An American Encounter, Part Four
Ch 2 Are There No Happy Endings?
The noon sun beat down upon Hornblower's head and shoulders, the dark navy blue clothing superheated with the light's absorption. Squinting, the young naval officer walked up and down the wharf conversing with various individuals seemingly attached to the watercraft there, attempting to discover which wherry could take him directly to Haslar Hospital without first a detour to the Victualling Yard. In the distance, he could see an upper corner of the massive three-story red brick building that housed the hospital. It wasn't that far. The only obstacle to reaching the place was crossing the expanse of water where ships came and went.
The man with whom Hornblower spoke indicated with a nod down the dock, and after ascertaining which boat, Hornblower strode towards it.
Coming to a stop at the sailboat's stern, Hornblower informed the ship's captain of his requirements, and the man motioned him to come aboard. Hornblower did so and, with a minutely better vantage, stood staring at the shipping. He peered forward with strabismal eyes which caused his white teeth to bare in what almost seemed a benign snarl. It was hot. A trickle of sweat meandered down the center of his spine despite the water-cooled breeze lightly whipping the tail of his hair across his upper back and whiffling upon his neck.
"When are we leaving?" questioned Hornblower.
"Waitin' on Captain Marquet, sir," answered the man as he fiddled with a line, "I'll have ye there, sir, well before four bells."
Hornblower sat resignedly, then rose to his feet.
"Hot day," commented the boat's captain.
Hot enough for Hornblower to recollect his morning wake-up call.
The landlady's daughter came into his room as the excursions of the night before had kept Hornblower up late trying to remedy the deplorable condition of his uniform, and between that and the drink consumed, he was sleeping rather soundly in the deep, warm, body-molding feather mattress. He did not respond to her knock, or calls at the door. Forced to enter his bed chamber, she was in high pink to see him sleeping without a nightshirt (he came to understand later) which he did not own currently, and with his mind in a groggy condition, sitting up to comprehend just where, in heaven's name, he was and who she was, the covers fell about his bare abdomen.
He was put upon to understand why a female was upset at his state of undress, even though she did not see anything untoward. Her response caused him initially to grasp the bed clothes to his chest. The girl was nigh unnerved, explaining why she had touched his bare shoulder to rouse him from sleep. Altering the word "rouse" which somehow flustered her and she said, "Wake. Wake you, sir," she turned to face him, then gave him her back, all breathless and shaky in her speech. That, combining with Hornblower's own unclear, mildly hung over, state of mind, caused him a moderate amount of confusion. Embarrassment came later when he was more fully awake as he ruminated over the words "rouse" and "wake". What was the girl thinking? Had he done something to cause her agitated responses? Certainly, all he had done was sleep. Had he not?
Hesitantly, he went below stairs and entered the dining room.
At breakfast, the girl apologized profusely for her reaction in his bed chamber which served to cause both further embarrassment. Another lodger watched and listened to the exchange as he chewed on a piece of toast. After Maria retreated to the kitchen, Hornblower had nodded at the man and forced a lame smile before concentrating on the cup of tea brought when coffee was requested. Hornblower was massaging the mild ache in his temples when the girl returned with a copious amount of food, realized her mistake with the drink and nearly dumped the tea in his lap as she extracted the incorrect beverage. If it had not been for the arrival of the coffee, he had considered whether he might get up and leave, but not wanting to cause her more discomfort or seem ungrateful, he had remained and attempted to eat some of the food despite a doubtful stomach. Simple toast would have done this morning. More than anything, however, he desired to separate himself from the awkward situation. Indeed, ANOTHER awkward situation with a female. Two in less than the space of twenty-four hours. It was a relief to close the front door behind him.
He sighed heavily.
With a brief attempt at pacing in the small space of the wherry, Hornblower decided to sit down before he tripped and made a fool of himself. Reaching into the inside pocket of his old jacket, his fingers nimbly leafed through the contents until he felt the crisp napkin of cloth. Removing it, he gazed regrettably at its purity, thought briefly about its earlier implications, then mopped his brow, and frowned at the moisture it absorbed.
He stared at the new navy blue trousers surrounding his thin legs, feeling the sweat on them cause the fabric to cling where the wooden seat pressed it against his flesh. With a scowl, he recalled the worn though comfortable stained white trousers he exchanged for these, and was glad he insisted the old trousers be sent to his lodgings with the new purchases.
Gieves and Hawke on Portsmouth Hard. The looks he had to endure from the clothiers was pitiable. However, the tailors rose to the challenge. They were able to fit him with the new trousers while he waited- these, and promised to get to work straight away on four more working pair, two blue and two white, and one pair of white breeches.
The little tailor had tallied and tallied and suggested he would need this and that and in retrospect, Hornblower felt he had ordered enough clothes to last longer than he intended to need them. New shirts were not a problem size wise since the garments tended to be roomy and he purchased five, one with fancier frills than the other four. Three pair of white cotton stockings (the silk were too dear a price), six pair of socks-- white and blue, smallclothes, three neck-cloths all black, a half dozen handkerchiefs (which threatened him with memories of Pamela), and one night shirt with frilled cuffs, were all packaged up and sent to the Mason's (Hornblower could not help but smile when he thought of his landlady's expression upon the arrival of innumerable packages from the clothiers). He applied for two waistcoats, a new hat, two pair of buckle shoes, a new pair of black Hessians, two undress and one dress jacket, these all to be made to fit, though the tailors assured that the coats would be made somewhat spacious owing to the immediate state of his body.
The kitting out took all of the morning and over half of the prize money which he paid in advance (partly out of fear of something happening to such a sum in his possession), but he had nothing else to do with it other than live until he was assigned to a new ship. A week, the tailor said a week. The made to fit items would be completed in a week. Hornblower suspected the ready payment in advance had something to do with the rapidity of assembly, though that was not particularly his intention. He had no idea of his times at this point.
Hornblower took a deep breath and wondered what to do about storage for the things, twisting his mouth as he cogitated the dilemma. The washstand drawers were the immediate solution. He missed his sea chest, the chest that had first belonged to his father, H. Hornblower. His features softened as he contemplated his mother choosing to name him Horatio. That alone made him as comfortable as he could be with that part of his name. As for the latter part, it was his father's name...
He loved his da... but he could not allow those thoughts. Not yet.
"Excuse me, sir," pardoned the captain, knocking into the beaten leather toes of Hornblower's shoes as he plopped onto the bench.
Hornblower pulled his feet back under the seat and acknowledged the senior officer's apology. Surveying the activities of the boat's crew, Hornblower became aware that the lines were slipped and a hand was raising the fore and aft main sail.
"Going to Haslar, Leftenant?"
"Aye, sir," responded Hornblower.
The captain leaned forward and peered at Hornblower up and down. Marquet was a portly man and up in years, white tufts at his ears and a long grey queue, his face puffy, ruddy, and white, blue-eyed. For some odd reason, the face made Hornblower think of the white ensign.
Hornblower swallowed and searched for a reply. "Recovered, sir. I expect to be certified fit for duty."
"Ah," nodded the captain and he gazed out to sea and said nothing more. No queries as to Hornblower's last ship, nor what his wounds were. Neither did the captain offer information about himself or his command, seemingly lost in his own thoughts.
The breeze that came over the larboard quarter as the vessel cleared the break of the surrounding buildings and wharf was welcome and Hornblower filled his lungs. Glimpsing the yard clock, he gauged the wind and time and worried about arriving late for the appointment. The time with the tailors had taken longer than he expected. Grabbing a bit of bread and cheese and washing it down with a half pint was all he had time for in the way of lunch.
The captain of the craft put the tiller over to aim in the southwesterly direction of Haslar from Portsmouth Hard. The boat met the waves bow on and a bit of spray came over the side, welcome cool.
Hornblower looked back at the land falling behind and saw the top of the Bridge Tavern, the name just visible. He licked his lips and swallowed and closed his eyes and thanked God no one on this boat knew of his folly. Mentally, he shook his head and relived the moments of last night. God! What was he thinking? He had not been thinking. **Drinking not thinking. Damn me.** He wiped a hand over his face.
"Are you well, sir?"
Startled by the captain's question, Hornblower hastily replied with a nervous but slight smile, "Yes! Yes. Just thinking, sir."
"I wouldn't worry, sir. You look fit to me. Doctors. Just answer their questions. Leave 'em poke about, if they must."
"Yes, sir," answered Hornblower blankly.
Poke about? He supposed they might want to touch the lumps on his skull, but.... other than that... all other wounds were long healed. How would they determine if he were certifiably fit? An obscure thought struck out of nowhere.
What if they did not allow him back into the service?
He had just spent a huge sum of money on clothing he would not need if that were the case. How they would determine if he were fit for service, he had no idea. It all seemed rather fantastic to him, but then he must have appeared unbelievable to the captains in Gibraltar when they learned he had been at sea for weeks traveling to Gibraltar in a small open boat, when he could have gone to Lisbon or Oporto and located a British warship to take him in, or take him back to England. If they were not going to let him back into the service, why had he not gone to America with Pamela? She might still be alive if he had. Immediately aware of his own sorrowful countenance, Hornblower pulled himself up short and blanked his expression.
So, if he were not found fit, what would he do? How would the plan be completed? He considered a death in service to his country would be a noble thing, though it was sought for his own purposes. Was that selfish? Sighing and canting his head, he thought of the footpads and highwaymen on the road between Portsmouth and Haslemere. There was that. Yes, in the back of his mind, he knew he would journey there... and soon. Returning to the previous thought -- nothing noble about being done in by one of those, footpads or highwaymen, but again, he was not looking for a noble death, only Dr. Andrews' cajoling made him think to do it for England. Of course, he loved England. He was proud of his country despite any failings a foreign power might lay at her door.
**Pamela. I miss you so.**
He closed his eyes.
**You pop into my head at the oddest times, my love.** He turned his face outboard so he could allow the melancholy expression. **What am I to do? How am I to live without you? I ask myself that daily. What am I going to do without you?**
//////////You will be an admiral some day, my darling.//////////
**God, don't make me live without her long enough to become an admiral. An admiral. Nelson is in his early forties. For me, .... another twenty years, if not more. As if I should survive that long.
**You opened my heart, Pamela. I've got to remember how to close it.**
He looked up into blue sky, white clouds skirting the heavens. It was like another warm spring day a year ago, on a sandy beach... rabbits and hedgehogs. Stop.
Gruffly, he thought, **I suppose I should ask You. Who's praying for me now, eh? Pamela is gone. Why should You care a fig what I do? Or does she pray in heaven?** with a sigh, **She would,** he thought wistfully. **It isn't fair. It isn't fair. Is that what she is doing? My Earth angel now Yours? Didn't You have enough? You had to take mine? I doubt you, God, yet I want my wife with You in heaven if she is not with me on Earth. Why do I think there is a heaven? Has she met my mother? Why am I talking to You? I'm just thinking. That's all it is. Just my own thoughts. My own ridiculous thoughts.** He paused, then argued, **Yes, I know my mother believed in You. It was her death and my father's sorrow... and my own, that made me ... that made me ... cease to believe who mama said You were.** He turned that thought over and answered a question posed silently in the recesses of his mind. **No, I do not want to remember Mrs. Cucinella. I don't care what she knew without knowing Pamela... Maybe I said it in my sleep that night at the villa. Oh God,** he sighed. **I talk in my sleep.** He closed his eyes. **Bloody hell. That's got to stop.**
Turning abruptly where he sat, Hornblower saw the puffy Captain Marquet was observing him with mild interest.
"Ahem," Hornblower cleared his throat and made his face stone serious.
The corners of Marquet's lips turned up. He grabbed Hornblower's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "Courage, my boy. It cannot be as bad as all that."
Hornblower's face went slack. **Pamela... ** he thought frustratedly. **My love.... You're still doing it to me. From the grave, you reach out to embarrass me. Thank God Archie is not here. Am I joking about your death? God. God. Deliver me from these thoughts! Navigation. Navigation. Celestial navigation. I've got to think navigation. Triangulation. Trigonometry. Signs and cosigns. Calculus and ratios. Ratios. Raysh... you called me that when you were close.**
Flap, flap, flap, THUD!
The single crewman had lowered the mainsail and furled it handily, then moved forward to furl the main and fore staysails, giving the captain at the tiller a nod. These two knew their jobs and each others silent signals well. Hornblower had heard neither man speak a single word.
The boat glided slowly in beside the jetty. It appeared a new installation from the looks of its pilings, timbers, and planks. The sailor tossed the bowline to a docker who dropped it over a bollard. Stepping quickly, the crewman retrieved the stern line and threw it to a second dock hand who secured her aft.
Captain Marquet touched his hat to the boat's commander.
"Excellent as always, Mr. Gerard," and he flipped him a shilling.
Hornblower, watching the proceedings, dug into his pocket and retrieved the same. He pressed it into the man's hand.
"Thank you, sir. Will you be here later this afternoon for the return journey?"
"Yes, sir. On the hour, wind willing." He tucked the coin into his vest pocket and gave Hornblower a nod.
The wherry had brought him as close as possible without a beach landing. He desired to preserve what little dignity his shoes retained. Setting foot on the dock, Hornblower gained Beach Road. The mile walk would bring him to the front entrance of Haslar Hospital. Pausing at the base of the incline that would lead to level ground and the central entryway, he stared at the long, broad, winged, red brick building with its white Portland stone dressings and multi-paned windows, topped with rising sun semi-circles in white casements. These were the decorations of an otherwise plain, though enormous building. As he drew closer, he stared at the huge triangular stone relief of the pediment, the British lion standing on his hind legs as so many royal renderings depicted, along with the royal shield.
Many a time on entering Portsmouth Harbour from the Channel he had gazed at the edifice and pondered the souls that inhabited it, though this was the first time he had been this close or on this soil.
On one occasion long ago, his father had stood at the sally port of the city of Portsmouth and peered across the water, gazing at the distant hospital, gazing at the Spithead anchorage dotted with his majesty's warships. Horatio never knew why. It was one of his father's silent periods. His father's eyes had been mournful that day and not knowing the reason confused Horatio. The few words his da spoke were warm, though his voice was tinged with resignation and sadness, "Let's go home," he said, and they did. It was another four years before he was rowed out to Justinian on that windy and wet day.
Entering the administration block, Hornblower's eyes adjusted quickly from the bright sunshine to the closed reception area. Removing his hat and with papers to hand, he approached an orderly seated behind a desk. The man had straight jet black hair that seemed plastered to his head except where the length of the queue rested on his back. His eyes were dark and quick. He looked up.
"Good day. Have you an appointment, sir?"
"Yes," replied Hornblower.
"Are you wounded?" The man's eyes darted over Hornblower and he rose slightly to see Hornblower's legs, then sat again.
Hornblower handed him the thick lot of them which the man balked at, accepted, removed the top sheet and returned the rest to Hornblower's keeping.
"Just the top one, sir." The man said, bent to a tablet. "Leftenant Horatio Hornblower?" he asked as he wrote Hornblower's name into the register.
"All right, sir. Duly noted." He passed the letter back to Hornblower. "Take a seat there, sir. You will be called."
Turning, Hornblower chose one with arms and rested his elbows. Wetting his lips, he gazed at two other men seated in the waiting area, one with his arm in a sling, and one with a missing leg.
Male nurses, marines, officers, navy men passed through the
entry as Hornblower had, or came from a side door and traversed
the width of the area to the opposing side door and disappeared
down a long corridor leading to one or the other of the building's
Hornblower blinked uneasily and fixed his eyes on the papers in his grasp. He opened them and stared at the words, but did not comprehend what he was reading. His mind pondered the two men waiting, and he wondered how they received their injuries. Men he had seen with the same affected limbs had died of the wounds, bleeding to death, and others were alive but maimed. What if in his rush to be a target he survived as a cripple? It was not the first time he considered such a fate. With an inward grimace, he told himself he would have to finish the deed. He lifted his eyes minutely to the one-legged man. Not a life he would choose.
Hornblower felt the tension leave his body. Nelson. The man was awesome.
**I couldn't do it. I couldn't.**
All the conversation with Lady Emma Hamilton the night he tried to run away with the olive merchants washed over him. Stymied at every turn, he was. Lady Hamilton touching his chest and telling him he might be an admiral some day, too. Archie teasing him,... ill after a bad fit. A hand flew to his forehead and he massaged and scratched it.
**Admiral, admiral, ADMIRAL!**
Unaware what he was doing, he had pushed himself violently out of the chair. He looked self-consciously at the two injured companions, then paced over to the door and back to the seat. He saw the clerk stop writing to stare.
Hornblower sat with a sigh and stuffed the papers into his breast pocket and closed his eyes. How was a doctor going to determine if he was fit?
It was over an hour before he was retrieved by an orderly and told to follow him. Entering through a set of double doors, Hornblower followed the man down a long corridor, past offices, the dispensary, another length of offices. They entered a door leading to another waiting room. No others were present. Perhaps he would see someone soon.
The door opposite the one he entered opened and a man in his late thirties to early forties stood in the doorway. Dressed in a simple navy blue coat, he wore a beige ascot. The waistcoat matched the color and material of the coat, as did the trousers. The white shirt beneath it all was wilting slightly.
"Yes, sir." Hornblower came to his feet.
"Come in, sir."
The man extended his hand and Hornblower accepted the firm reassuring handshake.
"I am Doctor Harmony," smiled the man. "Hornblower and Harmony, we sound like some sort of disassociated troubadours, eh? Take a seat there," said the man as he walked around the desk. "You have papers for me?"
The doctor took them as he lowered into the chair. "Excuse me, while I...." and he was lost in reading the particulars of Hornblower's case.
Horatio breathed in as silently as he could and stared at the stark room. It was quite empty except for a certificate mounted in a frame and a rather poor painting of Spithead and another of what seemed to be the hospital but its coloring was not red but grey. Hornblower wondered why for some time and studied the look to be sure it was not some other installation. Eventually, his gaze rested on the man reading and shifting page after page of his report.
Hornblower's brow knit as he thought of all it contained.
The doctor stopped reading at one point and looked up to stare at Hornblower before continuing the read. At long last, Harmony leaned back in his chair and laid the length of his index finger across his lips and pondered the young man across from him.
"Well..., you've the makings of a novelette here, Leftenant."
Hornblower crimsoned. Did the doctor think he had made it all up? But the gazette containing Captain Pellew's report supported the "story".
With a sigh, Harmony leaned forward and shifted the papers until he had Doctor Andrews' letter to hand.
"Doctor Andrews states you have a tendency to 'lose consciousness' when presented with certain effects."
Hornblower blushed. "I do not any longer, sir."
"Hm. Why do you suppose you did? Any ideas?"
"Well, I believe... I believe Doctor Andrews says..." Hornblower nodded towards the paper in Harmony's hand and swallowed, "my... my ring, sir."
"Yes. I do not see it mentioned in the Captains' report however, only in Andrews' recommendations." He shuffled the papers and read. "It did not come up at your inquiry?"
"No, sir. Just my decision to sail to Gibraltar."
"Over five hundred nautical miles in an open boat when you could have reported to either of two cities relatively nearby with British warships at anchorage. A questionable decision to be sure."
"Yes, sir." Hornblower squirmed. The man was putting together the whole, whereas the Gibraltar Board of Inquiry looked only upon his decision to sail to Gibraltar, not his medical indications. It was easier with Andrews. He saw the unfolding as it happened. Now Hornblower had to explain himself.
"These blacked out bits ..."
"Sir?" Hornblower leaned forward and inclined his head to see what Harmony was pointing at. The part about Brecon had been hidden, in fact, he had not looked before, but what the doctor held was a copy of his report, not the one he wrote. Odd. Why did the copiers not just leave those bits out? Perhaps no one told them to do so, until the copy was completed. Hornblower was puzzled. "Oh. That... a... I am not to speak about that part of my journey, sir."
"Hm. Nor are the Captains at your inquiry, it would seem." Harmony displayed the transcript of the proceedings, black lines and paragraphs completely marred.
"Oh. I had not looked at these since Leftenant Dix returned them. I did not..."
"Suffice it to say, what has been obliterated does not have anything to do with these 'faints' of yours. Is that right?"
Faints? Hornblower did not like the term, but he wished he could have said they did, but that would not have been the truth and besides he would still have to explain the cause noted by Dr. Andrews.
Hornblower shook his bowed head. "No, sir." He could not raise his eyes to meet the doctor's.
Harmony leaned back in his chair, the finger resting across his lips, and was thoughtful.
"Head injuries. Tricky things those. There is so much we do not know about the workings of the mind." He leaned and rested his hands atop the papers, weaving his fingers together. "Andrews reports you claim four traumas in less than the space of a year."
Hornblower twisted his mouth. "I'm all right, sir. Really."
"Not malingering, are you? In fact the opposite, yes? You want to go back, despite..." Harmony appeared perplexed and rose and came round the desk. "Remain seated, Mr. Hornblower."
Horatio knew what was coming. The doctor had a gentle touch that made him think of his father, as his fingertips slipped through the strands of his hair.
"Any of these hurt?"
"Which one is this?"
"Um. Renard de Mer, last November."
"The oldest. Dolphin. Last May."
"Where are the others?"
"Either side. The left just above my ear? Renard de Mer, November."
"Two at the same time?"
"No, sir. About three days apart, I think... or was it two?" Hornblower brought his brown eyes up to Harmony's greys.
"Two very close together then."
Ah. There is the last. This past January?"
"Hm. To be honest, Mr. Hornblower, I would have to say you are a very lucky man to be alive, much less still have his wits about him. Either that or the Lord above has His eye on you, surely."
Hornblower bowed his head. Old Emi was the first image to come to mind, then the Franciscan brothers, and... Pamela, always Pamela when it got to the bottom of things. Harmony's pronouncement was what Doctor Andrews had said, as well.
Andrews concluded when he heard of the devout nature of Hornblower's rescuer from the beach that cold February day, that God must have had a hand in Hornblower's recovery. Between the head injury and the exposure to cold, Andrews could think of no other explanation, and indeed, it was the explanation Hornblower accepted with reserve.
But there HE was again.
Did he, Horatio Hornblower, have a destiny? Hornblower's bull-headedness pushed the thought away to the only destiny he intended for his life.
The doctor bent low and pointed at the back of his own head. "Put your fingers there. Come on," he encouraged.
Hornblower obeyed, slipping his finger tips into the mans greying hair down to his skull.
"Check around there. Feel anything?"
Hornblower licked his lips. "No, sir."
Harmony rose and smiled. "And, most likely your lumps and bumps will diminish, too, Mr. Hornblower. About fifteen years ago I was helping my brother trim dead limbs out of a tree and one clobbered me noggin. Had a bump there for years, but it faded eventually. I do not know if these," he indicated the two on the back of Hornblower's head, "will vanish completely, they may, but they should diminish somewhat. The blow to my head did not knock me insensible as yours did, but it was a hearty thump indeed."
Harmony sat on the edge of his desk. "Now. I see no ring on your fingers."
Hornblower felt his cheeks redden. "No, sir."
"May I see it?"
Hornblower knew it was not a request he could refuse. Setting his mouth in a thin line, he unbuttoned the waistcoat, the shirt, and reached inside for the leather pouch. He removed the ring and hesitated in placing it in Harmony's hand.
The doctor raised it and peered at it.
Hornblower watched the gold gleam with the light from the small window on the back wall. His heart rate increased and he hoped Harmony could not hear it thumping wildly in his chest. He wanted the ring back as much as he wanted Pamela, almost. He wanted it in the pouch next to his heart. For weeks, it had been a familiar touch, resting in his bosom. Hornblower fidgeted and grasped the arms of the chair he sat in.
Harmony stared at the young man sitting before him. Hornblower's eyes were closed, the knuckles of his hands white. As he watched, he saw Hornblower's body visibly relax. The hands eased and released the wooden arms. About to ask if he was asleep, Hornblower opened his eyes, though they stared at nothing, and his face smoothed over into a blank.
"The H is for Horatio?" asked Harmony.
"Yes." Hornblower's voice was calm.
"And the P?"
After a quiet swallow, Hornblower said, "My... Pamela." He looked up into the doctor's eyes. "My wife."
"1799. Just over a year. Wedding date?"
"Where is she?" asked the doctor softly.
"In America," said Hornblower hollowly.
Hornblower shook his head. "United States of."
Harmony's brow creased just above the bridge of his nose.
"Is it not in Doctor Andrew's letter?" asked Horatio. His mouth was dry as dust.
Hornblower blinked repeatedly, and raised his view to the Doctor. The last time he said those two words... last night. He could not bolt from these chambers. He was not inebriated. Was this how? Was this the test that would certify him for service?
"She's dead." Would that confession pave the way to his own demise? There was a vacuum in his chest. He forced his diaphragm to move slowly, imperceptibly. The air returned and the glitter before his eyes faded away. "Childbirth. She died in childbirth. We had a little girl. She died, too." Hornblower paused. "I ... I don't know what we would have named her."
Harmony breathed deeply for both of them.
"For what it is worth, I offer you my condolences."
Hornblower gave a half nod, his eyes not daring to meet those of the doctor.
Harmony held out the ring.
Hornblower received it into his palm. His eyes were hot as he gazed upon it. No, he told himself, no tears. He slipped it onto the fourth finger of his left hand and brought his eyes up to Harmony's.
"You see? I'm fine."
Harmony nodded. "Outwardly, you appear to be," doubt sounded in his tone.
"Yes, sir." Hornblower paused, then said something he would later consider to be totally idiotic. "I've been told I am to be an admiral someday. It is my destiny."
Harmony stared at the young man, then eased into his chair. Was this levity? He smiled crookedly. "Admiral Hornblower. It has quite the ring to it, Leftenant." Harmony shifted the pile of letters. "Very well. I see no impediment to a return to service, sir, however, there is one more stipulation ... from Leftenant Dix."
Hornblower perked up at the name.
"He requests that if I find you ... capable, that I designate three days hence as your date of available return. He says you are to... to take some time for yourself and mentions a possible journey to Haslemere."
Hornblower could not stop the slight jerk of his head. He pressed his lips together. "Yes, sir. I had thought... I... Yes."
Harmony cocked an eyebrow and shook his head. "A lot of grief to bear in such a short time, Mr. Hornblower," he said lowly.
Hornblower nodded and averted his eyes. "My father."
"He was a doctor?"
"A physician, sir." Hornblower met Harmony's gaze steadily. "A very fine physician."
Harmony stood and extended his hand and Hornblower reciprocated.
"I will have these papers sent to Leftenant Dix along with my recommendation for your return to service, Mr. Hornblower."
"Thank you, Doctor."
"I have already offered my condolences. Let me now offer my best wishes... Admiral."
Hornblower twisted a smile. "You said that far too easily, sir."
"Who am I to trifle with the fates?"
Hornblower's mind reeled.
"Goodbye, sir," Hornblower breathed.
Once in the long corridor, he put a hand to the wall and steadied himself. He looked at the ring on his finger and his hand began to shake. He balled it into a fist and took long strides until he stood out of doors. The salt air filled his lungs. The sun blazed into his eyes. He put his hat on his head and started walking. There were men along the way. Some were dressed in hospital garb, attended by orderlies. Some sat in wheeled chairs. He turned his step in a southerly direction, away from the Victualling Yards, away from the jetty, to the mounded grassy ramparts.
At last he stopped and looked upon the ships at anchor and one little schooner that was tacking in a broad reach. Without thinking, his hand flew to his breast pocket, but there was no glass there. Squinting, he stared at the ship for a long time. Without seeing her stern, he knew. It was Kennedy's. He just knew.
The next day, Hornblower sat on the seat facing backwards, next to the open coach window, and let the incoming air cool him as the vehicle lumbered noisily along the rough road. The compartment was crowded with people. An elderly woman dozed opposite, with a young freckle-faced girl in the middle seat. Beside the child was an older man dressed in black as one would expect of an undertaker. The seat next to Hornblower was empty, but at the other window was a young man, light brown hair, dressed in the ordinary clothing of a worker, though both his person and his clothing was clean and tidy.
For the most part, the group was silent, the members seeming to sleep, or at least, their eyes were closed, or fixed on the passing scenery. Hornblower kept his view outside the cabin. Feeling he was being observed, he shifted his eyes to the people opposite and found two small blue eyes boring into him. They were a bright blue and reminded him of Kennedy. The little girl blinked and continued to stare as children do, unaware of their bad manners. Giving her a half smile, he averted his eyes to the spring greenery of the passing forest.
There was no denying the early departure from Portsmouth was partly to avoid any possible contact with his old friend. He was not ready for a confrontation with Kennedy. The errand he was on this day was fraught with the unknown, physically and emotionally. He wanted to be alone.
Before leaving the boarding house, he had informed Mrs. Mason that he might not return this evening, but that he expected that he would be back the following night. She informed him he could not get a refund for the missed meals or room, and he told her he did not expect any. When she wheedled out of him where he was going, she grudgingly informed him she would fix him a lunch to take with him. He told her it was not needed, but she disappeared into the kitchen complaining and telling him to wait there. Women and dealings with money he found unnerving and it reminded him of how his father had dealt with money, when there was any. What was he going to find in Haslemere? Possibly nothing but what he expected, a second grave to stand beside.
Last December, his father said he would not have much to leave in the way of an inheritance. Horatio had not wanted to discuss the subject at all and replied that he needed nothing from his father but his blessing.
//////////"Well, ... I might have something more than a blessing, son, but not much. I... I've sold the cottage, you see. I could not pay the taxes and Lord Heatherton, being ever so kind because of his dear Lady, purchased the dwelling and has allowed me to continue there for as long as I need."
"Father...!" Horatio was aghast at the news.
"Now, now, Horatio. We both know my health has not been the best."
"But only recently, sir," chided Horatio. "If you had let me know..."
"You would have done what? Sent me a part of your meager wages? Do not look so downhearted, Horatio. I never expected you to provide for me. My boy.... my son..." his father's eyes glistened, "We have already been over this. You are not to feel guilty and neither will I. You did not know of my ... illness. I am not a young man, Horatio. I have lived many a year without your mother and though Julia is a comfort... a friend... a ... companion, she knows your mother still holds predominance in my heart. Someday I will join Louisa."
"Father..." Horatio shook his head and turned away.
"You have seen death in battle, Horatio."
His father's tone was as if to imply "his" death would be no different from that of a rating cut down by cannon fire. Far from it, but how would Horatio say so?
"It isn't the same, da." Horatio hung his head.
"Son?" He waited, knowing he had failed at trivializing his death, then gently asked. "Look at me."
Slowly facing his body towards his da, Horatio reluctantly raised his head and tried to mask the worry and sorrow his father's words were bringing. Those brilliant blue eyes of his father were soft and loving and he watched a smile form on the thin lips.
"It has not been easy for us, has it? Making a way in an unkind world? Leaving us bereft of her presence,... but never her love. But us... we've both known all these years, haven't we? We did not need to say it. Is that not right? Or have I been wrong all these years? Can I put it to rights now?" He cupped Horatio's cheek with a soft aging hand. "You've been the second love of my life, Horatio. I am so proud of you."
"Father." It was difficult to see his father's face clearly, and then he was leaning against Hubbell's shoulder and his father's arms clutched him bodily.
"I love you, son," he whispered. "You have been everything I ever wanted in a boy child, Horatio. You have never disappointed. Never."//////////
Horatio felt a warm moist drop escape onto his skin and then, the grasp of a small gloved hand on his. He wiped his cheek with the free hand quickly.
The young girl had leaned forward. She glanced to see that her elderly companion's eyes remained closed, then slipped off the seat to sit beside Hornblower, her feet dangling.
"Are you all right?" whispered the little girl, leaning against him.
Hornblower moistened his lips. "Yes, thank you," he said quietly.
"You are in the navy, aren't you?"
"Yes." He looked down his right arm to see her genial little shiny face.
"My name is Clarissa. What's yours?"
"Are you a captain?" she whispered.
She smiled and gazed up at him. "My da was in the navy.
He was a captain."
She hung her head.
**Was?** thought Hornblower, but he could not ask it.
"What were you thinking about.... before?" she asked. "You looked so sad."
"I was thinking about my father," he answered truthfully.
She wound her arm about his and clutched his hand and thumb.
He looked at the little gloved hand grasping his and softly laid his fingers over her tiny fist.
The girl snuggled against his arm, burying her face in his sleeve, then looked up at him for a while before speaking.
"You smell like my da... like his ship... like when he would come home from the sea." She leaned against his arm and was silent.
Hornblower wished the old woman would waken and order the girl back to her side. He considered tapping the woman's foot with his own, but his soft heart would not let him. He looked at the man dressed in black whose head lolled with the motion of the coach.
The man, beside him and the girl, glanced Hornblower's way and offered a crooked smile.
Hornblower breathed deeply and accepted the new companion. A few minutes later, she released his hand and slipped her head onto his lap, fast asleep. The man beside them leaned forward to look at her and then gently raised her feet to rest in his lap.
"Poor lit'l lassie," he whispered. "Her gram were tellin' me her da's been killed by the Frogs. She's takin' her ta live wi' her auntie outside o' London Town. I saw 'er givin' ye the eye, sir. Yer kindness'll not go unrewarded."
Hornblower stared at the young profile dozing against his thigh. Is this a fate his own child would be spared?... though he suffered it from the father's side? He picked up one of the long brown curls and felt its softness, then leaned his head against the corner of the coach and closed his eyes. Why was life so cruel? Were there no happy endings for anyone?
He inhaled long and slow. He was, after all, nothing so extra-ordinary that he should be privileged with happiness.
The pursuit of happiness. His French teacher had spoken of the high ideals of the Americans, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
His life was no longer, indeed, if it had ever been, in the pursuit of happiness. His life was a life of duty. Happiness was a foreign concept except for a few brief recent months, ... and an age ago... when his mother lived.
By the calendar, not a year, and not even half a year in a counting of days. Happiness mixed with exasperation, frustration, and vexation, but happiness none the less... and love. He covered his eyes and stifled the mounting emotion in his chest. Would this ever stop? It had to. If he was going to return to that life of duty, it had to stop.
The gated entry into the churchyard creaked as iron met iron. Horatio followed the path towards the sanctuary and then took the one off to the right that led to the cemetery.
Hesitating at the entrance, breathing deeply, he took in the sight as a whole, the graves, the green grass, the sound of insects buzzing amongst the flowers growing here and there. The sun saturated the colors of green and grey and the spotting of white, pink, yellow, purple, and... blue... bluebells, his mother's favorite. The sweet smell of the flora drifted on a breeze, enveloped him, drew him in. The heaviness in his chest could not be denied. With a glance, he verified he was the only person present. If the tears came, no one would see. His step faltered. The low mound of earth was visible, he swallowed and moved onwards.
There was the new headstone. His head fell to one side and his bottom lip stiffened.
"Aw, da," he said lowly, "Da." He knelt between the graves, removed his hat and sat back on his heels. "I should have brought flowers... for both of you."
Filling his lungs, Horatio looked at the words carved into the headstone. Dr. Hubbell Hornblower, Born 6 Oct. 1729 Died 12 February 1800 Like a winter hath my absence been from thee. Horatio turned to read his mother's stone. Louisa Harley, Wife of Hubbell Hornblower Born 2 July 1740 Died 5 December 1785 Thyself away thou art present still with me.'
Horatio carefully removed a few stray weeds from each grave. His parents were together again. Were they not? Horatio's emotions were mixed. This death only served to confuse him, but his father had lived a long life, a life without the woman he loved, but he had had many years with his mother.
"I did not get even one," he said wistfully, thinking of Pamela.
The insects hummed. The wind blew the fragrance of bluebells over Hornblower and he breathed in the scent. He raised his eyes to read his mother's epitaph. So true it was for him now. So true it was about his own wife.
"Da... Pamela died. I've lost her and I don't know what to do. I so wanted your advice. How..." he breathed deeply, "how did you live without ... without..." Pressing the butt of both palms into his eyes, he wiped away the moisture and sniffed. "It's no use. No use." He turned his countenance heavenward, and thought, **I hurt. It hurts so deeply.** Together, both fists covered his breastbone with a resounding thump. **My heart has been ripped from my body, stomped on by cruel fate, and shoved back into my chest.** The sun burned through his eyelids. He hung his head. "I do not want to live. Da. I do not want to live."
The weight of a hand pressed upon his left shoulder. The rustle of fabric sounded as he looked up to see her kneeling beside him.
"Julia! I mean..."
She was dressed in a deep charcoal, almost black gown of linen, trimmed with soft grey lace high at the throat and low at the wrists on the long sleeves.
"I thought it was you I saw pass by the millinery shop. I knew you would come. If you were alive, I knew you would come." Her gloved hand caressed his cheek.
Horatio swallowed and shook his head. "Mrs. Arminter..."
"No,... Julia. Call me Julia, Horatio."
He breathed in sharply and blinked away that which sought to mirror the soft caring eyes he perceived.
"He did not know, did he?" asked Horatio fearfully, yet hopefully. "I have to know. I did not do it, did I?"
Julia canted her head and tried to understand the question. As comprehension dawned, she smiled sadly and said, "No. No, Horatio. He had not received word of your loss. The letter from Captain Pellew did not arrive until weeks after he passed. It was his heart. His good heart."
The relief poured over him like honey and emotion welled within his chest. He turned away. "Forgive me," he breathed, trying to hide the tears of relief and sadness.
"No, no. Let me hold you. Let me be your mother, Horatio. Just for a moment. Let me comfort you as Louisa would."
Raising filled eyes, he eased into her embrace. Her arms surrounded him, pressed him. He clutched her closely and listened to her quiet grief, matching his own.
"He loved you so," she whispered. "He was so proud of you. You know that, don't you?"
"I hoped... I was not a disappointment," he confessed.
"Never in this world."
Horatio rose to his feet and offered a hand to assist Julia, then sighed as he looked upon the graves.
"I should have brought flowers," he said sadly.
"You still can. Come home with me. Millie will fix a lunch for us."
He tossed a hand futilely. "My landlady prepared a lunch for me and I left it on the coach," moaned Hornblower.
"Good. Then there is nothing to prevent you coming with me." She gently took his arm. "Come along. I will not take no for an answer. I have much to share with you besides."
"I will come, ... but ... not this moment."
She released him and nodded. "I understand. You know the way to my house. Come when you are ready. Lunch or later. You will stay the night, won't you? I have plenty of room, you know. Please accept my invitation."
"All right," he nodded and smiled briefly.
Leaning, she kissed him on the cheek and departed his company.
He watched her go and bounced his hat nervously on a fist.
Facing his father's stone, he said, "Julia is a lovely woman, Da. She is, Mother. No need for jealousy,... but you never had that need. Did she, Da? I'm glad Julia was with you, Father." He paused and looked out on the lane, then added, "I'm going for a walk. I'll come back once more before I leave."
For a time he followed the road northwest out of Haslemere, then turned off on a footpath that led to the River Wey. It was cool in the shade of the trees by the running water. The aroma of wild onion filled the air. He plucked a sprig from the earth and held it to his nose, breathing the scent. In the theatre of his mind, his mother clutched a handful of the wild herb and he brought her more. She always had a smile for him. Boyhood memories meshed with those of his mother, skipping stones, sword fights with tree limbs, hide and seek, pretending to be in the navy. He was always the captain fighting imaginary French, Danish, and Spanish navies, or circumnavigating the world.
"I was meant for that life," he said aloud wistfully and startled himself curiously with the admission. "I am meant for that life," he stated firmly. Taking a deep breath, he became aware of the forest surrounding him. He had no idea of the time but felt hunger pangs and knew it was well past the lunch hour. All the same, he would not hurry to Mrs. Arminter's home. It was a long way back to the village. Mindless walking, he would have said, but his recollections had never ceased, full of Pamela, his parents, and the service.
**What would Captain Pellew say to me? He would not allow me to be maudlin in his presence. He would expect me to perform my duties as always... whatever befalls us ... we are officers in his majesty's navy. That is what he would say. Officers in his majesty's navy.**
Those were the words given him that day nearly two years ago now. Muzillac was two years in the past. Mariette dead two years. Pamela ...
"I don't even know the date of your death." Sighing, he held his forehead. "Does your uncle blame me? I have thought about writing him, Pamela, ... but ... knowing how he felt about us, the British, already, ... I think he must despise me."
The dust of the road kicked up around his feet and coated the legs of the new navy blue trousers. He stopped and looked at the bottom of his shoes. On one was a worn spot at the ball of his foot. The new footwear from Gieves and Hawke could not come soon enough. **Naval uniforms are not meant for country roads,** he thought, and he removed his jacket and hat, revealing the hair pressed down and damp. Immediately, his body felt the cooling evaporation.
In the distance, he could see the coach house. There were not any such conveyances there at the moment. The closer he came, he could smell the hay and horse manure in the barn. He stopped beside the building, laid his jacket and hat over the corner of the wooden trough, then lifted the iron lever on the water pump repeatedly until the deep ground water heaved out with each compression. Leaning, pumping with one hand, with the other, he cupped the water and rinsed his face and neck, and drank the near freezing-cold crystal clear liquid.
He collected the canvas sack that held a new shirt and his shaving kit and inquired in the station for a time to take the return coach to Portsmouth. One o'clock tomorrow he was told.
For moments, he considered whether he was ready for company. No.
He headed towards home. It was a little more than a mile there. He stood at the road gate and looked at the empty cottage. Its reduction in size paralleled his aging, it seemed, one growing smaller, the other greater; the snow last winter had hidden its diminutive nature. Now, the grounds were overgrown and he wondered what had happened with the Graysons. Julia would know.
He could not bring himself to enter the front garden. Sighing, he hooked the hat and bag on a gate board, and donned his jacket. Standing. Staring. There was nothing there but more memories, some happy, some sad, but whichever kind, no one to share them with. It would only serve to dampen his spirits further. Finally, he turned his steps toward Mrs. Arminter's.
Haslemere contained a huge crater. The town was as empty as he was. He did not think he would be good company for Julia, but he told her he would come. He would keep his word, and besides, she said she had something to share about his father. To add to that, he felt comfortable with her where recent female companions had engendered the opposite feeling.
As he approached the door of the Arminter home, it opened, and Julia stood in the way with a smile that made her face even prettier, the eyes that striking blue and the red hair with silver strands barely noticeable. She had changed into a puff-sleeve soft turquoise muslin high-waisted dress that matched the color of her eyes. She was waiting for him, looking for him, and the prospect breathed life into his being. He smiled back.
She extended a hand and he anticipated taking it as he neared. The soft fingers were cool in his hot palm.
"Horatio. You are just in time for tea. I've some lovely sandwiches and scones. They should tide you over until dinner. Come in."
"How did you know I was hungry?"
"I just had a feeling. Give Clive your hat and bag. It is time for afternoon tea. You know where the basin is. Come into the parlour when you're ready."
"Thank you, ma'am."
"Good to see you again, sir," said the butler.
"And you, Mr. Clive."
"Welcome back, sir," and the man receded with Hornblower's things.
The big house was cool and homey, not ostentatious despite its size. Dark oak panneling and wainscoting accented the walls of the foyer, the other parts being a patterned wallpaper in a muted gold and green with a large sort of feathery herring bone design though not a rigid look, masculine, and its choice influenced by her late husband, Horatio assumed. The artwork along the deep hallway depicted floral scenes, children with dogs and puppies, and seascapes. The one ocean scene portraying a man of war always caused him to stop when he passed, as he had now, noting the white-capped waves and the flash and puff of smoke from the cannon, caught in time with oils. A booming eighteen pounder, the reek of spent powder, smoke stinging his eyes. Silence.
A different smell entered his consciousness, a fragrance, and he turned to look for its source. A bouquet of multicoloured roses stood in a vase on the hall table. An echo of laughter sounded in his ears and Pamela's fleeting happy countenance flashed through his mind.
He entered the small room at the back of the house. The little
window was open and a breeze gently lifted the off white lace
curtains. It was a feminine water closet, the walls covered with
a pink and red rose wall paper. The ceramic pitcher and basin
had red and orangish roses centrally located in their middles,
the rest being a cream white.
He washed his face and hands and was glad he had rinsed them at the coach house. He did not want to leave any great amount of dirt behind.
He stared at himself in the mirror. His cheekbones were more pronounced than usual due to the loss of weight. He sighed and thought he would not mind if Julia prompted him to eat. He accounted it to her ties with his father, but, no, it was more than that. It was Julia herself. She was a genuinely kind person, ... like his mother, he realized.
"That is why you loved her, isn't it, Da. She is like mother."
He pondered that thought. Was he, Horatio, disloyal to his mother for liking Julia? He shook his head. Sniffing, he looked around. Pushing back the curtain, he stared into the garden and sniffed. He did not see any, but they had to be there somewhere... near... bluebells. A puff of breeze brushed his cheek.
Horatio sauntered down the hall to the parlour, feeling cooler, refreshed, at ease.
"Come sit, Horatio. I know you prefer coffee in the morning, but I pray tea will suffice for the afternoon?"
"I would love a cup of tea, Julia." He sat in the comfortable upholstered chair to her right; a handkerchief table stood between the chair and the small padded floral couch she sat upon. He lifted a triangular wedge of the table and locked it in place.
Julia poured a touch of milk into the cup, dropped in a lump of sugar, then filled it with steaming tea from the gay chintz teapot that matched the cup and saucer. Placing a spoon on the side, she passed it to Horatio.
"Have you a preference for sandwiches? I have gammon with cucumber, watercress and chicken, cheese and tomato."
"They all sound wonderful. You choose for me."
"It is so good to see you, Horatio. I cannot express how downhearted I became when I received Captain Pellew's letter. You know your father made me executor of his will. I have tried to fulfill his wishes." She passed a plate of small triangular trimmed sandwiches.
"From what he told me over Christmas, I mean... my father was not a rich man," said Horatio.
"Yes, he was. He had you for a son."
"Julia," Horatio blushed.
She smiled wryly. "You hold yourself far too cheaply, Horatio. But I do not wish to make you uneasy, so I will say no more on that issue just now. He told you about Lord Heatherton. And," she sighed, "he tried to get you to tell him what you might want. Since you refused to speak on the subject, and I do not blame you... not in the least.... he left me a small list of things for you. I had Clive put them in your room." She looked away and gathered the next she had to share. "He knew, Horatio, that his time was near. I did not want to hear it, but he made me listen. You know he returned to the church, to a belief in God these last years."
Horatio's face slackened and thought, **God, You follow me like a lost dog.**
"I'm so glad he did. He took great comfort in knowing he would see your mother again. He loved her as much as he loved you. He was at peace with his Maker and he saw your last visit as a gift, as an answer to prayer. Hubbell said he had never felt closer, and he hoped the same was true for you."
"It was," Horatio said hauntedly, then gave a weak smile and lifted the cup to his lips.
"Oh, I'm glad." She placed a hand on Horatio's knee. "I knew it had to be."
Horatio avoided looking at her hand, fearing it would disappear if he did. Was he so destitute to desire this simple reassurance? **It is the way Pamela touched... sometimes.**
She slid the hand away and picked up a cup of tea and sipped silently. "Is the tea to your liking?"
"Yes, it is very fine," he answered.
"The sandwiches must meet with your approval. Would you like another?"
"No, but I will take one of Mrs. Rivers' delicious scones."
"They are good, aren't they? She will be so pleased you said so."
"How could I forget her marvelous blackberry jam," smiled Horatio.
"She will insist you take a pot with you when she hears such compliments," said Julia, preparing a fresh plate with his requests.
"I would not refuse it," he said as he accepted the new dish.
"Let me freshen your tea."
He spoke as she prepared the cup.
"What became of the Graysons? I went by the house before I came here. No one is living in it."
"No. Lord Heatherton is in no hurry to do anything with the cottage. Your father let the Graysons choose whatever they would. You know he was not able to pay them much, and he made sure it was clear between them and myself that they were to have whatever they wanted, except those few things he saved for you. Your da knew with you in the navy, you would have no need of such household items.
"Abby and Donald decided to move to Kent where one of their married sons live. Charles, their son, came with a wagon to cart the furniture to his little village, Maidstone, I believe. He has a number of children and his wife's health is not as it should be. It was a mutually beneficial move."
Horatio listened without comment, finished the scone, and drank the tea.
"You look tired, my dear. Would you like to rest? Dinner will be at eight. I won't question you about your dear love till then. But do tell me, did she have the boy you both expected?"
"No. No, she did not." He tried to make his cheek muscles bring a smile but he could not.
"Oh, my dear." Her countenance revealed the concern such a solemn reply engendered. "I fear to ask."
Horatio swallowed and bowed his head, then placed the cup and saucer down, glanced her way, and rose to his feet. Parting his lips, seeing her fearful eyes fixed on him, he could not speak, afraid it would unman him.
Julia stood. "My dear." She touched his cheek, then embraced him, her hand upon his head.
**I do not want to weep,** he thought feebly, **I will not.**
"I am tired, Julia," he said as he backed away. "Thank you for the food. If you will excuse me, I would like to rest."
"Of course," replied Julia.
She rang a hand bell. The silence between them was awkward in the few moments before Clive entered the parlour.
"Clive, show Mr. Hornblower to his room."
"Yes, ma'am," bowed the servant.
"Rest easy, Horatio."
"Thank you, Julia."
Hornblower followed the butler above stairs, up the polished treads, but he did not have an interest for the paintings he passed along the incline.
Turning to the left, Clive led him to a bed chamber.
The room had a large open window and the decor had a distinctive nautical flair. In the past, Mr. Arminter was known to have had military visitors due to the shot factory he managed in the village. Perhaps this was the room given to naval sorts. The wallpaper was a deep royal blue, with a lighter hue of zig zag lines. An oval ivory carpet with a centered blue anchor sat before a single wing-back chair near the fireplace. On the mantel was a model of a three decker, a first rate, all the courses set.
The bed was high with a wooden three step stair to assist entry. The down filled coverlet was of a deeper tan than the window curtains. Four pillows billowed at the head in two layers. At the foot of the bed was a padded chest and his hat and nearly flat canvas bag lay upon it.
"Mrs. Arminter thought you would find this room to your liking, sir. The trunk, you may recognize," he motioned. "It was your father's and it contains those things saved for you."
Horatio looked upon it with some dread. Though he was no stranger to melancholia, of late, he seemed to be swimming in it.
"Why did she save them for me, Mr. Clive, when my captain informed of my death?"
"It was the letter from your fellow officer, sir. It came on the heels of your captain's, you see. A Mr. Kennedy, I believe. His letter to your father was so positive that you were not dead, Mrs. Arminter joined her belief to his. I know this, because I was bold to ask her the same question. I've been in the Channel in summer. It's bloody damn cold, sir."
Horatio smiled at the colourful confession. "It is indeed, Mr. Clive."
"I have a bath ready to pour, sir. I was instructed to offer it."
"A hot bath that could go cold after a time?"
"You can sleep in it if you wish, sir."
Horatio relished the prospect, but he had naught but the clothes he wore and one clean shirt and pair of socks.
Clive's eyes twinkled as he watched the young naval officer consider the uniform.
"I can freshen your uniform for you, sir. There is a dressing gown that was Mr. Arminter's awaiting you in the bathing room. It may be a little large, but..."
"I accept, Mr. Clive."
The butler bowed. "I shall see to it straight away, sir."
The late afternoon hot bath was revitalizing yet relaxing and he washed from head to toe thoroughly. Wrapped in Arminter's dressing gown, he returned to the room and sank into the down comforter. He lay for a time and watched the curtains surge lightly in the afternoon breeze, his eyelids growing heavy. The nights tended to be cool and he looked forward to the lowering temperature.
"Sir. Sir. I hesitate to wake you, Mr. Hornblower," said the kindly butler.
"Mr. Clive." The room was well-nigh dark. "What time is it?"
"Nearly eight o'clock, sir. Mrs. Arminter says to say she can hold off on the dinner for as long as you need."
Horatio raised up on his elbows. "That is kind. Is my uniform restored?"
"Alas, sir, I have but the trousers. I do apologize. Mrs. Rivers was taken away with cleaning the shirt, waistcoat, and coat. Mrs. Arminter has asked me to offer you this shirt and a smoking jacket for the evening. I pray this will meet with your approval, sir."
"I am sorry that Mrs. Rivers has been put to so much trouble, Mr. Clive."
"But she was happy to do it, sir. Your father was more than kind to us over the years."
Hornblower's men had been the recipients of his father's life's work with the small knowledge Horatio retained about the healing art. Now, it was his turn to benefit from the good deeds of his father.
"I shall not be but a moment, sir, you may tell Mrs. Arminter," informed Horatio, sitting up.
"Very good, Mr. Hornblower. I took the liberty of bringing you a warm pitcher of water."
"Thank you, Mr. Clive."
This day was extravagant with clean, fresh, hot and cold water. His skin fairly squeaked.
When Horatio came below stairs, he peered into the dining room and found it dark and empty. Arriving at the parlour door, he saw a small round table had been set up with dinner for two. The scene was far less formal, and he imagined that Julia and his father might have supped in this fashion.
Julia was light and entertaining company. She avoided the subject of Hornblower's non-existent family and asked him to tell her how he came to survive that first early morning of February. When he spoke of how the dolphins had aided his rescue, he saw her eyes shift cagily and trace slowly to his hand. She knew about the rings, but she made no comment other than it was God's provision, surely.
He told her about the meeting with Starns, that Indefatigable was in ordinary, about Doctor Harmony finding nothing to prevent him from returning to the service, and that he heard Kennedy had a command of his own. He did not tell her he planned to avoid his old shipmate.
The name Pamela was never uttered.
The two said goodnight on the landing outside the bedrooms and Julia kissed his cheek and ordered him to sleep well.
He entered the bed chamber with a three light candelabra. The air of the room was cool and moist and the light drapery rose and fell with a sporadic breeze. Sniffing the air as he would have done on a quarter-deck, he thought it might rain before morning.
The key stuck out of the keyhole of the turtle top trunk. With a sigh, Horatio sat the light on the round stand beside the wing-back and then knelt in front of the chest. He turned the key and lifted the top back gently. The familiar smell of home met his senses. There was the quilt from his bed, the one his mother made him, the one with the material from his mother's dress that was his favorite. He reached for it and felt something stiff in its folds. Lifting gently, he brought it out and unwrapped it carefully. There was the portrait of his mother that had hung over the fireplace for oh so many years. The prick behind his eyes came instantly. He touched her face gently and missed her all over again.
He seemed to be saying that a lot today.
"He loved you always, mother. I love you," he said
to the painting. He leaned it against the side of the chair,
then smoothed the fabric of the quilt. Peering in the chest,
the bottom was covered with books and journals. Looking up, he
saw an envelope caught in the trunk's lid, and recognized the
quirky scrawl. It had his name on it.
He unfolded the note.
Well, my son, I have passed over. I have done all I could to make sure I arrived on the same shore as your mother. You do the same. I do regret never seeing my grandson in the flesh, but I have every hope that I will see him in the spirit one day, as I will you and my daughter, Pamela. If you love her half as well as I love your mother, she and you will be blessed indeed.
Take these few things and do what you will with them. You would not tell me what you wanted so I have chosen for you. I leave you my journals, the Shakespeare, John Donne, and a couple of other books that we shared and some that we did not have time to share. My pocket watch keeps good time. Use it or sell it, though I do not know that it is of much value. I did not save you any of my medical accouterments. We both know it is not your chosen field.
Serve our country well, my son. I know you will. Your mother and I will be waiting.
I love you, Horatio. There it is, written for all time. You need never doubt.
A cheek muscle tugged a wry smile as he folded the letter and lay it on the top's ledge. Then, he reached in and picked up some of the books, reading over the titles. Perhaps he would have time to read while he waited for a posting.
"What am I going to do with medical journals, Father?" He picked up one of the two there, tugged on the fading ribbon that secured the open bindings, and read the dates on the front page, 1 January 1788 to 20 November 1793, A Journal of Physician, Doctor, Surgeon, and Apothecary, Doctor Hubbell Hornblower. Horatio turned to the next page.
Louisa, heart of my heart,
Horatio paused, mildly shocked. It was not the journal entry he expected to see. The opening address... that was how it was for him with Pamela, and the two words so close together reminded him of how Pamela often signed her letters, 'love from my heart to yours'. He scanned the page. It was smudged here and there. He read the words penned by his father.
It has been more than two years since you left me bodily. I stopped writing soon after you passed for every sheet of paper begun was eventually ripped asunder or thrown into the fire.
I am angry at God and myself. My son will not look at me, our son. I am abhorred by the two that loved you so well, myself and our son. I cannot blame him. I let him down, too.
I miss you dreadfully, Louisa, and I despise myself for having failed you. For two years, I have lived in darkness. I cannot bear it any longer. If it were not for our boy whom you charged me with... I would join you. I would. I am nothing in his eyes. I have the potions to do it, Louisa, but ... the God, if He exists, that took you from me would never let me see you again, and each time I have tried, when in those deepest depths of despair, something stops me... I think of losing you for eternity, of failing you where our Horatio is concerned, and so I live.... without you, waiting for my time, begging it to come soon.
Horatio stood and abruptly threw the book down. Striding to the window, he lifted it forcibly with a clatter to its highest position. The wind blew around him, fluffing the borrowed jacket. His eyes burned and there was unaccountable anger. He untied the sash of the coat and let it drop off his body onto the floor. Closing his eyes, he let the breeze cool him and calm him.
A knock sounded on the door.
Startled, Horatio felt his face crimson and his stomach knot. The noise of the window had disturbed his hostess, he feared.
He opened the door to find Mr. Clive with a cap on his head, dressed for bed, and a candle to hand.
"Are you all right, sir?"
"I do apologize, Mr. Clive. I opened the window wider and with more force than I intended," he lied, "Did I waken your mistress?"
"I believe she was reading, sir, but she did wish me to ascertain that you were ... all right."
"I am. I do apologize for disturbing both of you... most
heartily... indeed, Mr. Clive. Please beg her forgiveness for
The elderly man nodded and snatched a peek at the open trunk and the items displayed. "Is, is there something I could get you, sir? A brandy perhaps? Or a glass of the fine Madeira you commented on earlier, sir. It is Mrs. Arminter's suggestion."
"I do not wish to put you to further trouble..."
"It is no trouble, sir. The Madeira?"
Hornblower hesitated, not wishing to be a burden. "All right, yes. Shall I come?"
"No, sir. I will not be a moment to fetch it. Do you want the entire bottle?"
Horatio blinked, mildly surprised, then smiled. "No,... thank you,... Mr. Clive. I have found recently that drinking and thinking do not mix well."
Clive's grey eyes seemed to perk up and twinkle. "No, sir, they do not. Just the glass, then?"
"I won't be a moment, sir."
Hornblower left the door open and the air flow through the window increased. He plopped into the chair, rested his arms on its arms, and held his head. He let his eyes trace to the journal, then he reached for it and opened it and began to read. So engrossed in what the pages held, he was not aware of Clive when he returned.
"Your mother was a beautiful woman, sir," commented the old gentleman, gazing at the portrait that leaned against the side of the chair.
Hornblower looked up from the reading.
"I've sat the glass beside you there."
"Oh! Thank you, Mr. Clive."
"Will there be anything else, sir?"
"No. Thank you again."
"Do you wish me to close the door or leave it open? I believe we will have rain before morning."
"I agree, sir," said Hornblower, turning to look at the billowing curtains.
"The door, sir?"
"Close it, yes."
"Yes, sir. Goodnight, sir."
"Goodnight, Mr. Clive."
Hornblower took a sip of the Madeira as he read. Page after page, he encountered the outpourings of a grieved soul, a heart that loved the beloved. The pen of his father never went many pages without saying he thought Horatio faulted him, but Horatio knew it as the opposite, that he, Horatio, thought it was his father that blamed him for his mother's death, for bringing fever into the house.
Then, came several references to the vicar, scattered over a few months. The man had called upon Hubbell, sometimes for a doctoring need, but Hubbell suspected the man of ulterior motives, that he was seeking to bring him back into the fold. At last, the man gave his father a rather odd request. Whist. Horatio recalled his father coming to him, inquiring carefully if he would like to learn the game. Those had been the most connected sentences the two had spoken to one another since his mother passed. Horatio remembered it well. So pleased was he that his father would give him this attention, that his "presence" was requested, that he could fill some niche in the lives of his elders, that he set his mind more diligently to learn the mathematics of the game. He did not go unrewarded, for in a few weeks the three adults were openly pleased to have him, not only as a playing member but for a partner. It had boosted his self esteem as nothing else had since the death, and he found it engaged his mind to where the game could become his all for hours and the depressing thoughts were held at bay. His father smiled at him, at the vicar and his wife. It was odd. Those gaming nights became a life preserver.
After hours of reading, Horatio closed the journal and reflected upon a curious entry that had been niggling in the back of his mind. The sally port, when he recalled his father had looked sadly across to Haslar, Horatio had thought. What else would his father have been interested in but the hospital facility? But, no,... it was not the hospital Hubbell was considering. He flipped the pages of the journal and located the passage.
Louisa, my dear girl,
Here I am again, my daily visit in writing, though the hundredth in thought.
I could not bring myself to do it those months ago. You know what is in my mind, Louisa. I looked on those ships in Spithead and I could not do it. He has passed the age for a midshipman, by more than a year. I fear the service will lead to his death, and while life with me without you must be like a living death, I could not consign him to it. I am selfish. I do not know that he would miss me, poor company that I am, but I know I would miss him. I have tried not to lean on him over much. I know he must make his way in the world. You and I had discussed his future, but nothing was settled. The two of you were so close, sometimes I was jealous, I confess. But in the end, seeing the two of you together warmed my heart as no other sight on this earth, and I recognized that I was the envy of every other man, whether they knew it or not.
I am left to choose for him. If I sent him away, and he were killed, I would surely commit self murder. That would be all there was for it, Louisa. I cannot bear the deaths of both of you on my hands, or on my heart.
He reminds me so much of you, lovely girl. I see you in him. When I slip into his room late at night to check that he is covered and well and safe, while he sleeps, he looks so like you, the soft brown curls, the long lashes resting upon a pale cheek. We have a beautiful son, Louisa, because he is your son. I love you, my girl.
One day, and it may be late, but one day, a choice must be made for Horatio. My career is not to be his. I do not blame him for not choosing it. It is a woeful profession with far to go. When he is older and can take part in the decision, perhaps then. He is much on my mind today as you always are.
Horatio stopped reading that portion. Slowly, he rose, dropping the book in the chair, and stepped over near the ship model on the mantel. He stared at her courses and guns but did not see them. He recalled his age that day in Portsmouth, well past twelve, the age of most boys seeking to join the ranks of officers through a midshipman assignment. Pondering the idea of joining the service then, Horatio was thankful for his father's decision to keep him home. What if he had been put on a ship with a man like Jack Simpson at such a tender age? What if... Archie. Archie had joined at that age. Archie was all right... now.
"Thank you, Father, for not sending me away, whatever the reason," he whispered to the shadows.
There had been a silent bond between them, between Hubbell and Horatio, Horatio knew. Reading these entries in Hubbell's journals cemented those feelings, despite the passage of time... and people.
//////////His father's filled eyes darted away from Horatio's.
"The wind and rain are blurring my vision, my boy," said Hubbell.//////////
His father had lifted and dropped his arms twice and then had removed his glove and extended a hand to his sixteen year old son that long ago bleak January day.
Horatio had never felt a firmer grasp, his father's hand warm against his icy one, neither had Horatio felt so suddenly empty, his eyes blurring as his da's. He was saying goodbye to his father, and that day, he did not know when he would see him again, if ever.
His stomach was turning before he ever stepped down into the rowboat that would take him out to Justinian. He was homesick and soon he was seasick. Before the grown men with whom he was about to become a shipmate, he had to appear a man, though he was only a boy.
Sighing, Horatio turned and blew out the dwindling candle. Outside the window, the grey of dawning shone. He climbed into the bed and plopped onto the down coverlet. Heavy eyelids closed and the long dark lashes accented the tan skin. Just before succumbing to sleep, he thought he smelled the soft fragrance of bluebells.
It was another two days before he departed Julia's company. The weather had turned inclement-- overcast and rainy and windy, the temperature moderating accordingly, and Julia had let him sleep that first morning. Horatio woke to the pounding raindrops hitting the window pane. The sound drummed pleasantly in his ears. He was glad to be dry and at ease and he blinked half closed eyes, then shut them with a satisfied sigh. Later, he would learn he was behind his times, missing the coach back to Portsmouth. Julia reminded him that he said himself that the doctor recommended he take three days. Why not stay one more night in her company? Or even two? It had not taken much to convince him. Julia was of that singular persuasion that lent comfort to those whose company she kept. It was easy to be lazy, no demands on his time, none but the promise to his parents.
She went with him, back to the graveyard beside the church, first venturing into the local wood to gather plantings of wild bluebells, for according to Julia, there were none near her home. These they placed on the two graves.
Early the next morning, Horatio was out walking the gardens and grounds. Julia was right about the absence of the plant. It had to be the wind bringing the scent into his bedroom, he thought, or... but no, he would not accept the idea that ... no.
The two of them enjoyed a leisurely and bountiful breakfast. The conversation turned once more to anecdotes about his father, some humourous, some about his father's care of Julia's deceased husband, and some generally informative about the local populace that bespoke Hubbell's character. It was all so typically his da.
Later, he packed the things back into the trunk, not knowing what he was going to do with the portrait of his mother, but he could not leave her behind.
Julia and Clive took him and the trunk to the coach house.
Sitting beside one another on a bench, Julia grasped Horatio's hand and smiled warmly.
"I am so glad we met again, Horatio. This goodbye is like closing a beloved book, only more so. Your father... your father was a wonderful man. I am blessed to have known him and you."
"You are the blessing, Julia," he said earnestly.
She gazed at him for moments. "You are alive. Your friend, Mr. Kennedy, was right. Do you think you will see him soon?"
"I do not know, Julia. He has his own ship. It could be years before our paths cross again."
"But you will write him? He deserves to know, Horatio."
"Yes." Then, he thought, **I suppose he does.**
"You know you will always be welcome in my home, Horatio, even the London townhouse, should you find yourself there and need a place to stay."
"Thank you, Julia. I will not forget your kindness."
"Excuse me, madam," said Clive. "The trunk is loaded, Mr. Hornblower."
"Thank you, Mr. Clive," Horatio said, as he rose to his feet. He turned to Julia. "It is time for me to go." He hesitated and looked into the face of his father's friend, not sure what to do. Then, she did it for him, giving him a small hug and kissing his cheek.
"My brave boy in blue," she smiled, holding both his hands. "I know you will make us proud, Horatio. You come and see me when your coat is laced with gold... if not before."
He had difficulty holding her gaze. Why would she say that? Another person that expected him to advance in the service.
"Goodbye, Julia. Thank you. I cannot say it enough. Thank you for ... for all of us."
Her eyes reddened and he feared he had said too much. He kissed
her cheek, then strode out to the waiting coach.