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Portsmouth Reunion
by Kristen Mara

 

What if one of Archie's escape attempts actually paid off? Set after "The Fire Ships"

The Indefatigable was back in England at last, but with no time to enjoy the
fact. They had only just dropped anchor in Portsmouth when news came that
Admiral Solomon was inviting himself aboard for dinner that night.

Solomon had as much weight in the Navy as his namesake did in Biblical
times, and so immediately the ship became a hive of activity, in order to
present the best possible front, back and sides in time for his visit.

Midshipman David Carlton had ambitions. So when Captain Pellew appointed him
with the task of going ashore and purchasing a certain volume as Pellew's
gift to the Admiral and some things for the cook, Carlton was at once
pleased and disappointed in his main allotted tasks.

How mundane. Not a good test or show of faith in my abilities, he thought.

And now the bookseller was not treating him with due diffidence. His tone
seemed to snipe about a lowly midshipman wanting such grand fare.

Annoyed with the storekeeper's attitude, Carlton puffed up. "This book is
going to be a gift to none other than Admiral Solomon from the Captain of
one of the finest ships in the British Navy: HMS Indefatigable."

"Oh, is that so? Hell of a name, if you ask me."

"The only thing I am asking you is whether you have that volume! If you
would be so kind."

The man gave him a mock salute. "I shall check for you right away, sir."

Carlton imagined keelhauling the sod and felt somewhat better for the image.

Then one of the other patrons approached him. "Excuse me, sir." It was a
young man, probably a few years older than himself. He looked like a
convalescent, pale and clearly too thin, even though he was bundled up in a
greatcoat and wearing a scarf and gloves. Carlton nearly offered him space
at the counter to prop himself up on. Despite being in such a condition, he
had looks and breeding which Carlton knew would send his sisters into
raptures.

The man's voice was clear and cultured. "I couldn't help overhearing you
mention the Indefatigable. Are you a member of her company?"

"Yes, I am one of her midshipmen."

"So am I." Then a slight twist of the mouth. "Well, I was. My name is Archie
Kennedy."

Carlton frowned, considering. "I have not heard of you."

Did this Kennedy seem relieved or disappointed at that? It was hard to tell
if he was wearing a naval uniform under the coat, but from the cut of the
coat and his fine accent, Carlton deemed it prudent not to dismiss him out
of hand. "My name is David Carlton, and I joined last year." This midshipman
might have had to leave the service because of some long sickness, but
Carlton decided to phrase his question diplomatically, just in case. "Were
you transferred to another ship?"

There was a flicker in Kennedy's blue eyes. "In a manner of speaking. Tell
me, please, are you familiar with a Horatio Hornblower?"

"Oh yes. Acting-Lieutenant Hornblower is Captain Pellew's prodigy. He can do
little wrong, and even when he does, somehow all works out splendidly for
him. He even saved the Indy from a fire ship recently - steered the burning
ship away with his own hands."

"Yes, that's Horatio." Kennedy dropped his gaze to the counter for a moment,
but not before Carlton caught a hint of a shadow behind his pride. But then
it vanished. "And so is the ship still under the command of Captain Pellew?"

"Very much so. An amazing man and an honour to serve."

Kennedy nodded in agreement. The storekeeper came bustling back to Carlton,
triumphantly holding the book he was after. Carlton gave Kennedy a polite
smile, expecting that to be the end of the conversation, and conducted his
purchase.

But although Kennedy moved away to one of the bookshelves, he then stepped
up to Carlton again before he could leave the store. The pale young man
seemed to steel himself, then said, "If I might press you with one more
question: is there still an officer on board by the name of Jack Simpson?"

That tale he certainly knew. "No. He was involved in a duel with Mr
Hornblower, however Mr Simpson cheated and was shot dead by Captain Pellew,
who had been watching. That was two years ago."

"Oh," Kennedy said dazedly. "Well."

"Now, if you will excuse me, I have other preparations to make for Admiral
Solomon's visit." Never mind that they were mundane. "He is due for dinner
tonight and there is much to be done."

"I won't bother Mr Hornblower today then. Thank you very much for your time,
Mr Carlton."

xXx

Upon returning to the Indefatigable, Carlton was promptly ushered into
Pellew's day cabin. The Captain looked like he was juggling two dozen things
at once, and doing so expertly.

"Ah, Mr Carlton. Were you able to find the volume? Very good. I trust there
was no trouble encountered in locating it?"

"No, sir." He handed over the wrapped-up book and leftover coins. "The
supplies for tonight are on their way to the cook."

"Thank you. Carry on with your duties then."

Desperate to stretch the conversation a little longer, Carlton paused
despite the dismissal. "I did meet a young man at the bookstore. He said he
used to serve on the Indy as one of your midshipmen."

"Oh yes?" Pellew said in the tone one took when one was busy but trying to
put on a polite front. His focus remained firmly on his deskful of papers.

"An Archie Kennedy."

And with that David Carlton suddenly had Pellew's *complete* attention.

xXx

Bracegirdle informed Hornblower that he was to attend the Captain in his
cabin immediately. Horatio could not think of any misdemeanours, so this was
most likely another round of instructions or a request for an update on
preparations for the Admiral's visit.

Hornblower entered and was surprised to find Pellew no longer busy
overseeing the myriad of tasks which needed to be done. Instead he was
pacing behind his desk. And Midshipman Carlton was standing ramrod straight
in front of the desk, looking exceedingly uncomfortable.

What on Earth was going on? "You wanted to see me, sir?"

"Yes, have a seat, Mr Hornblower."

"Thank you, sir."

As both men sat, Hornblower tried to place the look on his Captain's face,
but found he couldn't. He was giving nothing away. A perfect whist player's
expression.

"Midshipman Carlton has just informed me of something which I know will be
of great interest to you. Proceed, Mr Carlton," Pellew said without
preamble.

The midshipman swallowed. Pellew had advised him not to just blurt it out,
but to explain. Oh, if only he'd realised that man in the bookstore was so
important! But how could he have known? He felt that Pellew was going to
roast him for having let this Kennedy go. Having the Captain's full
attention was proving to be a lot more disconcerting than he had expected.

"Captain Pellew sent me to a bookstore to purchase a gift for the Admiral."

Horatio blinked when Carlton gave the name and address of the store. That
had been his and Archie's favourite one, before it changed hands. And before
Archie had....

He shoved that line of thought away, for now at least, to wait with the
emptiness that had been with him for the last two years.

"When I was in there talking to the owner, a young man approached me. He had
heard me mention the Indy, and he said he used to serve on her. He said his
name was Archie Kennedy."

The first thought that registered in Hornblower's brain at that news was: So
this is why Pellew was so keen on having me sit down. Just as well.

He opened his mouth, but his tongue was overloaded with too many questions
for any one of them to come out first. Instead they crashed around in his
brain while he tried and failed to speak.

What did he look like, what did he say, was Carlton *sure* it was Archie?

The midshipman took the dilemma out of his hands. "He asked if you were
still on board and if Captain Pellew still commanded her. And he wanted to
know if Jack Simpson was here too."

"Oh my God. It IS Archie!" Hornblower whispered.

"He was happy to hear that you and the Captain were still aboard. And he
seemed relieved - satisfied - when I told him what had happened to Mr
Simpson."

Hornblower nearby leapt out of the chair. "How did he look? Was he well? Did
he say what had happened to him?"

Carlton tried not to stammer, now bearing the weight of two piercing gazes
upon him. "I did not get to talk to him for very long. He was in a large
overcoat, and as far as I could tell, there was not a naval uniform under
it. He looks like he is convalescing."

"Convalescing?" Hornblower queried.

"Very pale and thin and tired."

But alive! Oh my God. Hornblower turned to look at Pellew for the first time
since the revelation, and saw that the mask was gone. There was hope in his
face too. "Mr Carlton, did he say where he was staying?"

"No. He said he would not bother you today, due to the Admiral's visit."

Hornblower addressed the Captain. "He is probably staying at Pensen Inn. The
bookstore was very close to it." Just as well, considering the state Archie
sounded to be in. "That is where we usually used to stay on leave."

Alive, he's alive! But until he saw so for himself.... Hornblower wanted to
get in a shoreboat right now, or swim to the docks if he had to, and find
Archie. But there were all the preparations for the Admiral's visit. Then
sitting through the dinner itself. Then waiting for daylight to come.

Pellew asked Carlton if there was anything else he had to add, then said,
"Thank you, Mr Carlton. You are dismissed."

The midshipman gratefully exited.

"Captain -" Hornblower began, not sure what to ask or how to ask it. Duty
had to come first, but....

"Mr Hornblower, I suggest you get yourself ashore and go find Mr Kennedy."

"Sir?"

"You are due for shore leave, and as much as I would have liked to introduce
you to Admiral Solomon tonight, there will be another opportunity or two in
the next week. I think satisfying both of our curiosities about Mr Kennedy
and making sure that he is all right comes first in this instance," the
Captain said. "Besides, there are enough hands to get this ship ready for
tonight's dinner. Just let Mr Bracegirdle know which of your tasks are still
to be done and ask him to delegate them. When you have located Mr Kennedy,
send word back, then tomorrow we shall arrange for a meeting with him.
Depending on his circumstances, of course."

"Thank you, sir. Very much."

"I think after two years of -" at this Pellew paused and seemed to choose
his words with care, "- not knowing, it is the least you deserve. You are
dismissed. Send word when you can."

Sheer discipline kept Hornblower from bolting out the door.

xXx

The trip to the bookstore had worn Kennedy out, as he had predicted. But
today was his first full day back in England, out from the confines of
prisons and ships, and he had so much wanted to go out into it and surround
himself with books again, even if just for a little while.

It had been well worth it to find out that the Indy was in port and Horatio
was there. And that Simpson was not and would never be again.

Dead. He was dead!

Justice had been served. Archie would have preferred it to have been served
even further back than two years ago, but was not going to complain with the
results.

A duel - there must have been another duel between Horatio and Simpson.
Carlton said that Simpson had cheated. But Horatio must have come through it
all right, because he was still serving in the Navy. Still triumphing no
matter what. And an Acting-Lieutenant now too.

Kennedy continued his slow progress back towards the inn, clutching his
just-purchased books. Unlike on the journey to the bookshop, he was not
taking in the sights and sounds of the home he had thought he would never
see again, but the rest of his recent conversation.

Midshipman Carlton had not heard of him. Kennedy thought that at least no
one on the Indy had been telling tales about the doomed midshipman who had
been a whipping boy and prone to fits. But had Horatio never brought up a
tale from during their friendship?

It was two years. Horatio will have moved on to much better than you.

Oh stop talking such bloody melodramatic nonsense, he chided himself firmly.
I doubt that Horatio would talk much with a person like Carlton anyway.
Tomorrow you'll go back to the Indy or send word there.

The second that he stepped back into his lodgings, the innkeeper's wife
resumed her fussing over him and made sure a nourishing meal was provided to
him in his room. Kennedy sat at the little table there, eating while looking
at the first books he had owned for over two years. Bliss. A decent read
would have to wait though. He knew he was too tired.

He left some of his meal to have later. His appetite still had to be fully
regained, even now that he at last had delicious food. After lighting the
lantern, Archie pulled the shutter down on the cloudy day, changed into his
nightshirt and burrowed into the bed. It was warm, thanks to the hot brick
in a cloth which the innkeeper's wife had also provided, knowing he would
not be far from needing its services. A real bed, real books, real food.
England. And real sleep very quickly.

xXx

The second that Hornblower entered Pensen Inn, the innkeeper's wife hurried
up to him.

"Oh, Mr Hornblower! You'll never guess!"

He didn't want to guess; he wanted to *know*. "Is Mr Kennedy here?"

"You've heard! Yes, he is, bless the poor lad. Worn out but still a fine
sight. He's up in his room."

xXx

Kennedy jolted awake, completely disorientated, blinking in the half-light.
Prison? A ship? No, the inn. England.

The door. Someone had been knocking at the door.

The innkeeper or his wife? Kennedy pulled himself up, trying to work out how
long he had slept for. Not nearly long enough, his exhausted body was
telling him, as it made poor work of freeing itself from the embrace of the
bed.

Knock knock knock.

Oh for God's sake....

His mother may have considered it bad manners, but he asked anyway. "Who is
it?"

"Archie?"

'No, you fool. That's MY name!' Kennedy *almost* replied, his brain
instantly falling back into bantering with that long unheard but instantly
recognisable voice.

And by the sound of that voice - or rather, gasp - Hornblower was just as
stunned as he was.

"Oh God, Horatio?" Kennedy pushed away from the bed, stumbling, and fumbled
with the door for a few moments. Then there was Hornblower, framed in the
doorway, and mutual astonishment ruled for long seconds.

Kennedy blinked in the stronger light, gripping the doorframe and staring,
trying to work out if he was dreaming. "You're still taller than me.
Expected, but still not fair!" he ended up blurting out.

Hornblower made a noise that could have been laughter, disbelief, shock. Not
even he was sure which. He reached out. His hand touched the nightgown, felt
the flesh and bone of upper arm. "Archie!" He stepped forward and embraced
his friend. "Thank God, you're really here! Are you all right?" He stepped
back, keeping a supporting hand on his arm, looking at him with worry and
joy.

"Definitely all right. I'm not a dream. You could be though."

"You're definitely not a dream; you're a very dear wish come true." There
was so much more Hornblower wanted to say and ask, however practicalities
had to come first, especially in this weather and with Archie's condition.
Carlton had not been exaggerating in that regard.

"I may still be taller, but you're thinner than me now! Get back into bed,
before you freeze." Hornblower gently but firmly guided him to the bed. As
Kennedy reluctantly climbed back in, Horatio brought his own bag inside and
shut the door, then took in the room. Hornblower turned the lantern up a bit
and saw that Archie was sitting up. "No, lie down and keep warm."

Kennedy complied with a grin and the remark: "Command still suits you, I
see."

"What? Oh - I didn't mean to order you about -" Then he saw the smile on
Kennedy's face and found himself giving one in return. How he had missed
that good-natured teasing.

He fussed with the blankets, making sure Kennedy was properly covered, and
also to once again reassure himself that his friend really was there.

"Thank you, Acting-Lieutenant Hornblower. My congratulations."

"Thank you," was the awkward reply, showing Kennedy that yet another thing
about his friend had not changed.

"Horatio, I can sit up with blankets around my shoulders and talk just as
well and warmly - I might fall asleep otherwise." Indeed, his eyelids were
drooping despite his best efforts and the surprise reunion.

Hornblower put a hand on his hair. "It's all right. I'm on shore leave. We
have all the time in the world to trade our stories. You rest now. I'll be
right here."

"No. No, I'm awake, really. How have you been? What ships have you
vanquished thus far?"

Hornblower was much more interested in just what on Earth and where on Earth
Archie had been these last two years, but perhaps he did not want to speak
of that just yet. The time would come soon enough. If this is what his
friend wanted, then so be it. As soon as Hornblower had added more logs to
the fire, he pulled a chair over and started on an abbreviated version of
recent events.

And I am terrible at storytelling, he thought, so it is likely that I'll
send Archie to sleep anyway!

A few minutes later, Kennedy's eyes closed and he slept. Hornblower was not
insulted. He remained in the chair, intently studying his friend. The now
sharply defined cheekbones. How his hair was more brown than blond. It was
not just a trick of the lamp light.

He must have been out of the sun for a long time. Hornblower felt physical
pain at the thought. Prison. Otherwise he would surely have sent word.

The grin had still been there at least. The humour. All was not lost. So
much had been regained.

The emptiness was gone now, the space suddenly overflowing with so many
emotions. Relief, guilt, joy, amazement, curiosity, uncertainty - all were
clashing together, tumbling over the top of each other inside him.

Hornblower moved quietly over to the fire, hoping the heat would stop his
tears.

xXx

Kennedy awoke to find Hornblower asleep in the chair beside him. Though
within a matter of seconds, Horatio was sitting up, wincing but blinking
hopefully at him.

This time Kennedy was the one to reach out, needing the reassurance. "You
really are there."

Hornblower squeezed his hand, then got up and fetched him a drink from the
pitcher on the table.

Kennedy rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. "Sparkling company I am."

"I've never had finer."

Kennedy got up and dressed, then the two of them decided to sit in front of
the fire. When Kennedy settled in his chair, Hornblower took two of the
blankets off the bed.

"Horatio, if you are going to wrap me up in front of the fire like an old
grandmother in her rocking chair, I shall brain you."

"No, I am not, Mr Kennedy. *You* are going to wrap yourself up, otherwise
*I* will brain you. I think that is an adequate enough compromise." Then his
face and voice turned completely serious. "Please, Archie. Humour me in
this. It is a very cold day and you cannot afford to get sick." I cannot
lose you again, he thought. Giving your parents the news once was bad
enough.

Kennedy sighed in resignation and took the proffered blankets. Hornblower
did end up helping when he did not think that Kennedy had bundled himself up
enough for his satisfaction.

With a blanket around his shoulders and another tucked around his lap and
legs, Kennedy pulled a face. "Suddenly I feel a horrible urge to start
knitting or embroidering. And starting every second sentence with 'Back in
my day...'."

Hornblower laughed and lightly clipped him on the arm, then handed over some
of Kennedy's unfinished meal. "Get more of that into you. No, I'm fine,
thank you. I'll eat when I get more for us later," he said when Kennedy
re-offered him the plate. Hornblower marvelled at how laughter had come up
so easily in himself just then, despite it not being able to for two years.
"Archie, does your family know that you're alive?"

"I sent off a letter this morning. There hadn't been a chance beforehand. I
planned to stay here until I heard back from them. Didn't want to just turn
up on the doorstep, as much as I want to see everyone. It was also a long
way to go if they aren't at the main estate, but at one of the other
properties or on holiday instead."

Hornblower considered telling his friend about his own contact with the
Kennedy family. But it had been almost a year since his last letters. In the
first year after the Papillon mission, he had kept in touch with the family
and was made welcome even in their grief. However his own awkwardness,
compounded by such a personal loss, had made the correspondence difficult to
maintain, let alone the slowness of mail in and out of the Navy and his
feelings about the social divide. For the moment he stayed quiet on the
subject. Anything could have happened in the interim.

Kennedy ate a mouthful of bread, then continued. "Once I hear back, if all
is well, I'll go home for a while. You're welcome to come for your leave
too. I was going to go to the Admiralty tomorrow and let them know I'm still
around."

Then he sighed. "I'm guessing that I had a fit in the jolly boat when we
went to cut out the Papillon?"

Hornblower managed to nod.

"So you had to knock me out. You did what you had to do." Kennedy pulled off
another piece of bread and chewed on it. His clear, steady gaze countered
Hornblower's anguished and dark one.

"But it led to Simpson setting you adrift when we were on the Papillon."

"It sounds like you and Captain Pellew dealt with him. I want to hear all
about that, but first I think you'd like some questions answered."

Hornblower nodded. "Archie...what happened? Where have you been all this
time?"

"Prisons." Kennedy's gaze turned inward. "Lots of prisons. Most in France,
one in Spain. I'd try to escape, get caught, and be put in another one,
further away from England." He set the plate and its remaining contents back
on the table, then settled back in the chair, in the blankets, looking
around the room as if to reassure himself that he really was back.

"But one of your attempts succeeded?"

"Not in the way that I had anticipated, but I am not going to quibble with
the results. It was in Spain; my fifth escape attempt, but my first on that
soil. I was travelling through some woods and knew there were soldiers
searching for me, but it seemed that I would elude them." He stared into the
fire. "I came across a lake and saw some children playing, so I was trying
to give them as wide a berth as possible, keeping in the trees. Then they
started screaming and I thought they had seen me, but one of them was in
trouble out in the water. He was drowning, and it didn't seem like his
sister could swim."

Hornblower stayed quiet, managing to keep up with the rush of words, letting
his friend get the whole story out.

"I knew it could be a trap, and I knew this noise was probably bringing in
all the soldiers around, but if it wasn't a trap they would probably be too
late and I'd never have lived with myself, so I came out of hiding and went
into the water. Somehow I managed to get him back to the shallows. Soldiers
came racing in and grabbed us. I passed out."

Kennedy paused for breath, then continued. "Because I had saved the boy, the
villagers petitioned their Don, and soon I was no longer a prisoner. They
gave me good clothing, food and some money." He fingered the hem of one of
the blankets. "The Don offered that I could stay as a guest for a while, and
I probably should have done so to regain more strength before setting out,
but I just wanted to be home again."

"I know. I understand."

"He arranged passage for me on a Danish ship which was in a nearby port. It
was owned by a merchantman who did trade with England and was willing to
take a paying passenger. I must have arrived here just a day ahead of you.
Perfectly timed."

Hornblower nodded in agreement. He gave Kennedy another drink, then said, "I
need to write a note to Captain Pellew to let him know what has happened. He
wants to see you tomorrow."

"Here or on the Indy?"

"He did not say. If we don't have a reply to my note by noon tomorrow, then
we will go back to the Indy, if you're up to it."

"I can't wait to see that ship again. Poetry in motion."

"Do you want to see it as a visitor or an officer?" Hornblower held his
breath for the answer.

Kennedy swirled the remaining contents of his cup, looking into the depths
as if trying to divine an answer. "Horatio, would Pellew and the men want me
back as an officer? Honestly. Simpson might not be there now, but I did have
a fit at the worst possible time. I endangered everyone." His hand tightened
on the cup and he stared imploringly at his friend.

"Everyone has missed you. As soon as Pellew found out from that midshipman
you were alive, he sent for me and then told me to go and find you. It
didn't matter to him that an Admiral was about to come aboard."

"That is heartening, but what about my fits?"

"Archie, how many have you had since that one in the jolly boat?"

"Um, none. None that I can recall." Kennedy's expression was amazed as he
rifled back through the last two years. Many horrible ordeals, but not that.
"There was so much else going on, so much else to worry about, that I didn't
even notice that they weren't happening. Like a blessing that you don't dare
think on, in case it stops."

"So much happening, yet none of it triggered off a fit."

"I could have had them and not known afterwards."

"But you were in with other prisoners most of the time, weren't you? Guards
would have heard the noise and said or done something."

"There were times when I was in solitary confinement. But the fits did start
after I first encountered Simpson."

"It seems like he was the main trigger for them then," Hornblower replied.
"I can enquire with my father about the fits, but they may not be much of a
problem to you any more."

"That could be wishful thinking, Horatio."

"Then it cannot hurt to get my father's opinion and that of the local doctor
at your family's estate, if you wish." Wanting to get back to happier
matters, he said, "You've come home a hero."

"I'm not -"

"You were on enemy soil with the chance of escape and you gave it up to
rescue a child."

"The Admiralty won't see that on the same scale as saving the Indy from a
fire ship."

"They should. And you survived two years and all those escapes," Hornblower
pointed out. "Your compassion and heroism saved you. We need them, we need
you. Once you've had rest and recuperation, please come back to your home
away from home."

"I do want to. I missed the sea as much as I missed my family and you and
England." He saw an odd expression on his friend's face for a moment, one
that went so quickly he was unable to read it. "What is it?"

Hornblower could not meet his eyes. "It's just - yesterday you were still
lost to me, dead for all I knew. The loneliness and the guilt.... Now here
you are and soon we should be serving together again. I can't -" The
emotions were welling up in him again as he attempted to comprehend it all,
and he hastily tried a retreat. "I had better write to Captain Pellew. He
will be waiting for the news."

"I think we were both deserving of this run of luck. Write to Pellew, and
then we are going to deal with that guilt you are hauling around like Atlas
with the world on his back," Kennedy said firmly.

xXx

The innkeeper found a willing messenger for Hornblower's missive. Then
Hornblower and Kennedy sat in their room for a while, filling each other in
on the missing years. Prisons, failed examination, guilt, forgiveness,
everything.

Hornblower read the letter of safe passage which the Spanish Don had given
to Kennedy when he sent him on his way. Kennedy had another sleep, then they
went out for a little before it got dark, to give him some fresh air and
some England again. "I would love to go to the theatre, but I'd fall asleep
and start snoring midway through the first act."

"You don't snore!"

"I might have picked it up in the last two years. And when we go back to the
inn, I must keep an eye out for a Navy Lieutenant I accidentally bumped into
there yesterday and he spilt his drink on his jacket. I was still getting my
land legs back, and he didn't think much of my attempt at an apology. He
said I was being bloody dangerous, and that he didn't care for my tone - can
you believe that?"

Kennedy gave off mimicking the man and elbowed Hornblower, whose eye rolling
and amused expression showed that he did indeed believe. "Name was Bush.
Almost said to him: 'Why all the hue and cry about a spillage? I thought you
bushes liked to be watered?'"

Hornblower nearly collapsed laughing as Kennedy continued blithely on, "But
decided not to risk it, and I think he realised that the innkeeper's wife
was ready to defend my honour if he stirred up too much of a fuss. She told
him that I was a fine young lad. And she was holding a tray in a threatening
manner at the time. Good old Mrs Pensen - she said she would take care of
his jacket, and I gave her some money and told her to get him a fine meal or
some of their best wine. She said she had made a nice turnip stew and he
shuddered and plumped hastily for the drink."

xXx

Not long after dinner, there was a knock at the door and Hornblower opened
it to find a dusty, tired but hopeful-looking man in his forties whom seemed
vaguely familiar to him.

"Excuse me, sir. Is -" Then the man spotted Kennedy and said, "Master
Archie!" at the same time as an astonished Kennedy said:

"Andrews?"

Amidst the delighted reunion, the man clicked into place in Hornblower's
mind. This was one of Lord Kennedy's footmen, and Archie's favourite of the
servants.

"Horatio, you remember Andrews, don't you? From that shore leave you spent
with us."

And also from when he had gone to the Kennedy estate after the Papillon raid
and painfully explained why Archie was not with him. But Hornblower did not
mention that. He doubted Andrews would either.

"It is good to see you again, Mr Hornblower."

"But even better to see Mr Kennedy again, I'm sure."

Kennedy was a fountain of questions. "Are any of my brothers here? Are
Mother and Father all right?"

"I rode ahead, Master Archie. They want me to hire a coach for you in the
morning and bring you home. Your parents are fine: a few bouts of illness
and age, otherwise one or the other would have come with me. They were
sorely tempted to try anyway. None of your siblings are here at the moment,
but missives were being dispatched to bring them back home for your arrival,
from wherever they are. Everyone, family to servants to the hunting dogs,
can't wait to see you again."

Kennedy swallowed. "It still seems like a dream. Mr Hornblower will be
coming with me, if allowed. But enough on the planning for now. Sit down and
we'll get you some food and wine and you can tell me about everyone. There's
a washbasin over there if you want to get rid of the travel grime too."

The night and talk and news could have gone on forever but unfortunately
Kennedy could not, and no matter how he tried to disguise his yawns or
flagging energy, they did not get past Hornblower or Andrews. Over Kennedy's
protests, Hornblower said, "No, it is time to call it a night."

"Of course this is called 'night', you fool," came the annoyed retort. "That
and the lack of sunlight helps to distinguish it from the day!"

Andrews grinned and took his leave, heading off to his own room.

Kennedy got over his mood in his usual turnaround time of twenty seconds,
and both he and Hornblower slept well that night.

xXx

They were sitting at a table at the inn, having breakfast. Hornblower was
glad to see Kennedy displaying more of an appetite. Andrews had already had
breakfast and was off sending word to the Kennedy estate and seeing about
hiring a coach from noon onwards. Hornblower and Kennedy had decided to go
to the Indy soon and then to the Admiralty.

They were still eating when an unmistakable figure entered and came over to
them, a rare full smile appearing on his face. "Captain Pellew!" Hornblower
said.

"Sir!" Kennedy immediately went to get up, as did his friend, but Pellew
waved them down.

"Thank you for your message yesterday, Mr Hornblower. I am to attend the
Admiralty this morning and decided to come ashore early. It is good to see
you again, Mr Kennedy."

"Thank you, sir. Please have a seat."

He did so, ordering a drink off a passing barmaid. "Continue with your meal
while we talk - you certainly look like you need it, Mr Kennedy."

"Mr Hornblower is already being the dutiful mother hen in that regard."

"Good. Because if you do wish to come back onto my ship, I will not have you
thinner than the ropes themselves!"

Kennedy stared at Pellew, then exchanged glances with Hornblower. In the
message to the Captain, Hornblower had written out what had happened to
Kennedy and the midshipman's concern that his fits might prevent him from
serving again. Kennedy had insisted that the latter be put in the letter,
and Hornblower had done so, but himself had insisted on including the 'good
facts' that Kennedy had not had any more fits and the possibility they could
have been tied to Simpson.

"You wish for me to serve on the Indefatigable again, sir?" Kennedy asked.
Could his hopes really be granted this easily?

There was a gentleness and understanding in those usually steely eyes. "Yes,
I do, Mr Kennedy. We will be in Portsmouth for at least the next two weeks.
It is a good opportunity to make some repairs and then restock. So there is
time for you to go home and rest. And according to Admiral Solomon, our next
duties should be localised journeys. That would be a good way to get back
into the naval life again, or you can come back after those if more recovery
time is needed. The timing is perfect; I suggest you take advantage of it."

"That sounds...wonderful." This time it was smiles that Kennedy exchanged
with his friend. "I have had word from my family. Our footman is hiring a
coach to take me home today. If Mr Hornblower is allowed, he would be most
welcome to come with me."

Pellew nodded. "I believe that something could be arranged. While I am at
the Admiralty, I will inform them of your return to England. I will take
your letter from Spain with me to show them. Actually, when were you
planning on leaving Portsmouth? Because if Mr Hornblower is to go with you
for the next week, I would like to take him to the Admiralty with me now to
meet with Admiral Solomon. Then I can also inform you of what the Admiralty
say. You stay here - you will need your strength for the journey. A long
coach trip is tiring enough for someone who is at full health."

The next few minutes were spent discussing and settling on times and dates,
and finishing up on breakfast, then Pellew looked at his pocket watch.

"Mr Hornblower, please get yourself ready to go to the Admiralty and bring
Mr Kennedy's letter of conduct back down with you. I must leave here in ten
minutes."

When the Acting-Lieutenant left the table, Kennedy said to the Captain, "I
have you to thank, sir, for saving Mr Hornblower's life by shooting Mr
Simpson."

"And if I had any idea before then of what sort of man he was, I would have
had him strung up, still wet after he was plucked out of the sea."

Kennedy nodded. Pellew and the Indefatigable were so very far removed from
Keene and Justinian. He had the chance of a new beginning, but one with
people he knew and trusted.

There was still one thing which Pellew had not directly addressed, and as
much as Kennedy dreaded it, he needed to know the Captain's opinion. "Sir,
if you have any concerns that my fits might endanger the crew again, I would
understand. Especially after the Papillon mission." He managed to say 'fits'
without flinching.

But the answer was nothing near what he was expecting. "I am aware of the
circumstances of that expedition. In the mission briefing, my instincts were
trying to warn me that something was not quite right about Mr Simpson."
Pellew sighed. "I should have listened to them, and pursued the matter,
questioning Mr Eccleston, Mr Chad, Mr Hornblower and yourself about your
former crewman. But I did not. I may have even given him more of the benefit
of the doubt than I should have, because I knew he had been injured in a
duel that Mr Hornblower failed to show up at."

Kennedy immediately responded: "The only reason that Horatio - I mean, Mr
Hornblower - did not show up for that duel was because Mr Clayton knocked
him out and took his place!"

"Ah, so that was it. Originally I had thought that Mr Hornblower had backed
out of the duel, that youthful cowardliness had ruled the day. But then when
I saw him in action, it did not quite seem to match. Afterwards I supposed
that he learned from that error and developed in maturity and as an officer.
Now it all makes sense."

"Mr Hornblower was going to go through with the duel, sir. The outcome was
not his fault - Mr Clayton took the matter out of his hands. I was there as
Clayton's second, and I saw the lump on Mr Hornblower's head afterwards."

Then Horatio had given him a lump on the head. The ridiculous thought came
to Kennedy that for people all on the same side, they seemed to make a habit
of deliberately injuring each other. Would it be his turn next to deliver a
blow, and to whom?

But now Pellew was getting the conversation back to its original thread. "Mr
Kennedy, regarding your concerns, there are many men at sea with all sorts
of infirmities, who manage to still make a valuable contribution. It would
be a shame to waste your years of naval experience, and Julius Caesar
himself suffered from fits, yet look what he achieved. Such a condition as
yours can often be managed. Mr Hornblower said that you were going to seek
the opinion of his father and possibly another doctor. That is wise, and I
would like to know what they say. When you return to Portsmouth, I would
also like you to consult with my own physician about the matter."

"Yes, sir. Thank you."

"You have had a very hard road. That you have survived it and still wish to
go back to sea speaks volumes about your character that is worthy of
admiration. But if after spending time with your family you change your mind
about your career, I will fully understand."

With a few minutes still to spare, Hornblower arrived back at the table,
wearing his coat, and handed the Spanish letter over to Pellew. The Captain
scanned the contents, nodded, and put it in his inner breast pocket. He
stood, turning to speak to Kennedy.

"Several hours with the machinations of the Admiralty, and then we will
return here. After that, I have the pleasant task of going back to the ship
and informing the crew that you are indeed alive and returning. But first,
and as there is just enough time, I would like to propose a toast, even if I
have no drink left to do it with." He smiled at the two young men. "To Mr.
Kennedy and his restoration to us."

Archie Kennedy raised his tankard, but his hopes were raised even higher -
taller than the Indy's mainmast, in fact.

 

The End.