An American Encounter, part 2
Confinements of Confusion
Horatio Hornblower was taken to Admiralty house. He stared around, feeling somewhat confused. If he were arrested, would he not be taken to a gaol? Perhaps he could get word to Pellew. Maybe HE could get him released.
"Wait in here." The leftenant opened the door of a small room. Hornblower peered in. It looked like a storage room of some kind.
"Yes. A guard will be outside the door. Do not do anything foolish."
"But, how long am I to stay here?"
"Until I find my captain. He will know where to put you. I don't know why you navy men cannot follow the rules. And you a leftenant." The man shook his head as he closed the door.
Horatio blinked, gazing around the small confines lit by a hanging lantern. He sat down briefly, then stood, reaching to open the door.
"Wot ye doin' there, sir?" asked a burly guard raising his musket.
"May I send a message?"
"Ye'll *ave ta wait till the leftenant comes back, sir." He pulled the door closed.
Hornblower sighed with a frown. Pulling his watch, he checked the time. It was nearly eight o'clock. "Damn!" He tried to pace, knocking his shin into the only chair in the room. Cursing again, he rubbed his leg. He could manage but three steps before he had to turn. *More like a damn closet! Why am I in here?* he thought. Picking up the single chair, he tossed it brusquely upon a cabinet against the wall with a clatter. Now, he could pace almost a full five steps. What was Pamela doing? Certainly she would be worried. He was so looking forward to sleeping in a proper bed with her.
The guard tapped against the door. "Settle down in there, sir!"
Horatio scowled at the door, beginning his quick turning pace. Should he try to break out? Overcome the guard? Would the man shoot him? Why in heaven's name was he in here? Where was Bracegirdle? Damn him!
Archie downed his pint of beer! "A fine brew, Mr. Bracegirdle!" He stood next to the bar, crowded around by numerous men in naval, marine, and army regimental uniforms.
"It's the least I could do for the Indefatigable's latest new leftenant, Leftenant Kennedy!" Bracegirdle lifted his own glass in salute, downing its remaining liquid.
"Tell me, now, sir, what have you done with Mr. Hornblower?" grinned Archie.
Bracegirdle chortled. "You should have seen him, Mr. Kennedy! He was fit to be tied when the dock men took our launch!"
"You are fortunate he did not hear you chuckling away on the battlements!"
"Indeed, I am! Leftenant Rogers played his part well. I expect him back at any moment."
"And how long do you intend to keep Horatio locked up?"
"Do you think he will stay put once he realizes the guard is gone? Ah! Here comes Rogers now! Mr. Rogers! Another pint, my man!" ordered Bracegirdle of the pub's tapman. "Mr. Rogers, this is LEFTENANT Kennedy!"
"How do you do, sir?"
"Pleased to meet you, Leftenant," nodded Rogers before he took a swig of beer. "Success, Bracegirdle. What now?"
"Let us finish another round, and then, we shall free him."
"And, how do you intend to explain, WHY, he is being released?" asked Archie.
"I will think of something," grinned Bracegirdle.
"Indeed, sir. I was to meet he and Pamela for dinner if I completed my exam before eight o'clock."
"How much longer do you think the Captain will be engaged, Archie?"
"There were about another dozen men after me...and that was nearly an hour ago."
Styles pushed his way through the crowd to his officers. He saluted Bracegirdle. "Sir, that Barney fellow will not give us the launch till ye've paid him."
Bracegirdle's face was flushed as he listened to Styles' words. "Very well, Styles. I will come. See you later, Mr. Kennedy. Thanks again, Rogers for helping us tweak Mr. Hornblower. I owe you one!" He and Styles sidled out through the mass of men.
"Well, Mr. Rogers, I do not care to be there when you release Horatio. I believe I shall amble over to the Laughing Dolphin and seek out his lady."
"As you wish, Mr. Kennedy."
Kennedy gave him a nod, making his way out through the various shades of red and blue uniforms. Nearly to the door, he spotted Rampling near the front window. "Rampling!" He raised his hand, waving. Rampling squeezed his way over to him.
"Care to join me at the Dolphin?"
"Aye, this place is too crowded for me, certain sure!" He slapped Kennedy on the back. "Congratulations, old man!"
The two stepped out into the warm summer night. A light breeze whipped around them sporadically. The men continued in jovial conversation walking the populated streets toward the hotel.
"Say, Rampling, I met the most ravishing young beauty today. If I should see her while we are at the Dolphin and her sister is with her, do you think you could a..... perhaps engage her in conversation?"
Rampling peered dubiously at his short companion. "I am not much with the ladies, Mr. Kennedy."
"Yes, yes, well, I mean, what is there to do? Talk to her about the weather. She's American. Talk to her about the American Navy!" Archie scrunched his eyebrows at that feeble suggestion. "You're resourceful, Bryce! Tell her about captaining the Dolphin, taking that Spanish frigate! I bet she will be all ears!"
Rampling continued on, pondering Archie's suggestions. Raising an eyebrow, he asked, "What does she look like?"
"She...is... quite pretty and.....tall. Like you! Yes, indeed, you two would make a splendid match!" grinned Archie, "a splendid match, indeed!" Archie exhaled, most pleased with THAT realization! Of course, if Elizabeth was not with Natalie, then, Rampling would be like a third wheel. His grin faded. And, then again, he might not see Natalie at all. What was he thinking of? He should not get his hopes up. He frowned at himself and thought, *You're starting to sound like Horatio, Archie! But, hope springs eternal!* The corners of his mouth began a curve upward.
It was nigh on to half past eight when he and Rampling entered the dining room of the hotel. Archie let his eyes survey the customers. Pamela was no where to be seen. Nor, Natalie. He felt his shoulders sag. "Why don't you get a drink, Bryce? I will go see if Pamela has dined."
"Sounds good to me. I'll be in the back."
Archie nodded, heading for the front desk. Ascertaining that Mrs. Hornblower was indeed still present, he headed up the three flights of stairs to the room. He knocked.
The door opened. Archie startled at the image before him. He felt his face light with pleasure. "Miss Natalie!"
Pamela sat on a stool in front of the washstand mirror, her hair half up and half down. Turning, she observed the exchange between Natalie and Archie. "Natalie! Do not tell me this is your gallant gentleman?" grinned Pamela.
Natalie blushed and Kennedy laughed. "You two know each other? I mean, I know you are both American, but..."
"I should ask the same of you, sir!" said Natalie with no small amount of shock.
"Well, yes, Pamela is married to my best friend." Archie blushed at the revelation of his friend's matrimonial state.
Pamela walked over to the two, eyes atwinkle. "She told me a very gallant gentleman saved her from being clobbered on the dock! So that was you! I should have known it would be an *Indy* man!"
Archie chuckled and raised an eyebrow. "Our Captain has trained us well, ma'am!"
"Indeed, Archie!" She peered around him. "I was hoping you had Horatio with you. Have you... " she stopped abruptly, becoming wide-eyed. "Archie! How did your examination go?"
He held his lips together trying to stop his grin from splitting across his face. "I passed."
Pamela screamed, throwing her arms around him! "Oh, I KNEW you would!" She backed from him, letting her forearms rest on his chest. "Horatio will be so pleased! As I am!" She took his hands in hers, giving them a squeeze. "Was Captain Pellew able to keep a straight face when they told you?"
Archie looked down at his shoes, feeling his crimson cheeks and grinning. "He did seem to have a bit of a time holding it back. He did."
Pamela turned to Natalie. "Mr. Kennedy is now officially LEFTENANT Kennedy!"
"Congratulations, sir!" declared Natalie. *Thank God, Pamela is married! The way she touches Mr. Kennedy! No wonder men fall for her! I could not do it!* she worried.
Archie felt his chest swelling at the admiration of these two lovely ladies, letting his gaze rest on Natalie's approving visage.
Pamela smiled to herself, watching the unspoken communication between her young friend and Archie. She returned to her seat and began to pin up her remaining locks. Natalie caught the movement out of the corner of her eye.
"Pamela! Let me do that!" Her full skirts ruffled as she stepped quickly to Pamela's back. She pinned a ringlet and looked into the mirror, shifting her gaze to the handsome man reflected there, watching them.
"H-have you eaten, Pamela?" stammered Archie.
"No. No, I have not. I was waiting for Horatio. Do you know where he is?"
Archie turned to look out into the hallway. "No, I haven't
seen him." Well, that was mostly true. He had not seen
him, and he did not know EXACTLY where he was.
Elizabeth Langdon made her way to the dining room of the Laughing Dolphin. Her mission was to acquire drinks for her parents. The request had been made to the hotel staff, but nothing had appeared, so she volunteered to retrieve them herself, despite her father's protestations. She insisted she was able to accomplish the deed and that she was not a child. Her father acquiesced, hoping his eldest girl would fare well. Though it was not much, he did want her to get out more.
The dining room was still filled with patrons, not only from the hotel, but also, from the port populace, citizens and military. She felt rather awkward as she made her way to the bar and stood waiting to gain the tapman's attention.
Rampling downed the last of his first pint. Between this glass and the ones he had consumed at the Admiral's Arms, he was feeling quite relaxed and a bit verbose, meaning one or more sentences might be readily available, in his case. Approaching the bar, he noted a tall, thin lady standing. Her dress was of a different fashion from what most of the women on Gibraltar seemed to wear, in a royal blue color. The long cut of the gown enhanced the height of the woman. He moved, allowing his shoulder to brush hers, amazing himself at his boldness. She turned and they nearly met eye to eye.
"Excuse me, sir," she blushed, taking the only available half step away from him.
*American!* he thought. *What is the world coming to? They're everywhere! Hornblower married to one, Kennedy and the girl he met today, and now this one!* "The fault is mine, miss," he bowed slightly. His eyes roamed her figure, causing his eyebrow to rise. She glanced at him quickly and then lowered her eyes. He studied the situation. "Did you wish to get a drink, miss?"
"Here, barkeep! The lady wishes to order a drink!" Rampling thumped the bar loudly.
"Aye! Aye! What'll it be, miss?"
"A glass of port and a glass of sherry."
Rampling felt his chest sink. *Drat! She was ordering for two! Oh well.* He sighed, listening as she asked the drinks be billed to the hotel room. Turning with both hands occupied, she felt daunted to traverse the busy dining room. Rampling followed her gaze, noting the worried look on her face. His gallantry stepped to the fore.
"Here, miss, let me do that for you." He took the glasses from her hands, lifting them high over his head. "Lead the way." He smiled.
She opened her mouth to protest, but seeing the crowd once more, dipped her head saying, "Thank you, sir, you are too kind." He followed her to the stairs, having a fine view of her long, shapely neck, her hair being pinned up with a spattering of tendrils grazing the smooth pink skin. She stopped to take the glasses from him. "Thank you."
"No, no. I insist. Where are these going?"
"They are for my parents, sir. I can take them from here. It is two flights up."
"Come on, let's go." He motioned with his head for her to go on. His mind worked quickly. "What about you, miss? Are you not having a drink?"
"I had not intended, sir," shied Elizabeth.
The two continued up the stairs in silence. Should he ask her back down for a drink? *Oh hell, Bryce, do it!* he told himself. He had nothing to lose and all to gain. "Might I offer to buy you a drink, miss?"
She did not answer right away. Looking over at him, she replied, "I do not know you, sir."
"Well, wait a moment." He sat the drinks on a hall table, then bowed. "Leftenant Bryce Rampling of His Majesty's Frigate Indefatigable, at your service, miss. Pleased to meet you."
She blinked, recognizing the ship's name and could not help but smile. With a shallow curtsey, she introduced, "Miss Elizabeth Langdon of the United States." They laughed together over their introductions. "Are all the ships anchored in Gibraltar Bay named Indefa... Indefa..."
"Indefatigable, miss," grinned Rampling. "No, there is only one Indy! Why do you ask?"
"Have you a *leftenant* on board named Kennedy?"
"Yes. Indeed, we do. Do you know him?"
"He assisted us in finding this hotel."
"Ah." He smiled, picking up the drinks once again.
Arriving at room six, she knocked. Before the door could open, he asked her once more if he might buy her a drink. Her mother opened the door. Mild shock registered on her mother's face. She opened the door wider. "Mr. Langdon, Elizabeth has brought our drinks, and a visitor!"
Elizabeth retrieved the drinks, placing them on a table within the suite.
Langdon stood from the upholstered chair, brow furrowed, eyeing the British officer.
"These are my parents, sir, Mr. and Mrs. Langdon. He was kind to assist me at the bar."
He bowed. "Delighted to meet you, ma'am, sir. I am Leftenant Bryce Rampling of His Majesty's Ship Indefatigable. I understand you met a fellow officer today, Leftenant Kennedy."
Langdon's face eased from scowl to smile. Had Kennedy been listening that closely to his woes about his daughter's lack of suitors? And, this man topped her height but barely, by an inch, at most! He stepped to shake Rampling's hand, squeezing it tightly and pumping it firmly. "Glad to meet you, sir!"
Rampling was a little surprised by the warm welcome but accepted it graciously. "I have entreated your daughter to join me in the dining room for a drink. Would she have your permission, if she were so inclined to accept?"
Langdon spied his daughter's blush, answering with a tinge of love that could not be mistaken. "If she wishes, and if it is solely downstairs you wish to convey her, she does."
All eyes turned to Elizabeth. She felt her body tense seeing the hope written in her parent's faces. She studied her shoes, thinking. *Oh, really! Mother! Father! Must you throw me at him?* An argument ensued within her mind. *But YOU found him, Elizabeth! HE spoke to YOU! HE offered to help YOU, with neither of them around to egg him on. Was it not HIS idea to invite you for a drink? Don't be a fool!* Then, her other self answered. *But I do not know this man! It is so crowded downstairs! What if he realizes how my parents are throwing me at him?* The rebuttal. *Elizabeth Langdon! You are not marrying the man! He just wants to buy you a drink and possibly have some conversation! GO! Don't let Natalie show you up again! GO!* She inhaled.
"I would be delighted to have a drink with you, sir."
Rampling bowed slightly. "I am honored, Miss Elizabeth." Turning to her parents, he added, "I shall see her home safely," and he bowed towards them.
The busy dining room bustled with voices and activity. Rampling searched for a small table for the two of them when he heard his name.
Kennedy walked up beside him. "Miss Elizabeth! I see you have found my shipmate! Won't you join us? We are about to order a light supper. Come on!"
They followed him over to a round table. Natalie's mouth hung open briefly at the sight of her sister with a man. Pamela's face lit with pleasure! She could have wanted nothing more than to see her moody friend in the company of Mr. Rampling. It might make her news more palatable, for Rampling was sure to call her....
Kennedy pulled out a chair for Elizabeth, but then turned it over to Rampling to assist.
"Where is Mr. Hornblower?" Rampling could not help but allow his questioning eyes move to Kennedy, whose eyes widened briefly. Rampling pulled out his pocket watch, frowning at the time.
"I was about to ask you that question, Mr. Rampling," stated Pamela. "I am getting worried."
Elizabeth held a slightly triumphant look that began to fade as realization dawned. Pamela was married...again. She looked at her with some bewilderment.
Pamela inclined her head, imploring Elizabeth's forgiveness with a look and a nod. She watched her friend tense, then, glance at her sister. "I see you've met Mr. Rampling! How did you find our Elizabeth, sir?"
"Purely coincidence, ma'am," he grinned.
"Mr. Rampling, this is my sister, Natalie, and I see you know my old friend, Pamela Dawson, Lanelle, Dandridge, and ....Hornblower, is it? Natalie, this is Mr. Rampling."
"And, everyone knows me!" grinned Archie.
"What will ye be wantin' this evening, ladies and gentlemen?" interrupted the harried waiter.
"The three of us have chosen the lamb and vegetable stew, sir. How about you two?" questioned Archie. Rampling agreed to the same, though Elizabeth prefered a beverage only.
"It's after nine," stared Rampling at Kennedy.
"I know," sighed Kennedy deeply.
The food came. The drinks came. The meal was consumed. Pamela had chosen the table where they sat as it afforded a view of the hotel's front door. Each time it opened, she looked toward it expectantly.
Kennedy, too, looked with anticipation. Bracegirdle and Rogers were to have released him over an hour ago. What could have happened? He hoped Pamela was not getting wise to their games, and she was making him feel increasingly guilty over his part in Horatio's *tweaking.*
"I will have to say goodnight, gentlemen, Natalie, Elizabeth," announced Pamela, standing.
The men rose to their feet.
"Are you going to sleep for the night?" asked Kennedy anxiously, fearing the worst.
She studied him for a moment. "Yes."
"You're not going looking for Horatio, are you?" he added quickly, "because I cannot let you wander the streets of Gibraltar alone, Pamela. Horatio would never forgive me, if anything happened to you."
"Archie, you have company. Do not fret yourself about me."
"That means she is going looking for him, Mr. Kennedy," stated Natalie. "He is right, Pamela, you should not be out this time of night alone."
Archie smiled at Natalie with his eyes and his lips. "Call
me, Archie, Miss Natalie."
They gazed at one another for some moments.
Pamela smiled and tried to slip away. Natalie caught the movement. "We will come with you!"
"Natalie! It is late! Your father will not approve!"
"Yes, he will. I will explain it to him. You are coming too, aren't you Mr. Rampling?"
"I promised your parents we would go no where but here and that I would see your sister safely home."
"Well, she is coming with us. Aren't you Elizabeth?" Natalie did not give her a chance to answer. "I will get our cloaks."
Pamela and Natalie retreated upstairs.
"If you do not wish to go, Miss Elizabeth, I will walk you to your room," offered Rampling.
"I would very much like to go, Mr. Rampling. I think an evening walk would be delightful."
Rampling felt a smile generating over his lips. She still desired his company, that was plain. "Then, I hope your father does give his permission."
Pamela entered her room, hearing the door close behind her. Grabbing her cloak, she reached for the handle of the bedroom door. Turning it, it came off in her hands. "Damn! Oh Lord! Forgive my language! I have been at sea too long!" She sighed and pushed the handle back towards the shaft. Turning the handle to seat it on the shaft caused it to push the rod inside the door. "Oh! This thing!" Reaching with her fingers, she tried to pull it back towards her. She could not get a purchase on the shaft with her finger tips. She tried to push the handle on it again, but it moved further into the door. "Oh no!" She sat on the floor next to the door, leaning her head against the bottom panel. "Horatio! Where are you, darling?"
Natalie arrived downstairs with Elizabeth's cloak to hand. "Where is Pamela?"
"She has not come down," answered Rampling, helping Elizabeth with her cloak.
Natalie hesitated a moment. "I will see what is keeping her." She trotted back up the stairs. Pamela's room was a floor above hers. She arrived, feeling winded. She knocked on the door. "Pamela?"
"Oh, Natalie! Natalie! The door handle has come off on this side and I cannot open the door. Can you open it from there?"
Natalie tried the handle. It would not turn. "I think I need the key. It will not do anything, Pamela."
"Would you be a dear and ask for another key at the desk?"
"Yes, yes! I will be right back."
Pamela paced the room, beginning to bite her knuckle.
Natalie came down the stairs, announcing the difficulty with the door. Archie went up immediately, while Natalie approached the front desk.
Reaching her door, he called to her. "Pamela. What has happened?"
"Archie! I went to open the door and the handle came off!"
He could hear the tears in her voice. "Pamela, don't cry. We will get you out of there."
"Do you think Horatio is all right, Archie?"
"Yes, yes. Do not fret yourself. I am sure he is all right."
"But it is after ten o'clock. I just heard the church bells. Where can he be?"
Archie looked at the handle. Was this more of Starns work at the behest of Bracegirdle? He grabbed the handle, turning it, then turning it more forcefully. It came off in his hands, the shaft clattering to the floor. "Damn!"
"Oh, Archie! What has happened now?"
"Don't worry, Pamela. I'll get someone." He peered through the hole in the door. They could see each other. "Don't cry. Please don't cry. It will be all right." He smiled at her.
She wiped her face and smiled back. "At least a pirate does not have a knife at my throat!"
He grinned warmly at her, remembering the incident.
Rampling and Elizabeth reached the landing and saw Archie sitting on the floor, leaned against the wall at Pamela's door, twirling the door handle in his fingers.
"Oh, no!" exclaimed Rampling.
Kennedy eyed him, suspiciously, and came to his feet.
Natalie came panting up the three flights of stairs. She leaned against the wall, breathless, holding up a door key. Her mouth dropped at the sight of the hole in the door where the lock should have been. "Oh dear!" cried Natalie. "What will we do now?" She bent to look through the hole. "Pamela!"
"I'll go ask if the manager has some tools we can use," offered Rampling. Kennedy grabbed his arm, preparing to question him when Pamela spoke.
"It is so late, Archie! I could climb out the window."
"NO! Pamela! Do not do that!"
She was up and moving towards it. Archie pressed his eye to the hole. He saw her pull open the window. "NO! Pamela! I order you! STOP!" The door of the next room opened.
"What the devil is going on out here?" demanded an elderly man in a sleeping cap.
Elizabeth curtsied and began to explain it to him.
Pamela looked out and down the side of the building. It was dark, but she recalled a lattice work near the bottom of the building and a broad, climbing vine. A rooftop was about twenty feet below, being the covering for the steps to the hotel entryway. Somehow by zigzagging from the vine to the lattice, she should make it to the street. She swung one foot out the window.
"Archie, I will be all right! I can do this."
"Mrs. HORNBLOWER! What the DEVIL do you think you are doing?" A voice called to her from the darkness below.
She peered into it, letting her eyes adjust. She thought she recognized the voice. She squinted, narrowing the sparse light into her eye. "Captain Pellew? Is that you?"
"Oh, God, Rampling! The captain is here!" whispered Archie.
"Shite! Beg your pardon, Miss Elizabeth!"
"IT IS! And what in blazes are you DOING, madam?" bellowed Pellew.
"I cannot get out of my room!"
"Get back in there!"
"But, Captain, I..."
"Did you HEAR me, young lady?" He pointed up at her, lips set angrily.
She sighed, looking over the town. Lanterns and torches dotted the darkened village. She could see the street lights lining and lighting the way around the square and beyond. A mist hung in the air. "Very well. Have you seen Horatio?"
Pellew stood looking up at her with his hands on his hips. "Is Mr. Kennedy up there with you?"
"He is in the hallway!"
"I am coming up. Stay inside! Do you hear?"
"Yes, sir!" She stepped back inside, straightening her dress. "Archie, the Captain is here. Archie?" She peered through the hole seeing Archie and Rampling as far from her door as they could be, whispering to one another. Natalie moved into her line of sight.
"Pamela, be patient, dear," urged Natalie.
"I do apologize, Natalie. I have ruined your evening."
"No, you haven't, silly!" she grinned.
"Is this more of Bracegirdle's doing?" whispered Archie anxiously in Rampling's face.
"Aaaaa......."Rampling bit his twisted bottom lip
and squinted. "The captain did not sound happy."
"Well," Archie bobbed his head in a circle, "I suppose that is to be expected when your second leftenant's wife is about to jump out a third story window!" Turning to the stairwell, they heard heavy steps on the treads drawing near. Archie and Rampling both sucked in a breath. They came to attention, awaiting their captain.
Pellew glared at the two of them, but spoke quietly. "What is going on, gentlemen?"
"The lock and handle assembly appears to have come out of the door, sir." Archie saluted him with the handle still to hand. He glanced at it, then handed it over to his captain.
Pellew snatched it, beginning to toss it in his hand with aggravation. "Does Mr. Bracegirdle have anything to do with this?" he whispered acidly.
"Aaaa...." answered Rampling quietly. "I do not think so." He shifted his eyes toward Kennedy.
*Uh oh* thought Kennedy, *this is one of Rampling's OWN ideas!*
Pellew inhaled deeply, tapping his fingers against his thigh, piercing his officers with a steely stare. "I don't suppose either of you know WHERE my launch is?" He turned to stare at the odd assemblage of persons outside Pamela's room.
Kennedy's mouth dropped open. If the launch were not where it was supposed to be, what did that mean for Horatio? Was he still confined? Dear God! He will be furious if ever he finds out this was all a prank! And, then, Kennedy snickered.
Natalie and Elizabeth stared wide-eyed at Pellew dressed in his finest gold bedecked uniform. The man in the sleeping cap stood in his nightgown, squinting at the group outside his room.
"What is funny, Mr. Kennedy?" growled Pellew.
"Nothing, sir! May I introduce Miss Elizabeth Langdon, sir, and Miss Natalie Langdon. They are friend's of Mrs. Hornblower. This is Captain Pellew, ladies."
Pellew's angry face softened, a point, at the news. "Indeed? Pleased to meet you, Miss Langdon, Miss Langdon." He touched his hat to both of them.
"Good evening, Captain," they curtsied.
Pellew examined the hole in the door, and the latch, firmly plunged into the door jam. "Mr. Kennedy, have you informed the proprietors of the difficulty?"
"Not this extent, sir."
"Do so. And, tell them we may need some tools."
"I'll go," volunteered Rampling.
*Coward!* thought Kennedy.
Pellew knelt to peer through the hole. "Mrs. Hornblower." He shook his head. If this were not Bracegirdle's doing, disaster did, indeed, seem to follow her.
"Captain Pellew. I am sorry to get you involved in my problems once again."
He felt himself ease. At least she was not perched in the window. "Promise me you will not try to climb out the window, madam, and all will be forgiven." He watched her twisting her cloak, looking towards the opening to the outside. That was it. He had to get in there.
"Sir," he addressed the nightgowned gentleman. "As you can see, we have a problem. Might I use your window to gain entry into my friend's room, that I might help her? It may be that there is something to be done from her side of the door." He doubted seriously that this would be the case. His concern was for her safety. She brought out his protective qualities. Maybe he WAS behaving like a father. At that moment, it occurred to him what he was suggesting. If they could not get the door open, he would be in a bedroom with his leftenant's wife. But how else could he assure himself that she would not attempt to climb out the window? *Good God! What have I gotten myself into now?* He closed his eyes. The question had been asked. Maybe the man would refuse. But no, even now he was pushing wide the door to his bed chamber. Pellew gave his hat, cloak, and topcoat to Kennedy.
"Sir, would you like me to do that?"
Pellew considered it briefly. "No." He bent to peer through the hole at Pamela. "Mrs. Hornblower, I am going to climb over to you from the room next door here."
"Captain Pellew! No! You might fall!"
"Expect me, madam. I am on my way." He stopped, staring at Kennedy. "By the by, Mr. Kennedy, where IS Mr. Hornblower?"
His new leftenant swallowed hard. "I don't know, sir."
Pellew inhaled deeply, stifling the urge to bark a multitude of orders! *Find Bracegirdle! Find Hornblower! And, where the hell is my launch?* But, he restrained himself. He had a more pressing matter to attend to.
Hornblower beat upon the door. "HELLOOOO! IS ANYONE OUT THERE? CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?" His hand smarted from slapping against the hard wood, repeatedly. "IS ANYONE THERE? LEFTENANT?" He turned, flinging his back against the door. He let himself slip down it, until he was sitting on the cold, hard, wood planked floor. Knees bent, he rested his elbows, cradling his head. Sighing, he reached for his pocket watch. Nearly ten. He shook his head. Cursing the private for locking him in, he banged his head against the door. Why had he not returned? He had been gone over an hour. What was Pamela doing? He hoped she had gone ahead an eaten without him. *Damn! I'm getting married in the morning. Will she think I have left her?* Coming to his feet, he began to pound on the door again. "IS ANYBODY OUT THERE? HELP! I'VE BEEN LOCKED IN HERE! CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?" He pounded and pounded and pounded. Leaning his whole body against the door, he cried, "Let me out! For mercy, let me out!"
"Who ere ye?"
"Oh, please! Whoever you are, please, unlock the door! I am Leftenant Horatio Hornblower. I am getting married in the morning. I must get back to my wife! Please, please, unlock the door!" he pleaded.
"How'd ye come ta be in there?"
"It is a misunderstanding. Please, unlock the door. I'll give you a shilling, if you do."
"Ye aren't dangerous, are ye?"
Hornblower felt himself near tears. "No. No, I'm not dangerous. I'm just in love. and I want to see my wife." His voice was barely audible. He listened as the door was unlocked. He held himself back, not wishing to alarm whoever his rescuer might be. The door opened slowly. There before him stood a little old lady. Her wispy gray hair escaped from a triangular scarf tied at the back of her head. Holding her mop across her body as if ready for battle, she looked up at him, eyebrows twitching in fear and expectation. He smiled and shook his head. "I am not dangerous, ma'am." He held out the coin to her.
She squinted. "Ye gettin' married in the mornin', ye say?"
"Hm." She hesitated between taking and refusing the coin. "Keep yer money."
His mouth dropped in surprise. "Are you an angel?"
"Hee, hee! Lord, no!" she grinned, revealing a missing tooth. "Get on with ye, now!"
"Thank you, ma'am!" He set off at a run. He saw no one in military uniform within the halls. It was quiet. Reaching the street, he paused. He could go west to the docks, or, he could go east to Pamela.
Pellew held onto the beam end protruding from the exterior walls of the hotel, his toes on the window ledge. Pamela looked out her window at him.
"Do be careful, Captain!"
He gauged the distance. With a giant step, he should be able to reach her window ledge. He looked up at the starry sky. Taking a deep breath, he lunged. His knees sagged at the leap, teetering. He held on with fingertips above the lintel of the window. "You're too old for these kinds of antics, Pellew," he told himself.
"I've got you, Captain!" She was holding his calves.
"Yes," he breathed out, "Let me go, madam."
She did so, moving a step away from the window. She watched his knees bend as he lowered himself. He seemed to teeter. She reached for him, shouting his name! Within seconds, Pellew found himself lying atop his leftenant's wife on the floor of her bed chamber.
Pamela gasped, blinking. "Captain! Are you all right?"
His immediate thought was to rise from her as quick as possible, but she had placed her hands on his shoulders. His face was but inches from hers. He could feel every womanly part of her beneath him, her breath on his face. Their eyes met, holding each other's gaze. Wild thoughts coursed through his mind in a heartbeat.
"I beg your pardon! Yes, I am all right!" He came to his feet. Taking her hand, he pulled her up. "Are you?"
Her eyes were wide and she took a breathy swallow, brushing her hair from her forehead. "Yes, Captain!" She stepped back from him, feeling her body tremble. In that brief moment, she suddenly realized, that she might be having an effect on her husband's captain! She looked down, and took another step back from him.
"I do apologize, Mrs. Hornblower. I never..."
"It is quite all right, Captain!" She walked over to the door, motioning at it. "I don't believe there is anything you can do, sir!" But she wished all the more that it would open.
Pellew felt his ire rise. He stepped to grab her arm and pull her to the other side of the bed, out of ear shot of any listeners. "Now, listen to me, and listen well. I have no design on you but to see you safe! I am well aware that there may be little I can do to get you out of here from this side. I came to prevent you from doing anything fool hardy like trying to climb out that window! You are a very willful woman! Did you know that, Mrs. Hornblower?"
He saw the tears forming and closed his eyes. "Please, don't do that!" He returned to the door, feeling himself shake at the torrent and range of emotions flooding his heart and mind. Facing the door, he thought of his own wife. His own deceased wife.
"Captain Pellew, sir." It was Kennedy. "I have Mr. Harvey here, sir. He will have the door open in a moment."
"Good, good, Mr. Kennedy."
Pellew felt a light touch on his shoulder.
"Forgive me, captain," she whispered.
He turned to her, staring long into her sad eyes. Thinking of another pair of such eyes, years ago.
She stepped towards him, encircling her arms around his torso, snuggling her head into his shoulder. "Don't be angry, Captain."
A quick breath. What was she doing? He held back, hoping she would release him without him having to touch her. He placed one arm lightly across her shoulders. Her soft hair brushed against his chin. The scent of her cleanly washed hair entered his nostrils and he closed his eyes. What was it? Did she remind him of Diana? He felt her shaking against him. He asked softly. "Why are you crying?"
She shook her head, no.
"Yes, you are. Are you still upset over my..."
She shook her head, no, quickly, and sniffed.
Dawn broke. "Ah! It is Mr. Hornblower you are crying over."
"No! No, I'm not!" she cried, but she was.
"I assure you, he is all right." He rested his other hand around her and rested it at her waist.
"Then, where is he?" She lifted her head as he lowered his. For the second time, he felt her breath upon his cheek. She was so vulnerable, so sadly lovely, her lips so close to his own. He swallowed unable to move. He felt his lips heating with a desire to meet hers and he could not make himself move. Had he just lied to her AND himself? Did he want her?
The door to the bed chamber eased open slowly, revealing the two standing in each other's arms. In the hallway, five people stared in amazement. The old man from the room next door, stood shaking his head, then left. Archie opened his mouth to speak, but no words would come. Elizabeth's face changed from a look of concern to one of contempt. Pamela was at it again! *What do men see in her?* she wondered. Rampling looked away, but then looked back. And, Natalie just grinned, glad to see her friend free. A sixth person, Mr. Harvey, turned the lock mechanism over and over in his hand, scratching behind his ear.
Pellew saw them. Blood had not rushed that fast to his face since he was seven years old and caught peeping at the youngest maid servant in his father's house. .
Pamela felt his body stiffen in her arms. She released him, revealing her tear streaked countenance to those without. Pellew was suddenly cold as a twinge of personal loathing settled over his soul. He knew. He knew that in another moment he would have done it. Would he not? She was so close, so...available, so....trusting. He fumed and frowned at himself turning to the wall.
"I'll be damned if I know what happened to this thing," stated Mr. Harvey. "I'll get her put right as rain, don't ye worry."
Natalie knew immediately the source of her tears. Her husband was missing. How would she survive another husband on the sea? And, his nation at war! Surely, if her father were alive, he would not have countenanced this marriage. She needed a steady landsman, not another sailor! Why did her friend set herself up for more heartbreak? "Pamela!" She entered the room, taking her in her arms. This Hornblower had better be worthy of her, that was all she had to say!
Rampling grabbed Elizabeth's hand, pulling her down the stairs with him. He was ready to exit before getting pinned by Pellew. If they wanted him, they could find him in the pub.
Pellew reached for his topcoat. "Thank you, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew motioned him further into the hallway. What would he say to Kennedy? He had seen him embracing Hornblower's wife. *It was nothing. Nothing!* Pellew thought to himself. *Nothing.*
"Where is Mr. Hornblower? This goes too far."
"I do not know, sir. Mr. Bracegirdle was to have him released two hours ago."
Kennedy cleared his throat and tried to avoid the storm building in his captain. Why did he have to be the one to relate the tale? "It is a long story, Captain."
"Then, shorten it!" he spat. "Where is he?" he whispered.
"Somewhere at Admiralty house, last I heard."
"I've just come from there, Mr. Kennedy. The buildings have been secured for the night."
Archie shook his head in dismay. "I don't know, sir." He knew it was not an answer his captain wanted to hear.
"Where is Mr. Bracegirdle?"
The question he feared coming, had arrived. He felt his jaw tighten as if it would refuse to allow him to speak. Kennedy's face was pitiable. Would he be forced to repeat his last sentence?
Pellew eyed him. He knew the answer. He sighed and placed his hand on Kennedy's shoulder. "Very well, Leftenant. We shall have to go find him ourselves. I see Mr. Rampling is in retreat."
Kennedy felt his body relax. His captain had called him *leftenant*. It sounded good. It was a pleasant thing to hear. His anxiety dispelled as he realized Pellew did not hold him personally accountable for Horatio's disappearance.
Pellew turned to survey the situation. Harvey was nearly done replacing the door handle and lock. Natalie sat on the bed next to Pamela with her arm around her shoulders, consoling her. A sound caught his attention. It was a clomping sound and it was coming nearer. He turned towards it. Hornblower burst onto the landing, breathless. He halted his rapid forward motion, hesitating at the number of people gathered around his bedroom. He gazed at Archie, Pellew, and Harvey, as he panted.
"Captain Pellew, sir!" What was his captain doing here at this time of night? And Archie. Had something happened at his exam? Why were they here?
Pellew smiled wryly, "You are just in time, sir." He held out his hand towards his room.
Bewildered, he took giant steps to reach the door. He breathed in and out quickly, his chest rising and falling from the mad dash from Admiralty House. Who was with Pamela? What had happened?
Natalie turned to see him standing in the door. She blinked. *LORD!* she thought. "You've outdone yourself on this one, Pamela," she whispered.
Pamela caught herself from turning. She wiped over her cheeks with her palms. "He's here?" she whispered. She closed her eyes, letting her ears hear that which her eyes longed for. Her lips curved into a smile, listening to his breath and his voice.
"I think so."
"What...What has happened?" Hornblower asked Natalie.
Natalie looked back at Pamela, not knowing how she should respond. She rose from the bed, staring at him still. He was everything Pamela had described, and more. "Are you Horatio Hornblower?"
His visage twisted in incredulity. "Yes!" He glanced from Natalie to Pamela to Natalie. "You're...you're American."
Natalie smiled. "Yes, I am."
He stepped further into the room. Why did the presence of an American make him quake? Would she leave him? Would she choose to return to her home? Could he blame her if she did? Perhaps she could not consign herself to a solitary existence in a transient colony, never knowing when or if she would see him again.
Hearing his steps, Pamela rose and took a step towards the wall.
He halted, wondering why this American girl was in his room.
And, what was wrong? Why were all these people here? He looked
back towards his captain standing at his door. In a state of
confusion, another worrisome item escaped his lips.
"Sir, I...I fear I may have broken the law." His breathing came more near normal.
"How is that, Mr. Hornblower?"
"I was arrested this evening, sir."
"Arrested?" Pellew shot a glance at Kennedy, who pinked and avoided his stare.
Horatio's gaze altered between his captain and his wife who still faced the wall. Was she angry with him?
"Yes, sir. I....escaped .... sort of. I don't know. It was all so confusing....and, and....illogical!" He threw up his hands, shaking his head. Why did she not look at him? Why were all these people here? "What has happened? Why is everyone here? Pamela, are you all right?" He stared at Natalie. "And, who are YOU?" No one answered him.
Finally, Archie stepped into the room. "This is Miss Natalie Langdon, Horatio. She is an old friend of Pamela's. Isn't it strange that Gibraltar holds so many reunions for us?" Kennedy smiled at his friend. Still silence from everyone else.
"Mr. Harvey, is it possible to get a bite of dinner in your establishment?" queried Pellew.
"Hmm? Oh, certainly, Captain! I'm sure I can find ye somethin' suitable. Here's yer key, Mr. Hornblower. Can't imagine what happened to this lock. But she works now. Sorry for the inconvenience. Mighty strange that. Never happened before. I apologize, Mrs. Hornblower. Never meant to give ye such a fright, ma'am."
Pellew cleared his throat. "Ahem. Well....Mr. Kennedy, will you keep me company while I dine?"
"Aye, sir." He reached over taking Natalie's hand and tilting his head motioned for her to follow.
Horatio stood slack jawed. Miss Natalie Langdon? A friend of Pamela's? Archie taking her hand? Pellew here? What in blazes had been going on while he was locked up? And, Mr. Harvey working on the door lock. What was that about? Archie slowly pulled the door to as Horatio blurted, "And, what do you mean, Archie Kennedy, by knotting my clothes?" But the door was shut and Archie was gone. They were alone. He stared at the back of her. "You're angry with me?"
She shook her head, no, but still faced the wall. She had to get a hold of herself and began taking deep, silent breaths.
He stood there, thinking. "I...I'm sorry I missed having dinner with you tonight."
"Have you eaten?" she asked as steadily as she could manage.
He hesitated, thinking about how empty his stomach felt, thinking about the tone of her voice. "No." He softly stepped behind her. Taking her shoulders, he turned her.
She bowed her head, holding off as long as possible the view
of her face. He would know the minute he looked at her, that
she had been crying, and she did not want him to know.
He softly sighed, relaxing. Placing the palm of his hand on her cheek, he could feel the warmth of it. He kissed her forehead, and enveloped her in his arms. Closing his eyes tightly, he squeezed her. "All I could think about was you,.... here,.... waiting for me. I couldn't get out. They locked me in...in... a closet!"
He felt a light laugh shake her body. "I'm glad you find my incarceration amusing. I do not know what will happen. They may lock me up, you know. Docking boats illegally! That is the charge! The leftenant...." he stopped in mid-speech. She was openly snickering. "It wasn't funny to me!" The snickers turned to laughter. "Well, I must say!" He stared at her.
"Oh, Horatio! I love you!" Her laughter quieted as she gazed lovingly into his frustrated face. "Who was it that called you to the docks?"
She watched his confusion turn to disbelief. "No. No, no, no."
She grinned lovingly at him, raising her eyebrows as if to say, yes, yes, yes.
Blood rushed into his cheeks. "I'll kill him! I'll kill him!"
She grabbed him around the waist, pressing into his chest. "No, you will not."
"Well, if you are right, I would like to! I was locked in there over three hours!" He felt her arms tighten around him. Softening, he asked, "What happened here tonight?"
She sighed and shook her head. "I am not sure I want to know. I think we must get married quickly, before anymore misfortune befalls us! Let us get you something for dinner."