Red Sky at Morning, part 6
by Sarah B.
Author's note: This part of the story deals with Horatio finding out about Archie's relationship with Jack Simpson, and as such contains some very grim material. It's nothing explicit, but very strongly suggested at, so I thought I'd better put this warning label on it.
Captain Morgan led Pellew and Horatio out of the darkness of the brig
up the companionway stairs, through the light drizzle that was still falling,
past the sailors and officers who were doing their work with angry, mournful
looks on their faces, and finally to the warm dryness of his cabin.
Horatio followed him; he was too dazed by what he had just seen and heard to do otherwise. Pellew was silent as well, although when Horatio glanced at him he could see the barely-controlled turmoil that lay behind those brown eyes.
Then it was not some kind of nightmarish vision. He had indeed just witnessed Archie confess to the murder of Leftenant Creps. Confess, to two captains. Confess, with no amendment or explanation. Confess, and seal his own fate.
Horatio felt the world slipping out from under him, as it had at Muzillac. And could not stop it.
"Oh, damn," Captain Morgan muttered, and Horatio looked up to see him reading the dispatch that he'd given him, reading it and shaking his head. Morgan glanced up, almost as if he'd forgotten he had guests, and waving the dispatch said, "I thought it was something important, not more of this spy nonsense."
Horatio saw Captain Pellew's head come up sharply, knew suddenly that he was not supposed to know what was in that letter. Pellew said, "Captain Morgan, if you please - "
"Hm? Oh, for heaven's sake, Edward, the boy will be captain someday, I'm sure he knows the value of discretion. Besides, if what this letter says is true it concerns him anyway."
"Oh?" Pellew turned toward Horatio for a moment, then back to Morgan.
Morgan nodded and sat down at his ornate desk. "Says here the Admiralty has captured a French ship, and that on pain of death the captain confessed to being the router for the traitor they're looking for. Seems it's only a matter of time now until the traitor is caught."
"I see," Pellew said succinctly. "Well, that's good news certainly. What's the name of the ship?"
"Oh, um...the Belle Celeste. Ever hear of it?"
"No, it must be one of the smaller packets."
Horatio hardly heard any of this conversation, so anxious was he to find out what would become of Archie. He could barely believe what had happened, yet if it was true Archie would face disgrace, court-martial, and execution. Horatio knew that was wrong, knew that if they discussed it, some kind of discrepancy or error could be discovered, or perhaps some alternative to the death sentence, but could think of no way to broach the subject without seeming impertinent. Or worse, juvenile.
"Well, I'm certain we'll be told as soon as the Admiral has made his catch," Pellew sighed, "I do hope it's soon, we can ill afford to lose more fighting men and ships."
Morgan nodded. "Well, it's a waste of His damn Lordship's time asking me to keep watch on my crew, and I must say I somewhat resent the implication that one of my men could be a turncoat. Yours too, Edward, except for the young man we have in irons right now. I still think it wouldn't hurt to ask him a few questions."
Horatio was only halfway aware of the subject, but when Morgan used the words 'turncoat' and a reference to Archie in the same breath he took notice.
Pellew seemed to bristle as well, and chanced another glance at Horatio before saying, "Well, we'll keep the Admiral's orders safe for the moment, I think the time has come to make arrangements for Mr. Kennedy's trial - "
"Trial!" Morgan snorted. "You mean a court-martial, Edward, and don't worry about it. I've already begun to make arrangements."
Horatio saw Pellew's eyebrows raise. "Have you, indeed?"
Morgan nodded in self-satisfaction. "We'll be convening by the end of the week."
Pellew looked at Morgan very closely, and as Horatio watched his face grew dark. Without taking his eyes from his old friend Pellew said, "Mr. Hornblower."
Horatio started to attention. "Sir."
"Will you excuse us please."
Horatio blinked, immediately felt as if he'd already left the room. "Aye, sir."
The door was close by, but it seemed a thousand leagues away, and the air in the cabin seemed suddenly thick and stuffy. Horatio hurriedly went to the door and let himself outside, into the cool damp air, and once he shut the door behind him took a deep breath and felt no better.
He wanted to know what was going on, what they were talking about. He wanted to argue Archie's case, plead for a chance to prove - if not his innocence, his reasoning, the cause of that terrified, haunted look in those blue eyes, a look Horatio knew too well. He stood outside the captain's door for a few moments, breathed the chill air, shivered as he thought of the opportunity to help Archie that was slipping away from him behind that door. Slipping away like sand...
The end of the week. He had until the end of the week. Until then to discover the reason why Archie's fear reminded him so of the days of the Justinian and Jack Simpson, and that man's connection to Leftenant Creps. Until the end of the week to find some way to convince Archie to speak on his own behalf, and win his freedom.
Until the end of the week. And then Archie would be dead.
"He'll be dead by the end of the week," Morgan said casually, "And I didn't start this, so you can put the daggers away, Edward."
Pellew was still glaring at Morgan, and his expression did not change by one atom. "Julius, I know you," he said in a low rumble, "And I want to believe you've as much interest in seeing that true justice is done as I do. So if I ask you what pains you've taken to insure that the court-martial of Mr. Kennedy is fair and impartial, I trust that I will be satisfied with the answer that you've taken great pains. Would that be true?"
Morgan glowered. "Edward, I think you're accusing me of tampering with the court-martial proceedings."
Pellew cocked his head.
Morgan snorted. "Sir, if we were not friends for twenty years I'd call you out for such an insult. As it is, I'll just remind you that I don't have to tamper with anyone to convict your Mr. Kennedy. He's already confessed, and a tribunal will have little difficulty deciding what the punishment ought to be. I'm not sure what I would be tampering with the proceedings for, except the permission to hang him here on the ship. But they'd probably give me that too, without much of a fight."
Pellew took a step backward, his look still ominous. "Mr. Kennedy needs a lawyer."
Morgan almost laughed. "What for?"
"To see his interests are looked after," Pellew said in a slightly louder tone, "That is what for. I understand you are angered over the loss of Lt. Creps, Julius, but I will not allow that and the privilege of your popularity to condemn Mr. Kennedy before he has had his day in court. Even a confessed murderer is entitled to as much."
Morgan leaned back in his gilt chair, then shrugged. "As you wish, Edward, God knows I don't want the newspapers saying I influenced the tribunal. Although they will anyway."
Pellew gazed out the window at the falling rain. "The newspapers will say whatever they please. Only God knows the entire truth of this matter, I'm afraid - "
"Yes, and He's not telling." Morgan said archly, then leaned forward and glanced at the papers on his desk. "Don't worry, Edward, as much as you know my feelings toward the - ah - young man in our care, I'll do what's best for England and King George and make sure he gets an impartial hearing, with a lawyer and anything else he requires. Although I must say, I'm doing it for you, not for him."
Pellew's expression was impatient. "I care nothing for the reason, only the result."
"Oh," Morgan said with a slight smile as he shifted the opened dispatch to a pile of neglected correspondence on the farthest corner he could reach and still be on the desk, "Well. As long as I can make you happy. But I fear that no matter what either of us do, the result will be the same. By the end of the week, Mr. Kennedy will hang."
It was still raining that afternoon, turning the sky above the harbor to slate gray and reducing the ships that lay anchored there to a soft watercolor. The deck of the Courageous was deserted now, the lords and magistrates had had their audience with Captain Morgan and had long since gone home to supper. The deck was quiet, fog-shrouded, and Dr. St. John sighed at the dismal scene as he walked to the side of the ship to throw his bucket of red-tinged waste water overboard.
The prisoner - Archie Kennedy - was sleeping, but it was not a good sleep. He had been disoriented, frantic in an exhausted way after his captain had left, and finally to calm him down St. John gave him a tonic that drugged him heavily, and so he slept. St. John had not wanted to do it; he hated knowing that he could do nothing for this young man, for the others he had had to give similar mixtures to. Hated knowing that was he was doing was not curing the sickness, but plastering over it, so it survived to torment its victim again. Kennedy would awaken sometime, and his anxiety would still be there. St. John felt like a failure; but at least this one would not have to live with his affliction long.
The ship's bell sounded, two o'clock. St. John paused at the ship's rail, looked across the bay at the other ship anchored not very far away, a silvery ghost floating silently in the drab water. The two ships were close enough that St. John could see men moving about the other ship's decks, saw one tall, slender form clad in a dark cloak strolling slowly from one end of the ship to the other. An officer overseeing his men's work of course, but it looked...it was impossible to tell at that distance, but it looked like the officer who was friends with Kennedy, who had so desperately tried to help him earlier. St. John winced at the twinge in his gut at the memory of that unhappy young man, pleading with his captain for one word with the youth who had so miserably sentenced himself to hang. One word only, and denied. Probably for all time.
Now there was nothing for the prisoner but a court-martial, a short trial, an early death. Behind him St. John could hear voices, the men talking. Most of the words he caught were about the prisoner, and St. John shuddered at the things that were said. It was as if Kennedy's mere presence was a poison to the crew and officers, making them bitter and hostile. then he heard another voice: Captain Morgan, standing on the other side of the deck with one of the magistrates, and even though their voices were low St. John could hear every word.
"Dreadful business, Captain. It was all the talk at Regent's this morning."
"Yes, but the little bastard confessed, and all I want is him hanged and be done with it."
"Certainly. Were there any witnesses to his crime?"
"What do you think?"
"Ah. And he makes no claims to self-defence?"
"Hm. Well, then it won't take you too long, seems fairly cut-and-dried to me. What luck, with another ship in the harbor you will only need to wait for four more captains to convene a court-martial."
There was a pause. "Kennedy butchered one of my best men. I can have four captains here in a minute."
"Oh, I've no doubt of it. And I've no doubt the poor devil will be very sorry he chose a man from your ship to molest. Well, simply let me know how you want me to handle the newspapers and I'll see the proper persons are notified."
"My thanks, Goss."
"Not at all. Anything for a friend."
And then silence, and the sound of falling rain.
St. John sighed as his eyes went to the dark skies above him, and wished his soul was dead again. Then he would feel nothing for the beaten youth in chains below, who was hated by everyone and would be dead by the end of the week. Anything to stop feeling anguish for things he could not prevent. And he could not prevent this. He had lost that power long ago.
Lost? No. Given it up. But he had no choice.
Shaking his head to clear it of thought, St. John lifted the bucket and poured the blood-tinted water over the side of the ship, watched it as some sloshed against the side, turned the pale paint pink. That was appropriate, St. John thought sourly, and began to lower the bucket.
Someone grabbed his arm.
"What do you think you were doing this morning?"
The voice was very close, almost in his ear. The tone was low and menacing, a panther's growl.
St. John's breath froze in his throat, and he couldn't speak.
"I was questioning that bilge filth, and you came between us," The voice snarled, "I'm master everywhere on my ship, St. John. I will not tolerate interference."
St. John found his voice, said softly. "You wanted to make sure he wasn't hurt. When you grabbed his chains I saw the look in your eyes and I thought - "
"You thought what?" The hand let go of his arm, but St. John didn't turn around. "That I would strangle him, in front of his captain?"
St. John swallowed, said nothing.
"I could have done it," the voice allowed, "If that little shit had fought me, I could have snapped his neck like - " the sound of snapping fingers. "And that would have been the end of him, and good riddance. You know me, St. John."
St. John sighed, felt his heart sink. "I know you."
"Then you also know I own you," The voice was closer now, more threatening. "And if you ever attempt to humiliate me or help that boy again I will destroy you. You'll pray for the mercy of death. Understood?"
St. John looked across the bay again, at the other ship, then looked at nothing. "I understand."
Footsteps, walking away. Then, from a distance, the same voice, not threatening or dangerous now, conversational, as if discussing the weather. "Lieutenant Lafferty, send word to the Indefatigable that I'd like to invite Mr. Horatio Hornblower to join me for breakfast tomorrow morning, if he would be so kind. I'm going ashore to join my wife for tea."
"Aye aye, sir."
The footsteps walking away, growing fainter. At last St. John found courage to look around, but of course the captain was gone. The leaden feeling in his belly grew, and St. John looked once more at the wet streaks of bloody water that were running down the side of the Courageous, mingling with the rainwater and washing into the sea.
To feel nothing. Or more - to retrieve, just for a moment, what he had given up so long ago.
But it was impossible.
So Dr. St. John turned, and silently went back to his work.
Horatio walked along the rainswept deck, letting its damp coldness work its will with his spirit. It could do no damage, really; he could not feel worse about the world if he tried.
The voyage back from the Courageous with Captain Pellew had been strained, silent. Horatio had been waiting, not patiently, outside Morgan's cabin when Pellew emerged, said a few short words to Morgan about them being needed on the Indefatigable, and they had left. Then, as soon as they were back on the Indie, he had stormed off to go ashore and see about locating some legal counsel for Archie's court-martial. And Horatio was left alone to feel ashamed of himself.
I never should have gone over there, Horatio thought glumly as he glanced at the ship, then at the men he was supervising as they washed pots and pans in barrels of rainwater. I've done nothing but embarrass my captain and shame my friend. And now there's nothing to be done.
Nothing to be done... that couldn't be possible! Horatio's eyes darted over to where Matthews, Styles and Oldroyd were working at cleaning the dirty utensils and cooking dishes. It couldn't be possible that Archie had committed murder, that he would be sentenced to hang, that Horatio couldn't even talk to him anymore.
It couldn't be possible. And yet it was true.
It was true that Archie had ended Lieutenant Creps' life. Horatio shuddered when he recalled his friend's eyes, the grief and anguish in those fields of blue. This was not emotion borne of a lie, or a mistake. Archie had committed murder, and he was in his own hell for it.
It was also true that Archie would likely be sentenced to hang for it. He had confessed, with two captains as witnesses, and in a court-martial they would simply shrug and hand over the noose. If only he could have had a moment with Morgan, to plead on Archie's behalf for something - anything - a little more time perhaps, or an opportunity to talk to Archie, find out what happened. But Pellew had pulled him off of the ship, and there had not been time.
Horatio thought of the court-martial, of Lieutenant Lafferty's words. Believe me, Morgan's justice is the only justice that counts. Horatio could see that Captain Morgan was powerful, influential - and furious over Creps' death. Archie's words were like his death warrant and yet - and yet - Horatio knew that given the opportunity, he could plead Archie's case so Morgan would listen. Morgan was puffed up with his own importance, and arrogant besides, but certainly he would be interested in what was honorable, and right. Every upright English sailor was.
But what was Archie's case? Horatio looked over at the Courageous, a watercolor ship in the dismal mist, and sighed. The third truth - and the most brutal one - was that by his own words Archie had sealed himself away from Horatio, from everyone, perhaps forever. And the truth to how Creps had died was sealed away with him.
The truth was not known. No, no matter how Morgan explained it, not matter how Horatio tried to picture it, he could not imagine Archie taking another man's life out of simple anger, or really for any reason other than the call of war. Archie didn't lash out; Horatio couldn't remember his friend ever being really angry, or even defending himself, really. It was simply not in Archie's nature.
The afternoon melancholy lent itself to following that sad path, and Horatio took it, after looking over to make sure the men were doing their work. Matthews was giving him a look, but as soon as Horatio's eyes locked his hastily went back to the pot he was rinsing. Horatio gave him a stern glance, but otherwise let it pass.
Horatio wiped the rain away from his face, thought until his head hurt. The look in Archie's eyes, for that awful moment just as he was pronouncing sentence on himself - Horatio knew that look, had seen it in the Spanish prison and during the dark days of the Justinian. The look of helpless despair, of forlorn acceptance, a damned soul locking itself in hell. But why? Why was Archie staying silent, rather than defending himself against the accusations made against him? Why did he seem to almost welcome the hangman's noose, and give Horatio's aid only venomous words of refusal and self-condemnation?
And why did his eyes make Horatio think of Jack Simpson?
Horatio shuddered again, and drew his cloak tighter around himself as he stared at the rainswept hulk of the Courageous. I must find out the truth, he vowed to himself, even if others say it is no longer any of my affair. Even if it avails me nothing in the end but the knowledge itself.
Even if all I can do now is pray for Archie's soul.
Footsteps approached him, and Horatio turned to see Matthews walking toward him, shoulders hunched in the misting rain.
"Beggin' your pardon, sir," the elder seaman said, knuckling his forehead as he came close, "But we've got the pans cleaned, and rinsed as well."
"Very good, Matthews," Horatio said, trying to put his lieutenant's voice on, "Stack them up, and take them belowdecks back to the cook. They'll never dry up here."
"Aye, sir," Matthews turned halfway around, then back again, and gave Horatio a hesitant look.
Horatio noticed it. "Is there something else?"
Matthews glanced back toward where Styles and Oldroyd were, then eyed Horatio humbly and said, "Well, sir, the lads were wondering if you'd talked to Mr. Kennedy, and how he's gettin' on."
"He's not," Horatio saw no reason to hide what had happened. "He's confessed to the murder, and like as not he'll be court-martialed by the end of the week."
Matthews looked down at this news, and Horatio was a little surprised he didn't seem to have a reaction to it. Then he noticed that the seaman's jaw was clenched tightly, and thought about this. "Matthews."
The crewman looked up.
"I have some questions for you."
Matthews blinked, nodded. "Aye, sir."
"The leftenant that Archie killed, I remember you telling me he was friends with Simpson."
Matthew's eyes flickered down, and he tried to seem intent on his work. "Aye, sir, he was. Suppose they're keepin' each other company in Hell now."
Horatio glanced over at Styles and Oldroyd; they were stacking the pots and pans, and not minding him. Good. Looking back at Matthews he said softly, "Matthews, I will preface this by saying you don't have to tell me anything you don't want to."
Matthews looked back up and nodded, but looked a little afraid.
"You must know that," Horatio insisted, "You're not bound by any law, I'll not force information from you. But Mr. Kennedy is too frightened to defend himself, and it's my duty as his shipmate and his superior officer to uncover what it is that's frightening him, so that we may uncover the truth."
Matthews nodded again, but was looking at Horatio uncertainly.
Horatio paused, thought how to word his next question. Decided. "Matthews, did what happened that night at the tavern have anything to do with Creps' relationship with Jack Simpson?"
Matthews' eyebrows came together in puzzlement. "How you mean, sir?"
Damn, Horatio thought, and worked on rephrasing the question. "Mr. Kennedy is as brave and true a British officer as any I've ever met, and we both know he is by nature no murderer."
"True enough." Matthews mumbled.
"So," Horatio continued, "For him to do something this extreme, he had to have been driven to it, been pressed beyond his limits to endure or control himself. Now I well recall the power Simpson had over both of us - over all of us - on the Justinian."
Matthews looked down again about halfway, not gazing right into Horatio's eyes but at some point on the deck.
Horatio noted the look of remembrance in Matthews eyes. "How well do you know the men on the Courageous?"
Matthews shrugged. "Well enough, some of 'em, to know I don't care to get closer."
"Are they like Simpson?"
Matthews went pale for some reason. "Like how, sir?"
"Are they the bullies that Simpson was? Leftenant Creps for example."
Matthews took a deep breath. "The leftenant, sir? He was thick with Simpson when they were both ashore, and about as bad, yes sir."
Horatio nodded, felt like he was getting somewhere. "So is it possible - now mind you don't have to answer - that Creps was bullying Archie in some way, baiting him to fight?"
Matthews' eyes stayed down, and his paleness was being replaced by a deep color. "I suppose, sir."
"Can you think of any reason why Mr. Kennedy would lash out at Leftenant Creps, rather than walk away?"
Matthews paused again, longer this time. Horatio could tell he didn't want to answer that question. But, dammit, that was the important question, and Horatio knew that there was something Matthews wasn't telling him. Trying again, Horatio said, "Now remember, Matthews, you don't have to say anything - "
"It ain't that, sir," Matthews said, looking around the deck, "It's just - not something you feel right about discussin' out in the open, where anyone can hear."
Horatio blinked. He didn't think he was asking anything that needed privacy to be revealed. "Are you saying you would talk more freely if we were somewhere else?"
Matthews nodded, then shrugged. "I know I got no right, sir, but if it's questions about Simpson and his kind you're askin', I'd as like not be handin' his history to any cabin boy that happens by, if you take my meaning."
Horatio pursed his lips. He wasn't sure he did take Matthews' meaning, but words came to his mind -
- You don't know half of what he's capable of -
- that convinced him to trust the older man's judgment. "Would you feel more comfortable belowdecks? Someplace quiet?"
Matthews nodded, although he looked somewhat abashed as he did so.
All right, Horatio sighed inwardly, and thought. "I have first watch tonight. Meet me in the hold afterwards, and try to think of anything you can tell me that could help Mr. Kennedy."
Matthews grimaced, as if he were already recalling things he'd rather leave buried. "Aye, sir."
Sudden guilt stabbed at Horatio, and he blurted, "Remember, Matthews, you don't have to do this. I'm merely seeking to understand Mr. Kennedy's actions of last night. If you can help me, however, I would be in your debt."
Matthews nodded, but Horatio saw something in his gaze that seemed unsure, as if he might change his mind at any moment.
"I'll think on it, sir. I'll see to the pots and pans."
He raised a knuckle to his forehead, and Horatio waved him away, uneased by the gnawing feeling in his gut. Maybe - maybe Matthews could tell him something useful, something he could take to Morgan as evidence on Archie's behalf. Yes, any knowledge Matthews could give him was a good thing, even though he was clearly reluctant to give it. It was almost as if he thought Horatio could not handle knowing.
But Horatio was not naive. He had seen Simpson's malevolence firsthand, had felt it slam across his face and wind its fingers into his nightmares. And he had been warned -
- You don't know half of what he's capable of -
And so Horatio stood in the rain and watched over his men, hoping that Matthews could tell him something he could use to help Archie, and wondering how the captain was faring with Archie's legal counsel. A small smile played on Horatio's lips at that thought; he was confidant Archie was at this moment getting the best lawyer in England. No one could say no to Captain Pellew.
"I'm sorry, captain."
Pellew was standing in an oak-panelled office that seemed to absorb the late-afternoon gloom outside, wearing his most threatening scowl and showing his most authoritative bearing. And the weaselly-looking lawyer who was seated before him, almost disappearing behind an oversized desk was having none of it.
Pellew continued to stare until the man spread his hands and said, "I'd like to take your case, I really would, but I have too much to do as it is. Try Dramble and Lane, down the street."
"I have been to Dramble and Lane," Pellew said evenly, although the effort was very taxing, "And Smithfield, and the Fitzhugh brothers, and one collection whose name escapes me but sounded as if they belonged on a carnival tent. By succession of them, I was referred to you."
The lawyer leaned back. "Oh. Well, I'm sorry about that, but as I've said there's nothing I can do."
"Mr. Spencer," Pellew found he had to begin pacing to stave off losing his temper. "As I've just told you, half of the population of this town has offered me their apologies, and not one has even hesitated to do so. Is there something about this case which daunts you into this unseemly submission?"
Spencer looked at Pellew for a moment, then said, "Captain Pellew, your name and your ship are well-known and respected here, but certainly you're aware of the difficulty of this case. Even if I accepted your Mr. Kennedy as a client, there's no hope for him. He's already confessed."
Pellew's gaze had smoke curling from it. "I had thought that those in your profession did not pay heed to gossip."
Spencer shrugged. "I heard it too many times today to regard it as gossip. If he's confessed to this crime, then there would be nothing I could do but work on a possible self-defence plea. And from what I hear, again from good sources, he gave that up as well. So taking his case would be a waste of my time - assuming I had any."
Pellew's glower intensified. "Defending a man who has labored in preserving your country from her enemies is an honor, sir - the only waste of time here is mine, spent talking to you."
Spencer frowned, but was spiked by Pellew's gaze before he could retort.
Pellew set his hat on his head and growled. "Good day."
And strode out.
Mr. Bowles was waiting on the walk, and turned at the sound of door being shut very, very firmly. Captain Pellew was coming down the stone stairs of the brick building, and he did not look happy.
"No luck, sir?" Bowles asked.
"None," Pellew answered in disgust, and shook his head. "Damn it, Mr. Bowles, it's as if the world is set against us. If the rest of the evening conspires in this fashion I fear I shall lose all respect for the British legal system."
"Then you'll be one step ahead of me, sir," Bowles said as they turned to continue their walk down the street, "I never had any to start with."
Elise sat back in the beautiful carriage and tried very hard not to cry.
She knew eyes were on her; every man that passed the elegant carriage and peeked in to have a look at the occupant stared at her, for she had taken special care to dress herself well. She wore the dress Julius favored most on her, of pale yellow and cream, the latest fashion tailored to perfection. She had Violet set her hair so it flowed in ash-blond curls about her face, and a cunning hat with festive plumes topped the ensemble. She looked dazzling, flawless, every inch the wife of the most successful captain in His Majesty's navy, and she knew it. And hated it.
It was such a dreary day to be out. How she longed to be at home, away from the windswept docks where she must wait for Julius to join her for a tea she doubted she could choke down. To be home, perhaps reading or playing her spinet. Or simply sitting in her room, sipping tea alone and dreaming. It would be heaven.
The town seemed so tense, so unhappy. Everyone it seemed, from the coach driver to the two chattering flower girls who had walked by her carriage, was discussing the death of the Courageous' lieutenant. Elise bit her lip at the words she heard, knew that most of what she heard was idle gossip and not true, but still it hurt her to hear "murderer" and "coward" and "filth", and then hear the name of the Indefatigable mentioned, as if the two were entwined. She had ached for Edward, felt his anguish that one of his own men should do this, and longed to talk to him. He had always been so sensitive, so needing to talk about things that troubled him, and she knew he had no one close to unburden his heart to now. And she could do nothing.
And then - and then she had looked out of the carriage window and saw him.
It was like a lightning bolt, a slap on the face. She had not expected to see Edward, but there he was, walking across the muddy street with the firm, sure step she remembered as if they had last seen each other yesterday, and not many years ago. His face was stern, his look severe, and yet - and yet he looked so beautiful and sad to Elise that she began to spring forward, to bolt out of the carriage and dash down the rainsoaked street after him, to hold him as he had once held her and exchange the comfort they both so sorely needed.
Then she remembered who she was, and caught her breath with a small cry. And sat back in the coach.
The rain fell, the streets ebbed and flowed with their patchwork of humanity. Elise stared at the space where Edward had been, felt the tears stain her cheeks and wiped at them softly so she would not disturb the paint that Violet had so carefully applied. And tried desperately not to care.
The carriage door opened and she jumped.
"Good God, Elise!" Morgan exclaimed as he paused at the doorway, looking at her in surprise, "What's the matter with you?"
Elise paused, frightened although she knew Morgan could not know why she had been crying. "I - I'm sorry, Julius, you startled me."
"Huh," Morgan grunted, and lifted himself into the carriage, tapping the window frame to signal the driver. Glancing at Elise he asked, "Have you been crying?"
Her heart sank, but she couldn't hide it. She nodded.
Morgan scowled. "What the devil for?"
"Oh - " Elise wiped at her face and thought. "For the - for the young man who was killed last night. I've heard from some people what happened and it - made me sad."
Morgan shook his head and stared out the window as the carriage began to move. "Crying over a man you never even met. God, Elise, your sentimentality is pathetic. If you plan on sniveling like that at tea, you can stay in the carriage."
Elise gazed out the window as well, and knew enough not to say another word.
Archie dreamt about hands, why, he didn't know. He hadn't been able to sleep, and the tonic St. John had given him had altered his slumber, taken him into a thick, unfamiliar world he didn't usually enter, not even in dreams. It was a dark world, but not altogether unfriendly, except there were no images. Only sensations, and emotions. It was very strange.
Archie dreamt about hands.
They were soft, the hands that were on him, soft and scented with something like lilac or lavender. They were his mother's hands, and Archie felt himself curl into them and wasn't afraid. These hands washed his face, tugged his shirt on, ran themselves through his unruly blond hair, made him feel comfortable and wanted. They were much bigger than he was, and when they grasped his hand the hold was gentle but firm, as if to say, I won't let you fall. Hold on tight.
But they went away...
Other hands came in, not as friendly and laced with loud words. Archie couldn't make most of them out, but he knew he didn't like the sound, the anger there, and wanted to run away. His mother was gone, the gentle hands were gone, and these hands that remained pulled too hard and pushed too much, stop sniveling and be a man, get out of the way, Archie, for pity's sake leave us alone and find someone else to pester! Leave us alone.
But they had left Archie alone instead. His father, his brothers, even the servants. Alone in a large house with no one to talk to when he had been afraid. And no hands to hold him when he cried.
The hands shifted, changed, became tart with sea air. A cold hand grasped his, unfamiliar and unfriendly, voices cut through the dense fog, here he is and you can have him. He was right enough as a cabin boy but perfectly useless as a midshipman. That's what you get for owing a lord a favor!
Another cold voice, rasping and sick, a feeble old hand on his shoulder, what's your name boy? Speak up! Mr. Porter, take the child below and get him into a decent uniform. Stop dreaming, boy, we've no room for idlers here. See to yourself.
The dream shifted, turned over. No hands now, but a roaring silence, like the quiet before a great storm. Then - something - oh God, not again. Oh God -
Hands on him -
Archie fought to control his panic, clawed desperately at the hands that were grabbing at him, forcing him down.
"No, easy, it's me, St. John, open your eyes, lad!"
Archie's heart was hammering in his ears, louder and louder, but more real too, and out of the world of dreams. Things became solid, the cot beneath him, the hot dank air of the Courageous, the sounds of bells being rung somewhere.
Archie opened his eyes.
St. John's face was above him, blurry and indistinct. He gave Archie's shoulder a few soothing pats, then stood up.
Archie took a few reassuring breaths, felt his heart still walloping against his aching ribs like a caged bird. It wasn't real. It wasn't real. It...
Archie thought of something. "Why did you wake me?"
St. John was fidgeting around in his kit as he answered. "You've been sleeping all day, and I need to check your stitches. They hurt?"
"Oh." Archie thought about it, realized they were very painful and he hadn't cared. "No."
"Don't be a liar. Roll over so I can have a look."
Archie turned himself gingerly on the cot, hardly minding his bruised body's protestations. As he felt St. John gently lift up his shirt he crossed his arms and lay his head on them. He was so tired.
St. John's hands were on his back now, kind and careful. It hurt when he touched the stitches, but then Archie felt a cool cloth placed there, and began to drift off.
Then St. John's voice cut through the fog, low and regretful. "I'm sorry this happened to you."
Who cared? Archie nodded wearily.
The voice was closer now, and softer. "I'd help you if I could."
Archie was halfway to sleep, but shook his head in response. "No one can help me," he whispered wearily.
St. John began to tend to Archie's other wounds. "He's a hard man, the captain. Not one to cross."
It almost sounded as if he was talking to himself, not Archie. Archie slipped a little closer to sleep.
Another pause, longer this time. "That young officer is quite concerned about you, you know."
Horatio. That was the only person St. John could be referring to, and that name drove a spike into Archie's heart. The look in Horatio's eyes when he confessed to the murder...but he had to, he had to. "He'll be better off once I'm gone."
"He doesn't think so. He's fighting for you." The tone sounded almost awed.
Archie was too tired to mind what he was saying. "He's the best friend I've ever had. He's remarkable."
"Yes, he must be, or Morgan wouldn't be so interested in him."
The last utterance swam through Archie's brain, attached to something that made him take notice and blearily open his eyes. "What did you say?"
St. John paused, then said, "Captain Morgan invited him over for breakfast tomorrow morning. Usually that means he's preparing to offer a commission, that's how he's gotten most of his officers onto the Courageous. He'll offer your friend the same."
"Horatio - on the Courageous?" Archie struggled to sit up. "No - "
At that moment there was a knock on the door, and as Archie and St. John both looked it opened to reveal the worried face of one of the Courageous' cabin boys.
"Beggin' your pardon," the youth said, his fearful round eyes on Archie, "But Leftenant Lafferty wants you topdeck."
Archie sat the rest of the way up as St. John frowned in puzzlement. "What for?"
The boy shook his head and gulped as a pair of red-coated Marines appeared behind him and stand at attention at either side of the door. "He needs hands. They're bringing over the body."
St. John grunted and stood up. "All right."
Archie shivered and looked at the floor. The body. Leftenant Creps' body, the man he murdered. And Horatio, on this ship.
St. John moved toward the door, and without thinking Archie reached out and grabbed his arm.
The doctor started, looked at him in surprise.
"You mustn't let Horatio - that young officer join this ship." He knew he sounded desperate, didn't care.
The sympathetic look St. John had been wearing disappeared as he shook Archie's hand away. "I have no power over his decision."
Archie tried to think of a way to plead with the man that would succeed, but already he was walking out the door. Once there, he paused and turned around, a rough-hewn figure in the low candlelight. Archie looked at his face, and saw a bitter resignation there.
"I wish things could be different," St. John said softly, "But you don't know the captain. If he wants your friend here, he'll be here. There's nothing I can do."
And he turned and left.
Archie sat huddled there in the dim light, running one hand through his blond hair. He tried to think, but there was no way to talk to Horatio, no way to warn him. He was trapped.
He glanced up, saw that the cabin boy was still standing there, gazing at him in wide-feared mixed with rapt fascination. How old was he - eight? Ten? Archie shuddered, knew he was being marked as an abomination by this child, whom he would protect from all the evils it seemed only he knew existed. But that was impossible, because soon he would be dead, and unable to protect or defend anyone...
One of the marines reached out one big hand and none too gently pulled the cabin boy into the passageway, then loudly closed the door and locked it. Archie bent his head into his hands as he listened to the scurrying feet above him, the preparations being made to bring the martyr home.
The men would call for his blood, and Morgan would give it to them. Archie would die, and Horatio would come to the Courageous, and all would be lost at last.
There was nothing to be done.
Horatio came up the companionway stairs on his way to make the rounds of the watch. It was past dinner time, and the dreary afternoon was settling into a dreary evening. Horatio was not looking forward to standing in the rain for four hours, but it had to be done. And after -
His thoughts were interrupted when he heard his name called as soon as his head poked out of the companionway stairs. Recognizing Bracegirdle's voice he looked around until he spied the first leftenant, standing on the starboard side, half-hidden in the misting fog.
"Mr. Hornblower!" Bracegirdle repeated, and Hornblower noticed his voice had an anxious tinge to it.
Hurrying to his superior's side Horatio said, "Aye, sir?" At the same time he said this, Horatio looked out onto the bay and noticed a succession of small boats lit with torches advancing into the harbor slowly. There was noise coming from most of them, like people shouting or singing. "What is that?"
Bracegirdle shook his head and drew out his spyglass. "It's too damn foggy to be sure. Looks like a procession of some sort."
Horatio saw the boats' bearing and drew in his breath. They were heading toward the Courageous.
"Sir - " He ventured, but Bracegirdle cut him short.
"There's one boat with a large canvas bag in it," he noted as he looked through the spyglass, "They must be bringing Leftenant Creps back on board for a sea burial."
Horatio's eyes widened as he listened to the voices. Not all of them sounded sober. "Sir, who are in those boats?"
Bracegirdle shifted his telescope. "Some officers, but it looks like some rabble from the town as well. Damn!" He lowered the eyepiece. "I don't like the looks of this."
Horatio looked around. "Where's Captain Pellew?"
"Still in town."
Horatio saw the boats draw closer to the Courageous, heard the voices on the boats answer the crowd that was gathering on the ship's deck. The voices sounded angry, and suddenly Lt. Lafferty's voice sprang into Horatio's head -
- One spark and the men would riot to hang Kennedy from the nearest yardarm -
"Mr. Bracegirdle," Horatio blurted, as if his thoughts had been shouted to him from across the harbor. "I believe Mr. Kennedy may be in jeopardy. If the men of the Courageous are overtaken by their passions - "
"I'm not worried about King's sailors, Mr. Hornblower," Bracegirdle amended, "But that drunken crowd with them is another matter. Find the sergeant of the marines and take some men over to assist Captain Morgan."
Horatio nodded quickly. "Aye aye, sir."
And very nearly ran.
Dr. St. John was surprised at how many men were milling around on the topdeck of the Courageous. He had expected Lt. Creps' homecoming to be emotional, but the crowd that was reflecting the lantern's glow in the early evening gloom was larger than he liked, larger and more agitated. And, he noticed, not all were wearing the Navy blue...
He looked around quickly, saw a thick clot of red-coated marines standing at the starboard side and made his way over. As he suspected, Lieutenant Lafferty was set right in the middle of them, his hands on his hips and his dark eyes watching the approaching boats with anger and trepidation.
"Damn," St. John heard him mutter, a low hiss amid the growing rumble around him. Lafferty looked behind him, then back out at the torchlit boats, his straight black hair whipping into his eyes as he did so. "Damn!"
St. John looked at the faraway docks, the lights of the town beyond. "Where's Captain Morgan?"
Lafferty hardly spared him a glance. "Still ashore, probably having dinner somewhere. Creps wasn't supposed to be brought aboard until morning. Damn!"
The boats were rowing closer, and St. John winced at the ugliness of the noises that were coming from them. "We need to keep order, or the captain will have our heads."
Lafferty shot him a sharp look. "I summoned you to look after the body, not to give me your opinions."
St. John accepted the rebuke, and resigned himself to silently watching the procession creep closer. A few moments later another lieutenant pushed his way through the crowd of Marines to Lafferty's side, his face flushed and angry.
"God damn it, Philip," He barked as he shook his head. "Will you look at that!"
"I know," Lafferty responded in irritation. "I've already notified the master-at-arms and the marine sergeant, but most of the men want Kennedy dead now, never mind when Creps is lying before them dead in a canvas sail. Still, as long as we don't let any of that mob on the ship we should have no - "
The other lieutenant continued to shake his head and glare at the row of torches, as if Lafferty hadn't said anything. "A disgrace, a damnable disgrace! Creps coming home torn from his life, and that rat filth luxuriating belowdecks like the king of France! This calls for blood, Philip, it really does."
The boats were almost to the ship's side now. Lafferty put his hand on his sword and, looking at the closest marine said in a low voice, "Ready your arms." Looking at the lieutenant he responded, "You'll get your blood, Stephens, but for tonight I have a riot to avoid, if you'll excuse me."
Stephens glared at Lafferty. "You're not protecting that murderer? Creps was your friend!"
Lafferty shot him a sidelong glance. As the first boat, bearing Creps' body, heaved close to the ship he shouted, "Men of the Courageous, you may come aboard. We'll fix a rig to bring up the body. The rest of you return to shore. If you attempt to board you will be shot!"
The men in the boat looked up at him, dim pale ghosts around a long white reality lying at their feet. St. John noticed they seemed a little surprised, and one curly-headed fellow practically sprang to the ladder and hurried himself aboard.
"Damn you, Chambers!" Lafferty hissed as he helped the man over the side. "What were you thinking, bringing Creps here now? The captain isn't even here!"
"It was time to bring him home!" Chambers retorted hotly, shaking off Lafferty's arm and piercing him with sharp black eyes. "He should be here with his mates, not locked up like a side of beef!"
"But look at the trouble you've brought here!" Lafferty jerked Chambers out of the way as another seaman came up the ladder behind him. "Confound it, the prisoner is still on board, do you want to be responsible for news a riot would cause? The captain will flog you senseless."
"The captain!" Chambers snorted, "He hates that little bastard as much as we do. If he were here he'd be handing us the rope!"
Stephens nodded in agreement, and Lafferty pursed his lips in aggravation. Another seaman hopped over the railing and said to Chambers, "There's four men still in the boat with Creps. They're waiting for the sling."
Lafferty nodded and looked up at the mainmast. "Chambers, set a crew to handling that sling. Tell them to mind themselves. we don't want to dump Creps in the harbor."
Chambers nodded, but his glare as he eyed the boat below was furious. "If we dump a body in the harbor tonight it won't be his." And he stalked off.
Other boats were coming alongside the Courageous, and the men standing at the railings were shouting to them, receiving bellows of drunken commiseration in reply.
"You men stay back from the railing!" Lafferty barked, drawing his pistol and eying the sling as it was maneuvered over the side of the ship. Seeing that the men weren't paying attention, he rolled his eyes and caught the closest marine in hand. "Take some men and clear this deck!"
The marine nodded. "Aye, sir." and with four comrades made his way over.
Lafferty sighed and said to the remaining marines, "Look out, that rabble will probably try to board. Aim your muskets but do not fire unless I tell you."
As St. John watched, the marines calmly leveled their muskets at the overcrowded boats. The closest one was now nearly within grasping distance, and one drunken man was leaning far out of the boat, attempting to grab the foothold.
"You there!" Lafferty screamed, "Stay clear of this ship or you will be fired upon!"
The drunken man looked up at the six guns aimed at him and flinched away from the foothold. One of his comrades, however, pushed him aside and grabbed for it.
"Fire into the water," Lafferty said to the closest marine.
A few of the people in the boats screamed. There was a very brief period of quiet, then the rumbling resumed and grew louder.
"Dammit, Philip, are you insane?" Stephens sputtered, "Those are townspeople!"
"They're a drunken mob trying to board our ship," Lafferty replied, readying his pistol, "Or are you suggesting we pipe them aboard?"
"They want Kennedy," Stephens growled, his eyes boring into Lafferty's. "We all want Kennedy, as dead as Creps is! Why wait for a court-martial, you know that little shit is guilty!"
"Because that's what Captain Morgan wants," Lafferty almost had to yell to be heard over the noise from the boats and the marines scuffling with the men. "And he is the law on this ship, not you!"
St. John was peering at the boats that were coming closer now, at the yelling, cursing, disheveled collection of men that filled them. There were some sailors, but there was also dock scum, burly and ragged, dark green bottles clenched in their tattooed fists. And a few of them had pistols of their own.
The sling had reached the jollyboat, and the four men within were carefully shifting the laden canvas bag into it. As they did so, St. John saw that another boat had gotten close to the footholds, and someone had hooked an oar into it and was pulling themselves alongside.
"Sir!" He snatched at Lafferty's arm and pointed.
"Oh, damn!" Lafferty cursed, then yelled, "Stay clear of this ship!" And raising his pistol fired very close to the man's head.
"Philip, you're only making them angry," Stephens said.
"The next shot will find its mark." Lafferty replied, then glancing over his shoulder said to the marine standing there, "I need all the marines except the ones guarding Kennedy up here, right now."
The marine nodded and ran off, but St. John was shaking his head. "They'll never get up here in time."
There were four boats besides the one at the footholds, and they were finding their way to the other ladders, the tottering mob throwing themselves at the rungs and clinging like leeches, or slipping and falling into the harbor. A few had managed to gain purchase and were climbing up the side of the ship.
"Sir, you'd better do something," St. John suggested, forgetting himself for a moment.
"Hold your tongue, dammit! Where are those bloody marines?" Lafferty growled in helpless frustration as he reloaded his pistol. He re-aimed it over the side and yelled, "Fall back or I will shoot!"
The response was a drunken curse, and Lafferty shook his head and fired. With a yelp, the man fell off the footholds and dropped back into the boat clutching his leg. The others in the boat began howling in protest.
"Christ, Philip!" Stephens said, "Just give them Kennedy and be done with it, will you!"
"No," Lafferty replied as he looked down to reload his pistol.
At that moment there was a loud bang and a bullet shot by Lafferty's head. Lafferty jumped and yelled, "Christ!"
"I told you!" Stephens yelped, and quickly dashed out of the way.
St. John kneeled behind the railing and quickly pulled Lafferty down beside him. "Are you hurt, sir?"
"They fired at me!" Lafferty said in amazement. "That drunken rabble fired at me! How dare they - "
"We're ready to haul, sir," One of the ratings yelled from where he stood, holding the rope to the sling.
"No!" Lafferty ordered, "Not until we clear this mob away!"
"Sir!" a voice yelled from the other side of the ship. "Some of them are boarding over here!"
"Oh, DAMN!" Lafferty shrieked, and stood up.
St. John yanked Lafferty back behind the safety of the railing. This time he was holding one hand to his head, and there was blood on it.
"Oh, my God!" Lafferty muttered, "Christ, I've been shot!"
"Let me see," St. John pulled Lafferty's hand away, saw a dark red graze mark along his browline.
"God, it hurts!" Lafferty said, then turned around as he heard the sound of rough, intoxicated cursing. One of the townspeople had made it up the footholds and was grappling with a marine. A few others were squeezing by behind him.
"Oh, no!" Lafferty said, and stood up. The sudden exertion made him reel, and St. John rose up swiftly to catch him, all the while aware that the crowd on their side was already more than halfway up the footholds. "Damn, damn, DAMN - "
The sound was huge, monstrous. It was the sound of dozens of muskets being fired all at once, and the report of it echoed across the harbor, off the buildings in the distance, and back to the Courageous again. It made time halt, and everyone freeze in stark terror. For a long moment, only startlement hung in the air.
Then, a loud clear voice. "You in the boats! Stand to!"
A long pause. No one moved.
"I mean it!" The voice commanded. "Stand away from the ship or you will be shot!"
St. John recognized that voice.
Lafferty did too, and his pained eyes widened. "My God. Hornblower!"
He slowly stood and looked over the side of the Courageous. Damned if there weren't ten jollyboats full of marines, bristling with muskets aimed at the drunken revelers not a dozen feet away, who were staring at them in terrified silence. And at the fore, in the closest boat, with his pistol aimed straight at the head of a man who was frozen halfway up the footholds, stood Horatio Hornblower, his eyes as cold as black ice.
Slowly, as if he were awakening from a lazy summer nap rather than facing a drunken, riotous mob, Hornblower turned his head a little and locked eyes with Lafferty. He didn't smile.
"My men are seeing to these people, on both sides of your ship," Hornblower said, his voice even but sharp as a razor. "You may finish seeing to the embarkation of your crewman."
Lafferty let out a breath - from his expression, St. John thought he hadn't realized he'd been holding it - and gave Hornblower a grateful smile. "Thank you, lieutenant."
The silence was deafening as the seamen began to hoist on the rope, and bring Creps' body to the deck of the Courageous. The pulley wheels squeaked, a roar in the voluminous quiet, and the grunts and groans of the straining tars may have been heard for miles, so complete was the stillness. At length St. John saw the sling with its cargo appear, and ten pairs of hands helped it to the cold, wet deck.
Lafferty stood up, and St. John could see that he was furious. The sergeant of the marines arrived, with it looked like five dozen men behind him. Lafferty gave him a glare.
"Clear this rabble off the deck," He snarled, and sheathed his pistol.
"Aye, sir." the sergeant replied, and a low general buzz commenced among the men as the marines went about their work, collaring the men who couldn't make their way off the ship fast enough.
Lafferty walked to the spot on the deck where the seamen were working the canvas bag out of the sling. A number of the officers were gathered around it, their expressions grave and sad.
"This isn't the way it should be," Stephens said ominously, "We shouldn't let Creps lie here dead while that bastard draws breath."
There were general mutters of agreement, and St. John saw the intent in the mens' eyes and shuddered.
"Belay that, men," Lafferty said wearily as he drew his handkerchief and blotted his bleeding forehead with it, "Or I'll have you put in irons right alongside him."
Chambers' look was fierce. "Every man on this ship feels the same way, Philip, and you know it. Including the captain."
"The captain wants Kennedy court-martialed," Lafferty argued, "Now about your business, and no more of this thinking with your tempers instead of your heads. Leave that to the bloody French."
St. John sighed in relief when the men gave Lafferty half-hearted glares, then wandered away. But the uneasiness in his gut remained.
Lafferty exhaled loudly and ran one hand through his hair. At that moment there was movement at the railing, and Hornblower came over the side, his face dark and his expression deadly.
"Ah, Hornblower," Lafferty said, helping him aboard. "My God, thank you for your assistance. For a moment there I thought we would have bedlam here."
Hornblower nodded, "Indeed, you did. If our ship had not been nearby, you might have had any number of deaths for your captain to atone for."
Lafferty frowned. "Now, Hornblower, none of that. I would only have shot those idiots if they had attempted to come aboard, and as for Kennedy, well, if it wasn't for what Captain Morgan would do to me I'd say let the rabble have him. He's a murderer, and from what I hear, perhaps a traitor as well."
St. John saw Horatio tense, but before anything further was said the Courageous' master-at-arms appeared, his jowly face scowling.
"That was terrible business!" He spat in a faint burr. "I'll not let that kind of riot occur on my ship, Mr. Lafferty! No sir, none of it!"
Lafferty rolled his eyes. "I know, Mr. Mitchell, I know."
"It's that Kennedy lad that drives 'em to it!" Mitchell continued. "While he's here their blood will not go down, I swear it."
Lafferty crossed his arms and shrugged. "Are you suggesting we move him off the ship?"
"I'm demandin' it!" Mitchell was almost yelling. "For the good of this crew, and his good too. Or he'll be hanged by mornin'."
"Hm." Lafferty rubbed his chin. "Well, I'm not going to do that without the captain's approval. Hornblower, can your marines stand guard with ours while I go ashore and secure this with Captain Morgan?"
Hornblower nodded. "They will do as they are told, sir."
Lafferty nodded. "Then that's what I'll do. Why don't you come along, Hornblower? After all, I'm sure Morgan will be impressed by your bravery. Who knows? Maybe he'll ask you to sail with us."
"I would be flattered, sir, but would have to refuse. As for this evening, I have duties on my ship and could not stay ashore long."
"Oh, don't worry about that, I'm not planning on spending the evening. Wait here while I inform the master of our mission. And don't be so quick to refuse a commission from Captain Morgan. You'd be sailing on, in his words, 'the most prodigal ship in the fleet'!"
When Lafferty had left, St. John turned toward the canvas bag that was lying on the deck, and was about to tend to it when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning back, he saw Hornblower's concerned face searching his.
"Doctor," Hornblower said softly, "May I speak with you a moment?"
St. John frowned, straightened up and noticed the lieutenant had backed away a few paces, away from the sailors that were working the rig away from the bag. Matching Hornblower's movement he nodded, and in a few more steps found that they were both nearly at the side of the ship.
"I merely wondered - ," Hornblower said in the same quiet tones, casting an anxious eye at the sailors, "I wish to inquire how Mr. Kennedy is faring."
"Oh," St. John looked down; he didn't like looking into the young man's eyes, you could drown in eyes like his. "Well enough."
There was silence for a moment, and St. John knew that Hornblower wanted to know more. But there was nothing else he wanted to reveal. Trying to think of something, he said, "I gave him your book."
"Thank you," Hornblower replied. "You've been most kind."
St. John shrugged. He never knew what to do with compliments.
Hornblower glanced at the sailors again. "My captain has ordered that I not speak to Mr. Kennedy, so I'm afraid that I must beg your indulgence one more time. Can you give him a message for me?"
St. John frowned, thought of Morgan's threat. "What kind of message?"
"Only - " Hornblower looked at the harbor, at the boats that were now small dots in the distance. Then his gaze fell to the deck of the ship, to the heavy canvas bag that lay stark against the rain-soaked wood. After taking a deep breath he said, "Only not to give up hope. Tell him - tell him I will think of some way to cross this bridge for him."
It didn't make sense, but something in Hornblower's eyes told St. John not to argue about it. He nodded and said, "I'll do what I can."
Hornblower smiled appreciatively and patted St. John's shoulder. "Thank you."
Lafferty reappeared, smiling in tired relief, "Well, let's get going."
Hornblower nodded, and as St. John turned back toward the canvas bag on the deck he heard them walking away into the night. He helped the sailors with Creps' body, tried not to dwell on the lieutenant's words, but his heart was sick and troubled at the thought that the boy was wasting his hope on this forlorn situation. There was no hope here, none on the ship and certainly none for Kennedy, unless a price was paid. And if Hornblower did not know that now...
- You know I own you -
He would learn. And there would be no God who could help him when he did.
Horatio did not want to make conversation, and so was silent on the short journey to the dock. His mind was too full of what had just happened to think of discussion, and so as Lafferty chattered on his held his peace, and thought.
The Courageous had been nearly overrun. Five minutes later with the marines, and there would have been deaths in trying to clear the drunken mob from the decks. And how many of that mob were sailors of the ship, officers even, who were standing by or covertly participating? It was nigh on mutiny to conduct oneself in such a manner, and yet -
- and yet the air had crackled like a summer thunderstorm, forcing its acrid way into the very timbers of the ship. There had been scarcely a soul there that did not want Archie dead.
Horatio sighed, scarcely listening to Lafferty's talking. Was he alone in the world, not wanting to accept that Archie should die for this murder? Did he alone think that there was some cause - some reason - some pardon for taking Creps' life? Was there only he that cared enough to uncover whatever demons had driven Archie to commit this act?
It seemed so. But it made Horatio no less determined. He would talk to Matthews, later. He would make his discoveries. And then he would use them to save Archie's life.
The boat docked, and Lafferty swung himself easily to shore and shook out his cloak. He waited for Horatio, then began to walk the short distance to the brightly lit collection of pubs and restaurants that marked the harbor town.
"So, as I was saying," Lafferty said, as if Horatio had been hanging on his every word, "If you're lucky enough to get a commission from Morgan, you should definitely take it. No finer ship in the fleet."
"If you say so, sir." Horatio said politely.
"Oh, I do say so," Lafferty shrugged. "What happened tonight was a rarity, of course, some of the officers pushed by grief and drink to foolishness. I assure you that once Morgan finds out, that won't be happening again, especially if we get Kennedy off the ship."
Horatio walked in silence for a moment, then asked, "Were you friends with Lieutenant Creps?"
Lafferty shrugged. "Yes, I mean I think so. He was a pretty slippery duck, that is to say he wasn't the greatest of friends but you certainly didn't want him as your enemy. And it could change from one to the other very quickly."
Horatio thought of Simpson, and swallowed hard. "So you were friends with him?"
"Well, drinking friends. He was entertaining enough in the taverns, as long as you knew it was the drink talking. Between you and me, I think that's what happened with your friend."
"What do you mean?"
Lafferty stopped, looked around. The street was quiet, so he said, "Well, Creps and Kennedy were talking that night, about what I don't know but Creps said something and Kennedy got up and left. Then Creps asked me if I knew who you were."
Horatio started. "Me?"
Lafferty shrugged. "I'd seen you once, so Creps told me to come down to the dock and watch for you, and let him know when you were coming. You probably didn't even see me, but I saw you disembark the jollyboat with Captain Morgan. I went to tell Creps, but by the time I reached the Pig he'd already been stabbed."
Horatio's mind reeled. "Why did he want to know when I was coming?"
Lafferty shrugged. "Personally, knowing Creps, he was probably just trying to get Kennedy angry, making threats against you to get him to fight. Like I said, Creps wasn't the nicest person when he was drunk."
"But I don't understand," Horatio resumed walking, his mind working very fast, "If you're correct, Archie was merely defending himself against an attack, and that is not a hanging offense. If Captain Morgan knew of this - "
Lafferty stopped short and grabbed Horatio's arm. "No."
Horatio's eyes widened.
Lafferty let go of Horatio's arm and sighed in exasperation. "All I have are words, I didn't see anything. Kennedy's confessed, and Morgan wants him to hang. I know he's your friend, but as I told you before Morgan is a man who gets what he wants. Nothing I tell him will change that."
Horatio felt himself growing angry. "But you could try, nevertheless. As a British officer you cannot remain silent while a man's life hangs in the balance - "
"There is no balance," Lafferty shook his head decisively and resumed striding toward the restaurant. "Not here. And anyway, Kennedy isn't pleading self-defence, and from what I've heard he's half-mad with remorse. I think he wants to die, so perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps you are too."
Horatio set his jaw, said nothing. But he was thinking.
"Well, here we are," Lafferty said as they approached a charming light-blue building with lace curtains hung in the windows. A sign hanging on the post over the door said, 'Regents'. "I'll go in and tell Captain Morgan what's happened, you wait here. He'll probably want to talk to you anyway."
"And listen," Lafferty leaned closer. "What I said before I would very much like to keep between ourselves. Creps had many friends just like him, and they're still very much alive. I would like to stay the same way."
Horatio drew in a breath, tried to think of a way to plead with Lafferty, but there was none. Trying not to sound contemptuous he said, "I understand."
Lafferty nodded, and giving Horatio a slight smile walked up the stone stairs and entered the restaurant.
Horatio had to keep himself from spitting on the ground as soon as Lafferty was out of sight. How could anyone have an opportunity to save a man's life and not take it! If only someone would have the courage to speak on Archie's behalf, he might come out of this all right. Morgan couldn't be that formidable, it was his duty to see that justice was done. If Archie had been defending himself from a bullying attack by Creps, then this ordeal was over; no court-martial would convict a man who was merely trying to save his own life. But Lafferty would remain silent out of fear of his captain, and Archie would hang.
Unless Archie himself revealed his own innocence. But Horatio remembered his words, first hysterical and spat out like sprays of blood, then calm and reserved, as if he were sitting in a drawing room: I killed Lieutenant Creps, and I deserve to die for it.
No, Archie, you don't, Horatio cried to his friend in his mind, for God's sake speak up for yourself! Why are you keeping silent? Why would you let anyone take your soul like this? I don't understand -
At that moment the door to the restaurant opened, and Horatio started a little, but it was not Lafferty. Instead it was a stunningly dressed woman, clad in palest yellow and cream that set off her face to perfection. She was quite beautiful, and Horatio stared at her as one does an unexpected vision. But the woman seemed unaware of her effect, came down the stairs with her head down and her eyes on the steps, and without looking up walked to a nearby enclosed carriage and waited as a liveried footman opened the door. Then she gathered up her light-colored skirts and stepped inside, her shoulders hunched as if she wanted to hide. Then she was completely inside the coach, and gone.
It was a strange occurrence, but after wondering at it for a few moments Horatio's mind turned back to Archie, and his melancholy returned. Damn it, Archie I wish you would tell me what is plaguing your heart so that you would rather die than live with it. I don't understand, but I will, once I talk to Matthews, he's known you longer, known perhaps what was done to you to make you want to die. Once he tells me, once I know, I'm sure it will explain this, and I can go to Morgan and win your release. If only you would not abandon hope! I have been there, and it is worse than death. But to talk to you, to even try would be folly, and only come down harder on both our heads. And once they move you ashore you might as well be in the Colonies. If only there was a way -
"Hello, luv! Fancy a go?"
The words were so close and loud that Horatio jumped and spun around, his cloak spiraling out as he did so. Catching his hat to keep it from tumbling off his head, he stared right into the eyes of a woman -
- a woman he knew. "Oh! Miss Rose!"
It was indeed Rose, the prostitute he had sought to save the previous evening - had it only been the evening before? Impossible - and now she was standing before him once again, blinking in amused shock.
After a moment she smiled broadly and said, "Cor, if it isn't my knight in shining armor! Did you change your mind?"
Horatio's mind scrambled wildly to connect with something coherent. "No - no ma'am, I'm not - that is - I'm waiting on a friend."
"Oh, are you now?" Rose tilted her head toward the restaurant. "You have fancy friends."
Horatio shrugged. He could think of no other response.
"Well," Rose smiled widely and adjusted her dress in a coy manner. "Since you have to wait, why not pass the time doing something pleasurable? You'll find I'm a right sport."
Horatio winced, and ducked his hat over his forehead. "Your pardon, ma'am, but I fear I would be most indifferent company, no matter what we were doing. You'll excuse me."
Rose's face changed from flirtatious to concerned. "'ere, you are troubled. Is it over that lad that was killed last night?"
Horatio half-turned away. "Yes."
Rose put a sympathetic hand on Horatio's arm. "Oh, I'm sorry luv, of course you're unhappy, I heard it was a terrible thing. He was a friend of your'n?"
"No - that is - that is I did not know the man," Horatio stammered, pulling his cloak tighter. "My concerns are with the one who killed him."
Horatio could almost hear her confusion. "They are? But he's - "
"He's innocent," Horatio almost cried the words, turned to face Rose with desperation in his eyes. "I know he is a murderer, but you do not know him, he has no murderer's heart. He was driven to do this, and they will hang him by the end of the week."
Rose drew her hand back, stared at Horatio in surprise. "Whatch'yoo mean, driven to it? You mean like the other chap tried to kill him first?"
"Yes," Horatio drew a hand over his eyes. "Or, that is to say, I believe so. But no one will speak up for him, and he has drawn a curtain over himself and will do nothing on his own behalf. And those who knew Lieutenant Creps will not speak out against him."
Rose started. "Did you say Creps?"
Horatio read the look in her eyes, felt an uneasy puzzlement. "Yes. Did you know him?"
Rose looked down at the pavement, her words faltering. "All the dock girls know him - knew him." She looked back up, her eyes suddenly keen. "Y'say he's the one that was killed?"
Horatio nodded, his hopes rising. "Miss Rose, if you know anything - anything that would help Mr. Kennedy's case, I would be forever in your debt."
"Oh - " Rose laughed softly, "I just heard of 'im, that's all. Lieutenant Creps never had nothin' to do with the likes of us. Besides," her tone grew dark, "I hardly think the ramblings of a dockside trollop would carry much weight in a court o' law."
Horatio sighed in frustration and turned away.
Rose stood there a moment, then said, "Have - have you tried talkin' to your friend? You could convince me of near anything!"
Horatio nodded sadly. "But he has pushed me away, and now they are preparing to bring him ashore, to some gaol inland, and I have been ordered to stay away until the court-martial."
He was trying with every ounce of his being not to sound desperate; to be hopeless, to give up control of his emotions was something Horatio considered shameful, weak. But the combination of the day's exhausting events and Lafferty's cowardly silence were driving Horatio to the breaking point. He fought to maintain himself.
The door of the restaurant opened again, and Lafferty stepped outside. Horatio merely looked at him, but Rose squeezed Horatio's arm until he turned back to her.
"I may be able to help you, gallant knight," She whispered, then planted a quick kiss on Horatio's lips and darted away into the darkness.
Horatio blinked after her, too dazed to form a response. He heard Lafferty's footsteps, composed himself, and turned to face him.
"Well, well," Lafferty grinned after the fleeing woman. "You don't waste time. How was she?"
Horatio thought of an angry reply, and swallowed it. It would do no one good. "Did you see Captain Morgan?"
Lafferty nodded. "He isn't happy about transferring Kennedy off the Courageous - this town is hardly any safer than a frigate being attacked by a drunken mob. But with enough guards Kennedy should be kept well enough until the trial. We'll move him over tonight, I'm to make arrangements."
Horatio nodded, felt his heart sink. "Very well."
"And now," Lafferty continued, his smile brightening, "Here's your opportunity, you lucky cur. Captain Morgan would like to personally congratulate you on your heroic deed. I told you your fortune was made."
Horatio shrugged noncommittally, uncomfortable with praise from Lafferty. "I will attend him at once, sir."
"Good man." Lafferty grinned, and stepped back to let Horatio by, slapping him on the back as he passed.
Horatio grimaced at that touch, pursed his lips and tried to think of what he would say. This may be the opportunity to save Archie's life -
As he was mounting the steps, Horatio glanced over and saw that the beautiful woman was still seated in the carriage. She didn't see Horatio, seemed to be staring wistfully at some spot in the distance, and for a moment Horatio looked at her curiously. Her face was sadness, resignation and something like fear, all twined together and set in her eyes. Blue eyes, like Archie's, and the same expression as he had worn on too many occasions. The expression of the woman in the coach was exactly like Archie's. And Horatio did not understand it.
He shook his head, forced the vision away. Captain Morgan was waiting, and now might be Horatio's best chance. He turned away from the beautiful sad woman in the coach, and stepped inside the restaurant.
The Regent was an elegant restaurant, small and refined. The walls were washed to a gentle pale blue, and fires were going in the white-mantled fireplaces. Horatio was not surprised to see men he knew as lords and magistrates dining at the small tables, nor was he surprised to find that he was being led by the owner to a set of closed French doors that led into a private dining room.
The owner bowed, opened the door, and Horatio saw Captain Morgan, seated at a small table with two plates of food on it, dining alone.
"Ah, Hornblower!" Morgan said as Horatio stepped into the small but tastefully furnished room. Morgan lifted one and gestured. "Come in, have a seat. Paul, bring me some of your best brandy."
"Yes, sir." The owner, Paul, replied, and closed the doors.
Horatio hesitated, looked at the plate of uneaten food. "Sir, are you expecting another?"
"Oh, no, that was just my wife's, I sent her out when Lafferty came in," Morgan made an impatient gesture. "Why should she have to hear about everything that goes on in my life? Go ahead, sit down, she won't be back until I send for her."
Horatio sat down halfway, had a thought and stopped. "Your wife - was she wearing a pale yellow dress?"
"Yes, that's her. What, did you see her?"
Horatio sat the rest of the way and nodded. "She's quite beautiful, sir. You're a fortunate man, indeed."
''Huh!" Morgan reached for his half-empty glass of wine and made a face. "You don't have to live with her. Most depressing wench on the earth. Say, " he reached into his waistcoat and pulled out a letter, "Before we get started, tell me, did Pellew get one of these?"
Horatio looked at the missive, with its seal of the Admiralty, and shook his head. "What is it, sir?"
"Oh, more folderol about the traitor they're looking for," Morgan said idly, making a face, "Mostly Admiral Hood is just barking for us captains to search our mens' cabins for suspicious letters and the like. Just to let you know, Pellew will be turning your berth upside-down soon."
Horatio's eyebrows went up. "Will he?"
Morgan shrugged. "Unless letters from the Belle Celeste are discovered on another ship first, he'll have to. You remember what the Belle Celeste is?"
Horatio nodded cautiously. "The French ship that was discovered carrying the traitor's messages to Spain."
"Precisely," Morgan said with a smile, "Now see, that's what I like about you, Hornblower. That's a keen mind you've got, remembers everything. Well, now," Morgan tucked the letter away, took a drink and set the glass down. "I had planned to invite you to breakfast on my ship tomorrow morning, but it seems fate has dictated we meet sooner. Lieutenant Lafferty tells me you staved off a riot today. Well done!"
Horatio shifted in his seat; he had hoped to discuss Archie's situation first, but..."I was merely assisting him, sir. I assure you he had matters well in hand before I arrived."
"Oh, did he!" Morgan laughed. "That would be a first, for him. In any case, he told me you arrived just as some brigands were trying to destroy my ship, and held them off with nothing but your pistol and your eyes. Now that's bravery!"
Horatio tried not to blush. "I also had twenty marines with me. Perhaps Lieutenant Lafferty failed to mention those."
"No, he did," Morgan said offhandedly, "But I discount that. Any group of men is only as good as the officer who leads them, and you've got what it takes to lead men, Hornblower. I've seen it."
Hornblower wanted to hurry the discussion along. "Yes, sir."
Morgan nodded and began to cut himself some chicken. "You know, I'll wager old Pellew doesn't know what to do with you. You're a lieutenant, sharp as a north gale in January, and I'll bet he has you supervising pan scrubbing details."
Horatio opened his mouth and shut it again.
"Yes, I thought so," Morgan took a bite of the chicken, leaned back and chewed thoughtfully for a moment, his keen eyes on Horatio until the young man felt quite intruded upon. He's examining me like a hawk, Horatio thought uneasily, and cast about for a way to bring up Archie discreetly. Nothing was coming.
"I've been thinking on this, Hornblower," Morgan said finally, motioning with his knife, "Thinking long and hard, and I've talked to Pellew as well. He knows you're talented, but as long as you sail with him you're more than likely also trapped."
Horatio found his voice. "How do you mean, sir?"
Morgan shrugged. "Well, think about it. You, a junior lieutenant, how many men are above you? How many years until you can even think about making captain? And then if a senior officer transfers to your ship, you're right back down at the bottom again."
Horatio nodded. It was all true.
"Now remember what we discussed last night," Morgan leaned forward. "I told you that in this navy the quickest way to get ahead was to know the right people. Lieutenant Hornblower, you now know the right people."
His piercing eyes locked with Horatio's.
"Hornblower, I would be honored if you would accept a commission to come and serve aboard the Courageous."
Horatio froze for a moment, the significance of Morgan's words crashing through his head. Then he looked down and said, "Your kindness is commendable, sir, but as I have mentioned before I am loyal to my ship and my captain."
Morgan's face fell a little, but then he regained his cheerfulness and replied, "Of course, I had a suspicion you would say that. Yes, I remember that from last night, you probably thought I was all hot wind and vapors. Well, this is no vapor, son. Stay with Pellew and you'll be a lieutenant until you're thirty. Come with me, and I can guarantee you your own ship in less than three years."
Horatio started. Morgan saw his amazement and laughed. "Yes, I know what you're thinking, but how do you think captains are made? By shot and sickness only? No, there are a lot of frigates out there hurting for good commanders, and all I have to do is wave my hand and that captain's out, and you're in. Sound appealing?"
Horatio searched for words. "It sounds - remarkable, sir."
"That 's because it is! But it's all yours, lieutenant, if you desire it. Oh, and did I mention we bring in more prize money than anyone else in the fleet? So while you're preparing for a captaincy you can impress the ladies, set aside money for old age, perhaps buy some new uniforms, eh? And all much quicker and easier than old Pellew can ever hope to promise you."
Horatio's imagination stammered under the weight of Morgan's words. His mind was not on advancement, or money, or anything of its kind, but - a captaincy in three years? A ship at twenty-one? He had dreamed of it, as any ambitious officer did, but it was just not practical.
But in Morgan's hands, it was possible.
The French doors opened again, and the owner appeared with the brandy and two snifters. As he decanted the bottle and poured, Horatio glanced at Morgan and saw that the man was watching him, almost covetously. Something in his gaze made Horatio want to squirm, but he resisted the impulse, thought instead of his station, of the Indefatigable, of his captain. Of the honor he knew was missing from the core of Morgan's soul.
As soon as the owner had left Morgan picked up one of the snifters and said confidently, "Well, Mr. Hornblower? Shall we toast our future together?"
Horatio paused, hating to be rude. But - "Sir, I - I regret that I must decline your very generous offer. My thanks for extending it."
Morgan set the snifter down, his face frowning in puzzlement. "Now don't be rash, young man. Perhaps you haven't thought of what I'm offering you."
"Yes, sir, I have," Horatio replied, suddenly anxious at the unsettling look in Morgan's eyes. "And it is wondrous, a rare opportunity. But at the rate I have gone, even if I get a ship at twenty-one I will likely lose her by twenty-two."
"I see." Morgan said, a touch coldly, and cast his eyes into the brandy glass as he swirled the liquor around. Then he looked up again, and there was calculation in his eyes. "Mr. Hornblower, I hope I'm not insulting you when I say you are a very strange young man."
Horatio let a small smile play on his lips. "They say Admiral Nelson is a bit of an eccentric, sir."
"No," Morgan set the glass down, not gently. "I mean that there are thousands of lieutenants in His Majesty's navy who would leap over hot coals for the opportunity I'm offering you, and I find it alarming that you would not even consider it. It almost speaks of an unbalanced mind."
It was a veiled insult, but Horatio swallowed his anger down. "I assure you, sir, my faculties are quite with me. I am thinking quite clearly."
Morgan's gaze was stern and cold. "And what is your answer?"
Horatio tried to return the gaze, not with insolence but with authority. "Sir, I regret that my answer must be no."
For a very, very long moment Morgan stared at Horatio, until Horatio was certain he was trying to see into his mind. It seemed so cold in that room, even though a fire roared in the fireplace, and Horatio fought against the panic that he felt at refusing such a powerful man. There were unsaid threats, dire consequences, horrible things that scorched the air in the room like falling embers from a burning house. Horatio briefly considered that Morgan might lunge over the table and strike him, so palpable was his disappointment. And all for refusing a request -
Then Morgan smiled, picked up the brandy glass and said, "Well, I told Lafferty I would make an attempt. My offer stands, though, if you should ever change your mind."
Horatio blinked; the change in attitude was so striking it was as if another Captain Morgan had entered the room. "Sir?"
"Oh, that's all right," Morgan shrugged, "I should have guessed, you have virtue and loyalty coating you like a wax. I saw how Pellew had you wrapped around his finger, should have supposed I would have no luck in simply asking you to join my crew, no matter how tempting the offer. Yes, Mr. Hornblower, you are indeed a rare man."
Horatio was somewhat stunned by this reversal, but accepted it cautiously. "Thank you, sir. I endeavor to be a source of pride for my captain and my country."
"And you'll die a lieutenant for it." Morgan said archly, and set the glass down and pulled out his pocket watch, "I suppose Elise is getting tired of sitting outside, and her dinner is getting cold, so if you don't mind I'd like to get back to my meal. "
Horatio stood up, thought quickly. "Your hospitality has been most generous, Captain. I'm touched by your attention to me."
Morgan looked at him.
Horatio fingered his hat, decided to forge ahead. "I was wondering, sir, if you had made any arrangements in the court-martial of Mr. Kennedy."
Morgan's eyebrows went up. "What do you want to know about him for?"
Horatio leaned back a bit, struggled with words. "He is my shipmate, sir, I have a natural interest."
"I see," Morgan said lightly, and reached for the brandy glass again. "Well, the tribunal will be getting together probably tomorrow or the day after - "
Horatio's mind jumped. "So soon, sir? To gather five captains I thought - "
Morgan's eyes snapped to Hornblower irritably. "Tomorrow or the day after, lieutenant. It's been arranged."
Horatio nodded, kept silent.
"There isn't much testimony," Morgan said casually, "So I'm afraid your shipmate will be in for a very brutal, short, and decisive end. Is that what you wanted to know?"
Horatio licked his lips. Now or never. "And if - if evidence should arise that may alter that brutal end? Is Mr. Kennedy's verdict a certainty?"
Morgan raised the snifter to his lips and cocked an eyebrow. "Do you have 'evidence'?"
Horatio sighed, had to capitulate. "No, sir."
"Does Mr. Kennedy even have a lawyer?"
Horatio hesitated. "I do not know. Captain Pellew set out this afternoon to procure one."
"Ha! He won't, not if he searches from here to London." Morgan took a sip of brandy and stood up. "Mr. Hornblower, you are remarkable but you are very naive. Mr. Kennedy's fate will be determined by a court based on his own words, and by his own words he is guilty and deserves death. So you would do your career a laudable service by accepting that and taking your distance from him."
Horatio shivered at the icy tone in Morgan's voice, but he raised his chin and said, "I would count my career as forfeit, sir, to come to the aid of a friend."
Morgan looked down at his brandy glass and said quietly, "For your sake, Mr. Hornblower, I hope it does not fall to that."
Horatio didn't know how to respond to those words, finally decided it was time to take his leave. Giving Captain Morgan a quick salute, he walked to the French doors and let himself out, not breathing or looking about him again until he was standing outside in the chill night air. Then he took a deep breath and another, felt the sensation of his insides being frozen. The exhilaration was almost painful.
"There you are!" came Lafferty's voice, and Horatio turned to see Lafferty walking toward him in easy strides, grinning widely. "So did Morgan offer you a commission?"
Horatio couldn't speak, only nodded.
Lafferty spread his hands in anticipation. "And?"
Behind him, Horatio heard a carriage door open, and knew that Morgan's wife was going back into the restaurant. He thought of her haunted face, so like Archie's, and said quietly, "I was bound by my honor to refuse him."
Lafferty blinked in shock, then said loudly, "What! You refused a commission from Julius Morgan? My God, are you insane?"
Horatio turned a little, saw that the beautiful sad woman had paused on the stairs, and was gazing at him, her eyes still sad.
"No," Horatio said, his eyes still on Morgan's wife. "I am obligated to my captain."
"Well, I was loyal enough to my first captain too, but heavens!" Lafferty crossed his arms and shook his head, "Where would I be now if I hadn't joined the Courageous?"
You would be free, Horatio thought, but he didn't know why. There was nothing bound in Lafferty's manner, nothing in his eyes to suggest he wasn't thrilled to serve on the most prodigal ship in the fleet.
But there were so many other eyes. Archie's. The doctor, St. John's. And the sad woman on the stairs.
Horatio turned toward Lafferty. "What of the arrangements for Mr. Kennedy?"
"Oh - " Lafferty seemed irked at the abrupt change of subject. "There's a gaol down the next street, looks secure enough, and best of all it's empty. We'd best get Kennedy moved over now, before that rabble decides to storm the Courageous again."
Horatio nodded. He suddenly felt very tired. There were so many things to think about, ponder, plan. He had watch tonight, and then he would talk to Matthews. In the meantime, Archie would be taken to the Courageous and brought ashore, and Horatio might never speak to him again. Rose said she might help, what did that mean? Perhaps Pellew had found counsel for Archie, but Morgan had said...Captain Morgan had said no one would defend him, not from here to London. And Captain Morgan was offering him an easy captaincy, all I have to do is wave my hand and you're in.
And with that same hand, he would set Archie to hang.
Horatio shuddered, looked around and saw that Lafferty was already walking away from him, up the street. Horatio pulled his cloak tighter around him, wished the night were not so black and cold and that he did not have to think. And moved to follow Lafferty, who was already half-lost in the darkness and the chilly misting rain.
In coming years, Horatio would always reckon that the four hours that followed his meeting with Captain Morgan were among the longest of his entire life.
He traveled with Lafferty back to the Courageous, then journeyed back to the Indefatigable to commence his watch. Lafferty seemed nervous about transporting Kennedy to the gaol, but seemed equally put out at Horatio for turning Morgan's offer down. Either way, his mood was sour and the conversation on the way to the Courageous was brief and terse.
There was no way to see Archie or to talk to him. Lafferty went to find the sergeant of the marines to arrange his transport, and his look told Horatio he had best be on his way. Horatio briefly considered trying to slip down the companionway as he had done before, but it was no use; after the mob's attempt on the ship earlier, it seemed every marine was on deck, and every eye was on him. And he had to get back to his ship.
So Horatio took a boat back to the Indie, and began his watch. A complement of his marines had been left behind, to assist Lafferty with the transfer. Horatio saw to that partially because he thought Lafferty might appreciate the help, but mostly because he did not trust the marines of the Courageous to handle Archie fairly, and he knew it would go hard on him in any case. It was the best he could do, since he could not be there.
But how frustrating it was! To stand on his watch, not four ships' lengths from the Courageous, and watch the preparations by which Archie would be taken to the town in chains. Horatio knew Archie had confessed; knew it was protocol; knew it was for his own safety. But still the whole affair reeked of injustice and ignominy, and he longed to be on the Courageous in those moments, just so Archie would know that he had not abandoned him.
But he could not be. So he had to content himself to watch.
Eight bells turned to ten; Horatio watched the red-clad marines moving carefully about the Courageous' deck, knew it must be soon. Walked his watch, came back to the same spot. Stared with a single mind and purpose, so absorbed in his own thoughts that he did not hear the captain's approach until Pellew was standing right next to him.
Then he looked up, and saw the stern, sad look on his captain's face. Pellew was looking at the Courageous as well.
"Good evening, Mr. Hornblower," Pellew said softly.
Horatio sighed. "Good evening, sir."
Pellew cocked his head a little. "Are the arrangements for transporting Mr. Kennedy proceeding satisfactorily?"
"Yes, sir, as far as I can tell."
Pellew nodded. "Very good. You'll report to me if there is any change in that situation."
"Aye aye, sir."
Pellew turned a little, and Horatio felt his eyes on him. "You were very forward this morning, Mr. Hornblower. I trust you have learned that in these matters distance must be kept, no matter what our personal feelings on the matter. We are officers first, not friends or companions. Officers."
Horatio swallowed. "I understand, sir."
Pellew nodded. "Now your actions this evening on the other hand, most exemplary. You kept a drunken mob from destroying one of His Majesty's ships, and that is always commendable. My congratulations on your quick thinking and decisive actions, sir."
"Thank you, captain, but I must confess saving the Courageous was not foremost on my mind."
Pellew's voice dropped a bit, and Horatio heard a hint of a smile in it. "Nor would it be mine, if I were in your shoes. But we do not have to put every word down in a report, do we?"
Horatio was about to return the smile when he saw, some distance away, movement on the Courageous. A crowd of the marines were moving from one end of the ship to the entryway, with some of the officers and crew gathered around them. From across the harbor, Horatio could hear the shouts, like angry murmurs across a battlefield. He tensed, and gripped the railing with both hands.
And then he saw Archie.
The doctor was with him, no doubt insuring his safe passage. Lafferty was there too, hustling him to the ladder as quickly as he could. Even at that distance, Horatio could see the chains, the blond hair untied and blowing in the sea breeze, the dirty, bloodstained uniform. And even across the water he could see the slumped shoulders, the bowed head, the stricken attitude of defeat.
And he could only watch, and hope that Archie did not leap into the harbor and drown himself.
Horatio glanced at Pellew, saw that the captain was looking at his hands, which were gripping the railing. Feeling suddenly self-conscious, Horatio removed them and put them inside his cloak.
Pellew paused a moment, then as they both watched Archie being rowed away from the Courageous said quietly, "Mr. Hornblower, as you ascend in rank, as I have no doubt you will, you will learn that there are certain things even a captain cannot control. Time is one; the sea is another. Another man's life, that is the third."
Horatio looked down at the glistening waters beneath them. "So you have told me, sir. Some men choose to cast themselves adrift."
Pellew nodded. The boat containing Archie and his captors grew smaller as it rowed toward shore.
"And there is no recourse," Horatio said, in a voice so small that it was a whisper, "if he does not cast himself adrift, but is cut loose instead?"
Horatio was trying to control his voice, trying to sound like a man and not a boy, but it was so hard, and he knew Pellew was pitying him. Well, so be it. He was becoming tired of hiding how he felt.
But, surprisingly, Pellew's voice was kind, even sympathetic. "If Mr. Kennedy was cut loose, he has not said so. We cannot save his life, Mr. Hornblower, as much as we may wish to. That power is in his hands alone."
Horatio couldn't help it. "He did not murder that man in cold blood, sir. I know it."
He turned to look at Pellew then, to stare into those large brown eyes with a conviction that was as hot and fierce as a volcano on the Cape.
But Pellew's eyes were only sympathetic, not agreeing. And his voice was sad and somber when he replied, "It is outside your control, Mr. Hornblower. We all must be authors of our own salvation."
Horatio tried to hide his disappointment, but that attempt was a dismal failure. Still, Captain Pellew patted his shoulder before he walked away, and Horatio knew he felt his anguish. And of course, he was right; Horatio couldn't make Archie tell the court-martial tribunal what really happened, Archie had to choose to do it. And so far, he was not making that choice.
But why? The weary minutes crept on as Horatio watched the boat become smaller and disappear from view, and his thoughts turned to the conversation he would have with Matthews, after his watch. Then he would find out why. Horatio knew the fear he had seen in Archie's face, remembered it from another time, and knew it belonged to Jack Simpson. Something was terrifying Archie into silence, something he was so afraid of he would rather die than reveal it. That fear and Simpson were somehow linked, and Horatio knew that if he could just solve that mystery, decipher that equation, he could help Archie defend himself. And then Archie would be free.
Yes. Horatio nodded to himself, felt a little more comfortable as the hour went by, and the time of his talk with Matthews drew closer. He would find out the truth, Archie would be set free, and they could both bid farewell to the Courageous and Captain Morgan forever. That would be fine, as Horatio was beginning to find he disliked Morgan intensely. Not so much because of anything he did, but...Horatio remembered their conversation, the distinct feeling he had gotten of being forced to do something, being under Morgan's power. Horatio knew Morgan was not an honorable man, and would not have served under him in any case, but still he was glad to refuse Morgan's offer simply because he did not want to be indebted to that man for getting him his own captaincy. Horatio had the feeling Captain Morgan was not a man you wanted to be beholden to.
So the sooner both he and Archie got out from under him, the better.
And after tonight, perhaps they both would be.
And whatever the cost of knowing - whatever horrors Horatio knew he had to hear about, he knew he could handle it. He was not a child, after all, and it could be not worse than what he had known before, at Simpson's hands. Whatever the story was, he was prepared to hear the worst. In his heart, Horatio knew he was ready to bear the burden of knowing what had happened between Archie and Jack Simpson.
He was wrong.
Rose heard the crowd, and knew that they were coming. And about time,too.
It had been a slow evening, and aside from seeing that handsome Hornblower chap it had been dreary night on the street corner, indeed. But now the crowd was coming, and she knew she had a chance to help the lad out, and perhaps do something a little different too. She was always up for that.
She stood in the doorway, out of sight, and watched the people on the street before her. Normally the place would be deserted at this time of night, but all she had heard about all evening was the talk about 'that damned murderer' being brought to the gaol, and so groups of the curious - and the drunk - had been collecting. It had been enough to warrant calling out the beadle.
More noise, must be coming closer. Rose cast her eyes a little ways down the street, where the small one-story gaol stood, and thought, well, at least his friend will be safe there. The gaol was set between two larger brick buildings, and so had no walls but one that anyone could get close to, and that already had two guards placed in front of it. And it was a sturdy gaol. Rose had seen the inside of it often enough.
The noise was ever louder now, and Rose saw movement down the street, the glimmer of guns and the crimson flash of red uniforms. She ducked back into the doorway, and waited for her opportunity to come.
The people on the street began to call out as first a brace of marines came by, pushing people out of the way. Then Rose saw a young dark-haired lieutenant, and she recognized him from earlier that evening. He looked nervous, but a little angry too, as if he just wanted to get this over with. Rose didn't blame him at all.
Then more marines came, and the shouts grew louder, more rude. It was only a quick glimpse, but Rose thought she saw the young man Hornblower was so anxious to defend, just for a moment. His head was down, and he looked like he had been badly beaten. The bruises on his face made her wince.
Then they were all past, and Rose watched the crowd follow the guards to the gaol. They swarmed around the place like bees around a hive, until the marines and the police combined shoved them away with angry words and, in a few cases, blows with the butts of their muskets. She saw the gaol door open and close, and knew that the prisoner had to be inside.
More shouts, some terrible things said, then the marines managed to clear the crowd away. With mutterings and dark looks, they dispersed, and after a few more moments the street was quiet except for the sergeant ordering his marines about, and the sound of a door being loudly closed within the gaol. As Rose watched, the front door opened, and the dark-haired lieutenant stalked out, and motioned his marines after him. They left, walking back up the street, and Rose hurriedly ducked back in the doorway as they went by. When she peeked back out, there were only two guards left.
Hoisting her dress up, Rose sauntered out of the doorway and walked up the cobblestone street, stopping a few feet from the gaol and winking at the first marine to catch her eye. "Evening, gents."
The beadle was walking out of the gaol now, and when he saw Rose he rolled his eyes. "Not one of you. Get along, now."
"What?" Rose feigned indignation. "These poor boys're lonely, I'm only tryin' to bring 'em a little cheer. You don't mind that, do you lads?"
"Now look," The beadle said, approaching Rose with an impatient shrug, "I said clear off! We got enough problems without your kind around here."
"Oh, my kind!" Rose squared her shoulders. "And since when have beautiful women been unwelcome 'ere, eh? Tell me that."
The beadle grunted angrily and took Rose by both her shoulders. Rose knew he would - she had seen him work before - and knew exactly what to do when it happened. In fact, she had it planned from the first.
She took his right arm in both her hands, brought it up to her mouth and bit him.
"OW!!" The beadle roared, and quickly wrapped his big fist around the collar of her dress. "All right, that's enough! It's in here with you, missy, until you learn your manners!"
Rose struggled - she had some pride, after all - but she knew all along that she would be dragged into the gaol, and so only feigned indignant surprise when the beadle flung the door open, and she found herself inside at last.
The gaol was small - it only had two cells, one right next to the other, and just enough room for a chair and small desk for the gaoler, a small burly man who was at that moment peering closely at some papers the marine sergeant had thrust at him. Straw was scattered on the floor, but only sporadically, and did a poor job of covering up the dark dirt that lay under it. There were only two candles lit, both in the wall holders opposite the cells, so when the empty cell was opened and Rose was roughly pushed inside, she found herself almost completely in the dark.
"That's for you, doxie," The beadle said huffily, "You can keep the murderer comp'ny tonight!"
Rose straightened up and gave the beadle a nasty look.
"No she won't," The gaoler snickered as he looked up from the desk. "I heard 'e don't like women."
The beadle made a sour face, then turned away from Rose and said, "That whore bit me hard enough to draw blood. Keep her for the night till she learns to respect her betters, eh ?"
The gaoler shrugged, and the beadle trundled over to talk to him, leaving Rose alone in the dark shadows of her cell. Taking the opportunity, she made sure no one was watching, then turned and looked into the cell beside her.
It was just as dark as hers, so it took her a moment to make things out, but the beadle moved out of the way of one of the candles and a thin layer of light shone in through the bars, making things a little clearer. The prisoner was sitting hunched over on a filthy cot, with another older man looking him over in a way that made Rose think he must be a doctor or something of that nature. The prisoner - Mr. Hornblower's friend - had his knees drawn up and his face hidden in his crossed arms, and Rose winced in sympathy when she saw that his shirt was torn and stained with old blood. She couldn't see his face, but his hair was loose and matted. The doctor was attentive and seemed to be kind, but the young man didn't seem to be noticing.
"Are you hurting anywhere?" The doctor asked, quietly but Rose heard it. She crept to the bars that separated their cells and got as close as she could so she could listen.
The young man's head came up, a little. His eyes were half-closed, his expression faraway and dull. "No."
The doctor leaned in a little closer and slipped something out of his shirt. Rose peered as hard as she could and saw it was a small red book - it was too thin to be a Bible, but she didn't know what else it could be. The doctor pressed it into the young man's hands, but the sight of it seemed to pain him, and he set it down quickly.
"It's all I can do," The doctor said, still quietly. "I'm sorry."
"Thank you." The young man whispered, as if he was asleep.
The doctor seemed to hesitate, then leaning in a little closer whispered, "He asked about you. Wanted me to tell you not to give up hope, that he'll think of - of some way to cross the bridge for you."
The young man's breath hitched then, so loud Rose was startled by it, and when he let his breath out it was a forlorn sob. "Oh, no - "
Just then a large shadow fell over the prisoner's cell, eclipsing the young man and the doctor into thick darkness. Surprised, Rose turned her head and saw a large man wrapped in a huge dark cloak standing at the bars, his hands on his hips and his face scowling and stern.
"Get out of there, St. John," The man growled, his voice deep and full of authority. Rose saw how the doctor scrambled to obey, not even giving the prisoner a glance as he hurriedly gathered up his kit and left the cell. The large man jerked the cell door open for him, then as soon as he was through slammed it shut with a loud crash.
The young man on the cot started at the sound, and looked up at the large man with huge, white-blue eyes that battled between exhaustion and fright. He cringed a little away from the man; Rose noticed this and marked it.
The large man's cape swayed as he sauntered to the bars, and Rose saw the smugness in his smile as he eyed the prisoner, who huddled in chains on the dirty cot.
"Look at you," The large man sneered, "You thought you could murder Lieutenant Creps in cold blood. You thought you could surrender to your beastly impulses and bring shame and disgrace to this navy. And you thought you could escape me."
Rose slid her eyes over. The young man had turned away so his face was in shadow, cast his eyes down as if he was trying not to hear the other man's words. But he could hear them; Rose saw it in the way he pressed his lips together, in the red rush of emotion on his cheeks.
"Now you know, don't you," The large man snarled as he reached out with both hands to grip the rusty bars. He was barely visible, the candles throwing a golden outline against his form that made his face and body into darkest shadows. "Yes, you filth, you know what it is to go against Captain Julius Morgan. Tomorrow your court-martial begins, and you'll be convicted, and I'll watch you hang from the highest yardarm of the Courageous. I'll haul on the rope myself."
The man said this with a grating kind of joy, and Rose found herself afraid to move. She did move, a little, to look at the young prisoner. He was still staring, not at the floor but straight ahead, and had turned his head enough into the light so that she could see all of his face. And his eyes.
Then Rose understood. She knew, immediately, what Mr. Hornblower had said, and what he couldn't possibly know. And she knew not to move an inch.
Captain Morgan let go of the cell bars and swept himself around with a grunt. "St. John, you come back to the ship. From now on, the gaoler can look after him."
The doctor glanced at the prisoner, regretfully Rose could see, but when Morgan stood in front of the door, his huge form casting long shadows on the small man next to him, St. John ducked in front of him and out the door, like a dog that must move quickly or be struck. Morgan whipped his cloak about and strode after him, leaving the small candles in their holders trembling in his wake.
The gaoler, who was now alone at his desk, shook his head, but said nothing. The gaol fell into a thick silence.
For a few moments Rose stood there, thinking, her eyes on where Morgan had been. Then she turned to the prisoner, and her heart sank.
She needed to talk to him; that was the whole purpose of this charade, to do that kind Mr. Hornblower a good turn and help out this friend of his who was in so much trouble.
But she knew he wouldn't talk to her, not now anyway. He was still bundled on one side of the cot, his head in his arms and staring at nothing. She had seen that look before, knew it well. He would not be talking for a long while yet. But eventually - maybe - she could draw him out. No, she *would* draw him out. Because things had changed.
Before that horrible man had walked in, she was simply doing a favor for someone who had not treated her like so many men did, like street garbage. That was all; simply a favor for a good man.
But then she had seen that poor young man's eyes, and she knew. Knew Mr. Hornblower was right, that he was no murderer. Knew that he had not killed Lieutenant Creps in cold blood. And knew what had really happened to him.
No, he wouldn't talk about it yet. She had not talked about it, when it happened to her. But soon, by the grace of God, perhaps he would talk. And she would listen. Because she knew.
But Mr. Hornblower didn't. And as she sat down on her cot to wait out the nighttime hours, Rose hoped that when he did know, he would have the strength to bear it.
The hold was dark, and Horatio cursed that darkness as he made his careful way through the casks of rum and other rations that were stored there. The lantern provided enough light, but the youth still wondered why the hell Matthews insisted on talking about Simpson - and Lieutenant Creps - here. What on earth had been wrong with talking on the topdeck?
Matthews was easy enough to find. Horatio spotted the lonely glow of another lantern just a little ways ahead, and navigated his way to it, trying to mask his irritation, as well as an uncomfortable sense of dread. He had long wondered what kind of a monster Simpson was; if Matthews only felt at ease talking about him down here, Horatio knew the tale would not be a pleasant one to hear.
Well, if that was the way it had to be, so be it. Horatio knew he had to break through the wall of silence that Archie had thrown up around himself, had to draw his friend out and show him there was nothing to fear. Something was frightening Archie very much, enough that he would rather die than defend himself against the charge that he had murdered Lieutenant Creps in cold blood. It was untrue, it had to be; Archie had been defending himself against attack, Horatio was certain of it, but something was missing from the equation, and the holder of that missing element was, apparently, Jack Simpson's ghost. It was time to exorcise him, and make him relinquish it.
"Well, Matthews," Horatio said as he drew near, "You see I've honored your request. What - "
He had just looked up into Matthew's face, and froze. Not only because the grizzled old seaman looked pinched and worried, unusually so for him, but because at that moment there was a movement at Matthews' shoulder, and Horatio saw that Styles was sitting behind him.
"Evening, sir." Styles said, quiet and serious.
Horatio frowned, and sat down on the nearest barrel. "Styles. Matthews, I don't understand. I thought this was to be private - "
"Don't go 'ard on 'im, sir," Styles said plaintively, "Truth is, 'e asked me to come, when 'e told me what you wanted to know. It's not something for just one man to tell."
Horatio looked at both their faces, lit only by the lanterns and cast in gold relief to the blackness of the hold beyond. The feeling of dread in his stomach grew worse. "It's not."
Styles shook his head. "Not when it comes to Mr. Simpson, sir. Not if you want it all."
"Well, I do," Horatio said, a little defensively because he was beginning to resent his crew's treatment of him, as if he were a mere child to be treated gently and carefully. "If I am to have any hope of rescuing Mr. Kennedy, I must know how he suffered at Mr. Simpson's hands, and why he would be so beaten as to refuse all aid and shelter."
Matthews nodded, then spoke for the first time. "Well, he weren't always like that, sir."
Horatio's gaze grew keen. "How do you mean? Start at the beginning."
"Well - " Matthews tilted his head back and thought. "He were just a little lad when he came to the Justinian, scarce twelve and more ten to look at 'im. Very pale, and small for 'is age. 'e'd been a cabin boy on another ship, but the captain didn't want 'im as a midshipman and gave 'im to Captain Keene."
Horatio shook his head. "How did he come to be a cabin boy? His father is a lord, I thought."
"He may be," Matthews shrugged. "Truth is, he never talked about no family. 'e just came aboard like so much dunnage."
Horatio frowned at this bleak picture. "Was Mr. Simpson aboard then?"
"Oh, aye," Matthews said, and glanced at Styles darkly. "'e were there, bullying and runnin' things like you saw when you was there, an' roustin' with the likes o' that Creps on shore. Mr. Kennedy came aboard with some other lads, and Simpson set right into 'em."
"You mean he tried to break them? Like he did me?"
It was Styles' turn to shake his head and look mournful. "There wasn't no trying with Mr. Simpson, sir. If he wanted to break you, he did."
Horatio absorbed the tone in Styles' voice, suppressed a shudder. "And he broke Mr. Kennedy."
"Not right away," Styles said, his hangdog eyes clouding over with anger. "But it might have gone easier on him if he had."
To Horatio's puzzled expression Matthews said, "Mr. Kennedy didn't understand the way of things, 'e and a few of the other lads, they didn't like Mr. Simpson's bullying. He'd beat 'em and they'd stick up for each other, even though it just made him beat 'em harder. Danny Fredericks, one of 'em was called. Other was..."
"Pierson." Styles said, and Horatio noted his voice sounded angrier yet, as if the very memory of the time was reopening old hatreds. "None of 'em over thirteen."
Horatio thought about this. "So Archie had friends on the Justinian? He wasn't alone?"
"No sir," Matthews replied, "And there was Mr. Clayton, sir, you remember him?"
Clayton - Horatio started at the utterance of that tragic name, the name of the midshipman who had stood up to Simpson and saved Horatio's life at the cost of his own. Of course, Clayton had been the first truly kind face Horatio had known on board ship, and seemed to know about Archie's afflictions as well. So of course, Clayton would be looking out for Archie then. Horatio nodded with a sad smile, and told Matthews with his eyes to continue.
Matthews took the cue. "Mr. Clayton, 'e looked after 'em when he could, but Simpson hated how them boys got on, that they weren't givin' in to him. Made him look weaker in the mens' eyes, and 'e took to lyin' to 'em, and tryin' to break 'em up, but it only bound 'em tighter. One night, I was helping the carpenter sound the ship and I overheard 'em in the passageway, talkin' about reportin' Mr. Simpson to the captain."
"They'd taken to hiding in the timbers," Styles said in a dangerously meaningful tone, "They saw things. Things Mr. Simpson was doing that they'd have hanged 'im if they'd've known."
Horatio's breath came with difficulty. He only had to look into Styles' eyes to know what he meant.
"Mr. Kennedy, 'e weren't so sure," Matthews said tremulously, "But Fredericks told 'im they 'ad to do it, that nothin' would 'appen if they 'ung together. 'e kind of looked after the lad, you know sir."
Horatio nodded, silently grateful that someone had looked after Archie when he had been too young and small to fight back. "So did they tell the captain about Simpson?"
Matthews and Styles exchanged hesitant looks. Looks that made Horatio's heart sink.
"No, sir," Matthews said, in a voice thick with harsh memories. I think - they were goin' to, but - "
"But Fredericks had an accident." Styles said in a curiously sarcastic tone that held a world of information in its syllables. "Cannon came loose and rolled over both his legs. Killed 'im."
Horatio felt as if someone had punched him in the stomach. "And Pierson?"
Matthews sighed. "He was with Fredericks when 'e had the accident. Didn't see him for two days, and then it was 'Mr. Simpson if you please'. He didn't want anythin' happenin' to him."
Horatio could almost see the scene, one boy dead and the other terrified into submission. And Archie... "What about Mr. Kennedy?"
Matthews and Styles exchanged looks Horatio couldn't read. Then Styles said in the same flat, expressionless voice, "Mr. Kennedy reported Mr. Simpson to the captain."
Matthews was looking at the lantern and shaking his head. "I was on the topdeck when Simpson come out of the captain's cabin. I swear, sir, I'd never seen him so angry. 'e grabbed me, didn't say a word, just dragged me after till we reached the midshipman's berth, then 'e bellowed out for Mr. Kennedy."
Horatio had no trouble picturing the scene. Archie, acting out of loyalty to his dead friend and some belief that the captain could change things, had told Keene things that would have shocked the pious old man to his core. And Simpson -
Matthews' eyes were growing round with recollection. "The middies, sir, they didn't move, and Mr. Kennedy was sitting right on the end, white as death. Simpson grabs him and hauls him to his feet, but Mr. Kennedy, 'e pushes 'im away and Mr. Simpson about fell down. I remember it like it was yesterday, sir, Mr. Kennedy says, 'you're finished 'ere, I told the captain all about you, you killed Fredericks and you're a filthy, 'orrible man," and 'e started to say summat else, but..."
Matthews hesitated, and Horatio had to restrain himself from jumping up and strangling him to get the rest of the information. "What? Matthews, what happened?"
"'e grabbed that boy and threw 'im down on the floor," Matthews' voice was almost breaking now, "Mr. Kennedy naught half 'is weight, sir, an' he nigh broke 'im in half. 'e kicked 'im and hit 'im, and then he hauled 'im up and asked 'does that feel like I'm finished to you? Say it, Kennedy, who is runnin' things 'ere?' All the men were watchin' 'im, and I was just prayin' Mr. Kennedy would give it up, it was really all 'e could do, sir."
Horatio's mouth was dry. "He didn't?"
Matthews shook his head. "'e said, the captain knows all about you', and tried to strike 'im in the face."
Horatio sighed. "My God."
"Well," Matthews took a deep breath. "You can imagine, Mr. Simpson, 'e - 'e about lost 'is mind, 'e caught Mr. Kennedy by the collar and yelled out that 'e had to be taught a lesson, to learn to go along as Pierson 'ad, and so 'e dragged Mr. Kennedy and me both out of the berth, down into the ship to one of the empty holds, and ... 'e told me to stand watch..."
Matthews paused again, and Horatio opened his mouth to urge the sailor onward but before he could say a word he looked at Styles, and saw something in the jaded sailor's eyes that made his heart tighten. When Horatio next found his voice, it was just a whisper. "Then what happened?"
Matthews seemed unable to speak, so Styles answered, his flat voice somehow jagged as a thousand knives. "He took him, sir. The way a man takes a woman."
The words struck Horatio with the force of a great wave, and he dug his fingers into the rough rim of the barrel he sat on as if to brace himself against their brutal force. Oh, God. Horror, revulsion, desperate helplessness and an overwhelming anger crashed over Horatio's soul, swept over his mind as he fought to keep the images that sprang forth from overcrowding the reality he knew. Archie had been raped - and by Simpson - the realization made Horatio's breath stop, and for a moment he felt as if he was suffocating. Nightmares of light and shadow came upon him, Archie young and small and terrified, crouching in a corner, or maybe he tried to get away, and Simpson - Simpson, whose hand Horatio had felt on himself more than once, balled up and slamming into him in unreasoning fury and frantic jealousy - Horatio squeezed his eyes shut as he felt - felt - those hands grabbing his friend, throwing him down, kicking him and yelling, then dragging him up by the hair and -
Horatio felt a hand on his arm and gasped. He opened his eyes and saw Matthews leaning toward him, his face soft and concerned in the low light. "Are you all right, sir?"
Oh, God. The wave of realization crashed into Horatio again, relentless and overpowering, but as it receded everything was so clear - Archie's silence, his withdrawal, even the fits. Horatio shook his head, felt tears in his eyes as he recalled Simpson's hands on him, beating and hurting him until he wanted to die, anything to escape. And this had been beyond that, so far beyond Horatio knew he could not fathom the white-hot terror Archie must have felt. And he had been only twelve years old.
Matthews waited a long minute, then cleared his throat. "Mr. Clayton, he hadn't been in the mess, but he must have - must have somehow heard because he came rushin' down and was into the 'old before I could stop 'im. 'e tried to stop Mr. Simpson, it was...it was terrible goings-on, sir...Mr. Simpson near killed both of 'em that night."
Horatio wanted to put both hands to his head, wanted to bury his face so Styles and Matthews could not see how completely he was undone.
"After a time," Matthews said, after clearing his throat again, "Mr. Simpson, 'e comes out and says to me, you've got work, and just walks away. Mr. Clayton was in the corner, 'e was pretty bruised, and come nasty cuts too, and 'e was holdin' Mr. Kennedy who was blee - "
"That's all right, Matthews," Horatio had barely a shade of his voice left, and he knew he was trembling. "You don't have to tell me any more."
"Yes, sir," Matthews said. Then he said, "Mr. Clayton was the bravest man on the ship that night, sir. If 'e hadn't come in I think Mr. Simpson would have killed the lad."
"He should've." Styles said sullenly. "Would've been a merciful death."
"Styles!" Matthews hissed, but Horatio barely heard him. He was remembering another day, himself gazing onto a slate grey sea after Simpson's beating and struggling to gain the resolve to fight him, to stand up to him -why had no one ever done it before? Then Clayton had appeared, consoling but helpless, bringing only a kind but warning gaze and the words -
"That beating he gave you is nothing - believe me - you don't know half of what he's capable of."
Clayton knew. Because he had seen it with his own eyes, that night, in the hold. Had seen - had heard - oh, dear God - in a hoarse voice Horatio asked, "A merciful death?"
Styles paused a moment, then said, "It was 'ell for Mr. Kennedy after that. Mr. Simpson set to make an example of 'im, show us what it meant to go against 'im. And I think - 'e fancied 'im too."
Horatio felt the tears come again, whispered, "There were other times?"
Styles nodded, his face slipping into a mask of hard bitterness. "Sometimes it was just a beating. Sometimes.." He lowered his head until his face was lost in shadow.
Horatio closed his eyes, could not suppress a shudder, felt the waves crash over him again, jagged and full of pain. "You knew. How could you know and do nothing?" He whispered, feeling himself go numb.
"There weren't nothin' we could do, sir," Matthews said with a shake of his head. "After Fredericks, and Mr. Clayton was in the sick bay two weeks recoverin' - an' Mr. Simpson told Mr. Kennedy it were his doin', that they were in that state - "
Horatio couldn't help it. He groaned.
Matthews looked at the floorboards and shrugged helplessly. "'e never told us when Simpson was on 'im. Sometimes we knew, afterwards. Mr. Clayton, 'e knew where the lad would hide, and sometimes - "
"That's enough, Matthews," Horatio said, almost in tears against the unbidden image of Archie, hiding somewhere on the Justinian, frightened, alone, and in terrible pain, and able to tell no one - no one -
Horatio's shoulders slumped in despair as a new thought oppressed him. "What of Captain Keene? Did he do anything?"
Styles shook his head, resentment in those sad eyes. "Beyond giving Simpson bilge duty for a month, and tellin' 'im to straighten up and be a Christian gentleman? No sir."
Horatio sat in the ominous silence and could not stop trembling. The darkness of the hold was suddenly gruesome, thick with secrets. Simpson was there, like a black horrible stench, he was in the bruises and broken skin that Horatio remembered, in the low and stammering voices that even now, so long after his death, hated to speak his name, and feared it. And Simpson was in Archie's eyes, those terrified blue eyes of a boy twelve years old, who wanted friends but whose friends died and deserted him, who wanted protection but was abandoned to a nightmare world of solitude and shame, who wanted to know peace but instead knew only heart-shattering agony and wracking guilt...
...who longed for a kind smile and a gentle touch, but instead saw only a gaunt face with the predatory smile of a snake appearing over him in the night, felt only hard hands gripping him, pulling him, tearing him away from the light into the shadows to -
Horatio couldn't even think of it. He wanted to vomit.
There was a long pause, and finally Matthews said in a quiet, sorrowful voice, "I'm sorry, sir, I know it's distressin'."
Horatio nodded, or he imagined he did. He didn't think he could talk.
There was movement, and Horatio knew Matthews and Styles were getting up to leave. Abruptly he raised his head. "Matthews?"
The older seamen gazed at him, oh God! The compassion in those eyes. It was painful to look at. "Sir?"
Horatio thought, if he concentrated, he could speak clearly. "Lieutenant Creps. When you said- that night, at the tavern - that he wasn't one to leave children around, or anything you didn't want corrupted."
There was a pause. Matthews said simply, "Aye, sir?"
With a great effort, Horatio took a breath. "He was - like Simpson. That's what you meant. Wasn't it?"
Horatio saw Matthews look at Styles, the grim burden of unwanted knowledge. Then he nodded slowly. "Very likely, aye sir. I'm sorry sir."
Horatio nodded, understanding. The waves crashed over him again, washing his mind clean of the ignorance that had been there, leaving only the ugly rock-strewn truth behind. The bruises on Archie's face - his frantic desperation that Horatio not stay on the Courageous - the terrified silence, wanting only to be left alone to die. And the shame - the shame that was on Archie's face, that had always lived inside his eyes even in the happy times...shame that now seemed to be ripping him, tearing him, killing him slowly from the inside out...
Horatio understood it all. And wanted to weep for the innocent soul who now wandered lost in the darkness.
Matthews glanced at Styles, then sighed a little and stood, picking up the lantern. Horatio felt at first like he couldn't move, as if he'd been turned to stone and would stay there forever. The weight of what he now knew pushed him down, and perhaps he would never have moved if Matthews had not picked up the lantern, and began to walk away with it. Horatio watched the bobbing light as if hypnotized, and he knew Matthews was taking that light away. And he would be alone -
And suddenly, irrationally, violently, Horatio did not want to be alone, not in that dark. Not like Archie was -
- had been -
- was -
So Horatio stood up quickly, took up his own lantern, and followed his men to the companionway stairs.
The candles had burned so low in the gaol that when Rose awoke out of a half-sleep sometime after midnight, she found herself sitting in near darkness. And it was very still.
She glanced between the bars of the front of her cell, toward the gaoler. He was dozing on the small cot by his desk, his back to her, the two candles in their holders above him mere blue-yellow dots against the cracked and flaking walls. By the sound of his snoring, he would not be waking up anytime soon; that suited Rose just fine.
Quiet. It was so quiet Rose could hear her own heart, and as she shifted her aching muscles the soft sound of the straw rustling beneath her sounded as loud as breaking glass. She bit her lip. The silence was so total she almost felt as if it was a sin to disturb it, but she knew she had to. She had made a promise, to try and talk to the other prisoner. And she had seen his eyes.
He was in the darkness too, still sitting on the filthy cot, his back against the wall and his head bowed, gazing morosely and his hands which he held clasped in his lap. The low light gleamed dully off his loose blond hair, which half-hid his face, and Rose ached at the loneliness and surrender she saw there. His shoulders were hunched over, as if they were a barrier between himself and the world, and Rose knew it would be difficult to breach that barrier, to touch that loneliness. She tried to think of a way to do it.
Then he reached up with one manacled hand, and wiped his face with a sigh. The chains clanked some, their sound like the rattle of bones in a tomb. Rose winced at their hollow noise.
Then got an idea.
Archie had never felt so alone in his entire life.
There had been times that were close, and those were the times he pondered on as he sat on the filthy cot and felt the heaviness of the dark come upon him. It seemed fitting somehow, to think on those times, now that his life was almost at an end and there was nothing behind him but failure. It seemed comfortable, somehow; it seemed right.
He had felt alone when his mother died. Archie remembered his dream, the kind, loving hands, and felt a new ache for those arms that could not be there to soothe his troubles away now. His mother had been so good at that, had known songs and made time to help him when his father and brothers pushed him away. Then she was gone, and Archie had been alone.
With a sigh, Archie hugged his arms around his knees, wincing as the manacles cut into his wrists. The dark, empty halls of Kennedy Manor came into his mind, and Archie could almost see the hostility there, could almost feel the arms closing to him, the hearts that did not care if he hurt or was scared. Yes, that was lonely too, so lonely that he was almost happy when his father told him he was being sent to sea. He thought perhaps he could make friends there, fill that empty space, see things that he had read about in his mother's books. The manor had been so lonely, anything was a relief...
But then...Archie squeezed his eyes shut, bit his lip against the tears that stung his eyes. Why had he thought it would be different? His mother had loved him, and she had died. He had made friends on the Justinian, and they were taken from him too. Danny Fredericks had only been looking after him, had known that Simpson was vile and wicked, and he had died. And Pierson...Archie shuddered, remembered that horrible night, the night he would reckon all time after, and he had seen Pierson the next morning while on watch, why had he thought his onetime friend would help him? Why had he been surprised when Pierson had crept up to him with dead, frightened eyes and whispered, "Sorry Archie, but you don't understand, it could have been me,"? And why had he still felt that awful, aching emptiness when his former friend then turned and walked away, never to share a word with him again?
Pierson was only protecting himself. He knew what would happen if he was Archie's friend.
Archie shook his head, glad that he had little memory of the weeks, the months, the years that followed. There were long hazy periods, punctuated with moments of terror like cannon bursts in a night battle, startlingly clear and blood-red vivid, but brief and encased with blackness. So much of his life had been lost, so much mercifully turned to gauze and blankness. Most likely he would never get those memories back; that was all right, he didn't want them. They were best forgotten.
But Archie remembered the loneliness. It had been very bad.
Only Clayton did not desert him. Only Clayton cared what happened to him after he had become Simpson's whore. Archie hadn't wanted him to care - he remembered how he would try to push Clayton away, terrified that Simpson would find out and punish him, and Archie didn't want to be responsible for that. So he took to hiding afterwards, in the holds and walks and dark quiet places where he could hurt alone, hoping that Clayton wouldn't put himself in danger by searching. But somehow Clayton would find him, and Archie remembered that horrible feeling he got when he heard his name called softly in the painful dark - a mixture of guilt and shame combined with an overwhelming relief and heartbroken joy that someone cared enough to look.
Then he would cry, and Clayton would hold him and tell him it would be all right. That was a lie, of course, and they both knew it. But it was a comfort anyway, just to hear the words.
But Clayton paid the price for caring what happened to other people. And now he was gone too.
Archie stared into the dismal darkness and felt a trembling in his soul. The loneliness he felt now was so much worse because it had once been lifted, for however brief a time. He had been foolish enough to believe that his life could change, that Simpson was dead, that the wretchedness that had marked his existence was over. He had made a friend in Horatio, a true friend who had encouraged his faltering hopes, who had listened to his childish fears, who had sought to ransom him from suicide without even knowing what had driven him to that desperate state. And Archie had crawled into that friendship, had dared to believe for a time that he had found a home at last, that Horatio was strong enough that being Archie's friend would not destroy him.
Then, a dark night at the Peddler's Pig tavern, a hand shoving his face into the wall, and cruel words, first you then your handsome friend, maybe we'll let you watch -
- and the comforting illusion was shattered for good.
God, Horatio, please don't come here, Archie begged in his mind as he hugged himself tighter and thought of Dr. St. John's words. You can't cross this bridge for me, I would never ask you to. There is no hope for me anymore, only dishonor and the stain of corruption, you cannot see it because it is unknown to you, God I pray it is unknown forever! Forgive me that I did not tell you everything that happened, but it would gain us nothing, and I fear what it would cost you to know. What is in my heart I am content to carry to the grave, only I wish you could know how your friendship was a beacon to me. If words could pass between us, that is what I would tell you. That and - for the love of God, stay away from the Courageous. Horatio, please. For what has crippled me would kill you. I am sure of it.
With this last despairing thought, Archie sighed and raised one hand to wipe at the tears that were streaming down his face. His heart brimmed over with loneliness, and he idly wondered if it might kill him before he faced the noose. He half-hoped it would, now that there was no one on earth to help him.
The soft sound startled him, and Archie looked around, his stomach knotting in fear. Who -
A woman. There was a woman in the next cell, and in the near-darkness it looked like she was motioning to him. For a moment Archie considered ignoring her, but some part of his starved soul leapt at the chance to talk to someone, and with a cautious glance at the slumbering gaoler he quietly slipped off the cot, and crept over to where the woman sat, her hands grasping the bars between their cells.
As soon as he was close enough to hear her, the woman gave him a smile and whispered, "You want them chains off?"
Archie looked down at the biting manacles that bound his hands, and paused, then shrugged.
"I can get 'em off for you," The woman whispered again, waving him closer, "Hold 'em out to me."
Curious, Archie lifted his hands to her, unsure what she could do. The manacles hurt, but it was becoming a familiar, comfortable hurt, and Archie had resigned himself to wearing them until he died. Perhaps it would hurt more to take them off -
The woman reached for the iron bands, and instinctively Archie pulled his hands back. The woman started a bit, then looked at Archie with large, sincere eyes.
"I'm sorry, luv," She whispered in tones as soft as eiderdown, "But don't worry, I'll try not to hurt you. I been in those things, I know they tear into your wrists something terrible."
Archie ducked his head, hoped she wouldn't read in his eyes that she was right.
The woman reached into her skirts and pulled something out, something long and thin. "I can use one of these, it's a pick a friend give me. Please, luv, you don't need to be in those things, the lout out there was just too lazy to remove 'em. I know they hurt."
Archie looked at her then, surprised at the concern in her voice. Why would she care if he was hurting?
The woman held her hands out with a gentle smile. "Please?"
The ache in his wrists seemed to increase at the chance of them being freed, and reluctantly Archie held his hands out to her and prepared for the worst.
The woman smiled and scooted a little closer, and Archie pulled away again, a little. Then he sighed - what difference did it make? - and let her take his hands in hers.
They were soft, her hands, soft as feathers but strong, like his mother's. They were also warm, he had not known his own hands were so cold. She drew his left hand closer, leaned over and quickly stuck the pick into the lock, twisting it expertly until Archie heard a small click.
"It's open," She said softly, and setting the pick down put both hands around the manacle and very gently pried it apart.
Archie hissed at the sudden pain that shot up his arm as the woman removed the punishing band. As soon as it was off he drew his hand back, wincing at the hot soreness that throbbed across his wrist.
"'Ere now," the woman said, "I'm not finished yet, you want that bandaged, don't you? Give it here."
They were capable hands that took his torn wrist and washed it with drinking water, then bound it with a clean handkerchief from a skirt pocket. When the woman was done with his left, she unchained his other wrist and tended to it in a similar fashion. All the while Archie marveled at how good it felt to feel those strong warm hands on his, to feel once more his mother's care and protection coming from this person who was a stranger to him. It was almost like being home again.
"There," the woman said with satisfaction, smiling as she finished tying the handkerchief around Archie's right wrist. "Let me see them again in the morning, and we'll see how they're getting on."
Archie drew his hands back and said shyly, "Thank you for your kindness, ma'am. I am - overwhelmed."
"Oh, hush," the woman reached out to pat Archie's shoulder, and her touch was warm there too, and comforting, "I just hate those damn things is all. And you can call me Rose if you like."
Archie ran one hand over his bandaged wrist; it still ached, but it was not the sharp ache of before. "Thank you, Miss Rose. I am in your debt."
"Not at all," Rose tilted her head, "But if you don't mind, I would like to know the name of the young gentleman who considers himself in debt to me."
Archie swallowed; he almost hated to burden her, but what did it matter? She was likely used to short acquaintances. "My name is Archie. Archie Kennedy."
"Well, Archie Kennedy," Rose replied, "It's a pleasure to meet you."
Archie thought of something that made his stomach plummet. "You were here when they brought me in."
"Very close behind, yes."
Archie ducked his head back into the shadows, suddenly ashamed. She had to have heard Morgan's words. She had to have known why he was in gaol.
There was the hand on his arm again, close and comforting. Archie looked up, into those sympathetic eyes that would not let him alone.
"It's all right, luv," She said softly, "We're both in here, we won't go judging each other I'm sure. What you did I'm sure you had right cause to do."
"I - " She was so kind, he almost told her. It felt so good, having someone near whose touch did not wound, he very nearly confessed. It would have been so liberating to finally unburden his soul.
But no. He could not repay her kindness with horrible secrets. "I've done a shameful thing."
Her hand was still on his arm, and it patted him soothingly. Archie was grateful for the sympathy, it was comforting to know someone cared, even if it was a stranger. Casting his eyes to the darkened windows Archie said, "I'm sorry, it's - it's late, you've been very kind but I'm sure you'd rather be getting some sleep."
"Oh," Rose removed her hand and leaned toward the bars, "Well, Mr. Kennedy, if the truth be told I'm afraid I don't sleep very well."
Archie looked up, surprised. "You don't?"
Rose shook her head. "Especially not in these places. I won't burden you with details, it's - well, I have bad dreams sometimes. Nothing you need to worry about."
Archie felt a surge of empathy, the stunned wonder of hearing of a soul like his. Like his -
Rose gave him one last friendly smile and began to move away from the bars. Thinking quickly Archie said, "Miss Rose?"
Rose glanced toward the gaoler, who was still fast asleep, and scooted closer once again. "Yes, Archie?"
Archie looked at the floor. "I know - I mean, you must get your sleep, and as you say we are both in here, would it - would it help you sleep if someone were nearby?"
Rose's eyes brightened. "Are you offering to slay my dragons, gallant knight?"
Archie smiled at the teasing. "I'm afraid I can hardly do that, but - but you were so kind, and I would be honored to repay you - I can wake you if - if I hear you having nightmares."
Rose cocked her head, and Archie saw the gratefulness in her eyes. "You wouldn't mind? I might sleep easier, at that."
Archie shook his head and held up his bandaged wrists. "Thanks to you, ma'am, I will sleep easier. It is the least I can do."
"Well then," Rose smiled and then made a face, "You know, those cots are so damn hard, I prefer sleepin' on the floor." She began bunching up the straw near her to make a soft pile in the corner, by where they were sitting. As she crawled onto it, Rose gave Archie another look, "You sure you don't mind?"
"Hm? Oh, no," Archie replied, and with a small smile he began to pile the straw in his own cell, on the other side of the bars, so they would be right next to each other. He couldn't tell her - there was no way Archie could think of to phrase it - but something about this woman made him feel a little better about things, as if he weren't so alone in this terribly abyss. As if there was another soul to talk to...
He watched Rose cuddle into the straw to sleep, and for a moment marveled that she had admitted to having bad dreams, just like him. No one was just like him, no one knew his secrets that did not condemn him. Certainly Horatio did not know, and now never would. But - but it was almost as if this woman did know him, knew him and not only did not condemn him, but admitted that she had been there too.
What if she had been?
Archie started with this possibility. He knew she was almost certainly a prostitute, and those sorts of things happened to prostitutes. But she was a woman, did she know that men did - that Simpson -
Archie shuddered. She would not know unless he told her. And he was never going to do that.
Rose had curled up and gone to sleep, and Archie suddenly felt his own body growing weary and wanting him to lie down and close his eyes. He did so, lying on the straw as close to the bars as he could get. Rose needed protection, and he would give it to her. She did not need to know that, in fact, it was a comfort to him to know that those hands were close, that they would wake him also, if the dreams came. She would know, if they happened, and then perhaps he would tell her some. But for now, it was enough for Archie to know that she was close, and he was helping her by giving her whatever protection he could.
It was too late for both of them, the protection. Archie reflected on this sadly as he closed his eyes, and imagined he could feel his mother's hand stroking his hair, as she often did to lull him to sleep when he was little. Far too late. But it heartened him to give it nonetheless.
And as he drifted off to sleep, Archie did not hear the rustle of the straw in the cell next to his, nor did he sense the sympathetic eyes that watched him as he huddled into the makeshift mattress to sleep.
But he did feel her hand - Rose hoped he did at least feel her hand as she reached through the bars to stroke his hair, for her heart was full to bursting for this battered youth who had offered to watch over her, and was in so much pain. And she wanted to do something to take away the loneliness in his heart, and his eyes, even if it was small. Even if he was barely aware she was doing it.
Even if it could do little to keep him from the hangman's noose.
So Rose stroked Archie's hair until she saw his shoulders relax, and heard by his regular, even breathing that he had dropped off into a sound and easy sleep. Only then did she quietly lay down on her own makeshift mattress, to wait for either the dawn, the nightmares, or her own uneasy sleep to come.
It was long past midnight when Dr. St. John once again set foot on the Courageous, immediately behind Captain Morgan up the entryway ladder. When he gathered himself to look around, St. John saw that the deck was deserted. Only the watch remained, and from the evening's earlier drama only a sense of history remained, like sulfur in the air. It was foreboding and heavy, and St. John didn't like it.
In front of him, Morgan surveyed the empty deck and scowled, wrapping his cloak around him in the chilled night air. Glancing at St. John he said only, "You have Creps' body. We'll bury it at sea in the morning," and began to walk away.
St. John cleared his throat, had to know. "Captain?"
Morgan jolted to a stop, bristled as if furious at being halted. Without turning he said, "What?"
St. John felt his accustomed fear, overcame it. "The prisoner. His care. I don't think the gaoler can do it."
Morgan turned slowly, eying St. John menacingly. "He'll be dead before his wounds can heal. They can fester and run for all I care. And my cares are the only ones you are to attend to."
St. John swallowed. "What if the courts-martial doesn't convict him? Wouldn't you want everyone to know he received - "
Morgan took a step toward him, and the anger in his eyes made St. John mute.
"Why wouldn't they convict him?" Morgan asked, his tone a mixture of skepticism and contempt, "That filth murdered one of my officers, he has admitted as much, confessed it before two captains. What do you know, St. John?"
"Nothing," St. John shook his head, "I only wish to preserve your reputation as a fair - "
Morgan took another step. "Is this a confrontation? Do you know of witnesses, or perhaps that little weasel told you something while you were bandaging his worthless carcass? Is that it?"
St. John felt his courage slipping, looked at the deck and once more shook his head. "No, sir. He told me nothing that could save him."
Morgan drew himself up, squared his shoulders and smirked. "How fortunate for you that he didn't. I wouldn't want to be you, St. John, on the horns of that dilemma. You know what would happen if you opposed me."
St. John felt the courage sap further and hated it. "Aye, sir, I do."
"You wouldn't even hang," Morgan smirked, coming a step closer and looming over St. John like a righteous judge. "You know I could see to that. All I would need to do is tell Admiral Hood your secret, and it's the dirtiest, darkest, foulest prison in England for the rest of your miserable life. And you're still young, so what would that be, thirty, forty years? You do remember I hold that power over you, don't you, St. John?"
St. John sighed, and nodded.
Morgan nodded back, relaxed a little but did not take the warning look off his face. "So whatever you know, whatever that child told you, remember I can destroy you and you will know what to do."
St. John pressed his hands together, detested his own weakness. But what could he do?
"I'm returning ashore to my wife," Morgan growled, "Spread the word that Kennedy's court-martial will convene tomorrow afternoon."
St. John looked up and blurted, "I was rather surprised you didn't hang the young man yourself this evening."
Morgan paused, and St. John hated the smile that played on his lips. "I wanted to, but something else happened tonight that made me realize I need that boy alive, just for a while. Just until I get what I want."
St. John felt his blood run cold. He had seen that look before. "Do you mean Leftenant Hornblower?"
Morgan glanced at him sharply, as if surprised that he had guessed. Then he smiled slyly and said, "You know me very well, St. John. Yes, I have decided Leftenant Hornblower would serve me very well on board this ship. And I have found the pawn to capture him with."
"You don't want Hornblower," St. John protested, almost desperately, "He's too headstrong, he'll just be a troublemaker."
Morgan chuckled and gazed out onto the black night, at the proud ship anchored not far from theirs. "St. John, your imagination is so limited. Hornblower is one of the most promising young officers I've ever seen, and I care nothing for his faults. Because as I proved with you - the headstrong can be broken, the troublemaker can be as willing as a virgin maid when offered the proper choice."
As St. John watched, Morgan's eyes narrowed as he looked at the Indefatigable, and there was great anger there, and bitterness. But worst of all, there was determination.
"I offered Leftenant Hornblower the world tonight, St. John, and he refused me. But he also showed me his heart, and now I know what he wants. I hold Kennedy's life in my hands, and sooner or later Hornblower will come to me and ask for it. And I will offer him..." Morgan turned and gave St. John a triumphant look. "... a trade."
St. John shuddered.
Captain Morgan saw this, and gave him a cold smile. The smile of a snake.
Then he turned and walked away.
The clouds broke a little that night, for the first time in two days. It was a full moon, and afterward people would remark on how bright it was, how beautiful and shining. But there were people who gazed up at the moon that evening who had no room in their hearts to appreciate its beauty.
On the deck of the Courageous, a sad middle-aged doctor stood in the moon's shadows and looked up at the glowing orb wistfully, as if it held the soul and the freedom he had once surrendered. He had been damned for a long time, and before this day had thought nothing could matter to him ever again. But that was before a young officer had approached him and begged him to tell a condemned man not to give up hope. That was before he had seen that officer's determination not to surrender, but to fight against what he knew was wrong. His courage made the doctor feel ashamed and angry that this brave young man would so soon be crushed and enslaved. But to try to prevent it was to invite worse than death. So the doctor gazed at the full, silent moon, and thought.
Across the harbor, aboard another ship, a young man huddled by the mizzenmast's riggings, clutching them as he stared with sad brown eyes at the moonlight on the rippling water. His gaunt face belied his struggle for understanding, for belief, for acceptance of realities that were too sickening for him to dwell upon. A ghost he had thought long buried had returned, and joined the others which had been haunting him since Muzillac, to taunt him with memories of defeat and threats of hopelessness and death. But the young man struggled against their venom, because he knew there had to be a way to free his friend, to end this nightmare, to put the ghosts to rest forever. There had to be. And he was determined to find it, no matter what the cost. He would not let his friend die. He would not let Muzillac happen again.
In a finely appointed sleeping cabin on the same ship, a restless captain sat at his table and stared thoughtfully at the moon's silver beams as they lay across his floor, dreaming of a woman he could never have, seeing her lips and eyes and hair as if through a watercolor curtain, and missing them. And brooding over the seemingly inevitable fate of another, a grim certainty that would be told with the thunder of a cannon and the shame of a courts-martial. A fate that he, captain of eight hundred men and god of his ship and universe, was utterly powerless to change.
Far below, in the bowels of the ship, a grizzled sailor hidden from the light of the moon turned over in his hammock, and took another drink of rum to forget the awful past he had reawakened that night, and knew he must rebury before it drove him mad. He shook his head, and sighed against the vengeful ghosts that would not stay dead. Then he took another drink. But still he could hear the screams...
Far away from that ship, in town, a large strong-built man yawned and rolled over in his bed, asleep and heedless of the muffled, quiet weeping of his wife, who lay awake next to him in the darkness. He did not see the shimmering moonlight, but she did - eyes wide and hurting, she gazed at the shadowy patterns as they played against her bedroom wall, and wept. Wept because she had once been such a fool, and had thrown her life away. Wept because she had seen her life that day, just for an instant, and then it had passed. And wept for the little bird she had set free when she was a child, because somehow that night she knew it could not have survived.
Closer to the harbor, another pair of eyes gazed at the moonlight as it shone through a single small window spiked with thick bars and barely large enough to let any light in at all. Those eyes neither wept nor laughed; they had seen too much of life to do anything but accept it, without regret or joy. But that night, as the woman lay on her makeshift bed of straw and kept silent watch, those jaded eyes became tinged with anger. Anger that the young man in the other cell should toss so much in his sleep, that he should mutter and moan, that he should flinch away from her touch as if it were a burning brand. And it was because of her anger that the woman did not sleep, but stayed awake to do what she could, to stroke his hair until the mutterings ceased,to keep a comforting hand on him until his breathing was deep and peaceful, and she knew she had purchased for him a few sacred minutes of peace. She would sleep when it was light.
And not far away, on His Majesty's ship Courageous, Leftenant Christopher Stephens walked across the quarterdeck to the companionway, ignoring the brilliant moon completely in his haste to make his way to the wardroom, and the card game he hoped was still in progress.
As he walked toward the wardroom, he was surprised to see lights burning in Leftenant Creps' cabin. Curious, he poked his head into the small space and said, "Oh, it's you, Lafferty. What on earth are you doing?"
Lafferty looked up from where he was sitting on the floor with Creps' sea chest. "Stephens! I haven't seen you since you deserted me to the mob earlier this evening. Thanks a lot, friend."
"You didn't answer my question," Stephens rejoined with a frown as he walked in.
"Oh - " Lafferty waved his hands, which were both clutching sheafs of papers, "With all the excitement I couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd get Creps' articles put together so we could send them to his mother."
"And see if he had anything worth adding to your own store?" Stephens asked with a smirk, leaning over Lafferty to peer inquisitively into the chest.
"Stop it," Lafferty said irritably, setting the papers firmly on top of anything Stephens might get his hands on.
"Sorry, Philip," Stephens argued, and with a smile walked around his shipmate to remove the papers. As he rifled through the chest he glanced at Lafferty and snorted, "Don't give me that look, you think if it was you sewn up in a canvas sail that Creps would waste thirty seconds before sacking your belongings? It's every man for himself on this ship, Lafferty. Thought you'd learned that by now."
Lafferty sighed. "I know it. I just don't like to be reminded of it."
Stephens chuckled, pulled out a pipe and studied it. "Saw you leaving with that Hornblower fellow. You know Morgan's got his eye on him to join the Courageous?"
"Huh," Lafferty reached far under Creps' bunk and pulled out some more papers. "Would you believe Morgan already asked him, and Hornblower turned him down?"
"No!" Stephens was momentarily shocked away from the pipe, then went back to it with a shrug. "Oh, well, he'll come around. Morgan will get him, one way or another. That bastard always gets what he wants."
Lafferty nodded, his eyes still on the papers he held in his hands. "Creps certainly had these buried deep under his bunk."
"Hm," Stephens hardly spared the papers a glance, "Well, everyone has secrets. Hmph, this pipe isn't any better than the one I already own," he tossed the pipe back into the chest, where it broke in two. "Did Creps have any clean shirts?"
Lafferty didn't answer him, was staring at the papers with a puzzled expression.
"Lafferty?" Stephens asked again, a little louder. "Or did you take them already?"
Lafferty turned to Stephens, his face confused. "Sorry?"
Stephens chuckled again. "What's so intriguing? Are they love letters?"
Lafferty shook his head with a frown and held the papers out. "No, they're - names, positions, details of ship movements...I don't know what they are."
More than curious now, Stephens took them from Lafferty's hand and read them. Or tried to, because the words were in another language.
And the words on the envelope read, "La Belle Celeste".
End of part 6
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Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six