Chapter 1, The Heat of the Battle
July 17th, 1797
Archie Kennedy tilted his head up into the sun, grateful to no longer be breathing in the acrid air of the left over gun battle the Indefatigable had been engaged in only yesterday. He glanced around him to the five ships that formed Pellew's squadron-the frigates Dunbarton, Catherine, Apollo, Victoria, and the sloop Sophia. Dunbarton had been the worst damaged in yesterday's debacle...well, at least it would have been a debacle, if not for the quick thinking of Captain Pellew and Captain Clark of the Sophia.
"Good morning, Archie." A soft, tired voice spoke behind him.
Archie looked with worry down into Drew's face, but when he saw nothing worse than exhaustion there he relaxed. "How is everything, Drew? How is he?" He knew that, especially when he was on watch, he ought not to be so free with Drew's Christian name, but after the trials of yesterday, formality almost hurt.
Drew's face this morning had lines of fatigue that made him seem much older than his fifteen years, though more vulnerable than ever. He breathed in deeply, perhaps just as happy as Archie to have fresh air in his lungs. "Horatio will be fine, Archie. It was a long night, but there are no signs of fever and he is resting comfortably."
Archie shuddered, remembering how close they had come to losing his best friend, and then how close his best friend had come to amputation. If not for the very remarkable skill of the young man beside him, Horatio would be waking this morning to the agony of an uncertain future at half-pay, crippled for life. If he were to wake at all. And he caught out the Dunbarton in his sights again, its main mast crumpled, the signs of hasty repair work happening. The disgust on his face would have been evident to a child of five.
Drew certainly noted it. "I understand that Captain Strong was among the fallen, yesterday." He said evenly.
"Yes, he was." Archie said without elaboration.
Drew looked straight at him. "Good."
ONE WEEK EARLIER:
July 10th, 1797
Archie Kennedy was in his berth, ostensibly preparing for his Lieutenant's exam, not that he had any idea when that might happen. The truth was he was not really seeing the pages of the book he was trying to study. Instead, he was replaying in his mind the events of the current campaign, and not liking what he saw.
Now entering into their third month of patrol as the command frigate of a small squadron, life on the Indy had resumed its steady, organized and commonplace tenor. Archie was grateful for that. Simplicity was what they all needed after the events of Muzillac.
Parker had Pellew patrolling the area between Spain and Madeira. The goal was, short term, to disrupt the trade routs between the Americas and France and Spain as much as possible. Long term, the feeling was England might wish to take over the Port there to increase their military strong hold. In which case, having had a continued presence there over the previous months would firm their position.
The patrols had been uneventful so far. Two prizes Captured and returned to England. Horatio had captained one early on, and already returned some three weeks ago. Just before he did, there was a second capture, and Pellew had chosen McGill to return it.
It still bothered Archie, though he would not let it show. After all, he was the third Lieutenant, was he not? Granted, his expertise was in gunnery, not in navigation. And of course, McGill and Horatio both had experience in such matters. Both had previously had the responsibility of commanding prize ships from shorter distances; perhaps if they had not been so far from home, Pellew might have trusted him.
Trust! The word ate at him. For whatever logic he might try and employ to explain the choices away, it boiled down to the feeling Pellew just didn't trust him. As a human being, or an officer among many, yes, but in command? No. And why should he? Archie berated himself. A man prone to fits; unable to successfully escape from prison; who'd panicked trying to fend off a simple sniper attack on a bridge in France. Not that the Captain had ever recriminated with him on any of these things; he was far to generous for that. But neither could he discount them, when the time came for choosing those most fit for command.
A knock at the door of the small quarters he shared with Horatio surprised him.
It was Mr. Brandon...Drew. The young unofficial ship's Doctor, and the brother of the woman he loved. Archie smiled at him in spite of his dark thoughts. "Hullo, Drew."
"Mr. Kennedy!" He responded, with smirking formality. "I understand the officers mess shall be depleted this evening. I'm inviting you and McAnn to dine with us poor unfortunate midshipmen, if you'd care to."
Archie gave him a half-hearted smile in return. Pellew was entertaining the five other Captains of the squadron this evening. Mr. Bracegirdle would be there, as would Horatio and Mr. Bowles. Pellew's table seated eight comfortably; nine would be a stretch. Ten would have been impossible. So Archie, along with Captain McAnn of the Marines, was left out. Pellew had been apologetic about it, and Archie had taken it in stride. But thinking on it now...after his recent train of thoughts...
"Archie? Archie?" The concern behind the question was evident, and Archie, understanding it, inhaled sharply, not biting back his tongue.
"I'm fine!" He snapped, slamming shut the book and throwing it at his young friend. Drew ducked just in time and the heavy tome clattered harmlessly against the wall; the young man turned and looked wide-eyed at him, mouth speechlessly open.
Archie closed his eyes. To take his anger out on Drew, who he considered a brother and who had in his life borne the brunt of so much anger already, was totally inexcusable. His stomach knotted, and he felt the hot blush of shame on his face.
"I'm sorry." He whispered, almost wishing he would have had a fit instead.
He felt Drew's hand on his shoulder. "It's okay, Archie." He heard the boy sit across from him, on Horatio's bunk. "Whatever is bothering you today?"
Archie sighed and looked up at him. Drew was truly not angry, but concerned. "Drew, I..." He could not possibly repeat his own feelings of failure to him. Like Horatio, Drew was born to succeed at his chosen lot in life. "I just wish that everyone didn't assume I was having a fit every time I pause for thoughts for a few seconds. I haven't had one in more than a year. It annoys me."
Drew shook his head. "You're a terrible liar, Archie! Despite the rather remarkable performance you put on with my father!"
Archie spluttered, pounding the pillow. "You know you were TOO thinking I was having a fit, and that's why I got angry! Why must you make it to be more than it is?"
"Because if you weren't having a fit, and obviously you weren't, then your mind was a thousand miles away for SOME reason, and not on happy thoughts, either."
The two men stared each other down, and, as was usually the case, the younger man won. "I am...not at dinner with Captain Pellew this evening." He muttered, knowing how hollow and petty that sounded.
Drew raised an eyebrow. "Did you really wish to be? Oh, I know his table will be better than ours...though we've got Holloway cooking, and his food's not half bad. But with the exception of Captain Clark, they're a pompous lot, these Captains, and you know Pellew's in a foul mood for half a week after spending time with them. *I* certainly wouldn't wish to be there."
Archie shrugged. "Perhaps not. But I am a Lieutenant, though just an acting one, and I feel...slighted, I guess."
Drew nodded. "Quite human of you, Archie. Terribly inexcusable."
"Cut it out, Drew. This is not a joke."
"I'm not joking." Drew wrung his hands together, and then tried again. "Mr. McGill has not yet returned from England. He should be back soon, I would imagine."
Archie raised his head suddenly. "How did you know..."
"That it bothered you that Pellew chose McGill instead of you to command the prize? I didn't, not until Horatio returned. You were perhaps a bit more sarcastic towards him than usual. And I thought about why that may be."
"Am I so obvious?"
"No. In fact, Horatio didn't even notice it himself, I don't think, he just thought your wit was in rare form."
"So what made YOU think of it?"
"One particular comment that I don't think Horatio caught. After he returned, you said to him it was good that he got the ship to England, but after he walked away, you muttered, 'One in three tries is not so bad.' It was unusually bitter."
Archie groaned and hung his head. "I did not mean to speak that out loud."
"I am certain that you didn't." Drew cleared his throat. "So, why do you think Pellew chose McGill to take that prize back to England?"
"Because he knows I am not capable of it."
"Well, that's one answer, and one way to look at it. Likewise, we can imagine that I'm in the sick bay because he didn't think I could handle the regular duties of a Midshipman."
"Drew!" Archie cried out, exasperated.
"Well, one COULD look at it that way. Don't you think that I did, sometimes, in those first days, wonder at his reasoning? Even though this was everything I wanted, I couldn't help it. Then I saved Morris' life, and I realized that Pellew had known what he was doing the entire time. He usually does, you know."
Archie bit his lower lip. "All well and good with you, Drew, but hardly applicable in my circumstance. What other reason he could have, than my untrustworthiness in command?"
"Well, there is the fact that you know more about guns and artillery than any man on board this ship. It's as natural to you as medicine is to me. I served for a good while without you on this ship, and I can tell you that the artillery performs far better now, with you here, than it did without you. I think Captain Pellew would be just as loath to send you off the Indy as he would Mr. Bowles."
Archie shook his head. "I wish I could believe that."
"You have two reasons, one just as likely as the other, why should you not believe the happier one?"
"Because it is wrong. Oh, maybe it is why Pellew chose to keep me here, Drew, but he was not at Muzillac."
"You've been thinking about that damned bridge again!" Drew said in exasperation.
"I cannot stop it, Drew. It was my first test as an officer, and I failed."
Drew shook him slightly. "You were ON LAND, Archie. How many other land battles have you fought? In circumstances totally unfamiliar, in a foreign country, just weeks after being released from prison! You were working in conjunction with unfamiliar men, and serving under a mad Marquis! Muzillac should not be the standard any of us judge ourselves on." More gently, he continued. "Would you have Horatio branded a failure as well? For spending perhaps more time in the town than with his men?"
Archie's blue eyes blazed. "It wasn't like that, Drew! It, oh, it was a disaster from start to finish. Horatio had no leadership, no direction, the whole thing was chaos! You weren't there, you can't possibly understand..."
Drew smiled at him and nodded. "Quite right. I cannot. All I ask is that you do not hold Horatio, or Major Edrington, to a different, easier, standard than yourself. The plan was botched, and you were lucky to escape with your life. Be thankful for that. Learn from that."
Drew stood up and stretched, and Archie, with a brother's affection, noted out loud, "You've grown taller."
"Y'think so? Maybe another inch. I might even be as tall as Alicia now!" He said with wry humor, for his sister was little over five feet. Drew was now perhaps approaching a whopping 5'4". "Supply ship anticipated in a couple of days. Perhaps we'll be hearing from her!"
Archie felt himself blushing for a different reason this time. "That would be welcome!" And he could not keep the smile out of his voice.
"So will you be attending dinner with the Midshipman this evening?"
"It would be my pleasure, Mr. Brandon."
Later that evening, his stomach full of Holloway's good food (amazing what some talent with a skillet and a few spices could do for salt beef) Archie was again staring at "Nore's Complete Book of Seamanship," when Horatio entered.
Archie looked at his friend with affection, glad to know he had not overheard his rather catty comment of a few weeks ago. "How was it, Horatio?"
"Ugh!" Horatio kicked off his shoes and sprawled out on the bed.
Archie looked at him closely, an unfamiliar ruddiness to Horatio's complexion. "Good Lord, Horatio! You're drunk!" He said almost joyfully; it was so rare that he got Horatio to let go of his self-control.
"Aye, me and the Captain both." He murmured. "And Bowlsie, and Bracie...and Clarkie.."
Ouch! "I dearly hope you were not addressing each other in such a manner throughout dinner...and if you call Pellew 'Pellie' I shall have Drew here dosing you with...well, with something!"
Horatio giggled. GIGGLED! Archie's amazement knew no bounds.
"I cannot believe, Horatio...that all the Captains in the squadron got DRUNK!"
"Not all...just Clark...and not until dinner was over."
"I am afraid you have lost me totally, Horatio!"
"Mmmfff, Captain Clark stayed behind when dinner was over. He brought over some liquor from his service in Russia..."
"Vodka?!!! Horatio!" Archie had heard of Vodka, certainly, but never experienced it himself.
"We had it with lemons. Good for scurvy."
"Anyhow, Cap'n Pellew was pretty...angry...as hell...and so now he an' Cap'n Clark have decided we're going to kill Cap'n Strong...n'the rest of us are going to help."
Horatio grinned up at him. "Not REALLY. Y'can't kill a Cap'n. But Pellew'd like to." He tossed over on his blanket. "G'night Archie."
Archie whistled softly, as Horatio swiftly gave in to the unaccustomed spirits. He knew...they all did, that trouble was brewing in the near future between Pellew and Strong. Dunbarton's Captain was beyond furious at learning he would now have to report to Pellew, even more so after the failure at Muzillac, which had seemed to him to be a blight on his career. And Strong considered himself the superior when it came to tactics and battle, and found oblique ways just shy of insubordination to make his distaste known. He was not popular with any of the Captains, but in particular seemed to have it in for Clark-probably because Pellew liked him!
Pellew was high on Clark, and Archie could see why. Sophia may have been only a sloop, but she was well run, agile, and handy in a crises. Clark had made her so. Therefore, even though Clark's title was only Commander, Pellew persisted in treating him as an equal. His life-long and well-known motto of "I judge a man on what I see him do" could not have been more exemplified.
Archie looked over at a snoring Horatio, then turned out the lamp. It must have been a pretty tense scene at dinner, for Pellew to give in to spirits to the extent of inebriation! And to admit hostility towards a brother Captain...even Foster had not driven him so far.
He thought of his own dinner this evening. The food had been more palatable than normal, and the company? Brandon's easy laughter, Cousins dry wit, the young boys at ease in conversation with their elders. It had been a warm pleasant meal, the antithesis of his dinners on Justinian. No, for this evening, if only this evening, he had drawn a better lot than his friend. Not only was he certain of that now; he knew that when tomorrow came around, and Horatio woke up, there would be no doubt which of the two of them would be having a better day!
With a slight chuckle, Archie rolled over, and slept better
than he had in days.
It was not until after his watch the next day, as Horatio came to take over for him, that Archie had a chance to ask for details on the circumstances at dinner.
Horatio was pale, almost green. Pellew and Bowles looked not much better, and were in a horrible foul tempter, not surprising. Bracegirdle, however, had no hangover at all, and as a result bore the brunt of Pellew's ire. He took it all in stride as always, of course.
"Well, Mr. Hornblower," Archie began, with the formality of the quarterdeck, after giving him the uneventful details of his own watch. "What, exactly, did Strong do last evening?"
Horatio rolled his eyes. "He announced his intention to invade Madeira before the summer is out!"
"On his own?"
"The implication was that the squadron would be his by then, and that would be his command!"
"Good lord, that is direct insubordination!"
"Oh, you know how he does it, Mr. Kennedy! A suggestion here, or there, maybe a mention of possible promotion for Pellew getting him out of the way, so he would take the lead, it was all very oblique." Horatio frowned. "The implication was the same as when Foster was here. You were not around for that, I know, but he basically called Captain Pellew a coward!"
Archie was without words. He knew no man less likely to be called a coward than Pellew!
Horatio managed a smirk, despite his obvious ailments, "Funny, Strong tried to get me to side with him, just as Foster did. Fortunately I am not quite so stupid now as I was two years ago!"
Horatio Hornblower, stupid? There was a story there that he must press his friend to tell him someday. "What did you do?"
"I said that I considered it inadvisable for any man to disobey an Admiral, who wished to have a continued career in the Navy!"
"Good on you!"
Archie noticed Pellew approaching from bellow decks, where he had possibly been to consult with Mr. Brandon. Having no wish to arouse any ire in the man, he said quickly, "That's all for the watch, Mr. Hornblower. May yours be just as uneventful."
"Thank you, Mr. Kennedy."
He was well on his way to his own berth when Pellew stopped him. "We missed you at dinner last night, Mr. Kennedy!"
"Thank you, Sir."
"I trust you and Captain McAnn were able to amuse yourselves?"
"We had the good fortune to be invited to dine with the Midshipmen, Sir."
"Indeed?" Pellew raised his eyebrow with a scowl and scanned the horizon, searching out the ships in his squadron and settling at last on Dunbarton. "Next time, I perhaps will make a point of joining you instead!"
Archie fought a smile, afraid Pellew might consider it impertinence. "You are always welcome, Sir."
"Hmph." His eyes remained rooted to Dunbarton, last in the pack as always. "Or I could send you one of my guests."
"Yes, Sir." Archie murmured without change in tone, not knowing how to answer otherwise.
And Pellew sighed. "Would that I had a man half as good
as any of you on board Dunbarton, Mr. Kennedy!" He turned
away then, leaving Archie speechless, not certain if he had just
been complimented or not.
A barge with supplies and dispatches had reached the squadron from the fleet patrolling the coastlines, and brought with it many welcome items, including letters from home.
Archie found himself with three in total, two from Alicia and one from his brother David. He opened David's first.
It was good to see you, Archie, during our short time at Exton's, though the circumstances were a bit trying. I trust young Mr. Brandon is back in good health and spreading his wisdom among his shipmates? And no doubt you have heard from the fair Alicia.
Good news for you on that front. I have it from Stan that he and his father shall spend all of the summer in Scotland, possibly into hunting season. So Miss Alicia remains with her Aunt in London. At my persuasion, our own Aunt Gable has called on them. She has reported back to father that the young lady is most suitable, and the man ALMOST admitted his pleasure at the match!
Seriously, Archie, he seemed most interested in my tales of your adventures, as much as the old boy could admit to, any way; you know he is a prime advocate of keeping a stiff upper lip and all that. Still, I do believe your being missing affected him terribly, Archie. He never would let us have a proper funeral for you, insisting he would not believe you dead until he saw your body! Aunt Gable was most scandalized, saying it was unthinkable that you should not have a Christian service to bring you into the hereafter.
Just as well now. I wonder how one 'undoes' a funeral. I never did tell you, but when we found out you were still drawing breath (though returned to Prison, per Captain Pellew's letter) father was almost emotional. Shut himself in his study for two hours than came out and banging his cane down on the floor in the hallway pronounced that he knew full well you could have been killed, as you were a KENNEDY! (There's a happy thought for you to take into battle, Arch; Kennedys are apparently immortal; your friend Horatio was right when he said the bullets of Muzillac could not hurt you!)
Seriously, from the tone of your last letter, I can see this business in France was pretty rum. I wish you did not take it to heart so. And for God's sake, be careful, I know you need a career and all, but try not to go and prove Father wrong and get yourself killed out of spite. Oh, and you might want to jot the old boy a note; might amuse him, what?
Your "least stupid" brother (do you remember describing me that way to our Aunt once?) David.
PS...William is getting married to the most horse-faced heiress you could ever imagine! I don't understand it; he needs the money the least of the three of us and could have married any woman he chose, and THIS is it? Be happy you do not have to be at the nuptials. You chose much wiser!"
Archie smiled at the note; it had read as if David were here in the room with him. And though he looked longingly at Alicia's letters, David had reminded him of a filial obligation heretofore unfulfilled. Setting his shoulders, he attempted to put together something that his father would not be ashamed to read.
My apologies for not writing sooner. The call to duty has been great and it seems the opportunity to pen a proper letter are seldom.
I understand from David that you are aware of my understanding with the daughter of Lord Exton. She is a lady of the utmost distinction, and I believe you will find her to be a suitable match. Although I know that Lord Exton has never been a favorite of yours, believe me when I say that Miss Brandon's brother Stanton will make a far more suitable Lord when the time comes, and shall restore honor to the name.
I have currently been promoted to Acting Lieutenant and shall take my exam as soon as a board is capable of being convened, most likely in Gibraltar. However, in times of war, the process is understandably slower than normal.
We have captured two prize ships on this campaign, and no doubt will find more in the near future. Previously we had a campaign in France that I was involved in that did not go as hoped; if it had, it might have meant the end to the war. However, I continue on, doing my duty and hoping to bring honor to the Kennedy name. I realize that my career may have had a bit of set-back from my time in prison, but I am on the right track again and look forward to my continued service on Indefatigable.
I understand William is to be married. Please extend my felicitations.
I have no doubt that this letter finds you well and in good spirits. I am uncertain when I shall be again granted leave, Sir, but I remain...
Your dutiful son...Archibald."
He cringed at the signature...nobody but his father called him Archibald, and he'd always hated the name. But his father abhorred nick-names; his children were always William, David and Archibald, never Wills, Dave, Archie.
Then he re-read the letter, and hated every word.
It was exactly the letter his father would expect, nay, hope, to receive. One that read as a laundry list of events with no real meaning behind any word. No mention of what his father ought to be curious about...how had he survived prison? Had he been hurt? Wounded? Mistreated? How was his health? Did his fits persist? No, just a list of what he was doing now, how his career faired, and a careful plea for the acceptance of the woman he loved. Even Horatio showed more emotion than this!
But the letter was what it was. He could never pen another to Lord Bridgeleigh, the peer who happened to be his father. No sentiment. No emotion. God knows, none would be received in return.
Sealing the letter, he put his father out of his mind, and turned to the letters Alicia had sent him. The emotion he so needed awaited him there.
July 16th, 1797
The day had started uneventfully enough. Archie had delighted in Alicia's two letters rereading them several times, though it did provoke Horatio to teasing him. Finally now he had the free time to pen a proper answer in return:
"My Dearest Alicia...
Our tour so far has been nothing but fruitful. We have been gathering information from neutral parties on the state of the port of Madeira and doing our damnedest to disrupt any French or Spanish trade heading home from the Americas. We have had two captures, which not only brings me joy, but riches as well! Should we keep up obtaining prizes at this pace, I shall truly be able to support you in the style that you deserve.
Your brother sends his warmest regards, after his narrow escape of transfer. I know he can not write to you himself, so let me explain. After Captain Pellew's joyous promotion last May, it would seem it completely escaped his mind that he had offered your brother's services to Captain Clark! Pellew had been so certain that he would be relieved of command that he wanted to make sure Drew would be safely removed to a Captain he found trustworthy.
As we were returning to the Indefatigable after a night of celebration, all of us feeling it rather the next morning (excepting Drew, of course) Clark approached Pellew looking like a ray of sunshine! He put his hand out to Drew, said he was honored to make his acquaintance and looked forward to serving with him! Oh, Alicia, the look on Pellew's face as he realized what he'd done!
Fortunately, Clark then burst out laughing, and said he quite understood that circumstances had changed. Turns out he had never doubted Pellew's escaping Hood's wrath.
In any event, it has become quite a joke on board, several of the officers referring to your brother now as Clark's young Doctor! Pellew gets occasionally perturbed about it, and we've stopped doing it around him, but I have caught him laughing once or twice. He does have a sense of humor, though he would bury it beneath his demeanor.
Meanwhile, my love, I am doing just fine. Occasional nightmares of our time in Muzillac do intrude. I am ashamed to remember my cowardly panic on the bridge there. Your brother tries to tell me it is only human nature, as I have never had much luck with land battles. It is true that I am infinitely more comfortable in battle on board the Indy, where I understand where the enemy is coming from and how my men will be reacting!
But of course, any scars I bear pale in comparison to those Horatio has. He is recovering well, I must say, but once or twice I have heard him call out in his sleep the name "Jane", referring not to the woman who was killed in Muzillac but to a childhood sweetheart of his, I believe. I do not question him on it, however; I know him well enough that to do so would mortify him beyond comprehension.
I could only wish that he should be so fortunate as I am, my love.
I am glad to hear from both David and you that your father has decided to stay in Scotland for the summer. Poor Stanton! But wonderful for you, my dear, that you should be able to stay in town. I hope that should we return to England before the fall, I might find a few days to spend with you. There is much I wish to tell you that a letter is insufficient for.
With the deepest affection, Archie."
He sighed as he looked at his last line, "There is much I wish to tell you that a letter is insufficient for". He wished to marry Alicia, that was certain. But he could not do so until she had a sufficient understanding of his life and his past. To do otherwise would be to build his future on a lie, and that was far too precarious for Archie's tastes.
"Writing a book, Archie?"
Horatio looked in, his face smiling gently, returned from the watch.
"Indeed I am, Horatio. And it is not Kennedy's Complete Book of Prison Escapes, either!"
Horatio grinned, then. "I should hope not! I would not recommend your adventures to anyone else!"
"No news from the watch, then?"
"Quiet as a mouse. Although I think Captain Pellew will have Strong's hide!"
Archie snorted. "Stupid ass! Why does he find it so difficult to understand even the most basic of orders?"
"I don't think it's understanding he has a problem with, it's the following that seems to bother him!"
"What has he been doing now?"
Horatio sprawled out on the bed. "Lagging behind, mostly. Not keeping up with the fleet. Has his eyes more on Madeira than on the rest of us!"
Archie frowned. "What on earth for?"
"Wants to invade in the worst way. Take the port over. Run it! Who knows what he's thinking, but if Pellew gets his hands on him the man is as good as dead!"
Archie rose rapidly. "Well, I must get this off before the supply ship leaves us. Going to try and get some sleep, Horatio?"
"Mmmhhmm." He was already half-way off and Archie smiled at his friend, and quietly left their berth.
Above decks he saw Pellew pacing and fuming, expostulating occasionally to Mr. Cousins, who stood beside him in silent acquiescence. Archie handed his letters to Mr. Bracegirdle, his eyes never leaving Pellew's angry form.
Bracegirdle nodded. "Just in time, Mr. Kennedy. The rest of our dispatches will be off as well." He followed Kennedy's eyes. "It is a shame Captain Strong will not be off also."
Archie grimaced. "Aye, for all of our sakes."
Pellew's voice boomed out. "Damn him to Hell, whatever is he doing now?"
Cousins had the glass up. "He's headed due south, Sir. No sign of any signal from him."
Pellew paced back and forth, then turned down to the deck. "Mr. Holloway, prepare to signal the Catherine, Please. She is to lead Apollo and Victoria on our present course, Sophia to bring up the rear. Order Captain Clark to maintain visual with us. Mr. Bowles, prepare to turn us around, if you please; I have had enough of Dunbarton's reckless behavior!"
The orders were given just as Archie saw his letters off in the supply ship. He felt the ship shift underneath him, and saw the convoy obeying their orders to the letter. Archie heard Mr. Cousins' turn to Pellew. "Sir, if I may, might we wish to call all hands to quarters?"
Pellew, no longer quite so angry now that definitive action would be taken, looked down at the young officer. "What reason would you have for doing this, Mr. Cousins?"
With most Captains, Archie knew, an answer would have been a terse "yes" or "no", or a severe reprimand reminding a midshipman that his place was not to offer advice to the Captain. But Pellew was not merely open to suggestions, he was interested in the thought process that brought the suggestion about.
"The situation seems tense to me, Sir. We do not know what Dunbarton was seeing when she turned. Even with Captain Strong's record, it seems unlikely that he would change course without some reason."
Pellew raised his eyebrows. "Such as an enemy vessel? He would not be very bright to take on a ship without notifying the rest of the squadron!"
Cousins was properly non-committal to that statement. "No, Sir."
Archie was just close enough to here him mutter under his breath, "Of course, Strong has never been noted for his intelligence!" He cleared his throat. "Call hands to quarters, Mr. Cousins."
Poor Horatio, thought Archie. No rest for him this afternoon.
An hour later Pellew finally had Dunbarton within his sights, able to send and receive signals. Not that Dunbarton was inclined to respond to his requests for information at first...Archie was stunned to note that Strong seemed to refuse to signal back. It was a wide-eyed Holloway who tremblingly announced the message when he finally did. "Spanish ships sighted. Situation under control. No need for assistance."
Pellew's face dropped in shock. He inhaled sharply, lifting his shoulders as he did so. The silence on the ship was deafening. Finally, it was with his fury controlled to just below boiling that he spoke. "Mr. Holloway, do you know the signal for "Court-marshal?"
"Yes, Sir." Holloway said, still trembling.
"Very good. Please let Captain Strong know he is subjecting himself to one if he does not cease his current heading and return to the rest of the squadron!"
Holloway began the signals, his shaking almost visible now, and Kennedy placed a hand gently on his shoulder. "Rest easy, Mr. Holloway. Captain Pellew has not been known to shoot the messenger."
The boy steadied himself and resumed his performance with more assurance.
Before Strong could respond, however, a low, distant rumble came to them. Cannon-fire. A puff of smoke came from Dunbarton, and a slightly louder rumble. They were returning the cannon-fire of an unknown assailant.
Pellew swore. "Blast it! Mr. Holloway, signal asking how many Spaniards Strong intended to take on?"
Archie returned to his division, the guns ready. There was an enemy nearby and action was at hand. He thought briefly of his letters to Alicia and hoped they would not be the last words she would ever have from him.
Holloway's voice called out, "Two ships, Sir...ships of the line."
Good God, Archie thought. Ships of the line. Seventy guns each or more. And here was Dunbarton with thirty-six guns and Indefatigable with forty-four; no, forty-two, for the cannon left in Muzillac still had not been replaced thanks to Hood!
Archie saw Pellew close his eyes. Then, at last, he responded. "Mr. Bowles, prepare to assist Dunbarton."
Archie moved up next to him. "Can we take on such a force, Sir?"
"We should be more maneuverable, at least. We might be able to get Dunbarton out of there."
Horatio looked over at them. "What if she won't go, Sir?"
Archie saw the look on Pellew's face. He would not want to face him, if he were Captain Strong, for all the prize money in the Navy.
"She will go, if I have to board her and seize command myself, Mr. Hornblower!"
The next hour was tense, as the ships performed a precarious dance around the Atlantic Ocean.
Dunbarton, perhaps coming to her senses, decided not to take on two ships of the line alone and attempted a retreat. But the Spaniards, sensing a potentially massive victory, attempted to close her in.
The weather, decidedly, was in English favor, as the two ships were able to stay just out of range of the Spanish guns. A little more wind, and Archie knew that the faster and more agile frigates would be able to return to the relative safety of the squadron.
Anderson's reedy voice piped up. "Sail to windward!"
Archie whirled around, just as a much louder explosion happened, and he saw the Dunbarton rock. Another Spaniard, a third ship. Trapped.
"Fire as you bear!"
Archie would remember the first part of the following events as one of the calmest times of his life. The Indefatigable fought steadily, her men handling shot expertly, far more expertly than the men of Dunbarton, who seemed incapable of maintaining a steady barrage of fire. The third attacking ship Archie saw was badly damaged. There was one casualty, a powder boy pinned beneath a bit of mast; Drew was above decks, ducked down, attending him.
The third Spaniard retreated, trying to escape destruction. With better odds and without being saddled by the need to assist Dunbarton, Archie knew Pellew would have loved to finish her off. As it was, there was a new set of problems.
"Fire!" He called out, and was satisfied by the perfectly timed echo of the guns against Spaniard number two, The Celestia, who had had time to catch up to the Indy, and had been diverted from paying attention from Dunbarton. The Celestia took the hit, damage rampant, but was not kept from firing in return.
And that is when Archie's life went to hell.
The roar was deafening; the Spaniards were not known for having skill with their aim, but this time they had luck on their side. A gun port was destroyed, fragments flying, the blood was everywhere. And suddenly Archie saw Horatio go down, Horatio crying out, grasping his leg. His blood flooding the deck.
And Archie, feeling as though he moved through quick sand, was beside him, the shard of hot cannon still wedged in his friend's thigh, the blood flowing, his friend's leg wrenched under him in an ugly fashion.
"Archie!" Drew sounded as though he were under water. "Stop the bleeding, Archie. Stop the bleeding! Use all the pressure you can."
And Archie had pulled off his neck-kerchief and wadded it forcefully into the hole. Horatio, in agony and acting on instinct, wretched the shard out of his leg with a scream. And the blood flowed even more freely.
Archie felt the hot blood over his hand and placed all the pressure on the wound he could. "Horatio, you must stop moving, PLEASE!" Cousins was beside him suddenly, holding Horatio down for him.
Drew materialized out of nowhere. "Hold it tight, Mr. Kennedy!" His face was all seriousness, his hair matted to his face in the heat. "I must get a tourniquet on and then get him to the surgery."
Horatio's face contorted, his teeth barred. "Nooo, Mr. Brandon!" He grasped at Drew's arm, which Drew very much needed at that point! "Do not take my leg, I beg of you, just let me die!"
"Horatio!" Archie cried out aghast, as Cousins held him down more firmly and Drew finished with the tourniquet.
But he just cried out again, "Please, Mr. Brandon."
Drew turned swiftly to him. "Mr. Hornblower!" He said sternly. "I am not Dr. Hepplewhite. I have had to amputate only one limb in the past year, and that was of a Spaniard! You know full well that I will do everything in my power to keep you whole. But if you do not cooperate, you WILL die, and I will not have that on my head. Do you understand me, Sir?"
The pain, or perhaps the loss of blood, was weakening him, and though the stress showed on his face, he did not fight any longer. Archie thought that frightened him more than anything else so far.
Drew grabbed Styles, who hoisted Horatio in his arms as if he were no more than a child. "Get him to sick bay, immediately."
Styles tried to buck him up. "C'mon, Mr. Hornblower, Sir, let's get ye to a bed, now." Archie marveled for a few seconds at the gentleness he saw in Styles at that moment, as he carried his beloved officer to sick berth. Few would have believed it.
A fleeting memory passed through his mind, of the gruff seaman gently carrying a smaller boy, himself at age twelve, who'd been cruelly used, to a doctor even crueler. Archie shook his head...Simpson did not bear thinking about, and the battle was still on. Besides, Drew was, as he said, not Hepplewhite, he was far more skillful and had the surgical assistance of Johnson as well.
Archie took one last look at the young doctor, the brother of his fiancé, and saw his face stricken with grief and fear. He'd been looking at Pellew. The expression was only there for a second and then replaced by Drew's usual professional demeanor, the one he wore when doctoring. And Archie realized, as Brandon disappeared below decks, that he was not at all certain that Horatio's leg could be saved.
It didn't bear thinking about, and it was just as well that Archie did not have time to do so. Bowles was tacking now, the ship came about efficiently. But the starboard side guns would not be ready in time to fire on Celestia for a few more seconds, and Archie saw how vulnerable they would be. Still, he was a man who knew no fear, as he and Cousins...taking over Horatio's accustomed role, stood together, as the men loaded the guns. Archie ticked off the seconds in his head, waiting for the worst from Celestia. Would he too be struck down? Would Cousins? Archie looked at the Midshipman and saw he was steady as a rock, eyes flinty. There was blood on his uniform...had he been hurt? No, Horatio's blood, it was. And it was all over him too.
The feared explosion rang out, and Archie and Reg Cousins both flinched, just as their guns were ready. But they had not been hit; instead, Captain Clark, arriving on the sloop Sophia, had come to their aid, and surprising Celestia, had destroyed her masts.
She spun suddenly in the water now, her bow towards Indefatigable.
Archie saw the chance and took it.
"Mr. Bowles, we can rake her!"
And before the Celestia could react to her misfortune, the Indefatigable crossed her hull, each gun ordered to be fired in succession, rather than together. He and Cousins worked it perfectly, making sure each gun was aimed, each shot told. The smoke hung before his face, stung his eyes, but Archie did not care. He saw the devastation and destruction before him with the same mathematical precision which Horatio read in charts and the night sky.
A final screaming command from Cousins, a final explosion as the last gun told. And suddenly Celestia was sinking before them, settling by the bow, hopelessly battered. It would be but minutes before the Atlantic had her.
And Archie stood straight for the first time in what seemed hours, every muscle clenched. He groaned out loud.
"Are you hit, Mr. Kennedy?"
"Not a scratch, Mr. Cousins."
He turned suddenly and slipped in a pool of blood, Cousin's firm grasp keeping him from falling to the deck.
He fought to keep his stomach down at seeing the remains of a Marine, which one he knew not, as his head was curiously missing.
Archie averted his eyes, only now really feeling any sort of sick fear from his adventures. Cousins looked as though he had much the same thoughts, and the two of them somberly headed to the quarterdeck.
Pellew was with his still taut with the situation. "Report, Mr. Holloway!"
"Celestia sinking, Sir. Valienté badly damaged and retreating north'ard. Domingo also damaged, retreating toward Madeira."
"Mhm. And our own."
"Sophia unscathed. Dunbarton has extended damage to the For'mast and heavy damage to her hull above the waterline. Looks like a lot of casualties, Sir."
"Thank you, Mr. Holloway." He cleared his throat, voice raspy from the sulfur filled air. "Mr. Bowles, our own situation?"
"Heavy damage to the number three portside gunport. Minor damage on deck level, Sir, no serious breech of the Hull. Minor damage to our spars, nothing critical."
Archie saw Pellew swallow hard before he belted out, "Casualties?"
"Four seaman killed, Sir, and one Marine...Captain McAnn."
God, McAnn! McAnn was the bleeding hulk he'd nearly stepped on. How many times had they shared a drink together, seated in the Captain's Cabin? And just the other night, sitting next to him, in the dinner they'd been invited to in the midshipman's berth. Archie felt the bile rise in his throat and fought to hold his stomach.
"Six other seamen wounded, non appearing life threatening. One powder boy, crushed arm..." That would be the first casualty he'd seen, the boy pinned down by that bit of mast. Arm crushed...so much for Brandon's record of saving limbs.
"And one officer down, Lieutenant Hornblower, leg wound, possibly broken. Mr. Brandon attends him now."
The words were quiet ones, spoken on a hushed ship. Archie and Cousins knew better than most just how insufficient those words were. Leg wound? The man had practically bled to death at their feet.
Archie's stomach twisted again, and he looked down at himself. Blood, blood everywhere. Horatio's blood. Like Lady MacBeth. Oh, God, that was the wrong play, wasn't it? Horatio must not bleed, that was the lot of Hamlet and Laerties. Horatio must be left alive to tell the story. Archie felt light headed and shook himself. He drew a breath...stinking acrid air, scented with powder and blood, and the foul smells of bodies already too long in the July sun...
Pellew did not say a word for some moments, then recalled the sinking Celestia. "Send out boats for survivors. Mr. Cousins, Mr. Anderson, you may man them."
Reg shot Archie a concerned look as he turned away, perhaps sensing how close Archie was to...to a fit? No, he didn't think so, there was no pain in his head, no buzzing, no bitter taste in his mouth. What was this numbness then?
Archie glanced at Pellew. The man regarded Horatio as a son. He saw his Captain's face turn to the Dunbarton, malevolence and scathing anger there. "Have my coxswain, O'Brien, prepare my boat. I shall shortly go over to Dunbarton." He glanced at me briefly. "Mr. Kennedy!"
"Please check in sick bay and let me know how...the men...are doing? I'd like a report before I go to Dunbarton, and one ready when I return as well."
"Aye, Aye, Sir."
And with a very real sense of relief, Archie headed below, grateful to Pellew for the consideration of the fact that down bellow is where he most desired to be.
Archie soon found himself wishing otherwise.
The stench, in Brandon and Johnson's normally impeccable sick bay, was nearly unbearable. And he heard the screams before he even got inside. Mortal, agonizing, inhuman they were, and he shook to the core. They were so inhuman he could not tell who gave them, and the knowledge that it might be Horatio did his stomach in. He went him in search of the nearest slop-bucket.
Finally, he steeled himself, and poked his head in.
He saw Thomas, one of the wounded seamen, first.
"Aye, Mr. Kennedy. Bad business, this."
Archie hoped he did not look as sick as he felt, for that would never do. "Yes, indeed it is Thomas. How were you wounded."
"Nothin' much, splinter in me arm. Reckon Mr. Brandon'll get it cleaned up right as new, soon as he can." Thomas' face softened as he looked over to the table screened from Archie's view. "Ugly business, takin' a limb."
Archie felt tears sting his eyes. Horatio, my friend. I cannot bear the thought of you no longer whole.
Thomas nodded over to the other seamen, with even more minor injuries than his, being cared for by the loblolly boys. "Reckon I must need a stitch or two, else those boy's would be tendin me."
"Of course. You'll be in good hands, though." Archie said, his voice coming from far away and seeming higher pitched than he had heard in years. "I am certain they shall tend to you next."
Thomas shook his head. "Nah, I know Mr. Brandon be tending to Mr. Hornblower next."
Archie leaned backwards. "I...excuse me, did you say Mr. Brandon will be tending to Mr. Hornblower NEXT?"
"Yes, Sir. I thinks he'd 'ave liked to tend him first, but that boy's arm was a mess, and not even HE could save it. Had to come off. Amputations first in the sick berth, I guess."
Amputations first. Of course. Which meant that if Horatio had not been first, then Brandon felt some hope for saving that leg.
"Where is Mr. Hornblower, Thomas?"
"He be there, Mr. Kennedy. No doubt the Captain be wantin to know how he is, I am sure."
"The Captain asked for a report on all his men, Thomas."
Thomas' grin split his face. "Aye, he do care more than most about 'is men, 'e does. But no foolin' anybody, Mr. Kennedy, 'e's right fond o Mr. Hornblower."
Archie gave Thomas a weak smile in return, then tried not to run over into the shadowy area the astute seaman had alluded to.
Horatio was there, his face pale and drawn with pain, off to the side. Archie found clean seawater in a bucket and took a cloth, drawing cool damp water over his friend's face. Horatio looked up at him.
"Shhh, Horatio. There now. I know it hurts, Horatio." Archie stroked his friend's hair gently back from his face. "Mr. Brandon will be taking care of you soon, and all will be well."
Horatio's brown eyes were alight with fear. "Archie...it doesn't hurt." Tears flooded those eyes now, and ran down his cheeks freely. "It's numb. Archie, my leg." Horatio's voice broke into a cracking rasp.
"Shhh." He continued wiping his friend's face. "That is just the tourniquet. I promise you, it will hurt like the devil after Drew repairs it."
Horatio tried to give him a smile, but was far too tired. Just then Drew was beside him. "Is he giving you problems, Mr. Kennedy?" The boy tried to sound light, but Archie knew what stress he must have been through, taking off the arm of a boy not much younger than himself.
"Mr. Hornblower? Mr. Hornblower does not give problems, Mr. Brandon. He's the most exemplary officer in his majesties Navy."
Drew smiled down at Horatio, only brave assurance showing on his face. "Then let's get him patched up, shall we, Johnson?"
Johnson looked a bit less sure, but Archie knew he had come to trust Drew's insights over this past year. Archie could only hope that this time the insights were real and not drawn from desperate hopes. "Certainly, Mr. Brandon." A loblolly boy appeared and together they moved Horatio to the table, already cleaned with hot water and alcohol by another hand.
Drew looked up at him. "It might help him if you were here, Mr. Kennedy. Think you can handle it?"
There was no sarcasm there, for Drew was well aware of his history of fits, and might possibly be afraid that these circumstances would bring one on.
Archie nodded. "I must go up and report his status to the Captain. But then I will be back down, Mr. Brandon. I know it is what he would do for me."
Then Archie leaned in closer and whispered, "I must tell Captain how bad it is."
Drew walked away with him toward the door, speaking softly.
"I believe that shard nicked his femoral artery. It could not have severed it, or he would have bled to death by now. Fortunately there was no break, but his knee was twisted; he'll be off his feet for a while."
There was anxiety still in his eyes. "What are you not telling me, Mr. Brandon?"
"If I cannot repair the damage, I must take the leg. If I can repair the damage, I must hope the tourniquet has not been on long enough to make the leg start to die. If the tissue is dying, it means gangrene, and I must take the leg later, and hope he does not die of blood poisoning."
Archie paled, and wondered how Drew could recite the facts with such cold, unfeeling candor, then realized if he did not separate himself so, he would go mad. "Thank you for the honesty, Mr. Brandon. I will go up to Pellew, and be right back down."
Drew nodded. "We shall start without you, but please hurry. Your voice will calm him in his pain better than anything else."
Archie heard Drew coaxing Horatio to take some laudanum even as he raced up the steep steps to the top side.
He found Pellew pacing as his boat was readied. "Well, Mr. Kennedy?" He said on seeing Archie, not meaning to snap, but unable to help it.
"Mr. Hornblower is going to be operated on now. Mr. Brandon hopes to save his leg."
Pellew blinked; Archie knew the report brought nothing but pain, and more worry, worry that would not be gone for some time, days even, depending on Mr. Brandon's luck. "And the other men?" He asked hollowly.
"The boy Rees lost his arm. Only other serious injury is a splinter by Thomas, which will need stitches. Other injuries already taken care of."
Pellew looked over to Dunbarton again, and Archie knew that Strong's life was not worth two pence. Especially should Horatio be maimed, or, God forbid, die.
"Thank you, Mr. Kennedy. Shall you return to sick bay?"
"Yes, Sir, I have told Mr. Brandon I will help hold Hor...Mr. Hornblower down, try and sooth him."
"Then you'd best get going."
"Aye, Aye, Sir."
And Archie returned at a run back down to the sick bay, to Horatio, where he was needed most.
"Hold him now, Archie. This shall be the telling moment."
Archie resumed stroking Horatio's hair, whispering words of encouragement, even as he used all of his weight to hold him down.
The past ten minutes had been frightful. Drew had carefully cleaned the wound, with Johnson's guidance. Then he found the artery, a nick as he had feared, but not a complete tear. He stitched it, his hands steady and sure, his eyes unwavering, as Johnson cleaned around the wound and kept it free from any leaking blood. The tourniquet had remained on, for Brandon would be unable to do a thing once it was removed, so Horatio's pain had been minimized, his leg was already numb.
Now Drew would be removing the tourniquet, and the stitches would either hold, or not. If not, the leg must come off. Either way, Horatio was going to be in a lot of pain very soon.
Archie had thought back to the stories they had told each other during their days in prison, and was retelling Horatio's own tales into his ear. He had a feeling he knew well enough what might calm his friend.
"Remember the story you told me about your Mother, Horatio? About the time you and your father went fishing together when you were eight...."
Horatio smiled slightly.
"You had caught a fish, and your father was so excited for you that you both became exuberant and you tipped the row boat over and you both went into the stream?"
Horatio cried out as Brandon began returning the blood flow to his injured leg.
"Shh, think of that, both of you soaking wet and dripping, trying to sneak into the house without your mother seeing. Think of the two of you doing that, allies together, trying to fool her so she wouldn't scold you both..."
Horatio frowned, his face crumpled and pale. His breathing was shallow and gasping. "Mother...angry."
"Yes, yes, you were both afraid she would be angry with you for risking yourselves so. But your father hid you in the surgery, snuck upstairs and brought down a change of clothes. You'd left early that morning, so she hadn't seen you dressed. He came back down and you changed together, then went back out as if you hadn't been home all day. And you thought you got away with it!"
The tourniquet was off now, and Archie noted with relief that the stitches held, the color was returning to the bluish flesh of Horatio's leg. The pain returned as well, and Horatio cried out. "Ahhhhhh.....Archie...."
"That's a good thing, Horatio, that pain is a good thing, remember?"
He noticed Drew and Johnson having a deep conversation, some very important medical matter no doubt being discussed. He returned his thoughts to his friend.
"Remember what your mother did? You returned, seemingly empty handed from your trip, and she told you to get ready for dinner. And what did she serve?"
"Fish..." Horatio whispered, the barest hint of a smile on his face.
"That's right." Archie wiped his friend's face. "You'd left the fish you caught in the surgery and she found it. She knew the entire time."
"Eyes...in the back of her head..."
"Yes, well, your men would no doubt say that she passed that remarkable vision on to you."
He almost got a chuckle then, despite Horatio's weakness.
"Remember what happened next, Horatio."
"She was so...afraid of our catching cold...she made us take...baths. Hot baths."
"Yes, even your father. And then she sent you both off to bed. Remember."
"Mmm. She wrapped...me...in blankets and let me sleep next to father."
"Yes, remember? You said it was one of the best memories of your life, Horatio, curled up next to your father, your mother tucking both of you in to sleep. You said you have never felt so safe since that time. Remember that?"
"Yessssss." Horatio was drifting off now, the laudanum perhaps taking the edge off the pain; more likely, Archie thought, it was the memory of his childhood, the warmth and the love, that brought him down a gentle path.
Archie looked up at Drew as he returned to Horatio's side. The young man's face was strangely blank for a second, Archie could not read his thoughts. "I think he's out, Drew." He stammered, confused.
Drew blinked and his expression was more normal. "Good. He will need the rest." He then took clean linen, and after some washing of the wound, packed it lightly. Archie was stunned.
"Don't you have to close it?"
"Johnson and I were talking that over. His advice is to leave it open where we can see the healing until we are certain that it WILL heal. If we close it up and those stitches rupture, we might not know it until it is too late."
"Won't there be more danger of infection with the wound open?"
Drew nodded. "That's the argument against. But he's got a better chance of surviving the infection than he would if those stitches burst. He'll need constant surveillance."
Archie nodded. "I will help."
Drew forced a smile. "I expected nothing less, Archie. But for now let us move him to a cot, gently. And you must plan to report to Pellew."
Up above, Archie reported to Bracegirdle, instead of Pellew. It seemed that the carnage on Dunbarton was far worse than on Indefatigable, and it would take some time for Pellew to reorganize the ship's personnel into a functioning crew. Among the fallen was their own doctor; now Johnson prepared to go over and offer assistance to their unfortunate comrades.
Bracegirdle looked at him after he detailed Horatio's survival of surgery. "Well, at least Johnson will be able to put the Captain's mind more at ease." Bracie looked around at the deck, already being scrubbed and cleaned. "Should have the ship here in pretty good shape for his return, I imagine. Will you be returning to Mr. Hornblower now?"
"I would like to, Sir, if I am not needed above decks."
Bracegirdle shook his head. "Please do go, and tell him all of our prayers are with him, Mr. Kennedy." He looked around at the guns. "And Mr. Kennedy, your performance this afternoon was exemplary. Seizing the opportunity to rake Celestia may have saved all of our lives."
Archie felt suddenly a burden of immense proportions slip from his shoulders. "It was made possible by Clark's action, Sir."
"Yes, but nobody else saw the chance there until you called it out. We could not have sustained prolonged fire from her." Bracegirdle glanced bitterly at the canvas sack that in life had been Captain McAnn. "We sustained damage enough as it is."
Archie, thinking of Horatio clinging to wholeness desperately down below, could not have agreed more.
Archie spent the remainder of the day between concern for Horatio and amazement at Drew's behavior. A young man he had thought of as sensitive and feeling was behaving as if he was carved of marble. And Archie was almost repulsed.
Oblivious to the consternation of his friend, Drew remained coolly efficient, unfazed by anything that had been thrown at him. He tended Rees, he tended a couple of men sent over by Johnson from Dunbarton, he checked in on Horatio, and in between, he cleaned. And cleaned.
In fact, the incessant scrubbing was getting to Archie. Drew, washing everything, every instrument, calling to the steward Clarke for more and more boiling water, mixed with the stench of that cleansing alcohol he used. Washing linen, bandages, anything he could get his hands on. He was afraid he might be next, but took one look at Drew's face and decided THIS young man was not someone to be joked with. Archie was almost relieved to go above decks to relax for a bit, and see Pellew when he returned.
He found him in his cabin. Pellew was tired, his face still sooty from the fight, and anxious. Kennedy wasted no time.
"He's doing alright, Sir. Blood flowing to the leg well, stitches seem to be holding. No sign of a fever."
Pellew put his head into his hands. "Thank God for small favors, then" He reached behind him and poured out two glasses of Claret, one for Archie, one for himself. "Mr. Hornblower will, in any event, be off his feet for some time?"
"Drew says at least a month, with his knee twisted."
"Well, Mr. Kennedy, we officers are about to be sorely tested. You, Sir, are temporarily my first officer. Mr. Cousins must act the part of second, though I cannot promote him as of yet. Until Mr. McGill comes back, the two of you and young Anderson and Holloway, with Mr. Bowles, of course, are our staff."
Kennedy's jaw dropped. "Sir...what of Mr. Bracegirdle."
Pellew gave him a sad smile. "Lieutenant Bracegirdle shall command the Sophia back to Gibraltar."
A new wave of horror overcame Archie. "Clark? Oh, NO, Sir!"
Pellew shook his head. "Captain Clark is just fine; however because of the circumstances I found on board Dunbarton, his services are required there."
Kennedy shook his head, even as he drank the claret. "I do not understand, Sir."
Pellew rubbed his temples urgently. "An ugly business, Mr. Kennedy. Dunbarton was completely outmanned and outgunned, and yet Strong pursued the fight, disobeyed my order. As a result, two of his four Lieutenants and two midshipmen were among those killed in the action. A third Lieutenant even now fights for his life, having lost a limb."
"Dear God!" Such devastation in so short a time never ceased to amaze Archie.
"The horror when I arrived on decks, Mr. Kennedy, I cannot begin to describe. And the men who were left, were already beaten down. I spoke with four Midshipmen so paralyzed with fear at their Captain's wrath for daring to speak with me that they were on the verge of fainting. And if there is a seaman on board her who hasn't tasted the cat since the start of this voyage, I would be much surprised. The conditions there were, simply put, ripe for mutiny."
The anger smoldered in his chest. He knew what it was to serve in fear, and could never condone such circumstances, could never see the need to beat down your fellow human beings. Archie did not trust himself with words.
Pellew leaned backwards. "After I managed to round up the men, and after I told them that there would be many, many changes here, I asked their Marine where I might find Captain Strong. I had every intention of removing him from service, and having him court-marshaled. I could have done it based on his disobeying my order alone, but seeing the condition of his ship gave me new cause."
Kennedy's head shot up. "You said you HAD every intention of court-marshalling him, Sir?"
The Captain's eyes closed. "Yes. And apparently he was not such a fool he did not know that I would take this action. For, once he was dismasted, he went into his cabin and hanged himself. I cut his body down myself."
Archie shuddered at the duty. "I am sorry, Sir. So Clark shall command Dunbarton, then?"
"Yes, and he brings his only Lieutenant from Sophia with him. They will need a firm but fair hand to try and restore order, there. And Sophia was so well run that Mr. Bracegirdle will not have much problem with nothing higher than a ship's Master beneath him."
Archie sighed. So much damage done, such loss of life, all for one man's unadulterated ambition. He rose slowly.
Pellew followed suit. "I shall accompany you down to sick bay, Mr. Kennedy. I need something for my head."
Archie frowned. "Mr. Brandon will be able to dig something up for you, I am certain. He has been very peculiar all afternoon, I must say."
"In what way?"
"No emotions whatsoever, Sir. Just snaps off quick answers, does his job, and has been cleaning all afternoon."
"I see. Well, I suppose it's the only defense a doctor has to the shock of the carnage around him"
"I guess so, Sir." Archie murmured.
But when they got down to the sick berth, even Pellew was surprised by the sight. Drew was still on his hands and knees, as Archie had left him, his shirt front soaked, scrubbing soapy water into the floor, scraping up any last bit of blood that might have alluded him.
"Mr. Brandon?" Pellew said, more in shock than anger.
Drew stood suddenly. "Forgive me, Sir. I wanted to get this mess cleaned up."
Mess? What mess? Archie thought. After all his work, Archie could say he had never seen the surgery more spotless.
Pellew stood forward gently and laid a hand on the young man's shoulder. "Mr. Brandon, Johnson is occupied with a critical patient on Dunbarton and not likely to return this evening. Mr. Kennedy is here to assist in watching Mr. Hornblower. Why do you not get some rest?"
Drew looked around helplessly. "It's just...I can still smell it, Sir." He whispered, almost plaintive.
"I understand. But by the morning it will be much fresher, you'll see." Pellew reached down suddenly. "Mr. Brandon, you have just about scrubbed your hands raw."
True enough, both of Drew's hands were an angry red, chapped and wrinkled. Pellew clasped them gently. "Take Hepplewhite's quarters, if you will, Mr. Brandon, but I am ordering you...get some rest."
Drew nodded, his face still blank and almost confused. Archie watched as the Captain patted him on the head and he disappeared into the long-empty quarters of their former Doctor. Pellew sighed deeply and pulled a familiar packet of powders from Drew's chest, then approached Horatio, where Kennedy had already set himself up.
"He appears to be sleeping peacefully."
Pellew laid a hand on his forehead for a moment, and Archie wondered if he should step outside and give the man some privacy. But the Captain moved over to young Rees, maimed and sleeping fitfully. He saw Pellew's bitter expression, even as the man's eyes glistened suspiciously. He might care for Horatio as a son, but never let it be said that it was to the exclusion of caring for all his men.
Pellew straightened up and shook his shoulders. "Mr. Kennedy, there is a loblolly boy on duty. I know you are concerned with Mr. Hornblower, but remember, you are needed on watch in the morning, and we are short staffed. Please do get some sleep...soon"
"Aye, Aye, Sir."
And he was gone, without issuing an order, but leaving with
an understanding instead.
An hour latter Archie knew he himself should be retiring for the evening. The loblolly boy-Jenkins--was on watch for the two patients. Periodically he would check Horatio's dressing; there was no sign of leakage or infection. Horatio seemed to be relaxing more, his face no longer quite so etched with pain. And as Pellew said, Archie had the watch in the morning; he should at least get a few hours sleep.
He stretched as he rose, with one last careful look at his fallen friend. Jenkins was sponging young Rees' face; he was not doing as well as Horatio, and Archie felt a pang at his heart. On his way out he took one look at the door to the surgical quarters, and thought of Brandon's chapped hands. He turned back to Jenkins. "Mr. Brandon keeps some sort of hand-salve for when the men get blisters, doesn't he?"
Jenkins nodded. "Aye, Sir, he does. This time o' year, though, he makes a new batch every day, 'cause it don't keep so well in the heat. Don't think he did one today."
"Would yesterday's batch still be good?"
"Won't be bad, Sir, cepting maybe it won't smell so nice." Jenkins went over to a corner shelf and pulled out a stone crock that might have once held jam. Archie sniffed it; there was a faint hint of sourness, but not that offensive. He grasped some clean linen and returned to the surgical quarters, entering quietly.
Drew had fallen asleep with the light on dimly, its flame flickering low. Archie could not help but smile...he had been so tired he had fallen asleep as he fell, shoes still on, sprawled out on his stomach. Archie set his supplies down and removed the boy's shoes, then sat beside him and gently picked up his right hand...
He was unprepared for the reaction, for Drew thrashed over, awake in an instant and swinging wildly...
"No..." the young man cried out... "Father, no, please..."
Archie somehow controlled him, holding him firmly in his grasp. "Drew!" He whispered. "Drew, it's okay..."
"Drew, it's Archie...it's okay...you're on the Indefatigable, and you're safe...it's okay." He kept whispering the words over and over, silently cursing himself. He of all people ought to have anticipated this; Drew, so sound asleep, would have interpreted a nighttime visitor in only one way.
The struggles slowed as Drew woke up fully, eyes blinking to make sure it really was Archie Kennedy and not his father who had him in his grasp. And then he broke down and cried.
Archie held him even more tightly, thoroughly ashamed for thinking that Drew was uncaring this afternoon. The stress on him, especially with Horatio among the fallen, must have been immense. And he was only fifteen.
Archie kept his hold on him, rocking him back and forth, murmuring words of encouragement to him until he settled down, swallowing hard and struggling to control his breath.
"It's alright, Drew. I should have known better than to come in unannounced."
Drew sat back suddenly, wiping his face, wincing as he used his sore hands. "Is it Mr. Hornblower? Rees?" He struggled for alertness, to resume the blank medical demeanor once more.
"No, no, they are fine, they are resting. I..." Archie shrugged. "I knew your hands were hurting and I thought..." He indicated the stone jar. "I suppose I should have known better than to treat the doctor..."
Drew managed a smile. "No, it's a good idea. It's not going to smell to good, though."
Archie began administering the salve to his hands, wrapping them in linen as he did so. Drew winced once or twice. "I guess I went a little bit crazy with the cleaning, huh?"
"The marble at my home in London does not gleam like that plank floor, Drew!" He teased. "Why?"
"I don't know...I had to DO something, and the smell...I couldn't get it out of my mind. I kept thinking that if I got everything really, really clean, I would stop smelling it."
Drew shuddered again. "Rees' arm...the burning flesh as we cauterized the incision..." He closed his eyes. "Did you hear him scream, Archie? Oh, God...he's not even twelve yet..."
Archie tied the last bandage around his hand and then picked up the other. "You could have done nothing else."
"I know. And at least I was able to save Mr. Hornblower's leg; for I think it will heal all right. But Rees...whatever will happen to him, Archie? He's an orphan, signed up because it was the Navy or begging in the streets. I don't think the admirals will spare five minutes of thought about a lowly powder boy who's been maimed."
Archie sighed. He had been so concerned for Horatio he had not given much thought to the unfortunate child who'd lost an arm. And what Drew said was true enough. A Captain might be so maimed and keep his position; even a Lieutenant might be able to eek a living out on half pay. But a powder boy?
He released Drew and eased him down onto the bed. "Perhaps we can do something for him, Drew. I will speak to Captain Pellew about it in the morning. Now, you get some rest. Nobody knows for how long Dunbarton will require Johnson's services, so we will need you!"
He was speaking to himself. Drew had drifted off again almost
as soon as his head hit the pillow. Archie re-capped the stone
jar and quietly moved off to his own bunk, thinking all the while
about this new problem.
July 17th, Present
Captain Pellew joined Drew and Archie above decks, just after Archie told Drew about the demise of Captain Strong. He looked perfect; no sign of exhaustion, no wrinkle on his uniform. Archie marveled at that; how on earth did one manage to create an invincible aura when the world has fallen apart around you? It reminded him again of the similarities between his Captain and his friend.
"Gentlemen. I trust the watch has been uneventful so far, Mr. Kennedy."
"Well, that is good for a change." He cleared his throat, not looking at either one of them. "How is Mr. Hornblower's condition this morning, Mr. Brandon?"
"He is doing excellent, in fact, Sir. I am hoping to be able to close the incision today."
An almost human expression graced Pellew's face for a few seconds. "Has he awakened at all?"
"Only for a few minutes, Sir. I've given him something to keep him sleeping."
"Not laudanum, Mr. Brandon? That might be addictive!"
"No, Sir. Valerian. It seems to be having its desired effect. But knowing Mr. Hornblower and how he would try to hurry his healing, I felt it a good idea to give his body as much time to heal as possible."
Pellew actually smiled then. "Indeed, you might need to keep him asleep until his knee heals! I should not like to be you when he learns he must keep to his bed for four weeks!"
Archie saw the sly look on Drew's face, and managed not to laugh. Undoubtedly he was thinking that Horatio's disposition bore an uncanny resemblance to another former patient of his! Drew opted for prudence, though, and didn't actually say a word.
Pellew kept his eye on Dunbarton, now sailing neatly in formation with them. "Mr. Kennedy, we shall continue to make for Gibraltar. Admiral Parker shall learn of these events soon enough. No doubt Commander Clark's performance, and yours, shall cause some positive comment."
Archie could feel himself flushing to the roots of his hair. "Thank you, Sir."
"Indeed, Mr. Kennedy, you have become most invaluable on board as a gunnery officer. Thank god you saw the opportunity to rake her, and took advantage. I cannot imagine Mr. McGill showing such initiative."
Archie's face grew hotter. He could not see Drew's face without turning, and was glad for that, for he knew that the same sly smirk would be on his face, for different reasons. Archie could just feel the 'I told you so!' thought emanating from him. But as pleased as he was with the compliment, he knew he must share it. "Mr. Cousins deserves equal praise, Sir. He stepped in to Mr. Hornblower's usual duties and enabled the action to take place as would be most effective." He stammered out.
Pellew looked at him with even more esteem. "I noted that, Mr. Kennedy, and am pleased that you recognized it as well. A good officer always acknowledges the accomplishments of those who work with him."
He gazed off into the horizon. "Gentlemen, if everything happens as I hope, our next run out to Madeira will no doubt be even more effective and prosperous."
He turned away, with one look at Brandon. "Do let me know when Mr. Hornblower is awake and can receive visitors. Then you might wish to get some rest yourself, Mr. Brandon."
"Aye, Aye, Sir."
As the Captain left them, Drew and Archie watched his retreating back with a mixture of awe and affection. With a sigh, Drew finally roused himself.
"I must return to sick berth, Mr. Kennedy. Rees is feverish."
"Oh." Archie mumbled. Fever after any operation was bad. After an amputation it could mean infection, gangrene, death. It did not look like he would live to realize his misfortune.
Thinking along those same lines, Drew shrugged. "I am not certain that it is not a mercy, in the circumstances. But I must endeavor to cure him if possible, though for what life I cannot imagine."
"Good luck to him, Drew."
The young man nodded. "He'll need it, Archie."
Letter from Archie Kennedy to Miss Alicia Brandon...
My dearest Alicia...
I hope you are not alarmed, dearest, should word of our recent engagement reach you. Be assured that I am fine, as is your brother, though he had a rough time of it in surgery. Mr. Hornblower was injured seriously, but thanks to Drew's skill shall be fine, although he is currently immobilized. And, I might add, cranky.
In fact, yours truly had the luck to execute a rather daring maneuver that helped decide the battle. I ought to be modest, I suppose, but as everyone will go about marveling on it, I have decided to enjoy the praise for however long it lasts. No doubt I shall botch something else up soon enough, and be back at the bottom of the heap.
With Horatio injured and Bracegirdle commanding Sophia, I find myself acting as First Lieutenant. A deuced lot more work to be done than a third, I can tell you; I retire at night ALMOST too exhausted to think of you! I am not as quick at things as Horatio, but I usually get to the same answer eventually. Captain Pellew has been remarkably patient, and as the sail for Gibraltar (where I hope to post this letter) has been otherwise uneventful, he has not bitten my head off more than once a day! (He says with a wry smile, tongue fully in cheek).
Drew is currently expending most of his energies tending a young powder boy named Rees, who unfortunately lost his arm in the battle. Drew performed the amputation and I think it affected him deeply. We thought we were going to loose him to fever a few days back, but either young boys are extraordinarily resilient (Drew's theory) or your brother is a damned fine doctor (mine), for the boy is now recovering and seems on the road to health. To what sort of life it leads him is another matter.
I wish, my darling, I might say when I could see you again. However, our little squadron seems duly bound on the patrol between Gibraltar and Madeira, so I cannot foresee any attendance in England in the near future. Believe me when I say you are never far from my thoughts.
You asked me, in your last letter, what on earth you might say to me in return for the seemingly exciting missives you receive from me? Everything, my dearest! I have not been home in so long that no matter how prosaic the subject might seem to you, it never ceases to thrill me. So speak with me, love, of fashion and society, of music and theater (especially the theater), of the world of civilization I have too long been absent from. But I can tell you, your letters would be welcome even if all you have to tell me is the number of blossoms on the rose bush since last I wrote. They remind me that there is a life beyond the war I am living.
With undying love...Archie."
Letter from Archie Kennedy to Lord Bridgeleigh:
I hope you have received my previous letter and know that I remain fine and in the service of the Indefatigable.
I shall be sending this off to you with all expedition upon reaching Gibraltar.
I have a request to make of you. We have on board a young powder boy, an orphan, who was badly injured-losing an arm in fact. I spoke with him briefly and his family used to tend stables in Portsmouth. Upon their death he joined the Navy; however, the Navy has no use for an uneducated child who's been maimed. Perhaps I put it rather bluntly, but it seems morally wrong to me that a twelve-year old boy should be reduced to begging because he sustained a debilitating injury while bravely serving His Majesty.
I would like it very much if you could find a place for him on your stable staff. Our doctor is certain he will learn to perform many functions, and it seems to me that stable duties will be in that range. He is a willing and hard worker, and respectful. Please respond to me as soon as possible, so that I might secure passage for the boy to England.
Hoping this finds you well...Archibald"
Archie sighed and shrugged. His father was more charitable than most peers, it was possible that he should help. Worth a try, in any case. He shook his head, and tried to forget the fact that his father would probably take this plea as further evidence of weakness not becoming a Kennedy.
"He certainly cannot think less of me than he already does," thought Archie, only half joking. "So no harm done there."
Horatio was, with the aid of Styles and Oldroyd, moved back into their quarters, though he would still be confined to bed. Drew had splinted his leg to keep it immobilized, but otherwise Archie was pleased to note every sign of color returning to his face.
After the men left, with a slightly grudging 'thank you' from their commanding officer, Horatio immediately turned towards his friend. "How is everything running, Archie?"
"Not bad at all, Horatio, I have managed not to botch anything up as of yet."
"Do be serious, Archie! You must know how frustrating it is for me to be helpless while we are so undermanned."
Archie smiled indulgently at his serious, worried friend. He wondered if Horatio wanted more to hear that everything was a mess with out him, or that everything was fine.
"We do miss you above decks, Horatio, and I know the Captain will greatly look forward to your return. Everything is getting done, just not as efficiently as it used to. Mr. Cousins has been a great relief to me, for I have to say I am unaccustomed to the amount of responsibilities I now bear."
Horatio stared glumly at his bad knee. "Is there any paperwork I can assist with? That might ease your load?"
Archie thought it over seriously. "Perhaps, if I can persuade the Captain. But we shall be in port by tomorrow, and no doubt everything will be easier then. To be honest with you, Horatio, seeing you regaining strength eases my mind more than anything else."
Archie was surprised to see a genuine smile from the man, so usually guarded emotionally. "Archie, I have little memory of what went on in surgery...perhaps that is for the best. But I do remember that you were beside me the entire time, and I am grateful. You are a good friend."
Face flushing to his roots, Archie could not contain how pleased he was. "Thank you, Horatio. If I could in this lifetime do anything that could half repay what you have done for me, I might die a happy man."
Horatio shook his head. "Let's not think of it in terms of repayment, Archie. That is, perhaps, the truest mark of friendship."
Turning his head to the side, Archie studied him curiously. "You've gotten awfully philosophical this morning, Horatio."
There was that smile again. "Not entirely. I still feel I could rage and beat down the ship just to be able to perform my duties. I do not handle inactivity well. Poor Brandon!" Stretching his arms over his head, he took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. "But I have had much time to think over the past days. How much both of us have been through, together and apart, in just the past four years. The future remains uncertain; we will not serve together forever; this past brush with death has reminded me of that. So I shall enjoy this time."
"Horatio, I would not have believed one could undergo such a profound change from a simple injury!" Archie teased.
Eyes wide and mouth open, Horatio protested. "Simple injury? Archie, I almost bled to death!" And then his mouth pursed, as he continued on with his new ideas. "In fact, Archie, the change began earlier. After Muzillac, after a conversation I had with Captain Pellew."
No more teasing, thought Archie. He has so little spoken of the disasters of France in the past months, though Archie knew they must have preyed on his mind, that Archie was cautious in proceeding. "How so, Horatio?"
His friend leaned backwards, arms behind his head. "I was thinking that it is a dangerous thing, to keep one's self too solitary. Yet it is what I have known all of my life. You, Archie, are always so open, so straightforward; I have envied that ability."
"Yes, Archie. And in most ways I fear I cannot change. I will never be able to be as at ease in society as you shall; I shall never be as able to confess my feelings to someone as you are. But I have come to recognize that there are certain people I can-and do-trust. Captain Pellew is one; you are the other. The value of this cannot be measured to highly."
Archie smiled at Horatio indulgently. It would be like him to try to measure friendship in terms of *measurement*. But he knew too that it was as much as Horatio could do. Horatio's nature WAS solitary, and if he could be any relief from that solitude, he was glad for it.
"Let me answer you thus, Horatio. Not only do I trust as a friend, but you are a brother to me, and I hope you will be able to think of me in the same way."
Horatio gave him his wickedest grin, then. "Your brother William or your brother David?"
"Oh, you are nowhere near obnoxious enough to merit ranking with William. Or rich enough, for that matter. You shall have to share ranking with David, I am afraid."
"Damn, and here I thought I had a shot at a title."
They were interrupted with a knock, and Mr. Cousins entered. "Captain Pellew's regards, Mr. Kennedy, and he would like your attendance above decks."
Archie rolled his eyes at Horatio, but rose. "I shall report to him immediately, Mr. Cousins."
Cousins turned then to the bed-ridden Hornblower. "How is your leg doing, Sir?"
"Not too badly, Mr. Cousins, I thank you. It appears I shall be very well read indeed when I am finally able to get about."
Inspiration struck Archie, then, but he knew he'd be better off not incurring Pellew's wrath by not answering his summons promptly. Still, it was a good idea, a way to keep Horatio from feeling so bloody useless. And that could only help his own life, since he must share quarters with the man.
And steeling himself for whatever Pellew might throw at him, Archie headed above decks.
Pellew's mood was not bad, considering their shortages. He asked Archie a few navigational opinions-Archie found that they had both come to the same conclusions, and Pellew was merely checking himself. General matters of ship were also discussed, but the Indefatigable was so well run and so free of malcontents, that if ever a ship could be described as able to "run itself" it would be this one.
"Well," Pellew concluded. "It would seem everything is satisfactory, then, and I shall have little of consequence to report in Gibraltar. Other than Strong's death as a result of his wanton dereliction of duty." He added wryly.
"Sir..." Archie wondered out loud. "How will you handle this? When it is time to report Strong's behavior?"
Pellew arched his eyebrows. "It is a fine line, Mr. Kennedy. Nobody likes to speak ill of the dead, and to do so might be considered spiteful. On the other hand, I have to explain the reason for the extraordinary devastation Dunbarton went through. However, I have much admiration for Admiral Parker; my hope would be to explain to him the circumstances off the record, and then take his guidance for a formal report."
"Politically, I suppose, it looks bad."
"Insubordination, dereliction of duty and suicide are not a way I would hope to find my last days marked in the Naval Gazette."
Wincing, Archie asked the obvious, "Had Strong any family?"
"A wife and two children. And a mistress and three natural children."
Archie was surprised that Pellew would repeat this gossip; it was so uncharacteristic. Perhaps the Captain read the expression on his face, because he gave a tense grimace. "I repeat nothing, Mr. Kennedy, that Captain Strong did not brag about often-at most dinners I ever sat with him, in fact."
Just when Archie believed that the disgust occasioned by Strong's mere mention could not get stronger, it did. And with the thought of the late Captain's digressions, his mind returned to one of their results: Rees.
"Sir, what shall happen to Rees when we reach Port?"
Pellew's face went stony and pale. "We shall attempt to find him passage back to England."
"Sir, would it be possible to keep him on board here for a little bit?"
The Captain closed his eyes, and turned away, finally giving a slight noise that might have been a sigh. "Mr. Kennedy, I am not unsympathetic to the boy's plight, but I cannot keep men who cannot work..."
"I know, Sir. However, I am posting a letter to my father seeking employment for the boy on our estate. Three weeks should find us an answer."
Pellew looked at him thoughtfully. "You wrote to your father, did you, Mr. Kennedy? That was most generous."
"It seemed to me, Sir, he deserved a better end than he'd be getting..." Fearing he had offended the Captain, he hurried on. "I know, Sir, that the Navy is not a charity, and I know you must do what you can to man the ship, but he did lose his arm while doing his duty."
The Captain nodded. "I do not disagree with you, Mr. Kennedy, but my own hands are tied. Perhaps if I had ever acquired an estate that needed running, I could do the same. I am grateful that you are able to assist him."
Quickly, Archie added, "My father hasn't agreed to anything yet, Sir."
"I understand." Pellew looked at him again, with that disconcerting stare. "How long has it been since you saw your family?"
Uncomfortable suddenly, Archie found himself murmuring his answer. "Over eight years, Sir."
Pellew nodded. "You are perhaps due some leave, Mr. Kennedy."
Archie blinked. "Sir, under the circumstances, I could hardly leave Indefatigable so short staffed."
Facing the horizon, Pellew merely replied, "Conditions change, Mr. Kennedy."
Still not looking at him, the Captain looked over to young
Mr. Holloway, on the watch. The boy flushed, sensing the scrutiny,
but unable to see the slight smile that Pellew gave him. Then,
unexpectedly, Pellew turned back to Archie. "Will you join
me for dinner this evening, Mr. Kennedy? I am in the mood for
the conversation of a fellow officer."
"I would be honored, Sir." Archie stammered out.
And Pellew nodded sharply and was gone, leaving Archie to realize that he had agreed to have dinner with his Captain. The Captain had invited him to dine. Alone. No Horatio, no Bracegirdle, no Brandon. Not that long ago he was lamenting being excluded from a dinner with Pellew. Now he had the opportunity to converse with the man casually, one-on-one.
And what the hell would he say?
His heart in his throat, hands clasped tightly behind his back, his knuckles growing white, Archie cautiously entered the Captain's cabin.
"Ah, thank you for joining me, Mr. Kennedy!"
Pellew was formal and gracious at the same time. Archie sat at the table; Mr. Bowles had the watch above; true to his understanding, this would be a private dinner, just the two of them.
"Not much of worth on that supply ship, but we have some chicken with lemons, and some of the rice we took from that last ship."
"Sir, I am exceedingly grateful for anything that isn't salted."
Pellew smiled. "I'd like to say I remembered the days when I had to eat from the ships stores, but since it was just three weeks ago when last that happened, that would not be saying much." He poured generously, his fabulous claret, which Archie was even more appreciative of than the food. Despite his years in the Navy, or perhaps because of them, he really had no liking for beer.
The meal was eaten with a minimum of small talk, mainly about ship's procedures. Archie had a question he wished to ask, an idea, really, but was biding his time, gauging Pellew's mood.
"How was Mr. Hornblower when you left him, Mr. Kennedy?"
"Asleep. Though he is often frustrated with his activity, he is still on the road to recovery."
"Let us be glad for that! No doubt you will be relieved to hand over your responsibilities as first Lieutenant to him."
Smiling, Archie admitted, "I confess, Sir, I had no idea how much Mr. Bracegirdle did. But he will be rejoining us before Horatio is back on his feet, will he not?"
Pellew tapped his biscuit on the table, as if he hadn't heard. Archie recognized this as his pause to gather his thoughts, never a word spoken in haste.
"Perhaps not." Pellew drawled out. Not meeting Archie's surprised eyes, he continued, "It all depends on Parker. But Clark has certainly served well and long enough to be made a Captain. I would not be surprised to see him appointed to the Dunbarton."
"I think that would be an excellent thing, Sir."
"I agree. It would, however, leave Sophia without a Captain." Pellew's eyes finally met his, and Archie understood.
"You think Lieutenant Bracegirdle will be made the Commander of her?"
"In truth, I am hoping it, though I will miss him dearly. He has been a Lieutenant for ten years, Mr. Kennedy; most of those years in peace time. But he has proven to be a cunning officer, and I have not a doubt he is capable of the promotion."
Archie almost whistled. He had been so preoccupied with his own day to day existence since the battle, he had not had time to think through the situation of the ships of the fleet. But what Pellew said made sense; what was more, not only was it sensible, it was RIGHT.
Then he remembered Muzillac. The disaster there. The choices made by an admiral with no real grip on the day to day living and fighting conditions of ships at war, and no interest in what would benefit the men. And doubtfully Archie asked Pellew, "Sir, will Admiralty agree???"
Approval shone in Pellew's expression. "Quite right, Mr. Kennedy. One cannot assume anything of Admirals, even one as agreeable as Parker. There are a thousand political games being played which we are unaware of, and one of them may be a second cousin twice removed of Admiral Hood looking for an appointment, and wouldn't Dunbarton do just fine!"
Archie could hear the frustration and disgust in Pellew's voice. He shared it. Yet he knew they were both of them only pawns in a much larger game.
But his Captain was not done with the surprises as of yet. He took another sip of claret, then quietly refilled Archie's glass as he continued, "All the more reason, Mr. Kennedy, that I hope to see you pass your exam when we get to Gibraltar."
All the calmness that had seeped into him during their routine conversation of dinner went out the window. His mouth suddenly seemed dryer than any amount of Claret could ever quench. "There is to be an exam board when we arrive at Gibraltar, Sir?"
"I have requested that one convene, and I believe with a little finagling from Parker, it will take place at some point while we are in port. After all, you are not the only other anxious young man waiting in the wings for his commission, Mr. Kennedy. Although I am certain it will hardly be the herd that Mr. Hornblower experienced. Hopefully you will have better luck with the pick of examiners than he did." Pellew watched him as he took a quick sip of wine, hoping he could hold his hand steady. "You ARE ready, are you not, Mr. Kennedy?"
Archie forced himself to focus, hold his voice even in tone. "Oh! Of course, Sir. It's just so...unexpected."
"No doubt. But if Mr. Bracegirdle is leaving us, I would rather have you a commissioned officer. It will keep Hood or Parker from handing me whatever leftover he has hanging around Admiralty. And then I might consider making Cousins an Acting Lieutenant. Though he is young."
"He can handle it, Sir." Archie said quickly, happier to think of the steady young man he'd been working with, than his own fate. One nagging thought kept echoing through his mind.
What if I FAIL?
Pellew dabbed at his lips with his napkin, and pushed the seat back with a quiet sigh. Dinner was over, the evening was getting on, and all of them needed as much rest as possible in these trying times.
"Well, Mr. Kennedy, since we can hardly have a game of whist in our current situation, I suppose we must call it a night."
Suddenly Archie remembered that he, too, had an agenda this evening. "Sir, If I may impose for one moment...I have had an idea on how to keep Mr. Hornblower from going insane from his inactivity."
Pellew's forehead rose, the corners of his mouth twitching. "Please share, Mr. Kennedy."
"Well, Sir...Horatio has been devoting much of his time to study, but his resources are limited, and it's material he knows backwards and forwards. Meanwhile, between his incapacitation and our short-handedness, none of the young men have had any further lessons. I propose that, one by one, we rotate them into his quarters, an hour at a time, when they are not on watch. Conducting lessons should not pose a problem for him."
"H'm, the idea is not without merit. I do not wish the boys to become lax in their studies. I assume you mean Holloway and Anderson, by the way?"
"Cousins also, especially if you have a mind to making him an Acting Lieutenant."
"Yes, and I suppose Brandon could do with some instruction. Under our circumstances, I cannot guarantee he will not be required above decks." Pellew's eyes twinkled as they both rose. "By the way, Mr. Kennedy, it would not hurt you to have Mr. Hornblower quiz you in your spare moments."
Blushing, Archie stammered out, "Oh, no, Sir, I should have done that anyway."
And again with an expression Archie could not understand, his Captain went on, "Particularly you might ask his advice on what to do if you should find yourself dismasted with Dover under your lee."
Archie was startled out of his confusion by the absurdity of the question, as he walked out the door. "Good lord, Sir, I would think the only thing you could do in such a circumstance would be to pray for a miracle."
"Aye." The Captain said dryly. "Or a fireship."
August 6, Gibraltar
"Well, Mr. Kennedy, glad to see you looking so alert!"
Archie started, and turned abruptly to see Horatio limping towards him, leaning on a cane.
"Mr. Hornblower!" Archie said, swallowing, breathing in sharply. "I did not expect to see you up and about!"
"Special permission from our young Doctor. I am to get one hour of exercise above decks as I strengthen my knee." He made his way slowly up to the quarterdeck. "However, I think anybody would have surprised you, Archie." He added softly, somewhat out of breath. "Your mind was a million miles from Indefatigable."
Archie sagged. His friend was right, he had been deep within worries for an exam that would be happening in two days' time. Of course, he was on watch. And, of course, no officer worth the name ought to be daydreaming on watch. He had just failed.
With a sympathetic grin, Horatio tried to buck him up. "At ease, Archie. I know well enough where your mind is. Just be thankful I am not the Captain! Where is he, by the way?"
"Ashore. Another conference with Parker."
"Still waiting to see how everything is going to fall out after Strong's death, eh?" Horatio shook his head. "I hope they take the most sensible route."
"That's not likely, is it?" Archie said dryly.
Horatio gave him a smile, then looked with unabashed joy around him, the men still going about their business, despite the upheaval among their superiors. A familiar face walked by in a red uniform: Forbes. Horatio nodded to him, and Forbes nodded back. Archie gave a brief greeting.
"Good day, Captain Forbes."
Forbes gave him a tight smile of acknowledgement and then returned to the regiment that was now his.
Horatio's mouth fell open. "Captain?" He whispered, to nobody in general.
Archie's collar suddenly seemed slightly constricting; Horatio, so long in sick bay and then confined to bed rest; somehow, they had all neglected to give him a rather important bit of information.
"Yes, well, he was just named Captain, replacing McAnn." He coughed. "Captain McAnn was amongst the fallen in our encounter." He closed his eyes, trying to bring the face of the smiling Captain to his mind, and not see the recollection of his corpse on the deck. "I am sorry I neglected to tell you earlier."
"I am..." Horatio paused, and gave his body a slight shake. "I am very saddened for his loss. He was with us from the start. A good man. A reliable one."
"Yes. I was at dinner with him the night you were dining with the squadron's Captains. He was joking with the mids, always ready with a story. He has been such a constancy...it is hard to think of not seeing him again."
Horatio stood erect, looking out towards the harbor. "A way of life we must get used to, I suppose. Still, one doesn't have to like it."
"No, indeed." Archie shuddered. Then, his mind following well trained paths, he wondered if there were any questions one might get on the Lieutenant's exam that dealt with the succession on ship board in case the Captain of one's regiment of Marines was killed?
Horatio must have noticed his wandering mind, for he nudged him slightly. "Really, Archie, I know no man more prepared than you are for this exam!"
"I am so nervous, Horatio. I feel like the Captain is counting on my passing! What if I fail?"
"Then you fail, and you test again at the next opportunity."
How on earth could Horatio be so damned casual about this? Archie looked him over, not even sure he could trust his own mouth!
His friend hesitated, then began pacing on the quarter deck, slowly testing his healing knee. Archie remained still; and Horatio returned to him. "Look, Archie, whatever that test says, I KNOW what kind of officer you are; we have served together and I have seen you learn to trust yourself. And trusting yourself, Archie, is maybe the most important lesson. It is one I am still learning." Horatio took a few steps back and forth, wincing once. "I can tell you, even if you were a...a...civilian, for God's sake, there is nobody else who I would want by my side in a tight spot!"
Archie smiled, in spite of his worries. "Good heavens, not a CIVILIAN, Horatio! Your cruelty knows no bounds, Sir!"
And they shared a quiet laugh together, until Archie noted a shore boat approaching. "Look's like the Captain, Mr. Hornblower." He said, trying to look more like an officer and less like a guilty school boy.
Fifteen minutes later, as the pipes chimed, Captain Pellew came forward to be greeted.
"Mr. Kennedy, I would like to see you in my cabin at the end of your watch, if you..." He stopped, mid-growl, mouth open. Then he closed it quickly, and drew himself up. "Mr. Hornblower! I trust you have permission to be above decks?"
"Yes, Sir. Mr. Brandon suggested it was time for me to take some light exercise."
"I am glad to hear it, I was getting tired of supporting you in the lap of luxury while poor Mr. Kennedy was doing the work of three men!" He said, a slight twitch at his mouth betraying him.
"Yes, Sir. I look forward to being fully cleared for duty."
"Mmmhmm, well, then, perhaps if you can tear yourself away from your cabin, you can humor me by joining Mr. Kennedy when he reports!"
Pellew's head bobbed slightly, as he scanned the decks, observing the men about their duties and the general state of the ship. Archie felt unreasoning dread that the Captain would find something to find fault with.
"Very well, I will see you both in...three-quarters of an hour!"
"Aye, Aye, Sir." They said in unison, both blushing slightly.
"Yes, well, then..." Pellew turned away, and they only barely heard him as he went towards his cabin. "Good to see you upright, Mr. Hornblower."
Archie and Horatio looked at one and other, and with the greatest
restraint, kept themselves from breaking into laughter outright.
Horatio and Archie arrived at Pellew's cabin promptly and were ushered in. The Captain sat behind his desk, reading a dispatch. He looked up absently for a moment and then motioned them to be seated. Archie sat quickly; it took Horatio some moments to maneuver into place, what with his leg sticking out like a damaged bit of mast. He looked at the offending limb ruefully.
Pellew turned and folded his letter, and then sat back, looking at them both, his hands together, the index fingers touching, as he gave a slight frown.
"Gentlemen, there will be some changes around here...however, they shall not be immediate. I have finally struck agreement with Parker regarding how to best re-deploy our personnel." He raised an eyebrow.
For one sick second a terrifying thought hit Kennedy...would HE be transferred? Somehow, would the unthinkable happen? The thought of being assigned to another ship, another Captain, seemed above all the worst thing he could imagine.
Pellew must have seen the look on his face, and took mercy on him. "Gentlemen, let me pour you a glass...you are permitted, Mr. Hornblower?" He asked.
"I believe so, Sir...I, what are we toasting?" Horatio stammered out, as he took the small glass of ruby-red liquid from his Captain. With a shock, Archie saw the sudden pallor of his friend's face, and realized that his own thoughts were not so very far from his own! Horatio, who feared nothing!
The glass was slid forward. Archie was uncertain if he trusted his hands around the dainty crystal, for they had started to shake.
"We are celebrating many things. Commander Clark's promotion to Captain, first of all. He shall obtain command of Dunbarton immediately." There was a pause there, Pellew looking at them expectantly.
"Wonderful news, Sir." Horatio said, perhaps a bit more calmly.
Archie forced words out. "Indeed, a most welcome development."
Was it possible that there was a slight twinkle in Pellew's eye? "Agreed. Another development, gentlemen..." There was that pause, again, and Archie waited to be told that Bracegirdle would be leaving them, as he expected...
"The sloop Le Grace, captured and returned to Gibraltar by Midshipman McGill, is to be completely re-fitted and re-manned, and shall join our little squadron on the Madeira/Oporto/Gibraltar patrol.
That was news? Well, Archie supposed it was. McGill had been awaiting them when they got to Gibraltar; the heavily damaged French ship was undergoing repairs. Archie had assumed she would be sent to England; not that another ship would be unwelcome. Still, it was NOT what he had expected to hear.
Horatio tentatively spoke up. "Will adding another ship not tax our resources, Sir?"
"It would indeed, Mr. Hornblower, if we were to add a ship. However, Georgina, as she is to be rechristened, will in fact be replacing the Sophia. Sophia is to return to England, where Parker has other uses for her. Georgina will probably take some time to re-outfit for our purposes, up to six months, I believe. At which point, Mr. Bracegirdle will take her command."
Pellew raised a glass. "Which means we are toasting Mr. Bracegirdle's impending promotion, gentlemen, as well as yours, Mr. Hornblower."
There was no doubt about the twinkle in Pellew's eye; it was also a challenge, as he waited for Horatio to attempt to decline the accolade. Archie could not contain his joy, however. "Tremendous news, Sir." He clapped Horatio on the shoulder; he was looking stunned and modest...and, damn it all, embarrassed!
Pellew turned to him. "Egads, Mr. Kennedy, can not your friend ever accept any bit of good news?"
Horatio's face nearly matched the wine in the glass. "Sir!"
Archie, with an exaggeratedly sad shrug, played along. "Afraid not, Sir. He is most damnably reticent. I think it's a fashion with him."
Horatio faced him, jaw dropped nearly to the desk! "FASHION?"
"Mhm, well, you should have seen him two years ago when I had him promoted to Acting Lieutenant! He acted like I'd sent him to the bloody gratings!"
"I can well imagine, Sir. He cannot abide by praise, and yet he will insist on doing things praiseworthy."
"It must have been terribly trying to you in Spain."
"You have no idea."
Horatio had been following this exchange with growing horror. The whites of his eyes would have been visible half a mile away, Archie was sure. Archie thought he saw hurt there, for a moment, and wondered if he and the Captain had gone too far. Then, swallowing, attempting to speak, not able to articulate a sound for a moment, the incredible happened.
Horatio Hornblower laughed.
Archie tried, but could not remember seeing such a thing, not like this, a full blown, outright, gut-wrenching laugh. No, Horatio had giggled once-when drunk-occasionally grinned, or had a brief chuckle with his mates, but a laugh like that? Archie would not have believed him to possess such a thing.
He and Pellew looked at each other in amazement for some seconds, and then the two of them joined in.
Horatio, meanwhile, held his sides, leaning over, mirth overflowing.
Finally, he grabbed the desk with one hand, and wiped at his eyes with the other. "Touché. Captain. Mr. Kennedy." A sly look let Archie know that there would be retaliation at some point. He must be on his guard. "Very well done, Sir."
"Yes, well, anything to avoid any more drama. I have had enough, today."
The three of them managed to gain control. Archie finally found his own voice. "So, Sir. Mr. Bracegirdle will rejoin us temporarily. I assume, though, we shall lose McGill once again?" His mind, as current first Lieutenant, was preoccupied with shifting the rotation of officers.
"Why should you assume any such thing?" Pellew intoned, sternly.
Never sure when the man was serious or not, Archie spoke steadily, hoping he'd really not said anything offensive.
"Sir, somebody must sail Sophia back to England. With Mr. Hornblower still nursing his leg, I would believe that McGill would be most experienced to do so."
"M'm. Not a bad deduction, true. But Sophia has an experienced sailing master, which is what McGill is training for. Besides, since Mr. Hornblower will evidently be able to resume some duties, and with McGill and Bracegirlde rejoining us, and with Mr. Cousin's experience, I felt somebody else would be best for command."
Surely he didn't mean...
"Yes, Mr. Kennedy, I want you to return Sophia to England." And Pellew gave him much the same challenging look he'd given Horatio just moments before, as though daring him to question his decision.
"I...of course, Sir."
"Good, you leave the day after tomorrow."
Horatio had only begun to congratulate him when a nagging thought intruded. "Sir, what of my examination for Lieutenant? I am...I was...to take my exam in two days..."
Pellew nodded. "Yes, well, there is that. Only, as it turns out, Mr. Kennedy, they are having a devil of a time arranging an exam board. Our squadron are the only ships in, and what with our upheaval in commands, as it is, Parker suggested that you wait until the next exam, whenever that should happen!"
Funny, as much as he had been dreading that damn board an hour ago, somehow the thought of NOT facing it was worse! How long would it be? Three months? Six?
Whatever would he tell his father?
Horatio was indignant on his behalf. "Sir, surely they can do something? This seems very arbitrary!"
"Yes, well, I confess, Mr. Hornblower, I was not best pleased with the situation either. So, that is one of the compromises I arranged with Parker, in exchange for turning over such a neat little ship as Sophia. Mr. Kennedy shall take his Exam in Portsmouth, assuming he makes it back to England within two weeks, as I have no doubt he shall do."
"I see, Sir." His mind was spinning, now, so much to prepare...and no time!
Pellew handed him over a set of letters. "These were awaiting you in port, Mr. Kennedy. One, if you do not mind my interference, would seem to be from your father. I believe you were awaiting word from him on the status of young Rees?"
"Indeed, Sir!" He said, for once grasping at a letter from his father more eagerly than one from Alicia.
"Then perhaps you would not mind opening it in our current company? Only for the pertinent news, of course."
Archie was already matching action to Pellew's words, as his Captain and Horatio anxiously looked on. A quick skip of the letter brought a slight flush to his face, but he hurried on and spoke the pertinent news out loud. "He would be happy to find a place for him, Sir."
"That is a relief!" Horatio cried out. Archie knew he had spoken often with his fellow patient during the past weeks, and tried to keep the boy cheerful.
Pellew stood, and Archie and Horatio stood with him. "Then it is agreed. You shall Captain Sophia back to England, take your exam, and guide young Rees to your father's house. You have my permission to take two weeks leave to spend with your family." Pellew cleared his throat once more. "Indefatigable is scheduled to return to Gibraltar by approximately October 1st. I expect you shall be able to obtain passage back to her by then."
And with a nod, they were both dismissed, and Archie and Horatio stood in stunned disbelief outside Pellew's door.
Archie shook his swirling head. "Do not congratulate me yet, Horatio. I have a ship to sail, an exam to pass, a boy to transport, a visit with my family to endure, and a return voyage!"
"It shall be an eventful six weeks, but you shall persevere, no doubt!" He said soothingly.
Archie was, in truth, not thinking of any of that, but he could hardly say so.
He was saved by a very perturbed Drew Brandon sailing into their midst, his face dark enough to be frightful.
"Mr. Hornblower...how long did I give you permission to exercise your leg?" He said evenly, in a quiet, low tone that reminded Archie of Pellew at his most terrifying!
"I...uh, Mr. Brandon...was called into the Captain's quarters..." Drew did not make one move, merely crossed his arms and stared his commanding officer down. "One hour." Horatio finished meekly.
"And how long have you been above decks?" Drew continued. Archie almost laughed, but as he was no stranger to sick berth himself, knew he might someday be on the receiving end of the same stern ire.
"Two and a half hours." Horatio added, even more meekly than before.
"Do you want to walk with a limp for the rest of your life?" Before Horatio could answer, Drew shook his head. "I didn't think so. Now, if you please, return to your cabin!"
Horatio gave Archie a sheepish look, and limped away. As he passed Brandon, Drew turned to face him, all anger wiped clear, a bright and knowing smile gracing his face. Archie returned it. He heard Drew ask, as they headed off, "And just how is your knee feeling, Sir?"
He chuckled slightly, then turned above decks himself, and found himself climbing the riggings, heading for the fighting top, almost not knowing why.
But once there, above the world, he re-opened his father's letter...
I am in receipt of both of your letters. I am pleased to hear from you, and most pleased you are doing well.
The plight of the young boy does not escape me, and Hadley informs me that he can always use a good man on his staff, so he is welcome to find employment here with us. If you send him to the London house we will see him properly outfitted before sending him to Devonshire. I am sending this with all expedition, and pray it reaches you in time to assist him.
Archibald, having so many declare you dead for so long, these letters reminded me of how very long it has been since we had the pleasure of seeing you. I am certain that you have had many adventures that I would prefer to hear from your own lips. David, as you know, tends to be garrulous. But if I cannot have you here, then certainly I can aid a shipmate of yours. It was very good of you to think of his needs; many men would not have. You are like your mother that way; she, also, was a very kind and generous person. I am proud to see you carrying her tradition on.
Please let me know when we can expect the boy. I would not wish to be unprepared for his arrival.
Arthur Kennedy, Lord Bridgeleigh."
There were exactly five words that Archie saw on the entire page.
"My son." "I am proud."
Archie blinked once, and then lifted his head back to the wind. He heard the Indefatigable singing to him gently, as she had once before. And again, he was certain, that everything really was going to be alright.
END OF CHAPTER ONE