|Primary Characters:||Horatio, Archie|
|Description:||Hornblower falls in love with a woman, who is not what she appears to be. Kennedy visits his old home, and is painfully reminded of the past. He also finds that his mother is now the victim of his father’s abuse.|
From the time Hornblower had begun his work aboard the Justinian, he had never had such an extended period of time ashore. Not in England. This was the third week. After many months of battles and exhausting patrol duty, evidently there was now a lull in the acts of war. In fact, Hornblower and his friend Kennedy were to be given a time of leave, after dealing with the last of the repairs that had been needed after their latest skirmish with the enemy.Kennedy estimated it would be another ten days before they were allowed to depart in whatever direction they chose. It had been so long since he had been his own master, and he was going to relish every second of the freedom. He could not help dwelling on this most pleasing prospect.
“Tell me, Horatio, where do you intend to go once we are free to do as we please?”
“I am not sure. This is where I wish to be.”
“You are not telling me you are not going take advantage of this rare opportunity? What of your mother and father? Are you not going to pay them a visit?”
“I do not think so, my friend. They live so far away, it will not be much use going all that way. But I will write them. And I intend to find some pretty trinket to send for my mother.”
“Ah. That is well. But I say it is even better to meet in person. I have not seen my dear mother for too many years. Nothing is going to prevent me from seeing her again. Letters are not the same as meeting in person.”
“No. That is true. Perhaps the next time we are ashore. As for this time, I believe I shall spend it right here near the docks. I might go into the city and see the sights. You must remember I have never had the opportunity to explore this wondrous place.”
“You must go and see a play. Laura Flynn on stage is a truly wondrous sight. That is something you must not miss. She is almost as lovely as Robbie.”
Kennedy smiled fondly at the memory of his sweetheart. She was so far away, yet if he closed his eyes he could recall every last one of her beloved features. His friend was too intent on his work to pay much attention to Kennedy’s state of mind. It occurred to Kennedy that while Hornblower’s first true love had been an overwhelming experience, he did not now greatly concern himself with the memory of Jo. Did Hornblower not feel as deeply as Kennedy? Or was it merely a wise precaution? Who knew when they would ever be reunited with their ladies? And to be perfectly honest, Kennedy doubted whether Jo would stay true to Hornblower. Kennedy had seen ladies like Jo Adair before, and there was something in their eyes that hinted at a roving disposition. Perhaps one day Captain Jo would be ready to settle down. Even Hornblower might one day tire of his devotion to His Majesty’s Navy and wish to find domestic bliss. Kennedy was not entirely sure he had made the right choice nearly a year ago. He still sorely missed Robbie and would gladly trade his uniform for her endearing smile.
In the evening, their work was at last done, and Captain Pellew had given his permission for most of his men to remain ashore and seek whatever distractions they pleased. Hornblower asked his friend if he would take him to see a play. He had listened with envy to Kennedy’s tales of the lovely ladies of the stage and wished to see for himself.
“By all means. Nothing would be more pleasing. Prepare yourself for quite an experience.”
It was early autumn and there was already a chill in the air, so they stopped to purchase some roasted chestnuts. They had plenty of time before the start of the performance, and they stopped at an inn to have a few pints of ale. The drinks warmed them and added to their happy mood. Soon they were outside the theatre, being pushed and shoved by the crowds, all intent on making their way inside to see and hear all there was to experience.
Kennedy had not exaggerated. Hornblower was stunned by the splendour and the stirring tale being unfolded up on the stage. The famous Laura Flynn was everything he could have dreamed of. Lovelier than anyone he had ever seen, and so talented.
From time to time Kennedy cast a contented look in his friend’s direction. There was no doubt about it, Hornblower was head over heels in love with the lady of the stage. Kennedy smiled rather sadly. How could Hornblower forget so easily? But he was a poor friend if he did not rejoice at his friend’s happiness. To shake off the mood, he asked his friend if he did not want another glass or two before they returned to the Indy.
Hornblower did not need to be asked twice. They returned to the King’s Bounty, where they had more than their fair share of drink for the night. It was not long before another lovely lady caught Hornblower’s eye. She was seated at another table in the company of another lady, and three gentlemen. The party appeared to be having an excellent time.
It now seemed to Kennedy as if the lady who had taken Hornblower’s fancy was likewise smitten with the young officer’s appearance.
From time to time, she cast a look in Hornblower’s direction. By now, Hornblower was slightly more than a little intoxicated. He was not used to drinking, and Kennedy feared the ale had gone to his head. It was time they returned to the Indy. The Captain had given them permission to enjoy themselves, that was true, but the understanding was that their work would not suffer.
“Horatio, let us begone. It is late and -”
“Yes, yes, by all means. In a minute, my friend. Have you seen that lady over there? Quite as lovely as Laura Flynn, is she not?”
“Yes, very lovely. But we do need to go.”
His words fell on deaf ears. Horatio called the attention of the man who was waiting on their table and told him he wished to offer the lady a drink. Kennedy did not like this at all. If he did not manage to steer his friend away from this potentially troubling situation, he did not know what would befall them.
“Horatio, I implore you.”
“Archie, be quiet. I wish to make the acquaintance of this lady. If you are tired I suggest you return to the Indy. I shall make my own way back.”
“My friend -”
“You are a good friend, but at times you are somewhat overly cautious. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, eh?”
Kennedy’s further protestations were forgotten as the lady had now received her drink, and raised her glass in salute to her new young admirer. She took a sip of her drink and put the glass down, waving her hand invitingly in Hornblower’s direction. Her intention was unmistakable. Nothing Kennedy could say or do would sway Hornblower. He wished to join the lady and her party. Acknowledging defeat, his friend followed him over to the next table.
“My good sir.”
“Horatio Hornblower, at your service.”
“Mr Hornblower. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
She glanced around at her companions as if pleadingly. One of the gentlemen – or perhaps they were not quite gentlemen, it seemed to Kennedy – took it upon himself to make the introduction.
“You have the pleasure of meeting lady Louise Radcliffe.”
Hornblower courteously bowed his head, removing his hat to the lovely apparition. Yes, here was a young man well and truly smitten. Kennedy sighed. What remained for him except to let his friend’s condition take its course? There was no remedy for love, or indeed for infatuation, which was what Kennedy deemed his friend to be afflicted with.
“And this young man?”
“Kennedy, my lady. Archibald Kennedy at your service.”
The lady inclined her head in greeting. It was plain that it was Hornblower’s dark good looks that had caught her eye, not this fairer young man. Her eyes slid indifferently across Kennedy’s features and returned to Hornblower’s.
Kennedy knew that without appearing brusque and discourteous in the extreme, he could not very well ask his friend to come with him and leave the company of this charming lady. Knowing he was helpless did nothing to reduce his discomfort. Something about this lady filled him with misgivings. Perhaps she truly was a lady, aspects of her behaviour indeed pointed in that direction, however, other traits seemed to hint at a less than lady-like demeanour.
Even so, a woman of less than perfect morals need not pose a threat to their safety. Kennedy had been at sea long enough to encounter women of many walks of life and though he did not seek out their companionship like many of the other officers and crewmen, he did not despise the less fortunate. He resolved to keep his fears to himself. It was plain that his friend would hear no criticism of this entrancing creature. However, it was also true that if they did not soon return to their ship, they would find themselves in some trouble with the officer on duty. Again, he made a discreet attempt at disentangling himself and his friend, but did not meet with success.
It was a long time before the lady made some excuse and bade her new admirer farewell. Not until then did Hornblower pull his gaze away from her shapely wrists, lovely tresses of golden hair, and deep sea green eyes. Kennedy had been correct in assuming they would be in trouble on their return. The officer on watch made an unusually serious fuss about their late arrival, and Hornblower’s state of intoxication. They were beginning to fear that the Captain would be informed. Fortunately, as it turned out, they were wrong about that.
To Kennedy’s further dismay, in the days that followed, there was no keeping Hornblower away from the King’s Bounty. All Kennedy’s misgivings appeared to be justified. His friend was well and truly under the lady’s spell. Kennedy’s advice went unheeded, and though he went as far as to seek mr Bracegirdle’s counsel on the matter, there appeared to be no solution to the problem.
“After all, mr Kennedy, mr Hornblower is a grown man, and as long as he does not neglect his duties, who are we to stand in his way?”
“But, sir -”
“I appreciate your concern, mr Kennedy, but I am afraid we stand powerless before the matters of the heart.”
“Your loyalty does you credit, mr Kennedy, but we must await the conclusion of the affair. Interference would not be appreciated, I fear.”
“I am sure you are correct. Thank you, sir.”
“Do not mention it. Whatever concerns you have, do not hesitate to bring the up with me, at your convenience. I’m only too happy to help.”
Concerns on his friend’s behalf made Kennedy reconsider his own visit home, but he had greatly missed his mother in the years he had been at sea, and he knew how much his visit would mean to her. Hornblower, it must be said, appeared perfectly happy to see the last of him. That was perhaps understandable. Under these circumstances a man wishes to be alone with his love. Filled with uneasy premonitions, Kennedy decided to make the journey all the same. Rather to Kennedy’s astonishment, Hornblower came to see his friend off and to bid him farewell. In the weeks that had gone by since making the acquaintance of lady Louise, the two young officers had not seen much of each other.
“I wish you a safe journey and a pleasant visit, my friend.”
“Thank you, Horatio. I wish -”
“No matter. I will see you in a fortnight.”
“I shall be awaiting your return. Please give my regards to your dear mother. And your father.”
Kennedy’s face did not display much enthusiasm upon the prospect of once again meeting his father. This was a fact which Hornblower was well familiar with, but it seemed on this day, his thoughts were elsewhere. It did not greatly tax Kennedy’s power of perception to guess what his friend’s mind was dwelling on to the exclusion of all else.
Filled with misgivings, Kennedy embraced his friend and made his departure. Once upon the road, Kennedy’s humour improved and the concerns for his friend’s well-being were pushed to the back of his mind. In addition, he was successfully able to ignore the prospect of before long once again facing the man who had made so much of his childhood miserable.
He was young, he was under no compelling orders, he was under the clear blue sky of home. How could he not rejoice? His tormentor of earlier years was dead, his body tossed into the sea as so much refuse.
On his return, he would tell his mother all about Robbie, his true love. He had made mention of her in his letters, but he wished to elaborate on the beauty, kindness and general suitability of the young lady. His mother would not object, he was certain of that. What his father would say no longer concerned him. This time, he would not let himself be intimidated. As an officer and a gentleman, having to bow to another man was unworthy.
He made good time, and before nightfall, he was on the outskirts of the small town he used to call home. Everything was familiar, and by now, he had an unsettled feeling at the pit of his stomach. The last time he had been in this place, his father had only had harsh words for him. To think that a Kennedy had sired a boy who was as prone to hysteria as a woman. A boy who had the Sight, a boy who did not wish to fight the other boys, a boy who was nothing better than a – It had been his father’s fervent hope that son would become a man, and learn manly pursuits, not hide behind his mother’s skirts. His accusations had made Kennedy want to cry, but doing so would only confirm his father’s low opinion of him.
The characterization stung. Furthermore, it was deeply unfair. It was true that he had the Sight, a gift unasked for, and unwanted. He did not as a rule fight with the other boys, as this would cause his dear mother concern. However, he was not weak, and not the sort of boy his father believed him to be. The fits that had plagued him during the years he had spent at sea did not yet afflict him when he bade his mother farewell that morning. That day stood out in his mind’s eye. The tears his mother had shed, those that had burned his own eyes, the fear of the unknown. A career in His Majesty’s Navy had not been Kennedy’s own choice. Had his life been his own, he might have wished to pursue the medical profession. No doubt his father would have fared better under the cruel hands of Jack Simpson. However, having seen his shipmates endure Simpson’s cruelty, Kennedy knew no one was strong enough to resist. Not even Hornblower.
While the memories haunted him, he was fast approaching his father’s house. Sternly he told himself to hold his head high. He was a child no longer. His father could not touch him anymore. And he was an officer and a gentleman. Should his father still presume to treat him with disdain, he would not stoop so low as to betray any sign of emotion. It was his mother he had come to see, not the old man. The house, too, was very much the same as it always used to be, perhaps somewhat smaller, and though it was drab in colour, it was a good enough house in its own way, had Kennedy not remembered the years he had spent there growing up.
Not until he left home had the corporal punishment being inflicted upon him ceased. Kennedy could still feel the sting of the belt or the cane that ate into his skin, bruising it. Before he learned his lesson, he would cry, beg his father to desist. That only served to earn him another beating. By the time he was sent away to sea, he had learned to bite his lip and endure. All useful skills for a young man at the mercy of a man like Simpson.
His friend Hornblower could hardly remember any severe punishments from his own childhood. At first that had amazed Kennedy. He had believed all boys suffered the same fate. However, Hornblower had on many occasions assured him that he had never received any beatings, merely had his ears cuffed or his fingers slapped occasionally. Hornblower was more fortunate than he realized.
That woman who was walking around the garden in the fading daylight – could it be his mother? She was smaller than he remembered. It seemed that both his mother and his home had shrunk over the passage of time. For a moment, Kennedy could observe his mother, without being himself observed. A trace of emotion stirred his normally so impassive face. The look in his eyes softened as he allowed himself to remember the gentle woman who had always had a kind word for him or a caress.
He opened the gate and stepped onto the garden path. The woman must have heard some noise which betrayed his arrival. She was expecting him, but exactly which day had not been ascertained when Kennedy’s last letter home had arrived.
“Archie. I can hardly believe it is you.”
“It is I, mother. I have missed you greatly.”
“Let me look at you, my son. How tall you have grown, and how handsome. The good Lord has seen fit to allow me to see you once more in my life. Come. Let us go inside. Supper is ready. Fanny is waiting to serve it for you, my boy.”
“Thank you, mother. Is – is my father at home?”
There was not much hope that the old man would not be there, but Kennedy could not help wishing for a miracle. At times his father had indeed been called away on business. But he knew it was too much to hope for and his mother’s words confirmed his suspicion.
“Your father is expected home shortly.”
“I see. Shall we?”
Supper was a strained affair. Mr Kennedy Sr was not in the habit of endulging in small talk at the table, nor was he inclined to tolerate such irrelevant behaviour from his wife and son. From time to time, Kennedy espied his father casting a penetrating stare in his direction. It appeared he still did not live up to the old man’s expectations. All the years gone by since he last sat at this table vanished and he was once again the boy of so long ago.
After Mr Kennedy Sr made it clear he had finished his meal, he pushed away his plate, and left the table without a word of thanks to his wife. In the doorway he paused and again his eyes coldly regarded his son.
“I should like to see you in my study, Archibald.”
Like the little boy of days gone by, Kennedy hurriedly joined his father in his study. He had to use all his willpower to convince himself that this time, it was inconceivable that his father intended to physically punish him for some transgression.
Inside the study, his father was standing by the window, looking out across the garden. He did not turn to face his son as he entered.
Kennedy found that no chair was provided for the hapless visitor, so he remained standing as well, as close to the door as he deemed his father would tolerate. The open door behind him gave the illusion that he might choose to exit by it, at will, rather than having to await his father’s permission. Kennedy swallowed hard a few times, as the strained atmosphere settled over him.
At long last, his father cleared his throat and this time he truly did turn in his son’s direction.
“Well? What do you have to say for yourself?”
“You are, are you not, still a midshipman?”
“After all these years?”
“But, sir – ”
“I will hear of no excuses. It appears I sired a weakling. But this is only what I deserve for marrying such a weak and useless woman. Unless you are a lieutenant the next time you wish to visit my home, I suggest you remain at sea. Perhaps they have use even for such as you in His Majesty’s Navy, though I deplore your superiors for having to contend with the likes of you. How can they defeat the French rabble with such poor manpower?”
“Your words are of no interest to me. As you have come this far, and your mother apparently dotes on you, you may stay for a time, after which, I suggest you return to your ship. Have I made myself clear?”
What did his words matter? His father had already made up his mind and there was no changing it. Kennedy knew this far too well. It should not have come as a surprise, but disappointment pulsed through him and made him feel sick. His friend Hornblower’s father would never have treated his son in this manner. How could two men much of the same age be so utterly different?
Outside his father’s study, Kennedy had to pause to collect himself. He could not face his mother in this state. A sharp pain in the palms of his hands made him hold out his arms before him and take a look. His fingernails had penetrated the skin, that was how hard his fists had been clenched during the brief interview. Crescents of red marked the pale skin. In addition, he became aware of the salty taste of blood in his mouth. He had bitten through his lower lip in an effort not to betray his weakness. In all this time so little had changed. Why had he ever thought he could please his father?
He went for a walk in the garden to regain some manner of control over himself. When he met his mother, he wanted to appear his normal self. He could not bear to cause her any pain. She must not suspect what had just passed between him and his father. The cool air had a soothing effect on Kennedy. Being an officer might not have been his choice, but there was no denying that the cool sea breeze gave a man a wonderful sense of freedom. When he had spent some time with his mother, he was looking forward to returning to the Indy and his friends. This was no place for him.
His mother had prepared his old room for him, and despite the emotional upheaval earlier that night, it was undeniably sweet to once again rest in his old bed. He was tired, and soon he had drifted off to sleep. It was not long, however, until a noise woke him. Instantly he came awake.
That sound reminded him of – Yes, there it was again. A woman screaming in pain. Before he knew what he was doing, Kennedy was out of his bed and outside his room on the landing. To his horror the sound could be traced to his parents’ room. A blind rage seized him, making him want to break down the door and take his father by the throat. With an effort he controlled himself. The night was now quiet, save for the softer sound of a woman sobbing.
Whatever his own wishes, he knew his mother would not wish him to interfere. Furthermore, it was unthinkable to barge into their room at night. In the past, Kennedy had been too severely disciplined for far less to even consider such a breach of civil manners. In the morning he would have a discreet word with his father. Now that his blood was stirred by anger, he was losing some of his fear of the old man. He would let his feelings be known.
In Kennedy’s absence, Hornblower spent every free moment with the lady he had met at the King’s Bounty. To say that he was spellbound was not an exaggeration. Since time began there had rarely been a young man that completely under a lady’s spell. What he had felt for Jo was, as Kennedy had surmised, utterly forgotten.
The lady herself appeared to be well pleased with the effect she was having on the handsome young officer. Hornblower did not know it, but she was of a decidedly fickle nature. It was within her character to flit from flower to flower like a butterfly to put it in a rather topsyturvy way. At the moment, it was Hornblower who took her fancy.
Despite his quite recent liaison with Jo, Hornblower was very much the innocent, and for a time, the lady had her work cut out for her, trying to delicately hint that she was indeed as smitten with the young officer as he was with her. Even now, Hornblower was incapable of seeing any tarnish on a lady’s reputation. Unlike his friend Kennedy he would have a difficult time recognizing a lady of poor morals if he saw one.
By now, most of the officers and crew of the Indy were allowed their leisure. No new orders had arrived, and every man could command his own time. It so happened that Hornblower had found the place he most of all wished to be. Not aboard the Indy as he had so recently told his friend, but in the immediate vicinity of Louise Radcliffe.
Though they had already spent many nights together, the lady contrived to find an excuse to carry Hornblower off to some private rendezvous spot. One day, some time after Kennedy’s departure, she announced her intention of going for a pleasure jaunt. With much fluttering of the eyelashes, and a multitude of pouts, the lady confided her plan to her young admirer.
“Mr Hornblower, it is my wish to make one last outing before the chill in the air force us to seek divertments indoor.”
“I see. Where to, mylady?”
“Ah, so many destinations, so little time. Where shall I go this time? Bath? Harrogate? No. I believe it has been too long since I’ve beheld Bristol. How would a visit there strike you?”
“Bristol? As you wish, mylady.”
“Excellent. I shall ask my – cousin – Ephraim to make the arrangements.”
Hornblower inclined his head in consent. Anywhere the lady wished to go, would have struck Hornblower as utterly delightful, even Paris, Spain or indeed the Osman Empire.
“I shall expect you early Wednesday morning, mr Hornblower. Bring your best clothes. We shall have such a delightful time, shall we not? I am quite excited about the prospect.”
Feigning the actions of an innocent young girl, she quickly placed her arms around Hornblower’s neck and embraced him, and did not neglect to place a chaste kiss on his cheek. A more experienced man might have remarked that such an outburst would be more seemly in a girl of nearly half the lady’s age, but Hornblower was no great judge of a lady’s age, any more than he was able to judge her character. His heart swelled and his skin flushed at her touch.
The lady’s smile widened. How wonderfully predictable. In the fullness of time, the young officer had fallen at her feet like a fruit ripe for the picking, as she had known he would.
On Wednesday morning, Hornblower faithfully arrived, waiting for his lady. Though it was a grey and chilly day, the lady left him standing outside in the slow, but steady drizzle for the better part of an hour. Still, discomfort was as nothing to an officer of His Majesty’s Navy. Not a word of protest escaped his lips, when finally the lady, her maid and her cousin mr Ephraim Sandford arrived. It appeared that the lady and her cousin were devoted to each other. Sandford had his arm around the lady’s waist in a rather familiar way, but Hornblower thought nothing of it. For all intents and purposes, he might have been blind to anything but the lady’s graces. It did not occur to him that for such a long absence he might need his Captain’s permission. Hornblower had all but forgotten about his Captain, his friend and the Indy, from the moment he had first laid eyes on lady Louise Radcliffe.
Once on the road to Bristol, the lady visibly relaxed and the conversation became spirited and jocular.
Soon Hornblower was seated very close to the lady, while her cousin and the maid made do with the opposite seat in the carriage. His face had a high colour that might owe something to the lady’s decolletage. She never failed to expose her swelling bosom to her young admirer’s eager eyes, whenever her head moved closer to bestow some confidence on his likewise eager ears.
It was close to nightfall when they pulled up outside the inn. Hornblower was not an experienced traveller, at least on land, but he did think the inn appeared to be rather disreputable. The other guests tended to predominantly shifty-looking characters, seemingly ceaselessly looking over their shoulders. However, Hornblower was not paying much attention.
His eyes were constantly on Louise, the loveliest lady in all of Britain. He could hardly wait until the night, when he would once again rest in her arms, his head pressed against her bosom, her blonde tresses freely flowing down her milky white shoulders. Intent on the vision in his mind, he did not hear the soft voice calling his name. She had to repeat her words more than twice.
“Oh, mylady. I was deep in thought.”
“You were thinking about me, I hope?”
“You know I was. How can I be of service to you?”
“First, let us have supper. Then – we shall see. Tonight, Horatio, tonight.”
He laughed delightedly at the thought of the pleasures of the flesh, so recently discovered, so soon taken for granted.
“Very well, shall we?”
He held out his arm to escort his lady to the table. The quality of the food was not what Hornblower was used to, but food was the last thing on his mind. In the weeks that had gone by since he had first met his lady, Hornblower could not recall what he might have eaten. What mattered such trifles? He was young, he was in love. His lady did not deny him anything. How could he not rejoice at his good fortune?
Later that night, he knocked on Louise’s door, and as she had on every night since they had met, she let him in. The scent of her perfume was heavy in the air, perhaps hiding other less pleasant smells, indidgenous to the room.
She had removed her frock, exchanging it for an undergarment of some flimsy fabric, Hornblower could not name. More than half of the full, round globes of her bosom were visible above the decollatage, and Hornblower drew in breath in anticipation.
Louise smiled and allowed her young lover to steal a kiss, but before long she pushed him away, holding him at arm’s length.
“No, my love. Let us share this cup first. There is a chill in the air tonight, and this wine will warm our blood.”
“I will keep you warm, mylady.”
“Drink with me, Horatio.”
“Your will is my command.”
Hornblower lifted the cup and took a sip. The wine had rather an odd taste, but he thought nothing of it. Louise too raised the cup to her lips, but did not drink after all. Her young lover was too intent on the prospect of once again sharing the lady’s bed, to notice. Soon they were lying together, hot skin against hot skin.
Somewhat later, when the moon was high in the sky, the sound of Hornblower’s soft breathing told the lady he was deeply asleep. That was the moment she had waited for. Gone was the languid grace with which she moved in her young lover’s company.
It was time for haste. She found her riding habit and hurriedly put it on. On the threshold, she paused, looking back at the young man asleep on her bed. Yes, he was far gone. When she closed the door silently behind her, her lover was all but forgotten.
Sandford was waiting for her downstairs.
“He’s asleep like an infant.”
“Your own special mixture?”
“And he does not suspect?”
“Surely not. He is as innocent and as gullible as a babe.”
“Do not get too attached to him, my love.”
Louise frowned in dismay, and pushed Sandford’s hand away.
“Let us begone from here, before Horatio awakens.”
“As you wish, my love.”
Without replying, she pushed past Sandford and stealthily made her way to the stable, where she found her mare, led her into the cobbled yard, and stared at Sandford peremptorily. He left his gelding and hurriedly saddled her mare, then returned to his own steed, saddling him as well. Leading both horses outside, onto the road, Sandford stopped and gazed back at his companion. Already, she was wearing her mask and cloak.
Kennedy should have known his words would fall on deaf ears. His father’s rage at his presumption frightened him even now. He had faced enemy fire, run to his friend’s aid with bullets flying around his ears, but in his eyes, his father and Jack Simpson merged into the same menacing monster. Filled with revulsion before his own weakness, he fled from his father’s study. How could he so fail his beloved mother? His father was right. He was a pathetic coward and not a grown man.
Not for the first time, Kennedy wished his friend was with him. But Hornblower would be rocking in Louise Radcliffe’s arms, unless he was much mistaken, and the dark head would be filled with thoughts of love, not friendship. There was no one he could turn to. Robbie and her sister Jo were a world away, and if he allowed his lady love to fight his battles for him, what would that make him? What his father called him and worse.
His mother was subdued and quiet, but seemed determined to keep up a cheerful demeanour before her son. At least being together brought them both some comfort. Who knew when he would next be allowed to spend such an extended period of time in his mother’s company? They both knew they had to make the most of it.
Their country was at war. He was an officer in His Majesty’s Navy, albeit of low rank, as his father had quite rightly pointed out to him, and his life was constantly at risk. And though he did not wish to face the knowledge, he knew his mother’s health was not good. This might be the last time he would ever lay his eyes on her.
What he did not comprehend was why his father had not sent him away. There was no love lost between the two men, and after their confrontation, Kennedy had expected his visit to be cut short. Nevertheless, he was still here. It was a while longer before he was under orders to return. As long his father did not throw him out, he would remain. This after all, was, or had been, his home.
For a time he did not witness or overhear any of his father’s outrageous behaviour towards his wife. With something like relief, Kennedy concluded that while his outburst had not produced much result, at least it might have rendered his father more reluctant to resort to violence.
However, a few nights later, once again he heard his mother’s pitiful screams, and once again, he was outside on the landing, standing before the door to his parents’ room. This time, though, what was transpiring inside must be far worse than the last time. He could not remain passive. The sounds issuing from behind that door, made him fear the worst.
Once inside, he knew he had not been wrong. His mother was lying prone and unmoving on the floor. The old man – was beating and kicking the woman who had been his wife for more than 25 years. This time, nothing could prevent Kennedy from rushing to his mother’s aid. He placed himself between the enraged old man and the woman on the floor, blocking every blow with his own fists. But he did not attempt to attack his father. All that was on his mind was protecting his dear mother.
This, apparently, was the last thing his father had expected. Stunned, the old man paused, arms hanging by his sides, chest heaving and face contorted in rage.
“You – you dare to raise a hand against your own father – I shall beat the rebellion from your useless body.”
But no such attack seemed to be forthcoming. Instead his father pressed a hand to his chest, making odd noises. Without another coherent word, the old man keeled over and in his turn fell to the floor. Kennedy bent over to look at the old man, but having seen death at close range far too many times, he turned away, instead intent on tending to his mother.
“Mother. Speak to me. Mother?”
It was far too long before he saw her eyes flutter open and her pale face regain some of its natural colour. Her lips moved but no sound issued from the almost white lips. At least she was still breathing. Her heart was still beating. Immense relief flooded over Kennedy. Action of some kind needed to be taken. Yes. A doctor. His father was beyond help, and at the moment that did not cause much of a reaction inside Kennedy. All he was intent upon was seeing to his mother’s injuries. His attention was pulled back to the woman on the floor as the first words passed her lips.
“You will be fine, mother. Do not concern yourself. He will not harm you any more.”
As if his words filled her with terror, the poor woman tried to get up, gazing fearfully around for her husband. It hurt Kennedy to see her still so devoted to the man who had caused them so much pain, but he bowed to his mother’s will as always.
“I am afraid he is -”
When the meaning of his words sunk in, his mother gasped.
“Archie, you must fetch dr Morton. The same house. Across the commons. Please, hurry.”
“I will bring him, mother, but first I will take you back to bed. And I will call Fanny. She will tend to you.”
His mother submitted to his ministrations, and awaited the girl’s arrival. Fanny’s mouth opened and she was about to scream, but Kennedy’s words calmed her somewhat.
“Fanny, my father – well, you can see for yourself. Please, remain calm. Tend to my mother. I shall return, bringing dr Morton.”
“Yes, mr Kennedy. Sir.”
He ran through the darkness. It had been a long time since he had last visited dr Morton’s house, and it had been under very different circumstances, but he still remembered the way. He and Catherine Morton had been much of the same age. They had been good friends, and had his father known about their first kiss under dr Morton’s old cherry tree, he might not have despaired about his son’s prowess. But Kennedy doubted his father would have believed him had he been callous enough to soil the lady’s reputation in such a way. Catherine was now married, and herself the mother of two young daughters. It was bitter to think that Kennedy himself could have been her husband and the father of those girls, had not his father sent him to sea. But such thoughts were useless.
He found himself outside the old thatched house, dark against the dark night surrounding it. Not a window was lit. What if the doctor was out on a call? There was only one way to find out. Pounding on the door, Kennedy shouted at the top of his lungs and eventually, the lights came on inside the house, and one of the servants opened the door a crack.
“Is the doctor at home? We need him urgently.”
The man inside opened the door a trifle more and squinted nearsightedly at the visitor.
“Ah, mr Kennedy. I remember. Please step inside and wait for the doctor.”
“No. I can not wait. My mother and – please ask the doctor to come quickly.”
“Very well. I shall send for him at once.”
Kennedy ran back towards his old home, filled with despair. With some of his concerns on his mother’s behalf laid to rest, he was only now beginning to realize the implications of what had occurred. But he could not dwell on the matter. Not while his mother was still abed, injured by the man who should have been protecting her, not hurting her.
When the news reached the Indefatigable and Kennedy’s friends and fellow officers, no one wanted to believe it. Their gentle soft-spoken friend Kennedy was being held for questioning, and about to stand trial for a heinous crime. How could this be even remotely possible? His true friends, who knew him better than anyone, naturally did not give any credence to such an outrageous claim. However, the fact remained. Kennedy was to stand trial for patricide.
His head might have been filled with thoughts of his lady, but Hornblower had not entirely forgotten about his friend. Leaving his friend to face his misfortune alone was unthinkable. Hornblower approached Captain Pellew, to ask his permission to go to his friend.
“Indeed, t’is a very serious accusation. And I agree with you, it is highly unlikely that mr Kennedy would commit such a crime. Very well, mr Hornblower, you have my permission to seek out your friend in gaol.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Hornblower left rather hurriedly, to find a horse, forgetting that this mode of transportation was perhaps ill-advised, considering his lack of horsemanship.
After watching his young officer’s departure, Pellew frowned in deep concern. If young mr Kennedy were to be found guilty, he would most likely hang, unless he was lucky enough to be exiled to the colonies. Should he be acquitted, other grave consequences might follow. As an officer and a gentleman, there could be no stain on his good name. An unfortunate affair such as this might finish Kennedy’s career even if he was found not guilty.
Bracegirdle was thinking much the same, and he did not hesitate to bring up the topic in conversation and make a suggestion.
“Sir, may I suggest engaging counsel for mr Kennedy, at the Navy’s expense?”
“Excellent idea, mr Bracegirdle. See to the formalities, will you.”
“Yes, sir. And should the Navy be unwilling to foot the bill, I shall pay the man myself.”
“Admirable sentiment, mr Bracegirdle. Make sure you get the best man. I believe Cummings, Hardcastle, Talbot and Claiborne is the most reputable legal firm.”
“That is what I have heard, as well. I will enquire with them.”
“Very good. With the right counsel it is to be hoped that mr Kennedy will be acquitted.”
Bracegirdle bowed and taking the captain’s silence as dismissal, turned to find his way to the offices of Cummings, Hardcastle, Talbot and Claiborne.
In the meantime, Hornblower was having some difficulty reining in his unruly steed, but eventually, he was able to make his way to Kennedy’s home town. He still could not fully fathom the magnitude of the disaster that had struck his gentle friend. Hornblower was convinced that whatever might have occurred, Kennedy could not have committed such an atrocious act. There had to be some misunderstanding.
Arriving outside the gaol where his friend was languishing, Hornblower dismounted. No one knew better than Hornblower what Kennedy must be suffering. After his captivity in Spain, Kennedy could not but suffer untold torment. Hornblower feared for his friend’s safety. Should the pain become too great to bear, would Kennedy be able to resist the temptation of ending his own life?
An unexpected complication all but prevented him from seeing Kennedy after all. The guard refused to allow any visitors to see the fathermurderer.
“If ye’re not ‘is counsel I don’t care who ye are. Ye’re not seeing ‘im and that’s a fact.”
It took Hornblower precious moments dealing with the stubborn fool. Finally, when the man realized who he was dealing with, he slunk off, with a dirty look in the young officer’s direction.
Kennedy was sitting on the filthy floor, hunched over, his head resting on his knees. He did not look up at the sound of someone approaching. After all the indignities he had already suffered, he did not greatly care what else would be inflicted on him.
It was inconceivable how he could have been accused of his own father’s murder. There was not a scratch on the old man’s body, whereas his own beloved mother was bruised and battered all over. Furthermore, his mother’s testimony, and Fanny’s, should have been enough.
Dr Morton did not for a second entertain any ideas about young Kennedy’s culpability, having treated mrs Kennedy’s bruises and fractures many a time over the years, but regretfully he was the only one not to. It was a sad fact that man choose to believe the worst, whenever it was possible.
“Archie, my friend.”
At last, Kennedy looked up and faced his friend.
The pain and hopelessness in his eyes chilled Hornblower. His friend had already given up. But he must not allow him to abandon all hope. There was always hope and as soon as Hornblower knew all the facts he would put his mind at work finding a solution.
“Horatio. You should not be here. Leave me. Soon I will not have to concern myself with anything.”
“What kind of talk is that, Archie? Surely you do not think anyone will pay any heed to this nonsense?”
“Look around you. Does it seem to you as if anyone believes in my innocense?”
Hornblower did not like the sound of defeat in his friend’s voice. His fears for his friend’s safety increased tenfold. Even should Kennedy not be contemplating suicide, there was the risk of his fits returning. And alone in his cell there was no one to hold him down, to prevent him from accidentally doing himself harm. Hornblower was determined that his friend should not long pine away in this place.
“Tell me all about what transpired.”
“What is the use? I am already doomed. You must forget about me. I bring everyone bad luck. Had it not been for me, my sweet Felicity would still be alive and well.”
“Do not speak such nonsense, my friend. Had it not been for you, I would not be standing here talking to you. Remember France?”
“I have not forgotten. Have you forgotten Spain? But you should have let me die.”
“I will not listen to such talk. Now tell me what happened. All of it. Do not leave any detail out.”
“What is it you wish to know? My father had not changed since I last saw him. I was still a grave disappointment to him. No longer content to beat his son, he was now inflicting his violence on my poor mother.”
Hornblower flinched as if from a blow. Hearing his friend talk about his childhood, but even more the tale of his father’s ill treatment of a helpless woman, who was his own wife, sickened him. How could any man be capable of such villainy? With a sinking feeling, he realized that his friend might under such circumstances have lost his head and committed this crime after all. Could he not see himself doing the very same thing, under similar circumstances?
“Go on. What happened on the night this – incident occurred.”
The authority in Hornblower’s voice made Kennedy obey without question, used as he was to submitting to the will of others.
“Once again I awoke to cries from my parents’ room. This time, however, it was far worse. I feared for my mother’s life, so I opened the door, intent on protecting her.”
When Kennedy did not continue his narrative, remaining deep in thought, no doubt reliving the distressing event, Hornblower urged him on.
“I stepped between them and faced my father. He had never seen me confront him thus. His face was contorted in anger. It took but a moment for him to keel over and fall to the floor at my feet.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes. That is all.”
“You did not touch him?”
“What difference does it make?”
“Answer me, Archie.”
“You have my word I did not lay a hand on him.”
“That is what I wished to know. Thank you, my friend.”
Kennedy shrugged indifferently. Hornblower had not seen his friend this distraught since Spain. But no. That was not quite true. Once in the West Indies, when Kennedy had finally confided in his friend the true extent of Simpson’s abuse of him, he had been close to the state he was in now. Again, he gave his fears free rein. What if Kennedy succumbed to the seizures again? What if, in his despair, he were to resort to the ultimate sin?
“Archie. Look at me. I give you my word that I will get you out of here. Do you trust me?”
“You know I do, but how could you possibly change my fate? It is plain that I was born under an unlucky star and that nothing anyone can do can change this simple fact.”
“Your father clearly died of a heart attack.”
“That is my belief also, but no one else believes this, so what difference does it make?”
“They will be forced to believe if a man with experience in these matters says so.”
Hornblower was convinced he had the solution to Kennedy’s problem.
“Your loyalty is praiseworthy, my friend, but you are wasting that loyalty on someone not worthy.”
“Nonsense. I will tell you what I have planned. Listen carefully. I shall send a man with a message to my father. My father, who is a physician.”
“Yes, you have frequently told me about him. What of him?”
“He has extensive experience with cases such as these. Strong emotions have been known to bring on a heart attack. It is a well known fact. Archie, has your father been buried yet?”
“I do not know.”
“I will find out. My father will examine the body and he will convince the court of your innocence.”
Despite himself, Kennedy was beginning to feel the first stirrings of hope. He did not want to begin to hope only to be cruely disappointed again, but his friend’s enthusiasm was infectious. Perhaps –
“You are the best friend a man could have, Horatio. I – I love you.”
“I love you too, my friend. Promise me not to give in to despair while I see to the arrangements.”
After a moment of hesitation, Kennedy gave his word. In so far as he had control over his emotions. He knew far too well that the fits he had suffered for so many years did not answer to his own volition, and he knew that his friend was concerned about exactly that possibility. Regretfully, he could not put Hornblower’s mind at ease on that score.
“I will await your return.”
“You will not have to languish in this place for much longer.”
“I wish I could be as certain as you appear to be.”
“Do you trust me, my friend?”
“You know I do. With my life.”
“As I trust you.”
Hornblower reached in through the bars of the cell and squeezed Kennedy’s hand reassuringly. Something of Hornblower’s strength seemed to pass over to Kennedy. When he saw his friend disappearing, Kennedy felt a new sense of purpose. Hornblower was right. It was too soon to abandon hope. He would wait and place his trust in his friend. If anyone could get him out of this situation, it was Hornblower.
As he had known he would, Hornblower found that his father had heeded his plea and taken the stagecoach south, the moment he received his son’s communication. There was still time until the trial would begin.
The reunion between father and son was cordial, but Hornblower could not repress a stab of pain as he recalled how his friend had never enjoyed the same warm relationship with his father.
“There is no time to lose, son. Let us begin. Will you accompany me when I inspect the body?”
“No, father. I must return to Archie. His state of mind greatly concerns me.”
His father cast him a thoughtful gaze, and for a brief moment, Hornblower feared that his father too would misconstrue their friendship. But he was wrong.
“I shall have to take a look at your friend as soon as his release has been secured. Perhaps there is something I can do to alleviate his symptoms. Yes, run along and lend him your support, son. I will see you later.”
He should have known he could always count on his father.
“Thank you, father.”
As good as his word, Hornblower hurried back to Kennedy’s side. The man on guard was new and did not give him any trouble. The cell was still as dark and as foul-smelling, but his friend was now changed. It appeared that his visit had indeed lent Kennedy some of his own strength.
“Here. I brought you some food, and a bottle of cider. The vile mess they have served you would only make you sick.”
Hornblower’s kindness almost brought tears to Kennedy’s eyes. He had not touched the mouldy bread, or the stale water, and indeed he had had little thought for his hunger. What use was eating, when you might soon swing from a rope? Out of gratitude for his friend’s kindness, Kennedy nibbled unenthusiastically on the pie and took a few sips of the cider. It was hard forcing anything down, when his mind was on what had occurred so recently, and even more on the future. What would become of his mother? He did not earn enough to keep anyone but himself. Again he regretted his father’s decision regarding his career. Had he become a doctor, like Hornblower’s father, he might now be in a position to support his mother. Instead, he was forced to helplessly watch her become dependent on the charity of strangers.
As if he had read his friend’s mind, Hornblower began to speak, hesitantly, eager not to hurt his friend’s feelings.
“Archie, I have been thinking that my mother needs a companion. She is feeling lonely, now that my sister is married. If a lady of modest means should be willing to make her home with us, I am certain that my mother would much appreciate it.”
“Horatio, I -”
“No, do not say anything, my friend. If your mother wishes to accept this offer, I know my family will be most grateful to her. My father’s work keeps him occupied and many a night he is away tending to patients in other parishes.”
“I would forever be in your debt, my friend.”
“Do not speak of debts between friends, Archie. It is I who owes you a debt for your friendship and loyalty. Without your constant support I am sure I would have given in to despair aboard the Justinian.”
Kennedy’s face grew tense, and Hornblower quickly changed the topic. His friend did not need reminding of those dark days.
“My father is at this very moment examining your father’s body. He will be able to settle the matter once and for all. I should be very much surprised if all charges were not dropped within a day or so.”
Kennedy was not as easily convinced by Hornblower’s optimism, but he could not help but smile at his friend’s enthusiasm. It was comforting to be the recipient of such love and unhesitating loyalty.
Hornblower’s hopes were entirely justified. His father’s evidence convinced the judge to drop the charges. The counsel mr Bracegirdle had engaged could but concur. As the case never went to trial Kennedy’s career was salvaged.
A pale but collected Kennedy received the good news before the judge’s table. Hornblower and his father heartily congratulated him. On the courthouse stairs, Kennedy embraced his friend and later shook dr Hornblower’s hand.
Dr Hornblower was a busy man, and his obligations up north called him back home. Regardless of this fact, he took the time to perform a thorough physical examination of his son’s young friend. When he saw the numerous scars which covered the young man’s body, his face darkened, but he made no comment.
He gave the skull especial attention. There was no sign of any head injuries that might be responsible for the young man’s condition, forcing the doctor to the conclusion that the cause was emotional rather than physical.
Kennedy most unwillingly submitted to the examination. He was still wary of being touched by another man, but out of respect for his friend, he reluctantly agreed. Once the examination was completed, he anxiously studied the older man’s face. What would the verdict be?
“You appear to be a very healthy young man. I am forced to conclude that your condition is based solely in emotional trauma.”
Disappointment filled Kennedy. He could have told the good doctor as much himself. What he wished to know was how he could avoid a recurrence of the symptoms.
Reading the young man’s face correctly, the doctor continued his diagnosis.
“My advice to you is to avoid exerting yourself excessively, emotionally and physically. Eat and drink good solid foods and get enough sleep. Your life aboard a ship should provide plenty of healthy exercise. Above all, do not be ashamed of this condition. It is no different than a broken limb or a fever. Should you feel a fit coming on, there is not much to be done, I am afraid. Make sure someone watches over you.”
At this dr Hornblower cast a look in his son’s direction. When the patient still looked rather disappointed, dr Hornblower added a final assurance.
“It is my belief that you have seen the worst of this condition. In many cases it is a childhood affliction. As one grows older often these conditions clear up.”
“Thank you, sir. I will bear your suggestions in mind.”
“I am the one who owes you thanks. Horatio has written to me, explaining how you saved his life in France.”
Kennedy blushed slightly at the unexpected praise. He only wished he had even once heard anything similar from his own father. Again, he shook dr Hornblower’s hand and retreated to let his friend say his farewells.
To his astonishment, he saw his friend embracing his father warmly. Kennedy could not remember his own father ever touching him, except to punish him. Yet another reason to envy his friend. But he loved Hornblower far too much to grudge him anything.
Now all that remained was to make arrangements for mrs Kennedy. To Kennedy’s surprise, his mother had already dealt with her situation. Her younger sister had sent for her. As the lady had made a far better match than her older sister, Kennedy had all his fears on his mother’s behalf put to rest.
On the day of his mother’s departure, he helped get her on the stagecoach. Embracing her as warmly as his friend had embraced his father, Kennedy stood watching his mother disappearing out of his life. At least he knew that from now on, she would be safe and content. Mother and son waved to each other until the coach was out of sight. Though he hated his own weakness, Kennedy felt a tear or two burn his eyes. Not daring to face his friend, lest his weakness become known, he stood with his back to Hornblower, while collecting himself. A hand squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. It seemed he was not deceiving his friend at all.
“Are you ready to return to the Indy with me?”
“Nothing is keeping me here.”
“Then let us begone. The sea breeze will do you good. I am thinking you have been away too long.”
“I am thinking you might be right. Come. Now you must tell me all about what has befallen you in my absence.”
Once they returned, however, Hornblower’s praise of his love had been proven a lie. Events had caught up with her. Mercifully, Hornblower’s absence had protected him from being implicated in the lady’s crimes. Despite his innocense, he might have found himself in worse trouble than Kennedy so recently.
What Louise Radcliffe stood accused of was no less than highway robbery and murder. Hornblower could not believe it. The lady he loved was not the sort to commit such a crime. But in this case, the evidence condemning her was overwhelming. No punishment other than death by hanging would suffice.
Though by now, Hornblower too was convinced of the lady’s guilt, he could not stay away from her trial. The evidence was conclusive. On the day of the sentencing, Hornblower still could not stay away. His friend Kennedy was by his side, throughout the painful proceedings. When the judge delivered his verdict, Louise stood up and faced the judge’s table.
“Your Honour, I am with child.”
Ever since the first day of the trial, Hornblower’s face had been a rigid mask, more like his friend’s Kennedy’s than his own, but at those words a hint of emotion moved him.
Kennedy knew far too well what his friend must be suffering at that moment. He squeezed Hornblower’s arm reassuringly, but it was as if the young officer was alone in the room.
A child. His child? Whose else would it be? Surely Louise could not have been sharing her graces with any other man? On his way out of the courtroom, he ran into Louise’s cousin Sandford. The man regarded the young officer with disdain and malice.
“Do not believe her words. She is no more with child than I am.”
Hornblower grabbed the man by the throat, intent on shaking the truth out of him. What did he know about Louise and her child? Kennedy put a restraining hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“What are you talking about, man?”
“Louise is not with child. Who should know better than myself? I was the one who helped her get rid of the babe.”
Sandford’s words only slowly sank into Hornblower. His child. Killed? But the man’s next words disillusioned him further.
“And it was not yours, sailor boy. Louise always took precautions when she took her pleasure from the likes of you. I was her only true lover.”
He was her lover? But they were cousins? How could – Hornblower wanted to beat the man to the ground, but Kennedy’s murmured words of comfort finally reached him through the daze of pain.
“Horatio, let us begone. Do not stoop so low as to pay his ravings any mind.”
“You are right, my friend. He is not worth my time.”
“Think you’re better than me, boy? Come on. Look at me, when I am speaking to you. I should teach you a lesson -”
“You? Teach me a lesson? You are not worth a challenge. Keep away from me.”
“Fine. Suit your fine self. I could tell you how I would make her scream. Did you ever make her scream, boy? No, you did not. She told me herself. Her boy did not live up to her expectations. That is why she had to keep coming back to me. Only a man could satisfy her.”
Hornblower’s hands turned into fists and he wanted to silence the rascal once and for all. But Kennedy was right. If he listened to the likes of this man, he would be no better himself. Now he knew that the lady he had thought he loved had never been the person he thought he knew. All had been a lie. A filthy, cruel lie. He should have known it had been too good to be true.
“Horatio. Come with me.”
Kennedy put his arm around Hornblower’s shoulders and led him away. Back at the Indy they both studiously avoided discussing what Sandford had told them. It was all too painful to Hornblower and Kennedy respected his friend’s wishes.
On the day of the execution, Hornblower stunned his friend by insisting on being present to watch Louise hang.
Kennedy knew his friend too well to believe this morbid urge was based in a need for revenge. What the real reason was, he could not comprehend.
“Why? I implore you, Horatio, do not go. This is not a sight for a gentleman’s eyes. And after what has passed between you and the lady – surely, you do not wish to remember her swinging at the end of a rope?”
“It is something I must do. You do not need to understand, or accompany me. With or without you, I will go.”
“Then I will go with you. Do you think I will abandon you now? Wherever you go, I go too.”
Hornblower fixed his friend with a penetrating stare. Then he nodded and put a hand on Kennedy’s knee.
“You are a true friend. Come. We have no time to lose. Dawn is near.”
In the cold darkness outside the prison walls, they waited. The crowds were pushing and shoving the two young officers. Watching a woman swing, was a rare spectacle, and even rarer to see a lady hang for highway robbery and murder. Everyone was determined not to miss any of the show. A good time was to be had by all, with the exception of the lady in question, a young man who had once loved her, and his devoted friend. Finally, the gates were opened, and under close supervision by the guards, the crowds were ushered inside.
Perhaps it was fortunate that they could not get a good view of the gallows. Despite being young and strong, the two young men found themselves shoved into the background. Hornblower felt weak and listless, and Kennedy was only too pleased to be able to shield his friend from the worst of the spectacle unfolding before their eyes.
Suddenly a hush fell over the jostling crowds. Everyone stilled and waited expectantly. A whisper travelled across the yard. She’s coming. There she is. Look. Hornblower and Kennedy strained their eyes along with everyone else in the direction from which the lady would be led.
Yes, there she was. Even at this distance there was no mistaking her lovely fair hair and the arrogant posture. Not even these circumstances could make Louise bend. She held her head high.
Despite everything, Hornblower stared at her avidly for any sign of remorse, or a gaze around the yard. Was she searching for him after all? No. She did not look left or right, merely proceeded on her way to the gallows.
Two men held her arms while a third placed the noose around her neck. Her eyes fixed on something in the distance, Louise mounted the steps.
With unseeing eyes, Hornblower waited for the moment when the trapdoor dropped and Louise’s feet gave out under her. Kennedy did not wish to see either. He had seen too many people die. The spectacle did not hold any appeal for him.
When the moment came, there was a distraction from the opposite direction, and Kennedy thought he heard shots fired, but he did not concern himself. They had missed the moment. When they looked again, they saw a kicking, twitching body dangling from the rope. Had it not been for the shock of fair hair, it could have been anything or anyone.
“Come, Horatio. It is over. You have seen what you came to see. Let us go.”
There was no reply, so Kennedy merely put his arm around his friend’s shoulders, once again leading him away. Unresistingly Hornblower submitted to his friend’s care. When they passed the guards on the way out, Kennedy remembered the brief disturbance a few minutes ago. He asked one of the men about it.
“Oh, that. Some fool who thought to break the lady free. Our boys had to shoot him.”
The crowds pushed the two young officers along. Kennedy thought he could guess who had made the desperate attempt. Apparently, Sandford had loved Louise after all, and now he had followed her into death. Perhaps it was for the best. In any case, Kennedy would make sure his friend did not lose his will to live.
He took his friend back to their cabin aboard the Indy, and with the captain’s permission, the two young men stayed there for the remainder of the day. Before their new orders arrived there was no great urgency and their work would not be needed that day.
“Horatio. I know you did not get any sleep tonight, and not much on the nights before. Do you think you could lie down now?”
“What? Oh, why not? Nothing matters anymore, Archie. I thought I was a grown man and a capable officer Now I find that I am still no more than a boy. No. A foolish boy. Sandford was surely right. I do not know how to do anything right.”
“The man was mad with jealousy. You must not pay attention to anything he said. For all you know, Louise might have abandoned him for you. That would explain his hostility. In her own way, who is to say she did not love you?”
“How could she? I am not worthy of any woman’s love. And how could I ever trust a woman after this?”
“There are other women, my friend. You must not let this unfortunate incident rob you of all pleasure in life. All women are not evil. Robbie is not. She is the kindest and loveliest lady in the world.”
“You are indeed fortunate, Archie. I do not think I shall look at another woman in my life. They are not worth the heartache. How can I ever learn to comprehend them? So beautiful, yet so different from us.”
“Not so very different. And even so, that difference is what makes them so appealing.”
“No. I will never allow myself to trust a woman again. Never again will I give my heart to a woman.”
“You will feel differently, I am sure, once the pain is gone.”
“Will it ever be truly gone? Archie, it hurts so much I wish I were dead.”
“Do not say that. Do not ever say such a thing, my friend. Lie down. I will bring you some wine to help you sleep.”
“Very well. Whatever you say. How can I ever thank you enough for your friendship and loyalty?”
“You do not have to try. I owe my life to you. Go on. Lie down.”
After some gentle persuasion, Kennedy was able to make his friend obey.
“I will return shortly with the wine.”
Kennedy asked the surgeon to put a drop of laudanum in the wine to help Hornblower sleep dreamlessly.
All through the day and the following night, Kennedy sat at his friend’s side, watching him, soothing his pain, whenever it resurfaced and caused his eyes to fill with tears.
Twice mr Bracegirdle paid the two young officers a visit. Towards evening, he sent Matthews with a meal for both young men. Hornblower would not touch a morsel of food, and Kennedy found that his own appetite had not returned in any greater degree. When his own fatigue forced him to lie down, he compelled himself to stretch out by his friend’s side, so he would not abandon him even in sleep. It took all his strength to force himself to accept the proximity of another man, but for his friend’s sake, he knew he had to.
If Kennedy’s gentle disposition had allowed him to hate, he would have hated the woman who had caused his friend all this pain. As it was, he only wished he had been able to keep Hornblower from falling under the woman’s spell. He would do all that was in his power to ease his friend’s torment. And broken hearts did heal, Kennedy knew that from his own experience. One day, he was certain his friend would once again know love, true abiding love. Until that day, he would be by Hornblower’s side, watching over him, just like Hornblower was always watching over him. He was indeed fortunate, not only for meeting a lady such as Robbie, but also for having a friend like Hornblower.