An American Encounter
by Skihee

Chapter 14
A Lighter Heart

The Indy men fell in easily with the men of Foudroyant. It was almost as if Nelson's character pervaded the ship. There was expectation, light-hearted conversation, and the men from captain to powder monkey worked together with the ease of clock-work.

Indefatigable was always steadily present at the rear quarter, keeping an easy pace.

The wind was whipping up today, gusting a bit, and keeping the master and the topmen on their toes.

Captain Brown stood beside the master, watching the wind fill the sails, drop off and fill them again.

"Gusty, Mr. Tyner."

"Indeed, Captain. I think we're heading up a blow."

Brown looked behind them. The sky was clouded gray.

"Hm. Get us sooner to Palermo, eh?" he grinned at the master.

"Indeed, sir. Foudroyant's leaping to join him."

"As we all, Mr. Tyner, as we all. Run the log, Mr. Whittle!" called the captain to the midshipman.

"Aye, aye, sir!"

Hornblower turned to see the man throw out the line to measure the knots. He judged it to be near eight by the float of the ship. He gazed into the waist. There was his new crew, working to keep the cordage neat from the constant change of sail. Jonas was there. He looked at the man with some curiosity.

His first meeting with the hulk of a man was that night sitting with Dodd. He had crept so quietly to sick bay, he was not aware of him standing there. He must weigh near twenty stone and he kept his head shaved as smooth as a newborns bottom. When Hornblower did realize his presence, he startled him severely. The man apologized for scaring him.

"You're Mr. Horatio, ain't chee, sir? Dinwitty said ye'd be sittin' wif him. Mr. Dodd'll be all right now. We got a doctor. We got you, Mr. Horatio. Mr. Dodd'll be all right." He relayed his absolute confidence that the leftenant would recover and Horatio agreed.

He could tell the man was simple minded. He was a little surprised he was kept in the navy, but his quickness with the gun explained why. During gun drills, Jonas had proven his worth. Dodd had the quickest gun crew on Foudroyant because of him, it seemed. Hornblower smiled wryly remembering his own men and Archie trying to beat them.

Just then, Jonas stared up at him and grinned. It seemed Jonas took a liking to him immediately which also, oddly enough, endeared him to the rest of the gun crew. Jonas acted as some sort of barometer for the men. Another curiosity, indeed. If Jonas liked you, then you passed muster with the ratings. Hornblower maintained his stern face, but acknowledged the man with a nod.

He had been unable, after a number of corrections, to tell him his name was not "Mr. Horatio" but "Mr. Hornblower." It did not seem to sink in no matter how many times, nor in what manner he told him, whether kindly or firmly. It frustrated him that Archie found this amusing. After some clandestine questioning, he learned it had been the stretcher crew who had heard Dr. Sebastian calling him by his Christian name, had thought it his last name, and thus informed Jonas that the new leftenant was not only going to lead his gun crew, but also watch over Dodd. Jonas repeated his name as being Mr. Horatio for nigh on an hour, so as to please him that he knew his name.

He breathed in deeply and shifted his eyes momentarily from Jonas, hoping the man would stop grinning at him.

"Eight knots, Captain!"

"Shall I try for more, sir?" asked Tyner.

"Do. Yes!" grinned Brown.

Hornblower liked the spirit of this crew. He glanced over his shoulder at the Indy. Bowles would have his work cut out for him today.

The blow did indeed come and press Foudroyant deeper and deeper into the Mediterranean. She heeled over and leapt the waves bringing the familiar nausea. There would be no hot meals this day, but of no matter to Hornblower. He could keep nothing down anyway.

He sat at the officer's table waiting his turn of watch. A cup in his hand, he sipped at the rum, hoping it would ease his queasy innards. Larkin entered, removed his hat, and let a torrent of water join the puddle dripping from his oilskin cloak.

"She's bucking like an unbroken horse, sir. Haven't been able to see your ship for over an hour, the rain's so heavy. Tyner's taken a reef, but she's still plowing the waves."

Hornblower stood, already dressed in his oilskin. "I best make my way. Mr. Kennedy awaits." That was all he felt he could say without embarrassing himself in front of Larkin. He left the cabin quickly.

Larkin grinned recalling Kennedy's comment that Hornblower might be late due to his seasickness. He did look a bit green around the gills.

Coming on deck, he grabbed the stair rail and promptly vomited his drink. A wave came over the side, sweeping him off his feet to the far side. He felt a grip around his upper arm.

"I got chee, Mr. Horatio!" Planting his feet firmly apart, Jonas lifted him to his feet. "Are ye all right, sir?" Jonas pulled him to his chest to steady him.

Panting, he pushed himself upright. He swallowed his embarrassment. "Thank you, Jonas."

He pulled himself back over to the stairs and presented himself to Kennedy.

"Mr. Hornblower!" grinned his friend. "The captain considered heaving to, but he is afraid the Indy might ram us!"

"Indeed, Mr. Kennedy!"

"She's tightly reefed!"

"Aye!" replied Hornblower squinting through the rain at the topsails.

Kennedy stared into the waist. "I see your guardian angel watches over you, sir!"

Hornblower stared where he indicated. Jonas had himself wrapped around the main mast staring up at the quarter-deck. Horatio frowned at the grinning Kennedy.

"I believe your watch has ended!" he shouted above the wind.

"Aye, it has! Good luck, Horatio!"

He watched as his friend made his way down the stairs, losing his footing, but holding on to the stair rail. Jonas was beside him, ready to catch hold. Kennedy grinned at the man.

"Me, as well, Jonas?"

The simple man smiled toothily. "You're Mr. Horatio's friend, sir. I can't let chee go overside."

He patted Jonas on the chest. "Good man!"

And so the night went. Horatio and the helmsmen holding Foudroyant, fighting the rudder with the wheel, lashing, unlashing, holding the great wooden vessel on course to the best of their abilities, and Jonas standing watch with his substitute leftenant from the main mast.

Horatio shook his head at the man's perseverance, but knew asking him to go below would be like asking Sebastian to keep his medical knowledge a secret.

Midshipman Carlyle appeared for the morning watch, but somehow Hornblower could not bring himself to leave. He would stay until daybreak and hope for a sighting of Indefatigable. The storm had lessened to rain and a stiff breeze, with only a mild gust now and then. The ship was sailing more steadily.

As the faint light of dawn, brought vision to the surrounding sea, he looked aft. Pulling out his telescope, he extended it and searched the horizon. There. At the farthest tip, a sail. Bowles had reefed her in and slowed her to prevent a collision, he surmised. It would not take her long to regain Foudroyant. The Indy was the faster ship. He felt a sense of relief and with it a profound exhaustion.

"Mr. Carlyle. I am going below."

"Aye, aye, Mr. Hornblower."

 

He was wet to the bone. Removing all his clothing, he stood shaking on the deck. Using his semi-dry shirt, he rubbed his hair a little dryer, then climbed into his hammock, shivering under the blanket as sleep took over.

When he awoke, he lay feeling the motion of the ship. It was much calmer. A twinge of hunger stabbed in his stomach. He peered over the edge of his cot. Another covered tray sat on his table. His pile of wet clothes were gone. What time is it? He searched his memory to see if any bells resounded to tell him. Nothing. Pulling himself up in his cot, he wondered where his clothes had gone. He slipped out of the cot with the blanket wrapped around him. Staring at his ribs, he decided he had put back on a little weight, even though he had not eaten since lunch yesterday. Wrapping the blanket around him, he sat at his table and had a look at his food tray. A jacket potato, a piece of chicken, a biscuit, an apple, and a slice of cheddar. He picked up the potato. Cold. Taking a bite, he glanced around again for his clothes then shrugged. Perhaps whoever delivered the food, also took his clothes. He sat chewing the potato. *You haven't thought about her quite so much lately.*

*No, but I miss her all the same.*

*But you're handling it better.*

*Yes.*

*It's a good ship.*

*Indeed. Good ship. Good crew.*

He rubbed his chin, knowing he needed a shave. He needed his clothes, too. Sticking the potato in his mouth, he grabbed his kit. Clean trousers, clean socks, clean shirt, his last one. He dressed and sat to pull on his socks. Something was in them. Smiling wryly, he wondered if it were something else from Pamela. Extracting a long thin bit of sealed parchment, he turned it over to read. 'Raysh' was written clumsily on the oddly folded paper. Raysh? He chuckled to himself and thought *I've been abbreviated!* Breaking the wax clumped on in several places, he unfolded the note and a gold wrapped package fell into his lap.

Hello, my darling!

You must be getting low on socks if you have found this one! Sweets for my sweet. Remember, I love you and I will wait for you until the end of time.

Your loving wife,
Pamela

Lifting the gold package, he unfolded it to find a good sized lump of chocolate. He smiled to himself and said out loud. "I love you, Pamela. Do know that I love you."
He felt himself grinning and breathed deeply.

A knock sounded.

"Come."

"Well, Mr. Hornblower. You have finally rejoined the land of the living," grinned Kennedy.

Hornblower pitched his biscuit at him.

"Hey!" chuckled Kennedy. He was amazed at the smile on his friend's face. It was like old times. He tossed the biscuit back. "Think fast!"

Hornblower caught it handily and dropped it back onto the table.

"Do not play with your food, Horatio, eat it."

"Yes, sir, Mr. Kennedy."

"Agreeable? Mr. Hornblower is agreeable. Do storms sit well or..." he spied the open note on his table. Reaching quickly, he grabbed it, "...ahh, a clandestine note from some lady, perhaps?"

"Give me that!" he leaned over his friend, snatching it from his hand. "If you must know, yes. But, it is none of your business."

"Oh? Well, what are friends for anyway? Just for carrying your sorry self back to your cabin, watching you...well, I won't say it since you haven't finished your meal yet."
Kennedy leaned against the wall with crossed arms and crossed legs.

"What time is it, Archie?"

"It is near four bells in the afternoon watch."

"What? Why didn't someone wake me?"

Archie raised his eyebrows at the notion. "Wake you? You jest! Dr. Sebastian would have any man's hide that woke you before your duty. Only if you were to miss too many meals and we have to check with him first. He is very concerned about you. Horatio."

"He needn't be. I am fine. Does the whole damn crew know?"

"Hm, just the captain and the other leftenants. He did not tell them why, Horatio. Dr. Sebastian is more discreet than that. He let them think you had suffered from a fever and were still recovering. I guess it is best I tell you in case someone asks you about it."

"Where do my clothes go? Do you know?"

"Hm? Oh, you mean those soggy things sent to the galley. I believe Beeman is caring for your needs, as well. He should know precisely."

"Beeman?"

"You are out of the know, aren't you? Yes, our servant, Beeman." Archie chuckled. "The other leftenants call him Sting behind his back. It seems he can get rather touchy about his service. Do be careful how you ask about your clothes. Not that he is dangerous or anythin'."

"Is the Indy caught up to us?" Hornblower asked between chews.

"Yes, nearly. Worried about her, are you?" Archie grinned with pleasure at seeing his friend more and more each day like his old self.

Hornblower pulled on his spare coat. His face became distraught as he patted his left breast. "Archie, I need my other coat. Where is it? You must show me immediately."

"You should shave first."

"Archie!"

"Calm down, old man. Is this what you are looking for?" He pulled a folded oilskin from his own pocket. "I don't know if I would have thought to wrap it in an oilskin, but I did retrieve it from your coat before Beeman found it. He can be a bit nosy."

Horatio took it shyly from his hand.

"And, no, I did not read it."

He opened the oilskin, checking the letter for wetness. It was slightly damp but none of the words were affected. He glanced up at Archie.

"It's all right for you to love her, Horatio. We all know you do."

"How do you know it is from her?"

Archie laughed out loud. "Well, I've never known you to carry around a letter from you father so tenderly. It does not take a Galileo to figure that one out, Horatio. I am at a loss to know where it came from, however."

"Are you? Are you, indeed? It was in a shirt you packed for me."

"Really?" he grinned. "Sort of like cupid, eh?"

"Would you stop before I chuck this biscuit at you again?"

"All I can say is, thank God for Pamela and her vision."

"Vision?" he asked with his mouth full.

"Never mind. I'll get you some water so you can shave. You will not present the Indy well with that stubble."

Once he was alone, he re-read his new note, grinned at 'Raysh' and folded it with the first one. He wondered what else might be in his sea chest back on the Indy. He needed to write her. Sooner or later a packet would catch up with them. He did not understand why he had not thought to write her before. Paper. Ink. A quill. He needed all those things.

Archie returned with the water. He shaved and was about to leave when Archie appeared once more in his doorway with a package.

"What's this?"

Archie inhaled and exhaled. "It's for you. She told me not to give it to you until I thought the time were right. I think it's right."

Horatio looked at him sideways, taking the package from him.

"Do you want me to leave?"

There was no answer from Hornblower who swallowed and stared at what he held in his hand. Archie quietly closed his door, leaving him alone.

Hornblower blinked at the package fighting the prick in his eyes. What had he given her? Nothing. He had left her nothing. He sucked in a breath and pulled on the string tying the brown paper package. He lifted the lid on the box within. A note lay on top of packets of paper, a bottle of ink, and a new quill. He laughed out loud and wiped his eyes. It was like Christmas. He took the note in his hand and ran his fingertips lightly over the writing. In bold letters on the front it read:

To Captain Horatio Hornblower, the Man I Love and Adore, From His Loving Wife Mrs. Pamela Dawson Hornblower Underneath this was a drawing of a ship, with the name Dolphin printed neatly on its stern, and underneath this their anniversary date.

 

My Darling Horatio,

I am giving this to Archie to give to you when he feels you might be ready, so he knows what is in here. I thought about just sticking it in your sea chest, but I did not want you to feel you HAD to write me as I know you will be busy with the ship. So, I hope and pray he has timed it rightly. Give him a kiss for me, if he has. {He could hear her laughing over that one. It would serve them both right if he did kiss him.}

I hope you will find a moment just to let me know how you are. I miss you dreadfully, but .... I should cross that out, my love, but I won't. I cannot lie to you. I do miss you dreadfully, but I know you are doing what you MUST do, and I would not make you feel that you are doing less on my part. Indeed, I hope to help England win this war somehow, even if it is just releasing you to do your duty. I know duty and honor are what feed your heart and soul. I am rambling again. Silly me. I love you. Remember the dolphins and think of me once in a while, dearest. You are never far from my thoughts.

All my love, from my heart to yours,
Pamela

He smiled softly into space and then a worry clouded his visage. He held the letter open and read quickly over the lines. What was it she said?

'Indeed, I hope to help England win this war somehow, even if it is just releasing you to do your duty.'

He read part of it again:

'I hope to help England win this war somehow'

Alarms were going off in his head. "Pamela. Pamela! God, don't let her do anything fool hardy." He stood and paced rapidly back and forth. "Whatever it is,... please, Pamela....You wouldn't would you? Dear God, do not let her do anything foolish!" He rubbed his forehead, pressing at the headache that was beginning to throb.

A knock.

"Come."

Archie opened the door and whispered. "I say, old man, are you talking to yourself in here?"

Hornblower shook the letter at him but was speechless.

"Oh dear. I thought the time was right."

"Archie, there isn't anything she could do on Gibraltar to, to, to,....get herself in trouble is there? War wise, I mean."

"Well, I am glad you qualified that. I have not the foggiest idea. Why?"

He stopped pacing and held his forehead. "Oh, God!"

"What? What did she say?"

Hornblower breathed heavily staring at his bewildered friend. "I hope to help England win this war somehow."

"Yes? Oh, you mean Pamela wrote that! Oh. Oh dear." Archie's brow was as knit as Horatio's. "Well, Horatio, I mean what could she do?" Somehow that did not sound a helpful thing to say. "She is probably going to volunteer to help out at the hospital. Yes! You know, rolling bandages or something, visit the sick and wounded. That's all. I mean, she's just a girl!" Archie bit his lip. Nothing he said sounded comforting. They both knew she was not, just a girl.

Archie sighed as he watched his friend, tuck the new letter in with the old one. At least now Horatio could worry about something different.

Horatio frowned as he strode to his door. He stopped suddenly opposite Archie. Grabbing him behind the neck, he pulled him over and kissed him on the cheek.

Archie was shocked.

"That's from Pamela."

Kennedy swallowed. "I'm glad you qualified that, as well." He followed his friend muttering. "Next time, Horatio, you could just TELL me she sent the kiss. I'm glad you shaved first though."