The Heart of Honour, part two
by Joan C.
As Horatio neared the docks, a press gang came by, herding a group of
perhaps twenty men towards the harbor. Their misery and hate was a
palpable force. Horatio felt every resentful glance focused on him. He was
the embodiement of their fate; an officer in His Majesty's Navy. He had
the power of life and death over them; his decisions would govern their
lives, his displeasure would result in the lash, or worse. And yet,
Horatio thought, his own presence in the Navy was the result of an
impressment that had seemed no less cruel, despite the love and concern
that had prompted it. Perhaps, they too would become resigned to their
impressment: adapt, indeed come to love the sea. Styles had been pressed,
and Finch, but had made the Navy their lives without resentment. As had
"This is an injustice!" A hoarse voice cried out from the line. "They are
taking us to fight a war for the likes of him!" A gob of spittle landed at
Horatio's feet. He turned sharply, shock clear in his face and saw one of
the press gang raise a rattan cane to bear down on the offender.
"Wait!" Horatio commanded. His dark eyes met those of a rebellious young
man, not much older than himself. "Hold off," he ordered the sailor. "Just
get them to the ships quickly as possible. T'is better to avoid trouble
than to court it by beating them in the streets."
Clearly, the sailor thought Hornblower was insane. He opened his mouth to
protest, but after a second hard look from Horatio, knuckled his forehead
respectfully. "Aye, aye, sir." He prodded at the lead man with his cane.
"You 'eard t'officer. Move along. Next one ye meet might not be so
Horatio watched them for a few minutes, before he set off towards the quay
to hire a boat to row him out to the Indefatigable. He came on board to
find Cleveland waiting for him at the entry port. "Mr. Hornblower, Captain
Pellew requests your presence in his cabin immediately on your return."
"Any idea why?" Horatio asked.
"New men from the press gang is my guess, sir. An unhappy lot."
Horatio grimaced. "Yes, so I noticed." He gave his uniform a quick brush
and smoothing before he headed to Pellew's quarters. An interview with
Pellew, even after all these months still unsettled him. He knocked and
waited for the crisp command to bid him enter.
Pellew was seated at the table that served as his writing desk. "Ah, Mr.
Hornblower. You saw Miss Roberts, I take it?"
Horatio's cheeks flushed. "Yes, sir. She is somewhat better, but still --"
He tried to find words to describe Gemma's sorrow to Captain Pellew. "She
mourns him deeply."
"Her grief is natural. She has lost her brother." Pellew noted his young
lieutenant's discomfort. He imagined he knew the cause. "But perhaps it
would be a kindness to keep an eye on her, as it were. Roberts was only on
board for a short time, but he was one of us, nonetheless. I would offer
her our assistance for as long as we are in Portsmouth."
"Yes, sir. Sir, may I request that Styles and Oldroyd return with me
tomorrow to help her stow the sea chest?"
"I think that might be arranged." Pellew tried mightily to keep a smile
from warming his eyes. He hoped that Hornblower's concern would not become
an attachment; but at the same time, he could not help but be amused by
the idea of this taciturn young man in love. He had faced trials enough in
the last months. A diversion would do him no harm.
Pellew continued. "However, that is not why I called you here. A press
gang has brought some men to replace those we have lost recently,
including the man Rhett from your division. The new man's name is Bunting.
I understand that this is his second impressment, and that he can be
something of a troublemaker. You have done an admirable job with the men
who came over with you from Justinian. Perhaps you can make something of
this Bunting, too."
Horatio's heart sank. He had not the captain's faith in his abilities. His
division had come from hell in the Justinian to the Indefatigable and one
of the best captains in the fleet. His men would have recognized Pellew's
merit, even without Hornblower's intercession. "I will do my best, sir,"
"Hmm. I have every confidence that you will, Lieutenant." After Horatio
left, Pellew gazed out over steepled fingers. It was a hard test to
impose, but a valuable lesson to learn. A captain of a ship must be able
to lead all men -- not just those willing to fight. Pellew acknowledged
the flaws of the impressment system, but until there was an alternative,
he had little choice but to deal with it. As did any officer, including
Hornblower, and Lord Nelson himself. *Sufficient unto the day is the evil
thereof ... * Pellew sighed and turned back to his endless paperwork.
The morning muster was called shortly after dawn. The men scrambled from
their hammocks, stowed them, and ran to take their places on deck. The
weather had improved overnight, and the pale sun promised a hint of
warmth. Horatio paced the deck, waiting for his division to come to order.
He always felt it a waste of time to walk past these men and have them
repeat their names -- he knew them intimately after eighteen months; but
it was required, and necessary, particularly when new men were introduced
into the divisions. It would be their first look at the officers who would
control their daily lives for as long as they continued their service on
the Indefatigable. Equally, it was the officers' chance to take the
measure of their men. Illness, drunkeness, lack of attention to hygeine
... all were telltale signs that not all was well with a crew. A man who
did not value his own person, did not value the lives of his fellows.
So Horatio paced, and the men stood at attention, awaiting his approach.
He paused momentarily before each man. Styles, Matthews, Oldroyd, Finch,
Sullivan, Jones, and ...
"Bunting, sir." The tone was insolent. Horatio's gaze travelled slowly up
the man's form until their eyes met. Bunting was the pressed man who had
spit at his feet, and who had been so defiant. If he felt any gratitude
for Horatio's intercession on his behalf, it did not show that morning.
"Bunting. This is your second impressment?"
"Yes, sir." Again the scorn and the barely supressed rage.
"This is a good ship, Bunting. And these men are good mates. Your should
consider yourself fortunate."
Horatio felt a slow burn of temper building behind his eyes. "There are
worse situations than being on board the Indefatigable. Though you can
make this a hell, too. If you so choose."
Yes, sir." Bunting knew the trick of looking beyond a man's shoulder, so
as to give nothing away. Horatio sighed inwardly at his intransigence. He
had no idea of how to deal with this. And for this he had earned Pellew's
"Very good, men. You are dismissed. Matthews, a word, if you please."
"Aye, aye, sir."
When the others had gone, Horatio turned to the thin, grizzled sailor.
"What do you make of this man Bunting?"
"Me, sir? I don't rightly know, not after one day. But he can read and
write, sir. Says his father was a Methodist preacher."
"Isn't that just my bloody luck," Horatio murmured. "Revolutionary
politics and religious fanaticism."
"Sir?" Matthews queried, puzzled by Hornblower's comment.
"Never mind, Matthews. Keep an eye on him. If his discontent begins to
infect any of the others, let me know."
"Don't you worry, sir. Me and Finch'll keep him in line."
"Thank you, Matthews." Horatio's gratitude was genuine. "Send Styles and
Oldroyd up to me. I promised Miss Roberts that they would stow her
brother's sea chest for her."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Despite his concerns, Horatio felt his spirits lighten as he walked with
Oldroyd and Styles to Gemma Roberts' house. The day was lovely; the sun
was warm on his back, and the sea air fresh and brisk. The waters of the
harbor glittered as if a handful of diamonds had been cast on them, and
were bluer than the sky overhead. Unwittingly, his pace quickened, leaving
Styles and Oldroyd lagging slightly behind.
"'E's a bit ahead of himself, " Styles chuckled. "Lookin' forward to
seeing Miss Roberts, 'he is. Can't say as I blame him."
Oldroyd cast an anxious glance at Hornblower's back. "Shh."
Styles snickered. "What? 'Ave you ever seen him with a woman? Bet he's
never dipped his wick."
Oldroyd scuffed a pebble out of his path and kept silent. Styles' grin
widened as a deep blush spread over Oldroyd's face. He reached out and
mussed Oldroyd's blond hair. "I got a cure for that, boy -- name's Flora.
Maybe we'll just pay a visit while we're in town."
Horatio was at Gemma's doorstep before he realized how quickly he had been
walking. He knew he was anxious with anticipation, and he forced himself
to wait patiently until Styles and Oldroyd reached the house. Then he
raised his hand and knocked.
When Gemma answered the door, Horatio was stunned. It was the first time
he had seen her dressed as a young woman of her station. She looked
smaller, more fragile than she did in her breeches and peacoat. An apron
was tied about her slender waist, and there was a smudge of charcoal
across her forehead. The fingers she was wiping on her apron were smudged
slightly as well, testifying to her occupation. Her eyes widened with
pleasure when she saw Horatio on her doorstep.
"Ho -- Lieutenant Hornblower."
Horatio tucked his hat under his arm. "Miss Roberts. I have Styles and
Oldroyd with me to take the sea chest upstairs, if that is what you wish."
"Yes, I do. Thank you. Come in." She stepped aside to let them enter. "If
they would carry it to the room at the end of the hall. That was Jamie's."
He and Gemma watched the progress in silence. There was a solemnity about
it, and when they were out of sight, she sighed and rubbed her forehead,
leaving a fresh smear of charcoal on her fair skin. Horatio pulled out his
handkerchief and greatly daring, raised her face to his and dabbed gently
at the smudge. Gemma blushed, and allowed the small intimacy, but as soon
as she heard Styles' and Oldroyd in the stairwell, she stepped away from
"Thank you, Mr. Styles, Mr. Oldroyd."
They knuckled their foreheads respectfully. "T'was no trouble, miss."
Styles grinned. "Is there anything else, sir?"
"Miss Roberts?" Horatio asked.
Gemma shook her head. "No, nothing else."
He felt awkwardly suspended there, unsure of what he ought to do. He had
no reason to linger, his duty was fulfilled and Styles and Oldroyd were
waiting expectantly for him. But at that moment, he wanted nothing more
than for Gemma to ask him to stay. He could not assume that that was what
she wished. Perhaps he had misread her expression ...
Gemma, too was flustered, even though she was as determined as he not to
allow it to show. He could not ask to stay -- and yet if she asked him,
what would he think of her? What would his men think of her? Gemma looked
at him, seeing his agony of indecision that mirrored hers, and made up her
mind. She cleared her throat. "Lieutenant, would you ... I mean, could you
stay for a while? I have some questions ... about Jamie." *God, Jamie.
Forgive me...* she prayed, and knew that he would understand.
Horatio swallowed hard and took a deep breath. "Yes, of course." He turned
to Styles, and hoped that he would not betray himself in front of his men.
"You may go, Styles. Thank you."
Styles was not fool enough to let his lieutenant know that he saw right
through that cool facade he tried so hard to maintain. "Aye, aye, sir.
Sir, d'ye think we might grab a pint in town before going back to the
"Very well, but stay out of trouble. Captain Pellew would have our, er --
Styles grinned and elbowed his mate in the ribs. "C'mon, Oldroyd. I see a
tankard with m'name on it." He grabbed his arm and dragged him outside.
"And a bed with Flora's. Lad, yer life is about to change for the
Thankfully, Horatio did not hear that last comment.
Gemma held out her hand. "Please, Horatio. Come in."
"I thought I was."
"You are standing in the hall holding your hat. That is not what I meant."
She took his hat and put it on the hall table. "I was working on
something. Do you mind if I finish?"
"No, not at all." He followed her into the parlor and was struck again by
the light, and the rippled reflections that danced on the walls. Gemma
went to an easel set at the far end of the room. She picked up a piece of
charcoal and began sketching. Not wanting to pry, Horatio sat on the seat
in the curve of the bay window and picked up a length of rope that was
laying there. Unconsciously, he began to tie practice knots, even as he
gazed out over the water. He settled his back comfortably against the
wall. The sun was warm, and the peace of being there so natural, that
eventually his hands fell idle. Released from the stress of his duties, he
closed his eyes and dozed off.
Gemma looked up from her canvas, and smiled. Quietly, she found her sketch
pad and came to sit close to him. She sketched his hands; the long, gently
curving fingers. The metacarpals, fine and strong, the bones of his wrist,
the length of rope coiled loosely on his lap. And when she had finished,
she sat and studied his face. Someday, she would draw that, too. Not with
the quick, instinctive reaction that had promped her first attempt, but
with a care that came from time, and emotion. She was tempted to reach out
and touch the sun-warmed lock of hair at his temple, but not wanting to
wake him, resisted the impulse. She laid her sketch pad aside, rose and
returned to her easel. The seascape seemed somehow dull and lifeless
compared to the vitality of Horatio's hands, and with a sigh, she took the
canvas down and set it to face the wall. There was no remedy for lack of
inspiration, but perhaps she might salvage it later on, after he left.
Horatio woke with a jolt; startled and slightly disoriented. The light had
shifted, and was no longer falling across his face, and that alone nearly
caused him to panic. How late was it? God, the Indy. He had to get back!
"Gemma!" He bolted into the hall in time to see her coming down the
stairs. "My God, why did you let me sleep? What time is it?"
She laid her hand on his arm. "Horatio, it has been less than an hour!"
He gaped. "That's impossible --"
"Why? Because you were so tired that even that short rest felt like an
eternity to you? Truly, I was coming to wake you now."
His heart was settling slowly into a more normal rhythm. She was right; he
felt as if he had been sleeping for hours. He slept lightly on the
Indefatigable; his body never completely relaxed, for in a time of war,
ceaseless vigilance was required even when off duty. Here, in Gemma's
house, he had let go of that tension. He had forgotten what it was like
not to be wound tighter than the mainspring of a clock. "Gemma, I must get
back." He smiled down at her. "I have been a very poor guest."
"Then you must come back to set things right." She offered his hat, and
then quickly, before he could back off, or she could lose her nerve, she
kissed his cheek. "Please come again, Horatio."
The last person to touch him so had been his mother -- and that nearly
nine years ago when he was just a boy. To feel such softness, the sweet
warmth of her breath whispering against his cheek, made him ache with
longing. And it scared him half to death. "I will, if I can. I don't know
when ..." Then he turned and went out the door, his long, gangling strides
carrying him away far more rapidly than Gemma could bear.
Captain Pellew stood on the quarter-deck surveying the repairs underway.
The new mizzen mast had been erected yesterday, and the sails were being
set. The splintered rails and deck planks were under repair, and the
damaged gun ports replaced. The new guns had been purchased and wanted
only delivery and installation. At this rate, the Indy would be sea-worthy
in less than a week.
Pellew gave a sigh of satisfaction and turned to First Lieutenant
Bracegirdle. They had known each other for years; had served together as
Lieutenants, in fact. When Eccleston and Chad had been killed on the
Papillon, Pellew had made specific inquiries as to Anthony Bracegirdle's
transfer. To their mutual delight, it had been effected. Pellew could not
express the relief he felt to have so able and trusted a man at his side.
Eccleston had been a capable officer, but Pellew had not known him well.
And he suspected that some of Eccleston's judgments -- such as allowing
Jack Simpson on the Papillon mission, had been ill-considered.
"Well, Anthony. We seem to be rounding back to shape nicely."
"Yes, sir." A smile creased Bracegirdle's amiable face. "Are you so
anxious to leave Portsmouth?"
"You know I detest idleness." Pellew replied lightly. "And Lady Susan has
informed me that she wishes to improve the estate. A few French prizes
would fatten the purse nicely." His dark eyes focused on Hornblower,
supervising the men of his division as they worked on the damaged deck. He
seemed to be paying particular attention to the new man. Pellew sensed
trouble there. Perhaps not today, or tomorrow, but certainly at some point
in the future.There was something about the set of those shoulders that
spoke of a rebellious and resentful nature.
"Mr. Bracegirdle, what of this man in Hornblower's division -- Bunting?
Has there been any trouble?"
"No, sir. Lieutenant Hornblower seems to have things well in hand. Though
it is not an easy task, teaching a man that his life depends on
obedience. Particularly when that man has been pressed into a service he
"Keep an eye on the situation, Anthony. Hornblower is very young, yet. He
may not realize how dangerous that man could be. Bunting is the sort to
foster mutinous ideas -- and will have no qualms about expressing them
"Yes, sir. But Hornblower has good instincts. He just needs to learn to
Pellew grimaced. "Unfortunately, time is a luxury that he cannot afford."
He paused for a moment. "Has he confided in you about Miss Roberts?"
"No, sir. He has only said that he is concerned that she is alone."
"Hmm. What the devil is a young woman doing alone in a town like
"Sir, you aren't suggesting any impropriety?" Bracegirdle was aghast.
"Roberts' was a fine lad!"
"Oh, aye. I'll grant you that." Pellew cleared his throat. "And so is Mr.
Hornblower, with a matchless career before him, given the opportunity to
advance in the service. We can teach him how to deal with Bunting and his
ilk; but how do we counsel him in affairs of the heart? Hm?"
Bracegirdle hoped that was a rhetorical question; for he had no answer to
On the deck below them, Horatio was unaware of their scrutiny. His entire
attention was fixed on the work being done by his men as they caulked the
seams of the newly laid planks with pitch and oakum. He was focused on one
man in particular, Bunting. The man was difficult; he questioned orders,
he went about his tasks sullenly. He was openly resentful. And Horatio
could not blame him entirely. He understood better than most, the shock of
being plucked from one life, and set into another so different that it was
Horatio had been two months on the Justinian. In that short time, he had
been bullied, beaten mercilessly, and unjustly punished. He had tasted the
bitter dregs of humiliation, had seen how one man could so damage another
that death was preferable to living under those conditions, had despaired
of a life that was not a black sinkhole of corruption. Perhaps Bunting had
come from such a ship. Horatio doubted the Justinian was the only one of
its kind, or Simpson the only officer capable of cruelty.
With time, Bunting would learn that the Indefatigable was matchless, that
Pellew was a just and a fair man, and a brilliant and fearless commander.
Surely, then the resentment and anger would fade. Horatio would find a way
to redeem Bunting, as Pellew had redeemed him.
Having come to that satisfactory conclusion, Horatio straightened his
shoulders and drew a deep breath. The wind freshened, lifting his hair,
and he wished at that moment, that the Indy were at sea, running before a
heady breeze, fast and free as a bird.
The first of the guns came that afternoon. Settling it in was more
complicated than Horatio had anticipated. It was a fascinating process,
combining brute strength and finesse. Under Pellew's orders, he observed,
and learned the care that was required. Pellew was a firm believer in an
officer knowing intimately the workings of his ship. Wood was as
responsive as flesh, he taught; to wind, to changes in temperature, to
injury and illness. An officer should be able to lay his hand on his
ship's wheel, and like a good doctor, be able to feel malaise or
When the gun was finally settled into its cradle -- as if it were a
finicky infant instead of a ton of cold iron, Horatio thought -- it was
nearly dark. He was exhausted, his uniform was filthy, and he ached from
head to toe. He wanted nothing more than a warm supper and the comfort of
his thin straw mattress. Briefly, before he drifted off, he thought of
Gemma. He wondered if she had missed seeing him, if she thought he had
been offended by her kiss. He could do nothing that night, but hoped
somehow, he would find a reason to see her the next day.
To his dismay, the next day was as fully occupied as the last, but late in
the afternoon a shoreboat came alongside to hand up a leather dispatch
bag. Horatio bade the crew to wait, and carried the bag to Captain
Pellew's cabin. Pellew's day had been as long as Horatio's. He sighed with
impatience and spread the contents of the bag out on his desk. He went
through them rapidly, long experience telling him which letters needed
immediate action, and which were mere annoyances. His hand paused over
one. "Wait a moment, Mr. Hornblower. There may be something that requires
Pellew slit the envelope, took a letter and a second envelope from it,
read and looked up at Hornblower. "This is from Captain Richardson of the
Gallant. He encloses his condolences which he would like forwarded to Miss
Roberts, as he cannot deliver them personally."
Horatio felt his heartbeat quicken. He could count on his fingers the
number of times his prayers had been answered. This was one of them. He
spoke into Pellew's pause. "Sir, the shore boat is still alongside. I am
not assigned to a watch this evening. I could deliver that to Miss
"That is convenient, Mr. Hornblower. However, this can wait until morning.
Then perhaps one of the Midshipmen ..." He bit the inside of his lip as he
watched ten different expressions chase across his lieutenant's face.
"Sir, please. Miss Roberts has my acquaintance. It would be easier for
her, if I were to deliver it." Horatio wondered if he sounded slightly
"It would seem that she not only has your acquaintance, but also your
confidence, hm?" Pellew suggested.
Horatio would have gladly dug a hole in the deck and crawled into it to
escape that scrutiny. "Sir, it would be no trouble this evening, but
tomorrow --" He stopped short, horrified to find himself questioning
Pellew's thoughts. "I'm sorry, sir. I have no right to suggest -- "
"Ah, but you are right, Lieutenant. We cannot see what tomorrow will
require of us. Very well, Lieutenant. Take the shore boat back to
Portsmouth and deliver the letter. Give Miss Roberts my regards." Pellew
handed the letter to Horatio.
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Horatio tucked the letter carefully inside his
jacket. He escaped from the cabin, hoping that Pellew had not seen either
the hope in his eyes or the high color on his cheeks. He brushed past
Lieutenant Bracegirdle, stumbling to a halt just long enough to salute and
apologize, before dashing up to the deck.
Pellew could not suppress a chuckle as Mr. Bracegirdle entered the cabin.
"Nineteen, Anthony. Nineteen and in love. Tell me, were we ever that
Bracegirdle smiled. "Sir, when we were nineteen, we did not think we were
Pellew heaved a sigh. "But we were. We truly were." He poured two glasses
of port and handed one to Bracegirdle. "Should I be worried?"
"Hornblower is a level-headed young man, sir."
At that Pellew's laugh pealed out. "Can any man, of any age be
level-headed in the company of a woman? My God, Anthony. When I am in the
presence of my wife, I can be as giddy as I was at nineteen! And I should
expect Hornblower to retain his equanimity?" Pellew's smile faded. "And
yet, I find I cannot deny him that solace, though I fear it is not wise.
We ask so much of these young men; expect them to give their lives if
necessary -- " He let the words linger in the silence of the cabin.
Bracegirdle wondered if Pellew realized that he spoke of Hornblower as if
he were a cherished son, not just another junior officer. "We will be
sailing within a week, sir."
Pellew raised a sardonic brow. "And that is not enough time to fall in
love?" After a pause in which Bracegirdle wisely declined to make a reply,
Pellew spoke again. "How are the repairs progressing, Mr. Bracegirdle?" To
the lieutenant's relief, it seemed the subject was closed.
Horatio hurried along the quay. It was nearly dusk, the shadows faint and
long, the sea a rippled skein of grey silk touched by the gold of the
setting sun. His heart was pounding, and he had no emotion to compare this
to, no point of reference to say: this is fear, this is joy, this is love.
When he finally reached Gemma's door, he nearly turned back for every
instinct told him that this was a point at which his life would change.
But surely only a child feared change; and change would come whether
Gemma's door opened, or not.
He raised his hand. He knocked. And the door opened.
Gemma stood there, framed in light, her lips parted in wonder. "Horatio?"
She formed his name, and held out her hand. It was suddenly the most
natural thing in the world for him to reach out, to draw her close, to
bend from his height and bring his lips to hers.
It was not a practised kiss, nor a passionate one. But it was tender, and
ardent, and quite wonderful. Gemma let herself be carried away in
unfamiliar sensations; the breadth of his shoulders, the shift of his
muscles beneath her hands, the length of his hard masculine body, so
different than hers, the scent of him, the texture of his hair twined in
her fingers. When his lips left hers, she sighed, bereft and still
Horatio thought the blood in his veins had turned to fire that consumed
all his breath and his sense, save for the last lingering whisper that
told him he must draw back, or be lost. God, how he ached! He stepped
away, his hands slipping from Gemma's shoulders, down her arms, until he
held only the tips of her fingers. He could feel her body trembling even
at that last, slight point of contact.
"Gemma," he whispered, hoarsely. "My God ... "
She gave a small, shaky laugh. "Yes, I know." She drew a breath, and
another, until the world once again seemed solid beneath her feet. "I-I
thought I would never see you again."
"I had duties. I could not leave the Indy, and there was no way to send
word to you."
"I had hoped that was the reason. But I thought you might be angry with
He smiled, and then ducked his head to hide that smile. "Obviously, not."
Gemma blushed charmingly. "Come in, then. And tell me about these duties
that kept you so occupied." She held her hand out again, all trembling
stopped. She drew him into the parlour. The small room was warm and
welcoming, lit by candles and firelight. "Have you eaten supper?" she
"No." In fact, he could scarcely recall the last time he had sat down to a
meal. "But you don't have to feed me, Gemma."
"I would be rag-mannered if I did not, sir." She dropped a mocking curtsey
and left him standing in front of the fire.
Curiously, he wandered over to her easel. A large sketch pad lay open on
it, and Horatio studied the drawings there in wonder. It was not a single
large work, but a number of vignettes: A shore bird, leaving a lace of
delicate tracks, a mosaic of shells and kelp, a fisherman in a dory,
hauling in his nets. Each one was quite perfect, as delicate and distinct
as the artist. He lifted a corner of the paper, and saw another drawing.
Hands, loosely curved around a coil of rope ... he frowned, and then
raised his own hand, seeing flesh and bone reproduced in light and shadow.
His fingers, his wrists, even the narrow ruffle edging the cuff of his
"Horatio?" Gemma stood in the doorway. She seemed as poised for flight as
the bird in her drawing.
Horatio let fall the paper and his eyes met hers. "These are remarkable."
"You're not angry?" When he shook his head, she continued. "I drew it the
other day, while you were sleeping. I'm sorry. It was rude of me."
"No." He did not know how to say that she had given him a grace that he
did not possess. He thought his hands were awkward, bony, inexpressive. He
often held them clasped rigidly behind his back, afraid that they would
betray his nerves, his doubts. "They have never looked better," he said
lightly and crossed the room to take the tray she held.
They settled in front of the fire, and she raised the tea towel, revealing
sliced bread and cheese, some ham, and two pieces of dried apple tart. It
smelled ravishing, and tasted even better. Horatio relished every
mouthful, and Gemma wondered if he ever had quite enough to eat on the
Indefatigable. There was so much about him she did not know. Where he came
from, who his parents were, why he had joined the Navy. Yet, she did not
want to question him, for she thought he was not a man who cared to draw
attention to himself. So she remained silent, watching his face, and
listening to his voice.
When he had finished eating, he laid down his napkin with a sigh of
satisfaction. "Thank you, Gemma. I didn't realize how hungry I was."
"So it was better than the food on the Indefatigable?"
"I thought officers ate well."
Horatio grimaced. "If they have laid in their own stores, they do. Captain
Pellew sets a notable table when we are in port, but at sea, he is reduced
to eating the same rations as the rest of the officers. And for the seamen
-- it's a fairly regular diet of biscuits, beef, and beer." He smiled at
her, "And frequently less than that."
"Then it must have been the lure of adventure that led you to the Navy,
Mr. Hornblower." She teased, hoping he might reveal something of his
He sat with one long leg curled beneath him, the other bent. His clasped
hands rested on his knee, and he gazed into the fire. "I thought adventure
was something to be found in the pages of Euclid and Ptolemy." He was
solemn, his eyes fixed on the flames. The lean planes of his face were
shadowed, his mouth set in an unhappy line. Gemma impulsively lay one hand
against his cheek, and he turned to it, his lips warm against her palm.
"Why then?" she asked. "Please tell me."
His shoulders lifted with a sigh. "The other day, we took on a number of
pressed seamen. And even though my lot is far better than theirs, I can
understand their bitterness. I had no more choice than they, as to my
"My father is not a young man, and he is frail. He is just a country
doctor with little money to assure my future. So when Captain Keene
offered a commission in gratitude for medical treatment, my father agreed.
I saw no options that would not cause my father undue distress, and so I
did not argue the matter." He did not say anything of his solitude, or the
pain the separation from his father had caused him when he left his home.
There was nothing that could be done to mend those wounds, but cover them
and leave them be to heal or fester.
"Are you unhappy, Horatio?"
He looked into her dark eyes, lit by firelight, and softened by tears.
"No, I'm not. Not now."
"But you were?"
He thought back to those dark days on the Justinian, to Jack Simpson's
perverted cruelty, to the malaise of a crew laboring under a dying,
uncaring captain. "Bitterly," he admitted, and tried to soften his words
with a jest. "I am surprised that you have not heard of Hornblower, the
Midshipman who was seasick in Spithead. I was told that I had become a
Her mouth was touched with a sad smile. "I must disappoint you, Horatio. I
had not heard."
"Thank God." He shook his head. "But that is the past, and now I am on the
Indy, with Captain Pellew. And though I am still seasick on occasion, I
would not trade my place for the world, so you needn't look tragic,
She was suddenly aware that he was still holding her hand, and she brought
his fingers to her lips. "I am so glad."
Horatio folded his long fingers about hers, and they sat there, in that
circle of golden firelight. His restless spirit for that moment was quiet
and filled with a peace that he had not known since his childhood. Gemma
sighed and rested her head against his shoulder. The sound of the waves
breaking against the rocky shore crested and receded; seeming to echo the
beat of Horatio's heart, and her own pulse.
Horatio heard the tides, like his own blood in his ears. He gently
disengaged Gemma's fingers from his and raised her face for his kiss. She
yielded to his clasp, letting the weight of his body bear her down slowly.
His hand drifted from her hair, to her face, to her throat, to rest so
lightly on her breast, over her heart. It was the most exquisite sensation
of his life, and the most painful as his body roused to need and want. "Oh
God, Gemma," he breathed. His lips moved against her throat. He lay
there, his hot cheek pillowed on her breast, a long curl of his hair
spread like dark silk across her white muslin bodice.
She could feel his every breath, every tremor in his body. If he was
aching with need, he was only mirroring her desire. She wanted him with
all the force of her nature, all the fire in her heart. And she could not
have him. The clock chiming in the hall startled her; the jolt of her body
beneath his, caused Horatio to raised himself up, counting the bells. Nine
o'clock, and he had the midnight watch. Time enough, he thought. Then as
sense came flooding back his mind jeered -- Time enough for what? To ruin
Gemma's reputation, his future?
He sat up, ignoring pain, because it was something he had done countless
times before. "I have to leave, Gemma. Can you forgive me?"
"Forgive you for what almost happened, or for leaving?" Her throat was
swollen, her words sounded thick.
He stood, tall and straight, his coat hung over his arm. "For either. For
Gemma's pride matched his. If she were to forgive him, then she would have
to forgive herself; for letting him leave, for wanting him to stay. Her
chin lifted. "I know you have your duty." Despite her efforts, she sounded
Horatio was afraid to reach out to comfort her. If he touched her, he
would not leave, and all would be in vain. "Goodnight, Gemma." He bent
swiftly, kissed her cheek, and was gone.
Gemma closed the door with a sigh. She did not know when he would return,
or if he would return. She tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear
and went back to the parlour. It was too late to work on her art, so she
sat in front of the fire, listening to the crackle of the logs and the
hush of the waves until she was too weary to stay awake.
The walk back to the Indefatigable cleared Horatio's head and cooled his
body. It also brought the return of reason over passion, and caused him to
berate himself for loosing it in the first place. He was not a man who
lost control of his senses, who drank or indulged in flights of whimsy to
call him from his duty, and yet that night, he had nearly yielded to a
fever in his blood that would surely have resulted in disaster. He was a
By the time he clambered into the shore boat taking him back to the Indy,
he had chastised himself into a thoroughly black mood. The first person he
saw as he pulled himself on deck was Bracegirdle. The first Lieutenant
looked down on him from the quarter-deck. Horatio touched his hat. "Good
evening, Mr. Bracegirdle."
"Mr. Hornblower. We were growing concerned." The flush staining
Hornblower's cheeks was visible even in the lantern light. *So that was
how it was,* Bracegirdle thought, almost envious of Hornblower's
innocence. He gave Horatio a benevolent smile.
That only increased Horatio's unease. He wondered how transparent he was;
if his conflicted emotions were visible to every eye, if the entire ship
knew how his time in Portsmouth was spent. He set his mouth in a hard
line, wishing he could quell his blushes as easily. Oh, he could bluff a
French captain into believing that he was fearless, but he was unable to
hide the turmoil a kiss had caused him.
"There was no reason, sir." Horatio turned away from Bracegirdle's
perceptive eyes and headed towards the crew quarters. He was nearly at the
companionway when he saw Styles and Oldroyd. He felt as if he were facing
his accomplices. They knew Gemma, they had seen his eagerness, his wide
open heart. The two seamen knuckled their foreheads. Horatio nodded in
"'Ow's Miss Roberts, sir?"
Styles gave him a cheeky grin, which irritated Horatio to no end. "Miss
Roberts is none of your concern," he snapped. "Get back to your duties."
He nearly stumbled in his haste to descend the ladder to the lower deck.
Styles snickered. "Seems Mr. 'Ornblower weren't as lucky as you, Oldroyd."
Oldroyd's fair complexion darkened. "An' 'ow would you know that, Styles?"
he scoffed. Oldroyd had been feeling much older and wiser for the last few
days, since his initiation into the mysteries of the flesh by Miss Flora.
Styles just laughed. "'Cause a man what's had what 'e needs, don't bite
yer 'ead off, mate. Our young lieutenant ain't got the look of a man
what's been laid."
Oldroyd gaped. In his deepest imaginings, he could not think of Mr.
Hornblower and Miss Roberts' engaged in the sort of activity Flora had
introduced him to. "He's the lieutenant, and Miss Roberts, well, she's a
lady," he protested.
Styles cuffed Oldroyd lightly. "An' just how do y'think they do it, boy?"
He shook his head. "C'mon. We've a bit o' work to tend to yet."
Horatio's first instinct was to closet himself in his cabin for the next
several hours until he could take refuge in the stillness of the midnight
watch. It was a mistake, for as soon as he lay down on his cot, his mind
returned to Gemma's warm, firelit parlour, and what had nearly happened
there. When he closed his eyes, he could see the way she had looked at
him, as if the fire were glowing within her; he could feel her body
beneath his, smell the sweet scent of her skin, taste her lips ... God, if
he went on like this, he would find himself in the same agonizing state he
had been in when he left her.
With a curse, he heaved himself from his cot, grabbed a mathematical text
from his table and went to the wardroom, half-hoping it would be deserted,
and half that someone, anyone would be there to distract him. Someone was
there. Cleveland ... with his nose in a book.
"What are you doing here?" Horatio asked sharply. He had not intended it
to sound quite so officious, but he was sorely vexed.
Cleveland nearly jumped from his seat. He had been puzzling over a
navigational problem in the book Mr. Bracegirdle had loaned to him, and
had not heard Horatio until he spoke harshly.
"Sir. Mr. Bracegirdle said I might study here, away from the other Mids."
Horatio rubbed his eyes tiredly. "My apologies, Cleveland. My mood is
foul." He sat at the table, opened his own book, and tried to read. The
words made no sense at all, but they did give him something to focus on
besides his own misery.
Cleveland was wise enough not to comment on the reasons for Horatio's
temper. It was quite impossible for anything to be kept a secret on a ship
the size of the Indefatigable. By now, every seaman and officer knew that
Mr. Hornblower had found a bit o'skirt to keep him occupied; Roberts'
sister, by all accounts an unconventional piece, too. Roberts had said so
himself -- that she had followed him to Portsmouth where she had a house,
Jealousy left a sour taste in Cleveland's mouth as he studied Hornblower.
It did not seem quite right to envy a man because he had inherited height
and a slender body from his parents. Or that he had a mind that solved
even the most complex navigational computations with disgusting precision,
while Cleveland could only stare dumbly at the same numbers. It even
seemed vaguely childish to resent Hornblower's deuced good luck -- some
men just possessed an unequal share. However, the one thing Cleveland
resented, and deeply, was the relationship that had grown between Captain
Pellew and Hornblower. He could not point out an instance when Horatio
had taken unfair advantage, or claim that Pellew did not treat his other
officers with consideration and courtesy; but like spoke to like, as his
Mum had always said. There was no arguing that Pellew and Hornblower could
have been father and son. And that was not Hornblower's fault, either.
Cleveland turned his eyes from Horatio's bent head, and back to his
problem. He could see no way to calculate their position from the given
coordinates ... He sighed in frustration.
Horatio looked up, glanced at the problem that he could solve in his
sleep, and reached out a long arm for the book. "May I?"
Cleveland nodded dumbly. He watched as Horatio wrote out a line of numbers
and shoved them over. "This is the formula you want to use, Cleveland."
He went on to explain patiently and lucidly until Cleveland was nearly
writhing with guilt over his former envious thoughts. Why did it suddenly
make sense when Hornblower explained it? And why did he have to be so
The candle had burned down by the time Horatio heard the Watch bell ring,
and closed his book with a sigh. "I have the watch. You did well on that
last problem, Cleveland."
"Thank you, sir." Cleveland blinked in surprise.
Horatio shrugged. "This, I can do, but ask me to tie a Fisherman's bend,
and I am all thumbs. Goodnight." He ducked beneath the low door jamb, and
went up to the quarter-deck. To his surprise, Captain Pellew was standing
at the bridge.
"Sir." Horatio touched the brim of his hat.
"Mr. Hornblower." Pellew nodded and turned his gaze back out to the shore.
It was a lovely evening. The February air held enough promise of warmth to
take the teeth from the slight on-shore breeze, and the stars arched
overhead in a swath of milky light. Pellew thought regretfully of his
home, not a day's sail from Portsmouth, and Lady Susan. He cast a sidelong
look at Hornblower's sharp profile. There was a slight frown between those
dark brows and a tautness to the lean cheeks that Pellew found reassuring.
Hornblower did not have the cat- in- the cream complacency of a man who
had discovered the secrets of the universe. Just as well, Pellew thought,
for the shock of the next morning would be harsh enough.
"Tomorrow morning, there will be a flogging." The words were distasteful
to Pellew. "One of the pressed men attempted to run."
"Bunting, sir?" Horatio asked in alarm.
"No. Should it have been?"
"No, sir. But I know he is -- resentful."
Pellew nodded. "I have felt that, as well, Mr. Hornblower. But no, it was
not Bunting, not even a man from this ship, thank God. The fool had the
nerve to run, and compounded his sins by assaulting a Captain of Marines,
and for that he is to be flogged around the Fleet." He saw Hornblower's
throat work against nausea, and sympathized. "Yes, it will be a bloody
business. And the consequences will not be pleasant. I do not hold with
such punishments; I fear they engender much ill-will amongst the men,
particularly those who have been pressed. But tradition deems that the
crime of desertion be punished. The man could have been hanged."
Horatio tried to suppress a shudder. Hanging might be preferable to having
the skin flayed from one's body by a cat 'o nine tails. "Yes, sir."
"You will assemble your men in the morning to witness punishment."
Pellew ached with sympathy that he could ill-afford. "It will be over
quickly, if that is any consolation."
Consolation for whom? Horatio wondered ruefully. He was not the one being
flogged. But he recognized Pellew's concern, and was grateful for it.
"Yes, sir. I will be glad when it is finished."
"As will I, Mr. Hornblower." Pellew gave a last long look over the decks
of the Indefatigable. All was well. At least for this evening. "Goodnight,
"Goodnight, sir." Pellew left the deck, and Horatio braced himself against
the slight sway of the Indy on the tides. He clasped his hands behind his
back and tried not to dwell on Gemma, or the horrors of the coming day.
He fixed his gaze on a star, and thought of a promise his mother had made
before she died. "I will always be with you," she had said. Horatio wished
desperately that it were true, for the midnight watch had never seemed so