An American Encounter, Part Four
by Skihee

Ch 1 Homecomings

 

The Outer Banks off the coast of the state of North Carolina lay spread out upon the horizon like so much flour spilled and pushed back into piles by a baker, white and welcoming for all the sinister rip currents and shifting sand bars, the graveyard of the Atlantic.

The entrance to Cape Fear was not far now after more than a month at sea in the crossing. It had been uneventful, almost a pleasure cruise, with no sign of pirates. Patriot's Dream was manned and armed; Daniel Dawson took no chances, not this time. His wildest hopes had been realized and he guarded his treasure like a miser.

Pamela gazed upon the approach to the Banks with misty eyes, glad to be returning to one home, but missing the human one in Horatio's embrace. Brown eyes full of sadness and longing, the wind softly cavorting curling tendrils upon the tan cheek, the white muslin skirt caressing her legs. The satin blue sash around her waist gave evidence to the returning figure, though her breasts remained full to meet the needs of the slumbering child nestled in a basket of baby blue blanketing, tethered in a shady spot near the locker under the stern light. She looked back over her shoulder to the wide navy blue expanse of the Atlantic.

"Horatio... come to me, my darling." She twisted the wedding band around and around her finger, slowly, absently.

Like the song of a siren, the mournful request was voiced quietly, hopefully, longingly, whenever she found herself standing alone, on the ship's deck. Only the helmsman and first mate attended the wheel, though she could see the captain was making his way from forward aft.

Captain Briscoe was a long time family friend, a junior partner of Dawson Import and Export, and he did not begrudge her the space. Three husbands lost.... and for one so young.... and a father, too. He halted briefly and stared up at the slight figure of a girl... girl, no,.... woman. She was a mother and three times a widow. Briscoe filled his lungs, then sighed, and climbed the short ladder stairs to gain the quarter-deck. With another few steps, he was beside her.

"Almost home, Pamela," said the whiskered old commander.

She nodded with eyes fixed on the distant sands. "I know." After a pause she said, "Today is my wedding anniversary. I am married a year."

Her eyes met Briscoe's briefly and he could see the building moisture.

"Daniel's glad to have you home, girl."

Even with the previous thoughts, Briscoe could not call her woman. She would always be James's little girl, and he thought the familiar youthful attribute nearly brought a smile.

Pamela recalled a previous home-coming. Her home, Swan-Phoenix, white and expansive, the broad and airy porch wrapping the front and sides, the oval bevel-cut glass double doors opened into the high ceiling foyer. Through the breezeway, the scent of an apple pie wafted from the kitchen behind the house, where Junie worked to prepare Pamela's favorite dessert, a welcome home present when she had been away to visit Patricia after the birth of her sister's second baby. The image of her father, smiling, welcoming, at the base of the broad polished oak central staircase, his joyful blue eyes like the sky on a summer's day, his hands reaching out for hers... but he would not be there.

And then there were those deep brown eyes, those eyes that caused her to tilt her head up as she drew closer, those smoldering glinting eyes just below a mop of curls, and one curl in particular that she longed to touch. Closing her eyes, she felt the slight stubble on his cheek as it turned beneath her palm and his full soft lips pressed a kiss upon it. Gasping lightly, she opened her eyes to the reality of his absence, the sorrow and longing fleeting across her countenance.

"I know," she said wistfully. "Captain Briscoe... would you... would you take me to England... some day?"

The rugged captain pursed his lips and thought. He could make a quip about just sailing across the Atlantic, but a joke was not called for, not by the expectant look he saw in the young woman's brimming eyes. He smiled crookedly.

"Is it to be a secret?"

Briscoe knew Daniel Dawson would never wish to hear such plans, though from what he was told of Hornblower's demise, there was no chance of the man's surviving. As had been spoken in quiet conversation with Daniel, it was a sincere expectation that time would heal this wound, and thoughts of England would fade.

She nodded and smiled. "If needs be, but I must have that surety. If you... or... someone... would not take me, I would sail there myself, when Cap is old enough. If ... if ... my husband has not returned by then. I want Captain to see his other country. I want to see my husband's country, his home, perhaps his father... if... if we are not too late."

"Oh my girl!" said Briscoe snaking his arm around her shoulders and hugging her to his thick muscular chest. He sighed heavily. Why the enemy of men's souls had chosen to plague this young girl he had watched grow from babyhood, he did not know. First a mother, then husbands, and a father.

"I swear on all my years at sea, when you're ready to sail to old Blighty, I'll take you, whether Daniel is for it or against it."

She looked up into the taut tanned and lined face, cheeks and chin covered with a trim salt and pepper beard, eyes like pale grey slate, and beamed.

"The sun has risen," smiled Briscoe, "it does my heart good to see that smile."

Pamela's mood shifted to optimism. She was at sea. The wind was blowing over the larboard quarter and the sails bellied in the breeze.

"I feel like dancing, Captain Briscoe! Or ... or climbing a mast!" she grinned.

"Oh ho! Daniel would have a fit!"

"But you wouldn't?" she asked brightly.

The grey eyes twinkled. "Your da never let you," he said shaking his head.

Twice so far on this trip either he or Daniel had nipped such an idea in the bud. It was a curious desire, certain sure, but... Briscoe understood it.

Her whole demeanor puffed and lifted like a plant suddenly watered.

"If you're going to do it, you best be done before we angle into Cape Fear. Daniel will never abide you in trousers to be seen by the general populace," said Briscoe.

With joyful anticipation, she picked up her skirts, descended the companion, and disappeared below decks.

"Harley!" bellowed Briscoe, motioning to the muscular seaman coiling a line forward.

"Aye, Captain?" he answered, swaggering down the slightly heeling deck.

As he came closer, Briscoe leaned down and said, "You're taking Miss Pamela aloft."

"Sir?" asked the stupefied sailor.

"You heard me. Don't let your hands stray and don't ye dare let her fall or you'll answer to me. Understand?"

"Aye, aye, sir," answered the beefy man, puzzled. He scratched his head and shifted his eyes to the captain, but he knew better than to ask if he understood correctly.

 

*****

Reaching the open deck under a late afternoon overcast sky, Hornblower sucked in the cool salt air like a man reaching the surface from five fathoms below. The calm and orderly scene of the packet men at their daily stations slowed his breathing and he shifted his eyes nervously amongst the crewmen to see if anyone noticed his anxious arrival. Lips remained parted as he inhaled oxygen into tight lungs. He had heard her voice... but no... it was his memory, playing tricks,... because...because... it was May 2nd.

**Calm down,** he told himself, closing his eyes briefly. His tongue swept the dry mouth. **Calm down.**

A flash of blackness. Pulse racing, he stepped towards the raised deck, eased next to the companion, and leaned against the stairs. A hand flew to his chest. Heaviness. Panting for air, he licked his lips. No. No. Not a good idea. Not here.

**Do it. It will be all right. Ease the weight. You won't pass out.** Chest and shoulders lifted, up and down, with each rapid inhale, exhale.

**A year. Oh Christ!**

His eyes flew over the deck. How was this ship like Dolphin?

**It is not.**

He turned his head over a shoulder and unbidden, his right hand slipped beneath the uniform jacket. Nimble fingers unbuttoned the waistcoat, then the shirt. The digits were cold on his chest, the leather, warm. He clutched it as his eyes darted over the men on deck.

No one paid him any mind.

Three steps. Beside the rail. He closed his eyes. No one could see. Like a vise, the hand pressed the fabric, the circular object resisted the crush.

No.

** What if I ... lose consciousness? Andrews said I passed out. You won't pass out. I might drop it into the sea. You won't drop it into the sea. Do it. Do it for her. Do it for the baby. Just today. You owe her for today,** came the insistent reply.

**Don't make me remember! I love her! Calm down.**

With a bare shake of his head, he gave in to the fingers moving into the opening and spreading the strands of the leather pouch. The ring was warm like the container that held it. Skin on metal. The tension fled his body and he fell forward. Breathing in long and soft, he closed his eyes and let the sense of touch see the band, its curves smooth and firm like her body. The tip of his finger circled the round opening.

Her lips,... he traced the supple softness. Slowly... lowering... his mouth covered hers, matching silk for silk, sweet, cool, deliciously sensitive, his tongue rimmed the edges, just inside the lips. She moaned and his arms tightened, pressing the roundness of her breasts into his chest, heart to heart. The kiss broke.

//////////"Horatio!"

"Yes, my love?" he said breathlessly in return.

"I am faint with your kisses."

A cool cheek pressed against his. Her breath fluttered near his ear. The tip of her nose nuzzled into his hair, and his eased along her fresh tresses, warm with the scent of her skin.

"Pamela," he breathed out her name, and she increased the grasp about his torso. "I have never felt like this. I do not know where you begin and I end. Only with you in my arms am I complete."

He heard the quiet sniff and smiled.

"Do not cry, my love."

"Horatio," she whispered. "You speak my heart."

His fingertips tingled as they slipped along her smooth jaw line. Their eyes met.

"The fibers of my heart have knit with yours. It frightens me, Pamela. How ... how can I feel this way? How will I live with only half a heart?"//////////

Horatio looked down at his hands. He slipped the ring onto his finger, then clutched the balled fist. It remained a loose fit.

"How will I live with half a heart?" he whispered.

The ship was empty. The men that crewed her, but shadows.

The swallow was thick as he turned and climbed the companion. He exchanged a nod with the first mate, then walked to the taffrail and stared at the ship's wake.

**You did not faint.** His countenance fell. **I would be better off if I had.**

He raised his eyes to gaze at the western sky. The sun was still high in that region, though the lowering clouds around him pressed towards the sea with the weight of evening in the offing. Should he have gone to America? What would he have done? Ripped open the coffin to hold her lifeless body once more?

Gabrielle. Angelica.

"Not like that," he voiced as he reeled around, startled that he had spoken aloud. The men showed no sign of hearing him. He covered his eyes and took rapid deep breaths. There was so much blood with Gabrielle, surely Pamela had not... His stomach felt queasy. He wanted to die.

//////////...if death is your desire, then might you not as well be of service?//////////

Sleep. He needed sleep. Breathing deeply, he steeled himself to pass by the men and go below, to the hammock allotted him.

The tween decks were low. Ducking under the beams, he found his place, hung the secondhand hat on a peg, and climbed into the canvas swing. The melancholia was a familiar friend and he sank into it... and then he talked to her.

**Pamela... I understand your grief over your father... I do. The tears you shed for him, I now shed for you. They come unbidden and I hide them or try to force them back. Sometimes I am successful... and sometimes the guilt comes for denying them because then I think I am denying you when I love you and miss you so terribly. I thought it was supposed to be me who died... not you... not you and the child. Did I kill you by ...** He sucked in a breath quietly as the prick in his eyes burned and the natural tears tried to cool them. **If I had not made love to you, if you had not been with child, if...** He swallowed and wiped at his eyes. **Not making love to you would have been like not breathing. I wanted you and you wanted me. God... why... why did you have to take her from me? I thought you told me I would see her? You lied to me. You lied.**

In the recesses of his mind a quiet voice said, *God does not lie.*

Horatio heard it.

**Then when? When? When I am dead, too? Then, let me die. Death cannot come too soon. What have I left to live for?** He turned his head over onto his shoulder and the tears ran in a rivulet down his temple and over the side of the bridge of his nose. **Pamela.**

With the back of a hand, he caressed the side of his cheek, thinking of her touch instead. The ring. He pressed his thumb against it, brought it to lips and kissed it, feeling its convolutions with the tip of his tongue, ending with a kiss. **I love you, Pamela. I will always love you. But I've got to hide you in my heart. I've got to. I've got to.** The tears were welling. **I will never be able to function as long as you dwell in the forefront of my heart. But you will always be there... you will always be there.**

He inhaled long. **You know, my love, I fear Indefatigable most. Every inch of her will remind me of you. Even this little packet holds reminders.** he thought nostalgically, **though she looks nothing like Dolphin. How will I bear the eyes of my men when they know? Or my fellow officers? Those men that knew you? Can I bear their pity? Will I withstand their condolences without... without...? Father... this is why you hid yourself away. Oh God! Must I understand this too?** Tears. **Must I understand this too... Da? How you must have grieved for mother. I did not fully understand till now.** He covered his eyes and his chest broke with silent sobs. A noise startled him and he silenced and wiped his face. No one must see him this way. No one.

**I wish that storm had killed me. I wish the faithless and fickle sea had killed me.** He brought his hand up into view. The meager light through the pyramid light prism exposed the golden ring, the two dolphins, forming the never ending circle. "You should have let me die," he whispered to the memory of the great animals surrounding his raft of wreckage. "You should have let me die." At last, he closed his eyes, and sleep came, ... and dreams... dreams of his wife, of a boy child... home and family... in his dreams he was not alone... he was not unloved... if only waking never came.

Days of sailing blurred into one mindless day after another. The packet made contact with two squadrons of the channel fleet along the way. Horatio took a mild interest in the comings and goings of the quarter-boat, back and forth between the enormous ships of the line, delivering and collecting mail.

As for the French, outside the Bay of Biscay, a frigate gave a half-hearted chase of the mail ship, but the captain pretended to signal to non-existent British warships and the vessel gave up the chase. Ushant was not far. England was not far.

"You've been very silent this voyage, Mr. Hornblower," commented Captain Middleton as they passed the Needles.

"I haven't much to say, sir," was the only reply he could think of.

"Indefatigable is your ship, you said?"

Hornblower nodded. "She is."

"Hm. I thought so. You know, I think she is in Portsmouth."

Hornblower shifted his eyes to the packet captain. He did not know how long it would be before he could rejoin the Indy. The papers he carried from Doctor Andrews required him to submit to examination by the naval physicians at Haslar, the Naval hospital opposite Portsmouth, before returning to service, the result of the Gibraltar inquiry.

Would he see his father before or after the service doctors? What would his father say when he learned of the amnesia? He thought of his boyhood home, of his room above stairs, of Julia Arminter and mistletoe. His father had found love after so many years alone, but Horatio had no such desire. Death was his desire. The sudden tiredness that plagued him, fell on heavily.

The captain smiled watching the thoughtful young officer. "You'll know soon enough. We should be there by noon if this wind holds. Easy sailing."

Horatio blinked heavy eyelids and pushed away the fatigue that weighted his body and his soul. Indefatigable. It was his home,... almost seven years now.

At last, the port came into view. The harbour was busy with craft going to and from moored ships. Small boats were everywhere performing tasks, cluttering the water and docks. Masts with yards of furled sail stood like a field of barren crosses. Witnesses? Sacrifices? What was life for?

Hornblower scanned the shipping for that familiar stern, the well known curve of hull. Catching sight of one, his eyes skimmed over her, then away, but then returned. He placed his hand on the railing and stared. Indy? Lips parted, brow knit. Indefatigable? He stepped forward, letting his palm glide along the railing.

"That's her, isn't it?" asked the packet captain, coming alongside Hornblower. The stern came into view. "Thought so. Thought I remembered. She's been in dry-dock, but I see they've floated her." The captain eyed Hornblower's curious expression. "Looks like things may have altered for you, Leftenant. I'm sure the port authorities can set you right. Do not fear."

The captain gave a reassuring smile, but Hornblower did not see it. His eyes traced the lines of the familiar ship. Her masts were removed. She was high in the water,... ballast maybe, but no guns. Surely she would not be left a hulk? Hornblower moistened his lips. He could see she was unmanned, empty, waiting for... what? Where was everybody?

Hornblower marveled at the skill of the captain and the crew as the captain's orders eased the packet in, readily assisted by men on the dock to pin her fore and aft, but his eyes constantly returned to the changing prospect of his old assigned ship, laid up in ordinary.

The entry port railing was removed and a gang plank laid down. Hornblower had nothing but the slack canvas bag from old Emi that held his sweater, the few toiletry items donated by Lansing at the Gibraltar Hospital, a razor, a towel, some shaving soap, and a spare shirt.

With his boat cloak over his arm, he walked off the ship, then towards the end of the dock and stared at Indefatigable. What happened? Where was Captain Pellew?

His first order of business was to report, and then hopefully receive back pay. He trusted he would be given half pay, at least, for the time he was indisposed. Where would his things be? Could they possibly be on the Indy? His uniforms, what was left of them? ... Pamela's portrait? He'd forgotten about her portrait. Closing his eyes, he waited for the butterflies in his stomach to ease away. **Is this what You meant by seeing her again?** he questioned bitterly. He looked back over his shoulder at the frigate, as he headed towards the port admiral offices.

His worn shoes clicked loudly on the planking despite the bustle of workers traversing the long wharf, forcing him to weave around not a few. So many years ago he had arrived in Portsmouth and reported to the port admiral offices, a formality. It was positively dreary that day. He had been a scared midshipman, not knowing what lay ahead, saying goodbye to his father and all that was familiar, and despite all of his reading and queries into the life of the sailor, to embrace the unknown.

Stopping at the end of the walkway, he noted the dockyard gate where the golden balls gleamed in the noonday sun, the marine guards' redcoats vibrating with brightness. Just beyond lay the pub where they had lunched not so many months ago, Pellew, Sebastian, Edrington, Kennedy. It had been hard then. The striving to return to Gibraltar denied by wind and circumstance. Emotionally he was as empty as his stomach.... as empty as Indefatigable, all that remained were the echoes of what once was.

It was cold that November day when last he arrived, and the wind was sweeping off the water. Today the breeze was warmer, the sun was warmer. The smell of the ropeworks building filled his senses. Hammering sounded in his ears from the joiners' workshop. He turned around and looked back, but the view of Indefatigable was blocked by the dockyard buildings. Staring at the brick building fronting the dry-docks, he aimed in that direction.

Officers were coming and going. Dockyard workers on a mission moved from one building to another. Scavelmen pushed wheelbarrows of refuse past him on the hard packed street surface, attended by a hovering disagreeable odor of muck scraped from the slips. He proceeded by the building where the clerk of the cheque resided and he looked at it longingly. He needed money to buy food and he would need new clothing even if he did locate his sea chest. Had it been sent home to his father? Had his father received his letter, telling him he lived? He had not the heart to tell his da of Pamela and the child. That would come later.

With a deep breath, he turned the knob of the main office's door and entered the quiet vestibule. Clerks were seated at four desks arrayed about the room, their desks overlaid with stacks of papers and quills with dark ink stained tips. Choosing the nearest man, Hornblower reached into the jacket pocket and removed the papers.

"Ahem."

The man before whom he stopped, looked up sharply.

"How can I help you, Leftenant?" His eyes swept over the shabby uniform.

Hornblower straightened his shoulders and his face became indifferent and dignified.

"I am Leftenant Horatio Hornblower, lately of His Majesty's Frigate Indefatigable, reporting for duty, sir." He extended the documents and the man received them.

"Indefatigable, you say." The clerk gazed at Hornblower as if he were an oddity, then scanned the first page. Rising, he walked over to another officer, leaving Hornblower unattended. The man bent to speak quiet words, handing Hornblower's papers to the officer, then motioned Hornblower over.

"Leftenant Dix will help you, Mr. Hornblower."

Hornblower nodded. "Thank you."

"Mr. Harrison reports Indefatigable as your ship. You are a little late, aren't you, Leftenant?" smiled the second clerk. He was an older man and made Hornblower think of Leftenant Bracegirdle, though his hair was not as thin, neither were his eyes blue, but a light brown color. "Sit down, Mr. Hornblower. Indefatigable's crew was paid off months ago."

Hornblower swallowed and bit back the questions that overflowed his thinking as he lowered into the wooden chair. "I... I have been indisposed and only recently arrived. Actually,... just arrived, sir."

The clerk opened the papers, finding the letter from Doctor Andrews first, and then the letter about the Gibraltar inquiry, signed by the lead captain. Dix scanned them, then shuffled through the written report by Hornblower, a copy of the one that he had submitted to the Board of Inquiry. The final paper was an issue of the Gibraltar Gazette with the report of Hornblower's death. The man's eyebrow quirked as he skimmed the article.

Horatio watched the man read the report, feeling uncomfortable that other people would know of his ... recent situation. He stared at his hands, seeing his finger lacking any decoration. Absently, he pressed his chest, knowing what lay next to his heart.

"You *have* been indisposed, Leftenant Hornblower. I will pass your papers on to the records office and prepare a letter of introduction to the Haslar surgeons. According to the Gibraltar inquiry you must be examined before we can place your name on the availability list. If you come back tomorrow, I will have that for you."

"Thank you, sir."

The man's tone reflected the end of Hornblower's audience and he stood but hesitated. When Hornblower did not depart, the clerk looked up.

"Something else, Leftenant Hornblower?"

"My... my back pay, sir. I was on duty for the entire month of January, and I... I..."

"Of course, Leftenant, forgive me." The man rose with a sigh. "You will be a bit of a muddle for the clerk of the cheque. If you were presumed dead, you will have been taken off the roles since the date of your... disappearance. Have you next of kin?" asked the man as he came from behind the desk and removed a hat from the hat stand.

"My father lives in Haslemere."

"Hm. Well, if the clerk is true to form, he would have sent your final wages and any prize money owed you to your father. Mr. Harrison, I am walking Mr. Hornblower over to see Mr. Newcombe."

"Yes, sir," came the first clerk's reply.

Hornblower followed the man outside and walked beside him to the clerk of the cheque's office.

"You've had quite the adventure, from what your report says, Mr. Hornblower,... and some luck to be alive, it would seem," smiled the man, "but a hero to your ship nevertheless. Beautiful day, isn't it? Not a cloud in the sky. Thanks for giving me an excuse to get out of the office."

"Yes, sir," and Hornblower forced a smile. He disliked discussing how he came into his present circumstances, but he knew it would be inevitable until he was situated.

"Let's see what old Newcombe has done with your pay, eh?" and Leftenant Dix pulled open the door and motioned for Hornblower to enter.

The interview with Mr. Newcombe, after getting past another clerk, was embarrassing to Hornblower. He hated dealing with money matters. While standing about waiting for the clerk to search through the files of deceased officers, Hornblower's stomach rumbled, causing him no small discomfiture.

Dix made a comment about it being time for lunch.

The admiralty leftenant seemed an amiable sort, thought Hornblower, and he obviously had some connections with key personnel. Mr. Newcombe did not seem like the sort of person to which Hornblower would have had immediate access without Dix.

At last, the chief accountant emerged and motioned Dix over. The two spoke in whispers and Newcombe showed Dix several letters, looking Hornblower over while the leftenant read them.

Hornblower felt out of place and knew that Dix had been close enough to view the threadbare state of his uniform. What could they be discussing? January's pay would get him by, but if it was sent to his father,... he had no idea how he would get to Haslemere. A pawn shop, but... not his ring... his dirk. It was the only other thing of value he had... or possibly his boat cloak.

Dix came from behind the rail that separated the line of filing cabinets while Newcombe returned to his desk. Dix's features seemed softened and consoling and he offered Hornblower a gentle smile.

"Mr. Newcombe will have to do a bit of paperwork before he can give you your back pay." The leftenant hesitated, appearing to calculate Hornblower's state of affairs.

"Mr. Hornblower, would you care to have lunch with me? My treat. There is a pub just outside the gates. Do you know it?"

"Ye...yes, but,...." answered Hornblower doubtfully.

"I am quite famished and they do a lovely board. Please... do say yes."

"You are too kind, Leftenant Dix. I accept." He would order the soup and bread. It would not be greatly expensive and one was allowed seconds for the price. He would not overtax the leftenant's generosity, for he suspected why it was offered. He wanted no man's pity.

"Good. After lunch will do, will it not, Mr. Newcombe?"

"I'll have it for him sometime this afternoon, yes."

"Come then, Mr. Hornblower."

Out on the street, Dix said, "Here. Give me those things. I will leave them by my desk until we return," and he took Hornblower's bag and cloak and excused himself momentarily to tell his office where he was going, then rejoined Hornblower outside, finding him staring at the ships in the harbour.

"That's your Indefatigable, isn't it?" asked Dix.

"Yes, sir," he answered solemnly.

"Come on. I fear the place will be packed by this hour."

The leftenant took over ordering, once he knew Hornblower's choice and insisted Hornblower take a similar sized meal with him. "I will feel awkward eating such a large meal if you do not join me, please, sir?" insisted Dix.

"Very well," Hornblower heard himself acquiesce. The food smell surrounding him set his stomach protesting anew and he was glad of the noisy lunch crowd to hide it.

After choosing and dipping up the soup, they found a table for two tucked in near the hallway leading to the privies, where those months ago he had kept walking out the back door, considering whether or not he should keep on walking and seek out a passage to Gibraltar. Why did he not do it? He closed his eyes and shoved the memory into a quivering heart. It was too late.

Hornblower made his stomach wait politely for his benefactor and did not eat the steaming cream soup beneath his nose. Dix returned with two pints of beer.

"Here you go. Are you all right? You look as though you just lost your best friend."

Horatio lowered his chin and erased all emotion from his face. One cheek tugged a half smile. "I am at a loss to know ... to know what I am to do."

"Hm," consoled Dix after swallowing a sip of beer. "Indeed. Eating that soup is first on the list. Go on." Dix tasted a spoonful of his own. "Mmm. Good isn't it? It must have been a bit of a shock to see your ship laid up in ordinary." Pausing for thought, he added, "Well. Off to the surgeons, then get your name on the list, eh?"

"Do you know what happened to Indefatigable? Where... where Captain Pellew ... or... rather... was he given another ship?" Hornblower did not know where to begin to learn of the dispensation of his shipmates.

The fleeting shadow of knowing flitted across Dix's features and he looked at Hornblower somewhat nervously. "Yes. I do know a bit about what became of Captain *Sir Edward* Pellew... yes?" he asked for confirmation.

"Yes. Not his brother Israel, if that is what you mean." Hornblower drank deeply of the beer but kept his eyes on Dix, eager for any information about Indy's crew.

"He was given l'Impetueux."

"The French ship taken at the Glorious First?"

"Yes. You ... know her, then?" asked Dix, emphasizing the word know, with eyes fixed on Hornblower's.

The gears of memory whirred.

"Surely, the mutiny was put down... " Hornblower studied what Dix was not saying yet implying.

"You impress me, Mr. Hornblower, with your quick mind. Those blows have not inhibited your reasoning, I see."

Hornblower was amazed that Dix read and recalled enough of the report to know of his injuries and cite them.

"I am acquainted with the circumstances of Captain Pellew," Dix continued. "He was given a quite difficult assignment. One in which no other Captain had ... succeeded." Dix inclined his head with amazement and sighed.

"What do you mean?"

"Not a welcoming crew there, Mr. Hornblower. But you need not feel concerned. You would not have gone with him."

Hornblower shook his head briefly, a question on his lips.

"Pellew was not allowed to take anyone with him from Indefatigable," said Dix lowly, leaning across the table. "Only his young gentlemen. No one else." Dix paused for effect. "Of course the reasoning was that the ship had a full complement of men... and it did."

"But why? What happened to Indefatigable? Is it merely a refit?" Hornblower pulled the bread apart and wiped the soup bowl of its remaining creamy contents, so at ease with Dix he was unconscious of what he was doing.

"Hm? Oh, of course, you wouldn't know... she hit upon a reef.... damaged her underneath extensively. Pellew was able to bring her in though. She'd been sitting in dry dock until a few days ago. They are probably sounding the well today, as a matter of fact. But our dockyard hands are first quality. I expect there will be no question of her sea worthiness."

"Here ye go, Mr. Dix. Two Yorkshire puddings and crudities," said the servant wearing a green apron as he placed the food before them. "Are ye finished with that bowl, sir?" asked the man of Hornblower.

"Yes." Realizing what he had done with the bread, he looked back at Dix self-consciously. He would have to watch himself more closely. It would be easier now that the hole in his belly was somewhat occupied. He slowly began the attack on the substantial Yorkshire pudding.

Dix became occupied with his for the next few moments, cutting through the tall crusty dome to reach the rich beefy meats and mashed potatoes swimming in the dark gravy.

"Floggings as you've never heard, from the scuttle butt coming back through the fleet. It is well you would not have been allowed to attend him, ... if indeed you could have. The captain had not seemed his usual jolly self when I saw him briefly at the last monthly naval function. He was very quiet and I assumed it was because of his coming assignment."

"You know Captain Pellew?" asked Hornblower as he put a forkful of the beef and bread into his mouth.

"I know of him. I had some dealings with him when he fitted out Indefatigable years ago. He's a fine sea officer. One of the very best. It grieved me to hear they were giving him l'Impetueux, but... if anyone can turn that crew around... I don't envy him the task. No. Not at all."

Hornblower chewed and wondered what could be taking place on the well known mutinous ship? Floggings? Pellew would not hesitate to order them, but he was sure the captain hated doing so. The crew of Indefatigable was such a ... a... family almost. They did their duty and the captain was well pleased with the lot of them. Not since Bunting had there been any real discord amongst the men, and that was due to deprivation. Even though the man Bunting was a surly sort, if they had not run low on supplies, he would have been less vocal or active in his discontent. **But I killed him. I did.** Hornblower lay down the utensil, picked up the beer, and drained it.

"Good," smiled Dix. "Let me get you another," and the man was gone with Hornblower's glass before he could utter a word.

The officer returned with another two full pints of beer for each of them. He sipped his own amber liquid down a fraction before he placed it on the table.

Hornblower asked, "Do you know what became of Indefatigable's crew and officers?"

"Oh, ... well," Dix tossed his hand up in thought, "sent to other ships, most of them. Some family men were allowed to spend time at home probably. The officers? Their names would have been placed on the list and as need came, called to other ships." He paused. "As you will be once you are done with those hospital men, I am sure."

"Yes," said Hornblower absently. "Could you tell me to which ships some of my fellow officers were assigned?"

"Be glad to look them up for you, if you wish it," said Dix.

"Depending on the funds I receive... They were not sent to my father?" asked Hornblower suddenly.

Dix averted his eyes as he downed a good part of the second pint.

Hornblower waited and watched the officer put his beer on the table, run tapping fingers along the edge but not meet his gaze.

"Wh... why was my father not sent my pay?" asked Hornblower hesitantly.

Dix licked his lips, swallowed and looked up painfully at his lunch companion.

Hornblower felt the fire in his eyes. "When?"

"Our inquiry was returned with a note from a Mrs. Arminter. Your father passed away in his sleep last February. I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Mr. Hornblower," said Dix softly.

Hornblower felt his stomach tighten around the food it contained and his face emptied of all emotion.

No one. There was no one in his life. Not a father. Not a wife. Not a child. Not a ship... or a captain... or a crew. Abandonment.

There was only this kind stranger who had fed him and been a friend... waiting for a possible moment to tell him the news. Wasn't that part of what this meal was about? It was one of the kindest things ever given him by the navy, other than Barnstable last year in Gibraltar. There was some kindness to be found ... in a naval dockyard... in the navy. Of all his loves, in the end, only the service remained, with all its foibles and strict discipline, here was he... cared for. Only the service was faithful to him, through this man. And he had thought to abandon it. Now he was the abandoned... except for this.

Hornblower closed his eyes, letting his head droop, and he breathed deeply. His father was ... gone. **I cannot think upon this now.**

"Are you all right? I was not sure how to ..."

"Thank you, Leftenant Dix, for your kindness."

"Think nothing of it, Mr. Hornblower," he said quietly. "I suppose you haven't anywhere to go here in Portsmouth?"

Hornblower shook his head, eyes lowered. He had not thought beyond the possibility of pawning his few things, thinking he would have to go to Haslemere and trouble his father for funds that were probably already spent. Foolish, foolish, foolish. But he thought he could see his da and tell him....

So.

He was to be spared that much at least. There would be no tears, stifled or not, as he told his father his son's wife and son, no, his son's wife and daughter, were dead. And....no crew or officers of Indefatigable to face either. Things were looking up, he thought frivolously, sarcastically. He ran a hand through his curls.

"No," he answered breathlessly, "I haven't anywhere to go."

Dix sighed. "I know a place that is inexpensive. I am sure you have better things to spend your money on than housing. Hopefully, you will be able to join a ship soon. Meet me at the end of the day and I will take you to this little boarding house I know."

"Thank you, Leftenant."

"Well, I best be getting back. Newcombe may have your pay ready, eh?"

The two men walked through the dockyard gates silently, Dix leaving Hornblower to his private thoughts.

Newcombe asked for another hour or two, and Dix suggested Hornblower might like to rest in his quarters, but Hornblower refused saying he would find something to occupy his time, and departed Dix's company with the plan of meeting him at six, when the offices officially closed.

Hornblower stood alone in the street center, the afternoon sun beating warmth through the worn navy blue topcoat, yet unable to combat the coldness of his soul. He had forgotten about inquiring where Bracegirdle, Kennedy, and Rampling had gone. Taking a few steps toward the water, he stared at Indefatigable, unaware of any passers by.

"Mr. Hornblower? Mr. Hornblower, sir? Is it you? God's blood!"

Hornblower blinked at the man addressing him. "Mr. Starns!"

"God be praised, sir! God be praised!" The old ship-wright latched onto Hornblower's hand and pumped it and grinned and repeated, "God be praised! Mr. Kennedy never gave up hope! He never did! I can't believe it! God's blood, I cannot believe it!"

"I'm like a bad penny, Mr. Starns," smiled Hornblower.

"No such of thing, sir. No such of thing!" The man let go of Hornblower's hand and leaned back to take the young officer in from head to foot and sighed. "Forgive me, sir, but you are a bit worse for wear." Starns slapped his knee gleefully. "God be praised!"

Hornblower wished the man would stop saying that, but he had not the heart to do so. "What are you doing here, man? Wouldn't a ship take you? They've missed out on a fine ship-wright, if so."

"I've stayed behind for her, sir." He angled his nod out to Indefatigable. "Locker went out, but... I couldna leave her in unknown hands, and they let me stay. In fact, her new captain has requested me in her."

"That is good news, Starns. Is she nearly done then?"

"Well, as you can see, we've got a sheer hulk beside her. I'm about to go out for a final inspection of the well, but she'll hold. Step the masts tomorrow." Starns looked up at Hornblower's steady gaze on the high floating ship. "Want to see her, sir?"

"Hm?"

"I'll take ye with me, if you do."

"Yes. I'd like that."

"Come on, then."

Hornblower followed behind the older man.

"Got me own men to row me out, I do," grinned Starns. "Nothin' left on her of consequence, but she'll delight to feel your footsteps on her, I'll warrant. Yes, sir, she'll know your footsteps." The sailor was near in tears and wiped his nose and eyes with a sleeve. "She knows was you that saved her."

"Any man could have done it, Starns."

"But it was you, sir."

The moment Starns said those words, Hornblower relived that day at sea when the phrase sounded in his head as if the speaker were standing behind him at his shoulder.

**But you are the one chosen.**

A shiver ran down his spine.

"It was you that cut those lines. You and.... and Styles. Poor old Styles. He'll be glad to know yer alive. I'd be surprised if he don't kiss ye, sir, even you bein' a officer an' all!"

Hornblower had to smile at the picture of Styles trying to kiss him. He had not thought about that night in any great detail. Everything he did was performance of his duty, what was logical, what was needed. There was nothing else to be done but what was done.

Starns motioned Hornblower before him into the boat and waited for Hornblower to sit, then he took the position at the tiller.

The water reflected the bright sunshine and Hornblower squinted at the approaching massive wooden hull.

"We'll paint her once the masts are in. Don't want the sheer hulk marring the paint. She looks the same, don't she? Cept she's toothless," grinned Starns, showing he too was missing a few teeth.

Hornblower let Starns' enthusiasm carry him along. Here was the service providing the family he did not have in this old man, so amazingly glad to see him. It was a fortunate day for all the bad news it contained.

"If I had 'em, I'd pipe ye aboard, sir," said Starns, motioning at the battens. "When did you get here, Mr. Hornblower?" asked the man.

"Just today," called Hornblower over his shoulder as he mounted the side.

"Oy, then, this is all news to ye, or did ye know?" Starns followed him up. "Where have you been?"

Hornblower breathed deeply and stopped the sweeping look about the empty decks, and faced Starns. "More places than I care to say."

Starns nodded, and after a moment grinned. "God's blood! Yer alive. Yer alive. Here. Come look at this."

Hornblower followed him up to the forecastle.

"Look there." Starns pointed at a cut notch in the railing. It was varnished over as was all the rest of the smooth rail. "That's Styles. He threatened to gut me if I sanded that out. He's carryin' yer death like he murdered ye, sir."

Hornblower did not know what to say at first. "He followed my orders, Starns."

"Aye, sir, he did, but it don't make it any easier. He was all right for a while. Mr. Kennedy told him he followed yer orders. Who knew better than Mr. Kennedy what went on that night, but after seein' Mrs. Hornblower..."

"Do you mind if I look about the ship on my own, Starns?"

"No, sir. Indy will be pleased to feel you in her again. I'll give ye a shout when I'm ready to head back. Won't take me long."

"Very well."

Hornblower ambled towards the quarter-deck and climbed the companion. The salty wind was cool on the water. The last time he stood here there had been a French ship on either side and the wind had favored the English in battle. Looking down at his sleeve, he half expected to see the blood dripping onto the deck where a splinter from the railing had impaled his arm. He walked to the taffrail and marveled to look forward without obstruction. It was different and yet the same. The carnage in the waist, God, how many had died? The memories of his last day on Indefatigable as a fighting ship bubbled up. In his mind's eye, he saw the Frenchmen in the water, crying for help. He wanted to launch a boat to pick up survivors but the crew was ... the main mast yard...

//////////Horatio, get below./////////

That was Archie. Yes, Kennedy had ordered him to the cockpit because of his arm, because of the fever.

The shriek of the wind that night, the sea rolling as he had never felt it, the fore mast burning like a candle and rigging over the side. Flashes of lightning exposed figures of men in the waist, desperately working to release those pinned under the wreckage. Pellew. It was the last time he had seen him.

The captain's after cabins, there was no marine to guard the rooms and barely were there any rooms to guard. The bulkhead walls were latched to the overhead beams making the space even more empty. He sauntered in overawed with the barrenness, recalling the dinners and meetings where battles had been planned, where failures were relieved, where frailties were bolstered with that gruff and commanding voice that grew calm and yet nevertheless ordered, and gave him heart to do his duty for king and country. Where was the mentor and guide? How would Pellew advise him now?

He inclined his head and stared out the stern windows and watched a hoy approach a seventy four. These grand ships, he was part of them. Tar flowed in his veins and gun powder had been his cologne. Seven years in the navy, seven years. It was the only life he knew, and it seemed it would be the only one he would ever know. The memory of Pamela came sprightly upon his heart, light, happy, carefree. Odd that he remembered her so when so much tragedy had befallen her.

**It was you.**

"What?" he asked aloud and turned, fully expecting that someone else was in the room. But no one was there. "Christ," he mumbled, "I'm hearing things again." He removed the hat, grasped his forelock and tugged. " I want it to stop. If this is some sort of... of ... residual brain injury, I do not need it."

Horatio stepped outside into the sun, its warmth increased as the quarter-deck blocked the breezes. The light reflected off the white decking and seared his eyes. Steeling himself with a quick breath, he lay a hand on the railing surrounding the companion leading below and as he had so many times before, he let his foot fall onto the descending tread.

He halted at the base of the stairs and peered forward towards Sebastian's sick berth, his eyes growing accustomed to the dim lighting. The deck looked so odd without the cannon in place, like a grand ballroom awaiting the dancers, the orchestra, the fine lords and ladies. With a cocked eyebrow, he knew he would want none of such an affair. He looked aft and hesitated. It was dark that direction. His cabin was there. Their cabin was there. He hesitated, then took halting steps toward it, grabbing a work lantern from the overhead beam.

/////Blam!////////

The sound echoed in his memory. The cabin door he kicked open had bounced on the wall behind it. Pamela had refused to speak to him and hid behind the locked portal. He could see her now, the startled expression, and those flimsy gypsy clothes she was wearing, raising his ire further. He informed her that Edrington was going to apologize for his behaviour, which the man did. Then, everyone departed, leaving him alone to confront his wife.

//////////"What are you doing here?" he asked her pointedly

She swallowed nervously. "I... I..." She raised a cautious hand towards his face. "You're hurt."

"Do not change the subject. WHAT are you doing here?"

She shook her head. "You... you don't want me."

"Did I SAY that?"

He picked her up bodily and carried her back to his cabin. Once inside he kissed her brusingly despite the taste of blood in his mouth from the fight with Edrington.

He hugged her tightly and whispered in her ear. "YOU are my wife. MY wife. Do you understand?"//////////

Hornblower sighed. Fighting with a peer! God, she could bring out the worst in him.

He pushed into his old cabin, hanging the lamp on the familiar hook. The bunk was there of course, even the one fitted for Archie to get him out of the middies berth. He smiled wryly remembering poor Kennedy during the past year, packing his things to move out and make room for Pamela. Now, he was gone again, and Hornblower almost chuckled.

He sat down on the bunk and stared at the room. So many nights and days here, studying for his exam, discussions with Archie, sick, ... making love to her, with her, that memory he could not avoid. He looked up at the wood planking over his head and had to lean back to see it properly.

//////////He was buttoning his waistcoat. "Doctor." He tried desperately not to clench his teeth.

"Yes, Mr. Hornblower? Is there something else?" asked Sebastian.

"You know damn well...." Hornblower closed his eyes. "Forgive me, sir. Where is she?"

"Why do you want to know?" Sebastian resumed the writing.

"She is my wife."

"She is resting."

"Where?"

Sebastian sighed. "She needs to rest, Mr. Hornblower."

"Doctor....please....please....tell me where she is?" He waited. "I beg you, sir."

Sebastian leaned back in the chair, met Hornblower's gaze, and crossed his arms.

"Very well. The Indy is not that big. I will find her myself," and Hornblower turned to go.

"Mr. Hornblower..."

He looked back, defiantly.

"She....is under the monkey. Let her sleep!" called Sebastian.////////

But he had not let her sleep. He had wakened her with little kisses, told her how much he loved her, and then made love to her. It was glorious to have her in his arms, beneath him, after the months of separation.

Opening his eyes, he sighed and stared and traced over the little knot of a monkey.

"How in God's name did Sebastian know about this knot? You told him, didn't you, my love?" Another heavy sigh, and he jerked his view to the ship's side. He touched the nail holes. Pamela's portrait. Where was it?

Indeed, where was his sea chest if his father was dead. Had it been sold? And his mother's portrait. Did Julia Arminter have them? But she had returned the letter to the navy, would she keep the other? With a sigh and a frown he supposed he might never see those paintings or his sea chest again.

"Mr. Hornblower?" came a distant call.

He rose and stepped out of the cabin. "Yes. I am here, Starns," he said loudly towards the stairs.

"Are ye ready to head back, sir? If not, I can wait," called the man down the hatchway.

"No, no. I am coming." Hornblower wiped over his face, rubbed his hands on his trousers, then leaned into the cabin and snatched the lantern. He blew out the flame before returning it to its place.

"Everythin's gone, eh? Makes her look strange, don't it?" asked Starns as Hornblower emerged from below.

"Yes."

Starns snatched glimpses of the young officer, but did not rest a gaze upon him.

"Mr. Kennedy took yer things. He was gonna take em to...er." Starns brow knit and he left off speaking.

"I know about my father, Starns," said Hornblower sadly.

"My condolences, Mr. Hornblower. I know he was a fine man, sir."

Hornblower's eyebrows rose briefly. Starns had never met his father. He sighed more heavily than he meant.

"Mr. Kennedy was goin' to take yer things to him, when he got word he had passed." Starns glimpsed Hornblower. "You'd a thought yer da was his the way he took on, but I reckon..." Starns could not say it was Horatio's death that seemed to compound every misfortune the ship and crew experienced since he went over the side. "It's like you were Indy's good luck charm, Mr. Hornblower."

Horatio licked his lips and wagged his head, but Starns continued, not giving him a chance to silence the man.

"For all you saved her, she warn't the same. Captain was broody. Hell, everybody was broody. Beg pardon, sir. We searched for ye for two weeks after ye went. Nobody thought you coulda lived, but nobody wanted ta say ye hadn't. Was only that fellow come aboard that made us leave off the search. Where was ye, sir?"

Hornblower parted his lips, hesitating, then admitted. "I was washed ashore, but I was sick for some time, Starns."

The old man nodded. "No doubt as cold as that water was. You still look puny, if ye don't mind my sayin' so." He looked at Hornblower with one eye, squinting the other in the sunlight. "God's blood." He poked Hornblower with a finger. "Forgive me, sir, I still can't believe ye ain't a ghost come back to haunt the Indy. She'd welcome ye, I know. Ye ain't a ghost er ye, Mr. Hornblower?"

"No," he chuckled, but letting the mirth dissolve from his features, he might wish he were.

Starns seemed reluctant to bring up any further matters of a personal nature, though he proceeded to inform Hornblower on a number of subjects. First, Styles was drinking himself to death in some pub not far from the dockyards. Styles had avoided being pressed so far. Kennedy was going to take him into his ship, but Kennedy feared the man would get a flogging and told him to sober up, that he would not be able to ignore an able seaman forever. After a few weeks leave for Matthews to visit his wife, Matthews and Hardy joined Kennedy in a sloop named Cynthia. She ranged between the ships of the line in the channel fleet. Kennedy was often in port since so small a ship could not carry the supplies for an extended tour of duty.

As the ship-wright and Hornblower leaned against Indy's rail watching a seventy four set sail, Starns went on to inform that Bowles and Rampling had entered into HMS Meteor. Pellew's ship was assigned to the channel fleet under Lord St. Vincent who had taken over from Lord Bridport not long since, and was sailing with l'Impetueux somewhere off Brest. Dr. Sebastian had decided to take a leave of absence from doctoring and Mr. Bracegirdle, too, had gone home for a spell to see his family.

The day the packet exchanged mail with Ville de Paris, Hornblower had discovered it was St. Vincent's flagship, but recent memories kept him silent, as if the admiral would have cared anyway. Hornblower was not far from his mentor that day and that left him with some regret, even though he was not sure he was ready to face anyone now that he had been given the reprieve. The news of his father had scraped open the wound afresh and only avoidance of thought of his da all together had preserved the stoic mask.

Hornblower bid Starns well, and the old sailor wiped a sleeve over his nose and sniffed. Starns promised to keep an eye out for sloop Cynthia and give Kennedy the good news. Parting his company, Hornblower made his way to the clerk of the cheque.

 

After shyly entering Newcombe's offices, Hornblower was given the pay for January service, half pay for February, March, and April, and a small fortune for the prizes taken from the French convoy debacle with Lord Effington. The prize money was shared between the two complements of men of Indefatigable and Vengeance, since they were the two ships involved. Newcombe informed him the only reason his portion had not been spread amongst the other men was because it had been kept aside to send to Hornblower's next of kin. When they learned of Dr. Hornblower's demise, the others had been paid out, and so the money was returned to the general accounts of the navy.

Hornblower was thankful for what he received, seeing as how he had been responsible for the loss of two of the prizes, Renard de Mer and Le Petite Canard, not to mention the cargo of weapons and powder. The funds would purchase much needed uniforms and he decided first thing tomorrow, he would look into getting them. It might take a while to situate himself in harm's way and he might as well look the part. Besides, a captain might consider him over another if he presented well.

Hornblower spent the rest of the afternoon walking the quay and over and around to Spice Island. When he realized the dockyard clock was chiming half past five, he had to step lively to return to the dockyards. Breathlessly, he approached the offices just as Leftenant Dix was emerging.

"Ah! How did your afternoon go, Mr. Hornblower?" greeted Dix, handing over Hornblower's things, and motioning towards the gates.

"Very well, and I am sure, owing to your help, sir."

"No difficulty in getting your pay, I take it?"

"No, sir."

"You had all the proper paper work. The gazette from Gibraltar saved some time and I verified your assumed demise by Captain Pellew. Aaa, speaking of captains, the port admiral may call you in about the matter of a certain gentleman, I fear."

"I will hazard a guess that it might be a Canadian gentleman whose last initial is B?" asked Hornblower cagily.

Dix smiled. "I see you have been cautioned. Yes, that would be the individual in question."

"I have not much to add other than that in my report."

"I understand, Mr. Hornblower. Oh," he reached inside his coat, "Here is the letter to the doctors at Haslar. Appear there tomorrow afternoon at four bells."

"Yes, sir."

"I think you will like this boarding house. It isn't far at all. I lodged there when I first came to Portsmouth. The lady runs a clean house and the meals are adequate."

"I thank you for the recommendation and for your kindness in directing me, Mr. Dix."

Dix smiled warmly. "I have a younger brother about your age. I hope some kind soul will treat him equally so."

"I pray so, sir." Hornblower calculated the sums in his pocket before offering. "Leftenant, may I offer to buy you dinner this evening."

"That is very kind of you, Mr. Hornblower, but, I fear I have a previous engagement. Perhaps another time."

"This excursion will not make you late, sir?"

"No, no. It isn't much farther. Just up here on Highbury Street. The proprietess is a Mrs. Mason."

Dix knocked on the door, and it was opened by a young woman in a cap with soft brown curls dancing out beneath it. Hornblower swallowed and stared, feeling a sudden urge to take flight. Being in the presence of a young woman, a girl, was not what he desired. He felt the flush on his cheek. Perhaps he should have questioned Dix further on the lodgings.

"Maria! Good to see you! I've brought your mother a boarder. This is Mr. Hornblower. Have you a room?"

"Leftenant Dix, sir," she curtsied. "Indeed, we do have a room available. Won't you come in, sirs."

Dix and Hornblower entered into the foyer.

"I'll fetch my mother. Excuse me." She darted her eyes over Hornblower, then lowered them, leaving the two men alone.

"I've brought other officers in need of reasonable lodgings before, Mr. Hornblower. I feel I know the family. And, as I said, I stayed here once myself, years ago."

Hornblower smiled, receiving the answers to questions he was about to ask and therefore said nothing. It would be all right, he told himself. Once he had the room, he would not be in the company of anyone. The aroma of the evening meal filled the house and the food smelled hearty and wholesome, like Mrs. Grayson's cooking at his father's home. The reminder saddened. The sights of the city had forestalled thoughts of his father.

"Ah, Leftenant Dix," greeted Mrs. Mason, drying her hands on an apron.

"Mrs. Mason," bowed the leftenant, "I have a friend in need of lodgings, until his ship sails. It might be a week or more," Dix added.

"I see," said Mrs. Mason eyeing the elder patron, "so I should give him the weekly rate then."

Dix smiled broadly. "I am sure it will be at least a week if not more."

"Well, if he stays a week and the linens are changed weekly, then, aye, he can have it for five shillings and six, in advance. That includes breakfast and dinner. You won't find any more reasonable than that Mr....."

"Hornblower, madam, Horatio Hornblower," he bowed. He spotted the young girl behind her mother listening to the conversation. She was shorter than Pamela and no where near as pretty. She did not look the type disposed to climbing masts at all. Hornblower turned his head and blinked, wanting to kick himself. **This is to be the rest of my life, comparing every woman I meet to you, isn't it? Stop laughing, my love, I know you would be. I've got to stop having conversations with you in my head,** he thought, as he dug the required coinage out of his pocket. He placed it in the lady's hand.

"You're too late for the evening meal, I'm afraid."

"Mother," protested the daughter.

"It is quite all right, Mrs. Mason. I have a dinner engagement this evening already and will not require it," added Hornblower quickly, glancing Dix's way.

"Ah, then," said Dix, "it seems you will come to an agreement. I shall bid you all good evening. I will see you again, Mr. Hornblower?"

"You will, sir. Thank you again for your assistance today."

"Happy to be of service. Goodnight all." With that Leftenant Dix was gone and Hornblower stood awkwardly before the lady and knew she was assessing the state of his uniform, and he could not blame her.

"Is that all the luggage you've got, sir?" she asked, motioning at the canvas bag in his hand.

"For the moment, it is."

"Humph," she said with a high pitched tone. "Maria, show him to his room."

"Yes, mother. Follow me, Mr. Hornblower."

She walked up the creaky stairs carrying a candle and Hornblower followed. The girl's clothing was devoid of any particular colour, bland, unimaginative, washed out greens and browns. Her shoulders were narrow. He could not help watch the sway of her broad hips beneath the long skirt. Pamela was not... he stopped the thought and averted his eyes.

"It's just down the hall, sir. It has a nice view of the street, but this is a fairly quiet neighborhood. You can open the window if you like." She looked over her shoulder as they passed through the narrow hallway. She unlocked the door, pushed it open, and entered, proceeding to light the candle on the stand beside the bed.

"There you are, sir. Is it to your liking?" she asked.

"Most suitable, Miss Mason." He felt awkward standing in a bedroom with a woman he did not know.

She blushed. "Here's your key." Her large brown eyes met his. "I could fix you a sandwich if you like, sir."

"No, thank you. I do have a dinner meeting, as I said."

"Yes, sir. Do you wish to be called for breakfast?"

"Yes, if you would be so kind."

"Would you like hot water in the morning? Many of our gentlemen like to shave," she suggested and then bit her bottom lip, nervously.

Hornblower moistened his, knowing his whiskers were already making an appearance.

"Yes. Thank you."

"Breakfast is served at half past six, seven, and half past seven, sir. What time for you?"

"Is there one time or another that would be convenient? I can fit my schedule to yours, at present."

"We have the fewest at half past seven, sir."

"Then, half past seven it shall be," he smiled.

"Yes, sir." She curtsied and stepped into the doorway staring back at the bed. "Let me bring you another quilt, sir. The nights are still going off cool. I'll be right back, sir."

Hornblower threw his boat cloak onto the bed, then the canvas bag, and stared at his surroundings. It was indeed a humble lodging, but he required no more than a roof over his head and a bed to sleep in, definitely no where near on a par with the Rose and Thorn, and it was economical.

She returned and stood awkwardly, having planned to spread the quilt, but now his things were in the way.

"I beg your pardon," and he snatched them off the bed.

"Sorry, sir, thank you, sir." She threw the blanket out over the single sized mattress and straightened it neatly. "There you are." She turned and looked into his face. "There's a Jordan under the bed," she informed, indicating the chamber pot. "Is there anything else you require?"

He shook his head, then nodded. "Might I have a jug of hot water now? I have been at sea for nearly two weeks."

"Certainly, sir. If you desire a bath, if you give us enough notice,... I beg your pardon," she gasped. She stepped to the dresser and took the empty china jug sitting in the mismatched bowl. "I shall fetch it right away."

"Shall I do it? I mean..."

"No, sir. It's no trouble. I will be back straight away."

Hornblower breathed a sigh of relief once she was gone, and he realized he was still clutching his few possessions. He dropped the lot onto the bed, detached the dirk, and stepped to the window. He looked down upon the street, seeing the lamp lighter had made his way by since he and Dix had entered the house. Unlocking the window, he raised it and was met with a blast of cold night air. He filled his lungs and looked up at the stars, just emerging in the night sky. The clip clop of horse hooves and the rattle of a carriage rose up from the street.

Maria Mason stood in the doorway clutching the jug of hot water and watched him. Light from the candle and light from outside lit the sharp angles of his cheek and jaw. He was too thin. She would be sure to see he was fed a bounteous breakfast.

He turned his head and saw her standing there and neither spoke for a moment.

She was round this young girl and soft, no doubt, he thought. He stepped towards her slowly without speaking and came so close his eyes lidded as he looked down into her upturned countenance.

"Thank you, for the water," he said lowly, slipping his hands around the girth of the container.

She sucked a breath, instantly aware she had not taken one for some moments.

"You're welcome, Mr. Hornblower."

He smiled wryly. "Goodnight, Miss Mason."

"Goodnight, sir."

He closed the door after her, locked it, and sat the jug in the bowl.

"God, Pamela," he whispered, placing his hands on the dresser edges and bowing his head, "I need you. God, I need my wife."

Standing upright, he removed his coat, waistcoat, shirt, ... the leather pouch around his neck, then poured the water into the basin slowly, listening to the water fall, seeing a light steam rise, and washed his torso, droplets clinging to the hairs beneath his arms. A towel was in the top drawer. He dried and put on the spare shirt saved clean since Gibraltar. It was still damp from being at sea and he did not button it. The heat of his body would dry it soon enough.

He flopped onto the bed with a sigh, denying any thoughts of his father. He was not ready to face that loss. He had barely reconciled to the loss of his wife. Who was he kidding? He would never be over her loss.

He sat up and removed the pounds in paper notes and coin from the pocket of the topcoat. It was quite a sum. He had never possessed so much earned ready cash in his entire life, it being over sixty pounds.

Not wishing to walk about the streets of Portsmouth with such a sum, he considered where he might hide it. Surely, the shabby nature of his clothing would provide some defense against anyone thinking he was well off, but still he did not want to carry such a treasure with him. At last, he chose to put it beneath the mattress, keeping three pounds and change for himself. That would be far more than he would need for a humble pub meal. As an afterthought, he placed the leather pouch there as well.

Staring at the scarecrow visage in the mirror, he tied the black cloth about his neck, donned the waistcoat, topcoat, attached the dirk, stepped into the hallway and locked the bedroom door. The hallway was carpeted with a thin rug he had not noticed on his way there. It was faded, worn and thread bare in places, like his jacket. His footsteps sounded on the stairs as he neared the foyer.

Mrs. Mason stood in the dining room doorway and watched his final descent. "Everything to your liking, Mr. Horn..."

"Hornblower. Yes, madam. I am going to dinner. At what time is the door locked?"

"I lock it at eleven, sir. If you arrive later, just knock. I or my Maria will open for you."

"Thank you, madam. I shall endeavour to return before eleven."

She nodded and watched him close the door behind. "Humph!" she commented after him.

Hornblower stopped in the street and decided to return to Spice Island. He had seen a tavern there that looked friendly enough, The Bridge Tavern, it was named.

He shrugged in the topcoat and wondered if he should have brought along his cloak. The walk would warm him. No need to pass by the formidable Mrs. Mason again.

It was good to stretch his legs for the third time that day. He followed the curving street until it ended on the Hard. The smells of the harbour wafted over the road and mingled with odors of the dockyard and neighboring taverns, an undesirable mix to be sure, but as he kept moving eastward, the pungent reek of the low tide fell away.

There was a length of land where businesses, small homes and lodging houses existed before the road swept south, then westward into the little peninsula. The tree lined footpath leading past the cathedral and down around to the spit of land known as Spice Island was eerily silent.

Raucous men's voices slowly became louder as he neared the enclave of taverns dotted near the water. The sound rose and fell in some lively conversation, or bold tale. Lights from these establishments formed golden pools on the cobbled street.

The Bridge Tavern was set apart, surrounded by fishing boats in various states. Some seemed to be in storage, others under repair, and some were in a state of preparation, civilian craft, separated from the naval vessels not more than a stones throw as the crow flies but more than a mile on foot.

Hornblower found his way to the white stucco building. Flower boxes filled with every colour of pansy garnished either side of the steps leading to the doorway. His long legs mounted the stairs easily and he stepped aside as a man and a lady exited the entryway. Hornblower paused to watch the man lace his fingers between those of his companion and the two gazed happily at each other.

Loneliness settled on him like a pall.

He stepped through the doorway and his eyes swept the menu board quickly.

"Evenin', Leftenant. What can we do ye for?" asked the man behind the bar, dressed in rolled up shirt sleeves and a vest.

"Shepherds pie, if you please, and a pint of bitter."

"Aye, aye, captain," the man grinned. "Shepherd's pie, Lizzie!" he called as he pulled on the tap with a burly arm. "Two shillings, Capn, and we'll bring the pie out straight away." He placed the beer on a mat and some of the amber fluid slipped over the edge. "Sit where you like, sir. Next."

Hornblower glanced behind him, moved out of the way, and located a seat on a wall bench with a small empty round table on which he sat the beer. Other officers dotted the room from the navy and the marines, some in female company, some not. He finished the beer sooner than he expected and went for a second, feeling slightly light headed. He needed to remember that beer on shore was stronger than that aboard ship. A waiter brought the dish of beef, peas and carrots, covered over with a lid of mashed potatoes, a dollop of butter pooling in the center and spreading in rivulets amongst the browned tips. He laid into the food, breaking off bits of bread to clean the plate. Not the best manners, he knew, but his too thin body did not care. He lifted the beer glass to his lips and drank. After the third pint, he noticed her standing at the bar.

She was a painted lady. The heavy make-up reminded him of the elaborate decoration on Pamela's face the morning after his rescue at Toulon. The idea of his wife sporting such embellishment appalled him.

The woman had strawberry blonde hair pulled up to reveal a white shapely neck. Her bosoms mounded out the top of the tight red bodice with a cream chemise barely doing what it was meant for. The red and white striped skirt was full, with layers of cream white frilled petticoats showing out around the base, where a black strap wrapped around naked ankles, attached to shoes with incredibly high heels. How did she walk in such foot gear? He swallowed and looked away, guessing why she was eyeing him. He brought his eyes up to hers boldly, and after holding her gaze, she smiled and ambled over his way.

"Good evenin', love. Enjoy the food?"

"Yes."

"I saw you were packin' it right away. Just in from the sea?"

"Yes."

"Ship paid off?"

"Sort of, yes."

"Sort of, yes," she repeated with a smile, rubbing a finger along the back of the chair. "You haven't offered to buy me a drink yet, or to have a seat."

"I beg your pardon." He stood. "Please do sit down. What would you like to drink?" He was nigh inebriated with the three pints of beer he'd consumed.

"Gin, with a beer chaser. Just a half pint, sweetie."

"As you wish."

Hornblower ordered the drinks, and watched her as he waited, then walked out the side door.

Her jaw dropped. She rose and minced over to the bar. "Hey, Joe! Where'd he go?"

"Takin' a pee, Daisy. What else?"

She snorted and went to the door but could not see him anywhere. Returning to their table, she placed her hands on either side of her breasts and shifted the bodice, checking to see how the copious flesh looked, plucking and tucking at the chemise. Then, looked around lazily with a sigh. When she looked back at the bar, he was there gathering all three glasses in his grasp.

He returned, set the lot down, and placed her two in front of her arms resting on the table.

"There you are, Miss."

"Mm, you have lovely long fingers, Mr.... ?"

"Hornblower, Horatio Hornblower." He sat.

She grinned. "Hornblower," she repeated and giggled and sipped the gin, following it with a swallow of beer. "Would you like me to?"

"Sorry?" asked Hornblower, setting the pint glass on the table.

She giggled again and drank, then reached and took the curl on his forehead between her fingers.

He grasped her wrist sharply, striking out like a snake. "Don't!"

"Take it easy, you!"

"Sorry." He let go the wrist. "I apologize." He lifted the beer to his lips.

She looked at him doubtfully, but since he said he was sorry she allowed it was the beer. He did not look like he was the rough sort.

"How come you're all alone, Mr. Hornblower?" she asked leaning and resting her chin in her palm.

"Wrong question, Miss... ?" He felt himself waver, but took another swig of beer anyway. She had very white bosoms, he thought.

"Daisy. My name is Daisy."

He chuckled in a silly way.

"Why is that funny?" she asked softly.

"You're named after a flower." Her bosoms were as white as the petals of the flower she was named for; he amended his earlier thought.

"Yes, ...I am. Do you like to.... pluck flowers, Mr. Hornblower?" She said the l's in those two words, emphasizing them with her tongue off the back of her front teeth.

"I haven't much opportunity for such a pastime," he answered truthfully. At once, he saw Kennedy meandering through the multi-coloured flowers of Palermo, Sicily, the bees buzzing round him, both insect and man ignoring one another. "But I have a friend, had... have... had a friend, who does... in Sissi, in Sis, in Palermo."

She drank down the gin and finished the beer. "Would you like to see my garden?"

"What? Now?" he asked. He thought about it, knowing it was dark, and the colours would not be very vivid. Lifting the pint glass to his lips, he gulped down the tasty hops, keeping his eyes on present company. Was she serious about visiting flora this time of day, or was this a veiled premise for something else? "All right. How far is it?"

"Not far. Come on."

She took his hand and he let her. With the other, he clutched the bicorn. Daisy led him to the back of the tavern and went up the staircase.

"Your garden is up here?"

"Yes. You'll see."

She pulled him into a room, closed the door, and leaned against it.

They were in a bed chamber,-- a night stand, and a washstand the only other furniture. Frowning, he turned to face her.

"Your ... bed seems devoid of flowers, ma'am," he said weaving, brow knit and chin lowered.

She smiled. Her eyes traced the length of him. "You could plant a flower there. A Daisy, perhaps?" she suggested.

He silently stared and felt like he was on the deck of a ship and considered the options. Having no idea how to proceed with such an offer, he took a step towards her and the door. "I think not."

She took his hand and held it momentarily on the exposed mound of her breast.

"Then, let me take care of you the other way. Just five shillings, eh?"

"What? No!"

He removed his hand easily as she had put hers to undoing the buttons of his trousers.

"What are you doing? Stop that!" and he took a step back.

"It's all right, Mr. Hornblower. Just follow my lead."

She advanced towards him and he fell back onto the bed, her hands busily working well-nigh getting a "hold" on him.

"STOP, madam," he stated, somewhat surprised by her boldness, the ridiculous situation in which he found himself bringing a modicum of sobriety.

She obeyed, and all movement of both ceased, his from shock, and hers because a slow smile of triumph eased over her features.

"Now... see there," she cooed, "you do want it."

Hornblower looked down at the bulge appearing beneath the fabric of his trousers.

She quietly started to undo the buttons once more.

"No!" He grasped her hands. "I have had too much to drink and if... if I gave you the impression that this was ... my intended goal... it is a misunderstanding."

"Your lips say stop but your body says go. Let me blow your horn for you, Mr. Hornblower."

That did it. He pushed her off of him and she landed with a thump on her derriere.

"Forgive me," and in a single stride, as he secured his britches, he reached for the door knob when it opened widely of its own accord.

In the doorway stood a woman of such familiar beauty it took Hornblower's breath with a gasp. Dressed in a silky peach colored wrapper dotted with red poppies, long dark hair loose over her shoulders and deep brown eyes, she could have been Pamela's older sister. She looked at him first and then at the strawberry blonde seated on the floor.

"Good heavens, Daisy, what are you doing?" she asked, the lack of an American accent shaking Hornblower out of unreality. "No is not what I expect to hear coming from a gentleman's voice."

"This 'gentleman', Mr. HORNblower, is refusing to pay for services rendered," she stated huffily.

The woman looked down at Hornblower's trousers and Hornblower traced her view, the bulge still visible.

"Ahem," he shifted his hat there.

The woman's eyes met his mortified ones.

She addressed Daisy. "If that's been rendered, dear Daisy, you are loosing your touch."

"Humph," said Daisy crossing her arms over her chest. "He was triflin' with me!"

"It was a misunderstanding." Chagrined, Hornblower reached into his pocket, separated three shillings from the other coinage, and offered them to Daisy. "Please, forgive the miscommunication."

Daisy rose from the floor unaided. "The price is five shillings," she protested.

The woman took the money from Hornblower's fingers and slapped them into Daisy's grasped palm. "You didn't DO anything, dear, but embarrass the poor man. Next time make sure you know what you're on about."

Hornblower couldn't move. The woman was standing close enough for the scent of her hair to reach his nostrils. He could see subtle lines about the woman's eyes. She was older than Pamela, yes, but... the colouring, the height, ... He closed his eyes and inhaled slowly and silently,... it was the rose scent that Pamela sometimes rinsed through her hair. He felt queasy and giddy and faint.

Daisy pushed through the door in a snit and thereby caused the woman to press against him. As Daisy stomped out into the hallway and down the stairs, the woman turned to Hornblower.

"Sorry, sir." With rapid concern, she said, "You do not look too well. Are you all right?"

"I... I just..."

"Here, now!" She moved under his arm for support and walked him over to the bed. "Sit down a moment. I keep telling Joe he needs to put a chair in these rooms."

He sat on the edge and she lifted his drooping chin. Reluctantly, he raised his eyes to see her worried features, hoping the resemblance would disappear. That it had not, brought another unexpected gasp.

"You've gone pasty white! Put your head between your legs. A friend of mine says it will put the blood in your head" pausing, she added, "either that or you will vomit." She pushed against his shoulders, forcing his head down. "You're too big for me to lift off the floor. Scoot back a little." Assured as much as possible that he would not fall, she hesitatingly went to the washstand, filled the basin, and wetted a towel.

"I'm not sure this is helping," said Hornblower, his voice muffled.

"Were you about to faint? This will be cool," she warned, slipping the towel under his queue.

"I don't know," came the muffled reply. Finally, he raised up and then fell sideways onto the pillow.

She peered into his face.

"I've not passed out," he said, puffing.

She lifted his feet onto the bed. "I guess three shillings can get you a lie down," she smiled and sat on the edge of the bed.

He threw his arm across his eyes, then rolled it up onto his forehead so he could see her. "But it was not you that received the payment."

Her smile remained. "Don't worry, Daisy will make it up to me someday. What happened? Too much shore beer?"

"Possibly. Yes, I suppose so."

"Hm," she agreed. "I know you navy men are used to having it watered down. So things got out of hand with Daisy?"

"Well, ... actually... it was never in hand... completely," he answered boldly.

The woman laughed lightly and gave him a warm look of approval. "Daisy isn't your type of girl, I think. Save up your money and perhaps ... someone else will do," she suggested.

A slight smile appeared on his lips and then faded as he regarded her.

She looked at his expression curiously, then moved the arm and patted his forehead with the cool towel. "Better?"

He swallowed and did not respond. Some far away voice told him to get up and go to his lodgings, but he did not move a muscle. He did not want to take his eyes off her, even though the likeness was not exact, it was close enough in his alcohol induced reverie. It was easy to place the picture of Pamela over the canvas before him.

Was this something he wanted, or needed? He was growing in sobriety to find himself in the throes of analysis. Daisy was partially right, his body... needed, wanted, ... but Daisy would not have satisfied emotionally and he would have regarded the event with horror and shame. Was it that this woman seemed more refined than Daisy or that she reminded him of Pamela? Or ... both? There was no use denying it, she resembled his wife. Should he or should he not? It was the lump that remained in his trousers that kept him hesitating, for he did not think he could ever allow himself in such a position again, not with drink, not with ... a lady of the evening. Should he give in to his body? Would it be easier with... this one? Once satisfied, would he be set free from the longing, or at least one manifestation of it? Finding out for sure would mean making a choice. He would have to live with whatever consequences might follow, whatever those might be. He just could not think, precisely, what they were. Carry on and see what presents.

The plan. How long would it take to find the right setting? Would he prove a coward in the end, or did it only mean putting a little more out on the line than normal, to find an end for the means? But that was way beyond these walls.

She lifted the towel and touched his cheeks and his forehead with the damp cloth. "What?" she asked, seeing the pensive grimace.

Finally, he gathered up his nerve.

"How much... would I have to save?"

Even though he couched the question in those terms, he decided that if he would give his body to this woman, it would be tonight or never. He would not come back here, neither would he ever allow so much drink to saturate him.

She studied his face, the clothing that was sadly wanting.

"Let me do you a favor, Mr. Hornblower. Keep your money for a new uniform."

She rose and hung the damp towel over the washstand rod.

Whether she meant it out of kindness or to humiliate, the remark cut. Hornblower came to his feet, anger held in check. He wanted an answer, not a rebuke. He stepped up closely behind her and when she turned, she had to raise her view.

"How much?" he asked, his tone reflecting his attitude.

She stared into his eyes. She knew how much money he had, she had seen it in his palm when he was gathering the shillings for Daisy. It was her call and she knew it. She could over price herself and send him on his way, or ...

"Why? Why will I do and not Daisy? Answer me that first."

To him the answer was obvious. She was lovely to look at. Her accent was not common, more refined as he judged earlier... and, the main reason...

"You... you remind me of someone."

"Who?"

Hornblower thought, **What does it matter if she knows? What does anything matter?**

"My ... my wife."

The woman stared thoughtfully, a measure of disbelief reflected in her features.

"Go home to her, then." She held his eyes, unable to read or understand the mix of emotions her response brought. Anger, sadness, love, futility.

The command was like thin glass striking a slate floor, shattering into a thousand pieces.

"I... I ... cannot," he gulped, and continued on with a voice of amazement, "she's ... she's.. she's dead." Like a knife in the heart, twisted for good measure, Hornblower experienced the wrenching emotional pain as on the beach that day in Gibraltar, having reminisced about her company, and it plunged his beleaguered mind into the depths of despair. He took a step towards the wall and touched it with a shoulder.

"How?" she asked, shocked, not sure she wanted to know. She watched that one word ricochet in his emotions stripped bare, his eyes a window to his soul.

He turned his face to the wall, breaking into a sweat, and leaned his cheek flat against it, hoping the cool plaster would ease the nauseous feeling. Here it was. The question he feared most. The question Indefatigable's resolving had released him from. He had killed her. He had killed the woman he loved. Killed her with love. Could he blame the child? No. It was his fault.

"I ..." breathing was difficult, "she... was having my ... my ... child... It's all my fault. I... "

His words took her by surprise. She spoke quickly. "Things happen. They just happen. There is no one to blame."

"I wasn't there. I should have been there. I might have helped." He covered his eyes. The self-loathing rose up and draped him. How could he be thinking of making love... to someone else... to anyone. It wouldn't be love. What is that called? One of the crude expressions he heard the men below decks use and laugh about?

She wiped over his shoulders, feeling the rigid unmoving stance.

"Don't do this to yourself."

No response.

"Let me hold you. Has anyone held you?" she asked helplessly.

He tried to fight the emotion, but his defenses were down. The drink had his defenses down. He did not want to do this. He did not want to break in front of this stranger.

"Come on," she whispered, "Let it out before you have to face your shipmates, eh?"

The idea of anyone seeing him like this... He couldn't. With a gasp, he looked up with wide eyes and wiped down his face. He shook his head. "I cannot talk about her. I cannot." He staggered to the door and careened down the stairs, disappearing out the back door in a blue blur.

"Hey! Watch where you're going!" complained a man.

Nearly twisting his ankle on the uneven pavement, Hornblower lifted his long legs and ran falteringly over the cobbled street until there was no more light, no more life. Only the sound of his footfalls and shuddering breath broke the silent night.

"No!" he said breathlessly. "NO!" He slapped into the stone wall bodily that separated the street from the shore. Pounding it with the butt of his fists, he wept bitterly. "No. Pamela. Don't leave me. Don't leave me!" He slid down and crumpled on the ground. "Don't leave me. Don't leave me. I love you. Don't leave me." He wept and vainly watched for the possibility of his mind shutting down to the horror of her absence. It did not come. He rolled onto his back and pleaded to the stars. "Let me die," he whispered, "let me die. I do not want to live. Let me die." A sob interrupted the mantra. "Don't make me live without... don't make me live. Please. Please." He pulled his knees into his chest. "Please. Please," he begged. "Take the pain away."

Silence.

Time passed.

Just beyond the wall, the water sloshed softly against the mix of sand and shale. Hornblower turned his head sadly to the sound. "I wish I were dead. I want to be dead."

He rose slowly and brushed his clothing.

"Oh damn," he sighed, then thought. **I'm going to make a fine picture tomorrow for those doctors.** Gasping, "Da ... !"

He leaned against the wall pillowing his head against his arms. **You, too...?** Inhaling, he flung his back against the wall and stared at the silent stars. "Da," he whispered.

Hornblower hung his head, then set off, tripping over the stone street, his shoulders bent with an unseen weight, wiping at his eyes. He shook his head. "I cannot. I cannot. I cannot allow myself to think of her... or speak of her," his voice cracked, "I cannot."

He recalled Starns promise to tell Kennedy he lived.

"God, I cannot. Not Kennedy. He knows... too much. I... I... cannot."

He knew the name of Kennedy's ship. He would keep out a wary eye and avoid the dockyard when she was in port and pray he could get a ship where he knew no one.

No one.

The plan was best accomplished alone.

No need for anyone to know.

He almost regretted the meeting with the ship-wright, but it supplied valuable information. He had to prepare... for any eventuality.

Kennedy would not understand. How could he?