An American Encounter
Lost and Alone
"Three knots, sir."
Hornblower entered the speed into the log. "Thank you, Mr. Cutter." He strode to the weather side of the deck. The Rock was no longer visible, only the brilliant blue of Mediterranean swells. It was fair winds and a following sea. The quiet movement of Indefatigable was at odds with the silent scream in his heart, coursing through the hollow of his being to echo in his ears.
Kennedy stepped onto the quarter-deck seeing Hornblower drop his chin to his chest.
Hearing his footsteps, Hornblower straightened his head stiffly to see Kennedy's approach and nodded.
"Mr. Hornblower." He saluted him and stepped to the helm, raising an eyebrow to Rampling..
Hornblower walked quietly to stand beside him, chin up, hands clasped behind his back.
"Another uneventful day, Mr. Rampling."
"Indeed, Mr. Kennedy."
Hornblower's eyes were glued forward. Archie turned to study his friend. He was about to comment on his silence when Hornblower left his side to return larboard, looking abaft.
Kennedy and Rampling exchanged brief knowing glances.
Rampling shook his head.
"Well, he's never been a man of many words," offered Kennedy.
"You should know," sighed Rampling. "But I think he is getting worse, not better."
"Dinner with the Captain tonight. Perhaps that will do the trick."
The captain's table lay spread for an early days sumptuous meal. Tomato consomme for starters, fresh green beans, new potatoes, and carrots to accompany a rack of lamb and roasted chicken. Bottles of claret and chardonay were passed among the officers in attendance.
As with the previous night, the conversation had turned to Nelson and the Mediterranean fleet. It was Indefatigables first foray so deep into the Med.
Pellew's assignments were to patrol the French and Spanish Coasts on the Atlantic. It was a fluke that he had become embroiled in the capture of the French envoy to Ireland. Waiting for a change in winds in attempting to deliver the prize ship, Dolphin, to Gibraltar, had been the precipitating factor. If that had not been his decision, Indefatigable would not have been sitting off the entrance to the straits when the French and Spanish sought escape from Jervis's squadron.
Many times the other officers looked to Hornblower for some comment about the circumstances of the fight, but he was silent unless a question was put to him. Even discussion about possibly meeting Nelson seemed not to phase the leftenant.
"Well, I imagine once Foudroyant is safely delivered to Admiral Nelson, we will return to the offshore squadron," commented Bracegirdle.
"Then, sir, you do not think we will be joining the Mediterranean Fleet indefinitely?" asked Kennedy.
"Indeed, the rumour is Admiral Nelson wants frigates," added Cutter, his youthful face alight with expectation.
Pellew listened to the comments and chatter among his officers. His men were excited about Nelson. He could not blame them. He, too, had a deep admiration for the hero of the Nile, and Cape St. Vincent. Even though Jervis had received the public laurels for St. Vincent, those members of the Navy knew it was the brazzen actions of his subordinate, that turned the tide in Britain's favor that day. Nelson had been a topic for Hornblower when they were in Gibraltar. He was surprised at his silence, as were Kennedy and Rampling by the looks they exchanged.
"Let me remind you, it is Admiral Keith who would be our commander should such an order come from Admiralty, not Nelson. He is primarily concerned with the water betwixt France and Egypt, not the entire Mediterranean. We would as likely patrol the area of Greece and the Sudan as the Two Sicilies."
Cutter could not hide the disappointment in his downcast eyes.
Pellew noted Hornblower was staring past Bowles to the window seat at the stern. He reached for his glass and turned slightly to assure himself that he was correct in his supposition. Lifting the claret to his lips, he sipped in consideration of his quiet second leftenant. His somber attitude was affecting the gathering.
The servants brought a tray of cheeses and fruit and sweet biscuits for afters.
"This is delightful, Captain Pellew," offered Kennedy. "Mr. Hornblower, would you like some fruit?" Glancing at Hornblower's full dinner plate, Archie regretted the offer, but too late.
"Hm? No, thank you, Ar...Mr. Kennedy."
"Did you not find the food to your liking, Mr. Hornblower?" asked Pellew.
"No, sir, I mean. The food is excellent. It is my old malady returning, sir. Forgive my poor appetite."
"Dr. Sebastian may have something to help you with your motion sickness. Have you spoken to him?"
The rest of the officers were surprised to hear Hornblower admit to his sea sickness. They knew he generally tried to hide this physical weakness.
"I will, sir. Thank you, sir."
"See that you do."
Bracegirdle stayed behind after the other officers left for an evening of duty or socializing.
"Captain, I've been meaning to speak to you about Mr. Hornblower."
"I do not think it is *sea* sickness that is ruining his appetite. The seas could not be calmer than they have been since our sailing."
Pellew sighed. "Yes, well, give the man time, Mr. Bracegirdle."
"It's just that..."
"I have not seen Mr. Hornblower eat more than three bites at any meal since his return."
"I do not think Dr. Sebastian will have a potion for *love* sickness. We must give him time to adjust to... Damn! Just give it more time!" Having one of his best officers below peak performance was distressing. He saw Bracegirdle hesitate. "What ELSE, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
"Come on, man. I'm listening," he said calmly.
"I don't believe he is sleeping either, sir. McMasters asked me if Hornblower was under some secret punishment."
"He has been attending the middle watch, sir."
"His assigned watch is the afternoon watch, Captain. And, he frequents the other watches as well."
Pellew sighed in frustration. "Keep an eye on him, Mr. Bracegirdle. If he does not settle in soon, I will speak to him."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Servants cleared away the remaining dinner dishes while Pellew sat at his desk finishing up the log report. He mulled over Hornblower's situation. Had he not give the man all the time in the world ashore? Maybe that was the problem. Too much freedom from his duty, though keeping the men aboard busy during the imposed stay in Gibraltar was a task in itself.
The sun was nearly on the horizon and beaming into his eyes. The breeze through the stern windows was cooling despite the intense light entering the enclosed space. He needed to stretch his legs.
A fiddler below was playing a jaunty tune for the ratings. Laughter could be heard from the bowels of the ship. Men aloft rested in the yards, waiting for orders that more than likely would not come. It was an easy sail. To the east, Foudroyant was becoming a mere outline in the growing darkness, the set lights defining her bow and stern.
Climbing the stairs, Pellew saluted James, officer of the watch, then rested his gaze on the figure at the larboard side. Hornblower. Studying him, he realized he was not looking at Foudroyant, or the distant northern shore now bathed in night. He was staring into the water, hands clasped, chin nearly resting on his chest, oblivious to the noises around him.
Pellew stepped to Midshipman James.
"Good evening, sir."
"Mr. James." Pellew could not help but look to see if his voice had roused Hornblower, but the man had not budged.
"He hasn't moved since he came up, sir. Been standing there for at least an hour."
Pellew turned his gaze forward. James spoke again, to Pellew's amazement.
"It's like that's the only place he'll stay, sir. When comes time for me to go off watch, he'll disappear until the next man gets settled in, and then he's there again, sir. Just standing and staring. We're laying bets on when he's going to collapse, sir."
Pellew frowned. This was not what he wanted to hear. Bracegirdle did not present this scenario to him. He made no reply but quietly walked to stand beside his leftenant.
When he did not acknowledge his presence, Pellew spoke. "Mr. Hornblower." There was no reply. He turned to look at his young officer. He was asleep. Standing there, head on his chest, asleep. Pellew could not believe what he was seeing. Thank God, the man was not on watch. Why the devil was he ...sleeping?...here! He returned to stand by James and took a deep breath.
James looked at his captain and glanced over Hornblower's way.
"Mr. HORNBLOWER!" It was loud, but it was not angry.
He startled awake, stepping into the larboard railing. Was he on watch? What time was it?
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."
"Get Mr. Kennedy."
"Aye, aye, sir."
James stared at his frowning captain and the retreating figure of his leftenant. Returning his gaze forward, he avoided any further communication.
Hornblower returned with Kennedy.
"Captain Pellew, sir," saluted Kennedy.
"Stay here, Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Hornblower." He inclined his head to the taff.
"Mr. Hornblower, your duty is the afternoon watch, is it not?"
"Do you have a book in your cabin, sir?
"What is the title?"
"I have a copy of the Odessey and Gibbons Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, sir."
"Listen and listen carefully. I want you to go to your cabin, dress for sleep, get into your cot, and read your Gibbons."
"Mr. Hornblower, when I came on deck you were sleeping as you stood. My God man! I know you are not on watch, but this is no place to be sleeping. Am I understood?"
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. I had not realized..."
Pellew studied his officer with concern. In the frail light of the taff lantern, his hollow eyes were more pronounced. "Did you speak to Dr. Sebastian?"
"Dr. Sebastian, sir?"
"About your sea sickness."
"Oh! I feel fine, sir."
"That is not what I asked," he spat. "You will speak to him tomorrow. That is an order. Is that clear?"
"Send Mr. Kennedy to me."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Kennedy was stealing glances at the two and watched a sheepish Hornblower approach him.
"Did you say something to the Captain?"
"What do you mean, Horatio?" he whispered.
Hornblower caught the sound of a swallow from James. Kennedy followed his gaze to the midshipman.
"He wants you."
Hornblower glared at James briefly and turned on his heel. Kennedy looked at the two men, befuddled. He stepped quickly to Pellew.
"Mr. Kennedy, how is Mr. Hornblower ....adjusting...to being back on ship?"
"He seems a little more quiet than usual, but ... I know he misses her, sir." It was the first anyone had said of the lady since Hornblower's first return to the ship. He refused to be drawn into any conversation touching on his wife. It was a confusing thing to those who knew them.
"Is he sleeping through the night?"
"Well, ..." Kennedy paused, "All I can say, sir, is that he is in his cot when I retire from my watch."
"That sounds like a qualification, Mr. Kennedy."
"Yes, sir. I..."
"I was told he was present during the middle watch, sir."
Pellew twitched his hands behind his back in agitation and eyed Kennedy's nervous looks. "What else, Mr. Kennedy?"
"Nothing, sir. I think it will pass."
"What will pass?"
"He seems....he seems to avoid certain places on the ship and if he finds he must be there, he seems to drift away in thought. I do not know how else to explain it."
He recalled Hornblower's transfixed stare at the window seat. She had slept there.
"Where are the bloody French when you need them?"
"I fear Mr. Hornblower needs an action to bring him to himself."
"I'm sure that will come, sir."
Pellew smiled wryly. "I never thought I'd find a use for a Frenchman, Mr. Kennedy."
"Yes, sir." Kennedy took a position next to James.
"Your watch next, Mr. Kennedy?"
"Very well. Goodnight, gentlemen."
Horatio was laying in his bunk, staring at the beamed ceiling, book splayed across his chest, when Kennedy arrived after his watch.
"You should be sleeping, Horatio."
He turned on his side, giving Archie his back.
Archie sighed and undressed. Laying in his bunk, he gazed at the back of his friend. "You can talk about her if you want." No response. "She isn't dead, Horatio."
"Leave me be, Archie."
Pellew was not sure when the sounds roused him enough to leave his slumber. It was as if someone were trying to pace quietly but in so doing the steps created an irregular noise. Occassionally, the steps were not masked in anyway and it would take the man eight steps before turning to go back the other way. Swinging his legs over the side of his cot, he rested his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. He inhaled and exhaled deeply. He took up his unfinished glass of port and drained it. It had to stop. "I'll never get any rest. Damn it." He lay back into his cot, listening again. He pulled himself up, slipped his feet into his soft shoes, and headed out his cabin doors.
Emerging into the waist, clothed in his dressing gown, he stepped far enough out to confirm the pacer. There was McMasters, officer of the watch, standing near the helm, and there was Hornblower on his back eight. His head hung down to his chest.
McMasters heard him and looked at Horatio who had not. "Mr. Hornblower, the captain wants you, sir."
"Hm? Yes?" Hornblower tried to focus on the speaker.
"The captain," said McMasters again. "He called you."
Hornblower perked up and moved to the rail. There below him was his captain, in his night clothes. Hornblower looked confused, coming out of his inward concentration. "Sir?"
Pellew motioned him down to the waist. Glancing at McMasters, Hornblower stepped down.
"Mr. Hornblower, what the devil are you doing?"
"I...I can't sleep, sir."
"Did you read as I instructed?"
"Come with me."
Entering his rooms and taking the taper, he lit a candle near his brandy cupboard. He took a large glass, retrieved his own, and filled them both with port.
"Sit down, Hornblower," he ordered. Turning he handed the large glass to his leftenant. "Drink."
Hornblower's eyebrows rose at the size of the glass. "Yes, sir." He began to sip the port. Pellew sipped his as well, standing leaning against the wall watching Hornblower. Hornblower stopped drinking. 'Sir, I..."
"Drink," ordered Pellew calmly.
Hornblower blinked. "Yes, sir."
Pellew sighed shortly as Hornblower got down about half way the glass. He noted the sunken cheeks, dark circles, and general exhaustion that emanated from his officer.
Hornblower stopped drinking and leaned forward in the chair. "It's very good port, sir."
"Hm. Yes, some I purchased when last we were in Oporto. Drink up, Mr. Hornblower."
Hornblower swallowed as he was already beginning to feel a bit light headed. He drank another quarter of the half remaining. He studied his captain. "Are you having trouble sl...sleeping, Captain?"
"Hm?" Pellew had turned to refill his small snifter. "Yes, yes. Yes, I am. Finish up there, Mr. Hornblower."
"Yes, sir." In one final swig, Hornblower tipped the glass until its contents were now his contents.
Pellew brought the port decanter over and began to fill Hornblower's glass again.
"Sh, Mr. Hornblower, drink."
Steps could be heard above them. Hornblower looked up to the ceiling and felt the heat in his face, whether from the embarrassment or the port, it did not matter.
He stood. "Forgive me, sir. I have disturbed your rest."
"And, your own." Pellew intensified his gaze before saying the next words. He disliked prying into personal affairs, but if she were the reason, ...those affairs were slipping into professional duties. Kindness was needed as well as a firm tone. "I know you miss her, but it will pass, man. It will."
"Yes, sir." He lowered his head, blushing all the more that his insomnia was understood. "I will return to my own cabin, sir." He tipped the glass and drained the port in one effort. He would not keep his captain awake any longer than he already had. "Thank you. Goodnight, sir." Turning to exit, he bumped into the wall. "Oomph!"
"Goodnight, Mr. Hornblower."
Hornblower stood wavering in the waist. He could not go back to his bunk. The absence was too great, far too great. The port made his head woozy. He clutched his middle and walked crookedly to larboard, leaning heavily against the rail. He felt empty, so empty, except for the port now sloshing in his stomach. His pacing disturbed his captain. He held his head. "Pamela, I do nothing right!" He looked into the dark water gliding by the ship. Not for the first time, the idea of jumping overboard and swimming back to Gibraltar occurred to him. Ridiculous. Ridiculous. Even more ridiculous at this distance.
The moon was up and the ships availed themselves of the steady wind. He squinted forward barely making her out, ahead and to larboard of Indefatigable....escorting Foudroyant. When they were done, they would go back through Gibraltar Straits. Hope sprang in his chest. He would see her again. Would she want to see him? He staggered to the fo'csle steps and pulled himself up.
McMasters watched him, seeing him miss a step and nearly falling. Clinging to the hand rail, Hornblower strained to right himself.
"Mr. Connors, go get Mr. Kennedy."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Hornblower made it to the foremast and hung on. The port seemed to be gaining strength in his system. He blinked in the darkness at the sprit. For an instant, he imagined he saw her standing there, on a sunny day, looking down at the sea. He blinked and she was gone. Was he halucinating? "I'm not. I'm not going to....." A sob broke in his throat. He dug his fingers into the line wrapping the mast. "God! I miss her!" He let himself sink to the deck.
Connors knocked on the shared cabin of Kennedy and Hornblower but did not wait for a reply. He entered and shook his shoulder. "Mr. Kennedy, sir! It's Mr. Hornblower!"
Kennedy sat bolt upright, perceived the empty bunk, and strode quickly out the door, not waiting for further explanation.
Dressed in his open shirt and trousers, Kennedy emerged into the darkened waist with Connors. Looking up to McMasters, he asked, "Where?"
Kennedy climbed the stairs. He could hear the low, muffled sobs. Using the sound and the moonlight, he located his friend. Never had he seen Horatio in such a state. He wondered when all this would come to a head.
Hornblower tried to stop his sniveling, putting his back to Kennedy for the second time this night. With a final sniff he pushed himself up with his knees, coming shakily to his feet, still clutching the mast, and fighting the spin of the deck. "Leave me. I do not want you..." the sentence ended abruptly and he thought the rest *to see me like this.* He gulped the night air, seeking to overcome the effects of the liquor.
After a moment, he released the mast and walked toward the bow, he staggered and fell to the deck. He buried his face in the crook of his left arm. His shoulders shook and though he tried to fight the emotion, silent sobs racked his body.
Archie knelt beside him and put his hand on his back. "Don't fight it, Horatio. Do not fight it. You've barely said ten words since we left Gibraltar. We know you miss her." Archie gazed in disbelief that his friend, his stoic friend, was.... "You will see her again. You've got to think beyond this. It is like a test, Horatio, like the exam for leftenant." He waited hoping his friend would reply.
The shaking sobs seemed to lessen. Horatio came up on his hands and knees, rising to his feet he lunged for the side, and began to retch.
"Oh, Jesus!" Archie trotted back over to the waist rail. "Connors, go get a bucket of fresh water....and a towel."
He returned to Horatio who was panting and leaning far out over the side. Reaching into Horatio's inside coat pocket, he removed his handkerchief.
"God, what have you done to yourself?"
He wiped perspiration from his face and smoothed his hair from his forehead. Hornblower vomited. Where was Connors with that water?
Hornblower leaned on his right arm, still holding to the larboard railing. His eyes were closed and he breathed heavily. He opened his eyes briefly to see Archie still standing next to him. "Leave me."
"No," stated Kennedy.
He heard footsteps and opened his eyes to see Connors approaching. He turned his head to the bow.
"Thank you, Connors. Leave it there."
"Can I do anything else, sir? Do you want me to get Dr. Sebastian?"
"No, no. I will call you if I need you."
"Is he all right, sir?"
"He will be fine," Archie nodded and smiled at the young midshipman. He inclined his head motioning for him to leave.
"Yes, sir." Connors gave Hornblower a final glance.
Archie turned to see Hornblower pulling himself to the bow.
"What are you doing, Horatio?"
"Leave me. Leave me, Archie." He crawled out into the netting of the bowsprit. He rested his head against the ropes and let his left arm dangle through the shroud.
Archie dipped the towel in the fresh water, squeezed some of the water out, and climbed out next to him. Hornblower's face was toward the sprit away from Archie. He placed the water soaked towel next to his chin.
"Suck on this, Horatio, you will feel better."
Hornblower was still panting somewhat, fighting the nausea brought on by the liquor, his empty stomach, and the emotional upset he had been trying to deny. He took the towel touching it to his mouth. The water was cool and fresh.
"You will be all right. You will."
"I feel so empty, Archie. I am all hollow except for an ache in the emptiness." He paused and shook his head. "I did not know I would miss her this much." Hornblower pulled his legs up into a ball and hugged them to himself.
"She has no one. Do you think she is all right?"
"I asked Benny to check on her. I told him a little of her story, her other,..... well,....and, and you leaving, and......us." Archie knew Horatio did not like to be reminded of Pamela's first two husbands, but he knew they played a part in her life. The past is the foundation for the present. Surely she was not going through what Horatio was. Surely she had been through something similar already and could handle this. He knew the two of them were deeply in love, but he never expected the kind of reaction Hornblower was having. "Natalie is still there," he added hopefully. "She has someone to help her through this. She does. She's been through it before. You know that."
Hornblower turned his head to Archie, unfolded himself and rolled over onto his back. He stared at the stars and felt the prick in his eyes, recalling the times he had spent with her under them.
Archie followed his gaze. "She is seeing the same stars, Horatio. You are beneath the same heavens. Remember those nights together and know she remembers them as well."
Hornblower sighed. He remembered. He remembered every one. From the first night when he told her how much he loved the life he led, to the last, on the roof top of her new home, watching the stars fade from view with the rising sun.... and his departure. He laughed derisively at himself. He was where he chose to be, but he ached for her, ached for her closeness, her touch, her humor, her spontaneity, her.
Archie could not tell if Horatio was laughing or crying.
Would she wait for him? She told him she would. He felt Archie squeezing his arm.
"Answer me, Horatio." Archie felt frustrated. Was he even listening to him? He had to get him to open up and talk. "Tell me what you are thinking."
Hornblower turned his darkened eyes to his friend. His lower lip trembled. Tell him what he was thinking? That is what Archie wanted? To know what he was thinking? His head began to shake. "What if...what if...she cannot bear it? Being alone....and decides to go home....or .....finds someone else?"
"She is home," he stated and waited for some sign Hornblower understood. None came. "What were you drinking and where did you get it? That is THE stupidest thing I have EVER heard come out of your mouth. Is that what you have been telling yourself? When did you lose your mind, Horatio? That girl is so in love with you. I...... God! You make me so angry! What put that bee in your bonnet? Pamela loves you more than life itself!"
"Don't say that, Archie."
"I will. It is the truth!"
"How would you know?" moaned Hornblower.
"I KNOW, Horatio."
Hornblower put his hands over his ears. "Stop shouting." His sense of hearing seemed unusually heightened.
"I am not shouting!" he whispered. He climbed from the netting and stood on the deck and paced, stopping to speak pointedly to his friend. "She loves you as much as you do her. If those are the lies you've been telling yourself..." Archie jumped back into the net. "What was the last thing she said to you? Hm?"
Hornblower looked sadly at his angry friend hovering over him. He thought. "She...she said..." He turned away from Archie, pushing through the fog of his mind to those last moments. There was a smile on her face. Her hand had risen to smooth his hair behind his ear and she left her finger tips lightly resting on his jaw, there just beneath his ear. She spoke many things, encouraging words, but the last thing she said....there were no tears, no tears...he had expected them, but....there were none....but the last thing she said, with just the hint of a glisten in her eyes was...
"She said she hated you and never wanted to see you again. Is that right?"
"What then? What did she say?"
"She said.... I will wait for you until the oceans run dry." Silence. Neither spoke.
She said it. But he did not really hear it. Comprehension was denied when he knew he was leaving. He could not think. When he did, nothing but worry came. A frantic anxious worry, of a myriad of concerns, her safety, the child, loneliness, separation, jealousy, desire, and these were still his thoughts. And, this ship, his ship, held every remembrance of her. He could see her in his bed, on the quarter-deck, on the fo'csle, in the orlop, at his captain's dinner table, on the window seat, in the wardroom, the sick berth. Everywhere! But she was not here.
When the time came for him to leave, he knew he must return to his duty, but his feet were like lead. Something he had not expected. If she had not come with him to the dock, he did not think he could have left. He wanted his ship and he wanted her. He had enjoyed the best of both worlds and now he was having to choose.... and she helped him.....and he doubted her love because she could make him go.
Some how she knew there was a doubt. Did she have the same kind of foreboding? Did she think he did not love her because he was leaving? The words were spoken just before he entered the launch. He had gone numb and the words had not been perceived in their fullness..."until the oceans run dry." Could there ever be such a chance of something that catastrophic happening? He examined his knowledge and could find no precedent in human recorded history, an impossibility, until the crack of doom itself. The last words she spoke. No good-byes. As the boat was rowed out to the Indy, she threw him a kiss, smiled, and waved. Hornblower covered his face with his hands. There WAS water beneath his ship.
"Horatio..." Archie shook his head, speaking softly. "How can you doubt her? No, it isn't her you doubt. It's yourself. You do not think you are worthy to have someone love you as much as she does. Just like you don't think you are worthy of the accolades you get from your superiors, or that your men would follow you to the gates of hell and beyond."
He gazed at the horizon. The sky was beginning to lighten just as it had his last morning with her.
"How can you be so damn sure of yourself when duty requires but doubt so when it comes to you personally? Horatio?" There was a peacefulness in his features. Had he gotten through to him? Archie sat on the netting, looking eastward to the pinking clouds. He sighed in exhaustion.
"Port. Captain Pellew."
"I woke him pacing. I think he hoped I would pass out from the port."
Archie snickered. "You woke the Captain with your pacing?" He chuckled softly and rolled back on the net trying not to laugh out loud.
Hornblower grinned at his friend and giggled. The two of them could not contain the laughter but covered their mouths to stifle it.
"Archie, I've said it before and I'll say it again. You are a good friend." He raised his arm and held out his hand. Archie grasped and shook it.
"You've done the same for me."
Hornblower knew he meant Spain, the prison at El Ferrol. He thought about Archie then, the despair of life. Was this something of what Archie had felt? Was he strength for him then? Archie said he, Horatio, would never be in such a situation. Truth be told, neither did he, but here he was. As he let his mind touch on memories of Pamela, that prick came to sting his eyes. The corners of his mouth tugged downward. The familiar squeeze was on his shoulder.
"You can talk about her all you want, Horatio. I'll listen."
Talk about her? Talk. He was still that solitary boy, an apt description by his father. He had spent so much time alone growing up after the death of his mother, his own thoughts were his companions. But Pamela had him talking. He smiled to himself.
"What are you smiling about? Come on. Tell me," urged Archie nudging Hornblower's knee with his foot.
"Pamela. She could get me to talk. She used to ask me... things." Hornblower was wistfully thinking about all the personal questions she would ask about his mother, his father, his childhood. No one but she had ever asked. "Did I tell you she might be carrying our child?"
"No! You dog, you!" Archie reached over and pushed him roughly. "When will you know for sure?"
"Maybe another month."
"Congratulations! That is marvelous news! She will make a fine mother and you will make an equally fine father."
"I love her, Archie. I love her more than I can comprehend."
"I know, old man." He watched Horatio close his eyes and fall asleep. Kennedy lay back on the netting to gaze at the sky, then rolled on his side and tried to awaken him. Finally, pulling Hornblower's feet close to the rail, he took his wrists, pulled him onto his shoulder, and carried him back to the cabin. Hornblower never stirred from his slumber and by his weight, Archie knew he would be talking to Dr. Sebastian.
"Foudroyant's signaling, sir!" came the call from the yard.
On the quarter-deck, Midshipman James snapped out the telescope as he and three other officers moved to larboard to better see the flags.
However, in the wardroom below, a contest of wills was taking place.
"Sit down. You are going no where until your meal is finished," ordered Dr. Sebastian.
"Foudroyant is signaling!" stated Hornblower, still standing.
"I believe there are men on duty to read and relay the message. Sit."
Hornblower reddened with anger and scowled at Archie, who had finished eating and was leaving for the quarter-deck himself.
"I'll let you know what it's about, Horatio."
"Sit, Mr. Hornblower, and finish your lunch."
Sebastian was present at yet ANOTHER meal. It was a conspiracy, he was sure, and had not Sebastian threatened to inform Pellew that he was not eating, he would not be sitting here now.
Soon after the early morning discussion with Archie, Sebastian confronted him about his loss of appetite. He told the doctor he would be fine. When the doctor would not relent, he explained privately to Sebastian that he was prone to sea-sickness and that once his system became acclimated to the motion of the ship that his appetite would return. Sebastian thanked him for sharing that information and offered to give him a stomach remedy. He thanked Sebastian and told him that should he feel the nausea again, he would gladly consult him.
At the next meal, Sebastian inquired why he was not finishing his food, wanting to know if he were not feeling well. He told the doctor he was well but not hungry. The doctor then seemed to become defensive for the cook, saying the food was fresh, having just revictualed in Gibraltar, that there was no reason why he did not finish. Again he said he was not hungry and then Sebastian wanted to know what he HAD eaten that day. Well, he knew it had not been much and rather than argue any further or give THAT information, he caved, and forced himself to complete the meal. He silently swore he would be sure Sebastian was NOT eating the next time HE was. But, every time he thought he had timed it just right, Sebastian would appear, sit opposite him and engage whoever else was there in conversation and not let him leave until his plate was completely empty!
Two evenings back had been most difficult when a helping of brussel sprouts had been put on his plate. He despised brussel sprouts! Bitter, green, lumpy brussel sprouts. A ridiculous argument erupted between the two of them. At one point, Sebastian was distracted by Mr. Bracegirdle and he slipped his sprouts onto the good doctor's plate. If he liked them so well, HE could eat the bloody things. When Sebastian turned back to face his own meal, he frowned at the large portion of brussel sprouts. He looked up at Hornblower who seemed to be chewing, with but a single brussel sprout left. Archie had seen his tactic and what occurred next was another clue that his friend was part of the conspiracy. He dropped his knife and asked Horatio to get it for him. When he came back up with the retrieved utensil, his portion of brussel sprouts had increased once again. He needed to have a talk with Archie.
To top this episode off, Pellew had overheard the argument over the brussel sprouts. The two of them had become louder in their retorts and the next day Pellew called Sebastian to his cabin. When next he saw Pellew, he felt his captain examining him closely and inquiring if he had lost weight. He said he did not think so, but secretly he was having a bit of trouble keeping his trousers up and had taken to wearing braces borrowed from Bracegirdle.
Maybe he was a little thinner. He had not been particularly hungry. In fact, food was of little interest to him. When he did sit down to a meal, he found himself missing Pamela and thinking about her until his food was cold and then it was even more distasteful. That is until Sebastian started showing up at his meals and distracting him and insisting he eat or else. The "or else" being that he would tell Pellew he was not eating and that if he had to he would put him in sick berth! He had nearly exploded at that notion, but fearing the captain would over hear, he maintained a low but firm tone. He was not sick! Then, Sebastian started in with his insomnia. Apparently Archie, and probably Bracegirdle, and, God forbid, possibly Pellew, had spoken about his late night/early morning activities. Living on Indefatigable was hell. He was not a child. He did not need a shipload of "mothers" telling him what to do. Unfortunately, he knew Pellew would think otherwise, and how could he confront his captain on this issue after the port/pacing fiasco? He was doomed. Doomed to eat brussel sprouts and finish his every meal, for he had tried to skip lunch once.
These thoughts coursed through his mind as he stuffed forkful after forkful of his lunch into his mouth, trying to finish quickly so he could go topside.
"Slowly, Mr. Hornblower, you will give yourself indigestion," cautioned Sebastian.
He glared at the doctor and chewed as rapidly as he could, gulping his grog to wash it all down. He put the last in his mouth, stood, shoved his hat on his head, never letting his eyes leave Sebastian, daring him to stop him now. Wiping his mouth with his napkin, he defiantly dropped it on the table, turned, and left without a word.
Sebastian, sitting alone in the wardroom, smiled and chuckled to himself.
Hornblower emerged on deck and headed for the quarter-deck. Before he could mount the stairs, his captain called to him.
"Mr. Hornblower, ... get Dr. Sebastian."
Hornblower stood briefly, mouth agape, and blinked. "Aye, aye, sir." He turned on his heel and headed back below with a frown. *What was he now?* he thought,*a bleeding messenger boy? Have I been demoted to Midshipman?* His sour mood reflected in his face. Reaching the wardroom doorway, he grabbed the doorjamb, leaned in, and said as fast as he could, "Captain Pellew wants you, Doctor." He leaned back out quickly and returned topside.
As he joined Pellew on the quarter-deck, the captain, surprised at so rapid a return, questioned him about Sebastian.
"I told him, sir." There was an edge to his reply and Hornblower regretted it.
Pellew's brow furrowed at his officer. When was Hornblower going to get back to normal? He knew his physician and his second leftenant were at odds with one another, but he had a ship to run, damn it. Sebastian arrived. Hornblower turned his back to the doctor and moved well behind him, but not out of earshot.
"Ah, Dr. Sebastain. Captain Brown has signaled he needs your services."
"What is the problem, Captain?"
"We're in the process of drawing up beside her." Pellew motioned towards the men actively settting more sail. "Too much information for flags. We'll know soon enough."
The quarter-deck was quiet. He caught Kennedy and Sebastian exchanging glances and Hornblower standing alone with a frown on his face. He sighed quietly, feeling a tenseness in his jaw. If anyone was going to be out of sorts on his quarter-deck, it was going to be him. The atmosphere surrounding his senior officers was getting his ire up. As soon as he knew what Brown's problem was he was going to have a talk with Mr. Hornblower.
Indefatigable was a swift ship. She had been following Foudroyant these past days at a leisurely clip of three knots and they were thankful for every one of those. The wind had remained in their favor thus far and no one was complaining, at least not audibly.
Fourdroyant was undermanned, as she was, as a crew awaited her in Palermo: Nelson's crew. Vanguard was in need of a refit. The entire fleet knew it. The old girl had been through a lot with Nelson aboard. No doubt about that. For these reasons, Foudroyant was without a ship's surgeon. After all, once they met up with Nelson, they would have an abundance of crew.
Pellew was curious, as every man on Indefatigable, at what could have happened. There had been no action. Not a single enemy sail had been sighted as yet. Proof Nelson and the Mediterranean fleet were doing their job. What was the emergency?
The two ships were nearly abreast. Pellew moved closer to the larboard rail. He coud see Brown on the quarter-deck.
"My first leftenant is down! Is your doctor there?"
"Yes! Dr. Sebastian!"
"Doctor, he is all doubled over with pain in his mid-section," shouted Brown. "What should I do?"
All eyes, including Hornblower's, were on Sebastian.
"Well, doctor?" asked Pellew.
"I will need to examine the man, Captain. You will have to get me over there."
"Mm. Of course."
Pellew shouted to Brown, "He will need to examine him. Do you want to heave to?" Pellew did not, but he felt Brown had to make that decision.
"No. Pull ahead of us and drop him back. We don't want to lose the wind unless we have to."
"I agree, sir!" shouted Pellew. Turning to his sailing master he inclined his head forward, "Mr. Bowles."
"Aye, aye, sir," said Bowles quietly, then shouting
for additional sail.
"Doctor, you best gather whatever and whoever you need and take it with you. The day grows late and I would rather not do this more than once. Brown is behind schedule delivering Foudroyant and if we can keep this wind, all the better. As soon as we are forward of Foudroyant we will lower the boat and drop you back to her."
"Aye, aye, Captain."
Hornblower listened to the exchange. His tormentor was leaving. He supposed Dr. Sebastian was only doing his duty in seeing Captain Pellew had a fit crew, and he tried not to appear overly pleased Sebastian would be leaving them for a while. Foudroyant was a ship of the line. He envied him for a moment, but then remembered he would be free of his meddling.
"Captain Pellew!" shouted Brown.
"Yes, Captain?" Pellew stepped aft as the Indy was beginning to pull ahead of the larger ship.
"I say, I fear my leftenant is going to be incapacitated. I was already down one before we left Gibraltar. Could you possibly see your way clear to loan me a man or two till we get to Palermo?"
Pellew inhaled, frowning at Bracegirdle. He glanced at Hornblower. This might be the answer he was looking for.
"Indeed, Captain Brown. I will send them with the doctor!"
"Thank you, Captain Pellew!"
Hornblower closed his eyes. *No! Not me! Please, Captain!*
thought Hornblower. *Please let him ASK for volunteers. Send
Rampling, McMasters. Send Archie!*
Then, both his tormentors would be gone. *Not me. Not me, sir!" he silently pleaded.
"Hornblower, get your gear."
He was frozen, blinking at his Captain. "Aye, aye, sir." He bowed his head as he left the quarter-deck.
Pellew eyed his other officers, resting his pointed gaze upon Kennedy. "Mr. Kennedy, go with them."
Kennedy pinched back a grin. "Aye, aye, sir." He hurried after Hornblower.
Pellew heard two large exhales from Bracegirdle and Bowles.
"Thank you, Captain, thank you," said Bracegirdle.
Bowles grinned. The past two months were well remembered when those two had been split up, leaving the officers of Indefatigable to deal with the worrisome Mr. Kennedy.
"It will do them good," said Pellew to himself...and me. "Get a crew together for that boat, Mr. James. They'll need a man handy with a toss. Oh hell, get Hornblower's crew." Hornblower's division from his days as a midshpman were good men. He had more than fulfilled his duty in making them a workable and viable crew. With that thought, he was reminded that Hornblower was worth the trouble he was causing. He just needed to readjust. "Brown is getting far more than he asked for."
"He is that, sir," commented Bracegirdle shiftily.
"Hm?" Pellew twisted his mouth to keep from grinning. He almost felt guilty sending those three to Brown: Sebastian, Hornblower and Kennedy. The tension between these three men was growing, but so far he left it in Sebastian's hands...so far. He furrowed his brow again. he did not want his men embarrassing him with contrary behavior. "Mr. James!" he called.
"Tell Mr. Hornblower I want to speak to him."
"Aye, aye, sir!"
Indefatigable was true to form. She passed Foudroyant easily with the other ship maintaining her speed.
The launch sat on the Indy's deck prepared for lowering. Bowles called for sail adjustments to be able to free up the mast for the jeers. The doctor and his assistant, Becker, placed an assortment of medical chests into the stern of the launch. He was grinning at Hornblower as he tossed in his kit bag. Pellew could not hear what they said to one another, but Hornblower looked none too happy. The leftenant was on his way to the quarter-deck.
"Captain?" asked Hornblower.
Pellew motioned him to the taff out of hearing of the other officers on duty.
Hornblower swallowed, took a deep breath, and followed.
Pellew stared at his officer for a moment gathering his thoughts, choosing his words. "You look better, Mr. Hornblower....not so thin."
He stood nervously, giving a single nod and a blink, not being sure how to reply to the comment.
"Mr. Hornblower...when you set foot on Foudroyant you will be representing my ship."
"I have noted a certain....disquietude ....shall we say....between yourself and the good doctor."
Hornblower wanted to shift his gaze, but knew better. The dryness of his mouth precluded another swallow and his ears burned.
"I expect a good report from Captain Brown on your service in Foudroyant. Do I make myself clear?"
"I know you will not disappoint either of us."
"No, sir. Thank you, sir."
"Good. Good. Dismissed."
Hornblower saluted and went to join the assemling boat crew.
Hornblower joined Sebastian, Kennedy, Matthews, Styles, Oldroyd, Bradley, Hardy, and young Becker, Sebastian's new surgeon in training, in the boat. All the belongings were stowed under the sternsheets with Sebastian's medical kits placed neatly between them. Styles positioned himself in the bow with a coil of line attached to a shallow-water lead.
The boat lifted, was swung out, and lowered slowly to the surface. Matthews and Oldroyd were ready to fend her off from Indefatigable if they came too close. Styles and Kennedy prepared to loose the lowering lines. Hornlbower looked back to see Foudroyant's crew ready. As the boat hit the water, she gave them all a bounce and spray came up over the bow. A quick pull on the knots, by Archie and Styles set them free.
Foudroyant was coming up fast as the launch began to slow. There was not much to be done with the tiller, but Hornblower was ready. The idea of being run over by the 80 gun ship occurred to him. He could see a man on the bowsprit of Foudroyant motioning the Master to port the helm. Hornblower sucked in a breath as at the last moment the bow of the large ship seemed to ease away from them. The wave coming off her bow lifted the launch away from the two-decker but then seemed to pull her back. If the launch could come abeam, they would be all right.
Styles swung the lead round to gain momentum then let loose. The line sailed up and over the deck of Foudroyant. Men ran to secure it, lining the boat up under the davits. The captain and another officer appeared to be in an animated conversation. Hornblower stared up at the davits and the tackle hanging above them. He gulped. Raising a boat under sail could be deadly. A shift in weight and the lot of them would be swimming...or drowning, not to mention the loss of medical equipment and supplies.
A rope came sailing down towards him and then a shout from the captain.
"Secure the line around the doctor and send him up!"
Hornblower grabbed the line and pulled it around Sebastian, under his arms. He knew he would be mortified if anyone suggested he have a rope tied around him while he climbed the ship's side, but they were moving. It was a wise precaution, especially in the doctor's case. He was the only one they had now since Brandon had been called home to England. "They don't want to lose you, sir."
Sebastian flashed a grin at Hornblower. "It is good to be appreciated."
"Indeed, sir. God speed you."
Sebastian's face softened as he grabbed Hornblower's shoulder and pushed himself onto the steep side steps leading to the entry port. Once through the portal, netting was lowered to sway up the medical equipment and dunnage. The rest of the boat crew climbed the side in like fashion until only Styles and Hornblower were left.
"Ye best go next, sir. She's gonna buck once I let go the side! No sense in both of us gettin' our brains beat out!"
"I'll hold her while you go, Styles. Get ready."
"If anythin' happens to ya, I could never face Miss Pamela. Please, sir!"
Hornblower looked at him fimly. The rope came flying at them. "Tie it on, Styles."
"You're a hard headed man, sir, if you don't mind my sayin'!"
Hornblower was silent, continuing to give Styles his determined stare, and moved to take the position to hold the launch as close to the hull as possible. Styles let go. Hornblower's arm took the brunt of the boat's toss while Styles secured the rope, muttering to himself as he did so. Once tied he looked at Hornblower a final time.
"Ye won't be able to hold her and tie this on at the same time, sir. Let me stay!"
"Go on, Styles! Don't make me tell you again!"
Styles' stubborness was outranked by Hornblower's.
"Aye, aye, sir."
Hornblower looked up expecting the rope to be thrown to him. He tried to lean out to see what was keeping them and began to consider climbing without it.
"Mr. Hornblower!" called the Captain. "We're going to throw you a line for the stern. Tie it on! Then, we'll throw you YOUR line!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
Stern tied, he proceded to fix the safety line. A bounce of the launch threw him down on the sternsheets with a thud to his right thigh and posterior. He caught himself from falling over completely and remained seated until he could get the line secured. He looked up to see Styles, Matthews and Kennedy staring over the side. Taking the few steps to the hull gingerly, he grabbed onto the steps and pulled himself up. At the last moment, the launch gave another toss causing him to hit his mouth on the wooden step. He tasted blood with his tongue. "Damn!" Doing that peculiar crab step, he lifted himself on the vertical rise. Styles and Matthews grabbed his arms, as soon as he was near enough, lifting him over and onto the deck.
Styles was eyeing his busted lip ruefully. He dabbed at the blood with his handkerchief.
"Welcome aboard, Mr. Hornblower," said the Captain extending his hand. "It is most generous of Captain Pellew to loan me the services of not only his doctor but two of his leftenants as well.
"We are pleased to be of service, sir," bowed Hornblower slightly.
Peters, here, is our boatswain. He will show your men where to find a hammock. This is Midshipman Stanley. He will show you to your quarters. As soon as you are settled, I will go over your duties."
"Very good, sir."
Hornblower nodded for his crew to follow Peters. They knuckled their heads in obedience.
"We are glad for the additional manpower, I must say, sir."
Stanley appeared to be one of those older midshipman that never seemed to go beyond the rank. He was mild mannered, chatty, and amiable. His uniform was well worn but clean. His medium brown hair, peppered with gray, was tied in a neat queue with a relatively new looking ribbon.
As for the ship, it seemed cavernous compared to the Indy. Was it because it only had half a crew? It almost seemed there was no one else on board. It was a little eerie to have so much unoccupied space.
"I think you shall find your quarters pleasing. You will be the first to sleep in them. We've a number of ready made cots. The carpenter chose a taller height to be safe. I think you will be comfortable. One of our men has already delivered your kits."
All this information was relayed as the three of them went below to the officer's wardroom.
"I am afraid you will be sharing two servants with the
other two leftenants. But, of course, Leftenant Dodd is down,
so that will make four of you. They are good boys though and I
think you will be happy with their service. Should you need anything
done, just ask. I believe the Captain will introduce you to the
other leftenants later. Is there anything else I can answer for
"Not that I can think of. Thank you, Mr. Stanley.""Well, these are your cabins." He opened the doors. The room had a faint smell of fresh paint. A long hammock was slung from the deck beams. Kennedy recognized his kit and stepped into the room. He felt the padding in the hammock and turned with a smile. "Almost like home!""Have you had lunch?""Yes!" answered Hornblower quickly, then glanced over to Kennedy seeing him smirk."We have, Mr. Stanley.""Then, if I am no longer required I will leave you to settle in. I am one of the officers on watch. I will be on the quarter-deck.""Thank you, Mr. Stanley," added Hornblower. He stepped into the cabin next to Archie's, lay his hat in the hammock, and gave the room the once over. Absently, he pressed his split lip with his tongue. Archie stood leaning against the doorjamb watching him.Hornblower looked at him. "What?""I did not say a word."Hornblower frowned at him. "I wonder where Sebastian is.""The sick bay is usually forward on the deck above us, Horatio.""You should know," he said caustically as he brushed passed him. He regretted it once it was out of his mouth. He stopped and turned to Archie. "I apologize, Archie. I did not mean that the way it sounded. I do not know what....." * is wrong with me.* Another incomplete sentence, finished in his mind."I understand, Horatio. The return to celibacy might make one cranky. How is your lip?"
Horatio stopped with a hard glare. "Mr. Kennedy, I do not find that amusing."
"I'm sure not," said Archie a little startled that Horatio was at the point of anger but still feeling mirthful at his friend's...situation.
"And another thing. What is up with you and Sebastian?"
"What do you mean?"
"Don't play the fool, Archie, you KNOW what I mean. Why are the two of you...meddling in my personal life?"
"Meddling in your personal life? You mean trying to get you to eat to keep body and soul together?"
Hornblower walked away then turned again. "I know how to take care of myself. I am not a child." His thin fingered hands gestured to accent his words.
"I know you are not a child, Horatio. But we would like you to stick around for a while and you are turning into a walking skeleton."
"I beg to differ."
"I am not going to argue with you. If there were a mirror available I would make you look at yourself. Your uniform hangs on you, your cheeks are sunken, and your hand is shaking."
Hornblower quickly drew his right hand behind him. "It is nothing." Turning, he walked towards the stairs.
"Oh? What would your father say? What would be HIS estimation of your physical condition? And, we will not even bring up your emotional one. Edgy, brooding. I am beginning to wish you had never met Pamela Dandridge."
Horatio turned on him quickly, pushing him to the wall. He glared into the deep blue eyes of his long time friend. Coming to himself, he relaxed the taut muscles pressing against Archie's chest. He released the air from his lungs, hanging his head and turning from Archie. He stole a glance into the concerned features of his friend. "Don't ever say that, Archie," he said softly with a distant voice.
Archie reached to take his arm. "I did not mean it, Horatio. I wanted you to understand how you have let the separation affect you. I don't like seeing you waste away. I know you are not sleeping. Just because you moved your pacing to the cable tier you think I don't know what is going on? We're roommates. If Pellew had not ordered me to come along, I was about to submit he not send you. And, truth be told, I don't understand you. Pamela loves you. What is going on? Do you know yourself? Won't you talk to Dr. Sebastian?"
"He is the LAST person I would talk to." His eyes smoldered as he jerked his view to Kennedy.
Archie searched for what else he could suggest. Horatio would
not talk to Sebastian. He was getting to where he was barely
civil to him. If only they had not left Indefatigable, perhaps
he could have dropped a hint to Pellew that something was amiss.
Surely he had noticed the change in Horatio. They all had.
Even his men were concerned. And, none of them could understand
it. It was like the old "before Pamela" Horatio was
back only as some dark personage. Would an action help? A battle?
Archie worried Horatio might not last through a battle. Would
his brilliance in assessing wartime situations still come to the
fore? He had to come up with something. Something that would
turn the situation around. If only his assessments were as quick
as Horatio's. Suddenly, an idea came.
Hornblower was headed to the companionway.
"Horatio. Horatio, listen. What if our situations were reversed?"
"What on earth are you talking about, Mr. Kennedy?" he sighed tiredly.
"What if I were you? What would you do?"
"I am not in the mood for games, Mr. Kennedy. The captain is waiting for us." He trudged slowly up the stairs. The later the day got the more slowly he moved. He let his eyes glance at Kennedy jabbering beside him. His friend was right. He was not getting enough rest. He was not eating enough food, despite Sebastian's coercive efforts. With help from the ship's cat he had been able to dispose of some of his meal. Stupid cat would not eat the brussel sprouts though....not so stupid, really. Being assigned to Foudroyant is a blessing in disguise. Pellew was noting his "thinning". He looked down at his trousers and the surplus material flapping around his legs. Pamela. He could not allow himself to think of her now. That would come later, when he could find a place to be alone. A place where no one would disturb him. Sebastian would be busy with the leftenant. What was wrong with him anyway? *I should have resigned my commission. She is with child. I should be there. If anything happens to her, I will never forgive myself. She's alone. God, I hope she's alone. But I don't want her to be alone! Not now. I must wait and think about her later....later...when I am alone.*
"You're not listening to me are you. I am beginning to be able to tell when you are letting me carry on, pretending you hear me. You aren't, are you. I will have to talk to the doctor, Horatio. I don't know what to do. I wish Pamela were here." He gazed at his friend a moment. "There you see. No reaction. You aren't even listening to me. I said her name, and no reaction. Where are you, Horatio? When are you coming back?"