PELLEW'S PERSPECTIVES...DUCHESS AND THE DEVIL
by Meanjean


PART 1-THE TAKING OF LE REVE

February 23rd, 1796

From the Diary of Sir Edward Pellew:

Monotony has settled in to the ship.

We are functioning well, but are being forced to grow rusty. Admiralty does not wish to run a ship into Cadiz, but is content to have us bottling up the straits, waiting for them to come to us. Trouble is, they won't! I don't know what they're waiting for, but wait they do, relying on smaller vessels to sneak along the coast, out of our reach, providing supplies to both our French and Spanish enemies.

I have had Bracegirdle run every test and play every game with the men imaginable. We have shaved four full minutes off the time it takes us to make sail. We can tack without effort. The contest to prove the crew able to get the deck cleanest has resulted in four winners, and the Indefatigable just about gleams. But we are nearing our limits.

And Hunter cannot play whist! Hornblower is an excellent adversary, Bracegirdle is acceptable but Bowles can't stand the game. Cleveland used to be our fourth, not bright but steady. Hunter has taken his place at the table once or twice, but he plays like he fights...no strategy! It's bring out all the big cards, the obvious cards, and then get very frustrated when a superior player ends up taking the hand with a deuce! But if I don't ask him to join us, his attitude becomes even more surly, and he quietly puts down Horatio in ways that I can't quite get a hold of. Hornblower pays him no mind, however.

But the result is, I have not had a decent hand of whist in a month.

Bracegirdle and Bowles occasionally engage in a game of acey-deucey, but that is not my passion. And in the evening, Horatio is often studying, in the event that another exam board shall convene. I do believe, however, he knows what to do in the event of a wind change while bearing down on the Dover cliffs in his sleep!

He is still conducting classes with the Midshipmen, and I noticed Cousins is coming more and more into his own. He has just turned fifteen, and is gangly but willing. I had feared his coming too much under the influence of Mr. Hunter, but the encounter with Etoile had changed that. If memory served me correctly, he was closest to Hunter when Lieutenant Lussier tried to surrender and was shot. But although his mathematical skills are only good, his French is tremendous, and no doubt he heard exactly what Lussier was trying to say. He has become more thoughtful as a result. Well, there might have been ONE good thing to come out of that disaster.

Dispatches have come in. Perhaps the Admiral has decided to let us loose.





February 24th

No such luck on that account; the dispatches had not a word from the Admiral, only the usual letters for the men and a note from Harvey.

"Hail, Edward...

Please do excuse me for not writing sooner after our meeting prior to Christmas. I trust your men enjoyed their repast. I hope you permitted yourself to enjoy a bit of it as well.

There is the usual hush hush atmosphere around here, which of course is what happens when you're stuck in a stalemate. Hale is running around looking although he expects a Spanish invasion any minute-this, when the Dons, as usual, have shown great reluctance in doing anything that might get them wounded. Word is, his lack of action is driving Hood to distraction back in Plymouth. Change is a comin' I feel, and I have no doubt you welcome it!

My reason for writing is thus...while at a recent dinner with Dalrymple we had a guest, a Don Ferrera. Don Ferrera is an ardent believer in the monarchy and has sought refuge at Gibraltar, his own views making him less than popular in his Spanish homeland. He feels that he would have been better served to keep his mouth shut, as many of those land owners he knew agreed with him, but persevered in silence.

However, in his travels Don Ferrera mentioned encountering an English prisoner in transport. The young man was being transferred from prison in France to a prison in Spain, that they felt would be more capable of holding him (apparently the Lad has proven to be adept at attempting escapes). Ferrera knew little else, save that he appeared to be a young naval officer, and, he was ashamed to admit, appeared ill-treated. Hale, of course, must be able to detail an endless list of young men who have vanished, missing and feared killed. Dalrymple turned the conversation to matters of fashion, and the poor boy was forgotten.

But later, over a fine brandy, I engaged Ferrera in further conversation. He confessed to me that he was confused about an English word that the young man kept using over and over in his nearly insensible state. The man could not translate it. He tried to pronounce it for me: IN-DE-FATI-GABLE.

I explained to him the loose meaning of the word, and I believe he felt it referred to the officer's repeated attempts at escape. Only I knew it might have another meaning.

Edward, have you lost a man?"



I was stunned into immobility. Have I lost a man?

Could it be?

Kennedy?

I confess, I have had the young man on my mind often since my Christmas Eve conversations with Hornblower. I felt remiss in my treatment of him, though I know I treated him as I would any young officer. He had had promise, but not as much as Hornblower. He also had fewer problems attached to him that were visible, and that perhaps made him less interesting to me.

But knowing now of his past with Simpson, at least as Hornblower believed it to be, I feel I could have done more. Something, perhaps, that would have made him willing to come to me before that fateful evening, before getting in that boat, and say, "Sir, this man cannot be part of this mission, he is unfit to serve with these men."

Perhaps that may be too much to have expected. And I cannot see everything. A few days with them together and maybe then I could have pieced together their past, and had Simpson dispatched properly-on a rope, on the yard arm, suffering not nearly enough for the pain he had caused.

Have I lost a man?

Oh, Harvey, I have lost so many men, so many with promise, so many too young to have tasted death. I know I will lose more; I know that at any point in the future even Hornblower may be taken from me. It is an accepted price one must pay in this Navy.

But is it too much to hope that this man might be saved? Might have survived? Might I, just this once, have been granted a reprieve?

I can only pray it so.

February 28th, 1796

I have noted some interesting, and not entirely welcome, changes in my relationship with Horatio since our Christmas Eve spent together. I find myself, almost against my will, being harder on him than I might on the other men. Perhaps I fear appearing to favor him. Although to be honest, I do not think I fool many of my men. Often when I find myself snapping at Horatio, I catch Bracegirdle throwing me an exasperated but indulgent look.

Horatio, on the other hand, takes my criticisms seriously but without brooding on it, as he used to. He has not backed away from offering an opinion when asked and does not cower from me, despite my irritability. There are moments when I would dearly love to know what he is thinking, but I have steered clear of him often, especially on those evening watches which might remind us too closely of Christmas.

There is constraint between us, and I fear it is my own doing. Sometimes I wish I were not the Captain.

This evening I was indulging in a quiet stroll, content with the knowledge that Mr. Cousins had the watch. I was still thinking on that missive from Harvey, and had Mr. Kennedy on my mind.

Thus my surprise when I ran into Hornblower on the bridge.

"Mr. Hornblower? You were on at the previous watch, I believe? Where is Mr. Cousins?"

"He is ill, Sir. I was taking some air when I discovered he was close to burning up with fever. I had Mr. Carlysle take him to Dr. Hepplewhite just now."

"And you were planning on notifying me of this when?" I said a bit gruffly.

Hornblower was as unflappable as always. "Mr. Carlysle had instructions to notify you as soon as he had Mr. Cousins settled, and then return to me here."

"I see." I paused, remembering an overheard conversation from earlier. "Mr. Hornblower, wasn't Mr. Cousins unwell at the afternoon watch?"

"He was, Sir."

"Why did you not send him to Dr. Hepplewhite then, and rearrange the watch?"

"I did Sir...that is, I did send him to Hepplewhite. Hepplewhite sent him back to me, telling him not to bother him further with any more malingering Midshipman." His distaste was evident.

I sighed. Hepplewhite left much to be desired as a ship's doctor, but this was a time of war. "You could have removed him from duty anyway, Mr. Hornblower. You have more than average knowledge of illness."

He hesitated. "Not without permission of Cousins' superior officer, Sir, and that is Mr. Hunter. Mr. Cousins' begged me not to approach him, and assured me he would be fine after a meal and a bit of rest, for this watch."

I turned on him then. "Mr. Hornblower, I am surprised at you. An officer must never, never let a midshipman make such a decision for himself. You permitted your own judgement as to his well being to be influenced."

Hornblower stood more erect, and met my eyes forcefully. "On the contrary, Sir, I was convinced that Mr. Cousins' well-being was better served by not having Hepplewhite's "malingering" comment repeated to Mr. Hunter. The end result, I am certain, would have been that I should have still found Mr. Cousins on watch, suffering from more than fever, Sir."

I closed my eyes. Why, oh why, was I doing this to him? I know as well as he does Mr. Hunter's temperament. I tried to calm myself. "I see, Mr. Hornblower. In the future, however, should you have any doubts about the health or safety of one of Mr. Hunters' men, please advise me immediately."

"I will do so, Sir."

At this moment young Carlysle approached. "Mr. Hornblower, Sir, I can't find the Captain..." He came to a full stop as he saw me standing there.

Hornblower turned. "As you see, Mr. Carlysle, the Captain has found me instead."

Carlysle pulled himself together and saluted. "Yes, Sir." He looked from one of us, to the other, in uncertainty.

I spoke first. "How was Dr. Hepplewhite's reaction to Mr. Cousins' condition, Mr. Carlysle?"

He took a deep breath. "He swore quite a bit, Sir, at being woke up. He was...Sir, I mean..." He swallowed and looked to Mr. Hornblower for help.

"The Captain has asked you for a report, Mr. Carlysle. It must be an honest one."

The boy looked at me and steadied himself. "I believe he was drunk, Sir. Least, I could smell brandy pretty heavy."

Damn it all, whatever would we do if the bloody Spaniards should show their faces and we were to have real casualties? I'd do better with Hornblower operating on them. "Did he give no indication as to what he thought might be ailing Mr. Cousins?"

Carlysle's face grew red, but he persevered, with merely a glance at Hornblower. "Sir, he said as perhaps Mr. Cousins had got into the spirits, Sir, but Sir, Mr. Cousins wouldn't be doing that, not on watch..." The boy looked at me with pleading eyes.

Hornblower uttered a note of disgust. "Sir, I can assure you, whatever is wrong with Mr. Cousins had nothing to do with drinking."

"At ease, Mr. Hornblower, I am inclined to agree with you." I mused as to what to do with my surgeon.

Hornblower continued to question Carlysle. "What relief offered Dr. Hepplewhite?"

"None, Sir, just a rest in a hammock."

Hornblower went purple, and I think would have liked to go down below to knock some sense into the Doctor. I shook my head at him, and addressed the boy. "Mr. Carlysle, you may return to Mr. Cousins, at my orders, should Hepplewhite question you, and tend him as best you can." I looked at Horatio. "Your plan of treatment, Dr. Hornblower?" I said with some sarcasm.

Horatio winced, and only then did I realize what I had said. But he continued, addressing Carlysle. "Cold compress, Mr. Carlysle, on his forehead; use seawater pulled in fresh. Make sure he has ample blankets. Should he exhibit any change, such as shivering or signs of a head cold, please notify me."

"Aye Aye, Sir." And Carlysle trotted off to play nursemaid.

Hornblower and I stood in silence for a few moments.

"I apologize, Mr. Hornblower, for my misplaced sarcasm just now."

"I understood your meaning, Sir. No apology is necessary."

"Nevertheless..." I let my statement trail off. "Unfortunately, Mr. Hornblower, I cannot afford to have one of my most valued officers also responsible for treating my men."

He smiled wryly. "I would prefer not to be, Sir. I am here on this ship because I did not care for medicine, after all."

"Something must be done..." I muttered. "Do any of the young men show an inclination to being a physician's mate?"

Horatio paused, thinking over the boys he tutored. "Brandon, perhaps. He has a very scientific turn of mind. He is only fourteen, and very slight for his age, almost delicate. Training as physician's mate might be the best thing for him."

I pictured Brandon in my mind. A bookish, quiet boy, with dark blond hair and large fair eyes, not much more than five feet tall.. "How on earth came Mr. Brandon to choose the navy?"

Hornblower said evenly. "He is the fifth son of Lord Exton. I do not believe there was much choice involved."

Incredible. "I do not understand how this Navy perseveres, when we are so populated with men who would rather not be here."

Hornblower looked up at the sky. "We are romanced by the sea, Sir. Whether we choose to be here at the beginning or not, most of us could not, in the end, imagine any other life."

My mind was already engaged far away, however, thinking of another Lord's son, whom had been in my care, whom had been brutalized, and who might at this moment be rotting in a Spanish prison, if he was alive. And I wonder again at why I often seem to care for these boys more than their own family does.

Hornblower, perceptive as always, turned his dark eyes full on me. "Something preys on your mind this evening Sir?"

Kennedy was his greatest friend, his equalizer, the man with whom he might let himself go. How could I tell him of Harvey's letter, get his hopes up so cruelly, especially when there was nothing to be done?

"Something does, Mr. Hornblower, but I regret it must stay within my mind." I turned away. "Keep the watch, if you can, Mr. Hornblower. I will talk with Bracegirdle about rearranging the order of officers now."

"Aye Aye, Sir. Good evening."

Good? Not by anybody's estimate, and least of all my own.

March 2nd, 1796

Mr. Cousins' fever, thankfully, lasted but a few days. Mr. Hunter was quite irritable over it, and hinted more than once that a little prodding from the bosun might return him to duty sooner. I quashed that idea immediately. I have enough faith in Hornblower's estimation of how sick he was to believe him to have truly been ill. Even now, I would hesitate to send him up the ratlines; he is pale and has lost weight.

I called Midshipman Brandon in to see me this morning.

"You sent for me, Sir?" He looked anxious and worried, the way they so often do when called before their captain.

"Yes, Mr. Brandon, please come in." I shuffled through his papers before me. "I had a conversation earlier this week with Mr. Hornblower about your studies."

He looked even more worried, and perplexed. "Yes, Sir?"

I smiled slightly at him. "At ease, Mr. Brandon. Mr. Hornblower was quite positive about you. Indeed, we have in mind a special assignment, if you have no objection. We would like you to be trained as physician's mate, and possibly as a ship's surgeon, eventually."

A strange mix of emotions paraded across his young face, the last one being caution. "Would I continue to report to Mr. Hunter, Sir, or shall I report to Dr. Hepplewhite?"

As has been evidenced, serving with Mr. Hunter is no joy, but I can well imagine his further reluctance to work with Hepplewhite, a known drunkard. "Neither. I have in mind to have you report to Mr. Hornblower. He has the most education of the officers on board, and his father was a doctor. I believe he is most qualified to oversee your scientific instruction. It would be only in direct battle, Mr. Brandon, that Dr. Hepplewhite will be your superior officer."

His face had lit up when I mentioned he should report to Hornblower...those boys follow him like the snakes followed St. Patrick out of Ireland. But concern returned to his face. "Sir, will Dr. Hepplewhite object?"

I rose from the desk and walked towards him. "He might, and if he does, he shall have to object to me, as this is my decision." I raised my chin slightly, and peered down at Brandon from nearly a foot above his head. "Mr. Brandon, the simple truth is I cannot trust Dr. Hepplewhite to be sober should the ship be in dire need of a doctor. In the past, we have been fortunate enough to keep on the right side of luck when in battle, but I cannot count on that to hold out. I need a young man who is a quick study and who has a sturdy dependable temperament, to be there in case Dr. Hepplewhite fails. Mr. Hornblower believes, and furthermore, I believe, that you are that young man." The boys eyes grew wide and he stood straighter, and raised his own chin, his face slightly flushed. I continued. "And neither Mr. Hornblower nor I are accustomed to being wrong."

He spoke then, in a clear and strong voice that belied his years. "I will not disappoint you, Sir."

I nodded, pleased he had made such a definitive answer. "Good man. You are dismissed, Mr. Brandon. You shall begin your training tomorrow."

"Aye, Aye, Sir."

March 16th, 1796

It was just on a fortnight later when Hornblower knocked on my door.

"Enter." I laid down the letter from Gibraltar I had just opened.

"Sir, I hope I am not disturbing you."

"Not at all, Mr. Hornblower. What is on your mind."

"Just a bit of information you might find interesting, Sir. I am now some two weeks into working with Mr. Brandon, as you know."

"Does it go well, then?"

"Quite well. He is, as I had noticed, a quick study, and asks a thousand questions; his brain seems to be racing ahead of my instruction, sadly."

"That is very good to hear." I waited for what else was to come. Surely there must be more?

There was. "I have separated him out from the rest of the Mids, Sir, since his instruction takes such a different bent. However, last night I went digging in my sea chest for an old book of my father's, that I thought he might find useful."

"That was good of you, Mr. Hornblower." It must have been wrenching to give up such a personal memento, even if it is of little use to him.

"Yes, well, as it turns out it was an unnecessary gesture. When I found Mr. Brandon, he was studying out of some newly printed medical texts. An exquisite set of them, in fact; my father would have been quite envious."

"Indeed? How on earth did he come to be in possession of such things?"

"Exactly what I asked him, Sir. It turns out that the boy, often left alone to amuse himself, had struck up a friendship with the local Doctor in the village where his estate was, and had hoped to join the medical profession. His father, being a lord, was aghast at his son joining a trade, and shipped him off to the Navy. The books were a gift from the Doctor, I believe."

I stared at Hornblower in muted disbelief. Here I had before me the son of a Doctor, who had joined the Navy because he did not wish to join the medical profession, to the disappointment of his father. And he was working with the son of a lord, whose father was so disappointed that the boy wanted to be a doctor, that he shipped him off to the Navy.

"Is Brandon familiar with the term Irony, Mr. Hornblower?"

Horatio grinned. "No, but I am!" He sighed. "Anyway, I thought the story would amuse you. Sorry if I interrupted in any way, Sir."

He had noted the dispatches on my desk. A lesser officer would have asked me directly what they were about.

"Not at all, Mr. Hornblower; in fact, since you are here, you can do me the honor of requesting the other officers to dine with me this evening. The usual group; and let us add Midshipmen Brandon and Cousins."

"Aye Aye, Sir."

He nodded at me, and then left me alone with my dispatches from Gibraltar, wondering what to do.

Evening of March16th, 1796

Dinner was a relaxed affair, for once. Powers has the miraculous ability to create something out of nothing, and somehow he managed to turn salt beef and biscuit crumbs into a wonderful beef pie flavored with wine, and even managed to pull together some potatoes and pease, whipped together into an edible puree. I noticed he managed to procure butter from somewhere.

The midshipmen, Cousins and Brandon, kept quiet, enjoying their food. Cousins also seems to enjoy the Claret quite well; Brandon, following the example of Hornblower, had only half a glass. He noticed my observation of his drinking habits but was not discomfited; he met my eye steadily and nodded. I realized that, having clearly stated my opinion of Hepplewhite's love of alcohol, he was going out of his way to present his self control to me.

Hepplewhite was the one thorn in my side this evening. I asked him to dine with us as a conciliatory effort; he had been truly affronted at the presentation of Brandon as an assistant, and even more so when he learned that the boy was to report to Hornblower for instruction. He has treated the lad roughly ever since he reported for his first work in sickbay, having him do all of the distasteful work of cleaning, while not attempting to instruct him at all. I have no doubt he would descend into cruelty if allowed, but even Hepplewhite is not stupid, and Hornblower keeps an eye on the boy.

Brandon, for his part, takes Hepplewhite's moods in stride, cleans up after the sick and then asks Hornblower, not Hepplewhite, questions on things he notices.

However, Hepplewhite this evening was happy enough, and why not? He downed half a bottle of my best Claret.

After dinner I dismissed all the officers save for Bracegirdle, Bowles, Hunter and Hornblower, to discuss dispatches sent over from Orion today.

For at last Hale was empowering the Captains to act. As long as they didn't involve their ships! Or place the fleet in any danger! Ha!

So I outlined the request, and asked my men for ideas.

The silence hung about the room heavily. Hornblower stared into space; seeing what, I knew not. Hunter looked astounded.

Bowles spoke first. "What exactly does Admiral Hale propose we do? Swim to Spain?"

I was a bit acerbic in my answer. "Hale does not propose anything, Mr. Bowles. That is the problem. He merely responded to criticism of inaction by placing the initiative with us!"

Hunter was gruff. "But with so many caveats, Sir, as we can scare do more than nothing ourselves?"

Bracegirdle nodded astutely. "Yes, well, if WE cannot come up with a plan of action, that will not be HIS fault, now will it."

I drew my breath in, fearing we were, in our frustration, drawing close to insubordination. I was about to calm everyone down, when Hornblower's soft voice chimed in from the end of the table.

"They have been sending supply boats along the coast, haven't they?"

I looked at him, wondering what was on his mind. Hunter broke the ensuing silence.

"Skulking along like cowards, the damned thieving bastards!"

Horatio looked up at me. "Two might play at that game, mightn't they?"

I ran a finger around the rim of my wine glass. "What is on your mind, Mr. Hornblower?"

"A small band of men could set in for the coast in the long boat, leaving the Indefatigable out of sight. There aren't so many places where the French or Spaniards could go for water. We might set ourselves up there to wait for one of their boats, and overpower their crew."

Hunter snickered, but Bowles silenced him with a glance. Bracegirdle raised an eyebrow at Horatio. "Seems like a lot of work to capture a ship's boat crew."

Hornblower smiled. "Indeed it would be, Sir. But where there's a ship's boat crew, there must be a ship not far away."

Bowles eyes gleamed with appreciation as we all caught his meaning. "So you would take your men back to their ship, in her boat, and hope to overpower their crew?"

"I believe it could be done. It's not so very different than what we did with the Papillion."

I had one word of caution: "Papillon was executed at night. Surely you do not propose to wait until dark to return to their ship? The Captain would be suspicious if their crew took so long to return."

Hornblower leaned forward. "Yes, so we must return in daytime." He paused, then advanced the final part of his theory. "I propose that after capturing and securing their crew, we utilize their uniforms in returning to their ship."

"Disguise?" Hunter did not even attempt to take the disgust out of his voice.

Bracegirdle, however, backed Hornblower up. "By God, that's ingenious! By the time the French realize you're not their crew, you'll be right under their bloody nose."

I drummed my fingers on my desk. All eyes now focussed on me. "It's risky...how many men do you propose using?"

Horatio looked at Hunter. "I had been thinking of my division, plus Mr. Hunter and his. There are no better men for this kind of detail."

That was a definite bone Horatio threw him, and Hunter preened like a peacock. The mission might not be to his choosing, but better to be a part of it than stuck on board watching Hornblower execute it alone.

I nodded thoughtfully. "A total of twelve men, then? Hmm." I stood abruptly and turned towards the window, arms behind my back. So many ships, their lights dotting the evening, sitting around doing nothing. I turned back to the men. "Gentlemen, I believe we have sat still for long enough. Let's show Admiral Hale what his men are capable of."

The men stood around me, and we raised a glass. "Here's to action at last!"

"Here, Here."

March 17th, 1796

The decision was made that the expedition would start out in two day's time. Hornblower, Bracegirdle and I explored the map and discovered a likely spot for attracting the French-Dusquesne Bay. I would prefer we stumble upon the French-at least in that instance Hornblower would speak the language.

We shall steel as close to the coast as we dare and launch the longboat. Like the French and Spaniards, our boat will creep along the shoreline until they reach the bay, and there they should set up camp. It has been agreed that after three days, if there is no sight of the enemy, the boat shall return to our rendezvous point at Gibraltar.

I have decided not to notify Admiralty of the specific plan until after its success. Secrecy is a myth with Hale.

Of course there is a possibility of failure, which I thought on long and hard last evening. I forced myself to consider the worst case scenario: twelve men killed, Hornblower included. The thought left my heart cold, but it must be done. We are at war. Risks must be taken, and Horatio himself had proposed this plan. He did not fear for his own life, although being the overly rational lad he is, I am sure he has calculated the possibility of his death.

I wonder if he realizes exactly what he stands to gain in this matter? Oh, the mission would certainly enhance his reputation, although I am not certain that he cares. For some na ve reason, he values himself based on my estimation-and that of the other senior officers he serves with-instead of how his name might look in the Gazette. But I wonder if he realizes the financial gain he stands to make? Twelve men, splitting the prize money resulting from capture of an enemy vessel, and he being the senior officer on board! It would certainly beat the pay he's drawing now.

I spoke with him briefly this morning, as I was observing the weather:

"Sir, A word, if I may..."

"Certainly, Mr. Hornblower."

"Currently we have Mr. Hunter and myself as the officers in the expedition, with five crew men each from our divisions."

"Making a total of twelve men, as we discussed."

"Sir, I was wondering about Brandon and Cousins."

I raised an eyebrow. "You must leave me with some officers, Mr. Hornblower, no matter how junior! What if we should encounter the enemy after leaving you?"

Hornblower hesitated. Based on recent experience, we both knew that was unlikely. I added another point against Cousins:

"Mr. Cousins, as a matter of fact, is still not completely recovered from his fever. Although he has been able to go about his duties on board, he is still weak, and a vigorous mission is not the place for him."

'No, Sir..." He inhaled. "But Brandon...I am his superior officer, Sir."

"You are."

"To whom, Sir, shall he be reporting while I am away?"

I felt anger rising in my breast. I held my tone low and even. "I know, Mr. Hornblower, that you are not questioning my ability to keep one of my men from being mistreated on my ship?"

He paled. "No, Sir, I didn't mean..."

This time I snapped. "What exactly DID you mean, Mr. Hornblower?"

He stammered. "Nothing, Sir...I...it's just that Hepplewhite seems to..." He exhaled. "I am sorry, Sir. I spoke out of place."

"Indeed you did, Mr. Hornblower." I held myself erect, hands clasped behind me. "I can assure you, Sir, that Mr. Brandon will survive your absence."

"Yes, Sir."

I whirled away.

I do not know exactly what it is that made me so angry at the exchange. Certainly I would not wish to see Hornblower less concerned for his men. And, of course, Hepplewhite has shown nothing but resentment towards Mr. Brendan. To be honest, the man should not oversee a dog, let alone a fourteen year old boy. But I am as aware of that as he is.

I have a pounding headache now. Perhaps some coffee would help.


March 18, 1796

It was on watch the next morning before I had an opportunity to speak to Horatio again. He was overseeing preparations for his departure.

He nodded to me as I passed, then leaned over to give a bit of advice to Matthews. I saw Matthews nod as Horatio moved on to the next man, then felt his eyes glance briefly at me, before he exchanged a glance with Styles. I KNOW I saw Styles shrug.

No doubt word had traveled through the ship of the words I exchanged with Mr. Hornblower yesterday. Perhaps not their content; but certainly their occurrence. What was worse, to have the entire ship fear I favored him, or to have the entire ship believe I had unjustly turned on him?

I was not far along in these thoughts when Mr. Hornblower approached me on his own.

"Sir, I believe we are well prepared for the expedition tomorrow."

"I had expected no less, Mr. Hornblower."

"If I may, Sir...I do wish to apologize for yesterday?"

"As I recall, you did so yesterday."

"Yes, but..."

"You have something to add, Mr. Hornblower?" I asked, tersely.

"No, Sir..." He then set his shoulders. "I beg your pardon, Sir. I do have something to add. An explanation."

I looked at him in some astonishment, but before I could stop him, he plunged ahead.

"Sir, I would never, ever question your ability to control what happens on board this ship. However, Mr. Brandon has preyed on my mind since the moment he arrived here. He reminds me in so many ways of everything that was right with Arch...with Mr. Kennedy, when Simpson was not there to get hold of him. Even his circumstances are very similar. I am afraid I became obsessed with protecting him. I do not ever wish to see anyone suffer like Mr. Kennedy again. I felt that to not protect him would be to let Archie down, for the second time. But I forgot that in this ship, I am not the only eyes who can see. Again, I am sorry."

We stared each other down for a few moments, and then I caved in, with a slight sigh. "I know, Mr. Hornblower. I understand your emotions in this issue. They are not so far removed from my own. I too, feel as though I let Mr. Kennedy down." I hesitated, a voice whispering to me to tell him, to stop his torment, to tell him Kennedy was alive.

Yes, Edward, that would certainly ease his mind, to know that his best friend, whom he was forced to incapacitate, was rotting in prison, instead of dead. Maybe.

"The truth is Mr. Hornblower, none of us ever learned what became of Mr. Kennedy. He might be alive..." It was the best I could give him. "But of Mr. Brandon, he is not Mr. Kennedy. I will not permit him to be driven down that path. And Hepplewhite is not Simpson-if he were, he would hang before your return from this expedition. And I need Mr. Brandon; I have high hopes for his future."

I cleared my throat awkwardly, and Horatio took advantage.

"Thank you, Sir, for understanding."

He saluted me, and returned to his duties, leaving me to mentally kick myself for my indecision.


March 19th, 1796

I watched Horatio depart on his mission this morning, feeling only a trace of apprehension. If anything I was relieved to know that we had come to an understanding of sorts. Although he certainly cannot comprehend what has led to my swings of mood as of late, at least he does know that I, too, have Mr. Kennedy on my mind. More so than he knows, of course.

Bearing our recent conversation in mind, I decided this afternoon to pay a spontaneous visit to sick bay. We have one man who had been complaining of late of extreme digestive pains who is laid up there...Mr. Morris, Carpenter's Mate. Given our frequent vagaries of diet, I am only surprised there are not more men so ill.

There was a mild argument going on between Hepplewhite and Brandon, and I stayed out of eyeshot to catch its gist.

"I'm telling you, boy, it's a mere reaction to something in his diet. A finicky stomach, a bit of spoiled beef. I just gave him a dose of oil of turpentine. He'll be fine."

Brandon's voice was calm but persistent. "Sir, he hasn't vomited, not once."

"Bah!"

"And he's running a fever, too, quite a high one, I think."

"He's malingering, boy. Let that food get out of his system, and he'll be fine. Now get to cleaning that slop up, and stop messing about with those fancy books. I don't need fancy books to tell me what's what."

I ducked into the shadows as Hepplewhite staggered into the passageway, and then moved back out to observe Brandon.

The lad sighed, took a frowning look at Morris, and began cleaning the soiled linens that had been heaped on the floor. But it was just a few moments later when I heard Morris groan in pain, and saw him double over.

Brandon was by his side in an instant. "There now, Mr. Morris, there now." he whispered, somehow managing to hold the man down despite his size. "It will pass again in a moment." And the man fell backwards, the pain passing as Brandon predicted, but looking spent. "This is hell, Mr. Brandon." He exhaustedly muttered. "Worse'n my wife when she had our daughter."

Brandon smiled slightly. "Your wife would not agree, I'm sure." He placed a hand on Morris' forehead-even I could see the man was burning up-and resumed frowning again. Gingerly he placed his hands on the man's torso, and Morris gasped out in pain. "Don't do that, lad, god it hurts awful."

"Sorry, Mr. Morris." The boy tried to smile, but I could see real fear in his face. I heard the return of Hepplewhite, and retreated into the shadows once more.

I noted an even more pronounced stagger to Hepplewhite's step; no doubt he had retired to his quarters for a moment to procure a "bracing nip."

"Boy, I told you to keep away from him!" He growled.

I stepped forward quickly, seeing Hepplewhite practically lift the boy up with one hand and raise his arm to strike him. Brandon did not cower in fear but stared watchfully at the Doctor, breath held in, face pale.

"Dr. Hepplewhite!" I calmly intoned, and he dropped his assistant with a start, his arm arrested in mid-swing. "I know, Dr. Hepplewhite, that you are not intending to strike an officer on board my ship. For Mr. Brandon does have the rank of Midshipman."

Hepplewhite blinked stupidly at me.

"Of course, it could be that you forgot that, since I have heard you address him as "boy" twice in the last five minutes, when in fact you should have been addressing him as Mr. Brandon."

Hepplewhite hiccuped. "He's my assistant, Sir."

"Why, so he is. Of course, Lieutenant Bracegirdle is MY first Lieutenant, but I do not recall addressing him as boy at any time in the recent past. Can you recall such a thing, Mr. Brandon?"

Brandon, the color gradually coming back into his face, answered in a clear voice. "Why, no Sir, I can't say that I remember hearing such a thing."

I cleared my throat. "Well then, it would seem that one should address the men who work with you with the respect they are entitled to, regardless of their age, or whether or not they are subordinate to you. A good rule to live by, I find."

I walked closer to Hepplewhite, and before he could react I swiftly grabbed him by the jacket to pull him close to me, and take a good smell.

"Drunk again!" I let all of my disgust come through. "I swear by heavens if you weren't the only Doctor available in the entire Mediterranean I would have you in irons! Indeed, given our lack of action of late, I have a mind to do it anyway, at least long enough to have you dry out. And remember, Doctor, it is not against regulations for me to have you at the gratings!"

Hepplewhite, coward on top of all else, lost all complexion. Indeed, to teach him a lesson, I was angry enough that I might have ordered a dozen lashes then and there, but Hepplewhite's hide was saved by the sudden agonized cry of Morris.

I pushed Hepplewhite back against the wall and joined Brandon by his side.

"Sir." Brandon cried to me plaintively. "Sir, this man needs help!"

"What is it that you are thinking, Mr. Brandon?"

He took a deep breath. "I think it's an infection of his appendix, Sir. I saw Dr. Stewart back in Rushton have such a case once."

"Rubbish." Hepplewhite muttered. "I never saw such a thing."

I, however, had. I had lost a man to such an infection several years ago. It was a horrible way to watch a man die. "Can he be saved, Brandon?"

"Dr. Stewart saved the man. He said if you remove the appendix before it ruptures there is a chance."

I looked at the feverish Morris. "And after it ruptures?" I whispered.

He shook his head. "There is no chance, Sir. The infection spreads through the body like poison."

I looked at Hepplewhite. "Do you know how to do such an operation, man, or are you completely useless?"

Hepplewhite stared at me with bloodshot eyes and struggled to rise. "Coursh I know how..." He staggered over. "But I seem to be having some problems with my sea legs."

Morris grabbed my hand. "Please, Sir, I beg o' you. Not 'im. I don't want the likes o' 'im cutting me. I'd rather have the boy, Sir."

Brandon swallowed and sat quite still. I tapped him on the shoulder. "A word with you in the passageway, Mr. Brandon."

I guided the stunned boy out of the sick bay, and placing both hands on his shoulders, leaned him against the wall. "Mr. Brandon..." He stared at me in numb shock, and I softened. "Lad, listen to me. Hold out your hands."

He did as I commanded. They were steady and sure, and I held them in mine. "Mr. Brandon. Your hands are that man's only chance. Hepplewhite can instruct you what to do, but you and I both know he is utterly unable to hold a knife himself right now. Have you ever seen surgery performed before?"

He nodded, and a slight smile almost graced the curves of his face. "I would sneak away from home to help Dr. Stewart, sometimes."

"So you're not squeamish about blood at all?"

He shook his head. "No, Sir."

I inhaled. "It is your choice, Mr. Brandon. Can you do this?"

And as he had a few weeks before, he met my eye with a clear gaze. "Yes, Sir, I can."

I exhaled in relief. "Tell me quick lad, what do you need?"

He didn't hesitate. "Brandy, for Morris, to help sedate him. Two or three strong men to hold him down. And boiling water from cook."

"Boiling water?"

"To clean the instruments with. Dr. Stewart always said..."

I waved that away. "Never mind, explain later. You shall have it. What else?"

"Clean linens to dress the wound. And coffee...for Dr. Hepplewhite."

I bit my lip to suppress a smile and turned away to find assistance, just as Morris cried out again.

"And Sir..." I turned back to see his anxious face. "Hurry...please."

I nodded and was on my way.

***
I had no problem finding three volunteers to hold Morris down. He was a well liked man in the mess, and everyone was much concerned. Carlysle obtained supplies for me; while Cook provided ample boiling water and coffee, sending them down to the surgery immediately.

I gave Bracegirdle some last minute instructions; we had set course for Gibraltar, and it ought to be an easy sail. I informed him that I trusted his judgement on when to disturb me (how wonderful it is to have a first Lieutenant you fully trust) and told him I was going bellow to watch the procedure.

"Sir!" Bracegirdle visibly blanched. "You're going to...watch?"

"Under the circumstances, I feel I must."

Carlysle was pouring coffee down Hepplewhite's throat when I arrived, while Brandon was engaged in a peculiar activity. He was cleaning the surgical tools with some of the boiling water, much to Hepplewhite's consternation. Amid gulps he muttered freely about damned waste of time and effort, the man was already as good as dead, and what was with this wash-up anyway? His tools were clean enough.

Now, the three burly seamen I'd obtained, Thomas, Warren and Smythe, may not have had any more idea what Brandon was up to than Hepplewhite, but since Brandon was trying to save their friend's life, while the Doctor condemned it, they were clearly willing to follow Brandon's instructions.

He passed a smaller pot of the hot water to the three of them. "Wash your hands, please...it might save his life."

They looked at each other, and then to me. "Best do it," I replied "Mr. Brandon has seen the operation done before." I had no idea, I confess, of what he was up to, but we would need the men's cooperation, and therefore, mine.

Brandon had gone ahead and washed Morris' abdomen, and then readied the instruments. "Carlyle, can you hand me these as Dr. Hepplewhite says I need them?"

Carlyle, however, was gray to the roots of his hair, and shaking. "Never mind," I snapped. "Just keep the bloody fool awake. I'll help." And without his telling me so, I washed my hands in the hot water myself.

Brandon gave me one wide-eyed look and then took my assistance in stride. I must say I found his attitude around me refreshing. Whatever fate sent him, he seemed to adjust to it with a professional attitude of one who had been at sea for more than the four months he had.

"I've given him brandy...it's the best we've got. He's tied down, but the men will need to secure him. We'll need him as steady as can be." He looked backwards. "Dr. Hepplewhite..." The Doctor tried to stand upright. "I am about to begin, and I don't want to have him open any longer than needed. Please, instruct me as to where I should be."

Hepplewhite, with some effort, finally indicated where the incision should be made. Brandon nodded, and pointed to the seamen, who readied themselves.

The first incision was made quickly, then, accompanied by Morris's screams. Brandon worked swiftly, and, to Hepplewhite's credit, if I must, he seemed quite certain of where to cut, and how deeply. I handed Brandon each instrument as indicated, holding myself steady and trying to tell myself I had seen worse sights in battle. I wasn't sure it was working, as I felt my throat constricting.

"There it is...it's intact. See how swollen it is, Sir?" He said with wonder, forgetting both his fear and my lack of experience in such matters. "Let's get it out of there."

The last minutes passed in a blur. I heard, rather than saw, Carlysle start to retch, and witnessed Brandon snap like a seasoned surgeon, that he should get himself out of the surgery if he was going to be sick. I tried to amuse myself by wondering if Brandon would yell at ME in the same way if I were to give in to my nausea.

Morris' screams were a constant, his mates around him trying to calm him as best they could. I saw Brandon completing neat stitches suddenly, and then watched as he packed the closed incision with the cleanest linen we had...dinner napkins of mine, in fact. And he stood back, and in a second the surgeon disappeared and the fourteen year old boy returned.

He sighed in exhaustion. "That's it then. Pray to God we've avoided infection, and he'll be alright." Morris' screams died down, and I watched him sink into unconsciousness as his mates gently lessened their hold on him. "That's to be expected, the shock of it." He muttered, more to himself than to me. And his shoulders sagged visibly. "Well done, men."

Thomas looked the boy up and down. "'E be all right then, Mr. Brandon?"

"I believe so. We must keep the wound clean, and the next several days will tell, but he survived the surgery and we got the appendix out before it could burst, so that's very good."

Thomas nodded to him "Thank 'ee, Sir." The three men respectfully knuckled their heads at Brandon and at me."

Brandon wiped an arm across his forehead. "Where's Mr. Carlysle? I could do with more hot water." He began to clean the area up.

And the entire time I stared at him in stupefied amazement. The procedure had taken less than fifteen minutes, something that could be of vast importance in the event of a battle. This boy...this young man, had just become an extremely valuable asset to my ship!

"Mr. Brandon..."

He turned to me. "Sir?"

I nodded to him. "Very, very well done, Mr. Brandon. You have saved that man's life."

He flushed slightly. "I don't know that yet, Sir." And suddenly it was as if reality hit him. "Oh, Sir, your uniform...it's all over blood..." He gasped, as if I would take him down a peg for it.

I looked down ruefully, to see he was right. "Ah, well, it's hardly the first time, is it, Mr. Brandon? Of course, I should wash up; if Lieutenant Bracegirdle sees me like this, he'll think there's a mutiny going on."

Brandon managed a weak smile. "On this ship, Sir? Hardly."

A loud snore interrupted us. Hepplewhite.

"Useless piece of flotsam." I muttered.

"Sir, If I may..." He caught my eye. "Sir, without his instruction I would not have been able to get through that so quickly. Morris might have died from the shock of it, if it had taken me longer."

I wrinkled my brow. "I am surprised to hear you defend him, Brandon. He has not been very kind to you."

"No, Sir, he has not. But I think, Sir, he might have been a good doctor, once, before the drink got him." He looked down at the Doctor with a great deal of pity. "A terrible waste, that is."

"Never mind Hepplewhite for the moment. Get yourself cleaned up, and I'll assign one of the other Midshipmen to relieve you in watching his recovery, and report to my cabin. There's much I would like to discuss with you."

"Aye Aye, Sir."

Morris turned with a groan as I left, and I knew that it would be at least an hour before Brandon had things cleaned up to his satisfaction.

March 19th, 1796
Evening

It was in fact almost an hour and a half later when Brandon reported. He looked exhausted, but had cleaned himself up nicely, with nary a trace of blood on him.

"Beg your pardon, Sir, for the delay. Mr. Cousins is sitting with Mr. Morris, and I wanted to make sure he understood what needed to be done."

"Do not concern yourself with that, Mr. Brandon. I expected as much." I motioned him to the seat across from me, and he sank down. "So, has your first real medical experience sank in yet, Mr. Brandon?"

He grimaced. "Hardly, Sir. I almost can't remember even performing the surgery."

"Well, I can assure you, you did it, alright. And very calmly, too."

"It was very unexpected, Sir. I thought my first experience with surgery would not come until we'd fought a battle."

"Yes, well, perhaps the Lord moves in mysterious ways. You are now all the more prepared for battle wounds, although I can assure you, it's never quite that neat." I cleared my throat. "Mr. Brandon, may I offer you a glass of wine? You look as though you could use one."

"No thank you, Sir."

I permitted my eyes to twinkle at him. "That was not a test, Mr. Brandon, but a serious offer. I have no complaints against alcohol when used in moderation."

He blushed. "I understand, Sir, but truly, I have never acquired a taste for spirits. In fact, if not for the fact that the ship's water often is so stale, I would avoid the grog, even. I hope, Sir, that you are not offended."

I was surprised, but hardly offended. "Perhaps I can interest you in something else." I pulled out a jug that Powers had procured when last we were in stores and poured him a glass. "I hope it has not turned."

He sipped cautiously, then his face lit up. "Apple Cider, Sir! How did you..."

"I don't know how, to be honest with you. Powers is a wizard when it comes to my supply cabinet." I poured myself a glass of the Claret, and raised it to him. "Here's to the beginning of a promising career, Mr. Brandon."

I thought for a moment that I saw his eyes glisten. "Thank you, Sir. That means much to me."

I had to know, however, the meaning of the things I saw this afternoon. "I am curious, Mr. Brandon, about the boiling water, the washing of hands. I have never seen anything like that before."

He placed his glass down. "Dr. Stewart, who inspired me to learn medicine, was a great believer in cleanliness. He felt that if you kept the surgery, and everything in it, as clean as possible, you would keep infection and disease at bay. So many people survive medical procedures, only to die days later from sicknesses that invaded their wounds." He paused, drumming his fingers on the desk. "There is a new school of thought, that the diseases are caused by things to small to be seen, and these things must be killed by boiling water over the instruments, and having anyone or anything that might be in contact with the patient's wounds be cleansed."

I was skeptical. Invisible particles making a man sick? I must have looked it, for Brandon smiled at me.

"I'm not sure I believe it myself, Sir. But the way I look at it, if it's not true, then I haven't hurt anything with the cleaning anyway, so why not do it?"

"Hmmn, you've got a point. Did you talk of these theories with Mr. Hornblower?"

"Yes, Sir, I did. It seems his father was much like Dr. Stewart. He also had several folk remedies; cures made from herbs, that I am interested in. Medicines are so hard to come by."

"Especially in war time." I thought to the environment that would surround the ship's surgery in a battle. "Does it have to be boiling water?"

"Or at least very hot."

"That would be a problem in battle, Mr. Brandon; the ship's fires would have been put out."

"The other option that Dr. Stewart talked of was using alcohol; a very strong alcohol, not a wine, but something at least like a rum or a gin."

I groaned. "Mr. Brandon, if you ever want to see a sailor go after your head, let him catch you using rum to clean your hands!"

"I don't imagine that would make me very popular, Sir." He agreed.

Well, we would cross these difficulties when they arose. "Mr. Brandon, if I may ask, did Dr. Stewart find these methods successful?"

"Sir, I can best explain it this way. There were two doctors in town. Dr. Rusk's patients seemed just as likely to survive surgery as Dr. Stewart. But many more of his patients were dead a week later."

Well, there were stranger things being learned all the time. A hundred years from now, who knew? Maybe every doctor would work in a disease-free environment. All I wanted was what was best for my ship and my men.

I dismissed Brandon and returned to my wine, to write up reports for the day. It was almost midnight before I realized that I had not been worrying about Horatio at all. Perhaps I was learning to let go of him, and trust him to his own brain.

I felt a sudden twinge then. He was sailing with Mr. Hunter. He was not out of danger.

And if I should hear tomorrow that he has died today, I think it might kill me.

December 20th, 1796

I informed a somewhat hung-over Hepplewhite that Mr. Brandon had saved his hide by praising his assistance in the operation, and that if Morris had died I would not have hesitated to have had him flogged. Furthermore, I would hope that he would from this point on take a more favorable view of the young man. If I ever caught him behaving badly towards him, I would scour regulations for the most creative discipline I could find and make an example of him before the whole ship. And I have removed his spirit rations for the next month.

Of course, I have no doubt he has his own personal stash of alcohol, but at least I won't be assisting his binges.

Meanwhile, rumor of Brandon's performance has spread amongst the men. I have over heard more than one of them referring to "young Mr. Brandon" the way they once did about "young Mr. Hornblower." Not a bad reputation for the lad to be building.

I have looked through his papers again. I know little about his father, Lord Exton-we've never crossed paths. There are four older brothers apparently, one of whom has a commission in the army. His father's letter asking me to receive him on board Indefatigable was cryptic and almost insulting:

Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

"I have it on the authority of Sir Hugh Dalrymple that you are in need of midshipmen for service. I would like to offer you the services of my youngest son, Andrew. Drew is a bright boy but frequently headstrong and has come under unfortunate influences. I feel that he needs more discipline to redefine his priorities in life than I can provide, being so occupied with running a large estate. My second son, George, who is currently serving with Colonel Frasier, suggested that he was not suited to the Army but that the Navy ought to do quite well with him..."

Well, you get the idea. Implying that the Navy was not as prestigious as the Army, but would do well for a mere youngest son. I had accepted the boy mainly because I needed crew, but had not expecting much from him. It is a good thing I have, as I told Mr. Hornblower once, the habit of judging men based on what I see them do. With Mr. Brandon, I have seen enough.

And I permitted myself a small chuckle as I entertained the idea of sending a letter back to Lord Exton:

Dear Sir,

I must thank you for the services of your son. He has shown promise in the medical field and should make a fine Ship's Surgeon one day. Now, what was it you felt he was being unduly influenced by?"

Of course, I could never send such a missive! Lord Exton would probably hire a ship and board me just to pluck the young man away from MY unfortunate influence! No, let the man think his son is undergoing the usual tortures of life as a Midshipman. Once the boy has fully trained and received papers, and come of age, it will be time enough for his father to learn how I've kept him occupied.

I have had Mr. Hornblower on my mind this morning. Have the French approached? Or is he sitting at a camp sight with an idle crew, as frustrated as I am?

Of course, with the dispatches I received this morning, he has a surprise waiting for him on his return, thanks to my old friend Harvey! Ah, I knew it would only be a matter of time before Harvey found his way to exact his payment from me for all of his assistance in obtaining my ship's feast this Christmas.

For I have just received an invitation for dinner from Sir Hugh and Lady Dalrymple. It included all of the usual form of expression, followed by a personal note that he understands from Admiral Hale that I am due back at Gibraltar shortly and therefore was looking forward to my attendance at this dinner, as I was missed at Christmas. Moreover, he understood from Captain Harvey that I have one of the most promising young Lieutenants in the Navy sailing with me in Hornblower, and they would be honored to have HIM present at the dinner at well. His invitation awaits his return from his mission.

Now, that's just wonderful, Harvey, thank you so very much. I should be in Gibraltar by the 22nd, with Hornblower, with any luck, arriving a day or two after me. The dinner is on the 24th, which means I will just have finished the work on the ship and will still be there, so I must go. And Hornblower with me, it would seem.

He has faced the French, been stranded at sea in an open boat, fought duels, survived storms, fire, and the plague. But a dinner with all of Gibraltar's finest? I don't know if he's up to this. To be honest, I am not sure *I* am up to this!

For whatever his myriad experiences have been, I have no doubt that as the son of a Doctor he was little exposed to formal dinners with the upper class. As witnessed by Brandon's father's attitude, the elite considers Doctors as little better than tradesmen. Not the sort of folk you would dine with. And this is the sort of political minefield he will be likely to encounter often in his future, the sort of thing that can lead to being chosen for new commands as they present themselves.

That is both the gift and the curse of the Navy, I suppose. The son of a doctor, if he survives, may eventually rise enough in social stature to be considered an equal with England's greatest peers. But then, you see, you must socialize with them.

Well, here is another chance for him to learn. Another chance for me to teach him something that might serve him well in his future. One day, perhaps, when I am land-locked and too feeble to go to sea anymore, I will have some servant read me of Horatio's exploits from the Gazette, and relive moments such as these in my mind. That, alone, shall make it all worth while.


March 22nd, 1796

We have been fortunate with both wind and weather, and should see Gibraltar tomorrow. Bracegirdle has been most animated of late, in quite a jolly mood. I believe he may have a lady-friend in port!

While in the midst of his frivolity, he learned of the dinner invitation for Hornblower. I have sailed with other men who might have seethed with jealousy at a younger, less senior officer receiving such an invitation, when he will still be dining on rations in the officer's mess. Not Bracie, though; he is most amused by the situation, imagining the look on Horatio's face when he learns of his "good fortune".

I do wish I had some type of an idea of what, exactly, was happening with Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Hunter on this expedition. It is the most frustrating thing. We live in such an advanced age; days of readily accessible print for all, news spreading around England in days when it used to take months. New scientific discoveries are happening all the time. Someday, perhaps, another Captain will not have to wait on pins and needles for days for word of one of his men.

Interesting bit of conversation I heard between two of the men: Thomas and Warren, who had volunteered to hold Morris down during the surgery.

Warren spoke first, as the pair were working on repairs. "How d' you reckon Matthews and the boys be getting' on about now? Must be havin' a fine rest on that beach."

Thomas chuckled. "Not if I know Mr. Hornblower, they're not. Like as not they've already captured two boats, and Mr. Hornblower just waitin' to see if he can find more afore he has to return to the Indie."

Warren grunted. "Aye, unless they're dead, lying bleedin' in a heap somewhere..."

I confess my heart gave a leap at hearing that, and I might have spoken out, if Thomas had not beat me to it."

"What nonsense are you talking, Man? Men don't die with Mr. Hornblower the officer. Not as often as others, anyway."

Warren thought that over. "Mebe you got somethin' there. He's a survivor, Mr. Hornblower is, and that makes you more likely to survive with 'im."

"And talkin' bout survivors, you see Morris today?"

Warren grinned. "Looked like he wanted to get up and get working, he did. Can't hardly believe it."

"Mr. Brandon told the bosun nothing doing, not for at least a week. Bosun looks like he was going to fight 'im, but Mr. Brandon just said if he had a problem, he'd be happy to talk about it with the Captain, real calm like."

Warren whistled. "Captain was there, so he'd know. Still, ain't many Mids would stand up to the bosun like that."

No, they wouldn't. And Warren was right, I was there, I do know what Morris went through, and he's not fit to be working yet. I'd rather have Morris fully recovered for when we need him, then press him to work early.

"A fine lad, Mr. Brandon is. Don't rightly understand him all the time, but Morris is alive, and that's good enough for me."

Which reminded me, I was past due paying a visit to sick bay.

***
Upon arrival I saw a napping Hepplewhite off in the corner and found Brandon, brow furrowed, in Hornblower's father's old medical text. Morris was himself doing some whittling, apparently bored to be laying there.

He started to rise as he saw me, and was quickly reminded why he was in sick bay. "Sir..." he said with a groan.

Brandon sprang up and gave me a hasty greeting. "Sir..." and then ran over to Morris' side, coaxing him down.

"At ease, Morris." I said with a smile. "After the condition I saw you in three days ago, I hardly expected you to rise and salute me."

Brandon scolded him gently. "You see, Morris, you're not as strong as you feel you are yet."

He sank back onto the hammock with a grimace. "Guess not. Thing is, when I'm not movin' I'm feeling pretty good."

I patted him on the shoulder. "You just get your strength back. I'll be needing your expertise on repairs soon enough."

"Aye Aye, Sir."

I walked a little ways away with Brandon. "Is he doing as well as he looks."

"To my relief, yes. There has been no sign of gangrene or any other opportune infection. He just needs to heal." He paused and then braced himself. "Did Mr. Andrews speak to you, Sir?"

Andrews was the bosun. I decided to play dumb. "Not at all, Mr. Brandon. What should he have spoken to me about."

He drew a deep breath and looked me in the eye. "He spoke to Dr. Hepplewhite earlier about releasing Morris for work. Dr. Hepplewhite said to speak with the man and see if he was willing. Well, Sir, Morris is a hard worker, and of course he didn't want to seem as if he was shirking. I told Andrews that Morris needed at least another week to recuperate, and if he had a problem he should speak to you, Sir." He swallowed. "I...I don't know if that was right or not, Sir, but he is definitely not ready for work."

I looked back to Morris, who had dozed off. "The correct procedure, Mr. Brandon..." I said very sternly. "When you have a dispute with an officer that cannot be resolved, is to refer Mr. Andrews to your superior officer."

He blinked at me. "But that's Mr. Hornblower, Sir...he's...he's not here."

I feigned surprise. "He is not? Then best you should have referred Mr. Andrews to Mr. Hornblower's superior."

"But Sir...that's you!"

"Why so it is! So apparently you did the right thing in spite of yourself, Mr. Brandon. As Mr. Andrews undoubtedly knew, because if it were the wrong thing, he would have wasted no time in informing me so."

I nodded over at Hepplewhite, figuring Brandon would not mind a change of topic. "How long has he been out?"

"Half an hour. He tends to take a break, as he calls it, every day about this time."

I set my jaw, but I had no recourse. There was no duty, really, for him to be derelict in at the moment. "I see you've kept up with your studies even with Mr. Hornblower absent?" I fingered through the well worn text of Dr. Hornblower. "But what of your new books?"

He flipped through the pages. "Dr. Hornblower made many notes that I find interesting, though it is hard to read his hand sometimes. I find it helps to have his thoughts on what I'm reading, since I cannot ask Mr. Hornblower for any help at the moment." He looked up at me. "Will he be back soon, Captain?"

"Within a day or two, if all has gone well." I cleared my throat. "I am certain he will be most interested in what you have accomplished in his absence."

Brandon blushed then, and I placed the book down. "Keep the studies up, Lad."

"Aye Aye, Sir."

And as I walked out, I saw a limping crewman heading in. "Mr. Brandon, Sir, if ye have a moment...I have this blister, Sir, and it's getting all bad like..."

"Dr. Hepplewhite is not available..."

"S'okay, Sir, I'd rather have you look at it anyway..."

I stifled a chuckle and returned to my duties.


March 23, 1796

We arrived promptly in Gibraltar during the morning watch and set up anchor. I sent off notice to Dalrymple that I would be attending his dinner on the 24th, and Mr. Hornblower shall accompany me if he has returned from his mission. Finally, I set off to meet Port Admiral Hale, deciding I should finally let him in on my Lieutenant's mission.

Little did I know what I would be in for!

Hale looks about ten years older from when I saw him last, and without saying anything to me, I soon saw the reason. Admiral Hood has decided to pay a visit.

I have never been able to get a handle on Hood. I have never sailed with him, or been any part of a squadron he's formed. Harvey himself calls the man an enigma. Hale is, forward and foremost, a politician. Nelson, though I have never met him, is from all accounts a true sailor. Hood did not at first glance seem to fit either of these modes, and I had the feeling that his nature would change with his company-not the type of person I am most comfortable around. No, give me an honest man, even if I can't stand him-heck, give me Foster-so at least I may be prepared for their own foibles.

Hood nervously turned as my presence was announced. "Captain Pellew! You, too, are at Anchor?" He seemed pained, and surprised, and yet it was by his orders that I was to return to Gibraltar by this time, in lieu of any French or Spanish activity. "Foster and Hammond, also!"

For the first time I realized the presence of my rival Captains in the room.

Hood sidled over to me, looking me up and down. "Captain Sir Edward Pellew." He walks away. "Good heavens, Hale, did you order ALL of your ships to return to Gibraltar at this time? Perhaps you also sent an invitation out to the Spanish to leave Cadiz."

Hale tried to draw himself up and failed. "There are still five ships remaining in the corridor, Admiral."

"And all as inactive as the rest of you, I presume!" Noticing I was about to open my mouth, Hood peremptorily held up his hand. "For, although Admiral Hale has given his Captain's a free hand, none of them have taken the offer. Captain Foster..." He swiped broadly in his direction "...spent two weeks outside Cadiz, attempting without luck to bait the Spaniards out." He turned in the other direction. "Captain Hammond? Why he has sailed an entire month without so much as sighting an enemy vessel!"

Foster sputtered. "If the enemy is a coward, Sir...we cannot fight them"

Hood froze them both with a look. The silence was choking, and I twitched my head within my collar.

"Now, Captain Pellew, what action have you to report."

I cleared my throat, nodded, and spoke in a calm and steady manor. "As you are no doubt aware, Sir, the enemy has been sneaking along the shores, out of reach of the Navy's great guns, sending out small boats in order to replenish water and other supplies. I have dispatched a squadron of men to sabotage one of these supply runs, taking control of the enemy boat and using it to return to the enemy ship, whereby they hope to effect its surrender. If all has gone according to plan, my men should be returning to Gibraltar with their prize within the next three days, Sir."

Thus my report. The quiet became even more deadly. Hood stared at me blankly. I met his stare directly. I had taken what action I could.

"You believe your men capable of such a feat?" Hood asked, never leaving my gaze.

And I stood tall and proud. "Sir, I KNOW my men are capable of such a feat."

Foster twitched and I distinctly heard Hammond whisper to him, "He's MAD!"

And then Hood's stone face twisted into a smile. "Well, here at last we have a real man of action, eh, Captain Pellew. It's a brilliant idea you've had, absolutely brilliant."

Hale relaxed visibly and went for the brandy bottle, no doubt to offer a toast to my saving him from Hood. But not yet...

I glanced once at Foster and Hammond. "It was not my idea, Sir."

Hood was now flabbergasted. "Indeed? To whom, then, goes the credit?"

"The credit goes to the young man who is at this same time leading the mission. Acting Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower, Sir."

Hood raised an eyebrow, a semi-serene smile that was impossible to read replacing his shocked look. "An *Acting* Lieutenant, Captain Pellew?"

"Yes, Sir." Again, I refused to back down from his stare.

"How long has he been an Acting Lieutenant?"

"Since July of last year."

"But there were exams last September, were there not? Did he not test?"

"Sir, his exam was interrupted by the attack of the Fires Ships upon the fleet."

I held my breath at this moment. Would Hammond and Foster, in an attempt to discredit me, reveal that for all intents and purposes Horatio had FAILED that exam? That if the alarm had gone off but a few moments later I would have been forced to send him back with the midshipmen? That perhaps another Captain might have done so anyway? That perhaps I OUGHT to have done so, no matter how morally wrong it might have been?"

And Foster, for once in his life, acted in the best interest of the Navy and the men, and not himself. "Lieutenant Hornblower, Sir, is one of the brightest young men in the Navy, and was he, in fact, who steered the Fireship clear of Gibraltar. In fact, he saved my life."

Hammond concurred. "He's as brave a lad as I've ever encountered in all my years in the Navy, Sir."

Hood's eyes grew wide. "THAT LIEUTENANT? The young man from the fire ships I've heard so much about? Heavens, he's still only ACTING Lieutenant?"

Hale cleared his throat. "With the blockade, Sir, there has been no time to organize another exam."

Hood shook his head in disbelief, and I took my opportunity. "Admiral Hood, Lieutenant Hornblower is an invaluable part of my ship, no matter what his exact rank might be. He has unusual intelligence and insight, to say nothing of his courage. I expect him to be a bright light in this Navy for many years to come. And the shore expedition WAS his idea, Sir."

Hale answered me this time. "Not many Captains would have admitted that, Pellew..."

I looked at him this time. "I have enough confidence in my own career, Sir, to not wish to blight that of another."

Hood looked up at me, as if he wondered exactly what I meant by that. "Well, well, Captain Pellew. You do not have the reputation of being so...forceful. Appearances are indeed deceiving. You would be a good man, I have no doubt, to handle any crisis that might arise."

Now what the devil did he mean by that?


I departed from Hale's office with all due haste, wishing to remove myself from the politics of administration and return to the relative sanity of the Indefatigable.

I left, however, with no further clue as to Hood's cryptic remark. Apparently he has something in mind for my ship, and me but not at this exact time. I am also aware that he is headed back to Portsmouth this afternoon, so whatever his meaning would be, I am not destined to understand its nature for some time, it would seem.

I must say it was a moment of pride to re-board Indefatigable. She is, by far, the most sparkling ship at anchor, and I was even more pleased by the attitudes of the men maintaining her. There had been no slacking off in my period on shore, which is a testament to Bracegirdle and Bowles. The men, however, remain cheery and upbeat, knowing our presence in Gib will result in new food and water stores. I felt my own mood pick up with every step on board.

"Captain Pellew, Sir? May I have a word with you?"

Mr. Brandon stood hesitantly before me.

I stood my tallest, arms behind my back, and stared down at him, doing my best to hide my own good cheer. "Yes, Mr. Brandon?" I sternly intoned.

Brandon blinked, but as I have been continually impressed to note, did not otherwise let my demeanor upset him. "Sir, there are certain medical supplies I would like to obtain while we are in Port, and I don't know how to go about doing that." He stood his grown, only slight concern showing on my face that perhaps I might get angry at his admitted ignorance.

I was not angry, of course; the scant time he'd been in his situation would not have prepared him for this. "Dr. Hepplewhite, I believe, has already submitted a list to me of desired supplies, to be picked up from stores. Is there anything you feel he was remiss in requesting?"

"No, Sir. But there are certain things..." He hesitated, for the first time faltering in my presence.

"Out with it, Mr. Brandon. What is it you wish for, and why?"

He regrouped. "Sir, as you know I have been studying Dr. Hornblower's notes, and there are several tonics that he seemed to have created or worked with that I believe could go along way towards treating the men and helping ease their suffering in case of battle or disease. None of them are made up from unusual items, Sir, but they're hardly the things one might request from stores."

"I see. And did you mention this to Dr. Hepplewhite?"

"I did, Sir. He thinks it's nonsense."

"I see." I pondered this for a moment. I was willing to ignore Hepplewhite's opinion. The man had basic surgical skill, but no vision. "Have you a list prepared, Mr. Brandon."

"Yes, Sir." He brought forth a sheet, filled with the typical penmanship of a fourteen year old boy, and I managed to suppress a smile.

"I see you anticipated my request."

"I felt it best to be prepared, Sir." He set his shoulders proudly.

"Ahem, although your handwriting is a bit...cryptic at best, Mr. Brandon." I tweaked him, and watched the now familiar red patches rise to his face. "Perhaps we could use you to code dispatches for transport." His shoulders sank just a bit, and I gave in, with a half smile, and he caught the twinkle in my eye and relaxed.

"Sorry, Sir. I will be more careful next time."

"See that you are." I held the list up and observed an unusual list of items. Witch Hazel, willow bark, valerian root, feverfew...an unusual list to say the least! And the boy was right, Harvey would have not the slightest clue what to do with this. In which case I would have to find an alternative source of funding for this venture. And I could hardly send this fourteen year old boy into Gibraltar on his own to purchase them.

I set off suddenly, with a terse "Follow me" to Brandon.

He struggled to keep up with me as I wove my way across the deck and down into the bowels of the ship, eventually arriving at my planned destination...the mess.

Cook was at work preparing the evening meal, and he looked up at me in surprise. "Captain, Sir?"

"How is the replenishing of stores so far, Clarke?"

"It's fine, Sir. We should be getting delivery tomorrow afternoon."

"Fine, fine." I handed him the list. "Would you know where in Gibraltar we could find such items?"

He studied it with some perplexity. I felt my patience wearing, but held my tongue in check, reflecting that he might not have the best reading skills in the world. "Yes, Sir, I can get 'em, but not at the dockyard."

He looked at me questioningly. "Very well, tomorrow morning after breakfast you will accompany Mr. Brandon to purchase them." And I held out, from my pocket, five one-pound coins. "This shall suffice, I believe?"

He looked momentarily startled, but recovered. "Aye, Sir. It will. And I'll give you a clear reckoning of everything."

I nodded. "Clarke, I have never had a reason to not trust you, which is why I am asking you to assist Mr. Brandon with these supplies. You may take one of the boats on shore, I shall make sure Mr. Bowles is notified."

"Aye Aye, Sir."

I motioned to a stunned Brandon and we headed back above decks.

"Your comment, Mr. Brandon, because I can see you have one?"

"Sir...that's your own money, Sir?"

"I prefer not to wait six months to explain to Admiralty the need for such things, especially when I don't have a full comprehension of the need myself."

"But, Sir...then why..."

I turned. "Because I trust YOU, Mr. Brandon; I trust that you would not request anything you do not believe might help the men on this ship."

He paled. "But...But, Sir, I don't KNOW these things will work."

I left him next to the sick bay. "I understand. This is still an experiment. You are still finding your way. However, you also didn't KNOW Mr. Morris had an infection in his appendix, and yet you were right. And I am willing to try anything that might improve the conditions for my men. Even if it costs me a few pounds out of my own pocket." I looked down at him. "Carry on Mr. Brandon."

"Aye, Aye, Sir."

He saluted me smartly, and I headed towards my quarters.

March 23, 1796

It was late afternoon when I heard a sudden commotion from my men.
Startled, I looked up from my chart and towards the window, but could see
nothing there. Quickly I headed above decks, running into Mr. Carlysle as
I did so.

"Sir, Mr. Bracegirdle's asked me to inform you we've spotted a ship, sir."

"One of ours or an enemy, Mr. Carlysle?"

"She's flying our colors, Sir, but it's not a ship he's familiar with."

I felt my pulse race. "What type ship, Mr. Carlysle?"

"She's a small one, Sir, not even a sloop."

"Mmhm. Mmhm." I briskly made my way on to deck and headed for
Bracegirdle. Without a word, I held out my hand for the glass.

"Sir, do you think it might be..."

I silenced him with a glance and looked off to the horizon, where I saw her. Definitely of French make, but also definitely flying our colors. "Has she signaled at all?"

"Not yet, Sir."

Just then, she began to. I could read the signals quite well myself, but I
waited for Cousins to give me the news. Let's see what he's learned.

"Sir..." He gasped. "Sir, It's Mr. Hornblower, Sir. Mission successful."

I gave a slight smile. Poor Horatio, he will have no way out of dining with
Sir Hugh now. "Acknowledge, Mr. Cousins. Tell him he is to make
anchor, report to Admiral Hale as planned, and return to Indefatigable as
soon as he is able."

Cousins blinked momentarily, then quickly began sending signals,
faltering once or twice, resulting in Mr. Bowles most stern admonition.

"Better hope that's not Mr. Hunter reading those signals, Cousins." I
quipped.

I watched her acknowledge us, and then gradually slide ever closer. Soon
we were able to make out her name-Le Reve, and pick out the men on
board.

The cheering began as I started to walk below decks. I turned in surprise. The men had lined up on the side of the ship, spontaneously. It seems I am not the only person on board who has been frustrated by our lack of success engaging the enemy. Their greeting was loud and lusty, and filled with pride.

Bracegirdle looked at me, asking me without words if I wanted them quieted. I shook my head. Let them cheer. God, I wish I could cheer with them. Our men on Le Reve had done not only the ship, but their Captain, proud. And I hoped all of the other men, and all of the other Captains, anchored at Gibraltar this day, can hear the cheers. Not very humble of me, perhaps, but I am only human after all!

I noted Horatio standing at his post, Mr. Hunter not far from him, Matthews at the wheel. I could almost see Mr. Hornblower's embarrassment from here. Bracegirdle came along side me.

"A very fine job he's done, Sir."

"A very fine job indeed, Mr. Bracegirdle."

"Though no doubt, by the time he reports to you, he shall have come up with fifteen different things in his mind that he has done poorly and will be beating himself up over."

I permitted a slight chuckle. "Ah, we know Mr. Hornblower too well, Mr. Bracegirdle, don't we?"

He smiled back. "Yes, Sir, I believe we do. A pity he'll never allow himself to enjoy the moment. Wish there was some way we could stop him from tormenting himself."

A sudden idea sprang into my head, just a kernel of an idea, but rapidly growing. "Perhaps we can, Mr. Bracegirdle."

"Sir?"

"Perhaps we must attack him before he can attack himself. Once we get him on the defensive..." I shrugged.

"I'm afraid I don't quite understand you, Sir."

"Never mind. Be present when Mr. Hornblower comes to me to report...which may not even be this evening...and follow my lead."

"Of course, Sir."

I turned swiftly on my heal with a small chuckle, heading back to my cabin, wondering if Horatio might run in to Foster while in Port.



March 24, 1796

As I suspected, a note came last night from Admiral Hale requesting that my men remain on board Le Reve over night, so the prisoners may be transported this morning. He also sent along an extraordinary bit of information, detailing the sealed envelope for Horatio he had sent over with his note.

"I feel you are entitled to know, Sir Edward, that I am going to ask the young man to take Command of Le Reve and sail her back to England. I share your confidence in his abilities. If he is half the sailor that his Captain is, I know he'll make it there in record time. We will be putting Le Reve into commission as a dispatch vessel. I had considered asking him to command her permanently..." My heart skipped a beat. "But as he is, as Hood ranted about, only an Acting Lieutenant, it would be difficult. Besides, I feel he is of the greatest value to the Navy in fighting service, right where he is. No doubt you agree."

I exhaled. That was too close. Yes, if Hornblower were to continue to grow in the Navy he must one day leave my command and I was prepared for that...three or four years down the road!

Hale continued. "There is another issue I must mention. Currently, the Duchess of Wharfedale, stranded by circumstances when war broke out, is seeking transport back to England. Having a fine opinion of Mr. Hornblower's honor, I believe he is the best man for the job.

"Which leads me towards my last information. Tomorrow you will report to me to escort the Duchess to Le Reve. At that time, I shall place a number of very important dispatches in your care. These were given me by agents of ours in Spain and were supposed to go with Hood yesterday, but did not arrive in time. They now must go to Portsmouth. Understand me when I say that the information contained within is of such importance that the entire freedom of England might depend upon it. These too, will go with Mr. Hornblower. If, for any reason, he fears being boarded, they are to go to Poseidon.

"But that is unlikely. Mr. Hornblower seems to be a blessed young man. Besides, the Dons will not leave Cadiz. They are cowards, all."

I moaned as I read the letter. Sending Hornblower to England was one thing, sending him with some Duchess and a pack of top secret letters is another entirely. Blast it, did Hale expect the lad to win the war for him, while he was at it?

Hale, Port Admiral for far too long, might not be able to think of anything that could go wrong, but I could. And I am not so sanguine about the Spanish at all!

I leaned backwards. The Duchess of Wharfedale. What was she like, I wondered? Young and seductive, perhaps, like so many of the wives of the nobility I have encountered? The Dukes I have known have shown themselves to be remarkably foolish in choosing a wife. And Mr. Hornblower, now almost twenty... Oh My!

I do NOT like the way this is shaping up, not at all!

March 24, 1796

It was as I was watching Mr. Brandon and Cook off on their shopping expedition that I noted Mr. Hornblower approaching in a shore boat. I motioned to Bracegirdle, and instructed Mr. Carlysle to have Mr. Hornblower report to me immediately.

On the way down to my quarters, I shared with Mr. Bracegirdle such details of Horatio's future as I could...mainly, that he would be sailing to England the next morning.

"Dinner *and* England, Sir? This should be quite interesting, I believe!"

He did not grill me any more on my plans for forestalling Horatio's usual reticence about his performance. Which was fine. As long as he played along.

We arrived at my cabin. "The plan, Mr. Bracegirdle...is to leave Mr. Hornblower's mind so full of other thoughts and emotions that self-loathing does not have room to enter."

Bracegirdle's eyes twinkled in anticipation. "Aye Aye, Sir."

Soon enough I heard the familiar footsteps, and set my manner in steely resolve.

"Enter." I replied as he knocked.

"Sir. I am reporting all men returned unharmed, along with eight French prisoners, including her Captain."

"Eight returning alive, and you with only a crew of twelve? And how many enemy dead, Mr. Hornblower?"

"At least five, Sir; there was also the boat crew, who we abandoned unharmed at Dusquesne Bay."

"And you have returned to us in an enemy ship called Le Reve exactly on time. So the mission, it would seem, was a total success?"

Bracegirdle looked at me, and we both waited.

"There was, Sir, and incident I feel inclined to report. I am afraid because of my gross carelessness I owe my life to Mr. Hunter..."

I quieted him with one stony glare, and I saw puzzlement in his eyes. "Mr. Hornblower, the capture of Le Reve was the first successful action taken by this squadron against French OR Spanish ships in the entire six weeks of blockade. Your plan was good, your execution, excellent..."

He was left with only one answer. "Thank you, Sir..." I saw the intake of breath, and before he could return to his various imaginary failings, I ploughed on.

"By my reckoning though, Mr. Hornblower, it has made you somewhat richer." I glanced at Bracegirdle, who looked puzzled. I gave a slight nod, and proceeded to execute my own plan. "That is why you wanted the Indefatigable hid out of sight, isn't it?" I spat out.

As I predicted, Hornblower's own insecurities gave way to the utter shock that I was questioning...in front of Mr. Bracegirdle...his very honor and integrity.

"Not at all, Sir!" He cried, stunned and angry!

Bracegirdle, on the other hand, tilted his head down and avoided both my eyes and Horatio's...to keep from laughing, no doubt!

I quickly swept on. "So that her CAPTAIN and her OFFICERS and her MEN would not have a share of your fortune."

He pulled himself together, but his eyes flashed fire.

"Sir, I must protest, that was not my intention!"

I had walked a bit away, and from out of Horatio's view I gave Bracegirdle a quiet smile and raised an eyebrow. He took the hint.

"The captain is jesting with you, Mr. Hornblower." He smiled.

Horatio's indignation turned into embarrassment (at falling victim to my jest, no doubt) and confusion, which he tried to cover.

"I see, Sir...nevertheless..."

I was relentless and quickly changed tacks. "How much do you think Le Reve is worth, Mr. Bracegirdle?" I lightly asked.

Bracie thought. "A good 4,000 pounds, Sir."

I strode up to Horatio, and eyed him. "Makes you richer by 1,000, Mr. Hornblower." He blinked; as I had suspected, in fact his actual profit had never entered into his mind. "Ever had a 1,000 pounds?"

He replied with soft wonder. "A thousand? No Sir, not even a hundred."

I looked him up and down. He was in the best appearance he could manage in his old Midshipman's attire, which was pretty shoddy and ill-fitting after three years at sea. "At least you will be able to spend some of it on a new uniform."

He blushed and looked down at his outfit. Damn me, I've made him self-conscious again! Quickly I continued. "I can recommend Cutler and Gross in Portsmouth, they'd be happy to deprive you of some of your riches."

As expected, the one word nearly drove him senseless.

"Portsmouth, Sir?"

"Yes, Portsmouth." I handed him his sealed dispatch from Hale, and looked over at Bracegirdle, brimming with anticipation.

Horatio read silently, his face contorting with wonder. "They want me too..."

I corrected him gently. "I think they request and require you to..."

He looked at me apologetically. "Yes, Sir, they request and require me to take Le Reve to England...to Portsmouth. She's to be purchased into the service as a...dispatch vessel with the utmost expedition." He looked up at me, lost. "England, Sir?"

Well, hell, had he been to sea for so long he'd forgotten where he came from? I was sarcastic without mercy.

"Yes, boy, England. A big damp foggy island Nor' Nor'east of Ushant. Think you can find it?"

Stammering, with a slight smile, he gave the only reply he could. "Yes, Sir."

"Good, You sail tomorrow." And before he could really absorb any information, I gave him my final cannon shot. "But before you slip your moorings, I think you'll find here a sterner test." I began reading. "Their excellencies Major General Sir Hugh and Lady Dalrymple request the pleasure of Sir Edward Pellew and..." I paused dramatically and handed him the note.

He took it hesitantly and continued... "Acting Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower..." He paused, the color draining from his face. "Dinner at...Government House." He looked up at me almost pleadingly. "Dinner?"

I finished him off. "Bet you wish you had that new Uniform now, eh, Mr. Hornblower?"

Shot told. I had him holed.

Bracegirdle had some sympathy. "Don't worry lad, we shall be able to piece you together something suitably clean, I'm sure."

I dismissed him, and he went away, as I had hoped, too full of new problems to brood on old ones.

As his footsteps died away, I turned to Bracegirdle looking my most innocent. "That went well, I think."

And Bracegirdle just boomed out laughing.

***
Horatio was torn, spending the afternoon between hurried preparations for dinner and giving instructions on having Le Reve prepared for sail.

I overheard him telling his most valued men, Matthews, Styles and Oldroyd, of the impending sail for England. All were pleased, although Matthews also wore a look of worry.

Hunter, meanwhile, seemed mostly resigned to it. I wondered if perhaps he resented having Horatio receive such accolades? He seemed bitter enough. But I was in no mood at the moment to confront the damned man.

I did overhear, through the skylight, as I readied my own uniform, Hornblower asking Carlysle for Brandon.

"Sir, the Captain sent him ashore with Cook for some supplies, he should be back shortly."

"Captain Pellew send Mr. Brandon for supplies? For what reason."

"I dunno, Sir. I know Mr. Brandon was looking for some new sorts of medicine, after he did the operation on Morris."

"Mr. BRANDON performed an operation on MORRIS?"

"Yes, Sir, now all the men are saying they don't want to be treated by Dr. Hepplewhite."

"What...how...oh, never mind, Mr. Carlysle; if he should return before I depart with the Captain, please have him see me."

"Yes, Sir."

I'd forgotten how much Hornblower had missed in his few short days away from us!

I brushed the last speck off of my jacket and accepted Power's help with my shoes. There was still a good thirty minutes before Horatio and I would be departing, but it was a fine evening, and I preferred the air of the deck.

It was as I was strolling along, observing the work being done on my ship, when I had an unusual interruption.

"Sir..." A voice hesitantly called out from behind me.

I turned, startled. Hornblower's man Matthews stood a few feet behind me.

"Yes, Matthews?"

The ship was fairly quiet at the moment, and nobody was in our vicinity.

"Sir, I'm worrying about that run to England."

Nothing could have surprised me more. "Indeed, Matthews? I have never known you to show the least hesitancy with Mr. Hornblower at the helm."

Matthews eyes grew wide. "Oh, no Sir, the men would follow Mr. Hornblower to hell and back, if you asked us to. But, Sir, it's Mr. Hunter has me concerned."

Damn Hunter again.

Matthews continued. "I know, Sir, that it's not regular like, fer me to be telling you things, but Sir, I don't think Mr. Hunter respects Mr. Hornblower."

I nodded. I had feared as much myself. "Have you witnessed any actual insubordination, Matthews?"

"No, Sir. He tried to shoot one of 'em frogs when we were ready to overtake Le Reve's boat crew, though, an' that was express against Mr. Hornblower's orders. But he did stop at Mr. Hornblower's command, so I can't say he was insubordinate. Just...well, Sir, if I may be honest Sir, it was plumb stupid!"

Of course it was stupid. Overtaking that boat crew required the element of surprise, which would have been completely lost if Hunter had been overzealous. However, I can't have a crewman calling an officer stupid, even if he is. But I was not as harsh as I might have been.

"Matthews, Mr. Hunter is an officer on board that ship, and I am certain you show him the same respect you would to any officer. However, I would be interested in hearing any other occasions where you have witnessed his own lack of respect towards his superior."

"Yessir. Well, the thing is, it's not so easy to grab on to. It's not always the things he says, sir, as it is how he says them, if you catch my meaning. Like when we were so happy to have captured our prize, Sir, he said to me that we would never get paid for it if the prize clerks found out how we had cheated to get it. Like Mr. Hornblower's planning had been a bad thing Sir."

Yes, of course in Hunter's world, planning and preparation were bad things. The only things that would matter would be those gained through brute strength. As if we were all savages still.

"I understand your concern, Matthews. I shall have Mr. Bracegirdle speak with Mr. Hunter and make sure he understands his place in this mission. But I wouldn't underestimate Mr. Hornblower too much. I'm sure he'll be able to keep the situation under control, with your assistance, of course."

"Of course, Sir. Thank you, Sir."

He awkwardly saluted me and headed off, not entirely convinced I fear. I knew Hornblower had good men around him, but Hunter was a fairly strong personality, and several of Hornblower's men were new since Christmas. But I have faith in Mr. Hornblower.

Still, as I noted Mr. Bracegirdle coming up from below, I motioned him over.

"Sir, I think Mr. Hornblower is in the midst of a near panic about this evening..."

"Never mind this evening, Mr. Bracegirdle." And seeing the seriousness of my face, his entire manner changed, resumed its thoughtful demeanor.

"Sir, what is wrong?"

"It has come to my attention, Mr. Bracegirdle, that Mr. Hunter may be experiencing some bad feelings towards Mr. Hornblower."

"I am not surprised, Sir."

"Yes, well, never the less, I have reason to believe that he might be less than cooperative with Mr. Hornblower if a crisis should arise. I would like for you to speak with him, sound him out. Make sure he understands that Mr. Hornblower is his superior officer, and will be counting on him."

He looked at me searchingly. "Aye Aye, Sir." He started to walk away, then turned back. "Begging your pardon, Sir, but if the situation is that precarious, perhaps you should send someone other than Hunter?"

I shook my head. "Impossible. Mr. Hornblower will need some one who has some skills as master, and none of the other Midshipmen are so trained. The other option would be to send Mr. Bowles, but we need him here."

Bracegirdle nodded. "Aye, Sir. I'll speak to Mr. Hunter then."

He turned away just as Mr. Hornblower joined me, in dress uniform, looking entirely presentable. I heard Bracegirdle give a slight chuckle, but for the life of me I can't understand why. Horatio even seems to have gained a bit of weight in the past few weeks, looking less like a giraffe and more like a gentleman.

I nodded severely to Hornblower, who greeted me, and we headed into the Lion's den.



Arriving at Government House, I could feel Horatio's tension the same way I can feel a storm at sea. If the boy got any tauter, he would surely snap. Still, what could possibly happen that I would not be able to guide him through?

I was about to learn.

The introductions to Sir Hugh and wife went fine, with Horatio bowing correctly, when suddenly a high pitched, low-class accent cut through the room like vinegar, and Horatio and I were both startled.

And Sir Hugh presented the Duchess of Wharfedale.

The attire was correct, but everything else about her...the voice, the behavior, the overt flirtatiousness of her. This was a Duchess?

She then took the rude opportunity of making fun of my Lieutenant, who having come into contact with someone so unlike what he expected, had frozen mid-bow! She teased him without mercy, comparing him to a goose on a green! I quickly motioned for him to stand up, and he did so, coloring and apologizing.

Sir Hugh implored us into the dining room. For a moment I feared the woman would be under my escort or (worse!) Hornblower's! Fortunately, Sir Hugh took the lead, and I followed, escorting Lady Dalrymple.

Poor Horatio followed behind me, with my usual escort, Darlymple's sister Wilhemena. She has the face of a stone but is at least a lady. No, I need not worry about her baiting the poor boy or teasing his awkwardness.

With my usual cursed bad luck at these events, I was seated right next to the duchess, who long before we were served decided to engage me in what was her version of friendly chit-chat!

"Sir Edward, I've heard much about you from Sir Hugh!"

"Indeed, your Grace." I was still in too much a state of shock to say more.

"Yeas, He says you're the luckiest damned Sod he's ever encountered."

I fumed quietly but remained polite. "Any naval captain needs a bit of luck."

"Yes, well, this evening the luck is mine it would seem. From his description of you I thought you must be a wizened old seadog, not the dashingly handsome man that you are."

"Ahem, I..." Good God! "Your Grace flatters me." I felt my face burn beneath my tan.

"Oh, Sir Edward," She whispered to me in a confidential manner. "I am sure it's nothing you've not heard before...from scores of women. 'Course, you'd not have seen a women in some time, I suppose."

I turned to the servant. "Wine, please." He nodded sagely and filled my glass.

I took the opportunity to propose a toast...the usual sort of thing one says. It was to the great relief of the Duchess, it would seem, as she proceeded to drain her rather large goblet of wine in one gulp! But not until she had let loose her tongue, adding a bumper to "Her and the Lad having a safe voyage home!" Um, Horatio, there's something I forgot to mention...

I glanced at him, and he gave me the sort of wide-eyed stupefied stare a ten-year old might give his father at his first trip to the Opera (Have I *really* got to deal with these things, Sir?). The Duchess went on, inquiring about his cellar on his ship, and mentioning he'd have to keep his passenger's happy.

"Passengers, your grace?" He turned his bewildered stare on me once more, but Sir Hugh explained his...honor...of being chosen to escort the Duchess back to England before I could open my mouth.

I seized opportunity, when presented, of giving a glowing report of Hornblower's recent escapades, which made him blush and, I hope, took his mind off of the Duchess for a moment. Still, the only reason to go to these things is political, and if Harvey had dragged Horatio into this, I was going to make sure Sir Hugh and the assorted gentry knew exactly what sort of a young man he was.

It may have backfired. The person most enamored with my story was, in fact, the Duchess, who stared at him with dripping admiration...and perhaps something else. Horatio looked about as uncomfortable as I'd ever seen him.

Until about six seconds later. That was when the servants brought out the main courses, including a delectably roasted suckling pig. This, with the sort of dead-on aim servants seem to have, was plucked down in front of Hornblower.

"Be so good as to carve it." Implored Sir Hugh, and I wondered how it would look if I reached across the table and saved it from him!
He inhaled deeply and took the carving knife...and put it to the sword, running it through.

The Duchess, with ruthless humor, quipped that the poor thing had suffered enough!

Somehow he managed to regain his equanimity and carve the dish without further mishap. I must say, I found it quite tasty, after so many meals at sea! Horatio, evidently not forgiving it for causing him torment, opted instead for the beef, which was all gristle and fat. Silly lad.

The Duchess, meanwhile, regaled us with the story of how she ended up stranded, needing transport home; apparently she had been there running her late husband's business. Late Husband? So she was a widow then? I let my imagination run a bit too far as to how she might take advantage of my young Lieutenant ("Dear Sir, I will not be returning to service in Indefatigable, as upon my return to England I married the Duchess). I heard nothing more until she gave me a sudden smack with her fan, apparently having said something very witty, and I joined the table in startled laughter.

Hornblower attempted to hide his smirk, but failed! I could see his thoughts: This...creature...just hit Captain Pellew with a fan! Well, he'd laugh little enough if he could have seen my thoughts!

Dinner came to a halt shortly after, but not until Dalrymple gave his useless opinion that the Spanish would be content to sit out the war, bottled up in Cadiz. Sir Hugh appealed to me. I knew well enough my own opinion, but I turned the question to Hornblower, wanting the table to see he was not my patsy, but a man of free thought.

Hornblower looked quite grim. "Why have such a force and not use it? I believe the Spanish will come out to fight."

I nodded.

The Duchess went further. "And you hope that you'll be there when they do?"

Hornblower, with greater aplomb than I'd have given him credit for, replied genteelly, "Indeed I do."

The ladies left the room then and the port came out. Many political subjects came up, which Hornblower, as the junior officer, had sense to stay out of.

When we returned to Sir Hugh's drawing room, Wilhelmena, an active member of the Church of England, buttonholed Hornblower, trying I think to convert him. For the lad is one of those young men of such an extremely scientific mind that there is a scant place for God in it. Once, I was not so very different. And yet, all the years-hard years, often--I had lived at sea, which ought to have convinced me that there could be no God, had done the opposite. The older I have gotten, and the more I have seen, both wonderful and terrible things, have convinced me that God does exist.

The Duchess seemed to be listening in on Hornblower's conversation as Sir Hugh rattled away about something. He moved off to get a cup of coffee for her, and she turned her gaze once more to my young Lieutenant, a gaze not lusty, as before, but sweet and gentle. She whispered one phrase which, startled, I barely picked up, and then catching my eye attacked me, with more bawdy jokes and an occasional poke of her fan,

For the rest of the evening, the Duchess was my shadow; wherever I turned, there she was! Her behavior quite made me forget about the quiet moment I had witnessed earlier. Was she thinking of seducing Horatio? And then, a sudden voice game into my head: Edward, you fool, it's not your Lieutenant she's chosen as husband material!

I cleared my throat abruptly. "Sir Hugh, I'm afraid we must leave you. My ship awaits! We are to leave port in two days and we are nowhere near ready"

Horatio, who had been continuing his polite conversation with Wilhemena Dalrymple, immediately made his good-byes.

"Leaving so soon, then? Ah, but I shall see you on the morrow, Sir Edward. You are escorting me to Mr. Aiche's ship, aren't you?"

"Yes, your grace. I will see you tomorrow."

She laid a hand on my arm and smiled archly at me, and for one second...I do not know that I can explain it, but the Duchess disappeared, and I felt like I was looking into the eyes of a different, and much more interesting woman! There had been one or two comments she'd made during the evening, that seem oddly...out of place for a woman of her type. That one to Hornblower, especially. And now, looking down at her upturned face, there was an intelligence there...

"Sir!" Horatio saved me. "Lieutenant Bracegirdle will be wondering about us."

The spell was broken! The Duchess returned, heading strait for Hornblower, backing him into the door.

"I look forward to our journey together Mr. Aiche! No doubt you can teach me many things about a ship. 'Course, I might be able to teach you a thing or two, about other things."

"Mr. Hornblower, we must be away."

And I hurried us out the door and into the clear night air of Gibraltar! And suddenly that quote, the one SHE'D used, returned to fill my mind once more, in soft accent and perfect English:

"There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy."
***

The overwhelming silence of the night air was wondrous after the cacophony of Sir Hugh's dinner. Horatio and I walked in companionable silence, both of us, no doubt, with a multitude of issues on our minds.

Not for five minutes did I trust myself to speak, and even then I spoke with more vehemence than I ought to have.

"The Duchess! I never saw such a woman. She is...she is..."

"My passenger for the next two weeks." Horatio quietly finished for me.

I sighed. "It would seem that I forgot to tell you something this afternoon, Mr. Hornblower."

He grinned. "Quite alright Sir. You said more than enough as it is!"

I chuckled softly. "Well, I suppose you'll be able to keep her under control."

"Yes, Sir. I shall endeavor to be...graciously wary."

"Ha! See that you do. I want you back on my ship in a month's time."

"I plan to be back, Sir."

A memory from earlier in the evening stirred. "Mr. Hornblower, what were you seeking out Mr. Brandon for, prior to our departure?"

He cleared his throat. "It's nothing, really, Sir..."

I turned to him. "That's not an answer, Mr. Hornblower, it's an evasion!"

"Yes, well, I..." He hesitated, and then spat out. "Very well, Sir, I was looking for his advice."

I was puzzled. "His advice?"

"On how to carve whatever dish might be put in front of me, how to address the women to my left, which utensil to use for which dish, and anything else he might have better knowledge of than I! He may be only fourteen, but he's been in society much more often than I have. I am...without a compass in such events, Sir!"

There was regret there, a real sense of inferiority behind his attempted bravado, and I felt for him.

"Do not worry yourself too much about your conduct, Mr. Hornblower. I have seen to many men of title behave like perfect jackasses to believe that there is a rarefied air around society."

"If I may, Sir, a man with a title is *permitted* to behave like a jackass. It makes him eccentric. The son of a doctor who behaves so, is simply a jackass."

"You do have a point there. But, you did not behave like a jackass; nor have I ever seen you do so. I doubt you would have remained alive on my ship for long if you had."

He did give me a slight smile, then sighed again. "I do not know that I will ever enjoy dinners like these, Sir."

"Do you think I do? No, give me the sea and dinner on my ship, with my officers; that is the company I choose to keep. But, every now and then, it's not a bad idea to show your face in society, to keep your name spoken with favor. If you can let everyone think you are a man of society, so much the better, even if you remain a man of the sea inside."

"Like playing a part..." He mused quietly.

"Yes, exactly." And for some reason the Duchess came to mind again. "That woman!"

He turned to me in puzzlement. "Sir?"

"The Duchess...There is something about her..."

"Sir!" Hornblower cried, in such alarm that I laughed aloud.

"Have no fear, Mr. Hornblower; this is one old Captain not likely to fall for her designs. I only mean that there is something about her I don't understand. I cannot quite take her measure."

We approached the boat now, and my coxswain, O'Brien, rose quickly.

"I should have thought her measure was taken easily enough, Sir. She's a very simple person."

I got into the boat, Hornblower following. "That, perhaps, is what worries me!"

Gibraltar slipped quietly away in the distance. "You are prepared for tomorrow, Mr. Hornblower."

"Yes, Sir; I expect no problems."

"Good, Good. I shall have Mr. Bowles resume classes with the Mids in your absence."

A bit of recognition stirred on his face. "Sir, was I insensible, or did Carlysle tell me Brandon performed surgery?"

"Emergency removal of an appendix. Hepplewhite was too stupid to make the diagnosis and too drunk to hold the scalpel. That boy, Mr. Hornblower, is a gem!"

Horatio shook his head. "I always thought so, but even still...surgery! He must have the calmest head of any fourteen year old ever!"

"And a few men older, at that!"

The Indefatigable loomed up before us now. We reboarded her with care. Cousins was on the watch and saluted us.

"All in all, Mr. Hornblower, it was not such a horrible evening, was it?"

He smiled at me. "I shall endeavor to think of it as educational, Sir!" He saluted, and retired for the evening.

But I stayed up for another hour, drinking in the night air, a feeling that something...I knew not what...was about to happen. Hornblower would depart tomorrow; I would depart in two days, to return to the blockade, or wherever Hale should send me. But the expectation was heavy about me, almost something I could touch, and I knew, somehow, that the events upcoming would reshape my life for years to come.

March 25th, 1795

The Duchess was waiting for me when I left Hale's office, the important
dispatches safely tucked away. Her belongings had already been sent down to the dock and were probably on their way to Le Reve now.

"Sir Edward! How delightful to see you this morning!" She called out archly, in her strident tones.

"Your Grace..." I bowed, and wondered again at my folly for thinking her anything but what she was...the daughter of a laborer who had the fortune to marry well and be widowed young.

She took my arm, and we headed down towards my awaiting boat.

"I must thank you again for yer kindness to me, Sir Edward."

"It is Mr. Hornblower you must thank, your Grace; it is with him you are
sailing."

"Yeas, but I know if you'd not have approved, you could have stopped it. I've been told yer a very *powerful* man, Sir Edward."

Did everything this woman said have a double meaning? And why was it so damned unseasonably HOT in Gibraltar?

I played along. "Only at sea, your Grace."

"What a shame it is then, Sir Edward, that I am not sailing with you! Although I'm sure young Mr. Aitche is perfectly...capable."

"Indeed, your Grace, he is one of the best sailors I have ever seen." I said
innocently.

Her laughter boomed forth, and several heads turned. "You are something, indeed, Sir Edward. Why, I'm not even sure that you like me very much. I can tell ye, that's a new experience for me."

"Your Grace misunderstands me." I replied, without making any move to explain myself further.

"Oh stuff it, I do not. I scare the hell out of ye, and that's the truth."

"You puzzle me."

"That's strange. Most men understand me well." She squeezed my arm and gave me a little tap with her fan again.

"Perhaps. But I wonder how many men have overheard you reciting Shakespeare?"

She came to a startling, dead halt, and gave me a wary glance. "What do you mean, Sir!"

Stunned, I hesitated before I replied. "Last night, your Grace...when Mr.
Hornblower was conversing with Wilhelmena Dalrymple...I thought I overheard you say 'there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio...'; the line from Hamlet...I meant no offence."

Her face relaxed and she took my arm again with a laugh. "Oh, that! To be honest, my late husband used to use that saying all the time. Truth is, I
didn't know twas Shakespeare! I just thought it was a funny little line that
fit the situation well, what with the boy's name being Horatio."

I turned my head to her slightly. "It did indeed."

She played with my arm in an alarming manner. "You must be very educated, then, to know such a thing."

"Ahem, well...I left school young to go to sea, of course, but my father was always partial to Shakespeare; I guess I got my love of it from him."

"I bet you left quite a lot of broken hearts behind ye when ye went to the
Navy."

I smiled. "But of course I did; I can assure you my father missed me terribly."

"Nonsense, Sir Edward." There went that fan again. "Yer far too modest."

I helped her into my boat, and she proceeded to simper at O'Brien in an equally alarming fashion. Without her seeing I motioned to O'Brien to be at ease, for he looked at me in deep alarm

"Head for Le Reve, O'Brien."

The Duchess looked around her with interest. "Which is she, Sir Edward?"

I pointed out Le Reve where she lay at anchor; I could see already that Mr. Hornblower had her looking smart and ready to go, and I felt my heart swell. "That is Lieutenant Hornblower's ship"

She gave me that gentle smile; the one I saw last night. "Yer right proud of that boy, aren't ye?"

And in her spell again, I almost gave her an honest answer, with O'Brien not five feet away!

Fortunately, I stammered out a more appropriate reply. "He's proven to be a valuable officer."

It is perhaps best that I could not see O'Brien's face at the moment.

The Duchess rolled her eyes at me. "Ye wouldn't fool a child, Sir Edward, yer as proud of that boy as a cat of her kittens, and just as fond. And from what I saw last night, I'd say he felt just as fond a ye."

O'Brien coughed suddenly, and I eyed him with suspicion.

Thankfully, she changed her conversation. "And which ship is the
Indefatigable?"

"She's right next to Le Reve." I said, in this instance not even attempting to disguise my pride. Though only a frigate, she towered over Le Reve
impressively. More importantly, she was so well kept that she seemed to glow on the harbor. There was no doubt in my mind that she was the finest ship in the fleet.

The Duchess smiled over at me knowingly, but to my surprise made no attempt to tease me about her, as though she sensed that there were certain things off limits.

But as we pulled up to Le Reve and arrangements were being made to get her ladyship aboard, she leaned over to me one more time.

"The Indefatigable is quite fine, Sir Edward. Almost as fine as her Captain."

The motion of the boat pressed her near me; or maybe it wasn't the motion at all. I drew in my breath.

"Let's get her on board," someone's voice said.

Yes, please do, I thought. And hurry!