Alexander Kent's Bolitho novels, Age of Sail. Richard Bolitho/ThomasHerrick, written for ersatzkapitaen in yuletide 2014.


London, 1787. Captain Richard Bolitho risks his heart on a single throw of the dice, and is cruelly rebuffed. That very night he encounters, under the most compromising of circumstances, his old first officer, the one man whom he had believed shared his hopes and dreams. Yet if Bolitho holds true to his own ideals, Herrick's actions must not just be excused, but accepted....


At Close of Day
Jay Tryfanstone
2014

 

The rattle of his heeled shoes on stone struck a double echo, the sound cruelly sharp through the smog that hid the coffee-shops and wine-merchants of Pall Mall and shrouded the gas-lights into creeping darkness. London fog, clammy, laden with smuts, rank with the smell of rotting fruit and Thames mud and the filth of the kennels, rolled through the streets of the city like some great beast. Through it Bolitho strode half-blind, the cold, damp air slicing through the fine wool of his dress uniform and tarnishing the gold lace at his neck and cuffs.

Whether she had truly been there or not he did not know, although the house had been shuttered.

Even the cries of the street traders faded, the rumble of carts and the rough shouts of the lamp lighters vanished into the heavy silence. He'd turned, he thought, into Charles Street, but the houses loomed as high and dark on either side as the hull of a ship of the line. Here, between St James and Haymarket, the wide avenues of fashionable London gave way to the alleys and tenements of the poor, where every doorway sheltered some unfortunate wretch and an astute man walked lightly, with a hand on the hilt of his sword.

"Mrs Raymond is not in residence," her steward had snapped.

"When will she return?"

He could have beaten his fists on the door until they bled, the loss of hope cut so sharp.

"None of your business. Now be off with you!"

His palm still ached with the imprint of his sword hilt, the rigor of his grip so painfully strong he did not know how he had turned away.

She would not know he had called. His beloved Viola, another man's wife, the woman with whom Bolitho had spent so few, desperate, magical days and nights. Even now he could remember the scent of her hair and the warmth of her skin, as vivid to him now in the bitter London night as it had been two years ago when she last laid at his side. But she was lost to him now: he had tonight, and no longer, before he must return to Falmouth. If the little Admiral had not kept him waiting so long, he might have snatched another hour from the day, no longer, but enough perhaps to hold her in his arms once more.

Had they been nothing but dreams, his hopes?

"Two guineas!" said a man's voice, " And she nought but a common whore. Eighteen pence and not a ha'penny more, I said to her."

In fog, sound carried, but the voice was so sharp Bolitho started and closed his grip on the hilt of his father's sword. He knew not where he was, but the bagnios and brothels of St James drew not just the politicians and courtiers of the gentry but the rotten dregs of the city's underbelly. King Street might be lined with carriages, but the alleys behind it were the haunt of mohawks and pickpockets. The shuffling footsteps behind him could be nobleman or thief, the disorderly scuffle to his left a street wench and her customer or a gin-sodden tussle in the dark.

Clear and loud, Bolitho heard the singing note of a sword drawn from its scabbard and the shout, as if on some beleaguered quarter deck, "To me! To me!"

A wise man would have walked on. Bolitho drew his own sword, hesitating. "Watchman!" he cried, with little hope of his call being answered. "Call the watch!" He could hear the clash of steel on steel.

"To me!" And then, electrifying, "Undine! To me!"

Bolitho was already running. The Undine had been his own frigate, and the man fighting for his life might once have been one of his crew. "Here!" he shouted, and the grey fog parted around a struggling group of ruffians, three young toughs surrounding a man whose broad shoulders and fighting stance seemed startlingly familiar. A swift strike with the flat of his own blade sent one of them stumbling away, a returning slice cut neatly across another's breeches and drew a fierce yelp of pain, and Bolitho looked over bared steel and to his absolute shock found his own friend, the best of all his first officers, staring back at him.

"Herrick!"

"Sir!" Herrick exclaimed. "Sir, I-"

"Later!" Bolitho said, for his first blows had been less effective than he hoped and two of the ruffians had regrouped. He disengaged swiftly, spun his sword through the air in a show of bravado Allday would have cursed him for indulging, and said, "Well, my lads, a grand night for it. Who's first?"

He made a formidable figure, a tall, lean man, black-haired, with a cruel scar just visible over one eye, and although his grin was reckless his stance was that of a man who knew how to fight. "Thomas, what say you?" he asked. "A guinea to the first of us to lay one out!"

It was enough. Breaking, the three ruffians turned tail and ran, footsteps fading swiftly into the fog.

"Well met indeed!" Bolitho said, sheathing his sword. The excitement of the skirmish had raised his spirits, but the joy of meeting the one man he could count on to understand his grief was incalculable. "Thomas, an unexpected pleasure!"

In the confusion, he had not realised, but although Herrick's sword arm was free his other was encumbered by a small, slight figure in a ruffled dress.

"Captain," Herrick said.

"Richard," said Bolitho swiftly, for they had been on first name terms since - surely, since the Phalarope. An unhappy ship with a sadistic first officer and a mutinous crew, she had been one of Bolitho's earliest commands, his first frigate, and he had fought hard to restore her pride. It was on the Phalarope that they had met.

"I did not know you were in town," Herrick said stiffly.

"Only for tonight," Bolitho said. He took a step back. Herrick was not smiling.

"For which we are truly grateful," Herrick said. "I do not know if..." He glanced down. The lady was tugging on his arm, her face turned to his. "We must be away. Should I meet you later? Tom King's? Were my errand not urgent, I swear - you will be free anon?"

Clearly, he was unwilling to introduce Bolitho to his companion. Aware that Herrick had always had a more earthy attitude to such matters than himself, Bolitho took a step back and doffed his hat. It had been foolish to think that Herrick would have had the same intense feeling of swift pleasure on recognising his captain: it had been two years since they had met, after all, and a close friendship in the closeted surroundings of a King's ship did not always result in companionship on land. "Indeed, I too must take my leave," Bolitho began, and then had to pause, startled into silence.

In the scuffle, the lady's skirt had become tangled in Herrick's scabbard. Her ankles were very fine indeed, clad in clocked silk stockings, but her feet were of a size more suited to a burly marine than a bird of paradise. Her hips were slim, her shoulders surprisingly solid, her oversized hands in their straining kid gloves conveying the same sense of puppyish clumsiness as any midshipman's. Doubt and wonder followed Bolitho's gaze as he catalogued the fine angle of her neck under the concealing bonnet, and the single ringlet that fell carelessly over her shoulder, pale even in the darkness. There was something hauntingly familiar about that jawline. He puzzled over it, amazed, and then she turned to face him. Some trick of the light - an approaching lantern, perhaps, he could hear heavy footsteps - struck across her face, and the wide, pale blue of her eyes was instantly recognisable. His breath hissed between his teeth.

"Sir," she began.

She must be one of Valentine Keen's sisters, surely, although he had thought all five of them were married now and no doubt driving the boy to distraction. He could have sworn they were older than this child.

"If it please you, this gentleman has been so kind-" Her voice cracked on the last word, nervous and high-pitched as any boy's.

She was not one of Valentine's sisters. She was his brother.

"Romulus Keen!" Bolitho exclaimed.

His voice seemed inexcusably loud.

"Richard, I beg you," Herrick said swiftly, while at his side young Romulus had drawn himself up to his full height and snatched off his bonnet. Above the ruffled lace of his cabot, there was no mistaking the pugnacious angle of his chin.

Of such a moment were nightmares made. In that instant, an appalling progression of events spun through Bolitho's mind - discovery, the horrors of Newgate, the pitiless magistrate, insupportable disgrace, the pillory, the hulks, transportation - "Thomas," Bolitho managed, and then discovered himself dumb. Yet there was not a moment to be lost, for the approaching footsteps were as loud as the crack of a pistol, and the very smog itself was fading into lantern-light -

"Ah, Captain, there you are," said Allday. "All tight and sound, and Captain Herrick and young Miss Keen as well. I'd a mind you might have mislaid your way, the fog being uncommon thick, but here we are fetched up on Duke Street neat as you please, and me with the watch behind me." His wink was brazen, the younger Keen was cramming his bonnet back on his head, and as two elderly men and a boy in the uniform of the watch crept into the lamplight Allday forged on, "There's rooms bespoke at Fenton's, Captain, and I took the liberty, seeing the state of the tide, of requesting a bath, for which I paid out two shillings and tuppence in good English pence and have no mind to see go to waste. Well, little miss, shall you let old Allday squire you home? It's naught but a hop and step to your own front door."

Allday's stocky figure, looming out of the smog, was as familiar to Bolitho as the stones of his own home, imperturbable and solid as English oak. In the upsets of a storm-tossed day, it seemed almost unexceptional that his coxswain appear at his side, offering an elbow to Romulus Keen as gallantly as if he escorted any society lady.

"Make that the scullery roof, Allday," said Herrick, very dry.

"Aye, aye, sir," Allday said. "My Lady?"

The fog, the lantern light, the figures of the waiting watch, made everything seem like a dream. The young Keen replaced her - his - her bonnet and sailed away on Allday's arm with all the stately grace of a ship of a line, surrounded by the flotilla of the watch, Thomas' familiar features were cast into a distant stranger's, and Bolitho's tired thoughts were foundered in disarray.

"If you will allow it," said Herrick, formal as an Admiralty lackey, "It would relieve my mind to see you safe at Fenton's."

It occurred to Bolitho with some force that he had not eaten since disembarking the post chaise that morning, that his very skin itched with the clinging grime of town air, and despite the weary confusion of his mind he could not - would not - let matters stand as they were. "Dine with me," he said.

"Is that-" Herrick's voice was very level. "Is that an order, Sir?"

"For the love of - Thomas, am I to judge you on a boy's jape?"

But it was more than that, and they both knew it.

"Of course, if you are engaged elsewhere-"

"No," said Herrick. "No, I am not."

Matched to the same stride, his footsteps echoed Bolitho's.

Gas-lit, the cavernous public rooms of the great coaching inn passed in a blur. Bolitho's own rooms were high under the eaves, as befitted a naval captain of little enough influence, but they were clean and well-lit for all their obscurity. He had barely shut the door before a sharp rap announced his bath to be ready, and the private parlour laid for dinner. "You'll take a glass of something while you wait?" Bolitho asked, for Herrick had not even taken off his cloak and was standing in the middle of the room staring at the door as if he wished more than anything to be on the other side.

Reminded, Bolitho struggled out of his own jacket, sadly damp.

"Thank you, I will," said Herrick, poured, and drank the measure down in one swallow.

Forced to heave and tug at his boots - extraordinary how dependent he had become on Allday's aid - Bolitho sat heavily in the armchair. "Sit," he said. "For the love of God, man, did you think I should call the watch on you? You have seen me in worse straits!"

At last, Herrick stripped off his own cloak and hung it up, but even then could only bring himself to stride to the fireplace. There he stood, staring down at the bright flicker of the flames.

"We have known each other long enough to allow at least some measure of - curse this buckle," Bolitho said, struggling. "I swear, were it not-"

"You were at the Admiralty?" Herrick asked. His hands twitched, and he took a short step forward, quickly arrested.

Bolitho had dressed for Viola, as formally and with as much care as if he went into battle, not the lords of the Admiralty, for all their political maneuvers. Now, struggling with his sword harness, he cursed the impulse. "Yes," he said. "And back to Falmouth tomorrow. Whitehall corridors are crowded with men in hopes of a ship - any ship - and I could wish this peace long ended, although we have been lucky enough. I saw your name in the Gazette, Captain."

"I leave for Woolwich at the end of the week," said Herrick. "Here, let me just lose-" His hands joined Bolitho's, tugged, and suddenly the harness came free. Herrick stood with it in his hands.

It had taken Bolitho years to learn the unspoken rules of a King's ship, longer to negotiate the pitfalls and snarls of the Navy's political maneuvering. He had thought he knew Herrick as well as the lines of his own right hand, their habits and familiarities accustomed, but the Herrick he had met tonight - that protective embrace for a boy in a petticoat! - was a stranger. Yet the face bent over his own swordbelt was still the face of a friend.

"You will be here when I return?" he said, his voice abrupt. It seemed to him that for a heartbeat all was held in balance - their friendship, everything he had thought he had known, and if Herrick left now there would be no regaining that ground.

"I will," Herrick said.

"Good," said Bolitho. A log crumbled in the grate, flames leaping, the room suddenly felt, to his chilled skin, warmer, and he could reach for his shirt strings. "I shall not be long. There is a handful of papers in the case you might care to study - a new design for a sloop, I should be glad to discuss the angles of her counter-" His shirt caught on his shoulders, uncomfortably twisted. "And to-"

"I had not believed captaincy to so incapacitate a man that he be rendered incapable of removing his own shirt," Herrick said, assisting, and at last there was the shadow of a familiar laughter in his voice.

"Incapacitate," said Bolitho. "Thomas."

"My sister has both a sharp mind and a sharp wit," said Herrick. "I shall tell her you noticed, she would be pleased."

"Some day you must introduce me to this family of yours..."

Herrick, Bolitho recalled as he lay back in the steaming bath water, had met his mother.

Sailors learn quickly the benefits of cleanliness, and Bolitho had always thought the bath one of the great pleasures of shore life, to be set against fresh food and a solid bed. Scrubbed from head to foot, his skin pinked from the rough towels, he felt both pleasantly wearied and strung with anticipation, recalling there was a twist of fine tobacco in his case and a packet of new pipes, and that the smell of rabbit pie from the taproom promised an substantial meal. If Allday had been to hand, he would even have brought himself to shave, but as it was he went to the table unshaven and in his shirt sleeves and found Herrick companionably in the same state. Dinner was already served, and they ate an excellent supper engaged in the kind of disinterested small talk Bolitho would have expected were they dining on the Undine.

Yet at the same time Bolitho's thoughts could not but turn to the evening's discoveries. He was merely toying with the remains of his ice, Herrick's eyes were already straying to the brandy decanter, and both table and bath water had been cleared. They were unlikely to be disturbed.

"Is your acquaintance with the younger Keen longstanding?"

"Of six or seven months." Herrick, never loquacious, was positively curt.

"How did you-" Herrick was the son of a clerk. Keen's father was a baronet. Any intercourse between them would been - "Valentine wrote to you," Bolitho said.

"He did," said Herrick. He stared down at his empty glass, but did not reach for the brandy. "The introduction was unexpected, but when I became aware of the company the boy was keeping - the younger Keen, that is - his mother will not yet hear of another son gone to the Navy."

"So Valentine asked you to watch out for his brother. Given the circumstances, Thomas, it appears to me as if someone should have been watching out for you!"

"Should I have allowed Romulus to attend Mrs Cornelys unaccompanied?" Herrick asked, with some force behind the words. "Dressed as he was? What else could I do?"

"At Carlisle House? The public masquerades? Good god, the place is notorious! What if his mother should know!"

"She is much distracted," said Herrick. "Two weddings in three months - it is no wonder the boy feels neglected. You have met Lady Keen. The situation is not ideal."

"Nevertheless," Bolitho said, "Forgive me, but the danger you yourself court in escorting - Herrick, he is but a boy! And in petticoats! You might be kicking your heels in Newgate this very moment!"

"Ah," said Herrick. He did reach for the decanter, pouring first for Bolitho and then for himself, but then sat with the glass in his hand, merely, it seemed, studying the refracted candlelight.

"The mere implication would be sufficient to have you drummed out of the fleet!" said Bolitho. "You are no Forbes - no connection of yours or mine would be sufficient to protect you in this!"

"There was little enough choice in the matter," Herrick said. "Romulus is wild, but not vicious. Not yet."

"You do not think his taste inclines towards men?" Bolitho asked. He thought of young Keen, a second lieutenant now, and shuddered inwardly. The meerest whiff of scandal could ruin a man's career, and Keen was an officer of some promise, the kind of man the Navy should be glad to own. Inescapably, Bolitho thought of his own brother, the rumours of Hugh's gambling and violence which had shadowed his own career and hastened their father's death.

"It is too soon to know," Herrick said, as if the question was entirely reasonably and not socially damming. "But he is a sensible boy."

"There is only one thing for it," said Bolitho, for whom the Navy had been both home and family, a discipline as comforting as his faith. Already he was wondering if his own influence was sufficient to gain the boy a posting to some friendly ship. "Yet if Lady Keen should be persuaded - surely Valentine must be proposing the idea - would you welcome him on board, knowing what you know?"

Herrick looked up. "I would welcome Romulus for his own sake as I would any other midshipman," he said sternly. "But for my own....Lest I call myself a hypocrite, Bolitho, I must make the same choice."

"I'm sorry?" said Bolitho, suddenly as off-balance as if his sails had backed to the wind. Had Herrick confessed as he thought? Were he to have taken another street, been a day before or after, would it have been Herrick he found in a skirt, with a ringletted wig? Bolitho tried to reconcile the image with the man who stood before him, and failed. Herrick remained as he was, a little stockier than he had been, his face comfortably round, resolute, a man as reliable and honest as the good Kentish soil from which he sprang.

"This is what you are really asking, Richard! One false step, and you are as ready to condemn as any hanging judge! What did you once say to me - that you would not despise a man because he did not share your beliefs?" Herrick had half-risen from the table, his face flushing. "Well, let it be said! When all is said and done, Captain, I could not condemn such a choice, for I find very little difference between a pego and a cunt in the pursuit of pleasure!" Herrick snapped. He took three short steps to the fireplace, and stood there, looking down, his breath heaving and his hands clasped white-knuckled on the mantle as if he fought some internal battle.

Bolitho, confounded, said nothing. The room seemed darker, the candles flickering: he reached for the brandy and discovered his hands shaking.

Herrick was his friend. He poured two glass, stood, and walked over to the fireplace where Herrick stood. "Thomas," Bolitho said, holding out the glass. "I cannot - I would not condemn any man out of hand. You, in particular."

Taking one last shuddering breath, Herrick turned around. "Forgive the vulgarity," he said. "I fear that in the King's ships we have seen more than enough of Rears and Vices."

It was a well-worn joke, but it raised a wry smile from Bolitho and Herrick's mouth softened in response. "I mean to say," he said, "That for me...such a connection lies more in companionship. Given my circumstances, I am unlikely to marry, but nevertheless the consolation of a friend with whom one shares more than just a timely conjunction of flesh..." he paused, frowning. "With a friend, a man - I do mean a man, Bolitho, not a boy - there is a mutual understanding which for me makes something meaningful of what cannot but be a fleeting encounter. As much - more so, on occasion - as with any willing wench."

Bolitho tapped his finger on the brandy glass, still proffered. When Herrick took it, his grateful nod was stiff, but his grasp was so unthinkingly tight his knuckles were white to the bone.

"You would not make the orlop deck a - a molly house," said Bolitho. His voice was deliberately quiet.

"I have known you transfer a topsman the ship sorely missed, lest he and his companion be parted," Herrick rejoined. "But an officer? I would not, any more than you would find a woman between my sheets. I will not exercise my unnatural desires under your command, Captain, nor would I on any other ship, my own or otherwise."

His chin was up, his eyes bright with defiance, but Herrick's hands were still so tightly gripped on mantelpiece and brandy Bolitho feared for the glass. He himself felt both weary and on edge, fearful of saying the wrong thing and driving the words between them.

"I have been too long in the Navy to find anything unnatural about a man...two men...ah, Thomas, you know what I mean! It is merely that - of all men - but we are friends," Bolitho said stupidly.

"Indeed we are," said Herrick. His voice had gentled, his hand dropping away from the mantel. "And on this point I must thank you for your understanding."

"Then let the matter be settled," Bolitho said, desperate for it to be so, and cast about for a topic less loaded. "What do you think of the brandy? The landlord swore it French, but by the colour I would term it more Portuguese - here, tell me what you think."

Gravely, Herrick took a sip, his eyes closed. His face was so very familiar to Bolitho, solid, comfortable, a companion of battle and dinning table alike, and yet - what could one man truly know of another?

"I detect the whiff of..." Herrick was lost in thought as he swilled another taste.

"What?"

"A smuggler," said Herrick.

And suddenly they were laughing like boys, all the tension between them snapped and gone. Bolitho could bring himself to find pipes and tobacco, Herrick could speculate about his new ship, and Bolitho could finally unburden himself of Viola's betrayal, the sting of it pulled and near painless, in such company. As easy together here as they had been on the Phalarope and on the Undine, conversation ebbed and flowed between them in accustomed harmony. When the candles guttered, It was without a second thought that Bolitho prevailed upon his old lieutenant to forgo the smog and share his lodging.

"Leave your shirt, Allday will have it fresh by daybreak," Bolitho said, pulling back the sheets. The bed was not only clean, but warmed. He unbuttoned his breeches, wondering idly if the younger Keen had subverted some poor servant into unlacing his petticoats. "And bring a candle? The one on the mantel looks to have the longest wick."

Herrick hesitated in the doorway. "Should I - there are blankets enough-"

"What?" said Bolitho. "You will not sleep in your boots, I hope?"

"No," said Herrick. He put the candle down, smiling, and sat on the bed.

"But of all things," Bolitho said, chasing his own thoughts, "I cannot think why - forgive me, Thomas - Valentine should write to you. He must know your acquaintance and his are divided."

"Our Mr Keen has always been a politician," Herrick said.

"Perhaps he was hoping your interest would secure the boy a berth," said Bolitho, shifting over to make room as Herrick stripped off his shirt.

"Or rather, if anyone were to be sacrificed, better it were a nobody than a peer of the realm," said Herrick, rolling himself nealy under the sheets.

"But that is abominable!" said Bolitho. "Surely he would not-" But Valentine would. He could see it clearly now, the gamble. Herrick would of course be all obligation, as protective as an elder brother, but should any mishap occur - and Valentine must have been aware to some degree of the risks Romulus ran - then better it were the common Herrick and not a man of higher degree who bore the blame. "I cannot believe it," he said. "Thomas, it is infamous!"

"And yet I counted the cost and thought it worth paying," Herrick said.

"Thomas," said Bolitho, and leaned up on his elbow. "Has Keen some lever - some knowledge which he should not have?"

"Not in the least," said Herrick "I have always thought it safer to say nothing. But how could I not sympathise with the boy?"

"Ah," said Bolitho, and let himself fall back into the mattress. "Yes. He has you there."

"Not, I assure you, in any unnatural manner," said Herrick. His voice was amused, but Bolitho could not smile, and very quickly Herrick added, "Forgive me, I did not intend discomfort."

"It is not that at all, I should prefer you to be at ease, as we have always been, it is just-"

"Richard?"

"I cannot but think of it!" Bolitho burst out. "I know little enough of a man and a woman!"

"Ah," said Herrick.

He said nothing more, but Bolitho could feel, almost as if they were touching, the tension in his limbs. "And for you - as if it were commonplace, as if friendship and affection could be as much part of the thing as desire-" He stopped.

Very slowly, Herrick rolled over. His face on the bolster looked very young, grave as he had been on the Phalarope, and yet there was a softness to the set of his mouth, a vulnerability, that Bolitho felt tug at every bond between them.

"I do not believe - this is not like you."

"I scarce know myself tonight," Bolitho said honestly. He stared up at the ceiling, his thoughts in disorder, and then could not help glancing down. Herrick's eyes were closed, his eyelashes heavy on his cheeks, but his hand gripped the bolster so tightly the seams must be near bursting.

Bolitho reached out. Gently, one by one, he uncurled each finger. His hand seemed hardly his own, the blankets were too warm, he was alone and crowded all at once, he could not breath.

"All the same," Herrick murmured, "I'd be honoured, Richard. If you'll have me." Open, his eyes, all their blue shaded to darkness in the pale light of a single candle, were entirely steady.

"I would," said Bolitho. He reached out. Herrick's shoulders, his thighs, slid into place as easily as sword to scabbard. His prick, ruddy and already proud, stood stalwart against Bolitho's, and his hands were as hard and sure in this endeavour as they had been in any other venture. Here, where he had hoped only that his nerve would not break, Bolitho found his heart pounding and and his head awhirl, his skin feverish and his limbs shaking. "Thomas!" he cried out, "Thomas!"

"Ah, Richard," Herrick said, had mercy, and closed his hand on the both of them.

As well stand in the path of a carronade.

Spent and drowsing, Herrick's head heavy on his shoulder, Bolitho heard the parlour door ease open and then Allday's familiar, rolling footsteps. Allday, no doubt attempting stealth, but his rough care would always be a seaman's: the rustle of wool and lace, a muffled curse, the creak of leather and the stroke of brush and bootblack, the faint chime of glass on silver as he helped himself to a measure of spirits. In the morning, Bolitho's shirt would be as freshly pressed and his boots as finely polished as if they were in his own great cabin on the Tempest.

They were not at sea. Herrick's linen was, no doubt, tangled with his. The table lay abandoned, the bedroom door ill-set and ajar, and the smell of their activities hung in the air.

"A fair wind and a safe harbour tonight, Captain," Allday muttered. "And a good pair of hands at the wheel."

Outside, the watchman cried, "All's well! One of the clock, and all's well!"

It seemed no more than a heartbeat before Bolitho opened his eyes to the pale light of sunrise, yet he felt as well rested as if he had slept in his own bed in Falmouth. The ceiling was unfamiliar, the angle of the shutters uneven, and the bustle of the street below surely exaggerated, there could not be so many carriages or flower-sellers in the whole of London. He felt suffused with energy, but the warm bed held him in its embrace. Today he must - he was for Falmouth, his orders set, and Viola had not - and Herrick -

Herrick. Bolitho chanced a glance sideways, careful not to move a muscle, and indeed Herrick lay tangled in the same sheets, one shoulder bare, his tawny hair buried in the bolster. He was asleep.

It had happened, then. And yet Bolitho felt no different. He was the same man who had woken yesterday, he had the same face, the same thoughts: his feelings for Herrick were as affectionate, untainted by anger or resentment. He could not say the same for Valentine Keen, who had risked Herrick's good name, Bolitho would not stand for it, although his sympathy for Romulus stood now in full measure. How very strange the arbitrary judgment of society, to laud an actress or a whore and condemn a friendship sealed with affection! Yet Romulus must have spent the night quaking, terrified of the constable's knock. Herrick's discretion was assured, Bolitho's entirely untried, and if the boy had any thought of a naval posting his hopes would be knife-edged.

"I must write to him," Bolitho said aloud, determined. "I cannot let him think this incident held over his head. As bad as waiting for the guillotine! Allday! - no, Thomas, no need to rise - Allday! Paper and ink, on the double!" He paused. "And coffee!"