Passages: 1799
By Meanjean

Part 3

March 8th, Plymouth

I fidgeted slightly in my seat, the uncomfortable silence disturbing me. However, as I might have guessed, my restlessness disturbed Captain Pellew even more, and he gave me one withering scowl that quite froze me, and I determined not to move another muscle until bidden to do so, even if it killed me.

Admiral Parker sat before us, studying the extensive report on our varied incidents that had led nearly to our demise. And instead, because of Captain Pellew's cunning and Mr. Cousins bravery, it had lead to the capture and execution of a dangerous spy and two prize ships. Well, one, certainly; the late Earl of York, so foully murdered by an imposter, had owned the Serenity, and no doubt the ship shall return to his family's estate.

"Well!" Admiral Parker exhaled into space. "WELL!"

This was my first chance at speaking with the man; I had the pleasure, dubious though it was, of meeting Admirals Hale and Hood at varied occasions, but never more than glanced Parker, who seemed to be the Indefatigable's champion. The man was as unlike Hood OR Hale as could be; tall and lean, with not a spare ounce of fat on his body; his face long and angular, his uniform untidy. He wore his stringy graying locks in a queue that was half undone. But his eyes were sharp, cat-green and intelligent; and despite his rheumy cough and sallow cheeks, I felt here was a man to be reckoned with; one whom had probably lead a good ship himself in his own day.

"Captain Pellew, Sir! I must again commend you. I cannot stress the damaging blow it would have been to the Navy to lose two vaunted ships, especially in such a...humiliating manor! To think Hood nearly served you up to the French on a bloody silver platter."

"I am certain, My Lord, that he was unaware of our danger..."

"So it seems...but he SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN, Sir!" Parker pounded his fist on his large desk.

I was puzzled by his vehemence; I watched him rise and turn to a table, where he poured three glasses of brandy. "Here, my good Sir. You too, Hornblower." His green eyes studied me momentarily, and I flushed at the unexpected attention. "You have earned it, and so have I, in worry over your safety these weeks."

"Worry, My Lord?" The Captain said, as surprised as I.

"Yes, Pellew. Worried. Because the weather held you up so long, Hale managed to get me word that he had dispatched you on this mission...a letter he wrote three days after you were sent, mind. And one day...he claims...after learning form me that treachery around the Earl of York was suspected."

I inhaled, but did not believe it was my place to speak. My shocked Captain asked the question for me. "Do you mean, Sir...that you believe Hale knew what we might be facing?"

Parker drained the brandy. "Can't prove it, of course. But he's hand in glove with that old bastard Hood, and they neither of 'em can stand me. Or you, it seems; both of us have too damned much common sense for their tastes. All I KNOW is that Edrington...you are familiar with the Major, I believe?"

"Yes, Sir. A fine man."

"Very. Anyway, Edrington came to me, told me he thought something was afoot, couldn't get Hood to listen to him. Told me he'd sent a Doctor friend of his after information, man he'd trust with his life."

"We have acquaintance with Doctor Sebastian, Sir." I said, hesitantly. "He was exceedingly helpful to our man aboard Serenity."

"No doubt. If Edrington vouches for him, I'd trust the man with the King's life. But still...a sole Doctor against suspected treason? Had I been around in Gibraltar, I'd have sent you off exactly as planned, but knowing what you were facing. Our spies had gotten us information, and I find it hard to believe that a fast ship couldn't have been sent with word, especially as you had to travel slow enough for Serenity to follow."

I could feel the Captain's slow burn, as he sipped the brandy deliberately. It grew quiet, as we all contemplated what this might mean. And then, with a rough cough, Parker sat again, and then began to laugh. Slow, at first, and then more soundly. Captain Pellew and I exchanged puzzled glances.

"Oh, I know, men, I know. Don't you see? You've done it again, by God! Turned what ought to have been a disaster, and ended the hero once more. Another Muzillac!"

The Captain reddened, and I swallowed once. "My Lord, I must protest." He said, evenly. "I was hardly a hero at Muzillac."

"No? Ask your man there if it wasn't some kind of heroism when you showed up on that beach, and the men with no prayer of saving otherwise, eh? Well, Hornblower? Answer me, is your Captain a hero, or not?

I took a deep breath, and remembered once Captain Foster trapping me verbally in an impossible situation. But I am older now. "I cannot call him a hero, Sir. Heroism implies going beyond the call of duty, and yet he exhibited nothing more than the attention to duty he exemplifies for us all. He did what his duty required. As we all do on Indefatigable, every day."

Parker's eyes lit up with mirth. "Wish I had a few more men with such a mind as to what duty really means." He coughed once more. "Now then, this young man, Cousins is it?"

"Reginald Cousins, Acting Lieutenant." The Captain said, quickly, glad to no longer be the focus of Parker's admiration.

"Quite a lad he must be."

"He is, Sir." The Captain said firmly.

"You have given him leave in a few days, along with a friend of his...Andrew Brandon...Exton's son?"

"Yes, My Lord. I know it is irregular during a time of war, but as we were told we were to be on station in Plymouth for some time, I felt the young man had it due."

"Mm, well, I'll trust your judgement. It was your badgering that got Cousins promoted last fall to begin with, and it seems you were right again. This Brandon fellow...how much like his father is he?"

"Not at all, Sir." Every word was spoken forcefully.

"Good to know it. World can't take two of 'em. Well, on with you, Pellew; back to your ship. York's family is coming to Plymouth, they want to reclaim Serenity and I think that we shall have a formal inquiry into your situations. My guess is you'll need to be on call for at least the next three weeks. I know I do not have to tell you not to wander too far afoot."

"Of course not, My Lord."

We rose quickly, and soon were out on the cobbled streets, making haste. I could not get a handle on the Captain's mood, until I realized what 'on station' would mean. He couldn't very well excuse himself to Portsmouth. He couldn't see Kitty and his daughter.

"Tough break, Sir." I said, quietly.

"I do not consider having to obey orders to be a bad break, Hornblower." He snapped.

"Of course not, Sir."

The silence was total, and his mood growing fouler by the second, no doubt partially because I had had the audacity to indicate that I knew he would be regretting his need to stay put. I considered bringing up the possibility of having Kitty transported HERE, but decided against it, at least until he had calmed down.

The shore boat sped us to the ship; our men...MY men...looking at me for a clue as to their unreadable Captain. I gave Matthews the faintest shrug, but only when I saw the Captain's face turned well away. But Styles...damn him...has got the strangest grin on his face, one that reminded me too much of the day I'd caught him with plasters all over his face. Something's afoot, to be sure.

Never have I seen the Captain head up the side of the ship so quickly. We were greeted quickly by Archie, at his most formal. But do I detect the hint of a smirk on his face?

"Everything satisfactory during my absence, Mr. Kennedy?"

"Yes, Sir. Our stores arrived this morning, and all seems to be on schedule."

"Damn it man, it either is or it isn't, don't give me any of your 'seems'!" He scowled.

"It is exactly on schedule." Archie corrected quickly. Then, seeing that the Captain was making a hasty retreat to his Cabin, he interrupted quickly. "Sir, before you arrive at your Cabin, I must inform you that you have visitors."

"Visitors? IN MY CABIN, MR. KENNEDY?" He snapped.

"From Admiral Parker, Sir. Express orders that they were to be admitted awaiting your arrival."

If his face grew any blacker, I'd fear for his heart. "Damn it all, why couldn't the man have mentioned it before I left him. They are under guard, I hope?"

"Indeed, Sir, I requested Captain Forbes remain with them."

"Harumph!" But as he could find no fault with this reasonable precaution, well thought out, he turned away, still muttering dangerously under his breath.

I looked at Archie in wide-eyed shock, and he grinned. "Guess who's coming to dinner, Horatio? Two ladies, to be sure!"

"Women? Parker allowed women into the Captain's Cabin? He'll have a fit, Archie..." My voice trailed off, suddenly, as my mind raced.

And Archie, with a sheepish shrug, caught that I understood him. "I knew the risk, of course. I figure he'll either promote me straight to Admiral or have me keel-hauled."

Remembering just how his mood was, I gave him a half smile. "I'd say you have an...even chance?"

"God, Horatio, I'm coming to loathe that expression..."

***

Captain Pellew was in no mood to be trifled with. Had any unfortunate midshipman crossed his path at that moment, he might have thought he'd been transported into Captain Hammond's command. He had learned, after all, within a short span of time, that his near-fatal mission had been almost entirely preventable, that it had possibly been a deliberate attack at least winked at by those on his own side; he was going to have to spend the next few weeks in meetings and giving testimony, when he ought to be out fighting the French, which was in and of itself galling. And to top it off, he was less than a hundred miles from his wife and daughter, and likely would not be able to see them.

"Sir." Forbes stood to attention, outside the open door, betraying no emotion whatsoever.

"You are dismissed, Forbes. I think I can handle the interlopers myself." He grumbled.

"Interlopers?" A shrill voice called out from inside. "And who are you calling an Interloper, you shameless cad!"

He stood still in the doorway. And Forbes, now letting his mouth twitch suspiciously, made hastily away.

"Kitty?" He came forward two hesitant steps, closing the door behind him. "KITTY?"

She turned to him, still as he remembered, the same smile, the same cascade of loose curls, eyes on him softly. She did not look apprehensive, as she held out a wriggling bundle in her arms.

"Oh, my God." He whispered, and stood still once more.

"Ta, Beatrice, your father's gone shy on us. Whatever do you suppose that means?"

"KITTY!" And he rushed to her, grasping her and the child in one move, trying to hug them both, not certain which of them was the bigger miracle. "How...how...did you know..."

"Admiral Parker had me sent for when you arrived yesterday. I had the joy of meeting him while walking out with Beatrice a few weeks ago, and though he wouldn't say it, I could see he was worried for you. Rather upset me, it did. So once he learned you were safe, I was given orders to report, if you will. Mr. Kennedy was most surprised to see us, and a little uneasy at the orders, but..."

"Damn his unease!" Captain Pellew said, his voice shaking, as he again kissed his wife on top of her head. "May I hold her?"

"Of course." She passed the bundle over, and the Captain took her surely, as if it were the most natural thing he'd ever done.

"She has your eyes." He murmured, a smile playing on his face, one that was returned by the plump brunette in his arms.

"No, my dear. They are most definitely yours."

He looked over at her in exasperation. "How so, Kitty? My eyes are brown; yours are green, as are hers."

"Oh, the color is mine. But if you see her in a fine temper, unable to be fed as quickly as she'd like, trust me, my dear...it is your stare. They are your eyes."

"Hmph." He looked down at the cooing child before him. "Your mother exaggerates, my dear. I do not get into tempers unless for cause, and I am certain the same could be said for you."

Beatrice gave him a smile in return, and reached one dimpled arm out to grasp his shinny buttons. He let her tug at them, even as he used his free arm to wrap Kitty next to him; she settle by his side with a contented sigh. And he laughed. Captain Pellew, just moments before the angriest man in all of Plymouth, laughed.

March 11th, 1799

The carriage rocked back and forth easily, making good time between the bustling harbor city of Plymouth to the sleepier township of Newton's Abbot. There, the carriage would be met by a simple wagon, which would carry Reg Cousins and his friend, Drew Brandon, to what might, in Reg's opinion, be the sleepiest hamlet in all of England, Saint Margaret's Crossing.

The Indefatigable had been in Plymouth for five days. Captain Pellew and Mr. Hornblower were whisked off to report to Admiralty in London at once; they had returned as soon as allowed. Reg wasn't exactly certain what the fall-out had been, except that he had been commended (!), that Admiral Parker was mightily impressed, and that it was rather bad publicity for Admiral Hood, whom had authorized the use of the Indefatigable and Dunbarton to the sham Earl. In short, the Captain was in the best humor he'd ever seen after a report to Admiralty.

That, and of course, his wife and daughter had made way to Plymouth...Reg smiled at the memory. The Captain had taken great pains to bring Kitty all about the ship, carrying his daughter with him, with such unabashed pride that it was hard to realize it was Captain PELLEW! Oh, but it was good to see the Captain so happy!

Drew was quiet beside him. His friend been rather surprised that the Captain had insisted that he accompany him on shore leave, and Reg suspected that an extra pair of eyes to watch over him were not the only reason Drew was here. Perhaps, Reg thought, I am not the only man who needs to be healed.

The days since his adventures on Serenity had mellowed him. He still felt the cold as a result of his physical trauma. And he still had nightmares about watching Orson die. But the ache was easing, especially knowing he was to see his family again. And of course, his girl, Ellie.

He wondered, not for the first time, what exactly the Captain had written to his father. A letter had been sent as soon as they had gone in to Port, an explanation, he supposed, for the sudden appearance of his eldest son and a friend on his father's doorstep. Awkward, but in a way he was glad. Though he was exceedingly fond of his father, he couldn't imagine explaining the situation to him without complete mortification.

Reg turned to look out the window, and with the rhythm of the carriage, felt tiredness steel over him, and he closed his eyes.

***

Samuel Cousins waited anxiously at the Inn at Newton's Abbot, knowing it was still an hour before he could expect his boy to be here. He grabbed his tankard...a rare treat a pint of ale was for him...and savored a long draught of it. A way to put off thinking of the inevitable, he supposed.

He'd gotten Captain Pellew's letter three days ago, and had hastened back that he would be glad to see his son again, and any friend with him. Truly, they felt as though they knew this Brandon fellow, so often had he been mentioned in Reg's letters. His wife, Nan, she was all a flutter between the honor of having the son of a Lord in her house, and the desire to show the lad a right good time, as it would seem he'd had a rather brutal childhood.

He tried to imagine how Reg must have changed in the almost four years since he went off. He'd been tall for his age, and pretty strong, perhaps a bit impetuous. Never one to balk at hard work, even if Samuel had known almost from the time the lad could talk that his eldest son was no farmer.

Reg had been daring, always. And yet, he was smart, too. Could read by the time he was four, he could. And do figures by the time he was ten that befuddled many adults. Handy, that had been; he chuckled remembering the time Reg had caught Mr. Dwyer at the feed-store trying to cheat him out of four shillings. But Reg's brain was the problem; there was no money for the sort of proper education he ought to have had. And though the boy had never complained, for he wasn't a whiny sort, Samuel would catch him gazing off at the horizon, sometimes, and knew the boy needed to go on in this life.

The Navy made the most sense. Boy could get ahead there; and get a decent education, too. Some of those ships, of course, had a real bad reputation. There was always danger, especially with a war on, but he couldn't send his first born off to some brutal bloke, and make it worse. He did speak to Reg, and the lad had been relieved, almost. Nan had not been so pleased, but she admitted there wasn't much else to be done.

So one day, while in Plymouth, he'd inquired about the ships that were in Port. Two were: Indefatigable and Dreadnaught. He was going to make inquiries from Dreadnaught first; it had the bigger reputation. But as chance would have it, he happened to be at the pub with Captain Foster, and overhear part of the man's conversation. About having lost four of his five Midshipmen on the last Campaign, and him joking he might ask Admiralty for ten this time, so he wouldn't run out so quickly. The Lieutenants with the man had laughed, but Sam had been ill. His son was more than cannon fodder, and hell would freeze over before he'd have him serve with this man.

That left Indefatigable, and he sought out Captain Sir Edward Pellew. He did not have the legend about him that Foster did, nor the press, but any person whom Samuel had spoken to, had spoken of him warmly.

He caught the Captain, as he returned from Admiralty. The man looked as black as night, and Samuel felt his heart sink. Reg would have to wait until another round of ships were in port; for this man did not look any better. Still, he might as well try.

"Sir?"

"WHAT IS IT?" The man had snapped.

"Beg your pardon, Sir. But you ARE Captain Pellew?"

The black face had eased somewhat, as he had sized Samuel up in a glance. "Yes, my good man. Terribly sorry for my address just now, but Admiralty does get the better of my temper more often than not. How can I be of service to you?"

"I, Sir, I was wondering if you have any need of Midshipmen?" Samuel had asked, timidly.

And the black face disappeared entirely, replaced by a wry smile. "I must beg YOUR pardon, Sir, but you hardly look as though you were on hard times enough to wish yourself to sea!"

"No, Sir." Samuel had smiled back. "Not fer me, fer my boy."

"Ah. And how old is he?"

"Nigh on fifteen, Sir. He's a right good lad; strong and smart, too. Too smart to be a farmer, you see, and there isn't money for proper schooling." Samuel had gotten rather embarrassed, then. "Guess any boy's father would tell you that, though, eh?"

"On the contrary, Mr.?"

"Cousins, Sir. Samuel Cousins."

"On the contrary, Mr. Cousins. I have far too many fathers who regard the Navy as a place to ship their unwanted goods. It would be a welcome change to have a young man who WANTED to serve. He is agreeable, I assume?"

"Oh, yes, Sir. His face about lit up when I asked him. Chance to see new places and learn more than he ever could here."

"He understands that it involves work, HARD work?" The Captain looked at him seriously.

"Sir, have you ever spent time on a farm? The boy's up at dawn some days, and not to bed till hours after dark. Never complains, though. Just makes sure the work gets done, keeps the young'uns in check, too."

"Works well with his brothers and sisters, does he? Well, that's an excellent recommendation for a Midshipman on its own. Very well, if you want the place for him...what is his name?"

"Reginald, Sir. Reg for short."

"We sail in three day's time. I'd be happy to offer him a place."

Samuel had hesitated. As angry as he'd looked when the conversation had begun, he didn't feel that same carelessness that he'd felt around the other Captain. Still, this was his eldest child, and he had to be certain. "Sir...I have to ask...have many of your midshipmen been killed?"

The man raised both eyebrows. "There is a WAR on, Mr. Cousins. I cannot guarantee your son's life any more than I can guarantee my own. Still, if you must know, I am here today because I have recently lost a midshipman. I am not certain if he is dead or not, to be honest; he was injured and left behind in a raid. I had just been returning from Admiralty, when I requested permission to send a landing party to the area where he was last seen. Unfortunately, I was denied."

"You wished to go after him?" Samuel had asked, stunned.

"I do not like to leave good men behind. Sir, I must tell you, I am starting to take offense to the nature of these questions!"

"Again, I apologize, Sir. But before I saw you, I overheard a Captain Foster, and it seemed pretty clear that Midshipmen were not considered valuable by him."

And Captain Sir Edward Pellew had smiled broadly. "I value all MY men, Mr. Cousins. From the lowest landsman to my first Lieutenant. I can assure you, I will not regard your son's life lightly."

It had been enough. And the trust had obviously been well placed. Reg's letters came steady, and increasingly were positive. From his first tentative days there, through his growing confidence, through his friendship with the young man about to visit him, through his promotion to Lieutenant. He'd never regretted the decision, and the family now scanned the Naval Gazette, his younger boys crowing loudly to their friends any time their brother, or the Indefatigable in general, got a mention.

But his heart had frozen when he'd gotten that letter, so clearly from the Navy, and equally clearly not in his son's handwriting. Nan had turned away as he'd opened the note with a shaking hand, afraid to find a black-bordered sheet inside. Thankfully, it had not been. But what had been written...the detail's of his son's recent mission, and the fall out from it...had been bad enough. Yet it was proof of the sort of man Captain Pellew was...("I value your son far too highly to risk this permanently scaring him") that his son was at this moment on his way here. He just wasn't certain what he could do to help.

At that moment, the carriage rattled in, and Samuel, his pipe clenched firmly between his teeth, drained the ale and headed out to greet his son.

Reg jumped out, turning to see Drew following him. He brushed the shoulder of his cape, as he looked around the dusty street. His father no doubt awaited at the inn. Drew, all curiosity, did not seem to mind the dirt one bit, but still Reg was nervous.

"I hope..." He began. "That you're not expecting anything too fancy. My father will probably just have the wagon."

Drew grinned. "I'd rather take a dung cart to your house, than be driven in a barouche to mine!"

Their duffels were tossed down to them, and grasping their load, they headed towards the Inn, when a tall, lean man, weather beaten and tanned, with a comfortable face and an old pipe, came out to meet them. "Ar. Reg. Right on time, you are."

"Da!" Reg beamed, somewhat shyly...more than three years it had been since last they saw each other. There was a slightly awkward pause, and then Samuel Cousins reached over and took his son's duffel from him, calling out to the hired man who'd driven the carriage today. "John Cook! Get the other lad's bag, will you?"

Drew handed over his parcel without question to a lumbering young man with a ready grin. "Oy, lad...this thing's bigger than you are."

"Nearly, yes." Drew admitted.

"Da, I'm fine, you don't have to carry that..." Reg protested, as the two of them began to trot behind his father and the hand.

"Well, Lad, reckon it's easier to carry the duffel than it would be to carry you anymore. Unless you'd prefer I'd try..."

Drew could not help but grin at the twinkle in the elder Mr. Cousins eye. As they reached the wagon, both duffels were tossed in effortlessly. "Sorry I didn't properly introduce myself. You must be Drew Brandon."

"Yes, Sir. I am glad to meet you." Drew nodded at Reg's father, though he felt rather nervous. He was never quite certain how adults saw him, and here was not the familiar territory of the Indefatigable.

"Likewise. Hope ye don't mind the back of the wagon too much. Loaded some fresh hay in and all."

Reg had already hoped up over the side, and extended his hand to Drew. With half a whispered prayer that he not humiliate himself, Drew grabbed Reg's hand, put a foot on the wheel spoke, and somehow got himself into the wagon bed without undue humiliation. But Reg laughed at him anyway.

"Hay, Drew. In your hair."

Drew shook his head vigorously, to loosen the debris, as Mr. Cousins and Cook tried not to laugh at him. And then abruptly Cook took Drew's side, even as he grasped the reins.

"Oy, Mr. Brandon. Reg ever tell you the time his brother Benj accidentally dumpled a load of hay on 'im in the barns."

"Accidentally my foot, John. He was angry because I'd made him re-hoe the gardens after he'd done a poor job of it."

Reg's father turned to face him. "Well, we got back at him well enough. Made him clean out the stables on his own, eh?" The man coughed lightly, then looked sideways at Drew. "Guess that's not a side you've seen of Reg often, Mr. Brandon."

"On the contrary." Drew couldn't resist. "Bossy then. Bossy now."

And he was pleased to see Reg smile at him, the smile temporarily overriding the haunted look in his eyes that he hadn't quite lost yet. The wagon started on, and with a sigh Reg leaned against the side of it, looking fondly on a landscape he'd willingly left behind some time ago, some of the lines of worry already easing from his face. Drew wondered if he was the only one to notice it.

Then he caught a glimpse of Reg's father, glancing at him sideways. There was worry, for a second, and then it relaxed even as Reg closed his eyes and breathed in the warming air deeply. And Drew decided that for the next week at least, he was not going to have to be the sole keeper of his friend's sanity.

It was good to let the burden ease, even if just a little bit.

***
Captain Sir Edward Pellew relaxed at the inn, his infant daughter sleeping in the basket beside them, his wife across from him. They held hands openly across the table; it is more than true that the Captain did not care who saw them. Though they had but a few hours together each day, it was enough to keep him sane, and remind him how very much he had to be thankful for.

"Mr. Brandon and Mr. Cousins are off, then?" Kitty asked, after the serving girl had placed a plate of mutton stew before her.

"Yes, this morning. Be good for both of them. So much happened, Kitty, in rapid succession, that it is easy to forget that Drew has not had an easy time of it either. Between fever striking the ship and having to step into Horatio's shoes for a spell, he was nearly in as bad need of leave as Mr. Cousins."

"It is fortunate, then, that you were able to get to Plymouth. Certainly you could not have sent him back to his family."

"I'd stand in front of a cannon blast first!" He said, and then instinctively checked on Beatrice, touching her nose with the tip of his finger, just to make sure she was still breathing. He gave her a little smile, as she made a face, wrinkling up that cute little nose at his dab. He turned back to Kitty, to see she was looking at him in the same way she had when she tended him on his sick bed. And he quickly cleared his throat.

"Mr. Cousins' father will no doubt be happy to receive them both; I remember meeting the man when he asked if I had need of a midshipman."

"A good man, then?" Kitty smiled at him over her wine glass.

"A fine one, I think. Proud of his son, but a good sense of reality, too. Wanted to make sure the boy was going to end up serving on a good ship. Fortunately, I qualified."

"I should say so, Edward." She took his hand once more. "Which shows he is a wise man, as well."

He cleared his throat. "The important thing, is that I get both of them back healthy and sane. I need those men, Kitty. Hard to fight a war without them" He murmured gruffly, turning his attention to the stew in front of him.

"Ah, yes, and I know that's all your concerned with." She rolled her eyes at him.

"Very tasty, this." Edward murmured. "Must get Powers the recipe." He finally took note of her sarcastic gaze. "Kitty, you shall ruin my reputation. I am a fierce man, and I drive a hard ship. Just ask Midshipman Coleman."

"Bah! Coleman is lucky you let him live." She scowled, for by now she had heard the tale of Coleman's disobedience. She was certainly colored by the fact that it had nearly killed one of her more favorite men, in Mr. Cousins. "Yet any of us know well, Edward, that your harsh punishment was indicative of the fact that you care about your men, and not the fact that you're another Captain Hammond."

"Nonsense. I am a tyrant." Captain Pellew insisted, with a look around the fellow patrons.

Bad luck for him that Beatrice should pick that moment to set up a howl, desiring attention. And worse luck that the patrons he was so trying to impress with his fierceness, instead had the chance to witness him scoop his daughter up in his arms in alarm, and then breaking in to a soft lullaby as he rocked her back an forth.

***
Letter from Alicia Kennedy to her husband, received on March 11th

Dearest Archie:

The Captain's wife was gracious enough to send me off a letter indicating that your ship shall be in harbor soon, in Plymouth. I have spoken to your father and we have decided to head there, in the chance of meeting with you. I understand that your time is not your own, but it will do me well just to see the Indefatigable in England, safe and sound.

My love, I hope this information pleases you...I believe I am with child. The local doctor agrees with me, but he is rather a boor, your father hates him terribly. And I confess, sitting in his surgery, and observing the sorts of tonics that I know Drew (and our old friend Doctor Stewart) would regard as more dangerous than helpful, I wished for any better doctor. Your father suggested that I try and speak to Drew while we are in Plymouth, and I tried to decide which of us it would embarrass more!

Dear me, I seem to be running on, and here you are probably in shock! I know this is what we hoped for, after all, and the Doctor says I am about three months along (if I can believe him), so it is early days, yet. But enough from me! I cannot wait to hear from you all of your exploits these past months, and to hear tails of my brother.

Speaking of whom, I am in receipt of your letters from Gibraltar, as well as his, and can read between the lines. Remember, I had the care of him for years before I handed him over to Captain Pellew. What went wrong during his days as first Lieutenant? The both of you gloss it over, but I can read his hurt and your worry as good as if I were there. Do take care of each other, will you? There are not words for how much I love you both.

Papa (for that is what I now call your father, impertinence or not!) begs me to inform you that he's had a letter from David. He and Midge are doing quite well in America. He is teaching in Northampton as well as practicing law, and they have become quite the popular couple there! He also bids me tell you that Rees, the boy whom you brought home to your father after his accident on Indefatigable, is thriving, and just about running the stables. Papa is planning on standing him to some education, says the boy is bright enough and could be an even more valuable asset to the estate. Wills, of course, hates the idea, which only makes him more enthusiastic to go on with it.

Enough for now, my love. I must pack so we can be off soon. Look for us to be at The Crowing Hen Inn (heavens, where do they find these quaint names?); your Papa thinks we shall be there by the fourteenth, if not sooner.

Your affectionate wife, Alicia.

***
"More cider, Mr. Brandon? Another pop-over?" Reg's mother, it seemed, was attempting to fatten him up as if he were the Christmas goose.

"I cannot, Ma'am!" He protested. Dinner had been but a few hours ago, and they had gathered around the fire now, Reg huddled up to it, with the unspoken need for warmth that his family seemed to understand. Drew sat a few feet off, on the floor like his friend leaning against a book-case that was small, but well-stocked. As Reg had predicted, his mother seemed to be on a personal mission to have him grow before her eyes, and had plied him with pastries ever since he arrived.

"Oh, dear, did you not care for them?" Her eyes went wide with hurt. "I know I am not the best cook...

God! "No, ma'am, it's just, I really cannot..."

"Is there anything else you would prefer more? Reg had given me to understand you had a fondness for apples, and I thought...but then, perhaps the apples had been bad!" She now looked horrified.

"Ma'am, indeed, they are wonderful, and not spoiled at all, but I cannot..." He watched his best friend's mother look close to tears. "Well, perhaps ONE more."

There was a general round of laughter, as Reg's mother instantly wiped the drama from her face, a more satisfied look replacing it. "That's better, then!" And he was rewarded with not one, but two more apple popovers and a brimming cup of cider.

Reg drew the wrap his mother had given him even closer, but he smiled warmly. "You've been had, friend."

"So it seems!" He bit into the flaky pastry; they were amazing, no doubt, but he'd never have believed he could eat four of them. Heading for six. "All this time I'd thought you inherited your size from your father!"

"Nonsense!" Reg's fifteen year old brother, almost his brother's match in size and width, retorted. "Ma bullied us into growing. You'll be six feet tall by the time you leave."

Drew joined in the laughter. In the shadows, in a creaking rocking chair, he could hear Reg's father drawing on his pipe, with a satisfactory "mmm" that might have been agreement. Between the sweet pipe smoke and the warmth around him, he could feel a contentment he had not often known in his life.

Besides Benj, there were two other brothers: Matthew, about thirteen, and eight year old James. Both of the younger brothers seemed to hold Reg in esteem bordering on idolatry; Benji had maintained a more realistic, if affectionate, perspective. Two sisters, seventeen-year old Becca and eleven year old Rose rounded out the family. The house was small, but well kept, and perhaps furnished beyond what might be expected by small land-owners. Reg's mom, Drew guessed, was a clever woman in more ways than one.

As if reading into his thoughts, Rose smoothed her skirts before her, before asking shyly, "You grew up in a large estate, didn't you, Mr. Brandon?"

"I did. Mostly in a house in the country with over thirty rooms." He smiled at her amazement kindly.

"Thirty rooms? Imagine having to dust THAT!" She gasped, and her brothers burst out laughing, Drew with them.

Reg hastened to change the subject. "Rose, Drew is here visiting US. Why do you not tell him about the village here?"

She was puzzled. "But how can our village be better than a thirty room estate?"

"In every way imaginable!" Drew encouraged. "Believe me when I say that this is a finer house than any one I knew growing up."

The younger children looked confused. But Benj and Becca, who'd had a few letters from their brother in the past years, understood. Becca in particular was looking at him with a somewhat misty glance, and Drew hoped that somewhere in those letters Violet's name had come up!

Another pleasant half hour passed; the family seeming to understand that this night was not the night to ask Reg to detail his myriad exploits in service. There was a fair amount of good natured teasing about when he should be calling on Ellie Brown, his girl ("surprised you stopped in to see us first, Reg" Benj had teased), and of Becca, whom, it seemed, was recently engaged to a young man by the name of Colin Williams, the new clergyman! (Drew sighed in relief).

"Engaged, Bec?" Reg had gasped. "To a clergyman, no less?"

"He's a perfectly respectable man, Reg, and a good match." His mother had said, stoutly.

Reg studied his blushing sister with a searching stare, until she replied softly, "And I love him."

Reg gave her a warm smile then. "THAT is what matters."

A sudden yawn split Drew's face before he could stop it. Seeing it, Reg's mother rose, and most of the younger ones with her.

"Enough for this evening, I think. Benj, show Mr. Brandon to the guest room. It's where you'll be sleeping too, Reg!'

Reg blinked in surprise. "I am not a guest, Ma."

"No, but it is rather difficult to see you and Benj sharing a bed anymore, now, isn't it?" She teased. "It's not a hammock, of course, but I imagine you'll get along."

Benj grabbed a candle, and Drew soon found himself in a comfortable room, recently rearranged to house two small cots. The quarters weren't much bigger than the Indefatigable, although infinitely more stationary! "And not likely to be woken up with a beat to quarters, either!" A full night's uninterrupted sleep! What could be better?

As he snuggled under the hand-made quilts, he knew he wouldn't be awake to enjoy the comfort for long. He stretched luxuriously out, enjoying the feel of the cool sheets, even as the warmth of the blankets pressed down on him, and he sighed. This was perhaps the most comfortable he'd been on land in his entire life.

But he did wonder...unless he was mistaken, when he'd left the fireplace the only people remaining in the room had been Reg and his Da. A good thing, perhaps.

***
Indefatigable

The Captain had come back on board, in his usual state of late: tremendous good nature struggling with embarrassment over it! It comes as no surprise to me that he is cranky over it. He'd had time with Kitty, and a few other meetings that he could not detail before they happened. But upon his arrival, he begged my company at dinner that evening, and I agreed. As he asked to see only myself, I know this means he is in a mood to talk.

It was, of course, all small talk through the main part of the meal. Questions on the ship, procedure, nothing unusual. Then, with a slight grimace, he hit me with the first bit of fall-out to come from our exploits these past weeks.

"We shall be losing Mr. Coleman, I am afraid, Mr. Hornblower."

"Indeed, Sir?" I am not surprised. Ever since he'd been ordered beaten three days in a row, he had not spoken to anyone unless on duty, instead preferring to sulk in his quarters.

"Yes, he has complained to his father. Ironically, this afternoon I was joking to Kitty that I had a tyrant's reputation, and then I meet with Admiral Parker. Coleman's father is outraged at my abuse of him!"

I sputtered angrily. "You are NOT a tyrant!"

He shrugged. "It is not so bad that men on other ships think me so, Horatio. And Parker understands the situation fully. In any event, Captain Hammond is in port as well, and the boy will transfer to him."

"HAMMOND?" I gasped. "Coleman thinks he will have an easier time of it with Hammond? He's notorious, Sir!"

"Yes, but..." He poured us both wine. "Coleman is the son of nobility, and that will impress Hammond. I doubt seriously that he treats him as he does the rest of his midshipmen."

I felt an anger in the pit of my stomach. Why should Coleman be exempt from the same rules and regulations that governed ship board life? Those rules existed, after all, in order to preserve the safety of EVERY man on board.

"I know, Horatio." He read me with a glance. "It galls me as well. Granted, Coleman is now not my problem, but my fear is that some day he might once again be. Promotion to Lieutenant or to Captain...he will not be equipped for command." Then, with a slight cough, he changed the subject. "However, hopefully this will be more pleasant news. I was speaking to Clark about replacing Coleman, and I remarked on how young the midshipmen on here were in general. He, it seems, has the opposite problem on Dunbarton-his midshipmen are by and large an older lot. He offered to send me a young man by the name of Ward. You are acquainted with him, he said?"

"I am, Sir!" I could not help but smile. "He was with me when I sailed the Santa Lucia back to England. He's seventeen or so, I believe, so I don't know that I'd call him older..."

"Compared to the thirteen year olds being suggested to me by Parker, he's ancient..." He put in.

"Bottom line, Sir, he's uncanny with the weather and with ship's operations. Needs some work on his Education..." I admitted, unwillingly. "He could only read as well as a ten year old when I left him, but he was improving rapidly."

"I do not worry about that, Horatio. You and Mr. Kennedy are both well capable of ensuring that he has the skills he needs. Very well, he will be joining us as a midshipmen before we have our next orders." He leaned back, and I recognized our evening was coming to a close. I rose and bade him good night, as I headed for the door.

A thought occurred to me. Ward had been a volunteer, not a midshipmen, though Clark treated him as such. He had not had the money for the place. Over the course of time he might be promoted, but that usually took years.

"Sir...how did Mr. Ward obtain rank of midshipman?"

He looked up at me from under his eyebrows, and with a sense of finality that suggested I not ask any further questions, growled, "I provided it. Good night, Mr. Hornblower."

"Good night, Sir."

I managed to not smile until I was well away from the door. Tyrant, indeed!

***
Samuel pulled at his pipe, and studied his oldest son through half closed eyes. Sure enough, he'd filled out over these past years, was nearly a man now. Had seen more than any man ought to, he supposed, watching Reg stare into the dancing flames. Like as not, Nan had planned this...giving the two of them a some time to talk.

But talk about what? Trouble was, Reg had been such an easy child to raise. Born responsible, he had been. Rarely cried, even when he was hurting. Rarely causing trouble or needing to be spoken to. If he had been more full of himself, his younger brothers and sisters might have hated him for it. Thing was, he wasn't annoying in any way. He lead by example.

For Samuel, though, even knowing that his son needed him now, perhaps for the first time in over ten years, he was at a loss on how to address the lad. He was so obviously hurting, and it was just not a way he'd ever been used to seeing Reg be! He wanted to comfort him, and he wanted to not mortify him, and he wasn't sure how to get those two things accomplished.

Reg stirred slightly. "It's good to smell your pipe again, Da." The lad's face was turned to him, glowing with the reflection of the flames.

"Mmm." Samuel drew on it once more. "No pipe smokers on your ship, then?"

"A few of the men." He smiled. "But nobody I've berthed with. I've mostly been around men Drew's age and younger."

"You seem...to be doing quite well for yourself." He hesitated, but after all, Reg had brought the ship up.

"So they tell me." He answered, quietly. "I assume the Captain wrote ahead and told you..." His voice trailed off.

"Yes, he did. Told me something of what you've been doing the past month." He tried to put it as kindly as he could, but Reg flinched never the less. "He's right proud of you, Reg. An worried, too."

"I'd be happier about his being proud if I hadn't given him reason TO worry." Reg murmured, more to the fire than to him. A pause followed. "So, what of this Colin Williams that Becca is to marry."

He was deliberately changing the subject. Samuel felt that he ought not to allow that, but at the same time he couldn't bring himself to force Reg where he wasn't ready to go. So they spent a pleasant ten minutes, talking about everything related to home and nothing related to the Indefatigable, until Reg rose, reluctantly leaving the dying fire, and announced he was headed for bed.

Samuel bade him good night, and then spent the next fifteen minutes staring at the glowing embers, wondering what to do next.

***
Taking my usual nocturnal stroll around the deck, I enjoyed the brisk night air, just warm enough to hint that winter had relinquished its hold on us. To my surprise, I found Archie by the rail, leaning on it, staring into Plymouth, a letter in his hand. His hair rustled in the breeze, but it was the only part of him that moved. Yet, I did not fear. Something of his pose said more of contentment than seizure.

"Good evening, Archie." I came up beside him, waiting to see if he wished the company or not.

"Oh, it is indeed, Horatio." He looked at me and smiled.

"Letter from your wife?" I asked, stating what was probably obvious.

"Indeed." He turned back to the port. "I am to be a father, Horatio."

I grinned, even as I studied his measured calm; he was in a reverie, and somehow, though the news was joyous, it did not seem appropriate to exclaim loudly, as I nearly did. So I instead clapped a hand on his shoulder.

"My congratulations. Shall you be able to see her?"

"Perhaps. She is coming to Portsmouth, but with Drew and Reg both gone... perhaps, though, once they return, the Captain will permit me a few hour's of leave."

"I am certain he will." I thought over his general happiness these past days. "He'll complain, Archie, but if it's at all possible, he'll let you see her."

"We're lucky men, Horatio." I could see his smile in the moonlight. "By God, once I'd have not thought this possible. But we are lucky men indeed."

***
Samuel opened the door into the small bedroom, and hesitated for a moment. The room was very still; young Brandon's breathing was even and peaceful; the boy had been long asleep. His own son's breathing, however, was a different story; jagged and shaking. As he'd suspected, the lad was in need of an extra quilt; though the room was not cold, it would seem so after an evening where Reg had practically sat IN the fireplace.

He came forward slowly, closing the door behind him, brushing past Brandon's cot slightly (it was not, after all, normally there). He knelt quickly beside Reg, who was in a shivering huddle, and spread the additional blanket over him gently.

"Da?" He whispered in confusion.

"Just thought you might need this." He smoothed the blanket around his son.

"Da, you shouldn't...you'll scare Drew, if he hears you." Reg whispered, teeth chattering.

"Sh, now." Samuel laid his hand on his son's bundled form. "Your friend Drew is fast asleep..."

"He's...he's sensitive Da. He can sense someone near him in the dark...his father...you don't know how bad..."

"Shhh." Samuel said, more insistently. "For once in your life, lad, take care of yourself, instead of everyone else around you."

Reg sniffed once, and Samuel put his hand on his son's cheek. His face was wet with tears. 'When was the last time, since he was a baby, that I saw him cry?' he wondered. Almost never. And Reg shrank back a little on the pillow; Samuel understood the shame, even if he knew it was unwarranted. But he would not pull away his hand, and continued stroking his son's cheek softly, until he felt him stop shaking, and stop crying.

"I'll be fine, Da. I will." Reg said, hesitantly.

"I know you will." Samuel soothed him, running his hand over his forehead. "But it's alright to NOT be fine, you know, for a little while. "It's alright to not be fine, here, with us. We understand. I understand." Funny, he hadn't known what to say just half an hour ago, but now he knew, somehow, what his son needed to hear.

There was silence for a few moments, before Reg finally spoke. "Thank you."

"Shhh." He said once more, and he waited, patiently, as his son fell into sleep, finally at peace. Samuel listened, not daring to move for some time. He remembered when Reg was born....he'd been young, not more than twenty. And there were times when he would be transfixed by his first child, watching him sleep, not even understanding how it was that he could have produced such a miracle. Five more children had never dimmed his respect for fatherhood, and for everything it entailed.

He became aware, then, of the quiet in the room, broken only by Reg's breathing. And yet...what of young Brandon? He listened hard. Drew's own breathing had been notably even when he'd entered, but now...the boy was awake. He could tell. The pattern was stilted, now; stiff. The breathing of someone pretending to be asleep.

What had Reg said? "You'll scare him...you don't know how bad..." In Reg's letters, there had been details, ones that made him sick and angry. Drew had been the victim of a rough childhood, to be certain, and Samuel regretted any trauma he might have caused him during his visit. He rose, slowly, and tried to imagine the thoughts running through the boy's mind. What sort of a beast must his father be?

Making up his mind, Samuel deliberately stepped towards Brandon's bed, and knelt beside it, as he had his son's. Trying not to scare him worse, he pulled the quilts up around the boy, who didn't acknowledge him. He didn't force it. But he laid his hand on Drew's head, stroking his hair slowly. And as he did so, he gradually felt the boy relax, the tension easing out of him, and the peace returning.

Not until both young men, temporarily under his care, were fast asleep, did Samuel stiffly rise and move towards the door, confident he could sleep himself.

***

Day began early on the farm, but as the day never ends on a frigate, Drew did not feel particularly out of place with the pace of life. He looked round the breakfast table; the food was more than bountiful, the conversation was lively, and Reg looked a thousand times better already. He wondered what his father had said to him last night.

'Or maybe', he thought, still slightly embarrassed, 'he hadn't said anything at all. Like with me.'

Drew had never gotten over the fear of being woken from a sound sleep. He had not been separated from his father long enough. As a child, a nocturnal visit meant a beating; in the midshipman's berth, it had taken him months (and constant vigilance on Reg's part) to get used to the noises on ship. Even still, there were always a few awkward moments when someone woke him unexpectedly, even if it were Archie or Horatio.

Last night, he'd been jolted awake from a deep sleep when the cot was jostled, and the terror was real and instantaneous. He'd clutched the covers, held his breath, and screwing his eyes closed had waited, repeating a desperate prayer over and over again. There were voices, quiet murmurs, but he couldn't spare them his attention, in the midst of his panic. In the ensuing silence, he waited, not enough of himself to think out where he was, and who he was with; just hoping that the intruder would disappear.

But he hadn't. Like Reg himself might do, Samuel Cousins had sat with him, not saying a word. He didn't have to. He just touched him reassuringly until Drew felt himself relaxing, right again, and finally fell back asleep.

Still, he felt a little shy about it this morning. He hadn't thought before about how much Reg must have told his family about his childhood.

"Off to see Ellie this morning, Reg?" Benj broke in, as he began buttering his toast.

With an easy smile, Reg replied. "I had planned so, if it is alright with you, Da."

"I had figured that's where you'd be going." Samuel took a long drink of tea. "Your entitled to enjoy your visit."

"Drew, care to take a walk over to the Browns with me?" Reg asked, more hesitantly.

Drew placed his cup back on the table. "There is no way I am intruding on your meeting with Miss Brown!"

Reg's face relaxed, and then tensed again. "But I would like to have you know her as well."

"And I hope to meet her. But not in your first meeting in more than three years away. I'm young, not naïve." He teased.

"But whatever will you do? I cannot leave you to yourself."

Drew turned to Reg's father. "Mr. Cousins, certainly you must have something I can assist you with? I have never farmed before, but I am no stranger to hard work, and would be only too glad to help."

Samuel looked at him, eyes wide. "Young man, you are on a break from work."

Drew shook his head. "I am not accustomed to idleness." He looked back at Reg. "Besides, it will give me a chance to learn. When shall I have this opportunity again?"

Thoughtfully cutting his ham, Samuel looked over to Benj. "Well, you're not so big as he is, lad, but if you were helping me fix the fence on the south pasture, it'd free up Benj to work on the fields. Ground needs breaking there, and Matt and James still have school."

"I am stronger than I look." Drew encouraged, the thought of physical work, and a chance to enjoy what promised to be a lovely early spring day, enticing.

"Make my life easier, too. Get a head start on things." Benj agreed.

Reg suddenly looked uncomfortable. "Now I feel like I should be helping."

Drew forced his friend to look at him. "Reg." His voice was calm but insistent. "Let me do this for you."

There eyes met for a few moments, and then Reg gave in, with a sheepish smile. "Thank you."

***

Captain Pellew walked the decks of the Indefatigable, the after-effects of yesterday's meetings still dragging on him. In general, he was a happy man. He had a wonderful wife, a beautiful daughter, and a ship and crew that he would not trade for any in the world. But today he had met with the mother of the Earl of York. Had to look her in the eye and explain to her how her son had died, and that his remains had been buried at sea. Worst of all had been letting her know how foully the young man's name had been sullied before his death. Captain Pellew knew that restoring that name would not be easy, in fact it was probably impossible. There would be whispers that would follow the family name for years to come. Not what any parent should wish to hear.

"Good morning, Sir." Hornblower said, beside him.

The Captain looked around the deck, and then permitted himself a slight smile. "Mr. Hornblower. You are up early today."

"It's a fine day, Sir. A hint of spring in the air."

"Yes. It would be a fine day to be at sea." He sighed in exasperation.

"Procedures getting you down, Sir?"

"I am ashamed to admit it, but yes. Wasteful meetings. Though, of course, I am grateful for the time I get to spend with Kitty...still...we could do so much MORE if we were properly on station!"

"Everything for a reason, Sir." Hornblower soothed. "I think this time will be good for the men, and especially for Mr. Brandon and Mr. Cousins."

The Captain nodded. "I wonder how they are getting on? It will be a very different lifestyle for Mr. Brandon to observe, no doubt."

"In more ways than one. I hope that Mr. Cousins' family is accepting of him."

He spoke softly, more personally. "I do not fear that, Horatio." And the Captain let himself smile once more. "I met his father; he approached me personally about bringing the boy on board here. That impressed me, you know. Usually I just get a letter, and nine times out of ten these fathers are requesting me to take what he perceives as a problem off of his hands. He was generally concerned with his son's welfare." He glanced at Horatio in sudden wonder, but then bit back the question on his lips. It was too personal.

Hornblower, of course, read his mind, as he so often did, and answered him anyway. "My own father, likewise, permitted me to go to sea only because he knew Captain Keane personally, and believed him to be an honorable man. Disappointed though he was in my career choice, he would not have wished to see me ill used." He grimaced. "Unfortunately he couldn't know..." His voice trailed off.

"Yes, Keane really had no business trying to run a ship anymore." Pellew squinted into the sun. "And for the Lieutenants to do nothing..." He shook his head. "Very bad luck for you."

"Worse luck for others. But again, it's had its uses. I'd like to believe I'd spot trouble more quickly from having been its victim."

Clearing his throat, he thought of the innumerable young men who had come through his care in the past years. And then thought of his new daughter, and of how fragile life was. "I have no doubt. You must always keep your guard up, Horatio. The Indefatigable is only a frigate; no doubt in your time you will serve on even larger ships, with even more men to keep track of. Never lose track of what is at stake. If even one man is being tormented, it is one man too many."

"Agreed, Sir." A moments pause, and then: "Have you spoken to Mr. Kennedy yet, Sir?"

"I have not."

"His wife is with child."

The Captain chuckled. "There would seem to be a lot of that going around. Take care, Horatio!"

And Captain Pellew had the joy of watching his favorite target blush to the tips of his ears.

***
Reg felt his dress cape flapping behind him in the breeze. He had made a point of dressing his best this morning; every button shining. It really was to warm for the cape...it felt like it might even hit sixty degrees today. But he wanted to make the best impression possible, and so everything ornamental had come out.

A contrast to Drew's attire, of course. Drew had scrounged up some civilian work clothes...from his brother Matt, he believed, and even still they were a bit big on him. His friend had been strangely enthusiastic about a hard day's work! But he was pleased, mostly because Drew had put himself in the position of spending the day working with Reg's Da. That showed a certain amount of trust that was warming to him. He wanted so desperately for Drew to like his family, see what life was supposed to be about. He considered the reverse, and snorted...if he had the chance of spending a day with Drew's father, it was unlikely they'd end up mending fences!

The sunshine hit his face, and he turned to it, finding a new peace in his heart. He hadn't realized how much he'd feared falling in his father's estimation until last night. Now...there was but one obstacle left. Ellie...did she still love him? Her letters had never wavered, and his own heart was set, but time changed many things. He did not want her unless she wanted him equally.

He looked forward, finally, around the bend in the road, only to see a figure coming towards him, and he stopped.

Ellie. Walking on the roadway that would have taken her to his farm. Nearly four years had not been enough to make him forget how she moved, the lilt to her gait as she would stroll. She hadn't seen him yet, and she was too far away to hear, but he imagined her singing softly to herself, the way she always did.

But if her movements and her gestures had not changed, SHE had. She had been still little more than a girl when he'd left, just fourteen, but she was a woman now. Her chestnut hair gleamed in the sun, but now she wore it up, instead of in a simple braid; her dress was not the calico smock he'd remembered, but a deep berry-red outfit that was considerably more form fitting than he'd ever even dared imagine her in. And her form itself...he swallowed hard.

"Good lord, why would this woman ever want ME?" He thought, in despair.

At that moment she looked up, and SHE stopped, putting her hands to her mouth. Reg wished she hadn't seen him; wished he could have ducked off somewhere to hide, rather than face the disappointment she would have at him. Instead, they stood there stupidly, neither one moving, some twenty feet apart.

"Coward!" Reg chastised himself. "Move forward and face defeat, and get it over with!"

Tentatively he stepped towards her, taking his hat off as he did so. She, too, began to move, her hands still covering her mouth in shock. As he got closer, he could see her eyes, a warm brown like her hair, and the smattering of freckles she still had on her nose, and he smiled, glad to see some remnant of the girl he'd left behind.

"I was...just on my way to see you." He gulped out, wishing he could think of something less obvious to say.

She put her hands down; they now stood less than four feet apart. "And I was on my way to see you. Father told me your Da went to pick you up yesterday." Her eyes looked at him searchingly.

"How are your parents?" He asked, desperate.

"They are well, thank you. Father is as ornery as ever." She blushed. "You look well, Reg. You look...different." Ellie looked down suddenly at her feet.

"So do you." Far too beautiful to ever be the wife of the likes of HIM. "It's been a long time." Give her an opening.

She half turned away. "Oh!" He heard her sniff. He longed to reach out to her and tell her he understood things had changed, even if he wished they hadn't. She must have found somebody else, and just couldn't find the words to tell him.

"You...there's someone else, isn't there? Another girl?" She turned back to him, eyes wet, but trying to be dignified.

"What?" He gasped.

"In Gibraltar, maybe? There must be a lot of fashionable women there, better women than me. The sort you deserve, maybe."

"ELLIE!" He came forward suddenly, and took her shoulders in his hands. "There is nobody, I swear to you, nobody else in this world that I want. I just can't believe..." He looked down into her eyes, which still held tears of uncertainty. "I cannot believe that a woman as fine as you are could ever want someone like me."

They looked at each other in shock...both of them realizing that time had not stood still on EITHER of their accounts. And then Reg embraced her, pulling her tightly to him, and she let him, leaning her head against his chest, and he kissed her hair.

Finally, he spoke again. "Such a spectacle we must be making, Ellie. Whatever would Mr. Middleton say?" He teased, referencing the minister who had unwittingly brought them together when they were eight years old, by rebuking Ellie for what he'd called unladylike behavior. Reg had come to her defense then, and they'd been soul mates ever since.

She laughed, then, and when she did the years fell away from them. "Why there is a new clergyman hereabouts, Reg. I am surprised your sister did not mention it, as she's rather fond of him."

"Oh, yes, his name might have come up." He admitted, grinning, and he let her go, so she could take his arm. "Shall we walk a while, then?"

"Why don't we return to my house, Mama would love to see how handsome you look in your uniform." She leaned against them as they started walking.

"Ellie, much as I respect your mother, it is not her opinion on that account which I care about." He squeezed her hand.

"Very well, then, we can parade you before father as well, if you insist." And she let go of his arm suddenly and stepped forward, looking back at him with twinkling eyes, suddenly still the girl he remembered, even if she was all dressed up now. "And I bet that I can still out race you, Reg." And like lighting, she was gone.

She had the start of him, for he hadn't quite expected that. And she had always been quick. But she was not barefoot, as they had been as children; and the heavy skirts rather held her back, catching the wind as a sail would. They were just out of sight of her farm house, by an old oak tree at the top of a hill, when he caught her, to her shrieks of delight and mock indignation.

"You have unfair advantage of me, Sir!" She protested, as his arms circled her tightly.

"Yes." He leaned in. "I do." And hesitantly at first, his lips met hers, his arms loosening just a bit, in case she wanted to pull away. But she didn't, and he became less tentative, as she began to respond to him.

Only the greatest strength of will kept him from daring more; that, and the knowledge that they were on her property, and her father could show up at any time. He pulled away reluctantly, with a sigh.

Ellie reached up and touched his face. "I am glad you have come home, Reg, even if it isn't for very long." Her hand stroked his cheek smoothly.

"I wish it could be longer." He took a deep breath. "We're eighteen, now. And I am a Lieutenant...we might be married, if there were only more time."

"Mmmm, it is good to hear you say that. It makes the fact that we must still wait more bearable." They resumed the walk to the farm house. "By the by, Father said you came home with a friend?"

"A very good friend, Drew Brandon." Who at this moment, bless him, is probably covered in sweat and muck.

"I should dearly like to meet him."

"And I would love to have you meet him...tomorrow." He added, firmly. "Today is for us, Ellie."

She squeezed his arm again, and he was amazingly content.

***
"Hand me that mallet, will you, lad?" Samuel called out to Drew.

"Yes." Drew remembered to bite back the "Sir" at the last second. Reg's father had already told him more than once, with gruff humor, that he'd never enlisted in the Navy, and wasn't likely to have been an officer even if he had. "Here you go." He added, still not quite sure what else to call the man.

"Thank you."

Drew, without being told, reached over to balance the weight of the post. The work was not so different than making repairs on ship board, although there he was more likely to be overseeing its effort. Still, he was having no difficulties, and Reg's father seemed to sense when he needed some direction.

"Regretting this yet?" The man asked, with a grunt.

Drew smiled. "Not at all." His mind wandered slightly. "Hope Reg is doing alright with Ellie." He said, thinking out loud.

"Ah, don't be worrying about her. They've been set on each other for so long I almost can't remember when they WEREN'T expected to make a match of it." He rose and tapped on the wood; it was solidly in place, and he nodded at it in satisfaction, then motioned Drew to head on over to the next section. "I hope her father isn't going to be a problem." He added, as they carried the tools with them.

Drew looked over at him in some surprise. "Why would he? I know Reg said that when he went away, her father said they couldn't marry until they were Eighteen, and he was a Lieutenant, but he's both of those things now..." They settled in at the next damaged segment, and Samuel and he bent to pick up a broken rail.

"Well, that's as is, of course." He said, squinting up at Drew. "But I always thought he never really expected Reg to make it to either of those things, not with a war on. Either that, or he figured time away would force them apart. He lost both of those bets...Ellie usually calls on us every Sunday for tea, and she and Nan go over her letters like they were sent from heaven. And Reg has managed both not to get killed, and get himself promoted."

Drew felt indignation rising in his stomach. "How could he object to Reg?"

Samuel shrugged. "Brown's farm's a bit bigger than ours. Got a bit more money and five fewer mouths to feed. I think he'd always hoped she'd marry gentry." With a grin, he nodded at him. "Bet he'd have liked to see her with you."

"Then he's a fool." He moved in to hold an end of the rail so Samuel could repair it. "Whatever my background, my prospects are dimmer than Reg's. A fifth son with no speakable relationship with my father, anyway. I'll not see a dime from him. And since I don't plan on staying an officer, but becoming a doctor, my chance at advancement and prize money get much smaller. Twenty years from now Reg will be far wealthier than I will be, in all likelihood."

Samuel paused, looking him over carefully. But Drew had not flinched at all from what he felt to be the reality of his life. He'd come to accept it for what it was.

"So, lad, where DO you see yourself in twenty years?"

"Ideally? I would hope to have stopped sailing by then. I'd be happy being a respected country physician, even happier to be a teaching one. THAT I would like very much."

"Hm." Samuel returned his attention to the split wood before continuing. "Planning on having a family yourself?"

"Sometimes yes. Sometimes no." Drew admitted, surprised he found it so easy to talk about this. "I have a girl myself in Gibraltar. I can see myself marrying her. Fatherhood still frightens me."

"It's a scary thing for any man." Samuel pointed out. "And you can't learn it out of a book, either. Every child is different. I learned that fast. Reg was going to be leaving us from the moment he was born. Nothing I could have ever done would have made him a farmer. Benj, on the other hand, can look at the sky in the morning and tell me we have to get our work done by noon because we're having a storm, or tell me what is ailing one of the sheep before it even acts sick. You do what you can for your children, and then you have to let them go."

Drew said nothing. He remembered holding Mr. Bracegirdle's son after he was born, and the feeling of protectiveness that rose within him. He wanted to know that feeling again, wanted to have children of his own to love like that. But in the back of his mind, the question always remained...how much of his father was in him? Mechanically he handed Samuel a nail.

"Your own father..." Samuel asked, hesitantly. "Objects to your being a doctor, I understand."

"My father objects to me." Drew said with a sigh. "The fact that I wished to be a doctor, I have come to believe, was just an excuse. There was nothing I could have done that would have pleased him, and it was really no different for my brothers. It's just that two of them got out, and the other two, to put it bluntly, joined him."

"Mmm. And why, do you suppose, is he like this?"

Drew dropped the mallet in surprise. "Why?" He furrowed his brow in thought. "Well, he drinks. All the time. Too much. Sets his temper off."

"But then, why does he drink? Was he always like this." Samuel picked the mallet up from the ground, allowing Drew to work out these new questions.

"I don't know. All my life, anyway, and my eldest brother..." Drew puzzled it out. Stan was a good twelve years older than he was, and was away at school by the time he was four. Still, he knew Stan'd put up with his share of abuse as well. But how much as a small child? Had there ever been a time when his father had been, well, A FATHER? "My eldest brother has no more relationship with him than I do. But I confess, Mr. Cousins, you have asked me questions I've never thought of before."

"You are on good terms with this eldest brother?"

"Very."

"I'd ask him, then. After all, it always helps to understand how a man got to where he is in life. That's what you ask yourself, isn't it, when you wonder whether or not you could ever have children? If you understand how your father became the man that he is, perhaps you'll understand something of yourself."

Drew mulled on that in silence. For the next ten minutes, they said little to each other, except for the request for a particular tool and an occasional technical question. But as they rose from another completed section, Drew responded.

"Thank you."

Samuel smiled at him, and the silence returned, a comfortable one. As they settled in by the next break, Samuel cleared his throat.

"What happened to Reg, exactly? If you don't think he'd mind you saying."

Drew looked at Samuel and nodded. "I think he'd rather I told you, than have to tell you himself. He's still not up to the memory." He knelt by the lower rail and balanced it on his shoulder. "What do you know?"

"That he volunteered for a spy mission on a ship that was suspected dangerous. That he was ill-treated, and that he nearly broke down in a battle later. Captain Pellew didn't give me the details."

"I see." Drew paused. "Actually, from what I understand, he broke down after the battle, not during it. Instinct took over as long as we were fighting, and Reg is as good an officer as I've ever seen. But he'd gotten it into his head that he deserved to die, and when the battle was over he went on a suicidal rampage. One of our midshipmen saved him, essentially."

"But why should he think he deserved to die?" Samuel asked, pained.

"Because the man he was spying on forced him to kill an innocent man. Forced Reg to hang him, and made Reg watch him die. It's a slow death, hanging. Nothing less than a slow strangulation."

Samuel shivered at the description, but said nothing; only the renewed force in the swinging mallet betrayed his feelings. Drew was almost sorry for the fence post.

"The thing is, Reg is...he's honorable. Oh, he's killed before. In battle. I expect you understand that. Not for the joy of it, but because in war, you have to. But to knowingly take an innocent life...that was probably the worst thing that could have been done to him. Taking away his honor."

Samuel bitterly slammed the mallet into the ground. "How? How could he lose his honor over a choice he didn't make? If he'd had any option other than the one he took, he'd have used it. It was not his fault!" Samuel's anger was all the more obvious for being quiet.

"I know." Drew said, gently. "I know, and Captain Pellew knows, and every officer and every man on board the Indefatigable knows what sort of a man Reg is. We've just got to get him to believe it again. We've made a good start, I think."

Samuel laughed, suddenly, and smiled over at Drew warmly, blinking once. "Yes, lad, perhaps we have." He patted Drew on the back. "You are a fine young man, Drew Brandon. I am glad that you crossed paths with my son."

With tremendous warmth, Drew smiled back. "So am I."

***
March 13

The Inn had almost begun to feel as much like home as his own Cabin, even if he could only spend a few hours there with Kitty each day. He was alone at a table at the moment, Kitty having gone upstairs to feed Beatrice.

"Captain Pellew, I do believe?" A warm voice said from beyond him, and he rose.

"Yes, how may I help you...?" He asked politely of the stranger, a strongly built man about the same age, dark of complexion.

"My name, Sir, is Doctor Luis Sebastian." He answered smoothly, and politeness gave way to genuine admiration and curiosity from the Captain.

"Then I am glad to finally make your acquaintance, Sir. Indeed, it is an honor. Please, join me?" He motioned to the empty seat, and Dr. Sebastian smiled at him, and sat down.

"Captain Pellew, I was sorry not to meet with you earlier, but the events surrounding our arrival in port made it difficult. Still, I must inquire as to the welfare of young Mr. Cousins? I have been most worried about him."

The Captain gave a muffled sigh, but he was touched that the doctor had asked after the young man. "He was quite affected by the events on board Serenity, Dr. Sebastian, although I am certain that I do not need to tell you that. It is fortunate that we came in to Plymouth; the young man's family lives not far away and I was able to grant him some leave. He is a most talented officer, and I hope that time away will enable him to realize that."

"Talented and courageous, Sir." Dr. Sebastian agreed. "And, I believe he is strong, as well. The human spirit can combat many things, as long as we are surrounded by those we care about, and who care about us."

"I agree. His family will help, no doubt, and I sent him home with another one of my men, a friend of his."

"Ah, and that would be Mr. Brandon, no doubt? I have heard much of him." Sebastian's eyes twinkled.

The Captain's face relaxed into a near smile, as he called to the barkeep for a bottle of wine. "I can imagine that you did, Doctor. Oh, yes, I can imagine that well."

"I am disappointed not to be able to make his acquaintance. I believe we could have had much to talk about." Dr. Sebastian accepted the glass, and raised it to the Captain. "Here is to your men, Sir."

"I most humbly thank you." They drank the toast, and the Captain frowned. "I only apologize we did not meet on my ship, where I might have offered you better than this!"

The both gave a slight laugh. And then the Captain thought over what Sebastian had said.

"So, Mr. Cousins told you about Mr. Brandon's...er...special skills?"

"Yes, he did, along with an explanation that those talents do not please his family. However, it would seem that the young man and I are of a like mind on many topics, and it would have been refreshing to talk shop, if you will, with somebody with a mind beyond laudanum and bleeding." Dr. Sebastian passed a packet over to the Captain. "However, I have some notes here that I have made, on some tinctures he is not likely to have encountered yet, with my recommendations. He might find them useful."

"He will be very pleased to receive them. I've never seen a boy more hungry for knowledge than he is." The Captain drummed his fingers on the table. "He ought to have formal training, of course, but his father will not stand for it."

To his surprise, Dr. Sebastian negated the wish. "Formal training, Sir, is best for the purposes of obtaining papers only. To learn, it seems to me he is in a much better environment."

"How so?"

"He has not learned that one way is the only correct way. And that frees his mind to find other options, other choices." Sebastian leaned forward. "I saw scars on Mr. Cousins' arm, from a bad burn, he told me?"

"Yes." Captain Pellew shivered, remembering the horrible treatment Reg had needed to endure. "A very bad burned, sustained in the line of duty."

"Indeed. Judging from those scars, Sir, ninety five percent of the medicos I know would have amputated the arm. Because we have been taught that there is no point in attempting to treat a burn that bad. But that young man, somehow, found a way to do just that. Because nobody had ever told him it was impossible."

Captain Pellew studied him intently. "Were you not educated yourself?"

"I was, Sir. And don't get me wrong, there is much to be learned. But it is better, I think to also learn to NOT fall into the trap of doing something, just because it has always been done that way. The Good Lord, Captain Pellew, has given us all brains. It is a pity how few of us use them!"

"Indeed, Sir, your statement applies to far too many admirals I know!" The Captain admitted.

"So you see, when your young man finally does get to go off to a school, he will have already learned to trust himself. And it will be nearly impossible for a school to change that."

"Damned impossible. The boy is the stubbornnest young man I have ever seen!" Captain Pellew sounded more gruff than he perhaps meant

"More stubborn than Mr. Cousins? I am impressed, Sir. And not in a little bit of awe for your patience!"

The Captain softened. "Well, they are both fine young men, each with their different talents. I cannot fault them for their strength of character, really." He looked at this doctor curiously. "I understand from Mr. Kennedy, that you are a friend of Major Edrington?"

"I am. He spoke well of you, and your ship and crew. If I can take any good away from this whole experience, it is having had the chance to see some of your officers for myself. They are every bit as fine as he said they were."

"The Major is an impressive officer in his own right." But he looked with great fondness at Sebastian. No man could do anything that would please him more than praise his men. "Sir, would you do me the honor of joining my wife and I for dinner? She has just gone to feed our daughter, but I am certain that she would enjoy the company as well."

Dr. Sebastian, long used to usually having to prove himself English to men in power such as Captain Sir Edward Pellew, was touched. And with a nod of his head, he agreed.

"I would be charmed, Sir."

But at that moment Kitty came back to the table, holding Beatrice in her arms. Sir Edward smiled and reached up to her, when she saw Dr. Sebastian at the table. She paled, losing color all the way to her lips, and seemed to stumble, slightly; he was only just in time to grasp the baby, and somehow managed to hold her up as well.

"Kitty? Dear God, Kitty, are you alright?" He exclaimed.

"I...oh!"

Dr. Sebastian rose, a curious expression on her face, and helped her to a seat at the table.

There was an awkward silence; Sir Edward placed Beatrice in her basket by the table, and Dr. Sebastian hastened to pour Kitty a glass of wine, which she took warily, a trembling still about her. Sir Edward grasped her hand...it was ice cold.

And with a deep breath and a lifting of her shoulders, she looked hard at this Doctor whom had done so much to befriend and assist his men, and finally spoke.

"Why did you come? Oh, WHY did you come?"

***

That evening, by the fire, so stuffed he could not move, Drew sat and listened to Reg's brother Matt play the violin. It was a sweet, low tune, that lulled him. Reg's father had about worn him out, but in a good way, and he'd been more than glad to help out.

Reg himself had returned from tea blushing with happiness, and strangely quiet. Drew suspected that the meeting had gone even better than hoped for. He had informed his mother that Ellie wished to drop in for tea tomorrow, and Becca had informed them likewise that her fiancé, Colin Williams, would be coming as well, and she proposed making some special cakes. A discussion of what food should be prepared ensued, to Drew's amusement. He couldn't imagine eating a bad meal here, and anything suited him just fine.

Reg, meanwhile, turned to his father. "Da, if you'd not object, I'd like to go into the village tomorrow with Drew."

"Absolutely no objection. Thanks to your friend's assistance, I am well ahead on my work this week. Enjoy yourself."

"Is there anything you'd need, while were there?"

"No, Son, can't say that there is."

Drew was curious, though, and waited until they had both retired to the guest room to ask why they were headed in to town.

"I've got to spend some of my prize money eventually." He smiled. "I'd like to buy Ellie a proper ring. I left her with this silly cheap bauble before I went away, and I am in a position to do better now. Your opinion would be valuable."

He grinned at his friend, who already seemed a different person than he had been just a few days ago.

"I would be happy to help." He stretched lazily in the bed, his body weary, but his mind happy.

"Drew, was everything fine today? With my father, I mean."

Drew lifted his head off the pillow, surprised Reg had to ask. "He's a good man, Reg." He propped his head up on his hand. "He has been very kind to me, as has your whole family. They make me feel that I belong here. It's...nice."

He heard Reg roll over, sighing. "I'm glad, Drew. I've wanted you to meet them for a long time."

"I only wish I could reciprocate." He sank back down on his pillow, stifling a yawn.

"I've met your sister." He pointed out. "And I should like to meet your brother Stan. Other than that, I think I'll pass. Besides, I don't think your father would like ME very much, after I was done with him."

Drew brought to mind the conversation he'd had with Reg's Da today, about trying to understand how his father arrived at this point in life. It was new to him, the thought that the man might not have always been a tyrant. Somehow, the understanding of that made him less of a monster.

"Your father has been very kind to me." He repeated, in wonder. "And he's made me look at things differently, too. I think, Reg, that I'm alright with everything. My past. My future. I'm not as worried about how I'll support a family. I grew up with all the money in the world, in the most miserable life imaginable. Your family never had that kind of money, and yet this may be the happiest house I've ever seen. This is what I want for my future, Reg. I want this house. I want to be like your father. Does that make sense, Reg? Reg?"

There was nothing but a faint snore as an answer, and Drew smiled, before rolling over himself. He didn't know if he was sorry or glad Reg had missed that last statement. Either way, he was exhausted, and would sleep well this evening.

Outside the door, Samuel Cousins stood still, in mild shock. He'd been coming to check in on the two boys, hoping to be a bit earlier this evening, and not frighten young Drew again. He hadn't meant to eavesdrop, but when you are the topic of conversation, that is a hard temptation to resist.

He couldn't go in now, of course. Not right away, at least, and then Brandon would be sleeping, and the whole point was NOT to scare him. So he stood there, in quiet, and listened until both boys were sleeping, still marveling at the greatest compliment he'd ever received in his life.

***

Dr. Sebastian looked with meaning at Kitty, and then said, as gently as possible, "My dear Lady Pellew, you do not have to fear me."

Gradually, Kitty's color returned to normal, and she cast her eyes downward. Captain Pellew was relieved, but still confused, and he took her hand. She squeezed it and then looked up at him with bright eyes.

"Edward." She began. "Dr. Sebastian was a physician at the sanatorium where...where my..." She paused, lowering her voice. "where my husband is incarcerated."

"Oh!" The Captain felt uneasiness prickling over his neck, and a bitter taste in his mouth. It took very little for him to forget that, though he and Kitty were married in his mind, they were very much unattached according to the laws of England. She could not break a marriage to a man who was insane. So many people simply took it as truth when he introduced her as his wife, and even those few men who understood the situation valued the both of them highly enough to not judge them.

But this doctor knew.

Dr. Sebastian, however, was most deliberately not looking at either of them. Instead, he had leaned over Beatrice's basket, with a little chuckle. "A fine little lady you have here, Captain Pellew. She will be every bit as lovely as her mother, I have no doubt."

They both could only stare at him in desperation, until he turned back in surprise. "How is it, Lady Pellew, that you are so frightened by me? And why do you speak of Michael Brooks as incarcerated?"

"Dear God!" She whispered, trembling as she grasped Edward's hand. "Is he *out* then?"

And Captain Pellew felt the bottom of his world fall out.

Dr. Sebastian looked from one to the other, and then began to grasp the situation. "You could say that he was out, my dear lady. He died...over three years ago."

Just as suddenly as his world had fallen, it was righted again. More than righted. Kitty was a widow, now. No longer bound to a man who could not love her. Able to be bound to one who could...and did.

Perhaps the same thought had occurred to her, as her mouth dropped and she stared in shock at Dr. Sebastian, who was still confused to know he had caused such a furor.

"Ma'am..." He whispered. "Did you not know? His brother was informed at the time, and it was assumed that he would notify Michael's wife. The poor wretch was stricken with a consumptive fever...it went through the whole asylum like lightning. I am sorry if this pains you in any way."

"Dr. Sebastian..." She began, voice trembling. "Although I am sorry to think that Michael Brooks should have suffered, for he was once a decent man, I must tell you that I cannot regret your news. I really did not know...that I am free."

Edward grasped her hand tightly, and looked at her with such love that Dr. Sebastian felt as though he were intruding. He would have made to leave, but the Captain forestalled him with one glance. "Doctor, your news is most welcome, in ways that I cannot elaborate. I must now INSIST that you dine with us."

"I can see..." Dr. Sebastian paused, realization setting in. Kitty had not been aware she was free to marry again. Therefore, she hadn't. Yet she was introduced as the Captain's wife.

But...Captain Pellew could not be a more decent man, and really, how could she have been considered to be married to a man who could not even remember her name? And who was he to judge these good people, for finding happiness in a world that held far to little of it at the moment. "I can see how much you love each other. You are truly blessed. If I am to dine with you, I must insist on your allowing me to buy another bottle, to celebrate." He continued.

He was granted the sweetest smiles from the both of them. "Dr. Sebastian, I would be honored to accept such a gift." The Captain said, and truly he meant it.
***

I was on deck, worrying. Captain Pellew so rarely returned back to the ship even a minute later than planned, and here it was almost three hours after I had expected him. Nothing was wrong with the ship, of course; we'd had no problems. The handful of men Captain Pellew had offered amnesty to seemed to be assimilating well, largely thanks to Matthews and Morris. Good men, the both of them; the respect that they command from their fellows is heartening. I should like to see both of them offered promotion someday.

But I had received a letter today. One I should particularly need to speak with the Captain about, for though it was addressed to me, it was of an official nature and I really desired his opinion in how best to respond. Besides, I felt uneasy about his absence.

Mr. Anderson, who had the watch, approached me tentatively.

"Good evening, Sir."

"Mr. Anderson." I said, gently. "It will be a better evening when the Captain is back."

"I had noted he was late, Sir. No doubt he has been held up at Admiralty." He cringed slightly, and I could sympathize. There was nothing worse than to be the officer on watch when the Captain came back from a bad meeting.

"Perhaps I shall stay up here a bit and see if he needs my assistance." I murmured.

Anderson didn't say anything, but he gave me a quick, grateful glance. Then he turned slightly, and nodded outward. "Here's a shore boat, Sir."

I felt a sense of relief surge through me, even though I knew that soon *I* would be in the line of fire.

He came over the side, and looked around, distractingly, hardly noting the men piping him in. He saluted Mr. Anderson, but asked him no questions; he scanned the assembly until he saw me, and I jumped. There was a curious expression on his face, and I read in it a need to talk.

"Mr. Hornblower, in my cabin, if you please." He said, quietly.

"Aye, Aye, Sir."

Anderson looked at me in high sympathy, but I was unworried. His mood seemed more pensive than angry.

With much curiosity, I followed him, hoping that whatever it was, I could help.

He motioned me to be seated immediately; poured me a glass of brandy unbidden, and did the same for himself. His glass, however, he immediately drank down in one gulp, and then refilled.

"Sir?"

He laughed. It started as a chuckle, and then gave in to mirth, the sort I have rarely witnessed from him, and he sat in his chair and blinked away tears, of joy, I suppose, or maybe not; for the mirth gave forth to confusion. He pulled himself together somehow, and I remained, as I was, waiting for him to explain to me, and letting him get this extreme emotion out of his system.

Finally, with a deep breath, he looked at me. "You're a good man, Horatio. A trusted one."

"I would hope to always be both of those things." I said, puzzled. The Captain did not bandy about compliments lightly, even if he sometimes seemed to strangely favor me.

"Horatio, I will be needing your assistance in a matter of some delicacy, to occur in whatever the most distant church from Plymouth is that we can reach easily."

My mind, of course, went to a funeral...there were burials enough happening, lord knows, and often they were less than respectable. Some dignitary whom Admiralty felt had to be paid some respect, but whom had probably died in questionable enough manner to make them unwilling to make it anyone too important. I would be a perfectly acceptable candidate, no doubt.

"I need a best man." He continued, breaking in to my train of thought.

"I...excuse me?" My brow furrowed.

Blushing, most unnaturally for him, he went on, "I explained to you once, I think...my unique situation with Kitty?"

"Ah." She was in a marriage that she could not be extricated from, most unfairly I thought. "But Sir, have things changed?"

"Yes. She is now a widow. And thus free to marry." He smiled warmly. "Free to marry me, and to hell with the rest of the world, then!"

I looked at him, feeling perhaps closer to him know than I ever have before. To see him so happy and so totally let his guard down with me makes me believe that perhaps I am worth something after all.

I thought over the rest of his request, though. "Why a distant church from Plymouth, Sir?"

He raised his eyebrows. "Because everyone around Plymouth, connected to the Navy in any way, believes I am already married. With a daughter, no less. I do not care what anyone should think of me...and in all likelihood they'll just think I'm an old fool. But I will not have Beatrice tainted in any way."

"Of course not, Sir. When shall this wedding take place, and have you a location, yet?"

"I must give it some thought tonight, Horatio. And it will take a few days to pull some strings, get through some formalities. Shall we say by a week from today?"

Next Friday. Time enough, of course. And a thought occurred to me.

"Mr. Cousins shall be returning to the Indefatigable next Saturday, Sir."

"Yes, I had not forgotten."

"Could we not head out to his little hamlet to do this? He is not of seafaring folk; and it would be natural enough for you to pay his family a visit after his exploits recently."

The Captain gave me a little smile. "Not a bad idea at all, Mr. Hornblower. Gives me a reason to be away. I must ask you, if you do not mind, to make arrangements. You have leave tomorrow. Mr. Kennedy can retain charge of the ship while I have to be in Port; under the circumstances I think I can cut my visit to Kitty short."

Mr. Kennedy in charge? Oh, dear.

The Captain noted my frown immediately.

"Did I say something wrong."

"No, Sir...it's just...I think Archie was hoping to see something of his wife while we were in Port, and with me out on a mission, so to speak..."

He snapped momentarily. "Damn it all, man, this is the Navy, not a social club."

"Yes, Sir." I blinked.

And he blushed again. "Oh, hell, how stupid does that sound, considering what I am asking YOU to do for ME?" He exhaled in exasperation. "Well, I shall arrange SOMETHING for Mr. Kennedy. There is time enough, after all.

With an understanding glance, I rose. "Enough for one day, then. I shall work everything out tomorrow, Sir, if at all possible."

"I do not doubt you, Horatio. I never have."

I understood now, why he needed someone he could trust in this circumstance.

And I headed out the door, and to my quarters, where the aforementioned Archie was sound asleep, an arm flung carelessly out over the bunk. I have always amazed at his ability to enter a total, dreamless sleep in whatever circumstance, just by landing on the bunk.

I eased my way past him, and then pulled the offending letter, the one that Captain Pellew did not know of, after all, from the pages of Don Quixote, where it had been stored. I grasped also my notebook and my quill; Archie did not so much as move.

Funny. If he had not been so preoccupied with Kitty, he would have known I had received a letter. Somehow, he would have known and questioned me on it, and then perhaps everything would be very different.

I found my way to sick berth-strange not to find Drew here. Johnson was not present, the berth was empty, save for a loblolly boy, sleeping soundly. I stepped over him and at the spirit lamp, I made as if to prepare myself some chamomile tea.

Unfolding the letter, I took one more look at it.

"Lt. Horatio Hornblower, HMS Indefatigable...

Lt. Hornblower, it is for some time that I have been watching your career. The recent exploits of yours involving the rogue ship Serenity were discovered, I have no doubt, entirely due to your superior intellect. Certainly, had I been better advised, or had your Captain thought to voice any doubts to his commanding officer, as he ought to have, this situation would not have occurred.

I wish to remove you from the stultifying boredom of life as a minor first Lieutenant on a second class frigate. The family of the late Earl are ceding over the rights to Serenity to the Navy, and she needs a commander. Your skills, Sir, are first rate; every man I have spoken to, from Captains Hammond and Foster, to Commander Clark, have been very complimentary. The time has come, I believe, for you to leave the shadow of your Captain, and command alone, if you have the ambition for it. Not many men of but twenty-three, especially those with such limited service and low connections, can boast of such rapid advancement. I can assure you, should you accept this offer, you will have myself as a champion in your corner.

This message is unofficial. I have no doubt that your Captain, once officially notified, will attempt to dissuade you from accepting it, and I wanted you to have an honest opinion before you let him bend your will.

I await your answer, Sir. One word, and we shall set in place a chain of events that will shake France to its core."

The letter was signed by Admiral Hood.

It had thrown me, reading this letter this afternoon. An offer of command. At my age. With no connections. I am not blind to the fact that I stand a better chance of dying a Lieutenant than ever receiving such an offer again.

But no more am I blind to the fact of what was between the lines, and indeed, in them. Hood was embarrassed. Embarrassed by having misjudged Serenity, embarrassed that his crony Hale had fallen into a trap that endangered the fleet, and worst of all, embarrassed by the fact that it was Captain Pellew who had saved him from worse mortification, Captain Pellew who once again emerged untarnished.

I remembered the time the Captain had finally told me everything that had occurred with Muzillac, and the bitterness of his tone when he spoke of Hood. Hood, who knew well the plan was doomed, and who not only ordered the Captain's silence, but forced him to wait for a futile mission to be successfully completed. It forced the Captain to disobey an order, so that he might live with his own conscience.

This is not a reward for me. It is a punishment for him, for daring once again to be a better man than Hood can ever dream of. It was a punishment in Muzillac, and it is one now. Had the captain not moments before called me a trusted man? Had he not permitted himself to be more honest with me than he could be with anyone else? Had he not placed me in a position keeping his honor, and the honor of his family, intact, with this last request?

Could I, like Judas, turn away from him, into the arms of his enemies? SHOULD I, when I still have so much to learn from him?

My answer was succinct:

"Admiral Hood:

I must decline your generous offer. I understand it is unlikely to be made again. However, I do not feel confident leaving the side of the man who commands me, until I am certain I can be every bit the commander he is. And that, Sir, is my only ambition.

Lt. Horatio Hornblower."

I smiled into the dimness, and sealed the note, knowing I perhaps also sealed my fate along with it.

There was a sudden commotion...Johnson headed here, with a man who'd had far too much to drink, and sounded the worse for wear. I leapt up, and my notebook flew away. In a fluster I struggled to grab the loose sheets of paper, placing my reply in my coat as I did so.

Johnson saw me then, as he lead a man in, who'd obviously taken a bit of a fall, and sustained a cut on his head. "Hornblower. Come for some tea, have you?"

"I've finished." I lied. "Looks like this man might have need for the leftover water."

"Let's hope he's knocked some sense into himself, eh? Can't wait for Drew to get back, I can tell you that." He guided the man to the table I'd been writing on, and I made my way back into the darkness of the passageway.

I had planned on burning Hood's letter to me. Oh, well. I shall dispose of it on my way into Newton's Abbot tomorrow.

***
March 14

Reg Cousins was wearing his good humor on his sleeve, for all the world to see, as he and Drew arrived in Newton's Abbot. It had been an over-hill walk of some two miles, but the day was pleasant, and it was nice to have the freedom of the countryside to roam.

It had not taken Drew long to notice that their uniforms stood out in the town. A few suspicious eyes were cast their way, at least until the town-folk recognized Reg as being one of them-"Sam's Cousins oldest boy", or "One of the Cousins, from down by the creek." Drew learned, this way, just how well-respected Reg's family must be.

"Your family has lived here for some time?" He asked, as another passing wagon shouted a greeting.

"Four or five generations, at least." Reg answered, after a few moments thought. "I think we were tenant farmers once, but my great grandfather was granted title by the local squire, as a reward for saving his grand-son's life, or something like that. Sir Michael Philpot, his name was."

"Are they still around?" Drew marveled, wondering under what circumstances he could see his father giving up any of his land to a tenant, and failing totally.

"The Philpots? They still have a home here, but aren't around that often. Spend most of their time in London." Reg nudged Drew. "That's where I want to head to...that store. Wilder's Dry Goods. Can't go into Dwyer's."

"Why not?"

"My Da sent me in to pick up some feed from Dwyer once, and I caught him out trying to cheat us." Reg winced. "He got pretty angry over it, and roughed me up a bit for daring to suggest that he was less than honest. Da found out and raised holy hell, especially when he went over the numbers and I was right. We haven't given them any business since."

"Good for you." Drew said, taking an immediate dislike to the unseen Dwyer. "Will you be able to find a ring at a place like Wilder's, though?"

With a grin, Reg turned to him. "Not rubies or sapphires, which is just as well, since I can't afford them. But they do carry a few baubles. Sometimes, Wilder sells unwanted stuff from other families, things like that. This isn't London, you know. Out here in the country, we have to make do with what we have."

"I grew up in the country." Drew started, but Reg gave him an expressive look. "Of course, I didn't do too much shopping..."

They walked into the store, which seemed to contain everything from hardware to bolts of fabric. It smelled much like the store room on the Indefatigable, dusty and closed, to Drew's mind, only without the added scent of the sea. There was a wide counter, where smaller items could be found, and it was to this that Reg headed.

"May I help you, gentlemen?" A short, plump woman, about the same age as Reg's mother, with a ruddy face and a willing smile, addressed them.

Blushing deeply, Reg replied. "Mrs. Wilder, er...it's Reg Cousins, remember me?"

Wide eyed, she covered her mouth. "Oh, dear me! Samuel's big boy!" Drew bit off a snicker as she continued. "I'd almost not have recognized you! What a gentleman you've grown up into!"

With an easy laugh, Reg parried back, "And yet you are still the same as I remember you...not a day older."

"Go on. A silver tongue on you, just like your father." Without a word she dipped into a jar of sweets and handed some over. "Licorice was always your favorite, I remember." Her pale blue eyes twinkled at Drew. "And for you, Lad?"

"Er..." Drew had never been in receipt of many sweets as a child, and was struck dumb by the offer.

"He favors peppermints." Reg put in. "This is my friend Drew Brandon, a fellow Lieutenant on the Indefatigable, Mrs. Wilder."

"I am charmed to make your acquaintance." Drew replied, accepting the peppermint stick, and wondered how undignified it would look for him to be caught eating it while in uniform.

"La, Such manners! Had I known what sort of men the Navy turned out, I'd have sent my own boy there!"

"How is George?" Reg asked, somewhat indistinctly.

"He's off to London now, apprenticing to his uncle as a printer." She beamed on them both. "And what can I do for you, this day?"

"I'd like to look at rings...but then, I suspect you knew that."

She admitted as much, and then pulled out a tray from under a glass counter. "Hope you find something you like here. And for you, Lad?"

"Oh, I am just offering an opinion." Drew replied.

At that moment another customer came in, and with a smile, Mrs. Wilder was off to serve them, leaving Reg and Drew staring at their choices.

There weren't many, and none were overly extravagant. Reg looked confused, and Drew instinctively separated out five or six that he could immediately tell were of slightly better quality. "Start with these, Reg. I haven't seen your girl, yet. Do any of these suit her?"

He frowned. "Her hand is tiny. These seem so large..."

"You must have a watch maker in town? We can have these sized well enough." Drew pointed out. "If worst came to worst, it could certainly be done in Plymouth."

Chewing on his lip, Reg fingered the selections. One he pulled out featured a milky blue-gray stone surrounded by tiny seed pearls. "Maybe." He murmured. There was one set of garnets, and Reg immediately pushed that aside; Drew had a feeling that it would have been too pricey. But then...

"Damn, Drew...would you look at that?"

It was a cameo ring. The center piece was circular, carved in shell, with a pink background featuring an intricately carved ship. The setting was in silver, so it was certain to be within Reg's reach.

Mrs. Wilder came over, sensing the sale, and nodded. "I'd have guessed as much. Shall we settle it, then?"

Pleased, Reg began counting out his precious prize winnings for the purchase, following Mrs. Wilder over to the side. Drew, however, was noticing another tray, and an intricately carved ornamental hair comb, that appeared to be tortoiseshell. Certainly Violet would never have owned something so lovely, and it would look wonderful in her hair...

"Pardon me, Lieutenant." An eager voice spoke from behind him. "But would you be Reginald Cousins?"

Drew was startled; never before had anyone mistaken him for Reg, and it was hard to imagine anyone in this town doing so. The young man before him was about twenty-four, at a guess, and was very pale, with dark curly hair and wide eyes. He was very plainly dressed in black, but seemed a pleasant enough chap.

"No, I am Lieutenant Drew Brandon. This gentleman here..." He motioned to Reg, now accepting his package from Mrs. Wilder. "...is Lieutenant Cousins."

Reg looked up at hearing Drew speak his name, and turned to face them. The man in black met Reg's eye, blinking, and he swallowed once. "Lieutenant Cousins, I am...pleased to meet you."

"You have the advantage of me, Sir." Reg said, with a slight bow, and a furrowed brow. "You must be new to the town."

"Indeed, I am, Mr. Cousins. I am Colin Williams...your...er...sister...might have mentioned me?"

Drew suppressed a grin at Williams' nervousness. And then he felt a bit of sympathy, for Reg had straightened to his full height, stood in official pose, and was scanning Williams as if he were an enemy ship. He looked as stern as Captain Pellew! At this moment, all Drew could think was how glad he was that Violet had no brothers!

"Yes, Mr. Williams, your name has come up." He said, smoothly.

An awkward moment followed, with poor Williams left squirming miserably. He looked appealingly at Drew for a moment, and then decided to keep trying. "I am...er...the new minister."

"So I've heard." Reg's voice was dry. "You have known my sister how long?"

"Four months, no, five, I think."

"As long as that?" His mouth tilted slightly, his eyebrows raised. "So long, in fact, that you cannot remember how long you have known her."

"I...er...well, of course...It was just after All Soul's day." He gulped. "Any way, I just wanted to introduce myself to you. I understand I shall be seeing you at tea this afternoon. Becca talks about you all the time, and I am looking forward to getting to know you."

Reg didn't look like he was looking forward to it, Drew thought. Suddenly he had a glimpse of what it might be like to someday be a midshipman under Reg's command...sheer intimidation hiding his true nature. Captain Pellew would be impressed! "We shall see you at tea, then."

"Er, right then. Until later!"

Drew watched him walk away, before turning to Reg. "I didn't know you had it in you to be so merciless."

Reg relaxed, but only slightly. "He's not much, is he?"

"You can't tell that, after five minutes conversation." Drew protested.

"Rather mealy." Reg insisted.

"I thought the other day you insisted that what was important was that your sister loved him!" Drew pointed out, gently.

They walked out of the store together, and into the sunshine. Wriggling his shoulders and taking a deep breath, Reg gave in. "I was a bit of a boor, wasn't I? Still, Becca and I are pretty close, she's only a year younger than I am, and I...hell, I don't know why I did that." He glanced at Drew. "I don't suppose you had the same reaction with Archie, eh?"

"With ARCHIE?" He looked at Reg with disbelief. "I was delighted when they fell in love..." He paused, and felt the blush creeping over his face and his voice trailed off.

"What are you NOT telling me?" Reg demanded, perceptive as ever.

"There were a few times I found myself...resenting him, I guess. Because Alicia was no longer focused on me. I don't suppose you're maybe a little jealous?" He took a deep breath, but Reg passed him without a word.

Reg remained silent as they walked out of the town, heading back across the country-side. Drew wisely let him dwell on his thoughts; instead, he concentrated on the countryside. It was hilly in this area; and rocky as well. Not really ideal land for farming, but since what Reg's family worked with was more livestock than crops, they did well enough. He could tell the land was greening, though spring could hardly be said to have arrived. Some might call the landscape desolate, but it did not seem so to him; he found it rather charming. He was happy to be here.

Speaking suddenly, Reg looked down at his feet. "I guess you're right, Drew. I want Becca to be happy, and she seems to be, but there is a part of me that cannot believe any man could be good enough for her." He grimaced at Drew. "God, how Williams must hate me!"

"Probably scared to death of you, at least. But you have the afternoon to make amends." Drew soothed. "Just be glad that Ellie has no brothers."

"God, it is bad enough dealing with her father." And he frowned, hard. It was the first time Drew had heard him mention the man, and he felt a momentary qualm about Reg's hopes.

"His opinion of you has not changed, despite the fact that you've been promoted?" Drew asked.

"He seems affronted that I am still alive." Reg looked towards the horizon. "Oh, he has not come right out and said it, but I can tell well enough that he has no affection for me. But he doesn't want to alienate Ellie, either."

Drew had a bad feeling about this situation. He wanted, desperately, for everything to go well with his friend. Reg had had enough problems recently; he did not need this worry added to it. But perhaps, once he had presented her with her new ring, and things were solidified, then everything would work out. At least, he prayed so.

***

Alicia Brandon Kennedy stared out at the Indefatigable, a look of longing on her face. Nearby, available but at a discrete distance, her father-in-law, Lord Bridgeleigh, kept an eye on her. She sighed.

Archie was there, now. Perhaps even watching out for her. Perhaps he could even see her from the deck at this moment, if he were to turn his eyes from his duties for a few seconds. Not that she could imagine him doing such a thing.

With a sigh, she looked down at the letter that had awaited her arrival here.

"My Dearest...

I am beyond overjoyed at the news contained in your last letter. I find myself anticipating fatherhood with a tremendous zeal, such as I have not felt for any activity...the Navy included...since the days when I used to dream of becoming an actor on Drury lane.

I hope you are feeling well. I cannot believe how much worrying I shall have to do over you from such a distance. Well, at least there is my father to care from you...I trust you are well able to amuse each other. I must say I find the news more than a little startling, that you are able to call my father "Papa". And that he permits it. Why do I sense that with the arrival of grandchildren the man shall melt completely? I have an image of coming home to find him sprawled on the floor with our child, encouraging the little one to crawl!

Your brother, as you very perceptively noted, had a difficult time during the early portion of our sails this year, but has recovered nicely. The Captain (wisely, I think) has sent him on leave with Mr. Cousins, to spend time with Reg's family. The details on that one can wait until I see you in person (should we allow ourselves any actual time for conversation) but suffice it to say that I think it is an excellent opportunity for Drew to feel a part of a real family.

Things march well between Drew and his young lady, and even Horatio has a girl now. She's slightly older than he is, but I think that is just as well...from all accounts she is the only person I can imagine keeping up with him mentally! Drew (who knows her) says they are quite a sight together. I can only imagine...Horatio Hornblower in love!

There does seem to be rather a lot of that going around. Sometimes it seems strange to me that I am so concerned with our domestic issues, when there is a war on. But dash it all, what the devil else are we fighting the war for?

I give you my love, Alicia, and shall find a way to get to see you somehow; we are rather short on officers here at the moment. But I will find away. I am very determined!

With all of my love...Archie."

Alicia sighed, and then folded the missive and tucked it away. Slowly, she brought out a note...a short one stating that they had arrived, and were awaiting further information. But how to get it to Indefatigable.

"Mrs. Kennedy."

A strong, kind voice spoke by her shoulder.

"Captain Pellew!" She beamed up at him.

"I thought I recognized you." He bowed gallantly to her, and Lord Bridgeleigh approached. The Captain and the Lord had become friends over the events that had surrounded the wedding last year. "It is good to see you again, my Lord."

"Sir Edward." Bridgeleigh responded. "The pleasure is mine."

With a twinkle, the Captain noticed the object in Alicia's hand. "Shall I take that to your husband on my return to the ship, Ma'am?"

"Oh, please, Sir...if you could oblige me." She blushed. "Shall it be possible for him to see me, do you think? He tells me in his note that you are short on officers."

"Today especially, as I sent Lieutenant Hornblower off on a personal errand, and your brother, as I expect you have learned, is away with Mr. Cousins." But his eyes softened as he looked at her. "However, your husband recently did me a good turn, and I shall try and get him off of the ship for a few hours tomorrow, if it pleases you."

Her smile...so like her brother's...trembled up at him. "It pleases me very well, Sir." And without hesitation, she reached up and kissed the startled Captain on the cheek. "You are indeed a sweet man, Sir. I can never repay the kindness you have shown to both my brother and my husband, to say nothing of myself."

"Harumph." Captain Pellew was momentarily nonplussed. "Well, er...I must get back to the ship, eh?"

Speaking smoothly, Bridgeleigh leaned forward on his cane and smiled. "I understand you have recently been blessed by fatherhood, Sir. My felicitations. It is both a rewarding and terrifying experience." He added, dryly.

"Yes, well, I have a daughter, Sir, so I shall not have the worries of sending her off to war."

"No, there is that." Lord Bridgeleigh patted Alicia affectionately on the arm. "I would say I envy you, Sir, but although my daughter has arrived rather late, she has been everything I can hope for."

Alicia smiled up at Archie's father, the man whom had once intimidated his son to near speechlessness, with a decidedly affectionate glance. "You are flattering me, Papa!" She teased.

Captain Pellew let himself smile at the both of them, and Lord Bridgeleigh moved to the side to let the man pass. "I hope you someday have as good a luck with a son-in-law as I did with a daughter-in-law!" He called to the Captain

The words froze the Captain to the heart. Beatrice, MARRIED?

And with a knowing look, Lord Bridgeleigh laughed out loud.

***
"I understand that I have you to thank for keeping Mr. Cousins in one piece, Mr. Brandon." Ellie smiled at him through lowered lashes, somewhat shy.

Tea was progressing well. Determined to change Williams' impression of him, Reg had settled in to get to know the man. Drew, likewise, was content to get to know Miss Brown, and so they had been conversing for the past ten minutes.

"It is not easy, I must admit, for he is determined to be heroic." He caught Reg's slight glare, but ignored it. "But I do my best to put him back together afterwards. I understand, however, that you were brought together because you beat him in a footrace?"

She blinked lightly. "Oh, I can imagine what stories he must have told you, but yes, he very gallantly rescued me from the barbs of our former minister."

Williams broke in on hearing this. "I understand that Mr. Middleton could be a rather difficult man."

"Difficult is one word for it." Reg rolled his eyes. "He had very old fashioned ideas, Mr. Williams. Ellie and I were eight years old, but he...well, I won't repeat what he called her, but if he did it today I would probably be forced to challenge him to a duel!"

"Dear me, that was not very Christian of him. One of the basic tenets of the religion, after all, is to judge not, lest ye be judged."

"It is impossible, though, to be totally non-judgmental." Drew suggested.

"As we are all very human, I suppose that is true." Williams eyes lit up, as he was talking on a familiar topic. "Yet it should be what we strive for. At the very least, one ought to give their fellow man every opportunity to prove themselves, before dismissing them"

"Judge a man on what you see him do." Reg said, with a warm smile, and Williams very visibly relaxed, and Becca's smile trembled. They had found common ground after all.

And then it changed.

Drew felt it, before he saw it. Felt the same prickling on his neck he felt when his father was near. It was a sensation that he still got on the Indefatigable, when the Captain was present and NOT in a good mood, or when trouble was approaching from an enemy. He inhaled sharply and looked up in the doorway, as a hush came over the room.

Mr. Brown entered.

He spoke directly to Reg, ignoring his own daughter, and indeed, the rest of the inhabitants of the room.

"Young man, I should like a word with you outside."

***
The room was stony silence as Reg left. Nan looked in once, having heard some of what went on, and her face was bitterly angry, only looking softer when she spotted Ellie. Ellie herself, Drew noted, was pale and silent. No coaxing from him, or from Becca, could draw more than one word. And so they waited...

At last, Reg returned, his face flushed in anger. He looked momentarily down at Ellie, who rose to him, eyes searching his face.

"Reg?" She whispered.

He grasped her hands. "You'd better go, El." He took a deep breath. "I am afraid he will not condone our marriage."

She went gray. "At this time, you mean?"

Reg didn't answer, and in fact, he turned away.

"Ever?" She whispered. Drew rose quickly, fearing she'd faint. But she surprised him, rallying well; her color returned, and her fire with it. "I'll NOT accept that, Reg. Do you hear me?"

"Dear Ellie." Reg said, blinking. "I have not given up yet."

"Well, DON'T." She set her shoulders. "We are meant for each other, you and I. Father will have to accept that."

"I pray you are right." He said, looking longingly into her eyes. And without further words, she charged out the door, her skirts in her hands. Reg turned and disappeared, and Drew could not bear it any longer. His heart pounding in his chest, he went outside, where Mr. Brown was calling after his daughter. Ellie had not stopped by him, but had charged away over the hill towards her home.

No, this was all wrong, and Drew was not having it, not at all.

"You!" Drew spat out towards Ellie's father. He vaguely felt Colin Williams' hand on his shoulder, and tugged away from it. "For what reason do you stand in the way of the happiness of your own daughter?"

 

Brown turned and looked down at him, eyes wide. "Who are you, boy?"

Drew pulled his shoulders up and set his jaw. "Acting Lieutenant Andrew Brandon, HMS Indefatigable."

Brown grinned spitefully. "Ah, ANOTHER pretender?"

"I pretend nothing, Sir." Drew fumed. "I am, I would hope, an honorable man. As honorable a man as my friend."

"Young Cousins has no honor. If he did, he would not have come here pretending to be a Lieutenant, when he is only an acting one."

"An Acting Lieutenant IS a Lieutenant. We berth with the other Lieutenants; we draw the same pay. We have been given privileges and responsibilities in accordance with our rank. Only the formality of a test separates us from the other Lieutenants on board; an exam it is very difficult to arrange in a time of war. And I can assure you, if Mr. Cousins does not pass that exam, nobody ever will."

Brown's glare narrowed on him. "You speak very boldly, child, to a man your elder and your better."

"I am not a child." Drew's eyes blazed. "And in the Navy, Sir, men are equaled by rank, not by the luck of their birth." He smiled bitterly. "However, should you INSIST on comparing your pedigree to mine, I would be willing to do so. It has never given me pleasure in the past, but in this instance, it just might."

Brown spat on the ground in front of him. "Why? Who the hell is your father?"

"I am the fifth son of Lord Exton." Drew could not believe he was using his father's title as a weapon. "But that is of no consequence. Whatever my bloodlines, I am not, and could never be, as fine a man as Reg is. Had I an available sister, I should be overjoyed to see her make such an alliance. I cannot conceive of any way in which you could object to him."

Brown backed off, slightly, at hearing that Drew was in fact of a privileged class. But he was not relenting, not one bit. "You can say all you like about Reg Cousins. I would guess I've known him a mite longer than you have. There's a finer class of man interested in my girl, finer than some sailor boy who doesn't have a dime to offer her."

"He has something far more important to offer--his heart. They will have money enough; my guess is within ten years, Reg is a high ranking Captain with access to prize money. But that does not matter. He LOVES her."

"Love will not build her a house."

"And money will not guarantee her happiness. Nobody knows that better than I do." Drew shook his head. He was not getting through to this man, not at all.

"Young man." Brown's address changed slightly as he knew of Drew's family. "You mean well, I have no doubt. But I have never been enamored of this engagement, and am less so, now. I have a better offer on the table."

Drew was aghast. "A better....? Dear God, Sir, she is your daughter, not a prize cattle!"

Perhaps not the right thing to say. Brown's fist shot out and Drew found himself sprawled on the ground. He sprang up quickly, wiping a spot of blood from his lip, and charged forward, but before he could do anything else a firm hand gripped his shoulder.

"That's enough, Lad. Don't waste yer time." Samuel Cousins was behind him, but he was looking at Brown. "Cedric Brown, I want you off of my property. You insult your own daughter, my son, and you have done violence to my guest. You are not welcome here."

"Samuel." Brown looked disdainfully at the party; Mr. Williams was staring forth in shock, Becca had tears round her eyes, and Reg had returned. He stood next to Drew, by his side as if they were facing down an enemy on the deck. "I am sorry it fell out this way. It is nothing personal. It is only business."

Drew felt, rather than saw, Reg choke on that. But Samuel had tight grips on both of them, and it was he who answered. "You may call it what you will, Cedric. It will never be more personal than this. Now, leave, please, or I will turn both of these young men loose on you."

Sensing the very real danger that he would be in should that occur, Cedric Brown wasted no time, but hurried away.

They watched him, nobody daring to speak, and Reg abruptly left, heading for the stables, without a word to anyone.

Drew turned, but Samuel held him fast. "Leave him be, Lad. He'll not want company for a while."

With a swallow, Drew stuttered out, "I've made it worse, haven't I?"

"No. It could not get worse that it already was." Samuel inhaled, then let forth a deep sigh. "Reg came home to get BETTER. Damned Cedric Brown and his money-grubbing ways. He's a fool." And then Samuel left also, turning back to his work, a worried frown on his face.

Williams had bid goodbye to Becca, and now addressed Drew. "Shame the afternoon fell out like this. It had been such a nice little party." His voice was quiet, his eyes thoughtful. "Must be something to be done, though. This isn't right."

Drew smiled wanly at him, as he took his leave, and then he sat on a nearby bench, head in his hands. All very good for Williams to say something must be done...after all, he was an outsider, and as a religious man was all for turning the other cheek and hoping everything fell out for the best. Not the sort to take ACTION. But then, here Drew had tried to take action, and for what?

He touched his lip gingerly, and suddenly found himself wishing his sister were nearby.

***

INDEFATIGABLE

I returned late to the Indy, to discover Archie already out cold in his bunk, dead to the world. It had been an exhausting day, to be certain; the mad scramble to get to Newton's Abbot, ensuring I would have passage back to the ship by the end of the day. I finally hunted down the local parson, a youth who at a glance seems to be the very definition of callow, to call up a phrase long remembered from the bride in question. He's been on his post but six months, and was in a dire hurry, near as I could tell to catch out his girl at tea.

It was strange, to see a clergyman no older than myself. I am so used to them being doddering old men. But then, I guess every doddering old man was a callow youth once upon a time; perhaps there is something in the nature of being a man of the church that makes you age more quickly. Anyway, this man Williams, thankfully, decided to honor my need for discretion. Also, perhaps because of his youth, he was inclined to be substantially less judgmental than he might have been. Indeed, he expressed pity for the soon-to-be former Miss Cobham, for enduring what she did. Though of course he could not condone it outright.

The service shall be small. I believe I will be the only man present. We can dig up Reg and Drew, should we need any additional witnesses. In any event, the ceremony is to go down quietly next Saturday morning, about ten o'clock. I took the liberty of speaking with the proprietor of the local inn, to secure a wedding breakfast. They should have SOME celebration, after all.

Naturally, there was more than one comment on my uniform while in town. A few locals snidely accused me of being with a press gang (a press gang of one? I am hardly so imposing) and threatened to lock up their sons. One merchant, in a particularly nasty store, informed me that any service that found place for Reginald Cousins was obviously home to nothing but the depraved and wicked. I removed myself from THAT place quickly; thought there was quite a lot I wished to say on Reg's account I have to remember that I am not here to cause a fuss, or draw attention to the Captain or his ship in any way.

Still, I wondered if Reg or Drew had managed to get into any mischief? This man Dwyer was so vehement! It does not seem like them, but then leave does strange things to many men.

I ended in a different store, one right across the way, and had a much warmer welcome. The proprietress spoke warmly of recent guests who were also "right nice gentlemen, one of 'em born here, and you couldn't ask for better than a Navy man, to be sure." She made me blush. Not that that is so hard.

I then mentioned my experiences across the street, and she told me that Dwyer'd had an unnatural dislike for young Reg Cousins for about as long as SHE could remember, but then he was a sour old man anyway. I felt relieved. I should not have liked the Captain to find out his young officers were carousing in any way improper.

Amazingly, while I was there, I could not help but notice this exquisitely carved ornamental hair comb, done in tortoiseshell. It was a few bob more than I ought to have spent, but I could not help myself...it belongs in Angelina's hair, I am certain of it.

And I smiled at the mere thought of her name. On my return to the ship I had first reported to the Captain, of course, and he was quite relieved to know my preparations had gone so well. THEN he presented me with a letter, received today, from her. It was dated February twenty-fourth.

I had hastened away to read it in private:

"My dearest Horatio...

I realize that this might seem rather an impertinence to some. After all, you asked to write to me, and it is far too early for you to get me a letter. However, I grow impatient, and find I must write to you, even though I did not ask your permission to do so!

I miss you. I would not have believed, even a few weeks ago, that I could miss someone I have known for so short a time so badly. After all, like you I am not unacquainted with loss. And you are not really gone; only away a short while. Still, your absence is like an ache in my stomach; it is like being without food for far to long. I miss our conversations; I miss the contours of your face in your rare smiles; I miss the soft brown twinkle of your eyes. How is it, Sir, that you have stolen my mind and my heart so completely? It ought not be legal to do both.

My only consolation in all of this is that Violet has this love-fever as badly as I do. We sigh and are miserable together, staring out to the harbor though we know it is more than impossible that the Indefatigable should be there. And Mrs. Bracegirdle, also, stops in with her lovely little boy and we share our pain. Of course, HER husband is on a relatively short run on patrol in the Med, not a great long run to far-away England.

On a slightly more practical note, I am making you new shirts, my love. I must have something to occupy my mind in my free time, and so many Captains have been buying shirts of the fine silks that I have, that I find I am left with some remnants of unusual size and shape. Before you complain of the gift, I can tell you that it is through my skill alone (I ought to be more humble, but I leave that to you, dearest) that I can turn these scraps into a good shirt. I am guessing at the size, of course, but you are slimmer than Mr. Bracegirdle, and rather taller, so I increased the arm-length of one of his patterns, while using less fabric (thankfully) elsewhere. I believe they will be a serviceable fit, and in any event I cannot have a man as wonderful as you are walking around in frayed cuffs.

Violet is writing to young Mr. Brandon also. We shall send these off together, hoping and praying to reach our men, safe and sound. My prayers are with you (whether you like it or not). Some days, in fact, I can almost feel you beside me, as if you were willing yourself here. Perhaps that in and of itself is an answer to my prayers, to know I am in your thoughts. Keep yourself safe, or as safe as you can, and know that my heart beats with yours, no matter where in the world you keep it.

With love and longing...Angelina."

I sighed. I had already sent off my earlier letters, ones so filled with doubt and fear, and revelations. Letters I should not have believed myself capable of sending to anyone. Indeed, even with my own dear father, in the worst emotional crisis of my life, I could do no more than send of a kind note, a false one, pretending to be happy when I was not, pretending to be safe, when I was not. Not only because I could not bear with hurting him, but because I could not risk letting him know I was not perfect. It was such a carefully groomed presence I put forth to the world.

I think now, years and distance perhaps providing me with a LITTLE perspective, I understand why. My father was in so much pain when my mother died. Even as a child, all I could ask myself was, how could I cause him more? So I held any pain, any needs close to my chest, that I might not impose on him.

I watch Captain Pellew now, with his little daughter, and I am ashamed of myself for not trusting my father. He would have been there for me, he would have done anything for me, and what probably hurt him worst of all is that I did shut him out of my life.

Of course, he did the same with me. Held back his pain that I might not suffer more. I am not certain how I know this, but I do. There we were, two stupidly stubborn people refusing to let each other in, each wanting to be strong for the other. If we had only been honest for even one evening, how much happier we both would have been.

Done is done, though. Unfortunately, unlike Archie, I have not the chance of mending that fence. But at least, unlike Drew, I am certain it could have been mended. He would have welcomed it as much as I would have.

Perhaps the God that Angelina sets so much store in has a hand in this. If so, I pray that he cares for my father, and lets him know how very sorry I am I was not more open with him when there was a chance for it. And I pray, also, that my father understands that now, at the ripe old age of twenty-three, I can finally hear every word he says, even when he does not say them.

Strangely, I feel at peace over this. The world is right at last.

***
Drew found Reg later that evening, sitting under a tree on a hill, his knees drawn up under his chin. Without saying anything, he sat down next to him in much the same pose, and waited for his friend to speak.

The sun was setting, and Drew could feel the chill of evening approaching. But the birds were providing a nice background music, the wind was gentle, and the air was scented with the newness of Spring. All in all, it would have been a very peaceful moment, if he was not so acutely aware of the pain his friend must be carrying.

Reg spoke suddenly. "How's your jaw?"

"Not bad." Drew said, touching his puffed lip gently. "He doesn't throw as nasty a punch as you do."

Reg actually let out a soft chuckle at that. "Probably because I was trying NOT to hit you." He ran his hands over his hair, and rested his hands behind his neck. "Damn, Drew. Do you know that for five minutes I considered deserting?"

"You know I would have to kill you first."

"Yes, well...there is that." He gave him a brief smile. "But of course, the only solution I can see at the moment is to run away to Scotland with Ellie and elope. I'll kill any man her father tries to marry her off to. Yet, there is no money. I cannot support her without my career. So there you go...I can only marry her if I desert, but I cannot afford to marry her if I do."

"There MUST be some other way out of this." Drew muttered, getting angry again, and feeling his face flush.

"Ease up, Drew. Not that I don't appreciate your loyalty. But this is MY battle, after all." He grinned again. "You really can have quite a temper, you know. I'd not have believed it before this year."

Drew stiffened up, and turned to Reg in horror. "What do you mean?" He asked, frightened.

Puzzled, Reg explained. "Standing up to McGill last month. Ordering me into the water when I didn't want to go. Chewing me out in the sick berth later. I understand you even spoke a few words with the Captain and Horatio, when they were trying to take the blame for my state when I returned..." His voice trailed off, for Drew had gone literally a ghastly shade of gray. "What? What did I say?"

Drew's eyes welled with tears, but he did not cry. He looked away, a bitter expression on his face. "I have...a temper. You are right."

Suddenly getting his meaning, Reg gave his shoulder a little shake. "That is NOT what I meant, Drew, and you know it. There is not a violent bone in your body. You are NOT like your father."

"I wonder." His voice was soft. "I could be, you know. I have wanted to be violent before. When I was fighting with Horatio last year, I threw an ink bottle at the door after he'd left once."

"At the door. Not at him." Reg pointed out. "We ALL get angry, Drew. We all want to take our anger out on something. That's human. And I bet you could have throttled Coleman over what happened. God knows when you explained it to me, I wouldn't have minded throwing him around a bit myself."

"Stop it! Stop trying to make me feel better!" Drew snapped, rising quickly. "I can't bear it, Reg, being like him. But that is where I am heading...I can see the signs plain enough."

"Oh, hell!" Reg rose and stood before Drew. "Hit me!"

"What?" He gasped.

"You heard what I said. Hit me!"

Drew began backing down the hill, looking at Reg like he were daft. "I can't hit you. Are you out of your mind?"

"You know you were damned angry over me for trying to off myself. So hit me! You must have wanted to. I saw how you looked on the Indy, outraged because I wouldn't get off that ship...hit me!" The began backing down the hill together.

"I WONT!" Drew yelled, trying to turn away, but Reg grabbed him hard. "You're CRAZY!"

"I said HIT ME, DREW!" Reg spun Drew around wildly. Drew pushed him forcefully away.

"Get off me, Reg. I will not do it."

"Hit me!" Again, Reg grasped him.

They had struggled to the bottom of the hill, now, by the exceedingly muddy bog next to the creek that ran through the Cousins' farm land. Drew forcefully pushed Reg away; a little too forcefully, and Reg slipped downward. Without a word, Reg grasped a handful of mud and slung it forward. "Hit me, Damn you!"

Drew gasped as the mud hit the side of his face. "Go to HELL!" He picked up a handful of muck himself; sensing the attack, Reg lunged forward at him, catching him by the legs. Drew fell into the bog beside him. But he flung the mud anyway, grinding it into Reg's hair.

"I will NOT hit you, do you understand?" Drew tried to rise, but Reg dragged him back downward.

"Bloody hell, why won't you?" Answer me that!"

Drew pushed Reg over, and they tussled into the dirt, each trying to rise, each preventing the other from doing so. "Because you're my friend, you great idiot; I cannot hurt you!"

"You would have hurt Ellie's father today?"

"To protect you, you fool. I was trying to defend YOU." Another fistful of mud flew.

"Would you protect Horatio? Or Archie? Or the Captain? Alicia?"

"What kind of stupid...arrrrghhhh!" Drew snarled as Reg grasped his ankle, forcing him into a deeper section of sludge. "Of course I would protect any one of them the same way."

"So!" And with superior strength and force of will, Reg pinned Drew on the bank. "Can you not admit the difference...between violence done to another without purpose, for the sheer sport of it, and the desire to protect someone you care about in ANY WAY POSSIBLE?"

There was a momentary silence. Reg's fiery brown eyes challenged Drew's angry blue ones. Drew was panting in anger, but he remained silent. Then, scowling angrily, he tried to push Reg away. "BLOODY HELL! Why do you always have to be RIGHT!"

With a smug grin, Reg released him, only to have Drew tackle him back into the mud.

"Hey, get off me! And you have some nerve telling me that *I* always have to be right." They shoved each other back, and Drew laughed, his black mood breaking suddenly.

"I don't have to be right, Reg. It just often happens that I am."

***
Nan looked up to see Benj coming in from the fields, alone.

"Are ye daft, boy? I sent ye out to get yer brother and his friend in for dinner."

Benj smiled. "Sorry, Ma. They won't be coming, I think. Last I saw them they were wrestling in the mud bog, flinging dirt back and forth at each other, calling each other unrepeatable names and laughing about it."

Samuel raised his eyebrows. "Did you not try and stop it, Benj?"

"They were having too much fun, Da, and besides, I didn't want to get into the muck myself. *I* was too hungry for my dinner."

"Ah." Samuel said nothing for a few moments, and then he and Benj exchanged glances and started laughing.

"Well! Well, I am glad you men find this so funny!" Nan fumed, flinging potatoes onto her plate with a vengeance.

"Ah, now, Nan, boys will be boys, you know. And given what's gone on, and all, I think it's good for them to let off a little steam. Keeps 'em sane."

Nan frowned hard and devoted her attention to the chicken. "I'll set them out cold plates...they're not coming into MY kitchen, covered in dirt. And I'm not doing their washing, either, they can do it themselves. Mud fights, indeed."

It is quite possible that the womenfolk were in general agreement with Nan's assessment. But Samuel and Benj, and Matthew and James with them, seemed to understand.

***
March 16

Sunday morning. Drew, looking totally angelic and utterly unlike the mud-covered creature he'd been last night, stood beside Reg in the Newton Abbot church. Reg's Mom had done a convincing job of blistering their ears when they'd finally made it back to the house last night (it was at that point that Drew realized he really was part of the family). However, her scolding might have been more effective if she weren't plying them with food and boiling water for them to bathe in at the time.

Reg was more sober with the dawn. Their little scrap had been a nice interlude, but the truth could not be escaped: Reg had a serious problem.

Ellie herself was just one pew over, stiff and angry; her father looking petulant beside her. They had fought, no doubt, over her future. The question remaining, was just how bad a father could Cedric Brown be? Would he be the sort to force his daughter into a loveless marriage for pecuniary advantage? Or could he be satisfied at denying Reg, and at least not place Ellie into a union she did not want?

Drew's mind kept drifting. The service was standard, and Williams seemed a decent enough clergyman; his voice was soothing, and almost musical. Of course, the real telling moment would be when his sermon began...Drew looked placidly up to the pulpit, and saw that Williams, a strange look of determination on his face, was ready to begin just that.

"I have given long thought on my sermon today. It is the season of spring, the season of Easter, a season of repentance among our brethren. It is a time for us to be thankful for what God has granted us, and for the sacrifices that our Lord made on our behalf."

"But I asked myself, of all the gifts that our Lord gave us, what is the one gift that we were given, to use here on Earth, that is greater than all others. And the answer came to me, swiftly and surely. The greatest gift of God is Love."

"God loves us. Yes, that is a gift. But God has also granted mankind the capacity for love. To love God in return, and to love our fellow man. This love comes in many forms. The love of friends for each other; the love a parent feels for a child, and a child for a parent. And, most beautiful of all, is the love that binds together a husband and a wife. This love is ordained by God, as a reflection of the love he gives us all."

"The love of a husband and wife cannot be underestimated as the backbone of a parish. A partnership between two, creating more from that simple number. The ability to pass on our beliefs and our love, so that the love God has is grown. A way of continuing our own legacy, certainly, but a way to continue God's legacy as well."

"So it is inexplicable to me why some, when presented with the love so obviously created and ordained by God, will deny it, try and tear it apart, damage it, even disdain it. Who are we, as mere mortals, to refuse such a gift? Because it will not fit into the image we have in our mind of what we expected love should be."

"I am a lucky man. In addition to the love I feel for God, God has given me the ability to love another. And God has also given me the blessing of her family, the welcome of her kin, the sanctioning of that love not only from above but from here on earth. Our future marriage has been truly blessed, and I can only believe that God will be pleased."

"But what of those who deny the purpose and reason of marriage? What of those who see marriage not as a union between those whom God has ordained be bound by the holy ties of Love, but who see it instead as a BUSINESS? Those whom see this great Gift of God as something to be bought and sold? Can any blessing fall on those who would follow so false a path? Can there be any hand other than SATAN who would so bastardize such a beautiful thing."

"If I were to tell you that a man, any man, SOLD his daughter, SOLD his daughter to be USED, used in improper ways...SOLD HIS DAUGHTER, bound her, GAVE HER OVER, to one who did not love her, and she did not love, IGNORED THE GIFTS OF GOD, for the handful of silver he might gain...If I were to tell you that a woman was forced to give herself to a man she could not care for, instead of the man God had obviously intended her for, THEN WHAT WOULD YOU CALL THAT? WHAT NAME, MY GOOD PEOPLE, DO WE HAVE FOR A MAN WHO SELLS A WOMAN AS A WIFE? WHAT NAME, INDEED? PROSTITUTION! THAT IS WHAT THE NAME FOR IT IS!"

"AND I WILL NOT CONDONE IT. I CANNOT STOP IT, FOR THE SALE AND ABUSE OF WOMEN HAS EXISTED BEFORE ME, AND IT WILL EXIST AFTERWARDS. BUT I KNOW AND YOU KNOW, AND EVERY MAN, WOMAN AND CHILD IN THIS PERISH KNOW, AND WILL KNOW IT WHEN IT HAPPENS. PROSTITUTION!"

There was a hush over the perish, as Williams calmed. But he still held them all, held them in his grasp. The parish was his for the taking, and he knew it.

"I want you to ask yourself. Each and every one of you. Do you deny the love of God? Do you deny it exists? Because if you do, then may the Lord have Mercy on your soul. But if others suffer for your conceit, for your arrogant belief that you are more knowledgeable than God as to how this great gift ought to be bestowed, then I must say I doubt you shall ever receive such Mercy. How can you, when it is a quality you are so utterly unacquainted with yourself."

He mopped his brow, and looked around the parish. Drew watched him search out Cedric Brown, and pin him with his eyes, damning him with a glance. "Repent, those of you who deny love. Repent, while the gifts of God are still before you. Repent, I say, before the damage cannot be repaired. Repent. For the love of God. Repent."

And after a silent second, the service continued on.

And Cedric Brown, shame faced, was the most surreptitiously looked at man in the entire church.

March 18--Plymouth

Archie Kennedy rolled over in the bed, stroking the back of his now sleeping wife. She sighed deeply, and murmured, but did not stir. He ran his fingers through her golden hair and smiled.

He was deeply, profoundly grateful to Captain Pellew for allowing him time in port today, even if he was required to be back on the ship by ten o'clock. But he'd had an afternoon with his wife and father. And he had now an evening with his wife; bless the old man for deciding he was to take dinner with a friend elsewhere. Archie knew darn well it was a ruse, but didn't care. He was able to order dinner upstairs for his wife, but in all honesty they had not eaten it.

She was lovely, just lovely, and all the more radiant for her condition. There had been some illness early on, she said, but it had already passed. She was eagerly awaiting the day when she could feel the babe moving within her. Her excitement had been very real, and her eyes had brightened as she brought up possible names.

Archie was just plain happy. Happy to see her as happy as she was. Happy to see the sparkle in her eyes, as she outlined her dearest hopes for their growing family. Happy to remember it was only a year ago when he first met her, in what had been the most difficult of circumstances. Now, they were together; they were happy, they were healed. It certainly seemed as though all the pain and suffering they both had gone through was behind them.

He leaned in and kissed her shoulder, and finally she opened her eyes.

"Oh!" She blinked up at him, a lazy smile on her face. "You really are here. I thought for a moment I was having an exceptionally fine dream."

"Alas, no dream my lady. For if it were, I should be able to rest here with you for infinity, and instead it is time for me to prepare to return to my ship." Archie rested on his elbow, looking down at her.

"Do you have orders to sail yet?" A little frown crossed her lips, but it went quickly; Alicia had understood the nature of the beast when she fell in love with an officer in His Majesties Navy.

"Not yet; perhaps on Monday, although the Captain is not certain it shall be that soon. There are still details to be resolved from our recent adventures, questions on how the imposter Macrae was able to do what he did. And quite possibly a question of implication within admiralty itself. I do not understand fully what is going on, but too often the Captain is perplexed and worried on his return."

"With a wedding coming up, I should think he would be happy." She sighed, and rose slowly, stretching and clasping the sheets to her body. "But I guess duty will always intrude. I suppose I must get used to it."

"I promise, my love, that however worried about my duties I may become, you will always be first and foremost in my heart." He kissed her on the nose playfully.

She embraced him, eyes filled with tears of happiness. "Oh, how I love you, Archie."

"Not as much as I love you." He reluctantly rose from the bed and began dressing; Alicia watched him with a complete lack of delicacy that he found intoxicating. "You are making me blush."

"Hmmmm." She sighed. "Do give the Captain my best, Archie, should I not see him before his ceremony."

"I shall try, Alicia, but you know how he is. He might hand me my head should I try and congratulate him when he is in the wrong mood." Archie pulled his shirt over his head. "Your brother should be back on Saturday after the Captain's marriage, however. Perhaps we shall be able to get the two of you together for a bit."

"I would like that. I must hear more from him directly about this Violet who has stolen his heart."

"He'll be reluctant."

She rose herself, wrapping a dressing gown around her, and put her arms around her husband. "Someday I will learn why love makes men such cowards, the same men who will charge across burning bridges, raid pirate ships, climb riggings in the dark of night and inspire men across all obstacles."

Archie grinned. "Alicia, should you ever have an understanding on that, I would love to have you explain it to me."

Friday, March 21...Newton's Abbot

The Carriage I rode in with the Captain and Kitty was curiously silent. I had a rather awkward feeling that I was impeding their conversation, but then, it wasn't as though it would have been prudent for us to travel separately. Kitty herself fiddled nervously with her arms, and looked lost; for good reason. Beatrice had been left behind, in the care of Sal Oldroyd. After all, it would create unnecessary comment to have a child present at the wedding of her parents.

But it was the first time Kitty had been separated from her daughter, and I could see it wore on her. Even if it would only be twenty four hours.

"What of this clergyman, Williams, Hornblower?" The captain shot out staccato. "What sort of a man is he?"

"Good enough, Sir. Agreeable. Willing to not ask too many questions. Young."

"Hmph." Was all he said at first. Then: "I don't need to be lectured by some boy clergyman, Hornblower."

"He didn't seem that sort, Sir. He was almost meek."

Kitty smiled wanly. "Beware the meek sort, Horatio. They're often the most powerful performers when an audience is to hand."

"Please, I must ask that you trust my instincts on this." I looked from one to the other. "Mr. Williams was most understanding, and indeed, seemed eager to bless your union. He might even be a bit of...well, a bit of a romantic, it seemed to me."

Kitty raised an eyebrow archly. "A *romantic* clergyman, Horatio? Never before have I heard of such a thing."

"You are getting fanciful as you age, Hornblower." The Captain said, but his eyes twinkled at me. "Perhaps the unfortunate influence of Gibraltar on you."

Kitty's head turned, her penetrating eyes on my face, and I could feel my cheeks growing red. She reached over and patted me on the arm, but thankfully asked me no awkward questions.

Yet, I should like her to meet Angelina. Her opinion would be important to me. Although I have a feeling that any conversation between them could only make me uncomfortable!

So the silence returned to the carriage, as we sped away towards a happy ending.

***
The inn was neat, if rather crowded. The proprietress showed the Captain and I to a room; Kitty would be berthed elsewhere, naturally.

A shy little maid fluttered up to us, blushing furiously as she provided hot water. She was not more than twelve, and had rather faded hair but a cheery face. And it didn't take a genius to see she was smitten with us both right from our entrance. The Captain, with a soft spot, handed her a few shillings, and she brightened up. "Thank you, Sir. Lot of Navy men hereabouts...is there anything going on, Sirs?"

We exchanged looks. "A lot of Navy men, you say?" I asked, weakly. We wanted to avoid official attention, not attract more.

"Oh, yes, Sir, two more! Staying at this inn tonight, they are." The few bob had loosened her tongue, and she had become braver. "An the family of one of em, too. Local folk, they are. Samuel Cousins an' his family." She blushed even harder. "He's getting married too, Sir. Him tonight."

"I beg your pardon, Miss." The Captain covered his confusion with his most courtly manor. "But I did not understand you. Samuel Cousins is getting married this evening?"

"Ah, no Sir! His son, Reg. The eldest boy. The one in the Navy." She sighed dreamily. "Looks right fine in his uniform, he does. Ellie Brown is a lucky woman, she is, for all her father cut up rough about it."

Now THIS is highly amusing. "I thought it was unusual to have so quick a wedding?"

"Oh, it is, Sir, but the parson is rather sweet on Reg's sister, and he took care of things for them. Like with you, Sir, I reckon." She blinked slyly, and then with a quick curtsey was off. The Captain called her back, another shilling in his hand.

"Lass, one more question. Could you oblige me by telling me when the wedding is?"

She gladly accepted the coin. "A half hour from now, Sir." And she was off in a flash.

The Captain grinned at me. "Come, Horatio, We must hurry. It seems we have a wedding to attend."

I imagine Reg is rather nervous as it is at this moment. I wondered if the sudden appearance of his Captain and First Lieutenant would help him. I rather doubt it!

***
Reg stood next to his friend Drew, his mouth turned to dust. He was not certain exactly how he'd gotten to this point...Lord knows, at the beginning of the week he'd not planned on being married by the end of it. He'd thought that would have to wait for another leave, another time in England. But no. Williams had managed it, managed everything and in such a nice way you almost weren't aware he was doing it.

Handling Ellie's father first. That, of course, had been obvious. To the entire Parish! Cedric had been so thoroughly shamed that he had almost begged Reg's forgiveness. The only person really angry about the whole ordeal, as it turned out, was that old bastard Dwyer, whom had been trying to convince Cedric to let Ellie marry HIM.

Then, there was the issue of paperwork; Williams had expedited everything, making necessary arrangements, suggesting that he could do a Friday evening, so that he and Ellie could have one night together before he needed to depart. Drew had managed to get him an ample amount of time alone with Ellie...there had been issues of his pay, of where Ellie would live (with his parents, it was decided, for the time being). But it was all handled, with almost no effort from him, and all that was required was that he show up at the church and simply love her.

"All set, Reg?" Drew nudged him gently.

"Yeah." He whispered. "I am a wreck."

"Why?" Drew looked at him steadily. "Everything has been prepared."

"I know." He blushed. "But what shall I say to everyone once we get back to the ship? The Captain sent me home to recover, not to have a honeymoon."

"I'm not certain that one night counts as a real honeymoon." Drew countered, and Reg felt himself flushing deeply again even as his friend went on. "Besides, why should you need to say anything?"

"What?" Reg didn't understand.

"Lieutenant Bracegirdle didn't, after all. He just went and quietly got married, and it was months before anyone knew it, even the Captain. Ellie already writes you an abundance of letters, so THAT will not be different. Why even bring it up?"

Reg chewed on that for a few moments. And then his face brightened up. "Thanks, Drew. You're right. Nobody needs to know of this until I choose to tell them. Not that I think there will be any objection, but...I am shy of it, I guess."

"I understand." Drew was honestly sympathetic. "The ward room would be merciless once our mates found out. There will be no sport in it for them, though, if we keep it secret a few months."

And now feeling total happiness, and allowed to bask in the moment, Reg waited happily for the next chapter of his life to begin.

***

Drew saw them first.

Ellie came down the aisle, in a spring green frock that set off her hair very prettily. Reg, he could tell, saw nothing but her. As it should be. In fact, he was amused to note that Reg trembled slightly at the vision, and Drew smiled openly on his behalf. He felt Reg turning as Ellie arrived at the altar, and it was only luck on his part that he caught the flicker of movement at the church door.

He glanced back, curious, still somewhat fearful that the man Dwyer should show up and object. Instead, he saw very familiar figures; one tall and lean, the other imposing and forceful. Both attired in Navy dress uniform. Both staring impassively down to the altar, with impenetrable gazes.

"Oh, my!" He thought, the color draining from his face, down his spine and out his toes. Slowly, he turned back around, looking at Reg as he did so. But Reg had, thankfully, seen nothing-he was blissfully unaware that Captain Pellew and Horatio had managed to show up for the wedding. He'd always suspected the Captain was clairvoyant, but now he was certain of it! Drew didn't plan to bring this to his friend's attention, though; Reg would learn of the invasion soon enough.

The ceremony went forward. Drew heard Ellie's vows, loud and clear. Reg was more subdued, his voice trembling to match his body, but there was no hesitation there. Yet no matter what happened, Drew could not forget their visitors. He could feel the Captain's eyes on his neck, drilling in to him, demanding answers to a question not yet asked.

Reg did glance down at him as Drew mopped the sudden sweat off of his brow. He was momentarily distracted, and nudged Drew. The Ring! Of course! Drew handed it over, fumbling only slightly. Reg looked concerned, but then quickly turned back as Williams coughed, and he continued on with the ceremony. Drew took a surreptitious look behind him again, as the couple were pronounced man and wife.

He was just in time to see the Captain nudge Horatio. They both rose, and disappeared through the doors.

Drew's mouth was dry, his expression anxious, as he walked behind Reg, supporting Reg's sister Becca on his arm. He could not believe the Captain and Horatio meant to let this situation pass, whether they found it pleasing or not. He HOPED they would find it pleasing; after all, Reg's mood this week had improved markedly after Ellie was allowed to accept his proposal formally. And wasn't that the whole point of this trip...to see Reg heal?

Becca squeezed his arm and whispered to him, "Mr. Brandon, you look as though you've seen a ghost. I had thought everything went well. What is wrong?"

"I have seen two men, Miss Cousins, and they are neither of them Ghosts..." He swallowed his words, suddenly. As they'd exited the church, he saw what had become of the Captain and Horatio. They stood at the foot of the stairs, swords drawn and extended in an arc, for Reg and his bride to walk under.

Reg stopped abruptly; Ellie looked pleased beyond belief. Drew heard her whisper to him, "Why didn't you tell me?"

Reg turned and looked at Drew over his shoulder, a pained expression on his face. With a shrugged Drew leaned forward. "If you have to walk the gauntlet, might as well get it over with, friend."

And with a grim smile, he did just that, standing forward and taking Ellie on his arm, he passed under the "arch." Drew followed, the rest of the family behind them, and he was pleased to see that neither the Captain or Horatio had a comment, or even a snicker. Only as the last man passed did they withdraw their swords, and then turn and salute Reg. He meekly saluted back.

"Well, Mr. Cousins." The Captain drawled out slowly. "I trust your leave has gone well?"

Drew saw Horatio struggle to not laugh.

"Er...quite, Sir." He strained his neck in his collar, then reacted as Ellie squeezed his arm. "Ahem, may I present my...my wife?" He looked at her, and then his confidence seemed to return; at least his smile became more natural. "Ellie, this is Captain Pellew, and Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower, both of the Indefatigable.

The Captain bowed low, and took Ellie's hand. "Mrs. Cousins, it was an honor to be present today, ma'am."

"On the contrary, I am honored that you were here." She blushed as the Captain and then Mr. Hornblower kissed her hand.

Ellie's father chose that moment to appear. He'd sat back farther in the church, away from Reg's family. Drew knew that though he'd been shamed into giving his permission, he was still not entirely thrilled at Ellie's choice.

"Mr. Brown." Reg said, with not an undue amount of pride in his voice. "May I introduce you to my Captain, Captain Sir Edward Pellew? Sir...this is my wife's father."

The Captain's eyebrow's raised. Drew saw him scan Cedric Brown in an instant, sweeping those dark eyes over him. He blinked once, and then said, "My congratulations to you, Sir. Your daughter has carried off one of the brightest lights in the Navy. I have no doubt she shall be up to the task of hostess when Mr. Cousins becomes Admiral Cousins."

If Reg had ever blushed harder, Drew was certain HE'D never seen it. For the Captain to say such a thing, when he gave praise only sparingly, especially when in the presence of the man he was praising, that was a very great honor indeed. Drew had a feeling that at that moment, if you asked Reg to, he could fly. But Drew was shrewd, and had a feeling that the Captain had sized up Brown in that glance, and judged the situation correctly.

"Captain Pellew, I would be only too delighted to see that happen." Brown blinked in confusion.

"Well, then, stick around. I assure you it shall." The Captain stuck his chin out proudly, and gave Reg a sidelong glance of encouragement.

"Captain Pellew, it is a welcome surprise to have you here." Samuel Cousins came forward and spoke warmly. "Will you do us the further honor of joining us for dinner at the tavern?"

"I would be pleased to, Sir, but I must beg the inclusion of a lady, one Kitty Cobham." He coughed delicately. "She and I are to be married tomorrow, as a matter of fact."

Drew looked at Reg, each of them holding in their surprised expressions. But before either could speak, Williams came forward. "Yes, I am to perform the ceremony." He shot the two younger officers a warning look. "Mr. Hornblower made all arrangements. But I had no idea there was a connection between our Naval parties. Quite the coincidence."

"For all of us, Mr. Williams." Horatio added. And he also gave Reg and Drew a look of warning, and they shrugged. Whatever the situation was, it was clear that their silent orders were to be quiet about it.

Then Drew saw Ellie reach up and quickly kiss Reg on the cheek. Reg smiled joyously, and quickly forgot everything else.

***

I walked behind the Captain, a few feet away, smiling at his back. He had grabbed the ear of this man Brown, and was now praising Mr. Cousins so strongly that I feared Reg would die of embarrassment. Except, of course, that Reg was otherwise occupied.

Drew approached suddenly, looking pretty sheepish himself.

"Alright, Horatio, I give. How did you know this was occurring?" He asked quietly.

"We did not."

"I beg your pardon?"

"We didn't. The Captain..." I whispered. "...needed a quiet place not overrun with Navy personnel in order to marry Miss Cobham."

"But aren't they..." Drew looked around, and I glared at him.

"Explanations must wait for shipboard, Drew." I was stern. "As I said, the Captain needed a quiet place, and from all Reg ever said about Newton's Abbot, this place sounded ideal." I let myself grin again. "I can tell you, it was the greatest surprise to the both of us when the maid at the Inn told us Reg was to be married. I had not the faintest idea that was in the cards."

"Nor he, really." Drew obeyed the order and put aside his curiosity about the captain. "It was a pleasant surprise to him that it was able to happen this quickly."

"So, it was a good week?" I asked, looking him over. I could not help but notice a new-found calm about him; his expression was peaceful indeed.

"It was, Horatio." We were far enough from the rest of the party for him to use my Christian name. "I believe it did Reg a world of good to be with his family. I think he's put the experience of Serenity behind him."

Of course, Reg was not the only person who had been in dire need of time away, but I opted not to pursue it. I didn't need to, not really. It was obvious that being with Reg's family had been as good for Drew as for Reg himself. I turned the subject. "Pick up any new medical knowledge while you were here?"

He admitted he had. "Spent a good time with Reg's mother at one point, as a matter of fact, talking and taking notes about various local folk remedies. Some sound a lot of nonsense, but since nothing sounds harmful, they might be worth trying." He looked over to me. "Any letters from Gibraltar?"

I could have kicked myself. "Yes, I've had one from Angelina, and I believe one awaits you from Violet. I should have thought to bring it."

"Do not berate yourself, Horatio. It sounds as though you've been rather preoccupied. It will be something to look forward to, at least. Angelina is well, then?"

"Yes, quite well." And I smiled to myself, remembering her warm words, the emotion in her letter that was quite surprising, and quite thrilling. And then something else occurred to me as well. "Your sister has arrived in port to visit Archie."

"Has she? I hope she will still be there on our return; I would love to see her."

I coughed, and lowered my voice. "There has been some news from her, Drew. It seems she is...um...*expecting*."

Now, a year ago, even, I would have expected him to say to me with all honesty, "Expecting what?" Not so any longer.

"Excellent!" He grinned broadly. "Archie must be over the moon."

It would seem our boy doctor is growing up.

"He is." I admitted.

Drew didn't say anything else, just smiled and looked forward, as we headed towards a good dinner in good company.

***
I was indulging in pint of beer after dinner when Reg Cousins father came beside me, leaning against the bar. The little celebration was going well, although the longer the night wore on, the more anxious Reg (and Ellie) seemed to be getting, for good reason, I guess. Reg's father smiled indulgently at his son; it was really quite a sweet look. Then he addressed me.

"I have heard much about you from Reg's letters, Lieutenant Hornblower. I expected you to be at least eight feet tall and much fiercer!"

"Rubbish." I looked pointedly at my beer. "Reg exaggerates. Your son is every bit as good an officer as I am, he only wants for experience."

"It has been a good experience for him on that ship. I know that you have been very helpful to him, and I am grateful."

I studied him carefully. Reg's father is not that old, although, of course, the wear of farm life shows on his face. Growing up in the country as I did, I am well aware of how hard work in sunny fields can age you. But at a guess I would say he is about forty years of age. Younger than the Captain. Younger than me, possibly, when his first child was born. But I was pleased to see the obvious affection and pride he had for his son.

"It has been a pleasure to help him, and it has been an even greater pleasure to count him among my friends." I answered, and motioned to the barkeep to pour us both pints. "Though the Captain seems determined to impress Ellie's father with your son's skills, I can assure you he does not exaggerate. It is only strange to hear him express it; he generally likes to leave us all stew in self doubt."

Samuel Cousins smiled. "So I have noticed! Reg is almost in shock at some of the things Captain Pellew has said." He looked me over. "Are you married yourself, Lieutenant Hornblower?"

"No." I said, quickly. And then, "Not yet."

"Ah." He gave me an understanding look. "So there is someone, then."

"Yes, back in Gibraltar." I felt strangely unembarrassed about it. But then, how could I be, surrounded as I was by others who have found love?

"It's a great thing, marriage. An even greater thing, fatherhood." He looked over at Drew, who was laughing with Reg's brother Benj over some secret joke, perhaps stories of Reg's childhood being passed for ammunition. "A good lad, Mr. Brandon. Despite everything. A very good lad indeed."

"Mr. Cousins, I know I speak for the Captain as well, when I say we are thankful for the kindness you've shown him. I can see myself the difference in his face, how much more sure of himself he is."

"Ah, it was not hard to be good to him. He's done quite a bit for Reg, and he's got a lot of heart. But anything I've done isn't really any more than finishing what Captain Pellew started."

"Yes, the Captain is very fond of him." I looked with pride at Captain Pellew, now talking to Kitty. "But you've got a freedom to be more open with him than the Captain could ever have, so long as Drew is in his service."

"I suppose." Drew and Benj were still in close conference. "I would be proud to consider him another son."

"Yes, and the Captain would be equally proud to call him his son. It is ironic indeed that the one man who can legitimately do so, is too stupid to do it."

"Well!" A deep voice interrupted our thoughts. The Captain had finally given up on Brown. "Frustrating man, that one is. But I believe I've set him straight as to your son's advantages, Mr. Cousins."

"I thank you, Sir." Samuel made room at the bar for Captain Pellew. "I hope it does not go to Reg's head."

"Not a chance of it. He's been too preoccupied with other thoughts for at least the past half hour to hear a word I said."

Samuel could not hold back his grin. "Suppose we ought to break the party up and let the happy couple retire, eh?"

I looked over to Reg. Poor lad, to have only one night to spend with his bride. And here we are, keeping him from starting it! I looked over to Drew pointedly. "I think it is time to end the evening, eh, Mr. Brandon."

Catching my meaning, he opened his eyes wide. "I suppose it is time for me to retire." He looked over at Samuel in all innocence. "But to where, Sir? Last night, I shared a room with Reg. I do not believe that would be welcome."

The Captain's humor was at its driest. "Very observant, Mr. Brandon. You can take my bunk. I believe I myself can find other sleeping quarters."

And he looked at us all as if daring us to challenge him on this. We may be men, we may be in love, and we may be crazy.

But we are none of us fools.

***
Drew was still groggy with sleep on his return to the Inn. Horatio had woken him early this morning so he cold stand witness at the 7am (!) nuptials of the Captain and his wife. Showing admirable compassion, Horatio had allowed Reg to sleep in, but had decided Drew really ought to be there. And he'd been glad to go, only he hadn't gotten to sleep until almost one last night.

The Captain was going above with his wife to get a few more hours rest (so he said) before the coach was to leave for Plymouth, roughly at noon. Horatio had settled in for coffee, but Drew wanted to go through his things and make certain that he had packed everything. And a brief nap was not a bad idea.

The room was empty; this had been the one he'd shared with Horatio last night. He sat on the tidy bunk and began to rummage through his belongings, when there was a little knock at the door.

"Enter."

Samuel Cousins came in.

Drew smiled warmly. "Good morning, Mr. Cousins. I am surprised to see you awake so early."

"I'm used to it, lad." He came forward and sat beside the young man. "Getting your things ready, I see."

"Trying to. I'm not the neatest person in the world, except in the surgery."

Almost shyly, Samuel handed Drew a brown-paper wrapped parcel. The boy took it, and looked at him in curiosity. "Go on, open it, lad."

Drew pulled the paper away to discover a quilt...the one he'd been using in the room at the Cousins' house. Every stitch perfect, in a pattern of rings, and shades of blues and greens. "You didn't have to do this." He said, grateful. Standard issue blankets were really not the warmest items on ship, and an extra cover was always handy.

"I know we didn't. But Nan wanted you to have something to remember the visit by."

"Even without this, I can say I will never forget your kindness to me this week. But I thank you. It will be welcome." Drew put the quilt to the side, and began to pull items out of his duffel, so it could fit in.

One of the items he removed was the heavy book that was his most prized belonging, and Samuel picked it up. "A well worn book you have here, young man."

Drew smiled. "That belonged to Mr. Hornblower's father. He gave it to me to study from."

"And made good use of it, from all I hear." Samuel opened the book, and spotted a slip of paper pressed carefully between the pages. It was aged, yellowing around the sides, but had obviously been well preserved. He looked at it without touching it; it was a beautifully done drawing, delicately colored and proportioned, of a small house set in the mountains. It was a peaceful and warm drawing, one that made you wish you could climb inside it. "I didn't know you were an artist as well."

"Huh?" Drew looked up from re-stuffing his bag. "Oh! I'm not. My mother did that." He hesitated. "Before she got married. It's where she grew up, in Scotland." His mouth twitched slightly.

"I've never heard Reg mention your mother. Has she passed on?" Samuel asked gently.

"No, but...well, to be honest, she might as well have." He bit his lower lip. "That sounds terrible. But she's ill, addicted to Laudanum. I don't think she's looked at me and SEEN me since I was about nine years old." He shrugged and took the book from Samuel, closing it carefully. "My sister and I came across a tablet of hers with her drawings, and we each took one. My father destroyed the rest, so this is really all I have to remember her by...to remember who she used to be."

Samuel watched him, as he replaced the book into the bag. Drew seemed to be avoiding his gaze. "You have SOME good memories of her, then?" He asked hesitantly.

"Some." Drew looked away, towards the window. "She took me to the theater once, when I was eight. She tried to keep my father off of me as much as possible. She used to sing to Alicia and I when we were little. But my father wasn't much nicer to her than he was to us, and I guess it just got to be too much for her to cope with."

He finally looked at Samuel with a shrug and a wistful smile. "It sounds pretty bad. I guess it was pretty bad. But it was my life. It's all I knew. And it's in the past now."

Samuel stood slowly, and laid his hand on Drew's shoulder. "It has been a pleasure for you to visit us, Drew. And you are always welcome back. You're a part of the family now." And moving swiftly, he kissed the boy on top of the head, and hurried out.

Drew didn't move for a few moments. He was afraid to. Afraid that he would loose every bit of the hard-won equilibrium he'd developed over the past two years. And he was in shock. The doctor in him marveled at what had happened. There was something about Reg's father...the man was capable of probing Drew's deepest wounds, excising the poison from his veins, forcing him to remember things he'd always thought he'd rather forget. And somehow, it didn't hurt. Instead, he felt better.

He clutched the quilt to his chest, and inhaled its scent, the scent of the Cousins' home. Of cinnamon and apples, and a warm fire at night, of pipe smoke and fresh-turned earth in a furrow. The scent of the sort of happy home and comfortable childhood he'd never had. And he was not filled with envy, but with gratitude.

He smiled, and then laid back on the bunk. This trip, he knew, would stay with him forever.

***

April 2, 1799...

"Dearest Angelina...

"We are speeding back to Gibraltar, under orders to stop in Oporto and Madeira along the way. I hope to have this letter finished to you by the time Oporto comes. There is much to acquaint you with since the many letters I posted from Plymouth. Sadly, not all of it is happy.

"When last I left you, I was headed for Newton's Abbot, to see the Captain married. Upon our arrival there, my dear, we discovered to our delight that Mr. Cousins' was to be married as well. The Captain and I indulged in some good natured torment of the poor boy, but anyone could see how happy he was. His young wife seems a lovely woman, and well suited to his temperament.

"Drew, meanwhile, was welcomed into the Cousins household as an additional child, and is all the better for it. In fact, as we went to make leave to the coaches, there was little distinction between the farewell Reg's parents gave their son, and the one they gave Drew. They are good people, and the entire carriage ride back I could see Drew's contentment. Almost as much as I could see Reg's contentment, though his was for different reasons (and I blush, here, my love).

The difficulty began as soon as we reached Plymouth. Sal Oldroyd, the sister of one of the men I lost earlier this year, was awaiting us. She is a lady's helper to the Captain's wife, and naturally we took in her worried face and feared that there was some difficulty with Beatrice..."

I put down the pen, and put my head in my hands. Nearly two weeks it had been since the problems we encountered in Plymouth, and only now can I even attempt to write them down. And still it pains me.

I remember the carriage ride so well. The Captain being rather subdued, Kitty beside him, showing as much affection as she dared. Drew, on the same bench with the two of them, lost in a reverie of his own. And me, seated next to Reg. So it fell to me to tease him, asking how well he slept last night and whether he felt himself to be a new man this morning. He blushed appropriately, but the truth was my heart was not in the torture and he knew it. Who am I, after all, to torment him?

Perhaps he had a great stroke of luck in the fact that the Captain himself was newly married, in a manner of speaking. As we were the only passengers on the coach, we had the chance to explain, finally, the uniqueness of the situation to Reg and Drew. Drew remonstrated heartily on the Divorce Laws of England, that would not have permitted Kitty freedom from an insane spouse previously. Of course, it is not surprising that he should feel that way. In another world, perhaps his mother would have been able to get a divorce and support her children in an abuse-free environment.

The time flew, all in all, and we were in Plymouth before we knew it. But one look at the worried face of Sal Oldroyd, and the Captain about flew out of the carriage, and anguished Kitty behind him. But it turns out Beatrice was fine, and temporarily in the care of the Inn's proprietress, so Sal was free to fetch us at once. No, the injured party was not young Beatrice. It was the wife of another shipmate. It was Mrs. Kennedy. With a sigh, I picked up my pen once more.

"Angelina, Sal knew we were on the way, and was beyond anguish. Mrs. Kennedy, she said, had started hemorrhaging about half an hour ago, and the only Doctor she could find was little more than a drunk (some surprise there). She had hoped that, should Drew be with us and the coach be on time...

"Needless to say, he needed no words further for him to drop his bag at my feet and charge up the stairs to his sister's room...."

I paused again. The pain was too fresh in my mind. I dimly remember Reg grasping Drew's bag, and after making certain the Captain and Kitty were fine (they went after Beatrice, not at all willing to assume she was fine, despite Sal's insistence) I followed Drew.

I found him in a room at the top of the stairs, where Alicia was weeping, blood staining the sheets. And with professional aplomb I admire him for, he was able to forget she was his sister and examine her. Archie's father, pale and anguished, remained in the room next door. I have never seen a man so distraught before, and among his remonstrations was the insistence that he should never have brought her here, she obviously had not been well enough to travel.

Now, I had seen Archie's wife before we departed for Newton's Abbot. Never has a woman with child looked more radiantly healthy than she did. So I do not believe that he had any reason to be so hard on himself. But there it is. In any tragedy, human nature says blame must be found, and more importantly, blame must be placed.

"Drew did all he could, Angelina. But he was too late, or, as Reg pointed out to me later in a private conversation, in all likelihood it was always futile. Reg, having grown up on a farm and breeding animals, knows full well that there are some pregnancies that never come to term, usually for natural reasons. 'The body rejects something that isn't quite right. So it is with animals, and probably with humans as well.' Of course, this was not something that could be said to Drew OR Archie at the time; eventually, I believe Reg did have some conversation with Drew on it, though.

"For Drew, it was painful to see, though he handled himself better than I would have in the circumstances. His sister was inconsolable. She had SO wanted this child, Angelina. I think for both herself and for Archie, the baby represented a complete break-away from the troubles of their past. And they would have been excellent parents. But it was not to be, not this time. And for some hours, Drew held his sister, consoling her as best he could, while trying not to lose his emotions himself.

"Angelina, forgive me. I am trying to believe in your God. Sometimes, I believe I AM learning to do just that, accepting him in my life. But it was very difficult at just this moment to understand why he couldn't have given Archie and Alicia just this one break, after everything else He put them through.

"But I digress. Eventually, we had to return to the Indy, and to the unenviable task of notifying Archie. Drew wanted to do it. I would not let him. This, if anything, was my job. As a doctor, even though one who was his own brother, Drew would not be immediately popular at this second.

"So I went to him. Poor, unsuspecting Archie, basking in the glow of his life, and eager to hear of all the joys of the Captain's wedding. How much additional pleasure would have been brought to him, to learn that Reg had been married as well. For certain sure he would have teased Reg in ways forbidden to him with the Captain. Archie, at his best, is like that, enjoying a joke, or a bit of good natured fun with someone.

"Instead, I had to dash his hopes and break his heart. Blinking in incomprehension, he at first paled and exclaimed after his wife. I assured him that physically Alicia had been quite well (as per Drew), and that though she was suffering, his father was doing his best to soothe her.

"Then the reality of it all set in, and for the first time since El Ferrol, I watched Archie Kennedy weep. I had not understood how badly he wanted this child, and I fault myself for that. I should have known how much of a step away from the torment he endured on Justinian he would have seen fatherhood being. And then he begged to be left alone for a while, and I did as he commanded, feeling anguished for him myself.

"What else can I say? These past weeks have seen Archie too much resembling the withdrawn man he had sometimes been when Jack Simpson was around. It was made all the worse because we were ordered away a scant two days after Alicia lost the baby. He did get to see her once (the Captain, with more feeling than most men could understand, made certain of that) and it did help him, to feel her still alive in his arms. But there will be no additional attempt at fatherhood, not for some time. Archie apparently tackled Johnson on it (not wishing to drag Drew through the gauntlet more than the poor boy already had been) and Johnson advised against another pregnancy so soon, anyway. Said her body will need to heal, and that makes sense enough to me. But God knows when we shall get back to England.

"Reg cares for Drew. And I am glad this happened after the trip to Newton's Abbot, and not before. Drew is more mature now that I have ever seen him, and though he is sorry about his sister, and though he worries over Archie, I think he in his heart understands that Reg's theory is the right one. In fact, as he examined her, he may have more knowledge of this than anyone else. But these are people he has a desperate wish for happiness for, and it pains him to know they grieve.

"All in all, it was a strange trip to England. Dangerous, frightening, taxing, enlightening, fulfilling (for Reg, Drew and the Captain, at least). And for me? I must say that this experience has made me understand, Angelina, just how much I love you. And how precious a gift love is. And I want you to understand, that however stupidly I might have wasted the days of our early acquaintance, I shall not do so again. Every minute I get to spend with you I shall make the most of, every second spent with you shall be precious.

"Because, Angelina, I love you. Yes, I do. I love you the way my father once loved my mother, when he would bring her flowers for no reason. I love you the way Captain Pellew loves Kitty, for being the person whom he can open his heart to, when he must close it to all others. I love you the way Archie does Alicia, with passion borne of common bonds. And I love you the way Reg does his Ellie, simply and completely, with mutual understanding and trust. And I shall always be grateful for this gift that we have.

"I am counting the days until we shall dock in Gibraltar. Until then, I remain faithfully and lovingly yours...

Horatio Hornblower."