THE PELLEW LETTERS
by Naomi


Vol. I

The Right Honourable Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable
at Portsmouth

Dear Captain Pellew,

It is with great regret we return to you in this parcel your dressing gown, so lately entrusted to our care. Although immense effort was put forth to match this material as you requested, we had no success in locating such a fabric. Neither could we identify so similar a print as to satisfy your specifications for a new garment.

We at Cutler & Gross have always been delighted that so distinguished a gentlemen as yourself has made us your preferred choice of haberdasheries, and devoutly hope this singular failure on our part to serve your needs will in no way injure our future relationship. If there is any circumstance in which we may further serve you, we are as always,

Your most obedient servants,
Cutler & Gross, Gentlemen's Clothiers
Plymouth

 

To Sir Edward Pellew,
Captain, HMS Indefatigable
at Portsmouth

Dear Captain Pellew,

We are herewith returning the dressing gown you sent us per your letter of the -------th inst. Unhappily, we must report that we met with no success in our most ardent efforts to locate a like fabric and pattern. Perhaps, Sir, you are unaware that this particular material has not been manufactured for some several years, due to its depressingly sober appearance lending to it a general air of unfashionableness.

Naturally we are flattered to have the opportunity of obtaining the custom of so gallant and deservedly famous an officer as yourself, and we would desire to see your personage clothed in a manner more befitting your station. May we be allowed to recommend to you as a replacement for your own dressing gown, one of the several we have included in this shipment?

In anticipation of your satisfactory reply, we are

Your humble servants,
Stultz, Clothiers to Gentlemen of Distinction
London

 

Capt. Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

Sir,
While we appreciate the prompt return of the dressing gowns, we are deeply dismayed that you consider none of them meet your possibly-too-stringent requirements. Allow us to urge you to reconsider the matter. It is pointless to take such an imperious stance, sir, when your demands are other than realistic --- fabric not manufactured this last quarter of a century and a print which no gentlemen with any pretence to fashion would allow in his wardrobe!

Should you later decide to elevate your sartorial style, we would be pleased to assist you.

As ever,

Stultz, Clothiers to Gentlemen of Distinction
London

 

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Sir Edward Pellew,
Capt., HMS Indefatigable

My dear Captain,
Although we had agreed on your previous visit that you should return to our establishment a se'enight hence, your manner and tone during our conversation at that time have led me to believe that you may not be inclined to be entirely sympathetic toward the Herculean efforts we have put forth on your behalf in this matter of a dressing gown. Indeed, sir, you ask no less than the impossible. I fear that in this instance you are doomed to further frustration and disappointment do you persist in the matter.

Having now said so much, if you are in fact still of a mind to continue this headlong pursuit, we would then like to refer to your attention one Miss Beatrice Nettleton, a lady of excellent taste who rejoices in the proprietorship of a shop specialising in the design and creation of ladies' apparel. While it no doubt strikes you as odd in the extreme to receive such an unusual reference, we do not make this suggestion in any spirit save one of humble servitude. Miss Nettleton has achieved a certain degree of fame among London clothiers of both sexes for being able to almost magically meet and exceed even the most frivolous demands of her clients, meaning no disrespect to yourself. Wherefore, sir, I take the liberty of enclosing her direction. Should Miss Nettleton be able to assist you in any way, we feel certain she will accommodate you to the full bent of her profession.

In the pleasant prospect of being of greater assistance to you at some future date, we cordially remain,
Your most humble servants,
Weston & Co., Finer Clothiers
London

 

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Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable
from Edrington House
this ___th of _____, 1797

Dear Edward,

Thank you so much for the detailed descriptions of the Fubsyface-Bracegirdle wedding. I confess I was glad not to be obliged to attend due to poor health at the time, but just as much do I regret not having the agreeable experience of seeing you march the now-Mrs. Bracegirdle down the aisle and joyfully surrendering her person to your First Lieutenant. Upon further reflection though, I doubt I could have kept my countenance and would have laughed myself into stitches at the spectacle. My good friend, however did you manage it without gales of laughter? (Mr. Hornblower tells me the lady trod upon your toe, and the pain thereof assisted you in maintaining a sober aspect. Truth, sir?)

I am so fully recovered these days that my energy seems boundless, but having resigned my commission I find my afternoons are spent nowadays not in drill and parade but in tea parties and the like. My dear Mama desires to see a grandchild (or so she says, but I cannot think she will like the appellation Granny overmuch) and loses no opportunity to thrust all and sundry marriageable young misses before me. I believe she is become quite desperate in the matter for she very nearly invited Miss Groggins to dinner one evening and would not be dissuaded until I was forced to reveal that Miss Groggins had been Mr. Hornblower's most recent chere amie. Mama was aghast, as you may well imagine, not so much by the fact of it I believe as by the imagining of it. You know my mother, sir, she is seldom at a loss, but I promise you her chin dropped into her lap at the information. She naturally professed no small degree of shock, chided me that such talk was not meant to be passed over the tea tray, then begged for greater detail. I very much wish you had been there to explain it to her. You could have gone on to delight her with your commentary on naked statuary.

I know you cannot stand to be praised to your face, Edward, so I take the liberty of informing you by this letter, that your recent capture of the frigate L'Enfant Terrible has raised your estimation throughout Society no small degree. You would be much flattered and feted by the great hostesses were you present, which I know full well you are glad not to be. So I will not dwell further on how much admired your exploits are, but wish only for you to be aware that those of us who realise the cost of such deeds are deeply appreciative of the sacrifices made by you and your crew.

One small matter more, and I will then frank and post this: My friend, do you think me a man-milliner? A cit? A shopkeeper? that you should ask me about fabric swatches for a dressing gown?! Not even for you am I prepared to stalk the linen merchants for a bolt of the most revolting fabric I have ever seen. However, I did condescend to beg a favour on your behalf and for that you will owe my lady mother your escort on some highly public occasion upon your next being in London. Mama sent her maid 'round the shops looking to match the fabric but had no success. So much the better for you, Edward! Now perhaps you will see fit to get some decent civilian attire instead of going about your home dressed like a rag-and-bone merchant. And I say so in all kindness and with all due respect (and no more than a hint of laughter), and remain, as ever,

Your friend,

Alexander Edrington

 

 

 

Capt. Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

Dear Sir,
Here is the return of the remains of what appears to me to be some sort of misused garment forwarded to me by the Countess Edrington on your behalf. No doubt the name of my shop disguises the fact that I maintain an establishment for ladies.

Yours truly,
Miss Beatrice Nettleton
Nettleton's Fine Apparel for Ladies
London

 

 

Capt. Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

Sir,
If you happen to require a peignoir I can help you, but I do not design men's clothing. Furthermore, to say that your manservant has described that pitiful scrap of material as "sadly frayed" is for him to have understated the fact in broad comedic style. "Tattered rags" is a far more apt description. Did not any of those fine haberdashers whose help you sought see fit to inform you that this particular fabric is so hopelessly out of date that there can be little doubt you received this dressing gown only after your father ­ or perhaps your grandfather as well -- had got the best wear out of it?

As a naval officer, Sir, may I assume you have been further abroad than the mouth of the Thames? When and where have you ever seen such a dressing gown like to what this one used to be, that you should think it could, or even ought to be replicated? At its finest, your garment must have been --- to give you the word with no bark on it --- astonishingly ugly, resembling nothing so much as a faded rug in a muddy foyer of a third-rate brothel.

No, sir, I do not say you ask the impossible. Instead I say that you ask the ridiculous.

Sincerely,
Miss Beatrice Nettleton

**********************************************************************************
Capt. Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

Dear, DEAR Captain Pellew,
You must indeed be in desperate straits, so changed, so amenable -- amiable, even! -- is the tone of your most recent edict. You will note that I do not count against you your suggestive remark regarding peignoirs, though I will be so immodest as to say that should you ever be so blessed, sir, as to see me in one of my designs of silk and Valenciennes lace ---- no, never regard it, I will NOT be immodest, goad me though you may!

In seeking to recreate the hideous nature of that thing you are pleased to call a dressing gown, some bits of gossip regarding your saintly self (for I know that you consider that you have the patience of Job, THAT information fairly shrieks from between the ink-stained pages of your royal decrees) have fallen on my tender ears. Seemingly you have made yourself mightily unpopular with the London shopkeepers, sir. I cannot take it in, so charming and persuasive have been your letters to me! I dare swear though that henceforth you shall be coming to me for all your apparel! And I shall most happily accommodate you, making all your uniforms only and always just that slightest bit too tight so that they pinch at you in much the same fashion you do me.

Ah! You request (and require!) information on what progress has been achieved toward this much-desired dressing gown. The progress is such, Captain, that do you not weigh anchor for another year you might still set sail without a finished garment. Are you certain you wish me to continue to pursue the matter? I have a really lovely ivory crepe on hand that would go well on you if you happen to have dark colouring.

Awaiting your next acerbic response on pins and needles (an occupational hazard),
I remain Yr. obedient slave,

Miss Beatrice Nettleton

 

Capt. Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

Dear Captain,

It is all very well to continue to put me to the blush with talk of pinches and my ears and the like, but such shamelessly flirtatious messages will get you no nearer the mark of a new dressing gown than if you were to continue hurling abuse at my head. Content yourself, sir, in the knowledge that what can be done is being done. Do you not have a ship to command, a war to fight, or some trifling diversion that might sway your attention so much that more than a day should go by without this infernal peering over my shoulder via the post?

Nettled indeed!
Beatrice N.

 

Capt. Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

Dear Capt. Pellew,
So you have sailed at last, and from all reports, have already victoriously engaged the enemy. Allow me this brief respite from our sparring in order that I might extend to you my personal gratitude for your extraordinary service to all of Britain. I am mindful of the courage and sacrifice your office must require of you, and desire to express my admiration of your willingness to place your person and your ship's company in harm's way so that England may be the blessed beneficiary.

So much for the niceties. We may now revert to our former state of arms!

 

Miss Beatrice Nettleton

Post Scriptum - I hope you will be pleased with this nightmare of a dressing gown I have sent you. You certainly ought to be beside yourself with delight. I consider myself to be no less than a miracle worker, if miracles come in so ugly a fashion. I am sending you the bill separately, so that you will know it for what it is prior to reading it, and may take the warning to treat yourself heavily to the liquor rations aboard your ship. I am confident you will need extra fortification when you see it.

**********************************************************************************
Capt. Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

Dear Sir Edward,

My word! What a charming letter! And in your own hand, too! I trust it did not take overlong to copy the original, no doubt written by some poor lieutenant or other with the gift of diplomacy, who must have laboured overnight to scrawl such graceful expressions of gratitude as might meet with your requirements. I wish my own turn of phrase were so delicate but since it cannot be, I will say only that I will be very interested to make your acquaintance when next you are in London, and thank you for the kind invitation. (Did you grit your teeth very hard when you wrote that?)

As ever,
Miss Beatrice Nettleton

Vol. II

 

Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable
at Falmouth

Dear Capt. Pellew,

You must not think me unappreciative, Sir, of your great generosity in allowing me so much time ashore to spend at liberty with my wife, but I am greatly concerned that I am not near enough to the Indefatigable to be quickly aboard do you receive orders to sail immediately, and I would not wish to be lax in my duty. These past two days in the company of Mrs. Bracegirdle have been very much what one might expect, and although she swears she would like nothing better than to have me at home always, I trust, Captain Pellew, that you will maintain my confidence when I tell you, Sir, that I had rather attempt to beat back a hundred of the speediest corvettes the Frogs could sail at us than spend another day in this form of idleness. I swear I have gained a stone for each day I have been here, so much food is constantly placed before me. I beg you, Captain, to recall me before I do myself an injury.

In most anxious earnest,
Basil Bracegirdle
First Lt., HMS Indefatigable

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

The Right Honourable Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable
Falmouth

Dearest, dearest Edward!

It is positively wicked of me to place further demands on your generosity, when you have already bestowed the bounty of my husband's presence so freely, but Dear, Sweet Edward, say you will make the opportunity to join Basil and me for a light supper this Thursday evening? I know Basil will be glad of your company, and it can be no secret that I have always had something of a tendre for you (though to say so to Basil is to invite his jealous wrath, Dear Man that he is!). But I promise most earnestly not to flirt with you, no, not even if you should beg me! for I very much wish to introduce to you my Cousin Wilhelmina, and I do not desire that she should think you any but the most circumspect of gentlemen. I am certain you will be charmed by Willy, for she is very much like me in all ways that matter. Please do send notice by this boy who carries my message to you. And do not pay him, for he has very nearly bled me dry, the thieving wretch. Darling Ned, say you will come!

Your own,
Henrietta Bracegirdle

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

Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

Dear Capt. Pellew,

Thank you! Thank you! I shall board the Indy by tomorrow evening at the latest, sooner if I can find wings.

Bless you, Sir!

Your happily obedient First Lt.,
Basil Bracegirdle

 

 

Vol. III

Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable
from Edrington House, London

Dear Edward,

Your last letter puts me forcibly in mind of Mr. Hornblower's writing style, so brief and spartan as it was. I understand your duties do not always allow you to be as voluble as I might like to see, but try not to become enrolled in Horatio's Writing School for Inarticulate Commissioned Officers. I would miss the many anecdotes you relate in so caustic a fashion. I still chuckle over the paper war between your crew and that of Capt. Hillyar. Had I copies of all those notes I would have them bound up into a fine leather volume and present it to you next Christmas.

I thank you for your inquiries after my lady Mother. She enjoys excellent health and an indomitable spirit, but of late she is most displeased with me and talks much of whether I might be exchanged (as, for example, a prisoner of war might be) for someone more amenable to her wishes. She cites your new lieutenant, Mr. Kennedy, as a Prime Example of Gentlemanly Deference (and a sincere congratulations to that young man on his promotion), when what she means is that I am not willing to marry simply in order to provide her with grandchildren. No doubt it seems an inconsequential matter to you who have so long escaped the parson's mousetrap (and I have more to write on that topic later), but the domestic exchanges between Mama and me become more daily more heated on her part and icy on mine. Gad, if you could but see the creatures she throws at my head! A veritable parade of peahens, invariably with some flaw or other that has kept them on the shelf past their prime (if ever they had one): This one squints, that one is cross-eyed, yon is one with freckles (I ought to have given her my parasol collection to keep the sun from her or else to better hide her countenance, I know not which), one is tongue-tied, another ill-kempt, and let me not think on the bluestockings she would bestow on me. And not a one with so fine a pair of ankles as that impudent shopgirl, Miss Nettleton, who I encountered when she came to wait upon my mother and aunt. The long and short of the whole matter of my hopefully-far-distant nuptials is that I am fleeing the scene of battle like any wise officer who realises he is about to lose his whole army. Yes, I can hear your taunts of cowardice now, but I refuse to follow your example and take into my home for personal protection an animal so destructive as a bull mastiff solely in order to maintain this blessed state of bachelorhood. Tomorrow I leave for Edrington Park for what may be an extended stay. At any rate it is time and past that I saw to my lands.

You have asked for the society news and I shall grant that request, commenting only that I find it singular that a man who so abhors partaking of our entertainments is yet so interested in what befalls us. Y'know, Edward, I am most curious what it is can explain your popularity with the females of the Fubsyface family? I encountered, most unwillingly I assure you, Mrs. Bracegirdle at Lady Jersey's ball last evening, and she saw fit to introduce me to her cousin, Miss Wilhelmina Fubsyface. They are as alike as the proverbial two peas in a pod, with much the same shape but nowhere near so diminutive. What must Mrs. B. say to me, with gestures so vulgar that it is kindness to call them a wink and a nudge, but that I must not set my cap for Miss Willy as she is meant for you. I jest not, though I confess that I choked on that foul orgeat which is all Lady J would provide (why have a ball if not to serve champagne? Can it BE a ball if there is no champagne? A philosophical question that I believe may occupy my thoughts for some little while.) and laughed all the way to the card room. You will do well to continue to avoid London, I think. Hell can hold no greater prospect of horror than to be leg-shackled to a woman from that family. You'd have laughed yourself seasick if you could only have seen their gowns, done up in colours not heretofore known to the fashionable world, and all decorated with real grapes and cherries, and their reticules stuffed with sweetmeats. I've made myself laugh only thinking on it. Some sympathetic soul should impress them and put them on half-rations for an extended period of time. Yes, I know exactly what you are saying to yourself -- you are thinking there's no ship of the line in the fleet that can handle the draught. I fear that when we examine our consciences, Edward, at the heart of it we will find we are not true gentlemen but only act the part.

I see I meant to tell you that I met, though only briefly, your Miss Nettleton, whom you commended for her diligence and workmanship. I related the painful saga of the your hideous dressing gown to Mama, and being much entertained, she went in search of Miss N's establishment, and as a consequence, Mama now joins you in a paean of praise to that lady. As for Miss N., she is a likely looking miss, only perhaps a trifle common-looking, but she does well by herself in dress and grooming. And she does have -- I wax poetic -- the most divine ankles. I could scarce raise my eyes above her hemline once I had glimpsed the little darlings, but the lady is every bit as saucy as you wrote, and informed me roundly in the most impertinent manner that her ears were attached to her head and would I mind overmuch directing my conversation thence. A leveller, I assure you. She is very tiny, but it is a trait of shrews I believe. I had thought Mama would give her a sharp setdown for her impudence, but she only laughed and told me to take myself off to White's. I felt the merest schoolboy, I promise you! Still, the lady's ankles are perfection and to look upon them is worth any number of sharp words! (And all you have to look at is that blindingly awful dressing gown!)

God keep you and your crew safe. Until we meet again, I remain
Ever your friend,
Alexander Edrington

 

Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

Dear Capt. Pellew,

I wonder, Sir, if I might impose upon you to give me the name of whatever villain lately referred to you my shop? I intend to do the creature a serious injury, for the harm done to my business through knowing you is inestimable! My complaints, Captain, are numerous and lengthy, but here is the gist of them: Through a recommendation from you, I have captured the business of Lady Edrington and her circle of friends, which in and of itself is not unpleasant but instead is most rewarding in a monetary fashion. But through that good lady, not only was I the recipient of an astounding offer of a slip on the shoulder from her toffee-nosed son who for his pains got soundly boxed on the ears! I may have been a bit overzealous in delivering the blows and for that you shall bear the blame also, as I had just received your most recent paper bullet and I swear it struck me between the eyes. I can see you why are accounted such a fine marksman but I cannot reconcile the picture of you as the naval hero whom all London adores with the image I have of the man who writes me such acid missives that it is a wonder the paper does not dissolve ere it reaches my hand. But in truth, I can handle gentlemen such as he who are in fact less gentlemanly than they would have ladies believe.

No, the greatest grief of my life is that by way of the Edringtons has come business I most earnestly do not wish. One Mrs. Bracegirdle and her cousin, Miss Wilhelmina Fubsyface, to speak plainly. If you could but know these women, you would immediately comprehend the fix I am in. I will not begin to describe the physical damage they have done to my inventory, there is no ocean of ink can do it justice. It is the intangible wound, only just beginning to bleed, that will prove fatal to my little shop. A woman would understand my position at once, but I shall explain for your benefit: If these women continue to patronise my shop, they will ruin it. They have no taste, no discretion, and let us not mention the yardage their figures consume. If it becomes known that I provide their gowns, I will become anathema to the ladies of the ton. And yet, how to prevent these creatures from coming to me, without providing such offence that still results in poormouthing me, for no matter what a lady of taste may think of Mrs. Bracegirdle and her kin, that same lady will yet take heed of any word that I have been inhospitable to a client (I except yourself, Sir, with you I may be as blunt as I like since you are a bachelor at sea and can hold no sway over the London fashionables).

I am in a quandary over the matter, and while I am certain neither sympathy nor support will be forthcoming from your corner of the world, I have made a recent business acquaintance whose creativity and innovation in the face of tedium is unsurpassed. His name is Mr. Oswald Isinglass, and 'twas from him I obtained that ghastly fabric you prize so greatly. So you see I do not exaggerate his powers of resource in the least!

There, I have expelled my anger sufficiently that I may now politely inquire after your health. I devoutly hope you are well because if we ever do have occasion to meet I do not want it said that I attacked an invalid.

As ever,
Miss Beatrice Nettleton

 

The Right Honourable Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

My Angel Edward!

You are the very best man I know, save for my Dearest Basil! Your letter to me was so timely, you have prevented me from making a most grievous error. I was about to give over the whole business of dressing my person to that Nettleton creature, as was Wilhelmiina (who sends greetings and longs to see you). What a dreadful mistake you have steered me from! That any lady who calls herself such could use the most appalling language to You, the Finest Flower of Heroism that ever blossomed in England, has quite dissuaded me from patronising her shop. You are right when you say I must not follow the lead of Ladies Edrington, Jersey, and Cowper, but rather should continue setting my own style, you are so very right. I am a natural leader, I do believe.

Sweet Edward, you know always just how I should best be guided. I do wish you (and Basil, of course) would return home soon. Perhaps I shall write the Admiralty on your behalf.

Your adoring,
Henrietta Fubsyface

 

Vol. IV

Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

Dear Edward,

Allow me to express my sympathy on the loss of those members of your crew during your recent engagement against La Dame du Mer. I am glad to know that those several officers whom I met during my brief time aboard your ship are all well, save for Mr. Bowles, and as you tell me he is making a swift recovery please convey to him my regards. I suppose you anchored at Gibraltar for refit? Did you perchance have occasion to dine at Government House? If you did, do you not find it worth remarking on that the diplomats who begin and maintain these wars live so well during the fighting whilst the men we put to combat, both on land and at sea, are forced to endure not only the prospect of death and dismemberment, but the rigors of clime, fatigue, homesickness, filthy living conditions, and hunger. And are rewarded in what manner? I know you are not one for rhetoric, so I do not answer the question save to say that Castlereagh and myself, amongst others, are attempting to conjure up a plan to assist those men who someday manage to return to a life in England. My mother has agreed to bestir what interest she might on behalf of those families of our military men who suffer terrible hardships during the absence of their husband, father, brother, or son.

So much for my philanthropic endeavours. I believe you have the acquaintance, Edward, of one Captain Rodney Foster, or at least I have heard him mentioned by Mr. Hornblower from time to time. I regret to inform you that Capt. Foster was seriously wounded yestermorn in a duel with Godfrey Marsdale, one of old Talburton's by-blows, over some question on the rules of chutes and ladders. Do not ask me why two gentlemen of their age should even be discussing a children's game, or why the conversation should become so heated that it led to a quarrel that could only be settled by blood. Marsdale has pretty much made himself a figure of fun because of it, but as for Capt. Foster there is some talk of a possible court martial since he was under orders to sail this week.

Regarding Miss Nettleton, I do deny having offered her a slip on the shoulder when in fact I was considerably more generous: I offered her nothing less than carte blanche. She had quite captivated my fancy, but I can promise you she brought me to my senses quickly enough. The lady has the most punishing right imaginable for such a tiny creature. She is being wooed even now by an unsavoury jobber, possibly Cockney, who is some years her senior but swears he has all his own teeth, one Oswald Isinglass. I wish him every luck with her, loose screw though he is.

You may tell Mr. Bracegirdle how disappointed I am in his play at backgammon and until his luck changes or his skill improves, I will in future be placing my money on Mr. Bowles.

Ah, yes, before I bring this to a period, let me be the first to inform you that a portrait of you was commissioned by none other than Miss Willy. Now I was so curious as to how she intended to have a portrait made without a sitter that I begged Mama to make inquiries. (Mama is much more tractable now that I am out of her sight.) It turns out they are relying wholly upon Mrs. Bracegirdle's fond memories of you. Lord, Edward, I hope she is not remembering the picture you made the night she broke into your house! But I look forward to viewing the completed masterpiece and penning my thoughts on it to you. I believe, I really do, that I have never in my life laughed so much as I have since you and I first met. I was expressly amused when a certain gentleman wiith whom we are both acquainted, a retired admiral whose land marches with mine, told me a goodly tale over dinner last week about a certain young boy he accepted into his ship some years ago. A most agile boy, given to standing on his head

On the yardarms

Such frivolity! I doubt such a boy could ever be made into a worthwhile officer. But you are a most sober judge of character, Edward, what say you?

I remain (amused),
Your friend,
Alexander Edrington

 

Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

 

Dear Captain,

Do you believe in magic? Good fairies? Guardian angels? No, nor do I. But I have no explanation for why the Bracegirdle Problem (for so I have dubbed it) that I so bemoaned in my last letter to you has suddenly vanished like rum on a frigate. I would almost think I had a benefactor looking out for my interests, if I were of a whimsical nature. And since writing to you of my last dilemma coincided shortly thereafter with its banishment, I propose to try my luck again.

Though we have not met, Captain, I believe we are well-enough acquainted with one another that I know full well how considerably what I am about to write will amuse you. You will have to restrain your mirth at how thoroughly disconcerted I am or risk apoplexy, I think. My problem is Mr. Isinglass, whom I believe I mentioned to you on another occasion. He has deigned to take a personal interest in me, you see. Oh, you think I should be flattered , no doubt, that having so many years in my dish I must be an antidote who should fall on her knees in gratitude to any man who shows an interest?

I think not.

And while I almost certainly may be past the prime years for marriage, yet is Mr. Isinglass almost a quarter of a century my senior. I am stunned, not only by the most repugnant, greasily insinuating note I could have received from him, but by the ghastly thought that even if I could bring myself to express a mutual interest (and I cannot, no matter how my business acumen shrieks at me that a communion of businesses such as his and mine would benefit us both in the extreme) he might very well already have children near or exceeding my own age! Stop laughing, do! It's an unbearable notion. Something along the lines of what Mrs. Bracegirdle's husband must feel when he joins her at dinner. Oh, dear, that was most unkind of me. I hope you are not acquainted with the lady. I would not for the world offend you on her behalf. You have more than once accused me of lacking Christian charity. I begin to think you must be right. (Now you see how distraught I am, to have dragged such an admission from me!)

I do not ask your advice, Captain, I am almost sure I know what it would be and that it would run counter to my intentions. But I do thank you most humbly for acting as a sounding board to my pen-and-ink peregrinations. There are occasionalls when you give me most sensible advice and which I hope I am neither too proud nor too volatile in temperament to heed.

I have recently read of your battle against La Dame du Mer, and was pleased that although the Indefatigable suffered no small amount of damage, she and you both survived. It has occurred to me, Captain, that when next you engage the enemy at close quarters you might save yourself considerable ammunition if you but fire instead one of your explosive letters at your opponent.

Yours, most sincerely,
Miss Beatrice Nettleton

 

Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

 

Dear Edward,

I thank you for the privilege of using your Christian name, for it means we are now upon such familiar terms that I need not flinch at naming you scoundrel, Sir! Do not trouble to hide your teeth when you have already bit me! Marry Mr. Isinglass?! What, in order to provide you with a constant source of dressing gowns?! I know you are joking me, but your timing lacks wit on this occasion when I have only just received another of that man's oily petitions in the same post as your own letter.

Do you see how quickly I rise in station, from receiving a temptingly illicit offer from an Earl (for I will own Edrington to be not entirely without charm, albeit in a rather stuffy, hidebound way) to the revoltingly legitimate intentions (or I believe them to be legitimate at any rate) of a Cockney jobber. Yes, you are so very right (aren't you always? Do your crew admire or loathe you for that irritating trait?); undoubtedly I shall be giving myself airs next, and queening it over all the modistes who have not the good fortune to have an ageing lower-class roué (a red-headed one that affects burnt-orange waistcoats) panting at their heels. No doubt you are right again when you declare that I shall be an object of envy. I am having only the most trifling difficulty imagining the scene. However, I have no trouble at all in dubbing you the greatest rogue in all creation, sir! I'd lay odds you have the bad habit of tormenting your officers in much the same fashion, and that they, too, fail to comprehend what you obviously believe to be a lively sense of humour. Never, NEVER fear drowning, Edward, for clearly you were born to be hanged!

In fact, I could hang you myself, with great ease born of the strength that stems from anger and embarrassment. Did I not ever before number slyness as one of your many faults? Then I charge you with that sin now. All this time you have had the acquaintance of Mrs. Bracegirdle! Her husband, you NOW deign to casually let drop, is your first lieutenant. After all I have said against her, the unladylike, the unChristian words I have written -- you could have made this known much sooner and spared this high degree of mortification I undergo, but then you must have gone shy of one or two laughs at my expense, is not that the case? I can think of only one way to be revenged upon you and that is to immediately put that putrid remainder of a bolt of fustian to the match. Enjoy that dressing gown, Edward, it is truly the last of its kind. Ought I to go to church and light a candle for you?

Exhausted from wrath, I am yet
Beatrice Nettleton

Post Scriptum: If you are so well-known to Mrs. B, can you be entirely unaware of the stories being circulated about her? I have convicted the woman only of a lack of taste (though indeed, her taste is universal -- she eats everything) but these vicious rumours charge her with everything from stealing food to house-breaking. Pray enlighten me as to the truth of the matter.

 

The Right Honourable Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable
at Ushant

 

Dear Sir,

I beg leave to inform you I have issued orders that a certain portrait purported to be a likeness of your Person, rendered in great natural detail by the artist Calvin O'Houlihy and on display in his gallery, is to be appropriated and destroyed at the earliest opportunity. You are hereby requested and required to present yourself in person forthwith to provide the Admiralty with an explanation of how an officer in His Majesty's Navy was persuaded to lend his image to so obscene a work. Additionally, your pay will be charged 50 guineas for the purchase and destruction of said painting.

In expectation of your imminent arrival,

Admiral Sir A. E. Hood
Baron Bridport

 

 

Vol. V

PUBLISHER'S NOTE:
We gratefully acknowledge the invaluable cooperation of the Isinglass Foundation for the loan of and permission to re-print the famous Isinglass letter in this volume. The original copy of this letter does exist in Captain Pellew's private papers, but over time had deteriorated beyond legibility. This volume would have been woefully incomplete without the addition of this letter.

**************************
Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

 

Dearest, Sweetest Edward,

The most shocking thing has happened! The Admiralty has confiscated the painting of you that Cousin Wilhelmina and I had commissioned! I am distraught beyond words, for we had planned it to be a surprise for you when next you are in London. Oh, Edward, dear, dear Edward, it was such a beautiful work, a perfect representation of your Noble Self As Nature Made You, and now you will never see it. I am sunk in despair, and hardly know where to turn. I have written a scorching letter to Admiral Hood already, of that you may be sure, charging him with how he has ruined our surprise for you, and demanding immediate recompense. But the painting itself has already been destroyed. I am sick to my very soul and have not been able to even eat, no, not a bite since tea-time and it is almost seven of the clock now. I may very well waste away from the shock of it all. I have not yet had the heart to write my Beloved Basil, as I could not tolerate the notion that he should be burdened with conveying such abhorrent tidings to you. I am so, so sorry, My Dear One.

With tears flowing down my face even now, I remain
Your own,
Henrietta Fubsyface

 

Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable
from Edrington House, London

Dear Edward,

Well, my friend, this is a quite a dust-up you have caused at Admiralty House. A scandalous painting of a National Hero, displayed for all London to see -- you poor fellow, you will have a great deal of explaining to do I think. Captain Waters tells me that Hood has really got the wind up this time. I make no doubt you are in for stormy seas, though I plan to see Hood myself, if it is possible, and render to him the facts of the situation as I know them to be. But knowing the old gentleman's reputation I think you ought still to be prepared to have your ears trimmed. He clipped Capt. Foster's wings pretty close over the chutes and ladders incident, I can tell you that. My man, Twilling, has informed me that Foster has not been seen at White's ever since, for fear of being black-balled. I confess myself more than a little astonished that he appears for once to be adhering to the maxim of discretion being the better part of valour.

It is glorious to be back in Society again, away from the pastoral delights of swine, bovines, fertilization processes, and a thousand other happy distractions that were boring me to flinders. I was dangerously close to becoming accustomed to the smell of manure and I hied me back to the City the instant I realised it. But to continue on the topic of your -- er ­ portrait, I sadly lament that I arrived in town too late to see it for myself before Hood sent that curious work to perdition in a blaze of glory, for word has it that your likeness was consumed by a furnace, though not before enough persons of sufficiently good eyesight had made a thorough examination of it. Even Cripplegate saw it, and funnily enough, thought it a fine piece of art. Even wanted to buy it himself (probably thought he could make use of it in a Black Mass or some such vile nonsense). Suffice it to say, Edward, that Mrs. Bracegirdle's memory of your manly physique would appear to be reasonably accurate if a trifle, um, inflated -- though of course only you and she will know whether you do in fact have a heart-shaped mole located -- oh, anywhere -- on your person. You may count yourself fortunate that Hood has taken the action he has, no matter what kind of reprimand follows, though one could wish he had been a little more tactful and less public in the process.

If on this matter, or any other, there is any service which I may perform on your behalf you know that you have only to give the word. I owe you no less than my life and the lives of the soldiers of the 95th Foot. I count myself further to be even more fortunate that you name me

Your friend,
Alexander Edrington

Post Scriptum: Oh, Lord, Edward, the fat's in the fire now! Twilling tells me there is the tiniest rumbling that the untrustworthy jackanapes who was ordered to destroy the painting did not do so, but instead privately sold the picture to God Knows Whom. Twilling overheard this dangerous rumour only in the most roundabout fashion, so I can say unequivocally that the word has not yet spread among the Ton -- but heaven help us if it reaches the ears of either Admiral Hood or Mrs. Bracegirdle. I am off this instant to trace the source of this news. You may trust to me to handle the situation so discreetly as you would wish.

 

Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

 

Dear Edward,

Pray, you must forgive me the overly harsh words of my last letter to you. I was dreadfully out of sorts on that day and had no business taking quill in hand and beating you with that implement as though it were a cat o'nine tails. It was too bad of me, and I am most heartily sorry. Not for the wide world would I offend you. It must be obvious to you that today I am a happier woman, my mind being more at ease and my disposition more relaxed.

By the most felicitous ordering of circumstances, Edward, my gentle correspondent, I have come into possession of a work of art. Yes, a wonderful painting! A full-length portrait, well-executed in every detail. Every detail. Every slightest detail. So heart-stoppingly real is the gentleman of the portrait one could almost see him breathe; to observe him stepping forward as natural as the day God made him; to see him continue gracefully lifting his right arm into a dressing gown. Well, I confess, the dressing gown is a little off-putting and does not do the gentleman any justice whatsoever. In fact, I would venture so far as to say that dressing gown is every bit as hideous as your own. Yes, and something very similar in appearance as well. Oh, you would know more as to the gentleman's likeness? Let me pause but a few moments here that I may give more attention to his face, for I do not believe I have dared lift my eyes yet to that exalted level. Yes, all right, he has brown hair and brown eyes and is very tan, as though he spends a good deal of time out-of-doors, a mobile countenance, and the wickedest twinkle in his eye. He stands on what appears to be the deck of a ship, one much like to yours I fancy. He is a very brazen fellow, there can be no doubt of that, to be standing so revealed in the light of day. I think he will be enormously pleased to be displayed in the dressing rooms of my shop. Or maybe in the shop window, where he can catch the eye and fancy of every passerby. What say you? No, I have not decided yet where his permanent home shall be. I must give it more thought.

Are you wondering who this amazing creature can be? Yes, I wondered as well at first, but there is a nameplate attached to the frame. Unfortunately, every time I get so close to the heat of that masculine figure that I might read the plate, my spectacles become fogged. What can be causing that, do you think? Hm? The initials are large enough that I have deciphered them as an E and a P. Now, whatever might the rest of the name be? Elliot? Everard? I regret I have not more time to spend recounting the finer aspects of my acquisition, but I must give more thought to its public display. And the name, Edward, the name, yes, I must have someone read that to me.....

(I'll wager you can hear me purring, can't you?)

Your ever-so-humble,
Beatrice Nettleton

 

Captain Sir Edward Pellew,
HMS Insufferable

From O. Isinglass, Jobber; Groping Lane, off Quarternasty-street

Sir:

I am in receipt of yours of the 20th, inst.

May I say at Once that I am both Honoured and Surprised that One so August and Brave as Your Self should Seek my Assistance upon Anything at All ­ Let Alone a Matter of such Delicacy and Daring!

I must Trust that my Reputation has Gone Before me in Humble Resemblance to Your Own, Which Precedes you in such Clouds of Glory (Matching those you Trail) that I am Half-afraid even to Reply to you, Sir.

I consider your proposition a Happy Occasion to return to that Lady of Whom You Wrote a little of Her Own Sauce. I confess she has Laid Injury to me, Sir, that Warrants this Action you request.

You may most Certainly Rely on my Ingenuity and Discretion, Captain. You might think it Strange that a Tall, Wide, Slightly Rheumatic Fellow such as my Self, with a Well-known Shock of Burnt-Carrot Hair to Boot, may Act in Secrecy and Stealth when required - but Such is the Case!

Kindly do not Bruit it about, but some of my most Successful Disguises have been of the Female Persuasion! You would not Credit, how Swift are Most, to Jibe Cruelly at an Ugly Woman, and let her Pass without Questioning her Identity Otherwise. It is not Easy, of Course, to obtain the Necessary Costumes in my Size; but there are Establishments in Soho where such Apparel may be Had by Gentlemen of Peculiar Persuasions; and I have Availed my Self, when Supplying them from time to time with Certain Types of Curiosa Best Left to your Imagination as a Well-Travelled Man, of the Opportunity to trade in the Matter of Gowns, Shoes and Wigs.

I might add, my Interest in such is Purely Professional.

My latest Costume, which I Propose to Don upon your Errand, is a Shocking Violet-Fuchsia Crepe with Glazed Bombazine Inserts in the Bodice, which is so Ghastly a Sight as to Cause Footmen to Recoil. I like to Combine it with a fetchingly Spotted Veil in Puce Organdie and a winsomely Odious Bonnet decorated with Small Deceased Birds Skewered in Improbable Postures, for an Overall Effect of the most Tasteless yet Shrinking Modesty Possible. I had the Inspiration for it Recently: My former Fiancee Miss Nettleton, the very Creature of Ice who now possesses this Object you require, was most Put Out, to see a Lady Similarly Dressed Entering her Establishment with Every Appearance of Intending to Patronize it. It was a Mrs. Bracegirdle,
I believe I heard Bea - that is, Miss Nettleton - sigh: I recall how well Fitted were the Name and the Costume, sharing as they did a certain Hideous Coyness quite Remarkable in one under Forty.

The Matter you Request has but One Drawback, sir, and I shall be Perfectly Candid with you here - you are Asking me, sir, to Obtain the Object by any Means Necessary. That I may take to mean, you want me to Break the Law, for I know of No Other Means of squeezing the prize from the Tightfisted Clutch of that Harpy.

From your Description of it, Captain Pellew, it would seem to be a Startling and Singular Thing, not Readily Confused with any other Such Piece of the Dauber's Inspiration. I hope I shall recognize it, when the Moment Comes.

I shall have to be more Subtle than Ever in Getting my Hands upon the Item you Require, without being either Arrested or Assaulted - or both! You should know, it is Customary, Sir, for one's Employer to Undertake Posting Bail if One should be thus Apprehended.

However: since it is your Reputation that we are Concerned to Protect, here, Sir, let me suggest instead that you Place a Sum of Money on Account Anonymously in Case I need to Draw upon it. My Fee will be but Fifty Guineas; Normally I had Charged Triple this sum, but in this Case I have a Interest of My Own. If I succeed, then I shall keep the Funds; if I Fail, they shall go towards any Legal Expenses I may Incur on Your Behalf. I will naturally Protect your interests by keeping your Name out of it at all costs. Would that the Same had been Managed on behalf of your Person! (I have a similar Birthmark upon my? but I Digress!) Let us just Say, I am given to Understand that the Picture could be considered Shocking to the Ladies, unless of course it were to be classified as Fine Art - but from your Account of it, I doubt That to be the Case.

You had mentioned if I required further assistance that I should Discreetly seek Lord Edrington's help, so as not to be seen in your Own Company; might I prevail upon him, do you think, for a little Gunpowder? Since he is an Army man, it should not be too hard for him to Come by! And I will, once The Object is Acquired, take it on the Instant to this Lord.

I am Gratified, that my Former Service to you in Procuring the Fustian for Copying your Favourite Dressing-Gown is now thus Rewarded. Your Confidence in me, sir, shall not be Misplaced!

Your Humble servant,
Oswald Isinglass

 

Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable
from Edrington House, London

 

Dear Edward,

God help me, Edward! You have made me an accomplice in crime to one of the most mesmerizing individuals I have ever encountered, and I have long thought myself to be a much-travelled man of vast experience! How came you to have an acquaintance with this Isinglass fellow? He is...gad, I am at a loss for words though I feel there is so much to say of him there will be no paper left in London before I have finished....he is an appallingly delightful soul. O God, and so much in love and hate both at the same time with the Shrew Nettleton it is painful to behold! That tiny creature has that great, good-natured, and extremely obliging chap tied in the tightest of all possible knots. It were a kindness and mercy to either kill him now or serve the little morsel up to him for breakfast some fine morning. You do know that had she not entirely flattened his spirits in her blunt fashion he would never have done this deed for you? I think it goes against everything in his nature to wrong the lady by stealing from her that which a fellow jobber so laboriously had acquired for her, but her repeated rejections of his tenderest affections have wounded his pride as well as his heart, for it seems there are some several ladies of varied attractions who are aware of his hurt, though Mr. Isinglass professes they console him almost as much as their awareness of his abjection stings him.

Leaving aside all thought of the fair Beatrice and her would-be Benedick, you may rest easy that your jobber does a most excellent piece of house-breaking, for the painting is now safe in my possession. The frame I left for Mr. Isinglass to dispose of as he saw fit, but the nameplate I removed and that is in my safe. The painting has been rolled up and stored in the safest of all places. No, I shan't say where, for God knows if this letter should go astray we shall both be deep enough in the suds without the painting actually surfacing once more to the light of day. Trust me to keep it safe until I can place it in your own hands.

By the bye, Edward, that is a very fine picture of you. Very fine. I never thought I would say so, but Mrs. Bracegirdle has a very keen eye for portraiture, exceeded only by her astonishing memory. You should display the painting to your ship's company once and only once, but then threaten to do so every week after finishing the reading of the Articles of War. I am of the opinion they would be highly motivated to avoid future transgressions. Or else they would stay drunk for the entire time of their service in your ship! Perhaps you could hang it in the bilge to deter the rats. Or possibly you should send this masterpiece to Admiral Hood with your compliments! All right, I have done! Lord, you've got me laughing again. Mama thinks I have caught some fatal disease of the mind that against all breeding and careful upbringing I am now wont to shout with laughter without, to her at least, any justification. Instead of trembling with fear that the Watch will be called down on me for accepting stolen property from the most lovesick villain ever to venture out of the stews, I've developed an alarmingly vulgar tendency to snigger at inappropriate times.

I am your Pawn, in this as in all matters, and remain
Your faithful though slightly idiot friend,
Alexander Edrington

 

Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

Dear Captain Pellew,

You are the very Devil, Edward, make no mistake. I detect your fine Satanic hand in this latest outrage, Sir, and you know the matter to which I refer! How did you manage it, you -- you Octopus, with your tentacles reaching far out from the Atlantic or Mediterranean or whatever portion of Hades you currently sail?! The painting is gone, stolen in the most dastardly fashion, and I know full well no one -- NO ONE -- save yourself, Sir, and one other Gentleman whom I would trust beyond life itself to do me no ill, knew of its location. I should not be surprised that you made an attempt to recover such an embarrassment to your self-esteem and position, nor even surprised that you succeeded in wresting the picture from my hold, but that you found both knowledge of events so far distant and the means to move so swiftly in reaction appears to me to be the work of a demon. Almost you strike enough fear in me to outweigh the anger! I cannot even think what further to say to you, I am so sorely vexed! I'll tell you this much, you may expect a bill from me for this, for that wretched painting has cost me as much I might make from three ball gowns and a riding habit.

Blackguard!

Miss Beatrice Nettleton

 

PUBLISHER'S NOTE:
The painting referred to in this volume of letters has never been located. Neither Captain Pellew nor Lord Edrington ever again referred in writing to its existence. Most historians believe the painting was destroyed by Captain Pellew. The great artist, Calvin O'Houlihy, in his autobiography wrote that he considered the portrait to have been his finest work and very nearly became suicidal when the Admiralty was presumed to have had it destroyed. He later recovered his spirits (though it was said he never again did better work) by rendering the famous portrait of the benefactor of the Isinglass Foundation, Oswald Isinglass, which picture hangs today in the Tate Gallery.

 

Vol. VI

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Prior to further perusal of the collected letters of Sir Edward Pellew, readers who are not familiar with the work of the Duke of Ravenscar may wish to acquaint themselves with His Grace's account of a meeting on 22 August with Miss Beatrice Nettleton, which we have printed here along with an ensuing exchange of letters between Mrs. Bracegirdle and Mr. Ravenscar. We believe the Duke's record of that meeting as well his response to Mrs. Bracegirdle's letter will be most helpful in deciphering this volume without reference to footnotes. These particular papers are the property of the British Royal Maritime Museum, whose curator has been enormously generous throughout the preparation and publication of these several volumes.

His Grace recounts a meeting with Miss Nettleton on August 22:

My Dear BeatriceOh, my dear! I did not mean to startle you so. You must forgive such a clod as myself. Never would I pop my head into such a fashionable establishment without so much as a by-your-leave unless it were a matter of utmost delicacy. Did it hurt overly much when you tried to shut the door in my face and caught your fingers instead? Please let me kiss them better, Sweet Peach, since it was my own clumsy fault it happened in the first place.

Come here and sit yourself down, and do try to catch your wind, my Precious. You don't care if I make myself comfy as well, do you? That's fine; sit over there if you prefer but you won't mind if I remove this delicate piece of shimmery femininity from this chair, will you? Just looking at it reminds me of the time I bought for you that delectablely sheer black... Well, never mind. Just a fleeting moment in time for someone you must have believed to be in his dotage.

Now, we'll have none of those high-arched brows and puffed cheeks and rolling eyes, if you please. After all, it gives such an unladylike appearance, and you, of course, are quite the little lady, are you not?

No, pray do not answer while your mind sits in addled anticipation. I know how my presence confounds your good sense. Only let me answer the question I know you are longing in your still-so-delightful bosom to ask. But first, my dear, why don't you rid your industrious shop of its female clientele so that we might enjoy our cozy tete-a-tete?

Ah yes, that's better. Oh, and Beatrice, my beloved, you might also wish to draw the blinds so that nearby passersby are not tempted to gawk and crane their necks should you decide to stamp your foot and throw the violent tantrums I know so well you are famous for. Not for the world would I wish to see your business decline due to your inability to hold your tongue and your temper at one and the same time.

Well, isn't this nice? Just the two of us Alone at last! Seems like old times, my Heart. Tell me, are you experiencing the same thrill as I? No, I can see by your glower that you are not. Pity.

Now to the question you are simply dying to ask. What am I doing here? How did I come to be prowling around this end of London? Well, Little One, it is nothing of major importance. Just some trifling gossip I was privy to at White's. It seems my Lord Edrington was quietly regaling Colonel Alvanley with the details of London's latest scandal. Since I was sitting nearby, quietly enjoying a rather fine bottle of claret, I could not help but be party to the tale the little Major was telling. To say the truth, I found it all decidedly dull and not at all to my liking until his lordship happened to mention a certain Beatrice Nettleton. Then, of course, my first thought was that due to my declining years, I must have misheard him. But no, he mentioned the name so distinctly again that I became more curious by the moment.

Now what, I asked myself, could my former paramour, the absolute love of my life, possibly have in common with such a fine officer as Edrington? Naturally, my initial inclination was that somehow you had managed to sink your shrew's claws into him, just as you tried to do to me some years ago. And grant you, I still bear these scars on my face in testimony of your sharp skill. Does it bother you to gaze at your handiwork, my lady? Certainly, thanks to you and your sharp weapons of war, I might now be considered a London society outcast were it not for my vast holdings and of course, my title, which still keeps all females of a marriageable age dropping their handkerchiefs as well as their small clothes in my direction.

But I am off subject. I learned to my vast relief that you had not set your cap at Major Edrington after all. (You may have missed the mark there, m'dear; he fancies your ankles no end!) But rather I kept hearing the name of Sir Edward Pellew, Captain of the Indefatigable, mentioned in the lively conversation. Now what could possibly be a beautiful young maid's ­ wait, no, I forget you are not maiden -- Person's interest (yes, my dear, even though you may think a man of 35 in his dotage and no longer able to appreciate the sight of a comely wench such as yourself, I will take a solemn oath testifying to your still radiant beauty) in a captain of His Majesty's Royal Navy?

And I believe the answer lies in a painting. And not just any painting. If I am to believe Edrington, and why should I not for he has no reason to prevaricate, I believe you have or have had in your possession a painting of such of such scandalous implications that if it were displayed publicly, it would rock the whole of London from the Admiralty down to the lowest deckhand.

Now hear me, woman, and listen well! You and I have had our romps and our roustabouts. Our past is something we both share and neither can claim to be the victor. But I am in most deadly earnest when I tell you that I will brook none of your blackmail schemes in the matter of this painting of Sir Edward, such as those you tried on myself in our sordid past. You may sit there and puff and blow all you wish but you will listen to me! No, do not reach for that vase! I said, don't reach...

D@mmit, Bea! Will you listen to reason! Now look at the mess you've made. Well, go ahead, throw that bolt of precious puce. It's your shop. Throw as much as you like. It's only fair since you once destroyed the whole of my townhouse in one of your jealous fits. Ha! Missed me. Try that brass candlestick over there on that table. You must be out of practice, Sweeting, that book sailed three-foot wide of me. Let me see the title. Just for old time's sake, what are you reading these days? Is it still Harriette Wilson's memoirs? Darling, you are a devotee of the classics, aren't you!

My love, you are breathing heavy. It does wonders for your decolletage but I hope you have not exhausted yourself on my account. Heavy breathing is so stimulating in a female. Would you care to renew our old but exhilarating acquaintance while we have the blinds drawn? I see the sofa is still in its upright position, unless you are of a mind to heave that at me as well?

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, I was about to threaten your delectable little hide within an inch of your life. Let me make myself clear so there can be no misunderstanding between us. You as much as anyone can bear testament to the fact that I am a cold and heartless miser who never cared for anything or anyone in his life. But in the matter of His Majesty's Navy and the fine officers who serve her, I will brook no interference from you or anyone else. We are at war, poppet (and I am not referring to this duel between you and I), and I won't have these men who are risking their lives for our country made laughingstocks because of your petty blackmail schemes.

Whether I know Sir Edward personally is none of your concern. My only concern in this matter is keeping your fine hand out of the game. In addition to Sir Edward, there is also the matter of a young gentleman under his command by the name of Horatio Hornblower; there are rumblings and rumors surrounding his birth. If, Queen of My Heart, I find out that you had anything to do with those black marks against his name, I shall personally take great pleasure in boxing your delicate ears!

Do we understand each other? You are not to interfere with the running of His Majesty's Navy or any of its officers and in return I shall keep your dirty little secrets regarding the gaming hell you ran and your blackmail attempt on my younger brother.

Now, I really must be off. Got to go to Tatt's about a new brood mare for my estate. I would consider you, darling, really I would but...

You hoyden! You could have blinded me with that poker! Would you please be more careful in the future. Don't you want to kiss me goodbye? No? I am so saddened!

Good-bye my Heart of Hearts.

 

Maximillian Ravenscar,
Duke of Ravenscar and Marquis Trenleigh
Baron of Wetherwood and Notchcross
13 Grosvenor Square
London

 

Your Grace:

Please forgive my forwardness, for we have not been introduced, but after the events of yesternoon I believe we should not wait upon convention, but rather take matters into our own hands, for the good of one whom we both Admire.

Yesterday, whilst on an errand to return some damaged clothing to Miss Nettleton's shop (really, the woman cannot sew a strong seam at all; she produces only rags), I was dismayed to find the door locked and the draperies drawn. I would have withdrawn to my carriage but heard a breaking sound and the most frightful screams. I would have instantly called for the Watch for I thought Miss Nettleton must be under assault from a Person Unknown save for thing: I was halted in my tracks my the sound of a name, the name of a man who holds almost the Highest Place in both my heart and my esteem. I could not but stay to hear as much of this terrible quarrel as I might. And I learned things, Your Grace, wicked, scandalous things, but I also learned that on this issue you and I are aligned in feelings of concern for this man previously mentioned, and feelings of abhorrence for the Medusa who could so contemplate a Terrible Evil towards him. Your words, what I could hear of them, have led me to speculate that you may perhaps be the One Man who can contain this Gorgon who so threatens the Admired One. I hope that you will indeed Beat her, as you threatened yesterday.

I think we must talk, Sir, and most expediently. May I have the pleasure of your company at tea today? I can promise you lavish refreshments, and we may be quite private to discuss this urgent matter.

 

In expectation of our meeting,
Mrs. Henrietta Bracegirdle

 

 

Mrs. Bracegirdle
Upper Curzon St.

Dear Henrietta:

I trust I may call you Henrietta, mayn't I? After yesterday's brief but memorable introduction outside Miss Nettleton's shop, I feel we're on such intimate terms already that first names will suffice. It seems my lot recently to be saddled asking after the welfare of the females I encounter, so let me inquire regarding your health, in which I am not much interested, before proceeding to the contents of your letter.

As I came out the shop doorway, I hope I did not injure such a rare, fragile flower as yourself when I nearly tripped over you. I must apologize for my bad manners on the occasion of our first meeting. My own lamentable excuse is that I am simply not used to opening shop doors and finding cows draped in purple satin courtesy of Omar the Tent Maker bent on eavesdropping. And how is your ear today, dear lady? Did you suffer permanent damage to your auditory canal by keeping that member firmly wedged against the keyhole at Miss Nettleton's shop? And pray tell me that your eyesight did not catch a sliver of glass from your eagle eye poking through the tiniest crack in her shop window. If you will but reassure me on both those points, I shall endeavor to mimic an inflated sigh of relief as an exaggerated show of how little I truly care.

Now as to the contents of your letter, I'm afraid certain parts of it are illegible and cannot be deciphered. What you failed to smear with gooseberry jam and pickled herring, I myself must bear the blame for. When Jarvis brought me the missive and I saw your name scrawled in the corner of the envelope, I at once wadded it into a tight-fisted, little ball and hurled it into the nearest fireplace. Just my continued run of bad luck that London is suffering a rash of sunny days with no need of a roaring fire. And how exceptionally thorough of Jarvis to retrieve it from amidst the coals and try to smooth out the creases (although not much could be done with your jammied fingerprints portion) and place it back on my desk. (I must remember to speak with Jarvis regarding the excellent care he takes of me.)

First of all, let me assure you that although you seem to think otherwise, Miss Nettleton is indeed a lady. And a most volatile one. Even though the size difference is overwhelmingly in your favor, I would wager my monies on her abilities on any given day of the week. More than once I found myself labouring under the young lady's certain capabilities (and quite enjoying it, I might add.). So if a word to the wise is sufficient, which in your case is a large and doubtful IF, may I advise you to tread carefully before tackling the diminutive but dynamic Miss Nettleton? To couch it in words close to your heart, she will eat you for supper.

As to the damage you seek to do to Miss Nettleton's business reputation by writing that she is unable to sew a strong seam, might I remind you there is only so much thread on a spool and so much fabric on a bolt. She does quality work but she does not perform miracles. She seeks to enhance the female appearance by her fashion designs; she is not trained in the art of turning beached whales into sea nymphs.

Concerning the 'scandalous' things you overheard yesterday regarding your more-than-slight obsession with Sir Edward Pellew, I would sincerely like to ask you to refrain from greasing the hinges of your tongue. However, since I know that is a perfect impossibility, I shall take a more blunt route and say that I have become privy to information of the person(s) who actually had this hideous painting commissioned. Do I need to mention names, Mrs. B? For rest assured, I will not hesitate to do so should the need arise.

There is also the matter of your husband, Lieutenant Bracegirdle, a fine but undistinguished officer aboard the HMS Indefatigable. An advancing career in His Majesty's Navy not only consists of an Officer's daring deeds but also is dependent upon the wife acting in a manner designed to do her husband proud. If for no other reason than that his naval pay purchases the jam into which you soak your fingers, I urge you to hold your tongue in this matter and use it for the tasting of parsnips instead, which should be more to your liking.

As to the talk of my 'beating' Miss Nettleton, that is a private and enjoyable recreation I would never condescend to discuss with you. I could only wish to be present should Mr. Bracegirdle ever see fit to lose his own placid composure and take a strong rope to you. And if that happy occasion ever arises and I am not present to witness the event, rest assured the cats of London will be only too glad to regale me with the amusing details. I certainly hope you never entertained the notion you were the only viper with a forked tongue that slithers the side streets of London to wallow in leftover refuse.

Moreover, in your seeking of my company for tea today, or any other day for that matter, may I say that I would gladly consign you to perdition were it not for the fact that I myself maintain a permanent residence there year round and have no wish to share my personal hell with someone such as yourself.

One final point comes to mind, Dear Henry, which you failed to mention in your missive. It deals with the active rumor mongering regarding Mr. Horatio Hornblower, who at present is under Captain Pellew's command. I know I can state with absolute authority that no mention of Mr. Hornblower's name will ever emanate from your crumb-encrusted lips, is that not so? For if I were to ever find out otherwise, I should be forced to bring to public knowledge another painting, one I have in my own possession, done by the late great artist of ill repute, Bertram Rigsby. A painting which used to hang behind the bar at the Dockside Tavern. I'm quite sure you're familiar with the painting to which I refer. Perhaps it would make an ideal gift for your Darling Basil's next birthday.

In closing, I trust I shall always remain
as repugnant to you as you yourself are to me.

Max Ravenscar
Duke of Ravenscar

 

 

 

Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

Dear Edward,

I have just received the rudest, most dreadful letter from the Duke of Ravenscar, whom I think you do not know, which has so overset me I almost do not know how to continue. You know I am not one to go tale-bearing, but I will not stand by and hear your name spoken in the same breath with the word or even the merest hint of Blackmail. On the other hand, as a consequence of his letter -- a veritable bomb, I assure you! -- I quite fear for my life. I cannot mention this to Basil, for fear of his reaction. The notion that I could be in any danger could very well give him the apoplexy. You know how unfashionably attached to me are his Affections.

There is little I can tell you, Edward, save that this Ravenscar, a man received due to his title and wealth throughout the ton but not well-liked, and Miss Nettleton, who is sunk even further below the Rank of Hussy than I originally thought -- indeed, she is no better than a Harlot and a Lure to Young Boys -- are conspiring in some way to do you harm. I regret that I am unable to give you sufficient details to arm you for action, but I am certain that a word of warning to a man of your capabilities will suffice to keep you on your guard against these two Wicked Ones.

For myself, I am removing to the country, where I may be sure of no further contretemps with the dangerous Duke.

Be on watch!
Henrietta Bracegirdle

Post Scriptum: I have just heard that your Lieutenant Hornblower yesterday brought in a prize ship you captured off Brest. I fear the news on Mr. Hornblower was not of the best however, and that in a daring evasion of an enemy frigate he was severely injured. I sent a message to the docks but I believe the young man has been removed to a hospital.

 

Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

 

Dear Edward,

You will, I know, forgive my delay in writing to you though I greatly fear you will not be so forgiving when I have finally brought myself to complete this letter. I think this is one of the most difficult tasks I have ever set myself, to be honest with you on some matters that I had hoped were forever buried with my past.

Last week I received, not gladly, a visitor to my shop, a gentleman named Maximillian Ravenscar. Yes, none other than the man known about town as the Dangerous Duke. I know this man, though it has been nearly seven years since I last encountered him. I would have given much to have avoided him on this last occasion also. I do not know whether he has an acquaintance with you. Max never gives away the tiniest bit of information, it is his stock in trade as it were. He charged me with attempting to extort money from you on the basis of that wretched painting, which, like Max, I hope never to see again, so much trouble it has caused me. And, Edward, though this particular charge is so very false, yet I have to admit that Max at least believes he has some basis for his accusation, though he is wont to jump to spurious conclusions where I am concerned.
If indeed, Edward, you do know Max and are in contact with him, please, I am begging you, you must not believe all he so unjustly claims: That I ran a gaming hell, that I attempted to blackmail his brother, that I am no better than a wanton jade who ought to be publicly whipped! And most certainly you must not believe that I obtained that unbelievable painting in an attempt to either extort money from you or to bring about the ruin of your career! I never had any plan in mind to harm you, could never do such a thing again after the bitter harvest I reaped from the evil I once sowed. Neither do I know anything about or am in any way responsible for the rumours circulating about young Mr. Hornblower, of whom I am afraid there is not very good news regarding his health. The rumours are to do with his mother, I believe, but in truth I know so much only because this was another evil laid Max has laid at my doorstep.

In my youth I was guilty of a certain rash impetuosity, but Max, in his monstrously brutal way, can take great credit for helping me to a degree overcome that fault. Edward, I beg and trust you will keep my confidences in these matters. It is only with permission from Whitehall that I am permitted to explain so much to you as I am about to do. On the charge that I ran a gaming hell, well, yes, technically that is true but there was a mitigating circumstance that a reasonable man (for you can be so, when you choose) must take into account: Only a few years ago I craved excitement and adventure. I think there may be some bad blood in my veins, that I once longed for such. Through various friends and a good bit of scheming on my part I was, for a period of some two years, a kind of gatherer of intelligence for our government. The French emigres were pouring into London, and due to my sharp card-playing skills and eye for detail, the government set me up in a gaming establishment to keep an eye on these people, for as you well know some of them were eventurally proved spies of the revolutionary French government. I ran both the business and the intelligence portions of my salon quite successfully, and one could meet any number of French and British nobles in my salon on any evening, though I was careful not to become so fashionable that my house would be in any danger of falling out of fashion.

It is the second of Max's grievances I must now partially address, for it was in my gaming house I met his younger brother, Tristan, a sweet and gentle boy, with nothing closed and saturnine in his nature. In other words, though he looks a good deal like his brother, in character he and Max resembled each other as closely as chalk does cheese. Tristan was extremely despondent over being denied permission to purchase a commission in the Army, as Max would not hear of his heir doing so. Tristan, not being made of such cold metal as his brother, threw himself and his pent-up energies into the most foolish behaviour, frequenting brothels and gaming hells of all types, placing enormous wagers on races and duels and such, gambling wildly altogether, until he had lost a goodly sum to my establishment. Not wanting to be his ruin, or bring any degree of notoriety on my place of business, I offered to tear up his notes, but he would not hear of it and swore to repay me. It was around this time that a certain situation had developed on which I have been ordered to say no more than that Whitehall prudently decided it was time to cease operations and close up the house for good.

On the last night of business, catastrophe struck! Max Ravenscar entered my life. It was apparent from the first hand I dealt him, he was no ordinary card player. Big, handsome, smart, he kept everything close to his vest and wore a poker face very well. I was very attracted to him, and was more than a little thrilled to find those feelings requited. He thought me brash and forward, I suppose, to be efficiently running a business no self-respecting female would even acknowledge. In no time at all that night, he lost 5000 pounds and (he said) his heart to me. We went everywhere together. He took me driving, he took me to dinner, he took me to Vauxhall Gardens.

And then he took me home with him.

Not for the first time in my life I let my heart overrule my head, and fell headlong in love with Max, as any silly schoolgirl might do. And hereupon enters the last of my sins (I will address the second again, I know I have not yet explained the whole of it), that I am a wanton creature. This last charge I make Max as responsible for as myself, for he is a Seducer -- and a very, very good one. But he Hates even better. There was never any point in my seeking his forgiveness, there is none in his nature, and besides, what had I to seek forgiveness for? I did truly care for him, at one time, but the less said on that topic, the better for all.
And as for the blackmail charge, which I did say I would address, well, 'twas no such thing! Only he would not listen, he never will listen to me. Oh, I get angry again just thinking of it! In his nosiness, Max overheard a portion of a conversation betwixt Tristan and me, whereby Tristan swore he would get me the 12,000 pounds he owed come hell or high water. Max charged in, in his usual imitation of a male bovine, demanding to know why Tristan was going to give me such a vast sum, had Tristan lost money to me and was I attempting to collect? I assure you, he treated me no better than if I were a wretched cent-per-center. And as for Tristan, he began to browbeat the poor boy relentlessly. Of course I stepped in and lied; I insisted that Tristan had never so much as visited my gaming house. No? Then of course blackmail is his next guess. What a cynical devil he is, to be sure! What do you suppose can be the skeleton in the Ravenscar family closet that he thinks Tristan would pay a blackmailer to keep secret? Anyway, he bludgeoned me with vile accusations and imagined evils till I was completely past caring for him and I let fly a slap at his nasty mouth. Quick as he is he turned his head and my nails raked him across the face. I did not do nearly the damage to that egotistically handsome countenance as he claims, it is all exaggeration on his part. A small scar by his temple and that's about it. He just happens to be so incredibly vain that he thinks he was marred for life.

Edward, the reason I am, as Max would so revoltingly but accurately put it, spilling my guts to you in this blunt manner is because Max may know you. He certainly knows OF you, and so you must be warned how dangerous an adversary he is. I fear he has some Awful Scheme with you in mind. For myself, I avoid him like the plague, for he is just about as healthful. I had to spend a good bit of time arguing with some of the Whitehall brass before obtaining permission to tell you as much as I have, else I would have penned this letter to you as soon as Max had evacuated my shop. I hope, dear sir, that you will take the greatest care, and if you and Max should ever cross paths you must know that you can count on me to help you out in any way, should the need arise.

Mr. Hornblower! A safer though no less unhappy topic: I have read that he brought in a prize ship, much against all odds from the reports of the crew. Apparently your officer used his ship as a decoy to lure the frigate Citoyen Verite away from one of our supply ships headed for Gibraltar, at some cost to his personal safety. I know only that he was removed from his ship and placed in hospital. From there I have not been able to discern what has happened to him, but I know your concern for your men, and this boy in particular, and I will continue doing all I can to locate him and reassure you as to his well-being.

I do understand, Edward, if you choose to rescind your friendship to me and if I do not receive another letter from you. I shall be most heartily sorry for it, as well, and whether you wish to acknowledge me as such, I will always remain

Your most faithful friend,
Beatrice Nettleton

 

The Right Honourable Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

 

Dear Edward:

I imagine you are quite as shocked and surprised to receive this note as I am to be writing it. It's been quite a few years since we were schoolmates together and stole apples from old hack-faced Squire Pennington's orchard, for which both of us received a sound thrashing. I, of course, was completely innocent in the whole affair and only trailed after you as you led me into becoming a misguided youth.

If memory serves me correctly, and it may not since I am now beginning my second bottle of claret. -- speaking of, where the hell is Jarvis? I sent him for another bottle a quarter of an hour past -- Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, I distinctly remember the last time you and I met was at Almacks the spring of our 21st year. I have vague recollections (no doubt due to the claret) of you winning the fickle heart of Miss Penelope Houndsfeather. I wonder if you have any idea how jealous I was that night when she chose you to escort her to the refreshment tables rather than myself. Of course, nowadays I consider myself to be eternally in your debt for sparing me the trouble of losing my freedom and money to the greedy little harpy Miss Houndsfeather proved herself to be. In case you do not know, she ended by marrying old General Bullock, a gentleman thrice her age, and whose entire fortune she ran through as though it were water. Also she has become quite wrinkled with age; you would be amazed by it.

Women! That is the trouble...hell, that's the point of this whole epistle. Well, no, not entirely now I think on't, but close enough!

Been following your distinguished naval career for a few years now, Edward. Mighty proud of you. Glad to have been a fellow hellraiser with you all those years ago. You've done yourself and our country most proud. (Egad, in the nick of time, here is Jarvis!. Thought I was going to die of thirst before he saw fit to serve me. Now why do I have to argue with my own butler about leaving the bottle on the desk where I can reach it? Dashed old relic thinks I'm still in leading-strings!) As for myself, my duty to God and Country have taken me on a rather more circuitous and darker route. But no need to concern yourself on my account. (Gawd, but I wish you were here right now. This claret would be all the better for being shared. Never fear, Neddy, I shall endeavour to do justice to your portion as well as my own.)

She's still so much a lady and so much a vixen. How do you suppose...oh, dear, I think I am beginning to wonder from the heart of this post. Let me try to recapture the essence. Beatrice Nettleton. Yes, that's the infernal creature's name. If you don't know the chit by now, and I rather think you do, she's the one who had somehow finagled that ridiculous painting of you into her possession. Miss Nettleton and I have a history together. If you but knew the wars we fought and the blissful times we spent in negotiating peace treaties. But that was all before I found out what a schemer she was. Lud, Penelope couldn't hold a candle to my Bea in that department.

Ah ha! I had forgotten that decanter of port my brother Tristan bade me try out. Well, now's as good a time as any, I suppose. Oh lord, I've spilt the half of it! I'm sorry, Edward, I think I just may be a trifle disguised right now. And I'm very much afraid that was your half that was lost.

Beatrice Nettleton is the most beautiful and tantalising creature ever to grace this earth, I swear this to you, Edward. She is every inch a lady. Oh, and those inches! She is also the most reprehensibly vile, exasperating, and treasonous snake ever planted in my Garden. She will twist a man's insides until he is nothing but knots. How do I know this? Because she tried to do the same thing to me, of course. But I, Max Ravenscar, am far too smart to fall prey to her charms and her beauty. Not me. Never could I fall for such a charmer. Not for very long anyway.

She ran a gaming hell, did I mention that? (I swear Tristan is a better judge of wine than I am. This is pure nectar. I'll have another glass for you, even though you've spilt yours. I hate drinking alone.) Oh, yes, the gaming hell. She ran a sweetly lucrative set of rooms for two or three years. Now what sort of female creature would go messing about with a gentleman's leisurely pastime and pleasure? My Bea, that's who. Or what. Whichever. She's no lady that one! (I think I shall have to go back and scratch through parts of this letter. Somehow I think I am contradicting myself which is only serving to confuse me further than I am already.) Did I tell you she fleeced me of 5000 pounds the first night I met her? I'm still not sure how she fuzzed the cards, and I thought I knew all the tricks. I might have accused her of cheating were it not for the fact that it would have served no good purpose. One cannot duel with a female (although regrettably I later learned from Bea that she is a grand marksman ­ markswoman!, and no mean hand at The Science either). And besides, it would have meant giving up my seat at her table and that I firmly refused to do.

(Edward, look what I have just found! Right there in the bottom of the sideboard. A bottle of smuggled French Brandy. Sir, we must uncork it and drink a toast together. We can do no less for our country than dispose of this Frenchified potation!) I do believe if it had been no worse than the gaming hell, I could have overlooked that shortcoming on Bea's behalf. But it was the other that was such bitter gall to swallow.

(Yes, a toast to King George, excellent idea.)

It was after she and I became, um, allied in our affections and I thought I knew everything there was to know about her...(a toast to our past friendship? Why, certainly!) And I even had the crazy notion of proposing marriage to her (a toast to gaming hells and the promise of chance; splendid suggestion, my friend!) until I found out that she was an extortionist to boot. I treated her like a queen, the most precious queen. I swear I was her devoted slave and then I found out she was coldly trying to blackmail Tristan. Didn't she know that I would have given her anything she ever wanted or asked for? She didn't care. (A toast to houses with cold fireplaces, absolutely.) She took the family skeleton out of the closet, rattled it 'til its teeth shook, and tried to extort money from Tristan, my own flesh and blood. I swear Edward, I could have throttled her on the spot. As it was, I threw her out into the street, lock, stock, and barrel...except I kept all the expensive trinkets I had thrown her way. Needed to keep 'em as reminders to never make the same mistake twice. (A toast to cheap jewellery, that's a good laugh, Edward.)

So anyway, the gist of the matter is that upon learning of the painting having passed into Bea's possession and knowing her penchant for blackmail, I paid a courtesy call on the little darling on your behalf and threatened her within an inch of her life. Knowing Bea, it will probably do not a drop of good. She has a will and a temperament unequalled in all my other adversaries. (What are we drinking to now? I swear, Edward, you must do everything in your power to defeat Napoleon and end this miserable war so we can get back to the purchasing of decent brandys for our cellars. Edward? Are you becoming drunk, sir?)

Strange as it may seem, I was actually most pleased to renew my acquaintance with Bea. If you know her well, you know that that short fuse of a temper she has is well indicative of yet hotter passions. I had forgotten how much I once missed the spark of her presence. I am aware that she has turned down some interesting offers lately, from gentlemen in both high and low places, so I will find it very intriguing to see how much of a fight she presents to me now that I have decided to try my hand at once again wrapping her 'round my finger. As delightful as I find her resistance, I remember her acquiescence to be nothing short of splendiferous. No doubt she will keep you posted as to my success or failure. But what a sharp eye and ready whip I shall need to keep her in line! A lesser man would not attempt it. Or at least, not a sober one.

Oh, yes, one other hiccup (no, that wasn't me) has arisen out of this sordid raking up of the past. Your man, Bracegirdle. If ever you find it in your power to grant extended shore leave to your men, you must send Bracegirdle to his wife, Henrietta, at once, to keep her in line. If ever there was a greater tongue-wagger and Paula Pry than Henrietta Bracegirdle, I've yet to meet her. I nearly stumbled over the old crony eavesdropping outside Bea's door and then the ratchet-jawed female had the nerve to invite me to tea to discuss Bea and that blasted painting. It didn't take me long to put paid to her long-nosed meddlings. (We can drink a toast to noses if you like. Bea has a delightful little nose. Very pert.) Last I heard of Henry, she was seen leaving London at a rapid clip bound for the countryside to recover her aplomb. God, think of the crop damage she might do! London does not miss her company overmuch. I believe there is now a great deal more food being contributed to the workhouses due to her absence.

(Sad news, Edward. This bottle is nearly empty and I cannot find another dram in the whole library.) I think there is one final chapter to recommend to you this dissertation. Regarding your Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower. (From all my reports on Hornblower, he is not one to over-indulge in spirit rations, so I suppose I shall be forced to drink his portion as well. I am much put upon, there is no doubt of it.) I am pleased to tell you all of London is talking of the courage your Lt. Hornblower exemplified bringing in the prize ship whilst suffering a most serious wound. Heroic legends have been born of much less, let me assure you. I know you have a vested interest in this young man and I am pleased to report he is convalescing presently at the Earl of Edrington's residence. I hope to make his acquaintance shortly...(and in a more sober state.) As with all legends and heroes, there are some vicious rumours circulating in the underworld surrounding his birth, his mother, her current whereabouts, and such. (I fear you have emptied the bottle, Edward. I swear I did not know you to be such an elbow-bender. You shall surely suffer the consequence of this rash action on the morrow. What a head you will have!! I would not wish to be a man under your command during that time for all the gold I possess.) But to continue on the topic of your young cub, Hornblower, and these nasty rumours, I do believe them to be the result of an indirect but sinister campaign. These Frogs, who cannot beat us with their guns, will have no compunction about destroying a man through other means, mainly that of propaganda. Rest assured I shall follow the trail wherever it leads and seek an end to it. In the meantime, please take all necessary precautions to protect yourself and young Hornblower.

I believe I have used enough ink here to fill all the bottles in my wine cellar and since I do not wish to be thought a sobersides, I shall now affix my seal, for I am strangely exhausted.

Your old friend,
Max R.

****************************************************
Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

 

Dear Edward,

Allow me to immediately set your mind at ease, for I am sure that with your habit of knowing-all-before-it-can-be-told (has no one told you that omniscience is not a virtue?), you have already learned of Lt. Hornblower's amazing sea duel, in which he not only was wounded but so astonishingly used his captured sloop to extraordinary advantage against a French frigate of no less than 64 guns. My seamanship being what it is, I failed to understand half the details of the escapade, but Mr. Hornblower's men have has assured me that on the whole it was a remarkable feat and they unanimously feel you will be sorry not to have witnessed it, as am I, for the men were torn between laughter and horror at some of the commands the lad issued that day. He apparently had confounded his crew almost so much as the Frogs, and I think only the most immense loyalty to that quiet young man kept them bent to his will long enough to secure victory. Mr. Hornblower's wound, taken in his upper chest and narrowly missing a lung, would not have been so very serious but for some threat of infection. Naturally as soon as I was aware he had been removed to a hospital, I had him taken out of that breeding ground for death and brought to my home, where I had Knightley in to see about restoring him to full health. Rest assured, young Horatio is well on the mend, much to Mama's dissatisfaction for I believe she would very much like to keep him by her always, to use as an example of Perfect Gentlemanliness and Biddability to fling at me whenever I have the temerity to disregard her least wish. I only wish she might play whist against him, she would not think him so very biddable then. He is the very devil with a pack of cards in his hand!

But that is the only good news I have, I fear. Max Ravenscar has been nosing about lately, seeking exactly what is difficult to determine. He called on Horatio as if he were an old friend, when I know dashed well they had never met, and the lad spent almost an hour closeted with him. Horatio looked a bit grim at the end of it all, but would say nothing -- nor hear nothing said against Ravenscar, neither. As for Ravenscar, he looked -- impenetrable, as ever. I was reminded why I do not ever wager against him. I cannot bring myself to trust the man, even though I know -- well, best leave all discussion of his actions for only the most private moments when one can be absolutely certain there is no chance of prying eyes or big ears making much out of little, as I understand happened with Mrs. Bracegirdle. Her cousin (you remember Miss Willy, The One Who Is Your Destiny) is greatly given to telling tales out of school, and says that Mrs. Bracegirdle received an extremely sharp set-down from Ravenscar, in his own inimitably rude fashion, for having busied herself in some concern of his. It almost, but not quite, puts him in my good books, for in her haste to put as much distance as possible between Ravenscar and herself, she has quit London society altogether for healthier climes.

I have repeatedly, and to the point of exhaustion, encouraged Horatio to write further to you beyond that pitiful scrap simply informing you of his health and location. He says he does not wish to waste your time when you daily have more pressing demands on your attentions. I think the real cause for his backwardness in attending to his correspondence is that when sitting at a desk, quill in hand and paper at the ready, his mind becomes, as it were, tongue-tied. It is almost amusing to watch him at this Herculean labour, struggling with the weighty decision of whether to address the letter to either Capt. Sir Edward Pellew, The Right Honourable Capt. Sir Edward Pellew, or more familiarly and simply Capt. Pellew, save that the process becomes too tedious for even him to endure and the letter eventually is franked with no more than three or four semi-coherent sentences strung together in such a hobbledy-cobbledy way that they seem almost designed to incite the reader (your gracious self) to a great deal of hair-pulling and swearing. This is an area of his education too long neglected to be easily rectified in the little time he will still be with me I fear. I shall miss his quiet companionship, but know you will take pleasure in having him once more aboard the Indefatigable.

Wishing you every success in your actions against the enemy, and your continued safety above all, I remain

Your friend,
Alexander Edrington

 

The Right Honourable Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable
from the Vigilante Inn, Southampton

Dear Captain Pellew,

I would not trouble you with this letter, Sir, or the length to which I know it will extend, save for the insistent importunings of the Duke of Ravenscar, who says he misspent his youth in your company. Those are his words, Sir; you must know that I would not be so impudent to say as much. Max --- that is, His Grace is even now standing over my shoulder, and declares he will stand there all night until I have finished this letter to his satisfaction. I must -- Sir, please understand that these words are not mine own and why Max will not write this for himself, other than that he is more than three parts foxed, I cannot say. I regret to admit that Lord Edrington -- Alex! All right, Alex! -- is in much the same condition. For myself, Captain, to my mind I am healed enough that I will be rejoining the Indefatigable so soon as is possible. After the events I have witnessed tonight, I think I can safely say that I shall find the war a calmer and safer setting for my person.

Here is what has occurred: Max invited Alex and me to spend the day on his yacht here at Southampton. He did not see fit to tell either of us that he had also invited a Miss Beatrice Nettleton, a lady of -- Max says I use the term loosely, but indeed until he provoked her beyond all endurance, she gave every appearance of gentle breeding. How he managed to entice her aboard I cannot understand, for the tension between the two of them -- a man must be blind and deaf not to notice it. Matters were not improved upon the lady encountering Alex, for 'twould seem the two of them have met before and not parted amicably. Max is laughing again now, and says Bea has that effect on everyone. For my part, I found the lady as sweet and charming as any of my acquaintance, and we scraped along together well enough with my answering some questions she had on navigation and she relating to me one or two highly amusing anecdotes regarding creating a dressing gown for a sea captain of execrable temperament and taste (again, sir, not the words I would have chosen). Now Edrington has gone off into spasms of laughter.

Early in the first dog-watch, the seas began running a trifle high. After so long ashore I fear I was not at my best and so was well forward in the hope and expectation of some privacy when the tension between Max and Bea reached open hostilities and they came to cuffs like two scruffy school boys. Alex, being nobleminded enough to play peace-maker and try to part them, took a clout on the ear from a fire bucket wielded by Bea. Thereupon he retired from the fray and joined me forward to safely watch the fireworks exploding between the furious pair. Max had the great advantage of reach and weight but Bea had righteous fury, inexhaustible energy, and a speed of movement I have never seen surpassed in the ring. After much to-ing and fro-ing, she planted a leveller on his forehead with a belaying pin. Yes, Max did go to his knees, I'll swear by it! A smaller man would have been out for the count! If she'd anything like Max's reach, she'd have done terrible damage. He only laughed -- from his knees -- which inspired her to new heights of rage. He tried more than once to catch and kiss her, even succeeded once or twice, and though the lady seemed to participate in these coerced intimacies with great enthusiasm, no sooner had their lips unlocked than she was at his throat again. And so this mad duel went on until the storm that had been promising all day finally took direct aim on the yacht and we rolled sharply to starboard. The lady is very small of stature and she fell the width of the deck where she was prevented from being flung overboard only by the railing. She'd have been safe enough but for Max tumbling after her and his combined weight and force caused the rail to give way. Of course Alex and I went to their immediate rescue, for the increased pitching and rolling prohibited their efforts to regain the safety of the deck. Lord, now Max has gone off into another burst of hilarity.

We could have had them back on deck safe enough, and quickly, too, but that Max decides the appropriate time to scream a marriage proposal to Bea is with him clinging one-handed to a rail so flimsy it may break again under near gale-force winds, his other arm wrapped around Bea's waist, and her alternately kicking at him and clutching at him; the pair cursing each other, her planting kisses on his face between kicks, and her gown trailing enough sea water to swab the decks of the Indefatigable. Not until the lady agreed to marry him, did he begin to allow us to haul them in but by then it was too late, the rail gave way entirely, and they both fell into the waves. Laughing. They were laughing when they went in.

There, I think I have satisfied Max that I have told the whole of the story. Bea is abovestairs now, being cosseted by the innkeeper's wife. I suppose she will put her bruises down to the accident rather than to Max's hamfisted handling of her. Alex and Max have both dipped liberally into the rum punch and I ­ I, sir, long to be back aboard the Indefatigable. Max says I must tell you that although they will not delay the nuptials for your return (Alex is to give Bea away), he expects a very lavish wedding gift from you. I do not understand it at all, Sir, but he says that you will understand when he asks if he might have a portrait of you to present to Bea and that its very presence would at all times be an inspiration to them both?

Yours truly,
Horatio Hornblower
Lt., HMS Indefatigable

 

Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
HMS Indefatigable

Dear Edward,

You may recall that I once rued my absence from the Bracegirdle wedding, for I longed to see you thrust off -- or rather, give away the ubiquitous Henrietta. Now, sir, it is your turn to envy me, for the Nettleton-Ravenscar nuptials surpass anything I ever heard, including that risqué yarn of yours about -- never mind, you know which one I mean. Max and Bea are the most exhausting couple to keep company with. Between his drinking, her sniping, his retorts, her comebacks, events always get around to a physical result with them, and one awaits anxiously, almost mesmerized, to see whether the matter will end in kisses or bullets.

Given their natures, you must know the wedding ceremony was headed for the shoals long before ever Bea arrived at the church. Well, London traffic being what it was, Bea was a trifle late in arriving, though only by a very few minutes, but there was Max, swearing at the minister, jerking at his cravat, berating the absent Bea and insisting she was going to leave him standing there like a fool and that she must have planned it all for years. I hope paranoia is not a family trait.

Bea at last arrived, and not before time, and for a woman who ordinarily dresses with impeccably becoming taste, I have to admit she was not in her best looks on this most important day. That must have been due to the wedding gown, which I believe was Max's grandmama's -- and bore no little resemblance to that old dressing gown you was used to favour, so tatty as it was and smelling of the mildew.

As we started down the aisle, Max gave her such a look that if it could have killed, Bea would have been prostrate at my feet. And you can never have seen a bride with countenance so grim. No, no, it wasn't nerves, no bridal jitters about her at all. The look she gave Max back probably gave him indigestion at the very least, promising retribution as it did for insisting she wear that horrid dress of disintegrating yellowed lace. And her shoes must have belonged to Max's grandmother as well, for Bea and I had not travelled three steps together, than she lurched suddenly (you would say she heaved to, I think) and stopped dead in her tracks, almost yanking my arm from its socket. "What? what?" I whispered, but she was grinding her teeth so hard I could not understand her reply at first. Through wild gesticulation she finally made me understand that the heel had broken from one of her shoes. I bent down to get it, but who could possibly find the heel in that haystack of alarmingly dusty lace which trailed all around her and set me to sneezing heartily. I kept pawing around, trying to find it, until Bea lost patience (did she ever have any?) and lifted her skirts well above her ankles. It is only thanks to Horatio's speed and strength that I am today and healthy enough to write this account to you, for he told me that it was all he could do to hold Max back from giving me a thrashing for being such a rascal as to ogle Bea's ankles (which are indeed every bit as trim and endearing as the first time I saw them, though I hope I have better sense than to say so to Max).

What more could go wrong? Well you might ask. In order of the events themselves: Bea limped down the aisle, slapped her husband-to-be across the face with her bouquet, thanked him very much for the roses with thorns and how did he like them tickling him? He chastised her, not in low tones, for her tardiness. She retaliated with a Rabelaisian description of attempting to cover her nakedness (I know, I know! The very thought of it simply staggered the male portion of the congregation!) with the decrepit remains of a yellowed dress that was out of date two centuries before it was made. He responded with acidity as to why she had no business in a white dress, which one gathered would have been her choice. She tugged at one sleeve to make a point, said sleeve came off in her hand and she proceeded to try to strangle him with it.

The minister managed to get their attention long enough to get as far as the recitation of their vows, when they had another set-to. Well, and who could blame Bea for being amused to learn the full name of her bridegroom: Maximillian Adolphus (Bea grinned) Cornelius (she giggled) Reynold (she snorted) Cecil (she sneered -- women don't usually do that very well but she has mastered the art) Zeke (she grimaced and stuck out her tongue at him) Eugene (her eyes crossed) Hardwick (she guffawed) Ravenscar. He retaliated in the most brilliantly intellectual style: He pinched her bottom and, hie! it was off to the races again!

Horatio, who was acting as best man (Max not being overendowed with close friends), tried to play peacemaker, as he has done so well in the past, but this Shrew and her Petruchio were having none of it, and Max lashed out, knocking the ring from Horatio's hand where it flew away as if guided by an unseen force to strike Bea direct between the eyes, silencing her long enough for the minister, who had valiantly attempted to recite the service throughout their constant bickering, to announce that if anyone knew of any impediment to speak now or forever hold his peace. The Silence that Descended well-nigh deafened us all. I mean really, Edward, this silence went on...and on...and on, as if the impediment was so obvious no one could be brought to articulate it. Just then Horatio caught my eye, the expression on his face dazed and astonished, and I was done for. I started to laugh, barely managed to suppress a howl in fact. Horatio simply turned his face to the wall and would not look at anyone, his shoulders shaking. Bea and Max began hurling recriminations at each other once again, took a good deal of time over the kiss once the hapless minister could persuade them they were indeed husband and wife, would barely glance at each other as they proceeded back up the aisle, until Max tripped on the snakes of lace still shedding from the back of that wreck of a dress and promptly blamed Bea who turned on him with a fury, swore she could not live with such a jackass and ran, as best she could with only one good shoe, out the door with Max following close on her heels and promising to spank her harder than ever she had liked before (yes, that's what he said), leaving behind a stunned group of well-wishers, who well-wished they had stayed home before dragging on their finery and turning out for this circus.

There was no wedding breakfast to speak of. 'Twas more like a boxing match, and I am sure that cannot surprise you, my unflappable friend. The minister, Horatio, and I are somewhat concerned because although a week has now gone by without an appearance from the, er, happy couple, none of us are certain sure that Bea and Max are in fact legally tied. Try as the minister might, he could not make himself heard above their din when he exhorted them to retire to the rectory and sign the marriage certificate. So, what say you, are they married or no?

Horatio returns to you this week, and I am sorry to see him go, though pleased that his health has withstood the above listed trials to his safety and sanity. He is eager to be gone, though his innate courtesy forbids he should indicate so by either word or deed. But he gets a faraway look in his eyes, as if he views the horizon across a broad expanse of ocean, and can hear nothing but the singing of the wind in the rigging. Like you, he was born for that life, and it is criminal to cage such a rara avis as he. Get the lad to tell you about his whist games with Bea. What a cut-throat pair they made! They took 2500 pounds off Max and me in less than a twinkling. And naturally, Max blamed me entirely -- when he did not accuse Bea of cheating. Young Horatio very quietly and elegantly put Max in his place on that issue, let me assure you. It is the only time I've seen Max cowed and quieted -- and he apologized! I think that when your young lieutenant is fully grown to manhood, I should not want to be his enemy. I do not know how much credit goes to Horatio himself and how much to you for helping to mold his character. but I think any man would be proud to have him as a son. Or a brother.

Wishing you a swift victory in your endeavours,
I am, as ever, yours to command,
Alexander Edrington