The Heart of Honour, part three
by Joan C.


The morning dawned as sullen as the mood on the Idefatigable. The splendor
of the night before had vanished with the falling tide, and a heavy mist
had rolled in, muffling sounds, greying colours, shrouding the ships of
the fleet in sombre mourning. The men were assembled in ranks on the poop
deck awaiting the arrival of the boat carrying the prisoner to his
punishment.

Pellew stood on the quarter-deck. He wore his best uniform; blue, white
and gold splendor, incongruous given the solemnity of the occasion.
Bracegirdle stood on his right, Mr. Bowles on his left. There was not a
single bright note of colour other than the scarlet tunics of the Marines,
arrayed along the deck rails, their muskets held before them. The threat
was implicit, and it made Pellew uneasy. Damn this business ... He sought
out Hornblower, and found him by his division. The boy's face was white,
his eyes looked bruised, and behind his back, he clasped and unclasped his
fingers convulsively.

There was a soft plash of oars in the water, and the form of a ships' boat
emerged from the mists. The prisoner was dragged up the sides of the
Indefatigable -- he was either unwilling, or unable to climb the ladders.
His guards forced him upright, on knees that were buckling. A checkered
shirt had been draped over his back for the transport, but before he was
lashed to the gratings, it was stripped from him, and a ripple of sound
ran along the decks as the men exclaimed softly at the gruesome sight of
torn and bleeding flesh.

"SILENCE!" Pellew shouted, and it fell. "Mr. Harris. Administer the
punishment."

The bosun pulled the lash from the red baize bag. He shook out the nine
knotted strands and swung. The man screamed and twisted against the ropes
binding his wrists. Twenty times the lash rose and fell, until Pellew gave
the order to cease. "Dr. Hepplewhite, examine the prisoner."

Hepplewhite yanked at the man's pigtail, lifted his eyelids, and listened
to his breath. He uncorked a canteen of rum and held it to the prisoner's
mouth. The liquor made the man choke, but did its work in reviving him.
"The prisoner is conscious, Captain Pellew, sir. The punishment may
continue."

"Not on this ship," Pellew muttered. "Shore boat away, then, Mr. Bowles."

"Aye, aye, sir." Bowles repeated the order. The guards covered the
prisoner once again, half-carried him down to their waiting boat, and
rowed away.

The crew of the Indefatigable still stood at attention. Most of them were
hard men -- all of them had witnessed punishments of varying degrees, but
Pellew was reluctant to resort to the most savage methods. In his tenure
on the Indy, he had ordered perhaps ten floggings, mostly for dereliction
of duty of the grossest sort, and many of those, not more than twenty
strokes of themselves. But a flogging around the fleet was a death
sentence for most of the convicted, and Pellew could think of better ways
to die.

"Mr. Bracegirdle, have the bosun clear these decks, but for the men on
duty."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Pellew watched as the men were dismissed by their officers. Hornblower's
division was the last to leave. They stood beside him, some staring at the
gratings, others at the deck. The men who had come with him from the
Justinian seemed more concerned by the Lieutenant's state of mind than
what they had just witnessed, and one man, Bunting, had fixed his gaze on
the quarter-deck, his eyes as dark and hard as obsidian. They dropped away
quickly enough when he realized Pellew was watching him. What he had seen
in Bunting's eyes left Pellew cold. Hate was there, palpably. Rage at his
own helplessness; defiance. The man was a walking powder-keg wanting only
a fuse. And I gave him to Hornblower, Pellew thought. Lord help us all.

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

Later, Horatio could never recall how he endured the remainder of his
hours on duty. He had not felt such despair since leaving the Justinian,
for in truth, witnessing the flogging, had shaken him. Pellew had not
resorted to the lash since Horatio had been on board, though he did not
doubt when it was called for the Captain would administer justice with a
swift and severe hand. Perhaps that was the difference -- justice. Horatio
knew nothing of the crime the accused had committed; the circumstances,
the reasons the man had run. It should not matter to him, but somehow, it
did. The man had sought to escape an intolerable life, and he had struck
out against those who would return him to that life, dead or alive. And
now, he most likely was dead, or dying. Horatio wished he could see the
justice in that, but he saw only despair.

When he was relieved from duty, he knew that he had to get away from the
Indefatigable, or be stifled by the weight of his depression. He told Mr.
Bracegirdle that he was going into town, caught the shoreboat, and after
walking a while, found himself standing in front of a tavern. He was cold,
and weary. The lights from the taproom were warm, illuminating an interior
that was crowded with men, both civilian and Naval. Feeling desperate for
company, he went inside, approached the bar and ordered a tankard of ale.
As drank, he became aware of the conversation of two Naval officers next
to him.

"Oh, aye. I've no doubt he deserved it. But by the time he came to
Revenge, he was nothing more than a slab of raw meat. I hear he died
before noon."

Horatio nearly gagged on his ale. "Sir, you are speaking of the man who
was flogged this morning?" he asked.

"Yes. What ship is yours, sir?"

"Indefatigable."

"You were third, then. I take it he was alive when he left her?"

"Yes."

The officer grimaced. "A sorry end, but he deserved it. I hope it put the
fear of the lash into the pressed men, for they are a bad lot."

Horatio thought of the men of his division; of Matthews and his quiet
support, Styles with his earthy wit and undoubted courage, and Finch, who
had saved him at the Papillon. He was angered by the man's contemptuous
words. "Sir, they are men who have been taken from their homes, from their
lives. Would you not be resentful? Would you not be tempted to run?"

"You cannot have sympathy for him!" The officer laughed. "You're a very
odd sort if you do! Excusing the filth the press gang sweeps up! What
manner of Republican is old Pellew raising these days? "

Horatio felt his cheeks burning, but when he spoke, his voice was cold. "I
am the King's man, sir, as are you. And as are the men who sail our ships,
and fight the battles we lead them to. They risk their lives for us, they
deserve our respect." The room seemed suddenly overheated and oppressive.
Horatio set down his tankard. "I beg your pardon, sir. The ale seems to
have lost its taste." He made a curt salute and stalked out into the
waning twilight.

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

He had no clear intention of going to Gemma, but that was where he went;
as if instinct had led him to the one place he could find and take
comfort. When she opened her door and saw him standing there, drawn, pale
and weary, she held out her hand, and took him inside without saying a
word. She lifted the heavy, rain-sodden cloak from his shoulders, took his
dripping cocked hat from his hand, and settled him in front of the fire;
all in silence. Then she sat holding his cold hands in her warm ones.

She did not released him from her clasp until he had stopped shivering.
She had questions, but she refrained from asking them. "I will get you
some brandy, and some hot tea." She kissed him lightly on the forehead.
"Keep warm."

Oh God, he would have died there and been at peace. He dropped his head in
his hands, digging at the ache in his temples. It had been the devil of a
day, he thought. And was not sure that he wanted to think about tomorrow.
Perhaps, here with Gemma, he could put that aside for a while.

She returned to find him still sitting there, his head bowed, and his
shoulders hunched, as if he were protecting some secret pain. She poured
tea, this time in a serviceable china mug, added honey and a good dash of
brandy. Tea to warm, honey to comfort, brandy to fortify. She knelt before
him and folded his hands around the mug. "Tell me what is wrong, Horatio."

He looked into the depth of the mug. "It has been a very bad day. I should
not have come to lay this burden on you." He sipped the strong, sweet tea
and felt it begin to warm and strengthen him. "You have heard of
punishment by flogging around the fleet?"

"Yes."

"A man was beaten to death today, in the name of the King, by authority of
the Royal Navy."

"Was he from your ship?"

"No. But he might easily have been. He was a pressed seaman who wanted
only to escape a life he found unbearable. There is a man in my division
who is bitter enough to do the same, and I fear that he will."

Gemma sighed. "Perhaps the punishment will serve its purpose, and he will
think twice before attempting it."

"No. That sort of brutality will only eat away at a man until he becomes
so desperate that any escape, even death is preferable to a life he
hates."

There was such a certainty to his voice, that Gemma flinched. "Horatio,
how do you know this?"

He was silent for a long moment, all of his thoughts going back to the
Justinian. How could he tell Gemma about Jack Simpson? He would not sully
this place of refuge with that name. Simpson was dead, all the damage he
had caused was in the past. Or was it? Was Archie Kennedy dead? There was
no way of knowing. Horatio sighed and shook his head. "I came from a very
dark place, to the Indefatigable. And today, I felt as if I had been
forced back to it again."

"It must be like discovering that someone you love has done something
terrible. But you cannot help loving them," Gemma said.

Horatio turned to her. How could she know that was how it felt? He hated
the thought that she had known such betrayals. "Gemma?" he queried
gently.

"No, not now. I've shed too many tears on your lapels." She wiped her
brimming eyes with her fingertips. "You need to drink your tea. And I need
to finish some work. When that his done, we will sit in front of the fire
and think of nothing but how pleasant it is to be warm and comfortable."
She touched his hand, and left the parlour.

Horatio knew it was not so simple. But for now, it would be enough. He
sat sipping the tea, waiting for Gemma to return. The rain beat against
the windows, and the rising wind whistled about the frame, as if seeking
entrance to this haven. The ships in the harbor would be tossed tonight,
tugging at their anchor hawsers despite their furled sails, and the men
would be below decks, feeling as grim as the weather after the events of
the morning. He was assailed by a brief guilt for having found refuge in
Gemma's house; but all men dealt with their demons in different ways. They
drank, they indulged in games of chance, they sat alone in their quarters
and brooded, they sought out a woman. Horatio sighed and rested his head
on his arms.

Gemma came into the parlour and saw him still sitting as she had left him,
gazing into the flames as if the answers to all his questions could be
found in their dancing light. He must be very tired, and the world must
look very dark -- the small circle of illumination was scarcely holding
the shadows at bay. She sat next to him, took his hands and held them.
"Come, Horatio. Lay your head in my lap. I can see that it aches."

He was too weary to offer resistance. It had been eight years since his
mother had died; eight years since anyone had touched him with love. His
father was a kind man, but not demonstrative or warm. He had spent most of
the last years isolated in school, a solitary boy, who had not formed
friendships. Even in a ship of three hundred men, he was alone. He
worshipped Captain Pellew, but could not confide in him. And the one
person he had confided his hopes and dreams to, had been snatched away by
Jack Simpson's treachery. He wanted, for just a short time, to leave this
world, to find peace for his restless spirit. So he stretched out his
body, and lay his head in Gemma's soft lap.

She accepted the weight like a treasure. "Close your eyes, Horatio," she
whispered.

He looked up at her, a crooked smile on his lips. "If you will promise me
one thing."

"What?"

"That you will not sing. I-I am completely tone-deaf." He said it as if it
were a shameful flaw.

Gemma laughed softly. "Then you are in luck, for I cannot carry a tune."
She touched his eyelids. His lashes were long and soft, like a child's.
She gently explored the contours of his face; the high forehead, the ridge
of his cheekbones, the hard angle of his jaw. She felt the slight rough
stubble of his beard. His hair was still damp, his queue cool and silken
in her fingers. He was entirely beautiful, and Gemma cherished him.

Horatio reached up; his hand cupped her cheek, his thumb traced her lips,
and he felt her breath quicken. He slid his hand to the back of her neck,
and drew her down. As if in a dream, Gemma lay next to him, their bodies
touching lightly at knee, and hip; heart to heart. He did not know how to
ask her for what he wanted. Indeed, he did not know what he wanted. He
wanted to be held, he wanted Gemma in his arms until the last cold place
in his heart thawed, he wanted to be loved ... and was so uncertain that
he was worthy of love, that he could not ask, but could only hold her in
aching silence.

Gemma felt his heart beating against her breast, the rise and fall of his
chest, and was as enthralled and confused as he was. She stroked the hair
back from his forehead and gazed into his dark eyes. Such mysteries, they
held. But she could not read them. If she knew him for a hundred years,
she would not be able to read them. But she could hold him, and for this
little while, perhaps he would be hers.

"Who broke your heart, Gemma?" Horatio asked, quite unexpectedly, and felt
her stiffen in his arms. For a moment, she was silent, and Horatio wished
he had bitten back the words that had broken the fragile passion building
between them.

"Is this something you want to hear, now?"

He could have backed away from the question, but he would have it
answered, for he was not a man to do things by half. "Yes, if you will
tell me."

"I will tell you about my father," she replied. She drew a hesitant
breath. "He was an artist. He loved the sea, and he loved art. Because he
had no sons, he taught me to love them, too. He taught me all I know,
Horatio. Light, and shadow, perspective, how to see something, not just
look at it. I owe him everything. I loved him with all my heart. But there
was something he loved more ... He loved to gamble, Horatio. Looking back,
I can remember times when he was so generous, when we had everything a
person could desire -- and then, suddenly, it would be gone, and he
wouldn't have a canvas to paint on. Then two months later, we would be
back in the lap of luxury. I was a child, I did not realize that not
everyone lived like that. I thought it was because he was an artist ...
not because he was living from one winning hand to another."

Horatio nodded. "I have seen it." He pulled her closer, and she nestled
into the hollow of his shoulder. "There is more?"

"Yes. When I was thirteen, everything changed. He stopped painting,
stopped teaching me his craft. I was heartbroken. I thought I had done
something wrong, that I displeased him. And then, one night, my mother
came to me in the middle of the night and told me we must pack quickly,
and move from our house. We had never had to run in the night. I thought
something terrible had happened. I was frantic -- I begged my mother to
tell me what was wrong, and she just said that it was the usual trouble. I
knew what the usual trouble involved. But this time, when we left, my
father did not go with us. He was dead, Horatio. He had killed himself in
a gambling hall."

Horatio was dumbstruck. He had not expected this. "I-I'm sorry, Gemma."

"My mother sold every one of his paintings to pay his debts, but for the
one I hanging in the hall. She did not know that I had it hidden, just so
I would have something to remember him by. It was all I had of him. When
we left London, she forbade me to draw; she said it reminded her of the
past, and it would be better if I would let it go."

Horatio thought for Gemma not to draw would have been as debilitating and
painful as losing a limb. He would feel like that if he had to leave the
sea. He stroked her hair. "But you didn't?"

"No. Jamie understood. He was the only one who did. He hid my scribbles in
his room, away from my mother and the tutors. And when I went away to
school, I was able take classes again, even if it was studies of flowers
and fruit. When I was home during the holidays, though, Jamie and I would
go down to the sea, and I would draw what I wanted."

"How did you come to this house?" Horatio asked curiously.

"A year ago, a solicitor came from London with the deed. Somehow, my
father had hidden it from his creditors. And he left it to me, not to my
mother. She was furious, but after she saw the property, she said that it
was worth less than one of his paintings and walked away. I stayed to be
close to Jamie when he was in port."

"And to draw?"

"That too." She smiled sadly. "At first, it was very hard. But Jamie wrote
to me so vividly of his life at sea. I began to go to the docks, to watch
the sailors, and soon, I was drawing what Jamie put in his letters. I sent
them when I could, so that he would know how much he meant to me. And I
included the portrait, so he would not forget how I looked. I never
thought that we would not see each other again."

"I'm sorry, I did not know him very well."

"You helped him with navigation."

Horatio's eyes widened. "He told you?"

"Yes. I recognized your name, that first day." She smiled. "He wrote to me
of you."

"Oh, Lord," Horatio groaned. "I can imagine what he said. 'Mr. Hornblower
is sour, grim, and silent. And seasick five days out of ten!'"

"No!" Gemma laughed. She pulled away from his hold, and Horatio tightened
his grip on her arm. "I'll be back!"

"Promise?"

Gemma dropped a quick kiss on his lips. "Promise." She went to the mantel
and opened a small sandalwood box. "Jamie's letters ..." She sat
cross-legged, her skirts pooling around her. "Ah, here we are ... This was
right after he was transferred. He wrote, 'The Indefatigable is the most
splendid ship, Gem. Captain Pellew is fiercely proud, reputedly as brave
as a lion, and quite frightening. Lt. Bracegirdle is all a first officer
should be, and has been very kind to me. Lieutenant Hornblower -- yes,
that is truly his name, Gemma.' She bit her lip. "Perhaps I should not
read this ..."

Horatio snatched the letter from her, laughing. "Now you have to!" He
continued reading: 'Yes, that is truly his name, Gemma -- has offered to
tutor me in mathematics and navigation. He is tall, and very grave. And
frightfully intelligent, according to Midshipman Cleveland. I fear I will
have to work my hardest to impress him.'" Horatio cocked an eyebrow at
Gemma. "Am I very grave?"

She appraised him, "Yes, you are. But that is not all he wrote, Horatio."
She unfolded a second letter. "This, dated several weeks later. 'Gemma, I
have come into a most fortunate situation. As fond as I was of Captain
Richardson and the Gallant, I never imagined such a ship as the
Indefatigable. I feel my knowledge growing daily. Thanks to Lieutenant
Hornblower's tutoring, I have learned more about navigation than I have
imagined possible. I am afraid that I am at times a sore trial to Mr.
Hornblower -- he is every bit as brilliant as I was told. But it is not
only that, he is a good officer. To see him with the men of his division,
is to see what the Royal Navy should aspire to be. I have heard such tales
of him, Gem. I can scarcely wait to tell you -- "

Horatio could not bear to hear those words echoing hero-worship that he
did not deserve. He laid a finger across her lips, silencing her.
"Please, Gemma. I am none of those things your brother wrote. I try to do
my duty -- that is all. At night I lay awake and count my failures."

"You did not fail James, Horatio! He admired you --"

"I do not deserve admiration for doing my duty." He spoke the bitter words
tersely. "I am more sorry than I can say for James' death, Gemma. I wish I
had taken more time to know him." He drew a breath. "But I must get back
to the Indy, I have stayed too long." He stood up and walked out of the
parlour. He was ashamed that Roberts had painted him a hero, and afraid
that Gemma would see that he was not.

Gemma scooped the letters back in the box, and berated herself for her
lack of foresight. She had meant to comfort him, had thought the letters
would please him, and instead they had hurt him and driven him away. She
scrambled ungracefully to her feet and hurried into the hall. "Horatio,
wait!" she called.

He turned, his cloak swirling about him. Gemma grabbed his shoulders. "I
wish you would not do this, Horatio! Don't be angry with me." She was
breathing quickly, her eyes anxious.

"Angry?" He nearly laughed. Anger was the one thing he was certain he did
not feel. "I'm not angry. " His tangle of emotions made him awkward, and
he did not know how to say goodbye. He took refuge in formality. "Thank
you, for tonight," he said, and cursed himself for his clumsiness. An hour
ago she had been in his arms, and now he could scarcely speak to her.

"Stay!" she begged.

"Gemma --"

"Stay. Please." She was offering him everything.

If he stayed, he would not leave. He knew that as surely as he knew the
stars overhead. "I can't," he said. "Goodnight, Gemma." As he closed the
door, he wondered if he would regret leaving for the rest of his life. He
raised his hand, as if to knock, and instead rested it splayed against the
panel of the door, unaware that on the other side, separated by an inch of
wood, Gemma had mirrored the action exactly.

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

The stars came out as the shore boat returned Horatio to the
Indefatigable. He thought she had never looked more beautiful; serenely
drifting on the waves, the windows of Pellew's cabin reflecting in the
waters, her masts straight and tall. Her bell sounded the hour, and down
the line of ships, came answering echoes drifting across the harbor.

As he came on board, Horatio glanced up at the quarter-deck. The officer
of the watch, Lieutenant Fellows, touched his hat, and Horatio did the
same in acknowledgment. Pellew had taken the precaution of posting
additional Marine guards, but it seemed their presence was unnecessary.
There were two hours before his watch began, and Horatio was tired. The
morning seemed a lifetime away. He would take a quick rest, perhaps grab a
bite of food ...

"Mr. 'Ornblower, sir?" It was Matthews, coming quietly towards him.

"Good evening, Matthews." Matthews' seamed face looked worried. "What is
it? Is something wrong?" Horatio asked sharply.

"It's Finch, sir. I'm right worried about 'im."

"Is he ill?" Finch was small, and seemed so frail that it was a logical
assumption.

"Not exactly, sir. But he's not well."

"Has he been to see Dr. Hepplewhite?"

"Aye, sir. Dr. Hepplewhite bled him and gave 'im some powders for his
lungs. But he's still poorly."

Horatio sighed. He was fond of Finch, more than fond, for he owed Finch
his life. It had been Finch who had dived from the mast of the Papillon to
safe Horatio from drowning after Simpson had shot him. The tiny seaman had
more heart than men twice his size, and more grit than half the fleet. It
grieved Horatio to hear that he was poorly. "Keep an eye on him,
Matthews."

"Aye, aye, sir." Matthews knuckled his forehead and turned away.

"Matthews, wait --" Horatio had a thought. "Better yet, have Bunting keep
an eye on him. Have him make sure Finch eats, and takes those powders."

"Bunting, sir?"

"Yes, perhaps it will give him something to think on besides his own
misery."

Matthews grinned. The lad was coming along. "Aye, aye, sir."

Horatio went to the wardroom and found it deserted. Lieutenant Bracegirdle
and Mr. Bowles, whose usual occupation was a running game of Acey-deucy
were long retired. Horatio sat at the gameboard and played idly with the
dice, his thoughts as confused and unsettled as the tumbling cubes at his
fingertips. Random chance. Random chance that Roberts should die, that the
Indy limp into Portsmouth, that he should meet Gemma. Random chance ...
He had a vision of the Almighty presiding over a heavenly game table and
rolling the dies of fate. Hmm, let me see here, what new torture can I
devise for Horatio Hornblower ...

Horatio dropped the dice back into their cup and rose with a sigh. He
could not say that he was looking forward to the Midnight watch. It was
entirely too conducive to introspection, and Horatio had no desire to be
alone with his thoughts that night. But he sighed, and picked up his
cocked hat and cape. The cape still held a faint scent of wood smoke and
roses; Gemma's scent. Horatio breathed it in for a moment, then slung the
cape over his shoulders and went up on deck.

For perhaps an hour he stood at the rail, gazing out at the harbor. The
capricious wind had died to a whisper and the sea was calm. Overhead, he
heard the rigging slap against the masts as the Indy floated gently on the
waters. This was the order of his world: the tides, the wind, the wooden
deck beneath his feet. And Gemma Roberts? What place did she hold in this
world? He could not answer that.

He sighed heavily.

"Something troubles you, Mr. Hornblower?" Captain Pellew's voice, soft as
it was startled Horatio.

"Captain Pellew, sir!" He came to attention and Pellew shook his head.

"Be at ease, Mr. Hornblower. I came merely to check the weather. It is a
fair night, is it not? Quite a change from this morning."

"Yes, sir." Horatio wondered if Pellew knew of the fate of the flogged
man. "Sir, the man who was beaten this morning is dead."

Pellew's expression was grim. "I feared as much. The punishment is a death
sentence for all but the hardiest."

"Sir, pardon me, but was his crime so great as to merit death?"

"According to the Articles of War, yes. We are bound by those articles
whether or not we agree with them."

Horatio nodded. "Yes, sir. I understand that. But -- " he broke off,
uncertain of the wisdom of pursuing that tack. An acting Lieutenant had no
place questioning the wisdom of his superior officers.

Pellew arched his brows, "'But'?" When he saw Hornblower's reluctance to
continue, and realized the probable reason for it, he stifled a smile.
"Had I any say in the sentencing, would I have ordered that punishment?
No, most likely not."

"Sir, may I ask why?"

Pellew braced himself, his hands behind his back. "I shall sound like a
sea-lawyer, but he was one man acting on an impulse. He did not induce a
mutiny amongst the other seamen, nor did he endanger his ship or the crew
with his flight. True, he struck out against the Captain of Marines, but
he scarcely bruised the man. I do not believe that warrants a death
sentence. That court martial did a disservice to the Navy -- for if we
flog a man to death for a minor offense, then what standard do we impose
for a greater one? A man has but one life."

Hornblower's brows drew together. Pellew had essentially answered his
first question, but others had been raised. "How do you judge a man, sir?"

Pellew was silent for a moment as he framed his answer. "I believe the
greatest sin a man can commit, is to ignore the needs of his fellows; to
act selfishly and without regard to their lives and safety; to count
himself more important than the man who fights next to him. When you have
a command, you must remember that every man is valuable -- to lose even
one weakens you. And when a man deliberately acts in a manner contrary to
the well-being of others, there must be some punishment meted out. But the
punishment should be just, and in accord with the nature of the crime. It
is a delicate balance, and not always easy to maintain."

Pellew shifted his shoulders and glanced at the profile next to him. So
young, and so serious. This time, he did smile. "Now, having given you
the benefit of my thoughts, I shall leave you with yours. Goodnight, Mr.
Hornblower."

Horatio touched his hat. "Goodnight, sir. Thank you for answering my
questions." He watched as Pellew's straight form receded into the night.

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

Gemma was unable to sleep. After Horatio had left, she had felt so worn
through that she thought sleep would overwhelm her like death. Instead,
she found herself re-living every word and every feeling; trying to
understand what she had said that had driven him away. *I do not deserve
admiration for doing my duty,* he had said, as if making an excuse. She
had taken out the rest of the letter and had read Jamie's account of the
taking of the Papillon. When she had first received it, she had searched
out the Naval Chronicle for the official account of the engagement. Two
officers had died when the Papillon had been fired upon by shore
batteries, yet the ship had engaged two French Corvettes that had attacked
the Indefatigable. The Chronicle had said only that the Indefatigable and
the Papillon had been successful in defeating the enemy. It was Jamie who
had told her that the Papillon had been commanded by Hornblower. To Jamie,
and to Gemma, it seemed an act of heroism, to Horatio it was mere duty.

Gemma wondered how he could not see what others did; his courage, his
kindness, his determination. Instead he saw self-doubts. Wrapping herself
in a shawl, Gemma went downstairs to the parlour. The starlight reflected
off the waters of the harbor, and the lights of the ships riding at anchor
seemed to glimmer and rise to join them in the dark blue sky. Gemma
stirred the fire into life, lit several candles and went to her easel.
From the back of the sketch pad, she pulled the study she had done of
Horatio, after she had first met him. She clipped it to the top of the
easel, and then picking up a fresh charcoal, she began sketching. She
worked until the stars had yielded to a pale dawn and the candles guttered
their holders. Then, satisfied at last, she extinguished their last
flames, and went upstairs to take some rest.

When she next woke, the sun was spilling across her coverlet, warming her
hands. She rose, dressed in breeches and shirt, and went downstairs to
re-evaluate her work of the night before. She stood before her easel, her
head slightly tilted to one side. She had drawn Horatio standing in the
sunlight, his cocked hat held in his hands, his young face severe and
beautiful over the high collar and black neck cloth. She picked up her
charcoal and added a few fine strokes, before she took it from the pad and
held it up. She thought she had captured him well, but she would put the
portrait away for now, and perhaps someday, she would give it to him, and
say: "This is how I see you. This is how others see you ... this is how
you are, heart and soul."

She stored it away safely, and then putting on her pea coat, and taking up
her sketchbook, she went out to the beach to work.

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

As Gemma was setting off to the beach, Horatio and the officers of the
Indefatigable were gathered around Captain Pellew's table. They had been
summoned immediately after morning muster. The orders from the Admiralty
had been delivered.

Pellew sat at the head of the table, the parchment spread out before him
anchored by a candlestick. The Admiralty had never been one to stint on
paper, and the orders were impressive, stamped with red seals, and as
elaborately penned as a writ from God. "Gentlemen," Pellew's dark gaze
scanned the length of the table, "Our repairs are nearing completion.
Thank you for your hard work, I know it has been a very tight schedule,
and you and your men have managed quite brilliantly to put us in fighting
trim. The Admiralty has recognized this, and has finally given forth its
decree on our disposition."

"As I have intimated, we will be going to the Mediterranean, specifically
to Cadiz and the coast of Northern Africa. Their Lordships are of the mind
that France and Spain are about to get into bed together, leaving us in
the position of a scorned suitor. We will not be a welcome presence."
Pellew paused and rubbed his forehead. "We will finish our provisioning
tomorrow afternoon at the latest, and are ordered to sail the following
day."

If Horatio's stomach had been filled with shot, it could not have felt
more leaden than it did when he heard those words. Three days, including
this one nearly half-gone, and he would be leaving England, perhaps
forever. His father's house was a day's coach ride away, and he had not
even told him that he was in port. Now it was too late to get word to him.
And Gemma ... it hurt below his breastbone when he thought of her. He
might never see her again. He had thought there would be more time ...

"Mr. Hornblower?"

Horatio blinked. The room came back into focus and he turned towards
Captain Pellew. "Sir?"

"You and Mr. Cleveland will be in charge of overseeing the delivery of our
supplies. I will have you at the shipyard, and Mr. Cleveland here to see
to their proper storage."

"Aye, aye, sir." Cleveland and Horatio answered in tandem, and exchanged
glances. Horatio sensed that Cleveland would have wished it the other way
around, but Horatio's first thought had been that he would be in
Portsmouth, and might find a way to steal a few moments with Gemma before
they sailed.

"Very good. Mr. Hornblower, you and I will go to the dockyards now and
settle our accounts with our friend, Mr. Bagshot. Mr. Cleveland, see that
we are prepared to take on cargo. Any questions, gentlemen?"

There were none. Pellew's orders were so concise that they rarely required
clarification. The group of officers filed out of the cabin and on deck.
Horatio squinted against the bright sunlight. He had slept poorly the
night before, troubled by the uneasy leave-taking from Gemma, and not
knowing how to set it right. Perhaps he might beg an hour's leave from
Pellew to see her when they were finished at the dockyards.

He saw Bunting and Finch standing at the rail watching Captain Pellew's
gig being lowered. Finch seemed better this morning, but still looked as
if a stiff breeze would blow him away like thistledown. Both men touched
their foreheads respectfully as Horatio approached.

"Good morning, Finch. How are you feeling this morning?"

"Right as rain, sir. Dr. Hepplewhite gave me some powders, sir."

"So I've been told. But no heavy labor, you hear, Finch. Bunting, keep
your eye on him."

"Aye, aye, sir." Bunting's tone was light, and for the first time, Horatio
saw a glimmer of something other than bitterness and anger in the depths
of his eyes. If he had been an optimist, he would have called it a hopeful
sign. As it was, he merely deemed it a first, tiny step towards justifying
Captain Pellew's faith in him.

"Very good, Bunting. I will hold you to it."

Pellew, standing not three steps away, heard the exchange, and exchanged a
small smile with Lieutenant Bracegirdle. That's a crown you owe me, the
look said; and Bracegirdle's shoulders lifted in a shrug. He should know
by now that wagering with Pellew was a certain way to lose a bet. "Well,
Mr. Hornblower, if you've finished dawdling, we might get to shore before
noon."

Horatio blushed fiercely. "Aye, aye, sir. Carry on Bunting, Finch." He
cursed himself for an awkward fool. What kind of officer would Captain
Pellew take him for? He followed the Captain down the ladder and into the
gig, grateful that Pellew's gimlet gaze was fixed on the shore, and not on
his gawky descent.

The sight of all the red seals on the Admiralty orders turned the
fractious Mr. Bagshot into a fawning sycophant. You would have thought
Pellew the King, and Horatio the Prince of Wales for all the bowing and
scraping he did. Clearly, Pellew was not impressed. He merely arched his
black brows, and stated his requests in that clipped, dry voice that had
made harder men than Mr. Bagshot cringe and scurry for cover.

When Bagshot finally disappeared to see that their supplies were being
readied, Horatio turned to Captain Pellew. "Sir?" he said in some alarm,
for Pellew had covered his face with his hand, and his shoulders were
shaking. "Sir, are you all right?"

Pellew dropped his hand, and his laugh pealed out. "I tell you, Mr.
Hornblower, one of the greatest satisfactions in life is putting the fear
of God and the Admiralty into unctuous bureaucrats like this Bagshot! Have
you ever in your life seen such utter boot-licking? I swear it does my
heart a world of good!"

Pellew's mirth astonished Horatio. That the man should actually be capable
of expressing glee, was a revelation. His eyes were dancing like a small
boy's who had gotten out of the neighbor's orchard without being spotted.
"No, sir," Horatio answered hesitantly, and then could no longer repress a
smile. "He does a remarkable job of backing and filling."

Pellew gave a gusty sigh. "I wish I could say it was the force of my
personality which has produced this sea-change in our friend, but I fear
it was the generous application of lucre by Lord Hood which has wrought
this miracle."

"Sir?" Horatio felt he had missed a link in the chain of command.

"Commission, Hornblower." He rubbed his fingers together. "Like Midas, the
Admiralty has turned casks of beef and rum into gold for our friend, Mr.
Bagshot. Lord Hood has overpaid, so that we might sail. It is that simple,
and that sad. But that is the world we live in, where commerce and war
co-exist."

"Yes, sir." But he did not understand yet.

At that moment, Mr. Bagshot bustled back into the room, waving the
Admiralty orders like a flag. "Captain Pellew, sir. I am pleased to say
that we will be able to fill all your requests in a timely fashion. When
would you like delivery?"

"Tomorrow morning at first light, Lieutenant Hornblower here, will be
knocking at the gates."

"Oh my! That is short notice ..." Bagshot licked his lips nervously. "I
cannot promise --"

Pellew rose to his feet. He was not as tall as Horatio, but when in a
rage, he towered. And he certainly towered over Bagshot. "I tell you, sir,
that you can and you will have those provisions ready at dawn tomorrow! Or
I shall personally drag you in front of Lord Hood, and you can explain to
him why you are unable to fulfill your obligations, for which he has so
generously paid you." He leaned over the desk, and Bagshot leaped back.
"Is that clear?" he hissed at the clerk.

"You needn't threaten me, sir," Bagshot whined. "I was merely stating that
this might --"

"Might what?" Pellew thundered.

"Might r-require that I-I stay up all n-night, sir." Bagshot wrung his
hands. "But I shall do it, sir. If I have to load those casks myself,
sir. It will be done."

Pellew straightened. "Good. We seem to understand each other perfectly. I
bid you good day, Mr. Bagshot." He swept out of the office, with Horatio
following in his wake. Bagshot collapsed in his chair. When he took up his
pen, his hand was shaking.

Pellew stood for a moment outside the door and sucked in a lungful of air.
"I do not like being forced to anger, Mr. Hornblower."

"No, sir."

"But I tell you, my patience has been sorely tried."

"Yes, sir." Horatio was still slightly stunned by Pellew's magnificent
outrage. It was like being scorched by red-hot shot.

"It will be a relief to be back on the Indy, hm?"

"Yes, sir." Horatio hesitated. "Sir, please. I would like to see Miss
Roberts. To tell her that we shall be sailing, soon."
"Would you?" Pellew's eyes narrowed. The boy was standing so straight that
his backbone would have rivaled a ramrod, but his fingers were worrying at
the cockade on his hat. Pellew had his misgivings, but he could not be so
cruel to deny Hornblower a chance to say good bye to his love. "Very well.
An hour, Mr. Hornblower."

"Thank you, sir." He saluted and walked swiftly away.

Pellew frowned after him. He took a step towards his gig, and then paused.
"I have some business to attend to in town," he told the coxswain. "Wait
here." Feeling inexplicably guilty, he set off after Hornblower.

It was a simple matter to follow Hornblower, his tall form and military
posture were outstanding. Pellew walked quickly enough to keep Hornblower
in sight, just hoping that the boy would not turn around suddenly and see
his Captain nipping at his heels. Lord knows how he would explain away his
presence. Why was he doing this? Pellew did not know. Idle curiosity? The
protective instincts of a father? Pellew would admit to neither of those.
He acknowledged a concern for the future of a promising officer -- that
was only natural.

The street traffic gradually died away, and it was harder for Pellew to
keep his distance, but he continued, dropping back a bit farther to avoid
detection. When Hornblower reached the end of the esplanade, he turned
down a rough road that seemed little used. There were few houses here, and
the sound of the surf beating on a rough shore grew louder. Pellew
wondered exactly where it was that Miss Roberts lived. In a cave hollowed
out by centuries of ocean tides? Good God! Despite his superb physical
condition, Pellew found himself breathing a bit heavily.

And then, there it was, a small grey cottage perched at the edge of a
rocky incline leading to a narrow strip of beach. Hornblower stopped, saw
something, or someone on the beach, and raised his hand. Pellew pulled up
short. He could advance no further without risk. Feeling melodramatic and
ridiculously clandestine, Pellew flattened himself against a boulder. He
felt rather exposed, but he doubted he could be seen from the beach. But
what he could see ...

Hornblower, his lanky strides carrying him down the strand towards the
figure standing at the edge of the surf. Pellew frowned, a young man? Who
was he? Then he saw Hornblower open his arms to fold the youth into his
embrace. After a moment of disoriented shock, Pellew realized that he was
looking at Gemma Roberts. My God! What sort of woman was this who lived
alone in this deserted place, who wore trousers, who lured innocent youths
from their duties? His first instinct was to grab his lieutenant from the
arms of this cunning vixen who had ensnared him.

And then he saw their faces, and forgot his indignation. He recalled the
time he had come home from the sea to marry Susan, and had seen her
standing in the hall of her father's house, more beautiful than his
dreams, and how, when she had seen him her face had lit up like the sun,
and he had felt its warmth and delight thrill him to the core. Could they
have looked so very different than Horatio and Gemma? Perhaps not.

However, there was a vast difference in their circumstances. Pellew had
been a Captain, with prize money in the bank and regarded as a man on the
rise. He had not been a youth with no fortune, whose prospects were mere
seedlings of hope, and whose reputation was fragile as glass, easily
shattered by the slightest hint of scandal.

And what of the girl? She could not be more than a year older than
Hornblower. What of her reputation? God knows, a man could sail away and
be forgotten, but a woman -- her virtue was her fortune. If she were to be
hopelessly compromised ... and at that Pellew grew cold. Was that her
game? He prayed it was not, and with a heavy heart, he turned away, and
began walking towards Portsmouth.

He had two days to see this sad affaire to an end. And he intended it to
be the end. He could not allow Hornblower to throw his life away. If the
girl had feelings for Hornblower, surely she could be persuaded to release
him from whatever honour seemed to dictate. She would have to do it, for
Hornblower certainly would not. Pellew's face, when he returned to his
gig, was so grim that his coxswain ordered the men at the oars to attend
to their duties and not say a word to upset him further.