Chapter 3 - Second Thoughts
"And truth be told, Edward, if I may speak freely, you have been short-tempered with the crew and ill-mannered with your guest. This is most unlike you!"
Pellew bristled at the honest appraisal from his friend, but sighed with resignation. There's no use getting in an uproar over such words from him. He is right.
Pellew had spent the past two days discharging his captain's duties with a vengeance, burying himself in the necessities of command - taking watch, receiving reports, reading accounts, making his log entries, conducting inspections. His mood had led him to make the tedium of sailing a solid ship with a sturdy and disciplined crew through unmolested waters in the fairest of conditions, into a challenge which seemed to demand his utmost concern and attention. The *Indefatigable* was known throughout the Navy, and beyond, as the most well-ordered and efficient ship there was, and Captain Pellew was revered for his skill and the ease with which he commanded her. And yet, to observe his actions and demeanor over recent days, one would think that the balance of the entire war was resting on his decks - on this voyage.
James Hilliard could see it as he watched his captain, and his friend, shuffle his charts and turn and re-turn the pages of his log for what seemed to be the hundredth time. He knew the captain was trying desperately to avoid thoughts of Hornblower back in prison, of the lack of trust he perceived over the deception put upon him by Sir Hew and by the Admiralty, of that woman's role in matters of war, and, simply, of her. He did not want to hear the words James was speaking, but James was determined to speak them.
Captain Pellew and James Hilliard had gotten to know one another during Hilliard's visit to Rosecliff Cottage. Hilliard had first met Edward away from his ship, in the privacy and secure comfort of Edward's home, and had no idea at that time that the good captain would wish to warrant him to his ship, so they had settled into an easy friendship, unencumbered by the protocol of shipboard life. James' Aunt Margaret and Uncle Henry had often spoken to him of Rosecliff and it's enigmatic owner, the famous naval captain, and James' visit to them there had found the captain, surprisingly, in residence, while his ship was in the dockyard for repair.
James had loved his visit to Rosecliff and found the captain to be a gracious host, and a fair and benevolent "employer" to his aunt and uncle. Margaret and Henry seemed just as much relatives to the captain, as to himself. They loved and cared for Rosecliff as if it were their own treasured home, and Edward their son, although neither was close to being old enough for that to be truthful. It was simply, they said, that Edward needed someone to look after him.
Edward had taken to James right away, partly out of respect and love for Margaret and Henry, but also because James was a bright, articulate and direct young man,, who spoke to Edward respectfully, to be sure, but as an equal, despite the difference in their ages and positions. Edward found their conversations refreshing, stimulating, and even irreverent, something that Edward missed on board Indefatigable, surrounded by his charges and his officers. Laughter and free challenges to the captain's authority, however well-intended and humorous, would never do in that company, but at Rosecliff, Edward embraced the casualness of it all.
It was the rapport that had developed between the two men that had led Edward to consider the possibility of warranting the young physician and surgeon on board his ship to replace the deserting Hepplewhite. Hilliard's medical credentials were quite in order, and the ship's surgery was in need of someone of James' caliber - young, strong, direct, take-charge. They both understood that aboard ship, their relationship could not be as casual as the friendship they had formed at Edward's home, that naval rank and protocol would take precedence over their easy conversation and lightheartedness, at least in the company of the other men. Still, when presented with the opportunity to join the service in the august company of Captain Sir Edward Pellew, Hilliard took all of three minutes to decide to change his plans to practice in Dover, and to accept Sir Edward's offer. Neither one of them ever regretted that decision.
Although, at this moment, Sir Edward was wryly questioning the wisdom of Hilliard's posting, as it would have been more peaceful without him there giving his assessment of Edward's manners. None of my officers would dare-
"The crew is willing to take on the sword's-edge of your words and orders right now, Edward, for they appreciate the stress of losing Mr. Hornblower and a portion of the crew. But is it fair and honorable to make them bear the brunt of a circumstance over which they have no control? As Captain, you may bear that weight, but they have their jobs to do, and from what I've seen, they are continuing on quite well. Yet, at every turn, and to a man, they are met by their captain with nothing more than a curt response and a flashing temper over things that would normally be of little significance."
Pellew had stopped rummaging though the charts and papers that littered his table, and listened well to the words that, however true, were difficult to hear. His hands, with fingers laced, supported his chin, elbows resting on the table, his head bowed in uncomfortable thought. His shoulders slumped just a bit in resigned acknowledgement to the perceptive words. He knew James was right - he was being unduly harsh with the men, unwittingly spreading the discomfort within him over these events, to the men of his command. That would not do.
"I have been-distinctly-severe-with them all lately, I suppose," Edward began haltingly, "and you are correct, James. It is by no fault of theirs. I will consider my words and actions more carefully," Edward conceded.
"That is well, Edward, but is there not more to it than that?"
"Hmmm?" was the reply, a definite wish to avoid speaking of the "more."
"I have known you to be a pleasant and courteous host and captain, whenever you have had visitors aboard the ship, regardless of the circumstances. Yet, you have avoided Miss Cobham like the plague, and here we are several days away from her rescue, and you have not spoken with her as a gentleman, nor have you invited her to join you at the captain's table - that unfortunate "breakfast" of the other day notwithstanding."
Edward sulked over that comment for a moment. Again, James spoke the damnable truth. He was being a poor excuse for a captain where she was concerned, despite his misgivings. The remedy for that, however, did not come so easily to him. He sighed heavily, a deep crease furrowing his brow as a result of the frown he wore, and he closed his eyes.
After a pensive moment, blessedly unmarked by further truths from his friend, Edward opened his eyes, placed his palms on the table and stood, still considering his inner feelings and the words best chosen to express them. He had begun to come to terms with the woman's presence on his ship and the reasons for it, but wasn't sure he could put words to his thoughts just yet. - it was just too complicated. He turned to the expanse of stern windows and watched the glow of the morning sun dance upon the sea.
James continued on, speaking as a friend, knowing his words were finding their intended target within Edward, and hoping they would have the desired effect.
"What do you know of Miss Cobham, Edward?" he asked. "Besides the obvious, that is."
Edward turned back into the cabin, looking at James questioningly. "I believe I need to know no more than the obvious," he replied, curtly.
"Then you do the lady an injustice. I suspect she has very clear and driven reasons that led her to the path she is on. Perhaps if you were to learn what they are and try to understand-"
"Reasons? What reasons could an actress have for risking her life and the lives of others in this pursuit? The adventure of playing the role of a lifetime?" he challenged. The carefully woven thread of acceptance that Edward had begun to spin earlier was coming unraveled by James' suggestion.
"That is unfair, Edward, and you know it. Since when have you subscribed to the belief that only a chosen few may risk their lives for King and country? Has she not the same right to do so as any man aboard this ship? As you?"
Yes, of course she does. And she has served His Majesty well, with courage and perseverance. I know that, but to admit it would be to admit so much more. No, it is much more acceptable to keep her at a distance, to carry a cold heart, to let her slip out of my life as a vague adversary rather than a regret.
"Regardless of such a right, I wish to know no-"
"She had a brother."
Edward sensed where this was going. He was about to learn that Katharine did indeed have a personal cause that guided her actions and strengthened her resolve. He could have stopped James from continuing, but did not. He merely closed his eyes and waited for the words he knew would come, and the guilt he would feel for misjudging her.
"Andrew. Her younger brother. They were very close. My cousin Charles was a friend of his, which is how I came to know of Miss Cobham on the stage. Andrew was the light of her life. He was younger by some years, and he adored his older sister. Charles took holiday with the family one summer, and became quite enamored of Miss Katharine."
There was no use trying to dissuade James from telling what he knew of Katharine. He was determined Edward should hear this, and Edward had to admit that he did indeed want to know more of her. Distance be damned!
"You know, Edward, she is quite an special woman, from what I hear. A daughter of wealth and privilege - her father was a shipbuilder, one of the finest - and her upbringing spared no finery. She is well-educated and well-read, as you would imagine, given her love of the classics and theatre. Charles would speak of her feisty and independent spirit and her total lack of fear when it came to speaking her mind, even with her father. He would say that Katharine and her father could often be overheard in frank and heated discussions on topics considered unsuitable for a young woman. Yet, rather than stifle his headstrong daughter, the man would engage her further in opinions, for even he recognized that she did have unusual insight, and her outspokenness thoroughly entertained him! Charles said later, after their estrangement had begun, that despite the pain Cobham felt over losing his daughter to that strong-willed stubbornness, he did not ever regret encouraging her to hold opinions or to speak freely. It was, he said, a quality that would serve her well, now that she would be out in a world removed from the insular security of the family and her father's protection. He was quite a man, George Cobham. Charles admired him greatly."
Edward had no trouble accepting Katharine as headstrong and outspoken. Obviously, these qualities have not diminished over the years. Is there a point to what James is telling me? I suspect there is.
"Anyway, I suppose one would wonder how someone of her upbringing could end up on the stages of Drury Lane. Well, it was because of that independent spirit her father fostered in her. You see, when the family enterprise faltered, George in desperation, saw an opportunity to shore up the flagging business by arranging a union between his beautiful Katharine and a potential partner's high-brow, but distasteful, middle son. Katharine, however, was a hopeless romantic and, having no love for the young man, refused to be a party to such a marriage, regardless of the consequences. She stood her ground, and George was not this time amused by her willfulness. He felt his reputation to be impugned by her refusal, and his business could well go under, if not for the infusion of investment from this partner. Neither Katharine nor George would see the other's view, and Katharine simply decided to take her leave, from her father, from the intended marriage, from the world she knew. They didn't speak for several years."
"Charles told me that this just about broke Andrew's heart, and that Katharine's deepest regret was not that she was letting her father or the business down, but that she felt she was abandoning her adored young brother. She left nonetheless, and used her knowledge and love for literature and the arts to venture into the theatre world in London. She lived with no thought to privilege or her former life, save for Andrew, who was never out of her thoughts. He existed for her letters, living her adventure and her roles right along with her. He never told his father that he knew where she could be found, that she was happy and content with the hard work and meager conditions, for she had her independence, and with it, her dreams of romance.
"As he got older, Andrew, usually with cousin Charles, would sneak away from school, off to London to see Katharine on stage. Charles was thoroughly besotted with his friend's older sister and her spirit, finding her beauty and charm only enhanced by the passion she brought to each role.
At home, George was growing more and more despondent over the estrangement, having salvaged his business by his own hard work and determination, and regretting allowing his pride to push his daughter way from him. Eventually, seeing his father bear the weight of his despair more heavily as time went on, Andrew enticed him to London, to the theatre - to Katharine's performance as Juliet. He was moved to tears, Andrew told Charles, by the depth of his daughter's passion for her words and how she was the Capulet maiden down to the soul of her being. He cried for how she had flourished out from under his wing, and he cried for the years they had lost together, all for his pride and stubborn refusal to see his daughter for the gem she truly was, the gem he had encouraged her to be."
"His later years were blessed with Katharine in his life once again, and she was finally at peace, having both her father and her true passion."
Edward's eyes closed and his lips found a familiar set line at the realization that both Katharine and George had lived with regret and loneliness, and came perilously close to dying with it, for the sake of their pride. *Is James so astute that he is applying a parallel course to Katharine and myself? Does he know me so well? Yes, I suppose he does. *
Edward finally spoke, asking, but knowing the answer already, in his heart. "And what of young Andrew?"
"Andrew sought a life at sea, once he completed his education, having little place in the family business which would of course be left to the elder son, Richard. Wishing an adventure of his own, he joined His Majesty's Navy. He eventually served with Nelson on the *Captain* and was a fine young officer. Charles kept in touch with Katharine for a period, and she was, he told me, terribly worried about Andrew's service. His letters home to her, gave cloaked, yet honest accounts of life aboard a ship of war, and she grew ever more fearful of receiving news of his capture or death. Charles spoke to me of her anger and frustration at having to endure such times when England's finest young men were losing their lives for the glory and preservation of the empire."
James' voice dropped at the remembrance of his conversation with Katharine on the deck days ago, and knew that his next words would not come as a surprise to his friend, and that they would have a profound effect. He took a deep breath before continuing, the pause laying heavily in the air of the captain's cabin.
"Andrew was among the fallen at Cape St. Vincent."
Edward winced at the words, having expected them , but feeling their sting nonetheless. After James' story, he knew an odd kinship with the young officer, and felt his loss almost as he would one of his own men. Silence hung in the air, leaving just muffled sounds of work from the deck, and the sea as she slipped under the *Indefatigable's* hull.
"He died a hero, when the Captain overtook the San Josef. He was leading the boarding party, and was killed in the fierce fighting.
"I see," Edward finally managed, swallowing hard against the rising tide of emotion that threatened to wash over him. He ached for hearing a personal story about a fallen officer who could have just as easily been one of his own. Rarely did the Captain know much about the young men he commanded - family background, close relationships - and this situation brought home to him that a young man killed in battle was so much more than merely a young man killed in battle. He would be remembering Andrew and his family whenever he sat down to compose those dreaded letters of notification or condolence when one of his boys was lost.
Edward ached also for the guilt and shame he felt over the way he had treated Miss Cobham in the days past. He had let his wounded pride deprive him of his usual good sense, and as a result, failed to see her as anything more than a meddlesome actress with no business interfering in his domain. Hardly a gentleman's conduct. I must make amends.
"When I last spoke with Charles, just before visiting you at Rosecliff, he told me of a visit he made to the Cobham home when he heard of Andrew's death. He found Mr. Cobham in frail and ill health, overwrought by the death of his youngest child, and not having his dear Katharine by his side to assuage his grief. Richard and the two sisters, Emily and Carolyn, did their best to brighten his days and relieve his worries about Katharine, but to no avail. Katharine, they said, had been gone for a time, touring the countryside of Spain and Italy with her acting troupe, a trip which surprised them all, since Katharine had been so concerned for her fathers' health following the death of their mother. She was determined to go, they said, despite the misgivings they all expressed to her about being so far away from home when the country was at war and their father was not well."
"George died not long after that visit, and to Charles' knowledge, Katharine had not made it home then either, and the family had not heard from her. He wasn't sure that she had even received the news about the deaths of Andrew or her father. The family had written to her, hoping the posts would catch up with the troupe's itinerary, but with no reply, they remain uncertain that she even knows. She does, for I spoke with her of it the other day. She is still quite distraught over things, I believe."
So much was now clear to Edward, and knowing her story did nothing to lessen his feelings over his egregious behavior toward the woman. in fact they ate at him more distinctly now.
Edward hung his head once again and, after a moment, spoke quietly, "Thank you, James, for telling me of this. It is clear that I have been an abominable host and gentleman in my haste to assume Miss Cobham's motives and intentions. Perhaps it would be wise for me to extend an invitation to her to dine with us this afternoon and attempt to make amends with her, if she is willing to accept my apologies."
"I believe she is, sir. She appears to be quite weary and bothered with her circumstances, and, if I may again speak freely, Edward, would welcome a kind word from you. I believe she is most concerned that she has disappointed such a renown captain as yourself."
"Disappointed? I should think it would matter little to her, what I would think. I'm not certain her opinion of me is quite what you think it is, James."
"Oh, Edward, I think I have an idea as to her opinion of you . . . just as I believe I understand your feelings about her. You two are not so different, you know, and not that difficult to see through, I might add," James said with a slight smile, causing his friend to raise an eyebrow in astonishment.
"Oh, do you, indeed?" Edward cleared his throat before continuing, trying to conceal his surprise at James' insight. Am I really that transparent? "Yes, well, I shall seek out Miss Cobham this morning and ask her to dine with us. Would you inform Mr. Bracegirdle and Mr. Bowles that their presence would be most welcome as well?"
"As you wish, Captain." There seemed no need to say more. James turned to leave the cabin, and was halted by the Captain's final words.
"James, as a friend . . . thank you. I needed to hear your words, and, well . . . thank you."
Hilliard smiled and gave a slight nod of acknowledgement for his friend's humble and heartfelt words. He knew that tensions would ease now, and looked forward to both the Captain's and Miss Cobham's warming up.
He left the cabin, closing the door on Edward's private thoughts, to seek out the two officers he was to invite to dinner.
* * * * * *
Edward found Katharine at the rail, deep in thought, it appeared. The breeze played with her long auburn hair and she let it fly about, seeming to relish the cleansing and refreshing quality that a strong wind brought to one's being. He studied her before approaching, taking in every detail of her with a new understanding, much to his chagrin.
As much as I desire the tenderness that is a woman's touch, a woman's presence, I have no room in this life of mine for such softness. My life is duty, responsibility, my ship, my men . . .How can I entertain thoughts of romance? What can I offer to a woman who would be willing to love me? A life at sea is not meant to be shared. The long separations fraught with the dangers of war, the absolute dedication to duty above all else . . . these are not things that a woman should have to embrace.
He saw it now. Despite her polite gentility of late and cheerful demeanor with the crew that he had observed in the past days, she wore a sadness that weighed her down, much as a late snowfall rests heavily on newly budding branches. In his heart, he wanted to reach out to her and gently brush the snow away, allowing the branches to blossom as they were meant to.
"Excuse me, Miss Cobham," he began, uncertain as to how she would receive his long-overdue civility.
She turned from the rail to see the dashing captain before her, looking as though he was seeking assurance that she would not again assault him with her temper.
"Good morning, Captain Pellew," Katharine replied softly, much to Edward's relief. Katharine wished no longer to be angry with this man. Her lack of sleep and her renewed grief over Andrew and her father, had
taken the edge off of one emotion and sharpened another.
"It is a fine morning, is it not? A bit brisk, perhaps, but a fair wind is never to be wished away."
"Yes, Captain, the air is lovely this morning, and quite refreshing to the spirit."
Edward cleared his throat. "Miss Cobham, I really have been an unpleasant host on this voyage, and would very much like to show you that, despite what you must think, I am not really the cad you encountered at breakfast the other day."
Katharine could not resist a smile at the words that, she imagined, were quite difficult for the man to get out.
"And I, sir, despite your experience to the contrary, am not the raving tyrant you were ready to throw overboard that morning." Her words were warm and humbly sincere, and they brought a smile to Edward's lips.
"That is well, then. Now that we have established what we are not, perhaps we could afford ourselves an opportunity to show each other what we are. I would be honored if you would join me and a few of my officers at dinner this afternoon, in my cabin. We could try to set things back on course, as it were, and finish this voyage on a better footing than we began it."
"Dinner, in the Captain's cabin, with the Captain and his officers . . . hmmm, I shall have to decide which of my finery I shall impress you with, good sir," Katharine said playfully, watching with pleasure the smile widening on the Captain's lips. *He really should smile more often. It's a lovely feature on this handsome man.*
"No finery is needed, ma'am," Edward replied, hoping she would not feel embarrassed by her meager sailor's apparel. "We all understand your predicament, and I dare say, Miss Cobham, that you do those clothes great justice. My britches look quite fine on you indeed." Edward felt his cheeks warming with his last words. Did I really say that?
"Your britches, Captain?" It was Katharine's turn to blush, and her hand went self-consciously to her cheek. "Oh my-"
Edward enjoyed the playful banter and the effect that brought the pink to Katharine's lovely complexion. Is this flirtation? Am I flirting with a woman who, not forty-eight hours ago, I thought was the bane of my existence?
"No matter, dear lady, your company will be most appreciated regardless of what you are wearing. I must attend to ship's business for the morning now, if you will excuse me," and he bowed with a slight touch to his hat. "I look forward to dinner."
"As do I," Katharine responded faintly, feeling a bit dizzy over this very different type of encounter with Sir Edward.
She watched him as he departed to ascend to the quarterdeck, ready to do what he does best, she thought. He's charmed me into accepting an invitation which, just two days ago, I dreaded receiving. Watch yourself, Kitty, your heart may get you into more trouble than you can handle right now.