PELLEW'S PERSPECTIVES-DUCHESS AND THE DEVIL
PART TWO, DR. BRANDON I PRESUME?
I watched Le Reve slip away without too many misgivings, despite my earlier conversation with Matthews and the knowledge of the Duchesses presence. Mt. Hornblower is both sensible and prudent, and barring unforeseen circumstances, should not have any problem he can't handle.
I inspected my own ship; it seemed we were well prepared to depart ourselves tomorrow. I had instructions from Hale, we are to sail on a path between Gibraltar, Madeira and Cadiz, in the hopes of luring some of the Spanish out for engagement.
My final stop on my rounds was sick bay. I wanted to see exactly what Mr. Brandon was up to with those strange items of his.
I found him in an empty room, the men healthy for the time being. He was at work grinding something up something into a powder, but rose quickly on seeing me.
"You are very slow in here, it would seem, Mr. Brandon."
"Yes, Sir, but I expect that to change in a day or two."
So did I, but I wondered how he knew that. "For what reason do you believe that, Mr. Brandon?"
He smiled. "The men are superstitious, sir, and they talk quite a bit. It seems there's always an outbreak of illnesses right after a trip to port."
"That is true. Have you formed a reason for it, Mr. Brandon?"
"I have, Sir."
"Do give me your reason, then."
He smiled. "A well kept ship is fairly clean, Sir. And we've had a run of luck; no fighting and a steady food supply. On the other hand, any city, even Gibraltar, is a filthy place. Men go ashore and come into contact with disease and illness, and bring it back on board. By the time we've returned to sea, the few who went ashore have contact with those who haven't, and before you know it..." He shrugged. "Dr. Hepplewhite is the busiest man on the ship."
I nodded towards his work. "One of your concoctions?"
"Yes, Sir; feverfew. It's supposed to work wonders for headache. So does willow bark, but some men, Dr. Hornblower wrote, have an intolerance for it."
"Hmmm." I strolled around, and stopped at a large jar, marked with paint in a crude warning, that the contacts would prove harmful if swallowed. I eyed him "Planning on poisoning Dr. Hepplewhite, Brandon."
"No, Sir, trying to avoid it, actually."
I raised both eyebrows, then.
He stood by my side and lifted the heavy jar. "You remember, Sir, how I told you about Dr. Stewart saying that alcohol would work on cleaning things instead of hot water? Well, this is a byproduct of a distillery; a very high potency alcohol that's not fit for drinking."
"How unfit for drinking?"
"Deadly, Sir, if you have enough of it. They were going to throw it away, and were more than happy to give it to me. I thought it might be worth trying."
"Are you certain that none of the men would get into this?"
"I took some added precautions, sir." He took the bottle from me and carefully uncorked it very briefly. That was long enough for me to get whiff of a nasty stench. "Asafetida, Sir. I put a bit of it in the bottom of the jar. Nobody will be drinking this."
"That is certain!" I wrinkled my nose and gave off a little cough. "By the way, did you ever get a chance to speak with Mr. Hornblower before he departed?"
"Very briefly, this morning. He had quite a lot to do on Le Reve, but he was kind enough to offer me a few words of encouragement before he left."
I was glad of that. Mr. Brandon will have been without his superior officer for almost three weeks by the time Horatio returns, and it's always better to know his opinion of you, rather than being stuck wondering. Especially when it's an officer you admire.
My mind followed its thoughts to Mr. Brandon's current situation. "How has Dr. Hepplewhite been behaving, Mr. Brandon?"
"He's drinking less, I think, but has not stopped entirely. He actually craves it, Sir." He paused. "Sir, this may not be my place, but...you might want to look at finding another Doctor."
I got annoyed in spite of myself. "Good heavens, Mr. Brandon, if there were a fit Doctor within five hundred miles available don't you think I'd have fed Hepplewhite to the fish by now?"
He sighed. "I was afraid of that, Sir, but I must repeat, if you should hear of a Doctor, you ought to engage him."
"Why, are you planning on deserting?" I snapped.
He paled in horror. "No, Sir! But I am not ready to carry on by myself."
"Is Hepplewhite planning on deserting?" As if the man would have the courage, I thought.
"He's dying, Sir."
That took the wind right out of me, and I felt myself deflate. "Dying? Are you sure?"
"I am positive, Sir."
My God. "Does he know?" I almost whispered.
"No. The truth is, Sir, it's the drink. Sometimes, over time, it kills you. And it's killing him, sooner rather than later."
I closed my eyes. The thought of what would happen if we engaged the Spanish with Hepplewhite dead and only Brandon, however smart and willing he might be, was dreadful. He has not ever taken off a limb, stopped massive bleeding, removed splinters. He was not even with us for our last engagement.
I looked at him again.
"What is it that makes you so sure?"
"His eyes, Sir, have become yellow, clouded. That means the alcohol has poisoned his liver."
"You have seen this before?"
His face tightened. "I have, Sir."
"A patient of Dr. Stewart's?"
He hesitated, but only a second. "Yes, Sir."
"That I am not sure off. If he would only stop drinking totally, it might prolong his life. But I would be surprised if he were alive in six month's time, otherwise."
Six months did not sound so bad. Time enough to have an engagement, have Brandon watch Hepplewhite at battle surgery, and secure his footing.
"I shall write to Admiral Hale before we depart, to see if he knows of anyone available, or anyone wishing to transfer, with their Captain's permission. Thank you for advising me of this, Mr. Brandon. Carry on."
"One moment, Sir." He handed me a small envelope of the powder. "You might want to have Powers mix this with some warm water. You look as though you might need it."
He was only too right!
March 26th, 1796.
I had regained my equanimity by the time we set sail the next morning. I had written to Hale after my meeting with Brandon, which, as I suspected, further set my head pounding. At that time I managed to ingest Brandon's concoction, which true enough dulled the pain. Within an hour I had managed to get a note out to Harvey.
You are a rascal and a scoundrel, and you owe me four heads of cattle next year!
To have the audacity to be out of town for a dinner which you subjected both myself and Mr. Hornblower to is quite unforgivable in and of itself. But when you add the fact that we were forced to endure the company of the most intolerable woman this side of the Atlantic, it is not to be borne. In fact, make that five heads of cattle!
I am sure you must have run across the Duchess of Wharfedale at some point in her stay at Gibraltar, but in case you haven't...she is no lady worth the name, Sir. Bawdy, crude, loud...she embarrassed poor Hornblower to no end, and tried to make moves on me! She is not unattractive, I will admit, but then neither is a shark from the distance of your deck! And now, my poor Lieutenant is escorting her back to England on a ship that he captured. And I am so dismayed with you, Harvey, I shall not even tell you how he did it!
I expect to see you, properly contrite, when next I return to Gibraltar, at which time I expect to be provided with a glass of fine Brandy in addition to my five, make that six, head of cattle."
I chuckled at the memory, as no doubt Harvey would at its reception.
I drew my coat around me at a sudden chill. "I believe the weather is changing, Mr. Bowles."
"Yes, Sir. I don't like how the air is feeling."
"Perhaps, Sir." He frowned, his eyes on the sky.
Immediately my mind went to Hornblower. Well, he was good enough to hold Le Reve together in event of bad weather, and he had some of Indefatigable's best seamen with him. Surely he would be fine.
"Call me if there are any changes, Mr. Bowles."
"Aye Aye, Sir."
I returned below decks and studied the chart. I am not sure what Hale means by sending me towards Madeira, but such was life in the Navy. Strange orders and stranger results. Perhaps we might meet with another Etoile! I shuddered..
Mr. Carlysle knocked a few minutes later.
"Sir, Mr. Bowles regards, and he wishes you to know that we've got fog coming up pretty thick."
I studied the chart. Well now, that just tears it! "Tell Mr. Bowles that I wish him to slow us down, but maintain course."
"Aye Aye, Sir."
Headed due west, and already through the straits, we should have no problems. What aggravated me most was not knowing the extent of this fog. Would it impede Horatio, who must avoid Cape St. Vincent?
I hope Brandon has plenty of that powder prepared. I can tell that this entire mission will be one long headache.
We are still fog-bound, almost as if the fog were following us. In general I have a feeling of malaise I cannot shake. Twice I just about bit Bracegirdle's head off yesterday afternoon for making simple observations on the ship's performance. I am frustrated. I have a ship full of men somewhere on their way to England and I cannot get in touch with them and have no way of knowing about their well being.
And this is NOT only about Horatio. As proud as I am of him, and, yes, damn it, I am fond of him as well (blast that woman and her observations), all of those men out there are valuable to me. Some of them, like Matthews, are seamen who could never be replaced, not in skill and not in the respect they command from their shipmates. True, I am glad Hornblower has such an experienced crew with him should the going get tough.
But I want them ALL back.
There was a knock at the door.
"Enter." I snapped; not adding the 'at your own risk' that should have been obvious.
It was Brandon.
"I do not wish to be disturbed unless this is urgent, Mr. Brandon. So think carefully before you answer me...is this urgent?" I said in my most quiet and edgy voice.
For once I think I had the unflappable Brandon shaken. But I give him full points for courage, if not intelligence, as he persevered.
He placed a bottle on my desk. "I know you're not feeling well, Sir, and I probably shouldn't have presumed, but I don't think you've slept much, either. I thought this might help."
I looked down at the bottle on the desk, and slowly rose my eyes until they locked with Brandon's. I stepped forward towards him.
"Indeed? Is Le Reve in this bottle, Mr. Brandon? Shall I uncork it and my crewman will arise from it like a Turkish Genie? Or, when opened, will it draw in the fog, and finally enable me to see where THE BLOODY HELL MY SHIP IS GOING? Because unless it does, I fail to see that it will be of any use to me. So tell me, Mr. Brandon, what shall I find in this bottle?"
He had paled to the lips; I had not come down on any officer in that manner since Hunter's stupidity of last November, and Mr. Brandon was not with us on that occasion. He stammered slightly. "It's an extract of St. John's Wort, sir...it's supposed to be calming."
I closed my eyes, because with the edge I was on, and having not had any sleep at all last night (he was right about that), I was dangerously close to ordering him confined in the riggings. Or worse. For a moment it was like I was two men, one horrified by my own behavior towards a young man I considered with high regard, and the other almost enjoying having someone to rage against.
"Mr. Brandon...you are a midshipman training as a physician's mate. You hardly have the knowledge or the experience to understand my state of mind at the moment. And there are times, Mr. Brandon, that a Captain should NOT be calm. Now I suggest you return to the sick, cleaning up after them, or anything else you might be useful at, if you can find something." I spat out. "Do not bother me again with your silly potions. DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?"
His eyes were wide, but he managed to hold himself steady. "Aye, Aye, Sir." And he escaped from my cabin with as much dignity as he could reclaim.
No sooner did the door shut than I sank into my chair, my hands covering my eyes. "My God, why did I do that?"
I did not move for some time. Powers brought me diner, in a very hesitant manner, and I stared at the plate of food before me-somehow he'd found a bit of pork and dried apples and made a stew out of it. It was one of my favorite dishes, and it was still there, untouched, when he returned in half an hour's time.
"I beg your pardon, Sir, would you like me to have it reheated?"
I waved him off. "No, take it away." I whispered.
It was an hour later Mr. Cousins, more timid than I ever remember seeing him. "Sir, I beg your pardon, but Mr. Bracegirdle would like you to come on deck."
I nodded and rose, stiffly, from my seat. "I will follow presently, Mr. Cousins."
Cousins, evidently having heard of the incident with Mr. Brandon, did not even attempt dignity as he dashed outside, glad to have escaped any wrath.
I soon found out why Bracegirdle wanted me. The fog had burned off.
"When did this happen, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
"It began clearing about forty-five minutes ago, Sir. I waited to make sure we were well out of the fog before I called you."
"Next time, notify me immediately if you please." I grumbled.
"Aye, Aye, Sir."
I took the glass. There, on the horizon, was the Orion, our commanding ship, and the Dreadnought. So Foster had orders for the Madeira-Cadiz-Gibraltar run as well.
I snapped the glass shut and handed it back to Bracegirdle. The lifting of the fog only solved half of my problem.
"We are still on course?"
"The wind seems fair, now."
"Very fair, Sir."
"Good. I am returning to my cabin, Mr. Bracegirdle. Notify me if conditions change. Immediately, this time, if it pleases you." I was still dripping with sarcasm.
Bracegirdle, however, secure in his own abilities and understanding me better than any man since Grey, was not fazed. "Of course, Sir. If I may, Sir, would you care for a game of whist tonight?"
I was actually taken aback. "Whist?"
"Yes, Sir. I am certain that Mr. Bowles would join, and we would be able to persuade one of the Midshipmen to make a fourth."
As if any one of the Midshipmen would have any desire to spend a couple of hours with me right now! Not that they would be given a choice in the matter. And then, nervous, they would make the kind of stupid mistakes that mediocre players under stress make often, the kind that infuriate me on a good day. In my current mood, I might have one of them hanging from the yardarm,
"No, Mr. Bracegirdle. I thank you, but I...do not feel up to whist tonight. Carry on, Mr. Bracegirdle."
I strode away, still hearing Bowles whisper under his breath. "He turned down a game of whist? Good heavens, he must actually be sick!
Down below, I lay on my bed, but the worries kept sleep from coming. I took one look at Brandon's bottle, but sneered. I do not need medicine. No, it is nothing a simple glass of brandy might not cure.
And I proceeded to do something I have often despised in other men. I set out to get myself drunk, fearing to sleep, fearing not to. In the end I had four glasses and, woozy, finally felt darkness overtake me.
I opened my eyes I know not how much later, only to see my old friend Grey before me.
"Silly Ass, Edward. You know you don't like getting drunk. You'll feel just wonderful tomorrow, too."
"There's a nice witty comeback. Almost like asking a fourteen year old boy to produce his commanding officer out of a bottle."
I groaned. "What has become of me, Grey? I am a horrible man."
"Nonsense, you're a good man most of the time. But you were so damn frustrated at not being able to do anything, that you needed to feel powerful once more."
Powerful. By terrorizing a young man.
As if I had spoken aloud, Grey answered. "He's not a young man, Edward, he's just a boy still, one who looks up to you quite a lot. He may behave older, with more poise, but he is a boy."
"You're not making me feel better."
"I'm not trying to."
I blinked and sat up, surprised at not feeling sick, until I remembered that Grey was dead, and had been for twenty years, so I must be dreaming. "If you were any use at all, Grey, you'd tell me how my men are."
"I can't do that, Edward."
"Hmmf. Some ghost you are. I've met real ghosts, I tell you, who were much more cooperative. Talked to Hornblower's father in Gibraltar, and he was able to tell me what was going on."
"He had a connection to Horatio. I don't. Only to you."
"Well, then, send the good doctor down, make yourself useful."
He smiled at me. "I'm making myself useful as I see fit. Your men on this ship are worried. They care about you."
"Not now they don't."
He reached over and, I swear, slapped me so hard that I almost fell over. "Get over it, Edward. Do you not remember when we were Midshipmen on Captain Kent's ship? You were standing on your head on the yardarm again, like you did so often. But Kent saw it this time and had you beaten for carelessness, what was it? Twenty four times with the bosun's cane?"
I winced at the memory. "Lord, I had forgotten that."
"And here all the rest of us had decided that you were his personal favorite! The golden son! Not one of us wanted to be in your place at that moment, I can assure you. And you were miserable about it for days afterwards, convinced Kent must hate you, he'd never forgive you, how could you be so stupid. And then remember what we found out next?"
I had to think back on it. "Yes, our first Lieutenant had been badly injured while on shore leave, visiting his wife. They didn't tell us right away. He died not long after. Kent must have been in hell that whole time."
"And he attacked the first mistake he saw, which happened to be yours. Probably because he spent more time watching you than anyone else."
"Are you coming to a point here, Grey?"
"Yes. My point is, you adored Kent; he was your hero. He still is. That didn't change because of that one time when he lost his patience with you. You understood, as we all did, what sort of pressure he was under. Right now, young Brandon is probably about as miserable as you were then. But he understands your anxiety."
I closed my eyes. Of course, it was the fact that he understood my anxiety that had gotten him into trouble to begin with.
I sank back down on the bed, feeling darkness return. I only slightly heard Grey whisper the last words, or maybe it was the wind. "Remember Captain Kent, Edward. Remember it all."
And then I returned to blessed sleep.
The next morning I had a most crashing hangover. Powers attempted to help me dress, but I waved him off, sending him urgently for coffee. He gave me one strange look before he left, but said nothing. I dressed myself, feeling every pitch the boat made.
Bracegirdle arrived just as the coffee did. Powers, curse him, decided to bring me a plate of eggs and greasy bacon as well. He had no sooner left than I proceeded to get sick into a bucket.
"Sir?" Bracegirdle cried, in genuine alarm. "Shall I get Mr. Brandon, Sir?" He too, regarded me curiously.
I moaned. "Above all else, Mr. Bracegirdle...do not send for Mr. Brandon!" My stomach churned. "What word is there? Why are you here?"
"Mr. Bowles reports the wind has veered two points, and would like your instructions."
I frowned. "Mr. Bowles is well capable of handling a slight change."
"Yes, Sir." He responded nonchalantly, and I remembered my last instructions to him had been to report ALL changes. "I will be on deck in half an hour, Mr. Bracegirdle. In the meantime, tell Bowles that I trust him to make any adjustments he feels necessary."
"Aye, Aye, Sir."
I tossed the eggs and bacon aside and gulped down the coffee, hot and strong. And I remembered my dream of Grey last night, and I remembered his last words...to remember Captain Kent.
Over thirty years ago it was. Two days after my...unfortunate incident, we found out Lieutenant Harris had died. We saw the pain of the loss on our Captain's face. They had been close. He kept to himself in his cabin all morning, and then called for me.
I was terrified. I still had the smart of the cane too fresh in my memory, but beside that, I carried a hurt inside as well. I was certain my career was over, that Kent would never respect me again. Even though I suspected I knew what had caused his reaction now, I did not know how to fix the situation.
And when I came into his cabin and he did not even turn around, I was sure that he was still displeased with me.
Instead, he said, in his crisp voice: "Mr. Pellew, I would like for you to accompany me to Lieutenant Harris's funeral. He is to be buried at his home, where he passed away, instead of at sea. Do you think that you can put up with my company for two weeks?"
Stupefied, I gave the only reply I could. "Of course, Sir."
"Good, we leave this afternoon. Be prepared to leave on time."
"Aye, Aye, Sir."
He did not offer an apology-how could he? It's not a word that's in a Captain's vocabulary. But what he gave me was more valuable. He let me see, in his actions, that I was still in his regard. And over those two weeks, by the way he presented me to those he met, calling me at one point "one of the Navy's bright hopes" I knew just how highly he did think of me.
I served with Kent for another two years. He is, in every way, the man I have modeled my own behavior on. And the reality is that I had forgotten the one bad moment we had until that dream last night.
I called Powers in. "Send for Mr. Brandon, Powers. Tell him I have..." Hell, I can't admit to having a hangover. "...An upset stomach. Ask him to bring any remedy he might have."
Powers nodded. "Aye, Aye, Sir."
Brandon arrived promptly, with a few medicines. His face was a mask of terror, his eyes wide, and I wonder what the devil I must have been like yesterday to strike such fear into a boy who was normally so damned calm.
"Y-you sent for me, Sir?"
I kept my voice calm, despite my continued nausea. "My stomach has deserted me, Mr. Brandon. And my head is crashing."
"Yes, so Powers told me." He looked up at me almost pleading. "Please, Sir, I hope it's not from the St. John's Wort."
I was momentarily baffled, and then I realized what was frightening him so badly. He was afraid that his medicine had made me sick!
"No, Mr. Brandon" I replied gently. "I'd probably feel much better if I'd listened to your advice in the first place. What's made me sick is too much brandy on too empty a stomach."
The color returned a bit to his face. "Oh..." He paused a moment and then, looking at me like every other man this day had. Gathering what must have been the last reserves of his courage, he continued. "Sir, your face...did you have a fall?"
"Huh?" I turned and looked in the glass. Sure enough, there was a bruise on my left cheekbone, one of some size. I touched it gingerly and winced. "I must have, although I don't recall it."
He nodded quietly, then moved to the side as Powers entered the room with boiling water and a biscuit.
"I didn't order..."
"No, Sir...I did. For your stomach." Brandon quietly replied, and then added a coarsely ground mixture to the hot water. "It's ginger root, sir. It should calm your stomach." He turned to Powers. "Do you have any honey? If not, sugar will do."
Ugh. I can't stand sweetened tea or coffee. "I don't overindulge in sweet things, Mr. Brandon."
Powers ignoring me, brought out a pot of honey that I didn't know I possessed. "Sir, the ginger root is very hot...spicy hot. The honey will offset that. It's not going to taste terribly sweet."
"What about my headache?"
He stirred the brew, which I must admit did smell rather nice. "First, drink this...all of this." He strained some of it into a cup. "Hopefully that will settle your stomach. Then eat the biscuit. No jam, butter, or anything like that. And only after you've done that, you can mix this..." He placed another one of his packets on the table. "with a full glass of water, for your headache. In the meantime, you should probably stay inside. It's a rather bright day, Sir."
I groaned. Powers disappeared and I took my first sip of the concoction. Brandon was right, it burned going down but once it hit my stomach it had a warming effect that was quite soothing.
He watched in nervous anticipation while I swallowed the whole, and he strained another glass as he realized I was not averse to having more.
"Sir, did you want me to create a poultice for your face?"
I looked at the glass again. "I think not, Mr. Brandon. Let it be a reminder of my own folly." I smiled wryly, and I saw, from the glass, Brandon sigh. He was sensing that I was returning to my usual self again.
"By the way, Mr. Brandon...do you play whist?"
Startled, he gave a slight jump. "Sir?" Then, knowing I don't like non-answers, he hurried on. "Mr. Hornblower was starting to teach me, but I am afraid I have much to learn."
"Hmnn. Very well, after your studies this afternoon, if you have some free time, report to me. We'll see how far along you are. If all goes well, I believe you would be an acceptable fourth. Assuming the Spanish remain cowards and don't show their faces."
He blinked at me in wonder. "Aye, Aye, Sir."
I could feel my stomach settling already, and I picked absent mindedly at the biscuit. "Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Brandon. I will see you this afternoon."
"I am...glad I could help, Sir." His face was its normal color, and he was far more relaxed. Damage, hopefully, undone.
I dismissed him, and took another look in the mirror. I touched the bruise gently. It rested right where Grey had hit me. But that was only a dream, was it not?
We have stationed ourselves just outside of Madeira, running patrol with Orion and Dreadnought. My equanimity seems to have returned, although I know no more than I did previously. In fact, I have a continued feeling of dread about Hornblower's run to England. But there is not a thing I can do about it, so I have let it go.
Madeira is currently under Portuguese control, but I believe if the war continues, we might attempt to take it. From what I can see it would not be difficult. The Portuguese have no love of Spain, and furthermore do not seem to have the islands heavily guarded.
Brandon is, as I expected, learning whist rapidly. Bracegirdle, Bowles and I have spent the past four evenings baptizing him by fire! I think the only thing that Bowles is really enjoying about that is the knowledge that once Horatio returns, he will no longer be needed for these tests!
And Hepplewhite is in his fourth day of total sobriety. I've had him under house arrest, after raiding his quarters to discover his entire stock of illicit liquor. Additionally, his spirit rations have been stopped and I have secured the medicinal alcohol, including Brandon's poison, and removed them to my control.
Yesterday I caught him railing against Brandon...I swear some of the men actually blushed from his language. I thought Morris, who owes Brandon his life after all, would pitch the man overboard. On seeing me, however, he backed off, knowing I would handle it.
I entered sick bay.
"Boy, you are the most bloody worthless sodden bastard I have ever come across and for two cent's I'd..."
He stopped abruptly as I entered. Brandon was whistling in the corner, sweeping up and paying the Doctor not the slightest bit of attention.
"Do you wish to finish that sentence, Doctor?" I asked softly.
He paled and stood in fear, waiting for my reaction.
But I was confused as to how to proceed. I wanted to have the man flogged...I could justify it as insubordination to an officer. But Brandon was so darned calm.
"Mr. Brandon, a word with you outside please."
"Aye Aye, Sir." He gave Hepplewhite an indulgent look and followed me.
I did not know what to do next. I paced for a few seconds. Finally, I turned to him and said, "Mr. Brandon, if you wish to report Hepplewhite's insubordination, I would have him at the gratings."
"I would rather not do that, sir."
He looked me calmly and right in the eye.
"May I ask why, when he has so obviously been abusive towards you?"
He gave me a slight smile. "Abusive, Sir? He's used foul language, to be sure, but I ceased caring about Hepplewhite's opinion of me some time ago. And he does not dare physically threaten me; he is too afraid of you."
I was beyond amazed. "And yet this behavior will continue."
"Yes, for a while. But once his body recovers from the need for alcohol, it will lessen, provided you continue to keep him out of supply."
I was still fuming about Hepplewhite's behavior, and not at all sure that Brandon was right about the man not abusing him further. Brandon must have seen that in my face.
"Sir, the thing is, if you have him flogged, well, it won't be the last time. You'd have to do it every time he behaved this way, and the behavior WILL continue. And then, if we have an engagement, how able will he be to perform surgery? We both know there are things I'm not ready for yet."
I exhaled. "Very well, I will let it go for the time being. But if in any way you should ever feel threatened, Mr. Brandon, I expect you to let me know. Understood?"
He nodded, still with a quiet smile on his face. "Aye, Aye, Sir."
I turned, and then stopped. "Mr. Brandon, how is it you know so much about this condition?"
He raised one eyebrow at me. "You've not met my Father, I see. Or my late Uncle. Trust me, Sir, my conditions here with Dr. Hepplewhite are not so intolerable."
And with that comment, my young doctor in training disappeared back into the sick bay.
The comment has stayed with me through this morning, and is never far from my mind. It explained the lad's reluctance to touch drink himself. Obviously he had seen more of its ravages than any child ought to. I shook my head in disgust.
Carlyle entered. "Beg your pardon, Sir, but Orion is sending over dispatches arrived from Gibraltar."
I rose quickly and headed above decks. Perhaps, here, would be some answers.
April 1, evening.
Naturally, as I ought to have anticipated, all letters in this bunch have come from Gibraltar but one day after our departure, so there is no information, good bad or indifferent, about Le Reve.
There was, of course, a letter from Harvey, in answer to my missive earlier.
Well, well, I see we've started getting crotchety in our old age, my good man.
I am heartily disappointed to learn the Duchess has been in Gibraltar and I have missed her! I had the joy of meeting her several years back in London, when she first was married. Make no mistake about it, her husband was thoroughly besotted with her. And I almost fell for her, um, charms, myself. I remember dancing with her at one point and finding myself staring down into those lovely, lovely blue eyes of hers...her mother, I believe, was Irish. Ah.
Oh, yes, she is everything you said, Edward, but I must admit I would have found that preferable to what one usually encounters at Dalrymple's. Of course, she's as dumb as they make 'em, poor woman. Never said an intelligent word in her life. Unobservant and uninterested in anything other than her clothes and flirting. Not that that would have bothered her husband. They always SAID he went to Oxford, but I doubt if it was for anything other than to make contacts. No breeding, no interest in the arts, a real waste of money and a title. Like all the rest of them. (Naturally I exclude you, 'Sir Edward', but then you EARNED your title).
And don't even think you're teasing me about Hornblower's adventures with Le Reve. You should know I can get any sort of information I want. By the way, without giving anything away, I believe Admiral Hale has a surprise waiting for the boy when he returns, it's just a matter of completing the paperwork. And no, Edward, you can stop having heart palpitations, he's not been transferred to another vessel! Even I would not tease you that badly.
Did I detect a bit of concern, by the way, in Her Grace's presence with the boy? Or perhaps it was jealousy? Not to worry. From what I've seen of Hornblower, he'd have no interest in her; I'm certain he would prefer a woman who might have at least opened up a book in the past five years. Now, as to your other men, I vouch not.
I am, as always, your humble servant..."
Jealousy! The nerve of him. As if I had even the slightest thought of the woman in that way. Sounds a lot to me like he's the jealous one!
I opened instructions from Hale, notifying me that on April the fifth we are to head towards Cadiz, he is of the hope that the absence of the Orion, Dreadnought and Indefatigable will have lured some of them out of their safe nest and be ours for the taking.
I wonder why we must wait so many days, and why we were sent so far as Madeira to begin with? If they should depart earlier, as I understood it, there will be but five ships split between Gibraltar and Cadiz to contain them.
Actually, if the Spaniards had any brains, they'd have left during that fog of ours.
I chuckled slightly at the thought of them even thinking of such a thing, and returned in to my cabin to write a report for Commodore Dunne on the Orion, giving a slight shiver at a sudden cold breeze that whisked along the deck and was gone.
I have had another dream that has left me profoundly disturbed.
There was no Grey, this time, in dream or spirit form. No Doctor Hornblower, either. Instead I saw Horatio.
He was on Le Reve, being fired at from all sides. Valiantly he was fighting off French Corvettes, but with only four small guns, there was no hope. Matthews was blown to pieces at his feet, and he howled, kneeling beside him. Styles was next, and his blood arced across the deck; he gave me one last look of agony before he fell at Horatio's feet.
My Lieutenant looked up at me. "Why, Sir? Why?"
And my voice was frozen, I could not find my tongue. Mr. Hunter leaned against the wheel, calm, saying over and over again, "Is there a problem... *Sir*", with that sneer I so hated.
A French Captain came roaring over the side, sword drawn and placed it over Horatio's heart.
There was a lilt of laughter then, and the Duchess came up to me, and linked her arm in mine. "A fine trip, is it not, Captain Pellew?" She placed her arms around me and I found myself embracing her, looking into those warm, brown eyes of hers, and I kissed her, deeply, as I'd not kissed a woman in too long. Judas' kiss. Or not really, for it was not her death that followed. No, after I withdrew my mouth from her, she moved away, laughing, those eyes...what was wrong with those eyes? She winked at the frog, and said to Horatio, in perfect French, "C'est la fin, mon petit. Au revoir."
And the Captain ran him through, his sword piercing his heart, while Horatio never took his eyes off of me.
I woke up in a sweat, cold despite the relative temperateness of our climate. It was still dark, and I considered taking a walk above decks, but I knew it would only serve to put Hornblower more on my mind, not less.
And after the other night, brandy was out of the question. Instead, I poured some of that concoction Brandon had left me. Everything else he'd given me had worked, why not?
But I did not sleep. I stared at my ceiling, afraid to return to my dreams, afraid of whom might die next; afraid of a visit from Doctor Hornblower, and learning it is all true.
Dawn came finally, pale and soft over the horizon. I rose and stretched, yawning. I cannot go without sleep much longer.
I exited quietly, not wishing to disturb Powers yet. And I headed for the daylight, to scan the ocean, to hope for some kind of miracle that would provide me with an answer.
To my surprise, I found Brandon there, his cloak drawn around him, his gaze off into the sea. He was half asleep himself.
"Mr. Brandon," I whispered. "Whatever are you doing above decks?"
He jumped up from his cramped position, the way only a boy can. "Beg your pardon, Sir, but Mr. Carlysle has a head cold and is snoring beyond human belief. I came up with Mr. Cousins on his watch and found myself a quiet place."
I turned and observed Mr. Cousins off in the distance, on watch. I smiled thinly. "Have you no cure for snoring, yet, Mr. Brandon?"
"That, Sir, would make me a very wealthy man!" He smiled, and then frowned. "Sir, you've not been sleeping again."
I glanced at him in surprise. "I wonder at your daring to ask me that, after the last time."
He shrugged. "If I am to be a doctor, then I must be honest. I'm of no use to you if I'm not."
"I did try the St. John's Wort you left me, but I am afraid it failed."
He nodded. "I'll make note of it. I'm surprised, actually, that so many of Dr. Hornblower's potions have worked. Pleased, but surprised."
I winced at the Doctor's name.
Brandon studied me carefully. "In this instance, Sir, I don't think there's anything to be given, anyway. When your worries are gone, sleep will come easier. And as you said, I cannot produce Le Reve out of a bottle."
I sighed. "What about dreams, Mr. Brandon?"
"I beg your pardon, Sir?"
"Have you anything that will eliminate the nightmares that plague me when I do sleep?" I whispered. I would not want this getting around to the crew, but I trusted Brandon.
He shook his head. "No, Sir; if anything, the medicines often cause nightmares. Laudanum, especially. And I'd avoid overindulging again in brandy before bed, Sir. Same effect."
"That I've learned!"
He was frowning, now, trying to remember something. "There is one possibility. Exercise."
"Physical exertion. Wear yourself out. Make yourself so tired that your body can only sleep and have no energy for anything else."
"Hmmm." Exercise how, on a ship in the open ocean with no enemy available for miles? After all, it had been a long time since I'd raced up the ratlines.
I followed them up, to the yard arm, and smiled inspite of myself. "Do you know, Mr. Brandon, that when I was your age I used to be able to stand on my head on the yard arm?"
Brandon joined me looking skyward. "Indeed, Sir? That's quite a feat. You're alive, so I can assume you never fell. Did your Captain approve of such a thing?"
"He only saw me do it once." I said, adding, with an expressive look at Brandon. "The last time!"
He bit back a laugh. "I can well imagine, Sir."
I sighed. "Well, if I can't have sleep, I can at least have coffee. Care to join me in a cup?"
"I cannot, Sir, I must get back to sick bay. Have a good day, Sir."
"You too, Mr. Brandon."
And I departed in search of Powers, with one last longing look at the yard arm.
It was over the coffee that I had a sudden flash of inspiration, and a bit of information forgotten but obviously still troublesome crystallized. I leapt from my table to my desk, searching for Harvey's letter.
Overall it had left me vaguely disquieted at the time by the note, although I was so affronted by his insinuation that I was jealous that it pushed all other thought out of my mind. But after my dream last night...
I grabbed the letter again and sought out the phrase...aha! There it was...
'I remember dancing with her at one point and finding myself staring down into those lovely, lovely blue eyes of hers...her mother, I believe, was Irish'
Blue eyes! But surely?
I thought over my time with her. I had sat next to her all evening at dinner, she had spent some time gazing at me as dinner closed, and there was that walk down to the docks, and her beside me in the boat...not an insignificant amount of time. And I am CERTAIN her eyes are brown, as I remembered them in my dream last night.
Could Harvey have been mistaken? It had been several years, he admitted, since last he saw her. But Harvey had a remarkable memory where women were concerned, and he's always had this thing about blue eyes. Every woman I've ever seen him with, in fact-and he was quite the ladies' man once-was blue eyed. If there was one thing he'd remember, that would be it.
I reread the entire letter now, and became further disquieted. At times it seemed we were describing two separate women. Oh, the surface elements were there; the crass behavior, the fashion sense, the flirting. But underneath, I know there were times when I saw in that woman something more that what Harvey indicated she was capable of. There were flashes of intelligence. And her husband...she had told me she learned that bit of Shakespeare from him; yet according to Harvey it doesn't sound like he'd know Shakespeare at all, certainly not well enough to quote Hamlet on a habitual basis.
But what did this mean? Was the Duchess...not the Duchess at all? And if not, what, and who, was she? A spy?
And she was sailing with my men, and a packet of top secret dispatches.
Strangely, I felt better with the thought at last clear in my mind. There was a reason I was being so irrational about their absence, after all! And although there is no more I can do about it that before, it is a relief nevertheless.
I will talk to Harvey upon my arrival at Gibraltar in three week's time. By that point we should have definite information about the well-being of my men. And if they are not fine, then this woman...whoever she is...had best watch out, for I will be coming after her.
I informed Mr. Bracegirdle that I felt the men were in need of exercise, what with our continued lack of engagement, and being stuck here for a few more days, just patrolling in circles.
"An excellent idea, Sir. Shall we have them racing up the ratlines again?"
I am not that foolish.
"No, I'd like us to get out the boats and have them rowing."
"Yes; should we ever be becalmed we might need to tow. And if, god forbid we should ever have to abandon ship, we should be well able to make a clean exit into the boats." I paused a moment for him to let this sink in.
"Very well, Sir, I shall organize the men into teams?"
"Include me in on that." I stated nonchalantly.
"Is there a problem with your hearing, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
"Good, put me on one of the teams. I intend for the men to see that I am not above some hard work myself."
"I don't think there's anyone who ever thought such a thing, Sir."
"You have your orders, Lieutenant Bracegirdle."
So I found myself, along with four divisions...four very, very puzzled divisions, competing against the rest of the ship, to see who could ready their boats the quickest, get them launched, row towards one of the satellite islands of Madeira, and back again. Well, Brandon said I should have exercise.
Before we left, I made an announcement to both teams, that I expected this to be a fair contest, and that the winner would receive double spirit rations this evening. That ought to be enough for some well meaning men to keep from thinking they ought to let their Captain win.
I lead our team; Andrews lead the other, and at Bracegirdle's word, we began.
At first it was awkward, the men around me afraid to get in my way, but soon they realized I was in this as one of them. And we got our boats out just a shade slower than Andrews' men.
It was the row that proved most taxing. That damned Island did not seem so far from the Indefatigable's deck. But the men looked at me with amazement, as I threw my back into the effort, and we ran so slightly behind Andrews as to be negligible.
Finally, we reached the point to turn, and most of our boats executed the moves neatly; one missed a stroke and had troubles, the young seaman guiding her looked at me palely, but I only shouted out encouragement, and they soon recovered.
Merciful God, had Bracegirdle steered the Indefatigable farther away? He was supposed to keep her in range!
"Shall we cut pace a bit, Sir?" Thomas suggested cautiously.
I refused to give in. "Never. Gentlemen, I intend that we shall win this race. Let's show Bosun what we're made of, eh?"
And there were a few chuckles and somebody gave out a cheer, and we redoubled our efforts.
I was not so physically taxed as I expected, though I was working up quite a sweat. I have always tried to keep myself in top physical shape.
But my hands!
Finally, we approached the ship, and as instructed, the lead boats had to wait to ensure all of their other boats were in first. I saw Andrews hurrying his men in, and I shouted encouragement to our team. Suddenly, I myself was flinging myself, sore hands and all, up the side of the ship, and we began the arduous task of pulling our boat in and securing her.
At last, done, we turned to Bracegirdle, who was positively beaming. "Time, Gentleman. Two hours, forty-five minutes. First team in is Captain Pellew's". And I looked over to see Andrews just now propelling himself over the side.
"Well done men!" I roared. "Mr. Bowles, call all hands to dinner, and make sure MY men get their double spirit rations immediately!"
A cheer went up then, and more than one man regarded me with such obvious affection that I was almost embarrassed.
I turned to the losing crew. "An admirable effort, Mr. Andrews. I am no less proud of your performance! I have no doubt that this is the best prepared ship for any contingency that should ever befall us, in the entire British Navy!"
Another cheer, and the hands went to dinner. I went to the quarterdeck with my hands clasped behind my back to hide them!
"Amazing, Sir." Bracegirdle said. "You hardly look winded."
"It was not such a difficult task, Mr. Bracegirdle. And I am not so very old after all."
"Orion saw us pull out the boats and signaled us to find out the problem, sir."
"And you responded how?"
"I said there was no problem, we were simply exercising the men."
"I neglected to mention you were one of the men being exercised, Sir."
I chuckled. "Just as well. Dunne would probably have apoplexy."
I remained above decks for another hour, drinking water and enjoying the fine air. Only as the sun set did I permit myself to return below to my cabin. My hands were beginning to hurt like hell; unlike my men, I did not have calluses for protection.
I certainly should be able to sleep tonight!
I sat in my cabin and devoured my dinner-more excellent pork-avoided the wine and opted instead for tea. Powers finally cleared away and I settled in with an old volume of Shakespeare, one Grey had purchased for me many years ago, in fact. I was trying drown my pain in sonnets, when there was a knock on the door.
It was Brandon, again. He paused for a second to judge my mood, and then explained himself. "Sorry to disturb you, Sir, but Powers sent for me. He seems to feel you've hurt your hands."
I let out an oath that would have blistered anyone's ears who hadn't been putting up with Hepplewhite for the past few days. It was not directed at Brandon, however, but at Powers, who was not there; can I not hide ANYTHING from that man?"
When I was finished, Brandon calmly said: "Quite so, Sir. Now may I look at your hands?"
"Oh, very well!" I closed the book and held them forward.
Brandon gasped. "Good heavens, Sir, have they been like this since the boat race?"
"Getting worse, actually." I grudgingly admitted.
He poured out fresh water into a basin, and began to bathe them. They stung badly. And he began to tend to the eighteen blisters...I had counted them when I first returned to my cabin...as gently as possible.
I leaned back, wincing, and suddenly very tired. Brandon looked up from his work. "I don't think you'll have any trouble sleeping this evening, Sir."
Perhaps to take my mind off of his ministrations, he nodded towards the book. "Shakespeare, Sir?"
"Yes. Are you a fan?"
"Haven't read any, yet, Sir. My mother took me to see a performance of A Midsummernight's Dream once, though. I enjoyed it."
"Well, it's best seen performed, anyway, as long as the actors are good."
He looked again at the copy. "Look's like that book's traveled around with you a bit, Sir."
"Yes, it was a gift when I was not much more than your age, from a fellow midshipman, a great mate of mine. He couldn't stand the verse, but he knew I was strange that way."
He smiled, while never taking his eyes off of his work. "And you've kept it all these years?"
I sighed. "It's all I have left of him...ow..."
"...He was killed in action twenty years ago. He was serving as my first Lieutenant at the time."
"I'm sorry, Sir." He wiped my hands gently in a clean towel, and began mixing up some type of salve. "Let your hands dry for a moment, while I do this." He was grinding herbs into some sort of waxy substance, but I'd gotten far past questioning him. "So, is anyone else from those days serving with you still, Sir?"
I chuckled. "No, no...some have died, some have left the navy, many are scattered throughout it. Long friendships are hard to keep, I suppose. I have an old friend in Captain Harvey. He's about it, though."
He began applying the pasty substance onto my hands. It was soothing, with a cooling effect. "Then whom on Indefatigable have you served the longest with, Sir?"
I paused, and then the realization stunned me. "There are a few seamen from my last ship, the Revelation, before I was granted command of a frigate. Moore, who you operated on, is one of them. Otherwise, I was only starting to outfit Indefatigable when the war broke out. The only officers left from that..." Could it be? "Are Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Bowles."
I had never thought of it in those terms. And it made me feel less strange for the fondness I felt for Hornblower...and Bowles. "You must not be faint of heart, Mr. Brandon; I've just as good as admitted a knack for getting my officers killed off."
He smiled up at me. "But you've kept the same Doctor in that entire span, have you not?"
I groaned once more.
He was wrapping my hands now in some white linen bandages. "I can't have people seeing me like this!" I complained.
"Sorry, Sir, bandaging is one of those things I'm still learning. I'll come by to take it off in the morning, but this is the only way I know to keep the salve on your hands."
He began cleaning up the various items from my table, and I could feel tiredness overtaking me. "I'll send Powers in to you, sir." He said gently.
"Yes, please." There was no way I'd be able to change for the evening with my hands wrapped like this. "Thank you again, Mr. Brandon."
"You're welcome, Sir. Have a good night's rest."
April 11th, 1796
It was on the approach for Cadiz that we encountered Calypso, seemingly also on her rounds.
Indefatigable had been sent proceeding of Orion and Dreadnought, by Hale's orders. I was surprised to see Calypso out this far from keeping embargo on Cadiz, and even more surprised by the message Cousin's translated from her.
"Sir, she's requesting your attendance at dinner urgently with her Captain."
Bracegirdle looked at me quizzically. "I had no idea you an Hammond were such friends, Sir."
"Neither did I." I replied dryly. Very well, Hammond. "Mr. Cousins, signal my consent. Call O'Brien and have him ready my barge, Mr. Bowles."
Thus, an hour later I found myself in Hammond's quarters, filled with antiques and every sort of luxury imaginable, all out of place on a ship, I felt. I was sipping his supply of Claret---very poor, I thought---before he came to the point.
"I suppose, Captain Pellew, you've had no word from Gibraltar?"
"Not since the first of April, when they gave us orders to return towards Cadiz on the 5th."
"I was afraid of that. I am glad, then, that it is I who ran into you." He paused. "The Don's are gone."
I placed my glass down. "What? They've quit Cadiz?"
"Aye, Sir, they skulked away in the fog." He said with disgust.
I remembered my own jesting thought a few days ago, and groaned. And a worse thought occurred to me.
Would not Hornblower have been near Cadiz when that fog occurred?
Hammond saw the realization hit me and nodded. "I have not details, you'll have to see Hale for that. But I have heard rumor that Le Reve has been spotted...as a Spanish dispatch ship, Sir."
Hornblower. Matthews. Styles. Oldroyd. Jeffreys. King. Orson. Campbell. Johnson. Robins. Frasier. Hunter.
"And my men?" I asked softly.
"As I said, I know no details."
"Hammond, please, do not trifle with me on this. Tell me what you have heard."
"The rumor did say that there were men killed. I know not how many."
Men killed. Would I now sit here and pray for one over another? How could I do such a thing?
"Where did these rumors come from?"
"The Calypso and the Edinburgh engaged one Spanish ship a few days ago, Sir. Blew her into the bottom. One of her men we saved gave me this story. A Lieutenant named Vega. He's on his way to prison in Gibraltar, on the Edinburgh, else I'd have him here for you to question."
I closed my eyes. "I should have liked that, Hammond."
"Pellew, I am sorry. I know you valued Hornblower highly. He was a fine young man."
I kept my voice even. "He may still be, Captain Hammond. I believe he is alive, as I must maintain hope for all of my men. And if so...I cannot believe any prison will hold him long."
Hammond gave me an indulgent look that said he clearly thought I had lost my mind, but he'd humor me.
I returned to my ship an hour later and immediately buried myself in my cabin, with express word that I was not to be disturbed. I sat, absently writing out the log, waiting for darkness. And only at that point did I venture above decks, in the twinkling starlight, and the cool breeze. A fine night.
On so many nights such as this would I encounter Hornblower in my walks. On so many nights would we have spoken on whatever topic was near to our minds, so often sailing the same path. I missed him most of all in this moment. I do not even know why I did this to myself, except in the hopes that somehow he would turn the corner, he would appear by my side.
Instead, there was only Mr. Cousins, on watch and studiously avoiding me, as my demeanor had made it clear I wished to be alone. Not many men would cross that. Hornblower, on occasion. Perhaps Bracegirdle. Brandon, once!
I stared into the distance, where I knew Spain would be. Hornblower. I whispered. Where are you?
* * * * *
Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower was at that moment in an exceedingly cramped cabin with his eight surviving men, in the belly of (name of ship). He and his crew had been captured nearly two weeks ago, and her Captain had promised them a prison to hold them. Instead, they had been sailing through rough seas for all this time. From what he heard, the cautious captain had run whenever an English sail was spotted. But finally, somewhere on the coast of Spain, he and his men would be released tomorrow, to a prison on land.
Strange to feel grateful for that, but he did. He did not know how much of these quarters he could take.
Hunter had complained loudly about the officers not being separated from the rest of the men, but Hornblower did not. If these conditions were what his men must endure, then so should he. How could he be happy in conditions that were better?
Captain Pellew, he thought, and felt tears stinging his eyes. I have failed you. We both knew the Dons would leave Cadiz. Why did I not anticipate that when the fog rolled in? It would have been better if I had let them kill me on Le Reve.
No, he corrected. There was a new mission, now. He must get his men back alive to the Indefatigable. In that he must not fail.
Where was his Captain, at this moment? Enjoying a game of whist, perhaps? No doubt the men of Le Reve were the furthest things from his mind, for he would have trusted Hornblower to get them to England safely.
It is a good thing, perhaps, he was surrounded by the crew. Else he might have broken down and wept.
And not so many miles away, on the deck of the Indefatigable, Captain Sir Edward Pellew did.
It had been a bad night, I will admit. The shock of learning my worst fears had been true had been nearly too much to bear, and I am only grateful that my men heeded my request for solitude. It was a burden I was not prepared to force my men to share, and I needed the opportunity to grieve in private.
But the morning shone differently. Resigned to the uncertain fate of my crew on Le Reve, I realized I could not hide this. The men needed to understand my mood; they also needed an opportunity to come to grips with our loss, however great it may end up being. How much worse if I hide the truth and the men were to discover that all her crew were lost?
So I asked Bracegirdle to have all officers report to my cabin, save Mr. McGill, midshipman, who had the watch. And they were all now assembled, my quarters suddenly cramped. Every man, from Bracegirdle to Andrews, was there; my remaining three midshipmen, Cousins, Carlysle and Brandon, had jammed themselves into a corner, banding together in nervous anticipation.
The looks on every face told a story. McAnn, Captain of the Marines, was curious; Andrews was placid, having seen too much in his forty years at sea to worry now. Bracegirdle was calm, soothing somehow just in his presence, for which I was grateful. Bowles, on the other hand, was outwardly agitated, sensing bad news. And the young men? Cousins and Carlysle looked scared; they had never been in a meeting of this magnitude. Brandon, however, met my eyes with more concern than fear.
"Gentlemen," I began, slowly. "I am afraid I have received bad news from Captain Hammond, that will affect every one of us in some way. Word is, the Spanish have left Cadiz...almost two weeks ago, during the fog that plagued us on our way to Madeira."
I paused, to let that sink in.
"We are still uncertain of exactly what occurred next, but it would seem that the majority left encountering only one English ship, and that would be...Le Reve."
Bowles inhaled sharply. "Sir, Le Reve could not fight off a supply barge, let alone the Spanish fleet."
"No," I said calmly. "She could not."
I paced behind the table, and unable to face all of the stunned eyes on me, turned towards the window, eyes to the sea. "Le Reve was reported in use as a...Spanish dispatch vessel."
It was Bracegirdle who asked the question most on everyone's mind. "And the fate of our men?"
"Uncertain." I said simply.
Andrews spoke up then, perhaps to allay the worst thoughts in the minds of the younger men. "It would most likely mean prison, wouldn't it, Sir?"
"For any...survivors, yes." I cleared my throat and returned my gaze to the table. "We do not know how much of a fight she put up. The fact that she was returned to service in so short of a time is a good sign, since it means she was not badly damaged. But I was informed from reports that there were men killed; how many, and whom, I do not know."
I closed my eyes for a moment, seeing their faces before me registering the worst actually hurt. Finally, I opened them with a weary sigh. "We must pray for the best, Gentlemen. Please convey this information to your divisions; Mr. Cousins..." He started. "...please relay it to Mr. McGill, so he might do the same."
"Aye Aye, Sir." He said hoarsely.
"Gentlemen, you may leave. I thank you."
In stupefied silence they filtered out; the midshipmen at the last, save for Bracegirdle, who waited by my side. Brandon looked physically hurt by the news; I had not anticipated how much the continued loss of Hornblower would affect him.
When the last man had left, Bracegirdle looked at me. "Sir, Hornblower's a smart man, he'd not try and fight against such odds. He'd not risk his men that way."
I nodded. "I know that. I believe he would try to use his wits to discover a way out of danger, but failing that, I believe he would surrender before risking his men."
"Yet you fear the worst."
"I confess I do. Mr. Hunter was with him. Mr. Hunter does not run, Mr. Hunter does not surrender, Mr. Hunter would not be beyond disobeying Hornblower in such an instance. His folly cost us several men in the raid on Etoile, including Mr. Cleveland. I shudder to think what it might have done this time."
Bracegirdle interposed. "Sir, when I spoke to Hunter before they left, I almost challenged him. He seemed to well understand his place as a king's man."
"Perhaps, in the mess, he does. But in battle it is another matter. You and I know, there are men who are great strategists in the ward room whose wisdom fails at the first cannon fire."
"I cannot believe...I WILL NOT believe them all dead, Sir."
I smiled weakly. "I do not wish you to. I only regret that your strength of belief cannot override the fear in my heart."
* * * * * *
Lt. Horatio Hornblower was at that very moment alive, and in a state of shock.
They had been brought to a prison on the land of a Don Massaredo, somewhere on the coast. Here, to Hunter's relief, the officers were separated from the men. The quarters were dark, but spacious after so many days cramped in the belly of the _. There had been one other officer in their room when they arrived.
Kennedy. Archie. Alive. Near madness. And seething with hatred for Hornblower.
Or so it had seemed. Not surprising, Horatio thought bitterly. The last thing he saw me do was strike him down.
Hunter had been sneeringly condescending about Kennedy, and about Hornblower's concern for him. That presented a new problem. Kennedy did not know of Simpson's death, and Hornblower was afraid to even broach the name in front of Hunter. Would it provoke a fit? What might Archie say then? No, it would be an unbearable abuse to have Hunter know such horrors as lived in Archie's past. So he waited.
And now, with Hunter snoring loud enough to rouse England, he sat by Archie's side.
"Archie..." He whispered, touching his friend on the shoulder.
"G'way." He groaned. "Can you not leave me to my self?"
"Archie, you should know," Hornblower persevered. "Simpson is dead. Captain Pellew shot him. He can never hurt either one of us again."
For a moment, Hornblower though Archie relaxed. Maybe, just maybe...
"It does not matter now. Once, perhaps...but not now. Go away, Horatio. There is nothing left here for you to save."
Horatio closed his eyes, the rage he once felt against Simpson returning in full force, beating against his temples. Once, he had been the man seeking refuge in death. Now it was Archie.
He would not let it happen. He would not. Archie was the only one who knew, after all. He needed him, he understood him, and he would not let him die.
But how did you save a man who did not want to be saved?
* * * * * *
May 3, Gibraltar
"It seems certain, Captain Pellew, that at least nine men are held captive now."
I sat in Hales office, where I had reported soon after my arrival in port, praying for news. And here was better news than I had hoped for.
"Nine men." I mused. Thank God it was not worse.
"We have spies working throughout Spain. Fortunately, many Spaniards are not in favor of taking up arms against England."
"Do you know where?"
"It is not certain. They were seen being brought in by boat to the coastal town of _. There are several places nearby where they might be held, or they might have been transferred over land.
Pellew nodded. The next question he asked without much hope.
"We have no way of knowing the rank of the prisoners at this time." Hale rubbed his hands together, in frustration. "Pellew, I must ask this. The dispatches...you told Hornblower to drop them into the sea if he were boarded?"
"We need them."
"We need them, badly. There was information in there from a man now dead, and we will never be able to gather it again."
"But...you told me...to tell him to sink them if he were boarded!" I gasped.
"Well for God's sake, I never thought it would actually happen!"
Of all the colossal, stupid, things...of course it was a possibility he would get boarded. Hell, it was *possible* that I could get boarded. Not likely, but if you suggest a contingency plan, it is usually because it might be necessary.
"What I need to know is..." He sat back wearily. "Do you think he did it?"
"Sir, it was a direct order!"
And then I paused. "Unless..."
I frowned, thinking this out. "He knew they were important, Sir. The most I can say is that if, if there were any way out of actually destroying them, that he could feel safe about, he would take that chance." Hornblower, like myself, was prone to calculated risks. But I could not fathom what opportunity he might have.
"Well, the good thing is, we have heard no evidence of the Spaniards discovering them." Hale muttered.
I looked up. "Why would you have heard, Sir? If this is intelligence gleaned from them, why would they broadcast its recovery?"
He stared at me warily, and answered only after seeing I would not accept not getting an answer. "I believe it is customary to shoot spies. And I've never known an enemy who wouldn't broadcast such a fact."
I felt my heart pound. "Spy? But Hornblower has no knowledge of what those dispatches contained!"
Hale looked away, then. "I doubt they would believe that. It's one of the reasons Hood was so reluctant to carry them with him."
I stood abruptly and leaned on the desk, towering over a shrinking Hale. "I know, Sir, that you are not telling me that Admiral Hood left one of my men to carry messages he was to afraid to carry himself. I know, SIR, that you are not telling me that you sent one of my men carrying information that put his life in danger without notifying EITHER ONE OF US of the full repercussions their discovery might have."
"Calm yourself, Pellew! Remember my rank, Sir." He snapped, and drew himself up importantly.
I backed off, knowing it would be folly to continue, and knowing if I said one more word I would end up court-martialed.
But I was no less angry.
Hale stared at me, and then looked away. "Perhaps so much secrecy was not wise." It was the most he would give me. "I need you to find those dispatches, Sir."
"How, Admiral Hale, do you propose I do that?" I said as civilly as I could.
He turned away from me and walked towards the windows. "The Indefatigable is hereby removed from the rest of the squadron and any orders they might receive. You are to patrol along the Spanish coast in the hopes of either obtaining information in capturing an enemy ship, or providing rescue should your men attempt an escape. I would have you depart within the week. Stock yourself well; I do not know when I can get supply ships to you."
"Aye, Aye...Sir." I said, in my best imitation of Mr. Hunter.
Hale softened finally. "Believe me, Pellew, none of this is what I would have wished." He returned to his desk, and handed me an envelope.
"What is this?" I queried, fearing more furtive dispatches.
Hale gave me a thin smile. "Hornblower's promotion. With the agreement of Harvey, Hammond, and Foster, no less. Never thought I'd see the three of them get together to recommend a man for promotion without exam."
I held the envelope with wonder in my hand. And then felt great sadness replace my anger.
"Let us hope," I said, placing it carefully in my jacket pocket. "That it does not come posthumously."
I was on the point of exiting Hale's office when another thought occurred to me.
"May I ask, Sir, if there has been word of the Duchess?"
"Yes, actually; Lieutenant Vega, captured after the skirmish with Calypso, said that a woman was with the captured crew, and was being transported to Portugal."
"Yet he could give no information as to my men?"
"None. Surely, Edward, it would be understandable that a woman would command more attention from a Spaniard than a paltry crew?"
Sadly, this was true; a woman, especially an attractive one, was a rarity to men at sea, especially in times of war. "I don't suppose it would be possible for me to question Vega?"
"He has already been transported to prison in England. You are not suggesting, I hope, that we would have been remiss in our handling of him?" The edge returned to his voice.
But I was tired of this fight. "Sir, I apologize if you felt I in any way slighted your investigation. You must understand, I have lost a valuable crew, and they are at the forefront of my concern."
Hale shook his head at me. "I wonder at your priorities. We are at war, Pellew. Men die. That is inconsequential. The important thing right now is getting those dispatches back. Do I make myself clear?"
I felt my blood boil. Men? Inconsequential? Who did he expect to sail the damned ships, fire the cannons, capture the enemy? Yes, men die. But these men are not dead; ten of them are very much with us, according to reports, and might prove valuable to the navy for years, even decades to come. But even if not, what gave Hale the right to dismiss them as cannon fodder because they weren't Captains and Admirals?
You bloody, stupid fool, Hale! If such is yours and the Navy's attitude towards the MEN then it is only miraculous that more of them don't mutiny. If anything, it is the pettifogging, careless, thoughtless Admirals of this world who are inconsequential, Sir!
I looked Hale in the eye and said the only thing I could. "Aye, Aye, Sir."
I cannot imagine how I must have looked at that moment. I only knew that failing to hold my tongue now would have me hanged, and then where would the rest of my men be?
And Hale smirked, and nodded. "Carry on, Pellew. I want you on your way by the 7th of May."
I nodded. "I can assure you, Sir, I will be on my way by then." Or sooner, if I could manage it.
He dismissed me curtly, and I spun on my heel out the door.
* * *
"Edward," A voice called out from behind me. "For God's sake, slow down!"
I did not. I was afraid if I stopped within a hundred yards of Hale, I would be forced to kill him.
"Edward..." A panting Harvey caught up with me and grabbed my arm. He looked at my face. "Good God, Edward, what the Devil?"
I seethed just bellow the boiling point. "That, THAT MAN, Harvey..." I sputtered.
Sensing finally the danger, he nodded. "Yes, yes, well, come this way, say no more! We're to the pub."
"I am perhaps best off not in public at the moment, Harvey." I was shaking, I was so angry, as he dragged me forward.
"The owner is a friend of mine; he has a private room we can use. Now follow, and for everybody's sake, don't say another word until I have you behind closed doors."
I let him drag me away through the streets of Gibraltar. More than one person turned to stare, but not for long once they caught the look on my face.
The barkeep looked up as we walked in, and, in a moment of clear understanding, he nodded at Harvey and brought us into a back room.
"Two pints, Sir?"
Harvey studied me carefully. "Two pints. One Whiskey."
He returned with our order quickly and departed with haste, the door shutting behind him.
Harvey handed me the whiskey and I tossed it down, the burn in my throat helping to offset the burn in my head. And I exhaled slowly.
Harvey nodded. "Better. Now, then, slowly, tell me what exactly Hale did to set you off so?"
I met his eyes. "You've heard about Le Reve?"
"I have, I am sorry to say."
"Then you know my state of mind right now. I came to Hale in search of information, only to discover that my men...are inconsequential. He is more concerned about recovering the documents he had Hornblower transporting. Documents, apparently, which could cost Horatio his life if he is discovered with them. Not that Hale thought it was important to tell either one of us that. What he did tell me was that Hornblower should destroy them if boarded-now he tells me Hornblower should not have done any such thing." I paused.
"Go on. When you're ready." He leaned back in the chair and looked at me.
"I know, Harvey, that there was important information in those documents. But I cannot condone his wanton lack of regard for human life. I have been told there are nine survivors of Le Reve out there, but I should pay them no mind, and concentrate on locating documents probably settling on the ocean floor. The only time consideration for the men came into his mind was as possible means to locating his precious dispatches. Tell me." I picked up the ale. "What is of the greater long-term value to the British navy? A Hornblower? A Matthews? A Styles? Even a Hunter? As opposed to information gleaned about an adversary who may be one of our allies by this time next year?"
Harvey placed a hand on my arm. "I know what you feel in the matter, Edward. And I agree with you. And we both know that Hale has been sitting comfortably in Gibraltar for too long to remember that. Do not let him torment you for living up to what he has always been. A short sighted, bureaucratic fool."
I snorted. "You, sir, have just insulted fools everywhere."
He smiled. "Perhaps I have. But you must remember, even in his days as Captain, he was not known as a champion of the men. Be thankful, then, that you are Indefatigable's captain. Because without you, the Hornblowers and the Matthews, and the Hunters, never do reach their potential."
I sighed. "But Harvey, what am I to do?"
"What can you do? Patrol the coast in search of those documents. Of course, if you should happen to turn up Hornblower and the rest in the process, then you've gotten what you wanted."
I blinked. "What do you mean?"
"As you said, the chances of your finding those documents are slim. So look for them. And look for your men at the same time. After all, you're only following orders."
I gave him half a smile, then rested my forehead in my hands.
"I do not even know if he's alive." I whispered.
"Rubbish. Of course he is. That boy takes a lot of killing, Pellew."
I leaned back, looking at him fondly. "You are a true friend, Archibald."
"Does this mean I'm off the hook for that damned herd of cattle you were requesting in your last letter?"
I chuckled. "No, Sir. I always collect my debts!"
I was on my way back to Indefatigable before I remembered that I had never brought up the 'Duchess' to Harvey. Well, she was the least of my worries now. If she had been a spy, those dispatches would have turned up and the Spanish would have been crowing to the world about the British spies they had captured. Whoever she is, I will likely never see her again.
Hopefully the same is not true of my men.
Just past one month into his captivity, Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower sat in his prison cell, his mind in a tailspin. For the Duchess of Wharfedale, that inexplicable creature, had suddenly appeared once more into his life.
Their short time sailing together on Le Reve had been relatively uneventful, though he had feared what reaction her unorthodox behavior might have on his men. Nevertheless, she was a Duchess, and when she had appeared in his cabin as he'd begun the desperate actions of sinking those blasted dispatches, and offered to carry them for him, he accepted. He knew they were of the utmost importance, and would best serve the Navy safely delivered to England. And here had been a way to ensure that despite his capture.
It was only when the dispatches had been transferred to her, and stowed (he blushed to think of it) in her petticoats, that the doubts set in. For above decks, when he had surrendered his ship to that Spaniard Romero, she turned and spoke fluent Spanish.
His knowledge of women of title was limited, but surely if taught a language at all, it was usually French? And in any case, this woman had not been born of title, but of working class stock; she was lucky to have education enough to read and cipher. Certainly determined members of the lower classes found ways for additional education, but she had shown no evidence of a love of knowledge in his brief experience with her.
And so, over the past weeks in this cramped cell, there had been two thoughts in his mind: Whatever had that woman done with those dispatches, and, if she was a spy, what exactly would be done to him when he was to escape from prison, for having been fool enough to give them to her?
There was some slight ease to his worry today, with the Duchess' arrival at Don Massadero's estate. It would seem that the British Navy was so efficient at keeping the Spaniards on the run, that they had been unable to deposit her in Portugal, according to plans. She claimed to still have the dispatches in her possession, and now sought to secure his company for daily walks!
He blushed again at the thought of her parting words, commenting gently on the fact that he had not shaved, and touching both sides of his face in graceful strokes...Oh, my! He stroked his face absently, wondering if Don Massaredo would permit him a razor. Though his beard grew so slowly, he rarely worried about such matters.
The sudden stirring of his friend Archie Kennedy roused him from one set of worries to another. Archie was not getting better. He was getting worse. His mind was more clouded; when it was not clouded, he regarded Horatio with something resembling both anger and despair. Why does the mere sight of me arouse such feelings in him? Horatio wondered. Can he never forgive me for striking him down? He shook his head; this went deeper than the incident on the way to Papillion.
Perhaps it was simply as a reminder of Simpson and the torment of their lives on the Justinian. He was now more certain than ever that Simpson had abused Archie in the most inhumane way possible, from the way Archie cried out in his sleep. And he feared that Hunter was beginning to know just what deep secrets lurked in Archie's past. The man now openly mocked Archie's fits and laughed at Horatio's desire to wait until Archie was better to plan their escape.
"Archie," He whispered, for Hunter was dozing again. "Will you not tell me what is wrong? Will you not let me help you?"
Archie's clear blue eyes radiated with malevolence, and he turned his head away. "YOU can never understand. YOU never knew."
Horatio took one last glance at Hunter. "Archie, I DO know; I know more than you think. I know...exactly what sort of man Simpson was."
Those eyes now froze in terror. "Do not speak it, Horatio. Do not speak it ever."
He laid a hand on his friend's arm. "I never would."
For a moment a bit of the old camaraderie returned, and then Archie's eyes went dull. "Horatio, you are...daylight. I am the night. I have always been so. I am blighted. And I am tired...so very, very tired."
And his eyes closed and he slept again, leaving Horatio, shaking inside at the blackness he had glimpsed, with no further clue how to help him
But he would not give up. He felt as though he was fighting for Archie's soul, and he would not let Simpson win.
Across the room, Hunter, not really sleeping, sneered. Stupid young ass and his weak and worthless young friend. So this Simpson had buggered Kennedy, had he? No real man would ever let such a thing happen. Wonder if he'd got Hornblower too? He'd always known something was a bit soft with that boy. Well, let them keep each other company until the end of the war, if Kennedy didn't succeed in starving himself to death. Hunter knew he would not be here to see it. He had other plans.
And, hidden in the shadows, he smiled again.