Chapter 15 - Leaving Love Behind
Edward had finished reviewing the ship's logs with Mr. Bracegirdle for the two days he was away in short stead. He had expected nothing less. His friend and trusted officer was most accomplished in the necessary wranglings with the notoriously tightfisted proprietors of the dockyards, ropeyards and storeyards, and always managed to acquire all the ship's necessities in fine and speedy fashion, without either greasing the palms of those doling out the stores, or coming to blows with them. Both those occurrences were not unheard of on the docks of Portsmouth.
Reports from the Master, the gunnery officer, the bosun, the purser, and Dr. Hilliard filled the next hour. Pellew was now comfortable and confident that his great ship and her crew were ready to sail before the sun in the morning. He wished he felt as confident about their reason for such a speedy turn-around in port. He was anxious to meet again with Geoffrey Thaxton, but spent a bit of extra time with James Hilliard, to whom he owed a debt of gratitude as far as Katharine was concerned. Once James had filled him in on the condition and status of his sick bay, he and Pellew spoke as the friends they were.
"James, it really is a shame that time did not permit you to travel to Rosecliff to see Margaret and Henry. They would have liked that so much."
"As would I. A few days of Aunt Margaret's cooking would have done wonders for me. Ah, well, I shall just have to content myself with the sweetmeats she sent along with you. It does seem a rather short turn-around for us, does it not? I had expected to have a few days at least to search out some new herbal applications I have been hearing about. As it was, I barely had time to acquire my usual store of medicines and supplies before we received word of your return."
Pellew cleared his throat uneasily. "Yes, well . . . these are rather unusual circumstances, James. All will reveal itself in due time. It is unfortunate that our time home was so short, but I feel confident in saying that our next return shall leave us in port a bit longer."
"Good to hear, sir." It was now James' turn to hem and haw, for his curiosity was eating away at his formal demeanor with his captain. "Pardon me for asking, Edward, but . . . how was your visit home . . .I mean, how did Miss Cobham find . . ."
Pellew smiled. "And do your next wages depend on how I am to answer that question, James?"
"Certainly not!" the young man replied in mock indignation. "I am far removed from the gambling diversions of the men. I am merely asking out of care and concern for your happiness, and to know what to expect from my aunt in her next letter to me. Besides, I do feel a certain measure of responsibility for tempering your stubborn pride where Miss Cobham is concerned, and . . ."
Pellew laughed and held up his hand to stop James' rambling. "And for that I am most grateful. Rest assured that your efforts to quell my pigheadedness were not wasted." His voice took on a more serious tone. "Truly, James, you insisted that I see beyond myself, and that opened a part of me that I was certain would be closed off forever. I am most appreciative."
"Well, it wasn't too difficult to knock some sense into you. I only wish my patients responded as easily to my ministerings as you do! And tell me, what of Aunt Margaret and Uncle Henry? They must have been over the moon that you arrived with Katharine in tow!"
"And then some! I truly believe that Margaret feels her life is fulfilled now that Katharine is in our life, not just mine mind you, but ours. And I must warn you, James, she intends to take full credit for bringing us together!"
"And I wouldn't dare challenge her on that score! Truly, Edward, I could not be more happy for the two of you - or should I say the three of you?"
"Perhaps," Pellew said with a chuckle.
A knock on the cabin door broke the jovial mood.
As expected, Geoffrey Thaxton entered Pellew's quarters right on time. In his line of work, precision and accuracy is certainly a virtue, if not a necessity, Pellew thought.
"Ah, Mr. Thaxton. Right on time. I trust your accommodations are satisfactory?"
"Quite, Captain. Thank you."
"May I present our ship's doctor, James Hilliard? Dr. Hilliard, Mr. Geoffrey Thaxton, a . . ."
"Of the Diplomatic Service, sir," Thaxton supplied, to Pellew's surprise. The two men shook hands.
"Yes. The Diplomatic Service. Mr. Thaxton is sailing with us as an emissary of the King in matters
of . . . commerce, is that not right, Mr. Thaxton?" The captain did not appreciate the perceived need for deception among his officers as far as Thaxton was concerned, but would have to take that up with Thaxton in private.
"Well, this shall prove to be an interesting voyage, I am certain." With a salute to his captain and a nod to the captain's guest, Hilliard took his leave. "Mr. Thaxton, a pleasure to make your acquaintance. If you find yourself not entirely sea-worthy, or have need of medical assistance, I shall be at your service. Good evening."
"I shall bear that in mind, doctor. Good evening."
When the door closed, Pellew turned to Thaxton with a raised eyebrow. "The Diplomatic Service?"
"I apologize, Captain, but until such time that we ascertain our precise orders and destination, I thought it best to provide a benign explanation for my presence. Thank you for picking up on my intent. Commerce, indeed! You think on your feet, sir. Perhaps you have the makings of a spy in you!"
"Let us just say that I have some experience with your type. May I offer you a glass of wine, sir?"
"Most pleasing. Yes, Captain."
Pellew poured for them both and motioned for Thaxton to join him at the windows. Once settled in the comfortable leather chairs, Thaxton spoke.
"Forgive me for saying so, Captain, but I got the impression from our meeting at the Admiralty that there may be a chasm of differing opinions between you and the lords. I must say, sir that you are an able man to hold your reactions in check as I suspect you did."
This was not the conversation that Pellew was expecting to have, and he weighed his response carefully. "Lord Hood and I sometimes find ourselves of differing minds on matters of practical service."
Thaxton smiled. "Did I say you had the makings of a spy? I should have said you have the makings of a diplomat. That was quite the careful answer, Captain."
Pellew matched Thaxton's sly smile. "Well, sir, until we ascertain our precise working relationship, I thought it best to provide a benign response to a rather forward query."
That brought a chuckle from Pellew's guest. "I see, Captain, that I have met my match. Forgive me for the verbal sparring, as it is not one of my more favorable qualities. And please put your mind at ease. I am not myself a fan of Hood or Grenville or their cavalier approach to men's lives in favor of their own standing."
Sir Edward considered this before responding. "To be sure, sir, it did appear, at least to my trained eye, that you were barely able to hide your disdain for the pair by the conclusion of our briefing today. And I would have thought a man of your profession would have more practice at concealing your true feelings."
"You are right on both counts, Captain. I have little patience for the likes of those two, and I let my guard down. I commend you on your keen observation."
Pellew nodded in appreciation. "Well, Geoffrey, I think we have quite established our mutual mistrust of the two and my ability to both observe and parry. Shall we now discuss just why in the bloody hell you are on my ship?"
Thaxton smiled, taking Pellew's question as a good-natured jab and not sensing any real animosity behind it. "Actually, Captain, I think it best to wait until we are able to open the orders from the Admiralty in the morning. We shall then be able to think and speak more freely."
"Well, there is that, sir."
I take my leave, then, if I may, and shall retire for the evening. Best to get a fresh start in the morning."
"Certainly," Pellew agreed, impatient to know just how involved he and his ship were committed to being, yet anxious to be done with such talk for the night and settle in to his old patterned behavior aboard his ship. Though he did not know the contents of his orders or the details of Thaxton's plan, he suspected that little would be patterned or ordinary on this voyage, and he wanted at the very least to have this evening to square himself away.
Thaxton paused as he reached for the door handle. He turned to Pellew with a distant yet pensive look in his blue-green eyes.
"By the time we meet tomorrow, Captain, we shall be leaving England in our wake and sailing toward events which could seal the fate of this war. "Quite a heady thought, is it not?"
"For you, perhaps, sir. For me, every time I leave England in my wake I sail such a course. It is the nature of a naval officer's life."
Thaxton knew at that moment, that for all his experience in the espionage trade, he could not hold a candle to the intuition and perception that would be brought to bear by Captain Sir Edward Pellew. He considered himself fortunate to have such an ally on this mission.
Having no response to offer after the captain's insight, he nodded a respectful acknowledgement to him and left the cabin, intending to remember at all times to whom he was speaking before again attempting to be clever and philosophical.
* * * * * * * *
Later that evening, Pellew sat at the large table in his day cabin, his tea before him, as his servant Cooper saw to freshening the comforts of his sleeping cabin. His uniform removed, and now comfortable in his dressing coat sipping his tea, his thoughts settled naturally on Katharine. He found himself wondering just what she was doing at that moment, how much laughter she was sharing with Margaret and Henry, and whether or not she felt the same dull ache in her heart that he was feeling over their separation coming so soon after discovering each other. He knew that she did.
It is a curious feeling, this ache. A pain, to be sure, but one that only comes from the pleasured knowledge that one's heart is spoken for. Certainly better to feel that ache than to feel . . . nothing.
Cooper finished repacking the captain's seachest and putting Margaret's fresh linens on the bed. He took the tray that held the remnants of the captain's evening meal and the empty teapot, and inquired as to any other of the captain's needs. Hearing that there were none, he backed out of the cabin, and left Sir Edward for the evening.
Edward got up and walked to the stern windows that offered a view, at this anchorage, of open ocean and dark skies dotted with a multitude of stars. He had always thought of the stars as a tool, a component in the navigational exercises that kept his ship on a steady, direct course. They would always be that, but now as he looked at them, he recognized them as more than navigational signposts. He imagined that Katharine was looking at the same stars and thinking of him. The stars had always guided him home, but now, they reminded him of home. He laughed to himself.
Katharine is not looking at these stars in the sky, but rather at these glittering luminaries giving light and the sparkle of life to the very firmament that is heaven. That is how she would see them, and the very fact that I am pausing here tells me that I am beginning to see them that way as well! I had best move on to other thoughts, lest I do the unthinkable and make a wish on one of my navigational aids!
With a smile, Edward turned from the window and walked to the writing desk and sat. He retrieved quill and parchment and took only a moment to compose his thoughts.
November 30, 1797
"Katharine, my dearest,
Has it really only been a handful of hours since I left the warmth of our bed and the comfort of your arms? It is a captain's lot that hours can pass as days once he steps foot again on the deck of his ship, what for the endless details to which he must attend. Thoughts of what and whom he leaves at home soon become a distant memory as the life of his ship and its men once again become his only concern. In my case, at this moment, finally alone with my thoughts after a long day and evening, thoughts of the people I have left behind have come rushing back to me with a vengeance. They are beginning to replace the anger and frustration I feel each and every time I encounter the elements of naval service of which I am least respectful.
My meeting with Hood and Grenville was once again a distortion of all that command and leadership should be. While their decisions and orders are not inexplicable, they are issued with a patronizing and insulting tone that again makes it clear that the human element of war and all that springs forth from it is of little concern to them. A successful campaign in any quarter of their command is not merely a victory for the King, but a means of personal recognition and glory. While I find that unfavorable, it is tolerable as along as I am not party to it.
What is truly disturbing, however, is that in the absence of success, or in the case of abject failure, the accountability must be the same as for success. Hood and Grenville have perfected the ability to deflect responsibility for failure away from themselves, and that I find unconscionable. Hood actually expected any misgivings I have about the present orders to be salved by the thought of personal gain and glory. And once again, his refusal to elucidate the facts smacks of little more than a charm to walk away unscathed should matters not go well.
You would have been proud of my self-control, darling. Nary a disparaging word left my mouth even in the face of their insulting innuendo. Afterward, I found myself musing over how things would have gone had you been there and heard their orders as I had, and, not bound by the chain of military command, taken aim at their pompous grandeur. It would have been a sight to see!
The meeting at the Admiralty was not all-unfortunate, for I have received most welcome news! Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy and the crew at El Ferrol, have been pardoned and are, as I write this, on their way home to England! Their effort to save lives at the Devil's Teeth was seen as an honorable and noble gesture, worthy of pardon. After reporting to the Admiralty, they will have leave before rejoining my command at the earliest arrangement. So, my dear, do not be surprised if some night, you are enjoying the applause of an appreciative audience, and you are approached by two especially appreciative young navel officers who know you well and whose hearts you have captured with more than your talent on the stage. I could see, in the brief time that you were all aboard *Indefatigable,* that Hornblower and Kennedy mean a great deal to you, and you to them. I wish for a joyous reunion for the three of you, should it come to pass.
It is ironic, you know, thinking on their pardon from El Ferrol, that one of the lives that was saved at the Devil's Teeth was yours. That action allowed the delivery of information that might eventually prove to be the downfall of the Spanish. And not only did it happen, but the dons, in their good graces, actually rewarded the men who facilitated it. War and honor make strange bedfellows, do they not?
As for my orders and where the winds take me next, I regret that I can share little of that with you. Suffice it to say that your resolve to return home with your valuable cargo did not go amiss. It is well that England has a daughter of such stubborn persistence that she was not deterred in the face of numerous daunting obstacles.
As I read this over, I fear that thus far I have broken a promise I made to you. I have shared my mind's workings with you about today's activities, but have sorely neglected to tell you of my heart's condition. I wish not for my letters to you to be filled with cold facts and indignant ramblings of naval life, for as much as I know you understand that I wish to share that with you, I know that such sentiments will not keep you warm at night nor bring you comfort when the loneliness becomes hard to bear. I know this because I anticipate such times and look forward to words from your heart.
I can scarcely express to you the change that has come over me since you came into my life. It is as though the world has finally awakened, a perpetual springtime, despite the calendar. I see things differently now, more completely, for I am whole now. You have made me so.
Leaving you this morning was the most difficult thing imaginable. How I longed to linger in the throes of last night's discoveries, to awaken you this morning with the same passion that put us to delicious and satisfied sleep last night. Watching you sleep contentedly, accepting my presence beside you so naturally as if I had always been there, brought such a swell of pride to know that you loved and yearned for me. Your desire for me, for what I longed to give you, was beyond anything I dared dream. Your eager words of encouragement and of yearning inflamed me, and I shall carry the sound of your voice as you spoke them deep within me until I am able to hear you speak them anew.
Your touch lingers on me, Katharine. The warm, smooth silk of your skin against mine replaces the roughness of bed linens or nightshirts as I sleep. Your taste remains on my lips as though never to be replaced by the mundane. Every sip of liquid , every morsel of nourishment, crosses my lips with an ordinariness that shall remain forever pale beside that wonderful taste which I have come to know as yours. Your scent, all rose, lilac and lavender, remains on the winds that carry me away from you, and those which, though never soon enough, shall carry me home to your open arms.
A final thought, my darling. I had an epiphany tonight. I watched the stars. Truly watched them, seeing them as if for the first time, seeing them the way you must see them - not as functional tools for our use, but as harbingers of dreams for our souls. I understood that, if you were watching the stars as well, we were sharing and dreaming a piece of each other of which time and distance could not deprive us. Look upon the stars, Katharine, as I know you always have. But know that as the stars gaze back at you, they carry my gaze as well. I shall do the same, and we shall forever be one.
Write to me, my love. I shall cherish each and every word as though spoken in my presence.
I know not how long we shall be apart, but I take comfort in knowing that your life is enriched my mine and not owned by it. I long to hear of your visit home, of your glorious and triumphant (for I am certain that it shall be - I only regret that I cannot be there to share it) return to the stage, and of your heart's desires, for they are mine as well.