Pieces of a Friend (story)
by Deirdre

Diamonds of white sunlight sparkled over a sea of turquoise, turning
fluid as they cascaded through panes of glass to bathe the solitary
figure sitting at the window. Cradled in the sun's warm embrace,
Commander Hornblower gazed into the glistening water, his fingers
slowly massaging the furrows in his brow. But with a sudden ambush
an icy shiver impaled his body, piercing through the warmth of his
flesh. With an agonized groan he dropped his hand over his eyes and
squeezed; it was not the first time this day that the phenomenon had
inflicted him.

"Excuse me, Mr. Hornblower . . .?"

The raspy voice nearly jolted Horatio off of the bench; he was
unaware that Mr. Bush had entered the wardroom and like a sentinel
was quietly watching him.

"I was told I would find you here, sir."

Horatio shot to his feet, fumbling to straighten his uniform.
"Mr. Bush, sir . . . . h'hum . . . . Mr. Bush." His
cheeks reddened as the words stumbled out. "I had come . . . . I
am here to collect my things . . . and . . ."

"Commander . . . . sir, the steward will see to all of that for
you." Bush politely reminded him with an unconvinced brow.

"Yes, of course . . ." He said, shooing away the
lieutenant's words with an impatient hand. "Actually, I was
just looking for something, and I was wondering if it may still be
here."

"Oh, then you have lost something? What are you looking
for?" Taking a few relieved steps into the room, Bush rested his
hat on the table to ready himself for the search.

In silence Horatio shook his head, his exasperated eyes carefully
avoiding the other man. He was in no mood for inquisitions and
certainly not prepared for this intruder who invaded his sweet
misery, and now he was annoyed with himself that he had just
inadvertently invited him on an imaginary search.

"Surely, no good in leaving something behind. If it is
important . . ." Bush prodded.

"It is of no importance."

Finally he met the pale eyes that were coaxing him. Unexpectedly,
warmth returned to his body as the rigor fled from his muscles; for a
moment he considered the truth and parted his lips to speak, but
tightened them again as his tongue rejected the words.

"Come now, sir, what is it? I will ask the stewards if they know
anything . . .they could search for it."

"That will not be necessary, Mr. Bush." He insisted, tensing
again.

"With respect, sir, if I knew what you were looking for, then
possibly I could be of assistance . . ."

"No, you cannot be of assistance!" Horatio snapped, raising
his eyes to shoot their fiery missiles at the persistent man.
"And if I deem it necessary, then I will instruct the stewards to
look for it. I do not need to get this ship in an uproar over
some . . . insignificant thing . . . that I have misplaced!"
Violently his finger jabbed the table. "Is that understood?"

"Aye, sir . . . as you wish . . ." Bush skeptically replied.
Focusing on the agitated man he cautiously approached a vacant chair,
taking up a book as he eased himself down. The book went unread,
however, as the curious spectator settled to watch the play enacted
before him.

Turning his back on his audience, Horatio began an insincere search
through worn books and orderly drawers and took blind glances behind
canvas screens, stopping only to cast a longing gaze at his old cot.
His body had still yearned for rest when dawn invaded his fretful
sleep, but his mind was awakened by expectations of boarding Renown
once again. It had taken his hurried walk to the pier and a
nauseating voyage in an open boat under the blazing Jamaican sun to
convince himself that he was returning just to collect his own scanty
belongings. But when he entered the wardroom, frigid winds like
those of Portsmouth in the dead of winter dissolved the white-hot sun
and his body shuddered from the chill. The insignificant pieces of
his life still clung to the room, but all that was Archie's had
vanished.

Abashed by the prying eyes that followed him, he picked up a book to
shield himself from their scrutiny and began leafing through the
upside-down pages. The book was one of his own, but he longed for it
to be one of Archie's. He despised the need for his fingers to
touch something belonging to his friend - a friend he had once
rejected in the early days with depressing success. It was with his
own glacial heart that he smashed the tiller against an ailing skull,
only to open a fissure that he would eventually have to close. Even
now he could hear it's shattering impact against Archie's
fair head. He closed his eyes and stilled his lungs, attempting to
smother the sound that tormented his imagination, but it would not be
stifled. Its resonance only reminded him that his evil heart went
even further when accepting Simpson's lying word that Archie
would never have to be seen again.

But he did see him again. So now he could delight in condemning his
cowardly surrender to the Dons when he should have fought and died at
sea and spared himself that wretched discovery in El Ferrol. He
regretted those black days of captivity, when his extravagant
compassion persuaded him to care for a dying man so as to bring him
back to life. Now he could never bring him back. Had he only
controlled himself, the infrangible bond would never have been
formed, only to be so bitterly broken. Horatio could not see that
Archie too shared part of the blame, for it was their restlessness
that had done the real damage, urging their tongues to unlock the
secrets of gated hearts. There was nothing else to do in El Ferrol
but talk. So Horatio spoke of dreams while Archie told of
nightmares.

He found himself standing behind the screen where Archie once slept
and tenderly he touched the blanket on the hanging cot. The blanket
was ship issued; there was nothing left for Horatio to hold on to,
not his friend, not even a piece of his friend. He had been merely
an exhalation, gone forever and lost in a sea of memories, with
nothing tangible to pull him back.

The spectator still sat in silence, but now his inquisitive brow
slowly gave way to understanding. "Sir, Mr. Kennedy's chest
and belongings were removed right after his . . . confession."
Bush offered unsolicited.

With a quick breath he stiffened. "Oh, I see." Bush, it
seemed, was not as dull-witted as he had once thought. Pretending to
accept the news, he turned to face this perceiver. "They were
removed, you said?"

"Yes, sir." Bush replied absently, fondling at something in
his breast pocket before extracting his empty hand.

"I had though that . . . his family . . . might wish to have them
back. And since I'll be sailing, I thought I might . . . take
them . . . " He lied, hoping that his sentimental heart was no
longer transparent. "So, there is nothing lefthis chest,
his books . . . ?" He swept his arm through the air to complete
his thought, not accepting that a man could so easily be erased by
one underserved stroke against his good name.

"No, sir, all of his belongings were removed disposed of .
. . .I am not certain, it happened while I was still ashore."

"But what of his will? Surely they must respect the wishes of a
dea . . . . . .of a dying man?"

Bush winced as he rose slowly from his chair. "To the navy, sir,
he died in disgrace. I cannot say if they will honor his wishes, but
I have heard it said that they think it inappropriate for anyone to
accept his belongings. You are aware, sir, in doing so they would
choose to be identified with such a man"

"Such a man! Such a man, you say?" Scarlet erupted into
Horatio's face as fire inflamed his body. "How dare you
stand there and speak of him in that manner! That man was one of the
finest I have ever had the honor to serve with. In all my years, I
have never witnessed anyone able to beat the losing hand dealt them
the way Archie did. And that man, as you say, had saved my life more
than once. Now, I owe . . . more than my life to him, and that debt
I can never repay. Do not speak as if he deserved his dishonor."
He fell into painful silence before mumbling softly, "He was . .
. my . . ."

In an instant, all of the seething emotions he was battling exploded
in his heart and to his utter horror long suppressed moisture welled
up in his eyes and quietly began slithering down his face. He
turned away to hide the shame, contemning his own tender affections
and pummeling himself for caring about a man who had to be wrenched
from his world with such agonizing disgrace. Collapsing from the
mortal blows to his spirit, Horatio's knee dropped on the sunlit
bench, his elbow crashing onto the sill as he crumbled. His eyes
hid behind a sheltering hand; so angry that he had lost control - so
mortified that Bush had witnessed it. He wanted to order Bush from
the room so he could suffer alone, but he suspected the man would
leave on his own accord, disgusted by this pitiful display. How could
he ever be confident in a leader who gave way to tears?

But Bush did not leave him. Stroking his chin, he contemplated the
defeated actor before him. Slowly he approached the window bench and
sat beside Horatio, facing him as he drew one leg onto the seat. He
remained silent for a while as he studied the grieving man, waiting
for words to come that would not deepen unhealed wounds.

"I cannot pretend that it is easy to lose a friend, sir. I have
suffered my fair share of losses in this bloody serviceit hurts
every time. But you were a good friend . . ."

"I was not a friend." Horatio confessed to the windowpanes.

"Certainly, you were. Archie spoke of your days in El Ferrol
..."

Defiantly he looked at Bush. "Did he ever `speak' of how
he got there . . . how I bludgeoned him over the head with a tiller?
And how he went adrift in a boat and was captured? I nearly killed
him that night . . ." He turned away and quietly said, "it
would have been better if I had." If he had only killed Archie
that frightful evening, the twinge of pain he felt then would have
been nothing compared to the cannon shot that now bombarded his heart.

"I know you did what had to be done. As I understand it, under
the circumstances, you had no choice. I believe Archie understood
that all would have been lost had you not done something, sir."

"I could have done something else, I could have protected him
..." Horatio panicked as he realized that his thoughts had spoken
aloud.

"Protect him? Protect him from what? You cannot expect to keep
every man safe from harm - war takes its toll. You must accept
that."

But Horatio was not speaking of war; he was speaking of evil.

"You do not understand. There was a man, a midshipman like us -
he was the one who cut the boat loose and set Archie adrift . . .and
I did not stop it. So you see, not only did I try to kill Archie, I
also did not try to save him."

Bush was contemplative for a moment before suggesting: "You speak
of Simpson."

Jerking his head up he shot Bush an anxious look. He did not know
what foolish things Archie may have confessed to this stranger;
heaven knew that once he began talking it was difficult to get him to
shut up. But in this he was sure of himself never would he
exalt Simpson by telling of his exploits or expose Archie's secret
shame of an innocence forever lost.

Looking into the startled hart's eyes, Bush shrugged, "Archie
had mentioned to me once that there were some demons in his past, and
the worst demon of all was Simpson. And by this account, it would
seem he was a wicked devil to torment one of his own." He said,
feigning nonchalance.

"Simpson tormented us all - but he is dead now - as are those
memories of his torment."

"Archie had said as much." Bush said, with relief in his
tone.

Other stories were being told by the twisting fingers of clasped
hands and the tear that had emerged from a sullen eye to dry on the
pale cheek, but they were stories written with silent words spoken
only in the heart. Bush seemed content not to hear them.

"Archie told me he was sick in El Ferrol when you found him.
He said that you took care of him you bathed him and fed him
..."

"Archie liked to tell stories, Mr. Bush." Horatio forced a
smile. "I can assure you, I did nothing. It was he who took
care of me when I was sick he held my head so I could drink.
He gave me his food, even when his hunger was greater than my own.
It took all of my strength in that place to remind myself that I was
a man and not a beast . . .if it hadn't been for Archie, I would
never have survived."

"It seems that you both tell the same kinds of stories."
Bush replied, a faint sparkle dancing in his eye. "It was
fortunate for you that you had such a friend."

"Archie was more than my friend, Mr. Bush . . . and he was a
truer friend than ever I was to him."

"I believe he was a good judge of character, sir. He would never
have done anything for a man unless it was deserved."

Horatio laughed sarcastically under his breath. "I deserved
nothing. I did not even know how to be his `friend' when he
was dying; all I could do was `pretend' to be an officer
..."

"Sir, Archie never doubted your friendship"

"It does not matter, he deserved better from mejust as he
deserved better from the navy . . ." Horatio insisted.

"They do not understand, they had to do what was done.
Kennedy's confession left them no choice. In the end, sir, it
was Archie's decision to stand up in court, it is what he wanted
to do. . .do not take that away from him."

Again he was agitated that Bush had read him so well. He had long
been resolved to feel the rope snap his neck as he always expected it
would; it was `his' duty to take the blame and it was his
responsibility to protect his friend's name. But Archie had
rejected the safety of that sanctuary and stole the opportunity from
him. Now Horatio was left with the remnants of his defeated plan and
the pain of Archie's dishonour. It would have been much easier
to die.

"Archie deserved his good name." Horatio said solemnly down
to his fidgeting hands.

"With respect, sir, I do not believe that is your decision to
make, it was Archie's name to do with as he saw fit. And he saw
fit to give it up. Horatio," Bush said, leaning toward him,
"he was about to lose everything, but he knew you would never
forget him or his good name he entrusted you with that. If he
had said nothing, you both would be dead - who would have remembered
him then, good name or not?" Bush watched the bowed head until
the
silence made Horatio look up, then he continued, "I believe you
did more for the man than you are willing to take credit for, sir,
and Archie thanked you in the only way that he could. He was not
going to watch you throw away your life and honour when he still had
something to offer. It was the last thing he had left in the whole
world to give you, Horatio, do not despise the gift because
`you' think the price to dear."

The casual use of his given name had gone unnoticed as Horatio looked
into eyes that were oddly familiar maybe it was their color, he
thought. Somehow this unusually loquacious man inspired Horatio to
force a weak smile despite the tear that tickled his face. He
wondered what things Archie had revealed to him as they had laid -
one recovering and one dying in the prison hospital ward;
imagining that he had just heard the words that they had spoken. So
here he was, on the verge of making the same mistake of being caught
off guard by another likable soulhad it not been for Bush's
ability to say inappropriate things at inappropriate times.

"Sir, if I may presume to ask, what really did happen that night?
Was Kennedy telling the truth?"

Slowly Horatio shook his head and calmly said, "No, Mr. Bush,
you may not presume." Then he rose and walked away. But this
time he did not pretend to search for anything. There was nothing to
be found, just as there was nothing to tell about that night on
Renown.

He would never expose his fear of dying an ignoble death as the
result of a lunatic or try to explain his duty to save the ship and
the lives of the men within her before it was too late. How could he
describe as one man found courage to face a madman alone while
another cowardly hid in the shadows, awaiting the opportunity to leap
out like a tiger to attack his prey?

The echoes of Archie's voice whispered in his thoughts:

"Horatio, I am dead now, and surely so are you! Why must you
always follow me around trying to correct my mistakes?" Archie
had fumed.

"I did not try to correct anything you made no mistake."

"I made no mistake? Are you blind as well as dense? Did you not
notice that I backed him right into the hold? What was I thinking
that I could placate a bedlamite?!"

"Oh . . . . .I thought that you meant to . . ."

"You thought I meant to . . . .what? To make him fall? Oh, good
god, Horatio! Do you think I am as mad as he is! What would that
have accomplished but to ensure my own death? Now, how do I talk my
way out of this one, I ask you? I will hang if Sawyer ever comes to
his senses - and if he remembers that you were there, you are as good
as dead too. What on earth where you trying to do?"

"I was only trying to do my duty . . . but it seems I may have
failed." Horatio said with a furtive smile.

"Your duty? What, to take care of me?"

"No Archie, not `you', you are quite capable of taking
care of yourself."

"What are you saying?" Archie was chuckling now as an alien
notion popped into his head. "Horatio, who would have thought?
Were you trying to be Sawyer's `protective angel' -
keeping him from any harm that a rather panic inclined friend may
inflict?! I will never be convinced of that! You would have an
easier time convincing me that you had tried to push . . ." His
brow knitted as he looked at the mask that had once been Horatio's
face. For some moments he did not speak until finally a distant
thought was forced into words, "Maybe we were both trying to be
heroes."

With that Archie fell into an unusual silence, and never spoke of the
matter again.

 

 

Bush rose and approached him where he stood staring into Archie's
old cabin. "I apologize, sir. I had no right to ask. But . .
. if . . . Mr. Kennedy spoke the truth; I think no less of him.
Something had to be done at least he had the courage to try.
It certainly could have been a better option than what we had only
moments before considered."

A better option, Horatio laughed inside himself, to save the good
name of a mad captain by trying to kill him instead of stealing the
ship out from under him? He was surprised that a man like Bush, so
unquestioning of the navy, should feel the same as he, a man who
questioned it all. Surely Bush would never understand his decision to
go against the service in order to save it. But Archie had
understood. It was Kennedy who had said, "Just let him", in
response to his own remark that the captain wanted to die. So, when
Captain Sawyer was beginning to fall, a calculating mind took that
calculated risk and chose what could have been the better option - to
assist him and to just let him die. Unfortunately, he did not.

Horatio looked into the sincere eyes, his heart softening with
awareness of the man's willingness to absolve whoever carried the
guilt. "I accept your apology, William." He said with a
grateful smile.

Bush again rummaged in his jacket. "Before I go, I have
something for you." He removed a small bundle. "It's
from . . . Archie . . . he wasn't sure if you would make it
before hehe didn't know that he would see you again. He
asked me to wait until I thought the time was right . . . and I think
it's time, sir."

Horatio's heart tumbled inside him as Bush offered the envelope;
it had been lettered by the trembling hand of a dying man, and tied
with a ribbon from Archie's queue.

Waves of relief and apprehension swept over Horatio's face and
through his heart for an instant, then both went to stone.

"Thank you, Mr. Bush, I will read it later." Then he slid it
into his breast pocket with the formal air of an unconcerned officer.

"There is one more thing, sir . . . Dr. Clive . . . for some
reason thought you might want this . . ." With an uncertain hand
Bush reached out and placed an icy lead ball into Hornblower's
warm palm.

Frozen, Horatio could find neither his breath nor heartbeat. He
studied the small ball - dry, lifeless blood still filling the pits
on its surface. He held in his hand the horrid object that had taken
his friend's life as if he held that life itself.

Bush bravely squeezed the statue's arm, "It has been good to
see you again, sir." Then, releasing his grip and taking up his
hat he withdrew from the wardroom, stopping in the doorway to add,
"I want you to know that I admire Kennedy's decision. I will
always hold his name in the highest regard and will respect him for
what he has done for you."

But Horatio stood mute. Gazing at the reddened ball that lay in his
palm, he could only whisper in his aching heart, "And I will
always love him."

 

Somewhere above his head, twittering pipes drew the attention of all
hands to their commander's clumsy display of a landlubber's
boarding tactics. Despite his mathematical mind, Hornblower had
little success in judging the perfect moment to leap from the shore
boat so he would land well up on the ship's side instead of left
dangling nearly at her waterline. Even this sloop seemed like a
mountain to Horatio as he scrambled to board her with blundering
hands and feet, and the undulating sea was not helping a bit.

In spite of bristling over his awkward performance, once he placed a
possessive foot on the sun washed deck of Retribution, swelling pride
set his lips tightly in a satisfied smile, erasing the black scowl
that had been etched on his face. With keen curiosity his eyes swept
the scanty crew for a familiar face but found none; he only detected
their own inquisitive glances made with darting caution. Had the
circumstances of the last few weeks been any different, the crew at
this moment could very well be scrutinizing Bushor even
Kennedy.

That last thought ignited a searing fire in his heart as it pounded
with fervent expectancy against the bundle in his breast pocket. Now
all the workings of his mind settled on finding solitude in his cabin
to read the letter and listen to Archie's voice speak silently in
his thoughts. Impatiently, he swung around like a ship with a spring
on her cable and steered toward his quarters, only to be abruptly
halted by a jousting bicorn.

With surprising agility he captured his own hat, jerking his head
backwards to avoid a further assault. He pulled his shoulders
straight and made tugging adjustments to his uniform while subtly
tilting his neck side to side to make sure it still functioned
properly. Thus composed, he could glare at his attacker; an unknown
lieutenant with wide, bulging blue eyes adorning a long face that
lacked a chin. A goat, he decided.

"Lieutenant Butler, reporting, sir." The goat nervously
bleated, his salute paralyzed under Horatio's burning glare. At
the realization that he had nearly dismasted his captain, he
spluttered, "M My apologies, sir," and remained frozen
like an iceberg blocking Horatio's passage to the coveted cabin.

For a ponderous moment he considered his lieutenant, his heart
softening with thoughts that this man had been ripped from the
security of another vessel to be sent back home with an unknown
commander on an unfamiliar ship. Beads of sweat were already popping
up on the man's forehead, but Horatio decided that was no
indication of his ability as a lieutenant or as a sailor. The
officer in him realized the man should receive a dressing-down, but
the human in him wanted to reassure the anxious fellow that his
captain would not devour him. He wanted respect, not fear, from the
men under his command.

"Apology noted, Lieutenant . . .Butler." He said with a
slight curl at the corner of his mouth.

But maybe fear would have been better.

Bolstered by the generosity, Butler bolted past Hornblower's
upcoming words with a rush of all of his unsolicited knowledge.

"The new crew is still being assembled, sir - we have just a
third of the men, and not a good topman among them. The bos'n,
sir, at present is also the carpenter, and he suspects we are taking
on a bit more water than we should, and reports that we haven't
any spare . . ." Butler rambled on, oblivious to Hornblower's
confounded gaze.

Not one thought of the letter or his cabin or even Archie came into
his mind. Now his only concerns were on the long voyage home and how
far out to sea they would get before he had this man thrown
overboard. With that happy thought in mind, he wondered if he would
be able to endure any of his crew or if he would be sailing into
Portsmouth alone. He began to reprimand himself for letting his
sympathies make decisions for him and now he was tired of pretending
to listen to his lieutenant, just as he was tired of pretending to
like him. The sun was baking him alive in his jacket and he
desperately wanted to escape to his cabin, but he could not move for
this obstacle placed before him. Butler, he was certain, could
single-handedly blockade the entire French fleet for the duration of
the war judging by his fine performance at present.

"Sir Edward Pellew sent a crate over for you sir, with his
respects. This letter accompanied it." Butler miraculously
produced an envelope and thrust it into Hornblower's startled
hand. Then he fell into silence, radiating confidence in his first
report
to his captain.

"And the crate?" Horatio queried.

"In your cabin, sir."

His cabin! Life jumped into his heart again. "I must retire to
my quarters and I do not want to be disturbed. Is that clear?"

"Aye, aye, sir."

"You will make a full report to me again after the turn of the
watch. Bring the bos'n and the purser with you as well. How
many officers on board at present?"

"Seven sir, if you count the midshipman and petty officers. And
sir, at present the bos'n IS the purser . . .sir."

Horatio had a lot of work ahead of him. "Very well, then.
Inform the other officers on board that they are to report to me
in . . .three hours," he made a quick check of his battered
watch, "at two bells." Amid a flurry of `aye, aye,
sir's', he quickly dismissed Butler and with hasty strides
made way for his refuge.

Once inside the cabin, he removed his hat and shut the door behind
him, leaning his back against it in an attempt to reassure himself
that no one would enter on his heels. He looked around at what would
have been his during the short voyage to Jamaica, had the great toll
of the prisoner uprising not required him to remain aboard Renown.
The walls were dark not painted like he was used to and
though light came through the stern windows, it was not enough to
make the place cheerful. There were only a few shabby furnishings in
the cabin: a hanging cot that was not hanging at present, a case for
books, and a crate - presumably from Pellew - pushed up against the
wall near an insignificant desk and a dangerous looking chair. Two
small lanterns hung, one just above the desk and one in the darkest
corner, but only the one above the desk was sharing its meager light
with the room.

After tossing his hat on the grounded bed, he shed his jacket,
removing its precious contents before it too found a home on the
cot. Taking but a few steps he approached the crate and nudged it
with an inquiring foot wine, certainly. And a good bit
the crate was not small a dozen and a half, maybe two. Yet the
wine and Pellew's message could wait; he had delayed the
inevitable long enough and the suppressed excitement was choking
him. His heart pulsated in his throat with such force he was sure it
no longer lived in his chest and his stomach was beginning to play
unpleasant games. And added to it all, the stuffy cabin of this
sloop that happily jumped in the excited sea was only complicating
his situation.

He pulled out the chair, wondering why it had not yet been used as
firewood, and carefully descended upon it; when it did not collapse
he bravely decided to trust it with his weight. Placing the two
letters on his desk he put Archie's on top, but in his slender
fingers he rolled the pistol shot.

Damn that Clive, Hornblower thought. What kind of man was he to dig
this out of Archie's flesh and then have it presented to him like
it was a prize? It was a needless question the doctor fought
against his every attempt to save the ship and refused to defend
Hornblower's actions and now that Horatio had won, Clive
surely was determined to torment his mind. It may have just been his
own wild imagination, but he was certain the man's final
handshake was more of a wish for his death than for life. Now he had
given Horatio a reminder of the outcome of all of his clever schemes

and it was the most painful slap he had ever received.

Yeton its surface was part of Archie part of his blood
and regardless of Clive's intentions, Horatio would not
disregard something so dear to him. Taking one last look, he
carefully stowed the shot away in his vest pocket and gathered up
Archie's letter.

Turning it over in his hands, he wondered what could be said in
writing that was not already spoken in words. Gently he tugged at
the queue ribbon and it flowed off the envelope into a dark puddle on
the desk. Setting the envelope aside he took the ribbon into his
hands, fondling it with his fingers . . . . and remembering.

Not long after their ordeal in El Ferrol had ended, they had found
themselves swarming onto the deck of a French ship all dirks
and pikes and cutlasses in a flurry of bloodshed. It was during that
heated battle when Archie was nearly decapitated by a cutlass that
had cut his ribbon in two. He could not suppress his smile at the
memory of Archie shorn in an instant, with all of his honey hair
strewn over the deck, cursing how long it had taken to grow. He
never complained about the gaping wound at the base of his scalp or
the blood that stained his uniform; but he did fret a bit over a
perfectly good ribbon sliced in half, and decided to kept it as a
reminder of how close to death he had come. This was the ribbon,
knotted together to form one piece again, like two friends embracing.

He tenderly laid the ribbon down, and turned his attention to the
envelope. With a flourish his name was written across its pure white
face, but the letters were not crisp; they appeared to be moving. He
wedged his finger into a gap, forcing the wax seal open. . . and
unfolding it, slipped out the ghostly pages.

Dear Horatio,

I fear I may not be able to see you in time, but I know the turmoil -
- and the guilt, for I do know you -- that is inside you now, and I
must put your mind at ease. I have the desire to write an epic, but
surely not the strength. Had I but time -- as this fell sergeant,
Death, is strict in his arrest -- O I could tell you. * Yet how
shall I commit to a few words the sum of our friendship, and the very
soul of bounty** which you have shared with me? Nonetheless, out of
my lean and low ability, I'll lend you something...***

Never regret those decisions made, yours or mine; we both have made
choices not easily understood . . . but they are done. And it was
you who taught me that, although I had no control over my past, I do
have control over my future...just as I now have control over how I
leave this life.

Thank you for believing in me, Horatio, even when I could not believe
in myself. And I thank you for restoring my honour -- not in the
world's sight, but in my own. Now Horatio, I know that you are
suffering over my loss of honour. But it is not your place to be
pained over something that does not pain me. I know what I have done
is right -- I leave knowing in my heart that my name is good... I
know the extent of my honour. Why should I have a care what the
world believes if I am certain of what I believe... and
certain of what you believe?

Now, Horatio, there are some things I must tell you... I am ashamed
of my past jealousy. Yes, jealousy. I was envious when you received
commands and privileges and I did not -- no concessions for me, I
fear. Now, I must apologise for that petty jealousy, as it was all
just my pain and disappointment with my own life that was bringing it
to the fore. I know, as I have always known, that I would never have
made it thus far in this life, without your strength... and at times,
without knowing that you needed my strength. That, Horatio, was the
most important gift you have given me, up to this present day: You
have helped me to believe that I have value,
and that I have been needed...

And so now, my dear friend, all I can say is, live.... Live for us
both. I can finally say now with all certainty that there is enough
of me living within you, that a part of me will always continue to
be. Remember me --not as the despairing young man you saved in El
Ferrol, but as a friend whose greatest joy in life was to stand
beside you -- in duty, in victory, and in pain. Thank you for my
life, Horatio; and now, it is with deep respect, gratitude... and
honour that I give yours to you...

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.****

 

Yours always,
Lt Archie Kennedy.

 

 

(*Hamlet, Act V, scene ii / **Timon of Athens, Act I, scene ii /
***Twelfth Night, Act III, scene iv
****Julius Caesar, Act ii, scene ii)

 

 

 

He sat in silence, but for the first time in weeks he was actually at
peace. There were no agitations, and suddenly no regrets. Two men,
Pellew and Bush, had brought him part way to this destination, but
only Kennedy was able to satisfy his heart and help him complete the
voyage. It amazed him that any man could ignore what the world
thought of him . . . and he wondered if he would ever be so strong.
But something else had brought warmth to him Archie believed
that Horatio had given him a gift when all this time he was
convinced that he had never given anything to anyone. Refolding the
letter back into its envelope he exchanged it for the ribbon that lay
on the desk. He held it to his nose; it still smelled like the
friend that he had come to love as a brother. Without another
thought, he untied his own ribbon and threw it aside, retying his
hair with the one that would always be a reminder of how close he too
had come to death, and of the friend that had loved him.

He was enjoying the sound of the sea as it licked the ship's
belly and now even the smell of the musty cabin seemed pleasant. So
contented, he had nearly forgot Pellew's letter. Quickly he
snatched it up and broke the seal, anticipating a grand assignment;
but it was simply a short note:

Commander Hornblower,

I would not see you sail back to England empty-handed. Please accept
this gift as a personal acknowledgement to loyalty and to honorable
service.

Sir Edward Pellew

Simple. It was almost too simple for Pellew. He laid down the
letter and rose to examine to crate. The lid was just loose, and he
easily wobbled it off. Digging through the straw he uncovered the
first priceless bottle and with a satisfied smirk he decided to call
for a steward, who was probably the bos'n as well. . .

Retribution found her anchorage in the choppy waters of Spithead.
Dozens of masts poked into the dusky sky, just visible as dawn began
chasing away the stars. Horatio was already on deck; the crew
keeping well away from him a lesson learned during the past
weeks as they sailed for home. But he was not pacing this morning.
Something had captured his attention as he stood by the railing, and
he was rolling it lovingly in his fingers. If any of the crew dared
to venture a glimpse, they would have seen his lips trembling, but
they would not have heard the softly spoken words.

"Archie, I will not forget you and I will never forget what you
have done for me by it, you have become a part of me. My very
existence is evidence of your honour and of your friendship.
Now, I have brought you back to England back to your home.
Sleep well, my dear friend . . ."

The pistol shot tumbled from his fingers and dropped into the sea,
and Archie's blood washed off to forever mingle with
England's.

He watched as the excited water accepted his offering, warmed in his
heart that finally Archie rested where he belonged and pleased that
he had turned Clive's insult into a blessing. Even though the sun
had yet to show itself, from the corner of his eye he could see the
men pretend to busy themselves with duties when they really were
preoccupied with the little scene just enacted. Keep them wondering,
he thought; he would not allow their curiosity to ruin his delight in
having a secret no one else knew. Now he was hungry and desperately
wanted breakfast something warm and tasty to savour as he
prepared to go ashore. So he called for his steward as he exited the
stage, and the boy for he was only seventeen hastily
appeared and followed him into his cabin. With a mass of brown curls
and hollow dark eyes, Horatio wondered if he were ever to have a son,
would he resemble the boy that now stood before him.

"Parker, I will take my breakfast," Horatio instructed as he
went about straightening papers on his desk. He was amazed at how he
could accumulate so much as he sailed across the ocean, self-
contained in this little sloop. The room began to look cluttered to
him, and on an impulse he changed his plans. Pointing to
Pellew's gift, he ordered, "First, remove that crate
and find a place for the last two bottles. I do not need that
obstacle in here."

Parker went about obeying the command removing the lid and
stowing the bottles. "Sir, what should I do with this box?"

"Take it below see if any of the men could use it or
else have it broken down"

"Not the crate sir, but this little box in the bottom."

Horatio knew nothing of a little box. The curiosity pulled him out
of his chair and over to Parker's side, where the boy held a tidy
box, about the size of a holystone maybe slightly larger
made of dovetailed joints and handsome wood. Another gift from
Pellew he hoped it was not something that he should have
consumed the first few days at sea. He unhitched the brass hasp that
kept it sealed and opening the lid he folded back a protective
neckcloth.

"Get out." He requested in a soft voice.

"Sir, do you want for me to bring your br. . ."

"Get out, I said!" Horatio demanded.

The bewildered boy hurried on his way, his brows knitted so tight
that they met in the middle. As the door slammed shut, Horatio
dropped to his knees - his liquid legs no longer able to support him -
and with trembling hands he gently removed the treasure. It was a
book, one he had often watched a friend holding as he read it with
the intensity and passion that Hamlet deserved. He carefully opened
its cover, and smiled at the sight of Archie's name scrawled
across its inner jacket with embellished letters. Turning the pages,
he found more of Archie's hand at work in the little notes penned
along the margins, reminders of favorite passages that he had held
dear. At last Horatio felt complete again anchored firmly to
the friend he now was convinced had existed.

As the sun peaked above the horizon, its golden fingers found their
way into the cabin and began touching everything in sight. Finally,
they approached the kneeling man and began caressing his hair, then
down his face until they came to rest on the open leaves that Archie
had once cherished. From those warm pages Horatio had begun reading
one of the final marked passages. . .

"O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,
Things standing thus unknown, shall I leave behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story."