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An American Encounter, Part Three
by Skihee

Chapter 1 Honesty

 

 

A light tapping sounded on the cabin door of Horatio Hornblower.

"Just a moment," came the sleepy reply.

Hornblower gazed lovingly into the features of his wife and whispered. "This has not been a dream. You are really here. I can hardly believe it, but I thank God in heaven that you are."

Hesitant tapping. Both gazed at the door.

Pamela tugged on the night shirt hastily retrieved from the floor, and Horatio pulled on his trousers.

Opening the door, he grinned. "Well. Miss Pamela. You've a visitor."

With a scrunched expression at his pleasure, she pulled the blanket up and nodded. Horatio admitted the guest and he put an apple in Hornblower's hand.

"Master Drake!" she beamed. Sitting up and leaning against the bulkhead, she suggested, "Come sit by me!"

A head full of bouncing blonde curls turned blue eyes upon Hornblower, who nodded his permission. Three foot plus of lively boy climbed in next to the object of his affection.

"There's room for both my men," and she patted the other side for Horatio. "Oh, thank you, Drake!" accepting the apple.

Drake grinned. "You did not come to breakfast! I was watching."

"Breakfast in bed! Thank you for looking after me, sweetheart." She planted a kiss on his forehead.

"Yes, Drake. Thanks for the apple. What is the time?" He took a bite.

"Nearly four bells, sir... forenoon watch," he added.

"Did Mr. Bracegirdle send you with my duty hours?" inquired Hornblower.

He shook his blonde curls. "No, sir." He produced a third apple and rubbed it against his shirt. "Here. Now, you can eat it." He traded apples with Pamela and scrubbed hers against his clothes and took a bite.

"Mmm. Delicious!" she rubbed his curls.

"How did you get here? We aren't in Gibraltar," stated Drake.

"Um. Well....Major, I mean, Lord Edrington brought me."

"That gypsy chap?" asked Drake.

"Mm. The blonde one, yes," she answered.

"Oh," he grinned. "I shall have to thank him."

Pamela giggled.

"I've watched over him best I could." Indicating Hornblower and shaking his head. "It wasn't easy."

Pamela smiled then gazed lovingly at Horatio. "It wasn't?"

"No, Miss. I almost think he missed you more than I!"

"Did you miss me, Drake?" she asked.

"I did. I've missed you terribly."

"I've missed you, too, darling," she admitted.

"I gave him the kiss. I'm one down, now," Drake bemoaned.

She gave him a long kiss on the cheek. "Does that replace it?"

"Wait a minute. I gave him one, too," protested Hornblower. "Where is my replacement?"
"Haven't you gotten one yet, sir?" asked Drake in consternation.

"Well...not one like that."

Pamela kissed Hornblower on the cheek. "There. Now I've taken care of both of you."

Drake looked at Hornblower askance.

Are you sure Bracie hasn't sent my assignment?"

Drake grinned that the second leftenant used the nickname the boys called Bracegirdle. "No, sir," he laughed. "Oh, but Dr. Sebastian is coming." He pointed at his cheek. "Who did that?"

Inhaling, "A not very nice man, if you must know....and Miss Pamela was dancing with him."

Pamela's mouth fell open with a gasp! "Oh you! You know that was out of necessity! I shall tickle you until you cannot breathe! Help me, Drake! No mercy! Give him no mercy!"

The two ganged up on Horatio. Hornblower's alacrity gained the upper hand, but soon the two boys landed on the deck, Drake astride Horatio, and Pamela laying on the bunk, laughing over the edge.

Hornblower glanced at Pamela, someday this would be their son he played with. He attacked Drake's sides anew, causing the boy to fall to the side. He knelt over Drake and tickled, eliciting great peals of laughter from the child.

"Ahem. The door was open. I hope you don't mind." Dr. Sebastian stepped in.

Drake stood up.

"Dr. Sebastian, sir." Hornblower got to his feet.

Giving the leftenant a nod, he spoke to his wife. "Good morning, Mrs. Hornblower."

"Hello, Doctor." She sat up, covering with the blanket.

How are you feeling this morning? Rested, I hope." He eyed Hornblower.

"I am."

"I better go, sir," slipped in Drake.

"Yes, Master Drake. Off with you. Thank you for breakfast," stated Hornblower.

He peeked around the door before leaving and winked at Pamela. She returned it, and he grinned.

"Breakfast? Did you eat this morning, Mrs. Hornblower?"

"An apple." She held up the partially eaten fruit.

"Hm. I had something a little more substantial in mind, but that will do for a start. I know you were not at breakfast this morning. I have ordered one for both of you. You, because of your pregnancy, and you because of your prison experience."

"It is good of you, Doctor," stated Hornblower.

"Hm." He placed a hand on her forehead. "No temperature." He held her wrist. "Strong heart beat. Very well. Your prescription, Mrs. Hornblower, is to eat and rest."

"Yes, Doctor."

"I daresay the confines of a ship should prevent any further ... excursions for the time being." He stood and replaced the chair under the table.

"Thank you, Doctor, and I thank you for my wife."

"My pleasure, Mr. Hornblower. I need to see both of you at meals in the ward room soon. Do I make myself clear, Leftenant?"

"Yes, Doctor."

"Good day to you, then." With a nod, he added, "Mrs. Hornblower."

Hornblower closed the door. "You are all I need." He took her shoulders, slipped her prone, lay over her, and lightly kissed her lips and her nose. "I love you."

She tapped a finger on his lip then traced underneath the healing scab on his face. "Descaine did this?"

Lifting up on his elbows, he smoothed the hair away from her forehead. "I do not want to upset you."

"Do not keep things from me. I see you have survived. Are we not going to be honest with each other?" The word, honest. She said it, and a twinge of conscience pricked.

In the early hours before dawn, she had broached the subject of her conduct that brought them back together, apologizing and admitting the wrongness of her choices and promising never to engage in such activities again, but she had not shared all. Not all.

Sighing, "You are right, dear." He hesitated. "Riding crop." He spied a bit of moisture collect in the corner of her eye. "Now, now. I am fine. This is why I did not want to say. This is why it drove me mad to ... to see him touching you."

"I'm sorry, darling," smoothing his curls. Someone else had touched her. Why was everything they shared today pricking like a hot iron?

"You did not know, my love. My fear for you.... If Archie had not been there to stop me.....thank you for your part in our rescue, ...though I would not have let you do it."

"I know, darling, but ...maybe I was meant to be there." Yes, reasons. There were reasons things happened as they did.

"Pamela...." he said doubtfully, drawing her name out.

"But I've promised, I won't ever do anything like that again. I won't, Horatio. I promise." *Even that ... I cannot think it. I cannot share it!* she thought.

"You had better not."

"I love you. I will be a good wife." She thought, *I will, Horatio. I will be good.*

"You are a good wife."

"And, you are an excellent husband."

 

*****

Pellew sat reading over the various reports submitted by those involved in the rescue, including Hornblower's account of how he was captured and the captivity. Frowning over the elements revealed, he decided another meeting with Brecon would be necessary. Spies! He seemed to be knee deep in them. This woman, Maria,... and Edrington! What the devil was he going to do about them? These other men, Spanish and English working with the woman! And to top it off, Pamela Hornblower involved and through a connection he unwittingly introduced. With a deep intake of breath and a slow exhale, he tapped his pursed bottom lip with the quill. Did he not have enough to sort through, now he needs be concerned over what should go in the final report?

"Daniels!"

"Sir?"

"Pass the word for Mr. Bracegirdle." After Daniels was gone, he continued to speak to himself aloud. "Why give a lot of wasted effort to compiling a final report with so many unanswered questions," he muttered. "This is giving me a headache. All I need now is for Lord Keith to summon me."

A knock.

"Come."

"You sent for me, sir?"

"Yes, Mr. Bracegirdle. Where is Emerald?" Just saying the name put his teeth on edge.

"Her sails were just touching the eastern horizon and turning, sir."

"I need to speak with Brecon. Sail on for another hour or so, then, heave to and signal a meeting."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

"How is the day, Mr. Bracegirdle?"

"Beautiful, sir. Fair winds, calm seas. A little warm, but the breezes alleviate the heat."

"Hm. Who has the afternoon watch?"

"Mr. Hornblower, sir."

"Hornblower? I'm coming on deck."

"Yes, sir."

Pellew stopped in the doorway. There she was, on his ship. The wind whipped her clothes. Wearing the black and red skirt, but one of Hornblower's shirts, it appeared, and it was tied round the waist with the shawl he found on the floor of his cabin. She would be shy on clothing stores, that was certain. He cleared his throat, somewhat annoyed with situations over which he had no control. Glancing to the quarter-deck, he caught a glimpse of Hornblower's retreating eyes and noted a reddening of the man's cheeks. He continued to his destination.

"Mr. Hornblower."

"Sir?" He answered with a singular nod.

"Your wife seems to have recovered."

"She is better, sir."

Pellew clasped his hands behind his back. "I imagine we will be able to send our passengers back to Gibraltar with the next despatch vessel going that way." He squinted into the billowing sail, and noted the small tremor in his second leftenant. "Mrs. Hornblower should be ashore, should she not?"

Hornblower lowered his chin slightly, his midsection feeling to be made of Swiss cheese, swirling spinnerets of air traversing the holes. He did not think to the moment when she might be sent away. Had she not just arrived? Send her back to Gibraltar? In the company of ...those...she came with? His eyes found her and suddenly his reason seemed impaired. "No, sir." Had he said it or thought it? He was not sure.

"Mr. Hornblower, step aft here." Pellew nodded to Bracegirdle and left his first in command.

Hornblower struggled leaving sight of his wife but obeyed and followed his Captain to the taff.

Pellew watched as Hornblower drew up. "Mr. Hornblower, I value you, sir, as my second leftenant."

Hornblower blinked as if coming out of a dream. "Th...thank you, sir."

Pellew sighed. "I do not expect you have had time to consider what to do about the current situation in which we find ourselves...."

"But I have, sir."

"You have?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do enlighten me," he answered curiously.

"I agree, sir, that Lord Edrington and as many as the despatch vessel can carry should be returned to Gibraltar. Lord Edrington has expressed that desire, sir. He is eager to rejoin his regiment, ...from what I hear."

"Is he?" That would be one way to remove....a rival? Was jealousy behind this or true concern for the wishes of Edrington? He knew the man was eager to return to Gibraltar, as well. He knew something of what had occurred between Edrington and Pamela after a late night conversation with the army major. Had not he fallen under her unintended spell? But the woman steadfastly loved Hornblower. That was to her credit.

"Yes, sir."

"And, if the despatch vessel does not have room for them all, you would like Mrs. Hornblower to remain?"

Hesitating, but an instant, "Yes, sir. It is my request."

"Well, you are honest, at least." Pellew looked at the blue-white wake of Indefatigable. Perhaps this was the best idea. On blockade here off Toulon, NOTHING was happening. It was a dreary assignment, no prizes, no battles, and in partnership with Brecon, he wondered if there ever would be. He was here for show, apparently, but there was nothing he could do about it unless either Lord Keith released Indefatigable, or the Admiralty called them back to the Bay of Biscay. Keep this leftenant; keep his wife. Maybe it was best, them being newlyweds. Maybe a month or two together would be what it took to get Hornblower eased back into service. The question was there, he had to ask it. "If I say, no, Mr. Hornblower, will you resign your commission?" Pellew observed the pinking cheeks.

Hornblower bent his head to the deck, thinking. He already knew the answer. But once it was said, it would be written in granite, his honor would depend on it, especially once it was said to this man.

Pellew watched. Could he bear the answer?

Finally, Hornblower looked into his eyes. Pain was there, but for which? Losing his wife or his career? Was it unkind of him to have asked? To make him make a choice when they were so soon reunited?

"I will not resign my commission, sir."

Pellew canted his head at the brilliant sun lowering in the west, relief washing over. But, should Hornblower be killed or lost could he ever face that young woman? But did not that possibility exist with many of his men? But Hornblower was more than an officer, and Pamela was more than a wife. He inhaled deeply. "This is your final answer, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Yes, sir. I give you my word, as an officer and as a gentleman."

It was not said with reservation or hesitation. "You have your request, then....at least for the duration of our assignment in the Mediterranean. Should we be recalled to our former station, she will be disembarked in Gibraltar. I only agree to the suggestion due to our...so called blockade of Toulon." He frowned. "Your good lady knows?"

"No, sir," spoken in a sigh of relief. " I have not discussed it with her."

"Thank you for warning me. When I hear her scream of delight at some odd hour of the day, I shall know the reason."

Hornblower struggled with the grin that insisted on taking his mouth. "Yes, sir, thank you, sir. Perhaps you should tell her."

Pellew leaned back from his officer with an eyebrow akimbo. "Mr. Hornblower, your wife.....YOU tell her, that is an order, sir."

"Aye, aye, Captain. I may wait for an opportune moment, sir, so if she does not express her thanks to you soon, ...that is the reason."

"Do as you think best, Mr. Hornblower. My lips are sealed on the subject."

"Thank you, sir." He was relieved, then added, "She will behave herself, sir."

"I depend upon you to see that she does."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

He wondered if it were wise, but Pellew decided to pay his respects to Mrs. Hornblower who was leaning against one of the cannon, propping her elbows on the railing, and gazing southward. At least, she appeared to be.

As he was about to speak, he realized her eyes were closed.

"Ahem."

She startled. Seeing him, a pleasant expression appeared on her countenance. She took his hand as if they were long lost friends, gave it a squeeze, and held it.

"Captain Pellew." Suddenly, she released it. "Forgive me, Captain."

Under any other circumstances, he would have been flattered to have a woman he knew so engage him, but this was his officer's wife. The old familiar feelings suddenly draped him like a misty fog that has every bit of clothing soaking in less than a minutes exposure. Taking a quick little breath, that he prayed went unnoticed, he replied.

"Quite all right, Mrs. Hornblower. How are you this day, ma'am?"

"It is a glorious day on your glorious ship, Captain. I swear I never thought to be your guest once again. Do forgive me for the imposition."

Her voice was low, almost melancholy, no where near the exuberance he recalled. He noted a touch of sadness around the eyes and mouth. Should she not be ecstatic to be back with her husband? Was Hornblower still playing cool with her? He did just say he would not inform her she would be staying right away.

Pellew considered how he would feel towards a wife that had gone adventuring as she, and decided he would be as upset as his leftenant, probably more so, probably a lot more shouting on his part. Had Hornblower happened upon what would "rein" in his lady, as the major had put it? Not one shout had he heard from Hornblower, nor nothing else. He cleared his throat as he responded.

"Imposition, ma'am? I suppose in the strictest sense you might be that, but the idea has not crossed my mind." Well, maybe briefly, when he knew he had TWO women to house....somewhere.

"I am glad to hear you feel that way. Thank you."

She started to take his hand again but drew back.

He realized a certain amount of disappointment on his part.

Again, that strange sadness to her answer. She looked back seaward, and he took the opportunity to avert his gaze to check his officer. He was steady as a rock peering the length of the ship, but he knew his eyes must fall on their conversation.

"Are you resting well, Mrs. Hornblower? I know going back to sea can be an adjustment for some."

"Yes. Yes, sir. I am fine. Thank you for your inquiry."

Very formal, ... polite answers... .he felt disappointment. What was wrong? She viewed the sea. Perhaps it was solitude she desired. Her nose revealed a pink kiss from the sun.

"Mrs. Hornblower, if you will allow me, I will have my man Daniels bring you a straw hat. You are getting a bit pinkish. I would not want you to become sunburned. Being on the water increases the possibility."

"Thank you, Captain. You are most kind."

"Is there anything else that you need?"

A sad wistful smile responded, "I thank you, Captain Pellew, for your concern. I have all I need."

"You know,... you need that hat. Come with me, Mrs. Hornblower."

"I...." she stole a glance toward the command deck.

"With Mr. Hornblower's permission, of course. Excuse me, madam." Striding over by the raised quarter-deck wall, he looked up to his second and gained his approval.

He returned and offered his arm.

"Mrs. Hornblower?"

"Thank you, Captain."

As she stepped out, he saw the bare pink toes peek from under the skirt that seemed longer than it originally appeared the day of her arrival. *She is a waif! Good Lord! This cannot be endured! The woman saved my life! Helped to rescue my crew!*

"Daniels!" he bellowed as they entered the aft cabin.

"Sir!"

"I want lemonade, sun hats, and..... Mrs. Hornblower, forgive me for asking, but has Leftenant Hornblower requested shoes for you?"

She blushed and secretly tugged on her skirts to lower them further to conceal. "Mr. Cudgeons came by this morning ... and....um traced my foot size ...but he was about to go on duty. Please, do not bother him. I can wait."

"The devil you will. Sit down, ma'am. Daniels, tell Cudgeons I want to know the status of Mrs. Hornblower's shoes."

"Aye, aye Captain."

Pamela sat in a nearby chair, tucked her feet far up underneath the seat, and seemed to shrink her head into the neck of Hornblower's shirt like a turtle. She could hear the word being passed for Cudgeons.

Daniels returned with a pitcher of cloudy water with floating wedges of lemon.

"Thank you. Sun hats?"

With a nod the man was gone. Pellew poured a glass of lemonade and handed it to Pamela.

"Mrs. Hornblower..." He clasped hands behind his back. "I am once again indebted to you....for the rescue of my men. I realize that I have not said it. Forgive me for my oversight."

"Captain Brecon would have gotten them out, no matter what. I played a small part. But it is kind of you to say it."

"Whether Brecon would have accomplished the task with or without you is irrelevant. The fact is, as I understand it, you were able to divert the attentions of officers on duty to facilitate the escape."

"I did...." she said sadly, "...But, anyone..."

"But nothing, ma'am. It was you. Did you know Leftenant Hornblower was in prison?"

She shook her head sadly, eyes downcast in thought, and she felt a prick of tears. "Maria was afraid to tell me."

"All the more reason to express my appreciation....and, indeed, my ADMIRATION that you would feel so compelled to aid not only my countrymen, but my crew."

"But, Captain, I brought all of that on myself, you see... I ... I was performing to keep ... to keep from being arrested."

"As I understand from Major Edrington, that may have been the case the previous night, but on the second, it was to aid my men and Brecon's." She sounded like Hornblower! Blaming herself, when acclamations were in order. Where was that cocky little miss that was willing to climb out of a third story window in the dark to go hunting her husband?

"Well,..." a tear sailed down a reddened cheek and she wiped it away.

Whatever rebuff she had planned, disappeared. He could see the corners of her mouth tugging downward. She was on the verge of a major downpour. This was not his domain. *She needs him here, not me,* he thought.

Daniels entered.

"Well?" he asked irritably, taking the small pile of sun hats.

"Cudgeons, sir, 'e's got his arms in gun grease up to 'is elbows, sir."

"Would you excuse me, Mrs. Hornblower?"

She nodded, and Pellew departed with Daniels.

Meanwhile, after Pellew and Pamela left the waist, Major Edrington and Kennedy emerged from below. The two of them climbed the ladder to the quarter-deck and appeared chummy and affable.

"Well, all I can say is I shall be glad to get back to my own branch of the service....out of these navy blues..." he stated holding out the topcoat, "...and back into army scarlet. That despatch vessel cannot come too soon."

"You look quite fetching in navy blue, my Lord," grinned Kennedy.

Edrington stepped beside Hornblower, ignoring Kennedy's quip. "Mr. Hornblower, I see you have the watch."

"Good afternoon, my Lord,... Mr. Kennedy."

Edrington's eyebrow went up at the formality and he sucked in a sigh, giving Kennedy a glance.

"All quiet, is it Mr. Hornblower?" inquired Kennedy.

"Indeed."

Edrington searched the fore area of Indefatigable. "I thought your wife might be topside this afternoon, Mr. Hornblower. I have barely seen her since our arrival on your ship. Is she well?"

Hornblower stiffened noticeably. "Thank you for inquiring, my Lord. She is well, though still somewhat fatigued."

"I daresay."

Hornblower visibly reddened, keeping his eyes forward. "What are you implying, Major?"

"I meant nothing, Mr. Hornblower. Only that in her condition, I was not surprised to hear she was 'fatigued'."

Hornblower struggled with warring facial muscles and tightened the grip around his fist behind his back.

Kennedy stepped behind Hornblower and came up on his right, whispering, "Calm down, Horatio. He only means a kindness."

Hornblower let his eyes shift briefly in Kennedy's direction.

"I have not had an opportunity to speak to you either, Mr. Hornblower, other than that night in the launch boat."

"Longboat, sir," corrected Hornblower icily, with a smile.

"Yes. Well. ... Might I speak with you now?"

"You are speaking with me, my Lord."

Edrington assessed the companions on duty. The man at the wheel stared foreward. A midshipman moved uneasily to starboard, another raised a spyglass at nothing in particular. Bowles shifted his eyes to him and nodded. He looked behind to the taff.

"Perhaps back there?"

"I am on duty, sir."

"Yes, I know. And when you are off, you seem to disappear. I need to speak to you, Mr. Hornblower. Would you do me the honor?"

"I'll take your watch, Horatio," said Archie lowly.

Hornblower breathed in through his nostrils. He HAD been avoiding the major. Mostly, he just wanted him to leave. The sooner the better. The major could not desire the arrival of the despatch vessel more than he and even more so, now that he had the Captain's consent for Pamela to remain.

The watch leftenant nodded curtly and stepped aft, leaving Edrington where he stood. He reached the taff and stared abaft the stern.

Edrington raised his eyebrows to Kennedy and followed. He noted the stiffness in the naval leftenant and smirked.

"You're jealous," stated Edrington.

Hornblower dipped his head and flexed his shoulders back and forth.

"I do not blame you, I mean, as dashing a fellow as I am, I do not know how your wife could refuse me."

Hornblower's knuckles turned white.

"But....she did. I like you, Hornblower. If I had known she was your wife, I would not have tried at all."

Hornblower dipped his chin lower into his chest, feeling a compression of air within it. His jaw tightened.

"In fact, if it were anyone but you, I would try still."

Jaw muscles contracted and released, his eyes darkened.

"But....your wife.... seems to be in love with you. She would have nothing to do with me except to assist my recovery. She brought me back from the brink of despair. It is hard to admit, but I was at a low point when I was blind, I mean, ...thought I would be blind... for life....unless you have experienced such ... desolation.... you could not possibly understand what it meant for someone to take an interest. She gave me hope. I value her as a friend as much as I do you, sir. But as long as you bear me under suspicion, I fear that friendship is in jeopardy. If there were advances made, they were on my part, not hers. It is that high spirit that makes her so .... damned attractive. But I know, she did what she did out of ...love...for you. She saw her involvement as a means to help end the war, and that the end of the conflict would mean you would be safe, and could come back to her and the child she bears."

Edrington paused pacing and noted the silent, ramrod straight officer with whom he spoke.

"I went with her on this last adventure, partly out of obligation and partly in a vain hope that she might fall in love with me. I admit it. But she would have none of it. You see, I never had a chance to be anything more than a friend ... or a patient.

I hope I have in some small measure repaid her kindness, but I know I forever shall be in her debt."

Hornblower remained silent. Pellew, Edrington, another man whose name he did not know, himself, his crew, though she was not alone in any of these rescues, except with the possibility of Pellew, it seemed she was a focal point. If he did not know his wife for the sensual flesh and blood woman she was, he might suspect her of being a guardian angel, if such beings really exist.

"You know, she admitted to me that last day that she thought she had gotten in over her head. I tell you this to help you see she has learned a lesson, and if she has, it might ease your mind in future.

I envy you your wife. She has that rare quality that ... Well, I'm not quite sure what it is."

The second leftenant sighed and appeared unmoved.

"She loves YOU, is what I am trying to say, dash it all! Will you shake my hand and let us be friends?"

Hornblower slowly turned his head and met the major's gaze.

"When you get back to Gibraltar, my Lord, will you be returning to England?"

Edrington fought to keep the grin to a stretched smile. "Indeed, I will."

"Very well," and he took the proffered hand.

"You are a lucky man, Mr. Hornblower. I want to know when that baby of yours gets old enough for stories. I shall have some whoppers for him about his mother... AND his father!" Edrington smiled warmly.

"I might. I do thank you for watching over her, my Lord."

Edrington raised an eyebrow and with a sheepish grin replied, "The pleasure was all mine.... apparently."

Hornblower turned to find Captain Pellew standing behind Archie looking peculiarly agitated. Was he angry that he had been speaking to the major while Kennedy held his watch? Or, was something wrong with Pamela?

"Mr. Hornblower, your watch is nearly at an end?"

"Well,..."

"Go to my cabin and help your wife choose a sun hat."

"Sir?"

"Just.... do as I say."

"But...."

"Go," he said firmly.

Yes, sir."

Pellew exchanged a look with Edrington, closed his eyes, and sighed. He stepped to the side and held onto one of the lines. Edrington joined him and inquired with questioning features.

"All I can say is, I feel blessed, that the majority of my officers that have wives, got them long before Indefatigable ever left England's shores! I cannot imagine going through these convoluted emotional rabbit holes on a daily basis. God help me! And I owe her my life and the freedom of my men!" He sighed. "There are days when I wish she were a man!"

 

 

Pamela sat in the chair hugging her knees and crying. The handkerchief, once stowed up her sleeve, was now soaked for the most part, along with several spots on the skirt. She sniffed and wiped her nose, and another torrent of tears flowed down red cheeks. She had to stop crying. The captain would be back. She took great gulps of air and tried to stop. She pressed the backs of her hands against her cheeks in an attempt to cool them. A noise was heard outside the door. Picking up the glass of lemonade, she rolled it over her cheeks, and wiped her face. She would keep her head down as long as possible. Maybe they would not look as red as they felt. The door opened. Footsteps. Shoes.

"Pamela! What's wrong, my love?" He knew, without seeing her face, the state of it, by her stance.

The voice startled her. It was not his she expected. "Oh, Horatio!"

He knelt and she threw herself onto his shoulder and began to cry, her body heaving huge sobs against him.

"Pamela, my love." What brought this on? Even in tears, in his arms, it was a wonderful place for her to be. He kissed her hair. "Calm down, now," he soothed. "Are they....are they that bad?"

She quieted and sniffed. "What?"

"The sun hats."

She pulled back, confused, looking into his face. "What?"

"The captain sent me to help you choose a sun hat." He smiled and brushed the hair away that clung to wet cheeks.

She smiled and laughed and cried at the same time. She hit him on the shoulder and then lay her head back against the other one.

"I love you, Pamela."

She sniffed.

"What's wrong? It isn't really the hats, is it?"

She shook her head.

"Can you tell me?"

Another shake.

He sighed. "Do you know?"

Negative, the third time.

"Good."

Quiet descended except for the noises of the ship.

"Why is it good?" she asked softly.

"Well....if you don't know why you are crying, then you aren't keeping something from me that I might be able to help with."

She looked into his eyes. Was she keeping something from him?

"Horatio....Was that Major Edrington speaking above us just now?"

"Yes. Why do you ask?"

"What...what was he saying? I could not make it out?"

Horatio inhaled and sighed. "He was telling me how kind you were to him when he was blind. That he wanted us to remain friends."

"I did not know he was your friend. I do not remember you ever mentioning him."

"Well....he was in Muzillac last year."

"Oh....that French girl."

"Yes."

"That is where you know him then."

"Yes."

She searched the eyes of her husband and pressed teeth against her bottom lip.

"What is it, Pamela? I know this look." He held her chin.

She circled her head away from him.

Hornblower felt a gaping black hole open up in his mid-section. There was pain in the offing. He knew it. Gently placing his hand on her cheek, he brought her countenance around.

"We've chosen to be honest. Haven't we, Pamela?"

She looked downcast and an alligator tear ran down her cheek.

He exhaled and spoke. "He is in love with you."

She looked up at the ceiling wishing the tears would roll back inside. Lowering her head to her chest, she picked at the soaked handkerchief seeking a dry spot.

Hornblower removed his from his topcoat and slipped it into her hand.

A nervous little laugh emitted. "I did not mean for it to happen, Horatio. I only wanted to give him hope. He was in such despair. Dr. Blakeney asked me to try and draw him out. I acted on instinct, I .... " she swallowed and dared to look into Horatio's eyes. "I didn't love him in the way I love you....Oh! I mean, he needed me at the time. Can you forgive me? I did not mean it to happen. I tried to avoid him, when I realized he was so...persistent! It was another reason I did not want him to know my real name."

Hornblower stayed close but stared at the floor. She put her hand on his cheek. He covered it with his own and closed his eyes.

"Did he... hold you?"

She nodded. "He...he seemed to need help standing....then...."

"He kissed you."

She sniffed. "I should not have let him. It only told me how much I missed you. Nobody kisses like you, darling! Forgive me. Forgive me!"

Hornblower returned her gaze. His eyes were rimmed red. He stood quickly and tried to move but she clung to him.

"Wait! Wait! There's more! Let me tell it all!"

He hung his head but stood his ground, his arms limp at his side. She clutched his arms with a pleading expression, then went to stand and stare out the stern windows. If he stayed he would hear it, if he chose not to....

"The night....the first night I danced for the French officers. It was so hot. I was so nervous... and afraid. We were camped near a river. Afterwards, I took Manuel, Maria's nephew, and..." she took a breath "I needed a bath." She glanced his way, his back was to her, but he remained. "Anyway, the major came looking for me. He sent Manuel back to camp and sat on the shore. I asked him to leave, but he would not. I submerged to rinse my hair and when I came up he was taking his boots off. I told him he could not come in and then he said something about me not owning the river. I turned so I would not see him, Horatio, but... I got out as soon as I could. I told him not to look."

She was naked in a river with Edrington. His face was a fireball. Hurt. Anger.

"Did he make love to you, too?"

She gasped. "No! No!"

"Did he kiss you again?"

"No, darling, only the once. He told me he loved me, but I told him I loved you. I love only you. He was not supposed to be with us. I did not ask him. I just did not want them to hit him on the head. I should have let them. I wish I had."

"Anything else?"

"Other than those, no. He did ... swat me once, but it wasn't hard."

He huffed out a sigh. Some how he wished it had been hard, a light one spoke of something entirely different. And, he had just shaken hands with the man! Anger overtook the hurt.

"You say you told him you were married," he confirmed.

"From the first day I spoke to him at the hospital. I just did not tell him your name. If I had, maybe things would have gone differently." Her shoulders sank. "I have not chosen well, Horatio. I admit it. I will not blame you if you cannot forgive me. But, I am glad I have told you. I could not live with deception. It would do more to undermine our love than the truth. I am sorry. I .... I love you. It is all misadventure."

He wanted to take her roughly into his arms and demand to know HOW Edrington kissed her. Feeling the snarl on his lip, he immediately knew he DID NOT want to know. Impetuous, she was impetuous. Jealousy raged within and he did not like it, but he had not mastered it ... yet. The flaring temper overwhelmed every other emotion. He saw the sun hats sitting on the window seat. Picking them up, he tossed them one by one back onto the seat, then chose one.

"Here." He shoved it towards her. "I...I need to think. Do you understand me?"

"Yes," she whispered.

He departed, his footsteps echoing smartly on the decking. He descended to the gun deck, then to the next, and to the next, as low as he could go. The hold. The water casks, the great storage barrels. A lantern, a blanket, he ducked under the low beams going forward, until there was no light, only darkness, to match the feeling in his heart and in his soul and in his mind.

Two lively blue eyes followed him, curious as to where the second leftenant of his majesty's frigate would be going down here. There was no battle, no alarm, no wounded, not wounded in the sense one would expect for the orlop, anyway. Little bare feet followed noiselessly, like those of the tiniest mouse, and as quiet.

A light split the darkness. Hornblower held the match to the lantern wick. He ran it down as low as possible but still allowed a flame. He tossed the blanket onto the deck, and sat, cradling his head on crossed arms across his knees. He was not needed on watch until morning. There was time to think, time to sort and think.

Pamela stared at the sun hat she held. No need for it now. She hugged herself, feeling empty, as if the day had gone as cold and as dark-gray as a slate flagstone at winter's solstice. She lifted the linen to dry an errant tear. Breathing in, the cloth brought the scent of her husband. She pressed it to her cheek, squeezing her eyes closed, and whispered. "Oh, my darling!"

The door to the Captain's cabin was ajar. Daniels appeared in the opening. She stepped towards it and as she passed she spoke.

"Thank Captain Pellew for the sun hat, Mr. Daniels."

"Yes, 'um."