Life of Duty
Pellew and Edrington at the Admiralty
It was the sort of day Pellew detested; the wind was raw, driving sheets of stinging rain to challenge the thickest cloak, and twilight was indistinguishable from daylight, so grey and grim was the sky. The portico of the Admiralty looked like a ghostly mirage -- the entrance to a mausoleum. A place where death reigned, where young lives were spent as freely as the coin of the realm, and where the heart was nothing but a lump of flesh. God how he hated it!
None of this showed in Pellew's face as he ascended the stairs, gave his name to the impeccably attired lieutenant at the door, and was escorted into the Port Admiral's antechamber. The last time he had been here, Hornblower had accompanied him. The lad had just been made a commissioned Lieutenant, and had gone to Cutler and Gross, to be outfitted in his new uniform. He had been so serious, so proud, wearing the uniform with grave dignity, and yet unaware how well it became him. That uniform was to see hard service, harder than either of them had imaged. And he had worn it to his grave ...
"Captain Pellew, sir. Lord Hood bids you to enter." The admiral's secretary stood aside to allow Pellew to enter the great man's office.
Pellew swept in, his expression very grim. "My Lord." He wondered if the admiral could read the enormous anger he felt towards him. If he could have laid Hornblower's body at his feet, he would have done so. But this was not the place for emotion. If there was a chance that the admiralty might be persuaded that the Indy was being sent on a fool's mission, Pellew needed to be clear-headed and absolutely logical.
The port admiral was not alone in his office. There was a civilian there, and judging from the sober but exquisitely tailored clothing he wore, he was a man of some importance.
"Captain Pellew. Glad you could join us, filthy weather today, what?"
"A dark day, indeed, sir."
"May I present Lord St. Alban? My lord, Captain Sir Edward Pellew."
Pellew acknowledged the soberly clad civilian. "My lord." His heart sank. St. Alban was well-known in Naval circles as Lord Hood's Intelligence chief, even though no such official post existed. His presence seemed to indicate that the mission was set, and the Admiralty was not to be turned from their purpose.
The door opened. A tall, slender man in scarlet and gold stepped inside. "Major Lord Alexander Edrington, my lord." The secretary announced.
Pellew's turned swiftly. Sweet Christ in Heaven! What nightmare was this he was reliving? To be reminded at every turn of Hornblower! His dark eyes met Edrington's. The major's expression mirrored his in every particular. And yet, neither revealed by so much as flicker of an eyelid that their thoughts were the same.
The port admiral's thin mouth smiled. "I believe you two gentlemen have an acquaintance."
Edrington came forward. His low, well-modulated voice was perfectly steady. "Captain Pellew, I am pleased to see you again."
"My lord. It has been a long time."
Edrington nodded. "Sir, you have my condolences on the loss of Lieutenant Hornblower."
"Thank you. He is sorely missed." There were undercurrents there; grief, anger, resignation. Pellew knew Edrington felt them all.
The admiral was oblivious. "Hornblower?"
"He was killed in our last attempt on the signal tower, if you recall, my lord." Pellew's voice was icy, and he did not even try to disguise the chill. He hoped it struck to the man's heart.
"Yes, yes ... A great loss, I'm sure. But we have other matters at hand, Captain Pellew. And since he failed to destroy --"
It was more than Pellew could bear. "Sir, I protest! *He* did not fail! He gave his life! His men gave their all. You cannot hold us responsible for the fact that the French have decided to rebuilt that damned signal tower!"
"Nonetheless, Captain Pellew. If the mission had been completely successful, they would not be able to rebuild at all."
"Perhaps if I had been given men enough and resources enough, we would not be standing here arguing, my lord." Pellew was choking on his rage. If Hood said one more word implying that Hornblower had been in some way deficient in his duty or his courage he would draw his small sword and ram it into the Admiral's gut.
St. Alban spoke from the shadows. "Gentlemen, please. I admit that we underestimated the strength of the tower, and the garrison. We bear the fault as surely as you do. That is why Lord Edrington is here with us. His division will be sailing with you to Brittany, Captain Pellew. They will do the fighting on land. Your duty will be to raze that tower so completely that not even God would consider rebuilding it. Can you do it?"
Pellew closed his eyes and drew a breath. "We will do our duty, my lord."
St. Alban nodded. "Is that clear to you, Major?"
"Utterly." Edrington's tone was dry. "Rest assured, my lord. It will be my personal mission to see it done."
"Then we are agreed. Shall we discuss the logistics?"
Pellew and Edrington exchanged grim looks, and bent over the maps and charts spread out on the table before them. Emotions aside, this was what they took an oath to do -- to defend and protect the realm from her enemies. It was what Hornblower had died doing; and they would see it through, or share his destiny.
Somehow, in that cool detailing and planning, Pellew's rage dissipated and his logical military mind functioned as it should, unburdened by past. The admiralty had devised a plan that might actually work, provided they were given enough men and ordinance to carry out the mission. Edrington seemed to approve without reservation, and reassured their Lordships that he and his men would do their duty. On paper, it was polite and bloodless, but as the parchment orders were sealed, the red wax dripping on them was thick as the blood of a good man. Pellew closed his eyes and looked away as the seal was pressed into the pool of wax.
"Well, that is a good afternoon's work," St. Albans said in satisfaction. "I wish you well, gentlemen. I cannot see any impediment to carry out this plan. I suggest that you begin your preparations."
"Aye, aye, my lord," Pellew said quietly.
"I bid you good day, gentlemen." Pellew and Edrington did their honors and left the admiral's office. Once in the antechamber Pellew and Edrington exchanged weary, unhappy glances.
It was Edrington who spoke first. "Did you know?" he asked.
"I am sorry, Sir Edward. This can only cause both of us pain."
"That it does." Pellew tucked the sealed orders into his tunic. "But I would rather you accompany us on this mission, than a man I do not know."
Edrington thought Pellew looked weary beyond his years. He was much thinner, and careworn. To Edrington's perceptive eyes he looked lonely somehow. He could not bind all the wounds, but for a few hours, before he returned to the Indy, he did not have to be alone. "Captain Pellew, may I invite you to join me for some refreshment? I find myself in need of something to drive the chill away."
The kind offer from Edrington was unexpected but very welcome. "Thank you, my lord, it will be an honour."
Edrington nodded. "Good. Please, Sir Edward, our acquaintance is of such duration and intensity that I wish you would drop the honorific. Edrington will do. There are times when I damn the title myself, you know," he said with an attempt at levity. But there was something of weariness in his brown eyes despite the smile in his voice.
Pellew imagined his own eyes held the same expression of late. Together, they stepped outside and paused on the steps. It was still damp, and now nearly dark. Edrington glanced down the street. "I can call a carriage, Captain Pellew, or we can walk. It is not far."
"A walk will clear some of the cobwebs from my brain," Pellew replied and tightened the clasp on his cloak. The two men strode down the streets; the aura of command on them both, so that others stepped aside to let them pass. Neither seemed aware of that effect. They were nearly silent, exchanging only general observations until Edrington halted in front of the imposing brick townhouse that housed the Portsmouth Club.
"It is not as martial as the Long Rooms, but I believe it is infinitely more soothing. And the chef prepares an excellent joint of beef."
"I cannot say that I have much of an appetite for red meat." Pellew paced up the steps beside Edrington. "I have seen enough blood."
"Sir Edward, this is not easy for either of us ... but the matter of choice is out of our hands, so perhaps we had best set the matter aside for now." Edrington handed his cloak to a manservant, who waited for Pellew to unclasp his and drape it over his arms. They were ushered into a close-curtained, private dining room. Soft candlelight gleamed on the mellow wood panelling, the linens were impeccable, the temperature was pleasantly warm after the damp chill outside.
Pellew found himself relaxing despite his cares. Wine was soon poured, and Edrington, mindful of Pellew's tastes, ordered roast chicken with new potatoes and peas. Their conversation through dinner consisted of careful topics; politics, military matters, the rumors that circulated at court. It wasn't until the brandy arrived (very fine, and no doubt contraband), that the conversation turned to more immediate matters.
Lord Edrington was visibly more relaxed as he cradled the crystal snifter in his hands and inhaled the fragrance. "It seems before we set out on this mission that we will have a nuptual celebration."
Pellew's brows rose. "Young Lieutenant Kennedy and *Lady* Josephine Silverthorn. A bit of a mismatch, I fear."
"Do you believe it to be? I have seen them together, and I assure you, it *is* a love match, and possibly the making of Mr. Kennedy. She is ... extraordinary."
"Mr. Kennedy has far sterner tasks ahead of him." Pellew's dark eyes grew darker. "As do we."
"Then perhaps we should wish him happy. None of us has any greater expectation in this life than that." Edrington raised his glass. "To love and war."
"To love and honour," Pellew said softly, and Edrington nodded his acquiescence.
After the brandy, after they had collected their coats and requested carriages to take them to their destinations, they shook hands gravely and parted. Pellew to return to the Indefatigable, and Edrington to return to his rooms.