An American Encounter, Part Three
AE3 Chapter 2 Clarity
The afternoon grew late. Emerald hove to about meal time and Pellew invited Brecon to stay to dinner, sorting out what was to be reported, or mostly not, at least not in the public record. That saved Pellew some writing. Brecon gave him a code number and had him mark it classified. With that, Pellew was feeling more disposed toward the man. Brecon lounged on one of the chairs and asked for a brandy. Oddly, Pellew did not mind serving it.
Dr. Sebastian and Maria sauntered leisurely down the gun deck as he escorted her to her cabin.
"I appreciate your assistance today, Senora."
"It was my pleasure, Doctor. There is not much for a woman to do at sea. I am glad I could help. If you decide to do the scrub down, let me know. If anything, I am good at cleaning."
"I may take you up on your offer. Not for the help, but for your pleasant company. Other than Mrs. Hornblower, Indefatigable does not get many female visitors."
"The crew is very well behaved, or perhaps I am too old to interest them."
"A woman is never too old to interest a man, Senora, but the crew knows better than to behave in any way of which the Captain would disapprove. He laid down the law long ago. Indefatigable is a well run ship. The men that serve her have been together a long while. They can be trusted."
Smiling a sigh, she commented, "That is high praise coming from you, Dr. Sebastian."
He bowed and nodded. "I will see you for dinner?"
"I look forward to it, Senor."
She opened the door and stepped in, immediately seeing she was not alone.
"Pamela? What are you doing here?"
"Please, let me stay, Maria. I do not know where else to go. I will sleep on the floor. I don't mind." She tugged the low cut black blouse up to cover her chest, and hugged the shawl about her.
She sighed. "What has happened?"
"I told him."
"You told him what?"
"Madre de Dios! What did the major do?"
"Why did you tell?"
"I had to! We cannot keep secrets. I cannot keep secrets any longer. He will never trust me. I have botched it grandly! I couldn't not tell him."
"He threw you out of his cabin?"
"No. But... he will. I am trying to make it as easy as possible. I will be glad when that despatch ship arrives. I'll go back to America."
"You'll what? Are you loco? He will not let you go!"
"He cannot possibly want me. He will never trust me. I had to confess it all. I could not live with the deception."
"Edrington kissed me, ... and he was in the water with me the other night."
"The major kissed you!"
"Did you want him to?"
"No! I.... don't know! Only to confirm my love for Horatio."
"You ... OH! I do not know what to say!"
"May I stay?" she pleaded.
"Yes," she sighed resignedly. "I cannot let you sleep on the floor. I will see if they can give us a hammock. The doctor will give us one from sick berth. I will be back."
Maria was gone, but not for long. She came back with Dr. Sebastian but not a hammock. Maria turned the door handle, but it remained closed.
"Mrs. Hornblower, it is I. Open the door," said Maria.
"Are you alone?"
"I am with her, Mrs. Hornblower. May I speak with you?" Sebastian asked.
"I do not feel like talking, Doctor."
"Wait! Did...did you bring the hammock?"
"No. I want you to go back to Mr. Hornblower's cabin."
"Open the door, Mrs. Hornblower," insisted the doctor.
After a few moments, the latch slid back. Maria opened the door, she entered, and the doctor came in behind.
"Thank you for unlocking the door," he stated.
Her back was to them and she nodded over her shoulder.
"If you do not mind my saying, you are being presumptuous," observed Sebastian.
She shook her head. "I had to tell him. Now, I pay the consequence. He will be better off without me. I am bad luck, after all. I should never have said yes. I have only brought him sadness and anger."
"That is not true. You have also brought him love," Maria asserted.
"It is a fragile emotion," Pamela said sadly.
"Yes, but it is also a strong one," insisted Sebastian.
"I have done so much to hurt him, Doctor. I did not see it when I was doing it. I did not think of the ultimate outcome. I ... I am willful and head strong. I did not analyze the results of my actions."
Sebastian smiled crookedly. If she sounded like anyone, she sounded like her mate. "It seems you have been doing a lot of soul searching, Mrs. Hornblower."
She nodded. "Yes. But it is too late."
"How do you know?" he asked.
She shrugged. "I know."
"Do you not think Mr. Hornblower should have a say in what you do?" he queried.
"He has. He is gone, isn't he?"
"Gone? There are not too many places to go on a frigate, madam. He is still here. Perhaps he needs time to think," Sebastian suggested.
Silence. That was what he said, but...
"I have done as you wished. Will you let me have a hammock from sick berth? I only ask it because Maria wishes it. I do not mind sleeping on the deck."
Sebastian sighed. "I think you are making a mistake."
She shrugged again.
"Very well. I will have someone bring it. Why do you not come to dinner with us?"
She shook her head and pulled the shawl tightly about her shoulders. "No. I do not want to see anyone."
"As you wish. I will send someone with a hammock and I will see your dinner is delivered."
"Thank you, Doctor." She saw no reason to refuse the food. It would only upset him.
The couple stepped outside the door.
"What will you do?" whispered Maria.
"I will see if I can locate Mr. Hornblower and I will do as she wishes, though I think it will prove unnecessary. I hope it will. We are still going to dinner."
The doctor checked Hornblower's cabin and found it empty as she reported. He headed off towards the ratings mess.
"Dr. Sebastian. Good evenin', sir."
"Good evening, Mr. Matthews. Would you happen to have seen Mr. Hornblower recently?"
"No, sir. Haven't seen him since his watch. He's with his missus, ain't he?"
"No." Sebastian sighed. "I know you and Mr. Hornblower have been together a long while, Matthews. I know you were at both of the weddings, and that you were on Dolphin when he and Mrs. Hornblower met."
"Aye, sir," he grinned.
"I know, too, you were with him through his journey of this past two months and his most recent expedition."
Matthews was getting worried. "Why are ye sayin' all this, sir?"
"How do you feel towards Mrs. Hornblower?"
"She's a pistol, sir."
"Is somethin' wrong?"
"Let us say, the two of them are not together at the moment and I am looking for Mr. Hornblower. Could you and a couple of men have a look around and if you find him, tell him I need to speak to him?"
"What about Mrs. Hornblower, sir?"
Styles approached and listened.
"I know where she is," advised Sebastian.
"She ain't with the major, is she, sir?" asked Styles.
"No. What do you know about the Major?"
Matthews raised an eyebrow, glancing at Styles. "Carden made mention he was a bit chummy with our Miss Pamela."
"Indeed? If you see Lord Edrington, tell him I would like to speak to him."
"Thank you, Matthews. I will either be in the ward room or sick berth, should you locate either man."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Styles. Would you be available to assist me?"
The seaman's eyes grew wide. "What's that, sir?"
"I need a hammock moved. Walk with me while I explain."
Deep in the hold, a stone sailed across the air, thudding into the ship's wall. Another one flew. A moderate pile of stones lay heaped against the far wall. Hornblower stood and massaged his right shoulder. With a sigh, he hung the lantern out of harms way, moved his blanket and stepped over to the pile. It had been a way to work off some of the anger and frustration he felt. He bent over, picked up a stone and heaved it at the opposite hull. It barely scraped the tar covered wood. He picked up another and threw it with greater force. The resulting chink was more noticeable than the first. The next few he threw with equal or even greater force. He sighed and sat down on the blanket.
The rage subsided. After hours of thought, the jealousy calmed to a mild controlled righteous anger.
Edrington knew she was married and yet he kissed her. He knew she was married, yet removed his clothing and entered the river. Hornblower frowned. Whatever Edrington did, he chose to do it on his own.
He believed Pamela. At first, he was tempted to blame her, but only slightly. He thought about their second wedding day, ...Captain Pellew. Pamela was what she was. She ... touched. It is in her character. It was something she did with everyone. He knew that, but it did encourage, though it was not done consciously to tease. If anything, he knew that about his wife. It was part of her charm that she did it unbeknownst to even herself, but it was something he had to deal with. Grabbing one of the crossbeam hooks, he hung his weight on a flexed arm, and blew into his biceps.
Was he ready to see her again? He wanted to see her. But, he wanted to be sure he could control his feelings. The only feelings he did not want to control were the ones of love, but anger was treacherous. It could rise like an errant wave, broach a ship, and cause her to founder. Foundering was not what he wanted with this marriage, with this woman he loved, with the mother of their child. He closed his eyes and thought of her in his arms, the thought bringing an audible moan. The sound startled him.
Looking back at the mound of stones, he squatted beside it and began an underhanded toss to return them from whence they had come.
"Are you all right now?" came the high pitched voice.
The sound surprised him and he lost his balance, his bottom falling upon the hard stones.
"OW! Drake! What the devil are you doing down here?"
The boy made his way beside him and began to toss the stones back, too.
"What are YOU doing down here?" asked the child.
Hornblower squatted and threw one of the smooth river rocks. "I... thought I'd trim the ship."
Drake cocked an eye at him. "One stone at a time?" He tossed another.
"Yes." Hornblower did not look at his small companion.
Drake looked over his shoulder at the wall behind. It was covered with grazed markings. Some deeper than others.
"Indy thinks you're mad at her."
Hornblower stared at the markings, the evidence of his fury.
"I'm not mad at the Indy, Drake."
"Who are you mad at? Not Miss Pamela?"
"No. I'm not mad at Miss Pamela."
Hornblower tossed another bit of ballast.
"The blonde gypsy chap?" asked Drake. "Only he's wearing an officer's coat now."
Hornblower felt the rise of anger in his chest and threw the next stone with a little more force. Half a scowl claimed his visage.
Drake's wide blue eyes examined the officer.
"You've got your trousers dirty."
Hornblower brushed at the tar covering his thigh, glowered and shrugged.
"If he was trying to take her from us, why did he bring her here?"
Hornblower stopped and stared at the boy.
"What do you know about it?"
"Oh. I've been thinking... and listening."
"It's all confused though."
"Don't think about it then."
"But I don't want to see Miss Pamela sad."
Hornblower tossed another rock languidly.
"I don't want to see you sad, either, sir."
"No, sir." The boy moved slowly towards him and slipped his arms around his neck.
Hornblower lost his balance and landed onto the rocks again and winced.
"What is this for?" he asked gently.
"You need one. I can tell."
"How can you tell?"
"I only come down here when either someone is mad at me, or I'm mad at someone."
Hornblower smiled wryly.
"You're a wise man, Drake."
"I'm a boy, sir."
Hornblower hugged him back. "Thank you, Drake."
"I didn't think I'd have to take care of you once she came back....but here I am," he said resignedly. He picked up another stone and threw it overhand. It landed amongst the others with a chink.
Hornblower chuckled. "Perhaps if Miss Pamela had someone to take care of her, then I would not need anyone to take care of me." He used both hands to toss stones.
"I'd like to take care of her. But I thought you wanted to do that....but you can't because you have to be here, and she is not supposed to be."
"Right," he sighed.
"It is a pickle." Drake sat on one of the ship's beams and leaned his chin on an upturned palm.
Hornblower went to the other side and kicked the stones back into a relative smooth state.
"Are you going back up now?"
Hornblower spread the blanket over the floor planks and lay down, letting the curve of the hull support his head.
"No. Not yet."
Drake pulled a bit of blanket out and lay down beside him, resting his head on Hornblower's inner arm.
"I'll stay with you then." Blue eyes looked up into brown ones.
Hornblower did not refuse him, and found the child a calming aspect. Something the boy said had his mind working,... on other than what he would like to do to Edrington.
Sebastian, Maria, Bowles, and Bracegirdle gathered in the ward room for dinner. The table was set for six. Three sat, while Sebastian prepared a plate for Pamela.
"Wiggins, take this to Mrs. Hornblower. She is in the cabin in use by Senora Orrego."
Sebastian sat down beside Maria and she passed him a bowl of potatoes. The group served their plates and began the meal with little converse.
"Should I ask?" commented Bowles, glancing at the empty seats.
Maria frowned mildly. "True love never runs smooth."
"Has this got something to do with Lord Edrington?" ventured Bowles.
"A frigate is not a very large boat." commented Maria, "I suppose one cannot be as private as one would wish."
Bowles chuckled. "I'm not mixing in. No thank you. The two of them were at it on the quarter-deck this afternoon, but they shook hands. I thought whatever the problem, it was taken care of."
"Edrington and Hornblower?" asked Sebastian.
Bowles nodded, chewing a mouthful of food.
Sebastian sighed with a frown. "It cannot be rutting season, besides the doe has already been taken."
Bowles leaned back and guffawed. "There won't be dueling on the decks, will there, Doctor?"
"There had better not be!" he answered sternly. He scowled at Bracegirdle. "They would not, would they?"
"Mr. Hornblower was involved in two duels years ago, so I understand."
"You understand correctly, Mr. Bracegirdle," Bowles verified. "Our second leftenant did not reach that position from sitting idly by. He tends to action."
Sebastian knew that well enough about the man. He stood and threw his dinner napkin onto the table. "Excuse me, Senora. I cannot enjoy the meal until I have spoken to one of them."
Edrington and Kennedy strolled through the door.
"Good evening, gentlemen, lady," bowed Edrington.
Kennedy saw the empty chairs and chuckled. "They haven't come up for air yet? I beg your pardon, Senora."
"Quite all right, Mr. Kennedy."
"Shall I go knock on the door?" he offered, still pleased with himself.
"No one is home," stated Sebastian, sitting and resuming the meal. "You may as well take their places."
"Where are they?" asked Kennedy.
"Mrs. Hornblower is in my cabin," revealed Maria.
"Your cabin?" Archie's visage became worried and he stole a glance at Edrington. "Where is Horatio?"
"No one seems to know."
"I'll find him." Kennedy exited.
"Sit down, Lord Edrington. I would like to speak to you."
"On that note, lady and gentlemen, I think I will retire," advised Bowles.
"I think I will be going, as well. Excuse me." Bracegirdle took his wine, fruit, and cheese with him.
Only the three remained.
"Why do I feel I have been called into the headmaster's office?" suspicioned Edrington.
"Mr. Hornblower has not challenged you to a duel, has he?" queried Maria.
That saved Sebastian a lot of time.
"No!" Edrington chuckled. "Why would he? We parted on friendly terms last we spoke. Why would you ask such a thing?"
"His wife told him."
Sebastian let Maria carry the conversation.
"She told him....what?"
"You kissed her?"
Edrington colored. "Oh. That." Suddenly, it's weight registered. "Why in God's name would she do that?"
"And that is not all."
Edrington put his hand over his face. "Am I to understand Mr. Hornblower wishes to fight a duel with me?"
"We do not know, my Lord," answered the doctor. "I firmly suggest that you not. I would rather not involve the Captain in this, but if there is a possibility..."
"I have no desire to fight with Mr. Hornblower. Damnation! Where is he? I will speak to him."
"I would do that myself if I knew where he was," sighed Sebastian.
"Did you ask his wife?" queried the major.
"His wife is in my cabin," reminded Maria.
"Your cabin? So you said." Edrington poured a large glass of wine and drank it. "I will speak to her. Why did she tell him? The little fool."
"I would say she wished to be honest," suggested Sebastian.
"Honesty is NOT always the best policy, Doctor," asserted Edrington.
"With these two, it is," insisted the medico.
Edrington laughed, but then became serious. "Dash it! I did not know she was married to Hornblower! She led me to believe she was married to some man named Dandridge!"
"Should it matter WHO? She was married. That should have been enough of a deterrent to your advances, my Lord," accused Sebastian.
"Then, you do not know the lady very well."
Sebastian stood. "On the contrary, my Lord, I know her better than you think. She is kind, loving, and ...impetuous. Once you knew she was married, you should have respected those limits."
"Do not lecture me! You were not there. You do not comprehend the circumstances."
After leaving the wardroom, Kennedy double-checked that Horatio was not in his cabin. Entering, he took note of a folded shirt lying on his bunk and a handkerchief. He exited and stepped into the gallery of guns on the second deck. Matthews and Styles were in discussion with Bailey, Wiliams, and Barkley. He approached.
"Matthews, have you seen Mr. Hornblower?"
"No, Mr. Kennedy. We were lookin' fer him for Dr. Sebastian."
"Where have you looked?"
"We've been all over topside and this deck, sir."
Kennedy and the ratings looked for the source of the noise. There tucked beside a cannon was little Drake. He motioned them over.
Kennedy squatted down to his size. "Drake, do you know where Mr. Hornblower is?"
The boy nodded and glanced at the ratings.
Drake twisted his mouth in thought. "It isn't because he misses Miss Pamela this time, Mr. Kennedy."
Kennedy grinned. "I know, Drake. But we're looking for him. Where is he?"
"He isn't sad, but he is mad. I don't know if he wants to see anybody yet. Else he'd come up on his own. I know."
"Drake, you know Mr. Hornblower and I are best friends..." Suddenly, Kennedy knew. Horatio had gone there when he sought to keep his insomnia a secret. "He's....in the hold?"
Drake scrunched his brow. "Yes, sir."
"You're a peach, Drake!" He grinned and tousled the boy's hair. "I'll take care of this, men."
Kennedy returned to the wardroom. Edrington was standing and so was Dr. Sebastian.
"We think we know where he is. The hold."
Sebastian made his way around the table.
Edrington put a hand on his arm. "Let me go. I am unarmed," he advised. "The hold?"
"All the way down," pointed Kennedy.
"Did Matthews find him?" queried Sebastian.
Edrington went down, down, down, until there were no more stairs to traverse. It was quite dark, but he could see a faint light foreward.
"I say, Hornblower, are you down here?"
Horatio stood, grabbed the lantern and walked back towards the stairs. That was Edrington. What the devil was he doing down here? Very well, it would save him the trouble. This was as private as they could get. He would have it out with him. Once and for all. Here and now.
"What do you want?" He hung the lantern on a beam hook, pulled back his right fist, and slugged him before he could answer.
Edrington fell back from the blow.
"Wait, man. I am sure I deserve that."
Hornblower walked towards him. "You should not have come down here. But since you are...."
"Listen, Hornblower, I apologize. I did not know she was your wife."
"But you knew she was someone's wife." Hornblower stood still. Edrington eased his protective stance and when he did, Hornblower belted him.
"That's two now." Edrington could taste the blood in his mouth. "What did she tell you?"
"You kissed her."
"Yes, and then she avowed her love for you! Difficult to take."
"Damn you!" He swung again, but the major ducked.
Edrington blew out a sigh. "I went there to bloody look out for her. She only took that slip of a boy, Manuel. Hardly what I would call suitable protection."
"And you were?"
"Well, at least I had a weapon! She went underwater and I could not see her. I thought she was in trouble."
"She told me she came up to see you ... disrobing."
"I thought she ... oh what the hell, you will never believe me."
Hornblower swung again, but Edrington blocked the blow and backed away.
"I merely chose to cool off with her."
Hornblower tackled him.
"I did not see her, if that helps. I made her think I did, to tease her, but I didn't. Damn it, Hornblower! I told you this afternoon, I was sorry!"
Hornblower landed a third blow.
"Stop it, now! I will defend myself!"
But he did not stop. The two rolled across the planking covering the ballast. Blows were landed on both sides. They regained their feet. Edrington got the advantage with an uppercut and sent the naval officer sprawling against the hull.
On the gun deck, Sebastian was pacing, worriedly. "I am not sure allowing Lord Edrington to go down there was the correct course of action." Stopping the pace, he spoke to Kennedy. "Is there anyway the two of them could kill each other do you think?"
"Yes," he stated flatly.
The two immediately began the descent, Styles and Matthews following.
Drawing closer to the bottom of the ship they could hear the grunts and scuffling.
"Stop it!" called Sebastian, ducking down into the lower deck.
When they arrived, Hornblower was prone on the deck with Edrington pinning his arms. With a kick, he threw Edrington off balance and rolled. Hornblower was on top and Styles grabbed him by the shoulders, yanking him back, then restraining his arms.
"That's enough, sir! Ye'll be on watch and watch!"
Edrington, to his credit, did not seek to continue the fight once Hornblower was restrained. Blood ran from his nose and his lip was split. Both of them were filthy.
"You'd better hope the Captain does not get wind of this, Horatio," cautioned Kennedy.
Hornblower calmed in the clutches of Styles.
"I APOLOGIZE, Mr. Hornblower. I meant it this afternoon, and I mean it now," panted Edrington.
Hornblower pressed his tongue inside his lower lip where it cut against his teeth. "Apologize to her," he breathed.
"If you wish it."
"I do. Now."
"Brush yourselves off," ordered Sebastian distastefully.
Hornblower headed up the stairs, Edrington beside him. Sebastian, Kennedy, Matthews and Styles followed.
The major shook one hand while holding a handkerchief to his nose with the other. "You've got a hard damn head, Hornblower."
"So do you."
"And a wicked right cross."
"Your uppercut nearly knocked me out."
Edrington chuckled. "My instructor said the same thing."
Hornblower stopped on the stairs and Edrington faced him. The four behind braced for a rematch.
"Don't ever touch my wife again."
"I will not. If I had known she was your wife in the first place, I would not have. I tried to tell you that this afternoon."
The two trudged heavily up the stairs and reached the gun deck.
"Are we to be friends?" Edrington held out his hand.
Hornblower headed for his cabin. "Not yet. Not until..."
"She's not there," advised Sebastian.
Hornblower turned with a quizzical expression.
"She is with the Senora."
The cabin was not that much farther down the corridor. Hornblower knocked, forgetting how much his knuckles hurt but wincing with the reminder.
"Pamela." He tried the handle. It was locked.
"Pamela, open the door."
"Horatio, I..... I will speak to you tomorrow."
"Open ... the....door...." he said calmly, "...now!" and he kicked it open.
She gasped, first at the suddenness of the door flying open, and then at the sight before her. She raised a hand to her lip when she saw the two of them. "What have you done?"
"Lord Edrington has something to say to you."
He bowed slightly at the waist. "Forgive me for my advances upon you in Gibraltar, Mrs. Hornblower, and at the river outside Toulon. I acted the cad and am worthy of censure for my misdeeds. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?"
"I accept your apology, ma...major, my Lord." She
swallowed and clutched the thin black shawl over her chest.
Hornblower frowned at the clothing.
Maria slipped around Pamela and stood beside Sebastian. If a quarrel was about to take place, she did not need to be there.
Edrington extended his hand. "Well, sir?"
Hornblower took it and they both winced slightly over the tight grasp on injured knuckles.
"Friends, Mr. Hornblower?"
"If you wish it, my Lord."
Sebastian breathed a sigh of relief. "My Lord, if you will come with me to the sick berth, I will tend you. What you will tell the captain about these injuries, I have not the foggiest idea. What about you, Mr. Hornblower?"
Hornblower's chin was dipped into his chest as he looked sternly at his wife. He shook his head. "I am fine, Doctor."
"Of course, you are."
His companions evaporated. When there was no sound but the ship, he spoke.
"What are you doing here?"
She swallowed. "I... I..." She raised a cautious hand towards his face. "You're hurt."
"Do not change the subject. WHAT are you doing here?"
She shook her head. "You... you don't want me."
"Did I SAY that?"
The barest negative was evidenced.
Advancing, he lifted her and carried her back to the cabin. Her right arm rested around his shoulders while she bit her left index finger. With worry, she studied the wounds about his face.
It was stern and he stared straight ahead until they reached the cabin door. Their eyes met and then his lowered briefly to observe the finger she bit. She removed the finger....those full cherry lips. He swallowed and parted his. Once inside, he locked the door, and let her down, taking her brusquely into his arms. Lifting her mouth to his, he kissed her forcefully, pressing hard.
She could taste the blood in his mouth, but did not back away.
He hugged her tightly and whispered in her ear. "YOU are my wife. MY wife. Do you understand?"
"I love you. I forgive you. I want this episode with Lord Edrington out of mind."
"Is there anything else?" He observed every muscle movement, every eye twitch.
She thought. "No."
"Is there anyONE else?"
Thinking. The blue-eyed leftenant back in Gibraltar came to mind, but he was merely kind when she was upset. She told him her name was Hornblower, then Dandridge, though she thought he understood the reason.
"Who are you thinking about?"
"My uncle and another leftenant I used my old name with."
"Your uncle. You will write you uncle tomorrow and tell him you are married to me. If he has a problem with that, I will deal with it. If he takes you back to America, I will come and get you."
"Will you, darling?"
Taking her in his arms, he clutched her fiercely. "You are mine....twice. Sealed twice with the blessing of God and man. I am going to hold you to those vows, Pamela. It is time you obeyed me."
"No, more devious attempts at good deeds. That is an order."
He gave her a little shake in his arms. "I mean it, Pamela."
"What is the name of the leftenant?"
"Barnstable." The name was familiar. "Has he got a limp?"
"Yes! Do you know him, too?" *Oh, dear!* she thought. *Does he know every man I meet?*
"Tell me how you met him."
"Horatio..." she started to shake her head.
He held her chin and looked at her seriously.
She gathered the thoughts, knowing if she was going to share this, all the surrounding circumstances would be needed.
"It was the day I got your first letter. I was so happy to hear from you. I was writing to tell you our baby was certain. Carden came in. He suggested the reason you might be thinking of leaving the service was ... because of me and the child. I threw that letter away and started another. It was the one I sent telling you ... the child was not."
"You shared my letter with Carden?"
"Not all of it, silly. I could not understand what you meant, because it sounded like you were implying you would leave the navy. You cannot do that."
She hung her head, but looked back into his eyes.
"You have not asked me about that letter. Did you not get it? I sent one to both ships."
"I received both of them," he said softly.
She waited, searching both his eyes.
"I ... still knew our child existed," he added finally.
Tears fell silently and she leaned against his chest, lost
in his warmth, his embrace, feeling safer and more secure than
she had for months.
"Go on," he urged gently, "how did you meet the leftenant?"
"Well. After I wrote the letters saying we did not have a child, I... felt terrible. I had just written a lie to you. Not once, but twice. I could not bear it."
He rubbed his head against hers and tightened his hold.
"I ran out the door, not telling Carden where I was going. I ran and ran and ran.....until I could not breathe... south towards the point. It was early evening, the light not completely gone. I was crying. The only thing that stopped it was lack of breath. Finally, I went up onto the wall, looking for our ledge. I could not find it and so I sat down on the path. He came out of nowhere and asked if I was all right. He was very kind. I did not tell him anything, but he knew I was upset. He ... " She paused, recalling Barnstable's kindness.
"Go on. I'm listening."
"He wiped my face and said something about not having done that since last he had seen his nieces. He made me think of you, standing there in his leftenant's uniform."
"As I recall, Barnstable looks nothing like me."
"Not his looks,.... his kindness, his voice, his uniform. I told him I was married to you, Horatio Hornblower. He did not seem to know you."
"That is not surprising. I met him only once, when I was seeking housing that day we came into Gibraltar. He is the one that suggested Godwin's church."
"Mm. So he knows you are my wife?"
"Well, yes, ... and no. The day my uncle appeared out of nowhere...Uncle Daniel knew nothing of you, and just assumed I was still Dandridge. I let him. I told you why. My uncle hates the British. He took me to dinner. I was upset that day, too."
"Was this right after you met Barnstable?"
"No, it was nearly a month later. I remember why I was upset that afternoon. It was the day... Alexander, I mean, Lord Edrington kissed me. I was feeling so guilty over the lie about our baby. Anyway, I was having dinner with my uncle and Leftenant Barnstable approached and called me by name, our name. I pretended not to know he was addressing me, but then I knew he would persist, so I took the initiative and corrected him, saying my name was Dandridge. I tried to make him understand it was because of my uncle. I do not know if he did."
"And, this is why Mr. Barnstable is so prevalent in your memory?"
"Yes. He was kind at a low moment and then running into him with my uncle."
"Where is your uncle now?"
"Somewhere in Palestine, checking on an import deal for olives or something. I'm afraid, Horatio. I'm afraid he will try to make me go back to America."
"You are staying with me."
"I know, until the despatch vessel comes. I hope it never does."
"It will not matter if it does or not. Actually, I hope it does come soon."
"I do not understand."
"I requested that you remain with me. The captain has given his consent as long as we are in the Med blockading Toulon. If we are recalled to Biscay, we will have to leave you in Gibraltar."
"Captain Pellew is letting me stay? With you?"
She squealed with delight and threw her arms around his neck, kissing him on the cheeks and lips. "May I kiss him when I see him next?"
"Get his permission first, but I give you mine. I would have kissed him myself today but I know it would have been highly improper."
"I love you, Mr. Hornblower."
"I know you do." He did know. He knew it was hard for her to admit the involvement with Edrington. What she said about not sharing it was true. Deception in a love relationship would undermine as surely as a stream flowing under a slag heap on a hill. The possibility of it all tumbling down on them was all too real. She took a chance the love would survive the confession, and he was taking a chance this pothole in their love could be repaired.
"Now," he stated. "I am going to ravish you."
She smiled. "You are?"
"Yes." He placed his hands on either side of the
neck of the low cut blouse. " About these clothes you are
wearing.... " He ripped it down the front. "I don't