Passages: Road To a Wedding
by Meanjean

Part Three

Resolve, Resolutions, and Reward

November 23

I tried to look nonchalant as we neared Gibraltar this morning. I stood on the quarterdeck beside Horatio, ostensibly just up for a morning walk. In reality I was nervously watching Reg as he worked his division towards laying anchor, still anxious about his arm, though he seems perfectly fine. He reports to finding it a little weak, but that is simply muscle inactivity.

Add to this several other little tidbits. Approaching Gibraltar means approaching Archie's wedding, which means I can be expecting to see my father shortly, always a cheery thought. Though I have had Pellew's complete reassurances, I still can't shake the feeling that if my father can get me alone for even five minutes, I shall suffer the consequences.

There is, of course, the "Archie watch" itself; how is he fairing with the impending wedding approaching? Are his nerves getting the better of him? Shall it lead to a fit? I worry about all of this, yet Archie himself has been the epitome of calm these past weeks. He takes the good natured ribbing of his fellow officers with only a scant blush, and has been almost thoroughly himself ever since our battle with El Muerte. I ought to be relieved, but that apparently is not in my nature.

As the ship finally settled in at Anchor, Horatio turned to acknowledge me. "A fine autumn day, is it not, Mr. Brandon?"

"Indeed it is, Mr. Hornblower." I breathed in the cool air gently; the smell in port was never quite what it was in the open sea.

"Your sister is here already?"

"As far as I know she is, with my brother and father. Hopefully we shall soon have letters here to confirm that fact."

His look was one of complete understanding; Horatio reads me better than the captain, even, and knows my mixed emotions.

"The men of the Indefatigable stand together, Mr. Brandon." He said quietly, and though he made no move from the stoic stance of the proper officer, he might has well have reached out and put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. It was not, after all, only the Captain looking out for my best interests. It was Horatio, and Archie, and Reg; Lieutenant Bracegirdle and Mr. Bowles. It was every man on board her...I looked around...how many have I treated? Starting with Morris, the Carpenter, and his appendix, what seemed like a lifetime ago. And now I would be hard pressed to find a man who has not consulted me for some reason, whether a simple blister or a broken limb. For a moment, indeed, I felt as if the Indefatigable herself held me tight within her arms.

Clearing my throat, I feared being overcome by my emotions. "Shall Mr. Bracegirdle be leaving us today, Mr. Hornblower?" I deliberately changed the subject.

He shook his head. "We must ascertain first the condition of Georgina; however, once the Captain has reported, I believe that whenever Georgina shall be ready, he will give Mr. Bracegirdle leave until that point."

"A good plan." We had all of us begun to commiserate with Mr. Bracegirdle. Unlike me, he wears his worries outside, and the entire ship feels for his complete lack of information on his wife these past weeks.

Horatio looked outward toward the port. "We must hope for happy dispatches for all of us, I guess."

But before there could be letters, there must be a report given. I saw the Captain, in his splendid finest, looking like the chiseled granite leader of men, the fear inspiring leader others believed him to be. He would repair to Gibraltar, and he would talk to Parker or Hale, and then he would return, and there would be new dispatches, and letters, letters for all.

Yes, so many lives, so many men waiting, for simple letters, some written months ago. And all of us holding our breaths until that point. What information awaits us?
***

I did not see him come back, five hours later. But I saw Reg sweep into the sick berth, eyes wide and hair nearly on end.

"Good lord, Reg!" I gasped, dropping my check list. "Whatever has happened?"

"Captain's back!" He blinked. "And his mood is FOUL! But FOUL, Drew. And he will see all officers, Lieutenant and above, in his quarters NOW, if you please!"

I did not even attempt to put back away my notes, but left them where they fell. Now does mean now, after all!

***
"Gentlemen!" Reg and I stood, the last men in his office. But Pellew did not turn from fixing his stony gaze out the window. "We are all assembled now, I believe?"

"Yes, Sir." Horatio said, glancing around at the room.

"Good." He cleared his throat. "Mr. Bracegirdle, there is a bottle of claret on the table, uncork it if you please, and pour it round. You too, Mr. Brandon, unless it truly bothers you."

My mouth opened and shut of its own accord, before I could answer. "I think I might have a glass, Sir."

Bracegirdle did so, but none of the rest of us took our eyes off of Pellew, whose back was so rigid and unmoving that he seemed like one of those Florentine statues he mocked once, or so Horatio told me.

"Good news first, Mr. Bracegirdle. Georgina shall be ready to sail on the New Year. I am granting you leave until that point. You will have to get your new ship ready, but no doubt will have ample time to spend with your wife."

Normally, this would have been good news indeed, a moment of high cheer. As it was...his delivery was so strange...we knew not how to take it. Least of all Bracegirdle.

"I...thank you, Sir, for the consideration.

"It is the least I can do, Commander Bracegirdle. Too often, it would seem, I am left being able to do the least for men who would give the most for this Navy."

I wanted to protest...so did Horatio, but then he turned, and his look forestalled anything we might have said. He met each one of our eyes in turn.

"It might interest you gentlemen to know WHY I am in such a foul mood. Oh, do not pretend you have not noticed; I have finally realized that we all have served together for so long that we have grown accustomed to each other's quirks. This is mine. However, know that I am not angered without cause. For I have reported of our failure to Admiral Parker!"

He took his claret and held it once, and we all did the same. Dear God, what has Parker done?

"Gentlemen, I handed over the king's trunk, but reported not being able to find those important dispatches. You all know, I assume, what that trunk contained?"

I did not...nor did Reg. But I have never seen three men grow so red as Horatio, Archie and Bracegirdle.

"Ah, Mr. Brandon was otherwise occupied with Mr. Cousins at the three of us opened the trunk. Well, my good men, that trunk contained some of the most beautifully bound and utterly explicit incidents of pornography I could ever believe to have been created by mankind!"

Oh. Reg and I both were a good match for the rest, then. And I, for the first time in my life, was glad to take a sip of that claret. Its burn snapped me back into my senses.

"I believed they had been put there as a practical joke by DeCarlos, should a raid on the ship be attempted; he must have destroyed the important papers we had been sent for. Well, my good men, I was wrong. THOSE WERE THE IMPORTANT PAPERS WE WERE SENT FOR!"

"Sir?" Horatio's brow furrowed, and his eyes widened. "That cannot be?"

"Oh, I can assure you, it was, Mr. Hornblower. My ship and my squadron and my MEN were sent into that hell for the sole purpose of rescuing some first edition TRASH for the crown!"

He raised his glass. "Here is to admiralty, Men! And to duty! Long may it become us!"

We all raised our glasses uneasily. Oh, he was angry, and with cause, but this...this could not be. Pellew could not become bitter. He could not lose his faith in our duty. For if he could not keep the faith, then where would we be?

I searched for words. I could not find them. Reg glanced at me once, but I had no potion for this, no set of herbs to ease a cynical heart.

But Horatio...Horatio spoke.

"Sir...how many ships did El Muerte destroy in these past years?"

Pellew glared at him, and I inhaled. "I do not believe anybody at Admiralty has ever counted the cost, Mr. Hornblower."

"Perhaps not. Legend says, however, she had sunk twenty ships these past ten years, nine of them British. How many men do you think that would be, Mr. Cousins?"

Reg, with a little shake, murmured, "At an average of say two hundred men a ship, Sir, four thousand men, eighteen hundred of ours."

"Four thousand men killed, Captain." He met Pellew's eye steady. "Four thousand men. And how many will she kill now?"

The force between them was magnetic...something almost otherworldly in its power. Or maybe that claret went to my head. And then, from sheer force, I saw the muscles in Pellew's face ripple, just slightly, his shoulders relax by the most infinite amount. "You're right, Mr. Hornblower. Whatever our purpose, I cannot fault our results."

He finished off his claret. "We will have a dinner this evening, then, since I would seem to not be permitted to mire in my foul mood. A final dinner for Mr. Bracegirdle. And perhaps a final game of whist before he goes, eh?"

Bracegirdle's face broke into a relieved smile. "I would be honored, Sir."

"Good, good. Mr. Hornblower, I have some letters here, please get them to their proper hands, if you will. Oh, one more thing, Mr. Cousins?"

"Sir?" Reg turned to him.

"That chess set I gave to you, with the fitted pieces...It would seem that had been the king's as well."

The disappointment was evident. "I understand, Sir."

"You understand nothing, young man. You give that set back over my dead body. When Parker asked if we had seen it, I said that it had probably been blown to the deep with the rest of the pirate's loot. It is the least I can do for you, for what you suffered."

Reg's serious face warmed. "I am touched, Sir. And grateful."

"Hm, not as grateful as the king will be for getting back that trunk, no doubt. Well, off with the lot of you. There are letters to be read."

We walked off together. I noticed just before we closed the door that he had a couple of letters himself. Well, that was not surprising. Miss Cobham, no doubt. That should put his mood to ease.
***
LETTERS:

To Anthony Bracegirdle, from his wife, Cecilia.

"My Loving Husband,

I hope this letter finds you well, and in good spirits, and that you have not been too taxed by worries of me during your recent campaign.

I am, in fact, feeling better, although I have been confined to my bed until our child arrives. The mid-wife believes we shall be seeing the little one within three weeks; I do hope that it shall be before you are required to return to sea, for I would very much like for you to be here. But I say no more, not wishing to tax you with guilt. I am long of the sea-faring life, and I knew that we would have periods of long absences from each other. But it is a small price to pay for such a husband!

Young Violet-the landlady's daughter--is with me still, and has practically moved into my apartments. She is most lady-like and surprisingly well educated; her mother was a pupil teacher and the young lady reads often, when she isn't sewing...she has a desire to be a seamstress. I have enjoyed her company greatly, and she is an enormous help. By the by, did you know her father serves on Indefatigable as ship's carpenter, a man by the name of Ollie Morris? It really is a small world (although in Gibraltar, I suppose, I should not be surprised).

I do hope you shall be able to procure some leave soon to visit, darling; you ought not to be deprived of the rather comical sight of me in my current state! But until such a point, I remain faithfully and lovingly yours...

Cecilia"

To Archie Kennedy, from David Kennedy, Massachusetts, USA

"October 1

Brat,

Many, many thanks to you once again for all of your kind assistance in attempting to ruin the life of our eldest brother!

Midge and I endured the crossing, and arrived in Boston as scheduled on September 15th. Lawyers were a dime a dozen around there, I must say, and the town itself is such a strange mix of puritan rectitude and fiery attitude that neither of us cared much for it, and we have moved west into the wilderness. After all, if we are to become colonial heathens, we might as well do it fully.

We are now settled in Northampton, a sleepy little town on the banks of the Connecticut river, where I will in fact be the only lawyer currently practicing. We have our eye on a lovely farm house on Elm street, and it is a quiet, peaceful place. I look forward to a long career of setting such disputes as which citizen has kept his chickens improperly stored causing disruption to the neighborhood.

Midge sends all of her love to you, and expresses sorrow that we cannot be closer to you for your upcoming wedding. Or are you already married? I can only say either way, dear brother, that I would always wish you to know the happiness that greets me every morning.

Affectionately, David Kennedy, Esq."

A letter to Archibald Kennedy from Alicia Brandon:

November 10

"Dearest Archie...

I shall be departing for Gibraltar in the care of my Aunt this day, to await your return so we may finally be married. We had planned on leaving earlier, but father's health took a turn for the worse. I pray that God does not strike me down for saying this, but I hoped at one point he would not be making this journey at all. But the devil has no use for him yet, for he has recovered, and will be travelling, along with Stanton, as well. We are expected in Gibraltar, according to our estimates, on or about the first of December.

I know as happy as Drew must be for us both, the thought of seeing father again cannot be pleasant for him. Speaking of which, has Captain Pellew come up with a solution to the problem of his attending the wedding? Father is rather insistent that he ought to, and I am at my wits end with worry. Indeed, Sir, if you were closer, I would urge that we should make for Scotland with all due haste, and let an elopement put an end to these dilemmas.

Well, I suppose a church service it must be, and I shall simply put as much faith in the Captain as his men do.

Give my love to Drew, all that you can spare from yourself, of course, and count the days until we are together.

With love, Alicia."

Letters from Katherine Cobham to Sir Edward Pellew.

October 1

Dearest Edward...

My run has ended at the theater, and I have repaired to Portsmouth, where I have obtained lodging, so that I might be closer to you should you find yourself in England.

I have news for you, darling, that I have held off letting you know until I was absolutely certain. Darling, I am with child...a most unexpected and joyous occasion for me, for at my age I had abandoned hope of such a gift. As of this date, I believe I am about five months along, and beginning to grow round, indeed!

I love you and miss you desperately, and know it may be some time before this letter even reaches you, so I will steel myself to not receiving a reply, possibly even until the child is born. My emotions often get the better of me...I am told that is not unusual...and I find myself alternately laughing and weeping, so do not take it that anything is amiss in this letter.

Praying for your safe return, Kitty."

A SECOND LETTER TO SIR EDWARD PELLEW, FROM KITTY COBHAM

November 1

Dearest Edward...

I know your silence after my last letter only means that you have not had a return to Gibraltar in this time, at least that is what I know in my heart. But it occurs to me that it is possible that my news might have come as quite a shock to you, on many levels.

Darling, I know of your fears, of how you lost your first wife in childbirth. I also know that this is not something we had discussed as even a remote possibility when we declared ourselves married in the eyes of God. Suddenly, I must realize that I do not know how you feel about being a father. In my worst moments, I am afraid you might have grown tired of me; if such is the case, do not fear that I shall apply to you for assistance. My landlady has asked me if my husband is at sea, no doubt trying to decide if I really am married, and I have told her yes; but at your word, I will tell her I have been widowed, if that is how you prefer.

Oh, that I could but see you in person, Edward, and feel your reassuring arms around me once more. But I will resolve myself on patience, and hope for an answer as soon as time will permit.

Forever yours, Kitty."

***
November 25th, Gibraltar...

Horatio and I walked side by side through the streets of Gibraltar, on search for my usual supply of herbs and remedies that have come down to me through the notes of his father. Normally Clarke, our cook, was my escort on these rounds. But since we only knew that my family was on their way to Gibraltar as of Alicia's letter dated November 1, Captain Pellew felt it would be best if I had a more forceful companion, in the event I should run into my father.

Happy thought, that. I had never before been so distracted in port. Horatio must have had some idea of my discomfort, for he was companionably silent, not forcing me into conversations I was not ready to have. I did feel more secure with him by my side; his alertness itself helped to steady me, as we made our way through the streets I had come to know so well.

My thoughts were divided between fear for my own safety, and deep concern for Captain Pellew. His mood, which had seemed to be improving after Horatio's statements about our recent expedition, was strange indeed. No longer angry. Distracted. Hurt? I cannot tell the cause, but he has shut himself behind a wall of...can it be fear?...ever since those letters arrived. But what could have unnerved him so?

In any event, it was with a sigh of relief that I arrived at my favorite apothecary, and handed in my requests.

The old man, who knew me well by now, nodded at my list. "I've laid a stock of yer herbs in, waiting for you to come back to port, Mr. Brandon."

"Lieutenant Brandon." Horatio corrected for me; I would probably have let it slip.

"Well, now, that's something, isn't it? I don't often end up with more n' a couple of loblolly boys shopping here. I had thought you were medical, Mr. Brandon."

I gulped, wondering what the likelihood of my father visiting this apothecary was?

Horatio's voice was stern and disgusted. "Captain Pellew provides these remedies for his men out of his own purse. He would hardly be likely to entrust his hard-earned coin to a LOBLOLLY boy, now would he?"

"Oh, no, Sir, but..."

"And certainly you do not think Mr. Brandon old enough to have qualified for a DOCTOR?" His sarcasm was white-hot.

"Of course not, Lieutenant. Let me step into the back and get these items for you." He just about ran from the room.

Horatio looked at me with his eyebrows raised. "I have been in service with Captain Pellew long enough to imitate him well, do you not think, Mr. Brandon?"

I took a deep breath and gave him a nervous smile. "Well enough, in any event, Mr. Hornblower."

***

Packages in tow, I was gradually returning to ease, as we could see the dockyards in the distance.

"Even my father did not buy so many herbs, Mr. Brandon!" Horatio teased gruffly.

"Your father was not treating three hundred men." I retorted.

"Drew!"

I spun quickly, my packages slipping to the ground, in time to see Alicia running towards me. And before I could react at all, she had me in her grasp, arms around my neck, kissing me on the cheek in her joy, and I hugged her back. "Alicia! When did you arrive?"

Horatio was scrambling to pick up my parcels. "Good to see you again, Miss Brandon." He murmured, eyes scanning the area, and I remembered to be afraid.

Alicia felt my sudden stillness, and looked up at me. "Father has not yet arrived; he was detained in London on matters of business, and is at least a week behind me." She turned back to Horatio. "And very good to see you again as well, Mr. Hornblower."

And I started to breathe again. "Archie will be beside himself for not coming into port, Alicia, when he finds out you were here."

She put her arm in mine, just as Lady Dalrymple came out. "Alicia dear...oh, good day, Lieutenant Hornblower."

"Lady Dalrymple..." He bowed low. "I am honored to see you again. I believe you have yet to be introduced to Miss Brandon's brother, Lieutenant Andrew Brandon?"

Coloring, I bowed at the presentation. The Dalrymples were longtime acquaintances of my father, and God knows what opinion they have of me.

Thankfully, she seemed not too judgmental, and smiled benevolently down at me. "Oh, dear, Mr. Brandon, I had no idea of your promotion!"

"Neither had I." Alicia gasped, punching me gently in the arm.

"It is recent, Ma'am." I admitted.

'Well, Alicia, as you are in very good hands, then I do not think it would be remiss of me to leave you in the care of two such gentlemen."

Horatio nodded to her, "If it is acceptable to you, Ma'am, she might escort us to the docks, for Mr. Brandon must return to Indefatigable, but I would be happy to walk her back to government house."

"Certainly, Lieutenant Hornblower. I know how highly Captain Pellew esteems you. Have a nice visit with your brother, Alicia."

"Thank you, ma'am."

Relieved, the three of us headed towards the docks, Alicia's arm tightly on mine.

"Why, Drew, you are now a full head taller than me! That is not allowed!"

I grinned down at her, a bit surprised myself to realize that she was right. "I did not realize it, sister; for unless I have you to compare myself to, I am still the shortest man on board." A slight exaggeration, unless one excluded the powder monkeys, in which case it was the truth!

Horatio, gamely managing all the packages, broke in. "How do the plans for the wedding advance, Miss Brandon?"

She made a wry grimace. "Sir Hugh and Lady Dalrymple, very fortunately, have the planning of it, else I fear father would make rather a spectacle of us all!" She looked at me worried. "Shall you be attending the ceremony, Drew? Father and Stanton have argued the point for these past five weeks!"

"As of now, the plan is I shall attend with the Captain, as his attaché, and therefore never be far from his sight." I sighed. "As father has rather forced this promotion through, we have run out of good reasons why I might not attend."

"I shall be glad to have you there, of course, but..." Her voice trailed off.

I turned and looked at her, taking her hands in mine. "Alicia, do not fear for me. Father has a worthy adversary indeed in Captain Pellew, and furthermore, I am not a child anymore. I am nearly sixteen."

She reached up and moved the hair off of my face. "Do not think I had forgotten that. Happy birthday, brother, one day early."

I smiled back with confidence, wondering when I had learned to be such an actor. The words were far more brave than I actually felt. "Thank you, Alicia." Above all, I will not have her worries for me taking from her happiness.

Horatio cleared his throat, and I realized we were back at the dockyard, and I headed towards a boat, as Horatio handed me my goods. She added a letter to the pile. "For Archie..." She explained, needlessly. "I was going to send it off to the ship, when I ran into you." Scanning the port, she asked quietly. "Which one is she, Mr. Hornblower."

"That one, Miss Brandon. Yellow, with the black trim." He pointed.

"The best one in port." I bragged.

"Indeed it is, Drew!" She gasped. "I have never seen a ship finer."

"And, Miss Brandon..." Horatio continued. "Lieutenant Kennedy has the watch right now, so if he were to be looking towards us, he might see you!"

"Oh!" It was all she said, but I could see the look on her face. "I do wish I could get in the boat with you, Drew!"

"THAT would be quite the surprise for the Captain, to be sure." I said, wryly.

Horatio nodded. "His mood is not up for it at the moment, Miss Brandon, and besides, I promised to have you back to Government house. Perhaps another time."

She shook her head. "Not while my father is here!"

"No, that would not be a good idea." I added, quickly.

"Well, then, let your brother get back to his duties, and I shall return you to the Dalrymples."

"Thank you, Mr. Hornblower!" And Alicia reached forward and gave me one more kiss. "It was good to see you for these few minutes, Drew!"

"And you, Alicia!" And I could not but smile despite my concerns, as my beautiful sister made her way back to Government House, on Mr. Hornblower's arm.

***

Archie was waiting anxiously for my arrival; had he not been on watch, he might have rushed me.

"Good day, Mr. Brandon."

"Mr. Kennedy." I said, deliberately.

"By chance, I happened to be looking out towards the docks earlier. Did I spot you speaking with a woman?" His blue eyes were anxious, but he was on duty.

"Indeed, you saw me speaking with my sister, Mr. Kennedy." I saw his lids flicker in relief. "She is with my Aunt at government house; however, my father is at least a week away."

He bit his lip. "I am...glad to know she has arrived safely."

"And she is glad to know you have returned safely." I responded. Just then Lyman, a sharp eyed boy, approached to relieve me of my parcels; I was glad to hand them over. "Perhaps the Captain will allow you to call on her tomorrow."

"Perhaps." I knew Archie was as loath as anyone else to speak to him in his mood.

"Perhaps I shall inquire as to how he is feeling?" I mused, more to myself than to Archie. But Archie shook his head slightly.

"If you wish to." But the tone clearly said to stay away.

Oh, what the hell? I am an Acting Lieutenant; he would have to demote me before he could order me beaten; and what else could he possibly do to hurt me? Watch and Watch? Or just read me a blistering tirade? It's not like I've not been on the receiving end of one of those before. Remove me from the Navy? He'd be no more likely to remove me than Horatio. And as I said to him once, I am of no use to him unless I am an honest man.

So to the lion's den I go. Perhaps I can honestly help him for once.

***

My gut only wrenched once, as I knocked at his door. In truth, I do not enjoy having him tear me down with words any more than I enjoy my father battering me with his hands.

"Enter, Mr. Brandon." His voice was flat and dull; I could only wonder at his ability to tell one officer's footsteps from the other.

I found him as we had found him the other day, staring out his windows, a solitary man. "Forgive my intrusion, Sir." I slid inside. "But I am concerned for your well-being. I know you do not like for me to inquire after your health, but it is what I do, after all, and therefore do it, I must. Can I in any way provide you with relief for what is ailing you, Sir?"

I held my breath, my shoulders stiff, and I waited. A good twenty silent seconds melted away.

"Tell me, Mr. Brandon, what knowledge have you of childbirth?"

How unexpected was this? Was he worried about Mr. Bracegirdle? Was THIS what that mysterious vision of Dr. Hornblower was preparing me for?

"I have been studying it somewhat, Sir. Of course I have never had any cause for treating it."

"But back home? With your old mentor, Doctor Stewart?"

"He rarely attended births, Sir; usually the mid-wife did that, unless there was a complication."

"I see." He turned to me, with such pain in his eyes that I almost reached out to touch him; only the strongest discipline kept me from such impropriety. "By any chance, do you know how childbirth affects an older woman?"

Older? I do not understand. "How much older, Sir?"

"A woman over forty years, shall we say?"

I slipped into my book learning almost automatically. "First child?"

"Yes."

I inhaled hard. "Well, from what I remember, a pregnancy is a pregnancy, Sir; a woman of any age has about the same amount of risk in labor; a prior history is usually a good indication of how well a woman bears the task. With an older woman, as I have read, there is a higher risk for complications with the child." Nice medical terms like imbecile slipped into my mind, but some sense of self preservation kept me from uttering them.

"But the woman, if she is in good health, she might be fine?" He seemed so desperate to know this. I remembered that his first wife had died in childbirth; surely he has suffered enough from that? Why ask questions now?

"OH!" I said, startled as I realized he had another wife now. "Sir, do you believe Miss Cobham...er, Lady Pellew?...to be with child, Sir?"

His hands flew helplessly over letters on his desk. "She writes me so, Mr. Brandon. Six months! Six months, and I have not known it!" His face trembled slightly.

"Six months you have not had to worry, Sir." I pointed out. "And I've seen few women to have more spirit than your lovely wife. If she was feeling well at the time she wrote the letters, I see no reason for any complication." I was on dangerous ground, I knew. So many supposedly healthy women died bearing children, and it was so hard to predict. He knew that as well as I.

But he closed his eyes. "If I can only believe that..."

"Sir..." I said, gently. "I know of no man who more deserves to be a father than you do." As he looked at me in shock, I gave him a confident smile. "I cannot believe that God would be so unjust as to deny you a second time."

His entire countenance softened for a few seconds. "I thank you, Mr. Brandon. That means much to me, coming from you."

"Have you written to her yet? We have been away so long..."

Before I could finish the sentence, the panic set in. "God, I must write her now...she doubts my reaction...silence is torture!" And he searched frantically for his quill.

"I will leave you than, shall I? No powders or salve needed?" I jibbed him.

"Indeed not, Mr. Brandon, for I am fine, just fine, if only I can get this letter off...many thanks, young man!"

I bit back an even bigger smile at the flurry of panic he was in, and went on to sick berth, to put away my supplies and enjoy the last image I had of him. And I thought to myself that Archie just might ask to make that trip into port tomorrow, after all!

LETTER FROM SIR EDWARD PELLEW TO KITTY COBHAM:

Lady Pellew...

You are most certainly NOT to pronounce me dead to your landlady. Let it be known that after an arduous campaign, your husband is in receipt of your news and only praying fervently to be able to return to you in England with all possible speed. Anything you need, my love, anything you desire, and I will have it provided for you; I shall write to my attorney in London and see that it is done! You and the child are to have all that you would ever wish, and that shall include every ounce of love that can be humanly possible from one man.

Take care of yourself, for you know well I will not rest entirely easy until I have seen you and the child in good health for myself. My prayers, my love, and my life...all rest with you.

With unbridled joy and abject terror...Edward."

 

Part 3

November 27

I awoke to the feeling of Reg's rough hand on my shoulder.

"Errmmph. Wha?"

"Rise and shine, mate! Captain's orders."

"Mnot on duty f'anthr three arrrs." I mumbled inexplicably; Reg has known me long enough to translate.

"I know, and I know you had a late night last night..." An impromptu birthday celebration. Thank goodness I do not drink, because I cannot imagine feeling worse than I already do. I felt Reg press a cup of steaming coffee into my hand. "Yet the Captain sure enough sent me to rouse you, and said he expects to see you above decks in half an hour. Dress uniform, if you please! Get to it, friend."

I grunted again as he headed out, and I set myself to making up the image of a presentable officer.

Pellew's mood...the cause of which only I currently understand...has become more normal. He has an extra twinkle in his eye, perhaps; an extra spring in his step. I know I do not imagine this, because I overheard Oldroyd remarking on it. "Cap'n Pellew's got some spirit lately, eh?" But the ship's business has been conducted as normal. We saw Bracegirdle off the ship the evening of the twenty-fifth, and last night was my birthday. But every day the decks get still get scrubbed bright, the repairs get done, and the day toils on as ever. He did make a call into Port yesterday afternoon to see his friend Harvey, but other than that all has returned to normal aboard here.

"Ow!" I muttered, and dabbed at the small spot of blood on my chin. Shaving, sadly, is still a new experience; thankfully one I only have to repeat every few days, as my beard is still faint. But it is embarrassing indeed to cut one's self shaving when one is a DOCTOR! If anybody ought to be comfortable with a sharp object in his hand, it is me!

Well, it is only a small nick, anyway; perhaps nobody will notice. And with more aggravation than angst, I swung my cape over my shoulders and set off for the quarterdeck at a near run, knowing I had about five minutes to spare.

***

The minute I cleared my head above decks I tried to look more like an officer and less like a truant child. I folded my arms behind my back and strode purposefully but without undo urgency to the Captain. "You wished to see me, Sir?" I said, with a salute and an attempt at nonchalance.

He turned his inexpressive face to me slowly. Inexpressive, of course, until he got a look at my face, his eyes settled on my chin, and then I could see him struggle a bit not to twitch. "I did, Mr. Brandon." He cleared his throat. "I do hope you treat your patients better than you treat yourself!"

"Yessir." I replied, but I could feel the blush starting and, damn it all, not going away! Why, oh why, was I ever cursed with being blonde? I could see Archie out of the corner of my eye not even attempting not to grin, and I became flustered, and angry. I am GLAD that they find my attempting to learn to shave so damned amusing. It was not like growing a beard was an option, after all!

What the devil was Archie doing up here anyway? Horatio too...why all of us, suddenly?

"Shore boat Ahoy!" Holloway's voice rang out.

"Aye, Aye."

"Ah, right on time! And timeliness is an excellent thing, to be sure, isn't it, Mr. Brandon?"

"It is, Sir." I answered cautiously. Who was in that boat?

I became suspicious, as did Archie, when we spotted that a tackle was being rigged to bring our guest on board.

"Sir?" I asked, my voice rising in hope.

Captain Harvey appeared suddenly, through more normal circumstances.

"Captain Pellew, Sir!"

"Captain Harvey of the Dockyard! What an unexpected pleasure, Sir!"

But he seemed to be expecting it entirely; as did Horatio! Archie, meanwhile, was taut with hope, and staring hard at that chair.

"And Lieutenant Hornblower, Sir! A very good day to you!"

"The same to you, Captain Harvey."

"Well, now, it seems all is right with the word, seeing the two of you together like that on the quarterdeck! Gives me hope for this old Navy yet."

I had never before encountered a Captain like Harvey. Captains could be fine men like Pellew or tyrants like Hammond, but jovial, pleasant and informal? This was indeed a first. I must attribute it to the fact that he commands not the ship, but the dockyards of Gibraltar themselves.

Harvey did insist that Archie take notice of him. "Come, now, Mr. Kennedy, you look as though you might jump overboard and swim back to Spain! Certainly seeing me again cannot conjure up such bad memories as that!"

He colored deeply (a brother in blondeness, after all!) "Of Course not, Sir...I am well pleased to see you." He tried to focus, but kept looking over Harvey's shoulder, with some alarm, as Thompkins and Davies began to heave...The angst filled look he gave Horatio was not lost.

"Matthews, lend a hand to the gentlemen, will you?" Horatio called out. Well, where Matthews went, Styles and Oldroyd were never far behind, and Archie visibly calmed to see the men he trusted most helping my sister...for I had no doubt it was her...on board the Indefatigable.

"And you, young man!" A sudden finger jabbed itself in my chest. "You would be the boy Doctor, eh?"

I gulped and looked at the Captain for direction.

"It's alright, Lieutenant Brandon, Captain Harvey is an old friend, and trustworthy, despite any appearances otherwise." The man said, in apparent seriousness.

"What means you, young man, by spending all the Navy's money on these frou frou herbs, and avoiding that nice deep stock of laudanum I have in store for the ships?" He continued.

I was in too much shock to play along. "I mean to save lives, Sir." Only after I said it did I realize that it might be taken badly.

But Harvey laughed long and hard. "Oh, he's another keeper, Captain Pellew; indeed he is!"

But I heard nothing else, for there was Alicia, eyes a sparkle, and Archie straining not to run to her.

The Captain bowed low. "Miss Brandon, I am delighted once again to make your acquaintance, and especially under such a happy occasion."

She came to us, her cheeks flushed. She wore a dark blue gown as suitable as anything else a woman might wear for use on ship board, but its simplicity could not mask her radiance, not to me, and not to Archie.

There were a few minutes of pleasant small talk, which I attended little, and Archie and Alicia not at all. Finally, I could hear the Captain sigh gruffly. "Mr. Kennedy, why do you not take Miss Brandon on a tour of the Indefatigable, since the two of you cannot be counted on to contribute to this conversation. Be back in an hour, now, or I shall send Mr. Hornblower looking for you!"

Archie's face was alight with joy. "With pleasure, Sir!" He extended his arm, and she took it. "Come, Miss Brandon!"

Her chin tilted in the air daintily. "As you wish, Lieutenant Kennedy!"

And they left behind three grinning faces, and Captain Pellew. "Good heavens, have I not ONE officer who can behave as anything less than a groveling fool in the presence of a woman? You grew up with her, Mr. Brandon; how is it you can be so stricken by her?"

"Sorry, Sir." I knew full well this was for attitude only.

"Harvey, get yourself to my cabin and pour out a glass of port, I shall join you shortly."

And the strange Captain tilted his head, and did as he was bade.

Captain Pellew motioned to me. "Come, Mr. Brandon, I will have a word with you on your way to sick berth.

After we were out of earshot, I turned to him. "Is everything well with your wife, Sir?"

His eyebrows raised. "Mr. Brandon, would that I had the means of communicating with her so easily! One cannot get a letter to Portsmouth and a reply back in two days."

We continued on slowly. "Your sister will join you here at some point, no doubt. But I wanted to explain this visit to you."

"I am glad you arranged it, Sir! I think it will put her mind considerably at ease to see the conditions Mr. Kennedy and I serve in."

"No doubt, no doubt. There was the issue, however, of your father."

"What of him?" I said, casually, as if the mere mention of his name didn't make my legs start shaking.

Pellew knew well enough my real reaction, though. "Though he is not in Gibraltar yet, I could not see how I could explain why I would not have him visit the ship because of morale, but I could have your sister do so. So Captain Harvey and I have performed a bit of a ruse."

"How so?" I asked, genuinely intrigued.

"Harvey knows the Dalrymples well. Unfortunately, I do not trust them enough not to mention this visit to your father...they are not malicious, but they are not bright, either. Harvey offered to row your sister out here, and they agreed, but when they get back he will tell her that I went mad on him, and insisted I would never, ever, have a lady on board my ship. The men will never tell; I will not give any shore leave until after the wedding, anyway, but it is in their best interest to see you safe."

"So that is why she is here but an hour!"

"Yes. Harvey will tell the Dalrymples that he got the men to bring her up before he obtained permission, and that I made her watch while I flogged the men in question."

I gave a low whistle. "That, Sir, certainly ought to impress my father!"

"As long as I don't have to produce any battered men! I am all out of pigs, Mr. Brandon." He reached over and, with his handkerchief, dabbed at my chin. "You are bleeding again."

"But at my own hand, for once!" I grimaced, looking at the silly nick in the glass.

"It gets easier with time." He soothed.

And I sighed. "Well, it's nice to know that SOMETHING does."

***

 

"And here, you see, is where your brother spends much of his time, Alicia."

I looked up from my studies...not that I had been able to focus much, anyway, to see Archie and Alicia in the passageway. I stood quickly, and proceeded to knock over all my notes and books to the floor.

Alicia laughed. God, I had forgotten what that sounded like. We bent together to pick my things up. "You are no neater than you ever were, I see."

"Only when I have to be." I agreed.

Piling my books on the table, she looked around curiously. "So this is your surgery, Drew? I never did get to see old Doc Stewart's place before you left."

"How is he?" I asked, longing for news of the only friend I had had before I came here.

She sat across from me, and Archie stood behind her, his hands gently on her shoulders. "We have not been at the house in Rushton often since you were sent away, Drew; I think father felt the wrath for his behavior rather more than he expected to. But I did see him briefly last July, just before I repaired to London...before I was engaged." She patted Archie on the hand and looked up at him, all smiles.

"Anyway, he is much as he ever was; I think father expected his censure would damage his prospects, but it is not so."

"I am glad to hear it!" I sighed, for I had always feared that by offering me friendship the Doctor could have cost himself his livelihood.

"He was most relieved when I told him of your conditions here, and he had quite a laugh when I explained your duties. I think he might have even been a bit envious at the scope of your practice! He just about wished himself here with you."

"Trust me, on the worst days of battle, I would wish him here with me as well."

But something was strange. I felt a creeping awkwardness come upon me, as though I were intruding in something. I watched as Archie gently massaged my sister's shoulders, and she leaned back against him, a familiarity there that ought not to have been surprising, but still was. And even though they were talking with me, or about me, I began to suspect that I was not quite THERE to them at the moment.

"You should see him in surgery, Alicia, he is a tyrant indeed."

"Surely not!"

"Oh, yes, ordering men twice his size about, stepping over anyone who would dare interfere with his duties."

"You were always so stubborn, Drew."

I feebly replied, "It has stood me in good stead."

"And then he harangues the men without mercy as they recuperate; as the Captain or Mr. Hornblower will tell you, he does not let a man's rank interfere with his health."

"So long as he looks out for YOUR health, Dearest." And their eyes were on each other again, and nobody else in the world existed.

"I have already used up my allotment of time in the sick berth, Alicia; I am bound to remain healthy!"

I considered mentioning his recent addition to the scars he bore, but I held my tongue. For, I had a feeling that Alicia's initial reaction would be anger at Archie for getting in the way of that splinter, followed by anger at me for not doing a better job of treating it so it had NOT scarred. I was afraid that the fact that I had been down with fever would not faze her at all.

Mr. Hornblower struck his head in. "Captain's compliments, Miss Brandon, and he urges you to make your goodbyes, for you must be back in Gibraltar soon."

"Thank you, Mr. Hornblower!" She looked at Archie with all the pain of parting. "Oh, I am grateful to the Captain for arranging this, Archie, but I still hate to leave you!"

I stood up awkwardly. "I...have errands to run, I am afraid." Well, that was a lame excuse, but I knew I ought to give them a moment for private goodbyes.

Alicia turned to me quickly. "Drew! Oh!" She hugged me tightly. "I will never, ever be able to repay you for what you have given me."

I blinked into her hair and cleared my throat. "All I have ever wanted was to see you happy, Alicia. So the gift is as much for me as for you."

She kissed me tenderly, and then turned her attention back to the man who had the keeping of her heart now, and I snuck away.

I hate myself, I really do. After all Alicia has done for me, and after all Archie has done for me, how can I find myself feeling hurt? Feeling almost betrayed? I was not lying when I said that all I ever wanted was to see her happy; yet I had never thought of what her happiness would mean. It had been the two of us against the world for so long; we had always been foremost in each other's thoughts. Well, of course that would change now. I do not need her as much as I used to, and it is Archie whom her thoughts and hopes and fears go to. It is not that we have grown apart, but we have grown up.

But it still leaves me with the bitter taste of jealously in my mouth, and I am ashamed by it.

***

I made it through the day hiding this strange disturbance, finally heading for dinner just in time.

"Ah, Mr. Brandon, we'd begun to think you'd run off with your sister!" Mr. Bowles said.

I could only manage a smile in return.

"Well, Mr. Kennedy..." Forbes said. "You are quite a lucky man it would seem."

"Indeed I am." He agreed, his eyes shining and his overall confidence higher than I had ever seen it before. "Alicia is a wonderful woman."

"Pity you have no more sisters, Mr. Brandon."

I had a mouth full of rather tough beef at the moment, but that was okay, as it was not necessary for me to answer. Archie instead ran of a list of my sister's many virtues with all the raptures of a man a scant week or so away from being married, and Bowles and Forbes were more than encouraging him to do so.

My end of the table was more subdued. Horatio had not more than given a slight chuckle at the exchanges. Being a first Lieutenant carries many duties, and he is still learning them. And being Horatio, perfectionist that he is, he is letting the performance wear him out. Soon, I suppose, as the novelty wears off and he is confident in his abilities (well, as confident as he ever allows himself to get) then he shall return to normal, and be able to joke with us again.

Reg, on the other hand, had to practically force his book down just to eat. Somehow, despite his distraction, Horatio had found him a particularly perplexing problem, and it was driving him mad. He spoke not at all during dinner, I could see his thoughts were a thousand miles away from the Indy, and somewhere deep in Norrie's Seamanship instead.

I did not feel comfortable, given the new insights I had into my lack of character, contributing to Archie's conversation, and could not think of anything to entice conversation with Reg and Horatio. A navigational exercise? I would be as left out of that as I would a conversation on farming practices!

Fortunately for me, nobody seemed to pay my silence much note. The simple truth is, I feel like a heel. Of the finest variety, of course. To be jealous of my sister's affections for a good man--a man I considered a friend no less--can anything be lower?

It occurs to me that perhaps my father has had me pegged right all along. Disrespectful, incorrigible, sullen...every invective the man ever hurled on my head suddenly seemed appropriate. I have deserved every ounce of abuse he has ever heaped on me. What other reason could there be for my feelings, other than a complete lack of human decency?

"Mr. Cousins, what say you to a game of chess?" Mr. Bowles suddenly asked.

"I had thought to work on my studies..." He demurred.

Horatio jumped in. "I believe a game of chess might be beneficial to your studies, Mr. Cousins. I find if you leave the problem be for a few hours, you are able to see it more clearly when you return to it."

He looked uncertain, then gave in. "Very well, Mr. Bowles, I shall get the board out. Gentlemen?" He looked from me to Forbes to Mr. Kennedy to Hornblower. "Anyone care to play the winner, assuming the game does not run too long?"

"Not me, thanks!" I seized the opportunity. "I believe I shall retire early. It was a late night and a long day."

My refusal was taken at face value, and Forbes turned to Archie. "Play you a game of acey-deucey while we are waiting?"

"You're on. Horatio?"

Apparently Horatio was in no more of a mood for games than I was. "I have some duties I must attend to gentlemen, but I shall check in latter to see how the battle goes!" He said, though he appeared distracted as he did so.

So I slunk unimpeded off into my cabin, where I stared alternatingly at the pages of my medical texts, pretending to see the words, or at the beams above my head.

A knock at the door made me rouse myself with a sigh. Somebody WOULD get ill this evening; could not they seek Johnson? Why is it always me they call on late at night?

"Who is it?" I called out, rising slowly, knowing I could never push my duty off on another.

"It's...Horatio." He called out softly, though as we were both Lieutenants now he could use my Christian name in private.

I opened the door; Horatio, above all, I would attend to. "Yes, Mr. Hornblower?"

He gave me a half smile. "Captain's retired, Drew; no need to be so formal."

I shrugged slightly. "Old habits die hard. Can I get you something?" For in truth he did not seem the least bit ailing.

But he did stare at me hard, very strangely. "Are you much engrossed in your studies, Drew?"

I decided to be honest. "No, in truth I am not."

He was not surprised by the admission. "Good, then. Care to come above decks for a bit of air?"

I frowned in puzzlement, but I nodded, grabbing my cape (it was certainly cold outside) and following him. Perhaps he has something to tell me which he does not wish to be overheard or interrupted?

He was silent indeed as we came out into the brisk air, frosty and sharp. The ship, peaceably at anchor in the late evening, was quite still and calm, and only McGill, on watch, paid us any attention, attention summed up in a quick salute, and then he sunk back into indifference. He dislikes me still, and I think perhaps he is right to do so!

Suddenly I saw Horatio start to head up the ratlines. "Hor...Mr. Hornblower?" I asked in surprise?

He looked back down at me, in a stern glance. "Come, Mr. Brandon. Step carefully now." His voice was sharp and pointed.

I am adequate at best in the ratlines, but I dared not refuse! Following him, making sure of each foothold, we headed for the top. I made a point of not looking down, and telling myself that this was no extraordinary occurrence, just a chance day when I might be needed in above-decks duties.

I was somewhat out of breath by the time we reached the top. For a terrifying moment I thought he would continue the rest of the way up, but he did not. Instead, he leaned forward, against the ropes, staring out onto the handful of lights representing other ships and the distant bay, and then upward at the stars.

"What is it, Horatio?" I whispered, drawing my cape around me tighter, and shivering. I breathed deeply-the air did seem cleaner here.

"Nothing, Drew." He sighed. "Nothing at all. Just...look. Take a few minutes, and look."

I was puzzled, but I trusted Horatio...a trust forged deeply, with sweat and tears, thanks to Bracegirdle! I looked around, just lost, not really understanding. The stars twinkled coldly, a thousand brilliant jewels in the sky, and I felt so insignificant, so small. And from here I felt the wind even stronger on my face, and the horizon seemed unending, as if the Indefatigable was the center of the universe.

But time changed things; the world grew larger as the minutes passed, and the Indefatigable, though she was the center of MY universe, suddenly seemed not so important at all. Truly, from here, problems grew smaller. I was a small piece of a large picture; I had my role to play. But the stars would be here tomorrow night, and the night after, and a night two hundred years from now and a thousand miles away. And none of the silliness would matter then.

I don't know how long we stood there, but suddenly I sighed, a thousand pounds of worry slinking away. And Horatio understood; he reached over and put his hand on my shoulder. "Thank you." I said quietly.

I felt rather than saw his agreement, and finally looked up at him. He too had his eyes focussed far away, with his own demons to battle. Their focus did not change even as he spoke to me.

"Archie brought me up here...after Muzillac. Actually, we went all the way up. I didn't understand, at first. As miserable as I was, the only reason I followed him at all is because I owed him my life. But after a while, well, it all seemed to go away, the pain and the frustration, and the stupidity."

I felt my throat swell. "What if...you are the source of your own stupidity?"

"How is that so, Mr. Brandon?"

"I am jealous of Archie." I cringed, waiting for him to hate me.

"So am I." Was instead his unexpected reply.

I looked to him in shock. "You?"

"Yes. Me. Not all the time and not every moment, but sometimes I feel it creeping in when I least expect it." He shook his head. "I do not begrudge Archie his happiness...lord knows, he deserves it. But I still wish...that I had what he had." He sighed. "And you?"

The words tumbled out. "I felt today, Horatio, as if I were losing my sister. Like I didn't matter to her, anymore."

"But you know that is not true."

"Of course I know it, in my head. But it was strange to no longer be her first worry, her first concern." I shook in my cape. "I am a terrible person, Horatio."

"Then we both are terrible people, Drew." He smiled suddenly. "But Captain Pellew told me once that these feelings only make me human. I guess that makes us both human, Drew. Unless you are going to stand there and tell me with a straight face that Captain Pellew is WRONG!"

I managed a smile back. "And commit high treason? Never!"

"Let me ask you this. Would you, for anything in the world, stop this marriage?"

"No." The answer was immediate and easy. "No, I would not."

"Good, because neither would I. I suppose I am only afraid that I shall not find such happiness for myself. And I do not like to be afraid, Drew."

Fear. Was that what it came down to? "I guess you are right, Horatio. I was afraid that if she forgot me, that would leave me alone. I am afraid of being alone."

"Strange fear on a ship with three hundred souls!"

And I laughed, the darkness breaking from my heart. "You know what I mean."

"Yes, I do. But you are not alone here, and you are not forgotten. If you were ever in need both Alicia and Archie would move heaven and earth to help you. As you would for them." He cleared his throat. "And I should point out that when you were laid up with fever and none of us knew you were stuck in the medical quarters, it was Archie who had the firmest grasp of your character. He knew you better than anybody. He just didn't know how to open the door."

"Must show him that trick, I suppose." I quipped.

"I'd prefer it if you opted not to get laid up with fever again instead, Drew!" He snapped off wryly.

"Well..." I blew on my hands. "In that event, Mr. Hornblower, I would suggest we return below, or we both are rendering ourselves at risk of worse than fever!"

He shivered suddenly. "You are quite right." Just before he started down the ropes, he looked at me. "What could be worse than being laid up with fever, Mr. Brandon?"

"What the Captain will do to us both when he discovers we have rendered ourselves unfit for duty!"

He bit his lip at the thought. "Quite right. Let's get ourselves some tea pretty quick then, eh?"

Well, I suppose I am still an idiot. But no worse than any other, I suppose. It is good to know that I am not the only foolish man on board here

But how surprising that Horatio should be the other!

***

December 9th

I arrived at Captain Pellew's door promptly following the hasty summons I had received.

"Yes, Sir?"

"Ah, Mr. Brandon. We have received notification. Your father and eldest brother arrived in town yesterday."

"I see, Sir." I set my shoulders and went on with resolve. "So the wedding is to be soon, then?"

"On the twelfth...a rather fortunate thing, as my orders have us putting out to sea on the 18th. This way Mr. Kennedy might receive a few days of shore leave." He cleared his throat, avoiding any embarrassing details. "The plan, Mr. Brandon, is for a dinner at Government house on the eleventh, and the wedding and wedding breakfast the following morning. We shall spend the evening at Government House...I have permission to do so."

I felt my world tilt, I wanted to grab hold of the chair and sit down. But I did not, and I was surprised to hear my voice so steady. "Quite so, Sir. I assume you have told Mr. Kennedy?"

"Yes, indeed; he is a full wreck, as you might imagine, but nothing unexpected. Mr. Hornblower shall keep him reigned in" Pellew grimaced slightly. "I am sorry to have to extend your contact with your father over dinner."

"Do not worry, Sir. I have eaten with him a thousand times." Somebody else seemed to have gained control of my mouth. "And after all, as the most junior officer there, I will hardly be expected to have much to say, will I, Sir?"

"No, no, that is true." Pellew looked me up and down in some amusement. "You are taking this quite well, Mr. Brandon. I had expected you to worry more."

"Sir, it is but twenty-four hours. And then I shall be safely back aboard here. Besides never before has my father faced such numbers."

"True, true, and he had best not cross me, I can tell you that." The Captain put on his most gruff voice. "Well, then, so you are prepared. I know I don't have to tell you to be on your guard. I expect my attaché to be an exemplary officer."

"Of course, Sir." I said, trying my best to sound as sure and certain as Horatio.

"Back to your sick berth then!"

"Aye, Aye, Sir."

I managed to wait until I got to sick berth before I proceeded to grab the nearest bucket and lose my lunch.

"Drew?" Johnson came over to me. "Are you ailing again?" He asked, leaning over me with concern.

I could feel the shaking starting but I controlled it with effort. "No, Johnson, just a sudden bit of nausea, that is all."

He put his hand on my forehead. "Well, there's no fever." He looked me over. "Captain come down hard on you for something?"

"No, no, he just wanted to give me the details of the wedding. My father has arrived, you see."

"Ah!" He said, with complete understanding, and helping me over to my stool. "Nerves, then."

"I guess."

"Well, that will pass. Take it light on the food for a while, though. A few days and it will all be behind you."

I leaned my head into my hands. "You're right, I know you're right."

And I was saved my a man with an infected blister; something to take my mind off of my own silly worries. If nothing else, I always had my work to do.

***

"Drew? Are you alright?"

Cousins, suddenly in the sick berth, startled me; I had been staring off into space again. "Yes, Reg?"

"Are you alright, I said?"

"Oh, yes, well, I'm fine, just fine."

He sat across from me. "The hell you are, Drew!" He took a deep breath. "I just came from Captain Pellew. He informed me of the plans for the wedding, and made note of the fact that I am to be in charge while you are away."

"Surely you're not nervous?" I tried.

He would not let me turn the conversation so easily.

"Never mind ME! YOU are to spend the night at Government House? With your FATHER? Spend the night?????"

My breath came sharply. Reg knew more of my past than any man, save Archie, who had seen my father's abuse in person. But Reg knew the history of it; my entire childhood. He knew well enough what I had not mentioned to Captain Pellew. In my house, the nights had belonged to my father.

"Captain, of course, went on about how strong you were being, and how well adjusted you seemed to be. But Drew, you cannot lie to ME! You cannot do this!"

"I do not see that I have a choice, Reg." I said, softly. "And Captain Pellew will be there."

"Captain Pellew will not be in the same room with you, Drew. And your father prefers to attack at night, does he not? When nobody else will see? Or hear?"

I closed my eyes, remembering. The suddenness of it; from sleep, a rough hand that would sweep the covers away, and grasp me, jerking me over, barely time to open my eyes before the first blow would land. I jerked my eyes open, forcing my mind back to the Indefatigable, afraid to be sick again.

"Drew!" Reg put his hand on my shoulder. "If you spend the night there, he will come after you. You must tell Captain Pellew!"

"No." I said, shaking my head as if to clear the memory. "I cannot do that."

"Why on earth not? Do you not think he would help you?"

"It cannot be helped, Reg. He cannot share my room, he cannot guard me from my father, and if I do not show up for the dinner it will cast suspicion on everything we have done here. My father is expecting me. If he gets suspicious, if he runs around Gibraltar asking questions, then my remaining time on this ship is short indeed."

"But if you tell him, he can be on his guard..."

"No. And you are not to tell him either."

"Drew!" He cried, aghast.

"I will not do anything to cast any pall over this marriage. And neither will my father." I added, emphatically.

He frowned, not at all satisfied. "Are you certain of that?"

"Yes, I am." I lied, with a straight face. SEE what my service here has done to me? "Now if I were to spend the evening after the wedding in his reach, then I would be afraid."

"But you are afraid now, Drew! I can see it!" He pointed out to me.

I sighed. "He will probably seek me out, Reg. But my father is not stupid. He will not want to incapacitate me; he will gag me so I do not cry out, and he will beat me. But not badly. He will not risk any bruise or any mark showing the next morning, or risk having me hurt so bad that I would be unable to attend. He will satisfy his lust for violence, and I will take it, and I will get it over with, and return to Indefatigable and God willing never see him again." I met his eye, steadily. "I am afraid only because it has been a while. But I know...I know, I can survive this."

His mouth was open. "And you expect me to sit her and let it happen?"

"Yes." I said. "Because I am asking you to. You must promise me to not tell Captain Pellew anything you fear."

"Drew..." He pleaded.

"Promise!" I snapped.

"Alright." He said, shoulders slumping. "I promise. I don't like this, not one bit. But you had damn well better come back to the Indefatigable in one piece, you hear me? Or I will hunt out your father and kill him!"

"I will be back, Reg. *I* promise!"

I watched him go away in dejection, and knew he was not done worrying about me. I ought to have foreseen that he would figure out what was bothering me. And I am not nearly so calm about it as I would have him or Captain Pellew believe. Just how far would...could...my father go? Would it be possible that his desire to hurt me would be stronger than his desire to see this wedding take place? I shivered, but then took a deep breath. He will NOT win this one. He may beat me, but he will not win.

***

Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower looked up to see Acting Lieutenant Cousins approaching, and he smiled. Horatio liked this young man, liked him a good deal and for many reasons. His skill, his thirst for knowledge, yes, but also just his plain good instincts that seemed to enable him to know what the right thing to do was. And, of course, he was a genuinely fine young man, a good friend to have. Horatio saw a bright future for him indeed.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Hornblower, but I must speak with you a moment."

"Of course, Mr. Cousins." He gave him a half smile. "I am off in a few moments, Captain Pellew has given me permission to head into port, so I might find a gift for Mr. Kennedy. But it can wait."

"Yes, Sir." He watched the young man with interest. He was most definitely on the brink of some major decision. "I will not be attending the wedding, as you know."

"I am aware of that, Mr. Cousins. You shall have command of the ship, in fact. Quite a responsibility." He wondered if Cousins had been doubting his ability, and if that was why he was here.

"Yes, it is, Sir; I am confident, however, that all will be well. I have Mr. Bowles here with me, and our crew is the finest. I am not worried about the Indefatigable, Sir." He looked at Horatio meaningfully.

"So then what?" Horatio was truly curious now.

"I cannot tell you!" The younger man sat down in exasperation. "I have made a promise, and I cannot tell you what I would wish to."

"I see." Well, Horatio was the last man who would ever ask another man to betray a confidence. "Can you tell me anything?"

"At the wedding...you are to stay overnight."

Horatio nodded, frowning. He was not happy about that; he did not have fond memories of his last trip to government house, and there would not even be here the amusement of the "duchess" to take his mind off of his shortcomings. For he would be the only man present NOT of the highest class, and though he could forget it on the Indy, it was not so easily forgotten when in society.

"The thing is, Mr. Hornblower, it's Drew." Horatio brought his mind back to young Mr. Cousins. "You've got to watch out for him, Sir. I am not there, and I cannot do it, but somebody has to."

"The Captain will not let him be harmed." Horatio reminded him, though he was touched by the depth of his concern.

Reg frowned deeper, and then something seemed to occur to him. "You remember attacking El Muerte, Sir?"

"Yes, Mr. Cousins?" Horatio was thoroughly confused.

"What was Mr. Brandon's idea for the attack?"

"He suggested we attack at night, when nobody could see us." Horatio said automatically.

"Yes, Sir." Cousins was looking at him meaningfully. "At night, it is easier to attack, is it not? Your enemy is more vulnerable then. And less protected."

Oh! Horatio grasped his meaning. "I see. Unless, of course, one is aware that one's enemy has a habit of attacking at night."

"That might make you more prepared to fend off the attack. But if you are isolated, sometimes it is difficult to fend off your attacker on your own."

"Then it is best if one has allies who can guard you."

"Never a bad idea, Sir."

Horatio nodded. He had no idea of what to do, but he understood. There was a flaw in their plan to keep Drew safe, and that flaw came with darkness. He must do something.

"By the way, Sir. I was instructed to discuss none of this with the Captain."

Why was such a simple thing as a wedding so blasted complicated? Damn Lord Exton and his stupidity and his drink. "I am glad you called this to my attention, Mr. Cousins. I shall be prepared."

"Yes, well, I felt someone ought to be."

"You have my word that our discussion of...battle tactics...will remain private." He rose and took up his hat.

"Thank you, Sir. I knew I could count on you." Indeed, Reg looked almost a different man, now.

He only hoped that this confidence was not misplaced. Whatever was he to DO about this?

***
Horatio had meandered through such shops as there were in Gibraltar, in a desperate search for some sort of gift for Archie. Really, what did you buy for someone like him? Archie, sure enough, was the best friend he had ever had, and one of the few people he had ever allowed himself to be close to. But he had everything he could ever need...except, perhaps, peace of mind, and that wasn't exactly within Horatio's scope to give.

And then there was Drew, and this new problem. It was never far from his mind, even as he looked at books and paintings and other objects. Reg was counting on him to keep Drew safe, but how on earth did one combat a Lord? Archie, when he had gone after Drew, had been on equal footing, but Archie was in no condition to be involved with this right now! Talk about destroying his peace of mind...

He entered into one last shop, and began looking around, without seeing anything. The proprietor, perhaps having taken stock in the condition of Horatio's uniform, had not bothered to even greet him. Besides, he was involved with another customer, a well-dressed elder gentleman, leaning on a cane.

"I shall take that one, then." He motioned to a stunning silver platter. "Can you have it wrapped for me, Sir?"

Horatio could not help but remark on the man's demeanor. He was sixty, at a guess, and very rich; his clothing had the sort of understated opulence that defines true class distinction. But it was the tone of his voice that interested him; the man was commanding, but not demanding. There was no haughtiness there, yet charisma flowed from him, and attracted attention. Not a man, thought Horatio, who would ever rely on his title or rank to get things done. He wouldn't need to. You would do his bidding because you wanted to.

And with a little smile to himself, Horatio saw a bit of Captain Pellew in this decidedly non-naval gentleman!

The man turned around, then, and met Horatio's eye, and he could not help but give a gasp. His eyes were blue and piercing, and his face was well-lined, but it had in it's history the same curves, the same grace and graciousness... Archie! He was looking at Archie Kennedy in his late years.

The gentleman tilted his head quizzically at him, studying him well, and Horatio blushed, for he realized he was staring, and would have hurried out of the shop, but the man's voice halted that before he had even taken a step.

"Good day, Lieutenant. If you do not consider it impertinent, would you be so kind as to tell me which ship you sail on?"

Horatio found his voice. "The Indefatigable, Sir. L-lieutenant Horatio H-Hornblower, at your service, Sir. I am pleased to make your acquaintance."

With eyebrows raised, the man shook his head. "Make my acquaintance? On the contrary, Lieutenant Hornblower, I feel as if I already know you well."

Horatio could not answer; how had this man heard of him, and more importantly, what had he heard?

And those piercing blue eyes gave a little twinkle, then, a hint of what he might have been in youth. "My son has told me much about you." The gentleman bowed. "Lord Bridgeleigh, at YOUR service."

Lord Bridgeleigh! He might have known, God, how could he NOT have known, for the resemblance was so strong! "Sir, I am honored...I did not know you were expected in Gibraltar."

"H'm, that might be because I am NOT expected." His creased face once again showed a hint of a mischievous nature. "But I felt strongly that if that old sot Exton could get himself to Gibraltar, there was no reason for me to let a rheumatic knee stand in the way of seeing my youngest son married. I feel badly enough about having missed David's wedding as it is."

"So are you staying with the Dalrymple's, then?"

"No, not yet, I have put up in the inn here. I shall be present for the dinner tomorrow evening, however." He shifted his weight on his cane. "However, having run into you, it would be appreciated if you could let Archibald know that I am here. Save me sending off a note to him."

"Naturally, Sir, I should be glad to do that." And knowing, perhaps more than anybody, how much it would mean to Archie, he suggested, "Perhaps, Sir, you would care to come and see the Indefatigable? I am certain that the Captain would welcome a visit from you, and I know that Mr. Kennedy would be very pleased to show you his duties." Pleased? He'd be ecstatic, to show off his responsibilities, and show his father how far he had come.

"The offer does tempt me, young man. However, I did run in to Lord Exton this morning, and I am confused; for he said that Pellew would brook no civilian visitors to his ship, as it was a gross invitation to mutinous behavior." The man coughed. "Or some other such nonsense. I fear we would have a difficult time explaining why it would be permissible for ME to visit, and not him."

"I had not thought of that, Sir." He was saddened at the admission. "I am afraid, Sir, that though the injunction was primarily made for Lord Exton, it will no doubt have to apply to you as well."

"Ah, I thought as much. Miss Brandon's brother serves with you on Indefatigable still, does he?"

"He does, Sir. He is an Acting Lieutenant now."

"Archie speaks of him on the highest terms."

"He is a fine young man, but you shall be able to judge for yourself tomorrow."

His face fell into a stern frown. "I had not thought the boy was going to be present for the wedding? It is rather ill-advised, is it not?"

And the weight that he had forgotten for a few moments reappeared, nestling between is shoulder blades like a stab wound. "Indeed it is, but it is also unavoidable; his father has demanded it."

"Bah! He would, of course. Your Captain shall keep a strong watch on the lad, I assume."

"Captain Pellew and I together will be very wary of Lord Exton's behavior."

"You cannot be wary enough, young man, let me tell you that, for he is the sorriest excuse for nobility I have ever seen." Bridgeleigh shook his head slowly. "And a sorrier excuse for a father."

"Indeed, Sir, I am exceedingly worried myself." And in shock, Horatio found himself confiding in this man. "For it has come to my attention that any attack on young Mr. Brandon will likely happen at night, and I do not see how we are to prevent it."

"Yes, that is the way of it, for Exton knows he will not have approval to mistreat the boy in public." He seemed lost in thought for a few moments. "I will tell you what, young man. I am indebted to you and to this young Brandon fellow, you both have done much for my son..."

"Sir, I must protest...I have done no more than Archie...er, Mr. Kennedy would have done for me."

"Yes, quite, but that does not change that I feel rather indebted to you both. You keep a tight eye on the boy, Mr. Hornblower. And I..." He shuddered. "I shall keep a tight eye on his father."

"Sir?" Horatio asked in confusion.

"Yes, Mr. Hornblower. If I can keep him occupied...and he is so desirous of impressing me that should not be hard...then he will not have time to seek out his son."

It might...it just might work, Horatio thought, with growing joy. Lord Exton, telling tales to Lord Bridgeleigh until all hours of the night, getting drunk, perhaps so drunk he should not be able to do anything but sleep it off. It was a chance, at least. An even chance, he thought, with grim amusement.

"I thank you, Sir. I know that you would not wish to spend more time with Exton than you might have to."

"Yes, well, we all have to make our sacrifices sometimes." He sighed, as the proprietor came forward with his package. "You are here looking for a gift yourself, I assume?"

"Yes, without much luck I am afraid."

"Mm, care for a suggestion?"

Horatio hesitated, only because he knew his purse was in no league with Lord Bridgeleigh's, even with the ample whist winnings he was willing to spend! But desperation was setting in. "I would welcome any advice you might have."

The man motioned over to a corner, where an antique globe rested. It needed a good cleaning, but was in otherwise good condition. "We had one much like it in our library in London. When Archibald was a child, he used to spend hours staring at it, looking over all the places he might go to." He sighed. "I believe primarily because he wished himself anywhere but where he was, but nevertheless, I think it has come to have a different meaning to him now."

Horatio hesitated. All of his savings, all of his whist winnings, totaled just over five pounds. Surely this must be more than that? But how could he tell this to Lord Bridgeleigh?

Bridgeleigh, however, had addressed the proprietor. "My good man, I must leave you now, but I expect you will show the Lieutenant a fair price on this merchandise? The globe's information is out of date, and it could only be sold to someone for sentimental reasons, after all. But then, I was told that you had the most honest shop in all of Gibraltar, and knowing it to be true, I shall speak well of you to those I encounter." He looked back at Horatio. "Good day, Mr. Hornblower. Should Archibald wish to send me any message, I will be at the Laughing Duke inn until tomorrow."

"Good day, Lord Bridgeleigh." And the man was out the door, and the proprietor was beside him.

"A fine globe, Sir, although it is outdated, as Lord Bridgeleigh has mentioned." He coughed, and again eyed Horatio's uniform. "Shall we say three pounds even, Sir?"

Horatio colored. "I do not wish to deprive you of a fair price, Sir."

"Lieutenant, there are things more valuable to me than this globe, I can assure you."

And looking back down on it, Horatio grinned, imagining Archie having such a globe in his own home, and looking down on it for years to come, remembering the adventures and trials that they shared together. "Very well, then, I shall not quarrel with you. Three pounds it is."

And as he made arrangements to have it wrapped and delivered to Government House, he though of one more thing he might do for Archie.

***

"May I have a word with you, Sir?"

"Yes, Mr. Hornblower, what is it?" Captain Pellew was overseeing the preparation of his best uniform for the next few day's festivities. "Come to borrow cook's iron, have you?"

"No, Sir, though I will need to eventually. I was wondering, Sir, if you might not need Mr. Kennedy to go into port this evening?"

Those sharp eyes met him in puzzlement. "I have no reason, of course, unless you are telling me that I do."

"Sir, I think that Mr. Kennedy might need to run a message over to the Laughing Duke Inn, and while he was there, it might not be a bad idea for him to have a meal without the barbs of his ship-mates."

"H'm. He shall have a meal ashore tomorrow."

"Yes, but will no doubt be too nervous to eat it."

"To whom will he be sending this message?"

"To Lord Bridgeleigh." Horatio admitted.

"Ah!" Pellew's eyes lit up with understanding. "I do see, Mr. Hornblower. Mr. Kennedy does not expect his father to be here, does he?"

"No, he does not. And Sir, I feel...Mr. Brandon and I both discussed...that it would have been desirable for him to be able to converse with his father before the wedding. It seems too good an opportunity to miss, Sir."

"Then we must not miss it!" Powers entered with warm water and a sponge, heading for Pellew's cape. "Never mind that at this moment, Powers, and bring Mr. Kennedy here, will you?"

"Aye, aye, Sir." And Powers, silent as ever, glided away.

"You will have to stand his watch this evening, Mr. Hornblower, for I had planned on having him relieve Mr. Cousins. The young man will be more than busy for the next few days, and needs to rest."

"Sir, I will do it gladly."

"How was your shopping expedition, then?"

"Fruitful, Sir."

"And what is Mr. Cousins so worried about?"

Horatio once would have been in awe of his captain's perception, but he had almost expected this, having known him for so long. "Sir, Mr. Cousins has been promised to secrecy, as have I, but it concerns Mr. Brandon's safety."

"Mr. Cousins does not believe I can keep him from harm?"

"Mr. Cousins does not believe we can keep watch over him twenty-four hours at a time." Horatio coughed. "However, I believe I have made some headway on that account, thanks to Mr. Kennedy's father. He will be watching Lord Exton."

"Now THAT is an unenviable prospect. Well, I won't press you further, Mr. Hornblower; I must say, I THOUGHT Mr. Brandon was a mite too complacent about this whole thing. Still, should any real danger arise, I expect you to let me know immediately."

"Naturally, Sir."

There was a knock, and Archie entered.

"You sent for me, Sir." Archie was alternately a mixture of peaceful calm and wiry nerves; at this moment, it was the nerves that were showing.

"Ah, good, Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Hornblower shall take your watch this evening, with my permission; I have an errand for you."

"Yes, Sir." He said, fidgeting slightly, looking at Horatio in curiosity.

Captain Pellew, meanwhile, was hastily writing out a note, and sealing it.

"There is a gentleman staying at the Laughing Duke whom I wish to send this to. His name is not important, he is of high rank, and I have no doubt that the proprietor will know of whom you speak. Please, take it there quickly."

"Aye, Aye, Sir." Archie looked apologetically at Horatio, no doubt sorry that his friend should be saddled with an extra watch because of this. It was all Horatio could do to keep from laughing.

After he was gone, Horatio looked over Pellew. "What did you write, Sir? If I may ask."

"You certainly may ask, and in this event I will even answer. I wrote out my permission for Mr. Kennedy to spend the evening there, provided he returns by midnight. You will still have the watch then, Mr. Hornblower. Be on your guard when he returns!" And the Captain and he shared their rare smiles, a moment of first rate understanding.

***

Horatio's watch was nearly over when Archie, with half an hour to spare, came back aboard. He braced himself for a barrage of abuse for not telling him that the "gentleman" in question was his father.

"Good evening, Mr. Hornblower." Was instead the surprising response he had received.

"Mr. Kennedy." He looked Archie over carefully, his friend's eyes were rimmed with red, but his face was relaxed, relieved. It was a new Archie Kennedy before him. "Are you well, Sir?"

"I am, Horatio." He said, in quiet informality, as he joined him on the quarterdeck. "I am better than I have been since I was twelve years old."

"Archie?" Horatio asked, in mild surprise.

"I told him, Horatio. I told him everything."

Horatio held in a gasp. Archie had told him some time ago that he was resolved his father never hear the worst of his life, that he never hear of Simpson, because he would not have his father feel any guilt for it. "How is he, Archie? How are you?"

"He is angry, Horatio; I believe if my brother William had been within arms-length, he would have throttled him senseless for ever suggesting I enlist in the Navy." Archie looked up at the sky. "And he is hurt, hurting for me, and hurt because I felt I could not appeal to him for help." He closed his eyes. "But Horatio, this is the first time in my life we were completely open with each other. I made him see that I would not trade my life now for anything; I told him of what occurred when I was in charge of Sophia, what I had been able to do for young men not able to help themselves. I told him how far I had come, and only as I was telling him did I begin to believe it."

Horatio swallowed hard, and found words with effort. "I am glad you see that finally, Archie."

Archie nodded. "He believes in me, you see. He told me that he always has. Now that I understand that, I can believe in myself. He said that he was sorry indeed that he had not been there when I needed him, and I told him..." Archie looked him in the eye. "I told him I still do need him, and he was here, he was here now, and that was all that mattered."

Horatio caught out a faint blush. "Was that all you spoke of, Archie?" He asked lightly.

Wryly, Archie replied: "I knew you would not leave it alone! Yes, we spoke of women, of love, of...oh, hell, are you going to make me say it?"

Laughing lightly, Horatio shook his head. "No, I guess I won't. I understand your meaning well, Sir."

The bell struck, and Anderson came up to them. "My watch, Sir."

"Yes, Mr. Anderson. Keep it well, young man!" And he turned to Archie. "Well, Mr. Kennedy, shall we? You must have your rest, for I venture you will not be sleeping much in the next few days."

And he laughed at Archie's blush, glad to know that the night disguised his own.

December 12th

I met Horatio and the Captain up on deck, as we prepared to depart. My heart was racing a thousand miles a minute, and seemed to be settled in my throat. But I was in outward appearance, at least, the very epitome of a British naval officer. The Captain looked me over, and he grunted, which I suppose was what was going to pass for high approval this evening. I pulled my cape around me against the cold, and looked up; the sky was heavy, but I do not believe it will be cold enough to snow; rain, however, seems likely.

In truth, our company made a rather impressive appearance; Horatio had made do with his best uniform, thanks to skill on the part of Clarke, our cook (who will grumble about it, but he's fond of Mr. Hornblower and would not ever have him turned out less than impeccably). The Captain, of course, outshone us all, and I felt very proud and very fortunate to be a member of his company this evening.

"Where..." Captain muttered now, "...is our Groom, Mr. Hornblower?"

"He is here..." Archie said, rather pink but never the less equally resplendent. "Somebody decided to hide his hair ribbon, but he would not be beaten, thanks to the kind donation of Mr. Cousins, and he is as ready as any of you."

I chortled, and Archie cast me a look. "It wasn't you, I hope, Drew!"

"Indeed it was not, I do not dare cross my sister in that manner, Sir."

"Well, it cannot be Horatio, for he has no sense of humor, so I must put it down to Forbes or Bowles. I shall exact my revenge at a latter date."

"Gentleman, enough of this childish bickering, we must be prompt. Whatever the occasion, dinner at government house is still dinner at government house, and I will not be tardy, Sirs!" His disgruntlement was real enough; he dislikes society, and I have no doubt that the additional worrying about me is not helping his mood, no doubt.

Archie followed him over the side, and Horatio bade me to follow next. As I went over, though, I caught his eye; he winked at me, and I grinned. I have a feeling that Archie has perhaps underestimated Horatio this time.

As we pushed off from Indefatigable, I saw Reg, standing proudly on the deck. His professional nature kept him from leaning over and calling out to me, I am certain, for he would never wish Pellew to see him as anything less than the perfect officer. But I could feel his worry for me, and I again muttered under my breath that promise to return to Indefatigable in one piece, if not quite unharmed.

***
I have imagined many scenarios in my mind for this...reunion...with my father, most terrifying, some more innocuous. My particular favorite involved walking in and discovering him sick and dying, and having a near fatal fit over dinner, wherein he implores me to save him. Depending on my mood when cooking up this particular fantasy, I either do-performing some heroic surgery-or I don't, standing over him protesting that I know no *doctor* in the house. In reality, I suppose I would save him, for the sake of the Hippocratic oath I have yet to take, if not for more sentimental reasons.

Of course, none of the pleasant scenarios are even remotely true. Despite his recent bout with illness, and despite his continual drunken nature, he is as nasty an old brute as ever, and I had to fight the impulse to run and hide as soon as I entered the house, even as my dripping cape was taken away from me.

"Ah, Captain Pellew!" Sir Hugh cried out. "You are most prompt, Sir. Have you met Lord Exton?"

"Indeed I have, Sir Hugh." Captain said, as he acknowleged my father. "I do not believe you have yet had the pleasure of meeting the groom, Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy, or Lord Exton's son, Acting Lieutenant Andrew Brandon."

The usual formalities were exchanged, but I could feel my father's eyes on me. Resolved not to let him see me cringe, I rose to my full height, and held myself steady.

"Captain Pellew." My father said, drawing his name out slowly. "I am looking forward to hearing details of Andrew's behavior on board your ship." He still kept that stare on me.

"His performance has been exemplary, Sir. However, as I'm certain you can appreciate, he is still my most junior officer, and his rank must be kept in check. Therefore, I wish to keep him by my side, so I might observe his behavior this evening." The Captain looked at me harshly, and I maintained my pose.

"H'm, a good plan, perhaps. He always wanted watching." My father hacked deeply, coughing into his handkerchief.

What might have broken down into an awkward pause was interrupted by our final arrival, Lord Bridgeleigh, rain-soaked but unmistakably the master of any social occasion. "Better rain than snow, I suppose." He muttered, looking around at our group. And he did not wait for introductions. "Captain Pellew! I should very much like to have a conversation with you before our time together is done. Mr. Hornblower, I have already had the privilege of meeting; Sir Hugh, Lady Dalrymple, good to see you once more." His eye came to my father. "And you, Sir, must be Lord Exton! I have long been wanting to make your acquaintance, Sir! How wonderful that it be under such benevolent circumstances."

My father preened with the praise, and then felt he must respond in kind.

"Lord Bridgeleigh, I cannot tell you how pleasing it is for me to have my daughter make such a fruitful connection, a joining of such vaunted blood lines..."

Eeewww. I do not know how I shall be able to stomach my dinner if this is to go on!

Somehow, Archie's father contained himself. "Indeed, indeed, it is a happy day, Sir." He caught my eye. "Who is this young man?"

My father frowned at me, as if finding an old shoe in his rose garden. "That, Sir, is my youngest son, Andrew."

Captain Pellew changed the introduction. "Acting Lieutenant Andrew Brandon, serving with us on Indefatigable."

"Well, well, he's not much for a younger son I suppose..." I was stung and rather surprised. "...but then, younger sons are capable of surprising one. I cannot tell you how honored I was that you agreed to the match with my youngest son. Now, Sir, I understand you made a rather impressive speech to parliament last year...I am most anxious to hear all the details..."

And as Lord Bridgeleigh swept away my father, I recognized a very similar tactic to the one Archie had used to extricate me from his clutches the last time.

Just then Stan swept in, guiding Alicia on his arm, and things started to look up. "Your father is a martyr, I see, Kennedy." Stan said, wryly.

"Captain Pellew, Lieutenant Hornblower, allow me to present my oldest brother, Stanton. My sister, I believe, you all have met."

An agonized Sir Hugh took that moment to reappear. "Gentlemen, please...my cook!"

I looked up at Pellew and shrugged. "Into the lion's den, Sir." I whispered.

He gave me an encouraging smile. "Courage. It is going well so far."

***

Almost immediately I foresaw problems over dinner. Sir Hugh, perhaps imagining emotions in my father I do not believe he is capable of possessing, decided to sit me near him, so we might have the opportunity of conversing. Fortunately, Captain Pellew is not far away. Even more fortunate, Lord Bridgeleigh was also near my father, and soon had him carried away with topics of government. Archie, at the far end of the table, was full of conversation with my sister. So as it stood, I was left to speak with Miss Wilhelmena Dalrymple, a woman with a kind heart and a rather unfortunate face! Still, I found her to be well-informed, and talkative enough so that I was able to play the junior officer who's not supposed to say much.

"You have not touched your wine, Andrew. Surely you do not intend to insult our hosts by such willful refusal."

Miss Dalrymple might have gone into a spirited defense of temperance, but fortunately Captain Pellew was quick on his feet.

"My doing, I am afraid, Sir. Drew knows full well that I do not approve of young officers consuming of spirits."

Dalrymple was understandably confused. "But it is part of their daily ration, Sir Edward?"

"Oh, yes, to be certain. And for the midshipmen I do not care; in general they are a useless lot of boys. But a promising officer must have discipline, and I will not have a Lieutenant under eighteen partaking of spirits. Shows me something of what they're made of!"

Sir Hugh was taken in, and also taken aback. "Under eighteen, you say? Just how old are you, Lieutenant Brandon?"

"Sir, I have just turned sixteen." I said. Surely my father cannot find fault with THAT statement?

He didn't have time to. Lord Bridgeleigh chimed in right away, "Only sixteen? Lord Exton, I congratulate you! Again we see, good breeding tells!"

I was so ill that I almost reached over and took a sip of the wine, until I remembered that given Captain's proclamation, it would give my father an actual good reason to see me beaten!

The Dalrymple's butler came in suddenly, unexpectedly at that point, with a most peculiar look on his face, and one that set the alarm up in me pretty rapidly, though I do not know why. It must have been a sixth sense of some sort.

Dalrymple was surely surprised. "Yes, Howes?"

"Sir...there is an officer here to see Mr. Brandon." He said, rather non-pulsed.

Looking confused, my brother started to rise, when the butler stopped him with a look. "I believe he is here for the OTHER Mr. Brandon, Sir. Lieutenant Brandon, if you will."

I choked on the water I was drinking. "An officer is here to see me, Howes?"

"Yes, Sir. He said it was an emergency."

Oh, dear.

My father's malevolent eye fixed on me. "What have you been doing, Andrew?" He hissed.

"I do not know the meaning of this, but I shall see what it is about, Sir." I rose slowly, Captain Pellew frozen in shock himself, and followed Hawes out the door.

And there, in the foyer, stood a dripping wet and extremely agitated Lieutenant...Commander, that is, Bracegirdle.

"Mr. Bracegirdle, Sir?" I said, stunned. For his face was red, his hat was battered, his stockings were half ungartered...all in all, nothing like the dapper Lieutenant I had known.

"Oh, thank god, Mr. Brandon, you are here! Do forgive me for the intrusion but it is a dire...a dire emergency, and you are my last hope indeed, I fear, and whatever I shall do I do not know..." His wide blue eyes were flooded with tears.

"Calm yourself, Sir, and tell me what is the matter?"

"My wife...oh god my wife...the midwife says it's hopeless...Mr. Brandon, you must come! If anyone can save the situation, it is you, Sir."

Just at that moment I heard thundering footsteps, and my father came up close behind me. I felt, without seeing, the cane in his hand, and I swallowed hard. Fortunately, Bracegirdle's mutterings had been to low for him to hear.

"What does this gentleman want with you, Andrew?"

Bracegirdle realized just at that moment that I was in peril, and confusion fell on his face. "Oh, I am sorry, Lieutenant Brandon...It's just...I need..." And he knew not how to ask for my help with my father here.

Oh, God, what did I do? Did I deny him, deny my knowledge, let his wife and child die, and close the door? How could I do that? Yet if I speak, it shall be the end of everything, I am certain; there would be no hiding my medical practice from my father after this. What he would do to me...oh, God, give me strength.

"It is alright, Mr. Bracegirdle. I will come." And I turned to face my father, to tell him that I must go, and why.

"It's the capstan again, isn't it, Mr. Brandon." Archie appeared suddenly in the doorway.

I looked at him. "Sir?"

Archie buttonholed my father. "Your son, Sir, is the most experienced man we have with operating and repairing a capstan. There is no man his equal; he knows it inside and out, and is probably the best man for the job in the navy."

Eyes wide, my father could only murmur, "Indeed?"

"Yes, Sir. Now, Mr. Bracegirdle here, one of our former Lieutenants, has been having problems with his. He thought he had it fixed yesterday, but apparently not. Isn't that true, Mr. Bracegirdle?"

And still in a dither, that he could only keep mumbling, "Quite...yes, quite..."

"And, you see," Archie continued smoothly, "he must be away tomorrow morning, so that Capstan must be repaired. And he has come to the one man to do it!"

I seized the chance. "It would be a disgrace, father, if I were to be so derelict in my duty and cause the Navy embarrassment."

With such flattery all evening as had been previously unknown to him in his life, my father was ripe for the picking. Unfortunately, he was also of a combustible temperament from the wine this evening.

"Derelict?" He gasped, and then slapped me across the face hard enough to send me into Bracegirdle. "Boy, do not ever let me hear you say such a word again."

Gasping from the pain and the surprise, I stuttered out, "No, Sir."

Pellew came forward, face purple in anger, but Archie held him back.

"Of course you must go and do your duty. I will never, NEVER let it be said that any son of mine was derelict." He belched loudly, and Mr. Bracegirdle steadied me on my feet even as Howes handed me my cape.

"But how is he to return for the wedding?" My father mumbled on.

"I shall take care of that, Sir." Horatio chimed in. "I shall take a carriage over to Mr. Bracegirdle's...ship...to retrieve him tomorrow morning."

My father grunted, taking firm grip of that blasted cane of his. "Glad to know you're good for something, Hornblower." I swallowed. "He'll be there at 7am, Andrew. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Sir." I said, and fastening my cape, I took the opportunity to disappear into the darkness, leaving the Captain and Horatio and Archie to mollify my father, and hope that he never bothered to look up a Capstan, and, god forbid, question me on it later!

"Oh, God, Mr. Brandon, I am sorry..." Bracegirdle was beside himself. "You are hurt! You are bleeding!"

"Huh?" I put my hand up to my mouth; sure enough, there was a little bit of blood there, but in the scheme of things, it was very minor. "Do not worry about it, Mr. Bracegirdle. It is but a scratch, and considering what he was probably planning this evening, it's inconsequential. Indeed, you have done me a favor. Now, I assume this means your wife is having a difficult labor."

"Difficult? Oh! The midwife and the local doctor have just about given up!"

"I want to remind you that I've never attended a birth before, Sir."

"I know, I know...It is just..." We got into his carriage. "You'd never performed an appendectomy, either. At least I know if YOU tried and failed..." He stuttered, tears flowing down his cheeks freely. "...then there really was nothing to be done."

The carriage clattered through the streets rapidly, and I made a mental note to thank Dr. Hornblower for his lessons...and wondered if I really had been hallucinating.

***
Bracegirdle was understandably emotional, but I was going over what I had read in my mind, and was trying to anticipate what I might be in for. I needed information.

"What exactly did the midwife say, Sir?"

He sniffed. "She...she said the baby's not coming out right, I think. Facing the wrong way, or something."

A breech. Not good.

"And she sent for the doctor?"

"Bah!" He spat out, angry. "Man was more drunk than Hepplewhite when he got there. Said maybe he could cut Celia open..." He gulped once. "But like as not the baby was already dead and she'd bleed to death anyway, and what was the point?"

I was silent. If the infant was alive, surgical removal of the child might be the only option, but the trauma to Mrs. Bracegirdle would likely be fatal. On the other hand, doing nothing would CERTAINLY be fatal-her uterus could rupture, her heart could fail from the stress, a thousand things could go wrong. Modern medicine is surprisingly ill equipped to handle childbirth, perhaps because men practice medicine, and men do not give birth!

"You are very quiet, Mr. Brandon?" Bracegirdle said, shakily.

"I am thinking of our options, Sir, but until I examine your wife, I will not be certain how to proceed."

"So you are not without hope?" He was trembling, the anxiety almost too much for him.

I looked at him seriously. "I have never done this before, Sir, but I have never given up hope on a patient, and I am not about to start now."

The words calmed him, which is a start, for I do not need to be treating two people this evening.

Arriving at his accommodations, I followed him rapidly up the stairs to his third floor abode, to the sound of a commotion inside.

Mrs. Bracegirdle was moaning, low and tired, but the argument seemed to be between a young woman, fourteen or fifteen, and a reedy old doctor who was indeed close to falling down with drink.

"Give it to her, Girl!"

"No, Sir, I'll not!" The young lady snapped, arms crossed defiantly.

"What is this about, Sir?" I asked, tossing my cape carelessly to the side.

The doctor turned to look at me, then looked at Bracegirdle, "THIS is you're ship's doctor, Mr. Bracegirdle?" He asked, wide-eyed. "HA! HA! HA!" He slapped his leg and leaned over onto a chair. "Oh, now if that isn't priceless....HA! HA!"

I was in no mood...after dealing with my father's barbs and the anxiety I've put up with for the past two days, my temper go the better of me. "Sir, at least I am SOBER, unlike you, you pathetic SOT!" I forced myself to breathe, and then turned to the young girl. "What exactly were his instructions?" I said, through clenched teeth.

"He wants me to give her laudanum, Mr. Brandon, to put her at ease until...until she's gone." Her deep blue eyes flashed with fire. "And I'd not do it, not until you saw her. I knew Mr. B was going for you, and I wouldn't do it."

"Quite right of you. Where is she?" I followed her into Mrs. Bracegirdle's quarters, wondering how she knew my name. A sickly looking midwife was in a chair, half asleep. "Great, fine medical care THIS is!" I grumbled. I looked around for instruments, and found none. "I need clean towels." I said, automatically, "...and a sharp knife, a needle and thread, the strongest you have, and hot water. Boiling water, to clean up with, and hot water for my hands."

The midwife stirred. "It'll be no use, boy. She's a dead woman."

Well, hell, if nobody did anything she CERTAINLY was. But the girl turned at my words. "I'll take care of it, Mr. Brandon. Got the water boiling already for you, in fact."

I was agreeably surprised...nobody ever seemed to understand the importance of being clean! "Thank you! As fast as you can get it for me, please."

The midwife grunted and got up. "Ain't stayin' here to watch this nonsense." And she ambled away.

I looked over to Bracegirdle in the corner. "Rest yourself, Sir. I will do what I can." And he trembled, and nodded, casting a very affectionate and frightened look at his wife before leaving me.

I stood by her face. "Mrs. Bracegirdle, we've not met, but I am Mr. Brandon, and I am going to try to help you, alright?" I put my hand on her face, which was streaked with sweat. She looked up at me. "Save...the baby, Mr. Brandon."

"Good heavens, Mrs. B!" I said, mimicking the girl's manners. "I have no intention of losing either one of you."

I began examining her, placing my hand on her abdomen, and she groaned in pain. "Shhh...it's alright Mrs. B." I could feel the baby's head, indeed not positioned quite right, from what I had read. Still, it was not a total breach; the babe had tried to right itself. A tremor like lightning flowed through my hand...a kick, and I smiled. The child was still alive. "Your babe is still with us, Mrs. B. Let's see if we can't entice him to come on out, eh?"

The girl came in with towels, knife, threaded needle and soap in one arm and a bucket of hot water in the other. "Water's not boiling yet, but I figured this was a start."

"Good enough for me to wash my hands in." I said, grabbing the soap. "And once the water boils, you might need the same. If you don't mind helping me, Miss...?"

"Violet. And no, I don't mind. Doc and the midwife just left, anyway; Mr. B about threw them out."

"They are no loss." I grumbled, drying my hands and cleaning up the area around Mrs. B. "Now, let's take a look." I said, with a deep breath.

There is no amount of reading or illustration in a medical text book that really prepared me for this! I would have been mortified, if not for the fact that Mrs. B had a contraction, and forced me to think of her as a patient and not a woman.

Mr. B came in at her cries, and I shouted to him. "Go to her. Comfort her. Hold her down." And seeing what was happening, I commanded her sharply. "Do not push, Mrs. B. I know you want to, but you must not yet. The babe is not ready and it will cause problems if you do."

"It...hurts!" She wailed.

"I know, ma'am, I know." I soothed, and felt relief as the contraction subsided, just as Violet returned with the boiling water. "Wash your hands in the hot, Miss Violet." I ordered, not having time to be concerned with my tone.

I returned to Mrs. B. I could see the child...sideways. I took a deep breath, and placed my hands on her abdomen again. "Hold her down, Sir." I said softly. "I am going to try to move the baby." I pressed down and she cried out, her voice pitifully small. "Easy now. Let's see if we can't make this simple, eh?"

It was no use, though. I coaxed the child around a little, but not enough. I went back to the foot of the bed and to my new assistant, who waited patiently.

"I cleaned the knife and the needle and thread in the boiling water, Mr. Brandon."

Figures, the best loblolly boy I've ever had, and she's a woman! "Thank you, Miss Violet. Excellent thinking." I looked again, and a memory stirred. Reg's stories, some of them pretty bawdy, about growing up on a farm. I used to accuse him of telling them purposely to embarrass me.

But one story, once...the sheep giving birth. A bad position, and his father had reached in and turned the offspring...Ugh. I swallowed hard, and Violet reached over and mopped my forehead. "Are you okay, Mr. Brandon?"

"Yes, Miss Violet. I am going...to turn the child by hand."

And with a silent prayer for strength, I began...

***

Time passed, time I didn't have, for my progress was slow and I was uncertain. Mrs. B was becoming weaker, and so was the child. Violet, bless her, was a rock, cleaning, mopping my forehead, and just being there. And with sudden cooperation, the child seemed to slide around.

"There!" I exclaimed with joy. "I've got it!"

With another contraction, Mrs. B began to push, and I saw one more obstacle. "Hold hard, ma'am! Please!" For the cord had entangled itself around the child's neck.

"Ohhhhh!" She cried, as I again bent to manipulate the babe.

"Mr. Bracegirdle, you have a stubborn child indeed, determined to make as dramatic an entrance into this world as possible." I said, smoothly, hoping not to let my fear show, hoping just to calm them by my own demeanor. "May I suggest a career on the stage?"

Come on, child...your mother cannot take much more...please, please let me get the cord from around you...THERE!

"Now, push!"

She was so weak, I feared she had not enough energy, but at last, with one final effort the child's head cleared; once out, the rest was easy, and the babe slid into my arms.

"Knife, Miss Violet..." I cut the cord, and looked up in amazement. "It's a boy."

"Is he alright?" Mr. Bracegirdle asked. "It is quiet."

Violet leaned over to me. "You must strike him, Mr. Brandon, to make him cry."

WHAT?!?!!

The hell I would...and a damned lousy way to enter the world, too! A child so small and helpless, and I should HIT him? There had to be something...my mind flew through basic human anatomy. The gag reflex...present from birth.

I reached my finger into his small mouth and stimulated the back of his throat. With a gurgle, he coughed first, and then set up a first-rate wail that any infant would be proud of. His face grew pink, his skin wrinkled, and he went to shove his fist in his mouth. And I laughed. "There now, that's a better way to do it, eh?" I whispered to him.

"Shall I wash him, Sir?" Violet asked, and I handed him over.

"Once he's clean wrap him tight, and bring him to his mother.

Mother was weakly laying against her pillows, but smiling, and I turned to her. "You've got a slight tear, Mrs. B, and I'm going to stitch it up now."

Stitching and cleaning are old hat to me, and I soon had her as right as rain. I stood up, stiff and tired, but happy, so very happy. And Violet came round with the boy.

"A fine son, Sir. Healthy and fat, with a head full of the reddest hair I've ever seen." I said, watching as Mr. Bracegirdle took the lad into his arms and then laid the boy beside his mother. The child had settled now, and I watched as Mrs. B and the infant slept, under the watchful eye of their husband and father.

Mr. Bracegirdle looked up at me, face wet and pale. "I am forever in your debt, Mr. Brandon. I can never, ever repay you for this."

I got choked up, despite myself. "Yes, you can, Sir. Be a good father. Love him. That is repayment enough." I whispered.

And I stumbled out of the bedroom, it being close to one a.m., sat myself at the table, and could not stop the tears.

***
"Mr. Brandon?"

I sniffed, and tried to find some composure. "Yes, Miss Violet?"

"Are you alright?"

"Fine. Just fine. I am being stupid, is all." I wiped at my face with my sleeve. "I want to thank you again for your help. You are the best assistant I have ever had."

"It was no trouble, Mr. Brandon. I was glad to do it, glad to help you." Her voice was gentle, and she came over and rubbed my shoulders; I realized how sore and tired I really was, and I sighed at the easy rhythm.

"I don't suppose you've ever considered joining the Navy? I need a skilled loblolly boy in the worst way!"

She laughed, low and sweet. "I wish I could. I'd like that!" She patted my back, and moved away. "Your dinner was interrupted, I believe. Can I get you some soup? It's fresh from this evening. I'm a fairly decent cook."

"Soup sounds wonderful, thank you." I leaned backwards and looked down at myself, and shuddered. In my hurry to treat Mrs. B I had not put an apron on, and my good shirt...the only one I have with me...was stained with blood. Well, this about cooked my goose; what did I say to my father? That I had been attacked by rogue pirates while I was fixing the capstan?

"Here you go!" Violet said, brightly.

"A last meal for the condemned man!" I said, with gallows humor. In truth, I am tired of being afraid.

She looked at me in confusion. "Whatever is wrong?"

"My father." I sighed. "Will positively kill me when he sees me. Look at my shirt."

"Oh." She frowned down at me. "I am certain that Mr. Bracegirdle will let you have one of his."

"I would be swimming in it." I took a spoonful of soup; it was a hearty mix of beef and vegetables, and really was good. "But I suppose I could try; he might not notice its size...this is excellent, by the way..." I realized I was talking to myself, she had disappeared into the back rooms, and with a shrug, I set to work on this meal.

She reappeared suddenly, with a blanket. "Hand over your shirt."

"What?" I sat back, the spoon clattering into the bowl.

"Your shirt, let me have it."

And she proceeded to tug at it herself; without thinking I let her remove it, lifting it over my head. Then I realized I was sitting half naked in front of a young woman I barely knew, and I crossed my arms defensively in front of myself. Her mouth twitched...and she draped the blanket around me.

"Why...what are you doing? You'll never get it clean!" I stammered.

"I'm a seamstress." She said, patiently. "I'm going to use it as a size guide and fix up one of Mr. Bracegirdle's shirts for you."

I was touched by her generosity. "But it's so late, surely you must be tired. I will manage my father, I'm sure." I said, unable to even look at her.

"Do you think I could send you off to your father's mercy, knowing I can help you?" She said, stoutly. "After what he's done in the past? I could not live with myself to have you suffer so." And she turned abruptly and was gone again, leaving me gaping.

Who was she? Why did she know so much of my past, my history, the suffering I have known? Just how much had Mr. Bracegirdle talked about me, anyway? And for that matter, when had he been able to? He has been away at sea as much as I have.

I drew the blanket around me, feeling strangely vulnerable, but exhausted. And unable to keep my eyes open, I leaned forward on the table, head in my arms, and gave in. Sleep would have me.
***
I felt her fingers running through my hair, my queue had come lose. And she rubbed my back, easing out the stiffness and the soreness. Her touch reminded me of my sister, and I was content to let her keep doing it for a few moments, not letting her know I was awake.

She touched my face, where my father had slapped me earlier, with the back of her hand, and I sighed, finally opening my eyes. "Is it morning?"

"Almost. About five, I should say."

"Is something wrong with Mrs. B or the baby?"

"No, but I thought you'd want to check on them before you had to leave." She moved away, and I sat back, realizing that there was coffee on the table for me. She handed me a new shirt. "I could do better, but it's pretty good, I think." And she blushed this time.

I picked it up; it was better than good, it was perfect. I looked at her in sincere gratitude. "Thank you, Miss Violet. You have saved me."

"Go on!" She said, but she smiled, and for the first time I had the chance to notice how pretty she was, with her black hair and purple-blue eyes. She looked away at my stare, and I realized I was being rude, but before I could apologize she headed back into the kitchen. "There's hot water in the basin, and I found a razor for you."

Great. Now I can cut myself to ribbons in front of a woman. That's appetizing. But with a sigh I got up, for morning would be soon and Horatio would be coming for me.

***
Fifteen minutes later, Violet was back, and I was absurdly pleased with the fact that I had not mutilated myself.

"Fresh bread, toasted. And jam."

"You are going to get me fat!" I protested.

"Just don't get any preserves on your shirt, now! I haven't time to do another." She came over to me and without saying a word, picked up my ribbon and tied it round my queue. "There! Now let your father try and find fault with a thing about you, if he dares!"

As we sat down at the table, a memory stirred. "Miss Violet..."

"Please, it's just Violet...I'm not a Lady or even a gentlewoman."

"Miss Violet..." I repeated, firmly. "I must know...you seem to know so much about me...how is that possible?"

"You don't remember, do you?" Her eyes twinkled, and her smile dimpled in her cheek.

I struggled, but surely I would remember if I had met her before. "I am afraid not." I finally gave in.

"My father serves on Indefatigable, Mr. Brandon. His name is Morris. You saved his life."

"Oh!" So much was explained by that, and I understood why she was so kind to me. "He's a good man."

"He is. And so are you." She added, very sweetly.

I was still puzzled though. "Yet...the way you spoke about my father...it is as if you've met him."

"Lord, you really DO NOT remember!" She teased, then passed the jam, and became serious once more. "I was in the boat, the night Mr. Kennedy brought you back, and you were so hurt you could barely move. I saw what your father did to you. I've never forgotten."

That night...I have endeavored to forget it, save what mattered. Archie's help, a kind woman rowing us out when nobody else would, Captain Pellew's hug...the care of Johnson and Horatio and Reg down in sick berth. And...and there had been something else...

"Good heavens!" I gasped, even as she got up to return to the kitchen. "YOU KISSED ME!"

And with that same show of dimples, and just a hint of a blush, she looked at me. "Why, I do believe I did, Mr. Brandon."

And like a woodland fairy, she disappeared once more!

I might have sat there in amazement, if not for a stir from the bedroom. A little cry, and I rushed forth.

The child was just stirring, fussing. Mr. Bracegirdle and his wife slept soundly, and after taking the precaution of throwing a towel over my front, I lifted him up to me.

"There! There now, little one. You had rather a rocky introduction to this world, but it is all okay now." I walked around with him, in amazement. So small, and yet so perfect. Totally reliant on the care of the adults around him. What a fragile thing is a child. I yearned to protect him, keep him safe.

I was once this small. Had my father held me? What had he thought? How could he have ever considered hurting me? I would die before I would let this child be harmed, and he wasn't even mine. What had my mother thought? Another infant she was powerless to help, powerless to protect. Regret at another son, another target for the brute she had married? The tears started again, but I ignored them, and kept walking the child around the bedroom, knowing he would need to be fed soon, but wanting Mrs. B to get as much sleep as possible.

Violet looked in. "There you are." She whispered, and came forward to look at the child. "He is a cute little thing, is he not?"

"He is." I said, with a sniffle, and she took the towel and dabbed at my face.

"You look very natural holding that boy, Mr. Brandon. Very natural indeed."

"I do not want to put him down." I confessed, surprised by the warmth I felt.

"Then don't. Hold him, until his parents are awake. A child needs to be held." I looked at her, and I could see that somehow she understood. "You'll be a good father someday, Mr. Brandon."

"Perhaps I will." I said, feeling for the first time that it was a possibility. "And please, call me Drew."

"I am going to prepare some breakfast for the Bracegirdle's...Drew." She said, with some effort. "Is there anything else you need?"

"No, I need nothing else, Miss Violet. I am fine." For the tears had stopped, and I had realized, I am not my father's son. He had chosen his way in life, but it was not mine. And never would be.

I heard a knock at the door, and went forward, still holding the child. Violet had enough to do, and she had probably had little sleep, having been occupied by saving my hide.

"Mr. Hornblower? Is it seven already?" I exclaimed.

"About 6:30, actually, but I decided that to be over cautious was not a bad idea." He looked down. "You have succeeded, I see."

"Not me, Sir. Mrs. Bracegirdle did all the hard work; I just assisted."

Horatio followed me inside, an amused look on his face as he watched me cooing to the baby. "You could not be more proud if you were Bracegirdle yourself, Drew!"

I laughed. "Perhaps not, Horatio." He came beside me and peeked down at the child. "He's something, isn't he?"

And he leaned next to me, and started cooing himself! A fine pair of officers we must look, indeed, to be brought to our knees by a newborn child.

"Ah, there is my son! Mr. Hornblower! Mr. Brandon. Good morning to you both!"

We looked up at Mr. Bracegirdle, who was relieved to have found us.

"He was fussing, and I wanted your wife to get as much sleep as possible, Sir." I apologized, and he came to me and took him, protectively, in his arms.

"Congratulations, Sir." Horatio said, never taking his eyes off of the baby. "Have you chosen a name yet?"

He looked up at us and smiled. "We are calling him Andrew."

I was struck speechless, as Horatio put his hand on my shoulder in congratulations.

"That's a fine name, Mr. Bracegirdle." He said, softly. "A very fine name indeed."

"Tony? Tony, is the baby alright?" Mrs. B called from the bedroom.

"He's fine, dearest, I will bring him right to you." He called out.

"He's hungry, like as not." I said, still in awe at my honor. "And take care, Sir, that your wife does not over exert herself."

"I shall indeed. I am not to sail for another two weeks, and young Violet will stay with her after that." He smiled. "I'd best get him to Celia. Once again, Mr. Brandon, I thank you."

"Sir, it was my honor."

Horatio cleared his throat. "Shall we depart, Drew?"

I looked at him. "One moment, please, Horatio?"

Eyebrows raised, he nevertheless nodded. "We have time."

And I made a beeline for the kitchen.

She was there, liberally buttering muffins for the happy couple, but looked up when I entered. "Are you off then, Mr. Brandon?"

I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to say, but I had to try. "Miss Violet, I just wanted to thank you again for your help...for ALL of your help...last evening. I do not know that I should have gotten through it without you."

She wiped her hands on a towel. "It was an honor, Mr. Brandon, I was glad to help you."

I cleared my throat and tried again. "I know...you feel that you owe me something because I treated your father...but you don't, you know. I wouldn't want you to feel that way."

Her head tilted slightly. "I didn't just help you because of that. I like you."

"You...do?"

"Is that so surprising?"

"It is, rather." I stammered out. "I'm not used to it."

"I believe you are very popular on the Indefatigable."

"Yeah, but that's because I'm a good Doctor." I protested.

She came up to me, hands behind her back. "I think you would hardly be so well liked if you were a good doctor and a bad person. My Da's sailed with a few of those."

"I...you think so...really?" Damn, why was this so hard? Reg would know what to do, but here I am helpless and...

She grabbed my cape and kissed me.

On the lips, this time. I held my breath for a second, as she didn't let go. I looked at her in shock, and she was unapologetic, her gaze very frank. "I suppose...that was very forward of me." She said, but with a smile that said she wasn't sorry at all.

"It was." I whispered hoarsely. "Don't do it again." And I put my arms around her, and this time I kissed her, softly, and for a few seconds the world stood still.

"Ahem." Horatio stood in the doorway.

I backed away swiftly. "I'll be right there, Mr. Hornblower." I said quickly, feeling the flush sweep up from my neck to my temples.

"Sorry, Mr. Brandon, but we had best hurry."

Violet backed away. "You'd best get going, then, Mr. Brandon. I didn't stay up all night sewing to have your father maim you anyway."

I grinned at her despite being flustered. "Miss Violet, I would never dishonor you in that way. Good day!" I bowed low, and she did a pretty neat mimic of a courtesy.

I waited for Horatio to say something, as I got into the Dalrymple's carriage. I waited for the merciless teasing, or the blistering barrage of scolding that my behavior might have merited. I was only sixteen, after all. She was fifteen at most. There were a lot of things he might say to me on that account alone.

And bless Horatio, he only looked up at the sky, his little half-smile on his face, and said, "It is a lovely day, is it not, Drew?"

"Yes, Horatio. It is indeed."

****
(From the point of View of Horatio Hornblower)
I am not, as most of my friends know, a man prone to smiles; a lifetime of natural caution prevents me from being free with my emotions. But I am having a hard time keeping one off of my face this morning, as the carriage clatters over the streets of Gibraltar. And even with my best efforts, I can feel a little up-turning of my mouth. And every time I take a look at young Drew, hero of the hour, whom I have just caught in a rather compromising embrace, I find I must bite my lip again.

Sometime over these past months Drew Brandon has become a brother to me, the younger brother I'd never had. Not that the boy had particularly asked for another big brother, what with four of his own. But our temperaments are similar; we're both thoughtful, intellectual perfectionists. Drew, perhaps, is a bit more emotional. But we often understand each other better than anybody else could.

Which is why I had understood Drew's self-reproach at his sudden jealous feelings, as his sister prepared to marry. And I understood how Drew would despise himself for those very natural emotions. Later, I was able to see through Drew's carefully constructed façade of calm, as time came to meet his father, and I had vowed to keep a sharp eye out for his welfare.

Last night had been a godsend, for the boy to be called away to tend
Bracegirdle's wife. Though Captain Pellew and I both fretted at first; we worried that the rather silly lie Archie had cooked up for Drew's father would be exposed. But Archie's father, bless him, had kept Lord Exton entertained and drinking, and the man had put no further thought into questioning the skills of his youngest son.

Pellew was still a wreck when I left this morning, not that anybody else would have known it. I have been around him long enough to read his overly-taut bearing, clipped comments and acerbic tongue differently from most, and it had been at his urging that I repaired to Bracegirdle's early this morning, so that Drew might be ensured of being on time.

"Are we heading straight to the Church, Horatio?"

"Yes, Drew. The service is to start at 8:00."

I cast another a sideways glance at the boy, who was still in a private reverie. It had been most unexpected this morning to walk in and find him cuddling and cooing to a newborn, for just a few months before the boy steadfastly swore off parenthood. A damned cute child little Andrew is, though; I am still amazed by
the feelings the baby has brought forth in me. I've realized for the first time
that I wouldn't mind being a father myself, not that there is any long line of women lining up to volunteer as mother!

But however unexpected Drew's behavior with little Andrew was, what happened next was positively shocking. I had gone to pull Drew away from the kitchen, only to discover the boy locked in an embrace with the young woman who was apparently Mrs. Bracegirdle's companion! At sixteen! Hell, I'd always known the boy was precocious, but still...

Come to think of it...I can feel a sudden blush spread over my face. How old had I been when Cleveland and Hether took me to the Inn to be, er, "initiated?" My own voice echoed in my mind: "Seventeen, Sir..." And again, that unusual desire to grin came over me, and I beat it down. Thank heavens that little tradition had not transferred to Indefatigable...I shudder to think it might be MY responsibility to show Drew and the other Mids the ways of the flesh...I can think of no task I am more ill-suited for.

Pulling up to the church, I noticed we were almost the first to arrive. Almost. Captain Pellew, as I might have expected, was there, pacing, brewing up a devil of a temper. But as we exited the carriage, I saw him pull up short, and, as evidenced by the ever-so-slight easing of the wrinkles in his forehead, relax.

"Mr. Hornblower, another four minutes and I should have had to send the Marines out to you!"

"Yes, Sir." I said deferentially, inclining my head. I recognize Pellew's sarcasm for what it is.

"I am not so young as everyone seems to think I am, and all of this worrying cannot be good for me!" He continued grumbling good-naturedly.

"Where is the rest of the party, Sir?" Drew asked, with no sign of any of his concern of yesterday.

"They are coming shortly; I made pretense of arriving early to question you."

I blew on my hands to warm them, for the morning was quite brisk. Looking up, I caught a curious glance between the Captain and my young friend. Captain Pellew, for a moment, let his guard down, and his face was bare anxiety. Drew, likewise, seemed to look a question at him, and then his own face relaxed into a gentle smile.

"Mother and child are fine, sir, just fine. Excellent, in fact. It was rather an adventure, but it all turned out well."

"They have named the baby after him," I added, still confused by the exact meaning of their curious behavior.

The Captain smiled, but it was a somewhat bittersweet one. "Good for you, Mr. Brandon. I do wish I could send you back to England, though."

"Sir!" I cried out, aghast! Surely Captain Pellew did not mean to send the boy back to his father? Over my dead body!

Eyes wide, both my companions turned to me, and I prepared to issue forth a rousing defense on Drew's behalf! But their demeanor was puzzling, and before I could find a word, the Captain looked in surprise at Drew.

"Did you not tell him?"

Drew's face went red. "Of COURSE not, Sir; not something you told me in confidence! Why, I've not told a soul!"

"Told me what?"

The Captain suddenly looked a bit sheepish, a look that did not sit well on him. "Well, Mr. Hornblower, it would seem that I am to be a father in the near future myself."

Oh.

OH! "My congratulations, Sir!" I remembered, well enough, how he lost his first wife. "I am certain that your wife is doing just fine, Sir." I said, stoutly.

"Are you? I do wish I could be so certain, Mr. Hornblower." He sighed, then went rigid again as we heard the clatter of hooves. "I believe, Gentleman, that the rest of our party is about to arrive."

Archie and his father came first, along with the Dalrymples. I was most pleased to see Archie looking so well; he was calm and relaxed, his eyes steady. His best uniform was resplendent; every button and buckle gleamed in the sunlight, and his hair was lit up like a halo. "Your wedding day agrees with you, Archie." I said under my breath as he came near."

He smiled easily. "Thank you, Horatio. I had thought I should be nervous, but I awoke this morning as peaceful as I have felt in a lifetime. There is nothing more right for me than this."

"And nobody who deserves it more." I said, pointedly, meeting his eye. There was a lifetime of suffering we had shared between us. Today he leaves it behind.

"Young man, how is Lieutenant Bracegirdle's, um, Capstan?" Lord Bridgeleigh asked, leaning on his cane with a wince, but also with the unmistakable Kennedy gleam in his eye, and, hell, I gave in and smiled outright.

"The capstan is fine, Sir." Drew laughed back. "In fact, it has been named after me."

"Well, Mr. Kennedy, we ought to get you into the church, before the bride shows up." I said, placing my hand on his shoulder. "Let us get the ceremony done with, eh? I have not had my coffee yet."

"I have." Drew teased me.

"Yes, and something else." I teased back, watching him blush. Fortunately for him Archie was too preoccupied to hear my jest, and the Captain seemed to be in conversation with Lord Bridgeleigh. Then again, I will never downplay his hearing! We headed into the church, and the Dalrymples went forward to speak to the Reverend.

There was a heady smell of polish, old wood, and incense in the cold building; I am not a religious man, but I do find something very soothing indeed in the smells of a church. Drew had regained his equilibrium, and the three of us (for Drew and I were to stand with Archie together) headed to the altar.

"Have you the ring, Archie?" I asked, suddenly.

He smiled again and lifted it from a pocket. "It is here."

"Well, then, my job is done." I joked.

Much might have been said at this time; but we all were in a private world of our own. I watched a few other dignitaries from government house arrive and take seats, but there would not be a large list of guests here, maybe twenty-five in total. I looked again at Archie, still at peace; I looked over at Drew, who possibly still was in the kitchen at Bracegirdle's! It would seem I am the only man left with his wits about him.

The doors opened again, and Stan walked in; he saw us and nodded, and Archie stood even straighter, a proud officer in the Navy. They would be coming soon. And Drew leaned to me and said, "Courage, Horatio!"

Why should I need courage? I am not the one getting married...

The doors opened again, and the church exploded into a riot of noise. Busy, agonizing, whining, screeching noise!

THE ORGAN!

I had forgotten there was to be music...if such you called it. And an organ above all for me is an instrument of torture. High wailing notes, low ones that made my eardrums tremble, the keys crashed over my head like so many shots from an enemy. I swallowed, wondering if the Dalrymples had chosen purposely the longest processional allowed!

With a little shake, I forced myself to focus, like scanning the horizon for sail despite being sea-sick. Alicia entered, under the cacophony of noise; I urged her along faster in my mind, but old Lord Exton cannot move quickly, curse him. Focus, Horatio, focus! Her dress was full and beautiful, a rich lavender silk; her hair was woven with small flowers, and she looked as happy as Archie, only she trembled slightly. The old sot, her father, could barely walk; he's been at the gin already, damn him! Why cannot he leave everyone alone?

Drew gave a sigh, and I looked down at him quickly, taking a discrete step closer even as I made certain his father made no unexpected move. But he had only eyes for his sister; and his face reflected her happiness. Whatever jealousy he felt was obviously long gone. A fine heart that boy has, indeed; I am proud to know him.

As Alicia came forward and took Archie's arm, and the painful music went away. And then I felt a familiar sense, of being closely watched.I slid my eyes around without turning my head and realized that the Captain, (Captain Pellew!), had his eyes firmly on me, with the most embarrassing expression of public sympathy I have ever seen him make! Indeed, I would not have believed him capable of it! Great, now I am fully mortified, thank you very much! I should never have told him of my weakness regarding music! I swallowed hard, and forced my eyes forward! Damn it all, even if Dalrymple should pull an entire orchestra out, I am resolved to not even so much as flinch! I have shamed my Captain enough for one day.

Drew gave me a little poke in the ribs, but it was of no use; my nerves were shot. My jaw trembled in anticipation as the Reverend blessed them both and he opened his mouth to begin speaking, but I noted him not. I was waiting, anticipating, knowing that there would be more, more, more blasted music sooner or later, and I cannot flinch!

I almost wished myself back in the oubliette in Spain.

It was Archie's voice that brought me back; the voice of an Archie Kennedy I did not know, but had a feeling I would soon become very familiar with. A happy one.

"I, Archibald Arthur Kennedy, take Alicia Clarice Brandon..." Archie's voice was clear and strong, smoother than port, his face joyous, "...to love..." he paused, looking at her with the gentle warmth of sunlight... "...to honor..." He pronounced the word carefully, and I swallowed, for I know well enough the depths of his honor. "...To cherish..." And he smiled. And I blinked away tears, damn it, but what the hell? I looked at Drew, and his cheeks were wet; well, in this instance, we are both shamed together.

I looked over at the Captain. Not watching me this time, but Archie. And I took a deep breath, for I caught a suspicious blinking. He saw me, and raised one eyebrow, as if daring me to comment. We gave each other a very slight nod of understanding, and then turned attention back to the happy couple.

"I, Alicia Clarice Brandon, take Archibald Arthur Kennedy, to be my husband..." Drew's sister's voice trembled; she was the nervous one this day. I felt her brother shake slightly beside me, and gave him a slight nudge of support as the ring came out; and Archie placed it on Alicia's hand. Suddenly they were kissing, Archie being most tender and gentle with her, and I sighed.

The travesty they called music returned, and I restrained myself from bolting from the church. I found myself escorting Wilhelmena Dalrymple instead, and forced myself to hold a steady and even gait towards the door, and freedom!

***

It was only over our breakfast, finally with a cup of coffee in my hand, that my frazzled nerves began to calm. And just as I began to breathe normally, a laughing, shining bride swept in and kissed me on the cheek.

"Dear Horatio...for I shall call you that now! I walked in to the church this morning thinking to see my groom a wreck, and what do I find instead? You, Sir! Looking like death, face pale and eyes sunk! If I had not known better, I might have married you by accident!"

She made me laugh, the way she always seemed to be able to. "I do apologize, *Mrs. Kennedy*, and am glad you did not make that mistake, for it would have confused poor Archie terribly!"

'Mrs. Kennedy' blushed properly at the use of her new title, and Archie swept up behind her.

"Sorry about the music, Horatio; I ought to have warned you."

"I ought to have anticipated it, Archie, but I forget that everyone else seems to find joy in it!"

"I worried for a moment you would run from the Church."

"Yes, well, it is a testimony to my friendship to you that I did not."

Alicia looked confused, and Drew, arriving with a plate of biscuits, came over and explained. "Mr. Hornblower is tone deaf. He cannot hear music like the rest of us."

"Oh!"

Admiral Hale appeared out of nowhere, and Archie, Drew and I straightened up in formality as we were used to. To my surprise, he approached Drew immediately.

"Young man! I believe you are the most junior officer here, are you not?"

Startled, Drew straightened up sharply. "Yes, Sir, Admiral Hale; Acting Lieutenant Andrew Brandon."

"H'm, I thought as much." He pulled out a sealed dispatch. "Do you know where the Admiralty offices are, young man?"

"I..." He hesitated for only a second.

"A simple yes or no will do, boy."

Calling on years of experience with bullies that I am too familiar with, Drew went into his defensive mode. One he once used on me, in fact.

"Yes, SIR!" His face was impassive.

"That's better. Bring this to Lieutenant Granger immediately, if you please. Do not wait for a reply."

"Sir..." I cut in. "Mr. Brandon is here as Captain Pellew's attaché. Perhaps I..."

"A FIRST LIEUTENANT ON A BOY'S ERRAND?" Hale was properly scandalized. "And I don't give a damned who's attaché he thinks he is, I am the most superior officer here, and an order must be obeyed."

Drew's expression had not changed. "Aye, Aye, Sir..." He saluted smartly, gave me a little look that said, "It's alright" and was off.

"I don't like him Archie." Alicia said, her eyes narrowing.

"Get in line, my love. Captain Pellew shall be at the front of it." He sighed. "But Drew knows these streets well, and he will be alright."

"Ah, Kennedy, there you are..." Dalrymple swept over to the bride and groom. "Come, come, you must meet Lady Brenton, the wife of Captain Carter..."

I sighed, and looked anxiously towards the door. And saw something else instead.

Lord Exton, a malicious little grin on his face, shaking Admiral Hale's hand. And though I was too far away to hear what he actually said, I am quite certain I did not misread his lips.

"Thank you."

***

Panic was fast setting in. I put my glass shakily down on a table and looked around. Archie had been buttonholed by Dalrymple, with Drew's brother Stan, and they were deep in conversation with some very important dignitaries. Across the room, I saw Captain Harvey with Captain Pellew; had they remained alone I would have consulted with them, but Admiral Parker appeared from nowhere and they seemed to be in private--and heated--conference.

"Why, Lieutenant Hornblower! You have been neglecting me all morning, young man!"

Wilhelmena Dalrymple had me by the arm, curse her!

"Miss Dalrymple, I do apologize...my time has been rather taken up with my duties, I am afraid!" I said, trying to mimic the Captain's most courtly manner, while searching the room to see where the devil Exton had gone to.

"La, and what duties can there be left for you now? Tut, tut..." She smacked me on the arm with her fan a bit more forcefully than I would have liked (she had not Kitty's touch, that is certain). "Even now, Sir, my charms do not seem to be enough to amuse you."

I forced myself to pay attention to her. "Indeed, I am exceedingly sorry you should feel that to be true; you are as charming as ever, I can assure you." I gulped. "However, it is also not true that my duties are over, for I was..." Hell, what did I say? "I was wondering where Lord Exton had gone to, for I felt he might like to make a toast to the happy couple."

"Oh! What a charming idea, Mr. Hornblower!" She gasped in delight, and joined me in searching the room. "Do let me see if I can find him for you!"

I sighed in relief. "That is a wonderful suggestion, Miss Dalrymple." I bowed low, and took her hand and kissed it, on a whim. "I shall be forever in your debt."

"Lord, Mr. Hornblower, you young officers, all the same!" And she bounced away, leaving me to my own thoughts.

Admiralty is about twenty minutes away from Dalrymple's. I mentally walked Drew through the streets-he'd know the shortcuts; all those trips to the apothecary have served him well. As an Acting Lieutenant, and a young one at that, he'd be lucky if Granger saw him within fifteen minutes. And then another twenty minutes back; or maybe less, Drew was not the sort to dawdle.

I visualized the route he would take. There were many shops, many alleys, but nothing that would seem a likely area of attack. After all, you can't jump a sixteen-year old Lieutenant in broad daylight and just start beating on him, can you?

Or can you? Exton was his father. However excessive his abuse might appear to be to me, most people would consider it not their business to interfere with a father disciplining his son, no matter how harshly. They would disapprove, they would shrug, and they would walk away.

Still, that did not seem to be Exton's style. I remember Archie's description of the attacks as they happened-he seemed most careful to keep them from public view. An appearance of propriety, of decorum, must be obeyed. No bruises would show. Never mind what could not be seen.

I looked around in exasperation. Archie...Archie would move heaven and earth to help Drew, but could I do this to him? Could I put him at odds with his father-in-law on his wedding day? He did not deserve to be unhappy, did not deserve to worry, and certainly neither did his bride. And Captain Pellew was firm in the grasp of Admiral Parker...it would not be well received for me to interrupt them. Though the Captain would understand, it would cause much comment from Parker that could not be easily explained.

I was on my own.

With one confederate, of course. Miss Dalrymple returned suddenly. "Dear Mr. Hornblower!" She gave me a little mock salute. "I am sorry to report, Sir, that Lord Exton seems to have disappeared."

"Indeed, Miss Dalrymple." I played along, though I was frantic with worry. "And is that all you have to report?" I sternly intoned.

"Naturally, Sir, I inquired after him, and our dear butler informed me that Lord Exton enquired as to the most direct rout to the Fairbanks Stables, as he had heard there was a horse for sale there he was interested in."

Horse? Kitty's voice rang in my ear: "My arse!". The stables are mid-point between Admiralty and here, and would be the opportune place for him to drag Drew for... whatever he has planned. I shivered, but maintained my official pose. "Excellent work, Miss Dalrymple, you may consider yourself promoted to Acting Lieutenant."

"Oh, go on!" She tittered, but looked quite pleased with herself. "Whatever will we do about a toast, then?"

"Why, I believe I shall run on out and fetch him; I am certain he would not wish to be denied this chance." I bowed. "If you will excuse me, Miss Dalrymple."

"I would not stand in your way, Sir!" And she gave me another little salute as I started off.

A worthy woman she is indeed, even if not an attractive one. She has no idea exactly how useful she has been, or how kind a deed she has performed, of course, but that does not diminish the value of the information. I walked casually out of the hall...nobody was watching me at this moment anyway...and then broke into a dead run for the stables.

***

"Hold hard young man, where are you off to! An officer in His Majesty's Navy should never be seen in such a panic."

Admiral Hale, DAMN him! "Yes, Sir. My apologies, Sir." I stopped and turned to him, struggling to regain my breath.

"You still have not answered me. Come, now, where are you off to?"

How much of Exton's nature, and his purpose, did Hale know? This was the man, after all, who had given Captain Pellew the initial order to return Drew home. "I am looking for..." Think Horatio, think. "...a shop I visited recently. I purchased a wedding gift for my friend, and it has not arrived."

"And you need to run like that? You are a disgrace, Sir. A disgrace to your Captain and your ship. Look at you, how disheveled you are. If an officer does not have his appearance, what does he have left?"

His honor, his integrity, his courage, the respect of his men, the respect of his friends? I could go on, but why bother? Hale would understand none of these things. "Indeed, Sir. You are right. It was a gross error of judgment. I am abashed." And in a desperate hurry, so please go away!

"Hm! You can be assured I will mention this to your Captain."

Please do! Then I will mention to him that I was speeding through Gibraltar at a dead run in order to save a young man he values highly from humiliating and undeserved torment, which you have abetted, if not aided. I do not fear my Captain, Sir!

"I understand, Sir."

He grimaced once, and then nodded. I think he expected me to be more contrite. To hell with him. "Well, off you may go, then. With dignity."

"Aye, Aye, Sir."

I placed my hands behind my back and strolled away, to the corner and down an alley, where, once out of sight, I broke yet again into a run. The stables were farther this way, but I was out of Hale's field of vision.

I wished, dearly, to have my men here. Or at least Styles, whom it seems to me would be a handy bloke to have in case I ran into any of Gibraltar's less desired elements. He is fine in a tight spot, and utterly trustworthy. As it stands, I would be the perfect target for some gang whom thinks that as an officer I am wealthier than is actually true.

How long had it been anyway, I thought, skidding on some garbage but just preventing myself from hitting the ground. Thirty minutes? Forty? Drew could be passing by those stables at any moment...Hell!

There they are! I pulled up short at the doorway...what now? Confront Exton? Like he cared about my opinion anyway. No, I ought to go ahead, motion Drew to head another way back to the wedding...

"Excellent timing, Mr. Hornblower." A familiar voice spoke from the doorway.

Archie's father, Lord Bridgeleigh, was leaning on the door-frame of the stables, jauntily twirling his cane in his hand.

"Sir?" I said, in more than a little confusion.

"You see, it would seem Lord Exton was set upon by brigands. He is in the stables out cold...took a rather nasty knock to the head." He coughed, and twirled his cane one more time. "Doubt if he'll have any memory of what happened."

"Indeed?" I said, still in shock.

"However, it might be as well if you procured us some assistance, and we got him back to Government House."

"Yes, yes, of course." I looked at him one more time; his face was placid and betrayed no secrets. "May I ask, Sir, how you came to be here?"

"Interestingly enough, Mr. Hornblower, I overheard Lord Exton mention purchasing a fine thoroughbred from this stable. As it happens, I am rather fond of horses, and had a few words with the owner of this establishment when I arrived. There were no such horses here." He met my eye unblinking. "It seemed possible that Lord Exton had been misled. It would not do for me to let a friend be taken advantage of, now would it?"

Like Archie, the twinkle in his eye gave his otherwise serious demeanor away. 'No, no, that would have been most appropriate. I would hate to see a friend abused in any way."

"So would I." He answered forthrightly.

And I smiled, in full this time. Sometimes the apple really doesn't fall far from the tree.

Just at that moment, the apple that could not have been thrown farther from the tree turned the corner. "Mr. Hornblower?" Drew gasped in surprise as he pulled up short; he had obviously been in a near run himself to return to the wedding. "What are you doing here, Sir?"

I thought it over, and felt under the circumstances I should opt for a certain amount of honesty, at least. "I was keeping an eye on your father, Drew."

"Oh." He paled slightly. "Is he here, Horatio?"

Lord Bridgeleigh spoke up. "He has been hurt, I am afraid, but not seriously. A little bump on the head. He is resting unconscious in the stables."

Eyes wide, Drew charged into the stables, much to my surprise. I looked over at Archie's father. "You stay with him, Mr. Hornblower. I will procure us a carriage back to the Dalrymples."

I heeded the instructions, and went after Drew.

***

He was bent over his father's prone form. I expected him to be smug or perhaps even pleased; he was only human, after all. I did not expect what I found, however: He was holding the man's head in his hands, examining the bump carefully, blinking tears out of his eyes.

"Did he have a fall, Horatio?" He asked, voice trembling slightly. "Because he'd been drinking?"

"I do not know, Drew. I followed him out here and this is what I found." I suspected more, but didn't think it was appropriate to say that the old bastard had been on his way to beat him to a pulp and Lord Bridgeleigh put him out of our misery.

I knelt beside him, watching with amazement as Drew cradled his head for a second, and then laid it gently in the straw. "No blood. That's good." He murmured, brushing the man's hair from his face, laying his hand against his cheek. "Color's good. Seems to be breathing okay." He swallowed hard, and it pained me to see him care so much for a man so little worth it.

He read my mind, and looked up at me. "I know you think I'm crazy, Horatio. Maybe I am. I know he was probably coming after me. But he's still my father."

"I do not think you're crazy at all." I said gently. "Just a better man than I could be in your shoes."

Lord Bridgeleigh came back just then, with a sturdy looking man. "We've got a carriage. This man will help us."

Drew nodded, and put his hand out one more time to touch his father's forehead.

And the old bastard, he opened his eyes.

I inhaled sharply as his eyes made a malevolent journey around the barn, and then saw his son. The eyes narrowed.

"You...bloody...bastard." He spat out, grabbing the boy's neck-kerchief with his hand and pulling him down. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Y-you have a concussion, father." Drew said, pulling away, trying to hold himself together. "Do not try to exert yourself."

The man lunged at him, and Drew sprang back; I threw my arms around him defensively, even as Lord Bridgeleigh used his cane to pinion Exton down. "Lord Exton, I am certain that as a member of nobility you do not intend to use such language?"

The man was seething now, but met Bridgeleigh's eye and forced himself to be calm. "Bridgeleigh?" He muttered. "How did this happen?"

"You were attacked by thieves. Fortunately I came by and gave the alarm; they ran off." He said, forcefully, and with such personality that I know no man who would doubt him, least of all me. "Now, Sir, we have a carriage for you to take you back to the Dalrymple's, if you please."

"I thank you." He whispered, and accepted Bridgeleigh's help, and the help of the sturdy man, to be brought to his feet. "I am in your debt, Sir." He muttered, rubbing the back of his head. Drew had frozen in my arms, and I was not about to let go of him until his father was well away.

The man was not done with him, however. If he could not hurt him with his hands, he would find other ways.

"Boy..." He seethed. "You ever touch me again and your sorry life will not be worth two pence. You have embarrassed me for the last time. From this day forward, you are no longer my son."

For a second I thought Bridgeleigh was going to smash him over the head again. Personally, I would not have stopped him. Instead, he just grasped his arm a bit more firmly. "Come, Sir. You are speaking from pain. The carriage awaits."

He grumbled once on the way out, "I need a glass of port."

And then he was gone.

I felt Drew's breath heave; he was close to hyperventilating, and I grasped him more firmly.

Tensing, he said harshly, "Let me go, Horatio."

I did so, slowly, not certain how he would react. He didn't move for a minute, then he stood, stiffly, shaking his shoulders slightly. He turned around to face me; expressionless, eyes glazed over, dull and lifeless. "Well, more fool I, eh?"

"Drew..." I started, but I didn't quite know what to say.

There was a slight spark of anger in his eyes. "Do not tell me you understand how I am feeling, Horatio. Because there is no way you ever could."

I watched him, carefully. He was so very still, his world falling in around him, and I knew he was dying inside. I could not let that happen. "I would not presume to say that, Drew." I spoke gently. "I can only say that you do not deserve this. You must believe me. This is not your fault."

He paid me no heed. "There must be something wrong with me." He muttered, putting his hands over his face and then exhaling slowly.

I went cautiously towards him. "No, there is not, Drew. Of this I am certain."

"Yes, and everyone knows Horatio Hornblower is never wrong." He half sneered.

I looked at him, and smiled. "You cannot make me hate you, Drew. You tried that once and we ended up confined on a barge full of vegetable marrows. I would hate to have the experience repeated."

He gave a half laugh that turned into a sob, and he held himself very still. I went to him and turned him around, and with a firm hand under his chin made him look up at me. "Drew. You offered your father an olive branch. He threw it in your face. That makes you the much better man in my book. And there are far too many people I know who care about you for you to ever believe your father's estimation. It is his loss."

"It...hurts." He whispered. "I didn't think it could hurt this much anymore, but by God, it does."

I put both hands on his shoulders. "I know it does. But it will hurt less tomorrow, and less still the day after that. You will recover from this wound. You will know happiness and love that your father has not recognized in a lifetime. Think of ALL that has happened to you today, hm?" I looked pointedly at him. "A new baby brought into this world? A woman's life saved?" I gave him an impish grin. "A young lady who seems to be rather fond of you." THAT coaxed a little twist at his mouth. "YOU were the victor. Perhaps not emerging unscathed, but then it is the rare ship that achieves its victories without a few broken spars, eh?"

He smiled at last, though he looked worn out. "I suppose not, Horatio." He shrugged it off. "Do I look okay? I should hate to give Archie and Alicia a scare."

"You will be fine with the walk in the cool air. And after all, you were up all night."

We walked out the door together. I was still worried, but the first crises was over. The heartache would continue; that is a feeling I know too well. But there are enough friends around him to help him heal.

"Horatio?" He said, his voice steady if low.

"Yes, Drew."

"You grow more and more like Captain Pellew every day. It is getting so that I cannot tell you apart."

And that left me pleasantly speechless for the remainder of the walk.

***

I was still in heady shock from the unexpected--and probably undeserved--compliment Drew paid me when we ran into my so-called twin himself-Captain Pellew! Eyes frantic and Cape flying, he ran into us just had we turned the corner back to Dalrymple's, and we nearly collided.

"Sir!" Drew and I gasped together.

There was a momentary glimpse of sheer relief on his face, and then he went an actual purple, lips pursed thinly. We both braced ourselves for what was to come.

Somehow, perhaps because we were only about fifty feet from the wedding party, he managed not to scream. His chest rose and sank furiously, and his face went back to a stony paleness. He hissed vehemently: "Where...the devil...have the two of you been, Mr. Hornblower? I trust that there is some...reason...for two of...MY OFFICERS...to disappear from a wedding party...for over an hour...without my being NOTIFIED?"

Hell, this is just what Drew needs, on top of that nice little domestic scene we had just left, to have the Captain come down on him like this! I opened my mouth, but Drew's calm voice forestalled me.

"Admiral Hale sent me with a message to Lieutenant Granger, Sir--as I was the most junior officer. I did not think I could refuse."

"I see." Pellew pulled his arms back even tighter, looking sharply down at Drew, and then his face grew momentarily softer. However calm Drew sounded, his eyes still betrayed the hurt he had suffered, and the Captain noted it. Then he returned to his stony exterior. "And is that all? What else, Mr. Hornblower? For what reason could I not find you?"

"Lord Exton disappeared after Drew was sent away. I felt it probable that something was in the wind, and felt it prudent to follow him."

"Mhm. And did I not give you EXPRESS orders to report to me if you felt Mr. Brandon to be in any danger?"

"You did, Sir."

"And was there a reason you DID NOT FOLLOW THAT ORDER?" He seethed, voice rumbling firmly in my ear?

"Yes, Sir. You were in close conference with Admiral Parker, who is unaware of Mr. Brandon's peculiar situation. I did not think it was prudent."

He raised his eyebrows sharply, and I met his stare without blinking. Finally, he let me off the hook. "A wise decision, I suppose, Mr. Hornblower. Though I do wish you had let somebody in on your situation."

"There was little time, Sir."

"Mhm. Mr. Brandon, have you been hurt in any way?" He asked, in a more normal tone.

"No, Sir." He answered. Well, not physically in any way, at least.

"So...you are fine?" He asked again, looking at him closely.

Drew sighed, but held himself up. "I will be fine, Sir. Eventually."

The Captain closed his eyes momentarily, then opened them again, his mouth still set firmly. "Gentlemen, I regret having to ask you this. Lord Exton is at this moment recuperating in one of the Dalrymple's bedrooms, having been attacked. Although I have no fondness for your father, Mr. Brandon, I cannot condone an unprovoked assault on him. Please, Mr. Hornblower, tell me that none of my officers was involved in such a thing?"

Good God, of course that is what it must look like...Exton brought back with a concussion...his abused son and his shipmate gone missing! It might have happened that way...Drew managing to outmaneuver his father, and hit him with his own cane, or me, lying in wait for the man to attempt to strike the first blow.

"Sir, I can assure you, Mr. Hornblower never laid a hand on my father's head, and I touched him only to offer him assistance after the attack...not that he was having any of it." Drew winced at the memory.

The Captain relaxed finally. "I did not mean to impugn your honor, gentlemen, but I am afraid of what Lord Exton might accuse either one of you with."

"Do not fear, Sir. I can explain all." Lord Bridgeleigh returned outside to us, and he put a gentle hand on Drew's shoulder. "Young man, your sister is worried about you, and will not accept my word that you are alright. Please, go to her."

"Of course, Sir." He looked up at Captain Pellew and he nodded.

"Go off to her, Drew."

The three of us watched as Drew slipped back in to the party. Only when he was out of earshot did Lord Bridgeleigh speak.

"Captain Pellew, between us, I must tell you, I AM the assault party, as I believe Mr. Hornblower had already guessed."

"You, Sir?" The Captain sounded confused.

Archie's father nodded. "I overheard Exton set the whole thing up with Hale. I doubt the Admiral understood what he was a party to, but I knew...Captain, I do not believe he intended to let the lad off lightly. And, since the wedding was over with, he had no fear of reprisal for whatever he might do to the boy. He had a free hand, and I honestly feared for his life."

I felt sick in the knowledge of what might have happened. "But Sir, your health is not the best, how did you get to him?"

Again there was that Kennedy smile. "The young man did that himself, not that he realized it. He gave Archibald some sort of teas for me, that he said might improve my knee. They have; I find I am moving remarkably better this morning. I made it to the barn well before Exton, and was waiting for him." He coughed. "Forgive me, Gentlemen, that I did not notify you of this. But I knew that I could get away with it; I told Exton I saw the attackers, and he'd rather kiss his son than call ME a liar. He'll not accuse anyone else."

Finally the Captain relaxed, the lines of worry easing out of his face. "I must admit, Sir, I did not know what he might claim. My men are very important to me, and I would not have their reputations sullied. Though I have to admit, I am almost sorry you did not strike harder."

"So am I, Sir, after that unpleasant scene in the barn." He said, woodenly.

The Captain looked at me and I hastened to explain. "Drew's father essentially disowned him, Sir, even as Drew was trying to help. And I think, despite their past, the vehemence came as a shock to him."

"I see." His lips were narrowed into that thin line that would have set many of our men quivering. "Mr. Hornblower, I have to say, the sooner we return to Indefatigable and to a world that makes some sense, the happier I shall be." He looked around. "I suppose we must stay another half an hour, but not a minute more."

"No, Sir." I agreed totally with him; once we had even fifty feet of water between Drew and his father, I will be much more at ease.

"Lord Bridgeleigh, I am indeed grateful to you." The Captain said softly, as the three of us made our slow way into the house. "You did not have to do this."

"Yes, I did, Sir." He said, evenly. "Archibald has told me...of his past on Justinian." There was a slight shake to his voice, but he controlled it quickly. "After the anger and shock wore off, I kept asking myself how many men must have turned their backs to him, how many men must have walked away?"

I felt a sickening twist in my stomach. "Not everyone did, Sir. Not everyone."

"I know, Mr. Hornblower. But the men who could have helped did not. The men who did help had no power. If I had walked away from that boy this afternoon,
what kind of a hypocrite would that have made me?"

"Your son, Sir..." Captain Pellew said, pulling up to a stop before the shaken Lord. "Your son has courage. And heart. And I see where he gets that from."

"I thank you, Sir. Would that I had also had eyes ten years ago. I only wish that my son had landed on your ship first."

"Sir..." I started, and both the Captain and Lord Bridgeleigh looked at me, as I struggled with what I wanted to say. "Mr. Kennedy survived. I survived. Mr. Brandon will survive. One day, maybe sooner than we realize, each of us will have command or care of the men around us. Whatever trials we went through...we have learned from them. We will not ever look away."

It happens that when I try to be serious, what I usually say seems to strike complete mirth into the hearts of those I speak to. Yet when I try to be funny, I am met with blank stares. So I did not have high hopes for making either of them understand me, understand how important this is to me.

But this time I am wrong. Nobody laughed at me. The Captain instead gave me that same look he gave me so long ago on the quarterdeck, after that duel with Simpson. *I see things in you, Mr. Hornblower.* His voice echoed in my memory. Lord Bridgeleigh, meanwhile, was giving me an oddly wistful look that I did not understand.

"Let us begin making our goodbyes, Mr. Hornblower." Was all the Captain said. "I am certain that Mr. Kennedy has been wishing us away for hours!"

"No doubt, Sir." I agreed.

But I did overhear their final whispered comments to each other as we entered the foyer. "Why do you look so strangely at Mr. Hornblower, Sir?"

"Sir Edward...I am extremely sorry at this moment that I never had a daughter!"

***

(From the point of view of Acting Lieutenant Andrew Brandon)

How good it was just to set foot on the deck of the Indefatigable again! I breathed deeply, and smiled over at Reg, who was so clearly relieved to see me whole that he did not even think to look nervous about reporting to the Captain. It will be some time before I can speak with him, tell him of what happened. And there is so much to tell.

Horatio is taking over the watch, and I can see his concern for me. I am, in fact, a strange mix of emotions. My father's hurt this afternoon has had the same effect ripping a splinter quickly out of a wound does. The pain was excruciating, but it is fading with more speed than it would have had the removal been slow. I can go on with my life now. Every day it will hurt a little less, Horatio had said. I believe he is right.

I was about ten feet from the hatchway when a completely terrified youth in a uniform that seemed to be at least two sizes too big for him nearly ran into me. With a gulp, the boy shrank back.

"I...I am sorry...Sir...I mean...Lieutenant...I..."

I looked him over. Scrawny little kid. Midshipman's uniform. Apparently Gibraltar had begun replenishing us. "And you are?" I asked, crisply.

"M-m-midshipman Howard, Sir." He whispered, pale to the lips.

"I am acting Lieutenant Brandon. And how old are you, Mr. Howard?"

"Thirteen, Sir."

"And what are you doing flying about above decks, may I ask?"

"I thought...I thought...I might have to report to the Captain."

"Did you report to Lieutenant Cousins when you came on board?"

"Yes, Sir, Mr. Brandon."

"Then the Captain will send for you when he is ready. I recommend that you merely walk quickly and NOT break into a run; he would be heartily disappointed if you should pitch yourself overboard while we are at anchor in Gibraltar."

"Yes, Sir."

I smiled down at him, remembering that I once was a terrified boy just waiting for some capricious officer to beat me to a pulp for an offence I did not understand. "Might I offer you some advice, Mr. Howard?"

My voice was soothing, my "recovery" voice, and he began to calm himself. "Yes, Sir?"

"Stick with Lieutenant Cousins. He will be more than happy to assist you if you have questions. Do not be afraid to ask them, but know when is the right time to do so-a quiet moment, not when we are trying to make sail. Lieutenant Hornblower and Lieutenant Kennedy will be very busy as first and second Lieutenants, but they are good men and will be glad to help you. You berth with Mr. Holloway and Mr. Anderson, do you not?"

"Yes, Sir. And Mr. McGill." He added, glumly.

"Do not worry about Mr. McGill. Should he cause you any difficulty you come to me...I can usually be found in sick berth. But for now, I suggest you get back to your berth. Mr. Holloway and Mr. Anderson have been with us some time and can give you many helpful suggestions. Now, get yourself below and away from this frigid cold."

"Yes, Sir."

"Actually, the correct answer to that was Aye, Aye, Sir. You'll get used to it."

He looked so sadly chagrined that I patted him on the shoulder. "Buck up, young man. This is a good ship with good men. You shall be fine."

There was the hint of a timid smile. "That's better, man! Now, off you go!"

He picked his chin up. "Aye, Aye, Sir."

And I watched him wander off with a smile. The luck was with this boy when he drew his fate in life; he might have ended up serving on Calypso or Dreadnaught. Instead, he is here.

On my way to sick berth I passed through the men, so many men, men no longer strangers to me, all with ready salutes.

"Aye, Mr. Brandon. Good te see ye back."

"Howze the weddin', Mr. Brandon?"

"Lookout fer Mr. Brandon, let 'im through."

"Good afternoon, Men. It is good to be back, it was a fine wedding, and I am returning to duty should anyone need me."

"Oy, Mr. Brandon. Any word on Mr. Bracegirdle's babe..."

"A boy, healthy and fit. His name is Andrew." I said, with a bit of pride. And that stirred another good memory from this day. I glanced over the berth and spotted my man to the side. "Mr. Morris, if you would be so good as to accompany me?"

He was confused, but I find the men usually fall in with any suggestion I should make. We were a silent pair until I was safely away from other ears.

"Mr. Morris..." I stopped.

"Aye, Mr. Brandon." He asked, looking at me with a slight turn to his head, brow furrowed. "What can I do fer ye?"

"I delivered Mr. Bracegirdle's child, Mr. Morris." I began, feeling strangely calm. "Your daughter assisted me."

He smiled. "Aye, my Violet, she's a fine lass, a right good girl, though I do say it meself. Got her mother's brains, too."

"She is all of that and more, Mr. Morris." I said, remembering her with a smile. "I have come to ask permission to write to her."

"I...beggin' yer pardon, Sir?"

"I want to write to her. Letters. I want to call on her when ever we are in port. I know she is young..."

"She's fifteen...old enough, I reckon..." He muttered.

"...but I can assure you, my intentions are all honorable."

"But, Sir...yer the son of a Lord. We...we ain't nobody, Sir."

"I am nothing to my father now, Mr. Morris. And even before today, as a fifth son, I was never worth much. I shall always have to get my own way in this world, the same as you. And you are not a nobody. You are one of the best carpenter's I've ever seen, and a good man; I know you've been with Captain Pellew nigh on ten years, and you would not have lasted so long if you weren't a good man."

"Aye, well, the Captain, he's a rare good man himself." Morris looked beyond me, scratching his stubbled chin. "I suppose, if Violet does not have any objections..."

"I believe we are of the same mind." I said softly, blushing for the first time. THAT caught his eye, and he laughed.

"Well, then, more luck to you, Mr. Brandon. If Violet's chosen you, don't think you have much chance to get away."

"I have no desire to do so."

"Write to her then. I am glad...always afeared she'd go fallin' for the first smooth talkin' boy who took a fancy to her. Nice to know that a man like you found her first."

"Thank you, Mr. Morris."

"Now you be cuttin' that out. Can't have you callin' me Mister nothin' in front of me mates. They think I'm puttin on airs."

I cleared my voice then in mock gruffness. "Back to work, then, Morris, before the Captain sees you."

He nodded with a grin. "That's better. Aye, aye, Sir!"

So it was with a chuckle that I found my place in sick berth, and picked up my pen.

"Dear Violet...

I have so much to acquaint you with, about the wedding and how the rest of the day went..."

And with a weary but happy sigh, I smiled.


The End