Into the Fire
by Pam and Del
We have fed our sea for a thousand years,
And she calls us, still unfed,
Though there's never a wave of all her waves
But marks our English dead;
We have strawed our best to the weed's unrest,
To the shark and the sheering gull,
If blood be the price of admiralty,
Lord God, we ha' paid in full!
--Rudyard Kipling, "Song of the Dead"
PART TWELVE: "An Exchange of Information"
Archie did not know what instinct prompted him to choose a blue coat. For a moment, he simply stood before the wardrobe, staring at the garment he had selected without conscious thought. And then he realized . . . he could wear no other color tonight.
Despite his resolve, his hands shook slightly as he donned his clothes, the blue coat going on over snowy linen, cream waistcoat, and biscuit-colored breeches. Years ago, he had dressed with the same mixture of excitement and apprehension--while preparing to meet the very same man.
"Lieutenant Kennedy, reporting for duty, sir!"
He had saluted crisply, doing his best to contain his exultation at being a commissioned officer at last, even as he suspected joy was bursting from him like beams from a lighthouse tower.
Pellew had surveyed him without comment, then nodded his acknowledgement, and issued his new-made lieutenant his first order. Archie had long forgotten what that order had been, but he remembered how the lines of that stern face had relaxed, albeit briefly, and how the dark eyes had held a glint of approbation, not unmixed with amusement. Even now, the memory had the power to warm him. Although Pellew had not concealed his particular regard for Horatio, he had clearly taken pride in the accomplishments of his other officers as well.
But so much had happened since then. Pellew had left Indefatigable and risen to become an admiral--a fact his former subordinate had gleaned by chance from a discarded Naval Chronicle he'd found in a public house last autumn. And long before that, Archie had left Lieutenant Kennedy behind him, buried in a traitor's grave. Somberly he studied his reflection in the glass: a neat, copper-haired gentleman dressed in fashionable but unobtrusive evening clothes gazed back at him. Even to his own critical eyes, little remained to connect him to the man he had once been. But whom would the admiral see tonight--Mr. Lennox, the polished nonentity, or Lieutenant Kennedy, the disgraced naval officer?'
Unsettling thoughts to take with him on tonight's rendezvous. He could not let them undermine his resolve, not when there was so much at stake. Smitty had been given the direction of the house; there would be someone watching, someone who might intervene if Archie did not emerge from his interview within three hours. Short of calling off this entire meeting, which Archie steadfastly refused to do, there were no further precautions to be taken.
Get on with it, then. Squaring his shoulders, Archie took a deep breath, strode to the door, and let himself out into the passage.
On the first landing, he paused, taking in the sight of his colleagues, dressed for the theatre and about to make their own departures. As it happened, most of the London contingent knew of the hostess who would be giving the soiree to which Ainsley had invited Caillean: Lady Theodosia Gresham, daughter of an earl, wife of a wealthy baronet, and something of an eccentric in her own right, though a very fashionable one. Not only Ainsley but the DeGuises were numbered among Lady Theo's acquaintances and fully expected to attend this affair. All to the good, Kilcarron's agents reckoned as they planned to place as many operatives as possible at the scene. Barrington, Tiverton, and Lady Amhurst would all be there; so, surprisingly, would Latour, who had treated Lady Theo for a nervous complaint a few years previously and remained on amicable terms with her thereafter.
Caillean, Ferguson, and Grant were among those milling about in the entrance hall, waiting for the carriages to be brought round. Archie thought he had seldom seen Caillean in better looks; the thrill of the chase, he supposed and silently wished her good hunting. His three colleagues had been surprised and even a trifle alarmed to learn he would not be joining them, but rather embarking on an assignment of his own for the evening. The news that Smith and Carmichael had approved this mission, with provisos, had alleviated some of their anxiety.
Smith and Carmichael . . . Archie's mouth twitched. Earlier that day, while descending the back stairs to the kitchen, he had witnessed their most recent encounter. Grant and Smitty had been keeping a silent vigil by the servants' entrance; curious, he had paused to watch them from the landing. Eventually, the door had opened to admit Ferguson and Carmichael, both dripping wet from the morning drizzle and shaking themselves like dogs. Clicking her tongue maternally, Grant had relieved Ferguson of his greatcoat, stealing a kiss as she did so. Smitty had wordlessly taken Carmichael's cloak and handed him a mug in exchange.
Fingers closing around the handle, he had considered her quizzically. "What's this, then?"
"Soup," she had replied stonily. "You need it more than whiskey."
Carmichael's brows had quirked, but he drank without further comment. Still hidden in the shadows, Archie had felt himself relax. If not exactly peace, at least a kind of truce appeared to have been declared . . . for the moment. Later, he had heard Carmichael, sounding more relaxed than was his usual wont these days, discussing with Rory their plans for breaking into Ainsley's house. With that young man engaged for the theatre and a party afterwards, tonight would surely be ideal for their purposes.
The sound of the front door opening recalled Archie to the present: the theatre party was leaving. After the door closed behind the last evening cloak, he descended the stairs, relieved to have eluded further inquiries about his particular business.
A pleasantly balmy evening, with no sign of the drizzle that had marred this morning. He would walk part of the way, Archie decided, then take a chair to Bond Street. In any case, he intended to arrive at his destination on time. If he had left all else of his former life behind, he had at least retained the naval preference for punctuality!
"If you are seized with a flux take directly a large dose of Rhubarb and apply directly to your Surgeon." Pellew frowned, trying to recall which of the many other items he felt compelled to offer as advice was the most urgent. He dipped the quill into the inkwell and resumed. "Always wear a piece of White paper inside your hat."
Homely advice. Practical advice. Only time would tell if his son would follow it. Doubtless Pownoll would be embarrassed by some of this counsel--but who would tell the boy these things, if not his father? And with Pownoll currently stationed in the West Indies, and Pellew himself bound for the East Indies in a matter of weeks, it might be years before they saw each other again.
He frowned again, staring into space for a moment, then continued writing almost absently. "If you should take prizes I need scarcely recommend you to treat your Prisoners with kindnefs, but be very careful to keep safe and proper Guards over them - An Officer who suffers his Prisoners to retake his Ship can never recover the Stain on his Character."
Pellew blinked and stared down at the letter. His words, from his own mouth--or nearly so. How had that memory resurrected itself, almost without his will?
A most unwelcome memory too, that had power to haunt him even two years later. He could close his eyes against it, but the faces were still there: Buckland's, blanched to the color of suet, the pale, protuberant eyes wide with fear; Hornblower's, taut and shuttered, revealing no more than it had to; and Kennedy's, sheened with the sweat of fever and physical exertion that should have been beyond the capabilities of his dying body . . .
Dear God, how had he, how had they all, let it come to this pass?
The chiming of the mantel clock broke in upon his thoughts. Looking up, he saw it wanted only fifteen minutes to the dinner hour . . . no wonder, indeed, that those past events had come to mind. Foolish, in fact, to think otherwise, when his guest would shortly be arriving.
No more than five minutes had passed when he heard the knocker rap against the door, mere seconds before he heard the steps in the passage.
"Mr. Lennox," the butler announced, bowing the new arrival into the sitting-room before withdrawing himself .
Already risen to his feet, Pellew stared at his guest as if he would commit every detail to memory: the elegant clothes, the unfamiliar copper hair, the entirely familiar blue eyes -- regarding him steadily but not without a flicker of apprehension.
For a moment, the admiral did not know whether he could command his voice. Then, unexpectedly, he found it, albeit pitched slightly lower than usual.
"Punctual to a shade. I commend you, sir."
"I was . . . well schooled in that courtesy, sir," Archie heard himself responding. He felt the keen eyes assessing him again; although Pellew's habitually stern expression did not change, there seemed a hint of approval in his glance.
"But I forget my duties as your host!" his former commander reproved himself. "Come--will you take a glass of canary with me before we dine?"
Archie accepted the offer, and saw again the approbation in the dark eyes when Pellew handed him his glass.
"I am--quite pleased to see you, Mr. Lennox," Pellew continued, looking his guest up and down with apparent satisfaction. "Especially since you are so much improved from the last time."
Archie blinked. "Sir?"
"In Kingston. I called several times upon your employer--I understand he has *remained* your employer?"
Archie nodded, and Pellew resumed. "At the time, your condition gave great cause for anxiety. The physician was quite adamant that you not be disturbed."
That was Latour, right enough. But--
"Several times?" Archie could not keep the questioning note from his voice.
"Indeed. Your employer first made himself known to me that evening before the closing of the--" Pellew's expression grew suddenly grim, "of the trial. In truth, neither of us had anticipated your--" He fell silent, apparently uncertain how to proceed.
"My -- confession?" Archie ventured tentatively.
"Your sacrifice, sir," Pellew corrected, his voice oddly gentle. "And afterward . . . " He paused again; Archie suspected he was finding all this damnably awkward to explain. It was not in the admiral's nature to shirk what was difficult, however, and he continued determinedly, "Even the doctor had expressed the gravest doubts as to the success of his efforts."
Archie licked his lips, dizzied by these revelations. "I . . . see," he managed at last. "You have had much the advantage of me, sir--I fear I knew nothing of this previously."
"Your employer was good enough to keep me apprised of your recovery," Pellew broke off to gaze more closely at the younger man. "He has not informed you of this?"
Archie forced his mouth--which had tightened automatically at this disclosure--to relax into a faint, crooked smile. "No. He wouldn't, of course." He looked down, then up. "I must thank you for your interest, sir."
"I assure you, there is no need."
The butler reappeared at this point, to announce that dinner was served. Setting down their empty glasses, the two men--admiral and agent--headed for the dining room, the former gesturing to the latter to precede him.
Even as a frigate captain, Sir Edward Pellew had always kept a fine table. Taking his seat at his host's right hand, Archie could not help but be reminded of the times he and his fellow officers had been invited to dine in the captain's cabin aboard the Indefatigable. Pellew's steward, he remembered, could do remarkable things with ships' stores, even when they included such unpromising materials as stringy salt beef and weevily biscuits.
Neither salt beef nor biscuits--with or without weevils--were in evidence tonight. Once ashore, Pellew's domestic staff could easily obtain the best of everything, and the dinner set before the admiral and his guest required neither excuses nor apologies. Despite his lingering anxiety over this evening's outcome, Archie experienced a moment of pure gustatory pleasure at his first mouthful of soup: a fine, clear consommé, perfectly seasoned. The crusty rolls, served with fresh butter, were likewise excellent.
To Archie's surprise and relief, Pellew dismissed the servants once the first course was served, saying that he and his guest had matters well in hand and could serve themselves. Pas devant les domestiques, Archie thought. But all to the good, since he had matters of some -- delicacy to discuss with his former commander. Moreover, since becoming an agent, he had learned just how easily a servant could obtain sensitive information from an indiscreet employer. Pellew, it seemed, was aware of that as well.
"The fillets of turbot are served with lobster sauce," the admiral remarked as the door closed behind the last footman. "And do have some of that buttered crab, sir--my chef prides himself on his way with shellfish."
Thus invited, Archie helped himself to modest servings of both and let his host pour him a glass of claret.
"It seems I must hold myself fortunate to have encountered you," Pellew continued, now filling his own glass, "as I doubt that I shall be remaining in London above another fortnight."
"You have a new posting, sir?"
Pellew nodded. "I sail for the East Indies within the month. It is only Admiralty business that keeps me in London at present." He paused, took a brief sip from his glass. "And as for yourself, these past two years? In Scotland?"
"In Edinburgh--often," Archie confirmed. "And . . . abroad at other times, when my duties required it."
"And now you find yourself in London!" Pellew laid down his fork and eyed his former lieutenant appraisingly. "Might I inquire if this is -- a professional matter?"
"It -- would seem so," Archie replied, and was surprised by his own caution. Surely in the past he would not have hesitated to disclose all, but now . . .
Pellew continued to study him closely. "Are you permitted to speak of it?"
With an effort, Archie recalled his attention to the present. Why else had he told Smitty and Carmichael that he needed to accept this invitation? He took a quick sip of his claret for Dutch courage, then stepped into the breach. "If I might request your assistance, sir, on certain matters? There are some persons connected to the Admiralty who have become the subjects of our inquiries. Any further knowledge of them would be -- welcome."
A brief pause, then Pellew nodded his consent. "Very well. Pray continue, Lieu--Mr. Lennox," he corrected himself. "Who are these persons?"
"The Honorable Justin Ainsley," Archie began, and was startled again to find himself pausing. "He was once a subordinate of Secretary Barrow."
"Ainsley," Pellew mused. "I know him by sight--but he hasn't been much in evidence recently. Still, I could inquire in more detail among his former colleagues, if necessary. And the others? "
"Colonel Armand Parillaud." Archie ventured, but did not elaborate upon what Kilcarron's agents had previously said of the Frenchman. He did not fully understand the caution that was restraining his tongue. Once, Lieutenant Kennedy would have faced his captain and eagerly volunteered a detailed report--what was Agent Stewart doing? This was more the slow turning-over of cards to reveal which player held the winning hand; the careful barter of information as he had seen it enacted by Kilcarron, Carmichael, and his fellow agents over the last two years.
Pellew shook his head. "Again--I've heard the name from my associates, but he appears to have closer connections within the Army."
"And--Major André Cotard." Archie remembered, and noted Pellew's sudden start.
"Cotard? The Admiralty gave out *his* name?"
"It was said there was no knowledge of his current location, and so he is considered suspect."
"No, no." Pellew was shaking his head dismissively. "It would seem that your source has some limitations, sir. The major was in a mission under my command only last year, and was seriously injured then. Complications later resulted from the wound, and he has been undergoing a lengthy recovery."
"In secret?" The faint note of skepticism in Archie's voice surprised him as much as it did Pellew.
The admiral raised his brows. "Not every convalescence is public knowledge, Lennox--as I am sure you are well aware."
"Touché, sir," Archie acknowledged with a wry quirk of his lips. But he did not think Pellew looked altogether displeased. Rather, the older man was eyeing him afresh, as though considering whether to impart further details.
"In truth . . ." Pellew let the words linger in the air for several seconds before resuming. "Major Cotard's service in last year's mission put him in a position to request -- certain favors. It is not commonly known within the Admiralty, but . . . Cotard is even now engaged in an attempt to spirit some members of his family out of France. He would do nothing to jeopardize the success of that venture--Cotard is one man I can vouch for."
Archie absorbed this information, then finally nodded. "Then -- this knowledge should be of great assistance to us."
"Excellent." The admiral appeared somewhat relieved. "Now, may I offer you some of this roast chicken, sir? Or one of these cutlets? Lady Pellew put up the mint sauce herself and I always keep some jars on hand to serve with lamb."
The chicken and lamb were equally good, especially when accompanied by spring greens, young carrots, and a velvety purée of potatoes. Over the remainder of the first course, the two men continued their discussion. Pellew lacked familiarity with either LeGrande or the Vicomte DeGuise, but had noted at least one commonality: "They share a reputation in society for fashionable tastes--indeed, one might even say extravagant, upon occasion."
And the need for funds was an ever-potent motivation for treachery, Archie knew. But of all of the suspects, which of them was the most desperate, the most likely to follow this course? He fell silent, staring down at his hands ass he considered the question.
Lost in his brown study, he failed to notice that his previous commander was studying him with the same intensity. Two years Kilcarron's agent, and in that time the eager, open young officer that Pellew remembered had changed dramatically. Although lacking neither courage nor ability, Lieutenant Kennedy had seemed utterly without guile--frank almost to a fault, Pellew had thought on more than one occasion. One might have believed him constitutionally incapable of any form of deception or subterfuge.
But this man . . . was more guarded, more cautious --more incisive, in fact, with an edge that suggested finely honed steel. Though it was not only Kennedy who now presented an armored front to the outside world. Abruptly, Pellew remembered Hornblower in Kingston, his utterances controlled and wary, his face similarly shuttered. Was this the ultimate price Renown had exacted from them all? This loss of . . . faith, of candor? Such qualities would be hard-put to survive the war in any case, the admiral acknowledged ruefully. And yet Pellew would still wager without hesitation on his former officer's loyalty. But how to bridge the chasm of time and circumstance?
The not-wholly-comfortable silence was broken by the sound of a door opening and a footman tactfully clearing his throat. Both men looked up; Pellew glanced inquiringly at Kennedy--Lennox--who nodded in response. The admiral then beckoned to his servants who quickly removed the remains of the first course and brought in the second: a syllabub, a jelly, a plate of sweet tartlets, and a pudding rich with dried fruit and spices. Port and madeira were brought as well, along with cheeses, to provide the finishing touch to the meal.
The idea presented itself to Pellew when they were alone once again. Almost casually, he inquired, "Am I correct in assuming, sir, that there are other--absent friends, of whom you might be willing to hear news?"
He almost smiled when he saw the sudden hunger in the blue eyes, but the young man's reaction touched him no less than it amused him.
Almost instantly, his guest lowered his gaze to his plate, but his voice sounded slightly breathless when he replied. "You--would indeed be correct, Admiral."
"Ah." Pellew leaned back in his chair. "Well, sir--it might please you to learn that the closest of our mutual acquaintance is justifying all our hopes for his professional success."
Archie looked up again. "A promotion?"
Pellew nodded. "He was appointed Master and Commander into the sloop Hotspur when the war resumed and is currently serving with the Channel Fleet. Moreover," he added, "he has just been made Post Captain."
The younger man's face lit with pleasure for his friend. One of Kennedy's most admirable traits had been his generosity of spirit, Pellew recalled; it was heartening to see that was yet true.
"The changes in his personal life have been equally significant," the admiral continued. "In addition to his new rank, he has also acquired a new family."
The blue eyes widened. "M-married? With a child?"
"Indeed," Pellew confirmed. "I attended his wedding last year, and his wife has recently been delivered of a son." He paused, choosing his words with care. "I am not -- well-acquainted with the lady but she seemed pleasant enough. I understand she was a schoolteacher before her marriage to Hornblower. The announcement of their son's birth appeared in the Chronicle; he is to be named for his sire, I believe."
"Horatio, a father," Archie murmured, half to himself. "Well, well, well." His next words startled them both. "Is he happy?"
Pellew stared at him, realizing anew the difference between an acquaintance and a friend. For an acquaintance, it would have sufficed to hear of Hornblower's success. But a friend--especially such a friend as Kennedy had been to Hornblower--required a deeper, more personal knowledge.
"He seems content," the admiral said at last.
"Ah." The tension in the young man's body eased fractionally.
"And as it happens, another of your acquaintances is serving under him," Pellew resumed. "Hornblower chose Mr. Bush as his lieutenant aboard the Hotspur."
Archie absorbed this information in silence, then gave a decisive nod. "A good man. I am sure he has fulfilled his duties admirably."
He did not sound regretful, Pellew observed, but it would be strange indeed if the thought of what might have been had not crossed his mind, however briefly.
The admiral cleared his throat and continued. "As to another friend--once the Peace had ended, promotion was granted to Mr. Bracegirdle as well, though matters proved somewhat more -- difficult for him." Pellew quickly recounted the fate of the Grasshopper. "Nonetheless, he acquitted himself with honor in his last mission, as well as providing the Admiralty with a nine days' wonder. Indeed," he added as his guest's brows rose quizzically. "He was reported killed in the action, and believed so for several weeks--it was only recently that we heard he had in fact survived, though he will need some months to recover from his injuries. A great relief to all his friends, and to his family."
Archie murmured his assent. Noticing that the young man's glass was empty, Pellew set about refilling it with vintage port.
"Is there anyone else within the Admiralty about whom you might wish me to inquire?" he asked, handing the glass back to his guest.
Archie studied the contents of his glass as if they contained the answer to all of life's mysteries. "None that I know of at present, sir. But the information you have already provided should be of great help to us. Thank you."
"I suppose I should not be surprised that such inquiries are necessary," Pellew remarked. "With the threat of invasion imminent, I daresay your employer is busier than ever."
"If that were possible." His former subordinate's tone was noticeably dry. "But then his lordship is always so very . . . busy."
The admiral concealed a smile; whatever else had changed in two years, Lennox had retained Kennedy's sense of humor. "Well, we have both lived to thank him for that, sir. As it is," he paused, his brow creased in sudden thought, "it occurs to me that there is some additional information, in my immediate possession, that may be of use to him."
His guest looked up again, instantly alert. "Sir?"
Pellew rose from his chair. "By your leave, sir, I shall return shortly."
The first words fairly leapt off the page at him: Victory, 1st May, 1804 Eyes widening in recognition, he read on.
MY DEAR SIR EDWARD
I feel more than merely obliged by your kind and obliging letter of April 10th which, notwithstanding it has been afloat in the Med'n 6 Days, conveys to us very late news. I wish our Government in their important communications with me would direct their dispatches to Mr Frere at Madrid, and direct him to forward them by a confidential person to Barcelona, where almost every week I send a frigate for information, then such a distressing circumstance as has happened to the Swift cutter could not take place. Bonaparte read all the public dispatches on April 16th. I wish they had choaked him. I wish I was sure that our letters are not read by the Way, however, what I am going to say cannot do much harm. The French have 14000 men ready for Embarkation at Toulon and as many more in the heel of Italy - they only want more Ships and my information leads me to suppose that certainly the Ferrol Squadron is destined for the Mediterranean - and also the Brest fleet - either before or after they may have thrown their Corps of Troops on Shore in Ireland. Egypt and the Morea are supposed to be their great object after their English and Irish Schemes. Our force here is not equal to such a force united to the Toulon Fleet which is ten Sail of the Line seven of which are full manned . . . .
Our ships' hulls many of them are but in a very indifferent state, however we can keep nine Sail of the Line at Sea. I do not chuse to say more upon this subject, but this I may pride myself upon, that no man ever commanded a fleet better manned, more healthy, or ever great unanimity prevailed, than the one I have the honour of Commanding. I believe the Russian fleet from the Black Sea is by this time in the Mediterranean, their object I can only guess at for I have not a word of information or a scrap of a pen from England since the end of January. . .
Archie looked up from the page, his eyes meeting Pellew's. "So -- Nelson himself has some misgivings."
"So it would seem," the admiral replied somberly. "He has every confidence in his men, of course, but if the French succeed in obtaining those additional ships . . . "
"Then the odds may shift in their favor," Archie finished. "I should like to borrow this, sir, if I may."
Pellew nodded. "I rather thought you would ask. Very well."
"I'll return it as soon as possible," Archie promised, "but I think -- a gentleman of our acquaintance needs to see it." Folding the letter carefully, he slipped it into an inner pocket of his jacket, started at the sound of the mantel-clock chiming the hour.
Ten o'clock. Time he was away. Half-regretful, half-relieved, he perceived their business was drawing to its conclusion and prepared to take his leave. "Thank you again, Admiral--for everything. But I feel I must not impose further upon you . . ."
Pellew, fingers steepled before him, spoke slowly, as if he had not heard. "There is . . . one last matter, if you would indulge me, Mr. Lennox?"
Archie fell silent, waiting. "Sir?" he prompted, when no immediate response seemed forthcoming.
Pellew looked up and spoke at last. "This--has weighed on me greatly these past two years." The dark eyes, Archie noticed, looked oddly troubled. "Had it been possible in Kingston, I had wished to tell you: I regret the necessity but I have the profoundest respect for the choice you made--or was it forced on you?"
Archie shook his head at that last question. "In Kingston--the choice was entirely my own, sir. And I have learned to abide by its consequences--all of them."
"That is--bravely spoken." Despite the approbation of his words, Pellew's face was somber. "I find that, in some way, I would like to apologize . . . for failing to contrive a better outcome two years ago. In Kingston, my own circumstances were more restricted than I had foreseen. Had there been any claim of excessive leniency, any hint of favoritism . . . the proceedings would have been irrevocably tainted in the eyes of the Navy--and of the world. There might always have been suspicions--shadows that would have followed Renown's officers for the rest of their careers, perhaps even the rest of their lives. And there was the immediate danger to fend off--"
"Hanging for mutiny," Archie supplied.
"Yes." The admiral's mouth grew suddenly taut. "Captain Hammond was set upon making an example of -- at least one of you. Had I known at the time that he was serving his own purposes . . ." He lapsed into silence, frowning fiercely.
Archie blinked. "Sir?"
Pellew sighed. "Your employer mentioned a high-ranking traitor discovered by the Admiralty within the last year. You deserve to know, I think." Tersely, he related the details of Hammond's Irish conspiracy and its outcome. "I regret," he finished heavily, "that even without this knowledge, I was unable, in Kingston, to find a timely strategy that would allow all those innocent to escape the hazard. Your solution must have come at a great--personal cost, and so I feel I must ask your pardon."
"That--is not necessary, sir, though I thank you for it." Archie licked his lips and tried to assume a lighter tone. "I have begun to think--perhaps it was not intended that I should remain in the Navy."
"That, too, is bravely spoken, sir." Despite the younger man's rallying tone, Pellew could see the shock on his face. Remembering the price that Kennedy had paid, he felt the anger heating his own blood and wished that he had had the opportunity to study the traitor through the sights of a gun. "Yet . . . for my part, it seems the Navy lost a good man that day in Kingston--and entirely through its own folly."
The compliment took Archie by surprise; he felt his face growing warm and, not for the first time, cursed the fair complexion that was too accurate a barometer of his moods.
Pellew rose again from his chair. "But I must not keep you from your appointment, sir, by indulging my past regrets. In any case, I shall be in London a while longer, should you need to contact me again. Do you require conveyance back to your lodgings?"
Archie shook his head, getting to his feet as well. "No, thank you, Admiral. I shall manage well enough."
"As you clearly have before." Pellew's smile was tinged with melancholy. "Only -- before you leave, is there any further assistance I can offer you?"
Archie hesitated. It was a bow drawn at venture, but he had to ask, all the same. "Sir--you have known of my survival these past two years. Does anyone else know? My . . . family?" There were other names he would not say.
Pellew's face was at once knowing and regretful. "I fear I have no recent news to offer on that subject. After Kingston, I wrote to tell your family--of your passing. No other course was possible, then--your employer was adamant that your survival be kept a secret. In point of fact--he required my word upon it as a condition for his services."
That was far too often a habit of his employer, Archie reflected grimly, but forced down his exasperation, trying to keep his face impassive and his mind fixed upon the matter at hand. "Nonetheless, I thank you for what you *have* been able to tell me, sir. Did you--receive a reply, by any chance?"
"A brief one," Pellew answered, motioning the younger man to go before him out of the dining room. "From your sister, Lady Langford--acknowledging receipt of my letter and thanking me for the information. Beyond that . . ." He shook his head. "My own affairs kept me in Teignmouth for some time after that, and I heard nothing further."
Archie nodded, squaring his shoulders. "I understand, and it is still -- more than I had hoped for, to learn that much."
By now, they had reached the entrance hall; at the front door, Archie turned again to his host. "Good night, Admiral. I thank you for your hospitality, and I shall await your further word."
"You have been--a most welcome surprise, Mr. Lennox," Pellew replied with grave courtesy. "I give you good night, sir."
The moment of departure. The posture never forgotten: heels together, shoulders back . . . Archie met his former captain's eyes and brought his hand up slowly to his brow in a careful salute. Pellew returned the gesture with equal dignity, then watched in silence as his former officer made his way down the steps and walked quietly away into the night.
On the evening tide their departure would attract far less attention. The earl watched silently as the patient--sedated on a litter, wrapped in blankets, with his face temporarily swathed in bandages--was carefully settled in the boat, the doctor jealously vigilant at his side. The shore boat cast off for its destination: the ship riding at anchor, its name--"Caledonia"--invisible in the darkness.
"So he is well enough to travel."
Unsurprised, Kilcarron turned towards the other watcher, now stepping into view away from the shelter of the buildings.
"There is, in fact, some slight risk," Kilcarron acknowledged, responding to the other man's previous observation. "But markedly less, the doctor believes, than if he remains here. The sea air may prove a more effective deterrent to the infections of the tropics."
"And he has not awakened?" The regret in Pellew's voice was almost palpable.
"I fear not," the earl replied. "Not . . . naturally, nor is he able to attend to the world around him. Moreover, the doctor will not permit him to be forcibly roused."
Silence descended again. The burden of worry, of anxiety, sapped Pellew's usual energy; for once, he appeared his full age. "It seems I must continue to leave him in your hands."
"The doctor has undertaken every measure to improve his chances of recovery," Kilcarron reminded him. "And I shall regard it as my duty to send you word of him. In return, however . . ." He paused; Pellew eyed him warily.
"Commodore, for his own safety, no one else must know of his survival. I ask that this matter be kept confidential, between ourselves alone. May I have your word upon it, sir?"
Pellew's brows drew together. "Do you impugn my discretion, sir?"
"Only in that you might be tempted--to alleviate the suffering of others. Yet such a revelation could pose a threat to our endeavors and precipitate the very outcome we wish to avoid at all costs." He waited, undaunted by his companion's scowl.
"You have my word, sir," Pellew said heavily, at last. "I shall speak to no one regarding--this matter."
"I thank you." The earl raised a hand to summon the second shore boat. "In return, I will pledge to you my word that no effort will be spared regarding his safety and the recovery of his health."
"Then you leave me greatly in your debt, my lord." Pellew watched broodingly as the earl took his place in the boat with the surefooted grace of a cat. "I wish you a safe voyage, sir, and I await your tidings most eagerly."
Kilcarron inclined his head. "Thank you, commodore. You have been of great assistance to me in these last weeks. I assure you that I shall do my best to keep you informed. Farewell, sir."
"Farewell," Pellew murmured, watching as the second boat now pulled away. Only the soughing wind and the crying gulls heard his final words. "And a safe voyage home to you as well, Mr. Kennedy. Godspeed."
END PART TWELVE