|Primary Characters:||Horatio, Archie, Pellew|
|Warning:||violence, m/m sex implied, rape implied|
|Description:||A man from Pellew’s past shows up, intent on revenge. Once this man and Pellew loved the same lady, but the lady died.|
Hornblower and his friend Kennedy were standing by the rail, watching the horizon. The Indy had been patrolling the waters off the coast of Cornwall for several months now, and nothing out of the ordinary had occurred for at least five weeks. Could it really be that a ship was coming into view? Friend or foe? It was still too soon to tell. Hornblower was debating whether he ought to inform the Captain or not, but decided that the man on watch would already have seen to that. And sure enough, not two minutes later, the captain could be seen walking over to the rail to take a look for himself.Kennedy thought he could detect a worried frown on his Captain’s face. Surely the ship could not be French? The enemy had not attacked for several weeks now, and there was no new offensive that anyone aboard the Indy knew about. No. Now that the ship was approaching, he could see for himself that she flew the Union Jack, just as the Indy. The other ship was still too distant for Kennedy’s sharp eyes to make out the name. Apparently, Captain Pellew knew the ship by sight. Why would he not welcome another British ship?Now mr Bracegirdle joined the Captain and they appeared to be in deep discussion. It seemed to the two young officers that their Captain and mr Bracegirdle were debating something. Obviously, something was amiss. Kennedy had a premonition that they were in for troubled times, whatever tidings the other ship brought. It was not something he willingly discussed, even with his friend Hornblower, but from his mother’s side of the family, he had inherited what was sometimes referred to as ‘the Sight’. Not often had the gift or curse manifested itself, but this time, Kennedy had a suspicion trouble was ahead. Should any man aboard the Indy find out that he entertained such thoughts, his position would be even more precarious. His father had tried to beat the strange trait out of the boy, unsuccessfully. Indeed, what could he tell the captain or his friend Hornblower? Kennedy bit his lip pensively, but said nothing.
Finally, the ship’s broadside came into view and with it, the name. The Intrepid. Neither Hornblower nor Kennedy were familiar with it, or knew who captained it. They were convinced that they would find out within the hour, as the ship obviously headed in their direction. Could it be that they were to receive new orders? Perhaps that would be for the best. The monotonous patrolling was beginning to wear on the men’s humour. A change of scenery might cheer the crew somewhat.
After a few last words and a scowl, the Captain retreated to his study below, leaving mr Bracegirdle standing by the rail, a pensive look on his face. The two young officers decided it might be worthwhile to approach mr Bracegirdle and enquire about the new arrival.
“Ah, mr Hornblower. I believe we might have some work for you this afternoon.”
“The new ship?”
“Yes. It might be that we shall receive new orders today.”
“The captain did not appear pleased to see this ship.”
“You are right. I believe Captain Pellew has met Captain Penhallow before. A long time ago. They did not part on good terms. Be that as it may, we shall have to greet him courteously. After all, he is the Admiral’s envoy and he must bear tidings from headquarters.”
“Am I to serve as a messenger then?”
“It may well be so. We shall have to await the Captain’s decision. Perhaps he will see fit to let me deal with Captain Penhallow.”
Towards evening, the Intrepid’s captain was rowed over to the Indy and despite mr Bracegirdle’s prediction that Captain Pellew might choose to leave the dealings with Captain Penhallow to someone else, it appeared their captain had opted to greet his guest in person. As Hornblower and Kennedy were present, they could not help but notice the tension between the two officers. It was plain that some unpleasant shared memories haunted them both.
Captain Charles Penhallow was a man of much the same age as Captain Pellew. He was tall, thin and very dark. His face was marred by a horrific scar, covering the place where once his left eye had been. It was odd that he chose to walk about without a covering eyepatch.
Now the reason for the unexpected visit was revealed. There was a message, but it soon became clear that the letter in itself was of no vital importance. It was puzzling why an entire ship would be dispatched for the sole purpose of delivering one single, not very important message. The two young officers immediately suspected there was some ulterior motive behind the visit.
Despite that, Penhallow was greeted with all the courtesy he was due, as an officer of His Majesty’s navy. He was offered supper in the captain’s own rooms below, which he declined. Before long, the visitor returned to his own ship. Pellew retreated below, and the two young officers were dismissed, not much the wiser.
However, it was not long before Hornblower received a summons to appear before his captain. He quite correctly assumed he was to carry some communication over to the Intrepid. Pellew was a man of few words, and today, he appeared even more taciturn. Nevertheless, Hornblower decided to venture a query concerning the newcomer. For a moment, he believed he had been guilty of some kind of faux pas, as his captain’s face clouded over in dismay. Nonetheless, after a few seconds of thought, Pellew cleared his throat for the reply.
“Penhallow and I knew each other in our youth. We grew up together and were as brothers. Like mr Kennedy and yourself. Alas, one day the friendship ended -”
“May I ask what happened, sir?”
Again, there was a meaningful silence. This time, Hornblower realized he had gone too far. Pellew’s features hardened and he turned away.
“You have your orders, mr Hornblower. I will speak to you later. Carry on.”
“Yes, sir. Forgive me, sir, if I -”
Reading his captain’s look, Hornblower left the sentence unfinished and beat a hasty retreat.
Two crewmen took him over to the Intrepid, where he was ushered into the captain’s cabin. Penhallow appeared to be perusing some papers on his desk, and did not at first look up to acknowledge his visitor’s presence. At length, he put down his quill and pushed the papers aside.
“Sir. Message from Captain Pellew.”
“Let us see it then.”
Penhallow held out his hand imperiously, and Hornblower relinquished the sealed letter. While Penhallow scanned the single sheet of paper, Hornblower remained standing at attention, awaiting a possible reply or merely dismissal. He was kept waiting a long while. At length, Penhallow again looked up and faced the young officer.
“Thank you, ensign.”
“One moment. Your name?”
“Hornblower, sir. Horatio Hornblower.”
“Hornblower. Hm. Very well. You may go.”
As he turned and left the cabin, Hornblower felt the disconcerting gaze bore into his back. This Captain Penhallow was a mysterious man. Again, Hornblower pondered what shadow lay between the two men, Penhallow and Pellew. A gentleman might not enquire about another gentleman’s affairs, but nothing could prevent him from turning the matter over in his mind.
Hornblower returned to Pellew, made his report, and was dismissed with a curt nod. In the doorway, Hornblower ran into mr Bracegirdle and saluted him. Not a minute later, he heard his superiors raise their voices in some kind of disagreement.
It was tempting to linger, and try to overhear what the conversation inside was about. However, as a gentleman, Hornblower knew his only option was to slowly continue on his way. All the same, he could not help overhearing a few words. His captain, normally so soft-spoken, was shouting at the top of his lungs.
“You know perfectly well that scoundrel has been sent to spy on us.”
Mr Bracegirdle’s reply was barely audible, but it seemed he was attempting to calm the captain down.
“I refuse to discuss this further. A man without honour -”
At this point, Hornblower’s conscience struck him and he quickened his pace, to rejoin his friend Kennedy at their other duties.
During the course of the following week, the crews of the two ships mixed fairly freely. Whatever else the visit imported, it provided some much needed variety in the dull routine of the crewmen’s lives.
One morning, Hornblower and Kennedy were informed by mr Bracegirdle that pirates had been sighted in the waters southeast of their position. The announcement was greeted with disbelief. Pirates? This close to England’s shores?
It appeared that these men were privateers without His Majesty’s seal of approval. They were said to be a motley crue, made up of escaped convicts, other criminals, a number of foreign mercenaries and Irish discontents who had been evicted from their lands by English landlords. Though rabble of this kind could not be said to present a serious threat to a ship such as the Indy, the men were given orders to stay on the lookout for all eventualities.
Still, the Intrepid did not seem about to leave, and Captain Pellew evidenced all signs of being under severe pressure. It pained Hornblower to see his captain so distressed, and was filled with a wish to ease Pellew’s mind somewhat. However, none of his attempts at levity or other diversions proved successful. Discouraged, Hornblower returned to his duties.
Work aboard the Indy was now a succession of dull monotonous routine tasks, and crew and officers felt the strain, not only of boredom, but also of their Captain’s tension. There was not a single man under Pellew’s command who did not keenly feel that something was afoot.
Hornblower was relieved when mr Bracegirdle announced that he would be needed to run an errand ashore. Strictly speaking this was no Navy business, but under the circumstances, one man less aboard ship was not going to adversely affect their readiness for action.
A man would be sent to pick him up towards evening, but in the meantime, each of Hornblower’s friends had a small assignment for him. Kennedy asked him for new stationery, a new quill pen and ink, for his letters to his mother. Several of the crewmen wanted tobacco, or other small necessities of life aboard ship.
Hornblower promised he would do his utmost to carry out his assignments to the best of his ability. He was sorely tempted to ask mr Bracegirdle if his friend Kennedy might not be allowed to accompany him, but decided against it. While mr Bracegirdle might give his permission, Hornblower realized that many of the crewmen would protest against such displays of favoritism. He contented himself with knowing he would bring back the best stationery the shops of Penzance had on offer.
Kennedy would never dream of grudging his friend this chance to see something other than sea. Nevertheless, he felt lonely and there was a nagging sense of something being amiss. It struck him that this could well be what his seventh sense had been attempting to warn him about. No matter what he feared, he knew it would be useless to approach the Captain or even mr Bracegirdle. Who would put any stock in the ravings of a man who was not even considered an able-bodied seaman? Instead, he took to pacing the deck back and forth until one of the men asked him what he was doing. His worried frown even alerted mr Bracegirdle to Kennedy’s state of tension.
“Anything amiss, mr Kennedy?”
“No, sir. That is, yes, I mean, no, sir. Forgive me, sir, I am suffering a slight migraine.”
“I am sure you can retire to your quarters, mr Kennedy. Nothing much needs be done at present. We shall manage without you. You are not by any chance concerned about your friend mr Hornblower?”
Could it be that mr Bracegirdle had sensed something as well? Surely not. Kennedy knew he had better put on a brave face and make light of his humour. It was not seemly for a grown man to carry on this way over an absent friend.
“There is no reason for concern, is there, sir?”
“I would not have thought so, no. If you have anything to tell me, I will gladly listen to any misgivings you might have, mr Kennedy.”
Kennedy hesitated, but in the end, the compulsion became too much for him and he decided to confide in mr Bracegirdle.
“Permission to speak freely, sir. Strictly personally speaking.”
“By all means. You are relieved of duty for the evening, and I have no pressing tasks to fulfill. Let us take a stroll together, mr Kennedy and tell me what is on your mind.”
“Sir – have you heard mention of a thing called ‘the Sight’?”
“Certainly. I have seen many startling and inexplicable phenomena in my years at sea. Between you and me, mr Kennedy, I must say I put some stock in such premonitions. Are you telling me you have had such a warning concerning your friend mr Hornblower?”
“I am not sure. From time to time, I have felt something akin to this sensation. Each time, it has presaged a mishap or tragic occurance. My mother has always been subject to the same premonitions.”
Kennedy fixed his gaze on mr Bracegirdle slightly shamefacedly. How would a superior officer greet such an outburst? For a moment he regretted his audacity.
“I see. Let us hope that nothing of grave import will befall mr Hornblower after all. And do not look like that, mr Kennedy. I told you, I do not doubt such phenomena. Mrs Bracegirdle’s mother was said to have the same gift. Do not hesitate to bring any other premonitions to my attention. No need to spell it out to the crew. A quiet word with me will do. There. Feeling better?”
“Much, sir. Let us hope that this time, I am mistaken.”
“Indeed, mr Kennedy. May I suggest you retire to your cabin for some repose.”
“Thank you, sir. I believe I will.”
Towards evening, Kennedy once again stood by the rail, staring inland, hoping, waiting, for any sign of his friend’s return. The stationery was forgotten. All Kennedy wished for was Hornblower’s safe return. As darkness fell, the premonitions returned in force. Somewhat later, Kennedy was joined by mr Bracegirdle, whose face betrayed some anxiety as well.
“I wonder -”
“Yes, me too, sir. Surely nothing untoward will have befallen him?”
“I most certainly hope not. Nevertheless, I am beginning to feel some concern. I believe I shall have word with the Captain. Do not agitate yourself, mr Kennedy, I will not mention your name. Rest assured, your secret is safe with me.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Mr Bracegirdle returned moments later, followed by the captain. By now, Kennedy’s concern for his friend’s well-being had increased tenfold. A worried frown creased Captain Pellew’s features.
“Is it possible that he has -”
“Penhallow. I greatly fear that he has once again -”
Mr Bracegirdle sensed an emotional outburst and soothingly placed a hand on his Captain’s arm. It was a long time before Pellew paid him any mind.
“What? Oh. Perhaps we should continue this discussion below.”
“Very well. Mr Kennedy, we will be with you shortly. Keep your courage up.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Kennedy watched the two older officers walk away, and despite mr Bracegirdle’s cheering last words, Kennedy felt he was close to giving in to despair. What could it be that caused the Captain such concern? Why did he immediately suspect Penhallow?
At that moment, Kennedy fervently wished he not only had a touch of the Sight, but the full extent of it. If only he might spy the slightest hint of where his friend might be at this time. Bearing the crewmen in mind, he nevertheless attempted to put on a brave face.
Down below, mr Bracegirdle decided it was time he found out what was behind the captain’s hostility towards Captain Penhallow. If there should be any connection between his presence and the disappearance of young Hornblower, a fuller understanding of the situation might facilitate the young man’s safe return.
“Sir – forgive me for asking, but what lies behind your distrust of this man Penhallow?”
Pellew did not appear to have heard him. It seemed the captain was too deeply immersed in his dark memories to pay any heed. It all began a winter night when he was very young. Suddenly, it was as if no time had passed. Pellew could still remember the chill in the air, and the wind from the sea that bit into his skin. The trees seemed about to be torn up by the roots, and though there was a full moon in the sky, it was covered by dark clouds.
A man was pounding on the door, and Pellew was seized by sudden fear. Emily. It was only natural that a man’s first concern should be for the lovely young lady he was betrothed to. He had gone to open the door, and faced his man Jonah. The young man’s face was contorted with fatigue. Had he run all the way from Emily’s home? That turned out to be the case. Pellew could not recall the exact words, but even before Jonah had finished his account, Pellew had been on his way to the stable.
He had picked out his black stallion and shouted for the stable lad to saddle him. It had seemed to him that the boy was hours in coming, so he had done the job himself. There was no need of guide or escort. Did he not know the way to Emily’s home like the back of his hand? The horse wound like a smooth black ribbon under the ominous sky. Yet, it seemed to Pellew that the beast was trotting at a leisurely pace. Repeatedly he took the spurs to the stallion’s sides, though he never used to. Had he brought a whip, he would have used it, but as it was, he contented himself with urging the beast on as fast as he would go. Someone must have watched over him that night, for the horse did not once stumble in the rugged terrain.
At the edge of the sea, he caught up with his old friend. How could Charles have betrayed him so? To abduct a man’s betrothed was unheard of. Now he could see Charles’ carriage and his four-in-hand. Urging his horse to even greater haste, Pellew began to gain on the bulky equipage.
Charles turned his head in his old friend’s direction, and let the whip dance over his horses’ backs. But it appeared their strength was waning, and their owner was unable to get any more speed out of them. Pellew was more or less abreast of them and prepared himself to jump across to end this outrage. He flung himself at his former friend and the impact of his weight unbalanced Penhallow, causing him to fall off. They tumbled to the ground and hit it hard, almost to the point of losing consciousness. Even close to blacking out, Pellew could not forget the way the horses were running out of control, with Emily still in the carriage.
It seemed the same thought had occurred to Penhallow. The expected fight did not come about. Instead both men ran after the swiftly vanishing carriage. To their horror, it veered closer and closer to the edge. There was a sheer drop, fifty feet or more down to the jagged rocks at sea level. If the carriage were to overturn –
As if everything took place infinitely slowly, Pellew watched the door of the carriage swing open, and there was a flash of blue cloth. Emily’s dress. The horses continued their erratic flight and disappeared from sight in the distance.
Over the howling of the wind not a sound could be heard, but there was a sickening certainty in Pellew’s mind that he had lost his beloved. Ignoring Penhallow, he ran to the edge and looked down. Visibility was low, but he had no trouble making out the sight that met his eyes. Like a child’s broken doll, lay the twisted figure. In the flying spray, the figure flickered in and out of sight.
Towards morning the storm calmed. Pellew climbed down and brought Emily’s body back to her parents’ house. There were gaps in his memory, but he could recall Emily’s wake and later the funeral in vivid, stark clarity. Many was the time he wished for merciful oblivion.
When the period of mourning was over, he brought two seconds and issued the challenge. Penhallow agreed to meet him at dawn the following morning. As the wronged party, Pellew’s was the right to choose weapons. Being an excellent shot, he chose the pistol. Knowing Penhallow too was an excellent marksman, he felt satisfied that he had fulfilled his duty as a gentleman. Now his honour needed to be restored. No man abducted his betrothed unpunished.
The duel was another thing he could recall down to the slightest detail, but what was the point? He had won, yet he had already lost. What difference did it make that his former friend lost his eye, and nearly succumbed to a fever? Emily was lost. All chance Pellew had once had of happiness was gone. In one night he had lost his betrothed and his best friend, a man he had once loved as a brother. Penhallow’s death would have given him no peace of mind. His work at sea had done that.
That is, until today. Once again, someone he cared about was in that scoundrel’s hands. However, this time, Pellew would make sure Penhallow did not cost him any more than he already had.
At long last, Bracegirdle’s voice reached Pellew as if from a great distance.
“Would you tell me about this man Penhallow? You believe him guilty of abducting mr Hornblower?”
“Yes. I do. Once Penhallow and I were as brothers. We grew up together, fought together, hunted together. When I was 19 I met miss Emily Trelawny and we were betrothed. She was 17 and the most beautiful young lady I had ever laid my eyes on. Unbeknownst to me, Charles had had his eye on her as well. And Emily’s uncle was a peer of the realm. The match was favorable in more ways than one. I believe it was Emily’s family connections that interested Charles, not the girl herself. One night I had word that Charles had abducted Emily. I do not need to tell you his vile intentions.”
“No, sir, I believe I can guess.”
“It is a barbaric practice, to keep a girl captive, ensure that she is with child , then approach her father. The poor man would have had no choice but to comply. Any marriage after such an outrage would have been preferable to disgrace. I caught up with them, but Emily -”
“She fell to her death.”
“And you have reason to believe that Penhallow is behind Hornblower’s disappearance also?”
“You have seen him. I cost him his left eye. Had I not attempted to prevent his infamy – and now, this young man, who might have been Emily’s and my son, is in his hands. We must get him back, Bracegirdle. Penhallow will stop at nothing.”
Bracegirdle nodded pensively.
“I believe the man capable of such villainy, yes, but we have no proof he is guilty. We must attempt to find out for sure. I will make enquiries -”
“No, you must not. I will approach Penhallow myself. He will not miss the chance to gloat. If he is guilty, and I have no doubt he is, I will know soon enough.”
“Very well, sir. You know him best. If you need assistance, you know you only have to ask.”
Pellew fixed Bracegirdle with a disconcerting gaze.
“Yes. I know I can count on you, my friend. Thank you. I might have need of your assistance.”
Without further ado, Pellew had a man row him across to the Intrepid.
Earlier that day, Hornblower stepped ashore for the first time in weeks. Though they had lain at anchor a few times since their patrolling had begun, the men had for the most part remained aboard the Indy. It felt odd to be walking on terra firma, and not on the Indy’s deck. He hurriedly delivered the letter he had been sent to convey. That assignment successfully dealt with, he turned his attention to making the purchases his friends had asked of him.
He took special care choosing the stationery for Kennedy. Furthermore, the ink and quill occupied greater part of his time ashore. In one of the small shops he found a most peculiar-looking seashell. It reminded him of how as a small boy, he used to hold a shell to his ear and delight in the sound of the sea from inside the small object. Today, his ears were full of the sound of the sea, but his mother might like this trinket as a keepsake of her son. So he bought it and had it wrapped up along with his other purchases.
It was getting late, and he regretfully decided it was time to return to the Indy. He walked back down to the harbor and found the man who was to take him out to the Indy. They set out with a fair wind, certain to be back in time for the evening meal.
Long before they saw the Indy, another ship towered above them. These were British waters, and fairly well patrolled. They saw no reason for concern. The ship flew the Union Jack, just like any other friendly vessel would. When the ship approached unneccessarily close, without calling a greeting, Hornblower began to have his first misgivings. Now he noticed that the Union Jack was being lowered, but no other was raised in its stead. Who could it be? The ship did not have the looks of a French vessel.
The attack came suddenly, and Hornblower never had a chance to draw his weapon. A hard knock to his head rendered him unconscious, but not before he saw his crewman take a direct hit to the chest and fall over the side of the boat. After that, Hornblower knew nothing.
When he came to, he found himself in a small, dark cabin. It was immediately clear that he was aboard a ship, but he could not at first recall how he had come to be there. This was not his own cabin aboard the Indy, that much was plain. Then where was he? His head ached and he soon became aware of his arms being securely tied above his head. The legs also, were tied. Who could have taken him prisoner? No matter how long he pondered the matter, he could not arrive at any conclusion. The French had not been seen for months, no Spanish vessels had been sighted either, as far as he knew. It was a mystery.
He was not long kept waiting. A door outside his field of vision opened and someone stepped through. Footsteps approached him, and a man bent over him. Hands touched his wrists and ankles, apparently checking on the bonds that tied him. He was not gagged, so Hornblower drew in breath to protest this outrageous treatment. Waves of dizziness came and went, but he forced himself to ignore the sensation.
“Who are you? Why have you brought me here?”
The man was busy at some task in a corner of the cabin, which Hornblower could not see from his position on the bunk. A light began to spread through the small cabin and the man returned to his side. As Hornblower recognized his captor, he gasped in shock. Penhallow. This was something utterly unexpected, and for a moment he was rendered speechless. It was plain that the man read his reaction and was amused.
“You did not expect to see me.”
“Why have you brought me here?”
“Ah, yes. That is the question, is it not?”
“You have no right -”
“Perhaps not. Look at me. Did your captain have the right to take out my eye?”
Hornblower stared in mute disbelief. Had his captain been responsible for this man’s losing his eye? It made no difference. He could not imagine captain Pellew being guilty of any heinous crime. If he was indeed the one who had caused Penhallow’s disfigurement, there must have been a good reason.
“I do not know the circumstances.”
“Your opinion is not needed, boy. I have brought you here to -”
“When my friends find out where I am, they will -”
“What makes you think anyone will ever know? I have no intention of giving your presence here away, until the proper time for Pellew to find out what I have done to his boy. Yes, I have plans for you. Pellew will pay for what he did to me.”
The man appeared to have lost his mind. It did not seem possible to reason with him, but Hornblower decided to try anyway. How could an officer of His Majesty’s navy behave in this disgraceful way? However, at present, Hornblower’s worst concern was not the ethics of abducting a fellow officer and gentleman. What he was beginning to fear, as the realization of his helpless situation began to sink in, was what the ominous plans Penhallow had mentioned, might signify.
“It might interest you to know that your captain and I were once as brothers. We grew up together. Then one day, we met a lady. Have you known the love of a lady, boy?”
Hornblower was about to reply, but checked himself. It was plain that this man was not interested in anything he had to say.
“We both loved her, but she only had eyes for Pellew. He was always pleasing to the ladies. Pellew could not abide the thought of me near Emily and because of this, she died. Not content with the suffering he had caused not only me, his best friend, but also Emily’s poor parents, he challenged me to a duel. You can see for yourself what damage was done. If no lady would look at me in the past, how do you think they react to my presence now? And now, I will let Pellew know the same pain I suffered all those years ago. Emily was his true love then, now you are his boy. When he sees you again, you will no longer be his. You will be the instrument of my revenge, at long last.”
By now, Hornblower was close to panic. There was no telling what this madman might be capable of. And his words filled the young man with grave misgivings. A chill went down his back as he again contemplated his own helpless situation. What could he possibly do to defend himself against this man, insane with jealousy and desire for vengeance?
As Hornblower squirmed and strained against the tight bonds that held him, the rope ate into his wrists and ankles, causing him some pain, but that pain was nothing compared to the one that awaited him.
Penhallow pulled out a chair and sat down beside his bunk, no doubt to fix his full attention on his prisoner.
“You are mad. If you think I am the Captain’s -”
“Oh, but I know you are. My crewmen have spoken at length to the crewmen of the Indy. Everyone was in agreement about this. Horatio Hornblower is the captain’s own boy.”
“They are wrong. Captain Pellew is a perfect gentleman -”
Penhallow let out a dry, derisory laugh.
“Do not think your feeble lies will help you, boy. I have rarely seen such a pretty face. Pellew was ever partial to a pretty face. If you were my boy, what do you think I would have done to you?”
Hornblower refrained from pointing out that Penhallow plainly was no gentleman, and thus could not be expected to follow or even understand the same high standards as a man like Pellew. It was not difficult to envision what had taken place in the past. He could easily imagine how this man had tried to abduct Pellew’s betrothed and the tragedy that had followed. Now he would be the victim of this man’s abuse. How could he persuade the wretch that he was not bound to his captain in shameful bondage, but merely a valued member of his crew? He was interrupted in his brooding by the unpleasant sensation of a hand touching his face.
“Mm. You even have the looks of Emily. Had she been allowed to live, you might have been her son. And now you will be mine, as she never was.”
“You are making a grave mistake. I am not to Captain Pellew what you believe me to be.”
“If you can not keep that exquisite mouth of yours shut, I will be forced to gag you. That would be a shame, but it will not prevent me from completing my vengeance.”
The relentless hands continued their exploration of Hornblower’s face. At length, when Penhallow appeared satisfied, the hands moved on. The nightmare continued, and Hornblower realized nothing he could say or do would save him.
He retreated inside his mind, and tried to think of anything but the situation he was in. It was not easy to shut out what was going on, but he tried anyway. At one point, he was forced to bite his lip so hard, he tasted blood.
Eventually, Penhallow must have tired of the game. Hornblower woke up to find himself alone. No light came through the porthole so he deduced it was still night. His entire body hurt. He tried not to move, so as not to aggravate the agony that burned through his limbs and the rest of his body. At this point he had ceased to worry about the future. Even death would be preferable to this violation.
Pellew only took one man with him on his visit to the Intrepid. The man did not ask any questions of him, and that was just as well. No answers would be forthcoming. The grim look on the captain’s face forbade any idle talk.
This time, he would not let Penhallow get away. No more innocents would be sacrificed to his ruthless ambition. If only he was in time. Would young Hornblower still be alive? Pellew firmly repressed that thought. Hornblower would be safe, and Penhallow would pay for his audacity.
In the meantime, aboard the Indy, mr Bracegirdle was left in command. It was not long before Kennedy approached his superior.
“Sir, may I ask what Captain Pellew is planning?”
“As to what he is planning, I am afraid I can not tell you. However, he left a few minutes ago to speak to Penhallow aboard the Intrepid.”
“He believes Penhallow responsible for Hornblower’s disappearance?”
“That is so.”
“Did he go on his own?”
“Yes. If that was wise or not, I can not say.”
“Perhaps I should go also. The captain might be in need of my assistance in some small way. If Horatio – if Hornblower is indeed being held aboard the Intrepid, I might be able to -”
Bracegirdle contemplated Kennedy’s suggestion for so long, Kennedy began to feel utterly discouraged. Was there anyone in the entire world who valued his qualities as a seaman or indeed as a man? At length, Bracegirdle nodded his approval.
“Why not? You are free to go where you please.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“And mr Kennedy -”
“I believe it might be a wise precaution to arm yourself.”
Kennedy inclined his head in acquiescence. Apparently, mr Bracegirdle too, believed Penhallow responsible for Hornblower’s abduction. With an expression similar to his captain’s not long ago, Kennedy set out to find his friend. Whatever was amiss, he would do his utmost to get Hornblower back, safe and sound.
Back at the Indy, Bracegirdle had his own troubles to deal with. Not half an hour after Pellew’s departure, a messenger from the admiral arrived, carrying a dispatch containing the Indy’s new orders. They were to leave for the Isle of Wight within the hour. Bracegirdle thanked the man, and dismissed him. He fervently hoped his captain would be back shortly, but he had his doubts. Kennedy’s premonitions had unnerved Bracegirdle to the point of fearing the worst.
When Pellew approached the Intrepid, it appeared he was expected. He was shown straight to the captain’s cabin, and ushered inside, without further ado. Penhallow was sitting at his desk, and on hearing his old friend’s arrival, slowly turned to face him.
“Where is he?”
“All in good time.”
“No. You will turn Hornblower over to me right now, or I will have you thrown in the brig at the Indy.”
“Perhaps you are forgetting something, my friend. You are no longer aboard the Indy. This is my ship, my crewmen answer to me and me alone. In your position, I would be more humble in my approach, my friend.”
“Do not call me that. You are no friend of mine.”
“You are right. That friendship was buried along with Emily a long time ago. Now you will listen to me and listen carefully. Yes, I have taken your boy. He will be returned to you in due time. Now you and I will settle this once and for all.”
“Very well. At your convenience, I shall meet you ashore, or if you insist – on deck. My seconds will -”
“No. We have been down that road before. See where that left me.”
Penhallow indicated his empty eye socket.
“Let us settle this here and now, man to man. No seconds, no rules. Just you and I.”
“Very well. But first of all, I want my officer returned to me.”
“I see your young playmate means as much to you as Emily once did.”
“I do not like your implication. Mr Hornblower is a valued member of my crew. That is all.”
“Very well. Have it your own way, Pellew. But we both know you were always partial to a pretty face.”
Pellew contemplated physically attacking his old friend then and there, but with an effort he restrained himself. First he would see young Hornblower safely off the ship. His wounded pride would have to take second place to this consideration.
“Just let Hornblower go and we will settle this once and for all. I should have done so years ago.”
“I will give orders to have your boy released, but not until you and I have resolved this. You are not in charge here. I am. Do not forget that, Pellew. We will meet at my convenience. You were the one to make all the arrangements the last time. It is time I had my say.”
There was nothing Pellew could do, except comply. He had no idea where Hornblower was being held, and furthermore, Penhallow was right. This was not the Indy. If he provoked Penhallow further there was no telling what he would do. It seemed he would have to accept the terms and face his opponent, unprepared, and only armed with his pistol.
“Name the location. I will be there.”
“No need to procrastinate. We will settle this on deck, here and now. If you win, your boy will walk free. If you lose – Well, in that case, this will not concern you anymore. Let us go.”
Pellew inclined his head and walked ahead of his old friend. He had never fought a duel on deck before, and he hoped he never would again. Besides, as Penhallow had pointed out, this would not be like any duel he had ever fought in the past.
In a way it was satisfying to at last be able to fulfill a deeper, more primitive need for revenge. As a gentleman he was always bound by the rules of polite conduct. Through no fault of his own, he would now be allowed to set those rules aside and revert to a more direct, even savage approach. If anything had befallen young Hornblower, Pellew would have Penhallow’s hide.
When Kennedy arrived not long after his captain, no one seemed to be keeping watch. Cautiously, he made his way up the side of the ship. If no one tried to stop him, it would be much for the best.
On the Indy, Bracegirdle’s troubles just increased tenfold. A strange ship came into sight, and as it got closer, it became plain that it flew no flag of any kind. Bracegirdle immediately suspected pirates, and gave his orders accordingly. To his astonishment, it seemed the Intrepid was greeting the pirate ship quite peacefully. In a moment, the Intrepid turned its cannons towards the Indy. This could not be allowed to continue. Bracegirdle gave orders for evasive maneouvers. Meanwhile, he had all men at their stations.
At a time like this, a ship needed its captain, but mr Bracegirdle was determined to do his utmost. It was not the first time he had been left in command of this vessel, and he hoped his captain would find no fault with his way of dealing with the situation. For a navy ship to attack another was unheard of. If the Indy survived the skirmish, this would be reported to headquarters, Bracegirdle would make sure of it. He only hoped that his captain’s absence would go unnoticed. As the cannonballs began to fly, Bracegirdle cast a grateful thought back to his first commander, who had taught him much about evasive maneouvers and a dirty trick or two. These pirates would not get the better of them, if he had any say in the matter.
Kennedy stealthily began his search of the Intrepid. He knew it was too much to hope for, finding his friend, without any kind of lead, but he knew had to try all the same. Something told him he did not have much time. A sudden noise startled him and made him seek cover behind a bulkhead. The voices told him his captain was approaching, accompanied by a man he suspected was Penhallow. Kennedy held his breath. If he made the slightest sound now – but he seemed to be out of luck. The men were heading straight in his direction. He cursed softly under his breath. Frantically, he looked around for some hiding place, but there was none. In a second they would be upon him. Still pressed against the wall, Kennedy was forced to helplessly await discovery, whatever that might lead to.
“What have we here? Another of your little playmates, Pellew?”
“Mr Kennedy -”
“Kennedy, of course. Your playmate’s playmate. How charming. This is quite a gathering.”
Pellew was a prey to mixed emotions. Here was another member of his crew, another innocent young man under his protection. On the other hand, undeniably, here was someone, who might lead Hornblower to safety, whatever befell their captain.
“Let us continue on young Kennedy’s interrupted mission. After you, gentlemen.”
The stunned expression on the young man’s face, told Penhallow he had not yet realized what was about to happen, so he hastened to clarify.
“You came to see your friend, did you not?”
“By all means, let us see him.”
At the back of Kennedy’s mind there was a tingling feeling of warning. Could it be a trap? But he did not see they had any choice. Penhallow kept his weapon firmly aimed at the small of Pellew’s back, and Kennedy knew he would get no chance to make a difference at this point. All he could do was wait for his moment, if it ever came. Having a weapon pointed straight at his back, was an eerie sensation. Their progress was slow and awkward. At every slight pause, Kennedy was tempted to glance over his shoulder, but he repressed the impulse each time. What purpose could it serve? If that madman chose to press the trigger, nothing Kennedy could do would prevent it. For the moment, Penhallow was in control.
As if from a great distance, they heard cannonfire, but it was as if it did not concern the men on the Intrepid’s deck. They were caught up in their own struggle and thus far distant from any other goings-on.
“There we are. Would you open the door, mr Kennedy? Splendid. You too, Pellew. Slowly.”
Inside the small cabin, it was murky, but Kennedy had no trouble spying his friend prone on the bunk. His breath caught in his throat, but Hornblower appeared to be in passing good health, as far as Kennedy could tell, despite being securely tied down.
Satisfied that his officer was indeed alive and well, Pellew turned on his old friend, resolved to finish this any way he could.
“Did you not speak only moments ago of settling this once and for all, man to man? Yet, here you are, hiding behind that pistol. That is not what I expected from your heated words just now. Is that all you are, Penhallow? Talk, talk, talk. That was ever your weakness. All talk and no force.”
A dismayed frown formed on Penhallow’s already disfigured features.
“Are you so eager to test your strength against me, Pellew? By all means. Let us begin. I had planned a more elaborate introduction of this beautiful boy. But it can wait. Come.”
“Kennedy, get Hornblower back to the Indy as best you can.”
“Yes, sir. I shall do my best.”
Penhallow appeared not to have heard. His eyes seemed to be staring at a faraway place and time. For him, as indeed for Pellew, that night so long ago had never ended. The moment when Emily fell to her death stretched out endlessly. And now they would finally wreak their vengeance on the man each perceived as responsible for the sweet girl’s demise.
Kennedy seized this opportunity to untie his friend. Softly, he enquired about Hornblower’s well-being. The reply was somewhat long in coming, but Kennedy knew from experience the pain of bondage such as his friend had been enduring for the better part of the evening. Hurriedly, Kennedy attempted to rub some life back into the numb wrists. Hornblower resisted his touch and began to tend to his limbs on his own. At first, he was unable to stand, and fell back onto the bunk.
By now, the older officers had left the cabin, to continue their confrontation under the dark sky.
Kennedy impatiently tried to hurry his friend along. Hornblower was busy ministering to his ankles and again resisted his friend’s touch.
“I implore you, Horatio. The Indy is under attack. Can you not hear the cannonfire? We must be away from here. I brought a boat, and we must find a way to evade the line of fire.”
“Alright. I am ready.”
But it was plain that Hornblower could not walk on his own, and to his humiliation, he was forced to accept his friend’s offer of support. With his arm over Kennedy’s shoulder, he hobbled outside and towards the rail where the boat was moored. The crewmen of the Intrepid were hard at work, defending themselves against the fierce attack from the Indy, and appeared not to pay the two young officers any mind.
They were able to make their way to the boat, unmolested. Now their troubles began in earnest. How were they to avoid being caught in the line of fire, while making their way back to the Indy? Kennedy tried to maneouver the small craft around the side of the Intrepid and away from the greatest intensity of cannonfire. He was at least partially successful. Slowly, they were able to approach the Indy from the east, away from the battle. The noise was deafening and it was a while before he was able to make himself heard over the din of cannonfire. The entire sky was lit up by the detonations and it was as bright daylight, though Kennedy knew it had to be past midnight.
“Let us aboard. It is I – Kennedy – and I have brought Hornblower.”
“Right away, sir.”
Styles threw them a line and began pulling them up to relative safety.
“What about the Captain, sir?”
“He still remains aboard the Intrepid. How are we faring?”
“Not well, sir. Though mr Bracegirdle is doing his utmost, we are faced with two enemies.
That accursed Penhallow and that pirate ship over there.”
“Pirates? Never mind. We shall worry about that later. Horatio, if you are well enough to fight -”
“I certainly am. But they took my pistol away -”
“Then make haste down below. You will find me at my station. If we are boarded -”
Kennedy did not finish the sentence. Hornblower knew as well as he did, that if the battle spilled over onto the Indy’s deck, all was lost. That must not be allowed to come to pass. It was no more than a minute at the most, but in Kennedy’s mind, Hornblower’s absence felt like a year. Finally, his friend was at his back and they could make their stand together. From time to time, they could not help casting a look in the direction of the Intrepid. How was their captain faring against an enemy such as Penhallow? But their duties were clear. If they failed to defend their own ship they did not deserve to call themselves officers. Nevertheless, it was not long until a loud explosion made their eyes turn towards the ship where their captain fought for his life. A cry of despair escaped Hornblower’s lips. The entire ship was ablaze. Bracegirdle’s men must have scored a direct hit to the powder magazine. How could any man survive such an inferno?
Their moment of distraction almost cost them their lives. A pirate had managed to scale the side of the Indy and was about to fire a shot square into Kennedy’s chest. At the last second, he squeezed his own trigger and by chance, or by good markmanship, he hit the man in the forehead. He fell back into the sea and was lost from view. The remainder of the pirates appeared to have lost heart, seing their ally thus eliminated.
It was over, but neither Hornblower nor Kennedy felt any exhilaration at their victory against overwhelming odds. Without their captain what mattered such trifles? Downcast and distraught, the two young officers turned to join their commanding officer in the Captain’s cabin. Mr Bracegirdle would be expecting his report. In the heat of the battle, no one would have thought to inform him of Hornblower’s safe return.
The sound of a splash from starboard, made Hornblower look over the rail and into the sea. From the direction of the Intrepid a man was swimming. Could it be – No. The odds were against such a boon. But as the swimmer closed in, both officers recognized their captain’s beloved features. It was indeed Pellew. How badly he was injured was hard to tell at this distance. But he was alive and he was rejoining his crew. Hornblower turned to the nearest crewman.
“Fletcher, ready a boat for your captain.”
“Aye, sir. At once.”
Soon Pellew and his two officers were reunited below in the captain’s cabin. It appeared Pellew was none the worse for wear. A shallow wound on his forehead, a cracked rib or two, nothing that would slow a man like Pellew down for long, that was all. His hair was slightly singed by the fire, but other than that, Captain Pellew was ready to resume command of his ship.
“Mr Bracegirdle, may I say that your handling of the situation was excellent.”
“Thank you, sir, now I regret to have to inform you -”
“One moment, sir. I must thank mr Kennedy for his timely assistance. Well done, mr Kennedy.”
Kennedy’s features were moved by a rare smile.
“Thank you, sir. I think perhaps -”
“By all means, get your friend below. I trust you are in good health, mr Hornblower?”
“Thank you, sir. I will be able to resume my duties forthwith.”
“Take your time, mr Hornblower. We shall manage without you for the time being. You too, mr Kennedy. Resume your duties tomorrow morning. That is time enough. Dismissed.”
As Kennedy herded his friend in the direction of their cabin, Bracegirdle fought for words. They had defeated their enemies, or at least one of them, and for the time being he ignored the painful necessity of explaining to the admiral how one of His Majesty’s ships had come to destroy another, but at the moment, the most imminent problem was the arrival of their new orders. The Indy ought to have been on its way hours ago.
“Sir, our new orders arrived shortly after you had left. We were to have sailed for the Isle of Wight within the hour. That was, I am afraid, several hours ago.”
“I see. Is the messenger still aboard?”
“Yes, there was not time for him to take his leave. We came under attack -”
“Yes. I see. Perhaps I shall be able to reason with the man. The winds and currents are known to have been contrary many a time. Had he arrived half an hour later, he would have found himself under attack and unable to deliver his dispatch.”
“Strictly speaking, sir, he was under attack within less than half an hour after his arrival.”
“In that case, mr Bracegirdle, we were unable to comply. No reasoning will be necessary.”
“Very well. Sir -”
“May I enquire if you were able to lay your betrothed’s shade at rest at last?”
“You might say so. Now, mr Bracegirdle, let us see to repairs so we can be on our way.”
It was clear that Pellew was not going to elaborate on his encounter with his old friend. There were some things a gentleman was unable to discuss. Such as the killing of a man with his bare hands, rather than according to civilized rules and regulations.
Below, Kennedy worriedly watched his friend change out of his travel clothes. His friend was somehow changed. Some of the passion and vitality that so attracted everyone to him was gone. This was a pale and shaken young man and Kennedy feared the reason for this change.
It was a while before Hornblower turned and faced Kennedy. Much as he loved his friend, at this time he almost cursed the piercing blue eyes. Nothing escaped his watchful friend. How could he think to keep anything from him? And he knew far too well that Kennedy’s own experiences made it easy for him to understand.
“Archie. I must thank you. Once again I owe you my life.”
“Do not mention it, my friend. Please tell me that you are unharmed.”
“As you see. None the worse for wear.”
But Hornblower’s tone was hollow and he was not seriously attempting to deceive his friend.
“Are you truly well? You know that anything you say -”
“When I made you confide in me all those months ago, I believed it was so easy. Just tell the truth and feel better afterwards. There was nothing easy about it, was there?”
“No. But you were right. Painful as the cure was, I am now feeling much the better. Horatio, what did that man Penhallow -”
“Why do you persist in asking when you already know the answer to your question?”
The pain in Hornblower’s voice made Kennedy want to scream. Not Hornblower as well. The injustice of it all made him choke. He felt hot tears burn his eyes.
“My friend, how I wish this madman had taken me instead. You did not deserve -”
“Deserve? Did you deserve to suffer at Simpson’s hands? Besides, all this is idle talk. I was chosen because I am known as the Captain’s boy, just as you are referred to as mr Bracegirdle’s boy behind your back.”
The cry of dismay told Hornblower this was news to Kennedy. At once, he regretted disillusioning his poor friend.
“I see. In the time since Simpson’s departure, I have believed myself safe thanks to my own strength. Now I realize I owe my good fortune to mr Bracegirdle’s kindness.”
“He would not wish you to know.”
“No. I realize that now. I see. Perhaps it does not greatly matter. Not now. What can I do to ease your burden, my friend?”
“What could anyone do for you? I do not believe anything will make this right. Only time perhaps – does the memory fade with time, Archie?”
For a second all Kennedy’s own painful recollections flooded his mind, clouding it. Slowly, he regained control of himself. Soon enough, his friend would see through his lie, but for now, he would use any means at his disposal to ease Hornblower’s pain.
“Yes. I am feeling much improved in spirit.”
“I pray that you are right. No one must know, I beg you, Archie. Not the Captain. No one. Especially not the Captain.”
“You do not need to ask. My lips are sealed.”
“Thank you, my friend. Now, I believe I will try to get some sleep.”
“Yes, do try. You will be much the better for it.”
Kennedy felt his words were utterly inadequate, and he had hardly ever felt this helpless, at least not since Hornblower had come into his life. But what else could he do? Reassuring words would have to do, no matter how useless they were in truth. All his love and support would follow Hornblower whatever he did, wherever he went. That would have to be enough.
At least both Hornblower and their Captain was safe and the Indy was still afloat. There would be other days. Kennedy would lend what strength he had to offer to his friend, and he knew that Hornblower would one day be emerging into the bright light of day, as Kennedy himself had, thanks to his friend’s kindness and support.