PELLEW'S PERSPECTIVES - THE DUCHESS AND THE DEVIL
PART 3, THE SEARCH FOR HORNBLOWER
I was able to depart Gibraltar a day earlier than Hale's request...I had no desire to see that man again, and did not trust myself around him in any case.
I had Bracegirdle and Bowles and my young midshipmen, Cousins, Carlysle and Brandon, that seemingly inseparable trio, in my office now.
"Gentlemen, you are aware of the situation with Le Reve. I am happy to report that there is evidence that many of our men survived, although they are currently imprisoned. What you are unaware of is that Le Reve was carrying important documents. Admiral Hale has commanded Indefatigable to scour the coast looking for any evidence of their survival." I scanned the faces of my men, wondering what the reactions would be.
Bowles spoke first. "Wouldn't Mr. Hornblower have destroyed the documents if he was boarded."
"It is probable that he did so, however, Admiral Hale has hopes that they survived."
There were five frowning faces around me now, as they all began to process the information, wondering, no doubt, how we were to find a packet of dispatches in the Atlantic Ocean.
I continued slowly. "The plan, then, is for us to beat up and down the coast, between Cape St. Vincent and Gibraltar, in hopes of turning something up."
I heard Brandon inhale, and I turned to him. "You have a comment, Mr. Brandon?"
He looked at me. "Sir, I was just thinking, wouldn't the best way to discover what happened to those dispatches be to find Mr. Hornblower and the crew?"
I placed my hands behind my back. "The thought had occurred to me, Mr. Brandon, although I doubt it occurred to Admiral Hale. Yes, it seems to me that would be an excellent plan of action."
Bracegirdle smiled broadly. "Even if the dispatches should be destroyed?"
I shrugged. "We will have no way of knowing that, until we speak to them, now do we?" I hesitated, then leaned on the table. "I want to make sure, Gentlemen, we understand ourselves. This is not officially a rescue mission, but a recovery mission. If we should happen to rescue our crew in the process, it is officially only a byproduct of our original intent."
Five heads nodded at me, and then Bowles spoke up: "Sir, isn't this a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack?"
"On the contrary, it's much harder than that. What I propose, Gentlemen, is that we seek to engage any Spanish ship we might encounter, looking for prisoners, seeking information from them. Chances are, a Spanish ship out of Cadiz will have escaped in that fog, and will quite likely have been aware of the incident with Le Reve. Any land mission we might consider can only occur if we are certain of their location."
Cousins spoke up now. "Sir, certainly Mr. Hornblower will attempt an escape? Might we find him then?"
"That would be providential. However, I don't believe Mr. Hornblower would attempt an escape unless he was certain of its success."
Bracegirdle met my eyes. "Sir, I hate to say this, but we are assuming that Mr. Hornblower is alive."
"Yes, Mr. Bracegirdle, it does bear pointing out that if Mr. Hornblower perished in surrendering Le Reve, I place much less likelihood on a successful escape attempt."
"He survived, Captain." Brandon spoke quietly. We all turned to him, and he blushed, but continued.
"If he had been killed on Le Reve, what do any of us think the chance was of Mr. Hunter surrendering without losing the entire crew in the fight?"
It was a point well taken, and had not occurred to me. Bowles smiled slightly, and Bracegirdle chuckled. "Well then, we shall believe him alive, by all means."
I rose and the men followed suit. "We shall begin, then, Gentlemen. We are not due back in Gibraltar until the end of July. Pray to God that we have some news by that point."
They filtered out behind me, Brandon at the last. "Sir, if I may..."
"Yes, Mr. Brandon? Have you any other insights to offer into Mr. Hornblower's whereabouts?" I quipped.
Unfazed, he shook his head. "No, Sir; I was wondering, since it is probable that it will be some time before Mr. Hornblower returns to us, whom shall I report to, Sir?"
"Ah!" I had forgotten that. Cousins and Carlysle had immediately fallen under Mr. Bowles in Mr. Hunter's absence; his work most closely resembled that which they were learning from Mr. Hunter. But Brandon was a special case.
I rubbed my chin. "It is out of the question, your reporting to Hepplewhite, that is certain..." I thought about my remaining officers. Bracegirdle would have so much to do, with the absence of Hornblower, and Bowles would not have the slightest clue what to do with an apprentice doctor. "I suppose, until Mr. Hornblower returns, or until I can procure a suitable physician to replace Hepplewhite, you may consider yourself reporting to me."
"Aye, Aye, Sir." He nodded.
"Of course, I cannot assist you with any medical questions...those must be deferred to Hepplewhite. Although I would trust your judgement over his at this point. But do not let Hepplewhite take advantage of you in any way, Mr. Brandon. I will not have that, is that understood?"
"Yes, Sir." He looked relieved; I fancy Hepplewhite had become even more trying to his patience with Hornblower not there to look after him.
"It has been only one day since we left port, have there been any illnesses yet?"
"Nothing, Sir, but I am prepared for their occurrence."
"I have no doubt of that, Mr. Brandon. Carry on."
I watched his departure with a mixture of amusement and affection. In truth, he had done much to set my mind at ease about Horatio. For so many of my men to have survived the taking of Le Reve, a cooler head must have been in command. And that, certainly, was not Mr. Hunter.
Mr. Hunter, at that moment, was seething in his bunk. He had just watched that young pup walk off with the Duchess; the second time she'd done that. And, with the permission of the damned Spaniard who had their command, he would be taking such walks daily! Why, he was just as much an officer as Hornblower; yes, Hornblower was his superior, but Acting Lieutenant only. And Hornblower was little more than a boy! Yet that woman barely spared Hunter a glance.
Kennedy sat across from him, his mind elsewhere, as always. What a waste. A Lord's son. Not wanted at home. Prone to fits. And the Navy has to put up with it-he, Hunter, had to put up with it! Like he'd had to put up with that weakling Lane...who'd ended up dead, as he said he would. Of course, it was just his luck that Lane had ended up a hero in death, saving HORNBLOWER. And then that brat Brandon, who the Captain and Hornblower had taken such a fancy to. Another Lord's son not fit for service. Lucky for him he had some talents at doctoring, for what it was worth.
Hunter didn't believe in Doctors. He didn't believe in education beyond knowing how to read a compass and judge the night sky. He believed in action, that strength would prevail, as it always had since time began. And he would need strength...they all would, to get out of this stinking hole and return to FIGHT for their country, not run about sneaking away boats like skulking cowards. Yes, strength would get them out of here, but only if the weakness would be gotten out of the way first.
Kennedy toyed aimlessly with his food; Hunter observed the man ate little, only making a pretense of it when Hornblower was around. He leaned forward now, and held out his hand, with a smile. Kennedy, looking at him, caved in at the directive, and handed over the bread, his head turning to the side in resignation.
One step closer, thought Hunter, to having you out of the way, Kennedy. And then Hornblower will be forced to see it my way, this time.
May 30th, Indefatigable
I felt my blood race; even the breeze seemed to pick up the excitement. For after three weeks at sea, we at last had a Spanish schooner in our sights, and I was determined, she would be ours, or suffer the consequences.
"Fire as she bears, Mr. Bracegirdle. Let's try and cripple her, men! Another prize for the Navy!"
The shots rang out furiously, and I stood my ground, Bracegirdle at my side. We had her well out-gunned and she ought to surrender quickly, for no other Spaniard was in sight.
But her colors flew, and she held on, answering our volleys. An occasional cry or scream reminded me men were being injured on board my ship, although not so many as on board the Santa Anita, our victim. I wondered how Brandon was doing below, in his first real taste of battle related surgery.
I observed his friend, Midshipman Cousins, in action below me, organizing his men, arranging the cannon shots, relieving the wounded. He showed no fear and was developing keen judgement, and a good way with the men. Carlysle, also, seemed to be performing admirably, though not quite so sure of himself. I saw him dodge a flying bit of wood without blinking. Brave lads, both of them.
"Mr. Bowles, as she will not surrender, let us try and board her. Cease fire!"
"Aye Aye Captain."
The smoke stung my eyes, but I did not heed it, and we began to maneuver closer. Suddenly a wayward shot rang out. . .
"Belay that, Men!" Cousins screamed, hoarse from the smoke himself.
But it was too late, the shot had told perfectly, blowing up one of their guns in the process and doing done massive damage to her. Within seconds she was listing precariously, and I saw flame breaking out
"She's going, Sir!" Bowles informed me needlessly.
"So I see. Very well, let us see if we can pick up some survivors."
I turned to Mr. Bracegirdle. "Have Mr. Cousins report to me in my quarters as soon as he has cleared, if you would, and notify me of any Spaniards you may retrieve." And I turned and bore down below, to report and wait to see if any fruit would come from this expedition.
* * * *
Cousins was nervous enough when he reported to me. He stared straight ahead, and swallowed once, anticipating the worst.
"Mr. Cousins, I suspect you know why you are here. After I had given the order to attempt to board the Santa Anita, a shot told that succeeded in destroying her rather swiftly. This mistake cost several enemy lives, who will not now be able to be questioned, thus hampering our own objective of obtaining information. Furthermore, it has cost the Navy the use of a schooner that no doubt would have been purchased into service. Which means it also cost money out of the pocket of every man on board this ship. Which division, Mr. Cousins, did that shot come from?"
"My division, Sir." He answered, still not meeting my eye.
"Indeed it did. And why, Mr. Cousins, was that shot fired?"
He set his shoulders back. "We had been firing at regular intervals, Sir. The man who fired the shot in question did not hear your command to cease fire."
I studied him carefully, not taking my eyes off of him, thinking out my next question. "But we had been firing to cripple her, Mr. Cousins, not to destroy her. For what reason did this shot sink her?" I said in an even, low tone.
"Unfortunately, Sir, the men who had charge of aiming that gun did not move it to account for our change in position, as they DID hear your command to cease fire."
"I see. So I ask you this, Mr. Cousins. . .whose fault is it that this occurred?" I said, sternly.
For the first time he met my eyes. "It is my fault, Sir."
I arched my eyes in surprise. He continued. "I should have repeated your command loud enough to ensure that every man heard and understood it. It is through my negligence that we lost our prize and the opportunity to question prisoners, Sir. I take full responsibility for this."
I was pleased, not that the situation occurred but that Cousins was man enough to accept the blame, despite fear of punishment, which I saw behind the brave front he put up. I had considered sending for the bosun. . .it is not something I like doing but in this circumstance would have been justified. The fact that he understood his fault in the matter changed that. . .or perhaps I am getting soft in my old age.
I nodded at him. "Very well, Mr. Cousins. You are on watch and watch for the next two days. Giving you ample time to consider your actions."
He met my look gravely. "Aye, Aye, Sir."
"And the name of the man who actually fired the shot?"
He blanched, no doubt having hoped to spare his man further attention. "It was Thomas, Sir."
"Mr. Thomas has lost his spirit rations for the next two weeks. Let us see if that does not improve his hearing. You may notify him of that, and notify all of your men, that the next man who disobeys a command, even if not willfully, will find himself at the gratings. You are dismissed."
He made a hasty retreat just as Bracegirdle entered. "Sir, We have a prisoner in sick bay...an officer who seems to speak English. But he is badly injured."
"Then let us hurry to sick bay!"
* * *
I entered in time to see Brandon, under Hepplewhite's direction, removing a splinter from a man's shoulder. Several other men lay around, bandaged and recovering. I looked them over; it appeared we were lucky, with no serious injuries. One of the men slightly injured was in fact Andrews, who had a bandage round his head.
"Well, Andrews, how does sick bay appear to be running?" I asked quietly.
"That boy is a wonder, Sir. Hepplewhite tells him things once and he picks up on them right away. Course, he's using that stinkin' brew to clean wounds, and it stings something fierce, but still, the men trust him, Sir."
I nodded, and the events of the next few minutes proved his efficiency. He neatly stitched up a gash on one man, had it bandaged, and before Hepplewhite could even finish prepping the next, was over to him, questioning the man about his injury. It was as though Brandon, and not Hepplewhite, were in charge.
"Where is our Spaniard, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
"Over here, Sir."
A young Lieutenant with a severe chest injury lay moaning on the side.
"Mr. Brandon, a moment over here, if you please."
He handed his instruments back to Hepplewhite, who looked annoyed, and came immediately to my side. "Sir?"
"Why is this man not being tended to? He is in worse shape than the man you are working on."
"Yes, Sir. . ." He backed away from the injured man and whispered to me. "Dr. Hepplewhite says there is nothing to be done, Sir; we should just give him laudanum and let him die."
"Is that your opinion?"
He looked back at Hepplewhite. "Well, Sir, since we have no seriously injured men awaiting treatment, I would prefer to attempt to save him."
I nodded. "Then get to it."
Hepplewhite looked angry as hell, but since it was my order, there was not a thing he could do about it.
In the end, though, Brandon shook his head as he was sewing him up. "There's a fragment next to his heart, Sir. He may last an hour, he may last a day, but there's no saving him."
I sighed. "Move him into the empty quarters next to Mr. Bracegirdle. We shall keep watch on him and see if he recovers consciousness enough to give us any information. Thank you for trying, Mr. Brandon."
"Aye Aye, Sir. Sorry I couldn't do more."
I noted Hepplewhite's venomous glare at Brandon as I walked out. Still, he held no power over the boy. And this was not the Justinian. . .there would be no torment here. I looked at him harshly and he turned away.
* * *
Not so many miles away, tucked in his prison cell, Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower looked outside at the rain. There would be no walk with the Duchess today, which was just as well. He had observed their situation and had come up with no obvious solution, which was driving him mad. The guards seldom numbered more than four, but he had counted at least fifteen different faces, which meant a total of fifteen in the garrison, if not more. In his walks he had seen others who were not in uniform, but were servants of Don Massaredo; still, they were armed and would have to be contended with. And Archie made no signs of getting better.
Most of his men...his newer men, were becoming more and more Hunter's men. Hunter, talking loud about escape, had seemed to them the more dynamic leader. Well, what could he say to counter that? That from where he stood, escape seemed impossible? They would rather hear Hunter's version, even if it meant most of them would end up dead in the end.
There had to be some way out. Perhaps the Duchess could be of use, helping to procure some kind of boat...or finding out where one was held, at least. He could sneak his men out at night...a daytime escape would be folly...if only he could get some kind of key. There, too, the Duchess might provide information.
Except than on her walks she had very little interest in assisting his escape. No, she was more insistent on charming him, which he found surprisingly easy to let happen. She was not attempting to directly seduce him; that he would have found off-putting, but he sometimes felt that he might want to seduce her! Damn it all, he was not *completely* innocent about women, thanks to one of his trips to the Inn during his Justinian days...Cleveland and Hether had been so pleased to turn him over to one of the...er...ladies of the establishment. Still, that was more than two years ago. He knew he was not attractive to women; certainly no girl in his village had ever looked twice at him, but the Duchess seemed to...
Hell! He thought. There I go again, letting that woman distract me from important thoughts.
Archie weakly interrupted him. "No walk for you today, Horatio?"
Archie had not talked to him much of late, and he leapt into the opening, following his recent pattern of thoughts. "Have you a sweetheart back in England?"
He looked at him. "Archie? Archie? ARCHIE!"
What was wrong with him? Why he looked like Finch had, feverish and suffering from the ravages of malnutrition. But why? He felt desperation take hold of him, barely hearing Hunter's snide comments...that he assumed he KNEW Archie was trying to kill himself by not eating! Oh God, that would haunt him for the rest of his days. NO! I WILL NOT LOSE YOU ARCHIE, NOT NOW!
He managed to pick his dying friend up and was determined to get him help; surely Don Massaredo would not just let him die.
ARCHIE! PLEASE, I BEG OF YOU. I CANNOT LOSE YOU AGAIN.
Bracegirdle and I took turns keeping vigil over the Lieutenant, with Brandon looking in periodically. Finally, late that night, I heard him stir and groan.
I leaned forward and with a cool, damp cloth I wiped his forehead; his eyes focussed on me.
"English?" He whispered.
"I am Captain Sir Edward Pellew, and you are on board His Majesty's ship Indefatigable. Can I get you anything, Sir?"
He closed his eyes. "I am. . .dying, am I not?" His voice was steady, but very quiet.
I decided not to lie to him. "Our surgeon did everything he could, but does not hold out much hope, Lieutenant?"
"Romero." He coughed, and I held water to his mouth, which he sipped at. "I remember. I was set aside and you ordered someone to help me."
"Aye, I did."
"A very young doctor. But very kind."
"Yes, that's our Mr. Brandon."
"Thank him for me, Captain Pellew. Not many men would have taken such care of an enemy."
It felt wrong, somehow, to request information of him under the circumstances, but that, after all, was our mission.
He was not a stupid man, however, and he smiled weakly at me. "And what is it you wish to know, Captain? I can see in your face you desire to ask me something."
I spoke softly. "Yes. I have men, missing, captured by the Spanish. . ."
He looked over my shoulder, as if trying to focus on a point far away. "Inde..fatigable, you say." And he gave me a stronger smile. "Lieutenant Ornblower."
I drew in my breath abruptly. "So, you do remember my men?"
"They are not forgettable, Captain. Mr. Ornblower nearly slipped out of our grasp, after sailing himself into the middle of the fleet. Tried to pass himself of as. . .French. I thought that was. . .strange. Most men would have surrendered quietly. Or been blown out of the water. An unusual. . .man. . .of yours. I see now. . .where he gets that from."
I smiled, hoping Romero would not see the tears suddenly blinding my eyes. "He is an enterprising young man. So he survived?" I held my breath.
Romero nodded, eyes closing again. "Yessss, he and most of his, men. . . another officer I think. We. . .mortally wounded four seamen. . .and he surrendered before he could lose any more. I think the other. . .officer . . .was not pleased." He met my glance. "I would have. . . liked Ornblower, I think, if it had been another time."
"I am certain that you would have." I said, resting my hand on his forehead, for he seemed to be slipping away rapidly. Brandon appeared suddenly, eyes still clouded with sleep, looking more a boy than a doctor at the moment. He picked up Romero's wrist and looked at me solemnly. "It won't be long now, Sir."
A sudden thought sprang to my mind. "You are Catholic, Lieutenant Romero?"
He nodded slowly at me.
I turned to Brandon. "Fetch Captain McAnn, Brandon. He is Catholic also. I believe he will be able to read last rights." I turned back to Romero. "He is not a Priest, but it would be better, I suppose, than having me read them for you."
Hale appeared before me in a moment of guilt. "One last question, Romero. Did you see any sign of any dispatches, and do you know to where they were taken?"
His eyes were very far away now. "Dispatches? No, no. Nothing."
He closed his eyes and I would have persevered, but Brandon returned and put his hand on my shoulder. McAnn, with his bible, began reading softly over Romero's head, and I stood respectfully by his bed.
One last time Romero looked at me. "North. . .of Cadiz. . .an estate. . .on the coast" And he gave a final gasp, and was silenced forever.
I cleared my throat as McAnn made the sign of the cross. "We will bury him at sea in the morning." I said, more to myself than to the others.
"Aye Aye, Sir." Brandon looked at me. "You'd best get some rest, Sir."
I scowled at him involuntarily, but he didn't flinch. And I sighed. "In time, Mr. Brandon."
And I returned to my Cabin to look at the map in vain for my men!
Styles sat gloomily at the edge of the courtyard, staring at the rain. Not much point in being outside for their exercise period today, 'cept that the air even in the courtyard was better than in that stinkin' room he shared with his mates. Word had reached the men of Mr. Kennedy's illness, and that Mr. Hornblower'd be with him till he was better. Truth be told most of the men, the ones not from Justinian, would just as soon Kennedy die, so as to get underway with Mr. Hunter's plan.
Styles was not one of those men, nor was Matthews. Styles trusted Mr. Hornblower, more than he'd ever trusted any officer in his entire pressed life. Yeah, he joked with Matthews about where the lad's head was at lately, what with the Duchess and all, but Styles couldn't really fault the boy for being attracted to her. If she'd paid ME half so much attention I'd a had her in me bed by now, he thought with a smirk.
But there was more to Styles' worries than escape right now. He understood why Mr. Hornblower was so concerned about Mr. Kennedy, and shared that protectiveness, though it was doubtful that anybody'd ever know it. So did Matthews, and if Oldroyd had half a brain, so would he. They had all, after all, been on Justinian together. They had all known Jack Simpson. And Styles, more than anyone ever realized, carried guilt with him about Kennedy's fate.
Simpson, he thought with disgust. Yer a lucky bastard just to be dead, and not have t'answer for the evil stench ye left behind ye. Closing his eyes, he remembered the torture Simpson had put him through when he'd first arrived on board. Jack Simpson had him at the gratings seven times in the first month, had him disrated, threatened him with worse, made him believe he was going to die in that stinking ship.
And then, he turned. Plying him with praise, and kindness, and rum. Suggesting he set up sport for the men...gambling...when he knew it to be illegal. Buying his silence, although Styles hadn't known it at the time. He'd just thanked God that the floggings had stopped.
Until one day Simpson told Styles to stand guard, keep anyone away from the cable tier. And Simpson'd lured a twelve year old Kennedy down there with him, and he... Styles closed his eyes, but he could not erase the memories of the boy's pleading cries or Simpson's vicious taunts as he used him. And later, Simpson, when he'd confronted him, sneeringly saying he'd see him flogged to death...mentioning the gambling, the rum, everything he'd set him up with. What was he to do? He'd brought the boy to Hepplewhite, fearing having to explain what happened, but the Doctor too was on Jack Simpson's payroll and the questions were never asked.
So Styles had never despised Mr. Kennedy for having fits. What he'd seen...what he'd continue to see until Simpson used the boy up and there wasn't any sport in it any more...had been near enough to give him fits as well. And once they'd got to the Indefatigable, everything seemed to change. Mr. Kennedy, it seemed he became a new man, the man he might have been if Simpson had never existed. And Mr. Hornblower...
Styles smiled. Aye, he liked the lad, for officer or no, he still wasn't much more than a boy. But he had courage combined with smarts, never a man to risk a life for no reason. And he respected all his men's lives. Styles remembered well enough how the boy'd stood up for poor Davy, makin' sure he was treated proper.
He'd seen Mr. Hornblower grow from a lad on Justinian who looked as though he'd not survive the month. He'd seen Simpson try to break him, though never getting as far as he had with Mr. Kennedy, saying Mr. Hornblower was a mite too old fer his tastes (he shuddered). But Mr. Hornblower, he wouldn't break, frail as he looked. There was a strength in there that amazed him, strength and justice and a sense of right that was so rare.
And he was trying to save Mr. Kennedy now, trying to do what nobody else had been able to do, in his case, or cared about if they had been able, like that sot Hepplewhite. But in the meantime, Mr. Hunter, he was steeling the minds of the other men, the men who didn't have sense enough to know when an officer was acting for the best. And if ye wanted the officers to be loyal to you, ye had to be loyal to them.
No, he didn't like this, not one bit. Mr. Hunter, he was going te get all of 'em killed, probably Mr. Hornblower too, and it just wasn't right. Like with Simpson, though, he couldn't stop it. But he wouldn't go along, not this time. He was Mr. Hornblower's man to the end.
Just over a week had passed since the incidents with Lieutenant Romero, and we had seen no further action. I was writing out my log late one night when suddenly I heard rapid footsteps pounding towards my door. Immediately I sprung up and flung the door open.
"What is the meaning of this?"
It was Morris, the man who'd had his appendix removed. "Yes, Mr. Morris? For what reason do you disturb me?"
"Sir, I been worried about Mr. Brandon. He was s'posed to come back to look the men who were injured last week, to make sure they were healin', he said. When he didn't show, I went lookin' fer him. Sir, I think he's in Hepplewhite's quarters, Sir, but Hepplewhite will not answer, an' I think I heard Mr. Brandon moanin'."
I nodded quickly. Powers, hearing the commotion, was by my side. I turned towards him. "Get Captain McAnn and have him meet me at sick bay immediately. Morris, let us make haste. Hepplewhite, this does it. Nothing will protect you this time, you stupid fool.
At Hepplewhite's door I slammed my fist against it. "Hepplewhite, this is Captain Pellew, open this door now, or suffer the consequences!" I roared, loud enough to rouse the entire ship.
When he did not respond instantaneously, I motioned to McAnn and Morris, and they pounded it down.
What I found inside was Hepplewhite, springing back from where he was forcing drink down Brandon's throat. He himself was half drunk. Brandon, poor lad, was tied up, bruised, and sickeningly drunk. An already empty bottle of gin was discarded on the floor by his side. The lad lifted his head to me, and then turned away, shame on his face.
"Morris! Untie him! McAnn, get this bastard under arrest; have Powers sober him up any way he can; when I decide to question him, I want him able to understand exactly what's going on!" McAnn took action quickly, with the help of another Marine, and they got him out of my sight.
Morris was half holding Brandon, who looked green; I found a bucket and the boy promptly got sick. I knelt on the floor on his other side, and he leaned over next to me, his head on my shoulder; weeping softly. "Sorry, Sir...s-s-orry." His face was badly bruised, and his wrists and ankles red with rope burn from his struggles. I stroked his head gently.
"It's alright, Mr. Brandon, it's alright." I whispered.
Morris looked at me. "Other than his face, sir, an' the rope marks, seems like Hepplewhite left him alone." He sounded puzzled, as I would have been if I had not been privy to how damaging just what he'd done had been to the boy.
"He forced him to drink, Morris. And Mr. Brandon does not care for spirits." True, I still did not fully understand what happened, but I would find out, and when I did, one man would have hell to pay.
Barely cognizant of what was going on, Brandon moaned, and I lifted him forward gently. "Can you carry him, Morris?"
He smiled at me. "Sure can, Captain."
I nodded. "Take him to Mr. Hornblower's quarters, and set him to rest there. I would appreciate it if you would stay with him until I send relief."
"Aye Aye, Sir." He took the boy from me, picking him up as if he were no more than a sack of biscuit.
I stood determined. Mr. Brandon would not be well until tomorrow, to tell me what happened, and I would not speak to Hepplewhite until I had heard Brandon's accusations. But there was one other who might be able to help me, and he would be found in the midshipman's berth.
"I must speak with you in my cabin." I saw his fear, knew well the 'what have I done wrong now' thoughts that would be coursing through his tired mind. "It concerns Mr. Brandon. Come with me, if you please."
Once in my office I gave him a hasty description of the events that had transpired with Hepplewhite, and Brandon's condition. His face grew very red, and I saw him grip the side of the desk.
"Bastard!" He whispered. "I'm sorry, Sir, I know I ought not to say such things, but Dr. Hepplewhite has no cause harm him. Drew's as good an officer as you could get, Sir, and nobody works harder than he does."
"At ease, Mr. Cousins. In this instance I appreciate your candor. In fact that is why I wished to speak to you. Mr. Brandon is not fit for questioning at the moment, and until I understand the nature of the offence, I will not question Hepplewhite. But you are Mr. Brandon's friend. I want to understand...exactly...how this will affect him."
"The drink you mean?" Cousins frowned, obviously wondering what to say.
"I can assure you, Mr. Cousins, that what passes between us is in the strictest of confidence. I shall not repeat it to anyone, including Mr. Brandon. I merely wish to understand his circumstances."
He nodded. "I understand, Sir. I will tell you what I can."
He sat back, staring into space, as if seeing the past behind me. "When Drew...Mr. Brandon, first came on board, I was the one to show him around, you see, let him know how things were, the things nobody but another mid would tell you, if you understand, Sir."
"Aye, I do. And do not worry about formalities, here, Mr. Cousins. Drew will do fine."
"Well, Sir, Drew, he's kind of a little guy, and I wasn't sure how he'd do, working with Mr. Hunter and all. It was right after the raid on Etoile, and we'd just lost Lane. He seemed a nice enough chap, but he was clean scared through to be here. Told me his father'd sent him away, would rather see him dead than working as a doctor, which was HIS wish.
"I tried to set him to ease as much as I could. Told him how to stay off Mr. Hunter's bad side. Told him that Mr. Hornblower would always be happy to help him with any questions, and was a great teacher. He relaxed a bit, Sir, and he slung his hammock between Dan Carlysle and me.
"That night, though, he was having nightmares, pretty bad. Dan and I, we tried to settle him down. That's when we saw the bruises, Sir."
He scowled. "Yes, Sir, seems his father left him with quite a going away present. It was surprising he'd been able to move at all. He told me it was like that often, when his father was drinking, which seemed nigh on all the time. What he told me, Sir, was that this drinking, in his family, it wasn't normal. His father and two of his older brothers, Sir, they couldn't help themselves; they started drinking and wouldn't stop like other men, when they had their fill. And drank constantly, day and night. It was like poison, to them.
"So we never teased him, at all, about not drinking, Sir. He was afraid of turning out like his brothers and father. But after a few weeks, the nightmares stopped. He began to see that it wasn't bad here; all he had to do was what was asked of him; and he picked things up quickly. And then you and Mr. Hornblower moved him to Physician's Assistant. Sir, we were all of us so happy about that. Seemed almost providential. Course, he told me that Hepplewhite's condition reminded him of his father, but since he was reporting to Mr. Hornblower, that didn't seem to matter much. And in any case, we all knew you'd not tolerate Hepplewhite's behaving badly."
I sighed. I should have kept closer watch on the boy, with Horatio gone.
"Thank you, Mr. Cousins. This has been most enlightening." I rubbed my head with my hand. "I have one more favor to ask of you. I left Morris sitting with Mr. Brandon in Mr. Hornblower's quarters. I'd like you to relieve him. Sleep yourself, by all means, but I do not want him waking up alone and without friends. He's going to feel pretty lousy tomorrow."
Cousins smiled, with a quiet nod. "Aye, Sir, I don't think he's ever been on this end of a hangover."
"I'm relieving you from your next watch. Mr. Bracegirdle and I will make other arrangements." He nodded, and I realized just how tired he must be. "Go to him, Mr. Cousins. Send for me if anything is needed."
"Aye Aye, Sir."
And with his departure I pretended to return to bed myself, instead staring blindly at the ceiling, my mind resolved on making Hepplewhite pay for the unusual form of torment he chose.
When I finally arose, feeling as though I had the one overindulging in drink, I approached Hornblower's quarters with dread. Opening the door softly, I found Mr. Cousins sitting by Brandon's bedside, leaning against the wall, fast asleep. One hand rested on Brandon's shoulder. Brandon himself slept soundly still. I departed and grabbed Powers.
"Coffee, Powers, and hot water and honey, to Mr. Hornblower's quarters."
I headed to sick bay and searched around Mr. Brandon's belongings, finally finding that Ginger he'd dosed me with.
I ran into Powers in the room and repeated, as best I could, the motions I'd watched Brandon perform. Then I tapped Mr. Cousins on the shoulder.
"Get to your own Hammock, Mr. Cousins," I said, staring into his blinking eyes. "You are relieved."
In a warm room in Don Massaredo's estate, another young man slept in a chair beside an ailing friend. Only Kennedy, unlike Brandon, was awake and dealing with his own set of problems.
Horatio! Kennedy studied him with a strange mixture of affection and frustration. How could he ever explain to him the journey that had taken him here, had found him so desperate that he would rather be dead than face the options before him. How could he explain his own mixed reactions to his loyal friend?
He remembered the sea-sick, clueless young man he had joyfully befriended. It was good to have a mate his own age; and here was someone that he, Archie Kennedy, could help, could show the ropes to. And better still, here was someone who didn't know of Jack Simpson, didn't suspect the depths he'd been dragged to. No, he was just "Archie" to Horatio at first, not the pathetic "Mr. Kennedy", said with that exasperating sigh, he'd become to everyone else.
Then Simpson returned. And to his helpless horror, Simpson began to torment Horatio as well. Not to the extreme he had tormented Archie, but bad enough, and who knew how far it would head? And then he'd had a fit, so now Horatio knew THAT secret. Although...
He gave his friend a fond look. 'My father is a doctor' he'd said. Yes, Horatio had not despised him for his fits, had not held them against him, only sought to soothe him while they were occurring, and helped him hide them from Keene and Eccleston.
The duel had been the first step in the change in their relationship. Archie had been aghast that Horatio could so coldly challenge Simpson, and mortified, that it was not him taking that step. Whatever honor Simpson had impugned with Horatio was nothing compared to the violation he'd done to Kennedy. And then Clayton, trying to save Horatio, losing his life. Clayton had claimed Horatio had shamed him into taking action. What, then, was HE supposed to feel? How much shame could one man take?
But he had almost survived, almost gotten away. The transfer to Indefatigable was a life line. He remembered the day when Horatio came into the Midshipman's berth pale, shaking because Pellew had put the fear of God into him, having heard about his duel and despising him for it. He had soothed him and assured him he would be able to show Pellew what kind of officer he was over time. They had been on equal footing at that time, and Kennedy felt they were both succeeding, both doing well. He had not begrudged Horatio his assignment to the Marie Gallant; he'd been proud of his friend.
And then they fished Simpson out of the water, and within twenty-four hours Horatio was striking him down in the midst of a fit, one he was having in front of the MEN, for heaven's sake. And he woke up in a boat and had spent the past two years in various prisons, escaping, being punished and being moved. Until at the last time, when he tried to escape from here, Don Massaredo had left him in that damned hole for thirty days, and he'd lost his mind.
He hallucinated everything. Saw Horatio's glorious career stretch before him, while he languished in prison. He saw Horatio dining with his father at an estate dinner, charming a man whom Archie had spent his life trying to impress, and failing, always failing. And as Archie grew old and crippled, he saw Horatio sweeping in and capturing Spain, and releasing his old ship mate to much fanfare. Horatio Hornblower had saved this pathetic old soul, and wasn't he a grand man?
And then, lo and behold, who should he see looking down at him just days after his release from that hole? Horatio. Damn him. Even though he brought welcome news that Simpson was dead. Couldn't Horatio understand that it was no longer Simpson he feared, but the continued realization that he would never in his life measure up? Not compared to his father, not compared to his brothers, and now, not compared to Horatio Hornblower.
But still Horatio wouldn't give up. Wouldn't let him crawl into his bed and die. Couldn't understand why he didn't want to be rescued. Had been stunned when Archie suggested that this was all for the greater glory of Horatio Hornblower, that the crew of the Indefatigable had not missed him at all.
It had been over a week, since the moment Horatio had towered over him, willing him to drink, nay, demanding it of him. Insisting that he would not survive without Archie's help. Archie didn't believe that for a moment, but was touched by the depth of his friend's desire to pull him back from his abyss. He knew that Horatio himself did not understand what sort of aura he had about him.
No matter how much I try to hate and envy him, he makes it impossible, Archie thought. It's because he doesn't believe himself to be remarkable. If only he would be smug and self confident, bragging about his triumphs and disdaining his failures, then I could hate him. But no matter how successful he becomes, he still sees himself as the doctor's son who was seasick in Spithead.
Today was the first real day he felt something like himself, something like the man he used to be once. He'd been sleeping, mostly, for the past week, drinking weak soup when Horatio insisted, and then returning to blessed oblivion. But now...he felt his stomach rumble. Food actually sounded like a good idea.
A face peeked in the door, a woman with a sweet smile, glancing at Horatio, a woman who'd been in his dreams for much of the past week. The Duchess. The Duchess? Archie, for the first time, fully focussed on her-he had been totally uninterested in her previously. But surely, that was the actress Katherine Cobham! He'd seen her so many times in so many plays, he could never mistake her. But how came she here?
She wrinkled her brow at him and headed out the door quickly, perhaps seeing the recognition in his face. But for what reason should she pass herself off as a Duchess? And what had she to do with Horatio anyway?
His friend now stirred, and Archie studied him. He must be told. This, he could do for him. He did not know in what way she had imposed on him, but it would stop now. He only hoped the news did not hurt his friend too badly.
(Back on Indefatigable)
I watched as Brandon stirred, eyes opening, his hand flying to his head, covering his eyes. "Here, Mr. Brandon." I held out the same drink Brandon had once offered me.
Brandon met my eyes, and I registered the wary glance. "It's that ginger tea you gave me, lad; drink it up now."
He assisted the boy in sitting up, propping the pillow behind him, and with a shaking hand the boy grasped the cup and drank the brew down. I took the cup away from him, and he closed his eyes with a low moan. "Sir..." He whispered, eyes half opening again. He looked around the berth. "Where am I?"
"Mr. Hornblower's quarters. I do not think he would mind." I smiled at him, but he winced, and I saw the tears starting.
I confess myself to have been at a total loss. As a captain, I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen a man cry, excepting physical pain. But I remembered what Horatio told me, that snowy Christmas Eve, that whether I was aware of it or not, I had been a father to many men. That is what the boy needed now, a father, not a Captain, and not the sort of father he'd been used to, either.
I laid my hand on his forehead. "There now, Mr. Brandon, there's no reason for tears now. You will survive, although I am certain you do not feel that way at the moment."
He blinked, trying to hold it all back. "You don't understand, Sir; I've let him down, Mr. Hornblower. And you."
Silly child. "I know I cannot presume to speak for Mr. Hornblower, but I can assure you, Mr. Brandon, you have NOT let me down."
He looked away. "Myself, then. I have let myself down, Sir. And I am afraid."
I continued gently stroking his forehead. "We're getting a bit ahead of ourselves, I think. Why don't you tell me exactly what transpired last evening, hmm?" I placed my hand under his chin and made him meet my eyes. "Tell me, Mr. Brandon."
He blinked once, and then locked my gaze. "I was studying, Sir. I was going to be heading to see some of the men, check up on the wounds from last week to make sure everyone was healing properly, but I wanted to finish up my reading. I heard Hepplewhite come in, and instantly I knew..." He swallowed, and took a moment to compose himself. "It was like how my father used to get when he was drinking, and he'd come looking for me or whichever of my brothers was closest, and I knew he was going to beat me. But I couldn't believe Hepplewhite would be that stupid, Sir. He knew you'd not tolerate it. So I tried to think of a way around him, a way to outsmart him, just to get away to where I might be safe."
He closed his eyes again, and I grabbed a cool wash cloth, and wiped his eyes. "Take your time, Mr. Brandon."
With resolution he again looked at me. "He started by praising my efficiency during the battle last week, and that confused me. He said he had some notes in his quarters he thought I might be interested in. I knew his quarters were off the passageway, and I thought if I followed along, I might be able to break away. But as we got to the door, and I was thinking about running, he pushed me suddenly in, and I wasn't prepared. He slapped me, hard, stunning me enough for him to tie my hands. He pushed me down and tied my ankles then, saying to scream if I wanted. I was...too scared, Sir. He had a knife."
"Of course you were." I soothed him, waiting for him to go on.
"I didn't know, what his plans for me were, and he kept hitting me. I couldn't think. Then suddenly he held this bottle...gin, up to my head, and tried to force me to drink it. I tried to spit it out, and he hit me again and again. Kept asking, did I think I was too good to drink with him, and why was I so rude as to refuse his hospitality. I couldn't stop it; I drank...I drank...until you found me." And he resumed weeping.
"Shhh. It's alright, lad, it will be all right. Hepplewhite knew well enough how to really hurt you, didn't he? If he'd only beaten you it would not have bothered you nearly as much, now would it have?"
He looked at me, eyes filled with wonder at my understanding. "Sir, my family, we can't take drink. I know it's not something in any of the medical books, but I've SEEN it, Sir, I grew up with it; it's like a bad reaction, a need, a disease even. I always swore I'd never touch hard spirits, I'd never give in to it."
"And now, you're afraid that since Hepplewhite dragged you one step down that path, you're doomed to continue on it?"
He nodded, face showing just how frightened he was. "Yes, Sir." He whispered.
I moved him back down, tucking the sheet under his chin and arranging the pillow better. "I am not a doctor, Mr. Brandon, but I do know YOU. And I do not believe that this one incident dooms you to a lifetime of drunkenness. You said the problem touched your father and your Uncle. What of your brothers?"
"Two of them, also, seem to be drawn to spirits."
"Yet you have two more brothers, do you not?"
"Yes, and a sister."
"And they have not developed this need?"
"Then until you find evidence otherwise, believe yourself to be like them. Watch yourself, whether or not you find drink tempting in the future. I, for one, think if my introduction to spirits had been as yours was, I would be a teetotaler today."
He tried to give me a smile. "Thank you, Sir. For your kindness."
"Get some rest, Mr. Brandon; there's nothing like sleep to cure what's ailing you."
I walked quietly out of the room, hoping that I'd put his mind at ease. But as soon as the door shut behind me I felt rage burning in my breast, the rage that had been simmering there since last evening. And I headed for my quarters, where I would call in Hepplewhite, and decide just exactly how he should pay for this. Because pay he would.
June 11th, Indefatigable
Powers had breakfast for me in my cabin, and Mr. Bracegirdle was awaiting me.
"How is he, Sir?"
"Upset, Mr. Bracegirdle, and a bit frightened by his ordeal, but I believe he will be fine with time, and support. Would you be so good, Mr. Bracegirdle, as to have McAnn bring me Dr. Hepplewhite in about, fifteen minutes, say? And I would appreciate your presence here as well."
Bracegirdle nodded solemnly. "Aye, Aye, Sir."
After he left Powers began plying me with food. "I'm glad to hear that the boy will recover, Sir. The men are most concerned about him."
"He is hurt, and not feeling particularly well today, but he is strong, much stronger, I think, than anyone realizes." I said, knowing it was the official report for the lower decks; Powers knew when I expected him to repeat information without asking.
"If I may, Sir, Hepplewhite is lucky to have to deal with you, Sir, and not the men."
I was a bit nonplussed. So much for my reputation as the fierce Captain Pellew! But Powers hastened on.
"I didn't mean that as a slight on you, Sir. But you are a man of justice and regulation. Justice bellow decks often has other forms. The men, Sir, have been treated by Hepplewhite, and treated by Brandon, and they know which man cares for their well being."
"Thank you, Powers. That will be enough."
For I heard Bracegirdle's telltale footsteps and I knew McAnn and Hepplewhite would not be far behind.
Hepplewhite was not nearly so hung over as I expected him to be, and a good deal more insolent. Apparently, he too, had realized that the alcohol was killing him, and had stopped fearing that I would do so!
He looked so smug, sitting there, that I almost reached out and strangled him in his chair. Bracegirdle stood behind me, taking notes at my request on the proceeding. Disciplining a Doctor was an unusual occurrence, as he was neither a crewman or an officer, and regulations rather missed any rulings on such incidents as the one I was faced with. So he was left to my justice, as had Jack Simpson before him.
"Sir, am I to expect an explanation from you as to why you found it necessary to torture a fourteen year old boy whose service has been nothing short of exemplary, and whose very presence has made your life easier?"
Hepplewhite sneered. "His presence, Sir? Made my life easier? Damned brat. Asking questions, as if I cared. And did he want to learn from me? No, my way wasn't good enough. Newfangled medicine, cleaning the tools, coddling the men, grinding strange concoctions. Cluttering up my life. Well he'll learn, then, soon enough. No use in doctoring in the Navy."
"Sir, you were hired to do just that! For what reason have you been accepting pay, then, if you do not care to do the job?"
"Bah! Puttin' together men blown apart by cannons, most of 'em out of prisons anyway. What do you expect me to do?"
"I EXPECT YOU TO DO YOUR DUTY, SIR."
He gave me a hard stare. "You! Everyone said you were this tough Captain. And here you are, all worried about the fate of a bunch of uneducated, sorry bastards. I thought Captain Keene was soft, but you...not a man flogged but every two weeks, hardly letting the bosun take care of those young pups proper..."
I leaned over him. "So you think I'm soft, do you." I whispered, my face inches from him. "So you think I do not show my men proper discipline? That I do not use enough physical punishment? I should have thought you relished not having so many wounds to treat, to interrupt your busy day of drinking."
I backed away from him abruptly. "Mr. Bracegirdle, make a note of it. Dr. Hepplewhite thinks I have been to soft on those men who deserve punishment. I would have to agree with him!"
"Sir?" Bracegirdle queried, pausing in his notes.
"Yes, I have not often ordered men flogged and boys beaten. I do not enjoy seeing men screaming in agony with blood dripping down to their waists, or having our young men humiliated and caused pain for minor infractions. I felt ordering such things regularly gave me no recourse of action for serious disciplinary issues. SUCH AS THIS ONE!"
"So you think that I am soft, Hepplewhite? I shall remedy with that in your instance, as I should have remedied it a month ago. Foolishly I let myself be talked out of such discipline by the same boy who you proceeded to victimize! He's paid the price for his consideration of you, and now you SHALL PAY THE PRICE FOR YOUR DERELICTION OF DUTY, YOUR DISOBEYING OF ORDERS, AND FOR DARING TO STRIKE AN OFFICER ON BOARD MY SHIP!"
Hepplewhite didn't even quiver. "Do your worst, Captain Pellew. I am past caring. Flog me. Hang me. It is of no consequence."
And as I stared at him, Powers voice came to my head. "Justice bellow decks has other forms." And I smiled, not a very nice smile at all.
"Very well, Hepplewhite. You have let your disdain for my men decide your fate. You Sir, shall walk the gauntlet tomorrow...twice! Once for the penalty of dereliction of duty, as shown in your continual drunken state; and once for the penalty of disobeying my order to behave with expected decorum towards an officer. Let us see exactly what those men think of you, eh?"
And for the first time I saw fear in his face.
"Get him out of here!" I snarled to McAnn. Then I paused as he hauled him up. "Wait!"
I turned to Bracegirdle. "We must have two men to lead him through the gauntlet, eh Mr. Bracegirdle? Whom shall that be?"
Bracegirdle thought for a moment. "I believe Mr. Cousins might be available for the duty."
"Mr. Cousins! An excellent suggestion, Sir. A most conscientious young man. One of those undisciplined young pups you mentioned earlier, Hepplewhite. I do not believe he would hesitate to run you through should you try to escape the lash. And whom else shall we have? I know! I am certain Mr. Morris would be willing to assist in this matter."
Bracegirdle placed his hands behind his back. "Why, I believe so. He is fully recovered from that emergency operation Mr. Brandon performed on him, saving his life."
"Yes, indeed, that would be the operation that you didn't believe was necessary, isn't that right, Hepplewhite. One of those uneducated, sorry bastards serving on board my ship. Well, I think we know where we stand now. You may go."
I nodded again to McAnn, and he withdrew, a finally shaken Hepplewhite in tow.
And I sank into my chair in exhaustion, motioning to Bracegirdle to leave me.
But he had one thing to say before he did. "I hope you know, Sir, that what he said about your being soft, it isn't true. The men on this ship practically revere you. They fear your word more than they fear your lash. But that's not a bad thing."
I grimaced. "I have never thought so, anyway. But thank you, Mr. Bracegirdle. Your support is invaluable to me, and much appreciated."
He looked surprisingly pleased. "Your welcome, Sir." He saluted me, and left me to my own thoughts, which were not nearly so troublesome as they had been this morning.
June 12th , Spain
Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower lay on his bunk, unable to sleep, for his mind pounded relentlessly on the events of yesterday. Archie, finally recovering from his ordeal, had stunned him with the news that The Duchess was in fact Katherine Cobham, actress of Drury Lane.
Poor Archie, thought Horatio, so worried that he had hurt me; that I had fallen for her. He would have smiled at his friend's tender consideration--made all the more remarkable by the fact that a week ago Archie professed to hate him-except that Archie had no idea of the grave truth of the situation. He had not lost his heart to the Duchess, but perhaps his career.
Archie, he thought. You think I am so perfect. You think I can do no wrong. What would you think of me if you knew I'd handed over top secret documents to an actress, masquerading as a Duchess? And I did it as docilely as a lamb, never questioning her, never even stopping to ask myself if there were anything peculiar in the situation. How could I ever have been so stupid?
She spoke Spanish. She had suddenly shown up in his prison. True, the documents had apparently not been handed over to anyone yet, but there might be reasons for that. Perhaps she suspected him of knowing more, of actually having been the brave man who'd gathered this information. If so, she, like Archie, overestimated him. For all he was, was a boy masquerading as an officer in His Majesties Navy, one who'd sailed his ship into the middle of the Spanish fleet and lost it, who was unable even to hold the hearts of his men, for they now conspired with Mr. Hunter.
The bitter tears of his failure gathered in his eyes, but he would not permit them to fall. No, he did not deserve that release from his misery. And causing him the most misery of all, was imagining the look in Captain Pellew's eyes when he realized just how worthless his so-called prot g was.
I stood on the quarterdeck this evening, watching three young men strolling bellow, enjoying each other's company. Cousins, Carlysle and Brandon.
Their conversation floated up towards me, they being seemingly unaware of my scrutiny.
"Oy, Drew, your face still look's like you tried to use it as a battering ram." Carlysle teased.
"Nonsense, Dan, it's much better today. You can't hardly notice it now."
"Aye," Cousins put in. "Seeing as how that blue matches your uniform," he said, giving his friend a gentle shove. "Anyone seen how that sot Hepplewhite is doing?"
Brandon said tightly. "He's recovering."
Carlysle turned on him. "Your not caring for you, are you, Drew? That'd be pretty thick."
Brandon shook his head. "No, I have no desire to be anywhere near him, and Captain's ordered me to keep away in any case. I think one of the Marines tends him."
Cousins scowled. "Must've been an order, then, no man I've talked to has any pity for the old man."
Brandon turned. "I used to, Reg. I probably still could, if I tried. But he's past the point where pity's any use." He shuddered slightly. "Can't believe the Captain made him walk the Gauntlet TWICE. And you having to lead him through it...I am sorry about that."
Cousins set his shoulders back firmly. "Well, I'm not. Not that I enjoyed it; it was pretty gruesome, and I hope I never have to see such a thing again. But it was nothing less than he had coming to him."
Carlysle hesitated on Brandon's side. "And how are you, well, Drew, you doing alright otherwise? I mean..."
I could sense his smirk from here. "I haven't turned into a drunkard yet, I suppose. Still have absolutely no desire for the stuff, thank God." His voice was wry. "In fact, I find just the smell of gin to be extremely repulsive right now."
Carlysle continued on. "Ugh, Gin is repulsive stuff anyway, can't understand why anyone would drink it. Well, I suppose I ought to turn in, you lads coming?"
"Aye, I suppose so." Cousins turned with him, and Brandon, after taking a last look out at the sea, followed.
And I decided, three days of recovery time was enough; it was time for me to speak with Hepplewhite.
The Marine guarding his quarters let me pass inside, where Hepplewhite was sprawled out on his bunk. He made no attempt to rise, nor did I expect him to. Immediately after his second pass through the line he had been out cold, a state he remained in for some eight hours afterwards.
It was funny; back at the time I'd been forced to order Bunting through the gauntlet, it had bothered me, even though I knew it needed to be done as an example to the other men. But I could understand the circumstances that drove Bunting to his theft, even though I could not condone them. Hepplewhite? I felt not the slightest remorse as I observed his prone form, loosely covered with an old shirt, and his pale face, and yellow eyes that stared dully up at me.
I stood towering over his bedside. He had finally learned to restrain his tongue for his only response to my presence was a weak: "Sir."
"You are alive, Doctor Hepplewhite. Feel privileged that I have allowed you to remain so, though no doubt at points during your ordeal you might have wished otherwise."
He only blinked at me.
"You have two choices before you. When recovered, you can return to your service as Doctor, deferring to Mr. Brandon on any non-surgical medical opinions. The Marine stationed outside your door, Johnson, will remain, to ensure that you do not drink, and furthermore, that you permit Mr. Brandon to exist unimpeded. In fact, Johnson will be present whenever you and Mr. Brandon are forced to be in together, including surgery.
"Your other option would be to violate any of the above restrictions, at which point I will happily put you out of your misery and have you swinging from the yard arm. I trust you understand these options."
Well, what choice did he have? "Aye, Aye, Captain."
I nodded. But as I was about to leave, I hesitated in the door. "One more thing, Hepplewhite. Your experience in the surgery is the only reason I continue to keep you employed. Should I learn of any other behavior of yours that I consider offensive, although not meriting capital punishment, you will be discharged and left behind at the next port of call. Am I understood?"
I did not wait for a response this time, just continued out the door.
June 15th, evening, Spain
Kitty Cobham shivered in her dressing gown, still shaking from that man's vile touch. She reached for her glass of brandy, and took a tentative sip, spilling a bit down her front. "Damn!" she muttered. And suddenly she flung herself onto her bed, weeping.
The past few days had fair been hell. She saw it coming, saw recognition in that young man Kennedy's face. And knew he would tell Horatio about her true identity. She had avoided him for as long as possible, feigning headaches that prevented her taking her daily walk. But Don Massaredo, as charmed by the gallant youth as she had been, decided to bestow the honor on him of joining them for dinner, while he entertained visiting dignitaries.
Colonel Etienne DeVergess. Of the French army. A gentleman of some distinction, Massaredo said. For once, his estimation was far wrong; that man was no gentleman.
Horatio had sat coldly across from her most of the evening, barely pretending to be civil. But DeVergess did not bother to keep up the pretense. Heaven help them all, HE'D recognized her too, a horror that grew on both her and Horatio.
The boy had accompanied her back to her room, and accused her of being Katherine Cobham. Well, how could she deny it? They might have had it out then and there; she might have had some way to explain herself, if only that bloody Frog hadn't shown up.
His words had chilled her, and, she could see, terrified Horatio, though he tried to hide it. The stupid man had gotten it all wrong, but she'd never be able to prove it. He'd decided she and the boy were SPIES, and threatened to have them both put to death. A spy? Bloody hell, all she'd been was a woman who wanted to go home.
It had seemed so easy back at Gibraltar. She'd made her way there from Italy, travelling on a supply ship, nasty, stinking hulk it had been. And found herself lost in class-conscious Gibraltar, where one was either Navy or titled, or nothing. She knew that the Duchess of Wharfedale, empty headed ninny, had been vacationing in Florence. The woman was simple; broad mannerisms, bawdy voice; mimicking her had been child's play to an actress who had tackled Beatrice and Lady MacBeth. Though every now and then she relaxed a bit too much and the real woman showed through. Around Captain Pellew, especially. For some reason she'd found it difficult to maintain her mask around him.
And so she had bought DeVergess's silence the only way she could. With her body, which is all he'd really cared about anyway. Dismissing Horatio with cruel words she didn't really feel, she acquiesced to the Colonel's wishes. Oh, it could have been worse, she supposed. He had not been violent; he had not left bruises. He had not used her any worse than he might have used any London whore.
For that is what he called her, and she supposed it was now what she was. She'd sold her body. The fact that it was to save her life, and that of Horatio and his men, did not offer her much comfort at the moment.
Horatio. She thought. What must he think of me now? He's a dear lad, Pellew must have been much like him at that age. So wide-eyed and full of enthusiasms, holding his beliefs strong to his heart. Fighting the impossible, because he felt he must. Well, here was one belief shattered for him. If he ever gets out of this place, she could imagine the story he'd tell his Captain.
The thought of that was almost worse than DeVergess himself.
June 16th Indefatigable.
That morning the sun was barely over the horizon when we saw enemy sail within our grasp.
"French Corvette, Sir." Mr. Bowles informed me.
"Indeed it is, Mr. Bowles. Very silly of her to have stumbled in our path."
"Winds are favorable, Sir."
"Then let's see if we can't chase her down. Call hands to quarters, Mr. McGill."
The ship burst suddenly into exciting movement, men and boys rushing to their positions. I could see both Cousins and Carlysle preparing their divisions for work; I noted in the back of my mind the blond head of Brandon departing bellow, to prepare for the inevitable injuries.
Bracegirdle apparently also noted the young man. "Is Hepplewhite fit yet, Sir?"
I shook my head. "Doubt if he could move two inches. I am confident Mr. Brandon can handle any injuries."
"He'll need some help down there."
I nodded. "Have Johnson, the Marine guarding Hepplewhite, assist him. He's worked as a medic before."
"Aye Aye, Sir."
Bowles, with some skill, was engineering a snappy chase of her...she was the Le Chat Noir, one I'd not encountered before. At first we seemed to be closing in, but somehow she managed to stay just out of our cannon range; any shots would have been a waste.
Bowles noted this. "She sails well, for a Frog. Still, we'll catch her, Sir.""
"I have no doubt, Mr. Bracegirdle," I said, loud enough for the men to hear. "No Frog's ever out sailed this ship yet!"
I looked down at the gun crews, each of them at the ready, breathing hard, just waiting for her to be in range. "Steady, Mr. Carlysle; a few more points and she's ours!"
"Aye Aye, Sir!" The boy roared out to me.
And suddenly, showing surprising initiative for the French, Le Chat Noir turned and headed straight for us. And before I could even mouth the word, "Fire" that was exactly what SHE was doing to us.
There was a sudden explosion and I felt myself rocked back off my feet. I heard Bracegirdle give the command to fire even as I fell to the deck, a searing pain suddenly in my head, and my eyes veiled with red.
Oh God, my eyes! Blinded! I saw myself a pitiful old man in Plymouth, staring sightless into black world, never to see the moon over the sea again.
"Sir!" Bracegirdle called. But why does he sound as though he's under water?
I felt something dab at my face, and the red was gone; bless the Lord, I have not lost my sight.
"Andrews! Get the Captain down to sick bay, that splinter got him in the head!"
Sick bay? And abandon my deck in the thick of the fight! When Hell froze over! "Belay that", I roared. But why was my tongue so thick? I rose quickly and felt the sea heave...where did the storm come from? Strong arms held me up.
"Take him to Mr. Brandon, Andrews."
No! I will not abandon my ship, Bracegirdle, that's an order...Only why can't I get my mouth to work?
The sky went black.
I tried to focus. The deck, why was I not on the deck? I could hear shots firing, but we've hit some kind of a storm. And where has my voice gone?
Mr. Brandon came into vision suddenly, blue eyes registering placid calm. "Just a scratch, Sir; you're bleeding pretty bad, but nothing out of common for a head wound. And it was a mighty whack, too. You rest here."
I felt the bandage being wound round my forehead. Just great, I've seen how he bandages things. And why must he knock on my head like that? And if I wasn't hurt bad he should get to the other men and let me return to my post. And...
I suddenly needed to close my eyes.
It seemed to be just seconds before I opened them again, but where did all of these injured men come from?
Still, nothing seemed too bad. Johnson rushed too and fro, helping Brandon with the bandaging. Surely, now I could return to my post. I tried to sit up, feeling the ship heaving with the storm.
"Whoa, Sir. You can't be going anywhere just yet." Brandon was suddenly on top of me, moving me back down.
"Nonsense. I'm fine." I spat out, as Brandon seemed to waver in front of me. Curse the boy, why wouldn't he stand still?
"Sir, you have a head wound and if you go up on deck you're liable to fall right overboard. I can't allow that."
Excuse me? "YOU won't allow it? Mr. Brandon, need I remind you that I am the Captain here?" I grabbed at the bed, trying to keep my balance. "I'll not have you being impertinent, Sir! I am going up on deck, you will let me, and that's an order!" I yelled, and then winced at the sound of my own voice.
His arms were firm, as he moved me back down on the cot, and my strength seemed to leave me. "Impertinence or not, you are not leaving sick berth."
I felt a venomous anger rising in my breast, made all the worse by the pounding agony inside my skull. "Damn you, Brandon...insubordination ...call for the bosun...by the time he's through with you you'll not be able to move for a month!" I spat out.
"As you wish, but at the moment Mr. Andrews is rather busy up above decks. You can send for him once the battle is over." He said calmly, holding my head up suddenly as I vomited.
I glared at him malevolently, but gave in, feeling the boat spinning beneath me. I am losing my ship, and he will not let me watch her fall from my quarterdeck; why can he not understand that that is where I should die?
The darkness came again.
The next time I opened my eyes, with my head raging, I was enough of myself to know I could not go anywhere. But the boat did not seem to be heaving so badly. Bracegirdle must have moved her out of the storm.
Brandon was a few feet away, soothing a screaming Thomas.
"Me arm! Not me arm! D'ruther Die than have ye take me arm."
Johnson held him down. "Laudanum, Mr. Brandon, before you cut?"
"Noooooooooo!" Thomas screeched.
"Shh, Thomas, it's alright, I'm not taking your arm, man; but if you want to save it I need you to help me." He said soothingly to the reclining man.
"Aye, I won't take your arm if you stop fighting us, that's a promise."
Johnson looked skeptically at Brandon. "Sir, it's broke..."
Brandon nodded. "Yes, it is, and I'm going to splint it; it's not broken so bad it must come off. It's worth a try anyway, but Thomas, it's going to hurt like the devil, me moving your arm about, so Johnson and Morris, here, there going to hold you down, try to stay as STILL possible." He nodded to the others, as Thomas calmed down. "Ready, men?"
I watched in amazement. Even in my addled state I could focus enough to see him move quickly to splint the man's arm, winding some sort of sticking plaster round it. Thomas bravely strove to stay still, yelling the ship down as Johnson and Morris held him.
"There, now. Johnson, give him another shot of rum, and move him to a comfortable spot."
He stood, and I could see from my own berth the fatigue on his face, as he wiped his forehead. He met my eye suddenly and with half a smile headed towards me.
A sudden commotion stopped him in his tracks. "Drew! Drew, oh God!"
Cousins had appeared, carrying an unconscious Carlysle in his arms.
"Reg? I...oh, Lord, get him down! What happened?" Brandon asked, as he helped Cousins move their bleeding friend onto the table.
"I dunno, Drew...we boarded her, and he took his men towards her quarterdeck, and I headed the other way, and after we carried her I turned back and found him lyin' there...the blood, Drew..." His voice was hoarse and yet higher than normal.
I saw a shaken Brandon undoing his friend's shirt. "Oh, Lord, the blood is everywhere." He turned towards Cousins. "Hand me those swabs, man, help me stop the bleeding..."
Johnson appeared with Laudanum. "Best give him this, Mr. Brandon, and move him out of the way."
Brandon looked up sharply. "What do you mean?"
"Mr. Brandon...look at him. He's taken at least fifteen pieces of shot to his chest, and lost a lot of blood. He has no chance."
Cousins spun to him. "What's he mean, no chance? Drew, you've got to try...something!"
Brandon blinked, his face very pale. He grabbed the swabs again, and I saw a sudden spurt of blood, spattering all over his front. He swiftly packed the wound, and nodded at Johnson. "Give him the Laudanum."
Cousins grabbed him. "NO! Drew, you just can't leave him there!"
Brandon held him back. "He's already as good as dead, Reg. His stomach is ripped open, one of his lungs is collapsed, I don't even know how he's still breathing. Even in a proper surgery I couldn't help him, and here?" He looked around helplessly. "I don't even know why he's still breathing now! By rights he should have stopped before you got to him."
Cousins flung him away violently. "Damn you to Hell, then, 'Doctor Brandon!' D'ye hear? DAMN YOU TO HELL." His voice cracking, he practically ran out of the surgery.
Brandon stood stock still, struggling for composure. Johnson placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, and he shrugged it away, wiping both hands on his cheeks. "Make sure he's comfortable, Johnson. Now, what have we here..." He headed towards a stunned man with a deep gash, resuming work, somehow holding himself together.
Johnson, not realizing I was awake perhaps, moved Carlysle next to me. I looked on his unmoving, pale face with great sadness. Another young life wasted. Another father to write to. Johnson was right, though; I could hear his rattling breath and knew from experience he would not make it. I reached a hand out and gently brushed his hair, now matted with his own blood, off his forehead. Poor lad.
I closed my eyes, submitting to oblivion, this time welcoming it.
I do not know how much later it was that I awoke, but to my surprise I heard an extremely week voice trying to speak. Carlysle, somehow regaining consciousness.
Brandon sat next to him. "Hullo, Dan. Nice of you to drop in and check out my work." He said quietly, voice not even shaking.
Carlysle's head turned slowly to his friend. "Am I done for?" He whispered, licking his dry lips.
"Of course not, mate. Why, we've just moved you off to make room for the men who are really hurt. In fact, old Andrews may come through here any minute accusing you of malingering, so you best keep quiet and act sick, now." Brandon gently washed his friend's face.
Carlysle tried to smile, but I don't think he was fooled. "That your order, doctor?"
"Aye, it is, friend." He blinked once, but somehow kept his composure.
"You've got to...watch out for Reg...now, keep him from going off like a mad man on these missions...thinks he's Mr. Hornblower...he does."
"Now, Dan, you're going to have to do that yourself, I cannot help him from here. And I do not think he wishes my help right now." Brandon sighed and bit his lip.
Carlysle grabbed his arm. "Promise!" He whispered, voice even fainter.
"Aye, then, I promise...I'll do my best..." Brandon choked out.
Carlysle fell back. "M'so tired...Drew."
Brandon, smoothing back his friend's forehead, answered quietly. "Then sleep, Dan. Go on to sleep, mate. It will be all right. When you wake up," his voice broke, "it will all be alright." Composing himself with an effort, he began to sing, softly, in a language I didn't know...Celtic, perhaps.
And Daniel Carlysle, Midshipman, wounded while fighting bravely for his country, slept forever.
I had fallen asleep again. This head wound left me exhausted, certainly; a splinter injury would have left me less spent. But then, the French hadn't asked me if I had a preference.
Carlysle was gone; his body carried off, no doubt to be encased in canvas for burial at sea. The sick berth was spotless, Brandon having cleaned every bit of blood away. And I saw him, not to far off, sitting on a chair, tilted back against the wall, sleeping most uncomfortably.
"Brandon..." I whispered. I tried to move and the ship rocked again; for the first time I realized that the heaving storm of earlier had been in my head...literally.
He had heard me though; his chair coming down with a thump. He moved, stiffly, blinking and stretching. Dark circles were under his eyes.
"Sir?" He stumbled forward. "How are you feeling?"
"Like the bloody mast fell on my head."
He raised his eyebrows. "It very nearly did, from what they tell me." And automatically his hands went to my bandage, lifting it off. "The bleeding's stopped now, but you've probably had a bruise to your brain. Nothing a little time won't cure for you, though."
I winced. "Why has Mr. Bracegirdle not been here?"
"He has, Sir, at least five times; however, you were out every time he came down."
"Just as well, I believe I was behaving in an atrocious manner."
"You were pretty anxious about getting above decks, Sir." He said with a grimace, and I recalled my threats towards him.
"Anxious? I was doing my best impersonation of Captain Foster. I owe you an apology, Mr. Brandon. There was no reason for my lashing out at you in that manner."
He washed the matted blood out of my hair. "No damage done, Sir;" he said, but with a wicked smile added: "However, if you still wish to send for Mr. Andrews, I must warn you he took a rather nasty gash to his arm and would be unable to give me his best effort for a few days."
I smiled in spite of my pain, that he could joke about my vicious threats. "Oh, to hell with it, then; putting up with me in this sick bay is punishment enough." I looked around my surroundings; save for Thomas, resting with his arm splinted, there were no men remaining; other wounds obviously must have been easily treatable. "Why do you sleep here, Mr. Brandon? There are no dire injuries needing constant supervision? You could have found someone else to watch me."
His face turned to stone. "Yes, Sir. It's just...I don't think I'm very welcome in the Midshipman's berth right now." He re-bandaged my forehead with a slightly shaking hand.
I closed my eyes. "Carlysle." I whispered, remembering the ugly scene between him and Cousins. Remembering how his hammock was slung between his two great friends. Welcome to the medical world, Dr. Brandon.
I observed him, without saying anything further. His whole body shook, and I saw him struggling still to hold himself together. I grasped his arm, gently squeezing it. "Then why don't you pull that chair over here, and keep a grumpy old man company for a while? I feel as though I cannot sleep another moment."
He regained his composure with a struggle. "You're not used to sleeping the whole day through, that is the problem." He cleared his throat and proceeded to bring the chair over, slumping down with an exhausted sigh.
"No, I am not. I warn you, Mr. Brandon, if I am kept here for too long I am liable to be a complete bear."
One corner of his mouth lifted up. "No fear, Sir. You will be able to be moved into your own cabin tomorrow. I shall turn you over to Powers. You will have to be a bear to him."
I snorted. If there is one man I cannot harangue, it is Powers, and I suspect Brandon knows that!
"You were singing earlier," I said, remembering. "Something I couldn't understand."
"It's something my mother used to sing to us when we were little. An Irish song...she was born and grew up in Ireland. I don't exactly know what it means myself, but it sounds very soothing."
"Indeed it did." I hesitated; I was afraid of putting him over the edge, and I had no head at the moment for more drama. But he could not let this fester inside him. "You did everything you could, Mr. Brandon. It is not your fault." I winced, my head still pounding.
He shook his head. "I know that, sir; at least I think I do. Logic tells me I couldn't have done anything, that Hepplewhite couldn't have done anything; he was just hurt too bad, had lost too much blood. Still..."
"You wish you could have done more?"
"That, and I wish I could make Reg understand...any work I'd have done on him would have just prolonged his pain. He didn't deserve that." One tear made a path down his still grimy face, but he ignored it.
"Mr. Cousins is hurting also, just as you are. He will come around."
He gave a rueful laugh. "I don't think so, Sir." He leaned back in the chair. "Don't think Dr. Stewart has any idea what it's like to practice medicine on a ship!"
"Probably not, Lad, but I'm sure he'd be very proud of your work here. As am I."
"Thank you, Sir." He sank down farther in the chair, and I saw his eyes start to close. I laid one hand on his arm, patting it gently. "Rest now, Mr. Brandon. Think of your mother and her song, and rest."
In just a few minutes he was fast asleep, and I only wished I could get up to get him some kind of cover. I heard slow footsteps coming up the passageway, perhaps here was help.
Tentatively, Mr. Cousins looked in the berth. His eyes were rimmed with red and his face pale. He started when he saw I was awake.
"Captain Pellew, Sir....H-how are you?"
"Bad headache, but other than that I'm alright. What brings you down here at this time."
"I was looking for Drew...Mr. Brandon, Sir. He didn't turn in, and I was worried...we'd had rather a bad...well..."
"I know, Mr. Cousins. I saw Mr. Carlysle, before he passed on." I helped him. "I know this has been hard on both of you. You need each other, Mr. Cousins."
He swallowed. "I said some pretty nasty things to him earlier, Sir."
"Never mind that. Get him back to his own hammock. He needs the rest, and he needs his friends. We all need that, Mr. Cousins."
He headed towards Brandon then paused. "I can't leave you here alone, Sir!"
Will no one let me make a decision on my own anymore? "If you insist, then, after you get Mr. Brandon settled in, see if you can scare up Lieutenant Bracegirdle for me, so I can get a full report." Not that he'll give me one, probably citing this blasted head wound.
"Aye Aye, Sir."
And with a gentle nudge and a lift, he got a dazed Brandon up out of the chair. Brandon took one look at him and began to shake silently, barely suppressing the sobs. Cousins, having already mourned his dead, guided him outside.
"C'mon, Mate, let's get you home, eh?"
And I leaned backwards, thinking of myself and Grey, of Hornblower and Kennedy, and wondered about the cruel games friendship can play on you.
Horatio sat back in his chair overlooking the courtyard. Shortly he would go and look in on Archie. But for now, the sun was on his face, it was a fine day, and he had much to think on.
The Duchess...funny how he couldn't help but call her that...had come to see him earlier. He was embarrassed to remember how rude he had been to her. He was certain that she had betrayed him to DeVergess, using those dispatches to escape persecution as a spy. He had not even been certain that she WASN'T a spy, despite her logical explanation last night. In any case, she had lied to him, and he would never trust her again.
But when he had seen her this morning, she had been...distraught? Ashamed? Decidedly upset at his behavior towards her. And angry with him that he believed her to have handed over those stupid dispatches, that he was so beginning to despise. Worse, she had compromised herself in the worst way, in order to save not only herself, but him and his men.
'I have sacrificed some small things, like my pride, and my self respect." She had said, and the more he thought about it the more he realized the hurt behind that statement. It was for everyone's survival, but for a good and decent woman it was no small sacrifice. And he had come to believe she was a good and decent woman, who had been forced to make some hard choices.
Well, he knew about that, didn't he? When one was not high born, the options were fewer and harder won. It was why he wore the uniform he did. And yet he had permitted himself to fall into that trap, of judging someone by the title they bore, rather than on their actions alone. What was it Captain Pellew had said to him, so very long ago? "I judge a man by what I SEE him do." And he had benefited from that, as had Archie, and every other man he'd ever had serving under him. Doctor's son, or Lord's son, the expectations, and the rewards, were the same.
Well, the Duch...er, Miss Cobham, had certainly earned his highest respect, and gratitude, in her actions. He supposed some men would hold her choices against her. He could not. Although the thought of DeVergess laying his hands on her...for an officer to behave in such a manner, to use a woman, was despicable. He cringed and shivered, despite the warm June sun.
Across the way, he saw Hunter, in furtive conversation with some of the men. It worried him, but he was still trying to figure out a way to stall him. He wondered if he could continue for much longer. Oldroyd...he was wavering, he could see that. He would have to work on him.
Matthews and Styles on the other hand...he smiled. His men, loyal to the last. He rather wished his old friend Clayton could see that. Even better, Jack Simpson. He had won their respect and devotion, and that meant something. They trusted him. And Styles, especially, had been hard used in his days at sea, and did not trust easily. He would not let them down. Somehow, he would get them out of this place, in one piece, and back to the Indy.
His thoughts returned to Captain Pellew, and the men he'd left behind. Brandon, for one. So much like Kennedy in all the best ways. Only lucky to have landed on the right ship, with the right Captain and officers. He sighed. Yes, Brandon, would be okay. Captain Pellew would take care of him.
June 17th, Indefatigable
I groaned softly as deft hands positioned my head better on the pillow. My pillow. Somehow I must have been moved to my own cabin.
"Sorry, Sir." Brandon's voice said gently.
I opened my eyes surprised to see bright sunlight.
Brandon sat next to me, changing my bandages once again. "Are you feeling better this afternoon sir?"
"Afternoon?" Lord, head injuries. "Have I been out all this time?"
He shook his head. "Apparently you engaged Lt. Bracegirdle in a long rambling conversation last night, during which you insisted on being brought up here. Finally he gave in."
I frowned. "Ah, yes, after Mr. Cousins came to get you." He did not respond, but was redressing my wound. "How are you this morning."
"Alive." He said simply. "I slept rather late, I'm afraid, Sir."
"Not as late as I have, apparently. And not as much as you should have, you are exhausted still."
"Mr. Cousins woke me only because, well, Lieutenant Bracegirdle was giving the service for Mr. Carlysle. I would have been very upset to have missed that."
"I am sorry I did. He was a good man."
"Aye. I am only grateful he did not suffer more." He shrugged. Anyway, since I am up, I felt I should check in on Thomas, and you."
"How does Thomas' arm?"
"I think it will heal proper, but it's my first time setting a break."
"Most men would have gone the easy route and taken the arm off, then."
He shook his head. "An able seaman with one arm is an unemployed seaman. I can't blame him for his anxiety."
"And how am I doing?"
He smiled. "Well, you still have a whacking great headache, but I expect you know that. There's no blood on the bandages, though, your eyes are clear, and you're obviously talking fine. I'd like to keep you on bed rest for a week, but I'd also like a fully complimented surgical suite, and that's not going to happen either. So let's compromise, Sir. Tomorrow in bed, then the next day you may get up for short periods, but not leave your cabin."
"Not leave my cabin? Mr. Brandon, this is my ship, and she does not run herself."
"Yes. However it will be Mr. Bracegirdle's ship if you should have a dizzy spell and fall overboard, and I don't think he wants to be a Captain that badly. Besides, knowing Gibraltar, most likely they'll send us a new Captain, who probably won't have the faintest idea what they're doing, and everyone will blame me, and before you know it I'll be hanging from the yard arm. Now, if you're comfortable with that, Sir..."
"Oh, for heaven's sake boy, quiet! My head!"
"Exactly." And he smiled triumphantly.
"How many days stuck in my cabin?"
He sighed. "Very well, Sir."
"And I must be able to receive full reports from the officers. You must tell them so; Bracegirdle didn't want to say a thing last night."
"I shall let him know that as of tomorrow it will be okay to give you detailed reports."
I sank back. "May I eat?"
"I'll have Powers bring you some broth, maybe some eggs, scrambled. Nothing too heavy." He stood, stretching, and I realized he'd grown a couple of inches these past months. "Anything else I can get you sir?"
"Nothing. However, I am curious...which medical text did you find the
term "whacking great headache" in?"
He laughed, which was good to see. "None, Sir. I believe it is a term of my own making. Not descriptive enough for you?"
I waved him off. "Get yourself back to your hammock, Mr. Brandon, and leave me be!" I said, trying to growl in my best Captain's voice.
Brandon just smiled and nodded. "Aye, Aye, Sir." Only the red of his eyes gave away just how trying the past day had been to him. He's a great asset to this ship. Fool that his father was for not seeing the talent he had. But, oh, how good for my men.
June 28th, Indefatigable
I am almost back to normal, thank heavens, although that first week was brutal, as Brandon had predicted it would be. The headaches and the tiredness would come upon me suddenly, and I would find myself losing my temper with the men over the smallest of things. But I have not had a headache in two days, the sea was calm, and my ship drove through the water almost without effort.
"A fine morning, Mr. Cousins."
"Yes, Sir!" He said with feeling, giving me a cautious look and deciding I was not in a mood.
"Any sight of the enemy?"
"Not a sail to be spotted, Sir, friend or foe."
"Hmm, well, Hale said he didn't know if we'd be able to get a supply ship out. Still, we should be well stocked with food; we might need to run into the coast for water though..." I thought out loud.
"Shall I check on the supplies, Sir?"
"Yes, after your watch get yourself down below and prepare me a report. We've another month at sea at least, best to know where we stand."
"Aye Aye, Sir."
Just at that moment, Hepplewhite came up on decks, getting himself some sun, apparently. Johnson trailed along behind, as per my orders. I saw the corners of Cousin's mouth settle into a grim line.
Hepplewhite took no notice of either of us, although Johnson sought me out and gave me a smart salute, and stationed himself about ten feet away from Hepplewhite.
"Poor Johnson." Cousins and I said at the same time. He flushed, as I eyed him.
"It would seem that neither of us would relish the duty of being forced to spend every waking moment with that man."
"No, Sir." He added with feeling.
I watched Johnson, intrigued. He was a man of just over thirty; he'd been in the regulars and had fought against the colonies when he was a younger man. He had obviously had extensive duties as a medic. But he was a man of great reserve; hard to know what he was thinking.
"Do you know much of Johnson, Cousins?"
He shook his head. "No, Sir; most of the Marines keep to themselves, although he does not spend much time with them, either."
"Is he unfriendly?"
"I do not think that, Sir. More that he likes to stay quiet. I believe he reads a good deal."
"Reading for pleasure? An oddity indeed!" I said, glancing at Cousins' blushing face.
"I didn't mean that, Sir..."
"Yes, you did Cousins. I know that if the book doesn't concern navigation or seamanship you'd have nothing to do with it, admit it!"
"No, Sir, I mean, Yes, Sir. I prefer to read on those subjects, but..." He was stammering now, flailing helplessly in the wind. He knew enough of my temperament of late to brace for acid words.
"At ease, Mr. Cousins. More men in this Navy are apt to feel as you are. I suppose if I had a ship filled with Shakespeareans and not navigators I'd end up in South America."
He swallowed, accepting that I was not going to be spewing forth abuse this time. "Yes, Sir."
Hepplewhite stretched out lazily below us, smoking a pipe. He looked up at the quarterdeck finally, and then turned away, resuming his gaze across the ocean. I felt my bile rise.
"Sir..." Cousins began hesitantly, and I looked over at him. "If I may ask, Sir, why is a Doctor like Hepplewhite still able to be hired? I know this is not the first ship he's been on, and surely his performance...his drinking must have been noted? I don't understand." He frowned.
And I sighed, wondering how to explain something I could not comprehend myself.
"There are many factors in that, I fear. First, Doctors who wish to serve in the Navy are rare, and, to be blunt, rarely more than second rate. They are Doctors, usually, who could not earn a living in a village, for many reasons. Sometimes, once in the Navy, a Doctor's skills may improve, and he may become better than expected. More often, they become jaded, or drunkards, like Hepplewhite." I paused, for I had come to the part that pained me.
"And then, it's the Captains who are not at their most scrupulous. A Captain with a less skilled Physician might try to have him transferred to another ship. The report that follows them will seldom include the worst information. Do you know that when I saw Hepplewhite's report, what it said? That he was skilled in battle surgery and of somewhat unsteady temperament."
Cousin's eyes grew wide. "You were lied to, Sir?"
I shook my head. "Not lied to, just not told the whole truth. Still, I knew
that if Hepplewhite were a skilled a physician, his previous Captain would have fought his transfer. There must have been something wrong. But, as I could find no Doctor any better qualified, I took him. And he does have decent surgical skills...when he is sober. So I have been making the best of it, Mr. Cousins."
I shook my shoulders, as he digested this sorry state of affairs. "I cannot fault Captain Keene too much for sending him to me. He also sent me Mr. Bowles and Mr. Hornblower, after all. And other good men no longer with me, unfortunately." And he kept the worst-Jack Simpson-at least until his ship was blown out of the water.
Cousins had one more question for me, although he hesitated to ask. "Sir, If I may be so bold, should an opportunity come to transfer Doctor Hepplewhite to another ship?" He paused, fearing he had gone too far.
I placed my hands behind my back and stared off into the wide ocean. "I would see Hepplewhite dead first, before I would give him the opportunity to have free reign on innocent men who do not know his handicaps. If he must live, then he stays here, where I can keep an eye on him, unless I have the reason to discharge him from the service altogether."
I did not add that those reasons could not happen soon enough for me!
June 28th, Spain
Don Massaredo relaxed in his expansive library, as much as he was could. The circumstances of his life these days...he sighed. This was not how he had hoped to live out his golden years.
He was a wealthy land owner, his wife long gone, his daughters Carmen and Maria happily married but living near Madrid. He, instead, resided on the coast, near the sea that so enchanted him. An ideal location, his government had decided, to house prisoners when they had shifted from being a neutral party to deciding to declare war on England.
And Massaredo had shrugged and permitted the garrison to be installed, the walls to be fortified, and the prisoners to be brought. He was not political at all himself, and personally considered any war with England to be folly, especially one fought at sea, but was prudent enough to keep his ideas to himself.
For the longest time he had not had "prisoners", but "prisoner"-Midshipman Archibald Kennedy, of HMS Indefatigable. The young man, he had been told, had been rescued at sea by the French, found in a somewhat dazed state, and had been in two different prisons in France, attempting escapes each time. He had not been here but two weeks when he had attempted an escape for the third time. Massaredo had no patience with this; his life was already disrupted enough, and he ordered the man confined in the oubliette that had been constructed during the fortification, for one month.
He did not think of himself as a cruel man, but as one doing his duty. Still, the man that had emerged from that hole was not the man he'd been going in. He was, in fact, near insane, if not actually over the line. He had not realized the effects of such punishment. It was not even as though he'd had to do it as an example to other men; there had been no other men! He regretted it. No, if he should ever have to use that hole again, two weeks, no more, would be ample. Of course, Kennedy had brought much with him into that hole...the bruises and mistreatment from his previous prisons; and perhaps more, for Massaredo had seen something in those eyes that spoke of horrors not bearing thought.
In any event, Kennedy emerged barely able to walk, no longer an escape threat. Which was just as well, for at that time, there were eight new prisoners received; Mr. Hornblower and his crew, captured after a freak fog drove them into the heart of the Spanish fleet. A lucky gain for the Spaniards. In the highest irony, they were former shipmates of Kennedy's; at least, Hornblower knew him well.
Massaredo smiled. He liked Hornblower. Liked the young man's sense of honor and his quiet dignity. Liked the flashes of intelligence that often showed in his conversation. An idealistic boy, no doubt, but idealism tempered with fine logic and a keen ability to measure the odds. He fully expected that Hornblower would attempt an escape. In fact, he expected he would succeed! Because Hornblower, he knew, was even now observing his men, judging their schedules, measuring the possibility of obtaining a boat. He would not go without Kennedy, that much was certain, but as soon as he could ensure a safe passage to freedom, he would be gone. And Massaredo, not really caring about the war, wished him the best, as long as his own men remained unharmed.
Of course, Hornblower's problem right now was the other officer, the one whom Massaredo privately thought was just stupid, that fool Hunter. No, there was no logic there, no sense, no planning, just the love of violence and a desire for freedom at any cost, not excepting the lives of all the men. Any real problem in Massaredo's life would undoubtedly come from him.
The best part of Hornblower's imprisonment had been the subsequent arrival of the Duchess. A fine woman, a remarkable woman! Unlike any English aristocrat he had ever met. He chuckled to himself, and then frowned in disgust. DeVergess, coming to him with that story, saying now that he had used Her Grace to the best of his abilities, it might be well for Massaredo to know she was an actress and a spy, as was the boy. Bah! An actress? Perhaps. Massaredo knew England was a strange country. But she was no spy, nor was Hornblower. He had thanked DeVergess for the information, promised to investigate, and sent him on his way, privately hoping his ship would get blown out of the water.
That was why, when his friend Don Alvarez had been in port, he had persuaded him to provide transport on The Almeria to Oporto. Best get her on to neutral ground as soon as possible. She had seemed relieved by his suggestion; he had considered ordering a search before she went, but decided against it. The truth is, he didn't want to find anything.
He held the books in his hand; she had wished them to be given to Hornblower. A lexicon of Spanish, and a copy of Don Quixote. He smiled again. A man who tilted at windmills. Yes, she was right, Hornblower would understand him well. He would pick up the language quickly, no doubt.
And Massaredo, with an even wider grin, wished he could still be alive some forty years from now, when Admiral Hornblower greeted some Spanish dignitary in flawless Spanish!
July 4th 1796
Today was, all in all, a most uneventful day. Having worked our way up to the coast of Portugal, we managed to procure water and a few fresh food items that will ensure another month at sea in search of my missing men. Oh, yes, and those blasted dispatches!
No Spanish or French were in port, and we remained at anchor only long enough to board supplies, so no men have deserted or had time to pick up any foul disease. The ship is, in fact, remarkably healthy and in good spirits, despite our continued shortage of men.
I would have nothing at all to remark on this day if I had not, in a fit of
whimsy, decided to flip through earlier pages of this journal, and came upon my entry from this day last year. It was the day I had informed Hornblower of his promotion to Acting Lieutenant, and had been his 19th birthday. Which makes him twenty, today.
Can it really have only been one year? So much has happened in that time! The plague ship, the fire ship; his aborted examination attempt. Nearly loosing his life in the raid on Etoile. How is it possible I have come to rely on the young man so much in that time? For certainly he is among the most valued officers I've ever had the pleasure of having in my service.
I think back to our conversation on Christmas Eve, it having run the gamut from Mr. Kennedy's torment at the hands of Simpson to my own losses in life. For one evening we were able to be ourselves, not officers in the Navy. In that evening, I could count Horatio as a friend. That snowball fight...it was the youngest I had felt in years, and even now, I can not repress a smile in thinking on it. For five minutes, to be able to lift the mantle of responsibility off of my shoulders, had been the greatest Christmas present I'd ever received.
And now it was his birthday, and I wondered where he was at this moment. Did he suffer? Or had he had the blessing of a decent prison situation, if there was any such thing. Was he engineering a calculated escape? Certainly he would be protecting his men in any way possible from the worst of prison life.
For his birthday, then, if I could wish for anything for him, it would be the
courage to face his ordeal, the loyalty and support of his men in executing any plan, and the knowledge that he is missed on his ship, and that his Captain desperately wishes his safe return.
July 4th, Spain
Horatio sat in what little shade he could find on the courtyard, appearing to be struggling through with 'Don Quixote'. In reality his mind was wandering over a variety of problems he now faced.
Kennedy was well, almost well enough to begin thinking about escape. But Hunter would not confide in him his plan, his men, save Matthews and Styles, would not listen to reason. They were on the precipice of disaster, and he was at a complete loss as to how to prevent it. He kept asking himself what Captain Pellew would do, and the only answer he could come up with was that Captain Pellew would never be in this situation!
But today was the worst. He had not kept a strict accounting of time while
here, but Don Massaredo this morning had made mention that the Duchess should be in Oporto within the week, 'certainly by the 10th of July'. And without thinking, he had asked what today's date was. And Don Massaredo had answered simply that it was the fourth.
The fourth of July. His twentieth birthday.
How is it possible to feel so old and so na ve at the same time? What was it the Duchess had called him, even if she hadn't meant it? A callow youth. And DeVergess had dismissed him as 'a boy pretending to be a captain'. The words had stung him to the core, revealing all of his own fears about his abilities to be true. Yet he bore the responsibilities of a man much older; the responsibility of the lives of his men, and the responsibility of the loss of his ship.
He closed his eyes and tried to imagine himself back on Indefatigable, standing on the yard arm, feeling the wind about him as she cut through the water.
Instead, he winced at the image of Pellew's disappointed countenance; his harsh words at allowing himself to be captured, at losing a ship he'd fought so hard to win, at losing three men so far. Even an 'Acting' Lieutenant ought to have performed better. He felt certain that he would lose his rank over this. Back to being a midshipman; he, formerly teacher of Cousins, Carlysle, McGill and Brandon, would now be their equal.
He stood abruptly, dropping his book to the table and strode off. He could
feel eyes watching him-Kennedy. But he could not burden Archie with his thoughts. Instead, he headed towards the gate; even with the Duchess gone, his hours of parole remained. The guard smirked at him in recognition and he headed towards the cliff, wondering if the best thing wouldn't be to throw himself off of it!
He did not, of course. That would be abject cowardice. The one time in his life he had considered suicide, he had born only the responsibility for his own life, not the lives of others. So he sat on the cliff's edge, instead, feeling a brighter wind, still warm but fresh. He laid back suddenly, arms over his face, wishing for answers.
A sudden shift in the breeze startled him, but he did not move. For a few seconds, it was cold, chilling wind, that carried with it the scent not of the sea, but of snow. And in an instant, he WAS back on Indefatigable, being pelted by snowballs from a surprising source...his Captain! A magical moment that had been; for Pellew had given him the gift of feeling he was an equal, if only for five minutes.
Horatio sighed again, but in less emotional distress now. He wanted, badly, to be 'home', on Indefatigable. For a few seconds he HAD been. And it had been enough to sustain him. Captain Pellew believed in him; he always had. So he had work to do. He WOULD fight Hunter. He WOULD get his men back to their ship. And he WOULD face Pellew and admit his worst failures, and then get on with his life.
He returned slowly to the prison, to the stifling air of the courtyard. His books were now neatly piled on the table, and he picked them up as the guards began returning them to their cells. Dinner was brought, and eaten in silence by the three officers. Not until later did he open his book again, when the sun was fading, and he was looking to finish the passage he'd started earlier.
He noticed the inscription on the flyleaf almost immediately:
"For it so falls out,
That what we have we prize not to the worth
Whiles we enjoy it, but being lack'd and lost,
Why, then we rack the value; then we find
The virtue that possession would not show us
Whiles it was ours." William Shakespeare
I thank you once more, my friend, for showing me again the value of life, and most importantly the value of friendship. Happy birthday. Archie"
He caught his breath, startled at the sudden tears in his eyes. Hunter, below him, thank heavens could not see; and Archie, across, dozed lightly. He could not imagine how Archie had managed to do such a thing...he must have begged a pen from one of the guards. And to imagine him remembering his birthday, after so long...
He wiped his eyes, and gently shut the book. "Thank you, Archie," he thought. "For this means more to me than you'll ever know."
And he too, drifted off to sleep, to dream of Indefatigable once more.
July 20th ,
The smart rap on my door caused me to look up from the log I have been keeping of this so-far unfruitful venture we've been on.
To my surprise, the Marine, Johnson, stood before me, rigid and pale but unwavering.
"What is it, Sargent Johnson?"
"I regret to inform you, Sir, that Dr. Hepplewhite has somehow managed to get himself drunk. I do not know how he procured the alcohol, but it was my responsibility to watch over him, and evidently I have failed."
I sat back with a groaning sigh, and then felt a jolt of alarm. "You have not left him alone now, have you?" I snapped.
"No, Sir. Private Forbes is keeping guard over him, although he is too drunk to stand. I felt it my duty to report my failure in person."
"I am most displeased by this, I do not have to tell you that. But not surprised. A man with a craving as strong as his will be most resourceful. Is Mr. Brandon aware of the circumstances?"
"Yes, Sir, I informed him that it might be best for him to stay above decks for the time being. He was most annoyed at having his studies disrupted."
I looked at Johnson long and hard. I have never been able to figure him out. Now was the time.
"So, Johnson, I set you to a simple task and you cannot manage to complete it. What kind of a marine must you be that you cannot manage to babysit a bumbling surgeon?"
He merely stared straight ahead, accepting the blame I heaped on him.
"I know it is inexcusable, sir. I have no defense."
I paced before him, never taking my eyes off of his steady gaze. "You were in the regulars, were you not?"
"Fighting in the Americas?"
"Yes, Sir, the 110th regiment in Pennsylvania."
"Well, it is no wonder we lost the war then, if you were the best the army had to offer."
The cords of his neck stood out, and a vein throbbed in his forehead. "Sir, it is not fair to judge the army on my actions. I am...a...poor excuse for a soldier."
I turned to him, standing inches before his face. "And yet... did I not see you in the sick berth, assisting Brandon with all of your ability, and offering him good council?"
"I...did my best, Sir. For Mr. Brandon and the men."
"What position held you in the regulars, Sargent Johnson?"
He cleared his throat. "Sir...I was a...doctor."
I blinked in astonishment. "Excuse me, I am certain I did not hear you correctly. I understood you were a medic, surely that is what you meant to say?"
"No, Sir, I WAS a doctor. Trained in Paris, Sir."
My bluster went out of me. "With certificates?"
"Yes, Sir. I took them when I was twenty-two and went right into the service. I fancied the idea of being an army surgeon."
"And you are how old, now?"
"I am just thirty-five, Sir."
I sat behind my desk weakly, utterly amazed at my good fortune. "Finally, I understand your skill at battle wounds." I stared at him. "But why have you told nobody this previously?"
"I stopped being a doctor, if you will, Sir, when I was twenty five."
I shook my head. "I did not know it was possible to stop being a doctor. In fact, judging from your behavior, I would say it IS impossible. Sit, Sargent Johnson, and explain yourself, if you would."
He looked as though he was actually going to defy me. "Sit, I said, unless you want to find yourself at the gratings." I snapped.
He did so, but stared at me in such stupefaction that I found myself trying to sooth him. "Understand, Johnson, that anything you say to me will stay within these walls."
"Yes, Sir." He gulped. And then he proceeded. "Sir, I don't know any way to tell you this other than directly. I spent two years in an asylum after my service in Pennsylvania. I...lied when I signed up for the Marines six years ago, Sir. My family had rejected me when I was...let out...and I was at a loss for income. Soldiering is all I knew, and I thought I would be less likely to be caught out here." And he hung his head miserably.
I was now as shocked as a man could be. "Johnson, you do not seem insane to me. For what reason were you incarcerated?"
Slowly he lifted his head, his eyes distant. "I had...I was...the only survivor of my regiment, Sir. I...was left behind in a town with a feverish illness. Two weeks later when I went to rejoin them...eighty men, all dead."
I whistled. "It must have been quite a battle."
Anger came into his face, his brow furrowing, his mouth tight. "Battle? No, Sir. Small pox. They ended up quarantined, and every man died. With no doctor to aid them, Sir." He swallowed. "I could not accept that. They had died needing my help, and I was not there. These men were my friends." He closed his eyes against the memory. "I went to pieces, Sir. Do not ask me to remember my actions. Let me assure you only that I hurt no one but myself."
Things were starting to come into focus, finally. "Is that why you have formed no close friendships on Indefatigable?"
"I suppose so, Sir. I have lost enough friends already." He met my eyes dully. "And now, Sir?"
I paused. He had lied in joining the service. I could report him to McAnn. He would be discharged. Or worse. Yet his service on board my ship had been exemplary; my reaction to the Hepplewhite incident had been more a means of learning what made him function as a man than real anger.
"You said that you ceased to practice medicine. Yet you agreed to tend to Hepplewhite after his flogging. And you have agreed to function as a medic in assisting Mr. Brandon."
For the first time his face lit up. "Mr. Brandon's a good lad, Sir. He'll make a fine doctor someday."
I leaned forward. "But he isn't one NOW. That is the material point. He is learning quickly, and is not afraid of new and unusual treatments. But he is not an experienced battle surgeon. That, Johnson, is what he needs."
He looked at me baffled. "I do not understand, Sir."
"I do not know that it is so complicated. I am asking you to take over for Hepplewhite. Unofficially, of course, since if I brought your papers to light it might bring up other things as well. Will you work with Mr. Brandon as our doctor?"
His eyes grew wide. "You would offer me this...even knowing...what I am?"
I looked at him kindly. "What are you? A man who had a devastating loss, while serving across the ocean, far from home, who lost his confidence? You have served me well these past years; I see no reason to have you flung to the sharks here!" I paused, wanting to make sure he understood me. "I do not threaten you, Johnson. This is not blackmail; if you feel uncomfortable as a Doctor, I will not turn you over to McAnn. You may return to your service as a Marine, and I will..." I sighed. "Try to find someone to replace Hepplewhite, who isn't a drunkard and might be willing to both mentor and learn from an exceptionally bright fourteen year old boy."
He met my eyes. "Sir, If you are willing to have me, I would be honored to serve as a Physician."
I smiled in spite of myself. "Thank you, Mr. Johnson. I anticipate with Hepplewhite's resumed drinking, it will not be long before you no longer need to watch him. Carry on."
He departed, and only after I heard his footsteps echo away, did I let loose with a whoop of joy that would have woken Grey from his grave.
Hepplewhite, you are done for. I have a doctor.
July 20th, Spain
Archie Kennedy was angry, shaken to the core, and absolutely terrified. But this time, it was not for HIS well being he feared. No, it was for Horatio, and it was all because of that useless bastard Hunter. Now, he stood in their cell, wrapping Hunter's wounded leg, while Horatio remained under private guard, waiting for Don Massaredo to decide on his punishment.
Hunter cried out as Archie tied the bandage, and mechanically, because he knew it was what Horatio would do, he soothed him. 'What I really want to do to you, Hunter, is let loose this bandage and have you bleed to death.' He thought bitterly. But Archie could not sink to those levels.
It had all come to a head this afternoon. He and Horatio had been going over Don Quixote; Horatio still struggled with the language, but Archie had some knowledge of Spanish and they often worked together. Both of them had known, of course, that Hunter was up to something. In fact, he and Horatio had, over the past week while they were ostensibly discussing text, worked out the beginnings of an escape plan. To take place at night. Sneaking past the guards, securing a boat at a nearby harbor Horatio had spotted on his walks. Once they had a firm plan Horatio had been sure he could win the men over to it.
Hunter had not given them time. Matthews and Styles interrupted their meeting, with a pleading "We didn't know!" And before he knew it, he and Horatio were in the middle of an idiotic, broad daylight, without subtlety escape attempt. Three of Don Massaredo's men were killed. There was no choice but to go in with the men...they were all shipmates, after all.
Then, as they escaped past the gate, the rest of the garrison...more than fifteen men, as Horatio could have told Hunter, were waiting for them. Hunter and Jeffreys were shot...Jeffreys was killed instantly. And Horatio risked his life to keep Hunter from getting shot again, pleading with Don Massaredo. It had been a bad few seconds for Archie there, waiting to see if his friend would be shot dead.
And when things came under control, Massaredo had demanded to know who the instigator was. Hunter, thought Kennedy. For God's sake Horatio, tell him it was Hunter. He had even whispered the words under his breath. Archie knew better than most that Massaredo would not look aside on such a crude escape attempt, especially having lost men.
Horatio, thought an exasperated Archie. Horatio was himself to the end, claiming all responsibility for the botched attempt. Knowing what Don Massaredo was capable of, he must have known that whatever punishment was ordered would have left the injured Hunter dead. And so Horatio, forever Horatio, had sacrificed himself.
Hunter turned over feverishly. Archie took a wet rag and slapped it down on the man's forehead, not nearly as hard as he'd have liked to. He rushed to the window, just in time to see Horatio walking solemnly under guard. He did not appear to have been beaten or tortured. Surely...Don Massaredo would not order his death by firing squad? Archie swallowed his heart, which was suddenly beating in his throat.
No, not a firing squad. They brought him to the Oubliette. Horatio was being sent into the hole. The same one that had held him for a month and nearly driven him insane. Death might have been preferable. Depending on how long they kept him in there, it might even result anyway, after so much suffering...he blinked tears away. Horatio ought not to know such pain. He was too good a man for that.
He turned back on Hunter, the anger seizing him. But he saw a weak man unconscious with a severe injury, and knew he could not be cruel to him. Horatio, who had waited for Archie's recovery before planning an escape, would not leave Hunter behind. Let Hunter's own guilt be punishment enough. Archie would see it his duty, no matter how distasteful, to make sure Hunter would be ready to escape when the time did come.
If only Don Massaredo will let Horatio live.
"A word with you, Mr. Brandon."
He turned from his duties and approached me on the quarterdeck.
"I have been observing Hepplewhite lately, Mr. Brandon." I cleared my throat. "I am not a medical man, but it seems he does not do well."
Brandon nodded. "He keeps finding ways to get at alcohol, Sir, and the more he drinks the faster he is sliding into his grave. Johnson and I both try to keep him sober, but..." He shrugged. "His craving is too great. He fears not me, not Johnson, not even you, Sir."
"Nor death apparently."
Brandon looked out towards the horizon. "I think he's given up, Sir. He cannot imagine his life without the drink, and therefore gives himself into it with all his being." He paused. "As I have told you before, you will soon need to find another Doctor."
I shook my head. "Johnson and you, together you will serve that role."
He turned to me wide-eyed but smiling. "So Johnson is NOT to return to the Marines? I was hoping he would stay in the sick berth, Sir, but I know he is not a credentialed Doctor."
I dislike lying intensely, but to protect Johnson, and therefore the best interests of my ship, it was a necessity. "No, but he saw extensive medical service in America. No doubt more than anyone realized. He has the battle expertise, and you have the vision, Mr. Brandon. Together I believe it leaves my men in good hands."
Brandon flushed slightly at the praise. "I have always believed Johnson had more skill than we'd expected, Sir. And together I believe we will not let you down."
I turned a stern eye on him. "You had better not, Mr. Brandon. If I sense that my men suffer from this experiment, you will find yourself returning to regular midshipman's duty."
As always, he saw right through my gruffness, and did not even blink. "Aye, Aye, Sir." He said in that calm, confident voice of his, and returned to his work.
Bracegirdle joined me shortly afterwards.
"That boy's grown quite a bit this summer."
"In many ways." I added.
He stood beside me, scanning the horizon. "Not an enemy sail in sight, Sir. I suppose soon we shall have to return to Gibraltar?
"Within the week." I cleared my throat. "It would seem our mission was a failure all around. We have neither dispatches or men to return with."
"We did sink two ships, Sir."
I let out an exasperated sigh. "But that was not the goal, Mr. Bracegirdle. Somewhere out there, our men are imprisoned still."
Bracegirdle, normally the voice of prudent doubt, suddenly became Mr. Optimist. "Hornblower will get them out, Sir."
I looked at him with a raised eyebrow. "You seem confident this day, Mr. Bracegirdle. Even Mr. Hornblower may not be capable of lifting a division of men over prison walls."
Bracegirdle shook his head. "You mark on it, Sir; if he's not escaped already, he is surely thinking of a way to do so."
I could only hope. But who knew, really, what thoughts might possess a man so long in prison?
July 31, Spain
He had died and gone to Hell.
That, in fact, was the only thought Horatio found himself capable of. For the Oubliette was hot, sun beating down on him without mercy. And every muscle, every fiber of his body, ached, cramped beyond feeling like they were his own anymore. Surely he would emerge from this place a helpless cripple.
If he emerged alive.
When first down there, he had been frightened, but tried to convince himself that it could not be that bad. Massaredo had not said how long he would be down here, but Archie had made it through a month. Of course, he had emerged frail and warped, and was just now recovered.
Today was the eleventh day.
He thought. Maybe not. Truth be told, with the sudden darkness that would descend with a storm, he was not even sure of the passing of night and day. Only that the rain brought him little relief; at first it helped to quench his thirst, but soon, soaked through, he found himself shivering and cold. With the return of the sun, the water would stagnate in the hole, stinking and miserable.
His breaking point had been last night, when for the first time a rat had dared close enough to him for him to wake up from his half-slumber to find it perched on his shoulder, its breath against his ear. And he cried again at the memory, as he had sobbed last night. He could feel his control and his self confidence giving over.
There was only the heat and the pain, and the dark despair left for him now.
"Had enough have you, Snotty."
Simpson, he thought. Why do you not rot in hell? Because this is hell, Horatio answered himself. I have joined Simpson.
"You are not so strong now, are you, Snotty? Nor so lucky, you sad whelp. It's only luck, you know, that saved you on the Papillon. And on that beach. Luck you've based your whole career on. Well, your luck ran out, didn't it? So will Mr. Kennedy's, soon. He'll be joining us, trying to lead another escape after your sorry body is removed from this pit. But don't think you'll escape. Your soul will be here for eternity."
"Nooooooo." He tried to fling himself at the apparition, but only succeeded at hurting himself trying to move. And Simpson's snickering laugh sickened him. "It's a long way down, Snotty. Along way down."
He could take this no longer, flinging his head back against the wall so hard it hurt, wondering if he would dash his brains to bits and end his torment. Or had his life ended already? He could no longer tell, and he whimpered, like he had when he'd been lost when he was five.
He'd been to the market with his mother and this great dog had frightened him. His mother could not see him, but the dog...licking his teeth, barking and growling...and the man who joked that Horatio would make a nice little snack, to be sure. He had turned and fled in terror, the dog in pursuit. He dodged between cottages, crafty for a five year old, finally heading out over the open countryside. He saw the tree and climbed it, up to the top without thinking, scraping his knee, tearing his clothing-his mother would be very angry with him! Of course, he didn't realize that his mother had not even seen the direction he'd taken. Then he looked down, and saw how high he was. The dog was gone, having long given up, but he was left alone, in a strange countryside, so very high up from the ground. He remembered his tight grip on the branch, head crooked in his arm, whimpering, wondering why nobody came for him.
The word seemed little more than a buzz to him.
"Horatio." The whispered word echoed through the Oubliette, and he covered his ears. Madness had come. There was no return now.
"Horatio." Slowly he lifted his eyes towards the sound, tears still streaming down his face, hands still over his ears.
He saw his father before him.
Horatio cringed. Not this, no not this; he would never wish his father to know the spectacle he'd become, the sorry, sorry man given in to madness. "Oh God!" He sobbed, and bent his head into his chest. Either he was hallucinating, dead, or seeing ghosts, and none of those options pleased him.
"My son." The voice whispered. "Hold on, Horatio. I know your strengths. I know your weaknesses. Hold on, do not give in. So many depend on you."
"I have let you down." He moaned, eyes still hidden.
"Never, Horatio. Not in all of your life. No matter what I said to you once. I love you, and you have not let me down. Hang on, Horatio. Hang on and return to the Indefatigable. You are missed."
Trying, desperately, to pull himself together, he lifted his head, gulping breaths replacing his wracked sobs. But instead of his father he saw Captain Pellew before him now.
"I told you, Mr. Hornblower, I judge a man by what I see him do."
Well, what had he done? Nothing to be proud of. Gotten his ship captured, been unable to keep his men in line while in prison, fine record that was.
"Mr. Kennedy is alive, I see. Well done, Mr. Hornblower."
Well done? Which one of them, he wondered, was mad? How could Captain Pellew, so observant of other men, not ever see Horatio's faults. It amazed him even in his distress.
This voice was softer, gentler. And at once the black despair broke over him, released him from its hold.
"Mother!" He cried out, reaching for her.
He felt her touch then, somehow, felt her cradling him in her arms as she'd done that day. Finding him eventually stuck up the tree, she had somehow, skirts and all, climbed up after him, and gently guided him down. At the bottom he remembered her warm embrace, the feel of her soft dress against his cheek, and then he saw the tear in her skirt, remembered his own damaged clothing, and felt his heart sink in fear.
"Mother, I'm sorry." His eyes pleaded with her for forgiveness, his body trembling.
She smiled down at him. "I can mend your clothes, Horatio. I can buy a new dress. But I could never replace such a wonderful son."
She was here with him now, in the Oubliette. But then she had never been far from him. Not even in Justinian.
"We are all here for you, Horatio. Always."
And he laid back his head, the buzzing growing fainter, the feel of her hand gently stroking his curls. "It will be alright." Horatio whispered. And he began to believe it. "It will be alright."
And the darkness came over him, welcoming and warm, like his mother's embrace, and he slept.
I am seated at my dinner table, joined by Brandon, Bowles, and Bracegirdle. The trio are humoring me with a game of whist, to take my mind off, no doubt, the fact that we are know on our way back to Gibraltar, without Mr. Hornblower and the men.
Still thinking on what I might say to Hale, I played a card.
Brandon, slowly reaching across the table, slid it over to his hand. "And the rest are mine...Sir." He said, perhaps a bit hesitantly, not sure if I was to resume my periodic ranting that had so marked this voyage.
"Hell!" I exclaimed, looking down and seeing that in fact he had perfectly finessed the hand. "Well done, Mr. Brandon. And a lesson to me to keep my mind on what I'm doing."
I got up and got the Claret out, pouring three glasses. Powers appeared as I did so, and managed to produce a non-alcoholic cordial drink for Brandon, which he accepted gratefully. "Well, Gentlemen, any ideas as to how I should tell Hale that the documents he seeks are most probably at the bottom of the ocean?"
Bowles sipped his wine appreciatively. "Well, at least we got confirmation from Romero that most of our men are still alive."
Brandon interposed: "Or at least they were as of last May."
I had to remind myself that the men did not know of the exact tone of my conversation with Hale last month.
"Gentlemen, Admiral Hale is not...overly concerned with the return of our men. That, I am afraid, was my concern. So Romero's information yields little that he would consider useful."
Bracegirdle eyed me. "Well, he said he never saw any dispatches, so I think that speaks strongly of their being sunk."
I agreed, but of course that was not the answer Hale wanted.
Brandon was frowning in the corner. "I'm certain if Mr. Hornblower could think of getting away with hiding those documents somehow to get them past the Spanish, he would have. In his clothing, somehow?"
Bowles put it bluntly. "They'd have searched him, probably made all the men strip naked and went through every item minutely."
The look on Brandon's face betrayed his age and innocence.
"They'd do that?!"
Bracegirdle tried to put it gently, and failed. "You always want to strip search a large number of prisoners you take in on a ship, Mr. Brandon. Some men can find...ingenious ways of hiding things."
Bowles concurred. "Had a Captain once, Denny the name was, who not only strip searched any new crewmen he had on board, used to make all the men do it whenever we left port!"
Bracegirdle now was aghast. "Surely not!"
Bowles gave him a half grimace. "Not the officers, thankfully; otherwise, no man was immune!"
No MAN ever is, I thought bitterly at the indigence my men would have endured, even though in the same situation I would be forced to do the same. A woman, of course, would not suffer so...
The conversation of Bowles' former Captain's eccentricities went on behind me, but I heard not a word. Instead, an idea was forming.
The Duchess was a woman-however much I doubt her actual title, I do not doubt her gender! She would not be searched. If the opportunity presented itself...would he dare? Would he burden a titled woman (or so he thought) with dangerous documents? Of course, he had no way of knowing she might be an imposter, and so would trust her. For that matter, he did not know just how dangerous those documents were
Was it the right thing to have done? For certain the documents had not come to light. The 'duchess' was probably stuck in a neutral port right now. Perhaps she was trustworthy...he'd have spent more time with her than I would have. We'd had no word from her since the capture, though.
My thoughts were interrupted by Mr. Brandon's concerned voice. "Are you alright, Sir?"
I jumped slightly. "Yes, yes, I'm fine...I've just thought of something I might tell Admiral Hale." I turned back to them. "Gentlemen, I thank you for your attention this evening, even if it has only served to further enrich Mr. Brandon's pocket!" I quipped. "I bid you all good evening."
And the three of them all filed out, now looking at me in a confused manner.
But I had a plan, now...one that might enable me to return to this area and continue my search for my men...with Hale's blessing, no less.
I chuckled at the thought of how pleased Harvey would be at my machinations.
August 5th, Spain.
Hunter sat at his bunk, feeling nothing but black misery. Mr. Kennedy sat across from him, nose in a book, but Hunter knew he wasn't seeing the pages. Often he would get up and stare out the window, to no avail. Fifteen days it had been since Hornblower'd been sent into that hole.
Hunter corrected himself. Fifteen days since *I* sent him into that hole.
The guilt sat within him unabated. Mr. Kennedy would occasionally try to pick him up, convince him to eat to keep his strength up for Horatio's sake, but only dragged him down even further. Kennedy, who he had almost killed by his negligence, was Christian enough to help him. Hornblower, whom he had thwarted and insulted in every way possible, just shy of insubordination, was currently serving a sentence that was HIS by justice. And he no longer knew himself at all.
He was a ship with no rudder, adrift in a black sea on a cloudy night. For as long as he'd been in the Navy, he had counted on his strength and bravery to see him through. He'd always been praised on it as a younger man; to be the strongest and the bravest, that meant something. Of course, as he'd been told often, he had no head for book learning. Perhaps that made him bitter towards those who did.
That was why he was still a midshipman, though, having seen men often weaker and less sure of themselves in battle pass an exam that always blew him away. And often, he would see these young Lieutenants killed in action, no better soldiers, he thought, for being commissioned officers.
He'd quickly labeled Hornblower as one of those. Oh, sure, he'd heard about the boy's exploits, but what said any of them about courage? To blow away enemy corvettes from a ship they believed to be fighting on their side? To follow the great Captain Foster onto a burning ship to take credit for some of his glory (for Hunter had never believed Hornblower to be capable of the more active version, even though he'd been there for it!). To sail a stinking barge around the Med waiting to see if your crew died of Plague?
And yet, Hornblower was beloved on that ship! Revered by the boys, praised by the Captain, treated as an equal by Bracegirdle and Bowles. He'd thought it was disgusting.
Now, looking back on it, he remember his initial meeting with Hornblower, how the boy had offered his friendship, and he had sneered at him. He'd not befriend a book-reading nineteen year old Lieutenant who'd not have the first clue as to how to survive a real dangerous battle!
Still, he had to admit now, Hornblower had given him every opportunity. Finally, he gave up, and they became unacknowledged adversaries, except that somehow, some way, Hornblower always was one up on him.
Until they came here. Here, where Hunter knew his strength was an asset. Here, where Kennedy was a distraction. He soon had most of the men on his side; the men knew what he was capable of.
What was it Oldroyd had repeated to him that one time? That Hornblower had said? "I'll not risk your life, nor mine, in folly." Hunter had written it off as cowardice. Instead, it had been truth.
His world was upside down. Hornblower had been right at every point of the way. Right not to challenge Don Massaredo openly. Right to wait for Kennedy's recovery, because he could now see that he was a loyal soldier, loyal enough to Hornblower's wishes to treat him with some kindness despite his past. Right to spend so long with the Duchess, for Kennedy had now told him of the plan they had been working on, based on information Hornblower had learned during those walks.
And he could not question the man's courage, either. When the escape was underway, he joined in, when he could easily have taken his four loyal men back to their cells and truthfully claimed to have no knowledge of the plot. No doubt they would have all been killed. 'And he'd had courage enough to step in front of a loaded gun to save me!' Hunter mused. And then courage enough to take Hunter's punishment, knowing such confinement with Hunter's wound would be fatal.
There were those blasted tears again. Would they never end? Would he ever be able to make any sense of...
"Horatio! Thank god."
He leapt off the bed to join Kennedy in supporting a very hurt Hornblower as he was returned to their cell. And just like the man he was, the first thing that he did was inquire after Hunter's let.
"It's well, Sir."
And then he collapsed onto the floor, and Hunter saw the terror in Kennedy's face. But the Lieutenant only muttered a weak "Oh Dear." And somehow they all laughed.
But Hunter knew, his life, nothing would ever be the same now. If Mr. Hornblower could be so courageous, then who was the coward?
Hunter suspected he knew the answer, and would never be able to prove it otherwise to himself ever again.