Misery (Unfinished; part 1)
by Christina Wheeler

Rating: G (for the most part)
Disclaimer: I didn't create these characters (except for Maisri and the
innkeeper, they're both figments of my imagination) and I don't claim that I
created them.


***Note: this is assuming that Mariette survived. This is also assuming that
Horatio stayed on the Indefatigable***

Her name was really Maisri, but everyone pronounced it with the stress on
the first syllable instead of the second. The serving girl in question,
Maisri MacDuff, was sweeping the front steps of the Moon and Stars Inn when
a gentleman appeared around the bend in the dock. He was quite a handsome
devil, she thought, with tousled brown curls that hung in a pigtail down his
back, and lovely brown eyes to match. He looked confused, as if he'd never
been to Spithead before. He looked around frantically, as if he was trying
to find someone.

A light drizzle began, and still he kept looking. "Archie!" shouted the tall
man. "Where are you?"
"Over here," replied his friend. Archie Kennedy was trying to sell his
newest play to a man with a theater company willing to perform it. It wasn't
Drury Lane, but the Navy's pay only lasted him so long. The idiotic old fool
wouldn't pay more than a pound for a first-rate play! Kennedy was of the
opinion that the paper alone was worth at least ten pounds, and he was
trying to convince the old man of that.
Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower, an officer in the Royal Navy, threw up
his hands in frustration. The drizzle was turning into rain, and Horatio's
wife would kill him if he came home with another wet hat. His fair-haired
friend would have to fend for himself; after all, he didn't have to deal
with an angry Mariette. Looking around, he spotted the nearest shelter: the
Moon and Stars Inn. It wasn't all that inviting, but it would have to do.

Maisri was still sweeping the steps when Horatio came bounding up the
tiny mud path. He wasn't looking where he was going, either, and as a
result, he knocked Maisri into the flooded flower garden. Mud flew
everywhere, and Maisri was covered. "I'm sorry, miss, didn't mean to knock
you over like that," Horatio stammered.
She forgot all about his good looks, consumed by fury about her soiled
dress. "Well, ye did anyway, and now I've got me only dress full o' mud. The
mistress sold it to me for a week's wages, did ye know that? I've got to
spend another week's wages on a new one now," chattered Maisri angrily. She
picked herself up and shook the worst mud off her dress. Not bad, she
thought, for being covered in mud. The master himself noticed the commotion
and came stalking out.
"Here, what's all this, then?" he demanded. "Maisri, get yerself inside
an' up to th' mistress. I've 'alf a mind not t' let ye go get a new dress,
for I heard ye screamin' at th' gentleman, I did. Now inside wi' ye!" The
master of the house smacked Maisri's bottom loudly, sending her inside. "I'm
sorry, sir, truly I am. Pay no mind to th' insolent wench, that's the worst
of the lot right there. Misery MacDuff, we call 'er."
"No offense taken, good man, the girl did not do anything I would not
have expected my own wife to do. Now, she said 'twill take a week's wages
for a new dress? How will the girl eat?" Horatio asked.
"Th' wench eats wi' a local family, she does, because her ma and da
showed 'em some kindness a score o' years ago," blustered the innkeeper. "I
believe the family's name is 'Ornblower, that I do, an' they 'as a grown
son, an' the wife lives with 'em, she does."
"Hornblower, eh?" Horatio asked, thinking. His wife did indeed live at
his father's house... but his mother had died years ago! "I do believe I
shall seek out this family myself and see what can be done about money for
her. Good day, then!"

Horatio reached his father's house just as the rain stopped. He let himself
in quietly, so as not to disturb anyone who might be napping. Around him
were the sounds of dinner being prepared. The aroma of beef and biscuits
wafted through the air. Grinning, he found his way to the parlor. He would
have succeeded in catching his dear wife off guard if not for the strange
woman next to her. "Land sakes, Mariette, it's a strange man come to kill
us! Do take care, dear!" yelled the woman.
Mariette turned around. "Oh, no, this is just my 'usband, 'Oratio.
Welcome 'ome, ma cheri. 'Ave you met your new stepmother, Lady Francesca
Smythe?"
Well, he thought, that answers one question of his. "I did not know I
had a stepmother at all. Good day, my lady." Horatio made a show of bowing
and taking his soaked hat off with a flourish. Droplets of water sprayed
everywhere. "Would you lovely ladies do me the honor of letting me escort
you to the table? I believe our evening meal is nearly cooked." The two
ladies stood up and the trio made their way into the dining room.

Just as the cook announced that dinner would be served in five minutes,
there came a knock on the door. "I shall answer it," Horatio said hastily.
He got up and hurried to the door. Maisri had just lifted her hand to knock
again when the door opened.
"Oh, no," she whispered. It was the man from the inn, the one who'd
knocked her over. "Please, good sir, pardon me for my lapse in manners back
at th' old inn. As you see, it's cost me a week's wages just to make myself
clean an' dry again. I'll go if ye want." Maisri was all set to back away
when Horatio offered her his hand.
"I would be most offended if you did not join us for dinner, Miss- what was
your name again?" Horatio asked.
"MacDuff. Miss Maisri MacDuff," Maisri supplied, stepping into the fine
front hall. She smiled, a nice smile, only the smallest imperfections in her
somewhat yellowed teeth. "Thank ye, sir, for not yellin' at me. I'll join ye
for dinner. Are ye visiting the 'Ornblower family, then?"
"I live here when not at sea. Didn't the good doctor tell you about me,
Horatio Hornblower, naval hero (in some circles), his only son and the heir
to his fortune?" Horatio asked. He and Maisri entered the dining room.
"Mariette, dear, I do believe the girl hasn't heard your reason for living
here yet. She says she didn't know about me at all! Dear, I'd think you'd
brag a bit," Horatio called to his wife. To Maisri he said, "Mariette, an
orphan like you probably are, is my wife. The older lady is my stepmother
and the doctor, who will be down presently, is my father."
Wife! Maisri thought numbly. Ah well, the French lady was polite enough,
but she certainly didn't seem to fit this man. She wondered how those two
ever met and married. And where were their children? She was quite puzzled
about this but said nothing over dinner. Indeed, 'twould be a most improper
thing for her to ask about such personal matters.

Dinner was lovely, and filling, as usual. Maisri always left the Hornblower
house full and warm, a feeling that would last her until the next day. This
night, she fully expected the man to stay here with his wife and produce
offspring like a normal husband, but to her surprise, he got up and excused
himself to Mariette and his parents, saying that he had to be back on his
ship to see his best friend's new play. Mr. Hornblower understood
immediately; in his letters, Horatio often wrote about Archie Kennedy, the
aspiring playwright but for now, just a Lieutenant in His Majesty's Navy.
Maisri doubted this was the entire truth based on what she had seen of
Mariette so far. In the year that she had eaten supper with the Hornblowers,
she had grown to dislike the shrewd little Frenchwoman. She excused herself
as well, made a curtsey, and left. But she had not gotten more than twenty
feet from the house when a voice followed her into the darkness.
"May I escort you home?" asked Horatio. Maisri had no choice but to accept;
after all, it would be very impolite to reject the jewel of the Hornblower
family. But, a nagging voice in Maisri's mind said, it would be even more
impolite to let the man think you're making advances. Maisri ordered the
voice in her head to shut up, and waited for Horatio to catch up to her.

"Which play is your friend putting on tonight? Is it Shakespeare?" asked
Maisri.
"Actually, it's a Kennedy. He wrote it himself. He's always loved the
stage, ever since his childhood when he haunted Drury Lane. He's a younger
son, you know. He befriended the actors and actresses. This connection
helped us recently, when he recognized the 'Duchess of Wharfedale' as his
acquaintance Kitty Cobham," said Horatio. He smiled at the memory of
Archie's quote while ill... and he also remembered vividly Miss Cobham's
habit of going to bed with odd people. There was that Etienne deVergesse,
that Frenchman who also knew her secret; probably the Duke of Wharfedale,
and how many others? Ah, well, she was probably sitting pretty in a lovely
part in "Macbeth" or something like that.
Maisri could only nod politely. She was no expert at things like
conversation; she was an inn girl, for God's sake! "How did you meet your
wife?" she asked, for lack of things to say.
"I met her on a mission in a French town called Muzillac. You know, it's
odd... we had only been acquainted for about a week, and yet she consented
to wed me when the Indy reached Portsmouth," mused Horatio. "I left her for
dead on the bridge there; yet somehow the bullet had missed her heart and
lungs and had only stunned her. When the bridge blew up, she was thrown into
a bush and that's where she stayed. Mr. Bowles helped her find the Indy and
from then on she was always at my side. I've never really understood her
dedication. I myself feel rather smothered." He stopped, a twinkle in his
eye. "Can you keep a small secret, Miss MacDuff?" Maisri nodded. "There
isn't really a play being performed tonight. I had to tell Mariette that in
order to get her to leave me alone."
Maisri giggled, then turned bright red as she asked her next question.
"But, beggin' your pardon, don't ye want kiddies of your own?"

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