To Return With Honour
by Joan C.
Horatio woke with the chime of the watch bell. He had slept for an hour, and for a few moments, he lay still, waiting to see if his stomach was still in a state of rebellion over being taken to sea. When waves of nausea did not overcome him, he sat up. He was a bit light-headed, but that might be on account of not having eaten since early morning on the Josephina. Perhaps there was someone in the wardroom who could remedy that situation. He straightened his uniform, ran his fingers through his tousled curls, and went in search of food and company.
He asked one of the American sailors where the wardroom was, and followed the directions. As he walked, he admired again the order and cleanliness of the Skylark. He gathered from Captain Campion's comments that the journey across the Atlantic had been her maiden voyage. She had never been fired on, had never fired a shot in battle. For some reason, Horatio shivered, then cursed himself for thinking it was an omen instead of physical weakness. He was hungry, that was all.
It was quiet in the wardroom. Horatio sat at the table. Almost immediately, a sailor appeared. "Can I get you something, sir?" he asked politely.
"Food -- whatever is easiest. And something to drink. Not ale or wine, though."
"Coffee, sir?" The man suggested.
Horatio nodded. "Yes, thank you." The sailor returned shortly with a tray of food; fresh bread, a jar of jam, a wedge of cheese and a mug of coffee. Port victuals, Horatio thought. In a week's time the water would stale, the bread would be changed for hard biscuits, and the cheese would begin showing mold. It was the diet of a sailor, and somehow they managed to thrive despite it.
He was finishing his last sip of sweetened coffee when Archie entered the wardroom. He sat opposite Horatio, his hands clasped before him, and a frown creasing his forehead. He was silent, however, until Horatio spoke.
"Well, out with it, Archie. Something's amiss."
Archie's frown deepened. He was uncertain enough of what he had heard to hesitate for fear that Horatio would find him overwrought. He looked into his friend's dark eyes, darker now with concern, and gathered his courage. "I may be wrong --"
Horatio shook his head. "Captain Pellew would say that you should never begin a sentence with an apology without good reason."
Archie exhaled a breath of laughter. "Very well." But he made certain that they were alone in the wardroom before he spoke, his voice scarcely louder than a whisper. "Did you know that the Skylark is carrying a heavily guarded cargo? One that we are not to know about?"
"What do you mean?" And when Archie had finished relating the entire story, Horatio looked grim. "I'm not surprised." He sat back in his chair, thinking. "It could be anything, I suppose. Guns, contraband liquor, even refugees."
Archie shook his head. "No, not that. The hold is small, and too tightly sealed."
"Hmm. I suppose it could just as easily be of no concern to us whatsoever." Horatio sighed. "We will be dining with Captain Campion and his officers tonight. If he has nothing to hide, perhaps we will learn what the cargo is."
"Matthews and Styles are keeping their ears open, too."
Horatio raised an arched brow, and Archie hastened to defend his position. "I heard the orders, Horatio. They were not a figment of my imagination. I'm not wrong about this. Whatever is in that hold is going to cause trouble. I can feel it."
"And Matthews swears he can feel a fog coming on when his joints ache." Horatio grinned, but his eyes remained grave. He did not doubt Archie's instincts, for they mirrored his own. He liked Campion, but he did not trust him -- not yet. But he would give him the benefit of the doubt until the dinner that evening.
Nicholas Campion had invited five to dine with him that evening. Kennedy and Hornblower, Carlyle, Philip Martin, the Skylark's surgeon, and John Pyne, the Master. Pyne was a dour man, not given to light conversation, but Campion had faith in his judgment. It would be interesting to watch his reaction to the English officers.
The cabin was tiny, and they would be crowded, but that informality would lend itself well to his intentions. He had to know if Hornblower was trustworthy, for he would be damned if he had to watch him and his men like a hawk every mile of the journey to England. Time was short, and precious. The French, Dutch, and Spanish all had ships roving the waves. What a world this was, that nations who twenty-five years ago had helped America defeat the British, were now their enemies, and the British, his only allies, and hundreds of miles from safe harbour.
They arrived promptly at the end of the first Dog watch, and for a few minutes, they were all uncomfortable. Hornblower looked as if he desired nothing more than to be left alone with a book, while Kennedy's eyes were watchful and wary. But Carlyle was cheerful; and Martin, an easy, likable man, drew Hornblower from his reticence with a gentle curiosity about his adventures. By the time the steward served the main course, the conversation had become fairly easy.
At the end of the meal, when brandy was passed, Pyne and Martin excused themselves to see to their duties, leaving Campion and Carlyle with Hornblower and Kennedy. This was what Campion had been waiting for -- not realizing that Hornblower was thinking the same thoughts. Campion sat back in his chair, relaxed, with his brandy snifter in his hands. His bright gaze fixed on Hornblower.
"Well, I admit that I've been waiting all day to hear the story of your escape from El Ferrol. I was led to understand that the fortress there was impregnable -- from inside and out."
He watched in something like amusement as Hornblower blushed, obviously disconcerted by the implied question. He cleared his throat. "Sir, I never said that we escaped from El Ferrol. We were released from the prison there."
Campion raised his sandy brows. "Released? Obviously not exchanged."
When Hornblower remained silent, Kennedy spoke up. "Sir, we were pardoned by the Spanish government, due to Lieutenant Hornblower's rescue of the survivors of the wreck of the Almeria on the reef off El Ferrol."
"The Devil's Teeth?" Campion was incredulous. "My God! And I thought you were mad for asking me for passage to England! Clearly, Mr. Hornblower, you have no fear."
Hornblower's face, which had been suffused with colour, went pale. His dark eyes hardened. "I did my duty, sir."
"Is it your duty to save the lives of your enemy?" Lieutenant Carlyle asked.
"It is my duty to save lives whenever possible, sir. Just as it is my duty to see my men safely home."
Campion straightened from his comfortable slouch and fixed him with an intent gaze. "What if the Skylark should be attacked? Would you fight for my men's lives as if they were your own?"
Hornblower did not waver under Campion's scrutiny which had caused his own officers to falter at times. "Yes, sir. I would." He drew a breath, and returned Campion's study. "Do you expect the Skylark to be attacked, Captain Campion?"
"I always anticipate it, Mr. Hornblower. We are in very dangerous waters."
"I thought the United States was a neutral country, sir." Kennedy interjected.
"Neutrality is no defense in the face of a determined enemy, Mr. Kennedy." Campion took a final swallow of his brandy and offered a second glass. Kennedy refused politely, and Campion smiled at him. "And you, Mr. Kennedy, what are your feelings -- if the Skylark were to be in danger?"
"Sir, I would do whatever Mr. Hornblower required. And what would be best for the men." Campion saw the shadows in Kennedy's blue eyes, and wondered why he should have doubts. Surely, he and Hornblower were cut from the same cloth.
"So you young gentlemen have sailed together through your careers?"
Hornblower and Kennedy exchanged a glance that spoke worlds; and this time, it was Hornblower who replied. "We were on the Indefatigable together, sir. But three years ago, Mr. Kennedy was captured during a cutting-out expedition. He has been imprisoned in France and Spain since then."
Carlyle's eyes went wide. "Good Lord! It is a miracle that you survived and were reunited!"
Horatio replied tersely. "No one was more surprised than I when Archie turned up sharing the same cell."
"And you, Mr. Kennedy -- it must have been a joyous reunion."
"Y-yes. It was." Again, that instinctive look to Hornblower. "I should have known that if anyone would show up, it would be Hora -- Mr. Hornblower." Not for the world would he tell anyone of his despair, his weakness, his fear. He looked into Campion's eyes, daring him to pursue the questions he saw there. Campion's lids shuttered his expression, and when he spoke again, it was on an entirely different topic.
"How do your men find working the Skylark, Mr. Kennedy? I saw you speaking with one of them earlier. Matthews, I believe."
Archie beat down the sudden anxiety sparking along his nerves. "Matthews, indeed all of the men, are impressed, Captain. The Skylark is a beautiful ship. They look forward to handling her in the open sea."
"Good. I hope they will have a chance to really see what she can do. Prove to you Brits that the Yankee shipyards can turn out a product more than equal to their own."
"Where was she built, sir?" Horatio asked.
"Baltimore, Maryland. Perhaps someday you will have a chance to visit our shipyards."
"I would like that, sir. However, England is at war, and it is unlikely I shall be released from duty that easily."
"Speaking of duty, sir --" Carlyle rose. "If you will excuse me. I have the next watch. Mr. Hornblower, would you care to stand it with me?"
"I would be honoured. If Captain Campion doesn't mind?"
"Not at all. Mr. Hornblower, I understand you are partial to coffee. Please, stay and have some, while I go over the log book with Lieutenant Carlyle." Then he and Carlyle left the cabin. They went to the quarter-deck and stood at the rail. "Well, Carlyle, what do you think of our guests?"
Carlyle considered. What was the Captain asking? He had not been with Campion long enough to be entirely at ease with him, and he often felt that he was being watched for any sign of weakness or ineptitude. When he answered, he answered cautiously. "They and their men seem to know what they are about, sir."
"I have no argument with Hornblower's seamanship, Mr. Carlyle. The Royal Navy does not breed idiots," Campion said sharply. "I am asking you to offer me your opinion on their characters. You have had as much time to observe them as I."
Carlyle swallowed. "I think Hornblower is very sharp, sir. If you don't tell him what our position is, he will certainly try to find out. But both he and Kennedy seem trustworthy, and their men clearly respect them."
"Yes. I thought as much." Campion's fingers drummed nervously against the wood. "I'll think on it, Ross." He glanced up at the fighting top."I want a good man up there at all times. Our lives depend on sharp eyes and keen wits."
"Aye, aye, sir." Carlyle saluted. Campion left the quarter-deck to take his customary tour of the ship. He loved her like a mistress, and he would not sleep without saying goodnight.
Alone, Archie looked at Horatio warily. "What was that about?"
"An Inquisition ."
"Are you worried?"
It was a bit like asking him if he breathed. Horatio frowned into his coffee. "I think that Captain Campion has as much use for us, as we for him, but by God, I cannot say why that is."
"It has to do with the cargo, Horatio."
"Undoubtedly." He took several swallows of coffee, but it tasted bitter tonight, and he set it aside and rose. "Perhaps Carlyle ..." He did not finish his sentence, for he did not hold much hope that Carlyle was a talkative man. "I will see you in four hours."
The night was clear but cold, and Carlyle was bundled in his greatcoat. When Horatio appeared at his side, he gestured to a dark heap at his feet. "Boat cloak, if you want. I figured you wouldn't have one with you after being in prison."
"No. It was warmer when we were taken." He shook the folds out of the cloak and wrapped it around his body.
"All that time. How did you stand it?" Carlyle asked.
Horatio shrugged, reluctant to discuss the imprisonment with someone who had not been there and could not understand what it was like. "I had no choice but to endure it," he said dispassionately, then fell silent as he gazed out over the waters. The sliver of a moon touched the waters and the sails with silver. Horatio drew in a deep breath. It wasn't the quarter-deck of the Indefatigable, but it was freedom.
He would have preferred to stand the watch in silence, but knew he would have to engage Carlyle in conversation in order to get any information from him. "When did you leave Baltimore?" he asked.
"Right about the time your Admiral Nelson was giving the Spanish a drubbing at Cape St. Vincent. The name Horatio must be a good luck for a sailor."
Hornblower grinned. "Do you think we'll need it?"
"We'll need the Devil's own luck, I'm afraid." Carlyle gave a short laugh, as if to cover his unease and lead Horatio away from a sensitive subject.
Horatio was not so easily distracted. "Why do you say that?"
"Come on, man! Half of Europe is at war -- and I can't believe that they would allow us to pass unmolested."
"But they have no reason to attack Skylark."
"Do they need a reason in this world?"
Horatio agreed with Carlyle, and hoped he would elaborate. But Carlyle did not continue. He took out his telescope and swept it along the horizon before calling out to the topman for his report.
Nothing. The horizon was wide and unbroken beneath the benevolent moon. Horatio shivered and tucked his hands deep into the folds of his cloak. He could not abide the cold; it was worse now than it had ever been, the legacy of the oubliette. There were three hours left to the watch and even though he was not obligated to stand them with Carlyle, he would. The more trust he earned, the less likely disaster would strike unawares.
Below decks, nearly beneath Horatio's feet, Styles and Oldroyd were engaged in a game of chance with several Skylarks, and the dice were falling Styles' way. He had amassed a small pile of change, both British and American currencies, and sensed that if he continued playing, he might incur the distrust and wrath of his shipmates. Deliberately, he made a foolish wager, lost half of his winnings, then calling for good health and good fortune for his new comrades, proposed a toast with his ration of rum.
As the game broke up, Styles fell in beside one of the Americans, a Bosun's mate with the unfortunate name of Cleaver. It suited the man, who was as big as Styles, with fists the size of hams, and a hard face. But for all that, he had been the major beneficiary of Styles' deliberate loss, and was feeling no pain. He laid a meaty arm around Styles' shoulder. "Fer a bloody lobster, yer ain't half bad." He drew in a boozy breath. "And yer a fine seaman ta boot."
"Been at it for the last ten years. What about you?"
"My Pa was a sailor. Took me ta sea when I was ten. Been in some good ships, and some bad ones."
"Aye, I know that. Whatcher think o' this one?"
Cleaver belched. "She's a good'un. Maiden voyage, skittish as a virgin if'n ya catch my drift."
Styles was not certain that he did entirely. "So ye' reckon she'll run, then?"
"Cap'n says she'll have to. Says the guns won't save us if the Frogs give chase."
"D'ye count on trouble then, mate?"
Cleaver snickered. "Can't not count on it with a cargo that's under lock and key -- and a marine holdin' up tha door."
Styles laughed as if he knew the joke. "So ya know what's in it, then?"
Cleaver's bloodshot eyes sharpened, and Styles cursed his clumsy interrogation. He'd nearly had him! Cleaver's hands took both of his shoulders and looked into his eyes, "Jools, mate. Chests'n'chests of jools." They were standing at Cleaver's hammock. He gave Styles a loopy grin. "Trust me, mate. That's what I saw." And then his knees buckled and Styles caught him beneath his arms and hoisted him into the hammock.
"Jools," Styles snorted to himself. "And I'm bloody King George." He went in search of Matthews to ask his opinion of Cleaver's drunken ravings. He was about to ascend to the deck, when Oldroyd caught his arm.
"Yeah, what you want, Oldroyd?"
"I saw you talkin' ta Cleaver. Did he tell you about the gold?"
"Gold is it? Cleaver swore t'was jools. They're all daft if you ask me. If they'd served in 'is Majesty's Navy, they'd be swearin' twas rum."
"What do you think it is?" Oldroyd asked, his blue eyes sparkling with curiosity.
"I think it's trouble, no matter 'ow yer look at it. So mind yer manners, Oldroyd, else you'll 'ave us all at the gratings." He swung himself up the ladder. "Go ta bed, boy. Ye'll need yer rest."
It was cold on deck, and Styles wished he had his old peajacket with him. He rubbed his arms and paced the length of the Skylark, his eyes searching for Matthews. He found him standing at the rail amidships. Someone had loaned him a wool jacket that seemed several sizes too large, but looked warm. "Hey, mate." He touched his shoulder.
"Matty, I tell ye, I gave up a mighty fine pot o' winnings for a bunch of fairy tales."
"What d'ye mean?"
"Gold and 'jools'! That's what the crew thinks is on board."
To his surprise, Matthews did not seem to find the idea so preposterous. "Oh, aye?" he said simply.
"Ye don't think ..."
Matthews shook his head. "I'll tell Mr. 'ornblower. See what he says. Gold, jools, treasure. It's trouble, Styles. Truth or not." He turned to face the quarter-deck where Hornblower was standing with Lieutenant Carlyle. The lad looked cold and alone, standing with his hands behind his back and braced against the motion of the waves. As if he sensed Matthews' eyes on his, Hornblower nodded slightly, and Matthews raised his knuckles in a salute. They would talk later.
Hornblower and Matthews finished up their watch at the same time. Horatio saw Matthews acknowledge his replacement and start belowdecks. As Archie and Captain Campion came up to the quarter-deck, Horatio saluted and he and Lieutenant Carlyle formally stood down from their watch. Horatio slipped the cloak he had been wearing from his shoulders and handed it to Archie. "You'll need it."
Archie took it and slung it over his shoulders. "Thank you, Horatio. Now get below before the cold hits you. I'll see you in the morning."
Horatio caught a glimpse of reluctance in Archie's eyes. Evidently he was not looking forward to spending time on watch with Campion. It was unavoidable, however. Horatio tried to smile, but the cold was already making his teeth chatter, and he feared it looked more like a grimace than a grin.
He followed Carlyle down to the wardroom, where a servant poured them both mugs of steaming grog. Horatio did not care for the beverage but the warmth was welcome. He wrapped his fingers around the mug, letting the heat ease the ache in his fingers. He wondered if he would fall victim to the cruel arthritis that had crippled his father. Hardly a cheering thought. Most likely it was nothing more than the chill of an Atlantic autumn. He finished his grog with a sigh. "Well, I'm ready for a night's rest. Goodnight, Mr. Carlyle."
"God, Hornblower. You've seniority on me, I'm sure. Carlyle or Ross, when we're not on duty."
Horatio nodded. "Goodnight, Carlyle." He left the wardroom, but instead of heading to his berth, he turned towards the crew's quarters. He was nearly there, when Matthews stepped out of the shadows.
"Mr. Hornblower, sir. Ye wanted to see me?"
"Yes, Matthews. Is there anything to report?"
"Styles 'eard some rumours, sir. Summat about the cargo. The Skylarks seem to think it's some sort o' treasure. Gold and jewels, or the like."
Horatio's brows rose. "What do you think, Matthews?"
"T'would explain the guard, sir. Can't imagine what else would be worth the trouble."
"The question is why? Where did it come from? And where is it going?"
"Can't answer that, sir. I don't think the crew knows. Mebbe the officers?"
"They're damnably close, Matthews." Horatio sighed. "Thank Styles for his efforts."
"Cost him a pretty penny, sir." Matthews grinned.
"Tell him I'll make it up to him when we get back to the Indy."
"Aye, aye, sir. Goodnight." He knuckled his forehead, and slipped silently into the darkness. Horatio returned to the berth. He took off his shoes and his coat, but lay in his hammock fully dressed otherwise. He was asleep within minutes.
On deck, Archie stood beside Nicholas Campion. Thankfully, the captain was occupied with the log and Mr. Pyne's reports on the ship's navigation. Even after he joined Archie at the rail, it was a while before he spoke.
"I found your story at dinner most remarkable, Mr. Kennedy."
"Sir?" Archie knew what Campion was working towards, and he did not like it. "What part of the story do you mean? My portion was very dull."
"I did not find it so. You were in prison for a very long time, Mr. Kennedy, yet you survived."
"Yes." Archie hoped the heat he felt rising in his face was hidden by the darkness.
"Why were you not paroled? Surely an exchange could have been arranged."
Archie looked out over the glittering waters. The only answer to that was the truth. "I tried to escape, sir. Five times. And each time they moved me farther from England. No one could find me. It was assumed I had died."
"Someday you'll have to tell us your adventures."
Archie swallowed. "No, sir. That is the past, and I have no desire to relive it in any form."
The vibrating tension in his voice made Campion look sharply at him. So, that was the reason for the protective attitudes of the Indefatigables towards this young man. But did he need protection? The French prisons were notorious. Kennedy must be stronger than he looked to have survived through those years. Campion hoped that his strength would withstand the dangers that threatened this voyage.
"Then I will not ask," Campion reassured him. "Do you regret that all the while you were in prison, Mr. Hornblower was earning his reputation?"
This time Archie was openly puzzled. "His reputation?"
Campion laughed softly. "I know he has one, Mr. Kennedy! I've overheard the men talking about him."
"The men worship him, sir. And with good reason. He has always put their lives and safety above his own. He is brave as a lion, and entirely trustworthy. We would die for him."
"You count yourself in that, and yet you have not seen him for three years?"
"Yes, sir. Without reservation. I owe him that much." Despite his puzzlement over Campion's questions, Archie could not hide his emotions. They shone in his blue eyes, clear as the moonlight on the waters. Campion nodded his comprehension.
"Thank you, Mr. Kennedy."
"For answering my questions."
"Answering them was not hard, sir. But understanding them is another matter." Campion sighed, an oddly wistful sound that surprised Archie. "Sir?" he asked. "Is there something wrong with the Skylark?"
"No, Mr. Kennedy. Not at this moment. As for tomorrow, who can say?" He shrugged but declined to comment further. He turned away, and with his hands linked behind his back in the habit of every Naval officer Archie had ever known, resumed pacing the quarter-deck.
The rest of the watch was passed with only a few sentences spoken between them; as if Campion's inquisitive mood had been thoroughly dampened by his concerns. At the end of four hours, Archie was very glad to surrender his post and make his way to the berth. He undressed as quietly as he could and clambered into the hammock. Horatio seemed to be sleeping soundly, but just as Archie settled, he spoke in a whisper.
"How was your watch with Captain Campion?"
"The inquisition continued for a bit." Archie looked at Horatio, but could only see the faint sheen of his shirt glimmering in the dim light. "He asked me about you."
"What did he want to know?"
"A question of character." He heard Horatio groan. "You passed with flying colours."
Archie was silent for a moment, trying to find the words to express his impressions. "I think he is facing a problem, Horatio. It was almost as if he were asking for help, without wanting to say why. But I think he will tell us, soon."
"I hope it is before we are blown out of the water," Horatio managed to sound sleepy and cross at the same time. "Goodnight, Archie."
"Were you serious just now?"
"Deadly. But there is no use worrying about it until the morning." He turned over in the cot. Archie closed his eyes, determined that he would sleep even though his thoughts were chasing through his mind like clouds driven before a coming storm.
Horatio was jolted away by the sound of a drum beating to quarters. He lay in his cot, his heart hammering and his body tensed, uncertain if he were still dreaming. His disorientation lasted only a few seconds before instinct kicked in and he was out of bed, shoving his feet into his shoes and pulling on his jacket. He reached over to shake Archie's hammock.
"Archie! Hands to quarters!" Kennedy's reflexes had forgotten the routine over the three years spent in prison. He shot upright, his eyes bleary and filled with confusion. "Quarters?"
"Yes! Come on!" Horatio was out the door and into the companionway before Archie rolled out of his hammock. Once awake however, he was dressed and on deck less than two minutes after Horatio.
Horatio bolted up to the quarter-deck. Campion stood there, his reddish hair hanging loose and his uniform awry. He too, had been startled awake. He was peering through his spyglass at the horizon. Horatio shaded his eyes from the morning sun, and squinted. He could pick out a slash of white to starboard. A sail. "What is it, sir?" he asked Campion.
"A brigantine, I think. I cannot see her colours." He handed the spyglass to Horatio. "What can you see?"
Horatio put the glass to his eye, and the narrow slash of white broadened and resolved into sails, square-rigged on masts and spars. He could not make out the ship itself. "Square-rigged, sir. Her sail plan indicates French, or perhaps Dutch. I cannot determine if she is flying colours. She may be choosing anonymity."
"A privateer, then?" Campion said grimly.
"Yes, sir. Most likely." Horatio spoke calmly, but his hand shook a bit as he handed the telescope to Archie. "Take a look."
Archie opened the scope and peered through the lens. It had been a long time since he had done so, and the magnification seemed strange. The ship he saw was still unidentified, but her strakes looked red on black. He had seen such markings on Dutch ships sailing into La Rochelle during his captivity. "Dutch, sir. I'm fairly certain."
"I don't believe so, sir. She still has not hoisted a pennant."
Campion's head came up as if to scent the wind. "Spread more canvas, Mr. Pyne. This wind favors us on this tack. We shall try to outrun her."
"Aye, aye, sir." Pyne roared out the order and the crew sprang into life. Horatio saw Styles up the mainmast, followed by the Bosun's mate -- what was his name? Cleaver, that was it.
"Shall I alert the gunners, sir?" Ross Carlyle came up to the quarter-deck looking as disheveled as Campion.
"Yes. Prepare to run out the guns, but do not do so, unless I deem it necessary. Let's see if the Skylark can fly away home." Even as he spoke, the extra yardage of sail began to make itself felt. The Skylark sprang forward, responding like a fine thoroughbred to the touch of a spur. Horatio felt the vibration through the soles of his shoes. He turned to Archie and saw exhilaration in his eyes. It was a shock to recall that Archie, who had every reason to hate the Navy, loved the sea.
Archie looked at Horatio. "Now, I feel I am free," he said.
"Well, you won't if that Dutchman begins firing on us," Horatio said. "And I for one would like to know why." He did not lower his voice, but let Campion hear his comment. He saw Campion and Carlyle exchange worried glances, and knew that he had hit a nerve. He continued relentlessly, his dark gaze focused on Campion's. "Sir, if I am to risk my life and the lives of my men, I have a right to know the reason."
Campion nodded shortly. "Carlyle, the deck is yours. If we begin to lose distance, let me know immediately. Come below, Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy. You are right, I owe you an explanation."
They followed him to his cabin. The canvas covers had been removed from the cannons, and his furniture broken down. Campion stood gazing out of his stern windows for a moment, as if gathering his thoughts. Then decisively, he turned back to them and spoke. "The Skylark is carrying the equivalent of one million British pounds in her main cargo hold."
"My God!" Horatio gasped. For a moment the enormity of what lay beneath his feet left him rather giddy. He risked a glance at Archie and read the same shock in his face. "Why?"
Campion drew a breath. "I am just a humble seaman and the ways of kings and presidents is somewhat beyond my ken. But briefly, this is the explanation I was given when I was asked to undertake this mission."
"In the last year, five American merchant ships have been seized by French privateers, the vessels and their crews held for ransom. Our country is not rich, not by the standards of the Old World. We cannot let our ships and men rot in French prisons. Mr. Kennedy, I am sure you can appreciate that sentiment if anyone can."
Archie nodded, and Campion continued. "The Portuguese, on the other hand, are wealthy, but find themselves menaced constantly by the Spanish and French. Their Navy is not nearly the power it once was. They would petition the British for aid and protection for their ships but cannot do so openly, lest they rouse the wrath of their enemies to fever pitch and violate their neutrality. The British are a mighty sea power but maintaining that supremacy is extraordinarily expensive. As an officer in that Navy, you must be aware of the financial burdens, Mr. Hornblower." Campion paused, whether for effect or to gather his thoughts was unclear, but when he continued, his voice was steady.
"It is my commission to carry the payment from the Portuguese government to the British crown. Upon receipt of said monies, His Majesty's navy will provide limited escorts to Portuguese convoys both in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The sum of One hundred thousand American dollars will be paid to the French, to ransom the captive vessels and their crews. Your Navy will be able to commission and build ships to defend against her enemies. It is a very delicate balance and the fulcrum on which it rests is the Skylark."
Horatio released his breath. He had not even been aware that he was holding it. "And you believe that the Dutch privateer is pursuing us because of this cargo?"
"Oporto is a microcosm of Europe, Mr. Hornblower. I am afraid that despite all precautions, someone has discovered the truth and has decided to parlay that knowledge into gold."
Standing next to Horatio, Archie was aware that his body had stiffened with tension, and when he glanced over, he saw the taut set of Horatio's jaw. He was angry, shaking with it. He would not show it openly to Campion, but Archie knew all the signs.
Horatio looked past Campion to the expanse of ocean visible through the cabin windows. "Sir, you suspected that this might happen?"
"Yes. A wise captain must foresee every circumstance, don't you agree, Mr. Hornblower?"
Horatio ignored the latter part of the question. "And yet you allowed my men and myself to place ourselves in jeopardy in ignorance of the dangers?"
"I was short of crew, and you offered nine prime seamen *and* two experienced officers. What would you have done in my place? Perhaps I was not playing fair, but I felt I had no choice."
Horatio suddenly recalled Captain Romero, of the ship that had captured La Reve. He had accused Horatio of playing fast and loose with the rules of war. Horatio's response had been, *I play to win.* Apparently, so did Campion.
He felt his outrage drain away at the realization, only to be replaced by the more familiar gnawing anxiety of responsibility. He could imagine too easily the deck of the Skylark awash with English blood; the blood of his men, of Archie, of himself. The thought made him feel ill.
Before he could respond in any fashion, a hail came from deck. The privateer was tacking. Campion raced up the companionway, followed closely by Horatio and Archie. The captain had his spyglass to his eye, but already Horatio could see that the Dutch ship was nearer than it had been. Campion gave orders to sheet more sail, and hands hurried aloft to unfurl the topsails and topgallants. The Skylark responded, and in a few minutes, the Dutchman was again a smudge of white on the horizon.
Archie turned to Horatio. "Can we outrun them?"
Horatio looked from Archie concerned face to Campion's fierce one. "He thinks we can. And I wouldn't bet against it." But a worried frown furrowed his forehead.
"What are you thinking, Horatio?"
"I'm thinking of sheep, and dogs."
Horatio did not answer Archie, but turned instead to Campion. "Sir, I suggest you have another man keep a watch to larboard."
Campion cocked a sandy brow, and for a moment, Horatio remembered that he was at least ten years younger than Campion, and a lowly lieutenant in the British fleet. But he would speak his mind, especially since alarm bells were clanging relentlessly. "Sir, that Dutchman has the sails and skill to draw much nearer, if that is what he desires. I am thinking that he is not alone and that we are being shepherded towards another, more dangerous enemy."
Horatio met Campion's steady gaze. He would not back down from his conviction, nor allow his doubts to erode his confidence in this matter. Campion nodded. "Very well. Mr. Pyne, have a lookout posted to larboard. I want any sighting, even if you think it is nothing more than a shadow, reported immediately."
"Aye, aye, sir."
The captain took another look at the Dutch brig, now a smudge on the horizon, but still keeping pace at a distance. "And don't neglect our friend Hans to starboard."
Campion turned to Lieutenant Carlyle. "We had better have a hot breakfast. If that brig draws nearer, the cook will have to douse the fires." He shot Horatio and Archie a hooded glance. "Gentlemen, I suggest you join us."
"Aye, aye, sir." Horatio replied. He and Archie followed their hosts to the captain's cabin. Horatio still felt queasy, but hoped that some breakfast would weigh down his stomach. It might be a while before he had a chance for hot food again.