Love, Duty, and Other Ties That Bind
by Beth


PART 3


Susanna eased the damp towels away from Pownoll's throat and chest, dropping
them onto the floor beside his bed. Once more, but now with trancelike
demeanor and movement, she went to the fireside and took another of the
warmed, dry towels and laid it across his upper body, rubbing it lightly
against his skin, to prevent any chilling. She looked at his face, again, for
any sign that he might know she was there, that she had not left his bed
side, that perhaps he might be waking up. But there was only stillness;
ghastly stillness.

Dr. Knowles had stayed with her as promised, and the two of them had taken
turn after turn with the steaming towels and the boiling water. It seemed to
work at first, and Susanna's heart had soared. Pownoll would sigh with relief
as the heated vapor reached his nostrils, and soothed his throat and chest.
His breath would come easier, then, and Susanna could feel his whole body
seem to relax and he would sleep, the flush temporarily faded from his
cheeks. She, or the doctor, or Mary, would take up the watch then, while the
other two tried to sleep. Except that Susanna could never sleep for more
than a few minutes, and then those waves of maternal anguish and the need for
omnipresence would crash over her. She would rise, then, and return once
more to Pownoll's side. He would still awaken every so often and see her,
know her. She would offer him sips of cool water, and comfort him as the pain
tore at his throat. His hand would curl softly around hers as she would
soothe him to sleep again.

Sometime during the night, Susanna had no sense of the hour, a man from the
village, a Mr. Sutherland, called at the front door, beside himself with
worry over his wife, in labor with their first child. Mrs. Knowles sent him
on to Exmouth Hall, as the midwife had said the baby was in breech, the poor
man pronouncing it so carefully as though he had not got a clue what he was
saying. But Susanna looked fondly to Dr. Knowles and told him he must go to
her. She sent them both off with a stack of warm blankets, and baskets of
food, and Mrs. Whitacre added her own calming story of how her only son had
been a breech birth and he had turned out just fine, thank you very much, and
not to worry, my good man, the Lord will provide. And it seemed, to Mr.
Sutherland, at that moment, that the Lord had already provided, for he was
returning to his wife with the doctor, and with enough food and blankets such
that his new family should not want for anything for weeks. Susanna had
watched from the top of the stairs as they departed, fearful of stepping too
far from Pownoll's room. Of course, Dr. Knowles had to leave - she reasoned-
at least there he would be able to DO something. Men needed to be doing
something, she learned that a long time ago. She and Mrs. Whitacre could keep
up perfectly well with the towels and water. And Charlotte had brought them
all up some bread and soup and she was able to pitch in as well.

But by the morning, the steam and hot towels had lost the ability to rouse
Pownoll from his stupor, and he no longer responded to any of their
ministrations. Susanna persevered nonetheless, reading to him, gently
sponging his brow, and trying to keep going as if he still heard her. Mary
or Charlotte would try to relieve her, insisting that she needed to rest, or
eat, but she would not be swayed. She would send them back downstairs for
more hot water, determined to keep up the regimen.

******

Mrs. Whitacre had been in the kitchen, supervising the boiling up of yet
another round of pots. She and Charlotte had wrung out the towels used last
time, and hurried them over to the fireside to dry, retrieving the other
dried ones for use this time around. Was this the fourth or fifth time today,
she wondered, in a disjoined state of both worry and exhaustion. The last
time was the worst, she reckoned. Pownoll was sunken into his pillows, his
dark hair plastered against his forehead and his whole body still as the
grave. His face seemed a mask of waxen gray, splashed only with two scarlet
stains on his cheeks - those ever present symbols of fever's flush. The only
sound in the room, other than the gentle pendulum of the grandfather clock,
was the grating rasp of Pownoll's tortured throat as each breath struggled to
find its way in and out. Once again, they'd position the pots of steaming
water beside his bed, close to his head, and lay the hot, damp towels across
his throat and over his open chest. Earlier, he would sigh or murmur,
sometimes in appreciation, if the heat was a comfort against the chills of
the fever; other times he moaned in agony, as if the added heat was just fuel
for the burning fire in his body. But, now he did not respond at all, and the
only change was the way the room once again turned into a den of vapors, and
condensation settled on the sills and tabletops. To Mrs. Whitacre it seemed
as dense and as sultry as a primeval forest after a sudden summer cloudburst.

As they hung the last towel up to dry, the sound of horses was suddenly
unmistakable. She and Charlotte exchanged looks. Could it be the Doctor? He
did say he would return, after Mrs. Sutherland's baby had been delivered, but
he traveled alone and on horseback. And this was surely the sound of a full
blown coach and six! Mary told Charlotte to finish up and return to the
kitchen, while she ran all the way through to the front entrance of the great
home. It was just getting to dusk now, and while the sun was still bright as
it sank into the hillsides to her left, there were threatening clouds on the
opposite side of the horizon, harkening the approach of a storm. Mary
shielded her eyes from the dwindling sun's glare, as the coach streamed up
the drive. Even in the fierce glare, she recognized Sir Edward's magnificent
carriage in an instant, and the ever erect figure of Charles in the driver's
seat. Lord in heaven, it was the Captain! Did he know about Pownoll, or was
he home in a unexpected respite from battle? She stood in the doorway, still
as a statue, bracing herself to either be the bearer of bad news or to usher
her Master immediately up the stairs. She caught herself at that last thought
and looked back at the grand stairway behind her. But, no, Susanna had
seemingly not heard the rush of horses' hooves or carriage wheels. Perhaps,
please God, she had fallen asleep and was getting some real rest now.

Mary turned back around to find Sir Edward coming towards her. Her hands flew
to her face in a rush of countless emotions - the majestic swirl of his cape,
and the gold and splendor of his uniform underneath, which at first sight
almost always took her breath away; the poignant reunion which now awaited
this most beloved couple she so happily lived to serve, and finally, the look
in his face, that told her she had only to point upstairs, to Pownoll's room.

"Mary," he cried, his voice scratchy from the dust of the road, taking her
rough, dry hands into his strong ones, "Mary! Please tell me he is still
alive!"

"yes, Sir, he is..." she answered, her heart thumping wildly. "But, he is- "

And she stopped suddenly, as her hand flew to her mouth, unable to suppress
her emotion, and Pellew rushed past her up the stairs, leaving Brandon
trailing behind to make his own introduction.

She was asleep, half in her chair, her head, shoulders and arms all draped
onto the bed, over Pownoll's legs, her long curls strewn across the blankets.
He stopped short at the doorway, his voice stuck in his throat at the sight
before him - his beloved son pale and still as death, with only the sound of
his wretched breathing to confirm otherwise, and Susanna asleep at his side.
"My God," he murmured, the sound nearly inaudible. But Susanna heard it,
heard him, and a for a split-second wove his voice into the wanderings of her
dream, and then just as quickly knew that it was not part of her dream. Her
eyes fluttered open.

"Edward?" she whispered, jerking her head up quickly. She turned and saw him
coming to her, and her tears came in a rush as he gathered her into his arms,
his cloak swiftly enveloping her in warmth and comfort.

There were no words needed, yet poignant fragments of despair still tumbled
from their lips - his desperation to reach home in time, her seemingly
useless attempts to ease Pownoll's suffering, and of course, the
unimaginable and heretofore unspeakable thought of possibly losing him, all
collided in a rush of confessions, fearful whispers, and anguished sobs.
Pellew held Susanna close, assuming, correctly, that the torrent of tears now
being released had been held in too long already. His own tears escaped as
well, but silently, and he held fast to his determination that right now he
needed to be the strong one. He eased them both gently down beside Pownoll,
so that he could take his son's hand in his, as if to reassure himself that
there was still warmth, and life, however tenuous. Pellew leaned in and
kissed his son gently on the forehead.

"It's Papa, my boy," he said gently. "I'm here, and I'm going to be here when
you wake up - you'll see! Rest nowÖ we'll both be here beside you."

He heard a gentle cough from the doorway, and saw Brandon standing there with
Mrs. Whitacre, not wanting to intrude. But Pellew waved them in immediately.

"My dearest, this is Mr. Brandon, of whom I've spoken to you often."

She rose and smiled warmly at him, dabbing at her eyes. "Mr. Brandon, it is
an honour to meet you at last."

"My Lady," he nodded. "The honour is mine." Exhausted and dazed, she was
still an incredibly beautiful woman. Before Drew could refocus enough to
phrase his next words, or take preliminary stock of his son's condition,
Pellew jumped in.

"Darling, Mr. Brandon has some preparations that may be of help. He and I
thought that perhaps, well,....is Dr. Knowles still here?"

"No, he stayed for a very long time, Edward, really, and he did the best he
could. But then one of the villagers was in labor, so, of course-"

"Of course...but, my dear, would you mind if -"

"Mind?" Susanna regarded Brandon warmly. "Please, Mr. Brandon, if there is
anything you can do, please....I, we would be forever grateful!"

As Brandon began to examine Pownoll, the couple retreated towards the
windows, and Susanna relieved Pellew of his cloak and frock coat, draping
them gently onto the quilt stand. The rain seemed to have begun as soon as
the dusk had ended and the constant splatter of raindrops mingled with the
echoes of the surf just beyond the expansive balcony. Susanna asked how
Edward happened to be in London, and he told her of their latest exploits and
his meeting at the Admiralty. She asked how the children were bearing up and
was tearful again on hearing how proud Pellew was of their stoicism - and
their unfailing love and support for each other.

"Sir, ...Madam," Brandon approached them, now.

"Well, Brandon?"

"I will be honest with you both: your son's condition is graveÖ He has been
very weakened by the fever and the struggle he must make to breathe - which
is, I believe, because of the throat infection. But, his lungs are clear, and
that is a good sign...I think the Eucalyptus oil is worth trying, Sir. If we
can alleviate the struggle, then he has a chance."

"Then we must do so, at once," answered Pellew.

At Susanna's request, Mrs. Whitacre led Brandon to the kitchen to see to the
preparation of whatever was needed. Soon the pots were boiling again, but
this time with a renewed sense of purpose, and hope. And Mrs. Whitacre tried
her darndest to fuss over Brandon, coaxing him into accepting a cup of tea,
and into trying her famous currant biscuits.

Back upstairs, Pellew reached again for Susanna, and she fell again into his
embrace. She clung to him in a way he had not ever recalled before. He drew
back, looking her over carefully, saw the strain in her eyes, the inky
smudges underneath them, and the way his finger so clearly touched right
through to her cheekbone, the way her skin seemed so tautly stretched across
her face. And another wave of worry seized him.

"My love, you are exhausted - this will never do!" He pulled her close again,
and she rested her head against his shoulder, savoring the soft, luxuriant
feel of his moleskin waistcoat. He softly stroked her hair. "You must rest.
You must!" He tilted her chin up to face him. "Why,Ö now it shall be my turn
to do what you have always done so well for all of us."

And she smiled tiredly up at him, her eyes shining.

"I am going to take care of you, Susanna, and I'll hear no protests about
it!"

"Oh, Edward, please..." she tried to brush him off, "there is no need,...you
don't have -"

"No, no, not another word about it!" he scolded. "Give me your hand."

"Edward-"

"Susanna, give me your handÖ"

Warily, she placed her hand in the palms of his.

"The other one, Susanna. Your left hand, please."

Resigned, she did as he asked. As the warmth of his hands closed around hers,
she felt him grasp the gold and sapphire ring. He shook his head.

"There now, you see! The band barely stays on your finger! And what should I
do if it were to slide off, then? Hmmm? To have no one know that the most
desirable woman in all the kingdom is married to me - what a wretch I should
be, then!" And, as he looked at her, such a wealth of devotion in his
wondrous eyes, she knew she would give in, and let him tend to her. He leaned
in and kissed her, gently, reassuringly.

"My Love! Oh, very well, Edward - but just for awhile -"

"Now that is more like it. First things first, you must be comfortable, and
then we shall see you fed."

"I won't leave this room," she warned, suddenly fearful. And then the minute
she said it, she knew she had not needed to.

"Of course not, my love, I wouldn't hear of it." He motioned to the settee.
"But, here, surely you can rest over here - for a awhile, as you said?" And
she agreed and proceeded to plop down onto the velvety cushions.

"And we must see to some food. Ah, yes," he said, going over to the tasseled
cord beside the bed, stopping to softly stroke Pownoll's arm in the process.

"Sir, if you please," came a pretty, young voice from the hallway. "I was
just passing by and heard you ring. What can I get you, Sir?"

"Well! It's Charlotte, isn't it?" Pellew asked gently, hoping he had got it
right.

"Yes, sir!" she beamed, pleased as punch that the Captain had remembered her
name - she'd only been with them for six months, after all!

"Very good, Charlotte. Could you bring up a tray for Lady Pellew, please? I
suspect you will confirm my assumption that it has been quite some time since
she last ate anything of substance?"

Charlotte nodded sympathetically towards Susanna, who was trying very hard to
put up with all of this. "That would be correct, Sir. Why, I'll see to it
right away, Sir." And she started out of the room, suddenly turning back
around. "If I may, Sir, shall I also bring a tray up for you?"

"That would be a yes, Charlotte!" came Susanna's firm voice from the
cushions. She sat up and gave a Edward a look that dared him to overrule her,
but he knew better.

"Very good, my Lady," and smiling, she sailed down the stairs.

************************

Archie stood staring out of the window, watching as the rain flecked walkways
and streets glistened and twinkled in the night. He heard the warm,
enveloping sounds of childhood, a happy childhood, behind him, and turned to
take in the scene before him in the front room. Emma was playing a
delightful, soothing number on the harpsichord, as George sat beside her,
entranced in watching her fingers and the enchanting music that sounded as
she touched the keys. Julia and Horatio were ensconced on the couch, and
Julia was taking great pride in unveiling for him each piece of her infamous
'Treasure Box', which Archie could see were bits of sea glass, a handful of
shells, a peacock feather, and an amazingly large pine cone, which Archie
overheard Julia to say her father had found on the shores of Lake Champlain,
in New York, when he'd fought in the war with America. Fleetwood was building
a tower of blocks, just high enough for little Edward to gleefully knock down
with one slam of his arm, or toss of his bottle. *This was a childhood I
never had,* thought Archie. *I don't suppose Horatio had it either, being an
only child... I wonder if he senses what he missed as well, seeing this -
being a part of this, now.....How very precious it is....* And he thought of
Pownoll, and sent up another prayer that soon they would hear the news they
had been hoping for.

"Right! Does anyone fancy a fame of whist, then?" Archie whirled back
around. It was Julia! She stood there nonchalantly with a deck of cards in
her hand, giving them a casual shuffle.

"Whist? You play whist, Miss Julia?" Archie was nearly dumbstruck - cards
were 'supposed' to off limits for ladies of breeding, weren't they?

"I don't think I'm half bad, Mr. Kennedy, if I say so myself."
>
"Well, if you had the teacher I think you did, then I should venture to say
that you probably play extremely well!" chuckled Horatio, rising from the
couch to clear away the table.

"Yes, Papa was a good teacher, but actually Uncle Israel was even better -
he takes more chances, you see." She sat down at the table with Horatio. "But
good as I think I might be, truth be told, Emma is the one who really cleans
our clocks!"

"Emma?" Archie and Horatio sounded together: incredible!

Emma smiled politely, and rose from the music bench, carefully closing down
the cover so that George wouldn't lose a finger in the process.

"I do enjoy it, to be honest, gentlemen," she said, sitting down at the table
to join them. "Please, Mr. Kennedy, will you be our fourth?"

As the game began, Melinda moved around them to gather up George, Edward and
Fleetwood for bed, shushing their protests and having them properly bid their
good nights to the officers. Towards nine thirty, with the team of Pellew and
Kennedy well in first place, there was a knock on the door. The four of them
paused for a moment as Mrs. Broome went to answer it, wondering, hoping that
it might be a messenger from Exmouth with news of Pownoll. But then that
didn't seem likely. Indeed the likely messenger would be Mrs. Broome's own
son Henry, and he'd come right in the back door as he always did. Mrs. Broome
had already come to this conclusion, muttering to herself as to who it could
be at this hour and on a night like this. But it was clearly someone from the
Admiralty who entered the foyer - a midshipman, all of fourteen it seemed,
and bearing a barely dry dispatch in his hands.

"I come 'ere to deliver this to Cap'n Pellew," he mumbled hesitantly. "I'm
Timothy Ellis, Midshipman and attaché to 'is Lordship, Admiral Spencer." And
Mrs. Broome backed away as Archie moved towards the young man.

"Very good, Mr. Ellis. I am Lieutenant Kennedy of Indefatigable, I serve with
Captain Pellew. I will be pleased to get this right out to him."

"Wot,.... y' mean 'e's not 'ere, then?" Mr. Ellis went pale for a moment.

"No, he's not here...He was called away on a family emergency, you see, to
Devonshire." Kennedy paused, not wanting to say anymore than necessary.

"Sorry, sir, but my orders is to 'and this 'ere dispatch personally to the
Cap'n, and not no one else." He shook his head.

"Look, I promise you, I'll see that he gets it!"

"No, no, I'm sorry, Sir, but I does wot I'm told, I does." And young Mr.
Ellis stuffed the sealed papers back into this satchel. He bowed, stiffly, to
both Kennedy and Hornblower and dashed quickly out of sight.

As Mrs. Broome closed the door behind him, anxious to keep the rain and
harsh, chilling wind out of the house, Kennedy and Hornblower exchanged
glances and shrugged their shoulders.

"Somehow, Archie, I don't think we've seen the last of him," wagered
Hornblower.


END OF PART 3