Retribution: The End

 

The bullet struck him with such a force, Archie was thrown backwards. He felt like someone had struck violently in his stomach,and he stood frozen in utter astonishment of the impact. The Spanish officer with whom he was fighting, raised his arm to strike his sword at him again. Archie somehow managed to slash his own sword forward and strike him down. He could hear Horatio’s voice somewhere near him shouting "Do you surrender, the colonel is dead" The Marines were pouring up on deck, overtaking the Spaniards. "Throw down you weapons" Horatio yelled. The clanging of swords being thrown on deck, rang in Archie’s head. From the corner of his eye he saw Bush lying on the deck, a big stain of blood on his belly. He saw Styles holding his lieutenant’s head up and yelling at Hornblower: "Sir.. Mr Bush...." Horatio came hurrying down the deck. "How is he?" he heard Horatio ask. Dr Clive came forward followed by the surgeon’s mate and they kneeled down at Bush’s side. "He doesn’t need any help from you, he needs needle and thread, now.. out of my way ..you did your work let me do mine" "Yes Sir you’re right" Horatio said, "Come on Styles." He got up and Archie watched him go below decks.

 

The doctor was attending to Mr Bush now, he would be alright, Archie thought. Suddenly he felt faint and dizzy. Slowly he walked over to the main mast and sank down on the deck. He heard shouts from the captains cabin. Captain Sawyer was dead, and Mr. Wellard too, shot by the Spaniards. Mr Wellard whom he had tried to guide and protect from the Captain’s abusive treatment. He felt immensly sorry that Wellard was dead. He wanted to go over there and see for himself. He took a deep breath and tried to stand up, and immedeately he felt a sharp pain in his chest. Something was wrong, something was terribly wrong. He sat back down.... It would pass... If he just stayed calm, he would feel better in a few minutes. His sword still in hand, he closed his eyes.

 

Time passed. Horatio came up on deck. He caught sight of Archie and smiled. He came towards him and sat down next to him. Archie tried to act as normal as possible, in spite of his pain. He smiled. "Heard about Buckland" he chuckled "silly old fool". "Let him be Archie...." Horatio said " If you’d seen him as I did..". Horatio looked at him and noticed a small red spot on Archie’s waistcoat. "Is that your blood?" he inquired casually, pointing at Archie’s front. "Oh.. it’s just a scratch" Archie said indifferently. Horatio took a closer look at his friend. Archie’s face was pale and he was perspiring. "Prisoners under lock and key....." The words stopped and Archie winced. Horatio, very anxious now, kneeled in front of Archie: "I said is that your blood !" he asked more compelling and he pulled open Archie’s waistcoat. Horatio’s breath stopped as he saw the big blood stain on Archie’s shirt. "Archie ?." he began.. Archie tried to smile "It’s not as bad as it lookes" As he spoke, blood came pouring from his mouth. He chocked and swallowed...Then he lost control over his body and fell forward into Horatio’s arms. Horatio caught him and held him tight to his shoulder. He started to panic. No ..Not Archie, not him...he thought in disbelief. "Get Dr. Clive quickly now " he shouted.

 

Early morning. Bush was awake. His stomach was aching. Lying on the small bed in this prisoncell, his mind was racing with thoughts. The Court would assemble today. They had been here for a few days now. Upon arriving in Kingston the wounded officers had been taken to this prison. Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Buckland were held in captivity too. Turning his head Bush looked over at the other bed where Mr. Kennedy lay. Kennedy was badly wounded. Dr. Clive looked in on them several times a day. Mr Kennedy’s wound did not stop bleeding and he was getting weaker by the day. Outside he could here a group of Marines marching down the street; they probably came to fetch Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Buckland. All Bush could do was lie here and wait. He felt helpless. Kennedy was turning his head restless... "Horatio.." he murmured very softly.. Bush lifted his head, and looked at the young lieutenant. Then he lay back and sighed.. charged with mutiny.......only a miracle could save them now, he thought.

 

A few hours later Dr. Clive came to attend to his patients. Kennedy was asleep. "Mr. Bush" Clive inquired. "How is he doing?" "Not good" Bush replied "He hasn’t spoken, he’s in a lot of pain I’d imagine" "Let’s have a look at you first" said Clive putting on his apron. "How was it at the trial today?" Bush asked. Clive nodded his head. "Mr. Buckland has accused Mr. Hornblower of pushing Captain Sawyer into the hold. Mr. Hobbs will testify as a witness." "Buckland.....that old fool. But nobody knows what really happened" said Bush. "We’ll have to wait and see, now lie still" Clive removed the bandage from his wound. "No sign of mortification. Nothing like a clean cut stitched up in its own blood" he said well -pleased with himself. At that moment Kennedy took a sharp intake of breath. Bush and the doctor both turned their heads towards him. Kennedy’s bandage was red with blood. Flies were hovering over it and the room was filled with the stench of the infection. Kennedy coughed, and moaned in pain. "You’ll mend Mr. Bush, you’ll mend" Clive said. And they looked back at Kennedy with the same thought in mind.

 

Later that evening Dr. Clive stepped into the cell. He put his bag on the table and walked over to Kennedy’s bed. His patient was tossing and turning restless in his bed. His condition was deteriorating fast. Clive had feared as much. He placed his hand on Kennedy’s forehead. It was glowing with fever. "Mr Kennedy" Clive said loudly "Mr Kennedy....who am I?" Archie seemed to snap out of his feverish state and gasped... "You’re Clive..you great fool.." The doctor could barely suppress a smile. "Very well Mr Kennedy" he said. The gate went open and the guard let in a visitor. It was Hornblower. He had been allowed to visit his fellow officers. His face showed no emotion whatsoever, untill he saw the state his friend was in, his impassive impassive expression broke and he looked worried. "Horatio..."Archie’s face lit up, happy to see his friend. "Don’t overtire him, Mr Hornblower" the doctor said "well.. I must leave you.." Turning to Hornblower he suddenly said: "I wish you the very best". He stretched out his hand. Horatio looked at him in surpise, but he took the hand and shook it. It was almost like a truce between him and the doctor, Archie thought as he watched their hands shake over his bed. "Thank you Dr. Clive" Horatio said and meant it. The doctor left the infirmary. Horatio was standing next to Archie’s bed and he felt uneasy. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "When are you due back in court" Archie asked. "Tomorrow" Horatio replied, "the court adjourned to give me more time to consider my testimony" "And when they ask you, did you push Captian Sawyer into the hold..."Archie spoke softly. "Are you asking me that question now?" The words came out more powerful than he meant it to be. "No I’m not...." Archie looked at his friend closely. "Then I’ll answer it when the time comes, untill then I see no time to speculate" Horatio said, determined not to give the matter further attention. "Now tell me how are you?" "I’m fine" Archie lied. They talked for a while untill Archie grew tired. The guard came to take Horatio back to his cell. "Horatio....I hope everything goes well tomorrow " Archie said. Horatio smiled. "Get some rest now, don’t worry about me." "I’ll come and see you in the morning." "Yes......tomorrow" Archie said, as he watched his friend leave.

 

Early morning. Bush awoke from the noise outside. By the sound of it they were busy building up the gallows. He opened his eyes and to his surpirse he saw Mr. Kennedy sitting upright on his bed. "Mr. Kennedy" he asked "are you alright?" Slowly Bush sat up. He put his feet on the floor and stood. "Sir....." Kennedy said "I need your help." Archie writhed as he was trying to put on his shirt with one arm. His face covered in sweat. "For God’s sake man, lie down" Bush said, as he observed the pale face of his lieutenant. "No, no you don’t understand. I need you to help me get up. Please .. my uniform". "Mr Kennedy what are you up to, you are in no fit condition to go anywhere. Now lie down, that’s an order" Bush said. "I want to go to the Courthouse and give my testimony. They’ll have to listen to me, I was there. If I don’t someone innocent will hang for it." "But why, you’re not being accused of anything?" Bush asked. "Tell me what really happened then....Did you...?" Bush could not complete his sentence as Archie interrupted him: "You see Mr Bush" the blue eyes looked at him calmly, " I do not think that I’m going to make it..... And I need to do this." Archie stopped talking and gasped. Then he continued: "Mr. Hornblower,... Horatio....I owe him much. I owe him my life, more than once he saved me. I would gladly give mine to save his. I have to go there..it’s the only way I can help him, and either with or without your help..I’m going to do this.." He was determined and Bush realised he could not stop him. The past few months he had observed his two junior lieutenants and felt that there was a special bond between them. Mr. Hornblower was a man of great honour and always prepared to do his duty, but so was Mr. Kennedy. Bush felt that if this was what Kennedy wanted, he had to let him go, and if it meant saving either one of them, so be it. He slowly walked over to Kennedy. "alright then, I’ll help you" he said stretching out his arm to pull Kennedy upright. He handed him a wet cloth from his bedsidetable and Archie whiped of his face. It took them quite a while before he was completely dressed. Kennedy stroked his hand through his hair and tried to look as impeccable as his condition would possibly allow him.

 

"One more thing, Mr Bush.." Archie said, "Horatio..he will be here soon..tell him......don’t tell him anything, it’s for the best...I beg you”. "Alright Mr Kennedy, I will try." "Thank you Sir" Archie smiled at him grateful. The tinkling of keys heralded the entry of Dr. Clive. Seeing Archie standing there all dressed up he demanded "Mr. Kennedy..what is this? ..get back to bed" "Dr Clive, a moment please." Bush intervened and began to explain the situation. The doctor paused. "Very well then. I’ll escort Mr. Kennedy to the Courthouse" the doctor said. "I’ll give him some extra laudanum". "NO!" Kennedy turned his head towards him. "I want to keep a clear head now, please get the guard. I’m ready." "Alright Mr. Kennedy". The doctor motioned the guard at the door. "Good luck Mr. Kennedy" Bush said, stretching out his hand. "Goodbye Sir" Kennedy replied. They shook hadns and their eyes met in understanding. Then he slowly walked forward, the doctor following close behind him. Bush watched them go out the gate and leave the building. He sank back down on the bed.

 

Half an hour later, Horatio entered the infirmary. Peering through the bars he immedeately noticed the empty bed in the cell. "Where is he?" He asked, looking around him. Bush sat on his cot and took a deep breath "Oh.... he’s up and about" Horatio looked at him curiously.. Bush continued staring at the book he was holding in his hand. What was he going to say? He could see the suspicion in Hornblower’s eyes. He did not want to break his promise to Mr. Kennedy. Horatio leaned his head against the bars. "I was hoping to see him before I was recalled" He sounded dissappointed. Bush slowly got to his feet "Yes .....see him you shall.." His voice now betraying him. Horatio looked puzzled. He stared back at Bush and then his mind put the pieces together ... he knew it. Oh my God, Archie!!..... "Where is he..!" He asked again already moving towards the door. Bush tried to stop him "Wait..wait man wait........."he tried. "It must be done..." Horatio looked at him in disbelief and anger, and hurried towards the door. "No...". Banging his fist on the door he shouted "Marine..!" The Marine opened the door and Hornblower stormed past him. Bushes words echoed in his head..... "It must be done.." No not like this....."To the Courthouse, quickly now" he shouted at the Marine. Was it too late??

 

"Call the next witness" Captain Pellew bellowed. The door opened and every head turned to see who was coming in. "It’s Mr Kennedy" "But he’s wounded" "what’s he doing here." "Order!!" Pellew demanded, slaming the gavel. The court was filled with noice, but it became quiet when Kennedy stepped forward. Dr. Clive following him closely. Archie clutched his hat to his side, and slowly set one foot before the other. He saw members of the crew...Matthews, Styles.. at him in Their faces stared at him in astonishment. He saw Captain Pellew.. what would he think.. Archie hesitated.. He must be brave now..He could do this. His body protesting at each movement.. he could barely walk now, catching his breath... His legs refused him. He stumbled.. But Dr. Clive caught him by the arm and held him upright. Archie nodded at him...and continued his difficult path to the witness stand.

"I alone pushed him.... I alone pushed Captain Sawyer into the hold...."

Horatio entered the Courthouse. There was a lot of noise and voices shouting inside. As they entered the room he heard Captain Pellew bellow "Take this man down." He saw a group of Marines coming down from the other side of the room and in their midst there was Archie. He looked dazed and confused, as if he were not there. Men were shouting and talking loud in confusion. It all passed Horatio. He knew what had happened. Archie had taken the blame for Captain Sawyer’s fall into the hold, and there was nothing he could do about it. The slamming of the gavel resounded in his head. Horatio stood frozen. The group came towards him now. Then Archie saw him... He stopped and his eyes met Horatio’s. They stared at each other. Despair in Horatio’s and resignation in Archie’s eyes. People around them were pushing an rushing outside. Horatio still could not move. His mind was in turmoil, his heart screaming "why ! " but he could not speak. He just stared at Archie in disbelief, not being able to grasp the situation. Archie’s pale and perspiring face showed no emotion but then there was a hint of a smile around his lips. Almost as if he wanted to reassure Horatio it was alright. He seemed almost relieved.

 

Back in the infirmary the doctor attended to Archie. Archie had lost consciousness after leaving the courthouse and he did not remember being brought back. When he woke the pain was gone. Dr. Clive had given him more medicine. He felt the doctor’s hand on his forehead. Horatio stood behind the bars as he watched his dying friend lie on the bed. His hands clutched to the bars of the cell. Mr. Bush had gone back to the ship and they were alone now. Clive came towards him. Horatio walked slowly towards the gate. The doctor gave him a sympathetic look. "Take as long as you like" he said stepping aside to let Hornblower pass. This was it then? Horatio walked forward towards the bed. He stood a bit awkward and then sat down at the foot-end of the bed. Archie was wide awake now. After a long pause Horatio finally spoke, "Why?.." "Look at me"Archie said, "There isn’t a gallows in the world that can touch me now”. "Archie.." Horatio shook his head.. He was shattered. What could he possibly say to Archie when he himself still couldn’t understand it. Archie was dying, and there was nothing he could do. Archie smiled. "It doesn’t hurt Horatio, Don’t let them tell you it hurts.. But I am frightened.." Seeing his friend try so hard to be brave, Horatio felt some of his courage come back. Archie needed him now... "You’re the bravest man I know Archie" he said firmly. Archie smiled "A little prone to panic...." "Archie.......You’re the one that jumped of a cliff with a man who can’t swim and another who’s afraid of heights" Horatio reminded him. They both chuckled remembering that moment. "So I am" said Archie. "No panic then" Horatio smiled. "And none now" said Archie determined and seemed to swallow what was left of his fear. Horatio looked at him and sofly continued "And none when you stood up in court and took the blame..". Archie had expected this. "Poor Horatio, so quick to give, so slow to accept the simplest gift." He almost whispered it. "You would have done the same for me and others besides a thousand times". Horatio felt tears well up in his eyes. "But never at such a dear cost...... " His voice broke.. Archie spoke calmly. "Please take what I offer,.........take it and say goodbye" the last word came out in a sob. "Archie .." Horatio began again. His emotions overwhelmed him. He faced his head down so that Archie would not see the tears in his eyes. How could he say goodbye. He wasn’t ready for this. But he had to be strong for Archie’sake. Archie looked at Horatio struggling with his emotions.

 

Then Horatio took Archie’s hand, his long fingers folding around it. He regained his strenght and finally spoke: "I’m honoured ....to have served with you" "Oh."Archie thought, how typical for Horatio to say that. They had been through so much together and knew each other so well. And yet Horatio always seemed to be unable to express his true feelings. He held Horatio’s hand more firmly and as he fought back his own tears, he softly said "And I to have known you......" Horatio smiled "yes..... " he said barely audible. The two men looked at each other, comforting themselves feeling the warmth of their friendship. No words were needed now... Archie flashed the biggest smile he could manage. "You see" he said, ".... Better already.........." The words were lost as Archie writhed. His face screwed up in pain. He felt a strain on his chest....He could not breathe....He squeezed Horatio’s hand... desperately clinging to it...and felt he was slipping away from him ..he fought against it...if only he wasn’t so weary He gasped.... it went dark.......

Horatio watched his friend struggle for breath. The grip on his hand grew tighter. ..Archie sighed...his blue eyes turned towards the ceiling in wonder.. ...and then his breath simply stopped......he was gone. Still holding Archie’s hand, Horatio sat motionless at his side and stared at Archie’s face. "My dear friend" he whispered...

He felt a great sadness descend upon him. Archie was gone. The only friend he ever had, the one true companion a man could wish for. Perhaps he had not expressed his feelings towards Archie enough. He felt sorry now, not having done so. His own reserved nature often got in his way. And now he had really lost him and he missed him already.. He felt lonely, as lonely as he had ever been...... The hand had let go ...... With his other hand Horatio touched Archie’s face and closed his friends eyes. And then he finally broke down and gave into his feelings. He cried in silence.. His tears not seen by anyone but himself.

 

The next day Archie Kennedy was burried on the cemetery near the church in Kingston. A small ceremony with only a few members of the crew attending. There were no officers present except for Mr. Bush. A wooden board, provided by the ship’s carpenter, marked his grave. It read: "Here lies Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy 1775-1801 HMS Renown." Mr. Bush read the bible. Horatio’s thoughts wandered off to that stormy day in January eight years ago, when Archie had welcomed him aboard the Justinian. How he had chattered the whole way down to the midshipmans’ birth and how they had laughed at Horatio’s seasickness, How they soon became friends. The dangerous missions they had embarked upon together, saving each others lives, almost losing Archie twice, promotion and transfering to bigger ships. They had been together always, and now he had to continue the journey alone.... " ..through our Lord Jesus Christ...." He gazed out to the blue sea. How he longed to sail again. Standing on the quarterdeck, feel the fresh breeze, hear the wind in the rigging.. He felt Bush’s hand on his shoulder. "Mr Hornblower, are you alright" the lieutenant asked. "Yes, thank you Sir. I would like to spend some time alone now if you don’t mind.." Bush smiled at him. He had grown fond of this young man although he never could figure out what emotions were at work in him. "Fine , Mr Hornbower, I will see you aboard the Renown then." Horatio kneeled by the fresh grave. He took Archie’s telescope from his belt and shoved it in the earth. "Well Archie, this is goodbye then.....keep a lookout for me." He took a handful of earth from the grave and put it in his pocket. "I’ll take that home " he said softly. He got up, took one last glance at his friend’s grave and then slowly walked away.

 

Horatio went back to the prison to pick up his own belongings. When he passed the infirmary, he entered the room not knowing quite what to expect of it. He sat down on the bed, where he sat only a day ago when Archie was still there. He must have been sitting there for quite some time and did not notice that someone had come in. It was Captain Pellew. "Mr. Hornblower I thought you might like to see a copy of the Kingston Chronicle before you leave" He handed Horatio the paper. "Captain Sawyer, a great leader untill the last " he quoted. "And you and Mr. Bush are highly commended. It won’t be long before the London papers publish the story" Horatio’s eyes read the lines quickly "no mention of Mr. Kennedy?" he asked. "No" Pellew said " It was thought not politics. Nations need heroes Mr. Hornblower, heroes make us believe the impossible is achievable" "If one knows ther name.."Horatio sneered. "Mr. Kennedy..." he began. The Captain interrupted him "Mr. Kennedy took al calculated risk when he pushed Captain Sawyer down the hold, for the good of the service and in all likelyhood was right to do so". Horatio smiled. Archie had succeeded in his task. He looked up, still smiling faintly. "Do you think Mr. Kennedy was telling the truth?" Horatio asked. The Captain looked him straight in the eye. "I believe Mr. Kennedy was a man of great loyalty Sir, he saw his duty and did it" Horatio sighed "And went to his grave without the merit of his good name" he said bitterly. His voice gave away his grieve. "But you and I will not forget it" Pellew said, trying to comfort him. "No..."Horatio shook his head and sighed. Horatio’s head sank to his chest and again he felt tears in his eyes. "I see the Gaditana has been renamed Reribution" the Captain continued. "O.."Horatio echod. "The paint is hardly dry and yet they’ve appointed a new Commander. Would you not like to know who is to command the Retribution?" the Captain asked. Horatio looked up as the Captain stretched out a package. "Your orders Commander" It read: To the Captain of the Retribution, Commander Horatio Hornblower. Horatio took the package with both hands as he stood up. He read the lines again. Commander.....His heart beating fast now. "But Mr Bush is second in command, the honour should go to him.." he muttered. "Mr. Hornblower, I advice you an offered promotion to accept it, or it may not be offered again, am I making myself clear" The captain said sharply and he turned towards the door. "Yes Sir" Horatio said composing himself. The Captain turned and looked at the young officer, whom he loved as if he were his own son. The trial was over. Horatio’s honour had been saved and his task was completed here. He’d be alright now. "I wish you......a safe voyage, Mr Hornblower." He put on his hat and walked towards the door. Horatio was standing there, holding the orders in his hand, still looking utterly surprised and not being able to say anything. The Captain, who he admired so much, had given him a reason to carry on. Archie would be pleased. He felt proud and strong again. Ready to do his duty. Pellew was already by the door, when finally Horatio managed to say something. His voice trembled with emotion. "Thank you Sir" he whispered.

 

The End