A Plump Little Chicken
by Bev F.

 

I've always thought there was more to Maria than met the eye. Read on

Horatio Hornblower gazed out the window of Mrs. Mason's boarding house but try as he might, he could catch no glimpse of his beloved Hotspur. His old room upstairs afforded an excellent view of Portsmouth Harbour but unfortunately he had no reason to visit it -- being no longer a lodger and not yet a husband. A husband! Even now he could not believe his situation. And what could Maria's letter mean? 'I must see you at once!' she had demanded. 'A matter of utmost urgency' she had reiterated. 'I cannot wait!' she insisted.

Nevertheless, he had been most strongly tempted to ignore her completely. What could be more urgent than ensuring that the Hotspur was provisioned for her next adventure? That the decks were holystoned to perfection? That the latest poor excuse for a midshipman be rigorously quizzed on his signals? Why, at any moment Admiral Pellew might request and require him to face the French once again and he had to be ready!

He could thank Mr. Bush for his presence here on land, instead of on the gently heaving deck of the Hotspur.

'A letter from Maria?' Mr. Bush had asked, ducking his head inside Horatio's cabin. Mr. Bush had the damndest habit of doing that, despite his earlier admonition to Major Cotard that only the steward could enter without knocking.

"Ha--hm...' Horatio answered.

'Urgent business, no doubt, what with the wedding coming up. You'll want to go ashore then, sir. The provisioning is well in hand, the men have holystoned so vigorously today I'm sure we've lost at least an inch of decking. Oh, and Matthews has quizzed the midshipmen for all of the forenoon watch. I've called out the jolly boat, and your coxswain and crew await your pleasure. "

He'd had no choice then. Damn that Mr. Bush! To sit brooding in his cabin now would invite talk. Well, he would go and see Maria -- get the matter over and done with and be back in time for his dinner.

So now he paced back and forth in Mrs. Mason's stuffy drawing room, smaller even than the quarterdeck on the Hotspur. Perhaps Maria had changed her mind and no longer wished to become the wife of a penurious Commander, who might at any time be smashed to bits by enemy fire. Why, she would be foolish to consider such a match. Yes, that was the reason for the letter, the urgent business.

He checked the window once more, but Hotspur was still not visible.

'Horry?' He whirled around, sheepish at having been caught napping, or looking, as it were.

'Maria!' he said. 'My -- my dear!' Mr. Bush would be proud of him. 'You must call her 'dear', William had insisted. 'Even if you cannot call her 'my love' ' Mr. Bush was obviously much more experienced in such matters than he. So experienced, in fact, that the man had managed to elude the pickle that his captain now wallowed in. ' You wanted to see me, d-dear? A matter of urgency?' he said. 'You could not wait'

Maria had her hands full. Before answering, she deposited a quill, an inkstand, a small book, and numerous sheets of paper on a table -- then pulling out a chair, she sat down.

'I thought, Horry dear ' she seemed to have no trouble calling *him* dear, and as for that damnable 'Horry'

'I thought, Horry dear, with the wedding coming so soon, that we needed to discuss a few matters. '

Well, that seemed to put paid to the chance that she wished to call the whole thing off. 'A few matters -- ha--hm, well, yes of course' and he paced to one end of the room.

'And do stop that pacing, Horry, or we shall never finish today! You are not on your quarterdeck now, my dear!'

Her voice sounded so like that of Admiral Pellew in one of his moods that Horatio very nearly answered 'Yes, Sir!' As it was, he did indeed stop his pacing and stood ramrod straight in front of her, his hands clasped behind his back. What in heaven's name was wrong with Maria?

"Yes, a few matters" She shuffled some papers in front of her, and drew one out.

"I have taken the duty upon myself of changing -- or rather adding to -- for, Horry, your arrangements were quite exemplary if not altogether complete -- the events of our blessed day."

Arrangements? Well, he'd bloody well arranged everything, hadn't he? The church, the parson, the breakfast

"And I'm quite sure you will agree with me that our wedding will now be perfect. I've been discussing a small matter with Mr. Bush and Mr. Matthews -- William can be quite gruff until one gets to know him, but he is such a romantic at heart. And as for Ben -- why, he reminds me so much of my dear departed father, only much nicer, of course."

Good God, when had she met with Bush and Matthews? They'd been on the Hotspur since she'd made port, or had they? And calling them by their first names -- why, he would have been hard put to come up with Mathews' first name, had anyone requested it of him.

" and they have wholeheartedly entered into the spirit of the day and agree with all my wishes!"

"Ha--hm, and what wishes might that be, Maria?" He was almost afraid to ask.

"The men shall form a tunnel with their swords as we leave the church -- that is very much the done thing these days, Horry, but the best of all -- they shall then take up the ropes and pull our carriage to the hotel!"

"Pull -- pull our carriage!"

"Well, they *are* used to rowing and whatnot, so I think pulling a carriage with the two of us in it will be quite a lark for them! Oh, and Horry, it had almost slipped my mind -- you must have a shilling or two ready to provide them with some ale after their labours. You do have a shilling or two left, don't you, Horry?"

"A shilling or two" He mentally totted up all the expenses he had incurred so far and patted his pockets, hoping that a stray shilling or two which he might have forgotten was lurking there. Blast, no such luck. "I'm afraid"

"I shall just jot that down then." Which she did, though Horatio could not imagine how writing the amount on paper would succeed in solving the problem.

Maria seemed satisfied though. She clapped her pudgy little hands together and then clasped them to her bosom. "But I have left the best news until the end!"

The best news? What news could possibly top the crew of the Hotspur being used as horses?

"I have prevailed upon Admiral Pellew to give the toast!"

Horatio's heart nearly stopped beating. Some things were just not done! A lowly Commander did not frequent the same social circles as an Admiral, no matter how their careers had intertwined. That she had importuned Pellew was beyond belief! Matters could have been even worse -- at least she had not referred to the august Admiral by his first name.

"Sir Edward was very much taken. do not pace, Horry!" He could not prevent it -- this latest horror from the lips of the young woman who would shortly share his life could not be taken standing still.

"Horry!" This time her admonition was accompanied by a sharp rap of the knuckles on the surface of the table, and his ingrained respect for authority -- going back to early school days -- returned him to his rigid stance, and left him feeling somewhat like a naughty little boy.

"As I was explaining -- Sir Edward was quite taken with the notion, though he will combine the occasion with some naval event to explain his presence. Well, my dear mother is all of a tizzy to think that our humble nuptials will be so blessed. And I hope you don't mind, but I did whisper a little suggestion into Sir Edward's ear regarding a suitable gift"

"Maria! You didn't." Horatio now saw his entire naval career going up in flames, as surely as though a cannon had blown him to pieces. His leg started to twitch furiously; it was all he could do to get it under some kind of control while still retaining his rigid position.

"Well, he did inquire after all, Horry, and when you see what awaits you on your return to Hotspur after the ceremony, why, you will thank me very much indeed for having the idea!"

Perhaps his naval career hadn't gone up in flames after all. If only she hadn't made some ridiculous request of the Admiral.

"And my dear mother has a request." Horatio blanched, to think of what further indignities Mrs. Mason might have in store for him. " She is so set on having us cut the wedding cake with your sword so do have your steward make sure it is well cleaned -- we mustn't have any nasty surprises at the last minute, must we?"

This request at least he could deal with. A romantic gesture that -- one easy to accomplish. At least cleaning a sword was a task more suited to Styles' abilities than making coffee.

"I know that Ned will be happy to play his part in our blessed event."

Ned? Who the devil was Ned? Could that be Styles' first name? Where in heaven's name had she ferreted out that small piece of information? His sword. Yes, his sword. He'd last used it -- yes, back there on the beach in France.

"You do have the sword I retrieved for you from the pawn shop, Horry? That is our special sword after all"

"Ha--hm. Why, I don't believe I do, Maria. No, I surrendered that one to the French, and retrieved another from a dead Frog" His voice petered out. Once again he'd put his foot in his mouth, if the tears threatening to spill out of Maria's eyes were any indication.

"Oh, Horry!" She drew a small square of white lawn from her sleeve, and daubed daintily at her tears. "I suppose one must expect that during wartime. We shall have to procure you another, for I would not like a Froggie sword to cut our wedding cake. There -- I shall just make a note"

Horatio groaned, though quietly.

Maria set the paper aside and now picked up the small book. Thumbing through it, she finally found the section she had apparently been searching for, and commenced to shake her head, her curls bouncing gently. "No, no, this will never do."

Horatio sighed. What now? "What now, my ... ahem... my love" Mr. Bush would be very pleased with him, though Maria herself seemed not to have noticed.

"This!" she said, jabbing at the page with a very forceful finger. "Obey! It says here that I am to promise to obey you!"

"I believe that is a traditional part of the ceremony, Maria"

"But Horry, this is the nineteenth century! Why should either of us have to obey the other!" She appeared so upset, that she had jumped to her feet.

Horatio smiled, and then abruptly wiped that smile off his face, as he spied the scowl on hers. But this at least was one matter he could address easily. "You know, Maria, marriage is like"

"And don't you dare to say that marriage is like a ship, sailing through the trials of life, and every ship must have a captain! What comes next -- having the servants flogged? "

Horatio gulped. Obviously this was not a matter he *could* address easily.

"What ever happened to two heads being better than one? Why should your head be better than mine! Oh, I know I cannot sail a ship but you also cannot manage a household. No, that will simply have to go!" And seizing her quill, she dipped it into the inkwell and very firmly stroked out the offending word. "We shall have polite conversations, we shall debate"

Horatio sighed. He might almost believe she had made the acquaintance of a certain actress but of course such a thing could not be imagined. Compared to Kitty Cobham, Maria had first appeared as a naive young girl; after the number of uncomfortable turns this little meeting had already taken, he was quite ready to reevaluate his conceptions, and fear for any other surprises his intended might have in store for him.

"Furthermore" she flipped more pages. "I see that you are to place a ring on my finger"

"Oh, have no fear on that account!" Horatio actually could smile now. "I have the ring already," and he patted each of his pockets in turn. Damn, where was the bloody ring! "Or -- I believe Mr. Bush is keeping it safe." And he prayed to God that that were the case.

"Oh Horry!" And Maria stamped her foot soundly again. "I am not talking about *my* ring -- I am talking about *your* ring!"

"My -- my ring?"

"If I am to wear a ring to show the world that I have attachments, then I feel that you should wear one also."

"Ha--hm" He swallowed.

 

"I have lived in Portsmouth all my life, "Maria continued, "And I know what you sailors get up to on your shore leave! Wives and sweethearts are too easily forgotten. And women like you, Horry"

"No, no, Maria, you are mistaken! They do not"

"Oh, Horry," she smiled sweetly. "A handsome man in uniform! Of course they like you! Your wedding ring will warn them they are not to get their hopes up. "

I could take it off. The idea popped so forcefully into his head that at first he thought he might have spoken the words out loud.

"And I know you, Horry. I know you are a man of honour and will not remove your ring -- ever!"

"Of course, Maria." She was right. He would not. He'd never been sure of himself where women were concerned; perhaps he was fortunate he'd done no worse than Maria.

"I'd thought to wait to purchase the ring, though I knew you would not object, my dear Horry, so I shall just add it to the list"

Money for the men's ale, a sword, a ring he should inform her now that he'd not a shilling to spare, but the bright light in her eyes stopped him. He would disappoint her gently -- but later.

"There, "Maria said. "I believe that that is all"

Horatio let out quite a large sigh of relief, and then harrumphed a little so Maria might not hear. "I expect I am needed"

"Concerning the ceremony," she continued, as though he had not sighed, harrumphed *or* spoken whatsoever. "However, there is still the matter of the guests."

"Guests?"

"Yes, Horry, guests."

"Well, there you have nothing to fret about. The breakfast has been arranged -- I am quite confident that although it is not the best the George has to offer, the guests will not feel slighted'

"But, Horry, what about *your* guests? I know that our side of the church will be full to overflowing, but I fear your side will be empty."

"I am sure you are in error, Maria."

"Then please, dear Horry, enlighten me as to whom you have invited, so that I may know their names and in what relation they stand to you."

"Well -- ha--hm --" Damn! In fact, he had given no thought to guests. And now that he was giving thought to them, he could think of none. No, wait "Mr. Bush."

"Mr. Bush is your groomsman and cannot be counted amongst the guests."

"The crew"

"The crew shall all be outside, Horry, and cannot be counted either." She sighed. "My fears are justified, I see. I had hoped you might have some suggestions."

He hung his head. Guests. Why would she want more guests? The breakfast was looming as a barely manageable expense now -- more mouths to feed would break him certain sure.

"I have made some attempt myself to even the numbers, Horry, but I have found it an almost impossible task. I had hopes of Miss Cobham"

"Kitty! But how" Kitty. A warm feeling pervaded him, and instantly he felt guilty. How dishonourable to have such feelings now that he had agreed to share his life with the young woman seated in front of him. But Kitty.

"but in her letter she informs me that she cannot escape her present commitment on the stage. However, she does send her warmest wishes and has added some advice -- but of course, that is only for my eyes, Horry dear." Maria hastily set down the sheet of paper which she had just picked up.

Damn! Somehow she *had* made Kitty's acquaintance. "Advice? What advice!" Oh dear, what advice was Kitty giving? She'd certainly had no trouble putting him in his place during their time together in Spain. Horatio edged towards the desk, but Maria slipped the letter in question under the rather formidable stack of papers remaining to be dealt with, and gave him a withering stare. Hastily Horatio edged back, feeling as though he'd been sneaking round Captain Pellew's cabin in his absence.

"And I had thought of inviting Captain Bracegirdle but he appears to have gone missing!"

A second passed before the sense of Maria's words soaked into his now rather frantic brain. Bracegirdle? Missing?

"Bracegirdle? Missing?" he said.

"Yes, I'm sure you'll hear of that directly. And Major Edrington -- apparently off on duty somewhere, though his Mamah sends best wishes. Mr. Bowles seems to have disappeared entirely, Archie is dead "

Horatio gasped! How dare she mention

"But more of Archie later, Horry. I have so many matters to attend to here today, that everything must be presented in its rightful time. As for your guests -- what with everyone either too far above you or below you in rank, or missing, or otherwise engaged or dead -- I fear your side of the church will be very empty indeed. You did tell me that you hadn't a friend in the world, and I now see what you mean. I wonder whether your becoming a captain is altogether a good thing. One mustn't encourage your penchant for leading a solitary life. Do not think to find any room in our humble abode which will serve you as a captain's cabin, to which you can escape whenever you please, Horry." She stared at him very sternly indeed.

"Maria, might I remind you that becoming a captain is always a good thing"

"Oh, of course, Horry, dear, but it does have its price, does it not?"

Its price. Grimly he endeavored to reason what price that might be, but apparently her question was merely rhetorical, as his bride-to-be had already gone on to another matter. What had she said? Agreement? Something about an agreement?

"Our agreement, Horry! You must pay attention, if we are not to be about this all day!"

"Agreement? I have agreed to marry you, Maria, what other agreement could there be?"

"Why, our prenuptial agreement, of course!" Maria now pulled out another sheet of paper -- this one covered with a fine neat hand.

"Pre -- pre--" Damn! He could not even say the word, much less understand what it might mean. He understood very fully though that he might not be happy to find out.

"Do you know many married couples, Horry?"

"Ha--hm, " Surely he knew some -- yes, Pellew for example. Or at least he knew he *was* married

"And how many of those married couples are happily married, Horry?"

"Ha--hm..."

"Exactly! And why are they not happy, Horry?"

"Ha--hm "

"Because husband and wife have different expectations, Horry. So in our prenuptial agreement, we shall deal with those expectations. Just think of them as our Articles of Marriage and we shall get on very well. The first of which is that in our conversations and debates you will say more than ha--hm !"

He almost said those dreaded syllables again, but managed to shut his mouth in time. Then he had absolutely *no* idea what to say!

"Oh, Horry, I am joking! That was not on my list at all! "She giggled, and then turned serious in an instant. "Though perhaps I should add it." Tapping her teeth with the feathered end of the quill, she seemed to come to a decision. "Yes!" and she spent a few seconds writing.

"Now -- there comes the matter of issue"

"Issue! Issue?"

"Oh, Horry, you sound as though you are sneezing! Issue, Horry. You *do* know what the issue of the marital state is, do you not? Surely I do not have to explain certain "

Oh, God, what must she think! He felt his face reddening. "Of course not, Maria! You mean ha--hm, "damn, now he had already breached the first agreement on the list." You mean children."

"Exactly. You *do* want children, do you not, Horry? Must I add that to the list?"

This time he mentally clipped the ha--hm and ah from his answer. "I suppose there is no way to avoid them."

Horatio had seen Pellew in the deepest of dark moods, but those dark moods now appeared sunny indeed, in comparison to the look he now saw on his intended's face. This precise moment would be an excellent time for the French to arrive, and lob cannon shot directly into Mrs. Mason's boarding house, ending his misery for all time.

"My -- my d--dear, " he stammered, hoping desperately to gain some time until appropriate words could somehow come forth from his mouth. But if he had been stunned by Maria's look, he was now shocked beyond measure by her answer.

 

"I expect there *are* ways to avoid them. For example"

"Of course I want children, Maria! You must forgive me! I did not mean to sound as I did!" Thank God he had managed to spew something forth, for he dreaded to think what her examples might be. He could not even contemplate where her knowledge had been gained!

The storm quickly passed from her face to be replaced by sunshine once again. "Very good, Horry dear." She sounded exactly as she might while quizzing a recalcitrant little schoolboy who has managed finally to give the right answer. "Nevertheless, I see I must also add this to my list."

A few more seconds were spent with quill and ink before she looked up and continued. "Now, I have given this matter some very serious thought indeed. I do not hold much with you men and your wars, and I would be very sad indeed to see a child of ours lose life or limb in some silly little battle that means nothing. But I now know that certain steps must be taken in order to advance in life."

Horatio dared not breathe. What could be coming next? After standing here now for some time listening to one shocking statement after another, he could not hazard a guess.

"I am speaking, Horry dear, of having our children's names carried on your books in order that they may be placed advantageously when the time arrives."

"Ah, yes." A topic he could handle easily. "Such a practice is quite illegal, Maria. There is no question."

"Fiddlesticks!" Marie thumped the desk with her fist.

"Er -- fiddlesticks?"

"Exactly. Fiddlesticks! May I remind you, Horry dear, that had your name been carried on Captain Pellew's books from the day of your birth you would in all likelihood be First Lord of the Admiralty"

He hadn't the heart to remind her that Captain Pellew would have been in no position to add his name to anyone's books back in 1776, and she would not have listened had he done so.

" not that I hold that against you in any way, Horry dear, as you could hardly have helped it. However, any son or daughter."

"What the devil!" he roared, and was chagrined to see that his loudest quarterdeck voice -- a voice that made grown men, hardened after years at sea, tremble in their boots, had merely caused a small rise of an eyebrow in his future wife. But this was going too far, too far entirely and he was quite at a loss to let her know the -- well, the outright ridiculousness of her intimation.

"And why ever not, I should like to know, '' she said. "Not every young girl wants to be tied to the kitchen and the cradle for the rest of her life. I cannot see that the male sex has achieved exemplary results in running our country, and if a young lady wants to try her hand on board ship or in Whitehall for that matter, then I fail to see why she cannot. She only lacks in educational opportunities, Horry. I see that, as a teacher. *I* have read 'The Vindication of the Rights of Women' and I hope we will not come to blows over our daughter's future."

"But to have the name entered in the ship's muster."

"Sir Edward considers you a young man with a very inventive mind. I see it as your duty to set the precedent. "

Damn and blast! Bad enough that his future wife expected him to accept quite willingly the nefarious process of giving a man a leg up in life simply by writing his name in a book, but it was a common practice all the same. Very well, he would agree. No doubt when the time should come that a daughter lay in her arms, she would have second thoughts about the whole matter.

"Horry"

'Oh, all right. "

"I knew you would see my viewpoint! Now shall we continue?"

"Oh, by all means, my dear Maria." He desperately hoped, after those words had fled his mouth, that they did not sound as mean-spirited to his intended as they did to him.

"Now, the next item on my list is -- nightshirts."

"Nightshirts! Nightshirts? What do you mean -- nightshirts?" His mind was still reeling from the hideous possibilities of having to carry a daughter's name on his books: to deal with the ridiculous topic of nightshirts was almost more than his normally nimble brain could handle.

"Yes, nightshirts, Horry. I do hope yours are frilly, though I will fully understand if they are not embroidered. "

Nightshirts! Frilly nightshirts! Of all the inappropriate items of clothing to be discussed. Well, he'd had some frilly nightshirts when he'd been a young midshipman, but they'd worn out and he's been quite happy to put up with plain ones...

"Oh dear. I do see by your face, Horry, that yours are neither frilly nor embroidered. "She picked up the paper on which she seemed to be keeping her shopping list, and scratched busily." Of course, I shan't purchase these until after our wedding, Horry, dear. I realize that it would be much too improper. "

Her shopping list seemed to be getting longer and longer. "My -- ha--hm ."

"Now, now, Horry."

"Sorry, Maria dear. My -- well, my night attire -- I'm sure it will do very nicely -- you needn't go to the expense."

"Ah, Horry, "She sighed, resting her chin on the backs of her hands." You men just do not understand. Those frills are so -- so romantic and ---" she sighed again. "Not that I would know " and she sat upright quickly, "but we girls do like to gossip about more than the price of bread."

It seemed that young girls did indeed gossip about more than the price of bread. His life on board ship had hindered his learning of a very great many social niceties, he could see that.

"Now you must write me, Horry, when you are away at sea"

"Of course, my dear." Here was a promise he could grant easily. He'd certainly felt the lack of chatty letters from home, when those around him snatched their mail eagerly from the purser, even those needing a hand in deciphering the words. He was quite used to writing reports and journals; writing the odd letter to his wife would be no hardship.

"But they must be love letters, Horry, not boring news about battles and sails, and how many legs have been lopped off. Love letters, Horry!"

"Ah, you mustn't expect too much, Maria"

"Oh, nonsense, Horry. You have only to read my letters to you, and you will see what you mean. And if you are still having difficulty, perhaps William will help."

"Mr. B-Bush!" Mr. Bush helping him write a love letter to his wife? Imagine if *that* got round the fleet! His reputation for being seasick in Spithead would feel positively comforting next to that!

"Well, I believe he's a great deal more experienced with the ladies than you are, Horry dear. Surely he would have some suggestions."

How much longer was this interview going to last? The time seemed to pass even more slowly than it had whilst he'd awaited trial in Kingston. If only William had need of him urgently -- perhaps even now Charles was on his way -- damn it to hell, now she had him doing it too! He had only to say on his return to Hotspur "Ned, I'd like some coffee," to lose any respect he had with his crew.

"Only one or two more, Horry, you've been very patient."

Yes, he had. What he needed now -- next to a means of escape -- was a good stiff drink. Never one to depend on strong liquor to dull his senses, he suddenly understood very clearly why others made such fools of themselves to get it. Desperately he glanced around. Mrs. Mason, after all, was very definitely a tippler; surely some beverage of an alcoholic nature must be easily to hand, if only a poor sherry. Alas, no bottle seemed to be in sight, and he steeled himself for the next words from Maria.

"You must promise me, Horry," she went on, "That you will greet any further gifts of knitting with a little more appreciation than you showed in the matter of the gloves. I've just finished a very nice muffler and a smart woolen cap to match -- with earflaps, so you will be quite warm and toasty on your quarterdeck in the winter. Those silly hats you officers wear have been expressly designed to tip all the snow and rain right down the back of your neck. It's a wonder you haven't caught your death before now!"

Horatio desperately tried not to imagine himself wearing a woolen cap with earflaps, but the picture insisted on forming none the less, and he was torn between grimacing and laughing. "A -- captain must not avail himself of comforts which he cannot share with the men, Maria"

"Then I shall simply have to knit a cap for everyone." That picture made him want to break out in tears. But surely the war would be over before she could produce one hundred little knitted caps and their accompanying two hundred ear flaps.

"But that will have to wait, Horry, for I have had the most brilliant idea!"

She paused. Horatio stood still, his eyes still shifting around, hoping to spy some port perhaps, if sherry were not available. Even some sour ale would not come amiss right now.

"Well, Horry, you must guess!"

"Ha--hm, guess. Something knitted, you say. Well -- a sweater, I suppose." He had no expectations of being correct, but at least he had given her an answer.

"Oh, Horry!" Her laughter pealed out. "Everyone has a sweater! I mean this to be special! You cannot guess? Then I shall have to tell you. "She paused, and then whispered, "Underdrawers, Horry. Woolen underdrawers!

He thought she could not catch him in surprise again, after the avoiding children, the daughter as Lord of the Admiralty, and the frilly nightshirt, but she had managed very nicely. He felt his face flame red, and surreptitiously he ran his finger around inside his collar, as though loosening it a touch might improve his colour.

"I know how damp those ships can be," she said, "And I won't have you chilled. Now, for my next item

Bloody hell! Her list was interminable! But at least she had spent no more time discussing the unmentionable.

"Ah yes! Whist!"

"Whist?"

"Yes, whist! I do know that your prodigious ability at the card table stood you in good stead when your prospects were dimmer than they are now, but times have changed, Horry. I simply cannot have you frequenting these gambling dens"

"Maria, I do protest! I hardly would call the officers' club a gambling den"

"The poor and downtrodden have no monopoly on vice and wickedness, Horry. I would expect you to be knowledgeable about such matters, but perhaps your years at sea are to blame. No, there will be no more playing of whist in such places."

This was beyond all belief! No, he could not agree! Never to play whist again

"Of course, I do know how much enjoyment you derive from the game, Horry. So you shall teach myself and my mother all the ins and outs of the game, and when next you feel the urge for a hand or two, why, we can have a friendly game or two right here in the parlour."

Horatio opened his mouth. Opened his mouth, closed it, and opened it again. But no sound came forth. The very idea of Maria and Mrs. Mason playing whist -- playing whist with *him* -- why, he'd very soundly beaten the shrewdest card players in Portsmouth. Might as well send him to sea in a jollyboat, with babies at the oars. Maria and Mrs. Mason and himself, playing whist -aha! An escape was at hand!

"That is a capital idea, Maria, " and he felt pleased that she looked so happy at his words. At least he had afforded her that small measure before letting her down in what he hoped was a gentle manner. "But I am afraid that four players are required for a game of whist."

"Oh, Horry! You must think me very silly indeed. Of course I know that. I have already spoken to William and he is quite agreeable to making up the fourth."

"Will -- ah, Mr. Bush does not play whist, Maria." Obviously his First Lieutenant had no wish to upset the future wife of his captain, and was only being agreeable to keep her happy until they could all escape on the Hotspur.

"I assure you William is quite eager to learn. So with that, I believe my list is complete. "

"Thank you, Maria." He'd almost blurted out, "Thank God."

"No, no, wait a minute. Yes, I had completely forgotten" She scribbled furiously and then looked up.

His stomach churned. Much more of this, and he would be seasick not only in Spithead but in Mrs. Mason's drawing room.

"Archie!"

Oh, God, he *was* going to be sick. How dare she How had she known. "I don't wish to discuss"

"And don't get that look on your face, Horry. I don't understand you men, I really don't. Your best friend in the whole world dies, and dies after saving your life, I might add, and you never ever mention his name!"

"But, but" Horatio stammered.

"It was very brave of him to save your good name at the expense of his own, I thought. Not that pushing Captain Sawyer down the hold was a bad thing, from what I'd been told "

"And who..." He croaked, then licked his lips and tried again, "Who told you"

"Why, I had it from Betty Wellard, poor James' mother who had it from Mrs. Clive. You men may think you are hiding away in your ships, but we women have our ways of knowing! But you have sidetracked me from my list, Horry dear. We were speaking of Archie. And that is what I have written on the list. We *shall* speak of Archie as your friend, and I don't want you going stiff and pompous on me, as though you had a red-hot poker up your"

Luckily she clamped a hand to her mouth before continuing. "Well, you know exactly what I mean, Horry dear. I hold Archie in my heart, as I know you hold him in yours, and we will *not* be afraid to say his name. Go on, say it!"

"Say what, Maria?"

"Say his name!"

"Ha--hm, Archie."

"I see we shall have our work cut out for us, Horry but it is a start, I suppose."

Picking up her pen again, she looked at him expectantly.

"Perhaps there is something you would like to add, Horry," she said. "I wouldn't like to think that I have had my own way with this. I don't want you coming to me with a matter in a year or two which could very nicely have been looked after in our agreement. You must see that to be true, Horry."

He did indeed see that to be true. Now was the time for him to put his foot down, insist on certain items. Articles of Marriage indeed! But somehow his mind remained maddeningly blank.

"Oh, Horry, surely there is something"

Aha! "Yes, Maria, I believe there is. You are to call me Horatio and *not* Horry!"

She started to dip the quill into the ink, then paused, stared at him for a moment and finally burst out laughing. "Oh, Horry, what a good joke! You might be Horatio to your friends, but you are dear sweet Horry to your wife! Now come here and write your name under mine, so there will be no dispute in future." She wrote her name, handed him the pen, and he appended his under hers. What good to object? He had gotten nowhere objecting so far this wretched afternoon, so he might as well seal his fate -- or doom, as it seemed.

"There, my dear, I hope all is in order, "he said, as he straightened up." Now I must return"

Maria stood also. "In a minute, dear Horry. But first --- I have a gift for you."

"A g-gift?" Was this usual? Should he have purchased some small keepsake for her? No, surely the ring was enough.

"Now you are to turn your back," and she whirled him around. "Do not peek until I say so!"

Impatiently he stood, back towards her as she had requested, trying to guess from the small rustling noises what she could be about. The square of window in front of him seemed darker; evening must be coming on; he felt like he'd been here forever -- in fact he could truthfully admit to himself that he'd felt better after a punishing sea battle.

"There, Horry dear, you may turn around."

When he faced his intended once more, at first he could see nothing different.

"You must remove your jacket," she said, and without waiting, proceeded to undo the buttons, and push the good British wool back from his shoulders.

"What the devil"

"Come, Horry, you must help. There, that's better. " And she slipped the garment off and tossed it aside. "And now -- much better don't you think?"

She had reached behind her and now held another jacket, but this one sported an effusion of gold braid. By God, a dress uniform! His wife-to-be held it out, and he slipped his arms in. In a twinkling, she had it done up to his neck, and stepped back.

"Oh, Horry, you do look so handsome!" She clasped her hands against her bosom once again and sighed. "Though I still think that one epaulette does look quite silly! I had thought you only wore one because -- well, perhaps that you couldn't quite find the shillings to buy two, but George assured me"

"George? George who!" It was the only thing he could think of to say.

"Why, George Cutler, of course!"

"George Cutler?" His stomach sank even further. "Of -- of Cutler and Gross?"

"Why, certainly, Horry dear. They do know what they are doing, don't you think?" She brushed a speck of lint from the sleeve." But I certainly must speak to Sir Edward about that single epaulette -- he'll just have to promote you"

"Maria!" Damn her eyes, but she'd ruined him! That list of hers had grown to prodigious lengths, what with nightshirt, and swords, and a ring and now this uniform! He may have rescued her from debtor's prison, but in all likelihood they'd all be living there in future. "You must take it back! I cannot -- I do not" He stopped.

"Oh Horry!" Maria started to giggle, and the more she looked at him, the more she giggled. He would probably be drummed out of the service and all she could do was laugh! Desperately, he started tearing at the fastenings of the jacket.

"Maria!" This time his voice was so authoritative that she sobered instantly. There was nothing for it -- he would have to admit to his penury. "Maria, I cannot afford"

She burst into giggles again, but stifled them instantly. "Oh, Horry, you must forgive me! Of course, I know that! I know a Lieutenant just recently on half-pay, and with no family or rich patron, even as a Commander has little funds available."

"Then why do you insist in making up such a ridiculous shopping list, when you know I cannot pay."

"Because, Horry dear, you are not required to pay!"

"Not required? Who else will pay if I do not?"

"Why, I shall, of course!"

She'd finally rendered him dumbstruck. As dumbstruck as if she had assured him that King George himself would pay the bill. He managed to croak out "But how"

"Oh, Horry! Do you think me such an empty-headed plump little chicken?" Looking down at herself, she added ruefully "Well, plump perhaps, but empty-headed, never!"

And while Horatio had never though of her in precisely *those* terms, he had, to be honest with himself, sometimes entertained a rather unflattering opinion of Miss Maria Mason. Until today, at least.

"I told you I have money put by from my teaching"

"But I found you in debtor's prison, Maria, you and your mother both!"

"Ah, yes, that." She lowered her eyes. "Hmm, yes that."

"Maria?"

"Well, I was going to tell you, Horry, so it might as well be now. I won't have you worry about the cost of my little list. "She cleared her throat, and stiffened her shoulders. After all the events which had transpired that day, he had absolutely no notion what she might be about to say.

"It was a question of duty, you see, Horry. Yes, duty. You looked so sad when you said that nobody cared if you lived or died. It wasn't enough for me to assure you that *I* cared; I knew you told me not to pin my hopes on you because you felt you had nothing to offer. So I had to make you feel that you had no other choice. I had though of two ways to do that, but of course the first was out of the question"

"And what way was that, Maria, my dear?"

"Why, if you'd left me in the family way, then you would have felt it your duty"

"Maria!" Good Lord, he could not believe his ears.

"Now, you needn't blush, Horry. I very quickly decided against that course of action. Why, you might have been killed at sea, and there I would be left, holding the baby as it were. So I went forward with the second plan. I knew that if you returned and found us bankrupt, you would have helped, which you did. In fact, in a way you are paying for part of my little shopping expedition. "She burst forth with a little titter of laughter, but hastily composed her features." And I knew that after giving me money, you would realize that the only honourable course of action was to ask for my hand."

"So you tricked me!"

"Oh, Horry, not really!" She ran her finger over the gold braid on the dress uniform. "I only made it easier for you to come to the right conclusion. That we belong together."

On that point, he'd never been entirely convinced. And now he was more uncertain than ever. But one thing he had to know. "But where has the money come from? You say your teaching"

"Yes, I have money from my teaching. And we have had more lodgers than you, Horry, dear. After the Peace, Portsmouth teemed with young gentlemen like yourself, looking for advancement, or at least a ship. We had done very well from that."

"But your mother"

"Oh, my mother is somewhat of a tippler, to be sure. But she has always had an eye on the money. You know how she hounded you for your rent!"

Horatio's mind was now in complete disarray. He stared at the young woman standing in front of him. Not an empty-headed plump little chicken, she'd said. Apparently not. But a deceiver, a liar even

"I know what you must think of me, Horry, dear, but I have acted for us. But if you feel " She sniffed. "But if you feel that you can no longer honour our agreement then -- then you are free to go."

Damn! When he'd thought her a bit of a silly goose, he'd agreed to spend his life with her. Now that he found her to be a shrewd young woman -- though still a bit silly -- how could he refuse? How could he walk away and have the world know that he'd abandoned his bride-to-be practically at the altar. No, duty and loyalty were of the utmost importance to him, and he knew he could not live with himself were he to disavow her now. And, it would appear, he could not live with William and Ned and Matthew and Sir Edward and George and anyone else she might have charmed in the last while.

"There, there, Maria," he said, feeling deucedly awkward as he clasped his arms around her. "You know I would never do that."

"Yes, Horry, I *do* know that." Her voice was muffled by his sleeve, but even so he was quite sure from its tone, that she *had* known that, and had made her offer of freedom knowing full well that he would not accept it.

"But now I must return to my ship," he said, releasing her and setting her back from him gently. Escape, more truthfully. Often enough in this absolutely flabbergasting interview he'd wished himself back on board. Surely no enemy could fire such shattering ammunition at him as this -- well, this plump little chicken.

"Of course, Horry dear. But first, you must remove your new jacket; I'll just parcel it up for you with some paper and string, so it will be nice and fresh for the wedding."

"Yes, my dear, I would -- appreciate that." Stolidly he stood almost at attention as she removed the glittering dress jacket, replaced it with his old rather sadly worn one, and quickly made up the packet for him to carry.

"Now the wedding is set for four bells on the forenoon watch, is it not, Horatio?" she said sweetly, giving his jacket a sharp tug before he could step backwards.

And where the devil had she learned about watches and bells? She was absolutely right though -- the minister had been arranged for at exactly that time. "Yes, my dear."

"And I know you will not be late. Charles and William have been given my express orders to bring you ashore in a timely manner. "

"I'm sure they know their duty, Maria"

"And no tippling in the wardroom until all hours the night before!" She continued, waggling her finger at him.

"I would never."

By this time he had managed to escape to the door, clutching his package tightly. But before he could flee for good, his intended lifted herself on her tiptoes, planted a very firm kiss on his lips and whispered "There's a little something I've slipped into your pocket, but you're not to peek until you are back on board. "

Thank God! Now he could be on his way! As he swung open the door, he took a large lungful of Portsmouth's rather noxious atmosphere. It smelled delicious! Freedom at last!

"Oh, Horry, there is just one last thing"

Of course. Carefully he composed his features from the dark scowl he knew they must show to an arrangement he hoped approximated loving interest, before turning around.

"Yes, my dear!"

She was smiling shyly at him, her face just slightly flushed with pink. Why, she looked almost -- pretty!

"We have forgotten something."

"Forgotten something?" Surely her list was exhausted. Even her extremely inventive mind must have foundered by this time.

"Why yes, Horry. We have yet to discuss our wedding night!"

Wedding night! Hurriedly, he stepped back over the threshold and slammed the door behind him. Talk of their wedding night was hardly appropriate even here in Mrs. Mason's crowded front hallway, much less out in the streets, where anyone could wander by and listen.

"Wedding night?" he spluttered. "Why, I hardly think there is anything to discuss"

"Horatio!" Maria folded her arms over her plump bosom and angrily tapped her foot. "Sometimes I despair, I really do! How in the devil -- if you will pardon my language, do you manage to command a ship when you seem to forget such important details! "

Well, she had the right of it there! Somehow the whole notion of a wedding night had completely escaped his mind. But surely duty would call, surely a captain could not"

"Sir Edward has very sweetly agreed to allow you to sleep on shore, Horry."

Horatio groaned. But surely he could convince

"And you are not to argue. I have already warned Sir Edward that your -- well, Horry dear, I have to say this -- your rather tedious sense of duty would induce you to argue the point, and he is quite prepared to order you, if necessary . After all, William and Daniel are quite competent to tend to Hotspur in your absence."

William, William, William! He called Bush by his Christian name on occasion himself, but the appellation seemed to trip off his intended's lips in much too familiar a manner. And who the devil was Daniel.'

"Daniel?" The word slipped out before he could stop it. Bad enough Maria knowing those Christian names, but to admit that he was not as knowledgeable as she was not to be allowed for a moment. Perhaps she would not notice .

"The dear man who steers your ship, Horry. What a pity he will not be attending our nuptials; I shall have to knit him a nice muffler in recompense. I do know he has been most adamant in reassuring me that Hotspur will be quite safe in your absence and that should be good enough for you also, dear. "

Horatio sighed. It appeared the whole world was conspiring against him now. Now he would have to bend his mind to thoughts of his wedding night, frilly nightshirt or no.

"And Horry, " Maria continued, laying a hand on his arm. "I -- I know that sailors -- or naval personages, such as yourself -- voyage to many ports, and -- well, I hope that I may depend on you to navigate these -- unknown waters, to me at least -- to a joyful -- ah, a joyful landfall, as it were. For both of us" Now her face flushed even more and she dipped her eyelashes.

"Voyage, Maria? Navigate? Landfall?" Why the devil was she looking at him so strangely? Just a second previous she'd been going on about -- about their wedding night, a most unseemly topic for a young lady, even one about to be married. Then slowly comprehension dawned, just as Maria gave him a gentle swat and sighed "Oh, Horry, you are such a blockhead! But a dear one, even so. I know now that I can deliver myself up to you with the greatest confidence!"

He needed no looking glass to know his complexion was more than a match for that of his intended in ruddiness. Oh bloody hell! What *had* Kitty written in her letter? Or -- had William mentioned those two wild days and two wild nights in Kingston?

"Ha--hm" God, what could he say? "I -- I am sure matters will sort themselves out satisfactorily. "

Then, suddenly, blessedly, he stood back out on the cobbles, the door of Mrs. Mason's boarding house shut very firmly behind him. He took a deep breath; and even at this distance he could catch the smell of salt air. Briskly he strode off, not looking back, but feeling just a twinge of guilt because he had not.

What an extraordinary hour he had just spent! Even the tangy sea air proved ineffectual in clearing his thinking. Somehow another creature had slipped into the body of Maria for surely the meek little thing he had met months ago could not have come up with the astonishing ideas which his future wife had just regaled him. Girls in Whitehall! Frilly nightshirts! For God's sake, woolly underdrawers! A -- a joyful landfall! He'd never given much thought to his -- their -- wedding night, as apparently he'd not given much thought to this whole business of marriage. Now he had one more worry -- satisfying his wife in bed. He had no particular reason to think such a feat was within his abilities but every reason to know that Maria would inform him in no uncertain terms if he failed. Why couldn't she be like other wives, who knew their place and did their duty? What a nightmare! Perhaps he'd been hit over the head with a belaying pin, and he would wake up and find himself back on Justinian, and he would realize that this whole business had been exactly that -- a nightmare!

But no -- the street here in Portsmouth was very real indeed. And there, in front of him was his gig, and his crew, ready to take him back to Hotspur. Suddenly the absurd picture of the lot of them clad only in knitted caps with earflaps and woolly underdrawers flashed through his mind; the laughter welled up, and only with extreme effort was he able to stifle it enough so that it came out as an explosive harrumph!

"Sir, are you well, sir?" Mr. Orrock took a step towards his captain.

"Of course, Char." Damn! "Of course, Mr. Orrock." He gave Mr. Orrock what he hoped was a murderous enough look to stifle any further talk, and took his place in the sternsheets.

The creak of the oars in the oarlocks, the for once almost pleasant heaving of the boat, the solid backs of the crew as they pulled the gig onwards, Mr. Orrock -- damn! Was that a faint smile on the midshipman's face? Was he silently laughing that in one respect at least, his captain was very definitely not in control? Were they all silently laughing at him? The crew would know -- some of them would be pulling the carriage -- the crew seemed to know every jot of business aboard a ship, no matter how secret.

The minx! She'd made a laughing stock of him -- held him up to derision in front of the crew! Why, he could almost understand Sawyer's madness now -- perhaps he'd had to suffer from a wife like Maria also.

"Sir? Sir!"

And now that young pup Orrock was after him. "What the devil do you want!" he spat out, and only after following Orrock's eyes upward did he realize that the gig now bobbed merrily alongside Hotspur.

"Ha--hm, ah, yes. " he mumbled. Only now did he realize he was still clutching the package which contained that damnable dress jacket. He must look like some fishwife home from market with her purchases. Why hadn't he thought to hand it off with orders that it be brought later to his cabin when he first entered the gig? How the devil was he going to climb the side of Hotspur, small as she was, one handed? Better to toss the damn thing overboard, rather than have the whole crew -- for he had no doubt they were all up there, watching him -- look on as he tumbled ignominiously into the sea.

"Sir"

Well, no help for it. Perhaps when he fell, he would drown. Yes, that was it. He would fall, and simply let himself drift downwards, and would have no need to face all those smirking faces, would have no need to face Maria at the altar, would have no need to navigate them to a joyful landfall on their wedding night

The wail of the pipes wafted down to him; time to say goodbye to the world. But even that small solace was denied him as he managed somehow to negotiate the battens and trip forward onto the deck. Benjamin, William, Charles, Daniel -- damn and blast, they were all staring at him, thinking they were privy to information on his impending marriage of which he himself was quite ignorant. And how the hell had Maria managed to exchange words with Mr Prowse; Horatio could barely conjure up a time when the man had ever left his station on the quarterdeck, much less leave the ship.

"Take that package for you, sir?" Styles bobbed up in front of him, grinning in that idiotically infuriating manner of his.

"Ha--hm -- ah -- eyes only, eyes only -- Admiralty orders -- ahem" Instinctively Horatio clasped the bundle closer to his chest; let the whole bloody ship think he carried something of grave import -- secret papers perhaps, or charts showing the location of every damn ship in the damn Frog Navy. Yes, that would do very well. Explain why he'd carried the blasted thing into the gig and up the side of the Hotspur himself. And at least here, he'd no Articles of Marriage to prevent him from those Ha--hm 's

"Ha--hm -- ah -- see that I'm not disturbed, Mr. Bush. Mr. Orrock, drill that boat crew once more, I will not tolerate such sloppy seamanship.. Mr. Prowse, ensure the midshipmen have calculated their noon sightings, and have the results ready when I ask for them. And Styles, I'd like some coffee!" There, he'd managed the whole lot of orders without once tripping over Maria's ridiculous first names.

Turning, he retired down the companionway with as much dignity as he could muster, seeing the package he carried was now starting to come undone in an alarming manner. Finally he reached the safety and solitude of his tiny cabin and threw the offending package on his desk.

Clasping his hands firmly behind his back, he started to pace. Five steps forward, five steps back. And every step he took , his mood became blacker. She'd tricked him! The little minx had tricked him! Five steps forward, five steps back. Frilly nightshirts! Woolen underdrawers! Prenuptial agreements! Whist with Mrs. Mason! Five steps forward, five steps back. Just what *had* Kitty written in her letter? Where the devil *was* Bracegirdle? And Archie Archie At the end of the last five steps, he gave his desk a resounding kick. The old piece of furniture wobbled and then slowly reclined onto the floor, sending the package he'd set there flying. The string gave way, the uniform tumbled out, and a small box bounced onto the decking.

He stared at the heap of wreckage -- not only had his lashing out at his poor innocent desk not improved his mood, he now had this infernal mess to explain to his steward. Well, the least he could do was retrieve the uniform and then explain away the other. God knows the desk was miserable enough, but all he could afford with his meager resources. No doubt *she* could do better, if *she* were to know.

Horatio almost felt like giving the sad pile of wood another kick, but taking a deep breath, he decided against it. Damn her eyes! She would not get the better of him in this way. Why -- he'd wear his old threadbare uniform to the wedding and just see how she'd like that! He'd show her, he would!

Dropping to his knees, he reached towards the offending garment, trying to ignore its crisp newness, and the glittery brightness of the braid and epaulette. But his hand hesitated. What the hell was that box which had bounced from the folds of the jacket? Ah yes! The little *something* she'd slipped into his pocket. After their astonishing interview of the afternoon, he knew he had no hope of guessing what might lay within.

His black mood of a few minutes earlier had taken on more a feeling of inevitability now, so he might as well open the damned thing up. The small box was made of finely crafted wood, with the initials C&G carved in the top. C&G? Not H&M? Then what

Gingerly he opened the box, half expecting the cursed thing to explode in his face. What lay within took his breath away more surely than any charge of gunpowder could. Nestled inside on a bed of silky fabric was a pair of buckles. Shoe buckles. Silver shoe buckles.

Thoughts of that embarrassing moment in the fitting room at Cutler and Gross flooded into his memory. He'd wanted those silver buckles so badly, but commonsense had made him choose the pinchbeck. Over the years, his keen disappointment had faded, but whenever he'd pulled those shoes on, the pinchbeck had mocked him, if only a little. The shoes had worn out years ago and been discarded, along with those infernal buckles, but in his mind they had always reminded him of the precarious state of his finances.

He lifted one from its bed, and rubbed his thumb over the shiny surface. How the devil had she'd know? Then the thought struck him. George must have related the whole miserable incident to her. Suddenly a giggle escaped his lips. She'd obviously charmed George, as she'd charmed William, and Charles, Ben and Ned, even Daniel and Sir Edward. He chuckled louder. Why, if she were set loose in France, she'd charm old Napoleon himself! The chuckle became a snort. Why, he was about to marry the most formidable force in all of the British Empire! The snort became a guffaw. How could he fight that! Why not just give in -- there was obviously no escape! The guffaw became a whoop.

"Sir" Vaguely, he became aware that the door into his cabin had opened. His steward -- good old Ned stood there with a tray containing his coffee. But only for a moment. Styles' face turned ashen, and the tray dropped from his fingers, brown liquid splashing every where.

"Sir" Styles stepped forward, unmindful of the mess he was trampling through, as the coffee flowed to join the poor demolished desk.

Horatio waved him back, desperately trying to get his breath. "Leave it, Styles, " he ordered, another snigger escaping. "But what a shame! Your excellent coffee. " He wiped his eyes, and struggled to control his features. "Just bring me another pot." Styles just stood there.

"Well, get to it, man!" Hornblower snapped. "Haven't you seen an officer laugh before?"

Styles knuckled his forehead and left, though not before muttering under his breath some words that sounded vaguely like 'but not you, sir' and 'a few cannonballs short of a broadside, 'e is'

Perhaps he was a few cannonballs short of a broadside. Even now he was beginning to believe that woolen underdrawers would not come amiss in the midst of a bitterly cold day beating up and down in the Channel. And what wouldn't he give to see the looks on the faces of those stodgy old men of the Admiralty when his daughter's name came forward for promotion. He'd been the author of some rather unusual maneuvers during his time in the Navy; that would get him a mention in the Gazette, putting a daughter's name on his books. As for the frilly nightshirts -- if the truth were told, he'd rather missed them, having prided himself on cutting quite a dashing figure in 'em, even if his fellow middies were the only ones to see him. And perhaps he did rather ha--hm too much; sounded indecisive, it did, and a Captain in his Majesty's Navy could never afford to sound indecisive.

A new sword, a new uniform, and oh dear, those silver buckles --the thought of which made him rather weak in the knees -- to think he could enjoy those luxuries without awaking in the night in a sweat, worrying over his lack of shillings. A captain needed such luxuries, and more besides -- some coffee, and decent eggs, and -- why, a cellar of a certain quality so that officers of a higher social standing than his own would not look askance when asked to dine.

Ah, yes, a wife who could manage the pennies was a goldmine, certain sure. The truth could never come out, of course, and he was quite sure Maria would agree to that. She'd manage to hide the truth from him quite easily.

And as for -- that landfall -- ah, yes, he could plead a headache, and perhaps dash a note off to Kitty asking for advice. Yes, that would do very well.

Styles' head popped warily through the doorway as though he expected to see his Captain frothing at the mouth and writhing on the floor.

"Come, Styles, " Hornblower ordered. Perhaps Maria could teach Ned a thing or two about making coffee; surely such a miracle-worker as he future wife appeared to be could accomplish even that daunting task.

Styles left the tray on the dining table and scuttled away. Horatio poured the tarry looking liquid into his cup, and taking a big swallow, smacked his lips. Why, things were looking up already -- the coffee tasted almost like -- well, coffee! Suddenly, another thought struck him, and he grinned even more widely. With any luck at all, the war would last another thirty years; he would spend all of his time at sea, and need never be home at all! Ah, yes, life was very good, indeed!

 

 

 

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