Child of Sorrow
by Wendy B and Hillary Stevens
"Man is a child of sorrow, and this world
In which we breathe, hath cares enough to plague us;
But it hath means withal to soothe those cares;
And he, who meditates on others' woes,
Shall in that meditation lose his own."
From Cumberland's Timocles
Part One: An Unexpected Guest
Horatio Hornblower, second lieutenant aboard His Britannic Majesty's Frigate Indefatigable, stared blankly at the overfull room and wondered if there were a chance - even the slightest - the French would attack Falmouth within the next few hours. Granted Napoleon's navy had sought the shelter of winter harbours a full month before the Indy had sailed for Falmouth. Granted to launch the fortuitous assault they would have sailed undetected past those ships of the Channel Fleet still on patrol. And granted the French had never dealt well by him nor he by them. Still, if there were even the slightest chance of such a thing, he would gladly set down the wineglass he had been holding for the past half-hour, put on his rain-soaked cloak and brave the horrors of the trip back across the choppy waters of the harbour. Anything to escape this room.
Bracegirdle appeared at his side and shook his head. "Horatio, you must learn to relax, and enjoy these evenings!" he chided. "You look as if you are in front of a court martial, and are guilty of the charges."
Horatio flushed and took a nervous sip of wine. "I feel much the same way. I am honoured Captain Pellew would invite me to his home, but I am afraid I know very few of the officers in attendance and none of the ladies."
Bracegirdle studied the room as he sipped from his own wineglass. "Well, there is Captain Pendrell of the Expedition. He is but five years older than you are. His uncle is an admiral, and in great favour at court. The captain is in great favour with the ladies as you see."
Horatio identified the man by the sheer number of female admirers surrounding Pendrell as he leaned negligently against the fireplace mante1. Shorter than Horatio by a few inches, he was a stone heavier. His uniform had been cleverly tailored to conceal the fact.
"He is also," Bracegirdle murmured, "a pompous fool. He commands a cutter, and I pray it will always be so. There are midshipmen of twelve who could sail rings around Penny Pendrell. He is all bluster with no sense of duty. His connections, though, ensure he is a captain while other more-qualified men are denied promotion."
Horatio nodded to another man standing at the centre of an admiring group. "Is that not Captain Sawyer?" he asked. "I understood Renown anchored this morning."
"Yes indeed, that is the great James Sawyer, late of the Mediterranean Fleet. I hear it is only a matter of time before he is gazetted commodore. He will be an admiral before this war is over."
Studying the man who was clearly comfortable with the attention he received, Horatio inquired carefully, "And his reputation, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
Bracegirdle slapped Horatio on the back. "Not to worry, Mr. Hornblower. He is all they say and more. Not a word against him from his officers or his crew. To serve under him on a seventy-four is an honour for any young officer."
"Good evening, gentlemen."
Horatio straightened as Pellew joined them, his wife on his arm. Lady Susan Pellew had never been a great beauty, but she was striking. Her expression was composed, but her eyes were alight with intelligence and humour.
Both lieutenants bowed slightly. "Good evening, ma'am, sir."
"Are you enjoying yourselves?" Lady Susan inquired. "You have all you require?"
"Yes, thank you," Bracegirdle replied for both of them.
"Lieutenant Hornblower, my husband tells me - "
Horatio did not hear her words. His attention had been captured by the scene playing out behind her in the foyer. A man, a stableman from the look of his clothing and his well-used boots, stood dripping with water just inside the large door. In his arms, he held what appeared to be a large, ungainly bundle. On closer inspection, Horatio realised it was a boy.
Pellew turned as one of the servants approached and spoke to him. His Cornish burr was so thick that Horatio could not distinguish a single word.
Pellew nodded. "Take them to the bookroom, and find my brother, Samuel." He turned to Lady Susan. "Darling, if you would remain with our guests? It appears a situation has presented itself." His dark eyes found Horatio. "Mr. Hornblower, come with me."
Bracegirdle offered his arm to Lady Susan and escorted her to a group of guests. Horatio paused long enough to set his almost untouched glass of wine on a table before following Pellew across the foyer toward a door beneath the long staircase to the second floor. A movement on the landing above caught his eye, and Horatio looked up.
A small boy in a nightrail peeked down through the balustrade at him. No more than four, he had found a vantage point in the shadows to watch the guests without notice.
Pellew looked up as well and found the small figure. "Off to bed with you now, George," he called. He turned to Horatio. "My youngest boy. Seemingly accomplished at escaping both his nurse and his cot. You would like him, I think."
Horatio hesitated, unsure how to respond. He found it odd to think of his captain as a man with wife, children and this big stone house waiting for him each time he returned to Falmouth. After four years, Horatio had finally grown to know the man who skilfully commanded the Indefatigable, harrying the French with such ease. This additional guise was beyond his comprehension.
The bookroom was smaller than Horatio had expected. It reminded him of the Captain's cabin aboard the Indy - tastefully decorated and well cared for. A desk stood in front of the windows, a settee and twin armchairs in front of the fire. Books lined the walls. It was a room in which Horatio would not have minded spending a winter's afternoon.
Instead he turned his attention to the figure on the settee. The boy was soaked to the skin, his clothing drenched in blood. Horatio knelt beside him. Pushing aside the jacket, he ripped open the shirt, searching for the wound which surely lay beneath.
"How bad is the wound?" Pellew demanded.
"Sir, I do not think the blood is his. I can find no sign of injury," he returned. He put a hand on the small chest, relieved to feel it move. "He's near frozen, though. His lips are blue with cold."
"Fetch brandy and some blankets," Pellew snapped to a servant. "And find my damn brother." He looked at the man who had carried the boy in. "Dixon, who is this boy? Do you know him?"
The man dragged his hat off his head. "No, Commodore. The boy stopped 'n asked where he could find Mr. Pellew. I told him as how you lived here. With that, he fell right off his horse."
"Do you recognise him?" Pellew asked.
"I don't think he's from these parts. But he's quality, if ye were to ask me. Look at his coat, that's finely made."
The servant returned with blankets and handed them to Horatio. He shook one out and wrapped it around the boy. The boy took no notice, did not stir. Unsure what else he should do, Horatio gently chafed the boy's hands, trying to encourage the blood to flow. The fire had already been built up, and he could feel its heat upon his face as he worked over the silent figure.
A man strode in, annoyance clear on his face. "Ned, why is it that you have demanded I join you?"
Even if he had not spoken in a voice so much like the Captain's, Horatio would have known him for his brother on sight. Samuel Pellew was an inch shorter and a few pounds heavier than his younger brother was, but there was resemblance between the two - the same strong features, the same dark eyes. Samuel, it seemed, also possessed the ability to take charge of a situation with complete authority.
"Your doctor's bag, is it in your carriage, Sam? I will send one of the servants for it."
Dr. Pellew stared at his brother for an instant and then turned to the rest of the room. In Horatio's mind, it held as a tableau: Dixon from the stable, the half-drowned boy, and Horatio himself trying desperately to remember anything his father had said about treating exposure.
Dr. Pellew moved forward, taking charge. Horatio stumbled back, relieved. Pellew yanked back the blanket and sat the boy up. The small form flopped bonelessly over his arm.
"We must warm him. Ned, have a bath prepared. Not too hot to begin with, but with hot water to spare." He glared at Horatio. "You there, Lieutenant, help me strip him. These clothes do him no good."
Horatio unfastened the ruined coat and, with Dr. Pellew's help, worked it off the narrow shoulders. The shirt proved more difficult, but he tugged until he pulled it over the boy's head. A hint of blue underlay the white of the boy's skin along with a tracery of veins. The soiled and torn breeches came off next, followed by what had once been white silk stockings. What was left of them was black, encrusted with dirt and filth. The small feet beneath were as white as marble, and with as much warmth. Each sole was criss-crossed with lacerations as if the boy had walked on knives.
Dr. Pellew looked first at Horatio and then followed the line of his gaze. "Dear heavenly Father," he breathed. He wrapped the boy again in the blanket and gestured to Horatio. "Take my place here, Lieutenant. I'll tend to his feet."
Horatio knelt beside the boy, rubbing his arms and torso with the blanket.
"Poor tyke," Dixon mumbled, his voice suddenly loud in the silence of the room. "Looks as if he's been to hell and back." He looked at Sir Edward. "I'll go then, Commodore, if it'd be all right with you."
Sir Edward nodded. "To the kitchens with you, Dixon. Tell Cook to feed you. A glass of whiskey should serve to warm you as well. Tis a cold night."
Dixon slipped out as a servant arrived with Dr. Pellew's bag. With a mumbled acknowledgement, the doctor took it.
"Lieutenant, if you would carry him upstairs?" Dr. Pellew asked. "Ned, return to your guests and send Emma to me."
Sir Edward turned to Horatio. "Stay with the boy, Mr. Hornblower. Should he awaken, learn what you can from him."
Gathering up the boy in his arms, Horatio was surprised at his weight. Dixon had carried him easily, but the boy was heavier than Horatio expected. Resettling him in his arms, he left the bookroom and crossed the foyer to the staircase. At the top, he paused, realising he did not know where to go.
"This way, sir," a woman called from the far end of the hall.
The hall was dark after the glitter of candles downstairs, and Horatio walked blindly toward the sound of activity. The house was quieter here; the sound of voices now a distant hum.
As Horatio laid him on the bed in the guest chamber, the boy stirred. Dark eyes found his own and a hand held onto the lapel of his coat. A voice, no louder than a whisper, queried, "Are you...Mr. Pellew?"
"No, I am Mr. Hornblower." He saw the boy's face crumple and rushed to add, "But this is Captain Pellew's house. Must you speak with him?"
The boy looked confused as his eyes drifted closed. "M-mr. Pellew."
Dr. Pellew came in followed by the Captain's daughter, Emma. Horatio nodded to her as she directed one of the maids to build the fire higher. Only seventeen, she was obviously at home in the sickroom. She anticipated her uncle's directions, instructing another maid to fill the bed warmer with hot coals as two men carried in a tin bath and left. Within minutes, they began carrying in cans of hot water and filling the bath.
Horatio stood to one side, watching the proceeding and trying to stay out of the way. Dr. Pellew leaned over the boy, opening his eyes and peering in, then listening to his respirations. He nodded once, as if satisfied before turning to Emma.
"He'll do for now, I think. We must warm him, though. His body has suffered a terrible shock." He looked at Horatio. "If you would, Mr. Hornblower."
Horatio paused long enough to remove his coat and roll up his sleeves before picking up the boy once more and carrying him to the bath. Emma knelt beside it, seemingly unaware she still wore an elegant gown. Her hair was already losing its curl in the steam, and she pushed back an errant lock.
"Slowly," she cautioned him as Horatio immersed the boy in water up to his neck.
The reaction was immediate. The boy's body jerked, and he pushed against Horatio's hold. A wave splashed over the edge onto the floor and into Horatio's shoes.
"Ssh," Emma soothed. "Stay still."
The sobs started then, thin and weak as if a child were sobbing in a distant room. The boy's eyes did not open, he did not seem aware of them in the least. Only the plaintive cries as he attempted to curl into himself.
"Hold him still, Mr. Hornblower," Dr. Pellew ordered.
Horatio obeyed. The water seemed cool to his touch, but the boy's skin was flushed as if it were scalding. Emma attempted to calm their patient, but he did not respond to her words or gentle touch.
As the water cooled, warmer water was added. When that water cooled, it was heated again. And so it went for what seemed like hours. Horatio was aware only of the boy's whimpers and Emma's voice trying to comfort him. Finally, the slight figure relaxed under his hands, and the cries fell silent. At a nod from Emma, Horatio lifted the boy from the water, wrapping him in a warmed towel and laying him on the bed.
"Well done, sir," Dr. Pellew said, clapping him on the shoulder as Emma and one of the maids dried the boy and put a nightrail on him.
Horatio nodded, holding onto one of the bedposts until the ringing in his head stopped. His back ached, his feet were soaked, and his legs had gone numb from kneeling for so long. His fingers had shrivelled from the long immersion in the water.
Emma looked over and smiled. "You have missed your dinner, I fear."
Horatio shrugged. "It isn't important, miss."
"Dorcas, would you bring Mr. Hornblower something to eat? He will use Pownoll's room tonight."
"I really must return to the ship," Horatio demurred.
Emma shook her head, and her expression reminded Horatio of her father. "The other officers have already gone, Lieutenant. You have no choice but to stay the night."
Horatio agreed as he heard the wind buffet the house and whistle in the chimney. He was already wet and did not have any desire to go back out into the storm.
"You will send for me if he awakens?" he asked.
"Of course she will," Dr. Pellew assured him, "although I do not believe he will awaken tonight."
The room they had prepared for him belonged to Captain's eldest son, Pownoll, now away at school. Books and models of ships crowded the shelves over the bed, and a set of dominoes lay scattered across the ink-stained desk. A fire had been started, the coals glowing bright red.
Horatio sat on the edge of the bed and pulled off his wet shoes and stockings. He realised he had left his coat in the sick room, but was too tired to retrieve it. He unbuttoned his waistcoat and flopped back on the bed. A knock brought him to his feet, stupidly staring at the shoes and stockings he still held.
Dorcas had returned with a heavily laden tray which she set down on the small table beside the fire. "Your dinner, sir." She took the shoes and stockings from his hand. "We'll see these dry for you."
Horatio tried to gather his thoughts, or at the very least, his manners. "Thank you."
There was a light knock on the open door, and Emma appeared with a pile of clothing in her arms. "Give Dorcas your uniform, Lieutenant Hornblower, and she will have it dried and pressed by morning. I've brought you some night clothes." She smiled at him. "Borrowed from my father so they should fit a bit better than my brother's would have."
"That is not necessary, Miss Pellew. I am accustomed to - "
She cut him off with a look. "Your uniform is damp, sir. What kind of hostess would I be to send you back to your ship that way?" She pushed the nightclothes into his arms. "Leave your uniform on the chair beside the door."
Horatio nodded and thought he heard the maid giggle. Then he was thankfully alone. Stripping off his clothes underscored how wet he truly was. He grabbed a blanket from the foot of the bed and briskly rubbed the cold from his skin. After donning his borrowed garments, he folded his clothes and left them on the prescribed chair.
In half an hour, he had finished most of the dinner he had been brought and crawled into bed. Before he thought how odd it was not having the gentle sway of the Indy at anchor to lull him to sleep, his eyes were closed and he was deeply asleep.
Horatio woke to the sound of munching. Oddly enough, it was as if it were beside him in the bed. After a moment, there was the sound of bite being taken, then more steady chewing. He opened his eyes to find himself under the scrutiny of a small boy enjoying a rather large apple as he sat with his back against the headboard.
When the child saw he was awake, his eyes lit up, but he held a juicy finger to his lips. "I'm not to wake you," he whispered.
Horatio blinked and searched for the proper response. "Indeed?"
"Nurse said so."
"Did she?" He scrubbed his face with his hands and looked for something to say.
Another bite was taken and carefully chewed. "I am George."
"I am Lieutenant Hornblower."
"Yes, you are one of Papa's officers." The last word was delivered with a spray of apple juice.
Looking at the weak light in the room, he thought to ask the time and then realised his companion could not read a clock.
"The boy is asleep," George reported.
Ah yes, the boy. Back to the business at hand. Horatio sat up and looked for his uniform. As promised, it was hanging neatly pressed on the armoire. His coat had been found and pressed as well.
There was a knock at the door, and George rolled off the bed and crawled underneath.
"Yes?" Horatio called and nearly jumped out of his skin when the Captain came in. "Good morning, sir," he managed to get out.
"Good morning, Mr. Hornblower. I trust you slept well?"
"Very well, sir. I'm sorry, sir. I should have reported to you before retiring last night."
"Have you found anything?"
"The boy said he is looking for a Mr. Pellew, sir. He seemed confused when I told him he had reached Captain Pellew's home. He insisted he wanted Mr. Pellew."
Pellew frowned. "The boy is not familiar to me or to my brother. And he carried no letter of introduction."
"He had nothing on his person, sir. Perhaps it was lost along the way."
"The blood on his clothing worries me as well." His eyes flicked to the floor, and a wave of amusement crossed his face. "Have you a companion, Lieutenant?" he queried.
A giggle answered him. Horatio almost bit his tongue as the Captain stooped down and pulled his youngest son from beneath the bed by his ankle. George scrambled up and threw his arms around his father's neck.
"Have you escaped then, George?"
"I didn't wake him, Papa! Did I?" he appealed to Horatio. "Nurse said I wasn't to."
"Oh, George," Pellew sighed. "Mr. Hornblower, I apologise for my son. I fear he misses his brothers." He rose with George in his arms. "We will leave you. When you are dressed, please join me in the morning room for breakfast."
"Thank you, sir."
Hart argued with himself. He was awake, and he knew he was, but would not admit it. He did not want to open his eyes for fear of what he would find when he did. But he could hear someone nearby, the soft rustle of pages turning, fabric whispering against itself. Through his closed lids he sensed a momentary increase in the light as that someone removed a shade to trim the wick of a lamp. Then it faded again. A sound escaped his throat as memory whipped through him, an animal sound, dying.
The presence came near, a woman, her movements too graceful and her scent too soft for a man. He tensed, unreasonably fearful, and pretended to sleep again. He had been a fool to come here, to search for the man called Pellew. The men on the shore had said things of Pellew, that he was part of it all and would take money to keep silent. And he had come, given himself up.
"Are you awake?" the woman asked. She sounded young, more like a girl.
He opened his eyes, and as he did, saw soft blue fabric identical to that of his sister's gown, very fine, with a slight sheen to it. "India?" He knew as soon as he said it that she was not his sister.
"Hello," she said. Loose curls tumbled over her shoulders, and they were red. Not as red as those of some girls in the northern country, but the colour of a worn copper penny, dark and warm. India had brown hair. Like his own.
"I thought you were India," he said. His voice sounded hoarse, as though he had not used it for a long time.
"My name is Emma," she said. "Are you quite yourself?"
"My throat hurts." And everything else. He did not want to move; he knew if he did, he would discover even more pains.
She helped him to a drink of water, then asked, "Can you tell me your name? Where you are from, who your people are?"
"Hart," he said. "My father calls me Hart. I want to sleep."
To sleep, to forget. He closed his eyes again, and hoped for it. She patted his shoulder, the only part of him not covered and warmed by the wool blanket. He shrank away from her touch.
"My uncle is here to see you," she said, not offended, but matter-of-fact. "He is a physician. It was he who helped you last night."
"Will he ask me questions?" He did not want to answer them.
"He must ask some, to see how you recover. Don't be afraid. He is kind," she said.
He did not have time to argue. The uncle came into the room and stood near the bed. He greeted the girl, called her his niece and she spoke in turn, explaining what Hart had said to her. He continued with his eyes closed, wishing they would both leave him in peace.
"Emma, dearest, you may step outside and wait," the physician uncle said.
"Of course," she replied.
When she left them alone, the doctor drew back the wool blankets and cotton sheets, and Hart shivered, cold again. Then the man pinched and prodded his feet, examined him more thoroughly than any physician ever had, ignoring Hart's gasps of pain until he had done with it.
Replacing the now cool blankets, he said, "I apologise for your discomfort, but it is a good thing. Had you no pain, we would worry."
"Yes, sir," he answered.
"My brother has forbidden me an interrogation. His lieutenant will be in shortly for that. There is no need to bother you more than once. Are you all right in your head? You know your name - what day is it?"
"January the... I'm not sure."
"And where are you?" he asked.
"Falmouth, I hope," he said.
"Yes. Very well. I will give the lieutenant leave to question you further. I will not return unless my niece sends for me. You will do well enough." He gathered up his unused bag and walked out, leaving the door open. Open for the next assault.
The mantel clock chimed two, and Horatio stretched. It was difficult not falling asleep in front of the fire, book in hand. Captain Pellew - Commodore Pellew to the townspeople of Falmouth, Horatio had learned - had returned to the Indefatigable, leaving Horatio to wait for the boy to waken.
Standing, Horatio walked to the windows and looked down at the harbour. He picked out the Indy's ice-covered masts from the fleet of ships anchored there. It would be late February before they left Falmouth, and he was already counting the days until they weighed anchor.
The door opened behind him, and he turned. Emma smiled at him as she came into the room. She had changed her gown and combed her hair, but he knew she had not yet slept.
"He is awake," she told him. "My uncle is with him now, but he said you may speak with the boy when he is done."
Horatio pulled on his jacket and fastened it. "Thank you, Miss Pellew."
Dr. Pellew met Horatio at door of the sickroom, bag in hand. "He will be on his feet by the end of the week, I think. Youth and good health will serve."
Horatio thanked him and waited until the doctor left before sitting down on the chair beside the bed. The boy - Hart was his name according to Emma - looked at him with something akin to interest.
"I remember you," he murmured.
Horatio nodded. "You asked me if I were Mr. Pellew."
"But you are not."
"What business have you with Mr. Pellew?" Horatio asked when the boy's voice trailed off.
For a moment, Hart seemed puzzled, uncertain why he had come to Falmouth. He stared at Horatio, then confessed, "I stole a horse."
"From where? Why did you steal it?"
Hart shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. "The church..." He seemed to lose focus then.
"Why did you steal it?" Horatio repeated. The boy said nothing. Remembering Captain Pellew's concern, he tried another question. "Can you tell me - your shirt and vest were soaked with blood. Was someone injured? Did you come for help?"
Then Hart was screaming, his eyes squeezed shut against the terror in his mind. His body went rigid, his fists beating against the bed as he tried to escape the horror. Horatio leaped from his chair and grabbed hold of him, fearing he would hurt himself.
"They've killed them!" he cried out. "They're all dead. Please help me. They've killed them all."
Horatio felt a shiver of ice run down his spine. "Who? Who was killed?"
"My family! I saw the lights, but they were wrong, don't you see? I knew it but it was too late!"
Horatio gave him a shake. "Hart, you must think. Do you hear me? You must think! You must tell me what happened."
The stiffness went out of the boy, and Horatio held him closer, trying to calm the trembling which shook him from head to foot. His eyes were still shut, and his features twitched as he shook his head.
"I must know," Horatio insisted. "If I am to help you, I must know. Tell me where you were. Were you aboard a ship?"
Hart swallowed. "A schooner. The Ph-phoebe, b-bound for G-galway."
"Did you sail from Falmouth?"
"P-plymouth." He buried his face against Horatio's chest. "P-please no," he whispered.
Horatio rubbed the boy's back, wishing he had not been chosen for this duty. Whatever had happened, it had been terrifying, and he hated having to torment him with questions.
"Was there a shipwreck?"
A frantic nod answered him, and Horatio tried to think. The weather had not been good for the past few days as one storm then another lashed the Cornish coast. The worst had been Saturday. He had spent a miserable night praying the wind would ebb even as it blew stronger with every gust.
"It was the l-lights," Hart mumbled into Horatio's waistcoat. "I s-saw them - w-we all did. Th-thought it was the h-harbour...F-falmouth. But when I l-looked again..." He choked back a sob. "It was not."
"What was it?" Horatio asked, already knowing the answer in his heart.
"A cl-cliff, sir."
The privately-owned schooner Phoebe scudded before the wind, her courses and square topsails long since whipped to threads by the unrelenting gale. Abandoning their mates above, twenty Irish crewmen huddled below, supplicating the Almighty with crucifixes and charms, praying for a quick demise; they had tired of fighting the tempest, of disputing the inevitable. The conditions below offered little improvement, and in giving in to fear, they left the ship to the mercy of God.
Henry Hartington Wellard, 'Hart' to distinguish him from his father, pressed his mother and sister further forward, elbowing and cursing the fool Irish seamen. Not usually quite so vociferous, he took a few sharp cuffs in exchange for his effrontery. The behaviour of the hired crew disgusted him beyond fury. How could grown men seek the most sheltered place on board while allowing women to suffer the downpour of January seawater? The already glutted lower deck swallowed yet another deluge as Phoebe shipped another few inches of water. The sea crested at over ten feet, well above the sides.
The squall, not entirely unexpected in winter along the south coast of Cornwall, though surprising in its ferocity, had taken Phoebe to hand some six hours ago, just after sunset. Now, nearly midnight, it appeared the schooner and the souls aboard her had given up the fight. They were tired. The Irishmen seemed resigned to their imminent drowning deaths; Hart heard several of them say it was God's will, just punishment for their crimes. He hated them for cowards.
A shout above carried below, and word filtered through the huddled men that the captain had just gone overboard. An agonised wail escaped one man; another fell to his knees.
"Hart! Come up!" he heard his father's voice above all others.
Holding fast to the stanchions, he worked his way toward the ladder, an ocean of seawater pouring down the back of his coat as the schooner tilted insanely to larboard. He gritted his teeth and climbed, the six footholds growing to sixty as he struggled. Then a hand fell before his face, a hand he recognised by the etched gold ring as his father's, offering help. He took it, pulled, and found himself under the lee of his father's flapping wet-weather cloak.
"Hart, you must go aloft - you can do it!" he shouted into the wind.
"Why?" he asked, the icy air sucking the strength from his voice, rendering it almost feeble.
"A light - we saw a light ahead. We must be sure. You are lighter and can go higher. None of the crew will go."
Too frightened, he knew. The handful who had stayed above could not help. Four operated the tiller ropes, the only control they had without the sails, and the others ran the suction pump that emptied the water from the hold. Of the officers, only the pilot remained. Hart knew they should turn about and head into the wind, but without hands, without sails, they could do nothing.
With his hands, he protected his eyes from the sleet and looked up at the shuddering foremast.
"I will go," he said.
"Brave boy," his father complimented him, his firm hand squeezing Hart's shoulder.
But Hart did not feel brave, nor was he sure. He could feel nothing of his feet or his hands; the cold had stolen all sensation hours ago. He kicked his shoes off, thinking he would do better without them. He regretted their loss; they would wash away before he returned to the deck. For a fraction he stared at them, admired the soft calfskin, the neat silver buckles, the most expensive shoes he had ever owned. He could barely recall collecting them from the boot-maker in Fleet Street three days earlier.
Hart began the climb, the ratlines slick with sleet and seawater, looping his arms around the ropes at each ascending step, not trusting his numb fingers to hold him. Soon he had gone as high as he could go. The shrouds, only three wide, ended at the join between the foremast and the top and cap; the slender topmast and crosstree would not support his weight. Searching the raven black space forward of the bow, his scrutiny hindered by pelting needles of ice, he thought he saw something, a phantom glimmer, instantly obscured by a cresting wave. Another swell lifted the stern, tossing him forward. Choking on a sob of fear, he tried to understand how he had come to be in this position.
He had been a passenger on a number of voyages before now, always in company with his father, had travelled to the East Indies twice with his family on ships named for great sea officers like Sir Francis Drake and Admiral Cornwallis. But always they had occupied the most expensive berths; as a pampered passenger, the company men treated him with deference out of respect for his merchant father. He knew how to order what he needed for his own comfort, but had never been required to lift a finger in the sailing of a vessel. It was unthinkable. That chore belonged to those men paid to do it.
But this cruise differed from those. They had come into Plymouth this afternoon and found an urgent message awaiting, a message urging his father's return to Galway as soon as possible. Hart had not asked the reason. He was used to these sorts of inconveniences, as were his sister and mother. Inquiring at the packet office, they found that the next cutter for Galway did not go out of Falmouth for nearly a week. But, the helpful old fellow in the office said, a private schooner would leave within the hour, for Ireland. Hart's father had made the arrangements with Phoebe's owner and captain, handed him a pocketful of coins and had taken his family and their luggage on board. Now that captain was gone, and with him the few guineas he had demanded.
Hart swiped the sleet from his eyes again, noting the crystals of ice on his brows. He did see a light; he was sure of it. He squinted against the darkness, then saw more, perhaps half a dozen, not still lights, but moving about, each within a proscribed distance, then settling back to their original positions. Ships' lights. A harbour. Falmouth; it had to be. No other harbour on the coast offered shelter or anchorage deep enough for the great ships of the line and frigates of the Western Squadron. And judging by the great height two of the flickering lanterns, some seventy-fours anchored dead ahead.
He skidded down the shrouds, slipping as the ice coating grew thicker, and landed on the deck.
"Dead ahead, sir!" he shouted. "A harbour! Falmouth; it must be."
"Impossible," the pilot argued. "Falmouth is long behind us."
"It's Falmouth; I would swear to it." He described what he had seen, but another shout interrupted. Others now saw the lights, the lanterns of the topmasts swaying in the gale.
"Dead ahead!" the pilot agreed. "We have to chance that he is right. We have no other choice."
"Right, sir," the crewmen at the tiller ropes agreed. "Steady on."
They said no more, but worked to keep the schooner on a course and very soon saw the aft lanterns as well. The wind picked up a knot, the sleet tore through them, but they felt hope for the first time in many hours. Those below must have sensed a change, for they began to creep from their bolt-hole and join their mates above, to watch, to wait, to see. To find out that they would live.
Hart decided to climb once more, this time only halfway to the top, to help direct if he could, to see that he was right, to savour his small victory in private. Only the lanterns guided them; the black sea and blacker sky a demon wraith closing around them, angry, sensing their imminent escape.
As they drew nearer, Hart wondered why he saw no harbour lights. They should see them by now, the two lanterns, one above the other, which announced the entrance, guided ships between the twin fortresses guarding Falmouth harbour. Pendennis and St. Maws, he remembered. He had seen them a dozen times; they often took the mail packets from there to Plymouth or Portsmouth. Falmouth was the first leg of every journey. But there were no lights.
Something felt wrong - he knew it in his heart. But they proceeded steadily forward, and he said nothing. He knew nothing. He was a boy, not thirteen, and they, grown and experienced men. He had to trust them, to ignore his own fears. He blamed imagination and exhaustion, and took a deep breath to calm himself. Then for a second, for less than a second, the wind stilled, held its breath, drew strength for a final onslaught. And in that fraction, Hart saw what he feared: a reflection, the sheen of rivulets coursing down a barren cliff-side, the glimmer of ice-covered crags not fifty feet ahead. His screams, his warning cries plunged unheard in the shriek of wind that followed. He closed his eyes and uttered a prayer of thanks, gratitude that his family would die before they could know of it - would die with hope in their hearts rather than the fear he now knew.
At first, he thought he felt warm, then he understood that he felt nothing at all. Voices had awakened him, harsh and cold as the winter sea. But the sleet had stopped and there was light, a weak filtering through the mud-covered canvas that sheltered him. He tried to call out, to tell them he needed help, but it seemed even his voice had frozen in his throat. He tried to move, to encourage his lifeless limbs to some sensation, but failed. Or he thought he did; he could not be sure. Broken staves of wine or water casks lay scattered around and over him, and a tangle of rigging entwined his arms and even his neck. But he could breath, and he didn't feel cold. Quite the opposite.
He ordered his hands to move, and watched as they obeyed. He pulled the snarl of ropes from himself, pushed the canvas aside. A blast of wind whipped across his face, stinging his eyes. Then he wished he had not done it. He did not regret the gust of wind. His regret grew from what he saw not ten feet from his face: the cornflower blue wool of his sister's winter gown billowing, rising and falling in the surf, her white ankles entangled, then free, moving with the song of the sea, a morbid, slow dance, keeping perfect time with the ballad of the waves. A piercing shriek filled his ears and he closed his eyes. She had always been a graceful dancer. Nothing had changed.
"A perfect landing," a man's voice above him said, dragging him back.
"I have not seen better," another replied. "Thank God she missed the rocks. I despise getting my feet wet."
The first man laughed, then said, "You would have wet your feet and more for this cargo."
"I saw the copy of the bill of lading; I know what they claimed to carry when they left Plymouth."
"But our man there says not every crate in the hold is listed."
"You are joking. Smuggling?"
"Indeed. Arms and opium. Spirits, of course, the usual. But the arms, and for Ireland. Imagine that."
They laughed again, then the first man said, "We have right of wreck, right of salvage, as there are no survivors. The luggage and stores we can sell here, but the rest? How do we sell that without raising questions? Cornwall is too small. Everyone knows everything within the hour."
"We'll take it where it was meant to go. Ireland. We can find his buyers there easily. That will solve it, and guarantee the best price. They will pay for their cargo, and for our silence."
"Who will see it there?"
"I shall send Jory and Kitto," he answered.
"Kitto? Your boy?"
"Yes. He's made the run before and knows it. I'll send them through Falmouth. Those captains never oppose the odd shilling, and will never suspect the contents. What are you afraid of?"
"You know the squadrons are in for the season," he explained. "And I hear the Mediterranean Fleet is put into Falmouth to wait for a break in the weather."
"What of it? What have they to do with this?"
"You know what I mean."
"Are you worried about the customs agent? Samuel Pellew is not opposed to lining his pockets, Cad. If he were arresting and fining his own townspeople, he would not have kept his position for twenty years. What was that?"
The taller man walked toward the shore. The lumps of rocks and rubble along the beach had changed as the light grew stronger, transformed themselves into the corpses of sailors, of seamen and merchants, two dozen or more washed up on the rocks.
"I saw a movement."
"Impossible. They would never leave one alive," the shorter man argued. He pulled his hat lower over his ears and followed. "He's dead."
"Dead men don't bleed. Look."
The taller of the two drew a pistol from his belt, primed it, and fired toward the ground. He cursed, then walked out, put the toe of his buff-coloured boot into the water and moved it about, washing the spattered blood away.
"Damned laggards," he complained. "My trousers are stained as well." He stepped back, then put his boot heel against the head of the man he had just killed. With a grunt, he pushed the corpse into deeper water, letting the waves take it further out. "I will have an extra ten percent for this," he said. "Teach those fools a lesson. They know if one man survives, we lose the rights."
"They know it well, Gawen. That's why there are never any survivors."
"Except today. They grow careless. Tell them. Ten percent. They will not be so lazy next time."
Hart forced his wrist against his mouth and stifled the scream that rose in his throat, sunk his teeth into his wrist to keep silent as he watched the man shove his father's body into the sea. A sharp, metallic taste filled his mouth, bored into his tongue, and he understood what it meant when men said they tasted fear.
"That was stupid," Cador said. "Now we'll have to bury that one separate. You should have drowned him."
"Takes too long. I have things to attend to," Gawen said.
"You! Come out of there," the shorter man ordered, glaring toward Hart.
Hart froze, terrified. They had seen him; he must have made a sound after all. The world began to grey as something nudged his ribs.
"Caja! Come here!" the man shouted. A snuffing sound, and a long-legged brown mongrel loped toward the man, bounding along the rock-strewn shore.
"Your beast is a true sea-dog. Likes her salt beef. Let her lick the staves. It won't harm her. Where the devil is everyone? Why are they not here securing the stores?"
"Everything here is secure enough," Cador said. "They've gone up for the service. It is Sunday, you recall."
As soon as they had gone, Hart freed himself of the confining rags of sail and crept across the beach, passed India, refusing to look at her. Gaining his feet, he reeled toward his father, into the water and pulled him out. He sunk onto the beach and hugged him to his chest, rocking as the watery blood soaked into his vest and shirt front. None of it had happened. It was still yesterday, they were in Plymouth sound, and he was asleep at the Fountainhead, curled in a warm feather bed, dreaming, having a nightmare caused by too much rich food. He would have to send for a physician, a sedative, a sleeping draught. And something to calm his stomach; he felt sick.
"Father!" he called, hoping for an answer. If his father came and shook his shoulder, he would know it was a dream. He waited, but no one came. He called out again, this time more demanding, then at last furiously. "Father!"
His cry struck the rocky cliff and a weak echo was his only reward. He looked down at the face of the man he adored, the beloved eyes as void of spirit as a goat's, a wound in his temple made by the bullet of a murderer. He stared, unable to move until a pebble bounced from the cliff, alerting him. If they came back, they would kill him as well, kill him as indifferently as they had his father. He had to run, to hide. But he had to do something first.
He pulled him further from the water, left him on the beach while he scouted along the base of the cliff. Finding a sheltered inlet, he clawed with both hands, pulled rock and rubble and finally pebbles and sand away until he thought he had made a deep enough pit. They would not bury him. They would not touch him again. Not if he paid with his life would he allow it. The shrieks in his ears ebbed to a moan as he worked, and he came back to himself crumpled against the cliff's base, his fingers bleeding and nails torn. But it was done and he had to go. They would return. He knew it of a certainty.
Following the path the two men had taken up the side of the cliff, he stopped once and looked down, memorising the spot. He did not know where he was, but he would never forget it. If he saw it a thousand years from this day, he would know it. He would know it if he were blind.
He searched the line of the cliff's edge above, ensuring that no one was coming down yet. No one was, but something above him caught the rays of the advancing sunlight and glowed with a reflection of metal. He edged toward it and found, in a hollow of rock and sheltered by a small outcropping, a dozen lanterns.
He reeled, understanding. These were the ships - the harbour they had seen; lanterns placed about the shore and on the cliff had enticed them in, lured them to wreck. These people had done more than one murder. They had caused the deaths of every soul on board the schooner, his sister, his mother, the pilot, everyone.
Fearful of leaving footprints, which would announce his presence, Hart went no nearer the store of lanterns, but returned to the path and climbed to the top. He saw what might be a village in the distance, but closer to him was a church. Stupidly, he walked toward it, stumbling toward those who would take his life as quickly as they would look at him. He found himself outside the tightly closed doors and heard the muffled sound of a man's voice. He listened.
"Gracious Lord, we pray today for the souls of those dead on our shores this morn. Have mercy on them, and take them into your keeping. We pray, Oh Lord, as always, that wrecks should not happen. But if they do, we plea that thou wilt guide them here for the benefit of our poor inhabitants. We thank thee, gracious Lord, for thy indulgence on this holy day..."
His words jolted Hart's mind to reason. He stumbled away from the door and down the stone step. He had to get away while he could, while they were all inside praying and thanking God for shipwrecks. Near the back of the church, a mare stood ready - saddled, tied to a post. He took it. He followed the only road leading away from the cliffs and the sea below, and it eventually took him east.
He remembered little of the journey but the cold sunlight trying to work its way through the overcast sky, casting a dim shadow behind him which grew longer as the day wore on. He shook himself awake time after time, whenever he perceived that the horse halted, and kicked her to make her move.
Toward evening, he was desperate, barely able to keep his seat and considering giving up when the trees and scrub abruptly parted to a grouping of buildings on either side of a winding lane. At its end, he saw the harbour, the harbour they thought they had entered during the night. He followed the road, searching for someone, for help, but the cold kept everyone securely indoors. He passed house after house, lighted windows, men and women and children sitting to dinner, snug among fire and kin. He could not dismount to knock on a door. He wondered where his shoes had gone, then remembered kicking them off before climbing the mast. Finally seeing a man, he hailed him and asked for the only name he knew, the name of the man he had heard mentioned. "Sir, do you know a man called Pellew?"
The man looked up and said, "If you are going a-begging, young fellow, I shouldn't bother the Commodore. He has important guests for dinner tonight; half the Navy is dining at Trefusis."
"I don't know the Commodore. I need a man called Pellew. I am no beggar."
"Have you any money?"
"How did you come by the horse?"
"I must find a man called Pellew. Please tell me how I can find him."
"Trefusis. Anyone called Pellew is there tonight, so whichever one you want, that's where you will find him."
"Where is Trefusis?" he asked, hoping it was not far.
"Just over your head, sir," the man pointed.
He looked over his shoulder then up, and saw lights above, a large old manor house on a precipice overlooking the harbour. It seemed about a mile, perhaps less.
"Thank you." He turned the horse about and followed the dirt road to the top of the rise. He entered the yard, and a stable hand ran out to take his mount.
Closing the distance between them in the lit yard, the man hesitated, then studied him more carefully. "Who are you then? Not an invited guest, I will wager," he said.
"No, sir. Mr. Pellew..."
He had come as far as he could. Exhaustion overtook him, and the golden lights of the lanterns in the yard, the warm yellow squares of window panes blurred together and scattered like fireflies on a summer night.