Title: The Butterflies Wake
Word Count 1419
Disclaimer I did not invent them
The Butterflies Wake
“You'll be all right, Mr Hornblower, head wounds always bleed terrible bad, Sir.” Finch looked at him with that honest ugly smile, and Horatio felt his gut turn.
“Where is Mr. Kennedy?” He pushed Finch's hand down, searched his eyes.
Finch looked down. Matthews came forward, placed a hand on Horatio. “Mr Kennedy he was in the boat Sir.” Matthews said. His voice was gentle. That made it worse.
No time to weep. No time to rage. Although he knew in his marrow that Simpson was the cause of all of it. Eccleston,on the quarterdeck, looked at him in shock. Tiny droplets of blood frosted Eccleston's face, they shone in the blond hair of his eyebrows. They gave his surprise a strangely insectile quality.
“Mr Simpson shot you?” The bloody eyebrows arched. “ I trust you have evidence, to back these allegations?”
But there was no time, the guns roared, and splinters then, and things fell. . He was holding Eccleston, as the life left him, in bubbles, and gasps. And it felt so strange, clasping someone who was not Archie.
“Mr Chadd is dead Sir.”
“The ship is yours Mr Hornblower.” Eccleston gasped. “Get us to the Indy...Safe.”
And Simpson was there, snarling, but Mr Bowles was steady at his back. Simpson went below somewhere. But he was still alive. Simpson was alive, but Lieutenant Eccleston was dead, and Mr Chadd. Mr Chadd looked so young, with his brown curls exposed, and his white face so still.
Horatio felt nothing after that. His voice went on, but the living part of Horatio was crushed down somewhere. He ran, and yelled, and the guns roared, and the corvette exploded. It meant nothing.
He climbed aboard the Indy, to the sound of the boatswains whistle. It meant nothing. He made his report. He did the first part all right. He kept his voice steady. Pellew was looking at him with narrowed eyes. Considering eyes.
“What of Mr Kennedy? Mr Simpson?”
Captain Pellew's eyes had been so shrewd. “Mr Kennedy was left behind with the boat, Sir.”
Horatio had managed to choke that out. The eyes had gone so kind then, and Horatio's mouth had turned down in a helpless shaking bow. He was truly afraid that Pellew would touch him, or say something, and that Horatio's control would dissolve in unmanly blubbering.
But those brown eyes just stayed on his. “Go below, and clean yourself up, Mr Hornblower. I want to see you and Mr Simpson in an hour.”
“And Mr Hornblower? Don't give up hope, I have not.”
“No, Sir.” But Horatio had done it, it was his fault. He had struck Archie.
And the pain and rage was a bleeding stump. He was dying of it,like Davey Williams, and no one could see. He stumbled to the berthing. He was covered with blood too. He could smell the meaty copper horror of it. How many times had Archie eased his jacket off him? How many times had Archie's knowing fingers soothed, when he was dirty, tired, cold, afraid? The tears did come then, and streaked down the bloody grime of his face.
Simpson, was alive. Chadd, was dead, Eccleston was dead, Clayton was dead, Archie was --- Archie was. And Horatio had both hands in his mouth, blood and powder bitter on his tongue, and he shook and he shook.
After some time he pushed the tears back. No one to help him now. He washed his face and changed his clothes. The other midshipmen, were as insubstantial as ghosts. They said nothing to him. He could feel the vital parts of himself sinking down, a cold rock, falling down a cold well, sinking, sinking, out of sight. He let them go, he watched them go. None of it mattered now.
“Come.” Pellew barked. Horatio opened the door. He was punctual. His face was rigid.
“It's a danm lie Sir!” Horatio was watching the Captain. Pellew's narrowed eyes were fixed on Simpson. Here be monsters.
Pellew saw. Horatio saw him see. It was enough. The rest was no matter. Cold, cold, nothing mattered.
Simpson spoke again. Pellew spoke. Horatio spoke. It didn't matter. In the morning, Horatio knew, one of two things would happen. Perhaps Simpson would die. Too late, for Archie. Too late for Clayton. It would be too late, because Horatio had failed, not once, but over and over. Perhaps Horatio would die. Blank blackness then, forever. Forever going on without him. No more questions, no more fears. No agony of going on alone. Perhaps they would both die. That would perhaps be best of all.
Morning came hushed and foggy. The berthing was quiet. He could see the others watching him from the sides of eyes. He had had no watch, had had the whole night free. Had slept, limp and dreamless. Simpson had not entered the berthing. Horatio neither knew nor cared where he had spent the night.
He was dressing, when Cleveland approached.
“Here, take my shirt.” He said. “It's silk, this one. They say that's better if---”
“Yes. I know.” Horatio's voice was quiet to his own ears. “My father is a doctor. Thanks, Cleveland.” Cleveland gave an emphatic nod. His eyes were red and hollow.
“Hope you kill him.” Cleveland spoke low and fierce. “Time somebody did.”
His division, his men to row him across. He did not see any other boats. The fog shrouded all. Horatio could hear sounds though, the skree of gulls, the drip and dip of oars, the crunch as they landed on the sand. He kept his head down.
“We're here Sir.” That was Matthew's good voice, and Horatio climbed out onto the sand.
The breeze was fresh on the beach. He could feel it tugging the sleeves of Cleveland's silk shirt. Horatio had never worn a silk shirt before. It slid strangely on the skin. Strange to think that he might be sent to the sea-bottom in it. Cleveland would take his shirt then. But Horatio's shirt would be too small on Cleveland...
Then they were back to back. Horatio could feel the heat and the boney spring of Jack Simpson's spine. It felt like any human back-bone. He could feel the shoulder blades, the sway of it. Jack was sweating. Horatio could feel and smell it. A human man, this.
They paced off and turned. The sand was soft under Horatio's shoes. He lifted his pistol, and waited. He compensated for the light winds. He was ready
He didn't hear three, he didn't hear anything – only the burn, and the smack, and the outrage. It was under his arm. He sagged into the sand.
“Someone said something far off, and Simpson came forward, running like a boy greedy for cake.
“Did I kill him? Did I?”
Surging to his feet. It hurt. His side hurt.
“No, you did not.”
Then, Simpson, on his knees in the sand. Weeping. Simpson could weep. A human man. The rat face contorted, Simpson's hands empty in the sand.
And Horatio failed. Again, he failed. He failed Clayton, and Chadd, and Eccleston, and Archie most of all. And in the sick knowledge of his failure, he flung the pistol away. His voice said something, something he remembered later, only in bad dreams.
He turned away, sore. He was thinking how the ball could not have hit the axillary artery. That would spurt, of course it would. This was just oozing. He was condemned to live. It was just.
He heard the rushing in the sand, and turned to see. He had come that close to reprieve. Simpson, with a dirk.
But, another bang. Simpson sagged in the sand again, and Horatio was left standing. He had sand in his socks.
He stood, as the doctor fussed under his arm. It hurt. But the hurt was far off.
“Its not the axillary artery.” Horatio helped. “My father is a doctor. My father does not approve of dueling. My father...” His voice stopped then. The doctor was hurting him, and he had to stand and wait.
He stood a moment longer, he let his eyes shut.
“Come, Mr Hornblower. Time to leave this place.” And Captian Pellew himself walked with Horatio to the jolly boat.