Child of Sorrow
by Wendy B and Hillary Stevens
"You look quite presentable. I imagine you availed yourself of Mr. Kennedy's sea chest?" Bracegirdle teased as he and Horatio followed the winding street from the docks to the Pellews' home.
Horatio grinned. "A pair of stockings and a neckerchief only, Mr. Bracegirdle."
"Those are your constant downfall. May I suggest using a bit of prize money to lay in a supply of both?"
"I would not rob you of the chance to torment me, sir. I shall have these laundered and returned to Mr. Kennedy long before his arrival."
Dusk had faded to full dark by the time they stood before the Pellews' home. The wind from the harbour had lessened, but the bitter cold remained. It bit through their wool cloaks and numbed their hands and faces. Horatio breathed warm air into his cupped palms and willed himself to calm as Bracegirdle rapped the knocker against the heavy oak door.
Dinner with his captain at his captain's home. The disquietude produced by the soiree paled in comparison. Then he had been one guest among many, easily lost in the press. This evening they would expect him to converse with the other guests on a variety of subjects, and worse yet, consume an elaborate meal with his stomach tied in knots. If the French were ever to attack Falmouth, this was the moment.
"Good evening, sirs," the butler murmured as he opened the door and stepped back to allow them entry. "The company has assembled in the sitting room."
Horatio handed him his cloak and hat, then ran a nervous hand over his hair. He caught sight of himself in a mirror and was at once pleased at his appearance and embarrassed at his vanity.
"If you have finished your admiring, Horatio?" Bracegirdle said, checking his own aspect in the same mirror.
"I can but pale in your light," Horatio returned.
"Keep that in mind, my young friend." Bracegirdle nodded to the butler who led them to a smaller room than the one used for the reception scant nights before.
The evening, it seemed, would be as Captain Pellew promised - a small dinner party. Following Bracegirdle's lead, Horatio bowed stiffly over Lady Susan's hand and was introduced to Dr. Pellew's wife, Jenny. In contrast to her husband's severity of expression and dress, Mrs. Pellew was a small, round woman whose countenance appeared as though she were always faintly pleased. Emma smiled at him and whispered to Hart as they sat together on one of the couches. Horatio nodded to them both and clasped his hands behind his back.
"Mr. Hornblower," Dr. Pellew said and surprised Horatio by offering his hand.
"Good evening, sir. A pleasure to see you again."
"And you as well. Our patient has made a rapid recovery, don't you think? It is amazing how quickly the young heal." The doctor's dark eyes met Horatio's over the rim of the glass he held. "In body if not in spirit, eh?"
Horatio shook his head as one of the servants offered him a glass of wine. "Indeed."
"My brother has relayed all the boy told you. I have already dispatched inquiries to London regarding young Wellard and his family. With luck, we will locate someone willing to take the boy."
"And if you do not?" Horatio asked.
"Never fear, young man. We will not abandon him."
Horatio let out the breath he had been holding. He had seen boys living on the streets in a few ports, and it was not a life he imagined Hart could endure. "Thank you, sir."
"Sam, where on earth has my husband gone?" Lady Susan inquired from her seat near the fire.
It was Emma who answered. "Upstairs to fetch George, Mama. He promised him he could come down tonight."
Lady Susan shook her head. "A child at a dinner party?" Her eyes lit up, however, when Sir Edward rejoined the company with his youngest child in his arms. "Ned, what are you about?" she scolded. "He should be in his cot."
"He is lonely without Pownoll and Fleetwood," the Captain explained, setting the boy down between his mother and his aunt. "This is a family gathering, it is only right he should be here."
"What are your officers to think?"
George himself answered the question as he found Horatio across the room. "Mr. Hornblower," he cried in delight. "You have come to see me."
In a frenzy of activity, he squirmed away from his mother and rushed over to Horatio. Once there, he threw his arms around Horatio's knees. Fighting for balance, Horatio looked from him to the amused faces around them.
"George, no!" Emma said as she came to help. "Leave Mr. Hornblower alone."
"It is all right, Miss Pellew," Horatio assured her, awkwardly patting the boy on the head. "Your brother and I are friends of long standing."
"So it seems," she agreed.
George released him and offered him the toy he clutched in one hand. A cup and ball whittled and painted to look like a sailor in a blue-checked shirt and white pantaloons. "Papa brought it home for me."
Horatio nodded as he tried to catch the ball in the cup. He had been adept at this as a boy, now the ball hit the edge of the cup and fell away. On his second attempt, the ball overshot the cup completely.
"Show him how, Emma!" George commanded.
Emma took the toy from Horatio's outstretched hand and neatly flipped the ball into the cup. With a smile, she handed it back. "Having brothers of varying ages keeps me in practice."
"Emma, have you told your aunt of the needlework you have begun?" Lady Susan asked.
"If you would excuse me," Emma murmured. "Hart has been awaiting your arrival as well, Lieutenant."
Holding the toy and escorted by its owner, Horatio found his way to Hart who now stood beside the fireplace. His face relaxed somewhat as Horatio joined him and the tension in his body eased.
"Here is the boy," George reported, then turned his attention to the scabbard of Horatio's sword. One careful finger trailed over the metal. "You don't have tracings," he observed. "Papa has tracings."
"His name is Hart," Horatio told him. "Have you said hello to him as well?"
George shook his head. "He was ill, and I wasn't allowed to see him. Then he escaped." Taking a step closer to Hart, he put out his left hand in a gesture which reminded Horatio of Captain Pellew.
"I am George," he announced.
Hart took the proffered hand in his left as well. "How do you do?"
"Very well, thank you." Turning back to Horatio, George pointed to the toy Horatio still held. "That is my toy. He is a sailor, do you see?"
Before Hart could reply, the Captain was with them and had picked up the small boy. "That was well done, George," he said as he took the boy off to greet Bracegirdle.
Horatio looked down at the cup and ball, absently giving it another toss. To his surprise, the ball landed solidly in the cup.
Hart smiled at the look of amazement. "Perhaps you'd best stop now."
"I think you are right." Handing him the toy, Horatio grinned.
Hart responded to the challenge by deftly flipping the ball into the cup on his first try and again on his second. Raising an eyebrow, he offered the toy to Horatio who held up both hands.
"I bow to your superior skill, sir."
Hart bowed slightly. "Thank you, sir. Perhaps Miss Emma might agree to a contest after dinner."
"I wager she might."
At the sound of laughter, Horatio looked toward the small group congregated around the couch Lady Susan and Mrs. Pellew occupied. Bracegirdle, no doubt, as entertaining here with ladies present as he was in the wardroom. Horatio wished once again for even an ounce of social ease. Bracegirdle had it in abundance, Archie did as well. Both had advised him on more than one occasion to simply relax, but Horatio found it was advice he was unable to follow - especially when Captain Pellew was in attendance. He was marginally more at ease with the man aboard the Indefatigable, but here? It was impossible.
The butler appeared and announced dinner. Captain Pellew escorted his sister-in-law as his brother led Lady Susan in. Bracegirdle offered his arm to Emma, winking at Horatio as they passed.
"That would leave us to follow," Hart said as they crossed the sitting room.
George, having escaped the attention of both parents, slipped between them, taking hold of their inside hands and attempting to suspend himself between them. They stopped, Hart gesturing to Horatio. Each grasped one of the boy's wrists and together they swung him forward in a huge step.
"Hooray!" the little boy cheered as they set him back on his feet. "Again, please!"
In three steps, they were at the dining-room doors, and George
was breathless with excitement.
"Papa, did you see me?" he cried as he ran ahead of them into the room. "I was flying!"
Pellew grabbed him and swung him up into the air as well. "Like this?"
"Ned, put him down this instant!" Lady Susan scolded. "The child will be ill if you continue."
"No, I won't. More, Papa, more!"
"Later, my boy. Now you must sit down so our guests may eat their dinners." Pellew set him on the child's chair and pulled him close to the table as the first course was served.
The ladies left them alone after dinner, taking George with them. Emma hesitated before following her mother. Captain Pellew caught her eye, and his look settled the question. Hart would stay with the gentlemen. She did not argue, but that little furrow appeared between her eyes, and Hart knew she was annoyed. Her father knew it as well, Hart saw, for he mimicked her expression. She took the hint, and with it, her departure.
The animated and frivolous conversation ended with the migration of the ladies. Everyone looked very serious. Samuel Pellew lit a pipe of tobacco, his brother frowned, and Lieutenant Bracegirdle nodded, yes, he would take a glass of brandy.
Once he saw everyone content, Captain Pellew dismissed his man. "Thank you, Deane. We will need nothing more this evening." The man bowed his head, and when he had gone, he said, "We all know what we must do now."
"We cannot make an arrest until he is positively identified," Samuel Pellew interjected, smoke curling from his lips. "If we are in error - if we should do anything prematurely, we will alert the true culprit to his danger, and he will escape us." They all agreed, and he went on, "Ned, I have only eight men in Falmouth tomorrow, but they are yours. You have done this sort of work for me before. I trust you."
"Thank you, Sam," Sir Edward said. He then addressed them all then. "My brother's and thus my family's honour has been impugned. I take exception to this, and I am right to do so. I am most anxious to see these rascals on the scaffold."
Sam waved his hand. "After twenty years, I am indifferent to such accusations. I take no notice."
"But I do," Sir Edward said, his voice clipped.
"If no one minds, I think we owe Mr. Wellard some words of explanation," Captain Pellew said. If anyone did, they would not have been able to voice that scruple, for he went on without pause, "As you know, we heard of the wreck, first from you, then the next day from the two men travelling through from the Lizzard. Several men went from Plymouth to investigate, men who had some interest in Phoebe's cargo. The legitimate cargo, from what we can learn. They found nothing remarkable. According to their report, all seemed usual at St. Mawgam. We know this to be untrue."
Samuel took over again. "This morning, Mr. Reeves came to me from the packet office, which you know is next door to my own. He said two young men request passage on the next packet to Galway, that they have much in the way of baggage, that they claim it as household goods, that they are going to Ireland to live. They call themselves George and Christopher Myghal."
"Jory and Kitto," Lieutenant Hornblower said. "It must be. We have them."
"Not before they attempt to sell the property. Ownership might get them jailed, but no more. It is not enough. But when they get to Ireland...Ned, Israel is at home."
"Yes, he is indeed," Sir Edward answered.
Noting Hart's confusion, Sir Edward explained further: "My younger brother. He makes his home in Galway; his wife will not leave her family. Fortunate, as we can now make use of him."
Hart had trouble keeping his mouth closed, and almost asked whether Pellew men had overtaken the civilised world on the night Phoebe wrecked. Before then, he had not once heard the name.
Captain Pellew continued, unaware of his houseguest's difficulty. "Israel will help. How can we inform him before the packet arrives?"
"We cannot," Samuel said. "Weather permitting, the mail goes out at dawn. But I will tip Captain Payne. He will get a letter to our brother as soon as he makes port."
"What if we are too late, sir?" Lieutenant Hornblower asked.
"I think we have time. So far as we know, these two young men do not know the names or how to contact the buyers of their goods. They will need some time to find out - hopefully enough time for our purposes. Time for Israel to have the letter and..." Samuel Pellew faltered as he caught sight of Sir Edward, who was valiantly attempting to conceal a grin.
"Ned, this is not amusing." Samuel said. But he too was unable to resist a short laugh. "This will be a fine joke to Israel, I admit."
"But he will take it seriously enough to succeed. That I know," Sir Edward added, his face once more reflecting the seriousness of the discussion. "That accomplished, we must think of what we will do with this new information. I think we must pay a friendly visit to Mawgam House."
"Sir, you cannot go," Lieutenant Hornblower objected. "You might be recognised. It is only a day's travel from Falmouth. Less than that by cutter."
"I do not intend to go, Lieutenant. Nor does Sam. You and Mr. Bracegirdle will do it. And...Mr. Wellard, can you manage it? Tomorrow?"
Hart nodded dumbly, unsure what he was agreeing to do.
"Brave lad," Lieutenant Hornblower said, gripping his shoulder. Hart shivered, remembering the last time someone had said that to him. His father, almost the last thing he had heard him say.
"I might also be recognised," Lieutenant Bracegirdle said.
"How so, sir?" Captain Pellew asked. "I know you are not shirking your duty. Explain yourself."
"I have had occasion to visit the place," the soft-spoken lieutenant explained.
"Have you indeed," Hornblower commented.
Captain Pellew nodded curtly and dismissed Bracegirdle from the assignment. They continued to discuss various means and ideas. It was given that no one would wear uniforms. Two revenue officers would accompany them into the inn, and the moment Hart gave notice that Tegereth was indeed the right man, Lieutenant Hornblower would take Hart out, leaving the officers to perform the arrest.
Too late, Hart realised what they expected him to do. Too late, for he had already said he would.
"The inn boasts a private beach for sea bathing. You will be able to anchor very near," Bracegirdle added. "I can at least assist in this; let me draw a sketch of the shore."
He pulled a pencil from his pocket, and Hornblower pulled a small notebook from his coat. On the back page, Bracegirdle drew the lines, and explained. "See, here is the inn, just west of the demi-island which protects the cove. The Helford opens into the sea at that point. The inn is on the western bank."
"Very good," the younger lieutenant said, studying the map briefly before secreting it in its place inside his coat. "Captain, in what capacity shall we present ourselves? A party of pleasure-seekers, sailing the coast in mid-January? Outside Navy and Revenue work, no person in his right mind would do this. He would suspect something."
"I've given the problem some thought," Captain Pellew answered.
"When?" Everyone stared, and Hart closed his mouth, as surprised as they.
"You have a question, Mr. Wellard?" the captain asked.
"Sorry, sir. I only wondered when you have had time to think. You have only known of this since before dinner."
Bracegirdle stifled a guffaw, and Hornblower glared at the elder officer. Samuel Pellew laughed outright.
Sir Edward answered obliquely, "A man can think whilst enjoying a meal."
Hart considered how a man could converse with his family, play with his youngest son, see that every guest had all he wanted, all the while considering the problem that occupied all of them more than any other thing. He wondered that anyone could do this without appearing even slightly preoccupied.
"Gentlemen," Captain Pellew continued. "I have in my stores a pipe of Madeira, picked up on our last cruise. Take it along. If anyone questions you, you are searching for a buyer. He is in cash, just now, our fine innkeeper, is he not? He may be interested - in that, or any number of things which you might offer. It does not signify what sort of bargain is struck, does it? Offer what he wants, and at a very neighbourly price. Free of duty, of course. He will then understand why you sail along the coast in January."
"You will get it back?" the customs agent inquired.
"I hope to," Sir Edward said. "If he is not our man, it will be lost - sold at half its value."
"And I will be forced to arrest you for smuggling."
"On the contrary, Sam. I will present your office with a bill to cover my loss," the captain rejoined.
"And I will pay it in my usual, timely manner," his brother said.
"Indeed," Samuel agreed. "A year, if I can manage it."
"I will expect interest, of course. Fourteen percent," Sir Edward parleyed. Then he arose and said, "Gentlemen, the ladies will have grown weary of waiting. We should end this."
Bracegirdle heartily agreed, but Captain Pellew squashed his first lieutenant's enthusiasm when he said, "A pity I must send you back early, Lieutenant. You must make arrangements for the cutter. Take my note out and see the Madeira loaded without damaging it. See that the vessel does not look too respectable. Lieutenant Hornblower's conveyance must suit his new profession."
Bracegirdle snorted, and Hornblower scowled at him, which only amused the older officer more.
"I will go," the first lieutenant said to his captain. "If I may first express my regrets to Lady Pellew, Mrs. Pellew and Miss Pellew. One must consider manners, sir, even in these frightful circumstances."
Captain Pellew sighed. "Very well, Lieutenant. But do take your leave as quickly as you are able to tear yourself away from my family. I would not object to an occasional conversation with them this winter. Perhaps you should get one of your own."
"Perhaps I will, sir," Bracegirdle agreed, grinning. "I might go into town tomorrow and look about for a nice girl."
"Indeed," Lieutenant Hornblower said dryly. "Or another sort altogether. You seem overly familiar with out-of-the-way inns."
Lightning struck, followed by a crack of thunder that shook the deck under their feet.
"My God," the master said as snow instantly obliterated their view of the shore.
"Mr. Williams, round the demi-island, and weather the storm in the cove. Go as soon as you see we are safe ashore," Lieutenant Hornblower said as he, Hart and two revenue officers boarded the cutter's boat.
"Aye, aye," the pilot agreed. "We'll come back 'round as soon as may be. Likely not much before morning, sir."
"Right," Hornblower said. "We'll keep watch, and will do nothing until we see you out here."
They rowed the very short distance to the shore, disembarked and pulled the boat far up the beach, securing it against the surge of water the storm might bring. The inn, assuming it was the right place, stood silhouetted against the darkening sky, an awkward, red brick building with a gable at one end and a square turreted tower at the other, an odd affectation that was both pretentious and disconcerting.
Hart tried to step lively so the lieutenant would not know of his anxiety. They reached the front entrance in short time and rang. A man let them in with exclamation, a quick brush of their snow-covered coats, and almost an admonition. He expected no one. Logical, considering the sudden blizzard conditions. Lieutenant Hornblower let him see to their comfort, all the while revealing nothing of himself or his party, letting them draw their own conclusions.
After the drawer fetched a drink for each of them, and after they had warmed themselves and caught their breath, he led them to the dining room, a mediocre place with a large oaken table at which all guests took their meals together. A woman served them, informing them that the drawer would see to additional drinks. She apologised that only one dish was hot as they were not expected.
They passed their plates to one another, each man serving from whatever dish lay before him. They spoke very little, unwilling to discuss their reasons for coming, fearful of anyone listening outside the doors. They limited their conversation to the food, the weather and everyone's health.
Hart felt too anxious to eat, though the beef and onion dish did smell as though it were done well. For the first time all week, he felt a twinge of appetite, and it did him no good. He swallowed a few bites before his stomach knotted itself in protest. He laid his fork on the edge of his plate and nibbled disinterestedly at a lump of bread.
"Try to eat," the lieutenant admonished, eyeing his plate.
"I did try," he answered.
Lieutenant Hornblower nodded his understanding. "You will do better when this is ended, which I hope will be very soon."
"Yes, sir," he said. The brief conversation helped not at all; it made things worse, for now he could think of nothing but their reason for having come to this place. They would be forced to stay the night, something upon which none of them had counted. Hart slumped in his chair and cursed softly.
"Chin up," the lieutenant bade him. "It won't be long. I hear someone coming in."
They all heard the door, voices, more exclamations, then a loud commanding voice drawing near, giving orders to the servants and shouting about the weather and how bad it was for business.
"Sir," Hart said, frozen in place. "I don't have to see him. That's him."
"Shh. All right," Hornblower said. "He's coming in here all the same. Be silent, and I will take you out as soon as I can make an excuse. Gentlemen, remember - do nothing until the cutter returns."
Both of the officers nodded just as the loud-voiced man entered. Gawen Tegereth welcomed them, introduced himself and asked their names. They gave the names agreed upon before leaving Falmouth, and Hornblower introduced Hart as his brother.
"Did the weather force you in?" he asked. "I saw no boat."
"Yes, sir," Hornblower answered. "We hired a cutter. We saw this place and asked that they bring us in. My brother, who is learning my business, grew ill in the rough sea. The cutter has gone on without us, to return in the morning."
"I see. And what is your business?" Gawen Tegereth asked.
"I buy things, and I sell things. A merchant, one might say."
"Specific things?" he asked, obviously interested.
"And...forgive me if I err, but does the customs agent often neglect to affix his seal to your purchases?"
"He's a neglectful fellow; it is hardly my fault," Hornblower admitted with a wry grin. "We can discuss business this evening, if you like. For now, my brother is not yet recovered from his seasickness, and must be put up in a room."
"Certainly," the man said. He shouted, and the first man they had seen upon entering the inn scurried toward his master. "Show them their rooms," Tegereth ordered.
They followed the servant up a narrow staircase, then down a short hall with only four doors. The man opened two, one beside the other on the same side of the hall, at the back of the house.
"We would prefer these," Hornblower said, pointing to the two opposite. The man bowed his head slightly and opened the two facing the cove. Lieutenant Hornblower propelled Hart into the room nearest the stairs, leaving the other for Samuel Pellew's two officers. "Thank you," he said. "Tell your master I will speak with him in an hour."
"Yes, sir," the man replied. "Will you want anything for the boy? Some brandy, perhaps?"
"Yes, please. That would be kind."
They heard the man's galloping tread as he flew down the stairs. He returned shortly, clinking with a bottle and two glasses. He set them on the low table and when Hornblower paid him, he left them alone.
"Hart," Lieutenant Hornblower said, taking his arm.
"Don't," he snapped. "Don't touch me."
"Come and sit," the lieutenant said.
"I'm going to..." he began, but was interrupted by his own stomach. He fell to his knees, retching. The lieutenant snatched the bowl from the stand and set it before him, and he was sick, horribly so. When the spasms finally ended, he fell to the floor gasping, his throat raw, his head pounding, sweat stinging his eyes.
Hornblower poured water from the pitcher onto a towel, and wiped his face, lifting his head from the board floor. When Hart could, he sat up, leaning heavily against the kneeling officer.
"Come on," Lieutenant Hornblower encouraged, helping him to his feet. "See if you can get into bed."
Hornblower brought the brandy neat, the glass nearly full. Hart sipped, then gulped, the combined sweetness and sensation of burning at once calming and cleansing. He fell against the pillow, exhausted.
"All right now?" Hornblower asked, taking the empty glass.
He nodded, his eyes half closed. "I think so," he said. "Must we stay here?"
"I am sorry. There is no way out of it, but the wind is easing, from the sound. As soon as the cutter returns, we go."
The brandy burned a fiery path through his veins, warming every part of him. He fancied he could feel it filling the tiny vessels even in the tips of his fingers.
"Get some rest. You will be all right? I must go back to him," Hornblower said.
"Go ahead." Hart waved lethargically.
He stayed quiet for a while, contemplating what might be happening below. When he was sure Hornblower would not come up soon, he got up. Hornblower had draped his coat over a chair back. Hart felt the breast pocket, his pulse quick in his ears, fearful he had been discovered. But it was there, the knife he had taken from the meat plate below. The blade glinted in the moonlight, soft and silvery. He had taken it out of fear, but another proposition appealed to him now. He hugged it to his chest. He poured a second glass of brandy, then later, a third.
He heard the lieutenant enter much later and turned over. He opened his eyes for a second, saw moonlight and sighed. The shrieking wind had died away to a low moan under the eaves and in the chimney. Hornblower took an age to fall asleep. When he had, Hart got up again and rubbed the frost from a small spot on the window. Peering through, he saw the cutter just rounding the headland.
He left the room and left the door unlatched. Closing it might make a noise. He clenched the knife in his fist, finding his nerve. He had been tormented enough and refused to endure any more. He took just one step toward the stairs when a hand came from behind and gripped his wrist.
"Drop the knife," a voice hissed close to his ear. "Let go."
He froze, startled.
"Hart, let go. This is not the way."
"I cannot," he said. He was so alarmed at being caught that he could not recall which hand held the weapon.
Hornblower put his hand over Hart's fingers and pried them open, letting the weapon fall to the floor.
Hart almost wept with fury. "Why did you stop me? I could have done it, and it would be all over!" he accused.
"And you would hang in his place."
"I would hardly care," he asserted.
"You care." Hornblower sniffed. "And you are drunk."
"I am not," Hart argued. "I thought you were sleeping."
"Not at all, but you did surprise me. Come back inside. We will wait here while they take Tegereth out. You will not see him."
"Sir, the cutter," one of the officers said from the door of the next room. He stared when he saw the knife on the floor and Hart firmly in Hornblower's grasp.
As the other man came out behind the first, Hornblower instructed, "Go ahead. I will watch from the window and will bring him down after you have secured the prisoner."
"Yes, sir," they said. With two loaded pistols each, they descended the stairs.
Not many minutes later, Hornblower helped Hart into his coat. Hart fumbled with the clasps until the lieutenant brushed his hands away and fastened them for him.
"Are you angry?" Hart asked.
"No," Hornblower said. "Though I may be in for a reprimand for my laxity. How much brandy did you take?"
Hart held his hand before his face and began counting his fingers. He got to twelve twice before Hornblower said, "Never mind. Can you walk?"
"Sure I can," Hart declared confidently.
"Sure I can? What sort of English is that?"
"Irish," he said. "What about the bottle? We cannot leave it; you paid for it."
"We can leave it," Hornblower contradicted. "And we shall."
Hornblower half-carried Hart to the shore. Snow still fell, but compared to the previous week's weather, the air felt positively balmy. Hart lifted his face to the wind and inhaled deeply. He had always liked sea air after a storm. He glanced aside and caught the lieutenant smiling to himself.
"What's funny?" he asked.
"Captain Pellew has one less worry," Hornblower said. "I have not lost his Madeira."
For some reason, Hart found this hilarious.
Lady Susan had seen to the arrangements, the payment of burial duty, unaccountably called 'ground mail' in Cornwall, and also restial, the bell tolling fee. Hart waited alone in the sitting room, as the entire family called the most elegantly appointed parlour, starched and ironed, wearing a pair of buckled, low-cut black shoes for the first time. His feet ached in them already, but he said nothing. He would be properly dressed.
The few hours of sleep the night before at the inn were all he had. They had come into the Roads, delivered the prisoner to the temporary gaol to await his transfer to Truro, where his trial would occur. Though the time was well after two when they returned, the harbour was as lively as though it were noon on a holiday, with boats carrying men to and from the shore, officers conversing, giving reports, sharing information. Hart waited for someone to tell him what to do, but they all seemed to have forgotten him in their excitement, their success.
Fifty or more men scraped snow from the brightly lit decks of Captain Pellew's Indefatigable, a razee frigate of thirty-something guns. Then, after hearing the lieutenant's report, Captain Pellew had sent Hart below, to the midshipmen's berth, to stay until morning. How anyone could rest in such a place, he could not understand. He doubted any well-bred person could. He certainly had not been able to accomplish it among a dozen strangers, most of whom were afflicted with bad breath, bad wind, or bad tonsils. The snoring alone would keep half of Falmouth awake nights.
According to Lady Pellew, the service today would be traditional; no crowd-pleasing processions, no followers or mutes, nothing that might draw attention. Hart had not even been allowed to choose the plot in which his father would be interred. He had not seen it, and would not, until they arrived in an hour's time.
Lieutenant Hornblower could not come. Captain Pellew said he had given him another duty, something of import. Only those acquainted with his circumstances would attend, very few in all. Hart did not care. None of them had known Henry Wellard; they came only out of friendship toward his son, a boy they had known for less than a week.
The warmer air that had brought the snow the day before had turned cold again. Before it did, most of the snow had melted. What country people called snow-bones lay in the shadowy places, crevices between rocks, under heavily forested parts and against the northern faces of houses, wherever the sun could not reach.
Hart's hands felt like ice as he waited for the others to finish dressing. Finally, they came down, and together they walked down the hill to the church. The vicar said some words, talked so long that Hart considered knocking him into the hole hewn out of the rocky soil beside the simple coffin. The man finally finished his malediction of meaningless platitudes, readings from the prayer book that he not once consulted. Some men lowered the box into the hole, and it was done. The churchyard that Hart had so wanted for this helped nothing, changed nothing. All was colourless, grey, brown, patches of muddied snow and an unsightly heap of freshly overturned rock-filled clay surrounded them. It was not beautiful, nor did it offer any comfort. The hollow sound of the bell tolling followed them up the hill as they walked back.
Standing on the beach at the base of the cliffs, Horatio tried to ignore the obvious. He was cold, cold through to his bones. The lukewarm cup of coffee he had managed to down on the cutter's return to the cove had done little to improve his state, and the sun was hidden behind grey clouds. Most of the snow along the beach had melted, but everything was damp and dripping with moisture.
Blowing into his hands, he stamped his feet, trying to keep them from going numb. The path up the cliffs looked treacherous, and it would not do to fall.
"All ready, sir," Matthews announced as the ratings finished securing the jolly boat.
Horatio nodded. "Our orders are to gather what evidence we may."
"Evidence, sir?" Oldroyd asked. "Doesn't look like there's anything left to me."
"Perhaps not on the beach, but there may be caves. Captain Pellew expects the wreckers lured the boats aground with false signals set to look as if there were safe anchorage ahead. With luck we will find the lanterns they use." He looked at the men around him. "Right, we'll divide into two groups. Matthews, Styles, Oldroyd, you're with me. We will search the cliff top. Corporal Masters," he said to the red-coated marine, "take the rest and explore the beach."
The climb was worse than he had anticipated. Water rained down from the overhanging rocks, soaking them all and turning the rocky path into a small streambed. They moved cautiously, finding handholds where they could, calling out hazards to each other. When they finally gained the top of the cliffs, they stopped to catch their breaths and survey their surroundings.
"T'lad musta gone tha' way," Styles offered, nodding his head to the left. "T'otha way leads to the headland."
Horatio nodded, trying to quell the feeling that they were being watched. Taking out his telescope, he surveyed the barren landscape around them. Nothing moved. It appeared they were quite alone. He looked at Matthews and saw the man's hand resting lightly on the hanger slid through his belt. He felt better for the two pistols he had loaded once they had reached shore.
"Styles is right. Mr. Wellard headed inland from here. He mentioned a church, so we at least have a landmark to go by."
They found the building over the next rise. It was not so much
church as chapel. Made of grey, rough-hewn stone, it was unadorned
by decoration. The wood framing at the pitted-glass
windows and door had been whitewashed long before, but weather and salt air had stripped away most of it. Horatio, not a churchgoer by habit or nature, found it dismal to look upon.
"Bloody awful spot," Matthews mumbled, then saw Horatio's eyes upon him. "Beggin' your pardon, sir."
"What is out here?" Horatio asked and watched his division come to the same conclusion he had. "I have seen no sign of life - no houses, out buildings or animals. From what I remember of the area around the inn, there were a few houses, though not many. Why would anyone come all this way, especially in such weather as we endured on Sunday?"
"No 'ouse for the parson," Oldroyd added. "Looks like there never 'as been."
Styles put his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "Ain't even got a cemetery."
Horatio walked to the door and pushed against it. Not surprisingly, it was locked. He gestured to Styles and Oldroyd. "Open it."
Using their hangers as levers, they broke the heavy cast-iron lock and the door swung open.
Horatio stepped in, unable to see much in the dim light. His
men followed closely behind him.
"Light a lantern," Horatio said as he walked down the aisle.
That the chapel was in use was obvious. The building was clean, not a cobweb in evidence. The floor had been swept. Everything in the building seemed well worn, but in good repair.
"No lanterns, sir," Matthews reported after a moment. "Just them torches up on the walls."
Horatio nodded as he continued walking toward the altar. The light from the torches did little to dispel the gloom of the place. On the stone altar lay a single prayer book; its pages curled along the edges with use. He flipped it open and read the list of names inscribed on the frontispiece. Beginning with The Rev. Uriah Pelham and the year 1684, it ended with David Owens, 1764. Eight names in all. None added in over thirty years.
"Matthews, what do you think of this?" Horatio asked the man as he joined him.
Matthews looked at the list and then at Horatio. "Haven't had a minister in a long time, have they, sir?"
"Yet Hart said they were having services that morning."
Horatio turned and surveyed the church.
"Styles, Oldroyd, see what you can find."
The search was brief and fruitless. The few cupboards held no more than some old books, half eaten by rats. Horatio paced the length of the aisle, certain they were in the right place and frustrated by their lack of success.
"Maybe they've found something on the beach," Matthews offered.
Styles stared at the floor. "Matty, 'ow much room d'you think they've under them boards?"
"A foot, maybe."
Squatting down, Styles slid his hanger between two of the stones and levered them up. Less than six inches of space between the floor and the hard-packed earth beneath. He grinned at Horatio over his shoulder. "Jus' a thought, sir."
As one they all looked up. The ceiling rose twenty feet above them, disappearing into the dim light, but every beam and support was visible from where they stood. Starting from the rear of the chapel, the ratings searched under each pew, explored every corner.
"There is nowhere here to hide a farthing," Horatio sighed when they reached the front. He had examined the pulpit and failed to find so much as a scrap of paper. Turning back to the altar, he picked up the prayer book. A few pages slipped out and floated to the floor.
Bending to pick them up, Horatio straightened and smacked his head against the stone lip of the altar. The pages slipped out of his hand and once more fell to the floor. Frustrated and angry, Horatio bent down and with exaggerated care, glancing up to make certain he would not hit his head a second time.
It was then he saw it. A handhold carved into the middle of the stone where it met the base. A second and a third were carved at each end.
Setting the prayer book on the floor, Horatio lifted down the cross from its place atop the altar. Finding the hand holds, he tried lifting the stone.
"Sir, better let us do that," Matthews counselled.
Horatio stepped back and watched as his men located the spaces and raised the lid. Inside the altar lay lanterns, at least twelve of them in varying sizes. He lifted one out. It was filled with oil, the wick new and already trimmed. Beside the lanterns lay coils of rope, most of it weather worn.
Horatio could not help a grim smile. "I think we have found the lights of Falmouth Harbour."
Tradition demanded that Hart be left alone for a time, and they did this, closeting him in the bedroom in which he had already spent so many miserable hours. He had begun to hate the place. He sat in a hard wooden chair before the fire, wrapped in a blanket taken from the bed.
He still felt the chill of the churchyard. He drew the chair nearer the small fire burning in the grate, bright silvery sunlight illuminating the panes of glass in the small window, the cold sunlight of deep winter. He wadded up a corner of the blanket, wedged it under his head and lay on the heavy arm of the chair, kicked off the tight shoes and pulled his feet under the trailing edge.
He felt as hollow as the sound of the bell, as though something had come in the night and torn out a part of him, a part that he needed. He thought the funeral would replace that missing part, but it had not. He felt, if anything, worse than he had before, and colder. They had buried the wrong person, he decided, because he had died sometime. No one seemed to notice that.
Emma came once and asked whether he would come below-stairs, but he ignored her and she left again. Much later, Lieutenant Hornblower entered. He brought him hot cocoa and made him drink it. He did not try to make him talk. He only drew a second chair next to Hart's and sat with him.
After a long time of this perfect silence, Hart asked, "Sir, how do you always know the right thing?"
The lieutenant shrugged. "My father died," he said. "I have some idea of it."
"Do you miss him?" he asked.
"Yes," he answered. "Always."
"I wondered if that would ever stop. It seems wrong, that I want it to. Disloyal. But the ache..." his voice broke, and he swallowed hard. "I wish I need not have it," he whispered. "Do you still?"
"Yes," Hornblower answered. "Though it eases over time. One day you will find pleasure in his memory. One day."
"Do you swear it?" he asked.
"Then I believe you," he said. "I'm glad you came here. I did not want anyone else. Where did you go today?"
"Back there," he said. Hart knew where he meant. "Captain and Dr. Pellew both felt more could be discovered there. They were right."
"Good," he said, not really caring. He yawned, suddenly very tired. "I should go to bed. I think I can sleep now."
"I hope so. Eat, too, when you awaken. Captain Pellew worries that you will become ill. So do I, in truth."
"Why?" he asked. They should not worry. Last week, they had never heard of him. If he died this week, they would forget him before the next moon. Then he saw Lieutenant Hornblower's expression, and in it, his own error.
The officer's dark eyes looked pained as he said, "I wish I could show you now the things I had to learn. But it does not happen that way, does it?"
"I don't know," Hart said. He yawned again.
"Go to bed. I will be here at dawn." He helped him
with his coat, handed him his bedclothes and left him alone again.
He wriggled down between the sheets and closed his eyes.