Hornblower and the Lost Weekend
by Wendy Snow-Lang

 

"It cost you one shillin', one hour, or ten shillin' for all night," said the brown-skinned girl wearing a colourful turban and matching wrapped skirt, a rough muslin blouse caught up in the skirt waist and open to expose a glimpse of young breast.
"But the night is only eight hours," rebuked the newly promoted, but not yet confirmed, Master and Commander Horatio Hornblower of His Majesty's Navy. "I should only pay eight shillings," he continued, his large brown eyes wide in dismay.
The brown girl rubbed up against him as he stood near the bar of the torch-and-oil lamp-lit Jamaican tavern. "I do special t'ings for you, sar, Special t'ings. Make it wort' your two extra shillin'." She leaned into his ear, ran her tongue along its edge.
Hornblower's eyes widened further. He cleared his throat, shrank from her touch.
The broad, stout officer who had accompanied Hornblower to the tavern laughed at Hornblower's embarrassment. "Sir! Give her the extra shillings!" countered Lieutenant William Bush, of the 74 gun HMS Renown and the perpetrator of the idea of a two day debacle once his captain had granted him shore-leave. "I'd wager she has a mean trick or two up her sleeve!" He leaned in closer to Hornblower's other ear. "Or up her skirt!" he whispered. He showed no embarrassment about his intentions for the other girl he clutched to him. She was a darker brown than Hornblower's girl, her lips as plump as her bottom and her teeth blinding white as she flashed her brilliant smile at the prospect of shiny shillings.
"We agreed, sir, to spend the entire hundred guineas we each got as prize money!" Bush grinned, his own teeth gleaming as brightly as his Jamaican girl's did. "We have two days! We have to start somewhere!"
Hornblower looked at the girl clinging to him. He hadn't seen a female in months, not since their crossing from England to Kingston, and what a wild ride that had been! He had been a lieutenant aboard Renown too, but circumstances found him in sudden command of his own sloop of war.
Well, a wild ride deserved a wild ride, he thought. He'd been in the navy for seven years, he'd had shore leave before, he'd had dockside whores before. But they always made him nervous. He wasn't a carnal man. He had to work himself up to a session with a whore, maybe because he was always looking for the emotional attachment with a partner, not just a roll.
Bush had no such qualms, of course. He was impatient to get started, kissing his girl with unmitigated lust and running his hands over her lush form.
Hornblower cleared his throat again. "Bush! Can you not do that in public?"
Bush laughed. "Don't be so sensitive, sir! 'Tis what these girls are for!" He spread a large arm outwards. "Look around you! Do y' see anyone else starin' at us? Or doin' much different than us?"
Hornblower gazed about the large, smoky room. Bush was, of course, right. The tavern was packed stem to stern with King's officers and stripe-shirted sailors, long pig-tails streaming down many a strong back. Girls of all shapes and sizes vied for the attentions-and the coins-of the men. Black, bare-footed men bore trays of mugs and glasses, and refilled many a goblet from green-glass bottles. Sailors fiddled and piped in a corner. Others sang along, or sang their own versions of different songs. A couple of non-descript tan dogs, little things barely coming to a man's knee in height, worked their way through the throng, snatching at toss-offs and tit-bits. Cigars and pipes fogged the already thick, humid island air. The din was so loud, so offensive, that Hornblower and Bush had to nearly shout to be heard inches from each other.
Bush was right. No one paid the two young officers in the dark corner any mind.
Hornblower inhaled, nodded his head. "Alright. Alright! Ten shillings, it is!" The girl reached for his purse. He slapped her hand away, shook a long finger at her. "In the morning," he admonished. "You'll get your shillings in the morning!" He leaned into her ear, hidden under the folds of her turban. "And only if I think it was worth it!"
Her eyes widened this time and she burst forth at him in her island patois, berating him, he presumed.
Bush guffawed at the girl, slapped Hornblower on the back. "I'll get us a couple more bottles, no, a case of bottles and meet y' upstairs, sir!" He tossed a single shilling to his girl. She caught it, tested it with her brilliant teeth.
Insurance, thought Hornblower.
Bush called over the barkeep and Hornblower took the two girls' hands, guiding them toward the rough stairs.
"Horatio Hornblower! As I live and breathe!" he heard behind him.
That voice. Something about that voice.
He loosed the girls and spun on his heel.
Good God!
"Lila! I mean, Mrs. Peters!" he exclaimed, caught himself. Besides being a married woman, she outranked him-no, she didn't, not any more! He straightened his dark blue coat, still a lieutenant's coat, but bearing the single epaulette of a Master and Commander. He had sewn it on his left shoulder himself.
But, Lila Peters, here in Kingston? He ahemed. "Lieutenant! I-I should never have expected to meet you here, of all places!" He shrank a tiny bit, realizing the possible insult of his words. "In Kingston, I mean! What do you in Kingston?" He didn't want to point out any more obviously that they stood in one of the seediest of Kingston's dock-side pubs. Why was she here, in this particular dive?
She grinned at him and he mentally gasped at the sight of her dimples and how he had nearly lost his heart to them-Good God!-how many years ago had it been? "I should ask you the same, Commander Hornblower, of this place!" She looked him up and down, glanced at the two island girls flanking him. "This is not the sort of public house I'd expect you to frequent!" Her grin widened to encompass her entire face, her bright green eyes, her slightly crooked nose, the nose he remembered so well. "Sir!" she added. "I must call you 'sir' now! Congratulations!" She extended her hand.
Hornblower took it, squeezed it heartily, then stepped forward and engulfed her in a hug. He drew back as quickly as he had embraced her, studied her form. "You-you look wonderful, Lieutenant! How long has it been?" He smiled openly too, joy at seeing her filling him.
"Edward was a wee babe. He's just turned seven last month," she said.
Hornblower's eyes widened. "Seven! How the time flies!"
Lila nodded, a hint of sadness creeping into her visage. "Yes, and Athena has a month to her third birthday."
"Athena? A daughter, named after your old ship! You're not still aboard that old frigate, are you?" he asked.
"No. Captain Tremayne now commands Bucephalus. We docked yesterday morning."
Hornblower nodded. "Yes. I saw her. I was aboard my little sloop-of-war Retribution, seeing to her water stores, when she anchored."
Lila rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet, clasped her hands behind her back. "Yes. I see that you've been promoted. I heard this morning about your.uhm.situation aboard Renown. A bad patch for everyone involved. A shame about your friend Kennedy." She tugged at his coat sleeve. "I am sorry for your loss. I know Kennedy was a very good friend of yours."
Hornblower looked down at his toes. She had no idea! "And how is Mr. Peters? Has he passed his examination yet? I would assume so-"
"Jack is lost, dead, cut down by bloody cannibals in New Guinea while I was five months pregnant with Athena." She regarded her own toes. "I saw him fall on the beach, surrounded by the savages while I stood upon Athena's quarterdeck and could do nothing to help!" Her voice broke on the last syllables.
Hornblower gazed up at her, shock colouring his face. "But-but-"he sputtered. Jack-dead! Hornblower inhaled, set his face into an expression of compassion and calm. "I-I am so sorry to hear such news, Mrs. Peters. My sympathies to you and your children."
Lila chewed her lower lip. Her eyes misted over, but she forced a grin from her mouth. "I-make do, sir. I make do." She inhaled, sighed. "The children are provided for by Captain Tremayne. He is a good man and a wonderful substitute father for the children. They love him dearly."
Hornblower took her hands. "I am sure they do. And he is a better man than many to take them under his wing."
She giggled. "Unfortunately, he had little choice. They had captured his heart from the moment of their births. Especially since both were born aboard his ship, and most especially Athena, as he was there at her birth!"
Hornblower's eyes widened. "He was-"
Lila spread her hands. "He.assisted! You should have seen his face when she first appeared! He was repulsed, but in love at the same moment! Dr. Howard handed her to him still messy from the delivery while he attended to me. I can remember vividly Sir Edward's face as he looked into her eyes. His face shone!"
Hornblower grinned, reciprocating her own expression, trying hard to envision her memory. A baby! Witnessing the birth of a baby! Would that he could experience that for himself! To be a father!

"Hello, what have we here?" Bush interrupted Hornblower's reverie by returning, his arms ladened with bottles. He juggled a couple of them, Hornblower grabbing a few before they crashed to the saw-dust covered floor.
Bush attempted a salute, bottles clinking at every move. "Uhh, sir?" he queried.
"Ha-hum. Mr. Bush. This is Lieutenant Mrs. Lila Peters," Hornblower said. "I've spoken of her to you before."
Bush's thick eyebrows rose on his low forehead. "Lefte-Miss-Leftenant Peters! The very one! My God!" he exclaimed. "I'd read about you, ma'am-uhh-sir, I mean, uh.I don't quite know what I mean!" he sputtered.
Lila's dimples cratered her cheeks. "Commander Hornblower and I are old friends, Mr. Bush! Well met, Mr. Bush!"
Bush's cheeks reddened and Hornblower knew how difficult it was to make that happen. Lila had done it again. Won over another Doubting Thomas. How did she do it?
She extended a hand, but as quickly withdrew it, laughing instead. "Well, Mr Bush! Once you have unburdened yourself, we shall be more officially introduced!"
"Then, let's to it!" he spurted. "To our rented rooms! And to old friendships, and new!"
Hornblower scowled. "Bush! I don't think-"
"Oh, Horatio!" Lila exclaimed. "There you are with your misguided sensibilities again! What's for it, but for old friends?"
Hornblower looked over at the two island girls fidgeting nearby. He tipped his head in their direction. "And what of them? They are expecting payment."
Lila grinned. "Bring them along! I am sure Mr. Bush would be horribly disappointed if they deserted you two!"
Hornblower didn't want the girls, but what could he do? Lila had spoken!
They ascended the rickety stairs and Hornblower mentally berated himself the whole while. Guilt raised its ugly head in his self-conscience. Guilt and disappointment. He had worked himself up to having a baseless fling, a "night on the town" as it were, and then in stepped his conscience, full-blown, in the form of Lila Peters. He would not enjoy himself with a tavern girl knowing that Lila had caught him with such trash. He did have sensibilities!
They entered the main room of he and Bush's suite and Bush unburdened himself of his wine bottles.
Lila gazed about the receiving room and nodded. "Well, considering we are in the Starfish Inn, this is not too shabby!"
Hornblower cringed as he followed her gaze about the room, her look falling on the ragged cloth blocking the single window, her scrutiny of the creosote-lined fireplace, the rickety state of the few pieces of furniture, the thread-bareness of the rag-braided rug.
She smiled. "This room reminds me of mine and Jack's wedding suite! In Gibraltar. 'Twas called the Royal and Mr. Ortiz ran the place. A nice man, he was."
Bush strode up to her. "Wedding suite! And where is Mr. Peter-"
Hornblower waved a hand at Bush, silencing him immediately. Thank God for Bush's quick responses to Hornblower's sign language, as always!
Lila had caught Bush's intention, nonetheless. "I am afraid Mr. Peters is no longer among us, Mr. Bush. My life goes on, however." She gazed overlong at Hornblower.
He cleared his throat, aware of her scrutiny. Dear God! What was he to do? He was attracted to her, had been since the day he first met her, those years ago, but now, of all times and places? Now? What was he to do? How would he--?
No. NO! He had a sense of morals, and of propriety. She was not a low class girl, a street tart with which a man could do what he wished and had no consequence to pay other than silver or gold coin. She was a woman of High Society, from all he had read of her, and so she was treated "differently."
Her visual appraisal of him had sent his mind spinning and thinking. She clearly wanted more from him than she had verbally expressed, and his current state of mind knew how. What was he to do? Just step up to her and embrace her? Whisper those sweet nothings in her ear that every woman supposedly wanted to hear? Dismiss Bush and talk nothingness to her, of politics and the naval workings of Kingston dockyard? Dismiss her from the room and his life? Pick her up bodily and throw her on his thread-bare bed in the next chamber?
What?
"He have t' English girl, Bushy! You have bot' of us now?" Hornblower's former island girl wound herself around Bush's square form.
Bush clutched her close and grinned. "What say, you, sir? Shall I entertain both these girls, while you reminisce with the lieutenant?" Bush winked broadly at Hornblower and made no attempt to hide the wink from Lila's view.
Hornblower groaned to himself. Bush was paving the way for Hornblower to proposition Lila, and Hornblower had not the audacity to do so.
"Might I make a suggestion to you, Mr. Bush?" Lila stepped up to the other man, leaned in and whispered in his ear. He nodded, reached in his breast pocket and handed her his coin purse.
"You will get paid in the morning, girls, and if I still like you then, I may give you a bonus!" He grinned broadly and nodded dismissal to Hornblower and Lila, then herded the two girls into the opposite bed chamber.
"Ha-hum. Mrs. Peters. Perhaps we should retreat to the public room below. I suspect things will become rather embarrassing around here very soon," Hornblower said. "Mr. Bush is an energetic man and in fine voice."
Lila smiled and her dimples accented her cheeks. "I am sure he is. Do not worry over much about my sensibilities, sir. You know first hand my opinions about that."
Hornblower nodded, his gaze on his toes. He remembered clearly those years ago when he was still a midshipman and in command of a prize ship. He had been tasked to deliver Lila and her poor, colicky baby Edward to Gibraltar for medical treatment. One early dawn she had walked on deck as Styles was hosing Hornblower down for his regular morning bath. She had been far less perturbed at his naked state than he had been. She had actually seemed.interested.
Hmm.
She was a widow, and thus unclaimed by any man. She was unburdened by any inhibitions higher society made on unattached women, though those inhibitions seemed more concerned with protecting a young, innocent girl's virtue and not with the desires of an older, experienced woman.
And she was here before him, a slight smile playing across her lips as she watched him ruminate.
That's it then.
He stepped up to her, took her hands, bent to her waiting lips, kissed them gingerly. She pressed her lips more urgently against his, opening her mouth to allow him further exploration. She wound her arms up and around his neck and he crushed her close, then swung her around off her feet-she was light as a feather-then into his arms and through the doorway to his little bed chamber. He kicked at the door and it swung shut with a bang. He cringed. No playing innocent with Bush later; the lieutenant was probably laughing right now at the thought that Hornblower had indeed taken The Lieutenant Mrs. Lila Peters to bed with him.
Their clothes did not last long, but ended up strewn about the tiny, oil-lamp lit room. Hornblower gently laid her out on his bed and hungrily regarded the feast spread for him. She was trim-and she had had two babies!-her breasts small and pink, her legs long, hips narrow. Though her hair cascaded in loose, raven-black curls, the rest of her was completely devoid of hair, under her arms, between her-well, all of her was hairless. He marvelled briefly at the sight and found that it unexpectedly excited him even more. He lay atop her and ran trembling fingers through her hair, down her cheek, her neck, her torso, her long thighs. She pulled the ribbon from his queue and released his soft brown curls, to tumble across her face and mingle with her own dark tresses.
He had dreamt of this moment many times in the five days that she had been a passenger aboard his little prize ship six and a half years ago. For months after they had gone their separate ways, he had dreamt of having her; she, innocent of Hornblower's secret desires, went back to her ship and her husband; Hornblower returned to the Indefatigable and his duty. He had had no idea if their paths would ever cross again, and, even if they did, she was married and deeply attached to her husband. Hornblower could never have wooed her away from Jack Peters.
But, sadly, Jack was gone.
And Hornblower was taking advantage of Lila's loss. He nearly turned from her then, nearly dressed and fled the room, to run from her and run from the guilt that welled up inside.
He hesitated and she sensed it. She opened her eyes and stared at him, a crease forming slightly between her thick, shapely brows.
"I had thought of you off and on, Horatio," she whispered, "and wondered if we'd meet again and what would happen." She shifted under him and he choked back a gasp. She shifted again and he was trapped, hooked like a fish on a line, forever captured like a dog on a tether, a horse on a lead. She could do with him what she wanted, ask of him anything. She could stomp on his fingers and he would smile and thank her. She could spit in his face and he would apologize. She could spend all his money and he would work himself to death trying to earn more to give her.
Could he say anything to her? Could he spill his thoughts to her?
No. Enjoy the moment, he thought. She had her life aboard Bucephalus. He had his duty to Retribution. She had her children, Jack Peters' children. Hornblower had.nothing.
***
Things became quite loud in the next room, and Lila giggled often from the noises emanating from Bush and his dark companions. Hornblower laughed too, though his cheeks reddened at every gasp, every war whoop, every squeal and rowdy snippet of song heard through the thin walls.
Hornblower was a quiet man, not given to overt demonstrations or vocalizations. He made love to Lila time and again, wordlessly, soundlessly, except for the breath rasping in and out of him at his exertions. She made more noise than he, signalling plainly to him the pleasure he was giving her.
And each time, after they had gasped to release, they lay in each other's arms quietly, snuggling and enjoying the pure joy and comfort of the other's presence.
Hornblower was happy, for once in his life.
They slept, finally, nestled like spoons in a sideboard drawer.
***
Mid-morning and Lila extricated herself from Hornblower's arms. He started up, unused to the idea of having another in his bed, then groaned and turned over, burying his face in the thin pillow. He heard her use the chamber pot and splash water from the pitcher onto her face and into the basin atop the dresser, but he could not tolerate even those small sounds. His head pounded from the wine he had consumed the previous night. He was not a tee-totaller, but he usually carefully moderated his alcohol consumption. Last night he had not. He was paying for it this morning.
And when he watched Lila return to his bed, in all her naked, hairless glory, he was even more sorry for over drinking than for his imagined taking advantage of her last night. He could do naught but kiss her, mumble an apology and throw the pillow back over his head. He soon fell back into a deep, tortured sleep.
Late morning found him rubbing his eyes and slowly casting off his sleepiness. Lila snored gently at his side. He reached for her, kissing her shoulder and behind her ear. Her hair smelled of roses and woman. She stirred, turned to him and kissed the end of his long nose.
Once she finally opened her eyes and focused on his face, he smiled at her. "Good morning," he said. He wrapped his arms around her. "I'd always imagined saying that to you in such a manner."
She smiled and blinked, cleared her throat. "Morning to you, love!" she said.
His heart soared! Love, she had said!
He kissed her and it all started yet again.
Good morning, indeed!
A shout, then a quick knock on the door and Bush rushed in.
Hornblower scrambled at bedclothes, threw a sheet over Lila's nakedness. "What is it, Bush?" he exclaimed.
Bush clenched his fists. "Those-those-bitches!" he bellowed. "Luckily you had guard over my purse! They took all the wine, and-and my buttons! My brass buttons! Every one! And my shoe buckles, for God's Sake!" He shook his fists in the air "They would have taken my balls if they wasn't attached!"
Lila peeked out from under the sheet.
Bush plucked at his dishevelled forelock. "Beg yer pardon, Mrs. Peters," he mumbled.
Hornblower sat up, the sheet wrapped firmly around his midsection. "Do you want to go after them, Bush?" he asked.
Bush shrugged. "Nah. Nah. What good'll it do? The buttons aren't worth that much."
"What about your dignity, man?" Hornblower pointed out. "How will you dress?"
Bush shrugged again. "I'll manage," he said. "I always do." He turned on his heel and exited the room, his shoulders bowed.
Lila gripped at Hornblower. "What can we do to help him, the poor dear?" she asked.
Hornblower gave her an apologetic look. "I don't know. Have you any extra buttons?"
Lila scowled. "I could spare a few, I suppose. We both could. We don't really need three on our breeches or any at our pockets for a day. Or even on our cuffs." She grinned. "We could do without the ornamental ones to let Bush at least button up his shirt and trousers!"
Hornblower leaned to her, bussed her on the cheek, grabbed at his breeches. "I'll go tell him!" He stepped into his breeches as he stumbled to the door. He leaned back in, of a sudden. "Wait here," he said, and winked.
Lila giggled and the sound followed Hornblower into the adjoining chamber.
***
"He's going to the local tailor for more buttons, then he wants to see the waterfall," Hornblower told Lila. He had an interest in seeing the waterfall too; it was reputed to be magnificent.
Lila seemed indifferent. She'd seen it already, on a prior trip to Jamaica, but if Hornblower really wanted to make the short trip, then she'd go along.
Hornblower sensed she'd rather stay at the Starfish. Why, he couldn't fathom. Until he returned from Bush's room and said he'd do whatever she wished. He confessed he really wasn't interested in the waterfall, though he lied, just a little bit.
She flung her arms around him and whispered in his ear. "Do you know how long it's been since I've been with a man?"
He reddened slightly, answered. "Ha-hum. Three and a half years?"
Sadness overtook her features, then she forced a grin. She kissed him on the end of his nose again. "No, silly! I am not an old maid! I have had a relationship since Jack-since Jack-I have had a relationship! But Humphrey stayed aboard Athena when Tremayne was reassigned. Tremayne, of course, took me along with him." She put her arms around him. "'Tis been months, not years, but months are bad enough!"
Hornblower knew exactly what she meant, but he had had little idea that women felt the same way as men in that regard. Well, maybe some women.
He couldn't stop himself from asking. "Tell me of Jack."
Her eyes filled of a sudden, and she turned away from him, biting her lip. "I-I told you yesterday," she gasped. "The savages in New Guinea! They overwhelmed our men on the beach as they struggled to the longboats. Jack was among them. I saw him struck down!" She sobbed, closed her eyes tightly. "I keep seeing his head-his little head, shrunken and the eyes and mouth sewn shut, hanging in the chieftain's hut from a knot in his wonderful-wonderful hair-" Her face tightened up into a tortured mask. "How-how could such a thing happen? How could someone as full of promise as my Jack have come to so ignominious an end? 'Tisn't fair!" she wailed.
Hornblower was reminded of the sound of little Edward's wails as he lay in his baby basket, suffering from the colic six and a half years ago. He wrapped his arms around her and she wailed and sobbed for some time until his stroking of her hair and kissing of her features calmed her.
***
They called down for dinner and stayed in their rooms for the duration. Bush had long since left, after much noise and comings and goings between him and a couple of other officers he had rounded-up to accompany him to the falls. The three men had tip-toed in the receiving room; they could hear the muffled noises coming from behind the closed door of Hornblower's bed chamber.
***
"But what exactly happened aboard Renown? Were you there? Did you see anything? Your testimony places the blame solely on Mr. Kennedy-"
"It does not!" Hornblower shouted.
Lila cowered, a hand to her mouth. "I beg your pardon, Horatio! I-I am sorry!" She looked down at the mattress, as their conversations of the day had all occurred on the bed, as had other events. Their feet had rarely touched the floor, except to relieve themselves or retrieve food from the trays left outside the door. "I meant no offence-"
Hornblower exhaled. "None taken," he muttered. He too, kept his gaze to the mattress cover. "I must apologize for snapping at you in that way. I just-"
She touched his arm, sympathy her expression. "What is it? You can tell me-"
"No, I can't!" he exclaimed. "I have nothing to say further on the matter! Archie confessed to pushing Sawyer down the gangway! Archie died from his wounds, thankfully, instead dying from the hangman's noose!" Hornblower put a hand to his forehead, his eyes squeezed shut. "That's all I can say! That's all I will say!"
Lila grabbed him, gathered him into her arms and let him sob against her shoulder as she had done but an hour before.

 

***
Midnight again and Hornblower rolled off Lila's body, his breath heaving from him. He'd never had such a time, never had such a woman, never felt such emotion since-no, he couldn't think about that time. Too painful. Too brief.
He had six hours. No more.
Lila clutched at him, ran her fingers through his hair. She smiled, her dimples creating huge gouges in her cheeks. "I love you, Horatio," she said.
He knew the time was now. "Lila," he said, stroking her cheeks and their charming dimples. "Transfer to Retribution. Come with me. We can be married once we reach England. I will gladly take on the responsibility of your children."
Her eyes grew wide, then she squeezed them tightly shut. Her hands flew to her mouth and her forehead creased.
He couldn't understand the anguish on her face. "What is it that pains you, my love? I know that you miss your Jack-"
She pressed a finger to his lips, silencing him. "Please! Do not speak of him! No!" She sobbed, clutched at him. "Oh, Horatio! I would love nothing more than to say yes to you!"
Here it came, the 'but.'
She clutched his face, gazed sternly into his eyes. "I cannot. I will marry another!" she said simply, directly.
He squeezed his own eyes shut, then peered at her from hooded lids. "What mean you? You are bespoken of another man? And here I bedded you?" He put a hand to his face, wiped his fingers down his features, as if attempting to wash them clean.
Lila pulled him tighter, though he resisted. "No, no, dearest! He doesn't know yet!" she exclaimed.
Hornblower pried himself from her grip, pushed away. "What? What say you, 'doesn't know yet?'"
She clutched her hands in front of her, twisted them repeatedly. "I-I decided some time ago, dear Horatio, that the next time I marry, 'twill be for power and wealth, not love. I have love still." She looked up at the knot of mosquito netting gathered above their heads. "I will never stop loving Jack, so I cannot try to supplant that love. I must marry for different reasons this time." She gazed steadily at him. "Thus I cannot marry you. Though I would want to, with all my heart." She looked down again. "No. With some little bit of my heart. Most of my heart still belongs to Jack and will never slacken." She gazed up at him. "'Tis not fair to you, you see? You would never have my full heart! I can never love a man as much as I love Jack. Still. Though he is dead." She bit her lip. She whispered. "I would marry Captain Tremayne. He doesn't know it yet, but I will."
Hornblower gasped. "Tre-Tremayne?"
"Yes," she sobbed. "His wife.died.last year. I must see that he marries me, by any means! If I am to continue in my current state, if I am to garner the good graces of the Admiralty to maintain my position, then I can see no other way!"
Hornblower grasped her hands. "Is-is your life as a naval officer so important to you?" He stopped before he said more, knowing the answer instinctively. Yes. Irrevocably.
***
Master and Commander Horatio Hornblower gained the quarterdeck, such as it was, merely an imaginary line abeam the flush-deck tiny sloop-of-war Retribution, and gazed off at the haze engulfed Bucephalus.
His once possible future lay there. He shook his head to clear it of the regrets laying there. He must keep his mind on his duty. To Retribution. To the crew he was slowly gathering to man the small sloop. To the Crown.
He could not afford to let the thoughts of Lieutenant Mrs. Lila Peters cloud his judgement concerning his new command. If he could do well commanding Retribution, if he could keep the Admiralty's eyes on him for any length of time and for any kind of distinguishing action, he could assure his good fortune and his luck and receive quick promotion to post captain. Maybe then he could convince Lila to not make such a hasty decision as she had made in the middle of the night concerning Captain Sir Edward Tremayne.
He exhaled, his hands clasped firmly behind his back as he stood at the starboard quarterdeck rail. No such luck, he thought. Lila had been firm in her decision and nothing Hornblower had said would have changed her mind.
He knew he was unlucky at love; had known it since his mother died, those many years ago, and had left him to fend for himself and to deal with his father. He knew someday he would confront his father, but he now felt that would be easy compared to how he would face his life from now on without Lila.
Yet, as he gazed out to sea from his vantage point in Kingston Port, he knew he had the upper hand. He knew he had the world by the balls and would not look back from there,
He was curiously satisfied with his life, when normally he would be wallowing in anguish and guilt. He felt sated.
And happy.

 

***