Home Fires
by Beth

Part 2

That first night at sea was the first of many remarkable evenings. And as the
days became weeks, Hornblower and Harward came to be nearly inseparable. A
stranger coming upon them for the first time might have even thought they
were related, as but for Hornblower's superior height their coloring was much
the same. And they each held themselves in much the same way, a superb
posture, a tendency to walk about with both hands clasped behind their backs,
an easy but attentive stroll, and identical poses when at a standstill: feet
apart and an ever intense gaze outwards, one that nine times out of ten
missed absolutely nothing. Kinsmen, perhaps, but it was the ever observant
Matthews who pegged it rightly early on.

"That's the mark of Capting Pellew, I'd lay a month's pay on it, I would!"
he exclaimed proudly, to anyone within earshot. "Look at the pair on 'em, and
think back, eh, Styles," he exhorted his nearby mate. "Am I right, or am I
right?" he grinned.

"Well it makes sense an' all, don't it!" Styles admitted. "See, I 'eard tell
that junior Mr. H up there was on Impetueux awhile back, an' that's the one
what our Oldroyd went to, wiv the Capting, after the Indy, eh?"

"Well, I'd say e's left 'is mark, then," nodded Matthews. "And right proud
'e'd be of 'em, if you ask me. Our own Mr. H a Commander 'imself, now, and
the other one, Nelson's 2nd!"

"Coooeeee, wot a record that is," echoed Styles. "Jolly good for old Sir Ed,
then, eh?"

And the pair were not alone in crediting Sir Edward for his part in the
successes of the young officers thus far. It was an acknowledgment that
crept into many a conversation between Hornblower and his guest, in light of
their upcoming journey on to Exmouth and Harward's wedding, and how much they
each looked forward to seeing the revered Commodore once more.

And of course they filled each other in on their backgrounds, their
childhood, and how each had come to the service. Hornblower learned that his
entry into the Navy was much like Harward's. Both had relied on someone close
who could call in a favor. In Hornblower's case, his father had treated
Captain Keane's consumption, and that had been sufficient to get Hornblower
his commission aboard Justinian. For Mr. Harward, it had been the local
Vicar, who had what was apparently a rather lengthy list of friends in high
places. Friends who would gladly do whatever it took to keep the kindhearted
pastor among their allies, or to keep themselves in the good graces of the
Almighty. And, in certain circumstances, friends who would do whatever it
took to keep certain bits of information under wraps, the Vicar being
somewhat surprisingly well informed for a man of the cloth. And so when
widowed Mary Harward, the kindhearted woman who had long kept the good
clergyman in abundant supplies of farm fresh milk, butter and cream (and
plates of corned beef and cabbage, or bowls of rich Brunswick stews), came to
ask on behalf of her son and his desire to follow in his late father's
footsteps (not in the merchant trade, as he had been, though, but now in
service of the King), it was but a simple matter of a brief missive to Lord
Dumbridge from down Barnstaple way, and all was settled within the month.

And as the voyage progressed, and the young lieutenant steadily re-gained his
color and stamina, he insisted more and more that he should pull his weight.
Although, as he himself admitted, that was most likely an unfair calculation
right there as given what he weighed these days, there couldn't be all that
much to pull in the first place. But it meant the world to him to feel useful
again. To be able to contribute, and not be so reliant upon others.
Hornblower delighted in aiding the cause, and gave him his share of the
watches. And such was the windfall of being part of the convoy that, truth be
told, sailing the sloop was in essence little more than a matter of following
the leader - well, the leaders. And that task was slight in comparison to
keeping course on open seas with not a mark in sight but for the sun, to set
the weather gauge on. In some ships such an easy task would have been cause
for laziness, apathy. But not on Retribution, and not for the crew of
Commander Hornblower. The men were diligent always, trained if not by
Hornblower then perhaps, in the case of Styles and Matthews, instilled by
Captain Pellew himself with the belief that it was always better to make
oneself useful, and that a task well done is always a task well done, never
any less. Sometimes, more.

And when the time came for relaxation, the officers' mess was often the scene
of cozy conversations, and the re-telling of especially memorable episodes
from Hornblower's and Harward's respective and most memorable adventures.
And there were quite a number of those. Storied events from Indefatigable,
Renown, and Impetueux were re-enacted and shared between the two of them at
first and then, increasingly with the worshipful Mr. Wilton and Mr. Henry.
And of course they all most heartily wished to hear what it was like for
Harward on the storied and gloried decks of Lord Nelson's own flagship,
Foudroyant. And Harward did not disappoint - Hornblower had of course learned
early on that his guest was a natural raconteur - he had either been born
with or somehow perfected the gift of storytelling and could hold a room in
the palm of his hand if he wanted to. And so he told quite the tale of the
re-taking of Naples, with full pomp and circumstance, and accorded Nelson
full naval honors for his prowess as a leader and his skill at seamanship -
his boldness, willingness to try a surprise. How his Lordship's ability to
command was downright infectious. That he could make one believe just about
anything, convince a man to join him for a quick walk into Hell and back,
and he'd go. At one point Hornblower nearly expected Harward to burst into
song in praise of the man.

But as he listened more closely, Hornblower began to detect an underlying
degree of hesitation, though it seemed to go over the heads of the others.
There was more that Harward wasn't sharing - something that went beyond the
already fabled leader's heroics and the actions themselves. Something closer
to the bone, more personal, something about Nelson as a man, not just the
officer he evidently embodied so well. Well, while his curiosity was piqued,
he would not mention it now. He could be patient.

***

They were about three weeks from Plymouth when the convoy came upon a pair of
merchant vessels, under escort of the frigate Swiftsure, all bound for
Charleston, to exchange various and sundry British goods for as much cotton
as they could stuff into their holds. Weather reports were exchanged, and
then, to the great delight of the company, a small armload of dispatches and
letters were delivered. The dispatches were, of course, inevitable: orders
from the Admiralty for the filing of information on each of the officers, so
that currently due wages could be figured, paid and settled once they arrived
to Plymouth. There were requests for further information needed for the
forwarding of the forthcoming half pay that awaited them all. Thankfully,
there were mixed in with these dreary tidings several personal letters. There
was one each for Mr. Henry and Mr. Wilton, there were two for Mr. Harward,
one from his intended, small surprise, there, and one from the Commodore. And
to Hornblower's surprise and supreme delight, a letter from Pellew to him.


April 23, 1802
Portman Square
London

Dear Mr. Harward,

The news of your recovery and passage home to Plymouth has reached me just
this morning. I understand you sail on board Retribution with Commander
Hornblower in the Valiant convoy, and I could not be more delighted to hear
it. I know I have mentioned Mr. Hornblower to you before, I realize, and
while I shall write to him separately, I am much pleased that you shall have
such a worthy companion on your voyage.

No doubt Julia will be most pleased to hear that you are at last on your way
home. While I will have a care in disclosing to her the matter of your
illness - I am indeed relieved to be able to do so in the same breath as I am
able to also assure her of your recovery. And I myself am likewise most
reassured by the news that you have survived your encounter with the yellow
jack, both for the good of His Majesty's Navy, in that we may still count
upon your continued service, but, and closer to my heart, of course, that my
daughter's happiness in her betrothal to you shall remain unchecked.

Given the season and the trade winds, I expect you will arrive sometime in
early to mid June - well, one cannot hold a wedding without the needed
bridegroom and so you and Mr. Hornblower shall have us at your mercy until
then. Meanwhile, Susanna, Julia and Emma are all much taken with the wedding
day plans, the menus, choice of hymns, gowns, etc. It occupies them greatly
and I am much relieved that they have not asked my opinion on any of it. Just
as well as I seem to be called quite regularly to Admiralty House these days
as we sort through the means of effecting this peace. My brother Israel
accompanies me often, in fact he was part of the escort party with Cornwallis
when the treaty was signed - yes, it is signed, executed just last month, in
case you have not heard previously. And so the two us are quite engaged in
the process. Fleet is returned home as well and, I am most happy to report,
was a most competent Midshipman to me on Impetueux. Pownoll was to have taken
his examination for lieutenant this month, assuming Orion was able to swing
in to Gib in time. I have tried to keep my distance and not be too
overbearing, although you can well imagine my hopes for his success. Well, no
doubt we will have the occasion to discuss all of these matters in greater
detail once you arrive to Exmouth.

Though it should go without saying that I look forward to seeing you, and to
formally welcoming you into our family - there, I have said it anyway. And it
is most sincere. A safe journey to you, Sir, and with fond wishes for your
continued recovery,

 

Yours sincerely,

Edward Pellew, Bart.

-------------------------------------------------

 

April 26, 1802
Exmouth Hall
Devon

My Dearest Richard,

I am of two minds today - having been cast down to the darkest despair at
hearing of your illness, and now, praise be to God, soaring to the highest of
heights at the news that you have recovered and are on your way home to me.
Papa brought the letters and dispatches in to me this morning - and was
especially careful to tell me the happy news first! And dear Commander
Hornblower is to be the one to bring you home to me - thank God for him, and
for you, my love!

I shall await you with open arms and long to see for myself that you are
quite restored in health. Papa has told me about the yellow fever and what
must have been your harrowing struggle to overcome it. I only wish I could
have been there to have helped to see you safely through it - to have tended
you with all the love I shall bring to you as my husband.

 

Events here roll on as usual. Emma has made me an Auntie once more - and I
have a new niece, Caroline Susan, who is a beautiful dark haired but rather
feisty little thing! Mama has oceans more patience than I do - dear Lord,
Richard, I pray she will be able to call upon such reserves when they are
needed for our own children, as I do not how I will manage otherwise! Little
Andrew, on the other hand, is such a dear and sweet little boy and he has his
doting Grandfather positively wrapped round his little finger - but it is
such a delight for all of us to see that it only brings a teary smile to our
faces! Before I continue, may I add to my reassurances from my earlier
letters to you - it pleases me to such end to report that Papa is now quite
recovered and is indeed fully himself once more, in every way, thanks to God.
It is a relief to me of the sweetest kind to be able to tell you this, as I
had shared with you my fear that I thought once never to have my stalwart and
indefatigable Papa restored to me. But Mama saw him through, with her special
brand of devotion, care and 'sea room' as you so dearly call it, and what she
did not revive, the sea and the Service did for him in her stead. So be it, I
am thankful.

Oh, Richard, how I shall miss my family, once we are wed and moved to Exeter.
And yet how much I look forward to having my very own household and my 'new'
family - your charming Mama, your dear sister Belinda, and your treasured
Aunt and Uncle. You have promised me that we shall know the best of both
worlds and that with the distances so short between Exmouth and Exeter I may
be with my family as often as I wish, and I am so grateful to you, my
darling. I know you appreciate how my family will sustain me and keep me from
too much solitude during your inevitable long absences from my side. I
confess my admiration for Mama grows daily as I contemplate our new life
together and how wrenching it shall be to be parted from you once we are wed.
She shall ever be a shining example to me, as Emma has been, in her happiness
with her Captain Lawrence!

Well, I must close this, my dearest, so as to insure it reaches this
evening's post and thereby finds its way to you so much the sooner. To think
that when next I see you, it shall be to become your bride!

Ever yours,
Julia

----------------------------------------------

April 25, 1802
Exmouth Hall
Devon

Dear Mr. Hornblower,

I received in London just two days ago the most excellent news that you are
to be the bearer of my intended son-in-law, Lt. Richard Harward, home to
Plymouth. Susanna joins me, and our daughter Julia, in extending our
gratitude to you - not that you necessarily had any say in the matter,
considering the source of the orders, but nonetheless, the thought that you
shall enjoy each other's company throughout what I hope shall be an
uneventful voyage is most pleasing to me.

I think you shall find in Mr. Harward an engaging and most generous
travelling companion. I should add, Mr. Hornblower, indeed perhaps I would
be remiss if I did not add, that Mr. Harward reminds me a great deal of you,
Sir - in the most positive of ways, Sir. I believe he has your same capacity
to do great things. God grant him, and you, the chance to do so.

I have also been asked (commanded is more like it) by Susanna to see to it
that you accompany Lt. Harward to Exmouth and by all means, stay for the
wedding and then some. This peace is slowly but surely bringing us all home -
though only for the time being, I believe, and not a long time, I would
further venture to say. I find that I am called in to London quite regularly
for meetings to assess what for some reason is a constantly changing equation
in the balance of the great European powers. Not the sort of climate I would
anticipate would bode well for a lengthy peace, but we shall save that
discussion for when we may do so in person. In the meanwhile, Mr. Hornblower,
please know that your company will be a most welcome pleasure to me as I have
thought of you quite often over this past year and am anxious to hear of
your success with Retribution. I am also hopeful that my brother Israel will
also grace us with his presence at some point during the festivities, the
boys also - tho Pownoll may remain on patrol in Africa despite the peace.

You have also perhaps heard that I am now a grandfather - indeed, just now,
two times over. At this very moment my grandson Andrew (Andrew Edward Pellew
Halsted - - Emma and her Captain Lawrence have done me quite proud, I must
say!), all of 3 and the apple of his grandmother's eye, is on some sort of
reconnaissance mission under my writing desk, so if my penmanship takes a
sudden turn for the worse you will understand why and kindly forgive my blots
and scratch-outs! I find that I take much comfort from my family these days,
Mr. Hornblower - it is and has been such a source of strength to me - now, in
peace time, even more so, and so I entreat you, Horatio, if I may address you
as such, just for now, please do not leave it too long to settle yourself -
as much as a navy man may, I grant you, for even so the rewards of happy
domesticity are the truest gold indeed.

 

Again, I hope to see you soon - and that you shall feel free to call Exmouth
your home for as long as it may suit you to do so.

Yours most faithfully,

Edward Pellew, Bart.

-------------------------------------------

 

A while or so after this delivery, it was time for dinner. The officers
arrived at the table, each of them still carrying their dearly received
letters, such a treat they were, and far too precious to set down and leave
alone just yet. Mr. Henry blustered in, looking rather gray faced. He'd never
been one blessed with an especially ruddy complexion, except of course for
when he seemed distressed or embarrassed, which, come to think of it, was
rather often, Hornblower noted. Still, he looked especially seedy today, even
seemed nigh on close to tears for some reason.

"Bad news, Mr. Henry?" asked Hornblower, as his lieutenant was seated and
brought what looked like a rather well used and damp handkerchief to his nose
for what seemed like the fourth time in as many minutes.

"Oh no, Sir," breathed Henry in a reedy voice, his red eyes blinking. "Just a
sweet letter from dear Mother. She sends her best to us all, by the way, Sir
No, it's my sinuses, Sir," he said, pausing for another unceremonious honk.
"Well, I always know when we're getting round close to the Northern
Hemisphere and dear Merry Ole, Sir. My prickly heat goes away, right nicely,
but darned if my nasal passages don't begin to fill to overflowing!" he
paused to make another sweep with his hanky. "Some days I think I'd rather
have the postules, and not the sn-"

"Yes, yes, Mr. Henry," said Hornblower, trying to mask his distaste. "We get
the idea, Sir." Dear God. How was a fellow to eat his lunch after that? He
stared down at his salt beef, pease and biscuits. This was undoubtedly going
to take a major effort.

"Why, Mr. Henry, I once suffered as you did, Sir." Was that young Mr. Wilton,
piping up with an honest to God original comment for a change? By God, it
was. "I was always clogged up. It was awful! Should you like to know my
Mother's cure? I think you might find it helpful, Sir!"

Mr. Henry was immediately enthusiastic. "Your Mother's? Why, of course, Mr.
Wilton, I should be most interested!"

Hornblower grimaced and tried to keep his mind on his food. He glanced
swiftly over towards Mr. Harward, to see if he had any further cause to be
embarrassed by such conversation, but Mr. Harward was quite obviously
oblivious to the goings on around him. The man was lost as could be in the
starry eyed and dreamy reading of a letter that looked to be from a most
flowing and delicate hand. Of course, thought Hornblower. Julia. *Why, he'll
read that thing right through to midnight and it won't be enough for him,*
thought Hornblower. *Hell, I'd do the same thing.* At least he's not lost
his appetite as a result of Mr. Henry's medical history, he noted, with a
silent chuckle. Indeed, Mr. Harward was almost mechanically lifting
fork-fulls to his mouth quite regularly, even though his eyes never left
those pages. Well, good for him.

"It's the heat, you see, Mr. Henry," Wilton was explaining, as Hornblower
tuned back in. "It must be very hot water, and you must pour it directly over
your temples, at least four times in succession. The moist heat causes the
sinuses to drain most effectively, Sir. She also used a hot mustard poultice
if warranted, I recall, and that prompted drainage as well. Why I'm sure I
have her recipe somewhere in my sea chest."

God, not again. Next thing he knew, they'd both reach under the table and
take out baskets of knitting. Wilton he could understand, the lad was barely
14 and the phrase 'Mama's Boy' did not begin to describe his naivete. Why,
Matthews had filled him in quite handsomely on young Wilton's background, the
youngest and only lad in a gaggle of sisters, so he'd said. And Hornblower
came to wonder then how it was Matthews got so much inside information that
really ought to have been none of his business. He was torn between
reprimanding the man and reminding himself to spend more time with him so as
to get even more information. Well, perhaps he would do that first and then
tell him to cut it out. So for now Mr. Henry remained a mystery. How was it
the man had managed to make it to Lieutenant?

"Excellent suggestions, Mr. Wilton!" said Lieutenant Henry. "Why I shall ask
Cook to get the water set to boiling momentarily!" And with that he raised
that poor sopping hanky to his nose for one last blow, even more glorious
than the previous five emissions. An under the weather bullfrog would have
been most challenged to match it, thought Hornblower, and he gave up the
notion of trying to swallow another bite.

"Gentlemen," he said, "If you will excuse me," he said rising from the table.

Harward looked up suddenly, as if he had honestly forgotten where he was (he
had) "Sir?" he said.

"Stay seated, all of you, no need to leave on my account," murmured
Hornblower. And so they did. Harward resumed his glazed over devotion to his
letter and Henry and Wilton returned to their conversation. It was when
Hornblower overheard the word 'mucous' that he discovered he could make it
out the door in one large stride.

***

Never one to let an opportunity for self doubt to pass him by, Hornblower was
keen to get something off his chest when he next saw Harward, while the
Lieutenant was on watch. Harward saw his Commander approach him tentatively
and wondered what was up, as he looked so serious.

"Mr. Harward," he said, tentatively. "I feel I have an obligation to
explain something to you, Sirto make sure you are aware, Sir"

"Aware of what, Commander?"

"That.that I did not have the occasion to choose my officers on
RetributionIndeed, had I done so,..well why, I should assure you, Sir,
that I should have made inqu-"

But he was interrupted by the sounds of Harward bursting out in a fit of
laughter. He laughed so hard he had to hold his side, it got so sore. "Why,
surely you jest, Sir!" he said playfully. "You mean to say that you did not
personally request a man of such backbone and hearty spirit as Mr. Henry?!"
he smiled as Hornblower grew quite flustered. "And that you did not
specifically request a midshipman of such infallible courage and skill, and
ingenuity as Mr. Wilton??" His eyes were watering. "Why Commander, I cannot
imagine what more you should have wished for"

"Yes, yes, all right, Mr. Harward," Hornblower muttered. "All rightyou know
what I mean, then! I just wanted to make sure you weren't thinking I was the
one who had selected them. God forbid. I suppose I've since learned some
things must simply be overlooked."

"Overlooked? Ah yes indeed. That is certainly one of the great skills I've
had to hone, Mr. Hornblower!" he said, and for the first time Hornblower
detected a strong tone of bitterness in Harward's voice. Well, not quite the
first, actually, for Hornblower realized it had been lurking there, in more
subdued form, when Harward was recounting his time on Foudroyant.

"You want some lessons in overlooking?" continued Harward. "Ha! Then serve
under his Lordship, Admiral Nelson for a spell - you'll have the fine task of
overlooking perfected to an art form in a matter of days.especially if a
certain Lady H is on board, or nearby" he shook his head, and then sighed,
loudly, looking down as if ashamed. "Forgive me, I spoke out of turn just
now..I apologize, I shouldn't have said that." He looked away.

"No, please don't," said Hornblower. "I could senseI could tell that there
was more to what you were saying - - when you were telling all about it. I
knew there was something that had upset you.God, it is so obvious, then?
Lord knows one should not talk out of school, but I had hoped it was being
conducted in a.well,in a discreet way?"

"Aye, sure and it is, Commander," he answered, sarcastically. "Discreet. If
discreet means that you turn a blind eye, or a deaf ear or just bloody well
ignore what's practically under your nose. Or plain out in the open. Or,
worst of all, in plain sight, AND earshot of Lord Hamilton, sometimes."
Harward shook his head again. "He's an amazing man, Nelson is, Sir, Lord
knows, a born leader if ever there was one..but, as for scrupleswell,
judge not, as the good book says.but dear God, sometimes it's so hard not
to!" he said. "The whole time I found myself torn between the greatest
adoration for the man and the greatest disgust at the public spectacles the
pair of them made of themselves." He paused, looking out at the horizon.
"God, the way she would flaunt herself for all of us, and how he took it all
as a stroke to his vanity," he murmured. "It was vulgar.No doubt I more than
blushed for the both of 'em."

Mr. Harward stared silently off towards the sea then, and Hornblower saw him
do so and did the same. Human frailties could be a harsh thing to witness, he
reckoned, was that not among the many things he had learned on Renown?

 

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

 

Several days later, on a fair and gentle evening, Hornblower was in his cabin
making his daily log entries, adding his remarks on the amazingly calm seas
and uneventful weather they had enjoyed. He was suddenly aware of a foreign
sound of sorts, wafting down from the mess. It sounded like some sort of
musical instrument, not, thank heaven, a violin, but something else. And then
there was a voice, singing. A voice that was clear and hearty. He stopped his
writing and bent his ear to catch the words:

"The Whistling Gypsy came over the hill,
Down through the valley so shady;"

Was that Harward's voice? It was.

"He whistled and he sang
till the greenwood rang,
And he won the heart of a lady."

It was pleasant, in a sing-song-y sort of way. He heard the instrument
playing again, the same melody as Harward had been singing. It sounded like a
harp, from what he recalled a harp sounding like, rare enough as those
occasions had been. But it was sturdier sounding, somehow. He signed off in
the book and went to see.

Mr. Henry was sitting there as well, as Mr. Harward strummed his tabletop
harp, or whatever it was. And then he sang along with Harward:

"A dee do a dee do die day,
A dee do a dee day-o
He whistled and he sang
Till the greenwood rang,
And he won the heart of a lady."

What a lilting tune it was! And goodness, such a change in Mr. Henry! He was,
could it be said, animated? Flushed, even! Well! And here Hornblower was, the
one who generally groaned aloud at the very notion of notes strung together
in any sort of melodic sequence, happily surprised to find that his skin did
not feel as though it was crawling with ants, that the hair on the back of
his neck was down, as it should be, and he was not about to break into a cold
sweat. Perhaps he had been too broad in his dismissal of the art? Perhaps he
had cast the net of culprits too wide? He came over to the lieutenants and
bowed.

"That was quite wonderful, gentlemen," he said. "Really! Quite nice. An Irish
tune, Mr. Harward?"

"Aye, Sir," answered Harward. "One that me Mum taught me from way back. Glad
you liked it!"

"I must admit, I have surprised myself just now," said Hornblower. "II don't
normally like music"

"What?" cried Harward, politely aghast. "That's incomprehensible, Sir! It
defies reason!"

"Yes, well," muttered Hornblower, "tell me that when next we're in some
concert hall, and I break out in a rash or something, Sir, then you tell me
it defies reason besides, I never said reason had anything to do with it,
and God knows I'm not pleased about it!"

"mmmmm," nodded Harward, as Mr. Henry looked on most sympathetically. "I can
imagine. Did you not hear not much music as a child, Commander?"

"At home, no" said Hornblower, "why, never, except in church."

"That could be part of the problem, Sir," said Harward, "although some church
music is really quite glorious." And Hornblower observed once more that all
the while they'd been talking Harward had been strumming that harp like
thing. And he realized once more how enjoyable the sounds were, how soothing.
He pulled out a chair and took a seat beside them both.

"And you, Mr. Harward, I suppose you had music around you as a child?"

"Oh aye, Sir. All the time. The easy answer is just to say that I've got
Irish blood in me, Scottish as well, but truth be told, we were just always
playing and singing. My Mother, you'll see when you meet her, she's always
got some sort of tune going. Guess I caught it from her. She taught me to
play this - it's called a dulcimer, Sir, a beautiful sound, if you ask me,
and easy to carry!"

"Indeed," smiled Hornblower. "The sound is quitequite pleasing, Mr. Harward."

"D'you think so, Sir?" Harward's eyes brightened. "Oh, you'll have to be sure
and hear all of us play for you sometime - me, Mum and my sister, Belinda."

"You have a sister?" asked Hornblower.

"Yes, Sir," answered Harward. "She must be 18 by now, maybe 19, gosh I don't
recall, hope she'll forgive me for that!"

"Really?" Hornblower felt himself brightening further at this news. Perhaps
there were even more benefits in store for him from this already special
friendship.

"And does she have a voice!" sighed Harward. "Like a lark, Belinda. Walks
about the house singing the whole day long. And in the evenings, why the
three of us would make a right plucky trio! We were a fine quartet as well,
before my Father passed, bless him."

"Well, I must say I wish I could share your enthusiasm," nodded Hornblower.
*Just my luck* he thought, morosely, *an excellent chance for an introduction
to a pretty young lady and she SINGS* "It is a most agreeable talent, I'm
sure," he said, politely.

"Oh, it's more than that, Sir. Much more. Why, sometimes it's all I have to
keep me going, and it's the most beautiful thing on earth. And some of those
old Scottish tunes - oh, they tell such a story! Why they might even get you
to change your mind, sir!" said Harward, and even Mr. Henry nodded. "There's
so many of them, God knows where they all come from. Well, here - let me show
you - this one's Julia's favourite:"

And he began to strum the dulcimer, soulful chords first, in steady rhythm,
two beats per measure, then a hint of the simple melody to come, and then his
own voice, rich now, and fully Scottish, bold and clear:

"There once was a troop, of Irish Dragoons,
Come marching down through Five-i-o.
And the Captain fell in love, with a very bonny lass,
As we marched through the bonny streets of Five-i-o.

The Captain's name was Ned, he was the pride of the Regiment,
The Bonniest lad in all of the Army-o.
A very handsome sight, he was the ladies' own delight!
As we marched though the bonny streets of Five-i-o."

Hornblower felt his foot start to tap in rhythm. It seemed an involuntary,
subconscious thing. It felt divine. He looked up towards the stairwell and
saw that a small crowd of the crew had gathered. Matthews was patting his
knee in time as well and was fairly chomping at the bit to join in. Harward
saw him too, flashed him an infectious smile, at the same time nodding
towards him. At that invitation Matthews crept down closer a few steps, and
said, with the slightest hesitation, "Damn'd if I don't know that 'un!d'ye
think I could chime in, Sir?"

"Take the harmony?" asked Harward, softly, still strumming those intoxicating
chords.

"Oh, aye, Sir!" cried Matthews. And the two of them resumed the song, in
perfectly matched harmony, and with great gusto, as if they'd been singing
together for years:

"Well, I'll give you ribbons, love, and I'll give you rings,
I'll give you a necklace of amber-o,
If you'll come on down the stair, and comb back your yellow hair,
And we'll march through the bonny streets of Five-i-o.

There's many a bonny lass, in the town of Achterlass,
Aye, there's many a bonny lassie in the Geary-o,
There's many a bonny jean, in the streets of Aberdeen!
But the flow'r of them all lives in Five-i-o."

Oh, they were in kicking it into high intensity, now, their voices lusty,
exuberant. Styles had joined in as well, Mr. Wilton even, as Hornblower
listened on, transfixed.

"Mount up! the Colonel cried, and it's o'er the bray we'll ride,
Down from the Hielans to Fenario,
Well, it's tarry another day, we heard our Captain say,
As we marched through the bonny streets of Five-i-o.

The Colonel in his rage, drew his pistol and took aim,
At the bonniest lad in all of the army-o...
He fired a deadly ball, and our Captain, he did fall,
As we marched through the bonny streets of Five-i-o."

And then the men all hummed quietly in the background, as Harward sang,
slowly:

"It was lang ere we left, the town of Achterlass,
We had our young Captain to carry-o.
And it was lang ere we came in to bonny Aberdeen,
That we had our young Captain there to bury-o."

And then Harward slowed the tempo down, and as if on cue, they all dropped
their voices down to nary above a whisper:

"There once was a troop, of Irish Dragoons,
Come marchin' down through Fyve-i-o,
And the Captain fell in love, with a very bonny lass,
As we marched through the bonny streets of Fyve -i-o."

The silence was ended with an eruption of cheers. Hornblower burst into
ravenous applause, and all of the men joined in. "Bravo!" he cried. "That was
stupendous!"

Harward beamed, and the warmth and collegial spirits fairly flooded about the
little band of minstrels, half seated, half perched as they were on the
stairway. Matthews had to wipe his eyes with his bandana, overcome for a
moment there, and yet in another minute he was asking what other tunes they
might try next.

It was later that same night, with thoughts of whistling gypsies, bonny
lasses and the bells of Scotland all dancing about in his head that
Hornblower paused, in his nightly turn round the deck. He leaned against the
railing, began to stare out the vast, dark sea, and gave thanks. *What a life
this has been,* he thought, *such things I have seen, such an array of people
I have come to know in my adventures. Whatever the peace may bring, it can
never take any of this, any of it, away. I have been filled to the brim with
life. I have held death in my hands, twice. I have known victory, defeat,
honor and shame. And I have been given the greatest gift, by one who will
always be among the greatest of my friends. Archie, you are with me now, are
you not? You are. I promise I shall do my utmost to be worthy of the regard
you held me in. And, thank you, Archie. Thank you. If you're up there, then
you surely had a hand in sending Richard Harward to me - oh, what a love for
life he has! How well suited he must be for Miss Julia! And to have set me on
the path to see Commodore Pellew again, another fortuitious opportunity.* He
gave a simple nod in conclusion and finished his turn - it was time to call
it a night.

***

The signal had come through right at dawn's first light -Valiant was in sight
of Plymouth Hoe, and the word had been passed down through the convoy. The
next few hours were a blur of constant activity, managing sails, changing
winds and seas, with all hands on deck to bring Retribution into harbour
safely. The night before, in anticipation of this morning, the sea chests and
duffels had been packed up, the ship put to rights after her long voyage
across the Atlantic, and an eerie silence had consumed the company. All these
weeks they had awaited this day's coming, the ending of not just a chapter,
but perhaps, a whole volume of their lives, and the commencement of another.
And, as if they had well and truly saved the best for last, the crew took
great pride in their work now, knowing it would be the final time for a great
many of them to bring their vessel on home.

Once moored in safely, and in accordance with their size and placement in the
convoy, Hornblower took a look at the scene that awaited him. Plymouth. The
imposing stone embankment loomed out as a foreboding welcome. From there it
was a few short steps to the Port Admiral's where he would report in and file
his documents. Retribution would be catalogued in and from then on her fate
would be debated amongst the Admirals. Would she be kept for channel duty, or
sold to the merchant trade? Or sent off to drydocks? And Hornblower, he too
would await the same analysis, he realized, assuming drydocks meant much the
same as idleness, uselessness. His brooding was interrupted by a voice
clearing its throat. It was Matthews, hat in his hand, that ever present
slight shrug of his shoulders.

"Sir, we've the boat ready for you, now, if you're ready, Sir."

"Yes, Matthews, of course." He nodded, and Styles came up beside them,
knuckling his forehead.

Hornblower looked down. Harward awaited him with a smile. In one of the other
boats alongside them were Mr. Henry and Mr. Wilton. It was well and truly
over. There was no more reason to stay aboard, now.

"The sea chests?"

"Set to follow you, Sir. I've put yours in with Mr. "Arward's, Sir, as you
requested." He murmured softly.

"Very good, Matthews," Hornblower nodded. "Matthews," he called, as he saw
his loyal crewman about to step away, "it'll be hectic once we reach the
docks, so, II just wanted to say," he stammered.

"Yessir?"

"II amthat isyou've been a most loyal crewman, Matthews," said
Hornblower. "So many years, now, .you've never let me down."

Matthews smiled and shrugged. "Why, it weren't nothing at all, Sir." He said
calmly. "You've done a lot fer me, Sir, and I'll not forget it. God knows!
It's been a right 'onor, Sir! Good luck to ye!" he said firmly, and gave a
final salute to his Commander.

"And to you!" answered Hornblower. "Styles," he called, seeing the man just
off beside him. "I was..I was just telling Matthews, I should say the same
to you - I wish you both well. I owe you many thanks!"

"And to you, Sir!" Styles answered back. "If'n we get called up again, Sir,
and there's lots of folk what say we will, and soon-"

"You may rest assured it would please me greatly, to count you both as part
of my crew again!"

"Oh, I aint stoppin' there, Sir! Never was known for 'oldin me tongue - an I
ain't goin' to start now! So I'll be bold as brass, Sir," he said, smiling.
"If you don't send fer me, why I'll bloody well come and seek ye out,
meself, Sir! Wiv all respec' Sir" he said with a smile, as he knuckled his
forehead once more - with a final flourish.

Hornblower chuckled. Only Styles could send him off the ship with a laugh.
"You do that, man, you do that - why, I'll hold you to it! Farewell to you
then!"

And so they all headed down the ladder into the boats, Hornblower taking his
place alongside Harward. The young Lieutenant had noted the amiable goodbyes
on decks with appreciation. He had witnessed the rare chemistry of Hornblower
with his crewmen - it was a mutual respect that they shared and sadly that
was too often a rare commodity - especially from the perspective of the
officers. Not enough of them knew that without their crew they'd be no-where,
literally. And not enough of them had the decency to say thanks for it.
Hornblower did.

"That's quite a crew you had there, Commander," said Harward. "They think
the world of you, Sir."

"Well" said Hornblower, hesitating. "They've seen me through thick and thin,
God knows. Styles and Matthews were in my division on Indefatigable - half
the time I think they told ME what to do. God, back then, I'd have been lost
without them!"

They jostled through the waves and the sea of jolly boats and cargo barges
towards those imposing stone walls. Evidently the ships had been spotted
early on, as there were throngs of people lining the harbour - children
scampering and getting as close to the water's edge as their mothers would
let them, other mothers holding bundled infants close, peering out towards
the distance in hopes of recognizing their kin. Occasionally a scream or a
cheer would be heard over the din - the welcoming shout of reunion.

And packed in amongst the assembled citizenry was the much beleaguered clerk
to the Port Admiral, a flustered young man in uniform, armed with a
clipboard, and trying earnestly to track each ship as she came in, find her
Captain, and instruct him where to report in. For some reason the clipboard
(and the uniform) lent the poor soul a misplaced position of authority
amongst the mob and thus he was too often besieged by the crowd for
information on crew members, whether so and so was on the Hermione, or the
Athena, and where could he be found just now, Sir? And other such questions
that the poor soul had not a hope of answering with any sense of certainty.
He was thus flat out relieved when Hornblower and Harward came up to him,
with an actual written list of their crew, and announcing their arrival on
Retribution.

"Yes, goodvery good, Sir," murmured the overwhelmed young man. "Herehere
is your record, Sir," he said, handing Hornblower some sort of receipt, which
was in turn to be handed over to the clerk inside the Port Admiral's office.

"Oh," remembered the young lad, as if he had forgotten something, "I also had
a message for you, Commander.and Mr. Harward.YesI was asked to tell you
that your carriage is just outside the Scarborough Inn, gentlemen."

"Carriage?" asked both men at once.

"Yes, that's the message," he said. "You're to inquire at the tavern for a
man named Charles."

"Charles!" cried Harward. "The Commodore's driver! He's sent us his carriage,
Sir!"

"The same Charles," muttered Hornblower. "I wonder -"

"Oh of course, it's him. What luck!"

"Well, let's get this over with and then off to the inn, then!" said
Hornblower.

After making arrangements to get their chests transported over to the Inn, it
was time to deal with the next phase of the inevitable naval bureaucracy. As
can be imagined, the clerk positioned inside the Port Admiral's office was
beset with officers of all sizes, ages and rank, all of them waving papers in
their hands and jostling for his attention in hopes of seeing their affairs
sorted first. Hornblower and Harward took their place in line and used up a
great deal of their reserves of patience in waiting their turn. When the time
came at last, it was done clinically, methodically, but blessedly somewhat
quickly. Hornblower realized his earlier analogy of imagining himself being
treated similarly to his ship had been spot on - there had not been an ounce
of human feeling in the conduct of the clerk. He stamped in Hornblower's
papers, noted his request for Channel duty - which prompted his application
to be placed in a separate pile from Mr. Harward's - thankfully not as high a
stack as he had feared, but not a small one either. In the motion in which
the clerk shouted "next!" Hornblower was given yet another slip of paper to
go and retrieve his pay (as was Harward), at a separate office down the hall,
and that transaction was handled as coldly as if they were in a bank itself.
But at last it was now over and done with.

"Well, I truly feel well and duly processed now, Mr. Harward," muttered
Hornblower, pocketing his purse of coins.

"As do I. What say we head over to the Inn? We'll look for Charles, and maybe
even have time for a pint!"

"Oh, a capital idea, indeed!"

The rush of fresh air was a welcome relief after the stuffiness of the Port
Admiral's office. They walked along the quay, noting the simple pleasure of
now being able to walk at such length, and not on a swaying ship. The simple
reality of just being home - at this point just the sheer sensation of it -
began to seep in.

The Inn was a different kind of stuffiness, and the smells of tobacco and
spilled ale floated over the den-like darkness, broken only by shafts of
light streaming in through the small row of windows.

"I have positively ached for a mug of ale, can I tell you that, Commander?"
pined Harward, with a smile as he licked his lips.

"Are you allowed to, now?" asked Hornblower.

"I think so. The doctor said to give it a couple months - I've done more than
that. I'll not have a lot - one look at Charles and I'll be so eager to be on
our way, you can bet on that, Sir!"

"Yes, of course," smiled Hornblower. "Oh, and may I ask, please," he said,
"as we are no longer at sea, for that matter no longer even employed at this
moment, I suppose," he stammered further, "and I am not your commander
anymore. I should be honored to just be Horatio."

Harward smiled. "With pleasure. But only if you'll call me Richard, Horatio."

They toasted each other with their glasses. The ale was as satisfying as
Harward had imagined. Even Hornblower, not generally one for the pubs,
enjoyed his, especially in company with his mate.

"Well," came a vaguely familiar voice from the side, "looks as though you two
'aven't wasted any time in getting your bearings!"

"Charles?" gasped Harward. "Is that you?"

"I should say so, Sir!" answered Charles, doffing his cap to reveal a shock
of silver hair. "Mr. Hornblower! Well, aren't you both a sight for sore eyes!"

"Hello, Charles!" said Hornblower, amazed at how little the man had changed.
Still the same tall build, the slight paunch to the stomach, those dancing
blue eyes and a smile just seconds away - always. "I'm honored that you
remembered me!"

"You think I could forget you, Mr. Hornblower?" the man blinked and smiled.
"Why, I've been driving Sir Edward for nearly thirty years now, and I've
don't think I've ever forgotten a name or a face, Sir! And you think I'd
forget a name like Hornblower, d'ye?"

"Nice of you to come and fetch us, Charles, many thanks," said Harward. "Care
to join us?"

"Thank you, Sir, but I've already had a taste - enough to whet the whistle
for the drive home, and that's enough!" he said. "And as for thanking me,
well, you've really got Miss Julia to thank instead - been pestering her Papa
something fierce on when yer ship was expected inhe had no choice but to
send megot here yesterday. just in time to see the first of the convoy put
in this morning. What a sight! A regular parade on the water!"

A small mug had arrived for him anyways - Harward had seen to that. Charles
accepted it gratefully. He paused for a good long drink, and went on. "Well,
besides that, I'll tell you: Plymouth makes a nice change from those dusty
drives back and forth to London with the Commodore. Poor man! They won't
a-leave him alone - none of 'em - supposed to be at peace. It don't even get
to be a state of mind for 'im if you ask me - he may be on dry land but
that's the only difference. Keepin' him busy as ever."

"How is he then, Charles," asked Harward. "Is he well?"

"Oh aye, Sir," he answered. "Hale and hearty, thank the good lord. Chomping
at the bit to see the both of you, Lady P as well!"

Hornblower smiled at the memory of the last time he had seen Lady Pellew.
"And she is well - Lady Pellew?" he asked.

"Oh, aye, and lovelier than ever, Sir" answered Charles happily. "Never seems
to age, that one!" he said. "Well, gentlemen, I've got your chests stowed up
top, all set, to be sure. So as soon as you lads are ready It's but a couple
hours away and I know a certain young lady who's been beside herself to clap
eyes onto you, Mr. Harward, sir, and not just her eyes neither, if I'm to
speak the God's honest truth!"

But by the time he'd finished the two men were already out the door.

***

It was glorious day for a drive - for that matter, it was a just plain
glorious day. The sun was shining brightly - every so often a few cottony
clouds would slide past and douse the landscape in a few moments of shade,
and then the sun would have its way again. The grass was a rich and true
green, that deep, deep emerald that only June can serve up, and the air was
alive with the scents and sounds of the countryside - the sweet grassy
meadows, the cries of the bluejays and crows, the fields dotted with clover
and lavender, and every so often the brilliant aroma of roses from a
roadside garden. Anticipation clouded their minds, and so for awhile the
conversation amongst Hornblower and Harward slowed to the occasional comment
on a roadside vista, or the fairness of the weather. It was when the carriage
switched roads and suddenly the coastline was once more in view that Harward
felt a sense of panic begin to set in.

"God, we're getting close now," he murmured. "I know this road. It's the one
I take when I come down from Exeter. Only about another half an hour, now."

Hornblower nodded, with a smile. Harward then started to whistle for some
reason, tapping his fingers nervously on the carriage door. A few seconds of
that and then he was patting his knee, in a rather rapid rhythm, and then
smoothing out his frock coat, then tugging at his collar, and all the while
looking extraordinarily serious.

"My neckcloth," he blurted out, suddenly, turning to Hornblower.

"What about it?" asked Hornblower, curiously.

"For God's sake, is it straight? Even?"

"It's fine."

"You sure? No lumps, all straight?" he asked again, fingering the knot at his
throat, as he swallowed, again.

"Really, it's fine!" answered Hornblower, with a slight chuckle. "Why?"

"Nothing" murmured Harward. "I just wonderedyou know" he said, shifting
again in his seat as though he was suddenly unable to sit still.

And then reality seemed to settle on Hornblower. Half an hour!

"Here, how's mine?" he asked.

"How's your what?"

"MY neckcloth!" muttered Hornblower. "Is it all right?"

"For God's sake," cried Harward, "What are YOU nervous about?"

"Oh, so you ARE nervous, then!" answered Hornblower.

"I didn't say that!"

"You just did!" laughed Hornblower. "Just now!"

"All right!" cried Harward. "All right thenof course! Good God I'm bloody
well nervous as Hell! I haven't seen her in over six months! And wouldn't
you know it but during that time I had the great good fortune to catch some
God-awful tropical DISEASE! When I wasn't burning up with fever, I was
puking my bloody guts up, and I do mean bloody. And then to top it all off,
when it was over I was the color of horse piss! Hell yes I'm nervous! I may
be getting my strength back, but for God's sake, I know I'm still as skinny
as a colt. And in a few days I'm supposed to be a bridegroom! What if she "

"What if she what?" asked Hornblower. "For God's sake, you don't look that
bad, trust me"

"Oh, thanks" smirked Harward.

"Don't mention it," smiled Hornblower.

"Well, so what's your problem then?" asked Harward.

"Who said I had a problem?"

"Oh come on, you're nervous too - admit it!" cried Harward.

"Look, it's just," mumbled Hornblower.

"Horatio, "

"All right! It's him, RichardI'm going to see HIM again!" he confessed. "The
Commodore - my God! One stare from him and you feel like he's looking right
through you. God!"

"What d'you mean 'feel like'? He IS looking right through you! You think I
don't know that? Try asking those eyes for his daughter's hand in marriage!"
cried Harward, with a remembering smile. "That must be why Julia and Lady
Pellew had me do it while he was still recuperating - I only got him at half
strength. I was lucky!"

"I.I just don't want to disappoint him," said Hornblower, suddenly serious.

"Oh, trust me, you won't," answered Harward, equally seriously. "We.we
won't. He wouldn't have written of his pleasure at seeing you if he didn't
honestly feel that way, Horatio. He is an honest man." Harward sighed and
patted Hornblower's shoulder. "Much as he can be daunting sometimes, he is
truly worthy of our respect. He's earned it. And, oh God, I cannot wait to be
amongst that family. Just to feel their warmth, their regard for one
another, do you know what I mean?"

"Oh, yes," answered Hornblower. "I do. I only experienced it a couple of
times - but I do, I do indeed. In fact, I think I know what you meant now
about Lord Nelson - the man, I mean. You knowhow some things are just to be
sensed. Just sensed. That's all. I remember feeling that way about seeing
the Commodore with his wife. You could see their incredible regard for each
other - you could feel it. But it was never awkward, you know?"

"I do know," answered Harward. "Look, Horatio," said Harward, pausing. "II
was going to do this later, but.now seems as good as time as anyI wonder,
could I ask you something?" he said, turning to face his friend.

"Of course"

"Perhaps I'm being impertinent again, but, I have no brothers, you see. And,
while I was thinking of asking Pownoll..really, it ought to be my choice and
mine alone, don't you think?" he asked, and then continued. "Would youdo you
think, you could, .stand up for meat the wedding?"

Hornblower felt stunned for a moment. "Oh, Richardare you sure?" he asked.

"Oh aye," he answered firmly. "As sure of anything! Please, say you will?"

"Are you kidding?" Hornblower said with a smile. "Why, I would be so honored.
Thank you, Richard. Thank you for asking!" The two men shook hands firmly.
"And now," said Hornblower suddenly, "would you please answer my question?"

"What question was that?"

"My neckcloth!!" cried Hornblower. "Well is it straight or isn't it?"

***

It seemed but a moment later that the carriage wheels were suddenly upon a
gravel drive. Hornblower looked out and saw the grand estate looming ahead.
The heady scent of apple blossoms came at them from both sides of the avenue,
and Hornblower felt his heart start pounding.

"There's the house," he was able to say. "Looks even larger than last time.
Course that was a few years ago!"

"Aye," said Harward. "They've made a few improvements. Most impressive,
wouldn't you say?"

"I would," agreed Hornblower. Indeed, the cream colored stone mansion made
quite the impression. A massive and pillared front entrance was balanced
either side by sizable wings, equally columned, and three stories in all.
Large picture windows were placed equally across each level, with terraces,
creeping ivy and masses of climbing wild roses to complete the picture. The
sea loomed off in the distance, crystal blue and sparkling, as Charles pulled
up the coach up to a stop.

"Here we are then, gentlemen!" he cried happily.

And no sooner had the two young officers stepped out of their carriage, when
the front door flew open, a brief cry was heard, and a swirl of auburn hair
and cornflower colored silk went sailing past Hornblower in a blur, as the
indomitable Julia Pellew came, at last, into the outstretched arms of her Mr.
Harward. Not a word uttered between them, yet in the passing of but a few
precious seconds a young man and a young woman's world had been righted. His
eyes were closed, as if in prayer, and his arms were wrapped tightly around
her, as if to convince himself, and her, that what was happening was real.
That this moment was real: they were together. And it was. Real enough for
Hornblower to blink a tear from his eye and leave the couple to their long
awaited reality.

He strode towards the steps and saw a white capped and plump woman dabbing at
her eyes with her apron. Her hair was as white as her cap, but her smile
positively glowed with happiness. "Aye, might as well come in Mr. Hornblower
- it'll be a while afore they remember that there are other folks in the
world, I don't suppose Ah, look at em.poor little miteshe's been a-set to
pounce on 'im like a starved kitten on a bowl of creamsuch a sight"

"Mrs. Whitacre?" Hornblower said, realizing he knew who she was. "You
remembered me?"

"Remembered you? Why, Mr. Hornblower!" she said, shaking her head. "Course I
remember you! Silly thing! Let's get you in and settled - Charles, those
chests go upstairs, Mr. Harward's in the Blue room and Mr. Hornblower's just
across in the Green one, eh? Now let me fetch My Lady -"

"No, no," said Hornblower. "Please don't trouble her!"

"Trouble her?" cried the dear old housekeeper, shaking her head once more.
"Mr. Hornblower, if this entire household hasn't been turned upside down with
awaiting for the likes of you two, then I'm but a lass of 15trouble her,
gracious me! I've had standing orders what to go and fetch My Lady the
moment you arrived - unless of course she spied ye herself - but she's off
with Master George in the conservatory - George's music lesson, you see. Was
he playing when you were here last?" she asked, as Hornblower tried to think
back. He was about to say no, when Mrs. Whitacre went on to answer her own
question, a regular habit of hers. "No, I spose not. Back then he was but a
wee lad, eh? Well, Mr. Hornblower, you ought to hear him now---magic with
those keys and pedals he is - a right regular Mr. Handel himselfour own
resident piece of heaven when he plays!" she said, bustling Hornblower off
toward the parlor.

"Mr. Hornblower!" came a lilting voice from the stairs. He turned round to
see the still beguiling visage of the Pellews' eldest daughter. Darker haired
than her sister, and curlier - like her Mama's, and brown eyes like saucers,
twinkling in recognition of him, she came towards him eagerly.

"Miss Em - sorry, Lady Halsted!" he said, bowing.

"Oh please," she said, reaching him. "None of that, now! Emma will do quite
nicely - and how wonderful it is to see you!" She offered her hand, and he
graciously touched it with his lips, and she smiled and patted his arm at his
chivalry. "Ever the gentleman!" she said. "Now, has Mrs. Whitacre seen to
your things?" He nodded. "Good," she said, pausing to take in the vista
afforded them by the still open front door. "Oh, just look at them....So
sweet!" she said, gazing at the still entwined figures of her younger sister
and her betrothed. "Best to leave them alone for now. So romantic!"

"Umyes," said Hornblower, feeling himself start to flush.

"Well," continued Emma, taking his arm and leading him further into the
foyer. "Should you like to freshen up - or straight into the lion's den with
you to see Papa?"

"What?"

"That's a jest, Mr. Hornblower!" she giggled. "But, he is so anxious to see
you - really! He's in his study, now..spoiling my son, as usual. Come along,
I'll take you to him!"

Oh God. Hornblower pulled at his frock coat, and tugged at his cuffs, as Emma
patted his shoulder again and told him he looked just fine. They walked down
the corridor, towards the back of the great house, towards a door propped
half-way open. Emma peered in first, smiled and stifled a giggle. Bringing
her finger to her lips, she turned to Hornblower so he would know to keep
quiet, and gently pulled him toward the open doorway. He looked inside the
room.

There, on the settee, a young mop-topped boy was perched upon the Commodore's
lap. They were engaged in the intense study of a very large atlas-book - its
pages spread open upon a table in front of them. Pellew was pointing at the
various coloured shapes on the pages and the young lad responded to each
query with admirable enthusiasm. The smile that lit up Pellew's features
fairly lit the entire room. Praise the Lord, he looked well. Very well! His
face fairly glowed with contentment and his build, while slight as ever, was
not at all as gaunt as Hornblower feared it might be. His eyes had that same
treasured twinkle, it nearly made Hornblower sigh with relief to see it. He
was the picture of health and vigor - and as charismatic as ever, even in
civilian garb, with his dark weskit and britches. Hornblower leaned his head
in closer, to try and catch their conversation, as Pellew pointed to yet
another shape on the page.

"And that one," said Pellew, softly, "which one is that?"

"The Pa-sif-ik ocean, grandfather?" came the boy's reply, as he looked back
to Pellew.

"Right again! And here," Pellew continued. "This land mass, the one just to
the right of it - do you remember that one?"

"I do!" cried the youngster with glee. "That is America!"

"Correct!"

"Used to be ours..." murmured the boy thoughtfully. "Not ours anymore..."

"No, it's not....," answered Pellew. "But that's their problem, now then,
isn't it."

"Their problem," echoed the boy. "Not OUR problem!"

"Indeed...and this territory here, this green one," asked the older man.
"What is that one called?"

And Hornbower found himself straining to see where Pellew was pointing on the
page, and felt rather proud of himself at recognizing the triangular mass
jutting out towards the bottom right of Europe.

"That one?" asked the lad. He thought for a moment, looking very serious.
"That is India....still ours, right?"

"Indeed it is!" cried Pellew.

"Still ours!" he said again, laughing.

Emma took the opportunity to knock gently and push the door open a bit
further.

"Now, Papa," she said cheerfully. "I've come to offer you a trade - let me
have my son back from vowing to make the world England and in his stead you
can have this fine young officer - what do you say?"

And then Pellew looked up with a quizzical smile at his daughter's voice, and
saw Hornblower there in the doorway. His expression changed to one of
surprise, and then of pure, absolute pleasure. Hornblower felt his stomach
turn a somersault right then and there and his eyes started to brim. Pellew
rose, gingerly lifting his grandson off of his lap and took him by the hand.

"Andrew," he said, gently, "there is someone very special I should like you
to meet. Will you come with me?"

Andrew had already caught eye of the tall, dark haired stranger in a uniform
that looked somewhat familiar. Not so much gold as his Papa's, even less than
his beloved Grandfather's, to be sure, but just dark, with white bits at the
edges. The face staring back at him looked as shy and affected as he did, and
so he held firmly onto his Grandfather's hand, as they got closer.

"This is Commander Horatio Hornblower of the ship Retribution, Andrew. He is
a very special officer.he used to serve with me on Indefatigable!"

Indefatigable! Andrew's eyes lit up. That was a name he well recalled. His
Grandfather's favourite ship, so much so that he had a wooden model of it on
his desk. And when Andrew was being good, very good, and very careful,
Grandfather let him hold it. This Commander must be very special indeed.
Andrew straightened up to his full height, locked his knees together, and
fired off a hearty salute to him.

Hornblower chuckled, and saluted young Andrew back, as Pellew looked on in
pride, reaching over to ruffle up his grandson's hair.

"Now Andrew," said Emma kindly, "let's give Grandfather and Mr. Hornblower a
chance to get re-acquainted, shall we? They have not seen each other in a
very long time!" And Andrew moved over tentatively to take her hand.
Tentatively, as time with his Grandfather was precious indeed and there was
nothing he craved more.

"Next time, can I hold the Indy, Grandfather?" he asked. "And you can show me
more of the knots?"

"Why, Andrew, I should like nothing better!" promised Pellew.

"And here is your Uncle Ned to come and play with you now, Andrew!" said his
mother, urging him over to her youngest brother, who was just coming down the
hallway. Edward Pellew, a bright eyed and generally carefree boy of 9, and
the youngest of the Pellew brood, was Andrew's favorite playmate.

"Hey there little nephew!" said young Edward playfully. "What say we head
outside to look for more hidden treasure!"

Andrew's face lit up at the thought and he rushed to join his Uncle.

"So what time should I bring him back to you, Sis?" asked Edward. "In time
for his tea? Later? Course if it's later then we're into serious coin,
y'know"

"Edward!" cried Pellew, in shock, and then turning to his daughter. "Don't
tell me you're actually paying him to chaperone his own nephew?"

But Emma was giggling, Edward, too. "Nah, it's a joke, Papa. I'd never!" said
Edward

Pellew sighed, and shook his head with a smile. Hornblower chuckled at the
sight.

"For tea would be fine, Ned, you scamp! But, thank you," answered Emma. "And
not too close to the water, promise? And no tree climbing!"

"Aw.c'mon" he moaned.

"Edward," warned his father, this time seriously. And that was enough to
quell that idea.

"All right, Papa," conceded Edward. "We'll stay on the east lawn, promise."
Edward knew when some things were pointless. Pellew nodded and patted his
youngest child on the shoulder, still shaking his head at the boy's antics,
and off they went.

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

"Well, Mr. Hornblower, come in, won't you?" beckoned Pellew, when at last
they were alone. And Hornblower entered the large cavern like room, with its
dark Walnut paneling, its great stone fireplace and massive oaken desk. The
windows facing out to the sea were cut like those in a church - they came to
an arch at the tops - and gave the room even more reverence - not that such
esteem was lacking to one such as Hornblower. He'd been in this room just
once before, when he and Mr. Bracegirdle, and Archie, and the Pellew children
had all sailed the Indy down from Portsmouth. There had not been much time
then to linger in this stately and handsomely appointed home, their orders
requiring them to set back out to sea the very next day, but he had been in
here, to help Pellew gather his papers and notes before their departure. And
it was still as inviting and as imposing as he remembered it - marveling
again at how the room seemed to achieve that careful and seemingly contrary
combination of those two qualities that Pellew himself so personified. He
sat down in the high backed chair by the fireplace, unlit, as it was a
gloriously sunny and warm day and the open windows ushered in the most
welcome of gentle breezes. He accepted a glass of brandy, as Pellew joined
him in the facing chair.

"I assume you brought Mr. Harward with you?" he asked.

"Oh yes, Sir!"

"And I suppose it is another safe assumption that he is with my daughter at
this moment?"

"I should say that was the case, yes, Sir," answered Hornblower, a smile
creeping over his features.

Pellew smiled as well. "I shouldn't wonder. She's had the glass trained on
the gravel drive for the past week. Wanted to be sure she was the first to
spot your carriage when it appeared. Poor thing's been rather impatient.
Nearly jumped Lord Sidney's aide a few days ago.poor lad, must have been the
uniform. Well, she meant no harmI'm surprised I didn't hear her shouting
just now."

"II think she was speechless, Sir."

He smiled again. "Ah, well, God love them. They deserve their happiness, I'd
say."

"Yes, sir."

"And he's well, then?" asked Pellew, settling back in his chair. "Mr.
Harward?"

"Oh yes, Sir," replied Hornblower. "Quite restored I would say." For some
reason Hornblower could not manage more than a few words in response, he
realized. Why was that? *I feel like I'm reporting to the man,* he thought.
*Why is that?*

Pellew nodded. "Brave lad.Been through the ringer"

"Yes, Sir."

"And yourself, sir? Why, you look well," noted Pellew, giving Hornblower a
good going over as he looked him up and down. "It appears that command agrees
with you! Would you say so?"

 

...///to be continued///