A Life of Duty: Dr. Sebastian
by Sarah B.
It was a beautiful night to walk beneath the stars.
This was the thought Dr. Luis Sebastian entertained as he made
his way around the seaside gardens of his small estate. It was
a warm night, heavy with approaching summer, and the trees seemed
to whisper their encouragement as he strode the slate walks, the
heels of his boots echoing through the solitary night air. Stay
here, the mild breeze suggested with the rustle of every leaf
and branch; stay here and heal. It is what you are meant to do.
For the moment, Dr. Sebastian listened to that warm spring night,
and was not in a hurry to do anything except walk beneath the
glory of God's heaven and let his mind wander. He had leave from
his duties as surgeon on the Indefatigable, with assurances from
Captain Pellew that he would receive word when she was back in
port and ready to sail again, and although he knew that word would
come soon he knew he would not receive it in the middle of the
night. So he tried to relax, and let his mind wander and heal.
As he knew it must, if he was to be of help to anyone at all.
The doctor reached an open, grassy area where the trees parted
and there was a spectacular view of the dark and restless sea.
He paused for a moment, letting his dark eyes drink in the sight
of the half-moon glistening on the surging tides, and losing himself
in the roar of the sea as it crashed to the shore far below him,
then rushed back out to heave itself in again, like a penitent
man thrashing himself against the rocks, desperate for forgiveness.
Stop it, Sebastian thought to himself, that is long past and over.
Long past, and she is gone. And you have to let yourself heal.
He turned and looked at the estate behind him, ghostly white in
the moonlight. It was not much, a small stone house, a garden,
some slender trees that could survive in the thin soil. There
were lights in the house, kept by Sister Beatrice of the local
convent when Dr. Sebastian was in town. The doctor smiled to himself,
knowing that even at that moment the good nun was standing at
the window waiting for him to return, even though she knew it
would not be for hours. Look how thin you've gotten, she had wailed
when she saw him arrive three weeks ago. You look like you haven't
eaten in ages! So he knew she would worry until he returned. It
was not a bad feeling, to know that.
The doctor's eyes wandered over the land, to a spot nearer to
him, and another pool of light. His heart twinged, for he was
looking at a tiny chapel he had built with his own two hands twenty
years ago. It was a lovely structure he was told, small but suffused
with holiness and care, with two walls composed almost entirely
of beautiful stained glass brought from Paris. Those windows shone
now, for there were candles lit in the chapel, and the light spilled
over the fledgling grass, turning it colors of red and blue and
And if the light reached a little further, Sebastian knew it would
touch two tombstones, one larger than the other, with inscriptions
he knew by heart. The graves of his wife and son.
Dr. Sebastian began to walk again, his mind turning back to a
day long ago, some two years after he received his assignment
to serve aboard the H.M.S. Valiant. He had done his best, but
must have shown signs of exhaustion because his captain, Andrew
Turner, had called him into his cabin with a worried look in his
eyes. "Luis, what's the matter with you?"
Strange, Sebastian could recall the conversation as if it were
yesterday. "Me? Nothing, I assure you."
"Poppycock! You've been in the surgery almost without stopping
for a week, and the cook told me you haven't had a meal in days.
And have you looked at yourself lately?"
"I am fine, sir, merely attempting to catch up on my work."
"This from the man who ordered me to stop driving myself
so hard? I don't believe you."
"Nevertheless, it is - "
Then, a hand on his shoulder, and his captain's eyes as angry
and frightened as he'd ever seen them. "Confound it, Luis,
stop lying to me. Something's bothering you, I've had ten men
ask me about it. You know you're far too valuable to this ship
for me to allow you to disappear without an explanation, so out
with it. We can sit here all day if you like, at least then you'd
get some rest."
Sebastian had sighed, knowing how stubborn his captain was and
that there was no escape. So he had told him the truth.
Sebastian was certain his captain was not expecting a love story,
but that was how the explanation started. Two young people, a
struggling young doctor with an English father and a Spanish mother,
and the fairest rose to ever bloom on England's shores. He did
not divulge much - he didn't have to - only that her family disapproved,
called him a pagan and other disparaging names, and demanded that
she marry Viscount Walter Lennox, a young man from a wealthy,
That might have been the end of it, but Sebastian knew that young
man, had treated young women he had beaten and abused, and warned
her parents of the man's evil nature. They had scoffed and ordered
him away, but he would not go and abandon his love to the caprices
of a wicked, violent temper. And she would not stay and be wed
to a man she did not love. So they did the only thing they could
- they ran away and married in secret.
Sebastian tilted his head up to the stars, watched them through
a haze of tears. Did God object? Had they done the wrong thing,
to defy her parents and all of society? Certainly not, for they
had been so happy, and he had felt so blessed. He had come here,
to a small fishing village, and established himself as a skilled
physician so quickly that no one minded that his skin was not
fair like hers. When she told him they were to have a child, Sebastian
thought his happiness would be complete.
But it was not to be. She began to have pains and bleed, and one
tearful night confessed to Sebastian that Lennox had beaten her
once, but she had hidden it, afraid that Sebastian would challenge
the aristocrat and be killed. The pain grew worse, the bleeding
increased. Sebastian tried everything he knew, but as she became
weaker he realized that there was nothing he could do but hold
his wife and comfort her until the need for earthly comfort was
Then he dug two graves, one small and one smaller, and that week
sold everything he owned except that land and went to Spain to
Captain Turner listened to Sebastian's story in silence, then
quietly asked, "It was this time of year?"
Sebastian had cleared his throat, and was suddenly aware that
he had been standing quite stiffly, with his hands clasped behind
his back as he told the story. "Yes, sir. Nearly."
"You haven't told me her name."
"Nor shall I, sir. That is now only between me, and God."
And so Dr. Sebastian obtained his first leave.
He never told the story to anyone else, and Captain Turner never
brought it up again. As soon as the Valiant made port, Dr. Sebastian
gathered up his belongings and went to his home, where the weight
of others' well-being was off his shoulders and he could weep
in peace. The first leave was when he had started building the
chapel, seeking in God what he knew he would never find in man:
a promise of everlasting reunion, and peace.
There would have been every reason to think that once Captain
Turner set sail again, that their conversation would be forgotten
and life would go on as it always had. But strangely enough, Dr.
Sebastian noticed that about that same time every year, Turner
would find some reason to go back to England, and he would be
given leave. He never asked about this astonishing coincidence,
but he was always grateful.
But his time with Captain Turner was over, the days of the Valiant
gone. Dr. Sebastian was sailing with new men, a new ship and a
new captain, and he had debated whether to tell Pellew of his
troubles, or see if perhaps time had done its work, and he did
not need to come back here again.
Then the answer had come, as he had prayed it would, and oddly
enough it had come in the person of Archie Kennedy.
Dr. Sebastian turned and began walking again, listening to the
steady sound of his shoes on the stone walk. He had not known
Kennedy long, only a matter of months really, but there had been
in the boy such a sharp and urgent need to heal from his hurts
that Sebastian had responded to it before even knowing how deep
those hurts were. He was only just now finding out, and the anger
it awakened in him was appalling.
Anger that such an obviously gentle soul had been so viciously
abused. Anger that nothing had been done about it. Anger that
even now, in young adulthood and among friends who would die to
protect him, Kennedy could only speak of those haunted days aboard
Justinian in halting whispers and incomplete memories. Listening
to his trials, Sebastian felt an old and buried anguish flaring
in his own soul, felt the irresistible need for peace that was
pulling him back to this chapel, this hill, this shore. The anguish
threatened to blot out all else, and make him useless to Kennedy
and the men of the Indefatigable.
So Dr. Sebastian relented, and went to Captain Pellew's cabin
to tell him the story.
Pellew was sympathetic, as Sebastian knew that worthy man would
be. A leave was arranged, and as soon as the Indie docked Dr.
Sebastian left the ship in the expert care of another surgeon
he knew well, and set out for home.
He had been home nearly a month, and could feel in his heart that
he was nearing the end of his stay. The hurt and anger had ebbed
out, replaced with strength and confidence. He was rested and
renewed, and as soon as he was given word Dr. Sebastian knew he
would be ready to face whatever lay ahead for the Indefatigable
and her crew. He was ready to do his duty.
Certainly that duty would include continuing to help Kennedy,
Sebastian thought as he turned his footsteps toward the little
chapel where he would light the votives and say his evening prayers.
The boy's trials had been long, and he had told no one - no one
- of his torments. Even though Dr. Sebastian could sense that
Kennedy trusted him implicitly, still a great unburdening had
not come. Kennedy needed to weep, to scream, to exhaust himself
railing against those who had done these terrible things; beneath
that anguish lay healing, Sebastian knew. But he was not sure
Kennedy would ever trust himself enough to let the anguish out.
But there was time for that, Sebastian told himself as he neared
the welcoming light of the little stone church. They had only
just begun to talk, and such a cataclysmic event could only happen
in an atmosphere of total security. Or failing that, in a place
where you were so distraught that you no longer cared who heard
you crying out. But please God, Kennedy would never be in that
Several candles in the chapel were already lit, and Sebastian
smiled to himself as he entered the room that was now aglow with
warm light and soft holiness. Despite its sad beginning, the chapel
always meant serenity and calm to him; it was the only place in
the world where he knew he could come and not be disturbed. The
walls were plain except for the windows, the altar a simple square
stone with a velvet cloth spread on it, and a crucifix the nuns
had given him. A statue of the Virgin Mary stood nearby, her quiet
face radiating purity and sanctification, and Sebastian looked
at the votive candles flickering at her feet and drank in the
silent reassurance there: despite his trials, he had always believed
that God listened to him when he lit those candles. Their tiny
lights were closer to Him than the stars, and Sebastian knew he
was being heard.
There were only four pews in the chapel, there was room for no
more. Sebastian sat down in one of them and bent his head forward
to pray, reflecting as he always did the men and women he had
lit those candles for. This was his favorite moment of the time
spent there, when he could be alone with God to discuss his needs,
and the needs of the ones he loved. And he did not hesitate to
The first candle had been lit for his wife, as it had always been.
Sebastian felt the familiar tug at his heart, swallowed the tears
as the well-known melancholy washed over him like a bitter tide.
You know my anguish, Lord, he prayed. You know my sadness and
my struggles. Keep her safe in Your loving care until we meet
again, and although in Your bliss she may have forgotten me, I
know that when I see her again it will be as if not a moment has
gone by since our parting. Give me strength to endure until then.
The second candle was for his son, and Sebastian's eyes shone
as he looked at that tiny flame in its glass holder. You never
had an opportunity to play, to laugh, to feel the earth beneath
your feet and see God's sky above you. And yet you know all these
wonders and more, and will never know a moment's pain or loss.
When next we meet, I look forward to seeing you run into my arms
and hearing you call me father. Keep my boy well, Lord. I know
I do not have to ask you to do so.
Other candles burned too. There was one lit for the men of the
Valiant, who were lost when she sank some months before; another
burned for Captain Turner, who after his acquittal at his court-martial
had been offered a job as an advisor in the Gibraltar admiralty.
His letters to Sebastian had been full of bluster at having to
deal with politics, but he was clearly happy. And, Sebastian knew,
would one day be eager to sail again.
Next to those candles burned the ones for the men of the Indefatigable.
One for Captain Pellew, whose strength and steadfast sense of
right and honor had filled Sebastian with pride, that he was serving
on such a ship; surely it was a blessing that he should have such
good fortune in captains twice! Next to him a flame burned for
Kennedy, in the hopes that he would find the courage to open the
doors that would lead him to health and healing, and by facing
his demons vanquish them forever. And in the middle, a candle
burned for Pellew's lieutenant, Horatio Hornblower.
Dr. Sebastian dropped his gaze to the stone floor and smiled as
he closed his eyes. Certainly Horatio, a lifelong skeptic and
questioner of all faith, would be appalled at anyone bothering
to light a candle for him! Horatio the scoffer, the product of
late-eighteenth-century thinking, who had always cleared his throat
uncomfortably when religion was discussed, would say that he needed
no heavenly guidance to do what was right and good, and that there
was no conclusive proof that anything like an all-powerful God
even existed. They had debated the idea, for Dr. Sebastian enjoyed
spiritual discussion and Horatio enjoyed any kind of debate, and
truthfully the doctor was very intrigued by this young man, who
had the courage of a lion and the stalwart heart of England beating
in his breast, but whose attitude toward religion approached fearful
apprehension. A more perfect dichotomy could not possibly exist!
Except, of course, where Horatio and Kennedy were concerned. Their
friendship was apparent to Dr. Sebastian from the start, and he
thanked God that the two young men had found a friendship in a
world where such a connection might not be made in a lifetime.
Kennedy needed Horatio's strength; Horatio needed Kennedy's humor
and youthful enthusiasm. Together they helped each other, although
neither man would likely admit it, and Dr. Sebastian knew they
would continue to do so until it was no longer possible.
The warmth inside the chapel was perfumed and inviting, and Sebastian
kept his eyes closed and leaned back in the pew, releasing his
mind to see where God would take it. It was on old and practiced
habit, his favorite manner of prayer; sometimes he could find
an answer to a problem, or become aware of something that needed
to be dealt with, by simply going to a quiet place and freeing
his thoughts until he was spoken to. And so he did it tonight.
It was like sleeping almost, this manner of prayer. Sebastian
became aware, as he always did, of the sounds and scents around
him. The night sounds on the estate - the wind rustling in the
trees, the pounding of the surf against the rocks far below, the
chirping and buzzing of nighttime insects. All this was suffused
with the scent of the candles and the heavy peace that lay within
those sacred walls, and the aura of the place wrapped itself around
Sebastian's consciousness like a blanket of the softest down,
and he smiled at the feeling. Like resting in God's arms, he thought
drowsily. Like complete peace...
As it usually happened in these meditations, things shifted a
little, and Sebastian let his mind wander from one concern to
the next, bringing each one to the fore in the hopes of finding
some new revelation or means of redress that he had not considered
before. He had learned long ago that it was best not to do this
consciously, but to let each image come and go as it willed. It
was at this time that Sebastian felt most keenly the hand of God
guiding him, and he never questioned it. There were times when
he thought perhaps he could see a vision this way. But it had
not happened yet.
So Dr. Sebastian let his mind float about, and settled into the
pew comfortably to float with it. Images came, faces he knew,
and feelings too, each one with their own cares that were now
his as well. What to do with them? This one, a cabin boy scarce
ten years old, he misses his mother and is so homesick he deliberately
makes himself sick to get some attention; and this one, a rating
who just found out his wife is expecting a child and wants to
go home, but cannot; and another, a bosun's mate who has a cancer
I cannot cure, and is afraid to die.
So many hands outstretched, Lord, so much need. And I am only
The faces faded, and there was nothing for a time. Sebastian sank
into the quiet, drank in the scent of the candles and the dampness
of the air. So much need, but here there is rest and forgetfulness.
Just for a time, to forget that there is anger and evil and want,
and rest in the Lord's arms and so regain my strength. Then I
will go back to fight. When I am ready...
The meditation deepened, and Sebastian knew that in a few moments
he really would be asleep. Other faces drifted in his mind, other
scenes, a bright sunny day in Gibraltar, the Indefatigable weighing
anchor to come home. The images were blurred, but the happiness
was there, bright as sunshine. Happiness and a feeling of belonging
again, a chance to serve on a ship as fine as the Valiant. There
was so much to do, but - and how was this possible? - Sebastian
could see Pellew and feel the captain's relief and satisfaction
at appointing him, as if somehow the two men had traded places,
and Sebastian had temporary ownership of Pellew's memories. And
there was Hornblower, all quiet smiles and carefully contained
joy, and how strange that Sebastian could feel that joy as well!
Perhaps this was a vision...
And here was Archie Kennedy, his face shadowed as it was that
first night on Indefatigable when he had come to see Dr. Sebastian,
his voice cracking with fear and an overwhelming need to unburden
the terrible secrets he kept locked within. Sebastian began to
tremble in his half-sleep, because he could feel Archie's sadness,
feel the desperate apprehension that even now kept Archie half
in shadow, his face turned away so Sebastian could not see it.
But this is not how it had been. Archie had come to him, come
into the light and talked for nearly the entire night. This was
not a memory - this was -
Archie's voice, as if from far away and so full of tears that
Sebastian's heart froze. He answered without speaking, it seemed.
"Mr. Kennedy, what is it? Are you injured?"
Archie took a step backward then, a watercolor blending into the
shadows, and let out a sob that surely was torn from the depths
of his soul.
Alarmed, Sebastian tried to move forward, but found he could not.
He felt strange, disconnected from himself, and knew this was
not a dream, but something else. He knew - "Archie, what
Archie shook his head, one hand clutched to his chest. Sebastian
tried to see, but could only discern dim brown streaks of old
blood on Archie's uniform. Dear God help me, he prayed, and asked,
"Archie, please, you're wounded, let me help you. Where are
"My heart," Archie whispered as he turned away.
Dr. Sebastian shivered, felt a crushing burden of sorrow he had
not experienced since his wife's death, but this was - it was
a thousandfold of sorrows, and Sebastian looked into the darkness
around him and knew that Captain Pellew was there as well, and
others, some of them people he did not even know. Oh, God -
Archie was drifting away, almost gone into the shadows, and Sebastian
found freedom to move just in time to keep him from disappearing
entirely. Gently taking his arm, Sebastian turned him toward the
light, looking at the bloodstain as he said, "Tell me what
has happened - "
Suddenly the brown blood on Archie's uniform was gone, replaced
by a clean, elaborately made white shirt. Surprised, Sebastian
looked at Archie's face.
And saw Horatio's instead.
For a moment Sebastian stared. Horatio looked back at him, his
face not hidden in shadows like Archie's but bathed in a white
and radiant light. Some unseen wind lightly ruffled his hair,
and there shone from his great brown eyes something Sebastian
had never seen in Horatio before, and could not place.
Without speaking, Horatio held out his right hand, still closed
as Archie's had been. He calmly took Sebastian's right hand in
his left, and pressed something into it. His touch was warm, as
if they were standing together somewhere on the Indefatigable,
but that was impossible.
Impossible, because Sebastian knew without being told that Horatio
Horatio kept their hands together, his eyes locking into Sebastian's
with pleading earnestness.
"You must hurry," he said, quietly, in a voice that
was at once urgent and full of peace. "I can trust this to
no one else."
Sebastian opened his hand, and saw within it the St. Adelaide
He shuddered, looked up to see that they were standing together
in the little chapel, and Horatio was growing insubstantial, and
surrounded by thousands of tiny lights, like stars. Horatio said
nothing else, only looked at Sebastian in quiet confidence as
the vision faded, and Sebastian came back to himself. He blinked,
and realized that he was indeed standing in the chapel, the candles
still burning, and his hand clenched shut. He opened it; there
was nothing there.
But when Sebastian looked at the altar, he saw that the candle
he had lit for Horatio was no longer burning.
For a long moment Sebastian stood motionless, listening to his
own breathing and fighting an overwhelming sense of loss and grief.
It could not be true, yet he knew that it was; There was a certainty
that came with this dream - no, it was not a dream, not an unconnected
fantasy but a real thing, the vision he had prayed for had finally
come and like Moses he fought against it, because he did not want
to acknowledge the terrible truth he now knew, and the burden
that lay beyond it.
But he had to. Dear lord, there was no one else. And there were
sorrows in the air tonight.
Footsteps coming, across the lawn toward the chapel. Sebastian
took a deep breath, fought to compose himself. He had time for
one last look at the beautiful madonna that stood over the altar,
time for one last thought: So much to do, and I am only one man.
But You trust me with this burden, and I will not fail you. Only
give me strength...
And now Sister Beatrice was at the door to the chapel, her face
ruddy with exertion, and when Sebastian looked at her he saw curious
apprehension in her eyes. "Doctor, a letter has arrived from
Sebastian's gaze fell to the tiny candle, its flame burned out
and a small curl of smoke making its way skyward. But there were
still many candles around it, still flickering uncertainly in
the darkness... Very quietly he said, "Sister, please prepare
my belongings for a return journey to Plymouth. I will be leaving
tonight, for the Indefatigable."
"Oh, so soon!" Sister Beatrice said, then paused and
asked, "But how do you know you will have to leave?"
Sebastian almost smiled at that. How grand it would be if it were
nothing, if there were no hurts that needed healing, and all he
was called upon to do was rest! But he had been given a mission,
and only he and the giver knew how truly urgent that mission was;
and it could be trusted to no one else. "I have been given
a sign by God. And a message..." his eyes fell on the darkened
candle, and he sighed sadly, "From a very dear friend."