Family
by Simon

The OC's in this story were borrowed from Allison James wonderful
story "Landfall", with her kind permission. She is in no way to blame
for what I've made them do here!

 

Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower knocked at the familiar front door. The
paint was a different color and the knocker had been changed for a
new brass one, but it still felt like home. He could hear the sounds
of a party coming from inside, spilling onto the street like the
light from the windows. Voices and music, the clink of glasses.

He often had the privilege of staying with Sir Edward and his family
in the past, coming to look forward to the welcome and the warmth of
their home. His own when he was growing up had precious little of
either. It was only through them that he had learned that family
meals could be pleasant affairs, not the silent strained things he
had become accustomed to as a boy. He enjoyed the friendly give and
take, the banter between husband and wife, parents and child. Sir
Edward's stepdaughter, Mavis was a charming young girl, one he had
become quite fond of, thinking of her as the younger sister he'd
never had. She was a sweet little thing and pretty, bright and
amusing to have around.

The door swung open to reveal the figure of the butler, Preston. He
had been with the Commodore ever since Horatio could remember.
Average height and gray haired, he served Sir Edward with a loyalty
that many of the Commodore's friends envied. He was part and parcel
of the place. He was as much a part of being here as anything was.

Lieutenant! How very good to see you again, sir. Come in, please,
come in. I know that the Commodore and Mrs. Pellew have been so
looking forward to your being here this evening. Let me take your
cloak and your hat. There you are. The master is just in the salon.
Oh, sir, you're looking very well, if I may say so, very well indeed."

"Thank you, Preston, you're looking well, yourself."

He walked through the double doors to where Sir Edward was standing
surrounded by a group of senior officers, Post Captains, more
Commodores, Good lord! That was Admiral Cornwallis there by his right
hand. They all seemed to be laughing at some joke or other. Horatio
decided that he would greet his host later when he might be able to
get a word in. Besides, he knew that he'd be too self-conscious with
all of Sir Edward's powerful friends to do more than stammer and
probably make a fool of himself.

He turned to move into the dining room, hoping for some refreshment.
It had been a long walk here from the docks and he hadn't eaten since
breakfast. He'd been too busy on Renown helping to ready her for her
next voyage. Taking a plate he proceeded to circle the table, picking
at the various offerings. As always, Sir Edward and Lady Sophie set
an impressive table. There was something for any taste to be easily
found.

Taking his plate and a glass of wine that, he decided to take his
dinner out to the conservatory. With any luck it wouldn't be as
crowded there and he might find a quiet corner to simply sit for a
few minutes. He hadn't had any time to relax in months and he was, he
admitted to himself, exhausted. Greeting friends and acquaintances
along the way, he went into the large room and found his favorite
chair just where it always was. It faced out the great windows so
that in daylight one could see the entire harbor from its location.
Even in the dark he could make out the ships at anchor.

As he settled in to the soft chair, partially obscured by some of the
large plants, he allowed the party noise to simply wash over him,
blending into one solid wall of sound.

The food was excellent, as to be expected from Lady Sophie and the
wine more potent than he had realized.

Combined with the over warm conservatory and his state of exhaustion,
he was soon nodding off. He woke with a start as he felt someone
removing the plate, now in danger of hitting the floor, from his lax
hands. Jerking his eyes open, he was startled to be met with the
concerned gaze of a lovely young woman.

"Horatio? Are you alright?"

He looked at her in confusion for a moment, unsure as to whom she
might be. She was lovely, with dark hair and the most beautiful hazel
eyes he'd seen in quite a while. After a moment he realized who was
there.

"Mavis! Forgive me, please. Forgive me"

"Forgive what? That you're tired? Don't be silly, Horatio! When I saw
you here I told everyone that the conservatory was closed for the
evening so you'd be left alone. I just came in to see that you didn't
need anything and arrived in time to rescue mother's plate." She was
smiling.

"You what? How long have I been in here?"

"I don't know. A few hours, I'd think. It's after eleven. You're the
only one left. I was about to throw a blanket over you."

"Mavis, for the love of God"why didn't you wake me? This is
unforgivably rude, I must apologize to Sir Edward and Lady Sophie
immediately."

"Well, if you insist, but I think they're in bed."

"Oh, God." She was laughing at him now.

"Come with me, I'll take you up to the guest room. There's no point
in your walking all the way back to the harbor at this time of night.
Besides, I'm sure that Father wanted to ask you to stay for a few
days, anyway."

"Mavis, thank you but I can't."

"I heard him speak to Captain Sawyer and receive permission for you
to sleep here before he left." She took his hand, pulling him to his
feet. As he stood, still groggy, he stumbled just slightly and was
surprised to feel her arms steadying him. Half asleep and without
thinking what he was doing, his arms went around her waist, pulling
them together and started to gently stroke her back of their own
accord.

They had both automatically started to apologize to each other when
they stopped to just look at the other's face. Their arms tightened
for a long moment before Horatio came back to himself and broke the
embrace. Embarrassed, he pulled away, his face reddening as he
mumbled his apologies. She, also, seemed taken aback by the
suddenness of their feelings and with the intensity with which they
had both been overcome.

Quickly covering their embarrassment, she was the first to break the
awkward silence with, "I'll show you upstairs."

Meekly he let her lead him up the stairs to a small but comfortable
room which had been readied for him, with one of Sir Edward's night
shirts laid on the bed.

"Good night, Horatio. The maid will bring you hot water in the
morning and then we usually breakfast about eight, just as you
remember."

"Thank you, Mavis. Mavis, I'm sorry. Truly, I am."

She nodded and then quietly smiling, added, "I'm not." as she closed
the door behind her.

He sat on the edge of the bed as she left. He had barely recognized
her when he had woken. Stupidly, he had expected that she would still
be the young girl, the child who he had come to regard as his little
sister. He thought that she would still stop at his ribcage. That her
hair would still be down and her skirts would still be up.

Instead he was amazed to find that she had changed into a lovely
self-possessed young woman, confident and intelligent. His reaction
at seeing her through new eyes disconcerted him. His feelings hadn't
been brotherly during their brief embrace and he suspected that she
had felt the same. This could easily become awkward and Horatio
wasn't sure what to do about what could easily become a new
complication in his life.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The next morning came much too early as far as Horatio was concerned.
He dreaded the idea of having to face even these close friends over a
table after his inexcusable behavior the night before. Well, there
was nothing for it. He had washed and shaved, dressed and was ready
to go down. As he descended the stairs he could hear Mavis speaking.

"Mother, did you see him last night at all? He's even more wonderful
than he was the last time we saw him. And his new uniform fits him so
beautifully! He was quite the most handsome man there, fatherother
than you, of course. Of course he's too thin, but we can try to feed
him some, can't we?"

"Mavis, he's too old for you and don't forget that, if you please.
Sophie, talk to her. I won't have her entertaining any thoughts of
marriage before she's at least eighteen and I'm quite firm on that
point."

"Mother! I'll be an old maid! And no one has asked me yet, anyway."

"Good. See that they don't."

"Edward, really, will you two please stop? You're a worse tease than
she is. Leave her alone. No one is getting married any time soon, and
you both know that. Good morning, Horatio. Did you sleep well?"

"Yes, very well, thank you for asking, Lady Sophie. Please, I must
apologize for my behavior last evening. I'm so dreadfully sorry"

"There's nothing for you to apologize for, Horatio. You were
obviously exhausted and took yourself off to a quiet corner. That was
quite the right thing to do under the circumstances. Please sit here,
you must be famished." She indicated a chair across from where Mavis
was eating her meal.

"Thank you. And I must thank you for your kindness in allowing me to
stay the night. I truly am most grateful. I fear that I may not have
made it all the way back to my ship last night."

Sir Edward was watching him during this speech. "Have it been a
difficult voyage? Forgive my saying so, Horatio, but you seem quite
worn out."

Horatio caught the appraising look that the Commodore had him fixed
with. The older man knew him too well for him to try to hide anything
like this from him.

"If you don't mind, sir, I'd be prefer to discuss it with you after
breakfast, if that's all right with you."

 

Pellew nodded as Horatio began to work on the ham and eggs that had
been placed in front of him.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

An hour later he and his host were sitting in Sir Edward's study
behind closed doors.

"Horatio, I need to know what you think of the situation. You've been
with the man for over a year now, you must have formed some opinions."

"Yes, of course, but. SirI'm really not comfortable discussing my
Captain when he's not here. Forgive me, but I'm sure that you
understand"

Pellew fixed his dark eyes on the younger man. They knew each other
too well for any dishonesty to exist between them. "I must know your
true thoughts on this. The man is responsible for a 74, a ship of the
line and the seven hundred men aboard her, including yourself. The
Admiralty obviously can't have them unnecesrilily endangered. Do you
believe him competent or not?"

Hornblower hesitated, feeling awkward. "Am I speaking to my superior
officer Commodore Pellew or to my friend Sir Edward?"

"Whichever one will receive the honest answer."

After a pause to consider his words, he finally spoke. "He is often
beyond reason, fearful that his own officers conspire against him and
then he will seem to right himself and be as sane as you or I."

"Do you fear Renown to be in danger?"

"I believe thatit may pass that she is so, yes."

Pellew looked out the window to the gray garden. The day was overcast
and the deadfall of winter looked depressing. "Have you proof,
witnesses?"

"Only the other officers, and he's had Hannon transferred ashore."

Turning back to Horatio he asked, "What of the others? Will they
speak truthfully about him? What of the Surgeon? Is he qualified to
make an assessment?"

"The First is a timid man who will say nothing. The Captain has
already accused me of blatant ambition, so my testimony will be
suspect. Archieexcuse me, Lieutenant Kennedy has a history ofhe has
a troubled history. The doctor has been with Sawyer for years. He's
loyal to the man."

Pellew exhaled in exasperation. "There's nothing for it then. Unless
he's raving at the Admiral's dinner, he'll retain his command, and
Devil take the hindmost."

Reluctantly, Hornblower agreed. "I fear that you're right."

In the depressed silence that followed Sir Edward broke in with, "How
long is your leave?"

Surprised at the unexpected question, Horatio answered, "A fortnight
more from today."

"Have you plans?"

"Just to stay on board, I thought that I might perhaps take a room to
get away and have a change of scene."

"No need for that. Stay here. No, don't object, really. I'd enjoy the
chance to catch us up and have some good hands of whist and you know
that Sophie loves to have you here. Besides, Mavis always looks
forward to your company. It will do her good have someone to talk to
who's her own age."

"But I'm at least seven or eight years older than she is and"

"If you're here, they'll leave me alone. I loath being fussed over. I
order you to be my houseguest, Mr. Hornblower. It's the least that
you can do."

Horatio smiled at his old friend. "Well, in that case, no sacrifice
is too great, please allow me to be of assistance."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Later that morning Sophie found Edward alone in his study. "So, did
you convince him to stay?"

"Yes, I made it an order."

"Good."

"Sophie, for the love of God, tell Mavis to leave the poor man alone.
He has quite enough on his mind. He doesn't need her at him day and
night."

"Edward, that's exactly what he needs."

She turned and left the room with a satisfied smile on her face.

Edward wondered if Horatio had any idea what he was in for.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Later that day, after an informal luncheon, Horatio wandered back
into the conservatory with a copy of the Odyssey, planning on
spending a few quiet hours alone before heading back to Renown to
gather some clothing and personal things for his stay with the
Pellew's. He had just settled down when he heard light footsteps
behind him.

"Am I interrupting?"

"No, of course, not, Mavis."

She sat in the chair next to his. " I haven't told you how I looked
forward to your letters. I've missed you."

"I've missed you, too." This was out of his mouth before he knew what
he'd said. He blushed and looked down at the pages of his book, but
not before he caught the pleased smile on her face. "I am sorry about
last evening. I was far out of line."

She looked at him calmly. "No you weren't, Horatio. I wanted you to
hug me as much as you seemed to want to hold me. There's nothing to
apologize for."

"I really must.."

"Are you always this self conscious with young ladies, Horatio?"

He smiled at his own awkwardness. "I'm afraid that I am. I haven't
had much chance to hone my skills with any, you see."

"Father says that you're better at commanding loyalty and affection
from your men than almost anyone he's ever seen. Do you think that
women are so different than men are?"

In full blush now, Horatio stammered "I don'tI couldn't really
well, I suppose not."

Mavis laughed at his discomfort. "Oh, Horatio, I'm sorry that I tease
you so. You should just tell me to mind my own business when I do
that to you."

He returned her smile. "Did you mean it when you said that you missed
me, Horatio?"

"Yes, I meant it."

"You know, you're so much like father. You really are, you know. All
straight laced and proper and stern on the outside, but really quite
nice when someone is able to get through all that baggage you thrown
up in front of yourselves. Mother says the same thing. She thinks
that it's as though you two could have been father and son."

"Sir Edward is very little like my real father."

"How not? You know, I bet that I can tell you about him and I've
never even met the man."

"Do you, indeed? I'd like to hear what your thoughts of him."

She looked at him for a moment and thought before she spoke, after a
minute she started,

"All right. He's tall and thin, as you are. He's serious and almost
never laughs. He lives alone and probably has few friends, but the
ones he has he's kept for years. He works hard aswhat is it? Oh yes,
as a doctor. He cares tremendously about his patients and I'd wager
that you haven't had a real conversation with him in quite a long
time. In fact I'd wager that you might not even like him all that
much."

He looked at her sharply. "Why do you say that?"

"Because in the five years that I've known you, you've only ever
mentioned him once, to tell me that he'd sent you away after your
mother died. You obviously look much more to my stepfather as a
mentor or teacher than you do your own father."

Trying to cover his discomfort he murmured, "You seem to have given
all this quite a lot of thought."

"Yes, some."

"Why on earth?"

"Because we're friends, Horatio, and I worry about you."

Just then they heard Lady Sophie calling Mavis telling her to hurry
or they would be late. "I'm sorry, I told mother that I'd help her
choose fabric for the new drapes this afternoon. She's trying to
teach me how to run a house. We won't be all that long. Can we give
you a ride to the docks to get your things?"

"No, thank you. Sir Edward has already offered when he goes to see
the Port Admiral in a bit."

She rose to leave then quickly leaned in and lightly kissed his
forehead. "I'm glad that you're here." Horatio smiled slightly as she
left the room. So was he

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++.

"I've spoken to the Admiral. We were right, Sawyer will retain his
command until there is reason to remove him."

Horatio looked out the window at the dreary winter cityscape. "Well,
that's not really a surprise, is it?"

"No, it's not. How dangerous do you fear this next voyage will be for
all of you?"

Not wanting to say more, Horatio exhaled and spread his hands in a
gesture of resignation and uncertainty, shaking his head.

Sir Edward understood. It would be dangerous to every man jack
aboard. Not wanting to dwell on the very real possibility of losing
the man next to him, he decided to change the subject.

"You know that Mavis has set her cap for you, don't you?"

Hornblower laughed. "I'd suspected as much, but she's still a child
yet. She'll find someone closer her age when the time is right." He
hoped that his host knew nothing about the closeness of their
encounters; in fact, Horatio was hoping that she would be home when
they got there.

Sir Edward smiled to himself. Good Lord, the boy truly had no idea
that his fate was likely sealed.

"Forgive me, sir, but have you and Lady Sophie any plans for the next
fortnight or so? I wouldn't want to in any way intrude or be
underfoot if you had."

"No, none at all. Just a few meetings at the Port Admiral's and the
usual round. When I get the chance to put my feet up on dry land I
prefer to keep things quiet. I hope that we don't bore you, Horatio."

"Little chance of that, sir."

Poor boy, He didn't know the half of it!

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The next few days passed fairly quietly for all concerned. Sir Edward
and Lady Sophie made the required round of social calls and had the
people over whom they were expected to entertain. Mavis and Horatio
did their part, attending the dinners and the teas; being as witty as
and charming they knew how. As the time went by, Horatio and Mavis
found that they were often in each other's company, exchanging looks
when a guest went on overlong or became pretentious. They rescued
each other from the bores and the fools, often one and the same and
would then escape back to the conservatory, to the hidden corner they
had come to think of as a refuge. Even when it wasn't needed as a
hiding place, they could often be found there, reading, playing an
evenly matched game of chess or simply talking.

Horatio had begun thinking about Mavis differently since the night of
the party. He had always thought of her as the baby sister he didn't
have. They had exchanged letters for years, since they had met in
fact. She had shyly asked him if she might send write to him. Not
wanting to hurt her feelings, he had agreed. Soon he found that he
looked forward to her letters. They always brightened his days and he
had taken to writing her in return. He would tell her about his
travels and about the adventures he'd had, the people he had met. He
liked having someone to tell his thoughts to. When he had returned
from prison in Spain, he had found a pile of over fifty letters from
her. Hearing that he was captured, she had written him daily, a
constant stream of encouragement and advice and hope.

She had sent him Christmas presents and, asking Sir Edward to check
his records, had learned his birthday. For years she had sent the
Captain birthday presents for him, asking that they be held until the
day. She had become a large part of his life and he was startled to
realize just how much he had come to depend on her for reassurance
and a friendly word. Not a dispatch package came in without at least
one letter from her. He looked forward to them and always broke those
seals first. Whenever he was in Portsmouth, she begged that he not
forget to see her and stay with the Pellew's. He was always made to
feel a part of the family. Having grown up with little family
contact, it was such a joy to have their friendship.

Spending time with her now, he saw how she had grown into a charming
and intelligent young woman. She had become spirited and confident
with a slender waist and long neck, hazel eyes and chestnut hair. She
would gleefully best him in chess and then equally happily lose to
him in a hand of cribbage.

One night, as he lay in the guestroom bed, Horatio realized with a
start that he had forgotten to tell Mavis something earlier that day.
Not anything of importance, just an addition to the conversation they
had earlier. He suddenly felt that it was the most vital thing in the
world that he tell her, it simply couldn't wait for he might forget
by morning.

Quickly, he rose and donned his trousers and shirt. Barefoot, he
silently made his way down the darkened hallway to her door. There
was a sliver of light underneath. Knocking lightly, she answered
almost immediately. Holding the door ajar and looking up at him she
asked,

"Yes?"

"Did I wake you?"

"I was reading."

"I forgot to tell you something."

She smiled. "What did you forget to tell me?"

"You asked me earlier and I didn't get a chance to answer you. I did
have a pet as a child. She was mongrel bitch. Her name was Susie."

Mavis laughed. He thought that it sounded like bells. Without a
thought as to what he was doing, he took her fingers in his, kissed
them and then gently kept her hand in his. He leaned against the door
jam. "Would you walk with me?"

"It's snowing. And it's one in the morning."

"We won't go far."

Nodding, smiling, she closed the bedroom door behind her. Wearing her
nightgown and a shawl over her shoulders, they made their way down
the stairs, still hand in hand. Both of them barefoot, they ended up
in the familiar corner of the conservatory.

Looking out the windows, in the moonlight, they could see the great
ships of His Majesty's Navy at rest in the harbor below. It was so
still that it could have been a painting; the only things moving were
the drifting snowflakes beyond the windows. Their arms went around
each other and she rested her head against his chest, listening to
his heart. They had stayed like this for several minutes, gently
caressing each others back when Horatio tipped her face up to his and
kissed her.

The kiss ended, only to be replaced with another and more after that.
Horatio hadn't been with many women, certainly none who he cared
deeply about. His experience with the opposite sex could only be
termed limited, to be generous. As a sailor he'd had someencounters
in foreign ports, but he had never had his emotions touched as they
were now. He had thought of Mavis for years as a child, a young girl
who flattered his vanity and was grateful to feel wanted by someone.
He was unsure of how to respond to the young woman in his arms. Of
course he wanted her. Hell, he had been at sea and under stress for
months, but she was someone he had come to think of as a friend.
Somehow he had never put women in that category in his mind. Women
were delicate mysterious creatures to Horatio; he had never really
given them all that much thought, believing that a gentleman was
above such things. When he did have cause to think on them, he was
usually at a loss. To now put Mavis in the same category as those
strange creatures was disconcerting. There had been Kitty, of
course, but that was different than this. She hadn't, well, she
hadn't really excited him.

And Mavisshe had fallen in love with Horatio when she was eleven
years old. He had, at first merely been a handsome, exotic stranger,
one who was kind to her, wrote her letters and answered her endless
questions with equally endless patience. He had been more a fantasy
figure than a flesh and blood man. Now that she was older, she
recognized some of the qualities her father saw in him; his courage,
his intelligence, his integrity and his kindness. And his arms felt
good as they held her and his chest was warm, his mouth was gentle
and arousing. He wouldn't harm her and he wouldn't do more than
either of them was prepared for. She had known him for so long, and
she trusted him completely.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Edward, what is it. Is something wrong? Can you not sleep?"

He had gotten out of their bed and was pulling on his dressing gown,
preparing to leave the room.

"I heard Mavis and Horatio out in the hallway and they seem to have
headed downstairs."

"I'm sure that they're fine."

He walked over to look out the bedroom windows. Movement below in the
Conservatory caught he attention. Looking closely through the windows
he could make out the forms below, visible through the glass roof.

"Sophie, they're in the Conservatoryand they're kissing, for God's
sake."

"Well, of course they are, come back to bed. They'll be fine."

He looked at her with some surprise. "Are you telling me that you
don't mind that your daughter is down there, after midnight, with an
older man, in her nightclothes and with no chaperone? Sophie! They
could end up" He actually was starting to sputter.

"She is with Horatio, and you know he'll do nothing to harm her.
Leave them alone. They're just getting to know each other. It's
nothing more than we did, you know."

"You were not sixteen years old, for God's sake."

"Well, not with you. Come back to bed." She pulled the covers back
and patted the mattress beside her. He looked at her, as if trying to
decide whether to continue the discussion or not. Then, making up his
mind, he finally joined her.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Horatio's mouth was on her jaw now, moving down to her throat and her
hands were holding him there, fingers tangled in his long hair and
moving around his muscular shoulders. His hands were stroking up and
down her back, moving around to her sides, her ribs and brushing the
sides of her breasts. She noticed that both of them were breathing as
though they had just run a race and that he was pulling his body back
from hers, twisting his hips so that they would no longer have
contact with hers. She laughed to herself at his tactfulness, his
reason was apparent.

He pulled back slightly, looking at her. "We should go back upstairs."

"I don't want to."

He removed his arms from around her, taking her hand and leading her
out of the glass room and back up the stairs to their own respective
rooms. "Neither do I."

He saw her to her door, opening it and handing her inside. She
stopped at the threshold, putting her hands on either side of his
neck and pulling him down for several more long kisses.
.
"You won't come in, will you?"

"You know that I won't. Not here, not with your parents just down the
hall. Mavis, I'm a guest here. I've abused that enough for one night,
don't you think?"

With a small smile, she said, "There was no abuse involved, Horatio"

Mirroring her smile, he caressed he cheek then pushed her inside and
closed the door behind her before returning to his own room and a
sleepless rest of the night.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The next morning both Mavis and Horatio seemed both groggy and a
trifle sheepish at breakfast. Neither had much to say for themselves
and the meal was, to say the least, a quiet one. Finally, as everyone
was finishing eating, Edward said, without taking his eyes from cup
of coffee in front of him, "Would you mind joining me in my study
after you've finished, Horatio/"

Looking up, Horatio answered the only thing that he really could. "Of
course, sir."

His eyes then turned across the table to Mavis who gave him a half
smile of encouragement. Sophie saw the look they had exchanged and
glanced at her husband. He had also seen.

He rose and, with a look at Horatio, made his way across the hall to
the study. The younger man joined him as he closed the door.

"Please sit down, Horatio. I'm not calling you on the carpet or
asking your intentions or some such nonsense."

Horatio smiled, partly at the remark and partly in some small amount
of relief.

He began briskly. "Now look here, I know that you and Mavis have some
feelings for each other, so does Sophie. The thing is that you're
older than she is, and you're away months and years at a time. You
can't be leading her on. I simply won't allow that and you know that
there isn't a future in this for either of you."

"Yes. I know that you're right, but I find that my feelings for her
are deeper than I'd first thought."

"Then you have intentions concerning her, do you?"

Hornblower looked out the window for a moment as he tried to phrase
his thoughts.

"Honorable ones, yes. I---think that I would like to ask your
permission to court her, sir."

"Well, it's about time!" They both turned at the voice coming from
the doorway.

The men both stood as she walked over to where they had been
talking. "Sophie, would you please. This is between Horatio and
myself."

"Edward, don't be so silly. Mavis is my daughter and Horatio is like
a son to me and to you too, so stop torturing the man and let him be.
Now, don't tease him, they were bound to end up together. Of course
he may court her."

Horatio spoke before Edward had a chance. "Lady Sophie, if you're
quite sure that you have no objections."

She looked at him calmly and steadily. "I know that you'll never do
anything to harm her, that's all that I ask."

"I never would, I swear." She crossed over to where he was standing
and reached up to kiss his cheek. She nodded at him as she said, "I
know that you wouldn't. Go on, now. She's waiting in the
conservatory."

He smiled down at her, kissing her cheek and quickly left to tell
Mavis.

Edward put his arm around her waist. "She's only sixteen. He's twenty
four."

"She knows her mind in this. She's been in love with him since she
was eleven."

"He'll be away most of the time. It won't be easy for either of them."

Sophie leaned into his embrace. "She sees that we make marriage work
even though we're often separated. She's strong. They'll be alright."

He held her closely. She had just given her daughtertheir daughter
to another man's keeping. She knew that it must happen, but, even
more than Edward, Mavis would always be her life.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

She was sitting in the large chair when he came upon her. He knelt
beside her, putting his arms around each her. She caressed his cheek
and held his neck.

"They said that it's alright, didn't they?"

He nodded, smiled and they kissed.

 

TO BE CONTINUED.