Fidus Achates
by Sarah B.

Part Seven

The next morning dawned, promising another warm tropical day. On the Renown all hands were busy polishing repairing, and making ready for the new captain. For his part Hobbs kept his eyes down and his mind on the guns, because it kept him from thinking about the emptiness in the pit of his stomach and the reality of taking orders from another captain who could never have Hobbs' complete loyalty, but must be shown respect. It was a bitter pill, and Hobbs was unsure he could swallow it.

Everyone was talking about the new captain, even though few men actually knew him. From what Hobbs could overhear, Captain Henning was nearly as old as Sawyer, but seemingly impervious to injury or disease. He was, in fact, in a kind of retirement on Jamaica, and had taken the command as a favor to the king.

"Some old codger decides to go for a sail and this is what we got takin' us back to England," Hobbs heard one rating laugh to another, "'e's another Sawyer if you ask me!"

Hobbs immediately rounded on the fellow and scowled. "That's our captain you're talking about. Better mind your tongue."

The rating blinked in astonishment, but after a moment scoffed and said, "Look 'oo's talkin', *sir*. Your tongue wasn't lackin' for talk when Buckland was in command."

Hobbs hesitated; he hated being talked back to, but was very aware that the eyes that looked his way these days were far from friendly. And there were many more of them than there were of him. Adopting a quieter tone he said, "Mr. Buckland was only an acting captain. This one's permanent. Mind your tongue or he'll see you at the gratings."

The rating looked at his companion, and when he looked back at Hobbs there was a distinct glint of threat in his eye. "An' you'll tell 'im, right, Hobbs? Captain's eyes and ears."

There was no way to answer that; Hobbs merely held the sailor's gaze. "About your work, now."

"Aye, sir," the rating replied, but there was no obedience in those words; only surliness and resentment. He and the other man turned and skulked away.

Hobbs watched them go and shifted his shoulders uneasily. His back felt oddly vulnerable on that deck, like someone would throw a knife at it any minute. It was a terrible feeling to be so exposed, especially when you were used to some measure of protection. Randall was a lousy excuse for a mate, but at least Hobbs could trust him to watch his back; now he knew the tide was rising against him, and there was nowhere to go for protection. When the time came to pay, Hobbs knew he would just have to roll over and take it.

The only hope Hobbs had was in his new captain. Some commanders detested fighting among the men, punished it severely, and if Henning was one of them Hobbs knew he would escape what he had coming to him. Otherwise...

Hobbs glanced up from the gun he was inspecting and spied the bosun, Matthews, walking slowly along the quarterdeck watching the men work. Otherwise he would have to depend on that man, and Hobbs was no fool; he knew where Matthews' loyalty lay, and that brute Styles was sniffing for his blood, and those two were thick as thieves. Hobbs knew his chances then were not good.

So, really, there was nowhere to go; nothing to do about the sorry state Hobbs found his life in except keep cleaning the guns and watching his back. So he did.

"Pardon, sir? Mr. 'obbs, sir?"

Hobbs turned at the sound, found a grizzle-faced marine staring at him.

"Someone to see you, sir," the marine explained, pointing behind him. "Out on the dock."

Hobbs frowned and straightened. "Who?"

"Lieutenant Buckland, sir."

Hobbs sucked his breath a bit in suprise; it was not what he expected. Still..why not? What did he have to lose at this point? With a curt nod, he muttered a few instructions to the other men tending the gun and picked his way across the deck to the entryway. He glanced over at Matthews again, saw the man watching him; fate would not give him a pass today, it seemed.

It was Buckland, fidgeting at the dock just like Hobbs pictured he would. He looked at Hobbs nervously as they came together onshore, but attempted to smile. "Good morning, Mr. Hobbs. Everything going well on the Renown, I trust?"

"Well enough," Hobbs returned, trying to figure out what this man wanted with him. He was not certain whether to salute or not, but let the surliness of his mood and the general despair of his nature make the decision and kept his hand down. If Buckland noticed, he did not show it.

"Good," Buckland smiled again, and waved to the long row of docks along the water. "I am at liberty this morning and felt the need to take the morning air. I would be - honored - if you would join me, and tell me of the affairs of our home."

Our home? Hobbs nodded wordlessly and let Buckland walk, but almost winced at the dull ache that followed the realization that the Renown was no longer really his home. Buckland didn't seem to feel the same way, but he had not admired Sawyer as Hobbs had; he had felt no pain when the heart of the ship was torn out, only the chance to ascend to command. He was numb; Hobbs wished he had shared that fate.

"So," Buckland said chattily, putting his hands behind his back, "I understand she's to get a new captain."

"At one bell on the forenoon watch," Hobbs nodded, "Aye, sir."

"Oh, there's no need for that here, Mr. Hobbs. We aren't on the ship, you know."

"No, sir."

Buckland took a deep breath and surveyed the blue Jamaican waters. "Still - a new captain. Are the men excited?"

"They are very busy, s - Mr. Buckland. Don't think they've thought about it much."

"No - no, perhaps not. Then again, perhaps they've been talking about the inquiry, eh? I'm certain it's in all the gossip of the wardroom."

"I do not take part in those conversations," Hobbs rejoined sourly, and it was true. Talk of how the inquiry was going - who had spoken, who might be hanged, what really happened in the hold - was all over the ship, clung to it like a barnacle, but Hobbs could not bring himself to speak of it; the reality now blended too painfully with the awareness that his world was over. When the talk started, he always found a reason to be elsewhere.

"Oh - no, I don't suppose you do," Buckland said, his tone changing to one of melancholy, "You remember her as I do, Mr. Hobbs, grand and glorious, under Captain Sawyer's command. I'm sure it tears your heart as it does mine, to think of another captain at the helm."

Hobbs cleared his throat suddenly; he hated how closely Buckland had guessed his emotion. "The war does go on, sir. Ship needs someone at the helm."

"Yes," Buckland said absently, "And good men to man her. How are you finding the men at present, Mr. Hobbs?"

"What do you mean, sir?"

"The men. How are they feeling, what is their...loyalty?"

Oh. That was it. "They are the King's men, sir. They will follow whoever takes the wheel."

"Hm. I see. And you?"

Hobbs glanced at the ship sitting out in the harbor, gently riding the warm tropical waves. "I will go where the wind takes me. That is my job."

The two men walked in silence for a few moments, then Buckland said, "You thought me a fool, when I took command of the ship."

Hobbs knew the comment was meant to startle him, but was beyond caring what Buckland thought. Slowly he said, "You did your best."

Buckland almost laughed, and did not seem to mind that Hobbs looked at him strangely. "My best! Mr. Hobbs, that was not my best. They were trying circumstances, and I'm not so blind that I did not know what was said behind my back. The men hated me."

"The men did not hate you, sir." Hobbs had little use for a man fishing for compliments.

"Well, they had not love for me. Or you, either."

Hobbs looked warily at his former superior officer.

"Oh, yes, Mr. Hobbs, I saw more than the men think. You and that - Randall fellow, you caused quite a stir. I'm certain it made you some enemies when he was living."

No longer certain where this was heading, Hobbs shrugged. "I can take care of myself, sir."

"No doubt. But with Randall dead and his enemies running the ship, I'll wager you do not sleep heavily at night. But I may be able to help you with that."

Hobbs stopped.

Buckland stopped too, and looking around Hobbs saw that they were standing at the end of the dock by some closed shops. The area was deserted, and the marine who had accompanied Buckland was some distance behind them, loitering; they were alone.

"Help me?" Hobbs asked, wondering how a dunderhead like Buckland ever gained such perception. "Help me how?"

Buckland looked at him sympathetically. "You do not want to stay on the Renown, I am certain. With the inquiry proceeding as it is, the resentment of Hornblower's men against you must be overwhelming to bear. And the idea of another captain sitting at Captain Sawyer's chair curdles even my blood."

"But what else is there?"

"I may be given command of a ship," Buckland said in a lower voice, leaning close in a conspiratorial way, "And if I am I will need men to handle the guns. You can transfer, I will handle everything."

Hobbs smiled a bit. "You would take on a man who thinks you a fool for your gunner?"

Buckland straightened, "I have learned from my mistakes, Mr. Hobbs. I will grow as any good man does, and free from upstarts and the burden of a captain who was - who was ill I think you may be confident in my abilities as captain. But I will not demand your loyalty until I earn it; I only need you to work the guns."

Hobbs let his eyes wander out to the water; there was something vast and free there, away from the hellish confinement of his life, which he hated at the moment. "Why ask me now? You don't even know how the inquiry will turn out. With all due respect, sir, they may hang you."

"No, they won't," Buckland insisted, his expression suddenly urgent, "Not now, not if...if promises are kept. Mr. Hobbs, do you remember the conversation in the captain's cabin after the Spanish attacked?"

Hobbs looked at the white sand around his shoes, and thought of that morning. "Yes, sir."

"I asked you to look after your captain, to remember that I did not *ask* to take command, but I had done my best with it. You will also remember that we agreed that any of the other officers could have tried to harm Captain Sawyer. Any of them."

"Yes, sir."

"Well, then. Certainly one of them should pay for it. Don't you think?"

Hobbs looked up. Buckland's face was flushed, expentant, and his posture had gotten very tense. He was looking at Hobbs almost fiercely. Hobbs was unsure how to respond, and said nothing.

"I'm sorry," Buckland said, relaxing a bit and lowering his shoulders, "I've been under tremendous strain these past few days, and it occurred to a few days you will be asked to make your statement to the inquiry."

"I know."

"What will you say? Have you thought about it?"

Hobbs nodded; he had. "That Captain James Sawyer was a great and noble man. That he didn't deserve what happened to him. And that he died fighting, like any great hero would."

Buckland nodded. "And what of the men who tried to harm him?"

Hobbs hesitated; this was not as clear as it should have been. "The men who..."

"Yes, yes! You know who I mean. Hornblower, Kennedy, Wellard. Even Mr. Bush for all I know."

Hobbs thought about this. Wellard's words, his whispered unburdening of Sawyer's last words, came to him, but he couldn't reveal them. Perhaps he never could. "I would say that if anyone sought to harm the captain they should hang."

"Hm. I see," Buckland said, clearly disappointed. Walking a little distance away, he turned and faced Hobbs again. "So the inestimable Mr. Hornblower has charmed you as well, eh? I might have suspected it."

Hobbs put his eyes to the ground again. "I don't know what you mean, sir."

"Oh, don't think I don't see it," Buckland said, walking around Hobbs in a small circle, "I know you hated him once, you were convinced he had tried to kill the captain. You even kept watch on all of us, but especially on him. But now you won't say a word against him. Do you think I'm an idiot?"

"No, sir," Hobbs was beginning to feel uneasy at Buckland's shift of personality.

"You were loyal to Captain Sawyer," Buckland continued, "And I know how hard you tried to find out the truth. But now that you have the opportunity to make that truth known you'll hide behind generalities to preserve Hornblower's shining reputation. All because he makes a flashier show than I. His youth and dash have charmed you."

Hobbs hesitated. "You want me to say Hornblower pushed the captain into the hold?"

"He's as much as admitted it," Buckland replied, "And the allegation is supported by the captain's writings and the evidence of our own eyes. In fact, I was told by one of the inquiry captains that he would be convicted now but for favoritism on the court."


Buckland nodded. "Justice will not be done without someone speaking out against him. I have said my part, and some merit has been found in my words. But I need your assistance, Mr. Hobbs. Do I have it?"

Hobbs looked out onto the water again and thought. After a long pause he said, "What if he just fell into the hold? Woudn't you get your ship then?"

Buckland looked puzzled. "Fell into the hold? With three enemies around him, on a ship he's known in the dark for years? The inquiry would never believe it."

"But if we said it," Hobbs persisted, "Then this could be over. That's what you want, isn't it?"

"I want Captain Sawyer's name preserved," Buckland scowled, "And I want my own restored. The inquiry would never accept the idea that the hero of the Nile would just stumble into an open hatchway like a doddering old imbecile. He would be disgraced, diminished. It's a dishonor to suggest it."

Hobbs considered this, considered how people would laugh if they were told that the great Captain Sawyer had met his cognizant end by tottering into a hole in the dark. The image made him sick. "You're right. We can't say that."

Buckland sighed and began walking in the circle again. "I know what you are likely thinking, why you are so reluctant to speak againt Hornblower. You've been taken in, as Mr. Bush was, compelled to rebel against my authority. No doubt you see in Mr. Hornblower some of the greatness Captain Sawyer possessed, some of his courage and gallantry. If I tried the things he did, I would look like a fool and be drummed out of the service. The man has a lucky star and no doubt about it."

Hobbs thought of the cliff, the fort, the shining light in Wellard's eyes that had been gone in his own for years. Captain Sawyer's greatness...

"But don't be swayed!" Buckland pleaded, "Think, Mr. Hobbs, of life on Renown when the captain was ill. Mr. Hornblower plotted against him, disobeyed his orders, took showers on deck while the captain lay bleeding and delirious in his cabin. He is all gold-plated tin and paper, and he cares for nothing except the glory of battle. He has treated you ill enough, although you are too blinded to remember it. And his men will treat you no better."

The men -Hobbs dropped his eyes again quickly so Buckland wouldn't see them.

But he was too late. "Ah yes, you do remember his men, don't you? Do you think they will forgive your diligence to the captain, if you stay aboard the Renown? They are a brutish lot, like that - that Styles fellow, they're animals. You are not safe on that ship, and if you come under attack I can promise that Mr. Hornblower will only remember what happened when Styles was beaten. He will not come to your aid."

"How do you know?" Hobbs asked, because he hated to dwell on the grim facts that Buckland was presenting.

"Because that is human nature, Mr. Hobbs," Buckland replied with a condescending smile. "I saw Mr. Hornblower's face when Randall was acquitted of that rating's beating; he was furious. He would see any accident that befell you as divine retribution and not say a word. And I daresay none of his men would either."

Hobbs' mind went back to that day, when Randall had beaten Styles black and blue. The resentment had hung thick in the air, and turned into poison when Randall came sauntering out of the captain's cabin and said to him, "Charges dismissed." Hobbs had told him, the captain's not watching anymore. It had been true; and Hornblower had every cause to hate him for knowing it.

"I may be a fool, Mr.Hobbs," Buckland said lightly, "But I've been at sea twenty-two years and I know how the world works. If justice is done and the proper people are punished, I may be pulling out of this port with one of those prize ships. I'll be needing a crew, and I can promise you that none of Hornblower's men will be among them. Now I am not asking you to make a fabrication, or betray anyone. I'm only asking you to say what we both know in our hearts to be true."

For a moment, Hobbs did not hear Buckland's voice at all; he only heard Randall's thick accented voice. 'Come on mate, what's the difference? Ye serve under this fool or ye serve under some other old codger. At least with this one you'd know what you were gettin'! And no knife between yer shoulderblades either.'

Then the voice faded, and only Buckland's remained. Buckland, who may get a prize ship that would hold no painful memories, have no dark corners, and no shipmates filled with vengeful hate. It was tempting. It was very tempting, indeed...

Then another image came to Hobbs' mind, suddenly and unbidden. The sight of Wellard. lying pale and wounded in a hospital bed, his life slowly bleeding out of him. Another betrayal, another brutal reminder of how the world worked. Another life cut short, figuratively if not literally, and turned to ashes by the harsh fire of reality. And Hobbs might be tightening the noose around his neck by slaying his hero...

Hobbs took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. "When will I be called?"

"Soon," Buckland said with a slight smile, and waved back toward the ship. "I am certain the inquiry will let you know. You'll think about what I said?"

Hobbs tried to will the pain inside his heart to stop; he hated feeling anything, and wondered if soon he would be dead inside. But wishing was doing him no good. "I got work to do. The new captain will be coming soon."

"Of course," Buckland smiled wider, and joined Hobbs as they walked together back toward the ship. "I only ask that you consider my proposal, Mr. Hobbs. A chance at a new home; it's not something one gets more than a few times in a lifetime."

Hobbs knew that it was true; but in his mind's eye he saw that new home, like the home he had lost within himself, and wondered at the image of a ship with tall, proud masts and billowing virgin sails; but inside he feared it would be something he did not want to live with: an ash-gray sepluchre with no honor inside, its heart long cold and dead.

At the same moment, in his rooms at the Admiralty, Horatio was was trying to shave without butchering himself.

It had not been an easy task; at his best he had always been challenged by the sharp angles and curves of his face, and it was only with a great deal of patience - and some very nasty nicks when he was a young man - that Horatio had ever learned to master his visage at all. But this morning Horatio was not at his best.

How long had he stayed up last night, staring at the stars? Horatio shook his head as he stared at the bleary-eyed, bleeding person in the shaving mirror, and the answer came back: too long. Too long thinking about his father, England, and all the sights and sounds so far removed from Jamaica as to be from another world. But he did not know if he would ever see them again.

The cobblestone streets of his home town. The sun rising over English hills ripe with dew. The smell of fresh scones and jam in the kitchen when Mrs. Dabney was baking. The sound of rain falling on the flagstones outside his bedroom window. The warm comfort of falling asleep beneath the quilt his mother had made for him when he was a small child. All these things Horatio thought on, until the night was more than half gone. It was a selfish thing to do, and accomplished nothing...but he could not help it.

If it had stopped there, Horatio supposed his current half-asleep state would have been bad enough. But his mind had turned to his men, and his melancholy had grown worse. If he was missing home and feeling imprisoned already, what must those in the infirmary be facing? Not only confinement and boredom, but wounds, illness and a death not from the noose but from shot or infection. Horatio's sense of helplessness grew when he thought of young Wellard, not even old enough to shave yet but wounded in the service of his country...what would happen if the inquiry went to trial, and he was forced to take the stand? He had seemed worried during their mission, had even asked the strange question -

**Did you ever do something, and then forgot you did it?**

- Horatio knew why he had asked that question; and there was little doubt that the laudanaum Dr. Clive had so liberally prescribed had confused the boy's brain. If he took the stand...Horatio pictured an unsympathetic panel, possibly with Hammond involved, twisting Wellard's words and impaling him on his own poor memory; that is, if the dampness of the hospital and the weakness of his own tortured body did not kill him first. Horatio feared for him.

But he was not the only one to be concerned about; Lieutenant Bush had been wounded as well, although he did not seem as gravely injured. He had been second in command, Buckland's first lieutenant; even though he was not present in the hold when Sawyer fell, it was possible that he might be implicated in the mutiny conspiracy. Hobbs had seen them all talking together, often, and he glared at Bush as sternly as he did anyone else. If Wellard died or was too ill to testify, would Bush be selected as the next most likely target, given his seniority and ability to stop what was happening? There was no answer to that question; Horatio had been awake most of the night trying to find it.

Then there was Archie. Archie... Horatio shook his head, a deep pang of remorse running through him. That Archie should have come through all his trials, to end here. That he should have endured the Justinian, French and Spanish prisons, the tragedy of Muzillac, to have his life ended by a luckless bullet and the vengeful spite of embarrassed officers. At least Pellew remembered - Pellew understood - but if there was any man Horatio wanted to spare from the taint and shame of scandal, it was his oldest and dearest friend. That Archie had seemed better when Horatio had seen him last was little comfort; Horatio knew how well Archie could hide pain, and was still not entirely certain his friend would survive Kingston, no matter what the outcome of the trial was. But Archie must be given that chance; the chance to see England, and real trees, and snow on the fir trees. He had fought - they had all fought - bravely and resolutely at Horatio's side, and they deserved no less from him than every spark of leadership he possessed. If he used it no other time, it had to be now. Soon. For time was running out for all of them.

There was a knock at his door, and Horatio snapped out of his reverie to see that he was barely half-done shaving. Hell. "Come in."

The door opened, and the young marine Russell appeared, looking somewhat worn out himself. "Good morning, sir."

"Good morning," Horatio replied, hastily shearing the last of his stubble and toweling off his injured face. He turned to face Russell squarely. "Did you do as I asked?"

"Yes, sir," Russell nodded, "Couldn't get on the ship until this morning, but I got what you said." He produced several small books which he had been carrying in his left hand, and carefully read the titles. "Julius Caesar, 'Much A...ado? About Nothing, and Collected Poems of Henry Vaw-gin."

Horatio smiled; at least the boy had tried. "Very good, thank you, Russell. And Mr. Bush's writing instruments?"

"In my bag, sir," Russell said quickly. As Horatio moved to get dressed he paused, then said, "Things've happened, sir, since we talked last."

Horatio caught the wariness in Russell's voice and looked at him searchingly. "Things? Like what?"

Russell shifted his feet and looked at the floor. "They're gettin' a new captain on Renown. They're getting the ship all ready for him. Lyman James, 'is name is."

Horatio frowned; that the Renown was getting a new captain was no surprise, but he had never heard of this man. Oh well. "What else?"

Russell paused and shook his head, his eyes still on the floor. "You didn't want to know too much about what was goin' on behind them doors, but...but I don't like it, sir, what I'm hearin'. That Captain Hammond is a hard man."

Horatio smiled a bit as he picked up his shirt, remembering Hammond's bluster many years ago, when he was taking his lieutenant's exam. Good Lord, that was another lifetime! But then he sobered, hearing the dismay in Russell's low words. "They must ask difficult questions, Mr. Russell. This is very serious business."

"Aye, sir. I know, but..." Russell took a step closer and looked at Horatio with nervous hazel eyes. "'e went and talked to Buckland last night, sir. I had to go with 'im, 'e couldn't go alone."

Horatio's stomach lurched. This did not sound good. "Mr. Buckland? Why?"

"I don't know, sir," Russell admitted regretfully. "I had to stand clear of the door, Captain Hammond throws 'em open, you know. But I heard some things..." he paused again, as if trying to frame the words. Finally he looked sideways and sighed. "'e wants someone to hang, the captain does. More than the other two. But the way Mr. Buckland looked when he left, I don't think it's him he wants to hang."

Horatio's blood began to chill, the nameless dread he had been feeling since the previous evening growing into a real fear. Suddenly he felt as if his men were very vulnerable, not merely lying wounded in the hospital but strewn upon a bloody battlefield, exposed and fragile. He pulled his shirt on slowly, thinking.

After he had put the shirt on, Horatio looked at Russell again, and the youth was shaking his head and looking at Horatio in a downcast way. "I know I ain't smart, sir, and I got no business nosin' around superior officers, but...I don't want this to end bad for you. If that Captain Hammond has his say, I think it will."

"Yes, thank you, Mr. Russell," Horatio said quickly, tucking his shirt into his breeches and reaching for his vest. His mind began to work very fast, lifting and discarding plans of action as he sought possible ways out of the labyrinth his men had been cast into. He could not approach Pellew - neither of them was naive to think that an unjust court martial was even anything new, let alone scandalous or extraordinary. And he could not shield his men from questioning. But then -

- then he had not been questioned himself, yet.

His vest was on, that left only his hair and his shoes. His mind fully occupied now, Horatio ran his hands through his hair and said, "Mr. Russell, I have some - correspondence to take care of. Leave the books and come back in half an hour, and then I would like to take some exercise if you don't mind escorting me."

Russell's expression showed he was trying to follow Horatio's words, and he nodded acquiesence. "Yes, sir. Back in half an hour then?"

Horatio nodded with a smile. "Good man."

With a shrug, Russell piled the books on the table and left, closing the door softly behind him. Horatio listened to his footsteps fade down the hall, and began to pace.

There was no time. The noose was closing fast and if what Russell said was true Hammond would find enough evidence in Sawyer's notes and Buckland's testimony to demand a trial - and it was possible that Pellew and Collins would support it. Certainly there was enough evidence, and to the untrained eye it could damn all of them. Accusations by Sawyer...suspicions by Mr. Hobbs...and the long fall in the dark that resulted in a terrible injury, and three officers present...

...but only one need hang.

Horatio stood against the window and closed his eyes. He did not want it to come to that. Archie believed in a God; if there was one, Horatio hoped that He would move to prevent such a thing. No one but an all-seeing God could know what really happened - why a mutiny was needed - what demons were preying on Sawyer's weakened mind. It was possible that something might occur, some witness might come forward, and they would all be spared the tar-brush of treason. Or, if he insisted that Sawyer's fall was an accident, and there was enough sympathy from Pellew and Collins, it was possible that they would believe his word and the matter would be concluded. It could be hoped for, at any rate.

But the fates were stacked against them; there were more than enough men on Renown who would support any allegation that he and Archie and Bush were conspiring to bring Captain Sawyer down. Sawyer's journal, written in his own hand, certainly damned them all, and his word was supreme. For the good of the Admiralty, for the British Navy, for England itself the integrity of the high command must be preserved, whatever the cost.

Whatever the cost...Horatio wrapped his arms around himself and shivered. He did not want to die; he did not want to think that there might be no other way to end this. But if Hammond was resolute, if the Admiralty was out for blood, and if there was no solid evidence otherwise there would be no other way out. If a guilty man did not come forward, he would be found, and they all may end up hanged. All of them, Archie, Wellard, Bush, and himself - the cruelest injustice.

Horatio opened his eyes and stared up at the sunlit sky. He did not want to die. But he knew he could not live with the burden of his mens' tarnished deaths upon him.

So, it was up to him to act. He would take the blame, and spare his friends and his junior officers. He would confess to pushing Captain Sawyer, and hang for it.

Horatio opened his eyes again and gazed out on the unfamiliar Jamaican landscape. He thought, snow, and was amazed to find tears pricking his eyes. Sentimentality? No, that was not a luxury Horatio knew himself to possess; but God, he did miss the green hills and foggy mornings...and he would liked to have seen his father, one last time.

But time was running out. And he had a duty to perform.

With a determined sniff, Horatio walked to his writing table and sat down. He stared at the little stack of books and considered them for a few minutes. Then he picked up the one on the top - the book of Henry Vaughan poems - and opened it to the back page.

This book he would not take to Archie in the hospital. This book would stay behind, in his room, to be given to Archie only after...well, only after. Horatio knew he could say nothing now - it would torment Archie to know, and would accomplish nothing. But if his plan came to pass Archie would have to know why, have to know he did it freely and without regret. So the choice was obvious.

Selecting a sheet of writing paper he began to write very swiftly. He knew exactly what he was going to say.

"My dear friend,
I have left instructions that this should come to you in the event that my life is lost in service to my country. Please know that it tears my heart to leave the world thus, when such promise lay within it for all of us. But I firmly believe in the course of action I have set; there is no justice in this enterprise, only the least unjust way to end it. If one of us must take the blame, and suffer the consequences of that fateful evening, I have no hesitation to take up that sword and cause my own life to end, so that yours may be preserved to fulfill its purpose. In my memory I only ask three things: That you look to Mr. Bush for command, and follow him as you have so ably followed me; that you contact my father, and give him a letter which I will compose separately and hide within this book; and that you will look after Mr. Wellard, who above all I would seek to spare from the taint of corruption and evil that we both know too well the world possesses. I know you will do these things, for yours is a heart I was always proud to call my friend.

Take care of yourself, Archie, and when you return to England do not suffer on my account, because my life is gone. I have given it in the worthiest cause I know: to save the lives of my friends.

Yr Svnt,
Horatio Hornblower


Free Web Hosting