The Heart of Honour, part one
by Joan C.



"We therefore commit the body of James Roberts to the deep, to be turned
into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, when the sea
shall give up her dead ..."

Captain Sir Edward Pellew read the service for Burial at Sea in a voice as
rich and sonorous as that of the Almighty himself, but Horatio Hornblower
scarcely noticed. He had heard the words before; they were gorgeous and
solemn, but they could not disguise the reality of death. He braced
himself for the cold and final splash as the plank tilted, and the mortal
remains of Midshipman Roberts slid into the sea.

Dead at seventeen. The same age Horatio had been when he first set foot on
the Indefatigable eighteen months ago. The resemblance had ended there.
Roberts had come on board shortly after Christmas, after four years
service on the brig Gallant. He was to take the test for Lieutenant, and
his captain had requested that he serve a few months with Pellew to
prepare him for the strenuous exam. Captain Richardson had declared
Roberts was a lad with a future. Horatio had come into the Navy as a lad
with none. Perhaps if he had been less conscious of that comparison with
Roberts, they might have become better acquainted.

In truth, Horatio had not sought out Roberts' friendship. Aside from
tutoring him in mathematics and navigation, he had spent so little time in
his company, that he could scarcely claim any knowledge of the young
midshipman. The fact that Roberts had been on the Indy for less than two
months, did little to assuage the rough edges of his guilt. Perhaps in
time they would have formed some sort of bond ... as he had with Archie
Kennedy. Perhaps it was just as well that they had not; for Horatio still
flinched away from Kennedy's abandonment at the Papillon. He held himself
responsible for that loss, and was unwilling to endure another.

The cold February wind whipped Horatio's cloak about his shoulders, and he
shivered as he turned away from the rail. Roberts had died of pneumonia,
and a number of the crew were suffering from fevers and agues. Pellew was
dismissing the men quickly, so that those who were not on duty could go
below decks and take shelter from the elements that had contributed to
Robert's demise.

Pellew's face was grim as he stood before Horatio. "Mr. Hornblower, if you
would come to my cabin, please."

Horatio's stomach clenched. Dear God, what had he done, now? Misread a
signal? Made some error in calculation, neglected some duty? His mind
raced over the slate of tasks that made up the details of an Acting
Lieutenant's life. He could not envision any discrepancy, but that did not
mean that Pellew had not found one. "Aye, aye, sir." He followed the
Captain down to his quarters.

Once inside, Pellew slid his cloak from his shoulders with a sigh. "A sad
day, Mr. Hornblower."

"Yes, sir." He did not know how else to respond.

"How well did you know Mr. Roberts?"

Horatio felt a hot flush of guilt color his cheekbones. "Not very well,
sir. We were not often on duty together, but for his lessons." What a poor
excuse for negligence! "I am sorry."

Pellew's brow slid up. "Why? You did your duty, Mr. Hornblower."

"Yes, sir. But I did no more than that."

"You could not prevent his death, Mr. Hornblower. That was a purely
arbitrary circumstance."

Horatio had no answer for that. Guilt was guilt, and Pellew could not
assuage it. The windows of the Captain's cabin shivered as a fresh gale
struck the Indefatigable. It had been a hard winter. The Indefatigable had
spent it in the Channel, beating up and down the French coast chasing
vessels that had no more power to hurt her than angry wasps. It was a
cold, lonely assignment and Horatio was weary of it.

Pellew gazed out at the restless seas. "We shall be returning to
Portsmouth within the week."

"Sir?"

"Yes, Mr. Hornblower. We shall be refitted, and from thence, dispatched to
the Mediterranean. No doubt that climate will be far more salubrious than
this. And if the Dons continue to romance the French, we may even find
ourselves somewhat more actively entertained than we are at the present."

"That is good news, sir."

"Indeed, it is. However, when we get to Portsmouth, I have a duty for you
that you might not thank me for." Pellew turned to him with a wry smile.
"I understand that Mr. Roberts has a sister living in Portsmouth. His
personal effects should be returned to her. And that is your
responsibility."

"Yes, sir." Horatio swallowed. Was this some sort of penance devised by
Captain Pellew for his failure to form a friendship with Roberts? It was
an absurd thought, but not one that Horatio dismissed. He felt his own
failure too acutely; he would not forgive himself without that expiation.
He touched the brim of his hat, not realizing that Pellew could read the
misery and guilt etched on his face. "I will gather his effects together.
Good day, sir."

"Mr. Hornblower, if there are any letters with his things, give them to
me. I will send them on with my condolence letter to the family."
Horatio nodded and with a final salute, left. Pellew stood gazing
thoughtfully after him. Hornblower was young, true. But he would learn
that a Captain, knowing that he had to command men to their deaths, needed
to maintain a certain reserve; for if one did not, the pain of loss would
be insuperable. Hornblower blamed himself for being cold. But it was not
cold or unfeeling to guard one's heart; it was merely human. Pellew shook
his head and sat down at his desk to record the events of the day in the
Ships' Log. The quill scratched roughly across the paper as he wrote:

"We buried at sea this day, Midshipman James Roberts, who expired of an
inflammation of the lungs, despite Dr. Hepplewhite's efforts to heal him."
Yet even Pellew, with his heart set against grief, still ached for that
young life unfulfilled.

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

Cleveland had already pulled Roberts' sea chest from the Midshipmen's
berth. Horatio looked down at the worn wood, engraved with Roberts' name.
It did not look much different than his own. He knelt beside it with a
sigh. "Is this everything, Cleveland?"

"Yes, sir. I put it all in there. You say he had a sister?"

"In Portsmouth."

"And you got the dirty job of telling her about Roberts' death?"

Horatio shot Cleveland an exasperated look. "So it seems."

"Bad luck."

"It is my duty." Horatio thought he sounded like a damned prig. Chiding
himself for his lack of civility, he bent and grabbed hold of one of the
brass handles. "Help me get this to my quarters."

"Aye, aye, sir." Cleveland said formally, rebuffed by Hornblower's tone.
Together, they heaved the chest up, and carried it to the cabin allotted
to Horatio since his promotion. Set on the floor, it looked like a small
coffin.

"Thank you, Cleveland."

"Not at all, sir." The portly Midshipman turned to leave.

Horatio lifted a hand awkwardly. "Wait." A great deal of his attitude
towards Cleveland was due to the dark days on the Justinian when Cleveland
had chosen to follow Jack Simpson, rather than become one of his victims.
Cleveland had known, surely, that Simpson was brutalizing Kennedy, and had
done nothing. Once, and only once, had he objected to Simpson's violent
assault on Horatio. But those days were over; and Cleveland could not be
held accountable for Jack Simpson's sins.

Horatio knew he had erected a wall between himself and his fellow
Midshipmen. He often wondered if Cleveland resented his promotion. He was
an upstart -- a green boy who by dint of mathematical skill and good luck,
had taken an enormous leap from the Midshipmen's Mess, to the Officers'
Wardroom without a formal exam. That test was still forthcoming.
Meanwhile, he was earning valuable seniority. Cleveland, with years more
service should have earned that honour well before Horatio.

"Yes, sir?"

"I never asked to be promoted. It just ... happened."

Cleveland gave him a hard stare. "You don't see it, do you?"

"See what?"

"You're one of them."

"Of whom? You're not talking sense, man."

Cleveland sighed. "You think I resent you, sir? Well, I don't. You can't
help being what you are, anymore than I can help being the son of a London
draper. You'll be a captain before I get to Lieutenant, and that's the way
of it, sir."

Hornblower would have laughed. He was the son of a country doctor. Even
Captain Keene had told him he would have done better to have a lord as a
father, if he wanted to make a career in the Navy. "I don't understand
what birth has to do with it."

"It's not birth, Mr. Hornblower. But it is something you were born with,
and I was not. Look in the mirror. Goodnight, sir." He saluted and left
Horatio bemused and uncertain as to what he meant.

Still, unavoidably, Horatio could not help glancing in the wavy mirror
tacked to the wall of his cabin. He could not see what that reflection had
to do with anything. He was just a dark-eyed, thin young man; assailed
with doubts and self-imposed standards that were impossible to meet. He
shrugged aside the impression, and tugged the sea chest towards his bunk.

He did not believe he had any right to go through the contents; but he
felt a duty to do so. If the chest was to be returned to a beloved,
grief-stricken sister, then it might be wise to remove any items that
would cause further pain. And if there were letters, they would be have to
be given to Captain Pellew.

Feeling as if he were trespassing, Horatio raised the cover. Layers of
clothing, most of it finer than anything Horatio had in his sea chest. The
Roberts' family seemed to be of some means. The case for a cocked hat.
Roberts had favored the informal round hat instead. A sword, completely
virgin, Horatio was willing to bet. It did not seem that the Gallant had
ever been involved in combat. The routine of running out guns had
fascinated the Midshipman. Beneath the clothing were items of a more
personal nature that Horatio was loathe to disturb. But he examined the
spines of several books with interest. Norie's Seamanship was one;
Principles of Navigation another, both which Horatio had in his own sea
chest. A book of poetry by Donne, that reminded him suddenly of Archie
Kennedy, who had also loved poetry. Horatio feared that poetry, like
music, was lost to him.

At the bottom of the chest was a leather folio tied with black ribbon.
Thinking that it might be a writing kit, Horatio tugged at the ribbons and
the folio fell open. No letters, but what was in the folio was
astonishing.

Charcoal sketches of a life at sea. Exquisitely done, even to Horatio's
novice eye. There, a pennant fluttering in the wind, so real that Horatio
imagined the brush of the air against his cheek; a man in a striped jersey
ascending the riggings, a brig, sails bellied with wind as spray foamed
and danced forward her bow. Roberts, an artist? Horatio could not recall
seeing him with paper and charcoal in hand. He could not imagine him in
the Midshipmen's berth, sketching in that dim light while the others
looked on.

He shuffled through a few more pages, each one revealing more intimate
details, beautiful in their simplicity, and so true to life ... and then
the last page. Horatio's hands stilled. Not a nautical scene, this. A
portrait of a young woman. A lovely girl with windswept hair and dark
eyes. Her features were delicate, but determined, and she seemed to be
gazing out to sea, as if searching for something, or someone. Horatio
rocked back on his heels. The portrait was compelling. Who was she? And
what was she to Roberts? Horatio studied the paper, looking for clues.
There, in the lower right-hand corner was a signature, G. Roberts. Not J.
Roberts. Horatio looked through the other drawings. All marked G. Roberts.
So, the pictures had been drawn for the Midshipman. They were uncanny in
their accuracy and detail. Perhaps G. Roberts was also a Naval man. A
brother, or cousin. Horatio wondered if Pellew knew of him.

The bell overhead tolled, calling the end of the first dogwatch. Horatio
reluctantly slid the drawings back into the portfolio and tied the
ribbons. He put them back into the sea chest, and closed the lid. So that
was all there was to a man? Clothes, books, papers. Horatio thought of his
own rather empty sea chest. The only truly personal item it contained was
the portrait of his mother. At least Roberts had someone who cared enough
to set to paper the indelible images of his life at sea, and perhaps too,
a portrait of the woman he loved.

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

The next day, the Indefatigable ran afoul of a French Frigate. The
engagement took place on heavy seas, in a shifting fog that made it seem
as if they were fighting a ghost. Horatio had been in several battles, but
none quite like this. Captain Pellew and the Frenchman used their ships
like weapons in a duel, engaging in a nautical game of feint and parry; of
glancing blows and sudden sharp burst of firepower.

Horatio's division -- Matthews, Styles, Oldroyd, Finch, and Rhett ran out
their guns under his increasingly expert eye, and Pellew's great voice
rang out his commands even over the crashing of the cannon. The French
Captain knew his ship as well as Pellew did the Indefatigable, and so they
matched tack for tack, heeling to the wind, and firing. It was
exhilarating, and terrifying. But as the ships engaged ever closer, both
sustained damage and heavy casualties. Rhett was killed by a jagged
splinter from the shattered mizzen mast that caught him true in the gut;
One of the spars struck Styles as it fell, and the seaman went down in a
heap. Horatio's heart quailed at that, for Styles seemed invulnerable. He
screamed out an order to Matthews to get Styles to the surgeon, and left
the quarter-deck to stand by the remainder of his division.

For nearly an hour, the two ships pounded at each other until the seas
became too wild to sustain the engagement. The Frenchman turned and ran
for the safety of the coast. Pellew was hot to pursue, but realized that
it would be folly in those conditions to push his ship and his men to
disaster. With his mood as foul as the weather, he surveyed the damage to
the Indy. The mainmast was untouched, but the Mizzen had been destroyed.
Rigging lay in tangled knots on the decks, and he was fairly certain that
at least two of his cannon had been disabled by a hit to the gun decks.
Not to mention the human carnage strewn about the decks. Damn! He had been
envisioning a short stay in Portsmouth; now it could fairly stretch into
weeks.

He watched sourly as Hornblower hauled himself back to the quarter-deck.
He had been grazed by some debris, and was bleeding from a cut on his
cheek. His uniform was black with powder smoke and flecked with blood.
Without the sustaining adrenaline of battle, he was once more victim to
seasickness, and the greenish tinge of nausea was visible beneath the
grime on his face.

"Your report, Mr. Hornblower," he ordered sharply.

"Sir, one man of my division is dead, one in Sickbay -- I cannot say how
badly wounded he is. There has been considerable damage to the gundeck aft
-- at least two and possibly three cannon have been lost. Six men in those
crews are dead, and several others severely wounded. Midshipman Cleveland
is also wounded, though not seriously. " Horatio's voice began fading ...
I beg your pardon, sir -- " He broke off and hung over the rail,
retching. Pellew winced.

"Mr. Hornblower, thank you. You are dismissed. Please get some rest. I
will have someone else take over your station."

Horatio was desperately ashamed of his nausea. He shook his head. "I am
all right, sir. It was a momentary weakness."

Pellew frowned at him. The boy was the color of a grimy sheet. "I gave you
an order, Lieutenant. Do me the courtesy of obeying it."

If possible, Hornblower went even paler. He raised a shaking hand to his
hat. "Aye, aye, sir."

Pellew nodded sharply. "However, you will report for duty as soon as you
are fit, sir.

Horatio nodded. He left the quarter-deck and slowly made his way through
the detritus of battle to the sickbay. He should have gone to his
quarters, but he would not be able to rest until he discovered Styles'
condition.

The odors of blood, sickness, and burning flesh nearly sent him reeling
from the sickbay, but he swallowed his nausea and forced his way inside.
Dr. Hepplewhite was standing over a man's body, a rag dripping blood held
in his hands.

"Sir, I -- "

"What the bloody hell do you want?" Hepplewhite snapped. "Unless you're
bleeding to death, get out!"

"I merely wished to inquire about the condition of one of my men. Seaman
Styles."

"D'you expect me to know every man on this ship?"

"Styles is tall, dark-haired, pock-marked face --"

"Ask Gillespie." Hepplewhite gestured with the rag to a dim recess. "Over
there. Now get out of my way."

Horatio staggered away, trying to avoid looking at the shattered bodies
cramming the floor. Gillespie was standing over a seaman with a broken
leg. The man was keening in pain, a harsh agonizing wail that cut to
Horatio's heart. He approached the surgeons' mate. "I am looking for a man
from my division -- Seaman Styles. Do you know him?"

"Aye, sir. I sent him back with his mates to his hammock. Man must have a
skull like a rock."

Horatio drew a breath of relief. "Then he is all right?"

"Couldn't say, sir. He was stone-cold unconscious. But he can be that way
as easily in his hammock than here.

Horatio nodded. "Thank you, Gillespie."

Gillespie blinked at the courtesy from this obviously exhausted young man.
"He'll be all right, sir," he reassured him before turning back to his
patient.

Horatio made his way to the seamen's quarters. They were cramped and
odorous, but virtually deserted. Nearly every able-bodied man was helping
to repair the damage from the skirmish. Horatio made his way through the
slung hammocks. Matthews was standing by Styles' hammock, looking worried.

"How is he, Matthews?" Horatio asked softly.

Matthews turned in surprise. "Mr. Hornblower, sir. You shouldn't be down
here."

Horatio shook his head. "Well?"

Matthews frowned in concern. "He hasn't waked up, sir. But he took an
awful hit."

Horatio came closer. Aside from the matted hair where blood had clotted,
and the dark bruise beginning to show on his face, Styles looked merely
asleep. Horatio listened to his breathing. It was regular and strong. "I
believe he will recover, Matthews. You had better get back on deck. We
need every hand. Captain Pellew is anxious to get under weigh as quickly
as possible."

"Aye, aye, sir." Matthews knuckled his forehead. "Sir, if you don't mind
my sayin' -- you look a mite sharpish."

Horatio sighed. "I am fine." He wasn't really, but that need not concern
Matthews. He made his way to his cabin and sat on his cot, staring down at
Roberts' sea chest. He had come close to death that day, had felt its icy
breath, and had somehow survived. Why should he face cannon fire and live,
and Roberts fall to an illness that should have caused nothing more than a
cough? Mere chance, Horatio thought. As arbitrary as a hand of cards. He
lay back on his cot. The world around him spun lazily, and he closed his
eyes against the vertigo. He would rest, just for a few minutes, until
things settled a bit ...

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

He dreamed of the girl in the portrait. Most of his dreams were nothing
but confused images quickly forgotten in the light of day; but he knew he
had imagined her, boldly looking out to sea. The impression of her faded
slowly as he came awake. He thought he had been sleeping for a while, but
he heard the watch bell toll overhead, and realized that he had dozed for
scarcely an hour.

He sat up, relieved to discover that his seasickness had subsided. His
head ached, and his ears still rang from the exposure to the artillery at
close range, but he would not disgrace himself in front of Pellew. He
changed his shirt and tried to brush the worst of the soot from his
jacket. The cut on his cheek had closed, and he cleaned the blood from his
face and shaved carefully, then feeling somewhat restored, he returned to
the quarter-deck.

In that short span of time, most of the rigging had been cleared, the
shattered spars cut loose and pitched overboard, and the wash deck pump
was rigged to clean the decks of debris and blood. The Indefatigable was
ready to return home. Captain Pellew and Sailing Master Bowles were in
deep discussion over the best way to deal with the damaged mizzen mast,
while Lieutenant Bracegirdle, his head wound about with a stained bandage
was overseeing the repairs.

Horatio stood patiently as Pellew and Bowles finished their conversation,
and then reported for duty. Pellew's dark eyes narrowed. "Feeling better,
Mr. Hornblower?"

"Yes, sir. I am sorry, sir."

The boy was apologizing for being ill? Pellew would have laughed, but knew
that Hornblower reckoned his every weakness, even the most human, a flaw.
Pellew nodded sharply. "Very well, then. We have work to do, Mr.
Hornblower. How is the man from your division -- Styles, was it?"

Horatio was impressed. Hepplewhite, who had more reason to know the men he
cared for, could not be bothered with their names, while Pellew who was as
far above them as God, not only remembered their names, but inquired about
their welfare. "He is still unconscious, sir. but I believe he will make a
full recovery."

And so shall the Indefatigable, Pellew thought to himself. "Carry on, Mr.
Hornblower. Mr. Bowles, shall we see what sort of sail we can set to get
us safely home before the Frogs decide to finish what they've begun?"

From: Joan Curtin <jcurtin_29@yahoo.com>

Same Disclaimers as Part 1

*******************************
They returned safely to Portsmouth, though it was not an easy voyage. The
wind was against them, and the seas running heavy the entire time; a
journey that should have taken not more than three days, stretched out to
a week. Pellew did not dare challenge the jurymast replacing the mizzen,
for to risk further damage could be fatal with the French out prowling the
Channel.

When the gray roofs of Portsmouth hove into view, Captain Pellew nearly
wept. When the anchor dropped into the harbor waters, he felt as if it
carried the weight of his responsibilities with it. A man who detested
idleness normally, he was grateful for a chance to replenish his supplies,
to give his men time to recover from illness and wounds, and to have the
Indefatigable put in fighting trim before setting sail for Gibraltar. He
drew a deep breath and turned to Hornblower, standing at his side.

"A welcome sight, is it not?"

Horatio, who had not been so continually cold, wet, and seasick in his
life, agreed that it was. He wondered if he sounded as fervently thankful
as he felt. "How long shall we be here, sir?"

"Oh, at least two weeks, providing I can cajole the supplies from the
pinch-penny staff at the dockyards. Time enough for you to deliver
Roberts' possessions to his sister."

Horatio's heart sank. He had been staring at the sea chest for days,
feeling its presence like a millstone, and tempted every night to open it
and study the portrait that still haunted his dreams. Perhaps it would be
a relief to be rid of it, and its mocking reminder of his failure and his
weakness.

"How is Seaman Styles?" Pellew asked unexpectedly.

"Much better, sir. Dr. Hepplewhite says that he will be able to resume his
duties in a day or so."

Pellew nodded. "Good. We will need every hand if we are to make Gibraltar
in a timely fashion."

"Yes, sir. Sir, if I may take the chest to Roberts' sister today --"

"Yes. Best to end that sad affair. Report to me for the official letter of
condolence." Pellew had hated writing it, hated the stiff language of
propriety. But what more could he do? He believed young Roberts had showed
promise, but was hardly the shining star that his former Captain had
averred. He scarcely had time to converse with the lad before he fell ill.
Should he be dogged with guilt like Hornblower? Yet with Hornblower, it
had taken only days to recognize his worth ... He was so lost in thought
that he did not notice when Hornblower left the quarter-deck, and he was
alone, gazing out over the white-capped sea.

***************
With the letter of condolence tucked in his breast pocket, and Styles and
Oldroyd at his heels, bearing the sea chest, Horatio made his way through
the streets of Portsmouth. It was a raw day, misty and cool, with a breeze
blowing stiff from the Channel. He tucked his chin to his chest and hoped
the wind would not snatch his cocked hat from his head. A fine sight that
would be, a gawky youth chasing down the streets in pursuit of an errant
chapeau. It was bad enough to feel like the chief mourner leading a
funeral procession.

The direction he had been given led him along the Esplanade running
parallel to the harbor until at last he was walking down a narrow lane
leading to an isolated portion of strand, and the grey stone house set
nearly at the waters edge. It was a lonely looking place, hard and
unwelcoming, exposed to the elements and unforgiving in its aspect.
Horatio shivered with more than cold.

He turned back to Styles and Oldroyd. "This must be the house. It cannot
be anything else."

"There's no lights, sir." Oldroyd commented. "Don't seem that they're
home."

"Bloody place for a woman to live," Styles commented. His head was
beginning to ache again, and he wanted nothing more than to be back in the
Indy with a nice tankard of grog to warm his innards. Why he had
volunteered for this was beyond him ... that blow on the head had addled
his brains sure ënough. "D'ye want me to knock, sir?"

"No, thank you, Styles. I'll do it." He peered into the interior, and saw
only a muddled darkness. With a sigh he rapped with his knuckles. No
answer. Bloody hell, he thought. Now what? He couldn't very well leave the
chest abandoned on the doorstep.

"Sir?" Oldroyd piped up. "There's someone out on the beach, sir. Maybe
they know where Miss Roberts is."

Horatio's eyes narrowed against the mist beading on his lashes. Oldroyd
was right; there was someone down at the water's edge. "Wait here." He
made his way down a flight of tumbled stone steps and started walking
towards the figure on the beach. A young man, he thought as he drew
nearer. With his hair tied back in a queue that caught the wind, much like
his own. "Pardon me, boy -- do you know who lives in the house there?"

He thought the wind whipped away his words, so he came closer and cupped
his hands to his mouth. "I say, do you know --"

The face turned to his was instantly familiar, and instantly breathtaking.
It was the face in the portrait, the face haunting his dreams. Horatio
knew he was gaping like a fool, hastily tried to recover some of his
tattered composure. "I'm sorry, Miss ... " he stammered. It was hopeless.
She was gazing at him with tolerant amusement, as if he were very young,
and very clumsy; he found himself resentful, for she did not look much
older than his own scant years. He drew himself up to his full height. "Do
you know who lives in that house?" he asked, very much on his dignity.

"I do. I mean, I live there."

"You are Miss Roberts?"

"Yes. And you are?" she asked, clearly puzzled by his knowledge.

"Acting Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower of His Majesty's Frigate
Indefatigable."

"Oh," she said simply. "I suppose you had better come inside."

He followed her up the steps to the house where Oldroyd and Styles were
waiting with the sea chest. She looked at it in surprise. "What is it?"

Horatio's heart sank. He did not know why he had assumed she knew of her
brother's death. Clearly there had been no time for Pellew to write. "It
is your brother's sea chest. I am sorry, Miss Roberts, but he ... he is
dead."

Her eyes went wide, and she paled suddenly. Horatio moved to catch her arm
as she staggered against him. He was certain she would faint, but she did
not. After a moment, she moved away from his hold. "I see. Of course, you
must bring it inside." She fumbled in her pocket and withdrew a key.

Horatio reached out a long arm and swung the door open after she unlocked
it. "Styles, Oldroyd -- set the chest where Miss Roberts wishes."

"Aye, aye, sir." The two seamen carried it inside. The girl pointed to a
small room with a fireplace and a window overlooking the bay. "Put it in
there," she directed, and then seemed to wilt before Horatio's eyes.

She was shivering; he could feel her shoulders shake where they touched
against his. He thought of his first steps on the Justinian, when his
world had altered as severely in as short a time as hers. Shock -- like
the earth dropping from beneath your feet all in an instant. He rubbed his
cold fingers together and looked about him. "Oldroyd, start a fire there.
Come, miss. You'll catch a chill." She allowed him to lift her wet cloak
from her shoulders, and Horatio led her to the fireplace where the
kindling was just starting to catch. She held out her hands to the warmth,
and with that action, seemed to come back to the present. She looked
around her, like a sleeper awaking.

"Forgive me, Lieutenant. I -- I was not expecting this." She held out her
hand. "I am Gemma Roberts."

Horatio took that slim, strong hand in his. She was forthright, like the
young man he had mistaken her for. "Miss Roberts, I am sorry for bringing
the news to you like this, but there was no time for Captain Pellew to
send word ahead."

"When did it happen?"

Horatio swallowed. "Ten days ago."

"How?"

Horatio would have explained everything, but he remembered Styles and
Oldroyd lingering at a discreet distance. Styles was pale beneath his tan,
and it looked as though he were actually leaning on Oldroyd. "Pardon me,
Miss Roberts. But my men ... I should like to send them back to the
Indefatigable. Seaman Styles is only lately recovered from an injury -- "
He looked around him. "Is there no one here with you?"

She shook her head. "No."

It was unthinkable that a young, well-bred woman should live unaccompanied
by even a maid. Horatio was not so naive that he did not realize the
precarious nature of their situation. "Is there no one who would come to
be with you?"

As the implication of his concerns dawned on her, Gemma smiled sadly.
"Lieutenant, dismiss your men. Believe me, there is nothing your presence
can do to damage my reputation. If you haven't noticed, I am not
*convenable.* She gestured to her breeches-clad legs. "And even if I were,
there is no one nearby to care what I do, or who I see. It is one of the
advantages of living at the edge of the sea."

Horatio blushed to the roots of his hair. He had been so preoccupied with
his duty, that he had not noticed what she was wearing. He had thought her
a boy, but the shock of discovery had entirely overshadowed conscious
impressions. He hesitated, then nodded. "Very well, Miss Roberts. Styles,
Oldroyd, you may go back to the Indy. Tell Captain Pellew that I shall
return before my watch this evening." He rose and came closer to where
they stood. "And if either of you breathes a word about Miss Roberts -- "
He let his words sink in, and apparently they did.

Styles tugged at his forelock. "Don't worry, sir. Not a word. Right,
Oldroyd?" He dug an elbow into his companion's ribs, and Oldroyd nodded
brightly, encouraged by Styles' return to his old self. "That's right,
sir. Not a word."

"Very good, men. Thank you for your help." They left, and Horatio went
back to the fire where Gemma Roberts sat gazing into the flames. He
studied her in silence. She was very like the portrait; the same fine
features, the wayward curls tumbling to her shoulders, the delicate,
determined chin. But the charcoal sketch could not capture her coloring:
the autumn leaf hair, her eyes that were darker even than his, her pale
ivory complexion. She was beautiful, and like every other beautiful woman
he had met, she left him feeling awkward and uncouth.

He drew in a breath. "About your brother's death -- "

She turned to him. "He wasn't my brother, not really. He was my cousin, he
came to live with us seven years ago, just before my mother remarried."
She toyed with a loose thread at her cuff. "We were closer than most
natural siblings, I suspect. United in unhappiness."

That, Horatio understood. His had not been a happy life, either. "I am
sorry."

"No, there is no reason you should be." She sighed and looked at him
directly. "Tell me now, Lieutenant. How did Jamie die?"

"A lung fever. There was much sickness on board. Dr. Hepplewhite tried,
truly to save him." Horatio reached into his breast pocket and withdrew
Captain Pellew's letter. This is from Captain Pellew. If you would read
it?"

She took it from him and broke the wafer. She stared at it for a moment,
then handed it back to him. Her eyes were blurry with tears. "I cannot
make out his hand, Mr. Hornblower."

Horatio read: "My dear Miss Roberts, It is with deepest regret that I
inform you of the death of your brother, Midshipman James Roberts on 1st
February of this year. Mr. Roberts succumbed to an inflammation of the
lungs, despite all attempts to cure him. He was a good officer, and a good
man. I would have wished for more time to get to know him, but we were not
granted that indulgence by the Almighty, who called him home. I offer my
deepest sympathy for your loss. Yours, Captain Sir Edward Pellew."
Horatio cleared his throat and folded the letter. "That is all."

"Thank you, Lieutenant." A slow tear traced a glistening path down her
cheek. If Horatio had ever felt more helpless, he could not recall it.

"If there is anything I can do ..." he said uncertainly.

Gemma shook her head. "What could you do, Lieutenant?"

He did not know the answer. "You should not be alone, tonight. Are you
sure there is no one I can ask to come to you?"

"No, no one." Gemma wiped the tears from her face. "I shall be quite all
right. I have been alone for a long time now." She stood and held out her
hand. "Thank you for your trouble, Lieutenant Hornblower. You have been
very kind."

He flinched slightly at the word. How had he been kind? He had told her of
her brother's death, had laid his possessions at her feet as if to say,
that is all there is to his life. There was nothing of kindness in that.
He stood, retrieving his cocked hat from the table where he had laid it
down. "I must return to the Indefatigable, Miss Roberts. If you have any
questions ... or again, if you need anything, send a message to me
there."

She shook her head, and the firelight struck sparks in her hair. "That
will not be necessary."

Was he to be dismissed like that? Was he to leave without seeing her
again; to live with the memory of her until it faded like the charcoal
sketch? Desperately, he grasped at his failing courage before it slipped
entirely away. "May I call again tomorrow? To see how your are?"

She was touched by his solicitude, and slightly puzzled by his
determination. "Of course, Lieutenant. But it is not --"

Horatio suddenly smiled. "I know, it is not necessary. But I would very
much like to."

Gemma's breath caught in her throat. "Then come. If I am not in the house,
I shall be out on the beach." She held out her hand. "I shall watch for
you."

*I shall watch for you.* Horatio returned her clasp, his heart beating
lightly in his chest. "I will come," he said. He turned and walked quickly
from the room before his emotions betrayed him. Just before he stepped
outside, his eye fell on a painting hanging on the wall facing the door.
It was of a frigate, in full sail on a stormy sea. The sky was dark, the
sea angry and grey, but a shaft of light stabbed down from a rent in the
clouds, to light the ensign on the mast like a beacon. There, in the lower
right corner of the canvas were the initials, G. R. 1784. He would ask her
about the drawings tomorrow.

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

After Lieutenant Hornblower had left her, Gemma sat before the fire. As
the flames died down and the coals crumbled to ash, she began shivering.
James was dead ... the truth began to sink in slowly. She was alone. Oh,
her mother and stepfather were alive, but so little concerned with her
welfare that they might as well be dead, too. She and James had recognized
from the moment her mother had remarried, that they were only excess
baggage And as such they were treated. First sent off to tutors, then
schools; then the Navy for James, and for her, exile in Portsmouth.

She rose stiffly and stirred the fire back to life. She picked up paper
and a charcoal, and began sketching. She wanted to capture James as she
remembered him; but despite her talent, as the portrait took shape, she
found herself unable to call him clearly to mind. It was agonizing. In the
end, she crumpled up the paper and threw it down on the coals. The next
drawing grew quickly beneath her hands; and it was one that surprised her.
Images came to her like that sometimes, unformed and unrealized until they
took shape as she drew. This time, the face that emerged was strong and
angular, with dark, direct eyes and a severe young mouth. Hornblower.

Gemma began to crumple the drawing, angry at her insticts that had formed
so quick an impression of a stranger, while Jamie's image eluded her. She
paused, unable to destroy the sketch. She smoothed the paper out and
slipped it beneath several other pages. There might be something there
that she could salvage.

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

It was late, and cold. Horatio stood on the quarter-deck, taking his
watch. The Indy was anchored far enough from shore that he could see the
entire lay of Portsmouth harbor in a glance. His gaze travelled towards
the last few glimmers of light to the east, where he knew Gemma Roberts'
house stood. He did not imagine that he could pick it out from any of the
others, but he thought of her, and wished that she had allowed him to ask
someone to stay with her. A troubled frown creased his forehead.

"Mr. Hornblower?" Lieutenant Bracegirdle's approach startled him. The
First Lieutenant moved quietly for a man of his stout physique -- a trait
that had caused much consternation amongst the midshipmen under his
command. "Is there a problem?"

"No, sir. All is quiet."

Despite Horatio's reply, Bracegirdle was certain that something was
troubling the young man. "I thought perhaps you saw something on shore."

"No, sir." He drew a breath. "I took Midshipman Roberts' sea chest to his
sister, today. She lives out there." He made a sweep with his hand.
"Alone, in a house at the edge of the sea."

"Alone?"

Horatio nodded. "Yes, and she should not be." He could not tell
Bracegirdle that he knew too much of that loneliness. Or that he was well
acquainted with loss. He shrugged helplessly. ëBut what else could I have
done?"

"Perhaps nothing, Mr. Hornblower. But she must have been grateful for your
concern."

Horatio had no idea what Gemma Roberts' felt. "I told her that I would
return tomorrow, to be certain that she was all right."

"You are that concerned for her?"

Horatio's hands moved in a gesture of frustration. "It will be hard for
her, to go through the sea chest." It was the closest he could come to an
explanation. He could not tell this man whom he scarcely knew, how he had
gone through Archie Kennedy's chest after he had been lost, looking for
things that should be sent home to his family. There had been nothing --
and that was what truly broke his heart. At least, Gemma Roberts would
find drawings, and books, some small personal treasures that she could
keep as a remembrance. He drew in a breath. "It was difficult enough for
me, and I did not even know Roberts."

Bracegirdle nodded. He scarcely remembered what it was like to be so
young, and so serious. Hornblower had not yet been hardened by years of
experience -- and that was perhaps a good thing. Bracegirdle feared that
hardening would come in time; walls would be erected, masks worn to hide
true feelings. He had seen it in other men, other captains. In some, like
Pellew, it merely added another dimension to their humanity. In others, it
turned them into unfeeling monsters, or arrogant fools. He could not bear
to see that happen to a promising youth like Hornblower. His meditations
were interrupted by the tolling of the watch bell.

"Lieutenant Hornblower, I believe you may officially stand down from duty.
It is my watch."

Horatio raised two fingers to the brim of his cocked hat. "The deck is
yours, sir."

"Goodnight, Mr. Hornblower."

"Goodnight, Mr. Bracegirdle, sir." Horatio returned to his cabin and flung
himself down on his cot. He lay awake for a long while, his mind mulling
over the coming day, his duties, and his promise to Gemma Roberts.


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

The dawn came too early; Horatio stumbled out on deck for morning muster.
Despite his cloak, he shivered. He wanted coffee, even tea -- something to
chase away the chill in the pit of his stomach. Instead, he was inspecting
his division as he had done nearly every morning since his transfer to the
Idefatigable. It was routine. And today, he did not want routine. He knew
his men, he knew that they were aware of his expectations, and that they
expected his trust in return. So he paced before them, his hands clasped
behind his back in unconscious imitation of Captain Pellew. His mind was
not equally in step. His thoughts were winging along the waters towards
the house at the edge of the sea. And were rapidly called back to duty by
the sound of Captain Pellew's voice.

"Mr. Hornblower, a moment of your time, please. When you can spare it."
Pellew's dry tones cut through his reverie like a sword. Horatio's cheeks
burned, and it was not from the cold.

"Aye, aye, sir." He dismissed his men, ignoring the smirk playing about
Styles' lips, and the amused crinkling of Matthews' eyes, and went to
stand before Pellew on the quarter-deck. "Sir?"

"Seaman Styles seems recovered."

"Very nearly, sir. I believe he still has headaches if he exerts himself.
Another day or two of light duty should cure that."

Pellew's eyebrows soared. "Indeed? You sound like a doctor, Mr.
Hornblower."

"My father is a physician, sir."

"Yes, so I recall. I may well be in need of his services myself after this
morning." Pellew straightened his shoulders. "Are you ready to learn one
of the most irritating and most distasteful duties of a captain's life?"

Horatio tried to imagine what that could be. Not battle, for he had faced
that. Or burials, for he knew of those as well. Floggings? He could think
of no instance that would warrant such a punishment. "Sir?" he queried.

"We will go to the dockyards, Lieutenant. And try to convince the
tight-fisted and tight-minded clerks there that we are in dire need of a
new mizzenmast. You will find it to be an educational experience."

"Yes, sir. I'm sure that I will."

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

It was an enlightening, if not an exactly felicitous experience. Horatio
learned that the men who controlled the pounds were not the men who
controlled the Navy, and as a result, the two were at constant
loggerheads, while Pellew and and the officers who risked their lives and
sailed the seas, were the caught in the middle of the acrid feud. He
learned that the Commissary was not to be bribed, but could be bargained
with, and occasionally bullied. He learned that Pellew's reputation could
not overset the power of political influence, and that the ordinary seamen
counted for less than the powder they were supplied with. Indeed, powder
was so dear that it was rationed while the waste of human lives was
dismissed as a necessity. It left him quite cold, and he determined that
if and when he became a Captain, the welfare of his men would count above
all else, but honour and duty.

When the mast had been procured, and supplies settled, Pellew sat back to
study the young man at his side. Hornblower had not spoken a word -- he
was not expected to. But even as he bargained, cajoled and threatened,
Pellew was acutely aware of the young man's intent observation. At times,
he had felt that slim body tense with emotion. It was a good thing, he
thought. Hornblower would understand, as few officers did, that there was
more to command than the knowledge of jibs and tacks. It was a pity that
the cost was so high; Pellew believed each time he went back to the
Indefatigable that he had sprung ten new grey hairs, but he would not
resign himself to complacency. His officers, and his men deserved better.

It was with profound relief that he stepped out of the overheated offices
and into the cool, fresh air outside. He drew a deep breath, and was
amused to notice Hornblower following suit. It was difficult not to feel
stifled by such mounds of paperwork and bureaucracy. "Well, Mr.
Hornblower, what are your impressions of our vaunted commissary?"

Horatio gave him a wan smile. "I feel as if they have been standing on my
chest, sir."

Pellew choked back a crow of laughter. "Indeed. I feel as if they have
been standing on my stomach. I have little patience for such games, yet I
find myself ensnared in them. But we have not fared too badly. A new mast
without threats of violence, and food enough for six weeks on the line."

"Six weeks does not seem like a very long time, sir."

Pellew nodded. "It could be worse. If we are fortunate, we will be able
to pick up more supplies at Gibraltar. If not, we shall be forced to
ration -- not a happy circumstance, I assure you."

Horatio thought of the poor quality of food available in good times. With
rationing, it would be worse. Rationing would mean illness, and poor
spirits; which could lead to discontent even on ships as well disciplined
as the Indefatigable. "Yes, sir." he said quietly. He paced in silence
beside Captain Pellew, his mind occupied with what he had heard that
morning. It wasn't until they were standing at the quay, ready to climb
back into Captain Pellew's gig, that he remembered he had another, more
personal mission in Portsmouth.

"Sir?"

"Well, are you coming, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Sir, I promised Miss Roberts that I would call on her today, to see how
she is."

"Did you now?"

"Yes, sir. If I may sir, she was upset, and the sea chest -- I do not
think she should be alone."

Pellew's sharp gaze softened slightly. "If you have given your word, then
you must keep it. Just do not allow it to interfere with your duties."

"No, sir. Thank you, sir." The youth in him overcame his discipline. He
snapped a quick salute and walked away, the lightness in his step
betraying his eagerness. Pellew watched him, amused, concerned, and
remembering how he too had walked lightly to meet a young lady who had
caught his eye. Have a care, lad, he thought. Have a care ... He stepped
into the gig, and settled as the coxswain gave his orders to the crew to
return to the Indefatigable.


***********************
Horatio found Gemma where she had promised; on the beach. She was wearing
a peacoat and trousers-- he wondered if the clothing had been Roberts',
and she was carrying what looked like a large folio. The drawings perhaps.
When she saw him, she raised her hand in greeting and waited for him to
approach.

"Lieutenant Hornblower! You came." She seemed surprised that he had kept
his word.

"I promised that I would. How are you today?" He was slightly out of
breath from his quick walk, and from the realization that she was as
lovely as he recalled, despite the shadows beneath her eyes that betrayed
a sleepless night, and the unhappy set of her mouth.

She sighed, and gazed out over the water. "It is another day. And I shall
go on, I suppose." She started walking towards the house. "Will you come
in for some tea? I'm afraid I haven't much to offer with it, but it will
at least warm you."

"Miss Roberts, you don't have to --"

"It isn't any trouble, Lieutenant." She stopped abruptly, and he nearly
bumped into her. "Of course, you must have duties. I had forgotten -- "

"No, I have time."

They were trying so hard not to be awkward that they were failing
miserably. They stood, both apologetic and blushing to be so discovered.
Horatio held out his hand for the portfolio. "May I carry that for you?"

She nodded and passed it over. "Thank you."

"You've gone through the chest, then?"

"No. Not yet. I haven't found the courage."

Horatio was puzzled. "But the portfolio was in the sea chest."

"You thought this was Jamie's?"
"He had one like it with his belongings. I'm sorry, I had to go through
his things, to see if there were any letters to forward with Captain
Pellew's condolences. It was not my intention to pry."

She paused and slanted him a look. "Then you opened the portfolio?"

Horatio looked away from her, ashamed that his duty had involved such an
invasion. "Yes. I thought there might be letters."

"You saw the drawings?" He nodded, still not meeting her eyes. "What did
you think?" she asked.

"They were unexpected. I thought at first that your brother had drawn
them. The accuracy was uncanny. Then I saw the signature, and I knew that
he hadn't. But that left me with the question: Who is G. Roberts?"

Gemma stuck her hands in her pockets. She would have laughed, but she did
not want to hurt Lieutenant Hornblower's feelings. He had been far too
kind to be treated shabbily. "It's cold, Mr. Hornblower. Come inside and I
will tell you."

Horatio followed her into the house, and while she disappeared towards the
kitchen, he went into the small parlour and noted that she had let the
fire die down again. He quickly laid more kindling in the hearth and lit
it with a flint. In a moment, it caught, sending wisps of fragrant smoke
up the chimney. He drew a breath and for the first time took notice of his
surroundings.

It was an interesting room, with a sloping ceiling and windows facing the
sea. It was sparsely furnished, and the walls were spare and white. It
reminded him, in that instant of the captain's cabin on a ship, and he
wondered if that had been the intent of the architect, or mere coincidence
due to its location near a port city. Whatever, it felt cozy and familiar
-- it needed only the slow and steady motion of the waves to make it feel
like home. He stood at the windows, gazing out at the harbor, imagining
that he could pick out the masts of the Indefatigable, even at that
distance, as one would pick out the face of a lover in a crowd.

Gemma came in carrying a tea tray, and found him standing there, in the
clear light that is unique to places by the sea. His hair was slightly
tousled, touched with mahogany glints; his cheekbones so finely cut that
even in the strong light, there were shadows in the hollows of his face.
It was a countenance that despite its youth, had character. Her artist's
eye was tempted to linger an unseemly long time, to measure and note the
angles and planes that made it beautiful. She shook her head, laughing at
her own fancy.

"Mr. Hornblower?" When he turned to her, there was still a slight smile
curving his lips. She set the tray down on a low table. "I'm sorry, it
isn't much --"

"It is fine, truly. I cannot stay long."


She poured a stream of amber tea into a cup. He took it from her a bit
gingerly, and noticing her quizzical look, smiled. "I am used to tankards
and tin cups, Miss Roberts. Not fine china."

"Then next time you come, I shall serve grog."

"Please do not do so on my account!" he laughed. "It is dreadful stuff.
Useful only to get the blood moving on early morning and late evening
watches."

They fell silent for a moment, then Gemma asked abruptly, "Will you stay
while I open the sea chest?"

"Of course."

She took a few small sips of her tea, then went to kneel by the chest. She
reached out a tentative hand, and withdrew it again. Horatio knelt beside
her. "Let me." He deftly twisted the key and lifted the hasp. He raised
the lid, and sat back, waiting for her to make a move to begin the task
she dreaded. "Miss Roberts, if you cannot do this today, there is nothing
in this chest that will not wait for another time. If you like, I will put
it out of sight until you are ready."

"I am a coward," she sobbed. She covered her face with her hands, shamed
by her weakness.

"No! Not at all -- " He took her hands in his. "You loved him, and he is
gone. There is no shame in mourning such a loss." Instinctively, he laid
his arm around her trembling shoulders, and to his dismay, she turned to
him, seeking the comfort of his arms. Awkwardly at first, and then with
gentle sympathy, he stroked her hair and whispered soft words that meant
nothing, but gave comfort to a breaking heart. He had never held a woman
in his arms, and he could not help but be aware of her softness, her small
bones, the beating of her heart. Her skin was fine and fair, her hair was
scented with lavender and the freshness of the sea. His own heartbeat was
quickening; an odd sensation both alarming and thrilling shivered in his
chest.

He pulled back gently, not wanting to startle her, and tugged his
handkerchief from his pocket. "Please, Miss Roberts. You will be ill ... "

Gemma caught her breath, swallowed her next sob. What had she done? What a
fool he must believe her to be! "I am so sorry, Lieutenant." Her eyes were
still swollen with tears and she took his handkerchief gratefully. "If you
wish to leave, I would not blame you."

He looked at her pale, tear-streaked face. "I won't leave until you ask
me." Then with a wry smile. "Or until I must return to the Indy." She bit
her lip and glanced away too quickly. He was not deceived. "I wish you
would let me put this away for you." When she nodded, he pulled one item
from the chest; the portfolio. "You might want to keep these safe. The
damp will damage them." He laid it in her lap, closed the sea chest, and
taking hold of one brass handle, dragged it into the front hall. He came
back to her, holding out his hand to raise her from the floor. "I will
have Styles and Oldroyd come tomorrow to carry it upstairs for you."
Gemma smoothed her hair. She felt mussed and worn out. She was certain she
looked frightful. "Excuse me, Mr. Hornblower." She was apologetic. "I need
a few minutes to ..." Her hands fluttered helplessly.

"Would you like me to leave?"

"No, please stay. Finish your tea."

She left the room, and he missed her presence almost as much as he missed
the feel of her in his arms. He opened the portfolio she had laid on the
table. In a startled second, he realized that it was not the one he had
taken from the chest. It was the one she had carried on the beach. His
long hands passed lightly over the pages. There was no mistaking it -- the
same artist had done all the drawings. G. Roberts. Dear God! How blind did
he have to be not to have seen the truth? G. Roberts. Gemma Roberts. To
confirm his discovery, he opened the portfolio from Roberts' sea chest.
She was the artist! He studied two of her drawings, marvelling at the
beauty and accuracy.

He heard a slight gasp from the doorway and looked up. Gemma was watching
him apprehensively, as if he might say something that would hurt her. He
closed the portfolio. "You must think me ten times a fool not to have
realized that these were yours."

"I-I would have told you. But I was afraid ... and then you opened the
chest."

"Why were you afraid?" he asked.

"I thought that you would laugh. That you would find me silly and
presumptuous."

"Why?"

"Because I am a woman. Because I have never ëseen' those sights -- only
had them described to me by Jamie."

Horatio's brows rose. "You drew those from his descriptions?"

Gemma nodded and came towards him. "From that, and from what I see when I
go to the harbor. Are they true?"

"Yes! I feel as though I could walk into them. They are my life." He did
not know how else to describe their impact on him. "You should not be
hiding your talent here in Portsmouth."

Gemma hugged her arms as if she were cold. "It is so easy for you to say
that. Do you know what my teachers told me? That I should draw flowers and
fruit! For what man would consider to take a wife who preferred such
unladylike subjects as the sea and uncouth sailors!"

"They were fools."

Gemma laughed. "No, they were realists! That is why I am here -- twenty
years old and quite alone. I was left this house, and a sufficient
competence by my father. He was an artist, too. He must have known that I
would never make a governess, or a teacher at a girls' school, urging
other young ladies to draw suitable pictures to impress men with their
talents." She turned to him, her eyes bright with unshed tears, and filled
with challenge and supplication. "So think of me what you will,
Lieutenant."

Horatio sighed. "I think you are as unique as your drawings, Miss
Roberts." The tall clock in her hallway rang three bells, and his eyes
narrowed. "I'm sorry. I must return to the Indefatigable. I have duties."

"Yes." Gemma's shoulders drooped. "I should not have kept you here for so
long. Thank you, Lieutenant Hornblower."

"May I come again?" He blurted out the question before he could stop it
from leaving his lips.

Gemma's pleasure lit her face. "I would like that very much. I promise I
will not leave salt stains on your lapels."

Horatio laughed and gave his rather shabby uniform a rueful glance. "As if
anyone would notice! Good day, Miss Roberts."

"Wait, Lieutenant. Before you go -- do you think that when you are with
me, across this threshold, that we might call each other by our Christian
names? That I will be Gemma, and you Horatio? That we might be friends?"

He knew he was blushing. She was watching him with wide, grave eyes. "Yes,
I think we might. Good day, Gemma." He made a bow, thinking that Archie
Kennedy's dancing master would cast his hands up in despair at his
gangling attempt at chivalry.

"Good day, Horatio." Gemma responded with a curtsey, and for a brief
second, their eyes met in mutual delight before Horatio turned and hurried
back towards town and the Indefatigable.

Cont.