and dodged out to the back room,
leaving me with my mouth wide open, stuttering... "I...I...am obliged..."
And again, words left me.

She came back in with the tea pot, and a package. She pressed the latter
into my hands. "Biscotti." Our hands touched briefly, and I looked down at
her. "You see, I had hoped that perhaps you were not so forgetful of
Violet's whereabouts as you seemed." She looked away. "So I made you these,
for your sail, that perhaps you might think of me while you were away."

I touched the side of her face suddenly, gently. "I...am glad." Our eyes
met. "There is something I must ask you." I whispered.

She blinked up at me, eyes curious now. "Yes?"

"What is your name?" I stammered out.

"Oh!" Her hands flew to her mouth, eyes wide in surprise and mirth. "Is it
possible that I have not told you that, in these days?"

"It is more than possible...I have never called you anything, or heard you
referred to as anything, other than Signora Danini. And I do not believe
that Signora is your Christian name!" I said, half laughing myself, placing
the package on the counter so I could rather forwardly rest my hands on her
arms.

She was more forward than I, for she took her hands away from her mouth and
rested them gently on my chest, stroking the silk of my neck-kerchief. "My
name, Lieutenant, is Angelina."

"Angelina." I whispered. "An angel."

"But you do not believe in angels...Horatio?" She looked up at me, that
little smile on her face. Never before had my name sounded so beautiful.

"I believe that I am learning to." I answered, barely able to catch my
breath, and our lips met, sweetly. I closed my eyes and gave myself in to
that kiss, savoring it for the long journey it must make do for. For a
second, I believed I could hear music, the way everyone always told me it was
supposed to be; for a second, I had no fear, no feeling of failure to
confront me. For that second, I felt myself a whole man for the first time
since my mother died.

Yes, there are angels indeed!