An American Encounter
Airing a Wound
The echoing sound of eight bells rang in the half consciousness of waking. Stirring beneath the blanket, he had to think where he was and what strange cot he was sleeping in. Archie? No, Archie has his own cabin. They were under sail. Foudroyant. That was it! Watch duty at midnight! Tipping the cot to exit it, he stood shivering on the deck. A thought emerged through the fog of his mind. Clothing. His waistcoat and braces lay across the single chair and a covered tray lay on the table. Where was his shirt? Lifting the cloth covering of the tray, he saw a sandwich, a piece of cheese, some orange wedges, and a tankard. Raising the cup, he drank deeply of the rum and water beverage.
Shivering again, he took the blanket and wrapped it around his shoulders. There was his kit. Pulling it apart, he located a clean shirt. The fabric caught his attention. It did not have the feel of well worn softness. Finding a candle, he lit it from the hanging lantern. He took a bite of the sandwich, not too stale as yet, and sat heavily in the chair. What was this? It was not one of his shirts. He remembered Archie offering to finish packing for him when Pellew requested him on deck. Had Archie inadvertently put one of his shirts in his kit? Taking it by the shoulders, he held it up before him. A packet landed on the floor. Bending, he picked it up, studying the writing. He felt his heart skip a beat and quicken. It was from Pamela. He blinked away the sudden prick in his eyes and sniffed.
Swallowing, he broke the seal and unfolded the letter.
My Dearest Love,
If you have found this, you must need another clean shirt. I wrapped it in a hug just for you. Feel my arms around you when you wear it and know how much I love and miss you.
I pray it fits you well as the tailor used one of your other shirts to size it. It seemed right to me as I held it. I imagine your strong shoulders giving it shape and your marvelous arms within its sleeves. Forgive me, my love, as I try desperately to imagine you gone, and yet not wanting to.
We have been one for so long, I do not know how I will bear our separation, but we have both known from the beginning this time would come. I would have it no other way. We both know your destiny, your duty, and I submit my own desires to the call upon your life, as you do. I have never known a more courageous, a more valiant, or a more honourable man than you, my own dear Horatio. I am proud of the man that you are. In that respect, your captain and I are of one mind. You do know your captain is proud of you....no false modesty, my love,.... and well he should be.
I do not know how long we will be separated, but I know you are handling it well. You know what you want and who you are in His Majesty's Navy. I exist in your strength.
I am rambling for I do not want to go, but I know I must. You have gone to meet Archie, and I must finish this before you return. I love you...three words that seem so inadequate to express what I want to convey. You have filled my life to overflowing. I love you. Take care. Take care of yourself, your men, your ship, and your captain. I know they will take care of you, my precious, precious man. God speed you and protect you.
With eager and hungry eyes he devoured her words again. Laying the letter gently on the table, he picked up the shirt and held it to his nose. He inhaled the light odor of roses left from Pamela's embrace. He breathed in again, closing his eyes, feeling the lone tear trace down his cheek. Duty. Her note resounded with duty, his duty to be who he was, an officer in His Majesty's Navy. Her submission. She submitted to his duty. She accepted who he was. *But who am I? I do not know anymore,* he thought. Pulling the shirt over his head, he let every surface nerve report its gliding over his skin. Pressing it to his chest, he lifted the collar, seeking the floral aroma. Slowly he pulled on his waistcoat. Taking another bite of his sandwich, he stared at the note. Thoughts of meals with her ebbed and flowed as he chewed, sighed with fullness, but made himself eat all the food left him. Tying on his stock, pulling on his topcoat, he folded the letter gently and placed it inside his coat pocket. It was his watch. Time to go.
"Mr. Hornblower! What are you doing here?" asked Kennedy.
"I am here for my watch, Mr. Kennedy."
"But you were reassigned to sick berth. Have you forgotten?"
Horatio puzzled over the words and vaguely remembered Sebastian making such a request.
"But who is doing the middle watch?"
"I am, sir."
Hornblower turned to the deep voice behind him and took the extended hand.
"Leftenant Larkin, at your service. I believe the middle watch is mine. You must be Leftenant Hornblower."
"I am, sir. But, Dr. Sebastian...."
"Is expecting you in sick berth. We can manage another night without you. Mr. Kennedy has been most helpful."
Kennedy proceeded to update Larkin. Hornblower gazed at the starry night, similar to the ones previous, but felt a lightness in his soul. Sebastian and the rest expected him in sick berth. Very well, only one night.
The ship was quiet and again he was met with the cavernous nature of the 80 gun ship, even the snores of the men seemed distant and few. Approaching sick berth, the golden light of the lamps puddled on the amber decking. Dudley sat opposite the sick bunk containing Dodd. Though his head was resting on his chest, it came up at the soft steps of Hornblower.
"Mr. Hornblower, sir."
"How is he, Mr. Dudley?"
"Sleeping quietly. I am to get Dr. Sebastian when you arrive, sir."
Hornblower watched the sleeping leftenant. The face seemed relaxed, no signs of pain in his features. He placed his hand on his forehead...perhaps a slight fever, but not raging. Good, he knew his father would say, good.
He turned to the approaching footsteps.
"Mr. Hornblower! You wakened on your own!" He had decided to let Hornblower sleep if he would. "Prompt as ever, I see. How did you find his temperature?" Sebastian placed his hand where Horatio's had been moments before.
Hornblower regretted Sebastian's knowledge of his care and stepped back from the bunk. "It seems mild, sir, but you would know better than I."
"Indeed." Sebastian bent over the resting Dodd. Lifting the blanket covering his wound, he examined the skin around it. "Good, good. No excessive redness." He carefully removed the taped bandage. "Stitches holding nicely."
Hornblower bent over the doctor's shoulder to see the stitched laceration. "You've a fine hand for stitching, sir."
"Thank you, Horatio. I pass your inspection?" Sebastian sensed his words stinging the young officer. "I mean no disrespect, Mr. Hornblower. Would you be so good as to pass that bandage there."
Hornblower looked around to the shelf nearby, finding the fresh dressing.
Sebastian took it from him. "I believe, Mr. Hornblower," he began to tape the new bandage to Dodd's skin, "that cleanliness is of vital importance with new wounds. Fresh bandages, as needed, directly after an operation, and at least once a day until the wound could go with none at all. And then, air, to allow it to heal completely." He pulled the blanket back over Dodd's hip. "Thank you for assisting me this first twenty-four hours. I know, you do not think I need your help, but I do. Dudley is a good man. Becker is learning... no where near as bright as Mr. Brandon, but he is an attentive student, if he lacks the passion. And you..." Sebastian grinned, "I am glad to have you for your stolid nature. You are very dependable, Horatio. I know I shall never change your mind about doctoring, but I appreciate your ... flexibility."
"Yes, sir." Horatio felt overwhelmed at the compliments coming from the doctor.
"Your duties here are light. Sit with him. If he wakes, determine his demeanor. Come for me if there is distress. If he is calm, get him to drink some water. If he is hungry, let me know. Will you have a cup of tea with me?"
"I would like that, sir."
Acceptance? A steady smile sat on his lips. "So you do not despise me for making you eat your vegetables?"
Horatio fought the grin and hated the blush, "No, sir."
"You slept well?"
"Good. Good. Mr. Hornblower." He studied his face for a clue to his current agreeable state of mind. Had the hours of sleep made such a difference? Apparently. What else could bring the change in his attitude? "Sit. I will be back with our tea."
Hornblower sat with a sigh and watched the resting Dodd. His hand strayed absently to his coat pocket. Realizing what he was doing, he pulled out the letter. He lifted it to his nose. It, too, had the light aroma of roses. He closed his eyes and let the scent take him to her. 'You will be an admiral some day...' He sucked in a breath and thought desperately *Do not push me away!* 'I love you, Horatio. Take care, my darling. I will wait for you.' *I will come back to you! Never doubt me.*
Sebastian stopped in his approach, seeing Hornblower sitting with eyes closed and a letter in his hand. He stepped back a few steps and took them more loudly.
Hornblower roused and tucked the letter back into his coat, standing as Sebastian arrived.
"Sit. Sit, Mr. Hornblower." He handed the mug to him and retrieved a stool for himself. Leaning against the ship bulkhead, Sebastian and Hornblower sipped the tea. "Is it to your liking?"
"Yes. Fine, Doctor."
"How are you doing, Mr. Hornblower? And tell me plainly, if you will."
He held the mug to his lips, sipping long at the hot liquid. Did he want to share his concerns with Sebastian? She had trusted his confidence, keeping the possible pregnancy a secret. Archie liked the man. He supposed he was all right. He is a good doctor. His father would approve. Did he want to confide in him his fears, his cogitation on resigning? There was no one else he would share this with. Not Pellew, certainly. Not Archie, he could not understand. He did not have a wife, much less a child on the way. Sebastian knew Pamela....perhaps.
"I ....miss her."
"That is to be expected."
"I...miss her a great deal."
"Ah," he sighed.
Hornblower stood and turned to the wall, staring into his mug. He glanced over his shoulder at Sebastian, sitting calmly and waiting, and then stared back into his mug. "There are days when I feel I shall explode...I don't know if that makes sense, if you can understand, I..." he frowned and rubbed the top of his mug with his finger. "She was everywhere on the Indy. Everywhere I turned ...smiling...beautiful...I..." his voice caught. "I could hardly bear it...couldn't sleep, couldn't eat... It's ridiculous really. Isn't it? I can't even remember what I've done since reboarding the Indy...I......thank God we have not been in battle...I....I'm ... no good for this anymore. I'm not....I.... I...shouldn't be here. I shouldn't."
"Is this how you felt when you were on Gibraltar?"
"No. No. I was anxious to be back on ship, I think....I ...wanted to be with her...I wanted the Indy.... I wish we had never sailed into Gibraltar..." tears were welling in his eyes and he loathed himself for it. "I thought this was right, but....how can it be? I should be with her....I should not be here."
Sebastian watched his head hang low on his chest and saw his shoulder blades tense as an unseen weight rested upon them.
"Why do you think you should not be here?"
"She told me. She told me she is with child. I should be with her. She is alone there...or....I should have made her go home....home to America. She has family there. I should have made her go. I...I...should have gone with her."
"Is that what she wants?"
Hornblower shook his head.
"What did she want you to do?"
Hornblower laughed, sadly, sucking in a breath. "She wanted me to go, ...to rejoin the Indy." He wiped his face quickly. "I am where she thinks I should be." He laughed again. "She thinks I will be an admiral someday."
"She may be right."
"I do not care about being an admiral. I ....I want her. I want to hold her in my arms. I want to know she is safe."
"You want to protect her."
"You want to know she and the child are safe."
"And, why do you think she is not safe?"
He stared long into his mug and finally shrugged his shoulders. "I do not know."
Sebastian sighed long and slow. Though Hornblower continued to face the wall, he was glad to have him talking. He chose his words carefully, fearing that any moment the young man would shut him out, shut the world out, and sink back into the restless despair that seemed to have released him. Released him for a time, thank the Lord. *Lord. Give me the right words to say.* Sebastian silently prayed, then spoke. "Your concern for her is admirable, but you cannot go on with this worry you bear. You do understand how you have let it affect you, do you not?"
He frowned and nodded his head.
"Do you think she would be pleased to know you are not eating or sleeping?"
He shook his head. "I think it would make her angry." He laughed nervously.
"Why do you think it would make her angry?"
"Because she is so hard headed. She would be angry with me for worrying about her. She thinks she can take care of herself. If her father were alive, I would have words with him about how he raised her."
Sebastian snorted lightly. "But is not that precisely what makes you love her so, her independence?"
Hornblower's features eased to a softness as the tense muscles in his chest relaxed. "Why do I love her? She is beautiful. She brings a lightness to my life. A smile from her and everything else seems to fade...She is so playful, so open..." he turned to look directly at Sebastian, "and WILLFUL," he turned back to the wall, "I guess you know that...and...She carries our child"
Hornblower stopped speaking. Sebastian waited, with hope he would continue.
"She is a free spirit. She does not follow conventions. Sometimes it was hard to see her even near another man...even though I knew it was just her being herself. The touching and the embracing...it is a part of her...but...it was not always easy to ...I do not want to lose her."
"Mr. Hornblower, I think you have no need of worry in that department. When you were in sick berth with your head injury, when she would massage your shoulders for you, there was such a look of love on her face as I have never seen. In love, I think you two are equally matched. I think, too, in hard-headedness, you are also equally matched. If the two of you should ever have an irreconcilable difference, I do not know who would win."
Hornblower chuckled. "I fear she would, ...and has. That climbing thing she has..." he shook his head smiling sadly.
Sebastian stood behind him and placed his hand on his shoulder. "Let me have your cup. I will freshen your tea."
Hornblower breathed deeply. What was he doing now? Pouring his heart out to this doctor? He must think me a fool, a love-sick fool! He sat down quickly and ran his hand over his face. *I am a love-sick fool.* Grabbing both his knees, he rubbed his hands over his thighs. Dodd was sleeping, was he not? What if he were listening? He leaned over to study Dodd's face and breathing. He seemed to be asleep. Sebastian was returning. He stood to receive the cup. He stole a glance at Sebastian's face. Was he laughing at him?
"You must think me a ruddy fool, Doctor."
"I do not, Mr. Hornblower."
He looked in the half-Spaniard's face seeking a falsehood, but found nothing but sincerity. "Forgive me for burdening you."
"You have not burdened me."
"Do not be embarrassed, Horatio. Our conversation tonight will remain between you and I. I am generally known to be a physician of the flesh....sometimes that includes hearts. Yours has been very heavy. I hope you have lightened it somewhat."
"It was you that..."
"No. It was you, sir. I only listened and made suggestions about what you already know."
Hornblower looked at Sebastian with a steady gaze. "What would you say...if I told you I ...I intend to resign my commission?"
Sebastian cocked his head in wonder. Is this what he was pondering as well? "Do you want to know what I would say or what Pamela would say?" He asked the question to give himself more time to think, to recover from the shock.
Hornblower stood blinking, listening to the echo in his own hearing of what he had just verbalized. 'Resign my commission?' Everything he had worked for the past six years?
"Either," he blurted.
"I think Pamela would give you a swift kick in the pants, and I would join her." Was that too rough for him to take? Had he passed the mark with his reply? He felt his brow knitting with concern that this fine officer would be considering such an option. Only his years of training kept him from ranting at such an idea!
Hornblower stared at the deck. It was incredible! It was what was eating at him, ... again! He considered this once before and successfully overcame the idea, but that was before he knew he was to be a father. He felt his chest rising and spun away from the doctor.
Sebastian took a deep breath to calm down, then asked softly, "Why? What would be gained?"
Watching Hornblower's shoulders rise and lower with heaving breaths, he knew it was a hard thing for the young man to share.
"Our child. I should be there. A child should have his parents."
Sebastian exhaled heavily. "Being a parent is not an easy thing,... for a man or a woman."
He lay his hand on Hornblower's shoulder once again. "Consider this, Horatio. What will you say to your child, when he or she is old, and you become maudlin with regret. For you will have regrets. They are inevitable, no matter which course you choose. You have been given a talent to lead." He felt Hornblower try to move his shoulder from his grasp and he held tighter. "Do not protest! In your soul, you know it. Pamela knows it. You cannot go against your own grain....or...you might just kill that love for Pamela you hold so dearly. You must live your life. The navy is your life. You were born for this time. I do not need to lay out for you a scenario of French domination. You KNOW why we fight. Even Pamela understands, though she is American, God love her."
He relaxed his grip on his shoulder and sighed deeply again. "Consider what you are saying, Horatio. Consider it long before you make such a rash decision. It is not in your character to do so, and I suppose that is what you have been trying to muddle through these days since leaving Gibraltar. I know you will make the right decision." His hand dropped heavily from Hornblower's shoulder. "Thank you for sitting with Dodd. Suddenly, I am very weary. Call me if you need me, Mr. Hornblower."
Horatio swallowed as he watched the doctor leave him. Leave him to consider, and consider long.