Hornblower and the Spanish Doctor
by Sarah B.
Author's note: This story arose from a discussion on the mailing list in which I stated that I did not care for Dr. Hepplewhite and wanted another doctor on the ship. I introduced the 'new' doctor in this story, and he is also found in my Christmas fic, To Hear the Angels Sing.
For Pellew at least, the morning that followed came far too
soon, and brought Dr. Hepplewhite with it.
Pellew knew Hepplewhite would come to see him. He also knew it would be early, and he was correct on that score too. The morning sun was little more than a faint rosy tint on his dining-cabin windows when his servant, Powers, came to tell him that the surgeon was at the door desiring a word with him. Pellew had replied, in as civil a voice as he could muster, that it was far too early in his day to accept callers, and if Hepplewhite wanted to talk to him it could wait until he finished his breakfast.
A full hour later, after Pellew had finished and dressed and deemed himself presentable, he told Powers that when Hepplewhite returned, he would be pleased to attend to him in his day cabin.
Power's reply astonished him. "He's still waiting outside, sir."
Pellew knew he looked shocked and didn't care. "For an entire hour?"
"Yes, sir. He's been at the door every ten minutes inquiring after you. I thought it best not to interrupt your ablutions to tell you so."
Pellew sighed in exasperation, and told Powers to bring Hepplewhite to his day cabin.
Not surprisingly, by the time Hepplewhite stormed into Pellew's cabin he wore the face of an angry bear, but Pellew, who had seated himself at his desk, elected to ignore his expression and barely glanced up from the correspondence he was reading. "Yes, Dr. Hepplewhite, you desired to see me?"
For a moment Hepplewhite simply glared at Pellew, then huffed, "It seems to be the pleasure of this crew to cause me nothing but aggravation!"
Pellew glanced up again and looked at Hepplewhite steadily. "Is that a specific complaint, doctor, or merely an observation in general?"
Hepplewhite pursed his lips, then after an apparent moment's thought said, "Captain Pellew, I feel I must protest your decision of attaching to me a surgeon's mate in the time and situation which you have chosen."
"Oh?" Pellew asked casually, as if he had not spent the previous hour knowing full well what Hepplewhite's complaint would be. "Is he unsatisfactory?"
"Unsatisfactory!" Hepplewhite spat. "In every sense of the word! He is insolent and disobedient, and what's more I'm afraid his mollycoddling tendencies will endanger the ability of this crew to function as a proper ship of the crown!"
Well, he's certainly feeling erudite this morning, Pellew thought as he slowly set the correspondence down on his desk. O fortunate me. "Are you referring to his treatment of Mr. Kennedy?"
"Indeed I am, sir," Hepplewhite straightened up, as if relieved to have Pellew's full attention at last. "I warned you yesterday that Kennedy is a malingering youth bent on easing his own burdens, and what do I find in my sick berth last night but two accomplices more than happy to set him on that path to destruction!"
Pellew frowned. "Two?"
Hepplewhite paused, as if he were wishing he hadn't brought the other person up. Pellew knew who it was, of course, but was curious as to whether Hepplewhite would have the nerve to suggest Hornblower would corrupt anyone.
He didn't have long to wait. After clearly casting his words in his head Hepplewhite said, "I would not have believed it either, sir, if it hadn't been so blatantly demonstrated to me, and I am fully prepared to accept that it was a matter of delusion, but not only was that - that charlatan encouraging Kennedy to idleness last night, but lieutenant Hornblower was in on it as well! And you know as well as I do that sloth is the direst enemy of the British Empire."
"Frankly, I would think French cannonballs were deadlier," Pellew muttered, but not loud enough for Hepplewhite to hear. Then he took a deep breath and said, "Dr. Hepplewhite, if my memory serves me correctly Mr. Kennedy was quite unconscious last night when I left. Are you suggesting we should have rolled him out into the galleyway so he would not further contaminate your sick berth?"
Hepplewhite's eyes flared like twin sparks. "What I am suggesting, sir, is what I have always suggested. This is a modern age, the swiftest cure for any disease is to not let it fester! When Kennedy came in yesterday I had him bled and out in an hour. He came back from the mission last night and because of that 'doctor's pampering he STILL hasn't left my sick berth yet! If I had been able to treat him - "
"He'd be lying in the hallway," Pellew muttered, again to himself, then said louder, "So am I to understand that your objection to Dr. Sebastian is that you fear he will spoil the men?"
"I am certain of it!" Hepplewhite drew himself up indignantly, "Spoil and confuse them with his foreign ideas and wives-tale concoctions! He sneers at modern medicine, upbraided me for giving Kennedy the best that medical science has to offer. His doctor's kit is full of twigs and leaves, it doesn't even have laudanum in it!"
Pellew cocked his head. "Now how do you know *that*?"
Hepplewhite smiled triumphantly. "He left it sitting on table last night after I went to bed."
Pellew gave Hepplewhite an arch look. "I see."
"And he is in my sick berth at this very minute!" Hepplewhite continued hotly, "When I arose this morning he was still sitting by Kennedy's hammock, as if he never left. When word of this gets out I'll have every rating with a blister coming to me wanting his hand held and a week of full rum rations! I won't stand for it, captain, and I very respectfully ask you to reconsider your decision before I am forced to take another course of action."
Pellew had no idea what that course of action might be, and was debating whether he should ask, when there was a knock on his cabin door.
Thank God, Pellew thought, and found himself hoping for an attack of the Spanish armada. Even an angry fishing boat would do. "Yes?"
The door opened, and Powers poked his head in. "You sent for Captain Turner, and he's here, sir."
Pellew stood quickly, "Yes, please show him in. Doctor, if you'll excuse me for a moment I have an urgent matter to attend to. You may wait here or outside as you please."
Hepplewhite nodded, and it seemed to Pellew that he was a little deflated, as if he'd said his most important statement and was running out of grievances. He walked out of the cabin just as Turner walked in.
As soon as he saw Pellew, Turner's tired face lit up in a smile. "Good morning, captain. You sent for me?"
"I did indeed," Pellew replied amiably, shifting his thoughts in his mind as he picked up a piece of correspondence from his desk. "I have just received a dispatch this morning that the ship under your protection, the Sparrow, has reached Gibraltar, and the loss of your ship has been reported to the Port Admiral. He is prepared to try your court-martial case as soon as we arrive, which should be sometime tomorrow."
"Oh!" Turner said in surprise. "That soon, eh?"
"Yes," Pellew nodded. "It seems that there will be enough captains for a full tribunal, and the crown wishes to resolve this matter as quickly as possible. I thought it best to alert you, so you had time to prepare."
Turner seemed a little rattled, and Pellew didn't blame him in the least. With a quick nod he began pacing in front of Pellew's desk. "Yes - yes, thank you, captain, that is most generous of you. Hm! Gibraltar..."
Pellew felt a rush of sympathy for the man. "Have a seat, captain, would you like some coffee? It's not the best ground, I'm afraid, but my servant is a master at improvisation - "
"No thank you on the coffee," Turner responded with a wave as he took the arm of the nearest chair and sank into it, "But I think I will sit down. Well! Probably day after tomorrow, eh?"
Pellew sighed. "Yes, I'm afraid so. You wanted time to go faster..."
"Yes, but at this rate it'll be going backwards before I know it!" Turner glanced out at the dawning sun dancing on the waves, then rubbed his lip. "Any word on who will be trying me?"
Pellew looked at the letter and shook his head. "I've given you all the information I have."
"Hm." Turner looked out at the water again, then after a long pause took a very deep breath and said, "Well, that's the end of my career! I must say I had hoped for a conclusion I'd be prouder to write to my wife about."
Pellew winced. "Oh, come on, man, that's damnable gloomy talk. From what Dr. Sebastian said your course of action was clear. Without your assistance the Sparrow would have been lost."
"Yes, but Dr. Sebastian can make anything sound positive. He thinks in those grand Biblical terms of good versus evil, and all the Navy can see is pounds and shillings. I sank a very expensive ship, and it's unlikely the Admiral will forgive that no matter what was saved in the process."
Pellew leaned back in his chair, too aware of that reality to argue with it. His mind went back to the mission at Muzillac, it still galled him that Plymouth had sent a blistering missive about the lost cannons and alliance but was silent on the men who were lost as well. Like Hepplewhite, only concerned with efficiency and results; damn the soft flesh in between.
Turner shifted in his chair and ran his hand through his graying blond hair. "Oh well, at least I have a few loyal men around me to cheer me when I go. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how fortunate you are, Captain Pellew, that it seems you are similarly blessed."
Pellew brought his attention back to the present and smiled gratefully. "No need, captain, it's very gracious of you to say so. Not very many notice such a thing."
"Not at all. A good ship and a good crew is all any captain asks for, and damn few get it. Oh, before I forget, thank you for taking Dr. Sebastian on as surgeon's mate. I appreciate it, and I'm certain your men will warm to him even if he does look like one of the enemy at first."
"Well, so far the men warming to him has not been a problem," Pellew said, and it was the truth after all.
"I'm glad to hear it." Turner seemed to consider something, then leaned forward and said, "Say, captain, obviously I haven't had the chance to talk to Luis yet, but I don't suppose you'd be willing to have him as surgeon's mate all the way back to England, would you? Most of my men will want to stay in Gibraltar, but we both know Dr. Sebastian will have a better chance finding a ship back home. If he's amenable to it, do you think it could be done?"
Pellew thought of Hepplewhite, then thought of the good of his men and decided. "Of course, captain. It will be my privilege. Is there anything else you or your officers require before we reach Gibraltar?"
"No, thank you," Turner said, rising slowly to his feet, "They're all settled in, and once we reach the port they'll all be disembarking to testify at my trial, so right now their minds are more on saving my worthless hide than being comfortable." Turner smiled and cocked his head. "It's a pity you're not commanding a passenger vessel, captain. With your consideration, you'd be a first-rate host."
"Hm!" Pellew returned the smile with more than a little humor as he stood to see Turner to the door. "An interesting notion! Well, perhaps one day we will have no more need of frigates and I may find myself accommodating your request."
Turner laughed and Pellew opened the door to usher him out. As he did so, he spied Hepplewhite pacing a short distance away. At the two captains' appearance Hepplewhite stopped and looked at them without a trace of friendliness or good humor.
He was probably listening at the door a minute ago, Pellew thought sourly, but decided to amend the awkward situation as best he could. With a forced smile he said, "Ah, doctor, may I introduce to you captain Andrew Turner, late of the Valiant? Captain Turner, this is our ship's surgeon, Dr. Hepplewhite."
"Pleased," Captain Turner said amiably, putting out his hand. Hepplewhite looked unsure, but took it anyway. "I'd like to thank you, doctor, for so generously allowing Dr. Sebastian to assist you."
Hepplewhite blinked. "You're his captain?"
"Yes, sir," Turner smiled, "and I hope you'll be satisfied with his company. I'm sure you can learn a lot from each other."
Hepplewhite paused, and Pellew could almost see the venomous thoughts slithering out of the man's brain, like snakes on a Medusa's head. Fortunately, though, Hepplewhite knew better than to utter them. Instead he cleared his throat and croaked out. "Yes, sir."
Turner smiled even wider and nodded to Pellew. "Well, I'd best go inform my men about the court-martial in Gibraltar. Captain, I'll be in touch, Dr. Hepplewhite, it was a pleasure to meet you."
Hepplewhite managed a curt nod before Turner made his way down the narrow passage. Pellew turned and went back into his cabin, knowing that Hepplewhite would be right on his heels when he turned around once again.
He wasn't disappointed; however, he was surprised that Hepplewhite had not followed him into the cabin, but instead stood in the doorway, looking at him in grim determination. After a moment Pellew tired of the game and said, "Doctor, I apologize for the interruption. You were saying?"
Hepplewhite didn't move, but he did blink. "You're making that Spaniard surgeon's mate all the way to England?"
Oh damn, Pellew thought, he HAD been listening at the door. Fixing Hepplewhite with his best commanding stare Pellew replied, "I understand your concerns, Dr. Hepplewhite, but if we should see action you'll need every pair of able hands we can muster. You may rest assured that I will keep a close eye on Dr. Sebastian's behavior and if I see anything that is damaging to the crew you have my solemn assurance that it will be dealt with. Will that be satisfactory?"
Hepplewhite scowled. "The damage he could do to morale would be irreparable. As ship's surgeon I must once again strongly advise you against letting that da- that doctor stay on duty."
"And as captain I have noted your advice," Pellew replied evenly, and gave Hepplewhite a little smile. "Good morning, doctor."
Hepplewhite's eyes narrowed and he shook his head as he backed out the door. "When this ship docks at Gibraltar, that captain and his crew might not be the only ones getting off!"
Pellew's eyebrows went up, but Hepplewhite had turned and stalked off, his words still hanging in the air like so much stale smoke. Pellew slowly walked back to his desk, surprised that Hepplewhite's animosity towards Dr. Sebastian would lead him to such a drastic course of action -
- and equally surprised that the concept of that eventuality did not bother him in the least.
Archie knew for a fact that he did not want to wake up.
He drifted towards consciousness lazily, then edged away from it as soon as he came close enough to sense what it was. It was soft and comfortable in the world he was in, and even in the half-sleep he was wrapped in Archie knew what awaited him if he abandoned that world for the real one.
Pain. Pain that would never go away.
No, it was not time to wake up yet, so Archie drifted in the dozing twilight and took a slow accounting of himself. His memory was fuzzy and full of holes, where was he? He was lying in a hammock, was he on board Justinian? No, that was years ago...the sick berth on the Indie. That was it...
Hm, sick berth...Archie's mind wandered around, spun the word like a top to see the patterns it made. Sick berth, I was sick? No, I was...injured, that was it. But I was sick too...
Oh. That again.
Archie remembered the pain now, a dim recollection he only halfway wanted to involve himself in. Yes, he'd gone to Hepplewhite because that pain had started again, only he couldn't bring himself to tell the man about it so Hepplewhite had bled him...
Bled him...so why was he still there?
Archie twitched his right arm a little, and felt a sharp pain shoot up into his skull. Oh! Damn, that smarts. He bled me, I had to go on that mission, the mission with Horatio, I remember walking in the rain so I must have gone, unless I dreamed it. Perhaps I dreamed it...
No. I didn't dream it, it happened, but something went wrong. Something went wrong.
Archie licked his lips, he was terribly thirsty, but not ready to come awake just yet. He knew he had to be prepared to face the day, and there was something he needed to remember that wasn't coming, not yet. But it would if he gave it time.
Something went wrong...Archie meandered through his body, took stock of himself, and realized when he came to the familiar pain in his middle that it was different, changed in some way that he knew was significant, but didn't know why or how. The hurt was still there, but it was a dull, hollow hurt, like the hurt Archie felt in his hand once after he'd taken a large splinter out of it. Whatever had been causing his agony was gone, and there was only the pain of healing left. It was very puzzling.
But how? Archie let his left arm edge toward where the hurt had been, and he felt a bandage there. How, when he had lived with that wound for years, was it suddenly gone? Hepplewhite hadn't touched it, and there was only the mission in Spain, only -
Archie remembered something that made him almost open his eyes in shock. But no, that couldn't have been it. That was impossible, because the oubliette had only been a dream.
Oh, God, Archie moaned in remorse, the oubliette. I must have had a fit, I must have disgraced Horatio, damn! Jumbled memories began flooding back. Archie remembered feeling very sick, taking some of Hepplewhite's tonic, then stumbling off into the rain, oh DAMN I must have gone somewhere and collapsed. Then there had been awful dreams and terrifying nightmares, and in the middle of it Archie remembered thinking he was back in the oubliette, and there had been some Spanish doctor who had come to him and had been very kind, so kind Archie now regretted that it had all been a dream. A very vivid dream - he vaguely recalled undergoing some kind of surgery, with Horatio there it seemed, and someone else too whose identity Archie couldn't recall. But no, that had to be a dream, because Archie very distinctly remembered talking to the doctor in Spanish after thinking at first he was Simpson, and the doctor promised to let him out of the oubliette if Archie would tell him what was hurting him. But of course, Archie hadn't been in the oubliette at all. So all of it had been a dream.
Well then, what really happened? Archie inched a little closer to waking up, trying to piece the previous night together as he went. He must have collapsed somewhere - in the rain perhaps, or even at the convent. Then Horatio brought him back and Hepplewhite did...something. That had to be it.
Now Archie was certain he did not want to wake up. He had suffered an attack on a mission, his worst nightmare. And Horatio had had to once again save him, a devastating humiliation. Mortified, Archie crawled back into himself and didn't care if he never woke up again. Why didn't Horatio just leave him to die in the rain? Better that than to live with his cursed uselessness...and the pain that would never go away...
"Doctor? I think he's awake."
Archie froze inwardly at that voice. He knew it, it was the sick berth attendant's voice, oh damn! Archie waited for Hepplewhite's uncaring hand on his shoulder, the impatient voice saying as it so often did after bleeding, well, come on then! You're done, out with you. I'm not running a nursery...
But a few moments passed, and there was no rough shake of his shoulder. Archie knew it would come eventually, but hoped if he lay very still and didn't move for a long time, perhaps Hepplewhite would go away and leave him alone for a while. Perhaps if I'm lucky...
Suddenly there was a touch, but it was not Hepplewhite's and it was not what Archie was expecting. It was a soft touch on his forehead, a warm gentle hand whose unexpected presence made Archie flinch before he could stop himself.
Damn! He thought, and decided he was caught and had to open his eyes. And anyway, he was curious about who was putting a hand to his forehead...
So very carefully, and very slowly, Archie opened his eyes.
The lamp in the sick berth was low, so Archie found he could see everything right away. Seated close to his hammock was a man Archie had never seen before, a tall thin Spanish-looking man with long gray hair and wearing a dark green dress coat. But wait, there was something, something familiar -
- Spanish -
Archie started, and let out a little gasp.
The man withdrew his hand quickly, and looked at Archie in chagrined surprise. "I'm sorry, did I hurt you?"
Oh my God, Archie thought rapidly over and over, and after a moment remembered how to speak. "No, no, I'm - I'm all right."
The man leaned back, and smiled a little. "I startled you. I apologize."
Archie began to feel very foolish. "No, you - well, I mean, yes you did, but - but - am I on Indefatigable?"
The man smiled a little more, and it was a nice, gentle smile. "Yes, you are. I've sent for Lieutenant Hornblower, he's been very concerned for you."
Archie blinked, found that all he could do was stare at this man, who he had been certain a minute ago did not exist. He was still not certain.
The man seemed to notice his staring, and quietly said, "Do you remember me?"
Caught out again, Archie nodded, then added in an amazed whisper. "I - I'm sorry, I'm just...I thought I dreamed you."
The man shook his head. "I'm not surprised, you were in quite a fevered state when we met. My name is Dr. Luis Sebastian, I'm a member of the crew you rescued."
"Yes, I - I remember, I think," Archie whispered, although he wasn't sure what he remembered, and what had been just an illusion. What did this mean? If the doctor was real, then what else had happened? Archie's mind fluttered back over his memory, recalling the pain, the disorientation, and what he had said to the kind apparition who had appeared and promised to help him.
Archie thought about that, and felt a raw hole open up in his stomach...Oh, God, what had he said? What did this stranger know?
Dr. Sebastian leaned forward slowly and placed his hand on Archie's forehead again, very carefully as if he thought Archie were made out of eggshells. As Archie's mind roiled, trying to remember what he had babbled in his delirium, the doctor asked calmly, "How are you feeling this morning?"
"Fine," Archie said quickly, automatically, it was his usual response whenever anyone asked. It was also a lie, but Archie figured he could get away with it. Hepplewhite certainly never bothered to ask twice...
Dr. Sebastian immediately removed his hand and regarded Archie with what he thought was a reproachful look. Then, turning around in his seat, the doctor reached for something and when he turned back around again Archie saw what it was.
A pewter cup full of water.
"Now, young man," Dr. Sebastian said, a little sternly, "I'm going to ask you that question again, and this time please consider your answer carefully. I would very much like to help you recover but to do that I require your honesty. Do you understand?"
Good heavens! "Um...yes."
"Excellent. Mr. Kennedy, how are you feeling this morning?"
Archie sighed and gave up. "I - I suppose I'm a little thirsty..."
"Yes, you are," Dr. Sebastian replied, standing up and putting one hand behind Archie's head while offering him the water with the other. Archie surprised himself by almost grabbing at the cup, and was amazed at how good the water tasted. Before he knew it, he'd drained every drop.
"That's very good, Mr. Kennedy," the doctor said approvingly as he laid Archie's head back. "I'll get you some more in a moment."
"Thank you," Archie replied as he settled back into the hammock. He was somewhat bewildered, but the water had tasted so good he found himself overwhelmingly grateful.
"You are entirely welcome," Dr. Sebastian gave a little nod as he sat back down and set the cup aside. "Now then, tell me how your stomach feels, where you had so much pain earlier."
"Oh. Um..." Archie took stock, and knew it would go easier for him if he was honest, although this unaccustomed scrutiny unnerved him a bit. He was unused to so much attention. "Well, it - it doesn't hurt so much, I mean not in the same way. It's not a sharp pain any more, it's rather...it's like something's been taken out."
"Something has, and it will never return again. I would like to take a look at you incision, may I?"
Archie shrugged, and pushed the blanket away and pulled aside his shirt to where he knew the old injury was. He was curious himself about what was there now.
There was a small pad of linen over the area now, held in place by a winding strip of cloth. Archie stared at it as the doctor expertly untied the binding strip and laid it open. He dampened the pad of fabric with some warm water, then gingerly worked it away from the wound.
There was a small cut beneath it, knit together by four tidy stitches. Dr. Sebastian smiled and nodded to himself. "No infection. That is very good indeed."
Archie was flabbergasted. By the wound, by this doctor, by everything. He barely remembered what had happened to him, had figured he'd live with that agonizing pain for the rest of his life, a dreadful reminder of what he had been once, and who had owned him.
And now it was gone? It *was* gone, he could tell, he was healing inside and once healed he would have no more feverish nights, no more endless hours crumpled in pain and remembered suffering. It was gone.
And who was this doctor? Archie's eyes darted to him as he sponged the incision with something warm and soothing, then carefully rebandaged the area with a clean pad of linen. True, he looked like one of the enemy but - but - no one had tended to Archie's hurts this gently since his mother, and that had been so long ago. Certainly Hepplewhite would not have been so careful. He had never been...
Dr. Sebastian retied the strips of cloth around the pad and settled Archie's shirt back over it. "I think that will heal very nicely, provided it is cared for properly. Now, Mr. Kennedy, what else?"
What else? Archie lay back in the hammock, his mind swimming. It was very rare in his life that anyone had ever asked him so extensively what was bothering him. "Um...well, my arm is rather sore."
"Which one? Right or left?"
The doctor nodded and took Archie's arm in his hands and lifted it. Archie saw the bandage around his forearm, saw that a little blood had soaked through it, and blinked in surprise. "I was bled there yesterday. What happened?"
Dr. Sebastian began to moisten the bandage. "You don't remember?"
Remember? Archie thought again, tried to piece together the fragments of hazy memory. He was in a boat, in the rain...he was being placed in the hammock...then he was floating, light and insubstantial, caught in some unusual dream that seemed so real, he felt like a ship at anchor in a storm, pulled by something mighty yet tethered and unable to break free. And then...
...and then he remembered words, Horatio's voice, frantic for some reason, and then waking ...
Archie's eyes widened. "I was bled again."
"Yes," Dr. Sebastian replied, and from that word Archie could tell he didn't like it. He opened up the bandage, and looked at the long gash beneath it.
Archie thought again. "Someone was...I thought I heard someone saying something, like praying. It wasn't Horatio?"
Dr. Sebastian's smile echoed Archie's gentle sarcasm. Archie could tell they both knew Horatio wasn't religious. "No, Mr. Kennedy, that was my voice you heard praying for you. I hope you didn't mind."
Mind? Archie remembered the comfort he had felt at hearing those words, the reassurance and protection he had sensed that he had never felt before, anywhere. It was strange, but..."No. No, I didn't mind, I...thank you."
"Oh, I could do nothing else," Dr. Sebastian said seriously as he rewrapped Archie's arm in a clean bandage. "Mr. Hornblower would have torn me to pieces if I had not employed every means I knew in my efforts to keep you here. I was merely looking after my own self-interest."
Archie smiled a little at that, and relaxed some. The doctor put his hand on Archie's forehead again, and frowned slightly. The look in his eyes made Archie think again of the dark dreams and the oubliette, and he tried frantically to think of some way to ask this man what he had said without being too obvious about it. What would the doctor think of him if he knew? Perhaps he would treat him as Hepplewhite had...
Dr. Sebastian moved his hand a little on Archie's forehead and asked quietly, "Tell me, Mr. Kennedy, do you suffer from headaches at all?"
Archie was surprised by this unexpected question, and instinctively tried to be cagey about it. "H-headaches? What do you mean?"
"Headaches," the doctor repeated as he kept his hand on Archie's brow. "Dizziness, blurred vision, seizures?"
Seizures! Archie flinched away from Dr. Sebastian's hand as if it were made of ice, and stared at him in blank fear. "Why?"
Dr. Sebastian's eyes were soft as he gradually withdrew his hand. "I'm sorry, perhaps I should not have asked. But I only wish to help you, I can see you have scars on your scalp which suggest that you at one time suffered injuries there. That is all."
"Oh." Archie tried to calm his heart down, looked down at his hands as they rested on the blanket and felt suddenly naked and vulnerable. No matter how kind and compassionate this doctor was, he would never look at Archie the same way again if he knew about Simpson, about the beatings and the other horrors. For a moment Archie squeezed his eyes tight against the memories and felt his cheeks burn with humiliation. Don't ask how I got the scars, please...
Then there was a hand on his arm, and Archie opened his eyes again to see the doctor smiling at him. "Look here, " the doctor said, and as Archie watched he pulled his long gray hair back to reveal a thin white line running behind his right ear, from just behind the earlobe up into his hair, until Archie couldn't see it anymore.
It was a scar, and Archie stared at it. Before he could stop himself he asked, "What happened?"
"Where I was growing up, in London," Dr. Sebastian said, letting his hair fall back down and crossing his arms over his knees, "There was a group of bullies who used to torment me because my mother came from Spain. One of them hit me with a rock once, and that was the result."
Archie's eyebrows went up. "How old were you?"
"Oh, perhaps ten. It was very bad, I had a terrible headache for two days. They beat me other times too, but that scar is the only one which is readily visible."
Archie absorbed this silently, and shuddered. "And no one helped you?"
"They would have if they knew," Dr. Sebastian replied as he turned to the table next to him and began fiddling with things Archie couldn't see. "But I would not tell them how much pain I was in or how unhappy I was, for fear I would shame my mother and infuriate my father. And I was also afraid the bullies would come after me only harder for telling on them."
Archie bit his lip as tears of remembrance came to his eyes. "I see."
"So I lived with it, for far too long," Dr. Sebastian continued, still turned away, "until one day the largest of them gave me a thrashing just before I was to go to confession. My priest - who was a very wise man - saw through the screen that I was bleeding and immediately asked me what had happened. I told him I had been hit by an ox cart."
Despite his anxiety, Archie almost laughed. Dr. Sebastian turned his head back toward Archie and smiled. "Father Saxon didn't believe it either. After hearing my confession he met me coming out of the booth and we had a long talk. He swore before God that he would not tell my parents, and I felt I could trust him."
Archie nodded. "What happened?"
Dr. Sebastian shrugged. "I told him everything, every miserable detail, and when it was all over I was sitting in his study weeping as he wiped the blood off my face. I had never felt so cleansed in my entire life."
"Did he take care of the bullies for you?"
"After a fashion," the doctor answered as he turned back around. Archie saw that he had another cup in his hand, a ceramic one. "He prayed for me, then told me that God would see me through all trials, and when I was feeling most helpless was when he would be close. There is no pain sent from man or demon so strong that His love is not stronger and can heal it."
Archie absorbed this, wished it could be true. "But what of the bullies?"
"Oh - he showed me a way through the streets and by the church that they did not know. It utterly confounded them. Here," Dr. Sebastian handed Archie the ceramic cup, "Drink this, it's for your pain. It's willow bark."
Archie took the cup with a fond smile. "I've had this before. Horatio's father is a doctor, we went to visit him at Christmas..." Archie trailed off for a moment and thought, then said, "I suppose - I talked to him then like you talked to your priest. Um, about...well, about some things that were bothering me."
"Hm," Dr. Sebastian said as Archie sampled the tea. "And how did you feel afterwards?"
Archie thought about this. How had he felt? The word Dr. Sebastian had used, cleansed, came close. But it had felt so good just to talk...Archie finally shrugged and said, "Relieved. But...what we discussed..." Archie looked down at the cup in his hands and remembered Dr. Hornblower's words:
*You have been most cruelly used. You will not heal overnight, nor should you believe that you will.* Archie fell silent. He could think of nothing more to say.
Suddenly the door to the sick berth opened and Archie looked up to see a very worried-looking Horatio entering with the sick berth attendant at his heels.
"Archie, they told me you had awakened," Horatio said, and as Dr. Sebastian stood up quickly took his seat. "How are you feeling?"
"Ashamed of myself," Archie replied before taking another drink of the tea. "And thankful I didn't bugger up the entire mission for you."
"Yes, well," Horatio leaned back and gave Archie a stern look, "Everything turned out all right, but blast it, Archie! Why didn't you tell me you didn't just have a fever? You might have died, or what would have happened to you if we'd had to leave you behind?"
Archie winced, and looked down at the blanket again. "I know, Horatio, and I'm sorry, it was very irresponsible of me..."
"I should say so!" Horatio fumed, putting his hands on his knees and piercing Archie with his dark eyes. "Confound it, Archie, how long have we had an acquaintance? You knew I would look after you as I would any other of my men, all you had to do was trust me. Yet you kept your illness inside and look where it's gotten you."
"Well, actually, I *am* feeling better," Archie said with a sly smile.
"Yes, but - but that's due to Dr. Sebastian's expertise, not your stubbornness!" Horatio rejoined. "If he had not been with us, the Indefatigable might have lost you, and dammit, Mr. Kennedy, I refuse to allow you to rob the Navy of one of its finest officers through your own gross lack of trust."
Archie took another drink of the tea and grimaced. "That's far too eloquent for this early in the morning."
Horatio blinked at Archie's humor, and it was clear he didn't quite understand. He soldiered on. "Well, in any case, for mercy's sake if you have concerns such as that will you kindly tell your commanding officer instead of forcing him to race around in pouring rainstorms looking to find you?"
Archie's smile was at once wan and appreciative. "Aye aye, Mr. Hornblower."
Horatio's curly brown hair bobbed as he nodded decisively. "Good! Now, how soon till you're up and about again?"
Archie looked at Dr. Sebastian, who was standing nearby with his arms crossed, looking at Horatio with a quizzical expression on his face. With a small shrug the doctor said, "As soon as he's feeling strong enough, Mr. Kennedy is free to return to his duties, although I would recommend nonstrenuous activities until his incisions heal. Barring a really good battle, of course."
"Then I'll see you on the topdeck shortly," Archie said to Horatio with a smile,
Horatio smiled back and stood to go. "Capital. Styles and the others have been pestering me about you all morning."
With that, Horatio gave the doctor a parting smile and left. After he was gone Dr. Sebastian went back to arranging his medical kit, and Archie went back to his tea.
As Dr. Sebastian worked, he said, "Mr. Hornblower seems to be a very good friend."
Archie swallowed and looked at the simmering tea guiltily. "He is. I owe him my life."
"Ah! And he told me he owed you his. The finest chain to bind two souls that God can ever fashion."
Archie looked at the doctor's back, and wondered again if the doctor knew how that chain had been forged, and what chains still bound his soul that Horatio could never share. The tea, with its strong aroma and bitter taste, reminded him of Dr. Hornblower again, and the combination of remembering how it felt to unburden his troubles and the awareness that this doctor reminded him of Horatio's father almost made Archie talk. Dr. Sebastian was kind like Dr. Hornblower was, he was caring and compassionate, and from his scars Archie thought that maybe, maybe he would understand. Few people did, but maybe he would. And maybe he could help Archie finally break the chains that still held his heart, despite Horatio's friendship and his own successes. The pain this man suffered didn't break him, didn't make him cowardly or ill. So maybe he knew something, and perhaps with enough cajoling he could tell Archie what it was...
So Archie opened his mouth to say, Can I talk to you about something? But then the door to the sick berth banged opened again, and he stopped.
Because it was Dr. Hepplewhite.
Hepplewhite didn't say anything when he saw Archie in the hammock, and Dr. Sebastian standing at the table behind him. He was scowling, Archie noticed, and when he saw the two of them his scowl went deeper.
But he didn't say anything, not a single word. Instead, he simply stalked through the sick berth, grabbed a half-empty bottle of liquor that had been sitting on a shelf by his cabin door, and went inside, slamming the door behind him.
Dr. Sebastian glanced at the door, then went back to his work as if nothing had happened.
Archie, on the other hand, was considerably rattled. My God, he thought, I forgot about Dr. Hepplewhite. I forgot, he's the doctor here, not this other man. This other doctor's only a passenger, come England or perhaps even sooner, he'll be gone. And then I'll be alone again...
No. Better not to say anything. He'd probably only pity me, and even if he could help me, even if he could - if he knew something, he won't talk to me with Hepplewhite around. And - and how do I know he won't just go and gossip whatever I tell him anyway? I don't really know him...but I do know Hepplewhite, and I know he talks too much...
So Archie decided not to say anything, and went back to drinking his tea.
"There," Dr. Sebastian said with a smile as he surveyed his tidied medical kit, "That's better. Now..." He turned around and looked at Archie appraisingly, and Archie was quick to lower his eyes so the doctor couldn't read them and see how close to the surface his emotions were. Archie was getting the idea that this man was very perceptive, and he knew better than to take chances.
Fortunately, the doctor hadn't seen anything. Instead, he simply smiled and asked, "How are you finding the tea, Mr. Kennedy?"
"Hm," Archie said with a cheerful smile and a nod, "It's very good."
"Excellent," Dr. Sebastian replied, then frowned in thought. "Now, what were we discussing before Mr. Hornblower so brashly interrupted us..."
Archie took a quick breath, suddenly afraid that the doctor would remember that they were talking about his conversation with Dr. Hornblower, and ask about it. "Um - I don't remember."
The doctor didn't argue, merely cocked his head and gave Archie a sympathetic look. "Hm."
"I'm certain it wasn't anything important," Archie continued before he took another drink of tea, desperate to end the conversation. It was his only hope of staying hidden.
The doctor continued to gaze at Archie for a moment, then said, "If you'll pardon me for a moment, Mr. Kennedy, there is something I need from my belongings. I'll be back presently."
Archie nodded with another false smile, then as the doctor walked out of the sick berth sighed with relief and continued to drink his tea. That was close. Archie glanced once again at the closed cabin door and thought, what if he had asked, and Hepplewhite heard? Of course, Hepplewhite already knew most of his past, but there were things he didn't know...things no one knew, not even Horatio.
But maybe it would help if someone knew...Archie bit his lip and for a moment relived the time in Dr. Hornblower's study, when he had at last really talked about it, and how good it felt just to have someone know and not condemn him. But even Dr. Hornblower did not know everything that had happened. To tell that story would take weeks, perhaps months. And some of it even Archie didn't remember. But it had felt good, to talk. To have someone know. And to be told that he would be all right. It would be so comforting to be able to talk like that again...
But now that was impossible. Because Dr. Hornblower was hundreds of miles away. Because Horatio, although a dear friend, was too much Archie's idol to be his confessor as well. And because this man, Dr. Sebastian, who seemed so concerned about Archie's welfare, would nevertheless have too brief a stay to be someone Archie could depend upon to be a lasting help.
So, Archie considered himself stuck, and thought ruefully about how that situation was certainly nothing new. And drank the rest of his tea.
Presently the door opened, and Dr. Sebastian returned. "Did you finish the tea?"
Archie nodded, and handed the doctor the cup. "May I go now?"
"In a moment," Dr. Sebastian replied, sitting down next to Archie's hammock and giving him a gentle smile. "Before you go, Mr. Kennedy, I would like to give you this."
He took Archie's left hand and pressed something into it, something metallic. Curious, Archie looked into his palm and saw a small, oval-shaped silver charm with the figure of a woman engraved into it. The woman was wearing long robes and had a halo encircling her head. Around the edge of the oval were the words ST. ADELAIDE PRAY FOR US.
Archie frowned. "What is it?"
"After I had my talk with Father Saxon," Dr. Sebastian explained softly, "He gave me this so I would always have someone to talk to. You see, in my faith we sometimes feel uncomfortable bringing our troubles to God, so instead we pray to the saints, people who lived on earth as we do, but who were especially close to God. Many saints are patrons, meaning they have a special understanding of a particular problem, so we know when we talk to them we are truly talking to someone who knows our plight."
Archie peered at the medal more closely. "Who's Adelaide?"
Dr. Sebastian leaned back. "She is the patron saint of exiles. On earth, she left her home country and lived in another, much like I did before I was even born. Father Saxon told me whenever I was bullied by ignorant people because I was neither English nor Spanish, that I should tell my troubles to her and she would understand. And then she would tell my troubles to God."
Archie nodded, and studied the little medallion.
"And so, Mr. Kennedy," Dr. Sebastian explained as he leaned closer to the hammock, "When you need someone to talk to, and no is close that you think would understand, take this in your hand and know that there is always Someone who will listen to whatever is in your heart."
Archie gazed at the little charm incredulously. Someone who will listen...
Dr. Sebastian leaned back in his chair and shrugged a little. "Or if you would rather, simply regard it as a gift from an eccentric friend, and leave it at that."
Archie looked up hastily. "Oh, no, it's - I'm not...thank you. I'm just...I'm not Catholic."
The doctor cocked his head. "Do you believe in God?"
Archie paused. Did he? Sometimes...what other explanation would suffice for how Horatio found him in the Spanish prison, in one cell out of dozens he could have been placed in? The word 'miracle' had seldom applied itself to Archie's life, but there were times when he thought about that, and there was simply no other word for it.
But sometimes...Archie's hand closed around the medallion, and he thought of Simpson, of prison, of the long dark nights when he pleaded for release or death, and neither came. Was any kind of heavenly help there then? Was anybody listening?
Dr. Sebastian smiled, and patted Archie's shoulder as he stood up. "I'm sorry, that was an unfair question. You may accept my gift or not, and I will not be offended. As my captain will tell you, it is simply my own peculiar way of looking after my patients."
The doctor gave Archie a kind smile and turned back to the old, discarded bandages that sat on the table behind them. Archie opened his hand and looked at the medallion again, then without a word slipped it into his jacket pocket. "I think I'd better get back to my duties now."
"As it suits you," Dr. Sebastian replied with a nod as he turned to face Archie once again. "Please remember to take care of those stitches, and rest yourself if you experience any dizziness or faintness."
Archie wrestled himself out of the hammock and put both feet on the floor. Dr. Sebastian came forward to steady him, but to his relief Archie realized that he felt fine, and standing up was not paining him as it had the day before. The ache was lessening, and soon would be gone. He gave the doctor a grateful smile. "Thank you. For all of it, I mean."
"It is my pleasure," the doctor replied, "I will be assisting Dr. Hepplewhite until we disembark, unless we come to blows before then. Please return if anything bothers you."
"I will." Archie said, shamefully close to tears for reasons he didn't even know. Then he gathered his jacket and left, feeling worlds better and thinking as he walked out the sick berth door that, oddly, the Spanish doctor looked somewhat close to tears himself. But Archie had no idea why.
A few days later the Indefatigable drew close to Gibraltar, and Horatio stood on the quarter-deck and figured this adventure had come to an end.
It was a pleasant morning, sunny and cool, and Horatio let his eye travel around the deck of the ship below him as he contemplated the last few days. They had been easy ones, thankfully; Archie was feeling better and back to his duties, although Pellew and Horatio were both careful to give him light tasks, until Archie actually became cross about it and demanded something 'more challenging than folding and unfolding the bloody telescopes'. Horatio had obliged, happy that his friend - and his pride - were back at last.
Horatio sought Archie out at that moment, finally spying him halfway up the deck at the starboard cannons, discussing some aspect of them with Styles. Horatio smiled, his thoughts turning to the other strange aspect of their journey.
Dr. Hepplewhite had been sulking in his cabin since they left the coast, coming out only occasionally and letting Dr. Sebastian handle all of the problems. Normally that would be a gross insubordination, and Horatio did hear some muttering about it, but the truth was that Dr. Sebastian was handling Hepplewhite's tantrum - and the little emergencies that cropped up even in a ship at rest - so well that few people were actually complaining, including Captain Pellew. In fact...
Horatio smiled as he recalled the conversation he had had with Styles the first evening they set sail. Horatio had first watch, and was enjoying the fresh breeze when Styles had edged up to him and said, "Sir?"
Horatio turned to see Styles standing there in his dark blue pea-coat, a puzzled look on his face. "Yes, Styles, what is it?"
"There's a Dago running the surgery, sir. Did you know that?"
Horatio tried not to smile. "His name is Dr. Sebastian, Styles, he's the surgeon from the Valiant. Captain Pellew is letting him be mate to Dr. Hepplewhite until he disembarks with the rest of the crew."
"Oh." A slight pause. "Ye' sayin' he's English?"
Horatio nodded. "As loyal as you or me. There wasn't a problem, was there?"
"Problem? Uh - well, not exactly - " Styles came a little closer and whispered. "'e's not like Hepplewhite, sir, is all. It's odd is what it is."
"Odd? In what way?"
"Well," Styles made an even more puzzled face. "I 'ad a toothache, and went down there thinkin' old Hepplewhite's goin' t' just take it out of me head. But this chap puts some of this oil on it instead, an' tells me it's me gums and not the tooth. 'e gave me some kind of powder an' told me to rinse with it. Did y' ever hear of such a thing?"
Horatio hadn't, but shrugged. "He's a proper doctor, Styles, he's been to school. Did your tooth feel better?"
"Well, that's the funny thing," Styles replied in awe, "It did. Now Hepplewhite would have just yanked it out, no question. But this Da...but this chap, 'e's got some kind of thing 'e does with leaves and stuff. Y' don't suppose 'e's a witch or summat?"
Horatio did grin then. "No, Styles, he's simply versed in a different form of medicine than Dr. Hepplewhite. Captain Pellew appointed him, and I don't think he would have done so without cause. Do you?"
"Oh, no, sir," Styles was quick to reply, but he still looked puzzled as he turned away, "Beggin' your pardon, sir, but I was just curious. I didn't want to be bewitched or nothin'. Ye can't be too careful with these foreigners."
And Styles had left, still confused but Horatio thought, thankful to still have his tooth. And so it had gone for the two days they had been at sea, Dr. Hepplewhite had pouted over his mate's obvious popularity, and Dr. Sebastian had been as helpful as he could without seeming at any time to overstep his boundaries. So all in all, it had been a pleasant sail.
But now it was coming to an end. Horatio's eye traveled across the water, to the distant white line and tan rocks above it. Gibraltar. Captain Pellew had told him that Captain Turner's court-martial would be held there rather than in England, so that meant that they would all be disembarking there to attend to their captain's fate. And Horatio found himself very curious as to what that fate would be.
Court-martial...the word struck fear into any British officer, and downright terror into any who knew they were guilty and might be severely punished. But Captain Turner did not seem very nervous about it; in fact, Horatio knew that he and his crew were having breakfast with Captain Pellew at this very moment in his cabin, as if they were sailing to a holiday instead of to a strict military trial. It was very confusing.
Horatio paced the deck for a while, pausing occasionally to gaze at the deck and see what his men were up to, then go back to pacing again. All the while Gibraltar slid closer and closer, and just when the thin white line became buildings and ships gleaming in the morning sun, the door below Horatio opened and Captain Turner and his crew came on deck.
Horatio stopped his pacing and watched them for a moment, intrigued by this man who was so calm in the face of calamity, and whose crew seemed so loyal to him. Turner walked casually to the rail, his first lieutenant - Brown, Horatio remembered, that was his name - right beside him, his hands behind his back, sharing some joke. The other officers clustered around the two men, talking among themselves as they fanned out at the rail to watch the approach of their acquittal or doom. Horatio watched them almost enviously, until Dr. Sebastian, who was standing on the captain's left, turned his head and caught Horatio's eye. The doctor smiled and walked toward the quarter-deck stairs, and Horatio smiled as he came to stand with him in the warm sunlight.
"Good morning, lieutenant," Dr. Sebastian said amiably. "It is a lovely day."
"Indeed it is, sir," Horatio replied, "And a provident one, I hope, for your captain's sake."
"Thank you, I hope it is provident also," the doctor answered, and put his cigar to his mouth for a moment.
Horatio paused, then said, "If I may say so, Captain Turner seems like an excellent captain. And he is fortunate to have you as his crew."
Dr. Sebastian smiled and blew a thin line of smoke into the air. "That is very gracious of you, lieutenant, and you are right. He is a good man and an excellent captain, but it is not fortune that gave him a loyal crew. It is because he has made us so, through the strength of his character."
"Yes," Horatio said in admiration, "But still, as a British officer, it warms my heart to see it. It is rare enough, these days."
"Rare enough," Dr. Sebastian agreed, "But present all the same, on this very ship. Do not look at us with envious eyes, lieutenant, when you yourself have a captain whose officers are every bit as loyal."
Horatio considered Pellew, and raised his eyebrows in realization. "True."
"True! A blind man could see it." Dr. Sebastian indicated where Turner was still standing with his men, watching the coastline get closer. "I have only been on your ship a few days, and from talking to your captain and being among your crew I have seen that same devotion, the same respect that shines from every face. If that were your captain standing down there instead of mine, do you doubt for a moment that he would be surrounded by men willing to die for him, and deflect whatever blows fate handed him onto their own bodies?"
Horatio considered this, and knew it to be true. If it were Pellew going to his court-martial, was there any doubt that Bracegirdle would be by his side, that Bowles would be present as well? And himself, certainly; Horatio knew that he would follow Pellew to the gallows, if necessary. It would be a small price to pay for the care he had shown in moulding Horatio to the man he had become.
Dr. Sebastian took another puff on the cigar, and blew the smoke into the wind. "I am only sorry that our journey has come to an end, and Captain Turner must now go through this trial and what follows, and his crew must be scattered to the winds. It is a sorrowful day, for no one here wants to part company."
"But perhaps you do not have to leave," Horatio blurted, "It is possible that Captain Pellew would consider keeping you on as surgeon's mate."
Dr. Sebastian smiled. "That is most kind of you, lieutenant, but your surgeon and I do not get along, and he must come out of that cabin to breathe at some point. My presence here only causes discord between us, and it is not my home. For the sake of peace, I must leave and go where God sends me."
Horatio looked down, saddened that he knew the doctor was right. Hepplewhite was the ship's surgeon, and would remain so until he resigned or died. He had committed no crime to be dismissed for; and he and Dr. Sebastian would never get along.
Dr. Sebastian took a deep breath, and gazed out over the harbor, which was drawing closer by the moment. "But still, I am grateful for the time I have spent here. It is reassuring to know that even though the Valiant is gone, there is a spirit like hers that yet roams the waves, and men that will fight with every breath to do the right and noble thing."
Horatio straightened at these words, felt in them a kind of golden truth that he had not considered before. It was difficult to think of the Indefatigable in quite those glowing terms when one was taking first watch in a chilling rainstorm, yet Horatio knew it was true. There was something special about this ship. Casting about for a suitable response he stammered, "It is Captain Pellew's spirit that impels us, sir. Like your Captain Turner. He inspires us to go beyond our own mortality."
Dr. Sebastian's eyes sparkled with humor as he faced Horatio. "Mr. Hornblower, I never would have taken you for a poet. But those are eloquent words indeed. I hope you keep his example when you have your own men to inspire."
Horatio looked at the doctor in confusion. "Sir?"
"Oh, come now, lieutenant," Dr. Sebastian turned to where Turner stood once again, and his eyes shone with conviction, "Do you think I have not seen it? You with your lion's courage and your inordinate sense of responsibility, your heart will beat in a captain's uniform someday. And when it is your trial, your despair, your hopeless situations, I know that your men will stand beside you, as we stand with Captain Turner and you would stand with Captain Pellew. It is an absolute certainty."
Horatio was overcome, and stammered, "I - I can only do my utmost, and hope so."
"Ah, but you are so far down the road on that journey already," Dr. Sebastian said almost fondly, as he took another puff on the cigar. "I can see, your crew, and Mr. Kennedy, they would defend you to the sword's point and beyond. It is a good foundation to build a life on."
Horatio nodded. "But it is not my will alone. They are good men, and it is my privilege to lead them."
"Yes," Dr. Sebastian's expression changed as he squinted through the sun at the small group milling by the cannons halfway up the deck. "And I know I do not need to ask you, lieutenant, to be especially watchful of Mr. Kennedy's spirit, in particular. His is a most difficult road, and I have seen too many gentle souls like his crushed to be optimistic that he will gain a truly lasting happiness without steadfast support."
Horatio glanced at where Archie was checking the ropes on a gun carriage, his blond hair gleaming in the sun, and sighed. "I know."
"It is not my wish to leave," Dr. Sebastian continued, "But I know I can do so, since God has already entrusted him to your care. Well, lieutenant," Dr. Sebastian put the cigar between his teeth and gave Horatio a contented smile, "I see Gibraltar is coming nigh, and it is time to face my destiny. I will keep you in my prayers, and perhaps we will meet again before your ship departs."
"And I will keep you - in my thoughts," Horatio said politely, but he meant it. "And if you can make it back aboard, you will be very welcome indeed."
A short time later, the commands were given, the anchor was dropped, and the Indefatigable once again made safe harbor off the great rocky coast of Gibraltar. Shore boats were made ready, and as the warm sun made its way towards noon the time came for the men of the Valiant to bid farewell to the Indefatigable, and go to face their fate.
Horatio knew he had to be there, of course, and encouraged Archie to come along, even though he was still very embarrassed about the whole thing and tried to plead some excuse. Captain Pellew was there as well, and came forward as the little group prepared to disembark to take Captain Turner's hand in a warm farewell. "The best of luck to you, captain. I trust you will send word when the court-martial is ended, and the verdict is given."
"Of course," Turner replied with a nervous smile, "I could do no less for the brave men who saved my life, and the lives of my men. I owe all of you a great debt of gratitude."
He extended his hand to Horatio, who took it cordially. "It was our honor to come to your assistance, sir."
Captain Turner's smile grew wider and he beamed at both Archie and Horatio as he released Horatio's hand. "Well, I see you got the cream of the navy, Captain Pellew. Follow your captain's example, lads, and you'll be wearing gold braid before you know it."
Horatio blushed under the praise and stammered, "I can only do my best, sir."
"And the king can ask for nothing more." Turner looked around at his men and said, "Well, boys, shall we go ashore and see trouble you can get your captain out of?"
The Valiant's officers all laughed sympathetically and turned to board the jollyboat that would take them to shore. As Horatio watched, however, Dr. Sebastian paused before Captain Pellew and put out his hand. "I would like to thank you, captain, for extending me the courtesy of treating your crew while on our journey here. It was very gracious of you."
"Not at all, doctor," Captain Pellew replied sincerely, taking Dr. Sebastian's hand genially, "I only apologize that Dr. Hepplewhite proved to be a burden to you."
"Ah, but you handled that problem in an expert manner," the doctor said with a sly smile, "And now that I am going, he will have nothing more to complain about."
Horatio wanted very badly to say, I would not be so sure of that. But he knew it would be impertinent, and kept his silence.
Captain Turner's voice came from over the railing, where the other Valiant officers were already settling themselves in the boat. "Luis, come join us. I refuse to go to my hanging without you."
Dr. Sebastian's smile was for Captain Pellew as he replied, "Aye aye, captain." He turned to Horatio and shook his hand. "Again, thank you for everything, lieutenant."
Horatio found himself becoming shamefully emotional, and simply smiled in return.
Dr. Sebastian nodded, then looked to Horatio's left and cocked his head. It was at that moment that Horatio looked to his side and realized that Archie was practically standing behind him, his head ducked down as if he had been suddenly struck by an extreme case of shyness. Archie seemed aware that he was being looked at and looked up, and Horatio was surprised that his shipmate should look so moved at the doctor's going. Captain Pellew, if he had noticed at all, was looking away, which was a relief to Horatio who did not want to see his friend embarrassed, because Archie seemed to be struggling against something that threatened to undo him at any moment.
"Luis!" Captain Turner's voice came, more authoritatively now, "You are making me late to my own funeral!"
"Aye, sir," Dr. Sebastian said, but Horatio saw that he kept his eyes locked on Archie, and never looked away. Very quickly, he reached out, not to take Archie's hand but to lay his hand on the side of the boy's head, just for a moment, and give him a smile that seemed to Horatio to be a kind of benediction. Then he stepped away and pulled his long body over the side of the ship and down the gangway ladder, and a moment later was taken away from the Indefatigable in the jolly boat with his captain and crew, and out of Horatio's sight completely.
For Horatio that afternoon and evening saw a welcome return to shipboard routine, and the resumption of the way things had been before the whole bizarre mission had taken place.
There were duties to attend to, reports to be made, and before he knew it Horatio found himself once again sliding into the well-worn groove that was life on board a ship. It was all so routine he felt he could do it in his sleep: check these supplies, inspect that cabling, check in with his crew to make sure all of the chores were getting done in proper order. It was almost as if the past two days had not happened at all.
There was little word from Gibraltar, and Horatio despaired of actually getting onshore to find out what was going on with Captain Turner's court-martial. Midshipman Cleveland made it ashore, but he was an unimaginative sort who could bring back no other details than that the trial would take place tomorrow, and there seemed to be a lot of talk about it. When Horatio asked what the talk was about, whether sympathy seemed to run in favor of Turner or against him, or indeed any detail other than those two straight facts, Cleveland became very terse and told Horatio that was all he knew. So Horatio gave up, and resigned himself to guessing.
Afternoon wore into evening, and the talk around the wardroom revealed occurrences Horatio had been too busy seeing to his duties to be aware of. Dr. Hepplewhite had emerged from his cabin at last, and secured a two-day leave from Captain Pellew - to calm his temper, Bracegirdle suggested, or perhaps because Pellew did not want the doctor venting his anger out on some unfortunate loblolly boy with an injured finger. Admiration seemed to run high for Dr. Sebastian, and there seemed to be only a few questions as to his loyalty and fitness for service, given his ancestry. Horatio himself saw to it to put those fears to rest, and those who held opposite opinions quickly found reasons to be elsewhere.
Archie had first watch, and Horatio had not seen much of him since Dr. Sebastian's departure. Horatio had tried to engage him in conversation over dinner, but Archie seemed sullen and withdrawn, and nothing Horatio said would draw him out. Even more maddening was Archie's stubborn refusal to tell Horatio what was wrong - every inquiry was met with that infernal painted-on smile, the same off-putting reassurances that was Archie's way of keeping everyone at arm's length when he was hurting. The more Horatio thought about this, the more aggravated it made him, until finally he decided to pay a visit to the topdeck and see how his friend was doing.
It was a warm night, bright with stars, and Horatio came upon Archie standing near the railing at the forecastle, staring at the rippling black sea and fingering a silver charm between his fingers. Not wanting to startle him, Horatio cleared his throat as he drew close, and was not surprised when Archie hastily pocketed the charm and turned to face him.
"Good evening, Mr. Kennedy," Horatio said amiably, "All's calm, I take it."
"Aye sir, all's well." Archie replied, and Horatio almost said something about the irony of that statement. Then he saw the veiled sadness in Archie's eyes, and thought better of it.
Instead, he came to stand beside Archie at the railing, and took a deep breath of the warm salt air. "A fine night for a watch. We've had enough rain for a while, don't you think?"
Archie sighed and said, "Horatio - Mr. Hornblower, stop it."
Horatio frowned innocently. "Stop what?"
"You don't have to hover around me like a blasted mother hen," Archie said in a low voice, keeping his eyes on the dark, rolling sea. "I am quite myself again."
"Yes, that is what worries me," Horatio replied, staring Archie in the face until his friend looked at him. "Hiding inside yourself like a turtle in its shell is what led you to the state you were in the other night, and it is my duty to ensure that it does not happen again. Something is bothering you, and I would rather it were out before Pellew notices it. Wouldn't you?"
Archie gave Horatio a quick, almost frightened look, then cast his eyes down at the water beneath them, his eyes seeming to look through the water, to something beyond it.
Horatio felt his patience slipping from him. "Confound it, Archie, talk to me! Are you feeling ill again? Is it some other injury? Is it - "
"For God's sake, Horatio, hush!" Archie choked out, looking behind him fearfully.
Too late, Horatio realized the intense shame that his friend still felt over those injuries, and the cause of them. Chagrined, he said more quietly, "Mr. Kennedy, I apologize. But you must understand that it is my responsibility as an officer to see that nothing comes between you and your duties on board this ship. And - and dammit, Archie, it is my responsibility as your friend as well. Why won't you trust me?"
Archie's eyes darted to Horatio again, full of anguish but still veiled, as if he were afraid to let it all out lest it consume both of them. He gazed down at the water again and shook his head. "I do trust you, Horatio, but you wouldn't understand. No one would understand."
Horatio turned around and leaned his back against the railing, folding his arms as he studied Archie's face. "Archie, is this about the mission? Because I've already told you, I've forgiven you for that."
"I know," Archie replied softly, "But I am still ashamed - " He stopped talking and bit his lip.
Horatio sensed he was close to a breakthrough, and gently persisted. "Ashamed of what?"
Archie paused and took a deep breath. He lifted his gaze to the endless sea before them, and after a moment shook his head and shrugged. "I don't even know. I know it sounds foolish, but...it's as if there is a curtain between me and the world, and to go through it would be so painful that it seems better to stay silent, and suffer."
Horatio's eyebrows came together as he considered this.
Archie glanced at him, saw his expression and looked down again at the water. "I told you you wouldn't understand."
Horatio opened his mouth to argue, then thought better of it. Archie was too worthy a friend to lie to, and such a transparent lie would be a disservice to them both. The word 'understanding' lurked in Horatio's mind, however, and after a moment he asked, "Did you happen to mention any of this to Dr. Sebastian?"
Archie hesitated, then pulled out the charm and gave a small nod. "A little. He gave me this religious medallion, and told me if I were ever troubled that God would listen."
"So he understood?"
Archie gave a small snort and shrugged resignedly, jamming the medallion back into his pocket. "That hardly matters now. Our surgeon is Dr. Hepplewhite."
Horatio felt a twinge in his stomach at that name. To go from Dr. Sebastian to Dr. Hepplewhite ...well, it would depress anybody. But especially it would depress someone who needed that kind hand on his shoulder, and the understanding ear to talk to. Horatio thought suddenly that if Sebastian believed in God, he had to admit that it was very cruel of Him to offer Archie a helping hand for a few days, and then withdraw it so the ache would be felt more keenly. Very cruel indeed.
But Horatio wanted to offer Archie some hope, so he said, "Well, we'll be in Gibraltar for a few days yet. And he did say he would try to come by before we left."
"I know," Archie replied quietly, and kept his eyes on the cold and distant sea. After a moment he asked, "Horatio?"
"What did you think of him?"
Horatio paused, and thought about the past two days and everything that had happened. After a moment he had his answer. "Dr. Sebastian reminds me very much of my father."
"Me, too," Archie said, so faintly Horatio hardly heard him, and thought for a moment he had heard Archie wrong. But when he looked at Archie's face, Horatio saw the memory of a Christmas they both shared in his friend's light blue eyes, and knew that he had heard Archie true. He also realized that somehow Dr. Sebastian had drawn out Archie's soul as his father had, a drawing-out he desperately needed, but now would be denied, because the understanding ear was gone, and their surgeon was Dr. Hepplewhite.
Horatio gazed at the sea beside his friend for a moment, uncertain what to say. Reassurances seemed hollow; reality seemed too grim to contemplate. Finally he settled with, "I'll be in the wardroom with my books most of the evening. If you're up for a game of whist after watch, you know where to find me."
"Yes," Archie responded, that same automatic answer, damn it. Then, he turned his head a little and said, "Thank you, Horatio. I know I'm sorry company..."
"Just mind those waters, Mr. Kennedy," Horatio answered with an attempt at a smile, "And remember the lights in the wardroom burn well past midnight. Oh - " Horatio suddenly remembered something and dug in his pocket, finally finding the holed shilling and bringing it out. "This is yours, I believe. It may be only a shilling, but at least it's stunning proof of your marksmanship."
Archie blinked at the coin as if trying to remember it, then took it with flat indifference. "Thank you."
Horatio sighed inwardly, then tapped Archie on the back and took his leave, feeling overwhelmingly that he wanted to be alone, whether it was good for him or not. He walked about a dozen paces away, then turned around, unsure within himself whether Archie would really be all right.
In the warm glow of the lamps and the light of the moon, Horatio saw Archie pocket the shilling, then once again pull the silver charm out of his pocket and look at it, then clutch it in his hand and gaze out at the sea. His shoulders seemed to relax a bit, and a little of the melancholy air seemed to lift.
Horatio sighed; it was not happiness for Archie, and likely never would be. But it was all he would allow, and Horatio knew his only course was to hope for the best, and let it go.
That same night, onshore, Dr. Hepplewhite sat in the an elegant tavern and tried to drink himself happy.
It was not an easy task. He had been in a sour mood for two straight days, and knew that it would not lift while he was still aboard ship. For one thing, there were too many reminders of the low esteem he was held in by those too ignorant to appreciate his talents. For another, it was impossible to get quality liquor.
So he knew as soon as they made anchor, that he had to get off the Indefatigable and come into town for a few days, until he could stand to go back. He knew Gibraltar, knew the streets and the taverns, and quickly found his favorite one and rented himself an upstairs room. Then he came downstairs, ordered something to eat, and started in on his first bottle.
Now he was on the second, and feeling much better. The tavern was well-lit and spacious, not one of those filthy hovels, and nothing like the reeking timbers of the Indefatigable. No, this place had plastered walls and candles burning quietly in elegantly curved iron wall sconces. The patrons were a high-crust sort too, not the dregs of humanity that Hepplewhite was so sick of seeing. Not the dirty, unappreciative whelps whom he didn't care if he ever laid eyes on again...
Why did the men always complain about being at anchor? Hepplewhite poured himself another glass of brandy and drank it. They always want to go out to sea, but his happiest times on Justinian were when they were sitting at anchor, and he could get off the ship every once in a while and go to town. There was fresh food, good wine, and bounty for the asking. Why the hell would anyone want to go to sea?
The people in the tavern came and went during the day, but Hepplewhite was content to sift through a local paper - a very recent edition, only three weeks old - and slowly watch the world go soft at the edges. He had a table to himself, but as time passed and the shadows edged their way from the floor to the wall and faded from yellow to red, he found himself becoming depressed at being stuck in his lot and began to eye the patrons to see if there was anybody worth talking to. You could always find at least one soul mate in a tavern.
The prospects didn't look too promising at first, but as the mantle clock over the fireplace chimed eleven a well-dressed old man made his slow and careful way to the table on Hepplewhite's left, carrying a sheaf of papers and a bottle of liquor more expensive than Hepplewhite could afford. He exchanged a genial smile with Hepplewhite as he sat down, and began to read the papers in front of him with varying amounts of interest.
Hepplewhite figured he was busy and ignored him, and so was surprised when he heard the old man say, "Quite an exciting time, eh?"
Blinking, Hepplewhite looked up to see the man smiling at him. "Pardon me?"
"I said, quite an exciting time, eh? Haven't you heard?"
Hepplewhite's eyes darted about him, but no one else looked excited. 'Heard what?"
"About the court martial of Captain Turner, sir. It's all the talk in the streets."
"Oh," Hepplewhite wrinkled his face and went back to his brandy. "Yes, I've heard of it. More than I can stomach, frankly."
"Yes, people can become obsessed," The other man chuckled as he looked down at the papers, "But it's good for the newspapers, and it gives folks a sense of connection. You must be a traveler, I don't think I've seen you before."
"Oh - er, you haven't," Hepplewhite replied, not sure yet if he wanted to be part of a conversation but unsure how to halt it. "I'm a ship's surgeon, we've just made port."
The old man nodded understanding, and went back to his papers. "Oh, yes, must be an exciting life, although I've never cottoned to it. If it weren't for my interests I'd never travel at all."
Hepplewhite found himself intrigued. "Interests?"
"Yes," The old man waved at the table. "I run a vineyard in Naples, we ship all over world. Including the Americas. It's a fine business, but ever since the war started it's been very hard, getting about."
"Hm," Hepplewhite said, for lack of a better response.
"But a ship's surgeon, that must be very hard work," The old man looked up from his papers to regard Hepplewhite sympathetically. "You look like you've borne up under it very well."
"Huh!" Hepplewhite snorted, "As well as I can, sir, given the obstacles I'm given to overcome. You would be amazed at how I am treated, considering the pressure I am under every day."
Hepplewhite nodded, grabbing at the opportunity to talk about himself with both hands. "Three hundred men on board a ship, and only one man to see if they get sores, or scurvy, or gout. Do you think they appreciate it? Not on the ship I serve with."
"Which ship is that?"
Hepplewhite opened his mouth to say, then considered Pellew and cleared his throat instead. "Discretion forbids me to say, for the moment."
"But I will say," Hepplewhite continued with a shake of his head, "That it is the most ill-mannered, plebeian ship in His Majesty's navy! When a man offers his experience, gleaned from years of hard work and sacrifice, only to be told his opinion is unwelcome - it makes scraping together a sense of dignity very much harder."
Hepplewhite took another swig of brandy and warmed to the topic. "And then to be the model of efficiency of good order, and be dressed down for it! I receiving training in Surgeon's Hall, and have served with three captains, and before this none of them ever questioned my judgment."
"Nor should they," The old man said with a nod, "You know what you're doing, after all."
"Exactly," Hepplewhite said firmly, "And you would think that my advice would be respected, not disregarded as if I were a rating or lower. And then to have my integrity challenged, by a D - " Hepplewhite looked around quickly before continuing, "By a foreigner who should be having a musket ball put through him, simply because I don't play nursemaid to every foundling on the ship!"
"It sounds like you've had quite the rum go of it," The old man said, folding his arms on the paper.
"I have," Hepplewhite huffed, and glared at his brandy glass.
"If it makes you feel any better, it's the same the world over," The other man sighed, once again waving one hand over his papers. "A man spends a lifetime working his trade, and still has to prove himself wherever he goes. My wines are excellent, but still I must sell myself every year for even an ounce of respect. What good does it even do to work at a reputation anymore?"
"Precisely," Hepplewhite agreed, "A man should be taken at his word, not challenged for every syllable he utters."
The old man shook his head again sadly. "Yes, it's not like the old days. A man's work simply isn't appreciated anymore. I'm sorry to see that you've experienced it too."
"Ha!" Hepplewhite barked. "Constantly."
"That's very sad," The old man looked down at his papers and poured himself more wine. "I had a personal physician right up until this year, when he married a wealthy widow and retired. He was brisk and efficient, a Surgeon's Hall man just as you are, and I never had reason to doubt a word he said. If I could find another of half his caliber, I could return to Naples a happy man."
Hepplewhite had lifted his glass to take another drink of brandy, but at these words stopped and looked at the old man keenly. Slowly, very slowly, he set the glass back down and raised his eyebrows. "You don't say."
The following afternoon Horatio was summoned to Pellew's cabin after spending a restless morning fidgeting through several duties and not finishing one of them to his own satisfaction. He almost hoped it was something dire; at the moment he desperately needed a diversion.
He knocked at the door and entered, smiling to himself to see the cabin flooded with sunlight. It seemed right, for some reason. Captain Pellew was seated at his desk, and Horatio nodded to him. "You sent for me, sir?"
Captain Pellew's eyes slid upward from the correspondence on his desk, then back down again. "Ah, Mr. Hornblower." He reached out with one elegant hand and took up a small stack of neatly folded pieces of paper, all carefully pressed with a waxed seal. "Please be so good as to deliver these to the port admiral's office, they are the letters of recommendation Captain Turner asked for."
"Yes, sir," Horatio replied, then asked, "I take it there has been no word concerning his court-martial?"
"No, not as of yet," Pellew replied, looking pensively out the window at the gleaming white buildings that lay some distance across the water. "Although it will likely not be a long hearing. See what you can find out, and report back if you hear any news."
"Aye aye, sir." Horatio said, "And - thank you, sir."
Pellew looked up from his desk and smiled. "Not at all, Mr. Hornblower. I am merely growing dizzy from sitting down here listening to you pace above decks."
Horatio did not know how to accept that jibe, and after trying on and rejecting several possibilities, decided the most prudent course of action was to return his captain's smile, salute, and remove himself with all expediency.
The afternoon sun was bending its way through the sky when Horatio made his way to shore and toward the port admiral's offices. He was alone, although he'd tried to convince Archie to come along, thinking perhaps a short trip to town would cheer him up. But Archie declared that he had some naval texts to catch up on, and although Horatio didn't believe him for a moment, short of dragging him by his heels there was no way to force Archie off the ship. So Horatio went alone.
The port admiral's office was easy enough to find, especially since there was a small crowd standing outside of it. It took Horatio a few moments to realize that the people were waiting to hear the outcome of the court martial, and he was surprised it was such a compelling thing. Certainly Cleveland hadn't said anything about this...
As he came near the doorway a marine stepped in his way.and stared at him. "What's your business?"
"Oh," Horatio cleared his throat. "I'm lieutenant Horatio Hornblower, of the Indefatigable. I have some letters for the port admiral."
The marine looked him up and down quickly. "There's a side entrance, you won't have to deal with the crowd. Just tell the guard outside the door, he'll let you through."
"Thank you," Horatio said politely, and skirting around the milling throng he came to the side of the building, and the promised door. With a few words to the guard, he was quietly let in.
The port admiral's office was built much like an office in London, all white wainscotting and chandeliers. Horatio found himself in a wide hall, with no one about, and decided to find someone to take the letters rather than leave them on an unfamiliar desk. He heard voices down the nearest hall, and ventured down that way, wishing his shoes did not make quite so much noise.
This must be where the court-martial is taking place, he thought as he made his way down the gleaming hallway. Perhaps he could edge his way in and listen to the testimony. Perhaps he could even see about waiting for the verdict, the captain said it would be a short trial. Then perhaps - Horatio envisioned an acquittal, celebration, and him extending an invitation for Captain Turner and his men to join him and the captain on the Indefatigable for the evening. Certainly Pellew wouldn't mind, and it was possible that Dr. Sebastian could come, and lift Archie out of his melancholy. Yes, it was possible -
"Can I help you?"
Horatio started, and turned around. A somewhat stuffy-looking older man in a naval uniform stood facing him, regarding him in a quizzical way, as if Horatio had materialized out of thin air and was not supposed to be there.
Finding his voice, Horatio said, "I - I have come from the H.M.S. Indefatigable, with letters for the port admiral."
The man nodded without smiling and raised one white-gloved hand. "Follow me."
Horatio glanced behind him, toward the doors, and felt a twinge of lost opportunity.
The man's voice came again, a little more impatient. "Lieutenant?"
After this, then. Horatio reluctantly turned away and followed the old man down the gleaming hallway and away from the shuttered doors.
The old man walked across the wide foyer where Horatio first entered, and went down another hall. Horatio followed like an unhappy dog on a leash, wondering if this house was like one of those mazes where one could get lost forever. Down a hall, up a flight of stairs, down another hall, turn left. Finally, the old man stopped.
They were in a small, high-ceilinged office where the shutters were drawn over the windows and both the desk the old man sat down at and the oak secretary that stood next to him were covered, stuffed, and overflowing with papers. Horatio got the sense that this was an office with a very high and over-inflated opinion of itself, and the man who occupied it was the same way. He shuffled his feet nervously, and could not wait to get out of there
Unfortunately, the old man took his time about things, and began poking around his papers, for what Horatio didn't know. Nor did he care; deciding to be very rude, he cleared his throat.
"Just a minute," The old man snapped, and then ignored him.
Horatio sighed, frantic with the impatience of youth when faced with doddering old age. Thinking perhaps this man was mistaken about something, he said, "I am merely delivering these - "
"I heard you the first time," The old man harrumphed, and continued to shuffle through the papers.
Horatio almost exploded with frustration. It was possible that the court-martial was concluding this very moment, and it would be much more difficult to find Captain Turner or Dr. Sebastian later and invite them to the Indie than it would be now, when they were just downstairs. Why was this old fool taking so long?
Finally, after a century, the old man pulled a piece of paper out of the stack on his desk and grinned at it. "Ah, here it is. I thought I knew the name."
Horatio raised his eyebrows, but thought he did not care what it was as long as it meant he could conclude his business and leave. "Indefatigable, yes. Here are the letters for the admiral - "
He tried not to be ungracious, but he did thrust the letters at the man rather brusquely. Anything to get downstairs in time.
The old man took them without a word of thanks, then shoved the paper he held into Horatio's open hand. "And here's your paper. Give that to your captain, you're to sail for Plymouth immediately."
Horatio froze, startled. "Plymouth?"
The old man nodded. "Immediately. Good day."
Horatio looked down at the paper, fine black ink on standard parchment. The port admiral's hand, commanding Pellew to sail at once to Plymouth to receive further orders. And a fancy signature.
The old man went back to puttering around his papers, and looked up at Horatio in irritation. "If your captain gets those orders late because you're dawdling, that's not my fault."
With a hastily stammered apology, Horatio backed out of the office and tripped into the hallway. The old man closed the door behind him.
There were voices far below him, loud voices, but Horatio's attention on the paper and he did not hear them. Plymouth, England, at once. At once.
He walked down the stairs, through the halls, and found himself in the wide foyer once again. The doors at the end of the gleaming hallway were open now, and uniformed men were streaming out, talking excitedly. Horatio looked over and saw Captain Turner and his men, standing in a thick knot by the doors. Turner's men were all smiling and clapping him on the back.
Surely this meant - Horatio put a hand out to a genial-looking officer passing by. "Pardon me, sir, but - is the court-martial over?"
The officer smiled broadly, "Yes, lieutenant, it is."
Horatio's heart leapt to his throat. "And the verdict?"
The smile became even broader. "Acquitted on all counts. As well he should be, that man is a hero. A true model of self-sacrifice in these troubled times."
Horatio's eyes darted to Turner and his men. "Indeed."
The officer nodded in parting. "If you'll excuse me, lieutenant."
And he was gone.
Horatio stood there for a moment, the sailing orders in his hand, his heart sinking. Captain Turner and his men had not seen him yet, not around the crowd still emptying out of the courtroom, but soon they would. Horatio could see Dr. Sebastian's bottle-green coat, his broad shoulders as he put one hand on Turner's shoulder and took the other man's hand in his warmly, with a huge smile on his face. In a moment they would see him...
And then what? Horatio's heart sank. They had already said their farewells, and the Indefatigable would likely set sail as soon as he returned with the orders. No time for a last dinner, no opportunity for cigars or brandy or long talks. That adventure was done.
Horatio clasped the orders in both hands, and cursed the burden of responsibility, that it allowed no room for sympathy. Then he quietly backed away from the celebrating throng, and made his way back to the Indefatigable.
Archie slowly made his way back to his cabin in the gloom of the belowdecks, a small stack of books under his arm. He thought that spending the afternoon in the solitude of his cabin would give him a chance to rest, and would improve his spirits. So far, he'd been proven wrong.
First, he discovered that some of the books he wanted to read were missing. After thinking, he remembered lending a few of them to the steward, who was notorious for borrowing books and never giving them back. The mere thought of facing him made Archie tired, so he decided to lay down and take a nap.
But it was no good. His sleep was still laced with nightmares, not specific ones but dim, hazy recollections of lightning and pain, jagged splinters that cut through his sleep and caused him to wake exhausted and sore. So he knew he would not sleep tonight either.
So he had gone to the steward with a pounding headache and an angry mood that he dared not unleash. The steward had responded in a similar surly fashion, grabbing books without looking at them and handing them to Archie with not too much gentleness. Fearing what would happen if he stayed, Archie bundled the books under his arm and left.
And now he was back at his cabin door, and opened it slowly and trundled himself inside. He set the books down at his desk, fell into the chair, and setting both elbows on the rough wooden surface ran his hands over his face and sighed loudly. It was going to be a long night...
The lantern he had lit earlier swung lazily above him, and Archie watched it for a few moments, almost hypnotized. It made him think of the sick berth, of the first thing he saw after awakening from that awful night. And prayers. It made him think of prayers...
Sighing again, Archie reached into his pocket and pulled out what was in there - the holed shilling and the religious medallion Dr. Sebastian had given him. Setting the shilling aside, Archie held onto the medallion and peered at it.
Archie did not know what a medal of St. Adelaide should mean to him, or why particularly it should give him comfort, but somehow it did. Perhaps because the doctor had been so kind, and had thought to give him something before he left. It was a token, that was all, a small gift of friendship for an obviously troubled soul who had so unwittingly laid himself open...
Archie let his shoulders sag and leaned his head into one hand, staring sightlessly into the rough wood of the desk. Dr. Sebastian had given him this because he believed in the God it represented, and he wanted Archie to have that belief too. That was clear, Archie could tell the doctor was one of those truly spiritual people who never worried and who were always calm and peaceful. It radiated from him like a quiet but glorious aura, and Archie had turned toward it hungrily, like a flower toward the sun.
But of course the doctor had to leave; the Indefatigable was not his ship. And Archie knew he left the medal out of the gentleness of his spirit, knowing that Archie needed that calm and wanting to reassure him that it was possible. But he didn't know - Archie squeezed his eyes shut and bit his lip. Dr. Sebastian didn't know how hard it was for Archie to believe in a God who would let him be ill-used, who would hear his cries and wait so long to end his torment. How many nights in the oubliette did he stare up through those confining bars at the distant moon, and pray that help would come? And so many other nights, and days, for years. Nothing.
And before that, when he was young, his mother had been religious, Archie remembered, and promised him that God would look after him when she died, but - but was it wrong to feel betrayed when that did not happen? When there was nothing left but cold hands and hard looks, huge empty rooms and endless winter days, was he going to Hell for wondering where God was then, and coming to the conclusion that perhaps He simply figured Archie wasn't worth trifling with anymore? His older brothers were happy, and healthy, and well taken care of. Archie had always simply figured he did not possess what was required to hold the Almighty's interest.
Archie lifted his head, and looked at the medallion again. He remembered a little about saints, thought about what Dr. Sebastian had told him, but looking at the little religious symbol of someone who died a long time ago did not seem to do him any good. Even if Saint Adelaide was real, even if she could take his troubles to God, why would she understand? Dr. Sebastian said she was the saint of exiles, and Archie wasn't an exile. And in any case, why would someone chosen by an all powerful God take notice of the troubles of one flawed, unhappy youth who should stop feeling sorry for himself and get on with his studies? Archie set the medal down with a small sigh. The doctor had made a noble effort, but Archie was afraid it was doomed from the start.
He glanced over at the stack of books the steward had given him, and picked up the first one. It didn't look familiar. He opened it up to the title page and read:
Travels in the Holy Lands of Jerusalem and Arabia- with illustrations
Travels in the - Archie made a small noise of disgust. This wasn't his book! He shifted the stack of books so he could read the spines. A Study of World Religions, Martin Luther, Lives of the Saints - blast it, the steward had given him a large stack of someone else's books!
Archie pushed the books away in irritation, thinking angrily about the long walk back to the steward's to get the real ones. Blast it!
At that moment there was a knock at the door. Without taking his eyes off the books Archie said, "What is it?"
The door opened a little, and Archie saw Horatio stick his head in. "Archie, the captain will be calling all hands within the hour. We're setting sail for Plymouth."
Archie grimaced, still glaring at the offending books. "All right."
Horatio started to duck back out of the doorway, and paused. "Oh, and Captain Turner's been acquitted of the charges against him. I thought you would be pleased to know that."
Archie blinked, and cursed his selfishness that he had not given Dr. Sebastian's captain a moment's thought. "Um - well, that's grand news. Of course, I'm very pleased."
He tried to look pleased, for Horatio. In return, Horatio winced and said softly, "I'm sorry, but with these orders we'll be setting sail before Captain Turner and Dr. Sebastian can return for a proper farewell. I'm not sure we shall see them again."
Archie looked down at the desk, a strange flat hurt blossoming in his stomach. "Devil take it, Horatio. You should know I am well used to that by now."
It was not intended as a hurtful remark, and Archie kicked himself that he should be so short with Horatio, who only meant well. He didn't want to drive his friend away, but he knew there must have been some warning in his eyes and aspect, for when he looked at Horatio he could see his face change, as if he perceived that Archie wanted to be left alone. He didn't want to be alone, not really, but there was no way to explain it so Horatio would understand.
So Archie let it alone, and when Horatio gave him that damnable forgiving smile and said, "Well, you'll be wanted on deck in half an hour. And - perhaps a game of whist in the wardroom later?"
Archie simply shrugged, and let him leave. Anything else was just too much of an effort.
Another hour and away from Gibraltar. Horatio was right, it was unlikely once they left that they would ever see Dr. Sebastian again. It was a shame really, but Archie had already began constructing the shield around his soul again, so the hurt was not that great. People came and went all the time, and he meant it when he said he was used to it. Well used to it...
The holed shilling sat on the table where Archie had tossed it, and absently Archie picked it up and turned it in his fingers, staring at nothing as he did so. His finger caught a jagged edge, and Archie winced as the metal bit into his flesh, drawing a little blood. He brought the tiny wound to his mouth for a moment, then looked at it with a cynical shake of his head.
Then he rose from the desk, leaving the shilling and the medal behind, and went to do his work.
At that same moment, as the sun was making its downward journey towards night, Dr. Sebastian came out of the church with a smile on his face, and a purposeful tread to his wide-gaited walk.
Captain Turner was free. Their trial was behind them, and it was as if a great weight had been lifted from their shoulders. The captain was overjoyed, of course, and at that very minute he was celebrating with the other officers at the finest restaurant in town. Dr. Sebastian had only to meet them there, just as soon as he was finished taking Mass. And now he was finished.
It was just getting to be dusk, and Dr. Sebastian took out his pocket watch and checked it. The only shame in this glorious ending was that there would be no chance to share it with the good men of the Indefatigable, who had undergone such pains to bring them all here in safety. Captain Turner had been disappointed when he was told by the port admiral that the ship was likely gone, sent to Plymouth to receive orders on yet another mission. But they all agreed to drink a toast to those brave men at dinner, and when he went to Mass Dr. Sebastian lit candles and said prayers for the ones he knew best. And for one troubled soul in particular...
And now he felt cleansed, free and open, like an empty vessel waiting to be filled. The words of the prayer he had offered ran through the doctor's head as he made his way toward the restaurant,and he smiled at the thought that his desire would be fulfilled. Most holy father, thank you for your graciousness this day, and show me how I may repay your kindness. You know my captain will not rest until I find a ship. Send me a ship, Lord, that he may at last cease his worry and follow his own path to restoration. That is all I ask of you now. Send me a ship...
"Well, if it isn't God's gift to the medical profession!"
Uh-oh. Dr. Sebastian slowed down in the narrow throughway he had just entered, and looked to his left. Dr. Hepplewhite was seated at an outdoor table by the door to a hotel, a bottle of wine on the table next to him. He did not look entirely sober.
Still, no reason not to be polite. Taking a few steps closer Dr. Sebastian said, "Dr. Hepplewhite, my compliments. It's a pleasure to see you again."
"Well, it's not a pleasure to see *you*." Hepplewhite replied with a smirk, and poured himself a glass of wine.
Dr. Sebastian thought of something, and said, "I confess I am surprised to see you here. I was told your ship sails within the hour."
"My ship?" Hepplewhite slurred. "Ha! Here," He dug around in his vest pocket for a moment, then produced a crumpled piece of paper and thrust it into Dr. Sebastian's hands. "If you're on your way to that blasted ship, you can give that to Pellew. I'm sure he'll be very happy to read it."
Dr. Sebastian glanced down at it, but it was difficult to read. "What is it?"
"My resignation!" Hepplewhite said triumphantly. "I have found a more amenable employer, and I am done with the sea forever. Tell me, what do you know about the wine industry?"
"Ah - very little."
"Ha! I knew you couldn't know everything." Hepplewhite pointed happily to the bottle on the table. "The best in Gibraltar, and I get it for nothing. And tomorrow I depart for Naples to be the personal physician to one of the richest men in the country. So, ha! You can have the stinking navy, and welcome to it."
A light dawned in Dr. Sebastian's mind, and he said, "So you are not returning to Indefatigable?"
"No, and if the captain complains because they don't have a doctor, I'm afraid he's out of luck. Unless you want the post, but I've seen your work and couldn't recommend you."
Dr. Sebastian began to back away, a growing sense of urgency welling within him. The sun was almost setting..."I wish you the best of luck in your new life, Dr. Hepplewhite. Now if you'll excuse me..."
But Dr. Hepplewhite wasn't paying attention to him anymore. He was drinking the wine, and savoring its sweet taste.
He was being grossly ignored, but Dr. Sebastian didn't care. He looked down at the paper crumpled between his hands and said to himself, "If you'll excuse me, I think God has given me a ship."
Then he hurried to tell his captain, as fast as his long legs could carry him.
It was with a heavy heart that Horatio made his way to the topdeck to start his watch. Even deep in the bowels of the Indefatigable he could feel her steadily pulling away from shore. Usually it filled him with the freedom of the sea. Tonight, it only made him melancholy and depressed.
They had weighed anchor two hours before, and left Gibraltar behind them. Horatio had overseen the work of his division, then headed belowdecks to catch some sleep before his watch began. He had seen Archie when they set sail, but when he sought him out later Horatio found that his friend had gone belowdecks to sleep before his watch began. Horatio decided that a nap might be a fine idea, and decided to follow suit, but he had not slept much. He had instead spent the time lying in his bunk, thinking about everything that had happened, and growing very perplexed.
Was it only three days ago that Pellew had ordered him to go on that mission? Horatio could not believe so little time had passed. In that time, only three days, he had had his leadership abilities tested, broken, and mended again, had come into some fine acquaintances and seen his closest friend almost die. It had held the intensity of a lifetime of experiences, and it had only been three days.
But now it almost seemed to be fading, like mist in the morning or an odd but pleasant dream. The mission had been successful, Captain Turner had been acquitted in his court-martial, Archie had pulled through and was mending, and the Indefatigable was sailing to her next adventure, completely oblivious to the bewilderment of one meager lieutenant who lived on her. It was almost as if Horatio was part of a cycle that needed to be completed, and once completed, he was cast out to go on his way. By who or what, Horatio was not prepared to say.
Oh, but Dr. Sebastian would be! Horatio smiled to himself as he walked up the wide stairs toward the topdeck. It was strange that he would have that thought, but the doctor had left a strong mark on his consciousness, and Horatio could not shake it. He knew few very devout people in his life, and had to admit he was fascinated by Dr. Sebastian, who like Pellew was a strong presence, a rock of honor and right, and yet unlike Pellew spoke of his religion as easily as a man talks about the weather, and seemed to be happily governed by it. Horatio did not understand religion, would not in his scientific, logical mind entertain the ideas that Dr. Sebastian embraced so unquestioningly. He had always believed that rational thought governed mankind, and considered that religion was for those who had not the faculty to reason that out; and yet Dr. Sebastian was his intellectual equal - perhaps superior - and did not blink at the thought of an almighty God. By all rights he should have scoffed, as most intellectuals did; that he did not was both confusing, and very intriguing.
But that was all water under the bridge now, Horatio thought wistfully as he rounded the last flight of stairs. Dr. Sebastian was back in Gibraltar, probably trying to find a ship that needed a doctor and was willing to take two captains at their word that he was a decent man, and they were sailing toward Plymouth. And he had to go and take the watch. And then...
Horatio came to the topdeck at last, looked overhead and saw the stars he loved coming out of their hiding places like shy girls at a dance, one by one Now they glimmered dimly, but soon they would be studding the heavens with their brilliance, and if the clouds stayed away it would be a stunning sight to behold. Perhaps after he was done with his watch he could rouse Archie and bring him to the topdeck for some fresh air and conversation. Perhaps he could even get him to talk...Horatio wondered idly if that Shakespeare fellow ever wrote anything about stars.
He was still staring up through the billowing sails when he heard Mr. Bracegirdle's voice calling to him. When he looked over he saw the first lieutenant coming toward him, the last glimmers of twilight rendering him only half-visible in the gathering darkness.
"Ah, Mr. Hornblower, there you are," Bracegirdle said with his usual smile, "The captain would like to see you, if you please."
Horatio looked at him and felt himself being jostled out of his reverie. "The captain?"
"Yes, I'm sure you remember him. Rather largish fellow, eyes like a hawk."
Horatio found himself grinning despite his familiar unease at being summoned into the captain's cabin. "Yes, well, I'm not likely to forget, and if I ever do I'm sure he'll remind me. Do you know what it is about?"
Bracegirdle sighed and rubbed his chin. "Well, the captain received this late shipment from Gibraltar while you were below, and he would like your ideas as to its placement. He seemed especially keen that you should be among the first to pipe it aboard, so to speak."
Horatio frowned at this riddle, but instead of offering him a chance to ask any further questions Bracegirdle simply gave him an impish smile and turned around, back towards the captain's cabin. Horatio had no choice but to set to walking, and follow him.
Fortunately, the trip to Pellew's cabin was a short one, but still Horatio filled every available moment racking his brain, trying to think of what Pellew could have received from Gibraltar that would command a mere lieutenant's attention. Nothing came to mind, and when he was finally shown into Pellew's presence Horatio was fairly burning with curiosity. He strode straight for the desk where Pellew was seated and saluted, waiting until the captain looked up before saying, "You sent for me, sir?"
"Yes, Mr. Hornblower," The captain said, and Horatio noticed that he was scowling. That was not good. "I have some rather bad news to report that I'm afraid I must hold you responsible for."
Horatio's blood turned to ice as he looked at the captain in surprise. "Me, sir?"
"Yes," Pellew growled, and grabbed a crumpled piece of paper off of the desk in front of him. He thrust it at Horatio with a stern look, and wondering what on earth he'd done wrong Horatio took the paper and read it.
Then he read it again, and finally stammered, "What does this mean, sir?"
"It means, Mr. Hornblower," Pellew said, getting to his feet so he towered over the frightened youth, "that Dr. Sebastian's presence on board this ship has cost me the services of our surgeon."
Horatio's eyes widened. "But - but this says he has been offered other employment - "
"Aye, employment which he would have never sought out, but your guest made him so uncomfortable that he felt compelled to leave! Mr. Hornblower, I now have a ship of three hundred men and no surgeon! Can you comprehend the state I am in?"
Horatio blinked, and stuttered, "Sir, I apologize, but - if I may ask, how is it that you hold me responsible?"
Pellew turned angrily to Bracegirdle, who was standing beside him. "Did you hear that impertinent question, Mr. Bracegirdle? Mr. Hornblower, sir, you had command of this mission, did you not?"
Horatio straightened and stared ahead, determined not to let his nervousness show. "Yes, sir."
"And as the one in command, it is your duty to accept responsibility for the consequences of it. All of the consequences. Do you not agree?"
Horatio opened his mouth, but nothing would come out. There was no answer to that question that would not put him in a verbal noose.
Pellew glared at him for a moment, then said, "When you are captain, Mr. Hornblower, it is my fondest wish that you one day face the peril your handling of this mission has placed me in."
Horatio looked at his boots, ashamed.
Pellew paused, then went on, an unreadable smile on his face. "And when that day dawns for you, Mr. Hornblower, I sincerely hope that you are forced, as you have forced me, to play the only hand that fate has dealt you, and take on as your ship's surgeon the messenger boy who brought you the letter."
Pellew pointed towards the door, and Horatio turned to look, stinging from his captain's rebuke. The messenger boy from Gibraltar, as surgeon -
But when Horatio looked at the door, it was not a messenger boy who looked back at him.
It was Dr. Sebastian.
For a moment Horatio simply stared, certain that he was in his cabin and dreaming. Then Dr. Sebastian broke into a wide smile and came forward to join him. "Lieutenant, it is good to see you again."
It was then that Horatio found his voice, but only to stammer, "Dr. Sebastian, I thought - I thought you were back in Gibraltar."
"So I was," the doctor replied quietly, "until I met your doctor, and he gave me the letter you hold in your hands. I decided, since I was on my way to deliver it anyway, that I may as well at least offer my services while I am here. Provided your captain disregards the lack of a recommendation, of course."
Horatio suddenly remembered to breathe, and shook his head. He looked at Pellew, who had shed every sliver of anger and was now looking at Horatio with a most amused expression. "Sir?"
Pellew's eyebrows raised, just a little. "Well, I don't so much mind the lack of a recommendation, my hesitation is merely that by providing the Indefatigable with a surgeon, I would be depriving Gibraltar of Dr. Sebastian's excellent service as a messenger boy."
Dr. Sebastian shrugged and said, "I could always perform that duty when we are in port."
Captain Pellew returned the doctor's smile and said, "Mr. Hornblower, would you be so good as to assist the doctor with his dunnage, and see if there is anything he needs? I believe you know the way to the sick berth."
Horatio's head was spinning. He managed to nod, or he thought he did. "Aye aye, sir."
Pellew leaned forward and put out his hand. "Well, it's settled then, since we have a place to put you and a light to show you the way. Welcome aboard, Dr. Sebastian."
"Thank you, sir," the doctor replied as he took the hand warmly, and Horatio had that feeling again as he watched, of a cycle being completed, or perhaps beginning. "It is my pleasure to be here."
A little later on, while Horatio was on watch, he took a turn on the deck and saw in the starlight the now-familiar form of Dr. Sebastian's bottle-green coat outlined in the lanterns that hung off the post by the ensign. Making his way over there, Horatio saw that the doctor's eyes were closed, and he was moving his hands around a beaded chain that sparkled in the moonlight. Horatio recognized it as a Catholic rosary, and felt like he was intruding. He took a a step backwards.
Dr. Sebastian opened his eyes, and when he saw Horatio smiled calmly. "Ah, lieutenant, Good evening."
Horatio took another step back, and said, "Forgive me, sir, if I'm interrupting - "
"Not at all," the doctor replied quietly, "I was merely meditating on this new course in my life."
Horatio cast his eyes on the vast sea behind them, and tried to reason out the pensive tone he heard in the other man's voice.
Dr. Sebastian looked down at the rosary in his hands fondly, and for a few moments didn't say anything. Then, looking out at the swirling black water he said, "On the Valiant, this was where I would always go to think, on nights such as this when the sky was full of stars and they would dance on the water. Captain Turner once asked me why I would choose such a public place for my devotions when I could have more privacy in my cabin." He looked at Horatio with his sharp dark eyes. "A cabin is private, but it is also solitude and small. I prefer to give my devotion where all may see me, and where I may see the sea and the stars, and in them, see God."
Horatio did not know how to reply to that, but he heard that pensive tone again, more keenly, and said, "Captain Turner was a good man. I'm sorry you will no longer be serving together."
Dr. Sebastian nodded slightly, and studied the beads in his hands. "The Valiant was a good ship, but her life is done, and it was inevitable that her men should part company eventually. But when I told Captain Turner what had happened he was happy for me and said, "'Well, there's your God looking out for you, Luis. You'd better take it before he hurls a lightning bolt at you.'"
Horatio pictured the exchange in his head, and smiled.
The doctor looked behind him, at the decks of the Indefatigable that stretched forward, and nodded to himself, "The others too, they were saddened at parting but were all in agreement on one thing: if there was ever a ship that carried a spirit as noble as the Valiant's, it is this one. And I should consider it a privilege to sail with her."
Horatio felt a surge of pride at hearing those words, turned his face to the spray to hide how obviously he loved this ship, and the sea. "I hope they all come out all right."
"As do I," Dr. Sebastian replied, fingering the string of beads as he spoke, "In fact, when you came upon me, lieutenant, I was praying for them, that God would look after them and keep them well, since I am no longer able to do so."
Horatio glanced at the rosary again, and tried not to look doubtful. His logical mind told him that what would happen, would happen regardless of who was talked to, or what was asked for.
Dr. Sebastian, curse his keen eyes, saw Horatio looking at the beads and smiled. "I take it, lieutenant, that you are not a religious man."
Horatio blinked, and looking for a suitable response said, "I - admire the conviction of those who have faith, sir, but for myself I....well, I confess I have many questions."
Horatio thought he might get an argument, but instead Dr. Sebastian merely nodded his head and gazed thoughtfully at the eternal sea.
For a long time neither man spoke, and there was only the sound of the sea rushing by, the clatter of the ropes in the rigging, the groan and creak of the great ship as she made her way through the waters. Horatio was afraid for a moment he'd offended the doctor, but a quick look at his face told Horatio this was not so. Dr. Sebastian seemed to be merely thinking.
Finally he said, in a very quiet voice, "I have many questions as well, and there are far too few answers for them sometimes. After the Valiant was lost, and we were taken prisoner, I found myself in a hostile land surrounded by our enemies, with a grieving captain who carried a terrible burden and men who were as overwhelmed by their loss as I was." He gazed down at the rosary, and Horatio saw him flinch. "It was a very dark time."
Horatio paused, considered how he would feel in a like circumstance, and almost winced himself.
Dr. Sebastian's smile was slight, but there as he raised his head and once again looked up at the stars. "But in the past few days I have seen miracles that have lifted my spirit, and given me hope."
Horatio raised his eyebrows. "Miracles, sir?"
The doctor nodded, then turned to Horatio with a knowing smile, "Miracles, lieutenant, so many that I have lost count. That you and your brave men rescued us, that you met little resistance, that we achieved freedom despite the rain and wind, and that there was shelter on the shore when it was needed."
Horatio blinked; he had been thinking about that before, but only thought of the occurances as fortunate circumstance, not -
"And greater miracles," Dr. Sebastian continued, "That I was available to aid Mr. Kennedy when he was taken ill, that your captain was receptive to my assistance, and that Captain Turner was acquitted at his court-martial."
Horatio nodded, almost involuntarily. It was a lot to think about.
"And two most profound happenings," Dr. Sebastian said soberly, "that you happened to think of retrieving Mr. Kennedy's shilling before he bled to death, and that I chanced upon Dr. Hepplewhite and discovered that the Indefatigable was without a surgeon. When I think of these things, lieutenant, and I ponder how many of them could have gone another way, it is easy for me to see God's hand at work."
Horatio looked out at the sea and bit his lip, a little overwhelmed by what the doctor had said. It was true, if the doctor had gone down a different walkway, he and Hepplewhite might never have seen each other at all; and if they had not gone into the sick berth to retrieve that shilling...
"And now," Dr. Sebastian continued, his long gray hair blowing lightly in the mild wind as he watched the changing sea, "when I stand on this ship, beneath this flag, in the midst of the honorable souls that surround me, I feel as if this is where I belong. I feel as if God himself has set me here."
Horatio spoke before he even thought to open his mouth. "Then I think it would be very imprudent to argue."
Dr. Sebastian smiled at Horatio's light jest, then gave him a knowing look. "Your father, the physician, is he still living?"
Horatio nodded. "When last I left port, he was."
The doctor kept his eyes on Horatio. "Then perhaps I will write him a letter, and tell him that he has raised a fine son who is far too cynical. We can compare notes on your stubbornness. What do you think he would do with such a letter?"
Horatio thought of his father, and this man who was so like him in compassion, and said, "I think he would write back and agree with you, sir."
Dr. Sebastian cocked his head and looked at Horatio with a warm smile and an amused gleam in his eye. "I look forward to our association, lieutenant."
Horatio's smile was just as warm. "As do I, sir. Welcome to the Indie."
Archie awoke from a deep sleep, and still felt exhausted.
He rolled over in his bunk, blinking dully as he felt for his pocket watch, which was on the shelf next to his bed. He found it and looked at the time.
10:30. An hour and a half until his watch began.
With a grunt, Archie brought himself upright and ran his hands over his face. Waking up was so difficult, especially lately. The lethargy nagged at him, made him think of the days of Justinian, when he became so accustomed to being depressed that he would wander the ship in a daze, completing his duties but feeling oddly disconnected from them. He did not want to return to that state, and really he had no reason to. Those days were long behind him, and everything was all right now.
Then Archie ran his hand over his stomach, where the bandage was, and winced. No, everything was not all right, and he knew it. It was not all right, and it was not in the past. It was with him, and likely would be forever. But there was nothing he could do about it.
While Archie was meditating on this his eye fell to a small bit of white that was sticking underneath his cabin door. Archie blinked at it, but it didn't go away. With a heavy sigh he lifted himself off the bunk, and went to retrieve the object, wondering if the tired ache in his muscles would ever go away.
It was a note, probably from Horatio. Yes, that was his handwriting on the top all right, the terrible handwriting that scrawled out Archie's name as if the letters themselves were under tremendous amounts of pain. Archie shook his head; he had never been able to help Horatio with his handwriting...
Sitting down at his desk, Archie unfolded the note and held it against the lantern light to get a better look at it. He read:
Thought you should be informed that Dr. Hepplewhite has resigned and is no longer on the ship.
Archie stopped and read that sentence again. Good Lord! Then he went on:
Dr. Sebastian has delivered the resignation notice, and Captain Pellew has made him surgeon. He is the Indie's doctor now. I hope you are pleased to know this. H.
Dumbfounded, Archie read the note again, then another time. Dr. Hepplewhite was gone? And the new surgeon was...?
And why was he suddenly so terrified?
Archie lifted his eyes and stared at the door without seeing it. Hepplewhite had resigned. The cold hands, grabbing touch, the callous indifference that Archie had known for his entire seafaring life, was gone. And so was the excuse for not having his wounds tended, the reason for staying away from the surgery, the comfort of knowing that the surgeon could not help him, and so not even attempting to be healed. Dr. Sebastian could help him, perhaps, but -
- but what if he couldn't?
Archie laid the note down on the table, his mind spinning. Ever since Dr. Sebastian had left, he had been downhearted because he had missed that sympathetic presence that seemed to hold answers for the questions his heart had locked away long ago. But it was a melancholy he was used to, the familiar feeling of being abandoned again. He never expected that this time, he would be wrong, and that he had not been abandoned after all. It was very unnerving.
Of course - of course, Archie reasoned as he picked up the religious medallion off the table and looked at it, there was no reason to expect that Dr. Sebastian *would* be interested in helping him with the nightmares and the seizures, now that he was the ship's surgeon and no longer just a guest passing through. The doctor was kind and compassionate, but that was when Archie was his only patient. Certainly he would care less about Archie's problems now that he had 300 men to take care of...
And how much of his problems did the doctor know? Archie turned the medallion over his palms as he considered this. He had never found out what Dr. Sebastian knew, what shameful secrets of Archie's past had been unwittingly torn out of him while he was delirious, or what the doctor's thoughts about them would be if he *did* know. The doctor had scars himself, true, but he was only beaten, not... Archie felt himself backing away, taking that self-protective stance he had so often taken when offered help. The doctor is kind, but that does not mean he will know what is wrong with me, Archie thought sadly. His scars healed, but perhaps what is wrong with me cannot be fixed. Do I really want to tell my troubles to this new surgeon who may then not only look at me with pity, but tell me my cause is hopeless? No...I don't really want to do that at all...
The holed shilling that Horatio had returned to him was also on the table, and on a whim Archie picked that object up as well and held it next to the medallion. He thought of that morning, of his frantic desire to prove to Horatio that he was all right. He hadn't been, of course, but for that moment he could pretend he was, and convince Horatio of it so he would leave Archie alone. That's what I wanted to do, Archie remembered, push him away so he wouldn't get close and realize I was really sick. And it worked so well I almost killed myself, but what else could I do? I could not bear to be left behind, once again the flawed weakling who could not do his duty because he was not whole. I am like this shilling, hard on the edges but blasted through the center. Never to be whole again...
Archie's eyes then wandered over to the medallion, and it amused his mind to compare the two. The shilling was rough, not pretty, and ragged through the middle, the gaping hole torn jaggedly through the embossed metal, disfiguring it completely. But the medallion was elegant, smooth, its female figure a tiny perfection of flowing robes and sanguine expression. Archie knew enough about religion to know that this medallion was supposed to offer peace, comfort, and a sense of being close to God. It was a tiny reminder that one didn't have to hide from life and be frightened of it.
But Archie wasn't sure he believed it. Because he had very good reasons to hide.
The little silver medal glittered in his hand, and Archie put the shilling down and held the medallion to the light, fighting against the melancholy. I should like to talk, he thought, but I am afraid. Dr. Sebastian said that I should talk to you, but I do not know you. And I have no reason to think you would be interested in my troubles.
Then Archie thought of something, and glanced toward the stack of books. Wasn't one of them called something about saints? Curious, Archie checked the name on the medallion again, then tilted his head toward the books. Lives of the Saints . That was it.
Archie eyed the little medal, and set it down carefully. Then he picked up the stack of books, chose the one he needed, and opened it.
It was, as Archie figured, a book about saints, listed alphabetically. He quickly scanned the list until he found the page he needed, and turned to it, seeking to satisfy his curiosity. He read:
Adelaide was born in 931 in Burgundy, France, the daughter of King Rupert II of Burgundy. She married Lothair, who eventually became king of Italy. Upon his death, she married Emperor Otto the Great. Upon his death, she was ill-treated by her son, but became empress and used her power to restore monasteries, evangelize, convert pagans, and support the poor. Her name means noble person, and she is often shown as an empress giving alms and help to the poor, often while standing beside a ship.
Archie smiled to himself; aside from the gender, it sounded like a fitting description of Dr. Sebastian.
Then he read:
Saint Adelaide is the patron saint of people in exile, prisoners, and those who have been abused.
those who have been abused -
There was more, but Archie didn't read it. He read that sentence again, shocked. He looked at the medallion, felt a strange sense of realization. For a few minutes, he stared at the medallion, then at the note that Horatio had left, and didn't move.
Then he quietly rose and left his cabin, holding the book and the medallion in his hands, and leaving the shilling sitting on the table.
The Indefatigable was quiet.
Dr. Sebastian knew that was not really the case, of course. A ship was always alive, it simply seemed quiet because he was in his little cabin just outside the sick berth, and there was no one at the moment who needed his help. And there it was very quiet indeed.
He had lit his lantern, unpacked the few belongings he possessed, and was at the moment setting up the few things he knew would make the musty little room his own. His books, a cedar box of cigars that he had purchased in Gibraltar, and the fine porcelain statue of the Virgin Mary that had belonged to his mother, and had been his going-away present when he went to go to school in Spain fifteen years ago. The statue was delicate, so the carpenter on the Valiant had created a special base for it that could be set into the bulkhead, so the statue would not fall or be damaged in a storm or battle. He had also designed a tray for the votive candles, so they could be lit and not move or cause a fire. The base had only to be nailed into place, and Dr. Sebastian did so, then stepped back with a satisfied smile.
How do you like your new home, Lady? He thought as he watched the little statue gleam in the darkness of the cabin. True, it is not the Valiant, and I know you liked that home very much. But your Son's work there is done, and many of the Valiant's men have been gathered into the Father's arms. I know, this ship is not the Valiant, but it is a good ship, and there is much to do. Much to do...
Dr. Sebastian went back into his bag of belongings and fished out the votive candles he had acquired just before leaving port. Carefully arranging them in front of the statue, he lit a taper off of his lantern and began to light the candles.
One for Captain Turner, the doctor thought as the golden flame danced from the taper to the wick of the little candle in its glass holder, that God would light his way to a new life, and bring him peace down whatever road or sea he travels.
One for his men, that they would carry with them the memories and honor that they all knew on the Valiant, and find service with vessels as distinguished as the one they left behind.
One for Captain Pellew, that God would grant him wisdom and courage, and guide his hand in battle...
One for Mr. Kennedy, that his wounds would heal and he would be made whole and be at peace.
Dr. Sebastian paused, and looked at the statue closely. The candles flickering beneath it cast a golden glow over the smooth surface, radiating warmth into the Virgin's smiling face, her delicate hands, the curving folds of her gown accented in gold. It was a sight he remembered from childhood, and to see it on this unfamiliar ship with its unknown crew filled him with hope.
You have not lost your charms, Lady, he thought as he lifted the taper towards another candle, but I fear I must give you a challenge now, for I am going to light a candle for Mr. Hornblower, and I do not know what he would think of that. This age of enlightenment has led many to be as he is, self-contained and stubborn, and suspicious of anything they cannot see or touch. But his is a good soul, it shines like the northern star in his command and his compassion. Likely we would debate the principle if he ever knew, but I will light a candle for him anyway, Lady, and trust that you will know what to do. You have never been known to fail.
Dr. Sebastian looked down at the collection of candles glimmering at the base of the little statue and frowned. There was one more candle he wanted to light, but all of the candles were lit, and he did not have any more. Gazing at the statue with his dark eyes Dr. Sebastian thought, well, that is not so important, that I do not have a candle to light. You will hear my prayer in any event, and it is the most earnest one in my soul. I am here, Lady, I have a new home and a crew of men and officers who need my skill. How can I help them? In your divine wisdom, Lady, show me who needs me and I will do my best for them. I promise.
At that moment the candles flickered, and Dr. Sebastian heard the sick berth door open and close. Casting a bemused look at the little statue he thought, you do not waste time, do you? Then he picked up his coat which was lying on the bunk, and left the room.
"Yes?" Dr. Sebastian said loudly, so whoever was there would hear him. His cabin was at the far end of the room, and there were hammocks hung down the length, so it was difficult at first to see who was there especially as there was only one lantern lit. At first the doctor thought perhaps he had been hearing things; then a shadow came slowly forward out of the gloom into the light, and Dr. Sebastian saw that it was Archie Kennedy, holding a small book in one hand, an almost frightened look on his young face.
Dr. Sebastian said another quick prayer for guidance, then smiled and said quietly, "Mr. Kennedy, it's good to see you again."
Archie took another few steps forward, then stopped. "Horatio told me you're going to be surgeon on the ship."
"Yes, that's right," Dr. Sebastian sensed that there was something this young man was very nervous about, so he came toward him gently. "Dr. Hepplewhite has found other employment, and so I am taking his place."
Archie seemed to straighten up a little, and a resolve seemed to form in his eyes. Dr. Sebastian noticed his cheeks were flushed, and said, "Mr. Kennedy, what can I help you with? Is your incision bothering you?"
Archie shook his head.
"Would you like me to look at your arm, then?" The doctor asked, although he sensed that what had brought Kennedy to him was born of more than a mere physical ailment. The pain was bright in his eyes, it illuminated the entire room from his being, but still it was locked inside, and Dr. Sebastian could feel the fear in the young man, of what might happen if it were brought out. He also knew he could not reach in and take it. Lady, show me what to do...
Archie stood there for a moment, just looking at Dr. Sebastian and clutching the book to him. Then he looked down at his right hand, which was holding something, and took another, quicker step forward and opened his hand to show the doctor what was inside.
The St. Adelaide medal.
Dr. Sebastian saw it, and realized that at that moment something profound was occurring in this young man's life, and he was to be part of it. As he stood still and watched, Archie held out the book, which he had held open with one finger to a certain page. Dr. Sebastian took the book, opened it to the page, and read:
Saint Adelaide is the patron saint of people in exile, prisoners, and those who have been abused -
Dr. Sebastian looked at Archie's face, saw that his color had heightened, and his breath was coming faster. Taking the boy's arm gently, he walked him over to the two chairs that sat by the sick berth stove, and guided Archie to sit down in one of them. As soon as he had done so, the young man took a deep breath, swallowed, and looked up at Dr. Sebastian with brilliant, betrayed blue eyes that brimmed with tears and desperate hope. Then he spoke.
"Can I talk you about something?"