An American Encounter
by Skihee

Chapter 8
Duty

 

Horatio sat slouched in a chair next to the table holding the red roses placed for him by Mrs. Harvey. He stared long at the bay, Indefatigable, other ships, boats coming and going, all through the heat shimmer of high noon.

Now he stared at the tips of his black boots, crossed at the ankles, resting upon Pamela's trunk. He rubbed his index finger horizontally upon his lips. They felt dry and slightly rough. He sighed quickly. The whirlwind morning had left him in a muddle. Lining up the two loves of his life, he attempted to sort them out and was feeling less and less success, as his thought processes always brought him around in the same circle, with no solution, only well known facts. There is a war on. Pamela is a female (thank God!), not a member of the British navy, though that meant no more voyages, at least, not on the Indy. And, maybe that was well from what he was sensing from his Captain.

He sighed again, looked at the roses, and reached to touch the soft petals. Two of the petals dropped to the table. He frowned at them, checked the vase for water, causing three more petals to fall. He sighed a third time and picked them up in his hands, caressing the softness with the same index finger that had played upon his lips. Soft, like Pamela. He picked up a petal and brought it to his nose, inhaling the scent. Roses, one of the scents his wife employed. The corner of his mouth lifted with a half smile. A rustle of clothing was heard behind him and he twisted in his seat to see.

She was dressed in her corset, camisole and petticoat, sitting in front of the mirror, disentangling the pearls from her hair. The borrowed wedding dress lay in a heap on the floor next to her. Her eyes moved to the reflection of her turned husband, and she smiled back at him. Pulling the last of the strand from her hair, she rose and went to kneel beside him, looking up into his sad eyes.

Reaching towards his forehead, she smoothed the curl that so fascinated her since the first time she became aware of his existence on Dolphin.

He smiled at her and attempted to dispel the melancholy from his features. He felt unfaithful to her AND to his vocation. He felt restless to be with her and restless to be on his ship. The dichotomy of his desire left him feeling helpless, hopeless. Like reaching for the shroud that would propel him beyond the fighting top to the upper most yard arm, he had to find the leverage that would see him over, see him through, see him balanced, between the woman he loved and the devotion to his duty. There were two of them and one of him; he could not live split in two. It would drive him mad with desire for both, which he was struggling with, even now. What if he were on the Indy, this moment, and gone? Gone from her side? By imagination, he saw himself on his ship, with his crew, his captain, his fellow officers. Sailing off to do their duty, his duty, away from Gibraltar, away from her. An emptiness filled his soul. What if he never returned? What if he were maimed? Could he expect her to want him if he were missing a hand, an arm, a leg? He closed his eyes tightly, and heaved another heavy sigh. He felt the flat palm of her small hand upon his cheek and leaned into it.

She silently shook her head. He was torn and she knew it. Should she make him go back to his ship? She did not want him to leave, but she did not want to see him agonizing in a quandary. When the call for him came, he would bolt like a horse given rein whose only thoughts were for the familiar barn. In Horatio's case, his ship. It would hurt. She knew it would hurt when he left her for his other loves, the sea, his ship, and the navy. But had she not realized this from the beginning? On Dolphin? When she allowed herself to fall completely in love with him? She canted her head holding his smooth cheek in her palm. If she told him to go, he would think she was trying to get rid of him, that she did not need him. Nothing could be further from the truth, but she had played this game before, albeit with a man she knew she did not love as much as this one. It was her earnest desire that the training with William Dandridge in saying farewell, would serve the separation from Horatio.

The last days had been consumed with this wedding and now it was done. She was glad it was over. She stood up on her knees, leaned to kiss him lightly on the lips, and peered out the window into the bright sunshine. He stared out the window with her, wondering what she was looking at.

"I want to get out of this room."

He chuckled at her sudden frankness. Reaching around her waist, he pulled her close. Looking deeply from eye to eye, he said, "To the point?"

"Hmm. Please?" she queried.

"Get dressed."

She lifted his feet off her trunk, gently lowering them to the floor with a grin. Pushing the latch, she lifted the lid, removed the inner tray, and began tossing out items of clothing, looking for specific articles. "You better get out of those boots or your feet will be toasting.

He watched her activity, then slipped to his knees beside her.

"What, Horatio?" Could she bear this sadness in his features?

He stared at her for a moment and let go a sigh. "Hold me?"

"Oh, darling!" She wrapped her arms around him, holding him close, kissing his head, and smoothing his curls. "You break my heart!"

"I'm sorry." He relaxed into the familiar embrace, hugging her tight. "Will you wait for me?"

"What?"

"You...you won't go back to America, will you?"

"Darling! I never...I may be carrying your child...!" she sucked in a quick breath, leaned away from him, and covered her mouth. Shock in her eyes. "Oh God, Horatio! I never meant to say it. It may not be true!" She bit the side of her finger. "I didn't mean to say it!" she whispered. Rising to her feet, she went to stand in the corner by the door, like a punished child.

Horatio's entire being exploded with tingles of delight. But why was she reacting so?
Standing, he approached her softly to where he stood directly behind her. "I know you
want the child."

Her turn was rapid, eyes brimming. "Yes!" she whispered. "But it isn't certain. Dr.
Sebastian said to wait another month to be sure. I didn't want to worry you!"

He embraced her and, looking to the ceiling, laughed. "I will worry about you no matter
what, my lady!"

She burrowed into his shoulder, then sought his handkerchief. "I am getting your coat
wet."

"Then, you will wait for me?"

"If you ask me that one more time Horatio Hornblower, I will kick you in the shins. Yes,
I will wait .... for eternity!"

She watched him twist his mouth trying not to grin as she dabbed her eyes.

"Aye, aye, ma'am."

"And, don't make me cry!" She stamped her foot. "You...you...silly goose!"

He lifted her chin. "I apologize," he grinned and scooped her up in his arms.

"What do you think you are doing?"

"I'm holding my baby." He placed her on the rejuvenated bed and kissed her. "I love you more than I can fathom."

She smiled with pleasure, smoothed his hair behind his ear, and played with his lobe. He slipped down to where his head rested low on her abdomen. "Now hear this, little one. I love your mother...and... I love you. Be good while I am gone, and do not give your mother a difficult time. That is for me to do." And he kissed her belly.

"Horatio!"

He leaned up towards her, grinning like the cat that got the mouse. The lift of his eyebrow intimated he expected a response.

"You remembered."

"I remember everything you tell me. I have told our son I love him. It is a boy, is it not?"

"Of course, Captain."

"Captain? I thought you said I was an admiral this morning? Have I been demoted?"

She grinned at the difference. A few moments ago, he had seemed in the depths of melancholia. Now, he was at the complete opposite of the emotional spectrum. He mystified her.

"Forgive me, Admiral, I forgot myself!"

"But speaking of captains, ....what was Captain Pellew talking about earlier?"

She felt the blood jump to her cheeks. "Let me get dressed, Horatio."

"Not until you answer me. What did he mean... that about third story windows?"

"We are going to the point."

"No, no, no. Don't change the subject."

Her look was one of consternation. "I was locked in. I wanted out. I was going to climb out the window."

"Pamela.....whatever am I going to do with you? If I give you a direct order, will you obey me?"

She looked at him as if he had asked her to fly to the moon.

"You said you would obey me. In front of admirals, captains, a whole room full of people. Even God!"

She closed her eyes and exhaled. She knew when she said those words they would be the hardest to keep. "Horatio..." she set her mouth, "Don't call in the terms of our contract."

He openly grinned in shock and amazement! Was this the Hoskins Pamela speaking now?
"Our contract? Contract? Oh! That is it! This is the end!" And he began to tickle her. Mercilessly.

"No! Stop! Horatio! Please!"

He pressed her down, grabbing on to her wrists. Her laughter subsided and she smiled at him.

"Please, don't tickle me."

He sighed and began to rise.

"Horatio..."

"Yes, my lady?"

"What...what is it?"

"Hm?"

What...what is the order?"

"Why? You do not intend to obey."

She twisted her mouth. "I will, Horatio, ...I will."

He studied her, thinking about the sincerity of her tone. "You will? What has brought on this change of heart?"

"I love you. What do you want me to do?"

He liked that. She loved him enough to give up her precious freedom. That thing about her that seemed to be distinctly American, to his way of thinking. One of the things he found most refreshing about her was her spontaneity. Or was it impulse, impulsivity?
Anyway, he liked it and he did not like it. It was that ephemeral quality that he was unable to batten down.

"Promise me...promise...you will not ....climb anything...unusual...while I am gone."

********

 

 

 

 

By three that afternoon, the two had reached Europa Lighthouse on the eastern tip of Gibraltar Peninsula. They stood staring up at the structure as sea birds called around them and waves sloshed against the cliffs below.

Pamela held onto her straw hat as the breeze had shifted easterly and was more noticeable now that the great rock nor Windmill Flats broke its path. Her skirts flapped up and about and Horatio thought her idea to wear duck pants underneath was a good one after all. They continued east around the tip, until at last they reached a point that broke the cliffs and allowed access to a wide, sandy beach. Once upon the flat sandy soil, Pamela lifted her skirts and began a run down the shore, her hat flying off, held on by the sashes around her neck. She was laughing and stopped briefly to kick off her shoes. Then, she ran head long into the shoreline surf.

"Come on, Horatio!"

Hornblower stood blinking and shaking his head. They had just walked nearly three miles with only a brief spate of rest to watch a pair of Barbary apes. A mother and baby on one of the jagged rocks sat munching on some sort of plant growing in one of the crags. At one point in their expedition, he thought someone was following them, but when he turned not a soul was seen, only the remnants of loose shale tumbling down the path. Pamela seemed oblivious to the suspected presence, but it left him with an uneasy feeling.
He turned, surveyed the landscape, removed her telescope from its bag once more, and swept round about them one hundred and eighty degrees. The sentry at the lighthouse had saluted him when they passed, but no one else was in sight, though he could not shake the sense of being watched. He looked back at the lone sentinel on the point. Nothing. Placing the glass back into its covering, he set it gently on the sand and pushed off his buckle shoes. Pamela was yipping with delight, splashing through the water, and getting further away from him. Reaching down, he yanked off his socks and took off after her. He lifted his long legs propelling himself forward with great strides, almost flying. She was moving at a leisurely jog and he was gaining on her.

She heard him coming up behind her and turned northeast back onto the beach, increasing her speed. Too late! He swerved neatly, came up behind her, gathered her into his arms, and they fell together onto the bright white sand.

She let out a happy scream of laughter.

"Got you!" He grinned the widest tooth-filled grin he could ever remember and wondered at his happiness. The two breathed heavily from the exertions, giving one another smiles to last a lifetime.

Pamela breathed out a cleansing sigh and rolled over onto her back staring into the bright blue sky.

"Look, Horatio!" She lifted a finger to point at the puffy white cumulous clouds. "It's a rabbit!"

He squinted, crinkling his nose, realizing the hot, burnt feeling his skin was reporting. "No, it is more like... a hedge hog." The wispy clouds that would have been ears seemed to be evaporating before their eyes.

"A hedge hog? A hedge hog looks like a rabbit?" Pamela was up on one elbow watching him look at the sky.

"Yes, I mean, no, a hedge hog does not look like a rabbit. It's more of a, kind of a, ... well, it's a hedge hog! Don't you have hedge hogs in America?"

"I've never seen one."

"Really? Well, they are all over England. My father has a family of them living in his garden! They are quite docile creatures. They snuffle and snort"

She grinned at him. "Aw. Are they cuddly like kittens?"

"Hardly!" he chuckled. He turned his head to look at her as he spoke. "They have quills like porcupines! Unless they know you, you are likely to get a poke!" and he jabbed her.

She lay back on the sand and studied the cloud. "I'd like to see one," she said, thoughtful.

"I'll take you to see one." He stared at her profile for a moment then returned to the cloud. "I'll take you to see my father." He felt her hand on his. She squeezed it tightly and the two gazed at each other. "I'd like you to meet my father." He said it carefully hoping the suggestion would not bring unhappy memories of her own loss.

She breathed in deeply. "I'd like that."

He raised her hand to his lips and kissed the back. "I think we best head back."

She sat up and looked around her. "Not yet!" She was up on her feet and running towards the surf, ripping the mashed straw hat from her head. He watched her stop and remove her skirt, flinging it towards the sand, catching the wind and blowing aside like a loose sail. Her attire consisted of a blouse and the infamous trousers she had worn on Dolphin.

He stood and brushed the sand off, shaking his head as she ran headlong into the sea, screaming the water was cold! She yelled again as he watched her sit down into the water.

"She's raving!" he muttered good naturedly. "I've married a mad woman!" He came near the waters edge and stood watching her bob in the light waves. She was careful to keep her head above water but scooped the cool salty sea onto her face. He spread his feet, put his hands on his hips, and shook his head.

"Come in, Horatio! It is wonderfully cooling!"

His only answer was to shake his head. He looked up and down the beach. Still alone. "We best head back now!" he shouted.

She looked away and did a crawl through the water lifting her chin to avoid a wave.

Seeing her stand in the surf wiped the squint from his face, and again he searched either side of them for observers. His fingers were rapidly unbuttoning his top coat.

She looked down at herself and laughed. Her corset was visible through her blouse and the duck pants clung to her hips and legs. "I guess I should have worn the dark blue blouse!" He was holding his coat out for her. She hesitated a moment, and then acquiesced to his offer, slipping her soaked slender arms into his coat. "Your coat will be wet!" she warned.

"It won't be the first time." He turned her to him and pulled the coat tight across her chest. Pausing, he pulled her closer by the lapels and bent to kiss her salty lips, wrapping her chill body with his heated one. It was refreshing to have the sea breeze blowing through his frilled shirt and waistcoat. The dampness by association cooling him with evaporation.

Regaining the battlements, Pamela decided she had to sit out and let her clothes dry. Finding a ledge, Horatio helped her beyond the wall to lay out in the sun.
She placed her straw hat over her face to protect it from the intense rays.

Horatio perched himself on the embrasure and pulled out the spyglass. Extending it, he sat for some time peering through it in all directions.

Pamela moved her hat over slightly and squinted up at him. He sat with his foot on his knee and used that knee to rest his forearm and steady the glass.

"It's a lovely present the captain gave me."

"Indeed, it is," he answered blankly.

"I shall have to write him a thank you note."

"Hm hm."

"Can you see Africa?"

He swiveled that direction. "Yes."

"How about Menorca?"

"Hm? No....no....."

She giggled. "How about America? Can you see it?"

He swiveled westward. "Hm. Yes. Yes, I can. There is that Star Spangled Banner of yours, flying in the wind. No ships though. Pitiful navy, you've got." He gazed down at her and raised an eyebrow.

She giggled again. "Just checking to see if you're paying attention."

He returned to peer through the scope. "Why would I want to pay attention to you? You're just a silly girl! Maybe I should take this with me, too fine to be landlocked. Yes, this glass deserves to be on a ship. A ship at sea."

"You'll have to fight me for it."

A smile broke over his lips as he still gazed westward. It had not fully registered yet, but he was watching something. Something in the distance, a snails pace, moving northward, then southward. "Do you think you've got a chance?"

She was rolling over onto her stomach to allow her back to dry, scrunching up her cast off skirt to rest her head. "Indeed, I do. And, if I lose, I will tell Captain Pellew on you."

He was aware of what he was watching now. A ship. A ship with extremely white sails. A British ship would not have such white sails, he reasoned. She was having a time of it, with the wind direction, tacking north, then south. It would take her hours yet to go through the straits, if that were her aim. Could she be French? Awfully bold captain, if she was. No colours visible. He swiveled northwest, marveling at the mass of ships in Gibraltar Bay. A fire ship could do some real damage. Every captain would keep a watch, certain sure. Of course, the cover of darkness would be more sensible for such a bold attack, not daylight. He swung back to view the ship, still dallying with the wind.

"What is it, Horatio?"

"Hm? A ship, dearest."

She rose onto her elbows and looked westward. "I don't see anything."

He smiled at her. "Come here."

She stood on the ledge and brushed some of the loose rock and soil from her damp clothing. He pulled her back by the shoulder, handing the glass. He dipped his head as he had done that morning in the breakfast room. "There." Resting his hands on her shoulders, he wrapped his leg around her waist.

She sighed. "White sail?"

'Indeed."

"Who?"

"Good question."

"Do you think they are aware?" she nodded her head toward the bay. "Horatio?"

"Yes?"

"Look." She passed the glass back.

He peered into the distance. "You've a good eye, my lady. They're signaling."

"Friendly, then."

"Aye. She must be British." Hornblower wetted his lips and pondered. Thinking out loud, "It must be Foudroyant."

She sighed heavily leaning back against him. "Foudroyant. Indefatigable. Where DO you come up with these names?"

Hornblower chuckled aloud. "Pamela! You're priceless!" He hugged her briefly, grinned and shook his head. "I love you. How long has it been since I told you?"

"Too long," she smiled, looked down at his ankle around her middle and began to tug at his sock. "Who is Foudroyant?"

"Some of the men in the pub the other day, mentioned she was coming. She's brand new. Ship of the line. Eighty. That's why the white sail. She was to be Nelson's ship. But she wasn't ready and he left England without her. She's complete now. They are taking her to him."

"Lucky ship."

"If she were bringing you to me, yes, indeed."

"Have you ever met Admiral Nelson?"

"No. I have not had the pleasure. He is a brilliant tactician. Bold."

"Like you."

He grinned. "You have a prejudiced view!"

"Very prejudiced!"

 

A relief squad trooped along the wide wall path on the way to relieve the watch at the far end of the peninsula. The Sergeant Major in charge of the small army division eyed Hornblower. The naval leftenant stood, coat buttoned, hat firmly on his head, stiffly watching them pass. Pamela adjusted her skirt around her and smiled at the shocked faces of the soldiers as she climbed through the embrasure from her sunning ledge.

"Halt!" Shouted the stocky sergeant. Approaching Hornblower with his bowed legs, he studied the two of them.

"Good-day, Captain!" said Pamela.

The sergeant quailed at the address and stared at Hornblower. "Wot's going on, leftenant?"

"My wife and I have been enjoying a stroll this afternoon, Sergeant."

"She's American, ain't she, sir?"

"Aye, that she is."

The sergeant studied Hornblower a moment more. "I ain't a captain, ma'am. Sergeant. Sergeant Major Holloway." He touched his hat to her.

She grinned, bobbed her hatted head, and curtsied. "Pleased to meet you, Sergeant Major Holloway."

He returned his stare to Hornblower. "Surprised to see you ain't with your lot. Lot o' gold braid in town today, sir." He nodded out to sea. "Nelson's ship. Things be stirrin' for you sailor lads."

Pamela could feel the news cover her husband like a tidal wave. The meeting Pellew and the others had been called to attend. And now, this ship.

The man saluted Hornblower and returned to lead his squad.

Pamela took his hand. The walk was silent between the two of them. She glanced at him now and then, gazed at their hands entwined, looked into his faraway gaze. She sighed and shook her head. There was not a peep from him. He was gone. Gone on a journey of his own even though he walked beside her. She wondered about his thoughts, noted the tenseness of his body. Was he aware of these changes? It did not appear so. But he was deeply engaged. She let him go and began a wondering of her own.

Time seemed to pass as a dream. They paused only to stop and stare back at the coming ship. The silence was vacant. She had to let it be. She had to let HIM be. He would come back when he was ready.

"OW!" she cried.

"What is it?" he asked anxiously.

"Oooo! I've a rock in my shoe!"

He knelt down immediately. "Lean on me. Give me your foot." Slipping the shoe from her stockinged foot, he dumped the offending stone onto the ground. Taking the foot into his hand, he began to massage it, and massage it, and massage it. She did her best to lean on him and keep her balance.

"Darling," she said softly. "Darling?"

"Hm? Yes?"

"You can give me my shoe back now."

He shook himself. "Oh! Sorry! Better?" He stared up at her as she regained her footing.

"Yes, thank you, sweetheart."

He stood and took her arm, wrapping it around his, and kissed her forehead. What was going on with Pellew? Did he know their orders now? What would Foudroyant have to do with them? Were they not going back to patrol the French coast? Their assigned station? The wind was changing. He could sense it. Not only literally but figuratively. He gazed at the ships at anchor, then back to the ever approaching ship of the line. They would leave soon. Soon. A father. *I am going to be a father. Pamela. I am going to have to leave you. God! I have to go! I do not want to leave you. I want you with me, but I want you safe. You cannot come. You will be safe here. Wait for me. I will come back. Come back from wherever I go. Where are we going? Back to patrol the Bay of Biscay? That was their assigned station. The wind was right now. It shifted this afternoon. Were they leaving? Had he been gone too long? No one knew where they were. But he had a feeling. A noisome feeling. Not knowing. He needed to know. He needed to see his captain, Captain Pellew. He NEEDED to know. What had Pellew said this morning, "When I need you, I will call you. Be ready and do not dawdle." Do not dawdle. Dawdle. I am not dawdling!* His thoughts traversed the same circle, analyzing what he did and did not know.

There was a tug at his arm. Another. He blinked and stared at Pamela as she wrenched her arm from his, panting.

She had tried to leave him to his thoughts. The longer she left him the faster he seemed to walk. She was tired! Nearly six miles in the blazing sun, three miles out and three miles back, and on only four hours sleep! She breathed heavily fighting the tears, for she knew it was not her he pondered, and she could not fault him for it. She glanced around her like a caged animal. As tired as she was, she wanted to run away. Away from him. Leave him before he left her. Just let him go! No good-byes! Just go! Go!

"Give me my glass!"

"What?"

"Give me my glass!"

He blinked with understanding, handing her the black bag.

She took it, turned from him, heading for the embrasures.

He looked towards the nearing town, then back to her. "Pamela! Where are you going?"

"Go!" she turned and shouted, then continued on her own path.

"What? What do you mean, go?"

Several long strides put him in grabbing distance. "Where are you going?"

"It doesn't matter where I'm going! Go! Go to your ship! Go to your captain!"

"No!"

"Just go, Horatio! Just go!" She tried to wrench from his grasp. "Let me go!"

"No."

"Let me go! Horatio!" She took a deep breath, biting her lip, swallowed. "Darling. I want you to. Please. I want you to go."

She wanted him to go? He looked about them quickly. "I cannot do that! I cannot leave you here!"

"But I want you to. I want you to go." She said it calmly. "I'll wait for you... You go.....I'll be here." She wiped her face. "Now, just....go. Go find Captain Pellew, or, or, or Mr. Bracegirdle or, or, ....Archie. Just...just...go. Please." She looked into his befuddled face. Did he understand what she was saying? She had never seen him THIS preoccupied. She HAD to understand. She WANTED to understand. She KNEW she had to let him go. "I love you. Now....go....go on." She slowly backed from him, turned, and went to sit on an outcropping of rock, facing seaward.

Hornblower fought to come to himself. What had he been thinking? His duty. It was not clear. Pellew said he would call him. He had that on faith, on the word of his captain. He studied Pamela, sitting and fanning herself with her hat. He looked back at how far they had walked, becoming aware of the trickles of sweat rolling down his back. He took a deep breath. *God!* How fast had he been walking? And she was pregnant, at least they both thought so.

He stepped to her side meekly.

Her head was bowed and she saw his feet. She was deucedly tired. "Please. Please, Horatio," she pleaded and looked up at him.

His face a canvas of sorrow, "Forgive me?"

"It's all right. I forgive you. Now, go. Go check on your ship."

He bent and gathered her in his arms.

"No, Horatio! Don't! Put me down!" She pleaded and leaned against his shoulder. It felt good to be in his arms. She did not have the energy to fight him. "Darling...." exhaustion prevented her from saying more.

"There is a little tavern near the hospital. You haven't eaten since breakfast. We'll get some food and something to drink and you can rest."