Child of Sorrow
by Wendy B and Hillary Stevens
Horatio stood at attention and waited for Captain Pellew's reaction to the story he had just related. Parts of it sounded fantastic even to his ears - fantastic and barbaric and true. He did not doubt Hart had endured the ordeal he had described in such awful detail.
Pellew stood at the windows, staring out at the darkness of late afternoon. He had asked very few questions, only nodded from time to time.
"Wreckers," he pronounced finally, "filthy wreckers." He turned to Horatio. "They lure a ship onto the rocks, murder her crew and take any cargo they can get their hands on." He shook his head. "My brother told me they had been more active of late, using the foul weather to their advantage. Did the boy give you any idea of their direction?"
Horatio thought for a moment. "He mentioned a church, sir. He stole the horse there."
"A church? Have you any idea how many churches there are along the coast, Mr. Hornblower?"
Horatio fought to control the blush which rose at the implied reproach. "Many I am certain, sir. He may know more than what he told me, but I was loathe to question him further."
Pellew nodded. "I fear it may be necessary. How does his health?"
"Your - Dr. Pellew said he should be recovered by the end of the week."
"Sooner, if my daughter has a say in his convalescence."
"Sir, the boy - Wellard stole a horse. What's to be done?"
Pellew half-turned from the window, his dark eyes assessing the young man in front of him. "You are worried he will be prosecuted for this, Mr. Hornblower?"
"I realise it is a crime, sir, but what choice did he have? What else could he have done?"
"Nought that I can see. For the time being, the horse will remain in my stable. My stableman will not speak of it to anyone, nor mention the boy. I will tell him to keep an ear out for news of a stolen or missing horse. If the boy cannot tell us where the boat was wrecked, perhaps that will aid us in our investigation."
"My brother is the customs agent, Mr. Hornblower. I will offer him our assistance in finding these men. With few troops to assist him, he is unlikely to refuse."
Horatio fought the grin that threatened. Something to do, at last. He had grown restive as their stay in Falmouth dragged on. "Yes, sir!"
"Tomorrow, you will return to my home and speak to the boy again. He must tell you everything he remembers - any detail may prove important." Pellew picked up a letter opener from his desk and balanced it on its point. "I will send a message to my brother and acquaint him with the facts you have presented to me. Perhaps he will make inquiries into the boy's background and relations." Pellew shook his head. "To see your family lying dead around you..."
Looking at the sudden tight grip Pellew had on the letter opener, Horatio wondered if he were picturing his own children. He swallowed hard, thinking of George with his sunny smile and disposition; Emma efficient and calm, unmindful of the harm done her best gown.
Pellew seated himself at the desk and drew forward a sheet of paper. Over his shoulder, he said, "You are dismissed, Lieutenant."
"Thank you, sir."
As he closed the door behind him, Horatio felt the wind's sharp bite. Damp cold cut through the wool of his coat as he hurried across the nearly deserted deck to the ladder. Around the Indefatigable, other ships lay rocking at anchor. Few voices carried across the water on the wind. It was not a night to while away the time on deck.
Sound met him as he ran down the ladder. Half the ship's officers and warrant officers had taken leave before Christmas, Archie Kennedy among them. Horatio nodded. It was right Archie should have this time. After prison in Spain, the debacle of Muzillac and months of solitary patrol, he had delighted in the boyish enthusiasm on Archie's face when Archie had told him he had been granted leave. Horatio had not begrudged him this month away. He only hoped Archie would return in his usual high spirits and save him from enduring Falmouth society alone.
Hart had not wanted to tell it, but it had come out against his will, like poison leaking from a hole in a rusted tin bucket. Shortly after the officer left, the girl came in with supper. He pretended sleep, and soon it was true, for he awoke sweating from a nightmare in which a faceless man crept into the room, pressed a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. His eyes flew open; he could not tell at first whether it had happened. His hand went to the place and, though he felt a ghost of the pain from the dream, he was unharmed.
It was dusk. He sat up and peered into dim corner. She was there, and he was glad. His breathing slowed, but his heart still pounded in his chest and in his ears.
"What's wrong?" she asked, touching his forehead.
He shook his head. He did not want to speak of it.
She refreshed the salve on his feet as her uncle had instructed. He did not complain. The cuts hurt, but the salve she applied liberally to the linen bandages soothed the pain. He ached through every part of his body, every muscle complaining of his abuse, every movement making him catch his breath. When she finished, she covered him. He made himself as small as he could under the blanket, his arms folded against his chest and his legs pulled close.
He knew that if the people called Pellew were involved with the wreckers, they would soon find a way to discredit him. He should have said nothing - he should have waited until he recovered, then made his way home. Mr. Whitney, his father's secretary, would believe him, and would find a way to help.
Now he could do nothing. He could not run, not yet. He wondered whether the man called Samuel Pellew had heard of him. If he were in danger before he spoke, he was doubly so now. Fearful of falling asleep, he startled himself awake every time he began to doze. The long evening grew into an even longer night.
Horatio returned to Trefusis at ten the following morning, the earliest he could conceive of calling at anyone's home. He explained the purpose of his visit, and his message was taken to Lady Susan. She would, he was told, see him presently. Meanwhile, he was to wait in the bookroom. He paced the small space, mulling over all he remembered and considered all that must be done. First, he must question Hart once more, something he regretted.
After hearing his account the day before, Captain Pellew had gone ashore almost immediately to inform his brother of the crimes committed and the accusations made against their family. Sunday night, seeing Samuel Pellew in the role of physician, Horatio had forgotten the customs agent's other persona, that which had earned him a reputation in the service of the Crown that rivalled Sir Edward's reputation in the Navy. Things people said about other agents Horatio had never heard said about Samuel Pellew. Until yesterday. And Captain Pellew, though he said little at the time of the telling, was angry. Horatio had known him long enough to recognise fury in his commander's eyes. He would not sit idle now. None of them would.
Still pacing, Horatio started when he saw a movement behind the heavy green velvet hangings covering the room's only window. Then he smiled. He made his way to the window and drew the drape aside, revealing a small boy standing on the twelve-inch-wide ledge, his chin just clearing the lower frost-covered half, peering out toward the harbour.
"Hello, again," Horatio said.
George turned slowly, his eyes wide, then he grinned. "Did you bring me a present?" he asked.
Horatio performed a mental inventory of his pockets, regretting their almost permanent state of emptiness. Then he remembered something. He reached into the inside coat pocket and dug deep.
"There," he said, handing the child a fragment of rock. It shone like gold, a small lump of what they called 'fool's gold' he had impulsively picked up from the rocky shore of Scilly just before anchoring in Falmouth. Though it was worth nothing, he had never seen so pure a specimen and had taken it as a curiosity.
George's eyes grew as round as his mouth as he gingerly lifted it from Horatio's palm. "It's pretty," he breathed.
"It is for you," Horatio assured him.
"Thank you ever so much. My uncle Israel always brings presents. But Uncle Samuel never does, except at Christmas he brings oranges. He was here this morning with his black bag. He never lets me see in his bag. I think he hides many nice things in it."
George studied the inch-wide glittery rock carefully, then brought it to his lips, touched it with the tip of his tongue.
"You will not eat it?" Horatio asked, amused.
"No. I just taste it. I always do that unless Emma or Mother is watching. They don't like me to do it. Uncle Sam says I will get a disease, but I am never sick."
Horatio nodded, thinking he could see why Dr. Pellew was so possessive of the contents of his bag. "And what are you doing this morning? Watching your father's ship?"
George nodded seriously. "Mother is not dressed yet, and Emma is asleep. Dorcas is watching the sick boy, and Nurse is reading. I asked her to read to me and for a while she did, but I don't like stories about kissing so I left. I am quite big enough to look after myself," he asserted.
"I see that you are."
"Lieutenant Hornblower?" Lady Susan said, entering the small room. "I am sorry, I understand you wish to question our convalescent again. You may be unable. He did not rest well, and seemed feverish this morning."
"Uncle Sam gave him a thorn to make him sleep," George volunteered. "Heart Thorn. I heard him say so."
"Hartshorn," his mother corrected gently.
"Might I make the attempt?" Horatio asked.
"Of course. As my husband sent you, you should at least see him." She lifted her young son down from the ledge and took his hand. "Come along, truant. Where is Nurse?"
"She is reading a book about kissing," George began the story again.
The conversation died away as Horatio climbed the stairs and entered the bedroom where Hart lay asleep, tossing restlessly, murmuring. Horatio neared and bent down to speak to him.
"Hart," he asked. "Can you hear?"
Dark eyes partially opened. "Help me," he whispered. "Please. I have to get away..."
"No, no," Horatio assured him, brushing the hair from the boy's too-warm face. "You are safe here, I swear it."
"Please," he repeated. He grasped Horatio's sleeve with both hands, fingers digging into his arm in desperation. "Please!"
The maid Dorcas approached with a cup of some red liquid. "He has been so all night. Scared right out of his wits, I shouldn't wonder." She held the cup and trickled the liquid between the boy's lips, and Hart swallowed reflexively. Soon he grew calm again, his vice-like grip falling away, his too-bright eyes fading and closing.
Horatio smoothed the fabric of his sleeve and settled himself into the chair, conveniently placed close to Hart's head. He watched for an hour, then decided he should leave. He could learn nothing more today. He tugged the blankets more closely around the boy, his heart aching.
Disconcerted, he let himself out and hurried back to the docks. The waterman he hailed seemed the talkative sort, but Horatio kept his eyes averted, effectively informing the man that he did not desire conversation. He paid him, dropping a coin into his hand just before catching the footholds and climbing aboard.
Horatio reported to Captain Pellew immediately, but the captain's reaction was not as he expected. Indeed, he seemed almost pleased.
"Never mind," he said. "It is not necessary. Two men came through town this morning with news of the wreck. We know where it is. We have sent a message to Plymouth, to the Port Admiral, informing him. We will hear something from him by morning. He will likely send a few officials to investigate."
"Sir, if the facts are generally known - "
"They are not, Lieutenant. Facts seldom are. The people know of the wreck, and that is all. The officials will investigate, and the villagers will have their rights. According to the reports, they have already taken their rights, and more. The stores are stripped bare, the ship herself already little more than a skeleton."
"So they know nothing of the boy," Horatio sighed, relieved. "Though some who were at your home on Sunday night might guess."
"I doubt anyone else saw him. My brother knows, of course. He will begin his own investigation. We will tell no one else," Captain Pellew stated.
"Until we arrest them," Horatio added.
"Indeed. As you are volunteering, Lieutenant, what do you suggest, as our next course of action?"
"Sir, I...I think we must wait for the result's of Plymouth's investigation. I expect they will find nothing - a storm, a ship wrecked on shore, news, but nothing extraordinary."
"Precisely," Captain Pellew said. "Then what?"
"Then...we will need evidence that these crimes were committed. Sir, the only evidence..." he swallowed.
"Correct once more, Lieutenant. Mr. Wellard must show us where he buried his father."
"Yes, sir," Horatio agreed, his mouth dry. "Will I inform him?"
"I will, when the time comes."
"Where did it happen, sir?" he asked.
"A small village between here and the Lizzard, called St. Mawgams."
"I don't know it, sir," Horatio admitted.
"No. But you will."
Hart remembered the lieutenant being there. He knew he had asked for help, and that the officer had offered him none. Desperate, he took matters into his own hands. He noticed that if he became agitated, another swallow of the liquid would come, the bitter taste that made him sleep. So the next time he awoke, he forced himself to be still, to breathe easily, quietly. He turned over, and found himself alone. After an hour, he felt less muddled, and decided. The only rational thing to do was to escape.
He took an inventory of himself. The shirt he wore was far too big for him. It had been darned, mended at least twice. He saw his own grey coat and breeches, already cleaned and pressed, in a neat stack on the bureau top. His shirt and vest were missing, but that did not matter. He dressed, then searched the bureau drawers for stockings. He found a pair, white, also much darned. He doubted anyone would complain of missing them. But boots were another matter altogether. Boots were expensive, and he hesitated to take even the cracked, salt-encrusted pair he found crumpled in the bottom of the wardrobe. But he had little choice. He needed them, and they looked as though they would fit over his swollen feet.
Deciding, he held the boots under his arm and crept down the hall and then the stairs, hoping to find a door to the outside without interference. Most country homes followed similar lines, arrangements of rooms, and he thought he could find a way out quickly. The front entrance was out of the question. He heard both speech and movement coming from that direction. There would be another in the kitchen, but with supper in the offing, that would be crowded.
Further back in the house, he encountered another room, another sort of room, one likely for use by servants, as he noted no sign of decoration or varnish. Then he spotted what he needed; a small panel beside the fireplace, the door through which wood or coal came in from outside. He tugged the boots on, slid the panel up, crept out into an enormous woodpile, then closed the panel behind him.
Rain pelted down, and the wind blew sharply. The rain clung and froze to whatever it struck, lacquering everything with a layer of glassy ice. He scrambled over the heaped woodpile and headed toward the forested area, aiming for the downward slope which led to the town. He followed the angle of the road, but kept from using it. He slipped in several places where the ice had grown thick, but kept going. An occasional blast whipped through the tree branches, shattering the glaze of ice and sending it to the ground like a shower of diamonds. Were he indoors and warm, he would have thought it beautiful.
He remembered nothing of the town, and he did not know where he might go. His feet already ached with cold, and he felt weak. He needed to eat, but other things were more important. He shook his head to clear his thoughts. He chastised himself for having put himself into the hands of this clannish bunch of outlanders. Even their manner of speech confirmed this. One of them had actually used the word "anywhen." Uneducated, isolated, and unpredictable, he doubted all of them.
It seemed warmer between the buildings blocking the gale, and some heat radiated from the many fires. In the more populated parts of the town, he threw himself in with boys and seamen congregating about the lower attractions, billiard rooms and public drinking houses, one of which turned out to be more a brothel than an inn. Two innkeepers sent him out, one with a sharpish blow to his ear, the other with a kind word but a stern face, when they discovered he had no money.
Discouraged, he wandered away, thinking of what he must do. He decided he would seek passage on one of the packets, even offer to work his way back to London, to his father's house, and try to find his father's secretary, his law advisor, or even his clerk. Someone who knew him, someone he need not fear. Someone who cared about his father. He desperately wanted a familiar face.
His legs preferred to walk downhill rather than up, and nearing the quay, he found the packet office. It was closed. Then he saw that the customs house sat exactly next to it. That was where Samuel Pellew would be, he assumed. The agent who took money to keep silent.
He wondered whether the girl was related to this man. He remembered that he had come to Falmouth to warn him, to ask him for help. He was an idiot to have done so. Samuel Pellew had to be involved, somehow. He returned to the main street through this part of the town, an incline that appeared to end at the quay.
Peering at the various businesses, trying to work out the signs in the deepening gloom of evening, he failed to see the thick coating of ice on the footpath until his feet flew out from under him and he began sliding down. He threw his arms wide to grab or hold something, and instead, grabbed someone. Someone's legs, at the ankles. The ankles felt very solid for a second, then they gave way to the force of his descent, and the legs and the man to whom they were attached came down with him. On him, really.
A deep, surprised grunt escaped the gentleman as he fell, followed by an admirable stream of curses, the most completely thorough and impressive cursing Hart had heard in his entire life. The freshet dried up when they both collided with yet a third man.
"Captain Sawyer! Sir, allow me," said a somewhat round fellow whose laughter Hart realised he had been hearing during most of the junket. He offered his hand and helped the other to his feet. "Sir, pardon my effrontery in reproaching you, but in Falmouth, a sled is a sled, while a boy is a boy. Whatever our other oddities, we do not traditionally confuse the one with the other."
The man, who wore a lieutenant's uniform, held out his hand again, and helped Hart to his feet. He stood, light-headed and confused, barely able to keep his balance. The officer steadied him with a hand on his shoulder. Captain Sawyer appeared at a loss for a moment, then he too began to laugh.
When both men finally stopped, Captain Sawyer cursed again. "I had a paper in my hand.. Now it is gone. This impudent boy made me lose it. But I declare I have not had so much fun since I was his age."
"You must have dropped it, sir. Shall I assist you in relocating it?"
"I know you. I met you last night. Lieutenant... Bolster? Buttress? Come, man, what is it? Some sort of fortress, I am sure."
"Bracegirdle, Captain," he replied, laughing once more.
"Thank you for your help, Lieutenant, but I will locate the paper myself. It is of no consequence...only a note with a direction. What of this boy? You chose a poor venue for your fun, young man."
"Sir, I - " Hart began to object.
"Captain, I assure you it was an accident," Bracegirdle interrupted. "I saw the whole incident. The boy slipped, then carried you along. Lad, are you injured? Look, he is positively faint. The excitement of meeting you, perhaps, Captain," he teased. "Get you home, child, or wherever you belong. An apprentice, are you?"
"No, sir," he said. "I am nothing. I mean, I have no home or employment."
Captain Sawyer snorted, and said, "This is why our country is in the state in which we find it, Bracegirth. A fine, healthy boy with all his limbs who has no employment. Take him on board, sir. Press him into service. I insist. Unless...you are not a thief, are you, boy?"
"No, sir!" Hart objected. Then he remembered a horse and the boots he wore.
His uncertainty must have shown on his face. The captain seized his arm at the elbow, almost lifting him from the pavement. "A pickpocket, are you? Accosting gentlemen of a dark night? Was that your intention, when you waylaid me up there?"
"No, sir!" he cried.
"Vicegirdle, you had better take him with you. I have an engagement that I cannot afford to ignore. I will come out and speak with Captain Pellew in the morning. Tell him to expect me."
"Yes, sir," Bracegirdle said. When the captain left them and was out of earshot, he added, "Come along, lad. I will take you out, as he ordered, but I would have done so anyway. You look like a boy who wants a bowl of grub."
"Where must I go, sir?" he asked. The mention of Captain Pellew worried him.
"The Indefatigable. The best frigate in the Western Squadron, under the best captain in the Royal Navy, Sir Edward Pellew. Would you like to see that?"
"No, sir," he whispered. It seemed fate was against him.
"No, sir? No, sir? And why not?"
"I cannot tell you," he answered. "Please let me go."
"You are not afraid, are you? A great boy like yourself?"
He was, but would not say so. He held his breath, trying to come up with a reasonable answer. None came. His feet ached so, he could not concentrate, and the giddiness increased. He could recall his last real meal, dinner at the Fountainhead in Plymouth, game and fowl, countless removes, apple tart and custard...Saturday afternoon.
"What is today?" he asked.
"Tuesday," Bracegirdle said. "Come along."
He led Hart, unresisting, toward the shore, hailed a waterman who rowed them out to a ship anchored in the roads.
"Mr. Hornblower, we have a guest this evening," Bowles called as Horatio paused to put his hat in his cabin. "An newly-found acquaintance of Mr. Bracegirdle."
Horatio turned, his eyes sweeping over the small group. His jaw dropped as he focused on the small figure in the over-sized coat. "Hart?"
Hart looked at him for an instant before dropping his eyes to the plate in front of him. "G-good evening, Lieutenant."
Bracegirdle looked from one to the other. "I met young Wellard on the street this afternoon and invited him to dinner, Horatio. I had no idea you knew him."
"He is - was the boy Sunday night," Horatio explained as he continued to stare. "How did you meet him?"
"He and Captain Sawyer had...a sledding accident, and I was close at hand."
"Captain Sawyer? An accident?" Horatio took a breath. "The doctor said you were to be abed until the end of the week."
Hart nodded, keeping his eyes carefully down.
"Yet you were sledding this afternoon."
"Accidentally, though. It was icy, and there was a hill, you see."
Horatio sat down beside Hart and put a hand on his shoulder. "Does Miss Pellew know you are gone?"
"By now," Hart whispered. "I was afraid."
"Afraid? The Captain and his family have been nothing but kind to you. Why would you fear them?"
Hart shook his head and refused to speak. Horatio looked to Bracegirdle for help, but he merely shrugged.
"Is it something to do with the wreck, Hart?"
"I must go to London. I must find Mr. Whitney, my father's secretary. He will know what to do."
Horatio put a hand on the boy's shoulder and turned him so they faced one another. "Hart, listen to me. I have spoken to the Captain, told him your story. He will find the men who did this and see them punished."
"It is only my word, sir," Hart protested. "No one will take the word of a boy - a stranger to these parts - against that of a man."
Bowles leaned forward across the table. "You will be heard in court, lad, same as any man. If wrong has been done you, they will listen."
Horatio nodded. "You must not run away. You are the only witness to this. I believe your father would wish you to help us. Will you do it?"
Hart stared at him for a moment, then looked at Bracegirdle and Bowles. Horatio could see the fear and dread in his eyes, then saw another stronger emotion push them aside. Determination, resolute to see this through.
"Good lad," Bracegirdle breathed when Hart finally nodded.
"There is one more thing to be dealt with," Horatio announced.
"You wish me to go back."
"Miss Pellew will be beside herself with worry," Horatio agreed. "Will you believe me when I say you have nothing to fear in that house? That no harm will come to you there?"
Hart thought for a moment. "If you are certain."
"I could not be more certain of it. When you and I have finished our meals, I will take you back. You must promise me you will remain there. Do you?"
Horatio studied him for a moment, convincing himself there was no artifice in the answer. "Good."
Horatio stood between Bracegirdle and Captain Pellew on the quarterdeck just after breakfast, watching what appeared at first a disorganised jumble of activity. It soon sorted itself out as men came above, stowed hammocks and disappeared below. Two dozen who had been disorderly during the previous week had been set to blacking the bends. The sharp scent of tar warming over the galley fires permeated the air, and Horatio breathed shallowly, both hating and loving the smell.
"A cold day," Bracegirdle remarked. "They will have to work quickly."
"They know it," Horatio said.
"Ah, here he comes," Captain Pellew said, moving toward the larboard rail.
"Who?" Horatio queried, speaking to Bracegirdle.
"Did I not tell you? Captain Sawyer - the officer who uses boys as sleds, said he would come out this morning. He expressed some interest in Mr. Wellard."
"You know damned well you said nothing," Horatio declared.
Horatio moved forward and stood near Captain Pellew, watching as Sawyer's barge pulled near, his oarsmen uniformly dressed in red checked shirts with bright blue neck-cloths and black hats bearing the word "Renown."
Probably assuming he was forgiven, Bracegirdle joined them. In a low voice, Horatio asked, "Why is he interested?"
"I am not sure," Bracegirdle said. "He seemed convinced the boy was a thief."
"I hope it is just that," Horatio commented. "I cannot otherwise see him taking so keen an interest in a trivial incident. Will we explain?"
"We may have to," Bracegirdle said carefully. "We cannot lie, and if he is truly interested, he must know the truth. I do not doubt he can be trusted to keep silent. He is no fool."
As they spoke, the captain's barge tied near the ladder and Captain Sawyer climbed aboard. When the sounds of the bosun's whistle died away, Captain Pellew greeted his guest and invited him inside. Indicating that his officers should follow, he led them into the great cabin where his steward had prepared mulled wine. Sir Edward offered his guest a drink.
"With pleasure, Edward," Sawyer said. "Damnably cold weather, this. And more to come, sir. Good morning to you, Lieutenant Brestgirdle."
Bracegirdle acknowledged the salutation and bowed his head, returning the captain's good wishes.
"And you, sir?" he indicated Hornblower.
Captain Pellew stepped closer. "James, this is my second lieutenant, Hornblower. I intended to introduce you the other night, but unfortunate circumstances prevented it. You will recall the name when I remind you of Gibraltar and the fire ships."
"Yes, I do," Sawyer admitted. "Hornblower - the cattle man. Of course, sir. A pleasure." He offered his hand, and Horatio shook it, both pleased and embarrassed.
Sawyer then returned his attention to his involuntary host. "Edward, you know why I have come."
"I know what you told Lieutenant Bracegirdle," he answered.
"Yes, that is a part of the reason, but a very small part. I simply wanted to spend the morning on a frigate, and not one of my own, if you understand me. I cannot enjoy a simple visit with such grovelling and nervousness about me."
Sir Edward laughed, and Sawyer joined him, adding, "Damn me, how I envy you, sir."
"James, if I could manage it, I would arrange for a Frenchman or two in the harbour so you might find it even more charming than you do," he said. "I am sure Lieutenant Hornblower would appreciate it as well. He is ever unhappy when there is no enemy in sight."
They spoke for some time of single-ship actions of the past, then Sawyer asked Captain Pellew to recount his taking of the French Cleopatre frigate. Sir Edward obliged, concluding with, "We were all in it, heart and soul. My brother fired the shot that told, though I reaped more benefit than he in the end."
Sawyer nodded. "Is he still with you?"
"As of this month, no. He has orders to North America next month. Just now, he is at home on leave."
"An impudent fellow, your brother, if I remember rightly. Which reminds me, what of that boy? I am all over aches and pains today, thank you to him. I should thrash him for his clumsiness. Have you done as I suggested, and put the rascal to work?"
"No, I have not," Captain Pellew said. "Nor shall I."
"Edward, why not? He is a fine, strong-limbed boy with no occupation. Will you not disengage him from his mother's breast and take him? Or will she not let him go?"
"James," Sir Edward quietly admonished his friend. The steward came around to refill glasses. When he stepped away, Captain Pellew said, "Mr. Hornblower, will you please?"
"Holy God in heaven," Sawyer swore when Horatio finished. "It is inconceivable. And you believe this story?"
"We do," Hornblower said. "We have no reason to think it other than the truth. He told us of the wreck before it became known. His condition upon his arrival here speaks for itself."
"He seemed well enough last evening," Sawyer contradicted.
"He recovers now; that is true." Sir Edward said.
"Edward, if what Hornblower says is true, if this did happen, then he is a damned courageous boy. He is how old?"
"Twelve," Hornblower answered.
"Twelve," Sawyer repeated to himself. "Old enough, is he not?"
"Yes," Sir Edward agreed. "But we need time. He is only beginning what he must now do."
He told Sawyer of the plans for the night, then said, "I intend to go ashore this afternoon to tell him. If we do, as I expect we will, find the evidence we need to arrest these men, he will still have much to do. He must identify the murderer, then testify at his trial. This is an arduous task for a grown man. I shudder to think how it might affect a boy."
Midway through the afternoon, Hart sat listening as Emma read aloud from a novel from the circulating library. He did not like it. Very little happened yet it used a million words to tell them so. Unaccountably, Emma dropped the book and stood.
Hart stood and turned as well. He would have known who it was even if Emma had said nothing. The uniform, his assured, commanding voice and bearing all spoke of Captain Pellew. Hart dreaded this meeting almost as much as he feared the unknown Samuel.
The captain strode toward them. He embraced his daughter and spoke to her quietly. Then he turned to Hart and offered his hand. "I doubt you remember me," he said.
Hart offered his own trembling hand and let it be engulfed by the older man's. "I don't, sir," he admitted. "When did..."
"The evening you arrived in my foyer," he said. "How do you do? I had word today that you are improved." Sir Edward Pellew dominated the room. He was a tall man, and broad shouldered, but it was not his physical size that gave Hart the impression. He was the sort of man who made Hart sit up straighter, made him more conscious of himself, of his behaviour, his faults.
"I am very well, sir," he answered as he thought he should.
"I think you are a liar," the captain accused. "But I commend you; that you can say as much does you credit. Emma, dearest, will you mind going to your mother for a time? She is in her dressing room."
"Yes, Father," she said, sliding from the settee. She left the room, glancing back once with a worried frown.
Captain Pellew waited for the door to close, then cleared his throat. "You know that Phoebe is located?"
"Yes, sir. I heard it."
"Plymouth sent two men to question the people of St. Mawgam, who have claimed salvage rights. Be easy," he said, calming Hart with a light touch. "No one, not even these investigators are aware of your having survived. They are...civilians. What they know, they might tell. Informing murderers of what we know would defeat our purpose, would it not?"
Hart breathed a great sigh of relief. He understood little more than that no one knew of him.
"I am sorry for you," Captain Pellew continued, his voice growing harsh. "When I learned what occurred, I regretted the day I was born a Cornishman. Now I do not. I do, however, regret that the men responsible for this can say as much. They will not call themselves so for long - Cornishmen or even Englishmen. That I swear to you. They will hang, sir. Hang!"
"I hope so," Hart answered nervously. Never had he heard so passionate a speech.
The captain's face grew softer as he said, "I have a son close to your age. I pray God he - " he stopped abruptly. "Mr. Wellard, I must ask a favour of you now, a thing which will require a great deal of courage. Do you know what it is?"
Hart swallowed. "No, sir."
"I believe your account, as do my officers. How can we not? There is, however, no proof of what you say - that is, legal proof. If we are to succeed in hanging these murderers, we must have that proof - indisputable evidence, which only you can provide."
"What must I do?" he asked.
Captain Pellew told him.
His heart hammered; he swallowed hard. Then he remembered his determination that day, his vow to return to that place, and he understood why he had made such a promise; not only to save his father from their vile touch, but to one day see him where he belonged. His father was a Christian, and did not deserve to lie where he did.
He bit his lip, then braced himself. "I will do it, sir," he swore in a firm voice.
"Good man," Captain Pellew said. "It must be done as quickly as possible. Tonight. Can you find what we seek without light? The moon is full tonight."
"Yes, sir," he said. He felt cold, and shivered. "I am certain I can. May I ask a favour?"
"Yes, what is it?"
"Will we just look and then leave him there? Or will we bring him back here?"
"The orders from the customs office require that we take him to the medical examiner here in Falmouth," he answered. "That is what I have told my men to do."
"Then may I see my father buried properly, in a churchyard? Surely they will allow it. He was a Christian, sir."
"Of course you may. We are Cornishmen, not barbarians, despite all you have seen. I intend to prove it to you. The town will see to the expenses. We have an allotment set aside for such things."
"Thank you, sir. I will repay them when I can, I promise." Hart paused, then added, "What time will we go?"
"You and my men will leave Falmouth at ten, and should arrive near midnight. Lieutenant Hornblower will collect you with that time in mind, likely just after nine."
"You will not be with us, sir?" Hart asked.
"I cannot; I have an engagement," Captain Pellew explained. His voice grew gentle as he said, "Come, get some sleep now so you will not want for it later. You appear to need it."
"Yes, sir," Hart said. He almost choked on the words, Captain Pellew's sympathy touching him deeply. He sat back and closed his eyes. Then he opened them again. "Sir," he called.
"What is it?" the captain asked, hesitating just inside the door.
"You mentioned the customs office - you know what those men said about - have you spoken with him?"
"I have," Captain Pellew said. "You have as well. He is my brother, your physician."
"Sir? Samuel Pellew is - he was him? I mean why did no one tell me? I was afraid of him. Because of what they said."
Captain Pellew came back to him. "They lied," he said. He took Hart's hand and pressed it firmly. "Fear nothing from him. His pride would not allow such dishonour. I am sorry you were afraid. Doubtless we should have told you, but it is difficult to keep in mind that you are a stranger here, and do not know us. Is that why you ran from my house?"
"Yes, sir. I thought...all I could think was...I was afraid to trust anyone here, once I had time to consider everything," Hart said.
"I wish I had known of your concern before now; we might have eased your mind that much sooner. I promise you, you may rest easy, so far as you are able in these circumstances."
"Thank you, sir." Hart kicked off his slippers and pulled his feet up onto the settee. Resting his head on a cushion, he relaxed, knowing at last that his cares were certainly in strong hands - capable, trustworthy hands. Just before he fell asleep, a blanket was laid over him.
"Thank you, sir," he murmured again.
"Mr. Wellard - Hart. Wake up."
He opened his eyes but was still so groggy that he stared, confused, trying to work out where he was and who spoke to him. Then he remembered; he had slept in the sitting room where the captain had left him.
"All right, now?" the lieutenant asked.
"Yes. Is it time?" He blinked slowly, trying to focus. A tray of food occupied the table next to him; apparently no one had wanted to disturb his rest.
"Yes. Drink some wine and put some bread in your pocket. You might want it."
He sipped the undiluted wine until his stomach rebelled, then set the glass aside. Hornblower wrapped bread and cheese in a napkin.
In the entry hall, they stopped while the lieutenant pulled his cloak over his shoulders. He picked up a heavy wool coat and helped Hart into it, then snatched up a comforter, a hat and heavy, lined mittens and gave them to him.
"Put those on. The cold is such that the thermometer has frozen," he said. "I have not felt anything close to it in my life. Hopefully this will not take long. Are those for your use?" he asked, pointing to a pair of black boots, the ones he had worn the day before.
Hart nodded, dressing himself quickly. He stuffed the bread in his pocket, as directed. As they left the captain's house, the wind took his breath. He choked, his throat unwilling to open, to allow such frigid air into his lungs. He pulled the comforter over his mouth and nose and breathed through it, the fabric and his own exhalations warming the air enough so he could breathe. His nose and ears already tingled, and his eyes stung. Within yards of the house, he gasped in pain as the cold penetrated the over-large boots and thin stockings.
"Walk quickly; it will warm you," Lieutenant Hornblower encouraged. He caught Hart's arm and together they sped toward the dimly lit town below them.
Soon the shock of the temperature wore away. His feet numbed themselves, nature's anaesthetic, and as he walked, he stopped shivering. It was past nine, and most people were preparing for bed. The air was still, and Hart caught the scent of tar and salt emanating from the officer's clothing. It was better than any rose-scented cologne water that some city men wore.
He could barely make out the shape of the revenue cutter from the quay. He had never seen a ship of any sort with black sails.
"Why do they have them?" he asked.
"For occasions such as these," a voice answered from the cutter. A uniformed revenue officer stood on the deck. "Are you all here?" he addressed the lieutenant.
"I believe so, sir," Lieutenant Hornblower answered.
As he spoke, Hart noticed a few white specks flitting before his face and saw more in the halo of lantern light. Snow again.
"A good sign," the revenue officer said. "It will warm a few degrees now, thank God. The cattle are dying in the fields."
A few crewmen came from the shadows and immediately boarded the cutter. With the help of an older, kind-faced seaman, Hart stepped across the gap onto the side of the cutter, then over the rail and onto the deck. A handful of others had already boarded, and were waiting.
"Right," Lieutenant Hornblower said, rubbing his bare hands together. "No more lights than necessary, once we near the cove. And once we enter, all lanterns will be extinguished. We will collect the evidence and return as quickly as possible. Keep a match lit below, so we may re-light the lanterns on our return. Sir? Have you everything you need?" He addressed a gentleman Hart had not noticed before, a tall, elderly man whose boots indicated that he was not a sailor or any sort of seaman, but a gentleman.
"Yes, Commander, I do," the man replied. "Is this the boy?"
"Yes, sir," the lieutenant answered. "Mr. Wellard."
"A pleasure, sir," the man said, turning toward Hart. "I am Mr. Knight."
Hart exchanged a greeting with the gentleman, shook his hand, and wondered why he came with them. The man must have noted his perplexity, for he explained, "I am to oversee the operation, to verify the facts. My statement is wanted by the investigating body."
"The body?" Hart asked, perplexed. He had not understand a word the man said.
"The body of men overseeing the investigation," he explained. "The customs agents and revenue service. I am the provost marshal. From Truro."
"Yes, sir," Hart said. He did not know what a provost was, but he knew it had something to do with the law, and that the law was wanted here.
The man cursed the weather and stowed himself below, so Hart moved forward to the bow and watched the snow swirl around the lantern there. He was vaguely aware of the lieutenant ordering the crewmen about, and felt the momentary thrill as the small craft moved away from the dock. Some minutes later, he felt it again when the sails caught the wind. He sensed the lift, the sudden weightless, gone feeling he always got when a ship first began a voyage. In the cutter, it was even more noticeable.
Focusing slightly ahead, the snow resembled a starry sky, oddly hypnotising the way the white particles split away and disappeared to either side, always more of them ahead. He watched, entranced, unaware of the passage of time. He could feel the air moving against his face and see the flakes of snow flying across the lantern's light, almost horizontal. He felt their gentle touch on his face, a feathery, fleeting caress that should have made him think of his mother, but he could not bring her memory forward. He tried for a moment to recall her face, and India's, but could not.
He saw only his father's, his last sight of him, white with cold and strain, droplets of rain turning to ice on his cheeks, shouting to him as he clung to the ratlines just over his head, asking if all was well. His throat tightened as he remembered it, seeing the cliff, knowing what was about to happen, unable to stop it. A choking sob broke from him, and he squeezed his eyes shut, thinking it would black out the picture, but it did not, which proved that everything was wrong in the world. He held tightly to the stanchions and let the chill wind numb his face and numb the ache.
"Lights out, Matthews," Lieutenant Hornblower ordered.
The shout brought Hart back to himself. He was in the same place, but Hornblower was next to him, an arm around his shoulders as well as a blanket.
The revenue officer guided them then, apparently familiar with the cove. As they proceeded, Hart could see the cliff, and soon, the shore, a thin sheeting of snow reflecting the moonlight but seeming to glow of its own accord.
The cutter worked into the cove, and the lieutenant asked him, "Can you direct us from here, Mr. Wellard? Or will we search the whole of it?"
"There, sir," Hart pointed. He noted the path he had taken up the cliff, the powder of snow augmenting rather than concealing the smooth, worn trail. "See - the white line - it wanders around rocks and things, but goes from the bottom to the top. That's the foot-path. Go toward it, and I will find..." he trailed off, unwilling to think before he had to why he had come back to this place.
The lieutenant left him and went aft to relay his orders to the crewmen. Hart watched the cliffs move toward them. As the distance closed, the path upon which he had kept his eyes seemed to dissipate, blending into the surrounding grouse and rock. The cutter tacked several times as they beat their way into the harbour almost against the wind.
They anchored very near the shore and took the cutter's boat in. Hornblower asked whether it was the right place. Hart nodded and turned away when he noted that the seamen carried picks and shovels; one hefted a large bundle of sailcloth onto his shoulder.
"Look for yourself, Lieutenant," the revenue officer said. "You can see what they have left."
The snow covered rubble, the leavings of the cannibalised vessel lay scattered along the rocky beach, but nothing of the ship itself remained.
"What have they done with it?" Hart asked, astonished.
"Taken it up for firewood, likely," someone said. "Not many trees hereabouts. Coal is very dear this winter."
Hart led them up the beach. The blanket of snow changed the look of things, but not the shape. He could find it. He would find it as easily as though corpse-lights, the mythical blue lights of drowned sailors said to haunt the shores, led him to it.
He walked straight to the cliff, then veered west at the base of the foot-path. He walked for some minutes, the men following. He heard only their breath and the clatter of an occasional overturned stone as they crept along.
"Here," he said. The edge of the cliff cut in a little at this place, forming a somewhat sheltered inlet with a heap of large boulders at one side.
"Are you sure?" Mr. Knight asked.
He swallowed and tried to moisten his lips with a dry tongue. "I'm sure."
"All right, men," the lieutenant ordered. "You will not need the picks." The seamen laid their tools down and began pulling away rocks with bare hands.
Hart averted his face, turned and walked blindly into the lieutenant. Hornblower pulled him close and held him until his legs felt steady.
"Matthews, take him back to the cutter. He does not need to stay for this."
Matthews stood and brushed the sand from his hands. "Aye, sir."
"No!" Hart argued, backing away. "I won't leave."
Hornblower nodded to Matthews, and the seaman put his arms around Hart and almost lifted him from the ground. Thin as the man might be, he was wiry and strong. Hart kicked and tried to gain a purchase but his feet barely touched the ground, the pebbles underfoot scattering as he scrambled to win his freedom. But he was losing. The shore grew closer as the man dragged him toward the waiting boat.
"Please wait!" he pleaded.
"You don't need to be there," Matthews said. "Come on, lad. We'll wait in the cutter."
"Stop. I'm going to be sick," he said. "Let me loose!"
The man released him. He leaned forward as though he would vomit. Before Matthews could stop him, he sprinted away. He heard the man curse, heard him following. Unable to judge the distance in the darkness, Hart ran against the largest of the seamen, the one called Styles, before he could stop himself.
"'ere, wha's this?" Styles complained, fighting to keep his balance as he knelt before the exposed grave.
"Sorry, sir," Matthews said to the lieutenant when he caught up. "He's a wily beggar."
The lieutenant cursed, and Matthews grabbed Hart's arm again.
"He's my father!" Hart snapped, jerking his arm, trying to loose himself. "And you will not keep me away. I will stay and see that you do right by him. You call him a corpse and you call him evidence, but he's not those things. He's my father, damn you - damn every man of you!"
He felt the cold on his face and knew he was crying, but did not care. The men stared; some lowered their eyes. Matthews released his arm.
"Hart," Lieutenant Hornblower said. "No man of us will treat your father in anything but a respectful manner. I swear to it."
"You already have!" Hart accused, glaring.
"Then I apologise. It was thoughtless. You may stay. We are nearly done."
Hart lowered his accusing gaze and peered between the men circled before him. The lieutenant was right; a white, sail-cloth bound form lay before them.
"On my count," Lieutenant Hornblower said. "One, two, and lift."
The seamen carried their burden toward the waiting boat. Once there, the lieutenant sent two men back to conceal the disturbed ground. Fortunately the snow had not ceased and would cover any tracks they left. If anything, it came harder now than before. Hart watched them take his father on board and carry him below, into the area where cargo would be stored, had they any. They handled him as gingerly as they would have an injured friend, moving him gently, conscious of the scrutiny of both Hart and their commander.
Hart went below and sat guarding his father's body. The official from Truro, Mr. Knight, joined him. They heard the lieutenant giving orders to re-light the lanterns and set sail for their return to Falmouth. The winds blew north-west, so the return journey would be shorter than the one going out. Hart stared at nothing while Mr. Knight smoked his pipe. He wondered whether the man suspected him, was watching him, to ensure he did nothing to alter his 'evidence.' He would not ask. It did not matter what the man thought. All he cared was that no one leave his father alone again.
After a long time, Hart heard the revenue officer's voice just over his head, the planks of the deck blocking none of the sound. "An ugly business, Lieutenant," he said.
"Indeed, sir," Lieutenant Hornblower agreed.
"Could you see ought? Was the boy right?" he asked.
"He told the truth," the lieutenant answered, his voice clipped.
"I am sorry to hear it, but not surprised," was the reply. "We shall have a time prosecuting them."
"And hanging them. Excuse me, sir, I must see us into the harbour," Lieutenant Hornblower said, ending the conversation.
"Sir," Hart said to the marshal. "Where will you take him when we arrive?"
"Don't worry yourself about it, lad. I would rather you not think of these things."
"Will someone stay with him?" he asked. He had to know.
"Can you tell when...how long...I want a proper funeral for him."
"I expect the examination will take little time. I will send you word the moment it is finished."
"Thank you, Mr. Knight."
Shouts above told them that they had arrived, and several men disembarked to secure the cutter along the quay without anchoring. The lieutenant called down, "Mr. Wellard."
Hart went up, and saw Captain Pellew waiting on the dock. The officers exchanged a few words, Lieutenant Hornblower nodded a few times and motioned for Hart to come near.
"I believe your absence is keeping my daughter from her rest, Mr. Wellard," Captain Pellew said to him.
"Sorry, sir," he said.
"Take him up to my house," Captain Pellew ordered the two seamen who had been with them. "Put him on my horse."
They hoisted him up and when he next opened his eyes, he was once more in the yard before the grey stone house. Giddy with fatigue, he thought for a moment that he had dreamed in a circle and he had only just come there.
"Mr. Wellard," Matthews nudged him. "Styles, fetch him down and take him inside."
Light filled the yard as the door opened and someone came out with a lantern. Emma.
"'e's all but done in, miss," Styles said, lifting him from the horse.
"I can walk," Hart insisted, beating on the man's back. "Put me down, you great ogre." He refused to be carted about like a sack of oats, especially in front of a woman.
"Not so done in as 'e seemed," the oaf said, laughing. "Wha' cheek, eh, miss?"
Styles all but dropped him. Hart glowered at the man before walking inside, effectively dismissing him. He stood in the hall behind Emma and waited for her to close the door.
"Is my father still out?" Emma asked the seaman.
"Aye, miss. 'e's down there seein' ta things." Styles pointed toward town.
"And did they...?"
"Found 'im. It's all done, miss." He stared almost shyly at the flagged stonework of the porch.
"All right. Good night, and thank you." The man tugged on his cap and turned away, and Emma closed the door.
Hart heard the mantel clock chime four times as he fell into the bed they called his. He tried to sleep, but every time he closed his eyes, visions, still pictures of the horrors of the night assailed him, and he could not. He saw the men lifting the white-shrouded shape from the filthy grave, remembered digging the shallow trough, remembered his terror, his shock, the fear that he would be discovered cowering under the cliffs with what they had left of his family. He wrested his mind from the hideous diorama and let his memory go further back, to the time before these things happened, and with no voice, begged God to give that back to him.
Finally he heard the latch quietly click into place as Emma went out. Only then did he allow himself to weep, stuffing the corner of the pillow into his mouth to stifle the sounds of his grief. And only when the dawn showed its greyish light outside the window did he sleep.
Something changed in the way people looked at him when he got up. Hart had only come out of the bedroom an hour before, and he thought he should go back. Everyone spoke cautiously, walked gingerly around him. With his absolute proof came fear - whether of him or of the murderer Hart could not tell.
Though he wanted more sleep, he did not go back upstairs. He felt he could sleep for a year and not have enough, but every time he rested, dreams wrested him awake, so he chose to get up rather than submit to the tormenting illusions. Just before he came down this time, he had been dreaming the same nightmare of the man called Gawen, holding the pistol to his head.
"Good night," the man had said. "Insolent runt. Will you defy me now? Will you? No. You are afraid."
His dream told him what he already knew - that he was afraid as well.
Emma was reading to herself, as Hart told her he could not listen. Idleness made him restless, so he picked up the topmost broadsheet newspaper from a small stack beside him and glanced at it in wonder. In appearance, it was so similar to London papers that he felt some surprise. He had not expected Falmouth news-sheets to be so modern - good printing, fine artwork, interesting advertisements...then one caught his eye.
"Mawgam," he read aloud. "That's the place."
"The village," Emma clarified. "What does it say?"
"An advertisement for an inn. Who would have an inn there?" he wondered. "Who would wish to go there?"
"The village is on the coast. People might stop during a journey, or go for their health. Many sufferers look at the sea as a panacea for all that ails them, especially sufferers of gout - diseases of the wealthy. It is fashionable to own such a disease. It proves one is prosperous."
He returned to the advertisement and read it carefully.
The subscriber respectfully tenders his thanks for the liberal encouragement he has already received, and has the pleasure of informing the public that he has made handsome improvements to the house, which are now complete, and which are not excelled by many in the west, where ladies and gentlemen who may think proper to favour him with a call will find good accommodation. He will endeavour by diligent attention to provide his table with the best the country affords, his drawing room with the choicest liquors, his stables also be well furnished with all necessary provender, and a careful and attentive hostler.
By the public's Serv't.,
"Miss," he said. "Emma." The paper slid from his fingers. "That's the man. It must be."
"An innkeeper? Are you sure?" she asked, coming toward him and taking up the paper.
"How common is the name Gawen?" he asked.
"Fairly popular," she said.
"But think of a small village - a hundred people or so, they said. This is the same man; I must tell someone. I am sure this is the man - sure of it. I must tell the lieutenant, Hornblower. Let me go!"
She had taken his arm and held him. "Listen," she said. She tugged again, and he gave in. It felt ridiculous to be fighting with a girl. "Hart, my father and the lieutenant will be here soon for dinner, along with my uncle and another officer. You can tell them then what you think of this." She shook the paper. "It may very well be that you are right."
"I am right," he said.