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Uncharted Waters
by Loz

Horatio Hornblower looked up in surprise when he saw the woman
standing nearby, her tall figure silhouetted against the bright
moonlit sky.

"Miss Schmidt, do you require any assistance?"

Hannah Schmidt turned in surprise. "Mr Hornblower! You startled me!"

Hornblower blushed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you. But are
you all right?"

She waved away the question. "There's nothing wrong with me,
Lieutenant. I just felt in need of some fresh air and a little
space." She smiled wryly. "Sick bay isn't exactly conducive to
solitude and reflection."

He winced, remembering below-decks as he had seen them after the
encounter with the French corvette two days ago. Casualties hadn't
been overly heavy for such an engagement, but some of the injuries
had been truly gruesome. Hornblower had nearly gagged at the sight,
his ever-present seasickness competing with a sense of absolute
horror. Young Simons, a powder boy, had been dreadfully burnt when a
gun blew, and the helpless medics had been unable to ease the agony
of his passing. Michaels, a likeable Marine sergeant, had been shot
in the head while trying to board the French vessel, and his death
had been neither quick nor pleasant.

"I'd have to agree with you."

He paused. The man in him was unwilling to press the obviously
exhausted woman further, but the officer was anxious for information.
He tried to ignore the uncomfortable contradiction. "How are things
down there?"

She shrugged. "About as well as could be expected. Young Robbie knows
where to find me if something happens, but it's quiet at the moment.
Well, relatively speaking."

"And the men?"

Hannah frowned. "Oldroyd is still seeing two of everything, but there
shouldn't be any lasting damage." She smiled. "He's got a very hard
head."

Horatio stifled a chuckle, as his companion continued her inventory.

"Arnold's back injury wasn't so bad, but if he goes back to work too
soon he could cripple himself. He has to rest, although I'm not
keeping him in sick berth just for that. He's so restless, he's
disturbing all the other patients. The enforced break may not prove
to be such a bad thing though, since it might stop him trying to
prove he's better than Captain Pellew."

Hornblower jumped. He hadn't realised the young German woman was so
perceptive. Master's Mate Michael Arnold was indeed the bane of
everyone's existence. He was convinced of his own brilliance and
absolutely refused to listen to any opinion if it contradicted his
own. Pellew hadn't wanted to appoint him to the position, but the
Indefatigable was so short-handed he had had little choice. Horatio
doubted that the Captain would be greatly disappointed by Arnold's
need for a somewhat extended convalescence.

Hannah went on. "Midshipman Slater will be fine. He won't be climbing
any ratlines for a while with that leg, but he'll get back to his
acrobatics eventually."

Horatio nodded, relieved. Midshipman Nicholas Slater may not have
been the brightest officer to join His Majesty's Navy, but his
ceaseless good cheer and his willingness to work hard had made him
very well liked aboard ship. "Roberts?" The sailor had also been
standing near the ruined gun, although Simons had born the brunt of
the impact.

The doctor didn't meet his eyes. "I'm not sure. There's an infection,
but it seems to be responding. He's sleeping now, so we'll just have
to see. It doesn't help that he lost so much blood. He's a fighter,
though."

Hornblower swallowed. "He is, at that." It had been Roberts who had
pushed Acting-Lieutenant Kennedy away from the explosion, and Archie
had escaped only mildly singed.

As if reading his mind, Hannah nodded. "It took a brave man to do
what he did." Then she smiled. "He's not the only man with courage,
though."

Hornblower looked puzzled. "I beg your pardon?"

"I was talking with Oldroyd. It seems a certain lieutenant dragged
him to safety after he was knocked out, despite the fact that this
lieutenant was left completely exposed with a useless hand." Hannah
glanced at the sizeable bandage on Hornblower's badly wrenched and
cut wrist, partly hidden by his shirtsleeve. "Must have been painful."

The man blushed. "It was nothing. I was nearest. That was all."

She shook her head. "That's not how Oldroyd tells it."

Hornblower shrugged, a rather uncharacteristic gesture. "He had just
received a rather nasty blow to the head."

Hannah laughed suddenly, the clear sound echoing around the quiet
ship. "Mr Hornblower! Was that almost a joke?"

His lips curved into a smile. "Am I so very solemn?"

She turned away, unable to control her sudden surge of emotion.

Hornblower seemed concerned by her silence. "Miss Schmidt?"

She straightened her shoulders, and stared out to sea. "I'm fine.
Honestly. I was merely...thinking."

Her companion battled a strange desire to share her suffering.
Instead, he spoke non-commitally. "Indeed?"

"Yes."

"And may I be privileged to share these thoughts?" He spoke lightly,
but to his surprise he was unable to completely suppress the feeling
in his voice.

Hannah bit her lip. "It's nothing", she told herself. "Merely common
courtesy." But she answered nonetheless.

"What was I thinking about?" she mused. "Everything and nothing, I
suppose. Home. Gibraltar. Being here. Distance."

She paused, and Hornblower realised he was holding his breath.

"Life. Death. I always hoped what I did would make a difference. But
it didn't. I've seen people die, but before this I could at least try
to make it easier. This time...I couldn't. They were in pain, and I
couldn't help them enough."

Reason warred with instinct in Hornblower. He had intended to give
Hannah the sort of calm counsel Captain Pellew might have offered,
recognising her pain and her endeavours while acknowledging sadly
that horror and loss were inevitable parts of warfare. Instead, he
found himself instead longing to take her in his arms and comfort
her. She wasn't a sailor, nor was she a battle surgeon. She was a
woman caught in an impossible web not of her own making. He shook his
head, annoyed at his own confusion.

He spoke without thinking. "That's not true!"

She seemed surprised by his vehemence. "Isn't it?"

"No!" He recalled something Archie had told him after the battle, as
he'd had his minor burns tended. "I've seen a few doctors in my
life," he had said, his mouth twisting with remembered pain. "But
Miss Schmidt - Hannah - she really seemed to care. I'd wager we'd
have lost twice as many if Hepplewhite had been in charge." Horatio
thought of the gentleness with which she had treated his own injury.

"No!" He spoke with more certainty. "You did all you could. No one
could have done more. Sometimes we have to accept these things."

Hannah smiled bitterly. "And is this the attitude you hold regarding
your own failings?"

"Yes. No. I..." He was silent. Somehow, he felt compelled to answer
her honestly. "There's always something I could have been done
better. No matter what happens, there's always something. I didn't
plan well enough, or I hadn't taken sufficient notice of the weather,
or...I simply wasn't good enough. I couldn't live up to Captain
Pellew's expectations, and men died because of it."

She looked at him, her heart in her eyes. He blushed. But he didn't
turn away. "You can't carry the world on your shoulders, Horatio."

Amazed at his daring, he covered the capable hand resting on the rail
with his own bandaged one. "And you should take your own advice,
Hannah."

"Perhaps." She looked at the young man beside her, standing straight
and tall in the moonlight. "It helps to talk, you know. Thank you."

Horatio didn't answer. He felt suffused by an inexplicable warmth,
although the night was cold.

The two of them stood in companionable silence, their hands still
touching.

Two bells struck.

It was Hannah who stirred, reluctantly. "I'd best get back to the
surgery. I really should check on my patients."

Hornblower surprised himself by offering to come as well. Hannah shot
him a startled glance. His cheeks reddened.

"My father is a doctor, you know...I might be of some use."

It was Hannah's turn to flush. "Oh, I didn't mean that! But aren't
you on watch?"

"Not now, I'm not." He saw a yawning and slightly dishevelled Archie
Kennedy appear on the quarterdeck. "Mr Kennedy, the ship is yours.
I'll be in sick bay with Miss Schmidt if you need me."

As Horatio followed Hannah below, he didn't notice the gleam in
Archie's eye.

"Well, well, well," his friend muttered to no one in particular. "Now
isn't that interesting?"

*****

It was quiet and dark in the surgery, apart from the one lamp that
highlighted the men lying injured, trying to find some small oblivion
in sleep.

Horatio caught sight of Oldroyd, resting peacefully. "He looks
better, doesn't he?" the lieutenant whispered.

Hannah spun around. "Who? Oldroyd? Oh yes, he's on the mend. He told
me this afternoon that he'd never drink grog again, since he couldn't
imagine anyone willingly making their head that sore." She
smiled. "Mind you, I think he'll change his mind when he tastes the
water after the Indefatigable's been at sea for a while!"

Horatio smiled too, although perhaps more in appreciation of the
beauty Hannah's smile brought to her face then at Oldroyd's
witticism. Not that he was willing to admit that. But the grin faded
as he saw Roberts, lying in a hammock on the other side of the sick
bay.

His face was grey, and Hannah was checking his temperature. The
loblolly boy sitting next to him had fallen asleep, the wet cloth
with which he had been sponging the sick man's face still in his hand.

"How is he?" Horatio murmured.

The woman shook her head. "No change. The fever hasn't worsened, but
neither has it improved. I can't seem to get at the infection."

Her companion grimaced. Infection was the biggest threat after an
injury, and he knew from his father that many men died of treatable
wounds gone putrid. "Is there anything else you can do?"

She frowned in concentration. "Perhaps. I can try to treat the fever.
It's the wounds themselves that are causing the problem. They simply
aren't healing as they should. There might be something..."

She looked up at Hornblower. "Would you mind doing me a favour?"

He didn't hesitate. "Of course."

She turned back to the patient. "Could you get Robbie into bed? His
hammock's just round the corner. He's had almost less sleep than I
have these past few days, and I'm going to need him in the morning.
Mr Slater's leg has to be reset."

Hornblower glanced at the almost comatose youngster, then
nodded. "I'll be back as quickly as I can. Do you need anything else?"

Hannah passed her hand wearily over her eyes. "I'm not sure. Maybe
some more potable water? I'm going to try and give Roberts something.
It might work - at any rate, it won't do any more harm."

She glanced round to thank him, but the officer had already vanished
with his sleeping burden. Hannah realised with a start that although
neither she nor Hornblower had that many more years than the
exhausted boy by the calendar, their lives had forced them into
maturity decades earlier than expected. Sighing, she bent back over
the patient, deep in concentration.

--

Hornblower returned several minutes later with a small bucket of
water. "Where do you want it, Hannah?"

She gestured vaguely. "Over by the patient, Horatio." In the
tenseness of the moment, formality seemed to have been discarded.

After he'd put down his burden, he looked over at the German woman
with renewed interest, as she burrowed in a small wooden chest. "What
are you trying to find?"

"A particular remedy my father once recommended. I'm sure I had some
leaves somewhere..." She paused. "Would you mind dampening some
cloths in the water?"

"Not at all. These ones?" He held up several strips of brown sacking.

She glanced over her shoulder. "No, the white muslin on the other
chair."

He picked up the pieces and set to his task, feeling unusually
satisfied, despite the severity of the situation and the discomfort
of his own injured hand. "Are you looking for some willow bark?
Because I think there's a small supply in the old doctor's cabin."

"No. That's good for fever and pain, but I want something a bit
stronger."

"Oh?" he wondered. Willow bark tended to be viewed as a panacea for
all diseases aboard ship, primarily because it often worked.

"It's no use treating the fever unless I can do something about the
injuries. I'd like to avoid gangrene at this point." She rummaged
further in the box. "No, this is something else. I don't know what
you call it in England, but at home, we called it 'rossklau'."

Horatio raised an eyebrow. "Sounds rather unusual."

"It isn't that common a plant, even where I'm from. But it's meant to
be good for persistent infections and for healing suppurating wounds,
which would seem to be what we want here. Also! Ich habe es
gefunden!" Hannah announced, lapsing into German as she occasionally
did when she was tired or emotional.

Horatio looked closer. She held a packet of dried leaves and a small
bottle containing a greeny-brown liquid. "What are you going to do?"
he asked, fascinated anew by her skill.

"I want to poultice the wounds with the leaves, and then see if I can
get him to drink a few drops of the extract in some water." She moved
towards the hammock, and Hornblower stepped back, wincing as his
damaged hand struck the nearby chair. He was unable to entirely
stifle an exclamation, and Hannah turned in concern.

"Ach! Horatio! Your wrist! I completely forgot! I'm so sorry!"

He grimaced. "It's nothing, I assure you." But he looked even paler
than usual.

"Quatsch!" In her distress, she had raised her voice slightly, and
she looked around worriedly, hoping she had not disturbed anyone
further. Reassured, she continued more quietly. "It is not nothing. I
dressed that hand; I know exactly how bad it is. And you had
absolutely no business carrying anything with it. It must have been
hellish. You should have said something."

"And what would you have done?"

She shook her head. "That won't wash, Lieutenant. I could have
managed. I'd have woken Robbie if I'd had to. I'd be a poor physician
indeed if I let my own comfort override the needs of any of my
patients. Even stubborn ones who won't acknowledge that they are
injured, and risk maiming themselves permanently."

He looked abashed. "I wanted to help," he said softly.

"I know, and I'm grateful." She blinked away an unshed tear. "But
right now, the last thing this ship needs is for you to be out of
commission. Sit down, and I'll check your hand when I've finished
here."

Hornblower acquiesced unwillingly. "I rather hate to sit here feebly
while you work."

"That's what I'm supposed to do. But of course, it's up to you,
Horatio. Although I heard Captain Pellew say that we're very short of
crew. I doubt he'd thank me for depriving him of your valuable
company."

That image, of Captain Pellew finding him unfit for duty, was enough
to make him shudder. He held up his uninjured hand. "I know when to
surrender!"

"Thus conscience does make cowards of us all."

"That's rather a low blow, Miss Schmidt."

She smiled wryly. "Hardly, Mr Hornblower. 'To take arms against a sea
of troubles' is not always a good thing. If Hamlet had served under
Sir Edward, I'm sure he would have found discretion to be the better
part of valour."

Horatio looked slightly surprised. "Shakespeare?"

"Well, I daresay I could have found a suitable quote from Goethe, but
I think your grasp of German might be a little shaky. And I thought
someone named Horatio would probably know all about vengeful Danish
princes and their followers."

"I do have the misfortune to know that play fairly well."

Conversation lagged as Hannah worked on Roberts. She used the leaves
and the cloth to make compresses for the worst of his injuries, and
finally roused him sufficiently to get him to take a few sips of her
concoction. He gagged slightly, but managed to keep it down. She
watched for a few moments, as he gradually slipped back into an
uneasy sleep.

When she was satisfied that the man was as comfortable as she could
make him, Hannah turned to her other patient.

"Horatio? Lieutenant Hornblower?"

"I beg your pardon, Miss Schmidt." He pulled himself back together,
trying to ignore some of the emotions that the sight of the doctor's
whole-hearted care had roused in him.

"Your turn."

He winced. "I was rather hoping you would forget about that."

Ignoring his protests, she gently unwrapped the bandages from his
damaged hand and examined it carefully. "Not as bad as I'd feared."

Beads of sweat appeared on Hornblower's forehead. "That's good to
know," he muttered through gritted teeth.

"Well, not good exactly, but it could have been far worse. I'm not
entirely happy about that swelling, though. I think I might bathe the
arm before I re-bandage it. She set some water to heat, and went
back to her chest.

Meanwhile, Horatio looked gingerly at his arm. His hand and wrist
were dark and swollen with bruising, and multiple gashes stood out
wickedly on the pale flesh, but there were none of the telltale signs
of infection, and for that he was grateful. To distract himself, he
looked back at his companion.

"What are you looking for this time? Another herb?"

"A flower extract. Arnica. But I wouldn't recommend that you take too
much of this one, else it might poison you."

Her patient looked slightly apprehensive. "Really?"

"Indeed. Don't worry, I know what I'm doing." She smiled wryly. "I'm
not Doctor Hepplewhite."

"I'm very much aware of that, Miss Schmidt," he replied steadily,
looking directly at her. The feelings she stirred in him were not
ones he had ever wished to bestow on her late unlamented
predecessor.

Hannah blushed, and dropped her eyes to the medicines in front of her.

"Here we are." She took up a small stoppered bottle of yellow powder,
and tipped some onto a scrap of fabric. Tying the bundle, she dropped
it carefully into the warm water. After it had bubbled away for
several minutes, she picked up some more strips of cloth and soaked
them in the resulting mixture.

"Ready?" she asked Horatio cautiously. "This may hurt a little."

That was an understatement. It felt like his entire arm was on fire.
Hannah cleaned every cut meticulously, and let the infusion soak into
the badly bruised flesh. Eventually, it was over.

She looked up worriedly. "Es tut mir leid."

"Hannah?"

"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you."

Horatio leaned forward and grabbed her arm with his uninjured
hand. "Stop apologising. You did nothing wrong! I'd certainly rather
you took care of me than anyone else!" Embarrassed beyond belief by
his boldness and convinced he had blundered past all hope of repair,
he dropped her arm and looked purposefully in the other direction.

"Horatio? Horatio?" The voice was soft, but insistent. He turned
around, deep in misery. But Hannah was smiling.

Gently, she put a clean bandage round his hand and wrist, securing it
just below the elbow. When she'd finished, she pushed her chair away
from the table, and stretched wearily.

"I suggest you get some rest now, Mr Hornblower. It would never do to
have you falling asleep on deck tomorrow!"

Hornblower tried to smile. "Probably not. But what about you?"

She leaned back in her chair, and closed her eyes for a moment. "I'll
stay here. I want to check how Roberts reacts to the medicine I gave
him. Don't worry about me; I can always doze where I am. Besides, the
ship won't sink if I'm tired, but if you are..."

He would worry, but he could hardly tell her that. Especially when he
didn't quite understand it himself. "Very well. I'll get some sleep."

Horatio Hornblower stood, and made his way towards the door. But he
paused on the threshold.

Trying to hide the affection he feared was written on his face, he
spoke more formally than he had intended. "Thank you, Miss Schmidt.
Good evening."

"Good night, Mr Hornblower. Schlaf' gut." But he was already gone.

---

Despite his words to Hannah, Horatio's path took him not to the tiny
berth he shared with Archie, but back up to the deck. He stood gazing
out into the starry night, hoping that the shock of the cold sea air
would help him to regain something of his customary equilibrium.

Romance was something rather beyond his ken. Desire he knew, and even
attraction wasn't entirely foreign to him. He remembered the disaster
at Muzillac, and Mariette, yet for the first he felt little more than
a gentle pang of regret. For Hannah had stirred entirely different
emotions. Mariette had been illusion, an escape from a disastrous
reality. The image of her had been a comfort as the world collapsed
around him. Hannah rarely made him feel comfortable. Her very nature
was a challenge, with her gentle exterior hiding a strength and
perception that left him utterly discomfited. Talking with her
allowed him no easy escape into meaningless trivia, and yet for all
that her company was something he craved, as a man dying of thirst
looked for water. Horatio Hornblower, the epitome of self-
containment, found himself confronting the possibility that
completion could come from without, as well as from within. And it
frightened him beyond measure.

Catching sight of his pensive friend, Archie Kennedy crossed the deck
to join him.

"Horatio, I thought you long asleep by now!" Shivering, he pulled his
cloak more tightly around him. "Surely you prefer your bed to
catching the death of cold up here!"

Horatio didn't answer immediately. "I was merely...thinking," he
replied eventually, unconsciously borrowing Hannah's words from
earlier in the evening."

"I see." Noticing his friend's intense concentration, and remembering
past conversations, Archie thought he did indeed understand. "Is your
hand causing you much pain?" he asked somewhat disingenuously.

Horatio looked bemused, as if his thoughts had been many miles
away. "My hand? No more than is to be expected. Hannah dressed it
again for me and..." His voice trailed away.

Archie smiled gently. "Ah yes, Miss Schmidt. Is it she perhaps who
occupies your thoughts?"

"That's dangerously close to insubordination, Mr Kennedy." Yet it was
said without rancour.

Archie went on unabashed. "To the navy I might well be first and
foremost your fellow officer. That's as maybe. But I'd like to think
I'm your friend as well. You saved my sanity; might I not help you to
find your balance?"

That did raise a reaction. "I'm in no imminent danger of imploding,
Archie!"

Archie looked at him in wide-eyed innocence. "No? No sudden urges to
slay a dragon to lay at the feet of your lady love? No thoughts of
noble sacrifice to remove your unwilling presence from her life?" He
struck a pose.

"Archie, this is the quarterdeck of a frigate, not the Great Hall at
Camelot." Hornblower continued more softly. "And I'm no valiant
knight, to be worthy of another's affection."

"No, you're a Lieutenant on his Britannic Majesty's frigate
Indefatigable. And you're an absolute idiot."

His head shot up. "Mr Kennedy, you go too far."

Archie leaned against the rail, his jovial manner forgotten. "On the
contrary, Mr Hornblower. I don't believe I go nearly far enough."

"Archie - " This time the warning was clear.

Archie ignored it. "What are you trying to do, Horatio? Turn yourself
into a replica of the Rock of Gibraltar? Convince yourself of your
own inadequacy, and reject anyone who doesn't believe it?"

"Archie..." The response was anguished.

Seeing the look on Horatio's face, Archie relented slightly. "I know
you forget it sometimes, in your efforts to save the Navy
singlehandedly. But admitting that you're human occasionally won't
cause the Indefatigable to sink."

Hornblower refused to be drawn. "I don't know what you mean."

"Or you don't want to think about it."

Horatio shook his head. "We seem to be getting rather far afield, Mr
Kennedy."

Archie shrugged. "If you say so, Mr Hornblower. Then I'll get to the
point. There's a woman on board this ship. Since the untimely demise
of Dr Hepplewhite, she's serving as ship's doctor. Admittedly, she's
very good at it." He laughed a trifle bitterly. "I should know. But
anyway, I tend to think that your feelings involve a little more than
respect for Miss Schmidt's professional competence." He
stopped. "Have I hit the mark, Sir?"

His companion tried to ignore him, but the set of his shoulders gave
away his interest.

Archie continued somewhat didactically. "Right. So let us take a leaf
out of your book, Lieutenant. We shall analyse the problem carefully.
We have just now established the facts on one side of the equation -
we will now investigate the other, in an effort to make sure that
they balance."

Hornblower shook his head. "Don't throw mathematics back in my face,
Mr Kennedy. You're not good enough at them."

His friend smiled. "We'll see. Fact. You're in love with Miss
Schmidt."

"I never said that..."

"Don't interrupt. Supposition. You don't believe that your feelings
are returned."

The dam broke. "Damn it all to hell, Archie, why on earth would they
be?"

Archie clenched his fists in frustration, but Horatio couldn't stop.

"I'm not like you, Archie. I've never understood these social graces.
Every time I want to talk to her I turn into a blathering idiot. What
on earth could anyone see in an officer as ordinary and
undistinguished as myself?"

Archie let out a bark of incredulous laughter. "Ordinary?
Undistinguished? Horatio, if that had come from anyone else I'd have
them beaten for obtuseness! You sir, are quite possibly the least
ordinary man of my acquaintance!"

"Mr Kennedy, have you been overindulging in the Captain's port?"

"No." He held up a hand to stifle further outbursts from his
friend. "Oh, I'm not saying that you're perfect. Your sense of humour
is lamentable, and your dancing atrocious. The frills on your
shirtsleeves are never ironed sufficiently, and your handwriting is
too neat to be believed." Archie watched as the tension eased out of
Horatio before he continued more seriously. "But you are also
intelligent, kind, loyal, trusting, and the best friend a man could
ever have. I owe you my life."

Hornblower answered soberly, "And I owe you mine."

"Quite a mutual admiration society we have here," said Archie
lightly. "The point is, however, that there is absolutely nothing
about you to which the worthy doctor could possibly object. So why
don't you talk to her instead of prowling around the Indy like a bear
with a sore head? Even Captain Pellew's starting to notice. He asked
me the other day if I knew what troubled you," he added with glee.

"What on earth did you say?"

Archie grinned. "I merely observed that in spring a young man's fancy
turns to thoughts of love."

Horatio's jaw dropped. "Archie! You didn't!"

"Of course not. I'm an Acting-Lieutenant, not a court jester. I told
him I didn't know." He looked at his friend. "But I do, don't I?"

Hornblower's head drooped. "Yes. I just wish I could...I...she's
quite a lady, isn't she?"

Archie nodded. "She is, although there are one or two things I think
you may not have realised. I could easily fall in love with her
myself, if it weren't for the rather obvious fact that..." he paused
teasingly.

Hornblower waited for him to finish the sentence, rolling his eyes
when it appeared no answer was forthcoming. "Mr Kennedy, I am your
superior officer. Kindly complete that remark or I won't be
answerable for the consequences."

"Aye, aye, Superior Lieutenant Hornblower, Sir."

"Archie!"

He gave a mock-scowl. "Very well. Miss Schmidt is a lovely woman, and
I could well understand anyone developing feelings for her. Myself
included, if I weren't so happily engaged. And Oldroyd. And possibly
Styles" he added with a grin, "Although he'd never admit it. But it
would be entirely useless for anyone else, given that she's
completely in love with you."

Horatio went white to the lips. "Archie, please don't tease me about
this," he whispered helplessly. "I don't have your understanding of
such matters."

Archie's reply was completely without levity. "I understand. But I
was telling the truth."

If it were possible to grow any paler, Hornblower would have done
so. "How...how can you know that?"

"I'd like to say it was from experience, but Katie made all the
running in my case. We were engaged before I knew what was happening!
No, this time I've merely used the well-honed observational skills of
an officer in his Majesty's Navy."

"Oh? And are you sure of your findings?" His voice trembled as he
asked the question.

"Yes. But just for you, I'll list them in an orderly fashion. For a
start, whenever she sees you her face glows. I'm surprised they can't
see it back in Gibraltar!"

Hornblower gulped.

"Secondly, she's managed to sit next to you at every Captain's dinner
we've had so far. Even Mr Bracegirdle remarked upon it!"

"Really?"

"Really. To quote our esteemed First Lieutenant, "Mr Hornblower may
have been an unwilling prisoner of the Spaniards, but he appears to
have no objection to being held captive by a German!"

Horatio was now beyond speech.

"Thirdly, I heard her singing as she checked your hand yesterday.
Remember? I was having my burns cleaned at the time. And you didn't
grimace once."

He swallowed convulsively.

"And finally, I heard what she was singing."

"Archie, she was singing in German!"

"Which I happen to know passably well. Blame it on my childhood
tutor; he always was a bit too obsessive. Anyway, I recognised the
song. It's entitled 'Ich liebe dich'. It's an interesting song. And
the title has a very interesting meaning."

"It's probably just a folk song. Something she didn't even know she
was singing."

Archie tried to keep a straight face. "I doubt that, somehow. 'Ich
liebe dich' means, roughly translated, 'I love you." She was singing
a love song, Horatio. To you. I expect she thought no-one would
notice. Rather lucky I did, eh?"

Horatio was shaking his head in disbelief. "Archie, I don't know
whether to kiss you or kill you!"

Archie took a step backwards. "Don't kiss me - kiss her! Or at least
talk to her. It makes a difference." His face lit up, as he
remembered the conversation of his own that had finally allowed him
to put the horror of Jack Simpson behind him.

Horatio smiled, understanding. "A good point, Mr Kennedy."

The aforementioned Mr Kennedy nodded sagely. "It must be, since I
made it."

"Archie!"

"You keep saying that. Does the very thought of Miss Schmidt leave
you bereft of intelligent speech?"

"Archie!"

"There you go again. I suggest you get some rest before you do
anything else. Romance is all very well, but you won't be much use to
anyone if you doze off and fall overboard tomorrow."

"That's what Hannah told me earlier."

Archie waggled a finger. "Horatio, the first rule in this sort of
thing is to do what you're told. It makes life so much easier."

"Is that your idea?"

"No, Katie's. But I'm a sensible fellow. I know when to follow
orders."

"Perhaps we should get Miss Wentworth to come aboard Indefatigable as
a Lieutenant, because you certainly don't know when to follow mine!"

Archie smiled at the thought of his determined bride-to-be standing
on the poop deck. "Don't tempt me, Mr Hornblower. Or Katie. She'd
enlist given half a chance. But seriously, aren't you rather glad I
didn't?"

"A superior should never admit that a subordinate has any sense," he
intoned, in a fair imitation of Admiral Hood.

"Very true, Mr Hornblower. I will happily turn into a mushroom. Now,
for heaven's sake, go and get some sleep! Begone, Horatio!"

Horatio left the quarterdeck laughing. But for the second time that
evening, he paused before departing.

"Thank you, Mr Kennedy."

"My pleasure, Mr Hornblower."

-----

Despite his lack of sleep, Horatio Hornblower awoke the next morning
feeling happier in himself than he had since the Indefatigable first
sailed into Quiberon Bay. His conversation with Archie had lightened
his spirits, and Hannah's treatment had reduced the pain in his arm
to a dull ache.

As rolled out of bed quietly so as to avoid waking Archie, Horatio
caught sight of a note, written in his friend's characteristic scrawl
and propped near his shirt where he would be sure to find it. It was
short and to the point.

'Horatio,

Extraordinary how night air can clear the mind. Talk to her. She's
spent her entire life being rejected for what society thought she
was, just as you keep flaying yourself for what you think you should
be. See if you can't accept each other for who you are. God knows, it
took me long enough to sort that one out. You helped me then; I'm
merely returning the favour.

Archie.'

Horatio smiled, folded the note, and finished dressing with a
newfound resolve.

--

Unfortunately, this determination was to be tested to the limit. For
try as he might, Hornblower was unable to find a moment even to
approach Hannah. With the damage caused by the French, the shortage
of crew and a change in the weather, Mr Bowles had the lieutenant's
division resetting the rigging, mending the sails, resplicing lines
and generally working themselves into total exhaustion. In his darker
moments, Horatio wondered if the ship's master wasn't deliberately
relishing his frustration.

Eventually, when the sailors were allowed to stagger off in search of
rum and rest, Lieutenant Hornblower went below. He was so intent on
his own thoughts, he barely avoided cannoning into Captain Pellew,
who was walking towards the taffrail.

Pellew gazed after the normally controlled officer thoughtfully.

"Mr Kennedy, do you have any idea where Mr Hornblower might be
heading so precipitously?"

Archie Kennedy, who was unfortunate enough to be nearby, tried to
answer with a straight face. "Perhaps he's going to rest. I believe
his hand is still paining him somewhat." That was true, as far as it
went.

The corners of Edward Pellew's mouth turned up in the beginning of a
smile. "Ah yes, his injured hand. Would that be the reason he seems
to be spending so much time in the company of our new doctor?" The
captain appeared to be lost in thought. Then he continued. "Except
that the association seems to have commenced well before our recent
engagement. How curious."

For once in his life, Archie was completely dumbfounded.

--

Hornblower, unaware of the captain's merry-making at his expense, had
made his way to the orlop deck and the sick berth. Bracing himself,
he went in.

---

The place was surprisingly quiet. Oldroyd was nowhere to be seen, and
Slater and Roberts both appeared to be sound asleep. Hannah was
sitting at the table, grinding some sort of herb with a mortar and
pestle. The crushed foliage lent a sharp tang to the otherwise fetid
air.

She looked up in surprise when she saw him enter. "Mr Hornblower!"

He felt awkward and out of place. "Hello, Miss Schmidt. Am I
disturbing you?"

She moved her implements to one side. "Not at all. I was merely
keeping myself occupied." She gestured at the other chair. "Please,
have a seat."

He duly sat. Trying desperately to find some way of starting the
conversation, he fell back upon work. "Things seem calmer here today."

Hannah nodded, relieved. "As I told the Captain earlier. Oldroyd's
fit for light duties now, and thankfully, Roberts seems to be a
little better. I put a new splint on Mr Slater's leg, and I think
he's resting more comfortably."

"I'm pleased to hear that." He cringed at the banal statement. But he
couldn't think of anything else to say.

She took pity on his obvious discomfort. "How can I help you, Mr
Hornblower? Is your hand giving you more trouble?"

He shook his head dazedly. "My hand? Oh no, it's much improved since
your treatment last night."

She was too polite to ask the obvious question. "Then may I at least
offer you a cup of tea? I've some chamomile handy. Or I've a bottle
of fairly decent cognac somewhere, if that's what you'd prefer."

"Tea would be fine." As Hannah was about to move and begin boiling
the water, Horatio changed his mind. "Actually, no. I'm in no great
need of refreshment at the moment."

That was a lie, but in his nervous state the prospect of merely
sitting and sipping tea was not to be borne. If he allowed himself to
delay any longer, he would never find the courage to speak. Engaging
the French had been far easier.

"Then why...?" Hannah's face showed her confusion.

Hornblower steeled himself, and replied.

"Miss Schmidt - Hannah - " He couldn't back away now. "I wanted to
tell you how impressed I am with the work you have done aboard
Indefatigable, especially under such unexpected circumstances. You're
an asset to the ship." Horatio mentally castigated himself. He
sounded more like a benevolent uncle than a would-be lover.

Hannah smiled shyly. "Why thank you, Mr Hornblower. That means much,
especially coming from you." The last had been said so quietly,
Horatio hadn't been sure he'd heard aright. But it gave him the
encouragement to make a final declaration.

"I thought at first it was your skills that drew me here. It reminded
me of home, of my father, of happier days." He sat up
straighter. "It's not only that, though. Spending time with you makes
me happier than I could ever have imagined. I'm not sure exactly how
one is supposed to proceed in these situations, but I would tell you
how much I respect and admire you. And love you."

Sitting nervously in his chair, Horatio Hornblower was more anxious
than a man awaiting the verdict of a court martial. He had no fixed
idea what reaction to expect, although the one that he received had
probably not been in his plans.

Hannah opened her mouth, then shut it again. She looked over at
Hornblower, then away, then almost helplessly towards him again.
Finally, needing a physical outlet for her emotions, she stood
abruptly, and leaned her head against the wall.

Automatically assuming rejection, Hornblower stumbled out an
apology. "I'm sorry. I'll leave now." He made to rise.

Pivoting so that she could see him, Hannah held out an entreating
hand. "No, please don't go."

Horatio still looked uneasy. "I didn't mean to embarrass you. Please
forget I said anything."

Hannah looked surprised. "Why on earth would I want do that?"

Horatio blinked. "I thought you must be offended that I'd been so
presumptuous. That I'd spoken of this. I was sure I was mistaken!"

She had her back towards him again. "You weren't."

In his haste to stand up, he almost knocked over the chair. "What?"

She still wouldn't look at him. "You weren't mistaken."

"Hannah!" He moved towards her.

She was still speaking, drearily. "In a way, it would be better if
you had been." At last, she turned to face him. "I do love you,
Horatio. With all of my heart. But I could wish that I didn't. I have
no desire to make this more difficult than it already is."

Horatio took her hand, but let it go abruptly as she flinched from
his touch. "Hannah! What's wrong?"

She stepped away from him, and went back to her seat. "How much do
you know about my background?" she asked.

"Your background?" He seemed flustered by the turn the conversation
was taking. "I know you're from Germany originally, and that your
grandmother was English...apart from that, not a great deal."

Horatio wasn't sure he could see the significance of the question.
However, thinking back, he remembered that several of Archie's
remarks on the issue had been similarly cryptic. His throwaway line
of the previous evening; 'there are one or two things you may not
realise' - and his note; 'She's spent her entire life being rejected
for what society thought she was,' suggested that there was an
important point he was missing. He mused aloud. "Mr Kennedy may have
mentioned something..."

"Yes, Mr Kennedy's probably been in society enough to have a fair
grasp of the situation."

"What situation? I'm sorry, but I don't think I understand. I'm only
the son of a doctor - I don't see why society should pay any
attention to whom I love."

She smiled sadly. "Nor do I. But German society was never overly
logical; I find it hard to believe the English would be any
different. Not only the nobility, but people in general. They fear
what they don't understand. And even when you do understand this, I
doubt that your feelings towards me will remain unaltered."

Horatio walked over to the table, and sat down again. "And I doubt
that my feelings will change."

"I wish that could be so..." She looked at him for a moment, love and
regret mingled in her eyes.

The question, when it came, was a surprise. "Do you know that I am a
Jewess?"

He answered readily enough, despite his bemusement. "Archie might
have referred to something of the sort, although I don't recall
taking a great deal of notice. Anyway, I believe my tutor once told
me that Jews had been accepted back into England since the time of
Cromwell." He shrugged. "For my part, when one isn't particularly
convinced by the overarching power of the Almighty, religious
differences seem largely moot."

"It's to be regretted that more people don't hold such an intelligent
view. But I fear these things do make a difference."

"Not to me," Horatio answered firmly, surprised by his own
conviction.

"You don't know how grateful I am for that." There were tears in her
eyes. "But I beg you, hear me out."

He nodded.

She began with another question. "Did Captain Pellew ever explain why
I'm aboard the Indefatigable?"

"When we left port, he stated you were present at the request of the
Admiralty." Horatio frowned. "There was a certain amount of
curiosity among the officers, as we were under the impression we were
returning to battle at sea rather than to any specific destination.
But no one dared to question the Captain; he seemed irritated enough
as it was. Besides, after Dr Hepplewhite died and you were able to
take over, he seemed so relieved he never talked of it again."

"Probably because it solved a rather large problem for him. I'm only
on the Indy because Lord Helling wanted me out of Gibraltar and she
was the first ship due to depart...although I suppose it might be
easier if I explained why I was in Gibraltar in the first place."

"It would, at that. For I confess, I am completely confused at the
moment."

She smiled wanly. "Story-telling never was my strong point. Anyway, I
was in Gibraltar because I was forced to leave home."

Horatio looked interested. "You've never said much about your home."

"I wouldn't have done." She left it hanging. "I come from a fairly
small town in south-west Germany. My father was the local doctor. We
were relatively well off, and I was an only child, so Ima - mother -
didn't need me around the house very much. I used to help Papa in the
surgery instead." Her face brightened. "I was very good at it,
actually."

Horatio smiled in turn. "I can imagine."

Hannah inclined her head graciously. "Thank you. By the time I was
seventeen, I was looking after some of the patients myself. I'd begun
to hope I might be able to continue doing so, even if I was to marry.
We were a small community, and my parents were not particularly
orthodox." Her face wrinkled in remembered misery.

"What happened?" he asked gently.

"There are always people who don't like Jews. Our town was better
than most..." She paused and drew a shaky breath. "A young boy
disappeared. My father was suspected...they said he'd killed him for
blood for the Passover matzah."

Her companion looked aghast.

"They were on the verge of burning our house...my family told me to
run...so I did. About the only thing I had time to take was Father's
little medical chest. I moved through most of southern Europe, until
I found a friendly fisherman, who took me along to Gibraltar after
I'd healed his wife. I found out later that my parents had died,
although I'll probably never know exactly what went on." Her tone was
grating, as if she was fighting back tears. "Gibraltar was also where
I changed my name. I never was called Schmidt. I was born Hannah
Rosenbaum. Hannah Rose-Tree. Our family had always grown roses, and
we took the name." She gestured angrily. "But people seem to feel
more comfortable with a Schmidt. It doesn't raise as many awkward
questions."

"I'm so sorry." Even as Horatio spoke, he knew the words were not
enough.

Having started the story, Hannah felt compelled to finish it. "I
worked as a governess for Lord Helling's children after I arrived."
She snorted contemptuously. "It was strange; he actually appeared
quite willing to hire me, despite what he noticed of my background.
The alternative was apparently having the children cared for by a
mere housemaid!"

Horatio didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

"But he wanted more than I was willing to give...at which point I
told him I'd send him to the devil if he tried anything. Ignorant
man, he was petrified. He thought I'd cursed him. He went to Admiral
Hale and called in a favour. I was on the Indy on and off the
peninsula before I knew what was happening." She grimaced. "I suppose
I should be grateful he didn't just send me to the bottom of the
Mediterranean. But even peers aren't game enough to make sport with
witches." This last was said with such bitterness, Horatio winced.

"Hannah...I never would have thought...I don't - it doesn't..." He
stopped short. There was nothing he could say that would ease her
pain.

Hannah buried her head in her hands, her voice muffled. "So now you
know what I really am. Please leave he alone, I'm not interested in
pity."

"Hannah..." he tried again.

"Don't worry, Mr Hornblower. I won't make a scene. And I'm happy to
continue my duties as ship's surgeon until such time as we return to
shore and Captain Pellew can find a suitable replacement. Now please,
go away."

Hornblower made up his mind.

"No."

That jolted her out of her despair. She looked up. "What did you say?"

"No, Miss - Rosenbaum. I'm not going anywhere at present." He spoke
more gently. "Rose tree...it suits you well. More so than Schmidt."

She shook her head in disbelief. "Horatio?"

"I merely ask for a moment of your time. I've heard your story; will
you not hear mine?"

Hannah tried to hide the wistful hope in her eyes. "I'm listening."

He stood up, thought better of it, and sat down again. "I haven't
always served on the Indefatigable. My first ship, Justinian, was not
a happy place. The first thing Archie said to me when I came aboard
was 'Welcome to Purgatory'. I thought he was exaggerating. I was
wrong."

She stared at him.

"There was another midshipman there. Jack Simpson. He made our lives
hell. He...well, that's not entirely my story to tell. In the end, I
challenged him. I wasn't sure if I wanted to beat him or to die
myself; but either option was preferable to enduring my current
existence."

Hannah gasped. "Ich kann das nicht glauben!"

He went on grimly. "Pity the Scriptures lay such a heavy prohibition
on suicide. Else I may not have lasted as long as I did."

She looked at him almost tenderly, and he tried not to hope. "What
happened?"

Hornblower sighed heavily. "A friend stepped in. He knocked me out
and took my place. His life for mine. Simpson, unfortunately, was
only wounded." His face lightened somewhat. "Then war broke out and
Archie and I were transferred to the Indy." Horatio swallowed. His
throat seemed very dry. "When I first met Sir Edward, he taxed me
with the death of my friend, the injury to Mr Simpson and my actions
in allowing such a thing to occur. But then he said something else."

She waited.

"He told me he judged a man by what he saw him do. And I took that to
heart. For eventually, when Simpson came back and tried to exact
revenge, Captain Pellew judged us both. And then he shot him to save
me."

Comprehension dawned. Hannah was shaking as Horatio finally stood and
made his way around the table towards her. He took her hands in his,
but this time she did not shy away. "Hannah Rosenbaum. A rose indeed -
prickly on the outside, but beautiful at heart. All I've ever seen
of you, all you've done here, that's what made me love you. Nothing
you say about the past will change that. 'Ich liebe dich.'"

Hannah giggled shakily, and Hornblower looked concerned. "I musn't
have said that correctly."

"Your pronunciation was a little strange, but I applaud the
sentiment." She reached up to caress his cheek. "Horatio, I don't
know if this will work. I won't be at sea for that much longer, and
you might not want to explain me when you're a captain."

"I may never be a Captain."

"You will be. And you'll be a good one." She gathered her
courage. "But for all that, my heart is entirely yours, if you'll
have it?"

His kiss gave her the answer.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Hornblower hoped that Slater and
Roberts really were sound asleep.

---

Much later, they heard a discrete tap. Acting-Lieutenant Kennedy
stood in the doorway, looking amused. "I'm sorry, am I interrupting
anything?" The wicked expression on his face suggested that he had
stumbled into the most notorious den of iniquity ever found at sea,
although the situation was really quite innocuous.

Hannah had the more poise. "Why not at all, Mr Kennedy. How may I
help you?"

Archie answered her smile. "Actually, I have a message for your
blushing companion as well." That, indeed, was a fairly apt
description. "Captain Pellew has requested the pleasure of his
company at his table this evening. He also asked, now that the
medical situation is less acute, if you would join us. Unless of
course, you have other plans?" His raised eyebrow made it not quite a
question.

Horatio had recovered himself somewhat. "Acting-Lieutenant Kennedy, I
am not even going to dignify that with a response."

Archie, however, was incorrigible. "That's good, Lieutenant
Hornblower, because I didn't particularly want to hear your answer!"
He ducked out the door before either party could exact further
retaliation. "I'll send young Robbie down to relieve you, Miss
Schmidt."

Horatio looked resignedly at Hannah. "I apologise for my fellow
officer. But when he chooses to be rather less witty, he's actually a
rather nice person." His expression grew more sombre. "Given what
he's been through, I can't begrudge him acting the fool now and then."

Hannah touched his hand gently. "Perhaps one day you'll tell me that
story. I might be able to help. In the meantime, I don't mind his
jokes." She prodded her lover gently in the ribs. "For it is certain
that you will fall victim to them far more than I!"

"I daresay I'll cope. At the moment, though, I've more important
things to worry about." He looked at her directly. "Do you mind if
the others find out? Archie would never say anything to hurt you, and
I can keep my own counsel if you'd prefer."

She was deeply touched. "About us - or about my background?"

"Both." Hornblower caught her gaze and held it.

Hannah's answer was cautious. "If you think that they'd understand?"

"I do, and I cannot see any reason why the Captain would not do
likewise, if only for the service you've given this ship."

"And Mr Kennedy already knows...indeed, he could have confronted me
from the start. I don't look a great deal like a Schmidt. They tend
to be blonder." Finally, she smiled at her lover. "I never wanted to
have to live a lie. And with such friends beside me, perhaps I will
no longer need to."

Horatio smiled in turn, and held out his arm. "In that case, Miss
Rosenbaum, would you do me the honour of accompanying me to dinner?"

She accepted with a happy sigh. "Mr Hornblower, I would be
delighted."

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