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the C.S. Forester Estate. No copyright infringement intended; no profit to be had.
Everyone who had ever been close to Archie was there. All the Indy's crew. Even though it was dark and lonely, the funeral had been peaceful for Archie. The men and the pipes saluted him. There was not a dry eye on the ship. Bracegirdle, Bowles, Hether, all the mates Archie had made over the years were there. Styles, Matthews, even Oldroyd had come.
Horatio stood decked out in his finest uniform, trying to fight through his grief. Trying to organize a burial at sea, complete with a full cannon salute. Horatio had wanted so desperately to bury Archie where he could be closest to him, but Archie's father had wanted him buried in some military cemetery, on land. Horatio could not bear to think of his best mate anywhere but in the sea below him. So he waited three days, and then after dark he ordered Styles and Matthews and the boys to gently put Archie's body in the dory and row it out to sea. Back to the world he loved more than anything.
Later on the deck of The Indy, the ship in which their adventures had begun, Horatio sucked back his pain and read his farewell to the man who meant more to him than life itself. He had buried many men at sea, his head and heart heavy with every single blessed one. But never, never did he think this would ever happen. He read the words, almost breaking down with each one. "We - he - re - com - it the body of S-S-Sir Archibald Kennedy - " His voice was faltering, and it made him ache. Never had Horatio broken down in front of the men, but he just couldn't continue. Never had he hated the bible so.
Styles looked at him standing there, holding the bible in his hands with tears streaming down his face, dripping onto the pages. He walked over to Horatio and said gently, "Let me do that, Mr. Hornblower." He took the bible from Horatio and finished the words, feeling his own heart swelling up. He hadn't been terribly close to Mr. Kennedy, but he had always seen him as a tender soul. An honorable soul, a soul who
cared about his men and felt their pain. He closed the bible and watched Horatio, almost afraid to go on. "Sir, do you want a minute with the body?"
Horatio stared at him dazedly. Never had the sea looked blacker. "Uh, yes, Styles. Thank you, your reading of the service was beautiful, beyond exemplary."
The others stepped back to give Horatio room. He looked down at the body, not wrapped in the customary dull brown wraps but in the British flag, covered with quotes from Shakespeare. Archie's actor friends had written them on it for Horatio; Archie's mother had sent it to him. Like Horatio she had wanted her son buried at sea. He studied the flag, admiring its beauty. How Archie would love it, he thought. Suddenly he felt a breeze come to him. Raindrops studded the water surface, as if all of nature were crying along with him. Horatio put his hands over his eyes and suppressed his tears. He had been so strong for so long; he was not about to let Archie see him break. If it took all the strength he had, he was not going to cry. Not now anyway.
He looked up. There on the horizon was an officer with blond hair, standing on the water.
Horatio stared. No, it couldn't be - could it? He turned back, and it was gone. A flicker of the light, he thought. A trick of the sea; storms could play tricks on the mind. But he looked harder: it was Archie. He stood very tall and was giving his best military salute.
Horatio saluted the spirit of his best friend. "Take care of him," he said to the sea. "He's a hero, you know.”
The shadow seemed to salute back, as if in acknowledgment.
“Styles, Matthews." They hurried up behind him. Whispering into Styles' ear, Horatio directed him to load the cannons. They fired a twenty one-gun salute, as befitting a war hero. With that, Horatio said goodbye to his longtime friend.
They lifted Archie up and he slid down below the waves. Horatio felt a sense of calm flow through him, uneasy as it was. He looked up but didn't see the ghost again. Perhaps he had heard, Horatio said to himself under his breath. Perhaps.
"Look, sir! The sea, sir!"
Horatio looked out - and there where Archie's body had slipped away were dolphins. Hundreds of them, jumping and frolicking around. Something caught his eye: one of the dolphins was looking up at him and with a familiar smile. With a wink of its blue dolphin's eyes, it jumped back into the water and was gone - but only for a moment. It sprang back up to the surface and started swimming alongside the ship.
"Could it be?" Oldroyd had said what everyone was thinking. "Look, sir, it's him! Mr. Kennedy, sir!"
Horatio's heart was too heavy with grief to accept this act of the magical sea gods. But just then the dolphin jumped up past the Indy's railing and sputtered water in Horatio's face. With a squeal that sounded like a laugh, it darted below the waves again. Horatio later recalled it with a smile. Well, Archie would have loved that, anyway. He loved the dolphins so.
Three days after the official ceremony for Archie, Horatio had to read the epitaph. This time he stood in front of the crew with more confidence. His sorrow fled from him whenever he thought of that dolphin. With such great company, his best mate would be quite all right. He rose when his name was called and began to speak.
"Sir Archibald Kennedy was a gentleman among men. An aristocrat of the heart and a warrior of humanity. He had suffered much but gave back more than he got. He was strong perhaps not in combative knowledge or physically, but in heart and soul. He will be missed. We will never be the same.” With a fond smile he looked up and threw a kiss to heaven. Even though I know you're out there waiting for me, I'll see you soon. So he would.
Many years had passed. Horatio had just completed his last voyage. He lay in his wife's arms. Now this aging sea warrior and Lord Admiral felt heavy once again. Many times had he seen that mysterious dolphin beside the Retribution but never had he seen the ghost again. His head grew heavy. He was much older than Pam; his hair was white and his skin wrinkled. He had left orders to be buried at sea.
She had always known and understood that the sea was the place for a true sailor to be buried. His own son was now a married sea captain ... named Archie the Second. It made his papa proud.
Within a week Horatio was buried in a quiet ceremony at sea. Waiting for him, among others, was Archie. They played and frolicked, boys together forever.
(c) 2001 by Cairn