The Lady Vanishes
by Josie

Chapters 1 - 3

Chapter One
-----
Captain Pellew was seated at his desk, going over the
exquisite inventory of the prize ship his men had just
defeated. The ship that was now settling on the bottom
of the sea. The French captain was obviously quite a
records keeper. He couldn't help but smile to himself
as he read of the crates of silk, gold, jewels. All of
it on it's way to France, but now in his hold.

An impertinent knock disrupted him, and he set down
his quill, still going over the list of riches.
"Come" he barked, turning to see who was so insolent
as to disturb him now.

None other than Mr. Hornblower, who saluted him and
shut the door. "Sir, Dr. Allen's compliments. There
seems to be a problem."

Sir Edward could see from the way Hornblower's jaw
moved that it was indeed a problem. Standing, he
regarded the lieutenant seriously. "What might be the
problem Mr. Hornblower?"

Hornblower swallowed, staring at the silver
candlestick on the table in front of him. "It
a-appears, sir, there is a lady among the prisoners."

"A lady? What type of lady would be on a French ship
of war, Mr. Hornblower?" Sir Edward could well
imagine. Probably nothing more than a fancy trollop
with high ambitions. Indeed.

"I-I don't know, sir. But she is a lady, sir.
She's...unconscious. One of the Frenchman said she fell
on their deck before the battle. She's started
speaking a bit, sir."

"And you're certain she's a lady?" Sir Edward clasped
his hands behind his back and looked out the window.

"Yes, sir." Hornblower swallowed again, eyes on his
captain.

"Where is she now?" Sir Edward reached for his coat
and pulled it on. Damnation, if it wasn't one thing it
was another.

"In the sick bay, sir. Mr. Kennedy had her taken
there. She has a bump on her head, and a cut above her
eye."

"Very well. And how is it she was only discovered
just now, Mr. Hornblower?" Sir Edward yanked his had
on and turned to face him.

"My apologies, sir. Mr. Kennedy informed me of it in
the midst of battle, and, compared to my other duties,
it seemed rather unimportant at the time, sir. I
ordered him to deal with it as he saw fit, and he had
her sent to the sick bay. When things began to calm
down, I went to see her for myself." Hornblower opened
to door for Sir Edward and stepped out onto the deck
after him.

"I see. What does Dr. Allen think?" Sir Edward
marched down the companionway and past seamen busy
making repairs and sorting cargo.

"He advised the bump on her head could have been
acquired by a fall, sir, but it is his opinion she was
hit, sir."

"Hit, Mr. Hornblower?" Sir Edward swept into the sick
bay and looked around. Mr. Kennedy was speaking with
Dr. Allen, and there were a good dozen or so wounded
men lying about.

Kennedy straightened up as his captain neared.
Saluting him, he glanced over at the ramshackle way in
which Dr. Allen had hidden the newest passenger. Only
a blanket separated her from the rest of the sick bay.
Why, any man could just march right in and-

"Mr. Kennedy, Dr. Allen." Sir Edward pursed his lips
and eyed the ship's surgeon. "What's this all about?"

"Sir, I found the lady on the deck of the French
ship. She was bleeding, sir. Once I realised she was
alive, I informed Mr. Hornblower."

"Hmm. Dr. Allen?"

"Sir? She'll be alright, I reckon. Nothing a bit of
rest won't cure. Seems she got hit pretty badly,
though, I'd say. And then some rubble caught her, I
suppose. Got a cut above the eye, sir."

"I see. Where do you have her?" Sir Edward glanced
around. Certainly not in this rabble of men.

Dr. Allen motioned to the blanket hanging to obscure
the corner. "I put here there, sir. As you know, we
have no proper place to put a lady."

"Indeed." Sir Edward made his way there, pulling back
the blanket to look at her.

Dark hair-matted at the forehead in blood-spilled
over the edge of the hammock in a multitude of waves.
Sunned skin made the linen sheet look white. An
aristocratic nose, large moth. One could tell simply
by looking at her that she was, indeed, a lady,
despite the bandages on her forehead and neck. Letting
the makeshift curtain fall back, he turned to
Hornblower, his decision made.

"Mr. Hornblower, my compliments to the wardroom. Have
Mr. Bracegirdle's former quarters straightened up and
this lady moved in. A sentry is to be placed at the
wardroom door, and any man caught there that does not
belong shall be at the gratings the next morning."

Hornblower simply stared, his mouth moving but no
sound coming out. The wardroom?

"Well, sir? Those are my orders, see that they are
carried out within the hour."

"S-sir, the wardroom?" Hornblower asked. A woman,
there, barely a bulkhead from a group of men every
night?

"Aye, Mr. Hornblower. See that it's done immediately.
I'll expect your report in my cabin in an hour." Sir
Edward touched his had and left the sick bay.

"Aye, aye, sir" Hornblower said, belatedly touching
his hat in salute. Turning to Kennedy, he cleared his
throat. "Mr. Kennedy, will you see to it that Mr.
Bracegirdle's quarters are cleared up?"

"Aye, sir" Kennedy touched his forehead and headed
for the wardroom. Wait until everyone heard this! Old
Bracegirdle would have a fit, for sure. Good thing
he'd taken the French ship the week before...

The wardroom was empty, save for Mr. Bush preparing
to go on watch. Glancing up from his letter-writing,
he raised a brow at Kennedy's boisterous entrance.

"Why, Mr. Kennedy, you look like you've just beaten
Napoleon himself without any help at all." Bush
smirked and returned to his letter.

"Captain's compliments, Mr. Bush. Mr. Bracegirdle's
quarters are to be cleaned up and made ready for the
lady in the sick bay."

"Lady? What lady?" Bush set down his quill, looking
up at the young acting-lieutenant.

"Apparently, sir, she was a prisoner on the French
ship. She's under Dr. Allen's care now, sir. A cut
above her eye, and a nasty bump on the back of her
head."

"Hmm. And we're supposed to move over and make room
for her?" What the devil was Captain Pellew thinking?

"Aye, sir." Kennedy smiled slightly. "Matthews is on
his way up to clean the quarters. I'm to speak to the
Marine sergeant."

"Yes, yes, of course. Very well, Mr. Kennedy. I shall
inform Mr. Kent upon my arrival on the quarterdeck."

"Yes, sir." Kennedy touched his forehead and went
about his business. Suddenly it was as if the entire
ship knew of their latest adventure-a lady on board,
of all things. The crew was abuzz with speculation and
rumors.

As he past a division cleaning a cannon, he overheard
one of the men muttering to another.

"The way I 'ears it, mister 'Ornblower wanted 'er put
in there wi' 'im and the others. Not that I can blame
'im. I 'ear she's a right fancy piece o' work."

"Styles" Kennedy said, turning and looking at the
man with more courage than he felt. Styles jerked his
head up and dropped his brush to the deck, all humor
gone from his face.

"Sir?"

"There is no place on this ship for idle gossip. You
men know better. Now, get that cannon cleaned up
before the captain thinks we've all forgotten our
duties."

"Yes, sir" Styles said with a glance at Oldroyd. A
bit testy, wasn't he? Just over some lass on the ship.
Smirking as Kennedy moved on, he picked up his brush
and continued his work. This was going to be fun. He
hadn't seen a lady nigh on eight-and-twenty months.
And he reckoned the other lads hadn't, either.

 

Chapter Two

Blackness. That was all she was aware of. Somewhere,
though, she heard voices. Despite the fact she
couldn't ascertain what they were saying, she could
feel a friendliness in their voices. She was slipping
away? Is that what they were saying? No... she wasn't
going anywhere, she was right here...

"No," she whispered, lifting her hand. It felt so
heavy, as if it weren't even her own. Suddenly the
blackness was moving away, and she was aware of a pain
in her head. All over her head, actually. Her hand
moved slowly to the pain, felt a cloth. Had she been
bleeding?

Finally, she opened her eyes, closing them against
the brightness. Slowly she opened them again, her
vision blurred. Where was she? She was supposed to be-

Where was she supposed to be? Somewhere. Home, that's
right. Home. But where was home? This was ridiculous!
She knew who she was, she had to know where home was.
Blinking, her eyes focused on a young man standing in
the doorway. Looking around, she saw she was in a
small cabin. Turning her eyes back to him, she took in
the uniform. Navy? Was he in the navy? Who the devil
was he, then?

"Well, glad to see you're awake. I've sent for Dr.
Allen, he should arrive soon enough. How do you feel?"
A very soft voice, a voice that touched something
within her. Did she know this man? He certainly didn't
look like her, did he?

"I..." Voice fading, she struggled to sit up. A lock of
dark brown hair fell over her shoulder. Lord, her hair
was long, wasn't it? And wavy. Smoothing the lock with
her fingers, she lifted it, looking at it for a long
moment. "Where am I?" she asked softly, looking up at
him again.

"His Majesty's Ship Indefatigable, ma'am.
Acting-Lieutenant Archie Kennedy at your service."
Smiling slightly, he removed his hat and ventured into
the cabin.

"How do you do," she murmured, looking at her hands.
Surely they were supposed to be familiar to her? A
faint scar on her thumb brought her attention. A
childhood accident? No...perhaps something else. Brows
furrowed, she realised the-what was he?
Acting-lieutenant-was looking at her strangely.

"I apologise," she said softly, looking at him. "My
name is-"

He looked at her, brows raised slightly. Opening his
mouth to speak, he heard the wardroom door open and
someone enter. Turning, he saw Dr. Allen.

"Mr. Kennedy. How is our patient?"

Pulling the blanket up, she looked at the man
entering now. Tall, slender, his graying hair pulled
back at his neck. His face was kind, but looking at
him she knew he'd seen many awful things in his
lifetime. He moved towards her.

"She seems a bit disoriented, Dr. Allen."

"That's to be expected. Now, now, dear, nothing to
fear of from me. I'm just going to have a look at you.
Mr. Kennedy, will you inform the captain of her latest
development."

"Yes, of course." Kennedy lifted his chin and gave
her a small smile before turning to leave.

Dr. Allen lifted her hair and examined the bandage on
her neck. "Bleeding seems to have stopped. You've a
right big bump there, miss. Now, let me see this other
injury." Gently, he slid the bandage off her forehead,
inspecting the wound for signs of infection.
Thankfully there were none. "Hmm. Seems to be coming
along nicely. How does it feel?"

"Rather painful, sir. Is it terribly bad?" she asked
softly, looking up at him worriedly.

Dr. Allen shook his head slightly. "It won't scar,
and, if it should, it'll be a little one, miss. Any
other aches?"

She thought for a moment, then shook her head. "How
did I come to be here?"

"Well, now, that's easy. You were brought on board
before the sinking of the French ship. Good thing,
too. She went down fast." Dr. Allen finished replacing
her bandage and stepped back.

"French ship," she whispered incredulously. How had
she ended up there?

"By the by, may I be so forward as to ask your name?"

"Certainly. My name is-" she cut off, eyes widening.
What was her name? Surely she had one. Her parents
would never have raised her without a name.

Parents. Did she have parents? If so, where were
they? Who were they? Who was she? Where had she come
from? Where was she going?

Dear God in heaven, she didn't know who she was!

"I think I understand, miss. Almost expected in a case
like your own." The gentle, fatherly manner in which
he spoke was comforting and she felt relaxed in his
presence. He was a doctor, he would not harm her-he
would care for her, would he not?

The acting-lieutenant was returning. "Dr. Allen,
Captain Pellew requests a report in his cabin
immediately," he said, his soft voice striking a chord
somewhere deep inside her. When she turned her gaze
from the doctor to him, she found his eyes on her.
Their eyes met, and neither looked away. Something in
the blue depths jolted her, and she quickly lowered
her gaze as the doctor set a small bottle on the chest
of drawers.

"You're to take a bit of this whenever you feel pain,
miss. I'll be in to check on you later." Dr. Allen
bowed slightly, backing out of her cabin. "Mr.
Kennedy," he said courteously before leaving.

The blue eyes were on her again, she could feel them.
Oh, how she tried not to look up and meet his gaze!
But her eyes had a mind of their own, and she found
herself looking into his eyes yet again.

He ventured into the cabin, staying near the door.
"I've ordered a tray for you, Miss..." his voice faded
and she realised he was waiting for her name.

The emptiness in her chest grew, and she could hide
her tears no longer. They spilled unceremoniously; she
had no need for racking sobs. She searched her area
needlessly-there were no handkerchiefs to be seen. A
tear splashed on the back of her hand, and she looked
at it in despair.

Kennedy looked at her, his heart thumping a bit
nervously in his chest. Reaching into the pocket of
his waistcoat, he withdrew a small, clean square of
linen and moved nearer, holding it out to her.

She accepted it wordlessly, dabbing at her eyes and
cheeks, her gaze never wavering from the blanket that
covered her. More tears came, and she hurriedly dried
them, aware that he was watching her every move.

"F-forgive me, Mr...Kennedy?" Glancing up, she saw his
curt nod and quickly looked away. "I-I don't know how
to say it. I suppose I should know how to speak what
is on my mind, should I not? Certainly I was not
taught to keep my thoughts and fears to myself."

"What have you to fear, ma'am?" he asked.

Oh, that he only knew. Concentrating hard, she tried
her very best to remember who...what...why...everything.
Shaking her head slightly, she dried the remainder of
her tears and carefully began folding the linen to its
previous shape. Realizing he was waiting for an
answer, she sighed.

"Everything. I-I-it's so hard to-dear God, why can't I
say it?" she asked painfully, looking up at him as if
he knew the answers.

"You've nothing to fear here," he said gently, pulling
the stool from the corner closer so he could sit.
Looking at her earnestly, he clasped his hands in
front of him. "I give you my word, ma'am. No matter
what occurrences befell you before, they will not
happen on this ship."

Lower lip wobbling a bit, she smiled slightly. "It
feels good to have a friend," she whispered, smoothing
the linen in her hands. "I-I wonder if I have many of
them."

Bless him, he didn't press her for information, as
she'd thought he might. He simply looked at her, the
corners of his mouth tugging up in a small smile. "I
assure you, madam, one should consider themselves
honored to have a friend such as you."

"You flatter me, Mr. Kennedy." The ache in her head
was returning, she hadn't realised it had receded. But
now her vision was blurring again, and she lifted her
hand to touch the wound on her face.

Kennedy quickly stood. "I should leave you now. You
need your rest. I'll make sure the tray is ready when
you feel up to eating." Returning to stool to its
place, he gave her a small bow. "A pleasure, miss."

A smile tugged at her lips. "Thank you, Mr. Kennedy,"
she said softly as he left her. The door shut gently
behind him, and she settled back in her hammock, her
fingers still absently smoothing over the linen. The
gentle swaying motion of the ship soothed her, and,
soon, her pains and circumstances were forgotten as
she fell into a slumber.

-----Chapter Three

Kennedy sat at the wardroom table, pushing his food
around on his plate, barely obvious of the
conversation going on about him. He spoke when spoken
to, but it was apparent to everyone that his thoughts
were somewhere else.

"It is my opinion, sirs, that Mr. Kennedy's thoughts
are on a dark-haired lady lying just beyond that door
there," Mr. Bush commented, smiling to himself as he
reached for more bread.

"Well, now, one can't blame the lad. We would be
lying were we to say we hadn't thought about her.
Dreadful situation, that." Kent shook his head and
reached for his cup.

"She can't remember a thing? Highly understandable
though, considering her condition. I daresay if we
fared the same we would all react as such." Bush
glanced at Kennedy. "What are your views, Mr.
Kennedy?"

Kennedy felt a silence around him, and he glanced up
from his meat to see them all looking at him. "Yes, of
course, Mr. Bush. I believe that, with fair wind and
no more enemy ships, we'll reach England within a
month." Setting his fork down, he stood. "If you'll
excuse me, gentlemen," he said, heading for the
companionway.

 

On deck, Hornblower studied the horizon through the
glass, pushing it closed with a delicate thump before
handing it to the midshipman. "Clear horizon. Not a
cloud in sight. Excellent weather."

"Yes, sir." Wellard tucked the glass under his arm,
glancing about at the relaxed men on the deck. One had
pulled out a knife and a chunk of wood, was starting
to carve something. Another was tightening the strings
of his fiddle, to all outward appearances it seemed he
would play a song soon.

Looking about the decks, Hornblower felt the
camaraderie of the men, the relaxed ease as someone
began playing a song on his fiddle. Seeing a familiar
figure near the bow, he wondered if his friend needed
an ear. With a sharp look at Wellard, he straightened.
"You know what you're about, Mr. Wellard," he said.

"Yes sir, Mr. Hornblower." Wellard saluted him.

Nodding, Hornblower clattered down the steps, walking
past two Marines talking of their duties the next day.
Joining his friend at the rail, as close to the bow as
they could be, he looked out at the moonlit water.

"Did you hear her last night, Horatio? She screamed
so loud that Mr. Kent was roused from his sleep."

"That I did, Archie. I daresay she woke Captain
Pellew up as well." Leaning against the rail, he
looked at Archie.

"There was nothing anyone could do to help her. No
matter what we do to calm her or make her as
comfortable as possible, she cannot be so."

"Well. It would appear her that her wounds are more
internal, Archie. Neither of us have any idea what she
suffered to at the hands of the French."

Sighing, Archie looked out, not really seeing the
view in front of him. "Do you think Dr. Allen is
right?"

"Right about what?" Dr. Allen had said so many
damnable things recently one couldn't quite say they
knew anything at all.

"That business about her memory. You have to admit,
Horatio, she is a lady. She may not remember it
herself, but a blind man could see how she holds
herself when anyone is near her. Her manner of speech,
for instance. Have you seen the way she covers herself
with her blanket, lest someone sees what he
shouldn't?"

"It appears, Archie, you've spent a great deal of
time with our passenger," Horatio noted. Good Lord,
what was Archie thinking?

"Only a little. It seems I'm always passing by when
Dr. Allen is leaving or coming, and it would be rude
not to speak to her. We shouldn't make her feel like
an unwanted person." Archie looked up at the stars as
the song playing ended, but he couldn't remember
hearing it start, nor could he rightly remember what
the song had been.

"Hmm. Do you find her to be an agreeable woman,
Archie? I mean, she doesn't complain and all, does
she?"

"Lord, Horatio, you make it sound as if she were a
horse at an auction." Archie chuckled softly, felt the
wind on his face as he closed his eyes.

"You know what I mean. She's not grumbling to herself
at what a rotten lot of sailors we are?"

"If she is, she does it when I'm not near." Glancing
at the moon, Archie guessed at the time, found himself
wondering if she would be awake when he returned to
the wardroom. The thought that she might be made him
all the more anxious to return.

"Well, I've a watch to command. And you've some sleep
to get. Tomorrow, Mr. Kennedy," Resuming his
lieutenant posture, he nodded at his best friend
before returning to the quarterdeck.

A slow lament started on the fiddle, and Archie
looked up at the cloudless sky, saw the stars
twinkling down at him. Turning from the rail, he
noticed Horatio returning to his spot on the
quarterdeck. With a nod in his direction, he headed
below.

 

"Dr. Allen, may I inquire when I'll be able to go
above?"

The question came as a shock. She hadn't shown any
interest in going above in the week she'd been aboard.
Why, all of a sudden, this desire? Dr. Allen cleared
his throat and mumbled something incoherent, working
on removing the bandage from her neck.

"Sir, please. I-I certainly can't be expected to stay
here for the entire trip. Surely I'm not considered a
threat. Or a prisoner." Her voice was soft, plaintive,
and her eyes looked at him hopefully.

"I'm not the one to answer your question, miss.
That'll be left to the captain." Dr. Allen examined
the wound and, noting with satisfaction it was healing
properly, turned to dispose of the bandage.

"When may I meet this elusive captain?" When Dr.
Allen made no comment, she sat up quickly. "Take me to
him now?"

"I can't do that, miss. If you like, I'll go tell him
you wish to see him. But if you'll take my advice,
you'll stay in that hammock until we reach England.
You took a nasty bump on the head, if you'll
remember."

Damnation, he was impertinent! Sighing, she flopped
back and heard the sound of feet tapping to a rhythm
on the deck above. Listening, she faintly heard music
playing. Dr. Allen was right, she supposed, nodding as
he took his leave. She really wasn't in condition to
go wandering about a ship, having to explain to
everyone she met that she didn't know who she was.

Lord, how was she expected to live, without a life to
claim? She honestly didn't know if she was a refined
lady or a strumpet off the docks. However, day by day,
it seemed she regained a small piece of her existence.
When Mr. Bush had offered to loan her a book to read,
she'd remembered how she loved reading history, and
novels. Also, when Mr. Kennedy had spoken of the fresh
smell after a summer rain, she'd remembered that as
being a favorite smell of hers.

Unbidden, the tears came. These last days it seemed
they were endless. She couldn't count the times she'd
cried since awaking on this ship. Reaching just
beneath the blanket, her hand searched for and
clutched the linen kerchief, a reminder of Mr.
Kennedy's kindness to her. Dabbing at her eyes, she
glanced up to see a figure in the doorway. Sniffling,
she quickly wiped her face and tucked the kerchief
away.

"I'm not disturbing you, am I?" Mr. Kennedy asked.

"No, of course not. How fare you this evening, Mr.
Kennedy?" Wetting her dry lips, she forced herself not
to look at him. For whenever she looked at him, she
felt herself drawn into the blue eyes.

"Well. And you?" Stepping into her cabin, he could
see her red eyes.

"Well, thank you." Her voice was a whisper, and she
wouldn't look at him.

"Apparently so. Your bandage has gone. I met Dr.
Allen on my way in, he said you were feeling
restless?"

"Oh, no, he's exaggerating." It was a lie no one in
their right mind would believe. Taking a breath, she
finally lifted her head to look at him. "Oh, Mr.
Kennedy, I believe I'm going mad! I'm not allowed out
of this cabin at all! I feel like a caged animal," she
said.

"Surely Dr. Allen will allow you some time out," he
said, knowing it was not true.

"He acts as if I am a prisoner, or worse, a danger to
the men. Mr. Kennedy, if I thought it would help, I
would beseech you - " she cut off, shaking her head and
looking away from him. He'd moved closer to her, and
her eyes fell to the blanket.

Kennedy looked at her for a moment, heard her sigh of
abandonment. Straightening, he cleared his throat.
"Very well, ma'am. If you can make yourself
presentable within five minutes, I believe something
can be arranged."

What was he saying? What did he mean by be arranged?
Looking up at him with her brow furrowed, she saw the
hint of a smile on his lips. "Do you mean - "

"I mean, miss, that I shall prove to you you're not a
caged animal."