An American Encounter, Part Three
AE3Ch 4 Back on Course
The ship's bell chimed three strikes at the hand of Midshipman Connors who stood the watch with Hornblower. The second leftenant caught a few hours sleep before taking the double watch he served as punishment for striking Lord Edrington. He had six and a half more hours to go, a long time to be on ones feet. Hornblower moved to the weather side and pondered the deep darkness of the Mediterranean Sea, a darkness that seemed to mirror a growing uneasiness within that he did not fathom. The stars were bright against the black heavens. The moon was nearing its full phase and was just peeking over the eastern horizon. It would brighten the decks soon with its reflected light.
Someone stirred in the waist. He stepped quietly to the edge. It was Pellew in his dressing gown. Had his paces disturbed the captain? He had been treading as quietly as possible. He took three steps and was there to salute his superior officer as he entered the quarter-deck.
"Good evening, Captain."
"Mr. Hornblower." Pellew walked over to observe the binnacle, the recent reports, and stared at the silent billowing sails, visible in the starlight.
"We are making two knots, sir, nor'east."
"Hm. Thank you, Mr. Hornblower," he said absently. Pellew walked aft and stared into the black water.
Hornblower observed the superior officer, then turned to stand at attention by the wheel. If Pellew wanted him, he would let him know.
The Captain breathed in the night air, cleansing his lungs. The headache finally dissipated, but the aftermath of absinthe remained. It was as if the strange beverage had unlocked all sorts of doors he closed years ago.
Did it, or was it Mrs. Hornblower? Certainly, in the past, he was attracted to her, but Hornblower's happiness and hers stayed any untoward advances on his part. Something Edrington had not succeeded at, but it was true, the major did not know to whom she belonged. Knowing might have made a difference, though Pellew knew their peers thought nothing of liaisons outside of marriage, and a junior officer's wife was as open a game as any.
He sighed heavily. Was it this cow business and the absinthe that broke down the walls of remembrance? It was a secret that few knew these days. Those that did, knew it was not to be spoken, that such painful memories were best buried with the people that made them. Would the others have a hearty laugh if they knew his secret? His hidden past? He grabbed onto the rail and leaned, seeking support. With bowed head, his face was a mask of misery. It was that damned drink of Brecon's. He had been slightly inebriated before, but it never came to this.
Pamela, their child, and now, Brecon... was acquiring a cow. With head bowed, he turned and brought his eyes up slowly to stare at the back of his second leftenant. He was only two or three years younger than 'he' would have been. Hornblower was the closest anyone had ever come to mean..... If Hornblower were his son, then the child Pamela carried would be his grandchild. A wry smile appeared. A grandfather! God, that thought made him feel old!
And, to think, he had nearly kissed Pamela that night back in Gibraltar. She had hugged him and appeared so vulnerable in his arms, she reminded him of.... but did she really? Was it more her youth and the fact that she was American? How odd that a man felt to be like his very own should follow so close a path as himself in choice of marriage partner. Pamela and ..... and.... could he allow himself to even think her name? If he did, would he break down?
His emotions were fragile. It had to be that damn drink. "Why the hell did you drink it, Pellew?" he whispered under his breath. He succeeded in distracting his thoughts. But as the self recrimination subsided with the admitted ignorance of what absinthe could do, he could almost see her. His wife, ... "I will not say her name," he spoke lowly to himself. "I do not desire to torment myself again with what cannot be." He placed a hand to cover his eyes, grasping both temples. He inhaled and exhaled quickly several times, fighting the emotion, feeling his chest heave. This would not do. Turning, he stepped rapidly to the ladder and descended. *Hornblower will think it odd that I leave without a word. Damn him! A captain need not explain himself!*
Pellew stood hesitating in the waist. He could not return to his cabin. Had he not come out here to escape that solitude? To breathe fresh air? Looking forward, the foremast called to him. "No," he whispered, but his feet had other ideas and carried him to the fo'c'sle. He stood but a moment staring up at the top, then felt the shrouds in his grasp, his dressing gown billowing out behind him as he climbed.
"You there!" he called.
The mast lookout stared down at the man standing on the fighting top.
"Sir?" The man could not make out who it was in the darkness, but the voice was authoritative enough to deserve respect.
"Get down! Tell Mr. Hornblower I have relieved you of duty."
The Captain! The man climbed down and answered, "Yes, sir," when he reached the fighting top, and then descended.
Satisfied that the man was gone and he was as alone as he could be, he hung onto the ropes and peered at the moon on the rise. His eyes squinted at its brightness. He stood for some moments, the robe flowing gently around his legs, before he felt his knees give way and he sank to the wooden slats. Someone was quietly sobbing. His face was wet. It was he. His chest heaved silently and he shook his head. "I will not say your name!" he whispered. "It hurts too much. Please." he pleaded. He bent with his knees to his chest and tried to stop the overwhelming emotion. Finally, with a gulp of air he breathed her name. "Amanda....Mandy, my love, my wife, my American wife." He lay on the slats; his breath came more quietly, and soon he was asleep.
Hornblower watched his captain leave without a word, saw him climb the fo'c'sle steps, and with the moon behind, saw him in silhouette, climbing the shrouds. He could hear the captain's voice but could not make out the words. Then, he saw another figure descend the shrouds. Harkins reported.
"The Cap'n's called me down, sir. What would ye have me do, Mr. Hornblower?"
"Come stand with Johnson at the wheel, Harkins." The man neared and Hornblower asked, "What did Captain Pellew say to you?"
"He told me to come down, that I was to tell you I was relieved of duty, sir."
"Stay here, Harkins."
"Aye, aye, sir."
This was damned odd. What the devil was the captain doing in the foremast fighting top in his night clothes? He paced back and forth squinting foreward.
"Harkins." He motioned the man near him.
"How did he seem?"
"Kind of angry, sort of, but it's hard to tell with him, sir, if you take my meaning."
Hornblower frowned. "Very well." He paced, checking foreward. Nothing.
Connors gave a questioning glance to Hornblower who nodded. The midshipman rang out the half hour, four chimes.
Hornblower gazed foreward. No sign of his return.
"Mr. Connors, would you be so good as to call Dr. Sebastian. Quietly, now."
"Aye, aye, sir."
The captain had him worried, that was a fact. He never knew him to have headaches unless it was due to an injury in battle. Sebastian was treating him. He should know. If it were his father, he would want to know how his patient was acting or reacting. And, leaving the quarter-deck without a word? That was not Pellew. Something was wrong. He felt a sudden wash of apprehension. What was taking Sebastian so long?
The doctor arrived on deck, his hair loose, and in his shirt sleeves.
Hornblower descended to the waist.
"Mr. Hornblower?" said Sebastian.
"Thank you, Connors," dismissed Hornblower. "Doctor, I know you are treating the Captain. He complained of a headache earlier today."
"He is in the foremast top, sir, in his night clothes."
Sebastian breathed deeply. "Is he?" It was more a statement than a question.
Hornblower watched Sebastian's visage darken with disquietude.
"What is it, sir?"
"Basically, it is a hangover, Leftenant." Sebastian gazed toward the foremast in thought. From what Brecon revealed, absinthe can affect the mind, cause hallucinations, cause one to lose inhibitions. There was no need to burden Hornblower with that information. "I will go."
Hornblower followed him to the forecastle and watched the doctor climb the lines.
"Be careful, sir," whispered Hornblower. Seeing Sebastian disappear onto the top he whispered louder. "Is he all right, sir?"
Sebastian's face peered down at Hornblower. "He is asleep, Leftenant."
*Asleep?* thought Hornblower. Stranger still. The Captain sleeping in the foretop.
"Do not worry, Mr. Hornblower. I will stay for a while, then wake him."
"As you wish, sir." The officer returned to the watch.
Sebastian sat on the slats near Pellew and gazed at the ship's commander. Leaning against the mast, he pulled out a pouch of tobacco and rolled a cheroot. He lit the tobacco, gazed at the stars, and enjoyed the solitude.
Pellew rolled over onto his back. Brow knitting, he wondered why his bed felt so odd. Opening his eyes, he saw the crosstrees above him. A move of his arm and he felt something give. It was a leg. Dr. Sebastian's head hung low on his chest as he slept. Pellew frowned and remembered. He joggled the doctor's leg. Sebastian woke with a start and smiled.
"Captain. I must have fallen asleep." He rubbed his neck.
"What the devil are you doing up here, Doctor?"
"I could ask you the same thing, sir. Your officer of the watch was concerned for you and sent for me. This is not the most comfortable of places to sleep, Captain."
Pellew sighed and stared at the sky above turning to a light blue-gray. "Damn Brecon and his liquor."
Sebastian snorted faintly. "I thought that might be the cause of your ... night wanderings."
"When will this stuff wear off, do you suppose?"
"Do you still have the headache?"
"No. It was not the headache that brought me here. More a restlessness....in my soul. Too many memories, Doctor."
"Sometimes alcohol will release the emotions."
"I have had alcohol before, Doctor, and never had this reaction."
"Memories. Long locked away." He covered his eyes.
"Are you all right?" He placed a hand on Pellew's shoulder.
"I am." He drew a comfort from Sebastian's touch
Pellew stared into the eyes of ... his friend. Sebastian had become that. They were of an age. He sighed and looked away. "Thank you,... for your concern."
"Would it help to talk about it?" offered Sebastian.
Pellew thought, watched the mast above him, listened to the ropes rubbing against the wood, heard the occasional flap of canvas as the wind died and came back. Finally, he spoke.
"My wife, Doctor Sebastian, ... I have not spoken of her....for years. I've tucked away her memory ..." he sighed, "...though things seem to be conspiring to bring her to mind ......and I do not discount ... Brecon's drink. It is that so many details have lined up in a row, like tumblers in a lock.... and I can no longer keep the lock secure. It falls open and the memory spills."
There was a lengthy pause. He continued, "I loved her... fiercely." His eyes met Sebastian's. "My wife was ... American, ... like Pamela. Does it surprise you? We were married when she was about the same age as Mr. Hornblower's wife."
Turning his head back to the yard above he added. "She was with child when she died...not in childbirth....she was not that far along. She was head strong in a similar way to Mrs. Hornblower." A wry smile appeared. "She was not quite so impetuous as Mr. Hornblower's wife. He has his own cross to bear in that respect."
He pursed his lips and stared at the standing rigging. "There. I've said it. Perhaps the memory will leave me be. I've a ship to run. I cannot be plagued with such melancholy emotionalism."
Pellew observed the physician. Would he offer some sage pronouncement? "Well?"
"What would you have me say, Captain?"
Pellew pinched the bridge of his nose. "Not a damn thing, Doctor. I don't know why I told you. I suppose I hope the memory will... Sorry to bother you."
"Captain. You know I am always here should you need an ear. What you tell me goes no further. At least you have a basis for being somewhat attracted to Mr. Hornblower's wife."
Pellew jerked his head to see the doctor was grinning. "You find that amusing?"
"It is a malady that seems to affect the lot of us at some point in time. But as Mr. Kennedy once observed, it may be only proximity."
"You? And Mr. Kennedy? Hornblower's friend Kennedy?" Pellew saw Sebastian nod. "And now Lord Edrington. Do you think the woman has some sort of potion about her that ..."
Sebastian grinned. "Perhaps that is it. She is honey and we are the bees."
"I am sure Mr. Hornblower finds her to be honey, Doctor," he commented wryly. "You, too?"
"She has moments of logic, Captain, that are appealing and you know how physical she can be...very tactile. I think it is more our prolonged lack of contact that magnifies any attention she presents."
"I had no idea she was so widely desired. No wonder Mr. Hornblower struck the major."
"Ha ha ha!" laughed Sebastian. "Indeed. We should all be more forgiving of the man... as Major Edrington appears to be."
Pellew sat up and dodged to see Hornblower holding the watch. "You think I've been too severe?"
"Not at all, Captain. He deserves the punishment."
"He informed you I was here?"
Sebastian nodded. "He was worried about you."
Pellew's expression softened. "Can I burden you with another memory, Luis?"
"By all means. Burden away."
"My ... my first son." He swallowed. "Hornblower... " his voice caught.
Sebastian placed a hand on Pellew's forearm. "I assumed as much."
"Am I that obvious?"
"No one minds. At least not on this ship. We all know Mr. Hornblower has his own special .... proclivities, shall I say."
"He is much like you, Captain. Not quite so ... vocally demanding, but like you all the same."
Pellew chuckled and twisted his mouth with a smile, then the face went serious. "I love him like a son, Luis. If anything should ever happen to him..."
"Captain. We are a nation at war."
"I know. God, I know, Doctor." He did not say it, but he thought *The death of Hornblower might do me in worse than Brecon's drink. I pray, God, no more children go before me.*
The captain lay back down on the decking. The bell sounded. "I love this life, Dr. Sebastian."
"It is well that you do."
"Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing my men grow into command."
"And, Mr. Hornblower does that by leaps and bounds. I believe his wife is right."
"About him being an admiral someday?" Pellew recalled the wedding breakfast. "Yes. I can see it. Admiral Hornblower."
The two men chuckled softly.
"He still has a bit of a way to go, Captain."
"Yes. There is much to learn, but ... he will. He will." Pellew's muscles relaxed from the smile. "A captain's life is a bitter brew."
"And a man's life on top of that."
"Yes, Doctor. That, too."
The voice came from below. Sebastian lay on the deck and peered over the edge of the fighting top.
"It is nearly dawn, sir," stated Hornblower.
"Yes," replied Sebastian.
"Is... is the captain all right?"
Pellew swung himself around and looked down at the leftenant.
"I am, Mr. Hornblower."
"Captain. Forgive me, sir."
"Did you need something, Leftenant?" asked Pellew.
"No, sir. I..."
"Yes? What is it?"
"Nothing, sir, nothing."
"What is it, Mr. Hornblower?"
"Would you be wanting your servant, sir?"
Hornblower reddened and licked his lips. "For....for your uniform, sir. The men will ..."
"Damn! I shall be down momentarily. Thank you, Mr. Hornblower."
Pellew rolled on his side. "You know, Doctor, I am feeling better."
"I am glad to hear it, Captain. The absinthe should clear your system soon, if not already. I would suggest you continue to take it easy and try to get a little more sleep."
Pellew rose to his feet and tied his dressing gown tightly. He ran his fingers through his hair. "I must look a sight. The men will think I have gone mad."
Sebastian chuckled. "I assure you, sir, you have not."
"I will bid you good day, Doctor."
Pellew descended and made for the after cabins. Hornblower was addressing a man in the waist, and Pellew spoke as he passed by. "Three and half more hours, Mr. Hornblower."
Hornblower startled and turned to answer the retreating form. "Yes, sir," he muttered.
Sebastian followed close behind. "Goodnight, Mr. Hornblower."
"Good...morning, Doctor." Hornblower crooked his mouth and sighed. Three and a half more hours.
Hornblower sipped the hot coffee, feeling the steam warm his face. Pamela was dressed and took breakfast with him at the end of the eight hour watch. Edrington was there, too. He seemed .... better? Was that a word to use for someone that was in love with your wife? The thought that someone else would want her was part of the fear that weighed on him those first weeks after separation last June. In one way it made him feel better to know the thoughts were not unfounded, but were disquieting all the same because men found her of interest. The man Barnstable... should he be concerned about him? Pamela's assurances had to be enough. He must trust her love for him to be strong enough to withstand any other. The darkening thoughts of the quarter-deck pressed. *No.* He twisted his head to the side, seeking to avoid what sought to take root in his conscious thought.
"What are you thinking, darling?" she asked. "The major asked you a question." Her voice was soft and imploring.
"Forgive me, my Lord. What did you ask?"
"Do you have any idea when the despatch vessel might reappear?"
"Oh. Well, they are quite regular seeing as we are attached with Lord Keith's squadron. They have a circular route they follow when departing Gibraltar, touching on the island of Minorca, to us on the way to the Two Sicilies, Malta, back to us, and so forth. Sometimes they go further east. It depends on where the fleet is located."
"But, have you a specific time, Mr. Hornblower?"
"The Eagle was here on her way east about oh....ten days ago. She could return anytime within the next week or so, depending on the wind and weather and requirements of the fleet."
Edrington sighed. "I suppose, given those vagaries, I shall have to be content. Excuse me." He rose and bowed. "Matthews and I are going fishing today."
"Are you?" queried Pamela. "Enjoy yourself, my Lord."
"Thank you, Mrs. Hornblower. Good day, Mr. Hornblower."
Pamela saw the lingering gaze of the major as he stood behind Hornblower to take his leave. *Don't do this to me,* she thought. *I cannot accompany you anywhere!*
"Good day, my Lord." Hornblower gazed sadly at Pamela, sighed and wiped over his face.
"You are tired, you poor thing," she commented.
"A bit, yes." He would be sleeping most of the day, and Pamela would be on her own. What would she do while he slept? "You must be terribly bored."
"No. No, I am not."
"You wanted to go with him." The statement startled him, bursting out of the bubble of dark thoughts that sought to beset him. She, too, looked surprised.
"No, darling," she denied.
The tone was tinged with an edge of defense, he thought. Hornblower lifted her hand to his lips, eyes steadily on her. "You may go with him, if you wish." What would the answer be? Did he feel a need to test her?
"I do not! I have spent more than enough time with the major in an open boat. Are you trying to get rid of me?"
"Maria thinks the wait for Captain Brecon to supply us with alternate clothing may be a long one. She and I are going to have a look at the material on board. Though I can hear Junie laughing as I say it. I have little talent as a seamstress."
"Junie? Your maid in America. You miss her." Was he angling for a reason to explain the dark apprehension of his soul?
She leaned against his arm and kissed his cheek. "You are tired, darling. Anything I say you take to mean I am dissatisfied. I assure you, there is no place I would rather be than here with you. Are you having second thoughts about me staying?"
"Only for your sake, my dear. I am tired." He gazed into her eyes a long time, wondering if she were speaking the truth. Was she satisfied to be his wife?
Hornblower slept soundly until the smell of food found its way into his consciousness. Rolling to his side, he opened his eyes and saw the cloth covered plate on the table. Was he hungry? No...thirsty, though. A drink appeared to be there. He sighed and closed his eyes. His body still felt weary from eight hours of standing watch. Too weary to reach for the tankard. He rolled the other direction and moaned when his bruised cheek met the cot. *It serves you right for losing your temper,* he thought. *I should not have hit Edrington. I do regret it. Pamela, Pamela. What have you done to me? I could have been happy alone, making my way in the navy. I should have waited...but...no, I cannot fault you. It's just I ... I'm no longer sure you truly....truly love me.* His spirit sank into the dark depths of melancholia, turning the doubt onto himself. *I know you say you do, but....Edrington could offer you so much more than I ever could. I have nothing to offer you but loneliness as a sea officer's wife...and death an ever present possibility. I should have thought...and now ... a child. Another life to take into consideration.*
The door opened quietly. A breath of air entered. Keeping his eyes closed, he listened. Was it she? Breathing deeply, he sought a scent, recalling her perfumes, but she had none this voyage. He heard a rustle and felt her next to the cot. Hair fell onto his face and he felt her lips trace his neck and stop over his ear. A shiver echoed as she nibbled on his earlobe. In a smooth movement, his arm was around her waist and he pulled her down across him onto the cot.
"What do you think you are doing, Mrs. Hornblower?"
She wore a pleased smile. "Trying to wake up my sleepyheaded husband."
"You will have me up in more ways than one, if you are not careful."
She giggled and pulled her legs into the cot, raising up on an elbow and looking contentedly at her husband.
"I love you."
His visage lost its slight smile, looking seriously and deeply into her brown eyes, he asked, "Do you?"
She mistook the seriousness of his countenance for ardor and continued in ignorance. "I do. I do. I do." She leaned over him, propping on both elbows, and stroked his hair. "Are you rested?"
"Enough. Is it late?"
"What time is it?" He held her waist, brow knitted.
"Nearly five by lubber time."
"The devil you say?" He tapped her rump. "Get up! We are due for dinner at four bells! How long will you take to get ready this time!"
She caught the accusatory tone and moved off and up.
He could not look at her and hung his head. The hurt reflected off her and onto him.
"I...I'm sorry. I did not mean that the way it sounded." He raised his head to see her back was toward him. "Can I do anything to help you dress?"
She shook her head. "Do...do I have to go?"
He swallowed. "The captain is expecting you." Why did he not take her in his arms to reassure her? The thought was there, but he held back.
"Do ... you want me to go?"
"Yes, of course." The silent moments strained between them. *Hold her, you fool!* he thought, but something stopped him.
"I ... I need to ask Maria something." She was out the door before he could say another word.
He sighed, pitifully, not wanting to think it, but he knew...she was crying and did not want him to see. His stomach knotted.
What was happening to them? He last asked that question in Gibraltar when he nearly left, a silly argument over a kiss! Fear of losing her drove him back then, but they were on a ship now. There was no where she could go. Indefatigable would hold her. Indefatigable. She held him, too, in many more ways.
*What have I done?* he thought.
Dragging the shirt off his body and tossing it onto Archie's bunk, he dressed in clean clothes. She needed to get back in here and get dressed. He removed the discarded shirt from atop her gown, causing it to fall to the floor, along with sheaves of paper lying beneath the dress. He stooped to pick them up, eyes resting on a name to whom they were written. Tidying them, he placed them back on the bunk and returned the dress. Hurrying to Maria's cabin, he knocked rapidly.
"I'll be there in a moment."
"I'm... I'm already dressed. Can I..."
"Are you? Then, why do you not go on topside? Maria will assist me. I will not be late."
He could hear the unsteady words, closing his eyes tightly. "As you wish." He hesitated. "Pamela..." he said sorrowfully.
"I will see you on deck."
There was no one to see his head hung low. "Very well," he whispered.
"Stop crying, lady!" whispered Maria. "Your eyes will get puffy! He will know!"
"I know! I know!" Pamela sniffed and wiped her nose.
"Come on. Come on." Maria held Pamela's chin up. "Men! They aren't worth it! Here now." She took a cloth and poured water into it, then wrung it over the basin. "Put this over your eyes to cool them." Maria sighed, resignedly. "You love him. Does he know how much you love him?"
Pamela shook her head. "I do not think he does...or ....he no longer loves me. I do not know." Her mind worked rapidly assessing the morning conversation and what just occurred. "He accused me of wanting to go fishing with the major this morning."
"Maybe for a second."
Maria clicked her tongue and lapsed into Spanish. "Madre de Dios! How can you be so estupido? Are you in love with el major?"
"No! No! I don't know! No!" Pamela covered her face and gasped. "Oh God! He knows! He knows I don't know! That I question my feelings!"
"Horatio! He knows." Pamela's tears faded. This was her own fault. She and Horatio connected in thought like twins. He was picking up on her uncertainty. "He knows I don't know," she whispered. "How can I be this way? I am carrying our child? Why don't I know? I cannot go to dinner. I cannot face them both...and Captain Pellew. Oh Maria! What am I to do?"
"You are going!"
"No! I cannot!"
"Yes, you are. You must face them and make a decision. Do not do this to them or to yourself. You must decide. You cannot love two men."
Maria opened the door and grabbed Pamela's arm.
"He isn't out there, is he?"
"No. Come. You must dress. I wish we had never rescued bloody Major Edrington!"
Maria pushed her into Hornblower's cabin. When the two emerged, Maria gave her a little shove towards the companion stairs. "Go! You must decide!"
Pamela looked up the ladder steps. They appeared higher than Indy's main mast tonight, and her feet felt like lead.
"Mrs. Hornblower! You look ravishing!"
"Archie! You startled me!"
"Where is Mr. Hornblower?"
"You mean the cad left you to fend for yourself? Allow me, madam." He offered his crooked arm.
She took it hesitantly and looked over her shoulder to see Maria scowling and motioning her upwards.
"Thank you, Mr. Kennedy." Once on deck, she caught a glimpse of Horatio over to larboard. He approached.
She looked even more lovely than the previous night. The white neckerchief added a glow from her dark hair, the necklace invited the eye to descend to admire the round breasts. The dress hid any sign of the babe she carried except when a breeze blew softly against, and the slippers Cudgeons made peeked from beneath the hem.
"Mr. Hornblower! What do you mean leaving your lady fair to..."
"It is my fault, Archie, I told him to come up without me."
"Then, we shall forgive him this time." He passed her hand onto Horatio's arm.
Hornblower took her silently. She was beautiful. The old sensations erupted inside. How could he doubt his love? This was where his musings led him, to doubt HER love for him, and now HIS for her. *I do love her. Despite....everything. But does she love me?* His eyes lowered to the deck, but soon returned to watch her askance. Did she seek Edrington? He was standing foreward near the forecastle. "Have you spoken to Lord Edrington since his return?"
She glanced Horatio's way. "No. I have not. Was he successful?"
"Apparently several decent sized fish were caught."
Hornblower maneuvered her in Edrington's direction. A slight resistance on her part but Maria's words repeated in her head to make a choice. But had she not already done that? She stole a glimpse at Horatio who was bringing her nearer to his rival.
Her eyes rested on the major. His face appeared better.
"Lord Edrington." Hornblower stared to catch the effect his wife would have on the peer. She glowed and the clothing and necklace enhanced her femininity. What would the major see?
"Lord Edrington," she echoed her husband.
"Mrs. Hornblower." He bowed briefly and when he rose, he said, "Mr. Hornblower," and his face and tone were puzzled. "Your wife looks lovely this evening. Shall we to dinner then?" He motioned for them to go. "After you."
Pellew was there to greet them, ushering each one into the cabin. Kennedy, Bracegirdle, Captain McCann of the Marines, and Sebastian were also in attendance. Pellew seemed fully recovered of the demon green drink of two nights ago.
"My Lord Edrington and Mr. Hornblower, I do believe your injuries are diminished," commented Pellew, gaily.
Mild titters sounded from the other guests. Making light of the occurrence seemed the better course. The two men seemed to be reconciling themselves. Both colored lightly while the lot of them were in motion to take a place at table.
Pamela was seated in the middle on one side, with Hornblower on her right, and Kennedy on her left. Edrington took the opposing end to Pellew, and Bracegirdle, Sebastian, and Captain McCann were seated on the other side, with McCann next to Edrington.
Hornblower assisted her to sit and the men stood until that was accomplished. His hand brushed the top of Pamela's arm and their eyes flickered briefly one to the other.
"Captain Pellew, I am flattered to be surrounded by so many gallant gentlemen. A woman could desire nothing more, sir!"
"You brighten our dinner, Mrs. Hornblower, like a flower of England, if you do not mind my saying so," commented Pellew graciously.
"You compliment me further, Captain, to compare me with anything of your beloved England."
"May I say, ma'am, you look as lovely as you did on your wedding day?" offered Bracegirdle.
Hornblower moved his eyes to the first leftenant as a brief memory of his wedding eve incarceration surfaced. The memory became clearer, as he recalled how much he missed her that night, how forlorn he became as the time passed and he could not go to her. His eyes moved to watch her surreptitiously. The love lying beneath the doubt kindled.
She smiled and blushed. The color in her cheeks made her face shine with the light rosy tones of intimacy. What was wrong with him that he could desire her here, and now? She spoke.
"You are too kind, Mr. Bracegirdle."
"I would have to agree, Mrs. Hornblower. You do indeed look every bit as beautiful tonight as you did that day."
"Captain, you over honor me."
The possession he felt bloomed in his chest. He did not want any of these men to look at her. Not the way she looked now. His breathing rate was increasing. *Look away from her before you do something you regret,* he commanded silently. He forced his eyes to the place setting, though they darted to the side seeking her.
"When was that?" queried Edrington.
"What's that, my Lord?" asked Pellew.
"The wedding. Did you all attend? If so, it must have been a sight to behold with so many officers in attendance. A naval wedding to rival any in England."
Hornblower stared at the place setting. He could feel the blood color his cheeks, and the remembrances being discussed were embarrassing him. Edrington watched her, he saw. The major was looking at his wife. *Stop looking at her.* Was he such a jealous man? The only thing that held him back was the suspicion that she no longer loved him as she once had. The knot in his stomach returned.
A servant was placing filled wine glasses before them.
"We made a fair showing for our second leftenant," grinned Bracegirdle. "Two Admirals, three captains, a bevy of leftenants, and Captain McCann."
"Indeed? Did your marines provide a tunnel, sir?" asked Edrington, impressed.
McCann smiled. "We did, my Lord. It was a brilliant day for the service."
"Of course, that was the second one," added Kennedy.
"Yes, which wedding might be the appropriate question, my Lord," chuckled Bracegirdle.
"Now I am in the dark. What do you mean, Mr. Kennedy?"
"I doubt the major, I mean, Lord Edrington wishes to hear about our weddings, gentlemen," commented Pamela. Glancing at Horatio, she could see the embarrassment the discussion brought.
"On the contrary, my dear." Contrary was a good choice of words; he was feeling contrary. "He might find it most interesting," stated Hornblower. He turned his head from her to Edrington. "We were married in a Handfasting ceremony on Dolphin. The...the ship where we met." His voice trailed off. He recalled she suffered the death of her father there...and how the two of them had fallen so quickly and so deeply in love. Saying the ship's name in this company, under these circumstances, almost felt like sacrilege.
"Then, which date does the ring represent?" asked Edrington.
Hornblower stared at the major, then shifted his eyes to his wife. How did he know about the inscription? He averted his eyes back to Edrington, suddenly recalling what he said in the boat the night of the rescue, 'You're the H on her ring.' Why did he know this?
She was drinking from a glass and hid behind it as long as she dare.
Archie noted a certain amount of discomfort in the attitudes of the couple. "That would be the Handfasting date. Yes, Horatio?"
"Did you have her wedding ring inscribed, Mr. Hornblower?" Pellew noticed the one Hornblower wore. "What is this? I do not recall you receiving a ring on your wedding day?"
"I gave it to him as a birthday present, Captain Pellew. Mr. Kennedy was good enough to hold it for me and deliver it in a timely manner. You did, did you not, Mr. Kennedy?" asked Pamela.
"Indeed, I did. We were on Nelson's ship Foudroyant on July 4th."
"July 4th? Why does that date seem familiar?" queried Edrington.
Bracegirdle snickered, but did not reply.
Sebastian sat listening to all the banter observing the couple. Hornblower seemed to sink slightly at first, but then sat up a little straighter.
"July 4th is the date my wife's country declared its independence from ours, my Lord," stated Hornblower clearly. Saying it boldly, he felt as though he had thrown in his lot with the rebel colonies. He glanced at Pamela. Maybe he had. *God! I do love her!* he thought. *What am I to do?*
The table erupted in laughter.
"I fail to see why that is humorous," stated Hornblower.
The others laughed again, and as he looked curiously at his wife, he saw the look of love in her eyes as she bit her bottom lip in a grin. Did she still love him?
The servants arrived with platters of food and placed them about the table. The two ceased to be the topic of conversation as it turned to food, its preparation and seasoning. Another vintage of wine was delivered. Edrington expounded upon the wine cellar of a neighboring lord, commenting on the elaborate system of filing the man employed, and that the war with the French put a dent in the man's supply.
Pamela joined in when she felt it appropriate, realizing how much she was enjoying sitting next to her husband, with these men with which he served. She could not help but feel love for each one as she watched and listened, and she prayed for each, for safety, for protection, for provision. At one point, she leaned slightly in Horatio's direction so their upper arms touched. The tingle. Suddenly, she realized each time Horatio, in any way, spoke, glanced her way, cleared his throat, it was there.
She stole glimpses of Edrington. He said and did things to make her laugh, but that tingle was not present. On at least one occasion, she found she disagreed with him on some point. Arguments, he was good for that, but....that just got her blood up. She recalled how exasperated he could make her feel. His forcefulness was attractive even though she did not wish to succumb to it.
Horatio acted that way on occasion. The night he proposed, but there was more there than just being insistent. The night of Magie Noir when he ordered Matthews and Styles to make her jump, in Dr. Sebastian's cabin threatening her with a spanking, she shuddered remembering his touch during the bath.
"Are you cold?" he asked quietly.
"No," she smiled. *I love you, Horatio. I do. If only I could say it aloud and not just think it here among your friends,... but I know it would embarrass you.*
Hornblower lingered in the stare. What was she thinking? Was she true? Did she mean it when she said she loved him? Why did he doubt? She watched Edrington,... he saw...but, she watched the others at the table as well. He did not ascertain any great interest in the major alone. *Am I so frail as to need constant reassurance of her feelings?* he thought, berating himself. *She still leans against my arm. Is it intentional?*
The dinner was lengthy with conversation. Edrington revealed how he came to be in the hands of blackguards holding him for ransom, though some information he had to assume, due to his injuries. McCann found the tale of interest and inquired about more army related issues than naval. The meal moved into afters and port and the group became more subdued and quietly amiable.
Hornblower kept an ear for the ship's bell since his duties were the first and middle watch this time around. It meant separation from Pamela but there was nothing for it. Bracegirdle looked his way when eight bells sounded. There was not but a half hour remaining. He listened for when he might break into the converse and excuse himself to prepare for his watch. The uniform he wore presently was overdress and eight additional hours so clothed was more than he cared to abide. He leaned forward and catching Kennedy's eye, he spoke.
"Mr. Kennedy. I fear it is time I prepared for my watch. Would you be so kind as to escort my wife when time to leave our good Captain's table?"
Pamela felt disregarded. *Take me with you, Horatio!* she thought. *Don't leave me here!* She did not let her face betray her thoughts. *You do not want me, do you? I was right. You cannot ever trust me. I do not want Lord Edrington. I do not!*
"I would be delighted to be her escort, Mr. Hornblower," he answered, cheerfully. "May I take her for a walk around the deck before retiring?"
*Archie! Dear Archie! What am I to do?* thought Pamela. She managed a gentle smile.
"I will leave that to you two to decide. Thank you, Mr. Kennedy. If you will excuse me, my dear." He turned to Pellew. "Thank you for the meal, sir. I must away."
Pellew entertained the merest smile. "Of course, Leftenant. Duty calls." Glimpsing Pamela, Pellew wondered that Hornblower would leave her with them. Was he reconciled in the relationship? He could find no intimation from her that anything was amiss.
Hornblower nodded to those remaining, returned his chair, and departed, not allowing a final glimpse of his wife.
"The time has passed quickly, has it not?" queried Sebastian, snatching a look at Hornblower, then his wife.
"It is the good company we share, Doctor," said Edrington. "Captain, Leftenant Hornblower said the vessel, Eagle, might be returning soon. Any idea when?"
"Soon is the best answer, my Lord," replied Pellew.
Sebastian pushed back from the table, removed his pouch of tobacco, and prepared a cheroot.
"What tobacco do you smoke?" asked Edrington.
"It is a blend I do myself, my Lord. Would you care to try it?"
"I occasionally take a pipe, but I have not one with me, I fear."
"A pipe? I have one I can loan you, if you wish to try my blend."
"I may take you up on that Doctor."
"Would you care for a cigar, my Lord?" asked Pellew.
"No, thank you, captain. I limit my vice to the pipe. No offense intended, Doctor," he added quickly.
Sebastian smiled as he tucked the cheroot into his pouch for later. "It is a vice. One for which I must ask forgiveness."
"Gentlemen, I have enjoyed your company immensely. Captain Pellew, you are the ever gracious host to feed us so bountifully," said Pamela.
"You are welcome, Mrs. Hornblower. We shall do it another time before you leave us."
"Thank you, Captain. Mr. Kennedy, I would like a stroll about the deck, if you are so inclined." As she stood the men followed suit.
"I would be delighted, ma'am. Thank you, Captain."
"Mr. Kennedy." Pellew watched them leave, then said. "Gentlemen, I have a brandy you must try before you retire."
Kennedy and Pamela exited into the night air. She sighed in relief.
"It wasn't that bad, was it?" grinned Kennedy, taking her hand over his arm.
"You do not know the half of it," she said.
They walked in silence until Pamela spoke.
"Archie...does...do you think..." she stopped and stared at the friend of her husband. "Is...do you think Horatio still loves me?"
Archie laughed. "Yes! Whatever do you mean?"
"He... he's angry....and...sad, I think."
Archie was silent, thinking. "The thing with Edrington?"
She nodded. "It has to be."
Archie sighed. "You know, Pamela, you are a very attractive woman."
She bowed her head momentarily. "And Horatio is a very attractive man. Do you not think if women attended him as ... as others have me, I would not be jealous?"
Archie smiled wryly. "Yes, I suppose Horatio is good looking."
"No, supposition to it!" she declared.
Archie chuckled. "He would be pleased to know you think him so, though in the next thought he would wonder why."
"Yes," she smiled, agreeing. "But if another woman looked at him I would scratch her eyes out!"
Archie patted her hand. "Have you told him you feel that way? The idea has probably not occurred to him."
"No. I ...am hesitant to bring any thing up concerning the idea." She waited. "Archie...is it wrong for me to enjoy the company of others, even if ... even if they are men? I am enjoying your company."
"That is good to know."
"Horatio is not jealous of you."
"Well, I've never kissed you, nor been alone with you for any great length of time."
She stopped. "How I rue that day! I should not have let him. It happened so suddenly and then..." She stepped to the rail for support. She could not confess that once the kiss started she let it continue to assess her love for Horatio. She was so lonely with him back at sea and she knew no one in Gibraltar....her father gone. No man with her of any kind, when there had been all her life, up till then.
Archie removed his handkerchief from his pocket and offered it.
"He does not trust me anymore. Maybe I should not have told him. Maybe I should have lived with the guilt. No. I couldn't. I couldn't."
"If you have done what you felt was right, Pamela, then do not reproach yourself. Give it time. Give him time. It may dissolve once Edrington leaves. As long as he is here, the tension remains. It is only natural."
She stepped towards him, leaving him no choice but to embrace her, as she wept against his shoulder.
Even as he rested his hand lightly on her back, he feared Horatio seeing, which he did as he came on deck to take the watch. Their eyes met, and Archie gave his head a slight shake. Kennedy saw the shadow cross his face. To push her away now would only give a guilty cast to what was meant as a kindness. He would explain it to Horatio. Now to get Pamela calmed.
"I know he loves you, Pamela. Just give him time," Archie whispered. "Enough now. Dry your face. The night is too beautiful for tears."
"You are a good friend, Archie."
"I do my best."
One ding sounded. Pamela looked up to the quarter-deck. He was there! Had he seen her in Archie's embrace? She feared to ask.
Another turn around the waist and Kennedy took her below. After he left her, she went to Maria's cabin. There were things she needed to get into perspective. Maria would be her sounding board.
Sebastian met Archie on his way back topside.
"Good dinner, eh Doctor?"
"Going for a smoke?"
"Yes. Lord Edrington is to join me on the forecastle. I'm loaning my pipe." He held it up for Archie to see.
"I've never known you to use a pipe."
"I save it in case I should run out of papers," he smiled.
Kennedy paused, seeking Hornblower on watch. He caught him glimpsing the arrival of himself and the doctor.
"I've got to speak to Horatio, Doctor."
"It does not surprise me. Things are still not well between them."
"You are right, sir."
"I will pray." He gave Archie's arm a squeeze.
Kennedy climbed the ship's ladder two steps at a time, going to stand next to Hornblower. His friend was perturbed, that was plan.
Hornblower's chest rose with an intake of air and he teetered on his toes, hands clasped behind his back.
"It was nothing," whispered Archie, staring forward with his friend. "No, I take that back. You upset her. When are you going to let this go?"
Hornblower remained rigid.
"I know you love her. I told her so. Why am I having to tell YOUR wife that you love her? Eh? And, she loves you, I might add."
Hornblower let his eyes shift to Kennedy, but then returned forward. *What else was said?* he thought. *Tell me more.*
"She regrets telling you about the kiss, but she does not feel that she could do anything else. Have you not forgiven her?"
"Yes," he hissed.
"Then, what is the problem?"
Hornblower could not tell him that he knew she wanted to go with Edrington. Was that such a terrible desire on her part? It depended on the motivation. Archie would tell him he was imagining things. He pivoted and stepped to the taffrail away from the helmsmen and midshipmen. Kennedy followed. Hornblower watched the boat in tow lazily follow the frigate. It was the boat used for fishing today left for use tomorrow.
"What is it you are dwelling on now, Horatio? Do you want to end it with her? If you do, then stay this course and you will push her from you."
Hornblower sighed angrily. "I wish I had not ask you to tend her."
"Oh? Would you have her go alone? That is not you. You might have asked Sebastian. I suppose he would have been a safer choice. I like your wife very much but I have no designs on her."
"You did once by your own admission."
"Ah ha! The green-eyed monster is afoot!"
Hornblower walked to starboard as far from Kennedy as he could go. Kennedy followed on his heels.
"You love her. Have you told her?" Kennedy asked demanding.
"Edrington has more to offer than I," he blurted.
Archie grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. "Are you completely mad?" He shoved Hornblower at the shoulders, pushing him against the rail, then glanced to see if anyone was watching. "She does not love Lord Edrington! She loves you, you blockhead!" Kennedy threw up his hands and left the quarter-deck. There was no reasoning with Hornblower. It would be like beating his head against a brick wall!
Hornblower turned seaward. Things were not going well. Now, Kennedy was mad at him. He had to think. His emotions were causing him all kinds of confusion. He took some deep breaths and looked to the heavens. He sighted a star and took his mind through a navigational problem assuming the sun were at its zenith. He repeated the computation with another and then another and then thought about the question he failed to answer in his exam for leftenant.
Hours passed. He saw Sebastian and Edrington far foreward for a time. Pellew came out once for a brief stroll and seemed oblivious to any problems the Hornblower's were having. Finally, the ship slept, except for those on duty.
Midshipman Cutter, having retrieved the log, gave Hornblower Indefatigable's speed in knots. The other observations made, Cutter peered over Hornblower's shoulder as the leftenant entered those into the record.
"Mr. Hornblower, sir," whispered one of the helmsmen.
He looked up from his writing. Pamela was on the quarter-deck still dressed in the gown, though her hair was down. He watched her and finally her eyes turned to his and she approached. The midshipmen seemed to scatter. James nodded as he passed her.
"Good evening, Leftenant Hornblower." She addressed him in his formal capacity.
He touched his hat. "Ma'am."
Neither said a word.
Would now be a good time to talk, she wondered? With this extended duty, when would they have a chance? He would go to sleep when he came off watch. Maybe she should not bother him when he is working. She clasped her hands behind her back and walked to the stern.
He watched her go and stop. With a glance at the helmsmen and an admonition to, "Keep your eyes on the job," he followed. The couple was silent. Then, he spoke.
"Why are you not sleeping?"
"I could not sleep." He sounded like he did when she woke him that afternoon. She glanced briefly his way, then walked to starboard.
He swung his body that direction and canted his head, watching. Inhaling, he followed.
They both started to speak and she deferred to him.
"No. What were you going to ask?" he said.
*If I say 'nothing' he will think I am upset,* she thought. *This was a bad idea. I'll make some small talk and leave.* Gathering what she thought would be inane chatter she asked, "Why is the boat trailing? I mean, don't you usually put them away when you are done?"
"I believe his lordship intends to fish again early in the morning." His tone was disdainful.
Turning her head away, she closed her eyes painfully. *Lord! The boat would have to have something to do with the major!* she thought. *Leave, just leave, before things get worse.* She would make herself look at Horatio. Angry, he was angry. It was no good to try to talk with him in this state. "I see," she said, and she started to leave.
"Why do you not go with him?" he suggested cavalierly.
Her face reddened. The hot emotion of anger twinged. "I do not desire to go fishing with his lordship." She picked up her skirts and departed, the anger growing with each step. She muttered under her breath, "I'd like to go somewhere."
He heard her and was about to ask what she was saying when she turned and strode haughtily back to him.
"Am I permitted to do as I wish aboard this ship?"
The question startled him. What did she mean? As pertains to Edrington? "You may do whatever the Captain will allow."
"Would he allow me to go fishing?" she asked hotly.
Had she changed her mind about his suggestion? "I am sure he would be delighted for you to go fishing," his voice betrayed a rising anger.
"That is all I need to know." She stomped away and down the ladder.
*Fine!* he thought. *So she intends to go out with his lordship after all! Let her!* He teetered on his toes, clasped his hand behind his back, working the loose fingers of the other hand. After a few deep breaths, he returned to stand beside the helm. Looking into the waist, she was no where to be seen. James was climbing the forecastle ladder and Cutter was foreward on the other side of the stacked boats.
A few minutes later, a thump was heard against the hull. Hornblower, Ainsley, and Billings looked at each other. Hornblower stepped to the rail from where the sound seemed to come. The trailing boat was beside the Indy. Looking over into the chains, Pamela was there tugging on the line.
"What the...? Pamela what are you doing? Stop that!" He wheeled around stretching his long legs to cross the deck. By the time he descended the stairs and approached the railing, she was back in the waist. The gown was tied up somehow, revealing her shapely calves and narrow bare feet. She pulled the line and checked to see where the boat lay. Her arms and the bodice of the dress were wet from the trailing rope.
He grabbed an arm. "Are you out of your mind?" He gave a tug to her dress causing the hem to drop around her ankles. "Give me that!" He tried to take the rope, she pulled back on it.
"No! You said the captain would let me go. I am going. Now!" She looked over the side to see where the small boat lay and was attempting a loop around the gunport near the cannon.
"Stop behaving like an impetuous brat!" He tugged on the line, forcefully. He saw it begin to happen, like slow motion, but he was not quick enough to prevent it. Pamela, slipped on the tugged rope, lost her balance and fell overboard.
"God!" Hornblower looked to see if she hit the boat. She was clear of it. Pulling off his hat and coat, he jumped in after her. Fear for her safety. Fear for the child. All in an infinitesimal fraction of a second. Adrenaline pumped through his veins, gripping his innards.
The rope on deck slithered and slipped and followed them into the sea.
"Man overboard!" shouted a helmsman.
Once in the water, he found her and kept her head above water.
Her hair covered her face and she could not see. She sputtered
and coughed. He pushed her over to the boat.
"Mr. Hornblower! Are ye all right, sir?" Someone was shouting from the taffrail.
"Yes! We have the boat!" He shouted as loud as he could and helped her climb in and then followed. He thought he heard a reply of "Aye, sir."
She sat in the bottom, coughing and gasping a breath.
He sat on one of the seats and watched the stern light of Indefatigable move away from them. "Damn!" he cursed. "You untied the boat." He shook his head. It would be the devil to pay, rousting the ship to come about for them. He almost hoped they would not. The captain would be told. He was no longer on watch. His breathing came near normal.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Yes." She brushed the hair from her face.
"Good." He pulled on her arm and had her over his knee. "I should have done this a long time ago."
He swatted her five times through the wet dress as hard as he could.
He released her and she sat in the bottom of the boat, rubbing her bottom.
He swiveled his legs over to the other side, rested his elbows on his knees, and covered his face with his hands.
"I...I'm sorry. I've gotten you in trouble. Why ... I'm sorry," she said meekly.
At length, he asked, "What did you think you were doing?"
"I just.... I just wanted to get away! Why didn't you let me go?"
"Let you go. In the middle of the night in the Mediterranean Sea off the French coast, just let you go... alone, no less!"
"Well,... I intended to tie the rope back on to the ship." There was not time to think through what she would do. She was just... doing.
"How were you going to do that? Pray, tell? Just embarking into a boat beside the ship would take a minimum of two people. And, no, I would not have acted as the second person, " he added adamantly.
She had made a mess of things. Studying his back, she pondered what to do. "Why did you jump in after me?"
"Insanity. No, I am... I WAS... the officer of the watch. I am not to let crew... or passengers, fall overboard."
"You were only doing your duty."
He hesitated before answering. "No."
She moved nearer to him. "What else?" She asked hopefully.
"You are my....responsibility."
"Is that all?"
He did not answer.
She climbed onto the seat beside him and shivered.
"You might be better in the bottom of the boat where the wind does not... hit you," he suggested. Guilt over spanking her was sinking in, though he felt she deserved it.
She did not move but remained and shivered with the breezes. He unbuttoned his waistcoat.
"Here. It isn't much, but it may keep you a little warmer."
She slipped her arms in and tugged it around her. He buttoned the top buttons where her bare skin was exposed.
She leaned against him and he looked at her. Finally, he put his arm around her, and she snuggled against his chest.
"Thank you for rescuing me," she said softly.
She turned her head to see his face. He looked down and saw her eyes gazing at his lips and then his eyes. He resisted and looked where he had last seen the Indy. There was only black sea with a smattering of stars.
"The moon is rising late tonight," he commented.
She snuggled more deeply into his chest. With a wry frown, he held her more tightly.
"I do not love him. I do not love him, Horatio.
Tonight, at dinner. I listened. I watched. Of all the men there, whether Edrington, or Archie, or the Captain, or any of the others, the only one that made me tingle when he spoke was you. Even when you cleared your throat, embarrassed that they were discussing our weddings... it is such an odd reaction. I do not know what it is in the body that causes it, but even now, in your arms, I can feel it. I do not feel it with anyone else but you. You may not believe me...but it is true."
She swallowed and took a deep breath.
"You were upset with me this afternoon, weren't you? Still doubting. I asked myself, why? And I thought, am I doing something to make you doubt? Edrington had to be the reason. You were right this morning. I did want to go with him. But, it was not because I love him. I realized that you knew that I wanted to go. But, it is not for the reasons you think. It was something different to do. I do not even like fishing. Am I making any sense?"
*No,* he thought to himself, *but that is not new.* He hoped she would speak again and she did.
"I told Archie tonight that when Edrington kissed me, I was surprised, but then I sort of analyzed it while it was happening, and I knew. I knew then, it was only you. That no one could replace you. Edrington cannot replace you. I do not want him, or his title, or anything he could offer me. I know now that you and he were friends. Maybe that is why I like him. Maybe it is something about yours and my character that allows me to like him, as a friend, though he does make me angry sometimes. When he gets over his infatuation and I think he is nearer accomplishing that than you are your anger, maybe we could all be friends.
If our roles were reversed, and a woman made those kind of advances towards you, I would be jealous and angry and hurt. But I would fight for you, as long as I knew you still wanted me. I am rambling off at the mouth, Horatio. What are you thinking?"
She silenced and wondered what else she could say to convince him. At least, he was holding her, even if it was only to offer her warmth. She prayed that was not the only reason.
"Do you still want me?" he asked.
She sat up to see his face and placed her hand upon his cheek. "Yes, I still want you. Have I led you to think otherwise?"
He looked down. "You wanted to go with Edrington this morning."
"I did. But not for the reason you think."
"Pamela." He searched her features, then held her close. "Tonight at dinner, I was proud to have you as my wife. You honor me by your very presence. I...have been jealous. I am more jealous than I ever thought I could be. There are times when I do not understand you, and I think I am mad to love you. But in the final analysis, I do love you, and I am at a loss to know how to deal with other men that look at you. Even... Archie."
"He was comforting me, Horatio."
"I realize that."
"When it comes down to it, darling, it is all my fault. Sometimes I feel like...like a loose cannon on a rolling and pitching sea. I miss my father. He was always a steadying influence in my life. He was always there...when I was married, when I was not,... he was my confidant. I have not had that from anyone for the last two months, not really. I have indulged my every whim. I realize it, and I've brought harm to the one I love most. I was alone and I missed you so terribly. Oh darling, I could not tell you when you left, how empty I felt at our parting. I knew you had to go. But the emptiness the day you left...was unbearable... I thought I was losing my mind. Maria saw it. That is why she gave in to my desires to go with her on the missions. The major may have filled an empty spot for a time, but... he is not you....and, he is not my father. I miss him. I missed you. I love you."
Of all the things she had said to him since her return, this was the closest to the heart of the matter. She did not want him to go,.... when he left Gibraltar last June, she did not want him to go. She hid it very well. That was part of what led him into the depths of doubt then, that she did not seem to mind his leaving, that it could be so easy for her to let him go. But it was all a facade. He recalled his own loss of appetite. Was she affected so, as well?
"Did you stop eating?"
"Yes, but Maria made me, because of the baby."
"Did you have trouble sleeping?"
"Yes, I would lie awake all night. Sometimes I would go to the rooftop and wait for the sun to rise. I would send out my thoughts to you, darling. Praying you were well and safe, wishing I could see you."
Hornblower's eyes filled and he held her tighter. He sucked a breath, losing the fight with his emotions. Tears mingled with the water in her sea dampened hair. They did not last long. He wanted to see her face.
The moon was beginning to rise.
He placed a hand on her cheek. "You should have told me. You should have told me you would miss me." He ran his thumb over her lips.
"I did not want you to feel guilty about leaving. We both knew you had to go." She leaned into his hand.
"Did I tell you I felt the baby move the other night?" he asked.
"No. Did you?" She wiped the moisture from his face. "I have been feeling him for about a week now."
On board Indefatigable, Pellew was wakened by the thump against the hull and was trying to figure out what he heard when the shout of 'Man overboard' sounded. Feet on the floor, he grabbed his dressing gown and pulled it on as he walked. The voice he heard did not sound like Hornblower's. Was it one of the midshipmen? Who was overboard? One of the crew?
Coming into the waist, he found James and Cutter in a heated discussion. When they saw him, they both jumped.
"Captain Pellew, sir!"
"What the devil has happened?"
Cutter and James looked at each other, mouths hanging open.
"Where is Mr. Hornblower?"
The midshipmen fidgeted nervously, speechless.
"Do not tell me he is the man overboard," demanded Pellew. Their faces and a swift glance around told him he was. "Damnation!"
"He has the boat, sir!" squeaked Cutter with his changing voice.
The other officers emerged on deck, including Edrington.
"What's happened?" asked Edrington.
"I do not know," answered Kennedy.
"Mr. Bowles! Good for you, sir, bring the ship about while I sort this through," ordered Pellew. "Have you a compass heading, Mr. Cutter?"
The troupe of officers were on the way to the quarter-deck.
Cutter's mouth hung open, knowing he had to answer. "No, sir, I was foreward when he..."
"Mr. James?" asked Pellew.
"I was on the fo'c'sle, sir,"
"Was Mr. Hornblower the only one on the quarter-deck when he went overboard?"
"He was not on the quarter-deck, sir," advised Cutter.
Pellew stopped with one foot on the first rung of the quarter-deck ladder. "WHERE WAS HE?" he boomed.
"At the gunport entry on the starboard side, sir, at least that was where his coat and hat were."
"Are you telling me Mr. Hornblower jumped overboard?" Pellew was climbing again and met Bowles at the helm.
Bowles turned from the quartermaster. "I've got the headings,
Captain." Bowles called the order. "Come about!"
"At least someone is doing their job! Now, what is this about a boat, Mr. Cutter?" said Pellew.
"The launch, sir, used today by the fishing crew."
Pellew stepped to the stern. "It was in tow. Are you saying it came lose and Mr. Hornblower jumped overboard to retrieve it?"
"N..no, sir. I don't....I.... was foreward, sir," sputtered Cutter.
Pellew looked at James. "And you were on the fo'c'sle."
"Yes, sir," answered James.
Pellew stalked back to the helm. Bracegirdle and Rampling were finishing a conversation with the helmsmen.
"Captain, if I may, sir." Bracegirdle approached him. "It seems MRS. Hornblower fell overboard and MR. Hornblower jumped in after her."
Pellew bowed his head and put a hand over his eyes.
Pellew peered through his fingers. As he lifted his head, the hand glided down his features. "Go on, Mr. Bracegirdle," he said calmly.
"It seems from what little the helmsmen heard, there was some talk of .... of fishing, sir, and... Mrs. Hornblower decided she had to... go tonight.... on her own, it appears. Mr. Hornblower, apparently, disagreed and tried to stop her when she accidentally fell overboard."
"And he...went in after her."
"Was she all right?" he spat.
"They do not know. They did hear Mr. Hornblower say they had the boat."
Pellew took in the longest deepest breath he could remember. He surveyed his ship. The masts and yards were fully manned, every officer was on deck, though not in proper uniform, including himself. The men not employed lined the rails fore and aft, and a number were peering into the night at the bow. The midshipmen had failed to get a compass heading but the quartermasters did. Pellew nodded his head.
"What time did he go overboard?"
"About one ten, sir."
"And the time now?"
"About one twenty-five, sir."
A short sigh, Pellew folded his arms across his chest. "The moon is on the horizon. That will help. Have another lantern hung from the bowsprit, Mr. Bracegirdle, and post lookouts. Until that moon has fully risen it will be difficult to see a launch on this black sea. Let us hope Mr. Hornblower has the forethought to light the lanterns on the boat."
Word spread quickly that it was Mrs. Hornblower that went overboard first. Styles, Matthews, and Oldroyd were on the forecastle peering into the blackness.
Styles was shaking his head. "She's a handful that one."
"Aye, that she is, Styles," said Matthews.
"But she helped rescue us, din't she?" asked Oldroyd.
His companions stared at him.
"Well, she did," defended Oldroyd.
"Mr. Hornblower better hope that's how the Captain sees it," said Styles lowly.
"Aye," said Matthews.
The launch bobbed silently on the soft swells, the water ringing light tones out of the hollow boat. The moon was sending a path of light westward in its rise from the dark water. That so much light could be contained in a seemingly dark pool played with the imagination.
Hornblower shook his head. There was no sign of the ship yet.
He moaned. "I am wondering what is happening on the Indy." He removed his shirt and wrapped it around her. "Stay here and don't move."
Making a way to the bow, he pulled in the line still lying in the water. The bow lantern was stowed properly and he removed it and set it in place. Feeling in the storage box he found the flint.
"Can I help?" she asked.
"No, I'm done. I'll set the stern light, as well.
"What will he do to you, Horatio?"
"The Captain?" He lit the lantern and set it in place aft, then rejoined her on the seat. He put his arm around her. "The better question might be what he will do about you."
"What...what do you mean?"
He sighed. "We may as well face it now. He may not let you stay after this."
She leaned against him.
"First, me getting into a fight with Edrington. Now the two of us ...needing to be rescued." He shook his head. "I do not know what he will do."
"Do you think...do you think, he could just spank me or something and let me stay?"
Hornblower laughed out loud. "I do not think he would do that, though he might think it." He laughed again. "Why? Would you let him?"
"If it meant I could stay with you, yes."
"Pamela." He hugged her closely. "What am I going to do with you?"
He grinned. "Would you like that?"
"I would, Mr. Hornblower."
It was a long lingering kiss, their arms entwining about each other and ending in an emotional embrace.
"I love you, darling," she said in earnest.
"I love you, my lady." He looked askance, seeing it out of the corner of his eye. "Look!" he said softly into her ear. "Isn't she magnificent?"
Pamela turned her head eastward. There, in front of the bright rising moon, was the silhouette of Indefatigable, all sails set.
"She's beautiful, Horatio! It will be worth it to have such a sight to remember."
He gazed full into her face. "God, I love you." He kissed her hard. "She'll be on us soon." He stood up and waved his arms. "Ahoy! Indefatigable! Ahoy!"
On board the Indy, the assigned lookout at the bowsprit called back to the quarter-deck. "Launch straight ahead, sir!"
"Hard a port!" called Bowles. "Prepare to luff up!"
The ship glided forward then turned out of the wind.
Hornblower slipped two of the oars into the water and began to row, standing and leaning back against the oars.
"Take the tiller, Pamela. Hold it straight on."
Her dress stretched due to being wet and she tripped on the skirt while making a way to the stern.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes." She settled in the sternsheets. "Is this right?"
He grinned. "You've got it."
"I'm afraid, Horatio."
"But Captain Pellew.... Is he going to be horribly angry? I remember what the men said about him."
"His bark is worse than his bite, ...usually." He grinned, pulling back on the oars. "I love you."
That took her mind away from Pellew. "Horatio?"
"Do you know you are the handsomest man I have ever seen?"
He chuckled, and kept rowing.
"Don't laugh. I mean it."
"Very well. Thank you, Mrs. Hornblower."
She leaned her head on the tiller and sighed. "You look magnificent there rowing."
He laughed again, breathing hard. "It isn't something I'm used to."
"Do you think you will be too tired later to make love?"
He lost the stroke pattern on that one. "Pamela. Our voices may carry on the water, dear."
"We'll see." He could hear murmurings from the ship. He looked over his shoulder. *Damn!* It looked like the entire complement of men was on deck. "To larboard, Pamela."
She turned the tiller the way she thought he meant.
"The other larboard!" he said anxiously. He pulled in the oar on the starboard side.
"Catch anything, Mr. Hornblower?" called Rampling.
"Aye, Mr. Rampling. I've caught a mermaid! I think I'll marry her!"
He lay the other oar inside the boat and climbed towards the bow. The launch turned and glided toward the ship, hitting against the hull with a thump. Hornblower moved to the bow and lifted the line. Seeing, a man in the aft chains he tossed it to him. Styles stood on the side steps, his arm looped in the rope. He put his foot on the gunwale.
"There and back again, sir," he grinned.
"Thank you, Styles." Hornblower stepped over the seats to Pamela and reached for her hand. "Come on," he smiled. "Careful."
She pulled her skirt high to step onto the seat.
Styles took her arm "I've got ye, Mrs. Hornblower."
Another hand reached down and took her arm, then another, until Rampling and Kennedy were helping her through the gunport.
"Thank you. Thank you." She was shaking. Matthews draped a blanket over her shoulders. "Thank you, Mr. Matthews."
The men that helped her up came through the entry, then Hornblower and Styles. The minute Hornblower was on the deck, she went to him and held on. He could feel her shaking.
"Mr. Bowles, get us back on course, if you please," said the captain.
Hornblower looked up and saw Pellew, still in his dressing gown, watching them. He nodded to him. Bowles' voice boomed over the decks and the men returned to the task of turning the Indy back eastward.
Rampling put his hand on Hornblower's shoulder, speaking softly. "Glad you're all right, Mr. Hornblower."
"Mrs. Hornblower, come with us," said the doctor. Maria placed a hand lightly on Pamela.
She looked to Horatio.
He gazed softly and nodded. "Go with them."
Cutter handed Hornblower his coat and hat.
It was Pellew.
"Get yourself into a dry uniform and get back on watch."
"Aye, aye, sir."
The men not on regular duty mumbled good naturedly and headed back below for what remained of their off watch sleep.
Kennedy grinned at Horatio. "You are ever the source of our entertainment, Mr. Hornblower. A satisfying night's work, all in all."
"I say, Hornblower, I didn't have anything to do with this, did I?" smirked Edrington.
"Why, no, my Lord. Why would you think that? Excuse me, sir. I must dress properly for my watch." Hornblower stepped into the companionway.
Edrington waited until Hornblower was out of hearing, then muttered, lowly. "The hell, I didn't." A wry smile took his lips. "But she's yours. Always has been. I tried to tell you." He pulled a pipe from his pocket and sucked on it until the tiny ember reignited the contents of the bowl. He sauntered lazily to the rail and leaned, watching the men working aloft.
"I'll take the watch until he returns, sir," offered Bracegirdle.
"No, Mr. Bracegirdle. I appreciate the offer. To bed with you. I'll wait for Mr. Hornblower." Pellew patted Bracegirdle's arm and walked aft.
Bracegirdle was stunned for a moment. The reaction he expected from Pellew was certainly not this one! And patting him on the arm? Such displays were rare indeed! He almost wished he could stay and hear what Pellew would say to the second leftenant. Before now he assumed he would hear no matter where he was located on the ship. But, now, he had his doubts. A wry smile took his face, he shook his head, raised his eyebrows, and turned to leave. Would wonders never cease?
Hornblower was on his way up as Bracegirdle was on his way down.
"Well done, Mr. Hornblower," commented the first leftenant. "Goodnight."
Hornblower paused on the companion. "Th...thank you, sir," he answered puzzled. "Goodnight, sir."
Climbing to the quarter-deck, he was met with two grinning faces of the midshipmen serving watch with him. "Welcome back, sir." They saluted him and headed foreward.
He turned curiously to watch them go. He surveyed the quarter-deck and saw the captain on the weather side. He cleared his throat. Bowles turned and Hornblower saluted him. "Mr. Bowles."
"Mr. Hornblower. She's back on course." Bowles saluted and departed.
*She is back on course,* he thought, *and so am I.*
"Goodnight, sir." Hornblower noted the helmsmen were the same men he left. Did all occur within less than the space of a watch? "Billings. Ainsley," he nodded. His eyes strayed to the captain once more and he swallowed apprehensively.
Pellew looked his direction. Raising a hand, he motioned him over. As Hornblower approached, Pellew breathed deeply and stared and released the breath slowly.
"Sir?" saluted Hornblower.
"Fifteen minutes, Mr. Hornblower, fifteen minutes."
"Most impressive. I must say."
Hornblower's mouth opened but he did not know what to say.
"I think it might have been a better decision to choose another to play the part of man overboard, but under the circumstances and with the results you achieved, I can accept your decision. I pray our passenger did not mind being a part of your drill?"
Hornblower swallowed. "My...?" He was catching on quickly. "Thank you, sir."
"She was not injured?"
"I hope not, sir. She seemed to be all right, although she was a bit shaky when we returned."
"Well, you haven't much time left on this watch. You will be able to see to her properly, then, I am sure."
"Yes, sir." Hornblower cleared his throat.
"I expect a written report before your next watch, Mr. Hornblower. See Mr. Bowles or Mr. Bracegirdle for any bits you may have missed in your absence."
"Goodnight, Mr. Hornblower."
"Goodnight, sir." The slowest smile overtook Hornblower's lips. This was a true gift. No explanations demanded. No mention of Pamela having to leave. Whatever could have brought this to pass, there was no knowing. Watching the captain descend the companionway, he whispered, "Thank you, sir."