Introductions
by Simon

 

The door opened to reveal the small heavyset woman before them.
Before a word could be uttered, she had thrown her arms around the
middle of the tall, thin man standing before her and, with an
inarticulate sound of pure happiness, begun to squeeze the breath out
of him.

Laughing, his arms coming up about her shoulders, he returned the
embrace; finally breaking away enough to look down at her dear face
and see the added gray in her hair. Using his fingers, he wiped the
tears away from the beloved cheeks and, smiling, opened his body so
that she could see who stood behind him.

"Rosie, may I present my wife and son?"

The lined hand went to her mouth and with a small "Ohhh" she held
out her arms to the infant.

Cradling the six month old against her ample breast, she whispered to
him alone, "I've been aching to see you. You're the image of your
Da, there, aren't you now?"

Like every child who had ever had the good fortune to meet her, this
one had the sense to take to Rosie immediately, his small arms going
around her neck in a delighted cuddle. Rosie looked up to the young
woman standing before her, Horatio's arm about her waist. "And you'd
be Mrs. Hornblower, now." The smile on the old woman's face was
welcoming and genuine. Shifting the baby to one arm, her other one
came up around the slender shoulders. "You've made my lad here happy,
Miss, that's all I need to know about you."

"He makes me happy, too, Mrs. Carey."

"None of that. I'm Rosie, and don't you be forgetting that. Good
Lord, look at us standing here making a spectacle for the neighbors.
Come in, come in. I've nice lemonade for you two and this young man
would benefit from a change of under drawers."

Following her into the Pantry over her objections that she was just
fine, thank you, and needed no help, they were seated at the wood
table as Horatio asked about his father.

"Oh that poor man. There was some sort of mishap over at the
Johnston's farm late last night. He's been there since they called
him out of his bed."

"I thought that there was another doctor around here now to take some
of the load off of him. Isn't he cutting back on his case load?"

"Aye, there is young man over about three miles down the way, but the
folks around here don't like change, you know that. All of his old
patients still call him when they need something. And you know him,
he always goes."

Shyly, Mavis spoke up. "Excuse meRosieis there someplace where I
can change the baby?"

"Oh, darlin, I'll do that for you. You've had a long trip and will
want to be having a rest now" Mavis started to protest. ".No, not a
word. I've changed more nappies than I can remember. Some of them on
your young man sitting right here! Don't you worry about me and this
dear thing."

Mavis stood, picking up the baby from the basket he'd been laid
in. "You're very kind, but he really needs to go down for his nap
now. Would you show me where I could put him? Or perhaps Horatio
might show me if you're busy."

Rose knew that the young woman wanted to be with her husband for a
few minutes to get her bearings of the new household.

"Of course. Horatio, I've put you in the front bedroom, if that's
alright with you."

Surprised, he objected. "That's Father's room, we can't put him out,
I'll not hear of it. My old room is fine."

Rose fixed him with one of her looks. "That's just silly and you know
it. The three of you would never fit in that closet. The front room
has that nice big bed and loads more room. Your Father was the one
who suggested it in the first place, so I'll brook no argument from
either of you. Right. Up you go."

Knowing when they were beaten, the young couple made their way up the
stairs to their temporary lodgings.

 

"You're uncomfortable staying in this room, aren't you?"

Horatio was sitting on the edge of the bed, watching Mavis put Neddy
down, now changed and fed. He had carried their bags up and now he
shrugged slightly. "I am, yes. It's my parent's room. I feel strange
bedding my wife in the bed where they"where my mother" He
stopped. "There's too much that's happened here for me to be able to
forget."

The baby now starting to sleep, she joined him as he sat. "But surely
you must have good memories of being here. You must."

"Yes, of course, but they're not the ones I think of."

"I wish that you could remember the good things more. It worries me
that you always seem to dwell on the bad, and that you downplay the
really marvelous things that have happened in your life."

He put his arm around her shoulders. "I know. I'm sorry. It's just
that it sometimes seems to me that most of the things in my life, up
until I met you anyway, were"difficult."

"That may be the way that it seems, but I'll wager that it's not the
truth. Rosie is wonderful, just as you said."

Knowing that she was attempting to cheer him, he went along. "Yes,
she's one of the good parts of my life, as are you." He pulled her
into a kiss, holding her against him. Her arm went about his neck and
they remained thus for several long minutes until, hearing footsteps
in the hallway, they broke apart just as Rosie entered the room,
carrying an armload of towels.

"I see that you're making yourselves comfortable." Rosie wasn't
fooled for a second.

Mavis was embarrassed and Horatio was turning a shade of red, but
Rosie simply burst out with one of her belly laughs. "Oh, lord,
you're married. Do what comes natural!" Turning on her heel, she left
the room, closing the door firmly behind her. Her laugh followed her
down the stairs.

Two hours later Horatio was walking down the stairs when his father
opened the front door, stepping inside. Seeing the movement on the
stairs, he looked up to see his son.

"HoratioIt's been a year and a half since I've last seen youyou're
well?"

Embracing the old man, he answered with a simple, "Yes. Are you?"

"As you see." They walked the few feet to the small study, the
fireplace now cold in the summer warmth.

"Mavis is here? And Neddy?" He was pouring them each port. "I've
longed to see the baby." He handed the glass to his son, now inches
taller than himself. "Mavis tells me that he looks like you."

They sat in the large chairs, turned to face out the window to the
back garden. "Yes, they're both here and yes, he favors me. They're
both upstairs resting." There was a pause as they each sipped their
drinks. "I want to thank you, tell you how relieved I was to learn
that you were there for the delivery. I was worried about her"she's
so young and I was half a world away. If something had happened, I
don't know if"

"That's every father's fear. I know that it was mine with your mother
that something would happen to her in childbirth. There's still so
much that we don't know about these things, that it sometimes amazes
me just what the human body is capable of without our intervention.
The women often just seem to know what to do and when to do it. Thank
God."

"Were there any problems? I've asked, but I fear that she's afraid of
causing me worry should she become pregnant again. She tries to
protect me." He spoke with some small embarrassment, as though to
admit that his wife was concerned for him was something to be ashamed
of.

"Do you think that she's expecting again already?"

"I don't know. Were there any problems with the delivery?"

"No, Horatio, everything was fine. It was completely normal in every
way. I was slightly concerned about her age, but she was strong and
composed throughout. There was some pain, but no more than to be
expected."

Hearing that she had been in pain, even though he had known, of
course, that she had gone through it upset him more than he liked to
admit. "Was it long?"

"About fifteen or sixteen hours from her water breaking to the
delivery. That's common for a first time mother. Subsequent
deliveries will likely be significantly shorter."

"But--was she in a lot of pain?" He seemed troubled about that side
of it, concerned that Mavis suffered.

"Childbirth is painful, Horatio. She didn't suffer more than was to
be expectedI'm afraid that's part of it, son. There's little that we
can really do for that. There are different positions and the like
for the mother, but the current drugs that we have available are not,
in my opinion, safe for either the mother or the infant. I prefer not
to use them, if I can avoid them." He was looking at his son. "What
is it that bothers you about this? You're not squeamish about this
part of things, are you?"

Horatio sipped his drink again before deciding to voice his
thoughts. "I feel responsible." He saw the look on Jacob's face and
shook his head. "No, I don't mean that. I know that I'm the cause of
her pregnancy. I feel some guilt about having caused her to be in
that sort of pain. I don't know if I have the right to ask someone,
let alone someone who I love, to endure that simply because I was
unable to"control myself."

"You'd be surprised by how many husbands and fathers feel as you do."
There was silence as both men retreated to his own thoughts. "Are you
saying that you're unsure about wanting children?"

"I suppose that I'm ambivalent about them. I love Neddy, naturally.
The problem is that I'm not home all that much, and when I am, either
Mavis or her mother or the Nanny tends to him. There's little contact
that I have with him. I'll bath him, when I can, but I know that the
women are just indulging me. I feel removed from the child."

"Horatio, most men are removed from the raising of their children,
you know that. In your case, when you were young, I had very little
direct hand in your day-to-day care. Your mother and Rose took care
of that."

"Yes, I know. But it seems to me that if a child has, in fact, two
parents, then they should both contribute to the upbringing."

"Are you upset that you're away so often?"

Horatio sighed as he tried to voice his thoughts. "I enjoy my work
and to not go to sea would make me miserable, Mavis knows this. But I
find it unfair to her that she is left with Neddy when I'm off. It's
often for months or years at a time."

"I'm sure she doesn't see raising your son as a hardship. Do you
think that, perhaps you would rather if he hadn't been born? Would
that salve your conscience? Or are you considering resigning your
commission and doing something else with your life that would allow
you to remain in England?"

Horatio stood, restless as he considered is answer. He was
practically pacing the room. Or, as his father thought, he was
behaving almost like a caged animal. After several minutes of silence
as Horatio remained lost in his own thoughts, Jacob spoke up, pulling
him back to the room they were in.

"You're unhappy, son, that much is apparent. Has your marriage gone
bad? Is there a problem there that you would be willing to speak with
me about? You seem to be having regrets about some of your decisions."

He turned back to face his father, his head shaking at his own
confusion. "I love Mavis, but I can't help be think that we should
have waited to marry. She is still but eighteen and she may well be
pregnant again. I know that there are many women who have their
children this young, but she still in many ways seems to be a child
herself. I often feel as much her father as her husband."

"Then you are regretting the marriage."

"Only the timing of it. I would still marry her, but would wait until
she were at least twenty. I know that's old for a woman, but I think
that with our age difference it might have been better."

His father was watching him closely. "Do you regret your career?"

"No. I regret that it takes me away. There's no possible way to
reconcile the needs of my work with the needs of my marriage."

"But she knew what she was entering into. Sir Edward is example
enough for that."

Horatio looked out the window again. "But she is so young." It was
almost a sigh.

"Do you feel that she is not your equal?"

Startled, he turned to look at the old man. "My equal? She's a woman."

Jacob burst into laughter. "Dear God, if your mother could hear you
say that she would box your ears, no matter how big you've grown."

"Father" He was floundering at the look of mocking amusement on his
father's face. "I didn't mean it the way it sounded."

"Of course you did. And most men, and women for that matter would
agree with you. But your mother would have withheld your dinner for
several days for that attitude."

Horatio decided to smile at his rather than engage in an argument he
had no hope of winning.

"What is it? Are you having second thoughts about your wife having a
child? Tell me what it is that weighs on your mind."

"I question whether I should ever have married at all. I fear that
I'm simply too selfish for the sort of marriage that Mavis wishes.
Even after I'm no longer at sea, I think that I will be unable to be
what she wants."

"And what is that?"

"Her other half, the completion of her soul."

"No one could be that. Are you sure that what she would want from
you? She impressed me as remarkably bright and self reliant."

"Yes, and she often is, especially when I'm not about, but when I'm
back, she seems to follow me like a lost puppy."

"Horatio, that's cruel."

"Yes, but I often feel as though I can't draw a free breath."

"She simply misses you and wants your company when she can be with
you. It's not difficult to understand."

"I know that, but it drives me mad."

"Have you spoken to her about it?"

"How could I? She would be terribly hurt if I were to say a word."

His father looked at him, held his eyes, forced him to really listen
to what he was about to say. "You must resolve this with her. You
must. To not do so would be cruel beyond measure, to both of you and
to the child."

Finally, Jacob put his hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Walk with
me. I have an errand in the village. You could use the air." Saying
nothing, Horatio merely nodded.

 

 

 

They returned from their walk to find both Mavis and Rose, along with
Neddy, sitting in the back garden, the baby happily crawling on a
blanket which had been placed on the ground for him. Susie, the now
ancient family dog Horatio had grown up with slept in a patch of sun
nearby.

Rose saw them first. "There you two are. We were just about to send
the dog out after you. Dinner will be ready shortly, if you're still
hungry after the stop you doubtless made at that damn pub and your
son has been looking for you."

Mavis was immediately on her feet, her arms about her husband but she
quickly shifted her attentions to Jacob. Kissing his cheek, she told
him how delighted she was to see him again, and to finally see with
her own eyes the house Horatio had been raised in.

Returning her embrace and kissing her lightly, Jacob smiled as he
spoke. "Well, I fear that the entire village will be here before you
two leave. Everyone we encountered has insisted that they must meet
both you and the baby before they will allow either of you to go."

"I think the local girls are curious to see what sort of young lady
it took to lead this one up the aisle, that's what I think." Rosie
was laughing at the look on her face. The prospect of meeting
everyone in the area had her taken Mavis aback.

"Don't worry, there won't really be that many. I agreed to dinner
tomorrow with John and his wife, perhaps her sister. The others you
can avoid if you'd rather. At least most of them, anyway." Mavis
looked at Horatio with some gratitude as he bent to retrieve the
baby. Holding the youngster in his arms, he handed Neddy over to his
grandfather.

"Ahh, here's the one I've been waiting to see. Look at you, grown up
and ready to follow your father to sea, are you then? Or perhaps
you'd like to study medicine and patch them back together when they
get home, hmmm?"

"I, for one, would prefer a career for him that would keep his feet
on solid ground. Please whisper that in his ear while you're at it,
if you would, Jacob."

"Yes, Madam, I shall do my utmost." He saw the look on his son's face
during this brief exchange. He was watching his wife, studying her
with a thoughtful expression that bordered on pity.

This would bear watching.

 

The next night Horatio and Mavis were seated at the small table in
John and Nancy Best's farmhouse, along with their hostess' twin
sister Susan and her beau, Peter McWilliams. They were a bit cramped,
but after serving in ships of His Majesty's Navy, this presented no
problem for Horatio. Whether the others were inconvenienced or
uncomfortable, wasn't mentioned.

"I'm sorry that we were unable to go to Portsmouth for your wedding,
Mavis, but it was on such short notice for us. I'm afraid when you
have a farm your life isn't really your own. We would have had to
find someone to watch the stock for a few days and that would have
been a problem. And John's mother wasn't well then, either." John's
mother had died about three months ago; leaving him the farm he had
grown up on.

"Oh, don't apologize. I understand. We both did. And you're right, it
was short notice. I suppose that we were lucky that most of the
guests were already in Portsmouth when the invitations were issued."

"Have you a new ship, then Horatio? I heard that you were in command
of a sloop"was that it? Hotspot or something like that?"

"Hotspur, and yes, She's a 22 gun sloop of war."

"So where have you been in this ship of yours, Horatio? You always
did want to see the world, travel about. This village was never going
to hold you for long."

He laughed at the reputation he seemed to have developed. "Well, we
do get about. I'm constantly amazed at the different places and the
people we encounter from one day to another."

Mavis was looking at him as he spoke. He was putting a good spin on
things for his friends, but she knew the real story about some of his
travels, as he put it. Prison and storms and disease and starvation
and death were closer to the mark. It was the most amazing good
fortune that he had survived some of his `travels' at all.

"So, Mavis, where was it that you two met? Was it while he was in
Portsmouth on one of his stopovers?"

She smiled over at Susan. She was trying hard to include her in the
conversation between the old friends, make her feel like part of the
group. "No, actually we met when I was living in Gibraltar with my
mother. She had just married my stepfather and Horatio was one of his
officers."

"How wonderfully exotic! How long ago was it that you met? A couple
of years?"

"It was over six years ago, actually. I was twelve. Then we began
writing to each other and I would see him when he was in port. Last
year we decided to not wait and got married while he was home."

"Was it sudden? I mean, forgive me, but it seemed like it was a quick
wedding."

"Yes, I suppose that it was, but there was no real point in waiting"
we'd already decided that we wished to marry."

"And your son was a honeymoon baby. How romantic for you both!"

Horatio looked slightly uncomfortable with the personal side of their
marriage coming under discussion, but decided to add, " Yes, but I'm
afraid hat I was in the West Indies when he was born. Fortunately my
father was visiting them over Christmas and actually delivered Neddy.
He was six months old before I actually laid eyes on him."

Nancy looked sympathetically at Mavis. "That must have been difficult
for you, being alone when the baby came."

"Oh, but I wasn't alone. Jacob was there and my mother. It would have
been nice if Horatio could have been home then, but he came back when
he could."

"I heard that there was some trouble with that voyage, Horatio
something about a mad Captain. Everything resolved now, is it" Peter
had finally managed to string two words together.

"Yes, thank you."

"But weren't you court marshaled? That was what I heard, and then
some other officer took the blame for the Captain's death"or
something like that."

Horatio's face had gone neutral. "Yes, that's about what happened."
His tone obviously discouraged pursuing that particular line of
conversation. Susan broke the awkward silence.

"Horatio, are the waters in the Indies really as clear as glass? When
we were younger you once told me that they were like sailing on air."
Mavis caught the smile the two shared at a private memory. She would
ask him laterprobably.

His good spirits returned, at least on the surface. "Yes, they are,
absolutely incredible. And the fish are in every color that you can
imagine. Yellows and blues that are so bright that they seem lit from
within. There are days when the flying fish leap so high they land on
the deck of the ship and at night the ship trails a wake of
luminescence glowing behind us. Sometimes we'll allow the men to swim
on a hot day, and the coves we'll put in close to will have sand as
white and as pure as talc. Occasionally we'll ether catch or buy from
the locals sea turtles larger than a washbasin. They taste like veal
and the men use their shells to carve trinkets and combs for their
wives. I've heard of one captain who uses a large shell for a basin
in his cabin. And sometimes at night we'll hear the whales singing to
one another. The songs go on for hours and are unearthly. I know of
nothing to compare it."

Susan was looking at him. "It sounds lovely, Horatio." They were
quietly smiling at one another, excluding the others from the table.

Mavis said nothing, merely looked at her husband sitting across from
her, which did not go unnoticed by Nancy or John.

"Susan, would you help me clear and bring out the sweets and coffee?
No, Mavis, you sit right there. You're supposed to be resting and
taking it easy now."

Out in the kitchen, out of earshot, Nancy hissed at her sister. "You
stop this game right this minute. You had your chance and you let him
go. Now he has a new wife and a baby and you've a sweetheart of your
own, so don't you be making those eyes at him. Do you hear me?"

Not about to be cowed by her sister, she returned, "It looks to me
like we made a mistake, him and me both. There were feelings there
before and there are feelings there now."

"In your eyes, perhaps. He's still practically a newlywed and you
leave him alone."

"Oh for God's sake, she's too young for him, and she's a mouse
besides. He needs a wife who can give something to him besides a
simper."

"She's given him a son, missy and don't you be forgetting that."

"Stay out of this, Nancy. Horatio and I have been friends since we
were children and that won't stop simply because he's robbed the
cradle to find himself a wife." Turning on her heel, Sue took a stack
of plates and the apple pie into the other room, a smile fixed on her
face.

The rest of the meal was passed in strained conversation. The sisters
barely exchanged a word, the men were uncomfortable with the turn the
evening had taken, without quite knowing the reason, and Mavis knew
all too well what was happening.

As the Hornblower's walked the mile home in the warm evening, Horatio
tried to draw Mavis out. "What happened back there? The evening was
going so well and then all of a sudden, the entire atmosphere
changed."

Looking at him as though he were a cretin, she finally managed to
speak calmly. "Horatio, did you and Susan ever"court?"

He was holding her hand as they waked, and he tightened his grip as
they strolled the quiet lane. "Well, not really. We did go walking
now and then."

"Did you ever kiss her?"

He looked over at her. "Yes, a few times. A long time ago."

"She's so pretty."

"Yes, she's pretty, but you're beautiful and you're my wife." She
wasn't reassured.

"Do you regret letting her go?"

"Dearest, if she was who I wanted, she is the one I'd have married. I
chose to marry you. I love you, not her."

Still not reassured. "They think that I'm too young for you. They
think that I can't keep up with you and that you need to take care of
me like a father or an older brother."

"They think no such thing."

"Oh, for God's sake, of course they do. They think that you likely
married me for my father's position and that I married you because of
your looks and potential in the Navy."

He stopped walking, turned and faced her. "Is that what you think?"
He was truly angry, his face frozen, his voice dead calm.

To Hell with playing about with this. "I think that we love each
other, but I also think that those other things played their part.
Would you have married me if I were the dustman's daughter? You
wouldn't even have bothered to learn my name."

"So, in your opinion, our marriage is based on our mutual advantages
to be gained by using one another?"

"That's not the choice of words that I would have used, but we both
knew that there were advantages to be gained from each other."

"Decide this at twelve, did you?"

"Horatio, that's not fair. You know that I love you."

"How lucky for me that after you weighed the pros and cons, the scale
managed to tip in my favor."

"I hate when you're sarcastic."

Saying nothing in reply, he continued walking. His long legs making
her almost need to run to keep up with the pace he deliberately set.
Reaching the house without another word spoken between them, they
went into the darkened foyer. A single oil lamp had been left burning
for them, Jacob and Rose already asleep. Taking the lamp, Horatio led
the way up to the room they were sharing, still without a word.

He took his jacket and waistcoat off, loosened his cravat and
unbuttoned his shirt, stripped to the waist. Washing quickly, he
removed the rest of his clothing, loosed his hair and pulled his
nightshirt over his head. Mavis, her silence equally as angry, also
slipped into her nightgown without a word. As Horatio lay down,
pulling the lightweight covers over him, Mavis left the room,
obviously in search of Neddy now sleeping down with Rose.

Back within minutes, she laid the sleeping child in the cradle that
had been borrowed for his visit. Lying down on her side of the bed,
angry, she attempted to try to lessen the strength of the argument.
Putting her hand on her husband's chest, she leaned over to kiss him
goodnight. The single word, "Don't" stopped her. Turning his head
away from her, he lay rigid and unbending.

This was the first time since they had been together that they had
gone to bed angry. It was the first time they had gone to bed without
making love, without kissing and embracing and holding each other
while they fell asleep.

Mavis was crying silently, the tears running down the side of her
face into her hair, her hand pressed to her mouth so that he wouldn't
know that she cried. Finally, she couldn't stop the sounds any
longer. Even though muffled, her shoulders shook with her silent sobs
and her breathing was loud in the dark room. It continued for several
minutes. Finally, Horatio turned onto his side, facing her, his hand
on her cheek.

"I'm sorry." The words were whispered, just for her to hear. "I knew
that you were jealous of Susan, and I flirted with her tonight. I
just wanted to see if she was still interested in me. It was a stupid
thing to do. I know that it was. I knew it while I was doing it. I'm
sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. I love you. You know that I love
you and Neddy. I'd do nothing to lose either of you."

Unable to answer for a few moments, she finally could speak. "And I
knew that you didn't want to come here. I know that you just did it
for me, because I wanted to see where you grew up."

"No, you had to meet Rosie. And she had to meet you and Neddy. I was
the one who was wrong about that."

"I wanted to see where you came from. I thought that it might help me
understand you better. There's still so much of yourself that you
keep from everyone, even me."

"I know. I don't mean to, but I can't help it"Mavis, it's simply the
way I am."

"I know that you need that part of yourself to stay private. I
understand."

He leaned over her, kissing her. "I am sorry."

"I know. So am I."

They held each other for long minutes. The argument was over, the air
was at least partially cleared.

"Did you ever think of asking Susan to marry to you?"

"I thought of it only because her sister was about to marry my best
friend and it seemed like there was a certain"I don't know"symmetry
to it. I didn't love her, Mavis."

"Did she love you?"

"Yes. I think that she did, at least a little. We wrote after I left,
but after a while I realized that I didn't care about what she had to
say to me."

"Do you care about what I say to you? Do my letters bore you?"

"Sweeting, your letters are my lifeline to sanity." His arms about
her, he kissed her again, turning her so that they could spoon as
they slept. Pulling his hand up to her mouth, she kissed his fingers,
and then replaced his hand where he had placed it about her waist.

"And you are mine."

Mavis succumbed to sleep, leaving Horatio to wonder where this would
end.