An American Encounter, Part Three
Ch 31 Ode to Joy
"How did you scrape your hands?" He finished the
binding on the right and lifted the left.
"I do not remember. It does not matter. Do not trouble yourself." She tried to pull her hand out of his, but he held it fast by the wrist. She relaxed her arm with a sigh and let him do as he would, beyond caring. The small brandy Sebastian insisted she drink gave warmth, aided in numbing her mind and emotions, and dulled her physical hurts and pains.
Sebastian sighed and gently spread the salve Carden brought from the cold cellar. It was purchased at the apothecary in the village a few months previous to administer to a sizable gash in Drake's knee when, according to Carden, the boy and Pamela sought a closer look at a rock ape and her baby on the south end of the peninsula. Apparently, the two were too inquisitive for the mother ape and the animal screamed and jumped at them causing Drake to startle and slip down the rocky cliff to which they clung.
Sebastian's expression softened and he looked on the distraught new mother with the appreciation only the male gender could bestow on a female inclined to boyhood adventures. Hornblower's baby son would never be deprived of a boy's life in her company. She had to pull out of this ... this... depression over her husband's death. Sebastian knew it was not an easy thing to ask, but her incomprehensible desire to wholly reject the child when she had looked upon his advent with such immense pleasure, he did not understand.
Sebastian knew how the thoughts of his spouse would affect him emotionally. Could it help to tell Pamela of his beloved? He never spoke of her, never. Even now, thinking on her, he felt his heart grow heavy. He understood how Pamela felt better than she knew. Could he make himself speak of the wife of his youth? He opened and closed his mouth no less than five times, struggling to divulge the history, before he could force out the first word. His voice was incredibly low, barely audible above the light crackle of the fire's fuel.
"I....," he swallowed dryly and held the end of the long streaming bandage, winding it about her fingers and palm like a mummy, "I... love my wife as much or more as you love Horatio." Sebastian was vaguely astonished that he spoke of her in the present tense when it came to expressing his love. It had been more than twenty years since her passing. "She ... she... was... the beat of my heart... the ... air that I breathed. She was like ... daybreak on a cold clear day, crisp, new,... beautiful,... vivid," the last word was a breathy sigh. Stirring of memories ceased and Sebastian felt the old hurt, the deathblow of loss of the love of his life, never to be replaced.
Silently, he wound the bandage until her hand was covered. Letting his eyes raise, he gazed upon her solemn countenance, the muscles of her forehead creasing together above her nose. He lay his palm in hers lightly, not wishing to cause discomfort.
"Believe me. I know your suffering. But, Pamela, God has given you a precious gift, one that was denied me, for I, too, once had a son." His voice cracked with the admission. "He lived long enough for this father's heart to wrap around him forever, never to be forgotten,... infinitely desired. When I hold him again, I will hold him in heaven. The grief you feel, the ... the despondency... I am not telling you not to feel those things. You have undergone great injury. I do not belittle your feelings or the impact of Horatio's passing, indeed, we have all felt it to an extent, and I know yours is incomparable to ours.
"But your son lives, the offspring of the man you love so earnestly. How can you not take him in your arms? Nor even look on him?" Sebastian hoped for a reply. He knew she listened by the tense brow and seeping tears. Taking the corner of a towel, he dabbed at the flow, but it did not cease. "I do not understand you. What has caused you to put your helm a-weather?"
Sebastian was at an emotional pitch that could not be hidden from his voice. "Are you serious about relinquishing the child to be raised by someone else?"
"Stop! Please." she wept. A hand went to her abdomen. "I miss my baby!"
"I will get him for you."
"Pamela, do not do this to yourself. Horatio is gone. Do not bury your child while he yet lives."
She covered her ears with the bandaged hands and turned onto her side, weeping uncontrollably, shaking her head, and murmuring 'no'.
Sebastian leaned to stroke her hair not knowing what to say or how to comprehend the mental and emotional conflict. On the one hand she wanted the baby and on the other, she did not. "God help me to understand," he prayed. Her sobs quieted to quaking sniffs and he determined to let her rest and try again in an hour or so. The baby would be getting hungry by then, and something would have to be done.
Standing upright, Sebastian pulled the down comforter over her. He opened the door and took the candlestick with him, leaving the room in an orangy yellow cast from the iron stove.
Pamela heard the door close gently. She was alone, ... so... alone. If she thought she was desolate when Horatio was merely on duty at sea, she was destitute now. And, not only bankrupt of his company, but his demise slammed the door shut on companionship.
She needed a man in her life. Her father's attentions had set her psyche long ago. That intangible 'something' that attracted men was not done consciously, it just happened. The opposite gender was enchanted by her and she by them, and so, she felt faithless, abandoned, and dissolute all at the same time, torn between the soul-mate love she bore Horatio and the basic need of her personality. The pleasure she took in Barth's company heaped coals upon her head, and the feelings she had for him left her confused and uneasy, and even now, she wished he would come... and the desire made her sick to her stomach.
She was appalled and felt like the lowest form of female life on God's earth, worse than the harlot presented to Jesus for condemnation, to want Barnstable's presence. The fears she felt for Horatio's safety weakened her, made her lay the foundation of a wall to protect her heart and the courses of stone had been growing higher in her subconscious mind, but the fortification failed. It tumbled upon her and death was the only way out. It was the only way she could preserve the love she bore Horatio and protect the man that mirrored him too closely.
**Do not feel guilty over Barth. You told Horatio to seek another should you die. Do you not recall that night on Indefatigable? You said, 'Find someone to love you.' **
**But not before I knew he was gone.**
**Do not be so hard on yourself. You did not seek Barnstable out. He just appeared.**
**Why did he?** she thought tenderly. **Why would the Lord put him in my path?**
The voice in her head flinched at the mention of His name and yanked her back to the subject at hand. **You always knew something would happen to Horatio. You're a jinx, a Jonah.**
It was true. She tried to tell Horatio so many months ago, on Dolphin, not to love her, attempting to explain how any man that married her, death claimed.
**All the more reason to be happy Barth has deigned not to visit me and that I have been strong enough to...**
**Do not fool yourself, my dear. You have not been strong, you have been pregnant.**
She pressed her head from both sides. **Stop it! God, forgive me for thinking of Barth when the news of Horatio is so fresh.** The opposing voice ceased and silence reigned in her mind. She pressed her eyes tightly shut. **How can I be so ... fickle and heartless? Let me die, Lord, let me die. I despise myself. Let me die.**
The persona of the voice smirked evilly. **Do not fear. If Barth were in your life you would eventually have to push him away. Being married to Horatio made it easy for you to be around Barth because you knew nothing could come of it. Barth is in love with you. You enjoyed those waves of emotional dependency washing over you in his company. Would you marry him if he asked? You are free now.**
The mental response in her head was immediate. **No. No,** she thought frantically. And, then, realized the argument was right. She had fed on Barth's love. Was it so wrong? He knew she was married. She had not been unfaithful, only ... lonesome and wanting the company of one man committed to her... as her father had been all her life.
**It was selfish. It was cruel.**
**But Barth was lonely, too. Was it so horrible to meet each others need for companionship?**
A cavern of emptiness was the silent reply.
**Go on. Think it. Think why you can never marry Barth,** taunted the voice in her head.
**Because ... he too would die should he marry me. I am anathema to the men I love.**
**I rest my case. So stop berating yourself. You should have jumped when you had the chance. Horatio has spoiled you for any other man.**
**... except possibly Barth.**
**Would it be fair to love him because he reminds you of Horatio? Admit it. We know the truth.**
**I cannot deny it. He does remind me of Horatio and it fills my ache afresh. I can have neither, and it makes Horatio doubly gone.**
The voice in her head chuckled evilly. **I think you stand on a precipice of insanity. Listen to you listening to voices in your head, wanting to commit suicide. You know self-murder is forbidden.**
**My foul luck with men will destroy any of that gender whom I love.** Pamela stroked her abdomen and knew the emptiness.
**Yes. What are you to do about the boy? He is Horatio's son. You have not even seen him. The doctor must think you some kind of American savage to refuse to even look on him. What kind of mother would you make? None at all, but... you never had one, so how can anyone expect you to know how to be one.**
**Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!**
**You could do that.**
**Do not play dumb with me. We are both inside your head. The dagger Matthews gave you is in your drawer.**
When Sebastian entered through the parlour, he walked straight into the dining room, poured a short brandy, then, tossed it back. Bowing his head he rebuked himself for taking the drink. He knew prayer was the better answer for the demons at work on what should have been a joyous night. Jerking his head up, he made a wry frown at the portrait of Hornblower, then, looked over his shoulder at Styles barefooted and in a nightshirt, rocking in the rocking chair, and Kennedy, sparsely clothed, pacing near the fire, the babe cradled in his arms. Kennedy's eyes met Sebastian's and worry etched his brow.
"Take him, Styles," said Archie, bending to place the baby into the big man's arms.
The boy squeaked softly bringing a grin from Styles. "He sounds like a newly rove line in a block," commented the rating joyfully.
The observation eased Sebastian's fears for a moment of time. It was good to see someone happy for the new little baby. What a night to be born! The night his mother learned of his father's death. Would that it had happened any other way, but that was a vain hope. Closing his eyes, Sebastian sighed. When he opened them again, Kennedy was beside him.
"What's going on, Doctor?" he asked lowly.
Sebastian shook his head forlornly and wiped down his tired features with a large dark hand, then, met Kennedy's gaze. "She is mortally wounded, Archie, mortally wounded. There is no physician for her but One. I must pray, but the events of this night oppress me, and that tells me that prayer is needed all the more."
Soft forlorn blue eyes wondered. "She must live, Doctor. The baby... Horatio's son."
"If only the child had been born before we came. A bond would have been established. She will not even look on him, Archie. She could not commit physical suicide and instead is killing herself emotionally. I do not understand." Sebastian approached Hornblower's portrait and stared into the angular painted face. "Your wife needs you, Horatio. If only this portrait could talk. If only he could step out of this canvas and walk up those stairs. Lord, help us." He closed his eyes and prayed silently.
Kennedy shivered listening to Sebastian talk to Horatio as if he were there. What if he were not dead? What if he had made it to shore... somehow ... that night, as they had once hoped. Was it only Brecon's appearance that made them cease searching? Maybe he was injured somewhere. Maybe another ship picked him up. Kennedy sat down and threw his forehead against a palm and wagged his head against it. **No.** Fantasies. For two weeks they had searched the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Such hope would only make it worse, ... wouldn't it?
At the dining table, Archie rubbed a wine glass full of claret between his palms and thought. A quiet conversation one night, when Horatio desperately wanted to see her, Archie had eased the frantic desire by getting him to talk about the proposal. He had been surprised there was so much to tell, that Pamela had fought against marriage and would have let Horatio bed her without the benefit of God's blessing. Two husbands, Horatio had told him, rather incredulously. "I think... I think I may know why she is reacting as she is, doctor."
Kennedy had Sebastian's attention.
"Horatio told me what a difficult time he had convincing her to marry him because of her other husbands."
Sebastian's eyebrows rose. This was news to him.
"She was married twice before and both men died... in accidents connected to the sea. The first died in a dock incident, if memory serves, and the second in ... in a storm at sea. She considered herself a jinx to men that love her." Kennedy looked up into the Spanish face and thought the relief there was an oddity. Nothing was solved.
"Thank you, Lord, my savior," said Sebastian, eyes glistening. He saw confusion on Archie's face. "The Spirit of God has surely brought this remembrance to you."
"Well," Archie would never doubt the doctor's faith, "perhaps." A half smile tugged one side of his mouth. "I just remember how frustrated Horatio sounded as he explained her refusal to his proposal. She would not even let him tell her he loved her." The more he thought on it, the more Archie was convinced that Pamela was blaming herself for Horatio's death. He tensed his brow and shook his head at the ridiculous notion. She had nothing to do with what happened to Horatio. He would not believe it. He refused to believe it. But, he was certain sure, she did. But what had that to do with her rejecting the baby? "Doctor, let us say she is blaming herself as a jinx bringing on Horatio's death at sea. What would that have to do with avoiding the child?"
"Her father was murdered before her eyes when he followed to rescue her from the pirates on Dolphin. She blames herself for that... another man she loved intensely. Put that together with her comment that the baby would be better off without her, that has to be what these exhausted and wounded emotions are telling her. Before I left her she said she missed the child but yet refuses to see him. Lord help her," asked Sebastian, "to find her way back from the brink of the abyss."
"I love her like a sister, Doctor, and Horatio like a brother. I cannot sit idly by and watch her destroy what remains of her life and the life of their son," stated Archie, defiance tinting the words.
Sebastian sighed. "What she needs most she is refusing."
"What do you mean?" asked Archie.
"There is nothing like the unconditional love of a child, Archie." Sebastian motioned towards the baby in Styles' arms. "She needs to be loved and to give it. She is a loving woman. We all know that. But she has chosen to close herself away and...," Sebastian's eyes flashed with fear.
"What, Doctor?" Archie sat up expectantly.
"She should not be left alone. I should not have left her."
Archie's brow wrinkled and his eyes studied Sebastian's. "You mean she may still attempt ... to do herself injury?"
"Until we can be assured that her mind has stabilized in her grief, yes."
Archie rose and lay a hand on Sebastian's arm. "I will go. Let me sit with her, sir. If she should wake perhaps I could ... perhaps... I will think of something." Horatio would, Archie thought as he grasped and held Horatio's steady painted gaze.
It was the second time tonight his thoughts turned to Horatio's ability to assess a situation and act. Could he be as astute as his dearest friend to help Horatio's passion through this bleak episode? The two of them together had guessed the cause of her dolor last May after the attack on Dolphin and had helped bring air to her emotional wounds, her torment over the loss of the men of Dolphin from the battle with Kaliakra. Men she had come to know.
**Tell me what to do, Horatio. You know her best of all of us. Tell me what to do,** thought Archie. He rounded the dining table on his way above stairs, repeating urgently in his mind, **What would you do? Tell me what will bring her round, Horatio. What must I do that you would, if you were here?**
Kennedy felt he was on a mission. Each step of the stair was like mounting the shrouds of the Indy, a feeling of light-hearted giddiness combined with the fear of falling. The cold air of the unheated risers sharpened his senses like a whetstone.
Horatio's passion. The strange association resounded in Kennedy's brain, but it fit. She was. In the last months of Horatio's life, she had been his driving desire, his duty nearly taking an aft position.
The final steps as he approached the closed bedroom door were like coming against the gates of hell. He would find a way to drag her back from the abyss of desolation he had once known so well, in that long ago time when he had felt isolated and abandoned. "Show me what to do, Horatio," he whispered as he lay a hand on the knob. "What would you do?"
Holding a breath, Kennedy walked stealthily into the room, eyes on the slow rise and fall of her chest as she slept. He felt relief. It was much needed rest and hopefully healing, not only physically, but emotionally. Overwrought emotions were handled better when one was well rested.
Kennedy eased down into the chair, the expression on his face sad and loving.
**Horatio loves you, Pamela. Even now, I cannot express that fact in the past tense. I do not want to believe he is dead, ... but the circumstances... But he has the luck... I do not know, Pamela. If he is alive, he will come for you. I know he will. I know it as sure as I know the sun will soon rise. Should I offer you that hope?** He pushed his hair back over the top of his head. Thought ceased. The portrait of the two of them was visible in the low light of the burning coals. **God. That fellow Deluca is quite the artist. He has captured you both so well.** Archie gulped loudly. His eyes darted to see if the sound would waken her, but she slept on. His eyes traced back to the happy countenance of Hornblower. **Tell me how to handle her, Horatio. What did you do when she was in despair? Help me to remember. God, help me to remember,** he thought desperately.
//////////"You seem deep in thought tonight, Horatio. How goes the watch?" asked Kennedy. The washing waves against Indefatigable's hull swished quietly like a lullaby.
"Archie, I did not hear your step."
"So I noticed. I do not think it is Indefatigable that has your thoughts."
"No," sighed Horatio, "not Indy. She is behaving herself."
Archie smiled wide. "It must be Pamela then."
Horatio nodded shyly with resignation.
"I'll listen, if you wish."
Horatio considered the offer. "I do not understand her sometimes." Horatio lifted his shoulders helplessly. "She seems quixotic in her mood... happy then sad." Hornblower lowered his eyes in thought. "Mr. Bracegirdle suggested she might... she might...," Horatio brought his eyes to rest warily on Kennedy's reaction, "...be..." he gulped, ".............. with child"
Kennedy chuckled quietly and grinned. "Already?"
"It only takes once, Archie,... in many instances,... but then she might not be either," he added hastily.
"This is true,... on both counts," agreed Archie. "Did the doctor have any sage advice for her emotional pendulum?"
Horatio shook his head and shrugged, "Not really, ... beyond what I am already doing," he added swiftly.
Horatio canted his head. "Loving her. Letting her know in no uncertain terms that I love her," he paused, then said, "I do love her. And, to be patient. Give her time. But mainly just assure her of my devotion, my commitment."
"So, you just tell her you love her?"
"Yes... but more than that, I mean.... besides.... I mean, not just...."
Archie did not need to see Horatio's face to know it was crimson. Kennedy remained mildly amazed that the duty bound officer had fallen in love with a flesh and blood woman.
Horatio sighed frustratedly. "I ... I hold her. Women do not just want... I mean, there are other forms of ... of..."
The look of incredulity on Kennedy's face was not due to what Hornblower was saying but that Hornblower was versant in such information.
"Why am I talking to you?" Hornblower shook his head and stalked off, tossing a hand in the air. "You would not understand a word I am saying."
Kennedy grinned, at first, then frowned. "Wait just a minute," he said defensively.////////
Kennedy searched for another memory, but nothing else presented
itself. This seemed too simple, but he did not know what else
to try. Leaning back in the chair, Kennedy rested his head on
the back and watched her sleep until his own eyelids slowly closed.
The low fire burned in the grate and Pamela nested in the deep feather mattress with a down comforter over her. For the first time in a long time, she did not wake with the urgency of a crowded bladder, or feel the stretch of flesh from the growing child. As a matter of fact her midsection felt loose and baggy and mildly uncomfortable. Slipping her hand off her hip, she felt the leather holder and the dagger within, the leather strap that held the weapon in place loosed. It reminded her that she did have control, ultimate control, and it gave her power over her own life and death.
The room was draped in darkness, day had not yet dawned. There was none of the telltale light fragments injecting themselves around the drawn window curtains. She closed her mind to memory and sought the blankness of thought that could send her back into a dreamless state.
There was a rustle of clothing and she felt arms slipping underneath her, the weight of a body nestling against hers, and a slight scratch of stubble against her cheek.
"Horatio?" she whispered, hopefully, still half asleep. However, she recognized the scent of this man was not Horatio's, but it was familiar and she was not afraid. The arms around her felt strong and reassuring. She leaned her head against his.
"Pamela," he whispered into her ear. He kissed her temple, tasting the salty tears.
"Yes," he breathed, "yes, it's me."
He lay his face alongside hers, flexing the muscles of his arms to embrace. She was warm, soft, and pliable and her skin smelled sweet. The seeping tears wetted the skin of his cheek, and he tightened the grip around her. "I've got you, Pamela. I will not let go."
"Archie," she whimpered. Her memory did not need prompting, but no man more than Archie Kennedy could bring Horatio to the fore of remembrance. The swelling emotion rose from her heart and spilled out through her eyes, erupting in her wounded whisper, "I cannot live without him. I cannot."
"I will not tell you not to cry," he replied in a hushed tone.
She quaked with grief and he tightened his grip.
"I've got you. I've got you," he whispered.
At length, she ceased trembling.
Lifting from the embrace, he watched her wipe at the moisture streaking her cheeks, but the fountain was unstaunched. He slipped a hand from underneath her and taking the sheet, he placed the tip at the corner of her eye and watched it absorb the moisture. "My linen is in my jacket, I fear," he said apologetically.
"There is one in the drawer, there," she motioned at the bedside table.
In a moment, he placed the fresh handkerchief to soak up the tears, listening to her sniff. "Sweet Pamela. I wish it had been me. With all my heart, if I could have taken his place, I would have."
"Oh Archie, then he would be grieving and blaming himself."
"Yes. I suppose. As I am. As I do."
She placed a hand upon his cheek. "Dear friend. Archie, you are a dear friend."
"A useless friend. I let you down, Pamela."
"No, Archie. You must not blame yourself."
He held her eyes with his as he prepared the words. "Then, neither can you."
Her eyes darted away.
"No, no. Look at me... Pamela. Horatio told me... one night when I found him fretting on the quarter-deck."
She shook her head.
"Yes, you did," he smiled briefly, "you made him fret. But how is that new information?"
A teary giggle erupted from her as she shook her head and new streams of tears fell. Archie dried them.
"He told me how you tried to refuse his marriage proposal." Archie looked down his nose askance daring her to deny it.
"And I was right. I should have. If I had, he might be alive now."
"And if you had, you would not now have his son, or be laying here grief stricken for you would have gone back to America long ago and known nothing more of Horatio Hornblower." He held her eyes with his and for a moment hers were dry. "I, too, am in grief, Pamela. Should I not have been his friend to avoid such pain?"
"Archie..." she shook her head wanting him to stop.
"You had ... twelve weeks. Twelve weeks, Pamela. I know because he said it to me. Twelve weeks. Would you rather not have had them at all?"
She covered her eyes and the tears flowed. A life without Horatio spread before her like a dry empty desert, void of any hope of refreshing. Horatio's company had been life to her. His love sustained and nurtured her. Snuffing, she shook her head, unable to speak, the quake of her body increasing as she was engulfed in emotion, knowing that same desert was stretching out before her in a lifetime bereft of his company.
Archie resumed the tight embrace, pressing his body against hers, his cheek against hers. "Oh love. I know. It hurts. I know." Archie fortified his own emotions. "I know you wanted more. So did he, Pamela. So did he." Whispering ceased until the tossing feelings calmed and she quieted.
Archie shifted his embrace, clasping her anew. At last, he raised and looked into her eyes, and dabbed at the constant flow sliding down her temples. Was it time to remind her? Was she ready to accept him? This one that brought so much expectation from every quarter? She could not continue to deny him. She loved him. She only needed... clarification.
"I love Horatio like a brother," whispered Archie.
The breath of his words puffed against her lips. "I know, Archie. I know you do."
"There is a son. We... we have Horatio's son, Pamela." He gazed at her sad features hopefully.
She looked away and shook her head.
Archie nodded his. "He is beautiful. I can see Horatio in every feature." He giggled, "Even his nose looks to be a bit on the large side."
Pamela snickered despite herself, then moaned with the discomfort the laughter brought her abdomen. "Please, Archie." In a moment, she shifted her brown eyes to meet his blue ones and saw in them sadness and muted joy. Archie had looked upon the face of Horatio's son, her son. "I love Horatio's nose. I love everything about him."
Silence prevailed and Archie waited for her own words to take effect.
"He is Horatio's son," Archie repeated.
She swallowed and looked away and a new fountain of tears emerged.
"Ah, there they are." He wiped the wetness gently, but it was replaced immediately. "This is how you melted that duty-bound heart of his," and he smiled mischievously, hoping to alter the perception of the sorrow, snatching her thoughts away from the child, hoping subconscious thinking and distraction would do its work.
"Archie, do not make me laugh. It hurts."
"I never want to hurt you, Pamela," he assured. "I never knew a man that loved a woman as much as Horatio loved you. He thought about you constantly. Not a day went by that you were not on his mind."
"How would you know?"
"Oh, I know. I shared a cabin with him. Remember? He mounted your portrait at the head of his bunk. You gave him such pleasure, Pamela." Archie's brow knit. "Thank you, for loving him so well."
"Archie," she sniffed. "I'm... I'm afraid."
It was enough.
He stroked her cheek with a thumb. Finally, a calm smile appeared and he said, "Not our Pamela. You faced a French garrison and an angry husband-- not to mention my Lord bloody Edrington."
She chuckled again and reached for her tummy with a groan.
"Sorry," smiled Archie. "But it is good to see a smile on your pretty face."
Archie and Pamela each stared into the countenance of the other, aware of the mutual bond, the emotional investment, they shared in Horatio.
"Do not be afraid. All you have to do is love him, and let life take its course. According to the good doctor, there is no other proper alternative. An old friend used to tell me in darker days, the almighty set his canon against self slaughter."
"Dr. Sebastian told you?"
Archie nodded. "And Styles, though reluctantly so. You do not know what you did to poor Styles, asking him to throw you into the sea." He wiped her temple. "You see, Horatio ordered Styles to cut the last line tethering him to the ship." He watched her eyes fill and brim over. "You must never make that request of him,... or any man."
"I did not know," she whispered, turning away. "Can he forgive me?"
"Of course he will." Archie smoothed a ringlet dangling by her ear. "Shall I fetch him?" asked Archie, " and I do not mean Styles."
"Yes. Yes," she confirmed. "I want to see him. I want to hold my baby."
Archie lay a hand on her cheek. "I knew you would not let us down, Pamela."
She pushed up in bed and Archie assisted.
"I can do it. Please. Get him," she urged, plumping a pillow. "Fetch my baby, my and Horatio's baby."
Archie stepped out of the room and closed the door. The landing was lit from a lantern below stairs. Stopping a moment to wipe his face, he smiled, and then skipped down the stairs noisily considering his feet were bare.
Opening the parlour door, he saw the baby cradled in the arms of a dozing doctor. Styles lay on the floor in front of the fire like some great beast dressed in a night shirt and under a blanket, his bare feet extending at the bottom due to his sizable length. The influx of cool air roused Styles to look at the joyful leftenant.
"What is it, Mr. Kennedy?" he whispered, raising on an elbow.
"She wants him," he grinned.
"Great God be praised," said Styles, falling back onto the floor.
"Hm? What are you doing?" asked Sebastian, feeling the warm little bundle gently lifted from his arms.
Archie beamed into the tiny sleeping face, the baby's rosebud lips sucking at nothing. With a single finger, he touched the soft round warm cheek and the newborn turned towards it. "Just in time, I see," grinned Archie.
With a cocked eyebrow, he answered Sebastian's query, "She wants him. I'm taking him up. Come on, baby, there's a meal in the offing." Archie grinned, "Horatio would be so envious."
Styles raised his head from the floor to look up at Kennedy leaving the room, and then at the sleep stupefied physician. "Mr. Kennedy's got a lot of cheek, he has," he said miffed.
The beginnings of a grey dawn lighted the stairs dimly. With the newborn cradled in the crook of an arm, Archie opened the bedroom door. Pamela's anxious features looked expectantly upon Archie and sought the infant, worriedly craning to peer at the cloth-wrapped baby.
"Is he all right?" she squeaked quietly. For an
instant, she darted a glance to see Kennedy nod, then only the
child filled her view.
Her hair was neatly brushed and cascaded over her shoulders still damp from the evening excursions. Now that the barrier was down, she desired to embrace her baby with all her mind, soul, and emotions.
"Archie!" she whispered, anxiously holding up her bandaged hands, fingers impatiently reaching. She took the baby as carefully as she would clasp paper-thin glass. Gasping quietly, she saw him for the first time, her eyes filled and spilled onto her cheek. "Oh," she sighed, then sniffed. "My little darling," she whispered, "my darling little one."
Archie watched in awe as mother met babe and a twinge of sorrow reminded him that it should be Horatio witnessing this first encounter, not him. **God, Horatio. You have a beautiful little family,** he thought sadly.
Pamela carefully shifted the blanket away from the baby's cheek, then canted him toward the candle light. The soft glow gave a radiance to the newborn, revealing dark lashes so like those of his father. "My beautiful boy," she sighed. Pamela flashed a swift smile Archie's way. "His nose isn't so big, though it might grow as he does," she giggled, then sniffed, and spoke to the boy, "I shall be very pleased indeed if you look every bit like your father."
The baby gave a little twist of the head as if he were listening to her, hearing a familiar voice. She ran a finger alongside the plump little cheek and the baby turned towards it.
"He's hungry, Pamela."
Joyful eyes met his.
"It surprises me you know the signals of a baby, Archie Kennedy," she said softly.
"I have not always lived on a ship," he answered mildly amused. "We're just in time, I think," stated Archie quirking a brow at the baby actively searching for more than a touch. "Shall I leave?"
"Please stay. Just...," she circled a finger, then asked, "Could you get another blanket from the middle drawer?"
Pamela unbuttoned the top buttons of the gown, her gaze steadily fixed on the stirring child.
"Light or dark blue?" asked Archie.
A shadow crossed Pamela's face and she hesitated.
"These are quite the fashion for baby blankets,... monogrammed with an 'H'?" He rummaged through the baby's things and commented without a thought. Archie looked up from the drawer not understanding why she was taking so long to answer. "Pamela?" Had the mention of the initial upset her?
"Doesn't matter," she said sadly, "either will do nicely." Looking down at the little boy in her arms through mounting tears, she asked him mournfully, "How will we manage, little one? How will we manage?" then with a hush, "I love you so." she said tenderly. "Forgive me. Forgive me for ... for denying you, for keeping you waiting."
Archie arrived with the navy blue blanket and placed it on her lap. Seeing her in distress and huge tears rolling down her cheek, he covered her hand with his. "What is it? I am sure he will forgive you. He is too little to bear a grudge."
She nodded and a hint of a smile flitted over her lips. Archie was doing his best to be cheerful, but he did not know... not yet... but she knew she must tell him.
"Look away," she asked softly and sadly, "It is our first time and it may take a moment."
Giving a single nod, he swiveled on the bed to give them privacy. He heard a sniff, remembered the clean handkerchiefs in the drawer and went for one. With the linen to hand, he backed rearward onto the edge of the bed and waited.
The baby snorted and voiced an eager grunt against her skin as she assisted him to latch onto the nipple. His mouth was warm and she waited as he gave a tentative suck, repositioned and tried again. She held the areola in a pinch to aid the tiny mouth to take hold. Success at last, the baby pulled greedily to receive that her body had to give.
"Poor little thing," bemoaned Pamela. "He is famished, Archie."
She adjusted the navy blue blanket to cover the hungrily nursing babe, tucking it behind her neck and draping the front of her body, the 'H' plainly visible. She peeked at him and pressed back the skin of the globe to keep the little nose clear. Satisfied all was well, Pamela gazed at Archie's back. "You may turn around now."
Archie let his eyes lower. Nothing but blankets and sheets could be seen and he gazed happily at mother and child, pleased with the reverse in her response. She just needed time, as Horatio had said, but what brought this new distress which he perceived. "What is it, Pamela?" Suddenly sorrowful, he asked, "Is it ... Horatio?"
Her eyes were lowered onto the tiny baby that she could see from her vantage but he could not.
Archie watched a tremble of the head, a hand reaching under the blanket. The diverse feelings played across her face so rapidly, he was losing track of what to ask, what to offer as consolation.
Slowly she raised pitiful eyes to meet Archie's, not yet finding the words to speak the dreadful news.
The appearance of the young mother's strained look alarmed him. Was another bout of weeping gaining a footing? "I do not know what to say, Pamela."
"It is I that does not know what to say. How can I tell you? Oh grief upon grief," she agonized fretfully.
"Pamela," he shook his head, wondering what more could oppress her.
"How do I tell you? I knew when you, and the others walked in something frightful had occurred, but ... how am I to tell you this?" her eyes were swimming with unfallen teardrops.
He took her free hand in his and scooted nearer, then dropped to his knees beside the bed to keep it from slanting. Archie gazed worriedly into the mournful features at a loss to understand what she would divulge.
"Do not think me cruel," her head wagging sincerely, "I wrote a letter,... but... I have not mailed it."
"What?" he shrugged questioning, an eyebrow quirking upward.
She glimpsed the suckling babe, sleeping at her breast. "Amelia, Archie... her husband..." she looked back at Archie waiting patiently, "was not ... was not... dead. If a husband could be wished dead, he was, but he was not." Her voice cracked with the strain of what she brought to light.
Archie considered the tidings, his gaze vacant. When he was with Amelia last October, he had felt there was something she was hiding. She had lied to him then. Her husband lived.
"There's more," said Pamela shakily, a sob in her voice. "He... he found out."
"About Amelia and I?" asked Archie incredulously, releasing her hand and rising to his feet.
Pamela shook her head, tilting it to maintain eye contact. "I loved Amelia dearly, Archie,... but ... you were not... the only one."
Archie turned away, hoping to make it easier for her speak, and canted an ear slightly, intent on her words.
"There is too much to tell. He was so angry. Horace Holly was his name. Archie," her voice broke, "he... he killed her... and then killed himself."
The air left Kennedy's lungs as if he had been struck a blow to the chest.
"I did not know how to tell you. I did not want to tell you, but... I knew you had to know. Amelia made the baby these blankets... Am I wrong to have told you?" Her voice quavered.
Archie wheeled around abruptly. Before he gave it a thought, he returned to embrace her, hearing the sob. "God, Pamela," he breathed, "God have mercy." His eyes reddened with woe. "God have mercy," he whispered again. **How many griefs can one soul bear,** he thought, holding her head, caressing the damp hair. "You are right, Pamela. You are right to have told me. You should not bear this knowledge alone." He was not in love with Amelia, but she had been a friend, a solace, a companion, and ... a lover. "We must let her go," he whispered, "Let her go... and remember her with fond regard."
It seemed an idiotic thing to say. These two women had shared their deepest thoughts. Had not Amelia written to him, telling of Pamela's fears for Horatio?
Pamela knew Amelia Holly emotionally, while he had known her physically. No more was she a possibility for him; she was his past. How coldly his consideration seemed and he chided himself for not shedding sorrowful tears, though a profound sadness settled on his heart, a thin layer on top of that he bore for Horatio. Grief upon grief indeed.
He eased back and held Pamela's face in one hand and stroked her hair with another. "Are you all right?"
She nodded sadly. "It is a burden lifted but still born," she replied.
Hands dropping to his sides, he eased down onto his knees and lay his head away from her on the edge of the bed, silently considering the state of their lives. Warm fingertips lightly touched his temple and softly smoothed the blonde hair. He took pleasure from the loving caress allowing the barriers to fall. Amelia.
Tears welled and dropped into the bed clothes as the first jerk of a sob took him. Horatio, Amelia, Pamela, the baby's loss, his own. He clutched the blanket in a fist and turned his face into the cloth.
Pamela squeezed his shoulder with as much of a grip as the bruised hand would allow, and he covered it with his.
"Forgive me, Pamela, for my weakness," he whispered.
"You are not weak, Archie. I would never think you weak."
He looked up into assurance, half expecting to see Horatio there, but it was not Horatio. It was his wife. "You are the bravest woman I know, Pamela."
Her eyes crinkled with the sad smile as the moisture wetted her face. "So silly, Mr. Kennedy," she struggled to say, cupping his cheek.
He shook his head to refute her words, then, kissed an unbandaged spot on the soft hand, holding it in both of his, pressing it against his the side of his face, and finally, kissing the exposed knuckles one at a time.
"How am I going to live without him, Archie?" she whispered.
"I do not know," he whispered back. "I do not know. It has been three weeks and I still do not believe it."
"You do not believe it?" she sniffed.
He shook his head. "No."
Whether it was wrong of him to say without hesitation that he did not believe Horatio was dead, it was what, in his heart of hearts, he felt. Denial or not, the fact was, he had come to believe that Horatio was not dead. And, whether Pamela should accept it as a fact he did not know, but he did hear a spark alight anew in the simple question she asked and he saw a glimmer of hope, a twinkle in her eye.
What would she think once the roiling emotions subsided? Could she still look down the tunnel leading to the future and see Horatio alive and an admiral? What would it mean for her and the child? What did it mean for Horatio? Perhaps an opportunity would arise before Captain Pellew recalled them to Indefatigable to inquire, but not for the world would he ask it if he thought it would grieve.
Horatio wakened to see the kindly face of the old priest studying him with bright interest. The small chamber that had become his, for the time being, was like all the others in the monastery. The day after the old woman left Horatio with the cleric, hearing a language he understood, his spirit composed and his thought was no longer distracted with not understanding the people around him. He had not realized how much effort he had been putting into solving the language barrier and now he was peaceful and able to comprehend and be comprehended.
The priest seemed to be waiting for him to speak and so he did.
"Good morning, sir."
Sir..., it came so easily to say it. It was respectful, but he felt there was more to using the term than normal. These Portuguese suspected he was in the British naval service and he had come to that conclusion as well. The knowledge, although incomplete, pacified, and as the priest instructed, he waited patiently, though at first he had been anxious.
"Good morning, English."
Horatio smiled at the name that came to be his. He knew it was not his real name, but, for the time being, it was.
"Is something amiss?" asked Horatio, rising on an elbow.
"You do not remember? Last night?" asked the padre.
Breathing deeply, Horatio thought. Dreams or... nightmares? "I ... I woke you. I apologize. I..."
"Peace be with you." The priest soothingly stroked the back of Hornblower's hand and wrist. "Good. You remember that much. Do you recall the name you were shouting? A woman's name? Try to remember. What was in the dream?" asked the man serenely, closing his eyes.
These moments of unruffled yet intense recollection took on a routine, and the routine itself was calmative.
The old man was perceptive. In the days Horatio had been at his side, the aging priest would catch a look and know Hornblower was struggling to recall something and he would have him sit down. In the beginning, the priest would stroke his forearm or if he were prone, pet his head. Sometimes Hornblower would fall asleep; he was that restful. The priest's touch was pacifying and Horatio knew the man of God often prayed for him without speaking aloud. At the first, he told Horatio to calm his spirit, close his eyes, breathe deeply, and relax, letting his mind open and ease into the memory, rather than tensing with frustration at not receiving a quick answer. The inquiries that came from out of the blue through some event or word would set off a spark through his intellect and they were increasing daily.
When he questioned the priest how he knew to react to anxious thoughts thusly, the priest glanced heavenward with a smile, and said the Lord showed him what was needed.
Whoever or whatever suggested the method, Horatio did not care. All he knew was that the memories were coming and patience would get him there sooner than jittery expectation.
Hornblower came to see his mind as a puzzle and each day another piece was turned over to reveal colors and images. There was an older man in a uniform, like a father, but when the word father came to mind, another man's image appeared, an older man, and his image brought a mild concern. There were many men, some his equals, some his superiors, some that looked to him for leadership. A wooden deck was beneath his feet and he could feel the heel of a ship, and the roll of a wave beneath a long keel. There were sounds that evoked memories of sailing, creaks and squeaks and humming of wind through rigging. There were colours, blue hues that divulged sun swept days on the immense ocean, deep navy blue far at sea, near shore turquoise and pea green, and sometimes the blue would alter into sapphire and two mirthful eyes gazed back at him full of laughter and camaraderie. Those eyes always brought peace and a familiar comfort and then, like pulling back from a close view, he saw the face of the man to whom they belonged and the image of the storm would rage about him.
And the woman. Who was she? When her likeness appeared he felt a deep ache in his heart. Whenever he sank into these purposeful reveries, for the most part, his overall reaction was steady, accepting the memories, feeling his mind validate the remembrance. But when he saw her image, his breathing shortened, his heart beat faster, and it was far more difficult to maintain the quiet attitude of introspection. Attempting recollections about her left him feeling agitated, for when he saw her up close and tried to get his mind to back off and reveal her full length person, his memory would close like a steel trap. Why? There was something special about her and realizing that intensified the anxiety.
There was another woman, too. A portrait, mounted over a mantel. Sometimes he saw this one in a field of bluebells, joyful and loving. He felt like a small boy in the thought of her presence. She must be his mother, he thought. In fact, she was the one person of whose identity he felt most certain.
Horatio reclined and closed his eyes and searched his memory as anyone would once a dream had flitted from recall. But if he had awakened the priest with yelling... this would not do. A name? It dawned on him that the priest had said he called out a name. What name? That was what was lacking with all that he remembered. Names, like the saying that a word was on the tip of the tongue, he had no names for the faces he saw. The peoples' images in his mind were speaking to one another, but there was little sound other than the occasional snatch of phrase and most of all no names. What woman's name had he shouted? Why did he not ask? Did it belong to the woman on whom his memory closed? Were the deep recesses of his remembrance trying to overcome that door which slammed shut when he was awake? What name did he speak? He eased into the dark corridors of his mind.
The storm again. He dreamt of the storm, ... but no... it was different. He was not at sea, but ... on land. There was ... darkness and... a wall, no... an embrasure next to the sea. His brow knit with the unfamiliar setting, but... it was familiar, though it was cast in darkness.
The waves were pounding against rocky cliffs and the wind was screaming... no... he was screaming. His chest was rising with the intake of air. The priest's hand warmly rested on his forearm. Hornblower purposely slowed his breathing and watched the scene emerging in his mind.
What was she doing out on such a frightfully stormy night at such a late hour? She was distraught, this woman. In a flash of lightning, he saw her face. It was her! He could see her from head to foot, full length, but she was draped in a drenched cloak, her hair in soaking ringlets, her face pale. She doubled over and cried out a name... 'Horatio!' Air rushed into his lungs and he felt cold rain upon his tongue. Holding fast to the scene before his mind's eye, he felt the word forming on his lips and bursting from his heart.
'"Pamela! Pamela!" he screamed into the wind. "PAMELA!" He watched her freeze and turn away from the pounding violent sea.
Hornblower sat up immediately, breathing hard, a sweat popping
out over every inch of his body. He looked fearfully into the
eyes of the priest holding onto his arm. Closing his eyes, he
tried to return to the scene, but nothing came. He shook his
head frustratedly, then opened his eyes.
"My...," he swallowed still panting for breath, "my name is Horatio Hornblower, Leftenant Horatio Hornblower of ... His Majesty's frigate Indefatigable... and... I must go to my wife." He looked down at the floor. Frustration mounted as he tried to understand the lapse of time. "What day is it?" he asked anxiously, "What day?"
"It is February twenty-second, eighteen hundred."
"February twenty-second?" He stood and looked down at his clothing, his surroundings, the elderly man. Old memories, recent memories, new memories, they were a jumble and he had not the time to sort them out. "Where... where is my uniform?" He touched his face, feeling the scruffy beard. "I've got to go. I've got to go."
The priest rose calmly. "You will go, yes, but not in such a hurry. These things take time."
"No. I haven't time," he said anxiously.
"It was a dream, just a dream. Sit and calm down."
"No. You do not understand. My, my wife. She is having a baby, our baby. I must go to her."
The priest remained serene. "Pamela?"
"Yes. Yes, that is her name. I saw her. She... she needs me."
The priest's eyes narrowed. It was the name the priest heard him yell. "You think this dream a reality."
Nodding once, Hornblower blinked. He did. It felt real, but how could he have been there? But... it was real. She needed him. "How far are we from the sea?"
"You must calm down, Leftenant. Do you wish to go to your people now? There are harbours at Porto and Lisboa. I am sure you would find ships of your navy there."
"Almost a hundred miles to Porto to the north, a hundred and fifty to Lisboa thereabouts, or Lisbon as you English say, to the south."
"A hundred and fifty?" Hornblower knew those ports. The direction he would have to go was south, but a hundred and fifty miles on foot could take weeks over the terrain of Portugal. "Where... where did the woman find me?"
"Washed up on the shore. There is a fishing village there but no deep ports for warships."
**Washed up on shore,** thought Hornblower. The dolphins, he could remember the dolphins, and the dolphins reminded him of Pamela. Splaying the fingers of his left hand, he knew now why he found his attention drawn to its ring finger. The ring, he had lost the ring Pamela gave him. No time to mourn its loss. He had to go, he had to go now.
"Please. Please," he pleaded. "I've got to get to Gibraltar."
"Gibraltar? It is a very long way away." The priest inhaled and pondered the anxious young man, come to himself with a vengeance. "You do not intend to rejoin your navy, do you?"
The priest voiced the decision Hornblower knew he had already made but had not given conscious thought. Indeed, he did not intend to return to the navy. He could not. Not until he knew his wife was all right. And what of Indefatigable? He saw her clearly in the flash of lightning, fighting the storm, as a wave lifted him up amongst the wreckage he clung to. Had she survived it? It had to be Pamela first. His family had to come first this time. He gave no answer to the priest.
"Come," said the holy man, "put on your robe and come to breakfast. I will pray and take council with my brothers. We will help you as much as we can."
Hornblower donned the rough brown robe of the brothers rapidly
and tied the waist cord, then followed the priest out into the