Home Fires
by Beth

Part 5

Hornblower sat at the breakfast table on a cloudy but mild Friday morning,
watching intently as Pellew and little Andrew Halsted took turns stacking
walnuts onto a sort of pyramid shaped pile at their corner of the table,
waiting to see which one of them would be the one to cause the stack to
collapse and spill all over the place. Breakfast had long since been cleared
away and he and Pellew had lingered over coffee and small talk, and then the
Commodore's small grandson had come bounding in for his morning hugs, and the
challenge had begun. Lady Pellew had joined them already in progress,
meaning to ask Sir Edward if the cloud cover was likely to lift in time for
tomorrow, apparently assuming that included amidst her husband's naval skills
was the ability to forecast the weather. But she had stopped short at the
sight of the two of them, her husband and her grandson huddled at the one end
over the precariously balanced pile. Then she glared amusingly at Sir Edward
with one of those 'this was your idea wasn't it' looks (it was) and then she
too was compelled for a few moments to simply stand there and watch as
Pellew, with all the patience of a master chess player, scoped out the ideal
spot for the next nut and placed it into position. Not only was Andrew
surprisingly skilled at this endeavor as well, if perhaps a bit less studious
as to optimal placement, but he was also and unknowingly source of great
amusement to both Hornblower and Susanna as he adopted his Grandfather's most
serious and analytical expression, complete with nasal sniff and jutting
chin. And Hornblower was impressed to note that by current count there were
35 of the darn things all heaped together like some sort of primal offering.

"Edward, for goodness sake," said Lady Pellew finally, in good-natured
irritation. "You'll make a mess and then we'll all be stepping on nut shells
for the next week! Hardly the example to be setting for a young boy!"

But just as Pellew was about to politely tell her to relax, a booming but
cheery voice sounded from the front hall.

"Now where the devil is the bride to be!" it bellowed, "Where is she?"

"Could that be Israel?" asked Pellew, looking up at his wife.

"Who else sounds like that!" answered Susanna and no sooner had she spoken
than the doors to the breakfast room flew open and a tall, wiry Captain with
reddish hair strode in with grand style, a broad smile upon his ruddy face
and a devilish gleam in his eyes.

"You made it!" cried Susanna, crossing to her brother in law for a welcoming
hug.

"Indeed we did! Think I'd miss my niece's wedding?" he boomed out, "Never!"

"Good timing, Israel," said Pellew, suddenly seeming so subdued in contrast
to the gregariousness of his younger brother. He greeted Israel with an
affectionate pat on his shoulder. "Where's the rest of the family?"

"Oh, Mary's no doubt still minding the luggage," said Israel his cheery voice
suddenly taking on a rare tone of exasperation. "She wasn't so keen on our
driver, claims he aimed for every crevice in the road." He shook his head.
"God knows."

And Hornblower saw Susanna smile sympathetically, as though this habit of
Mrs. Pellew's was apparently one of longstanding ritual.

"But Ed's with us, too, probably found Fleet by now," Israel continued,
speaking of his only son. "Oh, and we also brought along some young
lieutenant - said he needed a ride up to these parts," Israel continued, "I
trust that isn't a problem?"

"Hmm?" murmured Edward, exchanging quizzical looks with Susanna. "Erno I
suppose not," and then he paused, looking tentatively in Susanna's direction
again.

"Does he need lodging though, Israel?" asked Susanna, looking just a little
flustered. "As you can imagine we'll be rather full up these next few days,"
she said, with a polite smile.

"Well, I'm sure he'd appreciate it," Israel answered plainly.

"Well, we'll have to see then," said Pellew, looking a little perplexed. "A
fellow officer a lieutenant you say?" He shook his head. "You know I can't
say as I know of any lieutenants from around here," he continued. "Rather odd
for you to be such a good Samaritan, Israel!" mused Pellew, "not like you at
all - must have been Mary's idea!"

"Are you trying to be funny?" retorted Israel, that devilish gleam alight in
his eyes once more.

But then a loud whoop resounded from the foyer, as Julia yelled "Pownoll!!!"
at the top of her lungs. The doors flew open again and in came their daughter
with a jubilant young midshipman on her arm.

"Mama, Papa, look who is here!!!"

Even if she hadn't screamed out his name, Hornblower would have instantly
recognized the Pellews' oldest son. He still bore that same carefree and 'aw
shucks' sort of lopsided grin, that dark, glossy hair and his father's
spirited eyes. True, he was taller now, but not so tall as Fleetwood - who
apparently was the beanpole of the brood, and he had the slight but strong
stature of his father as well.

Pownoll embraced each of his joyful parents and then little Andrew let out a
wild shout of glee at the sight of his uncle and nearly launched himself head
first into the young officer's arms. Thankfully Hornblower was still close
enough to the table's edge to lunge forward and keep the now forgotten
assembly of walnuts from cascading onto the floor.

"And here's my favorite nephew!!" cried Pownoll, swooping the boy up high and
then into his arms.

"I'm your only nephew, Uncle!" said Andrew, pushing one of his plentiful
curls back up and off of his forehead. "Caroline is a girl, silly!"

"Just so!" answered Pownoll, giving his nephew an extra squeeze. "And how is
my darling niece? I have yet to see her!!"

"She cries a lot. And then she goes to sleep," explained Andrew, in a simple
summary of his baby sister's most noticeable achievements, at least from his
perspective. "Have you brought me something?" he asked, not wasting any more
time in getting down to brass tacks. "Oooh! Did you bring that lace for
Julia?" the little lad asked more thoughtfully, at seeing the ivory bit of
fluff she held in her hand, as she gave her Uncle a hug. "It's nice!"

"D'you think so?" answered Pownoll. "She can wear it tomorrow! But you,
little fellow, did you think I would forget you? Not a chance! I'll need to
plop you down, though, there we go," he said, gently setting the boy down in
front of him, taking the opportunity to reach over and ruffle up the boy's
curls one more time, and then reaching into his frock coat pocket. "Ah, here
it is!" he said, as he handed Andrew a small elephant delicately carved out
of dark wood. "This is from Algiers! That's in Africa, Andrew!"

Andrew's eyes lit up like saucers. He grasped the figure from his uncle and
ran his hands over the shiny smooth surface. After a heartfelt thank you that
was muffled by a vigorous hug, the boy scampered from the room to show the
new treasure to his Mama. Hornblower saw Pellew chuckle at the sight and then
watched further as a wave of realization seemed to cross the Commodore's face.

"Wait a minute," he said suddenly, wheeling round to his brother. "Israel,"
he asked, slowly, "Is - is this - is Pownoll our stranded traveler?"

Israel smiled keenly as Pownoll blushed and looked down with a found out
smile. "I confess they are one and the same, Ned."

"But, Israel" murmured Pellew, first looking at Israel and then straight at
his oldest son, "you said lieutenant, and Pownoll is still"

And then there was a pause as Pellew's voice seemed to leave him and he
stared incredulously at Pownoll, wondering if it could possibly be

"It's true, Papa," answered Pownoll. "I passed.. I passed my
examinationthree weeks ago!"

Susanna clapped her hands together and let out a sound of surprise. Pellew's
gaze deepened with immeasurable pride. He moved to Pownoll and firmly
embraced his shoulders.

"My heavensson.son!" he said. "Well done, I'd say! Well done, indeed!"

"Thank you, Father!" said Pownoll. "Oh, I know I should have written you - it
turns out I missed the rounds in April - I barely made it on time in May- and
then we had orders to weigh anchor the very next morning," he continued, in a
most animated style. "We made Plymouth just yesterday, luckily I went
straight to Uncle's - looks like I got here just in time! Goodness, Mr.
Hornblower, here you are as well! How are you, sir!"

"I am well, Lieutenant," said Hornblower, moving to shake the young man's
outstretched hand. "My congratulations! That's quite an achievement!"

"Thank you sir. Why it has been so long since I have seen you - Uncle told me
you brought Richard home to us! And my congratulations on your promotion, Sir
- your own ship!" he said, sounding genuinely pleased for the Commander.
"So, Jules," he said, turning back now to his sister, "where is my future
brother in law?"

"He is gone to Exeter," she answered. "He and the family are determined to
have everything ready for my arrival! You'll see him tomorrow, you know!"

"Indeed I shall! The big day! Oh Sis," he said, moving close to her and now
suddenly serious. "My dear, dear, Julia, I am so glad, so very glad, to have
made it time-" and then his voice broke as he saw her eyes brim with tears
and they hugged each other fiercely. Pownoll held his sister close for a few
moments, and then a look of anticipation lightened his features once more. He
drew back and regarded her eagerly.

"Do I have time to call on Eliza, do you think? Could she be invited as
well?" he asked most charmingly. "Please, please, most dearest, sweetest
sister?"

"Oh, you!" she rolled her eyes, "I should have known!"

"Oh, so it's Eliza now, is it?", added Fleetwood, who at hearing all the
commotion had come in with his cousin Edward. "Hmmm!" he added, sounding just
like a tabloid journalist and pausing for full effect. "You know I could have
sworn it was Eleanor at last checkpoint, oh, but wait - wasn't she the one
with the two left feet so of course you wouldn't dream of taking her, not
when there'll be dancing - but then there's Harriet, right, remember her?
Redhead wasn't she? Or is she history as well - just a winter's tale, then,
dear brother? You know you go through 'em so fast, Pow!"

"Oh, very funny," said Pownoll, elbowing his younger brother in the ribs.

"I do try my best, " answered Fleetwood, rubbing his side now in mock injury.
"But well done on the exam, old man! You must tell me all your secrets when
it's my turn - I've got you to follow, now!"

"Let me go and see to Mary, then, if you will excuse me," said Susanna
politely, and Hornblower noticed a sympathetic nod from Pellew to his wife as
she left to greet her sister in law, stopping on her way out to give Pownoll
another welcoming hug.

Hornblower drank in the warm and familial atmosphere around him - realizing
in short order that this newly arrived heir to the Pellew throne who smiled
so warmly at him could charm the pants off anyone in the simple blink of an
eye. He seemed an utterly winning combination of Pellew's 'take notice'
presence and his mother's engaging, yet calming, charisma.

Even the Commodore himself still seemed at a relative loss for words, his
outgoing brother as well. After a bit, Hornblower heard Sir Edward murmur,
"Well done, Israel.you cheeky sod!"

"Oh, you know I can't resist throwing you for a loop now and then, big
brother," said Israel, rocking back on his heels in self-satisfaction. "Got
to keep you on your toes!"

"Yes, well you always did know how to get me going," murmured Edward dryly.

Israel sighed. "My role in life, Ned."

The door opened again, quietly this time, and Emma came in softly, with
Andrew beside her, his finger against his lips, and his head tilting toward
the little blanket-wrapped and, for the moment, quiet, bundle his mother
carried in her arms.

"Ah!" said Israel softly. "And here is the newest member of the family!"

"Uncle! Pownoll!" said Emma in a happy whisper. "They told me you'd arrived!"

"Oh Em!" said Pownoll, coming close to kiss his sister on the cheek, and then
to gently lift the little coverlet and look under it. "She's gorgeous!" he
whispered. "Can I hold her?"

"Don't drop her!" warned Andrew, as the little bundle was transferred gently
from mother to brother. "You'll be in big trouble if you do!"

"I wouldn't think of it, Andrew!" assured Pownoll, "my own little niece!"

"At least she's sleeping now," Andrew went on. "So she's not crying. She
cries loud. Like really loud. Then she sleeps. She's not really much fun if
you ask me," he finished, shrugging.

"So sweet!" murmured Pownoll, kissing the top of the downy head. "I adore her
already." He slid his other arm around Emma's shoulders. "No Captain Halsted?"

"No," sighed Emma. "He's on patrol off Brest, last we heard," and she then
glanced to her father for that look of understanding and solidarity she knew
she could count on. She got it, of course. "It's a shame he can't be here,
but you! You're here, and you, too, Uncle!!"

Pellew smiled again at the sight of his son holding his little granddaughter.
"We must take our blessings wherever we can find them, don't you think?" he
asked softly. Everyone nodded their assent. "And here I am still over the
moon! Such a surprise! Thank you, again, Israel," said Pellew earnestly.
"Really," he said, reaching to grasp his brother's hand.

"Ah, it's the least I could do Ned, God's truthnot that it wasn't also a
relief to have someone else to talk to in the carriage."

And Mary Pellew's shrill complaining voice could then be heard in the
corridor, contrasted with Susanna's patient and sympathetic tones. Poor
Susanna, thought Edward. It would take all their patience these next precious
days to put up with the self-pitying harpy that was his sister in law. Well,
he would find a way to make it up to his beloved wife somehow.

"But," continued Israel. "I do need to tell you, Edward, I have
dispatchesand some news from London," he said. "Not that I wouldn't love to
linger in this joyous reunion, but you would wish to know, I think"

"Yes, of course."

"They're not wanting him back in London are they?" It was Julia, asking with
a worried look in her father's direction.

"No, dear child, not that, not that," assured Israel. "I think they got his
message loud and clear after all that back and forth nonsense of the past few
weeks," he said, as Edward smiled and winked at his daughter. "No, I think
he's certain to give you away tomorrow - and stick around here for at least
another week or two!"

"Thank goodness!" said the bride to be.

"Well," said Edward, "perhaps we should retire to my study and hear your
news, then. May our other officers join us, do you think?"

"I don't see why not!"

"Excellent. Commander? Lieutenant? This way!"

"Another meeting on Malta, for God's sake?? For the love of God," sighed
Edward, tossing the opened dispatch onto his desk.

"It's not for another ten days yet, Edward," said Israel. "I'm more concerned
actually by something else."

"What's that?"

"Apparently Bonaparte's now enacted a new tariff. Taxes on all British goods
are almost twice as high those from French colonies."

"That's outrageous!" cried Pownoll, indignantly. He shifted in his chair
opposite Hornblower, as Israel paced back and forth in front of Sir Edward's
massive desk.

"Quite so, dear nephew," said his uncle. "It also seems that France has
granted favors of trade to Russia, Portugal and Turkey in its peace
agreements with them, but denied the same to us."

"But does that really surprise you, Israel?" queried Edward. "Come now, just
because we've signed a peace treaty doesn't mean we're suddenly expected to
jump into bed with them!" And then the Commodore flushed slightly at the
realization that he had made that comment in front of his own son, and that
its meaning was no doubt clear to the young lieutenant, who nodded heartily,
and so perhaps that reaction deepened his father's shade even further.

"Of course not, Ned, for God's sake, they're still French!" hissed Israel.
"But still, you know how much this could hurt us. We're a nation of
tradesmen. We need those exports - you know it was done with full intent"

Hornblower nodded along and bravely entered the discourse with his own
comment. "No doubt of that, Captain Pellew."

Hornblower froze for a moment as Israel regarded him intently for a few
seconds, but then he nodded again, resumed his pacing, and Hornblower felt
himself relax once more into his chair. Never mind the subject matter,
thrilling as that was, it was fascinating enough for Hornblower to see these
two renowned brothers held up against the light, as it were, for such a clear
comparison. Israel was now emerging as the more agitated of the two, unable
to remain physically still, with a tendency for hotheadedness, perhaps, quick
to engage, while his elder brother remained seated, his elbows on his desk
and his hands pressed together at the fingertips, tapping softly together
every so often, but evidence of thinking, of analysis, not frantic
conclusions.

"And there's more, you know," continued Israel. "As if Elba and Piedmont
weren't bad enough, they've got their eye on Parma, now! I swear it's nearly
an outrage -such gall!"

Hornblower and Pownoll exchanged worried looks.

Sir Edward sighed. "We must be careful, Israel. You know as well as I do that
French control of those territories was sanctioned by the Treaty of Madrid."

"But it's not just control, Edward, it's integration - it's making them
French - he wants to make us all French!!" Israel blared. "Since that blasted
treaty there's been nothing but an unchallenged series of French advances. We
can't just keep standing back and allowing this - one annex after the other -
how close does Boney need to get to our bloody door before we say enough is
enough!"

"Enough in what sense, Israel?" asked Edward. "What do we want? Do we want
concessions, or confrontation?"

Israel did a double take, clearly caught off guard. "Well, there are some who
might wish for both," he answered carefully.

"Indeed! And no doubt they are the ones dragging their heels on Malta!"
Edward shot back. "Have we begun to evacuate? Do we even intend to? Not
likely! Not if we're having yet another meeting on the subject nearly two
weeks from now!"

"We probably don't intend to," said Israel, returning fire, "and why should
we while France keeps adding on new conquests? Answer me that?"

But the Commodore just shook his head. "I still maintain those are not
conquests, Israel -"

"Well, not to you, perhaps, but to Castlereagh-"

"Castlereagh!" cried Edward, and Hornblower racked his brain to try and
recall how he'd heard that name before. "For the love of God, Israel, the man
would plant the cross of St. George on every unspoken for plot on the globe
if he could - right now!"

"And, you have a problem with that, do you?"

And suddenly three rather curious pairs of eyes were on the Commodore.

Sir Edward let out a sigh, resting his clasped hands upon his chest. "Don't
misunderstand me, Israel," he warned, gently. "You of all people know that I
am the King's man -that is a given. I do as I am commanded."

He stood up then, and slowly walked towards the window closest to his desk.
It was still a gray day, but the sea still treated him to a gentle shimmer of
dancing, swaying crystals out in the distance. His hands were clasped behind
his back, as though he were still upon his beloved quarterdeck, and one could
only guess at the myriad of thoughts coursing through his mind.

"But just because I follow orders does not mean I do not wish to reconcile my
conscience as to our purpose. I would hope it is a noble one, more worthy
than simply collecting trinkets for a crown."

"But he is gaining momentum, is he not, this Castlereagh," offered Pownoll,
tentatively. "I heard Captain Allbright speaking of him. His essays have
garnered acclaim, all this talk of an imperial vision! It can be quite
intoxicating!"

Hornblower and Israel nodded together, Israel with some measure of bravado.

"They say he could be in office before the end of Autumn, Edward" said his
brother. "And soon Lord Whitworth is to go to France!"

"Ah, yes. Our new Ambassador to the French republicWasn't he previously
ambassador to the Tsar?"

"Aye, and a damn good one."

"His research is most interesting," added Edward. "I had a report from him
last week. France is virtually bankrupt, its citizens don't want war, they
want peace - and they could give a flying fig about colonial conquests!"

"And yet," piped in Hornblower, "I heard talk in Haiti that Bonaparte is
still dreaming about Egypt. Could he be that dangerously out of touch with
his people, Sir?"

"I'd not put it past him, Mr. Hornblower."

"So," continued Horatio, almost amazed to hear himself embarking on such a
discourse aloud in front of these two captains, "if you figure that in with
the fact that most of the French Navy is still stuck in the West Indies"

Israel smacked his hand down onto the desk. "Yes! And we stand firm on
Maltaand we dare them to call us on it - or if they attempt another conquest
- call it what you like, Ned! If they mess up just one more time, we should
strike first and then we've got them!"

"Yes!" cried Pownoll.

Sir Edward smiled, at last, turning back from the window towards his son.

"I doubt it could be that easy, or that quick, Son," he said. "Although your
ultimate reasoning is quite sound, Mr. Hornblower, yours too, Israel. And God
knows I'd take those odds in a second - from a naval standpoint, anyway. But
on land? There's the thing!" he said. "You all know what Bonaparte is capable
of on land! Even our navy would have to operate in better synchronicity if we
were to finish it off properly this time ..."

"Well," said Israel, "at least now we won't have that idiot Lord Hood running
the show!"

And that brought a slight gasp from Hornblower. And a sigh from Sir Edward.
"Yes, well, thank God for that," he said, to Hornblower's amazement. Horatio
knew his captain had had serious misgivings about his lordship but he'd never
gone so far as to say it so bluntly. There must be more to this than just a
botched mission to Muzillac, though God knew that that was a blunder all its
own.

"Was he was as bad as that, sir?" asked Hornblower, wanting to fill in those
blank spaces.

"Worse," answered Edward curtly. "I know you well remember Muzillac, Mr.
Hornblower, but that was barely the half of it. Under him the Channel Fleet
almost fell apart. Plain and simple. Contradicting orders, miscommunication,
no communication - I don't think there's ever been a man so universally
despised by the whole service. A regrettable mixture of ignorance, avarice
and spleen. God save us from that ever happening again!"

"So we're in better hands, now, surely!" added Pownoll. "That will stand us
well in the days to come, then!"

"Your enthusiasm is well noted, Son," said his father. "But I still maintain
it is a matter of several months, at least - before we go to active call up,
if we even do. To do so before a clearer indication of French aggression
would be madness, it flies in the face of all we have declared - promised"

"Perhaps, Edward," said Israel, sounding more relaxed now. "Perhaps. Or maybe
I was hoping to give you a foolproof way to turn those blasted politicos down
and stop this ridiculous talk of sending you off to Parliament!"

Edward turned to him with a wry smile. "You've been conspiring with my wife
again, haven't you?"

"For God's sake, you don't want to waste your time - or your talent, in the
Commons, Ned! You don't!" said Israel. "Susanna is right, I'm right - and you
know we are as wellyou just have a hard turning anybody down - unless he's
French, of course"

But Pellew had turned back toward the window again and was now caught up in
the inviting scene before him. Down past the rolling grassy lawn, Fleetwood
and his cousin Edward were at the small dock, preparing to take the Daydream
out for the day; Ned and Julia were out playing some sort of hide and seek
type of game with Andrew, as Emma sat quietly nearby with baby Caroline. And
next door in the parlor he heard someone tinkering at the keyboards. Dear
God, was that poor George, at it again? He must have word with the lad, no
wonder he was looking so pale compared to the others - he must see that the
boy got out more often

"That was a joke, you know, Ned, just a joke"

"but a good one, I'd say," murmured Edward, coming out of his brief reverie.
"And, perhaps you are right. I am first and foremost an Englishman, and a
naval officer. And I am also a husband, a father, and praise God, a
Grandfather. And tomorrow I am the father of the Bride - the last time I
shall have the honor! So, let's have no more talk of war for now, gentlemen,
or politics. What will come, will come and we will do what is required - -all
of us here, in this room - there is no doubt of that, but right now"

And then suddenly his voice trailed off as the sounds of beautiful music
began to waft through to his study, not just a few notes here and there, but
full and rich chords, ascendingdear God, it was Handel's Rinaldo, was it
not? One of his most favorite operas, Susanna's as well. Yes, by Jove, it was
the glorious overture, that stately melody sounding as fine as ever.played
by George? His thirteen year old son? He glanced quickly around his study.
Hornblower was holding his head in his hands for some reason. "If you'll
excuse me, gentlemen...I think I have an overdue appointment with my son"

"George, eh? He's quite the genius with those ivories, isn't he!" cracked
Israel. Good lord, how was it that Israel knew about George's talent and his
own father had missed it?

"eryes, pardon me, then," mumbled Edward. "It seems I have been an utter
fool." And he thought he heard the sound of Pownoll's laughter as he dashed
from the room.

And, yes, it was most certainly George was playing the overturebut not just
playing ithe was playing the hell out of it. He had enlarged it, somehow,
made it bigger. From some strange and magical place George had found hidden
harmonies and counter-melodies which spilled forth from every measure until
it seemed as though the musical fabric would fairly burst its seams and
explode out from the organ. As he played his shoulders swayed to the stately
beat of the march-like tempo, his eyes were either closed or looking towards
his Mother, across the room on the settee. If he saw his father come and
stand in the open doorway, he did not show it, though Susanna noticed, and
breathed a sigh of relief that at last her occasionally tunnel visioned
husband had seen the light when it came to George's considerable musical
gifts. The music swelled again, building to conclusion. It was rich,
immeasurably rich, and Pellew could do nothing but stand in the open doorway
and stare at his son, and listen, dazed and consumed. The final chords held
like smoke in the air, and then slowly dissolved to silence. Sir Edward took
a step into the room and began to clap his hands loudly.

"Bravo..bravo!" he said, surprised to find that he was in need of catching
his breath. "My boy,.dear George, I did not know!" He shook his head, coming
further into the room towards his son. "I have been so blind - or, deaf, I
should say.Dear lad, did you teach yourself to play this?"

George smiled shyly up at his Father, and then looked at his Mother for
encouragement. She nodded immediately and Pellew's heart surged at the warmth
and pride in her expression.

"No papa, I had a bit of help," replied George, simply. "Mr. Boylston, our
choirmaster, gave me the chords for it. First I tried to play it from
memory after I heard it in town hall last month. Well, that was too hard, but
then I got them, the chords, that isyou see"

And he started to play the simple linear path of the melody, with no
adornment, just the simple chords, that now seemed rather naked. "But that
seemed sowell, sparse, you know? I know I can't replicate a whole orchestra,
but I wanted to try!" he said, with admirable enthusiasm. "So I tried to
expand it.I started from here," he said, playing those simple chords again,
as Susanna smiled in anticipation.

"And then," said George. "I went to this!" and with that he let it rip again,
with full power, as he played it so wondrously just moments ago.

Pellew came up alongside his son and put his hand on his shoulder. "My boy,
can you forgive me?. for being such a fool, as not to notice your
ability?George you have an extraordinary, a precocious talent..we must
allow you to pursue it.you are playing at Julia's wedding, are you not? That
is, if you wish to? Susanna, will you kindly stop giggling?"

George beamed.

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny, like the answered prayer that it
was, a dawn tailor made for its joyous occasion. And the nerves that went
along with it, to be sure. The flurry of activity that was just this side of
chaos got underway by mid morning, with the arrival at Exmouth of the Harward
contingency, Richard, his mother and sister, and his uncle's family as well,
promptly on schedule. Julia was of course safely sequestered upstairs with
her Mother and sister, and Belinda scurried up the stairs to join the ladies
as the other bridesmaid.

A short while later, at the call of Lady Pellew, no doubt now the commanding
officer of this particular exercise, it was time to begin sorting the various
guests and family members into waiting carriages and begin the procession to
the small country church that was St. James'. Hornblower was just making his
way down the stairs as he saw Israel Pellew and his family all assembled in
the foyer, and then ushered out onto the driveway by Charles. Hornblower
followed them out, coming onto a scene in the gravel drive that was one of
barely maintained order, as wedding guests, footmen, stable boys, and some of
the household staff jostled amongst horses and coaches that all circled the
drive, to be loaded up and on their way. He was hoping to catch sight of
Richard, and saw as Lady Pellew gently but firmly steered her brother in law
and his family over towards one of the open coaches. After that set of
Pellews departed, the line of additional carriages moved up the ranks for
their ration of the remaining passengers. There was one coach for the Pellew
boys, two coaches for the Harward family, minus the groom of course, as there
was a separate one for him and his best man, and another for the bridesmaids
and Lady Pellew. That left the last one in the line, all bedecked with roses
and green ribbons, courtesy of the stable boys, which awaited Sir Edward and
the bride.

"All you're missing is a pair of epaulettes, My Lady," said Hornblower to
Susanna in praise. "You command this procession as well your husband does his
ships!"

"No epaulettes necessary, Mr. Hornblower," she cried over the noise. "A good
strong whistle is all I need!" as she then demonstrated, motioning her sons
over for a brief but thorough inspection before they were ushered onto their
coach. He chuckled as young Edward was sent over to Charles for an emergency
shoe shine. "I think Richard is inside," she called back to Hornblower. "He's
looking for you! Best hurry, though, your turn's coming up soon!"

Richard was inside all right, having one last nervous look at himself in
front of the hall mirror.

Hornblower could see that the poor man was wound as tightly as a spring. His
hand shook slightly as he smoothed out his weskit. He saw Hornblower in the
mirror's reflection and wheeled around to face his best man. "I..I did give
you the ring, didn't I?" he asked, in a trembling voice.

"Good morning to you, too, Richard," smiled Hornblower.

"Sorry!.I'm nervoushow do I look?"

"Well, still somewhat pale, but you've put on a few pounds, though, still not
enough-"

"For God's sake are you a doctor now?" said Harward. "I meant my uniform,
Horatio! Is it all right?"

"So it's neck cloths again, is it? You look fine! Really!"

"Right," sighed Harward. "So you do have the ring? I gave it to you didn't I?"

"Yes, you most certainly did, and yes, I most certainly have it," said
Hornblower. "But, let's check for sure."

He began to search his pockets in what was to have been an attempt to get a
chuckle from his friend. But then he kept rooting around in the loose folds,
in vain. "Oh dear"

"Oh God!" blanched Harward. "Don't tell me you've lost it!"

"All right.all right," answered Hornblower, now digging frantically through
every possible vent or flap in his weskit. He had put it in his pocket, had
he not? Confound it! "All rightI won't tell you, then" Well this was no
good, no good at all! "Drat.. I must have left on the dresser! Look I'll
just run upstairsbe right back." He saw Harward's face turn to chalk. "Oh
GodRichard, lookwait for me - - "

"Do I have a choice?" he barked.

"Well, better yet, go on without me and I'll hitch a ride with the boys, all
right?"

"What!" cried Harward. "You're supposed to go with me! That's the tradition!"

Hornblower could hear Lady Pellew whistle again, still impressive, and then
her voice, calling for them. Oh dear.

"Well without the ring it doesn't very much matter does it?" he said in a
panic. "Look, I'll be thereYou go now, and I'll get to the church on time -
I promise!" And with that he tore up the stairs, oblivious to the gaily clad
figures of Emma and Belinda descending the stairs, their bouquets of roses
and baby's breath trailing yards of green ribbon behind them.

He rounded the corner to his room, dashed inside and then proceeded to up-end
each dresser drawer until the meager contents were scattered over the floor.
No ring. He tore through the armoire, pillaging each and every pocket and
flap on his other frock coat and weskit - nothing there either. The sweat was
beginning to bead upon his brow as he then surveyed the top of the dresser,
the small writing desk - still nothing. It was while he was plowing through
the tiny drawers, nooks and crannies in the desktop that he remembered the
nightstand. The nightstand! I am a complete and utter idiot, he muttered to
himself. For there on the top of the nightstand, in broad and plain sight,
and just as he had left it but two nights ago, was the tiny gold and emerald
band.

He grabbed it, stuffed it into his weskit pocket, and tapped it once to be
sure it was safely in there. Ignoring the scattered dresser drawers, and
flung open panels of the armoire, not to mention the small pile of stockings
and small clothes strewn about the floor, Hornblower took another minute to
wipe his forehead with his handkerchief, smooth back his queue. He readjusted
his weskit and neck cloth in the mirror and then started off in sheer relief
for the hallway. But just as he reached the stairway, he stopped short. There
in the foyer was Sir Edward, all by himself, in absolute silence, nervously
tugging at the flounces of his cuffs, pacing to and fro as he did so - each
step a solid echo upon the marble tile, and the lone sound in what had just a
few moments ago been a bustling depot. Oh God, had he missed the other
carriages, then? Was it just Pellew and his daughter left? He swallowed what
was left of his dignity and started humbly towards the steps just as one of
the bedroom doors opened. Now what? In a fit of sheer panic, he hid beside
the large Grandfather clock by the landing, just as a willowy figure clad in
soft green silk emerged from the room. It was the bride! Julia stepped from
the darkness of the hallway towards the grand staircase, where the sunlight
streamed in from the large front windows and bathed her in all its glory.
Hornblower felt his wish for a merciful and quick end to his misery give way
right then to breathtaking awe at her luminous, understated loveliness, and
saw her nervous features break into a tiny smile as she beheld her
resplendent father below, pacing nervously and pulling now at his snowy white
neck cloth.

"Papa," she said softly, "Are you ready?"

Pellew turned towards her suddenly and then his mouth fell open as he stared
at his radiant, sunlit daughter. Her dress was simple, shimmering perfection:
a delicate fall of moss green watered silk, subtly accented with intricate
ivory lace at the bodice and waist. She wore another ribbon of lace - the one
given to her by Pownoll- as a simple yet elegant band around her neck. It was
an enchanting compliment to the ivory baby's breath that crowned her shiny
upswept hair, and the cascade of roses, baby's breath, and ribboned ivy she
held as her bouquet. "Look at you." said Pellew, his voice barely above a
whisper. "Just look at you. My Heavens"

"It's all right, then, this dress?" she asked quickly, her tone suddenly so
insecure and vulnerable. "Do you think?"

"All right?" he said, in a shaky voice, extending his hand towards her as she
came down the stairs. "Dear, dear Julia," he shook his head, gazing at her
with such affection, "I am nearly reduced to weeping here and you are asking
me that?"

"Oh Papa, don't cry! You mustn't!"

And then it was she who came teary eyed into his arms, to his swift and
strong embrace.

"Then you mustn't cry, either, my dear," said her Father gently, retrieving
his handkerchief, or perhaps he had been holding it ready all this while. He
dabbed the soft linen gently to her cheek.

"It's different - I'm a woman, I'm supposed to cry!" she murmured.

"Oh really?" said Pellew softly. "Is that what they told you?"

"Yes"

"Well, it's utter nonsense," he whispered. "Just ask your Mother. I've shed a
few tears in my time, trust me. Besides, since when have you, of all people,
ever used being female as an excuse? You - my stalwart, indomitable,
independent daughter! You'd have gone off to sea yourself if you could,
remember?"

"I do," she added, looking up at him with shining, adoring eyes. "I used to
wonder if you did"

"Alwaysalways, my dear," said Pellew. "I always knew you were the one who
took after me the most. Pownoll and Fleet may wear the uniform, but
you...you've felt that same commitment in your heart, haven't you?" She
nodded. "I always knew that you felt it as deeply as I did. You always had
the will, and the guts - way before they ever did. I used to thinkI used to
hopethat I did not disappoint"

"Oh, Papa, how could you think that?"

"With all my absences? Far too easily!" he said, softly. "I wasn't home when
you were born, when you took your first step, when you lost your first tooth
.when your freckles faded into such beauty as I see before me now.and so
many other occasions in betweenI have missed so much, I am sorry, Julia-"

"No, Papa, you must not say that!" she said. "You have given me so much! Even
when you weren't with us, we still felt your presence, your strength. And so
your strength became my strength! Did we miss you? You know we did! But we
loved you fiercely through all of it and we never took for granted all your
wonderful letters, those special presents."

He smiled, then, and dabbed at another stray tear on her cheek.

"And then," she continued, "all of those times when you were here - oh, Papa,
you always made me feel so special, I remember them all! You told me you
would teach me everything you taught Pownoll, I made you promise, remember?
And you did! I can still light a fire faster than he can! And all those
kisses you blew up to my window?"

"How could I resist you?" he murmured, taking her hand and bringing it softly
to his lips. "All the other rooms darkened, their occupants asleep, and there
you'd be, way past your bedtime, a beacon in the night, keeping watch for me!
As you shall do now for Richard"

She bit back a sob. "I love him, Papa."

"I know you do, my dear," he said. "And he is worthy of your love. I see it.
He loves your strength and courage as much I do, and you will be a true
partner to him, Julia. It is what I prayed for you, my dear, when I worried
that you might find this world lacking for one such as you - but you have
instead found him -"

Oh, Papa, she said, her voice breaking, and then she could say no more.

He held her for awhile, letting just a few of his own tears fall as well, as
he gently stroked her shoulders. After he had regained his own composure, he
drew back gently and brought his hand to her face, lifting her down turned
chin up towards him so their misty eyes met. "Well, I would wager that your
dear Richard is most likely wondering where you are about now, my sweeting,"
he said. "Should we not be off?" he asked, dabbing at her eyes one last time
with his handkerchief. "I have a bride to give away do I not?"

Hornblower knew that now was as good a time as any, and so he coughed
slightly as he re-emerged from his hiding place, to give the father and
daughter a moment to dab away any further tears, himself one or two as well.
He came to the top of the stairs, and gave an awkward nod to the Commodore.

"Mr. Hornblower? Should you not be at the church already?"

"II forgot the ring, Sir. I am so very sorry"

"And do you have it now?"

"Oh yes, Sir," he said, giving that pocket one more check. "I do indeed, Sir!"

"Then I suppose you need to hitch a ride?"

And Julia burst out laughing. "Oh for God's sake," she said, "let's go!!!"

The wedding began with the angelic sounds of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's
Desiring" and finally, the triumphant march from Handel's Floridante, the
second march, that is, as George took great pains to clarify to anyone who
later asked what that glorious music was.

As the ceremony went forth, Hornblower gazed out upon the assembled company
from the unique vantage point of both welcomed guest and unexpected
participant, embraced by the warmth and inclusion that flowed from both of
the families and their joyous celebration, and still with a bit of slightly
flustered awe that he could be deemed worthy of such inclusion. Soon enough a
contrasting series of emotions began to battle gently for his attention, as
his mind started to wander over the course of the familiar invocations,
blessings, and so forth. Honest joy, of course, at seeing his now dear friend
Richard basking in such glory, on the very day for which he, Hornblower, had
delivered him home to have.

And close on its heels, if he were to be forthright, was honest to God envy -
- or perhaps it was more a simple matter of normal male hormones revealing
that they were still in proper working order - - as Horatio beheld Richard's
beautiful bride, and his own sad realization of how far removed he surely
must be from ever coming to such a blessed state as matrimony. As the couple
repeated their vows, Hornblower's eyes glanced from Richard, at hearing his
strong yet affected voice, on to Julia, and her soft but firm responses, and
finally to the gentle yet ever piercing gaze of the Commodore upon his
daughter and son-in-law, his arm solidly entwined with Lady Pellew's.

How was it done, then? This business of finding a mate - how did it happen?
And did it just happen - as in happen to one, or was it in fact something one
had to go forth and seek out - actively? His one and only experience with
what had perhaps only resembled love seemed so very long ago, almost as if it
had happened to someone else - a younger, less scarred man - merely a lad,
perhaps? Despite the passed years he recalled well that he had not sought out
Mariette. No, she had been hurled upon him against a saga, a backdrop of
unimaginable pathos. Had he loved her? He had been moved to his very marrow
in wanting to protect her, shield her, yes, even to rescue her. Was that
love, any of it? Perhaps. But was it not a love borne of the moment,
premature and therefore not compatible with survival, their tragic backdrop
an acceleration of both emotion and the doomed conclusion that was
inevitable. Yes, he thought, that made sense. A fleeting passion, a love
occurring in a happenstance that was over and done with in the blink of an
eye.

Besides, he wondered further, what would have come of it anyway, had he been
able to save her? God knew, as Hornblower surely did not. He saw now that he
had not thought past each moment as it had charged itself upon him. And since
then?

Nothing. No one. No time for it. So here he was now, then, in his late
twenties. Alone. Watching as two most deserving souls declared their love for
each other.

The organ sounded out again and so he was prompted by some inner voice to
fashion his face into a timely smile. Harward was kissing Julia like there
was no tomorrow. People were cheering. God, the ceremony must have ended and
here he was off in some pathetic and mournful daydream, for shame!

Emma was applauding, tears of joy in her eyes. Richard drew back, Julia's
eyes were shining as well, and all around them were the sounds of rejoicing:
the triumphant music, the clapping, the shouts of congratulations. Richard
wheeled
around to him and Hornblower grasped his arm in a strong shake and patted his
shoulder. "Well done, Sir!" Horatio said, with a nod. "Well done, indeed!"

Harward smiled and nodded back; he seemed too overcome to speak. Commodore
Pellew stepped forward to welcome his new son in law with a strong embrace
and Hornblower felt his throat close up at the look on the older man's face.
He knows how much this means, how vital this is, thought Hornblower. There is
a journey's end here that I have been foreign to. That I do not grasp yet.
Not even sure I know how to. Do I want it? God knows I should, and yes, in
all honesty, I suppose I do. Who does not want to be cared for, cared about -
loved? But it's me we're talking about, isn't it, he confessed, and fought
back a grimace. Who would want me? Who could possibly?

He felt a sudden pull at his elbow and found his smile again. It was Pownoll,
prompting him to make his way to the rear of the church, along with all of
the other naval men. Of course, their salute! As the bride and groom wove
their way down the aisle, and were then ushered off to the side by the vicar
- to sign the register, Hornblower, Pownoll, and Fleetwood were joined by
Captain Israel and his son, Edward, another midshipman. They all gathered
outside the entrance, hands on the hilts of their swords. Even the Commodore
joined them just in time, and took his place on the steps across from his
brother. Lady Pellew, Emma and Belinda came out next, Emma with a look behind
her and a quick 'they're coming!" to cue them.

As the church doors swung open, a sharp chorus of drawn steel sliced through
the air as each officer drew his sword and held it aloft, in a crossed
archway. Hornblower held his blade up high, and was suddenly conscious of a
burst of happiness stealing slowly, but steadily over his face. Soon enough
the other infectious smiles and cheers swelled up all around him and did
their valiant best to temporarily vanquish his depression. I am a part of
something wonderful now, he knew, as he gazed up at the crossed swords. A
time honored tradition, rich with symbolism and honor; it was quite enough to
fill him up with sudden and rare pride at its simple yet glorious pageantry.
Julia squealed with delight at the sight of them all standing there in salute
- not an especially grand or lengthy archway, not by any stretch, Hornblower
realized, but eminently heartfelt and thereby all the more precious.

*********

Horatio joined in the wedding breakfast revelry in his own slightly subdued
way. He gave a most eloquent toast, noted as much for its brevity as for its
sincerity. And after only a fair amount of cajoling, he joined in the
dancing, awkwardly of course, and with a bit of coaching as they went along -
but sweetly convinced to do so by Emma, in light of her own missing Captain.
As he gave it his best shot, he was aware of Lady Pellew observing him with a
subtle but keen eye, as she had much of this day and those before it. Why?
What was she thinking? He had that strange sense of both dread and relief
that she might indeed know exactly what troubling thoughts had dominated him
these past few days. She had that look of one who is capable of deep
intuition and empathy - from what he had seen of her relationship with the
Commodore these capabilities seemed to be most effective on her husband as
well.

So, did she know, then? Some things would of course be no more than obvious.
That he possessed a rather sizable degree of social awkwardness. That he had
not had very much experience at dancing. That he could not, God help him,
under any circumstances, sing. That most of the time, except when on his
ship, he just did not know what to do with himself. That he was, essentially,
alone in the world. Did she know? Did she sense the self-doubt that plagued
him so often - still! - even after all this time and all of what everyone so
commonly referred to as his commendable achievements. Everyone. But not
Horatio.

And did Lady Pellew per chance ever spy that same sense of unworthiness in
her own husband? Hornblower found that very hard to imagine. True, Pellew had
once been a mere midshipman as he had been. Humble beginnings, too, just as
he had known, that was no secret. But surely the comparisons must stop there.

That Pellew was heroic to Hornblower was without question. But Pellew had
clearly implied that he, Hornblower, was a hero as well, back in Kingston,
and yet Horatio had dismissed it utterly - could not even fathom looking upon
himself in such a way. What was labeled 'heroic' - was that not just doing
what was needed, what must be done at the time - no more than that? And had
he not done what anyone would have done had they faced the same desperate
situations he had encountered in his tenure thus far? Come to that, wasn't it
also just a matter of plain dumb luck sometimes? Timing? The Papillon, the
fireships, the Renown - wasn't he just doing what needed to be done?

He thought of his success with Le Reve, all those years ago - one of his
sweetest triumphs. But was that heroic? Had he not just been blessedly
fortunate? Or was it just success, plain and simple? Of course there had been
a plan, his plan, in fact - and so they had achieved their goal - they were
lucky. Well then, was Pellew simply successful, lucky, when he had captured
the famous Droits de l'Homme? No, thought Hornblower. To capture a ship three
times the size of his own, in such a turbulent sea? No - that couldn't be
just luck - by God that was master seamanship. Skill! And when Pellew had
made that solitary stride into the freezing surf to lead the rescue of the
Dutton - the saving of over 500 men, women and children, left to drown by
their hapless countrymen, that was courage and skill all rolled into one and
crowned with something even more glorious yet. By God, if that was not
heroism then Hornblower surely did not know what was.

And so for himself, then? He searched his past further, landing a bit closer
to the here and now. There was the fort at Santo Domingo, of course, or the
destruction of it, to be correct. So what was that? Other than what seemed at
first to be a certain death sentence? Was that bravery? It wasn't as though
he'd volunteered for it. No, it was an order, albeit an unthinkable one,
given by an incompetent acting-Captain, but still, he'd had no choice. So was
it skill, then? Perhaps - he had certainly applied what he'd been trained to
do - training being something altogether different from the real thing, of
course, and the very real and imminent danger involved. But then Archie and
Mr. Bush had come to his rescue, so in fact it was the three of them that
succeeded, not just himself.

And when Renown was seized by the prisoners? Well, that was a visceral gut
reaction, pure and simple. It was defense of his colleagues, his men - and
sadly, while the ship was saved, it felt much like a failure. It had cost
Archie his life, Captain Sawyer's as well - and had nearly killed Mr. Bush.

So Hornblower dragged himself through a tortured recall of his so called
'achievements,' as all the while the party reigned on around him. Why was it
that so much of what he had achieved seemed somehow to have also tied guilt
in with it? He shook himself slightly as if that would help to shake his
mood, caught Lady Pellew glancing at him once more, a sympathetic smile and
nod to him before he responded with a contrite smile of his own and turned
away. Was he crazy now to think that she had been reading his mind, as all
the while she observed him? That she knew he was one who seemed compelled to
apologize first and explain afterwards, did she see that he simply could not
help it? Could she help but compare him to her gallant husband? He feared
that she could not. Did she witness with enviable ease (as Hornblower did)
the Commodore's seemingly casually ability to assuage life's twists and
turns. Buck yourself up, boy, he'd say. The price of command. Dust yourself
off and get back out there. Was that not how he saw things?

Back out there. Well, that would work, normally. But here and now, there was
nowhere to get back to - it was peacetime - there was no 'there' right now.
And as the dancing, the dining, and the celebrating all wound its inevitable
way down, it also sounded the end of Hornblower's respite from reality. The
loneliness and uncertainty began to loom large in the forefront. Soon he
would leave here. And then what? Did Lady Pellew know of his uncertainty? She
must! She knew of his circumstances, she was no fool. So what would
Hornblower do? What did she think he should do? Did she have any ideas? Would
he want her advice, should she have any?

It seemed he presented her with her chance just two mornings later. Richard
and Julia had already departed off to Exeter with blushing smiles and waves
of wedded bliss, and a plea from Richard for Hornblower to put Exeter on his
list of places to visit when he was next in the vicinity. And then Emma had
had a letter from her mother in law pleading for equal time with her
grandchildren and so she was upstairs getting organized for London - Charles
would drive her there tomorrow morning. The Commodore was off in a meeting
behind closed doors with various local dignitaries - no doubt another round
of attempts at pestering him to stand for Parliament.

But it was a glorious day, and to be in the west lawn gardens in full
sunshine, and feel the breeze off the sea, was beyond splendid. He was not
surprised to see Lady Pellew enjoying a rare moment of quiet there herself.
At first he feared he would disturb her, but no, it was she who called to
him. So he caught up to her and offered his arm.

The scores of roses that had not been chosen for Julia's bouquet, the altar,
or for the mantel top swags, swayed brilliantly in the breeze, scenting the
air with their intoxicating aroma, their bright hues a tapestry of scarlets,
corals, golds and buttercreams. Horatio stopped beside a particularly
wondrous bloom, one of the truest of the crimson reds, to admire its
perfection.

"From now on, My Lady, I shall think of dear Mrs. Harward and her perfect
wedding day, whenever I see a rose such as this."

She smiled and nodded, inhaling the captivating fragrance of the rose, and
was quiet at first, though visibly pleased by his comment.

"You are so sweet to say so, Mr. Hornblower," she said softly, after awhile.
"It was indeed a wonderful day - - my daughter is newly wed to her Lieutenant
at last, and a very fine man he is. He reminds me of Edward, you know,
sometimes," she smiled, "he never gave up!" She stopped for a moment. "And
you, Mr. Hornblower," she said, "he reminds me of you as well." And then she
turned to face him directly. "Will you pardon me, Sir?" she asked hesitantly.
"So that I may I be so bold as to wish out loud that I should have been
fortunate enough to have had another daughter - - so that I might perhaps
have had the honour of calling you my son in law?"

Hornblower felt himself start to turn away, his throat suddenly tight.

"Madam," he murmured, blushing furiously. "You cannot possibly... I mean...
I," he stammered, "thank you, of course, My Lady... but you give me too much
credit - I could never hope to-"

"And why ever not, Mr. Hornblower?" she asked with every evidence of
sincerity. "Do you think yourself in any way less deserving of happiness than
Mr. Harward? Than my husband?"

Susanna stopped and turned towards him, and demurely reached up to cup his
flaming cheek in her cool, slender hand. "Dear sir, you really are amongst
the very bravest and capable of men." She smiled. "Truly!"

He looked down again, feeling ever more flustered.

"And that is not just what I hear from Edward," she continued. "Although you
ought to rest assured once and for all that he admires you greatly, because
he does."

He looked back up at her cautiously. Why was it so hard to hear things like
this?

"But I say this from my own heart and from what I see with own eyes, Mr.
Hornblower," she said. "Your determination, your resolve. Now," she paused,
"when will you credit yourself for these qualities hmmm?"

She chuckled slightly and casually hooked her arm through his and urged him
forward through the gardens, and he felt himself on the brink of being
charmed out of his agitation, and unable to resist her.

"Your traits are worthy indeed, Mr. Hornblower, and then when they are added
to the fact that you are blessedly easy on the eyes -"

"My lady, please!" he cried, plunged to the brink of embarrassment again.

"You are! For God's sake, can you not handle any compliment at all, Horatio?"
She shook her head in a mock scold. "Dear me! Well you are. Handsome. Very!
And never mind that the Navy knows damn bloody well how bewitching these
uniforms are - oh, for God's sake stop blushing, sir!" she laughed gently,
seeing his cheeks flaming scarlet again.

"I am as besotted with Edward now as I was when I first clapped eyes onto
him, so you've nothing to fear from me," she giggled, her own cheeks now
flushed as well by her admission. "But Horatio, really, to be rather blunt,
you should be beating them off with a stick - why are you not?"

Hornblower tried again to protest, but Lady Pellew held up her hand to stop
him, and though she still smiled, he saw without any doubt that she was in
earnest.

"Will you mourn Mr. Kennedy forever?" she asked gently. "To lose a best
friend so young is tragically cruel, I know. But is it not time to look for a
new companion, one who can also touch your heart?"

Hornblower felt his lower lip drop; he regarded her intently for a moment,
speechless. She had pegged him to the core - just as he had suspected she
could. But to breach this core, and so confront it, own it and move on, well
that was uncomfortable and something else entirely.

"I....," he started to say, "...I know you mean well, Ma'am, and, you are
quite right, of course....butI have really not had, the time, to consider
this," he said, nervously, at first, and then his familiar self doubt rose up
again. "But even if I had, My Lady, I have nothing to offer - who could
possibly want -"

"Who?" she cried. "For God's sake, Mr. Hornblower, we're back there again,
are we?" She sighed. "You still have a hard time accepting your own worth, I
see."

Susanna shook her head. "I should speak to Edward about that - not just for
you, but for the boys, for anyone in the service. I know a kind word does not
come easily from one's superior officers - although it makes them that much
more treasured when they do come, God knows. But still, they can be
tiresomely tightlipped sometimes, can't they? I've found you have to get what
you need from their eyes, sometimes. But it's there; it's there with Edward.
And he has gotten better about it as he's gotten older. Still-"

Hornblower sighed loudly, shaking his head. "It's not that, Ma'am, really.
It's moreI meanwho would have me? I have NO prospects, and no income! Even
my Commander status was but temporary - I am back to a lieutenant once more
and if I return to my father's house? Why, I am not likely to even find a
girl who could *spell* lieutenant, let alone want one!" Horatio paced ahead,
still muttering. "The Commodore has offered to put in a word for me for
channel duty, I'm sure he has already mentioned it to you. But sadly I am
hardly the only desperate case the Navy has these days. And to make matters
worse I am probably the last ship to have put in since the peace," he
continued. "At half pay and with not even a roof over my head and you tell me
I should think of marriage!"

He wrung his hands in exasperation, but Susanna still looked quite resolved.

"Yes! Now is exactly the time! Horatio, you can be such a ninny sometimes!
Honestly!"

She patted his shoulder to be sure he should know she was still speaking out
of affection. Horatio did a double take at first, then shrugged and allowed
himself to be cajoled further. He sat down beside her on the cool marble
bench by the fountain.

"Now, Mr. Hornblower, take a cue from me. From Edward, even. Please," she
said. "Half pay - all right: for now, perhaps. And a lieutenant, for now, but
only for now - if you would but be honest with yourself. You are not so far
removed from where Edward found himself some twenty-five or so years ago, you
know. It's true!" she cried. "And rest assured that Edward is not the only
officer who knows you'll be a proper commander the moment the opportunity
arises - why he'll see to it himself that it happens, mark my words. Your
accomplishments are widely known throughout admiralty circles whether you
deem them so or not. So, even after you're a real Commander, the chances are
just as likely that you'll shortly thereafter be a captain. And those, Sir,
are your prospects!"

"As in, that is how the Commodore was able to secure your hand, My Lady?"

"Well yes, you could say that - God knows it's the unfortunate story of our
engagement. But, that was because my father was a stubborn and landlocked
dolt who didn't know the first thing about the navy, or love, for that
matter," she said, with some bitterness. "He didn't know or care about
Edward's prospects or his accomplishments - which were already numerous while
he was still a lieutenant, as you well know. And God forbid it should matter
one whit to Papa that he was the only man I wanted to marry, and that I was
already 21 and fully capable of choosing for myself. He just cared about
pretense, titles, respectability - upholding the proper image of a squire,
one of the Lords."

She stopped then, and a smile crept over her face. "But despite all of that,
Edward still went out and served it up to him right royally - a post Captain,
just as Father had insisted, and well on the way to amassing his own fortune,
never mind my dowry, and barely a year afterwards! And he still wanted me
after all of that!"

Hornblower gasped. "That is hardly as surprise, My Lady! But, please, how is
all of this is to aid my situation, then, Ma'am?"

She groaned.

"Horatio, if you stick to admiralty circles, you won't encounter the likes of
my father! Check out the Admirals, the Commodores and Captains - for God's
sake, do you think they haven't heard that you're one to watch? Well, they
have! So find out which of them have daughters of marriageable age! I'll help
if you like. I'm not all that close to many of the wives, but I'll see what
I can find out. Most of them bore me to tears, sitting around pining away for
their husbands when they should realize the independence they've been given,"
she said. "It sounds harsh, I suppose, but I have no patience for self
pitying damsels in distress who couldn't add two and two and get four if
their lives depended on it. And you, Mr. Hornblower, I daresay that you will
need a strong partner just the same as Edward does - someone you don't have
to worry over, or feel guilt ridden because of - someone who accepts and
understands the life you have chosen," she continued. "Why, there are times I
am relieved by it, I must tell you, honestly - and make no mistake, I beg
you, I love Edward with all that is within me, but really, could you imagine
living with him ALL the time?"

Hornblower felt his mouth start to gape open again. What was she saying? Did
she mean, she couldn't possibly-

"Oh heavens, Horatio, I don't mean what you're thinking! Never! I'm not
talking about romance now and the private time that we have as a couple, as a
family. That is gold itself and there is never enough of that, God knows,"
she assured him. "I mean day to day living - getting on with it, raising the
children, managing the estates, getting things done from each day to the next
with some sense of continuity."

Ah yes, that made sense, then. But she had piqued his curiosity and he wanted
to know more.

"Did you know that Exmouth boasts one of Devonshire's most prolific orchards,
Mr. Hornblower?" she asked, and he shook his head. "I have exceeded even my
own estimation at how far I could take it. And Edward has always supported me
across the board and I know he is thrilled for my success. But, can you guess
what sometimes happens when he is home?" she smiled and sighed. "Certain of
our buyers, who shall remain nameless, learn that he is in residence and
proceed to act as if I have suddenly dropped dead. They insist on dealing
only with him - well, he is a man, after all! And though of course Edward
tries to insist that I or one of our managers would be better suited, they
resist. And he has to be such a gentleman -these are our buyers, remember, we
don't really have much choice - when there is a nationwide shortage of apples
perhaps then I can tell them what I'd really like to say," she continued. "So
dear Edward stands there politely trying to answer their questions and then I
have to take him aside and quietly explain the difference between a Cortland
and a Bramley all over again," she said plainly. "Well he has no head for
apples, you see, Mr. Hornblower. None whatsoever." She shook her head, and
Horatio bit his lip at imagining Pellew attempting to bone up on the
different apple varietals indigenous to Devonshire, their color, taste and so
forth. And then he chuckled in spite of himself at the thought and it wasn't
long before Lady Pellew burst into laughter as well.

"Well, Mr. Hornblower," said Susanna, catching her breath. "I will set myself
to this newest task, then. With Edward home for awhile I'm hoping he'll join
us in London when the season starts," she continued determinedly. "That
should mean we'll be doing a fair amount of entertaining - and accepting a
few invitations as well. If I spot an eligible daughter of an Admiral, or a
Captain worth his rank, rest assured I will think of you. And you do the same
- you are heading to Portsmouth, is that right? Why then, Sir, find a reason
to linger at Admiralty House!" she cried. "The later in the day the better -
get yourself dragged home to dinner by some stodgy officer who doesn't want
to go home to face his equally stodgy wife for yet another boring meal -
you'd be surprised how welcome you might find yourself!"

And Horatio was set to laughing again, Lady Pellew looking well pleased at
having cheered him. And he was cheered, how very dear of her to do so.

"I can be saved!" he cried playfully. "My Lady, you are remarkable!

"Not at all, Mr. Hornblower," she answered sweetly. "Besides," she said,
suddenly serious. "You are worth it, sir. You are eminently worth it!"

 

And so idylls are not destined to last forever. With Emma's departure and
Israel's rumblings about needing to be back in Plymouth, Hornblower knew it
was time at last to confront the civilian world once and for all.

But there still seemed so much he had left unsaid to Pellew. Where to even
begin to thank the man who had welcomed into his home, into his family circle
for such an exalted stay as this? He must try. He found him in his study,
sifting through another series of pleas from nearby Barnstaple dignitaries,
or so they claimed they were, anyway. But Hornblower also sensed that their
attentions to Pellew were well intentioned and their wish to send him to
Parliament a sincere one. At this moment, however, Pellew seemed relieved to
have a reason to set it all aside for later consideration.

"So, you are to leave us, then, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Yes, Sir. Captain Pellew, your brother, Sir, has offered me a ride in his
carriage as far as Plymouth. From there I shall find my way to Portsmouth.
The Captain has even given me a list of possible lodging houses, some places
on Highbury Street, I think."

"And you have the letters of recommendation I wrote for you?"

"Oh, yes, Sir. Thank you again for your kindness -"

"I have also sent copies on ahead of you to the Admiralty - perhaps they've
already arrived. That way they'll be expecting you to call. Can't hurt - -
might even help."

"I am grateful, Sir. So grateful.... you don't know...you, your wife,
everyone here - I have felt so..."

Pellew looked up, curiously, as Hornblower blushed and stammered.

"So, at home, Sir.. Forgive me, I hope I am not out of place, I meant it as
the highest compliment - the hospitality your family has shown me - I cannot
thank you enough-"

"For God's sake, man," said Pellew, rising from behind his desk and coming
over to Hornblower. "It has been our pleasure to host you! Do you not think I
haven't been most anxious to catch up with you after all that happened in
Kingston? It has been an unexpected blessing - one of the highest order -
that Richard should have been so fortunate as to have found passage with you
on Retribution, Horatio. I mean that most sincerely. And I hope you know by
now that Susanna thinks the world of you as well!"

He smiled, and felt a blush start to creep over him. "She is too kind, Sir,"
he said. "Why, she tells me she is determined now to see me properly
settled," he added, "She thinks I need a wife, Sir."

"Oh, does she?" said Pellew, a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.
"Well, she is not usually wrong in matters of the heart, Mr. Hornblower.
Hmmmm I must say I have found her judgment most astute on the subject of
domesticity," he added, chuckling slightly. "Hmmmm! A wife! And what exactly
has she told you, if I may ask?"

Hornblower shifted his stance and nervously cleared his throat, hoped he
wasn't still blushing. "She, she said I should seek a lady used to navy life,
Sir, an officer's daughter, for example... Someone able to withstand my long
absences," he replied, shifting stance again. Lord, why was it so abominably
difficult to talk about this! "Well...as for myself... that is, should I be
fortunate enough to even happen upon such a lady.... well, if I may speak
freely, Sir"

Pellew nodded, as his eyebrows rose in curiosity at seeing the young man
bluster his way through what should have been a rather simple statement of
intent.

"Well. I should consider myself fortunate beyond belief to find someone like
Lady Pellew, sir... I hope that does not offend."

"Offend? Hardly," he smiled. "you pay the both of us a compliment and in
terms of my wife, it is no more than the truth!"

Hornblower's relief was evident as his shoulders relaxed. He looked back up
towards the Commodore.

"And I should say she is quite right in her counsel," continued Pellew. "God,
when I courted her I was so far over my head in love with her that reason
seemed the least of my motivations. Thankfully my romantic notions were also
rewarded with all the rest of it," he said. "For I have seen some marriages
go so very badly in my time, Mr. Hornblower - for all parties involved - when
expectations are not voiced at the outset and thereby not met. Seems so
obvious when one observes it from afar, but it's not so easy when one is
swept up in ballroom gaiety and perfumed promises. I suppose that would be my
advice to you, Sir, should you wish to hear it. God knows I have seen Israel
learn it the hard way, though I say that to you in strictest confidence."

Advice? Was he kidding?

"Good God, sir, I should be grateful to hear anything you wish to tell me!"
Horatio fairly blurted out the plea. *Oh, for God's sake,* he thought, *I
might as well just cry out "you are my hero, Sir!"* he thought, mentally
kicking himself. But Pellew wasn't fazed by the outburst - indeed he seemed
please to impart his views in this way.

"I am an amazingly blessed man, Horatio. I know it - either that, or else I
am just plain lucky," he said, slowly, taking great care with his words.

Doubtful, thought Hornblower, thinking back on his earlier assumptions about
the Commodore's exploits.

"But," said Pellew, "I do think that there are different kinds of love in
this world. Some attachments that may appear to be love - but too often are
just a mere disguise for something else." He sighed, shook his head. "Don't
be deceived, Mr. Hornblower. Don't be. Real, honest love is not in a stolen
glance from behind some lacey fan. It's not in flowery sentiments on lavender
scented pages," he warned. "Because I've seen those kinds of letters. Many
friends of mine were recipients of them. Though the scent was sweet, the
pages often overflowed with such vitriol, frustration and anger, at being
left behind, left alone. What seemed to be love was no more than pity: self
pity, wrapped in flounces, camouflaged by affection."

Pellew had turned to stare out his window, now, looking absorbed in what
might well be some bitter recollections.

"True love is not so pretty as that, Horatio. Not by a long shot," he said.
"Honest love is commitment, a devotion that takes courage and selflessness.
It takes guts. Real love is a woman who gives birth to your child not knowing
if you are alive or dead and then thanks the Lord for her blessings. It's the
woman who anticipates a romantic homecoming and then spends it in an
unwavering vigil at your bedside through tortured days and nights of fever
and dysentery so foul and terrifying as to nearly kill me," he even shivered
as he spoke. "True love is Susanna accepting who I am and loving me for it,
for my vows to my country, to my duty. Her ability to take the opportunities
of our inevitable times apart to pursue her own endeavors, knowing that I
will celebrate her success with her, and love her all the more for it." He
paused. "And to be loved by her in return - to be welcomed home by her, each
and every time, no matter how long it has been, to come home to her," he
sighed. "There aren't words, Horatio.... There just aren't."

He began to pace back towards his desk now and caught sight of the twin
miniature portraits of his daughters on the credenza. Hornblower saw him
smile fondly down at them.

"And then I see that she has instilled that same sense of love in Emma and
Julia. To consider that both Lawrence and Richard shall be graced by the love
of my daughters as Susanna has so graced me - it stuns me to think of it,
Horatio, I am so grateful to her," he said, turning back now to face him. "It
is what I wish for you, Sir. And it is something I have come to appreciate
myself in a new way not so very long ago - when Pownoll joined the service,
and suddenly my own son was in harm's way. As I have been all this time, I
suppose, but when it is yourself involved, those thoughts get internalized,
don't they - they don't mean as much."

Hornblower nodded, though his heart was pounding at hearing such proof of
Pellew's feelings for him.

"But now I know more of what Susanna has lived with all these years, how she
has felt. As now I feel it, for Pownoll and Fleet." He came over to
Hornblower. "As indeed I have felt it for you, Horatio," he said.

Hornblower felt himself suddenly look away, his face on fire.

"Sir, I don't know what to say...I..." He swallowed, turning back to Pellew,
and tried to keep his eyes from watering. "If you only knew... how much
I...what it was like under Captain Sawyer... all that time," he paused. "I
would recall your leadership, Sir, the respect you commanded, and my God,
deserved," he said. God, why were his eyes suddenly stinging!

"I would watch him...trying to find in him the same qualities I had so
valued and relied upon in you...and finding him so incredibly wanting...
knowing with such sadness the Captain, the leader, he had been
before...Sir,... Commodore, I only hope some day to be worthy of the regard
you have shown me."

Hornblower was stunned to see that Pellew looked as moved and affected by his
disjointed rambling as when he'd found him in the foyer, alone with Julia.

He crossed to Hornblower's side, and patted his arm in a most fatherly
gesture. "You are, Horatio. My God, you already are!" he said firmly.
"Forgive me, that I have not said so before. Perhaps I have told so many
colleagues and neglected to say it to you directly. You were one of the
finest ever to serve with me. Ever," he said, and then added, "And I'll go
one step further and say that I hope it is in our futures to sail together
again."

And that would be a dream of mine as well, thought Hornblower, unable to find
his voice to say it aloud.

"You know," said Pellew, "I was to have the Tonnant, and command of the
Inshore Squadron, before this peace was declared. You've heard enough these
past few days to suppose that it will sadly be a short lived peace," he said,
and then looked back toward his desk, to the piles of dispatches and other
correspondence. "Just yesterday I had another dispatch from Lord Sidney -
he confirms I am still in line for that posting. Should it come, Mr.
Hornblower," he said, "rest assured that I will do my utmost to ask for you,
for I will. And when I say ask for you, I mean as a proper Commander - of
your own ship!"

Hornblower bowed his head, as if to seal that prayer. "Thank you, Sir. Thank
you for everything!"

Outside in the corridor they could hear Israel calling out for Hornblower. It
was time to get going.

"Well, it seems your carriage awaits, Sir!" said Pellew. "Best not keep my
brother waiting - he's more patient than I, but not by much!"

The Commodore escorted him to the foyer; Lady Pellew was there to see him off
as well. She gave him a proper kiss and then a most sincere hug. Israel
chuckled in his own blustery way at seeing the young man blush, and urged
them all out the door.

"Ned, Susanna," he said, "my thanks, as always. An enchanting week - none
better! Give Julia my love when you see her, next! Mr. Harward as well!"

And the Commodore gave his younger brother an affectionate pat on the back as
he boarded the carriage.

Hornblower took his seat across from Israel, setting his hat down beside him,
as Sir Edward latched the door for them.

"Well, let's be off, then!" cried Israel.

Hornblower nodded gamely, steadied his expression. "Indeed, sir!" he said. He
turned to Sir Edward and Lady Pellew. "My thanks to you again -" he got out,
but though he should be saying so much more.

"Our pleasure, Mr. Hornblower!" said Lady Pellew. "I hope we shall see you
again, and soon!"

"Quite so," agreed Israel. "Well, carry on!" he said, tapping the roof of the
carriage.

"Mr. Hornblower," said Sir Edward, unexpectedly. "II wish you," he paused

"Sir?" asked Hornblower.

"The best of everything," he said. "The very best, Sir!"

The carriage lurched forward on towards the gravel drive. Hornblower leaned
his head out before they turned down the long tree lined way to the road
itself. "Thank you, sir!" he cried, "and to you and your family as well!"

He craned his neck further to see them both waving goodbye, and then they
embraced each other before turning to head back into the house. Hornblower
settled back in his seat.

"He's a fine man, my brother," said Israel, "picked a fine lady as well,
didn't he?"

"Oh yes," said Hornblower. "He did indeed."

"And you, Mr. Hornblower?" asked Israel, with that familiar twinkle in his
eyes. "You're on your way to a new chapter aren't you, sir? It starts from
here, doesn't it?"

Hornblower took a deep breath, tugged at his weskit. "Yes, I suppose it does."

"Got a plan, then, have you?"

Horatio smiled. "I have hope, Captain," he said, "and that is more than I
have had in awhile." He nodded, set his chin, and then nodded again. "And I
have learned that hope is never a small thing - is it?"

Israel chuckled softly and patted the young Commander's knee. "I should say
not, Sir. I'd say it most definitely is not!" he said. "You hold to that, Mr.
Hornblower - it'll come out all right for you - it will!"

Yes, thought Hornblower. He felt his shoulders relax amidst against the
rocking motion of the coach on that old country road. I will hold to it, he
thought.I willand it will be all right...it will be!

 

 

END