An American Encounter
by Skihee

Chapter 9
Portents

The window open wide, he leaned his hands on the sill, pressing his body as far out as he might, breathing deeply. A breeze caught at the open shirt, ruffling the frills, the cool fingers of the night a welcome chill to his sun-fevered brow. The late glow of an orange sunset mingled with the purpling darkness. The days were definitely longer, on the approach to the summer solstice, scarcely three weeks away. The ships in the harbor melded into the darkness with only faint pinpoints of light delineating stem and stern, even though he could no longer make her out, his eye danced from where he knew Foudroyant were moored in relation to his Indy. His ship that was still at anchor. Still there. She had not left him.

He glanced over his shoulder. Still sleeping. The two of them had been a sight when they returned from the "walk". Hike more like it! He should have known better. His pacing kept him in relative shape for such a jaunt, but Pamela had not been as active with all that had befallen. While she boasted of long walks in America, she had not taken one for a month or more, and there was her "condition" to consider. Though she said being with child made not a whit of difference, he seemed to recall that she slept more than usual. She was sleeping now and had been since arriving back at the hotel, having passed into sleep for the third time. The second as the carriage he hired to bring them home rattled through the streets, and the first, as he carried her in his arms to the Anchor Tavern.

Only conversation with the tavern keeper awakened her. She drank more than a pint, but ate very little, unusual, considering.

Recalling the fever the day of the chase with the French, he worried. Was her warmth from the sun or something else? He wished he could have a doctor check her, but he knew none here, as of yet. If only Dr. Sebastian were back from his mercy mission. Mrs. Harvey and Mrs. Langdon came in to examine her, trying to assuage his fears. It had been odd speaking in soft undertones with "women" about her and confiding her condition.

Finally, Natalie agreed to sit with her while he went seeking information about the meeting at Admiralty.

It was a "big" meeting was all he could discover. Plenty of men commented on the who and how many, but none as yet seemed knowledgeable of the content discussed. He could not help but wonder how it would be to be privy to THOSE meetings, to learn first hand of Admiralty concerns. His captain seemed forever at odds and ill-tempered when he returned from such. The difference being the perspective of front-line fighting to paper pushing planning, he supposed, the latter lacking the foresight forged by recent active duty.

Muzillac loomed in his memory. Pellew in a dark, foul temper from the moment he exited the Admiralty in London that day. Hornblower stiffened his lips and inhaled deeply and evenly at the thought. He had not let "her" cross his mind for weeks. Mariette. Slowly his head drooped, the old blame rearing its head. His heart hurt. Slowly he approached the bed, reaching to lightly touch her curls. *Not you. Not you, Pamela. I could not bear it. I never want YOU in such a precarious position. You never will be. You never will.*

He returned to the window and perched himself on the sill sideways, resting one foot against the opposite jam. The windows were unusually large as more ventilation was needed in this clime.

The one thing he did know was that Victory was gone, going back to England, as a matter of fact. She needed a serious refit, according to all reports, more of one than they could give her here. He had watched the flurry of boats attending her as she made ready to sail., making use of the altered wind to weave her way out the bay, attended fore and aft by a frigate and a dispatch vessel. It had been an awesome view seeing her pass Foudroyant, one majestic old ship on her way out, one new in. Amazing view! The trick of distance made them seem head on for collision.

But silence held the bay, except for the ships' bells in chorus, sounding the half hour. He held on to his faith in Pellew's call, and the sight of his own eyes, Indefatigable, at relative peace.

*****

"Take care, my Captain, my love." She stood on tiptoes to reach the cheek of her six foot two inch husband, running her fingers through the graying shock by his ear, and kissing him lightly.

"I will, Pamee, dahlin'." The happy confident features of William beamed at her. I'll bring you back a silk shawl and flower for your hair...hair...hair..."

The words echoed as a boiling sea surged around the tossing vessel. Shouts across her decks bounced on the wind or were shoved back down open throats by wind and water. The decks heaved up, then down, tossed side to side, desperately, beneath the crashing waves. Lightning danced across the dark sky, pierced through, to strike the water, the black rolling mass of clouds shouting at the angry sea.

She gasped for breath, groaning at the frightening sight, and mumbled, "William!" She saw him on the poop-deck of her father's merchant vessel. Barrels and broad crates once lashed to the deck, came loose, careening from side to side, rolling and slipping forward and aft. The men were shouting, shrieking against a shrieking wind.

"Lash her down! Get her lashed down!"

"Look out!"

 

A wave crashed upon the deck, the water sloshing to and fro, gathering in wet smothering arms, taking cargo and men, with a fierce rapidity. The deck swept clean, with a loud, agonizing crack.

William! Where was he? She looked frantically over the scene, as though she were there and, yet, not there. A blue-cold hand gripped the poop-deck railing, a dark shape dangling from the starboard side. The lump of an oilskin figure heaved itself back upon the rolling, pitching deck. She gasped and groaned again. "No! No! William!"

For a split second, as if the ghostly figure had heard her shouts, her cries, his face lifted to look at her. Look her in the eye. But the face was not his. It was not William's. Not the face of William Dandridge. It was the face of Horatio. Horatio Hornblower. In that split second of connection, the moment of recognition, another tremendous wave was building to larboard. It was incredibly high. As high as the main mast of Indefatigable. Higher!

It WAS Indefatigable.

"No!" she agonized and writhed against her pillow, against the blankets covering her.

The ratings were shouting! Captain Pellew stood drenched on the quarter-deck, maintaining his position, she knew not how, on the tossing platform. Did he not see the wave building? Coming at them? She looked back to the figure that was William, that was ...Horatio. All at once the noise of the storm seemed to fade, though she sensed it still raged.

"Pamee..."

Her name, called mournfully on the wind. Her name the way William called. She felt herself panting with worry, with fear. She turned her head from the heaving ship to the wraithlike figure hanging above, or was it in, the storm tossed sea.

"Pamee...." The voice was soothing this time and less empty. She looked fully into the face of her one time husband. His features were peaceful, and he gazed at her with love and confidence. He lifted his hand, opening it to reveal what it held. A red flower, broad bright red petals, of an exotic nature. "A flower for your hair...hair...hair.... Do not be afraid. Do not fear for..."

But she looked away, looked back to the image of the tossing frigate. Where was Horatio? The noise of the storm returned. The pounding surf using the little ship for a beach. "Horatio!" Where was he?

"I'm here."

She saw the same wave still building in height! She had to shout! She had to warn them! Could they not see it coming? Turn the wheel! Turn into it! Turn into it!

"Horatio!" she shouted as she sat bolt upright in bed.

"I'm here, Pamee, I'm here." He wrapped his arms around her heaving shoulders as she struggled to catch her breath. She panted, coming to half consciousness of where she was. Who was she with?

"William?"

He held her closer. "It's ...Horatio. It's ... Horatio." She lapsed into uncontrollable shaking. "Sh sh sh. It's all right. You are all right."

Coming fully aware, she clutched him, and began to cry.

"Sh. It was just a dream. A bad dream." He rested his head against hers, wondering. William? Was her dead husband here to plague her dreams? Did she love him more than he? *Don't be ridiculous, Horatio!* he thought. And he scolded himself for a petty jealousy over a dead man. "You are safe, my lady."

He lay her back against the pillow, wiping the tear damp hair from her face. He could barely make out her features in the light coming from the open windows, from the half moon at its midnight zenith. He smiled sadly. "It must be this side of the bed. First me, and now you." He kissed her forehead. "Go away, silly nightmares!" he ordered.

She placed her hand against his stubbling cheek, the feel made her more aware that she was here, that he was here, with her, not at sea, not on the raging waves of an angry ocean. The silent tears streamed down the side of her face, glinting in the moonshine.

"It was only a dream, my love, only a dream."

"What....what did you call me?" Was that part of her dream? Or, had he called her by the pet name William used?

*****

Sunday was another sunny day on The Rock, the dark memories of the night fading in its brightness. The day progressed quite normally with breakfast (Pamela's appetite returning with a vengeance), a church service under the estimable Mr. Godwin, a lazy relaxed lunch, an afternoon stroll down a shady lane, giving Hornblower time to assess the town that would host his lady, ending with a final journey to the Naval dry dock.

The two leaned against the rail staring at the ship that had once been their home.
Her nose sported a new bow complete with a carved figurehead. A figurehead of a woman holding a large pair of shears.

Hornblower canted his head, squinting, an odd figure for a ship named Dolphin.

"Ahoy there!"

A worker turned to him, ceasing his work on the ship's side. "Eh?"

"Is this not Dolphin brought in for repair last week?" he shouted to the man.

The man turned full towards him. "Aye, sir. That were her name. But no more."

Hornblower felt a sadness within that they would altar her identity. She was his ship, his ship and Pamela's. Despite it's piratical past, it had taken on an alternate persona as "their" ship. She was British. British through and through. Had he not saved her at sea? Had not he and his men risked capsizing to patch her? Had he not preserved her from capture by the French, and his men given their lives to keep her from the clutches of her previous owners? He frowned and pulled Pamela's hand to his lips.

"They often do this."

"She will always be Dolphin to me," she assured.

"What's she to be named, then?" called Hornblower.

"Eh?" The man ceased working once more, taking a few steps nearer to look up from where they called. "Some funny name. Goes with that there female." He motioned at the figurehead. "Atter....atter somethin', sir, I don't rightly know how ye say it. Granby be paintin' on her new name on the stern. Did ye bring her in, sir?"

Hornblower swallowed. "I did sail her for a time," answered Hornblower faintly.

"What is it, darling?" Pamela acutely aware that he understood something more than he was saying.

Taking her hand, he led her down to the working jolly boat gently bobbing beside the ship, helping her in. He stood in the bow of the boat and pulled them along her side till they reached the stern. Pushing with one of the oars, he fended them to the extent of the tether of the workboat.

A man in a sling stopped his painting to stare down at them. His job was nearly complete. He gave Hornblower a head knuckle. "She gonna be yours, Capt'n?"

Hornblower smirked at the address. He shook his head. "Was."

"Miss her, do ye, sir?"

"Aye."

"Ma'am." The man acknowledged Pamela with bow of his head.

"Hello. What was wrong with her old name?" ventured Pamela.

"Oy, well, its a way o' layin' claim to her. Maybe so's the previous owners won't recognize her so easy, and want her back," he grinned.

Pamela grinned at Horatio. "Like you and me."

"I don't follow," he queried.

"Taking your name.... Hornblower. ... Though there is no one who will want me back."

"Well, that's good, because they aren't getting you."

"Does it mean something? That name?" Pamela said louder, questioning the painter.

"Oy, ma'am. It's one o' them foreign names. Did ye notice the figurehead she's got? Got somethin' ta do with them scissors she's sportin' I'd wager. aTROPos."

"That's-- ATropos," corrected Hornblower thoughtfully. He knew the meaning. He recalled the Greek myth when he first perceived the bow decoration. Why of all names did they have to choose this one for his ship? HIS ship. HIS and HER ship. And, why did they have to come here today to find this? To learn this? When it was so close to their parting. He did not like it and he hoped, with futility, the question he did not want to answer, would be asked.

"What does it mean, Horatio?"

He began to pull the rope bringing them back to the dock. She watched him avoid the answer. She knew him. She knew he knew something he did not want to tell her. She took a final glance at the name before they were beyond its view. She did not press for the information. Her husband assisted her out of the boat and they silently made their way back up to the broad walk that led to the quay-side street.

How could he tell her the meaning? After her nightmare of last night? After his dream of two nights ago? How could he bring himself to tell her what they were naming THEIR ship? The place where they had met, fallen in love, married, and consummated their marriage? God, he wished they had not come!

She pulled him over to the side, beneath one of the few shade trees near the docks. Partially blocked from view by a large long boat, whose bottom contained a huge hole, she stared up into his features with a sigh. The coolness of the tree shadow enhanced the breeze tugging their hair and clothes. Placing her hand on his cheek, she inclined her head with a shake. "We never kept things from each other when we were on Dolphin." She let her words sink in. There was something to be said here. Something about Dolphin, now Atropos. There would be no tears today, unless he brought them. Did he not trust her? "Do you want me to learn what it means after you are gone?"

He closed his eyes, exhaling deeply, shaking his head. He gazed into her set features. Taking her head between his hands he said. "I love you. Dreams mean nothing. They are only dreams! Names mean nothing. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet! It altars nothing!"

She smiled. "You're sounding like Archie, Horatio." But her feeble jest did nothing to change his mood.

He pulled her into his embrace. A surprise, considering where they stood. This was something, this name given their ship. His hold was tight. She could feel his resistance to shed light on this thing! This silly thing, of a ship's name.

He resumed holding her face looking into her eyes with an anxious sadness. "It doesn't mean anything." He released her and turned to kick the base of the tree, wheeling around to lean against it, and looked back briefly, pinching his lips in a frown, then dropping his chin to stare at his boots. She stepped next to him, taking his hand.

"I ...I don't want this. I don't want to leave you. But I have to. I have a duty...to my people...my, my...ship... Captain Pellew...my country..my men...my king!."

She smoothed his hair from his forehead. "Your country is my country, Horatio. I go where you go, whether physically, or with my heart. I know you have a duty. And there are times when I wish Captain Pellew would call you. Call you to him, to the Indy, to leave. I know in one way it will complete you." He began to shake his head, and she added quickly. "But, I know, too, that I complete you."

He gazed at her with hope and longing, finding comfort in her words. Knowing that these things were things that needed to be said. And, she was saying them. Saying them, for both.

"The time is coming at long last when you will go, and I will stay. It is what we have both feared from the beginning. It is a passage, a passage we will both survive. No matter what dreams may come, we have lived a dream, lived a life, with and for each other. A precious life of a few weeks, with memories, ...maybe a lifetime of memories." He began to protest, and she stilled him with a touch. "I treasure those memories here," she lightly touched her temple, "and here," touching her heart. "I will always love you, treasure you, hold you in regard, and esteem,...with pride. My gallant captain! I am so proud of your courage, your quick thinking. That logical brain of yours." She smiled at the blush appearing on his cheeks. "I know it is hard for you to listen to praise. But it is truth. It is what I see in you. It is what Captain Pellew sees in you. We are right about you and one day the whole world will know. That you are a leader of men. Men like Matthews, Styles, Oldroyd, Hardy, ...Archie and Bryce Rampling," she paused as she began to include names of men that would follow him no more, "Kramer, Bradley, Carden, ...Greely, Andrews,... and there will be many more, many more, that you will find will follow you to the gates of Hell and back. As I would, if you would let me. If the world would let me. I know it. I know it! No matter what happens, whether we see each other again, or if these are our last..."

He straightened and placed his hand over her lips, speaking the word quickly and succinctly, "No. I will come back. You know that. Say it! Say it now!"

"You will come back!" She vowed to herself she would not cry and fought the prick behind her eyes. "You will come back!"

"Keep saying it until you see me again. Never stop believing. Never!"

"I never will, Horatio. I never will! You will come back!"

And he kissed her, oblivious to where they were, oblivious to who might see.

"Don't make me cry, Horatio. Not today."

"I never want to cause you tears. Never! Do you believe me?"

"Yes, my love. I believe you."

He inhaled deeply. He stared into her eyes, holding her face, rubbing her cheek with his thumb. He struggled. "I cannot...Dolphin's name,...I cannot..."

"Don't. I don't have to know. It's all right!" She hesitatingly smiled.

"I want you." His anxious eyes. "I need you."

How can a name so affect him? Was it the progression of the day? Surveying her new surroundings? The knowledge that this was their long good-bye?

"Come back to the hotel?" He needed the assurance, the physical assurance that she was his, his alone. Forever. Atropos. A third whack to the frail security. The two dreams and now this. The ship's name cannot mean this. Not this. No. He denied it. No. He refuted it. No. He would not acknowledge it. No. No. NO.

"Yes, darling, yes." She answered, holding at bay the frantic response he was evoking.

All the windows were open. The curtains wafted in the breezes entering to cool the two, dampened by the heat of passion. It had come, the passion, in that rush that comes with impending separation. Like its opposite overwhelming emotion of stillness, the quiet of being in the company of the other, that sometimes accompanies the approaching inevitable, but this time, it was the passion.

The frantic, hungry, anxious kind of love making, that fills the senses, explodes every nerve, covers every inch of skin with tingling from the slightest touch of the partner. Like a last meal, full of every taste, every flavor, every texture and smell, seeking to sate an appetite for the coming famine of separation. Seeking to expand, enlarge, prolong, the moment of being one, one body, one mind, and one spirit. Melding as one heart, one love, one longing, ...one. One that must become two, and survive until time and space once again allow the joining. The joining of completion, of a being that is one half male, one half female. One purpose, one heart, one love.

 

He lifted himself and fell to the side of her with a breath. Wiping the perspiration from his brow and running his hand through his hair. He gazed at where he had been. The curves and roundness of her soft body, that magical place that transported him to one destination.

She pulled the sheet up to separate their warmed bodies and leaned against his chest. He began to play with her curls, wrapping and unwrapping them around his fingers, tugging, then smoothing.

"It's Greek."

She said nothing, but continued to listen to the pounding of his heart, growing slower with each breath.

"Greek mythology. One of the three fates."

She turned her gaze to his, resting her chin on his breast. "I love you, Horatio."

He peered down his nose into her dark eyes. "It's..." she covered his lips with her fingers, and shook her head.

Taking her forearms, he pulled her and placed her against the sheets, rolling to look down at her. Each studying the features of the other, he lowered to kiss her once again. Long. Caressing, pressing, moaning under the pleasure of this union.

"God! I don't know if I can live without your kisses," she whispered.

"Nor I yours."

She stared at his lips and gently touched them with her fingertips, closing her eyes, she touched her own, sealing the sensation in her memory.

He rested on one elbow and mimicked her, touching her lips, she separating hers to lightly touch his fingertips. He smiled. "It will have to do. The memory will have to do."

"But you will come back."

"I will. I will, my love. I will come back."

Knock, knock, knock.

Horatio jerked his head to look at the door. Slipping his feet to the floor, he yanked on his trousers, hastily doing buttons, pulled on his topcoat, and quickly stepped to the door. Leaning towards the jam, he asked, "Who is it?" He stared back at Pamela sharing a quizzical expression.

"It's me, Horatio. Archie."

Hornblower's face slacked with anticipation. Was this the call? He opened the door a crack, peeking to see that Archie was alone. He opened the door wider, watching Archie's face changing to a repressed smirk as he took in his attire. Hornblower rolled his eyes, sheepishly. "Yes? What is it, Archie?"

Archie still struggled unsuccessfully with his grin. "Natalie and I are going for a stroll, and then to dinner. Pellew has given us tonight. We wondered if you and Pamela might like to join us. But, of course, we will understand if you are otherwise engaged."

"Jealousy, Mr. Kennedy, does not become you," he said lowly and sarcastically.

Kennedy alternated between biting his lower lip and biting his upper one, cheek muscles twitching with mirth. "Me, sir? Never!" and the grin was loose.

Hornblower smiled, noting a certain levity in his soul at seeing his comrade. "Just a minute." He closed the door and stepped to sit on the bed next to Pamela. He had a feeling, a feeling, this could be their last night together. Would she rather spend it with him alone? Or, spend it with Archie and Natalie?

The question posed, she answered in the affirmative. Yes. Yes, it is a good choice.
He kissed her forehead and returned to Archie. The door creaked open.

"Yes. When? What time?"

Archie let his eyes roam Horatio's clothing once more. "When can you be ready?"

Horatio frowned and closed the door again. He returned in a moment.

"An hour, or less."

"We'll be in the lobby, sir." Archie bowed at the waist.

Horatio shook his head, grinned, and closed the door.

Archie stared at the paneled barrier. A flash of sadness sweeping across his features for an instant. He had a message...but it could wait. A lovely woman was downstairs anticipating his return.

 

Since entering the lanes and footpaths of the tiny Gibraltar for the second time this fine Sunday, Horatio had taken her hand, entwined their fingers, and there it remained. Not caring who noticed. Whether uniformed or civilian, officer or rating, man or woman, old or young, Archie or Natalie. Pamela noticed they noticed, causing a pleasing self-assured smile to take up permanent residence above her chin.

Once they reached the wall fortifications, they traveled a suitable distance to leave the majority of Sunday afternoon foot traffic behind. Archie and Natalie slowed their pace, falling several steps behind them. Horatio glanced at his wife, finding a ready smile to mirror hers. "Why are we smiling, my dear?"

"Because you have been clutching my hand for the past quarter mile, sir."

"It is mine to clutch, is it not?"

"It is. It is indeed."

And he inhaled with intense satisfaction. "I am going to miss you terribly." But the smile remained, a strange incongruity.

She laughed. "I can tell you are extremely distraught!"

"I am, but my current happiness will let nothing disparage."

She laughed again. "It is well. To be happy and sad all in a moment."

He stopped and pulled her next to the embrasure, turning her so the setting sun lit her glowing features, and he told her, the steady grin in place. "You are glowing! Radiantly so!" He inhaled. "I feel there is poetry in my soul when I gaze upon you."

"Poetry? Will it be of ships and sails?"

"More likely snips and snails and puppy dog tails."

Her eyes danced as she stroked his cheek. "Horatio. Does it make you happy?"

He inhaled, feeling his chest expand with more than air. An eyebrow raised. "You make me a father. I feel I should be frightened at the prospect, but I am having a completely opposite reaction to what I would have imagined."

"What brings THIS contemplation?"

"I do not allow myself to consider our ... I think... now... of when I shall see you again. That our boy may be making himself ... more ... visible."

She giggled. *Another side to you!* she thought, feeling herself relish in his chipper attitude.

He glanced back at Archie and Natalie, who themselves, had stopped, and were engaged in private conversation. He reached up and knocked his hat to the ground. Kneeling to recover it, he lifted his head slowly to the level of her abdomen. "When you are a little larger, we will come here and I will tell you of duty and the sea, and of the navy, and officers and honor, of England..." he let his mischievous eyes lift to her amazed expression. Speechless, she was, and his mirth increased at the prospect. "And, of the woman I love, who is your darling mother." His arm looped her waist as he pulled her close to plant a kiss upon her skirts.

"Horatio!" She glanced around nervously. "Have you gone mad?"

He grinned. "Still think I am conventional?"

"Get up!" she whispered, anxious at the form they were cutting, but pleased, as well.
He did not move quickly enough for her, so she lowered to a knee beside him and started to pretend she had dropped something.

"What are you looking for?"

"Propriety!"

As Archie gazed westward, he took Natalie's hand, looping her arm over his and pulling her closer to him.

Natalie felt her middle tingling with each passing moment next to him. Would he kiss her? Should she let him? Slowly she turned her head to see him looking intently at her.

"It's beautiful, isn't it? The sunset?"

She looked back to the scene. "Yes. I never get to see the sun set in the ocean at home. I see it rise." She smiled and gazed back at him.

He stared at her lips. "Do you...do you know you have very pretty lips?"

She pressed them together, blushing.

"I apologize! I did not mean to embarrass you."

"It's all right." The two returned to gaze out to sea.

"It's amazing how fast it goes once it is this low," commented Archie. "And it looks so much larger!"

"Yes." She glanced at him nervously. "Archie....would you like to kiss me?"

He swallowed, catching a breath. "I.... yes.... I would." He looked down at his feet, then back out to sea. Archie surveyed the walkway. No one else was near them, except for Horatio and Pamela kneeling on the ground. *How odd!* he thought.

He gazed into Natalie's eyes, then at her lips. He bent slowly towards her, coming closer until finally, he barely touched. Her lips were soft; her breath was sweet. He lightly kissed them again. "I like you very much, Natalie, but I do not know when we will ever see each other again."

She could feel his breath as he spoke the words.

"I know." She kissed his cheek.

He turned his head to press against hers, and sighed deeply. "I like kissing you," he whispered. "May I again?"

"Yes," she breathed softly.

He ran his lips over her cheek until he arrived at her mouth. Would she meet his kiss? He opened his mouth over hers. Heaven! Could he be in heaven? Her mouth was cool and sweet. How long should he continue? He pressed his lips on hers reaching, caressing. He hugged her with another sigh, feeling the soft material of her dress under his moist palms. "Thank you, Natalie."

"Thank you, Archie."

He looked haltingly towards Pamela and Horatio, being gathered round by the encroaching darkness. Horatio was grinning at him, with Pamela resting her head against his chest.

"They make a sweet couple, Horatio."

"Indeed, my love, they do."