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An American Encounter
By Skihee :)

Chapter 7 The Peril of Portsmouth

Kennedy stood to the larboard side of HMS Indefatigable looking at the fog draped coastline. They were south of England nearing Portsmouth. The topmost part of the signal tower could be seen above the fog layer at the mouth of the Solent emptying into the English Channel. He heard the officer of the watch order that Pellew be informed of their position.

Kennedy paced like a caged cat. How long would it take to disembark the prisoners, resupply the ship? They would most definitely need supplies for refitting, having used nearly every spare piece they had for Cymbaline and Dolphin. Cordage, spars, spare masting, sail. These were a must. Food and water. The pirates had consumed some of those supplies, but that could be offset by the men gone with Hornblower on Dolphin, well most of it anyway. Weapons. This was not a problem seeing as how Dolphin had offered ostensibly no resistance. The amount of cannon ball and powder used was minuscule, nor was any taken for Dolphin. 'Damn!' he thought to himself as he remembered. "Damn!" he said out loud.

Pellew emerged on deck in time to hear Kennedy swear. "Mr. Kennedy! Follow me, if you please, sir."

"Aye, aye, sir."

He made his way to the quarter-deck. Pellew approached the officer of the watch with a salute. "Report, Mr. Rampling."

As Rampling gave information to their position, Pellew cast his eye over the weather, the wind in the sail, Mr. Kennedy fidgeting behind him, and the foggy coastline. It was becoming clearer with each passing moment.

"Have they signaled yet, Mr. Rampling?"

Holding the glass to his eye Rampling answered, "No, sir, not as yet. Perhaps the fog is preventing them from seeing us, sir. Wait....there it is, sir. They want us to identify ourselves."

Very well. Run up the flag, Mr. Rampling."

"Aye, sir. Mr. Connors, let them know who we are."

As the flag went up the halyard, Pellew eyed his junior officer. "Mr. Kennedy, are you on watch?"

Kennedy looked down to the deck, flushed. "No, sir."

"They want to know why we are here, sir," reported Rampling.

"Inform them we have prisoners." Looking at Kennedy he said, "And, I might ask you the same thing, sir."

Kennedy swallowed, shifting his weight under his Captain's queries.

Pellew eyed his junior officer visibly fidgeting next to him. "What would you say should be our plan of action, Mr. Kennedy?" He knew what it was. He wanted to know if Kennedy knew.

Kennedy froze as his Captain awaited his answer.

"Well, sir, first, I would check in with the port admiral, unload our prisoners, then, order our refitting supplies from the dockyard, replace those items given to refit Cymbaline and Dolphin, perhaps order resupply of food and water, or wait until reaching Gibraltar for those." He looked at his captain hoping he would take his veiled suggestion, then continued. "Weapon stores are more than adequate. There is not enough used to require resupplying these." He bit his lower lip and glanced at his captain. "Then, weigh anchor and set sail for Gibraltar."

"Hmmm," was the only reply Pellew gave. "Which would it be, Mr. Kennedy? Resupply food and water here, or in Gibraltar?"

He knew what he wanted to do, what he wanted to say. But, he also knew he had to think like his Captain. He had to think like an officer in His Majesty's Navy, not as Horatio's friend. He sighed and felt his spirits sink. "We should get food and water, sir....here." His eyes lowered.

Quite right, Mr. Kennedy."

"Captain, they have signaled us to take the prisoners to the prison hulk, Lady Anne, anchored just south of the dockyard, sir."

"Very well. Mr. Bowles, set your course for the Lady Anne. The sooner we are relieved of this rabble the better." Turning to Kennedy he said, "Mr. Kennedy, choose men to go with you to the dockyard to acquire the supplies needed for refitting."

Kennedy looked encouraged. "Aye, aye, sir! Thank you, sir!" He saluted the captain and bounded for the deck.

Kennedy's anxiety over Hornblower was nearly as unbearable for Pellew as it was Kennedy. Confronting Beadle for ship maintenance supplies would give Kennedy some other outlet for his nervous energies.

"Mr. Rampling, inform the port admiral we will need to replace food and water supplies as quickly as possible. Our Mr. Kennedy may have his way with our reluctant dockyard supplier."

"Aye, aye, sir." He relayed the information to Connors who prepared the flags to be run up.

"I will be in my cabin completing our supply requests, Mr. Rampling. Let me know when we reach the Lady Anne. You have the deck, sir."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

The fog was lifting as the sun burned in the heavens. It was a bright and beautiful day in the south of England. The Indefatigable, under the watchful eye of its seasoned Master, Mr. Bowles, glided with grace into Portsmouth harbor. He stood on the quarter-deck, glass to eye, spying out the Lady Anne. He called orders to the men in the rigging that would ease their forward motion and approach to the prison hulk.

Soon the two ships were side to side. The marines had been ordered out and stood with muskets readied as the prisoners were brought up for transfer. Pellew was on the quarter-deck speaking with an officer from the Lady Anne. Having received a written accounting from Pellew as to the prisoners, the officer descended to the main deck.

Kennedy, with supply request signed by Pellew to hand, and his chosen group of men, stood with backs to the quarter-deck, watching the grumbling prisoners shuffle across the deck to their new prison. He spotted the pirate captain, a bruise still graced his chin where Kennedy had decked him. He thought about his still bruised knuckles as he watched with sullen eyes, wishing they would hurry up. At last, the final man was over the rail.

Pellew gave quiet commands to his first leftenant who was now officer of the watch. "Mr. Bracegirdle, put a crew to swabbing out the area occupied by our guests."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Mr. Bowles, fend us off the Lady Anne, and get us upwind of her, sir. Find a suitable anchor until we can complete our resupplying."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

Looking onto the deck he shouted, "Mr. Kennedy, have your boat and crew ready to go over the side as soon as we clear the Lady Anne. The dockyard is an easy pull from here."

Aye, aye, sir," responded Kennedy.

"And, Mr. Kennedy..."

"Sir?"

"Mr. Beadle has been known to be somewhat reluctant to release his stores. I trust you will find a way to convince him of our needs."

"Aye, sir. I will do my best, sir," he acknowledged.

Pellew wondered. He was anxious to see how he faired.

Kennedy's boat was in the water. The men pulled under his direction as he manned the tiller. It was not long before the bow and side thudded against the dock. He and Johnson exited the boat. He had formulated how he would handle Mr. Beadle, and he spoke to Johnson in low tones to remind him of the plan.

He entered the offices of the dockyard master. Beadle sat at his desk hunched over his papers, glasses sitting perched on his narrow nose. He glanced at Kennedy and squinted at the low rank of his uniform. 'Bah!' He thought to himself. 'A midshipman. Whoever his Captain is, is in no hurry for any supplies.' He ignored Kennedy and continued with his calculations.

Kennedy cleared his throat. "Beg pardon, sir. We are here with a request for supplies."

"Leave the request there. I will get to you in a couple of days."

"But sir, I have orders to procure these items today."

"Not likely, boy. See this here stack?" He motioned to pile of papers sitting on the corner of his desk. "They all come before you. You have to wait your turn."

Johnson began to speak in furtive tones. "Oh, Mr. Kennedy, sir! We've got to get these today! You 'eard the Captain! Those pirates are 'eaded this way, sir. They know we were 'eaded this way!"

Kennedy grabbed Johnson by the collar, pushed him to the wall, and spoke through clenched teeth. "Quiet man! Do you want to set off a general alarm? No one is to know of the peril of Portsmouth! Keep quiet!"

Beadle looked up. "What's this? What's on with you two?"

Kennedy smiled calmly. "Nothing, sir. Idle talk. Nothing more."

"I heard him say something about pirates. What do you mean the peril of Portsmouth?"

"Oh please. Mr. Beadle, just forget you heard any such thing. The man is a little out of his head. He was all that could be spared to come with me. Please. Pay him no mind, sir."

"You better pay me mind, sir. If you 'ad seen what I saw, you'd pay me mind!" said Johnson anxiously.

Kennedy pushed him against the wall again. "Quiet!" he said under his breath. Looking back at Beadle he said, "Really, Mr. Beadle, do not listen to such talk."

Beadle stood to his feet and stepped over to Johnson. "Don't be afraid, son. I out rank him. What is this about pirates and Portsmouth?"

Johnson looked fearfully at Kennedy. "He don't want me to say nothin', sir."

"Why not? Why are you to keep silent?"

"Johnson! Keep you mouth shut!"

Beadle turned on Kennedy. "See here! You keep your mouth shut before I have you in irons for insubordination!" Kennedy backed away from Beadle who had turned his attention to Johnson. "What's going on?"

"Well, sir. We was attacked by pirates just south o' here, sir. They messed up our sister ship somethin' terrible, which is why we need those supplies, sir. But, we captured some of them, sir. Them pirates has got 'em a navy like, sir, like the Spanish Armada it is! Anyway, we knows from them we captured as how they're plannin' to attack the yards here, sir. Plan to take whatever they can, sir. Goin' t' pillage the town, they said, sir."

"What on earth would they want to attack the yard for?" asked Beadle suspiciously.

"There you see, Mr. Beadle, it is just idle talk," interjected Kennedy, "Do not heed his words, sir."

"Don't listen to Mr. Kennedy, sir! He just wants to run! Captain said if we couldn't get them supplies we may as well run fer our lives as one ship was nothin' to fight against them pirates, sir."

"He is exagerating, Mr. Beadle. Touched." Kennedy tapped the side of his head.

"Why would they attack the dockyard, man?"

"Well, sir, just like us, they needs supplies."

Beadle was struck! Pirates coming to take his supplies by force! "Who is your Captain? What is your ship?"

"The Indy, sir! Captain Pellew!"

Beadle moved to his desk and picked up the sealed supply request. He read it over. "These are refitting supplies! What good will these do to fight pirates?"

"They are needed for our sister ship, the Dolphin, sir. She's dismasted not far from here, sir. If we can get her repaired she will help us to fight off the pirates, but as she is now, she's of no use. Captain Pellew don't think he can fight the pirates alone, sir. Mr. Kennedy here is hopin' you won't fill that sir so's we can stay out o' the fray."

Beadle turned his gaze on Kennedy. At that moment, one of the Officer's from the Lady Anne appeared in the doorway. Beadle knew him and asked, "What do you want, Mr. Christopher?"

"We just received a batch of pirate prisoners from Indefatigable. We need additional hammock supplies right away."

Beadle looked back at Kennedy and squinted at him. Kennedy looked at Beadle and put his finger over his lips and shook his head.

Beadle took the supply request from Christopher and signed it. Christopher looked amazed. "Thank you , Mr. Beadle!" He left the office.Beadle turned his piercing gaze upon Archie.

"I did not want you to alarm Mr. Christopher, sir, as the Lady Anne will most likely be targeted by the pirates to release their comrades. Captain Pellew has sworn me to silence, sir. Please do not tell him you got this information from us." He looked at Johnson angrily, "And, I'll have you at the gratings, Johnson!"

"So, if I release these supplies, they will go for repair to a ship that will be protecting Portsmouth?"

"Yes, sir. If the Dolphin can be repaired quickly, Captain Pellew will have no other option open to him than to stay and fight. But, sir, you must not say anything to anyone. It might cause a panic in the town! Captain Pellew has been in touch with the Port Admiral and no one is to know of the peril of Portsmouth!"

Beadle signed the supplies request. "Are you sure you don't need powder, cannon, shot?"

Kennedy wished they did, but there really was no need at the moment. "No, sir. None at this time."

Beadle looked at Johnson. "You're a good lad, boy. And you! I better not hear of this man being at the gratings, Mr. Kennedy, or your Captain shall hear of your cowardice!"

Kennedy swallowed and glanced about. "Very well, Mr. Beadle. Please, do not tell my Captain."

"Humph!" said Beadle. "Follow me." He lead the two out into the yards, ordered his crew to cease working on the order they were filling, and do the one for Indefatigable. He looked meanly at Kennedy one last time. "Do your duty, sir!"

"Aye, aye, sir!" answered Kennedy with a salute. He and Johnson watched Beadle return to his office. They looked at each other and broke into wide grins. "Go get the rest of the men, Johnson. Let's help get these supplies loaded."

"Aye, aye, Mr. Kennedy!"

Pellew had gone himself to check into refilling water and food supplies. Since his request was not a large one, the revictuallers were willing to place the Indy next on their list. Indeed the water hoy was already at the Indy. He could see it from where he stood on the wharf.

The day was brilliant and warm. Pellew decided to take a stroll. This unexpected return to England left him with some free moments. He had purchased a copy of the Portsmouth news and decided to rest himself at the Maiden's Arms with a pint of their best bitter beer. He sat at one of the outside tables taking in the heat of the noonday sun. He glanced out into the harbor one last time before burying himself in the news.

There was not much to be found of interest in the paper. His thoughts turned to Kennedy. He wondered what kind of success he was having with Beadle and he smiled. That boy had been driving them all to distraction with his worries over Hornblower. Sending him on this mission to Beadle would give the officers on the Indy some respite from the restless Mr. Kennedy. He chuckled to himself at how the youth might impress himself and their needs upon the irascible Mr. Beadle. But, even if Kennedy were able to persuade Beadle of their pressing need, he figured it would be at least tomorrow or the next day before the supplies would be delivered. And then again, Beadle might prove to be too stalwart an adversary, and he himself would have to confront the man. He frowned at the thought of that potential meeting. He sighed at the red tape he and every other captain were forced to go through to do their job.

The pub owner brought him a ploughman's lunch and another pint. He looked out over the harbor taking in the ships at anchor. They were beautiful! What a view! Sturdy oak built ships. Off white sail furled to the yards. Glints of sun off the water. The Indefatigable. He loved his ship. Seeing her caused a lump in his throat. She was the most beautiful one anchored there.

He saw one of the dockyard's lighters making its way across the water. He watched and wondered which ship it was headed for and when he might see it headed for his. He could see there were masts on its deck. Eyeing the other ships at anchor, he wondered which one, besides his, was in need of refitting supplies. He noticed a jolly boat following the lighter. He was about to put another fork of food in his mouth when he stopped and stared at the sight unfolding before him. He came to his feet and stood wide mouthed at what he saw. He put his fork of food down and pulled out his pocket watch. The time was 1:35. Impossible! He blinked again to make sure he was seeing right. Reaching into his coat pocket he pulled out the small telescope he always kept there. He extended it to its full length. He looked at the ship. It was the Indy. He looked at the lighter. It was tied to the Indy's chains. He looked at the jolly boat. Kennedy!

"Oh my God!" he said under his breath lowering his telescope. He picked up his pint and drained it.

The pub owner saw him standing to leave. "Is somethin' wrong with the food, Cap'n?"

"Hmm? No. I must away!" He pulled a coin from his pocket and pressed it into the owner's hand. He walked briskly down the road to the wharf below. As he rounded a corner, he bumped into a man walking with his head down.

"I beg your pardon," he apologized.

"Captain Pellew! A word with you, sir!"

"Mr. Beadle!" Pellew eyed the little man and wondered what complaint he might hear about Kennedy.

Beadle walked up, put his pointed-nosed face in his, and squinted. "That young officer of yours came to see me this morning."

"Yes?"

"So, you've got your hands full with pirates, I hear."

"Well, we did so, yes."

Beadle raised an eyebrow. "You're on your way back to your ship?"

"Yes."

"Good. You take care of us now, you hear. I took care of you, you do your part."

Pellew eyed the man and wondered what had transpired between him and Kennedy. He tried to think of a generic answer that might fit with whatever Kennedy might have told him. It was obviously something, if the Indy was having its supply request filled on the same day! "I will do my duty, sir, as ever."

"Hmm. Well, I never thought of you as a coward, sir, no indeed." He poked Pellew's chest with his skinny finger. "You might want to talk to that young officer of yours though. Hmm." Beadle squinted at him a last time and walked off. "You just take care of Portsmouth!" He shouted back.

Pellew stood with his mouth open, his brow knitted. What was this about? He resumed his quick walk to the wharf. His gig awaited him. The men cast off the dock and pulled for the Indy. Pellew noted Kennedy on the lighter directing its unloading. Since the lighter was in the way of the Indy's side steps, Pellew disembarked his gig onto it.

"Mr. Kennedy!"

Kennedy grinned at his captain expecting some congratulations on gaining the supplies so quickly. He changed that look as he viewed the face of his Captain.

"Sir?"

Pellew pinched his lips together not sure what he wanted to say. "I'll see you in my cabin, if you please, sir!" Pellew climbed the side. The sideboys could be heard piping him aboard. Kennedy looked at Johnson and wondered why his captain seemed distraught. He gave Johnson directions to carry on. Cutter was on the deck handling the supplies as they came aboard. Kennedy waved at him as he followed Pellew up the side.

What had he done now, he wondered, as he stood at attention in his Captain's cabin.

Pellew removed his hat and eyed his acting leftenant. "I ran into Mr. Beadle on the wharf." He watched as Kennedy's face turned a bright crimson. "Do you know why he might think that I am a coward, sir?"

Kennedy swallowed as his face went redder still. "N.. no, sir. I don't know, sir."

Pellew's brow knit further. "Would you care to explain what went on with Mr. Beadle that you have been able to acquire these supplies so quickly?"

He swallowed again. "I....I'd rather not, sir."

Pellew walked closer, staring into his face. Kennedy stared straight ahead to avoid looking at his captain. The silence seemed like an eternity. "Why does Mr. Beadle want me to take care of Portsmouth? What on earth is he talking about, Mr. Kennedy? I feel you know the answers to these questions." As he looked at Kennedy he thought the man might burst a blood vessel, his face was that red.

"I do not know, sir, why Mr. Beadle thinks you are a coward, sir. That was never my intention. I believe he misunderstood me, sir." He glanced at his Captain. "As for taking care of Portsmouth, sir, I mean, that is what we do, is it not, sir? We protect England, do we not? And does that not include Portsmouth as well, sir?" He tried to smile at Pellew but let his facial muscles go and lowered his eyes to the deck.

"I congratulate you, Mr. Kennedy, on gaining these supplies so quickly. Someday you will have to SHARE with me your techniques with Mr. Beadle." He could see Kennedy's taught stance release, some of the red drained from his features. "I believe the only thing keeping us from departing are the food stores. Tell Mr. Bracegirdle I want to know when they arrive. We will set sail with the eventide, Mr. Kennedy. Will that be to your liking, sir?"

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

"You are dismissed."

"Thank you, sir."

"And, Kennedy!"

"Sir?"

"Well done, sir, well done indeed."

*************

Hornblower wakened at the last ding of the fifth bell in in the morning watch. It was 6:30 a.m. He lay there as his mind began to recall the evening before. A smile gently moved across his face. Sitting up slowly, he realized he was still dressed in his clothes from yesterday. He began to remove his coat, waistcoat, shirt, then, stood before the small mirror shivering as he applied himself to a shave. He was just finishing dressing in clean clothing when a knock came at the door.

"Come."

"Good morning, sir," said Matthews. "I thought ye might want to know the sky is clear this morning, sir, in case ye wanted to take a sighting."

"Thank you, Matthews, I will be there directly." He pulled on his coat and taking the sextant he made his way up to the quarter-deck, only glancing at Pamela's cabin door as he passed.

The ship seemed unusually quiet this morning. The few men he saw as he made his way to the quarter-deck gave him a nod, but little was spoken. Bailey was the man on watch, with Harkins at the helm.

"Report, Mr. Bailey."

"Heading is east so'east, sir. Wind fair. She's making seven knots."

"Thank you, Mr. Bailey." He pulled out his pocket watch and noted the time. Then, raising the sextant to eye, he adjusted the arc for sighting on the sun and horizon. He turned the sextant to note the degrees and minutes that would be entered into the log and help to chart the position. "I will be below, Mr. Bailey. You have the deck."

"Aye, aye, sir."

He returned to his cabin, grabbed the logs, and moved to the Captain's cabin. The light was better and the table larger to lay out the charts. He was not there long when Cook appeared with coffee, biscuit, and some pan fried pork.

"Mornin', Mr. Hornblower," he said quietly. "I took the liberty of bringin' ye some breakfast. Should I bring some fer the lady, sir?"

Hornblower looked up and smiled. "Thank you, Cook. I shall say, no, for Mrs. Dandridge, not as yet."

"Yes, sir." Cook departed.

Hornblower was not sure what it was, but he felt a coolness from Cook. He knitted his brow and wondered if he were imagining things. He drank his coffee, ate, and worked on the logs. He put in a detailed description of the previous days efforts, moving the cannon, patching the holes, righting the ship. Then, the entry for this day, the sextant records, time, speed, wind, and compass headings. He was caught up on his paper work within an hour. He smiled and wondered if sleep made this chore quicker and easier. His mind seemed more focused on the tasks at hand. A wry smile moved over his face. Suddenly, he realized one reason was, he was not so preoccupied with her. He began thinking about the sails and rigging when Matthews appeared in the doorway.

"Beggin' your pardon, sir, will ye be wantin' me to continue settin' them sails?"

"Yes, Mr. Matthews." He stood. "Come, let's take a look at what is left to be done." Again, Hornblower noticed a quietness about Matthews. "Did you have your breakfast, Mr. Matthews?"

"Aye, sir, I did." Matthews was surprised at the inquiry.

"Is something bothering you? You seem a little quiet this morning."

"No, sir. There's nowt' botherin' me, sir," he answered, defensively.

Hornblower decided to let it drop and continued topside with his first mate. They viewed the masts and sails and discussed what was needed. The topmen were already working to rig the last of the sail and running rigging.

"Very good, Mr. Matthews." He was pleased that his men continued to carry out their assignments without his reminding them. "It is time we were away. As soon as you are ready, set all sail. I will return shortly to give our final heading for Gibraltar."

"Aye, aye, sir. And, sir,"

"Yes, Matthews?"

"I was thinkin', sir, now that the ship repairs are pretty much under control, would ye like me ta 'ave Starns replace that door on the Captain's cabin, sir?"

Hornblower felt himself flush. So, this was it. This is why he was picking up on an attitude change in his men. Were they jealous? "I see Jenkins made his reports."

Matthews looked down at the deck avoiding his Captain's eyes. "Aye, sir, that he did."

Hornblower drew in a breath. "Is this why the crew seems to be so sullen this morning, Matthews?" He was not angry. What could he expect? He had this lovely woman and the rest of the crew did not. He did not want morale to sink and he began to wonder how he would juggle his feelings for her and the needs of his men.

Matthews shifted his weight nervously before Hornblower.

"Come on, man," Hornblower said gently. "I will not be angry. What is the reaction of the men? I know about the wager."

Surprise registered on Matthews' face. He glanced from the deck to Hornblower's face repeatedly as he spoke. "Well, sir. We all understand as 'ow you and the lady might become....might like each other, an' all, seein's 'ow ye was takin' care of 'er an' all. And, the t'other, I told Jenkins to keep his mouth shut up about it, but 'e's like a magpie, sir. Ye'd 'ave better luck pluggin' a shot hole than ye would 'is gob." Matthews said this last part angrily. He did not feel that what his captain did was fodder for gossip among his mates.

Hornblower felt another rush of blood to his face. He closed his eyes. "What...what else did Jenkins have to tell, Mr. Matthews?"

Matthews hung his head lower. "It ain't...it ain't none of our business, sir."

"What else did he say?" asked Hornblower pointedly.

Matthews and Hornblower had faces to match in color. Matthews could not answer him. Hornblower did not have the heart to further discomfort this man who had been not only an excellent and loyal seaman, but also his mentor, in many ways similar to Captain Pellew, but at a different level. "Did...did he overhear me avow my love for her?"

"Aye, sir," answered Matthews looking at the deck.

"Did he hear me ask her to marry me?"

"Aye, sir."

Hornblower rubbed his hand over his face and sighed. Should he be angry with Jenkins? "Well, it's my own fault," he said to himself. "Does the whole ship know?"

"Probably, sir."

Hornblower shifted his weight and sighed again, glancing at the quarter-deck, the sails, the masts. He had not considered his crew. Them finding out about this had not entered his mind. His whole energies had been spent in convincing her they were right for each other. He had not given a thought to how his crew might react when they learned of his intentions. He wondered if he should be concerned about reactions from those on Indefatigable, but decided he had enough to worry about with those on Dolphin. This must be what it is like when you have not told either one's parents and you are not sure they will approve. What occurred next had not entered his mind either.

"Might I offer my congratulations, sir?" asked Matthews.

Hornblower positively grinned, blinking his amazement. "Yes! You may, Mr. Matthews!"

Matthews looked at Hornblower and returned an equally large smile, holding out his hand. Hornblower took it and shook it enthusiastically.

"Thank you, Mr. Matthews! So, he also reported on her answer?"

"Aye, aye, sir! He did that, sir!" answered Matthews still smiling and shaking Hornblower's hand. Hornblower clasped Matthews upper arm. He became aware the men topside were watching them.

He gave Matthews a final grin then said, "I'm going below to check the charts, Mr. Matthews."

"Aye, aye, sir!" he answered happily, the tension gone.

The men swabbing the deck stopped swabbing and said, "Congratulations, sir!"

"Congratulations, Mr. Hornblower!"

"She's a right pretty one, Mr. 'Ornblower! Congratulations!"

Hornblower shook some offered hands, thanked them for their congratulations, and returned to the Captain's cabin. He entered the doorway and realized she was there looking out the stern windows. She turned, hearing his steps. His countenance registered pleasure.

"What? What is it, Horatio?"

Taking her hands, eyes bright, a smile playing over his lips, "I am standing on the fore mast top yard, a hundred and twenty feet above deck! The wind is blowing past me! The sun is brilliant! I can breath in the clean sea air! And it is all because I can stand here with you, my lady, and know that you are mine!"