An American Encounter, Part Three
AE3 Ch 7 Fathers, Lost and Found
It was mid-morning. The sun, reflecting off the Mediterranean Sea through Indefatigable's stern windows, danced a watery glow on the wall and ceiling. It was high enough not to blaze through the glass, but entered using the surface of the sea like a mirror. Four of the windows were cocked open and the sound of the sea lapping the stern was gentle and sleep inducing, despite the early hour. The wind that kept the ship sailing steadily westward entered haphazardly through the portals, cooling the after cabin and blowing its inhabitant's shirt sleeves, a hint of autumn among the dodging airs, palpable proof of the changing season.
A tepid cup of coffee sat half empty on the corner of the desk. Lifting it and about to take a drink, Pellew winced. The coolness of the cup handle revealed the luke-warm nature of the beverage, and it dawned on him how focused on ship's business he was to forget to finish his coffee.
The servant appeared quickly. Pellew motioned to the cup without looking up. "Coffee's gone cold." He continued to peruse the report in his hand, when the knock sounded.
Pellew heard the door open, but became lost in what he was reading and did not address the visitor right away. He lay the paper down, scribbled a note in the margin, and glanced up, with a double take.
"Ah. Finally. It's you." He lay the paper he held onto the desktop. "Keeping you busy below decks, are they?"
"Yes, sir," came the answer with a salute.
Pellew eyed the visitor, gave a lazy return salute, and waited. It had been a while since they talked. When he said nothing, Pellew prompted, "What are you supposed to ask me?"
Hesitating, he assessed Pellew. The captain did not have on his topcoat. It was on the back of the chair in which he sat. He wore his waistcoat and stock, his hair was tidy, his face seemed regular, not angry, and he was still seated. Drake stammered, his visage serious, "Are you... are you my captain or my god-father, sir?
"Good," stated Pellew emphatically. "Today, I am your god-father. Come here." Pellew remained sitting and opened his arms.
This was the set opening established between the two of them over a year ago. A code of sorts, to initiate the proper kind of response for the different role each played in the others life.
Despite the code, the boy paused, unsure. Having been on board long enough to witness other members of the crew interacting with his "god-father" he was not positive the conditions remained.
Pellew noted the hesitation and lowered his arms. "One, two," said Pellew.
He took a cautious step towards the older man.
"Buckle my shoe," responded Drake.
"Three, four," said the god-father.
"Shut the door," grinned Drake shyly, two baby steps closer.
"Pick up sticks." Another two closer.
"I'm too close now. I'll reach you before we've finished the game."
Pellew's lips wiggled and finally smiled. "Come give me a hug, Robin."
With two regular sized steps, he was embraced. Pellew held him for a long moment, obeying Hazel's request to hug her son on such "familiar" occasions. This was a very special occasion that held a weighty purpose which such human comfort might serve well.
In the beginning, it had been one of the most difficult assignments Pellew had ever been given. But the response of the boy made it easier and, though he would not dwell on the thought, it always raced through his mind as to who was better served by the embrace. In more reflective moments, he gave that it was both. Could all he had to share with the boy be covered in this interview? Should it?
Holding Drake's arms, Pellew studied him. He was taller, heavier. That pleased the sea captain. He would be a sturdy youth, unlike the frail thing that bore him. Grinning at the unkempt blonde curls, he ran his hand over them "I like the way you look, boy." He held his chin. "Sea life seems to agree with you."
"Thank you, sir. You look well, too."
Pellew grabbed the seat of a near chair and dragged it closer. "Sit." The captain tided some of the paper threatening to take wing with the dodgy breezes.
Drake climbed onto the chair, his feet dangling. He stared around the great cabin, well, to his child's eyes it seemed great. It was tidy except for all the papers strewn over the desk. A hint of shaving soap lingered in the atmosphere and he stared at Pellew's cheeks. They felt very smooth, he recalled, as his god-father had pressed his cheek to his and given him a kiss.
Someday he would do that manly thing, shaving. It was a mark of growing up. He watched Mr. Kennedy and that Edrington chap shave; they were berthing in the wardroom. He saw them in passing and crept closer to observe. No one knew.
There had not been a meeting with his god-father for some time, but he knew as captain, he was busy. Being summoned, he feared he was in trouble as cabin boy, light messenger, or galley monkey. The cooks had taken to calling him galley monkey as he'd not had to carry powder since last May when Mr. Hornblower distinguished himself finding those French dispatches.
Inwardly, Drake smiled. He knew all that grown-up stuff. All he had to do was listen and he could discover all sorts of interesting things. Sometimes he did not know what they meant, but he knew them just the same.
"Coffee, Robin?" asked Pellew, pouring himself a fresh cup.
"Thank you, sir, yes, sir."
Pellew smiled. "Very polite, Master Robin. Your grandfather would be pleased...as I am." Pouring coffee into another cup, Pellew filled it only half way, then filled the rest with cream from the ship's cow, courtesy of Brecon, request of Sebastian, because of Mrs. Hornblower. "Three sugars?"
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
"Manners are the mark of gentleman, Robin."
"Yes, sir. I know. Miss Pamela tells me what a gentleman I am all the time. I've done my best to get Wiggins, Granby, and Lydle to better themselves, but Wiggins shows the most promise, sir."
"Does he?" Pellew passed the cup and saucer to the boy. "I am glad to hear it. Keep working with him."
"Oh, I will, sir."
Pellew nodded his head and lifted his cup to the boy, then sipped, and Robin did the same.
"You know, god-father, it is odd hearing you call me Robin. No one does, not even Miss Pamela."
"Really? Would you like her to call you Robin?"
Drake thought a moment. "No. Drake sounds older. I have heard her call Mr. Kennedy, Archie. Though I've never heard her call you Ned."
Pellew nearly sputtered his coffee. "No, I don't suppose she would."
"It isn't because she doesn't like you though."
Drake was sipping. "Mm. I can tell she likes you. She likes everybody. Of course, she loves some of us." Drake sat thinking hard. Actually, maybe she loved everybody, and just loved some of them more, like she loved him the most and then, of course, Mr. Hornblower the very most.
"You seem much taken with Miss Pamela."
"Well....she's a girl. Sailors love girls. I'm a sailor."
Pellew coughed back a laugh. "Indeed. I see you are learning well what it takes, Master Drake."
The boy grinned broadly. "She calls me that...Master Drake. Oh, but I know a lot more than that, too, sir. Would you like to see the knots I've learned?" He scooted forward, nearly off the chair, ready to pull the rope from his pocket that served for knot practice.
"I would, but actually, I have a lot of other...things I need to discuss with you first."
Drake scooted back into the chair. The drink sloshed precariously within the boy's cup and Pellew flinched, nearly taking it from him.
"I won't spill it, sir, not a drop. It would not be good manners to spill anythin'."
"Have you had enough of it?"
"Yes, sir, thank you, sir."
Pellew sat the cup down and leaned towards the child, resting his elbows on his knees. He practiced in his mind how he would broach the subject, but now, nothing seemed easy. What he was about to share could never be easy.
"Robin..." Pellew paused inordinately long. "You remember my home in Cornwall...?"
A shudder passed visibly over the child, his face went somber, though his eyes were wide and worried. His head quaked on his shoulders.
Drake jumped down from the chair and ran to the stern window seats, burying his face in the seat cushion, and wept.
Pain etched Pellew's visage. Reaching behind him to the chair, feeling inside his topcoat pocket, he removed a handkerchief. Walking slowly and quietly, he knelt on one knee beside the child. He lay a hand lightly on the boy's shoulder. "Robin."
"She's gone! I know she's gone!" He wept.
"Come child." Pellew pulled him onto his shoulder and held him, feeling a prick behind his own eyes. He let the boy's feelings of grief flow. When the sobbing leveled to a sniff, he passed the boy his linen.
"Thank you, god-father," he said, head bowed.
Pellew pushed him back onto his shoulder, holding him. Drake lay his head upon it, and looked out the aft windows, his face flushed from crying and forlorn. After a long while, Pellew thought his knee would permanently imbed in the decking. He spoke.
"I love you, my god-son."
Drake lifted and stared into his eyes. The boy lay his hand on Pellew's cheek.
"You shaved this morning."
"Yes." Pellew pivoted with the desultory rambling of child cogitation.
"Do you think Mr. Hornblower could be my da?"
This one threw him for a loop, however. Had Hornblower already spoken to him or had the child overheard something?
"Why do you ask?"
"He and... mother are nearly the same age."
"Yes, they ...are," he said, leaving the dead woman in the present tense. He eased off his knee and sat on the window seat.
"Did she tell you? I know Frances Drake wasn't my real da."
"How do you know?" Pellew pulled him to sit beside him on the cushion.
Her name wasn't Drake....and she told me I was named for Sir Frances. She always told me the truth...or she told me nothing. She did not tell me who my da was. It could be him, could it not?"
Pellew thought for a few moments. This bode well in one aspect, but he could not allow the child erroneous thinking now.
"Do you think if Mr. Hornblower were your da that he would have left your mother?"
The tears jumped to create two swimming blue pools in the little face. The lips puckered, and the child sniffed, he turned and fell prostrate on the cushion, seeming unable to hold himself upright.
"But who is he? Who do I belong to now?"
Pellew touched his shoulder. "You will always be my god-son, Robin. Always." Pellew waited for his words to take effect, then added, "I have plans for you to be a midshipman in a few years."
The boy dried his face and straightened, gazing at Pellew. "On the Indy?"
"If I still have her." Pellew cocked his head, regarding the child. "Do you think you will make a good sea officer?"
Robin blinked his eyes repeatedly as he thought quickly. "I will, sir. I will. Dr. Sebastian says your men learn from the best."
Pellew thought it must be his year for blushing. "Does he?"
"Yes, sir. Your men are the best, sir. Mr. Hornblower is the very best, but all Indy's leftenants are the finest!"
Pellew pinched a smile. The praise was being spread around. "And is this also the opinion of our physician?"
"No, sir, Miss Pamela says it. She says you are the finest captain with the finest leftenants in the whole of His Majesty's Navy."
"Indeed? Well, what better source than Mr. Hornblower's American wife?" he said dryly. This may be the opening he needed. "Tell me, what do you think of Mrs. Hornblower?"
"Oh! She drives Mr. Hornblower to distraction. That's what Mr. Kennedy says. And, Mr. Hornblower, I almost think he loves her more than I do,.... well, he did find her first."
"So...you love Mrs. Hornblower, too?"
"Almost as much,... as her," the boy's brow knit.
Pellew understood he meant his mother. The child went on, stopping further contemplation.
"It's getting harder for me to remember her. I don't remember as much as I used to."
"It is all right, Robin, as long as you remember the best."
"You mean, that she loved me? And, she loved my da?"
"She did. To the very end."
"And she did the best for me. She ...and you, sir."
"We've tried, son." Pellew walked to his desk and lifted a sealed envelope from a drawer. "She sent you a letter."
Drake stared at the packet, then took it slowly, and inhaled long. "I'll ...read it later. Shall I?"
"As you wish, boy." Pellew sat down beside him. "You know, Drake..."
The boy set sharp eyes on Pellew when he switched to his last name.
"Mr. Hornblower..." continued Pellew, "...has you in mind for an assignment. I told him I did not know whether you would be willing to take on such a secret and lengthy service, but that I would consult you about it."
"Are you my captain now, sir?"
"It is a gray area, Robin, we must consider ourselves as part of each for this conversation."
"A secret service, sir?"
"Yes. You will have to keep a secret. I don't know if you can...especially for such a long time."
"It's got to do with Miss Pamela, hasn't it, god-father?"
Pellew smiled wryly. What a rare child this boy. Who was his father to have spawned such intelligence? "Why do you think so?"
"Mr. Hornblower wants to protect her, but he cannot, because he has to stay with you. She needs someone with her, to watch over her. I could do that."
"Would you want to? It would mean leaving Indefatigable, at least for a while."
Drake stared at the floor, thinking hard. "She would not want me once young Hornblower was born."
Young Hornblower? The child had a wealth of thoughts! Young Hornblower to Pellew had always been Mr. Hornblower!
"I think you do the lady a disservice, Drake," he commented mildly.
"You mean she could still love me after ...?" Brow knit, the child seemed to bore a hole through the deck. "Did you know, sir, that she is only fifteen years older than I?"
Incredulity, crossed Pellew's visage with army boots. He chuckled and could not prevent it.
Drake grinned. "Oh, yes! I love her! I know about the others!"
"She belongs to Mr. Hornblower. You must not forget, and I feel the lady thinks of you more like a son than..."
"I know. I will have to wait until I'm old enough."
"And there would still be Mr. Hornblower....and the age difference."
"Yes," he answered thoughtfully.
"Your offer to be midshipman,... on whatever ship I captain,... will always remain."
The boy looked into space, thinking gears spinning at high speed. "Cor, sir! I've got a right future!" His eyes brightened to a summer sky, and he bore a grin to crack his face in two.
Pellew chuckled at the change in speech, wondering what rating the child had heard say that?
The boy inhaled, regarding his god-father, the broad smile slowly fading. "I'd have to leave Indefatigable."
"Yes. Mrs. Hornblower cannot live with us indefinitely."
"I know. We've not many more days together."
Pellew had no doubts where that sentence was echoed.
"No. You must consider your options, Drake. I told Mr. Hornblower I would speak to you about the job. He wants Miss Pamela to think she is helping you by taking you out of harms way, not that you are guarding her. You will have to live with the deception and not let her know it is the other way around. She is a woman...and you know how they can be."
A serious, thoughtful stare looked back at Pellew. Drake was not sure he knew about women, but if his captain/god-father thought he COULD know it, he would not disappoint him. "Yes, Captain."
Pellew secretly smiled at the boy's change of role. He was quite a chameleon. He just might pull off the assignment....or heaven forbid, become one of that woman Maria's spies! The thought chilled him. He would put his foot down to Pamela on that issue, plain and simple.
Pellew wondered if Drake divined the entire arrangement was a two-edged sword and he was fairly certain the boy did.
Drake stared at the linen in his hand. "I'll launder this and return it to you, sir."
"As you wish."
"Would you pray with me for my mother?"
"I would be honored, Robin."
The two slipped to their knees.
Pellew led as the two of them resigned her to God's hands, asking forgiveness for her sins, that she would be acceptable to the Lord, thanking Him for His goodness and mercy, and the comfort that she was with her parents, Drake's grandparents, Pellew's good friends.
"And," Drake added, "Mother, if you would, tell Miss Pamela's da she loves him and misses him, too." After a pause, Drake recited the 23rd Psalm and Pellew listened.
The child raised his eyes to his god-father. "The Lord has been good to me." He stood and kissed Pellew on the cheek. "Is there anything else, sir?"
Pellew could barely speak as he rose. "No."
"Thank you, sir. I will give Mr. Hornblower's request full consideration. Good day, sir."
"Good day, Master Drake."
On a southerly course, Indefatigable tacked to make use of the current easterlies. The waters of Toulon were three days in the past. Once she reached thirty-eight degrees latitude, a more or less direct easterly would send them to the straits, if it lasted long enough. As it was, to avoid the Islas de Baleares, they were headed nearly due south. There was no reason to stop in at Port Mahon on the island of Menorca.
Hornblower was on watch when Pellew climbed to the quarter-deck. The Captain saluted greetings to his officers and moved to the weather side. He was not interested in talking. Air, a stretch of the legs, a perusal of the ship and the sea. Breathing deeply, he meandered along the favored side of the deck. Clearing cobwebs from too much paperwork and reflection, he exhaled and spied the watch officer. Resting a hand on the railing, he unconsciously drummed his fingers. *Drives him to distraction, eh?* he thought. That was Kennedy's opinion. A heavy sigh, another thought, *Yes, I suppose she does.* He watched Hornblower flex the fingers of his loose hand held behind his back, and raised an eyebrow.
Pellew walked slowly to Hornblower's side.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Hornblower."
The man jerked in surprise. "Good afternoon, Captain."
"I did not mean to startle you."
"I ...I was thinking, sir."
"Yes." Pellew nodded over Hornblower's shoulder. "Looks like we might get a squall."
Glancing in the direction indicated, Hornblower agreed.
"Of course, it might rain itself out before it gets here."
"Your wife is not out today, Mr. Hornblower?"
"No, sir. She...she has been spending some time with ...with Drake, sir."
"Ah," Pellew cleared his throat. "Is the boy all right?"
Hornblower averted his eyes to the deck then met Pellew's gaze. "He has taken it rather hard, sir. It must not have been easy to tell him."
"No. It was not. She told him before he left her, she might never see him again. Still..."
Hornblower pressed together twitching lips. "Her letter...well.... I found him in the hold."
"The letter upset him."
"Yes, sir. As would be expected... under the circumstances," he added, defending Drake.
"Are you having second thoughts?"
"No. No, sir." Hornblower paused. "It's just all so new. I find myself worrying not only about Pamela, but now Drake, as well."
Pellew smiled crookedly. Drake was supposed to give the man added peace of mind not cause him more worry. Oddly, this was something his second leftenant failed to analyze. I
"Hm," Pellew said at last, squinting at the sail, and jutting pursed lips. "Fatherhood has come sooner than you expected." He stole a glimpse of Hornblower, seeing the words sink in.
"Yes..." he stammered, "...apparently, sir."
"I have faith in you, Mr. Hornblower, that you are up for the task." *A vote of confidence will not go amiss,* he thought.
With a nod, Hornblower replied, "Thank you, sir."
"Has he given you any indication of his intentions?"
"No, not as of yet, sir. I did not feel it right to press him."
In a way, that news brightened Pellew's soul. The lad was not as eager to leave him as he thought. Pamela's charms had not wooed him so easily from the ship, the sea, or ...possibly his god-father? Though, he thought it selfish to want to keep the boy. He had no time for the lad and the attentions of a woman at that age could be beneficial.
The squall arrived suddenly, and the deck was washed with rainfall. The wind fell off and gusted, causing the canvas to loosen then tighten with a slap.
"Faster than we thought, eh, Mr. Hornblower?"
"Indeed, sir." The second leftenant wiped the rainfall from his face.
"The season is changing, Leftenant."
"It is, sir."
The rain lessened and moved on. The sun pushed through the clouds and sent drying rays. Indefatigable was on the move, drawing ever closer to a destination, another bend in the road, another passage in time.
Two days later, with Gibraltar closer than ever, the unexpected arrived. In the distance, the sound of cannon rolled across the water.
Kennedy, the watch officer, sent Cutter to inform the captain. In his glass, he could see two ships on the horizon, the front one in a run and the rear gaining and firing.
Pamela rose from the taffrail seat she occupied stepping towards the waist rail. Hornblower climbed the quarter-deck ladder, catching sight of his wife moving towards him.
Their eyes met for a moment, each worried for the other. Why now? Why a confrontation now? Hornblower hoped they would make it back to Gibraltar without incident. She knew the words had already formed in his mind to order her below. He knew she would say not yet. With a slight shake of the head, he warned her back from the officers. Pellew would be up soon, and Hornblower did not want her in the way.
"What is it, Mr. Kennedy?" asked Hornblower extending his glass and training his sight.
"One is American, Horatio," he cautioned. "The other ... pirate. It happens again." Kennedy glanced over his shoulder to Pamela.
"Damn," said Hornblower. His wife did not need the raw memory scraped again.
Pellew arrived rapidly, having been ready to exit the cabin when Cutter arrived. "Report, Mr. Kennedy," he ordered, taking the offered long glass from Bowles.
"It appears an American ship is being pursued and fired upon by ... pirates, sir."
Silent with the implications, the captain stared through the glass. "Confound the brigands!" spat Pellew. "Mr. Bowles, more canvas. Damn it! Mr. Hornblower, no, Mr. Rampling, ready the bow chasers. Beat to quarters, Mr. Rampling!"
Rampling responded quietly and set off to obey
"Sir?" questioned Hornblower. Why was Rampling sent and not he?
Pellew stared at his second leftenant, letting his eyes shift to Pamela, then back to Hornblower. "Get your wife below, sir. Then, see to the gun crews."
"Aye, aye, sir." Hornblower saluted and strode to Pamela, taking her elbow. "Do not argue with me, Pamela."
"What is the ship's name?" she asked.
"I could not see."
"She's American? The other is pirate?"
They reached the gun deck companion to the next lower deck. The men scurried to position. They needed no order from him. Action was what they were trained for. Sebastian and Becker were headed towards them.
"Obey me, and go all the way down," ordered Hornblower anxiously.
"Horatio?" Her eyes were brimming. She did not ask. She did not care. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. "Take care, my darling, and do not worry about me."
Eyes closed, he pressed his cheek into her hair. "I love you, Pamela. Be careful going down the stairs."
Sebastian waited discreetly for the embrace to end.
"I will see her below, Mr. Hornblower."
"Thank you, Doctor."
With a final squeeze of hands, she descended to the next level, Sebastian at her elbow.
A head full of bouncing blonde curls ascending the stairs caught her eye.
The little boy stopped briefly, seeing worry written across her face. "Do not fear, ma'am. We will protect you." He ran past her calling, "Way for powder!"
"I was not worried for me," she whispered, watching him go. "Doctor, ..."
"It is what we do, Mrs. Hornblower."
"I know. I know," she replied, resignation in her tone.
Hornblower's mouth was dry as toast as he tried to swallow. "You men, there! Quickly now!"
"Way for powder!" The powder monkeys dodged past him.
He stretched his long legs passing down the deck. "Mr. McMasters! I see you have things well in hand here."
"The men know their duty, Mr. Hornblower," answered the fourth leftenant.
The midshipmen, gunnery officers, and ratings performed their duties loading the shot. They waited for the order to open gun ports.
"I'll be back presently, Mr. McMasters!" Satisfied the gun deck was prepared, he took two steps at a time and climbed the companion. Where were they in relation to the enemy? Stepping foot onto the waist, the bow chaser exploded with a BOOM!
Peering larboard, he saw the splash of cannon shot hit the water short of the advancing pirate ship. Ship? No, ships. There were two. One obscured the other but no longer. Indefatigable was drawing up to come between them. The one furtherest away was pulling ahead in pursuit of the American. The brig flying the Stars and Stripes was leaping over the waves.
Hornblower extended the telescope, eyeing the guns of first one, then the other, and finally the American. One of the pirate craft was a lugger, about twenty gun, the other, larger and equal to Indefatigable, if not more. No, it was more, by at least a dozen cannon.
Hornblower knew. Pellew knew. It was totally the captain's decision to aid the Americans. Great Britain owed her rebel colonies nothing. America was a country in her own right. If she could not take care of her vessels in these waters, or did not pay the protection money to the Barbary states, her people were on their own.
Were the pirates so sure of themselves? Not an iota of turning was noted. The bow cannon exploded again. Watching for the landing of the shot, Hornblower saw it glance off the pirate's bow.
The Captain of the pirate ship must have entertained convoluted thinking. He wanted the American ship, but a paying "ally" was confronting him. It was a bad situation all around, but Pellew committed them to action. What would the pirate do? How badly did he want the American? That was answered by the flash of light and puff of smoke, followed by the rolling blast. He was firing on Indefatigable while his companion pursued the American.
Hornblower returned to the quarter-deck. "Gun deck ready, sir."
Pellew breathed in deeply. He assessed the proximity of the lugger, gaining on the American. Shot from the starboard bow chaser would not reach the vessel, but it would let them know he meant business. He gave the order to fire the gun, then addressed Hornblower. "Open the larboard gunports, Mr. Hornblower. Fire when she bears."
"Aye, aye, sir." He hurried back to the gun deck, calling the order. "Open the larboard ports!" Striding down the line of cannon, he bent to peer through the openings. "Wait for my order men!" Watching, he felt the ship heel to starboard. The side of the pirate ship was in clear view. "Fire! Fire as she bears!"
The gun deck filled with acrid smoke and recoiling cannon. Controlled pandemonium reigned as the guns were fired and reloaded. Despite the cooler airs of early October, the men sweated at the task, the blasts of the weapons resounding within the ship and quaking her decks. Indefatigable raged against the enemy, turning to fire again as winds and skill propelled her into position.
Shot entered the gun deck, shattering the hull as it entered, spraying the occupants with splinter. Men screamed, impaled. Those not working a gun ferried the injured below. Hornblower helped men to their feet, pushing them back toward their station. Stumbling into something, he reached to raise the unconscious body from the deck..
"Drake! Drake!" It was the boy, out like a light, prostrate on the timbers. He patted the boy's cheek. Moaning, his eyes opened. "Drake, are you all right?" Hornblower scanned his body for wounds.
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Weaving, Hornblower steadied him. "I'm all right, sir," assured Drake. He grabbed his powder canister and ran for more. The leftenant watched him dodge past the working men and disappear down the ladder.
"RELOAD! FIRE WHEN READY!" He yelled above the din.
Suddenly a shot entered from the starboard side, raining more splinters into the air.
"Damn!" said Hornblower. That could only mean the lugger had turned to assist the frigate. Indefatigable now lay like a piece of meat between two slices of bread, ready to be eaten alive like a pirate sandwich. Recoiling cannon overhead validated the assumption. They'd stirred up a hornet's nest and now they were taking the brunt. The battle became more heated, taking fire, and giving it, from both sides of the ship. A lull in firing came as the ship maneuvered to come around and fire again. He could imagine the crew aloft and on deck straining to alter sail. With a change in the heel of Indefatigable, Hornblower and McMasters ordered the starboard gun ports opened.
"FIRE!" The two leftenants called in unison, both seeing the vantage of the luggers hull and sending shot broadside.
Indefatigable sailed past her giving view to the sea beyond. The American had turned and was returning to assist. Smoke from her decks billowed aft and larboard of her decks. She was firing on the lugger. That must have surprised the pirate rabble!
A twitch of smile appeared on Hornblower's face as he glanced to McMasters.
"This is a sight, Mr. Hornblower! This is indeed a sight!" he grinned. "Never in all my days did I think to see us and the rebel colonies in a united effort! Me grandfather'd be dancin' a jig over this, he would!"
"The odds are even, Mr. McMasters!" Hornblower could not help feel a swelling of pride in his chest. His wife's countrymen proved themselves honourable. The captain's decision to assist had not gone amiss. The Americans were not cowards. They were not concerned for their welfare alone, just outgunned and cautious. No longer need they run with Indefatigable in the fray. Pamela would be pleased.
Hornblower saw the flash and puff of smoke from the lugger's stern cannon, then felt the shot enter forward at an angle. Grape. Men screamed from their injuries. Glancing out the portal, Hornblower knew Indefatigables starboard guns had no target.
"RELOAD!" he called, aware something was lacking in the call, but not giving the time to decipher what. Indefatigable was turning. He ducked to look out the larboard ports. The cannon that side continued to fire at the larger ship. Suddenly, he knew what was missing from his order...another voice. Frantically, he searched the smoke and groaning bodies forward. What he dreaded, he found. Hurrying to his side, he lifted the man's shoulders. Grape wounds dotted his chest.
"McMasters! SURGEON! SURGEON!"
"Too late, Hornblower," he rasped. A trickle of blood altered the smile that rested on the dying man's lips. "It is a good day to die. To see the Americans fighting with us. A good day...a good day to..." The breath left his body and his head lolled to his shoulder.
"They're runnin', sir!" It was Matthews.
Hornblower lay McMasters gently on the decking. Matthews' grin disappeared and was replaced by a somber countenance.
"He was a good officer, sir," consoled Matthews quietly.
"He was, Matthews." Hornblower stood solemnly and assessed the ravaged gun deck. The bow chasers were still firing overhead, but went silent as he climbed to the waist. Indefatigable turned into the wind and hove to.
A breeze blew his curls. Sometime during the battle, he lost his hat. How long had they been fighting? The sun was low on the horizon. Walking to starboard, he could see the pirate ships making use of the wind to blow them on a shaky starboard tack southeast. The larger ship held damage to her main and fore masts. She was low in the water on her larboard stern quarter and a stream of smoke burned steadily from somewhere amidships.
Why did Pellew let them go? Britain paid them to leave her shipping alone. This help afforded the Americans may not be appreciated by the powers that be in England. Would it not have been better to send them both to Davy Jones' locker? Though the larger ship might yet sink from the look of her.
In good conscience, no gentleman could allow thieves to rule the seas. He had no qualms with his captain's decision to fight and knew he would have done likewise. Were not these of the same ilk that took Pamela and killed her father? Men were dead. McMasters was dead.
He turned his grimy, gun powder smoke-stained face to the quarter-deck, aware that Rampling and the midshipmen worked to make order out of the chaos around him. Kennedy met his gaze, a sign of relief in those blue orbs. Then, his captain's eyes found his and Hornblower shook his head. The merest change of eye told Hornblower that Pellew knew there was bad news in the offing. How many men did they lose?
His attention was captured by the disarray of the open decks. The foremast main course yard was splintered and hung precariously by the standing rigging. The spar itself was not completely shattered, and it kept the rigging from falling. Indefatigable was not injured too badly, and the men not aiding the wounded were already working to repair.
Cannon sounded. The American gave up chase when she realized the British frigate did not pursue, and she was firing a salute. Aft, she dipped her flag to the British. No damage to her sail, he could see. The men aloft were taking a reef as she slipped slowly alongside Indefatigable. A man near the wheel hailed them.
"Ahoy, Indefatigable! Our thanks, sir!" Even as he spoke, Hornblower could see a boat being lowered and a netting of barrels and crates lifted and swung overside. "My owner wishes to offer a ... send an offering in thanks, sir, for your assistance."
"None needed, Captain, but I thank you," shouted Pellew. "Where are you bound, sir?"
"Gibraltar, sir, then America!"
"We, too, sail for Gibraltar. It might serve you well to accompany us."
"Thank you, Captain. I will take your offer. Is there anything we can do to help?"
"Davis, sir, Captain Davis."
"Pellew is my name, Captain Davis."
"Captain Pellew, aye!"
Pellew could see a man he presumed might be the owner speaking to Davis.
"Captain Pellew, might you be that British frigate that assisted Cymbaline last April?"
Pellew did not have to look at his officers to know the surprise. "We are, Captain Davis."
Another conference was taking place on the American's poop. In the heat of battle, Pellew had not taken time to learn her name. He inclined an ear towards Bracegirdle. "What is the name of this ship?"
"Patriot's Dream, Captain."
Pellew felt the color rise in his cheeks, and he inhaled, exhaling as swiftly.
"Captain Pellew, our ship's owner would like to come aboard to speak to you, if you will permit."
Pellew thought, his eyes glancing over the damage forward. Hornblower was standing near the rail, observing and listening and bleeding. Did the man know he was bleeding? A crimson stream coursed by his left ear. He made the decision.
"He may, Captain." Inhaling, Pellew muttered, "Not exactly at our Sunday best, but all the more reason his visit shall be a brief one."
By the time Pellew reached the waist, a loblolly boy had seen Hornblower's head wound, cleaned his cheek, and given him a compress. He held it against his hairline when his hand was free from assisting the men in the waist.
"Well, Mr. Hornblower. It would seem we are further embroiled with your Americans."
Hornblower stood still trying to determine if his captain were jesting, but Pellew was speaking again before he could respond to the first statement.
"Who did we lose?"
"McMasters, sir. A number of the men are wounded."
Pellew stared at the deck then watched the approaching boat. "One day, Mr. Hornblower... one day it will come that we will have to rid the seas of these Barbary pests. These men cannot have died in vain." Glimpsing the limping pirate craft, he muttered, "I should have sunk the both of them."
"From the looks of the frigate, sir, I cannot see how she can last." The two men cast their view to the distant ships, staring long at the sight. Hornblower was right. There was some satisfaction in that.
"No, but the crew may survive with the help of her companion," Pellew grumbled. "The damn tribute..." Pellew did not finish the sentence concerning the money his country and others, supposedly including America, paid the North African states not to attack their shipping. The launch from Patriot's Dream arrived and a man of medium build, graying hair, and piercing blue eyes set foot onto the deck. His mouth was set in a frown, as if he were doing something he found distasteful.
"Captain Pellew? My name is Daniel Dawson."
The slack jaw and look of surprise on his second leftenant did not go unnoticed.
"Mr. Dawson," said Pellew with a slight cock of his head. "You are related to...?"
"Indeed, Captain. I am mortified that the same ship that
rescued my niece has now rescued my ship." The lines forming
the frown deepened and his eyes seemed to sink into a dark scowl.
This is a bad thing, wondered Pellew? The man's words and his demeanor were incongruous. No one made him give thanks....but himself. The aversion he felt towards his guest was growing.
"I will be honest with you, Captain. I have no love for your country,... but the service you and your ship and crew have done to me personally, by honor and by God, I cannot ignore. I offer you my hand as I offer my thanks." He extended a hand, jutting it out unnaturally, as if he were choosing to stick it into a pile of cow manure.
*With little enthusiasm, it would seem,* thought Pellew, shaking hands. A cobra could be no less inviting.
"I have ordered Captain Davis to double that which I intend as an offering of gratitude. And, I wanted to thank you for saving my niece from the likes of those black-hearted thieves." Dawson squared himself to the pirate vessels in the distance, speaking to them, though his words were heard by those present. "I wish the lot of them to perdition!" The hatred and loathing dripped from his lips. "One thing I have learned in the past four months...I dislike pirates... more than I do Great Britain. You are the lesser of two evils."
The man seemed to be thinking out loud, malevolence etching
the words, drippingly venomous. Pellew was not quite sure how
to respond to these
back-handed...compliments? ... were they? If this man was kin to Pamela Hornblower, she was not of a similar mind. In fact, she is the veritable opposite. For her sake, he would be cordial to this person he chose to assist.
"However, I understand from Captain Davis, we were fortunate you chose to intervene at all," he said disdainfully. "You gave the assistance on your own initiative, Captain?"
"I did." Pellew reached a low boil but kept a lid on. "May I introduce you to my second leftenant, Mr. Hornblower." Pellew watched the man for recognition but received none. "He was the officer that found your niece on Dolphin."
Dawson turned a cold blue gaze on Hornblower, assessing him gravely. "You look to have been in the heat of battle, Lieutenant."
"We all were, sir," replied Hornblower, solemnly.
Dawson snorted a sigh. "Thank you for watching over my niece. My brother's daughter means a great deal to me,... as he did."
"Your niece means a great deal to me, as well. Are you sure you are her 'uncle'?" questioned Pellew, his pique getting the better of him. "From what I have heard from you, sir, I would never have known the two of you were related."
A sardonic smile appeared on Dawson's lips and his eyes narrowed. "You do have some backbone after all."
Pellew was not accustomed to sparring with anyone on board his own ship, and definitely not with an American curmudgeon. Breathing deeply, maintaining his temper, he was about to respond, when Dawson thrust out his hand to Hornblower. Now that the man had done his best to anger Pellew, he seemed relaxed and somewhat amiable, considering his obvious cantankerous personality.
Pellew watched his nervous second leftenant. Something was unsaid. Did not Dawson know he shook the hand of his niece's husband?
"Mr. Dawson, have you seen your niece since your arrival on this side of the Atlantic?"
"I have, Captain. She seems well enough considering she saw her father murdered. The two of them were very close, more close than most fathers and daughters. She's had some ridiculous reaction to the experience, fearful of sailing again, but I expect her to return to North Carolina with me on Patriot's Dream when I get back to Gibraltar. She has had five months to ...well, I do not suppose she will ever get over what was done, ... but it is time she came home. She cannot stay in your protectorate forever."
Pellew pondered. "You say you saw ... your niece in Gibraltar?"
"Yes, last July, before I went on this middle east expedition." Dawson examined the sea captain curiously. "Why do you ask?"
"We are talking about Pamela..."
"Dandridge. Was Dawson. Dandridge is her married name, though she is a widow." Dawson's blue eyes gazed piercingly at Pellew, like cold sharp icicles.
Hornblower cleared his throat. Pellew looked at his leftenant, then back to the visitor.
"Mr. Dawson, I feel there is something you should know. Let me offer you a brandy." Pellew felt pleased at the mildly visible shock his offer of a drink had on the older man. Kill them with kindness. It was an old adage that might chart the right course with this ill-tempered old grump. "Mr. Hornblower, attend, sir."
Following the older men, Hornblower closed his eyes and felt weary. Why were these situations constantly being pressed upon him? Pamela said her uncle hated the British. Today, the very same rescued him and his ship from what looked to be imminent capture and possibly death. Was this some grand scheme of the Almighty? What was he going to think when he saw his most pregnant niece? He would have to tell him. Tell him now, before Pamela had to face him. He knew now why she disliked the man. It must be difficult to have such a relative. He filled his lungs with air and his heart and mind with resolve. Pellew would give him the opening.
Pellew's rooms were half set from the engagement. Allowing the men to retrieve and open out four chairs, he sent them from the duty, saying he would call them back later. He poured three glasses of brandy.
"Forgive the disarray, Mr. Dawson. You understand we clear for action."
Dawson took one glass of brandy from Pellew and Hornblower the other.
"I do, Captain Pellew." In truth, Dawson was befuddled by the hospitality of the sea officer after his rude gratitude.
"There is something .... I feel Mr. Hornblower has to tell you. Something that your niece, it appears did not... though I am at a loss to know why," puzzled Pellew.
"My niece?" Dawson stared at Hornblower. "How long was she with you?"
"A while, sir," answered Hornblower prudently.
"I apologize for whatever trouble she gave you, Mr. Hornblower. I know she can be a trial. My brother over indulged her, though it is not so much getting her way, as having her way, if you get my meaning. I pray she did not embarrass herself?"
Pellew glanced at Hornblower from a side standing position, turned and stepped to the sideboard, pouring more brandy into a glass.
When Hornblower said nothing, Pellew spoke. "Your niece, Mr. Dawson, saved my life." Pellew stepped near the two men, taking the half full glass of brandy from his leftenant's hand and replacing it with the fuller one. "Drink, Mr. Hornblower." Pellew fixed his eye on Dawson, who appeared speechless. No doubt he wished she had not been so gallant. "I have noticed a certain willfulness in your niece."
"She is that, Captain."
"Did she tell you she saved my life, sir?"
No,... she did not." His tone was defensive, like it was something she did that she should not have. "All she said was that you and your men and ship rescued her from the men that killed my...her father." Dawson noted the odd look of concentration on the lieutenant's countenance.
"Dolphin, the ship we wrested from the pirates, is where she was found by Mr. Hornblower and his men. We did not know she was aboard when my men took Dolphin. The ship was in need of repair and Mr. Hornblower and his crew were given the assignment of taking her to Gibraltar. It was two days before Mrs. Dandridge's presence was realized. Is that not so, Mr. Hornblower?"
"Yes, sir." Hornblower could see her there, tucked on a shelf in the hold,... bloody,... dirty, ...a dagger pointed towards him. "She... was distraught. I do not think she understood a word I was saying. She was thirsty..." Hornblower looked into the blue eyes of Dawson, the barest softening in them. "I love your niece, Mr. Dawson. She is my wife. She bears our child."
Silence filled the room. Dawson stopped breathing and stared at Hornblower. One shake of his head...a slow intake of breath... a frown ...eyes lowering to the floor.
"She said nothing of this when I saw her." His tone was eerie, disembodied, resentful. Barnstable that night in Gibraltar, Hornblower, he had called her Mrs. Hornblower, but she denied the name. How could she do this to him? *She knows how I hate the British.* Was it spite? He looked sourly at Hornblower. No, she did not consider him enough to wish to spite him. She considered him not at all. Eyes lowering to the deck, his mind took another tack. *Maybe this Hornblower forced himself on her and she felt she had to marry him.*
"She was afraid to tell you, sir, because ... because of your dislike ... of my country. She knows you disapprove of her, sir." And me, he thought, but he did not say it.
Dawson's face flushed pink with the accusation. This rang true and the truth hurt. He stared back at Hornblower, smirking disdainfully. "What is it? Money? Is it money you want, Lieutenant Hornblower? Did she tell you she was rich? Did she try to buy off your...your advances?" Dawson accused, standing and putting his back to the two officers.
He was dangerous close to alienating the young man, that if this were true, would be his brother's third son-in-law. A baby? Annulment was impossible. Could it be true? Was Pamela going to be a mother? Two dead husbands and now a third that gave her a baby? A grandchild for James? A grandchild...no great-grandchild to him? James, his brother, gone....but his grandchild...half-British? A cruel joke! Those that he hated, but yet so recently owed... for Pamela's life and possibly his own. Pamela, the one that he loved....and she does not know how much. *I need a chance to make her know. I love her. She is like a granddaughter to me. James! James! What am I to do?*
Hornblower breathed deeply, lowering his chin, and staring at the American. "I understand you do not like me, sir. But the fact remains, she is my wife."
"Be that as it may, she is coming ... home... to North Carolina," defied Dawson weakly.
"No, ...she will not,...sir," stated Hornblower calmly.
"It is money you want, isn't it? This is all a lie. I will pay you. How much?"
"I do not lie, Mr. Dawson." Hornblower added earnestly, "I love her. I do not want your money."
Dawson studied him. "You are but a lieutenant. How will you support her? She is used to living easy. She has never known want."
Hornblower reddened. The hated subject. He could not support her. He bowed his head and turned away. "It is my one regret, sir," he said quietly.
Dawson recalled the books kept by the lawyer, Hoskins. He knew how much money Pamela had taken from the accounts of Dawson Import and Export. He knew roughly what she had in accounts in Wilmington, inheritance from her second husband, Dandridge, and he knew how much James left her in his will. He also knew her account in Gibraltar was in the name of Dandridge. If this man were her husband, he could have taken her money. By rights, as her husband, it was his.
"How will she live?" Dawson asked carefully.
Hornblower's head seemed to lower farther, shamefully. "Until...until I can support her, she ... she ... She says ... Captain Dandridge ... I..." This was the worst. To have to say it. She was supported by her dead husband, not her live one. He felt nauseous.
Dawson smiled wryly. Something about the manner of this man....if
he were not British.... but he is...and he is Pamela's husband.
Confusion. He looked at Pellew, standing, listening, watching.
He needed time to think, to assess his standing in regards to
his niece. With his brother James no longer around to smooth
the relationship between them, he would need to alter his reactions,
or he might alienate her forever.
Pellew returned the stare, raised his chin, and inhaled.
Loud voices were heard outside in the companion. Hornblower's name was spoken. With knitted brow, Pellew strode to open the door.
"What is this commotion?" he asked.
Matthews was being held back by two marines. He saluted the Captain with difficulty.
"Beg pardon, sir. We need Mr. Hornblower, sir. Is he here?"
Hornblower stepped into view.
Matthews shook his head worriedly, saying, "It's Miss Pamela, Mr. Hornblower. She's beside herself, sir. She overheard someone say one of the leftenants was dead, and well, she thought the worst, sir. I told her it warn't you, but..."
Pamela could be heard without speaking frantically, tearfully.
"Excuse me, sir," said Hornblower anxiously.
Pellew nodded for him to go.
Dawson stepped beside Pellew, incredulity covering his features.
"We were getting around to telling you," said Pellew.
Dawson pushed passed Pellew into the corridor. He did not have to go far. The two of them were standing at the entry way to the corridor.
"Horatio! Horatio!" She held his face, tears streaming down hers. "They said...! I thought...!"
"I am all right, Pamela."
"It was Mr. McMasters, "she anguished. "I thought...when they said...!"
He pulled her into his arms and tried to calm her heaving and shaking body, holding her tightly. "I am all right, my love. I am all right."
Quieting, she gazed at his sorrowful face. She sniffed and ran her hand over his cheek. She spotted the cut above his ear. "You're...you're hurt."
"It's just a scratch. It's nothing."
She sniffed again as tears rolled down her cheeks. He pressed her into his chest.
"I'm all right. Quiet now," he soothed. Hornblower glimpsed his captain and Dawson, then rested his head against hers and closed his eyes.
"One of my leftenants was killed today. She thought it was ... her husband, it seems," offered Pellew, gazing at his guest.
Shaking his head, Dawson thought, *Not another sailor. Not another man of the sea, Pamela...British to boot, and his country at war.* She loves him. That is clear enough. She is expecting. That, too, was obvious. *What in God's name is she doing here?* He did not know whether to rage, to laugh, or to cry. He stepped back into Pellew's cabin, found his glass, and tossed back the contents. With the slightest whisper, he said to himself, "He will break your heart. I know he will. No matter how greatly you... love him."
Pellew could not hear clearly the last words. "Mr. Dawson, I perceive you are upset." He moved a chair towards him. "Sit and I will tell you about your niece and His Majesty's Navy. Would you prefer whiskey?"
"Yes, Captain." Dawson sat heavily. Resignation seem to come easily. It was true, though he wanted to deny it, everything revealed by these men, he knew, was true. If she could do anything more to make him angry he did not know what it was, but he did not feel angry. Was it defeat? This man speaking to him now about his niece...killed a pirate and saved his life? Killed a pirate? Killed a man to save Pellew? She loves him. Jealousy rose in his heart. More than anything, these last years, he wanted her love. The love of a niece, a daughter, a granddaughter. James was gone. The thought made his heart ache and he pressed his chest.
An officer came into the room. The voices seemed to come from the back of a cave. They were distant. Was he saying the pirate ship sank? *Good. Good. Let the damn lot of them sink. They killed my brother.* He closed his eyes, and covered his face.
"Are you all right, Mr. Dawson?" Pellew asked seeing the man in such a position. There was no response. Taking a deep breath, he stepped closer and asked again.
Dawson rose to his feet and glanced around as if he did not know where he was. "Captain Pellew..." Dawson met the eyes of a representative of a nation he had hated for nearly thirty years. He was suddenly tired. He felt betrayed, but there was no fight in him. He failed somewhere, and he had lost. Now that which he cherished most was ... dead or...married to his enemy. She did not tell him of her marriage. Disapprove. Yes, but what would it get him? It was too late, by months from the look of her. What hurt the most was that she did not tell him of the union with Hornblower. Could he blame her? "I'm going back to my ship." He straightened to his full height. "Thank ...you...for myself and for my niece." He turned to exit the cabin and saw Pamela standing there, Hornblower behind her. Her presence startled him, but the expression on her face was the most genuine and kindest he had ever seen. "Pamela...child."
She softly smiled and shook her head. "I am not a child, Uncle." He looked so like her father, older, but the resemblance was there. Even the stern countenance of which she was so accustomed seemed to have faded.
The room turned into a tableau; no one moved. Finally, Pellew spoke.
"If you would excuse me, Mr. Dawson, Mr. and Mrs. Hornblower, I need to speak to Mr. Kennedy." He bowed a nod to them all. Passing Hornblower, he raised an eyebrow.
The three of them were left alone. Dawson let his eyes lower to her belly, closing them, when he opened them, they rested on her face, then traced to Hornblower.
"I love him," she stated.
He inhaled. "I can see that you do."
"You thanked Captain Pellew."
"He deserves to be thanked, niece."
Pamela could feel Hornblower's fingers lightly touching the middle of her back.
"I ...wanted you to come home," sighed Dawson.
She observed, pensively. "I am home."
His eyes seemed to go cold into the piercing stare that was so familiar, but only briefly and the blazing ember died as quickly as it had appeared. Looking away, he stared out at the sea, draped in the fading twilight of early evening.
Pamela felt the slightest push. Dropping her right hand, she reached back to touch Hornblower's outer thigh, then, walked slowly towards her uncle.
Turning his head, he watched her approach him in wonderment. She was lovely and every person he had ever loved, except one, was represented in this feature or that. Her dark eyes, like those of James's wife, who had been like a sister to him. The shape of her face, oval, like James, the cheekbones softened but noticeable, and while her mouth was more like her mother's, it quirked like her father's...association, he presumed. He inhaled. Her hair was like his mother's, who was taken from him and James far too soon.
What part of HIM could be found in the youngest Dawson, now Hornblower? A wry smile tugged across his face. What had she inherited from him? His stubborn willfulness. In that, they were much alike, and suddenly he knew why his brother grinned whenever he complained of some action of Pamela's in which he found displeasure.
To his surprise, Pamela returned the slightest smile, her eyes fixed on his face as they had never been. He felt fear grip his pounding heart. Whatever he did, it had to be the right thing. This was like a courtship and he did not know what to do, but her eyes held his, and he waited. She moistened her lips. Was she as nervous and unsure as he? She reached for his hand and wrapped her fingers around it. Her hand was so small in his. She took a halting step towards him, lifted her other hand and touched his cheek. He closed his eyes and concentrated on what he was feeling. She stepped closer to him. He could feel her body against his, her tummy touching first. She leaned to accommodate her abdomen. Her hair touched his chin, her soft cheek, and then warm lips kissing him lightly. She released his hand and embraced him. His arms entwined. Tighter. How many times had he seen her do this with James, with friends of theirs? He frowned. He had pushed her away from such close contact. How could he have been so blind?
"Uncle...? You will press the breath out of me!" she whispered.
He slackened his hold, but he did not release her. "Pamela....?" Could he get the words out? What was happening to him? Was it his cry to his dead brother? Was James here acting through him? But he was who he was. *Daniel Dawson you have been a fool,* he thought. He had to chance it was not too late to rectify the matter. "Pamela, ...forgive me. Forgive me, child."
He released his hold and looked at her, wondering.
"I never thought..." she bit her lip to stop from saying what might have been hurtful, that she never thought she would hear him say it. Instead she said, "I do, Uncle, I do."
Looking up, Dawson caught Hornblower's eye. The lieutenant held his gaze, bowed, backed out the door, and closed it. Lowering his eyes, he whispered, "I miss your father. I miss James more than I thought possible."
She caressed one stubbling cheek and kissed the other. "I know, Uncle. I miss him, too."
Hornblower emerged into the waist, glad of the breezes that met him, exhaling through puffed lips. Except for the damage to the wood, the ship was returning to normal. Matthews glanced quizzically from the line he was coiling. Hornblower neared the old sailor.
"Is she all right, sir? If you don't mind my asking."
Hornblower grinned wryly. "How could I mind you asking, Matthews. You are practically my father-in-law. Did you not bring my bride?" Hornblower wiped his face tiredly. "She will be all right. It has been a long day, Matthews. I am weary." He glimpsed the corridor to Pellew's cabin, then raised his eyes to the quarter-deck. Pellew was speaking with Kennedy. Hornblower headed that way.
He saluted Pellew as he approached.
"Captain. Thank you, sir."
Pellew huffed a sigh and shook his head. Before he could speak, he was interrupted.
"Captain Pellew," called Dawson. "I will take my leave, sir." He walked over to the side.
Pellew and Hornblower descended to bid him farewell.
Stopping and turning with a sigh, Dawson extended his hand, once more.
Pellew took it cautiously.
"I meant what I said, Captain. I appreciate what you did for my dau...my niece and myself. I know you owe my country no allegiance." His grip was as steady as his gaze.
"In good conscience, sir, there was no option in either case," stated Pellew.
Dawson nodded, giving a final shake to Pellew's hand. He turned his gaze on Hornblower. Pamela was close against her husband.
"What is your first name, young man?" Though he knew Pamela had said it, Dawson could not recall.
Hornblower felt the heat in his cheeks. "Horatio, sir, Horatio Hornblower."
"Oh yes...like that admiral of yours...Nelson. Well, that should not be too hard to remember. He helped me out of a bit of a scrape in Sicily about a month ago. It seems I am destined to be in your country's debt! I suppose I would be a poor student of life to think nothing would ever change." His eyes rested on Pamela. Looking back at Hornblower, he said, "Take care of her."
"I will do my best, sir."
"We will talk more in Gibraltar. May we Captain?"
"Perhaps, Mr. Dawson."
He gave Pamela a final nod, and climbed out the portal to descend.