An American Encounter
By Skihee :)

Chapter 8 Pursuit!

Pamela sat on the deck of Dolphin in a make shift chair and watched as Hornblower and Matthews drilled the men. Though all were navy, many were not topmen. Hornblower watched with a calculating eye to discover the best position for each. She glanced, occasionally, noting the determination. His attitude toward the ship and the men impressed. Her father would have liked him in HIS service, she felt sure. At the thought of her father, eyes lowered, sadness crossed her countenance. Should she have said yes?

Hornblower was talking to Matthews, making changes in who was where. Matthews ordered the changes and they tried the drill again. The sail were loosed and reefed, furled and unfurled, braces manned, halyards tested. The better part of the morning was spent in this manner. Pamela watched the men climbing the ratlines, standing on the yards, or in the footropes. No one noticed when she went below.

"Mr. Matthews, I believe we have our best choices for jobs with the sail. After lunch, we will drill with the guns."

"The guns, sir?"

"Yes. Even though we haven't much powder, we must be ready. There is enough for about a dozen rounds, I should think. We will use it if needs be."

"Aye, aye, Cap'n."

Pamela made her way to the orlop where Matthews told her the pirate's booty was stored. She carried a lantern to dispel the darkness and held it high, seeking the chests and trunks. Locating the stash, she searched, one by one. The lids were heavy on several, and she lifted them with a grunt, closing those that disappointed with a thud. She did not hear him coming.

"What ye doin', miss?"

"Oh! Mr. Styles! You scared me!" she gasped.

"Sorry, ma'am,' he said, moving nearer.

"I was looking for some clothes, Mr. Styles."

"Warn't that chest Matty and I brung ye full enough?"

"Can you keep a secret, Mr. Styles?"

"Well, I reckon I could, ma'am."

"I.....I want some men's clothes." She watched his face become curious in the dim light of the lantern.

"Men's clothes?"

"Promise me you won't tell, Mr. Styles."

"All right, ma'am, but what would ye be wantin' with men's clothes?"

She studied him a moment. "You'll laugh."

"No, I won't miss." He moved slightly closer and breathed in. He let his eyes roam her features, and his being drank the closeness.

"All right. I will trust you, Mr. Styles. I want to climb to the top yard."

He drew up, amazed. "You what?"

"Promise me you will keep it a secret. I fear Hor... I mean,... your Captain may not allow it, if he knows."

"I won't allow it either, ma'am!" said Styles indignantly. "It's dangerous, and now't what a lady should be doin'."

She lay her hand on the muscular chest. "Oh, please, Mr. Styles. I will be careful. I will never have another opportunity such as this. My father would not let me climb on Cymbaline for proprieties sake. Please? I so want to! Please?" she begged.

"Why, miss? It's dangerous enough for a man, and in the wind we're carryin' today, it'll be even more so. I can't let ye, miss. Yer father was right to say no. Besides, Mr. "Ornblower won't let ye, I know e won't."

"We won't tell him! I'll...I'll be dressed in men's clothes. I'll do it when he is below decks. Please, Mr. Styles? You could go with me, if that will help you change your mind. Please?" she moved even nearer, her hand rested on his chest.

He felt himself sinking beneath the sweet pleadings. "How....how ...will....will ye hide yer air, ma'am?" he asked as he sought helplessly for some reason to dissuade. The lantern accentuated the structure of her features. His heart rate jumped, and he caught a breath.

Realizing she was winning him over, she asked, "What about one of those stocking cap things sailors wear? I could stuff it all in there. No one would know except you. I will be careful. Please, Mr. Styles?"

He looked away, closed his eyes, and shook his head. "If anythin' happens t'ye Mr. Ornblower ll have my ide. And I won't blame im."

"I'll be careful. We'll be careful." She nodded, and grabbed his muscular upper arm.

Dolphin clipped along at nine knots. The ship was close hauled on the starboard tack. She made a fine picture, off white sails filled with wind, puffing out to match the fluffy clouds far above the deep blue sea. Hornblower took the opportunity before lunch to try some maneuvers. She responded ably as did the men.

Concluding the morning efforts, he lunched with Pamela. He enjoyed the company. They made small talk about each other's lives, learning a little more each time they met. He learned her mother had died birthing her, but that she had an older sister with three children and another on the way. She blushed when she shared this information which he found utterly charming!

He shared details of the ship and the crew, including the fact that they knew of the proposal. She was happy to hear the men accepted his intentions. One of the men suggested they be married at sea, but he found this too confusing, as he would be marrying himself, since he was the captain.

Hornblower was very pleased. It seemed all was right with the world. He had more than he could have ever asked, this ship to command, the woman he loved, a willing crew, and additionally, one that seemed happy at his impending marriage. He breathed deeply the ocean air, standing on the quarter-deck, relishing his place in the world.

Hardy pulled the rope of the ship's bell quickly two dings. It was one o'clock in the afternoon, the appointed time for the gunnery drills.

"I will be on the gun deck, Mr. Kramer," advised Hornblower.

"Aye, aye, sir."

Styles knew of the planned gun drills and arranged with Pamela, against his better judgment, but at her insistence, to meet the moment Hornblower was below decks. Excusing himself from the drills due to nausea, he waited on the main deck, pacing.

Pamela was in her cabin, finishing the costume. She removed her corset, fearing it might not let her move quickly if the need arose. She wore two shirts, one a striped pullover, the other a blue button shirt. Both were tucked in the coarse tan, duck pants. The belt, she buckled tightly about her waist. Taking the blue sock cap Styles located, she pulled it over her hair and tucked it all neatly in at the sides.

She surveyed the view in the small mirror. Opening the door a crack, she listened and peeked out. She heard the bell, then saw Horatio come down the companion and turn towards the gun area. She slipped out, tiptoeing along the corridor. About to climb the stairs, she saw Matthews staring her direction. She smiled as recognition registered.

"Are we ready, Mr. Matthews?" asked Hornblower.

Matthews stood gaping, trying to comprehend what was happening.

"Mr. Matthews?"

"Sir?"

"Are we ready, man? What ails you?"

"Nothin', Mr. Hornblower, sir," he answered nervously.

Pamela emerged on deck and stepped quickly to Styles.

"I'm ready! How do I look?"

He assessed the slight build, her figure more apparent in the loose but lighter clothing. He shook his head. "I wish ye'd change yer mind, ma'am. The wind is right fierce today."

"Aw, come on, Mr. Styles!"

Before he could say anything else, she swung up on the ratlines and began to climb. He watched doubtfully, then hurried to follow.

Matthews was distracted and Hornblower could tell. "Mr. Matthews, keep your mind on the job!"

"Aye, sir, could ye excuse me, sir?" he answered absently and left.

Hornblower looked at the men standing ready and threw up his hands. "At your ease, men. I will be back shortly."

Matthews, on deck, found what he feared immediately. He remembered what she told him that day they were patching the ship, and sure enough, there she was, about half way up the ratlines with Styles following.

"Styles!" he said with clinched teeth. Then, he heard steps behind him and turned to face Hornblower, not knowing whether to tell him, or hope he did not notice the two figures above.

"What is going on, Mr. Matthews?" He squinted at the men in the rigging. "What is Styles doing? Who is that with....? Pamela? What....what....?"

"I didn't know, sir. She mentioned it t'other day, sir, but I told her then it wasn't a good idea," Matthews answered quickly.

Hornblower's face went red.

"Pamela! Pamela!" he shouted. "Come down!"

She looked down at the call. "Oh dear." Looking up, she continued to climb.

"Miss!" called Styles, "Miss!"

She stopped, turning to Styles.

"Mr. "Ornblower wants us to come down!" he shouted in the wind.

She shook her head and yelled, "No!" and she started to climb again.

Styles looked down at Hornblower and shrugged his shoulders.

"Damn!" said Hornblower. He climbed up after them and caught up rapidly with Styles. "Have you lost all sense, man?" he asked angrily as he passed.

She was nearly to the top yard. The motion of the lines caused her to stop and look down. Horatio was coming.

"Pamela!" he shouted.

Turning upwards, a sudden gust of wind pulled off the sock cap. Her hair blew with the wind. She reached to catch the cap and nearly lost hold.

Hornblower felt his heart stop, but his hands and feet moved faster.

She began to climb again. He came near enough to soundly smack her on the bottom before she made the final lunge.

"Ow!" she yelled, feeling the contact with her posterior. She clung to the mast and the rigging as he came up beside her.

"Why didn't you come down when I called?" he asked angrily.

She rubbed the sting, pouting.

"I ought to give you more than that!" he defended. "Have you taken leave of your senses? What on earth do you think you are doing? And, don't start crying! Where did you get these clothes? I'll have Styles ..." he stopped ranting as something caught his eye. He reached into his coat pocket, pulled out the small telescope, and put his arm around her and the mast. Despite his anxious desire to look through the glass, he could not help but assess her response. He felt his anger lighten as he looked into the brown eyes filling with tears. "I told you not to do that," he said less harshly. He pulled closer to pin her between himself and the mast. Even in this precarious circumstance, her proximity brought a jump to his pulse. Satisfied she was safe, he peered through the telescope. "Damn!"

She feared the anger but enjoyed the closeness.

Looking down, he could see Styles just below. With a firm command, he said, "I want you to go down with, Styles. Do you hear?"

She nodded her assent. "Horatio..."

He gave but a moment for more, but she fell silent. "Styles, take her down. Carefully, man!"

Styles placed his body over hers, allowing the decent between his arms.
"I told ye Mr. 'Ornblower wouldn't like ye doin' this, Miss."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Styles. I'll speak to him. I did not mean to get you in trouble."

Hornblower watched them to be sure of their progress, then looked again with the glass at the image in the distance. By the color of the sail, he knew it was not British. The sail were bright white. British sail tended to go off white from constant use and exposure to the elements. He waited for the wind or the heading to reveal the nationality.

As he waited and felt the wind rushing past, he thought about the scare she gave. What on earth could have possessed her to be climbing the rigging? Obviously there was more to know about this woman he asked to be his wife.

He shook his head slightly still staring through the glass. *Come on,* he thought, *give a bit of tack, let me see your ensign.* He hoped against hope it was not French, or Spanish, for if it were, it would mean turning to run. There was nothing else he could do. Run and alter course. A further delay, a delay to meet back with Indefatigable, a delay to marry Pamela.

He was about to give up watching when the colors flashed in the bright sun. The tricolor! She was French! He tried to look beyond to see if she were alone. Nothing else visible. He looked again at the ship. Still too far to tell how many guns she carried. Why was he even considering it? He had no means to fight. Turn tail and run was all that was left. Even if he had the powder, it was not like he had a full compliment of men to do the job. There was only one course. Perhaps it was for the best since Pamela was on board. Indeed, she was not even British. It was not her fight. Why should her life be risked in a battle? But, again, this was a moot point. There was nothing to fight with. He cursed for failing to get powder stores. He felt a coward at running, but it would be folly to do otherwise. His choices of character brought gloom to his face. He could be a coward, or he could be a fool. For the sake of his men and her, he would have to choose coward.

One last look through the glass. Still unable to see her size as to guns, but he could be sure they were there. Scanning the horizon, still no other ships. "Damn!" he said aloud. They would have to run. He began his descent. He could see Matthews and Styles exchanging words and Pamela trying to intervene.

"Why'd ye let er do it, man?" asked Matthews angrily.

"She was goin' t' do it whether I went with er or no! Would ye rather I'd let er go alone?"

"Please, gentlemen! Mr. Matthews, Mr. Styles is correct. I would have gone whether he were there or not. Do not blame him. What is the big fuss anyway? I am fine. What is it with you men that you think only you can do such things?" She walked away from the two of them and nearing the ship's side, she kicked it. The pain registering in her foot told how angry she was at the effrontery.

Peering up, she could see Hornblower on the way down. She backed away from where he would enter the deck. She made him angry. That part she did regret. While avoiding him would have been her first choice, she felt she had to defend Styles. She waited, wondering what wrath from the man she loved she would have to endure. He jumped to the deck and surveyed the three of them waiting for his tongue lashing.

"Hands to quarters, Mr. Matthews, we have company," he spoke calmly.

"Aye, aye, sir." Matthews returned to the gun deck and could be heard shouting the order.

"Mr. Styles, ...take your position." He was all calmness.

"Aye, sir," answered Styles, with a salute and a quick glance her way.

"Mrs. Dandridge, I suggest you go to your cabin." He turned and headed for the quarter-deck. He did not have the time or energy to confront her actions, or to examine his own.

She watched him go, felt her eyes burn, and her throat catch. "Aye, aye, sir," she answered quietly, not expecting him to hear, but he did.

He stopped, hesitated, then continued to the quarter-deck. He had a ship to run....a ship to turn tail and run.

The men came streaming up, preventing Pamela from going below. By now the tears were flowing, and she turned seaward to hide it. She did not see the glances towards her and then towards the captain. Finally, the companion was clear. She made for it, going quickly down to the cabin. Entering and bolting the door, she threw herself onto the cot and gave in to the heaving sobs, forestalled, until she could be alone.

Hornblower gave the order to come about. The helmsman spun the wheel. The crew reefed the mains'ls. The tops'ls backed and were braced up on the larboard tack. Hornblower found himself pleased at the way Dolphin handled. If only he were maneuvering to attack instead of run. She could sail rings around that French ship, if only she had some teeth. He inhaled deeply.

"Hardy, take this glass and man the mast head. Report on any changes in direction of the French ship."

"Aye, aye, captain."

"Trim the sails, Mr. Matthews. Let us not waste this wind."

"Aye, aye, sir!" Matthews relayed the orders to the topmen and those manning the braces. The sails were taught and Dolphin was clipping again, only in the opposite direction.

Hornblower stood on the starboard side aft, extending his glass to view the dot on the distant horizon. She had her bow pointed straight at them, but Dolphin seemed to be out pacing her. Perhaps his efforts to patch and rig would be their salvation. That was something at least. He snapped the glass closed and began to pace the quarter-deck, jaw clinched. His black mood still veiled his face. He hated running. They should have been able to fight. He wondered if he might face court-marshal for his short-sightedness and running from the enemy. His scowl increased.

Matthews studied Hornblower and wondered at how the ecstasy of the morning over his engagement, had turned to agony over the enemy in the afternoon. He shook his head and thanked God he was not an officer. Too much worry, too many decisions. Though his work was hard, he preferred it to the weight an officer carried.

If Hornblower had known of Matthews' thoughts, it might have given him solace. To know that someone knew the load he bore, would in some ways have lifted it a little. Having made the decision to run, the only thing left to do was watch and wait. See if the French ship pursued or gave up the chase.

He walked to the rail and looked onto the main deck. She was gone. Well, why should she not? He told her to go to her cabin. Had he called her by her last name? He closed his eyes as he remembered. *She must think I am really angry.* He walked to the taffrail and extended the glass. The ship was still there, but falling behind. He wondered what they thought of a ship flying British colours, fleeing. The ensign flapped in the breeze. Unbidden came the memory of standing here with her. He snapped the glass closed and paced.

"I'm going below, Mr. Kramer. Call me if there are any changes."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Arriving in the Captain's cabin, he examined the charts. They were heading away from the coasts of Europe into the North Atlantic, heading nor'norwest, exactly opposite the previous course, away from Gibraltar, away from the Indy. "Damn!" He sat down and covered his face, as if he could block away his current state of affairs. He pressed his hands to the sides of his head and stared bleakly at the chart. Should they go to England instead? But those were not his orders. And what if the admiralty chose to reassign him and the men, and they never got back to the Indy. It had been known to happen, with ships ever and always needing crew. No, he would follow his Captain's orders to meet in Gibraltar, even if it took the rest of the year to get there!

He reached for the log, quill, and ink and began the entry, noting the time the French ship was sighted. As he remembered that moment, he thought of Pamela. Seeing her on the ratlines scared him. Scared him enough to make him angry. What possessed her to do such a dangerous thing? His shock and concern resulted in a surprisingly parental attitude of protection. An attitude that may have deleterious effects on their relationship when in combination with his current preoccupation as an officer in His Majesty's Navy.

However, if he had not climbed up after her, he might not have seen the French ship. No one was on lookout. Another bad decision on his part. His self loathing increased another notch. He continued the log entry, pressing a frown. Compass headings, sail, the stern chase they seemed to be engaged in... with them as the mouse, Dolphin's handiness, his regret at not having the powder to fight. The strain of pursuit and denied emotional upset fatigued. He pushed the log away. Stretching out his right arm, quill to hand, he rested his head on his arm, and, unexpectedly, drifted off to sleep.

"Sir." Styles was gently touching his shoulder. "Mr. Ornblower, sir."

He woke, feeling his chin wet with saliva. "What....what is it?"

"Matthews wants to know if he should send the men to dinner, sir. And, he says to tell ye, we lost sight of the Frogs about alf an hour ago."

"Was her bow still aimed at us, Styles?"

"Aye, sir, it was."

Hornblower breathed deeply and noted the gray half light in the captain's cabin. The sun was already down. "Yes. Send the men to dinner, Styles." He rubbed his face and stood, stiffly stretching his back. His bottom was numb from sitting in the chair. He yawned widely and shook himself. Emotionally, he felt as if he had been hammered all over with a mallet. He staggered, not fully recovered from his sleeping position.

Jenkins appeared in the doorway. He shied away from Hornblower, having successfully avoided him all day, but now he had to ask, "Would ye be wantin' your dinner, sir?"

Hornblower considered the man. Should he have words? In the end, he decided it was not worth the powder. "Yes, Jenkins," he sighed in resignation. "Has Mrs. Dandridge eaten?"

"No, sir. I knocked on er door, but she din't answer."

"When did you knock?"

"Just a moment ago, sir."

"Thank you, Jenkins. That will be all."

Hornblower stepped into the companionway, walking to her cabin. He knocked lightly. "Pamela," he called quietly. He knocked again. "Pamela." No answer. He tried the door. It was locked. He returned to the Captain's cabin. Sitting, he read over what was written in the log, then rose, and went on deck. The air seemed perceptibly cooler, the edges of the North Atlantic. Reaching the quarter-deck, he checked the binnacle, and listened to the report. Darkness to the southeast left no opportunity of trying to sight the French ship. If they maintained this direction, they should continue in the lead. If daylight revealed no sign of the French vessel, he would alter course back for Gibraltar, giving a wide berth to that part of the ocean.

He returned to the cabin, finding Jenkins there with his meal.

"Will ye be wantin' anythin' else, sir?"

"No, Jenkins, that will be all."

He sat and stared at the food. Head propped by his left hand, he slouched over the table. Lifting his fork, he swirled it among the potatoes and chunks of beef. His stomach knotted. He positioned the potato pieces as if they were Dolphin and the French vessel. He moved the piece he considered Dolphin to the far edge of the dish.

"Beggin' yer pardon, sir."

Hornblower jumped, dropping the fork with a clatter. "Matthews! You startled me!"

"Sorry, sir. Ye really should ave Starns replace that door."

"Well, until he does, try knocking on the posts," complained Hornblower. "What do you need?"

"Did ye want someone at the masthead round the clock, sir?"

"Yes."

"Aye, aye, sir." He turned to go.

"Mr. Matthews."

"Sir?"

"I ...." he started to apologize for his gruffness. "Have you seen Mrs. Dandridge this afternoon?"

"No, sir."

"Do you......do you know what that was about today, why she .... why she was climbing the rigging?"

"Well, Styles said as e knew, but it was a silly reason to me, sir. Mebbe e misunderstood er."

"What did Styles say?"

"Well, sir, when he was tryin' to talk er out of it, e asked er why she wanted to climb it. E told er it weren't what a lady should be doin'. That it was dangerous." Matthews hoped his defense of Styles would have its effect. "Even I told er it was dangerous!"

"How did you and Styles come to know of this desire of hers?" Hornblower felt a further emptiness that his subordinates knew, and he did not.

"The day we was repatchin', she mentioned it then. I told er ye would not like er doin' it. I hoped she'd change er mind. Then, this mornin' Styles was down checkin' the well and eard noises. E found er goin' through the chests in the orlop lookin' fer men's clothes! By the holies, she's somethin'! Beggin' yer pardon, sir."

Hornblower listened attentively. "But, why did she want to climb?"

"That's the queer bit, sir. Doesn't make sense to me. She told Styles she wanted to climb it cause it was there."

Hornblower snorted, smiling wryly.

Matthews grinned, scratching his head. "And the way she climbed, too! She went up them lines like she was a born topman! Aye, she did that! Not a smidge of hesitation, cept when ye was callin' er." Matthews let this last part drop off, not meaning to make his captain sorrowful.

Hornblower lowered his eyes, remembering losing his temper. "I'm afraid, Mr. Matthews, I am no longer in her good graces."

"Well, sir, I'd say she deserved that smack ye give er."

Hornblower's eyes darted to Matthews. "You.... you saw that, did you?"

"Aye, sir," said Matthews gently. "Ye told er to come down. She didn't follow yer orders."

"Well, it is not like she is one of the men." Why was he defending her?

"Could I give ye some advice, sir?"

Hornblower smiled and said sadly, "Certainly, Mr. Matthews, I would be glad to get any advice where she is concerned."

"My mum always used to tell me that whenever I offended somebody the best plan was to go to em an' ask em to fergive me. Then, that takes the load offin' you an' puts it on them. And, besides, if she cares for ye as much as ye do er, she'll fergive ye, just like you'll need to fergive her, if ye don't mind my sayin' so, sir."

"That sounds like good advice, Mr. Matthews." He stopped from adding, *If she will ever speak to me again.*

"One more thing, sir."

"Yes?"

"Ye might want to share with er yer feelin's about running from the Frogs. That way she won't think ye were so mad at er."

Hornblower's face went red. "Am I that transparent, Matthews?"

"Well, I've been with ye a long time, sir. I know ye didn't like turnin' tail to run like a scared rabbit. But there t'weren't nowt else fer it s how I see it, sir." Matthews had never felt so fatherly toward Hornblower as he did now.

"Thank you, Mr. Matthews."

So, Matthews understood the pressures he was under. He turned away. Matthews excused himself, leaving Hornblower alone in the cabin. He walked over to the stern windows and looked into the blackness of the night. Breathing deeply, he lowered his head.

Hornblower stayed busy writing in the log, checking the chart, reviewing the new duty roster prepared to keep the ship in a state of alert, the well report by Styles, a bright spot in the log. The patching was holding. Starns had done an effective job and he was exceedingly pleased.

The ship's bell could be heard, ding ding...ding ding....ding ding.....ding, eleven thirty. The first watch was nearly over. Hornblower stood, stretched, slung his cloak over, and walked out into the companion. He did not want to wake her but decided to try the door handle, wondering if it were still locked. It opened. "Pamela?" he said softly. The light from the companionway illumined the interior. She was not there.

He walked quickly topside. His eyes scanned the main deck. He strode to the quarter-deck stairs, mounting them in two steps. Only the helmsman, the man on watch, and a seaman were present. The extra man added due to the enemy alert. The men saluted as he drew near.

"Report, Mr. Lasky," Hornblower commanded, keeping himself from the question he so desired to ask.

Lasky gave the wind, weather, speed, and direction report. All was quiet. No sign of the enemy. Hornblower listened and continued to take in every part of the ship visible in the sparse light from the quarter-deck. Where was she? Perhaps below, seeking dinner from Cook or Jenkins. He knew Jenkins received no response earlier.

He returned below to search. The majority of the men were sleeping, including the two stewards. Styles was sitting playing a hand of solitaire. He looked up to see his captain glancing around the men's tables.

"Is somethin' wrong, sir?" whispered Styles.

"No. No, Styles." Hornblower drew near to speak in low tones. "Have you seen Mrs. Dandridge tonight?"

"No, sir. Not since this afternoon when ye told er to go to er cabin."

Hornblower's gut tightened. "Why aren't you sleeping?"

"Don't know, sir. Can't sleep." Styles hesitated before he asked the next question. "Are ye still mad at her, sir?"

Hornblower sighed and let his shoulders drop. "No. No I am not mad. I want to talk to her. She is not in her cabin. I thought she might have come down here looking for a bite of dinner."

"Did ye check the deck, sir?"

"Yes, I have just come from there."

"Did ye check...," Styles hesitated again, "Did ye check the yards, sir?" he asked softly.

Hornblower stared in amazement. "She wouldn't be there! It is cold out there! Surely not!"

"If ye don't mind my sayin' so, sir, yer words to her on deck...well, I think she took em mighty hard. And, if she's not in er cabin, nor on deck, nor down ere. Well, it's a possibility. Would ye like me to go check fer ye, sir?"

Hornblower fidgeted anxiously. "No. I will do it myself. She can't be there."

"She's good at climbin', sir. You saw er."

Hornblower headed back topside. He stood in the brisk and damp night air looking up into the mizzen mast. She could not be there. The watch would have seen her. The main mast had the lookout. The foremast. He walked towards the bow and looked up. No! He caught his breath. Something dark could be seen through the wooden slats of the fighting top. He swung himself up on the ratlines, climbing carefully. As he reached the deck, the figure laying on the slats moved with a gasp. The brightness of the half moon lit her tear streaked face. She was still dressed in the clothes of the afternoon, covered with a cape. She froze. He stepped onto the planking and knelt beside her.

"Pamela, can you forgive me?" he choked.

She sobbed, reaching with both arms. "I'm sorry, Horatio! I should not have done it! It is I, who needs forgiveness!"

"I thought I had lost you!" He searched her face and wiped her cheeks, then, hugged her tightly. "I don't want to lose you!" He closed his eyes to the natural world and entered the one of Pamela's embrace. Her cloak was damp and cool. The rough woolen hood scratched his skin and he nuzzled inside. The heat of soft skin and hair gave a comforting aroma. "I love you, Pamela," he whispered. The slow kisses began interspersed with a press of cheek. Her hair, her ear, their cheeks, their lips. His insides tingled at every touch. He kissed deeply, and brought a moan, pressing lips harder, caressing more intensely. She adjusted her body, remaining in his kiss, encouraging him to lay with her. He felt his body sink atop the softness. Lips moved over cheek, down neck, to the shirt opening, nearing the soft mounds. She breathed quickly in response to the warmth of his kisses.

"Make love to me, Horatio," she whispered hotly.

He lingered over the taught neck; kissing her hard. Breathing heavily, he moved his lips back to her mouth. He looked into her eyes, and she into his. They were expectant, waiting for him to answer.

"We are not married," he said breathlessly.

"I don't care. Make love to me."

He breathed heavily as he thought, gazing into the face of the woman he loved.

"There's a man on the main mast top yard."

She looked that direction and smiled. "I don't care."

"You're shameless!" he whispered.

She laughed quietly and smoothed his cheek with the back of her hand. With an urgency, she said, "Make love to me, my darling."

He breathed deeply. "I want to," he whispered.

She smiled, feeling the material covering his inner thigh. Taking a breath, she said, "I know."

He took another deep breath at the bold touch and kissed her, taking her hands in his and moving them up to shoulder level. "Who will be the head of this family?"

"You, my love."

"Then, we shall wait."

She wrapped her legs around his long ones. "Kiss me."

He kissed more passionately, then, breathed in quickly, breaking off the kiss. "Oh, God!" The pale cheeks burned. Unable to suspend his weight, he collapsed upon the softness.

"I love you, Horatio."

He breathed heavily. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

"Shhhh."

He sat up and leaned against the mast. She snuggled into the hollow of his shoulder.

"Has it gotten warmer up here?" he whispered.

She snorted and poked his side with her knuckle. Sitting calmly, embraced, she said, "May I ask you a question?"

"Something tells me you will ask whether I say yes or not."

"Have you been..." she swallowed, " Have you been with a woman before?"

He laughed quietly with incredulity, "What kind of women are they growing in America?" then, answered her query, "Yes. But it has been a long time."

"Were you married?"

His brow knitted. "No."

"Then, why...?" she broke off the question as to why he was willing to bed someone else out of wedlock but not her. "Who was she, or should I say, who were they?"

He let out a sigh. "The first was a young girl. Much like you, she threw herself at me!" She started to pull away, but he held fast, chuckling lightly. "She was a year older than I and took a fancy to me. Then, her father sent her off to London, and the navy moved me out to sea."

"Do you see her anymore?"

"No, I have never heard another word."

"Did you love her?"

"No....no, I might have thought I did at the time, but ...no."

"Who was second?"

If she could have seen his face, the sadness there would have made her worry. "She was a French girl I met during a campaign. A fruitless campaign. She was killed."

"I'm sorry." She waited in the silence. "Was she beautiful?"

"She was pretty. Very petite. She was not known for climbing ratlines, however." He surprised himself that he could joke about something so sad and counted it as part of his healing and part of his love for Pamela.

"Oh, you!" she whispered. "So you were deeply in love with her?"

"I did not know her long enough to be deeply in love with her."

"But you made love to her?"

 

He hesitated, but decided to answer all the questions. "Yes. Just once. I only knew her two days. Am I a terrible person for having done so?"

She shook her head in his chest, "No." Then, added, "You are a terrible person because you wouldn't make love to me!"

He surprised even himself at the rapidity with which he found her sides to tickle. She laughed out loud. He stopped, covering her mouth. "Shhhh!" He pulled her back to his shoulder.

"Why?" she asked.

"Why what?" he whispered.

"You made love to them, why will you not make love to me?"

"Because I am going to marry you."

She pushed out from his chest, confusion marring her visage. He pulled her back to his shoulder. A deep sigh came with an attempt to understand his thinking. Finally, she said, "I do not understand. From what happened tonight, you do intend to make love to me after we are married, do you not?"

He chuckled. "Yes. Most definitely!" After all the trouble he had of convincing her to marry him when she considered herself a jinx to her husbands, he did not want to admit he felt making love before marriage had doomed his first two relationships.

She breathed a great sigh. "Who was third?"

"What?"

"Who came after the French girl?"

"You will."

"Horatio?"

"Yes," he said, with some resignation at all the questions.

"You have known me less than a week. Are you sure you truly love me?"

He looked down into her face smoothing the hair off the side of her forehead. "After the agony I went through this afternoon and this evening? When I couldn't speak to you? Couldn't see you? Couldn't find you? Can you doubt me after our time together here? I love you. I want you to be my wife."

"Then, let's get married tomorrow."

"What do you mean?" He thought back to the conversation during lunch. "You mean me marry us?" he chuckled.

"Yes."

"It would be ridiculous, Pamela!"

"No, it wouldn't. You can have a proxy."

"What....? No, and I mean, no. When I marry you it will be me and me alone holding your hand," he said firmly.

She waited a few moments and then tried again. "Look. When we get back to Gibraltar, your other ship is going to be there. Why your Captain may not even let you get married. Or at best, we would marry, have one night together, and then you would ship out the next day! Horatio, we're together now, my love. Your men have already given their consent. We would have the time remaining before getting back to Gibraltar to be together."

His forehead wrinkled in thought, and he saw the glistening eyes. Spending the rest of the voyage together as husband and wife was very appealing. The men seemed agreeable. How many more days could they be at sea? Maybe five at the most. Five days of marriage.

He contemplated the Articles of War. He could not think of any clause to keep them apart, unless it was the one about rendering oneself unfit for service. But, he would still be fit. Maybe gloriously tired, but he would still be fit!

He had not considered Captain Pellew. Would his Captain keep him from marrying? Why should he? Circumstances might prevent him, but he did not see why his captain would. So, if he waited until they got back to Gibraltar, and the Indy was there, Dolphin would be turned over to the port admiral for disposition, he and the crew would go back to Indefatigable, Pamela would be put ashore. Would she go back to America? He would never see her if she went back to America! He held her tightly and kissed her head.

"What are you thinking, Horatio?" she asked.

"I am trying to think what will happen when we get to Gibraltar."

She sighed, resigning herself to his decision.