June 2, 1811
My darling —
For once, I do not know what to say to you. How should a man who has been dead for six months announce his return to the world of the living? But I am indeed alive — I have been for six months a fugitive in France, hidden by an unexpected aid, and William and Archie are both with me. I have thought of you often with hope and with grief — hope of returning to you in the event of a successful escape, grief that the news of my death might have caused you pain.
But the little vessel which is to depart with our letters is already alongside the Triumph and I must make this brief. William and Archie and I sheltered at a place of safety through the winter, as they recovered from their wounds, for William lost his foot in the action in which the Sutherland was sunk, and this spring we made our way down the Loire by boat to the Bay of Biscay, where we found the captured cutter Witch of Endor and made our escape with her, after which we rejoined the Channel Fleet. I must stand court martial for the loss of the Sutherland and so I shall be held on the Triumph until the present admiral hauls down his flag and she returns to England. Archie is staying with me.
William is to be promoted into the Witch of Endor as commander and sent back to England with despatches, which both delights and worries me, for I can think of no man more deserving, but it was he who suffered the most over our winter in France. May I be so bold as to entrust him to your care when he reaches England, if he does not arrive before this letter? I fear that he suffers from some uncertainties over his future. Should the outcome of the court martial be in my favor, please let William know that my fate is his if he should desire it. That I shall not sail with another first officer as long as I live. Unless he is promoted to his own ship, and then of course, I shall be delighted.
Your ever loving,
Barbara had been obliged to sit down when Hebe delivered to her a letter addressed in her husband's handwriting. It was not uncommon for letters sent at sea to spend months in transit, or to be mislaid upon their way and recovered years later if at all. She had expected it to be dated before his capture and execution, or perhaps, if she was fortunate, to be a last letter from the prison in which he had been held, a final privilege granted to a condemned man by a merciful commander.
It had not been, and she still could not quite believe her eyes. She reread the fantastic missive which she held. How should a man who has been dead for six months announce his return...I am indeed alive. She laughed a little at the wry tone of those words, which above all else removed her doubts that this was really a letter from Horatio.
A fugitive in France, hidden by an unexpected aid. She wondered what he meant by that, but supposed he had his reasons for avoiding the details.
Their wounds...William lost his foot in the action in which the Sutherland was sunk. She hoped fervently that Horatio's exception of himself from the number of wounded meant that he was really unhurt, not merely that he wished to spare her worry, even as she grieved at the thought of their dearest friend dealing with so terrible an injury.
...this spring we made our way down the Loire by boat to the Bay of Biscay, where we found the captured cutter Witch of Endor and made our escape with her, after which we rejoined the Channel Fleet. Horatio had compressed six months' adventures into a bare three lines, but she could not help but wonder what hair's-breadth escapes, what feats of fantastical daring, what depths of despair he must have skimmed over in composing that single sentence. She would probably have to wait for Archie Kennedy's arrival to hear the whole tale properly told, for Bush was a man of few words when it came to any exploits but his captain's, and Horatio would "ha-hmm" his way through the tale and leave out half of the most interesting parts because he deemed them unimportant.
...both delights and worries me...suffered the most over our winter in France...entrust him to your care..if he does not arrive before this letter? Even in the time she had known him, Horatio had come leagues in his understanding of friendship and kindness, but he was still not the most perceptive of men, and if he was worried for his first lieutenant things were probably serious. The Witch of Endor would almost certainly be sailing into Portsmouth, and if Horatio was right (and on matters of sailing he was rarely wrong), she had very little time to get there. She looked the letter over one more time, and, giving herself a moment of sentiment, pressed the signature to her lips softly. He lives. My husband lives.
Then she folded the letter carefully and put it into her pocket. She was keenly aware that when her husband was at sea, she could do nothing to check him in his unhappy moods, or to help him through his black depressions, and that she had come to rely on his two lieutenants to do so when she could not, as they relied upon her when Horatio was on land. Now it seemed that one of them needed her aid in turn. She could still do nothing for Horatio, yet, but she could do this thing that he had asked of her. "Hebe," she said, rising to her feet, "Call my coach. We are going to Portsmouth as soon as my things are packed."