Archie and Edrington
by Karen L.
Ch. 1--New Orders
It came out of the mist like a great, gray ghost and stood in the middle of the rocky path from the beach to the battery fortress at the mouth of the Gironde. It regarded us gravely, but without surprise, as if seeing a long column of drab-cloaked men climbing stealthily up a narrow cart-track in the middle of the night was of no particular singularity.
Thank heavens the men remembered the orders not to discharge their pistols unless it was absolutely necessary, for the moving shape was not human, and certainly no enemy. It was a silent, long-legged dog with a wiry silver/gray coat. It stood looking at us for just a second and then turned to vanish silently back into the forest as if it were a merely dog-shaped vapor formed from the mist.
"Whut the hell...?" muttered Matthews.
"...did not know they have those over here in France" Major Edrington muttered softly. His face was pale as candle wax in the dull gleam of my slit lamp.
We did not see the dog again as we made our way onward to the Gironde Battery, but I imagined it padding silently in our wake like an apparition, trailing us in on a scent wake of sweat, hope, and fear.
When we set sail for England after that fiasco in Quiberon, it was still beautiful and sunny, but I wasn't sorry to be going home. There are few enough opportunities for an Acting Lieutenant to distinguish himself and it was clear from the outset that this ill-begotten mission wasn't going to be one of them. Muzillac was truly a place where every prospect was pleasing, but man was indubitably vile. Our chief accomplishment as far as I could see it was that we had all survived the experience. Well, with the exception of several of our men, pressed seamen from my ship, the Indefatigable, and some of the riflemen from Major Lord Edrington's company. It could have been far worse and very nearly was.
All in all, I'd call it a wash.
It took about a week to make the return to Portsmouth to see what the Admiralty had in store for us next. Our ship felt lighter than air to me as it skimmed along the smooth seas unburdened of its previous load of Frogs and their despicable leader, the bloodthirsty Marquis de Moncoutant. All the men's spirits were high, with the exception of Horatio, who remained broody and morose in the officers' quarters, although his manner when he was on duty was as always.
"Horatio," I asked him one evening as we lay swaying in our respective hammocks, "This girl, Mariette. What was it about her?"
He rubbed his eyes hard and ran his hand down the side of his face, stopping it to chew absentmindedly on his index finger. "I dont know, Archie. Who knows why? I thought she needed my help. She was pretty. She seemed to be trying so hard to be a good person, useful, a teacher. I admired that. I did not expect her to kiss me, but when she did, I found myself kissing her back. Then I couldn't stop thinking about her. She is the first girl I ever kissed. I found I liked it tremendously." He rolled over, turning his back to me.
"Hmm...I don't know if I believe that love happens that quickly. It seems to me that you have to get to know a girl over a long time to really love her." No answer. "I kissed a girl once." Soft snoring from the long, lean lump in the hammock. Horatio's interest in my past experience with women did not seem to match mine in his. I counted cracks in the boards above my head and thought silently about my own lost love, a girl I practically grew up with but whose family discouraged her from seeing me once it became evident that an attachment was growing between us. If I'd had Horatio's courage, I would have gone to her house, persuaded her to jump out a window, and then carried her off and married her. But I was so young then. Now I was 26, and I hoped, a different man.
When we got to Portsmouth, Captain Pellew disembarked to give his report to Admiral Lord Hood about the failed mission to Brittany. I remained on the docks, helping to offload the Lobsters and their officers.
Major Edrington and I had struck up a sort of aquiantanceship ever since Brittany. Unlike Horatio, I had the advantage of titled parents and so although I was greatly inferior to him in rank from a military standpoint, socially I was deemed acceptable company. Do I make him out to be a snob? Well, he was. But for all that, he wasn't a bad fellow. We are all victims of our rank or a beneficiary if we are fortunate in our birth. We stood on the quay watching the unloading proceed and I asked him where he thought he would be next to deploy.
"Well, if I am not given another mission, I intend to apply for leave. I need to visit my estates and my mother."
"My plans are along the same lines. My family has not seen me since I was released from prison in Spain. They thought I was dead for several years and even held a funeral service for me. As you can imagine, they were dumbfounded to receive a letter from the Admiralty telling them I had been found alive in prison in Spain. Since that time, they've done little but write back to beg me to come home and visit. But I havefelt I couldn't do that because I had fallen so behind in my career."
"You served with some distinction in our recent debacle" observed the Major with rather more emphasis on the word "some" than I might have liked, ideally. "I see no reason why a month of shore leave would be any sort of stain on your record. Where did you say your family's estates were located?"
"Near Alnwick. They aren't but 30 miles removed from Edrington Manor."
"Of course. Now I remember. Your father used to shoot with my father, did he not? Sir Kennedy, the Baronet."
"I believe he did."
"Odd we never met."
"I am the youngest son, my father if he took any of us would have taken my elder brother Eddy."
"Ah, Edward Kennedy. Yes, I know him. Pardon my saying so, but he was a damn poor shot."
"Good thing, then, that I am the one who chose the Navy! What Edward did spectacularly well was marry--in that his aim was exceedingly true--the eldest daughter of a wealthy Viscount who has no sons. One day he'll own our father's land, and her father's land as well."
"Well, in that he's one up on me without a doubt" said Edgrington with a little smile. "I have not made any inroads on that front."
"Why ever not?" I asked. It hadn't occurred to me that Alexander Edrington, Earl and Peer of the Realm, might have reached the age of thirty or so without having been married. "Surely you've not been refused!"
"Refused?" He looked at me with some irritation. "It's difficult to be refused when one has never asked for the honor." He paused, seemed to be thinking about something he found slightly distasteful. His delicately-formed aristocratic nostrils quivered as if he were smelling the raw sewage on the incoming tide for the first time that day. I'd been aware of it ever since we disembarked--that's what clearing one's senses with the fresh clean breeze on the open ocean will do to one's perception of the characteristic smells that the shorebound are insensible of. " Mamah, of course, has tried to throw various females in my direction, but I found none to my liking. It's the Army life for me, for now. Nothing in the petticoat line, I am afraid."
"But surely some of them were pretty and gay and charming..." I prompted. I wanted to hear more. It had been a long bloody time since I'd had the pleasure of squiring young ladies about.
"Some of them," the Major allowed "were more than pretty. They were beautiful. But there is something about a girl who is so clearly trying to charm you into falling in love with her so that she can be a Countess that is so damn off-putting, if you see what I mean."
I could tell that I wasn't going to be treated to a curl-by-curl description of any golden locks, fluttering lashes, or ivory bosoms to fuel my daydreams during the watch. The Major's characteristic economy of expression was exasperating. Our awkward silence was broken by two nearly simultaneous arrivals. The first was the return of Captain Pellew, looking awfully like a dog who knows where all his bones are buried. In a furious swirl of capes, my energetic commanding officer halted the unloading and told me to commence reloading. "Everything?" I asked.
"EVERYTHING, Mr. Kennedy" he barked.
"Even the army tack and horses?"
"What part of the word "Everything" do you need further elucidated, Mr. Kennedy?"
I arched my eyebrows at Major E, who inhaled deeply and then said evenly "Well, it seems I'll not be in the dark for very long" as a uniformed Army courier rode towards him holding out a packet of orders.
In a few hours, the Major's men, horses, and equipment were reloaded, as were additional carts of supplies that were brought to the quay. These included replacement cannon, stores, plus a number of sealed crates that had no markings on them to give me an inkling of what they might contain. As we were returning with the last of it to the Indy, Horatio met me by the boarding ladder and told me that the Captain sent his compliments and requested my presence in his ready room without delay. The Major was already there. His expression as we regarded each other was inscrutable, but I was surprised to see the flicker of a wink, so quick I wondered if I had imagined it.
"Gentlemen," Captain Pellew began with his usual foregoing of the usual pleasantries "We have been given a mission which is more to my liking and I hope, more to yours, than our recent engagement in Brittany." I shot a few quick looks around the table and several sets of eyes met mine, similar thoughts undoubtedly flitting through the minds behind them. That was a sorry business indeed.
"First of all, our congratulations are due to Mr. Bracegirdle, who is no longer my first lieutenant but who has, with my blessing and in view of his long and distinguished service been granted a command of a vessel in the Channel fleet. This promotion will undoubtedly sit well with Mrs. Bracegirdle, who will no doubt be glad to have, er, Captain Bracegirdle staying a little closer to their new home. Gentlemen, a Toast to Captain Bracegirdle!" I found myself grinning like a fool as I raised my wineglass. God, I love a happy ending! Does that make me a hopeless sort of Romantic? Pr'haps it does. Bracegirdle looked pleased and rather pink, and then he stood up and shook Captain Pellew's outstretched hand.
"I hope that upon your next victorious return that I will have the pleasure of entertaining all of you on my ship. Best of luck to you and it has been a honor to serve with all of you and particularly under yourself, Sir Edward." He bowed and took his leave as we all stood and applauded him.
"Well, I think there will some extra pounds lining the pockets of the tailors of Portsmouth by tomorrow morning." observed our Captain wryly, to a smattering of guffaws. "Nothing like a new uniform to make a man conscious of his new rank, eh, Mr. Hornblower?" Horatio squirmed a bit, still not quite used to being teased although we all knew he loved the attention.
"And some extra pounds inside the new uniform, if what I hear of Mrs. Bracegirdle's cooking is true!" said Bowles in a loudish whisper. There were some scarcely suppressed snorts. Captain Pellew quickly regained his serious expression.
"It will therefore not come as a surprise to you that finding myself in need of a new First Lieutenant, I looked no further than Mr. Hornblower here. His distinguished record is no doubt familiar to you all. His second will be Mr. Cleveland. The Junior will remain Acting Lt. Kennedy, pending the results of his examination, which I fully expect him to pass. Sailing Master Bowles has been complimentary of your recent improvement in mathematics, Mr. Kennedy. Keep up the good work." Now it was my turn to feel a little pinkish, this was about as much praise as one generally could expect to be given in front of witnesses by our taciturn Captain.
"Thank you sir, I will continue to concentrate on my studies and I hope I shall not disappoint you."
"You'll not have much time for that I am afraid," said the Captain. "Oh no, neither you nor Mr. Bowles will be kipping around with books because we are going to study military strategy firsthand and soon! Action, Mr. Kennedy! Action is the best classroom. Honor, glory, and the chance to distinguish ourselves is what we have all, in this room, been offered, and by God, we are going to distinguish ourselves. The best way to wash the foul taste of Quiberon out of our mouths is by drinking the sweet wine of victory. Major Edrington and his company are once more part of our complement, and we leave tomorrow for France, this time to cripple the naval forces of the French Republicans! We have been offered the chance for redemption and I am glad of it." Our Captain does tend to go on like that, but what a wordsmith! Brave, understanding, brilliant, and only slightly pompous--no wonder we love him so.
"I, too, am glad," said Horatio. There was a chorus of "Hear, hears". "But what is our objective?"
"Our objective is nothing less than the destruction of the battery at the mouth of the Gironde River. The finest vessels in the French Navy lie at anchor there, protected by the battery guns. Once the battery is disabled, a convoy of our side will engage the French fleet in battle and if our timing is right, we should be able to sink most of them and capture their best officers without major losses. For that objective, we will have the full backing and force of the Dreadnought, the Nymphe, the Concord, and the Melamphis. But the destruction of the battery is to be accomplished by the men of the Indefatigable, with the on-shore assistance of Major Edrington and his marksmen."
I was stunned. Back to the Gironde? That was where my sorry, miserable midshipman's career had come to an abrupt end, as I lay unconscious in a jollyboat, was cut loose by that devil Simpson, and drifted into the hands of the French who promptly put me in prison, eventually trading me to Spain for some of their own. I hoped that the prickles of sweat I felt starting to break out on my skin weren't visible to anyone else. But Captain Pellew was right. A chance for redemption. If I could perform well this time when we took to action back at the place of my greatest shame, then I would indeed feel I had redeemed myself.
"What is the plan for destroying the battery?" asked Horatio. "My recollection of it is as a real fortress, made of rock and stone and plaster. We'd never get close enough to fire upon it."
"Mr. Hornblower, use your head!" thundered the Captain. "Do you not recall that a small force of men in boats including yourself succeeded in capturing an entire French flagship by a cutting-out action?" Ah yes, the Papillon. Too bad I hadn't really been part of that glorious effort. "How, sir, did that effort succeed?"
"We had the element of surprise in our favor, and we attacked the ship at night after they were lulled into a false sense of security by having thought they had intimidated us into turning back once we had rescued the survivors from the wreckage of Justinian, sir".
"Precisely, Mr. Hornblower. Stealth, surprise, a night mission, and a false sense of security, as might be felt by men encased in rock and stone and plaster. The tragedy of most men is that they do not learn from their mistakes. Well, we are not like most men; we have learned from ours. Would you care to take over this briefing for a few minutes, My Lord?" Captain Pellew said, indicating with a small bow of his head that the Major should pick up the thread.
"Ah, yes." began Major E. "Captain Pellew and I have spent many profitable hours during our voyage back from Quiberon reading and discussing some interesting aspects of the late unpleasantness in the Colonies. It has been a source of embarrassment to the Army that our superior forces were not successful in suppressing the rebellious colonials. While one cannot imagine that they will ever seriously challenge England within her sphere, it is still illuminating to examine the factors which led to our inability to put down the American rebellion."
I noticed how carefully he avoided using the word "defeat".
"As much as I pride myself and my fellow officers on the discipline and order of our troops, there can be little question that the Colonials inflicted far greater casualties on our forces than we inflicted on them, due to their exasperating strategy of hiding behind trees and shooting over rocks and hedgerows. They failed to assemble in orderly columns and advance in such a way that we could easily shoot them. Their lack of brightly colored uniforms made them nearly impossible to see, and what is worse, nearly impossible to hear coming. While I havehad little patience for an enemy which will not show his face, Captain Pellew and I have discussed this matter in depth and we both see circumstances where adopting similar tactics might bring about useful results. The taking of the Battery Fortress at the mouth of the Gironde is one such circumstance."
Captain Pellew continued the briefing.
"Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy will once again accompany Major Edrington with a landing party and many barrels of gunpowder. You will land at night around midnight by jollyboats, no lights, new moon. With you will go the Major's men and ten of our seamen that you, Mr. Hornblower, will select yourself. The Indy will then withdraw to well off the mouth of the Gironde and await the arrival of the rest of the fleet. Mr. Kennedy and Major Edrington will keep the men stationed at the battery occupied while you, Mr. Hornblower, will supervise the placement of charges at the entrances and exits to fortress and at strategic locations inside the battery, particularly the gun decks and magazines. You will set off the first round of charges when those areas are cleared of all of our men. The explosions should be visible to us, and will be our signal that you have been successful. At that point, it should be approximately 4 am and the other four ships should have joined the Indy. We will begin sailing back up the Gironde, and we should see a second set of charges go off and these charges should be the ones that destroy the entrances and exit routes to the battery. Any guns you feel you cannot blow up, you can spike. Mr. Cleveland shall remain on board and command the powder crews and cannon during the engagement."
We were all silent for a minute. "A bold plan," said Hornblower thoughtfully, "but I think it will work. I'd like to storm the fort with Major Edrington, though." He left the question, "why Kennedy?" unspoken.
"There will be no storming of the fort, Mr. Hornblower. Mr. Kennedy is the logical choice because Mr. Kennedy speaks French like a native due to his unfortunate incarceration as well as his education and travels prior to enlisting. Mr. Kennedy may be needed to gain intelligence as to the location and activities of men inside prior to Major Edrington's engagement of these same men. Kennedy and the Major will divert their attention so that you and your men can place and set the charges."
A spy! Bloody hell.
"Does this assignment suit you, Mr. Kennedy?" asked Edrington quietly.
"Yes, Sir, my lord." What else COULD I say?
On the positive side, I found out what was in those mysterious crates. Lanterns of the sort used by smugglers--all black with an adjustable slit to let the merest crack of light show through on one side only. Dark cloaks of olive green. Extra pistols and shot. And cloth wrappings that fit over our boots and the hooves of the horses to muffle their sound. I was fascinated to see if Major Edrington would really be able to do it--I mean to say, make his men blend into the trees. I'd never forgotten his disdainful expression when he first saw the seamen of the Indefatigable in all their deck-swabbing finery waiting to load his kit at the quay. He was inordinately proud of every shining buckle, every bright red coat, the snowy whiteness of every set of breeches, and the gleam from every hand-polished brass button on his own men. Not to mention his own self, looking ready to model for his statue in Picadilly Square sitting immaculately atop his horse whose mane and tail had been brushed to perfection and whose coat was curried to a spitshine which matched that of his boots. I could tell when I saw him come on deck with his now drab men and draped in his own dull olive-colored cloak that he was in something close to torment. But the upper lip as then being viewed by all assembled was exceedingly stiff, so I knew he was resigned to the plan.
On the negative end of things, I was feeling distinctly queasy, and not from the motion of the boat. If someone starts shooting at me, I have no problem shooting back at him and I am reckoned a fair shot. If a comrade or one of my men needs some rescuing, I'll be the first one to rush out and snatch him from danger. But ask me to go into something unknown and unseen and I have a tendency to become, well, nervous. And when I get nervy, I sometimes have one of my unfortunate fits. And the thought that I might have a fit makes me even more nervy, which makes it even more likely that I'll have one and then I am conscious that I havejust increased the odds and then I get even more unnerved. It's what you might call a vicious circle. I have not had many during the daytime it seems they are more likely to afflict me at night when I am feeling low or frightened. And this was to be a night expedition. My lips moved silently in prayer as I bargained with God. "oh please, please, if you will just let me make it through this night alive and without disgracing myself, and oh yes, don't let Horatio or Alexander get killed or badly hurt, then I'll do anything. I'll think of something very good and do it well, dear God I promise " and more along that vein.
I looked over at Alexander Edrington. Under other circumstances, we probably could have been very good friends. I wondered what sorts of thoughts were running through his mind right now. He had an offhand sort of wry wit when going into battle that made you think he wasn't a bit scared or concerned, but I wondered if maybe that wasn't perhaps his way of keeping up morale. To be sure, he was an experienced commander and his orders were followed without question. It was clear his men had confidence in him he was a superb officer. Unlike Horatio who inspired confidence by his own fiery courage and animation during battle, Edrington seemed cool, detached, as if the whole thing were just an interesting training exercise. It was as if the possibility of dying never crossed his mind. It crossed mine constantly.
Horatio fought like a big tiger wearing shoes two sizes too large, if you can imagine such a thing. You could see the strength of the man, but he was equally likely to trip over his own sword and fall ass-backwards into just the right position to fire his next shot. Edrington had the cool intensity of a cobra, sizing up his enemy and looking for the most exposed area to strike and unleash his deadly venom.
And me? I hoped that through training under excellent officers I would one day become an excellent officer myself. I stood close to Horatio, whose nostrils flared as he sucked the evening sea air deep into his lungs. His lips tightened in a thin-lipped smile, creases forming in his hollowed cheeks. He looked like he could hardly wait to get started. I stood even closer, hoping that courage was something you could be infected with from the wind, like the Black Death.
"Well, Archie" he asked softly, "are you ready? Tomorrow we will be celebrating the demise of the flower of the French Fleet. I find I am all eagerness to give these Republicans a rude awakening" He usually called me by my first name so long as no one was nearby to hear. Despite his superior rank he still treated me as an equal in private. After weeks of brooding over the Republican sharpshooter who had shot his Mariette in the back, I could see he had developed a real mislike for Republican soldiers.
"Horatio, I am ready" I returned. "I wish my role were as well-defined as yours, though. The way I see it, I am to get into the battery somehow, impersonate a Frenchman if necessary, and then find out accurately how many men are on watch and where they are located and get this information back to you and the Major, all in less than an hour."
"Archie, you will have to use your wits and your intelligence. Remember that most people see what they expect to see. The night watch of the battery will not be expecting to see a British Naval officer strolling around after midnight all by himself. They will expect to see a fellow member of their own company. Play a role, just like you told me you used to do when you were in school."
"Right." Horatio always made things sound so easy.
I returned to my quarters and began my transformation. The first thing I did was to tie my hair back in a big black poofy sort of bow like I recalled Moncoutant's troops wearing. I took off my Midshipman's coat and the black necktie we all wore, letting my shirt gap open at the neck. Although the evening was foggy and slightly cool from the approach of autumn, it was still warm enough for shirtsleeves, especially with the two-mile hike that faced us upon landing according to the best maps we had of the area. Pulling on a pair of boots which came up to my knee-breeches, I added a dark cape and a red sash for a belt which Horatio had taken from some Frenchman at one or another of his successful prize-takings. I scrutinized myself in the mirror. Medium height. Medium build. Smallish nose, rather refined features I'd always fancied. Reddish blond hair. Nondescript? I felt heartened, oddly. Nondescript was perfect for a spy. But did I look French? True, I wasn't a Gallic excresence like Moncoutant, but I fancied that nothing about my appearance marked me as indubitably un-French. Surely, I COULD resemble a Frog, at least for one night of my life.
After the sun set, the Indy slipped silently under half-sail up the Gironde. We were cautious, taking frequent soundings from the bow, as we sailed without lights. It was, as the Admiralty had told us it would be, a new moon and there was the additional cover of a light fog to shield us from the view of any watchers on shore. When we got to a point that appeared on the map to be a good landing site, the jollyboats were lowered. I saw that Horatio had picked a complement that included his crewmen from the Justinian. I was glad of that for they were good men and very brave under fire as I had seen firsthand during the action at the bridge in Muzillac. My main concern was Oldroyd. He had a rather high-pitched voice that carried like a tomcat's midnight screech and I feared he would be unable to remain silent. But that was Horatio's concern. At least he was a tall fellow and very strong. We'd need every strong back to carry the powder barrels over two miles of land by night.
And just like that, we were in the boats and rowing for a darkened shoreline. The mist was up, and the moon was new, and it was darker than the inside of a coal scuttle. But somehow, the faint glow of lamplights from a scattering of farmhouses up on the ridge lit up the mist and showed us the direction of the shoreline. The wind blew upriver and we could see several miles downwind the faint flicker of lights in the window of a darkened mass that could only be the Fortress. Our objective.
From the little we could see in the dark the shore appeared to be patches of rocky beach, with some grassy areas that came close to the high tide lines. These were enclosed in stone walls and were probably pasturage for local farmers. The men beached the boats quietly. Before we set out, Horatio motioned to me to join Major Edrington in a brief consultation in the prow of one of the landing boats. As we huddled close to block out any light that might be seen from a distance, Horatio adjusted the slit lantern to shine a thin beam of light on a diagram that Edrington had unrolled on one of the bench seats. He waved a hand over the map.
"Here, gentlemen, is the probable plan of the Gironde Fortress, as taken from what I am assured is very good intelligence. Commit it to memory. The main entrances are to the east and west. The guns are located on the second level and all of them are aimed towards the river. This level is one story down from the officers' quarters and watchtowers on the ramparts. There are no landward-facing artillary. Enclosed within the walled courtyard of the fort are a large barracks, located on the Southwest side. If we set charges here, here, and here" he indicated with his index finger points along the facing wall, the east and west entrances, and an entrance on the west side of the officers' quarters, "we should be able to prevent any additional troops from entering the Battery and repairing the guns until long after the engagement. If we blow up the west entrance quickly enough, we should also be able to prevent any of the main body of enemy in the barracks from being able to leave the Battery walls through this east gate, which will be blown up last after all our party is outside and that should buy us enough time to make good our escape back to the beached landing boats."
"Archie," said Horatio, "you must lure any officers on watch to the west entrance where the Major's men will capture them as silently as possible. Once this has been done, my men will come into the Battery and spike the cannons. The first charges we shall blow will be those that destroy the entrances to the Officer's quarters and the Battery gun levels. We will evacuate quickly and then blow up entrances to the Battery itself. At that point, we shall all return to this spot, and begin rowing to the middle of the Gironde. We will have an excellent view of the action as the Indefatigable and the other frigates engage the French fleet. Hopefully, one or all of them will shortly thereafter be sailing back out of the Gironde and will pick us up. We have several general alarm rockets to send up."
"And if the attack on the French fleet fails?" I felt compelled to ask. Edrington gave me a dark look.
"Right, then, our landing boats are equipped with sail. We will simply have to make our way back into neutral waters and hope for the best."
Suddenly I heard a loud splattering sound. "For God's sake, Oldroyd, did not you go before we left home?"
"We have to be quiet, you understand that don't you? Now, everyone slip on their bootcovers and let us go. If you see an enemy, don't shoot unless you absolutely have no alternative. Use your knives and bayonets. Gunshots will echo like the devil off these rocky shores and will alert the guards at the Battery. OK, then let us go! And remember, quiet as a cat!"
Our landing party assembled and filed two abreast up the beach and into the shadowy edges where the maritime forest met the rocky beach. Several of Edrington's horses packed the powder barrels, picking their way carefully and quietly over the rocky beach as they were led by their halters. The slit lanterns provided just enough of a dull glow for us to be sure of our footing. We could see that our landing spot was at the lower boundary of a stone-walled pasturage with a small two-story farmhouse located higher on the bluff overlooking the Gironde. How similar it was to the tenant houses on my father's own estates. It's a little bit different fighting on land. When you are actually in a country and see the homes and lives of the people who live there it is hard not to think about how they are the same as yourself. Much easier, I think, to fire cannon at enemy ships on the uninhabited seas. We marched in silence. It was two miles or so to the Battery.
Horatio saw it first. "Cock your pistols but do not shoot until I tell you!" he hissed, grabbing my forearm.
A shadow detached itself from the general gloom and stood silhouetted on a small hummock before us. It was so shaggy and gray that more than a few of the men gasped out the word "Wolf!" before the muted glow of our slitlamps revealed it to be both larger than any wolf and clearly not intent on attack. Its deep brown eyes stared back at me with a nearly-human expression of curiousity. Hunters with silent feet, cloaked by darkness, we regarded each other until the sound of a nightjar captured its attention and it bounded back into the darkness of the forested hill-slope.
"What a blessing that animal did not bark at us," Horatio whispered. "That could have been bad...very bad."
"That breed seldom does," Edrington murmured. He had come up alongside of us. "I am quite surprised to see one here, though."
We had to stop several times to let the men rest. We were carrying a great many barrels of powder. Major Edrington's troops took turns with the Indy's sailors shouldering this heavy dunnage. Finally, the stone and masonry walls of the Fortress showed themselves darkly against the faint backlighting of the night sky. As for the Battery itself, it was a dark mass broken only by a few faint glowing windows where the night watch was on duty. As we looked out over the broad expanse of river mouth, we could see the lights of the French warships as they slept at anchor under their minimal watches, secure under the protection of the Battery guns.
Subject Ch. 3--Subterfuge
(Note: Anything enclosed in * * in this Chapter is spoken in French)
Of course you, my readers, aren't stupid so you know I survived the ordeal else you'd not be reading this account of it! But what you cannot know (until I deign to tell you) is how successful we were and the very strange thing, which happened that night. All in good time
We did reach the eastern wall at around 2:30am. We heard no voices carried on the light evening breeze from inside the Battery walls. Evidently, the watchers were silent. Hopefully, most were solitary. Matthews brought out the ropes and grappling hooks from inside his rucksack. We had covered the points of the grappling hooks with oakum to prevent them from ringing out when they struck the masonry walls. Oldroyd threw the first hook up and it caught, about 5 meters from the ground where we were standing near the barred and gated entrance. He tugged on the rope and made certain that it was firmly holding against the rampart above us. Horatio clapped me on the back, gripping my shoulder firmly.
"Right, Archie. G'wan up now carefully. See what you can and if the way is clear to come down and unbar this gate. Then make your way to the west gate on the other side of the fort. The Major has already begun to move his troops over to that side."
I pulled on the rope, felt it was firm and began to climb. When I was about 3 meters off the ground, I began to feel edgy, another meter and I began to perceive my vision blurring around the edges. Damn! This was so familiar. What abominable timing! I heaved up the last meter and rolled over the edge of the rampart, falling about three feet down but landing fairly quietly. I looked across the wooden planked flooring that fanned out on either side of me and did not see any movement, but I heard a creak and felt a faint vibration. There was a low structure in the center that was probably part of the officer's quarters that Edrington had shown me on the map. Just a few feet away, an open window gaped blackly. I could hear that someone was approaching slowly on the other side of the structure.
I felt shaky and panicky, which has always been my sign that a fit is in the offing, and I knew if I had it out here in the open that the approaching Frenchman would surely kill me with ease and the entire mission would be blown, a failure. So I did the only thing I could do, which was throw myself into the darkened window. With luck, it would be a storeroom, where I could recover my wits and then go forth to fulfill my orders.
As I landed on something that felt like a lumpy bag of something, my heart gladdened at the thought that I had indeed landed in a storeroom upon a sack of potatoes. But this impression was shattered in moments when the lumps began to shift about and I heard muffled oaths (in French) coming from somewhere beneath my bottom as I sat. An arm whipped out and grabbed something alongside, jerking it towards me and immediately I was doused with water. I had landed on a sleeping man, with my rear end on his head and my legs pinning his chest down. He kicked and thrashed and grunted. The shock of the cold water seemed to shatter the creeping fugue-state I had been falling into as I felt my fit approach. Now my senses were heightened and I shifted just a bit, bringing the butt of my pistol down hard on the sputtering lump beneath me. What a blessing that I still had my pistols half-cocked, for if I had done as I should have were I not preoccupied with my worries over having a fit, the pistol would have discharged. As it was, the lumpy form beneath me ceased moving and I gradually eased my weight off the poor wretch and pulled the blanket down to expose the face of a man. Though I could not see him, I could feel from the texture of his skin that he was youngish, his breath coming evenly but slowly. He was unconscious.
There was a whisper at the window, in French and I replied in kind. "*Everything all right, sir? I heard a crash!*" "*Yes, fine*" I croaked as if groggy from slumber, "*just a bad dream. Now let me sleep!*". I heard his footsteps fade away.
Has anyone ever said "I'd rather be lucky than good?". Well, if not, let me be the first. I was very lucky. Not only in having forgotten to cock my pistol all the way, having fallen buttocks-first upon the head of the sleeper thereby muffling his cries, and the unfortunate sleeper having had sufficient presence of mind to try to bean me with a bedside water pitcher. Now I was sopping wet, but my mind was unclouded. I pulled a flint from my pocket (luckily still dry) and struck it, shielding the light with my hand. I inspected the sleeper. What luck again! He looked something like me about my size, with light-colored hair and small features. Over a chair was slung his cast-off uniform. I put on the jacket and the calf-high black boots and then turned my attention to his hat. More luck! This man was clearly a sharpshooter and an officer at that.
Now, for those of you who don't know much about French uniforms, let me explain that my friend Edrington's English ilk has NOTHING on the French when it comes to making a showy display of themselves on the battlefield. For a group of soldiers who are supposed to shoot, as opposed to being shot at, the French marksmen do make themselves a damnably conspicuous target. Their hats are extremely distinctive, being topped by a white plume of over half a meter in length, with a gaudy red-dyed tip! With this hat, and these boots, plus the jacket, I would easily pass for a member of this garrison.
Quickly, I tied up and gagged the unconscious marksman with strips of bed sheet and his own belt. He would be all right. Tucking the hat under my arm and taking his musket for good measure, I went back through the window. The grappling hook! It was still there, but in shadow. Thank heavens the patrolling sentry hadn't seen it.
I pulled the whole thing up and dropped it back down into the darkness below. I knew they could not answer but I hoped that Horatio or one of the others from the Indy had seen me and would know I was OK. I held the hat over and waved that, too, so they could see the big plume. I wanted them to not shoot at me should they encounter me when I was still in disguise as a Frenchman. A small pebble came up from below and there was a wet, spluttering sound, quickly muffled. Good. That meant someone was down there and had seen and understood.
I popped the hat on and began to explore. About 50 meters away, I came upon a flight of stone steps going downward. Following these steps, I found myself in an L-shaped hallway. I moved slowly to the right and shortly saw a faint glow ahead of me. Edging towards the glow, I found myself able to sight down a short passage with a wrought-iron grate at the end. Through the bars I could see a much larger space, which were clearly the gun levels. There were several men in there, two playing cards and one or two more leaning back up against the walls as if dozing. I turned back down the other way and found another flight of steps that led to the ground level. I saw the east gate in front of me. There was one guard off to the side, smoking a cheroot. The glow illuminated his face. He would have to be taken out.
"I am just a hat and feet" I thought to give myself some nerve. "I have the boots and the hat and that's what he will see and nothing in between signifies " I walked briskly towards him with a bit of swagger and he immediately snapped to and threw down his cheroot, extinguishing it with his foot.
"Alors!" I commanded huffily. "*Pick that up!*" He bent over and when he did I brought the butt of the musket down hard on the back of his neck. He went down with a muffled "*ooumff*". I dragged him into the shadow of the gate and worked the bar free, cracking the gate just a bit. I took of the hat and waved it out the door so that the big white plume bobbed and weaved. I heard something splutter a bit and then a sharply hissed " Oldroyd!"
Horatio was right there waiting. "Good work, Archie!" I shoved the unconscious guard through the open door. "Do something with him! He's a bit coshed." Several of the Indy men dragged him off and stuffed him behind a rock. I'd say unceremoniously, except I cannot imagine how one does stuff an unconscious enemy behind a rock with ceremony.
Horatio's crew had set charges at this gate already and had left two men there in readiness to light the fuses. He had sent several more men with Edrington to lay charges at the West Gate. There were eight of us left to reenter the Battery. I stood by the gate as if I was the sentry I had knocked out and watched until I was sure that the Battery gate was not under observation by any other occupants. Quietly, our group entered the compound. Horatio glanced at me, then looked again, his brows knitting together. He reached over and tugged my pigtail.
"L'eau and behold, Archie, you're wet!"
"Long story I'll tell it later," I replied.
"Honestly, Archie, you are the only Acting Lieutenant I know who can get soaking wet taking part in action indoors on dry land."
"Yes, I pride myself on that Horatio. Not everyone has that knack. Now we must move quickly. There are a few guards on the gun level but they don't seem to be very alert. I haveno idea how long it will be before someone expects the fellow whose clothes I borrowed to report somewhere."
Single-file, we went carefully back up the stone steps and into the hallway that led to the cavernous and still-dimly lit gun level. I popped my silly French marksman's hat back on and whispered, "count to ten and then come on behind me". I ran to the iron gate shouting "*Open Up At ONCE! Man your guns! English warships in the river!*"
All the men ran over to the windows to look out as Horatio and his group came swiftly and quietly up behind them, jamming the butts of their pistols up against their heads and telling them that if they made any sound at all they would shoot.
"Be Still, Frenchie, voo Savvy?" Oldroyd, naturally. Oh well, at least he tries.
"Allow me to introduce meself, I am King George, you Frogfaces," the more bombastic Styles explained as he found ropes and tied them up. We gagged them with the oily cleaning clothes piled beside cannons. When all were subdued, Horatio told me it was time to go let Edrington's men enter the West gate. He said it would take time to spike and disable all the cannon, so I needed to leave right away. This time, I went out with backup. Mr. Matthews, a wiry, agile, and clever little fellow, younger in step and vigor than his steely gray ponytail might suggest, removed a red stocking cap from one of the tied up Frenchies and jammed it on his head.
"Aye, aye et wee, wee, Monsewer Kenaday!" he cracked.
Slipping through the shadows in the courtyard between the Battery and officer's levels and the barracks, Matthews only had to knock out one sentry before we reached the west gate and found two guards standing there. Both were very much at attention, neither of them smoking or doing anything that I could berate them for. I walked towards them with my face in shadow and informed them that a sentry on the southwest rampart thought he saw a light in the woods on the other side of the gate. They immediately turned around to look out the small grating in the door and when they did so, I put one pistol to the back of each of their skulls. Matthews materialized in a flash, and he knocked out both of them with a rock in a neckerchief while I held them there. We opened the gate and shoved them out. Edrington, being the perceptive military mastermind that he is immediately recognized that the hasty ejection of two French soldiers signified that our mission was going just swimmingly so there no need to shoot at us. He brought his group through the battery in a rush, and two of them immediately began setting charges to go off at the gate.
He spared a second to regard me, and his eyes widened a bit. "What an amazing bit of subterfuge," he said in the same even tone he might use if he would encountered me at a tea dance.. "when we asked you to resemble a Frog we did not expect you to go so far as to jump in a pond".
"Yes, fine..very well. I am sure you'll hear all about it eventually. I encountered unexpected enemy moisture while obtaining a French uniform."
His eyes narrowed with a hint of a smile.
They were poised to light the fuse when we saw a lantern flash three times from the Battery and this was the signal that Horatio's men had completed the task of disabling the cannon and were headed down to lay charges at the entrances and exits. Edrington gave the signal to light the fuses at the gate and we all began slipping across the courtyard, keeping to the shadows of the walls. The lantern signal was evidently seen by the remaining sentries near the barracks, and before the West Gate even blew there was a shouted alarm and shots rang out as marksmen came up onto the roof of the barracks and began firing at us down in the courtyard below.
Ch.4--An Unexpected Guest
At that point, the key thing as I saw it was to run like hell for the East Gate. I saw a few of Edrington's soldiers go down. His Sergeant made a quick assessment that one was not too badly hurt and this man was assisted by a fellow rifleman as they made for the east gate. Another was left lying. I presumed his wounds were judged too severe to allow him to be transported. I thought about myself lying unconscious in the drifting jollyboat all those years ago and wished the fellow luck that he would eventually find a way to get back to his countrymen, as I had. Edrington marshaled his men at the base of the Battery and held off the French, who had begun to assemble into some sort of order and were advancing on the Battery firing sporadically. I do not think the French had a complete grasp of the situation at that point, but when the West gate went down in a flash of greenish-yellow smoke and a shower of mortar and rubble they appeared to see it rather more clearly. I heard a stampede of footsteps behind me and Horatio and his group careened down the steps from the upper level and urged us to move quickly. Four explosions rocked the battery as hallways collapsed into large untidy piles of blocks of stone and wooden beams.
Styles ran up to the octagonal magazine that stood in the center of the fortress and began hacking a hole in the wooden door with a boarding axe. He lit a fuse on a powderball and threw it inside then ran yelling at the top of his lungs for all of us to make for the exit. It looked as though he might have been hit by a musket ball as he ran for I saw his upper body jerk and he stumbled, grabbed his shoulder, then got his feet under him and ran to relative safety behind Edringtons' men. Edrington's marksmen were firing regularly through the smoke at the French coming from the direction of the barracks. The magazine blew up with a force that made the whole fort shake, expelling a great, hot wind that knocked many of us over, including self. All was confusion and smoke was so thick it was difficult to breath, let alone see, which was to our benefit as we were more on the blowing up end of things than the marksmanship end of things at this point in the proceedings. We covered our faces with our sleeves and fled backwards toward the eastern gate, firing randomly behind us and upwards at any men we saw on the ramparts.
Edrington's men formed an effective semicircle of defense around our rapidly coalescing group. Horatio's Indy sailors who were systematically lighting fuses attached to barrels of powder in hallways and doors of each building as we retreated from the interior of the fortress. We surged out of the gate to the accompaniment of more explosions. Chunks of mortar were falling from the walls around us, but we had not enough powder to blow up the whole fort and I wouldn't have thought it sporting, anyhow. As we came out the east gate, the fuses were lit and we quickly plunged into the shelter of the trees. The few Frenchmen who made it out of the gate before it was reduced to a pile of rubble rapidly surrendered once it was clear they were cut off from the rest of their countrymen. Six or so of Edrington's infantrymen formed a phalanx around them. We had about half-dozen prisoners of war, but the main thing was that the battery guns were silenced for a good long time. The explosions had lit up the sky and could not possibly fail to be seen by the Indy and her consorts.
Suddenly I became aware of a monstrously shaped shadow thrown over the path ahead of me, backlit by the glow of the fires our explosions had started in the fort.
To my horror, I saw that the ungainly shadow was actually cast by three men. Two were Oldroyd and Matthews, and they were walking slowly down the path back towards the boats and the beach but the other was Horatio, slung between them like a stag, his head lolling a bit to one side and his feet dangling limply.
"My God! Horatio!" I dropped back alongside them. "Matthews, what happened, where is he hurt, I never even saw him fall." I ran my hand down his body and felt wet, warm sticky ooze halfway down his side.
"There na', Mr. Kennedy, sir," Matthews said. "Mr. "Ornblower got too close to one of the blasts and it knocked im clean out. Then before we could get there to pick im up ee got hit by a ball. Right in front of us, it twas, make no mistake. We picked im up right away and I am real sure the Major shot the Frog who fired the shot. Ee's breathing good and not bleedin' ower much. I tink surgeon will put him right if we can get back to the Indy i'time. The ball went right through is side, near as I can tell, but I tink it missed is eart and stomack, sir. We'll give our Mr. Ornblower a smooth ride, eh Oldroyd?"
"Yes, sir, we'll do that."
It was heartening to see these two who had seen a lot of men wounded and killed in their many combined years at sea not appear too worried about Horatio. I was terribly concerned about my friend, but the mood in general on our retreat back to the hidden boats was bouyant, as the action had succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations. Now if we were lucky, we'd have the best seats in the house to watch our Indefatigable firing broadsides at the enemy.
This wasn't how I'd pictured it, though. As we left scene of our triumph, I had seen myself in my mind's eye running over to Horatio and telling him how cleverly I had taken out the guards. It just wasn't the same. Edrington shimmered alongside me as we reached the bit of shoreline where our boats were hidden.
"Well my batrachian friend, if the rest of this night goes as well, I should be in a position tomorrow to issue a very flattering report commending your role in tonight's little soiree."
"Soiree, indeed. My Lord, p'haps you should be the next one to impersonate a Frog. What a ghastly melange of French and Latin!"
"Oh, no" he gave a low chuckle, "my French is strictly limited to a few useless words my set has appropriated because we like the way they sound." I heard him gasp, then he grabbed my shoulder and wrenched me down to my knees behind the phalanx of marksman before us. "What the Devil?!"
The men before me simultaneously cocked a dozen pistols, training them on a cloaked figure that had risen like a hooded specter from one of the beached boats.
"Do not shoot, monsieurs! " the figure said in English in a low, clear accented voice. The interloper pulled down the hood of a dark cloak to expose long hair that whipped out in the wind. A woman!
"Go away, Madame" hissed the Major. "It is dangerous for you here. We are the enemy, we do not want to have to shoot you or take you captive. Go home, I say, maintenant!"
"Non!" she cried, rushing towards us with her hands outstretched so we could see that she had no weapons in them. "I demand to be taken prisonnaire! I am dangerous, desperate, and I will NOT stay en France!" She flung herself at us, stumbled, and I found it was I who caught her in a tight embrace. A woman, yes, of medium height and smelling strongly of the barnyard. Although the female contours from the waist up were as one might expect (or dream, if a sailor long at sea) there were hard, knobby protrusions from her belt which I felt certain were pistol butts. "Merci, I am half-English. Take me with you to your ship. I have family in England who will help me. My life and the lives of those who shelter me are not safe so long as I remain here."
There was a muffled exclamation from one of the army fellows who had begun dragging the boat towards the water. A shaggy form reared up from the bottom of the boat and we saw at once that it was the huge dog we had encountered on our way in.
"Good God." said the Major. "Is this superb animal yours, Madame? LIEUTENANT Kennedy, you can let go of the lady now." I released her from my embrace, embarrassed.
"Il s'appele Moustache" she said, slipping back into French. "This dog, he is my protector. He will not bite you unless I command it."
"A commoner would be hanged back where I come from for owning one of those. A Deerhound only can be owned by an aristocrat. Did you steal this animal?"
"Non!" she whirled upon him. "I have every right to own Moustache. I am the daughter of the Comte and Comptesse du Martine. Ma mere, the Comptesse, she was from a great English family and my father descends, eh, he is part Bourbon. Moustache goes with me. Take me prisonnaire, make me an honored guest, I care not, but when I get to England, certainment, my English relatives will reward you handsomely and welcome ma chien. There is a price on my head as long as I am here in France. A high price "
"Excuse me, sir" interrupted Styles, "but we've got the rest of the boats ready. We need ta' go. This lady don' look like no Comptessy, an don' smell like one neither." He was holding a rag against his shoulder and there was some blood staining his shirt. He had been hit, then. Another job for the surgeon, if we got back to the Indy.
Edrington reached out suddenly and grabbed a fistful of brown hair, pulling it back off her face and turning her profile towards the light from his slitlamp. He inspected her like he was checking a ship's biscuit for weevils. "What a fright."
I was appalled at this unexpectedly ungentlemanly behaviour!
"Well, My Lord, do we take her or whatnot?" I asked hesitantly. I rather fancied I believed her and her distress was quite genuine but my word, what would the Captain say? I hardly had the authority to bring some strange-looking, punky-smelling French girl who claimed to be an aristocrat back to my ship.
"Oh. I don't see what else we can do. I know her. This is my second cousin, Madeline. And the spitting image of the scandalous bitch who whelped her, for all her "noble" birth." He released her hair with a disdainful grimace and I was shocked to see the girl rake her nails hard across the back of his hand as he withdrew it. She glared at him, then turned, hiking up her skirts to reveal muscular calves and slender ankles. She waded out and got in the boat, drawing her cloak over her face. The grey dog coiled around her legs protectively as he joined her. Well, there was some history here! I'd NEVER seen Edrington lose his sang-froid like that before.
I decided it might be both politic and helpful to join the boat carrying my fallen comrade, Horatio, and leave these two long-lost relatives to catch up on family gossip and so on. It seemed, somehow, the tactful thing to do.
FROM THE PRIVATE PAPERS OF LORD ALEXANDER EDRINGTON, EARL OF EDRINGTON
October 17, 1798
As I have spent much of the past few months in close contact with Navy, it's Officers and ordinary seamen, I have become progressively more impressed with the quality of its men and the efficacy with which a well-mounted Naval operation can achieve the sort of victories which are far more costly in both time and casualties in a land action. Last night's venture was no exception.
The plan to infiltrate the fortress at the Gironde was brilliantly executed by young Archibald Kennedy, who is a most underrated officer in my opinion, and his superior, Lt. Hornblower, to whom fell the responsibility of the placement and detonation of the explosives and ordnance. Mr. Kennedy, who turns out to be almost a neighbor of mine, is the son of Lord Kennedy and I shall waste no time issuing an inviation to him to call at Edrington Manor when he is next ashore. He is a handsome young fellow, rather self-effacing but a master of disguise and subterfuge with an actor's temperament, fluency in several languages other than his own, and for good measure he swings a dashed efficient rifle-butt.
I want to commit to paper a description of the manner by which 5 of His Majesty's Naval Frigates defeated a force of a dozen French Line of Battle ships and Corvettes which lay at anchor. I see no reason why some of these maneuvers could not be attempted on land by a well-rehearsed and well-mounted Cavalry.
Each Captain knows the range of his guns and the abilities of his crew from firing practices. As we sat at anchor out in the middle of the Gironde out of rifle range of any shorebound musketfire, we were able to see the four Frigates which had joined the Indefatigable during our action on shore split into two pairs and sail single file on each side of the French fleet, which was anchored in a fairly tightly bunched group well upstream of the battery guns. The guns having been silenced by our actions, the British vessels were able to approach without fear of artillery from the shore. They flanked the French anchorage at such a distance that their broadsides would reach into the Fleet itself but would have no chance of reaching the two other British Frigates on the opposing side. As most naval battles are fought from one side or the other, and the French ships were in the first flush of activity following their observations of the explosions within the Battery itself, it was not too difficult to overwhelm most of the Fleet, dismast them before they'd gotten up enough sail, and put shot into their hulls to cripple them or send them to the bottom of the Gironde.
So tightly packed were they at anchor (probably to insure the respective Captains could easily hail from ship to ship), the French ships were as like to dismast each other if they returned many broadsides. The aim was selective the larger line-of-battle ships were targeted in the hull and on the decks in order to have the best chance of killing or wounding the officers, while the lighter Corvettes were primarily dismasted and taken as prizes, as these ships could be easily sailed back to England by small prize crews and His Majesty's Government is much in need of light, fast ships of this design to serve as packet vessels.
There was a tense moment for us as one of the larger ships which was better Captained perhaps, or which had already begun preparations to set sail before the explosions from the Fortress roused the other crews, broke away from the rest of the anchored fleet and began to bear down on us. Fortunately, the Indefatigable had stationed itself to be in a position to chase down any ship that was able to break through the broadsides of the convoy of four executed what was later explained to me by Mr. Kennedy as an exceptionally difficult feat of seamanship in not only catching up with this escaping Frenchman in the light dawn winds, but getting enough ahead of it to rake it across the bow with a fusillade of cannon shot. All credit to the Sailing Master, Mr. Bowles, who is considered one of the very best in the entire Navy, including Nelson's fleet. It was only a matter of ten minutes before the Frenchman hauled down its colors and became a prize of the Indefatigable, albeit a badly damaged one. For us in the boats, it was indeed a relief to hear the jubilant cry of the wounded but irrepressible Mr. Styles from Kennedy's boat "Look, It's The Bloddy Indy!".
(At this point, readers, you are to replay that great HH "It's the bloody Indy" theme music in your heads .Da da Da Da da, Da da da, dadada, dumdumdumdumdum dum dum. Etc)
Shortly thereafter, we were welcomed aboard by Capt. Pellew and after a few hours sleep, I made my report. I feel certain he was pleased how could he have been otherwise? But his satisfaction was tempered by worry over Lt. Hornblower, whose condition remains fragile down in the sickbay. Our total casualties from the operation were four...one presumed wounded and taken prisoner, and three wounded but returned. Mr. Hornblower, who wounds are potentially more serious, Gentry from my group--musketball in the leg (removed), and Mr. Styles, who suffered a glancing hit which left a deep gash in his shoulder but which should heal in time.
My jubilation at the success of this mission was tempered by the surprising addition to my entourage of my second cousin, Lady Madeline Du Martine, whom my entire family had presumed dead by guillotine along with her parents. Apparently, she has been being sheltered and hidden by a humble family of tenant farmers, whose daughter was employed as a domestic of some sort by the Comptesse, her late mother. I succumbed to a most uncharacteristic bout of bad temper when I first realized who she was, and she has only answered me in monosyllables thus far, but perhaps if I continue to control my emotions in her presence she will eventually be more forthcoming. I do not like her. She seems a rough, hoydenish, untidy young woman who bears an unsettling resemblance to the portrait of her mother at Edrington Hall. I might be doing her an injustice based on my prejudices, but after all her mother ruined my father and therefore cast a black shadow over my own childhood and it appears that the daughter is cut from the same adventuress bolt of rebellious fustian. Still, my conduct was unbecoming of an Edrington and I am shamed in the sight of my men and young Kennedy. I shall strive to conceal my distaste in future until I can convey Lady Madeline to my home and turn her over to the female members of my family.
However, Lady Madeline is accompanied by a fine Deerhound Dog, and I feel certain this animal will make an admirable addition to the pack.
October 18, 1798
Lady Katherine Edrington
I hope this little packet of letters finds you well and in the best of health and spirits. I have posted it with a speedy courier and it carries all my affection for you and Mamah as well as some news of great import that will affect our family profoundly. I know I can trust you to break my news at the proper time to Mamah. Do insure that there is sufficient sherry and laudenum on hand.
First of all, our little sortie into France went splendidly and I can assure you that your brother is well and uninjured and that the 17th Calvalry who you so charmingly entertained last summer executed their duties with all the dash I have come to expect from them. We lost young Lawrence, but I feel certain he is only a prisoner and since we did take 6 from their side I think perhaps we can arrange an exchange and get him back to England soon enough. So do not fret your pretty brow, dear sister, I shall not rest until the last of your gentlemen houseguests have been safely delivered onto a British Naval vessel.
Now for my startling news. Our second cousin, Madeline Du Martine is alive! Not only that, but she is even now stowed safely in a cabin on board the Indefatigable, which is on a return voyage to England, but somewhat delayed by the exigencies of repairing a captured prize so that it, too, could make the return voyage.
Lady Madeline is, well I cannot put it any more delicately than this, going to be a project for you darling. I am so very sorry to burden you with this but of course an Edrington must take care of its own, even if its own is half-French, the product of a scandalous marriage, and none too clean. Lady Madeline has lived as a peasant for several years now and has no fortune left, no suitable wardrobe, and does not appear to have had the services of either hairdresser or Lady's Maid for quite some time, so you can only imagine what a state she is in. She does have some good features I suppose large and expressive brown eyes, thick hair, and she is not overly tall. But oh my dear the freckles! And her hands are so brown. The sun is hideously bright here in France. Clearly, you will have much to do to make her presentable to move in a higher social circle than the stables and the hogpens. But as you are the absolute paragon of fashion I am sure this task is not beyond you, dear sister.
The second task might be a much sterner test. Lady Madeline is rough, suspicious, and hostile. I fear I may have offended her by mentioning in an offhand way our opinion of her mother, and how I wish I could call back those hastily-spoken words! But she will need much schooling in social graces and proprieties. The entire social structure of France has broken down and she speaks and acts as a lawless, freethinking proletarian. You must convince her that we shall never be able to find her a suitable husband with any sort of income unless she can make herself charming, submissive, and biddable.
Oh, but happy news! Do you remember dear old Coventry and the red bitch, Flyer who were sent over as a present to Lady Madeline's mother on the occasion of L.M.'s birth? How we cried! I remember it like it was yesterday. Two little children wailing on the stoop as Daddy put our favorite doggies in the carriage never to be seen again. Well, darling Katharain, you'll never believe what else I am bringing back to England! A marvelous dog, with the unfortunate name of Moustache, who has simply got to be the grandson of these two and is the spitting image of old Cov'. Lady Madeline, whatever her myriad other faults, has trained him well. You will love him on sight. He is completely devoted to Lady Madeline, of course, but I feel certain we can put him to Shannon and get the best pups ever!
Oh, and one more thing, this also good news. I have met a young Naval officer who turns out to be rather a neighbor of ours. Do you remember that insufferably spotty and inelegant young Edward Kennedy who used to come for shooting parties with his father, Lord Kennedy? Well, his younger brother Archibald is an acting Leftenant aboard the Indefatigable and as unlike his brother as you, my elegant sister, are unlike the rustically-pungent Lady Madeline. He is a handsome, charming, gay young fellow and I desire to invite him to one of your justly-famous house parties. He would make a most admirable addition and you are always bemoaning the lack of suitable young men to fill out the dance cards of the ladies, stuck as we are amidst so much bucolic Country society. Young Kennedy has breeding but no fortune, so I feel certain you will bear that in mind when you meet him, dear, and make sure the mammahs are discreetly informed. No more need be said on that front I am sure.
However, he is a fine officer and very loyal to his comrades. He was offered the command of the captured prize ship but refused it, the honor instead going to a Mr. Cleveland and by doing so, he willingly deprived himself of a tidy pile of coin that I am certain he could use. It appears Mr. Kennedy was unwilling to leave the side of his fallen superior, a Mr. Hornblower, until his recovery was assured. Such loyalty and friendship is quite admirable, don't you think? I also harbor private suspicions that he is fascinated with Lady Madeline, but I am sure once he is on shore and has other women to compare her to that this fascination will not linger over long. He also intends to put in for shore leave and it is devoutly to be wished that he shall be able to share my carriage part of the way home, as any reprieve from the sole company of the glowering Lady Madeline will be most welcome.
Do share all this news with mother when she is in a suitable frame of mind to receive it.
Do not forget to give Mr. Latham 20 pounds when his wife has her baby. Also, ask Wallace to see to the trout streams and that the quail are released in the lower fields. I anticipate arriving with Lady Madeline several days after your receipt of this and will look forward to a bit of sport while you work your magic with our cousin. Mr. Kennedy informs me that she does speak English quite well, except when she becomes agitated, which happens often in my presence.
Your affectionate brother,
Ch. 6--The Embarkation of Moustache
"Permission to come aboard Sir!" I hailed as the Indy pulled alongside our small flotilla in the lavender light of dawn. What a beautiful ship she is prettiest lines of any two-decker in service I always thought.
"Welcome aboard, Mr. Kennedy, Major Edrington. I see you have brought guests ?" Captain Pellew leaned over the rail smiling broadly, a deep crease between his thick eyebrows as he surveyed the motley assortment of French prisoners (some of whom had only half-dressed in their haste to repel the surprise attack on their fortress).
"We'll need a pallet and hoist, Sir!" I cried. "Lieutenant Hornblower's badly injured, Sir. Also, we have a large dog."
"A what?" sputtered the Captain. He appeared to shake himself a bit. "How badly is Mr. Hornblower injured?"
"We're not sure, sir. Call for the surgeon."
There was a flurry of activity on board and within moments, a pallet was lowered to the jollyboat and six of us lifted Horatio gently onto it, moving him as little as possible to stop his tightly wrapped side from starting to bleed again. His face was waxen but his breathing was steady. My stomach knotted with worry all the same.
The rest of the men from our boat clambered up the boarding ladder and then the pallet was lowered back down to the Major's boat. I was on tenterhooks to see how the dog would be brought aboard. Lady Madeline gave him a hand signal and he climbed onto the pallet. Another signal and he lay down. "Arrete! Arrete!" she commanded and the amazing animal did not move a muscle as the pallet was lifted 6 meters straight up in the air and then swung over the rail. Several of the crew backed off in alarm when they saw the size of the great beast. He was as big as a young stag and just as fleet-looking. In a few moments, the Major followed Lady Madeline up the ladder and led her to the Captain, gripping her tightly by the elbow. She looked extremely put out and kept glancing sharply down at his restraining grasp. Edrington's white-skinned, well-manicured hand made a stark contrast with her rough, mud-spattered grey cloak.
"Lady Madeline, may I present Captain Sir Edward Pellew, at whose pleasure you will sail for England. Captain Pellew, this is my cousin, Lady Madeline Du Martine, whom we were fortunate to encounter during our sojourn on the banks of the Gironde. Lady Madeline desires to emigrate immediately, as her life is in danger in France. I shall personally convey her to her mother's ancestral homeland."
Lady Madeline extended her hand to the Captain, and Lord bless im, he bent over and kissed it, grimy as it was. "Charmed to make your acquaintance, Lady Madeline."
She favored him with a sad smile, "Captain Pellew, I am indebted to you for your hospitality."
"But Madame, we must discuss your, er, dog. He is of elephantine proportions. I fear we must stable him with the bullocks in the hold."
"Ah, Captain you are concerned that he will foul your tres jolie Indefatigable? Ah, even I, living in the country far from societe have heard fisherman's tales of this ship and her brave Captain Pelloo! Do not fear, he is well-disciplined as any of these..." She waved dismissively at several of the seamen who were skylarking in the rigging. "...and I, his mistress, shall not allow him to make a mess. Bring me that shovel," she commanded the loitering Oldroyd with a snap of her fingers, indicating a coal scoop that had been left on deck.
"Ici! Ici la, Moustache!" she said in a peremptory tone, pointing at at a spot on the deck. And before our disbelieving eyes, the dog hunched over and began to do his business, which she caught neatly in the shovel, flinging it smoothly with a great deal of élan over the deck rail and into the river! My mouth gaped. Edrington looked revolted, but the Captain's eyebrows shot up and he even chuckled. "You see, Captain, Moustache is perfectly trained and obeys all my commands. He must stay with me he is my protector."
"Remarkable." The Captain scanned the deck. A few of the seamen were looking hungrily at Lady Madeline's long unbound tresses and thin linen blouse. "Well then, Lady Madeline, I agree that might be best. Just do not let him bite any of my crew unless they DESERVE it!"
"And now, Major. Lt. Kennedy. I would congratulate you on a successful mission and I will look forward to hearing your reports once you have had some sleep. Spirits for the men, Mr. Cleveland. Double ration, if you please, and I do not want to see any of you until you have spent at least six hours in your beds."
"But Sir, Captain Pellew, please, I wish to see Horatio."
I will check on the progress of Mr. Hornblower, so you may go to your rests, resting assured that he is being looked after." Pellew clapped his hands. "Mr. Cleveland, give Lady Madeline and her escort Mr. Bracegirdle's old cabin. Sadly, Mr. Hornblower shan't be needing it for awhile."
I was done in and with a double-ration of rum sloshing about in my nearly empty stomach sleep was not long in coming.
I woke up to a harsh late-afternoon sun and the sound of hammering and shouting from the captured prize, a French line-of-battle ship called the Delphine. The Indy had towed her out of the Gironde to the open ocean, where our Carpenters were busily repairing her to make the voyage back to England for refitting. The first thing I did after dressing was to grab a ship biscuit from the purser and head for the sickbay.
There I found Horatio, stretched out with a clean linen bandage on his side and a dark cloth wrapped in a band over his eyes. The surgeon was feeling his pulse and trying to encourage him to rear up a bit and take some broth. I motioned for him to come over by the door. "How bad is he? I want the truth," I whispered.
"Not as bad as he looks right now, sir. I don't think there is any danger the wound will prove mortal. The shot passed clean through his side. It tore his muscles up a bit but missed the organs. If it doesn't go gangrenous, I think he'll heal well enough. I have impressed on him that he must lie absolutely still".
"My God, that will be torture for Horatio. The only time I haveever seen him still is when he is asleep! But what of the bandage on his eyes?"
"Now that could be more serious, sir. His eyes were burned as he checked a fuse that he thought had sputtered out but had not. He got caught to close to the blast. He must keep his eyes covered and in absolute darkness for at least ten days. Then we will take off the bandages and pray that he has recovered his sight. I haveput an unguent on the burns to his eyelids, but if his eyes themselves are damaged he might be forever blind as he is now. Only time will tell."
This was dreadful news! I felt my throat tighten, but I did not want to upset Horatio. He had already sensed my presence.
"Archie" he said weakly. "I am glad you are here." He reached out a hand, feeling around to see if he could locate me. I rushed to his side and took it, patting it encouragingly. "Horatio, great news! The Surgeon says you are going to be fine, just have to lie still and keep your bandages on. Right? I am going to see to it that you do if I have to sit on you myself."
Horatio moaned and grimaced. "I cannot endure it, Archie. Please tell me if we were successful. How the mission went last night. It was last night, wasn't it?"
I put his hand back across his chest and took up a fan to cool him with, for it was stuffy and warm in the sickbay and he was sweating lightly. I told him of all the events of the last 24 hours, not neglecting to play up the clumsy way in which I captured the sleeping French marksman. He started to laugh and I could tell it pained him, so I quickly changed my tone to a dry recitation of the essential facts. Horatio frowned a little throughout my account of the meeting with Lady Madeline on the beach. Like me, he was dismayed by Major Edrington's lack of gallantry. But it appeared I had lifted his spirits considerably, and the tip of his prominent nose began to pinken.
"Well, Archie. I am greatly relieved in my mind that we were successful. Shall you sail with our prize to England?"
"Oh, no, Horatio. I believe that will fall to Cleveland. Good luck to him, too. It's a rather large ship, 54 guns."
"Archie! After your part? I cannot believe Pellew could be so unfair."
"Mr. Cleveland is senior"
"But, really! I mean, he not up to it!"
"Horatio," I chided him gently, "sometimes a man cannot really know what he can do until someone gives him a shove and says to go do it."
"There's truth in that, Archie"
There was a rap on the doorframe, and I was startled to see the Major. He came over to Horatio's bedside and wished him well, complimenting him in the highest possible terms for his superb execution of the destruction of the battery, then turned to me.
"Well, Archie. I thought to find you here. The Captain is waiting for us to give our reports. Let us not make him wait any longer to hear of the daring exploits of his favorite Lieutenant, who I am sure is too modest by half to give an accurate accounting." I was glad to see that Edrington had recovered his easy elegance of address and was using it to raise the spirits of my wounded comrade, whose innate modesty does not preclude his being given inner satisfaction at the thought of the two of us praising him to the Captain. So to undertake this happy task, we bid Horatio to rest well and went upstairs together.
Ch. 7--La Beau Lectrice
The next two days passed in a haze as I resumed my normal duties while trying to spend every free moment keeping Horatio's spirits up. Major Edrington, who I had begun to call Alexander when no one else was about, had no official duties other than seeing to the continued well-being of his men who were housed separately with the Marines. He seemed much occupied at times writing in his journal or composing letters but he, too, found time to sit with Horatio and they appeared to enjoy a mutual exchange of ideas on strategy. As for Lady Madeline, she had taken only a day to adjust to the motion of the ship and was now often to be seen exercising her dog on the main deck. The sailors parted like the Red Sea at her passing, for rumors abounded that Moustache would rip out the throat of any man who approached her. Apparently, this rumor did not hold water with Oldroyd, who had taken to carrying a bit of biscuit in his pocket which he would toss to Moustache and laugh when he deftly caught it in his great jaws.
I was on deck one bright afternoon conversing idly with Edrington. We were at anchor yet another unanticipated day as repairs to the Delphine continued. Leaning back against the rail of the ship and squinting in the harsh autumn sunset, I watched through lazily lowered lids as Lady Madeline made her stately progress across the opposing deckside with her dog and shovel. She must have carried a clean poplin dress, as now being worn, on board in her satchel and had washed and pinned up her thick brown wavy hair.
"I must say, Alexander, our unexpected passenger cleans up exceedingly fine. It is amazing what a bit of grooming can do by way of improvement."
"Yes, indeed." agreed Edrington, who had discarded his olive drabs with all due haste and was once again immaculate in his red coat and brass fittings. "I agree completely. Note, if you will Archie, the sturdy frame, plenty of lungroom, depth of chest, and well-filled out hindquarters. A bit older than I would prefer, ideally, but still useful for breeding".
The blood rushed to my face! I was enraged. "Why, you inbred son of a gun! If I weren't in the middle of the ocean I'd call you out for that remark! How can you insult a lady so!"
Edrington looked shocked, then puzzled, then he burst out , voice cracking a little with supressed laughter,"Oh Archie, you literalist! I was talking about Moustache 'pon my word! Inbred, you say? A compliment, my dear chap."
Now it was my turn to lean over the rail, my sides heaving. How could I have thought the Major so crude and ungallant?! To be sure, he had been the very soul of propriety with his cousin ever since he had gotten a bit of sleep.
The lady looked in our direction, pursing her lips thoughtfully, then she smiled and waved, stroked Moustaches' ears languidly, lowered her eyes, and continued on down in the direction of her cabin. Damme, she was a very intriguing woman.
"Alexander, what is the story here? It's not my business, of course, but I could not help but overhear your, um, conversation on the beach at Gironde."
He turned back to lean his chest the rail and stare fixedly at the horizon for a few minutes. Then he wrinkled his nose and rubbed both eyes hard with his knuckles. "Well, I guess it has been in the public domain long enough, so no reason not to tell you. My father was in love with her mother and they had put up the banns. It was thought that a season in Paris in the court of Marie Antoinette would give Madeline's mother the sort of social polish and fashionable refinement which would befit a future Countess Edrington. My father was absolutely besotted with her. He wrote to her every day. At first, she wrote back frequently, but eventually the letters stopped coming. Then he heard the terrible news. Travel to France had proved broadening in a way the family had not anticipated"
"What? What could happen in a royal court that could possibly be so terrible as to stop her writing to her affianced?"
"Archie, you naïve romantic. *He* was not her true love after all. She had, well, not to put too fine a point on it, been bedded by the Compte Du Martine who was, by all accounts, a notorious rake whose handsome looks were just camouflage for a ravisher's heart. Madeline's mother was well in a delicate condition. Her father went almost bankrupt paying the dowry to convince the Count to marry her so the family would not be further shamed."
"That's AWFUL. What did your father do?"
"Him?" said Alexander bitterly. "He drank. A lot. He married Mamah, or should I say, Mamah's money, but he never really loved her. He never got over that Lady's odious mother. He haunted the library of our estate like a ghost, and hung her portrait within. I grew to hate the thing. I think he never really believed that his love would not someday return from France and fling herself at his feet, weeping for forgiveness. He wrote loathsome poetry. Sonnets, if you will have it, which I will not. Disgraceful. He died when I was eight and my sister only six, leaving my 16 year old brother Charles as heir. Charles fell off a horse some years later and here I am, surprised as anything to find myself an Earl."
"But what happened to the baby?"
"Well, that was Madeline's older brother, a consumptive boy who died before reaching the age of ten. The only other child born was Madeline, whose ruddy, distastefully good health you have already seen. So it was a total failure not even a viable heir to a noble French Chateaux can be said to have come from the whole sordid mess. Just the impossible female you just saw promenading on deck like she has more than the clothes on her back and her big, shaggy dog. The dog is a bit of all right, though."
I shared the unchanging view in silence with my friend, beginning to understand the roots of his antipathy. My parents, embarrassing as they both were at times, were both still alive and as near as I could tell, they had at least some affection for each other. I tried to put myself into Alexander's big manor house living with a withdrawn father and an unloved mother. Ghastly childhood, for all the money.
The next morning I had a few hours to myself before my watch and I decided to spend them with Horatio. I went down to sickbay and found Madeline sitting at his side as he slept, wiping the sides of his face gently with a cloth soaked in cool water.
"How is he?" I asked her in a whisper.
"He has a slight fever, Mr. Kennedy." She softly returned. "He's asleep."
"Please call me Archie. I'd prefer that."
"Very well, Monsieur Archie, he has perhaps some swelling in his side. But mostly, he is driven half-insane by the boredom and inactivity. I have been sent by Captain Pellew to read to him." I noticed her accent was not nearly as thick as the night we first met.
"Read to him?" I was intrigued. "So with your English, it is no hard task for you?"
"Of course not. I did many things to earn my keep when I was in hiding from the Republican spies who so desired my neck on the block. I am a "Lectrice", a reader. To the sick, the old, the blind, the unlettered. I take great pains to read well and clearly and I do so in three languages."
"I never knew you could earn a wage with that." I said in wonder.
"It is a woman's work, why should you" she said simply. "But in the matter of literature aboard this ship .there I am, how do you say it?, dismasted? Look at this...this PILE, Archie. All on warfare and history, the Captain Pellew has given me. Here Julius Caesar, in translation: "All Gaul is Divided Into Three Parts" That is France? That is ancient history. Faugh! And this. Clark's Seamanship. "Put this thing through this hole as shown in Figure D and pull until fast". I must find something better to delight the heart and engage the mind of this fallen warrior."
"Done, my Lady, as soon as you asked if not sooner. I shall bring you some of my own books but on one condition. It would be the greatest pleasure I could imagine if I could sit with you and hear you read the familiar words."
Madeline's gaze was level. "Monsieur Archie, I may require a masculine voice to complement my own. Do you think you might have time to assist me?"
"Oh, yes! It would be an unimaginable delight! I adore reading a part, Lady Madeline." And with that, I dashed back to my quarters for my tattered Shakespeare.
When I returned she was crooning a low song to him. The melody seemed familiar, somehow. She had not noticed me in the doorway and I heard her sigh "tu es trop belle pour vie". So that was how it was. I felt an unreasoning surge of jealousy. There lay Horotio unconscious from fever, looking pale and interesting, and he still managed to captivate the heart of the mysterious Lady Madeline, while I stood there in ruddy good health without a scratch on me, holding my Shakespeare and feeling like a cake.
But when she turned and saw me there was welcome in her eyes. "So very kind, Archie. But he is sleeping too soundly now. Can you come back and read with me tonight at Eight bells?"
"I shall look forward to it."
Ch. 8--A Duel (of sorts)
The rest of that day was a whirlwind of activity as the repairs to Delphine (now being called Dorado, after the custom of renaming a captured vessel with a similar name) were completed and Mr. Cleveland, wreathed in smiles and pipe smoke, bustled aboard with a substantial prize crew. I had a momentary pang of envy when I thought of the hundreds of pounds that would come his way for Captaining this ship back to England, but I did not harbor too many regrets as I was looking forward to entertaining Horatio with a spirited reading of my favorite plays.
As the Dorado made sail, Mr. Bowles' penetrating baritone was heard calling out rapid commands to our own crew and we were underway in just minutes, following the prize ship's wake back towards home. Home. What a lovely word. The Captain had already approved two months of shore leave for me and I was filled with happiness at the thought that I would be able to see my family again and perhaps, call on Sue Northcote if she were still living in the county. This I would need to determine for myself as I had been loathe to ask in any of my letters home what had become of her, for I knew that my mother would make an enormous fuss no matter what the answer happened to be. Mothers are like that. No one is EVER good enough for their sons, unless she has a title and is incredibly beautiful and rich.
Another thing to look forward to was that I would not have to make the entire journey alone. Alexander Edrington had asked if I would care to share his carriage as he conveyed Lady Madeline to his home. The look of scarcely-concealed desperation in his eyes would have convinced me to agree out of sheer compassion even if I had not been all too willing to spend more time with both of them.
That night, I went off duty and went to Horatio's bedside in the sickbay. For the first time since we had raised him aboard on the pallet, I could truly say that he looked better. He was sitting propped up by pillows on his cot, wearing his shirt and knee-breeches. The Surgeon was in the room treating another man, a seaman who had fallen from the rigging, and he told me that Horatio's fever had broken during his deep sleep that morning and that his side had sealed well enough to allow him to sit up, although walking about was still forbidden. While it was disconcerting as ever to see the dark bandage tied around his eyes, I was still heartened by this improvement in my friend.
"Ah, Horatio! Did you hear the Surgeon?"
"Yes, Archie" he said testily. "I CAN hear, you know. You don't have to shout! Just because I am blind doesn't make me a deaf-mute idiot. Damn, I can hardly wait to get these bandages off my eyes."
"Another 6 days I hear. By then we'll be in England. Just think of it the first thing you see when you open your eyes will be home, Horatio!"
"Actually, the first thing I was hoping to see was Lady Madeline. I must confess it has been very hard to listen to her lovely voice as she read to me yesterday when I could not visualize a face to go with it. Tell, me, Archie, what does she look like? Is she beautiful?"
"Well .hmmm .not exactly. Fascinating is the word I might use. You have to understand, she has no pretty things to wear and her hair is not fashionably done. She has absolute masses of brown hair and large brown eyes. She has freckles, which I think are fetching but His Lordship thinks are not at all the thing. She is of medium height. She looks strong and healthy as a milkmaid, sort of rounded-like, but her carriage and bearing is that of a lady." I heard a light footstep behind me and hastily changed the subject.."As I was saying, Cleveland looked like he had just gotten the plum when he went aboard Dorado. So far, we have a fair wind and Mr. Bowles says..Oh. There you are, Lady Madeline!"
"Good Evening, Monsieur Archie. Mr. Hornblower. I am pleased to see you sitting up and looking so well."
"I am feeling better, but I have a great need for amusement. My mind is a torment to me with no distractions. Have you come to read to me again, then, Lady Madeline?"
"Mr. Hornblower, we have a great treat in store for you. Not only shall I read to you, but Mr. Kennedy has graciously offered to add his strong voice to mine and we are going to do an entire play for you tonight."
"Brilliant!" exclaimed Horatio.
"Which would you like Comedy, Tragedy, or History?" I asked him.
"Oh, under the circumstances I think a comedy."
"Then we shall do *The Comedy of Errors*" smiled Madeline. And we began.
What absolute rapture to read the familiar words of the male characters and hear the responses come back in Madeline's low, clear contralto. We were getting deep into our roles and periodically, Horatio would interrupt us with a delighted chortle. A smile played continuously at the corners of his wide mouth. My favorite part was that of Antipholus of Syracuse. Madeline read Luciana. Antipholus loves Luciana, but is unaware that he has a twin brother of the same name who is the husband of her sister. Luciana thinks that her sister's husband is paying court to her and is confused by his denials, but attracted as well .
" Your weeping sister is no wife of mine
Nor to her bed no homage do I owe:
Far more, far more to you I do decline.
Oh train me not, sweet mermaid, with thy note,
To drown me in thy sister's flood of tears:
Sing, siren for thyself and I will dote:
Spread o'er the silver waves they golden hairs,
And as a bed I'll take thee, and there lie;
And, in that glorious supposition, think
He gains by death that hath such means to
Let love, being light, be drowned if she sink!"
I was leaning towards her. Our heads, nearly touching, were both inclined over the pages and the musky scent of her hair was intoxicating.
"What, are you mad that you do reason so?" Madeline gasped, as if in shock.
"Not mad, but mated, how I do not know." Me, puzzled.
"It is a fault that springeth from your eye." Madeline, chiding.
"For gazing on your beams, fair sun, being by." I whispered with as much reverence as I could muster.
"Gaze where you should and that will clear your sight." Firmly.
"As good to wink, sweet love, as look" Teasingly.
"Why call you me love? Call my sister so!" Indignant.
Now rapidly, almost in unison .
"Thy sister's sister"
"That's my sister!"
"No! It is thyself, mine own self's better part; Mine eye's clear eye, my dear heart's dearer heart;
My food, my fortune, and my sweet hope's aim,
My sole earth's heaven, and my heaven's claim."
"All this my sister is, or else should be."
"Call thyself sister, sweet for I aim thee:
Thee will I love, and with thee lead my life:
Thou hast no husband yet, nor I no wife;
Give me thy hand " I said, taking hers in my own I was really getting into this part! Madeline squeezed mine regretfully, then slid her fingers from my grasp, placing her hand on my chest, turning away
"O soft, sir, hold you still; I'll fetch my sister to get her good-will."
Suddenly, there was a smattering of applause from the doorway. I must have jumped like a startled cat! Madeline blushed furiously.
Alexander was leaning on wall next to the door, a sphinxlike smile on his face. "Mayhap you should seek the approval of your second cousin instead. What master thespians you have to entertain you, Hornblower, and the best seat in the house! One wouldn't think that such dedicated verisimilitude would be necessary to perform for a blindfolded man."
Madeline winked at me and then turned back a few pages "Why, there's many a man hath more hair than wit." She said, jerking a thumb in the direction of her tall relative (whose long blonde queue reached almost to his belt).
"Hullo, My Lord." said Horatio. "Have you been here long?"
"Long enough" commented the Major, acidly.
"They are really marvelous, aren't they! I never knew old Archie had so much talent!"
"Well, if you like this performance you should see him play a French Marksman, to rave reviews. I'd say he brought down the house."
We all laughed, even Lady Madeline, even though it was quite dreadful of course.
Horatio was in a voluble mood. "You know, it's maddening that I cannot see the Lady Madeline yet, nor have I gotten a look at this remarkable hound I keep hearing about. The whole ship is abuzz over him. What I do not quite understand is how you came to be out with your dog at night, Lady Madeline. Your safety has concerned me. Were your guardians so lax as to let you wander about in dead of night?"
"No, Mr. Hornblower. As I told your friend, Mr. Kennedy here, I did what I could to contribute. Times are hard out the country, even for those who have their own lands. I worked as une Lectrice, this you know. But also, I poached. Moustache and I were poaching game on the night of your invasion. I saw all, went back to the farmhouse and wrote a short note to let my protectors know that I was going to try to flee to England, wrapped it in the last good bit of jewelry I had taken with me when I fled my Chateaux, put a few things in a bag and then Moustache and I went down to the boats to wait. I am a traitoress, for I hoped you would all be successful and return to your hidden boats to take me and my dog to England."
"Oh, so we can now add poaching to your list of crimes.," said Edrington.
"And is that, also, a hanging offense?
"Yes. For that you would be hanged, in Northumberland at any rate. But I am inclined to show clemency, since you only poached from Frogs."
"Well, Cousin Alexander. That is something that has been much on my mind ever since our conversation on the beach. You say that if I were a commoner, I would be hanged simply for having in my possession a dog such as Moustache?"
"That is right, Madeline. Only a peer of the realm can own a dog of that breed, else it is assumed stolen."
"Well then, let me give you a, what do you call it? Hypothetical situation. I am a common girl from the village. I am caught with a Deerhound in my bed. What happens to me?"
"You are tried and hanged for it is certain you stole it."
"Now for another hypothetical situation. I am a common girl, but I am caught with an Edrington in my bed?" Horatio and I both gasped in shock. "Oh please! In France, we are not so tres stupide about such matters. These things happen. Why not discuss them? So, Cousin Alexander, what happens next?"
Edrington rubbed his lips thoughtfully. "Well, I suppose the discovery would be greeted with a mixture of revulsion and pity. Revulsion for your lack of morals and pity for what might happen next."
"But no hanging?"
"No hanging. No, it is not, so far as I am aware, against the law to be in bed with an Edrington."
"A Deficiency of the English legal system. Very well. While revulsion and pity may indeed be the appropriate response to something so unfortunate as being bedded by an Edrington, but surely you can see that therein lie the seeds of revolution?"
This conversation had definitely taken an unexpected turn for me. Madeline was animated, her bosom heaving and her cheeks were flushed as she fenced with her cousin, second cousin, whatever. I began to feel the little cabin was extremely close, and things began to happen over which I had absolutely no control.
"Damme. It's getting warm in here, " I said, removing my jacket and draping it over my lap with what I hope was a good deal of graceful insouciance.
The two combatants ignored me.
"You know, Cousine, you will need to temper that tongue when I get you home and begin to attempt to introduce you to suitable noblemen."
"Och! So I am not even there and already you are planning my wedding! No doubt to some old, bald, widower with six runny-nosed children and a bad case of gout!"
"That might be the best we can do for you if you do not learn to control your temper! Perhaps at least he would have more wit than hair!"
Madeline said something in French that I must admit I have not heard before and if I have not heard it, it cannot be very cultured. She flipped rapidly through my copy of Shakespeare, turning decisively to Much Ado About Nothing
"Dear happiness to women: they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor .I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me!"
Alexander snatched the Shakespeare from her hands and turned pages furiously.
"Why, in faith, methinks she is too low for a high praise, too brown for a fair praise, and too little for a great praise: only this commendation can I afford her; that were she other than she is, she were unhandsome; and being no other but as she is, I do not like her."
"Faugh!" Madeline whisked the book back, thumbing furiously. "Ah! How tartly that gentleman looks. I never can see him but I am heart-burned an hour afterwards!"
Suddenly, a few lines came unbidden to my head and before I knew it, they were passing my lips "she will surely die; for she says she will die if he love her not; and she will die ere she makes her love known; and she will die if he woo her: rather than she will bate one breath of her accustomed crossness!"
Madeline whirled upon me, mouth agape. Suddenly, I found myself on the receiving end of the second pitcher of water snatched from a night stand in less than a week! This was getting a bit stale. She stormed from the cabin, and I am sure if there was a door she would have slammed it, but instead she poked her head back through the doorway quickly and said to Horatio "Good night, Sweet Prince. That is the last of Shakespeare tonight!" and vanished in a swirl of petticoats.
"You know something, Kennedy? I think she is beginning to warm up to me a little," commented Edrington watching her go. He then looked sharply at me as I stood there, dripping. "Oh for God's sake, man, I can see right through your breeches! Go and change!" I began to leave the room, wiping my wet face on my jacket. "And Kennedy."
"If you take the short way through the hold, don't go past my mare. She is a bit skittish."
I left to the sound of great gulping whoops from Horatio who lay back on his pillows, sides heaving, and tears of laughter streaming from beneath his bandage.
Ch. 9--Alexander's Briefs
FROM THE PRIVATE PAPERS OF ALEXANDER EDRINGTON, EARL OF EDRINGTON
October 22, 1798
Lady Katherine Edrington
I fear I must revise my earlier and more hopeful date of arrival. This confounded ship has sat at anchor for several more days than I anticipated as the repairs to the captured prize vessel took longer than expected. So this note will be brief, as the packet sloop would not wait.
I have a mind to lesson somewhat the sense of impending doom I no doubt gave you in my previous missive. While I IN NO WAY want to diminish the impression that you have a real project to undertake, it seems that our second cousin is at least educated and has a ready wit. She is also somewhat more attractive than I thought at first, now that she has had the time and leisure, not to mention the soap and water, to clean herself up a bit. In addition, she employed herself while in France in a most remarkable way, as a Lectrice, or professional reader. She is quite good at this. Since our dear Mamah is so very vain in the matter of wearing her spectacles, I think that she may rather more enjoy the company of our cousin than not. That is, if we can persuade Lady Madeline to read her those dreadful penny romances that Mamah is so much addicted to, and to do so without the sort of acid commentary on love and romance that I have come to expect from L.M. whenever the subject arises.
So, you must gently encourage her to indulge Mamah in this matter, and I am sure you can convince her that it will be in her best interest to do so.
I am looking forward with the greatest enthusiasm to seeing you again, my sister, and to ending the ordeal that a three day coach trip with the Lady Madeline is bound to become. Should you see me fall from the carriage, kissing the ground with rapture and rolling in the grass like a spring colt, do not call the doctor; nay, simply whisk the Lady Madeline from my presence, hand me a glass of our best brandy, and point me towards the stables and I am sure I will make a full recovery.
October 23, 1898
We have a fair wind and I am told our progress home is passing quickly, which is a good thing since we were greatly delayed by the repairs to Delphine. I have spent some pleasant hours in the company of the redoubtable Captain Pellew, who is a truly great man. His wisdom on all matters relating to command and the training of raw recruits has been fascinating to absorb, and should serve me well in future. I reflect as I look at him that of course, with age one does not become stronger or better-looking, so what is left but to become wiser and nobler? Though I have begun to feel the press of time, from so many things I thought I would have accomplished by now left undone, some not even started. But it gives me heart that I can still learn much from my elders and in doing so, become that wiser man and a better and nobler officer. And so on, and so forth. I think I just succeeded in nauseating myself, though I meant every word of it.
Would that my wisdom were so easily increased in the matter of the female of our kind. In regarding the Lady Madeline, I am confounded by my ignorance of what she is thinking, or feeling. She seems to be at once the very sort of scheming seductress that her mother apparently was, for she has already captivated the hearts of two of the best men on board unless I am greatly mistaken. Yet, she also seems to be very honest and genuine and not at all interested in pursuing matters with either of them any further than friendship and an easy acquaintance.
To be sure, it is not her beauty, for she has none. I suppose it must be her ready wit, intelligence, and the disarming directness of her conversation, combined with a certain expressiveness of face that lends her rather ordinary features a humorous charm. Young Archie Kennedy amuses me he has already challenged me to one duel over a perceived slight to the lady, and continues to haunt her steps even though she, and I do not mean this as a figure of speech, dashed his hopes in ice water.
As for Horatio Hornblower, he is hardly in a position to pursue L.M., and hasn't actually even seen her yet, but he anticipates her visits with great keenness and praises her in the highest possible manner to me. Which requires I spend a lot of my visits with him biting my tongue. Regarding injuries, I wondered if perhaps Madeline's sympathies were naturally aroused by injury or illness, as is befitting of a woman, and this might account for her tenderness towards Hornblower irrespective of any of his other charms, which I would imagine would be considerable for the fairer sex. I took a chance and showed her the back of my hand, saying in my most pitiful voice that I had some rather painful scratches and I thought they might fester. The little minx shoved a chamber pot out from under a cot with her foot and poked it towards me with a dainty toe and said to soak it in that. Perhaps it requires a mortal wound to arouse her womanly sympathies.
Ch. 10--Shadows and Light
The next few days passed exceeding quickly, not only because I had my normal duties to carry out, but also because I spent every spare waking moment entertaining Horatio. I found that this diversion was not only of benefit to him, but it also pleasantly rekindled in me my own love of theater. When I was still a lad, my family often took me to see performances on Drury Lane and I was enthralled with the magical, painted settings and beautiful language. I would have loved to be an actor, but that is the one thing that even the third son of a Baronet can never aspire to without risking the severest censure. What a pity it is considered cultured in a gentleman to read Shakespeare poorly aloud to a few, but scandalous to do so skillfully in front of many who have paid to see it. I shall never understand it. Never in life.
The Lady Madeline had abandoned plays as she had been requested by Captain Pellew to read Horatio a pile of newspapers and naval reports. For my own part, I continued to work my way through Shakespeare, and I even cajoled Alexander to join me for reading of *Two Gentlemen of Verona*. His performance in the role of Valentine was so very bad it caused more amusement than a better reading would have done, inspiring Horatio to say, with no small satisfaction, "Well, I now see why you chose the Army".
I woke one morning to a dank fog and for the first time since the previous winter I felt glad of my Midshipman's blue wool jacket. On the freshening breeze, I could faintly smell the odor of faraway cook fires, burnt pan drippings, and fishnets drying on the docks. It was the day Horatio's bandages were to be removed and the day I would see England for the first time in many weeks.
I went down to the sickbay. "Good morrow, Horatio. I havecome to have my breakfast with you, such as it is." It was the usual dry ship biscuit and a glass of weak ale with lime juice. Anyone on land would find it repulsive to drink watery beer for breakfast, but here on a ship it was the thing one did.
Horatio eased up and stretched cautiously. He still had a plaster over his side but that, at least, was healing well. Throwing both legs over the corner of his bunk, he scratched his thigh impatiently and ran his long fingers through his curls, retying the black ribbon in his pigtail by touch and long familiarity.
"Where the devil is the surgeon! I want these bandages off my eyes. I cannot stand another day of waiting."
"How do your eyes feel".
"They feel as if the skin is tight, but they do not hurt any more."
"Today is a good day to test your eyesight. It's foggy and not too bright. I expect it will be a lot like coming out of the "hole" in Spain."
"Oh dear, I'd almost forgotten. Yes, that light hurt my eyes unbelievably."
"It felt like shards of glass sticking in them to me. But then, the sunlight in Spain is so much brighter."
Horatio got up, immediately bumping his head on the low ceiling. "Blast! Where IS the surgeon? I am not waiting another moment." And with that, he ripped the black swathe of cloth from around his eyes. At first, his eyes looked glazed over, unfocused, and unseeing. I held my breath, sure that he was blind. But then slowly, he blinked several times and then brought his gaze to rest upon me. He was squinting and his eyes had a lot of water in them. "Damn, Archie. You still look wet."
I started to laugh and damned if my own eyes did not get a bit damp as well. It was such a relief. I could hardly wait to tell Captain Pellew, for he had shown every consideration to his 1st Lieutenant during his convalescence and his mind was uneasy. I had heard the floorboards creak above me as the Captain paced for lonely hours in his quarters above mine. Pellew was reputed to be a fine family man, but everyone knows tis a poor idea to take one's own sons under one's command and so he seemed to me to have found an outlet for his paternal nature with Horatio. Anyhow, that was how it looked to me.
"Come, Horatio! Let us go surprise Capt. Pellew. I am sure he will forgive the intrusion."
Horatio eased himself slowly up the stairs to the main deck, which we would cross on our way from the sick bay to the Captain's elegant quarters in the stern. The first person we saw when we came on deck was Matthews, who shimmied down the rigging knuckling his forehead furiously. "Good to see you back up ere, sir! I'll tell the lads you're quite yourself again." The small, wiry man with the salt-and-pepper pigtail fairly danced back up to the yardarms. In short order, there was a reedy chorus of Hip, Hip, Hooray's raining down from the misty heights of the rigging.
The second person we saw was Lady Madeline, walking her dog. "Is that her?" he whispered. Her back was turned and all we could see was her wavy hair, which was bound simply with a scarf. She was in her morning dress and the cool, damp weather had inspired the return of the mud-splattered gray cloak she had worn to the beach at Gironde. She reached the end of her promenade and turned, eyes widening in surprise.
She gasped, then composed herself, smoothing her cloak and skirt and waiting placidly as I covered the last few meters of deck to take her outstretched hand and brush the back of it with my lips as I bowed (I love doing that sort of thing). "Lady Madeline, it is my great pleasure to introduce to you Lt. Horatio Hornblower who is, as you can see, all eagerness to behold his Lectrice."
"And happy am I that his vision has returned. The entire ship was worried about you, Lt. Hornblower. I profess myself delighted at your recovery." She extended her hand to Horatio and he took it gravely.
"You must forgive me, as I am still unable to do a proper bow."
"I shall consider myself well and sincerely-bowed to."
"You couldn't do a proper bow before you were shot, Horatio, let us not mislead My Lady."
"Well, then, for now I have a plausible excuse. I must make use of it while I may. Mademoiselle, the only thing I shall miss about my ten days of blindness is the pleasure of hearing you read to me. I am forever in your debt, for you preserved my wits as surely as the surgeon preserved my vision." Well, well..good old Horatio. This was quite a long and eloquent speech for him to make.
Horatio's eyes finally focused with difficulty on her face. Warring emotions roiled behind her eyes but such was the expressiveness of her countenance and such was my familiarity with her that I had no difficulty reading her turbulent state of mind. At first, her look at Horatio was one of naked admiration. It was the first time she had seen him without a blindfold and although small reddish scars still disfigured his lids and portions of his eyebrows were burnt away entirely he was still striking. He must have sensed this interest and scrutinized her with that direct brown gaze that is disconcerting if you don't know him, and even more disconcerting if you do. Madeline's mouth turned up at the corners hopefully, then I saw her lower her eyes sadly and look off to the side. She seemed almost to deflate, then gather herself. She raised her chin and smiled brightly at me.
"Bien, Monsieur Archie. You must not let me keep you. I am sure you are both going to see your Captain with the greatest of speed. It would be cruel to keep him in ignorance even a single second longer."
Moustache padded over and nudged the back of Horatio's hand. "Ah! The famous Moustache. He is even taller than I thought he would be, and much more handsome." Horatio ruffled the gray wiry head with his fingers, then sneezed.
"Yes," said Madeline, caressing Horatio's profile gently with her gaze "he is. At least, I think so." I wished the girl would look at me that way. What was it about Horatio anyhow? He was completely oblivious to his effect on women. God help them if he were not.
The Captain proved more relieved than he allowed himself to show and wasted no time berating Horatio for his carelessness in getting too close to the powderkeg. As Horatio stammered out his apologies, Pellew quickly changed the subject. "Gentlemen, you shall join me tonight for dinner. It shall be a celebration, so wear your cleanest uniforms. Now, Mr. Kennedy, don't you have watch now? Well, get on with it!"
Later that morning, I saw an unexpected sight. The Captain and Lady Madeline were deep in conversation up on the fo'castle. He paced around her in circles while she stood, giving short answers and looking far off onto the horizon which revealed through the morning mists the irregular bluish-green shoreline and the smoking chimneys of the houses and buildings of Portsmouth. I was still filled with admiration for her self-possession of the morning. Soon she would leave Horatio behind and then I would have all the pleasure of her company. Oh, it was awful to think this way and I knew it. Couldn't help it. Despised myself for it, but also congratulated myself that I could see it. What a mess.
We anchored in Portsmouth and within minutes a large crowd had assembled on the docks and was cheering us, waving flags and banners. "Look at that, Horatio! We're heroes!"
"The Captain sent back dispatches, and the accounts of our success on the Gironde have no doubt made the papers".
"I hope my family have seen them. I havegiven them little enough to brag about."
A boat came rowing towards the Indefatigable. In it was a sweet-faced middle-aged woman with several large willow baskets and a bundle of what looked like bed sheets and blankets. She settled herself expertly into the sling and was hoisted over the rail, almost falling into the outstretched arms of Captain Pellew, who kissed her and squeezed her until I fully expected to see the seams of her dress split.
"Gentlemen! This is Lady Pellew, my wife. She has brought cakes and sweetmeats for all you sailors. Pass the word along and make sure that everyone gets their ration of sweets. Lady Pellew" he looked at her fondly, "has a justly-earned reputation for running the best kitchen in Portsmouth." The men cheered lustily and began to drop from the rigging like overripe fruit falling off a wind-shaken tree. Soon all that could be seen was the Lady's lacy bonnet as a crowd of eager seamen gathered around her seemingly bottomless baskets of teacakes and lemon tarts. They chattered and laughed like monkeys and the Captain's wife seemed to have a joke and a kind word for each of them.
"Mr. Kennedy. Go and fetch Lady Madeline. Tell her that my wife is here."
"Aye, Aye Captain"
I knocked on her door. She opened it and perhaps it was my imagination but her eyes appeared to be a bit red and puffy. I hoped she had not just been sleeping. "I am sorry, Lady Madeline, if I have disturbed your rest. But I am sent by the Captain to fetch you. His wife has come aboard."
"Oof!" she cried. " Then I am late. Oh, what to do, what to do ." She grabbed a comb and began pulling it with vigor through her hair. "Archie, help me! Can you please hold my hair up so I can pin it in place?" Well, of course I'd try. I held the thick silky mass in my trembling fingers and she managed to get her hair to stay up without stabbing my thumb more than a couple of times with the hairpins.
"I think maybe I need more practice with this, I am sorry."
"Moi aussi. I do not wear my hair up on the farm I must learn so many things and have so little time. How does it look?"
"Well um, fine"
"Then it is horrible, yes?"
"Let us try it again."
Just a few minutes later, Horatio, Edrington, and I watched in astonishment as Captain Pellew gave temporary command of the Indy to Horatio (with orders to have the whole ship Bristol-fashion by the evening) and then left with his wife and Lady Madeline, who had given temporary command of Moustache and his shovel to me.
"I think my career is looking up, Horatio. You have command of a frigate, but I have command of a large hairy dog and a shovel. Kind of makes me nostalgic for the good old dung cart at Muzillac."
"Well, Archie, some men just have what you might call natural ability. They also serve, who only stand and wait." He whinnied good-naturedly.
"Horatio, if you weren't a wounded man I'd have to punch you, quite hard and in the side, for that."
"I wonder why she did not ask me to take care of Moustache?" said Edrington wistfully.
"Pardon?" I was astonished. "Alexa.., I mean, My Lord surely you are jesting."
"Kennedy, my young friend, surely you must know that being asked to watch over a Lady's dog while she shops for clothes is a most significant token of her esteem. I have been cruelly slighted, as she knows well I have dogs of my own and I am all admiration for this one."
"It will be hard, but I promise not to gloat over my good fortune whenever I must deploy the shovel. I suppose I have much to learn about women."
"As do we all," said Horatio flatly, watching the party row away with a puzzled look.
"As do we all," agreed Edrington. "Well, since she has shown she trusts you to watch over the thing in the world most precious and irreplaceable to her, I hope you'll not muck it up."
"Excuse me, gentlemen, I have to scoop the poopdeck." I bowed and left them, swinging the little shovel jauntily.
Ch. 11--The Captain's Table
The misty morning turned into a steady cold gray rain by the afternoon. I was getting excited about the Captain's dinner party. What unimaginable luxury it was to fill up a basin with fresh water and wash my hair and person thoroughly for the first time in many months. Fresh water on a Frigate must be conserved for drinking, cooking, and watering the animals in the hold so all hands have to bathe in seawater while the ship is away from its home anchorage. But with ample fresh water close by, there was no need to be stingy. Captain Pellew runs a clean ship and insists that all seamen bathe once a week whether they need it or not, and his officers must wash daily.
Because my family has some money, I have more uniforms in good repair than, for example, men like Horatio and Cleveland, whose families cannot afford to augment their pay. I picked out my best one to put on, and then spent considerable time later brushing wiry gray hairs off of the blue jacket as I really should have walked Moustache for the last time before I changed. Edrington had spent all day seeing to the debarkation of his men. The Army had its own barracks and stables in Portsmouth and with Horatio's help, jollyboats carrying soldiers and horses departed throughout the day, returning to the ship filled with stores and supplies from the Quartermaster.
I spent some time looking in the glass. Was I handsome? It's hard to know. One's mother always says so. It seems to me that the only way a person can really know such a thing is by seeing their effect on the opposite sex. But then, there are many men who seem to have great attractiveness for women who are not pleasing in countenance, or at least I wouldn't think so. And there'd been precious little opportunity for me to pay addresses to young ladies over the past years. I had spent five years surrounded by men, and had had no reason to wonder about my looks or anything else of that sort. The class of women we were able to pass the time with on our hurried shore visits were not overly particular about a man's looks so long as his coin was good. At least I could say that my hair was clean, shining, neatly tied back, and I thought that the pinkishness that seemed to perpetually flush my skin when we were in warm and sunny French waters had faded into a pale golden color.
We assembled in the Captain's dining room and I was put to the test right away as it was all I could do to stifle the gasp that formed in my throat when I saw who was sitting at the head of the table. It was Admiral Lord Hood! An elderly, bandy-legged gentleman with small watery blue eyes set close together. Utterly unprepossessing except for the magnificence of his uniform and the quiet air of power that hung in the air around him. For him to come aboard the Indefatigable was a significant honor for the Captain and entire crew. He had been a great Flagship Commander in his day, and was reputed to be shrewd and canny. Horatio had told me that he heard gossip that Admiral Hood harbored private regrets about the mission to Muzillac and had given Pellew the Gironde mission as a way of repaying him for putting him in such an untenable position.
Cleveland and Horatio had already arrived, both standing exceedingly straight in the presence of the Admiral and looking as if they had altogether too much starch in their waistcoats. Captain Pellew was there, active as always, constantly on the move pouring glasses of port, berating the steward over some small matter of the table settings, and periodically bending over his wife's head and murmuring something in her ear which made her smile.
Pellew's wife, whose first name turned out to be Susanna, had the sort of faded prettiness one sometimes sees in women who were blonde and fair-skinned in their youth. She reminded me of my own mother and I liked her at once. Although there were lines around her eyes and she was decidedly plump, albeit well-shaped, one could see that she had once been very beautiful. Her amiable disposition was clear to read in the lines of her face, which had arranged themselves into an expression of comfortable good humor. Her smile was still radiant as she looked at her husband. Ah, I am a romantic by nature and it filled me with a strange, bubbling sort of joy to see my Captain was still loving and loved-by his sweet wife.
Captain Bracegirdle had come aboard and had brought his new wife along as well. It appeared that Master Bowles' joke about a few extra pounds had been spot-on, as the beaming pink face was rounder than ever. Mrs. Henrietta Bracegirdle, a somewhat well-upholstered and vivacious lady with a determined set to her chin, kept her hand firmly on his elbow as he moved about the room greeting all of us in turn and congratulating us on the success of the mission at Gironde.
But by far the most startling guest at the dinner was Lady Madeline, who arrived late on the arm of the Major, who was looking like a thundercloud about to unleash its fury on some poor unsuspecting peapatch. Lady Pellew rushed over to greet her immediately, fussing over her dress and hair with many exclamations of delight. Apparently, dispatches had been sent with orders for the dressmaker and Lady M was attired in a gown of the very latest cut and style, her hair properly done up into a knot at the top, with ringlets framing her face. Several good pieces of jewelry sparkled around her neck. The gown was, well, rather daring. It is always a pleasure to watch a lady who knows she looks really nice, really well-dressed, and to see Lady M glide about the room as she was introduced to all was like watching a general reviewing a particularly well-turned out parade. The audience was hers, and she knew it. She came, at last, to me.
"Mr. Kennedy, thank you so much for watching Moustache. We had a little talk, and he said you were very good to him."
"Did he also tell you that he got hair all over my newest jacket? Lady Madeline, you look radiant." I bent over and kissed her hand. It smelt faintly of lavender.
"I had such a wonderful time today. Lady Pellew is all kindness and charity. She had endless patience, as I wanted to look in every single shop. The dressmakers, certainement, will be happy to see me leave this place.. But Archie, it has been so long since I could afford any nice things a la dernier mode. Now I am starting to feel myself again."
"And I can hardly wait to get the duns, " commented Alexander dryly. "Good thing for you my credit is sound in Portsmouth."
" I had no need of your credit, sir." Lady M retorted in an undertone, with a sweetly venemous smile.
"Then how .?"
"I am glad for you, Lady Madeline," I hastily interjected, "that your excursion was a success. Come, I have already peeked at the place cards and I think I am the most fortunate of men, for we are seated together." Throwing a superior smirk at the still puzzled-looking Earl of Edrington, I took her over to our places.
When we were all seated and had a glass of wine in front of us and some breads and savories, Captain Pellew stood up and rapped a spoon on his water glass to get everyone's attention.
"Gentlemen, and Ladies" he said with a little smile and nod towards the three qualifiers present. "Before we get too deeply into this excellent meal our chief steward has prepared for us I would like to put business before pleasure. I have here several bags of coin which are the officer's shares of the prize money from our mission in Gironde and the successful capture and repair of the Dorado, which proves to be a most excellent addition to our Navy. Say what you will about a Frenchman, and I know you do, but they can build an excellent ship." There was a polite smattering of laughter. "Mr. Cleveland, you shall receive the largest share for commanding the prize crew on the voyage back to Portsmouth." Mr. Cleveland got up and went over to the Captain, accepting his portion to polite applause.
"Mr. Hornblower, I know everyone here shares my sentiments when I say that we are delighted that you are making a full recovery from your injuries and without your superb command of the men who set the explosives we would not have been successful. Come." Horatio, tripping over the chair leg, then standing tall and proud with his singed eyebrows, accepted his portion. As he passed by my chair I reached out and clasped his hand, feeling his long fingers squeeze my shorter ones briefly in return.
"Mr. Kennedy, you successfully penetrated the fort, immobilized the officers of the watch, and made it possible to complete the action with minimal losses to our side. You have a talent for subterfuge. In all my years of service, I have seen many acts of courage and heroism, and this one ranks among the very most impressive. It is with great pleasure that I offer you this share of the prize money."
Lady Madeline reached under the table and, shockingly, squeezed my leg above the knee. Blushing, I rose and accepted my prize share. There was one more bag sitting by the Captain's elbow.
"And now, well, this is unusual, unprecedented, but I think quite deserved. This bag contains the remnants of Lady Madeline's prize money, which was left over after she spent the afternoon lining the pockets of the jewelsmiths and dressmakers of Portsmouth." This time, I did not try to stifle my gasp and neither did anyone else.
Lord Hood rose from his chair. "Gentlemen. As I look around this table I see the very best sort of officer that Britain boasts and it makes me very proud to be Admiral of a fleet which contains such fine men. Surely, proof that God is on our side when I look at the quality of our Naval officers."
I am sure we all grew an inch. He continued.
"And yet, many fine young men just such as yourselves have been taken by the enemy, lost to us and their families forever, and why? Because we did not have enough information about the enemyin short, INTELLIGENCE. In my tenure as Admiral, I have begun to emphasize the usage of spies and informants. Lady Madeline, here, made contact with one of our agents and offered to gather information on the situation at Gironde. For six months she has watched the fleet at anchorage. For six months she has risked her own life, gathering information about the garrison at the Gironde fortress. This information was smuggled out of France, and her dispatches have directly resulted in a superb plan, superbly executed. So the Admiralty has taken the extraordinary step of issuing a prize share to a woman, without whom, there might be no prize money at all. Just don't bandy it about." He winked at Lady Pellew. "Wouldn't want to put any mad ideas into the heads of our Englishwomen."
Captain Pellew interjected "Lady Madeline has done me a personal favor by keeping me well-informed as to progress of my First Lieutenant as he recovered from severe injuries. My wife and I wish her every success in society." Lady Pellew murmured agreement.
Admiral Hood had more to say. "I have an additional honor to bestow. It has been brought to my attention that Lt. Hornblower received his commission as a result of particularly valiant service, and not as the result of passing the usual examination. I have every confidence in Captain Pellew and when he says a young man is capable of serving as a commissioned officer and is well-versed in all matters of seamanship, I believe him. I am here tonight to confer a similar honor on Acting Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy, as a result of your exceptional performance at Gironde, I have your commission papers and am pleased to award you a full commission at this time."
Well! I was near to passing out entirely when Horatio jerked me back into sense. "Archie! You know what this means, don't you?!"
"NEW U-NEE-FORM!" We both shouted simultaneously. Everyone laughed.
After that, we were all so merry. The wine flowed freely and so did the conversation. Well, for all of us but the Major, who kept staring at his second cousin with an unfathomable expression as she inevitably became the center of conversation now that she had additional status as a "spy".
"My dear," asked Mrs. Pellew. "What made you decide to inform against your countrymen? Surely that was a difficult decision since you are French, though an aristocrat."
"Well I have to say, Mrs. Pellew, I am not exactly proud of my motives. My parents were beheaded by the Republicansan unimaginable horror and one not to be told at the table. I thought to strike a blow in revenge. But the soldiers who were at the Gironde are not the same ones who stormed our Chateaux and left me an orphan. As the years passed for me, living on a farm and trying to masquerade as an orphaned relation, I began to see the reasons why these horrible things happened en France. Although my father was not a bad man, many of the aristocrats kept their tenants in horrible poverty. Our monarchy was weak, the King stupide. Our Queen was good-hearted to those she knew, but cared little for the people. A man could be hanged for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving children."
There was a murmur at the table and few coughs. Thankfully and unexpectedly, it was Cleveland who interjected, "Here we just have food thieves flogged."
"Very enlightened," commented Lady Madeline.
"Then you became a Republican yourself?" asked Mr. Bracegirdle.
"NON!" she smacked the table so hard that her wineglass tipped over. The ship was swaying at anchor and a cool, wet dribble immediately channeled its way into my lap. Would I ever be able to spend one dry hour in this woman's presence?
"Oh A-, Msr. Kennedy, pardonnez-moi," she said, dabbing at my lap with her serviette. Well, that, at least, was something. "I could never be part of what is going on in my country. No, never. Yes, it is true that many people looked around, saw the rich soil, the vinyards on the hillside, the healthy herds of livestock, the cities and towns with their great cathedrals and beautiful buildings and thought "Why, with all of these riches, is the French citoyen so poor?" But the men who are running our country now, they are butchers. They are worse than the aristocracy, whose greatest crimes were neglect, callousness, and extravagance; not outright murder. The killing continues and I am sickened by it. So in the end, I made this deal, in return for a promise that I would be allowed to go to England as an Emigree, for there was a price on my head and the heads of anyone who sheltered me, as long as I remained in France. I owed my protectors their safety."
"Lady Madeline, do you think the people will continue to support the present regime?" asked Admiral Hood.
"Admiral Hood, it was the weakness of our King that disgusted the people, not the idea of having a King, no matter what Jean-Jacques Rousseau may write and others may read. France and the French people are like a silly woman. They are only waiting for a strong man to come and tell them that he can make everything all right and then they will lie flat on their backs with their legs sprea "
"Madeline!" interjected the Major with a warning look. "I hope you will learn to think of England as your country. You are, after all, half English and so you've as much right to live here as there under the circumstances."
"I shall try, but I am wary of my reception, for reasons which should be most obvious to you."
"You may be assured that my sister, Katherine, will make you feel at home. I have already written and informed her of the happy news."
"No doubt she will be ecstatic," said Madeline wryly "but what of your mother?"
"Mamah will come around, in time." Some of the people at the table were looking a bit uncomfortable at the personal turn of the conversation.
"Do you see the Corsican, Bonaparte, as a potential leader of the sort you were trying to describe?" asked Capt. Pellew smoothly.
"Yes. He is the one." said Lady Madeline with assurance. "Already the gossip and tales spread like fire through the villages. The best soldier, a military genius, like a Charlemagne or even Alexander the Great and so on and so on. Do not take him lightly, Monsieurs."
The rest of the dinner continued without any of the previous awkwardness. Happiness swelled in my chest. I had my commission and did not have to pass an exam to get it! I had actually matched Horatio in something. On my right side, sat Lady Madeline, peppering Mrs. Pellew with questions about manners and styles in England. Her nearly bare bosom was golden in the candlelight, a spray of freckles across the smooth pale skin of her chest gave her a girlish vulnerability which was totally at odds with what I had learned of her tonight. It was difficult for me to avoid staring and I managed to catch Alexander Edrington, on the far end of the table and diagonally, gazing raptly at his cousin in a manner I'd never seen before. He must have been very annoyed with her.
It was going to be an interesting carriage ride to the North country, I thought.
Ch. 12--A Little After-dinner Music
The evening turned into a black starless night which hung featureless as a dark velvet curtain over the glazed windows of the Captain's dining cabin, but inside there was warmth and laughter. Mrs. Bracegirdle, deep in her cups, told a somewhat ribald story of how she had captured Mr. Bracegirdle's heart when she mistook him for another gentleman (who, she could not be induced to say). Mr. Cleveland laughed so hard he fell out of his chair, and I had to haul him back up to the table. Oh, Romance! When would it be my turn to have a tale to tell?
Mrs. Pellew kept the dishes in motion and from the workings of her shoulder under the gauzy material of her dress it was apparent to me, if to no one else, that her hand underneath the table was engaged in stroking the Captain's thigh from time to time. For my part, I treasured every brush of Lady M's slipper against my shoe and every inadvertent touch.
Mrs. Pellew leaned across her plate with an encouraging smile. "Lady Madeline, why don't you run back to your quarters and fetch your other purchase from today? I think now is an excellent time to unveil it."
"Oh, but I am so dreadfully out of practice!" exclaimed Madeline.
"But Lady Madeline, we are all eagerness I am sure. Where better to begin than here, among friends and family?" Capt. Pellew made an eloquent gesture which included the whole table. "I believe musical entertainment is still the rule for young ladies in society, is it not Major Lord Edrington?"
"Hmmph. What? Oh yes. Quite right, quite right. All well-bred young ladies are expected to be able to play, sing, and draw. Please tell me, though, Captain, that my cousine is not going to clomp back up here with a pianoforte strapped to her back?"
His fears were quickly proven groundless when Madeline reappeared with a strange, stringed instrument rather like a Lute. Upon further reflection, I recognized it, for I had seen one of the guards at the Spanish prison play such a thing on the night watch. It was called a guitar.
"I suppose it would be too bloody much to ask that she play something any other lady in England would," muttered Alexander just loud enough for the whole room to hear him but not loud enough for it to seem, well, deliberate.
"I began on harpsichord, but living on the border of Spain I grew enchanted with this instrument, the guitar. My parents engaged a darkly handsome tutor for me when I was but 12 years old." She shot Alexander a fleeting half-wink. "I was amazed to find one for sale in Portsmouth. A guitar, that is."
"Play for us, dear." reiterated Mrs. Pellew.
"I know so few songs in English," protested Madeline. "Just a very few country songs that my English mother taught me."
"We would love to hear them." said Mr. Cleveland gallantly. "I adore a country air."
"Very well. But you must all join me in the refrain." Lady Madeline said, her fingers already working the frets silently. And she began here is her song as I recall it, delivered in a low, trilling alto.
"On one morning in the month of May
When all the birds were singing,
I saw a lovely maiden stray
Across the fields at Break of Day.
She softly sang her Roundelay
The tide goes in and the tide goes out.
Twice every day returning.
Her cheeks were red and her eyes were brown.
Her hair in ringlets hanging down,
Across her face to hide the frown,
Just as the tide was a-flowing.
The tide goes in and the tide goes out
Twice every day returning."
Now we had got it and were able to join in the refrain, singing the tide in and out along with Madeline.
"A sailor's wife at home must bide,
She halted heav'ly and she sighed.
He parted far from me, a bride.
I am widowed by the sea, she cried,
Just as the tide was a-flowing.
The tide goes in and the tide goes out,
Twice every day returning."
I looked about and saw a glittering brilliance in the eyes around the table. Mrs. Pellew grasped her husband's hand and I, for some reason, thought of Sue with her brown eyes and ringlets and felt a cad for gazing at Lady Madeline's bosom. It cannot be easy for the women who love men who serve in His Majesty's Navy.
Ch. 13--A Letter of Credit
FROM THE PERSONAL PAPERS OF ALEXANDER EDRINGTON, EARL OF EDRINGTON
October 30, 1798
Another scaly evening spent in the dubious company of Cousin Madeline. First of all, I have some gladsome news. Archie Kennedy got his commission for his part in the action at Gironde and all of the officers on board shared in the prize money from the Capture of Dorado/Delphine. This cannot go unappreciated, particularly since several of them, like Hornblower, are of distressed finances. It is good to see the Navy becoming a little less hidebound in the matter of compensation. Hornblower seems to be all right and his vision, which Kennedy was so very worried about, has returned. I never doubted the outcome, as I have seen his sort before. He has a certain air of destiny. I have not heard the last of Hornblower, of that I am quite certain.
Pellew put on a real dog and pony show tonight for Admiral Lord Hood. It was assuredly delightful to meet Lady Pellew, an admirable sort of woman. Absolutely the best sort of military wife. Self-reliant enough to run her household in her husband's long absences, yet full of wifely affection and a cheerful provider of all the homely comforts upon his return. Such women are beyond rubies, so rare are they in my experience. Simply more evidence of the superior taste and judgment of Captain Sir Edward, whose company has been a delight and an inspiration throughout this interminable voyage.
Much of the day was spent seeing to the quartering of my men in Portsmouth. As I have my two months of leave upcoming, I met with and briefed Major Richard Langley, who will be conducting marksmanship training exercises with my men in my absence. He is reputed to be the best shot in the Army, but I still have some lingering concerns. Giving over one's company to a different commander, even for only several months, can be very much like letting someone else ride your horse. A heavier hand on the rein, or a less-definite touch with the crop, can result in your hardly recognizing your mount when you ride it next. Still, I have been too long from my home and my sister and mother, so there is no help for it.
Now, Madeline. She was taken into Portsmouth by Captain and Lady Pellew entirely without my knowledge and consent. There she spent quite a large sum on several new dresses, some jewelry, and a hairdresser. It seems that Captain Pellew had arranged via dispatches to his wife for Lady Madeline to order several dresses and other necessary items of clothing. My cousin did not do the one thing I would have expected of her, which would have been to engage an experienced ladies maid who could serve as chaperone on our journey home. When she got back, we had some words on this topic. Left unspoken, perhaps unwisely, were my concerns about her obvious and growing regard for Kennedy.
Lady Madeline claims that at the advanced age of 26 that she needs no chaperone. I expressed the reasonable objection that it would not do for her hair and dress to be so unstylish and unkempt as is the case when one does not have a ladies maid. At this point in the conversation, she ripped the ribbon from my hair and snarled a great tangle in it with her fingers and said that if I could do without a ladies maid then she expects she could as well. She went on to add that she had her own set of pistols, as well as Moustache and so her virtue was much better protected than if she had had two or even three ladies' maids. And if anyone tried to disrobe her against her will, she would shoot his kneecaps off. I despair, I really do. How am I to introduce such a ruffian into society? Oh, I will have to put my faith into the good offices of my sister. This is woman's business, surely. Katherine will know how to handle her, I can but hope. And in fact, my aide-de-camp assists me with my queue. He was most puzzled as to its state when I asked for his assistance.
The next indigestible thing that I have to swallow is that Lady Madeline plays an instrument called a guitar. This indescribably vulgar to see. She spreads her legs apart and sets the instrument over one thigh. I cannot imagine the reaction this particular bit of musicality will elicit in our set.
And finally, it appears that the preposterous female has actually played a part in MY successful campaign. She has apparently been furnishing information to the Admiralty for some period of time on the situation in Gironde. Although it was glossed over at the dinner table tonight, I fail to see how she could have obtained information on the layout and strength of the Gironde fortress and its garrison without resorting to the lowest sort of entree. And got paid for it, which is even worse, quite unprecedented. We had another spirited exchange of ideas on this topic. If I live to be a thousand I will never forget what she said to me, "So, Cousin, it is more important to you that the right people do a thing and do it in the right way, then that the thing be done right!"
My imagination runs down dark paths and deep holes into the vilest sort of speculation. I haveseen too much of what happens in a garrison which is idle and the thought of Lady Madeline being any part of that sort of thing is repellent. Should we have a doctor examine her? I'll have to consult Katherine.
On a brighter note, Archie Kennedy esteems her and as he is the sort of young man we shall hope to introduce to her in order that she be taken off our hands as soon as possible this gives me hope that my association with Lady Madeline will not be of long standing.
In the meantime, I cannot say that I do not find her excessively diverting. If we cannot stop her from expressing her opinions on politics in the saltiest manner possible, at least we can blame these lapses on a lack of familiarity with the English tongue and mores. And she looked quite lovely this evening. A surprise, but there it is. I could never be wholeheartedly in favor of yellow for a girl with her complexion, however.
October 30, 1798
Mesdames Fenwick and Blair, Dressmakers
Baydale House, Foxden Lane
My compliments, and best wishes that this finds you in good health.
Please find enclosed my note for 100 pounds credit which can redeemed upon presentation to my Bailiff, Mr. Latham. I am writing to request that five bolts of fabric be purchased, one of dark green silk, one of sprigged muslin (white with a blue pattern), one of light green poplin, one of indigo tulle, and a fifth bolt of whatever fabric is most appropriate for a winter hunt breakfast, just not yellow, if you please. Additionally, a swatch of dark wool to be made into a riding cloak. I am bringing a second cousin from France to Edrington Hall and she will need to be turned out as quickly as possible with a wardrobe suitable for an unmarried lady of six and twenty. In size and height, she is medium. Any advance cutting you can do which will speed the fittings would not go amiss, as Lady Madeline was forced to leave her home in France in such haste that she was unable to bring her wardrobe.
Please forgive the peremptory manner of this request and do understand that with the winter hunt season upon us it is imperative that Lady Madeline be properly dressed with the utmost dispatch. Do not neglect the matter of slippers, three pairs for day and evening, plus riding boots. Also, whatever undergarments you normally would expect a lady to have in her trousseaux. I have every confidence in your discretion and the exquisite taste with which you have always dressed the ladies of my family. Any further questions can be answered by my sister, Lady Katherine, until our first visit to your establishment on or about 5 November.
Yours most sincerely,
Alexander, Earl of Edrington
Ch. 14--A Coach and Three
"And here it comes," said Alexander Edrington, looking down the dusty cobblestone road of Portsmouth and squinting through the cloud of musty haze that had been raised by the passing cart of a ragpicker. He was holding Madeline's satchel and his own kit, the guitar slung over one shoulder. More bags were piled at his feet. My dunnage was in my second-best sea chest. I was feeling quite the going concern for I had been to Pellew's own tailor and gotten my new Lieutenant's uniform, plus a spare. Buckles of silver sparkled on my feet, as I admired the appearance of my ankles encased in their new white hosiery. My lapels gleamed white and goldwhat a pleasure to have a truly clean, new set of clothes. The ground beneath me still seemed to lurch after months at sea but I felt bright as a new penny.
A Coach and Four clattered to a halt in front of us. The coachman tipped his hat, got down, lifted our bags up to the roof. The horses rolled their eyes suspiciously at Madeline's dog, which vaulted first through the opened door as if he had been used to riding in carriages all his life. Edrington, Madeline, and I piled in behind Lady Madeline taking a side to herself with Moustache's great head resting upon the seat beside her. With him stretched on the floor there was precious little legroom. Edrington scratched the dog's flank idly with the toe of his gleaming boot.
"My Lord. Mr. Kennedy, Sir" said the coachman through the open window "We'll make Oxfordshire tonight if we start immediately. There's a good inn there, the Don's Arms. They've got large rooms and cater to the quality."
"Very good, Shadsworth. Drive on." Alexander rapped the side of the carriage roof. "I was lucky to find this coach for hire it seems everyone is leaving Portsmouth now that the weather is turning cold."
"How long is the journey, Alexander?" asked Madeline.
"Four days, no more, by carriage. A single rider could make it in three."
"And Mr. Kennedy, you live nearby? I hope you will visit us. "
"Yes, less than twenty miles. And I assure you, Lady Madeline, that I will come whenever I am invited. Alexander," I said, turning to him, "Tell me about your family. I am eager to meet them. My father said little to me about his visits as I was too young to take part back in the days when he brought my brother to your shooting parties."
"Edrington Manor," said Alexander with a pensive smile, "is a country house built in the Tudor style. It was a gift to my great-, great-, great-grandfather from Henry VIII for some service that I think was possibly not entirely to do with affairs of state." I mulled this over, considering what I knew of old King Harry's nature. "However, since the establishment of the family, we Edringtons have made good use of over 2,000 hectares of the best pasturage in Northumberland. Our estate is quite noted for our dairy cows and for producing a particularly fine grade of wool from the strain of sheep we have developed over the years. Also, we have tenant farmers who grow grain for animal feed and barley for soups and broths."
"Alexander," Lady Madeline interjected, "I am quite certain that information, while accurate, isn't what Archie was hoping to hear. I would care to hear about your family, and I am sure Mr. Kennedy would as well."
"Of course. My family." said Alexander. "Unfortunately, there are few of us Edringtons left. My mother and my sister are all who remainoh, and several distant cousins such as yourself. My mamah is, well, a force to be reckoned with. Madeline, you must understand that she always resented your mother. My best advice to you is to tread carefully. But I do feel you have something to offer her that could kindle a warmer regard. Mamah is extraordinarily vain about wearing her spectacles. Her vision is poor, but she is greatly addicted to romances. My suggestion would be that you read to her."
"I would be happy to do so."
"My sister, Lady Katherine, is quite different. She is a great lady and loves to play the hostess. She has true sensibility and it is my wish that you model your behaviour on hers in all things."
"Alexander, I shall try. But I was not raised in your society. Do not expect my behavior to mirror that of the women from your world. My life has been nothing like."
"You shall have to. Madeline," he explained with exaggerated patience, "you are getting along in years. It's my duty to see you married to some suitable English gentleman of rank. I hope you will profit from my sister's experience in these matters."
"Then is your sister married?" I interjected. "Why does she still live at Edrington Manor?"
"No, my sister is not yet married." And try as we might, we were unable to coax him to reveal any more.
The carriage rocked and swayed and then began to bounce as we left the city and found the dirt roads of the country highway. About an hour later, we stopped so that the coachman could water and feed the horses. Alexander expressed a desire to stretch his legs, and left me and Madeline sitting in the carriage.
"So" I began carefully. "Are you eager to begin meeting suitable gentlemen, Lady Madeline? Balls, parties, being presented at court. I am sure all that awaits you. It is your birthright, after all."
"Oh Archie," she said gloomily. "I suppose I must. I h-have no ch-choice." Her lower lip trembled and she turned her face away from me, burying her nose in the thick neck ruff of her dog.
"Lady Madeline, dear." I couldn't help reaching for her hand, taking it in my own, giving it an encouraging squeeze. "There's worse things I am sure. Why are you so sad? Most women would be glad to have a grand house to go to, and a fine family to introduce them to society? It cannot be so bad as all that?"
"Yes it IS!" she exclaimed hotly. "It's horrible. Alexander doesn't want to have anything to do with me. He only tolerates me because helping me, rescuing me, and marrying me off fits his image of an Edrington! And I am certain his family will be just beastly! How could they not? He's so pompous and full of his own importance."
"I think he is trying to think of your best interest." I said carefully.
"He is trying to think of the fastest way to move me in, show me around, and then move me out to be some other man's problem. And then everyone will say, Look, see how the Earl of Edrington arranged an advantageous match for his poor plain French emigree cousin. Wonder what it cost him!'" She spit out the words.
"No, no, it wouldn't be like that!" I took her by the shoulders, looked into her eyes.
"Archie, it would be just like that." Madeline said with a stubborn pout.
Lady Madeline. I don't think you are plain. I think you are pretty." Her eyes widened. "I think you are fascinating, terribly clever, and really, really brave. In fact, I'll bet the Major will be driven to distraction by suitors coming to fisticuffs over you. Would not that be exciting?"
"Archie, it's not what I want!" she cried.
"Then what do you want?"
"I don't know, but I know I don't want that! Oui, I must marry. But I want to marry someone who really loves me, loves me because they know me, doesn't want me because I have a title. I want to marry someone who who Jesu! I don't know what I want, I only know what I do not want!" She was really sobbing now. Oh Lord. I simply cannot bear to see a woman cry. What else could I do but draw her to my chest and let her soak my new jacket with her tears. She shook violently for a minute or two, but I could feel how tense she was, how she was trying to pull herself together.
"I have to ask you even though you may think it impertinent." I said huskily, my nose in her hair. "Is it Horatio you want?"
"HORNBLOWER!?" she yelped, shoving herself out of my arms. "Mr. Kennedy, you do not understand me in the slightest!".
"But I thought .well, it seemed at times back on the Indy "
"Mr. Kennedy, you're an idiot. A very nice, sweet, kind, handsome idiot. You know nothing about women at all whatsoever."
"Actually, I "
"Non. You know nothing. Mr. Hornblower, he is a wonderful man, intelligent, very beautiful to look at. I could look at him forever, the rest of my life. But he is, he is .Oh! What is that word I want? boring. There, I havesaid it. He thinks only of his career. And of you. He's a good friend. But he is not a man I would ever wish to marry. And every time I brought Moustache into the sickbay, he sneezed. My thinking is, he's in love with the bloody Indefatigable."
"Now wait a minute," I said fiercely, irate at her casual dismissal of my friend. "Horatio does indeed have regard for women. Why, there was this one woman in Muziallac it was tragic, he was shattered, I am sure you have heard the stories "
"Of course I heard all about it. From Alexander. And this is only proof of what I have just said to you. No man falls deeply in love with a woman, however pretty, in one day. I am very surprised you cannot see the truth, that Mr. Hornblower was in love with his idea of himself as a hero who would save this woman from her own people. If he thinks that was love, then he does not know the first thing about it."
"And you do?" I retorted. Lady Madeline looked suddenly embarrassed.
"I am so sorry. I have spoken hot words without thinking again. Of course, he is your best friend and he did show real love when he saved you at the prison in Spain. But that is not the same as love between a man and a women."
"How would you know what that love is like, Lady Madeline?"
"Because I saw true love in my home, every day. That is how I know."
We sat in silence until Alexander returned. "Well, I hope you two found something to talk about," he said brightly, "Sorry I was gone so long, but it turns out there's a very interesting Norman church down the road wonderful rose window." He smiled broadly. "It's such a lark to be back in England again. Archie, you must accompany me at the next halt. Moustache, too. And Madeline, if you care to of course."
"You can count on it, My Lord." I said. And wadding up my cloak to make a pillow I turned my head away and pretended to go to sleep.
Ch. 15--Plotting the Campaign
Lady Madeline was right. I really did not know anything about women, or romance for that matter. But it wasn't my fault when had I the opportunity? There was a time when I did not know anything about steering a ship, navigating through treacherous shoals, instilling discipline in unlettered pressedmen, or any of the myriad things that had been taught to me during my years of Naval service. I learned it from books, I learned it from watching others do it, and I learned it from hearing others talk about it. And finally, I learned it from trying it myself, maybe making mistakessome of them potentially disastrous. Why then, should it be any different to embark on a study of the female heart?
Where better to begin than with the study of the specimen of the gender currently sitting across from me in the bouncing carriage? I have heard it said that the general who knows his enemy and knows himself need not fear the result of a thousand battles. What did I know about Lady Madeline?
She lost her parents under the most horrifying of circumstancesparents she believed loved her and each other. She had no family but her cousins here in England, of which the one sitting next to me seems to have done everything he could to make her believe that he has only welcomed her back into the family from a sense of duty. Surely, her feelings must be very raw. She must wish to have someone to be her champion.
And what does she think of me? I had tantalizing clues that she might have some regard for me, some warmth. She had let me help her with her hair, she had allowed me to embrace her and had sobbed comfortably on my chest. I had taken her hand during our Shakespeare reading and she had thrilled me with an answering pressure before withdrawing it as her character would have. So she could not find my touch repellent. And, oh yes, she had called me handsome. But in the same breath, she had also called me an idiot. Was it more important to women that a man be handsome, or that he be clever?
I examined my own motives. What was my objective, anyhow? Now here, I found myself floundering for an answer that did not make me want to squirm with embarrassment. Could I really entertain serious hopes? Madeline was not a lady to be flirted with, take one's amusement, and then discard. She was a noblewoman. Could I aspire to the daughter of a French Count? I had a comfortable sum waiting in trust for me upon the death of my sire, but that was not anywhere near what I supposed Alexander was hoping to attain for her and I was a younger son. My only hope would be that Lady Madeline fall so desperately in love with me that she would defy her cousins' wishes. She was certainly of age and a mind to do so.
That was the only way I could envision in which I could achieve my own desire, guiltily admitted. The fresh memory of her shapely form as I had held her close to my chest filled me with an overpowering longing to press my entire self full against her, caress her face and neck and kiss her deeply. How could I ever hope to satisfy this longing honorably unless she was willing to have me as a husband?
Perhaps the place to start was to become her champion. Slay the odd dragon or two, and maybe the princess would grant me her favors.
My opportunity came rather sooner than later. Four o'clockish and the coach entered the town of Reading. "Well, I expect we'll stop here so Shadsworth can change out the horses. Let us find someplace to get our dinner," Edrington suggested.
We left the coach, stretching and blinking in the bright sun. Lady Madeline looked wan and pale, but she was composed. She briefly exercised her dog and put him back into the carriage. "Ne pas bouger", she commanded.
Shadsworth was busily unharnessing the tired mounts. A young stable lad from a nearby tavern ran out to assist him.
"This looks as good a place as any, The BuckheadI believe I have stopped here once before," mused Edrington.
The Buckhead Tavern was a large establishment and had a separate tearoom for ladies, at the doorway of which Madeline turned to us and said she would see us in a half-hour or so. We went into the Tavern proper and seated ourselves at a scuffed up table, stretching our legs out comfortably after being pinned in the coach for hours with Moustache taking up the entire floor (or so it seemed). The room was crowded with local farmers and tradesmen, and Alexander's red officer's jacket stood out in the smoky room like a hot coal glowing. A short, stout Publican bustled over, periwig askew, wiping his greasy hands on his apron.
"Allo, gov's! Allus a pleasure to serve is Majesty's Finest ere at the Buckhead, sirs. We've a loverly steak n kidney pie terday. Can I bring you gent'lmen one with a noice tankard? The Buckhead makes it's own ale, right famous around these parts it tis." Steak and Kidney pie! After months of ship's rations, I couldn't have been more pleased if he would offered us rack of lamb!
"That will be just fine, we're in a hurry, can you bring it right away?"
"In two snaps, more or less!" said the little man and he bustled off to draw us two large tankards of ale from behind the bar. In moments, we were launching ourselves into steaming steak and kidney pie and quenching our thirst with real ale, instead of the watery brew that I had become accustomed to on the Indefatigable. As always happens with me, strong ale loosens my tongue so after exchanging a bit of idle chat about the route we would take for the remainder of the day, a sudden urgency to speak about Madeline rose up within me like bilgewater and could not be contained.
"Alexander, pardon my damned impudence but I can hold my tongue no longer. I don't understand why you are so hard on Lady Madeline. Have you no sensibility, then? You should show more kindness to her!"
"I hardly see that this is any of your..."
"Can you not see she is frightened of meeting your mother? I fear she will be all undone long before we reach York!"
Alexander's eyebrows shot up. "Madeline? Frightened? Are we talking about the same lady? The only Lady Madeline I know is the one next door, and it is my impression that if anyone should be frightened it should be us of her. Do you know what she said to me?"
"Did you wonder at all that I left you two alone and unchaperoned in the carriage this morning? She said that if any man forced himself on her that she would shoot his kneecaps off. I mean, really, Archie, that probably includes you! Have you ever heard a woman speak in such a rough manner?"
"And here I was thinking it was just your trusting nature."
"Rubbish. That Lady is a match for you my friend, never forget it. I am absolutely at my wit's end what I am going to do with her." He rubbed the bridge of his nose hard. Was silent a moment. "Do you really think she is fearful of meeting my mother and sister?"
"I know it for a fact. She told me she was when you were out stomping around some old church. Alexander, she was crying. She is frightened, and shy. I swear it! And I am losing patience watching you show her nothing but contempt."
"You go too far, Kennedy," Alexander said in low warning growl. "You don't know the circumstances ."
"There cannot be any circumstances which justify your coldness to her. If she is your family then you must treat her as such. Come now, you know I am right. Admit it and say you'll try to soften your manner. Treat her with cousinly affection."
"She is a pretty distant cousin. Second cousin, maybe even once removed I always find that confusing. I'll consult Katherine, she'll know. Anyhow, she is descended from the side of the family that was, well, intimately involved with that little "service" that caused old King Harry to create the first Earl."
"Now, look, you're doing it again. You had no need to tell me that! She is your relative and you're all she is got. Have you no heart at all then?"
He grimaced, put his chin in his hand, elbow on the table top, flaked off a bit of crust with a fork, poked idly at a kidney. "All right, Archie, have it your way. I have NOT been entirely fair to her. She is not to blame for what her mother did, but I just cannot help feeling disloyal to my father every time I have the lunatic impulse to be kind to her. It's easy enough to buy her new dresses or tell my sister to plan some balls and invite some men who might be suitable husbands for her one day. But she constantly vexes me with her strange behavior. I try to make allowances she did spend the last few years on a tenant farm but I fear that her eccentricity goes all the way to the bone."
"I think she is an admirable woman."
"Really? Archie, you don't ah entertain any serious hopes in that regard..?" I did not know what my answer should be. Treading carefully I responded.
"I admire her greatly and would cheerfully perform any service that would insure her future happiness."
"Including abusing her cousin for his ill-treatment?"
"Exactly so, as often as it takes. Alexander, can you find nothing about her to appreciate? Is she so charmless in your eyes?"
"She is, hmm, fascinating company. There it is, I admit that much. I derive a great deal of private amusement from watching her in action. She seems to be able to draw the attention of men without resorting to coquettish parlor tricks. I really cannot say how she does it."
"I think she does it because she has actually got something to say. And she is interested in talking about the same things we are. She looks me right in the eye and speaks what is on her mind."
"But that is what makes her sounwomanly. She'll be like a wolf in the fold when we turn her loose upon the ladies at one of our hunt balls. I very much fear I'll have much explaining to do. See, here is the rub. I really do think it hard on my mamah and sister to have to play hostess to Lady Madeline. And," he continued, gazing at a point somewhere over my head and beyond, "her continued presence in my house will be a distraction. I want to see her settled as soon as possible, but I fear her unusual manner may make that rather difficult."
"But she is quite an attractive girl, don't you think? That may help."
"Well, if you think so, Archie, then that is the first good news I havehad today."
"What, you don't?"
"I'll allow as though she has a generous mouth and a good figure. I like a girl who looks strong and well-formed, like she could hunt all day. Never cared for the drooping, pallid flowers. But Archie, you really need to see some more society. I'll have you come to one of our house parties there you'll see some real diamonds!" He grinned rakishly.
"I'll look forward to it, Alexander, but it seems to me that if those "diamonds" were of such rare brilliance you might have chosen one for yourself by now."
"Quite." he sniffed. "Look, it's getting on we need to pack up Madeline and get back on the road if we are to make Oxford by nightfall."
We plunked some coins down on the table and left. Poking his head into the Ladies' tearoom, Alexander said, "She is not in here. She must have gone back to the coach to wait for us." But when we got to the coach, Lady Madeline and the coachman was nowhere to be found. Moustache, though, was much in evidence inside the coach--he was ripping frantically at the curtained windows, a whirling gray cyclone with wild, rolling eyes. "My God!" shouted Edrington . "Where the hell is she?!"