An American Encounter, Part Three
by Skihee

AE3 Ch 3 Crime and Punishment

 

Hornblower eased off the bunk, leaving Pamela sleeping soundly. It was almost surreal that she was here,... like a dream, ...still. Sighing, he gently moved a strand of hair. An eyebrow went up as he surveyed her breasts. They seemed rounder than he remembered. He leaned over and slipped his nose lightly over her neck and up to an ear. She smelled incredible! He closed his eyes and nuzzled her hairline, ending with the barest kiss on her forehead. The skin twitched, she moved and sighed. And, what a sigh. To his ears, it sounded deeply satisfied. That their joining pleased her gave an increase to his own pleasure. He felt a stir in his loins and gazing down, thought, *Not now!* He pulled on his trousers, lifted the blanket to cover her, and eased out the cabin door.

Soft snores could be heard from the ratings forward and from occupants of nearby cabins. The ship was silent with the late hour. Her gentle movement on the sea rocked them all night long, the water providing some relief from the heat of the day.

Hornblower padded towards the quarter gallery. He needed to wash and have a look at his face. The bruises, when touched, pained him. What were the damages? Pamela had gently wiped the cuts and kissed his injuries. He looked down at his right hand. His knuckles were swollen, a couple of them were scabbed over. His right lip rose in a half grin wondering what Edrington looked like, but then dissipated when he considered what his captain was going to say. It was inevitable. Bracegirdle would no doubt have to report the incident. It could not very well be hidden. He was the instigator of the fight and he was under Pellew's command. It would be him that would pay for the indiscipline. Was a husband's anger considered indiscipline?

Edrington was a major in the army. He outranked him. He could demand punishment but somehow felt the man would not. The lord desired to be his friend. They both served the madman Moncoutant, under the auspices of the Admiralty, but that was the limit of their contact. Why should the man care if they were friends or not? He had no influence to offer and shook his head with casual resignation. Of all the army officers in all the British army, it was this one that needed rescuing.

Hornblower entered the quarter gallery and lit a lantern. He placed the bloom of light so it shone on his face and stared in the mirror. Tilting his head back, he gazed at the black and blue bruise on his chin. Turning his head sideways, he frowned at the cut under his eye, with accompanying bruise on his cheekbone. No. There was no hiding this. If such a man as himself were under his command, what would he do? Watch on watch? No spirit ration? Whatever the consequence, it was worth it, AND Edrington apologized to Pamela. He leaned his forehead against the wall. They were on a first name basis. He had never known the major's first name, but Pamela did. He closed his eyes and sighed resignedly.

If he, Hornblower, should be in such a situation, where he was alone and injured, would Pamela begrudge the care of another female? She sought to give aid to a fellow countryman. No, damn it. While Pamela's motives were pure, Edrington actively pursued. But could he blame him? Had he not been the fortunate one to find her in the belly of Dolphin? He twirled the gold band around his finger, remembering her kiss upon it, then, tugged down his trousers and hung them on a peg.

Filling the basin from the pitcher and cupping his hands in the water, he threw it over his face repeatedly, letting it splash upon his neck his chest. Lifting the pitcher, he poured a small stream over his back and down his buttocks. They were bruised. Not from Edrington, but from the ballast, about three good sized round purple ones. Pamela had accidentally pressed a little too hard during the intimacy. He pulled his hip around to look at his backside. He was a mess of bruises. A fist sized one graced his side and touched the freshly healed pink skin from Descaine's whip. He drizzled another stream over his right shoulder and sluiced the water under one arm, then the other....what he wouldn't give to be in a river with Pamela. He looked down at himself and muttered, "It doesn't take much for you, does it old friend?" With that thought, he pulled on his trousers. The water on his body glistened in the lamp light as he extinguished the flame.

He startled when he opened the door and placed a hand over his heart. "Archie! Don't do that, man!" he whispered.

"Are you alone in there?" He craned his neck to look into the water closet. Talking to yourself now, Horatio?"

Hornblower rolled his eyes and took a breath. "Why are you up?"

"Not for the same reasons you are," he observed wryly, indicating his trousers.

Hornblower cleared his throat, adjusted his britches, and looked sheepishly at his friend. "It's all yours."

"I don't want the head, Horatio. I want to talk to you. Come with me on deck."

"Archie, it is two in the morning," complained Hornblower, hearing the bells. "Can this not wait until later?"

Archie raised an inquiring eyebrow.

"Oh, all right," sighed Hornblower.

They eased down the corridor by the ward room so as not to wake Edrington and McMasters. They and Archie were slinging cots in there due to a lack of cabin space. McMasters gave his room to Maria for the duration and Archie gave his spot to Pamela.

Horatio slipped back into the dimly lit cabin to dress while Archie waited at the bottom of the stairs, cupping his chin.

Pamela slept, but the blanket was kicked away, exposing her luscious form. While he dressed, he observed. Shrugging on his topcoat, he bent and lay the palm of his hand over her little mound of a tummy. Horatio watched intensely and then felt the barest movement. His mouth opened in wonder and he looked at her peacefully sleeping face. He felt it again. The corners of his mouth bowed up everso gently. He suppressed the desire to wake her and carefully covered his wife.

Outside the cabin, he leaned against the wall, feeling a rising joy within. Did she know? Could she feel him? "God!" Procreation was an amazingly awesome concept. He roused and went to Archie.

"Very well, let's go," stated Hornblower. As quiet as possible, they took two steps at a time.

After the shower, Horatio was further cooled by the night air. He felt invigorated. They arrived at the larboard side and leaned on the rail. Barely any lights could be seen on the French shore. He breathed deeply and waited for Archie to speak. When nothing was forthcoming, he leaned on one elbow and faced his friend.

"I thought you wanted to talk, Archie?"

"I do. I'm just not quite sure how to say this." Archie stared into his friend's eyes.

Horatio chuckled nervously. "What is it?"

"You won't hit me, will you?"

He laughed shortly. "I do not think my knuckles could take another action so soon. Will I need to?"

"You aren't making this any easier."

Horatio shifted his weight and looked at his friend more seriously. "Is it something to do with Edrington?"

"Well..... yes..... and no."

"Archie."

His friend sighed. "Horatio....we've ..... we've ..... we've ALL been in love with Pamela," he blurted.

Horatio fluttered his eyelids.

"Don't take this the wrong way. I agree, Edrington went too far. I'm not saying that he did not. And, I am not defending him. He was not the gentleman he should have been. It's just that....the lady, your lady, .... has .... some..... certain..... quality, that makes men desire...love.....want... her"

"Don't you think I know that?"

"You do?"

"I am not blind, Archie."

"Oh."

"You sound disappointed. Was this to be some grand revelation?.... Or, some personal confession on your part?"

"I won't deny it, Horatio. I've been smitten, as well."

Horatio's cheek muscles tugged to a frown on one side and he sighed, abruptly.

"I know she does not intentionally .... "

"I know that, too, Archie."

"Good. I do not want you to think she .... encourages on purpose. It is just her way."

"Yes," stated Hornblower, understanding the bleeding obvious. "But 'others' react all the same, whether it is intentional or not."

"Yes," agreed Archie. "But the thing is .... the thing is ... and this is how I was able to resolve, .... my.... my own....infatuation. Well, two things, actually."

Hornblower was incredulous listening to Archie reveal his feelings

"Number one, I... I could not do that to you, old man. I love you like a brother, more than a brother, a close friend, a close BEST friend.. Number two, ... and this is the clincher.... she has already made her choice."

Hornblower waited, a blank expression on his visage. Was there more?

"Are you being obtuse, Horatio? Don't you see? She only wants YOU! No matter what some other hapless sod, like Edrington might try. It has always been you."

Horatio hung his head and smiled awkwardly. "Is this to cheer me?"

"No! It's the bloody truth! And, you know it! Think, man! You've no reason to doubt her. She is who counts! Being jealous of the rest of us is a waste of your time. You should pity us, for God's sake!"

"Don't tell me you are still....infatuated?"

"No, no. I am sorted, but poor Edrington...."

"Poor?"

"Don't get your hackles up. You know what I mean. Well, maybe you don't. But, think if it was I instead of the major, would you not feel the tiniest bit sorry for me?"

Horatio chest bounced with stifled laughter. "You want me to feel sorry for Major, my Lord Edrington?" he mocked.

"If there is any charity in your soul, ... yes. She loves you. You've got the brass ring."

Horatio scrunched his brow, pursed his lips, and stared at the ring on his finger as he turned it. "Actually, it's gold." He sighed. "I don't trust him."

"I understand."

"I've shaken his hand, Archie. What else do you want me to do? Kiss him?"

"Do not be impertinent. It does not become you."

Horatio sighed. "I know. I will do my best to be civil to the man."

"He likes you. He really feels awful about the entire situation."

"I do not know WHY he likes me?"

Archie grinned wryly. "No, I don't suppose you would."

"What does that mean?"

"That you do not reckon your own worth!" Archie crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the rail. "Sometimes the way you doubt yourself drives me to distraction. But the way Pamela feels about you... rest assured. I watched her tonight, when you unceremoniously kicked in the door. She saw you both, you and Edrington, but her eyes were all for you. She loves you, Horatio. YOU. Do not doubt her. You need not fear."

Horatio smiled and canted his head. "Archie." He shook his head. "Thank you. I will keep what you have said in mind. It is the Captain that concerns me now."

"There is that," agreed Archie, thoughtfully. "What do you think?...watch on watch?....for a month?"

Hornblower adopted the same stance as Archie, but a pleasing satisfaction rested on his lips.

Archie saw it. "Why is that something to smile about?"

Hornblower stared at his friend with that same Cheshire cat grin. "I'm going to be a father." Horatio chuckled and hugged his chest.

Archie could not help but laugh at the change of subject, and Horatio's grin was contagious. "Yes, you are!"

 

 

The next morning, the first breakfast was attended by Bracegirdle, Bowles, Sebastian, Rampling, Edrington, and Hornblower. Bracegirdle was apprised of the brawl below decks, had seen the major, but not Hornblower. When the second leftenant walked in, the first leftenant was attempting to swallow his coffee and nearly choked.

recovering, Bracegirdle clicked his tongue and shook his head. "Mr. Hornblower."

Hornblower felt his face turn a shade of red. "Good morning, sir." His eyes fell on Edrington next. "Good morning, my Lord."

"Mr. Hornblower," he acknowledged. His right jaw was purple, the nose slightly swollen along with his lower lip, and there was an attending scab. His knuckles were bandaged across his right hand, and a two inch sticking plaster graced his brow.

Hornblower gazed at the other breakfast attendees, sheepishly greeting them in turn. They responded very quietly and admired his facial contusions. Sebastian wore a half-frown and just shook his head.

Hornblower sat, wincing as his bruises came up against the wooden seat.

Wiggins placed a mug of coffee in front of him and a plate of fried pork, potatoes and tomatoes. He raised an eyebrow at the injuries of the superior officer he served and glanced at the others seated.

Edrington picked up a platter and offered it to Hornblower. "Toast, sir?"

"Thank you, my Lord." He glanced up at the major briefly.

Hornblower looked askance at the senior leftenant, then returned his gaze to the plate of food. The officers continued the morning meal in silence with minute glances ricocheting off the two rivals and each other.

Finally, Bracegirdle spoke.

"You realize there is no way around this, Mr. Hornblower."

"Yes, sir."

"I've spoken to Lord Edrington. He does not wish to see you ...unduly reprimanded, though I tend to disagree. This sets no kind of example for the men, sir."

Was he to be reamed out by Pellew AND Bracegirdle?

"No, sir."

Hornblower observed Edrington, then Sebastian, Rampling, and Bowles who was trying to chew and grin at the same time. Hornblower pressed his mouth trying to keep from the laughter with which Bowles struggled, but he could not suppress it.

Edrington started to chuckle, then Rampling, Sebastian, and Bracegirdle joined in.

"I doubt you will be laughing after Pellew gets hold of you!" managed Bracegirdle.

"I do not know why I am laughing. I am opposed to such a manner of conflict resolution," stated Sebastian.

The group of men laughed louder, considering that they were a ship of war and it was precisely that type of conflict resolution of which they made their career!

Edrington and Hornblower pained through the joviality, the grins and laughter tugging at bruised and swollen tissues. Maybe they could be friends.

Completing the meal with celerity, Hornblower rose.

"I have the forenoon watch, gentlemen. If you will excuse me." Hornblower departed, wanting to see his wife before going on duty.

He tapped on the door, said, "It's me," and opened it.

Dressed in the only skirt she had and one of Horatio's shirts, Pamela yanked the hem, surrendering to the current state of her habiliments with a flourish.

"I cannot bring myself to wear a pair of your trousers," she stated.

He chortled and winced, holding his jaw in place. "Please, do not make me laugh!" He gathered her into his arms.

"Was....Lord Edrington at breakfast?"

"Yes."

"What was the laughter about?"

"Just... high spirits."

"High spirits? Then, you and he shall not try to kill each other further?"

"Not as long as he keeps his hands off my wife. I must go. Maria is having breakfast with you?"

"Yes."

"Good. I... don't know what may happen today, but ...do not worry."

"The captain?"

"Yes...and you stay out of it. Understand?"

Her visage was downtrodden and Horatio twisted his mouth that he guessed rightly.

"Understand?" he repeated.

"Yes, darling."

He could not leave on this note. He grabbed her about the waist. "Kiss me you gorgeous piece of female flesh!"

"Horatio!" His words amazed! This was not the customary Hornblower! "What...what has gotten into you?"

He smirked despite the bruises, eyebrows raising mischievously. "I think you've got that backwards."

She blinked with a grin of shocked pleasure, and laughed.

He pressed a quick kiss and released as quick, with a raised eyebrow. Laughter. He brought her to laughter!

"Behave yourself," he admonished wryly.

"Me? Look who's talking!"

Half out the door, he grinned. "I love you."

"I love you!"

Making his way to the quarter-deck, he was met with many surprised and curious faces from the ratings. He nodded to some, ignored others, but gained the upper deck to receive another round of scandalized expressions from his peers.

Archie closed his eyes and shook his head.

The light of day revealed horrific details. Indeed, each step made Hornblower aware of how much ones skin flexed when ones body was in motion. Little aches from all over reported in.

"Good morning, Mr. Kennedy."

"Mr. Hornblower."

"Report, sir."

So began another day on blockade outside Toulon.

 

 

 

On the deck beneath the quarter-deck, Captain Pellew was massaging his temples.

"Daniels..." Too loud! He softened his speech. "... get me Doctor Sebastian... and Mr. Bracegirdle."

Pellew pressed his temples and glanced at the empty and over half empty bottles on the side-board. How late had Brecon stayed? Did the two of them consume that much brandy, port, and ....what was it? He groaned. What the devil had they talked about? He stared at the curious writing on his desk, the hand broad and unsteady. Was it his?
He read the wide scribbling.

I.O.U. one wet cow,' it read. A wet cow? Why was this written on his stationary and what did it mean? Another word was written beside it, but it was illegible. Pressing against the temples with a circling motion, he tried his damnedest to recall, going back a little further in his memory and hoping to work his way forward. Brecon came, the reports were finalized. He stayed for dinner and a drink. But it was not 'a' drink it was quite 'a number' of drinks. He shifted his reddened eyes to the empty decanters on the sideboard. One of them he did not recognize. The man had an iron constitution. "God! It is too damned bright in here this morning." He glanced at the ceiling. "Stop pounding around over my head, damn it!" He placed his hands over his ears and kept his eyes tightly shut. Who had an iron constitution? He remembered thinking it , who was it? Brecon? Brecon had an iron constitution.

Someone pounded his door. As soon as they entered, he would make them regret the impertinence of the noisy assault!

"Come!" He quailed and opened one eye to see his surgeon. "Good morning, Doctor," he rasped.

"Good morning, Captain."

"Please. Not so loud."

"I was afraid last nights gaiety would end this way. This man Brecon is not a good influence," stated Sebastian.

Sebastian walked to the desk and scribbled on a slip of paper. "Daniels, give this to Becker."

"Aye, sir."

"Doctor Sebastian.... I must request that you speak more softly."

"You have a hangover."

"It would seem." Opening one eye, "You were here last night."

"I was. Briefly."

"I cannot recall why. Why?"

"Wait until your tea comes, Captain."

Pellew smacked his mouth. "Tea? Sounds damn uninteresting."

"Willow bark, sir."

"Oh. Yes. That."

Sebastian let loose the tiebacks for the curtains over the stern gallery windows.

Pellew eased his tense brow. "That's better. Thank you. God, what did I do?"

"You and Captain Brecon decided to celebrate last night." Sebastian lifted the odd bottle from the sideboard and sniffed with a frown. "Absinthe. Not a healthy drink, Captain, to be sure."

"Absinthe? Damn, I remember.... a little." He tapped the I.O.U. with his middle finger. "This is your cow. Why do you want a wet cow?"

Sebastian sat down. "You inquired what the Captain should acquire for Mrs. Hornblower."

"Acquire?"

"Clothes, sir."

"Clothes? Oh, just tell me, man. Don't make me think it all. What went on here last night?"

"I was..."

"Quietly, please, Doctor," he said lowly.

"I was summoned to settle an argument, sir, between yourself and Mr. Brecon. There was some disagreement as to what types of clothing were to be gotten for Mr. Hornblower's wife. You also desired my opinion on how Mr. Hornblower would feel about Brecon and yourself procuring the items for her."

"Yes. This sounds vaguely familiar. Brecon is paying her for her part in the rescue....with clothing."

"Yes, sir. It is what the two of you decided as an explanation for Leftenant Hornblower, since you thought he would be reluctant to take charity."

"He would be. That's right. Can't let the poor woman go for months in the same clothes. It isn't right. Good. It is a good plan." Pellew resumed his temple massage. One eye opened, "You disapproved that she remains."

"Yes, sir. You let me in on Mr. Hornblower's secret. That is why you are getting a cow. More precisely, a wet cow."

"Oh yes, something about teeth and ....Pamela, er, Mrs. Hornblower."

"As I said, the diet on board a naval vessel is not the best for someone in her condition, if you will recall."

Pellew raised an eyebrow and opened one eye. Recalling seemed to be the problem. "And you medical men believe milk has something to do with preservation of teeth in expecting women."

"Yes."

"Hence we need a wet cow for her to consume milk," sighed Pellew. "Well, Brecon did not seem to think acquiring a cow would be a difficulty. Indeed, he seemed to find all of her requirements a pleasant challenge. Have to say, in regards to our present assignment, I agree with him. My head is splitting, Doctor, what was in that bottle Brecon had Sherbourne bring over?"

"Something called absinthe, Captain. A new alcoholic beverage created by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, according to Brecon."

"Sounds like a damn Frenchman. It figures."

"Hm." Sebastian frowned. "Brecon said it was something new with curious properties that affect the mind. His superior suggested he test it. I would not drink it again, Captain."

"You need not convince me of that, Doctor. Is that tea ready?"

"Yes, sir."

A knock.

"Come."

Bracegirdle entered. He and Sebastian nodded a greeting.

"You sent for me, Captain?"

"Yes. Brecon is going to be getting us a 'wet cow'. Do we have space for the thing?"

"Yes, sir. It should not be a problem."

Bracegirdle mouthed curiously to Sebastian, 'A wet cow?', and the doctor nodded and waved him down.

"Good. Assign someone to take care of it, milking and so forth. It is for our passenger. You explain, Doctor." As Sebastian related the information to Bracegirdle, Pellew sipped the hot tea and pressed his knuckles into his forehead in a circular motion.

"Captain Pellew, sir?"

"Yes, Mr. Bracegirdle?"

"There has been.....perhaps I should not trouble you with this now, sir."

"Go on, Mr. Bracegirdle."

"There was a bit of a brawl below decks."

"I am sure you can handle the discipline, Leftenant," confided the Captain.

"It was not the ratings, sir."

Pellew swiveled in the seat, and placed a hand on his neck to massage it. "Not the ratings?" It was taking a while for this to sink in at present. "What do you mean not the ratings?"

Bracegirdle sucked a breath, glancing at Sebastian. "It ...was an officer, sir."

Pellew stared. "My officers are brawling?" he growled, but then regretted it, placing a hand on his forehead. "WHO, Mr. Bracegirdle?" Though the minute he asked, he had an inkling of the answer.

"Mr. Hornblower, sir,.....with.....Lord Edrington," his voice trailed silently, but Pellew heard.

Pellew rested his elbows on the table, covered his eyes and forehead, massaged, breathed and sighed. "What is Lord Edrington's disposition?"

"He ... seems to be of a forgiving nature, sir, but of course, leaves the discipline of the officer to you."

"That's good of him." Pellew continued to hold his head. "Very well. Thank you, Mr. Bracegirdle. I will take care of it."

"Yes, sir. Is that all?"

"Yes, yes."

Sebastian stepped behind Pellew and massaged his shoulders.

"That is you, is it not, Dr. Sebastian?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Good. The last time someone gave me a massage, the person was totally unexpected in the form of Mrs. Hornblower." He enjoyed the doctor's medicinal touch, then spoke. "What is your take on this business with Hornblower?"

"You know I do not approve of physical solutions to difficulties, Captain."

"Between my officers?... nor do I. Though Edrington is not one of those...but he is a peer. These are matters that should not..... oh damnation. I shall have to punish the man." He sighed. "He could not possibly have been thinking of the men."

"I agree, sir. It does not set a good example. I think he knows that. Though the major did go too far in kissing Mrs. Hornblower."

Pellew sat up. "He kissed Mrs. ... Why in God's name did he tell Mr. Hornblower?"

"Mrs. Hornblower told Mr. Hornblower."

"Oh. I see. Women. Sebastian.... do you think I am wrong to allow Mr. Hornblower's wife to remain? This incident would give me a reason to change my mind."

Sebastian continued the massage. "According to what it says in God's word, when a man marries and is in the king's service, let him remain at home for a year, and then return to duty."

Another heavy sigh. "That is impossible. Let us hope the time here will do.... for both of them."

 

Later that afternoon, Lord Edrington was summoned to Pellew's cabin. Edrington entered sheepishly, not quite sure how the captain of the ship was going to receive a man who brought one of his officers to the point of fisticuffs. The injuries were not lessened, except for the swelling about the nose.

"Good afternoon, Captain Pellew."

"My Lord, ...I do despair. Come have a seat, and let me pour you a brandy."

"Thank you, sir."

Pellew delivered the glass.

"Are you not having one?"

"Uh, no. I have a bit of headache today and am taking one of the good doctor's potions, in addition to his advice to avoid spirits,... for the time being."

"I see. A pity that you are not well and having to deal with these... unpleasantries." Edrington paused, then continued. "Captain Pellew, .... I fear the fault is entirely mine. He had every right to be angry. He could have challenged me to a duel, sir. I know you do not approve of what occurred, but I pray you will consider the extenuating circumstances ... and go easy on Mr. Hornblower. Dr. Sebastian has already informed you intend a punishment."

"I appreciate your candid confession, my Lord. If you will forgive my reasons, it will not be a punishment so much for you, as for the benefit of my men. I cannot permit one of my officers to go about pummeling peers of the realm, ....for any reason."

"I understand, Captain. I would appreciate if you would relay to him, however, that it is not I that causes his....chastisement."

"Oh, believe me, he will know, sir. You have no need to fear that he will understand completely why he is being ... corrected."

A knock.

"Come."

Hornblower entered and saw Edrington rise to his feet. His eyes snapped forward.

"You sent for me, sir?" So, Edrington was to have the pleasure of his discomfiture.

Pellew squinted at the injuries, circling his officer. "Mr. Hornblower. That it should come to this. You, of all people. Lord Edrington has been pleading your case, sir."

"Sir?"

"He takes the blame for your actions. He has asked me to be lenient in your punishment." Pellew stepped around to Hornblower's right side, and could see a swelling over the right cheekbone, where the bruise and cut were located. "Should he take the blame?"

"No, sir. I acted on my own volition."

"Indeed, you did, sir. Is this to be the manner of your conduct when confronted with disagreeable activities of your seniors?"

"No, sir. It is not."

"Can you explain to me how that will be so, when it is not evidenced here?"

Blinking, Hornblower stated, "There.... There is no excuse, sir."

"Indeed, there is not. How do your actions bode for the discipline of the men?"

It was a question he feared would be asked. His face turned crimson under the purple markings. "I have not set a good example, sir." He almost let his chin drop but held it steady.

"Do you deserve leniency, Leftenant Hornblower, as Lord Edrington requests?"

"No, sir."

"He seems to think you do."

"I am an officer in his majesty's navy, sir. I have a duty to my king, to the service, to the men, to be the best example of discipline. I failed in my duty, sir."

"Captain Pellew, I do not think Mr. Hornblower was...."

The look from Pellew silenced Edrington in mid-speech. Hornblower was coming around on his own, saying exactly what Pellew hoped to hear, that the second leftenant came to know, on his own, why his actions were so reprehensible.

Pellew returned his gaze to Hornblower. "What should be the punishment for an officer guilty of such offense....in your opinion?"

Hornblower struggled mentally with the response. "A minimum of watch on watch, for a week... loss of spirit ration.... the maximum.... loss....loss of rank, sir."

"Ah. It is well you realize it, Leftenant. Major Edrington is not only a superior officer but a peer of the realm. You could not only lose your rank, you could be removed from the service entirely and incarcerated, if he was so disposed."

"Yes, sir."

"But, I am not, Captain Pellew," inserted Edrington swiftly.

Pellew sighed and let the silence weigh heavy on the ramrod straight leftenant.

"We have eliminated the maximum punishment. That leaves the minimum. In your opinion, Mr. Hornblower, would watch on watch be sufficient?"

"I must defer to my captain, in this instance, sir. I fear I am... too close to the situation to choose, sir," announced Hornblower.

"Finish your brandy, my Lord. Do not let these proceedings distress you, sir."

"May I speak, Captain?"

Pellew jerked his attention back to Hornblower.

"Yes, Mr. Hornblower?"

"If I may,....my Lord, I apologize for striking you, sir. It was...."

"I accept your apology, Mr. Hornblower. You need say no more," declared the peer.

"Thank you, my Lord."

After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Edrington spoke.

"Captain, I do not feel my presence is needed here any longer."

"As you wish, Lord Edrington. I will inform you of the punishment that is meted out."

"As you wish, Captain," bowed Edrington.

"Would you dine with me tomorrow night, my Lord?" asked Pellew.

"I would be delighted, Captain Pellew," said Edrington.

"Good. Good day, sir."

"Good day, Captain."

Hornblower remained standing at attention. Pellew sat at his desk and wrote. The leftenant let his eyes shift to his captain but then returned to stare foreward. Finally, Hornblower spoke.

"May I speak, sir?"

"No."

Hornblower stiffened. Pellew took his time, read and wrote, shifted papers on his desk, then, leaned back with a sigh, studied the ceiling, and glanced at the officer standing at attention.

"You may speak, now."

Hornblower swallowed. "I wish to apologize to you, sir. My actions are an embarrassment. I was wrong, sir."

Pellew rose and went to stand in front of the second leftenant.

"Mr. Hornblower, your actions are seldom an embarrassment. But it is well you recognize that in this instance, they were. And the man is in the army, to boot! Usually, you comport yourself with the utmost decorum. The insight you normally display in the decisions you make are to your credit. It is understood that circumstances are ... in the least....odd, at the moment, not only in your personal life with the return of your wife, but also, in our current assignment. It is all damned extraordinary, to say the least. But on this note, you must be aware, you cannot let your passions rule you....not as a leftenant and most definitely not as a captain. I have no doubt that if the current conflict in which we find ourselves continues you will hold that rank and that responsibility some day."

Hornblower listened silently.

"I understand you are a newlywed, still, even though you are nearly four months into the marriage. Damn it, I wish I could send you home with her ..."

"But, sir, I..."

"Do not interrupt!"

Hornblower straightened.

"I will tell you straight out, Mr. Hornblower, I reconsidered my offer to let your wife remain after this incident." He let his officer stew on that one for a few minutes while he straightened papers. "However, I will honor my original decision and allow her to stay. But you, sir, are on watch and watch for the next week. I would make it longer, but for Lord Edrington's dis-ease over your punishment. Do not think him culpable!"

"I do not, sir."

"Do I need to order you to cease from brawling on my ship?"

"No, sir."

Pellew sat down, elbows on table, closed his eyes, and rubbed his forehead.

Hornblower observed the captain. Should he speak?

"Forgive me, sir, but are you all right?"

"I've got a damn headache. Fortunate for you, sir, or the man atop the foremast would have heard this episode."

So that was the reason the captain was not in full voice today.

"Do not ever drink anything that is a milky green color, Leftenant," said Pellew quietly.

"No, sir." Hornblower waited, then asked. "Shall I go, sir?"

"No." Pellew swirled his forehead. "There is a pot of tea over there. Pour a cup for me, if you please."

"Yes, sir." Doing as bade, he smelled the familiar willow bark aroma. He placed the cup in front of Pellew. Hornblower awkwardly lay his hat on a table, then gently placed his hands on Pellew's shoulders, letting the heat from them penetrate into the captain's scapula in a slow massage. "I ... I pray you feel better, sir."

Pellew did not respond. After some time, he spoke.

"Thank you, Mr. Hornblower. Why did you not become a doctor as your father?"

Hornblower picked up his hat. "I ... I had enough of the profession before I left home. I thought the navy would be more ... adventurous, sir."

"Indeed, it is,... no doubt. How many men can boast of rescuing their lady in these days and times, eh? But it has been turn about for you AND I where your good wife is concerned... your American, good wife." Pellew breathed deeply. "Sit down."

Was this interview never to end? Hornblower did as ordered.

Pellew regarded the young man sitting opposite him, then began.

"I want no quibbling, Mr. Hornblower. No refusals. Listen."

The captain had Hornblower's attention.

"Captain Brecon .... well, you know what he is. His line of work provides a discretionary fund with which he pays his casual operatives. He intends to pay your wife."

Hornblower opened his mouth to protest, but his captain's eyes darted lightning bolts of warning. He closed it and listened.

"You wife is traveling light this time around. Brecon intends to procure her and Mrs. Orrego additional clothing. They are women and should wear women's clothes. I will not have either one in slops or otherwise on board my ship. It will not do. These items are payment for services rendered during the rescue of my men...you, sir, and the crew."

Hornblower frowned, but under the current circumstances, he kept silent. Pamela did need clothes. Had he not destroyed the one 'so-called' blouse she owned? The dress he provided from Italy, she refused to wear on grounds that it was to be saved for special occasions, and he had not yet talked her into donning the gown, but an idea was in mind.

"When the procurement is accomplished, I will call for your approval. Any questions?"

"No, sir."

"Oh, and, find Sebastian and discuss the cow with him."

"Cow, sir?"

"Yes, yes. He will explain." Pellew pinched the bridge of his nose. "Go on with you now. Hornblower, one more thing."

"Sir?"

"Bring your wife to dinner tomorrow. If your watch falls then, tell Bracegirdle I said to switch you with someone else."

"I do not believe it will, sir, but...."

"But what?"

"Am I to attend under the circumstances, sir?"

"I would not have your wife there without YOU, sir, UNDER the circumstances. You heard me invite Lord Edrington. Have your wife wear that dress you left in my cabin the other day.... not that...." Pellew motioned broadly in the air.

"Yes, sir." He knew he meant the black, now non-existent, so-called 'blouse'.

"Go."

"Aye, aye, sir."

When Hornblower exited the after cabins, Pamela was standing at the starboard rail. All care departed his brow and was replaced with a soft, loving expression. She turned and he saw her face go from mild concern to radiant expectation. The moment he was near enough, she grasped his hand and stepped close, her face upturned and his down. If only a kiss were permitted.

"They told me you were with the captain."

"I was."

"Is all well?"

"My punishment is watch on watch."

"Now?"

"No. At my next assigned duty."

"When...when is that?"

"The middle watch."

He could tell she was mentally calculating the time.

"Midnight to four a.m." He chuckled softly. "You've forgotten watch times."

She smiled. "It is coming back to me."

"I want to kiss you, Mrs. Hornblower."

Mild shock replaced rapidly with pleasure.

He spoke again before she could.

"I want to take you in my arms and kiss you. I love you. I'd like to shout it across these decks..."

She placed her fingertips over his mouth. Shaking her head and smiling, she asked, "What has ... what brings this wild pronouncement to my husband's lips?"

He kissed the tapered soft digits, then whispered, "My beautiful wife!" He grabbed her about the waist.

"Horatio!" she whispered, laying a hand on the one that clasped. She looked over his shoulder. Styles caught her eye and winked with a grin. On the quarter-deck, Rampling turned his head to larboard. "I..."

Before she could say another word, Horatio gripped her hand and pulled her behind him like a boy would a toy wagon, descending the stairs to the gun deck. His stride was long and she had to step lively to keep up. Passing a small storage closet, he pulled her inside and closed the door. His mouth eagerly covered hers, kissing greedily.

"I could not wait any longer!"

"Oh, my love!" Eyes closed and leaning against his chest, she reached behind him, holding onto his shoulders. "You take my breath away!" she panted. "But you are my breath. You are the air I breathe, my daily bread. I am desperate for you. I am lost without you."

He hugged more tightly, his head resting on hers, whispering, "Pamela! I was lost without YOU those long two months. So lost! You are my true north. Where ever you are, is my charted course. I will always find my way back to you, to your arms. Be my love forever and always."

"I am. I will be,... forever and always."

He lifted her chin, devoured her features, and sighed contentedly. Opening the door, he peered out, slipped his hand in hers, and headed for the cabin. Once inside, he bolted the door.

Immediately, she was in his arms. With roaming kisses, he pushed the cloth from her shoulder and pressed his lips to the soft skin. "I shall be glad of other clothes for you. Somehow slipping my shirt away does not have the same connotations."

"I find wearing your shirt to be very...stimulating. It is like being wrapped up in you all day long."

"Mm. I like that idea." He breathed in as he slid his mouth and nose up her neck.

She pulled away. "That tickles!"

"Tickling is not what I had in mind. Have I ever told you how absolutely delicious you are?" His hands slid underneath the shirt and lifted upwards. The dark tresses fell back upon his arms. "There are some positive peculiarities to your current lack of clothing."

Waistcoat unbuttoned, she pushed it and his topcoat off in one motion, then tugged on the shirt until it was no longer restrained by his trousers. Her hands on his skin, he lifted and removed the frilly shirt. The warmth of his body emanated outwardly.

Yanking gently on the strings of the skirt, the waist loosened. With the slightest flick, it dropped to the floor.

Holding Pamela, both hands roamed as he kissed. She released each button from the hole that stayed his trousers and slipped her hands between cloth and skin, causing an intake of air from her husband.

Time together as husband and wife....another dream come true.

When Horatio wakened from dozing, his head lay upon Pamela's shoulder. His movement roused her from half sleep and she twisted the curl of his hair wrapped around her finger.

"Have I ever told you I love your hair?" she whispered.

He chuckled. "No. It is generally an unruly mess, best kept under a hat."

"No. No, it isn't. It is beautiful, soft, and ..." she sucked in a breath, "...very sensual."

He lifted to see her face. Was she jesting? He raised up on an elbow and stared down with a smile.

"I do not jest, my love." She kept her fingers entwined in his curls.

"Have I told you I love you?"

"Not in the last five minutes."

"I do. I do love you. My little American wife....who does the most lunatic things! It is well we are not at home. You would scandalize the village. Did you behave this way in America?"

"What way?"

"Dancing in revealing clothing. Climbing masts. Going on dangerous sea journeys. Traveling with gypsies."

"Marrying a British naval leftenant?"

"Oh? Is that mad?"

"Madly in love."

"As I am with you."

"I want one of these curls."

"You can have all of them."

She gasped. "No! You leave my hair alone! I like playing with it where it is." She ran her hands through his curls and petted them softly.

He turned and kissed her palm.

"I just want one lock," she whispered.

"You shall have it. Everything that I own is yours."

"I love you, Horatio."

He sighed. "To hear you say it, pleases me no end."

A light kiss of the lips, a sigh, and he repositioned to lean against the bulkhead. Pamela sat up halfway against his chest, and he stroked her hair.

"You are to have new clothes."

"New clothes? How?"

"A payment...for service. Brecon. He wanted to pay you as an operative."

She studied his features. Was he angry? "You do not approve."

He stared deeply into her eyes, feeling pleased that she understood him. A hint of a smile, he said, "The captain is right. You cannot live aboard the Indy with only a skirt, a shirt, and one dress for ...possibly... months."

"Months?" she smiled.

"It is a fond hope. We will accept the payment. It is good, and it is what Captain Pellew wishes. He is right. You need women's clothes."

With a final check of what lay behind his eyes, she leaned against his chest. "I am a scandal, aren't I?".

"I am only glad that you are safe and with me. That God has been kind and answered prayers. That by whatever circumstance of fate...you and I are together. It is a thing devoutly wished... a wish come true...my bold American wife." He lifted her chin so that her face was visible. Leaning, he gathered her legs onto his lap as he sat up, cradled her head against his left arm, and kissed her. Looking into her eyes, he said, "I want you to put on the dress. I want to see you in it."

"Now?"

"Yes. Wear it to dinner. We should go before the good doctor sends someone looking for us. Besides, I must speak to him about a cow."

The package lay on Archie's bunk since that first day. He dressed while she unwrapped the bundle and donned the gown. It was cream white with sheer lace over a crossed and gathered high waist bodice, short sleeves, and soft as silk.

He opened his sea chest. "Can you put your hair up with this?" He offered a navy blue neckerchief.

She smiled that he would take an interest.

"A white one would do better," she suggested.

Running the white cloth behind her neck, she crossed it atop her head and tightened which caused the mass of hair to lift, tendrils of curls falling in a cascade. He held the mirror. She tucked the ends of the cloth to give a finished appearance and tugged and shifted until the hair looked somewhat coifed. "This reminds me of our wedding day in Gibraltar." Taking the mirror to hand, she lifted it above her head to spy out the look from all angles.

His eyes fluttered at the vision such minor adjustments provided. Breathing deeply, he released the air with satisfaction then rummaged in the sea chest and found the cloth pouch of gold satin brocade.

"Turn around."

The necklace. Amethyst on gold, the stones were cut in octagonal spheres with small gold balls accenting the chain in a symmetrical pattern. At the center point hung several thin strands of gold. He let it fall gently on her chest and fastened the clasp. The dangling strands dove between her breasts to make men wish they were made of such stuff.

Pamela looked down at the adornment. "Horatio!" she said breathily. "It's...it's too beautiful for words! Oh! Is it for me? Really?"

"You like it?" He handed her the mirror.

She gazed at the image and her eyes filled. They met his.

"It is beautiful on you, Pamela," he assured lovingly.

"How did you ever....?"

"A service for Admiral Nelson; a friend of his insisted I take it... for you."

"A friend?"

"Lady Hamilton."

"She gave you this for me?"

"Yes."

"You told her about me?"

"Yes," he grinned. "No, need for jealousy on your part. She and the admiral are quite close."

She wrapped her arms around his neck. "A dress, a necklace... both from women given to you for me?"

"Yes. You invariably came up in conversation."

"Oh darling! You are the sweetest husband!" She kissed him.

"There are earrings..."

"Let me see! Let me see!"

Slipping the baubles into her hand, Horatio grinned at the reaction. She was like an impatient child awaiting Father Christmas or the dinner goose.

She placed them on her earlobes and looked in the mirror. "Oh. Horatio. They are so feminine, so ..."

"Lovely!" he supplied.

"Yes! I feel like going to a ball!"

He smiled, pleased that she was pleased. "You will grace the captain's table most aptly."

"The captain's table?"

"Yes, we dine with him tomorrow night."

"Oh." She seemed disappointed and removed the earrings.

"What is the matter?"

"I cannot wear these tonight, Horatio."

"Yes, you can."
"No. I will save it all. If we are dining with your captain, I shall look my best tomorrow, for you, for him, to his honor and yours. Please undo the necklace."

He thought about her reasoning.

She looked over her shoulder expectantly.

"Very well, my love. As you wish."

The necklace tickled her breast as he gently slid it from her skin. He gave it into her hand.

Sitting, she admired the stones and the gold. "It is the most beautiful thing anyone has ever given me....except for my ring."

He laid his hand on her shoulder, and she covered it with hers. Bending, he kissed the top of the opposite shoulder. Canting her head away, she presented more of her neck. He slid his lips closer.

"You are giving me chill bumps!" she whispered.

He let his hand glide down the front of her dress.

"You should not do that to a woman expecting. Those are very sensitive."

"Are they?" he asked, kissing his way nearer to her neck. "I thought they were a little... larger."

She smiled. "They are. When our son gets here they will belong to him."

"Then, I had best take advantage while he is still safely confined to quarters."

She giggled. "I thought we were going to dinner."

"We will."

"Horatio, I need to keep this dress nice for tomorrow night."

"You will."

Mouths joined for a kiss.

She moaned. "You are going to make love to me!"

"I am, Mrs. Hornblower."

Standing, she eased the shoulders off the dress and it fell to the floor, hanging for the briefest moment about her hips.

Dinner was postponed for another twenty minutes.

A knock.

"Yes?" inquired Hornblower, seeking to catch his breath.

"It's Wiggins, sir. I'm to tell you last call for dinner."

"Thank you, Wiggins, we shall be there directly. You may serve our plates, if you wish."

"Aye, aye, Mr. Hornblower," replied the disembodied voice.

Pamela panted beneath him. "I knew we were going to be late."

"On the contrary, madam, we both came in time," he grinned.

She giggled. "Get up so I can get dressed!"

 

 

Horatio laced his fingers with hers and they sauntered to the officer's mess. He appeared in the doorway apprising the occupants, Sebastian, Maria, Edrington and Archie.

"Good evening," he nodded. "I apologize for being late."

Pamela entered behind her husband, her hand tightly clasped in his, and standing so close as to obscure half her body.

The three men stood and Archie heard the barest whisper of "Damn!" from Edrington.

The major could not take his eyes away for such a long moment that Hornblower turned to see what held his attention. Pamela's cheeks were flushed and she positively shone beneath. He shifted his stance and unconsciously pulled her behind him.

Hornblower fidgeted nervously.

"Sit down and have your dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Hornblower."

"Thank you, Doctor."

Hornblower offered a chair for his wife, taking the opportunity to scan the companions of the mess.

"The chicken is quite delightful. I recommend it over the pork," suggested Edrington, who lifted his glass of wine and stared down its stem.

"It's a bit warm tonight, is it not Mrs. Hornblower?" asked Archie.

"Yes, it does tend to get so below decks. I am hoping to get above to take the air after dinner."

Edrington could not look her direction without seeking her eyes. Not finding them, he did find Hornblower's.

"You know, it is rather warm. That is an excellent idea, Mrs. Hornblower. If you will excuse me, I believe I will head topside."

"Would you care for company, my Lord?" asked Archie.

"By all means, Mr. Kennedy. We might resume the lesson on celestial navigation. Although, Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy tells me you can chart a course as well as Mr. Bowles or Captain Pellew."

Hornblower smiled wryly. "Mr. Kennedy is generous in his appraisal, my Lord."

"See? I told you he could not take a compliment," grinned Archie.

As the two passed by, Archie gave Hornblower's shoulder a squeeze.

"Good bye Mr. Kennedy, Major Edrington," said Pamela.

"Au revoir," called Kennedy already in the companionway.

Hornblower took a deep breath and exhaled, staring at the plate of food before him. His eyes traced up and found Sebastian staring into his. The doctor knew, that he knew, that Edrington still found Pamela of interest. At least, he had the decency to leave.

"Eat your dinner, Leftenant, there is no one to distract you from the meal."

Hornblower put a forkful of food into his mouth, chewed slowly, and watched his wife, the slightest smile returning. She seemed oblivious to the slight tremor that shook their world. Maybe it was only noted by himself.

"Doctor, the captain advised me to speak to you about a cow," stated Hornblower curiously.

Sebastian smiled. "Yes, does your wife know .... about the Captain's generosity?"

"That she is staying? Yes, she does."

Pamela smiled at the doctor, chewed, and glanced at Maria.

"I advised against it. A ship is no place for a woman in her condition." Sebastian held up his hand to stay the frown over the leftenant's countenance. "The diet, Mr. Hornblower. She should be eating fresh food. Naval fare is most inadequate for a woman expecting."

Hornblower accepted the qualified information and pondered the idea. "Then, the cow is for Pamela?"

"Yes. Specifically, a fresh cow or as I said to the captains last night, a wet cow." Sebastian remembered the jocularity of the two men. Referring to the cow as wet, like a wet nurse in human terms, was the only way to get his meaning through the uncontrollable laughter brought on by the alcohol the two were consuming. "Milk, Mr. Hornblower."

"Ah!" He recalled a conversation between his father and a midwife concerning such a topic. "My father held to the belief, as well, sir."

"What?" questioned Pamela.

"Milk, my lady. While you carry the child, you should be drinking milk. It is thought to prevent the loss of teeth in ... women with child," explained Hornblower

"That's an old wives tale, Horatio!"

"No, Mrs. Hornblower, there is evidence that it is a fact," stated Sebastian.

"Well, fact or not, you need not go to the trouble. I do not like milk."

Hornblower leaned back in his chair and stared at his wife.

"I do not like milk, Horatio!" She saw Sebastian's frown. "Doctor....it makes me gag!"

Sebastian crossed his arms, sternly.

Hornblower shifted his eyes to Sebastian.

"Pamela," Horatio's voice was stern, "I thought you wanted to stay with me."

Struck with fear, at first, as she studied his features, then, smiled, and shook her head no. "You would not..." the smile faded. "But Horatio...." she glimpsed Sebastian.
She bit her lower lip and thought, *Agree! Agree! You can always dump it out.* She let her eyes lower. "Very well."

Sebastian and Hornblower exchanged a knowing look of doubt that THIS woman was giving in so easily. Sebastian raised his eyebrows, and nodded.

"So, Mr. Hornblower. Have you a suggestion as to who in the crew might have experience with fresh cows?"

Horatio smiled widely. "Actually, I do, Doctor. He will be perfect for the job and I will assign him a helper." Hornblower chuckled. "This man will gloat over the possibility of ordering another."

Pamela glimpsed askance her jocular mate and sighed, putting another bite of dinner into her mouth.

 

 

Edrington and Kennedy made way to the forecastle.

"I believe, Mr. Kennedy, I shall take you up on that climb this evening." The major held on to the lines and looked up towards the fighting top in the diminishing light. "I feel a strong need for some exertion....physical exertion."

Kennedy laughed.

"Laugh! Go ahead! You will be the one living with the two of them for weeks on end." The major shook his head, hoping to rattle the image out of his brain. "Damn! How can any woman......by God, she IS desirable! Her cheeks crimson with ..."

"My Lord, you will do yourself an injury pondering..."

"I KNOW what I'm pondering, Mr. Kennedy. The tightness in my loins reminds me constantly. I think it was easier when she was alone and celibate though out of reach, than to know she .... and he.... Damn!" He stepped onto the rail.

"Do be careful, my Lord. I would not want to be forced to explain WHY you chose to try the shrouds should you fall," he chortled.

"That might do. Put me out of my misery. Do you think it remains stiff at death?"

Kennedy laughed out loud and followed up the ropes.