We are, as you are well aware, under weigh again; just four days out of Gibraltar, bound for Madeira, Oporto and then Portsmouth, and I miss you. I carry the memory of your touch and your taste with me everywhere. Sometimes I am not certain if that memory keeps me sane, or is rendering me mad.
I am wearing one of your shirts today, one of the fine muslin ones you worked for me. It is soft and cool against my skin, and makes me feel I am closer to you. However, I feel I should mention, that the other officers are exceedingly jealous of your workmanship. The shirts wear far better than even any Captain Pellew has; they clean easily and seem to improve with each wearing. You would have a booming business, my love...if I would ever give your name to any of these men. Archie was suggesting he would call on you for shirts, and I found myself almost consumed with jealousy at the thought of your handiwork touching another man. I would not have believed I could be so petty.
One man, however, did wear one of your shirts. I permitted Reg to borrow one of the silk dress shirts for his doomed Lieutenant's exam. I am assuming you have heard the particulars from Miss Violet, who no doubt heard them from young Drew. Our ship is an adventure right now, and not a particularly pleasant one.
The tension is difficult to stomach, when I know how this ship normally is, and how it OUGHT to be. Captain Black Charlie Hammond is without question the worst commissioned officer I have ever encountered, Captain Foster included. The only thing that keeps him from being the worst human being I have ever met is a man whose name I will not mention in your presence, even on paper. But the company is not august, I can assure you.
Poor Reg. Hammond does try and lead him the devil's time, though we have taken every step to avoid difficulty. In an ultimate sacrifice, Captain Pellew has issued a standing invite for Hammond to dine with him (proving that misery loves company, he has extended the invite to me). I made certain that Mr. Cousins is on watch at that time, so Hammond is away for as long as we make dinner last.
Other times are not so easy, however. And over dinner, though Reg is not there, Hammond's repeated verbal abuse of him does not sit well with any of us. I am not certain how the Captain has let him live to this point. Drew was only with us for one dinner, but it was disaster. Hammond went on about "disrespectful cubs" and "self-important pretenders". I saw the grip Drew had on his knife, how white his knuckles were getting. Hammond had best pray he does not become ill in this voyage. I would not vouch for his reception in sick berth.
I must close now, my love, for I have a class to teach. This is one of the duties I had hoped to hand off to Mr. Cousins himself on his promotion. Now the young man is stuck in the class with me, and it is a waste. He is so far ahead of the other men in every way that it must be deadly dreary for him. Yet he is totally professional about it, and though I see an occasional clenching of his jaw in Hammond's presence, he's been flawless. Every move done perfectly, every command given with assurance, every deference paid to every superior officer on board. Though I have to fight the urge to laugh every time he calls Drew "Sir."
I hope to mail this from Madeira, love, and I will keep you up to date on our little Shakespearean tragedy as it unfolds. I am hoping it is more "As You Like It" than "King Lear."
With Love, Horatio.
"Very good, Mr. Anderson. Now, gentlemen, there is a navigational problem on the board. You have fifteen minutes to work it. Begin."
I flipped the glass and five heads bent to their work. Ward, Holloway, Anderson, Howard and Cousins. Slate pencils made soft noises as each took note of the position I'd given, and began to work out the complicated mathematics.
Reg was flying, of course. He'd was good at this, not a natural but well-schooled. Ward, on the other hand, WAS a natural, but he was still learning how to mathematically prove what he knew in his head to be true. Anderson had a good head for math; Holloway was diligent but sometimes struggled. Poor Howard I fear to be a lost cause, but he is young. He rather looks up to Reg, and is almost intimidated by him, so when Reg tries to offer assistance he freezes.
I stood proudly over them, hard workers all. Reg was already to the end of his slate, and sat back. At the other extreme, Howard looked like he was about to cry, and walking around behind the men I patted his shoulder in encouragement.
"A hard working assembly you have here, Mr. Hornblower." Hammond blustered over to us, self important and stuffy, and the atmosphere in the ward room changed, became wary. "Except, of course, for this pernicious rogue." He snarled down at Reg, who had frozen quite in place.
"They're good men, Captain Hammond; all of them." I kept my voice respectful but stern.
"Oh, no doubt YOU believe they are, Sir, for you have an amiable nature, I have noted, and are eager to believe the best in any man, no matter how undeserving." He stood above Reg, crowding out the air around him. "Your slate, Sir!"
"Captain Hammond, this is my class..." I started, getting defensive myself, but the man quelled me with a glance.
"As a superior officer, Sir, and a visitor to this fine ship, I am certain that you have no objection to my interest in your midshipmen."
I had every objection in the world, and no right whatsoever to voice it!
Reg very calmly handed over his slate. Hammond held it out at arm's length, no longer so good of vision as he used to be. I saw Reg's expression: resignation. If Hammond could find fault with him, he would, and we both knew it.
But there was a change over the room, at the same time. As if all of the midshipmen in the berth bonded together to protect one of their own. It was not visible, or obvious, but I felt it; in Ward's scorning glance at the back of Hammond's head; in Howard's shock at hearing the valued Cousins put down; in Holloway's disdain, and most especially in Anderson's calculating stare.
"Well, Mr. Midshipman Cousins." He smacked his lips over the word midshipman, blast him. "You appear somehow to have managed to arrive at the right answer. Tell me, have you no shame to try and cheat your way through lessons?"
Reg's eyes went wide; this was unexpected, even from Hammond. "I did not cheat, Sir." His face was pale to the lips, though; the accusation was serious indeed.
"A cheat and a liar." Hammond shook his head slowly. "How should you ever be trusted, Sir? How can we teach you trust?"
"Sir!" I interjected hastily. "I fail to see how Mr. Cousins can be accused of cheating when he is in fact the only man to yet finish the problem!"
"Tut, tut, Mr. Hornblower; you are above your station, to speak in such a manner to me, when I am attempting to discipline a man."
"My man, Sir." I pointed out, my voice even. "One of my midshipmen, on a ship where I am first Lieutenant."
"This may be your ship, Sir. But I still outrank you." He glanced down at Reg, too much joy in his face. "Report to the bosun, Mr. Cousins. I will follow."
Four pairs of eyes looked on me in shock. Only Mr. Cousins himself seemed resigned to his fate. "Aye, aye, Sir." He said, without so much as a flinch, and he rose. He met my eye, and gave me a little nod of understanding.
Well and good for him to understand. Lord knows, I do not. He walked ahead of Hammond, head held high, and out to the deck; as soon as I sensed they were both out of earshot I looked back at the other men.
"Mr. Holloway, I must repair above decks as well, as Mr. Cousins reports to me. Please go to the Captain and explain the circumstance. He may be able to do something to mitigate the punishment. Mr. Anderson, if you would humor me, please find Lieutenant Brandon."
"Yes, Sir. To tell him what is happening?" He asked, face serious, even as Holloway scurried away.
"Under no circumstances. I do not wish to lose him to the noose if he should kill Hammond. Keep him occupied until I can talk with him myself." I looked around at the room. "Mr. Ward, Mr. Howard, my best advice to you is to both keep out of Hammond's path. He has a particular gripe with Mr. Cousins, but I would not vouch that any of you are safe."
They both nodded to me, and with disgust in my stomach, I left to watch injustice done.
The silence in the ward room over dinner was an angry one. Though, perhaps, our dinner is not so bad as Captain Pellew's. He must dine with Hammond. The rest of us only must think about him.
Drew, in particular, is seething. Seething! He's glared at me (I do not blame him) and sits, getting angrier and angrier with each second, mutilating his chicken in a frightening manner.
Captain Pellew made it up to the deck, in fine form, by the sixth stroke of the cane. But as I suspected, he could not really countermand the direct order of another Captain-it would be very badly thought of at admiralty. However, he was able to alter Hammond's plans.
After the dozen, Hammond instructed Andrews to deliver another twelve, seeing as how Reg had not passed out. Not that I'd expected him to; painful and humiliating though this must be, to be treated like a mischievous boy, Reg was strong and stood the beating well. But Captain Pellew issued a very stern edict...on his ship, it was regulation that no man should be beaten more than a dozen times for any infraction, and he must beg Hammond's pardon, but he did not wish to have his ship's routine interrupted. Furthermore, he then went on to insist that Captain Hammond had to have express permission from him before issuing any punishment in the future.
So now Reg has the watch, which he must suffer through, and no doubt he will, stoically. Given the option, I knew he'd rather be beaten then sent to the riggings, so thank heavens Hammond is unaware of his past terrors.
"Wouldn't want to be at dinner with the Captain this night." Bowles remarked into his food. "Can't imagine his mood is any too good."
Forbes nodded. "Both Hammond and he must be having interesting conversation, to be sure. Never saw two men more different in their command styles."
Drew forcibly put down his fork and grasped his glass. No conversation was necessary to understand his feelings. He glared once at me, and I sighed.
"I did what I could. I sent for the Captain." I explained lamely.
Drew took a deep drink of water, and then bent a little. "I know you did. I still don't have to like it."
"Nor should you." Bowles said, looking at him pointedly. "But for as long as you're in the Navy, Mr. Brandon, you shall have to learn to guard your feelings more closely. If this were Captain Hammond's ship, you might end up in irons."
There was a clatter of footsteps as Archie entered. "Gentlemen." His face was no happier than any of the rest of ours. "Greetings from the Quarterdeck."
"Archie." I said, relieved to see him. "You are late from your watch."
"I took some time to assure that Mr. Cousins was fit for the duty." Archie admitted.
"Of course he was." Drew interjected. "Not that he'd ever admit otherwise."
"I know that. I was just...concerned. I have been in his place once or twice." Archie shrugged apologetically.
This time I slammed down my utensils, warding off the image of Justinian that came to my mind. And with great force, I pushed away from the table and took long strides out of the berth, wishing to be anywhere else but where I was.
Archie caught up to me above decks, by the rail. "Horatio?" He called out, panting. "What the devil, Horatio? Why did you run out on us so? All the officers are of one mind in this injustice. We do not blame you, not even Drew, though I think he tried."
"Archie!" I looked at him, and then turned back to the sea. "I cannot bear this, Archie. Not on this ship. No injustice on this ship, Archie."
He nodded at me. "Bad memories...for both of us, eh?" He leaned backward against the rail, watching me carefully. "I'm not certain Forbes or Drew can really understand that. Bowles knows what it is like to see it and be helpless. But it is a first for you and I to be on this end."
"Archie!" I sighed. "I cannot help but think on Lieutenant Eccleston in all of this. The anger I had at him, for everything that he seemed not to see. And now here I am, first Lieutenant, and I see the injustice well enough, and still I cannot help to solve it."
"Horatio, there is a difference here. Our assailant was a fellow midshipman. Reg's is a Captain. You know that if...my God, if Howard attacked Reg..."
I let loose a small laugh.
"...if Howard attacked Reg, you'd take swift and certain action. It ought not fall to a Lieutenant to protect the men from a Captain. Just thank God that Hammond is only temporary." He gave me that warm smile of his, and I was grateful for his understanding, for the understanding that we had for each other. A lifetime of understanding, that I doubt I will ever find again with any other ship-mate.
"You are right, Archie, and I know it. But the memories...standing by and watching him be beaten..." My voice trailed off.
"Were you ever beaten on Justinian? I do not recall." He asked, brow furrowed.
"Once, mercilessly, by Lieutenant Bolton. You remember him?"
"I do. Not very much older than either of us, but rather stuck on himself. He transferred to Aresthusa, did he not?"
"I think so. Anyway, I had been skylarking on deck...I do not know why you weren't there. It was early on, and I was with Cleveland, laughing and joking, and I suppose I got rather rowdy, but nothing that would occasion more than a lecture on this ship. Bolton decided I needed to be taught a lesson, though, and sent for the bosun."
"A dozen?" Archie asked, sympathetically.
"Two. I could not move without pain for days afterwards. But the worst was the humiliation...being bent over the bloody gun, held there forcibly, and each stroke counted out. The feeling that everyone was laughing at you...Dr. Hepplewhite assuring Bolton that the punishment was fit to continue after the first twelve...finally being permitted to return to the berth, where everyone WAS laughing at me, except good old Clayton..." I frowned. "Really, I cannot understand how you were not there."
"I was in sick berth." Archie's face paled. "I remember hearing it now, that Bolton had someone beaten, but I don't think anyone told me it was you. And I was strung up on laudanum at the time."
"Laudanum? Whatever for?" Archie hated Laudanum
"Simpson." He said, with a simple shrug.
Idiot that I am, I had forgotten that whatever I had suffered on Justinian was nothing to what Archie had gone through, and I looked at him with horror.
"I am sorry, Archie. My own complaints can't compare..." My voice drawled off.
"Horatio, I will tell you what Drew and I once discussed. Abuse is abuse, mistreatment is mistreatment, and no level of it is acceptable."
Perhaps of an accord, we both glanced back to Reg, holding the quarterdeck. Timidly, Mr. Howard, the recent assailant of Archie's fertile imagination, approached him. I leaned forward a bit, straining to hear their conversation.
"Good evening, Mr. Howard. Why are you not at dinner?"
"I was not...hungry, Sir." Howard squeaked. My own personal guess was that the other Mids had sent him above decks to check on Reg, the same way Archie had.
"You should be at your studies, then." Reg added kindly, as if he had not a care in the world. "Your math is coming along, but you must practice more. I would be willing to help you, you know, at any time."
I came forward, suddenly fearful. "Good evening men." Both Reg and Mr. Howard looked at me in some surprise. "Mr. Cousins is right, Mr. Howard. You'd best return below decks."
Howard nodded, overwhelmed by the sudden influx of officers, saluted and was off as quickly as his little legs would take him. I cleared my throat and crossed the quarterdeck. "Mr. Cousins, your glass, if you please?"
He turned to me, no doubt wondering what the devil was wrong with my own glass! "Of course, Sir." And as I expected, he crossed the deck (stiffly) over to me, and, thank heavens, away from the skylight. Archie began to understand, and he cast me a knowing look.
"Thank you, Mr. Cousins." I took it from him, and with whispered breath, murmured an explanation. "You were standing above the skylight, Sir."
"I was, Mr. Hornblower...Oh..." Recognition dawned; apparently the Captain had at some point let him in on the finer points of his Clairvoyance.
"Much can be heard through a skylight, when at the Captain's cabin. And even an innocent statement can be made sinister, in the mind of one who wishes it to be so." I handed him the glass, resuming a normal tone. "Thank you, Mr. Cousins."
"My pleasure, Sir." And quietly he murmured back, "And thank you."
"Not at all, Mr. Cousins. I feel badly enough about what happened this afternoon as it is."
"Not as badly as I do!" He quipped under his breath, and I caught the hint of a smile on his face. "Still, I am glad I have watch; keeps me busy, and my mind off of...other things."
Archie and I grinned; he would be fine, after all. So before I got the poor man in any more trouble I nudged Archie, and we made our return to the ward room.
Drew, still shaken by the turn of events that had rocked Indefatigable during the day, was spending his evening away from sight, working in sick berth. He was tired and cranky; in essence he was on watch-and-watch; one watch above decks, and another performing as Doctor. He could not give up his role as Lieutenant, and he would not stop his medical work. So to add the upset of Hammond to his current state of mind set him quite on edge.
He understood Mr. Bowles advice to him. He did not care for Hammond, and he might have shown it more than was prudent. He would retreat, then, into his stony reserve, the one he used to use on his father, for the duration of this too long trip.
His head hurt; the water was already on for tea. He turned to the grinding of powders, with mortar and pestle. Pounding the herbs slowly, grinding them into powder, and smaller, throwing all of his effort and all of his frustration into the job, his anger working itself out through his hands.
"Good heavens, Lieutenant Brandon. What did those herbs ever do to you?"
Drew looked up sharply; Reg had entered the berth and now stood, leaning against the bulkhead casually, a slight smile on his face. Drew dropped the pestle and stretched his sore hands, wiping them on the apron he wore.
"Do not call me Lieutenant Brandon in here. It is enough of a joke above decks." He rose to get cups. "Willow bark?"
"Yes, a good idea, I think." Reg made no move to sit down, and Drew didn't suggest it. "But if it is not Lieutenant Brandon, it must be Doctor Brandon; I do not wish to get caught in an informality."
Drew scowled, but understood Reg's position; though Hammond had been ordered to no longer issue punishment on Captain Pellew's ship without Pellew's permission, failure to address a superior officer with the proper respect would be a legitimate offense, and Captain Pellew would be hard-pressed to excuse it. "Very well; for the time being, I am Doctor Brandon and you are Mr. Cousins." He poured out the brew, stirring it, and passed a cup to his friend, before sitting a few feet away, perched on a stool.
"You doing alright?" He asked, as casually as he could.
Reg shrugged. "I will be. I am counting the days until we get back to England. But I think Mr. Hornblower felt it more than I did."
"He and I both, though thankfully I was not there."
Reg sipped appreciatively at the tea, and then sighed. "It's hell, you know? I know I am a better officer than this, and it frustrates me that Hammond will not see it. And to be accused of cheating...it was quite galling, I know I don't have to tell you." He shifted slightly against the wall.
Drew looked at him. "This is hell for both of us, I think. I am overworked, and you are under-utilized." He put his cup down. "How are things in the berth?"
"That's why I am here. Oh, the midshipman are most supportive, rallying to my defense, but it's almost embarrassing. They don't quite know how to treat me. And after this afternoon..." He shrugged. "That's why I am here with you. I knew you'd understand without fussing needlessly."
Drew grinned suddenly. "I know it can be frustrating to be fussed over. So, what next? Do you think Hammond will continue to persecute you?"
"I don't pretend to understand Captain Hammond's objectives." Reg drained the cup and leaned forward to place it on the table. "And I had best retire now that I've had some tea; I'm less achy and should sleep fine. The better prepared to face whatever happens tomorrow." He started to move away, but paused at the door. "Are you alright, Drew? Berthing with Mr. Kennedy?"
"Fortunately, Mr. Kennedy understands my idiosyncrasies almost as well as you do. But I do miss you, Mr. Cousins. Very much." Drew looked at his friend, going through such a trial now, and wished he could make things different.
"We will get through this, Doctor Brandon. And live to laugh about it in our old age."
Drew smiled, but after Reg left, he let himself give in to the fear, a little bit, that such a thing would never happen.
"How did it happen, Horatio?"
The Captain's voice was thick with pain and exhaustion, as he looked over at me. I took a deep sip of the claret he'd poured.
"I tried to stop it, Sir. He was looking for an excuse to order him punished."
Captain Pellew looked at me sadly. "And he made one up, did he? Because I am assuming that Mr. Cousins did NOT cheat on his problem?"
"Most certainly not, Sir!" I answered emphatically. "He was done quickly, yes, but that was because he knew the answer. He is good at what he does."
"Yes, and it should not cost him so dearly." He leaned backward. "I suggest you let Mr. Cousins know that it would be in his best interest if he slowed down over the problems, let somebody else finish first. I have given very strict orders to Hammond that he is not authorized to punish anybody without my express permission, and I repeated it before Andrews."
I took a mental picture of the expression on Hammond's face, and somehow did not grin. "I would imagine Captain Hammond was quite put out by your edict?"
"He is furious! If it weren't for the fact that he would consider it beneath him to eat elsewhere, I doubt he would grace me with his presence over dinner for the remainder of our voyage. Damn, but I would not have believed how stubborn a man could be."
I raised my eyebrow at him, and he pinned me down with his glare.
"I am not that sort of stubborn, Horatio, and you know it. I have my faults, but the ability to judge a man by his actions is what I pride myself most on."
"As you should, Sir." I soothed. "We are aware of how you prefer to command."
He grunted once, and resumed his stare into space. Once or twice he looked me over, as if making a decision. He leaned forward, started to speak, stopped, and then turned back to the window, frowning. I let him go; if there is something he wishes to tell me, he will; if he opts not to share his problem, no amount of prodding will push him to do so.
Finally, he met my eye, an almost soft look on his face. "I have valued your service with me, Mr. Hornblower. Though, I must admit, from our first meeting, you did not seem promising. I consider you one of the finest officers I have ever seen, and I hope that someday, when I am not your commanding officer, that I can count you as one of my friends."
I didn't answer him; how could I? I just stared at him, senseless with the honor he had just bestowed on me. And blast him, he smiled.
"Poor Horatio, it takes so little for me to shock you!" He sighed again, and ran his hands over his forehead. "Some days, I must confess, I feel it would be better if I just left the service behind!"
That, at least, I had an answer for. "Better for whom, Sir? For Napoleon? Because I know it is not better for the men, or the Navy, or England in general! And I dare say, it is not even better for you; three weeks on land and you'd go mad."
"Ah, so that is the reason I always am so upset by the Admiralty...it is because they are located on land, and not because they are fools."
We both laughed then, embarrassment past us. I wondered, exactly, what point he'd been trying to get across with that unusually sentimental statement. He always has a reason for saying something, but I am not quite certain that I understand what it is this time. I suppose it will be explained, when the time comes.
May 3rd, 1799--Madeira
My Dearest Angelina...
How wonderful and unexpected to arrive in Madeira and find a letter from you awaiting my arrival! The dispatch vessel must have been swift indeed. And I am touched to know that you wrote to me just one day after my departure from port.
I thank you, my love, for your repeated support for my decision not to accept Command from Admiral Hood. Though I think sometimes the Captain still questions my sanity, I become more and more convinced it was the correct choice. Especially as Mr. Cousins did not receive his commission.
As detailed in my last letter, that unfortunate young man is still suffering from a major case of Hammond-itis, as Drew has taken to calling it. I believe I cut off just prior to where the unfortunate Mr. Cousins was beaten for an imaginary infraction. He recovered quickly, however, and has been careful to be neither spectacular nor derelict in performance. Most surprising, though, is the unusual line of defense taken by our other young midshipmen on his behalf.
It started with Anderson. Just the day after having Cousins beaten, Hammond again showed up in my classroom. After making some rather crass comments as to how comfortable Mr. Cousins must find his seat, he seemed bent on prodding the boy to some sort of improper behavior. However, young Anderson piped up, with a simple question: "Weren't you at the battle off of Cape St. Vincent, Sir? Weren't you decorated there?" And he gave him such a look of fulsome devotion, that Hammond downright PREENED. Before we knew it, we were subjected to an hour long soliloquy on Hammond's exploits and achievements. It is somewhat annoying, but considerably less annoying than seeing Reg tormented.
And so it goes, my love. Whenever Hammond approaches Reg, another midshipman appears out of nowhere, full of faux devotion and hero-worship, and Hammond is quite put off course. If he were as easy to distract while captaining a ship as he is tormenting Reg, it is no wonder Calypso was destroyed.
Reg is bearing up bravely, although I think he does find it most taxing. He escapes to the sick berth whenever he can, to find refuge with Drew and in a cup of tea. Archie also spends a good deal of time cheering him and me up, and also the Captain to a certain extent. I have realized, for the first time, how much we all depend on him to regulate our mood. And someday I will understand how it is he can be so sunny, given where he has come from. And why I can be so morose, when I have had little to complain of in my life.
Forgive me, dearest, I am whining. I am really very happy, even if I cannot show it to the world at large. I have you, I have wonderful friends, a career I love and a mentor I respect. There is nothing wanting in my life.
Except...if I could have one wish, it would have been to have you with me this morning...standing with me on the quarterdeck watching the sun rise. A quiet moment, a calm moment, but a moment of surpassing beauty. Only a few old hands were on deck with me, as well as the rather timid Mr. Howard, and certainly nobody I could share such a sentimental thought with. And for a moment I closed my eyes, and pictured you here with me, smiling on my arm, smelling the scent of the ocean and feeling the soothing motion of the ship.
I must have been totally lost, because I never even heard my man Matthews approach. He gave me his usual "Mornin' Mr. Hornblower, Sir." with a friendly smile, and I could feel myself blushing. I hid the fact that I'd been caught out with a terse "get someone to see to those cables, now." And bless him, he grinned at me with an "Aye, Aye" and set to it, occasionally glancing at me with what I can only describe as fondness. As far as he and Styles are concerned, the feeling is mutual...never were there better men!
Later on, as I was headed below decks, Matthews approached me again, and told asked me, rather sheepishly, if it were true that I'd 'got a woman back in Gib, Sir?' And I was so surprised, I actually answered him: Yes, it is true. I have a woman in Gibraltar. And he gave me that smile again, and said, "bout time, it was, that I found myself a bit o'hapiness."
So to the men, love, that is what you are...my bit of happiness. And they have no idea just how correct that is!
With love, Horatio.
From the journal of Drew Brandon, entry dated the 6th of May, 1799:
May 5th was a day like any other, when it dawned. Departing Madeira, we were on our way to Oporto. The ship was making good time. The day before, Captain Hammond had come to me (ME!) with stomach upset. The thought of the aloe was tempting, but I declined. I was not any too sympathetic, though, and made him an offer of mint tea without any assistance of bedside manner.
The man bloody threw a fit at the suggestion, as it was NOT what his doctor gave him. So he left here with a dose of oil of cloves, even though I knew it would not work worth a darn. If he were another man, I might care.
So naturally, it should have been no surprise to me that Hammond was not above decks when I arrived for my watch yesterday morning. I stood beside the Captain, engaging in idle conversation. He gave me a strange look as Hammond's condition came up, and I made a point of letting him know that I treated him exactly in accordance with medical canon. The fact that I seldom follow canon being beside the point.
Everything changed when the lookout suddenly spotted a sail to windward...
"Can you tell what it is, Mr. Brandon?" The Captain asked, no betrayal of nerves whatsoever.
Drew, on the other hand, had his heart in this throat. Fine time this would be to prove the exam board made a mistake in promoting him. "It's French, Sir..." Drew paused, considering the sail. "A ship of the line, I'm certain."
"Seventy-four guns at least, then. Keep us well clear, Mr. Bowles." The Captain was not a man to pick a fight when out-gunned so severely.
"Sir!!!!!!!!!" The lookout called. "Sail aft, Sir."
Damn, another one behind us, thought Drew. He raised the glass again. "Same thing, Sir. Appears to be a ship of the line." Drew looked quickly to the Captain...his eyes were flinty, his expression unreadable. "And I believe she's gaining on us, Sir."
"Sir!!!!!!!!" The anguished cry was raised. "Another one..."
"Damn!" Drew exclaimed outloud this time, before he could stop himself. Then he flushed. "Sorry, Sir."
"An excusable expression, Mr. Brandon, when one's frigate is surrounded by enemy ships of the line. Clear for action, if you please."
"Hands to Quarters!" Drew screeched, his heart rate rising. "Enemy sails spotted. Clear for action!"
And the sweat began pouring down his back. He was out of place here. This was not where he belonged in these circumstances. But to hell with the world, he'd been promoted beyond his own usefulness.
He saw Reg come up, Reg with the other midshipmen...leading his division as always. Reg smiled confidently at him, encouraging him, guiding him. Drew stood a little taller at Captain Pellew's side.
And then Captain Hammond appeared, also on the quarterdeck. "What is this nonsense? Can I not get a moment's peace on your blasted ship?"
Captain Pellew turned on him and hissed through clenched teeth. "Captain Hammond, Sir, if you could live peaceably surrounded by three larger French ships, then I am not surprised you are currently without a ship yourself."
Drew had to fight very hard not to grin, despite their dire circumstances. It was one thing for him to think it, but for the Captain to say it! Oh, if only Reg could hear...
Captain Hammond, meanwhile, was purple in anger, and actually took a step forward to the Captain, shaking. "How dare you, Sir, imply that the loss of my ship was a result of my own folly."
"Everything that befalls a ship is the responsibility of the Captain. It is the price of command." The Captain said, evenly, turning his gaze through the glass towards the encroaching ships.
That was the final straw for Hammond; he lunged forward to grab Pellew. Not on Drew's watch. Drew grasped him forcibly, with every ounce of strength he could find in his five-six frame; Hammond was distracted and aimed a punch down at Drew; they tussled and fell to the quarterdeck.
"Captain Forbes!" Drew heard Archie yell. "Your assistance, please!"
"Captain Forbes." Pellew's voice was stern. "Please confine this man to quarters, if you please, so he ceases to distract our men from the task at hand."
"Damn your eyes, Pellew, this young cub attacked me!"
"This young LIEUTENANT protected me from attack. However, we shall get into an argument of semantics later, assuming we HAVE a later. Now get him bellow decks!"
With a final tussle, Forbes and his men hustled of the irate Hammond, and Drew picked himself up and dusted himself off. A strange calm followed.
"Mr. Brandon. I trust you are well, Sir." The Captain asked, never taking his eyes off of the horizon.
"Quite fine, Sir." Drew said, matching his placid example, as if they weren't all in dire danger for their lives.
"Very good. Bring us to larbord, Mr. Bowles. We must out run them, Sir."
"We will outrun them, Sir!" Bowles voice was confident, and at the sound of it, the men seemed to buck up.
"That's the spirit, Mr. Bowles, that's the spirit!" The Captain's voice rang out on the ship; spontaneously, all the men gave off a cheer. Drew was never prouder to be standing on the quarterdeck, by his Captain, than at that moment.
Outrunning three faster French ships was easier said than done. Occasionally one would get into shooting range, and Drew was keenly aware of a bit of mast falling, or splinters flying. But somehow he sensed the danger to other men more than to himself. Bowles always seemed to be able to maneuver them out of the worst danger, but Drew had the sense of dogs hunting...working their prey towards a specific point...
"Sail DEAD AHEAD!"
Another ship.. Drew raised his head, eyes wide. And even before he could raise his glass, he knew what he should see. "French Corvette, Captain Pellew."
And at that moment, the wind shifted...Bowles screeched to Ward, who screeched to the men. But the unexpected change had been just enough, and at just the wrong moment...they floundered, off of the wind.
There was a whistle ahead, and more sail fell; Drew sidestepped it just in time. Archie, below, beside Reg, had sweat pouring down his face, readying to fire. Horatio, next to Anderson, preparing the same. Bowles went past, towards the two of them, calling out something.
And there was a sudden, rocking explosion, and Drew went down.
For a second he thought he'd been hit. He couldn't catch his breath. Reg called for him, called out from a distance. And then Captain Pellew's hand was there; pulling him up, the blast still ringing in his ears, only replaced by the screaming of the men in pain.
*We're being boarded* He thought in quiet amazement. Not quite yet, but there was no question that is what was about to happen...the nearest French ship was nearly close enough...five minutes, and not more.
"MR. BRANDON." Reg repeated, and he focused, and was sick at the sight of the carnage on the lower deck. Blood, blood everywhere. Horatio...dear God, it could not be; Horatio and Mr. Bowles, cut down, Anderson, too.
"Go to them, Mr. Brandon. Do the duty you do best. You can be of no help here, not now."
Frightened, Drew looked back at his Captain, and wondered how he could keep so calm at such a sight. Then he saluted, solemnly, and ran down to where he was most needed.
He ripped of his jacket, and was vaguely aware of another shot, a splinter flying past him. He got to Anderson first; He was bleeding badly from a splinter wound, and he sputtered in pain, eyes frightened.
"Hold hard, Henry." Drew said, soothingly. He used his jacket as a bandage. "I'll have you fixed up in no time." He saw Morris, and nodded. "Get him bellow, please."
"Aye, Mr. Brandon." And before he could even see Anderson swept up in Morris' arms, he'd turned to Mr. Bowles.
And nearly wretched. Somehow, in all his time here, he'd never had occasion to witness injuries this bad. Poor Bowlsie...he was ripped apart. And even before Drew reached up to touch his neck for a pulse, he knew the answer. Quickly he wiped a tear from his face...there was another explosion, but he didn't heed it. He moved on to Horatio.
*Please, God, Don't do this to me...don't take him from us...* He, too, was covered in blood and vile havoc had been wreaked on his body. But there was a pulse...not even as weak as he'd have suspected. Matthews and Styles, all worries and anxiety, were there as Drew nodded. "Take him bellow."
"But sir...he can't be alive, bleeding like that!" The protest came from an agape Howard, who was looking rather green."
Styles glared, but Drew cut him off. "Mr. Howard the next time you tell me my business I will tie you in the riggings myself! He goes bellow!" He snapped.
Standing, he gave a quick look around the ship. Ward, stepping in, even with tears for Bowles streaming down his face, had bought a few moments more, a little space with the impending borders. Pellew had his gun drawn, and Archie and Reg were on the quarterdeck beside him. "Below, Mr. Brandon. Tend to your men." The Captain called.
"Aye, Aye, Sir."
And even as he walked into the darkness, he wondered if he would ever see the Captain, Reg or Archie again.
The boarders were on deck, so quickly that Captain Pellew did not have time to process what was happening. He would gladly die his ship, but he had men to consider. Men who should not have die because of his hubris.
"Do I have your surrender, Sir?" A snarling French Lieutenant was before him
"You have my surrender." He passed his sword slowly over to the man. "I request that my men..."
The slap across his face was startling. "Damn your requests, Captain Pellew. Oh, I know well who you are." He motioned to a French guard. "Restrain him, LeForge."
"Oui, Captain Labrie."
Pellew glared at this man, treating him so contemptibly. Why, he had never treated a prisoner in such a manor, not even DeVergess.
"Separate the officers from the men. The officers go to La Liberte."
So Captain Pellew found himself bound, trussed up like a chicken, and then gagged. He stared daggers into his enemy; the entire circumstance was bitter. Perhaps he should have let them blow the ship to the sea.
Rapid French was spoken, as the young French Lieutenant approached, tugging the hefty Hammond beside him. Reg Cousins, whom had not been gagged, whispered a translation into his ear:
"We found this one down below as well, Captain Labrie."
"Two Captains in one shot...an excellent job for us, LeForge." Labrie's eyes looked over the assembly of men now on the quarterdeck. "Two Captains, but only one Lieutenant? And a gaggle of little boys."
"There was another Lieutenant below, Sir, but he's mortally wounded. There will not be any saving him." Reg flinched, but gave the translation anyway.
"No other vital personnel?"
"There were the doctors, Captain, nobody else."
"Bah, a ship's doctor is not vital personnel. No sailing master?"
"Not that I could find."
Labrie turned with anger to the gagged Pellew. "Where is your ship's master, Sir!" He spat out in quite excellent English, and he removed the gag. "Tell me, or I shall begin shooting these little boys like the dogs that they are."
Under full glare, Pellew spat out, "My ship's master, Sir, is lying on the deck in a pool of his own blood, quite dead, thank you." The anger radiated from him, in its most pure form. He'd had no time to mourn Bowles, or Horatio (not Hornblower; it cannot be!) but he could not bear the thought of having to mourn one of the midshipmen as well.
"Check it, LeForge." Labrie motioned towards the hulk that was sailing master Bowles, and LeForge scampered away.
"Oui, Capitain, c'est le maitre." A simple sentence that needed no translation.
Labrie smiled coldly. "Excellent." He replaced the gag over Pellew's mouth, and turned to Archie. "You, Sir...what is your name?"
"Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy of His Majesties Frigate Indefatigable." Archie's words carried a quiet dignity despite what must be the pain he felt about Hornblower (oh, Horatio!).
Labrie looked him over, head tilted. "Your voice is very mannered, Sir. You are perhaps of the aristocratic class?"
*Don't tell him, Lad...you're head will end in the Guillotine.* Pellew thought, desperately.
"I am the third son of Arthur Kennedy, Lord Bridgeleigh." Again, his voice carried a weight to it that left an impression behind.
"Excellent. A source of ransom, perhaps?"
"I will not be ransomed, Sir, not without my Captain and the other officers."
Labrie laughed, in a musical manner. "Oh, my dear Lieutenant Kennedy, we shall not be pardoning the Captains, and as to the other men..." Labrie shrugged, and for one terrible moment, Pellew feared he would go ahead and shoot them anyway.
"Gather these boys together and hold them in the forecastle. They can stay behind on what is left of the ship. Keep it afloat, if you can."
Pellew looked over Reg, who met his eye, and nodded. He would depend on Reg; depend on him to load the ship's boats with the remaining men and guide them to safety, somewhere. Perhaps there was some good in his not having passed that exam after all.
Reg understood the unspoken order, and it was Captain Pellew and not Captain LeForge that he addressed. "Aye, Aye, Sir. It has been an honor serving with you." He saluted, and then allowed himself to be dragged forward, Howard, Holloway and Ward in his wake.
Captain Pellew hoped he'd been able to answer that sentiment with his eyes, even as he was sharply pushed over to the enemy ship...
Drew was frantic below decks. Johnson had already gotten started on Anderson, who was being held down by Styles. Drew turned to Horatio, so horribly injured, and again checked his pulse.
Johnson's voice cut tersely into his thoughts. "Drew, look at him! For God's sake, you can't believe you can save him!"
"His pulse is strong!" Drew shot back.
"It can't be!" Johnson turned on him and strode over purposefully. "Wounds like this are mortal!"
Drew turned, determined to fight the point to the death if Johnson intervened. For as much as he liked and respected his fellow surgeon, hell would freeze over before he would allow Horatio Hornblower to bleed to death on the table, no attempt to save him even being made. "I will be the judge of that, Sir! You stick to your patient and I will stick to mine."
Johnson grabbed him. "LIEUTENANT HORNBLOWER IS A DEAD MAN AND THERE ARE OTHERS WHO NEED YOUR HELP." There was a sound behind them and they swung abruptly; two French men, officers of some sort, were there, and they both froze, unprepared to fight. One of them, the man who seemed senior, pointed to Horatio. "Morte?"
Drew turned bitterly away, tears in his eyes.
"Morte. Oui." Johnson replied awkwardly.
The French nodded, and then disappeared as soon as they came.
Drew turned back and was cradling Horatio's head. "But his pulse is so strong..." He whispered, not understanding how it was possible.
Johnson came over with a sigh, "Drew, I know what you want to believe, but..." He placed his hand on Horatio's neck. Then he removed it quickly. "Good, God, his pulse is strong!" They looked at each other. This defied all medical possibilities as they knew it.
"I am going to tend him, Johnson. You go back to Anderson." Drew kept his voice steady and firm.
"Very well." And Johnson turned back to the midshipman, as Drew began to investigate Horatio's severe chest wound.
It was only a few minutes later when something very close to laughter came from Drew's mouth.
"What is it?" Johnson wiped his hands, having just finished with Anderson, giving him a slight dose of laudanum to ease his sleeping. "What could possibly be funny?"
"He's not wounded...dear God, he's not wounded." And the laughter gave way to a few shaking sobs, that Drew fought to control.
"You're hysterical!" But Johnson came over and saw what Drew had noted. Horatio had indeed been covered with blood and other matter that ought to have indicated a severe chest and abdominal injury. But beneath the mess, his skin was whole and unpunctured. "What the devil?" He whispered.
"Bowles. Bowles, it's from him; his blood and...Horatio was standing right beside him, and I knew Bowles had been torn up, was probably dead when he hit the ground, and Horatio was caught...he must have been knocked out by the blast, and covered with Bowles..." Drew took a deep, racking breath. "God spared him."
Johnson, seeing that Drew, so overworked of late, was very near to going to pieces, took over care for Hornblower himself. "You're correct, Drew. Bad knock to the head. It's still serious, mind. But I don't feel a fracture, and his neck is not damaged." With skilled hands, he ran over Horatio's body...and then froze. "His abdomen is distended. Might be an internal injury."
Johnson looked down at Drew. Such surgeries were HIS skill, his strength. And Drew knew it too. He had already risen. "We must open him up then. Styles..."
It hadn't taken two words for Styles to approach, with Matthews, both cradling Mr. Hornblower, to hold him down.
"Can you do this, Drew? Are you fit?"
"I can do this, and I must."
Lyman knew the routine well enough. He brought over boiling water and the instruments, and Drew took a deep breath. They had a chance, a fighting chance, at least. He'd never attempted such a complicated operation in a moving ship, but it was Horatio, and he would try it now.
It was fortunate that the blast that rocked the ship happened before he started to cut into the man he considered brother.
As soon as the French were off, Reg Cousins turned excitedly to midshipman Ward. "Do you understand French?"
"Not a word of it, Mr. Cousins."
"I do. Once they get back to their ship they are intending on firing on us, hoping to hole us. Forcing us to the boats in the open sea. They don't think we can keep the Indefatigable afloat, Sir."
Ward studied him carefully, and then smiled. "They are wrong, Mr. Cousins."
"Indeed they are. A lamentable lack of foresight."
"I will try and maneuver the ship out of harm's way as much as possible, if it pleases you, Captain."
Reg shook his head. "Mr. Brandon is Captain now."
"Uh huh. Whatever you say. I personally prefer him where he is best used." Ward looked up at the sails. "Pretty bad damage to that mast. Don't suppose you've had any experience repairing one?"
It is a shame that the men who could have best appreciated Reg's laughter were not there to hear it.
"Well, that is our secondary concern, anyway." Ward continued. "I best try and move us."
"Aye, you do that. Morris, Thomas...we need to get to work at fothering a sail, so we are prepared if we do get hit." Cousins again suppressed a laugh, as he turned to assist his best men.
Never far from the back of his mind, though was the rest of the conversation from Captain Labrie. Captain Pellew and Archie, carried away towards France. In Captain Pellew's case, to an execution. He could not let that happen. He must get Indefatigable functional again.
*I don't know that I can do this without Mr. Hornblower.* He thought, desperately. *But I have to.*
He forced away the lump in his throat, and set to work. He could mourn the dead later. For now, he had to honor their memory by keeping others alive. It was, after all, everything he'd trained for.
The blast came as expected; rocking the ship, but not so bad as it might have. The extra few feet Ward had moved them kept them from getting hit too far under the water line. He gave a hasty order to change tack; that would buy them additional time.
Holloway kept report on the movements of the French. "They're leaving us, Sir. Seem to think we're done for."
"Let them leave, Holloway; we've got work to do to make certain we aren't done for!" Cousins mopped sweat of his face. "Get some men clearing up the debris here, and then start them on that Mast. Morris and Thomas know how; they were with me the last time I broke one!" He gave Holloway a grin. "Go to it, now."
One man, however, had other ideas. One of the newer men, Marks. A big burly seaman with about ten years of service, a transfer from Calypso, one of the few to survive Hammond's loss of the ship. He glared at Cousins. "Who are you, boy...to be given orders now? Just a midshipman yerself."
Reg glared. There had to be one in every bunch...one man so preoccupied with sense of self that he could not see the bigger picture. "I am currently Senior in command on this deck, Marks." He kept his voice forceful. "Mr. Brandon is below, and is the rightful Captain. Until he returns, Sir, I am holding the deck in his stead."
Marks laughed viciously. "Mr. Brandon, Captain o' this vessel? Fer the love of God, boy, launch the boats and get us out o' here with our lives."
Forbes came up to him. "Mr. Cousins, Sir?"
Reg knew with one word, he could have Marks in irons. But then what? Would that improve his standing with the men, precarious as it must already be? There were some men, maybe even most of them, that he would trust with his life, that he was certain would follow him on command. But even a few who balked could create chaos, and chaos right now would be terminal. *What would Horatio do?*
He held his hand out, halting Forbes. "Listen up, Men." He bellowed, and the hands turned to look at him. "The French are leaving us. They have our Captain. They have one of our lieutenants. They have killed our Master...and a man...another Lieutenant...who was a leader to us all. But they've let us live. Because they do not believe that we...THAT WE... ARE MEN ENOUGH...to keep Indefatigable afloat. Because they do not believe that we...WITHOUT CAPTAIN PELLEW...are good enough to SAVE Captain Pellew. I know what I have learned from him. And I know what I owe him. And my intention...my good men...is to get this ship afloat and go AFTER HIM. ARE YOU WITH ME?"
The roar surprised him. The most he'd hoped was to buck up their spirits, keep men like Marks at bay. Instead, *My God, they'll follow me!*
And only Forbes was close enough to hear him exhale deeply in relief. "ABOUT YOUR DUTY, NOW!" Marks scowled, but obeyed the order.
"Beggin' your pardon, Sir. But we've got that fothered sail ready." James, the man whom had returned with him from Serenity...what seemed like a small eternity ago...was prepared.
"Excellent...let us place it over the side."
"Shall you dive over and place it yourself, Sir?" Forbes asked the question deadpanned. Horatio's stunts were the stuff of legend on board the Indy, and even their erstwhile Captain of Marines was aware of them.
"Only if necessary, Captain Forbes, only if necessary." He went forward to try and stop the leak. Ward was busy repairing the damage to the mast (nowhere near as bad as what Reg had done to the ship once a very long time ago). He tried, with a little shake, to keep his mind on the hear and now. No worry or regret. And no looking ahead, to the daunting task before him. Because he meant what he said. He intended to do his utmost to rescue the Captain.
But without Horatio here to help him plan, he just wasn't sure how.
Captain Pellew was stuffed uncomfortably in dismal quarters with Captain Hammond and Lieutenant Kennedy. The tiny box he was stored in would have been the most junior officer's cabin, and was airless and still. It held no furniture; he and his three cabin mates had been tossed blankets, and nothing more. He would have liked to pace, but as he could not comfortably stand upright, it was not an option. So all three of them were seated on the floor
"I cannot believe, Sir, of the outrageous treatment of officers in His Majesties Navy." Hammond was spluttering with indignity.
"We do not have it so bad, Captain." Archie drawled, a touch of frustration in his voice. "We are their prisoners. They could have stuffed us in the hold."
"Oh, and you know so much about prison conditions, do you, Lieutenant Kennedy?"
Pellew felt his back stiffen at the crude comment made to his young officer, whom indeed knew far too much about prison conditions for a man his age!
"Captain Hammond, I have suffered in a variety of prisons, for what it is worth to you, Sir." His voice trembled with bitterness as he continued. "What I am about to say may come across as impertinence, but under the circumstances, I do not care. I have just witnessed the best friend a man could ever have foully cut down, and have left behind another man whom I call brother. If you do not shut up, Sir, I will not object to shutting you up, and charges be damned."
"Enough of this, both of you!" Captain Pellew snapped, though he had no problem at all with Mr. Kennedy's anger, and was not even sure he would take steps to stop the attack if he went ahead with it.
Their prison...the French Ship of the Line La Liberte, rocked suddenly as one of her guns went off.
"Why would they fire on Indefatigable?" Hammond muttered to himself, keeping well out of Kennedy's range.
"To fully disable her, I expect, Captain Hammond." Pellew's voice was dull with grief. A fine ship, the Indefatigable. As fine as ever they came. Well, if he had to lose his life now, at least she was a fitting final command.
The sentry moved from the door, with a jangle of keys, and suddenly the Captain Labrie was present.
"Gentlemen, I trust you are resting as comfortably as expected."
Captain Pellew stood, bending his knees just enough to give him the appearance of standing up in full. "Captain Labrie, I request to know the status of the Indefatigable, and my men."
Labrie, in what Pellew considered to be the worst ostentation of French uniform, turned his head to the side. You saw the damage for yourself, Sir. Even as she was, she was in need of repaired. And now..." Labrie shrugged. "We have holed her, Sir. It would take a man of some skill to repair that, and I highly doubt, Sir, that a simple midshipman could manage it."
The Captain held himself inscrutable. "So you plan on sinking her, then?"
"No, we have not time. Our master tells us we are expecting storms soon. We have damaged her enough to ensure she does not follow. Not with a bunch of the English rabble sailors, at a want for leadership. Hopefully your men will get off your boats."
"But my God, Sir..." Kennedy spoke up, perhaps thinking of Drew. "Open boats in bad storms? You might as well have sunk the ship from under them!"
"That is not my concern, Mr. Kennedy." Labrie smiled, and took off his hat, revealing a thin patch of hair so blond it was almost white. He peered at the men through very blue eyes, giving the appearance of a man without good sight. "What was my concern was to obtain Captain Pellew for execution. You have been, if I may say, a thorn in the side of the French Navy for some time now."
"I am glad to know it, Sir. And I hope that I have left behind me men who will continue to be exactly that." Pellew stared this strange, pale apparition down.
"Ah, but the men and the people, it is a name that they rally around, is it not? The fact that Sir Edward Pellew left behind good men, is not the same as actually having Sir Edward Pellew to command." The hat went back on, and he nodded benignly at them all. "I shall have food brought down to you. At least, I can provide you with a good meal."
"Our country shall rally around our deaths, Sir, and you shall be brought to justice, count on it!" Hammond's voice quivered with indignant rage.
"Ah, Captain...Hammond. Yes. Well, we might as well execute you, as we have you, but our goal, all along, was Captain Pellew. As for Mr. Kennedy, it is only by the luck of his connections that HE is alive."
"You would have killed my Lieutenants?" Pellew's voice was low and even.
"That was the plan, Sir. To bring you back for execution, and to leave your men to spread the tale of your ignominious defeat. We only had to be certain you had no man left with skill or cunning enough to turn the tables." He smiled once more. "We are very grateful to you, Captain Hammond. You provided us with all the information we needed."
Pellew whirred around quickly, striking his head. "Damnation!" He snapped, and cursed himself for not having more control. "Hammond, what does this man mean?"
"Sir, I am at a loss for this great insult!" Hammond stammered, sounding genuinely surprised.
Labrie chuckled. "Ah, yes...your man servant, Hammond...one of our men. If you recall, I believe he helped suggest that Indefatigable would be a fine ship for you to travel to England on, your just reward. Pity he was killed in the action, but then, it does save the republic the cost of his reward. Gentleman..." He bowed low. "I bid you good day."
Hammond began protesting as soon as the door was shut; Pellew sat slowly, his hand on his head. "Dear GOD, HAMMOND, IF YOU DO NOT SHUT UP I WILL JOIN MR. KENNEDY IN GAGGING YOU!" He screeched suddenly. And shocked, Hammond finally closed his mouth.
"Injured, Sir?" Kennedy asked.
"Nothing that some willow bark would not cure." He grumbled. Then he frowned, and whispered. "What of Mr. Brandon? Why was he not taken? Or..." Pellew gulped, but held his voice steady. "He was not killed, was he?"
Archie smiled. "I saw Drew going to treat Anderson. He took his coat off, Sir, and used it for a bandage. Likely they never considered him to be a Lieutenant. Thank God, else like as not he'd be...dead...too." Archie's voice caught, and Pellew, in a moment of shared grief grasped Kennedy's forearm and squeezed.
There was silence in the berth. Perhaps bored, Hammond had drifted off; his snores took over, but neither Archie nor Pellew were in a mood to laugh. And softly, Archie murmured the secret hope they both shared outloud. "Mr. Cousins, Sir. He can do this. He's bright enough, and the men will follow him."
"Indeed, I hope so, Mr. Kennedy, but I dare not wish it. It would please my mind just to believe that he can save the men. If... Horatio...were alive, then together they might find us. But with just Mr. Cousins, it is asking too much." He sighed deeply. Yes, so much would be different, if only Horatio were alive.
Exhausted, Drew came above decks, his hands supporting his lower back, his apron covered with blood and his face streaked with soot.
"Captain Brandon!" One of the men saluted him, and Drew blinked.
"Er...whatever. Where is Mr. Cousins?"
"Over assisting Mr. Ward with the Mast, Captain."
Captain? What nonsense was this? Had the world gone totally insane? His body a mass of aches, he approached Reg, who's eyes were bright and clear, and who was most definitely in a state of preparedness...for something. "Hullo...Reg?" He said, his voice indistinct as he was overcome with a yawn.
Ward and Reg both turned and saluted him. "Captain Brandon."
"Now cut that out!" Drew snapped, in positively no mood for jokes. "What is this Captain nonsense?"
"As the Frogs ignored your promotion, you are the only Lieutenant left on board the Indy. Therefore, acting Captain, Sir." Reg's voice was innocent enough.
Drew laughed, a short bark of laughter cut off when he realized everyone was serious. "Oh, for the love of God, men, that is folly!"
"You could, of course, place the deck in my hands?" Reg suggested, now with a slight twinkle in his eye.
Drew raised his hands up and let them fall. "Well and good." He turned round to look over the ship, and yelled. "Here this, Men. As the highest ranking able bodied officer on board this ship, I hereby cede command of the deck to Mr. Cousins, and shall retain my own command where it is most needed...Sick Berth!"
There was a laughing cheer sent up...that faded as Drew continued...
"Mr. Cousins shall keep command until such time as Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower is recovered from his injuries."
The sudden silence was followed by an excited rumble. Reg grabbed Drew by his arm. "Recover? Did you say, that when Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower RECOVERS?"
Ward approached a stunned Drew on the other side; the two bigger men were bookends to the exhausted Doctor. "He's ALIVE then, Drew? Really and truly alive?"
"Hell, yes...who told you otherwise?" Drew's face was a mix of confusion. He was tired, he was apparently in command, and something Reg had said was making its way slowly through the fog of his brain.
"The French said he was dead..." Reg stammered out. "That's what they told their Captain..."
"Well, he looked dead enough when he got to sick berth, but it wasn't his blood..." Drew's unease grew, and he looked over to where a handful of men had been detailed, sewing men in their hammocks for burial. Several forms lay there. Several. One was Bowles, and the others?
"...But he will recover then?" Ward was insistent.
"Yes, yes...a concussion and a slight contusion to his liver...easily fixed, more easy than I would have thought on a moving ship. As long as there's no infection..." He mumbled, the growing horror taking him.
"Your patients don't get infections!" Reg declared jubilantly, and he called out to the crew. "IT'S TRUE. MR. HORNBLOWER IS ALIVE! MR. BRANDON SAVED HIM!"
Morris yelled out with excited pride, "Three cheers for Mr. Brandon, then..."
"Reg!" Drew was horrified...yes, Horatio seemed to be fine... but what if...
Oh, God, why were they doing this? He'd saved men's lives before...that was his job. Yes, everybody loved Horatio, but why should it matter so much...
Unless, of course, he were needed, desperately needed because...
"Reg, where are the Captain and Lieutenant Kennedy?" He asked hollowly.
"They're gone, I'm afraid..." A sudden clatter came as Marks dropped a spar just a few feet away from him, and he and Ward turned in blistering anger. "Marks, I'm warning you...make another mistake like that and I will see you at the gratings!" He bellowed. And Thomas came up to him, with questions, and Drew could see that there was much being done, much he could not help with, and it was best if he got back below decks to his patients anyway. And...And...
He stumbled, slightly, and Morris steadied him. He managed a smile of thanks; Morris gave his shoulder a friendly squeeze before he went on about his duties. Drew went on about his, likewise, with one horrible realization sinking in.
Captain Pellew and Archie were dead.
The sick berth was peaceful, calm. The wounded were treated and resting. Numbly he went over to Horatio and checked him. No temperature. Resting comfortably. Breathing well. Matthews and Styles were still there, and he nodded to them both. "Mr. Cousins will need you above decks, men. You know that Mr. Hornblower will blister your ears if he discovers his best men did not aid in getting the Indefatigable sailing again."
"Who has the deck, Sir?" Matthews asked, as they started to leave.
"Mr. Cousins, though really I am acting Captain until Mr. Hornblower recovers."
Styles and Matthews stared at him for a moment, coming to the same shocked realization he had. Perhaps they'd already seen it in his face. Styles started to say something, but Matthews tugged at him.
"C'mon mate, Mr. Brandon's right...we need to be above helpin' Mr. Cousins."
Drew watched them leave, then with slow anguish he sat beside Horatio, and wondered what he would tell him when he awoke. Could Horatio suffer a worse loss than this? Could HE?
'I was standing beside him on the Deck...I was standing beside him and he was alive, so very alive, so very in command of his ship, his world. So I proud I was to be standing next to him...' Drew closed his eyes, remembering Archie's quiet assurance over his division, the Captain's commands even as he knew their fight might be futile. He was glad, if they were gone, that he hadn't seen it. He wanted to remember the Captain as standing proudly on the quarterdeck, and Archie...hell, he wanted to best remember Archie standing on the fighting top, the wind in his hair and his face tinged pink from the sun, and threatening to break into a smile, because that is who Archie WAS. He did not want to remember them the way he now would always remember Mr. Bowles.
He sank to the floor, hands over his eyes in pain, unbearable pain, and he lay, next to the cot that held Horatio...staring at the beams above him, not seeing them, wishing there were any way possible he could have given HIS life, instead. Exhaustion and pain overtook him, and he slept.
Captain Pellew rolled his eyes and looked over towards Mr. Kennedy. The available light was very poor indeed, but it was enough to tell him Archie was as awake as he was. No visual was needed to let him know that Hammond was asleep...the persistent and growing snores told all.
"Do you want me to knock him out for you, Sir?" Archie asked, sounding faintly peeved himself.
Pellew chuckled. "I would want that very much, but would suggest that we ought to be more kind to a man who has done us a great favor."
"Had he not foolishly failed Mr. Cousins, we would have no hope at this moment."
"Yes, well...truthfully, Sir, at this second I am not particularly hopeful anyway." Archie let the glumness into his voice, and the Captain understood.
"Yes...we are prisoners, it is stuffy and miserable, we are stuck with Hammond, and in the custody of three French ships. And we are mourning, as well, both of us, Mr. Kennedy." He sighed.
"Yes, Sir. I cannot believe he is gone." Archie shifted his head. "Are we certain, Sir, that it is so?"
Pellew looked at him. "Mr. Cousins' French is excellent. It is certain too that Labrie wouldn't have left a living Lieutenant on Indefatigable."
Archie sat upright, looking sharply at the Captain. "What was the exact translation from Mr. Cousins, Sir?"
The Captain thought it over...Reg was very conscientious to details, he knew, and was not likely to paraphrase.
"He said, 'There was another Lieutenant below, Sir, but he's mortally wounded. There will not be any saving him'. That was his translation from the French Lieutenant."
And Archie raised his head, some hope not in his eyes. "There is a difference, of course, between mortally wounded and dead, Sir."
Pellew caught his meaning. "Especially if a ship has one, or in this case, two supremely skilled surgeons, the like of which, perhaps, the French Navy has never seen."
Archie gave a slight smile. "And as you said, our chances of rescue become fundamentally greater if Horatio is alive, even if he can do no more than assist Mr. Cousins with the planning."
There was a slight thrill in Pellew's breast, tempered by fear. "I do hope, Mr. Kennedy, that we are not getting our hopes up falsely. The disappointment could be great."
"Yes, Sir, I understand. It's just...Sir, Horatio and I have served together for a very long time now. And this sounds strange, but I believe I should feel it, if he were dead. That I would know, somehow. The connection between us is that strong."
Pellew closed his eyes, memories of his own long dead friend Grey coming to the fore. But that did not help him. He'd felt nothing at the time Grey was cut in two, during a landing expedition in France. He had been shocked when the diplomat he'd been escorting returned with the news. And for a long time, he had difficulty believing it. But he would not repeat that story to Kennedy...he could not dash his hopes so cruelly. "Then we will believe him alive, Mr. Kennedy. It makes my enthusiasm for escape that much deeper."
Archie grinned. "So you have thought about an attempt, Sir."
"Naturally. I do not intend to be meekly lead to the guillotine." His voice betrayed grim humor. "Your experiences will prove most useful, Sir. You did escape your own ordeal, five times over, I believe."
"And CAUGHT each time, Sir!" Archie laughed lightly. "I am perhaps not the model to be followed."
"But you are older and more confident now, and there are two of us. That creates an edge over your past circumstances." Pellew encouraged.
"What about Captain Hammond?"
He sighed, a deep rumble barely discernable over Hammond's racket. "I suppose we cannot leave him. Damn, I like our odds better when it is the two of us."
"Cheer up, Sir. If he behaves to pattern, he'll do something foolish and get himself shot, and that puts us back on our own." Archie relished the dig.
Pellew smiled into the darkening room, cheery once more. He would not go down without a fight, and he had Kennedy by his side. Life was perhaps not quite as bleak as it ought to appear right now.
The mast was repaired quickly, and though he'd stationed men by the pumps, the leakage was small. The ship had not been hit badly and the fothered sail was doing its duty. The men gave a tired cheer as Reg pronounced them ready to continue on their voyage.
"But to where, Sir?" Ward asked, as Reg released many of the hands to dinner, keeping only those volunteers needed to get them under weigh.
"We shall be heading due east, Mr. Ward. I overheard their instructions, and that is the direction we sailed in."
"Of course, Sir...but..." Ward bit his lip, but Reg looked at him, waiting for the rest of the statement.
"But the weather...I am certain we are in for storms. All signs point to it."
"Damn." Reg scowled, but shook his head. "Then we must move quickly, and keep going for as long as possible. They have five hours advantage on us, as it is."
"Yes, Mr. Cousins. We'll get under weigh, then." Ward paused once more, and then ventured further opinion. "We might be able to use this to our advantage."
"Even with our repairs, I would put the Indy's weather fitness above any French ship. If they have to heave to, and we can keep going...we can catch them by surprise, Sir."
"How much can we endure?" Reg was curious at the idea.
"Quite a bit, I should say. Mr. Bowles..." His voice broke. "Mr. Bowles taught me quite a lot in even the short time I had to work with him, and he was truly proud of this ship. I think he would have believed her fit."
"There was no man better at his job than Mr. Bowles." Reg said, gently. And then he looked over towards the bodies, still awaiting burial. "I shall have to read the service, I suppose. I'm just going to go down and have a look at Mr. Hornblower, and then I'll do it. Meanwhile, prepare to set sail."
Ward, straightening up, gave him a smart salute. "Aye, Aye, Captain!"
He grinned sheepishly, and left for sick berth.
Johnson was busily writing into a log book when he entered. He looked up at Reg, gave him a smile, but made motion for him to keep quiet.
"Mr. Brandon is fast asleep still where he fell." He whispered. "By Mr. Hornblower's cot."
Reg nodded, and then headed towards Horatio. The young Lieutenant's color was good. His breathing was even, and his sleep did not seem tormented at all. Reg felt his lips tremble, relief flooding through his body. He felt considerably less alone, even with Horatio unconscious.
Johnson had followed him, and now gave his quiet medical opinion. "He'll have a whopping headache, and since we had to relieve his abdominal injuries, it will be a week before he is able to be upright.
Reg smiled at the thought. "You'll have a hard time convincing him of that, I'll wager."
"Oh, that's not my job...that's HIS." Johnson nodded down towards the floor, and Reg smiled even wider. Drew had sprawled there, sleeping; Johnson had obviously covered him with a blanket. Then his smile faded. Unlike the injured Mr. Hornblower, Drew's face was drawn, as if he were in pain, his mouth pulled down into a frown. He moved restlessly, and Johnson shook his head.
"Nightmares, I expect. If I didn't know him better, I'd say he took a nip of laudanum."
"No fear of that!" Reg's voice was forceful. Drew's mother, he knew, was addicted to that stuff, and his friend was reluctant even to use it medically except in the worst cases. "Are we certain he was not injured?"
"Not a bit of it, Mr. Cousins; I should have noticed; besides, he'd never have been able to do that tricky bit of surgery on Mr. Hornblower." Johnson straightened up with a grunt, patted Reg on the shoulder, and headed away.
Reg knelt beside his friend, smoothing out his hair. As was normal with his nightmares, Drew's forehead immediately smoothed at the touch. It had never ceased to amaze him, the trust that his friend showed.
For over two years with either their hammocks next to each other, or sharing a cabin, Reg had been well aware of Drew's habits, better than he was even of his own brothers'. Drew's nightmares of his father were almost nonexistent now; but at one time they had been nearly nightly. Reg had grown used to simply reaching out and touching his friend's forehead, and he'd settle down. Yet the thing was he was the only man who could do it; if anyone else had made such a harmless motion Drew would jerk awake, freezing in terror that his father was after him. It was quite touching, in its way.
But what nightmares was he having NOW? Surely not of his father, now dead?
"Mr. Cousins, Sir..." A thin, wan voice called to him, and he turned his head away and faced young Anderson, a fine midshipman and a loyal friend.
"Hullo, Henry. Good to see you awake. How are you feeling?"
Anderson was pale, from a side wound, but he seemed to not be in any pain. "Mr. Johnson says I shall be fine, Sir...just need to recover my strength."
"That is good to hear; I need you above decks desperately right now." Reg encouraged.
"Sir...I need to ask..." He coughed slightly, and Reg grasped his arm. Johnson came over with a cup of water. Worried, Reg looked up at the medic, but relaxed as he saw the smile on Johnson's face as he held Henry's head up.
"There. Weak from loss of blood, but that wound is stitched up tight now."
"I'm powerful thirsty, Sir." Henry laid his head back down, grateful.
"Tis to be expected. But it was a clean splinter, nothing damaged and neatly removed. A lovely scare to show your lady friends, eh?" Johnson teased; Reg had a feeling that the explanation was more for him than for the patient.
"I haven't any lady friends..." Anderson colored brightly, and Reg laughed. The reaction alone was enough to assure him that the young man was on the mend. Johnson poured more water and left it on a little table, and then returned to his other duties.
Reg cleared his throat, as Anderson settled back in on his pillow. "I never had the chance to thank you, Henry, for your kind assistance with Captain Hammond. Your clever thinking kept me from further agonies."
Anderson bit his lip. "It wasn't anything you wouldn't have done for any of us, Sir. And it wasn't right, what he was doing, when he wasn't even your Captain..." A look of horror passed over Anderson's face. "Sir...I almost forgot...I need to ask..."
"Yes, Henry, what is it?" Reg was puzzled.
"Sir...Mr. Brandon, when he laid down and went to sleep, Sir...he's been talking, Sir, in his sleep..." Anderson bit his lip, and Reg waited patiently. "He said, Sir...that Captain and Lieutenant Kennedy...he said they were dead?"
Reg blinked. "Of course they're not dead...whatever would make him think...oh, Damn!" His aborted conversation with Drew earlier came to mind; he'd forgotten that Drew went below to treat the injured before the French had even boarded. "Mr. Anderson, Captain Pellew and Lieutenant Kennedy, along with Captain Hammond, were taken prisoner by the French. It is my duty...nay, our duty...to get them back. I am almost positive they will not be harmed, for they are worth more to the enemy alive than dead."
Anderson gave him a little smile. "That's a relief, Sir..." And he closed his eyes, with a parting question. "You're going to rescue Captain Hammond too?"
"I suppose so, Mr. Anderson. In fact, I expect the French will be quite willing to give him up. Now, to sleep with you, then!" Reg commanded, and Anderson, with a little smile, drifted off.
Returning his attention to his friend, he gave Drew a little shake.
"Mmmmwhhaaaa?" Drew blinked up at him. "Reg. Oh. Someone hurt?"
"Yes, you are, and needlessly." Reg extended his hand, and helped Drew to a sitting position. "Captain Pellew and Lieutenant Kennedy are NOT dead, Drew, and I regret that anything I said gave you that impression."
Drew's face went blank, as he tried to blink himself awake and into belief. "If I am dreaming now, I will kill you."
"You shall have to explain the logic of that later. However, it is true; Captain Pellew and Archie were taken by the French and that is why I...well, to be accurate, why YOU are in command. I have the ship set to sail, and we are going after them."
"Of course we are!" Indignant rage was replacing confusion, which had replaced hurt. "How dare they!"
"Good, for I shall need your support in this matter. There is much you must do, Drew...log books and charts and such. I can help you, but as far as Admiralty is concerned, there would have to be a better reason for me to supercede you than the fact that Hammond was a fool." He rose, and again held his hand out to drag his friend upright. "For now, though, I had planned on leading a service for Mr. Bowles and the others. I thought you would want to be there."
"Yes, I do, thank you." He groaned, shaking off the stiffness as he followed Reg out. "You are not lying to me, are you?" He asked, suddenly.
Reg turned, any hurt he might have felt replaced by kindness as he beheld the fearful hope on Drew's face.
"My word on it, Drew, they left this ship alive." And he looked down at his friend, jaw thrust forward. "And my further word on it, that is how we shall bring them back."
I remember standing beside the gun. Anderson was shouting out to reload. Bowles rushed forward...something to do with Marks...some mischief he was up to, interfering in our work. And then a flash...a scream and a sea of red and I was down, my head exploding. And then darkness.
Then, vague shadows around me. My head...throbbing. Too much trouble to open my eyes. Pain, in my stomach. Arguing. I am dead. Johnson says so. If I am dead, am I supposed to be in such agony? Hands, holding me down....the taste of laudanum on my tongue and then darkness and pain, red angry hurt mixing in my mind, and flashes of strange images, distorted; Bolwes screaming...Archie somewhere. Anderson. Simpson? What the bloody hell was he doing here? And get him away from my men!
"Away!" I groaned; my head still swimming in pain.
"He's coming to, Mr. Brandon!" An impossibly shrill voice piped up.
"Excellent, Lyman." A more soothing voice replied. "Do me the honor of going above decks and reporting that fact to Mr. Cousins."
"Aye, aye, Sir."
Footsteps pounded away, like hammers on anvils, and I frowned.
"Easy, Horatio." Drew's voice whispered soothingly. A cold, wet compress was placed on my head...seawater. It helped, a little. "You've taken a nasty knock on the head, Sir. And I know you. I know you want to be up and running about and taking care of things, but believe me when I say that your body needs you to lie still for a while."
Slowly, I opened my eyes; he sat above me, smiling in encouragement. The room was mercifully dim. "Willow bark?" I asked hopefully.
"I dare not, Horatio. You had some other injuries as well, and I am afraid it shall upset your system, rather than help you."
Frightened, I tried to sit up, count my limbs, make certain I was whole. My head swam and an ocean of nausea I could not fight took over. Drew was thankfully prepared, and a basin was raised to my mouth. Damn, but I hate being helpless, and helpless and in pain is no better.
"As I said..." His voice was still kind. "...you need to lie still. Your other injuries, which I know concern you, were internal. I was able to relieve the pressure and drain the blood, and you'll be fine, but the fact is that I had to open you up, and I know that you understand the healing needed for that."
"That..." I whispered, even as he gently wiped off my chin. "...that is my only injury? I am whole?" I asked, embarrassed.
He smiled. "You are whole." He patted my arm. "And
I have some feverfew for you. It will relieve the pain a bit."
He raised a cup of the tea...not so bitter as what I was used to, and cradled my head with such gentleness that it barely hurt at all. Somehow, I got it down.
"Now..." He continued. "I am going to do something as a Lieutenant and as your friend that goes totally against my grain as a doctor. But I know you, and I know you will hound me with questions until you know all. So I am going to tell you what has been going on here, and you will shut up and not say anything until I give you leave to. Understood?"
As nodding was out of the question, I managed a smile of ascent.
"Good. Captain Pellew is NOT dead or injured; Neither is Mr. Kennedy. However, they and Captain Hammond were taken prisoner by the French..."
WHAT? I started to speak, and he gave me his most icy glare, and reluctantly I settled back, the exclamation dying unborn on my lips.
"...The ship was moderately damaged, however Mr. Cousins and Mr. Ward have fully repaired her and we are currently on our way to rescue them, hopefully. Currently, you are the most senior officer on board the Indy, but until you are well, it is stupidly under my command; most of my duties I have willingly ceded to Reg, as I think we both agree he is better suited for it. Yes, I know you are now all the more anxious to return to duty. Yes, I understand how frustrating this is for you. And yes, you are needed. But you are needed whole, and I will not risk your death by returning you to active duty too soon. The more you heed my advice, the more quickly you heal." Drew took a deep breath. "Understood?" He asked again.
"Understood." I sighed. "Sometimes, Drew, I wish you did not know me so well."
"Better for both of us that I do." He sighed, and I got a good look at him. I thought again of the pale, tiny young man who first came on board the Indy, and I saw him aged with responsibility, more than I would have liked.
"I know you too, Drew." I murmured. "Get some sleep."
He shook his head. "I have log books to fill out, Horatio. Reg will help me, but..." He shrugged.
"Yes, the name must be yours." I sank back on the pillow, tired and for once not fighting his order for bed rest. But he had left one question unanswered, one which I feared I knew the answer to.
"What of Mr. Bowles and Mr. Anderson?" I asked, quietly.
"Mr. Anderson rests beside you comfortably...do not turn your head to prove it; I will not lie to you!" He said, quickly. "Mr. Bowles, I am afraid, was lost in today's action."
My eyes grew moist. Though it was not has bad as I'd feared (I was certain we'd lost Anderson too) to lose Bowlsie, hurt; cut to the bone. "I am sorry to hear it." I said, trying to keep myself together.
"I know you served together for a long time." He rose, smoothing my blankets out as he did so. "And I know this, on top of the blow of the capture of Archie and the Captain is a lot to take for a man with a concussion. Just remember, you do them no honor by hurting yourself further."
"Aye, aye, Doctor." I smiled thinly, but could feel darkness taking me into its embrace once more.
"A few more documents, Drew." Reg encouraged.
They sat together in Pellew's cabin. Unwilling to commit total sacrilege, he and Drew both had steadfastly refused to sit at the writing desk, instead resting at the larger table, neither of them choosing to sit at its head.
"I cannot believe the Captain has to do this every day...it is a wonder he isn't in a foul mood more often!" Drew muttered, stifling a yawn. He'd plotted their distance on the chart (something he'd have been utterly terrified about without Reg's help), and filled in a detailed account of the day's activities in a log book. Various other details now filtered by him, but damned if he were seeing any of it straight.
"You realize the first thing the Captain will say to me once he returns?" Drew rubbed his aching head. "I can hear him... 'Mr. Brandon, when you have a moment, Sir...perhaps you would be so kind as to lend me the instructions for deciphering your code. Or is that your handwriting?'"
"And you will be happy to have him here to say it." Reg pointed out, rubbing the back of his own neck.
There was a knock at the door, and the two of them stared at each other, each waiting for the other to grant permission Captain Pellew's enclave. Finally, Drew spoke up.
Midshipman Howard came in. "Beg your pardon, Lieutenant Brandon, Mr. Cousins. Mr. Ward would like to confer with you above decks, if you please, Mr. Cousins."
"Thank you, Mr. Howard. I shall be along presently." Reg rose slowly as Howard exited, very neatly putting the chair back exactly where he found it and removing his own notes from the table.
"I won't be but a moment, Drew, and then I shall report back to you to let you know what is going on."
"You mean *explain* what is going on." Drew grumbled, envious that Reg had excuse to get up and stretch about. True enough, as Captain (HAH!) he could very easily ignore the paperwork and do the same, but the paperwork would still be here for him when he got back. Better not to let it pile up and become overwhelming. Not that it wasn't already. "Go on ahead, Reg. I'll keep slogging away, and you can check things over when you get back."
"Good enough. Watch the pen...it's rather wonky." He gave as a parting shot, and the door closed behind him.
Naturally, the first thing the pen did when he picked it up is blurt out a great lot of ink...all over the Captain's desk.
"Oh, Damn!" He reached hurriedly for his kerchief (better to ruin that than the table) and proceeded to spill the bottle of ink. Horrified, he could only watch, as it ran in a little river, first one way, and then the other, according to the motion of the ship. Frantically, he grabbed his hard-written documents and scuttled them off to the side, and looked about for something to mop the mess up with before it hit the floor. Perhaps his shirt? He thought wildly.
"Mr. Brandon, pardon me but I thought...tut tut, Sir, you seem to have a problem, I see." Powers, the inimitable Powers, suddenly there beside him.
Panic overcame any sense of reason or manners. "A PROBLEM? My God, man, the Captain will flay me alive when he sees this...I need a towel!" He tore his fingers madly through his hair.
Utterly used to such outbursts, though, Powers had already taken a linen napkin and skillfully mopped up the spillage, so quickly it had no time to even THINK about hitting the floor. "There, Sir. Problem solved."
Shamefaced, Drew muttered a quiet "Thank you, Powers...I am sorry I..." He gulped. "It's STAINED!" This would be worse, indeed than the Captain seeing his abysmal handwriting. His cabin might be simple, but he knew that the man took pride in its quiet elegance. And a bloody inkblot on the table...OH!
"Not badly, Sir. I shall get a bit of lemon and some sand and remove that for you. Bless me, it isn't anything the Captain hasn't done himself a thousand times over. Here..." And with quiet persuasion, Powers guided him to the head of the table, unaffected by the ink. "I came in, Sir, because I thought you might fancy some cider and a bit of dinner. Captain has set a good supply in store, and the cider is more or less yours anyway."
"I...dinner?" He gulped, feeling guilty and famished at the same time.
"Just some chicken with a bit of potato, Sir. Cooked it with a bit of that native wine we got in Madeira, and some onion for flavoring. Here now, I bet you've hardly touched a bite all day."
"I...no, no, I haven't...not since breakfast." He allowed Powers to settle him in; tuck another serviette around his neck, and present him with a plate.
"And here it is, full dark and closer to sunrise than sunset. You won't last the voyage if you don't take better care of yourself than that."
"What of Mr. Cousins?" He asked, timidly. However technically he might be in command, Reg needed sustenance as much as if not more than he did!
"I took the liberty of sending plates above decks for both Mr. Ward and Mr. Cousins as well, as I felt that would probably be your wish, Sir." Powers smiled benignly. "Now, then...you eat and I will take care of this stain.
It wasn't as awkward for Drew as it might have been. He had grown up wealthy, on an estate, and had been waited on before. Reg would have been fully mortified by the attentions. But this wasn't one of the family servants, this was POWERS, the Captain's loyal and ingenious servant, treating him as if he actually were Captain Pellew. He felt as if he were being disloyal, especially as Powers stood there scrubbing at the table.
Not that it prevented him from eating...nearly devouring his food. He hadn't known how hungry he'd been, until the well cooked food was placed before him. If he WAS being disloyal, then the Devil had seduced him through his stomach.
"Thank you, Powers. I feel you have done too much for me." He ventured timidly, as Powers smiled at the once again gleaming table.
"Now, Sir...I am the Captain's man, as you are. You are doing everything you can to get him back here. And, in the only way I can...so am I."
Drew looked up and saw lines of worry on Powers' face. He had seen Captain Pellew through four ships and a career of dangers, but none so acute as the situation he was in now. *It must be frustrating for him, to be in his place. Better to be Reg and I and be fully active, than to be him, and forced to wait.*
But Powers, as he often did to the Captain, removed himself silently from the room, to let Drew finish his meal.
Which he did, taking his time, drinking the cider, refilling his glass. Exhausted and with a full stomach, he was deliberately putting off returning to his paperwork. The cabin was comfortably warm; the ship's movement was gentle, and the sounds she made like a lullaby...
Powers returned half an hour later, to find Drew slumped in the chair, his chin on his chest. It was not unexpected. In fact, he'd found the Captain in the same way more than once. He went to the door, to find Forbes conversing with the marine on duty.
"Captain Forbes, Sir...if I might borrow you?"
"Certainly, Powers, how can I be of assistance?"
He brought the young, strong marine in, and pointed to Mr. Brandon. "Out cold, Sir, and I haven't the heart to wake him. Would you do me the favor of carrying him into the bed? I am not strong enough, I am afraid."
"The Captain's bed?" Forbes asked, moderately surprised.
"I think so...I do not think under the circumstances Captain Pellew would mind, and to attempt to take him to his own cabin would certainly awaken him, and then he should feel compelled to complete his duties."
Forbes smiled...after all, Mr. Brandon WAS the Captain at the moment. He scooped the lad up in his arms...a feather, he was. And so exhausted that he didn't even flinch at the touch. He placed the boy gently on the cot, and then gave him a little salute before departing.
Powers removed the boy's neck-cloth, and shoes and stockings, and covered him with the Captain's blanket. But he was pleased to know the boy did no more than murmur in his sleep, roll over on his arm, and let out a deep sigh.
"Sleep well, young man. Then bring my Captain back to me." Powers whispered, eyes moist, before he once again glided away.
Captain Pellew moved the spoon about in the pasty gruel with distaste. It was hard to consider this beige-gray mass as food. Wistfully, he let his mind wander to his vast stores, recently replenished in Madeira, and to Powers' skilled cooking, that could turn even biscuit-crumbs into an appetizing desert. It seemed rather petty to him that he could even think of such a thing at the moment, but there it was. As one got older, he guessed, you became used to creature comforts.
Not so Mr. Kennedy. He was almost envious at the way the man automatically downed the stuff. He wasn't evincing any enjoyment of it, but neither was he choking on it.
Hammond was the extreme opposite, grumbling loudly about the food until one of the guards opened the door and threatened, in rapid French, what was probably a threat to shut up or be shut up. He understood the word "silence" well enough.
"How dare you, Sir, tell a Captain in the British Navy..."
With no further words, the Guard had clouted Hammond over the head with some sort of club, and the Captain sank to the floor, unconscious. Pellew felt he probably ought to protest, but was strangely disinclined.
"Asleep and not snoring." Archie murmured. "Miracles DO happen, Sir."
Pellew permitted himself a chuckle, then forced himself to do the right thing. He got up, and checked Hammond. Still breathing, although he had a nasty lump on his head. Pellew performed the kindness of arranging him more comfortably (Kennedy got up to help him) and they tossed a blanket over his recumbent form. "Great ignorant sod." Pellew muttered in exasperation.
Archie looked at him, blue eyes wide and mouth open. Slowly that open mouth became a warm smile, surprise in every inch of his face. "I have never heard you criticize a fellow Captain, Sir."
Together they went back to their own wall, across from Hammond. "Yes, well, Mr. Kennedy, just because you have never heard it, doesn't mean I haven't thought it before." He cleared his throat and picked up his gruel, now congealed to even more vileness with the passage of time. He stuck his spoon in it and it stood, like a ship's mast, in the midst of the bowl. He looked down to Archie's empty container.
"I do not know how you ate that."
"I've had worse, certainly." Archie said, smiling again. "I've grown accustomed to thinking of food as nothing more than fuel for my body, when necessary. Horatio taught me that."
"In Spain?" Pellew asked, curious. He had pieced together a lot of what had happened during Hornblower and Kennedy's time away, but had a feeling much remained unexplained.
"Yes, Sir. I had stopped eating at one point, got quite sick, as a matter of fact. If I live to be a thousand years old, I will never forget the sight of him standing over me, pointing his finger just inches from my nose, and insisting that I would eat the gruel; I would get better, and I would escape with him."
"Sounds more like Drew than Horatio." Pellew smiled.
"They are not so very different, I have come to believe." Archie's faced relaxed, his eyes looking back on now-fond memories. "At the time, I wasn't sure if I hated him or admired him, but in the end I decided to eat just to shut him up. He dragged me, Sir, back to the living, and I will be eternally grateful to him." Archie's grin flashed again. "Even if it means I must think of him every time I eat this paste!"
Pellew looked with admiration at Kennedy. He was as unlike Horatio as night from day...not so much more emotional, than more open about it. He had survived much that would have killed other men. But he never shrank from his past. And he hadn't let it destroy him. He was glad, exceedingly glad, that old Keene had transferred both young men to his command.
"Mr. Kennedy...if I have never told you this before, I am sorry. But it has been a pleasure to have you on board Indefatigable."
"Thank you, Sir." He did not become mortified with praise, as Horatio often did. "I hope we may return to serve together soon."
"You and I both." And unpleasant facts presented themselves in Pellew's mind. "Mr. Kennedy, I had not planned on telling you this. But given our circumstances...should the worst happen, and you live to explain it, I want you to know...the Indefatigable was to be broken up on our return to England, anyway."
"Broken up, Sir?" Archie looked at him seriously. "Indeed. I was to be promoted. I had in mind arranging an advantageous transfer of you and Mr. Hornblower both, together. I felt you would want that."
"That is considerate indeed, Sir." Archie paused. "Though I would be loath to leave your service."
"I would rather see you well-placed, on a ship where you can continue to grow in your talents, than with me but stuck behind a couple of Lieutenants and not making your mark." He cleared his throat, pleased anyway that Mr. Kennedy would have been willing to follow him.
"I must ask, Sir, on behalf of my wife...you will take Drew with you?" Archie looked at him imploringly.
"Without question. Even if he had not passed the Lieutenant's exam. I don't think any other Captain would put up with him." He quipped and the two of them laughed together; Drew had never quite gotten the hang of minding his tongue. "Ah, well, it is all a moot point now, it seems."
"Perhaps not, Sir. We must not give up hope yet."
"No, of course not. That is my mood from that blasted porridge, I guess."
"Not quite like Powers' cooking." Archie smiled.
"Indeed not. I wonder if he is extending his services to Mr. Cousins?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"With Horatio...shall we say, incapacitated-for I will not believe worse-and Mr. Cousins' failure, it would fall to Mr. Brandon to act as Captain."
Pellew met his eyes in momentary horror...Drew was not prepared to Captain a frigate. Archie's eyes sparkled with mirth, though, as he continued, "Presuming, of course, that Mr. Brandon would not have sense enough to know to divide duties to those more capable."
Pellew gave him a weak smile. "Then there is no doubt that he would have passed off deck responsibilities like a hot potato." Again, there was a shared moment of quiet laughter, and Pellew wondered if perhaps he hadn't been a little bit guilty of neglecting Mr. Kennedy. Counting on him as a sure officer and a good influence, and an excellent gunner, but never really getting to know him as well as he did some of his other men. Perhaps not neglecting, but taking for granted? Well, there was nothing but time before them, at least for the moment.
"My wife tells me, Mr. Kennedy, that you are a great fan of the theater. What is your favorite play?"
Momentarily startled, Archie looked at him, and then folded his arms before him. "At the moment, sir, it is Hamlet..."
"Shakespeare, eh? I am an admirer as well..."
Drew was in a warm, wonderful dream; he was home, on solid land on the estate. His father was not there. Nobody mentioned the man; nobody seemed to care. His mother was healthy, happy, and not on laudanum. They were having a picnic, and Alicia was there with Archie. His mother served the Captain a delicate chicken dish, and he very gallantly accepted. Horatio and Angelina walked together in the nearby grove, fragrant with lilac. And he himself lounged in the cool grass, beside Violet. Her hand brushed tantalizingly against his arm, sending thrills through his body. Across the blanket, Reg, with Ellie, laughed at him in that superior way of his.
It was warm, it was comfortable, it was delectable. The grass beneath him cushioned him like the bed of a God, in soft luxury, and he stretched his legs before him. The sun gleamed down on them, and yet...why was the air fragrant of the sea? Ah, of course; they were near the little pond...that must be the reason. Carefully, Violet let her hand stray once more to his, tracing his fingers with her own, and he blushed. Life was good indeed. He yawned lazily, and then opened his eyes.
Into bright sunlight. Sunlight full on his face while he was in bed...the first time that had happened since he left home. There was no window in his cabin, after all...and a bed, the covers and mattress of which were certainly better than what existed in his own cabin. He lifted his head...and suddenly the reason came crashing down on him...My God, he'd gone to sleep in the Captain's BED! And he leapt as if on fire up and on to the floor.
To be greeted by laughter. Reg...already at the table, ready to work, laughing at him.
"Reg...what the...what have I done...how long?" He stammered out.
"Put your shoes and neck-cloth on, and get over here before I deprive you of coffee, Drew. You fell asleep at the table last night, and Powers insisted you be allowed to sleep here. It would seem he has declared us co-captains, a first for the Navy, I am certain."
Stuffing his feet into his worn shoes, and struggling with the cloth that had been neatly pressed and folded, Drew felt his face grow warm. "I had no desire to move into the Captain's quarters...that would be WRONG, Reg."
"Agreed we will not make a habit of it, but you were exhausted. Now, get over here, have some coffee...Powers is making eggs and bacon for us...and help me look at this Atlas here."
Drew stumbled over and took the mug; it was REAL coffee, freshly roasted and ground beans, and he could not help but smile at its scent, even as he proceeded to ruin it (or so Reg muttered) by mixing in two teaspoons of sugar. "What are we looking at?"
"Here..." Reg pointed to an area on the map. "They are taking him to the town of La-Roche Sur Yon...Boney has a military enclave there." He murmured.
"That's a good twenty miles inland." Drew mused.
"Yes...there is a port here, where they will no doubt set anchor, before transporting them." Reg looked at him with meaning, his eyes challenging Drew to think. "Naturally, we cannot blindly follow them into a French Port."
"Agreed...so...we must find a suitable landing spot...and travel over land to effect a rescue?" He frowned. "My lord, Reg, I never quite understood how much work this was going to be!"
"A major mission, to be certain." Reg nodded, and looked up as Powers entered, steaming trays of eggs and hot bacon tantalizing them both; along with a tray of biscuits and a pot of jam.
"Good morning, Sirs."
"Good morning, Powers, and thank you." Drew felt his face growing hot once more as Powers picked a spec of lint off of his jacket.
"I trust you slept well, Sir?"
"I...yes, I did, thank you." He mumbled, but Powers was already out the door.
Reg smirked; Drew glared. "Do you have a comment, SIR?" He raised an eyebrow.
"Not at all, Captain."
Drew frowned even harder. "STOP THAT." He began rapidly eating his food, the thought of a thousand duties between paperwork and making an appearance on deck flooding his head...and...SICK BERTH!
He gulped down the dregs of the coffee, rising and moving rapidly for the door.
"Where are you GOING?" Reg asked, amused.
"Horatio and Henry...I haven't checked in on them! What if they've taken a turn for the worse? What if Horatio is trying to do too much? You know how he is..."
"Hey..." Reg reached over and grabbed him by both shoulders, steadying him, holding him still. "Take it easy, my friend. I will handle things above decks, and we will do the paperwork together. You take care of sick berth, and stop worrying so much. You will wear yourself out."
Drew nodded. "I know you're right, the responsibility is great." He felt suddenly small, an inconsequential bit of driftwood floating in a vast ocean.
"The men are counting on us, Drew...they are counting on you to get Horatio better, and they are counting on me to keep the ship floating until you do. We must not let them down."
"And we won't!" Drew pulled himself up, and tried to do his best impersonation of the Captain. "And you, Sir, sell yourself short. You are capable of far more than just keeping the ship floating. No false modesty, now!"
"Is that an order?" Reg's eyes twinkled.
"It may be the only chance I have to issue you one, so hell, yes, it is!"
I find that as long as I do not move, and keep my eyes shut, I almost feel normal. Almost. Of course, the minute I get above myself and do something as simple as raise my head to sip water, the world swims out of focus.
Strange dreams I've had. At least I think they're dreams...it is hard, sometimes, to know when I am awake. Some are old, friendly memories...Drew and I swimming and splashing in the shallows near the grounded ship Independence. My father and I enjoying tea in the afternoon, discussing his patients. Captain Pellew and I, throwing snowballs at each other.
Some are not memories, but nightmares. I had a strange vision of a great battle...I am boarding an English ship, but why? I hear the voice of a midshipman I do not know crying out in pain...it mixes with visions of Simpson tormenting me, and I am angry. Worst, though, was a vision of Archie, badly wounded and in a hospital, Archie staring sightless into the unknown as he draws his last breath, and the pain in my heart is unbearable.
"Archie..." I moaned, opening my eyes. "My great friend."
"Hush now, Horatio." Drew was before me, and I realized that this time I was awake. "Archie is fine, I tell you, and in less danger than anyone else. For Reg has told me that the French planned on ransoming him. He will be fine."
I tried to give him a smile, but that last dream, if you will, has left me uneasy. I do not know what it means, except to think it might be a warning. Logic says it is probably my head doing strange things because of the injury. But I am not so entirely based on logic as I once was.
"Drew..." I looked at him...he was refreshed, but worried. "If Mr. Cousins needs help, or if you do...I will do what I can."
He raised an eyebrow in amusement, but I continued. "For advice only...I understand I am not fit for anything else."
He patted my shoulder. "I will have Reg come down and speak with you later, to let you know what is happening. It will be good for both of you, perhaps."
"How is Mr. Anderson?"
"Recovering nicely. No sign of infection or fever. He'll be up and about in a couple of days."
"And how are you?" I watched him closely.
"A bit overwhelmed, to be honest. But Reg and I are coping together. Now here...beef tea, Horatio. Get your strength up."
"I am not certain I can eat..." I mumbled, even as he deftly propped my pillows to almost upright while barely moving my head.
"Nonsense!" He sat before me, his eyes challenging. "You are going to eat, and get better. Come, now!" And feeling like a recalcitrant school child, I allowed him to spoon feed me the broth. But in the back of my mind, I keep feeling there is something I have forgotten, something I should really tell Reg...related to Mr. Bowles, and what he was saying to me at the time he was...at the time we were hit. Oh, well, it will come to me.
Captain Ronald Labrie, of the French ship La Liberté, was at rest in his sumptuous cabin, with an excellent wine in his glass, feeling for the first time that perhaps all was right in the world. He would be bringing that great thorn-in-the-side Edward Pellew on a platter to the French government. He had a wealthy nobleman also, very useful for ransom. He had disabled the Indefatigable; even if it remained afloat, no doubt the extreme embarrassment at seeing the fabled ship so wounded and under command of a bunch of midshipman would be more humiliating to the English than destroying her.
Labrie was looking forward to the hero's welcome. His career in the navy had been inauspicious so far, and damned uncomfortable at times. It had been his misfortune to be the bastard child of a dissolute nobleman and an albino prostitute. He had been sent off to sea to get him out of the way, but with his ultra-fair skin and weak eyes, there was little he'd have been less suited for. But his success here would enable him to call his own shots, as it were... perhaps employment within the inner circle.
He smiled over the wine. It had not been as easy as it ought to have been, to be certain. Pellew had put up quite the fight...even against three superior ships. And he had retained his legendary care for his men right to the end...when the situation became firmly inescapable, he surrendered before he would risk unnecessary loss of life. He placed his men above his own name, almost unheard of.
Pity such a man would have to die. He'd rather put that bloated idiot Hammond to the guillotine instead, if he had his choice. But Pellew would die honorably. And he rather wondered if Kennedy wouldn't go down with him...he was fiery, that one; he'd seen it in his eyes. Might possibly make an escape attempt? No, no; they wouldn't dare. They will bank on negotiating their way out of this, perhaps on a prisoner exchange.
His only regret in this entire set-up was that Hammond's servant had been killed in the fighting. The man was a Breton whom had mixed allegiances; and long service with Hammond had been enough to sever his ties to England. Lanson, his name had been. Not that he regretted not having to pay the man his reward, but Lanson, he knew, had been working with another crewman on Indefatigable, another transfer from the wounded Calypso. He'd bought the man, making certain he'd have a hand if needed in taking over the ship.
The original plan had been to foment a mutiny. Apparently that had not been done; the ship had fought too long and too valiantly for that. They had not undermined the Captain's standing one whit. Which, in the end, had made their victory all the sweeter, to be certain. But he would have liked to have known who that man was, whom Lanson had let in on their schemes. If only to make certain he did not live to repeat them to another soul.
But it was a minor concern. He, Labrie, was in control. And whomever that man was, if he was mercenary enough to turn on his shipmates, he doubted very much whether the midshipmen of Indefatigable could handle him.
Marks stared miserably at the beams over his head, waiting to be poked awake by that blasted bosun, Andrews, and called up to a watch he didn't much want to participate in. The ship, the ruddy ship, had actually been repaired, when he hadn't thought it possible, and was pursuing the French, which he had also not thought possible. Those boys, the three of them...Cousins, Ward and Brandon...actually were leading the men. And it destroyed everything he'd ever believed about serving in the Navy.
His life had been simple: prison or sea. In a fit of madness, he'd chosen sea, and signed on to Calypso, to sail with Black Charlie Hammond. Prison would have been a better option.
Three years. Three stinking years he'd sailed with the man. He was burly, and in good health, and had thought of the Navy as a fresh start. He really didn't mind working hard, and the food was regular. Some men, he knew, loved the life. And so he set to learning, wanting to succeed, thinking maybe of prize money down the road. He didn't get sea-sick, and he liked the sea air.
He was happy for twenty-four hours, which was how long it took for Hammond to have him at the gratings for...as near as he could remember, being the last man up on decks when the call for all hands came. An example made, Hammond had said, and he remembered the disbelief and horror he'd felt.
He'd been twenty-five then. He was twenty-eight now, but looked much older. He'd stopped counting the number of times he'd been at the gratings, having the skin flayed from his back. The scars ran together so deeply that he couldn't separate the welts. It took only a month for him to understand it would not matter how hard he worked, he would be at the gratings anyway. For one reason or another.
But the final straw, the one that made his heart black with anger, was the poor powder-monkey, Cronin. A lithe little lad from Ireland, with a heavy brogue and a quick smile. The boy reminded Marks of his little brother, whom had died when he was not even eleven years old. And he'd taken him under his wing, tried to keep the officers from bothering him, shielded him as much as he could.
That ended with the signal flags. Come to remember, blasted Pellew had been involved in that too. Indefatigable had suffered an injury to her mizzen mast, and Hammond had offered help. Only...
The midshipmen. Useless, pampered bunch. Hammond didn't want one on his ship whom hadn't had some sort of class tie. He would only accept "young gentlemen" for his crop of prospective officers. And he made them believe they were infallible, and born to succeed.
So the signal midshipman had decided signaling was beneath him, and seeing Cronin, had made the boy perform the duty for him.
Now, no ten-year old boy had any business handling a signal flag. Least of all one who didn't know what he was doing. And this was something Marks could offer no assistance in. So the poor child got hopelessly confused. The signals from Indefatigable came over quickly and cleanly, and all Cronin could respond was a helpless muddle.
Finally Hammond had arrived, and Marks was pleased, foolishly believing the negligent midshipman would pay for passing off his responsibility's to a powder boy.
Instead, he'd ordered Cronin flogged with the rattan 36 times for his behavior.
The child had passed out at the first twelve. That ought to have been enough to offer a reprieve. Hammond had seawater splashed on his face, and once the boy came to, ordered the punishment to be resumed.
It had taken three hours to get all 36 strokes in. And he did remember now, Captain Pellew came on board to speak with Hammond (that had been the request of the initial signals). He came on board just as the last strokes were delivered. Just in time to hear Cronin's shrieks as the final blows landed.
He'd been disgusted, Pellew had. Looking back, that counted for something. He wished he'd remembered that earlier, because it might have changed the choices he'd made since then. But all he had remembered, for a long time, was the black anger at the injustice that filled his heart.
He'd cared for the boy all evening (the ship's doctor had merely shrugged and refused any aid, saying that what was the point of punishment if the boy didn't feel the full brunt of his pain?). He'd cradled him in his arms, wiped his tears away, tried to offer some sort of comfort for his torture.
Three days later, Hammond ordered the boy caned again for some other infraction...not moving fast enough. Hell, the boy hadn't had enough time to recover, how the hell was he supposed to move quickly? It was "only" a dozen this time, but the child's screams echoed through his head even today.
It took only a week for the final straw. They were up on the yard arm, taking in sail, when for whatever reason, Hammond yelled up for Cronin to report to the bosun as soon as he was back on deck. There was no need to explain what would happen when he did.
And it was too much. Too much for a fragile ten year old who simply couldn't take another beating. Marks had tried to stop it, but to no avail. The boy jumped, and hit the deck with a horrible thud. Hammond had left his body there for the rest of the afternoon, damn him, as a reminder to the other men.
So that was what he knew when he got here. Anger, hatred, pain and hurt, injustice and fear. It had been easy, very easy, to join allegiances with Lanson. There was money promised, and a safe haven, and a way to get revenge on Hammond. That Pellew and any of his officers would also pay seemed to not matter. No officer came to help Cronin. Lieutenants were only practicing tyrants, and midshipmen were idiotic cubs. How hard would it be to sow dissention on Indefatigable? How different could it be?
As different as night from day, he learned. No man would speak ill of Captain Pellew. No man wished to discuss injustice. That old- timer, Matthews, had harsh words for him when he'd tried to talk mutiny. He was frustrated, frustrated at every turn.
He'd waited for the raid on Indefatigable with trepidation. For these men...the lot of them...they seemed to believe they were invincible. Hell, he felt even if they KNEW the raid was imminent, they'd take all three ships on willingly.
Pellew. It must be Pellew. He was not a soft man, standing up there solid as a rock surveying his domain. But neither was he a cruel one.
One week into the voyage, Marks had been a bit slow at his gun port while they were practicing. Lieutenant Kennedy had given him a proper tongue lashing, and he'd waited, resentfully, for the bosun and the cat. Pellew's eyes were on him full, and he had only to issue the order.
"Do not make that mistake again, man!" His voice was full of anger and serious, and something in the rebuke stung him, but there was no further punishment.
He made talk around the men, much as he could, but trouble was he had established himself as a trouble maker. Nobody wanted to be seen even near him, when not forced to be by the confines of duty. He asked, though, about the boys...their treatment. It was Mr. Brandon...that puppy Lieutenant/ Doctor, who'd approached him just days later.
"I have heard tell you are inquiring about our boys here. For what purpose?"
Damned but he didn't look stern and commanding for someone little more than a child himself! "No purpose, just wonderin', is all." He'd mumbled.
Those blazing blue eyes were full of sparks. "Wondering what you could get away with, perhaps?"
He could feel the blood flow to his face, in rage at the accusation, when in fact it was the opposite he wanted. "No, Sir!" He mumbled in answer.
That boy never moved away from him, but stood just inches from his face. "We don't accept the mistreatment of boys, not ship's boys nor midshipman, not on this ship. Captain Pellew will not stand for it, and neither will his officers. Do I make myself clear?"
"Aye, Sir." But something in him kept going, though Brandon's back was now to him. "Heard about a boy beaten pretty badly last trip, Sir. Guess it's okay when it's the Captain's choice."
Again, the blond fury was on top of him. "You speak of Midshipman Coleman? You have no right, Sir. Midshipman Coleman was guilty of nearly causing the death of Midshipman Cousins through his folly and negligence, and furthermore showed no remorse for it. His actions put the lives of the men in danger, and Captain Pellew will not tolerate that. The harshness of his punishment was dictated by his own demeanor. Trust me when I say that if *I* do not question it, there is no reason for you to do so."
"Aye, Sir." He mumbled, not certain what the boy meant at all. And he waited, again, for someone to report him to Andrews.
Instead, those sharp eyes didn't leave his face. And when the Lieutenant spoke again, it was more quietly. "Perhaps you did not mean to create mischief yourself. If I have misjudged you, I apologize."
He almost fell over...a Lieutenant apologizing to him? He stared blankly as Brandon went on. "You came from Calypso, did you not?"
"Yes, Sir." His eyes were wide, that he was more than just another man to this boy.
And Brandon had nodded sagely, as if he actually understood him. "This is not Captain Hammond's ship, Marks. Fear not."
He'd been shaken up by the exchange, and suddenly desperately wished he could take back his unholy allegiance with Lanson. But what could he do? Confess his involvement to Pellew? He would hang, to be certain, and Lanson with him, and probably the attack not even avoided.
So it had fallen. Lanson was killed in the action...they had spoken to each other moments before, Lanson giving him signals in French that he hadn't understood. But Bowles had heard...Bowles had been startled. But before anything else had happened, Bowles and Lanson both were felled, and he was left in limbo. Not known to the French as an ally, and not known to the English as a traitor. Pellew taken, Kennedy and Hammond taken, Hornblower fallen, and the French mistaking Brandon for a mere doctor and not a Lieutenant.
He smiled into the darkness. That had been his doing. After the surrender, one of those French Lieutenants had cornered him, pistol in hand. "Zee other Lieutenants, man...ver are they?" He pointed to Cousins, very visible in his white-patched uniform. "Mid-ship-man." And he motioned toward the entry to below decks. "One eees dead. Zee blond one with him, he is Lieutenant?"
An image of young Brandon, full of fire and spirit, and seeing him for what he was, and somehow understanding where he came from, came before him, and he answered instinctively. "Doctor." He repeated it more firmly. "DOCTOR. Too young to be Lieutenant." So the Frenchie had nodded sagely, as if he'd figured as much himself, and took off.
But it remained that they were a ship of boys, in boys' command. He couldn't believe his blasted bad luck. There would be chaos, now. Every man for himself. For how could these boys be leaders of men?
Yet they were. Every step of the way. Every man following them without question. "Fother a sail," Cousins said, and a sail was fothered. "Repair the mast," He said, and the mast was repaired. Sail for France? Rescue their Captain? Absolutely. Of course they could.
And what, lord help him, would happen to him if they found the enemy, and discovered he was one of them?
"Up and out!" Andrews' voice snapped into the darkness, and with a long sigh, Marks rolled out of the hammock and into his uncertain future.
I found my head to be somewhat better later in the day, and Drew managed to prop me up carefully so that I was nearly sitting. Evening was upon us, apparently, although I had this curious sense of timelessness that injuries and rest in sick berth give you. Deftly, Drew lifted my bandage and checked my healing wound.
"Looks good, Horatio. You heal well enough." He quipped, providing me with a clean bandage.
"A good thing, as it seems I am too often here." I murmured.
He smiled, then came beside me. Placing his hands so that they framed my face, he looked into my eyes.
"Clear." He said, softly. "Still headachy?"
"Quite, but it's less a hammering anvil now than a slow-twisting knife."
"Very descriptive. Guess it means you ARE getting better. You must have a particularly hard head."
"But you knew that." I smiled thinly. "How are things running?"
"Not so bad. Reg and I did a load of paperwork this afternoon. He's conferring with Ward now on our course. I even managed to get in a brief nap." Drew joked, as he fed me porridge.
I downed it manfully before responding. "Sounds like you are handling your first command admirably, Mr. Brandon."
"With a little help from my friends. I'd still a thousand times rather be operating as a Doctor, even if it means spoon-feeding you this stuff."
"I've had worse." I remembered too well. "And not in confines anywhere near as friendly. So, no problems whatsoever?"
"Reg has everything under control above decks, I have things under control below, and Ward has us pointed in the right direction. If I could only stop Powers from fawning over me constantly, life would be good indeed."
I chuckled, pleased that the motion didn't upset my head. "He's without a purpose, with Pellew gone. Somebody's going to have to bear his pent-up energy."
There was a slight noise over Drew's shoulder, and he turned.
"Captain Brandon, reporting that we are well on course, no enemy in sight." Reg sauntered easily over towards us.
"Thank you, Doctor Cousins." He retorted, rising. "As you have decided I shall play Captain, it feels appropriate that you take over MY rightful place." He handed him the bowl. "Feed him while you're talking. Force him to finish it. And DON'T TIRE HIM OUT." Drew poked Reg in the chest in mock-sternness.
"Aye, Aye, Sir." Reg saluted formally, and they both burst out laughing.
Drew backed away. "I am going to get a head start on those logs. Remember, Lyman here..." He pointed towards the loblolly boy. "Is my eyes and ears. I shall know what happens in my absence."
Poor Lyman was all aghast at his sudden appointment to spy, but Drew patted him gently on the shoulder, and with a relieved smile, he turned back to his task of folding linen.
"Well..." I said softly to Reg after Drew had retreated. "The two of you seem to almost be enjoying yourselves."
Reg flushed. "Does it look like that? Because we're not, really. It's a hell of a lot of work, and I am scared to death we will botch something up."
"I understand." Bracegirdle's wise words from the past came back to me. 'If you had a choice of crying or singing, which would you choose?' Out loud, I said, "Every man handles the pressures of command differently. In fact, it is most important that you not change too much your own nature. The men follow you because of who you were before command, like as not. If you change that too much, they become suspicious. Consistency...that is the key."
"I will be glad to have you above decks, Horatio, and that is no lie. Though the men ARE following my lead, you have experienced much more than I have and they know that as well as I do."
"So...what is your plan?" I admit, I was being consumed by curiosity.
He explained what he'd over-heard from the French, and of which town the expected to execute the Captain in (I winced). He detailed to me his rather sketchy plans for the landing beach, and the expedition to retrieve him and Archie. And Hammond, I suppose.
I exhaled slowly as he finished.
"It's a start. But, oh, lord, Reg...the odds are long."
"I know." He admitted glumly. "I cannot think of what else to do."
"I would fancy our chances much better in a sea battle. You are proposing, here, to take a party of men OVER LAND to this town, a Napoleonic stronghold, and free a prisoner so highly sought that they sent THREE French ships of the line to capture him." I made each point carefully.
As I suspected, he'd thought this out, for his face betrayed no surprise. "I am aware of all of this, Horatio. I have had Mr. Holloway working with a specific group of men, teaching them rudimentary French. The better prepared the men are for a land adventure, the more likely we shall succeed."
"Who do you propose using in this landing party?"
"I'd like to bring Anderson and Holloway both, if Anderson is well enough. Howard's not ready. And then Morris, Matthews, Clarke and Willets. They all have some education, and are willing to learn, in addition to being very loyal men."
"Matthews without Styles? Morris without Thomas?" I asked, eyebrows raised.
"Yes. Because I can't see Styles or Thomas passing as French in an emergency."
I would have shaken my head but I was afraid to do it. "Yet both of those men are handy in a tight spot...and would fight through a stone wall for you."
"I know. It was not an easy decision, but I think that their liabilities to the mission outweigh their assets." His eyes were steady.
"So you plan...with at most seven men...to do this? Do you think you can?"
"I have to." Serious. Pointed. Determined.
I gave him a slight smile. "Then you shall."
"I would feel better, Horatio, if you were there with us." He admitted.
"I would feel better if I were there too, but I do not think there is much chance of Drew letting that happen." And I had to agree with that fact. We are looking at a timetable of less than a week from now; if it had been only the head injury I might have been viable, but as it is?
"If only..." I thought out loud. "If only we knew more of their plans. How much better if we could intercept the prisoners in transport." I passed my hand over my eyes. "We need more information."
"Since you bring it up, Horatio, how is it do you think that three French ships knew how to find us? One ship of so many in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and they head spot-on for Captain Pellew's? Do you not find it odd?"
"What are you suggesting, Mr. Cousins?"
"I am wondering, Sir...is it possible that they had inside information? Some kind of spy, perhaps? The enemy played Hale for a fool the last time..." His voice trailed off, for I suddenly felt light-headed, and it must have shown. "Horatio, are you ill? Shall I call Drew?"
"I am not ill." I said slowly. "I am remembering."
Remembering Bowles running to me, asking me what the devil a man in my division-Marks-was doing attempting to speak French with Captain Hammond's manservant?
Drew postponed his trip to the Captain's Cabin to work on the logs, for a quick stop up on quarterdeck. Holloway had the deck, and greeted him respectfully, eyes looking at him with awe, and, Drew suspected, relief. Relief not to be the man in charge, even shared charge, of this ship.
He stood the quarterdeck proudly, though, glad to be in the sun and the air for a few moments. He looked over the men, naming them in his head; a Captain should know the names of every man who serves for him. Of course, so should a Doctor, in his opinion, so the task was not so hard.
And then he spotted the one man whom he did not know well. Marks.
He'd had a conversation with Marks before the Captain's capture. Only one, but it had been unusual. Morris...a good man, not to mention Violet's father...had come to him, to let him know that Marks had been asking questions about the ship's boys. About how they were treated. It was a peculiar question, and Morris had not hesitated to bring it to Drew's attention, as was proper.
Drew's hackles went up. He was, for a variety of reasons, very sensitive to any threat to those not capable of defending themselves. And he'd cornered the man at once, demanding an explanation.
But somehow, over the course of their conversation, his opinion had changed. He was generally a good judge of men. And Marks did not seem to wish to threaten the boys. Quite the opposite. Drew looked him over clearly, and then understanding came to him. Drew could spot a man abused, with the sort of clarity only available to one who could empathize. "You served on Calypso?" He'd asked. And that was all that was necessary. He knew well enough what Hammond was like.
Confirmation was presented suddenly. The sun was warm; the men were hard at work, and Marks lifted his red-checked shirt to his face to mop it off, exposing his back in the process.
Drew hissed, drawing his breath through clenched teeth. Damned Hammond! True enough, Marks had shown a bit of distemper since coming on board here; and he had said a few things that were...unwise. Yet he worked hard. And over the past week his worst behavior had stopped, though he kept to himself. For the life of him, he could not comprehend a need for the amount of flogging it must have taken to make his back look that bad.
Dropping his shirt, Marks continued on his duties silently. Drew watched his efficiency and stoic calmness.
Pointedly, he walked down to the lower decks, and approached him. The other men saluted and went on about their duties. But when Marks saw him, his reaction was different. His eyes went blank, wary. He saluted, but stiffened, his effort now laborious. *He is waiting for the blow to fall.*
Another situation Drew understood too well.
"Marks. A word with you, if I may."
"Yes, Sir. Of course, Sir." Marks mumbled, face going pale.
Drew pulled him off to the side, out of earshot of the other men. "We talked last week, Marks, before the fighting with the French. Do you remember? About the young men on board here?"
"Yes, Sir." And quickly he ran on. "Din't hurt nobody, Sir."
"I know that." Drew replied. "Your work has been fine here Marks, and after a rocky start, I think you've settled in among your mates."
"I..." Marks looked at him open-mouthed. "Thank ye, Sir."
"You're welcome." Drew pointedly made certain to look out over the horizon. "I wanted to make certain you understood what I was telling you when I said Captain Hammond is not in charge here." He put his arms behind his back. "Captain Pellew has a policy Marks...he judges a man by what he sees him do. Not by his past, not by his reputation, and not by another man's hearsay. Captain Pellew may be absent, but that policy is not." He finally turned his head back to Marks. "Am I making myself clear?"
"Yes...Sir." Marks' face looked haunted suddenly; Drew was perplexed. Damned but he meant to make the man feel better, not worse.
"That is a GOOD thing, Marks." The man's face remained blank. Drew tried to smile at him reassuringly. "This is a good ship. Justice prevails here. Justice." His smile faded, for Marks was deathly pale. "That is all. You are dismissed."
"Aye, Aye, Sir." Marks turned away, returning to his work.
And feeling rather dejected that he hadn't seemed to get through to the man, Drew decided it was time to head for his paperwork.
Marks was silent, ignoring all the eyes on him as he returned to his duties. He felt sick.
Justice. The boy was offering him justice. Nobody in his life had ever offered him justice before, when it was all he had ever asked. To be treated justly. To be treated like a man, instead of a brute or a slave. It was his luck to have it offered now, when justice in fact would send him hanging from the yard-arm.
This ship...this ruddy ship...he thought, coiling the rope
deliberately. Why did it make him care so much? And what about
this Brandon fellow? Why should
Brandon see something in him, praise him, try and help him? What could he know of the sort of life Marks had lived?
The bells ran, signaling the change of the watch, and slowly, Marks rose, prepared to make his solitary way towards dinner, for who would join him?
Then, before he understood what was happening, Morris fell in step with him.
"Nice work there, Marks. Ye might have a bit of carpenter in you, mate."
Marks stood still and didn't answer, expecting Morris to have a jab or a purpose, or a taunt behind his kindness.
Morris, though, was a patient man, with no ulterior motives, save one. "Mr. Brandon, now, he's a right fine lad, he is. Wouldn't be standing here today, talking to you, if not for his doctor skills."
Marks struggled for words. "He's...kind." It still puzzled him, the kindness.
"Aye, that he is." Morris peered at him carefully. "Like the golden rule, he is, doing on to others as you would have them do to you. He treats men the way he would want to be treated. Happens that way, sometimes."
Marks was totally lost. Morris continued, obliquely.
"When you've been mistreated, you know. Some folks, makes them bitter. Mr. Brandon coulda been that way. But then he found people who were kind to him, too, and he decided that was better."
"Somebody mistreated Mr. Brandon?" Strangely, it angered Marks, and that surprised him; he had told himself he would never care about anybody again, not after Cronin.
"Mistreated him bad. His father, I'm talkin' about. He's dead now. But it affects him, still, always tryin' to get people to like him, and makin' sure people are treated right." Morris cleared his throat. "I should tell you, I'm fond of that boy. He and my daughter...she's his girl, you know."
Marks felt his head spinning. Brandon? But he was a gentleman, wasn't he? Talked like one, anyway. But he had an agreement with MORRIS' daughter? Was the entire world mad?
"I heard what you did." Morris said, suddenly.
WHAT? Marks felt his stomach turn, and stared at Morris with wide, terrified eyes.
"You saved him." The words were simple, but stunning. "I heard you...that Frenchie came by looking for Lieutenants, and you lied and said Mr. Brandon was only a doctor. Can't imagine it was for any good, that man looking for Lieutenants...you saved him." And Morris offered his hand.
Marks shook his head. "Din't do nothin'. Don't cotton to Frenchies, is all..."
Morris would not withdraw his hand, though, and reluctantly Marks accepted it, against every belief he held.
"Now, let's get some grub, eh, before our mates eat us out of the ship?"
And his mind in a turmoil, Marks could only follow.
Drew stood by the windows in Captain Pellew's cabin, facing the first crisis of his command...if it was his command still. Or had he abdicated any purposeful power to Reg? It shouldn't matter, but there was a problem, and he had a feeling the two of them were going to have a disagreement over it, and fast.
"Drew, have you heard what I've told you?" Reg seemed to finally realize that his friend was not responding.
"I heard." Drew said, his even voice not revealing the despair in his heart.
Marks. Marks, a traitor? Marks, a spy? But...but... Drew closed his eyes. No wonder the man rejected assurances. No wonder he didn't wish to make friends.
Yet, there had been something to the man. Drew saw it and understood it. He understood, too, that abuse made you desperate; it made you bitter. Abuse could make you not care whether your Captain and shipmates lived or died. When nobody showed you anything but bitterness and contempt, it was what you gave back.
He also understood that treason could not be tolerated.
"I am disappointed." He said, opening his eyes but still not looking at his friend. "I had thought I could reach him."
"Reach what, Drew? He's not a malcontent, he's a traitor." Reg's voice was patient. "At least, I can see no reason for his speaking French with Hammond's man. And the coincident is too great. Calypso AND Indefatigable attacked? On whose information? Who better than the trusted man-servant of a stupid man?"
Drew turned slowly, the pain very evident on his face. "You know, no man better, what sort of a man Hammond is. You can imagine what it must be like, on a ship he commands. I believe Marks has suffered terribly. Can you not understand that he might be pushed to that level?"
"I can understand it." Reg said, evenly. "But I cannot condone it."
They looked at each other, at a stand-off of sorts. Reg went on, slowly, "By all means, send for him and let him explain himself. Perhaps you will find his story more palatable to your ears than mine."
Drew hid a wince at the suggestion of bitterness in Reg's voice. "I am not questioning you. I am not doubting you. I just...don't like it. I don't have to LIKE it, you know." They stared at each other warily.
Forbes knocked on the door, and Reg interrupted the awkward silence. "Yes, what is it?"
"Beg your pardon, Sirs. There's a man by name of Marks, who says he must see the Captain."
Which one? Thought Drew wryly. And together they called out, "Send him in."
Marks looked from Drew to Reg, and back again. Then he spoke tentatively. "Beggin your pardon, Sirs...I don't know whom I should be addressing." He looked down at his feet, shifting uncomfortably.
"You address Captain Brandon. He's senior." Reg's voice was terse and clipped.
"Aye." Marks looked up. "Sir, I'm here to confess, I am guilty of plotting ...of...I am not even sure what the charges are, Sir! But I'm guilty, Sir, and I can't take no more of you being kind, when I know what sort of a man I am!"
Reg looked surprised at the admission, and then looked back to Drew. It was obvious he was giving Drew the power, here. To do what was right. Whatever that was, Drew thought.
"What exactly did you do, Marks? Speak plain and honest, man; lying is no good to you now."
"Yessir. I...when I was on Calypso, Sir, an' she was so bad damaged, he came to me, offered me good money to help him once we transferred. Said we'd be coming to Indefatigable, and I could get away from Hammond and start fresh, in France."
"Who is it that came to you, Marks?" Drew's voice was quietly non-committal.
"Lanson, Sir; Captain's servant. Brought me in afore we came on board."
"And what...exactly...were you to do to aid him?"
"Mutiny, Sir. Try and start one; cause fights, cause disturbances, get other men to our sides for when the time came."
"When the time came. You mean, for when we were to be surrounded by three French ships of the line?"
"Yes, Sir." Marks gulped. "I din't know exactly what was happening, but I knew the French were following us, biding their time; preparing to meet us between Madeira and Oporto."
"When we were at our most vulnerable." Reg finally spoke, his voice grave. "For as Oporto is a foreign outpost, our absence would not be immediately noted. A good plan, Marks.
Marks gulped. "I din't make the plan, Sir. Just followed along, is all." He looked back down at his feet. "I din't care, either, not when it was Hammond."
"So why, Marks, did you not go to the French when the time came? You could have, you know. Why are you still here?" Drew watched him closely.
"Lanson...he was trying to say something to me, Sir...in French...but my French isn't that good...a few words, I know. I think mebbe he was trying to let the Frenchies know I was one o'them, but then it was all over, Lanson killed, and I didn't know where I belonged any more."
Drew took a deep breath. He saw the disgust on Reg's face, but he knew he didn't understand everything that was going on here.
"Why, Marks? Why would you turn on your king and your country? Why would you turn on your ship?"
"My ship?" Marks laughed through the tears. "Hell, Sir...you saw my back, I know well enough you did, up on deck today. Been flogged more times than I can count, and mostly for no reason. But it wasn't that, it were everyone...the boys, especially. God, Hammond...he ENJOYS it, you know; enjoys watching 'em get beaten; seen him make them beg fer mercy sometimes, and them not doing more than their job." He blinked at the memories and then turned to Reg. "What 'e did to you, Sir...that warn't nothing." Reg started at being brought into the conversation in a more personal manner. "Imagine day after day...no hope, no help. Imagine being so desperate that you'd rather...jump off the yard arm...than be beaten again." Marks blinked. "Shoulda come clean then, I suppose, but I got scared."
Drew looked him over slowly. "What do you mean by that, that you 'should have come clean then.' When, exactly, do you mean?"
Marks looked up at him dully. "I knew I'd made a mistake when Hammond came after Mr. Cousins. When I saw Captain Pellew come out all a-rage fer having his man mistreated. I knew, then. I'd thrown out my life just when I'd finally had a chance to have one. Still, I was afraid I'd hang; now I jus' want it over with, no more of you talkin' to me about justice and fairness. Jus' want it over, Sir." Marks slumped, putting his head in his hands.
Damn, but why did this have to happen when HE was Captain, Drew thought bitterly. Because he understood the man perfectly; too perfectly. Yet his actions may result in the death of Captain Pellew and Archie. He could not turn away, but he wished to; he could not pass of the responsibility, though it would have been so much easier to turn to Reg, now, and ask him to deal with it.
Drew reluctantly came before Marks, standing as tall as he could, trying to look the master of the situation. Reg was about to disagree with his decision, he was certain of it. "Marks, look at me, man."
Slowly, he raised his head, expecting the worst.
Drew spoke deliberately. "On my watch, Sir, as far as I can tell, what you have been guilty of is fomenting dissention. You have confessed as such. Therefore, I am ordering you to be placed in irons, and tomorrow you shall...walk the gauntlet." He stifled a gulp, and wondered if Marks would ever understand how issuing even so relatively lenient a penalty made him sick inside; sick and disgusted at the thought of the beating of another human being. "You will remain under arrest when not on duty. Once recovered from your punishment, I am expecting you to carry your weight, and be an exemplary crewman. If you are, then I am prepared to speak in your defense before Captain Pellew when we recover him, and he shall decide your fate for those crimes you committed on his watch." Another deep breath. "If Captain Pellew and/or Mr. Kennedy are NOT recovered alive, then I will have no choice but to order your death by hanging. Are you clear on that, Marks?"
"I..." He was stunned, stunned to be left with a chance of life. "Yes, Sir."
"Good." Drew kept his mouth set in a straight line, as he went to speak to Forbes, and Marks was led away to confinement, to await his punishment.
Drew, meanwhile, figured HIS punishment was to be swift and certain; he waited for Reg's anger at his weakness, his rage at letting the man live, even if it was just to wait for the Captain's return. He met his friend's eyes reluctantly, pleading in his own eyes for understanding.
Reg was silent and unmoving; his face was pale and his eyes were as inscrutable as ever Captain Pellew's were. Drew set his shoulders, and decided to challenge him first. "Well?"
"Well, what?" Reg asked.
They stared each other down, before Reg let out a long sighing breath.
"You did what you had to." He said, quietly.
"You disagree with me." Drew stated.
"I do not." Reg shook his head. "Ten minutes ago I would have; ten minutes ago I thought you had lost your mind. But..." He took a deep breath. "I looked in his eyes, Drew. And I too, understand. I don't like understanding, and there's a part of me that feels like I've violated every bit of logical reason I possess. But...I could see, in his face, what it must have been like, serving with Hammond. I could imagine it far too well. How many times in the past weeks have I thanked God that Pellew is my Captain? No, I cannot believe I am saying this, but you did the right thing."
Drew sank into the chair, overcome with relief, and laid his head in his arms. Reg came over and patted him on the shoulder. "And don't think I don't know, what it took for you to order him through the gauntlet." He sat beside him. "I will lead the punishment tomorrow, if you wish."
Drew raised his head. "I am not THAT much of a coward, Mr. Cousins."
"I have never thought you a coward at all." Reg's voice was soothing. "But there are certain things that no man should have to go through. Please, I beg of you, let me conduct this; do not force yourself to watch something so disturbing to you." When Drew didn't answer, Reg made a further point. "If you had decided to hang him, would you have ordered me to do the job?"
Drew gaped, remembering Reg's ordeal with Orson. "Of course not. I could never put you through that."
"Well then, what makes you think I should force you to suffer through YOUR worst memories? Hm? Let me handle this."
It was a tempting offer. "We'll see." Drew muttered, but knew he would not give in. Perhaps in forcing himself to watch what he'd ordered, he could reinforce the fact that he never would enjoy violence to another human being.
Reg coughed discretely. "I heard what you said to Marks...threatening to hang him anyway if we do not recover either Captain Pellew or Mr. Kennedy alive."
"What of it?" Drew looked at him in confusion.
"I notice that you did not indicate the same if Captain Hammond should be lost?"
Drew realized he was right, and gave a little laugh. "Well, no, I didn't. Guess I wanted to leave him with some incentive for staying alive, after all!"
Reg smiled tiredly, and then rose. "I am sending for Powers. We both need food, and rest. Tomorrow...shall be an interesting day."
"I hope that Captain Pellew is alright." Drew mused. "Lord, how I miss him!"
"He and Mr. Kennedy are just fine, I am certain. At least they are together."
Drew thought about what would have happened if the Captain had been stuck with only Hammond for company. His mood on rescue might be worse than even his usual mood on return from admiralty!
Captain Pellew and Archie Kennedy had been reciting Shakespeare from memory to each other for most of the day, as an amusement. It was a battle of wills, almost; to top verse with verse, speech with speech. Just now, Archie was, in his clear, melodic voice, finishing up with the St. Crispin's day speech from Henry the Fifth, Pellew's particular favorite.
"...And Gentlemen in England now a bed, shall think themselves accurst they were not here; and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day!"
Pellew sighed. "You could have had a career on the stage, Mr. Kennedy."
Archie laughed. "Much as my father prides himself as a progressive man when it comes to allowing his sons to choose their careers, I rather think he would have drawn the line at that. No offense to your wife, of course."
"None taken. It's that bleedin' aristocracy thing again, ain't it?"
Archie smirked, as the Captain allowed his normally pristine speaking voice to mimic the sounds of the lower decks. "You might be an actor yourself, Sir."
They were alone. After recovering from his knock on the head, Hammond had undergone a complete change of personality, at least with the guards. Privately, to Archie and Edward, he was still the same pompous fool he had always been. But he had begun almost simpering to the guards, cajoling them as if they were Admirals themselves. Finally, Labrie came down to speak with them, and somehow Hammond had wangled an invitation to dine in his cabin, due to sheer obsequious flattery. Given the sort of nature Labrie had shown, Pellew was just as happy to eat porridge.
"Your turn, Sir." Archie prompted.
"Enough for now, I think." Pellew said, and then felt his face coloring. "I fear I must admit it, you have bested me, Mr. Kennedy. Or perhaps my brain is dull with our situation."
"Nothing a pristine glass of claret wouldn't clear up. I don't envy Hammond the company, but I would most certainly welcome a glass of wine."
"Better for us to keep our wits about us, anyway." Pellew pointed out. "Not that anything has happened so far to indicate a possible escape."
"While we are at sea? Well...if we could somehow overpower the guards and escape unnoticed to the upper deck, we might try and make off with a boat, hoping that we aren't spotted and picked off by their marines as we rowed away."
"Long odds, Mr. Kennedy, Long odds indeed. I would rather wait until we had at least one element to our favor."
A cheer went up from some distance away. "They seem to be carousing, Sir. Quite loudly."
"And drunk, I would guess." Pellew frowned. "Wildly so. This would not happen on the Indefatigable."
"Andrews would have put a stop to it long before now, Sir." Archie agreed. And then, he gave a sigh as he looked around his narrow confines. "I confess, I grow rather tired of our situation. Do not take this as a reflection on you, Sir, when I say that the St. Crispin's day speech not withstanding, abed in England sounds most appealing right now."
"For both of us. Or bed on Indefatigable, even." He permitted a wicked smile. "Shakespeare was most kind to young Harry...though it is one of the shortest, I believe it is my favorite play, or at least my favorite of the historicals. But when one looks at the actual details of Henry V's reign, there was not so very much to have him remembered in history."
"What are you suggesting? That some vague Plantagenet descendant paid Will Shakespeare off?" He laughed.
"Not a bit of it. However, I am wondering whom *I* should pay off, to have my career remembered? I think Shakespeare would have had more than a bit of material from Indefatigable, eh, Mr. Kennedy.
"I don't know, Sir. He liked a bit of intrigue, duplicity; treachery, even. We are a sight too well run to create good drama."
"Mmm, perhaps." Pellew conceded the point; he did not expect any of his men to plant a knife in his back, in the manner of Brutus; nor did he plan on losing his wits, like King Lear.
"Unless..." Archie began warming up to the subject. "Perhaps I can see Will doing a nice little piece of work on Horatio's life!"
Pellew stifled a laugh. "Oh, that is most unfair to him, Mr. Kennedy, when he is not here to defend himself."
"Well, I could hardly say it if he WERE here to defend himself; he'd kill me!" It was only a minutes pause, before Archie gave voice to verse....
"Hear me, gentle audience, for I am CHORUS, and shall
guide you through
our valiant hero's journey from and to
boy and man;
If one can:
Imagine the spray of the sea;
A lone ship's boat, tossed to the waves,
in it's belly a boy solitary...
Made for Justinian, in Spithead bays."
"That is terrible...Mr. Kennedy..." But Captain Pellew lost it, laughing long and hard, which was all the encouragement Archie needed to continue his fractured verse.
"Enter one Archie Kennedy, midshipman to our view:
'Jump; You'll be alright...' then an aside, 'Provided Simpson has taken flight.'
'Hornblower, man,' Said Clayton. 'Your skin is green.'
'Pardon me, Sirs...' Said Hornblower, 'I'm seasick and must exit this scene!"
Archie paused, sighing. "Not much else to laugh about on Justinian, I am afraid." And his voice caught, but as always he endeavored to keep the situation light. "I could, however, jump forward to act two, the battle of Marie Galant, as was repeated to me by Styles whilst we were in prison:
'Hornblower sat, eyes ablaze...
Not shirking from Forget's smug gaze.
'You've won the day, you wish to sail
and hope you encounter no large gale.
You think there's land
You've promised your hands
They'll not end up dead.
Here's the chart, you silly git;
Want the compass? Fish for it!'"
Pellew lost it again, for he himself had been forced to piece together the story from Powers and his sources below decks; such was the nature of Horatio's reticence. Then, having abandoned any pretense at dignity, he decided to play along.
"If you do not object, Mr. Kennedy...I have a verse of my own..." He thought only a second.
"Burning blaze against the night,
The Captain was amazed by the sight.
A second before, all seemed lost,
The Indefatigable would be on fire.
And as her commander reckoned the cost,
His impotent rage was voiced with great ire...
"Fend her off with spars, he snarled
To seaman young and those knarled.
But just when the fire ship came forward in great wrath
The smokes cleared from her burning deck;
The Captain watched it veer from its path.
Who was steering the burning wreck?
"Hornblower" He gasped in dumb surprise...
As his Lieutenant guided his flaming prize."
"Very well done indeed, Sir." Archie said, nodding his approval. He waited a few more minutes, before he made his next attempt.
"Alone and in prison, Kennedy waited...
Only to be found by the friend he now hated.
Stubborn Horatio would not be denied...
Archie must escape with them, as one of their own.
But stupid Kennedy would not swallow his pride,
Nor any food, either, if truth be known.
But from the abyss Horatio pulled him back.
And against his will, set Kennedy's life on track.
Never could Kennedy repay the gift he gave...
Though he would try as the years ticked away.
He could only imagine how many other lives he'd save,
And if he'd ever understand the gratitude Archie could never say."
The silence returned back to the room, now pitch black dark and with no sign of Hammond returning. Captain Pellew knew he could not let Archie end on that melancholy note, but needed to take the time to think of what to say. Finally, he spoke.
"A confident man went to France, strong and sure;
he stood beside his friend, his trust still pure.
He returned a shell of his former self, life shattered.
A battle, a woman, a terrorized town,
Treachery previously unknown had his beliefs tattered.
His eyes were empty, his spirits down.
His loyal friend had saved his life, true.
But his Captain was not certain that it would do,
A bit of good; but Kennedy would not quit.
He kept at him, supporting him to the last;
Making him smile and laugh, that was the way of it,
Finally dragging him unwilling up the mast.
And there, on top of the world, his friend's gift revealed.
Was to give Hornblower back his life, and to let him heal."
Again, there was quiet. Pellew might have heard Archie sniffle, just slightly, but wisely opted not to note it. Finally, the young Lieutenant spoke. "Sir, if he is dead, I do not know what I shall do."
"You will go on, and keep his memory alive in your heart, as I shall. But the more I think on it, the more I cannot believe him dead, Mr. Kennedy. The play is still missing several acts, after all."
Archie laughed through his pain, and then they were quiet once more, as they heard Hammond's approach with the guards.
He belched loudly as he came in, and tumbled to the floor. "A fine meal, Sirs, if you only were not so stubborn. Nothing like a bit of beef, I say, and French cooking is -hic- tops."
"Not to mention the wine!" Archie muttered in disgust. "You are drunk, Sir."
"Drunk...not a bit-hic-of it." He belched once more, then snarled. "Send for the bosun, I will...impertinence."
"I am not one of your midshipmen to be beaten into blind obedience, Sir!" Archie snapped, but Pellew reached over and squeezed his forearm.
For Hammond was snoring already, and their long night was just begun.
I sat upright, the roar in my head lessened and feeling more and more myself. I almost believe I could get up and go above decks, except for two facts: one, the minute I do more than sit, the incision in my abdomen hurts like hell; and two, I'm certain that Drew would have me strung up by my heels in the riggings.
I was rather envious of Anderson, who was gingerly adjusting the buttons on his jacket. He was being allowed to resume light duty above decks, though he must check in to sick berth at the end of his watch, to confirm that his wound is still mending. "Good luck to you, Mr. Anderson." I smiled in encouragement.
"Thank you, Sir." He smiled back. "I am relieved to be back on duty."
"No doubt Mr. Brandon and Mr. Cousins will be glad to have you. You're an important member of this crew; I'm certain that your loss has been felt keenly."
He blushed. "You are being quite generous, Sir. But I would hope that I can be useful to them both, in whatever capacity." He picked up his hat. "Is there anything I can get for you before I leave, Sir?"
"No, I thank you, but I am quite alright." I didn't want to let him see how frustrated I was to be left behind.
"A book, perhaps? I can fetch one from your quarters if you like; I still have some time before my watch."
I paused. It was tempting, although I was not certain my head would bear it. But I was bored beyond belief. However, I do not think Gibbon could be construed as "light" reading, nor Norie's Seamanship, and somehow the thought of translating Don Quixote is NOT appealing. "Perhaps one of Mr. Brandon's books over there?"
Anderson took a look at the small pile Drew kept to keep him company when he was with a patient. "Medical...medical...here's a Shakespeare, Sir."
"Henry V." He pronounced it "Vee".
"That would be Henry THE FIFTH." I corrected him, and he turned red again.
"Of course, Sir. Would you like that?"
"It's as good as anything, I guess." I held my hand out, and he gave it to me. "Not read much Shakespeare yourself, Anderson?"
"No, Sir. There's not much time to read for pleasure."
"You ought to make a little time, though I am of the same mind you are. Still, as was pointed out to me once, when you are a Captain and entertaining in society, you ought to be able to hold a conversation on more than how to take in your top gallants." I smirked to myself at the memory of Kitty in Spain.
"That would be highly presumptuous, Sir, for me to assume I shall make Captain." He straightened his neck-cloth nervously. "Good day, Sir."
I looked him over as he left, and thought about how far he'd come in the time he'd served with us. A reclamation project. A man Captain Pellew would not give up on, despite a foolish mistake made out of the ignorance of youth. And now he was one of the bravest, surest midshipman I'd ever seen. "I do not think it's presumptuous, Mr. Anderson." I said, though he could no longer hear me.
Young Lyman bustled in, and set to scrubbing the floors. He smiled shyly at me, but kept his eyes to the task, and I tried to concentrate on the book. But as I suspected, my eyes and head are not yet up to the feat. So I tossed the book aside and leaned back on my pillows, trying not to be a petulant child.
Lyman was whistling cheerfully, which grated against my ears most uncomfortably, but I didn't have the heart to rebuke him. He must have sensed my eyes on him, though, for he looked up suddenly. "Can I get you something, Sir?" His eyes were wide and anxious to please.
"No, indeed, young man. I am only bored. I should much rather be helping you scrub the floors than reclining here in this bed." I teased him.
"Go on, Sir; *you* scrubbing floors." He grinned at the mere thought of it.
"I have not always been a Lieutenant, you know." I pointed out. "I had to do my share of mundane duty once."
"On this ship, Sir?" He was no longer afraid, just curious.
"No, no on a ship called Justinian, mostly. A very long time ago."
He chewed on his lip thoughtfully. "Was the Justinian as nice a ship as the Indefatigable."
"No, she was not." I said, managing not to snap. "But then, I don't think any ship could be as nice as this one."
"I agree, Sir." He resumed hard scrubbing. "Everyone gets along here."
I was pleased that even an eleven-year old boy could recognize the sort of place this was. "Yes, they do. You like working with Mr. Brandon and Mr. Johnson?"
"Oh, yes, Sir." He soaked his rag in the hot water, and moved over to a new spot. "They're both very kind, Sir; not much for yelling, and they explain everything out so I can understand it. And they've never hit me, not even once. Poor Mr. Brandon, Sir."
That comment seemed unusually cryptic; did Lyman know the details of Drew's past? "Why is Mr. Brandon so to be pitied, Lyman?"
"Cause of what's going on above decks...I know it'll bother him something fierce." He frowned hard at the rag in his hand.
Hm, what's up here? "Is something wrong, Lyman? Are the men not respecting him as they should?"
"Oh, no, Sir; the men would run through fire for Mr. Brandon and Mr. Cousins. But this man Marks, he's been a bit of a problem, Sir..."
"I am somewhat aware of that." Indeed, it had been my information that sent Mr. Cousins to see Drew last evening.
"Well, Sir, Mr. Brandon, he's ordered Marks to walk the gauntlet." He tried to hide the excitement in his voice. Violent punishment was rare on Indefatigable, and therefore a notable event. "Mr. Cousins is going to lead him through, but Mr. Brandon is holding the deck."
"I see." I swallowed hard. Drew could not do this. How could I let him? He didn't understand in the slightest what this entailed. He was not here when Bunting...I shuddered. "Hand me my coat, Mr. Lyman."
"Sir!" His mouth hung open. "I can't do that, Sir." And belatedly, he realized that he ought not to have perhaps told me quite so much about what was going on above decks.
"Have you forgotten how to follow an order from a superior officer?" I grumbled, glowering at him in my most menacing way.
"N...no, Sir...but I report to Mr. Brandon, Sir..." He looked at me beseechingly.
"Correct me if I am wrong, but first Lieutenant out-ranks third Lieutenant, the last time I checked. Is that not so?"
"HAND ME MY JACKET, MR. LYMAN." I snapped, trying to pretend that yelling wasn't turning my head into a pile of mush.
Poor lad never had a chance. Trembling from head to foot, he evidently decided that the wrath before him, in the form of me, was more terrifying than the wrath of Drew he would face later. He's probably wrong, but I'm not about to tell him that. He gave me my jacket as I forced myself to rise slowly. As long as I don't move quickly, it's not so bad.
Of course, after Drew gets a hold of me, it may well be a very different story.