By eleven o’clock that same morning, two gentlemen alighted from a carriage in front of the house.
The younger of the two was, in some respects, like his Captain, but the other was a rough-featured individual who looked as though he might be much more at home in the boxing ring than on board a ship. They were expected.
“Good day, gentlemen.” Benson sized them up, recognizing a navy man by his wind-etched face. The other must be the surgeon from Master Robert’s ship. He invited them in.
“My name is Rogers. I believe I am expected, and this is William Trevithick. We are shipmates of Captain Penfield.”
“Yes, sir. I know. Please follow me.” As Mr. Rogers followed Benson into the hall, he looked with some interest at the portraits that he could see in the spacious hall they were passing through.
“How…did…?” Mr. Rogers waved his hand at the paintings. He looked closer, and could see that they were dated, and had been only recently done. They were of their Captain; one of them showed him in uniform, while the other had him dressed as a gentleman. Rogers was puzzled over that. “We were off the coast of South America that year, and he has not been home for the best part of at least six years to pose for that.”
Benson explained. “No. His late brother, sir; his twin, was the subject for both portraits. The year before last. They were often mistaken for each other. His brother wanted to capture him that way for his father to see, just before he died but, unfortunately, it was not completed in time.” Rogers looked with some surprise at William Trevithick. Neither of them had known he had a twin. A brother, yes. But not a twin.
“I saw his Lordship running off into the garden a moment ago. We just need to follow the laughter and the screams, and we will eventually find him.” They flashed puzzled glances at each other, as they were led along one wing of the house for a while and then, as the excited voices receded to another part of the house, the butler paused.
“Perhaps it will be better, gentlemen, if I got you to stay in one place. He seems to be playing hide and seek with the ladies.” He saw Abby coming out of one of the rooms.
“Abby. Would you mind showing Mr. Rogers and Mr. Trevithick to the front drawing room, and see that they have a glass of wine or some other refreshment; perhaps something to snack upon, after their journey from London, while I find his lordship again.”
“Yes sir. I saw him heading into the billiards room riding a broom, less than a minute ago, but then I heard them go out into the garden after that.” She heard the two gentlemen break up into muffled laughter as they followed her. She listened to what they were talking about.
“Can this be the Captain Penfield we know, William? The one who could strike terror into the heart of many a French Captain when he saw The Selena bearing down on him?” Abby pricked up her ears, hearing that. The Selena? Now what was that about?
“It doesn’t sound like him, Gerry, except for the screams of course. Now that part I can believe, as it usually told us where he was; in the thick of things, and wielding his saber to good effect, but that other …with the ladies, …riding a broom. It is to be hoped the admiralty does not hear of it. Although that first one was pretty well indicative of where he’d be after we’d boarded the enemy and he got going in close quarters with that saber of his and was doing terrible damage.” Abby could hear all that they said.
“And you would know all about that, as you were with him for most of it trying to shield him. You were on my operating table too damned often, along with him. I recall you telling me that the safest place to be was where the screams were loudest, where men were falling down in the rush to get as far away from him, from the both of you, as they could.”
Abby could not suppress a light shiver. Those scars on his lordship’s body began to make sense to her now, but it did not sound like something a woman would care to overhear.
“For King and Country, sir, and those waiting for me back home was what always drove me on. Though there were none waiting for me. That, and protecting my captain as he fought for me, and the wish to survive one more battle once it started. If you stood still for too long, the damned snipers picked you off, so the only way to survive was to move fast and to get into the thick of it where they could not shoot at anyone for fear of hitting their own. But I never had the determination with a saber that the Captain had, and I envied him his guns and his skill with those, on occasion.”
“Just as he envied you your ability to fell the enemy with your fists and knife too, and getting in close where no saber work was possible. Between the two of you, him, with his saber and pistols—which felled many a man even when they were empty—and you with your fists and your dagger beside him, there was usually a wide and emptying space around the pair of you. At times like that, the only distinction between the living and the dead, with blood everywhere, was that the dead were either on the floor, or rapidly falling there. Or didn’t yet know that they were dead.”
Both men hesitated again, in front of those portraits, as they retraced their steps and along another corridor to the drawing room. They cannot have known that their voices were so easily overheard as they spoke, but Nurse had said that being on board a Man-O-War, with all of the thundering guns was enough to permanently deafen any man, as it had done for her husband. Abby continued to listen as the other man, William, spoke.
“I’ll never forget the first time I set foot aboard his ship. I had a message for him from the Admiralty, and I asked to be directed to the Captain. His first mate—Bradshaw—looked me over with a bit of a smirk, and pointed up into the rigging, and there he was up there, eighty feet off the ground, dressed like a midshipman with his first officer and half the crew. Never saw anyone like him in my life, and I said to myself, Bill, I said, this is the ship for me, and that’s my Captain.
“I never was on any other ship after that, nor would I ever choose to be. I showed Bradshaw what was what. I got rid of my clogs and I was up that rigging like a monkey and gave his captain the message. Shook him up a bit I think.”
Mr. Rogers added more to the exchange. “He had a simple philosophy. He said that he would not ask any sailor to do what he himself would not, or could not do, and he slaved by me often enough covered in blood, when he was free to do so. He brought many of those who would have died back to life, and they knew it. Those men would have died to have saved him from injury, and many of them did, but he would have done the same for them.”
“I know. I was one of ’em, but you were too damned stubborn to let me die as I wanted at that time!”
“He wouldn’t let you die, Will. He needed you beside him. You took a saber slash that was meant for him. He wasn’t going to give you up after that, and neither was I.”
William recognized that the young woman they were following was being attentive to everything being said. “Hush lad. That gradely looking lass ahead of us might hear more than we realize, and we don’t need to scatter her wits with our harum-scarum tales.”
Abby stood in the doorway as they entered the drawing room to wait for their captain. He thought her a gradely lass, eh?
She smiled at him and blushed, as she turned to get back to the kitchen, bursting to tell what she had heard, and then thought better of it. She lingered for a few moments outside of the door to overhear what else they might say. So the peculiar-looking gentleman thought her a nice looking lass, but she already knew that she was.
Rogers looked at him “Lad? Calling me Lad? You’d better watch your language, William, even though you have ten years on me.”
When they went quiet, Abby rushed off to the kitchen, picked up the tray that had been made ready for them, and returned to hear some continuation of that discussion. They fell quiet as she entered the room.
“Sir.” She passed a glass to the younger gentleman, Mr. Rogers, as he smiled at her, and then the other to the second man. She was shocked to see his face more plainly. It had obviously been badly beaten around at some time, but his eyes were sharp and seemed to smile kindly as he looked at her. His kindly glance betrayed none of the violence that she had just overheard. “Thank you, Abby.” She smiled back at him. He remembered her name. What was even more surprising to her, was that he spoke to her, with the educated refinement of a gentleman, no matter how he had been speaking earlier.