An American Encounter
By Skihee :)
Chapter 3 "The Wager"
Hornblower went up on deck. The sky was still gray. The air humid and cool. Standing on the quarter-deck, he looked out over the sea. That stain, it was the blood of her father. No wonder she reacted as she had last night. He pinched his lips together as anger rose inside him. Walking to starboard, he stared at the stain. "Mr. Jenkins, call Mr. Matthews."
In a moment, Matthews appeared on deck. "You wanted me, Mr. Hornblower?"
"Deck hands, Mr. Matthews, I want deck hands sanding the deck. See that stain there?"
"I want it gone. Do you understand? Before any other repairs are done. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir. Aye, aye, sir." Matthews left and within minutes men were on deck at the task.
Hornblower wore a frown all morning. The crew were quiet as each man knew the source of their female passenger's sorrow. The men holystoning the deck went at it with a will. The stain was deep and many passes would be needed.
At noon, he went to check on her. She was still sleeping. He went to his cabin, wrote in his log, and wondered how much longer it would be to get to land. Her sorrow weighed on him. He did not know how to deal with a woman's sorrow. Perhaps on land, where other women would be found, they could help her. He felt unqualified for the task. He tried to think back to the women in his life. His mother had died when he was young. There were not many other females in his life after that, and certainly not one in grief. He did not know what to do.
His attention returned to his log, thinking. 'The pumps continue to work round the clock. The water in the well maintains itself. The major repairs are done. More men available for pump duty giving relief to those whose sole duty it has been.' He searched for the right words to relay this information with brevity.
Hornblower rubbed his hands over his face and wondered why he felt more disturbed now than he had before. His thoughts turned to her again against his will. Was he angry at the pirates? Surely that was part of it. To kill her father before her eyes! She would live with that vision for the rest of her life. "Damn!" He heard himself say. He was angry. Angry at the pirates. She should go to England and testify against the man who killed her father, but she was not ready for that strain. "Damn!" He said again. Why did he have to worry about this? But, he should. And, there was something else. What had the pirates done TO her? Had they raped her? Her dress, her wrists? What had they done to her? "Haven't I got enough to worry about with this ship?" He frowned again. "Now, I'm talking to myself!"
He paced up and down his small cabin. Snatching his hat off the wall he walked out to go on deck. The sight of the Captain's cabin stopped him. He went in. The ropes still hung there from the bedpost. The sight of them struck him a blow as sure as if a fist had done it. A scowl crossed his face. He stormed up on deck and shouted for Matthews.
"Yes, Mr. Hornblower?" Matthews did not understand this new mood of his Captain.
"Follow me!" He lead him to the cabin and told him roughly, "Clear out all the damned pirate's trappings. I want the room stripped and washed. And if there is any paint of a decent color on board, I want the room repainted." He stormed out of the cabin leaving Matthews standing there rubbing his chin.
"Aye, aye, sir." Matthews followed him out to the deck and called for Styles and Oldroyd.
Hornblower went onto the quarter-deck and paced back and forth rapidly. He must get hold of himself. Every now and then he adjusted his pacing to take him over to starboard to examine the progress of clearing the deck of its stain.
Matthews looking up at him askance talked low to Styles and Oldroyd. "I've never seen Mr. Hornblower like this before." And he shook his head. "Come on, we've another job to do."
Hornblower seeing him talking to his companions called down to him. "And Matthews, be quiet about it, I don't want Miss Pamela disturbed." He turned from them not waiting for a reply and went to pacing back and forth, back and forth. His three men looked at each other, then went below decks.
The whole ship's company was quiet. The only noises were the holystones being dragged back and forth, the wind in the rigging, the creaking of the ship, and Hornblower's footsteps across the quarter-deck. His men wondered if he would wear a furrow into the deck he had been at it so long. Then, he did another strange thing and his men watched in amazement. He climbed the new mainmast to the top yard. They looked at him, looked at each other, and wondered.
He was out of breath when he reached it. He looked out over the sea in every direction. As if his looking could conjure up a shoreline. They were still days away from land. What about another ship? The Indy? What would his captain do with this grieving woman? Or the American ship? Which way was it headed? Then, he climbed back down. He went back to the quarter-deck paced a few times and then went to climb the mainmast again.
"If he does that again, let's time 'im," said one
of the men sanding the deck. They chuckled amongst themselves
as they saw him reach the top yard.
He hoped the exertion of the climb would diminish the anxiety. He breathed deeply. There was no escape. He had to cross the bridge with her. "I can do it," he told himself. "I don't want to, but I will." He had to do it. There was no other. He could not abandon her now. He closed his eyes. *She will get better,* he thought. *She will get better.* He repeated the thought, willing it to come into being. In a few minutes, he climbed back down. His face still wore a scowl. He stood and watched the holy stoning. "Haven't you got that damned stain out yet?" He walked over hurriedly to the hatchway. Some men were bringing out arms full of things from the pirate's cabin. Hornblower watched as they threw them overside. That gave him some relief and he decided to check on Pamela.
He calmed himself and quietly entered her cabin. He sat down in the chair beside the bed. Her eyes were closed and her face was dry. Another layer of worry slipped off his brow. He watched her for a few moments and then got up to leave.
"Mr. Hornblower, " she spoke his name softly. A tingle shot through his chest. Why did his body respond this way? Was it the shock of her speaking to him? He turned.
She turned over on her back. A look of concern crossed her face and she held her hand out. He came over, took it, and sat down. The two looked at each other, face to face, for the first time. She smiled and then ran her finger tips over his forehead.
"What darkens your brow, Mr. Hornblower?"
She was speaking to him, touching him. He had been her caregiver for the past thirty-six hours and now she was trying to console him. Seeing her come to herself caused him to give way. He had been so tense over her well being, taking on responsibilities not his own. Suddenly, he found himself remembering her in his arms last night. How she had relaxed in his embrace, how he had kissed her forehead, her hair, stroked her back, eased her sorrow. His heart enlarged within him and he felt it surrounding her inside himself. He was beginning to shake and hoped she would not notice.
"I wondered if you were all right...if,... if you were all right."
She took his hand, pulled it to her heart, and covered it with the other. Then, she touched the back of his hand to her cheek and turned her head to kiss it.
"My dear sir, I am all right because of you. You have saved me three times in as many days."
He felt his hand become wet as a tear rolled down her cheek. He caught his breath and dropped to his knees beside her bed. "Ma'am, please." His head and shoulders bowed as an unseen weight was removed.
She put her hand on his cheek and gently turned his face to hers. She spoke softly. "You restored me to myself through your care." She searched his eyes as she spoke to him. "You shouted at me not to slit my throat." She paused, tilted her head. "Your wonderful ship fired on this one in time to save me from...from being raped." She paused as she watched the impact of her words on his tortured expression. "Oh, kind sir, I am, and will be,... all right, thanks to you."
He shook his head once. "Please, don't cry."
"I have put quite a strain on you these last days. Forgive me."
"I ...,"he started to speak, but then began to pull away. She checked him, placing her hand on his shoulder. He turned back to her. She leaned to gently kiss his cheek.
He looked into her eyes, at her lips, sighed, and using his fingers, wiped away a tear. She allowed herself to gaze into the deep brown eyes. What frightened her there? Part of her, deep inside, was saying, no. Another part was in awe and expectation, trembling.
He moved slowly towards her waiting for a sign to stop. His mouth was poised over hers. Their lips barely brushing. She closed her eyes. They could feel each other's breath. He searched her visage anxious to know what to do. She was beautiful. He hesitated.
Was he not going to kiss her? The move he made led her to believe that was his intention. Should she open her eyes? She was afraid to open them. She could feel him breathing near her. The warmth of his body emanated towards her. "Mr. Hornblower,"she whispered.
He swallowed. "Yes?" He whispered back. She put her hand on his cheek. He turned his head and kissed it, turned again, and rested in her palm. He became aware of an ache in his being. What was he doing? Why was he frozen in place? He never intended this, yet he could not leave.
His cheek, warm and smooth to her touch, his lips on her hand, soft. What was he doing? "Mr. Hornblower," she whispered his name again.
A slight smile moved over his lips. He watched her but did not answer. Still leaning into her hand, she opened her eyes to look at him
She took in every part of his handsome face. Her heart warmed within her. She returned his smile and whispered, "Kiss me."Some part of her knew he needed her permission. She paused, looking at him. "Kiss me, Mr. Hornblower." What was she saying? Was that what he wanted to do? Is it what she wanted him to do? Her mind was beginning to whirl as she watched him moving closer to her. She felt her heart skip a beat.
He swallowed again and took a deep breath. He moved ever so slowly over her mouth with his, moving at a snails pace, savoring the softness, the sweetness. Until finally his lips pressed hers. He moved off, taking a breath. They looked at each other through slits. She did not have to ask him again. He pressed his lips to hers and then touched between them with his tongue. She opened her lips to him. Their tongues met in a caress as sweet as the one experienced in his arms as he scooped her up and hugged her to himself. She ran her fingers through his hair, caressing his head. Their kiss broke as they rested cheek to cheek. He slipped his arms from underneath her, leaned back, and studied her face. What had they done? He blushed and was thankful for the darkness that hid his color. He felt awkward. "Forgive me!"
She opened her eyes to look at him. What had they done? The frightened feeling reasserted itself and she did not understand it. She tucked it aside knowing the fear was unfounded. This man would not hurt her, she knew it certain sure. Why had she asked him to kiss her? She felt embarrassed. She put her hand to her lips and whispered. "I'm sorry, Mr. Hornblower."
A look of shock registered on his face. He forgot his own embarrassment and blurted out, "Why? Was it that bad?"
She stifled a laugh at his response and began to shake her head, no. "No. But I shouldn't have.... I mean, I.... I mean..."she paused "I should not have asked you to...to do that. I apologize, sir."
"It was not you..."he stammered, "I... I wanted to...I," he was feeling flustered. He grabbed hold of himself and said firmly, " I wanted to kiss you. It is I that needs to apologize for taking advantage of you in your weakened condition." His eyes were downcast. He stood up. "I'm glad you are better, Miss Pamela,"he said softly. "I... I will check to see how you are doing later." He turned to leave, hesitating. He stopped himself from turning to say more, opened the door, and left.
"Thank you, Mr. Hornblower,"she whispered. She put her hand to her forehead, closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Now, what was the frightened feeling she was having? She began to analyze what was happening. She heard a small voice deep within her say one word. It was a word she did not want to hear. *No,* she told herself. *Not again. Not this soon,* even though he had been dead for a year. *No, I can't!* she thought. *All the men I love are dead. I can't. I can't. I don't even know this man.* 'Yes, you do,' came the small voice back at her. She shook her head and turned into her pillow.
As he left the cabin, he felt weightless. Her words had meant much to him. The tenderness in her voice caught at his heart. He no longer felt like a failure. All he had done for her up till now was to comfort. When he knew the truth of her suffering, it became his suffering and the blood stained deck shouted at him in accusation for what he failed to do, leading him to shout at his men, poor unsuspecting souls, receiving his torment. The ropes that had bound her thin and lovely wrists had hung as a reminder of what could have happened to her, and again he had ignored them and left them as a testament of man's brutality to her. How could he be so thoughtless? Why did he not think through these evidences thoroughly and put two and two together? He should have known the moment he saw her wrists that those ropes were indeed the instruments of her torture.
With all these thoughts he had lived these past hours under his own self recrimination, but when going in to see her, to be near her, to smell her sweetness, he had never been around a woman who gave off such a naturally pleasant perfume as she. He thought about holding her, how comfortable she had been in his arms and how sweet the smell of her skin and neck. He found her hair soft and desired to rest his face along side it. He reproached himself for not being there when the American ship was attacked. As if it were something possible for him to do. How could he? He was on Indefatigable miles away. Someone should have been there to help her and her father. He was too late, and the failure he felt burdened him inexpressibly.
Entering into the half light of the low lit lamp of her cabin, seeing her lying there, helpless, beautiful. Her clear skin tone, her dark hair, her lips. He wanted to touch them, they were so lovely. He sat watching her. Her face was dry. He could have shouted for joy, not to see her cry. It was a blessing! And then as he finally made himself get up to leave, still under the derision of his assumed failings, she said his name, his silly name, sounding different, sounding caressed, with her voice.
She reached out. Taking her soft hand, in spite of its scrapes and wounds, sent a surge through his body that was indescribable. He had to sit down. Then, she reached up and ran her fingers over his forehead. He had felt himself catch a gasp of air as she touched his furrowed brow. Her touch electrified his body. And her voice again, so tender, yet with a sound of playfulness when she said, "What darkens your brow, Mr. Hornblower?" Could she know how she was affecting him? He wanted to take her in his arms. But might he remind her of the pirate that tried to force himself on her? He could not take that chance, and he checked himself from so brash a move. She took his hand in hers and pulled it to her, clasped it between her hands as if she did not want to let him go! And then, dear God, she held his hand to her cheek. Those actions would have been enough to send him into a pool of jelly, but her words, her words! Releasing him from all accusations of failure. Her words that praised him, his ship, the Indy, a symbol of strength and might to his mind. And she thanked him, thanked him for his care.
Tears ran hotly on his hand, but these were different, not the tears for her slain father, but tears of gratitude.
She spoke....kind words. She was holding his face, close to her. He could feel her breath and smell its sweetness. Everything about her seemed sweet. She was looking at him with those brown eyes. He felt his body exploding with desire, like raking cannon fire from the decks of the Indy! How he held himself back as long as he did, he would never know. The events of her recent life and the fear of repulsing her, no doubt. But she wanted him to kiss her. She wanted him! This beautiful creature. This was something to be savored, he knew. Like the taste of a fine wine, or the beauty of an afternoon sunset that takes your breath away.
He would not rush through this kiss. Her lips were soft, sweet. He felt himself moaning from the tenderness and warmth of her and he wrapped his arms around the soft trembling body, grasping her shoulders, touching her hair, pressing his cheek to hers as they broke off the kiss to gasp for air. He let his lips brush the soft cheek. His breath was hot as he moved his mouth carefully above hers. He looked into her eyes and knew she wanted him to kiss her again as much as he did. He was close to her lips, those lips he had watched from afar and now he was brushing them with his own.
"Mr. Hornblower, are you all right, sir?" It was Oldroyd talking to him.
He was standing in the companionway with his eyes closed, remembering. He licked his lips, cleared his throat, and replied.
"Y- yes. Yes, I .. I'm fine, Oldroyd." He cleared his throat again and continued down the halllway.
As he passed the captain's cabin, he looked in to see the men had emptied it out down to the bare furniture. The door, that had hung on one hinge, was removed and the interior was clearly visible. They were swabbing the entire place down. Matthews saw him standing there and spoke.
"Mr. Hornblower, we found some paint below decks. We've got red and white paint. I thought white might be your choice, sir." Matthews wondered what kind of answer he was about to receive. Was Hornblower still in his foul humor?
Hornblower smiled at him. "Excellent choice, Mr. Matthews. Carry on!"And, he turned to go.
With this mild response, Matthews became bold in his next query. "Beggin' your pardon, sir, but 'ow is the lady?"
Hornblower looked at Matthews and the other men in the room. He was acutely aware of them waiting for his answer. "She is doing better,"he replied. " In fact, Mr. Matthews, see that all hands are on deck for an announcement concerning her at the change of the next watch. Only the pump men need not come and I will expect that you and Mr. Styles will inform them."
"Aye, aye, sir. Ehr..."
Matthews motioned him out in the companionway and spoke in low tones. "Well, sir, it's like this. When you 'ad Styles and me go huntin' for clothes for her, sir, we came across some other things them pirates had pilfered. And I thought it might be somethin' that might be nice to give her, sir. Might help her, with her loss an' all."
"And what might that be, Matthews?"he asked curiously.
"Well, in another chest we found in the hold, sir, was..."and he dropped his voice to a whisper as he glanced at the men in the cabin, "... books." He looked briefly at Hornblower for some response and then continued. "We figure they took 'em off some other passenger ship and didn't know what to do with 'em." Matthews smiled at Hornblower.
"Well, I took a couple of 'em, sir, that I thought she might like. But, if I wasn't supposed to take 'em, sir, I'll put 'em back."
"What books did you choose?"he asked Matthews gently, remembering how brusque he was earlier.
"Well, sir, one is the Bible. My mum used to read the Bible when I was a lad and she took great comfort in it, sir. So, I thought, her bein' a lady an' all she might like it, 'specially seein' as 'ow she just lost 'er father. At least, that's the scuttlebutt, sir."
"Yes, she did lose her father at the hands of the pirates, Matthews. I think you have a very good idea, but you said books. Is there another title you've chosen?"
"Well, yes, sir. I haven't read these in years, sir, an' I only read 'em a little in my younger courtin' days." Hornblower believed Matthews was blushing. "I had this pretty lass I courted for a while an' she took great store by this 'ere book. So, I thought maybe even though this lady's an American, she still might like this 'un."
"Well? What is it?"he asked trying to remain patient.
Matthews looked behind him at the other men and then leaned in toward Hornblower to whisper. "They're sonnets, sir, Shakespeare's Sonnets." Then, he leaned back away from him to see his reaction.
Hornblower smiled. "I think she should like that very much, Mr. Matthews."
"Shall I get 'em for ye to give to 'er?"
"I think you should give them to her yourself, Mr. Matthews. I am sure she will be touched at your thoughtfulness." Hornblower was positive Matthews was blushing now. "After cook gives her dinner, I will see if she is up to a visitor and you may give the books then." Hornblower reached over and patted Matthews on the arm with a smile.
Coming out on deck his men carefully eyed him. He went over to look at the sanding job. The stain was gone in spots but there were still other places that remained.
"You're doing a fine job on that sanding there, men. Keep it up. I know you will be done by the next watch."And, he gave them a slight smile. He went up to the quarter-deck, checked the course, looked at the jury rigged masts, and stared out to sea. He began to formulate in his mind what he would say to the men about the passenger.
In the cabin, Pamela was lying on the bunk looking at the ceiling above her. Setting aside her misgivings, she allowed herself to muse. She could manage this. What could happen here? He had been kind to her. She was grateful. It was a harmless kiss. It was....harmless. What was his first name? She could not recall it but she knew he had said it. No matter, a rose by any name would smell as sweet! She laughed at herself. Yes, he was a rose! A sweet man! So kind to her was he, and now, he had kissed her! She caught her breath as she recalled it. His arms were so strong as he lifted her off the bunk, pressing her into him. She breathed deeply as she recalled, nothing like that filthy leering pirate.
Suddenly her father's death was before her eyes. She worked to control her thoughts. Whenever the sight of her father's murder arose, she imagined a black paint brush going over the scene to blot it out. She forced herself to remember happier moments with her father, James Dawson. She remembered him teasing her about her first ball, eyeing the young men who would come up to request a dance, and when he did not like the looks of them, he would cut in. She remembered smiling at him a couple of times, with thanks, for rescuing her, and a couple of times when she wished he had not. She smiled to herself now as she recalled. What would he think of this young British 'leftenant'? If she were dancing with him, would her father cut in? And what reason would he have to do so? Would he find him unacceptable, or would he be responding out of fear of losing his baby girl to another man...again? She would never know, as the brush dripping with black paint slid over the red. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep.
At the beginning of the first dog watch, Matthews and Styles had relayed their Captain's orders to be present for the announcement. They stood on the deck of the ship and Hornblower came down from the quarter-deck to stand in their midst. With a crew of thirty odd men this would do. And so he began.
"Men, you are aware we have a female person on board ship with us. She was captured by the pirates from the American ship and the devils murdered her father!" He paused for effect. Some men grunted their acknowledgment. "These events, as to be expected, greatly distress her, but she has begun to come around and to trust us. She explained to me that it was the Indy firing on this ship that prevented those dastardly pirates from completing their ...assault. We can all take pride in our part of her rescue in that respect. In the next few days, she may be found on deck among us. I expect each and everyone of you to be on your best behavior when she is present. I expect you to be courteous to her and act in no way unseemly. Do I make myself clear?"
The men acknowledged with aye, aye, sirs, echoing among them.
"Very well, then. I also want to say, I value your efforts in getting this vessel under repair. Considering the conditions and supplies we have to work with you have done an exemplary job. Barring incident, I hope to sight the mountains of Spain within the week and to rejoin Indefatigable at Gibraltar." He looked around at the men. "You are dismissed. Mr. Matthews, Mr. Styles, a moment, if you please."
The men departed, either for watch duty or for dinner below decks. Hornblower ascended the quarter-deck with Matthews and Styles following.
"What is left to do to the masts, Mr. Matthews?"
"Still workin' on a couple a sails, sir, one for the mainmast, and two jibs, sir. Footropes still to be added to the foremast topsail, and some cordage here and there to be sorted out. Mostly minor things, sir."
"Hmm. Mr. Styles, what is happening with the well? Any change there?"
"About the same, sir, we're still pumpin' 'round the clock, but with the other hands free to help no one pulls more than four hours at the pumps, sir."
"Have you had a look overside to check our patches, Mr. Matthews?"
"No, sir, not since the day after we did 'em, sir. They seem to be holdin'."
"Tomorrow, I want one of the patch men overside to check them first thing."
"Aye, sir,"responded Matthews.
Hornblower looked down dreading to ask the next question. It was something he should have checked immediately upon entering Dolphin and failed to do. Something he felt Captain Pellew would have thought of first thing. "Did either of you look into the munitions stores on board?"
Styles and Matthews looked at each other. Styles scrunched up his face and said, "No, sir."
"Nor I, sir."
There was no one to blame but himself. One of those nagging thoughts that had tried to impress itself upon him was standing grinning at him in derision. "Very well. That is another item we must ascertain."
At that moment, Jenkins appeared. "Beggin' your pardon, sir."
"Cook wants to know if ye' want 'im to take the lady some dinner."
"I'll come. You two men get yourselves some food. We'll get back to the other shortly."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Come with me, Jenkins. I will check with Miss Pamela."
Hornblower stood outside her cabin door. He hesitated, then, knocked, waited a moment and knocked again. She opened the door. He knew he was staring into her eyes. This would never do to let her affect him this way, especially in front of his men, but she was so lovely. He wanted to take her in his arms now. He felt like a fool and he stammered.
"M-M-Miss Pamela. The cook wishes to inquire if you are ready for your evening meal?"
"Mr. Hornblower,"she smiled at him and Jenkins. "Yes, I believe I would like something, thank you." She rested her gaze upon his face and noted his height. She liked tall men. His hair had a slight curl to it and she found herself looking at one resting on his forehead. She took a deep breath and moved her eyes to his. He was looking at her intently. Jenkins cleared his throat. Breaking the spell between them.
"Very well, Jenkins,"said Hornblower, nodding.
"And yourself, sir?"
"Yes, Jenkins, you may bring mine as well."
Hornblower blushed. "To my cabin, Jenkins,"he said steadily.
Pamela smiled, "Would you care to join me at my table, Captain?"
Hornblower felt the burn in his cheeks. Every nerve in his body screamed yes! But the officer in him took over and he heard himself saying, "I must decline, ma'am, as I have paperwork do."
"I understand, sir." She said with downcast eyes.
*No, you don't understand,* he thought to himself. He wanted
to grab her and tell her he was an officer in His Majesty's Navy,
that he could not stand there in front of one of his men like
a love sick school boy. He started to grab her but checked his
movement by running his hand through his hair. Had he not been
living and breathing her for the past two days? She had been
in his arms. He wanted her there now. *What is wrong with me?*
he thought to himself.
"How are you this evening, if I may ask?"he blurted out.
"As well as could be expected,"she replied knitting her brow at the sound of his voice, watching him run his hand through his hair. Was he closer to her? She felt her skin warming. She looked at his eyes. What was he thinking? He wanted to say something to her, but he restrained himself. She turned her head as Jenkins left.
"I pray you will continue to improve." He glanced at Jenkins' retreating figure then looked at her even though he had not planned to. Jenkins was gone. *Hold her!* he heard a voice shout in his head. *No!* he heard himself think in reply. "If there is anything that you need,"he said as his eyes once again betrayed him to glance at her, "Please, do not hesitate to call me."
His shoulder brushed her as he passed. He had to move away, and quickly. She turned to watch him go. His broad shoulders made her take a deep breath as she watched the cant of his walk and the carriage of his body. It was good that he left her. Good that he had refused her offer. She could not let herself become involved.
He walked away. Was that all it took? Was the fragile bond between them broken? He felt regret but yet did not look back as he entered his cabin and closed the door. He leaned against it and began to breath again. Duty, told him it was the right thing to do. She had been in a vulnerable state...and so had he. They had both been on an emotional edge and fallen over it,... unfortunately, into each others arms. Did he say UNfortunately? *That was all it was,* he thought to himself. *An emotional reaction to emotional events.* It was time to return to his senses. Certainly, she would see that , even in her emotionally dependent state. After she regained herself, she would realize it was only one of those 'liasons of war.' A flare of passion best doused before spreading. He pulled out his charts. How long would it be before they reached Gibraltar where he could put her ashore and they could both get on with their lives. Put her ashore? He swallowed hard and stared into nothingness.
She watched him go as she slowly closed the door. *Well, daddy, I guess you would not have to worry about this one after all,* she thought. That was just as well. She should not be considering him anyway. He was just so handsome. Maybe their kiss had been but a moments passion, a moments weakness on his part and now he was in control. Events had brought them together, at some point in the near future, events would take them apart. A sudden sadness overcame her. She was alone now. It was time to strengthen her resolve. It was silly of her to think he felt anymore than pity for her. Her eyes filled. She would take care of herself.
A few minutes later, Jenkins returned with her food. She took it from him with a smile. He was carrying Hornblower's tray, too.
"Don't mind 'im, Miss. He's just got a lot on 'is mind is all. I think he must be daft to turn down havin' his dinner with 'e."
"Aren't you sweet!"she said. "I should have asked you to eat with me." The sound of her voice told of more regret than she admitted.
"Aw, now, your funnin' me, Miss." He grinnned broadly and headed for Hornblower's cabin.
He knocked. "Come."
"'Ere's your dinner, sir. Never thought I'd 'ave a fool for a Captain, turnin' down an opportunity to dine wi' th' likes o' 'er. Beggin' your pardon, sir." Added Jenkins quickly, realizing he was addressing a man who could have him flogged for such insubordination. He left not waiting for Hornblower's reply.
Hornblower was taken aback, flabbergasted, that Jenkins would have said such a thing. "Damn!"he said under his breath. Was he a fool? She was his ward. Nothing more. At least, that is what he told himself. *But you kissed her.* he thought to himself. *Why, on God's earth, did you?* he thought as he closed his eyes and ran his hand over his face. She asked him to do it. Oh no, he could not let himself off that easy. She had merely been kind to him, paying him back for his kindnesses to her. He shook his head as if to shake the thought of her out of it.
He finished his meal and was jotting down notes into his log, recording the information his men had given him earlier. Those munitions stores worried him. They were still at war with France and Spain. It would not do to be caught by surprise and have no way to fight. Why had he not checked before? When would he learn? He berated himself for his stupidity. He hoped the pirates would rescue him by having an abundance of powder in the hold. He looked over his log entry for the day and wondered what he left out. Her. What should he say about her? He tapped his quill in the ink cellar. 'Miss Pamela is better today,' he wrote. Her face appeared before him in his minds eye. He sighed. There was a knock at his door.
"Come." It was Matthews and Styles. "Ah, Mr. Matthews, I was just thinking it was time to check our munitions." He realized his second in command was holding books in his hands. Then, he remembered his promise to him as to Miss Pamela. A feeling of concern came over him as the thought of seeing her again was mixed with dread and desire. "Oh, yes, the books."
"Aye, sir. I've brought them for her as you suggested." Matthews looked freshly washed, shaved, and his hair was combed. He looked at Styles who was similarly composed. Styles had something in his hand, as well.
"All right, let's go see if she is awake." He squeezed past Matthews and Styles and stopped outside her cabin door. He knocked softly. Maybe she would not hear and he would be spared seeing her again so soon. To be so close to her and to be unable to do as he wanted was a torture, as water held back from a thirsty man. The door opened. She was holding her dinner tray. When she saw him she was startled.
"Mr. Hornblower! I didn't expect to see you again this evening!" Her face captured him and he absently took the tray.
"I am sorry to disturb you again, Miss. This is Mr. Matthews and this is Mr. Styles." He motioned to them with a nod of his head. " They are my Petty Officers and are my seconds-in-command."
They both smiled at her nodding their 'Good evenin', ma'ams.'
"How do you do, Sirs?" said she smiling, but looking puzzled.
Matthews looked at Hornblower nervously and then spoke. "We found something we thought might be a comfort to ye ma'am." He held the books out to her. As she took them he said, "One's the Bible, ma'am. My mum took great store in the Lord's word and found comfort in it many a time. I thought it might help you, on account of you losin' your father, ma'am." Matthews looked down as he said this last line. Then added, "The t'other one is Shakespeare's Sonnets. I thought those might cheer ye, as well, ma'am."
She smiled a warm smile at Matthews as she took his hand in hers and gave it a squeeze. "How very kind of you, sir. I shall treasure them."
Then Styles spoke up. "I've got somethin' for ye, too, Miss." He was holding something in his hand which he brought up and then shook out before her in a cascade of red, white, and blue. "I found it when we was cleanin' out the... er, I mean, it was in a chest with some other flags, we come upon. I thought ye might like to 'ave it, Miss."
She squatted to the floor to pick up the parts resting there. She looked up at him with tears filling her eyes. "I don't know what to say."
Styles looked embarrassed and puzzled. "You don't have to say nothin', Miss."
She stood with the flag draping her arm. She grabbed Styles upper arm, looked earnestly into his eyes and smiled. "Thank you, Mr. Styles." As he handed her the upper part of the flag, she noticed a healing wound across the top of his right hand. She took his hand, looked into his face, and said sadly, "I did this to you, didn't I." .
Styles smiled wryly and shook his head as he looked into her eyes, "It ain't nothin', Miss."
"Please, forgive me."
Now, Styles reddened. "Yes, Miss."
Hornblower was stricken as she turned her gaze upon him. He had failed to analyze the possible exchange between her and his men. She had been all his. Now, she would become a part of the lives of his men. He swallowed as she turned her gaze to him. Would she rule them all with her womanly ways? What was this between she and Styles? She took the tray out of his hand, and he came to himself.
"We must be going,"he said and headed out.
She sat the books down next to the tray, and with her country's flag still draping her left arm she held out her right hand to Matthews and Styles who each in turn gave it a slight shake with a nod, smiled and said their good-byes.
"Thank you, gentlemen,.....and you, too, Mr. Hornblower," she called.
Hornblower walked quickly out onto the deck of Dolphin. The ocean breeze met him and he breathed deeply. He heard Matthews and Styles coming out behind him. Walking quickly over to the quarter-deck stairs, he ascended in two bounds. He looked at the ensign flapping in the breeze and glanced briefly behind him at Styles. Then, spoke to the helmsman.
"Report, Mr. Kramer."
"Wind steady, sir."
"Thank you, Mr. Kramer." He looked at the binnacle to check the compass, walked over to the rail and looked at the sails set. Matthews came up behind him.
"Excuse me, Mr. Hornblower, are we goin' to check the powder stores?"
Glancing at Matthews and avoiding his eyes, "Yes." He headed back down below decks. Again they followed.
"Bring a light there, Styles. They entered the area of the ship commonly used to hold munitions stores. Lighting the gun powder room lantern, Styles entered the powder room. Cannonball, match, various sizes of shot. The three of them searched every inch of the deck storage area, hoping the pirates were fool enough to store powder in unsafe places. They were not.
"Damn. Damn. DAMN!"said Hornblower loudly and he kicked the bulkhead.
"Only three powder kegs, sir,"said Styles. He did not have it in him to say they felt less than full.
Hornblower's face was a pity to see, full of derision for himself, flashing between anger and dismay. He would have liked to have himself flogged for failing to see his command was supplied. What would Captain Pellew say? He could see himself standing before him in his cabin, getting the dressing down he so richly deserved for his short sightedness. "Damn,"he said again. He looked at Styles and Matthews standing before him, watching his dark mood. His eyes ran over his men. He had failed them. He was their officer. He should have seen to this. On top of that, he was jealous of the attentions given them by her!
"What'll we do, sir?" asked Matthews.
Hornblower could not look at them. "Pray, Mr. Matthews, that we do not meet an enemy ship." He left them quickly, head bowed, running up on deck. He looked back at the helmsman, then at the main mast, and began to climb. Quickly he ascended to the topmost yard. Letting the wind sting his eyes, he looked off in the looming darkness. A man had never been as angry with himself as he was. Looking down at the deck he thought what it might be to let go and plunge there. *Coward!* he called himself. *Don't you dare add desertion to your crimes! Take what's coming you! This is all your fault! Damn you!* He wiped his sleeve across his eyes.
Jenkins joined his mates below decks. He watched as Matthews and Styles came up from the lower deck. "Hey, Styles, what are ye up to tonight?"
"Not much, Jenk. What's with you?"
"You know, I went with Captain to see if the lady was takin' any food tonight."He looked at them slyly with a half smile.
"I think Mr. Hornblower's sweet on 'er."
"Yeah? Why's that?" Styles' look was doubtful.
"Well, if you'd seen the way they was lookin' at each other ye'd think so, too. They was there, starin' at each other, like there was no one else in the world. Yep, I think she's sweet on him, too."
Matthews looked at Styles.
"That'd be a new experience for Captain, eh?"said Styles.
"You men had better watch such talk,"warned Matthews.
"A wager, then,"says Styles, "what do you think he'll do first? Grab 'er?"and Styles reached over and grabbed Oldroyd by the neck with his arm.
"Hey! Off!" said Oldroyd.
"Or a kiss?"and Styles pretended to try to kiss Oldroyd, laughing.
"The way they was looking at each other that might o' already happened,"said Jenkins.
"Nah, man!"said Styles. "Mr. Hornblower? He's all duty, that one. Drive us all mad, he will, with 'is duty! He's got no time for a skirt."
"Aye, and his mind's on gettin' us back with the Indy, more'n on the lady,"said Matthews, a stab of doubt at his own words. His mind went back to the events in the cabin with Miss Pamela. His Captain had been acting strangely, but he had attributed it to his worries about the powder stores.
"Well, what about it? You two gonna put up? What'll ye wager that them two is in a clinch before we set foot on land?" Jenkins asked.
"I'll not enter into no wagerin' like this,"said Matthews.
"I will,"said Oldroyd entering into the spirit of the thing. "I think you might be right, Jenkins, so it'll have to be a bet on WHEN it happens."
"What makes ye think that, Oldroyd?"asked Hardy entering in to the speculations.
"He's a man, ain't he? And he's been mighty close with 'er,"smiled Oldoyd.
"I'll give 'em two days,"said Jenkins.
"But how'll ye know, man? D'ya think he's gonna mash
her right there in front of us?" asked Styles jokingly.