Another Way to Serve
Part V

Evening had fallen, and with it, an end to the day's activities
aboard Retribution. As he'd done the last two evenings since
Commodore Pellew and the Indefatigable had departed, Archie
Kennedy stood at the rail, his battered face suffused in the amber
glow of the setting sun. A soft breeze blew his blonde hair back
from that face.

A glad light touched his sapphire eyes as his thoughts turned, once
again, to her. She had been in his dreams ­ his one constant thought
since awakening in the sick berth. Indeed, even before that time ­
before the storm that had taken him over the side. It was difficult to
say when it had all begun; but now she was his first thought upon
rising and his last as the day ended.

Soft footsteps were heard approaching and Archie turned, a smile
lighting his bruised face, making it more handsome than ever.

"I thought I'd find you out here," Horatio said, coming to stand
beside his friend. "Nothing compares to a sunset at sea!"

"Except, perhaps, night upon the water," Archie answered. "The stars
in the heavens, the gentle sound of the water lapping against the
ship's hull. I've never known a better lullaby, save for Abby's
songs."

"I remember once," he continued quietly, "being home from school on
holiday. We'd been studying the constellations and Abby asked me to
show them to her. We stayed outside in the dark for most of the
night, just staring up at the stars. I remember finding a small
bright star away from the others and telling Abby that I'd named
that one for her ­ the Abby Star I called it."

Archie laughed softly at the memory. It was so good to hear that
laugh! Horatio had not thought to hear it ever again. He smiled in
the near darkness.

"I don't wish to change the subject," he said, "but we shall be home
tomorrow. And I would be greatly in your debt if you would accompany
me to see Antony and Cleopatra."

"Shakespeare, Horatio," Archie's blue eyes twinkled with delight.
"Are you really going to the theater ­ to an ACTUAL performance
of Shakespeare?"

Horatio was glad that night had fallen and Archie could not see the
blush that rose on his face. He would NEVER live it down.

"I confess," he said, "that it is NOT my choice. But I promised Miss
Cobham I would attend the performance when Retribution returned
from her next voyage, and I am afraid, THIS is that "next voyage."
I thought, perhaps, you might act as my interpreter."

"I would be honored, sir," Archie answered, executing a graceful bow
before his friend and commanding officer ­ all the while trying to
suppress the laughter that threatened.

"However," he continued, "I fear I must decline your gracious offer
as I have a previous commitment of the utmost urgency."

At this last comment, Archie's voice grew serious. Horatio looked at
him expectantly.

"Am I permitted to ask what that commitment might be?"

"I've got to return to The Sea Serpent," Archie said, looking directly at Horatio.

"Good God, Archie, what on earth for?" Horatio's dark eyes bore into
the deep blue of Archie's own. "I thought you'd done with that place.
Why do you want to go back?"

"Horatio," Archie said, "I have to. I have to find Kathleen. I'm not sure I
can explain this ­ all I know is that I've got to see her again. It's strange, but
what I told Emily was true. I can now move on with my life, putting the
past behind me, and Kathleen is all I've thought about these last
few weeks. I don't know how or why. . . . ."

Archie's voice trailed off and he stared at his friend, hoping
Horatio would understand what he was trying to say. Horatio smiled.

"You won't find her there," he said gently.

"What do you mean?"

"She's no longer at The Sea Serpent, Archie. She has left that life
behind."

"You know where she is, don't you, Horatio?" Archie asked.

"Indeed I do," Horatio answered, smiling.

"Do you plan to tell me or not?" Archie's tone was exasperated and
Horatio smothered a laugh.

"No," he said, "but I will show you, if. . . . ."

"If what?" Archie asked warily.

"If you promise to attend the theater with me tomorrow night."

Horatio grinned in spite of himself. He was really getting the
better of Archie, and although he knew it was unfair, it was also
immensely satisfying.

"Are you enjoying this, Commander?"

"Why yes, Lieutenant, I believe I am," and again, Horatio smothered
a laugh. "It is your choice ­ come with me and find out where
Kathleen is ­ or not. "

"Do you swear to take me to her if I come with you?"

"Of course, Archie," Horatio's voice grew serious once more. "You
have my word on it."

"Then I shall gladly accompany you," Archie said and turned his face
once more to the stars.

Chapter 2

First Lieutenant William Bush appeared on deck as the first gray
light of dawn touched the sky. To say that he was anxious to return
to England would have been an understatement. He had no idea if word
had reached Emily as yet that Archie Kennedy lived. He longed to be
home ­ to be able to put an end to the grief and pain she'd had to
bear alone. He wanted so much to be with her ­ to take her in his
arms; to feel her lips on his; to show her how much he loved her.

"Soon," he thought, glancing up at the rising sun, "very soon and I
shall be home to you, my love."

Nodding to the helmsman, Bush pulled his telescope from the pocket
of his jacket and raised it to his eye. He scanned the horizon,
searching for some sign of the English coast, although he knew they
were still too far out at sea. Sighing, he replaced the glass and
paced the deck.

"That will not help us get home any faster, you know," said a soft
voice.

Looking up, Bush saw Archie coming toward him. He was dressed in
uniform, a slight smile on the bruised face.

"Reporting for duty, sir," he said, saluting the senior officer.

"Are you sure you're up to it, Mr. Kennedy?"

"Aye, sir," Archie replied. "The doctor pronounced me fit for duty a
short time ago."

"Very well, then. Please take the first watch."

And Bush resumed his pacing, once again removing his telescope to
scan the horizon.

"William," Archie said, "try not to worry. I am sure everything will
be fine with Emily. And you will be with her soon enough."

"Here," he continued, a gleam of amusement in his blue
eyes, "allow me to assist you in your endeavor to speed our return
to England."


Moving to Bush's side, Archie began matching him step-for-step,
concentrating on the task in hand as if it were of the utmost
importance to the safety of the ship. Bush stopped pacing and
stared open-mouthed at the Second Lieutenant, his eyes clearly saying
that he'd thought Archie had gone quite mad. Archie stopped pacing
also, a look of complete innocence upon his handsome face. Bush could
not help himself; he burst out laughing. Just as Archie joined in the
laughter, a voice sounded from the fighting top.

"Land ho!"

Instantly Bush had his glass out and up to his eye. A wide grin replaced
his normally solemn expression as he stared at the object of his
desire ­ England ­ home. One more hour and he would be with
his love ­ see her, touch her, hear her sweet voice as she said
his name ­ William.

"Ya' see," Archie said, clapping him on the shoulder, "you just
needed a bit of help from a friend."

This set the two of them off on another wave of laughter.

"I am glad to find you both so merry this morning."

Archie and Bush turned together. There stood Horatio, hands clasped
behind his back.

"But may I remind you," he continued in his best 'commanding officer
to subordinates' voice, "that although we are close to home ­ and have
much to celebrate after this voyage ­ we are still officers in His
Majesty's Navy. A little decorum, gentlemen, if you please."

Archie smiled broadly, but Bush had the good sense to look abashed.
That is, until Archie leaned over.

"Our poor Captain," he whispered sotto voce. "He is, I'm afraid, not
looking forward to our return with the same enthusiasm as you and I,
Mr. Bush. Not ­ at ­ all."

At Bush's raised eyebrow, Archie shook his head sadly.

"Yes," he continued, winking at Bush. "Unfortunately, he has given
his word that he will attend a performance of Shakespeare this very
evening. I fear he'd much rather face hurricanes and shipworm than
a night on Drury Lane. Is that not so, Captain?"

Horatio glared at Archie but kept silent. Bush looked from one to
the other. Between Archie's pitiful expression of sympathy for his
captain and the stricken look on Horatio's face at the mere mention of
Shakespeare ­ there was no stopping the laughter that now forced
its way from his chest ­ to his throat ­ and through his traitorous mouth.

"I do apologize, sir," Bush sputtered, "I. . . . . ."

"I shall overlook it this time, Mr. Bush," Horatio said with mock
severity, a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. "And trust
that it will not happen again."

"Come gentlemen," he said. "England beckons ­ and we have work to do."

At that, the three officers set about the task of bringing Retribution to port.

 

 


Chapter 3

It was mid-morning as Bush made his way through the streets of
London. With crystal blue skies and a warm sun above, he'd decided
to walk home. He needed time to think ­ how to explain to Emily
what he'd seen his last day at home; how to tell her about the storm;
his fractured arm; but most of all, how Archie had risked his life to
save her husband. The walk would give him ample opportunity for reflection.

Passing by Covent Garden, he spied the flower vendor plying his
trade. Smiling, he approached the cart, his blue eyes lighting upon
the roses there. Ah, there they were ­ the peach colored ones ­
Emily's favorite.

"Those, please," he said, indicating the dozen in the cart, "all of
them."

"Aye, sir," said the vendor, taking the roses and wrapping a white
ribbon around them. "They's a lovely color, ain't they? Your lady
will be pleased."

"They are, indeed," Bush agreed, smiling as he handed the man a
silver crown.

"Thankee, sir. A good day to ye."

"And to you, my friend."

Taking the roses, Bush headed once more for the wide avenue, bound for his
home ­ and Emily.

********************************************************************************

The sun was high overhead when Horatio completed his report to the
Admiralty. As was his habit, he'd gone to Commodore Pellew's office
after finishing the report, although he was quite sure the Indefatigable
had not yet returned. The duty clerk shook his head at Horatio's inquiry.

"No sir, not yet. She's due in two days' time. Would you care to
leave a message for the Commodore?"

"No, thank you," and donning his hat, Horatio turned to go.


Leaving the building, Horatio realized it was nearing the noon hour.
Spying The Dragon just up the street, he decided to stop in for
lunch. As he entered, he heard his name called.

"Commander Hornblower?"

Looking about, Horatio saw Admiral James coming toward him. He
stiffened to attention and saluted the older man.

"Admiral James, sir."

"I was about to have lunch, Commander," James said. "I'd be pleased
if you could join me."

"I would be honored, sir," Horatio said with a smile.

The two men took a booth in the corner where they could eat and talk
undisturbed. As soon as they'd given their orders to the serving
girl, James turned to Horatio, sadness evident in his dark eyes.

"Commander," he began, "please accept my heartfelt sympathy for your
recent loss. I know how much you valued Lieutenant Kennedy ­ both
as an officer and as a friend."

Horatio, his own dark eyes shining, grinned at the Admiral.

"I thank you for your kind words, sir, but there is no need. Mr.
Kennedy survived ­ yet again."

James seemed taken aback at Horatio's words, yet a smile lit his
weathered face, erasing all trace of the sadness there.

"If you have time, sir," Horatio continued, "I've a tale to tell."

"That must be some tale, Commander," James said. "Please proceed. I
am extremely anxious to hear it."

At that moment, the young girl arrived with their lunch. Laying it
on the table, she smiled at Horatio, her admiration for the handsome
young naval officer evident in that smile. Horatio picked up his
fork, unaware of the girl's attentions, but Admiral James grinned.
Dropping a quick curtsey, she departed, leaving the men to eat in
peace.


While they ate, Horatio told James his story. As he did so, he
watched as a range of emotions played themselves out across the
admiral's face ­ concern for his son-in-law; sadness at Archie's loss;
and finally, joy that both men were alive and well.

"William left for home as soon as we arrived in port," Horatio
finished. "In fact, he should be with Emily this very moment,
sharing the good news."

"Thank you, Commander," James said, rising from his seat. "I am
grateful to you for this news; however, I am afraid I must return to
my duties."

Horatio stood and was about to salute when the admiral held out his
hand. Horatio took the proffered hand ­ the handshake warm and firm.

"A happy day for all of us, Commander."

"Indeed it is, sir," Horatio said, "a very happy day."

********************************************************************************

Emily anxiously waited at the window, peering through the lace of
the curtains. She knew Retribution was due in port this morning,
and she had been up since dawn. How she longed for her husband. She
was tired of grieving alone ­ tired of the pain. She wanted to feel
William's strong arms around her; to have him tell her it would be
all right.

There he was! She ran to the door and threw it open as he came up
the steps. As she was about to throw her arms around him, Emily
noticed the sling.

"Oh William," she cried, "what has happened?"

"It is nothing, my darling," he said, handing her the bouquet. "It
will heal. Come inside, I've much to tell you."

"Yes," she nodded, the pain returning. "Thank you for these. They
are truly lovely."

"As you are," he said, smiling at her.


Emily put the roses in a vase and set them on a table. Taking his
hand, she led her husband to the sofa and sat down.

"Now," she said, "please tell me what happened. How were you
injured?"

"Before I do, I must apologize to you, Emily."

"For what, my love?"

"For the way I left," William said. "The note."

"William," Emily said, gazing at the handsome face she'd come to
know so well. "I am the daughter of a sailor. I understand, and
accept, that we cannot always say farewell in person."

Bush shook his head.

"You don't understand," he said. "That's not why I sent the note,
dearest. I was angry."

"Why?"

"Because I walked into our guest room to find you in the arms of
Archie Kennedy. I saw the two of you kissing."

"Oh William! I am so very sorry. Why did you not tell me?"

"I couldn't," he said, ashamed of himself. "All I could think of was
seeing you in his arms. I even accused him of forcing his attentions
on you!"

"But, my love, surely you know that what I shared with Archie is in
the past. I shall always care for him, but William, I love you ­ and
only you ­ with all of my heart."

Emily paused a moment, then continued.

"What you saw that day was 'goodbye'," she said quietly. "That's
all."

Emily looked down at her hands. Leaning over, Bush put his hand
beneath her chin, raising her head until her eyes met his.

"I know that now," he said. "Archie explained everything."

Emily closed her eyes, but she could not stop the tears that began
to fall.

"Please," she said, "tell me how he died."

"I don't have to," William said softly. "He risked his life to save
mine, after I'd broken my arm. But Em, I have wonderful news. Archie
is alive! Badly bruised, and he's broken a couple of ribs, but very
much alive!"

Emily looked at her husband. Did she dare to believe his words? Was
this some sort of cruel joke? No, she knew ­ in her heart of hearts ­ that
he'd spoken the truth.

"Now, if you don't mind, Mrs. Bush, I would very much like to kiss
my wife."

Wrapping his good arm around her slim waist, Bush drew his wife into
a warm embrace. His lips met hers and they lingered there ­ time
suspended ­ shutting out the rest of the world ­ until. . . . .

. . . .Emily suddenly broke free of the embrace, rushing from the room.
Bewildered, Bush went in search of his wife. Retching sounds came
from the kitchen, and he entered to find her leaning over the basin.

"Emily, dearest," he cried, racing to her side, "what is it? Are you
ill?"

Emily shook her head and looked up, dark eyes shining.

"No William," she said, a smile lighting her beautiful heart-shaped
face. "I am not ill."

"Then what is it?" he said, handing her a glass of water. "Shall I
send for the doctor?"

Again, she shook her head.

"William," she said softly, wonder and joy mingling in her voice. "I'm
with child."


Chapter 4

Horatio left The Dragon shortly after Admiral James, much to the
young serving girl's chagrin. She would have liked him to stay a bit
longer; perhaps even to have had the opportunity to speak with him.
Horatio, however, had other thoughts to occupy his mind. He wanted
to return to Retribution as soon as possible. It wasn't just that
he'd granted the crew ample liberty, leaving only the duty watch
aboard. There was also Archie to consider. Although the doctor had
pronounced him "fit for duty," albeit reluctantly, Horatio still
felt his Second Lieutenant needed to rest as much as possible. As
Officer of the Watch, he was unlikely to get that rest. Under
those circumstances, the young captain thought it best that he
return.

"Admit it," he thought wryly, "you're just grasping at any excuse to
be aboard ship again. What is that expression ­ 'any port in a storm'?
Face it, Horatio, you were never meant to be on land for any
length of time. You've got saltwater in your blood ­ seasickness be damned!"

Laughing inwardly at his thoughts, Horatio made his way to the
jetty. As he was about to board the launch that would return him to
his ship, he heard a voice call out.

"Ahoy, Commander Hornblower?!"

Looking up, Horatio spied the owner of that voice, a grin spreading
across his handsome face.

"Terry," he called back, delight in his voice. "What are you doing
here in London?"

Terry Whitehall bounded, there was no other way to describe it, down
the steps of the jetty, taking them two at a time. He was a small
man, no more than 5'3" tall, with a shock of curly dark hair framing
a lively, open face. His dark eyes beamed as he smiled up at Horatio.

"Really, Horatio," he laughed, "you have been at sea far too long. I
now keep offices in London."

Indicating the man at his side, Terry continued. "We were looking for
YOU. Horatio, I don't believe you've had the pleasure, but this is
Dr. David MacKenzie."


The man at Terry's side stepped forward. He was Horatio's height ­
slender, with dark hair and lively blue eyes that reminded Horatio of Archie.
He was dressed in naval uniform. Horatio smiled, recalling the last
time he'd seen this particular young man.

"Commander," David said, saluting, "it is, indeed, a pleasure to see
you again, sir."

"As it is for me, Dr. MacKenzie," Horatio said. "Although the last
time we met, you were not yet a doctor."

Terry seemed bewildered at the exchange between the two men until
Horatio explained that he'd first met David when he came to offer
his condolences upon the death of the boy's mother.

"And how are you two acquainted, if I may ask?" Horatio nodded at
the two men standing before him.

Terry smiled. "I am the MacKenzie family solicitor, Horatio. It is
why I have the London offices."

At Horatio's raised eyebrow and unasked question, Terry told him of
meeting Abigail MacKenzie shortly after he'd represented Archie at
his court martial in the death of Lieutenant Creps.

"Mrs. MacKenzie wanted to replace her current firm with someone new.
She was not happy with the way they were handling her late husband's
affairs. She had heard about the trial and asked if I would consider
taking over."

"Mother wanted to thank Terry for all he'd done on Uncle Archie's
behalf," David continued with the story, smiling at the diminutive
lawyer. "Terry said that it wasn't necessary, but Mother insisted."

"And," Terry broke in, "I learned that when Abigail MacKenzie
insists, it is far more prudent to acquiesce than to resist the inevitable."

Terry laughed at the memory of his meeting with Abby. Horatio
smiled, remembering his own meeting with Archie's sister.

"But why are you looking for me?" he asked, confused.


Terry cleared his throat. "Allow me to elucidate, Commander.
We have just been to the Admiralty and learned that Lieutenant Kennedy now
serves with you aboard Retribution. My business is with him, actually ­ and
David would like an opportunity to visit with his uncle before his
ship sails this afternoon. . . . ."

"With your permission, of course, Commander," David added hurriedly.

"My pleasure, gentlemen," Horatio replied. "In fact, I was just
returning, if you'd care to accompany me."

The three men boarded the waiting launch and set out for Retribution.
Boarding his ship, Horatio spied Matthews and Styles supervising a
work party cleaning the deck guns.

"Matthews!" he called to the older seaman.

"Aye, sir?" said Matthews, coming to stand before his captain,
knuckling his forehead in salute.

"Where is Mr. Kennedy?"

"He's below sir. Dr. Stuart insisted on examinin' him," Matthews
answered. "The doctor, he wanted to make sure Mr. Kennedy weren't
overdoin' it his first day back."

Horatio nodded. "I see. Would you please go below and inform Mr.
Kennedy we have visitors?"

"Aye, sir."

Matthews left and returned a short time later with Archie, who came
on deck buttoning his uniform jacket. He smiled as he recognized
Terry Whitehall, who in turn, did a double take at Archie's bruised
and battered face.

"Mr. Kennedy," Terry said, a touch of humor in the voice, "why is it
the only two times I've seen you, you look as if you've been
trampled upon by a rather large horse?!"

"Hello, Terry," Archie replied, holding out his hand. "It has been a
long time."

"Indeed," Terry answered, shaking the hand in his. "I wish that I
could say you were looking well, but I'm afraid that would be a
SLIGHT exaggeration on my part. What have you done to yourself now, sir?"
Archie smiled. "A small accident on our last voyage."

Terry shook his head. At that moment, David spoke up.

"Hello, Uncle," he said softly. "I am very glad to see you again."

Unsure what to do, David stood there awkwardly ­ remembering the
last time he'd seen his uncle. Archie's eyes widened in surprise and pleasure
as he took in the Navy uniform on the slender frame of his nephew.

"Davey," he said, and then threw naval etiquette to the wind as he
embraced the younger man. "God, it's good to see you! I didn't know
you'd joined the Navy. How are Michael and Bridgit? The twins?"

"Michael and Bridgit are fine," David answered, returning his
uncle's embrace. "And Robert and Belle seem to grow by leaps and
bounds. As for me, I could think of no better way to put my medical
training to good use other than the Navy, and so, here I am."

"Your ship?"

Archie could hardly contain the joy he felt at seeing his nephew.
Horatio and Terry, witnessing the encounter from the sidelines,
smiled at each other.

"I am currently serving aboard the Defiant," David said, taking his
watch from his pocket and glancing at it. "We sail in two hours, so I am
afraid I must leave you now. I'm sorry the visit could not be
longer. It's been far too long since we've seen each other."

Archie swallowed. He knew what David meant. The last time they'd
been together, he had been spying for his country ­ his cover that of a
French army officer. He had accompanied Le Comtessa de Favreau back
to Scotland so that she could say goodbye to Abby. David had seen
through the subterfuge and promised to keep his secret. Archie felt
a sudden, sharp pain in his chest. Not for the first time he wondered if
he would ever be able to think of Abby without that pain.

Horatio looked at Archie and then, at David. He signaled Matthews
again.

"Matthews, will you please have the launch lowered to take
Dr. MacKenzie to the Defiant, he said.
Matthews hurried away to comply with his captain's orders, and
Archie looked once more at his nephew.

"I'll see you to the boat," he said, and the two of them walked to
the railing.

"Abby would be proud of you, you know."

"I hope so," David replied.

"I'll see you again soon, Davey," Archie said, embracing the young
man one final time.

"I shall look forward to it, Uncle," and David smiled.

David turned and made his way to the launch. Archie stood looking at
the little boat until it disappeared, then turned his attention back
to Horatio and Terry.

"Forgive me," he said, knowing the two men had seen the tears that
misted his blue eyes.

"There's no need, Archie," said Horatio quietly.

Terry nodded. "I do have some business I need to discuss with you,
though, Archie. Horatio, is there someplace we might go to talk ­
in private?"

"Of course, Terry," and Horatio led them both to his cabin. "I'll
leave you two alone for now."

"No, Horatio," Archie said. "I would be pleased if you'd stay. I
hope that's all right, Terry."

"Of course."

Taking up the briefcase he'd brought aboard, Terry produced several
pieces of paper from it. One was folded and sealed. Archie recognized
the handwriting immediately ­ it was Abby's.

"Archie," Terry said, "as your sister's solicitor, she confided the secret of
your last assignment to me. She wanted to be sure that you would receive
these when that assignment was completed, and she charged me with
the responsibility."


Terry handed Archie the papers he was holding as Horatio gaped at his
childhood friend.

"Terry, you knew!" he said, astonished.

"Of course," Terry replied. "Abby had to tell me when she dictated
her will. After all, as I pointed out to her, she couldn't very well
include a bequest to a dead man."

Archie glanced at the items Terry had given him. One was a copy of
Abby's will as well as a Deed of Property, conferring title of her London
townhouse to him. The other was her letter. Wordlessly, he looked at
Terry. He could feel the band of pain tightening around his heart once more.

"Just when I think I've learned to accept that she's truly gone," he thought,
"something happens to remind me that I shall never be able to accept it."

"Here," Terry continued, seeing the sadness in Archie's eyes. He handed
him a key. "This is the key to the townhouse. You'll find that Mr. and Mrs.
Donovan are still there. Abby wanted them to remain as caretakers and
provided for them. She knew you would, in all probability, be at sea most
of the time. But she wanted the house to be waiting whenever you returned."

Archie smiled softly. That was so like Abby. He turned away from the
two men and looked down at the letter in his hand. Her final words for
him. Suddenly he was overcome with emotion and putting his hand on the
wall in front of him for support, he let the tears he could no longer hide
come ­ sobs racking his bruised body.

"I apologize" he said, turning back to Terry and Horatio.

"Lieutenant Kennedy," Horatio said softly, his eyes filled with
compassion and sorrow, "you are dismissed. Go and get some rest."


Chapter 5

William Bush stared at his wife. His blue eyes were as wide as
saucers; his throat working convulsively as he struggled to speak.
His lean, tanned face had turned ashen.

"You're wh-wh-what?" He finally stammered.

"I am with child," Emily said, speaking very gently. "William ­ you
are going to be a father."

She laughed tenderly. Poor William ­ what a welcome home
announcement!

"Perhaps you should sit down," she continued. "You look as if you
are about to be ill, dearest."

Bush did not hear his wife. Father ­ the word echoed in his mind ­
he was going to be a father! The enormity of what she'd just told him
began to sink in. A child ­ their child ­ what wonderful news!

"You are sure?" he asked. "Does your father know?"

"Very sure," she said, her eyes glowing. "And no, silly, he doesn't,
not yet. I thought it fitting that you should be the first to know ­ Papa."

"Papa ­ I like the sound of that," Bush laughed aloud, his good arm
once more encircling his wife's waist.

"Then you are pleased," she said, wrapping both of her arms around
him and laying her head on his shoulder.

"My darling," he said, "how could I not be! This is bloody marvelous
news! I could not ask for a better homecoming gift!"

"Wonderful! Then we shall tell Father together ­ this evening, after dinner."

******************************************************************************

Corsica. The small island lay placidly in the warm waters of the Mediterranean ­
just southeast of France.


Madeline gazed out the window of her tiny cell and tried to remember
what she'd learned of the island at school. She knew that, while
French was the official language, most Corsicans spoke a dialect
somewhat akin to Italian. She knew, too, that Corsica was nicknamed
"the scented isle," because of the dense shrubs that grew there. The
flowers of those shrubs produced a fragrance that carried far out to
sea. Inhaling, Madeline could smell the sweet perfume. She knew that
Ajaccio, where she was now imprisoned, was the capital city ­ birthplace
of the emperor of France ­ Napoleon I.

Stepping away from the window, Madeline returned to the one chair in
the room and sat down, resting her head and arm upon the table
there. She was worried. They had not allowed her to see Jean-Luc
since coming to the island, and her husband's heart was not strong.
She feared what might happen to him if their imprisonment lasted for
an interminable period of time.

"We should have expected something like this," she said aloud.
"Loyalty and duty to His Excellency, the Emperor, be damned!"

It had happened so suddenly ­ soon after the disappearance of
Lieutenant Paul Dubois. The young man had gone on one final
assignment for Le Comte de Favreau and simply disappeared. Jean-Luc
had exhausted all efforts to locate the boy. Madeline smiled as she
remembered the affection her husband had had for Paul. Having no
children of their own, Jean-Luc had come to regard his young aide as
a son. Sadly, he'd given up the search and listed the young man as
"missing, presumed dead."

And that's when the trouble began. The Emperor was calling into
question the loyalty of his most trusted general. And why?! Because
his wife was an Englishwoman!

"Do you not see?" he'd said to Jean-Luc. "This courageous young man
comes into your household and suddenly, he disappears. Surely you
cannot fail to see the coincidence ­ the complicity of your wife in this matter?"

Jean-Luc had refused to renounce her and had been, summarily,
stripped of his title ­ his property confiscated ­ and they both had been
arrested. They were taken first to Marseilles. From there, a boat brought
them to Corsica ­ to the fortress and imprisonment.

"Oh Abby look at me now!" Madeline laughed, her voice bordering on tears.


"You must be strong, Madeline," a voice sounded in her thoughts. "Jean-Luc
needs you now, more than ever."

Madeline nodded. "Yes, I shall."

At that moment a key sounded in the door and she looked up. A
soldier brought her dinner on a tray, bowing as he placed it on the
little table. Madeline picked up the fork and began to eat ­ her
thoughts turning to England.

Someday ­ someday, soon, she vowed ­ she would return.

*******************************************************************************

Horatio watched as Archie left his cabin, then turned his attention
once more to Terry Whitehall. Terry's eyes met his ­ the unspoken
sympathy he felt evident in his dark eyes.

"I'm sorry, Horatio," Terry said, shaking his head sadly. "I did not
mean to cause Archie any pain. It can't be easy ­ losing someone
you love."

Terry shook his head again ­ remembering how he'd almost lost his
own sister so many years ago. Thank God she was alive and well!

Horatio smiled. "Yes, Abby and Archie shared a very special
relationship ­ not unlike you and Trudy."

He paused, and then continued.

"It's been more than two years since she died, and although Archie
believes he is done with his grief, I think he will carry that pain
for a very long time to come."

Horatio gazed out the window of his cabin to the blue sky beyond. He
sighed, knowing there were no words of comfort he could offer his
friend. He, himself, had been an only child and could only guess at
the pain Archie felt. As if divining what his friend was thinking,
Terry put his hand on Horatio's shoulder.

"At least he has you. Just knowing he has your friendship is worth
more than any words you could say, Horatio."

Horatio turned from the window, smiling at the little man in front
of him. Terry moved to a chair in front of the desk and sat down.
"Tell me," he said, "what happened on your last voyage? Archie said
it was a small accident, but I find that very difficult to believe,
seeing his face so bruised."

Horatio sat down at his desk and proceeded to put his feet up on it,
crossing his legs and leaning back in his chair. He laughed aloud as
Terry's eyebrows shot straight up.

"Well," he said, "what did you expect, after all. I am the captain
aboard this ship and this is my cabin, sir."

Clasping his hands together across his midsection, Horatio recounted
for Terry the storm at sea that had so damaged Retribution and led
to Archie's accident. He told him how the wind and the rain had come
up so suddenly, catching the crew unprepared.

"No sooner would we get something tied down," he said, shaking his
head in recollection, "than the pitching of the ship would undo it
again."

He told Terry how the Number Seven cannon had gone right through the
hull; how the carriage had remained dangling over the side ­ threatening
to knock a hole in the side of the ship each time a wave struck.

"William Bush, my First Lieutenant, managed to cut the carriage free
but was injured in doing so. Archie had himself lowered on a second
rope to untangle William from his own line and he was pulled to
safety. However, the rope around Archie severed as he was being
pulled back in, and he fell into the sea."

Horatio paused and seemed to gather himself before continuing.

"I'd given him up for dead," he said quietly. "Thank God Matthews
did not. He spied Archie's body on a small island several days after
the storm ­ and I am forever in his debt for it."

"My God," Terry breathed, "that he could live through all of that!"

The two men sat in silence ­ each busy with his own thoughts.
Somewhere on deck a bell rang. Terry took his watch from his pocket
and glanced at it.

"It is time for me to go, Horatio," he said, "but I shall look forward
to visiting again ­ now that I am in London."


He held out his hand and Horatio grasped it. As his hand closed over
Horatio's, Terry pulled his friend into a warm embrace.

"Naval regulations be damned," he said, laughing.

******************************************************************************

Archie hurried below decks to his quarters. He was thankful he'd not
met any of the crew on his way there. He did not want them to see
the tears that still stung his eyes. Reaching his quarters, he lay
down on the hammock and stared at the ceiling. Looking down, he saw
the letter still clasped tightly in his hand. Closing his eyes to
ward off the pain, he carefully broke the seal and began reading.

My Dearest Brother,

There is so much I want to say to you, yet I know not how to begin.
Where are the words to tell you what it has meant to me, having you
so much a part of my life? I have watched you grow ­ from your
first hesitant steps as a child ­ to the poised, self-confident
young man you have become. I have borne silent witness to your
struggle with adversity; seeing you overcome time and time again ­
your indomitable spirit and zest for life always shining through.
And I am so very proud of you.

I think back on our times together. The wonderful memories you have
given me! Your love has always filled my heart; bringing joy and
contentment to my life. I can only hope that I was able to return
that love in some small measure to you, but it is my greatest fear
that I did not.

Dear Archie, I want so much to ease the pain I know you feel now. I
would stay with you forever, but we both know that cannot be. Know
this, though my love, the pain will lessen as time goes on. And as the
sea came not between us in life ­ so too, time and space ­ and even
death ­ will never separate us.

Those we love are with us until the end of time.

And I love you,
Abby

Tears fell as he finished reading her words.


"Oh God, Abby," he breathed, "how I miss you!"

He reread the final line. Those we love are with us until the end
of time. He had never dared believe that ­ until now. He would
hold onto that thought, knowing she would always be there.

Shutting his eyes once more, Archie Kennedy drifted off to sleep.

Chapter 6

Archie awoke from a sound sleep. He had no idea how long he'd been
there. He lay in the hammock for a moment, watching the shadows
climb the walls. Judging by their length, it was early evening.

As he swung his legs over the edge of the hammock, he heard the
slight rustle of paper. Looking down, he saw Abby's letter still
clutched in his hand. Standing up, Archie smoothed the sheet and
carefully refolded it. Opening his sea chest, he placed the letter
inside. Turning, he observed his reflection in the mirror above the
wash basin. The face that stared back at him was still peppered with
bruises, although they had begun to fade slightly. Archie stared at
the eyes of the man in the mirror. They were deep blue; lively and
expressive, with just a hint of sadness ­ his eyes.

Suddenly, the face in the mirror smiled; a lopsided grin that only
enhanced the innate beauty of that face. Raising his hand, Archie
felt the answering grin on his own lips. Abby had been right ­ as
always. Although he knew the pain of her death would always be with
him ­ it would lessen as she had said it would ­ had, in fact, already
done so.

"What wound did ever heal but by degrees," he thought.

Smiling ­ watching as the man smiled in return ­ Archie Kennedy
ran a comb through his hair, retied the ribbon that bound it, and
straightened his uniform jacket. Whistling softly, he went above
decks in search of his commanding officer and dearest friend. Drury
Lane ­ and the incomparable Kitty Cobham awaited.

When he reached the quarterdeck, Archie saw that Horatio was already
there. Hearing his friend's footsteps, Horatio turned from the rail ­ his
expression that of a man who is shortly to face the firing squad. Archie fought
valiantly to suppress the grin that twitched at the corners of his mouth,
but Horatio had seen the look.

"Are you ready, Mr. Kennedy?" he asked. "The sooner we get to the
theater and get this over with, the sooner I can return to my ship.

"Aye, sir," came the reply. "But I have a request, Commander.
Rather, I beg your indulgence, sir."

Horatio raised an eyebrow and waited for Archie to continue.


"Before the play, I would like to stop by Abby's. . . ." he stopped
and then continued.

". . . .I guess it's now my house. It's been several years since I
was last there, and I would like to renew my acquaintance with the
Donovans. Horatio, I'd be very pleased it you'd come with me."

"I would be honored to accompany you," Horatio answered, "and to
meet the woman who, for so many years, has resisted the charms of
Archie Kennedy."

Archie laughed. He'd forgotten that he had told Horatio of the
long-standing joke between himself and Mary Donovan. Each time he
visited Abby, he would beg the elderly housekeeper to run away with
him. And each time she would refuse ­ telling him she could love no
one but her husband.

"Shall we go, then, Commander," Archie brought his heels to
attention and saluted Horatio.

"By all means, Mr. Kennedy -- by all means."

*******************************************************************************

The sun was beginning to set as the two men came to the London
townhouse once owned by Abigail MacKenzie. It was a house of
timeless beauty, Horatio saw ­ set back a little from the street, a
small wrought-iron fence surrounding its front. The house itself was
made of weathered stone, graceful and elegant ­ yet warm and
inviting. It had been built out of love ­ a wedding present from
Robert MacKenzie to his bride. Looking up, Horatio saw something in
one of the windows on the main floor.

"Archie," he said, pointing to the window, "what's that?"

Archie looked up, his breath catching.

"She never forgot," he said, almost to himself. "Here in London ­
and in Lochcarron ­ for as long as you are away. . . . ."

Horatio looked at Archie, a question in his deep brown eyes. In
return, Archie smiled at his friend.


"It's the candle," he explained, "the one Abby always kept burning
when she knew I was out at sea. She said it was so that I would
always be able to find my way home. I guess the Donovans kept
the tradition."

Archie opened the tiny gate. He walked to the front door,
Horatio behind him. Reaching up, he knocked softly. Footsteps were
heard from within and the door opened. Mrs. Donovan stood there ­
surprise on her face as she realized who her visitor was. Wordlessly,
she threw her arms around Archie, tears spilling down her cheeks.

"You've finally decided to run away with me, then, Mrs. Donovan?" he
asked, his voice filled with quiet laughter; his blue eyes dancing.

Gently he returned her embrace, placing a kiss on her wet cheek.

"Oh, Mr. Kennedy," she replied, pulling away from him, a blush
staining those cheeks. "Do na' start that again. I've told ya' time
and time again, my heart will always belong to my Johnny. I canna'
run away with ya', EVER. Why do ya' persist in your scandalous
behavior? I've my reputation to think of, don't I?"

"Alas, then," Archie heaved a sigh as though resigned to his fate,
"I must bow to you convictions, ma'am."

With a dramatic sweep of his arm, he bowed before the housekeeper.
Horatio could not resist laughing and Archie turned to introduce him.

"Mrs. Donovan," he said, "I would like you to meet my very dear
friend, Commander Horatio Hornblower. He is captain of the
Retribution, the ship upon which I now serve."

"Captain Hornblower," she said, holding out her hand, "it is an
honor and a pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir."

"The honor, Mrs. Donovan, and the pleasure are all mine."

Horatio took the hand and brought it to his lips ­ brushing her
fingers with a light kiss.

"Come inside," Mrs. Donovan said to Archie, "there's a cold supper
on. I'd no idea we were to have company this evening, so that's the
best I can offer."

She stepped to one side to allow the two men to pass.

"I regret we've no time for supper," Archie said. "At least not this
time. Commander Hornblower has promised his attendance at the
performance in Drury Lane this evening. We were on our way
there, but I wanted to stop by and see you ­ and the house.

Mary Donovan smiled. She knew the meaning behind his words.

"It's exactly as she left it," she said, gently taking his hand in hers.

Squeezing the hand he held, Archie nodded. Horatio beside him, he
entered the house where he'd spent so many happy times. Going from
room to room, he showed Horatio throughout the entire place. Looking
around, Horatio was struck by the simple elegance that permeated the
rooms. He instinctively felt at home and understood why Archie loved
this place.

"It's a beautiful home, Archie," he said.

Archie nodded. "When we've more time, I'll show you the garden, but
I think we must be leaving. It is bad form to miss the opening act."

And pulling his watch from his pocket, he glanced at it, then up at
Horatio.

"Indeed, it is time Commander," he intoned solemnly.

Horatio rolled his eyes and burst out laughing.

"Lead on, Mr. Kennedy," he said, "I am at your mercy, sir."

Chapter 7

The theater was crowded when Horatio and Archie arrived. They had
been expected and were led immediately to the box reserved for
guests of Catherine Cobham. As they sat down, Archie continued the
lecture he'd begun on the way over.

"Try not to think of it as history, Horatio," he said.

"But Archie, how else should I think of it. After all, Cleopatra,
Marc Antony, Julius Caesar ­ all are historical figures. There have
been volumes written about the Roman Empire; the reign of the
great Julius Caesar ­ even of the beauty and splendor of ancient Egypt.

Archie let out an exasperated sigh. "That is true, Horatio. But
Shakespeare is NOT concerned with history, except where it pertains
to the setting for his play."

"This is a tragic love story, Horatio," Archie continued. "To
understand the play, you must look at it in that context ­ not in
its historical one."

"Very well, Archie. I shall try."

Horatio settled into his seat as the lights dimmed and the curtain
rose.

Nay, but this dotage of our general's
O'erflows the measure; those his goodly eyes.
That o'er the files and musters of the war. . . .

Horatio's ears perked up at the word "war" and he leaned forward.
Perhaps this would not be such a dreadful evening after all.
Glancing over at his friend, Horatio noticed that Archie was
completely enthralled ­ and the play had just begun. Well, if
Archie could do it. . . . .

Have glow'd like plated Mars, now bend, now turn
The office and devotion of their view
Upon a tawny front, his captain's heart
Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst
The buckles on his breast. . . . .

The play continued, but Horatio found himself losing interest. What
had started out with such promise, had quickly turned sour ­ in his
opinion.
Stifling the urge to yawn, he glanced over at Archie once
more. Archie's eyes never left the stage. He was, in effect, living
the action taking place upon that very stage. Shaking his head,
Horatio tried once again to understand what was going on.

Act III finished and the lights came up once more. Archie turned
shining eyes to his friend, barely containing the enthusiasm he
felt.

"Well," he said, "what do you think so far? NOTHING, absolutely
NOTHING, compares to well-acted Shakespeare ­ don't you agree,
Horatio?"

"It is quite well done, Archie," Horatio replied, not knowing what
else he could say.

Truth be told, he was bored out of his mind, but he knew he could
never say THAT to Archie. Archie lived and breathed his beloved
Shakespeare. To even suggest that it was boring would be the
ultimate insult to him.

"I told you," Archie continued, "if you'd just look at it as the
tragedy Shakespeare intended, you'd enjoy it ­ and I was right
wasn't I?"

Mercifully, Horatio did not have to think up a suitable response to
Archie's question, for the lights dimmed once more and the play
continued.

No more, but e'en a woman, and commanded
By such poor passion as the maid that milks
And does the meanest chares. It were for me
To throw my scepter at the injurious gods.

A soft noise at his elbow caused Archie to turn from the stage. He
stared, incredulous, at his commanding officer. Horatio had
stretched his long legs before him, folded his arms across his chest
and was now sound asleep ­ soft snoring sounds emanating from
his still form.

"Horatio," Archie hissed in a whisper, completely mortified. "What
in God's name are you doing?"

Horatio started at the voice, as well as at the elbow that poked
painfully into his side.

"I'm sorry, Archie," he mumbled, "I must have dozed off for a
moment."

Archie shook his head and returned to the play.

Most probable that so she died. . . .

Our army shall in solemn show attend this funeral;
And then to Rome. . . .

As the play ended and the lights came up one final time, Archie
turned to find Horatio asleep again. Ah well, perhaps the Bard
was not meant to be enjoyed by everyone. Leaning over, Archie gently
shook Horatio awake. He sat up and proceeded to rub the sleep from
his eyes.

"Did I miss anything interesting?" he asked.

"Only the entire second half," Archie answered, trying to sound
angry. "Bloody hell, Horatio, if you wanted to sleep through it, you
could have, at least, had the courtesy to be quiet about it."

"I'm sorry, Archie, was I snoring?" Horatio's face was a study in
innocence.

"Oh, Horatio," Archie smiled and shook his head. "I fear you will
never learn to appreciate the finer things in life."

"If that is true, Archie," Horatio responded, "then I leave
them to you --and you are right welcome to them."

********************************************************************************

Backstage was pure bedlam. Admirers waited in groups ­ all talking
at once ­ to congratulate the actors. Horatio and Archie pushed
their way through several crowds, trying to locate Catherine Cobham.
Archie had wanted to leave at once ­ reminding Horatio of his promise.
But Horatio insisted they come backstage.

"It is only common courtesy. She did arrange her box for us," he
told Archie.

Archie had acquiesced, albeit grudgingly. He wanted to be away as
soon as possible, but Horatio would not be hurried. He was
determined to see Ms. Cobham.
At last the crowd thinned sufficiently enough for them to spot her.
She was in the midst of a group of gentlemen admirers ­ all of whom
were trying to outdo each other in their attentions to her. Looking up
for some means of escape, Catherine spied Horatio and Archie ­
excusing herself from the group.

"Mr. H-aitch," she smiled, dropping a curtsey, "so you've finally
honored your promise and come to see me."

"Indeed, 'Your Grace'," Horatio laughed and bowed to her.

"Now tell me truthfully ­ did you enjoy the performance?"

"Let us say I found it most interesting."

"At least the part he didn't sleep through," Archie muttered,
snickering.

Horatio glared at Archie indignantly, but Catherine only laughed.

"Shakespeare is an acquired taste, Mr. Kennedy," she said, as she
held out her hand to him. "It is good to see you again, sir."

"Thank you, Miss Cobham," Archie replied, placing a light kiss on
the hand. "Indeed, ma'am, I believe you are right. And I believe
that taste is, and shall always be, beyond Commander Hornblower."

Catherine laughed again and turned back to Horatio. He looked at
her, a tacit question in his eyes. She raised her eyebrows and
nodded in return.

"Kathleen," she called over her shoulder, "leave those things and
come here, my dear. We have visitors."

Archie's eyes widened in surprise. Had he heard Catherine Cobham
correctly? Surely, he'd misunderstood the name she'd just spoken.
She couldn't be here ­ could she? He glanced from Horatio to
Catherine. At that moment the curtain to the dressing area parted
and SHE stepped through, several costumes over her arms.

"Mr. Kennedy," Catherine said, "you do remember Kathleen Riley, my
companion and my dresser, do you not, sir?"

"Hello Archie," Kathleen said quietly.


Archie simply stared. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words
came. God, he'd forgotten how lovely she was! The green dress she
wore exactly matched the emerald of her eyes. Those eyes were alight
with gemlike fire. Her dark brown hair was pulled back ­ elegant
curls cascading down her back and framing her face. Archie
swallowed, trying to find his voice.

"Hello Kate," he said.

Chapter 8

Jean-Luc, the former Le Comte de Favreau, looked up from the book
he'd been reading as the door to his cell opened and the doctor
entered. He was a young man in his late twenties ­ with auburn hair
and smoky gray eyes. His face, with its aquiline nose and sensuous
mouth, was quite handsome.

"I'll wager he's raised many a young girl's blood pressure,"
Jean-Luc smiled at the thought, his faded blue eyes taking in the
tall, muscular figure clad in the immaculate uniform of the French
army.

"Good day, Monsieur," the man said, "I am Dr. Phillipe Marceau. How
are we feeling today?"

Jean-Luc noticed the tacit omission of his title. He sighed, his
eyes meeting those of the man before him.

"Are you ill as well, Doctor?" he asked.

Phillipe Marceau laughed.

"I stand corrected, Monsieur. How are YOU feeling today?"

Against his better judgment, Phillipe found himself warming to the
older man facing him. It was unwise to become too close to one's
patients, especially one who'd made an enemy of Emperor Napoleon,
but he couldn't help himself. There was something about this man
that had nothing to do with his aristocratic birth; his title; or
the fact that he'd once been the most trusted general in the
Emperor's army. Phillipe liked this man ­ it was as simple as that.

"All things considered," answered Jean-Luc, "I am as well as can be
expected, but you are not here to exchange simple pleasantries
regarding my health, are you?"

"No Monsieur, I am not. I understand from the Colonel that you have
had some pain in your chest, as well as shortness of breath. If you
please sir," he said, indicating that Jean-Luc should unbutton his
shirt, "I would like to examine your heart."

Jean-Luc nodded, removing his shirt in one fluid motion.

"Of course," he said, looking at Phillipe, the blue eyes steady. "I
imagine it would not be prudent to have me die before my execution."
Phillipe said nothing as he proceeded with his examination. He noted
the strong muscle tone of the older man and nodded, satisfied by
what he saw. Gently, he listened to the heart and lungs. When he'd
finished, he stood, carefully placing his instruments back into the
box he'd brought with him.

"If I may ask, Monsieur ­ how old are you?"

"I am 50," came the reply. "Why?"

"Monsieur," Phillipe said, "your muscle tone is very good for a man
of your years, but I noticed an irregularity in your heartbeat. I
shall come to see you twice a week to monitor this condition. In the
meantime, drink this ­ it should help you to rest a little more
comfortably."

Jean-Luc took the small cup Phillipe held out to him and drank ­
grimacing at the taste of the liquid it contained.

"Should you experience any more pain or shortness of breath before I
return," Phillipe continued, "I want you to send for me immediately."

"Merci, Doctor," Jean-Luc said, "I am most grateful for your
consideration ­ and for your concern."

Phillipe bowed. Taking his leave, he placed the small box under his
arm, knocking on the door for the guard. As he stepped through the
doorway, he paused and looked back. Jean-Luc stood at the window ­
ramrod straight; hands clasped behind him ­ staring at the sea beyond.

********************************************************************************

Horatio Hornblower stood on the deck of his ship, enjoying the early
morning breeze ­ the salt tang that pervaded the air; the sounds of
the seagulls; the gentle lapping of the waves against the hull. How
he loved this life! He could conceive of no other. The sea was his
mistress ­ and he, her willing captive.

Clasping his hands behind him, Horatio walked the length of the
ship, replaying the events of the previous evening in his mind. A
smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he remembered the look
on Archie's face when he'd first seen Kathleen. Horatio, himself,
had been struck by the change in her, as well.
She was lovely ­ a true gentlewoman ­ and he was happy that she'd
been able to give up her old life.

"It's because of you, isn't it," said a quiet voice at his elbow.
"You are the reason she's left The Sea Serpent, and her past,
behind?"

Horatio had been so intent on his thoughts, he had not heard the
footsteps of the man who now joined him on deck. Archie Kennedy
smiled at his friend ­ his deep blue eyes gentle.

"I did nothing, other than introduce them," Horatio answered, a
self-deprecating smile on his face.

"Come, Horatio," Archie said, "there was more to it than that,
surely."

"Archie, I assure you, there was not. When I saw Miss Cobham, prior
to Retribution sailing on her last voyage, she told me she was in
need of someone who could act as her dresser, her seamstress and her
companion. Kathleen was the perfect choice."

"So that's why you had to promise to attend the theater when we
returned," Archie laughed, and then quickly sobered, his voice
serious and filled with gratitude.

"Thank you, Horatio ­ for what you did for Kate, I am forever
grateful," he said.

********************************************************************************

First Lieutenant Bush boarded the launch bound for Retribution.
Ever since Emily had delivered her news, he could not stop the grin
that appeared on his handsome face at odd moments. It still seemed
somewhat unreal to him ­ his impending fatherhood. At first
unnatural when he said it aloud ­ he was fast becoming used to the
word ­ Father. He could barely contain his enthusiasm. He wanted so
much to return to the ship and share his news with the two people he
considered his closest friends ­ Horatio Hornblower and Archie Kennedy.

The boat drew alongside Retribution and Bush leapt for the ship.
Hurriedly, as fast as his good arm would let him, he climbed aboard.
Anxiously, he scanned the deck for his captain and the Second
Lieutenant.
He spied the two men in the stern of the ship, talking quietly.
Bush made his way aft as Horatio and Archie finished their
conversation ­ both men glancing up at the same moment.

"Mr. Bush," Archie called, waving as the older man approached. "You
have the look of a man who has thoroughly enjoyed his liberty, sir."

"William," Horatio said warmly, "I trust Emily is well and was
pleased with your news."

"What news, Horatio?" Archie asked, glancing from one man to the
other. "I'm afraid you've lost me."

Horatio's expression sobered for just an instant as he looked at
Archie.

"Archie," he said, "before we found you, I wrote a letter to
Commodore Pellew, informing him of your loss. William wrote Emily a
similar letter. . . ."

". . . . .I told her how you gave your life to save mine," William broke in. . . . .

". . . . .we thought she should know," Horatio added.

"I trust she was not too disappointed when you told her that I was,
in fact, still very much alive," and Archie's mouth widened in a
devil-may-care grin.

"I believe she was pleased," Bush said, trying to maintain his
somber demeanor and failing miserably. "In fact, she had news of her
own for me."

Here he paused and then continued, unable to hide his joy any
longer.

"Gentlemen," he said, "Emily and I are to be a father. . . .that is
to say, I am to be a father. . . .Emily is going to have a child!"

Horatio stared at his friend, flabbergasted. He opened his mouth to
speak, but found he could not think of a single thing to say.

"What splendid news, William," Archie cried, clapping Bush on the
back. "You and Emily must be very happy! My congratulations to you
both! Blood wonderful news, isn't it, Horatio?!"


"Yes, Archie," agreed Horatio, smiling. "It is the best possible
news. My heartiest congratulations also, William. But I have a
question."

"What is it, Horatio?" Bush asked.

"I had lunch yesterday with Admiral James, and he did not mention
anything about Emily ­ or the baby. May I ask why?"

"He didn't know until yesterday evening," Bush replied. "Emily
thought I should be the first to hear her news."

Bush smiled. He looked at Archie who was vigorously nodding his head
in agreement.

"That's as it should be," he said. "It is only fitting, after all,
that 'Papa' be the first to know."

William Bush smiled again ­ a gentle smile. He was beginning to
like that word ­ he was beginning to like it very much indeed.


Chapter 9

Kathleen's eyes glowed as she gazed at Archie sitting opposite her.
He was quite a dashing figure in his naval dress uniform. She'd
noticed the many admiring glances he'd received as they entered the
dining hall of the inn, despite the bruises still apparent on his
face. She smiled inwardly, delighted to be with him.

"What are you thinking, Miss Riley?" he asked, noticing her smile.

"That, if I'm not extremely careful, Mr. Kennedy," she replied, "I'm
apt to lose your company to one of the many female admirers you seem
to have in this room, sir."

"Let me assure you, ma'am," he laughed, "you've nothing to fear on
that account. I am totally at your command this evening.

Kathleen joined his quiet laughter. It had been quite a surprise
seeing him at the theater again. He'd come backstage, a tiny nosegay
in his hand, and as he'd said, dinner on his mind. Apparently, he'd
arranged the evening earlier with Kitty Cobham, because she'd shooed
Kathleen from the dressing area when he arrived.

"Off you go," Kitty had said, taking the costumes from Kathleen.
"It's impolite to keep your gentleman waiting. Have a good time,
dear."

"And don't worry about a thing," she'd continued in her best Duchess
of Wharfedale voice. "I can manage quite nicely on my own for one
evening."

Kathleen had laughed at the imitation, taken her leave, and now
found herself sitting across from Archie at the inn. She glanced
around the room, noting the simple elegance of the place. Archie had
obviously chosen it with great care. He finished speaking to the
serving girl and turned to her once more, noticing her scrutiny of
the room.

"Abby brought me here after my first trip to the theater," he said,
in answer to her unspoken question.

"It is one of my favorite places in London," he added.

"It's a lovely place, Archie," she said. "I'm afraid, though, I feel
a bit out of place in all of this luxury."
"You could never be out of place here -- or anywhere else, Kate."

Sapphire eyes met emerald ones, and Archie held her with his gaze.
She smiled and bent her head, hoping he wouldn't see the blush that
rose slowly to her cheeks. Never before had she felt like such a
lady! It was a new experience for her, although she had been gentle
born. Abruptly the memories came flooding back ­ memories she'd
hoped to bury once and for all. She found herself remembering the
much older man she'd been forced to marry to save her family from
the genteel poverty in which they'd found themselves; the cruelty
she'd endured at his hands during that brief marriage. It had been
almost a relief when he'd died, no provision made in his will for
his young wife. Penniless and without a home, she'd drifted into the
harlot's life ­ plying the one skill she'd learned at his hands.

A gentle hand closed over hers, bringing her back to the present. Looking up,
she found Archie smiling at her.

"You were so far away just now," he said. "Is something wrong?"

"No Archie," she replied, smiling to reassure him. "Everything is
fine, NOW."

Archie heard the slight emphasis she'd placed on that last word. He
knew, without a doubt, she'd been remembering the past. In their
many conversations at The Sea Serpent, she'd confided in him, as
he had in her. They knew each other as intimately as any two
lovers ­ in fact, more so than most lovers. Slowly he raised the hand he
held to his lips, placing a soft kiss on the palm.

"It's a new beginning for both of us, Kate," he said, eyes shining
with love. "We've a beautiful future ahead ­ just wait and see."

********************************************************************************

She was dreaming. Gone was the tiny prison cell.

In its place, the room she'd shared with Abigail Kennedy at
St. Genevieve's Convent School for Young Ladies. Looking around,
she was not at all surprised to see Abby sitting on the bed, an open book in her lap. Suddenly, the door burst open. Turning, she saw herself, aged 16,
come running into the room ­ hat askew, blonde curls framing her face.
Her blue eyes shown with amusement at the sight of her best friend,
nose deep in her book.
Grabbing the book, Madeline threw it into the corner, taking both of Abby's
hands in hers.

"Come on, Bookworm," this younger version of herself said. "It's
much too pretty to stay indoors studying. A walk ­ yes a walk down
to the lake and back."

Abigail Kennedy, also aged 16, frowned as she looked at the book
lying in the corner. She had dark brown hair, poker-straight, and
deep-set brown eyes to match.

"You know we've a literature examination tomorrow," she said,
letting out an exasperated sigh. What would Sister Charles think ­
our taking a walk when we should be studying?"

"Oh, Abby," Madeline replied, "don't be such a stick-in-the-mud.
Enjoy yourself for a little while and then we'll study together
later. I promise ­ cross my heart."

Madeline solemnly crossed her finger over her chest and pulled her
friend to her feet, laughing. Arm-in-arm, the two girls left the
small room, Madeline slowing her pace to match the limp Abby
now had ­ a result of her riding accident earlier that summer.

She sat up on her cot. No, it was not the pleasant little room she'd
shared with Abby. It was, once again, the prison cell.

"Only a dream," she sighed.

Rising from the cot, she went to the window. The heady perfume of
the maquis shrub filled her nostrils and she breathed deeply.
Looking up at the stars, she spied Orion's Belt.

"You'd be proud of me, Jeanette," she thought. "I've finally
remembered the name of those three stars."

Turning from the window, she sat down at the table, laying her head
on her arms. Thoughts of England, and her family, filled her mind ­
especially of Jeanette.

Jeanette Maitland had been the youngest of Sir Thomas Maitland's
four daughters. She was petite, as Madeline was, with an elfin face,
strawberry blonde hair and mischievous green eyes. Four years
younger than Madeline, she was Madeline's closest friend and
confidante ­ next to Abby. The three of them had been almost
inseparable during their convent school days.
"Has it really been five years since we've been together?" she
thought. "Shall I ever see that dear, sweet little face again?"

Praying to a God she didn't really believe in any longer, she put
her face in her arms, letting the tears she'd fought for so long to
contain, finally fall.

********************************************************************************

Jeanette Maitland, who for the past 15 years had been Lady Pellew,
awoke from a restless sleep. It was always this way when Edward was
at sea, but this time was different. Something was not right, she
was sure of it, although she had no idea what the 'something' was.

"But it has to do with Madeline," she said aloud. "I am as sure of
that as I am of my own name."

There had been no letter or other word from her sister in the past
three months. All of her letters to Madeline went unanswered. Sighing,
knowing she'd get no more sleep this night, Jeanette rose to her
feet, wrapped her dressing gown around her shoulders and went out
into the hall.

God, she wished Edward, or the children, were home! But he was not
due back from the voyage until tomorrow ­ and the children were all
away at school. She missed them all ­ especially her husband!

"Married all these years to a sailor," she thought wryly, "and
you're still not used to being alone."

How she wished for the morning and Edward's return. Restlessly she
wandered from room to room. Tomorrow ­ yes ­ she would make it
a point to speak to him about her fears tomorrow. She should have done
it a long time ago, but he'd had so much else on his mind with the
Admiralty that she hadn't wanted to burden him with her problems.

"But I cannot put it off any longer. I've got to find out what is
going on."

Resolved to put an end to her fears, Jeanette Pellew returned to her
room and climbed once more into bed to await the morning sun.

 


Chapter 10

Commodore Sir Edward Pellew sighed as he stepped inside his office,
staring sullenly at the mountain of paperwork that awaited him. He'd
only been gone for two weeks. Could it really have piled up so
much in that short period of time?! He'd hoped to get most of it done
yesterday, once Indefatigable returned to port, but the ship had run into
a storm at sea, delaying her return until late last night. Although
he knew Jeanette had expected him home, Pellew thought, under
those circumstances, it would be best for him to remain aboard,
sleeping in his cabin. Seeing what awaited him, he was glad he'd
done so.

"Infernal, damned paperwork," he groused, striding around his desk
and taking his seat. "You'd think the damned admirals had nothing
better to do than read damned reports!"

As he surveyed the pile, he was struck once more with gratitude for
his aide. Lieutenant St. James was young, granted, but there was no
denying the man was efficient. He'd arranged the paperwork in order
of importance, attending to the more mundane matters himself.
Sitting down, Pellew grabbed the first report from the top of the
stack, pushing the others aside. There was a note attached to it,
written in St. James' own hand.

Commodore

it read,

The attached requires your most urgent attention. As you read, sir, I am quite sure you will be in agreement.

St. James

Breaking the seal, Pellew opened the report. It contained
intelligence gathered by one of the many English undercover
operatives working in Paris. The first part of the report dealt
mainly with the progress of Napoleon's ship-building project, as
well as enemy troop movements.

"Now why should St. James think an intelligence report regarding
that arrogant little Corsican would require my 'utmost attention'?"
Pellew thought aloud.

Quickly he scanned the remaining parts, his face turning pale
beneath his tan, eyes widening in alarm.
Carefully he read the second part of the report. Hoping that it was all a terrible
mistake, he reread it.

Regret to inform that Le Comte de Favreau has been
stripped of title and property. He and wife arrested; imprisoned on
isle of Corsica; accused of betraying the Emperor and France.
No trial date set.

"Dear God," Pellew thought, "what am I going to tell Jeanette?"

Glancing at the report he held, Pellew noticed that it had been
dated two months ago. Obviously, the Admiralty had known about this
situation for some time, yet had kept it a secret. Angered by this,
Pellew decided he would see the one man who could provide him with
answers ­ none other than Admiral Lord Hood, himself.

********************************************************************************

"The Admiral will see you now, sir," said Hood's aide, ushering
Pellew into a side conference room and closing the door.

"About bloody time, too," Pellew grumbled.

He had presented himself in Hood's offices two hours previously,
requesting an immediate conference with his lordship ­ only to
be told that he would have to wait. Apparently, the great man's
schedule was full. He could accommodate Commodore Pellew for ten
minutes between appointments, if he cared to stay. Pellew had
brought the report with him, determined to discuss it with the
Admiral. Frowning, he had decided to wait and seated himself on the
bench inside the aide's small office.

Admiral Lord Hood entered the stuffy little conference room, a look
of sheer annoyance on his face. He was of medium height, but walked
with stooped shoulders, making him appear much shorter. He had a hawk-like
nose and small, piercing eyes ­ an ill-fitting gray wig, perfectly
coifed, sat atop his head. He was known to be a stickler for
routine, hating anything that disrupted it. He eyed Pellew severely,
but the Commodore refused to be intimidated.

"Tell me, Commodore Pellew," Hood said, vague annoyance in the
voice, "what is so urgent that you must disrupt my already
overcrowded schedule."


"Come man, speak up," he continued, "I don't have all day, you
know."

"Sir," Pellew began, his tone apologetic. "Please forgive my rude
interruption, but I needed to discuss this with you. I am sure you
will agree, it is of the utmost importance."

Pellew held the report out to Hood, whose eyes narrowed at the sight
of it. Reaching out, he snatched the report from the Commodore's
hands.

"Where did you get this?" he hissed, an angry flush rising on his
pale face.

"It was on my desk when I arrived this morning," Pellew answered
quietly. "Sir, with respect, I would like to know why I was not
informed earlier of the contents of this report. Surely I, of all
people, should have been made aware. . . ."

"It was not your concern, Commodore. That is why you were not
informed of it," snapped Hood.

"But, sir, you are aware that the Countess. . . ."

". . . .former Countess, Commodore. . . . ."

". . . .that the Countess," reiterated Pellew, "de Favreau is my
wife's sister. As such, I believe I had every right to be informed
when the report first surfaced and to know what has been done to
secure the release of the Count and Countess."

"Do not speak to me of what you believe are your rights," thundered
Hood. "Must I remind you, sir, that you are an officer in His
Majesty's Navy!"

Lowering his voice slightly, the admiral continued.

"As for your other concern ­ NOTHING has been done to secure their
release. This was NOT a military matter, sir. It was considered
diplomatic and as such, was referred to the Foreign Secretary's
Office for resolution. And I have been informed that the Crown has
chosen not to intervene in this matter. In case you've forgotten, we
are at war, Commodore."

Pellew stared in shock at Admiral Hood. God in heaven, he must
have heard wrong! This could not possibly be the final word on the matter.
"Sir, surely the Foreign Secretary, as well as His Majesty, realize
that the Countess is still an English subject. Could you not prevail
upon. . . . ."

"The matter is closed, Commodore Pellew," Hood said. "Now if you will
excuse me, my time is extremely limited and I've wasted far too much
of it here. Good day, Commodore."

Thrusting the report back into Pellew's hands, Hood left the room.
Pellew made his way back to his own office, his thoughts whirling in
turmoil and anger. Perhaps England had chosen to do nothing, but by
God, he would not. Seething, he picked up pen and paper to begin a
message.

"His Majesty, the Foreign Secretary and the Admiralty be damned," he
thought, "I will see to the matter myself."

********************************************************************************

Jeanette entered the Admiralty building at 11 o'clock and proceeded
down the hall to her husband's office. She'd wanted to speak with
Edward yesterday, but had not had the opportunity to do so. She had
received her husband's message that, because of the delay in
returning to port, he would stay aboard the Indefatigable rather
than disturb her rest with his late return. Normally, she would have
waited until this evening to speak with him.

"Except, this situation is anything but normal," she thought, coming
to the office.

Jeanette looked around for Lieutenant St. James to inquire if Edward
was in but could not find him. Raising her gloved hand, she
tapped gently on his door.

"Come," came the gruff response.

Opening the door, she walked in to find Edward writing a letter. St.
James stood at his side.

"Edward," she began, "I am sorry for disturbing you here, my dear,
but I simply must speak with you."

Edward Pellew looked up at his wife, his face softening into a smile
at the sight of her.

"That will be all for now, Mr. St. James," he said. "Go and have
lunch and I will see you this afternoon."

"Yes sir," St. James replied, saluting.

As he left, Pellew put down the pen, rose from his chair and came
around the desk. Gently he took Jeanette in his arms. She melted
into the warmth of his embrace, her fears instantly calming. He drew
her to a chair and she sat down, her hand in his as he leaned
against the desk. Looking up into his face, Jeanette was struck by
the anger and sadness she saw in it. She really hated to burden him
with her problem, but she could see no way out of it, save to tell
him.

"Edward," she said softly, "I'm terribly afraid something's wrong
with Madeline ­ or with Jean-Luc. I've not heard from her in quite
some time. I am very worried and thought, perhaps, you could. . . ."

She stopped as he tightened his hold on her hand.

"What is it?" she asked, suddenly frightened again.

"Jen," he said, releasing her hand and picking up the report that
lay on the desk. "I think you need to read this, dearest."

Quickly Jeanette read it, her eyes widening in alarm, the hand
holding the report beginning to tremble. She looked up at him,
green eyes moist with tears. Silently she handed the report back to
him. He put it on the desk and rose, walking slowly to the window,
staring out at the street beyond.

"Edward, that report is two months old," she said, "may I ask what
has been done to secure the release of my sister and brother-in-law?"

"I'm afraid nothing's been done ­ at least not officially," he
said, still looking out of the window. "I have just returned from a
meeting with Admiral Lord Hood. He informed me that there would be
no assistance from the military. He saw this as a diplomatic matter,
not a military one, and referred it to the Foreign Secretary. The
Crown has chosen not to pursue the matter because we are at war."

"Oh Edward," she cried, as he turned from the window," what are we
to do now? It seems there's no help to be found anywhere!"


"Perhaps not through official channels," Pellew said, crossing once
more to his desk. "But there are other ways."

Picking up the letter he'd been writing when she entered, he gave it
to her. Jeanette read it and handed it back to him.

"Do you think they will be willing to help?" she asked.

"I believe so," he replied.

"Then I should be going," she said, a smile lighting her elfin face.
"If we're to have guests this evening, preparations must be made to
receive them."

Standing on tiptoe, Jeanette kissed her husband's cheek. Pellew, in
turn, pulled her into his arms, tipping her chin and placing his
warm lips on her own in a lingering kiss.

"I shall see you at home, my love," he said as he released her.

As she left, Lieutenant St. James returned to the office. Pellew
quickly folded the letter, sealed it and held it out to his aide.

"Deliver this to Commander Hornblower, Mr. St. James," he said. "You
need not wait for a reply."

 


Chapter 11

Horatio stood on deck, absently reading the note in his hand. The
wind blew his dark hair back from his face. He frowned slightly ­ looking
up to observe the activity taking place around him Pensively, he tapped
the note against his palm, then began to reread the message it contained.

Commander:

I would be honored if you, First Lieutenant Bush and Second
Lieutenant Kennedy would join me for dinner at my home this evening.
There is a personal and confidential matter of the utmost urgency I
wish to discuss with the three of you. I shall see you at 7 p.m.

Warmest regards,

Edward Pellew
Commodore

Horatio was intrigued by the little note. It was unlike Commodore
Pellew to be so secretive. The man was well known for saying exactly
what was on his mind at all times. Horatio looked around, spying
Midshipman Witt as he came on deck.

"Mr Witt," he called, waving the young man over.

"Aye, sir," responded Witt, saluting.

"Have you seen Mr. Bush or Mr. Kennedy this afternoon?" Horatio
asked.

"Yes sir, they are both below inspecting the starboard guns, sir."

"Please go below and ask them to join me in my cabin."

"Aye, sir," Witt saluted and hurried to find William and Archie.

No sooner had Horatio seated himself behind his desk, than a knock
sounded on the door. William Bush and Archie Kennedy stood in the
doorway, hats in hands.

"You wished to see us, sir," Bush said.

"Yes William. Please come in and close the door."


The two men entered the tiny cabin and took seats in front of the
desk. Curiosity shown from both sets of eyes, as they waited
expectantly for Horatio to continue.

"Well, gentlemen," Horatio said, glancing at the note that lay on
his desk. "It would appear that we have dinner plans for this
evening ­ with Commodore Pellew."

Horatio took the note and passed it to Bush, who read it and gave it
to Archie. Archie's eyebrows arched in surprise as he finished
reading.

"What do you suppose it means, Horatio?" he asked, handing the note
back to his captain.

"I really don't know, Archie," Horatio answered, "but I expect
we shall find out this evening. I must say, though, I am a bit
surprised that he wishes to meet us at his home."

"Yes," Bush interjected, "that is rather unusual for the Commodore
Pellew that I've come to know. And it also seems odd that he
gives no mention of the reason for this meeting."

Horatio and Archie nodded in agreement. Indeed, this was definitely
most uncharacteristic for the Commodore. Bush rose to his feet,
taking his hat in hand.

"If you will excuse me, Horatio," he said, "I must send a message
ashore letting Emily know that I shall be dining away from home this
evening."

"By all means, William," Horatio smiled. "And how is the lovely Mrs.
Bush? Well, I trust?"

Bush grinned. "She is very well, thank you ­ and more beautiful
than ever!"

As William left the cabin, Archie turned to Horatio. His deep blue
eyes held questions for which there seemed to be no answers at
present.

"You've really no idea what the Commordore might want with us,
Horatio?" Archie asked.

Horatio frowned. He was not a man who relished intrigue. His
orderly, analytical mind refused to accept surprises of any sort.
"No, Archie, not a clue," he replied.

Indicating the note that lay upon the desk, he continued.

"Like you, I know only what is written there. We shall just have to
wait until this evening. Please continue with your inspection, Mr.
Kennedy."

Archie rose to his feet, nodding at his friend.

"Aye, aye sir," he said, and left Horatio alone with his thoughts.

The remainder of the afternoon passed slowly for the three senior
officers of the Retribution. As daylight began to fade, Horatio
ordered the launch lowered. William and Archie came above decks to
find him giving final instructions to newly promoted Acting
Lieutenant Jeffers.

"Mr. Jeffers, the deck is yours. Those members of the crew not on
watch this evening may go ashore."

"Aye sir," Jeffers said, saluting.

Horatio, William and Archie made their way to the waiting boat.
Slowly it pulled away from Retribution and the three men were
rowed to shore. As they reached the jetty, Horatio looked up to see
a coach waiting; the liveried footman obviously expecting them.

"Commander Hornblower?" he asked.

At Horatio's nod, he continued. "This way, gentlemen, if you please.
Sir Edward is most anxious to see you."

In no time at all the three found themselves standing outside the
home of Commodore Sir Edward Pellew. Located just on the outskirts
of the city, it was a dignified structure of deep red brick. Warm
light shown through the lace of the curtains. Together ­ Horatio,
William and Archie ascended the curved stairs of the front entrance.
As they approached, the door of the house opened.

"Welcome, gentlemen," said the servant, bowing. "Sir Edward is in
the drawing room. This way, please."

Leading them down a short hallway, he stopped in front of a pair of
highly polished mahogany doors, the brass fittings gleaming.

"Sir Edward," he announced, opening the doors and standing to one
side, "your guests have arrived."

Horatio, William and Archie entered the room, the doors closing
softly behind them. Commodore Pellew stood at the fireplace, his arm
resting on the mantle. He looked up as the three men entered the
room. Horatio was struck by the contrast of emotion apparent on the
older man's face. Although the face itself looked tired and careworn,
there was an angry fire alight in his eyes. Horatio did not even want to
hazard a guess as to what had put that fire in those eyes.

"Gentlemen," Pellew said, a tired smile on his lips. "I am grateful
you've chosen to accept my invitation."

"We were intrigued, sir," Archie began, standing at attention. "How
can we help?"

"I shall explain in due time, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew replied. "In the
meantime, stand down, sir, and allow me to present my wife ­ Lady
Jeanette Pellew."

The three young officers turned to the lady seated upon the sofa.
While not beautiful in the classic sense, she was still lovely. Her
elfin face and lively eyes perfectly complemented the stern features
of her husband. Although she was 40, she appeared no older than 25.
She was dressed for the evening in a gown of sea green ­ the color
highlighting her green eyes and blonde hair. She rose from the sofa
and extended her hand, in turn, to each of the officers. As Archie
placed a light kiss on her fingertips, he looked at her face. There
was something so familiar about it.

"Mr. Kennedy," she asked, startling him from his memory, "are you,
by chance, related to Abigail Kennedy MacKenzie?"

Archie smiled, his voice gentle as he replied.

"Indeed, my Lady, I have that honor. Abby was my sister."

"Of course," Jeanette continued, her voice light and musical. "I
should have realized at once. Abby was always talking about her
younger brother, Archie. She was very proud of you, you know."

"Forgive the impertinence, my Lady," Archie said. "But how is it you
know my sister, if I may ask?"


"We were friends at school," she replied. "Abby, Madeline and I were
inseparable at St. Genevieve's. Even though I was younger, they
always accepted me."

Recognition hit Archie like a thunderbolt. No wonder her face was so
familiar. He should have known at once! Jeanette Pellew had once
been Jeanette Maitland ­ and that meant that she was. . . . .

"You are Le Comtessa de Favreau's sister," he whispered, shock in
his voice and dismay in his blue eyes.

Archie looked at Horatio, who stared back, the same shock and dismay
registered in his own dark eyes. The Commodore's wife was the sister
of Madeline Maitland, Le Comtessa de Favreau. What could this mean?!
Before either of them could utter another word, the servant returned.

"Dinner is served," he said.

 


Chapter 12

Dinner was coming to an end and still the three officers from
Retribution had no earthly idea why they'd been summoned to
Commodore's Pellew's residence. As carefully as a helmsman steering
his ship, the Commodore had maneuvered conversation away from that
particular topic. The unspoken implication being that they would be
told only when he was ready to do so. As the servants moved to clear
the table, Jeanette rose from her chair, the men following suit. She
glanced over at her husband, who nodded imperceptibly.

"Gentlemen," she said as she walked gracefully toward Pellew. "I
shall leave you to your coffee and brandy ­ and your discussion."

Sir Edward took both his wife's small hands in his. She leaned in
slightly, and he bent his head to kiss her gently on the cheek.
Smiling at them all, Jeanette left the dining room.

"Gentlemen," Pellew said, "if you will follow me, please. I believe
we shall be more comfortable in the study. I know that I have kept
you on tenterhooks all evening. However, I beg your indulgence a few
moments longer and I shall explain everything in due course."

Horatio, Archie and William followed the Commodore from the dining
room to his study. It was a spacious room, with a decidedly masculine
air. A ship's wheel stood proudly displayed in one corner. There was
a large scale Admiralty map of the world adorning one wall; floor to
ceiling windows lined another; with bookshelves taking up a third.
An antique cherry wood desk faced the marble fireplace. Several
wing-backed chairs, comfortably upholstered in navy velvet, and a
small sofa were scattered around the room, interspersed here and
there with small cherry wood tables.

As they entered, a servant pushed a wheeled teacart into the room.
It was laden with a silver coffee service, as well as a crystal
decanter of brandy. Commodore Pellew moved to the cart; pouring
brandy into crystal glasses, which he handed to his guests. Archie
shook his head at the proffered brandy; choosing, instead, to pour
himself a cup of coffee. Music wafted in from the drawing room.
Jeanette was playing the spinet, and Archie smiled as he recognized
the air. It was a song he'd heard many times in his youth, sung in
Abby's clear alto voice.


"Commodore," he said as he listened to the music. "Please accept my
heartfelt apologies, sir. Had I known of the connection between Le
Comtessa de Favreau and Lady Pellew, I would never have accepted the
assignment as aide to the General."

Pellew held up his hand to forestall Archie's apology.

"Apologies are not necessary, Mr. Kennedy," he said, "but you have
gone straight to the heart of the matter we need to discuss."

"Gentlemen," Pellew continued, "if you will have a seat, we shall
begin."

The three young men sat down ­ Horatio and Bush on the small sofa;
Archie taking a chair in the corner. Pellew crossed to his desk,
picking up the report he'd brought from the Admiralty that
afternoon. Silently, he passed it to Horatio. As he read it,
Horatio's eyes grew wide with surprise. When he'd finished, he
handed the report to Bush. Quickly, William Bush skimmed through it
and passed it to Archie. Slowly, Archie read the report, closing his
eyes as a feeling of dread crept over his soul.

"Forgive me, Commodore," he said, "but does this. . . . ."

. . . . .his voice trailed off as he indicated the report in his hand. . . .
.

". . . . .does their arrest have anything to do with me. . . . .with
the work I was doing?"

Archie swallowed; his mouth suddenly becoming dry. He waited, not
sure he really wanted to hear Commodore Pellew's answer.

"I cannot say for certain, Archie," Pellew replied, his eyes never
leaving the young lieutenant's face, "but I fear that it may. Other
reports indicate that the arrest occurred soon after you disappeared
from France."

"Did you know," he continued, a wry note creeping into his voice,
"that you are listed as 'missing and presumed dead'?"

Archie said nothing. He rose from his chair. Walking over to
Pellew's desk, he replaced the report on it, then crossed to the
window. He stood there, gazing out at the garden beyond. He did not
turn around as Horatio cleared his throat, looking from Archie to
Pellew.
"Sir," he said, "if I may ask ­ what has been done to affect the
release of the Count and Countess?"

He glanced over at Archie again, knowing of his friend's affection
for the couple.

"Surely," he continued, "His Majesty, or the Foreign Secretary. . . ."

"No Horatio," Pellew interrupted, giving him a bitter smile. "The
Crown has made the decision that it would not be in England's best
interests to pursue diplomatic action in securing their release at
this time. As Admiral Hood reminded me this afternoon ­ we are at
war, gentlemen."

"Then," William Bush spoke up, "how may we be of assistance,
Commodore?"

"I am very happy you've asked that question, Mr. Bush," the
Commodore replied. "However, you should be aware that I am acting on
my own. If the Admiralty ­ or the Crown ­ suspects what I am
planning to do, it could very well be the end of my career. And you
gentlemen must know also ­ should you agree to assist me and it is
discovered ­ yours as well."

"Commodore," Horatio replied, his voice soft, "we understand that
and we accept it. Now, tell us how we can help."

Pellew nodded his head at Horatio's words, not daring himself to
speak for the moment. Walking to his desk, he picked up a map and
brought it back to the table. He spread it out and sat down. It was
a ship's chart of the island of Corsica; the route from England
clearly marked.

"Here," Pellew said, indicating the capital city of Ajaccio, "this
is where they are being held."

"The rescue, sir," Bush said, "how do you mean to go about it?"

"From the intelligence we've been able to gather," Pellew said,
"there is a small fortress at the edge of the city."

"Manpower?" Horatio asked.


"A small garrison ­ no more than 30 men," Pellew answered. "It
seems the main function of this fortress is to house political
prisoners prior to their trial. At this time, only my sister-in-law
and her husband are there. I believe a small contingent of marines
and sailors, landed just after dark on the beach below the fortress,
would be sufficient to the task. Rather like," and here Pellew
smiled in recollection, "your capture of the Spanish fort on Santo
Domingo."

"Mr. Kennedy," he addressed the young man still standing before the
window. "You are familiar, are you not, sir, with the Ajaccio
fortress? I believe that you've been there with Le Comte de Favreau
on an inspection tour. Given what you know of the place, is the plan
feasible?"

Startled at Pellew's question, Archie looked up. He had been deep in
thought, but now he smiled at the Commodore.

"Indeed, sir, I am familiar with it," he replied, "and yes, your
plan would work. However, if I may suggest, sir, I believe I've come
up with an alternative that may prove less of a risk than sending a
contingent of men to the island."

Pellew, Horatio and Bush looked at Archie expectantly. He walked
away from the window and resumed his seat in the corner. All three
waited for him to continue.

"It is true, sir," Archie asked, "that I, or rather, Paul Dubois, is
'missing and presumed dead'?"

Pellew nodded. "From what we have been able to ascertain from other
operatives in Paris, Jean-Luc, himself, had you declared so after an
extensive search proved fruitless."

"Then, suppose he/I returned to France, having escaped from an
English military compound where I have been a prisoner of war these
last months. Once returned, I receive orders from Napoleon
himself to bring Le Comte and Le Comtessa de Favreau back to France;
all title and property to be returned ­ a pardon signed by the
Emperor himself in my possession. I would travel to Corsica in
the company of an officer answerable only to Napoleon ­ above
reproach and completely loyal to the Emperor.

"And this person ­ who would that be?"


"None other than one of the Emperor's trusted Imperial Guard. They
are legendary for their loyalty to him. And he trusts them
implicitly. I believe the commandant would not hesitate to release
the Count and Countess under those circumstances."

"But what about the pardon? The document must have Napoleon's
signature?" Bush interrupted. "How do you plan to obtain that?"

"Forgery, William," Archie said and smiled.

"Mr. Kennedy," Pellew asked, "I know your talents in espionage are many,
but can you do that ­ forge a document, as well as the signature
of the Emperor of France?"

"No sir," replied the young Second Lieutenant, "but I know someone
who knows someone who can."

Pellew raised an eyebrow. "May I ask who that might be?"

"Of course, sir. You may not be aware of it, but my cousin, Lord
Tony Dewhurst, was a member of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel
during the revolution."

Pellew nodded, his thoughts turning to the young man who was a
mirror image of Archie Kennedy. He remembered hearing that Tony
Dewhurst had willingly given his life during the rescue attempt of
Sir Percy Blakeney's brother-in-law from one of the most notorious
prisons in Paris.

"It was never known during that time," Archie continued, "who the
Pimpernel really was, but many suspected it was an English nobleman.
As it turns out, they were right. The Scarlet Pimpernel was none
other than Sir Percy Blakeney. It was his life Tony saved during the
rescue attempt."

"And Sir Percy knows someone expert in forging documents?"

"Aye, sir, he does."

"Archie," Horatio said, suddenly finding himself caught up in the
intrigue being planned. "I'd like to volunteer to go with you as the
Imperial officer ­ with your permission, of course, Commodore."

Pellew was about to agree, wholeheartedly, in fact, when Archie
shook his head.

"I'm afraid that's not possible, Horatio," he said, "as much as I'd
like you to be with me. You've forgotten, perhaps, that Madame de
Favreau knows what you look like. After all, it was your cabin she
used when you captured La Mer and brought us to Scotland."

"You're right, of course," Horatio said, "I had forgotten. Correct
me if I'm mistaken then, but it looks as if you've already decided on
someone to play this part."

"I have."

"For heaven's sake, Archie," Bush said, frustration in his voice,
"must everything be dragged out of you. Tell us, man, who do you
have in mind!"

"All right, William," Archie laughed. "I was thinking that Mr.
Jeffers would be a good candidate. He is fluent in French, as well
as knowledgeable of French customs. He is also a quick study,
and I believe he'd make an excellent Imperial officer."

"But Archie," Horatio interjected, "the Count or Countess may
recognize him as well. He attended the birthday party of Le Comte
de Favreau three years ago ­ where I first thought I saw you.
Don't you remember?"

"Yes, Horatio," Archie replied, "I do. However, if they remember him
at all, they will more than likely remember a fresh-faced,
clean-shaven young man of 20. Marc will not look like that when we
go to Corsica."

"Oh no, you aren't thinking of growing that ridiculous moustache
again, are you?!"

"I'll have to, Horatio, if this is to work. And I was thinking, a
short beard for Marc. Several of the Imperial Guard sported them as
I remember."

As the three officers continued their discussion of the merits of
Archie's plan, Pellew held up his hand. The three stopped talking as
he rose from his chair, hands clasped behind his back.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I commend Mr. Kennedy on his fine idea, but
one thing has yet to discussed."

All three turned to the Commodore. Three pairs of eyes waited
patiently for him to go on.
"Once you have secured the release of Jean-Luc and Madeline, how do
you propose to return them to England?"

"Well, sir," Archie said, "the same way Marc Jeffers and I will get
to Corsica. And this is where we must rely on you, sir."

Pellew arched his eyebrow as Archie continued.

"A ship, sir. Preferably something French, small and fast ­ like a
corvette. That is what we need you to secure for us."

"No small order, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew said dryly. "However, I
believe that can be managed. It happens that the Indefatigable
captured a French corvette shortly before we returned to port. The
Calais is on her way to Portsmouth for refitting as we speak. I
believe she should suit your needs."

"Sir," it was Horatio's turn to speak, "as I cannot accompany Mr.
Kennedy to France, perhaps Lieutenant Bush and I may command the
ship that will return your family to England."

Pellew smiled. "I would not have it any other way, Commander.
However, it will be you who commands the Calais alone. Mr. Bush,
you will be temporarily in command of the Retribution. I regret
that I cannot send you to Corsica with Commander Hornblower, but we
must keep the appearance of normalcy".

"I understand, sir," Bush said, "but there is a final piece of
information that we must discuss. One we've not talked about at all
this evening."

"And that is, Mr. Bush?"

"Do we know for certain that your sister-in-law and her husband are
still alive? That report," he said, pointing to the desk, "is over
two months old, after all. Please don't misunderstand me, sir. It is
just that we need to ascertain this before we can put the plan into
action."

"I understand your concern, Mr. Bush," Pellew said, "and I thank you
for it. I had already thought of that before I asked you to come.
Word was sent this afternoon to the operative on Corsica, requesting
information as to the health and welfare of Le Comte de Favreau and
his wife. In the meantime, we shall proceed under the assumption
that they are still alive."

"One more thing, sir," Horatio said, "what is the time estimate for
refitting of the Calais to be completed?"

"I am given to understand, Horatio, that the refit will be finished
in two months. I shall see to it that you receive orders tomorrow
sending you to Portsmouth to take command of her. And," he added,
smiling at William Bush, "promoting Mr. Bush to Acting Captain of
Retribution.

As he finished speaking, Pellew looked over at Archie. Archie's blue
eyes met those of the Commodore. He would do anything for this man
who had risked so much on his behalf.

"Mr. Kennedy," Pellew said softly, "you know the risk of this
mission. I do not have to tell you what will happen should you, or
Mr. Jeffers, be captured. You do not have to do this, Archie."

"With respect, Commodore," Archie replied, "I do."

"Very well. As of this evening, you and Acting Lieutenant Jeffers
are temporarily assigned to me. Commander Hornblower," Pellew said,
"I shall see to it that you receive the proper paperwork before your
departure. I trust this meets with your approval."

"Aye, sir," Horatio said, smiling at Archie, "it does."

"Then tomorrow, Mr. Kennedy, you and I shall pay a visit to Sir
Percy Blakeney. After that, you will renew your training in
espionage, acquainting Mr. Jeffers with that knowledge as well."

Pellew looked at the three men before him. They were risking
everything to help him. There were eloquent words, he supposed, to
express the gratitude and regard he had for these three. Somehow,
though, they seemed inadequate.

"Thank you, gentlemen," he said, the depth of his feeling evident in
those simple words.

 


Chapter 13

Majestically outlined against a crystalline sky, the manor house
stood ­ a glittering jewel in the crown that was England. Blakeney
Hall, Richmond, was a place of timeless beauty; from the
well-groomed lawns and gardens to the worn, pale gray stone
of the house itself.

Sir Percy Blakeney sat on the terrace, staring out at the river
beyond. It was late afternoon, and he stretched his long legs before
him, his face upturned to the warm September sun. He was tall, just
over six feet, with dark hair and lively blue eyes. He was a
handsome man, even with the languid, sometimes bored expression he
wore. To those who did not know him well, he appeared dull-witted
and somewhat foppish. It was an image he'd carefully cultivated over
the years ­ one that had served him well during the time he had led
the clandestine activities of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
What better way to mask his activities as the daring Englishman who
so confounded the French Republican leadership in the days of the
Revolution?! Who would ever have suspected that this man ­ whose
only interests seemed to be fashion, yacht racing and the sport of
cricket ­ was, in fact, the Scarlet Pimpernel himself?

Percy smiled ­ steeped in memories of that time. It was a smile
tinged with sorrow as his thoughts turned to the young man who'd
given his life so that Percy could live and continue with his work.
Tony Dewhurst would have been 33 years old this day had he lived. He
had been a jovial lad ­ with a ready smile and blue eyes full of
laughter. But Percy remembered another side to Tony Dewhurst ­ one
few people saw. He remembered the gentle soul so willing to give of
himself to friend or stranger alike.

"We are all the same in God's eyes," he used to say.

"Happy Birthday, Tony," Percy thought, his eyes misting with unshed
tears. "Here's to you, my dear friend."

Raising his glass of sherry, he offered the toast. Abruptly, his
thoughts turned to the visitors he'd received earlier that
afternoon. Perhaps that's why he thought of Tony now. After all,
Archie Kennedy did not just resemble his cousin ­ he could have
been his identical twin.

"And not just physically," Percy thought, "it's his demeanor, as
well. He has the same gentleness and strength of character. Dear
God, I've never seen two people more alike."
Archie had come to Blakeney Hall with Commodore Sir Edward Pellew
and another young naval officer. Percy recalled his name ­ Marc Jeffers,
Acting Lieutenant of His Majesty's Ship Retribution. Jeffers was
several inches taller than Archie, he recalled. While Archie's hair was
the same strawberry blonde as Tony's had been; Jeffers' was a dark
gold ­ the color of harvest wheat. He had hazel eyes that appeared, in the
afternoon sun, to be gray.

Percy had received them on the terrace; sending his manservant,
Fischer, for tea. Having dispensed with the required pleasantries,
Commodore Pellew proceeded to the business at hand ­ the purpose
for their visit. Quickly he'd explained the circumstances leading to
the arrest of the General Le Comte and Le Comtessa de Favreau; his
relationship to them, as well as Madeline's English citizenship. He
had explained that the Admiralty knew of the arrest and had chosen
to treat it as a diplomatic concern. He told Sir Percy that the
Crown had refused intervention of any sort on Madeline's behalf.

"Am I given to understand, then, Commodore," Percy asked, "that you
intend some action not sanctioned by either the Admiralty or the
Crown ­ that you, in fact, will act alone, sir?"

"I am ­ with the help of these two gentlemen," Pellew responded,
"as well as two others; all of whom are risking not only their lives
but their careers in this endeavor."

"Please understand, Sir Percy," the Commodore continued, "I cannot,
and I will not, abandon my family."

Percy nodded in complete understanding. Had he not also risked
everything in a similar venture to rescue his own brother-in-law,
Armand ­ the rescue which had cost Tony Dewhurst his life? He
motioned for the Commodore to continue.

Pellew had glanced at Archie, indicating that he should take up the
narrative from that point. Archie did; outlining the plan he'd come
up with to rescue the Count and Countess ­ including the part he
and Jeffers were to play.

"And that is the reason for our visit, Sir Percy," Archie said. "We
are in need of your assistance with respect to the documents we must
have ­ the pardon, as well as the authorization orders for the
Commandant of the Ajaccio fortress to release the General and his
wife. These documents must appear to be genuine ­ down to the
signature of Napoleon himself."

"That will require a masterful bit of forgery," Percy said.

He smiled at the young Lieutenant, finding himself caught up in the
planned rescue. It was daring ­ something worthy of the Scarlet
Pimpernel, and Percy felt himself come alive as he had not been since
the League had disbanded, following the fall of Republican France.

"I believe I can offer the assistance you require, gentlemen," he
continued. "In fact, I know the perfect man for this job."

"Will he be willing to take on the task?" Pellew asked. "How do you
propose to contact him?"

Percy's lively blue eyes grew serious.

"Yes, Commodore, I believe he will," he said, a deadly edge to his
voice.

It was as though he had become the Pimpernel once again.

"I shall contact him myself," he went on. "I have some business
affairs that I must attend to tomorrow, but the following day, I
sail for France. There I shall meet with the man who will provide us
with the needed documents."

"Commodore," Archie spoke up, "with your permission, sir, I should
like to accompany Sir Percy to France."

Pellew nodded at his Second Lieutenant and turned back to Percy.

"My thanks, Sir Percy, for your help. It is most generous of you.
Will you consent to Mr. Kennedy sailing with you?"

"I welcome his company," Percy replied. "I daresay, Arturo will be
in for quite a shock when he meets Mr. Kennedy."

Percy laughed as he remembered the remark he'd made. He agreed to
meet Archie in London in two days. Soon after, the three officers
had taken their leave; Pellew once more expressing his gratitude for
Percy's willingness to assist them with their plan.

As dusk fell, Percy rose from his seat. Looking up at the setting
sun, he smiled once more.

"For you, Tony," he said.


Chapter 14

He thought of Paul as he so often did these days; not with
bitterness or recrimination. After all, the young man was not to
blame for the situation in which he now found himself. Rather ­ he
thought of him in sorrow; with a nameless ache in his soul; an empty
place within his heart. He was not a man for whom love came easily;
yet he had come to love Paul Dubois deeply ­ as a father loves his
son.

"Mon Dieu," he thought, standing before the window of his cell,
"what went wrong, Paul? What happened?"

He shook his head; despair settling over his aristocratic features.
He thought back to that final assignment. It had seemed simple
enough at the time. The Josephine was to anchor in Calais; her
captain, Pierre LaSalle, to receive top secret orders regarding her
next deployment from the Emperor himself. Napoleon had charged
Jean-Luc, his most trusted General, with the responsibility of
seeing those orders safely delivered into the Captain's hands.

"Once you have delivered these," Jean-Luc told his aide, handing him
the sealed packet, "you are to take a week's leave ­ Calais or
elsewhere ­ so long as I do not see you in Paris before that week
is up. You've had no time off since your arrival. You need to go
and enjoy yourself, Paul ­ to have some fun."

Archie Kennedy, in his guise as Paul Dubois, had tried to protest,
but Jean-Luc held up his hand, shaking his head in amusement. He'd
smiled at the young man, his faded blue eyes twinkling with
merriment.

"That is an order, young man!"

"As you wish, Excellency," Archie said. "I shall leave at once."

The mission had been accomplished ­ that much was certain. LaSalle
himself verified that he'd received the orders from Lieutenant
Dubois' own hands. A week had passed ­ then two ­ and Paul Dubois
did not return to Paris.

A massive search had been mounted; rewards for information about his
disappearance offered ­ all to no avail. The exhaustive efforts
proved unsuccessful, and the search was ended. Paul Dubois was
officially listed as 'presumed dead' ­ the proper services were
conducted honoring one considered a hero of France.
And Jean-Luc, the former Le Comte de Favreau, was left to mourn ­
alone in his island prison cell.

********************************************************************************

"Try it again, Marc," Archie said patiently, the sleeves of his
white shirt rolled up; his tanned arms folded across his chest.

They were in the drawing room of his house in London, having
returned earlier that evening from their visit with Sir Percy
Blakeney. Marc Jeffers liked the small room. It was pleasant ­
tastefully, yet simply decorated in soothing tones of cream and
mauve. A portrait of Archie's sister hung over the fireplace. She
did not resemble her brother at all, Marc noted, but looking up at
the portrait now, he instinctively was reminded of Archie. Perhaps
it was the eyes. Although Archie's were a deep sapphire blue, and
Abby's, dark brown, there was an expressiveness to both that was the
same ­ 'laughing eyes' his mother would have said. Marc stopped
looking at the portrait; returning to the task in hand. He sighed
and shook his head in exasperation.

"You are truly a hard taskmaster, Mr. Kennedy," he said, "and I fear
I am not much of an actor."

Archie smiled. "It's all right to call me Archie, Marc. We are not
aboard Retribution now."

"You must not think of it as acting, though," he continued. "You are
not playing a part on stage. Try to remember that you are no longer
Marc Jeffers. YOU are Captain Marcel Gervais. Keep that in mind, and
you'll be fine."

"I shall try, Archie ­ but it's devilish hard!"

"I know. Now this time ­ put more authority into your voice. Your
demeanor should project a haughty disregard for the Commandant ­
for no matter what his rank, he is nothing more than a glorified
jailer in your eyes. But you ­ YOU are a captain of the Imperial
Guard; answerable only to His Excellency, Emperor Napoleon. This
man ­ the Commandant ­ is NOT to question your orders or your
authority to act on behalf of the Emperor. As far as you are
concerned, he is beneath your notice. Treat him as such."

"If you say so, Mr. Kennedy," Marc smiled, drawing his muscular
frame up to attention.
"Indeed I do, Mr. Jeffers," Archie laughed. "Again, if you please ­
and remember what I told you."

********************************************************************************

The coach pulled to a stop at the foot of the stone jetty; the lone
passenger jumping to the street as soon as it did so. Looking about
him, Horatio Hornblower noticed the man standing at the end of the
jetty; his back to him. There was something familiar in that stance ­
the hands clasped tightly behind the back; the spine rigid.

"I should have known," he thought. "After all, Commodore Pellew did
say he was assigning me the 'best damned gunner in the Navy' for
this mission."

Glancing out into the harbor, Horatio was not surprised to see the
Renown at anchor. That explained it, then. With Renown in
Portsmouth, it had been easy for Pellew to expedite the transfer ­
sending word that very day to her captain.

"And I'll bet old Buckland was none to pleased to learn his best man
was being transferred to a ship commanded by me," Horatio grinned at
the thought and walked over to stand next to the man.

"It is good to see you again, Mr. Hobbs," he said. "It has been a
long time."

Hobbs turned, automatically stiffening to attention.

"Indeed it has, sir," he answered, saluting. "It is an honor to be
serving with you again."

"And to have you aboard, Mr. Hobbs. Shall we go and take a look at
the ship?"

"Aye, sir."

Horatio descended the stone steps and boarded the jolly boat that
would take him to the Calais; Hobbs at his heels. She lay at
anchor, just to starboard of the Renown. As the boat neared,
Horatio could make out work crews swarming about the ship; repairing
the damage she had sustained in her capture by the Indy. She was
bigger than the sloop he now commanded; faster too.
Horatio nodded in satisfaction. Commodore Pellew had been right, as
usual. The Calais was perfect for their needs. Climbing aboard, he
turned to Hobbs.

"If you would, please, Mr. Hobbs," he said, "check with the gun
crews and inspect the cannons. Report to me when you've finished."

"Aye, sir," Hobbs saluted again, disappearing below decks.

Horatio made his way to the captain's cabin, acknowledging the
salutes of the work crews as he passed. Once inside, he sat down at
the desk and picked up the report that lay atop it. He nodded
approvingly as he read it. The repair work was ahead of schedule.

"With luck," he thought, "we should complete the repairs by
mid-October."

That would mean they could attempt the rescue mission within a
month, rather than two. He was sure Commodore Pellew would be
pleased with this news.

Placing the report on the desk, he leaned back in the chair; his
thoughts turning to William Bush, now Acting Captain of
Retribution. They had taken their leave of one another that
morning; Horatio giving several last minute orders. He had decided
to have Matthews follow him to Portsmouth. The Bosun would be a
good man to have with him on this mission.

". . . . .and I shall leave Styles with you," he told William, eyes
glinting in amusement, "since I will have Matthews with me. After
all, I know how famously the two of you get on."

Bush rolled his eyes as he received the news.

"You really ought to leave the jokes to Mr. Kennedy, Horatio," he
said dryly. "He is much better at them than you will ever be."

"What's the matter, William," Horatio laughed. "No sense of humor
this fine September morning?"

His expression quickly sobered, though, and he extended his hand to
his friend.

"Take care of my ship, Acting Captain Bush," he said, "as well as
yourself."

"Good luck, Horatio," Bush grasped the hand, his blue eyes somber.
"Since I cannot be with you and Archie in person, my thoughts and my
prayers shall have to do in my stead."

"Thank you, William."

The two men had shaken hands, and Horatio left Retribution bound
for Portsmouth and the intrigue that awaited in France.

********************************************************************************

Jean-Luc heard the key and turned from the window; his despair
turning to delight as Madeline entered, followed by Phillipe
Marceau. Madeline ran to her husband, who immediately took her in
his arms; their kiss slow, deep and lingering. Phillipe nodded his
head in satisfaction. He knew Colonel Valmont would not be pleased
that he had allowed Madame de Favreau to visit her husband.

"Ah well," he thought, "such is life. One does what one thinks is
best."

He looked up to find Jean-Luc smiling at him.

"Merci, Doctor," said the older man, his arms still around Madeline.

She clung to Jean-Luc, tears in her eyes. She ran her hands over his
face, his chest and arms as if to assure herself she was really
there with him. Phillipe bowed.

"You are welcome, Monsieur," he said. "I thought that you'd find
this company just a bit more congenial than mine."

"You have brought me the best possible medicine, Doctor, and I am
grateful."

"I shall leave the two of you alone for a while," Phillipe said and
turned to go.

After he left, Madeline turned to her husband.

"I have been so worried about you, my love," she said. "I was afraid, that with
your heart, you. . . . ."

She could not bring herself to finish the thought. Again, she
caressed his face. He took her hand, kissing the palm.
"You have nothing to fear, dearest," he said. "I've no intention of
dying just yet. I fear it would displease His Excellency, the
Emperor."

His voice was light ­ teasing, but the fear and worry would not
leave her. Cupping her face in his hand, Jean-Luc placed
feather-soft kisses upon it. She closed her eyes, a sense of peace
descending. She let herself drift in that peace; safe within the
warmth of his love.

"Je t'aime, ma chere," she whispered.

"Et vous aussi -- pour maintenant et tourjours," he answered.

Chapter 15

The yacht, Daydream, slid silently through the waters of the
English Channel; Sir Percy himself at the wheel. The day was
perfect ­ a clear, cloudless blue sky and warm sun above; the wind
set fair at their backs. Archie came above decks; Marc Jeffers at his side.
Both young men were dressed in civilian attire; the cut and
tailoring of which bespoke men of taste and refinement.

It had been Sir Percy's idea to have Marc accompany them on the
voyage.

"Mr. Kennedy," he said, when they'd met in London on the previous
day. "A thought had occurred after your visit to Blakeney Hall with
regard to the clothing, or rather, the uniforms you will require for
your part in the rescue of the Count and Countess de Favreau. I have
spoken with Commodore Pellew about the matter. He assures me that
you are still in possession of your French Lieutenant's uniform."

"That is true, milord," Archie said, "and I would be honored if you
would call me Archie."

Percy smiled, inclining his head slightly in the affirmative.

"My pleasure, sir. As I was saying, I believe that the uniform in
your possession will suit for a man who has supposedly recently
escaped from prison. It will have the 'right' look to it ­ worn and
all that.

Percy waved his hand and continued.

"The Commodore tells me, though, that he had planned to have an
Imperial Guard uniform prepared for Mr. Jeffers through a reputable
tailoring firm in London. However, I believe that I may have a more
suitable alternative. In addition to meeting with Arturo Mazzerini
regarding the documents we need, we shall also call upon Monsieur
Planchet, an old friend of mine who just happens to be in the
tailoring business. We shall take Mr. Jeffers with us, and there,
have him fitted for a proper French uniform by a proper French
tailor. Commodore Pellew has already approved the idea. He feels
that it will also have the added benefit of affording young Jeffers
the opportunity to, as he put it, 'act and react within a hostile
environment'."


It had been a fine suggestion and both Archie and Jeffers readily
agreed to it. They'd left for Dover soon after, embarking on the
Daydream with the evening tide.

"Gentlemen," Percy said now, indicating the shoreline visible on the
horizon, "Calais ­ and then, Paris."

********************************************************************************

William Bush woke with the lightening of the sky as dawn approached.
He thought of his friends ­ Horatio Hornblower, now in Portsmouth,
and Archie Kennedy, on his way to Paris, if not already arrived
there. They had dined together at his home on Horatio's last evening
in London; speaking in hushed tones of the mission that was soon to
be undertaken.

The plan was a good one, Bush had to admit ­ well thought out.

"But thinking is not executing," he thought.

Still, alternatives had been planned for every conceivable situation ­
good or bad ­ that might arise. There was no denying it,
however, he still felt uneasy about the whole affair. Perhaps it was
because he would be in London while Horatio, Archie ­ and Marc
Jeffers, of course ­ sailed for Corsica.

"Admit it, William," he sighed, "you'd much rather be where the
action is taking place than Acting Captain of any ship that's safe
in port."

Hearing the sigh, Emily turned to her husband. Bush smiled ­ the
smile tender ­ as his eyes rested on the small mound of her
abdomen. Gently, he placed his hand there, feeling the baby move at
his touch.

"She knows her papa's hand," Emily said.

"Oh," William said, eyebrow arching and laughter in his voice. "And
you are quite sure, Mrs. Bush, that our little one is to be a girl?"


"Very sure, Acting Captain," she replied, smiling serenely as she
reached up to caress his cheek. "Now, help me up and I shall see to
your breakfast."

********************************************************************************

Kathleen paused for a moment, glancing up at the house before her.
It was a house that she'd seen many times ­ in her own dreams. The
lovely old brick; the small wrought-iron fence; the inviting look of
the shutters thrown back from windows hung with lace ­ it was a
place of warmth and love.

As she pushed open the small gate, the front door opened and Emily's
smiling face greeted her. Although they'd only met a few days ago,
there was a kinship between the two women. Kathleen smiled in
return, coming up the steps.

"Oh Kate," Emily cried, embracing her, "I am so very happy you're
here."

"You look wonderful, Emily," Kathleen responded, returning the hug.
"How do you feel?"

"Just like the proverbial fiddle ­ fit! Now do come inside."

Taking her friend's arm, Emily led Kathleen into the house. As they
entered the parlor, a servant came in from the kitchen bearing a
tray laden with afternoon tea. Placing it on the table, she curtsied
to the two women and left the room.

Emily and Kathleen sat together on the sofa; Emily pouring tea for
both of them. Handing the small china cup to Kathleen, she leaned
back against the sofa. They talked for a few moments about the
mundane, everyday matters women do ­ Emily's pregnancy;
Catherine Cobham's latest role; the weather; and even, the
latest fashions from Paris.

"Now," Emily said, "tell me ­ how are things between you and
Archie?"

Kathleen took a small sip of tea and then glanced at her friend. She
knew of the past relationship between Archie and Emily. She knew
also that Emily's question was not asked out of jealousy, but out of
affection for her, as well as Archie.

"We are getting on very well," she said, "only. . . . ."

"Only what?"

"Emily," Kathleen began, "I really hate to ask this of you, but has
William spoken to you at all about Archie? I mean, I know that he is
involved in a new mission. . . . ."

"What has Archie told you?" Emily asked.

"Very little. He said that he didn't want me to worry ­ that what
he was doing was not dangerous as he'd been trained for it. And that
has me more frightened than not knowing at all. Please ­ is there
anything you can tell me about this new mission?"

Emily smiled gently, putting her teacup on the tray and taking
Kathleen's hand in both her own.

"I really do not understand men's thinking at times," she said.
"They do not want to worry us, so they tell us little, if anything,
about the work they are involved in ­ never knowing that this
causes us to worry all the more. Quite contrary, don't you think? I
wonder, do they feel the same about us?"

A small giggle escaped her, and she was rewarded to see Kathleen
smile ­ the anxious look disappearing from her face.

"All I can tell you," she continued, "is that William has told me
they are planning a rescue of two very important people who are
being held prisoner on the island of Corsica."

"It seems," she said, "that during his time as a spy, Archie became
the personal aide to the gentleman they are to rescue. Apparently, in
the time he was with these two, he developed a great affection for them.
It also turns out, that the gentleman's wife, the other prisoner, is none other
than Commodore Pellew's sister-in-law. She is still a British
citizen, but neither the Crown nor the Admiralty will do anything to
affect her release ­ or that of her husband. So Commodore Pellew
decided to take matters into his own hands and asked for assistance
from Archie, William and Horatio Hornblower."

"And have you any idea when they will attempt this rescue?"

"No, Kate," Emily said, shaking her head sadly, "I'm afraid I don't.
However, I suspect it will be soon. And if Williams knows for
certain, it is the one thing he will not ­ or cannot ­ tell me."
Kathleen patted Emily's hand with her own.

"It's all right, Emily," she said, "I really do not need to know any
more. What you have told me is enough ­ it eases my mind somewhat.
Thank you."

Emily smiled, her brown eyes holding Kathleen's green ones. She knew
what it was to love Archie Kennedy.

"Try not to worry," she said, "he'll come back, you'll see."

********************************************************************************

"Sir Percy," Arturo bellowed, "to what do I owe this unexpected
pleasure?"

Arturo Mazzerini was a robust man with a ruddy complexion; short
gray hair bristling up from his head. His hands, with their long,
slender fingers, were the only indication one had of the man's
intense artistic ability.

"Arturo, old friend," Percy responded, grasping the older man's
hand, his own all but crushed by Arturo's strong grip. "It has been
too long."

"Indeed it has, milord ­ far too long! Come in ­ come in and
tell me what's brought you to Paris. I received your message, but it said
very little, other than that I should have Rene here too."

"Let me introduce my traveling companions first," Percy said, as he
stepped into the house. "Allow me to present. . . . ."

He got no further for Arturo was staring, open-mouthed, at Archie
Kennedy.

"Dear God," he said, "Am I seeing a ghost?"

"Not a ghost, Arturo. This is Lieutenant Archie Kennedy of His
Majesty's Navy ­ and Tony's cousin."

Arturo shook Archie's hand, his eyes never leaving the young man's
face.

"Do you have any idea how much you resemble your cousin?" he asked.

"Rene," he called, "quickly, you've got to see this young man!"

"It's more than just a resemblance, though," Arturo continued, "you
could be his twin brother!"

"So I've been told, Signore Mazzerini," Archie replied, "and I
consider it one of the highest compliments I've ever received."

"And this," Percy said, taking Arturo's arm, "is Acting Lieutenant
Marc Jeffers, also of His Majesty's Navy."

At that moment, Rene Planchet entered the room. Percy introduced
both of the young officers to him; Planchet also staring at Archie,
unable to believe that he was not, in fact, facing Lord Antony
Dewhurst.

"Gentlemen," Percy continued, as Arturo led them to his sitting
room, "we need your help. I do not have to remind you what will
happen if you are caught aiding us."

"What do you need, old friend? Ask, and it is yours, no matter the
risk," Arturo said, "you know that."

Percy bowed slightly.

"My thanks," he said. "The request is two-fold. I shall let Mr.
Kennedy explain and then I shall tell you what we require."

Archie proceeded to explain his past espionage activities and how he
had come to be in the service of General Le Comte de Favreau.

"We'd heard he and Madame Le Comtessa had been arrested," Planchet
said.

Archie nodded and went on to explain the mission that would be
undertaken to rescue the Count and Countess from the island fortress
on Corsica.

"I shall sail for Corsica," he said, "with Mr. Jeffers in the guise
of an Imperial Guard. The story we shall tell the Commandant of the
Ajaccio fortress is that I, as Lieutenant Paul Dubois, have been
held prisoner in England these last months. We shall relate my
recent escape and return to Paris.
"We shall then present the Commandant with orders for the release
and immediate return to France of the Count and Countess ­ a full
pardon given to them. To assure the swift execution of these orders,
the Emperor has commanded the attendance of one of his trusted
Imperial Guard."

Archie then explained that once their release had been secured, he
and Marc would take the Count and Countess aboard a French ship now
under English naval command. They would sail for England, where
Madame de Favreau would be reunited with her family.

"A bold plan," Rene Planchet said, running his fingers through his
short, curly red hair.

"Indeed," agreed Arturo, "one equal to that of the Scarlet Pimpernel
himself. Now, Sir Percy, tell us what it is you require of us."

"First, Rene," Percy said, "we shall need a uniform of the Imperial
Guard for Mr. Jeffers."

"Of course," Planchet replied. "Mr. Jeffers, if you will follow me,
sir, we shall take your measurements. This way. . . . ."

He led Marc through an archway and into a small bedroom.

"And Arturo," Percy said, "I have need of your special talent."

"Name it, milord."

"We'll need the orders, as well as the pardon ­ all signed by the
Emperor himself. Can you manage it?"

"Is the Pope Catholic?" Arturo laughed, waving his hand to indicate
this was mere child's play.

"As once Chauvelin's signature was my masterpiece," he continued, "now,
His Excellency's has become so. And as it happens I am painting the
portrait of the lovely Empress Josephine just now, I have access to
documents that have already been printed. All I need do is fill in the
blank spaces and sign them ­ all in his own hand ­ so to speak."

Arturo laughed again as Percy clapped his hands together.

"Excellent!"


Percy stood as Marc Jeffers and Rene Planchet returned to the sitting
room ­ Rene writing on a small piece of paper.

"How long, my dear Monsieur Planchet, until the uniform is
completed?" he asked.

"A fortnight, milord," Rene replied, "no more."

Percy looked over at Arturo ­ the older man nodding his head in
satisfaction.

"More than enough time, dear friend," he said.

"We return in a fortnight, then," Percy said, "and once again,
gentlemen, my sincere thanks."

Percy shook hands with Planchet and then turned to Arturo Mazzerini.
The big man grabbed him in a bear hug, before turning to Archie,
shaking his head in amazement once again.

"It is truly astonishing," he said. "I see so much of him in you."

Archie inclined his head, touched, as always, by the comparison with
his cousin.

"Thank you," he said, his blue eyes glowing. "And may I add my humble
thanks to those of Sir Percy."

Archie knew the grave risk these men were taking to aid with the
rescue attempt.

"I am most grateful ­ and I assure you, I shall not forget it."

Chapter 16

Commodore Pellew sat staring out the window; a stack of paperwork
placed neatly on the desk in front of him. All of it required
reading, or his signature, but Pellew could not rouse himself to do
either. Instead, he sat watching the traffic on the street, his mind
occupied by thoughts of his sister-in-law and her husband.

Although Jean-Luc was a Frenchman, Pellew respected, even
admired the man ­ always had. He was a brilliant military strategist; a
true officer, and a gentleman. But beyond that, he was a decent and
caring man. Pellew sighed, thinking how rare that combination was
these days.

"Dammit, Edward," he swore softly, "admit it, you like the man."

Glancing down at his desk, he picked up a paper that lay apart from
the others. It was the reason for the air of melancholy that
surrounded him. The report had arrived only this morning, marked for
his eyes only. He had, of course, been expecting it ­ the response
from the operative in Ajaccio. Quickly he scanned it again, picking
out the salient facts.

. . . . .General Le Comte de Favreau and wife still alive. . . . .

. . . . .no trial set as yet. . . . .speculation is that Emperor
too involved with overseeing the shipbuilding project to be
concerned with other matters at present. . . . .

"The arrogant little bastard would be," thought Pellew.

Still, it was something for which he could be grateful.

. . . . .health of the General of some concern. . . . .suggest
action is taken soonest. . . . .

And therein lay the cause of Pellew's anxiety. No mention of why
Jean-Luc's health was of concern, although he vaguely remembered Jeanette
saying that Madeline had been worried about her husband's heart. At
least they were both still alive ­ he could be thankful for that much.


Folding the report, he placed it in the pocket of his uniform
jacket. He would have need of it this afternoon. After that, he
would burn it. They had managed to operate in total secrecy thus
far. It would not due to take any unnecessary chances, such as the
report finding its way to Hood's office ­ especially now, with the
the end so close at hand.

Pellew looked up at his ship's clock. It was time ­ they would be
expecting him. Rising, he picked up his hat, opened the door, and
stepped into the outer office. St. James was at his desk, head bent
over some paperwork.

"Mr. St. James," Pellew said, causing the young man to look up and
begin to stand.

Pellew waved him back into his chair and continued.

"I shall be gone for several hours. You know what to say should
anyone have need of me."

"Aye, sir," answered the young Lieutenant. "However, you might want
to have a look at this before you go. It could prove useful."

He handed Pellew the report he'd been reading. It was from Commander
Hornblower. The Commodore smiled as he read it.

"Thank you, Mr. St. James," he said, "it will, indeed."

********************************************************************************

The repairs were now finished; the refit complete. As he walked the
length of the ship, Horatio noted that the Calais looked much as
she had when he'd first come aboard. Only surface repairs to the
damage she'd sustained during her brief skirmish with the
Indefatigable had been made ­ the idea being to keep her as close
as possible to what she had been before ­ part of the subterfuge
for the mission she was about to undertake. The only new equipment
she boasted was her yardarm, sails and rigging. She would undergo a
complete refit and be repainted as befitted a proper English naval
vessel once they returned from Corsica.

"And done a full three weeks ahead of schedule," Horatio thought,
smiling as he anticipated the effect this news would have on
Commodore Pellew.

It was a smile of intense satisfaction for a job well done. It was
also a smile that held a great deal of gratitude for the combined
efforts of Matthews and Hobbs. The two men had done a superb job in
managing the work of the crew, as well as in securing the needed
supplies for the repairs.

"I could not have done this without either of them."

Looking up, Horatio spied Hobbs inspecting the deck guns once again,
Matthews at his side. The two men seemed to have forged a friendship
based on mutual respect. Horatio made his way to where they stood ­
at starboard mid-ships.

"Gentlemen," he said, "a word if you please."

Both men looked up at the same moment ­ Hobbs stiffening to the
rigid attention stance that was his habit whenever the Captain was
near, and Matthews knuckling his forehead in salute.

"Aye, sir," came their response, in unison.

"I wanted to convey my compliments to you both," Horatio said. "The
job you have done in overseeing the repairs to Calais is nothing
short of remarkable. I am truly grateful for your efforts and your
hard work."

He held out his hand ­ first to the Gunner. Hobbs hesitated for an
instant, as if unsure how to respond, then took the proffered hand.
He said nothing, merely nodded as he shook his captain's hand.
Turning to Matthews, Horatio again held out his hand. Matthews
grasped it without hesitation, a smile wreathing his weathered face.

"It's a right pleasure, as always," he said, "serving wi' ye aboard
any ship, sir."

Horatio inclined his head at the compliment and continued.

"I am honored to have both of you aboard."

"I trust," he said, with a pointed look at Hobbs, "with the work
completed, you will take full advantage of the shore leave granted
the crew this evening. Only the duty watch is required, and I am
fully aware that neither of you are on that watch tonight."

"Aye, sir," Matthews replied with a grin, "we BOTH will ­ that I
can promise ye."
Nodding in satisfaction, Horatio turned to go. He'd only taken a few
steps before he turned back.

"Mr. Matthews ­ Mr. Hobbs," he said with a smile, "I shall hold you
to that promise."

********************************************************************************

They had decided to meet at The White Stag. Situated in the midst
of London's central business district, it was far enough away from
the Admiralty so that they could meet in relative privacy ­
unobserved by prying eyes.

The inn was typical of many in that part of London. Decidedly
masculine, with dark paneling throughout, it had a row of deep
booths designed for confidential conversation along one wall. A huge
stone fireplace, its hearth empty on this warm September afternoon,
dominated the other. Tables and chairs of the same dark wood as the
paneling were scattered throughout the room.

As Pellew entered, pausing to allow his eyes to adjust to the dim
light, he saw a hand raised from one of the booths. A moment later,
Archie Kennedy stood. Pellew suppressed a smile as he approached,
noting the blonde moustache that now adorned Archie's upper lip.

"Well, Mr. Kennedy," the Commodore said dryly as he took a seat,
"You look, how shall I say this, different."

"Thank you, sir," Archie smiled and sat down. "I am happy to have
your approval."

The Commodore looked across the table at the young man seated next
to Archie. Marc Jeffers now sported a short beard ­ the color the
same wheat gold as his hair. He was a handsome enough lad when
clean-shaven, though he appeared younger than his 23 years. The
beard, however, gave him a presence ­ a newfound maturity that
was undeniable. Pellew nodded, well pleased.

"Have you news, Commodore?" Archie inquired.

"Indeed I do, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew answered, reaching into his
jacket pocket. "From Corsica, as well as Commander Hornblower."

"The word is good, sir?" The question came from Jeffers.

"I shall let you be the judge of that, Mr. Jeffers."

Pellew handed both reports to Archie. As he did so, the serving girl
appeared, lunch on a tray. When she'd gone, Archie read through the
first report. He frowned slightly.

"His Excellency's health, sir?" he asked, looking up at the
Commodore, concern for Jean-Luc etched on his face.

"We shall just have to hope for the best, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew
replied.

Archie nodded and began reading the report from Horatio. When he
finished, he handed both to Marc Jeffers and looked up at the
Commodore, a wide grin on his handsome face. Horatio's report ­
this was the news they'd been waiting to receive.

"Everything is now ready, sir," he said as Jeffers finished reading
the reports and returned them to Pellew. "We've the documents and
the uniforms ­ Calais is ready ­ when do we leave, sir?"

"St. James will bring your orders this afternoon," Pellew said,
"directing you to report to Commander Hornblower and the Calais
tomorrow. You sail for Corsica the following day."

When he'd finished speaking, Pellew held both reports over the flame
of the candle on the table, watching as they turned to ash. Picking
up his fork, he began eating with an appetite he'd not had since
this business had begun. Archie and Marc Jeffers followed suit ­
all three busy with their own thoughts. When they'd finished, Pellew
stood up, the two young officers rising with him.

"Gentlemen," he said, his voice oddly gentle, "a safe voyage ­ and
Godspeed."

Chapter 17

"When do you leave?" she asked, the soft voice trembling only
slightly.

She would not look directly at him ­ could not, in fact. It was too
much. Those eyes ­ she would almost certainly drown within their
blue depths if she did so. Instead, she hid her face against his
chest, feeling the quiet beat of his heart. He'd not even left her
side, much less sailed, and yet, already she missed him.

"No," she thought, "that's not entirely true."

He would be gone no more than two weeks, after all, perhaps a bit
longer if the weather turned against them. It was just that ­ there
was so much that could go wrong with this mission ­ and she was
afraid. Yes, that was it. True, she would miss him, but it was more
her fear than anything else ­ her fear for HIM.

"Tomorrow, at first light," he answered, interrupting her thoughts.
"Kate, look at me, please."

Gently he placed his fingers beneath her chin, raising her head so
that her green eyes met his. He saw the tears that glistened in
them, making them look more like emeralds than ever. She bit her
lower lip, a single tear escaping to roll forlornly down her cheek ­
and Archie smiled.

"It will be all right," he whispered, tenderly reaching up to wipe
the tear from her face.

Covering his hand with her own, she pressed her lips to his palm.

"I know," she said, "and I'm being a perfect goose, but. . . . ."

Her voice broke and she could not finish. Her eyes searched his face
for some sign that he understood. This was all so new to her. She had
never loved before ­ never allowed herself to feel anything at all.
The concept of loving, and being loved in return, was foreign
to her being ­ until now.

"I will come back," he said, smiling down at her. "We've planned for
every contingency ­ every situation. Nothing will go wrong,
you'll see."

"You almost make me believe it."
"Then you must, my love. With all your heart, you must believe."

Archie bent down, his lips hungrily seeking hers ­ the kiss between
them deep, passionate and full of the longing they both felt.

"I must go," he said when it had ended. "I love you, Kathleen
Riley ­ hold on to that."

"As I love you," she replied, smiling up at him, "with every fiber
of my being."

Together they walked to the door. She watched as he made his way to
the wide boulevard beyond the tiny front lawn.

"Archie," she called, and he stopped, turning once more to her.

"Before you return," she said, "you WILL be rid of that moustache!"

"Thy wish is my command, fair lady," he laughed, bowing to her.

She blew him a kiss as he turned once more for the street.

********************************************************************************

It was early afternoon as the coach pulled to a stop along the
jetty; a steady, light September rain tapping softly on its roof.
Opening the door, Marc Jeffers jumped down.

"Portsmouth at last," he thought, reaching up to retrieve the small
valise he'd brought. "Now it begins in earnest."

He walked to the end of the jetty; his movements lithe and graceful.
He turned as Archie stepped from the coach, his own baggage in hand.
They stood together, watching as a launch rowed steadily toward
them.

"Is that Matthews at the tiller, sir?" Jeffers asked, peering
through the misty drizzle that continued to fall.

Archie nodded, his face beaming.

"Indeed it is, Marc," he answered with delight.


"Ahoy, Mr. Matthews," he called as the small boat drew alongside the
jetty. "You are certainly a most welcome sight on this dreary
afternoon."

"Thankee sir," Matthews called back. "It's a real pleasure seein' ye
again. And you too, Mr. Jeffers, sir ­ though I hardly recognized ye."

Archie laughed aloud as a blush crept slowly up the young Acting
Lieutenant's face.

"An improvement, wouldn't you say, Mr. Matthews?"

"Well, I wouldna' go that far, sir ­ but 'tis different ­ I'll grant
ye that."

"Cap'n said to bring ye right out," the Bosun continued, "so if you
gents will just step aboard, we can be on our way."

The two officers climbed into the launch, settling themselves next
to Matthews at the tiller. As they rowed toward the Calais,
Matthews told them of the repairs that had been made to her.

"I can't understand it," he said, shaking his head, "but it were
only surface repairs we made to 'er ­ not a proper refit a'tall.
Why, we didn't even repaint 'er or change the name. But those were
Commander Hornblower's orders, so we done it."

As he finished speaking, the launch arrived at the ship. Climbing
aboard, Archie could not keep from smiling. Even with only surface
repairs made to her, Calais was still beautiful. Spying Horatio
at the port railing, Archie stopped, his hand raised in salute.

"Come aboard, sir," he said.

"By all means, Mr. Kennedy," Horatio answered. "And may I say,
sir ­ I really hate that moustache!"

Archie laughed heartily. At the sound of that laugh, a familiar
figure looked up from the cannon he'd been inspecting. Archie smiled
as Hobbs stared back at him, a look of utter disbelief on his face.

"I believe Mr. Hobbs thinks he's seen a ghost," Horatio whispered to
Archie, a grin spreading across his thin, handsome face. "Perhaps
you'd best reassure him that you're real."

"Mr. Hobbs," Archie said, "it is good to see you again."

"M-m-m-mister Kennedy, sir," Hobbs stammered, "I am. . . . . ."

"Let me see ­ shocked? Stunned? Surprised? Flabbergasted?"

"All right, Archie," Horatio laughed, "that's enough."

Archie held out his hand to the Gunner. Hobbs looked at it for just
an instant before grasping it.

"I apologize, sir," he said, shaking the hand in his. "I'd heard the
news, of course; that you were alive. How your death had been faked
so that you could accept an assignment to spy in France; as well as
the mission that led to the discovery and thwarting of the
assassination attempt on Admiral Nelson and your reinstatement into
the Navy. I, well, I guess I never really believed any of it ­ until
now."

"That's all right, Mr. Hobbs," Archie said, "many people had
much the same reaction when they saw me for the first time after my
'death' ­ even my sister."

"Your sister, sir? Mrs. MacKenzie knew you were alive?"

"She did. But not when you saw her in Kingston," Archie replied.

Hobbs looked at Archie, an unspoken question in his pale blue eyes.

"Yes, Mr. Hobbs," Archie nodded. "She told me the story of how you
met."

"And I must thank you," he continued, sapphire eyes twinkling, "for
your kind gesture in looking after my grave."

"Do you know, sir," and Hobbs gave Archie a rare smile, "she said
exactly the same thing to me the day we met. And if I may say so,
sir ­ Mrs. MacKenzie was quite a woman."

"Indeed, Mr. Hobbs," Archie said, smiling gently, "she was that."

********************************************************************************

The study was dark; the only light coming from the fire burning low
in the hearth.
The Commodore sat in a chair, brandy glass in hand,
pensively staring into the flames. A sigh escaped his lips just as
the door opened.

"I thought you might be here," Jeanette said, coming to stand beside
his chair, her hand resting on his shoulder. "You're worried about
them, aren't you, Edward?"

Pellew reached up and took his wife's hand, bringing it to his lips.

"They sail tomorrow," he answered. "But, it's not only them I'm
worried about, my love. I know that Mr. Kennedy's plan is a sound
one ­ and he, Mr. Jeffers, and Commander Hornblower are all
extremely capable officers. And yet. . . . ."

He paused for a moment ­ another sigh escaping him.

"What is it, dearest? What has you so worried?"

"We've planned for everything," he said, speaking as if to himself,
"or so it would seem. But what if we haven't? Dear God, Jen, what if
there's something we've forgotten?"

"If this should fail," he continued, "it's not just their lives, but
Madeline's and Jean-Luc's as well."

Jeanette said nothing. She knew he was thinking of Muzillac. Nothing
had been forgotten then either ­ except for the fact that the French
Republicans had stolen the plans for the coming assault. No ­ it had
not exactly been forgotten. Edward had been ordered by Admiral
Lord Hood himself not to say anything ­ and countless lives
had been lost. He hadn't been at fault, yet she knew he still
blamed himself. Kneeling beside his chair, she looked up into his
eyes, the depth of her love for him shining through her own.

"Trust in the men you've chosen, Edward," she said softly. "They're
good men; they'll return safely ­ ALL of them ."

********************************************************************************

He could not sleep, and so he paced the floor ­ coming, at last, to
stand in front of the window. He looked out, noting the myriad stars
that gleamed brightly in the night sky. Without even being aware he
was doing so, William Bush began picking out the constellations.
So absorbed was he in this pursuit that he didn't hear Emily rise ­ was
not even aware she was awake until he felt her arms go around him.

"Are you just going to stare out the window all night?" she asked,
looking up at him. "Or perhaps, you plan to continue trying to wear
a hole in the bedroom floor?"

"I'm sorry," he said, "I didn't mean to wake you."

"So, do you plan to count them all?" Emily pointed to the stars.

"Actually," he answered, "I was looking at the constellations. See,
that one there is Cassiopeia. Over there is Draco; there's
Hercules; and that one is Pisces.

"And what is that one there?"

"Ah, that one," he said, a mischievous light in his blue eyes, "that
is Virgo, the Virgin."

"Now, do you see the small one over there?" he continued, pointing
to a tiny star shining next to the full moon. "That is called 'Sarah
Abigail'."

"Sarah Abigail?" Emily was puzzled. "I've never heard of a
constellation being made up of a single star, much less, one with an
English name. Constellations usually have Greek names, do they not?"

"Yes my love, they do," William replied. "However, this is not a
constellation. It's just a star, as you can see. But it is one that
I have taken the liberty of naming for our child ­ 'Sarah Abigail'.
Sarah after your mother. . . . ."

". . . . .and Abigail for Archie's sister," she finished. "Oh, William ­
Sarah Abigail is a lovely name!"

"It's all right, then ­ you truly like the name?"

"Of course," she said her voice filled with tender emotion, "and our
daughter will, too."

"Now," she continued, "if you've finished with your contemplation of
the heavens, as well as worrying about Horatio and Archie, will you
please come back to bed?"


William shook his head; amazed, as always, at how well she knew him.

"They sail for Corsica in the morning," he said.

"I know," she said, "and you want to be with them. But before you
know it, William, they will be home. Believe in that."

"I do," he replied, leaning down to kiss her lips.

They lingered in that kiss for what seemed an eternity until William
broke away.

"Come, Mrs. Bush, you need your rest."

Laughing, he lifted Emily into his arms, carrying her back to the
bed.


Chapter 18

1 October
0800 ­ Arrived Corsica. Weather fair.
0830 ­ Mission proceeding as planned
Second Lieutenant Kennedy and Acting
Lieutenant Jeffers gone ashore.
Awaiting their return.

"And pray God it's soon," Horatio thought as he finished writing.

Closing the logbook, he leaned back in his chair, his mind going
over the mission for what seemed the hundredth time that morning.

They'd left Portsmouth a week ago ­ a cloudless blue sky overhead
and a strong wind at their backs. Taking no chances, Horatio had
plotted a course due south from Portsmouth to Gibraltar; then east,
through the Strait and into the Mediterranean Sea. Once they'd passed
Gibraltar itself, he'd ordered the British ensign lowered; the
French colors raised in its place. All of the crew, as well as
Horatio himself, now sported the uniform of the French Navy. They
would continue to do so until the Count and Countess were safely
aboard, and the ship once more bound for England.

As they'd dropped anchor this morning off the island of Corsica,
Archie came above decks, Jeffers behind. They were dressed in French
Army uniforms ­ Archie's looking worn and somewhat threadbare.
Marc Jeffers, on the other hand, looked positively resplendent in the
uniform of the Imperial Guard. It fitted his muscular physique
perfectly ­ the gold braid and epaulettes dazzling in the early
morning sunlight.

"The boat stands ready, Mr. Kennedy," Horatio said as the two men
approached him, still conversing in the French they'd employed for
the entire voyage.

"Thank you sir," Archie replied.

Turning to the crew of the small launch, he began to give final
instructions.

"The Corsicans do not like strangers," he said, "so it is highly
unlikely you will have any contact with them while ashore."


"However," Horatio took over the briefing at that point, "should
any member of the French army quartered at the garrison question
you, you are to allow Mr. Beckett to respond. He is fluent in
French and fully briefed on the responses he is to give. There
is to be NO communication with the French ­ under any
circumstances. Is that clear?"

"Aye, aye Cap'n," came a chorus of voices.

As the launch was lowered and the men boarded, Horatio turned to
Archie, his dark eyes solemn.

"I want you ­ and young Jeffers," he said, "back aboard as quickly
as possible; and in one piece if you please."

"Aye sir," Archie replied.

Lowering his voice so that only his friend would hear, Archie went
on.

"Try not to worry, Horatio. Success or failure ­ we've an even chance."

Horatio started at those words. They had been his own so very long
ago. The words he'd used to describe his chances of surviving the
duel to which he'd challenged Jack Simpson.

"Mr. Kennedy," he said, smiling though his eyes remained somber,
"that is an order!"

"Then I shall, to the best of my ability, endeavor to follow it
sir," and Archie smiled in return as he climbed over the side and
into the waiting boat.

********************************************************************************

Madeline stood at the window, gazing out at the sea beyond. It had
become her habit these last two months, as essential to her being as
eating and sleeping. Today, though, as she looked out, a sense of
foreboding filled her soul. She noted the ship that now lay at
anchor, as well as the launch rowing to shore. There was no point
telling herself that her eyes deceived her ­ she knew it was a
French ship out there.


"Well," she thought, watching the tiny boat grow larger as it neared
the shore, "you knew this day would come ­ sooner or later. Be
truthful, Madeline. You've been expecting it since the day you were
brought here."

She left the window, pacing the tiny cell. Oddly, she was not
afraid. It was almost a relief. She stopped the pacing, sitting in
her chair ­ her thoughts turning to Jean-Luc. They'd had so many
years together ­ so much love. Fond memories washed over her like a
gentle rain. She recalled the first time they'd met ­ the ball at
Carlton House to celebrate His Majesty's birthday. He'd been a
dashing young lieutenant then: attaché to the French ambassador.
She'd been smitten at once with his dark good looks; the faded blue
eyes that seemed to look directly into her soul. They'd danced all
night; those eyes never leaving her face. And Madeline Maitland ­
the center of the universe for a coterie of adoring young men ­ the
belle of so many balls ­ had fallen totally, completely and hopelessly
in love that very night. Never had she regretted doing so ­ even now.

Abruptly she was jolted from her memories as a key sounded in the
lock. A guard stood in the open doorway.

"You will come with me please, Madame," he said.

Nodding, Madeline rose from the chair and followed him out of the
tiny cell.

********************************************************************************

Colonel Jean-Pierre Valmont perused the papers in front of him,
casting an admiring glance once more at the young lieutenant now
seated in his office. He was a small man ­ as round as he was tall ­
rotund, one might say. He had large black eyes that blinked
intermittently as he read, and a tiny bow of a mouth, adorned with a
black moustache, its ends curled round. A pair of pince-nez sat
perched on the end of his nose as he read. Looking at him, Archie
was reminded of a barn owl he and Tony had once found in the stables
at Dewhurst Park and fought the urge to laugh aloud as that image
filled his mind.

"A terrible ordeal for you, my dear Lieutenant Dubois," Valmont
said, shaking his head sadly as he finished reading the papers. "To
be imprisoned for. . . . .how long was it again?"

"Six months sir," Archie replied calmly.

"Ah, yes. And then ­ your daring escape ­ the subsequent return to
Paris. Mon Dieu, what you must have endured!"

Archie bowed his head, a self-deprecating smile on his face.

"You are to be commended, Lieutenant," Valmont continued. "Such
tenacity; such valor! It is an honor, indeed, for me to have you
here."

"Tell me, Colonel Valmont," Jeffers interjected, his voice subdued
yet filled with arrogance. "Now that you've been entertained, yet
again, with the exploits of our heroic Lieutenant Dubois, perhaps we
may return to the matter at hand."

He waved a negligent hand at the papers Valmont had returned to the
desk. He was every inch the haughty Imperial Guard Captain, all but
sneering at the diminutive figure in the colonel's uniform seated
behind the desk.

"Specifically," he continued, "the release of Le Comte and Le
Comtessa de Favreau. I cannot impress upon you enough the urgency
this matter requires. His Excellency is adamant they are to be returned to
France as soon as possible. Amends must be made for the terrible
injustice done to them, and the Emperor intends that he will be the
one to do so."

"Of course, Captain Gervais," replied the Colonel, his tone
placating, "of course. I did not mean to detain you unnecessarily.
It is not often, however, one has an opportunity to meet a true
hero of France."

"I understand, Colonel. However, Le Comte and his wife, if you please."

"They are on their way even as we speak, Captain."

Just as he finished, a knock came at the office door.

"Ah," the Colonel said, clapping his hands together in satisfaction
and rising from his chair. "You see, my dear Captain Gervais,
here they are now."

Archie and Marc turned and rose from their seats as one.

"Monsieur Le Comte," Valmont began as Jean-Luc and Madeline were
ushered into the room, "a happy day. . . . ."
Jean-Luc, however, was not listening. He stared at the young blonde
lieutenant now facing him, his throat working convulsively. Archie
smiled up at the older man.

"Hello Excellency," he said his voice oddly gentle. "Madame de
Favreau."

"Dear God," whispered Madeline, "is it really you?"

"Paul," was all Jean-Luc could manage before his self-control broke
and he pulled Archie into his embrace, tears spilling from the faded
blue eyes. Archie returned that embrace, well aware of the tears in
his own eyes. At that moment, Jeffers cleared his throat.

"I hate to intrude on your reunion, Excellency," he said addressing
Jean-Luc, "but we must be going. You are expected in Paris."

Jean-Luc pulled away from Archie, his gaze turning to the man who'd
spoken. He recognized the uniform ­ a Captain of the Imperial
Guard. He said nothing, merely nodded.

"Please, Monsieur Le Comte," Valmont said, walking to his desk and
picking up the forged documents, "I am afraid you misunderstand the
Captain. He and Lieutenant Dubois have come this very day to
return you to Paris ­ but not for the reason you imagine."

"A grave injustice has been done," he continued, "one the Emperor
himself commands be rectified immediately."

Jean-Luc still said nothing, merely raised his eyebrow and waited
for the little man to go on.

"Captain Gervais and Lieutenant Dubois have brought me orders for
your immediate release, and that of Madame de Favreau as well. And. . . . .
a pardon, Excellency."

As he finished speaking, Valmont handed Jean-Luc the document.
Jean-Luc gave it only a cursory glance. Reaching out, he took
Madeline's hand, his arm going around her.

"Excellency ­ Madam," Jeffers said, "if you are ready, we should
be going. And Colonel Valmont. . . . ."


Jeffers looked at the Colonel, who was beaming happily.

". . . . .I shall be sure to tell His Excellency of the invaluable
assistance you have given to us in this matter."

"Merci, Captain Gervais, merci."


Chapter 19

"Sir," Hobbs said as he strode across the deck to where his captain
stood. "The boat's returning."

Horatio put down the telescope he'd been using to scan the blue
waters of the Mediterranean and turned to the man now standing
rigidly at his side. He hid the smile that rose, unbidden, to his
lips. He'd gotten used to seeing that stance; had come to expect it, in
fact.

"Thank you, Mr. Hobbs," he responded, relief reflected in his eyes.
"Your news is most welcome. Especially now, as I believe we are
about to have company."

As he spoke, Horatio handed his glass to Hobbs. The Gunner raised it
to his eye, peering in the direction Horatio had indicated, a sharp
breath hissing through his teeth.

"French, sir?"

"In all likelihood, Mr. Hobbs. And as I've no wish to try and
explain our presence here, best we be ready to sail as soon as the
launch arrives and our guests are aboard."

"Aye, sir."

As Hobbs moved off to check his guns and crew, Horatio heard a
slight thud ­ the unmistakable sound of the launch as it came
alongside Calais. He watched as bow and stern lines were thrown
over the side, expertly caught in the waiting hands of two crewmen.
Making his way to the port rail, he stood patiently as Jean-Luc, Le
Comte de Favreau, came aboard.

"Your Excellency," Horatio addressed the older man, his French
fluent and idiomatic, "welcome aboard the Calais."

"Merci, Captain," JeanLuc nodded at the young captain, then glanced
up as a small swing came inboard, Madeline seated in the middle. "It
is good to be here ­ and to be returning, at last, to France."

"My wife, Le Comtessa de Favreau," he added, helping Madeline from
the swing. "My dear, the Captain of the Calais."


Madeline stepped down and took her husband's arm. She stared at
Horatio, recognition evident in her blue eyes. Before she could
speak, however, Archie and Marc Jeffers came over the side,
followed by the remaining members of the boat crew.

"Gentlemen," Horatio said, "I am extremely pleased that your mission
was a success ­ and that you've both returned safely."

"However," he continued, pointing to the sails just visible to
starboard, "I think it prudent that we get underway as quickly as
possible. Mr. Jeffers ­ if you will man the capstan, please. Mr.
Beckett?"

"Aye sir."

"If you would be so kind, Excellency," Horatio said, turning to
Jean-Luc and indicating the young officer at his side, "as to follow
Mr. Beckett. He will escort you and Madame de Favreau to my cabin. I
believe you will be more comfortable there."

Jean-Luc's eyes darted from one officer to another ­ finally coming
to rest on the man he knew as Paul Dubois.

"What is the meaning of this, Paul?" he asked. "These men are
English?!"

"As am I, Excellency," Archie answered softly, "and I shall explain
everything once we've sailed, I promise. However, your safety is of
paramount importance just now, so I would ask that you do as
Commander Hornblower says and allow Mr. Beckett to escort you to his
cabin."

Archie looked from Jean-Luc to Madeline, his blue eyes appealing to
her to intervene. Her own met his, and she nodded imperceptibly.

"Come, my love," she said, "Paul is right. We should leave and allow
these men to get on with their work."

"Mr. Beckett," she went on, nodding at the young midshipman, "if you
will be kind enough to show us the way."


"Of course, Madame," and Beckett led the couple below.

********************************************************************************

Colonel Jean-Pierre Valmont, Commandant of His Excellency's fortress
in Ajaccio, was well pleased with himself. Had he not, after all,
handled the release of Le Comte de Favreau and his wife with the
utmost expedition? Indeed, had not Captain Gervais said as much ­
assuring Jean-Pierre that he, himself, would relay this information
to the Emperor.

"You'll be a general before you know it, Jean-Pierre," the little man
thought, smiling broadly as he rubbed his hands together in
anticipation of his good fortune.

A knock at the door interrupted these very pleasant thoughts and he
sighed. Time to return to the dull routine of command.

"Come," he called. "Yes ­ what is it Desgas?"

My apologies for disturbing you, Colonel," said his aide, peering
inside, "but you have visitors. A Colonel Etienne de Tournay and his
aide, Captain LeBlanc, of the Imperial Guard, sir."

Valmont stirred uncomfortably. This was most unusual ­ to be
visited twice in the same day by members of His Excellency's most
trusted and loyal soldiers. But no matter ­ he would receive them.

"Very well, Desgas," he replied, "show them in, please. We must not
keep our honored guests waiting unnecessarily."

Desgas nodded, opening the door wide to admit the two men.

Colonel Etienne de Tournay was a dark, saturnine man in his early
forties ­ dapper and urbane. He was impeccably dressed; the uniform
he wore molded to his slender form ­ boots polished to a mirrored sheen.
In contrast, Captain LeBlanc was short, barrel-chested with a
thick, corded neck ­ a bull of a man. Like de Tournay, however, his
uniform was above reproach. One did not have to look down to know
that the boots would be the same. Valmont swallowed nervously,
rising from his chair.

"Colonel de Tournay ­ Captain LeBlanc," he said, "welcome. What may
I do for you gentlemen?"

"Colonel Valmont," de Tournay answered. "We have come with orders
from His Excellency, Emperor Napoleon, to bring the former Le Comte
de Favreau and his wife back to Paris. They are to stand trial for
crimes against the state; their execution to take place immediately
after."

As he finished speaking, de Tournay reached into the jacket of his
immaculate uniform, removed a document and slid it across the desk.

"Your pardon, Colonel," Jean-Pierre said as he picked up the paper,
broke the seal and read the brief missive. "I am afraid I'm
confused. There seems to be some mistake."

"What sort of mistake, Colonel Valmont?" de Tournay asked, a languid
smile appearing on his thin lips.

There was something innately evil about that smile, and Jean-Pierre
Valmont shuddered inwardly. It had all the warmth of a predator
playing with its prey.

"Not three hours ago," he replied, "I received orders from Emperor
Napoleon instructing me to release Le Comte and Le Comtessa de
Favreau to the emissaries he'd sent. They were to be returned to
Paris at once ­ a full pardon and restitution given by His
Excellency."

"I am afraid," he finished, handing de Tournay the orders he'd
received from Marc Jeffers, as well as the ones he'd just read,
"they are gone, sir."

"Must've been the sails we saw earlier, sir," LeBlanc spoke for the
first time since their arrival.

"And these 'emissaries' from His Excellency," de Tournay nodded at
LeBlanc's comment, then turned back to Jean-Pierre, "who were they?"

"A member of the Imperial Guard, like yourself and Captain
LeBlanc ­ and a true hero of France."

"Their names, Valmont," de Tournay hissed. "What were their names?"

"Captain Marcel Gervais," Jean-Pierre replied, his voice shaking,
"and Lieutenant Paul Dubois, the former aide to Le Comte de Favreau,
imprisoned in England these last months and only recently escaped.
They arrived aboard a ship called the Calais."

"Indeed. A Captain Gervais, you said ­ the Calais?"

Again the languid smile appeared on de Tournay's face. He turned to
LeBlanc.

"Tell me, Captain LeBlanc," he said, "what was the fate of the
Calais?"

"Captured by the English, Colonel," LeBlanc responded. "over a month
ago."

"And this Captain Marcel Gervais. Are you aware of an Imperial
Guardsman by that name?"

"No sir ­ I am not."

He snickered as de Tournay shook his head sadly, a sigh that was
pure theater coming from him.

"You see, my dear Colonel Valmont," he said, relishing the fear now
evident on Jean-Pierre's face, "there is NO Captain Marcel Gervais
in the Imperial Guard. And as for the Calais, well, you heard
for yourself."

"B-b-but Colonel de Tournay" Valmont stammered, "you must
understand. . . . .these men. . . . .I had no cause to doubt their
word. . . . ."

"Of course, of course," de Tournay purred. "Alas, though, as you
yourself said, Colonel Valmont, a mistake has been made ­ and
made by you."

"But," he continued, "it is of no consequence. You see, it can be
easily rectified."

"Yes, Colonel de Tournay, of course. However, I don't see how that's
possible? These men ­ they must be long gone by now ­ and to
where?"

"A dilemma, my dear Colonel Valmount," de Tournay answered.
"However, I believe I have a solution."

He rose, LeBlanc with him.


"Colonel Jean-Pierre Valmont," he said, his voice hard and cold,
"you are under arrest for treason against His Excellency, Napoleon I.
You will return with us to Paris ­ there to face trial and
execution for your crime."

 


Chapter 20

Once again she flew the British ensign; her crew back in proper
uniform. As evening fell, the Calais slid silently through the
open waters of the Atlantic Ocean ­ bound for England. In the
Captain's cabin, Archie stood at the window, staring out at the
setting sun. Behind him, Jean-Luc and Madeline de Favreau waited.

"My name is Archie Kennedy," he said, the voice soft and filled with
quiet dignity.

Turning to face them, he continued.

"I am, and have been, even during my time in France, a Lieutenant in
His Majesty's Navy."

"Dear God," Madeline gasped, her eyes widening with the shock of
recognition, "YOU'RE Abby's brother!"

"Are you saying. . . . ." Jean-Luc interrupted, rising from his
chair.

". . . . .that I deceived you, Excellency?" Archie finished. "Yes ­
I am. That deception was part of my assignment."

Jean-Luc drew himself up to his full height, hands clasped tightly
behind him. His faded blue eyes, once warm and full of life, now
turned glacial and hard as he stared at the young man standing
before him.

"And this assignment was. . . . .what?" he asked, every inch the
aristocrat his birthright proclaimed.

"But of course," he continued, not giving Archie the opportunity to
answer. "It could only be one thing ­ espionage. Am I not correct
Lieutenant?"

Archie nodded ­ unable, for the moment, to say anything. Madeline
looked from one man to the other, her heart aching for them both;
eyes registering the barely concealed fury on her husband's face, as
well as the poorly disguised anguish on Archie's own.

"Why?" was all she could think to ask.


Such a simple question! Yet, Archie knew there was no simple answer.
He sighed, squared his shoulders and faced Le Comte de Favreau,
doing his best not to flinch before the unabashed hatred he now saw
reflected in Jean-Luc's eyes.

"To answer that," he said, "I shall have to start where my last
assignment ended ­ in a prison hospital, almost five years ago."

Speaking rapidly, no inflection at all in the voice, he told them of
his last assignment ­ that of Fourth Lieutenant aboard His Majesty's
ship, Renown. He told them of the near mutiny that led to Captain
Sawyer's fall into the hold; the attack and capture of the Spanish
fort on the island of Santo Domingo.

"But we did not hold it for long," he laughed ­ the sound bitter
and mirthless.

He told them how the fort had been evacuated, only steps ahead of
the rebel slaves who'd already seized control of most of the island.

"Commander Hornblower ­ then, Lieutenant Hornblower ­
managed to destroy the fort," he said, "and we sailed for Kingston."

He continued on, telling them of the escape of the Spanish prisoners
and the ensuing fight for control of Renown; Captain Sawyer's
death during that fight; his wounding; and the court martial that
followed, including his confession before the court and subsequent
death.

"It was later," he finished, "that I learned my 'death' had been
contrived to appear real ­ a new assignment waiting for me. That
assignment, as you said, Excellency, involved espionage. I accepted
it, was trained as a spy and sent to France"

"And how providential," Jean-Luc sneered, "that you happened to be
in Paris the very day an attempt was made upon my life. How
fortuitous! Or was the attempt also contrived so as to allow you
access to me ­ and through me, to His Excellency, the Emperor?"

"It was not, Excellency. I would gladly have given my life
for you that day ­ as I would now."

"You will forgive me if, under the circumstances, I find that
difficult to believe!"


Archie bowed his head, saying nothing. There was no sound at all in
the cabin now ­ the silence deafening until Madeline spoke up.

"Poor Abby," she said the sheen of tears in her blue eyes. "She
died, never knowing that you were still alive."

"No, Madame," Archie replied, "she didn't. She knew."

"But how? I don't understand."

"Do you remember the night I first arrived?"

"Of course," Madeline smiled in recollection. "It was Jean-Luc's
birthday celebration ­ during Abby's visit. She'd gone out to the
garden. She was never one for social engagements."

"And that's where I saw her," Archie said. "She recognized me, and I
decided that she, more than anyone else, deserved to know the truth ­
even though I'd been warned to have no contact with anyone from
my past. I told her what I was doing and begged her to keep my
secret."

"Which, obviously, she did," Jean-Luc interjected. "Very well, I
might add."

"Please, Excellency, you mustn't blame Abby. She only did as I
asked."

"One does not blame another for acting out of love," Jean-Luc
retorted.

"And she did love you," Madeline looked up at Archie, the smile she
gave him wistful and tinged with sorrow.

"As I still love her," Archie answered, the same expression mirrored
in his deep blue eyes.

Once more, the cabin fell silent. Jean-Luc stood like a statue ­
his patrician features carved in stone. Archie gazed out the
window, his eyes seeking the stars shining in the night sky ­
searching for Abby's star as if he could draw strength from it.
Again, it was Madeline who broke the silence.

"What happened," she asked, "after your last assignment for
Jean-Luc? Why did you not return?"

"I had a mission of my own," Archie answered, turning from the
window. "One my week of liberty provided ample opportunity to
fulfill."

He heaved a sigh and began his final recitation ­ speaking more to
Madeline than to her husband ­ his voice weary.

"There is a secret fort along the coast of France, just north of
Calais," he began, aware that Jean-Luc was looking at him through
narrowed eyes, "used by a group of men whose sole function is
assassination. I, along with a contingent of English sailors and
marines, infiltrated the fort. There we found plans for the
assassination of our own Admiral Nelson. Taking these plans, we
returned to England, thereby thwarting the attempt on the Admiral.
As a reward, I was offered reinstatement into the Navy, and an
assignment as Second Lieutenant aboard my old ship, the
Indefatigable."

"And since you now wear an English naval uniform and did not return
to Paris," Madeline said, "one would be safe in assuming that you
took that offer."

"I suppose my next question," she continued, "is, why are you
here ­ why now, after so long?"

"Because I could not. . . . ." Archie swallowed, hoping that they
would understand what he was trying to say. "I have only the highest
respect and admiration for you both. . . . .the greatest affection.
I could not stand by and let you remain in prison ­ to face
execution. . . . .I had to do something."

"But how did you learn that we were on Corsica?"

"Your brother-in-law, Madame," Archie answered. "Commodore Pellew
received the details of your arrest in a report from one of our
operatives in Paris. Subsequently, he learned that neither the
Admiralty nor the Crown was willing to intervene on your behalf. So
the Commodore decided to take matters into his own hands."

"That sounds like Edward," Madeline laughed, "and he asked for your
help?"


"He did. Mine, as well as Commander Hornblower's, and that of our
friend, First Lieutenant William Bush. It was then that I learned of the
connection between you, as well as the fact that I was 'missing and
presumed dead'. That is how we formed the plan for your rescue and
return to your family in England."

"And risked everything ­ all of you ­ for this rescue."

"For me," Archie said, his eyes now seeking those of Jean-Luc de
Favreau, "it was little enough to risk, after what I had done."

"I want you both to know," he went on, "that, had I known of your
relationship to the Commodore, I would never have accepted the
assignment as your aide, Excellency. And I am truly sorry for the
pain I've caused the two of you. My only hope is that, someday, you
may find it in your hearts to forgive me."

"Perhaps my wife will be able to extend you that courtesy,
Lieutenant Dubois, or Kennedy, or whatever it is you choose to call
yourself," Jean-Luc said, his voice cold and distant.

"But as for myself," he continued, "while I am in your debt for the
rescue of Madame Le Comtessa and her safe conduct to England, I
shall never forget that you deceived me. I trusted you ­ and you,
you USED me. That is something I can NEVER forgive."

"Jean-Luc," Madeline began, but he held up his hand to forestall her
protest.

"Now, I ask that you leave us, sir," he said, "it has been an
exhausting day and my wife should rest."

"As you wish, Excellency."

With dignity, his faced etched in sorrow, Archie Kennedy, also
known as Paul Dubois, bowed and left the cabin.

Chapter 21

". . . . .and that's really all there was to it, sir," Marc Jeffers
finished as he and Horatio came above decks.

A picture perfect morning greeted them. The sun shone, an immense
yellow ball hanging from an azure sky, its warmth a perfect
counter-balance to the chill of autumn that permeated the air. Wisps
of cloud, as delicate as finely spun silk, were draped across that
sky. A brisk wind blew, billowing through her sails as Calais sped
homeward.

"Two days' sail," thought Horatio, scanning the horizon, "if the
weather holds."

As he finished his sweep of the sea, his eyes fell upon Archie
standing to the side and just slightly behind Midshipman Beckett,
the latter holding a sextant trained to the sky.

"Mr. Kennedy," he said, "when you've finished ­ a word if
you please."

"Aye sir," Archie nodded.

He said something to Beckett, patting the boy's shoulder, then
turned and walked to where Horatio and Jeffers waited. As Archie
came closer, Horatio noted the absence of the moustache, as well as
the dark circles beneath his friend's eyes. It was obvious that he'd
spent a sleepless night. Horatio frowned slightly, knowing that
Archie had seen the Count and his wife the previous evening.

"And it appears as if that visit did not go well at all," he
surmised, looking at Archie's drawn face now.

"Good morning Commander ­ Mr. Jeffers," Archie said, saluting his
commanding officer, a nod to the Acting Lieutenant. "You wanted to
see me, sir?"

Yes, Archie," Horatio replied, keeping his voice light. "Mr. Jeffers
has just been regaling me with the account of your latest exploits
on Corsica. He tells me the plan was perfectly executed; the
deception, faultless."

"Admirably done, Mr. Kennedy," he finished, "admirably done,
indeed."

Archie inclined his head briefly at the praise, a warm smile for
Marc Jeffers.

"I'm afraid, sir, the lion's share of the credit belongs to Marc,"
he said. "He played his part splendidly. You know, I do believe he
would make a wonderful addition to Drury Lane, should the seafaring
life prove not to his liking, that is!"

Horatio laughed heartily as Jeffers' face turned beet-red beneath
the short beard he'd opted to keep.

"B-b-b-but sir," Marc stammered, "I would NEVER consider leaving the
Navy. It is my LIFE!"

"Besides," he continued, huge hazel eyes staring at the Captain, "it
REALLY was Mr. Kennedy who pulled the whole thing off, sir. He had
Colonel Valmont practically eating out of the palm of his hand with
his tale of imprisonment and escape!"

"That may have been so," Archie interrupted, his own eyes twinkling
with merriment, "but it was YOU who convinced the Colonel of the
urgency in releasing the Count and Countess."

"Really, Commander," he went on, "you should have been there. It was
a masterly performance ­ believe me. Just the right degree of
arrogance and casual disregard for the man's rank, tempered with
sympathy for his plight at being assigned to so dull a post. And
then, after Marc had secured their release, the promise that news of
Colonel Valmont's invaluable assistance would be relayed to
Napoleon. Truly ­ it was quite something to see!"

"Gentlemen, gentlemen," Horatio held up his hands, "enough. You are
both to be congratulated. The Count and Countess are safe ­ and we
are two days' sail from home. Best we return to our duties now.
Come, England awaits."

As he finished speaking, Horatio looked up. Jean-Luc and Madeline de
Favreau were coming on deck, Matthews behind them. The faded blue
eyes of the Count took in the tableau of the three officers standing
together. They narrowed at the sight of Archie Kennedy. Frowning, he
turned to Matthews, whispering. Matthews nodded his head, saying
something in return, then made his way to where the men stood.

"Your pardon, gentlemen," the Bosun said, knuckling his forehead in
salute, "but the Count ­ he'd like a word wi' ye Cap'n, if ye can
spare a moment."
"If you'll excuse me, sir," Archie said, having caught the look on
Jean-Luc's face. "I'll return to the quarterdeck."

Horatio nodded absently as Archie saluted and walked aft, Jeffers at
his side. He made his way to the rail where Jean-Luc and Madeline
stood.

"Good morning, Excellency ­ my Lady," he said, bowing as he placed
a light kiss on Madeline's fingertips. "Matthews said you wished to
see me, sir."

"Yes Commander," Jean-Luc replied. "I wanted to express my gratitude
and sincere thanks for what you and your crew have done for Le
Comtessa and for me. If not for you, and your brave men, risking
your lives for ours. . . . .we owe you a great debt, Commander
Hornblower. One that can never be repaid."

"I assure you, Excellency," Horatio said, "there is no debt to
repay. We were doing our duty. However, if you wish to express your
thanks. . . . ."

Here he paused, his eyes seeking the two young officers now standing
watch upon the quarterdeck. Jean-Luc followed his gaze, his lips
coming together in a thin, straight line as Horatio continued.

". . . . .you should really speak with Mr. Kennedy. The plan was
entirely his idea."

"I fear that will be impossible," Jean-Luc replied, his voice icy.
"You must understand, Commander. . . . ."

"Well if you will not," Madeline interrupted, blue eyes blazing with
anger, "than I certainly shall."

With that, she turned on her heel, marching straight toward the
quarterdeck, leaving the two men gaping after her.

*******************************************************************************

Emily entered the parlor, glasses of cold cider on a tray in her
hands. Bush immediately jumped up from his chair and took the tray
from his wife. Smiling gratefully at her husband, she turned to
greet their visitor.


"Commodore Pellew," she said, extending her hand, "it is a pleasure
to see you again, sir."

"As it is for me, Mrs. Bush," Pellew replied, taking her hand and
bringing it to his lips. "You are as lovely as this autumn
afternoon."

Emily blushed ­ a beautiful rose color suffusing the heart-shaped
face.

"Thank you, Commodore. And please, call me Emily," she said.

Indicating the chair from which he'd risen, she continued, "do sit
down and make yourself comfortable."

"Thank you, Emily. I shall not keep either of you, but I do need to
speak with you, Acting Captain Bush," Pellew said as he returned to
his seat, accepting the glass of cider Bush held out to him.

William handed Emily a glass and took the last for himself. Sitting
down, he sipped from the glass, his eyes meeting the Commodore's
over the rim.

"Your orders, sir?" William asked, setting his glass on the table.

"Not orders, William," Pellew answered, "though for the sake of the
Admiralty, we shall make them so. A request, if you please."

Bush nodded, proud that the Commodore had used his Christian name,
waiting for Pellew to continue.

"I should like you to set sail at first light tomorrow. Commander
Hornblower should be returning from France as we speak, and I intend
that Retribution be on station to provide a proper escort for
him."

"You believe they were successful then, Commodore?" Emily spoke up,
her dark eyes alight with unspoken hope.

"I've no reason to think otherwise, Emily," he replied gently. "I
have the utmost faith and confidence in both Commander Hornblower
and Mr. Kennedy ­ as I know you do."

Replacing his glass on the tray, Pellew stood; Bush with him.
Leaning down, he took Emily's hand once more into his own.

"I'm afraid, though I'd much rather spend a pleasant afternoon with
the two of you, duty calls and I must return to the Admiralty," he
said. "I thank you for the cider."

"And I shall return to Retribution as well, my love," William
said, smiling down at his wife, "to make the necessary preparations
for sail."

Emily rose, joining her husband. Placing her arm through his, they
walked with Commodore Pellew to the door.

"They'll be home," Pellew said, opening the door and turning again to
face Emily, "and soon ­ I know it."

********************************************************************************

Madeline prowled the tiny cabin like a caged tigress, as Jean-Luc
stood before the window, his eyes fixed on the blue sky above.
They'd not spoken to one another since returning; however, Jean-Luc
was well aware that his wife would not let the scene above decks
this morning go without discussion. He also knew that she would
speak only when SHE was ready to do so ­ and pray God that it would
be soon. He hated this waiting ­ and her silence.

"You've got to talk to him," she said suddenly, whirling from the
door to face her husband. "You can't let this go on, Jean-Luc."

Startled at the sound of her voice, Jean-Luc slowly turned from the
window. The depth of despair she saw in his faded blue eyes
surprised Madeline not at all. He sighed heavily, walked to the bed
and sat down. He stared at the hands now clasped tightly in his lap.

"And what do I say?" he asked, looking up at his wife. "You heard
what I said to him. How do I take those words back? God, how could I
have been so cruel?!"

Madeline came to the bed, her anger spent, and sat down next to her
husband. She place her tiny hand over his, squeezing gently.
Gratefully, he took that hand in his, bring it to his lips, kissing
her palm.

"We all say things in anger," she said softly. "Once said, we can
never take those words back. But I know what he means to you ­ and
what YOU mean to HIM. You'll find a way, my love. I know you will."

"Have I ever told you, Madame Le Comtessa," Jean-Luc smiled, taking
his wife into his arms, "how very much I love you?"

"Show me," she whispered as his lips lay claim to hers.

********************************************************************************

Archie leaned against the rail, his eyes seeking the solace of the
stars that now glittered like fine diamonds in the heavens.
Instinctively, he identified Polaris, the North Star. It was a
star every sailor knew well ­ the outermost star on the 'handle' of
the Little Dipper. He continued to let his gaze wander, sapphire
eyes finally coming to rest on a tiny star set apart on its own
patch of indigo sky.

"What have I done, Abby?" he addressed the little star, a heavy sigh
escaping his lips.

"Only your duty," a voice responded from behind, "for your king and
your country. Exactly what I would have done had I been in your
place."

Archie stiffened, recognizing the voice. He turned slightly as
Jean-Luc de Favreau joined him at the rail.

"Excellency," Archie began. . . . .

"Forgive me for disturbing you," Jean-Luc interrupted, a slight
tremor in the aristocratic baritone. "Commander Hornblower said I
might find you here."

"You were looking for me, sir?"

"Yes. I believe we need to talk."

"Paul. . . . .Mr. Kennedy," Jean-Luc continued, smiling slightly as
the unfamiliar name passed his lips, "I owe you an apology. My
behavior the other evening was abominable ­ the things I said to
you. . . . .I was angry and hurt, but that is no excuse. I had no
right to say those things, and I am truly sorry."

"But you did, Excellency," Archie said softly. "You had every right.
I deceived you ­ no matter that it was my duty. I betrayed your
trust. I just never thought. . . . ."

"Thought what, Mr. Kennedy?"

Archie looked down at his hands, then out at the sea.

"I never thought that I would come to respect, to admire. . . . ."

He swallowed, turning back to Jean-Luc, and continued, a quiver now
in his voice as well.

". . . . .I never thought I'd come to love you and Madame de Favreau
as I have. I am so very sorry for what I did to you both."

Archie dropped his eyes to the railing, but not before Jean-Luc
caught the sheen of tears in those eyes.

"There is nothing to be sorry for," he said, "least of all for
loving us."

"Look at me, please," he continued, placing his hands on Archie's
shoulders, aware that his own face was wet with tears. "Don't you
know that Madeline and I felt ­ still feel ­ exactly the same way.
YOU are the son we could never have. And NO father could be more
proud of his son than I am of you, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie looked up, unashamed of the tears now flowing freely down his
face.

"My name is Archie," he said, smiling through his tears as
Jean-Luc's arms wrapped around him, hugging him close.

********************************************************************************

Acting Captain William Bush paced the deck of Retribution for what
seemed the hundredth time that morning. A wry smile played about his
lips as he recalled the last time he'd done that very thing. Had it
only been two months ago? Sometimes it felt as if a lifetime had
passed. God, he longed for some sign of Horatio's ship!
Automatically, he removed his telescope from his jacket, bringing it
to his eye to scan the empty seas.

"Mornin' Cap'n," a gruff but pleasant voice greeted him. "Enny sign
o' the Calais as yet?"

Bush brought the glass down, shaking his head at the big sailor
standing at his elbow.
"None at all, Styles," he replied, "and the weather's still fair. . . . ."

He let his voice trail off, blue eyes scanning the sky.

"Aye, sir. If I know Cap'n Hornblower, though, it'll be t'day ­
more'n likely."

"I wish I shared your optimism, Styles."

"Trust me, Cap'n ­ I feel it," Styles said, moving off to check the
reef tackle lines.

Bush nodded, his thoughts a thousand miles away, then resumed his
pacing. He stopped in mid-stride, grinning as he remembered Archie
Kennedy matching him step for step the last time he'd paced this
deck.

"Styles," he called.

"Aye sir," came the reply as the big man turned to his captain.

"Take a glass and run aloft, will you? Sing out as soon as you spot
the Calais.

"Aye sir," Styles grinned, knuckling his forehead in salute.

Again, Bush began his ceaseless pacing, traversing the length of his
ship. In unconscious imitation of Commodore Pellew, he clasped his
hands tightly behind him. He was nervous ­ and more than a little
worried about his friends ­ but it would not due to advertise that
fact to his crew. He was not as confident as Pellew had been that
the mission was, indeed, successful.

"Best just not to dwell on it," he admonished himself, just as a shout
came from above.

"On deck there," Styles voice carried clearly to him. "Sails, sir."

"Where away?" he shouted in return, running for the quarterdeck,
glass in hand.

"Four points a vast the beam, sir."


Instantly Bush lifted his glass to his eye, focusing on the spot
Styles had indicated.

"Well I'll be damned," he swore softly, a huge grin spreading across
his handsome face as the Calais sailed majestically into view.


Chapter 22

William Bush entered the bedroom, the tiny bundle that was his
daughter, held gently in his arms. A soft breeze blew in from the
open window, bringing with it the sounds and smells of springtime.

Sarah Abigail, who'd been born exactly one month ago this very day,
lay content in her father's arms, one small hand wrapped around his
finger. She was a beautiful baby, having inherited the best
attributes of both her parents ­ her father's clear blue eyes and
her mother's heart-shaped face. Her hair was dark brown; soft and
full of curl.

"Do you know, dearest," William said wonder, joy and love mingled in
his voice, "our daughter grows more beautiful each day? In fact, I
believe she is the loveliest baby in the entire world!"

Emily looked up, rising from the dressing table as she did so. She
smiled fondly at her husband.

"I'll not dispute your word on that, my love," she said coming to
him, skirts rustling softly. "But if you don't hurry and finish
dressing, we shall be late. Come, let me take Sarah."

William looked down at the baby, frowning slightly. He was loath to
give her up ­ even to finish dressing. Sarah, in turn, stared
back at her father with wide, serious eyes ­ his eyes. A yawn
escaped the tiny bow of her mouth, causing William to laugh aloud.

"We've plenty of time yet," he said. "It's not likely they'll start
without us ­ is it, Sarah?"

"William, please," Emily pleaded, holding her arms out for her
daughter. "Now! This day has been too long in coming and he'll never
forgive you if we're late."

"Nor," she added ominously, "shall I."

"All right, my love," William laughed again as he handed Sarah to
her mother. "Your wish is my command."

********************************************************************************

Bright sunlight filtered in through the stained glass windows of St.
Gregory's Church, casting vibrant shadows upon the flagstone floor.
It was a beautiful old church. Walls painted pale green provided the
perfect complement to pews of highly polished dark wood. The marble
altar seemed to glow with its own inner light.

Kathleen and Archie stood before that altar listening as the final
notes of the Ave Maria were played. She was lovely in a gown of
pale ivory silk. She had sewn the gown herself ­ putting into it
all of her hopes and dreams for this day. When he'd first seen
Kathleen, coming toward him on the arm of Commodore Pellew, Archie's
breath caught in his throat. At his side, he heard Horatio's sharp
intake of breath and knew that his friend had seen her as well. And
now, here she was, at his side ­ his love ­ his wife.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Father Matthew said as the organ ceased,
"may I present, Lieutenant and Mrs. Archie Kennedy."

A cheer rose from the assembled guests as Kathleen and Archie
turned. Offering her his arm, Archie led his bride down the aisle;
Horatio and Catherine Cobham, best man and maid of honor, following.

********************************************************************************

Archie wandered through the house and onto the terrace; stopping to
observe the pleasant scenes before him. On his right, sat Jean-Luc
de Favreau. A glass of champagne in hand, the Count was holding court,
surrounded by Sir Edward and Lady Jeanette Pellew, Acting Lieutenant
Marc Jeffers, and Midshipmen Beckett and Witt. Jean-Luc looked up and
smiled fondly. Archie followed his gaze to where it rested on Madame
de Favreau. Madeline, on the arm of Bosun's Mate Matthews, appeared to
be giving the wizened old sailor a lesson in botany as they walked the
garden paths.

Making his way from the terrace, Archie began his own circuit among
the paths. Under the oak that had been Abby's favorite spot in the
garden, he spied Sir Percy Blakeney standing in the midst of a group
that included his nephew, Michael, his arm encircling the slender
waist of his wife, Bridgit; Horatio; Arturo Mazzerini; Rene
Planchet; William and Emily Bush; Kathleen; and Styles, in whose
arms his goddaughter, Miss Sarah Abigail Bush, slept. Sir Percy,
with occasional asides from Arturo and Rene, was entertaining his
listeners with tales of his exploits as the Scarlet Pimpernel. As he
launched into another, Kathleen looked up. Catching her husband's
eye, she blew him a kiss.

"I love you," Archie mouthed, smiling as he continued down the path.
To his left he passed Lady Marguerite Blakeney on the arm of David
MacKenzie. They were absorbed in a discussion of the merits of flute
versus violin. Just ahead, he spotted Captain Bracegirdle, Captain
Buckland and Dr. Clive ­ each one trying to outdo the other in his
attentions to Catherine Cobham.

Returning to the house, Archie paused outside the open door of the
library ­ the scene within filling him with astonishment. Seated in
a chair by the large window, late afternoon sunlight spilling in,
was none other than Gunner's Mate Hobbs, an open book of Greek
mythology in his hands. Perched upon his lap, her eyes never leaving
his face as he read, was four-year old Belle MacKenzie. At his feet,
seated on footstools ­ the same rapt expression upon their faces ­
were her twin brother, Robert, and a tow-headed lad of the same age
that Archie recognized as Sir Percy's son, Tony.

"Well," he thought as he moved on, "wonders will never cease!"

He came, at last, to the drawing room, pausing before the partially
opened door. Standing before the fireplace was his father, Sir James
Kennedy. He was staring at the portrait of Abby hung above it. At
Kathleen's insistence, Archie had sent invitations to the wedding to
his father and brothers. With the exception of Sir James, all had
declined for various reasons. Opening the door, Archie stepped into
the room.

"Father?" he said.

"I never realized how lovely she was," Sir James said, his eyes
never leaving the portrait.

"Not many people did," Archie replied, coming to stand beside his
father. "Even Abby always thought of herself as 'plain'."

"But not you. To you, she was always beautiful. You saw something in
her that none of us ever did."

"I loved her ­ that was all."

Sir James turned to his son ­ gray eyes meeting deep blue. For the
first time, Archie noticed the stern look he was accustomed to
seeing in those eyes was gone ­ replaced by one filled with pain
too deep for words.


"I never ceased caring for her, you know," Sir James continued,
"even after the harsh words between us. I only wish that my stubborn
pride had not prevented me from telling her so."

"She knew, Father," Archie said. "Just as SHE never stopped loving
YOU."

Archie placed his hand on his father's shoulder.

"Come, he said gently, "it's time you met your daughter."

Epilogue

The guests had departed, leaving Archie and Kathleen alone.
Hand-in-hand they strolled through the garden, coming at last to
Abby's favorite spot. They stood beneath the oak, resplendent now
with new spring leaves of emerald green. The soft fragrance of lilac
and honeysuckle scented the evening air.

"How many times did I came here," Archie thought, "knowing that
she'd be sitting under this tree, waiting for me?"

As if divining her husband's thoughts, Kathleen laid her head on his
shoulder.

"I wish that I had known her," she said quietly.

"You are very much alike," Archie told her, wrapping his arms around
his wife.

"This is such a beautiful garden," she continued, "and this place,
in particular. I understand why Abby loved it so!"

"No more than you are, my love," Archie replied, kissing the tip of
her nose. "I am pleased, though, that you like it ­ and I hope that
you'll always be happy here, MRS. KENNEDY."

"I shall be happy anywhere, so long as you are by my side," she
replied, looking up at him ­ her love shining brightly in her eyes.

Gently disengaging herself from his arms, Kathleen walked farther
along the path. As Archie stood, enjoying the quiet sounds of the
garden, a gentle breeze suddenly ruffled his hair.

"Hello, Abby," he whispered, a soft smile coming to his lips. "Was
it done well, then?"

No answer ­ but the breeze came again. Looking up, Archie saw the
tiny star, dazzling against the darkening sky. It was all the answer
he needed.

FINIS