But not yet. It was a nice day, and he was content for the action to wait at least until the afternoon.
It was a beautiful day, pleasantly cool and windy, and Horatio smiled to see that the crew was taking advantage of the weather to wash and dry the sails and hammocks. The decks were a billowing canvas ocean it seemed, and it took him a moment to pick out the officer in charge of overseeing the washing. But finally, among the hurrying ratings and the traveling piles of wet and dirty fabrics, Horatio finally spotted his shipmate and friend, Archie Kennedy.
Archie was standing at the front of the poop deck, his hands clasped behind him and watching over the men with a serious-looking frown. With a mischievous grin, Horatio hurried up the stairs and as soon as Archie spotted him, gave him a grave salute.
"Sir, you are adrift in a sea of canvas," Horatio intoned with a mock-concerned expression, "Do you wish to send a distress signal, or shall we give you up for lost?"
Archie smiled back, his blue eyes twinkling in the brilliant summer sun as he answered in desperation, "Alas, sir, I have sent a distress signal, but the call came back that I must remain adrift until every sail is dry. I pray we get no rain, or else I am marooned forever."
"Well, you're safe so long as you maintain your sense of humor." Horatio smiled, then shrugged and gazed out at the men working below. "Not so bad, is it?"
"Oh, well, it beats bilge duty," Archie replied congenially, "And the men are working hard. I imagine we should get a great deal of the work finished today." He grimaced and tugged at the black neckerchief of his uniform. "It could be a damned sight cooler, though."
That statement made Horatio frown and look at Archie a little more closely. It was in fact early in the morning and quite cool, but there was a red flush to Archie's fair complexion that made Horatio ask, "Are you warm?"
Archie's expression changed, as if he'd been caught out at something. He looked down at the deck and gave a small shrug. "It's a hot sun, Horatio - "
"Rubbish," Horatio said sternly, "It's that fever you had last night, the one that caused you to wave aside dinner and retire early, and from those rings beneath your eyes I'll wager you didn't sleep either. Didn't you go see Dr. Hepplewhite?"
Archie squinted into the sun. "Dr. Hepplewhite would proclaim that I had a bad humor in my body and bleed me."
"Perhaps not," Horatio countered, "But he would take you off duty so you can rest in the sick berth and not spread your fever to the rest of the ship. Damn it, Archie, do you want to wait until you vomit on the captain's shoes before you take care of your own health?"
"I'm fine, Horatio," Archie insisted, looking at Horatio with annoyed blue eyes. "I don't need to go to sick berth."
Horatio paused, irritated by Archie's stubbornness. "You know I can order you to go."
"And risk losing the one whist player on the ship who you're always guaranteed to win against?" Archie smiled and removed his hat to wipe perspiration from his forehead. To Horatio's aggravated expression he said, "Don't worry, Horatio, no one on the ship will be swooning from my fever. It's not the traveling sort."
"And how can you be sure of that?" Horatio wanted to know.
"I'd wager a hundred pounds on it." Archie answered as he replaced his hat.
Horatio continued to stare at him.
Finally Archie sighed in exasperation. "Confound it, Horatio, I'll give you my oath that if it isn't gone by this afternoon, I'll go see that drunken butcher and have him remove half my blood from me. Would that make you feel better?"
"Seeing you fit and ready for action," Horatio replied, satisfied that he had gotten Archie's word that he would see to himself, "That would make me feel better."
"Not at all. Simply doing my duty."
"Mr. Hornblower!" Came Bracegirdle's clear voice from below them.
Horatio looked down and saw Captain Pellew's first lieutenant standing on the deck beneath them. "Aye, sir?"
"Captain's compliments, Mr. Hornblower, he'd like a word with you in his cabin, if you please."
"Oh," Horatio replied, then looked at Archie, who was giving Horatio an expectant look.
"Well," Archie said, "Perhaps you would like to come down with a fever, just now."
"Just go see Dr. Hepplewhite," Horatio said, and gave Archie a good-natured punch as he left the deck, and went to go see his captain.
Horatio always had to prepare himself before he went to talk to Captain Pellew. It was not so much that the captain awed him. He awed everyone. Horatio knew of no one on the ship who could withstand those sharp dark eyes boring into them without flinching and thinking that they were looking into the eyes of God.
Nor was it because he was afraid of Pellew. He had been, once, and still there was that anxious desire to succeed in the man's presence that Horatio knew would never go away. But the captain had seen Horatio at his worst, at his most undone, had seen him weeping in his cabin after the disastrous mission at Muzillac had gone so horribly wrong, and not condemned him. Had in fact given him comforting words, strengthening words that bolstered the young man through more than mere physical trials. So Horatio knew that he did not have to be afraid of Pellew.
No, Horatio thought as he wound through the halls that would take him to the captain's cabin, he had to prepare himself because he knew that Pellew would expect him to be at all times the model of the British sailor and officer, and it was a responsibility Horatio took very much to heart. I see great things in you, Mr. Hornblower, the captain had once said, and Horatio never forgot those words. It was a burden at times, but it was also a great honor to be told those words, and Horatio knew it. It would never do to appear before a man who held such high hopes for him in anything less than a completely ready state of mind.
So Horatio prepared himself, and knocked on Pellew's door.
"Enter," came the command.
And Horatio brought himself into Captain Sir Edward Pellew's presence.
Pellew was a tall man, tall and every inch the British captain. His deep eyes snapped to Horatio as the young man entered the room, and his sometimes stern face softened into an expression of welcome. "Ah, Mr. Hornblower. Your attention, if you please."
"Yes, sir," Horatio replied, walking closer to the desk. Spread out over the surface and held in place by a silver candlestick was a map of the coast of Spain.
"We received word this morning," Pellew said as he pointed to the map, "That one of our ships, The Valiant, was recently engaged and lost off the coast of Spain, just here."
Horatio saw where Pellew was pointing, and shook his head. "A tragedy, sir."
Pellew nodded. "Now here's the distasteful part. The survivors of her crew have been captured by Spanish guerrillas who have sent word to all local British ships that they will execute them if not given large supplies of guns and powder, which they will certainly be using against us."
Horatio wrinkled his nose in disgust. "No gentleman would agree to wager his own life for supplies to kill his countrymen with."
"Just so," Pellew sighed as he stood up, "And I'm certain that under different circumstances the captured men would rather surrender their lives than be part of such a travesty, but unfortunately one of them is a favorite friend of King George, and so we have been ordered to arrange a rescue."
Horatio's eyebrows went up. "Indeed, sir?"
"Indeed," Pellew said, in a tone that betrayed his displeasure at the idea. He tilted his head down toward the map again. "Fortunately, we have learned that the party holding the Valiant's men is not very large, and their prison is fairly close to the shore. I predict that with proper planning we can bring these men home safely."
"Aye aye, sir." Horatio replied.
"Now, you have some knowledge of the terrain in this region," Pellew said, "So I will put you in charge of this mission, there are eight men being held so I would suggest a landing party of ten to get them out. You will need at least one other officer, and I would suggest someone else familiar with Spanish terrain. That would be Mr. Kennedy, I believe."
"Yes, sir - " Horatio began to say more, then stopped himself.
Of course, Pellew caught it. "Well, sir?"
Horatio hesitated, but figured he might as well out with it. "Mr. Kennedy may not be fit to go, sir. He was somewhat unwell this morning. I sent him to Dr. Hepplewhite."
"Hm," Pellew stood up again, his face unreadable. "Well, you are commanding this mission, Mr. Hornblower, so it is your decision. If Mr. Kennedy is unfit, then you will have to select another officer to accompany you on your mission."
"Aye, sir," Horatio paused, then after a moment's hesitation added, "I'm certain he will be fine, sir. Dr. Hepplewhite is...well, he is...an ...excellent doctor."
Captain Pellew looked at Horatio, his eyes belying his amusement at the lack of conviction in Horatio's voice. As he leaned down to roll up the map he said,. "Hepplewhite is a ship's doctor, Mr. Hornblower, and I'm afraid in that line of work excellence is a little too much to hope for. Let us hope Mr. Kennedy is satisfied with merely adequate."
Archie sighed as he entered the sick berth. He knew he was going to hate this.
Thank God at least the sick berth wasn't crowded. It was a small, stuffy room, not well-ventilated and rather sinister, and if there were other patients - if there had been a battle, or an epidemic on the ship - Archie knew the cramped area would stink to high heaven. As it was, though, the place was empty and almost eerily quiet.
Archie cleared his throat and looked around. Damn Horatio's sharp eyes, no one else would have thought he had a fever, just to look at him. Maybe if he just went back to his cabin and laid down for a while...
Oh, don't be such a child. Just let Hepplewhite bleed you and get it over with. Just close your eyes and -
Archie jumped. He hadn't realized that he had faded out for a moment, and hadn't noticed Dr. Hepplewhite walking into the sick berth. Now there he was, standing in the doorway with his hands on his hips, a half-eaten piece of mutton clutched in one fist. He was glaring at Archie and waiting for an answer.
Archie hesitated, just for a moment. He didn't like that he hadn't noticed Hepplewhite's approach. Had the fever really made him that groggy? And he had never liked the doctor's brusque manner, and hadn't since their days together on the Justinian. No, not since -
- he's still staring at you, say something, confound it! -
Archie blinked a little and said, "I - Lieutenant Hornblower sent me down here, sir. Bit of a fever."
Hepplewhite let out a small, annoyed grunt and walked a short distance away, Archie assumed he had gone back where he came from. Dreading the next couple of hours, Archie removed his jacket and placed it carefully on one of the empty hammocks.
A few moments later Hepplewhite returned with a few bottles and the cloth that Archie knew held his medical instruments. Without further words he grabbed Archie's head and yanked one eyelid open. Then he asked, "Something you ate?"
"No, sir," Archie stammered, not liking the way Hepplewhite was jerking him around. It made him want to flinch away, but he'd done that once or twice on Justinian until Hepplewhite had rather cuttingly asked him what kind of King's man cowered like a damn little girl. Then Archie had tried to stop flinching, but it was hard. "I haven't had anything to eat since yesterday."
"Hm." Hepplewhite snapped Archie's eyelid down and put one hand on his jaw,pulling it roughly open. "Throwing up?"
"Hao ir," Archie replied, as best he could considering Hepplewhite had a firm grip on his speaking equipment.
Hepplewhite made a confused face and let go. "What?"
"No, sir," Archie repeated, moving his jaw about and trying to regain his composure. "I haven't been sick."
"How about shot? Stabbed? Any wounds, swelling, pus?"
Archie thought for a moment, almost said something, then shook his head.
"Hm!" Hepplewhite repeated, slapping the palm of one meaty hand on Archie's forehead for a moment. "Been after any whores?"
Archie blushed and quickly looked at the floor.
"Oh - right." Hepplewhite said, in a knowing way that Archie hated, because it reminded him of things he'd rather not think about, memories he didn't like bringing back, and more importantly long-ago confused memories that Hepplewhite knew about, because he had been there. He had been on the Justinian, with Jack Simpson. He had known. And done nothing.
"Well, it's not *that* then," Hepplewhite said with a small smirk as he took his hand away from Archie's forehead and turned away, "Thank God, I'm sick of watching sailors rotting away from the filth those whores drag in."
Archie nodded, and felt very self-conscious for no reason he could think of. He crossed his arms over his chest and hugged himself.
Dr. Hepplewhite was busy pulling things out of his cloth, and Archie had to struggle with himself not to make an excuse and leave. But no, it wasn't pleasant but he had to get rid of this fever, and there was only one way to do it. And he wasn't some damn little girl.
But something - "Dr. Hepplewhite?"
Hepplewhite didn't turn around. "What?"
Words flashed through Archie's mind, don't tell him. But Archie cleared his throat nervously and said softly, "I...lately my sleep has been disturbed, and what sleep I've had is troubled by nightmares. Is there something you could give me - ?"
Hepplewhite snorted and turned around. Archie heard the clinking of bottles as the doctor scrounged around in them. "You'd think I was care taking a nursery, the weak minded complaints I get in here. Nightmares! Who sees action in the navy and then doesn't have nightmares?" He turned back around, and thrust a small dark bottle into Archie's hands. "Take some of that."
Archie blinked at the unlabeled bottle. "What is it?"
Hepplewhite rolled his eyes. "Are you a bloody doctor? It's a tonic for sleep disturbance, from a friend of mine in London. I trust that will meet with Your Lordship's approval."
Archie took a deep breath and opened his mouth to ask something else -
"Now look here," Hepplewhite barked, "I'm very busy. Do you want to be rid of that fever or not?"
Archie swallowed and slipped the tonic in his pocket. "Yes - "
Hepplewhite frowned and held up his hands. In one he held a binding cloth, in the other an open razor.
"Then lie down," He commanded, the detachment in his eyes making Archie go cold all over, "And let's get this over with."
As evening neared the clear blue skies gave way to clouds and the hint of rain. Horatio paced up and down the boat deck, waiting for the marines he had selected for the rescue to appear so they could go ashore and get this mission done. As he rubbed his hands together against the chill, he looked up to see Archie coming toward him.
"Good evening, sir," Archie said with a slight smile and a salute.
Horatio returned it, noticing that his friend looked very pale and exhausted. "Lord, Archie, you look terrible. How are you feeling?"
Archie shrugged, squinted at the gray sky. "Fair enough, I suppose. The good doctor bled me and pronounced me healed, and he brooks no argument."
"Well, pardon me, but I'm in charge of this mission, and you look as if you're going to fall to the deck any moment. Go get some rest and I'll get anoth - "
"No," Archie replied fiercely, looking at Horatio with angry, determined eyes. "Please, Horatio, this will pass, Hepplewhite said it would now that he's bled me. You're going on an adventure and I refuse to be the weakling child who must be left behind."
Horatio saw the stern resolve in that haggard face, but hesitated. "I may need your assistance. Are you well enough to offer it?"
With a grim smile, Archie fished in his pocket and pulled out a shilling. Showing it to Horatio, he withdrew his pistol from his belt and tossed the coin into the air. Then he raised the pistol and fired.
The coin hit the deck with a loud jingle, a perfect hole shot through its middle.
Horatio met Archie's eyes with some admiration.
Archie gave him a cocky smile and picking up the coin handed it to his friend. "Well enough, Mr. Hornblower."
Both young men straightened at the sound of Captain Pellew's voice, booming through the twilight silence like a scythe through a hayfield. In a moment Pellew was right in front of them, his dark eyes full of ire.
"Captain Pellew, sir," Archie said, saluting smartly.
"Our objective in this rescue is surprise, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew said in a low voice, casting Horatio a sidelong glance as he spoke, "Would you alert the whole Spanish coast to our presence?"
"My apologies, sir," Archie stammered, turning even paler than he was before, "But I was demonstrating to Mr. Hornblower my readiness for this mission. He expressed doubts, sir."
"As well he should, Mr. Kennedy," the captain replied, looking Archie up and down with a scowl, "If Mr. Hornblower should require aid, it is your duty to provide it, and if he has any reason to think you unfit it is not your place to question his judgment. Is that understood?"
Pellew paused, studied Archie's face closer. "You've been to see Dr. Hepplewhite?"
Archie nodded. "Yes, sir. I've had a bit of a fever, and he bled me. Said that was all I needed, sir."
Pellew sighed, and Horatio could almost hear his thoughts. Hepplewhite is a ship's doctor and excellence is too much to hope for. Let us hope merely adequate will do.
Horatio caught Pellew's eye and said, "With your permission, sir - "
Pellew nodded. "Yes, Mr. Hornblower?"
"Sir, Mr. Kennedy was not questioning my judgment. I was in fact questioning his, because I thought he yet looked unwell."
Pellew's head came back. "And what is your final decision?"
Horatio shrugged a little, and held up the holed coin. "If I were a shilling I should think myself much imperiled, sir."
Pellew smiled almost imperceptibly as he put his hands behind his back and nodded. At that moment the marines arrived, and the captain looked them all over with a sage expression. "Very well, Mr. Hornblower, I leave you to your work. You have your orders, bring our men safely home."
Horatio saluted. "Aye aye, sir."
Pellew took a step away, then turned back. "Oh, and Mr. Kennedy?"
Archie's blue eyes snapped over. "Yes, sir?"
"A little more respect for our currency, if you please. It does bear the symbol of the crown, after all."
Archie nodded, and Horatio saw a little color return to his face as they prepared to launch the boat. "Yes, sir. I'll be certain to keep that in mind."