|Primary Characters:||Horatio, Archie|
|Warning:||violence, references to m/m sex, rape|
|Description:||Our two young friends are in the West Indies. Archie is still suffering from the memories of his time aboard the Justinian. Horatio wants to help him exorcise his painful past. But what they both really need is to find love.|
The call caused a loud cheer to be heard throughout the ship. Finally, after so many weeks of sailing, they would feel land under their feet again. And their destination was one that filled all the men aboard with excitement. Only Captain Pellew and mr Bracegirdle had ever set foot on one of the West Indian islands. Now they would all see the legendary islands in the sun for weeks, even months ahead. It would depend on how soon the repairs could be made and how soon all necessary supplies could be found.
Horatio Hornblower and his friend, Archie Kennedy stood together by the side of the rail. Both young men were desperately looking forward to the time ahead. Horatio harboured a secret hope that the sun and the heat would help heal his distraught friend. His father had frequently told him that the simplest remedies could often be the most effective. Surely now the crippling seizures and nightmares would be banned to oblivion after all this time?
What Kennedy thought was hard to guess. His face was as ever closed and enigmatic. However, Hornblower thought he could detect some signs of a lessening of the tension. This visit would prove beneficial for both of them, he was sure of it now.
It was an hour or so until they were finally entering the harbor, and even longer until the men could go ashore. There was always much work to be done right after landing. But though night had fallen in a new and wondrous way, most of the men were later given permission to explore the harbor and surrounding areas.
Hornblower and Kennedy heard a few of the men remarking on the quality of darkness on this tropic latitude.
“Never seen it get so dark at night. Shouldn’t be. It’s June and back ‘ome -”
“But yer not back ‘ome, are ye? One of me mates worked a southern route told me the sun sets like this down ‘ere. Just like that. One moment there’s still light and then – Pitch black like the inside of a chimney.”
The two young officers smiled at their crewmen’s child-like enthusiasm. Both of them had read accounts of voyages in the southern hemisphere and knew more or less what to expect. This first night, no real work needed to be done, except for the men back onboard the Indefatigable.
First thing the next morning, however, that would change, and most of the work that needed to be done would fall upon Horatio Hornblower’s shoulders. He was in fact quite proud to have been chosen. It would be interesting to deal with the port authorities in such an exotic place. Watching the provisions be taken onboard would most likely present a different spectacle than back in England. Bananas, coconuts, cocoa. All those goods that were so rare back home would be loaded into the cargo holds, along with many others such as sugar canes, coffee, tobacco, not to mention those new-fangled roots, potatoes.
And all the while, by his side would be his friend Archie. Their friendship hadn’t gone unnoticed among the crew. Most men took it in stride but there were always those who chose to find a far from innocent interpretation of the two men’s intimacy. As officers, Hornblower and Kennedy now shared quarters away from the other men. The rumors about their friendship had reached their ears, but as officers and gentlemen they were quite unable to address the issue. Had another gentleman made such a scurrilous suggestion, there would be no other choice but to challenge him to a duel. And sadly, though Hornblower had risen quickly in rank, he was far from an excellent shot. Kennedy’s skills in that department were superior to his friend’s, but as he was easy to discourage and unnerve, he hardly gained an advantage that way. All in all, pretense of ignorance was a far better solution to the problem, no matter how the rumors stung.
“Have you ever seen such a night, Archie?”
“Well – It’s not as if I can see all that much in this darkness.”
A jest? His friend was actually attempting to jest? Then Kennedy really must be feeling better. It was a long time since Hornblower had seen Kennedy smile, and even longer since he had heard him laugh.
“You know what I mean. And have you felt the warmth? Even this late in June, it is often quite chilly back home.”
“Where I come from too. Chilly and humid. This – Well, it is still humid, but like you say, quite warm. Marvellous place, this island. I wish we could stay here for a long time. Sail around and explore all the islands. Go for a swim.”
“You know how to swim?”
“I know, a sad deficiency in a sailor, but there it is. My father taught me when I was very young. He always demanded manly endeavours from me, even at the age of 5.”
The mood from earlier was gone. After the mention of his father, the look on Archie’s face returned to its usual sadness. Hornblower couldn’t understand it. His own father was a very loving, gentle man, and though Hornblower too had learned how to swim at an early age, it was not through force. In fact he had asked his father himself, if he might be taught the skill. Father and son had had a wonderful time splashing water at each other, laughing and jesting together. Poor Kennedy must have had a very different childhood.
“You must promise not to tell anyone, but I, too, know how to swim. Shall we go and have that swim tomorrow, after I have inquired about the repairs to the Indy?”
Kennedy’s mood changed again, and once more he smiled at his friend.
“I would love that, Horatio. If we find a good stretch of beach, I will race you.”
“You challenge me to a swimming race?”
“I just said so, did I not? What is the matter, Horatio? Afraid I will beat you?”
“Most certainly not. You are mistaken, old friend. It is I, who will beat you.”
“We shall see. May the best man win.”
“As you say. I am afraid we shall have to return to the Indy now. It is getting late.”
Kennedy nodded in consent and they walked quietly back to the ship.
The following days were spent working, sampling the foreign cuisine, and whenever the two young officers found the time, swimming in the warm sea. Unfortunately, the beach they had chosen was not as suited for the pastime as they had at first believed. They decided to ask around for a better one later. However, work kept Hornblower busy for weeks, and Kennedy who was assisting his friend in the re-stocking of the Indy, and in arranging for the repairs to be done had little or no spare time either. Their swimming and their walks along the beaches had to wait for a later date.
The affairs of the island hardly concerned the officers and crew of the Indy unless they affected their access to provisions and labor for the repairs. However, one day it was announced that a runaway slave had been captured and the boy would be publicly punished in the town square. As far as towns went, all the Englishmen had seen far finer specimens back home, but the townspeople did their best.
On that day, Hornblower and Kennedy chanced to walk by. Having no stomach for such public spectacles, they had not intended to be present. In fact, with their attention devoted to their work, the two young officers had even forgotten about the punishment about to take place. The crowds gathered in the town square at such an early hour was the cause of some astonishment. So they walked closer, and unwillingly were forced to witness the affair.
The boy being strapped to the wooden beams appeared to be no older than 14. Though darkskinned and possessing the heavy features of one of African descent, there was no doubt as to the terror the boy felt at this moment. His clothes had been removed, and now the overseer in charge of the event raised the whip in the air.
Hornblower was about to suggest to his friend that they continued on their way back to the Indy, when the first lash fell on the boy’s skin. It made an ugly sound and soon the brown skin was covered with red. Turning to Kennedy, Hornblower intended to raise the suggestion of their leaving, but the words froze on his lips, when he saw the reaction in his friend.
Kennedy’s face had lost all color, and his fists clenched and unclenched uncontrollably. All his attention was on the gruesome spectacle unfolding before his eyes.
“Archie. Let us be gone from here. This is no sight suited for a gentleman’s eyes.”
His friend appeared not to have heard him. Hornblower put a hand on Kennedy’s shoulder to catch his attention, but it was some time before even that produced a reaction.
“Archie, come on. We will walk back to the Indy now.”
“What? Yes, by all means. We have work to do.”
Again, Hornblower was saddened to notice how his friend’s features closed. He was once more going to be shut out of his friend’s pain and suffering. Why wouldn’t Kennedy allow him to help? It was an old truth that if you shared your troubles with someone else they became an easier burden to bear. Kennedy, however, seemed determined to carry it all on his own shoulders.
That night, the seizures returned and Hornblower was hardly surprised. He too, had suffered the ill-treatment aboard the Justinian. It was no great feat guessing what kind of memories the whipping of the slave boy brought back to Kennedy’s troubled mind.
Holding his friend, all through the night, to prevent him from harming himself, Hornblower did his best to ease Kennedy’s torment, but not having much success. Towards morning the fits abated, and Kennedy’s eyes assumed their normal expression. Even then, he tensed up uncontrollably, when he became aware of the other man’s presence in his bed. He fought the reaction, and eventually was successful. The weak smile was in no way convincing, but Hornblower realized how much even that must be costing Kennedy.
“My poor friend. Have I kept you awake another night? You must ask the captain to give you separate quarters.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it, Archie. Who would look after you if you were to sleep alone?”
“Your work is far too important to be bothered with the likes of me.”
“What manner of talk is that? After all, what are friends for? You saved my life in France.”
“And you saved mine in Spain. That would make us even, I think.”
“Not exactly. If I remember correctly, I had to force you to accept my help, so I hardly expect any gratitude for that.”
“Mm. Yes. Quite. What time is it? The sun is not yet up. If you hurry, you might still get some sleep before you are expected at the office. Perhaps you will let me take your place today? I am sure mr Bracegirdle will not grudge you the extra hours of sleep.”
“You will do no such thing. If anyone needs more sleep, it is you, my friend.”
“When sleep brings such dreams, staying awake seems much more preferable.”
“Archie, why will you not tell me about it?”
“Tell you about what?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Try to get some sleep now. I will try as well.”
Seeing that it was impossible to reason with Kennedy at this time, Hornblower accepted the inevitable and attempted to get one more hour of sleep before he had to face the local merchants. It was always the same. Kennedy refused to discuss the evil memories from the Justinian. Hornblower was convinced it had something to do with the man who had tormented both of them, Jack Simpson. But why Kennedy would deem the matter impossible to discuss he had no idea.
One afternoon, Hornblower was going through the paper work in the office the harbor-master kindly had lent the naval officers. He was completely absorbed in his work, which was turning out to be a bit more complicated than he in his youthful enthusiasm had anticipated on his arrival on the island. Suddenly, he was rudely interrupted by the door being pushed open. Styles was unusually agitated that evening, Hornblower remarked to himself, while he was signing the last contracts for the evening.
“Yes, man, what it is?”
“Mr Hornblower, sir, come quick. ‘e’s killin’ ‘im.”
“Who is killing whom?”
“Mr Kennedy, sir. ‘e’s killin’ Rawlins, sir. Come quick.”
This didn’t sound at all like Kennedy. Hornblower hurried after the man to investigate the situation. The scene he witnessed was one he had never imagined he would see. On the ground some distance from the fighting men, was what he immediately guessed to be the cause of the fight. A quarteroon girl, perhaps 16 years old, was lying on her back, her clothes torn. Though Hornblower had led a sheltered life before joining the Navy, he thought he knew what the girl’s profession was, judging by the garish colors on her face, and the highly revealing garments. That in no way excused Rawlins’ behavior towards the girl. Her body was covered with darkening marks all over her shoulders and upper arms, and her lips were bleeding, where a strong man must have struck her. Bile rose in Hornblower’s throat at the thought of such cruelty towards one so helpless. But he had no more time for consideration. Styles had been right. It did rather look as if Kennedy was trying to beat Rawlins to death. This had to stop. Hornblower hurriedly walked over to his friend and the crewman to break up the fight before anyone was seriously hurt.
“Archie. Stop at once”.
He put out a hand to still Kennedy’s desperate struggle. To his astonishment, his hand was pushed off, and the fight continued. He decided to try again, this time with the crewman.
“Rawlins. This appalling behavior will have to cease at once. Stand down, man. Now.”
The crewman cast a wary eye in his superior’s direction. It was plain that he wanted to obey the direct order. On the other hand, he was facing a vicious enemy who showed no signs of giving up the fight.
“Archie. Please. I will make sure that man is punished according to the Navy’s own rules. But you must stop this fighting now. You cannot want to end up in the brig.”
Finally, Hornblower’s words appeared to get through to his friend. Kennedy pulled back from the crewman, chest heaving, eyes still blazing. To Hornblower’s distress, his friend was bleeding from cuts and scratches, and one eye was swollen shut.
Kennedy, however, seemed to have no thought for his own injuries. Instead he turned to the girl, who was still lying on the ground, too badly shaken by the abuse, or too frightened to move while the fight still went on. Kennedy held out a hand to her, but she wouldn’t take it. An old woman of her own race limped out to help the girl to her feet, and arms protectively around her, led the girl away.
Kennedy gazed back at Hornblower, then turned and ran from the scene of the upheaval. That was in direct violation of protocol, but Hornblower decided to ignore it for the time being. He hoped no one else would report the matter to the Captain or mr Bracegirdle.
His main concern had to be Rawlins. In the eyes of the world it might not be considered much of a crime to abuse a street girl, but breaking the peace and possibly, in this particular situation, damaging another man’s property might be misdemeanours that the man could be tried for. Certainly, Hornblower would try. This was a heinous crime, and he did not in any way blame Kennedy for his feelings of revulsion towards it. But why had he acted in this rash, and highly uncharacteristic way? Hornblower shook his head. Time enough for these questions later.
“Styles, Oldroyd, get this man into the brig. Let the surgeon take a look at him.”
Hornblower wished he were able to see to Kennedy’s wounds, but since the man was still absent there was nothing to be done about it. Now all that remained was making his report to Captain Pellew, hoping that he would agree with Hornblower’s assessment of the crime. There was no need for concern. His captain was a gentleman, just like the other officers and he wholeheartedly agreed to have Rawlins severely punished.
Long after nightfall, Kennedy sneaked into his quarters, his face an even worse sight than earlier that evening.
“Archie, will you let me see to those cuts on your face?”
For a second, Hornblower thought his friend would refuse his offer, like so many times before. Then he appeared to reconsider and shrugged indifferently.
“Why not? But it must be too late to do anything about this eye. You must think me a fool for taking on such a superior opponent.”
“No. I assure you, I do not. The surgeon might be able to something about your eye. Let us hope that the cuts do not fester in this hot clime.”
Wordlessly, Kennedy submitted to his friend’s care, then threw himself onto his bunk. He appeared to be quite exhausted. Hornblower knew that this might not be the time to bring up the questions he had, but finally he told himself that no time would ever be suited for this manner of discussion.
“Archie, I am sorry to bring this up again, but your condition is not improving. And I think that -”
His friend interrupted him rather coldly before Hornblower had time to outline his reasoning.
“Then you must do as you see fit. Report my – my shortcomings to the Captain, and have him deal with the matter. If I am of no help to you -”
“Please, Archie, do not twist my words like that. You are of a great deal of help to me. You ought to know that. I am merely concerned for you. Do not shut me out like this. If you consider me your friend then let me help you.”
“Can you perform miracles? No physician has been able to heal this condition.”
“My father always tells me that the mind and the body are closely connected. When the body is ill, it might be that the mind is suffering.”
“What is that supposed to mean? You think I am losing my mind?”
“Of course not. Archie, forgive me if I am mistaken, but the reason for all your nightmares and the seizures is it not the memories of what befell you aboard the Justinian?”
“I have no idea what you are referring to.”
“Do you not? Are you really telling the truth now?”
“Now you’re calling me a liar?”
“I was aboard that unlucky ship too, you must remember. Shall I tell you what I think?”
“If you must.”
“Your seizures had been gone for months and suddenly they return right after witnessing the whipping of that runaway slave. On the Justinian I was frequently beaten by Simpson, so I am assuming you were too, before my arrival. Am I correct so far?”
“You know you are, but what is the use? You cannot change the past. What is done is done.”
“Perhaps I can not change the past, but what I wish to do, is change the future. Would it not be a relief to be able to sleep one night through without disturbance?”
“I have told you to request other quarters -”
“That is not what I meant and you know it. Archie, if I am mistaken about this, you must forgive me. You know I am only acting out of concern for you. When you got into that fight with Rawlins -”
“Yes, foolish of me, was it not? I am forever in your debt for not having me brought up on charges for that.”
Kennedy’s voice held a note of forced insouciance.
“In my opinion you were well justified in your actions, though perhaps Captain Pellew would not have seen it that way. Rawlins attacked that girl and -”
Hornblower sensed that Kennedy did not want to listen to this line of reasoning. That told him he was on the right track, and though the pain in his friend’s eyes tore at him, Hornblower pushed on.
“He ravished her and -”
But now Kennedy had taken as much as he could. His eyes filled with tears and he shouted at his friend.
“Stop it. I do not wish to hear any more about your guesses. If you are my friend then you will not force me to listen to such talk.”
“I am sorry, Archie. But we have to cut to the heart of the matter if you are ever going to sleep soundly again. It is my guess that Simpson put you through the same treatment this poor girl suffered. If you can only bring yourself to talk about it, it will not seem so unbearable anymore.”
“And what do you know about such things?”
“Archie. Tell me what happened aboard the Justinian before I arrived.”
Kennedy breathed harshly, staring reproachfully at his friend. But his will was easily broken and he lowered his gaze. His words came out softly, in a whisper.
“Why? So you can think even less of me?”
“That is not true. I think very highly of you. You must know that you are my best friend. And I would never think badly of you for whatever Simpson did to you. It is not as if you offered yourself to him of your own free will.”
“You think not? That is where you are wrong. After he held my head under water for the twentieth time, I would offer him anything as long as he let me breathe air for a few moments even.”
“But that is exactly the same thing. He used force. You were not to blame.”
“That is not how my father would see it, or my poor mother. If she knew what I have become, it would surely kill her.”
“You can not be sure of that. If anything like that had ever happened to me -”
“But nothing like that ever happened to you, did it?”
“No. Not quite like that. But there were a few older boys at school who gave me a hard time about – Let me just say, that the person in danger of being killed if such a thing had ever ocurred would not be my mother, but the man responsible.”
At this feeble jest, Kennedy tried valiantly to smile, but it changed nothing. Whatever Hornblower had done at school – and Kennedy had been at school himself before being sent to sea – none of it could have been anything like what Jack Simpson had put him through.
“Now, will you tell me all about it?”
Kennedy lowered his gaze and, taking a deep breath, he braced himself to comply with his friend’s request.
“Why not? You know the worst already. He – he offered to protect me from the others. For a while he did, but what he wanted in return was far more than I had to offer.”
“So he took what he wanted by force.”
Kennedy inclined his head.
“And he told me – Horatio, he told me that I deserved anything he did to me. That I was a – a – a -”
Kennedy got no further in his confession before he broke into tears again. This time, he was far too distraught to bother hiding his weakness. When Hornblower took him into his arms and held him, he did nothing to fight the comforting embrace. Not until the last sobs subsided, did Hornblower let his friend go. Smoothing back a few damp strands of hair from his friend’s brow, Hornblower studied Kennedy’s features.
“There. Are you feeling better now?”
“You are not?”
“Perhaps a little. I was afraid you would turn away from me, once you knew.”
“How could you believe such a thing of me? You are my best friend. When Simpson beat me, I knew that nothing I could do would stop him. If – If he had wanted to do more, he would have. He was far stronger than I.”
“I know. But he said -”
“Naturally he said those things. Why would he not try to make you feel as guilty as he was? It is the nature of such men to hurt and humiliate any way they know. What you must do is not to let him win. He will never come back to haunt you again. I saw his dead body thrown into the sea, remember? You and I are alive. We must not let him take the rest of our lives.”
“I suppose you are right. Very well. I will promise to try.”
“That is all I ask. Forgive me for putting you through this ordeal, but I truly believe -”
“Yes, yes. You may be right. At any rate, it is over now.”
“You must be hungry. Shall I get you something from the mess? Or would you prefer something from my own private stash?”
“Mr Hornblower? Could it be that you have kept some delicacies aside for your own use?”
“Not for my own use, mr Kennedy. For your use and mine.”
“Ah, well, that is another matter entirely. Let us see. What is there?”
That night, Kennedy slept soundly for the first time in weeks, and the following nights, if a bad dream disturbed his sleep, it was only for a while and soon happier dreams claimed him.
For some reason, the Indefatigable had received no orders to continue on their way though the repairs and taking on of supplies were almost at an end. However, no crewman or officer questioned their luck. This island was a marvel and an adventure that never seemed to lose its appeal. As the workload diminished, Hornblower and Kennedy found themselves with time on their hands once more. They went for long walks, and in the evenings, they took delightful swims. On a few occasions, Captain Pellew, mr Bracegirdle or one of the other officers would join them, but most of the officers seemed to prefer the rum in the port’s many taverns.
One morning the men aboard the Indefatigable awoke to find a singularly striking ship sail into harbor. As it came closer, its name was revealed to be The Liberty. It flew the British flag, but did not seem to be a Naval ship. Captain Pellew sent Hornblower to investigate, and as always, Hornblower asked his friend mr Kennedy to come along. Both young men duly admired the beautiful lines, and the proud rigging. It was one of the finest ships the two young officers had ever seen.
“Have you ever seen a thing of such beauty? It must be the loveliest thing in the world -”
“No. The loveliest thing in the world is the smile on a woman’s face when she tells you she loves you.”
“What? That has never happened to you?”
Hornblower felt his cheeks take on colour and he wondered how he could have left himself open for such a personal question. His mind had been all on the ship ahead of him.
“I – well – Not exactly – but Mariette did kiss me once -”
“I am glad to hear it.”
“Archie? You are teasing me, are you not?”
“Well, perhaps only a little.”
“What about you? Any women I should know about?”
“Not for a long time.”
“Look. We have arrived. Let us ask the man over there about this wondrous ship.”
“Hello. Who is the captain of this ship?”
“That be Cap’n Jo.”
“Cap’n Jo Adair.”
“Joe Adair. I see. I wonder if it would be rude to call on the captain and inquire about his business?”
Before Hornblower or Kennedy had time to reason the matter through, the harbor-master and one of the Governor’s men had appeared on the dock, and were rowed out to the Liberty.
“Another time. Let us return to the Indy for some breakfast. Captain Pellew will want to learn about this Captain Adair. He might even have heard of the man.”
Hornblower knocked on the Captain’s door and he was told to come right in.
“Sir. I have made enquiries about that ship.”
“Go ahead, mr Hornblower.”
“The ship is called Liberty and she’s the loveliest -”
“Ah, yes, quite. And the Captain’s name is -”
“Oh. Adair. Joe Adair.”
“Adair. I see. Yes. I believe we will ask Captain Adair to dine with us tomorrow night. The governor will be sure to hold a reception at his – uh – mansion tonight. In fact I have a suspicion he shall ask me to join them. Hornblower, when the governor’s business on the Liberty is taken care of, I would like you to extend the invitation to Captain Adair.”
“Yes, sir. I take it you have heard of this ship and its Captain?”
For some reason, Captain Pellew smiled enigmatically.
“You might say so. That will be all, mr Hornblower.”
Excitedly, Hornblower rejoined Kennedy on deck. He could hardly wait to tell his friend about the dinner invitation. Perhaps they would be taken on a tour of the Liberty before she sailed again.
Inside the Captain’s quarters, mr Bracegirdle’s features were moved by a smile. There was a glint in his eye that told the Captain his old friend appreciated his slight jest at young mr Hornblower’s expense.
“I notice, sir, that you neglected to inform our young friend about one of the more important aspects of Captain Adair.”
“I felt that there are some things better left for a young man to discover for himself. You do not approve?”
“On the contrary, sir, I quite agree with you. I believe it is time that young mr Hornblower discovers many things, concerning a variety of matters.”
“My sentiments exactly.”
“Surely, sir, you do not pay any mind to the vicious slanderous rumors going around the ship about mr Hornblower and mr Kennedy?”
“Most assuredly not, mr Bracegirdle. Still, the less of the kind that can be said about a gentleman the better.”
Outside the Captain’s quarters, Kennedy was waiting for his friend.
“Archie, we will be asking Captain Adair to dinner tomorrow night. Captain Pellew told me to extend the invitation to him. You shall accompany me, and we might even have the chance of seeing something of the Liberty while we are onboard. What do you say to that, my friend?”
“Excellent. When are we leaving?”
Kennedy appeared to be just as excited about the prospect as Hornblower was.
“As soon as the governor has finished his business over there. We will keep watch and when he is rowed ashore we shall leave.”
Whatever business the governor had aboard the Liberty, it was a lengthy one. Most of the morning passed, while the two young officers impatiently waited in the balmy air on the deck of the Indy. Finally, the saw the rather stout figure of the island’s governor disappear ashore. They wasted no time going on their way. This was an adventure they had rarely been treated to, so they were determined to make the most of it. Setting foot on the Liberty’s deck, they encountered a man who appeared to be of some rank, so Hornblower decided to address his query to him.
“We have business with your Captain, sir. Will you kindly take us to him?”
Something Hornblower had said appeared to amuse the man, but what that was escaped Hornblower and his friend.
“You will find Captain Adair in the Captain’s quarters below.”
He made a gesture in the direction they apparently were to go. Puzzledly, they began walking that way.
“I will stay on deck while you extend the Captain’s invitation to Captain Adair.”
Hornblower nodded. It had occurred to him that perhaps it was a trifle unusual for two officers to come bringing a message. However, no one appeared to question Kennedy’s presence, so it might be that this ship had its own rules. He raised his hand to knock, but the door swung open and another man passed through it. The man raised his hat in greeting and left Hornblower standing, a question on his lips that was left unasked. Since the door was ajar, Hornblower entered, after a moment’s hesitation. Once inside, his breath caught in his throat. In place of the man he had expected, he found a beautiful woman sitting behind the desk. Her hair fell in lustrous ebony tresses, and when she turned to face him, her gaze, a deep shade of green, caught and held his. Hornblower found himself swallowing his words, stuttering and in every way acting as a new boy at school. At last, he managed a feeble attempt, in a voice that almost cracked, like in an adolescent boy.
“You’ve come to see my mother, boy? She has been gone these past ten years, God rest her soul.”
“But, the Captain – I mean – I have a message for Captain Adair.”
“Let us see it then. Hand it over.”
“You heard me.”
“But, ma’am -”
“I mean no disrespect, but this message is meant for Captain Adair’s ears.”
“I see. I am Captain Adair. Captain Josephine Adair.”
Hornblower stared in consternation at this woman who had just made that startling revelation. Was this some elaborate joke at his expense? No. There was authority imprinted all over the tall figure. He recognized the note of command in her voice. This woman was used to having her orders instantly obeyed. A lady captain? Impossible! But apparently not so.
“Forgive me. My captain – Captain Pellew would like to extend his invitation for dinner tomorrow night. He asks your presence at his table.”
“Ah. Dinner is always nice. After all, you have to eat. That is what my father, God rest his soul, would always say to me. Very well, boy. Tell your captain that I am happy to accept your kind invitation. Oh, and you might tell him also that I have not forgotten his assistance at Tangier. Will you be there?”
“Will I see you at dinner, mr -?”
“I am not sure. Captain Pellew -”
“Your name, boy.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Are you an imbecile? What a shame, for one with such a pretty face.”
Hornblower felt his face heat up uncomfortably. This woman was amusing herself at his expense. That was always the way with women. So very alluring, yet so confusing and disconcerting. How would he ever learn to please them?
Jo Adair saw the look of consternation and shame on the young man’s face and decided to take pity on him.
“What is your name?”
“Hornblower, ma’am. Horatio Hornblower.”
“Hornblower. Hm. Then you are obviously not Captain Pellew’s son. Now what other use could he have for you? Not that I blame him. I rather like a pretty boy now and then, myself. Wait. Do not look like that. I must ask your forgiveness. It was not kind of me to jest with you in such a way. My apologies. I am sure you are an excellent officer and a fine gentleman.”
Her voice seemed to betray genuine concern, and Hornblower decided to forgive her. How could he not? She was smiling so warmly right at him and no one else. He could feel his entire body bask in the heat from that smile. It was a while before it dawned on him that Captain Adair was waiting for him to take his leave. As gracefully as he was able, he bowed humbly and began to make his farewell.
“I shall look forward to seeing you tomorrow night at Captain Pellew’s dinner table. Until then.”
Walking backwards until the door hit him hard in the back, Hornblower could not take his eyes off the apparition before him. Forgotten was the beauty of the Liberty. Its image had been replaced in the young man’s mind by the one of the fair Captain.
Outside in the tropical afternoon light, his friend was awaiting his return.
“Horatio? Shall we make that tour of the ship?”
But his friend was not listening. The dreamy look on his face reminded Kennedy of something. But how – surely the captain of this ship would not cause such a reaction in his friend?
“I suppose we are not going on a tour of the ship, after all.”
“No. Yes. I do not know. Let us return to the Indy.”
“By all means.”
Once safely on their own deck, Kennedy began heaping questions on his unheeding friend.
“Tell me all about your visit with the mysterious Captain Adair. What was he like?”
“Tell me about Captain Adair.”
“Archie, it was marvellous. She was amazing.”
“Yes, I did think the ship was rather pretty.”
“The ship? No. I meant the captain.”
“The captain? Poor Horatio, this tropical sun must have done damage to your brain. Did you not just say that the captain was a she? Captain Adair is a woman?”
“Yes. And such a woman.”
For the first time in his life, Hornblower was in love. Not slightly, or mildly, but deeply, passionately and fatally. Whatever he had seen in the Duchess, or Mariette, they were now entirely forgotten. He had never seen or even dreamed of a woman such as Jo Adair.
Something in Kennedy’s tone must have penetrated Hornblower’s dreamy haze and again his face colored.
His mouth opened and closed. Oblivious to the crewmen who were watching the two young officers, their work momentarily forgotten, Hornblower tried to find the words to describe the wonder he had just witnessed.
“Archie, I think -”
He was interrupted by the arrival of mr Bracegirdle, come to enquire about young mr Hornblower’s long absence.
“Captain Pellew was wondering what was keeping you so long. Did you meet Captain Adair?”
Mr Bracegirdle too, detected a new note in Hornblower’s voice and smiled contentedly.
“Then run along and make your report to Captain Pellew.”
Bracegirdle remained on deck and watched Hornblower disappear in the direction of the Captain’s quarters. He winked conspiratorially at Kennedy, who still appeared somewhat bemused, but also, it must be said, a little sad. If his friend was now in love with this amazing lady captain, would he have time for an old friend? And would there ever be a woman for Kennedy himself?
“Captain Adair is a lady?”
“Yes, indeed. A very fine captain on a very fine ship.”
“But how -”
“She inherited the Liberty from her father, Captain Zachary Adair, also a renowned captain.”
“I have never heard of any lady captains before.”
“There is no reason why you should. She is, I believe, the only lady captain there is.”
Something about Bracegirdle’s emphasis on the word lady made Kennedy look up.
“No other lady captains, but other women who captain their own ships?”
“You must have heard of the legendary pirate, Jess Morgan?”
“Certainly. But I never believed such stories held any truth.”
“Oh, she is real, alright. She has a price on her head, and every ship in the Royal Navy is under orders to watch out for her. Her return to Britain would earn the captor a fine reward. But no one has ever held her captive. It is said that she might be retired now. No one has heard from her in more than ten years.”
Kennedy shook his head in wonder.
“Jess Morgan. Have you ever seen her or her ship?”
“No. And if any man tells you he has, he is most likely a liar. I have only met one man who has met her and in fact known her intimately if only briefly.”
“Yes? Who was that?”
“An old friend. Now, mr Kennedy, I am sure you have some work to do. As do I. We must not stand idly, gossiping like common crewmen.”
“No, sir. I will get to work at once, sir.”
“Carry on, mr Kennedy.”
It was not until later that night, when Kennedy retired to his quarters that he was able to question his friend at length about this marvellous lady captain.
“Do not jest with me. What was she like? Captain Adair.”
“Oh. She was the loveliest woman I have ever seen.”
“As lovely as Laura Flynn?”
“I have never been to the theatres of London, so I could not tell you.”
“As lovely as the Duchess?”
“Oh, yes. Much younger too.”
“As young and lovely as Mariette?”
“Much more beautiful.”
“But she is older?”
Hornblower frowned. Truth to tell, he was no great judge of women’s ages, appearances or garments. From what he knew about Kennedy’s past, he could tell that his friend was far more familiar with such matters.
“Yes, I believe she is.”
“Older than we are?”
This was indeed a new and changed Hornblower. Normally he would hardly notice a woman, unless she spoke to him, yet now, there was this dreamy look on his face, and his voice was different too. Yes, Kennedy could only conclude that Hornblower was in love. And though he was envious and sad to be replaced in his friend’s heart by another, he could not help but rejoice at his friend’s happiness. But if this lady would return Hornblower’s feelings or not, he did not know. That seemed far from likely. Still, Kennedy knew that love, even love not returned was the sweetest thing in the entire world. Hornblower was entitled to this experience just as every other man.
“And will Captain Pellew allow you to share his table tomorrow night, so you can meet this lady again?”
“I do not know. I did not think I could tell the Captain about what Captain Adair had told me. She might have been jesting with me.”
“You have not told me what she told you. Go on, do not keep anything back.”
“She said many things, most of which appeared to have been in jest. But she also said that she wished to see me at dinner.”
“You should have told Captain Pellew.”
“I thought perhaps she was jesting with me again.”
“Even so – You do wish to see her again, do you not? I know you do.”
“Yes. I wish -”
“I know. You have never given your heart before?”
“No. Not like this. What about you?”
“Too many times. And too many times I have been rejected. But I do not regret a single moment.”
“Then you must tell me what to do, what to say -”
“You do not want me to instruct you in the art of love. Did I not tell you I have not been very successful?”
“Have you met with success even once?”
A sad secretive smile spread across Kennedy’s features.
“You might say so.”
“Then you know far more than I do. What happened?”
“She married another man.”
Hornblower could tell that his friend would not appreciate being questioned further on this sad topic, so he was about to leave the matter alone. However, he was surprised to hear his friend continue and volunteer some information.
“What I did not know – and had I known, I would have asked her to marry me at once, no matter how poor my prospects – was that she was carrying my child.”
“Yes, you do not need to tell me. But how was I supposed to know? When next I came ashore, Felicity was gone and I was told she had married a farmer, and died giving birth to a child born too soon. It appears that at least it was believed that the child was born prematurely. No shadow fell upon her sweet memory.”
“And the child?”
“Died as well.”
“I had no idea you had -”
“No. What was the point of remembering all these things? The way my life was -”
“I am truly sorry, my friend. You do not have to tell me anything more. I just feel so young and inexperienced.”
“As was I. Far too young to marry. But I would have married her anyway. My only regret is not learning the truth in time. Do not worry yourself, Horatio. If this lady returns your feelings, there will be no difficulty. And if she does not -”
“Point well taken. Thank you for telling me all this.”
“Horatio, I had a miniature of Felicity. I would have shown it to you, but Simpson took it away from me.”
“That man must surely burn in hell for his actions.”
“Perhaps. But while he does, you and I burn in this world.”
“Do not say such things.”
“You are right. Why look to the past? Your future holds so much promise.”
“As does yours.”
“If I could believe that -”
“I am telling you you have as much promise as I do. More so -”
“Thank you, my friend. I have no doubts about your faith in me. Now go to sleep. If the Captain does invite you to his table you must look your best for Captain Adair.”
Next morning did indeed bring the news that Captain Pellew would like mr Hornblower to dine with him that night. The day went by as a confused dream, until evening finally fell, and it was time to make preparations for dinner. Kennedy did his best to help Hornblower dress appropriately for the Captain’s table, and to meet the longed for guest.
“That is enough, my friend. Captain Adair will be impressed with your distinguished look.”
“Do you really mean that, Archie, or are you just saying so to hearten me?
“I do mean every word I said. Now hurry. You would not like to arrive too late.”
Kennedy was of course lying to the best of his ability, but he felt he owed his friend that much. He did not think this small white lie would condemn him any worse than any of his actions already had.
“Thank you, my friend. I will tell you all about dinner when I return. And Archie -”
“Help yourself to the contents of my chest. There is a delicacy or two that I have saved for you.”
“Thank you. I wish you luck tonight.”
With one last grateful smile at his friend, Hornblower hurried off to finally meet Captain Adair again.
Kennedy would remember that night as the last one for a very long time his friend was paying attention to him. Not that he in any way grudged Hornblower this fever of the mind. After all, Kennedy had fallen prey to exactly the same condition himself once. But there was no denying the fact that he missed Hornblower bitterly.
Hornblower noticed nothing of the distress he was causing his friend. If anything, he felt that he was trying to include Kennedy in every visit to the Liberty. What he failed to pay attention to was how he would forget about his friend the moment he set foot on the Liberty’s deck. Kennedy would have to amuse himself while Hornblower spent time below with the irresistible, but oh, so confusing Captain Jo.
Jo Adair found Hornblower a somewhat puzzling acquaintance as well. She had no difficulty reading the young man’s feelings for her. What she did find odd was that he would never cease his vacillation and finally end the waiting.
But Hornblower knew less than nothing about how to woo a lady. It was humiliating and far from easy to badger Kennedy with questions on this topic, so mostly Hornblower was on his own in this most challenging endeavour.
At last, there came a time when Jo Adair lost her patience with her young admirer and took matters into her own hands. Patiently waiting was never her way. Many a time in battle, she had precipitated a full scale confrontation and in every instance, except one, she had gained an advantage that way. After all, what man would expect a lady to successfully fight a battle? And likewise, what young man would dream that a lady might turn the tables on him and begin wooing him in her turn?
Hornblower certainly did not. It might be said that he was swept off his feet. Certainly, it was no exaggeration to claim that from that moment on, Captain Pellew and mr Bracegirdle would have no cause for concern as to Hornblower’s reputation as a gentleman, or indeed any kind of man.
As always, Jo’s emphasis on the word mister, made Hornblower suspect a hidden jest at his expense. For once, however, the lovely captain appeared to be perfectly serious. Her eyes had darkened to a deep shade of sea green, and she was staring straight at Hornblower in a slightly disconcerting way. When he was in Jo Adair’s company, the young man frequently felt as if he was trying to ride out a storm at sea. Bewildered, confused, dizzy.
“Yes, Captain – I mean Jo.”
“I have been contemplating a certain matter of dire importance.”
“And I have come to the conclusion that you must be hiding something from me.”
“Hiding something? I am afraid I have not the faintest idea what you are referring to, Jo.”
“But is it not perfectly clear that you cannot find me the slightest bit appealing?”
“What? I find you the most appealing of ladies. In all my life I have never had the fortune of meeting anyone quite as lovely.”
“Indeed? That is not the impression I am perceiving. Could it be that you find your friend, mr Kennedy, more attractive?”
Again, like uncounted times before, Hornblower’s face assumed the color of a sunset. The burning in his ears made his face fall, and Jo almost took pity on him. Naturally, she believed no such thing, but she forced herself to push on. It was dawning on her that if she was going to wait for Hornblower to come to her, she would be waiting until Doomsday. Therefore, she was left no choice but to continue causing him distress for a little while longer.
“Or perhaps it is your captain that you have given your heart to?”
“You are jesting with me, Jo.”
The reproachful tone of voice shamed her somewhat, but she told herself it was all in a good cause, and that the ends would justify the means.
“Then you leave me no other explanation than that you are secretly married back in England, or perhaps in some more exotic port of call. Shame on you, mr Hornblower, for misleading a girl in such a cruel way.”
Jo was cursing softly under her breath in a way she knew would cause Hornblower much consternation. For that very reason she contemplated speaking out loud the next time, merely to observe his reaction. This was a manner unbecoming of her. To use such coquetry might become a maidservant but hardly Captain Adair of the ship Liberty.
“Jo, I assure you, there is no wife in England or elsewhere. You are the only lady in my heart. I mean – the only person.”
Poor Hornblower. He was right, she was jesting with him and quite cruelly so. She must desist now, or she might cause him too much pain for him to ever trust her again.
“Then why are you treating me so callously?”
“But Jo, I – What do you wish me to do?”
“Ah. We finally arrive at the heart of the matter. If you approach me a little closer, I promise I will not pierce your heart with my saber. I will merely whisper something in your ear. Come. You are not afraid of me, Horatio?”
She knew he was, but it was clear that any man would fear admitting this fear more than anything else, so she knew she had won. Hornblower timidly approached, his face a study in bewilderment. So the answer to the mystery was as simple as that. Too young, and too inexperienced. Well, time had the cure for the first of those ailments, and Jo herself held the key to the remedy for the latter condition. All would be well. She slyly watched her prey out of the corner of her eye to observe his reaction to her suggestion, or perhaps the term proposition was better applied in this case. His face colored prettily, and Jo forced herself to give up this play-acting and begin her tutoring in earnest.
“I must confess to you that I have never -”
“Yes, yes, that hardly comes as a surprise to me. Do not worry yourself, Horatio. You will learn. It is in your nature. Leave everything to me.”
Freed from any constraint society might have lain upon him, Hornblower now allowed himself to pull his love into his arms. He began exploring the lustrous tresses of black hair, falling down her back in ebony cascades. Jo impatiently pulled him closer and their lips made contact. She had been right. From this point on, Hornblower’s own nature took over, and like any other man, he followed the rhythm of the pounding in his veins.
There still had not been any orders to leave the island, and the crew was getting slightly restless. Kennedy too, felt the curse of idleness torment him. No work to do, or close enough and no friend to spend this time with. He was very happy for Hornblower, but again he felt lonely and sad. The memories of his time aboard the Justinian began to haunt him again, though in a less dramatic manner. At times he was revisited by bad dreams, but the seizures blessedly remained absent.
One day, Hornblower asked his friend to join him aboard the Liberty. Jo would take them on a pleasure jaunt to see some of the nearby islands. Captain Pellew had already given his permission. Kennedy eagerly accepted the invitation, and let himself be rowed to the Liberty. The time at sea would do him good, he knew that. To once again feel the sea breeze in his hair and the rise and fall of the waves underneath his feet would soothe his nerves.
“My friend, have you been doing any swimming lately?”
“Why, no, I have not.”
“That is a shame, is it not?”
“Yes. I do believe you’re right. Physical exertions improve the condition of the mind.”
“Precisely. Jo has told me about a wonderful stretch of beach which is ideal for the purpose. If you are agreeable to the suggestion, perhaps we might leave you on that small island, and return for you tonight with the tide. What do you say?”
Kennedy felt a pinprick of pain at the thought of being thus dismissed, but he knew in his heart that the exploration of this new island and its beach would cheer him, even when left on his own. He put on a brave face and told his friend that he would love to take him up on his suggestion.
“Excellent. I will inform Jo.”
Captain Jo herself came to bid her lover’s friend farewell, and to personally oversee his passage to the small island shimmering in the heat haze not far from the Liberty.
“Mr Kennedy, I believe some new pastures will improve your humour and put some colour in those pale cheeks.”
“Thank you, my lady. You are most kind.”
Kennedy too was spellbound by the gaze from those green eyes, but he knew well that the sparkle in those eyes shone for his friend alone.
For a moment even Hornblower noticed the air of sadness his friend projected. What manner of friend was he to leave Kennedy so cruelly and callously alone for such extended periods of time? He was about to open his mouth to suggest a change of plan, but something about the quality of Jo’s smile left the words unspoken. She was planning something, some wonderful surprise for Kennedy. Hornblower would do nothing to spoil his love’s intention.
So Kennedy was rowed ashore and told to remain within sight of the sea, especially around the turning of the tide. After watching the Liberty set sail and disappear towards the horizon, Kennedy wasted no time removing his shoes and begin wading in the shallows. As Captain Jo had recommended this beach for swimming, he concluded that no dangerous undercurrents would present any hidden hazards.
It was not long before he dispensed with all his garments and dove into the waves. He spent some time swimming, then decided to return to the beach to rest and consume some of his provisions, handsomely supplied by Captain Jo. Kennedy was already relishing the thought of otherwise unknown delicacies, when he became aware of not being alone.
The boy appeared to be a few years younger than Kennedy and he was staring rather rudely straight at him. Kennedy unwillingly felt his face take on color. It was a mystery to him, why he would feel so mortified, being discovered at this slight disadvantage, when aboard the Indy men would strip to the waist or more without thinking. For some reason, this boy had an unsettling effect on Kennedy and he could not discover why.
“Uh – hello. My name is Kennedy. Captain Jo -”
“Yes? What about the Captain?”
“Ah, you are a friend of hers?”
The boy smiled and the transformation of his face was notable. It added warmth and colour and life to the otherwise rather closed features. His eyes lit up too, apparently at the mention of the captain of the Liberty.
“You might say that. And you too, are a friend of the Captain’s?”
“Well – I would rather say that I am a friend of a friend of hers.”
“I see. Well, you are most welcome to my island.”
“Yes. My house is up ahead. Will you have a drink with me, mr Kennedy?”
“I believe I will. Mr – ?”
“Oh. You may call me Robbie. I am Robbie Tandy. And this is Starfish Island.”
“No. Not quite, but that is what I call it. It is in truth St Columba’s Island, but as it is now mine, I believe I may call it what I like.”
“Indeed, Robbie it is then. My name is Archie and I would be pleased if you would call me that. Mr Kennedy brings to mind my father.”
“Tandy was my mother’s name. She left me this house and this island upon her death.”
“I am sorry to hear that, Robbie. Was it recent?”
“Close to three years this Christmas.”
“Well. Shall we?”
“Certainly. I will merely -”
Kennedy indicated his garments that he’d left strewn all over the beach. Again that unsettling scrutiny of his body. In some ways this boy was very odd. Charming but different from other boys Kennedy had known both at school and since joining the Navy – softer, rounder, prettier. Could it be this boy was very young? Perhaps no more than 16 or 17? And being orphaned at an early age might account for some of his idiosyncracies. Focusing on putting his clothes back on, Kennedy dismissed the thoughts about his young host. He would enjoy having a drink with a young man. It had been some time since he had done the same with his friend Hornblower. This boy proved to be an interesting acquaintance. Without being aware of it, Kennedy already felt somewhat cheered by this unexpected encounter.
The house Robbie had mentioned turned out to be a large, rambling affair, built from wood. Outside in the yard, an elderly coloured man was drawing water from a well. Robbie pointed out the man in passing, but did not stop.
“That is Zeke. He and his wife Naomi look after me here. They are former slaves.”
Kennedy had only the vaguest notion about slavery, but felt it was a disgrace before God to keep another man in bondage. He recalled the look on the runaway slave boy’s face as he was brought to his punishment and was pleased that the smiling old man was no longer a slave. Inside the house, they were met by a likewise smiling old woman, who seemed to be devoted to her young master.
Robbie seemed a careless and ingenuous host. He merely pointed to a chair and encouraged Kennedy to sit down.
“Make yourself at home. Naomi will bring some refreshments in a moment. Now, tell me more about yourself, Archie. What brings you to these islands?”
“I am an officer aboard His Majesty’s Indefatigable. We are taking on new supplies and performing repairs. In fact, by now it is my guess that we are simply awaiting new orders. And this is not a bad place to be waiting.”
“Ah, yes. Even if I say so myself, this is a beautiful place to call home. The sea, the sky, the colourful and talkative birds – Let me just say, I quite like it here.”
“I do not blame you. Forgive me for being inquisitive, but how did you find yourself living on such a remote island? Your speech leads me to believe that you too once came from England.”
“At least my mother did, God rest her soul. I was born here. In this very house. Naomi helped me into the world. My mother and I lived here happily for many years, until one winter pleurisy took her away from me.”
“I see. Does it not get lonely at times? Out here with none of your peers to spend a pleasant evening with.”
“I must say that it does. But Captain Jo frequently visits me, and sometimes, like today, she brings me a visitor. It would please me if you were to return and see me again as often as you wish, until your ship sails.”
Kennedy found himself greatly cheered by this invitation. Now that Hornblower had spurned his companionship, he felt attracted by the idea of forming a new friendship in this unlikely place.
“I would be delighted, Robbie. This beach of yours provides excellent swimming. Do you not swim yourself?”
For some reason this innocent question produced an unexpected reaction inn Kennedy’s young host. His cheeks coloured slightly, and the thick dark lashes fluttered, hiding Robbie’s gaze from his new friend.
“No. That is to say, yes. No. Not really.”
Kennedy clearly did not see, but he felt it impolite to persist in his questions, when Robbie so obviously did not wish to reply. For a moment, Kennedy fleetingly wondered if Robbie’s mother might not have succumbed to pleurisy after rashly going for a swim herself. But he dismissed the thought. His host was already moving on to another topic.
“Let me show you around my little island. It is not large but if I may say so myself, it has a pleasing prospect all around. There is even another stretch of beach on the other side which is just as suited for swimming, should you wish to continue with your exercise.”
Again that slight coloration of the boy’s cheeks and Kennedy was once more struck by how handsome, even pretty, his young host was. His auburn, shoulder-length hair caught the sun very strikingly, and those pale, grayish blue eyes seemed to draw in any observer and hold him spellbound. The lips were pink and well-shaped, and the slightly rounded cheeks became the boy very well. Kennedy had to force his gaze away, lest he unsettle his host in the same way he himself had been discomfited earlier that morning, emerging from the sea.
“Thank you, I should very much like to continue my exploration of your island. However, I believe I have taken enough exercise.”
“Then shall we?”
“Lead the way.”
The two young people spent the day happily discovering, or re-discovering the island together, as the case might be, and in late afternoon, Kennedy was invited back to the house for a light supper before the turning of the tide would bring back the Liberty to take Kennedy away again. Robbie then escorted the guest down to the beach, cheering him with his companionship until the ship appeared on the horizon.
Captain Jo herself came ashore to bring her passenger back to the Liberty, and before leaving, warmly embraced the boy who was staying behind. Robbie even planted a chaste kiss on the captain’s cheek. Kennedy thoughtfully watched the small receding figure on shore. Robbie was waving enthusiastically until the ship was lost from view.
Once back on the Liberty, Captain Jo fixed Kennedy with an unsettling stare.
“How did you like young Robbie, mr Kennedy?”
“I liked him very much. A pleasant young man.”
“And will you wish to return to see your new friend again?”
Kennedy was slightly puzzled as to the captain’s interest in the matter, but answered readily enough.
“Yes, I should very much like to. In fact, Robbie invited me back whenever I pass by again.”
“Excellent. I will make sure to take you out myself on as many occasions as possible.”
It occurred to Kennedy that Jo Adair and her young lover might wish to provide him with suitable companionship that would leave them all the more on their own. If so, it was a convenient, yet polite way of ensuring his absence. Kennedy took no offence. He had been telling the truth when he had declared how much he liked his young host. And there was some mystery pertaining to the boy’s lonely existence on the island, Kennedy was sure of it. Perhaps in the time he had left on the islands, he might chance to uncover that mystery.
As it happened, Kennedy had plenty of opportunities to pursue his friendship with young Robbie. Captain Jo seemed to have a manner of understanding with Captain Pellew. Both young officers were allowed to take as much time as they chose and spend it any way they liked. It was inevitable that Hornblower would wish to spend that time with Jo Adair. Kennedy found himself coming along to be deposited on Robbie’s island day after day. The new friendship blossomed and Kennedy never questioned his strong attachment to the boy.
One day, when as was his habit he was strolling along the beach on Starfish Island, he noticed that the Liberty had anchored outside the shallows and a boat was being rowed ashore. Was anything amiss? Kennedy frowned in concern. If their orders had come in, it was unseemly to be idling away his time like this. Unconsciously, he straightened his shoulders and began looking around for his boots. An officer tended to find himself at a disadvantage when caught barefoot.
As the boat drew nearer, Kennedy recognized the man in it. It was his friend Hornblower. He walked closer and grabbed the mooring rope when Hornblower threw it at him.
“Archie, we must leave at once. There is a storm coming in, the likes of which you and I have never seen before. Jo says that it is highly perilous and the Liberty must ride it out at sea, far from these islands. You must come quickly. We do not have much time.”
“No. I cannot. If this storm is so dangerous, I must stay here with Robbie and help him secure the house -”
“Nonsense, my friend. You must come with me now and -”
“Horatio, I cannot. How can I leave the boy alone at such a time? He will need my assistance.”
“If I cannot sway you -”
“Then take care, and may God be with you, my friend.”
Hornblower pulled Kennedy into his arms for a quick embrace, before casting off, and rowing back to the Liberty.
“Take care, and may God be with you, Horatio. And your lovely Captain Jo.”
“Thank you, my friend. My thoughts will be with you, as will my prayers.”
“As mine will be with you.”
Kennedy, however, doubted very much that he would be in his friend’s thoughts. One look from the lovely Jo, and all thoughts of anything else would be banished from his friend’s mind. This was something that did not sadden Kennedy as much as it used to, but he was unaware of that fact.
He hurried back to the house, only to find that Zeke and Naomi had the situation under control. Anything likely to be swept away by the wind had been brought inside or securely fastened to the spot. The windows were being boarded up, and Kennedy offered his help with this task. Soon the house was secured and the people were safely gathered indoors. Unsure of what to do, Kennedy remained standing in the open doorway, uncertainly staring at the lowering sky and the restless heaving of the waves.
“Robbie, I am unaccustomed to this manner of storm. What is the best thing to do?”
“When the storm approaches – and it will be no more than half an hour, if I am correct, – we must go below. There is a sturdily built cellar beneath the house. I will show you the way. We must await the abating of the storm there. Naomi and Zeke will bring food and other necessities. We shall be fine. Do not concern yourself.”
Kennedy felt slightly foolish for having intended to lend his aid to this boy and his elderly servants. Apparently, his company was not needed. Still, knowing Robbie the way he now did, he guessed that it would nonetheless be appreciated.
“Then I suppose we must proceed down below at once.”
“Indeed, let us go.”
Robbie had been correct in the estimate of the time remaining until the storm hit. Almost exactly thirty minutes after their descent into the dark cellar, there was a deafening din from upstairs and the house began to shake ominously, even down to its foundation. Kennedy was not greatly reassured as to their safety, but decided to take his friend’s word for it, since no doubt Robbie had lived through many such storms.
From the moment the storm hit, it became impossible to keep up any conversations. The elderly colored couple retired to a remote corner of the cellar, while Kennedy chose a position close to his new friend. Robbie appeared to appreciate the proximity and did not withdraw. To further reassure the boy and himself, Kennedy put a steadying arm around his host’s shoulders and as the storm raged above, the two friends huddled together, seeking comfort in each other’s warmth.
Suddenly, the house was hit by a much stronger gust of wind. There was a noise of splinting wood and the ominous noises alarmed Robbie and Kennedy equally. Without even noticing what he was doing, Kennedy pulled his friend closer into his arms and held on to him. Another loud sound from above came, and another. After a while they became more accustomed to the occurrence and their fear abated somewhat. Nevertheless, they remained locked in the close embrace. Finally, the noise from above abated and approached tolerable levels once more. It was still worse than on any windy night in England, but the shaking of the building ceased almost entirely.
“Does this mean the storm is blowing past us?”
“I am afraid not. This is what is known as the eye of the storm. Surely you have heard of such a thing?”
Kennedy again felt his ears and cheeks heat uncomfortably. Naturally, he knew about the eye of the storm. He was glad his captain was not there to hear him make such a fool of himself, and he was equally happy that it was dark in the cellar and that Robbie could not see his face.
“Yes. I was not prepared for such a storm, that is all.”
“I understand. Archie, I am so pleased you chose to stay with me. This is not the first storm I have lived through, but your presence has made it easier to bear. Thank you. I – have a great fondness for you.”
Those words warmed Kennedy right down to his frozen soul. For some time now he had become aware of his own feelings of affection towards his new friend, and knowing that Robbie returned his feelings was cheering. Yet, for some reason, perhaps their enforced proximity or the sensation of danger still in the air, he felt a far stronger emotion stirring in him, something he did not wish to feel, not towards a boy. This was all wrong.
However, the feeling persisted, and it seemed Robbie felt the same way. Kennedy became aware that they were even closer to each other than a moment before. What Kennedy saw in Robbie’s eyes mirrored his own sentiments and though he struggled against this feeling, in the end, he was unable to resist. Their lips met and Kennedy experienced a kiss, far more passionate, than ever before. Not even Felicity had aroused such a strong emotion in him. For a second the outside world ceased to exist. The storm, the Indy, the Liberty – all was as nothing to Kennedy at that moment. Yet he knew it was wrong to feel this way. He had to leave this place at once, never to return. If he was capable of this, then Simpson had been right about him after all.
Robbie sensed his perturbation and withdrew. No signs of shame could be detected on the boy’s innocent face. His eyes still commanded Kennedy, who would have none of it. With a tremendous exertion of will, Kennedy managed to get to his feet and turned away from Robbie. He got no further than two steps away, when a commanding note in Robbie’s voice fixed him to the spot.
The command was such that Kennedy found himself turning around once more to face Robbie.
Kennedy found himself returning to Robbie, unable to resist the almost hypnotic note in that voice, which normally was so soft and warm. Robbie took his hand and pulled it closer to his chest. The boy unbuttoned his shirt at the top and placed Kennedy’s hand inside.
No. A scream made its way across Kennedy’s lips and he had to bite his lip not to alarm the elderly couple over in the corner. As if he’d been burned, he tried to snatch his hand back, but Robbie evidenced surprising strength. Suddenly, Kennedy noticed something he had been too distraught to notice before. His hand was closing on – The person he was holding in his arms was – a girl!
It appeared that after all, he wasn’t losing his mind, or succumbing to unmentionable depravity. Kennedy gave up his struggle and allowed himself to savour the moment. Gently, he disentangled his hand, but far from running away, he pulled Robbie back into his arms and began a new and this time utterly uninhibited exploration of her body. It had been so long. He had almost forgotten how sweet a girl’s lips tasted against his own. And the rest of her, the full, soft warm body pressing against his own – it was all bringing back memories. Most of those were of the good kind, but suddenly a memory of Simpson’s rough hands on Kennedy’s skin reappeared, he tensed up.
“Archie, what is wrong?”
Kennedy tried to make his voice obey him, but for a second, he felt his throat drying out and his tongue sticking to his palate.
“Archie. Do not concern yourself. I am sorry to be so forward. This is not ladylike of me, I know. It is not easy for me to know how to behave. Please, tell me what you want me to do -”
While recovering the use of his voice and his equilibrium, Kennedy reassuringly pulled Robbie back into his embrace. Whatever had befallen him in the past was not the girl’s fault, nor was it his own. Hornblower had been right. What could he possibly have done to defend himself against an older and stronger man?
“No, Robbie, you have done nothing wrong. The problem lies with me. I have some distressing memories to come to terms with, that is all.”
He could see that his words meant nothing to the girl, but he would find a way to explain himself one day. At the moment, all that mattered was the way it felt to hold Robbie in his arms. Her hair had a lovely clean fragrance and he loved the way her body fitted against his own as if they had been made for each other.
Kennedy could not even remember his encounters with Felicity feeling this way. Could it be that he had found love at last? He would not question it, or spoil it by dwelling on the painful past or the uncertain future. Tonight was all he needed, at least he tried to tell himself that as he held and kissed Robbie through the rest of the night, while the storm blew itself out around them.
When morning came, they had fallen asleep clinging to each other like two children. They were awakened by the sound of the cellar door opening and the bright sunlight got into Archie’s eyes. He looked up to find his friend Hornblower standing on the stairs above him. It never occurred to him how the situation might be construed until he saw the puzzled look on his friend’s face as he took in the dishevelled state of Kennedy’s and Robbie’s clothing, and the disarranged hair. Kennedy’s words of greeting died unsaid on his lips. Hornblower too, seemed unusually tongue-tied.
Behind Hornblower, Jo Adair appeared, a wide grin on her face.
“I see your friend mr Kennedy has made my little sister’s acquaintance.”
“Your little sister?”
“Indeed. May I introduce my sister, miss Roberta Tandy. We share a father, but have different mothers.”
A slow smile spread across Hornblower’s bewildered features.
“Then I believe congratulations are in order, my friend.”
“Uh – Thank you.”
Impatiently, Captain Jo began issuing orders to everyone present.
“Zeke, Naomi. I have brought food and other supplies to you so you can begin putting the place back in order right away. I shall leave two of my crewmen to assist you. Robbie, you and mr Kennedy must return to the main island with me at once.”
Not an hour later, everyone was safely aboard the Liberty, where Jo Adair swept her sister down below as soon as they were under sail again. Hornblower and Kennedy remained standing somewhat awkwardly by the side of the rail. Kennedy suspected Hornblower felt slightly foolish for the suspicions so easily read on his face when he discovered his friend with what had seemed to be a boy in his arms.
“I – Archie, I am very happy for you.”
“Thank you, my friend. Horatio, I – I realize how it must have seemed to you -”
“Well, yes, I am sorry about misreading the situation in such a way. Please forgive me. However, I wish you to know, that even if -”
Kennedy was touched by his friend’s reassurance, though slightly offended that he might actually have believed him capable of such a thing.
“I appreciate that, Horatio. If you had been right in your assumption, I doubt if anyone aboard the Indy would have been surprised.”
“To their shame. They ought to know better than to spread idle rumours about their betters.”
“You do not need to tell me. Who would have thought little Robbie was in truth a lady?”
“Or that the renowned Captain Jo was as well?”
“It is a funny world, is it not?”
“You might say that.”
“Horatio, what are we going to do?”
“I love Robbie, and from what I have seen of you and Captain Jo, it seems plain that you love her too. But we are officers in His Majesty’s Navy. How can we also provide for wives and families?”
“Truth to tell, Archie, I have not dared to broach that topic with Jo. Tell me, do you believe that someone like my fair lady would willingly give all this up and become a poor young officer’s wife?”
“That does seem unlikely. Then what are you to do?”
“What about you? You and Robbie must have -”
“Discussed marriage? Horatio, I have known her as a lady for one night only. We did not -”
The contented smile on Kennedy’s face told Hornblower what his friend and Robbie must have done that night. Talk would not have been on their minds.
“The wind was too loud for us to hear our own voices, let alone one another’s.”
“I understand. Well, you are right. We have to consider this matter carefully.”
Hornblower’s face fell and Kennedy cursed himself for his insensitivity. Why did he need to bring up this topic at this moment, when they were both so happy? But the matter needed dealing with and soon. It could not be long until the Indefatigable had her orders. They might be sent north, to the former colonies or east back to Europe, or anywhere in the world the Navy might see fit to send them.
Was he ever to see Robbie again, now that he had finally found her? Or would he need to sacrifice his career now that he seemed to be within reach of a promotion? His friend’s kind help had managed to alleviate the intensity of his seizures, perhaps banish them entirely. With that crippling condition out of the way, his prospects did look almost as bright as Hornblower’s. On the other hand, if he stayed, he might never see his love again.
Back aboard the Indefatigable, Hornblower brought the subject up for discussion again. It appeared he had had time to contemplate the matter and like Kennedy he had finally seen their dilemma.
“Since you brought to my attention the quandary we are both facing I have given it much thought. I cannot see any solution to the problem. Much as I love Jo, how could I leave the Navy? What would I do if I were not an officer? How would I earn a living good enough to support a wife? And let us face it, my friend, we are not making enough to support a wife even as officers. Can you imagine sending Robbie to live with your mother until such a time that you might return to England and visit her?”
“No, I cannot.”
“Nor can I imagine sending Jo back to my home, nor truth to tell, can I see her going willingly. She stands to lose so much and would it be fair to ask her to give all that up for me?”
“You are right. Indeed I wish that you were not. However, that is the conclusion I have arrived at while I have pondered this situation. There is no solution. I cannot bear to leave Robbie without hope of ever seeing her again. Yet I would not wish to give up my commission. Not now. Thanks to your help, my friend, my prospects are better than ever. Not as good as yours, but good enough. If I give that up I will have nothing. Would that be of any use to Robbie?”
“I do not see any way out of this. Do you, my friend?”
Kennedy sadly shook his head. For the first time since losing Felicity, he had found love, and now he was about to lose her again. Was there no end to his ill fortune? On that sombre note, Kennedy fell asleep.
Next morning, both officers decided to go over to the Liberty and see their ladies. They did not greatly hope for a happy solution to their problems, but whatever the future might hold, it was necessary to discuss it with the ladies.
Below deck, Kennedy beheld an astonishing transformation in his love. The boy from yesterday had become a young lady, every bit as lovely as her sister. Seeing Robbie like this, Kennedy questioned his own sanity not to mention his eyesight. That he for even a moment might have been taken in by the girl’s disguise appeared inexplicable.
When Kennedy expressed a wish to meet with Robbie alone in her cabin, Captain Jo made no difficulties. Jo Adair herself had only one wish at that moment and that was to have Hornblower alone in her quarters.
At first, faced with such beauty, Kennedy fell silent and found himself without power of speech. All thoughts of a future alone left him. Robbie was all his mind and heart could hold. Finally, Robbie spoke up somewhat shyly. It appeared that their easy companionship had suffered slightly from the change in their relationship.
“Archie, you must be wondering why I was masquerading as a boy.”
“What? Oh, I suppose I was.”
“You understand it would be difficult, dangerous even, for a girl to live alone in a house on a remote island. It was my mother’s house, and while my father still lived no one would dare come near my home with ill intentions. Now – even though my sister’s name carries much weight, she did not feel it would be safe for me to live there alone. But how could I leave my home? And I must admit I cared little for the prospect of a paid companion living in my house. My only resort would have been marriage. Let me say I would wish my marriage to be otherwise, not merely a way to remain safe. That is my story, Archie Kennedy. I hope you will forgive the deception. Until your arrival I had not met many men I could trust.”
“I understand perfectly, my love. No need to ask my forgiveness. Robbie -”
“There are so many things I wish to tell you, so much I wish do with you by my side.”
“And so little time remaining until your ship sails? Come, Archie, did you think me a foolish child? You think I did not see that our time together is limited. Why did you think I risked losing everything by revealing myself to you? It was plain you were not the sort of man to -”
At this Kennedy’s face was lit up by a sudden smile. As always, the transformation was startling. And Robbie was not indifferent to the effects of such a face and such a smile.
“Thank you, my love. No, I am not such a man. You did right to reveal yourself to me. My feelings for you were causing me much confusion. I did not know what to believe anymore.”
“We must take what little time we have and put it to the best of use. That is why I have decided to make the Liberty my home for the duration of your stay. I would not like to miss a moment of time better spent in your company, Archie.”
“You are so wise, Robbie. I stand chastened before your wisdom and providence. It is most remarkable in one so young and so pretty.”
“Young? You think me young, while you yourself are not?”
“That is not what I meant.”
“I believe I have the advantage over you, Archie Kennedy, in years lived on this Earth. How old are you, my love?”
“I will be 22 this coming September. What about you?”
“I knew it. That means I am your elder by close to two entire years.”
“Then I must bow to your wisdom and greater life experience.”
“Let us waste no more time, Archie. Come here, my love.”
Kennedy, it must be said, found himself greatly attracted to the idea of obeying his lady’s every whim. They would take what they could, and leave the rest in the hands of the Lord, or place themselves at the mercy of the winds of the sea. One day they would blow them back into each other’s arms again. After finding love where he least expected it, had Kennedy regained his faith in life. In his heart he knew he would see Robbie again.
In the captain’s quarters, Hornblower and Jo spent their time much as his friend and her sister. There was after all, not much need for words at a time like that. If Hornblower had expected Jo to curse his choice he was surprised. Yet, he saw true love reflected in those green eyes that had come to hold the key to his happiness. Jo loved him as much as he loved her. He could finally believe this. And though his destiny took him away from his love, he firmly believed that they would meet again. One day they would be together and there would never be any need for farewells. In the meantime, he would carry her image in his heart.
On the day the Indefatigable sailed, Hornblower and Kennedy watched the receding silhouette of the ship Liberty. On that fine ship rested all their love and hopes for the future. Yet they were sailing away from her and the two ladies who at this moment would be standing on deck trying to penetrate the heat haze to catch the last glimpses of the men they loved. If both young officers remained unusually quiet on that day, it was hardly surprising. They had much to remember and cherish.
The two young men were being observed by two older men some distance away. Though they did not know it, the two young officers had been the topic of much discussion between these older officers. Captain Pellew decided he had had enough of watching and returned below to his own quarters. He was followed by mr Bracegirdle.
“A fine young man, mr Bracegirdle. Hornblower is a fine man and a fine officer.”
“Indeed he is, sir, as is his friend, mr Kennedy.”
Pellew nodded absently. Yes, Kennedy was a fine young man as well. Both seemed to be destined for glory and distinction.
“You are married, are you not, mr Bracegirdle?”
“I am, sir. Thank you for asking.”
“Five. Two daughters and three sons I am happy to report.”
“You are a very lucky man, mr Bracegirdle.”
“Thank you, sir. I feel very fortunate indeed. May I be so forward as to enquire about your own circumstances, sir?”
“I am not as fortunate as you, my friend. Emily, my betrothed, was taken from me, before we were ever married.”
“I am sorry to hear that, sir.”
“It was a long time ago, mr Bracegirdle. Still, many a time I have wondered how married life would have felt. And – if we had been allowed our time together, would we have had a son such as Hornblower?”
“What I have wondered from time to time, sir, if I may be so bold, is what manner of child Jess Morgan bore.”
Pellew was startled out of his reverie at the mention of that name.
“Jess and I were only together for a very short time. What makes you think there would have been any offspring? She met Adair right after I had told her I would never leave the Navy. Is it surprising she chose a man like Adair after I spurned her? Foolish young pup that I was. Jo must be Adair’s daughter. Why else would he have given Jess and the babe his name?”
“Quite. Still, young Jo takes after neither Jess nor Adair in looks, would you not agree, sir?”
“What are you suggesting, mr Bracegirdle?”
“Nothing, sir. I did not mean to offend you -”
“No offence taken, mr Bracegirdle. All this happened a very long time ago. Best let bygones be bygones, eh?”
“As you say, sir.”
“Yet, I cannot help asking myself on many a sleepless night, did I make the right choice? Is this title and this ship worth more to a man than a wife and a child? But what could I have offered Jess? No more than Hornblower can offer Jo. It was never our destiny to be together. Her with a price on her head, and I the arrogant young officer?”
“Alas, sir, I cannot say. Yet it seems to me that when both parties give up a little of their dreams – sometimes it might be possible to find a solution after all. I have never told anyone this, but Mrs Bracegirdle – Charlotte – once had thoughts of a future on the stage.”
“Your wife wished to be an actress?”
“That is what I am telling you. She was of course very young. On our engagement, she quite happily gave up her dream. I too had a dream -”
“Yes, mr Bracegirdle?”
“I had got it into my head that I would sail to the colonies and become a gentleman farmer in Virginia.”
“Mr Bracegirdle, you astound me. A farmer? I should never have guessed.”
“As you said, sir, it was all a very long time ago. Perhaps the past is best forgotten.”
“Quite. I only hope Hornblower and young Kennedy did not leave their ladies on such bad terms.”
“The sea is vast, sir, but it encompasses all land masses. All winds eventually return to their point of origin. They will see each other again.”
“Let us hope you are right, mr Bracegirdle. And I must say that you are quite the philosopher.”
Bracegirdle inclined his head.
“Sir, I should see to my duties. Make sure that these young fools do not neglect theirs.”
“Very well, mr Bracegirdle. Carry on.”
When the door closed behind Bracegirdle, Pellew’s face had a strange look, and his eyes seemed to gaze into the distance, or perhaps into the past. Regrets? What use were regrets? All a man could do was discover his heart’s desire and follow where it led him. Anything else was ruled by fate.