The Weather Eye
Part 22 - The Adventures of Annabelle, Queen of Port Jackson
by Derry

Horatio surveyed the carnage in the room. "What are we going about these
bodies?"

Archie blinked. "What do you think we should do?"

"Well, we can't just walk out and leave them behind. I know that this is
the untamed Antipodes, Archie. But murder is still a crime here. We can't
leave corpses around and just hope that no one will notice."

"It was self-defence, Horatio."

"You and I both know that. But if we rent rooms at an inn and then abscond
leaving two bodies behind, the local authorities may take a less charitable
view of the situation."

"Hmmn. True," Archie allowed, then sighed in frustration. "Who the hell
are... were they anyway?"

Horatio had knelt to begin untangling the man he had trapped in the quilt.
"I suppose it would be too much to hope that they might be carrying some
sort of identifying papers or some such thing..."

He had begun rifling through the man's pockets and suddenly stopped in his
search. "On the other hand, maybe I spoke prematurely."

"What is it?" Archie knelt beside him as he drew a packet of papers out of
one of the man's pockets. "Hang on, that looks like those infernal
documents we almost got ourselves killed trying to deliver. I thought you
had already handed them over to the governor."

"Indeed, Archie. You were there and saw me do it. These may look similar
but they cannot be the same ones. I wonder what they contain."

Horatio began to break the seal on the packet.

"Should you be doing that, Horatio? Official documents..."

"In the hands of assassins, Archie. These are hardly likely to be
legitimate documents."

"The last set of documents you received were given to you by an assassin,"
Archie muttered, almost to himself.

"Well, yes but Guido is the King's Man. He's an assassin acting in an
official capacity."

"Whereas these men were clearly acting in far less noble interests."

"Well, they clearly weren't acting in *our* interests, anyway." Then,
having opened the documents, Horatio began to read the message written on
the outermost paper (which had been used to wrap the rest in).

"The gilt-haired nymph that's wont to play
At Big Bob Bunter's inn by day
May, at midnight, take her charms
To please the crew at the Sailor's Arms.
And the noble knight that may escort her,
This beautiful, tempting Neptune's daughter,
Should meet with the one-eyed buccaneer
And try to gain that captain's ear."

"A poem?" Archie's brows almost met his hairline.

"Hmmn, obviously it can't be meant to be interpreted literally. The true
meaning is hidden, coded, so that it would mean nothing in enemy hands. He
must have suspected that something like this would happen to him."

"What? That two naval officers wold wrap him up in a counterpane and then
run him through with a sword?"

Past experience had taught Horatio that there was no point in arguing with
Archie when he was in this sort of mood. Any comment about his
facetiousness would merely encourage it and Horatio didn't feel up to
dealing with that at the moment.

"Most probably," he simply replied without a flicker of emotion.

Then he remembered something else. "By the by, what was that commotion I
heard earlier, before you made your dramatic entrance?"

Archie smiled at his friend's tone of voice. It was almost as if Horatio
vaguely disapproved of the somewhat theatrical manner in which his life had
been saved.

"Oh, three of their compatriots, I expect" Archie affected a nonchalant
air, as he gestured to the corpse in front of them.

Worry creased Horatio brow. "Should we be expecting more company soon?"

Archie shrugged. "I do not believe so."

Suddenly, a piercing feminine shriek filled the room. Both (living) men
turned to see a highly painted young woman in the doorway. She looked like
she was about to scream again.

Alarmed both by the sight of a female in distress and by the prospect that
she might draw unwanted attention, Horatio leapt up from beside the body,
ran to her and clamped his hand over her mouth.

"Sorry, ma'am. We won't hurt you but we need you to be silent for a
moment."

He felt her body go limp, as she swooned in his arms, and so he gently
lowered her to the floor.

"Oh dear," he muttered.

Archie came over to join him. "I know her. Well, in a way..." he said,
recognising the golden curls and pale blue dress.

Horatio looked up at his friend, somewhat surprised. They had been in Port
Jackson less than a day and in each other's company for most of that time,
and Horatio had not seen her.

"Know her?" The girl's garments suggested a certain profession. He
couldn't help raising an eyebrow. "In *what* way?"

"Not in *that* way," Archie protested, although inwardly he had to admit
that had been precisely what he had been offered. "I saw her briefly
downstairs."

"Do you know her name?"

"No."

"Gilt-haired nymph..." Horatio muttered, under his breath.

"Horatio?" It was Archie's turn to raise an eyebrow. Horatio wasn't
usually given to expressing himself in such fanciful terms.

"Just thinking, Archie. Our landlord's name is Robert Bunter, isn't it?"

"Ah, I see. You think this may be the Neptune's daughter' referred to in
that poem."

Horatio shrugged. "Well, it's possible."

"In that case, I suppose one of us should play noble knight' and escort her
to the Sailor's Arms. Say, wasn't that the name of the tavern where we left
Matthews, Styles and Oldroyd?"

"Oh, I don't think we could do that, Archie. The poor child is obviously
frightened near to death. Escorting her to meet one-eyed pirates might
indeed be the death of her. No, we couldn't possibly do it."

"I suppose you're right. Nonetheless, we *are* going to investigate the
Sailor's Arms, aren't we?" Archie knew Horatio too well to believe that he
would leave such a mystery unresolved.

"Indeed we are." Horatio gave his friend a rather mischevious smile. "And
I do believe that you have hit upon the essential element of the plan we
will need to enact. We will need to provide a nymph'."

"Oh." Archie was rapidly becoming very worried about this plan.

"Yes, I think it's time we actually tested your prowess as a thespian, Mr
Kennedy. It has been much speculated upon but never proven to my
satisfaction."

"Horatio..."

"Think about it, Archie. It's a perfect opportunity for us to infiltrate
whatever nefarious plot is brewing at the Sailor's Arms. One of us must
play nymph' and the other escort her."

"Well, then you be the nymph'! After all, I'm the one with the noble'
background and you've had more experience at wearing skirts!"

Horatio blinked and then remembered the kilt incident. But this only served
to strengthen his resolve.

"No, Archie. This time *you* can be the one to wear the skirt. Anyway, I'm
too... tall. You might be able to fit into this young lady's garments.
They would be much too small for me. Also my hair is completely the wrong
colour."

"Wear the young lady's... You're not suggesting that I strip her?" Archie
was a little shocked at this ungentlemanly suggestion from his friend.

"No, no! Of course, not! Just wake her and ask her. I'll go downstairs
and see if your three friends from earlier this evening haven't stirred up
more trouble for us. I won't be long."

With that he crossed to the door and, before Archie could protest, he had
left the room.

Archie looked down again at the unconscious woman. Under all that make-up
and jewellery, she did look very young and vulnerable.

Gently, he tapped her cheek. "Come on, love. I need you to wake up."

The girl let out a small moaning whimper.

"It's all right. I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to talk to you."

Slowly, her eyes fluttered open and when she focussed on Archie's face, she
opened her mouth as if to scream.

Like Horatio before him, he felt obliged to clamp a hand over her mouth the
silence her. Fortunately, this time, she did not faint.

"It's all right! It's all right!" he whispered urgently. "I swear that I
will not harm you. Just listen to me. I... that is we... my friend and I,
we need your help. Now, I'm going to take my hand away from your mouth.
Please don't scream."

He felt her nod slightly and when he took his hand away she asked him in a
very small voice, "Who are you?"

He smiled gently and she visibly relaxed. "My name is Archie Kennedy. My
friend, who was here when you came in earlier, is Horatio Hornblower. And
as I said, we both need your help."

"My help? How?"

Archie cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Well, I'm not sure how to ask
this but... I'll need to ask if I could borrow your clothes, ma'am."

She nodded solemnly. "I understand, sir."

"You do?"

"Well, sir, you're not the first gentleman to prefer er... umm... y'know.
And if you and your friend want it that way..."

Archie's eyes went wide. "No! It's not like that!"

"It isn't?"

"Definitely not!" Archie most anxiously assured her.

"But you want to borrow my clothes?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"It's a little difficult to explain."

At that point, Horatio returned.

"Ah, you're awake, ma'am. We are so sorry to have frightened you thus." He
immediately knelt by woman, on the opposite side to Archie.

She became fearful, as the memory of what she'd seen returned. "Those men."

"I'm afraid that we were forced to kill them. They *were* trying to murder
us."

"I know. They paid Maggie to get me to distract you, Mr Kennedy."

Archie exchanged a glance with Horatio, before asking the girl, "Why was
that?"

"I don't know. They just said that they had to get you both out of the way
by midnight and then one of them was going to take me to..."

"The Sailor's Arms?" Archie queried.

"How did you know?"

"I'll explain later. It's must be getting close to midnight. Are you
willing to help us?" He again favoured her with a charming smile and she
nodded.

"Good," said Horatio from the other side. "Are you well enough to stand?"

"I think so."

The two men helped her up and she was able to keep her feet, leaning against
Archie.

"Now, Mr Kennedy, if you escort this young lady to the next room and
exchange outfits, I will see if I can fit into the garments bequeathed to me
by this late gentleman." Horatio nudged the quilt-wrapped body with his
foot.

"Best leave the counterpane behind, Horatio," Archie advised and the girl
giggled as he lead her to the door.

"Oh, I don't know, Archie. It has already proved an effective weapon."

They quickly exchanged grins, as Archie left the room.

* * * * * * *

Less than a quarter of an hour later, Archie made another dramatic entrance.
His voice was pitched noticeably higher than usual (but thankfully without
too much falsetto) and he decided to adopt a touch of Oldroyd's accent as
well.

"Fancy a pretty girl for the night, sir?"

Horatio looked up to see his friend sweep into the room, accompanied by a
quiet rattle of the jewellery he wore. His face had been rather gaudily
painted. Somehow they'd curled some of his hair into ringlets (and tied the
rest back). And he was deliberately swaying his hips slightly as he walked.

He came to stand in front of Horatio and deliberately struck an alluring
pose.

"So, how do I look?"

Horatio coughed slightly. "Very nice."

"Just nice'?" Archie pouted. "Not delectable' or desirable'?"

"Hard for me to say, Archie." Horatio cocked his head to one side. "I
don't desire you in that way."

To his mild surprise, that made Archie giggle. "Oh really? Some ladies
might beg to differ." He cast a glance at the doorway and Horatio turned to
see the girl who was helping them. She blushed furiously.

She looked much better without all that awful make-up, he decided, and
surprisingly pretty in Archie's shirt, waistcoat and trousers.

"The question is, do you think I will do for the part?" Archie gave a little
twirl on the spot and again his jewellery tinkled.

Horatio shook his head. He hadn't seen such an outrageous performance
since... well, since Kitty Cobham's Duchess of Wharfdale, at the very least.

"Just so long as you do not *over* do the part, Archie."

"I don't think you should call me Archie'."

"No?"

"No. I shall be Annabelle Kennedy. You can call me Annie'."

Horatio sighed. "Very well, *Annie*. We will need to move quickly if we
are to make the Sailor's Arms by midnight."

Archie nodded and Horatio turned to the girl.

"We'd best leave you here. It would be safest. Thank you for all your
help. Miss..." With a flash of embarrassment, he realised that he didn't
know her name.

"Sterling," she said coyly, seeing his discomfort (which she noticed only
added to his charm). "Miriam Sterling."

* * * * * * *

The Sailor's Arms was a much rougher venue that Bunter's inn. Living up to
it's name, it was crowded with seamen, most of which were in advanced states
of inebriation.

Instinctively, Horatio offered his arm to Archie, to escort him into the
tavern. Archie stifled a laugh and accepted the gallant gesture with
suitable aplomb.

"Thankee, sir."

Horatio managed not to wince. It seemed to him that Archie's accent was
getting more outrageous. Mentally, he steeled himself against what might be
yet to come. After all, he'd survived the Duchess of Wharfdale. How bad
could Archie get, by comparison?

They immediately drew attention as they entered. Horatio's garments were
decidedly finer than those of the sailors present and even Archie's gaudy
outfit was a cut above those of most of the women present (although Horatio
found that rather hard to credit).

"What ave we ere?" A large bearded man approached them and Horatio
instinctively tensed, ready for a fight.

"Y're new ere, luv," the man continued, directing his gaze at Archie only.
"Give us a kiss! Or at least, give us a song."

"It's what I'm ere fer, innit?" Archie replied with a sultry smile and
moved to follow the bearded sailor.

Horatio grabbed his arm to stop him, afraid that Archie was getting in over
his head. But Archie shrugged him off.

"Now there, Harry, luv." (They had decided that Horatio was far to
conspicuous a name) "I'll be right back. Don't y'fret none!"

Effectively dismissed from taking part in the coming action, Horatio stood
back and gnawed at his lower lip. He could only hope that Archie remembered
no to overdo this.

One of the tabletops was being cleared and the bearded sailor effortlessly
hoisted Archie up onto it.

"Hey! Listen up, lads! This ere's Miss Annabelle Kennedy."

"Oo's she?" Someone else shouted back.

"Oo's she? She's the bloody Queen of Port Jackson! Ain't that right, luv?"

"Too right!" Archie replied.

"And she's gonna sing for us, ain't ya, luv?"

Horatio shook his head.

Then a familiar voice whispered in his ear. "Sir?"

Horatio turned to see Matthews at his side, looking understandably
perplexed.

"It *is* you, sir!"

Horatio sighed, relieved to have Matthews' steady presence here but also
dreading having to explain their current situation.

"Yes, Matthews."

"Sir, that's not Mr Kennedy up there, is it?"

"Keep your voice down!" Horatio hissed, before answering the question. "I'm
afraid it is."

"What's going on, sir?"

"It would take far too long to explain. Where are Styles and Oldroyd?"

"Upstairs, sir. With a couple of ladies, if y'know what I mean."

"Go get them and meet me back down here."

"Aye, aye, sir!"

Matthews disappeared back into the crowd.

Meanwhile, Archie had begun enthusiastically serenading the tavern's
occupants.

"The moon on the ocean
Was dimmed by a ripple
Affording a chequered delight;
The gay jolly tars
Passed a word for the tipple,
And the toast -
For twas Saturday night:
Some sweetheart or wife
He loved as his life
Each drank, and wished
He could hail her:
But the standing toast
That pleased the most,
Was The wind that blows,
The Ship that goes,
And the lass that loves a sailor!'"

The audience gave and appreciative roar and several toasts were immediately
drunk to the Queen of Port Jackson, especially after Archie wiggled his hips
suggestively at the men in the front row. Several of the men reached up to
grab hold of him but he pushed them back. This produced another roar of
delight.

Horatio closed his eyes and took a deep breath, now earnestly *praying* that
his friend wouldn't try and carry the ruse too far. He opened his eyes
again, as heard Archie ebulliently launching himself into the second verse.

"Some drank The Queen,'
And some her brave ships,
And some The Constitution';
Some May our foes,
And all such rips,
Yield to English resolution!'
That fate might bless
Some Poll or Bess,
And that they soon
Might hail her:
But the standing toast
That pleased the most,
Was The wind that blows,
The Ship that goes,
And the lass that loves a sailor!'"

That was when things got a little out of hand. One of the drunken men
leaned forward and grabbed to edge of Archie's skirts, lifting them
slightly.

"Wha' aboot ye, lass? Got some love fer a sailor?"

Archie's only reply was to kick man in the face. The sailor went down hard.
There were peals of laughter from most of the audience but they were
mixed with a few low rumbles of anger.

"Wonderful," Horatio muttered to himself. "Just what this colony needs. A
British tar going too far in a public bar."

The situation seemed poised on a knife's edge and if it all went wrong, he
wondered how he was going to explain to the Admiralty his reasoning in
persuading a junior officer to dress in women's clothing and sing to sailors
in taverns.

"Enjoying the show, Mr Hornblower?"

Startled, Horatio turned to face the speaker. He didn't recognise the man,
at all, except for the fact that his left eye was covered with a patch.

"I'm sorry?" Horatio tried to feign ignorance, even though he knew it was
pointless.

"You will be, lad. You most certainly will be." Horatio found a knife at
his throat for the second time that evening.

His captor raised his voice to someone else in the tavern. "Get Kennedy!"

The tavern erupted in an all out brawl as some went to obey the order while
others fought to protect the lovely Annabelle. But within a few minutes, a
somewhat bedraggled Archie was hauled up along side Horatio, even though the
brawl continued in the background.

"They are a tough crowd here, Mr Kennedy," the one-eyed man mocked, as
Archie was brought before him.

"I thought everyone found my performance was quite riveting, until you so
rudely interrupted it," Archie replied, glibly. It earned him a punch to
the stomach.

Horatio instinctively struggled to help him, to find the blade pressed more
tightly to his throat.

"Don't even think it, Mr Hornblower. And don't be expecting those men of
yours to come to your rescue. I've already dealt with them."

Both Horatio and Archie were dragged into another room and unceremoniously
thrown into a corner, two of their captors standing over them with pistols.

Pushing himself up into a stting position, Archie whispered. "What now,
Horatio?"

"Well," Horatio whispered back. "It would seem that only one thing that can
save us now..."