An American Encounter
by Skihee

Ch 19 Signed Sealed Delivered

Naples. The bay was littered with British sail of the line, Portugeuse ships, and the navy of the Neapolitans. It had been nearly a week since the arrival of Foudroyant. No French or Spanish fleet met them....more erroneous information. Taking the soldiers back to Palermo was unnecessary. Thank God no one suggested going to get them.

Nelson took the situation in hand. Tribunals were established and the royalists tried the assumed traitors of the Two Sicilies. Lord and Lady Hamilton proved helpful as interpreters to determine the fate of some, and whether they would be found innocent, or receive outright forgiveness, or go to tribunal discoveries.

Fighting and purges continued in the city. The peasant army was out for blood. They assumed any fair skinned civilian was a traitor of the upper class, and they were treated most brutally. The remains of either sex lay naked in the streets, some decapitated, some mutilated, their gleaming white flesh speaking of the easy mannered life of the gentry.

It was such an occasion that found Hornblower and Kennedy with men from Foudroyant in a byway of Naples. A freak leak in the hold had damaged medical supplies, and the entourage sought to resupply those and locate the missing ingredient to Dr. Hornblower's headache treatment.

The small division was heavily armed. The two leftenants carried sword and two pistols each, the ratings similarly armed, while the marines shouldered muskets. The surgical assistant attending was a small man, bespectacled and balding, carrying a wooden case securely held. Unaccustomed to land duty, he stepped mincingly beside the officers, with trepidation, looking in all directions, for fear of his safety.

Gunfire could be heard sporadically. Smoldering fires emitted a black curl from once fashionable houses, and rubble from cannon explosion lay on the footpaths and roadways. The small force kept vigil on all sides, turning to check behind that no splinter group of rebels or French might seek to attack.

The former residents of the city informed of locations of apothecary establishments and it was these they sought, though some identifying landmarks no longer seemed to exist. At the moment, Hornblower was utilizing dead reckoning.

"It is difficult to tell whether these are the buildings described, Horatio," muttered Archie. "That and the fact that none of us speaks Italian. These road signs are rubbish!" Grinning, he suggested, "Perhaps we should have brought Lady Hamilton with us."

Horatio ignored him and cleared his throat.

"The priest told Lord Hamilton that if all else failed, when we reached the rise of this hill to triangulate between the dome of the church, the wharf, and that steeper hill, Archie. We are nearly there. When we reach the top, we are to take the southwest fork and hope the shop still exists."

As they climbed the small rise of the littered street, Hornblower stopped, slack-jawed at the images greeting his eyes.

A group of rough looking men, dressed in what passed for Neapolitan army issue, tugged viciously at a rope as if urging a stubborn mule or brute beast. To the amazement of the onshore division, what they pulled were two naked females, the older one speaking pleading tones in Italian, the younger whimpering, as the frightened child she was. The females pulled their tightly tied wrists toward them, attempting to cover their bare breasts, but each time the men would yank on the cords, causing them to cry out in pain and stumble forward.

"HALT THERE!" shouted Hornblower, stepping into the path of the leering angry men. "What the DEVIL do you think you are doing?" demanded Hornblower.

"Muovere l'inferno fuori della maniera!" cried the man in Italian and shoved Hornblower away from his path.

Hornblower's lips set angrily. "Marines! Stand to!"

The squad of men stepped into the road, forming a red line of fire power.

The Italian soldiers stopped and stared at the force before them, placing hands on side arms, and dropping the ropes. The leader spoke angrily and gestured for them to get out of the way. "Che questo fa il bastardo ignorante vuole, l'eh? Muovere fuori della maniera!"

The woman and girl huddled to hide their bodies. The men squared off like bulls claiming territory.

Hornblower's angry visage set harder, and he spoke with conviction. "In the name of King Ferdinand and Admiral Nelson, I command you to release those women!"

The leader frowned, studying the invaders before him. The man waved at the two females and spoke matter-of-factly, and waited for Hornblower to reply. "Questa donna é un Giacobino! Paghera i suoi crimini! Fuori della maniera!"

"This is no way to treat women no matter what they have done," replied Hornblower. "No gentleman would!"

Turning around to one of his comrades, the man spoke in a questioning tone. "Che dice circa Nelson di Ferdinand di Re ed Ammiraglio? Il Nelson matto i marinai Inglesi!"

Hornblower could pick out the words English, Nelson, and Ferdinand. He did not wait for them to address him.

"I said, release these women!" He lay his hand on the butt of his pistol.

The marines responded to a quiet command by Archie and raised their muskets to eye level in unison.

The man tried a last time, gesturing furtively with outstretched arms. "Giacobino! Giacobino! L'Inglese stupido!"

Hornblower glared at him. "Release them!"

The leader gave a final gesture off his chin. "Aya!" Then motioned to his men to follow him, leaving the women to the English.

"Styles, Matthews, Oldroyd! Go in that wreck of a house and see if you can find something to cover them."

With a knuckle to the forehead by Matthews, the trio left.

Hornblower removed his top coat and placed it over the shoulders of the older woman. "We will try to find you some proper clothing, ma'am." He turned to the marines. "You men there! Form a circle round them and face out!" He looked at her doubtfully and continued. "Do you speak English?"

The woman held her shoulder to duck away.

Archie lay his coat over the young girl.

Hornblower acted as kindly as he could, softening his vocal tone. "Let me have your wrists." He reached his hand out slowly to take her hands. "I'm not going to hurt you." He saw the deep cuts and burns from the rough bindings tightly knotted. "Hardy. Give me your knife." Taking the weapon, he told her what he was doing, "I will not hurt you. I am going to cut the ropes. Do not be afraid." and hoped his voice would be understood, if not his language.

She pulled back, distrustfully.

"I will be careful. I will not hurt you." Slipping the blade under the hemp, he sawed quickly and the ropes gave way, a cry of pain erupted from the captive. The cords fell from the bloody grooves in her skin. Turning to the young girl, he said calmly. "I will not hurt you."

Once the two were free, the older woman hugged the weeping young girl to her chest, her long matted hair falling to cover her. She held Archie's coat tightly about the younger.

Matthews emerged with a bundle in his arms, wielding his knife at the ends, cutting away rings.

"It's all we could find, sir. Curtains. But it might do fer now."

"Very good, Matthews."

Hornblower stepped within the circle of marines and held the material out to her and waited. "It is all we can find at the moment, ma'am."

The dirty, tear streaked face gazed at him blankly. She was older, but the flash of memory came. Not so long ago another such visage had looked back at him, but it had been far more defiant, while this one was sorrowful and emotionally exhausted. His heart melted, recalling the similar peril.

"It will cover you, until we can find proper clothing."

She did not move.

He placed the curtains on the ground. "When you are ready, let me know." He stepped back through the cordon of marines and put his back to them as well.

"What are we going to do with them, Horatio?" asked Archie.

"Take them with us."

"Will you consign them to those filthy polaccas?"

"I don't know, Archie! Would you rather I had left them to those men?"

"Of course not! But, we cannot take them back to Foudroyant."

Horatio sighed heavily, searching his options. "I know."

The woman stared at the redcoats surrounding them and at the pile of material on the ground. The loaned coats did not cover them completely. She lifted the cloth and chose one to wrap the young girl in like a toga, draping the excess over the girl's elbow. She smoothed the girls dirty blonde curls from the side of her face, wiping the smudges on her forehead and cheeks, drying the tears. Then, dressed herself in like manner, as much as the material would allow. Shapely, but dirty calves remained exposed. Her feet were bloody from being pulled through the broken glass of bombed out homes. She sniffed and sat down on the road. Turning her foot to view the bottom, she let out a yelp. Glass shards were embedded in the ball of her foot and she could not remove them.

Hornblower turned at the sound. "Ma'am?" Looking into the center, he saw the injuries as she cradled her foot. "Archie, form up the men."

"Aye."

Hornblower squatted beside her and held her hands lightly as they held the foot. "Holloway, bring your case. It looks as though she's cut her foot." Hornblower looked at the pleading pained expression. "This is Mr. Holloway. He is a doctor's assistant. He will help you. Do not be afraid."

She blinked away tears. The younger girl leaned against her shoulder staring into Hornblower's face.

"Styles, was there any water to be had in that house?"

"I'll check, sir."

"See what you can do, Holloway." He rejoined Kennedy. "Archie, maybe we could take them home."

"Whose home?"

"Theirs! They must live here somewhere."

"It is probably destroyed like these here. Besides, we don't speak Italian. Remember?"

Hornblower tapped his thigh with irritation. "I'm not taking them to the polaccas. I'm not turning them over to that rabble army. If we cannot find their home, we will give them to the church. There is nothing else to consider."

Archie exhaled, twisting his mouth. "Strays. My father never liked dealing with strays."

"My father dealt with them all the time."

Archie grinned. "I imagine he did....and you brought them home, didn't you?"

Hornblower's worried expression became mirthful. "You should know."

Styles returned with a bucket of water. Holloway cleaned the wounded foot and bandaged it, found similar wounds on the child, and bandaged those. Cleaned the wrists. Bandaged. Duty done.

"That's going to be sore for days, ma'am," he informed her. He turned to the old sailor beside him. "Told ye I'd need me case, Matthews."

"Aye, ye did Holloway. Tis well ye brought it. I didn't think we'd be doin' no rescues this time round."

"Holloway, can she walk?"

"Probably hurt like hell, but she can, sir."

"I doubt she would let us carry her."

"Carry her where, Horatio?"

"Damned if I know." Horatio squatted before her, staring into tired eyes. "Where do you live? Where is your home? Casa? Donde, ...er....Dove su casa?" Hornblower sighed at the mix of spotty Italian and Spanish. "Damn."

Tears began to roll silently down her cheeks.

"Ma'am?" He reached into his pocket to pull out his handkerchief and caused his letters to fall to the ground. He watched her hand reach to pick them up slowly.

She held them up and stared at the address.

"They... are from my wife," said Hornblower softly. With hesitation, he gently wiped the running tears.

She let her eyes move from the paper to his deep brown eyes. Blinking, another huge set of tears tumbled down. "You love her?" asked the thick Italian accent.

Hornblower quaked at the sudden offering of English. "Very much."

"You mean what you say? You will take us home?" She passed him the letters.

"Yes, ma'am. If you could tell us the way."

The woman leaned into the hair of the child and wept.

As Hornblower stood and tucked his letters back into the pocket, he whispered, "Thank you, Pamela."

Archie smiled wryly. "It's that luck of yours, Horatio."

"Give her a moment to regain herself."

As the weeping stopped, Hornblower held the handkerchief out to her. She took it and wiped her face and spoke to the girl. She came to her knees and rose to stand, crying out as her weight pressed the injuries.

The little girl hugged the woman's knees, cried, and shook her head.

"We will carry you and the girl, if you will allow us," offered Horatio.

The woman looked around at all the men and spoke to the little girl. She shook her head no. The mother spoke again. The child looked at each of the British and pointed at Archie. The woman spoke to her in doubtful tones. The girl shook her head and pointed firmly at Archie.

"My daughter chooses the one with the face of an angel."

Horatio grinned as all the men near enough to hear the statement stared at Archie.

Archie's brow furrowed. "Me?" His expression was shocked, but then he bent to take the girl up in his arms. He smiled warmly at her. "I've got you fooled!"

Horatio turned to the mother. "No, he hasn't. Mr. Kennedy is indeed an angel.
Aren't you, Mr. Kennedy?"

He grinned more widely. "Just call me Gabriel!"

The young girl reached to play with his bangs. "Gabriel," she said, and then leaned into his shoulder and closed her eyes.

"And, you ma'am?"

"I will try to walk, signor...."

"Hornblower, ma'am, Leftenant Hornblower."

With one attempted step, she moaned, nearly falling. Hornblower reached to grab her waist and offer support.

"I've got her, sir." Styles moved in rapidly, lifting her into his massive grip.

"This is Mr. Styles, ma'am."

"Ma'am."

The woman nodded warily.

"May I ask your name?"

"I am Signora Cuccinella. My daughter is Adrianna."

"How can we return you, ma'am?"

She pointed tiredly to the direction from which she came. "I show you. This way." She looked into the close, pocked face of Styles. "If I too much for you, Signor Styles, put me down. It is quite a ways."

He gave a quick nod. "Thank you, ma'am."

The troup was on the move. Weaving through the rubble of war, avoiding the ghastly sights and smells of unclaimed dead, they marched until the sun began to lower in the west. The woman pointed for turns to make and whenever they topped a hill, Hornblower would take his bearings by the harbour in the distance. Would he ever find his way back to the apothecary not yet discovered?

Stopping for a breather, Horatio eyed Archie and smiled wryly. "Give her to me." Archie hesitated. "Come on. She is asleep. You look done in, ...Gabriel."

Archie relented and passed her over easily. "It's just that I'm used to flying ...and being in company with you mere mortals, I am not accustomed to hoofing it."

"Styles?"

"I'm fine, sir."

"You are strong man, Signor Styles."

"Yes, ma'am." He eyed her with a pleased look on his face.

"How much farther, Signora Cuccinella?"

"Not far. That way." She pointed.

In the twilight of the evening, they arrived at a looming villa. There were no lights to give a friendly glow. It was a dark, hollow welcome. The courtyard was littered with broken bits of furniture, pottery, half burned bedding, and a corpse.

The woman turned her head into Styles shoulder, avoiding the sight. The dead man's mouth gaped open and eyes stared glassily towards the house. Several wounds marked his clothing with the darkening stains of dried blood. Flies hummed in the red goo.

"That way!" she pointed.

Going around to the back of the villa, the woman motioned to a door that was half wood with an upper window. Archie opened it slowly. A hot and musty smell mixed with the odor of smoke slowly surrounded the entrants.

She patted Styles arm and he lowered her gently, allowing her weight upon her feet.

"I kept a little candle. Wait." She disappeared into the darkness.

"Horatio..."

"I know, Archie. They will be wondering what has become of us." He sighed.

She returned limping and carrying a lit candle in one hand and several virgin ones in the other.

"They did not find them. They did not find them." Setting the candles down, she prepared another in a nearby candlestick and lit it. "They will not see the flames on this side of the house."

"Signora Cuccinella, there does not seem to be anyone here."

"I know. I know."

"But, ... can you be safe on your own?"

"We will be all right. I will be careful."

A boom was heard in the distance. She jumped and gasped. Reaching for the girl, resting on Horatio's propped knee, she took her into her arms. The girl wakened and hugged onto her mother's neck, beginning to whimper.

Horatio and Archie exchanged knowing glances.

"Are there...no men...that could stay with you....or that we could take you to?" asked Hornblower.

She shook her head no, turned and sat rocking with the child cradled in her lap.

Horatio turned to Matthews. "Take some marines and check out the house. See if anyone is here. And, Matthews, be careful with the candle if you are near an open window. We do not want any visitors. Styles, find something to wrap that corpse in. Take some men and bury it."

"How'll we do that, sir?"

"There is a greenhouse in the back there. Look for a shovel!" he said in irritation.

"Aye, aye, sir."

"And, bury it deep. We do not want any dogs digging it up."

Styles knuckled. "Come on, Oldroyd, Hardy, Bindle."

Horatio pondered the situation he found himself in. Looking deeper into the barely lit darkness, he could see they were in a large kitchen. Cutlery littered the floor. Broken bits of china, lay about, and what chairs were left, were overturned or broken.

"You look puzzled, Horatio."

"Tired, Archie."

"Hm. Hungry is what I am. Here we stand in a huge kitchen with nary a bite to eat. Do you suppose there is any food here at all?"

"There is food," came the female voice. "Over there. Move the cabinet in the center. The master, he knew. He knew it would come. Look. Look. You will see."

As she said, under the cabinet, a rectangular cut in the flooring became visible. Two finger holes were at one end. Hornblower lifted and Archie helped him lay it back carefully. Taking the candle, he held it over the dark hole. A ladder descended at the end. Horatio sat on the floor, turned his foot to the rungs, and maneuvered downwards.

"Archie...the candle." With it to hand, he went into the depths. Archie watched the light dance across the food stores... bags, jars of vegetables, barrels of flour, and wrapped packages,... that only a cook could truly appreciate.

The woman pushed her child into his arms.

"Let me." She knelt on the floor and placed the arch of her injured foot on the rungs and joined Hornblower in the deep hole. She brushed against him. "You are hungry, si?"

"We have not eaten since breakfast, ma'am."

She smiled. It was something familiar. "I fix. You will see. I fix you dinner. I can cook!" She held a jar of vegetables and grinned into his face.

He saw the glisten of tears appear. She folded into herself, weeping suddenly.

"Ma'am. Please...."

"I be all right. I be all right, " she sniffed. She turned her face up to Archie, still holding her child, and smiled thankfully. "My angels. My angels." She chuckled now, sat the jars down, and faced Hornblower. She placed her hands on his shoulders and patted one. "My angel. Maria, madre di Dio! Gracie! Benedice di Dio!" She clasped her hands together, the tears flowed, then ebbed. "Here! Here!" She began to push jars into Hornblower's chest. "Up! Up!"

Hornblower stood on the low rungs as he passed the food stores up to the floor level.

He could see the arrival of a flickering light. Matthews and the marines appeared above them.

"Nobody here but us, Mr. Hornblower."

"Good, Matthews. Post guards at the front of the house and on the upper floor to cover every visible approach. We are staying the night. Get a detail to get us some water. The lady may wish to clean up and she is cooking us dinner."

"Dinner!?! Aye, aye, sir!"

The woman was beaming at him. "You get me water for bathing?" She began to cry again. "Benedito di Dio! God Bless you! God bless your wife! God bless your children! God bless the navy!" She babbled in Italian, alternating between crying and mirth, as she patted his chest. Then, she shoved a package at him. "Up!"

The woman knew her way around a kitchen. It became more and more apparent she was not of noble birth. While waiting for the simmering Italian cuisine, she and the girl bathed and found clean clothing.

Styles took a bit of cloth and fashioned a cushioned "shoe" for her injured foot and wrapped it on.

By ten o'clock, the meal was ready. Hornblower ascended to the top floor, took the watch and sent the marine to dinner. He sat in the window overlooking the courtyard and the city below. He could see fires burning in the distance, could hear an occasional musket, and the far off shouts that became fainter with the late hour. He pressed the sole of his boot against the window post and sighed.

It was a lonely watch. No helmsman. No creak of the ship, nor lap of water against a hull. No regular bells to mark the passage of time. The last reminder of time keeping was a deep throated church bell, not the ping of a ship's bell, that sounded at nine o'clock. No sound marked the tenth hour. No breath of a breeze, just stillness. He leaned his head back and peered in the darkness to the dots in the distance that he knew were ship lights in the harbour. Aware of an empty longing within his center, he wondered about the feeling with a furrowed brow. Pamela came to mind, but it was not a longing for her. He knew what that felt like. It was something different. An uneasiness was creeping within him, an unfamiliar distress. They were safe. The guards were posted. He gazed to the immediate grounds below him. Nothing. No one. What was it? He sighed and attempted to shake the feeling.

Steps turned his attention to the doorway. A light played on the far stairs and an unfamiliar aroma of cooked tomatoes wafted his way. His mouth watered. Archie carried the candle, a bottle, and a bowl. Signora Cuccinella limped in with a large low edged bowl, filled and steaming. She grinned happily at him.

"Signor Hornblower. Your dinner. Come, mangia. Eat."

"I'll take the watch, Horatio. Go eat your spaghetti. It is really quite good, once you get used to it. Here's your salad." He handed him the bottle. "Not wine. Just water."

"Thank you. Thank you, ma'am. The smell is marvelous!" He sat on the floor, cradling the huge bowl in his lap. "Am I supposed to eat all this?"

"If you like...si!" She came over draping his front with a huge towel. "They did not take everything. This will protect your uniform, signore."

He stared at the bib blanketing his front curiously. She was right about that...and it worried him. Was that the uneasiness he felt before? They would be back, whoever they were. A stolid feeling settled on these thoughts. The marines were here. The lot of them were well armed. Guards posted. Diligence. It was not "them" that made him uneasy. It was something else.

"You WILL need it, Horatio. My word on it." Archie sat in the window, surveying the view.

Archie's comment, and the aroma reaching him from his lap, called him back to present company.

"If there were time, I could have made bread, but..."

"This is more than sufficient, Signora Cuccinella." He lifted the fork and wondered how to proceed.

"Here. I do it. You do not have spaghetti in England? In the navy? How can you live without pasta?" She curled a mass onto the fork. "It is in the wrist. Here." She held the fork before his mouth.

Hesitating, he leaned forward to take the bite. Some of the strands slipped onto his chin, leaving the red sauce.

She chuckled and wiped his chin for him, putting the cloth napkin into his hand. "You will learn! It is good, yes?"

"Hmm. Hmm." He nodded, though unable yet to respond verbally. "It is delicious, signora." He tried to hold the fork as he had seen her do.

"Here." She placed her hand over his and turned. "See?"

He lifted it and the whole of it slipped off the fork. "Damn!" He grinned and tried again, moving his wrist with a flick to keep it horizontal. The strands began to slip off. Before he could get it to his mouth, the fork was empty and a splattering of red dots decorated his bib.

She laughed causing Archie to look their way with a grin.

"Learning how to feed yourself, are you, Horatio?"

"Do not listen to him, Signor Hornblower, he did no better." She took the fork, wrapped, and held it for him once more. "Now. Try again," she encouraged.

It was the most he had worked to feed himself in a long time. The massive bowl seemed to take forever to finish and the woman constantly encouraged him to eat. A glance Archie's direction told him he was happy to see the spaghetti disappearing down his gullet.

"Signora, may I ask how you happened to...to be...in the clutches of those men?"

Her countenance darkened with remembrance. Only the fact of him eating, kept her from spitting on the floor. "Pigs!" She rattled angrily in Italian and gestured with her hands broadly, emphasizing this word and that.

Horatio and Archie listened to the irate tones and watched the motions to accent them.

She took a deep breath, and stared at them, laughing nervously realizing they understood not word one. "I forget! Estupido! Not you. Them. Ignorant pigs! I work here for the master. He kind to me because of Adrianna. Adrianna my love, my child. I do whatever is needed, you know? The French they come. The master he meet them. Try to keep, how you say, quiet...peace....peace. He do what they want. Then, Ruffo come. He bring the PIGS!" She slipped into Italian once more, frowning, and speaking angrily. "They do this. They do this to him! He was a good man." Tears welled. "They take him." She caught her breath with a sob. "They..." she covered her face.

"Enough, ma'am, enough." said Hornblower softly.

"No. I tell you. I try to help him. Take him water and food. They beat him so bad. So bad. They catch me, but I run away. But they do not give up. They say I am Giacobino! Giacobino! because I try to help my master. He was good to me. Good to my Adrianna. The pigs are not good. They strip us! Madre di Dio! Mi bambina! They strip my baby! Loro odio! Dio me perdona! I hate them! God forgive me!"

Hornblower rested his hand upon her shoulder. "You must go somewhere you will be safe, ma'am. I do not think you should stay here. As you said, they did not take everything." He hesitated but had to say it. "They will be back."

She shuddered but knew he spoke the truth. She leaned against him and sobbed into his shoulder, clutching his lapels.

He held her, offering what safety he could, for what time he could.

"You should rest, ma'am. Archie, take her back down. We will decide what to do in the morning."

Kennedy stared at him curiously with a questioning countenance. Going back to Foudroyant was what was expected. They were overdue now.

Hornblower spoke. "Is there somewhere you can go to be safe, ma'am?"

She stopped at the door. "My cousin, but he is far from here."

He nodded resolutely. "We shall see."

 

The floured hands flipped the off-white lump with a thump causing a pouf of white dust to float in the surrounding air. Two hands leaned into the lump, pressed, turned, leaned. A loud rap on the door, caused the cook to look up, blow at a loose strand of hair, and then a floured hand pushed it behind an ear, leaving a streak of white dust across her cheek. Grabbing the white powdered apron around her middle, she used it as a towel to wipe her hands, and walked to the front door.

"I've got it, Maria!" she called up the stairs. Reaching the front door, she pulled it open.

There stood a young naval officer, midshipman, by the uniform.

"Is Mrs. Hornblower here?"

"Yes."

The man tried to look behind her. She turned, then realized he thought she was a servant.

She grinned. "I'm Mrs. Hornblower."

He looked at her doubtfully from foot to head.

"Letters for you, ma'am." Passing them to her, he saluted, turned, and departed.

She sucked in a breath and stared at the handwriting. One from Horatio, another in a shaky hand she did not recognize, and another from America. The one from America was addressed to Pamela Dandridge, Gibraltar, and had been sent to Laughing Dolphin. She smiled and supposed Mrs. Harvey had directed it here as Dandridge was marked out and Hornblower written in. She would need to thank her when she saw her on Sunday. Walking into the parlour, she sat at the small desk near the window.

Butterflies danced in her middle as she broke the seal on the letter from Horatio.

My dearest love,

How I miss you. The depths to which my soul has descended without you is unfathomable and still the bottom is not reached. If anyone had told me I would miss you as much as I do, I would not have believed him. Ship board life on the Indy was almost unbearable. Every timber whispered your name, and I found myself looking for you in familiar spots, even the bowsprit, my careless angel.

My only solace was knowing you tread in safer places. So I thought, until I read your note within the writing package. Pamela my love, do not help England, I beg you. I understand your desire to end the current conflict, but leave it to me, Archie, Captain Pellew, and the men. That said, I pray you will respect my wishes. Do not add to my solitary misery with worry as well.

How are you? Is the child a certainty? I feel he is, and I smile as I write "he". Take care of the woman I love and my "son". Write me and tell me how you are doing. Is Maria staying with you? Have you found another servant to be with you at night? Are you still mine?

Thank you for the writing supplies. I will not say how much has been expended to reach this final draft. No laughing. I see you there smiling at me. The treats you have bestowed have meant more than you will ever know to this love starved Horatio.

I cannot look into the future. When I do, there is no light and I do not know when I will see you again. My heart sickens with your absence and I long for the days of Dolphin.

I find myself curious about America. We never spoke much of "home" and I have come to wonder if England is not the wrong place for us. Europe is an unfriendly neighbor and America would seem to offer a safe alternative. I wonder now at my ignorance in assessing our situation more fully. I do not know why I failed to analyze it more accurately.

I feel the war is far away. We have seen no action and I wonder if I am really needed here at all. Leftenants and midshipman are abundant. I might never get my own command and I question what I am doing here when you are alone on a British outpost.

I want you. I want you so badly it hurts. Thank you for your letter and notes.

I am on Foudroyant. It is a long story and it distresses me that I cannot tell you where to send letters. We are still two or three days out from Palermo. The men of Foudroyant are happy with the expectation of joining Admiral Nelson. I would be as happy to join you.

Pamela. How will I live until I can take you in my arms?

I love you. How I love you.
Horatio

 

Tears fell. She wiped them away leaving another streak of white flour picked up on trembling hands from her apron. Anxious eyes read through a second time with a sniff.

"What is it, ma'am? Is everything all right?" Maria stood in the doorway, hands full of linen.

"It's a letter from Mr. Hornblower, at last! He misses me!"

Maria smiled, not only at the surprised statement, but also at the flour streaked face of her jaunty employer. "Did you think he would not?"

"I wasn't sure."

"That man is in love with you. You need not worry." She exited the parlor, leaving Pamela to her letter.

As she read through his words, her brow furrowed. Yes, he missed her but so much? *He cannot mean what this seems to say,* she thought. *It is just a love letter!* she assured herself. *Isn't it? Aren't you only trying to express how much you love me?* she asked him. "Maria?" She stepped to the back of the townhouse. "Maria?" She saw her bread dough sitting on the table. "Damn!" Wetting a towel, she covered it. Going to the back door, she found her outside handing the linen into the wash pot.

"Mr. Carden! I've gotten a letter from Hor..Mr. Hornblower!" she grinned.

"Aye, ma'am, I told ya ye would. He was always one fer writin'....just his da though, so Henry told me. Now he's got you! Told ya he'd write, I did." The one armed man looked up from the cauldron where he pushed the bed clothes under the boiling water with a pole and grinned at her. "Ye can stop yer frettin'."

"Who says I've been frettin'?" she defended, then grinned good naturedly, seeing her employees exchanging looks. " Listen to this, you two. What can he mean by this?
I feel the war is far away. We have seen no action and I wonder if I am really needed here at all. Leftenants and midshipman are abundant. I might never get my own command and I question what I am doing here when you are alone on a British outpost." Pamela waited and watched Carden's frowning face.

"He misses you, Miss Pamela," said Maria. "It is understandable for newlyweds."

Carden continued to frown.

"What say you, Mr. Carden? Does this sound like the Leftenant Hornblower you knew?"

Carden frowned harder, the muscles pulled down the corners of his mouth lower. He pushed the sheets more forcefully with the pole. "It don't, ma'am. It don't sound like the Hornblower I knew. He was all duty, he was. I wouldna believe he penned that, but I know you don't lie. He signed it, didn't he?"

She looked at the signature. What a thing to ask? Of course he signed. "Yes!"

Carden shook his head, thoughtfully. "Read it again?"

She did and looked back at her man servant with a worried expectation.

"Is there anythin' else ye'd add?"

She searched the letter, not wishing to share the most intimate parts. "Well....there's this." She placed her hand over her heart. The words were beginning to worry her greatly. "I find myself curious about America. We never spoke much of "home" and I have come to wonder if England is not the wrong place for us." Her voice faltered. What was he saying? "Europe is an unfriendly neighbor and America would seem to offer a safe alternative. I wonder now at my ignorance in assessing our situation more fully. I do not know why I failed to analyze it more accurately." Her voice trailed off with the final words. Saying what he wrote out loud brought clarification to the meaning.

Carden sighed heavily. "That last bit is Hornblower all over. He's a thinker, that's certain sure." He sighed again. "He's love sick. That's what it is. Love sick fer you, ma'am." He gave his head a single shake of dismay. "Who'd a thought old Horny'd be lovesick." He half muttered the thought but realized they heard. "Beggin' yer pardon, ma'am. The lower decks used ta call him that. No disrespect intended, ma'am. No ma'am. But, I'd say he's got his head all twisted around. Wonder what Pellew's doin' with 'im?"

"He isn't on Indefatigable."

"No? Where is he?"

"Foudroyant."

"Hm."

"What?"

"Beats me, Miss Pamela. But don't it make you happy? I mean it sounds like he wants ta be with you."

She knit her brow, trying to think of his words, of what she knew about him. He loved his life in the navy. She knew that. He could not give them up....the sea, his ship, and the navy. Not now. Not for her! He would come to hate her! She knew it. No. No. This cannot be. "No! No! It does not make me happy. He can't! He just can't!" She turned back into the house and ran up the stairs.

Maria found her on the bare mattress weeping uncontrollably. She sat on the bed and leaned over, taking her shoulders. Pamela rose and turned to weep into Maria's offered arms.

"I think you are loco, Miss Pamela. Loco en la cabeza."

Pamela moved her head to rest her cheek on Maria's upper arm and stared at the ship model of Indefatigable Billings had carved. "Oh, Maria! You don't understand. He cannot do this. He cannot. He has a destiny. I know he does.
Don't you see? I knew that when I said yes to his proposal. He cannot alter the agreement. I know it was an unspoken agreement, an understanding, but we talked about it, sort of. He cannot forget it. He must not! Something terrible will happen, I know it."

"Shh shh, you distress yourself. As Mr. Carden said, he is lovesick. He misses you. What was the date on the letter?"

She sniffed and blinked away tears to read it. "June eleventh."

"It was almost three weeks ago that he wrote. By now, he may have come to his senses. You do yourself no good to fret so. You should be happy. He loves you."

She sniffed again.

"Most women I know would be thrilled to have the man they love so wrapped around their little finger."

"I want him to be what he is meant to be, Maria. That is the man I fell in love with." She opened her hand and stared at it and shook her head. "I do not hold him. He has to want to be with me."

"Well, he does, from what you read. Some men want to be held."

Pamela shook her head. "Not this one. He may have forgotten, but not this one. He is free to come and go as he pleases. I cannot hold him."

"You are wrong, my lady, on one point. He is not free to come and go as he pleases where you are concerned. He is your husband, in the sight of God,....he belongs to you and you to him. You bear his child and he has an obligation to you. As far as his career goes, yes, he is free, but he also has a responsibility, to you and to the child. Did he not ask about the baby?"

"Yes."

"That is good. He should."

"But I don't want him to feel obligation."

"It does not sound like he feels anything but love if he is considering moving to America. He would be giving up his country and all he knows, for you."

"He cannot, Maria, he canNOT!" She began to weep again.

"Shh, now. We will pray for him, yes? He may all ready be settled back into the routine of his navy. He would not want to see you so distraught, would he?"

She shook her head no and sniffed back the tears.

"There now. Let me spread up the bed and you rest, yes?"

Pamela nodded.

Maria took up the clean sheet to throw out over the bed. Pamela went around to the far side and began to help tuck it in. Maria stopped momentarily to shake her head. She had never worked for such a woman and had given up telling her she should not be helping with housework. Pamela's eyes met hers, and a smile overtook. She knew her employer was reading her thoughts. She smiled back and they completed the bed.

"Maria, I left the bread unfinished."

"I will take care of it. You rest now."

"When are we going again?"

"In a couple of days, Enrique will let me know."

Pamela lay on her side and exhaled the tension on the clean pillow case. "I love feather pillows."

Maria watched as sleep claimed her mistress. Pamela suffered the early effects of pregnancy... fatigue. She would sleep for several hours.

A letter from Hornblower at last and it leaves the mistress distraught and unhappy. Not what she would have expected, but then nothing the American did seemed what she would expect. The lady treated her like an equal, not a servant. She was more like a friend than an employer. And now, ....and now, a co-conspirator. But was this conspiracy? Of course, what they were embarked upon most recently was not the normal scope of their endeavor, but with the current contacts, it was what they were doing at the moment. Another man was expected. A higher up man, so Enrique thought, another left for dead.

Maria dusted the dresser and gazed at Pamela, reflected in the mirror. She was very young. Pamela could almost be her daughter. It was an accident, her finding out about her "connections". The owners of the house had been blithely ignorant, but not Pamela. She was sharp and nothing passed her notice. The young American became the mastermind behind current affairs. She stared at the sleeping figure, a slight smile easing over her lips.

The bread needed seeing to.

The room lay in semi-darkness at the lowering of the sun. Pamela stirred on the bed and heard the pages crumple at her out-stretched hand. She took them in her fingers and pulled them to her breast. "Horatio," she said sleepily. "My darling, do not do this to yourself. Stay, my love, stay. I miss you, too, but you know you must stay. Your country needs you. Do not forget your duty." Her eyes flitted over the words of the letter. "Learn what you are to learn where you are. Whatever it is, it will serve you well. And, come back to me. I will be here. Do not stab at my heart by asking if I am still yours. I am. Did I do or say something to make you doubt me? Do not. Do not forget. I will wait for you until the end of time, my precious darling." That was her reply. She would write it now, before she forgot, and she made her way downstairs, clumping down the steps, still heavy with sleep.

Carden stood at the simmering pot, stirring the contents. He heard her steps descend.

"That you, Miss Pamela?"

"Yes, Mr. Carden," she called. "I've some writing to do."

"Aye, miss!" He smiled at the easy rapport he shared, shouting to one another from room to room. She was an unusual employer. He and the Spanish woman became accustomed to the odd American response to life on the British outpost. *Wasn't it her infernal independence that got me my position? If Mr. Hornblower knew of the incident, he'd be mighty peeved,* thought Carden wryly, though too, weren't the two of them cut from the same cloth, Hornblower and she? That was the amazing part of the situation, especially since not only was she female, but American, as well. Who would have thought to find an ally with those rebels? Should she not be more on the side of the Frogs? Were not those two peoples in possession of kindred spirits? Were they not the revolutionaries and England the staid monarchy? But love creates strange bedfellows. Carden grinned widely at THAT musing. Mr. Hornblower was going to be a da! *That must be part o' what's got him off his cork,* thought Carden. Maybe that thought would ease Miss Pamela's mind. He shuffled to the front of the house.

She sat with a flickering candle highlighting the red tones of her sun-bleached brown hair, bent over the writing desk.

"Miss Pamela."

"Yes?" She looked up at the one-armed sailor and smiled. "Is everything all right?"

"Oh yes, ma'am. I was just thinkin' about Mr. Hornblower," he grinned. "It occurred to me what might be fuzzyin' up his thinkin'."

"Yes?"

"Well, it's plain as day! He's all befuddled 'cause he's gonna be a da! Mr. Hornblower's the most duty bound officer I ever did meet, but he's fair, ya know? Stern, but fair. He wouldna ask anybody ta do anythin' he wouldna do hisself. Pellew were that way, too." Carden rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Yep. Anyway, I knows Mr. Hornblower'll take bein' a da as important as bein' the captain of a ship. He would. Yes, indeed. He'll be a fine da fer the babie. He just needs some time to sort it out, I reckon."

Pamela sat with eyes focused on the coiled carpet, thinking about Carden's words. She looked up sadly. "You think it the baby that has him ... confused?"

"Ooo, I'd venture ta say it might, miss," he grinned, "...but don't ye worry now. He'll come around. The stew's ready when ye are, ma'am."

"Thank you, Carden. I'm sorry I missed telling Maria good-bye today."

"She understands, ma'am. She said ta say she'd see ye tomorrow."

"Thank you, Mr. Carden. I'll come to dinner as soon as I've finished here."

"Yes'm."

She lay the quill down, staring into space. Splaying her fingers over her half finished letter, she crumpled it. Suddenly the room felt still as death. The air went thick and with it, the temperature gathered to press against her body. What she was about to do she would do to rescue him, and whether it were the cause of his confusion or not, nothing would alter her situation, but it might help his. When she saw him again, he would learn the truth. Would he understand? Would this hurt him? She did not want to hurt him, but to rescue him. He was told it was not certain. It was unknown. It would mean she was mistaken, that Dr. Sebastian was right to caution her to wait another month. Of course, the truth was, she had, and if the signs were right, she was expecting. But if this knowledge was what was making Horatio think wild thoughts of going to America, she knew that was not the right path for them, and definitely not for him.

Her left hand rested on her breasts. They were already beginning a slight swell in preparation to sustain new life. The hand continued down to rest on her abdomen and she whispered. "I know you are there, little one, but we have to help your da just now. We both love you, do not doubt us, but, you and I, we have to help him....somehow...."

 

July 1, 1799
Gibraltar

My Darling Horatio,

I received your letter of June 11th and I hold it to me as I would if it were you. I confess, it is beyond love and flattery, the words you use to convey your deep devotion. I had to laugh at the wild imagry you used in expressing your emotion, to the point of leaving the service, it sounded. But I know you are duty bound to His Majesty's Navy, and rightfully so, since we both know your destiny lies in your service to your country. You are such a silly sweetheart to couch your love in such exaggerated tones and I love you for it all the more.

I think it is marvelous that you will have the opportunity of possibly meeting Admiral Nelson. I know you esteem the man. I wish I could be there to see the meeting. Two Horatios! And both of you fine and exemplary members of His Majesty's Navy! Duty bound the two of you and a credit to the service. Captain Pellew would be beaming, as I am.

On a sadder note, my love, I must inform you, to stay your disappointment from a longer expectation. I am not with child. I must ask you to forgive me for leading you in such a false direction. I should have waited as Dr. Sebastian bade me. Please do not be angry. We will have opportunities in future to remedy the situation. Are you smiling at the prospect? I long to feel your arms around me, but I am patient, as I know you are, until the time is right for us once more.

I know you will continue to be the marvelous man I married. The man I know will make his country proud by his service. I love you, my darling. Never forget what I told you our last moments together. I will wait for you until the end of time. I am yours and ever shall be.

Love from my heart to yours,
Pamela

 

 

Grabbing her skirts to her face, she wept. She was lying to the man she loved, telling him a falsehood. Would he forgive her when he learned the truth? Would he understand why she lied? Would he trust her?

Fear of his response drove her from the house. The front door banged against the wall as she ran out. Lifting her skirts she took off down the road towards the point. Her shoes slipped over the shale with a crunching sound, over and over, running from the lie, running from the need to lie, running from saying yes to everything he suggested. Her lungs ached with the exertion of breathing the warm night air, rapidly in and out, running until she could run no farther. Incapable of tears for lack of oxygen, she leaned against the limestone outcropping, panting, dragging air into empty, muscle-contracted lungs, feeling the pounding of her heart.

Carden would come looking for her. It was his job. He was her protector, since the night she had been out alone and accosted. He had come to her rescue and she employed his services. He was familiar, an Indy man, lost to the service because of his lost arm, the arm shot off on Dolphin.

She shook her head no, and began walking until she forced herself to run once more, a steady pace. She needed to be alone, she needed to expend her very being until it was numb and no feeling was left. Then, she could copy the letter and send one to each ship.

Carden could not see her this way. She glanced over her shoulder. No sign of him yet. The battlements. She would go there. No guard was due to come for another hour. There was an embrassure with a ledge. It was similar to the one she and Horatio stood at and watched that day as Foudroyant approached. Foudroyant. Tears welled. *Lucky ship. Lucky she, to have my man. You had better take care of him!* she thought madly. Slowing, she walked the wall, leaning slightly for support, sucking in the warm night air. Where was the spot? Unable to find it, she leaned against the wall and slipped to sit on the walkway, panting. She pulled her knees toward her chest and held her skirts to her face, sobbing quietly.

"May I help..."

Pamela jerked her head and body up in one motion, backing away from the voice. There in the gathering darkness was a naval leftenant. Did she not know the uniform? She did not know the man.

"I beg your pardon. I did not mean to startle you." He took a step towards her.

She backed another step, running her hand over her cheeks.

He stood still. "I.... you seem to be in distress. Is there anything I can do?"

She shook her head.

"Are you out here alone, miss?"

"I do not need your assistance, sir."

Even in the darkening she could see the recognition, could hear the coming comment.

"You're an American."

"By birth I am, sir." Her voice quavered. Hearing his deep British accent, seeing his uniform, the reminders of Horatio were too much. "Excuse me!" She stepped around the confused man and headed towards the south end of the battlements.

"Wait! Please, ma'am!"

She was wiping her eyes and answered him mentally. *No!* Then, a thought occurred to her. Was he in trouble? There was something about his steps when he came towards her. Stopping, she looked back. He walked with a limp. She sniffed. "Are you all right?"

He chuckled. "Me? For the most part, I am."

His smile gleamed in the faint light.

"You've injured your leg," she commented.

"It is an old injury, I fear. Do not concern yourself."

"Very well." She turned and continued her escape.

"I did not mean that you should go. May I walk with you?" He made a stiff-legged skip.

"I...I would not be good company, sir."

"But company is what you should have. A woman should not be out alone these hours. It isn't safe, even on this little outpost."

"Maybe it is you I should fear."

He stopped. "Mayhaps." He canted his head, noting the dirt clinging to her skirts. Perhaps it was he that should fear. He smiled at his own thoughts. "I answer you truly, miss, you need not fear me. But, if I may be of some service to you, I would be happy to oblige." He bowed slightly at the waist.

She threw back her head, heavenward, and sighed. *Speak to me! Speak to me, again!* she thought, *...but I cannot ask you!* She heard the steps come closer and stop.

"I am Leftenant Barnstable. I work in the Admiralty offices. I've damaged my knee so I am no longer able to go to sea." He leaned against the wall. "Rather a sorry excuse for a naval officer, but I do not know what else to do with my life. Someone has to work land side. I was fortunate to be placed here." He could hear the sniff. "Please, take my handkerchief. I hate to see a woman cry. What has happened, if you don't mind my asking?"

"I do," she answered curtly. She turned and fixed her eyes on his. "Forgive me. You only mean a kindness."

He smiled wryly. "Forgiven. Let me see you home." He held out his arm.

She stared at it and felt the tears rising. "I'm married."

"Oh!" He dropped his arm. "Is your husband near?"

She shook her head no, and sniffed back the rising tears.

"My dear lady! You try me sorely. Please..." he held out the linen. He bent to see the tears trickle down her cheeks. "Please! Or I shall start crying too!"

She looked at him and laughed.

He grinned back, but still she did not take his hanky. "I have not done this, since last I saw my little nieces." He began to dry her face. "You will not tell me, why so glum?"

She shook her head and another tear appeared.

"It is your husband, then. He is not deceased, I gather, for 'I'm married.' was spoken in the present tense. Is he beating you?"

She snorted a laugh. "No."

"That's better," he grinned. "He is not at home? At sea? I am guessing, a navy man? An officer?"

"Yes. A leftenant."

"Ah. Poor sod, to be gone from your side." He could get a better look at her this close, wiping her face. "It's a lovely face," he commented softly. "I beg your pardon. It was a thought I should not have uttered."

She felt the blush dry away her tears. She was vulnerable. Too vulnerable.

"Thank you, Leftenant..."

"Barnstable."

"Thank you, Leftenant Barnstable, for your kindness. I must go." She headed north, suddenly feeling the need for safe surroundings. How lonely was she that the mere sound of a man's voice, a well-bred gentleman's voice, met a need. A need she put on hold, waiting for the one voice she longed to hear.

"Goodnight, Mrs...?"

"Hornblower."

"Goodnight, Mrs. Hornblower."

"Goodnight, Leftenant."

She reached the bottom of the embankment stairs and made her way back to the shale road that led home. Barnstable scared her. She pressed hand to cheek, recalling the reactions to his voice. A hurrying figure approached.

"Miss Pamela! Ye had me worried, ma'am!"

"I'm sorry, dear Mr. Carden. Please forgive me. I needed some air. I should have told you. Are you all right?"

"Yes'm." Puzzled, he tried to see her face in the darkness. He looked back from where she came. No one following. "Ye gave me a right scare, ma'am."

"I'm sorry. Is that stew still hot?"

"Yes'm." He noted the dirt on her skirts. "Shall I heat some water?"

She grinned. "You are getting to know me too well, Mr. Carden."

Later that night, after food and refreshing, she made a copy of the letter and sealed it. One addressed to Indefatigable. One addressed to Foudroyant.

"Forgive me, darling! I do not know how else to help." She lay the letters on the hall table and walked back to the kitchen.

"Mr. Carden, I've left some letters to be mailed tomorrow."

"I'll see to it, Miss."

"Goodnight then. Thank you for your help today."

"Miss Pamela. I hope I didna say nothin' ta upset ye earlier."

She smiled warmly. "No. No, you did not. Goodnight, Mr.Carden."

"Goodnight, Miss."

She carried the candle and felt in her pocket as she slowly climbed the stairs. Two more letters to open, and Horatio's. She pulled the open one from her pocket and began to read.

The flickering light of the taper danced a final shadow on the stairs, while another came to light the foyer.

He stared at the two letters. Setting the candle on the table, he lifted each one and read the addresses. He looked up to where she disappeared up the stairs. Turning he entered the parlour. Setting the candle on the writing desk, he leaned over and pulled the crumpled letter from the rubbish bin. Using his only hand, he flattened it and smoothed it. Squinting in the soft candle light he read.

 

July 1, 1799
Gibraltar

My darling, my love, my Horatio,

I received your letter of eleven June today. My darling, do not do this to yourself. Stay, my love, stay. I miss you, too, but you know you must stay. Your country needs you. Do not forget your duty. Learn what you are to learn where you are. Whatever it is, it will serve you well, and, come back to me. I will be here. Do not stab at my heart by asking if I am still yours. I am. Did I do or say something to make you doubt me? Do not. Do not forget. I will wait for you until the end of time, my precious darling.

I have wonderful news, my love. We shall be parents, and by my reckoning it will come in February, in the new year, in the new millennium. I am thrilled to be carrying our child. I cannot wait to see him. I feel him growing inside me. I speak to him and tell him of our love for him, and for one another. He will be a magnificent man, Horatio. One that will make his father proud.

I love you. I love you more than life itself, but you must remain where and as you are until the fates bring conjunction.

As to my situation here, I

There was no more written. Carden sat with furrowed brow, folded the letter, and pushed it into his shirt pocket.

Pamela read Horatio's letter and felt the silent tears roll down the sides of her face. Laying it aside, she opened the letter written in the shaky hand.

Foudroyant, June, 1799

(Dear Miss Pamela - was crossed out)

Dear Mrs. Hornblower,

I don't know why I'm writtin' you. The boys been talkin'...anyway here it is. You be there and we be here. I wish you was here, I'm that worried. Mr. H be missin you over much, I think. Cap'n's got us give out to Foudroyant. She's a comely ship, but she ain't the Indy. We be with him, me, Oldroyd, Stiles and Hardee, the doc and that chewin' youngun, but things ain't what they should be. I don't mean to worry ye, Miss Pamela. I just wish ye was here. He's got me that worried.

Don't you worry none now. Don't make me sorry I told ye. But, if'n you could write him, tell him you's all right, it might make a difference. So, we's on Foudroyant, but ta be safe, if ye could write 'im to either ship, that'd be good. I don't mean to meddle in yore and his affairs, but we be worried about him. I'll keep an extra sharp lookout fer him, don't ye worry now. Don't ye worry. And, don't make me sorry I sent this and do somethin' foolish.

Yer man and his,
Matthews

 

She read it a second time. "Horatio!" She pulled his letter before her eyes reading hungrily. She closed her eyes and shook her head. "Lord, be with him. Only you can be where he is. Bring him back to who he should be. Calm him. Remind him. If he has forgotten who and what he is, tell him. Tell him, I beg you."

Another letter.

May 29, 1799
Richmond, Virginia

Dearest Pamela,

Word has reached me from uncle that father has been slain. While we have no news of you, I have lifted you in prayer diligently since hearing the news. I mourn our father's passing. What I am told of his death is not a comfort, unless you remain alive. I pray this letter finds you. I know no other address to pen than Gibraltar, and I pray you are safely landed in that blessed harbor.

Whether or not you receive this, I pray for you daily and wait for word. Do not distress me with your silence, dear sister. I am beside myself with worry. The only solace is knowing Uncle Daniel plans to leave within the month to learn your fate.

God see this safely to your hand.

Love,
Patricia

 

"Dear sister, I have written you! Have you not received my letters? Oh, God, Horatio! These are too much to bear in one day! Too much!"

She rose from her bed, took the candle, and entered the hallway. Standing on a stool, she yanked down on the trap door of the ceiling. As she pulled, stairs unfolded. Climbing, she entered a small darkened room, moved a latch, and entered onto the roof of the house. A breeze caught her hair and pressed her nightgown against her. The candle extinguished and in moments the starry night gave vision. She sat on the roof wall and gazed at the ships in the harbor. The only Person to keep her company listened with rapt attention, as He always did, when one of His children approached Him.

*****

Horatio Hornblower stood staring into the cool semi-dark chapel. Mrs. Cuccinella knelt before a statue and held a lighted stick. A black lace scarf covered her head, the sides loosely wrapped over her shoulders. Sighing, he recalled the faith of Sebastian and a similar altar in the doctor's cabin. He walked softly to stand beside her. It was time to go. She reached a hand out behind her. How did she know he was there? Brow furrowed, he took it. She pulled him gently and he knelt beside her, feeling awkward in such a foreign attitude. She touched the burning stick to a candle.

"I light this for you, Mr. Hornblower." she said softly. "You have been good to me and Adrianna. And this one for your men, they follow as you lead, not like the pigs. I forgive the pigs, Father." She switched hands with the stick and crossed herself. "God protect them, not the pigs, Mr. Hornblower's men. I light this for your good wife. She is praying for you. She is good woman..." her eyes bore into his, "...He has told me. I see her crying out to the Father for you. His angels protect you." She lit another candle. "This I ask for traveling mercy, His guardian angels, and His warring angels to protect our way. Did you know God has warrior angels? They are greater than the British navy! Greater than Nelson! Greater than Buonoparte! Greater than Ruffo or Ferdinand! Praise be to God!" She lay down the stick, clasped her hands, and closed her eyes, though her face was upturned.

Hornblower looked into the peaceful features, then, looked at the statue, watching the play of flickering candlelight. Was Pamela praying for him? But what could she be praying? Did she not miss him as much as he did her? The anxiety that had been his meat for so many days seemed to have dissipated. It was almost as if he were a different person. No longer the fretting, lost, and anxious lover, but not the melancholy man of solitary purpose either. Duty no longer stood cold and hard before him. It was a familiar friend once more, and he embraced it with his whole being. Not to the point of exclusion of all else, but with a determined purpose and an eye to the needs around him.

The peace he saw on the war worn woman seemed to lay across his own heart like a warm blanket on a cold day. He looked back at the woman beside him, then at the crucifix across the way. *But I have told a half truth. Is that forgiven?* He stared at the railing, but did not see it. He heard a whispered breath, felt the movement begin, and saw it completed as she crossed herself a last time. Her eyes met and held his for an eon in a second. She reached and took his left hand. With her finger she ran it over the thick gold band on his forefinger and returned to stare into his eyes.

"When you see them, remember me."

Hornblower felt a bolt of lightning through his body. How could she know? The shudder came again. His startled features caused hers to soften with a satisfied sigh, and her lips turned to a soft smile, with a nod of her head.

"How...how do you know?" he whispered in awe.

She smiled and nodded and glanced upwards briefly. "He tell me. It is for you. He says, yes."

"Yes?"

She nodded.

"Yes, to what?"

"To your question."

"What...?" confusion and a sudden desire to know no more came upon him. The question? He knew it and he swallowed. The ring on his finger? A birthday gift from Pamela, delivered by Archie, yesterday. He stared at the two dolphins creating a circle in the arch of movement depicted in thick yellow gold. Larger and less delicate than Pamela's but in every other aspect the same. He stared back at the crucifix, at the ring, at the silent figure bearing away. He rose from his knees, glanced her direction, but had to look once more at the figure on the cross. He nodded and felt his heart saying *I will do my best.* Taking long, quick strides, he joined his charge.

Archie, the Indy men, and the marines stood waiting for them in the sunshine. Adrianna sat upon a donkey led by Oldroyd. Styles waited with another and assisted Mrs. Cuccinella onto its back.

Archie's face altered at the look he perceived on Horatio, but he said nothing. Hornblower took his position in the lead and the procession began without comment.

Making their way southward out of the city, they came upon the apothecary shop they had sought days ago. Hornblower stopped and stared at it. The identifying factor was a stone relief of a dove lighting upon a mortar and pestle. The building, what remained of it, was charred and blackened.

"Well, I'll be." Archie squinted at the dumbfounded face on his friend. "We've found it, Horatio, but there's no lemon-balm to be had, nor nothing else, for that matter." He blinked at the commanding officer. "Mr. Hornblower?"

Horatio bowed his head in thought. *Then, I have not told a lie. There is nothing here. I have not besmirched my honour.*

The morning after his first Italian meal in the upper floors of the Giacoman Villa, the residence of Mrs. Cuccinella, he was at a loss of what he would do with them. All he knew was, he could not turn them over to the powers that be. It was a flash of insight, he thought, up until this moment that is, that he would report back to Foudroyant that the herbs were not available here and that this woman he met could lead them to a province where they could be obtained. He looked back at the woman on the donkey and her child. *Will we find the herbs we need in Casa di Madre?* After what occurred earlier, he would not be surprised if they did. Should he believe what happened in the chapel? Was it all vain imaginings in his own mind? But she knew. She knew about the dolphins and......Pamela.

The old ache encompassed his heart and he closed his eyes for a moment. *I love you, my lady. If God can send me a message from you, then I would pray He would send one from me. Pamela. Be safe. Take care and know I still love you with all that is within me. I will see this woman and her child safely in the bosom of her family. I feel you approve, Pamela. With all my heart, I feel you approve.*