|Violence, some strong language, adult themes
|Kennedy is on his way to the West Indies and his beloved Robbie. In his absence, Hornblower ends up in bad company.
The young man glanced stealthily over his shoulder, before leaving the shelter of the doorway, where he had been hanging back, wary of discovery. No one on the busy street appeared to pay him any mind. Taking a deep breath, he ventured out into the throng. His heavy seaman’s chest hampered his progress, but he persisted.He had had word that his ship was to sail with the evening tide, and he wished to be on time. A wry smile reflected his feelings on the thought of being left behind. Much depended on his successful departure. The consequences of being late did not bear thinking about. Yet, his mind dwelled on the past. It was ever painful to part from a friend, and the circumstances of his departure still rankled.
Shrugging, he at last forced himself to look ahead. He was, in a way, going home, and regrets aside, the thought of her who awaited him at the end of his weary voyage brought a sweeter smile to the handsome young man’s lips. Absence truly made the mind fonder.
Successfully negotiating the carts, carrying produce, the skilled pickpockets, the street urchins darting to and fro and the hard-eyed women with painted faces, the young man eventually approached the harbour. It did not take him long to spy the Gillyflower, out of Cork. His mother hailed from Ireland, so the young man did not feel out of his depth aboard an Irish vessel. He spotted a deckhand and hailed him. The man proved not unwilling to lend him a hand, stowing his gear below. On this ship, the young man noted, all the crewmen slept together. He did not know if this was better or worse than the last ship he had served on.
What he did know, was that everything would be different this time. An officer no more, the young man would be signing on as a common seaman. He knew his accent would not fool anyone, but he had a story prepared in advance, which he knew would be credible. Would that his life had been as carefree as the one he had invented for himself.
Now it was time to report for duty. The deckhand yet again proved helpful. He showed the new young man to the man he would answer to.
“That be mr Willoughby, but the captain wants to see all the new men first.”
“I see. Thank you, Tom.”
The other young man grinned and pointed a finger to his temple in a mock salute. With a worried frown on his face, the new young sailor walked away to find the captain or mr Willoughby, whoever he should spy first.
Was his past as an officer that plain to see, or was Tom merely making a light-hearted jest? He must take care not to display too many skills that might be attributed to his time in His Majesty’s Navy. His duties aboard this merchant ship would not require the same expertise.
It seemed mr Willoughby wished to save time, by conveying him straight to the captain’s cabin. Perhaps it was best to dispense with this formality first.
“You want to sign on as a crewman, eh? Not the manner of work one would expect for a young gentleman such as yourself. Tell me the truth now, boy, or I will look for a replacement for my man elsewhere.”
“Well, you see, sir -”
“Your name, boy.”
“Martyn Taylor, sir.”
“Taylor, eh? Right. Go on.”
“It is a bit awkward, sir – the truth of the matter is that I met a lady and her father does not approve of the match. My father has lately fallen on hard times, and it is up to me to make my fortune and return to renew my offer of marriage to – this lady.”
Captain Fitzpatrick did not appear to think much of this story, but he made no comment.
“Hm. Well, we shall leave it that, Taylor. Mr Willoughby will fill you in on your duties. Have you been at sea before? We can not have you shirk your duties, just because you are the son of a gentleman. You will have to pull your weight around the ship, or I will have you dismissed. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir. I have. And I will.”
“Very well. You may go now. Willoughby?”
“Do what you can with this young fop.”
“Yes, sir. When we reach Jamaica, it will be as if he has never done anything else in his life.”
The captain made a dismissive gesture. It was plain that he did not think much of the sons of gentlemen trying to make their fortune aboard his ship.
As the young man watched the ship pull out of the harbour, he told himself that this would be the last time he ever saw his home. Farewell, England. He fervently wished he would fare better in his new home. Long after the last glimpses of land had receded, he remained at the railing, deep in thought. He did not at first notice the man who had walked up beside him, and was now quietly watching him from a short distance.
“You – boy – I’m talking to you.”
“Is the captain hiring you for your pretty blue eyes, boy, or will you be doing some work?”
“Of course I will be working.”
“Wait. How old might you be, young sir?”
It was plain the man was mocking him, and the young man took a closer look. The man might be 30 or so, and there was nothing about him that seemed to indicate he was owed more respect than the other men aboard the ship.
“Excuse me, sir, but I do not think that my age is any concern of yours.”
“I will be the judge of that.”
“Let me pass.”
“In a minute.”
There was something uncomfortably familiar about this man. Not his appearance as such, so much as his behaviour and the unpleasant and overly intimate way his gaze travelled across the young man’s body. With an effort the young man calling himself Martyn Taylor controlled himself. No need to appear unduly concerned. That would only serve to encourage the man further.
“Very well. I am 23 years old. And I do assure you I intend to work as hard as any man aboard this ship.”
“We shall see.”
The man refused to move, and the young man calling himself Taylor, was beginning to feel trapped. This was far too familiar.
“Your name, young sir?”
“Allow me to introduce myself. Conrad Lawrence, at your service.”
“Pleased to meet you, sir. Now if you would excuse me -”
This time, he had had quite enough, and straightened up to his full height, and pushed past the rude man who was still standing in his way. For a moment, he feared the other man would not allow him to pass, but at the last possible second, the man did move aside, only just. There was a whiff of unwashed body and unclean breath, and finally, he was free to go.
The encounter had left the young man shaken and bothered. If his affliction should return to haunt him, how was he supposed to perform his duties? It was imperative that he reach the safety of foreign shores as soon as possible. Should his pursuers catch up with him, he did not give much for his own chances.
Kennedy – for it was he – hastened back to work and noted to his relief that he was able to perform his duties in such a way as not to draw attention to himself. Not brilliantly, but also far from ineptly. No one could expect more from a gentleman’s son.
As he had feared, the troublesome man, Lawrence, proved to be a nuisance. Everywhere Kennedy went, he found himself staring into Lawrence’s cold, hard eyes. Kennedy had to keep reminding himself that he was no longer a boy and would be able to fend off the man’s attentions, easily enough. But would he ever outrun his past?
It was not long before he became aware of another, more troubling situation. One of the cabin boys was much of the age Kennedy had been when first sent to sea. The boy, Billy, appeared to be the target of the same manner of attention from Lawrence, as Kennedy had been at Simpson’s hands. It pained Kennedy to see how the boy would try to get away from the man, but a ship was a small enclosed place, and there were not many havens a cabin boy could seek out.
Kennedy could always claim the privilege of the boy’s companionship, and challenge Lawrence for the pleasure, but he felt reluctant to do so. As a newcomer aboard the Gillyflower, it would most likely be seen as presumptuous, picking a fight with a senior crewman. In addition, the very notion was abhorrent to Kennedy.
On the other hand, he could not bear to watch the look in the boy’s eyes. If only someone had protected him when he first encountered Jack Simpson. Someone like mr Bracegirdle, or himself, who would not demand any favours in return for the protection offered.
Kennedy found himself turning over the matter in his mind, every moment he had to himself, after finishing his shifts. He had not yet spoken to the boy, knowing it was something he would not wish to be discussed openly. After all, he remembered far too well, how deeply shamed he had been when Simpson exposed his humiliation to the other officers and crew. Billy would not wish to be reminded of his situation.
One morning, after lying awake, listening to the boy’s sobbing, Kennedy came to a decision. He would no longer tarry. Lawrence needed being taught a lesson. It was inconceivable that no one else aboard this vessel had done so yet. No matter. Kennedy would deal with the situation himself. He did not stop to consider the consequences of his actions. A man in his delicate position could not afford to draw attention to himself. However, the boy could not be left to suffer this way any longer.
How to lure the man into meeting him in private did not present any difficulty, as long as Kennedy could subdue his own feelings of revulsion long enough to carry out his plan. He was older now, and less innocent, but Simpson had taught him well. A man like Lawrence would not pass up on an opportunity such as this, Kennedy was fairly certain of that.
After breaking their fast, the men left to perform their various tasks. As Lawrence was about to take his leave, Kennedy stepped in his way, catching the man’s eye, giving him a look, he knew the scoundrel would not fail to interpret in the way it was intended.
“A word in private, mr Lawrence?”
“Certainly, mr Taylor.”
“Then you must call me Conrad.”
Oh, I know what to call you, you vile scum, Kennedy thought to himself.
The two men proceeded to a more private location. Kennedy thought he could detect a fair amount of expectation on the other man’s part. It would be a pleasure to disillusion him. Glancing around to see that they were not interrupted, or spied from afar, Kennedy finally deemed the moment auspicious. Lawrence appeared to be impatient to get to the point of their rendez-vous.
To Kennedy’s disgust, the man sidled closer to him, as if to begin a more intimate exploration. Involuntarily he took half a step backwards, before remembering his original intention. Time enough to show his hand in a minute.
“I will be brief. Allow me to dispense with formalities and move on to the heart of the matter.”
The man’s lecherous grin sickened Kennedy, but he forced himself to ignore it and press on.
“I want you to leave Billy alone.”
“Why? You want him yourself?”
“Never mind why. I will make it my business to prevent any further abuse of him.”
Slowly, his words appeared to get through to Lawrence, and Kennedy saw the man’s features being transformed before his eyes. In those cold eyes, a variety of emotions moved, until one remained. Anger. But Kennedy was not afraid of him. Those days were long gone.
“I do not take orders from the likes of you. Stay out of my way, or I will make you wish you had. And – if I want to, I shall avail myself of your services as well.”
“I must disappoint you, Conrad. You will not lay a finger on that boy again, and if you touch me -”
Now Lawrence face was twisted into a cruel grin. Still, he appeared to have no idea of who he was dealing with. Kennedy had had quite enough of the man’s foul manners. Without further ado, Kennedy landed a heavy blow in the man’s midriff. The look on his face was highly rewarding, and within seconds Lawrence doubled up, clutching his abdomen.
Kennedy was hoping he would not have to repeat the punch. If anyone should chance to walk by, and he was discovered, the incident would be reported to the captain, leading to all sorts of complications. And should he be forced to land a punch in the man’s face, it would lead to the same problem. But he had not miscalculated the man’s cowardice. It was an easy matter to prey on the helplessness of young boys, but quite another to be faced with a man of equal strength. Without another word, the man stumbled away from his tormentor, all the defiance having left him. Kennedy did not expect to have any more trouble from this man. That proved to be a correct assumption. Whenever Lawrence ran into Kennedy he slunk off, like a chastened dog from his master. And never again, during the passage to Jamaica, did Kennedy hear the boy Billy crying at night.
They had a fair wind almost the entire way, and no unforeseen developments caused them to stray off course. As Kennedy had only signed on for the one leg of the voyage, he did not anticipate any opposition from the captain concerning his departure.
Though events conspired to keep Hornblower busy, he keenly missed his friend’s company. Not until he was deprived of Kennedy’s quiet sympathy did Hornblower grasp the full extent of his loss. On many a night, when he tossed and turned, he thought to himself that if only he had recounted the event that had led to Kennedy’s downfall somewhat differently, he would still enjoy his friend’s companionship.
When at last there was a lull in enemy activities and the Indy once more was safely back in harbour, Hornblower was given some leave. He felt that perhaps Captain Pellew and mr Bracegirdle in concord had decided he needed rest, far away from matters maritime and martial. Whatever the underlying reason, Hornblower was not about to question his luck. For once, he was only too happy to remove himself from the Indy and his responsibilities there.
To begin with he was overwhelmed with relief, but after a while memories of the last time he had travelled this way came welling up. Those memories were filled with images of Kennedy, and again, Hornblower was overcome with emotion. He owed Kennedy his life, yet where was his friend now? Was he even alive?
How could he continue with his life, put all his efforts into furthering his career, when all that he would ever achieve rested on Kennedy’s sacrifice? Despondently, Hornblower came to the conclusion that for the time being, he had lost all his taste for work. Now all he longed for was the carefree companionship of a friend, someone much of his own age.
It was as if someone had granted his wish. Who should he spy the moment he set foot on land that day, but Lord Edrington? Deep in thought as he was, Hornblower’s mind was not occupied with searching for old acquaintances, but rather turned inward in sombre contempation. His brooding was interrupted rather irreverently by a youthful voice, a voice that on closer consideration appeared to be familiar.
“Hornblower. Do you not recognize me? Hornblower? Where is your mind today?”
“What? Oh. Forgive me, my lord. I was deep in thought.”
“Dwelling on victories past and present? Let me buy you a drink, for old times sake.”
Hornblower was in two minds about this young man. Edrington was arrogant, filled with his own importance. On the other hand, there was no denying that he possessed courage, strategic skills and a considerable amount of charm. All this aside, Hornblower knew of no way to turn down the offer without appearing brusque and forgetful of all good manners.
“Thank you. That would be most kind of you, my lord.”
“No more of this my lord. I shall be Edrington and you Hornblower. There. We are becoming friends once again. This quite reminds me of the old days at school. Come, my friend. Let us drink and be merry. Gaudeamus igitur and all that, eh?”
“What? Oh. By all means. Gaudeamus.”
Hornblower did not feel much like rejoicing, and though he was still young, he felt it was more and more likely that the grave would have him before long. Though bearing his profession in mind, it would more likely be a watery grave, rather than the soil that would greedily reach for him.
Edrington took him to an inn called the Hunter and Hounds. It appeared the young peer was well known in this place, and along with his guest, he was taken to a table and served a beaker of chilled wine.
“Now, Hornblower, my friend, tell me all. What brings you here? I would have expected an old sea-dog like yourself to be far away from old England.”
“I am on leave.”
“Excellent. As am I. These accursed Frenchies are pultroons. They will never have it in them to defeat Britain. Let us drink a toast to our eventual victory.”
Edrington took a closer look at Hornblower and something about the cast of his features must have struck the young peer as amiss. He was determined to find the cause for such gloom on day as fine as the one they were enjoying.
“There. And now, you must tell me more about yourself. Come to think of it, where is your little friend? Kennedy, was it not? It seems to me that wherever Hornblower went Kennedy was not far behind. A falling out between – friends? Do tell me all.”
“My friend is no longer with us.”
“Was he lost at sea? Again? Or did he fall to enemy fire?”
“No. If you would excuse me, I do not wish to discuss Archie’s fate with you.”
“Ah. Then let us say no more. Another toast. To absent – friends.”
Hornblower dejectedly did as his new friend proposed, but did not feel greatly cheered by these reminders of what he had lost.
“Come, my friend. Why this gloomy face on such a brilliant day? We are winning this war, we are young in an age where there is glory enough for everyone. I am forced to conclude that perhaps the attachment between the two of you was a tad too close. Do not misunderstand me, Hornblower, my good chap. We have all been to school. I would be the last to discount the value of these close attachments. But there is a proper time and place for such bonds. We are boys no more.”
Hornblower stared in dismay at the young peer. By rights, he would now be justified in issuing a challenge, which Edrington would be forced to accept. Such an insult was beyond anything a gentleman could be expected to tolerate. However, Hornblower felt strangely reluctant to react in the way expected of him.
Something told him he would merely be confirming Edrington’s low opinion of him. Furthermore, he would be disappointing his Captain. He had given his word never to fight another duel. In addition, he knew he could not hope to defeat a man like Edrington, regardless of which weapon was settled upon.
Hornblower took another look at the young peer seated across from him, and concluded that the insult was not seriously meant. At least he hoped so. It would be permissible to laugh it off as merely another jest between friends. He attempted to do as much, and Edrington seemed to be no more inclined to dwell on the awkward moment. Again, Hornblower roused himself and tried to think of something to say.
“What news from England? We have been sailing for many months and not many tidings from home have reached us.”
“I will tell you all, but first let us send for another beaker of wine. Excellent vintage, do you not agree?”
To Hornblower all wines tasted much the same, but he did not wish to appear gauche in front of the peer. It appeared Edrington was going to respect his wishes not to discuss Kennedy further. That was a relief. Under no circumstances did he wish to have his friend’s memory sullied by accusations of this nature.
They drank a few more cups of wine, before Edrington declared he wished to seek other distractions. He appeared to take it for granted that Hornblower would accompany him.
As Hornblower had not really had time to make any plans of his own, he could not think of an excuse that would not offend the other man, and nodded his acquiescence. Besides, on his own he would only be miserable and perhaps the companionship of a man much his own age would be preferable to solitude.
“Hornblower, I know just the place for us. You will love it, I am sure. The wenches are lovely, the wine is excellent and the food – let me just say you will adore the establishment. Come, my friend. We are wasting time.”
Reluctantly, Hornblower rose to follow Edrington. The young peer carelessly tossed a few coins on the table as he left. Hornblower thought the reference to lovely wenches somewhat disturbing, but did not wish to further confirm Edrington’s impression of him.
The house Edrington took Hornblower to revealed itself to be a house of the kind Hornblower had never set foot in, but had heard spoken of. He was astonished and scandalised to find that a peer of the realm would consider frequenting such a place. However, he had to admit that this was far removed from the establishments of low repute he had overheard the crewmen discuss. It was located in a part of the city that while not exactly respectable, somewhat astonished Hornblower.
Perhaps the establishment was not quite as scandalous as he had at first assumed. Still, it was not the sort of place that he had ever wished to visit. Kennedy had briefly mentioned such houses, which he had occasionally been forced to frequent in Simpson’s company, but the accounts had not been elaborate enough for Hornblower to form much of an opinion about them.
They were greeted at the door, by a woman who appeared to be trying very hard to pass herself off as a lady, and was having some success. At least it seemed that way to Hornblower’s inexperienced eyes. She ushered them into a smaller room, where she encouraged them to be seated on a settee.
Moments later, two young women appeared, carrying a tray with refreshments. After depositing the tray on the small table, they sat down beside the two young men, causing Hornblower to cringe slightly. His movement was not lost on the young lady next to him, and she exchanged a look with her friend. Edrington, on the other hand, was too busy helping himself to the contents of the tray, while placing an arm around the fair-haired beauty by his side to pay attention to Hornblower’s reaction.
After studying Hornblower’s features for a while, the dark-haired young woman on his right, decided she had been ignored for too long and tried to catch his attention.
“I am Daphne, sir. Am I not to your liking?”
Hornblower did not at first reply, deep in thought as he was. A giggle from the young woman by the name of Daphne recalled him to the circumstances at hand.
“Shall I run and fetch a boy for you, sir?”
This caught Edrington’s attention and he glanced over in Hornblower’s direction.
“Introduce yourself, my friend.”
“You may call me Horatio.”
“Horatio. Pleased to meet you. Well?”
“Do you wish me to fetch a boy for you?”
At this Hornblower’s face heated up uncomfortably. Why did he always encounter this reaction? Was this the wench’s idea of a jest? Before he had time to reply, Edrington answered for him.
“My friend is not partial to boys. Are you, Horatio?”
“No, most assuredly not.”
“Then perhaps you would prefer a sheep.”
The wench’s laughter did not have a nice ring to it, in Hornblower’s ears, and he frowned in dismay at the suggestion, which assuredly could not have been made in earnest.
Again, Edrington came to the rescue.
“Now be nice, Daphne. Horatio is an officer of His Majesty’s navy.”
Delightedly, the girl giggled once more, apparently overwhelmed with the importance of a man such as the one she was trying to appeal to.
“Then what about a mermaid?”
This, apparently, appealed to Edrington’s fancy and he too, laughed happily at the image this conjured up in his mind.
“Yes, indeed, Horatio, why not a mermaid? Or a siren? From all appearances they are lovely creatures. Do tell us some wild tales from your life at sea. Is it true that mermaids -”
“Pardon me, but I have never seen any mermaids or sirens. It is my belief that such things only exist in the vivid fancies of uneducated crewmen.”
His outburst seemed to silence his companions for a time. Even Daphne sulked in silence for a moment. After a short interval of time, she got up and left the room. Before long, another woman entered in her stead. This one was more quiet and appeared to Hornblower to be either foreign or close to imbecile. He did not like the looks of her at all.
Finally, this one gave up as well, leaving him as an uncomfortable observer to the increasingly intimate exchanges between Edrington and his young companion. As Edrington became aware of Hornblower’s predicament, he pushed his young woman aside for the moment and shook his head in a way that seemed to hint at disappointment.
“Horatio, my friend. Are you sure it is not a boy you are hungering for? A fair-haired blue-eyed one, perhaps?”
“I do not like your implication.”
“There. There. No need to get all worked up. If you say so, I shall of course take your word for it. What kind of woman can I get for you? Fair-haired, dark-haired? Perhaps a Moorish wench would be more to your liking? Chloe, my dear. What does madame Francesca have for Horatio here?”
Chloe, the fair-haired wench, appeared to frown in concentration, biting her lower lip as if to emphasize her dedication to the task of finding Hornblower a suitable companion.
It appeared impossible to suggest that he did not wish for any companionship, other than that of a good friend over a cup of wine or cider, and some friendly conversation.
“We have a few exotic newcomers, that might take your friend’s fancy. Shall I go and fetch a few of them for your inspection, sir?”
“By all means. I want nothing but the best for my friend.”
Chloe returned some minutes later, two exotic-looking women in tow. Indeed, one of them appeared to have a drop or two of Moorish blood, as her skin had a brownish cast. Though Hornblower was not inclined to seek out the companionship of women, he could not deny that this wench was quite attractive in her blatant way.
The other one, also, was beautiful, in a southern, more temperamental way than a British man was used to. She appeared to have some Mediterranean blood in her, possibly Sicilian, or so it seemed to Hornblower.
He felt it necessary to make a choice between them, if only to silence Edrington’s constant offensive remarks. Feebly, he pointed to the wench with the Mediterranean appearance. The other one smiled, curtsied and took her leave.
Now Hornblower had no choice but to allow the wench he had selected to sit on his knee and feign enthusiasm over her presence. The situation was abhorrent to him, but he persisted. And it truly had been a long time since he had last known a woman’s embrace. In any case, it appeared the wench was full-figured and appeared to know exactly what to do to provoke the desired reaction in him.
Edrington and his wench got up to find a more secluded spot for their continued love-play, and Hornblower found himself left alone with the wench by his side.
“Sir, what may I call you?”
“Oh. Horatio is my name. And yours?”
“Very pretty name.”
That appeared to be all he could think of saying, although it appeared to be quite sufficient. The introduction was seemingly all the wench had been waiting for. From now on, matters proceeded far more quickly than Hornblower had expected. He found himself pushed down on his back, his garments skillfully and quickly removed, and now the wench dispensed with her own dress, revealing her petticoat underneath. To Hornblower’s dismay, this originally white garment did not appear to be wholly clean, and he found his enthusiasm, such as it was, waning. At this point, however, he did not know how to disentangle himself from the wench’s clutches, and had to allow matters to proceed to their conclusion. To his shame, that did not take long. Despite inventive suggestions from the wench, he declined any further contact, and to emphasize his wish for solitude, he offered his companion a few coins. She took them and left without looking back. At least someone was happy with developments.
By now, Hornblower had had quite enough of Edrington’s company. He hurriedly dressed himself and left the room, to find his way out of the house and away from the neighbourhood. If the Captain still insisted on his taking some time off, he would return to his home and visit his family, rather than risk another such encounter. Without another thought of what had just come to pass, Hornblower fled back to the Indy. He did not pay any mind to the attention he was attracting among his fellow officers and the crew. His somewhat disheveled appearance was reported to Captain Pellew, and it was not long before he was summoned to the Captain’s quarters. To begin with, the Captain merely subjected Hornblower to intense scrutiny. He stared rather coldly at his officer and circled around him, taking in his appearance from all angles. At last, Pellew broke the awkward silence.
“Well? Mr Hornblower? What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Sir, I -”
“What is this -”
The Captain emphasized his words by touching his fingers to a spot of red on Hornblower’s cheek. The color rubbed off and the captain displayed the smear to the young man.
“Sir, I -”
“And what about this cheap perfume? Do you take me for a fool, mr Hornblower?”
“Sir, if you would allow me to -”
“Very well, mr Hornblower. Enlighten me.”
“I met lord Edrington and – well, he took me to a – house of -”
“Thank you, mr Hornblower. That was what I had already surmised. Need I remind you that this is behaviour highly unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman?”
“No, sir. I am well aware of that.”
“As the son of a physician, I am sure you know that consorting with that manner of women could lead to unwanted consequences.”
It took Hornblower a while to interpret the Captain’s last words, but when he did, he felt his face colour yet again. That had not occurred to him until now, and the thought sickened him. Perhaps his reaction was now becoming apparent to the Captain, or it was merely that Pellew initial anger was simmering down. Regardless of the reason, Pellew was now filled with more sympathy towards his erring young officer.
“Very well, mr Hornblower. We shall say no more about the matter. As long as I have your word as an officer and a gentleman that there will be no repetition of this transgression.”
“You have my word, sir.”
“That’s good. Mr Hornblower?”
“Should there be any consequences, I trust you will take precautions.”
“Dismissed, mr Hornblower.”
Relieved, but still filled with shame, Hornblower made his escape. He retreated to his quarters, where he pondered his own shortcomings until he fell asleep. His last thoughts were of Kennedy and how much he lamented the loss of his friend’s steadying influence.
The warm air of the tropics caressed Kennedy’s face, and ruffled his fair hair. It was as if no time had passed since his last visit to these blessed isles. During the long voyage, his feelings of loss had receded to a vague dull ache. Kennedy was used to suffering painful losses and yet again his will to survive had reasserted itself. He would ever miss his friend Hornblower, but life went on.
With every day that went by, the reunion with Robbie approached. Kennedy asked around for Captain Jo, and found that the illustrious lady Captain was expected shortly. He was now faced with the choice of awaiting Jo’s arrival, or making arrangements to sail for Jo’s island on his own.
For the first time since his escape, Kennedy paused to consider his actions. Hitherto, he had never doubted Robbie’s devotion. Now it occurred to him that he had been absent for a long time. Would Robbie still have the same feelings for him? He could not imagine she would not, but he knew it would do to come prepared.
His life had been filled with disappointment and pain. Perhaps this would prove to be the worst disillusionment yet. Being prepared might lessen the blow. For all he knew, Robbie could be married. Even – and this was far more painful to imagine – she might be dead. Regardless of what he would be facing when he reached his destination, Kennedy knew that blinding himself to the facts would not help and furthermore, even in this far-flung corner of the British empire, he might be spied and recognized. It was time he faced his future, regardless of what it might bring. Holding back would not serve any purpose. This resolve did nothing to diminish his misgivings. For once he would have welcomed any glimpse into the unknown, but the Sight was notably absent this time.
In the end, Kennedy forced himself to make arrangements for his passage to the smaller island. He found that he had arrived at a bad time, and was unable to find any captain who would take him to his destination. Remaining out of sight in a rather disreputable inn, Kennedy awaited the arrival of Captain Jo. He did not have long to wait. One morning, on the fifth day after his arrival, Kennedy woke to find the Liberty heading into the harbor underneath his window. Dispreputable or not, the view from the inn’s windows was excellent.
The moment having arrived at last, Kennedy felt strangely reluctant to make contact. With a sigh, he decided that there was nothing else for it. Postponing the moment would not change the inevitable. Once again, like the first time, Kennedy was was dumbstruck by the aspect of the Liberty. A very fine ship indeed.
He met a crewman and asked the man to announce his presence to the captain. When the man inquired about his name, Kennedy paused to consider. His name might place him in jeopardy, even this far from home. In the end, he settled for an indirect method of introduction.
“You may tell the Captain I am a friend of her sister’s.”
If the man found his evasion questionable, he gave no hint of that. It occurred to Kennedy that some of the Captain’s trade might be done through somewhat indirect channels, and perhaps the agents of such trade might choose to use similarly vague methods of approach.
He was taken to see the Captain right away. It seemed to Kennedy that she might guess his real identity, and if so did that bode well or not? The moment before he stepped through the door, he felt like a boy on his first day in a new school, or, discouragingly, on the day he began his less than illustrious career in His Majesty’s navy.
The door swung open, and his guide stepped aside to let him through. After the brilliant sunshine on the deck, the relative darkness of the cabin momentarily blinded Kennedy. While not able to see, he was in turn silently studied by the owner of the cabin.
“Mr Kennedy? A familar face, after such a long absence. What news from Britain?”
As if noticing something odd about the young man’s appearance, Jo asked him to sit down, and even, highly uncharacteristic of the brusque lady Captain, offered him some refreshments, which he declined.
“Take your time, mr Kennedy. There is no need for haste in this happy clime.”
“The truth of the matter is that I have left the Navy.”
“Ah, a wise decision at last. But I am interrupting your account. Please, continue.”
“An unfortunate incident led to my -”
“There is no need for caution here, mr Kennedy. As you must know, you are among friends.”
“Very well. I shall place myself at your mercy, Captain Jo. Due to this unfortunate incident, I am wanted for treason, and can expect to be hanged for my crime.”
Jo appeared to receive this announcement with commendable calm. She appeared to be expecting the full account of Kennedy’s woes, and as he had now passed the point of no return, it was almost a relief to at last be able to share his sad tale with a sympathetic listener.
“My friend Hornblower and I were captured by the enemy. At one point, the Frenchman had his pistol pressed to Hornblower’s temple, intending to end his life, unless I turned over a certain document in my possession. This document contained vital information concerning the war effort.”
“And you allowed your heart to guide you in this delicate dilemma?”
Kennedy inclined his head in acknowledgement of the truthfulness of Jo’s statement.
“Good for you, mr Kennedy, or might I say Archie?”
“And you shall call me Jo, as I believe we are almost family, you and I.”
Kennedy stared at Jo in consternation.
“You have not yet asked me anything about my sister Robbie – Perhaps I can guess what emotions are causing this reluctance. However, I can assure you, Robbie is still awaiting your return with the same expectation she has since your departure.”
With an overwhelming sense of relief, Kennedy allowed himself to relax somewhat. Robbie still remembered him fondly. Dare he hope, that her feelings were still the same?
“My lady – Jo – your words fill me with joy. I have missed Robbie terribly over the years of our separation.”
“Excellent. You must understand, mr Kennedy, that I do not hold with extended periods of betrothal. It is my firm belief that young lovers should not long remain apart. I will return home within the week, and at the end of that time, I trust you will join me.”
“You are most generous, Jo.”
“Then I shall send a boy to fetch any possessions of yours that might still remain at the Crossbones. That is where you were staying, were you not, mr Kennedy? The other miserable lodgings are even more pathetic.
You must stay here, aboard the Liberty and we shall discuss your future at length, now that you have finally taken hold of your senses and given up all boyish notions of glory. There is glory aplenty on the high seas, but how can you find it when you are constantly expected to obey orders? A fine mind such as yours shall not be tied down by rules and regulations.”
Kennedy did not know what to reply to this outburst, so he remained silent. Indeed Jo did not appear to expect any input on his part. She continued on unperturbed by his lack of response.
“And what about dear Horatio? What news of him? I trust he has remained ever faithful to me?”
This placed Kennedy in something of a dilemma. Truth to tell, Hornblower had not remained faithful to Jo, though his youthful folly had been harshly punished. Again, he was at a loss as to what to say. A booming laugh from his hostess made him realize that her query had been made in jest.
“I see. Well, I shall tell you a little secret, Archie. Neither have I. Life is too short to waste it, waiting for a man, no matter how alluring. Had your friend returned with you, which I never expected, I would no doubt find time and a place in my heart for him, but as it is – I shall have to make do without him. Do not distress yourself, Archie. I can see that you are a very different man. Robbie has chosen wisely.”
“I trust she is in good health?”
“In excellent health. But I have worried about her, Archie. She has missed you terribly. Your return will do wonders for the girl. Put a little colour on her cheeks, eh?”
“Gladly. I will be happy to do anything Robbie wishes of me.”
“I expected no less from you. This is cause for a celebration, but I think we will save it for our return. Robbie will want to take part in any festivity occasioned by your safe return.”
A boy was sent to run and fetch Kennedy’s belongings, and another took him to his quarters. To his astonishment, Kennedy found himself residing in a cabin nearly as fine as the one the captain occupied. He was given the impression of being the guest of honour.
Perhaps he was not far wrong in his assumption. The captain was devoted to her younger sister, and here was the sister’s betrothed safely returned after a long absence. Furthermore, he was now back to stay. A warm feeling of anticipation filled Kennedy. This was proving to be reward enough for his loss.
At the end of the week, the Liberty set sail and headed back. Kennedy wondered if Robbie would be back on her own small island. He had not wished to enquire. On arrival, he found that Robbie had indeed returned to her home. Briefly, he wondered if his beloved had once again donned her boy’s clothes, but knowing that Robbie would look lovely in anything, Kennedy did not long dwell on this possibility.
Jo sent for her passenger, and apprised him of her plans.
“I shall have to see to the unloading of the cargo. It will only be a few more days. After that, I shall take you out to Starfish Island myself. If you can wait that long.”
Jo’s impudent grin cheered Kennedy immensely. After such a long time spent among the strict and formal officers of His Majesty’s navy, it felt good to sail with a captain such as Jo.
“I can wait. In fact, if there is anything I can do to assist you in your work, I will gladly do so.”
“Excellent. That should cut down the waiting time by at least a day. Let us get to work then, Archie.”
Though Kennedy thought nothing of her assurances that his aid would hasten matters along, he found that he enjoyed working again aboard a ship. At last, the unloading of the Liberty’s cargo was finished, and Jo had taken on supplies for her sister’s house. It was time to begin the last leg of Kennedy’s voyage home. He was filled with excitement and expectation like a school boy, and for the moment, his past was all but forgotten. As they approached the anchor site, Kennedy cast an anxious glance at Jo, seeking reassurance.
“You are certain that Robbie still remembers me fondly?”
“As certain as I am of anything in this life. Archie, my sister thinks the world of you, and I can not say that she is amiss in her feelings. Do not concern yourself. This is a happy day. Now let me see you smile. Robbie will expect you to look your best.”
This speech did indeed bring a smile to Kennedy’s normally so sombre features, and Jo turned her attention back to the steering of the ship.
A tiny figure could be seen, impatiently pacing back and forth on the shore. As the ship neared the anchor site this small figure grew larger, until it revealed itself to be Robbie, still garbed as a boy. Jo gave the order for a boat to be rowed ashore, and along with Kennedy, the captain herself climbed over the side of the ship, every bit as agile as any common sailor. By now, it had to be obvious to the girl on the shore that her sister was bringing a visitor, but Kennedy knew she could have no idea as to who he was. Not at this distance and with the sun in her eyes. Despite Jo’s reassurances, Kennedy had a moment of doubt. Would Robbie’s feelings remain the same? Did she share his joy at finally being reunited? But the time for doubts was past and the boat reached the shallows, and the visitors waded ashore. They were met halfway, by a very excited Robbie. Her eyes had adjusted to the glare and she was only now beginning to see who it was her sister brought her.
“Archie? I was beginning to despair of your ever returning to my side. The life of a naval officer is a perilous one and I -”
Her sister pushed aside Robbie’s concerns and pulled the girl into her arms.
“Hush, Robbie. No need to recall those worries now. He is here.”
“Yes. I am being foolish. Archie, my love. Did you miss me?”
“As I have never missed anyone before in my life.”
The reunion was as sweet as Kennedy could well have hoped for. While they indulged in sentimental behaviour of the worst kind, which would have earned Kennedy a sharp reprimand from his old Captain, had he still remained aboard the Indy, Jo saw to the practical concerns. She had her men unload the supplies for Robbie’s house. Soon they were met by Robbie’s servants, and together servants and crewmen began the wearisome task of bringing the cargo up to the house.
At the doorstep, they were met by a young girl Kennedy had never met before, and two children, all dressed remarkably alike, as boys. This time, Kennedy was not as easily taken in by appearances. As for the children, however, he was not able to discern any difference between them. Were they two boys or two girls, or perhaps one of each? He cast Robbie an enquiring glance, and his love hastened to make the introductions. Girl and children alike appeared overjoyed to meet Jo. They each flew into her arms and the children refused to let go. Captain Jo was forced to make her way inside, carrying two exuberant children.
“Archie, this is Frederica Adair, and the children -”
Her hesitation was not lost on Kennedy, but his mind was for the moment focused on the girl. Another sister? Adair must have left children all over the western hemisphere.
“Another one of Jo’s sisters?”
Frederica giggled elatedly at Robbie’s discomfiture.
“I am not Jo’s sister. She is my mother.”
“I see. Forgive me. I had not realized Jo had such a grown up daughter.”
“I am 16. As you say, quite grown up. One day, my mother shall bring me a suitor as handsome as you are, mr Kennedy. However, she has been most reluctant to allow me aboard the Liberty. Too many handsome young men, I am certain.”
“Miss Adair -”
“Call me Rickie. We do not want any formalities here.”
“Rickie. Have you made a home here with your aunt Robbie?”
“Yes. I ran away from school in New Orleans, and my mother deemed it safest to let Robbie keep an eye on me. You would have run too, mr Kennedy. Madame LaSalle is excruciatingly boring and she insists on us girls wearing stuffy dresses, and learn boring things like embroidery. What possible use could I have for embroidery? We will employ a maid who is proficient with needle and thread, but as for me, I will not touch the evil things.”
“Rickie – I wish to be alone with my betrothed.”
“Very well. I shall do as you ask this once. But I shall want to spend far more time with your handsome suitor before the wedding.”
“Run along now, Rickie.”
“Alright. I am going.”
With an exaggerated sigh, Rickie took her leave of her aunt and soon-to-be uncle.
“Archie, I apologize for her behaviour. As you know, I am not the person most eminently suited to raise a young girl.”
“She is quite charming. Almost as charming as her aunt. No need for apologies. I was just wondering – those children -”
By now, it had begun to seem to Kennedy that there had been something bewilderingly familiar about them. Those dark eyes, and similarly dark curls reminded him strongly of someone dear to him. He did not, however, wish to pose the question out loud.
“Yes. I believe you have guessed already who they are. They are Jo’s also. And perhaps you have ventured a guess as to who the father is? The resemblance is quite remarkable. Your friend Hornblower is their father. Jo has named them Horatio Zachary and Jessica respectively. We call them Zack and Jess.”
“Ah. After Jo’s father and mother.”
“Yes. If indeed Zachary was Jo’s father.”
“Oh? I did not realize there was any doubt.”
“You must not mention this in Jo’s presence, but there are those who say that your Captain Pellew might have been her father.”
“I had no idea. And I do not believe Hornblower would know either.”
“No. It is not the topic of idle conversation. But as you are now here to stay – are you not – such secrecy is of no importance any longer.”
“And Hornblower is the father of two such fine children and he knows nothing of it.”
“No. I think he can have no idea of it. That was Jo’s choice. She might have sailed back to Britain in search of your friend, but that is not her way.”
“She told me as much when first I approached her more than a week ago.”
“Archie, you must not believe Jo as callous as she might seem. Hornblower meant a great deal to her, but she knows that he would never give up his career for her, and thus, this is for the best.”
“I understand. She is quite right. My friend is far more devoted to the Navy than to any woman. I shall tell you and Jo more about him later. Suffice it to say, that since knowing Jo, he has met with an evil woman and will, I believe, shun all contact with women from now on.”
Robbie appeared to ponder his words for a while, a sombre look on her face. Kennedy was seized with the urge to kiss that look away, but he resisted the temptation. Time enough later.
“Archie. I wish you to know that while Jo has sought consolation elsewhere in her loss, I have not. From the day you left until today, I have never looked at another man.”
“You are truly the finest woman in the entire world, and I have not sought out the companionship of other women. With a love such as you, how could a man wish for more?”
At this point, Kennedy realized that Robbie was not as reluctant as he was to follow every whim. He found himself seized and thoroughly kissed.
A giggle from Rickie recalled them to reality. It was time they observed the rules of common courtesy and joined the others indoors. The black servants had prepared a lavish meal to celebrate the occasion, and soon they were all seated at the dining table.
Hornblower’s children proved to be spirited and somewhat unruly dinner guests. Kennedy knew it was uncommon for children to dine with their elders, but was pleased to note that in this household no such rules were adhered to. As a child, he had wished for his mother’s company at mealtimes, but his father had not been inclined to spoil his son in such a way.
After dinner, the two children were sent to bed, and that gave the more grown up members of the household a chance to talk. They remained seated well into the night. It appeared that Jo intended to spend an extended period of time with her family. When finally, Rickie gave up her attempts to spy on her aunt and her betrothed, Jo and Robbie could bring up the topic of the wedding. Rickie ran outside to go swimming, leaving the grown ups to discuss more serious matters.
“Well, Archie, I trust you intend to make an honourable woman out of my sister?”
“It would be my pleasure.”
“Very well, let us proceed to making plans for the wedding, shall we? In my opinion your betrothal has lasted quite long enough already. I propose to hold the wedding here on Starfish Island. No guests other than the immediate family. Hm. I suppose we shall have to keep your name a secret. Just in case any inquisitive naval officers should chance to sail by and ask awkward questions. But I assure you, no one would give you away. It is well known that any man under my protection is beyond the reach of the law.”
“I am indebted to you, beyond measure, Jo.”
She waved away his gratitude, continuing with her plans for the wedding. Robbie did not appear to have much to add. Apparently, she was content to leave such matters in her sister’s hands. Kennedy did not feel inclined to question Jo’s authority either, and soon Jo had the entire wedding planned out.
“What do you say we hold it here within a month? Would that be to your liking, Robbie? Archie?”
“That sounds like an excellent idea.”
“Any time would suit me. The sooner the better. I do not intend to ever let you slip away from me again, Archie Kennedy.”
“You may command my services at will, mylady. I am yours to use as you wish.”
“I was hoping you would say that.”
At this flagrant display, Jo threw up her hands in mock despair and declared her intention of going to bed. A wink in the direction of the two young lovers hinted that she would not object to any sleeping arrangements they might choose to make.
“Well, what do you say, Archie? It is late and you have travelled far. Should I have my servants ready a room for you? Or -”
She slyly left the suggestion linger in the gathering darkness. Kennedy knew well what it was she was offering, and knowing his lady as he did, he knew that he had tried her patience beyond endurance. No more escaping.
“Or perhaps that would be unnecessary.”
“Yes. You are right. My bed is quite large enough to accommodate us both.”
She held out her hand, beckoning for him to follow. That was all he wished to do for the rest of his life. Follow where Robbie led him. In her room, he found that indeed her claim had not been exaggerated. Her bed was one of the largest Kennedy had seen since his forced enrollment in the navy. They wasted no time getting under the covers. Still, there was more on his mind that he wished to discuss before abandoning such sombre activitites in favour of more light-hearted ones. For a second, Kennedy wondered if he owed Robbie any explanations regarding his past life and concluded that while that might be advisable, he still did not feel comfortable sharing his sad fate with his love. However, there were other topics he felt the need to discuss.
“Robbie, are you familiar with a gift, or some say a curse, known as the Sight?”
Her reaction was not any he could have anticipated. Robbie pressed a hand to her mouth in astonishment, and her eyes widened.
“Did Jo tell you about my gift?”
“Your gift? No, Jo has told me nothing of the kind.”
“Oh. You see, from my mother I have inherited that gift or curse as you so aptly name it.”
“I had no idea. What I was about to tell you concerned myself. You see, I too, suffer from this affliction. And like you, I inherited it from my mother.”
“We must be meant for each other. This is most auspicious, I believe.”
“I believe my Sight is trying to tell me that I will never again lay eyes on my friend Hornblower.”
“You are certain of this?”
“No. It is very rare for the Sight to be that clear.”
“That is my experience also. You see, you need not place too much emphasis on such a feeling. The Sight is vague at best. One day you might still meet Hornblower. And then perhaps he and Jo shall marry as well. She has told me that she will not consider marriage, but I believe Hornblower has been her greatest love. Perhaps she would change her mind, should he return. Would that not be the most wondrous thing?”
“Indeed it would. I too, believe their love to have been profound. One day, I pray, Hornblower will no longer distrust women and that day, he might marry. Robbie, have I told you how happy all this is making me? It has long been my fondest wish to enter into this marriage with you.”
His love smiled warmly at him, dispelling all dark thoughts.
“Yes, my love. That has long been my fondest wish as well. From now on, we shall never part. And my Sight tells me we shall have a long and happy life together. With many children. A little Archie -”
“And a little Robbie, boy or girl. A Jo, and why not a Rickie as well?”
“Why indeed? And perhaps another child. What was your father’s name, my love?”
Kennedy’s eyes darkened at the memory of his father, and Robbie quickly realized her mistake.
“Perhaps your mother’s name would be a better choice.”
“There. We have decided. It is well that most of these names would be equally suited for boys and girls. We had better begin right away, or else we shall not have time to make all those children.”
“Indeed, you are right, Robbie. Let us waste no more time.”
Robbie reached for the ribbon that held back her hair and released the lovely tresses to let them flow freely across her shoulders. It seemed to Kennedy that he had never seen such an exquisite sight. All sad thoughts were banished to the back of his mind. This was one night, when Simpson’s shade could not haunt him. Tonight, he and Robbie were alone in the entire world. Kennedy had found his way home at last.