Home Fires
by Beth

Part 4

"Edward, darling, may we interrupt you?"

"My Love?" answered Pellew, in a voice that could only be described as eager
and inclusive - warm and welcoming. As his voice was heard so did the sheer
warmth in his eyes reveal those same sentiments. Pellew set down his glass
and stood up from the chair at the mere sound of his wife's voice. Hornblower
did likewise.

And then Susanna opened the door gently the rest of the way, a broad smile
illuminating the grace and quiet beauty of her features. She proudly ushered
in the happy young couple and Hornblower saw as Pellew's face shone in a
blaze of joy, thanksgiving, and love.

"Ah, here they are at last!" he cried, crossing the room to greet his
ebullient daughter, her face alight and flushed even now, and her equally
elated Mr. Harward.

"Good Heavens, Mr. Harward! Look at you! Better not stand sideways at the
altar, Sir - you'll damn well disappear!"

Harward shrugged his shoulders and smiled in that self deprecating way of his
that Hornblower had seen so often. He still looked like one who had not yet
come down to earth and each and every moment since his arrival had only
reinforced his sense of the preciousness of this day. That Pellew would use
his infallible sense of humour in his greeting seemed proof positive of the
Commodore's own feelings of pure relief and genuine affection - never mind
that from a purely factual standpoint it also happened to be profoundly true.

Pellew came up beside the young couple, taking his daughter's hands and Mr.
Harward's into his own. "So, you've decided to come up for air, then, have
you?"

"Papa!" gasped Julia, as the blush deepened over her face once more. She
looked bewitching, and her clear green eyes and radiant smile nearly brought
on another surge of tears from Hornblower - as he had till now been joyfully
amused at this happy reunion.

"You know he jests in all affection," Susanna suggested, nudging Edward
playfully in the ribs. "Do you not, my dear?"

"I do, indeed, I do, of course," Pellew, looking about as pleased as
Hornblower had ever seen him. "Welcome home, Son, Welcome home," he said, his
hand upon Harward's shoulder.

Harward looked about to burst. "Thank you, Sir. You have no idea how happy I
am to be here - with all of you - with you especially, my dearest," he said,
squeezing his betrothed's hand closely to his chest.

"Mr. Hornblower, I hope you can forgive me," said Julia, her voice still just
a bit unsteady from emotion. "I did not mean to ignore you upon your arrival.
And I cannot thank you enough for all you have done!" She leaned over to
greet him properly now, with a soft kiss to each cheek.

"No forgiveness needed at all, Miss Pellew," answered Hornblower. "I can
imagine that you were rather distracted."

"I'd say that's the understatement of the year!"

"Edward!"

"And a very long awaited distraction it is, my dearest Julia," said Pellew as
he kissed his youngest daughter on the top of her head. "Why, I could not be
happier for you - for the both of you."

"Thank you, Papa!"

Hornblower saw as Pellew looked from Harward, to his daughter, grasping their
hands once more and then leaving them joined in one another's, and then saw
again as Pellew's gaze fell upon his wife, and the look in her brimming eyes
of utter relief and adoration as she beheld her daughter and her betrothed.
He remembered well that he had been nearly dumbstruck at his first sight of
Lady Pellew, all those years ago, not knowing who she was and seeing only her
incomparable beauty. Now he saw the person she was as well, the indefatigable
keeper of this family's flame and togetherness. Now he saw a beauty that had
aged into a quiet radiance of warmth and grace. The physical evidence that
she was in her late forties now, her figure even more slender - although
perhaps that was more the effect of these high waisted frocks. There were
some streaks of gray in her dark corkscrew curls now, worn up as was the
style, a few lines at the corners of her eyes, still every bit as expressive
and soulful as her husband's. "You must forgive me as well, Mr. Hornblower,
that I have taken so long in welcoming you once more to our home," she said
softly. Hornblower bowed and as she extended her hand to his.

"You are as lovely as ever, my Lady, truly," said Hornblower, dropping a
gentle kiss upon her hand before releasing it.

"And with flattery like that I certainly hope you'll be settling in for a
nice long stay here!" she answered brightly.

"And yet it is no more than I tell you each day, is it not, my dear?" said
Pellew, coming closer to put his arm about her waist.

"I spoke no more than the truth, Ma'am" nodded Hornblower, "and I am so
honored by your hospitality!"

Lady Pellew smiled warmly. "Edward, if you don't mind, I'm going to move
dinner back an hour or two - I've just sent Henry on up to Exeter to try and
convince Mrs. Harward and Miss Harward to join us this evening. No doubt they
must be as anxious to see dear Richard as we are!"

"Of course!" said Edward.

"Why, that is most kind of you, my Lady," said Harward.

"It is the least we can do, Sir," she said, her arm now around her daughter.
"Why, you have put the roses back into Julia's cheeks - we must do the same
for everyone you are dear to!"

"Well, then," said Pellew. "Shall we venture a walk outside Mr. Hornblower?
It is a glorious afternoon, I see. Not to worry - I shall send you up to your
room in time to get ready for dinner - why, you did bring your full dress
uniform did you not?"

"Sir?" Hornblower stared at Harward for a terrifying second. "Um.actually,
Sir.IumI .well, I-"

Harward tried to play along, looking at Hornblower with raised eyebrows.

"Hmmm." murmured Pellew, his eyebrows raised as well though Hornblower was
at that moment too panicked to see the playful gleam in his eyes. "Dear,
dear.well, what shall we do?"

And then Harward lost it and burst out laughing.

"Oh, he is teasing you, Mr. Hornblower!" reassured Susanna. "He can't help
himself, can you Edward?" And her husband smiled and nodded in confession.

"Indeed I am," admitted Pellew. "We keep a comfortable table here at home,
Sir - I assure you. God knows we have to deal with enough formality at
Admiralty House. At home I wish us to take a deep breath and just be
ourselves."

"Even so, Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Harward," said Lady Pellew, "I have asked Mrs.
Whitacre to see to your every comfort. Just let her or Peter know what you
need and it will be done!"

A warm welcome indeed.

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

It was that same warmth, along with a touch of giddiness, tempered with
undeniable exhaustion, that finally sent Hornblower to his bed that first
night.. And as he lay there amongst the lush velvet draperies and bedclothes,
his mind overflowed with so many images of this day that already felt
treasured. The time alone with Pellew, the warmth of his welcome. How
inclusive he had been.

Dinner had been a revelation of simple, but fresh and hearty fare, and lots
of it, which Hornblower fell upon with such gusto that he barely managed to
recall his manners. He was pleased to see Harward do the same; nor did he
miss the knowing and chuckling glances exchanged between Pellew and his wife
at the gargantuan appetites of these two young officers. And with such a
large brood assembled, and such happy news at hand, the conversation was a
constant din that wound its way through an array of subjects, engaging
several of the party at once, or just a few, or dropping and then linking up
more voices as it wove its way through the meal. Mrs. Harward had arrived, of
course, and Hornblower saw that she resembled her son in a remarkable way
with her slight figure and dark hair, her musical voice. Overjoyed to see her
son safe and sound, she and Lady Pellew were much engaged in talk of the
wedding-day, and all its attendant plans. It had been decided that a small
and simple wedding was the wish of the bride and groom, and after all of the
uncertainty they had been through their wish was deemed quite understandable.
And since it was to be small, there was no reason it could not be soon, as in
that coming Saturday - a mere three days away.

So nestled in amongst the talk of guests, and who could make it to Exmouth in
time for the ceremony, and how much available room was to be had for them,
was mention of Pownoll, the Pellew's oldest son and the Commodore's hope that
he might yet arrive in time. Uncle Israel could be expected as well, along
with his wife and son, another Edward. Indeed Fleetwood had been out sailing
with his cousin just yesterday and confirmed that they were in Plymouth and
just awaiting the word. Hornblower recalled how he struck he had been by the
Pellew's second son. Just 17, with the dark wavy hair of his father, his same
lithe figure, but a good three to four inches taller, this young man made
quite the impression. An impression that did not seem to be lost on young
Belinda Harward, if Hornblower was any judge of human nature. She was a sweet
looking, if rather well fed girl of 16, and as she was seated next to George,
Hornblower had noticed the two of them conversing on music quite often, at
least when Belinda wasn't gazing rather longingly towards the dashing young
midshipman down the table. Had it been so long since he'd last seen this
family? It had. The passage of time could be seen wherever he looked. George
- now a studious boy of 13, auburn haired like Julia, but wavy, where hers
was straight. He too shared the family physique of slenderness, though he
looked to settle at shorter stature than his older brother. He and Miss
Harward were exchanging thoughts on something to do with Handel, perhaps the
music for the wedding. And Hornblower recalled Mrs. Whitacre's words when
he'd arrived. So the lad was something of a prodigy, perhaps? God, did that
mean he would be playing later? And that he would have to sit there and
listen politely? While his skin would be crawling? It was one thing to have
sat back and enjoyed Richard's simple, folksy style of singing and he had
found those evenings quite enjoyable indeed. But the organ, or the
pianoforte? That was no doubt something else entirely. Well, he would have to
steel himself to bear it in all courtesy. And then he caught sight of young
Edward Pellew, who was apparently called Ned most of the time, seated beside
his father and chattering happily away, and who apparently was not normally
gifted with such an exalted seating assignment and so bore a smile on his
face as though he'd been given the King's crown to wear for the night.

Right then and there the table had suddenly seemed a scene of all that was
good and right in the world. A country at peace, a good and decent family at
dinner, and the happy news of a wedding to come. Hornblower could literally
feel the sheer pride and love that seemed to emanate from Sir Edward and Lady
Pellew as each would survey their family, their guests, and he was touched
further by the occasional knowing smile, or nod, from Pellew to his wife, or
from her to him, a gesture of connection, of love, of shared thanksgiving for
all they had been given, all they had created together.

The joyous camaraderie flowed on into the evening, as dinner concluded and
everyone drifted towards the parlor, or the back portico, to take in the fine
evening air and gentle sea breeze. Emma had excused herself to see that young
Andrew and baby Caroline had been settled down and tucked in for the night. A
request for music came from Julia, who had retrieved Richard's dulcimer for
him, and the two of them, and Belinda, who had indeed a most clear and
pleasing voice, assembled in the parlor and went through a delightful series
of folk songs and hymns - "Barbara Allen" and "The Minstrel Boy' ones that
Hornblower especially recalled.

He had watched as Pellew seemed to hold court on the settee, Lady Susanna
beside him, as the trio had offered up their entertainment, enjoying their
songs, the stories and memories that went along with each one and therefore
had to be recounted. Pellew did not sing along, as some of the others did,
but instead his eyes seemed to sweep the room from time to time, noting the
enjoyment on the faces of his brood. Sometime about midway through the
evening's festivities, and just before George had been cajoled into turning
the musical trio into a quartet, a courier had arrived and Charles had come
to the parlor with dispatches in hand. Pellew saw him quickly, leaned in to
murmur a few words to his wife, which he ended with a gentle kiss, and then
he excused himself and headed to his study with Charles. Hornblower watched
as Lady Pellew watched her husband leave the room. Her features changed
slightly as though there was a slight twinge of worry, that something might
have occurred, something which would mean an interruption to this happy span
of carefree days, or the need for Edward to leave once more, and Hornblower
saw again as she then mastered herself with practiced skill, and returned to
the engaging familial scene before her.

Hornblower yawned and stretched his legs down towards the full length of the
huge mattress, rejoicing in its full firmness and the incomparable comforts
of crisp linens that smelled softly of lavender. He recalled his earlier
nirvana of reclining back into a steaming tub of similarly scented water -
the first real bath he'd had in months. No doubt on the morrow he would find
his clothes all cleaned, pressed and hanging in the armoire, another service
that bordered on wantonness to him. But it was more than just these comforts
that engulfed him, was it not? Of course it was. It was the welcome this
family had shown him - their welcoming embrace of him into their safe harbor.
A place of care and concern, of nurturing, preservation. Of sanctuary. He
felt safe here.

Is that it, then, thought Hornblower. Is this what my duty's been for, all
these years? To be safe? Safe with the ones I care for, will come to care
for, and doing what I must to insure that they are safe, too? He reckoned
further, as he stared blindly into the still darkness of the bedroom. Is it
so much to ask, then, to feel safe? Enough of a demand so that we raise
armies and sail ships to defend our land - to keep it safesafe for what? To
just stay alive? Of course not. But to offer ourselves and our countrymen the
opportunity to fulfill our lives, our sense of purpose. To know the joy of
finding someone, a mate, as Richard has found his Julia, to be at peace in
the raising of a family, to love, to live a life that is honest and decent
and good. To be proud of my heritage, to celebrate my faith. To be English,
just that, even. And to be proud to be so. Proud of my king, of my country.
To preserve it, defend it, and keep all within it safe: safe and sound. And
to give peril to any one who would change or try and destroy what we have
made for ourselves here, this way of life that we are fashioning, our peace,
our decency and occasionally, God willing, our prosperity.

Reasons enough to soothe him for this night. He slept.

 

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