The Price of Honour
by Wendy B.

Part Two

~~~

Sharp pain shot through his chest. Someone was pressing on his back, driving his angular bones into the stained, wet deck boards. He was lying face down; salt-water was streaming from his mouth and nose in a pulsating torrent. He saw Captain Pellew crouched near, his bare torso dripping and a coarse blanket tossed over his shoulders. Water was running in rivulets from his hair and gathering in small puddles on the deck.

Horatio closed his eyes and vomited the sea out of himself. He was very cold.

Hands were pulling his clothes off, dry blankets landed on him, and he tried to draw a breath. Choking, he insisted. He opened his eyes again, and saw Archie’s worried frown and heard Styles voice near by, "Cor, I never seen a man that blue in me life…"

"Stow it!" Archie snapped.

He tried to speak, his voice croaking. "Archie."

Archie’s face was near his own. "Don’t talk."

"Get me out of here--" he coughed again, and cleared his voice. "For God’s sake…please!" he whispered. He would not lie here while seamen made sport of him, laughed at his weakness.

Archie nodded, understanding.

He tried to raise himself, but a firm hand held him. "Let me up," he demanded. "Or by God, I’ll..."

"Mr. Hornblower." Captain Pellew’s voice halted him.

Then Doctor Sebastian spoke to him gently. "Horatio, let us help you below. Your body is in shock; you need help. All right?"

Horatio yielded to the necessity. He had no strength to rise.

Styles and Matthews were on the spot then, which surprised him. He had no idea what he had done to inspire such affection in these men, but there it was. He could see the worry on Matthews’ face, and Styles…he had never before seen the man with such an expression of tenderness and dismay.

He did not know what was wrong with him, precisely. He still could not feel his limbs, just that prickling sensation all over his skin, as though he were about to loose consciousness. He was convulsing with cold, and something more. Dr. Sebastian insisted that his head stay down as they dragged him below, something about the blood. Perhaps his brain was frozen. It was cold enough.

His next awareness was of the sick berth, and of the many men in the room. The Dreadnought’s men, why were they still here? Oh Christ, they were not gone, that meant…

"Get me out of here," he demanded. No one listened. "Archie?" He wasn’t there. He tried to struggle to his feet, shaking and frozen, he had to get out, he would get out of here if he had to crawl every inch of the way. He would not be in the same room with that…that thing!

Then Archie was there, holding him in a vice-like grip, stopping him. "Let me go!" he cried at his friend. "God damn you, let me go!"

"Horatio, I can not, I am sorry…I have to…" Archie sounded close to tears.

Then a cup was pressed to his lips and a burning, bitter liquid poured into his throat, and he had to swallow, and he did, gagging and choking. The drug made his head light, light enough to float, he felt. Then it wandered away from his body, and he knew nothing.

~~~

He woke to lamplight, and felt it was late. The berth was empty, empty of dead things and staring men, empty and silent, more like a tomb now than it had ever seemed, with that body near his.

But at least he felt warm. Warm, and alive.

He was parched; the salt water he had swallowed and vomited up left a fiery trail behind it. He saw a pitcher beside him, and a tin cup. He sat up and reached for it, but his hands shook so that he knocked the cup to the floor with a clatter that would wake…well, anything.

Especially the nausea. It woke that, with a vengeance. Dizzy, he fell forward toward the edge of the cot, and got rid of the last of the seawater and the bitter drug.

"Oh, no," he groaned, retching. Someone was holding his head, supporting him. When he finished, the gentle hands helped him to lie back down, and the world stopped spinning. Captain Pellew was looking at him with a worried frown.

"Captain!"

"Easy, Mr. Hornblower."

"What is the time, sir? What watch?"

"Does it matter? Do you have a dinner engagement, perhaps? A luncheon to attend?"

"No. No sir! Of course not," his voice was hoarse.

"You gentlemen have had a time of it today, and you’ve kept our doctor occupied as well. I suggest you follow his example, and get more rest."

"Yes, sir." But he didn’t feel tired now. "Sir?" he said looking anxiously about the room, "Could I trouble you …"

"Yes, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Just, I need some water, sir, my throat–I am sorry to ask." He was embarrassed beyond measure to have his captain waiting on him.

"Of course." He found a clean cup and filled it from the pitcher. Horatio drank deeply, the cool water washing the bitterness and the salt from his tongue, and extinguishing the fire in his throat. "Thank you sir," he said, handing the cup back. Captain Pellew refilled it, and left it beside the pitcher.

"Sir, I apologize…I do not know how…"

Pellew cleared his throat, and looked very conscious. "I think, Mr. Hornblower, that perhaps you should not have been skylarking about in an open boat at that particular time. Dr. Sebastian has informed me, in his most stentorian manner, that I should not have ordered you up the ladder–apparently it was not the thing, just then. In short, I have not been so harshly reprimanded since I stood on my head on the yardarm, as a midshipman."

"Sir, you never…"

"I did, Lieutenant. And only because my captain had an important guest on board at the time."

"Sir, I am appalled!"

"So was my captain."

Horatio choked, wondered, then let himself laugh. Pellew smiled ruefully at the memory of his youthful absurdity.

"Right, then, Mr. Hornblower. You are to rest while I, your very properly chastised captain, will do the same. If the doctor wakes and finds you laughing, I shall be in for another trouncing."

"Consider yourself trounced, sir." Dr. Sebastian’s voice came from behind him. Horatio smiled as the captain started.

"How are you feeling now, Horatio?" he asked with true concern. "And I want the truth, please."

"Very well, sir. Except…"

"Your stomach?"

Horatio nodded.

"I am sorry Horatio. That is from the laudanum," he said gently. "I truly had no choice." He clasped Horatio’s shoulder with a kindly touch. "You were in shock, which is quite serious. And though I understand your motive, I could not have you crawling out of my berth. I cannot apologize liberally enough, Horatio. I can not. I thought the men had gone. Forgive my negligence in conveying you here, while they were still here."

"No, please…"

"Doctor, if I may interrupt?" Captain Pellew spoke up. "I will say good night before I find myself in more hot water." Despite his merriment, Horatio could sense the deep weariness in Captain Pellew’s voice. He could see it clearly in his face, for that matter.

"Captain?"

"Yes, Horatio," he turned back wearily.

What the devil? A slip of the tongue? What ailed him? He looked dreadful, almost grief-stricken.

"Sir, is something happening with the fleet? Is something amiss?"

Captain Pellew glanced at Dr. Sebastian, who shook his head almost imperceptibly.

"Tomorrow. It can wait another day, I think. Good night, gentlemen."

"Good night sir, and thank you again for what you did."

Dr. Sebastian came to him carrying a steaming cup.

"What–what is it? I don’t want--"

"Ginger, Horatio, to settle your insides."

"Oh. Thank you."

The tea warmed and calmed his stomach incredibly quickly. As he drank, Dr. Sebastian watched him speculatively. "Horatio, get some sleep, you need it."

"Doctor, tell me…what happened out there? Were you out there, sir?"

"The human mind is a powerful weapon, son, and it is also a vigorous defense."

"Yes?" Horatio was intrigued.

"You saw a thing that your mind could not accept. So it disabled your body. In this way, the mind has time to heal itself, while the body lies inert. At least, that is the theory. I think there is something in it."

He was angry. "But Archie–he took charge while I…I do not understand this. I have seen death before! I am not a fragile midshipman, going all faint at the sight of so much blood."

"You did not faint." He laid a kind hand on Horatio’s arm. "Are you sure you can speak of this now? I feel it might be best if you waited."

"Yes, quite sure," he answered, uneasy.

Dr. Sebastian sighed. "Very well. You are not Archie. You have similar temperaments, but are often opposite in reaction. The attacks Archie suffers are of a different nature. In time, and with practice, he may be able to stave off some of those attacks. We have been working toward this end. But his ‘fits’ as they are commonly called, are truly a seizure of the brain, the organ, not of the mind. The seizures can be exacerbated by stresses of the mind, and it is this we are attempting to deter. As he did yesterday, he can learn to anticipate it, and sometimes stop it happening."

"But I was unable to control it. I tried! I could not stop it," he nearly sobbed.

"No. You did not have a seizure. Horatio, I wish we could talk about this another time. You are very fatigued, and need rest."

"I am not tired" he insisted. " Luis, I have seen death before."

"Death, yes. But not suicide, not like this."

"Bunting…"

"Forced your hand."

"And Clayton?"

"Used another man’s hand as well. And you did not see it."

Horatio shuddered. "No, you are right, this was not the same. It was… horrible. One minute, we were saying farewell, and the next, he was gone. Dead. And I know I could have stopped him."

"Only if he wanted to be stopped. Otherwise, no, you could not have."

Horatio was not convinced. "Why did it not distress Archie, then? He was very much in command."

"Archie understood it, he knows what it is to seek death. You know this."

"I once sought death."

"I know, but did you truly wish to die?"

Horatio answered slowly, "I do not think I did. I simply wished myself out of misery. I think, now, that I truly believed I would win. No," he decided, "I did not wish to die."

"But Archie did, in Spain."

"Yes."

"Archie understands this, his mind accepted the death. Yours could not. While you were able to manage the deaths of the crewmen on the Mermaid, he could not. Death in battle, you understand. A senseless slaughter, yet you carried on. Archie spoke of his feelings, and told me he had discussed some of his ideas with you. Captain Pellew talked with him for a time, and I pray it did some good. Guilt is a common reaction, when many are killed, and one is not harmed."

"Yes, he spoke to me, of it. But I could not help him, I cannot discuss such things."

"But he can."

"Yes, he thinks too much."

"You also torture yourself, with guilt of another nature. You feel you should have prevented it. I daresay you felt the same, over the Mermaid disaster."

Horatio’s eyes widened in surprise. How did he know?

"You complement one another, Horatio. That is part of why your friendship flourishes. Each of your strengths compliment the other’s weaknesses, if I may call them such."

"Yes, I remember thinking much the same thing, once." Just after the brig was lost, and I thought him dead. He was silent for a minute, then asked, "Doctor, tell me what is disturbing Captain Pellew. You know, I can see that you do."

"Horatio, it can wait. ‘Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.’ There is my answer for you, for tonight, and all you will hear. Today has been sufficiently evil, I think."

"But…"

"No, an order, no more talking."

"But…"

"But you are not tired, I know. And not knowing worries you more, yes, I know that too. But it will keep, and I am tired, if you are not. So I say good night."

Horatio resigned. "Good night, Doctor. Luis. Thank you for…the help. For everything."

He heard Luis go into his quarters, though he left the door open, as he did when there were men in the sick berth. Soon he was breathing softly and regularly, peacefully asleep. Good, thought Horatio. He deserves that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

Horatio could not sleep. He’d been asleep for hours, if one felt laudanum induced sleep counted for anything worthwhile. Any road, he was awake.

Furtively, he slid from the cot, and stood a while to gain equilibrium. Fine, that was fine. He arranged the blankets on the bed, to look as though he were in it still. He felt foolish doing this, like a school boy sneaking out of an evening. The thought made him smile to himself.

He hunted but could not locate any of his clothing. Not wishing to dash the hundreds of feet across the ship wearing nothing at all, he absconded with a blanket from a nearby cot, and wrapped it around himself. Most likely his clothes were in his cabin, already cleaned.

He exited the sick berth and began making his way between the hammocks of the sleeping berth. With most of the men sleeping at night, as they did in port, it was difficult to navigate without waking anyone. He had to get through to the wardroom.

"Sir!" a voice whispered. Styles. "Sir, where are you going? Matthews, here, you! Wake up, it’s Mr. Hornblower--"

Damn! "Hush, shut up–don’t wake anyone, for God’s sake"

Matthews woke immediately. "Mr. Hornblower, sir! Are ye well then! But–" Matthews caught sight of the wrap, and guessed. "Sir, you cannot be--"

"Be quiet, you two! I am going to get my clothes from my cabin. Now hush, both of you. I mean it!"

"Sir?" said Matthews, plaintively, "Why’d Captain confine you to your cabin, sir? If he’s thinking you could have done ought different, sir, we’ll tell ‘im. But he has no’ questioned a one of us! There’s lots of men angry w’ him just now, sir. We take your part, no question, sir."

"No! No, Matthews, this is not about the Mermaid, exactly." Horatio was flattered by their loyalty, but still, they had to know the truth. They must not blame Captain Pellew for meting out justice. He could not let them believe he was blameless, and that the captain was irrational.

"Then what, sir?" demanded Styles. "You done nothing wrong!"

"Matthews, Styles…I…thank you for your allegiance, but Captain Pellew bears no blame. It was…to do with Captain Foster," he finished lamely.

He must tell them something, before they heard it from Dreadnought’s men. But what? Should an officer malign himself to his own men?

"Foster! But sir!" Styles began.

"No, Styles, enough. I mean it. I will speak with you tomorrow, I swear." He left them, and continued his pilgrimage through the snarl of sleeping men.

As he made off, he overheard Matthews quip, "If that bugger Foster were involved, you can be he were up to some knavery. He’s a slippery bastard."

And Styles’ reply, "Aye, and mean. If I see him of a dark night, captain or no’…" and the rest of his words were lost in the distance.

 

Quietly opening the wardroom door, he crept through the gloom and felt his way across, counting doors. Albans, Dancer, Kennedy, three more.

A door opened behind him, followed by a light. And with the light came a woman. A lady. A beautiful lady, with a halo of flaxen curls and a wafting scent that filled his senses and fueled his imagination. Damn, who was she? Albans, it must be his wife, he was the only Lieutenant who was married. He was right, Gil followed the lady out, and stood close behind her. He froze when he saw Horatio.

"Who is that? Hornblower? God, you gave me a fright. What the deuce are you doing out here!"

"Sorry." Horatio mumbled, inching his way toward his cabin door.

"What are you–you are supposed to be in the sick berth. Escaped, have you? Good man!"

He had no idea what he was supposed to say to this. "Er, thank you." He was disconcerted by his state of undress, horrified. God, where is a hole, just let me crawl in and hide for at least a year. Or more.

"Hornblower, where the devil are your clothes? Good God, man, your are positively indecent! Lucy, my dear, come, let us get you gone from here."

So, Albans had smuggled his wife aboard, against the captain’s orders. He was most likely taking her up now, had probably bribed the watch, in some way.

"Gil," Horatio entreated, "Not a word, please. Don’t tell anyone you saw me."

"My word on it, Horatio. You’ll do the same for me, I am sure."

"Naturally, Gil. No need to ask. Now please…excuse me. Lieutenant, madam…"

"Indeed, I must protect the lady’s eyes from such unsavory characters as yourself, sir."

Lucy giggled. Taking her arm, her husband guided her toward the door.

"But Gilbert, what do you mean by that?" Horatio heard her asking. "I thought he was quite a polite gentleman–and very handsome as well."

"My dear! What are you saying?"

"Really, my love, ‘tis truth, I have seldom seen a man so well looking, with the exception of yourself, of course. He was quite intriguing. I think I should like to know him."

"Lucy, you cannot know what you are saying," he answered, and she laughed again.

Horatio was sure she had seen his blush, even in the semi-darkness of the wardroom. He was painfully aware that the thin blanket covered far to little for propriety.

She had spoken of him as ‘Intriguing.’ He wondered whether this were a compliment. He hoped so, all things considered.

Once inside, he located his shirt and breeches, they had indeed been cleaned and pressed. He threw them on, positive he had never felt so gratified by this simple act. Clothing was a much underrated asset. He would ever appreciate his wardrobe in the future–no matter how tatty or patched.

His wool coat was still very damp, and smelled of the sea, but no matter. He could not locate either his stockings or his shoes. He was stumbling about, searching for them, when a light from the doorway froze him.

"Lost something, Horatio?"

"Archie! No, I…yes…"

"It sounds of bedlam in here, what are you doing? Trying to wake the whole ship?"

"I was just…" caught, he thought.

"Just…not articulating well tonight, are we?"

"Getting dressed. I wanted some air. On deck. You know…air." He was redundant, very conscious, suddenly.

"Mm, fresh air. Yes, I know it. Salty sea air, the wind at your back, a fine, furrowed sail, I seem to recall something of the sort."

"Archie!" his voice was pleading.

"And you need your…oh, let me see…shirt you have. Trousers, right. So what is missing? Could it be….shoes? Stockings? Just guessing, mind."

"Archie…" he was prepared to beg.

"No, have not seen them."

"Kennedy!"

"Not once, not all day. Funny, that."

"Then I shall go without!" Wretched, he would kill for some cool air.

"Shall you indeed! And flaunt your naked toes before anyone and everyone? Hoping they will be found as intriguing as, say, the rest of you? You are a cad."

Oh God, he had heard.

"Archie, not a word. Swear it! Don’t you dare..."

"Ah, now there’s the thing, Horatio. A compromise. I don’t say a word, and you get your intriguing ass back in that bed."

"Archie, I am not ill, damn it. I’ve slept for hours and its…its…"

"Four o’clock."

"Four o’clock, and I need some damned air!"

"Horatio, has anyone ever told you that I am stubborn?"

"Yes, just yesterday, in fact." Take that, sodding meddler.

"I see. So it is common knowledge, hereabouts."

"I have to agree with that assessment."

"You cannot win this one, you know. All I have to do is call Mr. Bowles, or Captain Pellew, wake Dr. Sebastian…just one shout, and…"

"He is already awake, thank you, Archie." Dr. Sebastian was apparently forming a habit of creeping up behind people. "It seems some men were disturbed in their slumbers tonight, and came to me for a sleeping draught."

"Matthews…I’ll…"

"Ah, but I have not named any one."

"Then who!"

"Never mind, Horatio. The point is, they were worried. You slipped your moorings, Mr. Hornblower. I am wounded to the heart. You see, I have never, in all my time as a doctor, had a patient decamp without my knowledge. I pride myself on that. You have destroyed a perfect history."

"Doctor Sebastian, Luis…" he was pleading again. "I just wanted to get some air, to go out for a while."

"And am I so cruel a man, so heartless, that you could not tell me of this need?"

"You were asleep, and I had no wish to disturb you."

"But you did, indirectly, along with about a dozen seamen, if I understand the story correctly."

Archie was smirking at Horatio’s discomfit. Plaguing him was almost effortless at times, he was so solemn.

"This is preposterous. May I please go above and get some air? Honestly!"

"Since you ask so politely, of course you may. Nothing is preventing you, to my knowledge."

"Shoes."

"Shoes?"

"My shoes have gone missing."

"Indeed!" he sounded amused.

"Indeed," he glared at Archie.

"Archie, you do not, perchance, know of any shoes that might be of a size to suit Mr. Hornblower? Just–lying about somewhere---looking lost perhaps?"

"Now you mention it, sir, I think I did see some shoes. Yes, yes, I am sure of it. Just–lying about, as you say."

"And the whereabouts of these objects of pedimentary apparel?"

"Why sir, strangely enough, they are just here, inside the doorway of this cabin. Why, this is my cabin! Now how the devil…"

"Oh, stow it, Archie, and give them over!"

"…not very polite, is he?"

"No indeed. Perhaps we should overlook it this once, seeing that he has been so patient up to now."

"And my stockings as well, you blackguard!"

"Oh! Name calling. It begins…"

"Have you considered burglary as a career choice, Archie? Such talent is wasted in the Navy."

"Insults! You see?"

"Hmm, yes, I do see." Dr. Sebastian answered.

"Will you please stop this? You are getting offensive."

"Offensive! I am not the man to call offensive. I am always flawlessly attired when I socialize with ladies, of an evening."

"Archie!"

But Dr.Sebastian appeared to be listening elsewhere. Footsteps overhead, across the room, then back to the stern end.

"The captain appears to be awake." Dr. Sebastian observed, suddenly weary.

"Yes," they were both looking up, wondering.

"In that case, Horatio, you had best take the air forward. I shall let you have fifteen minutes, then back below please."

"Yes, sir," he agreed, feeling this was not the time to argue.

"I’ll go with you." Archie said. "I feel I need to get out as well."

"Yes, good. Thank you." Dr Sebastian replied absently.

Horatio was grateful, Archie had offered to join him without appearing to be hovering. He hated feeling harried by nursery maids.

Above, he breathed deeply of early morning air, pulling as much of it as was possible inside himself while he had a chance. He was already tired, the escape from the sick berth had quite worn him out, but damned if he would admit it. And he was worried about Captain Pellew; what was going on? It was driving him mad.

"Dr. Sebastian will see to him, Horaito."

"What? Oh, yes, you are probably right. I am sure that is why he did not join us here. Archie, what is wrong, do you think?"

"I have no idea; I have heard nothing."

"Archie, I am starving." He said, suddenly realizing it.

"Oh. All right, let us go and raid the galley."

"Archie, we can not do that!"

"Why ever not? I do it, often."

"I…it is theft, is it not?"

"Horatio, you have not eaten properly for a week, and have had nothing today. I should say rather that the purser is stealing from you."

The temptation was too great. He was starving in fact, positively dizzy with hunger. That, and after the day’s trials, he felt somehow reckless.

They crept below: Archie apparently knew the route well. He also knew where to find the fresh bread, butter, and jam. The purser’s personal store, perhaps, or things kept aside for the captain. Also, a heap of fresh fruit had been shipped on board that afternoon, and much of it was not yet stowed. Cramming what they could into various pockets and sleeves, they quickly left, following a trail that only Archie Kennedy, or a rat, would know of. Back on deck, they sat between bulkheads and savored the feast.

"Stolen apples do taste best!" Horatio said, in awe.

"You sound surprised. Did you really not know that?"

"No. It is amazing."

Once replete, they leaned back and studied the spring sky. Orion and Polaris, slowly revolving overhead, hypnotizing them. And the dog, what was the name of that dog? Sirius. Or something.

His felt his eyes close, and rather wished he had stayed in bed.

"Horatio, are you all right?"

"Yes, just tired, now."

"Let’s get below, then."

"Yes," he agreed, but did not move. "I should like to sleep here."

"Sure, and have some lout trample you in the dark."

"There is that."

"Let’s go." He stood and offered his hand to Horatio. Taking it and pulling himself up, he was surprised to find how weak he felt.

Archie didn’t need to be asked, he offered his arm, and together they headed toward their quarters. As they passed through the gun deck, they heard voices coming from the captain’s rooms. Dr. Sebastian was with him still.

"I wonder what is happening."

"We shall know tomorrow. Let’s get inside."

"Yes, I am about to fall over."

"Not here, please."

"’course not, I would not do that to you." He felt incoherent. "Archie, I want a drink."

"A drink? Of…"

"A drink. A real drink, not grog or rum. Something worth drinking. It has been one hell of a day."

"I see. So you want a drink."

"Absolutely. I have never wanted a drink so badly in my life. I have never wanted a drink, at all, in my life. But tonight I do."

Archie pushed him through the door of his cabin, where he sat and removed his shoes. They were still damp inside, and were pinching. He instinctively secreted them under the bolster, keeping them out of Archie’s sight, lest he be tempted by them another time.

Then Archie was there with a glass. "Here."

Questioning, he took a swallow, and his eyes flew open.

"Interesting, isn’t it?"

"Aaarrghh. God!"

"That as well."

"Are you trying to kill me? Bloody hell!"

"That good? I’ll join you then." After pouring generous amount for himself, he politely refilled Horatio’s glass.

Horatio took another swallow. "It get’s better, over time."

"If that is so, then after a long time, it should be wonderful."

"Yes!" He was amazed; that seemed to make perfect sense.

Horatio could not stop his thoughts returning to his earlier encounter with the lovely wife of his fellow lieutenant, and he reddened again and again at the recollection. This would keep him awake at night for weeks. He had never felt so embarrassed.

"Archie, tell me something. How does an ugly bastard like Albans get a lady like that to share his bed?"

"We are going to have to educate your palate where women are concerned."

"I think not. I am perfectly capable of…"

"Of? Do continue."

"Archie, you are coarse. Change the subject, please."

"Oh no, not for the world. Do you truly not see the way women look at you? Take Alban’s wife.."

"If he should offer her…" he drawled.

"Now who is vulgar? Consider Alban’s wife."

"Nonsense!"

"Oh Gilbert!" Archie mimicked, "I should very much like to know him!"

"She did not! That is not what she…she is married!"

"I did not notice that little nicety inhibiting your…interest. A wedding band is worn around the finger, not the eyes."

"Do talk of something else." Horatio demanded, disconcerted. His eyes were half-closed. He could see Archie studying him, wondering if this were not a bad idea.

"You should get some sleep now, Horatio."

"I will not," he replied sullenly.

"You are drunk."

"Yes, I confess that I am." He peered into his empty glass, confused. Ever the conscientious host, Archie refilled it.

"Give us a toast, Mr. Hornblower."

Horatio shuddered, remembering the last time a man had made that demand of him. He threw it off. "How about a toast to Captain Foster. A pox on his dog."

Archie snorted. "And to the great prevaricators who have composed the fable. To the free press, and the Navy Chronicle."

"You wax poetic in your debauchery, Arshee. Compose, if you will, an ode to Captain Foster."

"Now there’s an idea. A pen, a pen! My life for a pen!"

"Dancer has my pen."

"Go get it."

 

A figure crashing through his door woke Horatio. Pain stabbed through his eyes as light entered the room. He turned away and groaned.

"Mr. Hornblower!" a voice exploded. "What is the meaning…" It was Mr. Bowles.

He gasped and covered his ears. Oh, God, his head was throbbing, clanging. "Shhh…" he whispered. "Quietly, please. Oh god, let me die…"

"You had better get up at once. I have heard a most disturbing report…"

"I cannot move."

"I daresay you feel you can not. But you had better, and soon. The Captain has requested that you join him for breakfast."

His eyes popped open. God, no! Oh no, please, tell me this is a dream, a nightmare. He looked again at Mr. Bowles, and was assured that it was all too real. Breakfast! Unfeasible.

"Yes, breakfast, Lieutenant. Boiled eggs, bangers and mash, kippers, breakfast!"

"No, oh no. No kippers. Oh God, I need a…" with his hand over his mouth, he ran from the cabin, past the grinning face of Mr. Bowles. He would kill him. If he lived long enough, he would kill him.

~~~

Outside the captain’s door, Archie looked equally disreputable. Their eyes met as the marine knocked.

"Enter."

Captain Pellew was behind his desk. "Good morning gentlemen. I have some most interesting reports this morning. It would seem that some very unusual occurrences took place on my ship last night. Do you gentlemen know anything about them?"

"What…what sort of things, sir?" Horatio was having a difficult time remembering much. He had demanded Archie compose a sonnet, or something…

"First, I have a report from my steward that someone, without permission, entered the galley and helped himself to the stores there. Now I am positive that none of my officers would stoop to such petty theft. But it seems two Lieutenants attempted to leave this ship early this morning. They claimed, to the watch, that they had an important mission aboard the Dreadnought. When questioned further, they admitted they had a message for Captain Foster. These two officers refused to back down, until the man on duty swore on his father’s grave that he would personally see to delivering the message."

Captain Pellew glowered at them, as they looked at each other, bewildered.

"As the man’s father is not actually dead, gentlemen, he did not feel he was dishonoring himself when he gave that message to me."

Archie’s face was suddenly flushed.

"This is the message, gentlemen. Does it look familiar to either of you?" Captain Pellew laid before them a crumpled page covered in writing. "Mr. Kennedy, will you read this for us?"

Kennedy hesitantly picked up the paper, and read:

"Oh Captain, scant of stature, long of vice,

Garrulous vile beast of great renown;

Of us, your humble minions, pay no heed,

Devote not your condescension in vain.

Our Martyred blood and ashes now repine

Below the depths; a mermaid tends our grave.

Their cries the deep for ever shall obscure:

Dread not, vainglorious one, descry anon,

The world of men for other notes repine;

Support thy easy mind! Shall evermore

bestrew, mistral and zephyr borne,

Ashes, residue of life, evoke beloved men.

No heart lament thy odium, nor mouth descant

Thy shrouded inhumanity and vice."

Before he reached the end, his voice was almost inaudible. Horatio was astounded. God alone knew what time he had burst into Dancer’s cabin, demanding the return of his pen. Dancer had been immoderately surly. Then…nothing.

"The only thing saving you two gentlemen this morning is that no name was used in the writing. Though the fact that you wanted it delivered to Captain Foster leaves little room for doubt. Gentlemen, what if you had succeeded in your quest? I shudder to think."

So did they.

"Have you anything to say for yourselves?"

"I apologize, Captain Pellew. I…I am afraid I was a little…well, I was drinking, sir."

Mr. Kennedy appended further intelligence. "It was my fault sir, I supplied the drink, and I wrote the…the…that, sir."

"No sir, both were my idea. Drinking, and the writing. I do not recall…wanting to take it to Captain Foster sir, so I cannot tell who made that decision."

"Mr. Kennedy?"

"I am sorry, sir. I do not recall the incident."

"Both of my Lieutenants spent the early morning hours, drunk and disorderly, not to mention this little bit of insubordination. I am astonished, gentlemen. At both of you."

"Sorry sir," they both repeated.

"Mr. Hornblower, when I last saw you, you were in a bed, under Dr. Sebastian’s care. When he last saw you, he had given you permission to spend fifteen minutes on deck, after which you were to repair to your quarters. Did you follow this order, Sir?"

"Yes, sir. I believe I did."

"I see." Captain Pellew turned his back for several minutes. Horatio and Archie looked at one another in consternation. It appeared that the captain was laughing at them! But no, when he turned back, he was quite his stern self.

"Gentlemen, sit down before you fall down."

With unspeakable relief, the lowered themselves cautiously, careful not to jar any painfully sensitive body parts.

"I wished to communicate to you what progress has been made in the investigation into the sinking of the Mermaid. I will do so now. I have met with the board of inquiry, and with Captain Foster and Lord Bridport, both together and separately. I am sure you can imagine the joy I felt, drinking sherry and indulging in small talk with Foster. There is no small talk, with Foster, is there? Hornblower?"

"Well, no sir, not that I can imagine." Unless he talks about his poxy dog, on occasion, he thought. Oh, don’t think about it, you do not want to smile just now, do you? No. You do not.

"He is hostile and aggressive where you are concerned, Mr. Hornblower. What can you have done, to offend the man so? Is it the incident of the quarantined cargo, still? Or did you offend him in another way? He said you were insolent to him, when you came on board."

"Sir, I do not think I was. I simply requested that he inform me of how the Mermaid was destroyed, as he informed he that he had witnessed the attack. He became quite offensive, sir, and threatened to have me disrated for my contempt. At the time, I did not comprehend the circumstances, of course."

"Well. I have turned the evidence of your honesty over to the commodore, Mr. Kennedy, the evidence that you were so keen to set fire to, by the way. They have questioned several seamen, always the most reliable witnesses, something you would do well to remember. In the face of this evidence, many have admitted to having seen you strike, and remove that flag from the wreckage. Apparently it was done in a circumstance that will not soon be forgotten. That was kindly done, Mr. Kennedy, and I will write to that young gentleman’s family and tell them so. Were it not for your actions, they could not satisfy themselves that their son was given a Christian burial. This will mean much to them, I dare say. But tell me, why use the flag to carry him?"

Kennedy looked self-conscious. "I am unsure, sir. I do not recall all of the circumstances, once I was injured. I believe it was due to Mr. Todd’s last action, sir, which was to lower the colors. He fell, and the…it was still in his hands, sir. I could not bear to tear it from him." Kennedy’s voice was taut.

"Very well. The board has not asked to question either of you in person. Your reports are quite thorough, and succinctly composed, so they see no need. They have no questions, except what to do about the incident now that the questions are answered. My feeling is that they will do nothing, at least nothing to Captain Foster. As he states, this sort of "accident" occurs often. Usually it is overlooked."

"Sir!" Kennedy exclaimed.

"Yes, Mr. Kennedy?"

"How can they overlook the slaughter of thirteen men! How can you?"

"Mr. Kennedy!" Captain Pellew’s voice was harsh.

"I apologize, sir. But…so nothing will be done."

"Most likely not. The fleet is going through some extreme overhauling at the moment, and this occupies much of the thoughts of those in any position to act. I am sorry, but they do not see this incident as very significant. Thirteen men is a comparatively small number, when compared to the numbers lost daily. And an insignificant prize was also lost. Our income, but nothing to them."

"Well in that case sir, I pray they do not say so, in the letter of condolence that they send to Todd’s mother." Kennedy sounded bitter, he was bitter. He continued in a sardonic tone, "I should hate to worry her on account of our income; likely she has enough plaguing her just now." Kennedy bit his lip, realizing what he had just said. "I apologize again sir, I am not myself."

"That is very apparent."

They were silent for a time; there seemed nothing more to add.

"Gentlemen, I am sure you both feel somewhat…fragile, shall we say?"

"Yes, sir," they agreed, both studying their shoes.

"Good. I want you both on deck today. The sun is shining, and the sails need to be dried. See to it, please. And this evening, I will have all of my officers here for dinner. Please inform them. That is all, gentlemen."

~~~

The remains of the day passed all too slowly for Horatio. He would never again do to himself what he had done last night. What on earth had possessed him to drink?

The sun was hot for April, as they pulled all of the extra sails out of storage and spread them across the decks to air in the sun. The mildew odor was killing him, as much as the pain in his head.

He had begged a headache remedy from Dr. Sebastian, who was not overly sympathetic to his plight. He was downright furious with him, chastising him for the purposeful ruination of his hard work of the day before.

In a fit of temper, Horatio had lashed out at him, demanding to know why it mattered, with missiles and shot flying at him every day…how long did he expect them to live, anyway? He had felt terrible about it after, and still had not found a chance to offer his apology.

The canvas slowly whitened through the day, bleached by the sun’s powerful rays. And the whiter it got, the more light it reflected. And the more his head hurt. He simply could not drink enough water. He had begun to feel better by mid-afternoon, but by evening he was feeling worse again. His face was dark with sunburn; and he was too hot. He removed his jacket, letting the off-shore breezes cool his skin. Overheated and slightly nauseated, he went below to dress for dinner. Archie, he noted, did not look much better.

They had not spoken much during the day; they had been too occupied. They met in the wardroom, and waited for the other officers. All would go to the captain’s table together. Dr. Sebastian joined them before long, eyeing them critically. Pulling out a chair and seating himself, he spoke to them. "I am sorry I was not able to talk the captain out of your punishment today. He was unshakable. But I see you have survived. You both look a bit pale under that sunburn, though, which does not please me. Keep drinking water, and…stay away from the wine, tonight, will you?"

All thought of apologies left his mind. Would he? Oh no, he wanted to spend the rest of his life feeling like hell. He thought maybe he would get drunk every night, from here on out, it was so very pleasant. He glared menacingly at Dr. Sebastian for daring to mention it. Then he looked at Archie, who looked like he would fall out of his chair at any moment. They were both exhausted. But to dinner they would go. Captain Pellew had something to say, and they had waited long enough to hear what it was.

The captain seemed in better spirits, and the officers were well behaved. Most of them were used to their captain by this time, and not overly intimidated by him. But the sight of the Dreadnought through the stern windows seemed to cast a shadow over the Indefatigable, at least for Horatio and Archie. They had little appetite for the splendidly prepared repast. The cabin sparkled by candle-light, the silver and crystal lending an air of unreality to the affair. Desert was carried in by several servants, a flaky, nutty affair filled with custard and dusted with cocoa powder. Then came coffee, after which the servants departed, closing the doors behind themselves.

Captain Pellew rose, and offered a toast. "Gentlemen, I know it is customary on formal occasions to drink first to king and country, and secondly to our superiors. But tonight, the first toast will be to the Indefatigable."

"To the Indefatigable!" they repeated.

"And secondly, to her men."

"The men of the Inde!" they proclaimed.

Then Bracegirdle, as the most senior Lieutenant, said "And to her captain, Captain Pellew."

"Captain Pellew!" they followed his lead with a spirited cheer.

"Thank you, gentlemen, for your sincerity. Please be seated again."

Disconcerted, they returned to their chairs, and looked expectantly toward Captain Pellew.

"Gentlemen," he began, "As I am sure you are aware, I have some news. It can be perceived by you as either good or bad, each to his own inclination."

They sat up straighter, leaning forward with anticipation, and with dread.

"Gentlemen, I am no longer the captain of the Indefatigable."

A whispered gasp went through the room, followed by a rigid silence. Horatio held his breath. Off balance, dizzy, he put a hand on the edge of the table to steady himself.

"Mr. Bowles, read this letter aloud, if you will," he said, handing him the folded communication.

"With…as you wish, sir." Mr. Bowles opened the letter, and began.

 

Admiralty, the fifteenth of February, 1799. Sir? You have known of this since February?"

"Carry on, Mister."

"Dear Sir,

The extensive Promotion of Flag Officers which His Majesty has been pleased to authorize me to make brings you so high on the Captain’s List, that it is no longer consistent with the ordinary Practice of the Service that you should continue to serve in a Frigate: I have therefore given you an Appointment to the Impetueux as being the most active and desirable Line of Battle Ship which the Arrangement on this occasion enabled me to select for you, and I have no doubt but that you will in this new Line of Service continue to gain as much Credit
as you have already, by the Acknowledgement of every one who knows you, obtained.

Believe me Dear Sir
your very faithful
humble Servant
Spencer"

A collective sympathetic groan came from the officers.

"Gentlemen, I do not want a ship of the line. Least of all do I want that particularly mutinous ship of the line. This letter, and this assignment is meant as an insult. Nevertheless, I have requested that Lord Spencer transfer my officers and foremen from the Indefatigable." Horatio looked up, hopeful.

"That request has been summarily denied." Captain Pellew looked ill as he said this. "I repeated the request in writing to Lord Spencer, who at first gave me some hope, but has now stated that I will only be allowed to remove the Indefatigable’s midshipmen."

Pellew’s men barely suppressed their anger. It was common practice, and a sign of approval to allow a captain to take his most loyal men with him when he was promoted.

Mr. Bowles hissed. "Captain, I have been with you in La Nymphe, and Arethusa, and this, the Indefatigable. Twenty years, sir! How do they tell me I will not go with you!" He was tearful, angered. "You paid from your own pocket for La Nymphe, you equipped her, and made her ready at your own expense! You manned her wiithout any aid from the Government. Some of us have been with you since that day, sir, how dare they do this! What is their reason!"

"Midshipmen, sir! They will do you no good!" Cried Mr. Bracegirdle. "The Impetueux is mutinous, and has been for three years. Her people resent you, for keeping your squadron out of the mutinies: sir, you may be in danger!"

"I shall look to my own safety, Mr. Bracegirdle, never you fear." Captain Pellew replied. His dark eyes encircled the array of loyal men, memorizing their faces for posterity. "Gentlemen, your loyalty and affection count for much, now. And I will need all of the fortitude I can muster in this new assignment. Thank you for that. But as for the rest, I am afraid it cannot be helped. I will go, and you will stay."

Horatio’s heart lunged in his chest, and the blood seeped from his face. "Sir…" his voice was an unheard whisper.

The waves lapped against the hull far below, and he felt again the icy claw that had clenched his heart–was it only last night? He was frantic. Sick, oh no, I am going to be…in his stupor, he saw Luis rise from the shadows behind Captain Pellew. Beside him, Archie was speaking softly, asking him...what? He could not make it out, however diligently he attended. Then a gentle touch on his shoulder, and a low, sonorous tone in his ear, "…steady…" Luis, the voice and the contact grounding him once more. His breath escaped in an unsteady stream.

"…of the Indefatigable, sir?" Dancer’s voice was asking.

"She will be put in for refitting, which may take as long as two months," Captain Pellew replied.

It had only been a few seconds, no one had seen, no one had noticed his disintegration, just Luis and possibly Kennedy. Thank the stars for the dimly sputtering candlelight that hid his lack of command. Luis remained behind him, a presence, a fortress. He resented having to admit the necessity.

"I will communicate further details within a short time, gentlemen. I will see each of you in turn, privately, to let you know of your future, and whether…well, I shall leave it at that for the evening. Thank you, gentlemen, for sharing this meal with me. It will probably be our last together; please accept my apologies for the wretchedness of the moment. Stay as long as you wish. You shall not disturb me, and as I desire that my cook feel his efforts are not wasted, please at least taste his patisserie."

Captain Pellew left the room without a fuss. No one spoke. And no one wanted dessert. One by one they departed for their quarters, each pondering what this might mean to his own life. Horatio was thinking only of Captain Pellew, to his credit. Bracegirdle was correct, he was headed into a conceivably dangerous situation. But he was a wise man, he would contend with it, doubtless. The worst of it was that Captain Pellew was a frigate man, he would be content nowhere else. He despised the larger ships, and referred to them often as "floating Newgates."

This apparent promotion would deprive Pellew of the title of commodore, of his squadron, of his favorite ship, of most of his income and much of his prominence. With these would go his reputation and his independence. He would become nobody, at Spithead. He, who was the senior naval officer at Falmouth! This promotion smelled more like a punishment.

And it probably had something to do with the incident involving Captain Foster. He was certain that it did. Captain Pellew was being punished for his actions.

And what of himself? Would he remain with Indefatigable? The captain had hinted during the past few days that the admiralty had a way of burying mistakes. And Horatio and Archie were an embarrassment to them now.

Pacing the deck above, he wished there were something he could do. Something anyone could do. But Lord Bridport was sympathetic to his protégé, Captain Foster. He disliked Captain Pellew for too many reasons. While Jervis was well, he had no trouble, but now…

He remembered overhearing Captain Pellew once refer to Bridport as "a mixture of ignorance, avarice, and spleen." And there was no help for it.

Trembling with exhaustion, he withdrew. He could not think or speak to anyone.

Working his way belowdecks, he thought of Archie. What must he feel? And poor Mr. Bowles, he had come with Captain Pellew as a volunteer, from his home in Cornwall. As a family friend! How dare they keep him on the Inde! Bracegirdle too, had been with him for years. He knew Captain Pellew, probably better than anyone. And what of Dr. Sebastian? He was a volunteer, but if he insisted on going with Captain Pellew against their wishes, they would refuse to give him an appointment. In which case, Horatio thought, he could easily see Captain Pellew paying him out of his own purse. His thoughts went around in circles, each solution leading to another problem; the cycle was endless. Finally, he fell asleep.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

 

 

 

Horatio woke to the sounds and voices of many men scuffling about the ward room. Slipping into his loose-fitting working trousers, he stepped out to learn the cause of so much disturbance. The officers were charging about purposefully, pressing neck cloths, brushing shoes and jackets.

Archie was deftly working Dancer’s long blonde queue into a braid, tying it off with a bit of thread, when he noticed Horatio observing the activity, bleary-eyed and puzzled.

"Horatio," he called, attracting his attention. He came near and quietly informed him, "Captain Pellew has authorized shore leave for most of the ward room, finally. Except…" he didn’t finish.

"Except what?" Horatio demanded, irritably.

"He wishes you to go, but only after Dr. Sebastian releases you. He does not think you have quite recovered yourself–I think he noticed, last evening–"

He should have known; Captain Pellew misses nothing. Angry that he had allowed his reaction to affect him so visibly, he cursed. He had lost control too often of late.

"I am perfectly well," he pointed out.

"Good. Luis asked that you please go to him; he is in the sick berth, taking an account of his supplies. He intends to go with Captain Pellew in Impeteuex."

"All right," he complied, tiredly. "Give me a moment to get proper clothes on." Archie glanced at him, doubt in his eyes.

Agitated, he re-entered his quarters. He was not in the mood for carousing around the docks and shops today, but with Captain Pellew ashore all day, it would help to pass the time.

The Indefatigable was to be paid off, and her captain had much to attend to at the Admiralty offices. Paid off! He still could not quite accept it.

He caught a glimpse of himself in the glass. With his hair tousled and dark bruises under his eyes, he looked more like a disheveled reprobate than a Lieutenant in His Majesty’s Navy. Resigned, he dressed in his everyday uniform, automatically assuming Dr. Sebastian would not allow him out of the ship. Why even ask it? He did not care to go anyway.

He had just picked up his shoes, when his door opened, and Acting Lieutenant Dancer poked his head through the crack. "Lieutenant, will you be joining us? First lot of boats are waiting."

Unaccountably furious, he pitched both shoes, striking the wall beside the door with a resounding clatter that dislodged dust and debris from the rough walls. Dancer’s eyes flew open, and he wisely pulled the door to.

He lay back on his cot, and laced his fingers behind his head. This was wonderful. Lieutenant Hornblower has gone peculiar; something else to talk about in the ward room.

He would not go to Dr. Sebastian like a supplicant, begging for favors, only to be told he must stay. He had not asked for shore leave. Why offer it to him, then place conditions upon his going? He was tired of begging for help, tired of needing it. He was tired of trying to be perfect, and tired of failing.

And tired of being cooped up in this ship, too, he realized. He needed to get out. Just not badly enough to waive his dignity.

Apparently his display of spleen had cast the message out; he was left alone for at least twenty minutes. Then, as expected, someone knocked. Let them, he thought, turning his face to the wall. It was either Archie or Luis, probably both.

The door opened silently. Can a man not have one second of privacy in his own cabin? Apparently he can not. He refused to investigate the intruder. Hopefully they would leave.

Without warning, tears spilled from his eyes. He was not weeping, but they came, and he could not stop them. He was coming unhinged, that was all. No surprises here, just the logical next step.

A gentle voice touched him.

"Horatio, are you ill?" Luis; he had guessed right.

"No."

"Horatio, look at me please."

No, and hell no.

"Horatio, you need not reproach yourself for reacting to these abhorrent events. What you have endured this week! Son, if it did not affect you in some way, I should be more concerned. Pain must find its way out, whether you will it or not."

He felt no pain. There was no pain; none that he could locate.

Dr. Sebastian lifted the tangle of damp hair from his face, gently drawing it back.

The light touch wrenched something from him–something he preferred buried. "Damn you!" he exploded, "get out!"

He was remorseful when the doctor left him, but he saw no choice, he could not impose himself on anyone; it was not to be borne.

The seeping pain that Luis had unleashed with his slight touch forced itself out, widening pinprick until it became an enormous, gaping wound that he felt would never heal. And he feared that once he began down this path, there would be no end.

He wept, the sobbing, choking lament of a man unused to crying, a man who had forgotten how. At first it was the pain of grief and betrayal, the horrible mission he had bungled so miserably, the days of thinking Kennedy was dead, and the guilt of believing it might be for the best. Then the failure of those men whose business it was to mete out justice, who had chosen to sanction murder.

Then a white-hot saber impaled him as he revisited Lieutenant Silver, the blood streaming from his shattered skull, the surprised horror silently screaming from his wide, colorless eyes. Eyes that shrieked even after he was dead–accusing him, tormenting him: "You should have stopped me! Why didn’t you know?!"

But it had to end; the violent anguish eventually wore itself away with weeping, leaving behind it an irreconcilable combination of renewal and emptiness. He raised himself from the cot and splashed his face with cold water. When he was ready, he opened the door, knowing Luis would be there still, just outside, waiting for Horatio to call him back when he no longer feared.

He was there, seated nearby, his hands covering his face. "Doctor Sebastian? Luis, I apologize. I did not mean…" Luis looked up, not judging, thank God, never judging him or finding him wanting.

"Don’t, Horatio. You know there is no need," his voice was gentle, as always. There was no subordinate anger or resentment. There never was.

"Horatio, I think some time away from here will be of assistance to you. So does your captain."

He nodded, and Luis continued, "Captain Pellew wished me to examine you before allowing this. May I just ask you some questions?"

"Certainly," he answered, lifting his head.

Luis noticed the gesture of defiance. "First, how do you feel?"

"Fine, tired."

"Any cough, or pain inside your chest? No fever?"

"No, nothing like that." This was ridiculous.

"I am not completely comfortable letting you go, Horatio, but I feel it would be for the best if you did. Captain Pellew insists you go, if at all possible."

Horatio hesitated. He truly had no wish to wander aimlessly about the reeking, foul city, or to contend with the belligerent crowds and the pushy shopkeepers.

"Try, Horatio."

"All right," he conceded, too weary to argue.

"Noon, then. I have already a boat ordered for that time, so you may take advantage of it. Get a little more sleep, until then. I will wake you."

Horatio nodded. Once Luis had gone, he lay down, exhausted.

 

 

 

 

 

"Horatio, time to be off." Luis’ voice outside woke him. "I am sorry, I would like to have let you sleep longer."

"Never mind, I am awake." He dressed himself and went out. He needed more rest, he knew. He was unsteady. He could not seem to regain the ground he had lost in the last weeks.

"How long since you’ve eaten?" Luis was eyeing him critically. "Last night, dinner? You barely touched it. First order of business then is to see to that. Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Dancer will meet us at the dock, by the way."

The boat that Dr. Sebastian had arranged was already waiting below, and the short cruise was over in little time. They were met by the others, as planned. Stepping ashore, Horatio nearly lost his balance, his sea legs were that unaccustomed to solid ground. Kennedy and Dancer laughed; they had been through the same experience a few hours ago. As they walked toward the city, they positioned themselves on either side of Horatio, helping him for the first few yards, until the odd effect wore off, and his body adjusted.

Archie had news of interest. He had received a cryptic message from Captain Pellew. They were to meet him at the Admiralty House during the noon hour. He had a little time between appointments. They were to collect him directly; Kennedy had already seen to hiring a transport. The drive itself was slightly unpleasant, unused as they were to traveling, enclosed, at such speeds. They endured it, however, and when they arrived a short time later, Dr. Sebastian alighted and went in, sending a page with word that they had arrived.

Captain Pellew came to them shortly, looking beat. He spoke to the driver, giving him directions.

"Gentlemen!" he declared breathlessly as he joined them inside, "I am indeed relieved to find you. I was not sure my message would find you in time. You have rescued me from–a most unpleasant development–I very nearly had to share a meal with Bridport. I begged off, claiming another obligation. If you had not come, I might have found my honor compromised." He smiled a little at this.

The carriage wheels hummed across the cobbles, making conversation difficult. In less than five minutes, the vehicle halted, and they clambered out. Captain Pellew led them into a graceful, modern structure, where he was recognized by the host. His guests were made welcome, and they were shown to a private dining room.

As they were served, Horatio was surprised to find himself relaxing in so elegant an atmosphere. The aroma of Dr. Sebastian’s tobacco intermixed with the masculine scent of leather upholstery, and he had to fight the desire to slouch down in the comfortable armchair. He felt at home here; he might have been in the ward room of the Indefatigable.

He fully enjoyed the meal served: a ragout of beef and onion that melted in the mouth, with a sauce that fairly exploded with herbs and pepper. Then came fresh fruit and a variety of cheeses, followed by a most aromatic coffee. It was a blissful meal. Dr. Sebastian watched him dine with obvious satisfaction.

Captain Pellew was laconic ; he seemed preoccupied through most of the hour. Finally, he rose, and lamented, "Gentlemen, I must go back now, as I have an appointment at two. Please stay if you wish. And when you do go out," he looked at his lieutenants, "be careful. Stay together, and avoid the Dreadnought’s men where you can. We cannot afford another conflict, especially in light of…" he left off. Dr. Sebastian had caught his eye, flashing a warning. "...recent events," he finished lamely.

He looked them over carefully, missing nothing. "Mr. Hornblower, will you walk out with me?"

"Aye, sir. Gladly," he answered as he rose to follow his captain out. While they waited for Captain Pellew’s conveyance, the captain studied his favorite Lieutenant’s countenance. Horatio became uncomfortable under the scrutiny.

"Mr. Hornblower…" Captain Pellew began, clearly deliberating his words. Horatio knew what he was about.

"Yes, sir?" he prompted.

"I would take it as a favor if you would return early to the Indefatigable, this evening."

"Aye, aye, sir. As you wish," he agreed readily. He was dispassionate, unreadable. He had replaced the visible heartache of last night with determined attentiveness. He would preserve his façade of soundness. He met Captain Pellew’s gaze with equilibrium. "I am well, sir," he assured him.

"Indeed," he remarked, noncommittally. "And what errands have you?"

"Only a few, sir. Some letters of course, and a few small purchases. No more."

"Do you have your letters on your person? If it will save you some time, I will have them sent from the Admiralty."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." He pulled a small bundle from his coat, and gave them over.

The coach arrived, and as he prepared to step up, he said, "Rejoin your friends, now, and enjoy the day, Mr. Hornblower."

"Yes sir," he answered listlessly.

"That is an order, Lieutenant."

"Aye, aye, sir," Horatio saluted as a twisted smile attempted to find its way to his lips.

He went back indoors, to see whether the others were ready to leave. As he passed through the common room, he caught sight of a smartly-dressed man who was walking directly toward him. He started as he recognized Captain Foster. Oh, for God’s sake, could he not have one hour of peace? Hopefully the man would not look up or recognize him. Horatio focused his eyes straight ahead, and kept moving, until Foster came to a dead stop directly before him, forcing Horatio to acknowledge him.

One did not salute indoors, so he executed a slight bow, and waited. It was not his place to speak first.

"What do you, here?" Foster demanded without preamble. His disrespectful address grated.

"Good afternoon, Captain. I am a guest here, sir." He replied succinctly.

"Oh? Of whom?"

"Of Sir Edward Pellew, sir," he stated. The reply could be considered imprudent or impudent, whichever suited. Foster may have out-ranked Captain Pellew as an officer, but he held no title. Foster apparently chose the former, for the answer seemed to strike a rank chord.

"Astonishing, the sort of debris that will cling to a man’s coat tails."

Horatio paled, but maintained his bearing. Over Foster’s shoulder, he saw his companions coming toward him, conversing with one another and unaware of his predicament.

He noticed a small, fair gentleman at a nearby table hold up a hand to halt his companion’s conversation, then turn to watch Horatio with keen interest. They were attracting attention.

"Yes sir, I agree," he said, thinking to close the conversation as soon as possible. Too late, Horatio realized what could be implied by his rejoinder to Foster’s insults. And too late, he recalled Captain Pellew’s admonishment, that they avoid Dreadnought’s men. But he did not seek this, it was foisted upon him.

He saw Foster raise his arm, and saw the fist traverse the distance between them, and the powerful blow crashed into his face like a brick. Stunned and dizzy, he steadied himself, and stood motionless.

He was the center of attention now. The man who had been observing the interchange with such interest leapt to his feet, as though to interfere, then Archie was beside him, along with Dr. Sebastian and Dancer.

He realized that none of his companions had ever seen Captain Foster before, and that the captain was not wearing any uniform. He saw Archie charge, and turned to intercept him. He must not, must NOT strike Foster, he would hang! He threw himself at Archie, grasping him and pinioning his arms. "No, no! Archie, don’t. Let it go, I mean it. On your life, let it go!"

Archie struggled for a second, then seemed to hear. Horatio let him go, aware of several persons surrounding the spectacle.

A very dry and absurdly correct accent announced "Gentlemen, I must request that you depart at once. If you wish to fence, do find a gymnasium. I can recommend one nearby, if needed." The appalling, rodent-like man sneered as he showed them to the door.

 

 

 

 

As soon as they stepped into the bright sunlight, Archie exploded, "What was that! Horatio, why did you stop me! Who was he?"

"Archie, no," Horatio was trembling. "That was Captain Foster."

"Oh no." Archie breathed. "Oh, dear God."

Dr. Sebastian was pushing them along, trying to get them clear of pedestrian traffic. Around a corner they found a small square of garden, and he pushed Horatio down onto a convenient bench. Horatio’s face was the color of paste, with a livid mark on the side, which was already beginning to bruise. Horatio closed his eyes and forced his breathing to slow, his heart hammering a staccato in his chest.

No one spoke for a time. Horatio’s voice was paralyzed, his frame tremblinhg with anxiety. What might Foster do next? What more could he do to them?

"We need to report this incident to Captain Pellew," Dr. Sebastian was saying.

"No!" protested Horatio. "He has got enough to concern him just now. Please, just let it go!"

"Horatio, he will be furious if we do not tell him. What if he should hear it from Foster, first? He’ll have me flogged! I will go. I wish you to return to the Indfatigable."

"Doctor!"

"I can insist, son. If I need to, I will," his glare meant he was up to the challenge.

"No, Doctor. If it must be reported, I will do it myself. It was my doing, and I must accept the responsibility."

"Horatio!" Archie finally interfered. "For God’s sake! How is this your responsibility? The man struck you without provocation; there were dozens of witnesses. There is no acceptable excuse for that. None!"

"Archie…" he was interrupted.

"Lieutenant Hornblower, gentlemen, we have company." Dancer interjected. A group of officers was crossing the green, talking amongst themselves. "Let’s go" Dancer urged. "We do not need more trouble."

Horatio stood and the group quickly made its way toward the less isolated main thoroughfare, not twenty yards ahead. They maintained a quick pace for fifteen or twenty minutes, then they paused. "They are far behind, but still following," Dancer observed. "Another five minutes, and we shall be at the Admiralty buildings. We may as well continue, and walk the remaining distance."

Horatio nodded is agreement and went ahead. His legs were trembling but he refused to give and ask for a rest. His face was stinging, throbbing, and beginning to swell painfully. Spitting, he was unwilling to swallow the blood that pooled from the cuts inside his mouth.

Almost there, just a few more steps, and he could rest, he thought. He turned his head, looking for the Dreadnought’s officers. They seemed to be keeping pace, but were maintaining a good distance.

The dead Lieutenant! He abruptly realized what this was about. What would the Indefatigable’s men feel, if one of her own people had done that deed on the deck of the Dreadnought? That must have been what Captain Pellew was referring to, when he was halted by Dr. Sebastian.

He increased his pace, all at once more apprehensive than before. If it were not for himself and Archie, and the Mermaid, Lieutenant Silver would still be alive. That is how they would see it. They would never blame their own legendary captain, they would find blame outside their ship, where they could.

Finally, they turned into the courtyard before the Admiralty Houses, well ahead of their pursuers. The small band was bewildered, though pleased, to see both Mr. Bowles and Lieutenant Bracegirdle in the courtyard. Before the two older gentlemen spotted them, Horatio threw himself gratefully into the marble bench, trembling with fatigue. Bowles glanced aside at the intruder, and recognized his shipmate, then let out a gasp.

"What the devil!" he exclaimed. "What have you men been doing!"

Horatio did not have the strength to respond. He turned away, hiding his face from view, mortified by his appearance.

Dr. Sebastian intervened. "Lieutenant Bracegidle, is Captain Pellew available at the moment? It is somewhat urgent."

"No, Doctor. He is closeted with Spencer, not to be disturbed. What has happened here, sir?"

"Foster. He came upon Mr. Hornblower by chance, and proceeded to…well, you see the results.

Together, they stared at Horatio in awe. He started up, to move away, but Luis held his shoulder, stopping him. "Stay put," he ordered sharply.

Luis pulled Mr. Bracegirdle aside, and spoke to him in a low voice. Bracegirdle glanced at Horatio occasionally, then nodded as Luis shook his head and returned to Horatio’s side. Archie was seated next to his friend, his face white with anger.

Crouching beside the bench on Horatio’s other side, Luis quietly informed him, "I am going to see if I can find Captain Pellew. Are you in much pain, Horatio?" Gently, he touched his jaw with his fingertips and turned his face toward the light. Embarrassed, Horatio pulled away. "No," he answered, and winced, the movement that speaking required antagonized the injury.

"Ah, I can see that you are not." Luis answered. Stay here, and do not move. I am going to try to get a message to the captain."

Horatio nodded, and as Luis left, he continued to gaze toward the yard entrance, eyes averted from the others. Then he saw the Dreadnought’s men entering the yard.

"Quarters, gentlemen," Horatio snapped. Archie looked over, knowing what he would see, as did the others. Horatio started to rise, but Bracegirdle stopped him with a searing look. He glared back, but did not get up while he watched.

The Indefatigable’s men formed a wall before him, blocking his view of the antagonists. With Bracegirdle’s attention diverted, he rose and worked his way alongside, to the end of the line of men.

"Gentlemen," one of the officers began. "Need we be introduced? I think not. We recognized you: Indefatigable. Or was. You can make that claim no longer, I hear."

The Indefatigable’s men did not flinch at the intended slur. They waited, tense, ready to vault.

Mr. Bracegirdle, in command, spoke politely, "Gentlemen, how may we help you? Is there something you require of us?"

"Which of you is Lieutenant Kennedy; that is all we require," they replied.

"Why…" Bracegirdle began, but was interrupted.

"I am Lieutenant Kennedy." Archie stepped forward.

The Dreadnought’s Lieutenant smiled with complacency. "Rake him," he said gently.

In an instant, the Dreadnought’s men converged, hunting as a pack, fists flying. Horatio threw himself at the man nearest himself, an officer his own age, hell-bent on vengeance. But before he could land a single blow, he was grabbed from behind, his arms pulled back so tightly that he could not move.

Marines, the elite officers guarding the perimeter, had sensed the conflict and had surrounded them, unnoticed. A line of red coats forced its way in between the two factions, arms at the ready. Horatio saw that the others were as immobile as he was.

A grip of iron held him, bending his elbows up at an impossible angle. He felt that if he moved, his arms would be torn from the shoulders. Standing on his toes, he tried to lift himself, to relieve the pain. Feeling him move, the marine followed up, jerking his elbows even higher. An involuntary cry escaped his lips, and he nearly blacked out with the pain.

"Please…" he heard himself groan. His strength was ebbing. The burly Marine chuckled at his discomfort, and began to force him forward, behind the others, toward a low door at the side of the building. With every ounce of self-mastery he could gather, he forced himself to remain conscious. For whenever his knees began to buckle, the pain in his arms tripled. The men before him were filed into a small room, himself last in the queue. More than willing to part with his prize, and using Horatio’s elbows for leverage, the marine gave a grunting heave, launching him head first into the heart of the group. He fell into them, his legs unable to keep up with the trajectory of his body.

They caught him; held him until his senses arranged themselves, and his muscles were under his own command. Strangely, his arms were not broken. In fact, once he was at liberty, the agony disappeared almost immediately. He extracted himself from his supporters, dizzily leaned against a wall, and counted the men. Bracegirdle, Bowles, Albans, Dancer, Kennedy, and himself. Dr. Sebastian had gone inside in time to avoid the altercation.

Doing a similar inventory, Kennedy summed the situation up with a sentence. "Captain Pellew will be quite pleased, Horaito. He will have no trouble rounding us up at the end of the day."

Horatio would have smiled, but his eyes closed before he could.

 

 

 

Horatio woke almost violently from a deep sleep, and tried to discover what had disturbed him. His eyes adeptly took in the small holding room. The six of them we scattered about the cold flagstone floor, some leaning against the wall, others lying down with on their best uniform coats, folded inside out to protect them from dust. Dancer appeared to be chewing on the end of his queue, his thoughts far from his body. Aching with cold, Horatio saw that he was stretched full length across the floor, with Kennedy’s legs under his head. Archie’s wary attitude told him that he was also aware of a commotion, and was watching the door.

Before Horatio could raise himself from his position, the door was unbolted, and opened. Captain Pellew stood outside, with Dr. Sebastian behind him. And another man, a man who looked vaguely familiar. Then Horatio recalled him: he was the man from this afternoon, the man he had noticed during the conflict with Captain Foster. The man who had gotten to his feet just before Archie had arrived and tried to interfere.

They all stood at the sight of their captain, who motioned for them to come out. As they filed by him, Captain Pellew commented dryly: "Well, Mr. Bracegirdle! The situation must be very desperate, when we must man our ships by emptying the gaols. I never thought to see the day."

Horatio heard Archie muttering under his breath, "A proud moment for any captain, I am sure."

He sent them ahead, down the dank corridor which led to the outside. Astonishingly, the sky was dark when they emerged. Behind them, Captain Pellew was deep in conversation with his companion, who also wore a commodore’s insignia.

Dr. Sebastian led the men to two waiting carriages, directing Horatio alone to the first, and sending the others into the second. He joined Horatio, and in a moment, Captain Pellew and his guest entered. As the footman closed the door, Captain Pellew introduced Horatio to the Duke of Bronte. Horatio lowered his head, and responded, "Good evening, your grace. I apologize for the circumstances of our meeting…"

"Nonsense!" the Duke interrupted. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lieutenant. Sir Edward speaks well of you, and from what I saw this afternoon, I am satisfied with his assessment of your integrity."

"Thank you, sir." Horatio responded, unsure how to take the compliment. "Sir, please allow me to express my gratitude. I saw that you were prepared to interfere today, before my shipmates arrived. I thank you for your intentions, and regret that it was necessary."

Bronte nodded, and replied "I am not sure how much help I would have been. I am grateful that it proved unnecessary, however, and that your men removed you from the situation with expediency. But perhaps I can interfere utilizing other means." He gave Horatio a nebulous smile. He was a well-looking man, handsome, about forty in age, Horatio decided.

The carriage halted; Captain Pellew jumped out and held the door for his guest.

""Thank you, Edward, for sharing your space. It has saved me some trouble."

"An honor to oblige you, sir. Good evening." Pellew replied, sounding spent.

Bronte poked his head inside and looked at Horatio again. "Good luck to you, Lieutenant. I shall be observing your career with enthusiasm. If all that Edward says of you is true, I think you will fare well, young man."

 

"Thank you, again, sir." Horatio was nearly breathless with the compliments paid him. "Good evening."

Seeing the duke off, Captain Pellew returned to the carriage, and they continued toward the shipyard. "Well, Lieutenant Hornblower," he began. Horatio felt a prickle of alarm. He had disobeyed every order of the day. He had not managed to avoid the Dreadnought’s men, and he had not returned early to the ship, as he had sworn he would. "I expect you are rather worse for wear, am I right?"

"Sir, I…no , sir…I am…" he could not bring the lie to his lips.

Captain Pellew looked at him seriously. "Lieutenant, you are dead on your feet. Come now, admit it."

"Yes, sir." Horatio had no choice, he could barely keep his eyes open.

Captain Pellew changed tactics. "Dr. Sebastian, you have complete charge of my Lieutenant. From this moment, he is under your orders alone."

"Of course, Captain." Luis agreed.

"And Lieutenant, you are to follow the doctor’s orders without question this time. No intrepid escapes from the sick berth, and no debauchery in the early hours. Do you comprehend me sir?"

Horatio didn’t answer, his eyes were closed again.

 

 

 

 

 

He remembered hearing those last orders, in the carriage. But now he was somewhere else…it was lantern light, never daylight, and he was thirsty. Someone helped him swallow a mouthful of water, but he was too tired for a second. So tired he could sleep for a year, and it would not be enough. It was silent, and that was enough.

Once or twice, dreams woke him, and he would swim up out of the dark, and there would be water, food offered, but he could not stay awake long enough to eat.

Eventually the silence became a jumble of meaningless sounds and voices; sometimes he heard men singing, and one time shouting, but he was left alone; no one plagued him with duties or prodded him to wake.

Gradually it entered his mind that he was in the sick berth, and on the Indefatigable. He recognized some voices: Dr. Sebastian, and a boy, one of the assistants, presumably. He vaguely remembered trying to wake in the carriage. They had arrived at the yard, Dr. Sebastian was shaking him, then Captain Pellew had been shouting. Kennedy and Dancer, all of them talking–he had tried to answer, but could not. Now he was here. He had no pain, so he was not injured. And no fever, he thought. He was tired, disoriented, and wanted to sleep. And they let him.

Sounds again, invading his dreams, woke him. He had to get up. He was dizzy at first, but it soon left him. He walked a few steps in either direction, working out why he was in the sick berth, what might be wrong with him. He could find nothing.

Back near the cot he’d been sleeping in, his eyes were ensnared by a tray of food. Breakfast. He was starving–and being in port, the vittles were worth considering. Soft, fresh bread, sweet butter, fruit and preserves, boiled eggs...incredibly, his stomach did not protest the offering, even after…how long had it been?

A boy wandered in then, and seeing him up, tore out of the room like the devil himself were after him. Gone to get the doctor, Horatio knew. Pushing the empty dishes away, he stretched out on the cot and decided he had never felt better in his life.

Dr. Sebastian was there shortly, with Kennedy on his heels. Horatio almost laughed, they both looked so serious!

"Good, you are awake!" Dr. Sebastian exclaimed. "I trust you slept well?"

"Very well, in fact. Never better. Why am I here?"

"Hmm. Glad to hear it. You had me worried for a while, no one could wake you."

"A while? How long did I sleep. It feels like hours."

"Hours, yes. Quite a few hours. How does your face feel?"

Horatio had forgotten the damage to his face. He touched it with is fingers. Sore, but not as painful as he might have expected.

"The swelling is gone; you will have a bruise for a while, I think. Anything else?"

"No. I feel I could happily get out and row ten circuits around the ship. Honestly."

"I daresay you might be surprised by a little fatigue after the fifth round." Dr. Sebastian sounded amused.

"So may I go? Or must I stay…"

"Horatio, oblige me. I would like you here for twelve hours. Then you may go."

"Twelve hours? But…that is a whole day, doctor, what about…"

"Your duties can wait. There is nothing pressing, son. And one more day will not harm you."

Horatio looked at Archie. One more day? "How long…" he swallowed. "how long have I been here, then?"

Archie glanced at Dr. Sebastian, then answered. "Three days, Horatio."

"No! You are not serious."

"He is. You were exhausted. I shall lecture you on that another time. For now, I shall leave you in peace."

Horatio looked at Archie again. "Three days?" he mouthed, and Archie nodded.

"I shall leave you gentlemen to get reacquainted, while I report to Captain Pellew that you are not dead after all."

"Doctor, I would not have died, surely."

"No, but he thought you had, when we pulled you from that carriage. So did I, in fact. I think Commodore Nelson would have been disappointed in his observations of your progress, if you had."

"Who?" he was confused.

"Commodore Nelson. The Duke of Bronte. Do you not recall meeting him?"

"No! Yes, but…"

"You did not know. I wondered. Well, now you do." Dr. Sebastian grinned as he left the berth.

As soon as he was gone, Horatio bounded from the cot. ""Nelson! I can not believe it. He paid me a compliment, Archie. Unbelievable!"

"Why so, Horatio? Don’t be a fool. Look at what others can see for a change, and I think you might be surprised." Archie was positively grinning. Something was up.

"What is it? What did I miss?"

"Captain Foster. He is being charged, court martialed. Commodore Nelson demanded it. He is a favorite with Admiral Hood, and Lord Howe, and he pressed for it. And Horatio, there is talk of Foster being dismissed from the service."

"No!"

"Yes, indeed. Oh, he still has friends, supporters. Perhaps he shall be given an administrative position. Were I a forgiving soul, I should offer him a dung cart I no longer need." Archie was elated.

"Was it the Mermaid? Did they change their minds?"

"That is part of it. The rest, conduct unbecoming…there is quite a list, I am sure you do not have the desire to hear it."

"Is this because of…what he did?"

"Yes."

"Oh." He was astounded.

"Well, Horatio, look on the bright side. If you are going to be pummeled by a vicious sea-captain, be sure to do so directly in front of the hero of the battle of the Nile. Just your luck."

"Admit it, Archie, you are making this up."

"No sir, on my honor. It is true. Every word. I would have told you before, but no one was allowed to see you. No one is yet, but I think Dr. Sebastian forgot, for the moment."

"And Captain Pellew? Has anything changed?"

Archie’s face fell. "No, not there, I fear."

"Oh. How is he taking it?"

"Well, I think. His son will be joining him on Impeteuex. At least he shall have someone he trusts."

"It will be strange, with another captain. They say you never forget your first captain, Archie, but I have no memory of Captain Keene."

Archie nodded. Unspoken words passed between them; they both discounted Keene; Pellew was their first real mentor.

"He really did think you were dead, when we pulled you from that carriage. It was frightening, you were very white and still. We all thought so, until Dr. Sebastian damned us for it. Captain Pellew seemed rather frantic for a time." Archie’s eyes reflected the memory, and Horatio knew what he felt. He had felt the same, not many days ago.

He took Archie’s hand in both of his own, and gripped firmly, saying what he could not say. Archie’s other hand joined and covered both of his own as he added, "Do not do that again, Horatio, will you? Very unpleasant. Nearly put me off my tea, in fact." The understatement said much.

"No," he said. "At least, I hope not. I am in for another lecture from Luis, as soon as he thinks I can stand for it. Perhaps I should play it up a bit, and put it off some?"

"An idea who’s time has come: Horatio Hornblower malingering. I like it."

"Do you think it is worth trying?"

"He would never suspect you."

"Never…I would be made to stay here longer. Twelve hours! Archie, I must get out of here before then." He plucked at his nightshirt. "Archie, would you bring me my clothes?"

"No, he will NOT." Dr. Sebastian, followed by Captain Pellew, was becoming a positive nuisance!

"Mr. Hornblower!" Captain Pellew demanded. "I know I misheard that request. Am I correct?"

"Yes, sir." Horatio replied meekly.

Captain Pellew looked a thousand things, but did not say them. "Welcome back, Mr. Hornblower."

"Thank you sir."

"You have had all the news, I assume?" he asked, looking at Kennedy.

"Yes, sir." He was tongue-tied.

"Well. Dr. Sebastian has informed me that by tomorrow morning, you should be yourself again. That is good. I shall speak with all of my officers then, regarding your dispositions. Meanwhile, you will not leave this berth, until you are released. Understood?" He nearly smiled at the misery on Horatio’s face.

"Aye, aye, sir." He agreed, discouraged.

"Twelve hours, Mr. Hornblower. It is not solitary confinement, man, it is a damned holiday! Enjoy it."

"Yes, sir." The three of them laughed at the abject misery in his voice.

"Can I at least have my clothes?" he asked Dr. Sebastian.

"If you give me your parole," he smiled. "Then Mr. Kennedy may bring what you require."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twelve hours and four meals later, he was allowed to go. Dr. Sebastian had fed him as though he might never see another meal, but he knew better than to argue. Archie stayed much of the day, there was little to do on board now. Toward evening, Dr. Sebastian found him alone, writing a letter to his father. Laying the paper aside, he looked at the doctor and realized what he was to all of them. He would miss him; he had been a godsend to them all.

"Luis," he said. "Thank you for all you have done for us."

Luis smiled, and came near. "Do not mention it, Horatio. I do what has been given me to do."

"I apologize for abusing you so, these many days."

"Don’t, Horatio. Your anger is a part of what makes you. You fight where you can. Never stop fighting."

"No, sir," he said, not really understanding.

"I find a need to lecture you, Horatio. Do you mind?"

Horatio smiled in reply.

"Very well then. Listen, and hear me, son. It is your nature to fight, as I said. Archie once called you a "warrior son of England" and that is an accurate title, I think. But you need to listen to the messages your body sends you. Obey them. If you are not well, you cannot do what you wish to do. No matter how strong your mind, no matter how determined your heart, they both require your body to accomplish anything. Think of this. What if you had been commanding a ship, when this happened? What if you had men who needed you? Sleep when you can; eat when you can. For you never know when your strength will be needed. You must take care. Promise me this, and I will feel less anxiety when we part."

"Yes," Horatio was touched that Luis cared so deeply. "Yes, of course. I swear it."

Horatio examined the future without Captain Pellew, or Luis in his life. "Take care of our captain, Luis. Archie told me you were determined to go with him."

"I shall. I owe him that, at least. And Horatio, do not think that Captain Pellew will never again be a part of your life. He shall go far, as will you. And when he is your admiral, and you are a captain, I pity England’s enemies then."

 

~~~

Horatio exited the sick berth and was stunned by the reception waiting for him. Everywhere he looked, men were calling his name, thumping his back, looking at him. He scowled at them, hating to be the center of so much attention.

"Yer a welcome sight, Mr. Hornblower," Matthews said, his face belying the simplicity of his words. Matthews! What would he have become, after all these years, without him? An unaccustomed wave of grattitude ran through him, and he took Matthews’ hand and shook it vigorously.

"Thank you, Matthews." And he meant it. Loyal, sensible, practical Matthews. And Styles, a man who would be a dangerous enemy, and where he loved, even doubly dangerous. He protected like a wolf–swift, vicious, no need for cunning. Then Oldroyd, the youngest and sometimes a fool, but good-natured-the best of men. What would become of them all, now?

"All right, men," Kennedy pushed a path through the well-wishers. "Let Mr. Hornblower through–move along, there, please." Kennedy knew Horatio would be asphyxiated soon by all of the attention.

Horatio was appalled by the weakness displayed by his legs. Lack of exercise; Luis had assured him he would regain that strength quickly. He should see a difference daily. Archie had to help him up the last steps to the upper deck. The a blast of cool night air–fragrant, fresh and cool, heady. The taste was dizzying. He settled near the rail and gripped the nettings and just inhaled until his head cleared. What more was there, than this?

First things first: he looked to the sea. Not toward the shore, but away from it. The full moon shone an endless path across the still water, and he followed it with his eyes. The eternal sea, an infinite lane, a road he must follow.

He loved her, and hated her. She was his mistress; one he need not leave behind. She had moods: sometimes terrifying in storms, malevolent, antagonistic, cruel. Then she could turn about, and she was sensual in her calm: cresting and surging. She could exhilarate him, her attitude bracing, stimulating, inspiring. But whatever her mood, she was always with him. She had tried to claim him, but he had escaped her. She was alive, but so was he.

Archie joined him in his study. "Where now, Horatio?" he asked.

"I don’t think it matters."

Archie looked at him, curious. No, not unhappy. Content.

But wondering. I have given everything I have, for this life, he thought. My father, my home, the wife and children I might have now. We give our bodies, she takes our souls. For what? What do we get in return? She takes all we have, and asks for more. We find more to give, and still she is not satisfied. She destroys men, tears their hearts out. She consumes them while they still breath, and she also takes our dead. She takes, but she never gives. But we do not leave her.

"Archie, she has taken much from me, but I will win," he said. "The day will come when I get from her what I have come for. I will not relinquish; she will not beat me. She tried, and she almost did, you know."

Archie nodded. He knew.

"But she will not have me, before I am ready. I will fight her, Archie, and I shall win. No matter the cost, I shall win." Determination glinted from his night-dark eyes. "That is why I stay."

Archie knew this already, his expression said.

"Archie, why do you stay? Why not go home. Get married, have children. She has taken even more from you, yet you are so determined. What keeps you here?

Archie was a long time replying. Then he smiled and said with perfect equanimity, "The uniforms."

 

 

Mr. Bowles exited the captain’s quarters. He dashed tears from his cheeks as he drifted by the two remaining officers. He walked as though he were dreaming, but the dream was a nightmare.

Horatio looked at Archie, horrified by the sight of such obvious turmoil. They should be prepared, he thought. They knew what was coming. Had known for days. But this morning it was different. Final, somehow. He was rigid with anxiety, waiting out his summons to Captain Pellew’s quarters. He had been since he woke up this morning. Breakfast was not to be thought of; his stomach revolted as he had watched Lieutenant Kennedy consume both his own meal and Horatio’s. Archie’s anxiety seldom affected his appetite, and Horatio was wildly envious of his digestion. It seemed that for every ounce of flesh that Horatio lost, Archie gained one. He looked, and was, well and fit.

Captain Pellew stood framed in the open door of his cabin. "Come in now, Lieutenant Kennedy," he said, his voice constrained. Archie followed him in, and the door closed.

Twenty minutes later, Kennedy came out. He looked at Horatio, wide-eyed, his face the color of chalk. Then he turned away– his goal, the water butt. With shaking hands, he took a long drink.

Horatio turned back toward the door that Kennedy had come out of, and Captain Pellew was standing in the opening again, watching him. "Come in," he said simply, then turned and disappeared inside.

The cabin was dark after the brilliant sunlight on deck, and his eyes took some minutes to adjust. He was not sure how, but he found himself seated in an offered chair, facing his captain.

"I will not beat about the bush, Lieutenant Hornblower. I know you are anxious to hear of the disposition of the Indefatigable’s officers. Both you and Mr. Kennedy are reassigned to HMS Renown, under Captain Sawyer. She is expected to land within forty-eight hours."

He halted the formal speech, allowing Horatio time to absorb the information. Horatio tried to appear to accept this news with equanimity, but felt he was hideously unsuccessful.

Captain Pellew contiued: "I do not know Captain Sawyer, except by reputation. He is known as a strict disciplinarian, as I am. He is hard-working, and maintains perfect order. It is said that he is a model captain, one who commands with dignity and who demands respect. I trust you find none of these attributes objectionable."

"No, sir," he replied. What else could he have done?

Captain Pellew lifted a single closed envelope from his desktop, and handed it to Horatio. "Your orders. I wish you the best of luck. You deserve it."

"I…Thank you , sir," Horatio choked out.

"Mr. Hornblower, it has indeed been an honor to serve with you. I expect to see great things from you. I warn you now, I shall have my eye on you, even from a distance. I know a good man when I see one, sir, and this service is damned fortunate to have you."

 

"Sir," Horatio replied, "anything I am that is worthwhile, I owe to your example." He could barely utter the words. "I shall not forget you, sir."

Pellew seemed to relax then, and lose the rigid formality that had until now dominated the interview.

"Hornblower," he said, "I can do nothing for you at present. I had hoped to see you through to post. I know you have no interest, but you have ability, sir, and I trust you will put it to good use. I will speak for you when I can."

He hesitated, then continued, "I cannot stop this madness, but there is one thing I can do. As you no doubt are aware, when an officer attains the rank of post captain, he is often given the option of taking with him those men he finds most loyal, those men he may trust to guard his life. I have been denied that gesture of approval, but I am able to offer it to you and Mr. Kennedy."

Horatio was stunned. How could Captain Pellew do this, when he was not even allowed his own men? "How sir?" he wondered aloud.

"The Renown is short of men. Her captain has orders waiting, while the Indefatigable is to stay in Plymouth for refitting. She has neither a mission, and her new captain is not yet available. I am ordered to personally select men for the Renown from this ship. I am delegating that task to you and Mr. Kennedy. When you reach a decision, please provide me with a list, and they will be included in the transfer. I need it by the end of the day, please. Agreed?"

"Yes sir! Thank you Captain," Horatio was aghast at their good fortune.

Captain Pellew looked serious then. "Do me a favor, then. Do not inform the officers or men of the Renown of this conspiracy. Factions are seen as dangerous, by some captains. Inform your men of this, disperse yourselves through the ship, and do not appear to be in collusion. Do not isolate yourselves. With the dozens of mutinies over the last three years, you might find yourselves under suspicion. Do you understand? I should very much hate to read of your being hanged."

"Yes sir, I understand," he answered with gravity. "Captain…" Horatio began. "I…" his voice closed. He could not form the words he needed, to tell this man what his leadership had meant to him.

Of the last six years, the memory that stood out most clearly was of the day he had returned from Musillac…destroyed from within and battered from without, his new Lieutenant’s uniform tattered, wet with her blood and his tears. Stained, unclean. And how this man had taken hold of him, found that tiny spark that was all that was left of his spirit, and fanned it into a flame once more--showing him it was still there, that it had not died on that bridge in France–repudiating the weeping, vanquished child, and showing him the man he would be. A man whom other men would follow.

"Sir, I owe you…" he could not continue.

"Nothing, Horatio. You owe me nothing. Now pull yourself together, man. I have seen enough tears in this cabin, in this single morning, to suffice me for the next seven lifetimes. I despair, I really do." He smiled, his own eyes glistening suspiciously. Horatio grinned back through his distress.

For the moment, at least, they were equal. Two noble hearts, two honorable men, each recognizing himself in the other.

 

The End