My Dearest
by Simon

 

My Dearest (The letter began),

I wish with all my heart that this need not be written, but you must
know what has happened. Mama offered to write to you in my stead, but
I must be the one to tell you, my Horatio.

It is with the deepest sorrow I must tell you that our child, the one
I carried this last nine months, was stillborn yesterday. The midwife
assures me that I am healthy and that the baby, a girl, was normal in
everyway. She said that the cord became tangled about her neck as she
was being delivered and that sometimes these things happen and there
was nothing to be done.

I have named her Rebecca and she will be laid to rest in our family's
plot here in Portsmouth tomorrow.

You are not to worry about me. I am all right and Mama is here to
keep a careful watch on me. In fact, I have decided to stay with her
for a short while so that I might regain my usual strength.

I miss you desperately, as you know, but I trust that we shall see
each other soon and then we shall help each other put this behind us.

Neddy is well, perfect in fact, and growing by the minute. He is
running now, like the wild Indians we hear about in the old Colonies
and twice as noisy. I do not complain, Sweeting, though I sound as
though I do. He is such a joy to me and I am thankful that if you
cannot be with me, then he can. He is so very like you.

I know that you are well, my darling and I love you.

Mavis

Commander Horatio Hornblower stared at the letter that had just been
delivered with the dispatches to him on Hotspur, attached to the
Western Mediterranean fleet. He must see about going aboard Tonnant
to tell Commodore Pellew what had happened to his daughter. Likely
Sophie had already written him, but he should be told just in case.

"Mr. Bush. Please signal Tonnant requesting a brief meeting with the
Commodore at his convenience."

"Aye aye, Sir."

The signals were sent and within the hour Hornblower was being rowed
over to the flagship where his father in law was in command. After
being piped aboard, he was shown to the large cabin, lightly knocked
and was immediately admitted by a Lieutenant who opened the door for
him.

"Please come in, Captain. The Commodore will be finished in just a
moment and then will see you. Would you care for a glass of port
while you're waiting?" Declining the offer, Hornblower crossed over
to peer out the large stern windows, Hotspur catching his eye on the
larboard side. He automatically assessed her, noting that she looked
well, everything in order and obviously well maintained. He was
pleased by the appearance she made from this distance.

The sound of a door opening behind him caused him to turn and he
automatically saluted. "Good afternoon, sir. It's good of you to see
me on such short notice."

Pellew walked over to the young Commander, putting his hands on both
of his shoulders in what was almost an embrace. The Lieutenant saw
this, seeming to disapprove. He was ignored. "Horatio, how well you
look, what would you like? Port? Madeira? I know, could we get you a
cup of coffee?"

At this, and the obvious attempt to make him feel welcomed,
Hornblower smiled and agreed. "Coffee would be a treat, sir, thank
you."

"Well, then, Lieutenant?" The man nodded and left to see to it,
closing the door behind him. The two officers sat together in the
comfortable chairs that Pellew had set to look out the great
windows. "Horatio, what news?"

He paused for a moment. He hadn't actually thought how he would
phrase this. "I'm afraid that I've received some sad news from home,
sir." Pellew stared at him, almost through him. "I've had a letter
from Mavis today. I'm afraid that the baby was born dead."

Sadly, Edward shook his head.

"I'm assured that she will recover, and that she can have others.
There was difficulty with the birth, she said and nothing really to
be done."

"I'm sorry, Horatio. Truly, I am. This is"unfortunate."

"Yes, sir. It was a girl this time, I'm told."

"Most unfortunate. I'll write to her at once."

"Thank you, sir, I'm sure that would please her."

The conversation lagged. There seemed little to say that wouldn't be
trite or a cliché.

They heard a discreet knock on the door that opened as the steward
entered with the promised pot of hot coffee.

Pouring out two cups, he silently withdrew.

"Is there anything else that you'd like to speak of, Horatio? Is
everything well between you and Mavis? I realize that this"tragedy"
will have to be addressed, but other than that, is all well?" Sophie
has written to him of the tears and the silences between the young
couple when they were last together.

Horatio hesitated as he sipped the hot drink. Was all well? God, he
didn't know where to begin, let alone how much he should reveal. No,
all was far from well and he had no idea about how to cope with the
mounting problems between him and his wife. There was little he could
say, especially to Sir Edward"his superior officer and his father-in-
law. There was too much that he didn't understand himself. He was
grateful to have the sea to escape to.

"You do still love the girl, do you not?"

"Yes. I still love Mavis and Neddy." Horatio paused to sip his
coffee, obviously using the stall to gather his thoughts. "I've no
doubt that she loves me." Another pause, a painful one. "When we're
together, we have trouble understanding one another." He was speaking
slowly and deliberately, thoughtfully. "We seem to rub each other
raw, without wanting to and then we argue and attempt to apologize
and the cycle begins again. I don't know how to stop it."

"Have the two of you tried to think what the cause of your discontent
might be? I know that young people nowadays seem to believe that all
should be smooth sailing when one weds, but the fact of the matter is
that there are any number of shoals to be skirted." Pellew paused a
moment, watching the younger man. "Sophie and I have had our share of
differences over the years. It's not easy being married to a military
man. Often away, often in danger, letters sporadic.it's a difficult
way for a woman to live, especially one as young as Mavis."

"I fear that you may be right, sir." Horatio was speaking quietly,
somewhat sadly. "I've thought that we might have benefited from
delaying our marriage, if we had waited instead of marrying in haste
as we did. I think perhaps"if she were a bit older, maybe not so much
in years as in"experience, we might be more evenly matched."

"Horatio, you both seemed so sure of ourselves when you wed. I
thought that you had put your misgivings behind you."

"Ino. I knew she wished to be married before Renown sailed and I
gave in to her wishes. It was such an uncertain time, sir. I wanted
her to be happy." He smiled sadly at that last. "
"And so she seemed, so you both seemed."

Hornblower was looking out the windows again, lost in thought. He
started slightly, realizing that he was being rude as the silence
continued on a bit too long. "Forgive me, sir, I've taken too much of
your time. I must return to Hotspur." He rose to go.

Pellew joined him putting his coffee cup down as he stood. "Horatio,
I've need of a ship to transport dispatches to Portsmouth. Our
regular dispatch vessels are away and I would have Hotspur take them.
I'll have them delivered to you within the afternoon. You can leave
as soon as you receive them."

Hornblower stared at his Commander in somewhat stunned silence before
he found his voice. "Sir"that's most generous of you, but there is no
need to weaken your fleet to allow me to"

"Oh, do stop, Horatio. You and I both know that neither of us shall
get a night's sleep until this is resolved. The dispatches truly do
have to be delivered and Hotspur can go as well as any ship. You have
your orders. Settle this. Do you understand me?"

A pause then, "Yes sir. I understandThank you."

Pellew nodded and he was dismissed.

Within two hours the dispatches had been transported over to Hotspur
and she had changed course for England. They would arrive, if the
weather cooperated, within about a fortnight.

Hornblower spent the time before their arrival endlessly turning over
how to handle the real reason for their return to England. Dispatches
might well have needed delivering, but the state of his marriage had
now interfered with his work and that couldn't be tolerated. Whether
he walked the deck or brooded in his tiny cabin, the fact remained
that he thought of almost nothing else. This must be resolved, and
quickly.

In due course they dropped their anchor after an uneventful voyage
and as the Commander walked out of the Port Admiral's offices, the
dispatches having been duly signed for and ship's business settled,
he hesitated before heading up the street that would take him to the
Pellew home.

Mavis would have had no idea that he was coming. This would be a
surprise to her and one he wasn't entirely sure would be a welcome
one.

Approaching the front door he found his feet dragging and wished with
all his heart that the next few awkward hours were already behind him.

Knocking lightly, the door was opened after a short wait by Preston,
Pellew's butler for at least a decade.

"Commander! How wonderful to have you back. I'll tell Miss Mavis
immediately"unless you would rather find her yourself in the
conservatory. Have you baggage, sir? I'll see to it at once" he was
about to go when they were interrupted by a small hurtling body
throwing itself about Horatio's knees.

"Papa! Papa!"

Horatio stared at the child. Mavis hadn't told him that Neddy was
talking yet and he had grown so"and how on earth would a child this
young even recognize a father he could have no memory of?

Prying the child from about his legs and pulling him up against his
chest in a bear hug he laughed as he said, "Yes, that's right.
Goodness, look at you, getting so big I can barely lift you anymore.
Soon you'll be carrying me!" Neddy laughed at this, hugging his
father's neck and planting loud wet kisses on his cheeks.

Movement in the doorway caught his attention and he saw Mavis
standing watching the small scene, smiling in disbelief. Quickly she
crossed to him, embracing him where she could with the child between
them.

"Dearest, I had no idea you'd be back. This is such a wonderful
surprise." She kissed his lips as he leaned down to her. "I've missed
you so terribly, my Sweeting."

"I know, my dear, but I'm here for a little while." He looked at her
searchingly. "Are you well, Mavis? I was worried when I received your"
news."

Her hand on his cheek, "Yes, I'm much better and better still to have
you here." Neddy started squirming to be let down and once on the
floor he flew away to see what sweets he could pry from Cook.

"He's marvelous, darling, so large, and running now and he actually
spoke when I came in, I was amazed. You're a wonder with him."

She laughed. "He takes after his father, he's quite brilliant."

"How did he know me? He's much too young to remember the last time I
was here."

"I show him your picture. You know, the one you sent me a few months
ago? He has it in his room and talks to you constantly. He knows all
about Hotspur and Matthews and Styles and his Grandfather's ship"
he'll be at sea before long himself. I'm sure of it."

He realized what he had neglected and chastised himself.

"Mavis." He held out his arms, enfolding her smaller frame against
his own and bending, kissed her quite thoroughly. They were still
entwined when the deliberate scrape of a foot caused them to break
apart.

"Horatiowhat a treat to have you back with us, darling!"

"Sophie, how wonderful you look." He hugged his mother-in-law,
kissing her cheek.

She gave him a good squeeze and smiled up at him. "It's good to have
you back."

"Some dispatches needed delivering, so here we are. I"Mavis, are we
staying here? I mean, are you staying here or in our house? I wasn't
sure where to have my dunnage sent."

In fact, Mavis had been staying with her mother since she had lost
the baby a over a month before. "Well, we can stay wherever you would
prefer, dearest." Anything for his happiness, now that he was home
for a little while.

Horatio was at a loss as how to respond. They had their own home that
he had never really seen, but Mavis seemed so content to be with
Sophie. If he asked to go to their house she might think that he was
unhappy with the choices she had made or that he was upset with his
mother-in-law for some reason. If he desired to stay where they were,
she might thing he wished to not be alone with her. God, what should
he say now? Home for less than ten minutes and he was already at a
loss as to what to do.

Sophie came to his rescue. "Horatio, dearest, if you won't be too
terribly annoyed with me, would you mind staying here? With the war,
it's so very difficult to get help that we have all the servants in
this old barn and no one to help poor Mavis in her own home."

Sending her a silent thank you, Horatio smiled and agreed that
sounded like the easiest solution all the way around. Preston then
added that he would be happy to send for the Captain's belongings to
be transferred from Hotspur at once.

They had retreated to the Conservatory where Horatio pointed out
Papa's ship to Neddy. It was still just visible in the growing
darkness through the large window's overlooking the harbor. After
just a very few minutes they heard the hall clock strike seven in the
evening and were informed by Preston that the meal was ready in the
dining room.

Seated around the table with Horatio given place of honor at the head
in Edward's stead, Sophie tried to get the conversation started.
Despite their efforts, the awkwardness between the young couple was
all too obvious.

"Horatio, you must tell us everything about you last voyage. Was all
well, and you've not said a word"how fares Edward?"

Horatio spared her a grateful smile that was not lost on Mavis.

"Sir Edward is very well, madam. He sends you his kindest regards and
I have both letters and a parcel in my dunnage when it arrives that
he asked me to give you."

A silence descended on the table as they all tried to think of
something to say. Preston and Mary came to their rescue with the
serving of the meal. Sophie picked up the thread with a nonstop and
pleasant round of small talk that Mavis tried quite hard to join in
with. They told stories about mutual acquaintances, the servants, and
the problems with the new house, endless cute and funny things that
Neddy had said or done. Horatio did his best to make the right
responses, laugh when appropriate and commiserate when needed. He
even contributed his own couple of anecdotes about Matthews and
Styles latest adventures.

Finally, mercifully, the awkward meal finally ended. Mavis excused
herself to take Neddy up to his bed over the child's objections,
allowing him a final hug and kiss from his father before he was taken
away.

Alone together, Sophie suggested that she and Horatio adjourned to
the study for either coffee or brandy.

Seated with his coffee cup on the end table next to him, Horatio
spoke. "I must thank you for all that you've done for Mavis during
this difficult time she's been having. I was so very worried about
her and you've been a Godsend to us both."

"Horatio, she's my daughter, I only did what any parent would to help
a child in pain." She paused to sip her own coffee. "In all honesty,
I've been more worried about you than I have about her. I know that
she'll recover. Mavis is strong and she has Neddy to see her through
and to take her mind off what has happened. You're the one who must
cope alone."

He smiled without humor. "But it's not the same, Sophie. I'm a man
and older than Mavis. I am more than capable of looking after myself."

"Are you capable off looking after your marriage, though?"

His eyes snapped over to hers with obvious annoyance and she had the
distinct impression that he was about to blurt out a tart rejoinder
when he seemed to contain himself. "I can deal with whatever needs
tending."

"Then you had better tend to your wife. I would never intentionally
hurt you, as you know, but you have been more than remiss in your
responsibilities to her these last few months." She returned the look
he was giving her. "Your silence was cruel, Horatio."

He seemed about to snap out a sharp rejoined when he seemed to
swallow his anger and attempt a real answer.

"I tried to write her any number of times, dozens of times, but I
ended up throwing them all over the side half finished. I love Mavis
and Neddy with all my heart, but I fear that" He trailed off,
seemingly at a loss as to how to continue.

"You fear what, Horatio?"

"As I told Sir Edward, I fear that this marriage should have waited
several years. I think that if Mavis were older that our separations
would be easier for her to cope with."

"You may well be right, but the fact is that you didn't wait, either
of you. You can wish that things may be different, but that won't
make them so. You are going to deal with the situation you have now,
not complain about what you would like it to be." He looked at her,
knowing that she was right and that she wouldn't allow him to wriggle
away on this.

She stood and he rose in deference to her. "Now if you'll excuse me,
I'm quite tired and would like to retire. Good Night, Horatio." She
kissed his cheek lightly, turned and left the room, closing the door
behind her as she left.

He remained in the study for another hour, staring into the fire,
thinking about what his life would be like had he not met Mavis, had
Sir Edward not taken him under his patronage when he did. Certainly
he would have still have been in the Navy, but it was not at all
certain that he would have achieved his own command as early as he
did. There was no guarantee that he wouldn't have been executed in
Kingston had Pellew not been sitting on the Panel. In fact, Archie's
confession or not, he would likely have been hung or shot and would
now be moldering in an unmarked grave in the West Indies instead of
sitting below his sleeping wife and child.

His child. God, Poor Mavis had coped with the loss of the baby, the
little girl"their little girl with only Sophie for comfort. He hadn't
even written to offer whatever poor words he would have been able to
scrounge out of his brain that might have helped her. He could at
least have let her know that he had gotten her message that he knew
what had happened.

He had hurt her, he had caused her additional pain and he truly did
love her. He felt real remorse at that and berated himself quite
harshly in his own mind.

He was a fool, worse than a fool, he was cruel. Sophie was right.

His thoughts turned to his marriage. Yes, he did love Mavis and yes,
he did believe that they should have waited. Sophie was right, though"
of course. They hadn't waited, they hadn't waited at all and Mavis
had been pregnant when they took their vows.

In honor, he could have done nothing other than offer her and the
unborn child his name; he had done what his conscience had demanded.
But, had he to do it over, would he have made the same decision?

In truth, he wasn't sure. He did love the girl and Neddy, but he also
loved his solitude and could never provide what Mavis seemed to need
from him. He could never give her a reason to be, a purpose to rise
in the morning and the thought of being the focus of anyone else's
life, no matter how well intentioned, drove him to distraction.

He had always prided himself on his independence, on his self-
reliance. To have someone depend on him was stifling, so much that he
often felt as though he could barely breath. He knew that on his last
leave he had searched out excuses to get away from her smothering
attention.

He also had the niggling feeling in the back of his mind that Mavis,
love him though she might, was in fact in love with a romanticized
ideal of him and not the real flesh and blood man with doubts and
flaws. He feared that if she knew the real man beneath the uniform,
she would be appalled by his lack of self-esteem and his
insecurities. She would know that he was no more a pillar to lean
upon any more than one made of sand would be to her and Neddy.

They shouldn't have married. He was sure of it.

All right, so what would he do about it?

There were few options that presented themselves and none of them
appealing.

He could stay in what was, in a very real way, a sham marriage.
Certainly Mavis would want them to stay together, if not for
themselves, then for Neddy.

Besides, if he were to divorce her, not only would he break her heart
but he would likely (and he hated the calculating part of his mind
that found this argument) do his career tremendous harm. The
Admiralty didn't kindly look upon men who abandoned their families
any more than the church did. In addition, to anger and hurt Sir
Edward would amount to professional suicide. That would have to be a
last option.

He could leave the situation as it was. He was, after all, away most
of the time. It wasn't like they actually spent all that much time
together. He could go to sea and she could live here and they would
write one another and see each other when he was home on leave"and
years could pass between times when he get back to England.

In essence they could continue to live their own lives, him on board
some ship, her here with their son and house.

It seemed the logical way to proceed. He could certainly continue as
he was, live his own life most of the time. Some part of his mind
even suggested to him that he could have a mistress should he so
desire. Mavis need never know.

The thoughts that were running through his mind troubled him;
depressed him and he could feel the beginning of one of his black
moods coming on.

This, most definitely, was not what he'd had in mind when he had
asked Mavis to marry him; it certainly wasn't what he imagined his
marriage to be.

He had hoped for a partner, someone who would, finally, understand
him, someone to whom he might be able to speak his innermost
thoughts. What he now found himself with was a young woman to whom he
felt some physical attraction and some emotional commitment but with
whom he felt trapped.

His mind next turned to what his life would be like had he never
married Mavis. He knew the devastation he would open himself to
should he leave her, he thought about if he had never married in the
first place. Even were he to pretend that she hadn't been with child
when they wed, had they not married, his life, he realized, would be
far more barren then he now found it.

While it was true that he was hemmed in by her needs and demands, he
also had to admit (as he was, at heart, an honest man), that he did
love the girl. He loved her, was generally entertained by her and he
was coming to love Neddy as well. All right, he had always loved his
son, but more as an abstract idea. After all, parents were supposed
to love their children. As the child grew, as he was more able to
interact, Horatio began to see him more as an individual than as
merely a baby. He was beginning to develop his own personality and
likes and dislikes. He had his own thoughts and would soon be able to
express them. He was becoming quite interesting to be around and
Horatio had to admit that he was really quite a lot of fun.

Had the child not been born, he would likely not have missed the lack
in his life, but then neither would he have known the joy Neddy had
brought to both of his parents. He also started, for the first time
to think on what had truly been lost when the second baby had died.
He had been thinking of it"her"her reminded himself, as just `the
baby'. In his mind it"she"had no name or face and was no more real to
him than a vague concept.

Seeing Mavis playing with their son, being able to pick him up and
speak to him, hear his laughter, it made the weight of what they had
lost painful. He started to understand what it was that Mavis had to
cope with.

Yes, certainly losing a child wasn't too uncommon, but now Horatio
could now begin to understand what they would never recover. Should
they have ten more children, this one would never be replaced.

His earlier silences and lack of understanding stabbed at his
conscience. He saw his actions for what they were"cowardice, and he
was ashamed.

So, were his feelings for Mavis based on pity? Had he felt guilt at
suspecting that he would leave her pregnant? Had his conscience
prickled because she was a sailor's wife left alone for long periods
of time? Had he perhaps married her because she appealed to his
vanity?

Well"yes, partly. But he also had to admit that her smile warmed him
when he walked into a room and he enjoyed the feel of her beside him
as they strolled the streets and parks of town and when they lay
together in bed at night. He liked that he had someone to write to
while at sea and that someone missed him and awaited his return. When
the mail packets arrived with the dispatches. He went to some lengths
to ensure the crew or his officers wouldn't know how he longed to
tear open the letters addressed in Mavis' hand.

It struck him as unseemly that a Captain would be so anxious to hear
from his wife, to learn the news from home.

Good Lord! And another thought occurred to him. Was he embarrassed to
have his very human emotions exposed?

All his life, ever since his mother had died, when he had cried and
been chastised by his father, he had resolved that he would never
again show that short of weakness. Weakness could be exploited once
exposed and he would"could never allow that.

But hadn't he done the very thing with Mavis? Didn't she know about
his doubts and insecurities, his lack of confidence and his self-
loathing? She did know and somehow loved him"indeed"seemed to need
him anyway. In some way, part of the reason she loved him was based
on the fact that he needed her.

God, the entire thing confused him.

And the Pellew's, Sir Edward and Sophie, they seemed to genuinely
like him. They had gone well out of their way to be kind and generous
to him for years now. Ever since he was a green midshipman, they had
allowed him into the inner circle of their family.

His thoughts turned to what his life would have been had they not
taken him in. He would have had his career, but wouldn't have known
the warmth and"he actually blushed to himself at the realization"the
love and acceptance he had begun to take for granted from them.

His mind was going on and on, refusing to be still or give him a
moment's peace when he noticed a draft and turned to look behind him.
Mavis was standing in the open doorway, wearing her nightgown and a
shawl thrown over her shoulders against the evening chill. She was
barefoot, her hair loose and tumbling to her waist.

"Horatio? Is something wrong? I heard Mama close her door over an
hour ago. I've been waiting for you to come up to bed and you"

"Forgive me, dearest. I've merely been sitting here thinking." He
rose from the chair and crossed over to her. His hand came up in a
gentle caress to her cheek.

"I'm so desperately sorry for the hurt I've caused you." He was
hesitant and she knew that this was difficult for him. "I do love
you. You know that. You've no reason to ever doubt that."

She nodded. She knew.

Leaning down, he kissed her.

There were still problems for them to face and there would continue
to be obstacles and rocks before them, but now, at least, he knew
that he wished to continue. He knew that he loved her and didn't want
to lose her. He didn't want to be alone again, the thought terrified
him and his arms tightened around him. Her own embrace became
stronger and they stood there, arms surrounding one another, mouths
pressed together and he thought, again, just what changes she had
brought into his life.

The birth of his son, along with his marriage had also helped to
repair the strained relationship he had with his own father. Had he
and Mavis not married, not only would he have no son, but he would
have"in all practical ways, no father. They had only begun to resolve
their problems with his marriage

Neddy. God, he loved his son.

Just the thought of the boy was enough to make his eyes sting with
tears of happiness. He'd had no idea of the depth of feeling that the
child would bring out in him. He'd simply had"no idea.

"I so regret the pain I've caused you, dearest. I will never"

She pulled back from him, regarding him calmly. "Horatio. No. Don't
make promises you won't keep." He stared at her. "I know you love me
and Neddy, but you're the person you are and we both know that there
are other things in your life than just your family. I knew that when
we married."

"Yes, of course, but"

"No. It's all right. I knew when we married. I did." She reached up
to kiss him. "I knew. I've seen how Papa and Mama have to struggle
sometimes. I knew that the seperations and uncetainty would be
difficult. It's all right. I'll be all right, and so will we."

She reached up to kiss him again. "Horatio? Come upstairs with me?"

He returned her kiss, smiled at her and took her hand.