An American Encounter, Part Three
AE3 Ch 6 Idle Days and the Future
Hornblower lay awake thinking, Pamela sleeping on his chest. The idea of Drake going with her was a little more complicated than he thought. His original intention was for the boy to stay with her until the baby was born, a trial period, then it would be up to Pamela as to how long Drake would remain.
*It is a selfish thing you are thinking, Horatio," he thought to himself. *I want Drake to 'hold her down' so to speak, to be an anchor so she will not 'drift' and possibly end up on the rocks. If Pamela focuses on the care of Drake, she might not be so inclined to get herself into trouble.*
He knew the business in Toulon had taught her a lesson of sorts and that the pregnancy seemed to slow her down, just a tad, but he was not sanguine about leaving her alone with her previous cohorts.
*If Maria and company go out on a mission, how tempted will Pamela be to go with them? If they go and she does not, she will be left home alone.* He frowned.
*We both like the little boy. Should we adopt him? Becoming a father is one thing, but... adopting? The child has no family,... at least none whom we know. Drake is a good boy. Would he want to be my ...my son? Would we adopt him formally or would he just live with us? Is there anyone to care,... one way or another....besides Pellew?* His mind whirred with these thoughts.
*Pamela is the key here. Drake will be living with her since I will be at sea. There is the possibility that Drake will want to return to the navy. Pellew intends to provide for the boy to be a midshipman once he comes of age. Drake will reach the age of twelve in a little more than four years. He would be relatively safe for that time, out of the heat of battle.* Hornblower rubbed his forehead. He knew he should be sleeping, but his thoughts would not release him.
*What will Drake want? He seems to like Pamela a good deal.*
An irrational thought burst into his mind. *Jealous? No, no.
He is only a boy. You are being ridiculous, Hornblower. What
will Drake feel when he learns of his mother's passing? What
will he want to do as concerns the service? Or leaving Pellew,
for that matter? There has to be some connection there. Drake
is a person with feelings of his own, even if he is the merest
bit of a boy.*
Hornblower thought about the revelations of his captain. Pellew had not yet informed Drake that his mother had passed. Hornblower closed his eyes and thought about his reaction to his own mother's death. The situations were different, though the effect was the same.
Drake left his mother when he was a little more than six years of age. She was sick. *Were Pellew and Hazel right to be so honest with him?* he wondered. They made sure the boy knew the reason he was being taken away. Hazel would not hide the truth from him, that she was ill and might die. *It seems a lot for one so young to bear, maybe that is what encouraged the child to grow up so quickly. Drake is wise beyond his years, at times.* Hornblower knew what it was to grow up around adults with few playmates to pass the time.
*Maybe it is all a bad idea,* he sighed, pondering the fate of them all and rubbing his chin on Pamela's soft sweet hair. The smell of her warm tresses was familiar and comforting. What would she think?
She moved on his chest. "Darling?"
"Hm? Sleep, my love."
"What are you brooding about?"
With a deep sigh, Pamela raised her head so her eyes could meet his in the dim light from the ceiling lantern. The angles of his face seemed sharpened in the frail light, pinpoints sparkled from his eyes.
"Oh, my Captain. What is it that causes your brow to knit?" She raised a hand to play with the curl touching his forehead.
Half his mouth rose in a grin. "I am not brooding."
She raised again and moved closer to him, her lips inches from his chin, resting on her hand on his chest. "Brooding." She leaned towards him and lightly kissed his chin.
A full smile lifted and he tapped her bottom. "Not."
She glanced over her shoulder to take heed of his love tap, then lowered her chin, returning her gaze to his.
"I know that look," he said, "even in the dark."
"It is not dark."
"You are being argumentative."
"All right." She leaned up and rested her lips upon his. "Now. What is it that darkens your brow, Mr. Hornblower? I know you. If not brooding, then worrying. What are you worrying about?"
He lay his hand along her cheek. "You know me too well, my love. What else would I worry about but you?"
With a smile, she chuckled, "I am well. I am yours. I love you with all my heart. I have been good. I've not gotten myself nor anyone else in trouble for at least a week. What have you to worry about?"
Breathing in, he answered, "The future."
"Oh, that. What happened to that advice of the other Mrs. Hornblower that you insisted I take?"
"Sufficient unto the day..."
He grinned, caught in his own trap. "But am I not the head of the family? Worrying is part of my job."
"Part of your job!" Fingers found his sides and tickled mercilessly.
Laughing from the physical prompt, he grabbed her hands. "Stop! I mean it," he grinned.
"That's my line."
"You have not used it recently."
She shook her head slowly.
The ship's bell rang and they listened. Then, both said together. "One in the morning."
"You have the forenoon watch."
"You should be sleeping."
He sighed. "I've tried."
She stared, seriously, lovingly, worriedly, then said, "Talk to the baby....please."
He stared into her eyes, nearly grinned, but let it go, and shook his head. She thought he was worried about not ... not coming back. He opened his mouth to say, no, that was not what he was thinking, but thought better of it, and shifted their positions.
She lay on her back, slipped as far as the wall would allow with her head propped up. He straddled her, kneeling, then sat back on his haunches. Watching her, he gently rubbed the mound of her tummy, smoothing the night gown. He smiled softly, bowed his head, and spoke lowly.
"Hello in there... my little son. Your mother wants you to know I love you, and she expects me to say it." He grinned. She tousled his hair. "I want you to know I love you...truly. I look forward to meeting you and getting to know you." His eyes glanced to hers. "You have not too many more months inside..." he inhaled "...inside my lady, your mother. I long to see her hold you in her arms,... as I long to hold you, too. Be good... and be punctual when it is time for you to leave your cozy little home. This is your da. We shall be great friends you and I. You take care of your mother when I am not around, do you hear? I love her, and ...I love you."
With a deep breath, he placed his hands on her legs and ran them along the outside, trapping the hem of the gown between his thumbs and index fingers and raised it to her waist. He kissed her tummy repeatedly, rubbing his lips over the warm skin. When she moaned, his eyes lifted to hers. Whispering a final "I love you." He pushed the gown up farther and slowly kissed his way upwards, feeling her shiver, and hearing her voice her pleasure at his attentions. Lingering at her breasts, he watched her chest heave with intake after intake of air.
Cupping his face, she brought his lips to hers. Her breath was hot as she kissed his lips, his cheek, and bit his earlobe, breathing the same hot breath into his ear. "I want you. Horatio."
With one tug, he removed her night gown, staring at her bare body an instant, he pulled her hips down in the bed to lay her flat. She wrapped her legs behind his knees and pulled up on his night shirt, drawing in a breath, feeling him touch her.
He lowered his body, feeling the rise of the baby beneath him.
"It's all right," she whispered.
He moaned at the warmth. "God, Pamela!"
Her soft warm breath filled his ear; nails dug into his back like a cat kneading a favored blanket, eliciting a groan. He latched onto her neck, suctioning the skin, nipping the flesh, and feeling the reaction on his back. Could anything feel so marvelous as this?
"I'm so close!" she panted.
He raised to watch her. "Go ahead!"
"No, don't watch me, Horatio!"
"I love you. Let me watch how I please the woman I love!"
She licked her lips and tried to keep her eyes on him. Ecstasy would not permit them to remain open but for snatches.
As it started, he saw the grimace of released pleasure, she pressing her lips to stifle the vocal release, and his own began, rocking, and rocketing forward, releasing the tension in waves of ecstasy, slowing, like a dying wave.
They each panted over the others shoulder.
Horatio felt something press against his lower abdomen, once and then again. He grinned and raised to look at her with lidded eyes. "I think we've woken the baby."
She giggled. "If he enjoyed it half as much as I did, he won't mind."
Horatio was aghast, but grinned more widely all the same. "I'd nearly forgotten how shameless you can be."
She grinned. "Shameless and satisfied....and ... hungry."
"Pamela!" he grinned disbelieving. "Hungry?"
"If we were on Dolphin you would get me something to eat. I remember those first nights. You fed me some wretched porridge and then the next time some bacon and biscuit. Oh, I'm getting hungrier just thinking about it."
"I was Captain of Dolphin. Cook did as I ordered."
She sighed and said no more. She did not have to, her stomach growled.
Horatio raised and looked down at it. "You really are hungry!"
"Did you think I was jesting? May I go wake Captain Pellew?"
"But I am hungry."
He stared but a moment, then rose. Dressing, he pulled on his trousers and shirt. "I'll see what I can find."
"Thank you, darling."
Hornblower stood outside the cabin and ran his hand over his head. Where was he going to find food at this hour? He decided to check the wardroom.
The lantern that hung from the deckhead seemed brighter than normal as he neared the doorway. Arriving, he saw someone sitting at the table hunched over a book. It was Archie.
"Archie!" he whispered. "What are you doing still up?"
"Not ready for sleep. What are you doing prowling the ship at this hour?"
"Hungry? Ha! Good luck!"
"Well, I've got to get her something. Her stomach is growling."
Archie surveyed the worried look of his friend and it made him smile. What he had been through with Horatio and Pamela! Why not hunt up some food for the lady? After all, she was feeding two. He'd been off watch nearly two hours and sleep eluded him. He may as well help Hornblower in his search for sustenance.
Horatio was opening the side board and finding nothing but liquor. He closed the cabinet door and leaned against the furniture with a sigh, his mouth twisted in frustration.
"Hm," affirmed Archie. "He may know where to find a late snack."
"I was thinking Cook. He was our cook on Dolphin. I don't suppose you know where he berths?"
"No, but Matthews probably does."
"Do you think the galley fires still burn?"
Archie stood and grinned. "Let's go see!"
"We've got to be quiet, Archie. I don't want to wake the whole damn ship." Hornblower scrunched his nose wondering why that phrase sounded so familiar.
The two tread lightly along the decking, going down another level where the great iron oven was placed forward beneath sick-bay. The larboard watch was out, but the snores of the starboard watch echoed on the lower decks. Reaching the small window enclosed kitchen pantry, Hornblower stood in the center of the small room staring at various culinary apparatus and scratched his head.
Archie ventured a look into a pot, and the iron lid clanged ominously.
"Sorry!" he whispered.
Hornblower bent down and opened some low cabinet doors, peering in the darkness.
"I can't see a damned thing!" he said quietly.
"Here! Wots going on? Mr. Hornblower! Mr. Kennedy?"
"Shhh. Matthews!" quieted Hornblower.
"What ye doin', sir? I thought t'were one o' the men rumagin' about."
"Pamela is hungry, Matthews," advised Kennedy.
"Oh!" he chuckled. "Got a cravin', has she?"
"She is hungry," stated Hornblower.
"Aye. Same thing. What she be wantin', sir?"
"Food!" Hornblower shrugged his shoulders in exasperation.
"I'll get Cook, sir." Matthews had turned and disappeared in the darkness before Hornblower could decide whether or not to stop him.
Archie grinned. "Ah, Matthews! You saint!"
Hornblower stepped the two feet outside the preparation area to examine the great iron oven. Feeling the side gingerly, he could tell lightly glowing embers burned within. A huge pot sat on a low shelf. Lifting the lid, he peered inside.
"Anythin'?" asked Archie.
The padding of bare feet sounded softly thumping on the wood decking. Hornblower looked up to see the tousle-headed cook rubbing his eyes and yawning. He blinked at the two leftenants.
"I am sorry to disturb you, Cook. Might you have something left from the dinner this evening for...for my wife?"
Cook suffered under the heaviness of sleep, and wavered, thinking. "Oh! It's the missus wot's hungry! What she be wantin', Cap'n?"
Hornblower reddened and glanced at Archie whose cheek tugged one side of his mouth into a grin. Hornblower had been Cook's captain on Dolphin, but he no longer held the title here.
"Cook!" he agitated.
The man shook his head. "Oy, sir! Leftenant Hornblower, sir, what ...what yer lady be hankerin' fer, sir."
"What have you?"
The man sucked in a breath, scratched at his stomach, then the side of his head. "Well, there's ship's biscuit," he said hopefully, but Hornblower shook his head. "Cheese?"
Another negative shake from Hornblower.
Cook bent his head bashfully to the floor. "I've got a jar o' them pickled quails eggs from Dolphin, sir."
Hornblower was touched that the man would offer something he squirreled away for himself, but responded negatively.
"Well, it's a bit early to strike up the fire, sir, but..."
"No. No, we mustn't do that." Hornblower thought frantically. "Fruit?"
"Gone, sir. Oh! I've a jacket potato left from the Captain's table, sir. The only other thing I can think of is some carrots, sir."
"All right. Give me that, then."
Cook bent into some cabinets, rattling about, and making noises.
"Be quiet, man!" Hornblower admonished lowly.
Another man padded along the corridor adding to their numbers.
"Mr. Hornblower! Mr. Kennedy! What's up, sir?" asked Styles rubbing his head. "I thought there was a huge rat down here muckin' about the galley."
Cook looked up from the squat position. "I've found a bit of bread from a day or two ago, sir. It ain't right fresh, sir, but it's more palatable than ship's biscuit."
"Very well. Put a bit of cheese with it after all."
"What's up, Matty,... besides us?" asked Styles.
"Miss Pamela's hungry."
"At this time o'night?"
Hornblower overheard them, crimsoned and shifted his weight. "Come on, Cook! How long can it take to put a couple of vegetables on a tray?"
"Say, Mr. Hornblower, sir."
"I know Miss Pamela ain't right fond o' milk, but I been workin' on a surprise fer her."
Hornblower regarded the man quizzically.
"I know, meself, in spring time it's right nice to have a bit o' milk whats been coolin' in the night airs. Seems to go down easy. So, I got to thinkin' about currents and such, an...well, anyway, sir, I've got a bottle o'milk I was thinkin' o' offerin' her, sir."
"You've lost me, Styles. Dr. Sebastian and I have cajoled her into drinking what she does."
"Aye, sir. But this here milk should be nice and cold." Realizing he had the officer's attention, Styles went on to explain he had cleaned a wine bottle, filled it with milk, sealed the top with a cork and wax, tied a string about its neck and tossed it overboard with a lead line. "Ye see, sir, it's the coolness of the low currents."
Hornblower looked at the man doubtfully.
"It's worth a try, sir. Shall I retrieve it?"
"No, Styles. Go back to sleep."
"I'm awake now, sir."
Another man arrived. Oldroyd. "What's up?"
Hornblower rolled his eyes. "Please. Everyone. Go back to sleep. Thank you, Cook."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Hornblower stared at the items on the tray. Cold, old, and totally unappealing.
Styles watched his face. "Let me get the milk, sir. She might like it better."
"Who might like it better?" asked Oldroyd yawning.
"Miss Pamela!" whispered Matthews to Oldroyd out the side of his mouth.
"What's wrong with Miss Pamela, er, Mrs. Hornblower?"
"Nothing, Oldroyd. The lady is hungry," informed Kennedy.
"At this hour?" he queried. "Oh! It's the babee!" Oldroyd cooed. "Get yer milk, Styles. She might like it better cold." Since her part in their rescue from the French, Pamela could do no wrong in Oldroyd's eyes. He was her champion. "I'll get it."
Styles grabbed his shoulder. "No, ye won't! Ye'll be breakin' me bottle!"
"I'll be careful!"
"Men!" stated Hornblower a little more loudly, then quieted. "Go back to sleep. This will have to do. I shall be prepared next time."
Another man appeared from the dark. Daniels, Pellews servant, stared at the ratings. "Here! You men! What the devil are doin' this time o'night?"
The ratings turned to the indignant address, revealing the two leftenants as they did.
"Begging your pardon, sirs. I did not know it was ye down here."
"Quite all right, Daniels. I apologize for waking you."
Daniels spied the jacket potato on the tray. "Here. What ye doin' with Captain Pellew's potato?"
Hornblower froze. Daniels looked from the potato to the leftenant to the potato.
"Captain Pellew's potato?" He gazed back at Cook.
"Aye! It were his, but he din't eat it," defended Cook.
"Aye. But he be wantin' fried potatoes with his breakfast on Friday's! Ye know that, Cook!"
"Gentlemen. Gentlemen." Hornblower lifted the potato and put it in Daniels' hand. "Take it back. It does not look that appetizing in it's current state as it is. It will not be missed."
Cook frowned at Daniels. "His lady is 'ungry."
"Mrs. Hornblower?" asked Daniels. "Oy, then take it back. The captain'd want her ta have it, sir."
The potato was placed back on the tray.
Daniels spied the rations Hornblower held.
"Is that the best ye can do?" he blamed, staring at Cook and pointing disdainfully at the meager provisions. "I'd not offer that to the sow in the manger! Begging your pardon, Mr. Hornblower." Daniels took the tray out of Hornblower's hand and began to argue with Cook.
Someone else was approaching in the dark. The light fell on the dark coat as the person approached.
"Oh my goodness! Is everyone hungry?" It was Pamela wearing Hornblower's full length leftenant's coat over her night gown.
"Miss Pamela," said some, "Mrs. Hornblower," said others, ceasing the chatter.
"My dear, there is little to be had this time of night in the way of food, but..." Hornblower stopped short, noting that Daniels hid the tray behind him and shook his head quickly. "I am at a loss to know what to say."
"Oh, well, it is just as well. I know exactly what I want. That is why I came to find you." She turned to Cook. "Mr. Cook, do you recall those pickled cucumbers that were served a few nights ago?"
"Yes, 'em. The ones with dill, you mean?"
She smiled. "Yes!" Her gaze turned to Styles. "Mr. Styles, did you get those groundnuts roasted as I requested?"
"The pig fodder? Well, yes, Miss, but..."
"Excellent. Get them, please."
Styles gave her a salute and disappeared.
"Mr. Cook, have you got a mortar and pestle?"
"Dr. Sebastian does. Mr. Kennedy, would you be so good as to go borrow the good doctor's?"
Archie grinned. "I would be glad to do so, Mrs. Hornblower." He glimpsed Hornblower standing befuddled as the man's wife saw to her own provisioning.
"Groundnuts, Mrs. Hornblower?" asked Mr. Hornblower.
"Wait and see, Leftenant." she grinned. "Are all of you hungry?" she asked.
The men shifted, some of them considering the question and noting the inner state of their own appetites, a few mumbling doubtfully when they considered the items she mentioned.
"Mrs. Hornblower, I am sure I could find you something suitable from the Captain's larder, ma'am. He has instructed me to assist you as regarding your nutritional needs at Dr. Sebastian's request."
Pamela put her hand on Daniel's. "Thank you kindly, Mr. Daniels. If I am still hungered afterwards, I shall take you up on the captain's offer."
Styles arrived with a medium bag and gave it to her. She opened it and peered inside. "Oh! Lovely!" She breathed in the aroma coming from the bag and the men watched her reaction dubiously. Pig fodder? "Would you gentlemen assist? I need these groundnuts removed from the shell."
The men nodded. Placing a couple of handfuls on squares,
she passed them out.
With so many helping, the groundnuts were out of their shells quickly. Kennedy arrived with the mortar and pestle and Dr. Sebastian.
Pamela crimsoned. "Dr. Sebastain! I apologize, sir. I did not mean for Mr. Kennedy to waken you."
"I was reading, ma'am. He did not waken me. What concoction are you preparing that requires a mortar and pestle?"
"Oh, it is a delightful paste that I have not had since before I left home. The darkies that work for my ... my...father make it. Let me show you." She took the pestle and dropped some of the groundnuts into it. Pressing with the mortar, the nuts were breaking and grinding slowly.
"Let me do that, Miss," offered Styles. With his stronger pressure, the nuts powdered and blended with the oils inside them. She dropped in additional nuts to be pressed.
"Mr. Cook. I need sugar, salt, a tad bit of oil, and the dilled pickles. Have you any bread?"
Cook glanced at Daniels and Hornblower.
"Let me get some, Mrs. Hornblower," offered Daniels. "Back in a moment, ma'am."
Hornblower moved nearer to look down into the pestle that Styles was mashing and mixing forcefully as Pamela sifted in some sugar and salt into the mix. Bending over to look, he caught a scent of her hair, and breathed in appreciatively. She glanced up at him, hearing the intake of air and smiled deliciously.
"Let me try it, Mr. Styles," she said.
Cook passed her a knife. Dipping, she drew out a tip full and slipped it between her cherry lips. Closing her eyes, she looked near the ecstasy Hornblower had seen recently, though for entirely different reasons.
"Mmm!" she exclaimed. "Oh! That is so close!" She put in another pinch of salt and sugar.
The men were beginning to salivate at her pleased responses to the taste.
She tried it again.
"Mmmm. It's delicious! Have you the pickles?"
Daniels arrived with a loaf of bread.
"Cut some slices, if you please, Mr. Daniels. I'll make enough for you all to have a taste."
Kennedy, Hornblower, and Sebastian exchanged odd looks with one another. Pig fodder? Groundnuts? Dilled pickled cucumbers? Sebastian stifled a chuckle, Kennedy grinned, and Hornblower was totally at a loss.
Pamela put together three sandwiches, slathering the mashed groundnut mixture onto the bread and topping it with a layer of the pickles. Closing the sandwich, she cut it into triangular wedges. Holding the square out to the officers, they each took a piece, staring at it doubtfully. The ratings each took one, though somewhat reluctantly. Pamela took one and bit into the wedge.
"Mmm! Mmmm," she moaned chewing with delight. "Oh! This is it! Mmm!" She finished that one and started on another.
The men, giving a final glance at others in the group, opened mouths to insert the sandwich. Silence. Chewing. Pamela watched them and smiled.
"Delicious, isn't it? It can get a bit stuck to the top of your mouth. We should have something to drink."
"This is good, Mrs. Hornblower!" agreed Oldroyd, taking another wedge.
"Here, Oldroyd, you can have mine," offered Cook.
"You don't like it, Mr. Cook?" asked Pamela, taking another one.
"No, ma'am. But that leaves more for the rest. Goodnight, ma'am, sirs." Cook saluted and meandered off to his hammock.
"It's an interestin' taste, Mrs. H. Where did you get the idea to eat ....groundnuts?" asked Matthews, refusing seconds.
"Hm. As I said, the darkies back home used to make this. The trick is to roast the groundnuts then mash them with a little salt, sugar, and oil. The oil makes it spreadable."
"Them darkies eats it with dilled pickled cucumbers, ma'am?" asked Styles.
"Oh, well, no. I added that part. I just had a feeling they would really add to the taste of the sandwich. Don't you think?"
She offered some to the other men remaining, but they refused and bade their goodnights.
Pamela created another sandwich, wiping out the remaining paste from the pestle, running her finger around the bowl.
Sebastian grabbed Hornblower's arm in one hand and slapped him on the back with the other and laughed. The leftenant blushed.
"Doctor?" he asked.
"Do not be alarmed, Leftenant. It all goes with ...the territory."
"She is pregnant." The doctor departed with no further explanation. Pamela was still vocalizing over the latest bite to enter her mouth.
Kennedy grinned. "My aunt once ate strawberries mixed with onions and garlic, Horatio." Kennedy shuddered. "I would not worry about a few groundnuts and cucumbers," he whispered. "I'm off to sleep. Goodnight, Mrs. Hornblower." Kennedy bowed.
Styles arrived with a dripping bottle. Opening it, he poured some of the contents into a tankard. "Try this, Mrs. Hornblower. Ye need something to wash that pig fodder down with." He grinned.
She gazed into the tankard sorrowfully, but she did need a drink. Tipping the tankard, she swallowed, again and again. Lowering the container, a white mustache appeared over her upper lip. Reaching with her tongue, she removed most of it. "That was delicious, Mr. Styles! What did you do to it?"
The pleasure on the man's face showed readily. "It's cold, ma'am. It's been restin' on the bottom of the Med for a dozen hours."
She was tipping the tankard to finish the rest. "Ahhh. That hit the spot, Mr. Styles! And, thank Milinda for sharing her groundnuts."
"Will do, ma'am," he gave her a nod and saluted Hornblower.
"Milinda?" asked Hornblower.
"The pig, dear," said Pamela. "Did you like the sandwich?"
"If there were nothing else to eat, it would be palatable."
"What are you grinning about?"
"You are wearing my best topcoat."
"You did not want me to walk about in my nightgown, did you?"
"No," he grinned. "Have you had enough?"
"Quite full." She patted her abdomen with a sigh.
He glanced about and seeing no one, he put his arm over her shoulder and embraced her, kissing her forehead. She lifted her countenance to his. Grinning, he wiped a bit of milk from her face.
"Kiss me," she demanded.
His face serious, he did. "Mmm. I can see that one might get used to these groundnut and pickle sandwiches."
The two headed for the companion leading to the next level. Reaching the gun deck, Hornblower scooped her up.
"What is this about?"
"I want you in my arms."
She gazed at the guns as they passed. "It reminds me of the night after ..."
"Hm hm." She played with a curl.
"The night Captain Pellew gave his permission for us to berth together."
He stopped under a lantern and studied her face, sadly. "No bruises. No pirates."
The two gazed deeply into each other's eyes. Hornblower exhaled.
"What are you thinking?" she asked softly.
"I want to grow old with you."
"Life permitting, you will."
He stopped and let her feet down. Embracing her tightly, he whispered, urgently. "Don't say it. Don't think it."
"I pray for you daily, my love. The Lord will protect you," whispered Pamela, snuggled in the hollow of his shoulder.
Hornblower ran his hands over the topcoat she wore, thinking it an odd thing to experience. "It is not me I am concerned for."
She was quiet in his embrace. She turned her visage to his and studied the worried eyes gazing back. He was worried about... about her surviving the birth? Her own mother died shortly after birthing her. She thought about how lonely her father was without his wife, her mother, though he valiantly concealed his sadness. She went with him to her mother's grave once a year, her mother's birth date. Her father went to the grave site on other occasions, when he missed her or felt he needed advice. She did not want that life for this man.
"Horatio..." she smoothed his curl and held his cheek. "My sister has had three children and is expecting another. I will survive the birth of our son. I love you and him too much to do otherwise. But, my darling, if ever there should be something that befell me..." He shook his head in protest. "Yes, listen. Listen, darling. If ...if only our son survives...I want you to find someone else."
She put her fingers over his lips.
"Yes, darling." She went onto her tip-toes, wrapping her arms about his neck, and kissed his lips. "Yes. Find someone to love you. I want you to...but love our child...and remember me."
"Do not say it. I will never want another." He buried his face in her hair.
"Do not forget my words."
She felt his head shake negatively against hers.
"Darling, please. Remember, and let us never speak of it again."
He squeezed her tightly. "My lady. I could not exist on this earth without your love. Life would have no meaning without you." He kissed her, denying a retort, wiping a silent tear from her cheek, holding her.
"We will both live. There will be no need for these anxieties, darling," she pleaded in his arms.
He pressed his eyes tightly closed. Something was in the offing. He could sense it. This conversation, his worries about Drake. Drake. Suddenly, he remembered his musings.
"Pamela, love, how would you feel about Drake coming to live with you on Gibraltar?"
The next day, Admiral Lord Keith returned to the vicinity with the Queen Charlotte. Pellew was called away for a meeting and the crew was on pins and needles, hoping they would be released to other duty, duty with the prospect of battle and prizes.
Hornblower entertained mixed feelings as he stood the forenoon watch. Leaving would mean losing for him personally, but he knew it would come sooner or later. He was just hoping for later. A month and a half, they had been together. An ache deep within made itself known.
He perceived the growth of the baby, Pamela's tummy swelling almost imperceptibly over time, but he held images solidly in his memory and noted the change. The thought of losing her company gripped his heart like an iron fist.
Pamela was standing midway the taffrail, looking curiously at the Queen Charlotte, a cables length away. Emerald, too, was hove to ahead of Indefatigable with three other ships of Keith's squadron starboard of the Queen. A couple of schooners drifted fore and aft of the man-of-war.
Hornblower, hands held firmly behind his back, tapped his wrist nervously, watching the ships riding the swells, glancing at his wife standing beneath the blue ensign. Indefatigable was in the wrong place. The flag said it. The ship carried the blue, but the flag of Indefatigable should be the white. The Atlantic was her stomping ground, not the Med. She was not supposed to be here. Were they leaving? Hornblower clinched his jaw, the muscles twitching beneath the skin, and he paced.
Pamela turned to her husband. Eyes meeting for a second and lingering, they knew each others thoughts. A week, maybe more, maybe less. If Pellew was ordered back to the Atlantic, that would be all that was left them. When would they be together again?
The two spoke into the small hours of the morning about Drake. She listened to her husband relate the boy's story, Pellew's plans, Hornblower's veiled suggestion that she would be providing a reprieve for Drake from a dangerous service at so young an age. He did not tell the other side of the coin, how he hoped Drake would tame her. Pamela was willing, if Drake approved the idea. It was so like her to defer to the child.
She was concerned that Drake did not yet know the fate of his mother. Hornblower assured her that Pellew would inform the boy before he left Indefatigable and that ultimately it would be up to Pellew as the child's guardian, for so he was.
She brought up the possibility that he might remain with them into the far future. Hornblower and she pondered what that could mean, a child the two of them would raise besides their own. They both said, yes, to the idea, Hornblower knowing it was Pamela's wealth that would provide for Drake and her. It was something he accepted and did not think about, except when it was forced on him. Pamela avoided the topic. He appreciated her candor and it made him love her all the more that she understood his feelings on that issue.
He recalled her words when he told her that Drake might become a midshipman in four years.
"A midshipman? So young? He would be mine for four years and leave?" She stared sadly into emptiness. "I would have neither of you with me...and both of you to worry over." She placed her hand on her abdomen, staring as if she could see the baby, then raising her eyes to Hornblower. "We ...would have neither one of you with us. Our child and I will be sad for Drake to leave, if he chooses the service. Will he serve with Captain Pellew or with you? You may have your own ship by then."
Those final words echoed in his mind, 'You may have your own ship by then.' The future. It was far and uncertain, and yet, also, a moment away. A moment they waited for, when Pellew would be piped down the side of Queen Charlotte.
Turning in the pace, he glanced at the officers around him. Rampling, Kennedy, McMasters, Bracegirdle, the midshipmen, Bowles, the quarter-deck was alive with officers, while the ratings filled the shrouds. All eyes trained on Queen Charlotte, waiting for a sign of the captain's return.
Standing in the sun for nearly an hour, Hornblower walked to stand by her side for the fourth time.
"Pamela, the sun is rising to its zenith. Do not become overheated."
I'm all right, Horatio." She slipped her hand in his and gave it a squeeze, smiling. "The wind freshens."
"I know." He frowned. "It's from the east." His eyes met hers, and he lifted her hand to kiss the back. An east wind would blow them back into the Atlantic. Was it an omen of what was to come?
The corners of her eyes lifted with a smile. "What God allows, will be."
He breathed deeply. He had to ask, it was foremost in his mind, though he knew the answer. "Will you miss me?"
"With all my heart, darling."
A half step, and if his arms were around her, she would be in his embrace. Bowing his head towards her, his hat cast a shadow over her countenance. His eyes darted over every inch of her face.
"I love you," he whispered.
"And, I love you," she replied.
The shrill call of pipes jerked their attention from each other to the far riding ship. The captains' boats of the surrounding ships waited turns to collect the respective officers. Indy's launch sat third off in the line.
Horatio and Pamela moved to the starboard corner of the stern, seeking Pellew among so many captain's hats. Kennedy arrived behind them.
"That's him speaking to Brecon," murmured Archie.
Hornblower nodded but said not a word. He felt a fresh sweat break out over his body. Pamela wiggled his hand and he realized he was crushing hers. "Sorry!" he said breathlessly. He pulled her to stand in front of him and rested his right hand on her hip. She leaned against him. The fragrance of her sun warmed hair rose to his nostrils.
Pellew was bidding farewell, saluting the ensign, descending the side steps.
Hornblower's gaze followed the captain down the side. He felt the wind cool his lowered eyelids. A subconscious thought about the capacity of eyelids to sweat and cool with evaporation flashed nonchalantly through his mind. A phrase echoed in his memory, or had she just said it?
"What, dear?" he asked lowly.
"I said, it will be all right, darling." Her hand rested upon his on her hip.
Hornblower wetted his lips in the noonday sun and swallowed.
Pellew did not look up, but gazed straight on. The men rowed him nearer.
Hornblower turned and met Archie's curious yet resigned stare. His friend was worrying about him already, and he could not help a fleeting faint smile. Slipping his hand from beneath Pamela's thin fingers, he stepped to the ladder to descend and greet the returning commander. Archie followed.
Pamela watched them go. She moved back to the larboard stern quarter to view Pellew's return. As the launch swung around Indefatigable's bow, she could see the Captain sitting tall and rigid in the stern sheets. Her eyes found his solemn, severe countenance. Suddenly, he raised his eyes and met hers, immediately. They held each others regard, and she softened to an accepting faint smile.
Pellew lowered his view, staring blankly with the same solemnity. *She knows,* he thought. *And, if she knows, he knows.* He sighed, keeping his shoulders back, his spine straight. *They, and I, knew this moment would come. Hornblower will keep his word. He will.* By that, his thoughts edged to Hornblower's promise to serve his country. Pellew's eyes flickered to Pamela, then away. *He will not resign.*
Pellew climbed the side and heard the pipes. His officers were there to greet him. Pellew saluted the ensign and spoke.
"Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Bowles."
"Sir." They responded in near unison.
"We are leaving."
Butterflies burst forth within Hornblower's stomach. The clinched jaw revealed the muscles dancing beneath.
"Mr. Bowles, bring the ship about... heading ... west sou'west."
"Aye, aye, sir," answered Bowles.
"The breeze freshens to see us on our way." Pellew sucked the air into his nostrils. "Mr. Hornblower."
"Bring down the blue... hoist the white. We're going home."
"Aye, aye, sir." Hornblower saluted and pivoted on his heel, heading back to the quarter-deck.
"Home, sir?" queried Bracegirdle.
"England, Mr. Bracegirdle."
The ratings nearby heard and a quiet buzz passed the news.
Pellew glanced to the quarter-deck, seeing the back of Hornblower disappear from view as he went aft to the flag locker. She was not visible from this vantage point.
"Mr. Bracegirdle, pass the word that my senior officers are to attend an early dinner this afternoon."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Send Hornblower to me when he comes off watch."
"Aye, aye, Captain."