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KATHARINE'S DUTY
by Kyle

Chapter 17- A Reunion


December 19, 1797

Dearest Edward,

I write to you from London, and with much news. First of all, I must thank you for the letter you wrote almost immediately, it would seem, upon return to your ship! Please do not ever apologize for writing to me in an effort to speak of things that I know you may speak of with no other. I can only imagine how it must be for a captain to always be so guarded around his men and never be able to avow feelings of dissatisfaction or frustration, least of all concerning one's superior officers. I am honored that you love and trust me so, that you may freely speak your mind with me. I treasure those words from you as much I do the words of a more personal nature.

Let me tell you first that Margaret and Henry are well. I stayed with them at Rosecliff for two days following your departure, and was pampered and spoiled by their attention! They took me into their hearts and clasped me to the bosom of the world that is your home, and for that I shall be forever grateful. It is clear to see all the love and respect they have for you. I hated to leave, and did so only after they secured my promise to return for a time at the holidays, indeed, at every opportunity! I, in turn, elicited their pledge to visit me in London and allow me to show them a bit of my world. Margaret claims to be a bit daunted at the thought of a visit to the theatre, but Henry assures me she shall take it all in stride. I believe he is convinced that, had life dealt the woman different cards, it would be she who would be standing in the footlights, as enamored as she is of the adventure of it all! Edward, you are truly blessed to have such friends in your life, and I am equally blessed for the sharing.

Things have taken a rather odd turn here. I had planned to return to Falmouth, and, indeed, was on my way, when I decided to stay for a short time in London in order to secure lodging for my ultimate return. I sought out my former benefactors, Sir Arthur and Lady Windringham, to inquire as to their circumstances. They really are a somewhat scandalous pair! Truth be told, I am not certain if they have always had that reputation, or if they acquired it by their association with an actress, but no matter. They are a glorious pair of eccentrics and life is never dull in their presence! They were, to say the least, quite surprised to see me again, and in an instant welcomed me back into their home with open arms.

That is not to say that I am not ever appreciative of your offer, conveyed to me by your solicitor, for me to take lodging in the home you keep in London. It is a most generous offer, my love, but one that took me but a moment to refuse. You see, dearest, regardless of our love for each other and all that has transpired of late, there remains the simple matter of my reputation. It simply would not do to have a woman of my profession (and honestly Edward, to many it is a mere baby step above that profession) appear to be "kept" by a man as noble and renown as yourself. It would bring shame and dishonor upon your home, the gossiping whispers of the biddies and beaus would be as shouts, and that I could not abide. Yes, I can hear you saying now that is does not matter to you, but darling, it matters greatly to me. My shame would be limitless were I to think that I was the cause of your great name being thought of in less than honorable terms. London is not like Rosecliff, where the solitude lends itself to being able to shut out disparaging attitudes.

So, please accept my refusal of your offer in the spirit in which it is given. I shall be quite happy and entertained in the company at Windringham House, and shall rest contentedly knowing that your reputation shall remain untarnished!

More news, darling. When I arrived in London, I went to see our family solicitor, and was surprised to encounter my brother, Richard in his offices. He is in London, accompanied by my sister, Emily, on matters of the family business, and shall remain here for another week or so. We have so enjoyed each other's company, Edward, and there seems to be no discomfort on anyone's part over my sudden departure last year and the later events. Indeed, he and Emily seem quite understanding, and proud even, that their sister has had such an adventurous time of things! It really has been a wonderful reunion and one that seems to have cleansed us all. As a result, it was decided, much to my relief, for I am still so weary of traveling, that I shall not be going directly home to Falmouth, but rather, staying here, and making a visit home in the spring.

And so, also thankfully, it would appear that I have wasted no time in returning to the stage. I have had the good fortune to replace Anna North (whose fortunes are considerably worse than mine, it would appear) when a continued fondness for spirits caused her to miss one performance too many. She has been sacked and I find myself suddenly employed! I am now appearing in the role of Queen Gertrude in Hamlet. It is most challenging, but welcome, for it shall keep my mind occupied in your absence. And you must tell dear Mr. Bracegirdle that I shall endeavor to explore each and ever aspect of Gertrude's relationship with her son so that I may discuss the subject with him with renewed insight! I am truly happy, Edward, to be back on stage, for it is as comforting to me as your quarterdeck must be to you. And while our hearts and minds yearn to be together, we must take comfort in the fact that we are engaging in the duties which shall sustain us most satisfactorily until we can be together.

I was heartened to read in your letter the wonderful and welcome news about dear Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Hornblower. Edward, how buoyed you must feel at such news! I know, darling just how Mr. Hornblower has brought out the paternal side in you which, I suspect, not even you were aware you had! He will be a force to be reckoned with, mark my words, and under your continued tutelage, that day will not be long in coming. And Captain, sir, do not even attempt to deny the soft spot in your heart which you have for Mr. Kennedy, for all that he has endured. This is another young officer, a young man, who will only soar once he stays for a time in the company of fine and honorable men. I pray that they are returned to your command in short stead. I am hopeful that before they do, however, they will keep their date with me in London, for in your absence, I should like nothing better than the company of your finest officers.

Well, my love, I am certain that you have far more important matters to which you must attend, and unchecked, I may just ramble on for days, so I shall close now with my admonition to stay well and be careful. While I am pleased to hear that what little role I played for the Admiralty has proven fruitful, I am distressed to hear that it is you who must now be responsible for seeing it through. Would that I could have my selfish way, I would have this damnable war be done, or at the least, carry on without you, my love. Please do not think poorly of me for wishing such, for I remember well my pledge to you to be strong and think only of the honor with which you serve the King.

I am, however, thinking at this moment, and many others, if I am honest, of little else than our pleasure. I awake every morning with an empty ache when I compare each with the morning (was it only the one? It feels like there were so many more) my eyes opened to see you, my hands reached out to feel you. The remembrance of your closeness, of your hunger for me, and mine for you, of our release, brings a stirring deep within me that I am powerless to deny. It never fails to weaken me. It is the dream of once again sharing ourselves that makes the lonely nights and mornings bearable. Please know, my love, that my yearning for you, grows, not diminishes, every day we remain apart, as I pray yours for me does. Know that you carry my heart with yours wherever your duty takes you.

I remain forever lovingly yours,

Katharine

* * * * * * * *

Katharine replaced the cap on the inkbottle and wiped the nib of her quill. She gave the inked parchment one final gentle puff of breath to set the ink and folded it. She sealed the seam with her ivory-colored wax and pressed her stamp to it. She would have the letter posted for the next dispatch vessel. There was never any guarantee that letters from home would reach those for whom they were intended, and they certainly would not be timely, but she needed to think the words, write the words, and believe that the words would bring some comfort and peace to Edward.

She put the letter in the pocket of her velvet cloak hanging on the back of the door of her dressing room at the Drury Lane Theatre. She would post it directly at the Admiralty in the morning.

Katharine turned to the dressing table on which there laid a variety of powders, creams and stains. She began to apply the touches that would allow her to transform into the mother of Mr. Shakespeare's haunted Danish prince. There was a knock on the door - her dresser, brining her costumes. Katharine bid her enter.

Beatrice entered with an armload of elaborately gilded robes and skirts, her hands occupied with the crown and heavy, long jewels of the monarch Katharine would portray. She shuffled over to the chair in the corner of the room and carefully laid the clothing out. She placed the crown and jewels on the dressing table. When she did so, an object fell from where it had been tucked under her arm and hit the floor with a soft thud. Katharine bent to pick it up.

"Beggin' your pardon, ma'am. I almost forgot about that. It was delivered to the theatre this afternoon with strict instructions to give it to you before tonight's performance. It's a book, ya see - a book of them poems written by that Mr. Shakespeare. The gentleman what brought it said it was special and that you'd want to receive it . . .how did 'e say it? - oh right . . .f-forth . . .with."

Katharine turned the book over. It was indeed an expensively bound book of Shakespearean sonnets, wrapped and tied with a golden ribbon. A special gift to be sure, but who . . .?

"Is there a card? Or a note?"

"No ma'am. No card 'n no note neither."

"Beatrice, this gentleman. Did you see him?"

"No, ma'am, not me . . .I just heard that's 'ow it happened. And I made sure to get it to ya . . .forthwith." The girl said the word this time with a bit more confidence, and pride that she not only completed her mission, but that she learned a new word in the process.

"Well, I thank you, Beatrice, for your diligence. I shall have to look elsewhere with my questions then."

"Yes, ma'am, but ya should do that later . . .after the show. Ya 'aven't much time to get ready."

Despite her curiosity, Katharine would wait. Such an extravagant gift, from someone who knows my passion for Shakespeare. It could be anyone, I suppose, for I am reciting his words this evening, as I do often, but it has a familiar sense about it. Could it be . . .

"'ere, now, let's get your 'air up and out of the way, and finish this powderin' so's we can get that gown on you and get you out on that stage. If you're not out there on time, it'll be my 'ead that rolls, not yours!"

Katharine let herself be primped and dressed and readied. A gentle smile graced her lips as she thought of the significance of the book in her hand. She had a feeling there would be someone special in the audience tonight.

* * * * * * * *

Katharine swept into her dressing room with Beatrice in her wake, already removing pieces of costuming and accepting the crown and jewels as Katharine removed them. The girl held up a dressing gown for Katharine to put on and began to brush Katharine's hair as she sat at the dressing table and cleaned the paint and powder off of her face.

"What a performance tonight, ma'am! It was like you was performin' for the King! All those curtain calls - I lost count!

Katharine did play her Gertrude tonight with a bit of extra aplomb, not as though for the King, but for someone who truly deserved the very best, for he was certainly an admirer of Shakespeare and had high expectations.

"You 'ave an admirer, certain sure, ma'am. I'm 'opin 'e reveals 'imself to ya right soon, so you'll not be wonderin' about it no more." She headed to the door, laden once again with the actress's effects. She paused, and turned back.

"It is romantic, what? I mean, a book of them love poems from someone who wants to stay secret? You're a lucky woman, if I say so, ma'am."

Lucky, yes, but not for the reasons you suspect.

Beatrice went out the door and Katharine finished dressing. Soon there was brief knock and Beatrice returned, practically breathless.

"Miss Kitty, ma'am! There's a young gentleman here - a naval officer, to be true . . .. . . for you . . . he says to tell you that he's 'ere to keep a date . . .with you, ma'am! And e's got a friend along . . .so 'andsome, they are!

Katharine's heart soared and she could not but smile at his remembrance of their final words. Thank you Lord, for bringing them through their trials safely!

"Yes, Beatrice, I know the gentlemen, and they do indeed have an engagement with me. Do show them in!"

The girl did little more than lean out the door and motion for the gentleman callers to come in. She stood aside in the doorframe not leaving, but not staying in the room, so as not to miss a blessed thing. Katharine gave her a glare that clearly withered the girl's nosey tendencies, and she reluctantly stepped out into the hall and away.

Katharine's eyes lit up like a sunrise when she saw Mr. Kennedy step through the door. For all her hope and good wishes, she was not able to believe that he would return well and whole. But here he was, looking fit and healthy and with a smile on his face, the likes of which Katharine had only dreamed could grace his handsome features. His eyes shone bright blue with a clarity and a peace that melted Katharine.

"Mr. Kennedy!" Katharine's words came out like a sigh and she felt tears sting her eyes. How well he looks!

"Such a fine performance this evening, madam, I felt compelled to pay my respects to the actress. Indeed, I do recall that it was the actress who compelled me to call on her in the first place!"

"And I am honored and relieved that circumstances allow you to do so!" Katharine beamed at the young man.

Archie crossed the room in two steps, taking up both of Katharine's hands in his and kissing them. He looked up at her eyes gazing down at him and felt a generous smile begin deep within him and peak on his entire face. Katharine pulled him close and embraced the young man. She remembered well how much he needed gentle human contact , how restorative touch was for his soul. It was wonderful to feel his strength as his arms were around her.

"Let me look at you," she said as she pulled away and held him at arms' length. It was a Mr. Kennedy she would scarcely recognize after their encounter in Spain. A new, finely-tailored uniform set on his frame, gleaming blue, white and brass. His face no longer had the gaunt and pale shadow of imprisonment and starvation. It was fuller, indeed, as was his entire frame, filling out his new uniform with pride.

"You look well, and strong. You are taking good care of yourself," Katharine declared, pronouncing him restored.

"It has been a blessing to know freedom after so many years of captivity, to be sure, ma'am. I feel safe in saying that I have never felt as well as have since our pardon from El Ferrol."

"I am glad for that, Mr. Kennedy. Thank you for the lovely book of sonnets. I was truly hoping it was from you."

"Then you suspected?"

"Well, not at first, but . . ."

From the doorway came a distinct "Ahem!"

Archie turned and Katharine's gaze at last took in the rest of the room. There in the doorway, standing as inconspicuously as possible, was her Mr. Haitch, also sporting a new uniform - a lieutenant's, she noted - and looking every inch a proud officer.

"It is a relief to know that we are not the only ones who made it safely back to England! I see your grace was finally able to find her way home as well," Horatio said.

"Well, Mr. Haitch, I see that you have kept up on practicing your quips while we were apart! Someone has taught you well, sir!"

It was Horatio's turn to smile a beacon. Katharine rushed to him with open arms, welcoming him into her embrace, thankful to be able to do so. Tears once again filled her eyes as she thought of how fortunate she was to see them again. It was a sign to her that all could be right with the world.

"You look well too, sir! I take it your trip home was uneventful?" Katharine said, as she ushered him into the room and motioned for him and Archie to sit on the sofa.

"Blessedly so, yes. I think I speak for Archie as well when I say that sunshine and sea air had never before felt so wonderful and life-giving!"

They sat. Katharine took a chair opposite them and marveled at the grace of this reunion.

"And the others - Matthews, Styles, Oldroyd? They are well?"

"Yes, ma'am, quite well. They each wished to be remembered to you, with fond thoughts. They have begun serving a temporary duty until the Indefatigable returns. I'm afraid we shall be reporting for similar duty in the morning."

"In the morning?" Katharine said with a start. "So soon? After what you've been through?"

"It was our request, ma'am, to the Admiralty. We were offered leave, but Horatio and I both felt it odd to be enjoying leave while our captain and our shipmates were relentless in their duties. We feel our place is with them, and we endeavor to get back to them as soon as possible."

Katharine searched Archie's face for signs that this was a false duty to him, but she saw none. He was truly anxious to resume his naval life as before.

"Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Hornblower. Is there no end to your valor, your loyalty? You do the King, and most of all, your Captain, proud, sirs."

"It is all of us, ma'am, the crew is just as anxious as we are to meet up with the *Indy.*

"Please convey my best to them as well, as soon as you are all together again. I pray it shall be soon."

"As do I, ma'am, as do I! It has seemed like forever since my brief tenure on the *Indy* and I am most anxious to get back and serve with Captain Pellew." Archie said with determination.

"Speaking of Captain Pellew," Horatio began, "how was your voyage home with him? Were you able to engage him in your conversations, share opinions . .?" he asked with a mischievous grin. He recalled Katharine's apprehension when he brought up that possibility when he departed the ship, bound again for El Ferrol. He wondered if their strong-willed natures had clashed during the voyage home.

Katharine felt the heat of a blush creep up her neck and settle on her cheeks. Archie noticed it right away and being the romantic soul that he was, it did not take much to lead him to a conclusion. He smiled at the thought of the Captain Pellew he knew to be stern and ferocious being smitten by the woman before him, whom he knew to possess and be able to share great warmth and tenderness. And from her blush, it was clear that this was an affair of the heart. He wondered how long it would take Horatio to read the signs.

"Yes, we conversed and shared opinions, much to his chagrin, at times," she said innocently, casting her eyes downward lest they give away her true feelings. She wasn't certain how much to say to Horatio and Archie.

When she looked up, her eyes met Archie's, and she realized, with him at least, that she need not worry about how much to say. He seemed to know.

Horatio watched their wordless exchange, and noting the color on her cheeks, suspected there was more to tell of her time with his captain. Despite what Archie and Miss Cobham think, he mused, I am familiar with that reaction myself.

He recalled the times at El Ferrol when the Duchess had lain a gentle hand on his cheek, or gazed intently into his eyes, and he felt the heat flush him from stem to stern. She has feelings for the captain, certain sure, and no doubt the captain is not fool enough to resist!

A moment of knowing silence passed among them. Katharine stood and broke it.

"Well, now, my gentlemen, I would consider it a great honor if you would join me for a fine dinner, to celebrate your return. I should warn you that I do not intend to take no for an answer."

"And we have no intention of insulting your grace by refusing," Archie said, rising.

"By all means, ma'am, the honor shall be ours," Horatio added.

"Oh my! If we are going to dine together, and speak as friends, I really must insist that we drop this ma'am business. My friends call me Kitty, and since I count you as friends, please do likewise. And may I request permission to call by your first names as well? All these *misters* become quite cumbersome, don't they?"

"That they do, Kitty," Horatio said with a laugh. He extended his arm for her to take, and Archie took her velvet cloak from its hook and draped it over her shoulders.

"Then let us waste not time, my friends. I am famished!"

* * * * * * * *

The late-night meal had been a godsend for the young officers, for they were certain not to eat so heartily again for quite some time. The company was exceedingly pleasant, the conversation a mixture of stories and anecdotes about Archie and Horatio's return to the Spanish prison and news from all about London. It had been a while since either young man had been on English shores, and even longer since they had been able to pay a visit to their families. Katharine was more than pleased to promise to write to each man's family and assure them that their sons were well and proudly serving their King.

More than once the conversation had turned to Katharine's journey home on Indefatigable and she remained somewhat vague about what had transpired there. She eagerly filled them in on how she found the men to be in their absence, her stimulating discussions of culture and literature with Mr. Bracegirdle, and her talk of family and home with Dr. Hilliard. She was more reticent whenever there was a question concerning Captain Pellew, but both Archie and Horatio noticed the return of that familiar flush to her cheeks whenever his name came up.
The hour was late when Katharine was escorted back to Windringham House by her two gentlemen. Archie and Horatio politely declined her offer to step inside to meet her hosts, whom she was certain would still be awake and entertaining. They would be reporting for their duty aboard Dunbarton first thing in the morning, and had no desire to arrive showing the effects of an overly late night.

"Once again we find ourselves having to say goodbye," Katharine said with resignation.

"Such is life in the Navy, I'm afraid," Horatio said as if by rote.

"Ah yes, I am well familiar with that aspect of naval life. Not the best tonic, to be sure," Katharine said sadly.

Archie took up the moment. "Kitty, forgive me if I speak too boldly, but might you be speaking of Captain Pellew?"

Katharine cast her eyes downward, trying to disguise the look she felt certain would betray her to Edward's officers. It was not much of a ruse, for when she looked up at Archie, there was a smile of understanding on his face. She looked at Horatio and saw the same smile.

"Oh, bloody hell! I am not so fine an actress after all, am I? Yes, Archie, I speak of Edward . . . Captain Pellew. I . . . that is, we . . . well, we . . ." Katharine failed to find the words that would succinctly explain all that she felt, without it sounding tawdry.

"Ha! I knew it!" Archie said triumphantly. Horatio merely smiled.

Katharine rolled her eyes at their reaction. "Am I that transparent, or was the situation aboard the ship so predictable, because I'll have you both know that Captain Pellew never once thought of anything but his duty to his men and his ship . . ."

Horatio laughed. "Oh, Kitty! Don't misunderstand. We mean no disrespect to you or Captain Pellew! Archie and I have just been reading your reactions each time his name came up at dinner, and feel vindicated that our assessment of your feelings was accurate!"

"And we couldn't be happier for you both," Archie said with a gleam in his eye as he leaned in and gave Katharine a kiss on the cheek.

"We wish you a long and happy life together," added Horatio as he too kissed Katharine.

"No one wishes that more than I, dear boy, but first there is the together part to deal with. His duty shall forever conspire to keep us apart, and there are times when the loneliness is more than I can bear." Her voice broke just a bit as she finished, but she pointed a determined finger at Horatio. "And when you tell him that you saw me this evening, you shall be very clear about how well I am getting on here in London, and how strong I am in his absence."

"We would dream of telling him nothing else, dear lady," Archie said.

"Well, then, you'd best be gone before I think too much on my loneliness, and you go away thinking I do nothing but pine away. Besides, you have an early morning ahead of you. Now give me just a simple farewell, not a goodbye, for we shall meet again, and soon. I feel it in my heart."

"As you wish," Archie said with a bow. 'Fare thee well, dame. Whate'er becomes of me, this is a soldier's kiss.' " The bard's familiar words flowed easily from Archie's lips, and he brought her hand to his lips and laid a poetic kiss there.

" 'Parting is such sweet sorrow . . .' Once again, I thank you for the volume of sonnets, Archie. I shall never speak Shakespeare's words again without thinking fondly of you."

Katharine turned to Horatio. There would be no quoting literature, no quips. Just an understanding. Her eyes told him to look after Edward. To bring him safely home to her. If anyone could manage that, Horatio could.

Katharine hugged them both and said a prayer that they would find their way safely to the Indefatigable and even more so, home again.