Title: A Bit Heroic
Word Count 1123
A Bit Heroic
Sunday was the point at the end of the week. The Navy intended it so. On Justinian he had dreaded it. On the Indy it was different.
On Justinian each week had proceeded in a flailing downhill tumble. And when Sunday came, Horatio had stood with the others, listened to the Articles, or, (with less pleasure,) to scriptural readings in Captain Keane's creaking voice. Horatio had liked Captain Keane, but the man had read everything as if it were a storage manifest.
And, on Justinian, Sunday had left open time for Simpson's predations.
Well, that was long ago. Two years back. Prison since then, and Archie, and time home, and Archie and illness, and health, and honor, and horror, and Archie. Love. There had been love since then, and it had folded time around itself somehow. It made the best moments fly. It drew everything good to itself, magnetically. Maybe there was a yet unknown Newtonian law...
With a minute shake of his head, Horatio pulled his thoughts back to the now.
Captain Pellew had a deep pleasant voice. He read the Articles of War as if he had not seen them ten thousand times. Horatio, standing in his place, was content to listen. He did not even mind the Biblical excursions, three weeks out of four. Pellew read the Bible as if it interested him, as if it mattered to him. There was singing, on those days. Horatio did not, could not sing, but nobody minded. And he could pick Archie's voice out of all the others, and listen for that.
“Dismiss by divisions.”
Smiles came now, and scattered laughter. Today was warm and fair. The people would eat on the deck. They would sprawl or crouch, with their food. They would find bodily comfort, as cats and sailors do, on coils of line, or sunny spots of deck, among the hard edges of their world.
The officers dined indoors. The wardroom was shadowy, and warm. It smelled just a little of sweat and cigars. The food was not good by the exacting standards of the land, Horatio knew, but they had all had less, and worse. They had been supplied recently. The beef still bore company with the flavors of home. And if it was a little dull, it was filling. Anyway, the men at the table were smiling, and the afternoon of mostly leisure, stretched ahead, very welcome.
Coffee came last, and it was Horatio's favorite. Truthfully, he liked it better than most foods. Fried eggs were lovely, jam was welcome, ham and beef were filling. But coffee brought a kindly heat. And the stimulating enhancements to the brain were just the thing for a lieutenant who was trying not to yawn.
So it was with regret that he put his cup down, and followed the others out into the sun. The men had long since finished their food. They began earlier, and ate more quickly.
Horatio did not see Archie on the deck. But he had a new book. He was content to wait. He let himself fall into the book. It carried him away, and the shadows had tilted by the time he looked up.
Archie seated himself on the deck, and folded his legs. He wiggled a little this way and that, until he was comfortable. Then he was still. Horatio smiled. He envied Archie the ability to fold that way. Horatio's long legs always seemed to take up to much space. “You get in your own way.” Archie had said once, and it was true.
Horatio waited for Archie to bring out his own book. Archie always had a book. But today Archie had a letter. Horatio could not see the words on it, but he could see that it was written in a strong hand, both sides of the page. Archie was not reading it either, he was turning it over and over in his hands, distractedly.
“What have you there?”
“It's a letter. It is, umm, well. It's a letter.”
Horatio looked carefully. Archie looked strangely bashful. He was pale, he was gnawing his lip.
“A letter.” Horatio helped.
“It is from my father.” Archie's voice went faster and faster, as if having spoken, he could not stop.
“Captain Pellew wrote to him. Wrote to Father. When we were in Spain the second time. Told him about the Spanish shipwreck, and all that. And about France too. About how I-- how I tried to get home. They questioned me about France you know, when I first came back, he and Bracey did. And, it was horrid. I had to tell them things. But somehow, I don't know why, he wrote to father. And he must have made me sound just a bit – heroic. Father wrote to me, and he said he is glad that I am safe, and that I did well. And, even if he never writes again, I have it.”
Archie came to a shuddering stop. When Archie spoke again, Horatio could hear that his mouth was dry.
“In the six years that I have been gone from home, he never wrote, not once. He –Well. I just don't know what to think.”
Had they been alone, Horatio would have embraced Archie. Here he could not. He reached over and gave Archie a furtive pat.
“Ooh-- Sorry, Mr Hornblower-- I didn't mean to step on you.”
“Of course not.”
Horatio could not help smiling. Mr Cadogan had grown at least 3 inches in the last months. He was a nuisance to himself, And the huge furry cat draped over his shoulder, was no help. He had his tail over Cadogan's eyes. Midshipman Cadogan loved Jeoffry Mittens. The love was returned completely. But everyone on the ship knew, cats made Mr. Cadogan sneeze.
“That cat is a hazard to shipping.” Archie said. “Let's see if he will sit with me.”
Mr Cadogan passed the cat gently, and backed away, rubbing his nose.
Jeoffrey Mittens reared up to rub under Archie's chin, eyes closed in foolish bliss. His paws worked agianst the wool of Archie's jacket, his purr was very loud.
“There, you see George, he will be fine.”
“Aye, Mr Kennedy.”
Cadogan left on his enormous new feet.
“For he is docile, and can learn certain things.” Archie said quietly.
He tilted his face to the sun, and closed his eyes. In his near hand he still held the letter. His other was scratching the cat's ears.
Horatio reached over and gave them each a pat. He returned to his book.