An American Encounter, Part Three
by Skihee

Ch 32 The Promise

 

Pellew pushed open the front door, Matthews following behind. The day was breaking softly with golden beams streaking through the remaining storm clouds, threatening to overcome the light.

The aroma of fresh coffee drifted towards the front of the house. Peeking into the parlour, Pellew saw Styles stretched out on the floor and softly snoring. No one else was present.

"Captain?"

It was Sebastian. Pellew quietly closed the parlour door.

"Yes. What's happened? How is she? Where is the baby? Where is Mr. Kennedy?" Pellew whirled the cape from his shoulders and hung it on the hall tree.

"Mr. Kennedy took the baby to her about twenty minutes ago," answered the doctor, raising an eyebrow at the sight of Pellew's civilian clothing.

"That is good news," he said, relieved. "Yes," said Pellew responding to the look on his surgeon's face, "I feel like a bloody criminal sneaking off my own ship, damn it."

"Would you like a cup of coffee?"

"Yes, and I need a shave... make myself presentable before I see her. Is there water?"

"Of course," and Sebastian motioned towards the kitchen.

"Here's yer dry clothes, sir," said Matthews, passing the canvas bag to Sebastian. "I've got Mr. Kennedy's, too. Would it be all right to take 'em to him?"

Sebastian nodded. "Check on them for me, Matthews."

The old rating's open face glittered with joy. "Gladly, sir."

Kennedy sat in the chair watching Pamela feed the baby on the other side, though he could see no more than before. There was a change in her expression, a mellow acceptance, and there was a peace about the room.

"Thank you for staying, Archie," she whispered, raising her head. "You know as long as you are here, part of him is here, too."

Archie pressed a wry smile. It was nice of her to say.

"It is a fine painting of the two of you."

Pamela followed Archie's gaze. "Yes," she sighed. "He is such a handsome man."

The baby was asleep. Pamela closed her gown, and with a towel over her shoulder, she lifted him carefully to rest there. The baby sighed and burped and his head lolled against her neck.

"He is so sweet," she whispered, kissing the back of his head.

A light tap sounded on the door. Kennedy rose and opened it a crack. Looking back at Pamela, he questioned her, "Matthews?"

She nodded adamantly with a smile.

The wizened seaman pressed Kennedy's bag into the officer's hand. "Yer dry clothes, sir," then had eyes only for the baby and Pamela. A happy grin split his face and he squatted beside the head of the bed. "Oh, Miss Pamela, he's fine, he is." His eyes darted to the portrait, blinking with surprise. "Oh, aye, sir, that's just how ye'd be lookin' at yer son."

Pamela swiveled her head and gazed at the painting in a different light. Turning back to the baby, she leaned her cheek against the warm little body. "Thank you, Mr. Matthews."

Matthews knelt and shifted closer. Mopping his hand on a trouser leg, he wiped away a teardrop from her cheek. "I don't have ta tell ye how much he loved ye, Miss Pamela. He was nigh unbearable wantin' ta see ye as bad as he did. I know Mr. Kennedy's told ye by now his last thoughts were fer you." Matthews' eyes shifted to the baby, then back to her. "He's fine, ma'am. A fine boy and Mr. Hornblower's written all over him." With the back of a finger, Matthews stroked the baby's plump little cheek. "Thank ye fer lettin' me see 'im again. I'll be goin' so ye can rest now." Matthews weather beaten hand crept to take her bandaged one and he kissed it. With a wink, he stood, gave Kennedy a nod, then opened the door to leave.

"What has the captain in mind, Matthews?" asked Kennedy.

The rating canted his head with a raised brow. "Captain to us he be, but to the world he's mister." And with that, he was gone.

Kennedy's features expressed amused confusion. "God, now Matthews is talking in riddles." He lifted the canvas bag in his hand. "A clean, relatively dry uniform. I should go and dress." He held out his arms to emphasize the disheveled appearance. "This will never do with the dawn of day, and I confess, I am curious to see what the devil he's," inclining his head towards the departed rating, "talking about. I smell coffee. Are you desirous of breakfast, madam?" he smiled.

She was slipping to a prone position. "I could eat something, but I am tired, Archie." She carefully rolled the baby over onto the bed and pulled the covers over him, her back to Archie. She removed the dagger from underneath her hip and held it up. "Put this away, will you?"

He took it without comment and buried it deep under clothing in the bottom drawer.

"I'm going to scoot you to the wall," whispered Archie, moving the far side night stand. He pushed the wardrobe toward the window to make room for the foot, then pulled and shoved the base of the bed till it would go no farther.

"I do not think he is old enough to do much rolling," whispered Pamela over her shoulder.

"Humor me," said Archie. With a shove, the head of the bed was slid to the wall. "There. Ship shape." He leaned over for a final look at the sleeping child, then bent to kiss Pamela's forehead. "Matthews is right," he whispered, "he is a fine boy. See you in a bit. Get some rest."

Kennedy passed Carden and Matthews, with a coal scuttle to hand, on the stairs.

"She is resting. Be as quiet as you can," informed Kennedy.

"Aye, aye, sir," answered Matthews.

Pellew and Sebastian were sipping coffee in the kitchen.

"Ah, Mr. Kennedy, how is she?" asked Pellew, raking the junior officer's appearance with his eyes and seeing puzzlement on Kennedy about his own garb.

"She is of a much better mind, sir, and resting."

"And... the child?" asked Pellew, raising his chin.

"There is no doubt he is Horatio's son, that is certain sure," mused Kennedy. "He is well fed and sleeping, sir."

Pellew relaxed, lowering his view to the floor. "Good. Good. It is good to hear." Lifting his eyes, he saw Kennedy share a quizzical glance with the doctor.

"Ahem." Pellew cleared his throat. He despised devious deception and hated setting a bad example; for some odd reason Brecon came to mind, but in no way was he acting a spy. "I suppose you are wondering why I am out of uniform, Mr. Kennedy."

"I expect, sir, it is because your other uniforms are wet or out to be laundered. I can think of no other reason, sir, that you would be so... discommoded." His tone was offhanded and the skin around Kennedy's eyes crinkled.

Pellew's brow twitched and his mouth gaped. Closing it sharply, he shifted his eyes to Sebastian. "Ahem, yes." Pellew tilted his head and looked sideways at Kennedy. "Excellent coffee, Doctor. You should have a cup, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew poured a pan of hot water and took it in hand. "I am going to shave. Perhaps in our time here today, Mr. Kennedy," stopping in the kitchen door Pellew turned, "you will have the opportunity to share your tactics with Mr. Beadle," and then entered the room opposite and closed the door.

Kennedy's face shifted from question, to recollection, to apprehension, to wary amusement. The captain was pulling his leg and it was an odd sensation to be sure. Sebastian was amused.

"Coffee, Archie?" asked Sebastian.

"I haven't decided," he sighed tiredly. "When are we going back to the ship?"

"The captain intends to wait until this evening. He did not want to leave until he knew she would be all right."

Archie nodded and sat on the stool, seeing a bowl of fresh eggs on the table. "Are you making breakfast?"

"Are you hungry?"

"A bit, but mostly I would like some sleep," he yawned. "Do you suppose that is possible?"

Sebastian nodded. "Yes. Carden says there is a spare bed in Drake's room and a bed in the middle bedroom."

"Did Carden say where Maria is?"

"She has been gone nearly month, he says. She was supposed to send a relative to stay with Mrs. Hornblower, but the woman never arrived."

"God." Archie frowned and wagged his head. "How is she going to cope? She needs a servant. One that sticks around and is reliable. I do not understand why she has not found someone, knowing the double life Maria leads."

"Carden said there was a girl named Consuella here for a while, but that she went with Maria."

"Is she an agent, too?" Archie asked incredulously.

Sebastian shrugged. "I know not, ... but ... and it grieves me to say it, but... Pamela should not stay here. This is no place for her to live on her own. Besides, Carden says the couple, whose home this is, are due to return by summer."

Archie perked up. "Are you suggesting she go back to America?"

"Would that not be the logical place, Archie? She has family there."

"But..." Archie's expression was pained. How would Horatio find her if she left? He had not told Sebastian yet that he had come to let himself believe that Horatio lived. "What if Horatio is alive?"

Sebastian stared at him dumbfounded, then opened his mouth as if to speak, but closed it without a word. Picking up the spoon, he stirred the coffee purposefully, watching the liquid circle gently in the cup. Finally, he lifted his eyes. "You think he lives?"

Archie's eyelids fluttered. Sebastian's tone was not sarcastic or mocking, but seriously steady.

"Is this why she is doing better? You... have given her hope?" asked Sebastian, his tone rising a fraction.

"No. No. She ... she accepts the situation... and the baby. I knew she would once she saw him. I merely expressed that ... I cannot believe... that he ... that he...," he shook his head. "In my deepest heart, I do not believe ..." Archie's voice cracked and he could not utter the final words.

Sebastian's chest deflated and he stared at the floor. If what Archie uttered had caused harm, to refute it now would only cause more distress... to her and Archie. That he and Pellew might have expected too much from the young officer and friend to Hornblower was a distinct possibility. And if Kennedy were right? All Sebastian's knowledge about the human body told him it was impossible that Hornblower had survived the frigid, tossing sea, but what he knew about the human spirit provided just the right amount of doubt to consider it possible... and, finally, was not God the God of the impossible? Would it harm anything to let these two young people believe what they would? Would they not anyway?

"You think I was wrong, sir," said Archie dejectedly.

Sebastian lay his hand on Archie's shoulder and looking deeply into the mournful blue eyes, spoke slowly and succinctly. "You must do as your heart dictates, Archie. If you choose to believe he is alive, then do so. Time will answer all questions."

"But you do not believe it, sir," stated Archie, a questioning timbre in his voice.

Sebastian considered his words, and slipping his hand to grip the back of Archie's neck, he said, "God is the God of the impossible. Let us all take comfort in that fact."

Sebastian let his words sink into Archie's thoughts and his own. Easily could he be convinced to believe as Hornblower's closest. It was fear for his own heart that he held the idea at arm's length. Hornblower's 'disappearance' had weighed heavily on Sebastian. His all too recent labors to help Hornblower through his injuries: bodily, emotionally, mentally, spiritually,... Hornblower's loss was greatly felt indeed.

"Go to sleep, Archie. I will send one of the men to wake you when breakfast is ready."

When Pellew emerged clean shaven, feet clothed in dry socks and shoes, he found the kitchen empty. He lay his damp, socks over the iron towel rack of the stove, then headed for the parlour in search of his men.

Sebastian was in conversation with Styles when Pellew entered. Styles came to his feet with a groan and knuckled his head to Pellew, suddenly realizing the captain was out of uniform.

Pellew's lips twisted into a frown briefly. "At ease, man. Matthews brought dry clothes for you," he said, motioning with a hand into the hallway.

"Yes, sir," bobbed Styles, and he left the two older officers alone.

The parlour and dining room were better lit with the grey light of outdoors. Pellew's eyes were drawn to the portrait of Hornblower and he stood silently taking in Hornblower's aspect. "You were a fine officer, Mr. Hornblower," he said softly.

"And still may be, according to Pamela and Mr. Kennedy," warned Sebastian.

Pellew turned abruptly to the physician.

"I thought it best you knew."

Pellew sighed and bent his head lowly, then looked up beneath his eyebrows. "Can it hurt?" asked Pellew.

"No more than it does already, surely," answered Sebastian.

Pellew locked eyes with the doctor. "'And you? Are you still holding out hope?"

Sebastian raised a half smile and chose the better part. "God IS the God of the impossible."

Pellew raised his eyebrows. "Indeed, doctor," pausing, "indeed, He is. I will not give her false hope," stated the captain firmly, then softly, "Nor will I dash what hope she has. Is she... stable, do you think?"

"I pray so, Captain. I was about to go up. The men have just stoked the fire in all the rooms above stairs, including the middle one, sir, should you wish to rest. Mr. Kennedy is sleeping in Drake's room."

"Thank you, doctor, but I will take the next watch with Mrs. Hornblower."

"As you wish, Captain."

 

Pellew eased into the curtained room and beheld the sleeping mother and child, hearing the regular breathing of both.

A step nearer and Pellew peered more closely at the babe. The thin fine hair of the newborn was chestnut brown like Hornblower's. Tilting his head to see the small features of the little boy, Pellew searched for what Kennedy found resembling of his second leftenant. The captain quirked a smile, noting the slight angle of the jaw and the length of the boy's brow, the nose potentially long. Extending a tentative finger, Pellew slipped it under the soft little palm and smoothed out the curled fingers. Long and thin like the tentacles of a starfish, they were, and moving in a similar languid style. The baby inhaled quickly and huffed out the air in a sigh, then yawned in his sleep, stretching the little mouth wide, then closing it with a tiny smack echoed by a second one. Pellew smiled affectionately at the little boy. **Kennedy's assessment is correct. You are every bit your father.** Sadness slowly claimed the captain's visage, but before leaving close proximity, he stroked the child's cheek and received a twitch in reply to the touch.

He positioned the chair next to the bed and slid the trunk nearer to prop his feet. Comfortably settled, Pellew leaned his head against the wings of the chair, closed his eyes, and drifted off to sleep.

Furtive grunts and a muffled but stressed cry woke Pellew with a start. He sat up immediately and saw the baby displayed a singular agitation that showed signs of escalating. Glimpsing Pamela, Pellew perceived she slept deeply, her mouth slightly open, her face weary, dark circles under the eyes. He pulled his watch from the vest pocket and clicked it open Sitting it near the baby's head, he hoped the tick ticking might soothe the child, but it had no effect. The newborn was verging on an all out cry of affliction.

Moving the covers from the boy's back, Pellew slipped a hand underneath the small warm body and knew instantly what was bringing on the discontent. "Yes, yes, yes," whispered Pellew, lifting the child to rest on his shoulder. "Being wet is most uncomfortable. Believe you me, we know it well. Think of it as early training for the navy, my boy."

Gently pulling open a drawer, Pellew located diapers and a gown.

"Bear with me, it has been ages since I was forced to do this on a similar occasion."

Laying the baby down, the sea officer stripped down to shirt sleeves and vest, then removed the wet gown over the baby's soft silky hair. With clutched fists, the baby drew his arms next to his body.

"Cold? Here." Pellew snatched a blanket from the open drawer and lay it over the child, pulling the cover gently away from the gasping face. Pellew smiled as he rolled the sleeves of his shirt upwards, "I beg your pardon, sir."

Frowning at the fastened diaper, Sir Edward saw the sides had been tied into a knot. "Heavens, that looks uncomfortable." With fear at what he would find, Pellew unknotted the diaper and carefully pulled it down. Seeing nothing but moisture, the captain breathed a sigh of relief. "That's my boy. Nothing untoward for your captain."

A pot of water sat atop the stove. Dipping a clean diaper into the water, then fanning it to cool, Pellew touched the cloth to his elbow to check the temperature, then used it to cleanse the child. As he expected, the boy let go of what remained in the small bladder, and Pellew smiled, pleased that he remembered the correct tactical strategy to use with a male.

Wiping one last time, Pellew picked up a diaper and stared at the ribbon strings on either side with wonder, keen to see if the new-fangled diaper would work. Slipping it underneath the child, he paused and looked at the baby, realizing the absurdity of addressing him as Hornblower, then answered his own thought.

"Well, what else am I to call you? Hornblower is your name," he whispered gruffly. Pellew stopped to watch the face the child was making. The eyes were a bit wide and the little mouth was formed into a perfect dainty 'o'.

"Indeed," answered Pellew adamantly.

Pulling the light blue ribbon through the button hole on the front flap, he cinched it securely with the remaining ribbon, subsequently performing the task on the other side.

"Hm," he quietly commented over the diaper's fit. "These Americans. What will they come up with next?"

He lifted the fresh new gown and ruffled its ends up to the neck, then slipped it over the boy's head. Shoving two fingers down the sleeve, he found the little fist and gently pulled it in. The baby's fingernails were sharp and he fitted the fist flap of the sleeve over the little balled hand to protect the child from errant fingers. "What a good boy, you are," complimented Pellew softly as he threaded the other arm into the remaining enclosure, "what a good boy." Gently pulling the gown down, his eyes were captured by the delicate white silk embroidery of dolphins dotted around the neckline. Pellew gazed at the tiny infant and the boy seemed to return the stare.

Straightening his back, Pellew peered at his handiwork, satisfied with the job. Taking the light blue blanket, he carefully laid it on the bed, then positioned the child's head to one point and wrapped the others around him tightly. He picked him up and cradled him in the crook of his arm and studied him closely, the boy yawning broadly. Pellew smiled and examined the infant's features inherited from Hornblower anew. "Definitely your da's ears."

Hearing a light snicker, Pellew darted his eyes to see Pamela watching him with merry eyes, the side of her face pressed to the mattress, tresses falling over one cheek and a shoulder, a bent finger to her lips. "Horatio has lovely ears."

The blush warmed his cheeks. "How long have you been awake?"

"Long enough to know this is not the first baby you have tended," she replied.

"Madam..." he paused, flustered, not knowing what he wanted to say.

"Captain, I... I apologize for ... for being troublesome."

"My dear, ... " he tested the words before he spoke them, "if what you did was not so incredibly foolhardy, I would have to say, I would expect nothing less. However, the gravity of your actions precludes frivolity," he said seriously.

Her expression became grave and repentant. "Yes, sir. Can you forgive me?" she asked meekly, pushing up to lean against the head board.

Pellew was accustomed to working up to ramming speed with junior officers, but ... she had suffered enough. The mild reprimand had its affect. "I can,... but only because your actions were nullified."

She lowered her chin abjectly. "Yes, Captain."

"Now stop that. You know that was not a proper response or ... a proper solution."

"Yes, Captain."

Pellew sighed and turned his back. "To lose you and the child... are you able to grasp the despair into which we would have been cast? I can see the lot of us flung into the sea and the admiralty up in arms over ... breaking an article of war, for God's sake."

"Please, Captain. I am duly chastised,... truly."

Pellew turned, glanced her way, then looked down at the resting infant and sighed. "He is a handsome child. What are you going to name him? Horatio?...as his father?" asked Pellew, "He certainly resembles Mr. Hornblower." Pellew sniffed.

"I... I do not know. I was expecting ... help... from ... from Horatio in that respect. I do not know." She leaned her head back to rest against the bed board.

"You are tired," stated Pellew.

She nodded, and looking down, she saw the open watch laying on the bed and picked it up. "It is nearly nine," she said her voice trailing off. "Who is this?"

Pellew opened his mouth, but the reply was not immediate. "That is ... Amanda.... my wife."

"She is lovely, Captain."

It was her, the woman at the cemetery and on the embrasure last night. Pamela shivered. Why was she there? She closed the cover, raised sorrowful eyes, and held out the chronometer to Pellew, unable to divulge what she had seen.

Taking it, he shoved it into a vest pocket without further comment.

"Do you have children?" she asked, then regretted the query.

"They... died,... many years ago, as did my wife."

The crushing statement caused Pamela to slide down under the covers and lay her head flat on the soft sheet.

"I did not mean to make you melancholy more than you are."

"Fear not, captain," she answered weakly.

Pellew lay the bundled baby back in his place and Pamela raised sad, tender, yet joyful eyes to the infant.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Pellew smoothed Pamela's tresses off the side of her face.

"You must not let past events make you unhappy. There are enough in the present to do so."

"Did you think of Horatio as a son?" asked Pamela, her voice revealing the stuffiness of her nose. Was that why the spirit of Pellew's wife had appeared? To catch her attention until the baby could insist on life?

In the back of her mind, thinking on those moments, the memory of the sound that snatched her attention sought recollection. She had not been sure what she heard. Was it her name or that single word spoken at the cemetery, or was it both, spoken at once to further confuse her? The howling wind made it impossible to say and more than likely it was merely a trick of the mind. **Pamela. Wait. Pamela, wait.** She tried both. The ache in her heart wounded her emotions, thinking it was Horatio's voice that called her, but that was impossible.

What had the captain said about their death affecting him? She had not thought of anyone but herself, had not considered the feelings of any one. Selfish, it was. She raised the tip of a finger to trace the baby's rosebud lips. He was beautiful and tears slipped out between her lashes.

Pellew's hand was heavy on her upper arm. Hearing a rustle, she felt the cloth pressed into her palm. She lifted the item and saw the embroidered crest.

"Yes," whispered Pellew, "I did. He was." The answer, though readily known, was not easy to admit.

Pamela turned into the cotton covered mattress and wept.

"Come," said Pellew, tugging and lifting her until she snuggled into the hollow of his shoulder. "Let me comfort you while I can." He layered her hair softly upon her back and embraced her solidly. "This will pass," he whispered.

She shook her head.

"Yes,... in time. You will never forget him. You will always love him. But the pain will ease. And you have a strapping young boy to raise that will be your solace."

She lifted her head from where it was buried and leaned against the muscled chest. "He is the image of his da," she said shakily.

Pellew nodded. "As if he came from the same mold."

 

 

****

Hornblower was pacing rapidly outside the chapel doors, tapping a thigh. Praying, always praying. These brothers did nothing without first praying, and he was mad with anxiety to do something, preferably set out for Gibraltar.

A map. Was there a map within these cloistered walls? There must be an atlas in the library. He need not understand Portuguese to study a map. Setting a firm mouth, he started to leave when the door opened.

Bright, brown inquisitive eyes peered out of Hornblower's scraggly bearded countenance and studied the faces of the two monks. The old priest spoke in Portuguese to the other who went on his way.

"Well?" questioned Hornblower.

The priest did not immediately answer.

"If you will not take me, then give me directions. I will find the village," he begged furtively.

"A calma. A calma, O tenente. Calm, Leftenant Hornblower. I and brother Stephen will accompany you."

"When do we leave?" asked Hornblower, fingertips strumming a thigh.

"There is much to prepare."

"I need no preparation, sir."

The old priest took hold of Hornblower's arm. "Come."

Hornblower's chest sank and he shook his head, but the man's fingers tightened the grip and he reluctantly followed. "Please, sir!"

The man took him into the small chapel and gently urged him to enter a pew and sit down. No one but them was present. The priest sat down beside Hornblower and studied the young man.

"You are over anxious, leftenant."

"My wife is expecting. I was on my way to Gibraltar when ... when... there was a battle followed by a storm. I was ill. I am better now. I should be in Gibraltar," insisted Hornblower.

"You are better, yes, but only this day have you fully come to yourself. Are you sure your memory is recovered?"

"Yes!" But was he?

"If you were going into battle would you dash off so precipitously? Would you not consider what you are to do?"

"I have considered," stated Hornblower as calmly as he could.

"Then, tell me. What is it you have planned?"

"I must go to my wife. She needs me. I cannot go back to my ship. I do not know where it is. I cannot go to another ship. They will either send me back to England or take me into service. I must go to her," he said plaintively. "Will you help me?"

"I have already stated that we will help you as much as possible."

"Then, take me to the coast. Whether it be where the old woman lives, or anywhere else. I must get to Gibraltar. I cannot be further waylaid."

"And what will you do on the coast?"

Hornblower hesitated. He had settled in his mind that, no matter what, he would get himself a boat. It was the only sure method of going directly to Pamela. Over land would take too long, and there was the danger of falling into Spanish hands. Sea was the quickest route, though there was danger there as well. In a small boat, say the size of a launch, having a single mast with fore and aft sail, he could handle the rig alone and hug the coast, pretend to be a fisherman, and avoid becoming prey to any enemy.

Earlier, as he had stared into the oddly whiskered reflection, a pair of shears to hand, he knew immediately. The beard offered a ready disguise and he had abandoned thought of removing the facial hair. The ruse of a common sailor, that would be his ticket home, home to the woman he loved, home to the woman who was the very beat of his heart, home to the woman whose husband God, at last, had spared. She was no jinx to him as her fears had told. Indeed, perhaps she was 'luck' to him. God had preserved his life. He dropped his head at the strange thought. Certainly, it had to be true. Else, why was he constantly surrounded by ... by believers? Sebastian, his father... his father? Yes, his father. Julia Arminter. Captain Pellew. Even Archie made the odd comment, it seemed. Old Emi and now these monks. Was it Pamela? Was it her prayers? He knew his wife trusted the Unseen Being, though he could not understand why, with all the tragedy in her young life. It was a mystery.

But now the man of the cloth stood in his way. How would the priest react to the idea that he planned to 'commandeer' a boat, if necessary? Might he turn him over to the authorities? How far could he trust this man of God?

The priest hung his head and wagged it sadly. "It is wrong. It breaks God's commandment."

Hornblower disliked this ability the priest seemed to have of reading his thoughts. Or, had he, too, come to the obvious solution?

"I must have a boat," whispered Hornblower and he waited a moment for a response. He rose to his feet. "I will find my own way. You have done enough, sir, and I am grateful." Hornblower knew instantly that to involve the priest in what he had to do would be wrong.

The grip was on Hornblower's forearm.

"Sit down, my son," said the man softly. "You misunderstand."

Hornblower slowly obeyed, confused by what the priest spoke.

A sad, satisfied wisp of a smile plastered the holy man's pale olive face, and he gazed at the quizzical young man knowingly, then nodded his head up and down slowly. "Yes, you must have a boat. It must be supplied in a proper fashion."

Hornblower shrugged incredulously. "I have no money," he said, astounded.

"No, you do not," agreed the priest, "but He will supply all your needs. It is only required that we ask. You have not because you ask not. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened. Ask and you shall receive." The priest stood and stared down at the dumbfounded Englishman. "God has preserved your life through pernicious perils and aggravated adversity. The plan for your life must be ... beyond imagining." The smile broadened. "If He has seen you through so many trials and tribulations, do you not think he can supply a mode of transportation? Without ..." and he whispered, "thievery?"

Hornblower was speechless, sedate, and slightly scarlet.

"Come, Horatio, and let us draw near in time of need."

The old priest clutched Hornblower's arm and did not let go until the aging knees bent before the altar. Hornblower stared at the cross before him and slowly lowered to kneel beside the priest and recalled a similar occasion months ago in Italy... but not for long.

///God has preserved your life.... The plan for your life must be ... beyond imagining./// The priest's words rang in the hollow stone halls of Hornblower's mind.

Clayton,... dead,... knocked him out and took his place in the duel with Simpson. He reached and pressed fingers against his forehead where Simpson's pistol ball had glanced, startling him into a dead faint, sinking unconscious in the dark river depths.

Finch,... dead,... jumped into the freezing water of the Gironde to rescue him and never fully recovered his health from that cold, wet night, succumbing to scurvy and lung disease.

Eccleston and Chadd on the quarter-deck, him a matter of steps away,... them dead, him merely blown off his feet.

Another duel, and by a fluke, Simpson wounds then tries to kill him, but wary Captain Pellew, watching from afar, shoots first.

Hunter, ironic that he should save him from French lead when he had come down on the fellow midshipman for threatening to use the weapon. The oubliette. **What would I have done if Archie and Hunter had not been there to help me recover? How did Archie survive that hell hole so well? My friend. Where are you? Where is Indefatigable? Please understand. I must go to Pamela first.**

And Mariette. Her countrymen would kill her for her complicity with the Royalists and the British. He had tried to save her, but she took a musket ball. **It should have been me. Not her. I tried to save her and I failed. It was all a failure.**

Horatio lifted his eyes to the cross. **A plan? For me? I have only done my duty... until now. Will I see my wife and child? It is my dearest desire. I have lain my duty down. Do not take them from me. I beg You.**

 

 

 

******

 

 

"Here ye go, Miss Pamela," said Matthews, he and Styles set the wooden case on the floor by the bed. "Could I hold the little mite for ye while ye open the box?"

By mid-afternoon, Pamela was recuperated enough to receive visitors in the bed chamber, informed the crew of Indefatigable had sent gifts for the baby. She insisted she could not accept the presents without the representatives in attendance.

Smiling at the child slumbering in her arms, she gently passed him to Matthews. These men could be trusted with the newborn. Did not each one hold the life of the others? Had not Horatio held their lives and given his for theirs? She pulled the cream shawl, Horatio's birthday gift, securely across her chest and wondered what the huge box might contain.

Styles leaned forward to smile at the sleeping baby and exchanged a proud look with Matthews.

"Let me 'elp wi that, ma'am," said Styles, peeling off the rough hewn top.

He shifted the box a bit closer and she peered inside, seeing a piece of stiff sailcloth overlay the contents.

"Go on. Have a look," grinned Styles.

Pamela grabbed the material and pulled it free. Beneath it lay a turtle top chest, a square-rigged sailing ship painted on the top amidst a deep blue rolling sea. A white ensign flew from the mizzen forward toward the billowing sails. Clicking her tongue with admiration, Pamela grinned at the ratings.

"It's lovely! Take it out and let me see."

Grasping the rope handles on either side, Styles lifted the trunk from the box, sat it on the floor, then upturned its casing, and placed it atop the empty box.

"Oh my! Oh! Mr. Styles, Mr. Matthews! It is a magnificent gift! Who did the artwork?" she asked, leaning to get a closer look at the two lesser panels on the front depicting sailing ships headed in opposite directions.

"Twas Mr. Wiggins as done it. He's got quite the eye fer drawin' pictures," admitted Styles. "Starns and Hardy did most of the construction. It were my idea though."

"It was," confirmed Matthews.

"Open it," commanded Styles happily.

She lifted the top which leaned back as far as its hinges would allow. The inside was lined with navy blue wool, the top overlay having a small signal flag for the letter 'H' centered and sewn in the middle.

"What an excellent job you have done," she commented stroking the woolen facings. In the bottom were several cloth sacks. Looking up, she smiled cagily and removed one.

It was a lumpy canvas bag drawn closed with a rope. She tugged at the hemp to loosen the opening and poured the contents onto the bed. Out tumbled two dozen carved wooden ships, each about four inches long and three inches tall. She lifted one and then another to admire.

"These are very fine. He will have a marvelous time playing with them."

"If ye look on the bottom, ye can see each man's initials what carved 'em. Ol' Starns burnt 'em in fer us," informed Styles, looking up from gawping at the baby who was stretching and shaking with a broad yawn.

Pamela lifted a second small bag. Inside this one was a tin box with a striker, flint, and combustible. Eyebrows quirking in surprise, she forced her lips together to keep from laughing.

"Who shall I thank for this?" she asked, "It is a wise gift indeed."

"Oh, that's from Barkley," said Styles.

"No, it ain't, that's from Ainsley," Matthews looked up at Pamela, "not the preacher one, his brother."

She pulled out a last bag, opened it, and reached inside. Finding it empty, she blushed and turned the bag upside down.

"Oy! That's a kit bag fer his clothes and whatnot. Look on the outside. Mr. Wiggins,-- he wrote Mr. Hornblower's name. See?"

Pamela flattened the sack. In blue ink, Horatio's last name was written in large block letters and each one was filled in with indigo ink. The 'l' was drawn extra long and an image of the white ensign was penned and painted flowing forward.

She smoothed the canvas lovingly. "It is a treasure, to be sure." She gazed at the men with genuine joy. "My heroes, one and all. I shall see he takes care of these always. Thank you."

"That ain't all, Miss Pamela." Styles removed a packet that had leaned against the inside front wall in the shadows. "Here."

Pamela unwrapped the oilskin cloth. Inside were folded six sheets of heavy paper which she lay flat and smoothed. "Seasick in Spithead or Mr. Hornblower Come Aboard, by Lt. Archibald Kennedy, his friend. " Her expression questioned.

"Mr. Kennedy wrote that fer the babee so's he'd know how his da first come to be in the navy," said Matthews.

Pamela surveyed the page of written account swiftly, then read the title of the next page. "Judgment Deferred, by Captain Sir Edward Pellew K.B."

"The Captain," stated Matthews, "he heard about Mr. Kennedy writin' his and sent this one to be included by way of Daniels, his man, ye know."

"Indeed?" She shifted to the next page. "His Majesty's Latest Bad Bargain, by Styles as told to A. Wiggins."

"I don't know me letters," confessed Styles, scratching the back of his neck, "but Matty says he wrote it down just like I said it. Don't let the title put ye off, Miss Pamela. He changed my opinion of him right soon."

Her lower lip curled over her teeth and she bit onto it, then looked at the next page. It was a drawing of Horatio standing at attention on the quarter-deck on watch, his hands clasped behind him as she had seen him do on numerous occasions, whether on duty on Indefatigable or on shore. Her expression changed to a mellow appreciative sadness and shifted to the next page. The drawing was of the fore and main mast of a ship depicting two men on the fore and three on the main top gallant yards.

"Is this Hora... I mean, Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy?" asked Pamela, pointing at the fore mast.

"Aye," said Matthews.

Styles stuck a finger at the main mast top gallant yard. "That's me, Matty, and Oldroyd."

Matthews continued. "We was sittin' around below decks after dinner one night haven' hunted the coast fer him all day and we went to reminiscin' about Mr. Hornblower and things. Anyway, Oldroyd starts talkin' about the time after Muzillac when Mr. Hornblower was upset over the death of that French girl. Wiggins, I mean, Mr. Wiggins... Did ye know Wiggins was a midshipman now?"

"No. Is he?"

"Aye! Captain appointed him when we was in Portsmouth last. He's a good lad, he is. He'll make a fine officer."

"Oh, I agree. He will, truly," said Pamela.

"So, we're all talkin' about how we, Styles, me, and Oldroyd, was up on the main mast replacin' some frayed lines on the main and top sails, when what does we see but Mr. Hornblower is climbin' the shrouds like the devil himself is behind him. Mr. Kennedy took off up the ratlines after him, startled to see Mr. H. going up fer no reason. Now, the first thing I do is look all around the horizon for some Frog or Dago ship, but no, the horizon is empty." Matthews shrugged wide-eyed, then said, "Mr. Kennedy, I guess he feared Mr. Hornblower was still grievin' over the passin' o'that French lass."

"Aye, Miss Pamela, ye shoulda seen Mr. 'Ornblower dashin' up the lines. The three of us stop to watch. It's like he's got a flame on his... beg pardon, Miss," stopped Styles abruptly. "I mean, he was goin' up" Styles shook his head searching for the right word, "well,... fast!"

"Aye, he was!" nodded Matthews. "Anyway, Oldroyd just grins and says he'll wager Mr. H. will go clear to the top gallant. Now, Styles and me, we just look at each other 'cause wagerin' is the farthest thing from our thinkin', but then we both kind of woke up to the idea,"

"Right! So, I says, no, he warn't goin' that high 'cause I know Mr. H's got no head fer heights," affirmed Styles.

"I says all bets are off ," Matthews motioned with a flat palm, "because I can see Mr. Hornblower's face is set, and sure enough, he flings hisself onto the top gallant yard like one o' them long tailed monkeys as some keeps fer pets."

"Aye! He did! And, Mr. Kennedy right behind him, breathin' hard." Styles grinned toothily. "Mr. H, he looks back at Mr. Kennedy, then takes a deep breath and cracks his face wide open, grinnin' from ear ta ear." The rating appeared similar to the description he ascribed to Hornblower, then said to Matthews, "He showed us that day, din't he?" he jabbed Matthews' arm with an elbow. "He makes it to the top. And what does he do? Stands on it. Bold as brass, grinnin' like a bleedin' pelican."

"He did that, indeed he did," commented Matthews loudly. The baby started awake and let out a cry. "Here now, Master Hornblower. I din't mean ta frighten ye." Matthews gently bounced the boy, but the child seemed to know he was in unknown waters and set about to wail, more with indignation than fear in his cry.

"Oy! Listen to the little Captain telling ye what for, Matty," commented Styles.

Matthews passed the bundled baby into Pamela's arms.

The child quieted immediately after seeing his mother, huffed a sigh, and closed his eyes.

Styles chuckled. "Oy, he's got what he wants now. Just like his da. He knows how ta get his orders obeyed."

"He's a sweet little thing," said Pamela, gazing at the child. With a sigh, she lifted the drawing and said, "Wiggins has a fine artist's hand," then moved the sheet to expose the last page of the packet. It was a drawing of her standing on the quarter-deck with Horatio eyeing her. "These bring back such memories."

Matthews and Styles exchanged looks.

"We haven't upset ye, have we, Miss Pamela?" asked Matthews.

"No. No, you have not. I enjoyed listening to you speak of him, and I will enjoy reading this to ... to Captain... Cap, I will call him for short." She smiled at the slumbering baby. "Captain Horatio James Hubbell Dawson Hornblower. That should cover it."

"It's a mouthful, it is," said Styles.

"You named him, Mr. Styles, calling him Captain, and he has his father and both his grandfathers' names. He will know who he is and where he comes from, you can rely on that," assured Pamela as she softly viewed her baby. "Indeed, you will, my little Captain."

Late that afternoon, Sebastian entered the bed chamber quietly. The curtains were open and the last rays of sunlight entered casting the room in a golden glow.

Pamela reclined against two pillows, a handkerchief clutched in her palm against a temple, and the baby sleeping beside her. She raised reddened eyes to the physician and attempted a smile.

He positioned the wing-back chair near the bed, sat down with a sigh, and met her melancholy gaze. Taking a free hand, he clasped it between his large dark ones. Sebastian inclined his head as if to ask 'how are you' but maintained the silence and watched her eyes begin to pool.

The light faded fast, casting the room into the dark grey light of dusk, brought more swiftly by thick low horizon clouds. The fire in the grate of the iron stove slowly commanded the room to its authority, its light and the crackle of the fuel burning steadily, blanketing the room with what would have been a warm comfort, and was, except for frayed emotions, causing the sensation of succor to fall out of kilter despite itself.

The growing night pressed cold hands against the windowpanes, seeping in as by osmosis, rimming the room with a half circle of chill air to rival the dwindling heat of the stove.

Head shaking and the corners of her mouth twitching a frown Pamela managed to whisper, "It was wrong of me."

"But somewhat understandable," he agreed lowly.

"I ... did not want to break into tears ... in front of the captain and..." unable to continue the fractured speech, she swallowed, gasped a breath, and lowered her eyes, teardrops landing on her cheeks.

Sebastian gripped her hand.

"I will be all right," she lifted her eyes and tried to make a smile. "After all, this is the third time I have been through this." Her voice cracked. "I should be used to it."

"Pamela," said Sebastian lowly, "no one should be accustomed to loss, especially not the loss of one so dear. Do not degrade the love you shared."

She regained a modicum of control. "I know. I do not. It ... it is how I cope," she shrugged. The pendulum of depression was at its farthrest point.

Breathing deeply, Sebastian released the lungs full of air slowly. "The Lord will comfort you."

She nodded. "He has. He will... but knowing that does not make it easier."

Hesitating, Sebastian ventured the question the men had been asking each other. "What will you do? Go back to America?"

She shook her head. "No. I ... cannot... not yet."

Sebastian thought, then asked, "Because the baby is so young?"

Eyes lowered, she shook her head. That the baby was too young for a sea voyage was a good reason, but it was not her reason. Was she a bad mother because she had not considered her offspring first?

Carefully, Sebastian asked, "You... believe... as Archie, then?"

Raising her view to Sebastian, an expression of deliberate decision swept away all emotion leaving a resolve there, a certainty of purpose on a firm foundation. Moisture of weeping evaporated. The eyes displayed a surety of promise. Sound hope replaced hapless resignation. The pendulum reached opposition.

"There is the promise."

She averted her eyes and listened to the voice in her head. When she recalled the words an indescribable peace came over her. She believed the proclamation. She believed him. The tone of his voice was so certain, so crystalline, so demandingly convincing for both of them. And when she listened to his utterance, the deep resonant commanding and loving words, insisting he would fulfill the vow.

There was nothing for it but to accept the verity of the statement.

The words went forth for the doctor to hear.

"I will come to you. Time nor tide will keep me from you."

In her mind, Horatio stood before her, the uniform gleaming gold, a red sash across his chest.

"He promised... and I promised to wait. I cannot leave," she said shaking her head. Her eyes shifted to meet those of the doctor, wondering what he was thinking, brown eyes piercing brown eyes to the soul of the other. "You think me foolish."

"No," he shook his head, "I do not think you foolish. I believe you entertain ... a great love for the man... as he" choosing present tense, Sebastian said, "...does... for you. I said it to Archie and I will say it to you, Pamela. You must do as your heart tells you to do."

Bindings of logic fell away from constricting her soul. She lifted Sebastian's knuckles to the side of her face, then kissed them. "Thank you, doctor." Tears flowed down her cheeks like the break of a dam, but then ceased as quickly, settling into two liquid pools suspended on the brink of the eyelids.

Sebastian stroked her cheek, then cupped it, causing warm droplets to overflow onto his fingertips. "God is the God of the impossible, his wondrous miracles to perform. I shall keep the Hornblowers in my prayers."

Nervous twitters and brimming moisture, she nodded and smiled her thanks. "God is in control."

Eyes brightening, Sebastian said, "It is good that you know it. I will leave you to rest."

 

 

She woke to the soft clank of the iron door of the stove closing. Rustling the bed clothes, she called the attention of the visitor who sighed softly as he sat.

She opened her eyes and waited for the numbing sleep to clear and allow her mental faculties to focus.

"Captain?" She studied his expression before continuing.

The captain was weary with the emotional day. "Forgive me, Pamela, for plaguing you," he sighed, "...with ... necessity. If it were in my power to take days, I would, but I have crossed one line already."

His words caused her attention to peak. The man before her commanded a ship of war, had the lives of nearly three hundred men to look to, a ship of war in the service of one of the world's mightiest nations, and he had taken the time to see to the family of one man.

Her heart softened, knowing the esteem in which Captain Pellew held Horatio and had held him for all the long years of Hornblower's service, offered up loyally and brilliantly from all accounts. How fortunate she felt to have been loved by such a man of promise.

"It's Robin. I will not mince words. In my opinion, it would be best for the boy to return to Indefatigable. He is my responsibility... and... I feel, under the circumstances, that it would be best for all parties."

He waited, giving her an opportunity to voice an opinion if she was going to, though that she did not speak, did not surprise or disappoint. The woman had been put through a wringer emotionally (as they all had) and he detested presenting any kind of scenario that would require an immediate decision, or indeed, even consideration.

"Is he all right, Captain?" she asked. The same question for her older boy as for her newborn.

Pellew leaned forward, a wry sympathetic smile on his lips. "Yes," he shook his head, "Mrs. Hornblower, you continually astound me." He took her hand and held it, searching the features that revealed naught but worry for the young boy that was of no relation or real responsibility of hers. He squeezed the hand. "Say the word ... say the word and... " Pellew fumbled. What was the right thing to do?

"Does Drake want to go back?" she asked.

Pellew attempted to maintain the mask of command, the mask that claimed all authority, but when it came to the people he... loved,... the people that were... his family...

"No," he blurted suddenly. "He does not." His voice was slightly astonished and then he smiled crookedly. "It seems Mr. Hornblower has instilled such a sense of ... duty... "

It was not duty alone, Pellew knew. The child loved Hornblower's wife.

"No," Pellew bowed his head, then raised eyes to hers, "he would prefer to stay with you." Pellew watched closely and saw no doubt or hesitation, then felt her fingers tighten around his.

"I am sure he does not mean to ... to hurt you in any way, sir," she said softly. "If it is your earnest desire to take him back, I will support you."

She was considering his feelings and he lowered his eyes from hers to contemplate and hide his astonishment. He fortified his emotions with a deep breath. "Do you want him to remain with you?"

"I love Drake... Robin. He would be welcome to live with me and ... and the baby, but I know he is your godson, but..." she considered the dangerous life the boy would lead in the navy, " but..." she had not the energy to argue the point, "...it must be your decision, Captain."

Her head relaxed on the pillow as she closed her eyes. Was she to lose Drake, too? She commanded her feelings to yield to the captain's judgment.

Her emotions were as raw as Pellew suspected they would be. That he would cause her further discomfort pained his conscience. Drake wanted to stay, and she was willing to have him. Could not the boy be returned at a later date if he, or she, wished? If only he knew what the admiralty had planned for him in these anxious demands for his return to England. But Indefatigable would always be there, would she not? She had been his ship, his 'baby,' his 'wife,' for so long, if anything were to happen to her, would it not happen to him, too? And, if that were so, would it not be best that Drake were not on board?

"Then, if it is acceptable to you, I will allow him to remain."

Pamela smiled wanly, the surprise of the conclusion a receding echo, and slipped her hand under Pellew's resting on the bed.

"Thank you, Captain. I will do my best." She was too weary to say more.

A knock at the door and Pellew said the well worn word.

"Come."

And in that fraction of a second, Pamela felt she was back on Indefatigable and Horatio would come through the door to take her to his cabin, and as he made love to her, she would grab sight of the monkey on the ceiling and envy the funny little blank faced creature... but now, no more... both empty, with his absence.

 

*****

The party strode at a quick steady pace following a fellow member carrying a lantern, it shedding a meager light on the way. The cloaks and coats worn by three of the group made their persons appear dark and foreboding, ominous. A gust of wind snatched at one and a hand snaked to grab the edge and pull it close with a curse.

"Damn! The wind has come round," he muttered.

Reaching the walled enclave of the naval grounds, the group stopped in the black shadows cast by the few stars darting light between the cloud laden night. Words exchanged, they broke into two groups, one entering the naval grounds and the other turning up the incline towards the town center. A man peeled off from the town bound group, walking swiftly towards the mole.

Of the two entering the naval grounds, the officer spoke to the guard and they were permitted entrance into the base.

"Wait here," whispered one, leaving his companion on the dark side of the building. The other stepped onto the stone porch and opened the door of the officer's barracks.

A clerk sat at a desk and looked up into the face of the blue-eyed visitor. Seeing the marks of his rank, he stood.

"I am looking for Leftenant Bartholomew Barnstable. Is he billeted here?"

"Aye, sir, but he be asleep at this hour, sir," advised the clerk.

The blue eyes blinked and offered a stern command. "I know that, man. Where is his room?"

"Are ye from his ship?"

"Ship? I am seeking Bartholomew Barnstable."

"Aye, sir, Leftenant Barnstable. Have ye orders? Shall I get him for ye, sir?"

"Just... just tell me where his room is located."

"Down the hall and to the left, it be on the right, the third door down," answered the man, lighting a spare candle and handing it to the officer.

The cape whipped around his knees and he stepped quickly and quietly down the long corridor, turning left as directed, counting the doors and noting the names on them until he read 'Lt. B. Barnstable.' Taking the knob in hand, he turned it and entered the dark chamber, the candle providing a circle of light that fell onto the sleeping man. He grabbed a shoulder and shook it.

Barnstable startled awake. "Yes? What is it?"

"Bartholomew Barnstable?" came a voice from behind the light.

Barnstable squinted and raised a hand to shield his eyes. "Yes."

"Get dressed. I apologize for disturbing you, but my captain wishes to speak to you. Now,... if you please."

Barnstable, supported on both elbows, attempted to clear the sleep from his mind. "Captain Garrison?"

"N...no. Please. We haven't much time. Dress if you will."

The urgency of the voice caused Barnstable to swing his feet onto the floor and sit up.

"Are you from Duke of York?" asked Barth, running fingers through his loose hair.

"No... Indefatigable."

Barnstable stood, a burst of butterflies filled his midsection. He stared at the youthful face, not recognizing the officer. "You aren't...," he halted his speech, staring into the bright blue eyes knowing this man was not Hornblower. Questions flew through his mind, fear for Pamela predominant, but what would officers from Hornblower's ship have to do with him? "I saw your ship in the harbor this morning. When did you arrive?" asked Barth, removing his night shirt.

"Late, yesterday evening." Seeing trousers hung over a chair, Archie handed them to Barnstable. "Please, leftenant, a little more haste."

"What does Captain Pellew want with me? I have never met the man."

"We have a mutual ... friend. We are given to understand you have been of assistance in the past."

Expression filling with concern, Barnstable swiftly tucked the shirt into the trousers, completed the buttoning, then pulled on the waistcoat, searching his mind for the right questions, the predominant one being, was she all right... but could he ask it. Sitting to yank on socks, then stepping into buckled shoes and donning the jacket, he lifted the great cloak off the door hook, and with that, started the buttoning of the layers of clothing.

"Where are you taking me?" That question seemed safe enough to Barnstable. Had Pamela told Hornblower about him and was he now to be warned of a jealous husband? Why would Pellew be taking a part? Was it Drake, Pellew's godson? Did assistance in the past mean assistance was needed in the present?

"You are?"

"Forgive me, sir. Lt. Kennedy," said Archie, pulling Barnstable's door closed.

The two walked in silence as quietly and as quickly as they could manage down the wood planked corridor. Barnstable snatched a look at the profile of the man beside him.

"Where are you taking me? To Indefatigable?"

"No,..." Kennedy met Barnstable's blue eyes with his, then looked away, bowing his head briefly. "Wait until we are ... away," whispered Kennedy as they approached the night clerk.

"Sir?" questioned the clerk.

"I am called away, Mr. Norton. I will return."

"Sir?"

"I will return," stated Barnstable firmly, taking the candlestick from Archie and sitting it loudly on the table.

Barnstable knew he was one of the most dependable officers billeted here and so did Norton. There need be no further explanation and he expected the man to know it.

"Aye, aye, sir."

Kennedy opened the door for Barnstable and followed him out into the chill night, their breath misting white in the frigid air brought by the recent storm. Once on the crunching shale that covered the open grounds, Kennedy increased the length of his stride which Barnstable matched without effort. A burly man stepped out of the shadows to join them, giving Barnstable a start due to the man's size.

"Styles, go on down to the dock and let Matthews know we have him. We should be there within the hour," advised Kennedy.

"Aye, sir,"' answered the rating, giving Barnstable a once over despite the darkness.

Barnstable resisted questioning Kennedy for the moment, the two leaning to mount the slant of the road leading up to the square. His patience was rewarded but for a totally unexpected reason.

"I am given to understand you..." Kennedy hesitated, "you tried to help Amelia Holly."

"Tried is the correct word choice, Mr. Kennedy. I failed."

Kennedy turned surprised eyes and a wry smile on his companion. "Dear Lord!"

Archie looked up into the darkness, shaking his head. Could this man sound anymore like Horatio? Kennedy felt at ease with Barnstable from the moment he stood out of bed. Was it from years of being in Horatio's presence that made him recognize quick thinking when he saw it?

"You must be brimming with questions, Mr. Barnstable," Kennedy ventured, testing his theory.

"Indeed, I am and I confess, Mr. Kennedy," stopping on the road and causing Kennedy to do the same, "I am fearful of asking them."

Kennedy took Barnstable's arm and urged him on. "You need not fear us. Let me thank you for trying to help Amelia. She was ... a friend," said Kennedy, leaving off in speech, then resuming. "I did not know ..." Archie raised his eyes to Barth's. There was no need to say more. "You have likewise assisted Pamela Hornblower."

Barnstable made no reply and stared at the road. "Is she all right?" he asked apprehensively.

Those few words, the question, and the tone confirmed Archie's suspicions. "Yes, she is all right." The relief in Barnstable traveled like a wave to wash over Kennedy. "She has a son."

Barnstable smiled. "She thought him to be a boy. Both mother and child are well?" He wanted further confirmation.

"Yes," said Kennedy.

"Thank you for telling me." It was good to know that she was delivered at last, that she had the boy she expected. He could go in peace now. "And the father? Is not her husband on your ship?" ventured Barnstable.

"Mr. Hornblower was lost at sea three weeks ago," said Kennedy.

Barnstable halted in the street. His emotions tumbled off a precipice for her, for Robin, for the baby,... for himself. He shook his head and backed away from Kennedy who watched him closely.

"Horatio was my best friend... is my best friend."

"I do not understand," said Barnstable, warily. What kind of game was this?

"I believe he is alive," stated Kennedy, holding Barnstable's view in the lamplight. "Horatio has the devil's own luck, you see. I thought it best you knew."

"Where was he lost?" asked Barnstable, searching for reasons that Kennedy thought Hornblower survived. He knew what is was for a man to be lost overboard.

"Off Portugal."

"Were you close in? Does he swim?"

"You think I am foolish to think him alive."

"No, I am merely looking for what gives you hope."

"Horatio himself is what gives me hope."

"And Pamela, I mean, Mrs. Hornblower believes as you do. Of course, she would," he said thoughtfully. His plans, like pieces of a puzzle on a precarious table that had been knocked, eased down into place. There was no reason to alter or regret the course his life had taken and was about to take. Temptation was best avoided when that choice was offered.

Back in control of his emotions, Barnstable glimpsed the man walking beside him. Nothing was changed and knowing that nothing had changed, Barnstable decided to ask the question. Why was he being summoned to Pellew? Was he to be warned to sheer off? How much did these fellows of Hornblower know or suspect? The most he had done was hold her and tell her what was in his heart.

"Why does your Captain wish to speak to me?" asked Barnstable.

"We are hoping you will ... look in on her."

Barnstable halted the progression for the third time.

"Please, leftenant, the captain is waiting," stated Kennedy, getting them moving once more. "Do you know of Maria?"

"I know she is gone a good deal." Barnstable eyed the man beside him. There was something odd about the woman, but Pamela had told him nothing, altering the subject whenever he had broached it. Neither did he feel this man was going to tell him.

"Pamela needs a servant she can rely on now that the child is birthed," stated Kennedy.

"I agree, sir, but what has that to do with me?"

"You... have some influence, from what Drake tells us, and most of all... you are here."

Barnstable sighed. "Pamela is a head strong woman." What the devil had Drake said to these men? Asking seemed impossible without giving away the secrets of his heart.

Kennedy grinned. "Yes, she is."

"Why do you think I should know that you believe her husband to be alive?" asked Barnstable, recalling Kennedy's confession that he should be privy to his beliefs.

They were skirting the front of the inn, locked up for the night, approaching it from the side, where so many months ago, Benny Godwin had taken Kennedy and Hornblower to meet the owner of the Laughing Dolphin. Kennedy halted at the base of the short flight of stairs.

"You are in love with her... and dare I say it, Drake is right, there is much about you that is like Horatio," stated Kennedy. "Has she never told you? No, I do not suppose she would."

"I look nothing like Mr. Hornblower," defended Barnstable, completely disarmed with Kennedy's statement.

"No, you do not, but ... and I dislike admitting it, but I can see what Drake means, and, by what you have not done," emphasized Kennedy, "I see it all the more. You are a dangerous man, Mr. Barnstable, but ... I trust you, and as I said before, we know of no one else to whom we can turn."

Kennedy motioned for him to climb the stairs. Barnstable stopped abruptly.

"Why should you trust me?" asked Barth.

Kennedy quirked his eyebrows. "I have been there."

"What do you mean?"

"In love with Pamela... but I loved her and Horatio enough to see I should not interfere or come between them. She made her choice. Is it not so with you?"

"You are very frank, sir," stated Barnstable, feeling caught off guard.

"There is not time for me to be anything else," said Kennedy. "We are trusting you, Mr. Barnstable."

"You do not even know me."

"No, but Drake does." Kennedy nodded toward the closed door.

The door was unlocked and the two men entered the large empty dining area. A light emitted from the back rooms and a low steady conversation could be heard. Walking down the short narrow hallway to the private seating room, Barnstable saw two older men, one of obvious Spanish descent, in tight conversation with a woman dressed in night clothes and a wrapper, another victim of these late evening intrigues.

The woman swiveled to see who the seated gentlemen were looking at, then collected the coins on the table, and rose, Pellew and Sebastian coming to their feet as well.

"I will see to it first thing, Captain," and she curtsied.

"Do you know Leftenant Barnstable?" asked Pellew of the woman.

She curtsied before Barnstable and Kennedy. "No, sir. How do, Mr. Barnstable?"

"Mr. Barnstable, this is Mrs. Harvey, the proprietress of the Laughing Dolphin. She believes she knows someone that can assist Mrs. Hornblower, at least until someone more permanent can be located."

Barnstable bowed and touched his hat. "Ma'am."

"If you have any questions or concerns, Mrs. Harvey, Mr. Barnstable will be happy to address them," stated Pellew.

"Yes, sir, Captain. You need not worry. I have a good girl in mind that should be able to help out."

"Good. Good. Now, if you would be so kind as to bring the paper and quill we will conclude our need of your establishment."

"Of course, sir. Yes, sir. I shall return in a moment." The woman hurried off, clutching the gold sovereigns.

Pellew sighed and looked steadily into the features of Bartholomew Barnstable, causing the leftenant to swallow nervously. He extended a hand and Barnstable took it. The firm quality of the handshake was reciprocated.

"Thank you for coming on such short notice, Mr. Barnstable. I trust Mr. Kennedy has appraised you of the situation."

"Somewhat, sir."

"He knows the cogent points, sir," advised Kennedy, removing his hat.

"This is my ship's physician, Dr. Sebastian."

Barnstable shook his hand. "Sir."

"Sit down, Mr. Barnstable."

Kennedy clamped Barnstable on the shoulder, in an attempt to ease the tension. The fourth leftenant knew the ways of his captain, but Barnstable must be somewhat overwhelmed with Pellew's inclusive instructions to Mrs. Harvey, him not being a crew member of Indefatigable.

An aging man arrived with two pints of beer.

"Another two, if you please, Mr. Harvey," requested Pellew. Returning his view to Barnstable, he asked, "Have you any questions, Mr. Barnstable?"

The rapidity with which Pellew performed the task at hand astonished. Licking his lips, Barnstable clarified his assignment.

"You wish me to oversee Mrs. Hornblower acquiring a more ... reliable servant."

"Yes. Simple enough, is it not?" smiled Pellew.

"Somewhat, sir," said Barnstable, doubt in his tone.

"There is a difficulty?" questioned Pellew.

Barnstable glanced at Kennedy. "I am returning to sea, sir, ... in less than two weeks time."

Pellew traded bewilderment with Kennedy and Sebastian. Were his men as surprised as he was to hear this news?

With a knit brow, Pellew said, "I was given to understand you have an injury that precludes your return to sea, sir."

Barnstable opened his mouth as if to speak, then lowered his gaze briefly. "I have healed to a point where," he glanced at Sebastian, "the hospital physicians think I may return to active service. My name has been on the list for some months and just recently Captain Garrison has accepted me into Duke of York."

"But you were billeted, sir?" questioned Kennedy.

"Yes. Duke of York is undergoing repairs and admiralty requested I train the man taking my place before joining the ship."

"I see," said Pellew thoughtfully. "Then, you will be here for another fortnight at least. That should be more than sufficient for seeing she has reliable service, should it not?"

"I will do my utmost, Captain Pellew." Barnstable suddenly realized Pellew was not dressed in the uniform of a captain. Next, the concern the captain was taking for the wife of a junior officer struck him. He felt overawed at the idea and lowered his eyes, hoping they would not expose what he was thinking. Either Pellew was extraordinarily exceptional or Hornblower was, or... they both were... or Pamela was and with a thought of her, he felt his heart turning to butter. Lifting his eyes, he saw Pellew watched him, and he looked away.

Pellew exchanged a knowing look with Kennedy. This preoccupation of Barnstable's with thought reminded him of...... Hornblower. But besides that, Barnstable was clearly infatuated, if not in love, with Pamela. Was it amazingly obvious, or was Pellew simply accustomed to the love-sick look of men recently in contact with the woman?

Seeing Barnstable colored how Pellew perceived Pamela's reluctance to invoke Barnstable's help. The captain had not the time to consider all the ramifications, knowing that Pamela remained steadfastly in love with Hornblower. But if the second leftenant were deceased, as he certainly must be...... no, Pamela would not so easily recover from the loss of Hornblower, and then there was all that folderol about jinxing the men that loved her. The mission was to get some help for her besides poor one-armed Carden and Robin. What in God's name the woman Maria was off doing now, Pellew could not imagine. Perhaps she was meeting Brecon in Spain, for all he knew.

"Mrs. Hornblower tends to affect men with whom she comes into contact in a generally favorable manner. You will not mind assisting her, will you, sir?" asked Pellew, sipping a beer and attempting to cover the small smile rising at the corners of his mouth. **Pamela strikes again,** thought Pellew, **What does the woman have that we all find so ... fetching?**

Barnstable shook his head and answered softly, "No, sir."

Barth had hoped to avoid seeing her again, slipping away to serve, severing any contact, as he believed she desired from their last goodbye. Now, he would have to see her and he was overwhelmed with mixed emotions the thought of the event precipitated.

Harvey placed two pints before the new arrivals.

"Drink your beer, Mr. Barnstable. Or,... Mr. Harvey, perhaps you should bring the leftenant a brandy. Do so, if you please," ordered Pellew.

"Does she know? I mean, does she know that I...," Barnstable halted the question.

"No," confessed Pellew with a sigh. "In fact, she insisted that you not be bothered with her ... needs. Is she right?"

Barnstable swallowed. What did this mean? She did not want to see him?

"Robin told me you could be trusted, Mr. Barnstable," said Pellew softly. **Perhaps I should not have divulged Pamela's reluctance to involve him.** thought the captain. **The friendship these two share...** Pellew tilted his head and regarded the leftenant sitting opposite, a twinge of regret that he had not known Barnstable was available for service. Darting a look at Kennedy, Pellew noted the easy manner with which Kennedy observed and related to the newcomer. Quirking an eyebrow, Pellew warmed to the shy man whose assistance he was seeking to enlist.

Barnstable met the captain's gaze.

"I will do whatever I can to help her, Captain. I have always told her that she only need ask."

"Well, I am asking for her," Pellew said calmly and warmly, as if talking to an old acquaintance.

"She must be beside herself with grief," Barnstable said out loud, exposing the thought. How would he face that profound sadness? What if Kennedy were wrong and Hornblower was dead? He fought the urge to flee. They did not know what they were asking of him. Knowing that she was technically available but emotionally was not aggravated the fragile battered feelings.

"I perceive you have a concern, Mr. Barnstable."

**Damn him for his perception,** thought Barth. **Asking me to do this, to comfort her for his loss, to hold her and let her go, when it has been all I could do to stay away this past week, knowing I am sailing soon, never to see her again. I know the moment I see her, I...** A hand flew to his forehead and held it. Why did this have to happen now?

Pellew inhaled slowly, looked at Sebastian, then Kennedy. Harvey sat the brandy on the table.

"Mr. Barnstable, your brandy is here," said Pellew, seeing Mrs. Harvey stepping quickly out of the gloom of the narrow hallway with the writing accouterments. "Ah, thank you, Mrs. Harvey." Pellew set the paper and dipped the quill. "Drink your brandy, Mr. Barnstable. You will survive. I have every expectation." Beginning to write, Pellew said, "Doctor, Mr. Kennedy, fill Mr. Barnstable in on the recent occurrences of our visit, if you will. I feel the leftenant may have questions he fears posing... and if he is to fully understand the mission, he should be familiar with the particulars."