The Heart of Honour, part four
by Joan C.


Gemma disengaged herself from Horatio's embrace. He had been holding her
so tightly that she could not read the expression on his face. When she
looked up, she knew that something was very wrong. She laid her hand
against his face, concerned. "What is it, Horatio? What has happened?"

He kissed her palm. "I have some news." He drew in a breath. "Captain
Pellew received orders from the Admiralty this morning. We are to depart
in two days."

"Two days!" Gemma gasped. "How is that possible?"

Horatio shook his head. "We thought it would be two weeks at least, but we
were wrong. The Navy chose this time to become efficient, for the first
time in living memory. Even Captain Pellew was taken by surprise."

"What are we to do?" Gemma asked, and wished her voice did not shake so.

"I shall sail away in two days. I have no other choice."

Gemma broke away entirely from Horatio's encircling arms. Her heartbeat
had just quickened like the wings of a bird taking flight. She felt dizzy,
and not a little ill. How could she bear losing him? She took a few steps
towards the water, waiting for the turmoil in her mind to subside.

"I'm sorry, Gemma."

It seemed an odd sort of apology. Why was he sorry? That he was leaving;
or that she would be devastated by his departure? Gemma looked towards the
harbor and the ships at anchor there. She did not know which one was the
Indefatigable. "Can you see the Indefatigable from here, Horatio?" she
asked.

"Yes. The Indy is the third one, next to Tonnant -- the ship of the line."
He pointed. "You can just see her ensign."

Gemma followed the line of his finger. The Indefatigable -- the Indy. When
Horatio spoke her name, it was with such ineffable pride that Gemma felt a
twinge of jealousy towards her, as if timber, iron, and canvas were the
same as living flesh. She had heard sailors speak of the ships that
carried them over the waters; some with awe, some with bitter hate, some
with affection. But never with indifference.

"She is beautiful."

"Yes."

She turned to look at him as he stood beside her, his gaze fixed on the
Indefatigable, his shoulders straight and proud. A soft wind stirred his
hair, and Gemma's heart broke in her breast. She knew then, that she could
not even dream of keeping Horatio at her side; for how could she compete
with the Indy and the ocean, which were life and breath to him? She tried
to suppress her sob, but could not.

Horatio heard the tiny catch of pain. It could not have hurt him more if
it had been a thrust to the heart. He gathered Gemma to his side and felt
her shoulders shaking. She was crying for him? That she should care that
much, was an astonishment. What had he done to deserve it? He had caused
her grief, he had laid his despair on her shoulders, and taken what
comfort he could from her without giving anything -- anything in return.
What could he give? He had nothing -- a future that was dependent on his
survival during a time of war? It was a sorry dowry for a bride. And he
had his duty, a sacred oath that he was bound to honour, or die.

"Please, Gemma --" he said brokenly. "I'm not worth the tears."

She raised her tear-stained face to his and she gripped his shoulders
tightly. "Never say that, Horatio! Don't you see what you are? Don't you
know what you are?" Of course, he did not. His dark eyes revealed nothing
of his thoughts. There were emotions there, locked tight in the safe of
his heart, but he would not open it to her. Gemma released him and stepped
away. "Have you come to say goodbye?"

He looked down at the pebbled beach. He had not thought of it as goodbye.
"I have only an hour, Gemma. If this is to be farewell ..." he could not
continue in the face of an unaccountable loss. His hands moved in a
helpless gesture. "If you want it to be farewell --"

"No," she whispered. "I don't." Then she was in his arms once again, and
he was kissing her, and could not tell if the tears he tasted were his
own, or hers, or a commingling of both, bitter and sweet together.

"Come with me," Gemma said, taking his hand and leading him from the beach
to her house.

Then they were inside, and up the stairs to the small sunlit room
overlooking the sea, where Gemma slept. Kissing, touching, fumbling with
unfamiliar clothing, dizzy with heady delight until they found their way
between kisses to Gemma's white bed, and then stopped, hearts pounding as
they realized all at once, where they stood.

Horatio's shirt lay at his feet, and some small, detached part of Gemma's
artistic mind noted with wonder how beautifully he was made; fine bones
and long muscles, lean, and pale as ivory below the golden demarcation of
his tan. She came closer, her breath fast and light, her pulse jarring the
frill on her shirt. Horatio slid his hands beneath the muslin folds. The
warmth of her skin was startling, the small bones of her ribcage were
fragile, and the swell of her breasts in his palms, sweeter and softer
than anything he had imagined. God, he would die if he could not have her
-- he would die if he did. He was nineteen years old, and every fibre of
his body was screaming for release, but for that last shred of honour in
his mind.

As ever, it came to the fore. He found himself asking questions that he
could not silence. What would be the consequences of this action? What if
he did not return, ever? It could happen -- illness, a shipwreck, dear
God, not to mention what might happen to him in a battle! His greatest
fear was not that he would die, but would be maimed, horribly crippled, to
remain an object of pity and disgust. What future would she have then, if
he had none to offer? And yet, how he wanted her! At times the solitude he
had lived with for years, was like a suffocating burden; only briefly
lifted from him -- Archie had taken some of the weight on his own slight
shoulders, but he was gone, perhaps dead. And now there was Gemma,
offering him solace, the warmth of her body, the quiet of her mind, and
perhaps, love. His mind startled at the thought.

Gemma saw his hesitation. She leaned closer, her hands light upon his
chest, and felt him trembling with the effort of holding his arousal in
check. His dark eyes were lit with amber lights, and filled with doubts.
Gemma had none, not for herself. She lifted her face, raised herself on
tiptoe to reach his lips, to claim him with her kiss ...

Horatio slewed away from her roughly. "No! I cannot hurt you like this!"
He took two steps and stood, his back to her. His arms hung at his sides,
and his fists clenched and unclenched as he fought to master his passions.


His change from passionate lover, to stricken youth left Gemma confused
and wondering what she had done to cause it. "Losing you hurts me far
more," she said in a small voice. Horatio turned to her. She sat on the
end of the bed, her shirt sliding off her shoulders, her hair spread
across her breast in a jumble of autumnal curls. She was very pale, her
eyes glittering with tears. "I would rather be with you this once, and
bear that pain, than watch you leave without knowing what it is like to
love you."

Horatio bent and picked his shirt from the floor. He held it in his hands,
and sat rather gingerly next to Gemma on the bed. He could not meet those
soft, sad eyes. "I sail in two days, Gemma. It could be years before I
return. I might never return! I cannot take your reputation and your
future with me."

"They are mine to spend where I wish, Horatio! I would give them to you
gladly, of my own free will."

He bent his head, as if fascinated by the white linen shirt in his hands.
He was drained of emotion, as he had been after commanding the Papillon.
But there was no exultation in him to counter the emptiness. "And would
come to hate me if I never return."

Gemma would not think of that possibility. She studied his back, where
the skin stretched taut as satin over his spine and shoulder blades, the
sunlight catching the mahogany glints in his dark hair, the way the curls
lay on his pale skin. "I could never hate you, Horatio," she whispered.

His painfully logical mind told him otherwise. "If we do this, there are
consequences beyond what passes between us in this room. What if there
should be a child?"

Gemma's chin went up. "It is not likely, but if there were, I should
welcome it, Horatio."

"Would you?" He smiled wearily. For the first time in their relationship,
he felt infinitely older and wiser than Gemma. Perhaps it was the need to
be clear-sighted, to be prepared for every eventuality. He had learned to
think like that from Pellew, who had trained him to study every facet of a
situation; or perhaps it was his unsentimental upbringing, or his nature
to be aware of the darkness lurking on the horizon. "Gemma, " he sighed.
"I would not for the world leave a child of mine a bastard. Or mark you
with the shame of bearing one."

"It is a risk I am willing to take!" Gemma exclaimed softly.

"You cannot waste your life and your gift on me. I won't allow it."

"You won't allow it!" Gemma rose angrily. "I am not yours to command,
Lieutenant Hornblower! I order my own life."

"Do you?" His dark brows arched. He laid aside his shirt and took both of
her hands in his. As ever, they were slightly smudged with charcoal,
testifying to her devotion to her work. "What if you could never draw
again, Gemma?"

She tugged her hands free of his grip. "Because I had a child? Horatio,
that does not make sense!"

"Really? Think on it." He was on the attack now; brutal, because his duty
was clear to him, and he could not turn his back on it, nor wish his life
to be different than it was. "Look what happened to your father. He could
not draw, you told me that yourself, because gambling became more
important to him than his talent. Which would you choose to suffer? Your
child, or your art? And even if there were no child, what of your
reputation? It is in jeopardy just through my presence. I should not even
be here, much less, like this."

"Then perhaps you should leave." Gemma could not hide the bitterness in
her voice. She had offered all she had to him, and he had refused. And
yet, despite the sting of her wounded pride, she knew that he was right.
She knew her heart, but she had not considered his. Her heedless rush of
passion had blinded her to his nature. That heart beating in his breast
was driven by passion, yes; but also by courage, duty, and honour. The
balance had swung.

Gemma looked up to find that he had pulled his shirt over his head, and
was tying his neck cloth. "Horatio, wait."

"I can't, Gemma. I had an hour, no more. I'm sorry."

"Will I see you again before you sail?"

"Yes. I will come to say good bye." She looked so small, so defeated, that
he could not resist taking her in his arms, and holding her close. "I must
be mad to leave you," he said with a hint of rueful laughter in his
voice.

"And I, for letting you go, Horatio. Promise me, I will see you one more
time."

"I promise." He kissed her sweetly, a pledge of honour, and left her.
Gemma hurried to the window and watched as he strode down the path. As he
faded from her sight, she knew with a painful certainty, that he would
never set foot in her house again.

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

If there had been a rug on Captain Pellew's cabin floor, it would have
been worn through before eight bells. His servant, Powers tripped at his
heels, handing the Captain items to complete his toilette, and no more
able to hold him still than if he had been a caged tiger. Finally, when it
came to Pellew's neck cloth, Powers remonstrated. "Captain Pellew, sir. I
beg you to hold still long enough to tie a proper knot, or you will go to
the Port Admiral looking like the greenest midshipman."

Pellew stopped short, nearly causing Powers to bump into his back. "What?"
he snapped.

"Sir, your neck cloth -- I cannot tie it when you are pacing fit to wear
the finish off the floor."

Pellew grudgingly allowed Powers to arrange the length of black silk into
a dignified cravat and hand him into his coat, smoothing the well-fitted
cloth across Pellew's back. "Now you look proper, sir."

"I am pleased I meet your approval, Powers." Pellew said wryly. He
retrieved his hat from his table and set it on his head. "Cloak, Powers."
He slung it over his shoulders and went up to the deck. He had sent
Hornblower with Lieutenant Bracegirdle to the supply yards to oversee the
packing and delivery of their orders. Mr. Bowles had been up since before
dawn, preparing the Indy for sea, making certain that sails, tackle,
ropes, guns, and munitions were all in order. The Steward and the
Carpenter were occupied with their businesses, and lastly, Dr. Hepplewhite
was making his final checklist of medical supplies and necessities.

All Pellew had done was organize the entire operation. He watched the
well-ordered chaos on the deck of the Indefatigable, and felt the frisson
of excitement that accompanied every departure; it was a life of
adventure, and Pellew reveled in it. Before he could truly enjoy this day,
there was one task waiting that he dreaded. He needed to pay a visit to
Gemma Roberts.

Hornblower, that morning had been pale and silent, even for him. He hadn't
eaten, just forced down a cup of coffee and set off to the supply yards to
do the work Pellew had assigned to him. That had the Captain worried.
Hornblower had always exhibited a fine sense of adventure, even in dire
circumstances, and there had been nothing of that excitement and
confidence in his manner. Pellew cursed himself for ever wishing the lad
to fall in love -- he should have known that Hornblower would take it to
heart. Damn the girl for engaging his affections!

The brief pleasure Pellew had taken in the Indefatigable's beauty and
efficiency vanished as he ordered his gig. "Mr. Bowles, I have some last
minute business at the Port Admiral's office. Carry on as you have been."

"Aye, aye, sir." Bowles' good-natured face was worried as he watched the
bosun pipe the Captain off the ship. Something was troubling him, and when
Pellew was troubled, the situation was serious, indeed. He turned his
attention back to the myriad ropes and cables on deck. "See to those,
Matthews," he ordered the seaman. "Else we'll be tripping over our own
feet."

***********************
The Port Admiral's offices in Portsmouth had little in common with the
splendor of the Admiralty Headquarters in London. It was a warren of
red-brick buildings, already stained and worn though they were less than
fifty years old. But the windows afforded a fine view of the dockyards and
harbor. As he waited for the Port Admiral, Pellew gazed out at the
Indefatigable, more grateful than he could say that she was nearly ready
to sail. He studied two small figures at the far end of the nearest dock
and was fairly certain that the tall, slender youth and his stout
companion were Hornblower and Bracegirdle.

The Admiral himself, finally deigned to enter, with the ponderous steps of
a self-important man. Pellew knew he had not been at sea since the
American War, choosing to sail a desk rather than a frigate -- a
preference that made Pellew squirm. Did the man even remember what it was
like to hold the lives of men in his hands, and not just money in his
pockets? Perhaps he was being unfair to the gentleman, for he had somehow
plucked supplies out of thin air for the Indefatigable, and for that,
Pellew was in his debt.

Pellew detailed their plans for readiness, received the oilcloth packet
with its sealed orders, and estimated that they would be ready to sail
before noon the next day.

The Admiral nodded. "Very good, Captain Pellew. I wish you a safe passage,
and prosperous hunting."

"Hunting, sir? I thought we were to make known our presence to the Don's,
not to blast them out of the water. Has the situation changed?"

The Admiral cleared his throat loudly. "Now, Pellew, you know I am not
permitted to reveal state secrets."

Pellew's brows rose. "Secrets, sir? Do not I and my men deserve to know if
we are to be in peril due to an unstable political situation?" He was
trying to phrase his questions diplomatically.

"Damnit man, it is your duty to be in peril! His Majesty's Navy is not a
merchant fleet!"

The Admiral's anger seemed out of proportion to Pellew. He answered as
evenly as he could. "Sir, we shall have enough supplies for six weeks. If
the Dons choose to make it difficult for us to re-provision at Gibraltar,
I shall be in dire straits. As will the entire Mediterranean fleet."

"We do not anticipate such an eventuality, Captain Pellew. You have your
orders. Good day, sir."

Well, of course they did not anticipate such an eventuality. They never
did. Pellew's thoughts raised a bitter taste in his mouth. "Thank you,
sir." Pellew saluted formally, and left the room, seething. The niggling
headache between his eyes was threatening to spread.

Across the road, at the yards, Hornblower and Bracegirdle would be busy
for the rest of the day, no doubt. Too busy for the lad to attempt a visit
to Miss Roberts. Pellew settled his hat on his head and walked swiftly
through the town to Gemma Robert's cottage.When he reached it, he looked
down at the beach first, but it was deserted that day. Pellew hesitated
for the briefest moment before raising his fist and rapping sharply at the
door.

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

Gemma stood before the portrait of Horatio. There was not much more to add
to it; a shadow here, a smudge of a line there, a bit of definition. She
had poured her heart into it, and she knew it was good. A lock of hair
fell over her forehead and she pushed it back with a sigh. She had not
slept at all, it seemed. Had Horatio? She was certain that he had not; and
as she lay in bed, watching the progress of the stars, she had imagined
him, standing his watch, seeing the same stars. Finally, when dawn had
lightened the sky, she had given up on sleep, dressed, and went to work at
her easel. Now, it was nearly noon.

The knock at her door startled her. Horatio! She tried to tuck her loose
hair back into its knot, and ran to greet him. She jerked the door open,
her lips framing his name and her eyes lit with love, only to find herself
facing the most impressive man she had ever seen.
Tall, dark-haired, severe, a vision in blue, gold bullion, and impeccable
white. Her heart dropped from her throat to the pit of her stomach. "Yes?"
she whispered.

If Gemma were taken aback by his appearance, Pellew was even more startled
by hers. Was this slender child in a blue gown, the breeches-clad
temptress he had seen the day before? Impossible, he thought. She was very
pale, her eyes shadowed, and the smudge of charcoal on her cheek showed
like a bruise. Pellew, the unshakable captain of the Indefatigable, was
struck speechless; all his carefully planned maneuvers useless in the face
of such frailty. "Miss Roberts?" he queried.

"Yes."

Pellew doffed his hat. "I am Captain Sir Edward Pellew, of the
Indefatigable."

Recognition dawned. "Captain Pellew, come in, please." Oh God, she
thought. Horatio's captain, his idol. The incomparable man Jamie had held
in awe. She did not even want to think why he was standing on her
doorstep. She moved aside.

Pellew entered gravely, hat in hand, his dark eyes taking in everything.
He was standing in a small, neat foyer, white-painted. A stairway of
gleaming wood ascended to the second floor. An open arch on the right
showed a parlour. A large nautical painting hung on the wall; a frigate in
a storm ... Pellew's gaze sharpened. Hornblower, unsophisticated as he was
would not have recognized the artist, but Pellew did. He left his hat in
Miss Robert's waiting hands, and stood before it in admiration. "Good
Lord. I haven't seen one of these paintings in years. Gerald Roberts, is
it not?"

"Yes."

"A relative?"

"My father."

"He had a great talent."

Gemma nodded wordlessly. "Captain Pellew, may I offer you some
refreshment?" Her voice sounded weak in her ears, but she made an effort
to hold it steady.

"Some water that does not taste like a ships' barrel would be welcome." In
truth, his throat was dry as dust, and he needed some time to regroup his
mental forces.

Gemma ushered him gracefully into the parlour, and made her escape to the
kitchen. She was shaking, her knees weak, and her stomach in turmoil. Why
was he here? To offer sympathy for Jamie's death, perhaps. Or to warn her
off Horatio? Perhaps he thought she was nothing more than a strumpet.
Whatever, he was here, and she would have to deal with him. She poured a
tumbler of water from a pitcher and then stood for several moments,
drawing deep breaths and waiting for her hands to stop shaking.

Pellew, in the parlour, was entirely engrossed. The wide windows with
their view of the sea reminded him of his own cabin. Perhaps the builder
had been a Navy man, seeking to prolong the memories of his seafaring
days. He could imagine settling in this house with its aura of peace, and
not wanting to leave. Was this what Hornblower felt? What drew him to this
place and its entrancing occupant?

Pellew paced the room. His eyes fell on the easel at the far end of the
room. So, Gerald Roberts' had passed on his love of art to his daughter.
Pellew lifted the paper from the rest, turned it, and nearly cried out.

Recognition, astonishment, delight, wonder ... Gemma Roberts had not only
inherited her father's love of art, she had inherited his talent, and
perhaps then some. The portrait of Hornblower captured not only his image,
but his essence. It was as if he were standing before Pellew; holding his
hat, his shoulders straight, his chin determined; the very picture of
honour and duty. Yet she had also used the play of light and shadow to
reveal the heart of him; the hint of doubt in those steady eyes, the
vulnerability in his fine-boned features, the solemn line of his mouth,
that so seldom smiled ... Jesus wept! She had drawn him with the insight
of a woman in love ...

Pellew set the portrait down, and feeling as if the earth were no longer
solid beneath him, went back to the windows. On his life, he had only
wanted to protect Hornblower. He had expected to confront a flinty
seductress, and found instead an innocent, who was in love. He clasped his
hands behind his back and closed his eyes, praying for wisdom.

"Captain Pellew, sir?" Gemma touched his arm timidly.

Pellew blinked. "Yes?"

"Sir, your water."

"Thank you." He drank deeply, not with the small sips etiquette required,
and that very human response reassured Gemma.

"Would you sit, Captain Pellew?"

"Yes, yes. Thank you." He did so, and leaned forward slightly, his dark
brows drawn together. "Miss Roberts, may I offer my condolences on the
loss of your brother? He was a fine young man, and we shall miss him."

"I received your letter, sir. It was a comfort to me. Thank you. But that
is not why you are here." She stated it calmly, now that she was better
prepared, and her eyes were very direct.

"Not entirely, no." He was a restless man, and it was difficult for him to
be at ease in any confined space, but he forced himself to stillness.
"Tomorrow, the Idefatigable will sail for the Mediterranean. I cannot say
for how long. There is a distinct possibility that we shall be at war
shortly, and if that is the case, it could be a year or more before we see
English waters again, even if we are fortunate enough to avoid conflict."

"Yes, sir. Mr. Hornblower has told me as much."

Pellew's brows lifted. "Has he?" This time, he did rise and walk, anxiety
chewing at his innards. "Miss Roberts, you have a talent." When she turned
instinctively to her easel, Pellew nodded. "Yes, I have seen the portrait.
A gift like that should not be taken lightly. Your future is limited only
by the choices you make, as is Mr. Hornblower's."

Gemma's chin came up, and for a moment she looked every bit as determined
as Hornblower. "You believe I have chosen unwisely, Captain? Do you think
I would deliberately hurt Horatio?"

"Not deliberately. But you are both very young. If you have been
compromised in any way --" he broke off when Gemma covered her eyes with
her hands. Her shoulders began shaking. "My God, if that is what happened
--"

"No!" Gemma turned to him with tears glistening on her cheeks. "No,
Horatio was all a gentleman of honour could be. I was not compromised,
Captain Pellew. Horatio may sail away with you tomorrow without any fear
for my reputation. I give him to you, he is yours."

Pellew was struck by remorse, but he did not know how to comfort her. He
went to the wide windows and his eyes quickly picked out the masts of the
Indefatigable. God, what could he say? "Miss Roberts, you are wrong.
Horatio is no more mine, than he is yours. Yes, I tell you that I value
him as an officer, and more, but I have his keeping only for a little
while. Someday, I shall have to let him go, too. For I see an great future
for him. He is extraordinary, and neither you, nor I have the right to
limit him for our own fond, selfish reasons."

There was a silence, and he turned back to her. She was weeping, tears
dripping through her fingers to fall on her blue skirts. He pulled out his
handkerchief and awkwardly folded her fingers around it. Women's tears
could fell him more surely than a shot from a cannon. He waited, feeling
helpless, weary, and guilty for being the root of her grief. After what
seemed a very long time, her sobs quieted and she looked up at him. "I'm
sorry, Captain Pellew."

He shook his head. "No. I must apologize. I did not realize the depth of
your affections until I saw the portrait. No one could see him as you do,
without loving him."

"I do love him, you know."

Pellew cleared his throat. Odd, that his collar should suddenly seem
tight. "I must get back to the Indefatigable, Miss Roberts. My duties are
waiting."

"Will you promise me something, sir?"

"If it is in my power, yes."

"Take care of him, keep him safe."

"I cannot foresee what the future will bring, but I swear I shall do so to
the best of my ability."

Gemma rose and went to her easel. "Captain, will you wait a moment longer?
There is something I would like you to give Horatio." She carefully
rolled up the portrait and tied it with string. Then went to the small
writing desk, and composed a letter.

*"Dearest Horatio, I hope that you will accept this portrait. My first
thought was to keep it for myself, to remember you by; but I realize now
that I do not need a reminder, for you are in my heart forever. I know
that you will say that it does not much resemble you, but my love, it is
how I see you now, and always. Love, Gemma."*

She folded the letter and tucked it inside the roll of parchment. "This is
for him, Captain Pellew. I will understand if he cannot see me again."

Pellew took the portrait in silence. It must be agony for her to part with
it. "We will be sailing at noon, Miss Roberts. Good day."

"Captain! Your handkerchief --" she offered the crumpled linen square.

Pellew smiled crookedly. "I have many more. Keep it, and perhaps the next
time we are in Portsmouth, it will find its way back to me." Then he was
gone, and Gemma was alone with her bitter tears and broken heart.

When she raised her head, the room was shrouded in twilight. It was over,
and she would never see Horatio again. Not even to say farewell. A fresh
rush of tears filled her eyes, and she wiped them away with Pellew's
handkerchief. She opened her hand and stared at the square of linen. *It
will find its way back to me ... We will be sailing at noon ...* Gemma's
lips parted, "Yes, it will find its way back to you, Captain Pellew."

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

He would never see Gemma again. It was a crushing thought. He had not even
said a proper goodbye, but had left her with a vain promise that he had no
expectation of fulfilling. Horatio realized this as the shadows grew
longer, and the burden of his responsibilities greater. He could not deny
that his duty lay with the Indefatigable; but his heart was with Gemma.

Bracegirdle, overseeing the supply delivery with Hornblower, noticed him
growing more silent and grim as the day wore on to evening, and finally,
as the last barrels were loaded on the barges taking them to the
Indefatigable, he asked what was troubling the youth.

"A promise I could not keep, Mr. Bracegirdle," he replied with a sigh.

"To Miss Roberts?" Bracegirdle inquired gently.

Horatio nodded. "I will not even have a chance to say goodbye."

Bracegirdle laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. "She'll have known the
Navy way of life from her brother, Horatio. She will understand. And will
undoubtedly write you."

"But it's not the same, is it?" Hornblower said with quiet sorrow. He
looked down at the loaded barge. "Well, that's done, then." He handed the
long list to Bracegirdle who signed it first. Horatio added his name, and
went to take the completed paperwork to the exhausted clerk, Bagshot, who
was undoubtedly very glad to see those troublesome Indefatigables away
from his docks.

Back on board the Indy, Horatio was able to rest for several hours until
his watch. He had gone to the wardroom, pushed the food around on his
plate, drank some wine, which sat badly on his stomach, and listened to
the jests and high-spirited banter of his fellow officers. They were all
happy to leave Portsmouth, and just a few days ago, he would have shared
their emotions; now his were tangled and hurtful. He could do nothing but
hold them tightly to his breast, like a player with a poor hand of cards.
At last, he excused himself and went to his cabin to nurse his wounds in
peace.

He lit his lantern and with a sigh, rubbed his eyes which felt as if they
had been blown full of grit. He reached for a book, and then realizing
that nothing he read would make any sense, turned to his cot, and blinked.
There was a rolled parchment laid on his blanket. Curiously, he untied the
string, and as the paper unfurled, caught his breath. He stared at his own
image for a moment, confused and wondering, before he opened and read the
letter Gemma had written. When he had finished, he looked again at the
portrait. In his own mind's eye, he believed himself to be completely
ordinary, nay, less than ordinary. An awkward, gangly youth of little
distinction; error-prone, and doubtful, always struggling to meet some
impossible image. And here, before him, was that impossible image -- and
it was staggering. Was it true, was this how she saw him? Was it how
others saw him? Unavoidably, his eyes went to his mirror. In the
reflection, he saw the doubts, and the vulnerabilities, but blind to
everything else, he did not see the pride, courage, and determination that
Gemma had captured with charcoal and love.

He released the portrait, and it curled up again, obscuring the image.
Then he sat with Gemma's letter in his hand, re-reading it slowly, and
unaware that he wept until a tear fell on the paper, blurring her words.

Much later, as he took his watch, he found himself staring across the
waters, wishing he could pick out the lights of Gemma's house, wondering
if she knew he thought of her, and hoping she was thinking of him. He was
deep in his yearning thoughts, when Captain Pellew approached him. Horatio
dragged his eyes from the shoreline and saluted his commander. "Good
evening, sir."

"Mr. Hornblower." Pellew stood beside him. "I imagine you are wondering
how a certain item came on board."

"Yes, sir."

Pellew took a deep breath, considering how much of the truth he should
reveal. "While I was in town today, I took the liberty of calling on Miss
Roberts, to express my condolences in person."

"Yes, sir." Horatio wondered what else had transpired in that interview.
The possibilities made him queasy.

"She asked me if I would give you something. I saw no reason to deny that
request." Pellew cleared his throat.

"Thank you, sir." Now surely Pellew would see the blush rising to his
face, and misconstrue everything. Horatio was certain his future was
sinking into the bilges.

Pellew did indeed see the blush, and with the wry amusement of age and
wisdom at youth and folly, read his thoughts. "Miss Roberts is a most
remarkable young woman."

"Yes, sir. She is." Horatio damned the constriction in his throat and
prayed that Pellew would just go away, and leave him to his misery.

Pellew sternly repressed an impulse to lay a fatherly hand on Hornblower's
shoulder. Poor lad, he thought, recalling his own despair when he had
believed his love for a young woman to be hopeless. In time, the ache
would subside, and he might discover that nothing is ever hopeless, not
even love. Pellew touched his hat. "Goodnight, Mr. Hornblower."

"Goodnight, Captain Pellew, sir." Horatio said and looked once again at
the last glimmering lights on the far shore.

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

The next morning dawned clear and bright, with a perfect wind from the
west to send them on their way. On the quarter-deck, Pellew stood in the
sunlight and raised his face to its warmth. By God, what a life this was!
In less than an hour, the Indy would unfurl her sails, let them fill, and
return him to his element. He was, at that moment, supremely happy. If he
could only say the same for Hornblower. But at least the last minute
preparations left him no time to brood; and once they were at sea, perhaps
the ache of proximity would fade.

Pellew smiled at Bracegirdle standing at his side. "Well, Anthony. Are you
ready?"

Bracegirdle chuckled. "I was ready the minute we sailed into harbor, sir."
His eyes scanned the sky. "I cannot imagine a more ideal day to depart on
a voyage, sir. The men feel it, too. They are eager to be off. Even
Bunting was seen to smile today."

"A good omen, indeed." Pellew extended his telescope and scanned the
docks. A number of citizens had gathered there, for the Indefatigable was
not the only ship leaving Portsmouth that day. As he swept the lens across
the crowd, he paused. A girl, wearing a red cloak stood a few paces in
advance of the others. A gust of wind blew her hood back, releasing a flag
of red-gold hair. She was waving a square of white linen.

"Goodness gracious," Pellew murmured, and took a second glance to be
certain. He lowered the telescope. "Mr. Hornblower!" He called out to
Horatio standing just below him. "Call away my gig!"

"Sir?" Horatio was clearly puzzled. "Your gig?"

"That is what I said, sir. There is a young lady standing at the dock who
seems to have something that belongs to me. Would you be so kind as to
retrieve it?"

Horatio gave the orders, and as the boat was readied, pulled his own glass
out. He focused on the shoreline, and then stopped, all colour draining
from his face. Gemma! He looked up at Pellew, confused, and joyous.

"Don't dawdle, sir!" Pellew shouted. "I intend to weigh anchor as planned,
with or without you."

Horatio's grin overspread his features. "Aye, aye, sir!" He would have
leaped into the gig if it had been possible. As it was, every line of his
body was eloquent of his eagerness as he took his place.

Pellew watched as the boat reached the dock; saw Hornblower up the ladder,
to fly to the arms of Gemma Roberts. Then the bright red cloak was hidden
in his embrace, and the wind caught his dark queue as it tangled in the
bright strands of Gemma's hair. Pellew lowered his telescope, and tried to
convince himself that his eyes were dazzled by the sunlight on the waters.

Next to him, Bracegirdle was engaged in the same fantasy. At last, he
cleared his throat and spoke. "Captain Pellew, sir. I believe you are a
romantic at heart."

Pellew closed his telescope with a snap. "And should you ever repeat that
to anyone, Anthony, I shall see you before a court martial."

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

Late that night, as the Indy sailed on calm seas beneath a sky bejeweled
with stars, Pellew came on deck for his customary turn around the deck
before retiring. Hornblower was there, not on watch this night, but
leaning against the rail, his slender body at ease, and his face peaceful
in the warm glow from Pellew's windows.

He straightened at Pellew's approach, but Pellew dismissed the formality
with cursory wave. "So you have said your farewells, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." His dark eyes were grave. "I doubt I shall see
her again, sir."

Pellew stood beside him, his weathered face surprisingly gentle. "Mr.
Hornblower, when I was just your age, I saw a portrait of the most
beautiful woman in the world, and fell in love with her for no more reason
than that. Oh, I knew it was hopeless; I had nothing, and her family was
wealthy and powerful. Yet, for years, I dreamed of her, with no
expectations of fulfilling those dreams. Seven years, Mr. Hornblower. I
sailed the oceans, I went to war, I earned promotions, and all the while,
I held that picture in my mind. When I returned to England, I had received
my first command, and had amassed enough prize money to be comfortable. I
was at the home of a friend, when that woman I had dreamed of for so long,
came into the room. She was more lovely, and more gracious than any
portrait -- even one drawn by Miss Roberts." Pellew smiled at the memory.
"To my eternal gratitude and surprise, that woman is now my wife, sir. We
cannot foresee what is in our future, Mr. Hornblower. We can only live by
day, and dream by night, and let the future be what it will."

Before Horatio could frame a response, Pellew had walked away. A breeze
came up, and the Indy moved as if to a lover's touch. Horatio felt the
thrill through his fingertips. He looked up at the stars, and knew that
Gemma at that moment was thinking of him. Tomorrow, she would take up her
charcoal and begin a new day, and a new life. And tomorrow, so would he.
But tonight, he would let himself dream.


The End