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To Sleep
by Simon

Warning: Deathfic

Horatio made his way back to his small berth, the one he shared with
Archie. It was tiny, cramped, and damp and usually stank of unwashed
bodies and dirty clothes and mildew. It had no window or ventilation
and was barely large enough for one of them to stand between the
bunks. They had shared it for two years and were glad of the luxury
their ranks allowed them.

He was exhausted, wet and cold through to his bones. The gale had
finally started to abate enough for them to stand slightly down and
he was about to have his first sleep in two days. God, he was tired
and hungry and sore. He thought, wistfully, that if he were home,
Rosie would put him to bed with a hot brick wrapped in flannel, a
warm bowl of thick soup and a blazing fire. But Rosie was thousands
of miles away and there was no chance of either hot brick or food as
the fires were all doused because of the storm.

His teeth were chattering and his fingers gone numb, making it all
the more difficult to get out of his sopping clothing. Frustrated and
too spent to fight any more, he simply tore the ties and buttons off,
thinking that they could be replaced later. He managed to put on his
warmest nightshirt and added another blanket to his cot. Shivering,
he climbed in, wrapping himself tightly in the scratchy wool.

He longed for a warm down like the one Archie's family had given him
last Christmas, but Horatio was a poor boy from a family consisting
only of his father, a semi-retired country doctor. There was no money
for such things. His shirts were threadbare and his uniforms made of
the cheapest materials available. There was certainly no money for
fancy blankets. Lately he had become embarrassed when he was forced
to attend a dinner or reception. The shabbiness of his clothing made
him uncomfortable. Even Captain Pellew had noticed and teased him
about it more than once. One day he would be able to afford such
things, nice blankets and uniforms where the buttons didn't turn
green and the material didn't wear through in months. It wasn't that
he wished so much to be rich, just not quite as poor.

God, he was cold.

His feet felt like ice. Rising, he sifted through his sea chest until
he managed to find a pair of reasonably dry stockings. Putting them
on, he returned to his cot. They seemed to help a little. He curled
up into himself, rubbing his own arms in an effort to warm them and,
against his expectations, beyond tired, actually drifted into sleep.

Three hours later, returning from his own watch, Archie Kennedy found
him in his cot, more unconscious than asleep. Alarmed by his
appearance, he put a hand to his friend's hand. His skin was ice cold
and damp. In the poor light from the single oil lamp, he looked gray.
Shaking him, trying to rouse him had no result other than a sort of
moaning that ended quickly. Pulling the down duvet his friend so
envied off of his own cot, he added it to the thin pile of bed
coverings, taking care that Horatio's long limbs were well covered.

Obviously, this was more than mere exhaustion. Concerned, he went in
search of the ship's doctor.

Making his way down the ladders and the narrow passageways of the
Indefatigable, his sense of foreboding growing. Horatio was never
sick. Despite his appearance as pale and slender, he had the
constitution of a horse. For him to be laid this low could only mean
that he was seriously ill, especially coming on top of his being run
down and worn out from that storm they had just weathered. Coming to
the sick bay door, he knocked lightly and entered.

Doctor Sebastian was just emerging from his small sleeping cabin
adjacent to the ward area. "Yes, Mr. Kennedy. What can I do for you
this afternoon?"

"Forgive my intrusion, sir, but if you would, might you look at Mr.
Hornblower? I fear that he may require your care."

Nodding, the doctor calmly followed Kennedy back to the small berth.
Entering, they found him as Archie had left him, huddled under
blankets and shivering, still unconscious.

The Doctor quickly made a superficial examination, feeling his
forehead and his pulse. Pulling back the blankets, he carefully felt
his chest and abdomen, probing with gentle fingers, but even this
caused moans and feeble attempts to get away. Replacing the
coverings, he turned to Archie.

"He should be moved to sickbay where I can tend to him more closely,
and I'll inform the Captain that he is on the indisposed list until
further notice."

"What do you think is the matter with him, sir? Is it truly serious?"

The older man smiled kindly, almost indulgently. "If you did not
think so, I would not have been summoned. I'll have two of my boys
bring him to me." Returning to the sickbay and giving the order,
Hornblower was moved and resettled within half an hour. The sight of
him, obviously ill, being carried caused consternation among the
crew. Hornblower was the ship's favorite, much as he would have
protested that fact. To see him too sick to walk under his own power
caused talk and raised questions to which it was too soon to know the
answers.

Those who worked closely beside him, his division among others, had
known that he was tired and had been losing weight with the amount of
work that had been put on him, but he never complained, never. He
would just show up where and when he was supposed to and go about his
business without any fuss. He had so much to do, though. His own
duties as second officer of the ship, the responsibility of his
division and the guns he was assigned. He was the ship's translator
for both French and Spanish. The Captain had him teaching the Mids
mathematics and navigation and even the languages he spoke, and he
seemed, more and more to be acting as a sort of advisor or personal
assistant to the Captain. It was a heavy load for shoulders barely
twenty years old.

He was settled into the cot in sickbay that was reserved for the use
of officers, more comfortable than a hammock for him to lie on.
Doctor Sebastian could now see, with the better light down here that
he had insisted on in his work area, that Hornblower's lips and nails
had a bluish cast to them, his breathing far too labored. Though he
was obviously experiencing chills, he was burning with a high fever.
There was apparent congestion in his lungs and Sebastian called for
more pillows to raise his head and chest, in an attempt to ease his
breathing somewhat.

Concerned that the young man had not reacted to, or even seemed to
notice his being moved or to the care being lavished on him, the
Doctor tried to bring him to at least semi-consciousness.

Calling his name and gently rubbing his hands and cheeks had some
effect and the dark eyes opened slightly as he made an attempt at an
answer.

The doctor spoke softy, his accent musical. "Mr. Hornblower, you are
in the sickbay. I'm afraid that you're to be my guest here for a
little while so that we can make you well again. You'll be warm very
soon now, and then you'll have some wonderful broth that I make
myself to give you strength and to help you breath a bit easier."

The young man seemed to understand what was being said to him and
managed to whisper something that Sebastian couldn't quite make
out. "What was that, Mr. Hornblower? What is troubling you?"

Taking as deep a breath as he could and concentrating on each word,
he tried again. "The Mid's. They were to have an exam this afternoon."

Sebastian smiled slightly. "They will have a few extra days to study,
I suspect. You're not to upset yourself about things that don't
matter right now. You need to get well. Then you can give them that
exam."

"What's wrong with me?" His eyes were focusing better than a few
minutes before. He was more lucid and, as a doctor's son, he would
understand what Sebastian said.

"I believe that you have pneumonia, Lieutenant." The large eyes
regarded the Doctor steadily. "You were exhausted and you haven't
been eating as you should have been. You've allowed the Captain to
ask too much of you, more than you are able to give and your body has
rebelled. Now, you are young and strong, you will rest for a few
weeks and then you will be well out of this."

For a few moments the only sounds were the creaking of the ship and
the wheezing of Hornblower's breath as it rattled in and out of his
lungs.

"The Captain"

"Will be informed. You're not to concern yourself about that." He
closed his eyes again. "Would you like to sleep now?"

"Yes" The single word was mumbled as the lad drifted off. The doctor
straightened from where he had been leaning over in time to see the
sick bay door opening as Captain Pellew entered. He crossed over to
the cot, silently looking down at the now sleeping young man, then
looked at Sebastian questioningly. The tall Spaniard gestured the
Captain to follow him into his private cabin, adjacent to the main
treatment room.

As they sat down, Sebastian behind his small desk and Pellew opposite
in a narrow chair, the Captain asked, "Well?"

"It's pneumonia, Captain, but he is young and strong and should be
well again in two or three weeks. Of course, he'll likely be weak for
quite a while after that, but he should be fine in time."

"You don't believe that he's in any real danger, then?"

"He is quite thin, sir. His body is exhausted and I dare say that his
spirit is also. I fear that he has been hard used these last few
months, if I may say so, sir. Those facts coupled with the storm we
just went through will add to his recovery time." Pellew regarded the
man across from him. "I understand that Mr. Hornblower didn't leave
the deck in two days for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time."

"He was needed. This ship was fighting for her life, you're aware of
that."

"Yes, sir, I am aware, but I fear the Lieutenant will pay for his
dedication to his duty."

"Then you do fear for his recovery, Doctor." Pellew's sharp eyes
seemed to bore into Sebastian.

"I fear that he may be too worn down to wage the fight he must,
Captain."

"Is there anything that I might do? Any medicines that would help?
Would having him taken to a shore hospital, or even his home help?"

"We are headed back to England, are we not? I think that Mr.
Hornblower may benefit from being moved ashore, away from the damp
and the constant motion of the ship. I understand that his father is
a physician of some note. Perhaps he might be of assistance with his
son. Surely a parent would have a connection to a child that could
only be to the good."

Pellew nodded. "I'll write the letters at once. We should be back to
Portsmouth within the fortnight, with any luck. The dispatch vessel
hasn't yet left the fleet, I'll send today. The messages will beat us
home."

"Thank you, Captain."

"You will"keep me informed of his condition, Doctor?"

Sebastian smiled. "You know that I will, sir."

 

Word passed quickly among the crew that Lieutenant Hornblower had
fallen ill and there was an almost constant stream of visitors to the
sickbay to see for themselves or their mates how the young man was
faring.

While walking about one could hardly avoid hearing tales of his
adventures either told to newcomers who hadn't yet had the benefit of
firsthand knowledge, or stories being repeated for the amusement of
men who had lived through the exploits themselves.

"Cor, that night `e steered the fire ship away from the fleet down in
Gibraltar, you should `ave seen the Cap'n after Horny came back
aboard. I thought `e was goin' to throw `is arms about `im, that's
the truth."

"Right you are, and when `e came back with the supplies after `e
commanded the plague ship in the Med. Saved our `ides that time,
that's no joke."

"You mean `e captained a plague ship with supplies and made it back
alive? Lord, that must `ave been a sight."

"That it was, but I think that wot caught me the most was when `e
went back to that Dago prison when `e could `ave stayed right on
board the Indy all safe and snug. Did you see Pellew's face as they
were rowin away? I thought he was about to call them back. Either
that or cry to see `em go."

"Pellew cry? That would be the day."

"Yeah, well, you know that `e looks at Mr. `Ornblower's almost
like `is own. Anyone can see that. Treats `im like `is own son, 'e
does."

"'Ave you seen the Cap'n since `e took sick? Almost like `e
blames `imself."

"Well, Pellew is the one who kept `im on deck all through that blow
we `ad. Maybe `e should feel to blame."

"You watch that talk, mate. Pellew is a `ell of a good Cap'n, and
you're lucky to `ave `im."

"Yeah, well, maybe Mr. `Ornblower's wasn't too lucky this time `avin
Pellew above `im. That's all I'm sayin."

"You know `e'd `ave stayed on deck if Bligh was Captain.
That's `Orny, for you."

"But `e's gonna get better, right?"

"Of course `e is, you idiot. `E's Mr. `Ornblower."

 

For a week he continued as he had been brought into the sickbay.
Usually either asleep or unconscious with periods of wakefulness when
he would be weak and out of breath and attempt to force fluids and
some nourishment. He didn't complain, but it was apparent that his
breathing was becoming more difficult for him as the lungs filled
with fluid and he was forced to remain propped up to an almost
sitting position in an attempt to ease the work his of lungs. With
the lack of food coupled with the illness and the exhaustion he had
gone into the situation with, he was becoming sicker by the day. His
fever remained high and the chills would be brought to bay, only to
return. Archie insisted he have the use of the warm down, and the
doctor was grateful to him for his generosity. Warmer and far softer
than the ships blankets, it would help a bit.

Doctor Sebastian did what he could, of course, made him as
comfortable as was possible, kept him warm and quiet, but there was
really little that could be done to actually relieve his condition.
The sad fact was that it would have to run its course. The
medications simply didn't exist to treat such things.

His recovery would depend on him.

The officers were as concerned as the ratings. Even among the men who
might have been rightly considered Hornblower's competition or
occasionally his adversaries, there was a deep respect and liking for
him. His intelligence, sense of honor and fair play combined with the
courage he employed when necessary had endeared"occasionally
grudgingly"him to virtually everyone on the ship.

His absence caused a gap at the wardroom table during meals and he
was missed at the almost nightly games of whist and chess. Though
quiet, he had a presence that was powerful, it was an almost unspoken
strength, a calmness that was counted on and not really noticed until
gone. The games continued, but the life had gone out of them without
Hornblower goading them on to better play.

The young Midshipmen might have been the ones who missed him the
most. Lieutenant Bracegirdle and Mr. Bowles took over their classes,
as far as they were able, but they weren't nearly as much fun as when
the Lieutenant taught them. Not all that much older than his
students, he would often allow them to digress onto related subjects.
One day he had them reenact the defeat of the Spanish Armada on the
poop deck, with the Mids taking the sides of the British and the
Spanish ships, Hornblower taking the part of Drake and Mr. Kennedy
somehow transforming himself into good Queen Bess. As Hornblower's
division pumped the deck hoses to simulate the storm instrumental in
the Spaniards defeat, even Pellew was laughing out loud.

The Mid's learned, though"by the time he was done with them, they
knew their navigation and their languages"and if they managed to
stuff some history and classic literature in as well, all to the good.

 

 

One night, almost a fortnight after Hornblower was taken ill, Captain
Pellew found himself in the passageway leading to the sickbay. He
approached the door, pushed it open and entered. The room was quiet,
save for Hornblower's labored breathing. The few other patients were
sleeping, the lights low. Crossing over to the officer's bunk, he sat
next to the Doctor who was calmly sponging cooling water on
Hornblower's fever heated skin. His nightshirt, as was common
practice, had been removed to make his treatment and attention to his
physical needs simpler.

"How is he?"

"He is weak, Captain. I am becoming concerned for his recovery."

"The entire crew is reacting to his illness, have you noticed? The
ship is quiet, the men seem afraid to make any noise which might
disturb him."

"Yesterday, I believe that several of the men came to blows because a
crew member refused to stop singing just outside the door here. I had
to intervene."

"Will he live?" Pellew was staring at the terrible changes that had
occurred in the young man in just the two weeks since he'd become
ill. He was thin, wasted looking, pale as a sheet and unresponsive.
It was frightening to see. His face was shadowed with stubble, the
skin around his eyes bruised and his lips cracked from his attempts
to get more air through his mouth.

"I have hope that he is strong enough to"

"Doctor Sebastian, please. I've asked a direct question. I would have
a direct answer. Will his man live or die?" Pellew was testy, abrupt.

"I don't know, Captain. He is weak and his body is using the reserves
that he had very quickly. If he is to live, he must start showing
improvement soon, otherwise he will not have the strength to continue
fighting the illness."

Hornblower's hand, resting in the top of the covers, suddenly
clenched the duvet, almost as thought he were in pain, fighting off a
spasm of some kind or perhaps a bad dream. Moving in a reflex, Pellew
took the hand in his own, gently unclenching the fingers, soothing
them smooth and taking the hand in his own, holding it carefully and
stroking the flesh on the back of it. He gesture seemed to quiet the
young man, at least for now.

The Doctor turned back to another patient, leaving the Captain
sitting beside his officer, holding his hand and gently wiping the
damp cloth over his forehead.

 

"So, how is he, Archie? Any word?" Lieutenant Kennedy sat himself at
his usual place at the table in the wardroom. Dinner was being served
and everyone, other than the officer of the watch was there.

"He's"he's holding his own. Doctor Sebastian says that he's getting
close to the crisis and after that passes he'll start improving.
Should begin any time now." He looked up with a small and
unconvincing smile. What Sebastian had actually said not an hour ago
was that if the crisis didn't pass soon, he wouldn't have the
strength left to fight it when he needed to. He was becoming severely
dehydrated and his lungs were still terribly congested, his breathing
a wheeze of pain. The lack of enough oxygen had caused his lips and
his nails to turn bluecyanotic was what Sebastian had called it, and
it was a bad sign. His constant coughing was bringing up bloody
phlegm and he was delirious on and off. His fever still hadn't broken
and even Pellew was starting to lose hope, not that he'd ever admit
it.

They would be in Portsmouth in just a few days, Hornblower's father
had be sent for and, with any luck, the relative warmth and quiet of
the port would help him regain enough of his strength to win.

 

 

In the Captain's Cabin, Pellew and Sebastian were discussing just
that hope.

"Do you really think that getting him off the ship will make that
much difference, Doctor?"

"I hope that it will, Captain. The damp and the constant motion of
the ship make this sort of illness even more difficult for the men to
fight off. I know you've sent for his father, do you think that he
might have accommodations that would permit the man to tend to his
son? I know that the Navy does it best, but in all honesty, the
Military Hospital is not the ideal place for Mr. Hornblower right
now."

The Doctor was too tactful to say that a sewer would be almost the
same as the hospital. Sanitation was almost nonexistent with
overcrowding the rule and medical expertise was limited, at best.

"I shall make my home available to them, if you think that might
help. I've the room and I've servants enough to see to whatever they
may need...no, Doctor, I insist. I would feel Mr. Hornblower's loss"
deeply. He isa fine officer and an exemplary young man. It would
pain me to see him in that Hellhole."

"Thank you, Captain. That could well be what makes the difference."

Pellew paused; taking a moment to sip the brandy he was sharing with
the Doctor, quietly watching as the Spaniard spoke. Finally he said
what was on his mind. "You don't hold out much hope, do you, Luis?"

"I wish that"he had more reserves to draw from. His body is almost
without strength now. If he is to live, it is his will that will
carry him through."

 

Later that night, somewhere in the second dogwatch, Archie was
sitting beside his friend. A candle burned and he was reading Romeo
and Juliet again. Something made him look up, some small movement and
he caught Horatio's eyes looking at him, actually focusing.

Immediately he moved closer, softly saying, "Hello, you've had us
worried, you know."

Hornblower managed a half croaked "Sorry."

"Would you like some water?" The slightest of nods affirmed that he
could try.

Pouring some water into the cup, Archie tried to have him drink
without spilling any more than necessary. After a cup and a half had
made their way home, he was done. As he had helped Horatio drink,
Archie could feel that the fever still hadn't broken. "I'll be right
back." He went to Sebastian's sleeping cabin. "Sir, Doctorhe's
awake." Instantly the older man was on his feet and pulling his
dressing gown over his nightshirt.

"It's good of you to decide to join us again, Lieutenant. Do you
think that you might manage some broth?" Again, that slight nod. "Mr.
Kennedy, would you please bring some? It's on the top of the oil lamp
there." It was imperative that Hornblower get some nourishment in
him. His weakness was his biggest problem in getting well at this
point.

A bowl was brought and the Doctor sat beside the cot as he spooned
it, bit by bit into the sick man's mouth, all the while keeping up a
soothing course of encouragement. "Yes, that's right. Just a bit more
and you'll feel better. I know you're not hungry, but that's what a
life of duty entails, now, you know thatdoing things you'd rather
not. A few more spoonfuls, if you please, Mr. Hornblower. Yes, that's
the way."

He ate half the bowl before he drifted off again, but Sebastian and
Archie were as happy as if he'd danced a jig.

"Do you think that's it then? He's getting better?"

"We can hope, Mr. Kennedy, certainly, but he is still quite ill. He's
not out of danger quite yet."

"But he was awake, and he was talking to me and he ate and drank"
that's all to the good, isn't it?"

"Yes, of course, Mr. Kennedy and we know that Mr. Hornblower is a
stubborn young man. He will fight, we know that, he hasn't given up
and neither have we."

Archie spent the rest of the night keeping the vigil, but his friend
didn't wake again before he had to leave for his watch.

 

Later that morning Captain Pellew walked into the sickbay with a
bounce to his step that had been missing these last two weeks.

"Doctor Sebastian! We have passed the point and shall drop anchor
within the hour. I understand that our patient rallied during the
night and has decided to continue his career with His Majesty after
all." He crossed the small space, looking down at Hornblower's cot,
stopping short at the pale face on the pillows.

"I'm sorry Captain. I'm more sorry than I can say. Mr. Hornblower
stopped breathing a few minutes ago. There is nothing more to be
done."

"But he"

"Captain, last night was a momentary burst of strength, a temporary
rally. I had hoped that it was the turning point, but I'm afraid that
he was just too weak to fight off the illness." Gently, almost
tenderly, the Doctor pulled the sheet up over the quiet face still
propped on the pillows. "I was just about to inform you."

Pellew looked past the Doctor into his sleeping alcove where he
caught sight of Kennedy, sitting with a book in his hands, a stricken
look on his face, almost one of shock. The young man looked up to the
Captain and softly spoke. "Last night I was reading this when he
woke `And, when he shall die, take him and cut him out in little
stars, and he shall make the face of heaven so fine that all the
world will be in love with night, and pay no worship to the garish
sun.' It's from Romeo and Juliet. I could never get him to read it.
I tried, but he never wanted to."

"Mr. Kennedy, you are overwrought"

He answered mildly, absentmindedly. "Why, yes, I suppose that I am.
It continues here, a few lines later, `Ah, well-a-day! He's dead,
he's dead, he's dead!He's gone, he's killed, he's dead!'" Archie was
crying, his eyes still on the pages, and tears on his face. He
ignored them. He looked up to the Captain. "He must be buried at sea.
Sir, that is what he would want. He must."

 

The next day Indefatigable weighed anchor from Portsmouth and sailed
ten miles out to sea, towards the Atlantic. Her entire ship's
compliment was aboard with the addition of Doctor Hornblower, come to
the city to care for his only child and now rendering the last
service to his son that he could. He was broken by the news and
Doctor Sebastian privately believed that he would join his son soon.

The Ensign dipped to half-staff, the piper played, the crew stood at
attention, the familiar words from the Book of Common Prayer were
read. The body, in dress uniform, washed and sewn into it's shroud by
his own division helped by the officers of the ship and weighted with
two small shot was slipped beneath the waves.

It was done.

 

 

 

Quotes from Romeo and Juliet from Act III, sc.ii