A Drury Lane Evening
by Bev F.

Note: Just a word of warning here. The first two sections are PG but the last two are
somewhere between PG13 and NC-17 (nothing explicit or gratuitous) but I hope with
some imagination you find them a little steamy!

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

Kitty Cobham sat in front of her dressing table and stared into the mirror. The last few
months had added another wrinkle here and there to her face - the hot Spanish sun, the
harsh sea water , the worry. But the changes had been small, and the distance from the
pit to the stage still far enough , that her audience could not notice. "When you perform,
you become something else," an admirer had told her once. "And it is your performance
we watch, not you." In her younger days, such a compliment did not suit - she fancied
herself pretty and here she was told that her person was not noticed at all. Now, with
the wisdom of maturity and a few more years, she knew that the talent being
complimented was more valuable by far than a pretty face and trim figure.

A gentle tap sounded at the door. Kitty closed her eyes for a second, then opened
them again. Sir George Popham had treated her to an early dinner before the
performance - she had held out no possibility of anything further - but he had been just
a touch too fulsome in his praise and a touch too familiar with his person . He'd had
that look in his eye that said good company and a fine performance might no longer be
payment enough for her dinner. Time indeed to find another benefactor. But if he now
stood on the other side of the door, knocking ...

The knock sounded again. "Miss Cobham?" a voice asked. "Miss Cobham, are you in
there?"

The voice sounded familiar, but it was not the voice of Sir George. She'd sat here too
long, mooning over what was and would become - she should have left the theater as
soon as the play ended. Better to answer the door and send off whoever might be
waiting there - she'd dealt with enough young pups over the years to have no fear for
her safety.

She smoothed down her frock , tugged a stray curl back into place and walked over
to the door.

"Miss Cobham --"

Kitty clutched the doorframe with one hand and placed the other on her bosom.
"Well - well - am I looking at a ghost then? Archie Kennedy, is that you? I had thought
you still rotting away in that Dago prison."

"We were heroes, so they let us go." Archie beamed, his face full of ruddy good
health, obviously fully recovered from Don Masserado's prison.

"And Mr. Kennedy is now Acting Lieutenant Kennedy," a voice came from behind
Archie.

She knew that voice well. Her hands pressed a little more firmly . "So congratulations
are in order, Archie. Well done!" Archie's grin broadened even further, but she was
looking behind him, into the dimly lit space beyond her door.

"Good evening, Miss Cobham." Horatio Hornblower step into the circle of light from
her open doorway. My goodness, was this her Mr. 'Aitch, the boy completely undone
from the touch of her finger against his stubbly cheek? A uniform may make the man,
and this was a new uniform, to be sure, but something else had stamped a new maturity
on that strong face and - a hint of - melancholy, sadness -- something.

"Why - Mr. Hornblower - Horatio - that is you, is it not? Why, what a peacock you've
become!" He bent his head briefly in her direction, his dark eyes not leaving hers.

"Ah, but you should have seen him at his best! "Archie said " A vision, a veritable
vision . We've been a bit knocked about since then --"

"Archie --" The warning was there. Kitty glanced from Horatio, to Archie, then back to
Horatio again.

"And what are you two fine young gentlemen doing down in Drury Lane this time of
night?"

"Why, we came to see you, Miss Cobham," Archie said. "And to acquaint young
Horatio here with the ways of the theater."

"And did you enjoy the theater, Mr. 'Aitch?"

"I did indeed, ma'am, especially the performance of the actress who played Lady
Macbeth."

"I thank you, kind sir, and please pass your appreciation on to the producer of this
poor venture - else you will see me next time as a witch!"

"I think not, Miss Cobham - I need only inform him of your brilliant performance as
the Duchess of Wharfedale, and your future success would be assured."

A silence ensued. Sadness in his face - yes, definitely, just a touch there, despite the
small smile he showed her. They'd been knocked about, Archie had said.

"We have come to escort you to your lodgings," Archie burst in.

"Why, gentlemen, a lady could ask for no more. Even I, having been carted half way
round the continent like a sack of potatoes, feel more at ease with two young naval
officers at my side."

"But ," Archie continued,"I have only just remembered I must show my miserable face
at my sister's tonight. So, Horatio, the honor falls to you."

"Archie --"

And before Horatio or Kitty had any hope of changing his mind, he bowed smartly
and was gone.

Horatio looked a tad distraught - Kitty could seen him struggling valiantly to
straighten up, firm his chin.

"Miss Cobham."

"Mr. 'Aitch."

The moment lengthened. She felt like he was standing there for her inspection and
she his captain. Orders. He was waiting for his orders.

"I must get my cloak, Horatio."

She left him standing there and turned back into her tiny dressing room.
Surreptitiously, she took one last look into her mirror and swept up the cloak thrown
hastily onto the small divan.

"There, Mr. 'Aitch " she said, stepping out into the hallway, "I am ready for you to
protect me."

His eyes widened and became even darker, and he stiffened even more, something
she would not have though possible. My young man, whatever has gone wrong in your
life?

"Here." She thrust the cloak against his body.

"Ma'am?"

"Well, help me on with the bloody thing!"

The street outside bustled with the night creatures of London society: here in Drury
Lane the gentry and nobility mixing with the pickpockets and prostitutes, beggars and
thieves. The streetlamps cast only a meager light, leaving dark pools where danger
could lurk. This was Kitty's world; she walked these streets every night with no danger -
recognized as one of them - and a purposeful stride and sharp tongue, along with the
small dagger she kept firmly to hand, served her well here. But she allowed Horatio to
keep close at her side, and carve a path for them through the crowds with his size.

"Down here, Mr. 'Aitch," she said, indicating a darker side alley.

"Here, ma'am? "

"A shortcut - I use it often."

The noise faded behind them. "So the Dagos released you from prison, Horatio.'

"They did indeed - in recognition of our rescue attempt. Though I feel Don Masserado
was not pleased to see us back. "

"And no parole given this time - to retire to your country estate and fight no more?"

He laughed a little. "No parole asked. No parole given. And rather a good thing too -
as I have no country estate waiting for my retirement."

"Ah, but I fancy you will, Mr. 'Aitch. I have had the most interesting conversations with
Capt. Pellew on our journey home. And I must say, he is much more schooled in those
quips and sallies, than you."

"Capt. Pellew, ma'am.?

"Well, of course. The poor man felt obliged to entertain the Duchess of Wharfedale ,
though I believe he was quite undone by my mannish clothes."

"So he does not know your secret?"

"I think not, though if he did indeed, I believe he would keep that secret to himself,
much the easiest way out for him. We became the best of friends - very correctly of
course - and I fear in his ease with me he let slip a few observations about you, Horatio,
that he might have wished to take back later. realizing how much of himself he had
revealed!"

"About me, ma'am? I know - I feel - unworthy of the command I have been given. I
am sure he was quite right in those observations --"

"Ha, Mr. 'Aitch, you think he might have censured your conduct? He likes to pull your
leg, as I observed after we returned to your ship. But he looks upon you highly, sir.
Why, I did not know I was conversing with a true naval hero - thinking I could educate
you!"

"Ma'am - I am not --"

"Not a naval hero - I beg to differ. Taking command of a French ship and saving your
own Indefatigable? Calmly bringing supplies to the fleet, while plague threatened you?
Boarding a ship aflame, and saving your crewmates once again? Le Reve I know of, your
losing her was bad luck, not lack of courage. Captain Pellew could speak of no one else.
Why, I believe he looks upon you as a son."

"I think not, Miss Cobham. And I am no hero. There are things --"

He did not finish.

They walked on in silence for a few more minutes.

"Are your lodgings close, ma'am?'

"Not far now. I have a benefactress - a lady - left moderately well off on the demise
of her husband. She is a great devotee of the theater but ill-health prevents her from
attending. So I pay for my room and board with snippets of gossip, and scandalous
stories, and scenes from the plays. It suits us both well. "

"One of your friends in high places, ma'am?"

"Moderately high, Mr. 'Aitch, moderately high."

The narrow alleyway gave out onto a residential street - the homes comfortable while
not prepossessing. A touch of fog was beginning to swirl around the street lamps and a
dampness filled the air. Kitty pulled her cloak more closely to her.

"This is the house of Mrs. Morris now, "she said, indicating a sturdy brick three-story
home. No lights shone on the main floor, though a slight glow emanated from an
upstairs window. Passing the front door, she proceeded around the corner to a
nondescript door in the side of the house.

"The servants entrance ?" Horatio asked.

"No, indeed. I am most fortunate to have my separate apartments. Used by the late
Mr. Morris to entertain his lady friends. "

"A most curious arrangement --"

"On the contrary, Horatio, an arrangement found most congenial to all concerned, as
I believe the marriage was not one based on love. However, I now profit by Mr. Morris'
profligacy. And I would be greatly pleased if you would join me in a small glass of wine
- in thanks for seeing me safely home, and in remembrance of old times ."

"But .. ma'am, I canna do that .." he stumbled over his words, just as he had stumbled
over them in the cabin aboard Le Reve .

"Mr. Hornblower, I do declare I am getting tired of you saying those words to me!
Now, whyever canna you do it?"

"But ma'am, your reputation ..."

"Oh, la, my reputation ..." She waved a hand airily around . "You must realize, Mr.
'Aitch, that people generally consider an actress as little better than a whore. Since I do
not count these people among my friends, I care little what they think. And as for those
who wish to become my friend, but still holding that belief, I very shortly set them
straight. And as for my real friends - in both high places and low " and she chuckled,
"why they know the right of me, and I do not believe your joining me in my lodgings for
a glass of wine, will topple me from my place in their good graces."

"But Mrs. Morris, your benefactress ...."

"... would die from delicious speculation, knowing I entertained a dashing young
naval lieutenant. " She turned to face him in the shadowy light. "I might almost believe
you do not want to partake of my hospitality, Horatio."

He was looking everywhere but at her, and she suddenly realized that he was
nervous.

"No, n-no, of course not, Miss Cobham .."

"Then bloody well stop standing there, and open my door for me. " And digging in her
purse, she retrieved her key and handed it to him.

The chilly London fog had crept into her rooms, and she shivered as Horatio helped
her off with her cloak. "The fire is laid, Horatio, " she said, "If you would be so kind as to
light it ..." She laid her cloak over the back of a chair, picked up a box of matches, and lit
several lamps, to chase away the shadows in the room. When she turned back, Horatio
had a merry fire going, and he stood at attention in the center of the room, keeping his
eyes rigidly in front of him.

"So, Horatio, what do you think of my humble home?"

"I - I think it is quite - comfortable, ma'am."

"Rather like a brothel, don't you think? I fancy Mr. Morris wished to keep his doxies
happy. Not what I would choose for myself of course, but beggars do not have the
luxury of choosing --" Horrified, she realized what she had just said; glancing around at
the nude paintings on the wall (thank God they were small), the rich velvet hangings,
the statuary ... why the poor boy most probably had never been in a brothel in his life.
"You may stand at your ease, Mr 'Aitch. And feel honored that I have invited you within;
for only a true gentleman would forbear to draw the most untrue conclusions about my
character from gazing on the examples of Mr. Morris's very bad taste." She laughed
lightly and he relaxed, freed by her words to admit that the lurid decoration had more
than a little surprised him.

"I have a very good bottle of port," she went on, "Courtesy of Mrs. Morris's cellar, if
that will do ..."

"That will do very well indeed, Miss Cobham." She poured a small amount in each of
two crystal goblets and turned back to Horatio.

"I must thank you properly, Miss Cobham, for safeguarding my dispatches so
thoroughly. " He cleared his throat, continued on, "I - I know this poor thanks will never
make up for -- what happened -- " He stumbled to a silence.

"Between myself and de Vergesse? When I offered to hide your dispatches, I did so
not knowing what might befall in the future. And when circumstances turned out as they
did, like a good soldier - or sailor - I did my duty, however unpleasant that might have
been." She kept her voice very steady as she spoke. "I did not make my offer to you
lightly, Mr. 'Aitch. I was not playing at war, or being a spy. Even an actress may be
serious, when seriousness is called for. In fact, had I been the Duchess of Warfedale, I
might not have acted so bravely."

"Then I thank God that you are indeed an actress. And I am sure your bravery was no
act."

"Well, Horatio, I do feel that any bravery I may have shown pales in comparison to
the bravery which you and your men showed in coming to the rescue of the enemy. "

"I only did my duty, ma'am."

"Come, come, Mr. Hornblower -- Captain Pellew very scathingly accused you of an
inordinate amount of modesty -- when most men would be crowing like roosters! He
feels you may not rise as you should in the Service because he despairs of you ever
learning the ways of braggarts and lickspittles. "

"Then I shall remain a Lieutenant forever. If my actions do not speak for me .."

Kitty laughed. "I fear that where the good Captain Pellew is concerned, we must read
the truth behind his words. Were you to become a braggart and lickspittle, you would
most certainly lose his high regard! But I think he feels that you might be just a little
more forthcoming about some of your exploits - like that of the - I cannot remember
rightly now - but the French ship with the cargo of rice - "

"The Marie Galante."

"Yes, that was it. I understand that but for some trickery in the method of your
navigation you and your crew might now be still rotting in a French prison. Yes,
Horatio," and she smiled at the perturbed look on his face. "Captain Pellew did indeed
know the truth about that little adventure. But he was somewhat at a loss as to your
reason for not telling him this yourself. "

"Because the Marie Galante was under my command and because of my failure to
check her seaworthiness in time, she was lost. "

"And so you punished yourself. Ah, Mr. 'Aitch, someday your friends will tire of
singing your praises when you yourself do not! And what you see as failure, others
would consider glorious success! Ah, well! " She handed him the glass of port, her
fingers brushing his as he took it from her. And she was reminded of a peach, in other,
less happier times.

"Well, Mr 'Aitch, raise your glass to - what shall we toast - glory in war and saving
ladies in distress .."

The glass in Horatio's hand trembled; trembled violently, enough to send a gout of
red wine slopping out, onto the lapel of his uniform jacket.

"S-sorry, Miss Cobham, I .."

He set the glass hastily down, and scrubbed with his fingers at the spot- a spot too
much like blood for Kitty's mind.

"Come now, no harm done, except to you, Horatio. And stop that now, you will make
it worse .." She set her own glass down next to his and determinedly started unbuttoning
his jacket.

"Ma'am ..!"

"Now say nothing , Mr 'Aitch. Your poor scrabbling will rub the wine in, not remove it.
" She pulled one sleeve off , then the other, then laid the jacket down on the table. Now
what caused that, she wondered, as she gathered up some cloths and a dish of water.
Glory in war - a lady in distress - she had put her foot in her mouth once again.
Surreptitiously she glanced over at her young visitor. He stood, ramrod straight, chin up,
hands behind his back, as though her poor humble room were the quarterdeck on the
Indefatigable and Captain Pellew expected any moment. But the look on his face was
poor abject misery.

Carefully she watered the wine down with a wet cloth and gently blotted the stain.
"Your hand was most unsteady,sir," she said, not looking at him.

"I - I " His voice stuck.

"Something I said, I do believe. Glory in war - a lady in distress .."

"Ma'am?"

"Come on, man, out with it. " Determinedly, she worked at the stain, giving him some
small measure of privacy to answer her or not. "You'll feel the better for it."

He will not answer me, she thought. He suffers, like all men, in silence.

"M-Muzillac, ma'am, in France. " Another silence.

"Muzillac? I have heard that name - some mention in the news - but you are used to
war --"

"I - I befriended a young peasant girl, and in saving my life, she died. " He ended this
confession with a strong voice. Kitty though back to the Spanish prison, to their walks
along the cliffs. She'd demanded opinions of him, and at first, he did poorly, trying too
hard to present the balanced view, or the view he thought she might want. "Don't be
afraid to offend, Mr. 'Aitch," she'd said. "If you can support your viewpoint, then you
must have it. " And in the end, with backsliding, and prodding from her, with false starts
and lost endings, she had started to see the man that the boy would become, the depth
behind those clenched hands.

And now, there he was again, all closed up, trying to bear up, yet breaking apart
instead.

The stain was almost out. "Tell me, Mr. 'Aitch, are you familiar with Shakespeare?"

"Well, of course, ma'am. You know Archie and I enjoyed one of his plays tonight. And
I have read him widely. " Do not relax, Horatio. I have just begun.

"And Romeo and Juliet? You have read that one also."

"Of course, ma'am. Sometime ago but -"

"Then tell me, Horatio, if this is the way it goes: Boy meets girl, boy and girl die." She
looked over at him.

He swallowed hard, and a little furrow showed between his brows. "Somewhat
shortened, but I believe that was the way of it, yes."

"Somewhat shortened. Like the story of your young peasant girl and how she died.
The girl - what was her name?"

"M-Mariette."

"Speak up, Mr. 'Aitch, I can't hear you. "

"Mariette, ma'am."

"And do you think , " Kitty said, laying the jacket aside and coming to stand directly in
front of him, "If Mariette were standing here in your place, that I should have to coax,
nay, wheedle, this story out of her? " She shook her head. "Horatio, when must you
report back?"

Confusion suffused his whole face. "I must leave London tomorrow at noon --"

"Then you may be considered a deserter, for I will not let you leave this place until
you give up this maggot that is eating away at your soul!"

She stood between him and the door - he had only to walk around her and in fact,
she had no means to keep him . No means to keep him but the force of her character
and the need in him.

Turning, he walked away from her, towards the window, a dark rectangle now in the
night. He placed one hand on the molding around the embrasure; Kitty could see from
here the whiteness as his fingers pressed down on the wood.

"Damn you to hell, Miss Cobham, " he said.

"But I am not the damned one here, Mr. Hornblower."

More than anything she wanted to walk up to him, lay a hand on his shoulder, turn
him towards her, and enfold him in her arms - to give him comfort as he faced whatever
demon gnawed at him. But she remained where she was -- she knew he would accept no
comfort from her. Perhaps she had better give him a flogging - for the guilt he carried
with him could perhaps be looked at and dealt with in no other way. So resolutely she
started out to flay him in the only weapon she had, her voice, and praying desperately
that he could suffer more, and then mend, rather than break irreparably in two.

"So, Horatio, you let a young girl throw away her life so that you could live? Believe
me, that does not sound like the gallant officer I know!" The fingers pressed down more
firmly yet, and she feared either the wood of the window sash would splinter, or his
bones would break instead. And yet he still did not reply. Tears started to her eyes as
she took a moment to compose her lines, and then continued on, her voice firm. "And
did you spend your time in dalliance instead of duty ..."

"God damn you!" He turned and stepped towards her so quickly she flinched --
expecting the raised hand to strike a blow against her. But she had set the stage and
resolutely she was prepared to play the scene out, whatever might befall her. His dark
eyes glittered in the candlelight, and she was shocked to realize that the glitter bespoke
tears to match those she could feel herself. Suddenly all the stiffness went out of his
body; his eyelids lowered, and then his head, and Kitty knew that the flogging had
worked, but how well or to what end she could not guess.

Finally his voice came to her, barely a whisper, bent and broken. "I was too busy
stealing kisses when I should have been attending to my duty. " he looked up at her
now, his features haunted by visions she could only guess at. " Just as I was too busy
having conversations with you while Archie lay dying, and my men plotted a foolish
escape. I thought I would be saving her. I thought - I thought that only if I promised -
but my promise meant nothing, nothing at all."

"Horatio - you must tell me everything."

"Why? So you can tell me I did my best, like Archie did? That time heals all wounds?
That someday I will forget Mariette, forget what I did to her? That, God forgive me, she
might be better dead, than left behind? That had she come safe to England, she would
have had a bitter life, that I, a poor man, could not provide for her? That I would come
to resent her ... Because, ma'am, I have been told all that and more .. by those thinking
thereby to cheer me!"

"Ssh, ssh, Horatio. I do not seek to cheer you. But you must tell me everything
nonetheless. " She turned away, found his empty goblet, refilled it with port. This time,
when she handed it to him, he tossed off the contents in one gulp. Then slowly, with
stutters, and whispers, and self-disgust, he told her the story of Muzillac...

A boy. He was still a boy, a sensitive boy. A man, a mature man, would perhaps not
have succumbed to a touch of feminine company in such troublous situations. And a
man, an unscrupulous man, would perhaps have dallied with no thoughts to either his
men or the object of his dalliance. But Horatio seemed doubly cursed: he sought the
softness (and most assuredly not even knowing what he sought) of Mariette , yet did
not enjoy the hardness to put aside the results of his actions. He thought too much, this
one; yet the thinking had not prevented him from playing the true hero over and over.

Now she must carefully choose her words. For no, she would not repeat those
homilies meant to 'cheer him up". He suffered, and he would suffer; she could not lift
that from him. What he needed now was her greatest performance.

"When I step on stage, Horatio, " she started, "I am blessed with knowing how the final
page is writ. How should I play my part if the playwright were busily tossing off the lines
just moments before I uttered them? But life is not like that. We tread the boards with
nothing to hand but our own wits. Or, you may believe that God has already written the
lines for us all, in which case, whatever you or I choose to do has no moment, and your
Mariette had her death writ in for that day from the moment of her birth. "

"Convenient, Miss Cobham. I have only to blame God and all will be well!"

"Nonsense! Neither you nor I believe we have no free choice in our lives. Well, then, I
suppose you can blame -- the Admiralty. You stated that the Admiralty believed this to
be a forlorn hope from the beginning. Had they used some common sense here, your
Mariette would now be busy correcting sums and rapping knuckles ."

"But, we are at war, ma'am: the Admiralty was only doing it's ..."

"Duty. Yes, I know. Well, then, Moncoutant. We may blame him. " She picked up her
glass of wine and moistened her lips. Unlike Horatio she had no intention of tossing it
back, though she liked a good port. Now was no time to have her wits addled with
drink. "From what you have told me, he was like Nero, fiddling while Rome burned."

"Moncoutant was a madman. A better leader might have postponed defeat, but
postponed only."

"Very well. Moncoutant cannot be blamed because of his madness. Well then, we
shall blame Mariette."

"Miss Cobham! Surely not .."

"And why not? She fraternized with the enemy, Horatio, with you. You spent the night
with her ..."

"I do protest! Nothing - I never - our relationship was .."

"Most proper? Behind walls, who can tell? And she was not forced to come with you."

"I told her I would not leave without her. She had no choice. "

For the first time in this deadly little play, Kitty laughed. Just a little laugh, but a
laugh nonetheless. And Horatio looked aghast, as though she had suddenly grown a
second head, or torn her clothes off in front of him. "She had no choice? Had I been
there, I would have damn well told you to bugger off! "

For a fleeting second, Horatio's lips looked like they might be contemplating just the
ghost of a smile. But then he pressed them firmly together, and having gained
possession of himself once more, said, "Mariette shares no blame,ma'am. Do not say so."

"Very well. That leaves only you, Horatio. It is all your fault. Had you marched into
Muzillac and immediately put a pistol to her head you would have been no less at fault.
Now, you must come to your own defense, and do not stand there mute, I will have my
answer. "

"I - I ... " He closed his eyes, then opened them again. "I thought I was doing right ..."

"So, Horatio," Kitty said, marching towards him, her finger pointing at him like a
loaded weapon. "So ..." and she jabbed at his chest with that finger. He looked down at
it appalled, as though it were indeed a pistol pointing at his heart. "The Admiralty is not
to blame ..." - another jab, " and Moncoutant is not to blame..." - jab, "nor Mariette, nor
yourself ... " - jab, jab. And with each jab, Horatio took a step backwards, until his back
was to the window he had lately stared out of.

"Well, then, there is always your mother, " and now her finger skewered him in place,
" We will blame her for bearing you in the first place. "

"Ma'am - " he croaked.

Kitty backed away a step and threw up her hands. "Ah, Horatio, can you not see? No
one is to blame, everyone is to blame. And will blame heal your hurt? I think not. But
one thing I do think - I think you and I share the same trade."

"Miss Cobham?"

"Actors, Horatio, we are both actors. I play Lydia Languish, when my days may be
darkest, and my soul burdened. Again I play Lady Macbeth, when my heart may be light
and my life joyous. And you, Horatio, play the brave, resourceful, dashing Naval officer,
when you are a thinker, a ... " and she approached him closely, laid her hand on his
chest, " a man with a heart, a conscience. A man for whom duty and loyalty are not
words to mouth idly."

Horatio looked down at her hand, then raised his dark eyes to hers. She snatched her
hand away; perhaps she had gone too far this time.

"So, " she continued, " When my play is finished, I slough off my character, and go
home. But for you - why, your character and the actions of that character follow you;
you cannot slough them off at all. And because of the plot you follow,with its war and
danger and battle - the consequences of your actions may cause suffering and death.
Tell me, Horatio, given a choice, would you now choose differently - leave the Indy -
become, oh, a teacher, a purveyor of goods, a doctor like your father perhaps?"

She could see the notion had not entered his mind. But after a bare moment of
puzzlement, his answer came quickly. "I believe not."

"Of course. Because you are so good at playing your role. Just as I am good in playing
the roles I choose. And I suppose I suffer consequences too - in that my life at times is
precarious, and sufficient funds to live comfortably not always to hand. But I accept
those consequences, because I choose to live as I do. But I am lucky, in that a missed cue
or forgotten line will not cause more than a temporary embarrassment, while in your
case .."

"Someone may die."

Small sounds filled the silence that now lay between them. The fall of a log in the
fireplace, the quiet ticking of a clock, the muffled clatter of horses' hooves from the
street outside. In the candlelight, she could see that his face seemed more at ease; his
hands hung loosely at his side, fists unclenched. Did she dare hope that her humble
performance had made some difference, had perhaps lightened his burden some small
amount? No matter. Now the final act must be played out.

She thought back to the well-meaning platitudes his friends had heaped upon him .
Mayhap all of them were true, or none of them . They had passed those platitudes on,
hoping to ease his pain and suffering, but only he could do that, by facing it, and
bearing it, and traveling on, knowing that he may have to bear such things many times
in his life.

"I said that I did not wish to cheer you, Horatio. You feel the guilt of Mariette's death
and I cannot take that away from you. In time that guilt may fade, or not, neither of us
knows which. And I know that reminding you how many lives have been saved by your
actions will not temper that grief nor conveniently remove it. But I say this - because
you are a man who feels grief for a poor French peasant girl caught up in events that
should never have concerned her - then you are a man who will go on to even greater
deeds in this theater in which you play - the theater of war. And I believe if you cease to
feel such emotions, then you cease to be the man Captain Pellew talks so glowingly
about. The only question is, Horatio, will you be strong enough to bear up? Will you be
strong enough to cry in your heart, yet go forward no matter what? Will you break or
bend, Horatio, will you break or bend?"

There. The last act completed. The curtain could now come down. But whether her
audience would throw roses on the stage, or rotten eggs, she had no idea.

Now, by God, she did need a drink. Suddenly her knees felt shaky. Had she been a
fool, an utter fool? What did she know of such death and destruction as Horatio must
face daily? How dare she try to tell him how to think and feel, how to live his life? An
actress. A mere actress. An mere actress who played at matters of grave import - who
had offered to hide the dispatches , if truth be told, on the spur of the moment, not truly
believing that she was risking her life for her country. A mere actress who dealt so
poorly with the aftermath of her intrique . She drank the rest of the wine in her glass.
More. She needed some more. She could not even look over to Horatio, to see what
devastation she might have wrought. Once more she had acted on the spur of the
moment - oh, how cleverly she played the fool indeed.

She turned towards the decanter of port. But her hand trembled, the decanter shook -
she could hear the clear note of its ringing against the glass. Damn! The port slopped
out onto the linen cloth covering the table.

"Here. Let me. " She had not heard Horatio come up behind her. He took both the
decanter and glass from her hand, and poured. His hand was not shaking, she could see
that quite clearly. Then he poured a glass for himself, and set the decanter down.

Well, there was no hope for it. She must beg his pardon, and pray that she had done
no lasting damage - at least left him no worse off than when he had come.

"Horatio?" She looked up at him. He was standing very close to her, his wine glass in
hand, smiling a little. Smiling a little? But how could he, after what she had done to
him. "I - I must apologize , Horatio. " She could not call him Mr. 'Aitch now, that was
much too flippant. Mr. 'Aitch belonged in the past, when there was some hope of
friendship between them.

"Apologize, Miss Cobham? I see no need for an apology."

"I - I should never... I was out of place, Mr. Hornblower. Please disregard my words. "

"Disregard your words, ma'am? But why would I do that? You are right. I see myself
in no other place than where I am now, an officer in the British navy. And I have been
acting, as you so accused me in front of de Vergesse, as a callow youth. I must learn to
accept whatever pain and grief it is my lot to bear, because to give up this role, as you so
rightly described it, would be beyond bearing. I believe that you have saved my life,
Miss Cobham."

"Oh." For perhaps the first time in her life, Kitty was rendered perfectly speechless.
She could feel tears filling up her eyes and dripping down over her cheeks. "Damn!" she
said, trying to wipe them off with the back of her hand, like a little girl.

"It is now my turn to propose a toast, " Horatio said, raising his glass. "To Miss
Cobham, whose words and thoughts will stay with me forever. "

"Why thank you, Horatio. " She sipped the wine; suddenly she did not feel the need
for its fortification. "And ... " she hesitated, wondering if she should continue, but
knowing he needed to feel comfortable with the mention of Mariette. "And - I am so
sorry about Mariette. "

"Thank you, ma'am, for your concern. I behaved badly in Muzillac, but perhaps I felt
more pity for myself than for her. And perhaps all the kind words that were given to me
had truth in them after all, yet I was too besotted with my own misery to listen and
understand. " A clock chimed quietly in the background. Horatio placed his glass on the
table. "I fear you have spent far too much time trying to patch up my poor heart. "

"Time well spent, Horatio, if only to see a smile on your face again! I feared my poor
performance would send you raging out into the night ; in truth, I am not used to
writing my own lines at such length."

"Your lines were exemplary; your deliverance superb. In fact, Miss Cobham, I know
you would put the great Mr. Garrick himself to shame."

"La, Mr 'Aitch." She flicked an imaginary mote of dust from his vest. "Here you are,
Horatio, standing in your shirt sleeves in my bedchamber; you have just bared your soul
to me - can you not call me Kitty?"

He smiled a little. "I suppose I must now - Kitty."

"Good. Now, let me get your jacket for you. " She picked it up off the table, and
brushed her fingers across the lapel. "There - that will do, I believe. A little damp, but
the night air shall soon fix it up for you."

She held it up for him and he thrust his arms into the sleeves. Stepping around to face
him, she hooked it up, as she had unhooked it. "It seems I am always dressing you,
Horatio. "

"Yes, ma'am - Kitty. Only this time in a proper British uniform, and not a Froggie one."

"But you look every inch the officer no matter which one you are wearing."

She followed him to the door and stopped as he turned to bid her goodnight.

"Horatio - there is something I must know -"

"Yes Kitty?"

"Our conversations together - during our walks - did you ever think to steal a kiss from
me?"

Oh, she'd caught him out again. Someday he would learn to school his face in
moments like this, as he had learned to do so in front of his men.

"Ma'am --"

"Kitty,if you please, sir!"

"Kitty --"

"Do not give me the answer you think I am looking for, Horatio, but the truth. "

"Well, Kitty, I -- I did not - I - "

"Rest assured, Horatio, that I never saw you as that callow youth, despite what I might
have said to de Vergess."

She saw his shoulders straighten; she saw him transform before her eyes into a man,
an officer in His Majesty's Royal Navy.

"Then, Kitty, I did indeed wish to steal a kiss from you - and with your permission,
ma'am , I would be happy to obblige you with one now - if that is what you want."

"I would enjoy reassurance that I am not fit only to play a witch or Mrs. Malaprop
yet, Horatio, but I hope you do not see it as an obligation."

"You have my word on it, " and he leaned forward until his lips touched hers. Not so
easy, my lad, Kitty thought, as she reached up and putting her arms around his neck,
pulled him closer.

She had asked him whether he had ever thought to steal a kiss from her. To her great
good luck, he had not thought to turn her question back. Kitty Cobham had never been
a woman who let passion rule her life, except what passion she was called upon to show
to the world on the stage. But there was something about that sweet-faced naive young
man that had quite taken her breath away . At first she had been inclined to laugh at his
gaucheness - his awkwardness at carving the pig, his obvious discomfort at the thought
that she would become a passenger on his ship. She had teased and flirted with him,
because that was what she did - that was what was expected of her as an actress, and as
the Duchess of Wharfedale. But the true measure of the man very forcefully came
through to her as he boldly, though in the end unsuccessfully, attempted to pull off an
even greater deception than her own.

Her simple attempt to reach England had appeared more ill-fated by the moment,
finally leaving her stranded in a god-forsaken part of Spain, though at no time had she
been ill-used, and Don Masserado himself was the very epitome of a gentleman. But
then she had received the news that Horatio himself was sharing her confinement with
the Don, though in less salubrious quarters.

At first her idea of having Horatio as a walking companion was simply to provide her
with some English company, a way to use up some of the tedious hours she spent in her
velvet prison. But even scruffy as he was (though he soon improved a little upon that,
after her light-hearted remark about razors), he was compellingly and completely
unknowingly attractive.

A boy, Kitty, he is a mere boy! She berated herself harshly for even the slightest
glimmer of a feeling that went beyond the companionship which was all Horatio took
their walks to be. An officer, Kitty, he is an officer, he has more important things to think
of than some aging raddled actress, even if he might believe her to be of the nobility.
But sometimes, sometimes she wondered, as his hand might inadvertantly brush against
the fabric of her skirt - what in truth did he think of her?

And now, she had descended to the degradation of fishing for a kiss! ' Did you ever
think to steal a kiss from me? ' As though she were still staring at herself in her dressing
room mirror, looking for reassurances, now reduced to begging kisses from children.

But oh, what a kiss! Perhaps she had been the one to pull her Mr. 'Aitch closer, but he
now showed no inclination of releasing her! She was acutely aware of the feel of his
body against hers, his hands holding her close, his lips soft .

But suddenly his two hands sprang apart, and he stepped backward awkwardly,
almost banging into the door behind him. "Ma'am - Kitty, I - I - forgive me - I ... " The
ruddy glow casts by the lamps did not serve to hide the blush on his face. He looked
horrified.

"Forgive you? Whatever for, Horatio?"

"For taking such liberties, Kitty. I - I am sure 'twas not what you had in mind."

"And how might you know what I had in mind?" Blast, Kitty, can you not leave off
teasing the poor lad? She reached up a finger, gently ran it over the side of his face, as
she had done once before, but this time she let it continue, on across his lips. He
swallowed, hard.

Perhaps the flush on his face was not only from the candlelight, or embarrassment.
Perhaps it in some measure matched the heat she could feel on her own countenance.
Her finger continued on its course, down over his chin, onto the hollow at the base of
his neck.

"Kitty... " he caught hold of her hand with his, and turned it, palm up, and kissed it.

"Horatio... " The simple exchange of their names seemed all that was needed to erase
the distance between them, and this time his hands moved against the fabric of her
dress, as hers moved against him. This time his lips left hers to kiss her cheek, her
eyelids, her forehead, before moving back to their rightful place. This time, her body
responded in a manner she had thought never to feel again. And this time, it was she
who stepped back from him. For that response frightened her. She had become a ragged
bundle of nerves when it came to a man's touch, even an inadvertent brushing of hands
as a salt cellar was passed at the dinner table. Only on the stage was she able to force
those feelings away, as she took on the persona of another.

Yet, she and Horatio had walked home, arm in arm. She had peeled his jacket from
him and replaced it again. She had laid her hand over his heart. And she had kissed him.
In the simple ease of his companionship and the difficulties he suffered from, she had
quite forgotten her own infirmity. Dare she go one step further?

Slowly and simply she reached forward and unhooking his uniform jacket, eased it
back over his shoulders. His hands hung limply by his side, and she tugged to free the
jacket from them. Then her fingers reached for the buttons on his vest.

"Kitty?" He seemed puzzled, but there was also an expectant look to that puzzlement,
an excited look, a worried look. She remembered how his face could show an
everchanging play of emotions, while trying not to show emotion at all.

"I am prepared to give more than you would ask for, Horatio. " she said, hoping that
what she said was indeed true, and now the vest was edged back and down, this time
with a little more help. "I give it freely and I would hope you accept it ." Oh, Kitty, what
are you doing to this boy? What are you doing to yourself?

His neckcloth resisted at first; but the stubborn knot soon came undone after a little
worrying with her fingers. Then he suffered each hand to be raised as she unbuttoned
his shirt cuffs. She then started to tug at his shirt, pulling it free from his trousers.
"Kitty..." She could see the wanting now on his face, wanting but not wishing to admit to
it. She pushed the shirt up , letting her hands slide against his smooth skin. If he balked
now, then they would both be left looking foolish, Horatio with his shirt up around his
neck, and herself, with her hands where they were not wanted. But he quickly raised his
arms, and helped her remove the shirt, and he himself threw it aside. But now he looked
over her head, to right, to left, as though by not meeting her eyes, he could prevent her
from seeing him.

"Horatio, have you never... " then cursed herself for speaking. Would she never learn
to curb her tongue, especially with this young man?

"I - well, " and he swallowed, took a deep breath, licked his lips several times then
continued: "There was a young girl, in the village where I grew up . Just before I left to
join the Justinian. She - I believe she became quite inflamed by the thought that I was to
become a great naval hero and - and that I might die without ... " He hesitated a
moment. "In the end I did my duty, Kitty, but not well, I fear."

He looked so droll and self-deprecating at that moment, that Kitty had to laugh, and
indeed he joined her in her laughter. This might do very well indeed, if she herself – but
she put that thought behind her, and turned her attention away from her own doubts
and fears and towards him. There he stood, a young god in the lamplight, waiting for
her to tell him what to do.

"And now," she said, leading him into the alcove where her bed was, wishing that Mr.
Morris had been a little less garish in his tastes. Turning her back on him, she said, "And
now, Mr. Hornblower, you must unbutton me."

"Unbutton you, Kitty?"

"Of course. I have taught you many things to prepare you for society, Horatio. Do not
think that knowing how to unbutton a lady's dress and unlace her corsets is
unneccessary for an up and coming young naval officer. "

"And would you be happy to think of me practicing this knowledge on - say, an
Admiral's wife?" Good, her humor had relaxed him a little, though his fingers still
fumbled with the buttons.

"There are more ways of getting ahead than piloting fireships , Horatio."
He did take a deucedly long time with those buttons and laces, and let slip a small
'Damn!' every so often. But the tables were turned when he had the effrontery to sit
himself down on the bed and extend a booted foot towards her.

"Horatio!"

"Fair enough, Kitty. " Fair enough indeed, and her efforts as a boot puller were no
more swift and efficient than his as a corset unlacer had been. The final result was such
a general air of merriment that suddenly they found themselves buried in the
bedclothes with nothing between them but a little shyness.

I should have turned down the lamp; he will find my body displeasing; he will look
down upon me and feel only revulsion; he will touch me and I will feel - what will I
feel? - such fevered thoughts as frothed out of her brain until he lowered his head to
hers and kissed her. Fevered thoughts then turned only to sweet sensation as his
unpractised fingers explored her body hesitantly.

"Kitty?" She could feel his readiness, yet unbelievingly realized he still stopped to ask
her final permission. All unknowing, he had made exactly the gesture she needed to go
forward.

"Oh, yes, Horatio, yes."

In the end, all was well. He was precipitate, as she might have expected a young
inexperienced man would be, and she did not go all the way with him in his release, but
that was all right too. She had only needed him to be sweet and gentle and sweet and
gentle he was.

"Kitty - is something wrong?" She could feel his eyes on her, as he lay beside her, his
head propped on his hand, his breath still a little ragged. "You - you're crying! Have I
hurt you - Kitty, I never... "

"Ah, Horatio, quite the contrary." She pulled the sheet up and wiped away the tears,
but her eyes insisted on manufacturing more. "I must tell you a little of myself, Horatio.
You must understand - I avowed to you that I was no whore ..."

"Kitty, I do not think that of you..."

"But you might, later, on reflection, when you are faced with the daylight, and the
realities of life. And so you must bear with me and hear my story, and know, my dear,
that you are the first to be told all of it. "

He slipped his arm around her and pulled her close to him, kissing her cheek
tenderly; Kitty was grateful, but wise enough to believe the gesture owed rather more to
his gratitude for the physical satisfaction he was undoubtedly feeling, than to any deep
attachment to herself. But no matter; he had not fled immediately from her bed, and
she was thankful for that.

"I fear, Horatio, that I have used you."

"Used me, Kitty? Upon my soul, I do not feel used. "

"Nevertheless, I still assert that is the case. Though rest assured, had any other man
been standing in your place tonight, he would have long been sent on his way. To begin
- you and others have always addressed me as Miss Cobham. In fact, I am Mrs.
Cobham. "

Instantly she could feel his body tense. "Oh, Mr. Cobham is dead these many years!"
she hastened to add. "Like the Duchess of Wharfedale, I am a widow. I lived in a small
village to the north of London, and married Mr. Percy Cobham as a young girl of
seventeen. He was older than I and had recently lost his first wife in childbed. My
mother, a widow herself and of very limited means, was quite happy to see me safely off
to Percy's house, he being a successful businessman, at least in our village. He ran a
small drygoods store, and provided horses and refreshments for the passengers on the
coaches travelling through to London. Oh, I felt I had come into riches indeed! Why, I
even had a young girl to help me in my daily chores. I am sure no Duchess had ever
believed herself as lucky as I.

"Poor Percy succumbed to a fever after four years of his marriage to me. He had
always declared that, should anything befall him, I would be well looked after. I was in
a perfect frenzy after his death - for he had neglected to inform me of the particulars of
this being looked after. I made a thorough search of his papers, understanding little of it,
but I was able to find a name of a man in London who seemed to have a major
importance in Percy's life. Of course. This must be his man of business, his solicitor
perhaps. So I, foolish little girl that I was, sent the news of Percy's death posthaste to this
man. And this man came, and with the help of the bailiffs, took every last piece of
property Percy had left behind. I was fortunate to excape with the clothes on my back.

"My astute husband, in his many trips to London, had managed to run up a shocking
list of gambling debts. And the man whose name I found was the man to whom he was
most in debt. All his chattels put together did not add up to that one debt, and I was
lucky not to find myself in prison, where, I can assure you, I would still be today.

"I could look to no help from the village. My mother had since passed away, and my
husband had added her meagre belongings to his own. Upon my elevation in status, I
had , I am sad to say, adopted a rather haughty air to the folk around me; more than a
few of them were happy to see my straightened circumstances. And the man who came
to run my late husband's establishment thought to make of it more than just a place of
refreshment. Oh, he was quite willing to employ me, but my work would be more in the
bedrooms than in the cookshop.

"I was at my wit's end, I do assure you. I had no place to lay my head, but a few
pennies in my pocket, and no idea how I would even find my next meal. The poorest

peasant grubbing in the fields lived like a king, as compared to me. Even the local
gentry turned me from their doors as I begged for even the lowest, filthiest work. And
lying in the hedgerow, shivering from cold and hunger, I even contemplated swallowing
any last vestige of pride I might have and go back to the coachhouse, and do whatever
the new owner would have me do. But that contemplation caused such a revulsion in
me that I vowed to somehow find a strong rope and sturdy beam and thereby put an
end to everything.

"And that, Horatio, is as fine a melodrama as you could hope to see on any stage. I
know now that I was being melodramatic, but I was young, and frightened. But
somehow I dropped off to sleep, despite my misery and awoke on the morrow thinking
that perhaps I had died during the night and was now in heaven, though sorely
disappointed that even in Heaven I could feel so cold and hungry. It was the music, you
see, a pretty tune playing on the other side of the hedge. I looked over, expecting to see
in my ignorance the glories of God and the Everlasting Host, but instead - a troupe of
travelling mummers were straggling along the road, and the music provided by a flute
player at their head.


"I had so enjoyed such troupes over the years, when my mother could scrape up the
few pence for admittance, and later, when my husband paid for benches closest to the
poor stage. I had very few talents, but I took great delight in aping the gestures and
words of the players for my mother and Percy. And somehow, I found the energy to
push through the hedge, and declaim in a very loud voice 'Out, damned spot! out I say!"
and 'to bed, to bed, there's knocking at the gate', what little my poor addled brain could
remember; in fact, Horatio, I played the very role you saw me in tonight.

"Can you imagine what a sight I must have been - more closely ressembling Banquo's
ghost than Lady Macbeth I am sure. John Grant, the leader of the troupe, and the man
playing the flute, told me some time later that he did fully believe me to be some evil
apparition, conjured up out of the mist, until he realized I was just some dirty, smelly
young girl, who somehow had some knowledge of Shakespeare. "

"Now that, Kitty, was a performance I would have wished to see, " Horatio said,
pulling her a little closer still, and pushing back a strand of hair from her face with his
beautiful fingers.

"I think not! Believe me, I have improved immensely since then! But to my great good
fortune, John Grant saw something in that dirty, smelly young girl and took me on. I am
sure to run away with a group of traveling players has been the ruination of many a
young girl, but for me, there was only salvation.

"And so I started on my life as an actress. There were good times and bad; times when
we lived like kings and queens, or at least what passed for that in our life; and times
where in truth I was little better off than that child in the hedgerow. But always I kept
myself to myself even when that made hardship for me.

And now she was coming to the part of her story that she hoped Horatio could
understand. Looking back, she herself felt no shame, but she knew that very upright
citizens could and would see the shame in her actions. A time came, when she was
offered patronage, patronage with a price, and she paid that price. He was a gentleman,
in every way, and treated her as a gentleman should. And when the time came for them
to part, they parted in friendship. Over the years she had contracted a mere handful of
such arrangements, and always left with more than she started - a new wardrobe, a
heavier purse, an influential word in the right ear and always - a friendship.

"Your friends in high places, " Horatio remarked.

"You do not - condemn me..."

"I am sure the most sanctimonious citizen sitting piously in his church pew of a Sunday
has done worse in his life than you. But you say you have used me. I do not see..."

"I have not finished, Horatio. Now I must come to – deVergesse. But I repeat what I
have said earlier - when I took on the task of guarding your dispatches, I had no
intention of ever giving them up - no matter what befell - and I do apologize for teasing
you so naughtily about them . When you left me with deVergesse - I knew what I had to
do to prevent him from disclosing my alias to Don Masserado. I knew the Don wished
only to live comfortably with his good wine and his books; I believe your presence there
as his prisoners had greatly upset his way of life. But such information as deVergesse
could give him would force Don Masserado to take some action, the very first of which
no doubt would be a thorough search of my belongings - and my person.

"The thought of – what I needed to do – was unpleasant, but deVergess was a
gentleman, and I – I was no shrinking virgin. I could do what I needed to do - I knew I
could. "

She paused. Pictures of that night flooded back into her mind, as they had flooded
her thoughts and dreams ever since.

"But deVergess was no gentleman," Horatio continued for her, his voice quiet yet
tense.

"deVergess was no gentleman. He – he was careful to leave no marks on me that
could be seen, and he was under orders to leave the next day, so I had no need to
submit to him again. And then the wound of your words to me – 'how could you' –"

"Oh, Kitty, you must know – I wished many a time to retract those words, when I
thought of the sacrifice you made for naval matters that had nothing to do with you. But
had I known how great the sacrifice – oh, dear God, Kitty, forgive me!"

She turned her face to his, and this time it was she who brushed his curls from off his
brow. "You need ask no forgiveness, Horatio. You were not to know." And now the last,
hardest part. "I thought I could forget. I thought, safe again on the Indy, I could put that
night behind me. But I could not. I had no husband to return to. I had no liaison to
sustain. I need never lie with a man again. Surely I could forget. But I felt dirty. I felt -
violated to the depth of my being – you surely cannot understand..."

"Oh, yes, Kitty, I understand. " His voice was so bitter. Somewhere in his past, he had
suffered too. "But my violation was nothing compared to yours. Yes, Kitty, I can
understand. But how could you – oh damn and blast, I've said it again!"

"How could I - lie with you? On our way home this evening, had you suggested to me
how the night might end , I can assure you I would have left you standing in the street,
in the hopes that some miserable wretch might plunge his dagger through your heart
and leave you dead in the filth. I thought to help you through whatever difficulty might
be clouding your soul or at the very least, to have a pleasant visit with an old friend. I
found – I found I had feelings for you , Horatio, that I though never to feel for a man
again. And I was afraid of them. "

"And inside you were as unsure and afraid of doing the wrong thing as I was?"

"I think more so, Horatio. Had I, at the very end, panicked, cried out, fought – I would
have hurt you as much, if differently, as deVergesse hurt me. "

"So, at the very end, you found you were able to submit ." He spoke matter-of-factly,
not hurt, but accepting of the fact that ,whatever he might have felt himself, she had
only submitted.

"No, Horatio, " she said, "I did not submit. We were equals, you and I, we were
together . I needed you to heal me and you have. "

By the dim candleglow of the lamps, she could see him break into a great smile. Ah,
dear boy, you do not smile nearly enough; with that smile you could have any tender
female you wish; but tonight, tonight I have you.

He kissed her again and this time she had the joy of her hands on his body, his great
glorious man's body, knowing whatever passed, there would be no more flinching, no
more sick dreams.

He had learned quickly, that devilish boy, and now, with the great ease of familiarity
in one another, with all shyness fled, she was forced herself to finally be the one to ask
"Horatio?"

"Why of course, Kitty." And this time they journeyed together.


Wakefulness came gradually to Kitty. At first she was aware of a different quality of
light through her slitted eyelids; the one window in the small sleeping alcove was
heavily draped, but through a small opening in the drapes, full daylight streamed in.
She was aware of a sleek sense of satisfaction glowing throughout her whole body.Then
she was aware of a different quality to her bed – she was not alone. Of course.

Turning her head, she watched Horatio as he slept, his mouth slightly open, a faint
beard showing, his hair tumbled over the pillow. She smiled a little to herself, as
memory of last night shone brightly in her heart. The dear boy. No, she should call him
boy no longer. Some women of her slight acquaintance - and not all of them in low
places - collected such as he, to teach the ways of love, they boasted. But she had taught
Horatio nothing, that nature and his good soul had not already provided. In fact, he had
been the teacher - and the lesson Kitty had learned she had already known in that part
of her mind where logic ruled - that all men were not as deVergesse . But her soul and
spirit needed proof - and Horatio had given her that proof.

One lovely long-fingered hand lay on the pillow beside his head. Those same fingers
that last night touched her body so tenderly had also held pistol and cutlass - had taken
life. A masterful actor indeed that could so well play the warrior role so at odds with
the caring and tender man she knew him to be - her words to him had been true. His
care of her had cured, but she knew full well that any lesson talem from her might not
be enough, in the future, to enable him to play that role without the merciless lashings
only he would give himself. She could only pray that punsishment taken, he would still
go on.

Horatio moved a little, his eyelids fluttered slightly, his hand clenched then relaxed.
She had only to lean forward, wake him with a kiss - the joys of last night need not be
over - ah, Kitty , you dreamer. The cold harsh light of morning would not be kind to her,
she knew, and he would feel he needed to be kind – No, the night was the night and the
morning, morning and now they were only friends again.

Carefully she eased herself from the bed, and picking up a bedrobe tossed over a
nearby chair, slipped it on over her nakedness. Her clothes were scattered; she picked
them up and laid them more neatly on the chair where the robe had lain. Stepping out
into her sitting room, she gathered Horatio's shirt, neckcloth, vest and jacket, and laid
them beside him on the bed.

The fire still smoldered. Piling on fuel , and digging at it with a poker were all that
proved necessary to make it flare up again. She could brew a pot of tea while she
waited.

Horatio appeared not ten minutes later. She had heard movement in the alcove, but
she had ignored it, leaving him his privacy and when he stepped out, she turned, and
stopped, shocked. She had expected him dressed; dressed fully, ready to bolt, ready to
forget he had spent the night with an actress old enough, without a need to stretch the
truth, to be his mother. Yet here he stood, trousered and booted to be sure, but his shirt
had only been hastily tucked in and his vest, neckcloth and jacket were thrown loosely
over one arm. He had a general air of dishevelment about him that caught at her, and
entrapped her. Oh, dear God, have I fallen in love?

"Horatio, please come and have a cup of tea. " She turned towards the kettle on the
hob.

"Presently, Miss Kitty, presently. " He came up behind her, and turning her round,
lifted her chin with his finger. " I wish you good morning. " And he kissed her.

Had they somehow exchanged places, and experience? She herself now felt the
skittesh colt he had been only last night. School yourself, Kitty. Do not be foolish.

"You look uncommon bright this morning, sir, " she said, stepping out of his way to lay
the cups and saucers on a small tray.

"I have had an uncommon interesting evening, " he answered. Walking past her, he
picked the kettle up, and as she held the teapot, he filled it with boiling water. He
continued: "Some time ago, before you arrived in Gibralter, Captain Pellew was forced
to place the Indefatigable crew on half-rations, as our supply ships were repeatedly
sunk by the French and then the Spanish. I was trying to study and hearing the men
singing, asked that they stop. Mr. Bracegirdle was quick to give me a lesson on
command, informing me that the men were afraid, and that given a choice, they would
rather sing than cry. Kitty, I believe that you have taught me a third option, which I am
sure they would have all chosen, given the opportunity."

Kitty could not help herself. She broke into peals of laughter, and was delighted to
find, when she had finally contained herself, that he had joined in.

"I say, Mr. 'Aitch, are you planning to acquaint Mr. Bracegirdle with this great
discovery? " she gasped.

"I am sure it is a fact which he knows already, Kitty, but was afraid of offending my
boyish sensibilities to tell me. But he did say to get to know the ways of my men, and I
am sure to look more leniently now on their licentious behaviour. "

"And is the next lesson to get drunk, so you can understand that?"

"Now that is something which I will never understand, for I myself have no head for
drink."

She handed him a cup of tea, which he sipped hastily, looking time and again at the
clock. "I must be back soon, " he said. "Archie will wonder what happened to me."

"And do you think this is what Archie had in mind when he left us together last night?

" Surely not, Kitty. And on my honor, he need never know."

"Unless you lose that look about you of a cat among the pigeons, he will know
perfectly well."

Horatio might consider himself more of a man this morning than last night, but he
could still blush charmingly. "Oh dear –"

"But I am sure, as Archie is just as much a gentleman as you, he will not mention it. "

The time passed too quickly, in small talk and pleasantries, and soon she was helping
him with the neckcloth, the vest, the jacket.

"I swear, Miss Kitty, that should I ever reach an exalted position where I may
command a steward, that no one could dress me better than you."

"Or undress you, neither, eh, Horatio." And this time, he did not blush but only
laughed along with her.

"I hope, when I am next in London, I may visit again? " He stopped, widened his eyes
a little, tried to mend what he had said, "But of course, I would not presume –"

"We will know what is right, Horatio, when the time comes. After all, I may catch the
eye of a doddering Duke and be truly a Duchess by then. And you may have a whole
crew of little Horatios at your feet. Whatever chances, if I am not here, as I do travel
outside London often, please knock on Mrs. Morris's front door. I always leave word of
my wanderings with her. "

"And perhaps we may exchange letters? My father writes regularly, but I believe I
would welcome those of a lady."

Kitty suddenly felt very warm. What a kind, unlooked for ,but welcome request. She
tried to hide her fluster in humor: "But only if I may read yours to Mrs. Morris and
brighten her day also."

"Of course. I would not like to see you turned out on the street , because she finds
your life uncommon dull. I will attempt to fill them with tales of blood for her
edification."

"Ah, Mr. 'Aitch, I do believe your quips and sallies have much improved since our
walks in Spain. "

And now they were back where they were a full half-day past, this time the kiss given
without asking. Then Kitty pulled away, and stepped back . For a moment they shared
the memory, his eyes dark looking into her.

"Kitty, I must thank you - not just for - well,last night but for your words on Mariette
and what transpired at Muzillac. You were right - I had let it fester inside me, and
though I shall always think of her with sadness, I think now I can move on."

"And I must thank you, Horatio, for giving me back my self-respect, and reminding me
that men like deVergesse do not deserve to cloud our futures. "

They stood a moment, the silence between them one of comfort and peace.

"Now answer me again, Horatio,do you think that Archie truly had something like this
in mind when he so conveniently made his excuses?"

"Not in the details perhaps, but in the larger sense, yes, I think so. " Horatio smiled
ruefully. " Now I truly must take my leave. I hope you will always count me, as I count
you, a friend. "

Kitty laughed and took her cue. "In high places or low, Mr. 'Aitch?

"Why the highest , Your Grace," Horatio said, smiling more broadly, and left.

The end