Chapter 2, Captain Kennedy, Part 1
Archie was in the Captain's Cabin--HIS Cabin, on Sophia, staring at his surroundings in more than slight amazement. He felt like a visitor; it was hard to convince himself that he would be sleeping in that clean little bed in the corner this evening, and not retiring to the cramped quarters he shared with Horatio.
"Actually, it is very doubtful I do much sleeping at all." He murmured, for his head was full of worries and concerns, not to mention his pending exam. A collection of powders...willow bark, feverfew, and valerian, rested on a shelf, a gift from Drew. The young man knew his friend well enough to understand the pitfalls he would be facing in his first ever command, sailing with an unknown crew.
He had cornered Drew shortly after learning of his journey. "What if I have a fit? What if I feel one coming on?"
Drew paused. "Are you taking any of Indefatigable's crew with you, or shall it be all Sophia?"
Shaking his head, Archie replied, "It's not even a full crew; half men from Sophia, the other half men reassigned from Dunbarton. None from the Indy except Rees and myself."
"And Rees is hardly in much condition to help you..." Drew chewed this over. "I would suggest you size up your men quickly, Archie, and pick one you feel is reliable. I think it is unlikely you should be stricken, but if you do feel one coming, it is best to have a man you can trust by your side."
Well and good for Drew to be so complacent about the likelihood of a fit. But after eight hours under weigh, he was unsure of his men. He was certain he lacked whatever innate ability Horatio and Pellew had to size a human being up.
In front of him he had the notes left to him by Mr. Bracegirdle. Bracie's crew had included only half of the men he now had on board here, for Clark had been given permission to transfer several of his men to Dunbarton. But Archie was grateful for his advice on those he had commanded, and he skimmed those on his officers now:
"Steven Grayson, Ship's Master. Age: Fifty. Years of service:
A most capable man, Mr. Kennedy, second only to Bowles in knowledge, and I believe he might even give Bowles a run for his money (but if you ever tell him I said so I will have your hide, Sir!). His only defect is a lamentable lack of humor. He will not entertain you and will find no joy in a Captain's dinner, but he could sail his way through a hurricane and emerge without a scratch or a torn canvas!
Midshipman Colin Owens, Age: 17, years of service: four.
He's a sturdy young chap who more than makes up for Grayson's lack of mirth. Too much so, on occasion, as I was forced to have him disciplined for playing a prank on the old Doctor that nearly sent the man into palpitations (he placed a live lobster in his bed). He was properly chastised afterwards but showed no signs of having his high spirits in any way curbed. On duty he follows orders and has keen instincts, but in idleness he will be a handful I warn you!
Midshipman Paul Wheeler, Age 15, years of service: two. This lad was sent over to me by Pellew from Dunbarton. Like most of his Mids, Strong had apparently beaten the boy into a near constant state of terror. Pellew felt a change of ship most advisable in his case, for he was the only Mid who would actually speak out to him about Strong's character and the events leading up to our battle with the Spanish. And though there was no love loss for the deceased, Pellew knew that such candor might not make the boy popular with his shipmates. The boy himself reminds me a bit of Hornblower, but that may just be his looks; he's tall and serious, and full of Greek poets! I think he has the makings of a fine officer, if he can recover from Dunbarton.
Ship's Doctor Alexander Crane. Sober. Learned. And almost Eighty
years of age! It is unfortunate; he's served as doctor on ships
since his twenties and has seen more wounds than can be believed.
However, how much of any of them he remembers is a minute-by-minute
bet, and even when he does remember, his hand cannot always be
trusted to execute his thoughts! A good and decent man, though."
Archie tapped the papers. Bracegirdle went on to describe various men and petty officers. But Archie had decided the Doctor was his best hope of a confidant. That, and, of course, young Rees.
The corners of his mouth turned upward. The lad was still hurting from his lost limb; imaginary pains that Johnson said were not uncommon in an amputation. And he must take it easy. But Rees had a sunny disposition, a need to smile and laugh. Drew and Hornblower had taken pains to amuse him while he was recovering; perhaps as much for their sake as his.
He was resting now; Archie had settled him in sick berth under Doc Crane's care. He was overwhelmingly grateful to Archie for the provisions he'd made on his behalf, and as a result Archie found himself rewarded with a devotion that might have been irritating if it were not so genuine.
There was only one unknown among the officers...a Midshipman who'd requested transfer off Dunbarton from Clark. Archie did not know for what reason, but perhaps like Wheeler he had bad memories of his service there. Archie was expecting him any moment; he'd decided that what Pellew would do with an unknown quantity was to investigate himself. And who better to emulate?
Hearing footsteps, Archie seated himself behind the small table that also served as a desk and tried to look Captain-ly. He hoped he succeeded. "Enter."
"Midshipman Robert Dawes. You requested to see me, Sir?"
Archie inhaled slowly. Dawes was thin, almost emaciated, yet wiry. His face was sharp, every feature defined as if sculpted, but was in such perfect proportion that he seemed almost regal. His thick blond hair was in a perfect queue. In a ballroom, Archie knew, he would be the topic of conversation among every female present; fans would tilt and voices would titter. And every man present would have the same reaction: danger ahead.
And was it his imagination, or was there more than a hint of Hunter in the inflection of that Sir?"
"Mr. Dawes." Archie had planned on having him take a seat, but decided to force him to remain at attention instead. "You have just transferred from Dunbarton to Sophia, I understand. You realize that there is no certainty of this commission once we reach Portsmouth?"
He smiled thinly. "I am certain that Sophia's Captain...her NEW Captain...will be able to make use of my capabilities...Sir."
Archie raised an eyebrow in his best Pellew fashion, speaking softly. "Well, at the moment, *I* am her new Captain, Mr. Dawes."
Dawes eyes grew to narrow slits even as he replied, "Oh, of course, Sir. I meant no disrespect."
Archie looked down at his file, reading their meager contents over in silence. Dawes. *Twenty-three years of age...older than I am. Perhaps he resents me? But then, Grayson is more than twice my age and has not displayed any resentment,* he thought, wondering how to proceed.
"How do you find conditions on Sophia so far, Mr. Dawes?" Archie shot out suddenly. "In your mess, for example?"
Dawes blinked; Archie realized the man had been surprised. "My mess mates are... young. But I...am used to being surrounded by younger officers. It is inconsequential."
Archie tilted his head up, his eyes drilling in to Dawes, trying to find the meaning behind his statement. "You, perhaps, would wish to have a mate more your own age?" He threw out casually, not looking at him, but listening for any change in inflection.
"Oh, no, Sir. I enjoy working with younger midshipman. Sharing the benefit of my experience."
Why was it so cold in here suddenly, Archie wondered?
"Very well. The wind is fair for England, and we shall be there in less than two week's time, no doubt." He felt as if he were trying to reassure himself. The uneasiness persisted in the presence of this man, who reminded him of...with a shudder, he drew himself together, and turned abruptly to Midshipman Dawes, a spark in his eyes that would have surprised many who knew him.
"Do not underestimate me, Mr. Dawes. I may be young, I may be only a Lieutenant, but I have been in the navy since I was twelve years old, and I have seen more types of men and officers...proper and otherwise...than you can ever dream of. I will not abide by any miscreant behavior on this ship, and believe me when I say I will know if it happens."
Dawes met his stare, his face pale, his eyes a bottomless pool. "Of course, Sir."
Archie nodded forcefully. "Remember it. You are dismissed."
Only after Dawes left did Archie let his guard down, sitting weakly in his chair. This man, he was certain, would be a problem. There was no record of any disciplinary actions in his record; no note from prior Captains that he was unruly. But Archie was as certain of the man's type as he was of his own name. Because staring into his eyes was like staring into Jack Simpson's all over again.
Archie hung his head down. "Not again. I cannot go through this again." He muttered, rubbing his temples. "Simpson is dead and good riddance. Why WOULD another one have to appear on this ship, at this time? Why me?" He could feel his head throbbing. Not the sort of headache that preludes a fit, thank God. But could not Drew have been wrong when he said they might not occur? A reminder of Simpson was exactly what had brought the last one on! And here, with his first command...his first command...
He pounded his fist suddenly on the table and looked up. "Archie, you fool. It is not the same! It is not the same because this time *I* am in charge!" He felt angry at his own momentary lapse into weakness. "Why me?" He thought, a bitter smile on his face. "Who better? You had best take care, Mr. Dawes. Whatever your game is, it ends here."
And with two purposes in mind, he headed for the sick berth.
The little old wizened man, bent with Rheumatism but smiling kindly, greeted Archie jovially. "Captain Kennedy! Welcome, welcome."
Startled at the use of the title, Archie quickly bade the man not to rise. "No need, Doctor Crane. I am likely to be a frequent visitor here and would not have you exerting yourself needlessly." He looked over to Rees, pleased to find him sleeping peacefully. "Our young guest is doing well."
Crane turned on his seat, nodding, grasping at the chair back with his knarled hands. "He is doing admirably, Captain. A neat bit of surgery, that was. Understand you have a couple of Doctors who are wizards over there on Indefatigable."
Archie sat on a vacant chair, between Rees and the doctor. "Yes, we are very fortunate."
"The one who Captain Clark called the boy Doctor sent me over some medicines here...strange group of herbs. I haven't seen some of these used since my boyhood, when all we had was the village apothecary. But they worked then; no reason they shouldn't work now."
"Yes, Mr. Brandon is a great one for unusual remedies, but the men on Indefatigable, myself included, swear by them."
There were a few moments of silence between them; Archie was considering how to broach some sensitive subjects to this near stranger.
Doc Crane had, of course, seen almost everything in his years of service. And for too many Captains to count. Some old, some young, none younger than Kennedy, though; even if he was really a Lieutenant...an acting one at that.
"Something is worrying you, Captain? Medically, perhaps?"
Archie met his eyes warily. "Why do you ask that Doctor?"
Crane shrugged. "Well, you seem far too comfortable in a sick berth, for one thing, yet you are whole; I would guess that you've had cause to see a few Doctors in your time."
With a sigh, he looked down at his hands. "You are very astute, Doctor. Since boyhood I have suffered from fits. They no longer occur frequently...the last happened when I was a prisoner in Spain. But I felt that, in unfamiliar surroundings, it would be best if I had somebody aware of the possibility."
Crane looked up at him, his head crooked to the side. "I'd not have guessed you had any infirmity at all, Mr. Kennedy. I can tell you after the action with the Spanish several of our old officers were amazed at your accomplishments. That does not speak of the behavior of a man subject to fits." He shook his head. "But then I've not made a history of studying these kinds of diseases. Rickets, scurvy, splinter-wounds, that's been my lot in life. Not that I've ever regretted it, but it leaves me feeling sometimes that the entire medical world has passed me by."
Archie nodded understandingly. "It's all right, Doctor. None of the so-called specialists were ever of much help to me, either. One advised that my family simply put me in an asylum." He shoved the painful memory away. "Instead I was sent to the Navy, which, as it turns out, ended up being the best thing that could have happened." Not that I saw it that way at the time, or for many years afterward, he added to himself.
"Well, Captain, what should I do if you are stricken?"
"Get me to my cabin and let it run its course; keep me comfortable, and then let me sleep it off." Archie knew there was not much else to happen; no medicines to give, only time that could work its magic. "There is one other thing, Doctor, on a completely different note."
"I want you to report to me immediately if anybody arrives in sick berth with any unusual injuries or ailments."
This was something Crane was unprepared for. "Ailments?"
"It's hard to explain. But I would appreciate a constant update from you, especially if any of the young men or boys seek treatment."
"Aye, Aye, Captain..." Crane obeyed orders willingly, but the frank curiosity was unmistakable.
Archie felt he'd said enough, though, and rose to leave. "Thank you, Crane. Captain Clark and Lieutenant Bracegirdle spoke very highly of you and I know I can count on you. Would that the Navy had more such Doctors!"
He had given the complement honestly, without thought, in a
casual manner. He was surprised to see the Doctor's eyes almost
misty, his face so full of pleasure at the statement that it took
years away. Archie left him thus, but his mind was full of the
revelation as he headed towards the quarterdeck. A simple compliment,
sincerely given, and it had meant so much, as much to the Doctor
as a compliment from Pellew meant to him. It was a valuable lesson
The early morning sun had not yet broken through the clouds, but the air on the quarterdeck was fresh, the wind was fair for England, and for August it was comfortable. A second perfect day was beginning as the sloop Sophia cut through the waters surely, on a precise course agreed upon by Archie Kennedy and the ship's master, Greyson. Beside him was Midshipman Owens, who true to his reputation, had already forced Archie to dress him down once.
Yesterday afternoon while NOT on watch, Archie had caught him hanging upside down from the riggings...
It had been a difficult situation for him. So early into the sail, he had not wanted to be branded as either a tyrant or a push-over. First of all, he had to get him down from there in one piece!
"Mr. Owens! Cease that behavior at once and report to me!" He had roared. Unfortunately it would happen that his voice broke slightly on the last word, curse it! How should his men ever take him seriously?
But Owens very agilely scampered down and came forward.
"Sorry, Sir. Didn't mean to upset you." He looked a bit sheepish and moved his neck about in his collar.
Clearing his throat, Archie said softly but with as much force as he could muster "I am not UPSET, Mr. Owens, I am thoroughly ashamed of you!"
Owens blinked, "Sir?"
Archie looked him up and down, trying hard to keep his face set in this very unnatural frown. "I said I am ashamed of you, Mr. Owens! Skylarking on deck is all very well and good, but your behavior was reckless, and furthermore, was fully visible to the entire crew! You are an OFFICER, Mr. Owens; the men look to your example. Yet a crewman who performed such a daredevil stunt would be subjecting himself to the CAT!"
Archie saw the young man literally blanch at that veiled threat. Of course Archie could never take a cat to a midshipman...hell, he wasn't even sure he could do it to one of the men! But Owens did not know him well enough, and in a world where he would be subject to the wanton wrath of any Captain, he could not discount the possibility.
"Do you intend on making the Navy your career, Mr. Owens?" He asked with acerbity.
"Y-yes, Sir." Owens stammered.
"I do not know of any official position within the Navy that requires officers hang upside down...do you, Mr. Greyson?"
Greyson evenly and without interest replied, "No, Sir."
Archie shook his head at the young man. "No, no, there isn't. Most likely because such an action made on a repeated basis could get one KILLED, and I believe there are enough instances where that might happen in a time of war."
With a sigh, he looked bitterly to the horizon, into the empty blue void, where somewhere the Indefatigable went on her rounds. "I do not think any Midshipman under Captain Pellew's watch would ever behave with such wanton disregard for the Uniform!" He said, with sad resignation. "Not only have you shamed the uniform, Mr. Owens, you have insulted me!"
Now literally shaking, Owens tried to speak, "Sir, I..."
With a stony glance, Archie quieted him. "No, Mr. Owens, it is too late for apologies. I had expected more from you, I must say, for in Mr. Bracegirdle's notes, he spoke of you as dutiful, with keen instincts." He purposely left off the bit about his being high-spirited. "Surely you cannot be the same man!"
Hanging his head in dejection, Owens said not a word, but waited for his punishment to be decided.
"Look at me when I speak to you." Archie said, firmly, without yelling.
Owens raised his head, standing at attention, and fighting for his composure.
"It is no doubt idleness that inspires your reckless behavior. If there is one ounce of value in you as an officer to be saved, that tendency must be curbed. Therefore, from this point on, when not at watch, at meals, or at sleep, you will report to the quarterdeck, where I will personally be assigning you lessons. You will complete those lessons on the quarterdeck, regardless of weather, until I believe you might be trustworthy enough to be permitted free time once more. Do I make myself clear?"
"Good. Then go fetch your books...I think Complete Book of Seamanship will do best, for a start, and report back to me.
Archie looked the boy over now, one day later. At this moment he was on watch, but uncertain of where he stood with this new Captain, he had been remarkably silent, answering when spoken to only.
Yet yesterday, in performing lessons, Archie had observed that the boy was indeed smart, though somewhat shaken. Today Archie already had several problems in mind to work out with the boy; in fact, he looked forward to it. It could only help him with his own upcoming exam.
"A nice piece of work with that navigational problem yesterday." He volunteered.
With a bit of a start, Owens replied, "Thank you, Sir. It seemed logical." He blushed slightly.
"We shall see if I cannot do a better job of stumping you today, eh?"
Flushing, Owens scarcely knew what to reply. "I...have been studying, Sir."
"Oh, so, you don't think you'll be easily mislead? We'll see about that." He teased gently, permitting himself a slight smile.
Midshipman Dawes reported at that time, to relieve Owens. Archie nodded at him warily, then turned to a departing Owens. "I expect it to take you no longer than fifteen minutes to fetch your books, Mr. Owens."
And not quite so frightened anymore, Owens responded with a brisk, "Yes, Sir. I shall return immediately." And he scampered away, to the unseen amusement of his Captain.
Archie caught the sneer on Dawes' face. "Have you a comment, Mr. Dawes?" He snapped.
The proper answer, of course, would have been, "No, Sir."
Naturally, nothing proper was forthcoming. Archie expected nothing more, since yesterday he had complained ceaselessly about the hour of his watch. "You ought to reinforce that lesson, SIR. It's the only way he'll learn."
Giving Dawes plenty of rope to hang himself, he asked him evenly, "Reinforce it how?"
"With the bosun, of course. That boy needs a proper beating to show him who is in control here."
Standing but inches from Dawes face, Archie whispered forcefully, "And just who is in control here, Mr. Dawes?"
Staring straight ahead at attention, Dawes finally came to his senses. "You are, Sir."
Archie looked him in the eye for some minutes, finally being rewarded by seeing the man flushed and discomfited. "Take care you remember it."
Just moments later Owens returned with his books. Archie turned to him, deciding on which problem to set him, as the boy found a seat on the steps leading to the deck. He did not miss the malevolent glance Dawes gave the younger man, nor did he miss the shiver that ran through Owens as he did so. Trouble here, if I am not careful, thought Archie.
And with a firm hand on Owens shoulder, he set him a chapter to study, giving his shoulder a slight squeeze as he leaned over him. He felt the boy calming down and focusing. "That's a good lad. See what you can tell me about this by the end of the watch."
"Aye, Aye, Sir."
Tired, and needing study himself, Archie could have retired to his own Cabin. But he would not leave the two of them up on the quarterdeck alone, and he stood his ground.
Again, he looked into the vast emptiness, and wondered where
Captain Pellew and the Indefatigable were right at this moment.
He drew strength from the thought that Pellew would have approved
of how he handled his little ship so far. And prayed that he might
continue to do so.
Later that evening, eyeing the prospects of a cold dinner alone in his Cabin, Archie decided to seek out company. After all, unlike Horatio, solitude sat badly with him; and though a Captain's life was supposed to be a lonely one, the change was too quick for him, and he would seek company somewhere.
And even Captain Pellew had been known to have a dinner with the Midshipmen, had he not?
So he headed for their berth, where Owens, Wheeler and Dawes, along with two younger ship's boys who did not yet qualify as Midshipmen, were quartered.
"Gentlemen..." He began, as he entered the berth, but then quickly stopped the rest of his greeting.
The strain in the berth was palpable, and yet, nothing visibly was amiss. Dawes sat at the head of the table; Owens, pale to the lips, was by his left side, sitting stiffly. The two younger boys, Jackson and Arthur, sat to Dawes' right; they looked frightened. That of course, could be the result of an unexpected visit from their Captain. Or it could have other implications They were just about twelve years old.
Just about twelve years old...
Archie took one final look at the last man, Wheeler. Wheeler's back had been to him as he entered; he'd half turned around on his approach. But the boy...who did bear an uncanny resemblance to Horatio...stared into space, lost in a world of his own. A look Archie knew too well.
"Permit me, Sir, as the Senior in the Midshipman's berth, to welcome you. Will you join us?" Dawes asked, with an almost civil smile. But there was nothing but coldness in the tiny room, nothing but despair.
I am not welcome here, he thought, with a bitter sting. And then realization dawned on him. It was with only one man who did not welcome him...the one who verbally took the most pains to be civil to him. Dawes. The other men were in a state of fear, but not from Archie. Of that he was certain.
And so, despite the very bad memories this was conjuring up, he sat next to Wheeler, whose rigid form turned back around, facing toward Dawes but looking beyond him.
Archie did look around at the food on everyone's plate. "You must all have been very hungry, gentlemen, to have such little food left in so short a time!" For nearly every plate contained no more than an ounce of beef, and a half cup of boiled potato. "Mr. Dawes, on the other hand, seems not so hungry." Archie met his eyes with meaning. For Dawes had more than a full share of provisions on his tablet, and Archie was fairly certain he knew where they came from.
Owens spoke tentatively. "Indeed, Sir. We are not so very hungry." Was there a plea in that voice, a plea to let well enough alone?
It was a fine line to walk. He had not caught Dawes in any actual mischief, there could be only suspicion. And he could not always be in the room with the boys. He must not let things escalate, but the wrong action could lead Dawes to retaliation, when he was not there to stop it.
"What a shame, Gentlemen. Perhaps tomorrow night, when I have you join me for dinner in my cabin, you will be hungrier. I have brought a few chickens with me from Indefatigable, and I believe cook will be able to prepare one for us." Blinking at Dawes, he continued. "Oh, but Mr. Dawes shall be unable to join us."
"Sir?" He said, too surprised to snarl.
"As you yourself said, Mr. Dawes, you are the Senior among the Midshipmen." God, how Archie hated uttering that phrase! "You complained to me yesterday morning of having such an early watch. I took your advice, and after reshuffling the men, I find that this hour would be the ideal time for your service. I must say, it was an excellent idea, and one better suited to your talents."
There was no answer for Dawes to give. Archie was, as far as the world was concerned, giving IN to his desires, not playing against them. He could not remonstrate. "I...thank you, Sir."
Archie nodded. "It was the least I could do." Yet. "Of course, I shall see to it that cook sends you down a share of chicken."
Dawes nodded. Then, looking about him, he got up to leave. "I expect you shall all be turning in shortly. But I will have Mr. Greyson look in on you, to ensure that you are sleeping, when he leaves his watch." He met Dawes' eyes steadily, hoping he took the message. "Gentlemen, I bid you good evening."
They rose to see him go, and Archie again noted the stiffness of Owens' movements.
England, he thought, as he left the berth, cannot come fast
He tried to take a nap, he really did. But the lurking feeling that all was not well on Sophia would not leave him, and though he dozed off for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes at a time, he kept awaking with a start, expecting the Doctor to report some incident, or have one of his young men begging his assistance. Instead, there was silence.
Time ticked on. With only four officers and a skeleton crew, he had divided the watch into four six-hour shifts. It had been Owens from midnight to six; Dawes from six to noon, Greyson from noon to six, and then Wheeler from six to midnight. Tomorrow Dawes and Greyson would switch; Greyson had not minded...indeed, he seemed remarkably laconic about everything.
As the midnight hour passed, and he heard the watch change, with a quiet exchange between Wheeler and Owens, he decided to check the watch himself.
He saw Owens at attention, stiff and unmoving. Before Archie could make his presence known, he saw the young man pace a few steps to the side; his gait laborious. Bile rose in his throat; he was NOT wrong! He had been in the Navy long enough to see a Midshipman after being beaten by the bosun; once he HAD BEEN that Midshipman, back on Justinian. It was hard to avoid over one's career. And after a beating, especially a prolonged one, movement was difficult; indeed, walking could be excruciating, though one tried to bear it manfully. Owens had been beaten. But how?
With an oath under his breath, Archie went to seek out the Bosun, Campbell, also on duty late. But to his surprise the man denied ever laying a hand on anyone since the voyage began!
"Though, Sair...I did notice my cane was absconded with fer a bit."
"When?" Archie asked tersely.
"I noticed gone just afore dinner. It turned up again about half an hour after."
Closing his eyes, Archie counted to ten before he could trust himself to speak again. "Mr. Campbell, do not let it out of your sight again. And I want it understood that it is not to be used without my express order, that you hear from my lips!"
"Aye, Sair. I would na do so!" Campbell replied, in frank surprise.
Returning towards the quarterdeck, Archie pondered his response to this effrontery. There was no question in his mind that Dawes had decided to take the disciplining of Mr. Owens into his own hands, when his Captain had declined to do so. But there would only be proof if Owens would speak out. And why should he, to Archie? After all, it was known that Archie was not to keep this command; his was only to sail her to England. A new Captain would have Sophia; the crew would be increased, but in all likeliness these men would remain with her. They would remain...together...under different, and perhaps indifferent watch. Why should Owens trust him?
He saw the young man on the deck, and approached softly. "Good Evening, Mr. Owens." He said, with a gentleness and a sadness that Horatio or Drew could have read. But to the lonely young man, a new world of despair opening before him, there was no such understanding.
"Good evening, Sir. I did not expect to see you above decks so late," he said evenly, not moving from his rigid stance.
Archie stood beside him with a sigh. "I find sleep hard to come by, with such responsibility ahead of me..." he murmured to the sky. "You have served on Sophia your entire time at sea, Mr. Owens?"
"Yes, Sir. All four years."
"For Captain Clark?"
"No. Another Captain, Captain Black, was here for my first two years. He retired. He was a fine man."
"I see. And why did you not transfer with Captain Clark?"
Archie thought he saw the boy swallow once. "I wished to, but I had a long talk with him at the time. We thought...we all thought...that Mr. Bracegirdle would be continuing here, and Captain Clark did not want to deprive him of all Sophia's experienced men. I know this ship, you see. And I had...no objection to serving with Mr. Bracegirdle."
"I understand." Archie closed his eyes. Dawes was the wild card in all of this, what neither Clark or Bracegirdle could have foreseen, for he had been one of Strong's men. With Clark's reputation, it was not surprising Dawes had chosen to transfer, preferring the uncertain future of Sophia to the sudden appearance of a capable Captain. Evil, thought Archie, breeds on chaos.
"Get yourself to sick berth, Mr. Owens." Archie said, turning to him.
"Sir?" Owens was wide-eyed with fear.
"You are...feverish. Tell Doctor Crane I told you so. You must have some sleep, Mr. Owens, and it is obvious to me that you had none after dinner."
"But the watch..."
"I shall keep it, Mr. Owens. I should not be sleeping much myself anyway." He turned to the young man directly. "Get yourself to a bed in sick berth, I say. That is an order!" he added kindly.
And with a moment of understanding, the boy nodded. "Thank you, Sir." And he slowly moved away.
Archie looked to the confused bosun, standing not far off. "Follow him down. Make sure he obeys my order...unimpeded."
"Aye, Sir." Campbell paused to look at him. "Sair, he's not a bad lad, a bit high spirited, but not bad."
Campbell, too, had been one of Clark's men. "I know that.
Now, if you please, follow him." He said, a bit harshly.
And under his breath, for only the stars to hear, he sighed, "Men
like Dawes do not sleep, but lay in wait for moments such as this."
As Campbell's footsteps echoed away, Archie uttered a silent prayer. Captain Pellew. Help me now, if you please. I see ship, but not my actions; I know the darkness, but do not see how to raise the light.
The night wore on slowly, and exhaustion, aided by worry, began to overcome Kennedy. By the time he was relieved by a surprised Greyson, he was looking forward to his bed. "Keep the order, Mr. Greyson. Report any unusual occurrence to me."
And he had stumbled into his bed, and slept the sleep of the dead, for five hours.
Rising and breakfasting late, he arrived back on the quarterdeck both refreshed and angered, and above all determined. It was the same moment that Dawes was taking over the noon to six watch.
"Mr. Dawes. Good day to you!" He said, with no attempt at cheer, or at disguising his disgust.
Dawes was unmoved. "Sir."
"Interesting development, last night. Seems the bosun's cane went missing for a bit."
"I would not know about that, Sir."
"No, no, of course you would not." Archie said, with no conviction. "I did not expect that you should. Undoubtedly it was a prank from one of the young men. However, I would not like to see it go missing again. And, as you point out, you are the senior among them..." He spat out, venom in every word. "Therefore, should any further incident arise, you must bear the responsibility, and I will see you at the gratings, to bear the punishment yourself."
Dawes' mouth hung open. "You cannot do that!"
"Can I not? Take it up with Admiralty then, should you still be alive when we get to England." Archie knew his anger was overcoming him, but God help him, he could not stop. "Remember, before this was my ship, it was Clark's, not Strong's, and the majority of the men on board her were his as well. I knew the man well enough to know you would not have lasted one week in his service. I would not question where the loyalty of the men would rest should it be tested."
The two men stared each other down. Archie was two years younger. But he was in the right, he was certain of it. Dawes would not prevail. He had survived worse than this; this time he was fighting for men who could not fight for themselves.
There was a flicker, then, in Dawes' eyes. A momentary glimpse into a world of pain that Archie understood too well. But the shutters came down quickly, and the empty, voided gaze was back. He was not even sure if he had not imagined the brief change, and had no time to process it before Dawes' unemotional reply. "I understand you well, Captain. There will be peace in the midshipman's berth."
Archie scoured his face for any of the sneering insolence of Simpson, and found none. It surprised him. Is this all it would have taken to keep Simpson in check? A Captain with a firm hand at the outset of his malevolence? He had so long thought of Simpson as everything evil, he had ceased believing the man had been stoppable by anything other than a shot from Pellew's musket. Perhaps, then, Dawes was not so far down that path as he had feared.
Backing away slowly, his eyes never left that empty face, devoid of emotion and feeling. Of course, they would be in England in little more than a week, the way the trip was going. Dawes would have free reign once more. If only it were Bracegirdle retaining her command, Archie could be assured of speaking and being heard. As it was, once in England, Archie would be walking away from Sophia forever.
Perhaps Dawes realized the same thing, for within his frozen features came the barest hint of a smile.
Worn out and exhausted with worry, Archie sat in his small cabin pretending to see the book before him. He finally understood what Horatio had been trying to tell him all these weeks...passing your exam for Lieutenant was, in the scheme of things, as relative to being a good leader as being a good dancer was to being a good husband. You might attract the attention of a woman through those dancing skills, but it took far, far more than that to achieve a happy marriage. Likewise, his situation on Sophia was a far more difficult test of his leadership than any group of Captains on an exam board could ever dream up.
The situation with Dawes was...stable. No better, no worse. He had not, to Archie's knowing, tormented any of the young men further. Archie's threats...and his convincing performance of a mad man with no regard for regulation...had convinced Dawes to mind himself. For now.
Trouble was, with the wind fair and nary an enemy in sight, he would not be in command of Sophia for much longer. It was uncertain what Admiralty had in mind for her, and in truth it was not supposed to be his worry. But worry he did. It was a matter of conscience. He could not turn his back from a situation as potentially explosive as the one that had nearly destroyed him. Not and live with himself, anyway.
And the truth was, he had gotten fond of the young men working for him the past week.
Owens, as long as he was kept busy enough to keep out of mischief, was a willing and able worker. He had a good rapport with the men of his division, and they were in turn loyal to him. He had the knack of easy conversation with those bellow him AND above him. And he was eager to learn, grateful for the instruction. Ironically, what Archie had intended as punishment had instead been a gift for the boy; Greyson, it seemed, had not been as good a teacher as he was a Master.
Before long, Wheeler, hanging about, had joined their lessons, and soon the younger boys were there as well. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Archie, not so very much older than themselves, was able to explain the problems without making them feel stupid in the process.
Wheeler reminded him more and more of an unhappy cross between Horatio and himself-a man with all of Horatio's natural solitude, and Archie's emotional fragility: a bad combination. He had been a shipmate of Dawes back on Dunbarton, and Archie suspected something had passed between them; he doubted that Strong would have been capable of or even interested in stopping the dangerous behavior Dawes might have exhibited.
He slammed the book shut with disgust. "Might. Possible. Suspected. But I have no proof, none which I can use to remove him from harm's way." He muttered. And this was an answer not to be found in any book of seamanship.
The knock at the door startled him, and he straightened up, opening his logs, and trying to look official. "Enter."
"A word with you, Captain?"
Archie's stomach twisted as old Doc Crane hobbled in. "Yes, Doctor...Please, do sit." He looked about his cabin in search for something he might offer the old man. "Can I pour you a glass of claret? A gift from my own Captain before I departed..."
Crane looked tired and worried, but he smiled at this. "I would be a fool to turn down Pellew's claret, Mr. Kennedy. And what I have to report might make it a necessity for both of us."
His hand shook slightly as he poured the liquid into two tin cups. With forced cheer, he quipped, "Sad vessels for such fine liquid, I am afraid; like putting Nelson in charge of a barge."
Silently the Doctor took the cup, and with a sigh sipped it appreciatively. "I thank you, Captain Kennedy." He stared into its depths morosely. "I regret to inform you that your unusual injury has happened."
Archie could not force down even a drop of wine; indeed, he was afraid if he parted his lips he might lose his meager supper entirely. Gripping the side of the desk, he finally whispered, "How bad, Doctor? Was it...who...was it what I am thinking?"
His eyes looking up from the cup, his brow furrowed, the Doc shook his head. "I do not know what you were thinking, Captain. But Mr. Wheeler has two badly bruised ribs, and a near perfect boot-shaped mark on his side. One of his men brought him to me from his watch, as he was having difficulty breathing."
"No other marks?" Archie asked with a swallow.
"Will he tell you who did it?"
"Do you need to ask?"
"Unfortunately I do, Sir, for my hands are tied otherwise." Archie ran his hands over his head in exasperation. "But I assume Mr. Wheeler will not speak." With a sudden jerk of his head, Archie realized something further. "Who has the watch, Doctor?"
"Campbell took it over. He is experienced, I can assure you; we have not often had a full compliment of men here to lean on."
He hung his head in his hands, tugging at the fringes of his hair that framed his face. "Doctor, I must confess myself to be at a loss. I believe Mr. Dawes to be responsible, but if Mr. Wheeler will not tell me so, what am I to do?"
The Doctor turned his head slightly. "The usual procedure would be to punish a man for fighting if he will not reveal with whom he fought."
Looking up sharply, Archie saw before him the image of Horatio, strung up in the riggings for two watches, during a freezing gale. Heard Simpson's laugher, warm and snug in the midshipman's berth, at Horatio's plight. He, too, had had cracked ribs, multiple bruises, cuts and welts...but could not trust his officers to reveal the culprit. Why should Wheeler trust him?
"Doctor, would you recommend a man with damaged ribs be confined to the riggings? I cannot believe that would be good for his health," he snapped.
Crane smiled. "Indeed I would not, and am glad to see you intend no such thing."
Rising with a sigh, Archie grabbed his coat. "I must speak to him. He had the courage to be forthright about Strong with Pellew...perhaps he WILL talk to me."
Crane rose behind him. "I pray, for everybody's sake, that you are right, Mr. Kennedy."
So, thought Archie, do I.
At his request, Crane let him enter the sick berth alone. Rees was sleeping lightly, almost fully back to health and learning every day a bit more about coping with one arm. Archie stood beside him for a moment, touching his head, pulling the light coverlet up further, before approaching Wheeler.
If Wheeler noticed, he said nothing. He lay immobile on the second cot, his head turned towards the wall. He was naked to the waist, a compress of cloths soaked in cool water against his injured side. Tiredly, Archie pulled a stool over to him, and sat down.
"Mr. Wheeler," he began tentatively. "I am here to see if you will tell me who did this to you..."
Wheeler did not turn. With pained breathing, he replied, "Nobody, Sir. I...fell."
Archie could not but smile despite the tears springing to his eyes. "An original excuse, Mr. Wheeler. And I do not believe it to be any more true now than it was the first time I heard it."
Slowly the head turned on its thin pillow, dark hair disheveled, eyes pained. "Sir?" He asked, puzzled.
Blinking, Archie nodded. "Aye, my best friend used such an excuse once. Because we all knew he would feel the wrath of the culprit even worse if he were to turn him in. And because he would not do so, he was tied up in the riggings for eight hours in the midst of a gale. An unpleasant place to find yourself, especially with injured ribs, Mr. Wheeler." He added gently.
Wheeler turned back to the wall. "I do not care, Sir."
Archie touched his shoulder. He could only keep trying. "Mr. Wheeler, I do not intend on having you punished in this instance. No doubt by the book I ought to, but I know...I KNOW...that it does no good for you to suffer more for what you cannot control." He drew a deep breath. "After the fight with the Spanish, when Captain Pellew went over to Dunbarton, he said you were one of the few men willing to speak openly about Strong. Can you not speak just as openly with me?"
Wheeler's eyes closed; Archie thought his cheeks looked wet, but declined to embarrass him by calling attention to the fact. Finally, he spoke.
"Captain Pellew over-estimated me, I am afraid. I told him what he needed, but certainly not all. And even then, he told me he would get me away from the situation on Dunbarton. And where do I find myself now?" He swallowed and then turned back to Archie. "If Captain PELLEW could not help me, how can YOU, Sir?"
The words did not make Archie angry, they were so much what he was thinking himself. He patted the boy's shoulder one more time. "I understand, Mr. Wheeler; indeed, I understand perhaps better than you could ever realize. I am sorry you do not trust me, but hardly surprised." Wheeler opened his mouth as if to speak, then, hanging in indecision, shut it again. Archie smiled down at him.
"However, rest assured, Mr. Wheeler, I will help you. Some how, and in some way, I will see justice done. This conversation has done nothing more than make me even more determined on this point."
The boy's eyes followed him curiously, almost hopefully, but Archie said no more. Leaving sick berth, he did not notice Rees stirring, looking over towards Wheeler. His head was too full of how exactly he should follow through his promise.
Archie had issued orders the day after Wheeler's injuries for Dawes to be placed in the empty quarters that once housed the lone Lieutenant of Sophia. He did not care if the ship should perceive this as a reward; all that was material was that he should be removed from access to the young men around him.
And he followed that up by ordering a Marine to be stationed within ten feet of Dawes at all times. Damn the implication; Dawes would not be allowed complete idleness, ever; he should not be given access to the young men. And damaging to his own future or not, Archie had decided he would issue a full, scathing report on the man's behavior this voyage, including a recommendation to Sophia's new Captain that the man be discharged from service. Perhaps that would be too much to ask for, without cause or written complaint; indeed, it would be doubtful it would ever be complied with. But it would remain in the man's record; promotion would be unlikely.
As for Owens and Wheeler, he would ask for their transfer to any other vessel in port at the time. It disturbed him that he could not protect countless future young men from Dawes' influence, but at least he could protect these particular two.
England would be on the horizon soon, possibly by tomorrow afternoon. It was early afternoon, and Archie strode the quarterdeck behind Dawes, who had the watch. Wheeler and Owens were together, about twenty feet away, their heads bent over a navigational problem Archie had been working on with them. Rees, who seemed to take a particular liking to Wheeler, was about ten feet away from the two midshipman, trying to learn to tie a fisherman's bend with one hand, to regain some of the agility he'd once had.
"Well, Mr. Dawes, we shall be in England soon. No doubt you should be glad to be rid of me."
Dawes did not answer, but stared coldly on the horizon.
And Archie had had enough. Damn this man and his threat to the men of Sophia. He would have a confrontation, and he would have answers. And he would have them now.
Boldly, he continued. "I think it only fair to tell you, I believe you were responsible for the assaults on Owens and Dawes, and shall say as much in my report to Admiralty when we arrive in Portsmouth. Have you anything you wish to say to that?"
"You have no proof, Sir."
Controlling his anger, he could only respond, "No, indeed I do not, no proof other than experience and knowledge of what sort of a pit Dunbarton was. But even if my word cannot be acted on, it will cause others to watch you closely in the future."
"You know so much." Dawes spat out, for once letting himself slip from the stony demeanor he had put on for so long. "The truth is you know nothing at all."
"Then by all means, enlighten me, Mr. Dawes." Archie strode up next to him, and they stared at each other eye to eye.
Funny, Archie could see Dawes' uncertainty, his momentary hesitation. Then the sneer returned. "CAPTAIN Kennedy. It must be so easy for you, coming from Indefatigable, to judge me. You do not know me. You did not understand how we ran things on Dunbarton."
"If *running things* included an experienced midshipman beating up defenseless boys, then I do not APPROVE. And if it went farther than that..." Archie's voice held menace, and there was no doubt that Dawes took his meaning. "Then may GOD HELP YOUR SOUL, Sir."
Dawes was white, his lips pale and dry and his eyes wide. "Sir...who said...who..."
"Nobody said a damned thing to me, Dawes. I have eyes in my head, and...TOO much understanding of the situation."
Archie turned abruptly, shamed from his own admission, his face burning. Well, hell, if the entire ship knew what Simpson did to him, he was past caring. It was no longer the material point; preventing it from ever happening again was what was important.
"Sir..." Rees cried out, and Archie turned around at the same moment he heard the tell-tale whisper of steel being unsheathed. Dawes had his sword out, and pointed it as his chest.
The waves lapped against Sophia, gently gurgling as the ship bobbed on her course. A bit of spray caught Archie in the face, but he refused to note it. Behind Dawes, he could see Owens, moving quietly, his own knife pulled out, as he tried to reach the assailant.
Idiot, Archie. You have pushed him too far.
Then, looking into his eyes, Archie became calm, certain in the fact that Dawes did not mean to kill him.
"Put that down, Dawes. Whatever your situation, my murder shall only make the hell you live in worse." He said, calmly.
"What hell?" Dawes, mouth taught, cried out, raising the sword to Archie's throat.
"The hell of your own making. The hell of your own cowardice."
"Cowardice!" His eyes were wide with fury, his face spotted red.
"Aye, Cowardice. It takes a coward to abuse those who cannot fight back.. I can fight back, Mr. Dawes. And I will. Because I would be a coward if I did not."
Dawes arm shook slightly. "Who are you?" He whispered. "And why do you care so much about these damned boys?"
The clarity was sudden, like a burst of fire illuminating the night. He was not looking at Simpson, but at himself, a different Archie Kennedy, one who had never known a Clayton or a Hornblower, or a Pellew. He was looking at what his life might have become.
Shaking his head slightly at the approaching Owens, he slowly lifted his own hand and lowered Dawes' arm. "I AM you, Mr. Dawes. Or at least I might have been. I could have been." He took a deep breath. "Can I not help you?"
Dawes was trembling, his face no longer a mask for his inner turmoil. "Too late. Too late, Mr. Kennedy."
"I thought that once, Mr. Dawes. I thought I was beyond saving. But I am here still."
There was that silence again, the only sounds being those of the ocean and the wind in the sails. An unsteady Dawes looked around him: at Archie's unmoving form, at a prepared Owens, ready to strike, at a wary Wheeler, protecting Rees behind him. The men on deck were watchful, not entirely understanding the strange play being performed for them, but full aware of the danger. And Dawes let his sword slip, falling to the deck with a clatter.
Archie relaxed for a second, just one second. And that was all it took. For Dawes pulled out his dagger, and plunged it into his own chest, the red spreading across his vest as he fell to the deck.
Damn! Archie thought, going forward to him. Damn, Damn, Damn! "Fetch Doctor Crane, Mr. Owens!"
Owens was off in a flash, even as Wheeler was beside him, kneeling over Dawes.
The blood was spreading rapidly, and Archie doubted that there was a damned thing Crane could do. Wheeler, meanwhile, had grabbed a kerchief from one of the men, and was trying to stop the bleeding. "Take it easy, Mr. Dawes, take it easy, now." His face was pale, but his hand was steady and gentle; Archie was surprised at the care there.
So, it seems, was Dawes, whose eyes fixed on the boy with remorse. Then he turned back to Kennedy, and smiled tightly. "Where...were you...six years ago, Mr. Kennedy?" He gasped.
Six years ago...Archie blinked back tears. "In my own hell, Mr. Dawes. In my own hell."
Dawes nodded in understanding, then with a shudder, he was
They buried him at sea, and then Archie retired to his cabin, begging to be left alone to sort out his thoughts.
He was sorry it ended this way. Sorrier still that he had not been able to divert Dawes from the angry path he had followed. He was not quite certain that he understood, even now, the depths of despair in the man's soul. But somehow, at some point, he had felt kinship with him...a kinship totally opposed from his initial reaction of the man as a base villain.
With a sigh, he decided to remain true to Pellew's mold. A stroll above decks might help to clear his mind, help him see the reason for all of this.
But as he came above decks, what he saw was Wheeler, a solitary figure on the star-lit night, immobile and still hurting, from more than an injury to his ribs. This is not over yet, he thought.
"Mr. Wheeler..." He came up beside him, and then, in a blatant breach of protocol sat down on the deck. And motioned for the officer of the watch to do the same!
"Sir..." Wheeler said, in plaintive surprise. "I cannot do that."
"I promise not to tell if you don't, Mr. Wheeler."
And gingerly, the young man sat beside him, stretching his long legs gracefully forward.
Archie looked up to the stars, and wondered how he could ask what he knew he must. "You knew Mr. Dawes long, did you, Mr. Wheeler?"
"All my career, Sir."
"Had he...hurt you before?"
"Never before this voyage, Mr. Kennedy." Wheeler inhaled deeply. "He was never allowed to before."
"Was there another bully, then?" Archie said in puzzlement.
Wheeler smiled bitterly. "A bully? I'd not say that. A bully implies someone at mischief trying to destroy the camaraderie of men. That would suppose that there had ever been any such thing on Dunbarton."
"It comes back to Dunbarton, doesn't it? Every way I turn, to understand this, it comes back to this." Archie shook his head.
Wheeler distractedly drummed on the deck with his fingers. "You see, Mr. Kennedy, it seems wrong to speak ill of the dead. Oh, I don't mean Dawes. But when Captain Pellew came aboard Dunbarton, well, there was a fine line to walk, don't you see? The men did not love Strong; the cat was in use daily and never lightly, either. And we midshipmen were beaten just as regularly. These things I told Captain Pellew, because I knew he could see the injustice anyway. And even then there were men who distrusted me, despised me for the honesty, now that Strong was dead and could hurt us no more." He pounded his fist on the deck, in fury. "There was so much more, though, and it seems like the pain will not end even with him gone."
Kennedy began to understand...a little. Simpson, with power. Ultimate power. And he shivered.
Wheeler noted it and nodded. "Strong made sure, he did, that there was never a chance of an uprising against him. Because he made each of us as afraid of each other as we were of him."
"When I first came on board Dunbarton, I was thirteen. I arrived at the Midshipman's berth to no greeting, to no friendly banter. I found, instead, six sullen men, in age between fourteen and twenty, who eyed me with frank curiosity and something else I did not fathom. They spoke little to each other, and to me not at all."
"Where were your officers?"
"Usually on double watches, or some other ingenious punishment Strong might dream up. He kept them in pieces as well, but in different ways. They were tired, they were irritable, and they often became just as violent as he did. Because he approved of that, you see. And so it kept him away from them."
Clearing his throat, his voice a bit high, the young man went on. "I did not understand until we left Plymouth. After two weeks at anchor we were finally to sea, and I was happier. But the men avoided me even more, and I had not thought that possible. Until one night, when the bosun roused me out of bed, saying the Captain wished to see me." Wheeler hugged himself tightly. "I did not leave his cabin until the next morning, and I left it...damaged, Mr. Kennedy. That, you see, was why nobody would speak to me. It would have been like making a pet of the lamb to be eaten for Easter dinner. And some man, I learned, rejoiced in my arrival, for that was the way of it. I was to be the Captain's chosen one, until fresh meat arrived. Which, for me, was not for six months afterwards. I hated myself...hated being happy that some poor wretch was about to suffer in my stead. But I could not help myself...I...oh, God...!"
The weeping nearly killed Archie. He reached over to the boy, rubbing his back gently Struggling to keep his own voice composed, he tried to sooth him as best he could. "It is over, Mr. Wheeler. It is over, now. Strong cannot hurt you again, or any man afterwards."
Wheeler wiped at his eyes. "Forgive me, Sir."
"Forgive you? Good lord, man, I had thought my own story sorry enough, but I cannot comprehend how you have suffered."
With a sniff, Wheeler shook his head. "Suffering is suffering, Sir. And abuse is abuse. I do not think it comes down to a matter of degree." He looked at Kennedy, eyes still moist. "You understand, don't you, Dawes had been a victim too."
"Aye, I do. I only wish I had realized it sooner." But Archie gave himself a slight shake. "It still does not excuse his attempting to perpetuate the hurt on others."
Wheeler looked outward. "I have been asking myself this entire voyage, why? I cannot say that we had been close on Dunbarton; like all of her men, we guarded our own hurts deep inside, in despair. But it did surprise me that he began to act out so once we were here. I tried to talk to him once..."
"Is that when he attacked you?"
"Yes. He had not hurt anyone since you confronted him about Owens. But he talked a good deal. Made it known that HE was in charge now, and once you were gone, we could expect to do things his way. I caught him alone once, and asked him why, if we'd had the good fortune to escape Dunbarton, he felt compelled to create a new one." Bitterly he smiled. "I do not think he expected me to be so bold, for he looked stunned for a moment. I think, you know, for a second he considered turning back. It was perhaps the closest thing to friendship either of us had found in a long time. But to talk about it would be to admit that it happened. Instead, he threw me to the ground, and began kicking me. Said that he didn't know what *I* had on my conscience, but he was not like me, and never had been."
Archie nodded. "I can understand, in a way. The shame...it is overwhelming. It eats away at you, bit by bit, and you can never tell anyone how you suffer. In the end, I suppose, he had nothing left."
Wheeler sniffed once more, and Archie handed him his handkerchief. "The day Strong disobeyed Pellew...we all felt it was coming to a head, Sir. I was certain I was going to die that day, and I didn't care. Instead, when the dust settled, Dawes and I were left, along with two young boys who had not been there long enough to...well, you understand. And what am I fit for now, Sir?" Wheeler looked at Archie, pleading for an answer. "What have I left to live for?"
Archie smiled kindly at the young, earnest boy who had suffered so much. "Mr. Wheeler," He said, not shrinking from his gaze. "I had asked myself that question so many times since I was twelve years old that I had quite despaired of ever getting an answer. Even in the good times, when I found friendship and safety, I would wonder if there was anything worthy left in me. The thing is, I seemed to not be able to die. You would think I had reason enough, and lord knows I've had opportunity. Yet in prison I took every means to survive, to escape, when I ought to have left myself to rot. Only once did I come close to the brink, and it took more that a Jack Simpson...or a Captain Strong...to bring me there. But it only took love to bring me back. The love of a friend who would not let me die."
Archie turned his gaze away to the sky. "I could not talk of any of this until recently. But I have found that as I let myself open up again, and let people in, well, the more I would do it, the more GOOD people I found who were there for me. Still, there are dark times, and I wonder not how, but why I have survived this? For what reason had God sought to bring me through."
He looked back at Wheeler, who was no longer in danger of tears, no longer quite so pale.
"You wonder that STILL, Sir?" He asked in a whisper.
"No, Mr. Wheeler. Not after tonight. Not after this voyage. I was here for a purpose, I think. For I am not sure if even my friend Horatio would have been able to amend the situation here. I only regret that I may have failed Mr. Dawes. But I did not fail Mr. Owens. And I will not fail you."
Wheeler closed his eyes for a moment, biting his lip. "I am...glad to have served with you, Captain Kennedy."
Archie grinned suddenly, at the young man's solemn accolade, and he reached over and tousled the boy's hair, as he might have Mr. Brandon's. "And I have been most pleased to serve with you, Mr. Wheeler. I do believe you have a bright future ahead of you." He rose, and Wheeler followed suit; he stretched in exhaustion. "I must bid you good night, Mr. Wheeler. Tomorrow is a new day, and shall see us in England I hope. Keep a good watch."
"Aye, Aye, Sir." He said, standing smartly to attention, brushing off his uniform quickly.
But before Archie could leave Wheeler called him back. "Sir?"
Archie turned back to him. "Yes, Mr. Wheeler."
"You did not fail Mr. Dawes. Indeed, you might have saved him from a fate worse than the one he suffered."
"I pray you are right, Mr. Wheeler. And I hope he has found peace."
Peace. An elusive thing to a man struggling with a spotted past. For all these years Archie had sought it in different places, in glory and pain, but had never quite achieved it. He had begun to believe it would never exist for him.
And yet, as Archie returned to his cabin, he realized that Peace had found him at last.
Letter from Archie Kennedy to his father, August 21
I know this shall be a surprise to you, but I have just arrived in Portsmouth, and will be bringing Rees to the house in London myself within the week. I first have matters to attend to in port (including an impending Lieutenant's exam) and some reports to make regarding the ship I was given charge of for my return voyage.
I will be able, I hope, to spend two weeks with the family before forced to make my return to duty. Should all go as planned, I will be seeing you by next Wednesday, at the latest.
Letter from Archie Kennedy to Alicia Brandon...
I have what I hope will be a pleasant and welcome surprise for you. I am in Portsmouth, and shall be headed to the family home in London by Wednesday for a two-week visit. It goes without saying, that I should like to call upon you as soon as decency will permit me to leave my father's house!
There is so much to tell you of, love, in so little time! And I confess, I have fearful moments, that once you see me again I shall not be how you remember me, but a man you would not wish to be associated with.
In the meanwhile, I shall be here through next Tuesday, staying at the Square Rigger tavern. I hope to have additional good news for you when we meet, but I will say nothing further in fear of disappointing you.
Archie sat back from the small table in his lodgings. "How's it doing, Lad?" He addressed Rees, who sat eagerly by the window, watching the world go by.
"Well, Sir." He turned a beaming face on Archie. "I've never stayed in an Inn before!"
It never ceased to amaze Archie what the young man could take joy in. He tried to imagine what his opinion would be of the Kennedy house in London, let alone the estate in Devonshire. Even the servant quarters would seem opulent to the boy. Mrs. Carroll, the old house keeper, would certainly be all over Rees, he thought smiling to himself. He had been a particularly fond of her as a child, for he'd often been left behind with illness from the more normal activities of a young boy. But somehow he would find himself hanging about with the servants, helping them when they would let him.
"Funny, Mrs. Carroll, old Hadley, our cook, Mrs. Freebody, they never made me feel inferior or weak. Perhaps I was never meant to be a Lord's son at all." Rees had turned back to the window, meanwhile, for the action's of the busy port were as entertaining to him as a theatrical performance was to Archie. Yes, Mrs. Carroll would spoil that boy properly if she was at all given a chance.
He sighed and read over his reports once more. Admiral Hood was in Portsmouth, and Archie had to meet with him in half an hour to turn over reports on Sophia, as well as documents sent from Admiral Parker via Captain Pellew. Archie was curious to meet the man Pellew held in such low esteem, but strangely, not nervous. After his eventful sail on Sophia that ended just this today, Hood was no threat to his equilibrium.
As he gathered up his cape, he thought of the good-byes he'd said this morning. To Owens, who had so much promise, and to Wheeler, who had so much to overcome. Owens had approached him shortly before he headed into the jolly boat.
Shyly, he'd saluted him. "Sir, I just wanted to thank you again for your kindness to me...to all of us this past week. I would be honored to sail again with you anywhere."
He'd managed to keep his face solemn, when he wanted to grin. "And I would be happy to serve with you, as well, Mr. Owens...assuming you could manage to stay right side up for the entire voyage."
The young man had grinned sheepishly. "I don't think I'll be hanging upside down off the masts again at any time soon, Sir."
Damn, why were Captain's supposed to be so damned stony? Surely Pellew did not feel compelled to smile nearly so often as he did! What a cross to bear.
"I am going to ask a favor of you, Mr. Owens."
"Of course, Sir. Anything you wish."
Archie looked over to the Quarterdeck, where Wheeler was attending Mr. Greyson. "I do not know yet who shall have the command of Sophia, but it seems certain you and Mr. Wheeler shall be remaining. I would like it if you would keep an eye out for him, Mr. Owens. He could use a friend, I think."
Owens had followed his glance, and his eyes softened. "Dunbarton must have been hell, Sir. This ship's never been like that. The men of Sophia, we've always stuck together." He returned his face to Archie, sureness in his gaze. "I'll watch for him."
To hell with regulation. Archie beamed at the midshipman who was not so very much younger than himself. "Good lad. I will be sure to speak well of you to your new Captain. Keep out of mischief, now!"
"Aye, Aye, Sir."
Buttoning his cloak, Archie sighed. He would be meeting that new Captain now, while Greyson kept an eye on Sophia. What kind of man would he be? How many Strongs or Fosters could the navy have?
"Well, Master Rees, I shall be off to see the Admiral. I expect you to keep yourself out of trouble while I am away!"
"Of course, Sir!" Rees big brown eyes were wide. "Will the Admiral be angry with you about Mr. Dawes, Sir?"
Given Hood's previous track record on dying men, it seemed unlikely. "I do not know in truth, Mr. Rees, I can only make my report to the best of my ability." He sighed. "I shall be back in a few hours' time, in any case."
And he left the boy, out into the streets of Portsmouth. He was heading towards the stores area on the dockyard, where Hood had business with Sophia's new Captain, and where they would be meeting for expediencies' sake.
He arrived at the clerk's office ten minutes early. Not that the clerk had any interest in that fact. "Excuse me, Sir, I am looking for Admiral Hood."
The clerk eyed him disinterestedly. "I'm sure I don't know about that."
Archie frowned. "You are Lieutenant Davis, are you not? I am certain that he asked me to report here."
Davis eyed him from head to toe. "And you are a midshipman just in off some barge, and I doubt very much that he should have any interest in your whereabouts."
Oh, the sad transition from Captain back to earth, for if the man had only been on Sophia yesterday, Archie could have thought of dozens of scathing replies to that remark!
"I am an Acting Lieutenant," he said grudgingly. "And I have just recently returned to England in command of the Sophia, and I must report to Admiral Lord Hood..."
"Ah, you must be Mr. Kennedy!" A jovial voice called out.
Archie turned. As he had guessed, this was NOT Lord Hood, whom he'd seen several times. A middle-aged blond man, in a commander's uniform-a brand new and thoroughly spotless uniform...approached. He smiled easily at Archie, and extended his hand. "It is very good to meet you, Mr. Kennedy. I have been anxiously awaiting your arrival. I must say, you made excellent time!"
Nice gentleman, bit of a dilettante though, Archie thought, even as he made his address. "I am afraid you have the advantage of me, but I would guess you to be the new Commander of Sophia?"
"Oh, forgive me Sir! I am indeed her commander...Charles Chalk, lately Lieutenant on Goliath."
Archie returned the smile. "Archie Kennedy, hopefully soon to be Lieutenant of Indefatigable."
"Ah, yes, Admiral Hood did mention to me that you should be taking your exam on Tuesday. He shall be here with us shortly..." Chalk turned to the same Clerk who had lately been rude to Archie. "I say, my good man, we shall need admittance to your offices, if you please."
"Of course, Commander." Davis answered with obsequious attention.
"Excellent!" Chalk motioned to him to follow, and soon they were in a neat little office. Archie knew his place, and sought out the most uncomfortable, and least advantageously placed, chair.
It seemed that no sooner had he been seated than he had to rise. Admiral Hood swept in.
"Chalk, you're very prompt; Kennedy, good to see you found us." He sat himself behind the desk and without further words held his hand out; Archie was glad to pass over the dispatches from Parker and his own report.
The dispatches were quickly tossed aside, and Hood scanned the report briefly. "H'm, you made good time...no enemies sighted..."
"Nothing at all, Sir." Archie spoke, before he realized the question was not meant to be answered, and Hood glared at him.
"I read that the first time, Kennedy."
Archie flushed, and kept silent.
Finally, Hood sighed, and folded the report up again, tossing it aside with the dispatches. Archie was grateful he at least was going to wait until he was out of the room before he ripped it up and tossed it away. It had only taken him three hours to write!
"You lost this man, Dawes?"
Archie paused, not certain if he was supposed to talk this time or not. Seeing Hood's impatient glare, he realized he'd guessed wrong again. "Yes, Sir."
"H'm, you fail to mention the cause."
On purpose. He had decided what he was going to say, but did not wish to commit it to writing. "He died as a result of injuries suffered on Dunbarton."
"Ah. Nasty skirmish I hear that was. Lost Captain Strong. A fine man."
"A tragic loss!" Clark added.
Archie did not trust himself with words, so he turned the subject. "It was a fierce battle, Sir."
Again, wrong! How on earth did a junior officer ever learn when to speak with an admiral, anyway! And just when was a question not a question?
Chalk was either more perceptive or more curious than Hood. "This man Dawes, how did his injuries escape notice, Mr. Kennedy?"
Hood sneered before Archie could answer. "Immaterial, really. Dead is dead. Well, you shall have your pick of the new midshipmen before you depart Portsmouth, Chalk!"
Turning to Archie again, Chalk again attempted to draw him into the conversation. "What of her remaining officers, Mr. Kennedy? What sort of men shall I find?"
Hood waved off the question before Archie could even open his lips. "Enough time for that, Chalk. I should like to go over your stores with you...Mr. Kennedy can wait."
And wait he did, in astonished amazement, as Hood covered minute details of sail cloth and gunpowder. Archie had no place in this conversation, but he could not leave. Chalk looked at him apologetically once or twice as Hood droned on. But he could only sit, bearing the indignity, and wondering one thing:
'How on earth did *Captain Pellew* manage not to shoot this man?'
Archie amused himself with various confrontations his Captain might have had with this self-important buffoon, each scenario ending with Pellew picking up his musket and picking the man off. Not until Hood stood suddenly did Archie come to, in a better mood than he might have been expected to be.
"Well, I leave you, Gentlemen. Kennedy can fill you in on all those tiresome details now, Chalk."
Archie saluted smartly, but Hood had apparently sized him up and found him wanting. Which suited Archie just fine...it was as good as a compliment from men he admired more.
"Give my...regards to Pellew, Kennedy. Tell him to be more careful not to loose a good Captain next time."
There was no chance in hell of Archie ever repeating THAT statement!
"...and good luck to you for your exam. You seem to be as full of yourself as your young friend Hornblower, I see, so there is no doubt you'll need it. Good day, Sir."
He snapped off a salute, then turned to Chalk, who was now frowning mightily. 'Wonderful. Thanks to Hood, the man no longer has a worthy opinion of me." But Archie had completely misread Chalk's face, for as they both sat back down, Chalk's face lit up. "Of course, Hornblower! Midshipman Horatio Hornblower, from Justinian!"
Archie smiled at him. "Yes, Lieutenant on Indefatigable now. A good friend of mine. You know him?"
"I had the privilege of his company for one afternoon several years ago...why, it was just before the war broke out."
"Yes, we were both still on Justinian, then." Funny, but the statement did not even cause him pain.
"A young boy then. But a tremendous whist player!"
"He still is, much to the detriment of my pocket." Chalk was growing in his estimation by leaps and bounds.
A sudden shadow fell over his face. "Heavens, he was there with the most cowardly, corrupt midshipman I have ever seen, all stringy hair and predisposition to gin! Accused Hornblower of cheating, I remember, and Hornblower challenged him! What was that man's name?"
"Simpson." Archie said, waiting for the empty pain to stab at his heart. It did not.
"Yes, yes...well, since Hornblower is still with us, I assume he was successful?"
"Simpson was killed." Archie said simply. There were not enough hours in the day to explain further.
"Ah, well, do remember me to him, although I am sure the incidents of his youthful folly that day have quite faded from his memory."
Doubtful, Archie thought.
"I would like to know again about my men, Mr. Kennedy. I know you did not bring a full crew, but I am hoping to make the most of those experienced that I do have. A pity about this man Dawes. How again did he suffer these injuries?"
Archie was both glad that he asked, and frustrated. There was no easy answer to give that might not smear the character of a man who had suffered enough before he died, not to mention cause pain to a boy still very much alive. On the other hand, any caring Captain would wish to know the hurts of his men.
"They were internal, not visible to the Doctor. And although I believe he was in much pain, he opted to keep that fact to himself. Not until we were alone on Sophia did his hurt become evident, and it was too late."
"Ah, sad situation. The man would have been better to speak up."
"Sometimes that is hard to do." Archie murmured, but Chalk had already gone on to the list of names he held before him.
"Greyson, you say, is an excellent master. Did you get to see much of his sailing skills?"
"Actually, no. Our weather was picture perfect. But Lieutenant Bracegirdle found him to be very skilled, and I have the highest opinion of his estimation."
"Mmm, and that leaves me with two midshipmen...Owens and Wheeler?" He looked a question at him.
Archie was firm. "Fine young men, the both of them. Owens has a tendency to be a bit exuberant, but his skills are first rate, and he has a tremendous thirst for knowledge. Wheeler is younger, and quieter; you might find him almost withdrawn. But he reminds me very much of Mr. Hornblower. I believe he has an excellent future ahead of him." If he survives...please, let him survive.
Chalk smiled broadly. "Better and better. Well, the report you have given me on the full crew will no doubt be of excellent use to me, Mr. Kennedy. May I buy you a pint before I go to my ship?"
Archie sighed, relieved to have gotten through the day, and to find a decent man taking over Sophia. "Normally I would accept, Sir, but I have a young charge of my own awaiting me, and I must return to him before he gets into any mischief."
"I understand. Well, I do hope to meet you again someday, Mr. Kennedy." They rose together and made their way back out into the sunlight. "And do try not to worry about your exam too much. These boards are always more nerve-wracking than they ought to be. You should not let it get to you."
Archie breathed deeply, enjoying the sun on his face. "I will not, Sir. After all, the worst that could happen is I would fail."
Chalk was confused, but Archie smiled, and left his new acquaintance, calm in the knowledge that nothing that should happen on Tuesday would ever have as much meaning as what happened to him on the voyage leading to it.