An American Encounter
By Skihee :)

Chapter 6 "Warm Hearts"

 

*I should not have shared that with him. But it must be true. I am a jinx. Tom is dead. William is dead. My father .... All the men I have ever loved....* thought Pamela. She hugged Horatio more tightly. *I am cursed with death. I can not bear to think... Not you, ... not you, too!*

"Pamela, why do we not go see what Jenkins has left us in the Captain's cabin? Are you hungry at all?"

She released him, and backed away, running hands over cheeks. "All right, Horatio. Give me a few minutes to fix my hair."

*She is still thinking those dreadful thoughts. This will not do. Her dead husbands have nothing to do with me, with us. Except their demise has made her available. I likely would never have met her if they had not died. She would be home in America, raising children by now.*

"I will get my coat and be back in a moment."

"All right, Horatio."

He went to the door and listened. Opening it slowly, he peered into the companionway.

She lit another candle.

*Beautiful.* He hesitated, watching, arms lifted to adjust long curls. The dress slipped back down. Once again, he could see a hint of soft white. He sighed and she looked up to see him standing at the door.

"Horatio?"

"What? Yes,... I am going." He checked the companion again and then slipped out the door. It was cooler out here. He breathed in and stepped quickly into his cabin. It was as he left it. He began buttoning his waistcoat, then donned his coat. The log sat blank on the table. " Damn! What time is it anyway?" He grabbed his hat, returned, and knocked.

"Just a moment," she called. Quickly changed from the loose fitting off white dress, she wore the navy blue. As she buttoned the front of the dress, she hoped its fitted nature would conceal the lack of corset. She lifted her breasts so they were more contained in the darts of the bodice, then buttoned the last buttons that came up to the base of her neck. *Nothing to distract you now, dear sir.* She stepped to the door and opened. Seeing him in uniform took her breath away! Why was he so affecting? She admired the men in uniform back home, but Horatio looked intensely handsome.

"Navy blue! A good choice!"

She chortled, "Why thank you, sir!"

"Get your cloak, Pamela." *She laughed!* he thought. He had made her laugh.

"I am not cold," she said astonished.

"Get your cloak," he insisted, "You are coming on deck with me."

She canted her head quizzically but did as he bid.

Helping with the cloak, he asked, "Warm now?" Not waiting for a reply, he grabbed her hand.

She closed the door and stepped quickly to keep up, his long strides gaining the stairs. There was no time to think about her hand in his.

He slowed to be sure she was with him as they emerged on deck. The cool night air and the darkness enveloped them. Who was on watch? He could not remember. That would be answered in a moment.

Kramer bid, "Good evenin', sir." Bradley was at the wheel, and they both nodded. "Ma'am."

"Report, Mr. Kramer," he ordered.

"Wind is west so'west, sir. Fair and middlin' steady. Four knots headway, sir."

"Thank you, Mr. Kramer." Hornblower gazed at the sky above them, relishing the cool sea air. "Have Mr. Styles or Mr. Matthews retired for the evening?"

"Last I saw, they was playin' a game o' cards, sir."

 

"I see. Carry on, Mr. Kramer."

As soon as they passed the helmsman, he pulled her to the taffrail. His men stayed their backs. The quarter-deck, the sea, a beautiful evening, he might never have the chance again. He was captain of a ship in His Majesty's Navy, and he fought the urge to take her in his arms. The ensign above them flapped in the night breezes.

"This is magnificent, isn't it?" he asked.

"Yes."

He was looking out to sea, but her eyes were for him. It was not the ship, nor the sea that she found magnificent. He glanced her direction with a broad grin. *Lord, you are handsome!* she thought, *And you love this sea life!* She shivered in the night air.

"You are chilled, Pamela!" He pulled her cape closer.

"I am fine. It is beautiful!"

She viewed the sea, while his sight beheld another beauty.

He spoke, all seriousness. "The sea and the night have a rival in you."

She quavered and looked into the sparkling brown eyes.

He lifted her hand to his lips. Breathing deeply, he turned his gaze once more to sea. "I love this life! There can be no other for me." It suddenly struck him how she might take his words and in the same fraction marvelled that he would find it of concern. But it was truth. She spoke before he could stumble an excuse.

"I see you do. Nor could I see you anywhere else, but on a quarter-deck...with men under your command, and a swift ship beneath your feet. You will be a Captain someday, Horatio. One that will make his country proud. I know it." She wondered at what she was saying, but felt in her heart that it was all true. And knowing it, gave her peace. What is it? Why do I feel this peace at his future? It is a blessing, most assuredly, from some inner knowing. Woman's intuition? She closed her eyes and did not allow her mind to think beyond. Was it the sea, the cool night air, that strengthened? Or was it this magnificent man whose future she predicted, willing to stand next to her, to be her friend, if not her lover?

As she stood with eyes closed, Horatio leaned more closely. Her lips were parted. A slight move in her direction and lips could meet. He closed his eyes and took control with an effort. What if his men saw?

They had come so close to being lovers today, but he stopped. It made him more precious that he would care to protect her reputation, indeed to protect her from her own desires. He was a strong man. She would have given herself freely. What had she become that she was willing? He did not seem to think the less of her, amazing as that was. Any other man would have carried out his desires of the flesh, but would she have allowed herself to be with any other man? No. She could answer that question flatly. No. The realization was a comfort. Another man would never be given such a chance. Horatio was special. He is all those things she told him he was. Her heart warmed at the thought, but her logical mind nagged at the impossibility of the relationship. She sighed and opened her eyes. He was so close she startled.

"What were you thinking, Pamela?" His voice was tender and soothing. How could she not answer him.

"I was thinking ...about you."

"Good thoughts?"

Her lips smiled, but the sadness in her eyes could not be hidden. "Yes," she replied, choking back words of endearment. She reached up to touch his cheek. A glance told her the men were not looking. His eyes followed hers. Brushing his cheek, her hand fell to rest on his chest. He placed his hand over hers.

"Let us go see what food Jenkins has left us, eh? He led her back towards the stairs, stopping to address the men. "I will be in the Captain's Cabin should you need me, Mr. Kramer."

"Aye, aye, sir."

A lantern, hanging from an overhead beam, dimly lit the table. A tray was covering another. Hornblower lit the candles and lifted the tray. Cheese, bread, some dried fruit. He felt the pot. Stone cold.

Pamela shuddered.

"You are cold!" He began to briskly rub her hands and arms. "We should not have stayed on deck so long. Forgive me for taking you."

"Horatio, ... I am pleased you wanted me," she shivered, not just from cold.

 

Wrapping his arms around her, he pressed his cheek to hers. "Pamela...." He hesitated. His hand reached to remove the hood of her cloak. The softness of her tresses brought forth a deep sigh as his eyes roamed her features. He took her face in his hands and gazed intently.

"What is it, Horatio?" she asked. A worried smile darted over her lips. But the more his dark eyes looked into hers, the more she realized she did not want to know. Indeed, she was afraid to know.

"I... I..." he closed his eyes, hoping he would stop stammering. She placed her fingers over his lips.

"Shhhh. Don't say anything." She put her hand behind his neck and pulled him to her shoulder. His arms entwined under her cloak. She stroked his hair and kissed his cheek. Her being fed off the closeness. He was like nourishment. To deny his embrace would be as to prefer starvation. Could he possibly feel the same? He was holding her. Did he tremble, or was it she? Could this magnificent young man tremble in her arms? She feared the thoughts and emotions that stirred within. What was happening? Something she had never intended, but then who sets out to fall in love? It is something that occurs, unexpectedly, blindsiding. But he must never say it! Leaving would be even more difficult when the time came. How could she fall so fast?

At that moment, Jenkins stepped into the cabin. "Och, blimey!" he exclaimed, turning his back. "Beggin' your pardon, sir. Sorry, sir. Mr. Kramer sent word as you were here, and I thought ye might be wantin' a hot pot o' tea, sir,...er somethin'. Sorry, sir."

Hornblower cleared his throat having backed away from Pamela. He composed quickly but saw no other response than to say, "Yes, Jenkins, we would like that. See to it." His voice could not hide its disturbance.

"Aye, aye, sir. Tea, sir?"

"Yes!"

"Aye, aye, sir. " He departed with alacrity.

Hornblower could feel the smirk on Pamela's face without looking,... probably similar to the one on his own.

"I'm so sorry, Horatio," she snickered.

 

"Oh? ...and is that why you are laughing?" a devilish look took his features and he advanced. Finding her sides, he began to tickle.

"Oh, no! Horatio!" She tried to return fire, but he was too quick. She kept elbows close to protect her sides and giggled at each attempt. "Please,... stop! Horatio! Please! I'm sorry I laughed at you!" In her gyrations to avoid, her hair came loose, falling upon her shoulders. Seeing the dark tresses tumble and frame her face, he ceased tickling. She was still laughing from his assault, but her laughter ebbed away and all that was left was a smile. For him. And she saw it coming.

"I lo.."

"No." She clasped her hand over his mouth. "No."

Where was Jenkins? Why did he not return and stop his captain from speaking. He smiled under her hand. It sounded like he was saying her name.

"No, Horatio, don't say anything," she implored, canting her head. He tried to speak. "No," she said again. "Your man will be coming back. Please." He mumbled something else. "What?" She removed the impediment.

"If you do not take you hand off my mouth I am going to tickle you again."

"All right. Truce," she pronounced.

"Truce? What truce? I have you out-gunned, madam," and he wiggled his fingers.

She laughed. "You wouldn't. Jenkins will be back any moment. What will he think of his captain?" She backed, he followed.

"I have already lost that battle, the entire ship will know by lunch time tomorrow that you were in my arms. Indeed, possibly by breakfast."

"Would not he be more discreet?" She tried to change the subject from tickling.

"No. He would not. And with good reason."

"Whatever are you talking about?" She stood still, as did he.

"A good Captain, madam, knows what is about his own ship." Hornblower looked pleased with himself, even with the knowledge that Jenkins would share what he saw.

"I am afraid to ask. What does that mean?" She asked, eyeing him.

"You will not be offended?"

She let out a big sigh. "Tell me."

"They are good men." He wondered how she would receive the information. He bit his lower lip; she waited. He stared at the floor and turned away, slightly.

"Horatio?"

"It seems there is a wager."

"No!"

"Yes."

"About ... us?" she squeaked.

He breathed deeply. "Yes." He looked askance. "It seems Jenkins will have the most to gain as today is the day that it is."

"Go on," said she, warily.

"Two days. His wager was that I would have you in my arms within two days."

"But will they believe him? I mean it is only his word! He could be saying this just to collect on the bet!"

"Well, there was Hardy, too."

"What?"

"Hardy. I guess you did not see him with your back to the door. He was standing in the companionway."

Meanwhile, Jenkins had indeed reached below decks, happy as a lark. He went to Oldroyd and hit him on the arm.

"Pay up, old man!"

Oldroyd looked at him and Hardy, standing behind.

"What?"

"We seen im!" said Hardy. "He was holdin' her, yep he was!" Hardy's eyes were big as saucers. "Mr. Ornblower! E was!"

Styles looked over at the two, then frowned at Matthews.

"You never had a chance with her," said Matthews under his breath.

Styles threw down his cards, stood up, and left the table.

Jenkins went to everyman awake and asleep that had a part in the wager, making Hardy come with him to be his back up witness. He was greeted with groans, with laughs, with disbelief, and amazement.

Harkins said, "I knew it was comin' the way they was eyein' each other on the gun deck this mornin."

"I knew Mr. 'Ornblower had it in im. E's a navy man, ain't he?" insisted Haverty.

"Good for ol' Hornblower! Makes me like im all the more!" stated Boyd.

"Wait'll Mr. Kennedy hears o this!" cried Bailey.

"Wooo hooo and Cap'n Pellew!" added Boyd.

And the men around them all laughed and chuckled over their Captain. Which was a good thing. Better good humor than jealousy. That is if you discounted Styles. But he could hear the comments of his mates and finally let go his envy, smirking at Matthews.

"Hey, Jenkins, you're supposed to take them another hot pot o' tea!" reminded Hardy.

"Oh blimey! I nearly forgot!"

Pamela was pacing.

Hornblower did not know quite what to say. "I am sorry, Pamela."

She looked at him and did another turn of pacing in the small cabin. Each time she turned, her hair flared out behind.

Hornblower smiled and sat, watching with interest, chin in hand. "Pamela. Come and sit down."

She glanced his way, but turned once more. Her hand went to her forehead. Jenkins had been one of the men in the boat with her today. He asked about her husband. Now she knew why he seemed so relieved to hear he was dead. What do these men think of her? She was a woman alone on a ship full of men! Was she worried about her reputation now, when she had been willing to let Horatio have her? *I don't know, I just don't know ,* she thought. *I can't think anymore. I just can't.* She stopped pacing and considered him. He was so damned handsome! What was
this look on his face now? She felt exasperated. He was exasperating! She turned again to pace.

"Pamela!" he said her name louder.

"What?" she asked impatiently. Suddenly, she knew what was coming. She raced over to cover his mouth, falling in his lap, her hair tumbling over her shoulder onto his face, and then, Jenkins walked in with Hardy close behind.

Jenkins stood there his mouth agape.

Hornblower looked through the hair, rolled his eyes, then, closed them.

Pamela turned to see the shock on the faces of Jenkins and Hardy.

Jenkins sidled up to the table and put the pot down. "Beggin' your pardon, ma'am." He and Hardy fell over themselves, exiting the cabin.

She looked down at Horatio who was looking up at her with her hand still clasped over his mouth. This officer in His Majesty's Navy. A captain, at present, and the authority on board this ship. And here sat a woman in his lap with her hand over his mouth. And the looks she had seen on the faces of his men! What had she done? Would discipline ever be regained? A laugh escaped her and before she knew it, she was laughing so hard, she fell off his lap onto the floor.

He shook his head. "Oh, you would find this funny! Don't laugh!"

She was wracked with great guffaws, and he too began to chuckle. She was pointing, laughing, and trying to say she was sorry all at once. But she was laughing so hard her sides began to hurt.

That look was on his face. That softness was in his eyes. She could not stop him now, being incapacitated with laughter as she was. He knew he was ready, knew it was real, knew it was her, and the words came without a stutter or a stammer.

"Pamela, I love you." While the hilarity ceased, his smile for her did not.

She held her side, laughter dying away. She did a small shake of her head, no', but it was too late. He said it, and there it was. She knew the idea was impossible, but all the same she felt her heart warming within. She could not conceal the look of pleasure, gliding over her features. She was overwhelmed with a feeling of relaxation; all tension dispersed. Her lips formed a smile that was equal to the one she was receiving. He held out his hand. Leaning up, she gazed deeply into his eyes, averted hers to his outstretched arm, then gently placed her hand in his.

Horatio pulled Pamela to her feet. "I love you, Pamela. Why did you not want me to say it?"

"Horatio. You know my reasons. I have told you about those that have loved me in the past. I do not want anything to happen to you. I could not bear it."

"If something befalls me, it will not be because of you. Do you hear?" How could he convince her to stop with these ridiculous anxieties? He was in the British Navy. His country was at war. Anything could happen, at anytime. It had nothing to do with their feelings for one another.

She felt her eyes beginning to fill. *Not now,* she thought, *Don't cry now.*

He held her face in his hands, reaching with his thumbs to dry it. He leaned over and kissed her.

She felt herself shake. Her heart betrayed her logical mind. The struggle between the two intensified.

"You are trembling." He was pleased that he could make her tremble, for he knew she did the same to him. "I love you."

Her body tingled at the words. These physical reactions she experienced confirmed what she mentally tried to deny. *He does love me,* she thought. *It is written all over his face. How can he? We cannot!*

"Pamela, do not tell me it is impossible," he implored.

Was he reading her mind?

"You were married to a seaman. You know the life. To my mind the biggest obstacle is my pay,... how I will support you." He thought through these misgivings as she paced. His logical reasoning told him he not only wanted her but that he loved her. He examined the impending situation of their future separation and knew this was the next step, otherwise all would be lost. He did not know how much time they would have together, but whatever it was, he wanted it. They could be married in Gibraltar. He would be with her until the Indy returned.

She finally reconciled to admitting love for one another, but now this? It was a lot considering the circumstances and her beliefs about herself. The alarms were ringing in her head. She felt herself step back behind the wall he was working to tear down.

"Horatio." Her eyes fluttered, and she began to shake her head. "I.... what...what are you saying?"

"Does...does that mean you do not feel the same towards me?"

The sadness in his eyes was too much. "No... no, it does not mean that. ..... Horatio...." She could hold up no longer. Leaning against his broad chest, she sought a handkerchief from his pocket. "Forgive me."

"Those tears are one of your endearing qualities, my lady."

She could hear the pounding heart. "You make me feel safe, Horatio."

"Is that all? I want to do more than make you feel safe." He turned her chin up and kissed her deeply and hard. She moaned helplessly under the kiss.

"This isn't fair," she whispered, breathlessly. "I have no doubts there would be no problems for us in bed." She gasped at what she had spoken, clamping her hand over her mouth. Why did she let her thoughts flow out her mouth?

He snorted a smile. "Pamela. I love you. Do you love me? That is the only thing to be determined. It is the only thing that matters. Everything else will take care of itself. When a decision must be made, you just make it. It is as simple as that! Then, you carry on from there. You weigh...

"Yes!" she proclaimed. "Will you stop talking?"

"But I am trying to explain to you that you cannot allow yourself to worry about....yes? Yes, what?" Her statement filtered through the analyses.

"Yes, Horatio, I..." she closed her eyes and thought about Tom, William, her father. She began to shake her head.

He tried to rouse her. "Pamela, look at me. Open your eyes and look at me. Don't think about them. Look at me."

How could he know? She did as he commanded.

He spoke in a soft, imploring whisper, "Look at me. Do not be afraid to say it."

She did look. Her heart melted. Love him? It was hopeless. Maybe if she did not say it, he would change his mind, and that would be for the best. Would it not?

"Horatio. This...this has been an eventful day... for ...us. You and I." She spoke the words haltingly. "We came so close earlier to...you know, but.... we did not. YOU did not." She took another deep breath. "I think we should go to our separate cabins and retire for the evening. You may feel differently in the morning. I have not behaved the way I should. I have been forward and very improper. Some would say I have beguiled you by my actions and allowing the liberties... I have. I should be .... ashamed ... of myself. And, ... and, I owe you an apology for my actions." She felt the conviction of her own words, the tears welling. She tried not to blink so perhaps they would not escape their pools, but there was too much to be contained and down they rolled. She turned away quickly, hoping he would not see.

He released her.

She no longer felt his loving arms. *Oh, God!* she thought, *Have I convinced him?* Her heart wrenched and screamed in her head, *Don't let me go, Horatio!* It was as if there were two people in one body, one wanting to stay, the other afraid to. The tears came more quickly. She held herself in check, not turning to him, not collapsing at loosing his touch. She saw the open doorway and commanded her feet to go.

His head and arms hung loosly. His face flashed the conflicting emotions of sadness, anger, rejection, futility. He came to realize he loved this woman, and she was rejecting him. On what basis? Her past? Who they were? He thought of their embraces and what he knew from those. He clinched his jaw and stepped to block her exit. A twinge of anger etched his words.

"Do not speak to me of proprieties. We are in no one's drawing room. We have been put together on this ship and I love you. Say you do not feel the same towards me. Tell me. Look at me and say it!"

She could not bear to look. Her eyes would betray the truth.

"Pamela!" His voice broke.

*Oh Lord!* she thought, *Do not let him cry! I could not bear his tears!* She covered her face.

He grabbed her arms. "Pamela! Look at me and tell me. How can you speak so coldly? Tell me plainly you do not love me, and I will go. Tell me!" he pleaded. His face was twisted with sorrow as he waited for her to speak. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "Pamela," he said calmly, "Tell me. Say you do not love me, and I will go." The longer she took the calmer he became. "Look at me," he commanded, his eyes full of pity for both of them. "Do not torture me with your silence."

She shook her head, still covering her face.

"Look at me," he said softly. "Pamela, ...tell me you do not love me." He waited. Sighing, he released her arms and embraced her, resting his head on hers. "You cannot say it because it is not true. You do love me. I have seen it in your face. I have heard it in your voice. I have felt it in your kiss and in your touch. Tell me with your words, Pamela. It is all right for you to tell me." He closed his eyes. Shifting his head on hers, he stroked the cheek he could not see. "You are being stubborn."

She turned her face into the hollow of his shoulder and soaked his coat with tears.

"You are not a jinx to me or any man," he confirmed softly. "Stop thinking those thoughts ...I love you. ... Are you listening? I love you."

At last, she turned her face upwards. When she did, she saw his handsome features, no longer fearful but expectant. That self assurance was there. It was one of the things that attracted her.

*Kiss me,* she thought. Her lips parted. His formed a smile and he fulfilled the desire. Long,... lingering,... deep,... intense,...lost in a touch, ... a concentration of joining, ....sight denied, only touch of lips, of tongues, of bodies, of hands pressing each into the other. They panted in parting.

"God!" he whispered.

"I love you, Horatio. I do love you," she admitted breathlessly. "But how can I? How can you? It is too fast!"

"Do not question your feelings," he implored. "Hold me, Pamela." he commanded. "Tell me again."

"I love you," she whispered. "I do not know how...but,... I love you, Horatio. It frightens me. I have fallen so fast."

"I know," he breathed. "I know. Kiss me." He caressed the soft cheek and entered into the sweet oblivion.... of nothing but they.....and then a holding, where if contact made them one, they were.

"Come here." He sat down, pulling her to his lap. "You are exhausting." He moved her hair so that it all lay on her back.

"I love you, Horatio."

He rested his head on her breast. "I have longed to hear you say it."

He sat thus to the point that she wondered if he were asleep She was about to ask when he stirred. He raised up and sat her on the chair. He knelt on one knee.

She sucked in a breath. "No, Horatio!" she protested.

"Yes." He held both her hands and would brook no nonsense. His eyes held hers captive. "Yes." He took a deep breath. "Pamela. Will you marry me?"

Inside, she felt a thousand butterflies released. His confident features opposed her worried ones. She saw no hesitation in this magnificent man kneeling before her, no second thoughts. She relaxed, giving into his wishes.

"Yes, Horatio. I will." Did she say this? Her voice felt disconnected from her mind. It was her heart speaking. She could no longer deny its urgings. Surrender. Just as she had placed her hand in his, she now placed her heart.

He leaned up and she down, allowing lips to meet gently and part slowly. He lay his head in her lap and closed his eyes.

"You need rest."

"Hm hmmm," he agreed.

"In your cabin, Horatio. Your men?"

He opened his eyes. "A good point, my lady. Let us away." He arose, moaning from tiredness and kneeling on the cold hard deck. "I must be getting old." He pulled her arm to his and escorted her to the cabin next door. "Goodnight, my love." He kissed her on the forehead and shuffled off sleepily.

She watched him go but did not hear the door close. Going to check, she found him barely on the cot but breathing rhythmically. Memory flowed of that morning she awakened in his arms. Entering, she shifted his body onto the bunk, placed his feet on the cot, and removed his shoes. She covered him with a blanket and tucked it. That curl lay on his forehead. She reached to smooth it away. He spoke sleepily and it startled her.

"Love you, Pamela."

She smiled and whispered. "I love you." She kissed his forehead, then slipped out, closed the door quietly, and returned to her cabin.

Two shadowy figures emerged from the timbers supporting the deck. The one lifted a finger to his lips to the other for quiet. They tiptoed into the captain's cabin, retrieving the leftover food and utensils. The lights were extinguished as they tiptoed out and away, returning to the galley.

Jenkins looked into the wide-eyed face of Hardy. "Not a word to anyone, mate. Not a word! He's asked her to marry him! Cor! I can't believe I heard it wi' me own ears! We'll tell Matthews, but not a word to no one else, eh? Ooooo, wait'll Cap'n P. hears o' this!"