KATHERINE'S DUTY
by Kyle

Chapter 2 - A Brother's Love, A Sister's Grief

The winds were fair and the air brisk, and Katharine found it quite refreshing as she stood at the rail, lulled by the whisper of the sails as they caught the wind, and the splash of sea being left behind as Indefatigable pushed toward home.

She had spent most of the day in her cabin, stewing over her encounter with Sir Edward that morning. Her anger over his treatment of her was not easy for her to lose, yet her distaste for her own behavior was just as strong.

I allowed him to offend me, and then completely lost my head when he did! How could I say such things? He is one of the noblest and most renown officers in His Majesty's Navy, and I reduced the great Captain Pellew to a ferryman who merely plucked me out of the sea. That was shameful . . . but he made me so angry! How dare he assume that I thought of this as a game? After seeing firsthand the ravages of war and imprisonment and the ferocity of the sea as it claimed so many lives? Why must he assume I am nothing more than an addle-brained actress? Damn it all, Kitty! This is not the first time that your temper has cost you...when will you learn?

How could I have done that? Perhaps because his other inferences were not far off the mark? Had I not used my femaleness to advantage when I seduced deVergesse? But, it was in the name of duty! Would Sir Edward ever understand that? No, not likely. Duty, self-respect, virtue, honor . . . I have tried to balance them all. Perhaps he was right. For all I have heard of the Captain's thoughts on duty and honor, it is clear that he places those behind virtue and self-respect where I am concerned. I wanted him to look upon me, not with scorn or anger, but with respect . . . and yes, with warmth and affection.

Katharine had to admit that much of the distress she felt over that morning was due to the fact she now felt less worthy of his affection. Ever since Gibraltar, Katharine had entertained thoughts, sometimes involuntarily, of the handsome and charismatic Sir Edward. She longed to be close to him, searching his deep, soulful eyes for signs that he could feel lovingly toward her. She dreamed of being in his arms, feeling the strength of his body, tempered by the tenderness in his heart - for her. Now all that was lost. All she saw in his eyes was contempt, and she knew that any tenderness he possessed was not going to be wasted on her.

Now Katharine watched deep strokes paint the sea, sky and clouds with the colors of an almost-winter sunset, so lost in her troubling thoughts, that she didn't hear the footsteps approaching her.

"Miss Cobham?"

She startled and turned to the voice that knew her true name. Dr. Hilliard! *How does he...?*

"Please pardon the interruption, ma'am, " he said with a slight bow. "It is a beautiful sunset, and I don't wish to intrude on your reverie."

"Not at all, Doctor. I was just thinking of home and how good it will feel to step on an English shore again," she lied.

"I'll second that, ma'am. It is good to see you up and about this evening. I was hoping to see you today, but you were secluded in your cabin, and I didn't want to disturb your much-needed rest. I was just wondering if you were feeling any ill affects from your recent ordeal?"

He was, of course referring to the shipwreck and the night of cold exposure in the fishing boat, but Katharine's thoughts went anyway to the ordeal of this morning. *I am left with nothing but ill affects from that ordeal, she mused.*

"Why, no, Dr. Hilliard, I feel quite well, and this brisk air will continue to improve my constitution," Katharine replied.

Noting the inquisitive look on Katharine's face, the doctor offered quietly, "Please don't be concerned. Your secret is safe with me."

"Safe, doctor? It needn't be." Katharine said wryly. "The Captain is aware of my name and my profession."

"Yes, ma'am, he has spoken of it with me."

Katharine cringed at the thought of how the Captain would have explained her, but Hilliard rushed to put her at ease.

"Oh no! It isn't as bad as all that. Let me explain. You see, I recognized you as soon as I saw you aboard ship. I was privileged to see you on stage a few years ago, when I was completing my training in London. It was 'The Fatal Marriage,' at the Drury Lane Theatre. You had the audience completely in your grasp with your ëIsabella' - we felt every drop of your anguish and wept your tears. It was a powerful and memorable performance."

"Why, Doctor Hilliard," Katharine said, her heart glad to hear such effusive, and unexpected praise. "How kind of you to say. It remains one of my favorite roles, despite Isabella's tragic circumstances."

"A favorite of your audiences, as well, ma'am." Hilliard smiled an almost sheepish grin. "I'm certain you wouldn't remember this, ma'am, but we've met before."

Katharine's face lit up in surprise. "We have, sir? I'm sorry, but I...."

"Oh, don't distress yourself, ma'am. I understand that you must meet so many people - admirers - that you couldn't possibly remember each and every one." I attended your performance with my cousin, Charles Phipps. He was a friend of your brother Andrew."

At the mention of her brother's name, Katharine's heart lurched with the grief she had become so used to carrying. Her dear brother Andrew. Killed February 14 of this year, at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. His death had brought such heartache to her family and had led to the death of her father, already left frail and infirmed by the passing of his beloved wife, Katharine's mother, Evelyn. Andrew had died a hero, bringing glory and honor to the Cobham name, and father George had lived long enough to see that, at least, Katharine thought.

She had been away when her father died, touring the countryside of Italy with her troupe of actors, and wresting vital codes and communications from unsuspecting Spanish noblemen, a cause she had willingly accepted, when asked. Katharine knew in her heart that her decision to undertake such a dangerous endeavor was almost entirely due to Andrew's service. Tearing at her since that time, though was the thought that she could have done more good at home, with her father, comforting him, ministering to him. A greater good, she had convinced herself, to work toward bringing about a crushing defeat of the French and Spanish, and bringing fathers, husbands, sons and brothers safely home to their families, but she would forever regret not being with her own family in her father's final days.

"Andrew," was all she said, in a voice weak with the emotion she for so long had to control.

"Yes, cousin Charles had known him their school days, when Andrew would tell him tales of his sister, Kitty, the actress. Charles told me that Andrew's eyes would light up whenever he spoke of you, his dearest sister with such an adventurous life! He would describe the characters you played as if they were personally known to him, speaking of them as he would dear friends. He shared scenes and lines from your plays as if he had been on stage with you! Charles said he was most entertaining!"

Katharine could not resist a smile at the memory of her youngest brother. Her love for literature and the theatre had always intrigued Andrew, and he had spent many hours as a boy embracing the words she had read to him of Shakespeare and the Greeks. He would watch her create characters, speaking their beautiful words with such passion. They had a special bond, Katharine and Andrew, a bond of love and camaraderie that allowed them to understand each other's hearts. He had not been at all surprised at her decision to turn away from the plans Father had so carefully laid before her, and follow her own path, a path she was drawn to as surely and strongly as one's need to breathe. Andrew's loving and youthfully enthusiastic support of her difficult decision made it possible to defy Father at the time. And dear Andrew was responsible for healing the wounds left by that decision and bringing about reconciliation.

"How wonderful it is to hear such fond memories of your cousin's acquaintance with Andrew. I do believe he touched many lives with his special light. I am sorry to tell you, perhaps your cousin has not heard, that Andrew was killed in the Battle of Cape St. Vincent." Katherine spoke the words with the grief that she had not truly come to terms with, perhaps even uttering them for the first time aloud.

"Yes, ma'am. Charles informed me when he read the news. Although I did not know your brother personally, it was most distressing. I offer my sincere condolences for your loss."

"Thank you, Doctor. You are most kind," Katharine accepted. She fought back the tears that must have flowed so freely when such sentiments had been extended to her father, sisters and surviving brother at the time of Andrew's death. She had not been there. She had not grieved. This is neither the time nor the place. Not here. Not on this ship.

Hilliard noted the effect that his words, and indeed, this whole discussion, had on Katharine, and regretted bringing up the subject at all. He had no idea that she had held so tightly to her grief, using it as her purpose, her Polaris, guiding her to complete her task and return home. She wielded that grief as a club - a weapon against her fear, her discomfort, her distaste for the necessary evils of such a mission. She feared expressing her grief for Andrew, convinced that doing so would drain her reservoir of strength and courage. I am almost home.

"Yes, well...I mentioned to the Captain this morning that I was distressed about finding you here, after such an ordeal at sea, and I wondered to him as to how you ended up needing rescue from a Spanish shipwreck. I explained that I was an admirer of yours, and was confused about the crew's references to you as a Duchess. He was aware that questions might arise, so he met with his officers and explained in full your presence on the ship."

"I see."

Katharine could now anticipate a change in how those officers looked upon her, as she was certain that the Captain's words to them were colored with hints of the unpleasantness he felt about her.

As if reading her thoughts, Hilliard continued, "The men were quite taken by the Captain's report of your courage to undertake such a mission and to travel alone under such potentially hostile circumstances. And of course, anything to keep the balance of the war effort securely in His Majesty's favor is welcome news!"

Katharine was stunned at the doctor's impression of Captain Pellew's telling of her story. *Did he really mention ëcourage' and speak of me as doing something valuable for the Crown? That is certainly a change from his words to me this morning! Did the Captain really speak of things that way, or was this gentleman simply trying to bolster my apparently somber mood?* She chose to believe neither one nor the other.

"I am ...relieved...that the Captain has provided an adequate explanation to the officers. Frankly, I was weary of pretending. The Duchess is quite a trial." Katharine smiled tentatively at the man who was lifting her dreary mood.

"I would imagine! Well, it will be back to ëIsabella,' or ëLady Languish,' or ëQueen Gertrude,' soon enough - far less tedious roles," the doctor teased. He laughed an airy chuckle, and his eyes danced with delight. He was pleased to have brought a smile to Katharine's face.

"I must say," he continued, "that the officers were so intrigued with your story and your profession on stage, I would not be at all surprised if the Captain were to host a small dinner in your honor, so you could regale us with your adventures."

Katharine considered his words. He said them with care and with no hint that such an occasion might turn out as this morning's meal had. Still, she wondered if she would again find herself demonstrating her infamous temper at their expense.

"Oh, I'm not so sure he would bother with that. My story isn't all that intriguing, and the Captain need not feel obligated to entertain me." Katharine hoped he would not extend such an invitation, for she was certain she did not how to decline with grace.

"I don't think he would see it as an obligation, Miss Cobham. Captain Pellew is a gracious man, and he extends such courtesies quite readily when it is appropriate. And with a woman of your reputation among us, and a promisingly uneventful journey ahead of us, it certainly seems appropriate!"

"Well, we shall see, Doctor," Katharine said, with resignation, as she turned back to the glorious sunset and felt the very last vestiges of its meager warmth on her face. We shall see.

"I'll leave you to enjoy your evening, ma'am. Mind that you don't tire yourself. You are still in a weakened state after all you've been through."

Katharine could not help but laugh at this. "I doubt the Captain would agree with you about my ëweakened state,' Doctor, but I promise to take good care of myself, just the same. Thank you for your concern."

"I've enjoyed our conversation, Miss Cobham, and hope we have another opportunity to chat again soon. Good evening, ma'am."

He offered another slight bow as he retreated, and Katharine smiled at his charming demeanor. Despite being confused about the doctor's perception of Sir Edward's opinion of her, Katharine's spirits were buoyed by his sincere words and earnest praise of her work. Even his words of Andrew lifted her somehow.

"As do I, Doctor. Good evening, sir."

The sun finally slipped below the horizon, and, feeling a chill, Katharine bundled her heavy cloak more tightly around her. She stood at the rail a moment longer, then, feeling the effects of the doctor's words, she retired to her cabin, anxious to get some sleep. One more sunset behind her meant she was that much closer to home.

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