An American Encounter
Chapter 22: Reunions
Indefatigable was on her usual patrol. Just out from Toulon, she sailed, keeping watch, vigilant for any escape. Emerald came in view, her sister on this course.
"Signal, from Emerald. Happy despatch en route," read Bracegirdle. Bracegirdle aimed the glass beyond Emerald. There, just east and south, was the schooner. "Can't imagine we'd be getting mail again so soon." He bit his bottom lip.
"Another signal, Mr. Bracegirdle," advised Bowles.
Bracegirdle raised his telescope. "A rendezvous with Queen Charlotte. Same coordinates."
As the schooner drew near, a clump of men were seen gathered aft. Far too many men for the little crew of the post vessel. Bracegirdle was handed the longer glass from the astute Bowles.
"Do my eyes deceive me, Mr. Bowles?"
"They're true, Mr. Bracegirdle."
"This should brighten the captain's day! Mr. Connors, inform the captain!"
"Aye, aye, sir!" Connors collapsed his telescope and pounded noisily across the wood decking.
Clamoring down the stairs, he stomped loudly into the narrow hallway outside Pellew's cabin.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Pellew, already listening to the racket trampling near his door, looked up from his writing with a frown. "Come."
Connors burst through the door. "Captain Pellew, sir!"
What the devil was it? The French? He stood, expecting the worst. "What is it, boy?"
"The Happy, sir!"
"Happy? The despatch vessel?"
"You're barreling down my companion like a herd of Spanish bulls for a despatch vessel?" he bellowed.
"Yes, sir!" said the breathless Connors.
"Is the French navy on her heels?"
"Then, I'll thank you to comport yourself like an officer on board my ship, not the local ha'penny stable boy shouting a coach on the way!"
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. But Mr. Bracegirdle bade me tell you, sir! She's nearly here, sir!"
"Yes, sir....well.....yes, sir."
"What the...? I'll be there in a moment! Go on with you!"
"Yes, sir." He backed out of the cabin and shut the door.
Throwing down his quill, he muttered as he changed into his top coat and slipped on his deck shoes. "What the devil is wrong with Bracegirdle sending a wild pup down here like a stampeded herd of ponies? Clomping and stomping down the hallway! And all for a despatch vessel? What is it? Another imminent disaster from Lord Keith? Have the French somehow landed in London and we must away there immediately? You'd think this ship had wings, not sails. Go here, Pellew. No, go there. Can't you get here any faster? What took you so long? Bloody hell!"
Pellew heard Bowles call to reef sail as he stepped out into the sunshine.
Joining his officers on the quarter-deck, the captain looked like a storm on a near horizon.
"I think you will be pleased with this sight, Captain," smirked his first leftenant.
"Happy returns?" Pellew focused on the smaller ship. At first, he wondered if Keith was sending more officers to plague him with his desires, trying to tell him how to run his ship, but there was something familiar about one of the lanky leftenants in the distance.
"Well. It's about bloody time." Lowering the glass, his focus remained on the far ship. He struggled to control dancing lips, cleared his throat, and narrowed his eyes at his grinning first leftenant. "Save Stockard the trouble, Mr. Bracegirdle, and lower a boat."
"Aye, aye, sir. Mr. Rampling, if you please!"
"Aye, aye, Mr. Bracegirdle, sir!" Rampling scrambled
for the deck to launch boat. The entire ship seemed attune to
the prodigals' return, swaying out the boat in record time.
Hornblower and Kennedy and the ratings grinned broadly as Rampling brought the launch to collect them. The men passed over their meager belongings while their leader bid farewell.
"Thank you, Captain Stockard for your hospitality."
"Glad to do it, Mr. Hornblower. Safe voyage to you, sir."
Hornblower saluted, then, climbed over to join his men.
"Mr. Hornblower, sir! Have you enjoyed your holiday?" grinned Rampling.
Hornblower chuckled. "So that's the way of it, eh?"
"I want to hear every detail, man," ordered Rampling. "Understood, Mr. Kennedy?"
Kennedy and Hornblower exchanged glances.
"And from you, Mr. Rampling, as well. What have the lot of you been doing whilst we were gone? Yachting about the Med? We've heard nothing of the combined Ghost Fleet," kidded Archie.
"Ha! I do not recommend such flippancy with our captain, Mr. Kennedy. It is a sore subject indeed."
"She looks well, Mr. Rampling," sighed Hornblower as his eyes traced every visible detail of the frigate, from her repaired shot holes to a fresh patch of paint on her starboard quarter.
"Missed her, have you?"
"Indeed! What happened there?" He nodded toward the fresh paint.
"Don't ask. Trust me. Just ...don't ask."
Pellew saw the boat returning more full than when it left. He surveyed each officer and rating. All accounted for. And, Hornblower. Looking better than when last seen. He breathed in a steady breath and sighed, nodding to himself. It had been the right choice to send him away, but it was good to have him back. His face would tell the rest. He watched and waited for them to mount the deck. Hands behind his back, he looked down upon the waist.
Hornblower was the first up, followed by Kennedy and Rampling. Bracegirdle greeted them with a warm handshake.
"Mr. Hornblower! So you decided to come home, sir."
"Yes, Mr. Bracegirdle," he grinned. "There's no place like home."
His eyes went to the quarter-deck. There stood his captain, looking down upon them. When their eyes met, Pellew touched his hat in salute and gave a single nod. Hornblower returned the salute in kind, but could not refrain his smile so successfully, which caused his captain to raise his chin, with seeming disdain.
"Captain Pellew, sir!" His name was delightful on his tongue and pleasing in his hearing, as close to music as he could deem.
"You've been dawdling, sir!"
"Yes, sir! Sorry, sir!" He grinned.
"I expect a full report."
"Aye, aye, sir!"
"Be in my cabin in thirty minutes."
"Aye, aye, Captain Pellew!"
"Captain Pellew, sir!"
Pellew motioned with his head for him to come.
Kennedy glanced at Hornblower and raised his eyebrows.
"I'll put your gear in the cabin, Archie."
The ratings had all their things on deck and were greeted by mates of their own.
"Thank you, Matthews." Hornblower collected his and Archie's kits and stole a look towards the quarter-deck. Pellew and Kennedy were walking aft. There was no way he could know what they would speak of, but he had a feeling his name would be a topic of conversation. A pained expression passed quickly over his features. He was too happy to be back to consider the ramifications, come what may.
"Mr. Kennedy, welcome back."
"Thank you, sir."
Pellew stopped and turned to him, hands behind his back, lips pursed, he rocked on his toes. "Anything I should know?"
"Could you be more specific, sir?"
"Damn it, man. Is he ... is he better....less... less pre-occupied, shall we say?"
"Mr. Hornblower is more like his old self, sir."
"Good. Good. He does appear so. And, you, sir? You look well."
"Thank you, Captain. I have .... survived."
"Anything else I should be made aware?"
Kennedy grinned and looked sheepishly at his captain. "We missed you, sir."
The ensuing confusion on his captain's face was worth every bit of courage it took to say those words.
Pellew coughed, seemed to have a blush on his cheek, and turned to look aft off the frigate. Regaining his equanimity, he turned smartly towards his fifth leftenant.
Unyielding, he replied, "Get yourself unpacked, Mr. Kennedy. That will be all."
"Aye, sir." He saluted, still grinning at his superior officer.
Pellew stiffened his shoulders, giving Kennedy his sternest no nonsense glare.
So. The great Nelson had not stolen their hearts. The uneasy feeling his accomplished counterpart wooed them with his brilliance did not go unnoticed in the long weeks of their absence. But they were back. His men were back. He turned to pace, bowing his head to hide a pleased smile. The long wait had ended. He might even be able to abide another harried meeting with Lord Keith. Indefatigable was whole once more.
Dr. Sebastian met Hornblower near the wardroom. He was dressed in shirt sleeves and an apron. Hornblower observed him with concern.
"Mr. Hornblower! I wondered what all the shouting was about!" He extended his hand.
Hornblower took it with a grin. "Dr. Sebastian, sir. You do not have wounded?"
"No, no! I am doing a bit of spring cleaning! I cannot tell you how pleased I am to see you." He clamped his other hand on top of Hornblower's, squeezing tightly.
"Thank you, sir. It is good to be back."
"Indeed? I am glad to hear you say it." The doctor grinned. "Where is Mr. Kennedy?"
"With the captain."
"Ah. Everyone is well, I pray?"
"We are fat and happy, sir. It was an IDLE assignment."
"I would not say you are fat, but if you say you are happy, that is good news. Idleness seems to have stood you well. I take it you have heard from your wife?"
The shadow that passed over his features did not go unnoticed. He attempted a smile.
"I have. Would you excuse me. I need to unpack, and the captain requires me shortly."
"Of course, Leftenant."
Kennedy came bounding down the stairs as Hornblower stepped into the shared cabin.
An expansive grin broke over his visage for Sebastian.
"Doctor! It has been too long! Too long!"
"Mr. Kennedy!" The two shook hands warmly, the doctor grasping Archie's upper arm. "I was just telling Mr. Hornblower how pleased I am to see you back."
"Has the Captain been that grumpy over our absence?"
"Not so much your absence as Lord Keith's presence. I think he may be QUITE understanding of Lord Nelson's disobedience, no matter how ill the idea sits with him. Do not tell him I said so. Discipline must be maintained, as you well know," he whispered. Sebastian's eyes moved to Hornblower whose back could be seen inside the cabin. He raised his eyebrows in a silent query.
Kennedy glanced Hornblower's way, closed his eyes and nodded. "I'll see you later, Doctor."
"Very well, Mr. Kennedy."
Kennedy stepped into the shared cabin and fell onto his bunk. "It's good to be home, Horatio!"
"Indeed. How is the captain?" asked Hornblower.
"No change there, Horatio," he grinned.
"Well? Will you warn me?"
"He only asked if you were better. I said you were like your old self. That's all! Oh. And, I told him we missed him."
Hornblower grinned. "You didn't!"
"It was priceless, Horatio. I wish you could have seen him!"
"Are you now on watch and watch, Mr. Kennedy?"
"No! I think he was touched and quite taken aback! What are you looking for?"
"I thought ... nothing."
Kennedy frowned over the state of the clothing in his kit. "These trousers have seen better days."
Horatio glanced a smile and sat on his bunk, pulling his sea chest near. Opening the top, he searched its contents slowly and thoroughly. Two more small notes were located. He read them, stuffed them in his pocket and repacked his chest with the items from his kit. Laying on his bunk, he stared up at the familiar knot holes of the timbers. A mild depression sought to creep into his spirit. He looked over at Archie who was laying on his side, head propped on one arm, watching him.
His features softened. "I'm all right, Archie."
"You don't look all right."
"I am. I ...I just thought...."
"Maybe Bracegirdle or the captain has them?"
Hornblower looked querulous.
"Your letters. Isn't that what you were looking for?"
Hornblower smiled wryly. "Do you think there are any?"
"Does the sun rise in the east? It's about time you went for your meeting."
"Yes." He stood and straightened his uniform, feeling more optimistic. "I'm off." The spring returned to his step and he climbed the stairs vigorously. *It will be good to see the Captain. What are we doing anyway? At least we are at sea.* He stood outside the cabin and knocked.
He stepped into the familiar surroundings. It looked the same, smelled the same, was the same.
"Mr. Hornblower! It is about time!"
"Am I late, sir?"
"Damn it, man, you know what I mean." Pellew drew near and extended his hand.
Thank you, sir. It is good to be back."
"I was beginning to think Lord Nelson had kidnapped the lot of you!"
"I don't understand WHY he could not have sent you back sooner? The Happy and other such despatch vessels have made identical runs."
"It was not entirely his fault, sir."
"Oh? Whose fault was it, then?"
"Yes, sir. I have a letter from Admiral Nelson, sir." He pulled the packet from his pocket.
Pellew squinted and took it. He walked away, tossing the letter one-handed. Dropping it on the desk and turning, he said, "Tell me."
"I...was...under ...house arrest of sorts, sir." He stopped. Would that do? No, the captain's hands were now on his hips, he supposed not. "I ...assisted ...a...Neapolitan woman and her child....who ... was suspected of ... ahem....Jacobin leanings. But it was unfounded, sir, and ultimately I was exonerated. I believe Admiral Nelson explains it in his letter, sir."
Pellew walked over, not taking his eyes off Hornblower's. "You are a married man, Mr. Hornblower. What are you doing dallying with an Italian woman?"
"I beg you pardon, sir, I never..." He caught the mild smirk, and raised eyebrow of his Captain. He bowed his head, caught out again. "You jest with me, sir."
Pellew walked over to his desk, pulled open a drawer, and removed a small tied bundle. "Mr. Hornblower, do I detect a bit of sadness at your return to Indefatigable?"
"No, sir," he defended. "I am glad to be back. The idleness of Naples was..." he breathed deeply "...almost unbearable, sir."
"Have you anything else to report?"
Hornblower cocked his head slightly. "It was an interesting experience being in such juxtaposition to Admiral Nelson. He is a fascinating man, sir. I hold him in the highest regard. But, if I may say so, sir, I am glad to be back under your command."
"Indeed? Well, we shall see. Lord Keith has another meeting planned for this afternoon. You will attend, Mr. Hornblower, along with myself and Mr. Bracegirdle. If it is brief, as I pray it will be, we will return for a late supper, where you and Mr. Kennedy may regale us with your adventures. Meanwhile, in the short time you have before our departure, you might want to have a look at these." He passed the bundle. "Come when you are called."
Hornblower swallowed, felt his insides flutter, and his heart soar. "For me, sir?" He struggled to contain his anticipation while he read the address.
"Go on with you, now!"
"Thank you, sir! Thank you!"
Once his officer's back was to him, Pellew gave up the fight against the muscles bringing a grin. His eyebrows peaked remembering the sender.
Hornblower flipped through the letters, one, two, three, four, five, and an unusually fat one, with a scrawl he did not recognize.
"Watch where you're going!" laughed Bracegirdle, as Hornblower ran into him.
"Sorry, sir!" More men blocked his path. "Excuse me. Excuse me," he said as he stepped around the men on deck.
The ratings looked up from where they were working.
"He don't know where he is!" one chortled.
"Make way for Mr. Hornblower!" The men parted.
Hornblower tripped on a deck bolt ring, catching his stumbling steps, before making the stairs. Returning to his cabin, his face was lit up like a Christmas tree!
Archie grinned, seeing his happiness. "Told you so! How many?"
"Five from Pamela and one I don't know." He sat on his bunk, grinning at the letters in his hands.
Archie laughed. "Are you just going to stare at them?"
"I don't know."
"Do you want me to leave?"
"I don't know."
Archie laughed again. "Horatio...open one!"
"Which one? The first or the last? Or,... What if it's bad news? I don't know if I could bear it, if it's bad news." Though he seemed to fear the contents, he was still happy, like a child who has a number of presents and wants to hold on to the idea more than the items themselves.
"Give them to me. If it is bad news, I will tell you not to read it."
"Are you mad?"
"Then, read the one that is not in Pamela's hand, for God's sake."
Horatio studied his friend as he thought. "All right." He tried to stuff the five additional letters in his coat pocket and looked sheepishly at Archie when he realized his pocket would need some serious redistribution to hold all the paper he now possessed. He lay them on the bunk and stared at the unrecognized scrawl. "I cannot guess who this is from? Can you Archie?" He held up the addressed side.
"Open the damn thing!"
Horatio broke the wafer and stopped. "What if it's bad news?"
"Give it to me."
He held it close to his chest. "No....I'll do it." He took a deep breath and unfolded the paper. The inside held a sealed letter from Pamela, a paper that had been crumpled, smoothed, and refolded. The outside sheet, wrapping it all together, had nothing written on the inside. He swallowed and felt his stomach do a flip. His hands trembled, shaking the sheaf.
"Horatio!" In one stride, he sat beside his roommate, pushing Hornblower's arm down to stop the shaking. "What does it say?"
Horatio handed him the outside sheaf. Archie examined both sides, becoming more puzzled. He crooked his head to see the two Horatio held. "That one is Pamela's hand, is it not?"
Hornblower nodded. "It is a copy of the one I received in Naples." He passed it over.
"How...?" Archie started to ask, but knew Horatio had read that letter so many times, that he should not be surprised that he would recognize its twin. Had not Pamela said she sent two? "Then, you already know what is in this one. What's that?"
Hornblower stood and leaned his forehead against the door, squeezing the wrinkled paper afresh. "It's the letter she wrote before that one."
"You haven't read it, old man!" said Archie, amazed. "How can you know?"
Hornblower lay his cheek against the wood of the door, eyes closed. "I know."
"Well, who would...?" Archie turned the outer sheaf over and looked at the scrawl. "Horatio?" Archie was baffled. "Do you want me to read that one?" nodding to the clinched letter.
He shook his head. "I don't know."
"Shall I leave?"
Horatio shrugged, then leaned to Archie and slowly pulled the twin and sheaf from his fingertips. He put them all back together and folded it back into one. Extending his coat, he stuck it into the pocket. He sat next to Archie. Picking up the other letters, he examined each one. "This is the latest one." He broke the seal, unwrapped it, and read, silently. Archie hung his head, giving Horatio the privacy he did not request. "She assists at the hospital as you suggested she might do, Archie. There is some army major she reads to. She hopes he will not be blind. She does not mention the other." He stared into space. "She says to tell you hello."
Hornblower gave him a look, then chuckled.
"Is that all? Doesn't she say she loves you?"
Hornblower grinned sadly, "That goes without saying, Archie."
"Then, it's a good letter. It's a good letter, Horatio."
"Yes. It's a good letter."
"I don't understand you. I don't understand you at all. Are you going to read the other?"
"When I am ready. Yes."
"But you say you already know what it says."
"You're a blockhead, Horatio. Do you know that? You're a blockhead."
Archie rose, grabbed his hat, and exited the cabin.
Hornblower snorted wryly, folding the letter. "A major, eh? I love you, Pamela."
Hornblower gathered the remaining unopened letters and tucked them in the top of his sea chest.
The door to the cabin quietly opened. He caught the movement out the corner of his eye. Looking high, he expected someone much taller, but an unruly head of blonde hair foretold the coming of two large blue eyes in a head atop a much shorter frame. It peeked around the edge.
Hornblower looked hopefully at the youthful face, and inclined
his head for the boy to enter. The two studied each other for
a moment. "Mr. Drake, you look well, sir. Well, indeed."
Before he had the last word out, the lad ran at him, knocking
that last word back into his chest. The boy grabbed him about
the neck and hugged him for all he was worth. Hornblower closed
his eyes and returned the embrace. "What's this now?"
he asked softly.
He felt a shake of the youth's head.
"Miss me, did you?"
He felt the shake again, but no lessening of grip.
"Where is she?"
Hornblower opened a dry mouth, and answered with a caught breath. "She's in Gibraltar, Drake."
Drake released the hold and looked in Hornblower's face, inches from his own. He scrunched his nose at the glisten he saw, then slowly returned to embrace the leftenant and rest his head on his shoulder. "I promised I would look after you."
Hornblower half laughed, half cried. "I promised the same for you!" He leaned onto the little shoulder.
"I miss her."
The child's hand touched his cheek. He straightened, with a serious and concerned stare into Hornblower's eyes. "I won't tell," he whispered, running a palm over the damp skin.
"Thank you," whispered Hornblower. "We must think of the men. Whatever befalls us, we must always remember we are officers in his majesty's navy."
Drake nodded firmly and, maintaining the whisper, added. "You are."
"You love her. It's okay."
"But I won't tell."
"I'm glad to see you safe, Mr. Hornblower."
"And I, you, Drake."
Drake kissed him hard upon the cheek. "That's from her."
"Thank you," he grinned. "I needed that."
"Did she send me one?"
Hornblower grinned, then kissed him firmly in kind.
"You weren't going to keep it were you?"
"No, no," he whispered.
"Look." He pulled out a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and unfolded it. It was a drawing of a ship with Dolphin written on the stern. "I tried to come before but Wiggy wouldn't let me." He looked over his shoulder. "She said if you were sad to show you this and tell you ....she loves you."
"Thank you, Drake. You are doing your duty quite admirably."
"Thank you, sir," he whispered. He glanced towards the door. "Wiggy will ask me where I've been. I came without a message. I'm not to come unless I'm bade."
"I won't tell. You come whenever you wish, eh?"
"She used to say that, but....truly?"
Drake pondered that idea, lining it up with previous orders. But he knew Hornblower was different, that there was something special about him. After all, Miss Pamela loved him AND Hornblower so it must be so. He was her little man and the leftenant was her BIG man, and since the leftenant found her first, he had to share. It was his secret duty to watch over the big one. He hoped he had not said too much and bit his lip.
"Mr. Hornblower?" A young voice questioned outside the open door.
The two jumped to their feet. Drake stepped behind his long legs and Hornblower pushed along his side to be sure he did not show.
Another blonde head leaned around the open door. "Captain's about to disembark, sir."
"Thank you, Mr. Cutter."
Cutter caught the sight of a small hand clutching Hornblower's hip and knit his brow. "Beg pardon, sir, but have you seen young Drake."
Hornblower adjusted his left arm. "Drake?"
"Wiggins is looking for him. Should you see him..."
"I'll pass the word, Mr. Cutter."
With Cutter's departure, Hornblower snatched his hat, peered
into the hallway, and opened the door to let the ghost escape.
He scampered away as silent as a mouse, and Hornblower set wide
Carden opened the door. He hoped it was Miss Pamela returned from hospital but, no, it was a messenger. A young boy passed the folded note. Clutching it under his stub, Carden dug out a pence to press in the child's hand.
"Thankee, sir!" saluted the boy, and he ran.
Carden frowned at the note containing his name. At least she was letting him know what was on. It was not like her to stay so late. Too much interest in that one, but if he accepted her kindness, one-armed commoner that he was, how could he judge? As long as she was safe, he fulfilled his duty.
He closed the door and walked back into the kitchen. Sitting, he unfolded the note, leaned towards the lantern, and read intently.
Dress in your best and come for me. I am at the King and Crown Inn. Ask for the room of Daniel Dawson. Call me Mrs. Dandridge. Come as quick as you can.
Carden exhaled deeply. What new folly was he about to be embroiled in? His best. Dress in his best. Dang Sunday clothes he wore when he escorted her to church, he supposed, is what she meant. King and Crown. His eyebrows ascended.
Meanwhile in the ornately appointed dining room of the King and Crown Inn, the main course arrived. Where else would her uncle choose to stay but the best Gibraltar had to offer? Her hunger sated earlier in the evening with an afternoon tea, she daintily began the entree. With each bite, she stole a glance at the older man and recalled her side of the conversation. *I am not coming home. Every sailor's shout would bring fear! What if the home bound ship were boarded by pirates? And the memory, uncle. My father! It is too soon! Too soon!*
Was there enough anxiety in her voice to put him off insistence? It was no use informing of the marriage. He hated the British. Intense animosity remained from the war. Uncle Daniel's memories of what he called British occupation were still raw, forgive and forget not in his vocabulary. If he knew she carried Horatio's child, what would he do? Disown her? She had enough funds to last, that is if he did not try to interfer in her financial independence. Could he do that? Or would he break the marriage, force her back to America? She did not put it past him to try. Not the faintest desire to experience his form of impressment appealed and she doubted not that he was capable of the attempt.
Daniel Dawson prevailed. Only her father's intervention and his paternity protected. Her sister and the business associates knew of Daniel's dislike of James's unorthodox parenting style.
It was true. Her father did indulge her, treated her like some hybrid son. Not only a daughter, but a companion. A business partner toward the end, involving her in Dawson Import and Export even before Dandridge died, confiding in her, giving a free rein few women experienced. She knew it. Knew how most women were expected to act, but she was not raised in that fashion. He showered her with love and affection. Only the two marriages separated, and that but for a time. James was as devoted to her as he had been his wife, the wife her birth deprived of life, but love won out over grief. There was no contest, for even as a babe, Pamela reached out to the one that loved her, and the baby's touch entwined his heart anew. Only his desire for her happiness and fulfillment as a woman gave James Dawson the strength to give her away. Had he not said those very words at both weddings?
"Pamela. I understand your fears, my dear. But you cannot stay here indefinitely!" Daniel Dawson lifted a bit of beef and looked at his niece. He froze. Her eyes were transfixed at an unknown point and tears coursed quietly down her cheeks. He lay his fork down. She had not heard a word he said.
Daniel Dawson was as different from James Dawson as night and day, but whatever his short comings, he loved his brother. It was that love that made it easy for James to get around his protestations of how Pamela was raised. Being not only brother but part father to James, with the untimely death of their parents, their relationship was as much confused as was James' with his daughter.
Sometimes he felt more like a grandfather than an uncle, but she never knew it. He would never tell his innermost thoughts. Men do not do that. It was something he suspected of his brother which he had no desire to comprehend. Something best ignored. It was not manly. It was weakness. Was it his fault for failing as a father figure for James? It was not easy being thrown into parenthood. Maybe that was why his arguements over Pamela's raising never succeeded.
He felt a hard swallow. He wanted her to stop the silent emotional outburst he viewed, but in truth, it mirrored the feelings he stifled. He lifted his hand tentatively. Could he put his upon hers? Would his touch bring consolation or the same familiar rejection? Would the tears be contagious? His handkerchief. That would do. He could let it touch her hand, and he would not have to. He pulled it from his coat and hardened his features.
She felt the tapping. Knitting her brow, she stared at the linen resting against her fingers and followed the cloth to the hand that held it. Him. She detested the man for his criticism. She would not let him ruin her life. If only Horatio were here. The truth could not be revealed. He knows nothing of love. He would hound her until she either gave in or she exploded and she had no intention of ever giving in. Not to him! No intention whatsoever! She lifted a dinner napkin to dry her face.
"Please, Uncle. Only I know what I can bear. And, I cannot bear another sea voyage! Please! When I am ready, I will return." It was a lie. "You must ... understand!"
Had she listened? He stared at the cloth between his fingers, shifted his eyes to the bread plate, sliding his hand silently from its extention. Any softness that might have shown returned to concrete as he lifted his eyes to meet hers, defiant, yet pleading. He could only do what he knew best, what life had trained him was best. He breathed deeply, averting his eyes.
"I have business to attend. It is why James... your father... was coming to this infernal British infestation to begin with."
"Uncle!" she whispered.
He frowned. "When all is accomplished, you may be of...firmer constitution for sailing. I arrived unhampered. I will inquire of the port authorities here for further assurances of other vessels making safe passage. You are a woman alone, Pamela, a widow. You must see the implications. Dawson's Creek is where you belong, not some half held British possession. They are at war, you know."
Tears sprang afresh. "I know, Uncle! Believe me, I know!" She dabbed her eyes and did not see the concern cross his countenance.
*What else have these British put her through?* he wondered. He bit the inside of his lower lip. Of all the nations that could have rescued her, why did it have to be the Brits? His eyes narrowed remembering that fool, Mason, so called captain. He was as responsible for James' death as any man. He would never get another ship if it was the last thing he did.
Pamela felt her heart skip a beat. She looked askance to see white trousers and the tail of a uniform. Daring to view her uncle, his piercing eyes stared at the arrival. She followed his gaze, innocently. She had to speak before he said it again.
"Are you addressing me, sir? My name is Dandridge." Racing memory brought recognition.
A moment of confusion crossed his face. "I thought I recalled..."
He hesitated, puzzling.
"You are Leftenant Barnstable!" She stood, facing him with an upward cant of her chin. "I recall meeting you on an evening walk. My man, Carden escorted me. We exchanged pleasantries on the wall about the ships at harbor. How good of you to remember me!" She held out her hand.
He held it and bowed. This was the woman he found in tears, alone, so many nights ago, was she not? "I could ... I..." He saw a brief dart of her eyes towards the older gentleman and a twitch in the ruby lips. "It was over a month ago, ma'am. Forgive my faulty memory." He bowed once again.
"Uncle Daniel, this is Leftenant Barnstable. Leftenant, my uncle, Daniel Dawson."
"How do you do, Lieutenant?" His eyes shifted to his niece. He would be damned before he said lieutenant the way the Brits did.
"Sir." He nodded, then addressed her. "I wondered if you found your way home that night, but I imagine your *man* Carden knew his way well enough."
"He did, sir. Would you care to join us for a drink, Mr. Barnstable?"
"I would not disturb your meal, ma'am."
"Please do, Mr. Barnstable. I have some questions I would pose about the port here. Waiter! A chair. What would you like to drink?"
"Port, sir, if you insist."
Pamela eyed her uncle when Barnstable was not looking and mouthed *Be-have your-self!*
Dawson, surprised, was unable to surpress the wry smile overtaking his features. It changed to a full fledged grin by the time he was sitting. "Tell us about Gibraltar, Lieutenant Barnstable."
Back in the shared cabin of Indefatigable, the two were silent after the meal with Pellew and the others. They had a grand time swapping tales, though not all could be told.
Hornblower ventured to ask about Indy's new paint. The ensuing storm that covered Pellew's visage and the silence around the table revealed Rampling was not kidding when he said it was a sore subject. The question was unanswered still.
Archie glanced Hornblower's way. He was staring at the ceiling above his cot. Horatio did answer when spoken to....but...the melancholy was there, though explained away as weariness. It was Pamela's letters...or in all fairness, the one she never intended to send, but perhaps should have, instead of the one she did. Who interferred? He still carried the one he wrote that late night in Palermo. He thanked the Almighty it was never mailed and intended to destroy it the first unobserved opportunity to do so.
He must have sighed loudly for Horatio turned to him, smiled, and said, "Go to sleep, Archie. Goodnight." and he rolled over with his back to him, forgetting to dress for sleep.
Archie stared and frowned, then rolled onto his back. *Pamela, I wish he could see you. I dearly wish it. I think it would help his state of mind...just to know you two could sort this out. He's better. Thank God, he's better. But until this is made right,... I know it eats at him.* Breathing deeply, he closed his eyes, and drifted off to sleep.
After a time, Hornblower rolled over to see his friend sleeping soundly. Rising quietly, he donned his coat and blew out the light. He carried his shoes until the door was closed and he was well away from the cabin. Snores came from forward where the men slept. Slipping into the shoes, he climbed out on deck. The air was slightly cooler. He saw Cutter on watch and went forward towards the foremast. Climbing onto the rail, he began to ascend the shrouds.
"Is that you, Mr. Hornblower?"
The voice startled him , and he misstepped through the ratlines. He held on, regaining his foothold.
"Dr. Sebastian! What the devil are you doing up at this hour?"
Looking straight up, he replied, "I might ask you the same." He stepped over to the side and climbed up onto the lines until he was opposite Hornblower. He grinned when he came along side. "You did not think I could do this, did you?"
"Where are we going?"
"The fighting top."
Hornblower climbed onward and upward. Sebastian followed. The leftenant moved over to make room for the doctor to enter the platform.
Sebastian grinned and breathed heavily after the exertion.
He looked down at the deck.
"Quite farther than it looks, leftenant," he panted.
"It is, sir."
"I have seen the captain do this on occasion. I have always wanted to give it a try. Most exhilarating!"
"Indeed. It is." Hornblower felt a grin take his face, a surprise, considering how he felt. The doctor's exuberance was contagious. He let it wash over him.
Sebastian laughed out loud, looking down, and then up to the topgallant yards. He glanced at Horatio. "You are not going higher, are you?"
"I had not planned to, sir. It would not be wise to attempt it in the dark, especially if it is your first time."
"Good! I do not think my heart could take another ascent! I shall be pleased to be this much closer to heaven."
The wind blew the doctor's long loose hair with a caress. The star light and the mast light lit the half Spaniards features. He was quite handsome. Hornblower had never noticed before. Perhaps it was the giddiness of danger that revealed it.
Sebastian pulled off his topcoat. "I find I have worked up a sweat," he chuckled, "From fear or exertion, do not ask this old man, sir."
Hornblower chortled. "You are not old, sir."
Sebastian's face was incredulous. "Flattery, Mr. Hornblower?"
"Truth, Dr. Sebastian." Hornblower realized a sudden camaraderie with this man. He was glad of his presence, though at first he hoped the climb would deter.
Sebastian stared into the youthful countenance. "I am not in the mood to argue the merits or demerits of age."
"Are you not? Does not wisdom come with age?"
"For some. It does. If one has been a good student of life, sometimes wisdom comes."
"It has for you, though I think you have always had it," replied Hornblower.
Sebastian gazed intently, amazed at what he was hearing. Was the leftenant in a mood to talk?
"Perhaps. Though much wisdom can be gained by merely asking."
"You speak of Solomon."
Surprised again, Sebastian gaped. "Mr. Hornblower. I did not realize that by following you on this perilous climb I would be met with repeated astonishment! You know of Solomon?"
"What school boy does not know of the wisdom of Solomon?" He shrugged his shoulders. "He asked God for wisdom, and God gave it." Hornblower laughed. "Doctor! Just because I do not practice a religion does not mean I am ignorant."
"I will not go there, sir. Speak on."
The statement confused Hornblower, but he thought he might have just been insulted in a round about way. "I have nothing more to say. It was merely a comment."
Sebastian held onto the lines and leaned out, letting the wind blow through his frilled shirt sleeves. Hornblower removed his topcoat and joined him. It was far cooler this way.
"Stuffy below decks," Hornblower stated.
"Indeed." Sebastian eyed him. "How is Pamela?"
Hornblower's visage changed immediately. His eyes shifted, seeking somewhere else to go, somewhere else to be. He pushed against the lines and went to sit on the platform.
Sebastian breathed in deeply, then out, watching the younger man prop his arms on his bent knees and rest his forehead against them.
Sebastian sat beside him. "Do you want to tell me?"
Hornblower said nothing. Sebastian leaned his head back and looked at the starry sky and said a silent prayer.
"I've been doing that," stated Hornblower.
Sebastian's brow knit. Could he mean what it seemed he meant?
"Doing what?" asked Sebastian warily, assessing the bowed figure beside him.
"Praying. At least, I think I am." Hornblower looked up and ran his hands over his face.
Sebastian was worried. Tears? What had he happened upon?
Hornblower glanced his way and chuckled. "I've surprised you, Doctor."
"You have, Mr. Hornblower." He could think of nothing more to add. He was not prepared for this.
"I used to go to church...before my mother died." He laughed quietly. "Why am I telling you this?"
"It is time you told someone."
Hornblower let his eyes meet Sebastian's for a moment. "I ..." an audible swallow. "God!" He bowed into his knees. Sebastian put his hand on Horatio's shoulder and felt the trembling.
"The letters from Pamela have unsettled you."
"Do not blame her."
"I do not blame anyone, Horatio."
"I've got to see her. I've got to. She's told me she isn't pregnant, but... she is. She feels she has to ...to lie to me.... It's my fault. This is between us because of me. ... I think... I am losing my mind, Doctor."
"She told you she was not pregnant?"
"But now you know she is."
"She wrote a letter she did not send. I mean....Carden is working for her."
"Yes. It had to be him. There is no one else that would have done such a thing."
"What did he do?"
"She must have written one letter, gotten mine, and threw hers away. Carden found it somehow and mailed it with one of her others. It is the only logical answer."
"Hm. You have deduced all of this logically."
"What did you say in your letter that you think brought about the necessity of the misrepresentation?"
He glanced at the doctor nervously, then stared at his knees.
"Oh. You...you ... you told her about resigning your commission?"
Horatio covered his face. "In so many words...yes."
"Oh....dear....I see." Sebastian sighed.
"I am in misery! Misery after misery!"
"I can see how this would make you feel uneasy. It is not good to lose trust. Trust is very important in a relationship. Do you not trust her any longer because of the falsehood?"
"But it is my fault she has done it!"
"Yes. I think you are right."
"You aren't making me feel any better."
"I am not trying to make you feel better. You deserve this woodshed experience for considering leaving the service."
Hornblower stared amazed. Did he expect comfort from this man? "Woodshed?"
"Yes. That is what it is, Horatio."
The flood of emotions came like quicksilver. Anger, remorse, self-recrimination, acceptance. "I am in the woodshed." It was a statement. It was a question. "How long will my punishment go on? Wasn't Archie enough?"
"I think I would rather be beaten by him than like this."
"Archie beat you?"
"A fight, Doctor. We got in a fight. I only tried to stop him, but he landed several blows."
Sebastian chuckled. "I would have liked to have seen that."
Hornblower stared and then began to chuckle. "Doctor, I thought if anyone would sympathize with me, it would be you. ... Goes to show what I know."
"Did it help?"
"I ... I haven't thought about it. I suppose it did ... some. He nearly got me trouble with Admiral Nelson."
Sebastian chuckled again.
"The admiral wanted to know who I was fighting with."
"And what did you tell him?"
"I said I fell."
Sebastian laughed louder.
Hornblower laughed. "This is not funny."
Sebastian continued to laugh. "Mr. Hornblower, it is most amusing. You do not understand." He chuckled again. "I would not tell Captain Pellew any of this if I were you."
"I never intend to, Doctor. You wouldn't..."
"No! No! Of course not! What you have shared will go no farther." He grinned broadly. "But if you find me chuckling when you or Archie are near, you can guess what amuses me."
Hornblower shook his head. He compared the blows received from Archie to what he was feeling emotionally. "How do you know this is a woodshed experience, Doctor?"
He smiled wryly. "I have been there, Mr. Hornblower."
The doctor nodded. "It is not pleasurable, but once you realize what it is, you can move on from there. It will never be forgotten. You planned to do something totally out of line. Now you pay the consequences. Be thankful it is not worse and that you have not lost her entirely."
Hornblower knitted his brow. "I love her."
"And she loves you. Write her. Tell her, that no matter what, you love her. Do not tell her you know she has lied. Remind her of your love when you see her and it is obvious that she has been false. She will not be able to hide the child. She knows this. ... She too must be in misery,... as you put it."
Hornblower put his hands over his ears. "I do not want to hear this! I do not want her to suffer!" He pulled his hands down and looked mournfully at Sebastian.
Sebastian put his arm over Hornblower's shoulders and hugged him briefly. "It will be a test of your love and hers."
"I do not want any tests."
Sebastian snorted. "There are always tests, Mr. Hornblower, of one kind or another."
Sebastian stood and peered down towards the deck. "Here is one now. How in the name of Merciful Heaven do I get down from here?"
Hornblower came to his feet. He sniffed and wiped a sleeve over his cheek. "It isn't hard. Watch." He was about to let himself over when he saw it. He froze, peering into the night.
Sebastian assessed Hornblower and realized he intently stared in the distance. Stepping to his side, he looked the same direction. "What is it?"
"Damn!" Hornblower stole a quick glance aft. No one on the quarter-deck noticed.
"It's a signal," stated Sebastian. "Is it not?"
"Most definitely, Doctor." The two watched the light, blinking a pattern. "But who? And more importantly, who is receiving it?" Hornblower moved with the quickness of a cat, taking the mast with equal stealth. Reaching the light, he extinguished it, climbed higher and stared out to sea. Sebastian could barely see the white of his trousers in the darkness. Another quiet expletive drifted down, and then another more distinct as Hornblower descended. "Will you be all right, sir? I must inform the Captain!"
"Yes! Yes!" Sebastian took a deep breath, alternating watching Hornblower slip down the lines and the sporadic light to the northeast.
Hornblower ran quietly to the quarter-deck. He whispered loudly, "Mr. Cutter! Mr. Cutter! Send a watch to the foremast top yard. Dr. Sebastian is there. He will tell the man! I'm going to get the Captain!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
"Sir!" Cutter whispered.
Though he trod quietly, the wood decking still thumped with the shifting weight. Pellew was already wakened by the quick steps overhead, before the knock.
"Come! What is it?" He lifted his watch and stared at the time.
"Captain Pellew, sir. A signal. Nor'east, sir. I saw it from the foremast."
"Mr. Hornblower. I did not think we had assigned you duty as yet. You are out of uniform." He slipped on his breeches and shoes, tucking his night shirt. On the way out, he snatched his topcoat and pulled it on, lifting his loose hair out the back.
Sebastian stood staring up into the darkness, unable to see the man sent to the topgallant yard. He became aware of vibration as Captain Pellew suddenly threw himself onto the fighting top.
"Doctor! Odd place for a house call." He was gone and climbing up into the darkness.
"Dr. Sebastian," nodded Hornblower as he followed Pellew.
Sebastian stood next to the mast listening as a telescope clicked with extension. Another whispered "Damn!" and something else, though indistinguishable. Someone was descending. Hornblower. He doffed his topcoat, climbed back up. Another click of the spyglass sounded.
Sebastian frowned and examined the way down. He shook his head. They were descending again.
"I want a messenger relay. We'll launch boats. Quietly! I'll not have another fiasco with Indefatigable. Accident or no, I am not convinced." Pellew was saying. "Still here, Doctor?" He slung himself over with the adeptness of an orangutan, Hornblower following.
With the disappearance below the platform, Sebastian twisted his mouth. Half a moment later, the head reappeared with a broad grin. With a toss, Hornblower called, "Come on, Doctor. I did not forget you, sir. Easy over."
Feet firmly planted on the forecastle, Sebastian placed his hand over his heart. "I am too old for this. I amuse you, Leftenant."
"Actually, sir, I was thinking of Pamela." He peered back up the lines. "You should see her make that climb!"