An American Encounter, Part Three
Ch 9 The Night is Not Yet Over
Dawson stood on the deck of the Arabian ship, pulled up to full height, his arms folded across his massive chest. His face was rock hard in its aspect. The cold blue eyes pierced the bottomless black ones of the man he confronted.
Daniel Dawson wasted not a moment once arriving in Gibraltar. After a swift perusal of the anchored shipping, he sent a boat to inquire the cargoes. Export and import was his business. He knew the merchant ships anchored here were waiting for the winds to change before going on their way. Knowing, also, the unlimited trade abilities of those flying a flag of one of the four Barbary states. It galled him to ask for anything of these heathens. Not to mention that some of their countrymen sought recently to deprive him of life and livelihood. But he felt a debt. It was a debt he desired to pay, for multifaceted reasons, Pamela not the least of them. He was capable of stuffing his pride and his anger down to get what he wanted. His chin lowered into his chest, causing his eyes to peer out from thick graying eyebrows.
A translator was interpreting Dawson's request into the lily-lipped lingo of the swarthy Moslem. The turbaned Arabian eyed Dawson with a distrustful snarl curling his upper lip as he listened to the man speak his tongue.
The Greek Captain looked from man to man and studied the Arab that sailed with them on the merchant vessel, an overseer for the owners. How Muley Achmed received the request would depend on the color of Dawson's persuasion. Captain Stavros understood English and though he worked for Arabic owners, his knowledge of their language was more tuned to listening than speaking. Dawson's request was certainly an odd one in view of the relationships of the parties involved.
The Andromeda was a privileged ship of a particular advantage. She sailed the waters of the Mediterranean and traded with any and all European nations with impunity. Andromeda was a free agent of sorts. Not under the power of the British, Spanish, or French navies due to the particular hold her country's privateers, better known as pirates to the Europeans, held over the shipping of the warring nations.
Muley turned away from the translator, with a toss of his hand and a shake of his head.
The man was performing true to form. Dawson knew it would come to this. "Show him, Peterson," commanded Dawson.
Peterson pulled a pouch from inside his coat and poured most of the contents on the barrel head. The rich sound of the jingling gold coins thudded onto the wood and glinted in the October sunshine, British gold sovereigns.
The lust for gold flashed over the Arabian's features and he spoke to the translator who then spoke to Dawson.
"He says the British will not pay for the fruits because they are from their enemies."
"Leave that to me," said Dawson. "I'm American. He is selling it to me, not the British. I merely want it delivered to the British. In particular..." he turned and nodded at the anchored frigate five cable lengths away, "...that warship, Indefatigable."
The interpreter relayed the message and the Arabian stepped closer to observe the gold coins, stroking his bearded chin. His black eyes raised to meet Dawson's cold gaze. The man canted his head and smiled sickeningly, posing a question.
"He asks, since when do the Americans and the British become brothers?"
Dawson smirked back at the heathen. "Since bastards like him take it into their heads to attack my ship and make me indebted for help from his Britannic majesty's fleet," he spat. "God...." he halted the curse. "Tell him that..." Dawson grabbed the translators shoulder, "Tell him exactly that." *And for my niece,* he thought. He saw the interpreter hesitantly say the words and watched the reception on the Arab's countenance. He said it right, that was obvious.
The Arab glared at Dawson, began to laugh, then went into a menacing smile and spoke.
The interpreter licked his lips nervously. "He says it will cost you, as the British say, a pretty penny."
"Pennies? Tell him I said to look closer." He knew the man was alluding to a greater cost, not the quality of the metal. "Peterson."
The man added to the coins littering the barrel head. Dawson heard the Arab suck a breath. Dawson turned away and spoke disdainfully to Peterson. "Take 'em back. His slowness wearies me. We will take our custom elsewhere."
The Arab shouted. There was no need of a translator.
"How much per crate?" asked Dawson. He nodded to Peterson to continue to retrieve the coins.
"Two pounds per crate, sir," said the translator.
"Piracy! Forget it! Come on, Peterson!"
"Wait, sir!" called the translator. The Arab was laughing, then, posed the question. "How many crates did ye want, sir?"
"Five hundred?" Dawson watched the interpreter and the Arab discuss back and forth. "He says five hundred pounds for the crates and.... a twenty pound fee."
"Go to the devil!"
Fast talking and another bid. "Two hundred fifty pounds for the fruit, sir, and.... a ten pound fee?"
"I'll give the bastard five pound for his pirate fee. Six shillings a crate for the fruit is robbery enough. Take it or leave it. That's my final offer."
"Done, sir. He accepts."
"He damn well ought to. He's making five times what he would normally. I want it now, today. Understand? Peterson, Jeffers, stay here and see the count is fair and delivered to Pellew with my compliments. I'm going ashore."
"Yes, Mr. Dawson."
A late afternoon breeze blew against the muslin curtain causing it to billow into the room. The two sweating figures parted, the man heaving off the soft rounded woman with a pant.
"How long's it been fer you, mate?" she asked.
"Too long, Doxie. Give me a minute and we'll have another go."
She cackled. "I see now why ye wanted an hourly rate!"
He raised an eyebrow and blew air out puffed lips. "Just give me a minute."
She looked down then back at him and chuckled. "Whad ye say yer name was, mate?"
"Well, ye were lucky to get me this afternoon. I'm usually out doin' me shoppin' this time o'day. Yer shillin'll make me dinner a little finer."
"I agreed to yer price fer the hour." He looked her over. "Good of ye ta get me mate yer friend."
She laughed again. "She owes me, now!"
"Yer right cheerful, ain't ye, Dox?" Matthews let his eyes feast on the female form beside him and ventured a touch of what recently supported his thin frame.
"Well, ye been right nice yerself. And, yer kinda cute. Usually, they comes and goes so fast, there ain't time ta hardly look at the man. Whad I want to fer anyway, eh? 'Course them's the penny men. Yer the first shillin' I've had in a while."
The rapid moans and knocking against the wall caught their attention and they listened to the couple in the next room.
"Sounds like your friend scored one. He's a right hunk of a man, he is. Abbie can handle him big though. So can I, but wiry ones'll do, too." She gazed at his lower region and raised an eyebrow. "Looks like yer about ready."
Matthews moved over her. "Aye, ma'am. I told ye I would be."
"How'd you two come to be ashore? Usually we has to come to you?"
"Yer full a questions, you are. If ye must know, we brought our officer's wife ashore."
"She been livin' on yer ship, has she?"
"Aye, fer nigh on two months."
She laughed again.
"Ye find that funny, Dox?" panted Matthews.
"I find it profitable, Mr. Matthews, profitable," she panted. "Are you two competin'?"
Matthews chuckled. "Yer distractin' me, ma'am. I'd appreciate it if you could hold off on chewin' the fat till I'm done here."
"As you wish. The customer is always right."
"That's right considerate, ma'am."
Archie turned on his side and propped his head, staring at the woman next to him. He smiled and shook his head.
"Thank you," she said.
"Thank YOU," he emphasized.
"You're an officer..." she left off the end of the sentence.
"You want to know why... my back is striped," said Kennedy.
"You do not have to tell me," she stated. She licked her lips and shifted her gaze to the blonde hair straying over his forehead. "You...you have very nice hair." Hesitantly, she touched it and attempted to tuck it behind his ear, but it fell back forward. His eyes were closed.
"French prison. They disliked the disruption I caused by trying to escape...twice," he opened his eyes and looked into hers. "Do they bother you?"
She shook her head, then, said, "No."
He inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. "I have not been with a woman....for ages. Why..." Her fingers were over his lips.
She shook her head slowly. "No questions. No answers. You will leave on your ship and that will be the end. No entanglements for you or for me."
"What if my ship does not leave tonight? Or even tomorrow?"
She hesitated, looking away in thought. "Would you want to come back knowing... knowing..."
"I would...if you wanted me to come back."
"I would be your private whore?"
His face was pained.
"Do not look so hurt." She rolled over onto the edge of the bed, her back to him. His topcoat lay on the floor beside the bed. Reaching under the mattress, she removed a pair of shears. She canted her head, staring at the coat, slipped the scissors under the lowest button, and silently sawed the threads. Grasping the anchor button between her thumb and forefinger, she slipped it and the scissors back under the mattress. "You do not have to pay me."
She sat up and swung her feet to the floor, her hair lay long against her naked back. As she tilted her head up, the hair lowered to her waist. Archie slipped nearer and ran his hand over the straight spine, feeling the smooth, warm skin, the silky hair. Moving closer, he rose behind her and kissed her shoulder.
"Amelia," he said between kisses. "You are a beautiful woman," he continued to kiss her shoulder, her neck, her ear, "I do not know why you have chosen to do this. You would not have a difficulty in finding another husband, surely."
She closed her eyes, savoring the attention. He took her chin and admired the simple beauty of her face. Kissing her lips lightly, he felt her fingers entwining his hair, her lips opening to his as the love hunger overtook the two of them once again.
Passion in the afternoon was glorious. The two were nearly done when he heard a distraction.
"Mr. Kennedy? Mrs. Holly?" called the questioning little voice.
She held him firmly. "Not now," she whispered, "Not yet!"
"Oh God!" he whispered. "Drake! Stay there! I'll be right down. There's a sandwich for you on the table... See the basket? I'll be right there." He looked at her, grinned, and whispered. "Oh yes, I'll be right there."
Drake looked up the stairs and twisted his mouth around, then went to look for the basket. Finding it, he lifted the cloths and picked out a sandwich. A teapot was on the table and he poured a cup of the contents, helping himself to milk and sugar. Climbing onto a chair, he sat and ate alone. He was still eating part of the sandwich when Archie came down the stairs.
"Well, Drake! You look refreshed from your nap!" he commented cheerily.
The boy studied the officer. "Your stock is crooked, sir."
"Is it?" Kennedy pulled at the knotted neck wear. "Is that better?"
Drake looked at him long. "Yes, sir. Your face is red."
Kennedy smiled crookedly. "It must be that Gibraltar sun! Tea good?"
"Mmm hm," answered Drake, his mouth full.
Kennedy pulled up a chair and fished out the remaining sandwiches for him and Amelia, then, poured them both a cup of tea.
"Where is she?" asked Drake.
"Oh, she will be here in a moment."
"What were you doing?"
"Um...she was showing me a...a..." he motioned over his head, " ...a scarf! Some scarves, rather, that she thought might be a nice gift for ...for you to give Mrs. Hornblower."
"A gift? Why? It isn't her birthday, not until next month. Oh! You want me to get it now and surprise her later?"
"Yes, yes! It's her birthday next month?"
"Yes. Well,... don't you know?" Drake looked at him curiously.
"I...I did not remember it was next month, I thought it was the month after..." he lied.
"I suppose I best remind Mr. H. Did you find one she would like?"
"Hm? Find what?"
Drake put his cup down and studied the officer.
"Oh! The scarf! Well, Mrs. Holly was showing me how...how...."
Amelia descended the stairs, pinning her hair up as she came down.
Archie stared and called "Don't!"
Drake looked from one to the other. Mrs. Holly's face was as deeply pinked as Mr. Kennedy's and possibly going pinker.
"What, Mr. Kennedy?" she asked, startled by his admonition.
He stood up straight. "Don't...don't put your hair back
up yet. I...I w...was telling Drake about the scarves you were
showing me for...for my friend's wife...and..."
Kennedy's voice had gotten slower and softer as he spoke and Drake looked back at Kennedy caught in mid speech. What was it about women that did this to men, he wondered. She seemed as immobile as the officer, briefly, but then continued to pin her hair in place.
Amelia noted that Drake was staring at her chest. She looked down and saw the skin was flushed, and quickly covered it with her hand. "It is warm in here, is it not?" she asked. Striding to the back door, she unlocked and opened it, breathed deeply, then, turned.
Kennedy was still standing. She stared for a moment then came to sit with them. Kennedy lowered into the chair slowly.
"Thank you for lunch, Mrs. Holly. It's good, isn't it Drake?"
"Yes, sir. Thank you. I was quite hungry. May I have another cup of tea, ma'am?" Drake looked up from the sandwich to see each caught in the gaze of the other. He sighed and shook his head.
Admiralty offices were his least favorite place, though to be gone from the blockade of Toulon, he would suffer fools gladly. Pellew thumbed over the most recent Naval Chronicle whilst he waited. It was a month old. Would communications ever be quicker? He supposed not. The telegraph at home was about as quick as they could be and no such apparatus could be used through enemy territory, for England's advantage anyway. He sighed.
It was Hale.
"Sir?" He stood.
"Come in, Sir Edward. You've been on quite an extended absence!"
Pellew's eyebrow rose automatically, leaving him speechless, and he entered the offices of the Admiral. Was he to be blamed for Lord Keith's insistence on keeping him in the Med?
"Shut the door after you, sir," ordered Hale.
"Yes, my Lord." Doing so, Pellew next took the seat indicated by the superior officer.
Hale sat with a sigh and sized up the frigate commander. "I know about the incident with Brecon and Hornblower." Hale squinted his eyes narrowly. "That pup is quite ambitious, is he not? Going off without consulting you, trying to take that French sloop? Damned lucky Brecon could get him out of that French prison. The man's record is full of such hare-brained adventures. What are you teaching him, Sir Edward? His name seems to be crossing my desk with regularity. I expect Lord Nelson informed you of the international incident he nearly precipitated in the Two Sicilies last July?" Hale peered at him over the pince-nez perched on the bridge of his nose.
Pellew felt his face red as fire. Getting a dressing down about Hornblower's summer exploits was not the confrontation he expected. Hale was lifting sheaf after sheaf, raising an eyebrow. It distracted Pellew further from the thoughtful answer he felt the question required.
"Good Lord! Two ships exploded and burned. Was he the one in command of that prize you brought in last May? Two ships destroyed that might have been taken for His Majesty's use. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk"
"I take it you refer to Kaliakra and Magie Noir. The destruction of Kaliakra was my idea, sir, to preserve Indefatigable. We were stretched beyond limit with the crew spread between three vessels, sir. Magie Noir was a ... casualty of the incident, not a prize. She was destroyed due to her proximity to Kaliakra." He paused then added. "Mr. Hornblower is also the man that found the French dispatches for Admiral Jervis last May," informed Pellew pointedly, holding up a defense. Did he need one?
Hale met his gaze blankly, removed his eyeglasses, leaned back in his chair, and tapped his lips with the pince-nez. "Is this man a loose cannon, Captain Pellew?"
"I do not consider him such, my Lord. He is quick thinking and takes initiative. Qualities I believe a mark ... of leadership, sir."
"Hm." Hale leaned forward and lifted several more sheets of paper.
Pellew, too, leaned forward frowning, attempting to read upside down and peering at what the Admiral held. Was this Hornblower's entire service record?
"Oh! He's the one that disappeared with our dispatches a few years back. Something about a duchess, a French prize he took that was then taken from him by the Spanish." He clicked his tongue. "Rescued some Spanish sailors and got himself released from prison." Two bushy eyebrows raised above the pince-nez.
"And the men that were with him," added Pellew.
"Hm." He shuffled through the reports. "That fire ship incident! How could I forget that? Foster and Hammond nearly did each other in over that one, damn fools!" muttered Hale. "Why should I be surprised your man was somehow involved?"
Pellew was feeling a mild confusion. What could he expect from Hale? He had him feeling defensive for Hornblower, yet agreeing with him over the two blustery brother Captains.
Hale shuffled the papers finding the bottom sheet. "Son of a doctor, eh? Dueling, Sir Edward? Is the man a hothead? Keene's got a report of a dueling incident while a midshipman on Justinian."
"I do not encourage it, sir!" Pellew came to his feet.
"Hm, Keene speaks of his loyalty in the next breath," muttered Hale.
"What is the point of all this?" queried Pellew. "Are you considering a promotion for the man? If so, there is not another officer I would praise more highly than Leftenant Hornblower."
Hale leaned back in the chair and studied the prize winning Captain before him. "Calm down, Sir Edward. I know how you are about your young pups. Sit down," he motioned with the spectacles in his hand. Leaning back to the desk, Hale lifted the considerable mound of paper and fanned it. "Look at this." There were a good number sheets of paper. "The man has only been in the service six years. His record reads like....Nelson's nearly....at least in volume, anyway! What is he, your second in command? Look at this!"
"As I said, sir, he has a lot of initiative."
"Initiative? Ha! Is that what you call it? The man has done more in six years than some have done in sixty!"
Pellew considered what Hale was saying, feeling a pride he did not know possible. *Dr. Hornblower has a fine son. If he were mine, I....* he let the thought die to give Hale's speech his attention.
"Hornblower, Hornblower, Hornblower. Every time I turn around, this man's name is sliding across my desk. That confidential report was the final straw, Pellew." Hale shuffled through the papers. "That one name appearing in consort with French Directorie dispatches, their Catholic majesties in Madrid, King Ferdinand of the Two Sicilies and Admiral Nelson. Oh yes, and somehow his name has become linked with an American export company. That has got to be the oddest of the lot. I've not figured that one out yet, but since we are not currently in conflict with our old colonies, I have not given it much thought! What the devil is the man doing? Is he really working with Brecon's ilk?"
Pellew blinked astounded at the assumption. Suddenly, he wanted to laugh, and he turned away from Hale. He recalled his own amazement the night he saw Hornblower at the wheel of the fire ship. The man had just rescued the fleet with much needed supplies and there he was at the helm of a ship afire, doing his best to save the British warships at anchor in Gibraltar! Regaining his composure, he replied.
"Mr. Hornblower is not a spy, if that is your question. He ... he is a born leader, that strives to do his duty to the best of his abilities. His men love him." He heard Pamela's voice echoing in his head as he said it. "Not a word was spoken against him over the French fiasco that landed the lot of them in prison. There is not a braver, more conscientious man in his majesty's navy, Lord Hale. I would not want to lose him. But, when the time comes for him to command his own ship, I have no doubt that he will serve our country and our king with distinction, and his men will pledge him their lives."
Hale was leaning back in his chair thoughtfully listening to the sea officer. The silence lasted for moments. Was there to be further converse over the second leftenant? He thought and recollected further ammunition to broadside any attempts to blackball the man.
"Pellew...they need you cruising off the coast of France. You know you are going back to England. Then, you will be sent to your old stomping grounds."
"Yes, sir." He was relieved. Apparently the discussion of Hornblower was over. It was the recurrence of his name, as the Admiral said, that brought about the inquiry. "I have my orders. They have not been altered, my Lord?"
"No, not really." Hale shuffled Hornblower's records into a neat pile and shoved them into a folder. He opened another. "We've a cargo for you...of sorts."
Pellew perked his ears. What was coming now?
"Well, ... passengers, actually. Another damn puzzle, this." Hale shook his head. "All for the best, but I hate damn mysteries!"
"Army man. Turned up here from no where. Last oh.... July, I think, according to the records." He pulled another sheet. "Ah! Yes. Lord Edrington. Major. Ninety-fifth foot. It seems last June and July we had three men mysteriously appear on the doorsteps of the hospital! Damned odd!" He chuckled. "I'm surprised your man Hornblower is not some how involved in it! Eh, what?" The admiral laughed. "Oh, I don't even want to think about this one! Appearing, disappearing! Let the army worry with him. Though the man is a peer! And, that's why you are carting him back to England. His servant is traveling with him. You've got room for two more haven't you?"
Could he believe his ears? Lord Edrington back aboard Indefatigable? He was getting to be as regular as Mrs. Hornblower. *Perhaps Kennedy was right in teaching him navigation, and he was bound for a posting, accepting or not!* thought Pellew, recalling the major's quip when departing last August. *Why the devil is the man not already returned to England? At least Pamela will not be there to create tension between him and Hornblower. What's it been? Six weeks or more?* Pellew sighed. "Where is Lord Edrington, Admiral Hale? When are we expected to sail?"
"I'll send a man round to Edrington to let him know his transport is here. Do you know his lordship?"
"The man is not unknown to me. He was involved in that Muzillac affair in ninety-eight." Pellew had a feeling Edrington had kept his French connection a secret and decided it best not to reveal their recent acquaintance. "I expect we will not be leaving, at least until tomorrow?"
"You are in a hurry! Tired of sitting about, Sir Edward? That Toulon duty put a bit of a crimp in your prize taking, eh? Plan to stay another day. You and his Lordship are expected for dinner tomorrow evening. That is the rest of the note to Edrington. Maybe he can shed some light on the magician's act. I confess, I am curious. Oh, bring Hornblower with you," he added. "Then, I will have a face to go with the name next time he glides across my desk." Hale smiled and motioned with his hand. "I will send you notice to remind you."
"Yes, sir." Suddenly, he felt he needed to see Edrington before tomorrow. There were too many things that might slip. Obviously, Brecon saw fit to leave the major's name out of the confidential reports or Hale would have said as much. They would all need to get their stories straight, or avoid them all together. What would the major say about how he came to be in Gibraltar? That a Hornblower had something to do with Edrington's appearance at hospital was too close to the truth. Brecon wanted Maria's identity kept secret. "Where is Edrington billeted, your Lordship?"
"Well, sir, it would be helpful to know if he has that horse with him this time." That seemed as good an excuse as any to seek him out before tomorrow's soiree.
"An equestrian, is he? Well, that's an army man for you. Dodd knows. Come." Hale preceded Pellew into the ante room. "Leftenant Dodd, where is that army chap staying that Pellew is taking back to England?"
"The King and Crown Inn, sir."
"There you go. King and Crown. Poshest Inn on the Rock.
Should have guessed it!"
"Thank you, sir." Pellew bowed. "Until tomorrow."
"Until then, Sir Edward," agreed Hale.
Exiting the Admiralty offices, Pellew breathed a long sigh.
With the luggage sitting at his feet, Horatio stared at the structure that housed his wife. Most likely his son would be born here. It was a great piece of luck that a mid-wife lived next door. That gave some peace of mind. Pamela knew the doctor in charge of the hospital, too. The knowledge would have to suffice. These next few hours might be the last he would see her for months, possibly not again before the child was born. Thanksgiving rose in his heart to his captain, the crew, the fates, whomever, and whatever, had given them the past weeks together.
"A penny for your thoughts?" asked Pamela.
He sighed and looked into her eyes. "It seems odd being here again. I have not been home to see my father for some time and now this." He motioned towards the house. "A home in Gibraltar. It even sounds strange to say. Almost unreal." A strand of hair blew onto her cheek. Reaching, he held it back. How many times had her hair afforded him an excuse to touch her? The wind was a marvelous friend. The skin was warm, but he saw her shiver with his touch. It gladdened his heart and he smiled.
She smiled back. "I guess we best go in," she sighed. The door knob twisted in her palm.
Without warning, the thought struck him and she was in his arms.
"What are you doing, Horatio?" she laughed.
"Carrying my bride over the threshold." He pushed the door open with his foot.
Removing his hat, she stroked his curls. "I married a romantic!"
"I can be nothing else when it comes to you," he replied as he let her down. "Maria! We're home!" he called.
"Mr. Hornblower! Mrs. Hornblower!" Maria emerged from the back of the house and squealed, launching into a cascade of Andalusian Spanish glee, flapping her skirts. "I cannot believe it! Mira! Look at you!" She patted Pamela's tummy. "It is going to be a boy! Oh, si, un nino, certain sure!" She laughed and hugged Pamela. "I am so happy to see you!" She curtsied for Hornblower. "Mr. Hornblower, sir!"
"Maria! It is good to see you, too!" said Pamela, happily.
"I did not know if you would ever come! I have kept the house ready for you. The beds are made. The floors are cleaned. Mr. Carden and Manuel have tended the garden."
"They've done a marvelous job! The flowers look beautiful!"
"Mr. Carden has only one thumb, but it is a green thumb!" grinned Maria. "That man could get a shoe to grow!"
"Then, you all made it back safely," observed Hornblower.
"Well, ...yes. It took rather a long time, but yes, we are all here. Don't ask." She thought it not the best idea to tell them the major was still in Gibraltar. "I have not been to market! There is a little roast lamb left from yesterday. This is Carden's night at the pub, so I did not plan to prepare a meal today. In truth, I was about to leave, ma'am, but if you want me to stay, I will."
"No, Maria. You go on. We can talk tomorrow or the next day. Mr. Hornblower and I will be fine."
"You are sure?"
She smiled. "All right, Miss Pamela." Holding Pamela's hands, she leaned and kissed her cheek.
"It is good to be home," said Pamela.
"I will take some water upstairs. Oh! You will want to bathe after being on that ship so many weeks without a proper bath. I will tell Carden to heat the water right now. Excuse me." With that she whirled away.
The contrast of this meeting to the first one with the woman was like night and day. When you threw in what you knew about her secret life, the entire scene seemed incredibly strange. That she could change from servant to commander to confidant so easily baffled Hornblower. He did not know if he could switch roles so easily. Perhaps it was because she was a woman.
Pamela sucked a breath. "Oh! Maria! I need to send a note. Is Manuel here?"
"I get him for you! He is with Carden!" she called from the back of the house.
"Who are you sending a note? We have barely walked in the door."
She grabbed his hand and tugged him into the parlor. Grinning and biting her lower lip, she seemed happy and nervous.
"What are you up to?" He could not help but mirror her mirth.
"I've something for you. It is sort of a birthday present, but not, because it's so late. Or, a Christmas present, because I do not know where you will be for Christmas, or,... or just a gift, because I love you, and I do so hope you will like it."
"You do not need to give me gifts, my love."
Going to the desk, she pulled open a drawer and removed a rectangle of wood, about twelve by nine inches in size, that was hinged at the top. She held it out to him. "I hope you like it."
Taking a step towards her, he took it into his hand.
"Open it," she urged.
"It's a bit heavy." He stared at it curiously. The wood was mahogany and varnished to a glossy finish. He glanced at Pamela and then lifted the top flap. It was a frame, and inside the frame was set a portrait of her from the waist up. She was dressed in the rose gown she had worn the day they landed in Gibraltar last time, Horatio's favorite, with the off white lace around the neckline and three quarter sleeves. Her cheeks were rosy, her full lips looking freshly moistened, slightly upturned, her dark eyes full of merriment, her hair framing her face with soft spiraling curls. His face became serious as he gazed at the picture of the woman he loved. "Pamela....I..." he stared at the twin of the portrait, the true image, and was speechless.
The smile sank from her visage. "You do not like it? Or is it me? Have I become too fat with child? Are you remembering me as I was and disliking me as I am?"
He lay the frame on the chair and took her into his embrace. "No, you! I love the portrait! I love you! It is the finest gift I have ever been given! And the most precious next to the real thing." He held her tightly and she looped her arms around his back, holding his shoulders. He released her to see her face. "It is exactly like you, my little American wife," he stated softly. "I shall treasure it as I do you."
"You treasure me?"
"You like hearing me say it. Yes, I treasure you."
"Did you want me, Senora Hornblower?" asked Manuel.
The two released as she exclaimed. "Yes! Yes!" She pulled a sealed note from the letter slot in the desk. "Take this note to Mr. Deluca. You know where, Manuel. As quick as you can! And wait for an answer! Better yet, bring him!"
"Si, Senora!" The boy trotted out of the room and the front door slammed behind him.
"What is this about?" chuckled Hornblower. "You already had a note written?"
"Indeed, I did! I know my husband is a busy man! Time and tide do not wait and neither do I. I've had that note written since last July!" She was at her desk again, and pulled a clothing brush from the drawer. She began to use it on Hornblower's top coat, swishing it over his shoulders in short strokes, then down.
He looked over his shoulder at her brushing his back. "What the devil are you doing?"
"I'm cleaning your uniform."
"Why? Why did you want me to wear my dress uniform anyway? You did not answer me this morning. Ow!" He turned and grabbed the hand with the brush.
"I'm sorry! Was I too hard?"
He laughed. "What scheme have you concocted, Mrs. Hornblower and who is Mr. Deluca?"
"He is the man that did my portrait and he is going to do one of you. It is all arranged. I've already given him a retainer. He has to come. He just has to." She began to brush his back again.
"Is he going to paint me from the back?"
She giggled shyly and stared into his brown eyes. "I did not think of that." Grinning, she stood in front of him, doing short sweeping strokes atop his shoulders, then tugging the brush down the side flaps of the topcoat.
"Ow! You're the devil with that brush to hand!" She lifted his arm and brushed forcefully down the fabric. "Am I that...that... mussed? I'm beginning to feel like a horse." He jerked. "That tickles!" She raised the other arm. "Enough!" He grabbed her and held her in his arms. "Mrs. Hornblower. I do not like bursting your bubble, but I doubt there will be time for him to do a portrait of me. I would rather spend the time with you than some Italian artist."
"You are the sweetest man!" She pushed out of his arms and resumed brushing the coat and brushed the fronts of his legs. "How did you know he was Italian?"
"Ahem!" he cleared his throat, took her hand, and removed the brush from it.
"Horatio!" she whined.
"Stop." He placed the brush on the table. "I am going to get your things we left on the stoop."
Entering the hallway, he saw Carden coming in the door with the cases, his duffel, and Drake's draw string bag on his shoulder.
"How do, Mr. Hornblower? Good ta see ye, sir. Mrs. Hornblower." Carden raised an eyebrow at the very visible child growing within her and felt a certain satisfaction that the circumstance of her condition would preclude any more jaunts.
"Carden! Let me give you a hand with that!" stated Hornblower.
"I've got one, sir," he grinned. "I make do pretty well with it, too."
Hornblower felt flustered and let the man take the things upstairs. Turning, he saw Pamela framed in the doorway, the brush to hand.
"I do not need anymore brushing. My coat is shiny and clean enough. Thank the Lord you haven't a curry comb!" He backed her into the room and stared down into her face, fighting a grin. He shook his head. "You really expect this man to come?"
"Yes! He will!"
"On short notice?"
"Yes!" she affirmed.
He picked up the framed picture and stared at the image. "He's done you justice, my dear. Even to catch that calculating glint in your eye." He smiled, and she hit him in the arm. "How did you find him?"
"He was completing the painting of a Captain one afternoon down by the harbor. It was a lovely piece with the man's ship in the background. I think his name was Foster, Captain Foster."
Hornblower's face became very serious. "Did he bother you?"
Her jaw dropped, amazed. "Do not tell me you know the man?"
Hornblower twisted his mouth and looked askance. "Did he have a scar, just here?" He traced down from his left eye to his cheek. From the look on her face, he knew. "Pamela!"
"I did nothing! The man was a pompous... Not at all to my liking. You need not fear. You need never fear."
Hornblower shook his head wondering if Drake were going to be enough of a deterrent for her, or any suitors that might arise. "It is not you that concerns me, but them," he remarked pointedly. "You don't know them like I do." He huffed a sigh. "Foster, in particular, takes...what he wants. Stay away from him."
"Darling." She leaned against and held his arm. "I love only you. I want only you."
He placed his hand over hers, squeezed it, and kissed her forehead. "Just ... be careful."
Maria came to inform them the bath tub was nearly full and to inquire a last time whether she was needed. Hornblower reiterated the two of them could manage and remembered to inform her of Dr. Sebastian's invitation to dinner. Unfortunately, for Dr. Sebastian, Maria had a prior commitment. Her tone was decidedly disappointed, as he would be when he arrived and found her gone.
Pellew climbed the interior stairs of the King and Crown Inn. Number one was the room he sought, one floor above reception. The deep purple and gold threads of the carpet runner, coloring a design of broad palm fronds on the corridor floor, had a thick pile, and he moved across it with ease.
Three short raps upon the door sounded flat with so much sound absorbing material. Pellew waited, nervously making patter sounds with his lips.
The door opened. The servant standing in the opening was dressed neatly in a light satin blue brocade waistcoat beneath a dark blue coat. The trousers were of the same fabric. His shirt was crisply starched and white and a pale blue cloth wrapped his neck. His gray eyes were accented by graying temples and the paper white skin that seldom ventured out of doors. His attitude was haughty and he seemed to personify the hotel with perfection.
"Yes?" he hissed slowly.
"Captain Pellew to see Lord Edrington."
"Is he expecting you?"
"No, but if you damn well want passage on my ship you will tell him I am here." Was this cockalorum to be abided? He found it hard to believe this man worked for Edrington. Though the major was well set in his inheritance, Pellew did not expect to see it displayed here and by a haughty servant.
The man drew back in shock. "I beg your pardon!" he delivered with offense.
"Who is it, Mr. Ridley?" Edrington approached the door and his voice sounded louder as he neared. Seeing Pellew standing there, his face broke into recognition. "Captain Pellew! By God! It is good to see you!" Edrington extended his hand for a shake and pulled the officer into his rooms at the same time. "Damn me, you're the last person I expected at my door!"
"My Lord!" Pellew's lips twitched back the smile of surprise that the peer would greet him so warmly.
"So you are here! I did not think to see you again."
"Nor I you, my Lord!"
"Dash it, I am pleased!" Edrington glimpsed the haughty Ridley. "Excuse me, Captain." He addressed the man. "That will be all, Mr.Ridley. Thank you for answering the door. I will take all the items we discussed." Edrington shoveled some papers into a leather folder and handed it to the man.
"As you wish, my Lord," he said insipidly. And with his nose still pointed somewhat skyward, he departed.
Edrington shut the door after him, and leaned against it briefly with a sigh. The major wore a black and hunter's green brocade dressing gown over brown trousers, and he was barefooted. His hair was neatly queued and tied with a black ribbon. "Forgive me, Sir Edward, that was my clothier."
"Not at all, my Lord. I fear I mistook him for a servant of yours. I was a bit gruff with the man."
"Pish posh, Captain. I am paying him enough for his services. He will get over it. My valet failed to ascertain my utter lack of proper clothing when I wrote requesting he bring a replacement uniform. Gibraltar has nothing that would do for regimentals." The major was speaking rapidly and nervously. He ran his hand over his head, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. "Is all well?"
Pellew's visage became somber. "We suffered the loss of Leftenant McMasters about a week ago. He was killed during a sea battle."
"I offer my condolences. Mr. McMasters was indeed a fine man, though I knew him only briefly. But..." he appeared anxious, "...all others are well?"
"We lost a gunner. Cartwright. He will be missed assuredly."
Edrington closed his eyes, barely maintaining composure. "Captain Pellew," he said with exasperation, "Do not make me go through your entire compliment of men. Are the Hornblower's well?"
Pellew could not stop the wry smile taking his lips, "Mr. Hornblower and his wife are fine, and she is more in evidence of their impending great joy."
Edrington blinked repeatedly, his chest rising with air, and a smile. "Good. Tis good news, indeed....a relief." He looked up shyly, and offered an explanation. "I...on the return trip, we rejoined the vessel that originally delivered us to France. I continued with Mrs. Orrego, ...Maria and her compatriots. Only Carden returned to Gibraltar aboard the Eagle. The ship we transferred to became involved with some privateers. I can say no more, you understand, but I knew the brigands were operating ... well, damn me... I'd been concerned...for ... for your return. We've barely been back a month, you see. And..." he sucked in a breath and ceased the chatter. The woman made him a fool. What must the sea captain think?
Edrington bowed his head and muttered lowly, "God forgive me! I thought once she was out of sight, she would be out of mind." He looked at the ceiling and laughed, quieted, and tensed the muscles of his cheeks. Looking hopefully at the naval captain, he sought a sage word of advice but received none. "What brings you, Captain? How did you know I was here?"
"Admiral Hale. I am your ticket home."
Edrington's lips parted in a mask of concern. "But..." he shook his head. "Do not take this wrong, Captain, but why you? There must be another ship going to England. I...I do not know that traveling with Mr. Hornblower would be the wisest choice."
"Oh, it is very wise, my Lord. You must come with us. Mr. Hornblower will learn you are still here...and that will not be good. The man is human after all, even I know that. You are coming with us. Rest assured."
"But I could avoid being seen until you leave, or I do. There must be other ships!"
Pellew shook his head, lips tightly pinched. "We are dining with Admiral Hale tomorrow evening. You, myself, and Hornblower. You see. It will be for the best. Mr. Hornblower will behave where you are concerned, believe me."
"I need a brandy. Would you like one, sir?" The thought of being around Hornblower and stifling his feelings for her...could he do it again? Just knowing she inhabited the same community as he, set his nerves on edge. He desired to see her, needed to see her. He should berate himself for his weakness. She was not his; she belonged to another.
"Yes, thank you." Pellew sighed and sat down on the stiff upholstered sofa. He frowned at the discomfort of the formal seating and decided to stand.
"Don't sit on that damned rock hard sofa. Take the chair by the window. It is far more comfortable," called Edrington from the side table. "Here, sir."
"Thank you, my Lord."
The two sipped at the brandy. Edrington stepped to the window and looked out onto the arched drive up to the front of the Inn. The leaves of the few trees were tinged purple with the change of season.
"I feel an utter fool where she is concerned," he confessed. "Mamah would have a cow and my peers would laugh me to scorn." He paused and was silent, then said, "It would be hell for her." Edrington bowed his head. "Captain Pellew. Why am I still in love with her? Why is there such a hole in my life? It is all utterly impossible. Why do my feelings not accept it?"
Pellew sighed long. Another unexpected turn. Was this the day for them? First, Hale in a snit over Hornblower, and now Edrington lovesick for a woman he could not have, should not have, would not ever have.
The major turned and stared at the captain.
"Our hearts seldom listen to logic, Lord Edrington. It is an absurdity to them. If they did, then, falling in love would become as simple as a mathematical equation and the navigation of it would be from here to there and back again. Love is the emotion that says yes, yes, and yes again, and does not hear the reply, nor does it need the question."
Edrington smiled crookedly and felt an odd calm settle over his being. Pellew's statements of the impossible and illogical seemed to grind his warring emotions to a halt. It had to be the benefit of comprehension that love is incomprehensible. "I did not know you were a poet as well as a sea officer, Captain Pellew?"
"You invite answers that only a poet can give, sir. Do not expect it on a regular basis."
"Knowing my state, Captain, if I travel once again on your fine vessel, it will be your call. I will do as you wish. It is not my desire to interfere in Mr. Hornblower's life. If it were up to me, I would prefer to go back to India but ... they are sending me to England." He straightened his shoulders and seemed to wince with the movement. "Damn me." The man had a look of frustration. He bent his left arm and supported it with his right. Frowning, he lifted a sling from underneath a shirt, looped it over his head, and eased his left arm into it. "Blakeney. The doctor at hospital. It is his doing. No, I cannot blame him. I injured the same shoulder. He has ordered three months recuperation and then an evaluation must be given before they will let me return to service. Three months with nothing to do but think." Even now, the prospect of seeing Pamela made his heart quicken within his breast, despite Pellew's words of comfort. But he should not see her, he should not seek her out. Perhaps he would glimpse her saying good-bye to her husband. Would that be enough? There was not enough to be had. What a silly thought!
"Your family will be glad to have you home."
"I have reconciled to it. I will get my bearings there, surely." He had been alone and away from his regiment far too long. His mother would help him get his life in perspective.
"Well, here is another topic for you to worry over, Major. Admiral Hale is sending you an invitation to dinner for tomorrow evening and letting you know I am here to take you to England. He is aware of your...sudden appearance here last July. He intends to hear an explanation. He has also been apprised of Hornblower's capture and rescue from the French. I did not put your name in my report, nor did Brecon, it would seem. I wanted you to know that the subject might be discussed tomorrow evening. Mr. Hornblower's exploits have been noted by the Admiral and he may be asking questions that best go unanswered. He does not know about Mrs. Hornblower, at least not AS Mrs. Hornblower. I imagine she and Mrs. Orrego were given code names by Brecon to protect their identities."
Edrington listened to the long speech intently.
"Mr. Hornblower has managed to get his name linked with a number of notable personalities, shall we say, and Hale has noticed. That is why Hornblower has been invited to dinner tomorrow evening. He wants to put a face with the name. The less said about Toulon, and your part in the rescue, the better."
"I understand, Captain. I would do nothing to compromise Maria, Pamela, or Mr. Hornblower."
Seeing the lovesick major confirmed again the rightness of allowing Pamela to stay aboard after Toulon. Hornblower had been with her longer than Edrington now, and in a far more intimate relationship. Though he never doubted Hornblower's affection for his wife, uncontrollable circumstances had a way of interfering in ways that could lead to the deepest tragedy. Did he not know that first hand?
"You are traveling with a servant?"
"Yes, Bentley. He was waiting for me when I arrived and quite put out that I had disappeared," chuckled Edrington. "He has been with my family for years. I thought Mamah would send one of the boys with my things, but apparently Bentley would have none of it."
"We will be ready for you, sir. If the wind does not change, I plan to leave early Friday morning."
"I will be there, Captain."
Pellew bowed. "Tomorrow, then."
A knock sounded against the thick wooden door. With a glimpse at Pellew, Edrington strode to open it.
A midshipman saluted the major and handed him a note.
"Are you to wait for a reply?" asked the major, taking the missive.
"Very well." Edrington shut the door and looked at Pellew with a smile. "I suppose the Admiral does not take no for an answer?"
"Not very likely, my Lord," replied Pellew. "Speaking of messages, I best inform Hornblower. He will be pleased to know he has one more night with his wife, I am sure. Sorry, my Lord."
"Do not apologize, Captain. It is a fact of life. Would you care to use my writing supplies, sir?"
"That would save a step. May I?"
Edrington motioned to the writing desk. "Be my guest, Captain."
On the floor below them, Daniel Dawson dropped his luggage at his feet. "Mr. Fairweather. I've returned. Is the room I had last time available?"
"Mr. Dawson. Welcome back, sir." Taking a step back, the man surveyed the keys hanging on the pegboard below the counter, then, glimpsed the registry. "It is occupied, I fear. There is another one similar, though on the front of the Inn. Would that do?"
"Yes. Yes. I want a bath and I have need of a laundry. Can you send someone for my things?"
"Of course, sir. When did you wish the bath prepared?"
"As soon as possible. How long on the clothes?"
"I could have them run over today, and possibly, by... tomorrow afternoon...?
"Good. Do it. I need that other case out of storage I left here." He slapped a half crown on the counter. "Give me the key. I can find my own way. Let me know when the bath is drawn. I will have the clothes to be cleaned ready immediately."
"I will send the girl up directly to collect them, sir, and deliver your case. Did you want an evening meal, sir?"
"Yes. Make it for three. I will have guests. "
"In the desk there, sir. Do you need a delivery boy?"
There was one thing Dawson liked about the British. They were punctual, and reliable, for the most part. Sitting heavily, he scratched out a note.
I want you and your husband to have dinner with me tonight. I am at the same inn. I will expect you by seven.
With a sigh, he stopped the folding, opened the paper, read what he wrote, and frowned. He wadded it with one hand. Leaning over the desk, he began again.
Manuel had returned with a note from Deluca saying he could not come that afternoon, but that he would come in the morning for a sitting, claiming the light would be better.
Pamela was upset that he did not come at her beck and call, and it was all Horatio could do to keep her from going to the man's place of business. He calmed her by having Manuel return with a note saying to come in the morning, as he planned to do.
She was positive then that her husband would be staying the night and the next day, that Indefatigable could not possibly sail, and that was that.
Hornblower smiled sadly, acquiescing to his wife's persistence. Why should she not be right? How many times had the two of them prepared for separation and something delayed it every time? He left it open and was prepared to do whatever came, stay or go, though staying was the more preferable outcome.
Besides, they were alone. Alone after so many nights and days with over three hundred men that were celibate. Looking back now, he could see it still made him feel uncomfortable to have when others did not.
"What are you thinking?" she asked, bent forward so he could wash her back.
"How good you feel, all warm and slippery." Inhaling slowly, he added, "How marvelous the perfumes of your bath smell and how much they remind me of you. What are you thinking?"
"Mmm," she moaned. "I am focusing on your every touch, on the warmth of the bath, on the scent, like you, the utter peace and quiet of our home, and how happy I am to have you with me."
He knelt at the tub with his shirt sleeves folded up to his biceps. Taking the rag, he dipped it into the water, then squeezed it over her shoulders, allowing a cascade of water to cleanse away the soap. Once her back was rinsed, he slipped his hands into the bath water, reached around, and tugged her back slowly so as not to slosh. He and the floor were already quite wet. She jumped, causing a rising wave in the tub.
"Sorry," he laughed lightly. The water rose up to the edge but stayed in the confines of the container. "I did not mean to tickle you." He leaned forward and she leaned back, resting her head on his shoulder. Her hair was piled on top of her head, and it tickled his nose as she leaned. Hands still in the water, hers resting atop his, he slipped over her skin to the rounded belly. He stroked her stretched tummy and leaned his cheek against hers. "I love you, Mrs. Hornblower," he said softly and quietly.
She turned her face and he his, slipping their lips to meet each other. A kiss.
"Take your clothes off and get in the tub with me," she whispered, lips touching his as she spoke it. She could feel the smile form.
"My shameless wife," he said quietly, kissing her lips. "We will displace most of the water," he grinned, still talking quietly.
She laughed briefly, deep in her chest, still with lips near his. She opened her eyes. So close, he was more out of focus than in. "We are not a ship." Her voice was lower, sultry and delicate, the consonants of the letters softly precise against his lips, sensual in his hearing. "I do not care how much water we displace. Nor do I care how wet we get the floor."
He kissed her again letting his hands roam the warm, wet, silky body. He inhaled and exhaled slowly considering the idea, then ended the kiss. Standing, he unbuttoned his waistcoat.
Her eyes watched him, lowered and lowered, and returned to his. Her lips parted and she moistened them.
He grinned and shook his head. "I do not need anymore encouragement."
He pulled the shirt off over his head. About to slip off his shoes, he said, "Let me get the last kettle of hot water. I will be right back." He closed the door to the bathing room across from the kitchen. It was only a few steps to enter that room. The kettle sat on the stove with steam rising from the spout. About to grab its handle with a towel, Hornblower became aware of Carden sitting at the kitchen table.
"Carden! You nearly scared the life out of me! I thought you had gone to the pub?"
"About to go, sir, but every time I started off, a runner come. I did not want to disturb you and the misses."
"Aye. Ye've got two letters here, sir. One to you, one
to Mrs. Hornblower.
I wondered if you needed anything else before I left."
"No, ... thank you," said Hornblower. The writing was Pellew's. *Damn!* he thought. He broke the seal and read rapidly.
"Aye, aye, sir." Carden saluted, rose, and stepped out the back door.
A wry wondrous smile overtook his features. He was staying, tonight and possibly tomorrow night, though he would be gone for dinner. The note went on about Hale and dinner and that they would probably sail Friday morning. *Two nights and all day tomorrow,* he thought. "God bless you, Captain Pellew," he said quietly.
Hornblower heard Carden leave. He shut the inner back door and slid the bolt over. Looking down the corridor to the front door, he decided to check to see it was locked. Everything was locked. They were alone. What they were about to do, he had never heard done before. They were married, yet it still seemed a shameful thing in which to engage. He raised his eyebrows in expectation, and smiled crookedly. With a deep breath he returned to the bathing room with the kettle.
She was turned, with her arm on the edge of the wash tub, resting her chin.
"What took you so long? What... what have you got?" She felt her heart skip a beat at the paper in his hand.
"Carden was in the kitchen. He was waiting to give me these. He's gone now....and I've locked the doors."
"Horatio..." she said worriedly.
"Friday," he assured.
She squealed and sloshed the water. "I love Captain Pellew! I am going to give the Captain the biggest, wettest kiss when I see him!'
"Here. This is addressed to you."
She took the letter and stared. "My uncle."
"Well, open it. What does he say?" He poured the hot water carefully, then knelt, putting a hand in and swirling the water gently.
She broke the seal hesitantly, unfolded the paper slowly, and read, silently.
He watched her eyes glide back and forth over the lines, then gently took a submerged foot, washing and massaging. He smiled. This would be a picture he could carry to imagine when she received a letter from him. Finding the other foot, he gave it the same soft attention, and he waited.
My dear Pamela,
I hope you have found your home safe as you left it. I am pleased that we have completed the journey together, so to speak, and safely, though I can see your concern about piracy is not unfounded. Perhaps it is best that you remain here for a time, at least, until you are delivered of the child. I confess, my dear, I look on the birth with expectation. I know James would have been elated at the prospect of being a grandfather. I hope you might afford me that relationship with the child, but we can speak of that later.
I am staying at the King and Crown in room number eight. If you will recall, the inn has a passing fine table. I would count it an honor if you and your husband would dine with me this evening around seven, if that is not inconvenient. I will send a carriage in the hopes your answer will be yes. I would like an opportunity to get to know my nephew-in-law. He seems to be a fine young man. If I must be reconciled to the British, it may as well be one that rescued the daughter I never had. I know I cannot replace James, but I pray you will look upon me with a kinder eye, Pamela.
I look forward to seeing you for dinner.
She blinked. Stared at the long letter. Peered at the signature, then shook her head. "I cannot think about this now."
"What does he say?" He ran his hand along her calf, back and forth.
"He wants us to come to dinner at the King and Crown at seven."
"Two hours. We still have time." He took the letter from her hand.
"You want to go?" She still leaned against the tub edge.
"He is your family, Pamela." He kissed her forehead.
Was the mood gone?
"Have you changed your mind?"
"You are an angel." She cupped his chin. "How will I live without your touch, without your care, without your kiss? No one has ever washed my feet before."
She noticed. He was deeply satisfied. Standing, he stepped out of his shoes and removed the rest of his clothes.
"Oh, Lord, Mr. Hornblower! Sit in front of me and I will wash your back."
"You want me to put my back to a lady?" he teased, stepping into the water.
"Just for a little while," she answered slyly. "Our boy is not so big, I cannot reach his da's..."
"Pamela!" he laughed shockingly.
She giggled. "You're so conventional!"
He laughed, and twisting quickly, he pulled her into an embrace across his torso. The water splashed upon the floor. "I'll show you conventional."
The two were full of smiles. Her warm wet body against his, his face slowly became serious as he bent for a kiss.
Carden was happily walking down the shale covered lane on the way to his favorite pub. It was Wednesday night and they did this really yummy Barley-Broth with hunks of meaty lamb, chunks of carrot, celery, onion, peas, and turnip. The lady of the pub had acquired the skills and knowledge to make a French baguette and these two items in combination were like heaven on earth to the one-armed sailor. His mouth watered just thinking on it. And a pudding! With the return of Mr. and Mrs. Hornblower he might do a bit of celebrating and have a portion of Jam Roly-Poly with Custard Sauce. He grinned, smacked his lips and swallowed. All of it washed down with a favorite pint or three!
"Ah!" he smacked. Still grinning with the anticipated meal, he saw two figures approaching, one tall, one small. He studied them as they drew closer. The tall one was an officer, but he could not make out facial features in the evening twilight. It was not that late, but with winter solstice slowly approaching the days were shorter.
At last, he stopped in the lane and waited for the officer to come to him.
"Mr. Kennedy! Drake! What the devil? Which one o' you has jumped ship? Or is it both?" he teased.
Kennedy laughed and seemed inordinately cheerful. "Carden, old man! Good to see you again! Do not tell me they did not tell you?"
"Who tell me what? Mr. Hornblower?"
"Yes. Drake is to live with Mrs. Hornblower for a while."
"He is? Naw, they d'int say a word." Carden clucked his tongue and bent low to Drake. "Don't ye mind 'em none, Drake. Them two is still so in love they got neither eyes nor ears for nobody but each other."
Drake grinned. "I know. It's all right. Where are you going?"
Carden leaned back and patted his stomach with the only hand he had. "Dinner. This here pub, Mr. Kennedy, Drake, has THE best Barley-Broth has ever sailed past the lips o'man! Care to join me? They've got a right good Jam Roly-Poly, too, with Custard Sauce."
Kennedy laughed at the description. "It has not been that long since we ate, Carden."
"Yes, it has! At least two hours, Mr. Kennedy! He's had me at work, Mr. Carden, buyin' duds and shoes. Looky here!" exclaimed Drake, holding his foot out.
"Ha!" said Carden, bending to look at the new shoes.
"What kind of Jam, Mr. Carden?"
"She does Strawberry and Rasberry, Drake! Mmm. My mouths a waterin' just sayin' it!"
Kennedy grinned. "I think we best let Mr. Hornblower know where we are, Drake, Mrs. Hornblower might worry." He glimpsed Carden's scrunched nose and slight shake of the head. "Carden?"
"Um. Well. They might be a bit busy just now, sir."
Kennedy's eyebrows rose. "Oh. I see." Kennedy shifted the packages he carried and saw Drake's hopeful expression. "Jam Roly Poly, eh? Let's work it this way, a command decision, as it were. Sir Drake, you accompany Mr. Carden for dinner, and I will take the purchases to the house and tell Mr. Hornblower where you are."
"That'll work, sir. I'll see ye safely home wi'me, Drake," offered Carden.
Kennedy slipped a half crown into Carden's palm. "Take good care of the Captain's god-son, Mr. Carden."
Amazement flooded Carden's face. "Ye don't say? Will do, Mr. Kennedy."
Kennedy bent and smiled at Drake. "You will be all right?"
"Give me your packages, then," smiled Kennedy. "I had a grand time with you today, Sir Drake."
"And I with you, sir. Don't forget my sword," he whispered.
"I will not, Sir knight."
Carden tucked the coin in his pocket and took Drake's hand. "We'll be fine, Mr. Kennedy."
Kennedy stood in the road and watched them. Drake turned and waved and Kennedy nodded a reply.
It was about a mile further to the townhouse. Kennedy traveled at a slow pace, adjusting the numerous packets he carried, and thought about Mrs. Holly. She was a strange woman, seeming very prim and proper, a reputable shop-keeper, but....his body told him he had not dreamed what took place. Inhaling slowly, he relived the time with her that afternoon. She was older but not that much older.
What a thing for her to say! That she would be "his private whore." It rather ruined the moment. She did not tell him not to visit again. Oh, it was a moot point. Captain Pellew was anxious to get back to sea. At the latest, they would probably sail in the morning. Maybe he would see her again, maybe he would not. Should he, if she felt that way? Clearly if the relationship were more than merely physical, he should not have let his primal urges have sway, but...she wanted him. It was like opening the door of a sweets shop and saying to a child, help yourself. Would the child refuse? No. Neither had he, and despite her jarring question, she had been very sweet and an enjoyable love partner. At any rate, it was too late now. What was done, was done. It could not be taken back....twice at that. He smiled to himself and sighed.
Kennedy stopped and stared at the townhouse. This seemed to be it. He recalled the appearance from the time he and Natalie came to tea so many weeks ago. How was Natalie, he wondered? He had received four letters from her. Two from Gibraltar, one at sea en route to Greece, and one from Athens. He had not heard from her again. But then, he failed to answer her last letter. He twisted his mouth. He should answer, he supposed.
Stepping up to the door, he lifted the knocker three times. He shifted the packages in his arms. Someone was coming. He could hear footsteps. The bolt slid back and the door opened.
"Archie! What's all this? You are heavy laden!" grinned Hornblower. "Come in. I thought you were the coachman. Where is Drake?" Hornblower relieved Kennedy of teetering packages.
"Coachman? You're expecting a coachman? He went to dinner with Carden. Met him on the road. Where are you going?" Archie kicked the door closed gently.
"Bring these up, eh?" asked Hornblower, looking over his shoulder and taking the stairs. Hornblower wore a clean shirt but his braces hung down on either side of his hips.
"I say, Horatio, you smell... quite lovely."
"Don't start with me, Archie."
"I was merely making an observation. Is this Pamela's doing? I mean..."
"Stop while your ahead, Kennedy," ordered Hornblower. "Damn. You're right. I told her, but... Damn."
Hornblower led Kennedy to the back bedroom with the two twin beds and dumped his armload of packages onto the closest one.
"Sit down," ordered Hornblower. He pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it onto the bed, then poured a basin of water. "I'll be right back."
Taking quick long strides, Hornblower opened the door to the front bedroom and entered. Kennedy could hear the two of them speaking, but could not quite make out the words, then Pamela laughed. Hornblower returned grinning, with a bar of soap, a towel, a rag, and another clean shirt. He shoved the soap under Archie's nose.
"Definitely a more manly scent, sir." Archie looked at the far closed bedroom door then lay back on the packages and chuckled.
Hornblower tucked the towel in the waist band of his trousers, wet the soap and proceeded to wash his underarms and chest. He could see Kennedy's reflection in the mirror and he shook his head.
"Not a word of this on Indefatigable. Do I make myself clear, Mr. Kennedy?"
Kennedy chuckled. "You do, sir." He got up from the bed and stood behind Hornblower. "Give me that." Kennedy soaped Hornblower's back, then wiped away the soap with the rag, and sniffed him. "Better. Where are you going in a coach?"
"Pamela's uncle has requested our presence at dinner at the King and Crown. He is sending it. What time do you have?"
"Hm. Should I shave?"
Archie peered at Horatio's face. "If you've the time, yes."
Hornblower twisted his mouth. "Be right back."
Kennedy watched him close the bedroom door. Bedrooms. It had been awhile since he had been in one, and now he had been in two in one day. He surveyed this one. Two twin beds, a wardrobe, the chest full of weapons... "Right!" he exclaimed to himself. Opening it, he lifted out the assortment of swords and dirks the crew had given Pamela as wedding gifts. Hornblower returned.
"What are you doing, Archie?" Hornblower swirled a bristle brush over a cake of soap, creating a lather. Then painted his cheeks with the white foam.
"I need a sword for a knight."
Studying Archie, Hornblower could see he was wearing a sword, so a sword 'for a night' could not be what he meant. "A knight?"
"Yes, of the Order of the Royal Dolphin, Miss Pamela's sole protector... Sir Drake. He needs a proper sword."
Hornblower was dragging the razor carefully over his cheeks and listening. "You dubbed him?"
"I did. How about this one?"
Hornblower looked at the regulation size weapon. "Too long. He would never be able to pull it properly. Plus, it will drag, ...scar the decking. "
"Hm. How about this, then?" He held up a dirk.
"That should do."
"Good. This it shall be." Archie closed the trunk and lay the weapon on top of it.
He pulled open one of the drawers of the three drawer chest, then opened the packages of clothing purchased for Drake and spread the new purchases among them.
Hornblower looked at all the items purchased for the boy as he wiped the remnants of shaving soap from his face. "You were busy today."
"This is not all either. Some of the clothes are being altered. The woman said she would send them round. Mrs. Holly is her name." Archie felt his cheeks pink and kept his head down. Hornblower would not notice.
"Hm. Dressmaker, seamstress, you know."
Hornblower stared at his friend. "Indeed?"
Archie lifted his countenance and expressed his most innocent look, which may have been a mistake. Hornblower's glance askance showed doubt for his expression.
"She is married?"
"Um, well," Archie shrugged, "She is a widow."
Archie nodded, trying to foster a lack of interest.
Hornblower dipped his head down and smirked. "Are you going to tell me?"
"Tell you what?"
Horatio laughed lowly. "Do not play innocent with me. I know you too well. Have you an assignation?"
"Don't you have to get dressed or something?" queried Kennedy.
"It's those blue eyes of yours. I bet they captured her at first glance."
"Horatio...." It was Archie's turn to dip his head. "Look, old man. I'll keep quiet about you smelling like a rose garden, and you stop asking me questions about Mrs. Holly."
"OOOooohhhhh. So there is more, eh?" Hornblower was exceedingly cheerful. He grinned and pulled up the braces.
"Had you not best put on your shirt first?" asked Kennedy.
The threesome carried light hearts through the streets of Gibraltar. Laughter rolled from the carriage and one would have thought they were going to a gay ball, rather than dinner with en elder, rather stodgy, relative. The horses hooves clipped clearly against the stone paving leading up to the Inn.
Kennedy disembarked first and offered his hand to Pamela. "You look bonny, Lass!"
She was wearing a new gown purchased last July in expectation of the blooming pregnancy. It was a deep aquamarine blue trimmed with black lace and tatting, the side flaps overlapping an inset black apron of fabric, very dramatic, extending downward in an upside down 'v'. The sleeves were fitted to her arms, but puffed at the shoulders. The waist, so called, was gathered beneath her swelling bosom and the folds allowed maximum breadth around her middle. If she stood a certain way, she could hide most of the growing child. Her hair was lifted with a black lace scarf interwoven with ribbons of matching aquamarine, and sparsely dotted with gold sequins. Small diamond studs sparkled from her earlobes.
"Bonny? Thank you, kind sir."
Hornblower stepped behind her, taking her waist.
"I am off to meet the Captain. Enjoy yourselves and ...both of you...behave," Archie exhorted.
"Aye, Aye, Mr. Kennedy," smirked Hornblower. "We shall be souls of discretion."
Archie stepped away into the darkness and just outside the rim of light of the street lamp, stopped and turned to watch. His expression was soft as he gazed at his dear friend and Horatio's precious spouse. Hornblower, in his dress uniform, held out a crooked arm for her hand. He watched Horatio pause, ever so slightly, to share a fleeting moment that seemed a pledge of never-ending devotion.
Hornblower had it all, it seemed, to this lonely leftenant. A wife, impending fatherhood, a brilliant career, a quick and calculating mind, men that looked to him for leadership, a commanding officer that saw the sun rise and set on him. Archie cocked his head. *I suppose that IS a bit much, Archie.* He thought to himself. *Probably, it only RISES on Mr. Hornblower.* A crooked smile emerged at his own humor. The two disappeared into the inn, and with a sigh, Kennedy turned into the darkness.
Inside the inn, heads turned to the young naval officer and the poised, but pregnant, woman on his arm. Dawson was descending the broad sweeping stair when he saw them. The loveliness of his niece overwhelmed as he caught his breath and stopped to observe. She was smiling, responding to a passer-by. Stunning, she was stunning. The dress was something he had never seen before...that such could clothe a woman expecting and her...shine so. At home, she would not have been out and about at this time in her pregnancy. He filled his lungs.
Horatio, that was his name, same as Nelson's. He watched Hornblower's face. He was more at ease than when last he saw him and no longer covered with gun powder residue or the blood of comrades and his own. Dawson could see why Pamela would be attracted to his physical appearance. A strong jaw, a steady eye, lithe, relatively tall, young, perhaps, but so was Pamela, and the final thing he saw, that softened his heart another notch...Hornblower loved her. The look was unmistakable. He could see it in the eyes, in the way he stayed near, protective.
Another deep breath. *James,* he thought and shook his head slightly, *I hate to admit it, but ...you'd like this one. If he can just manage to stay alive, if he makes her happy, and, James, she is glowing like the noonday sun, maybe ... just maybe...*
She turned her countenance up the stair and caught his eye. A cautious smile spread over her lips. Dawson resumed the descent and was met by the gaze of Hornblower. The man did not smile, his face went somber, and he gave a nod. When Dawson was near enough to converse, Hornblower spoke.
"Good evening, Mr. Dawson."
Hornblower absently pulled her in front of him and kept his hand on her waist. It was how Dawson had seen them that day in Pellew's cabin. The only difference was, Pamela was smiling, more at ease, less defensive, but Hornblower was not. Dawson recognized the readiness to action and it caused him to fight the twitch of muscle in his cheek.
"Mr. Hornblower," he bowed, "Thank you for bringing my niece to dinner. Pamela." He bowed.
"Uncle Daniel," leaning on tip-toes, she kissed his cheek.
Letting his lips brush her face, he realized he should have approached her more gently. The new persona he attempted to adopt was awkward. It would take a while to get the hang of it, and he decided on a gracious comment.
"Thank you for coming, my dear," he said softly.
She nearly shook her head as she gazed at her uncle, an incomprehensible expression in her eyes.
"Mr. Dawson, excuse me."
It was the head waiter.
"I have your table prepared, sir. Be so kind as to follow me."
The threesome were led towards the back of the dining room.
A gentleman holding the large bill of fare, shifted it to the side as they passed. This was not expected. Never in his dreams would he have conjured them here. Edrington leaned back in the seat and blew a held breath.
He could not take his eyes off her. What a gown! How could a woman so ...replete with child, be so ... attractive? No other gravid female had ever enticed him. The beat of his heart quickened.
What would he do if either saw him? Should he boldly approach? Tomorrow, Hornblower would know of his presence. Were they not dining together with the admiral? Not a single one of the scenarios he pondered met this one. Of course, her uncle was staying here! It was he that told him her name was Dandridge. Edrington scrunched his brow. Even Pamela's uncle had not known she was married to Hornblower. The knowledge irritated him.
Pamela's eyes suddenly flashed across his end of the room as she smiled at the men with which she sat. The soft brown eyes came back to rest upon him, astonishment registering. Hornblower's back was to him, thank God; Dawson was at an angle.
Casting her view to the table, she raised her eyes then flicked to him. He smiled crookedly. Why did he enjoy her ...perplexity? Because he was the cause of it? It was not Hornblower he wished to perturb, but he gained out and out pleasure in aggravating her. *Shame on you, Edrington,* he thought mischievously.
She opened the menu and held it to obscure his view.
"Have you decided, my Lord?"
"Yes. Salad greens, oil and vinegar. Baked halibut with
roasted potatoes, and asparagus spears. Have you a white wine
that would blend suitably with the fish?"
"I believe we have, sir. Not too dry and not too fruity."
"Excellent." He closed the menu and handed it to the waiter. When he looked up, she was viewing her table partners. His eyebrow rose and he drummed the fingers of his right hand. She glimpsed his way. Holding his sling in place, he stood and left the dining room.
"Is something amiss, my Lord?" asked the head waiter.
"No. No, I shall return shortly."
Edrington walked into the reception area of the inn and stood by the stairs. Would she come? It was easiest to avoid being seen by Hornblower this way. He paced a three foot area and waited. What was he going to say if she came? Hearing a shoosh of steps on the carpeting, he looked up. She was not looking at him but the reception clerk, her visage clearly disgruntled.
Her eyes shifted to view him out the corners. Lifting her skirt slightly, she stepped towards the hall leading to the necessary rooms. He followed her. Once around the corner and out of sight of any inn employees, she turned on him.
"What the devil are you doing here and what have you done to your arm?"
"I am living here, madam, at the moment," he replied irritably. "My arm is not your concern."
She was huffed, like a Banty mother hen at an invading fox. "Very well." She lifted her skirt and made to pass by him.
He took her arm. "Could you not be a little more civil, madam? You know, glad to see you, Major Edrington. It pleases me you enjoyed a safe voyage...though that is not the truth," he said dryly. "Not, what the devil are you doing here."
With tight lips, she stared at his hand on her arm. He released it.
"Forgive me. I did not hurt your arm?"
"No." Eyes cast down to the flooring, she slowed her breathing, and her features eased. "I ... apologize. I might be glad to see you under other circumstances, but..." She made to leave.
He took her arm lightly to stop her. She met his gaze and he let go.
In the dining room, Hornblower shifted uneasily and glimpsed her uncle. Why did Pamela have to leave him alone with the man? He could sense his displeasure. He sipped from the glass of wine.
"Hornblower, how long have you been in the navy?" asked Dawson.
"Six years, sir, going on seven, actually." He knit his brow. Nearly seven years! Almost a third of his life had been in the service!
"How long have you been a lieutenant?"
"About two years, sir." Hornblower bowed his head. "I know my pay is not enough to support her now, but... I hope to be a captain some day." He blinked twice and turned his head away from the accusation he feared coming.
Dawson smiled wryly. "Pamela does not need your money."
Horatio's heart felt wounded, as though the man had plunged a dagger into it, and his stomach knotted.
Dawson saw once more, it was the wrong thing to say. Writing was much easier. He would have to slow his thoughts, his speech, and weigh what he said. He needed to back up and ease the unintentional sting. How? Without making it worse.
"Hornblower. I... I did not mean that as it sounded. What I mean is, I do not think Pamela wants you to worry about supporting her."
Confusion settled on top of his nausea. "Sir?"
"Look. I'm not very good at this sort of thing. Surely Pamela has told you."
Hornblower gave a slight nod of acknowledgment, licked his lips and tried to avoid the eyes of his wife's uncle.
"You love my niece, do you not?"
He blinked, then stared steadily into the concerned blue eyes. "With all my heart, sir."
"I've got to ask you this. Do not take offense...please...I....I...." Why was it so hard to say? He thought it all the time. Filling his lungs, he said, "I love my niece. I want what is best for her. I have eyes, Hornblower....and, I perceive that at this moment, ... you are best for her. I see her light up in your company, as I have never seen her."
Hornblower listened, quietly amazed at what the gruff old man was saying, not gruff at all. Was this an act?
"And.....I ... I ... am convinced you feel as strongly towards her. I may not behave the way Pamela wishes me to behave, but I am a discerner of men. And, while the two of you are making me do hand springs about what I believe, think, and feel, in my old age, it pleases me that I find myself that malleable...and, I owe part of that to my niece. It's complicated."
Hornblower tried to stop the smile. That seemed to follow, complications, if you spent much time around his wife.
Dawson ran his hand down his face. "I've diverted from what I wanted to say. Let me begin again. Do not take offense at what I am about to ask, but I must because....just because I have to." Would it do any good to ask him to wait to answer later? May as well try, he thought. He took a deep breath, feeling he knew the answer that would come. "Hear what I have to say, what I am going to ask, but do not answer me tonight. Think about it, ...please. Give it due consideration."
Hornblower knit his brow. What could it be, that this brusque man that boarded Indefatigable barely a week ago, spitting venom at having been rescued by a nation he despised, say?
"Would you consider leaving the British navy and come work for me?" He held his hand up in a halting motion. "If your heart and training is with the sea and you wish to continue in that profession, I will support you in it. If I could persuade you to take a land position, I offer you that. Again, you do not have to answer me now, nor even tomorrow." Dawson stopped his speech and studied the face of the man next to him.
Hornblower was silent. This was the question? He wanted him to work for Dawson Import and Export? His analytical mind ran with it. Move to America? He wants me to come live in America. He wants Pamela to live in America. Near him. Leave the navy and, and, and..... *Why are you even giving it a thought, Hornblower? You've been over this ground already.* He moistened his lips.
"Mr. Dawson. I cannot tell you ... I cannot tell you how pleased I am that you would make me such an offer. You honor me, in more ways than I can say. Though the greatest honor is that ... well, that... you would accept me, my being British."
Dawson felt his face flush.
"I truly wish I could give you the answer you want. And the answer I must give you is not out of malice or dislike for you or for any other reason than the one I must give. Do you not think I have already considered innumerable times of how I might ... I might remain closer to ... to Pamela. Our impending separation tears us both apart and we have avoided the topic since we stepped off the carriage...." he sighed, frustrated with himself for saying so much. "Sir,... my nation is at war.... I cannot leave. I would not be the ... the man that I am, if I did."
What Dawson felt as he listened to this young man who loved his niece, he would not have expected in a thousand years. Even more so for the fact he was British, but the emotion was there. It could not be denied. Pride. He was proud of Hornblower for refusing his offer; he was proud that the man contained such loyalty.
"I am sorry, sir. I cannot accept. I do not need time to think it over. My only answer can be... no."
Dawson extended his hand.
Hornblower was mystified and hesitantly took it.
"Mr. Hornblower.... my brother James, Pamela's father, would have been delighted to know you. I am sorry he never will. But, I am singularly honored, and other than the fact that you are in the British navy, and your country is at war, I am pleased you have married my niece."
Hornblower felt the warm grasp of his hand. It was tight, but not crushing, the countenance sincere. He had a feeling he had just been paid the highest compliment he could ever get from Daniel Dawson, even with the qualifications. Were they because he feared for his survival? That seemed a logical conclusion since the man was ostensibly accepting him.
"I think you had better locate your wife," suggested Dawson. "I'll hold down the fort."
Hornblower canted his head at the colloquialism.
"Yes, sir. I will find her."
Hornblower felt a weight lifted. He seemed to float to reception. Totally unexpected. He shook his head and inhaled. Totally unexpected!
"I am looking for a lady in a dress trimmed in black?"
The clerk pointed toward the hallway behind the stairs.
As he neared the corridor, he heard Pamela's voice. To whom was she speaking? He stopped outside the hall entry way and listened. The voice he heard next was another surprise.
"Under what other circumstances?" Edrington asked softly.
"Major..." Her eyes pooled. "Horatio will be returning to sea. If he learns you are here, ... it will.... it will not be good. I would not have him doubt. I cannot have him doubt and worry over something that is not so," she pleaded. "Why are you not in England or where ever army officers go? Why are you in that sling again? Why...why do you and my uncle have to be at the same inn? Why am I here tonight when I would rather be in the company of only one?" She held a hand across her eyes. "I cannot cry. He will know."
"Pamela," he said softly. "How do you do this to me? I want to take you in my arms and console you over....Hornblower! Please, do not cry."
"I'm going to lose him, Major. He is going to sail away and I must remain!"
Edrington was feeling near distraught as she was, though not over Hornblower. Major. He was Major now, not Alexander. He pulled his handkerchief from his coat. "Take it, go on."
"Thank you." She sniffed and dried her eyes.
The major exhaled long. "Does he know how much you love him?" asked Edrington, resignedly.
"I hope he does. What are we going to do about you? Can you stay out of sight? When are you leaving? You are leaving, are you not?"
He chuckled. "You always manage to make me feel so wanted."
She laughed. "I hope we can be friends some day, Alexander. When you have a wife of your own, maybe then things will not be so awkward."
"A wife of my own?" He gazed at the woman he wanted, the woman that was impossible to have, for so many reasons. "What will she be like? How will I know her? My family would have me marry someone... suitable."
Pamela placed her hand on his as only she could do. "Do not marry anyone suitable, except you and she are suitably in love. She will love you, desire you. And, I think challenge you. You need a challenge, Alexander. Just wait for her. She will appear when you least expect her."
"Like the proverbial knight on a white horse?"
"Something like that," she smiled.
He sighed. "Let me ease your mind, then, my sweet impossible spy."
"I am sailing with your husband when he leaves. Indefatigable is taking me to England. Captain Pellew came to tell me today. We sail Friday, wind willing."
"Captain Pellew did not mention you in his note to Horatio. Are you sure?"
"If that is so, and I read my Pellew's rightly, he probably did not want his leftenant to be preoccupied with anything but you."
She sniffed and smiled softly. "Captain Pellew. He is such a dear man. I shall never forget him." She looked into the forlorn eyes of the major and placed her hand on his cheek. "Nor shall I ever forget you. I must get back. He will wonder what keeps me."
She leaned on tip-toes and kissed his cheek. "Take care, Alexander. Take care of him on the sail back to England, will you?"
He chortled and shook his head. "You would ask. I will guard him with my life, ....just for you."
Hornblower, head bowed, turned and returned to the dining room.
"Did you not find her?" asked Dawson.
"She will be along directly," Hornblower replied. He sat, lifted his glass and drank thoughtfully. All the nagging impossible fears were trampled to the ground beneath his feet and he had done nothing to prevail. He was like a bystander watching the battle be won on his behalf. It was an odd feeling to have it so. To not have to fret and plan, and hope and wait. It was done. Dawson accepted him. The older man was somehow changed by the circumstances. The death of his brother put something in motion that was still having effect. He was not sure what it all meant, but he did not feel understanding was necessary. It was a gift. You just accepted it and said thank you. He looked at Dawson and realized the two of them had been sitting silently for some moments.
"Thank you, sir, for inviting us to dinner this evening." He thought, *If you had not, there are many things I would not have known, and the situations presented here this evening have left me .... assured on a number of fronts.*
"Here she comes."
The two stood and Hornblower helped with the chair.
Not far from the King and Crown Inn, was the Admiral's Arms Public Drinking House. Nothing was very far away on the tiny peninsula.
Archie pushed open the door. The sounds inside consisted of low but steady conversation with an occasional outburst of laughter. The aroma of beer and tobacco brought memories of home and England. He scanned the faces looking for familiar ones.
Sebastian waved him over. He joined the officers from Indefatigable intent in conversational comment as he sat. Someone suggested a beer; he nodded affirmatively. With the glass in hand he considered the day, Amelia, Horatio, Pamela, himself, and sighed.
"Mr. Kennedy, you seem thoughtful this evening."
"It is odd to be ashore, Captain. I was successful in finding Drake clothing, shoes. He will cut quite a figure when all is completed."
"Good. Thank you for handling it so aptly."
Archie nodded. The company of his commanding officer was comforting. Why was he so unsettled? Amelia. Sebastian and Pellew drew him from thoughts of her with dinner offerings. The two older men chatted about the town, the admiralty, when they were leaving. Archie half listened. He did not see the glances the older men gave him.
"You are quiet this evening, Mr. Kennedy," observed Pellew. "Is something amiss?"
"No. No, sir." He stroked the grains of the table with his finger. "Sir, I... might I be excused? I mean, may I return to the ship later?"
Pellew leaned back and looked at his, now, fourth leftenant, with the death of McMasters. He inhaled and glanced at the doctor, briefly. "Be careful, Mr. Kennedy. I do not want my men coming down with any... problems."
"I cannot comment, Captain, but to support you in the observation that diseases of any sort are unwelcome," added Sebastian.
"I will be careful, Captain." *Too late,* he thought, if that was a concern.
"Be back aboard by midnight, Mr. Kennedy."
"Yes, sir. Excuse me, Captain, Doctor." He made to remove money from his pocket.
Pellew held up his hand and shook his head. "I've got it, Mr. Kennedy. Enjoy yourself, sir."
"Thank you, Captain."
He was alone again. It was such an odd feeling. No crew to order, Horatio and the other leftenants absent, land beneath his feet, and seeming wide open spaces after the confines of the ship. He rubbed his upper arms to ward off the chill night air. The journey was automatic. He stood beneath the lamplight and stared up at the window above the clothing shop. A candle lit the second floor bedroom and he could see a shadow on the ceiling. Should he knock? Would he offend her with his presence? He watched the window. *Come to the window, Amelia, I pray you will.* It was answered.
Her chin was high, the auburn hair loose on her shoulders, dressed in a night gown already. It seemed she looked over the square to the buildings surrounding it. The light from the lamp he was under, barely lit her features so far distant. She looked down and saw him there. Eyes meeting, she seemed frozen, then disappeared from view. He waited. Would she open the door for him? The time seemed eternal. Nothing. No one. The door remained locked. The shop dark. With an uptake of breath, and a half a frown, he straightened from leaning on the lamp. About to turn away, he heard.
Turning to the sound, he saw her in the dark next to the buildings. He approached. She backed out of the frail light and he followed. The two were barely visible in the black of night, shuttered by the alley.
"You are still here."
"Did you want to come in?"
He hesitated. "Would you come with me, ... for a drink, ....or food?"
"I have already had dinner." She clutched the coat to her neck. "It is chilly out this October night. Might I fix you a cup of tea?"
"If you wish it."
He followed her through the darkened alley to the back of the shop. He entered behind her and she shut the door, pulling the curtain over the half-light door. Looking nervous, she offered the slightest smile.
"It will not take a moment. I keep a kettle these chilly nights for the warmer. It is not cold enough yet for a fire. Come. Sit," she suggested softly.
The table was cleared from the meal they shared earlier in the day; the basket sat on the floor by the shop door. The cloth on the table was neatly embroidered with assorted small flowers. He rubbed at a view of bluebells, the threads under his fingertips.
"Did you do the table cloth?" he asked.
She turned. "No. My mother. She has a lovely hand, does she not?"
"Yes," he smiled. "Quite a lot of work this." He lifted the hanging sides and admired the pansies, daisies, and snapdragons. The images brought home to mind, the back garden of the country residence immaculately kept by the grounds keepers.
She placed two settings of cups and saucers, sugar, a milk pot, spoons. Holding the teapot carefully, she swirled it. "Not long," then sat it on the table. "I have a few cakes from the baker." She sat the small plate containing them in the middle and gave them each a desert plate and fork.
"I do not have to be back to the ship until midnight."
"We have plenty of time then." She unbuttoned the coat, revealing flesh beneath.
"Amelia." He looked down at the table cloth and fought the arousal. "Stop."
She closed the coat. "Is it not why you are here?"
He blinked. "I... I hoped we might talk."
"Yes. I..." he closed his eyes, inhaling. "I want... to apologize."
"Apologize?" She sat down.
"Yes." He stared into her eyes. "I should not... I should not have taken advantage of you today. Forgive me, for not being stronger. For not stopping what we ... what we..." he licked his lips. "I should not have taken advantage. No gentleman would."
"But, I wanted you."
"All the more. I should have said no."
"I gave myself, freely."
The last word stung. He massaged his forehead. "Amelia. Why did you say that?"
"Say what? That I gave myself freely? I did..."
Archie interrupted. "No. About being my private... I cannot even say the word in relation to you. Why would you hold yourself in such an opinion?"
"Was that not what I was doing?"
He stood and turned his back to her, head bowed. "Forgive me."
She stared at the table settings. "It was my idea, Archie."
"That does not make sense!" He turned, wonderment on his face.
She gazed blankly. "You do not think a woman has the same needs as a man?"
He blinked, then laughed shortly. "If that is true then it was not you that was the whore."
Her head turned to gaze at the teacups. She lifted the pot and poured into each. "Then, it is I that must ask forgiveness. I did not mean to make you do something you did not wish to."
He lifted her to her feet and held her there, gathering the words. "You confuse me greatly. I am a man...with a man's desires."
"I am a woman with desires."
He released her and turned away. "Then, why would you call yourself a ...a whore?"
"Is that not what you consider me to be? We are not in love with one another...are we?"
His head bowed deeper. "I should go."
She took a step towards him. "I do not want you to go."
Eyes closed, he shook his head. "Please. Understand. Make this easier for me. Please?"
Laying her hand on his shoulder, she said, "Archie. Forgive me for saying it. Forget I said it. I thought you found me attractive?"
"You ... are attractive."
"And, you are attractive to me. I want you. I told you."
"But, Amelia," he faced her, "...just because a man and a woman are attracted to one another does not mean.... they should bed one another at first sight."
Taking his hand, she stepped closer. With her other hand, she touched his cheek. "You have such beautiful blue eyes. Like the sea in the summer when the sun is overhead, warm, and the water glinting diamonds." With his hand in hers, she slipped it inside her coat and lay it upon her breast.
He swallowed. "No."
She rose to meet his lips, kissing them softly, then his cheek. "Do you not want me?" she whispered.
"Amelia. It is not a question of want."
"What is the question, Archie?"
"No questions. Only answers. It should be, no."
"You are not... my ... whore. Say it."
"I am not your whore."
He covered her mouth and splayed his other hand in her hair. She was touching him and knew. No matter what his mind was saying, his body was in disagreement. He broke the kiss and pushed them apart. The overcoat hung open and he glimpsed her nakedness. She pulled it closed.
"I am offensive to you."
"No." He shook his head. Stepping closer, he buttoned her coat closed. "Sit down."
She did and looked up into his features, her own, wondering.
He sat. "Sugar?" His voice was raspy.
"Milk?" he asked.
"Just a little. Thank you."
She smiled. "No, thank you."
He placed the cup in front of her and put a slice of cake on his plate, then stirred the tea. Bringing the cup to his lips, he sipped.
"Fine tea." He slipped a piece of cake onto his fork and popped it into his mouth. Chewing. A drink. A question. "What became of Mr. Holly?"
She was sipping from her cup, eyes lowered. "No questions."
Their eyes met.
"Why? Why do you want this?"
"Me, then. Why ... Most women want love, permanency."
She sighed. "You cannot accept that a woman can have the same desires as a man. I told you. I am a widow. I asked you if you knew what that meant. I should have waited for a reply."
"But even with physical desire, do you not need the emotional?"
"If I wait for emotional, I will never have the physical. Life is fleeting, Archie. You are in the Navy. Have you not seen battle?"
Inclining his head, he gazed with a mix of incredulity, sadness, agreement. "Is this what war has brought to us?"
The spark was quick, but he caught it. Something occurred. She felt it, too, stood, and stepped away from the table.
"You are right, Archie. You should go."
Behind her, taking her arms, leaning next to her ear. "You are afraid."
She shook her head and the tresses softly slapped his cheek.
"Yes, you are. You won't tell me about your husband, but he is gone. You fear losing another love."
"What does that matter? We are not in love."
He turned her around. Gazing at each other, a mix on her part of emotional defiance, on his a certain satisfaction that he gained understanding of her motives. His eyebrow quirked and the barest smile appeared.
"I like you, Amelia," he stated.
She shook her head and he chuckled.
"Yes, I do."
She tried to move away, but he embraced her.
"Do not be afraid. Can we not feel something for one another?"
"It will not last. You will be gone. You may never come back."
"But what if I did?"
She shook her head. "I am too old for you."
He laughed. "I did not notice any difficulties earlier, granny."
She chuckled. "Don't make me laugh."
He laughed and held her tightly.
"Archie. I do not want to fall in love with you. Do not make me."
"Could I make you?"
"Let me go, please."
"I will do as you ask, but not because I want to," he whispered.
She sat down at the table, shivered, and stared into the tea.
He, too, sat down.
"Let me warm that for you." He poured more tea into
the cup and she sipped it.
Standing, he held out his hand. "Come on."
"Come on." He took her hand and pulled her behind him up the stairs.
"No," she said, pulling back on his hand.
"Come on. I will not ... touch you."
Entering the bedroom, he picked up the nightgown from the bed.
"Put this on." He turned his back and she obeyed. Pulling the blanket from the bed, he wrapped her in it, then placed her on the bed, and lay down beside her, pulling her onto his chest. He rubbed her back in a circular motion. "Warmer?"
"Good." He held her for some moments and released a sigh. "My best friend was married this year...just a few months ago....almost six months. His wife is pregnant. They... are so deeply in love. It has been hard for both of them.... this war." He gazed down at her head. She was quiet. "The odd thing is, without it, they might never have met. Strange that. She is American....and quite something." He chuckled. "She would have to be to get Horatio. He loves the service .... He is a born leader. I am proud to be his friend."
"I am sure he is glad to have you... as a friend." She clipped the final word, regretting she said anything.
He stroked her jaw with his finger. It was soft, smooth to the touch.
"I hope he handles the coming separation better than he did the last one."
She looked up, slipped her arm out from the confines of the quilt and lifted the tail of his top coat. "You've lost a button."
"Have I?" He looked at his coat.
"Let me fix it for you."
He chuckled. "You keep a supply of naval sewing supplies?"
"Yes. This is a naval station, you know. I do occasionally get ...men here, not just children and ladies."
"Well, you got me!" he chuckled lightly.
She pushed up from his chest, unwrapped from the blanket, and put on the thick wrapper hung on the post of the bed. "Give me your coat."
"I can fix it when I get back to the Indy."
"Give me your coat," she demanded.
He handed it to her. "Shall I keep the bed warm till you return?"
"Suit yourself." She departed down the stairs.
He scooted lower in the bed, snuggling his head in the pillow, enjoying the soft mattress. It was delightful in comparison to what he was used to and was soon fast asleep.
Slowly tramping up the stairs, she double checked the new thread and button. Approaching the bed, she said, "Here. You best go now. Archie?"
She stood at the edge of the bed and watched the flicker of the candle light on his sleeping countenance. He was so beautiful for a man. She reached to touch his hair and smoothed it on his forehead. He moved slightly and sighed.
Leaving the uniform coat hooked on the posts of the foot, she went to her dresser and began to brush her hair. At an angle, she could see his sleeping form reflected in the mirror. She lay the brush down and picked up a small enameled box. A figure of a hummingbird in flight beside a red broad petal flower was on the top. Lifting the lid, she stuck her finger in and stirred the contents lightly. Buttons, navy, army, marine, civilian, she stirred them thoughtfully. This was the first time she gave instead of took. She picked up the one from his coat. Some blue threads were still caught in it. It had always given her pleasure to think the man would have to find another button and mend the loss, her trophy, her 'notch' of counting.
Others had come back, but not this way. It was always for more of what she could offer them, and what she took for herself. No questions and no answers had always satisfied their curiosity. That and the feel of her warm flesh under their palms or their bodies.
She lifted the small clock to see the time, then went to the bed.
"Archie. Archie." He still did not wake. She slipped off the wrapper hesitantly, then climbed into bed beside him, under the covers. She lay on her side and watched the steady up and down motion of his chest. Reaching, she stroked his chin and felt the stubble growing from his face. It had been ages since she had seen a man shave. It had been something she enjoyed when Horace ... She stopped the thought and lay on her pillow, staring at the ceiling. The abrupt movement wakened him and he said her name sleepily.
Coming wakeful, he said it a second time. "Amelia. You're back." He turned on his side and watched her.
"Your coat is done. What?" she asked aware of his gaze.
"For doing your coat? You are welcome."
"Not just the coat. For giving me a bit of home, tea, cake, your company. I cannot remember when I slept in a proper bed last."
She looked at the peaceful face. "It is nearly eleven. You sail tomorrow. You best go."
He rose on an elbow, propping his head. "You are doing your best to kick me out, aren't you?"
"I am trying to keep you from getting in trouble with your captain."
He leaned over her and stroked her hair. "I've never felt such softness. You are a beautiful woman, Amelia." He kissed her nose. Rolling, he left the bed and pulled on his coat. "Shall I pay you for the mending?"
"Thank you, then." Hesitating, "Good-bye."
As he began to descend the stairs, she eased over to his side of the bed and felt the residual warmth. The smell of his hair lingered on the pillow. It was a comfort to feel the warmth left by another, and not from sweating passion. Out of the bed and on her feet, she hurried down the stairs. He was about to go out and stopped, hearing the padded footsteps.
The gown stretched over her form as she approached. She hugged
herself, shivering in the draft. Stepping in, he closed the door.
For a breath, the two were caught in the time and space of wondering,
a precarious choice. She flung into his embrace and covered his
lips, pressing hers as he held tightly to the voluptuous woman
in his arms, and the night was not yet over.