An American Encounter, part 2
by Skihee

Chapter 5
An Early Summer's Wedding Eve

Pellew drummed the fingers of one hand on the dining table and chewed on the side of his index finger on the other. Where was Bracegirdle? How was he going to get back to Indefatigable? Should he get himself a room here? All these thoughts coursed through his active mind as his new leftenant and ANOTHER American woman made eyes at one another across from him. He rolled his own eyes bringing them down across the dining room to an additionally worrisome sight. Rampling. He shook his head. Three American women and three of his leftenants. He had to get back to Indefatigable and take his single leftenants with him. Did they all have spring fever? He avoided thinking about what had come over HIM when Pamela was in his arms. Perhaps he would have the doctor check all of them when they got back, he thought sarcastically. Where is Bracegirdle? Where is my launch? He sighed, resigning himself to look for a boat hire as soon as he had finished his late supper.

A commotion in the hotel lobby caught his attention. Bracegirdle. They saw each other immediately. He stepped quickly to the table. Pellew motioned him to sit.

"Captain! I have been searching for you! The men on the dock told me you were looking for the launch. I have it, sir."

"Well, THAT is good news, Mr. Bracegirdle," he scowled.

Bracegirdle searched the room, not yet cognizant of his Captain's mood. "Have you seen Mr. Hornblower, sir?" he panted.

"I have."

"Is he here?"

"He is." Pellew squinted at his first, glancing at Natalie listening to the conversation. "Mr. Bracegirdle, this is Miss Langdon, a friend of MRS. Hornblower."

"That's a relief! A...." Bracegirdle clamped his mouth shut. "A friend of MRS. Hornblower? Pleased to meet you ma'am." He nodded his head to her, shifting his eyes to Pellew.

"This is Mr. Bracegirdle, Miss Langdon, my first leftenant."

The waiter arrived with Pellew's food.

"That looks delicious. Might I order the same?" he asked the waiter.

"Aye, sir."

Pellew eyed him. "No dinner yet tonight?"

"No, sir." He leaned towards Pellew and said lowly. "You would not believe the night I have had tonight!"

"Mmm. There seems to be a rash of that going around," replied Pellew wryly.

"Who is Mr. Rampling sitting with?"

"That is my sister, Mr. Bracegirdle," interjected Natalie.

"Shall I have them join us, sir?" asked Kennedy of Pellew.

"Hm," nodded Pellew with a mouthful.

Kennedy waved Rampling over. Pellew, Bracegirdle, and Kennedy stood as Elizabeth approached. Then, everyone shifted their chairs to make room for them.

Introductions were made and small talk ensued about the American ship they came on. Bracegirdle munched on a dinner roll offered by Pellew. He commented on the tastiness of the food when he realized everyone was staring past him. He stopped talking and turned to look. Horatio and Pamela stood together, her arm linked around his.

"Don't they make a nice couple," stated Natalie.

They approached the table, Hornblower looking dubiously at his shipmates. The men stood.

Pellew breathed deeply as he gazed upon the two. "Will you join us, Mr. and Mrs. Hornblower?" queried Pellew.

When Horatio did not reply immediately, she did. "Thank you, Captain." She looked to be sure Hornblower was not glaring at Bracegirdle. His face was a perfect blank. She admired his composure.

Two more chairs and a small table were pulled to add to the mix of men and women. Bracegirdle's food arrived. The grouping now included Pellew, Archie and Natalie across from him, Bracegirdle next to Natalie. Rampling and Elizabeth sat next to Pellew. Horatio and Pamela moved in next to Rampling..

"Could you bring a plate of that for Mr. Hornblower?" asked Pamela.

The waiter sighed, shaking his head at the growing number of people. "Just the one, ma'am?"

"Yes."

"You have not eaten, Mr. Hornblower?" asked Bracegirdle.

"No. No, I have NOT, Mr. Bracegirdle. I have been OCCUPIED this evening, sir." Pamela grabbed his inner thigh under the table. He jumped, looked at her, and then, continued. "Mr. Bracegirdle, a boy came looking for me saying you needed me at the docks."

Bracegirdle's pudgy cheeks pinked. The other men at the table cleared their throats. Hornblower glanced at all of them. Had this been a conspiracy? He felt Pamela's hand press his inner thigh again, and he cleared his own throat, shifting his eyes to look at her briefly.

"Yes, yes, I did request your assistance, but you did not arrive in a timely manner, and I had to leave. Things have been a strain this evening, Mr. Hornblower."

Pamela felt him tense beside her, opening his mouth to inquire further. She moved her hand higher. Hornblower jumped, causing his chair to lose its footing.

"Mr. Hornblower!" exclaimed Bracegirdle as he assisted him to his feet.

Pamela picked up his fallen chair. He whispered to her. "Stop that!"

"Then, you stop!" she whispered back.

"Are you all right, Mr. Hornblower?" asked Pellew.

"Yes, sir." He brushed his clothing.

Pamela's attention went to the lobby. "Mr. Matthews!"

Matthews startled at her address. He had just returned from having a pint at a pub more to his liking. Now, Pamela was waving at him from a table filled with officers, his commanding officers, the Captain, even! *Cor! What have I got meself into?* he thought. He shook his head at her.

Pamela stood, waving him over. The men came to their feet. Matthews approached the group, reluctantly. He knuckled his forehead at his superiors.

He looked very tidy dressed in clean clothes, the like of which had not been seen on Indefatigable. He was clean shaven, his hair slicked and combed neatly. The closer he came a fragrance of spice and woodland met the senses. Pamela walked over to him taking his arm.

"Captain, you don't mind if Mr. Matthews joins us, do you?"

"No, Miss Pamela!" whispered Matthews out the side of his mouth.

Hornblower swallowed not knowing what to think. Archie was grinning, and even Pellew, a Knight of the Bath, had a mild smile on his face.

Americans! They had no sense of propriety! Pellew and Kennedy exchanged knowing glances.

"Not at all, madam. Join us, Mr. Matthews."

That sounded like an order, he thought. "Aye, aye, sir." Everyone sat back down, leaving Matthews standing. Hornblower looked at him nervously. "Sit down, man!" he whispered, pulling a chair over.

Matthews bent over the chair not at all sure about what he was doing. He put his hand on the chair's seat, holding himself above it.

Hornblower glanced at his ridiculous position. "Sit!" he whispered.

"Thank you, again, Captain, for letting Mr. Matthews loose for the wedding tomorrow. Natalie, Elizabeth, this is Mr. Matthews. He is also a member of Indefatigable's crew." She grinned, delighted with herself. "I said it again, Horatio! Indefatigable! Captain, I can say it now!" She leaned over the table to see Pellew, who was struggling to contain a grin and shaking his head.

"Marvelous, Mrs. Hornblower."

"Mr. Matthews is going to give me away tomorrow. Mr. Matthews, this is Miss Natalie and Miss Elizabeth Langdon."

Elizabeth sat with her mouth ajar. Was not Pamela already married? Natalie leaned towards her and whispered. "I'll explain later." The two smiled at Matthews.

Hornblower grasped his forehead. So much had gone on today, and now a crewman was sitting at the dinner table with him and his captain. He liked Matthews, but he felt dumbfounded. He swallowed and shifted his eyes to his captain. He seemed all right with all of this. Apparently, Pamela had sought his permission to requisition Matthews for the role. Too bad she did not inform HIM of her choice. His eyes rested on Kennedy who was grinning like a Cheshire cat, and he remembered his clothes. Recalling Pamela's reaction at his attempt to question Bracegirdle, he decided to keep his mouth shut. He had no desire to pick himself up from the floor again. Folding his arms across his chest, he tried to give Kennedy as hard a stare as he could muster.

Pellew stood. The rest of the men did likewise.

"Mr. Bowles!" stated the Captain with surprise.

Bowles heard him, removed his hat, and approached the table. "Captain Pellew! I was worried about you, sir, when you did not return. Didn't see any fire ships," he grinned at Hornblower, "so I could not imagine what might have kept you. I ran into a Mr. Barney on the docks and..."

"Have a seat, Mr. Bowles," interrupted Bracegirdle.

"Mr. Hornblower's food is here," added Kennedy.

Pellew joined in the distraction, "Have you eaten, Mr. Bowles? This stew is quite good. Would you like some?"

"Don't mind if I do, Captain, thank you."

"Matthews would you like some?" asked Pellew.

"No, sir. No, thank you, sir."

Bowles did a double take on Matthews and grinned at him. "Matthews is that you that smells so good?" He clamped the seaman on the shoulder and pulled a chair next to him. "I hear you are to give our Mrs. Hornblower away tomorrow."

"Aye, sir."

"And, congratulations are in order for Leftenant Kennedy!" He rose, slightly, reaching over to shake Kennedy's hand. Archie smiled and nodded his thanks, catching Horatio's stare, he stifled a chuckle.

Hornblower could not bring himself to speak to him.

"Eat your food before it gets cold, Mr. Hornblower," whispered Kennedy grinning.

Pamela smiled at her husband, placing a fork in his hand. "Archie passed his test!" she related softly. His stare moved to gaze deeply into her eyes. He watched them soften and felt the cares and the confusion of the past hours melt away.

"Who is left minding the store, Mr. Bowles?"

"Midshipman Cutter has the watch, sir. He is the one that alerted me to your absence. He was quite concerned for your well being."

"Was he?"

"And, I think we have some others concerned as well," stated Rampling as he rose to his feet. The other officers followed suit. Mr. and Mrs. Langdon approached the group.

Elizabeth and Natalie stood as well. "Mother, Father!" said Elizabeth. "Aaa, this is Captain Pellew, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Rampling you know, Mr. Bracegirdle, Mr. Hor..Hornblower, Mr. Matthews, Mr. aaa...."

"Bowles."

"Mr. Bowles these are our parents, Mr. and Mrs. Langdon."

Langdon offered his massive grip to each man, Hornblower and Matthews retrieved chairs for them. Bowles' food arrived.

The waiter scratched his head. "Kitchen is closed!" he announced.

"Could we have a round of drinks?" asked Pellew.

"Aye, but that's it for the night!"

Pamela stood. The men stood. "Would you excuse me?" She pulled her skirts to escape the tightly packed chairs.

Hornblower watched her retreat towards the main desk. "Excuse me as well, sir."

Pellew nodded his permission.

Various conversations ensued about the table. Rampling explaining to the Langdons why he had not returned Elizabeth, Natalie explaining to Elizabeth why Pamela was getting married when she was already married, Bracegirdle whispering to Pellew about the evenings comedy of errors, and Archie speaking to Bowles about his exam.

Hornblower came up behind Pamela as the girl behind the desk disappeared through a back door.

"Just what are you up to now, Mrs. Hornblower?"

She smiled and placed her hand on his chest. "Taking care of you."

"I've been fed. The only other thing I can think of ..."

"Not yet, sir! You missed your date with Jonathan."

"Jonathan?"

"He will assist you with your bath."

"A bath? At this hour? They never will!"

"Yes. I have it arranged."

"Do you know what time it is?"

"Not really. There has been so much talk this evening I could not catch the church bells. What is the time?"

"It is past eleven."

She turned her attention to the group in the dining room. "Oh my! They need to get some sleep! They still have to row out to the Indy! I had better tell them!"

He grabbed her arm. "You will do no such thing."

"But, darling!"

"We are done with them for the night." Horatio looked over his shoulder to be sure they were not visible from the dining room. He grabbed her waist, pulling her to him.

"Mr. Hornblower!"

"Not another word or I'll kiss you where you stand."

"Is that a threat or a promise?"

He covered her mouth with his, pressing her lips hard.

Pellew sucked in a breath, releasing a long sigh. Bracegirdle had moved to sit next to him and followed his gaze. Reflected in the hotel lobby mirror were the two of them in a close embrace. "Shame on you, Mr. Bracegirdle, keeping those two apart tonight." They watched as the couple separated and then disappeared up the stairs.

Pellew cleared his throat. "It is time we were away, Mr. Bracegirdle."

**********

Horatio pulled Pamela behind him up the flights of stairs and into their room. Closing the door, he captured her against the door, between his arms. He studied her features as both of them panted from the quick climb. He shook his head.

"What?"

"Why did you not tell me Matthews was to give you away?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "I forgot."

"Why WAS Captain Pellew here earlier?"

"Um." She shrugged again.

"Pamela." He drew out her name, knowing she was avoiding the answer.

"He was concerned about me."

"Why?"

"I did not know where you were."

"Yes?" he waited. "What else?" She looked away from him. He moved his body closer to hers and lifted her chin. Dipping his, he stared at her sideways. She returned the look, twisting her mouth. "What did you do?"

"Don't ask me!"

"I am asking you."

"I was going to go out looking for you, that's all."

"And, he did not want you out alone at night...is that it?"

"Yes. Yes, that's it." She felt with the mood he was in that her plan to climb out the window would not sit well with him. There was no need for him to know about it. Nope. Not at all.

"Anything else?" he felt there was."No, darling. You need to go take your bath. Jonathan will be waiting." She let herself slide down the door, then ducked under his arms. "Here. I bought you something. I'm sorry it isn't nicer." She bent over the packages still littering the floor, sorting until she found what she wanted. Untying a moderate sized one, she pulled the dressing gown from the brown paper and shook it out of its folds. "You aren't angry with me for buying it for you, are you? I did not want you traipsing through the hotel in your night shirt. It was the best I could do on short notice." She held up a deep green colored robe made of a thick absorbent cotton.

He stood blinking, at a loss for words.

Worry entered her features. "Here." She pushed it into his arms. "That's not all, either."
She bit her lower lip, then bent to her packages. "I bought you some other things, too." She looked in the bag, then handed it to him.

He took it from her, opened it and stared in at the soap and other things. He looked back at her.

She swallowed and wondered if she should reveal what else she purchased for him. He lay them on the nearest chair. "I'll take them back, Horatio!" He lifted her into his arms and placing her on the bed, he sat beside her.

"Your hair looks lovely."

"Natalie helped me with it."

"YOU look lovely."

"Tell me what you're thinking, Horatio. Have I....have I done something I should not have?"

He studied her features. He did not know how to answer her. He did not, himSELF, know how he felt, having a rich wife. The thought of her actual wealth had never entered his mind. She had been seemingly destitute on Dolphin, not even having a decent dress until his men rifled the pirate's booty. He had become accustomed to her being equal with him in that respect, though he had counted on her resources to provide for her, since he knew too well, he could not. A tear went sailing down the side of her face. He wiped it with his fingers, but another one replaced it. He shook his head. "Don't cry. I love you." She threw her arms around his neck, pulling herself to him. "I did not marry you for your money, Pamela."

"No, darling!"

"I married you because I love you."

She kissed his cheek repeatedly until she reached his lips, then continued to his other cheek and embraced him while resting her chin on his shoulder. "Forgive me!" she whispered.

He sighed. "There is nothing to forgive, my lady. It is something I will get used to, I suppose, since it is necessary for your support." But, it did worry him. He would put it out of his mind as soon as possible. She loved him. It was her way of showing her love, he knew. "I like the robe very much."

She shook her head no. "You don't have to! I'll get rid of it!"

"No, no. I intend to wear it. Here." He began to undress. She lay back against the bed and watched him. Piece by piece, he removed his uniform. When he came to his trousers, he hesitated, looking back at her. He bent to pull them down, watching her, watch him. He raised an eyebrow. "Look what you've done, now," he smiled.

She inhaled a slow breath, blinking, noting the taut muscles of his calves, thighs, and buttocks. He took a step to retrieve the robe, pulling it on and tying the sash. She held out her hand to him. He took it and returned to sit beside her.

"It is a good color on you," she whispered, as she rested her hand on his thigh.

"None of that, now. I thought you wanted me to get a bath." He sucked in a breath. He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them in slits, leaning towards her, his mouth covered her parted lips.

"I want you," she whispered.

"I want you," he replied.

*********

Hornblower rubbed his head briskly with a towel as he walked the stairs back to his hotel room. Opening the door slowly, he stepped into the dim salon. Only the candle on his side of the bed remained lit. He listened to her steady breathing. Disrobing, he slipped into the bed beside her. The rustle of the stiff clean sheets reminded him of home in England. It had been months, years even, since he had slept in a real bed. The feather mattress welcomed his long, lean frame with comforting softness.

She lay on her side with her back to him. Resting his head on the pillow, he stared at the back of her neck. He sighed, recalling the love making before his bath. He slid his hand over the sheets and onto her warm back, pleasantly surprised at the lack of clothing. The feel of her skin acted like a flint to spark his desire. He ran his hand up to her shoulder, then shifted his body closer. Breathing in the soft scent of her hair, he moved his lips to caress her neck. He allowed his hands to explore her body, hearing her breathing change.

"Would you rather sleep?" he whispered into her ear, nibbling on her lobe.

She let herself roll over onto her back. He moved his lips to hers as she met him tenderly and eagerly. The light touch of her fingers pushing through his damp hair was enough of a reply.

How many nights like this could he bank in his memory? When he let his mind look to the future, it seemed dark and empty, like sticking your hand into a cold, black pool, ignorant of what lay beneath the still water. He jerked his hand back, startling himself to wakefulness. He had been dreaming. Dreaming after pleasant release in her loving arms.

"Are you all right, Horatio?" she asked sleepily from his chest.

"Yes, love. Just dreaming."

"Get some sleep, dearest. I love you."

He hugged her and kissed the top of her head. But the dream had unsettled him. He lay wide awake, thinking about the events of the day. Sorting through what his fellow officers were doing to him. He had never had friends back home, and most definitely, never a friend about to wed. He did recall the groom getting the piss taken out of him before a wedding. The son of a friend of his father's, older than he, had been embarrassingly treated. After getting him drunk, they had removed his clothes and left him in a sheep field. He grinned. Thank God they had not done that! Though getting him drunk would have been a feat in itself.

Pamela seemed to take it in stride. Had something been done to her other grooms? Must have been, so the occurrence was less of a surprise to her. But he did not want to know what had happened with them. He did not want to know anything about them. She was his, and his alone. No one would take her away from him. No one.

The unthinkable entered his mind. Resigning his commission. Her family had a shipping business. If he wanted to remain at sea, he could probably be employed there. He would most likely make a lot more money working for Dawson Import and Export. Inhaling and exhaling deeply, his answer to those queries came. No. His country was at war. He could not do it, no matter how much he loved her and wanted to be with her. He was fairly sure she would not want him to quit that which he felt duty bound to fulfill. She told him once he had a destiny. He hoped she was right. To distinguish himself in the service to his king and country, to make a difference in the lives of those with whom he served. These were notions devoutly to be desired. He would make his way on his own, as a captain, in his majesty's navy. He WOULD be a captain. He could feel it in his bones. *It is my destiny, and it is well that you know that, my love.* He kissed her head again.

Time. Time was all he needed. It would come. He would have his own ship. Then, he would take prizes and it would be HIS money that paid to support HIS wife, not a dead man that he never knew and would like to forget existed. He knitted his brow that he had begun to think this way towards her first husbands. He surprised himself at how possessive he was feeling towards her. He breathed deeply and felt his own manly strength within himself. She was his. His. His.

The sound of a ship's bell floated through the open window from Gibraltar Bay. He listened intently that he might know the time. Three bells, one thirty in the morning. They were due to awake in four hours, the wedding commencing at seven thirty. Two hours to prepare! Would it really take her that long? He recalled the afternoon they were to have dinner with Pellew, that first time, when the two of them were happily living aboard Dolphin. What golden days those were! Before the pirate's revenge! Sighing, he knew he needed sleep. Closing his eyes, he brought to mind those peaceful days, on an azure sea, with Pamela on the quarter-deck of Dolphin, the wind whipping her hair, her skirts, standing in the low rigging, laughing at his reaction to her playful threat to climb the ratlines. It was one of his indelible memories, captured for all time. He could hear her shouting above the wind, "Don't be angry, Horatio!" and then giving him the most brilliant and loving smile. She could play him like a piano, low notes rousing his ire, and high ones to lighten his heart.

What would he do when they were back at sea, he and his shipmates? How would he endure the separation? *The war will take my thoughts. Captain Pellew. My men. Indefatigable.* He felt unfaithful,... to his duty,... to her. He moved uncomfortably in bed. *Go to sleep!* he commanded himself. *It will sort itself out! Stop thinking!* And so, he did. But it was not a peaceful sleep.

Dreams came. Unsettling dreams. Storms. Danger. Battle. A crashing surf. Danger in the deep! Pamela! Birth pangs! A babe's cry. He tried to reach for it. It was crying in the darkness. Was it his? Was it theirs? Pamela! He felt a wave crash over him. It was cold, intensely cold. Something was in the water with him! He kicked it! It came at him again. He felt himself pressed beneath the cold, salt water. He shivered uncontrollably. Something hit his leg. He kicked out again. His nose and mouth filled with water. He gasped. His legs were bound! Something coiled around his arms. With a final flail, he landed with a thump!

"Horatio!"

He panted, trying to understand where he was.

"Horatio, darling!"

Pamela was on the floor beside him. Holding him in her arms. His legs were caught in the twisted sheets, still partially in the bed. "Did you find the baby?" He asked.

She froze. "What...what baby?"

He ran his hand over his head, pulling his hair back from his face. He pulled himself to a sitting position, dragging the bed clothes down with his legs. He panted, staring at her beside him. "What?"

"What, what? Darling, you must have been dreaming!"

He lay flat on the floor, trying to remember what had been happening to him. But like so many dreams, it fled with waking, like a ship with the wind at her back. "What did I say?"

"You don't remember?"

He held his forehead. "I was dreaming. I was at sea, but something happened. And...there was a child, a baby, crying, but I couldn't find it. I can't remember anything else."

She left his side to put on her robe, and went to stand at the window, looking out at the first light of dawn. He stared at her. She was upset. Not a lot, but upset. And, he knew why. He had said baby. She was shaking her head, staring at unseen events.

He kicked his feet out of the confining sheets. Going directly to her, he put his arms around her. "It was only a dream." She said nothing. "What are you thinking?" Silence. "It was just a dream, my love!" he repeated anxiously. She turned into his chest, hugging him close. Resting his head on hers, he watched the harbor coming to life. Something was afoot at sea.

Memory served. "Pamela. It is a silly superstition! Besides, if the baby was crying, it was all right!" Her belief about dreams told before breakfast had emerged. She had said it to him on Dolphin, weeks ago. Dreams told before breakfast come true. That is what she had related and that is what she believed. "Pamela, my love!" He held her tighter. How could he have been so foolish! But he had been half asleep! He did not know what he was saying! What was the dream? But even that which he had told her was disappearing from his memory. He could tell her a lie, but would that help? He could not do it.

"What if there is a baby, Horatio?" she mumbled into his chest, her breath tickling the hairs under his arm.

He held her tighter, leaning his head onto her shoulder. "Then, I shall love it almost as much as I love you." He felt the dampness on his chest, heard the tell tale sniff. He smiled to himself, and held her tighter than ever. "I'll never let you go, Pamela," he whispered. "Nothing will keep us apart forever. I will come to you. Not time. Not tide. You and I are one flesh, and forever will be."

She looked up at him and he wiped her face. He smiled and made her laugh.

"I'm sorry."

"You're beautiful," he earnestly replied. "And you're mine. And you're about to be mine again," he teased.

"I love you."

"Ah. You know the way to my heart!" he grinned.

"I love ONLY you!"

He placed his hand on his heart. "I am pierced through!"

She pushed him away playfully. "Look at the mess you made of the bed!"

Indeed, it was. Only the mattress sheet and her pillow remained.

"The mess I made?" He lunged, grabbing her, the two of them fell laughing onto the bed.

CRACK! BOOM!

Both went silent, looking at each other. They both began to snicker at the same time. The bed slats had broken with the weight of them.

"Oh! Horatio! What have we done?" She raised herself up on her elbows.

"We have done NOTHING."

"But we have, dear."

"Starns." He rolled over on his side to see her, propping himself on one elbow.

"Starns?"

Horatio sighed a sigh of resignation, shaking his head. "Hm. The ship's carpenter. I hope this is the last one."

"Another trick by ..."

"I believe so. I thought I saw Starns leaving from this general direction with Cutter, yesterday. What other reason could he have had for being ashore? I wonder if Pellew was in on this? Let's see. Archie and my clothes. Bracegirdle and my arrest. Cutter, Starns and the bed. What else could they possibly do to us?"

"Hm. And, me getting locked in here last night."

"So that was it, eh?"

She nodded and lowered herself back onto the mattress. He rested his head in his hand enjoying the comfort of the mattress under his body and the view of his wife next to him.

She caressed his jaw line. "My magnificent husband. Well loved by one and all."

"At this rate, maybe I should work towards making them dislike me a little."

She shook her head no. "It's not possible."

He leaned to kiss her lips. She put her fingers into his hair. He lowered himself upon her chest, listening.

"I hear your heart beating."

She played with his curls. "It beats for you."

He hugged her and closed his eyes. One hand passed over his shoulder blades, the other gently tugged at his hair. Her heart beat steadily within her warm breast. "Let's just stay here all day. Shall we?"

"No."

He opened his eyes and smiled again. "Why not?"

"I want my ring."

"You!" He began to tickle her.

**********

Archie turned over in his cot. At last, he was back in his own berth. Since connecting up with Hornblower and Dolphin he had felt like a displaced person. First, sent to Dolphin with Hornblower, then, wounded, sent back to Indefatigable and consigned to sick berth. Briefly, back with Horatio in their shared cabin, and then back to sick berth, again. With Horatio's debilitating wounds, Rampling had been given Dolphin to command so Rampling's cabin had housed him once he was set free from sick berth . But now, Pamela was gone, and he was back in the shared cabin with Horatio.

Even this arrangement was slightly odd. Hornblower should have had the berth to himself. But, when Kennedy was made acting leftenant, Hornblower offered to allow his cabin to be altered to accommodate his friend, and get him out of the midshipman's berth. It was cramped quarters, but what did one usually do in here? Hold dances? No, just sleep, shave, read...and on the rare occasion, talk.

He stared at Horatio's empty bed. A faint perfume hovered in the dampness that seeped into the room. It was a light scent, but it was there. Pamela was still here. He breathed in deeply, gathering the scent. It gave him a strange sense of peace. He lay on his back, and stared at the beams above his head. His best friend and his wife had become entwined in his memory with a smell, and it calmed him. .

They are so in love. Hornblower in love! Archie grinned at his thoughts. It was still amazing, even though he had been with both of them for the better part of two weeks. He recalled his own brief infatuation with her and the day he caught the two of them unaware in the companionway. It was the only time he had seen him kiss her, if you did not count that mast kiss. Man! Was Pellew angry! He chuckled to himself. Pamela in Pellew's arms sprang to memory. Archie twisted in bed at the memory. Was his Captain falling under her spell? He dismissed the thought with a frown. Would Horatio kiss her as passionately in the church as he had on the mast? No! No way in hell! He will be too embarrassed.

Archie breathed in long and slow. *God! I am going to miss Pamela!* He blinked at the knowledge. *And, if I am going to miss her, what will Horatio do?* Worry covered his features. A pang of guilt gripped him for a moment for his complicity in separating them last night. But, of course, it was never meant to last as long as it did. He smiled wryly remembering Horatio's grim stare. What had Pamela done to cause him to fall out of his chair? He chuckled. Perhaps once they were out to sea, he would ask.

Archie tried to put himself in Horatio's place. Would he ever be that deeply in love with a woman? Of course, Hornblower was an intense man, given to deep commitment. His devotion to duty testified to the fact. He must be quite dynamic from Pamela's point of view. To be loved with the intensity with which Horatio did his duty was almost frightening.

A knock at his door startled him. "Come," he called, swinging his feet to the deck and standing.

The door opened slowly. A tousled blonde head peered around it with large blue eyes as an odor of coffee filled the room. "Sir, I've been sent with coffee for ye, sir. From Mr. Bracegirdle!"

Archie smiled at the youthful cabin boy. The child lifted the mug up towards him.

"Thank you, Drake," he announced firmly.

The youngster smiled at him, knuckling his forehead. "I'm to say, sir, the launch will be ready in twenty minutes."

"Very well." Archie bowed slightly. The boy grinned and closed the door, but then opened it again. He peered around the edge at Archie. "Yes?" He looked over at the empty bed, then back to Archie. "Yes, I miss her, too."

"Wot will Mr. Hornblower do?" he worried.

Archie squatted before the boy. "We shall have to cheer him, Drake. But what will WE do, eh?" Was there moisture in the boy's eyes? Had Pamela woven her spell in his young heart, as well? Archie watched his lower lip turn down and quiver. The boy shut the door and left. Archie shook his head. It still amazed him that Pellew had allowed so young a charge on board. There was a story behind this one. There had to be.

Shaving quickly, he dressed in his best uniform for he was to be best man for Horatio. He grimaced that his clothing still reflected the inferior rank of midshipman. When would he ever have the chance to upgrade into one of a leftenant? He reached into the inside pocket of the plain middy jacket he had worn last night to retrieve his pocket telescope. As he pulled it out, a cream colored lacy cloth fell to the floor. His eyes brightened and he smiled as he bent to collect it. Lifting it to his nose, he inhaled. He had forgotten he had it, Natalie's handkerchief. The faint fragrance of lavender emanated from the fabric. He held it to his smooth cheek, feeling its softness. He had found it on the floor outside her hotel room after she had closed the door. He wondered if it had been dropped on purpose. But, whatever the reason, it gave him an excuse to see her once again. He stuffed it into his clean uniform topcoat.

On deck, Archie arrived to a large gathering of brilliant red, gleaming gold, and sparkling silver. Pellew had called out the marines! Archie blinked as he joined the group of glinting gold in the early morning sun. It was clear and warm already for an early June day. The sun seemed to catch on each gold button, each silver saber, each shiny buckle. Styles and Oldroyd were looking tidy and trim as they stood with the other men of Hornblower's Dolphin crew. Archie grinned, wondering if Horatio knew there was to be such a troop at his nuptials. Had he not told Benny and the Harvey's there would be no more than a dozen at most? His eyes flickered to Pellew, who blushed and surprised the grin off Archie's face.

"What is it, Mr. Kennedy?" Pellew asked pointedly as he shifted his weight from foot to foot. "It isn't everyday one of my leftenants gets married. This is a naval wedding. It will be done right!"

The shift of personnel was nearly complete. Pellew was offered, by Troubridge, the use of his leftenants to watch his ship. Leftenants Harcourt and Mudd attended the quarter-deck. The Indy would be empty of her own officers, but even the ship seemed to say "Go", as if she regretted she could not attend.

The last of the marines were over the side. Archie watched the packed longboat pulling away to shore as he turned to back down the ship's side to the waiting launch with the blue oars. He chuckled thinking about what Bracegirdle went through to get it back. Horatio will be pleased, if he ever finds out!

****

Horatio stood outside room six, rapping repeatedly on the door. He was dressed in his formal leftenants uniform, shaved, with hair combed and neatly tied, giving off a manly fragrance of woodland spice. Mr. Langdon opened it, his hair awry, bestubbled with whiskers, and hastily clothed in a dressing gown.

"Yes?"

Hornblower felt his cheeks redden. "I am sorry to disturb you, sir. Could....would it ... would it be possible for Miss Natalie to... to come to our room, sir?"

Langdon stared at the young man before him. Hornblower's agitation was obvious. The door opened slightly wider to reveal Mrs. Langdon, also similarly attired.

Hornblower nodded to her. "I am sorry to disturb you so early, ma'am. Miss Natalie?"

Mrs. Langdon disappeared into the room. Hornblower glanced nervously at Langdon and could not help but begin to pace. Langdon shook his head.

"Do you know what you are getting yourself into, boy, marrying Pamela Dawson?"

Hornblower's worried expression froze. He opened his mouth. This man was an American. He would probably never see him again once he left on the Indy, and he was so incredibly nervous he was beginning to feel unhinged. He blinked and gave voice to his reply. "I love her. I love Pamela Dawson, Pamela Dandridge, Pamela Hornblower. She is already my wife, sir." His breathing came quickly as he glanced around Langdon's large frame seeking a sign of his daughter's appearing. At last she came. Her long hair was braided and she hugged her robe at her neck.

"What is it, Mr. Hornblower? Have I overslept? I told Pamela I..."

"No, no!" He grabbed her hand. "Please. Come. Come, quickly!" Natalie looked back at her mother with imploring eyes.

Mrs. Langdon sighed at her husband. "I must go, Charles. I will be back." Her husband shook his head as he watched his wife still dressed in her night clothes, follow after their daughter.

Hornblower did not let go of Natalie's hand until he reached their bedroom door. He knocked on it quickly and whispered through the door. "Pamela! Natalie is here!"

Natalie stood trying to catch her breath from trotting to keep up with the long legged leftenant. She stared at a coffee tray on the floor at the door.

"It's no use, Horatio!" she cried. "It's too late! It's all my fault! I ..."

Natalie could not imagine what had happened. She gave Hornblower an inquiring look.

"I don't know!" he whispered to Natalie. "I returned from getting us coffee and she would not let me in! I did not know what to do! And, she won't tell me what is wrong."

Mrs. Langdon pushed to the door, knocked and said. "Pamela, it's Natalie's mother. Open the door and let me in to talk to you."

"Oh, Mrs. Langdon!" They could hear her sobbing on the other side.

"Pamela open the door, dear." She looked at Horatio. "We won't let him in. Let Natalie and I come in."

Hornblower's expression was wounded. Mrs. Langdon grabbed his upper arm, shook her head, and whispered to him, "It's just nerves! It may get us inside."

Hornblower swallowed with dismay and ran his fingers through his hair, grasping his head. He pulled out his pocket watch. It was nearly six thirty. He was to be at the church by seven. Matthews was to have her there by seven twenty. He heard the bolt on the door release. The door opened a crack.

"It's just us, Pamela." She and Natalie entered the bedroom, closing and locking the door behind them. Hornblower felt like he was locked in the closet all over again. He began to pace the length of the hallway with long strides, a good twenty feet of space, .

Mrs. Langdon surveyed the room. It was small and made smaller by a trunk, packages on the floor, and, good heavens, what had happened to the bed! She curtailed the thoughts that sprung to her imagination as she stared at the unkempt bed at a slant, half of it resting on the floor between the side boards.

Through her tears, Pamela saw her astonishment. "The carpenter did it!" she blurted and burst into sobs again, sitting and leaning her head on her forearm against the footboard of the bed.

Mrs. Langdon opened her mouth to inquire further, but past association with Pamela Dawson told her not to bother. There were times when the child could be positively scatter brained and she decided this was one of those times. It would probably make sense later. She accepted the explanation and went on with her mission. She knelt beside Pamela and placed her hand on her knee.

"What has happened, dear? Have you fallen out of love with your lieutnant? Aren't you two already married?"

Pamela sniffed. "Yes, we're married. No, I love him....I mean, yes, I love him, but I can't marry him!" she sobbed into her arm.

"Why not, dear? Why can't you marry him?"

She sniffed trying to get the words out. "I'm ... I'm....TOO FAT!!!" She set off in earnest crying again.

"Pamela, you are not fat! Why do you think you are fat?"

She looked at Mrs. Langdon, her face red and tear streaked. Natalie prepared a damp wash cloth handing it to her mother who proceeded to wipe her cheeks.

Pamela Dawson had always worried her. Her mother had died three days after she was born, leaving her to be raised by a grieving husband and father who placed all his love on the wee baby. He had raised her half girl and half boy. No amount of coaxing or plotting could get him into another relationship. Not for his benefit and not for hers. Her sister was eight years older than Pamela, and the only other female influence allowed in her life was the house keeper, a former slave. Now, not even the father remained. She was an orphan and her sister was thousands of miles away.

"I don't fit in my wedding dress anymore. I didn't think to check. I should have. I've....I've ruined everything."

"Don't make yourself cry again! Show me the dress."

Is this the only dress you have?"

She shrugged.

"Natalie, go to our room. Get the cream dress with the pearled bodice. Lord, do we have that trunk with us?" A worry crossed her face. "I think it's there. Go see, Natalie! And quickly!"

Hornblower turned as he saw Natalie bolt from the room and down the stairs. "What's happening?" He bent over the rail to see her disappear from view. He strode to his door and knocked lightly. "Pamela? Pamela, may I come in?"

Mrs. Langdon stepped into the corridor.

"Mr. Hornblower."

"Mrs. Langdon! Is she all right?"

"Yes, yes. Just a slight hitch. Do not worry yourself so."

"I am due at the church soon, ma'am. How can I leave when..."

"Do not worry! I will see she gets there!"

"May I go in?"

"Not now."

They heard footsteps rapidly ascending the stairs. Natalie approached with a bundle of cloth.

"Mr. Hornblower. Go downstairs and ask Mrs. Harvey to give you a hot flat iron. We may need it."

"A hot flat iron. Yes, ma'am." He was thankful for a chore to do and left immediately on his errand.

 

The dress was tried and found to be slightly large on her. The three women worked frantically to fit it. Hornblower returned with the hot iron. Pamela and Mrs. Langdon discussed the coming events and Natalie became the messenger between them and Hornblower.

He would need to delay the wedding, which in turn would need to delay the breakfast. He took all the information in stride with a modicum of anxiety over the lack of punctuality. Mrs. Langdon assured him, via Natalie, that most weddings in America never began on time. His reply was that in the navy one was expected to be punctual. To which Mrs. Langdon replied that they were not in the navy. He had no reply to that and Natalie duly reported his silence to which the three of them laughed, even Pamela, who also was feeling the pressure to be punctual. She had been around Pellew enough to know the pressure her husband was feeling. Natalie emerged into the hallway once again. Hornblower followed her down the stairs to her room.

"What is going on?" he queried.

She looked back at him grinning as she closed her door, "I am going to get dressed!"

He stood outside the closed door fumbling with his long arms and hands. Footsteps were noisily thumping up the stairs. He looked over the rail. It was Matthews.

"Matthews!"

The older man looked up, smiled and saluted his leftenant. "Mornin', sir! Right lovely day out! Already getting hot out there! What ye doin' on this floor? Your room is on the next, isn't it,sir?"

"Yes, yes." Hornblower fell into step with Matthews heading back up the stairs with a plodding pace.

"Yer not nervous, are ye, Mr. Hornblower?" Matthews was amazed. Had he not already been through this once? He recalled the handfasting day and all the climbing up and then all the climbing down. Surely he would not have to through that again.

Hornblower stared at him sideways. "Don't ask, Mr. Matthews. This was supposed to be easy. Easy, I tell you!" He shook his head. "A nice little ceremony on a Friday morning!" Hornblower ran his hand through his hair for the upteenth time. "We're going to be late!"

"Late? Ye mean we'll keep the Captain waiting?"

"Aye. And everyone else."

Hornblower clasped his hands behind his back. Matthews scratched his head and did the same. The two began pacing the corridor outside the Hornblower's room, one going one direction and the other the opposite direction. They passed each other in the middle.

The two froze when they heard a door open, but it was the elderly gentleman next door who emerged.

The two men startled him. One dressed smartly in military uniform and the other in a gray morning coat with waistcoat, frilled collar and sleeves, and dark pin striped trousers. Hornblower watched the man stare at the two of them, clear his throat, and then descend the stairs. Hornblower looked at Matthews for the first time, noting his outfit.

"You look ... very nice, Matthews. Did a....did Pamela...."

"Aye, sir, she did. Most of it is rented, or some such thing, from that Jew launderer we went to yesterday. The shirt is mine," he added uneasily, "Maybe I can be buried in it, if'n I gets a land resting place," he muttered to himself. "Too fine for working the rigging, that's fer sure."

"Hm." He pulled out his pocket watch. He had been avoiding looking to spare himself the anxiety of knowing the time. It was seven fifteen. He stepped to the door.

"Pamela. Pamela, I.... it....Mrs. Langdon!"

"Yes, Mr. Hornblower?" She peered at him through the partly opened door.

"It is late, ma'am. I am late. What is our situation?"

"Mr. Hornblower, I think you should go on to the church."

"You're sure?"

"Yes. Go calm your guests, sir. She will be there as soon as possible."

Horatio was relieved. "Thank you, ma'am. Thank you indeed! Tell her...tell her..." he swallowed, "...I love her."

Mrs. Langdon's face broke into a wide smile. "I believe you do, Mr. Hornblower."

She watched him leave, looking back towards her for as long as he could, nearly tripping down the stairs. Matthews stood taking it all in. Mrs. Langdon, still in her night gown and robe, pulled it tight, gazing at Matthews. "You look marvelous, Mr. Matthews!"

Hornblower reached the hotel lobby to see Archie conversing with Mrs. Harvey.

"Archie! What are you doing here?"

"I might ask you the same question. Captain Pellew sent me to find out if we had the time wrong. Was it not to begin at seven thirty? Benny has been beside himself."

"There was a problem, but it should be resolved soon."

"I think we should go to the church. Are you ready?"

"Yes, yes."

"Have you got the ring?"

Hornblower put both hands to his chest, then reached to the inside pocket of his uniform, pulling out the ring. "Yes." Horatio put his hand to his forehead. What was he forgetting? Something. He told the Harvey's they would be late. Archie was here. Pamela was there. Matthews was waiting for her. What could he be missing? He looked furtively at Archie. "Archie, I am forgetting something. I just know it."

Archie stifled a grin. "Come on, Horatio. It will sort itself out. All we need is you, Pamela, and the ring."

"Maybe it is Pamela I am forgetting."

Archie chuckled and shook his head. "You have done this once already, old man, how can you be so nervous?"

"I don't know. I don't know. It is not logical. But I am, Archie. I am as nervous as if we had never been married. What is wrong with me?"

"Nothing that being done with all of this won't cure! You look worse than I did yesterday for my leftenant's exam!" Archie thought about the masses awaiting them at the church. He decided it would be best to keep quiet. Horatio was frazzled enough.

They started out the hotel door when Horatio stopped and went back inside. Archie followed back after him. Horatio stood in the dining area looking like he had forgotten why he came back in.

"What, Horatio?"

"I think I need a drink."

Archie chortled. "Isn't it a little early for that?" He studied his friend. "No, I don't suppose it is. Mr. Harvey!"