CHAPTER 7: Plenitude
" I felt as if time has stopped its pace when I saw Marianne entered the church. Before me there was a very different woman from the one I had met several months ago; more beautiful and perfect in my eyes than ever.
"Who giveth this woman in matrimony?"
I could see Hornblower bursting with pride when he answered the vicar's question. He then took one of Marianne's hands and placed it in mine. I'm afraid I do not remember much of the rest of the ceremony, except the way my bride looked. Her delicate features, her soft scent coming from her body"now so familiar to me-, her simple white dress and the luminescent veil that gave her the appearance of some unearthly creature. No matter what the future may bring us, or how many years will pass, I would always remember her at that particular moment, kneeling beside me at the altar.
Questions were ask and answered; rings were given and suddenly the final blessing of the service. I lifted the veil, lowered my head and very gently brushed my lips on her forehead.
Finally the church was lost in the distance. Marianne turned her face and looked at me There was such happiness there! At that moment I would have given anything I possessed to preserve her as radiant and joyful as she was now. I caressed her soft cheeks and she leaned on me feeling a little shy. That melted my heart, for she had such sudden changes: one minute she was a strong, independent woman capable of facing anything, the next she was a like a child, in need of protection and warmth. I asked her if she was happy.
"How could I be anything but happy? I love you so much, Edward!"
Her words filled me with intense emotion, that soon change into wild desire. But I knew I had to control myself a little longer for I did not want her to be frightened or disgusted by anything I would do or say. So I just kissed her until she opened her lips to me. I felt her hands on the back of my neck, pulling me closer to her body. I slipped the tip of my tongue and very slowly I outlined her lips, her delicate jaw line and her earlobe. A soft moan escaped her lips, so I held her tightly. We didn't speak for a while. She finally broke the silence.
"I have a gift for you..."
"A gift?"I was much surprised.
She took from under her sleeve a folded piece of cloth and gave it to me. I recognized it. It was her handkerchief, the very one I thought lost during the battle. I asked her how she got it.
"Horatio took it from your hand shortly after you were wounded."She put her hand in mine."I want you have it always with you.."
"Hornblower!"was my only exclamation.
"Don't be vexed! He meant well!"
I kissed her on the nose, telling her that I could never be vexed about anything connected with her. She smiled. I could see she was tired.
"Tell me about Wood Hall..."She leaned on me again and our hands were intertwined.
I describe it as best as I could, specially the woods and the park surrounding the house. She finally fell asleep on my shoulder and the rest of the journey I just prayed. I'm not a religious man myself, never have been, but I felt I had to renew the vows made that very morning.
"" Help me God to love, cherish and protect this woman, who is finally my wife.""
I waited for her. I could hear her voice speaking in the dressing room with Emily, her new personal maid. I had to confess that I was feeling more, and more anxious. I had never had this kind of experience with an innocent woman before, not even Roxanne. There were moments of tenderness, but intimacy never. As the years passed I sought relief of my needs very discretely, whenever we reached port. But at the end I stopped that practice altogether, for it abhorred me to put some coins on someone's palm and buy something that for me it had no price. Will she resist me? My heart told me it was highly unlikely. I have felt her trembling, giving back each and everyone of my kisses and caresses. One thing was for sure, I wanted this to be the most beautiful, perfect experience for her. For us both.
I was so lost inside my mind that I didn't noticed her standing behind me.
"A penny for your thoughts!"
I turned around. There she was. Her hair was down to her waist. The candle light made it shone like a hallo around her. She had on a very thin tunic, and since she was standing near the fire place, I could see the contours of her body underneath the delicate, almost transparent fabric.
I opened my arms and she rushed into them. I buried my face into that mass of perfumed hair. She began kissing my neck and face. I took her lips, repeating her name endlessly, telling her how precious she was to me. Her tunic was laced on the front so I began with one of my hands to loosen the knots and slid it inside to feel her skin. My fingertips caressed her breasts, which by now were fuller and throbbing in my palm. Her breathing became more intense. She put one of her hands inside my shirt, caressing my back and chest. Without breaking our kiss I led her to the bed. It was so clear to me that she was completely enraptured by the sensations of her own body and her long sighs and gasps were true signs of what she felt. Carefully I pushed her back on the bed until she was lying down. I lifted her tunic and began caressing the soft skin in her thighs and pressed my chest against her. Opening her tunic, I put my lips on her breasts. I was so aroused, that I knew I could not restraint myself any longer without spilling, so I took of the rest of my clothes. To my surprise, she raised from the bed and watched me do it. She just smiled in her tender and without giving another thought, she pulled off her tunic. She blushed intensely, but kept her gaze on me.
"My God!"I embraced her, moaning in her ear all kinds of extravagant things"completely heartfelt all of them"and entered her. I knew she must have felt some pain, but her own desire drove her to learn and join me in my movements and soon we both were intertwined in a wild embrace, her legs around my waist, pulling me harder and stronger into her; until we could feel each other as really one being sailing in the beautiful sea of our human nature.
The pale morning sun caught us embracing each other, her body leaning against my chest. I watched her in her sleep, memorizing each and everyone of the expressions on her dear face. I felt an urgent need to make love to her once more, so I kissed her.
"Good morning, madam!"
"Good morning, sir!"
Her fingers began to move on my chest, lower and lower each time. My God, not in my wildest dreams have I imagined such pleasure! I put myself on top of her rather abruptly and caught her arms with my hands. For a second she looked surprised and I feared I might have scared or offended her somehow. But her words put me at ease.
"I didn't know how to tell you... I mean to ask you.... Don't be afraid of hurting me, I want this as much as much as you do."
By now I was completely aroused and almost crazy in my desire for her. If the night before had been the most joyous in my entire life, that first morning was even better. Marianne knew exactly how to react to my touch, to return all my kisses. After a while we laid together, my fingers playing with her soft curls.
"I love you!"was all I could say with trembling voice.
She leaned on one of her elbows and looked at me with teary eyes.
"And I adore you my beloved captain!"She kissed me once more, this time reverently.
The next hours were spent in interminable games with our hands and lips until it was full morning.
"Shall we get up darling? I want to show you your new home."
Her lovely eyes shone.
"Must we get up?"
I burst out laughing, my lips brushing her cheeks.
"Well madam, didn't you once told me that"when you opened your eyes in the morning there was not a bed in the whole of England capable to hold you there?"
."What an extraordinary thing to say! Don't remind of that silly remark! I was so ashamed afterwards, fearing you would think me a coquette or something worse!"
I held her in my arms. God, she fit so perfectly in them!
"Never I could think that of you! You are the most unpretentious woman I have ever known!"
"What do you think of me now?"She was looking into my eyes.
"That you are everything in my life, and I'll love you till the day I died!"
After Emily silently left the dressing room, I looked at myself in the mirror, my mirror now. I've done that simple gesture so many times before going to bed. I looked the same, and yet there was something different about me. I have become his wife! The wife of the man I loved with all my heart and I couldn't wait to belong completely to him. What it would be like? Will he be disappointed in me?
I was aware of the sensations in my body since we left the church. I felt a little ashamed of my own eagerness, but I have seen his face every time he kissed me; his long sighs and the fact that his body tensed every time I touched him. I decided not to wait any longer. I took off my night gown and only wore a thin tunic. I wanted Edward to see me completely and fully as I was.
To see a man like Edward"not so long ago composed and in control of everything"lost to himself in passion gave me such pleasure that I thought I would lose all consciousness. With each kiss and touch of his hands I felt an immense hunger inside of me, a galloping ache that burst out in every word I said to him that night. But the beauty of it is that he felt the same for me. He was my master and slave as much as I was his. To feel his hands on every inch of my body, his lips teasing, suckling every bit of me made me cry of joy on those first moments together. He only dried my tears with his hands and lips.
I saw his eyes, blazing with desire. Listening to his moans and sighs repeating my name endlessly, excited me beyond anything imaginable. After we made love tirelessly that night, we hold each other feeling the warmth of our bodies until the first sun rays appeared.
Wood Hall was a large house. After breakfast Edward showed it to me. At first I felt a little anxious. I was so different from my old house, not only in size, but also for the fact that there was such a large staff. Would I be able to manage it all?
Edward took me to the music room situated in the west wing of the house. Very elegantly furnished, the windows had a beautiful prospect of the woods nearby. At one corner of the room, a grand piano stood silently, as if waiting for someone.
"It is a beautiful instrument!"
"I bought it for you, love! I think it is time this old house is filled with music, your music."
I hugged him and kissed his lips.
"Thank you darling!"
"Play something now, please!"He spoke softly in my ear.
My fingers ran through the keys. I could feel Edward behind me, his hands on my shoulders. As the melody went on, he sat next to me. I finished the song and rested my hands on my lap, feeling the sting of tears in my eyes. Edward was very concerned.
"What is it Marianne?"
I sought comfort in his arms.
"Nothing!... It's silly, really! It's just that I was remembering my father. This was his favorite song. My mother used to play it every night."I looked into his beautiful dark eyes."They would have love you so!"
Edward hold me for a while.
"Perhaps you miss your old home. I can take you the..."
"Please, don't misunderstand me! This is my home now. Where ever you are... we are would be home... our home!"
I could feel that my lips aroused him once again. His body trembled.
"I think madam, that we must behave ourselves!"he said to me in that special tone he used when ever he was overcome by desire."Come, let's walk around the house!"
I put my arms around his neck, pulling him closer to me. My fingers began to play with his hair.
"Do you think this improper behavior, sir?"
He blushed before my very eyes! That simple gesture didn't diminished him at all, if anything I felt as if I have been given the world.
"Answer me!"I teased him, speaking softly in his ear.
-Marianne if you continue like this, I'm afraid we are going to give such an spectacle that the servants will leave the house. Don't you know I can resist you when you touched me like this?"
I stood up and took his hand leading him to other side of the room, near the fire place. I fell on the floor, pulling him down. His eyes shone understanding my meaning.
"I'm afraid dear husband, I can't resist you either!" I began kissing his face, his opened lips so eager to receive my mouth while my hands touched him very much in the way he touched my body the night before, reaching and caressing through our clothes his most intimate parts. It didn't took long for him to lift my skirts and entered me. I lost myself to all sense of reality, wishing for that moment never to end!.
After a while, we were still sitting on the floor, holding each other.
"Do you know what have you done, woman?"
"Make love to you?"I pretended innocence. He laughed and bit my lips.
"Apart from that... from now on it will be very hard for me to look at his particular spot without remembering what has happened this morning."
"I admit it would be a challenge for us both!"
We finally got up, straightened our clothes the best we could and went out for a walk. We talked about many things; among those, what were our feelings while at Gibraltar. Edward told me that on the night of the ball he almost decided to propose to me.
"Why didn't you? My darling fool!... I was so desperate when I saw you leaving without even saying good bye. Couldn't you tell what were my feelings?"
"To be honest, I couldn't. I was so afraid you reject me, or felt pity for me..."
"And now? Can you tell now?"
He hold my face between his hands. There was so much love in his eyes, so much emotion in his dear face that there was no need for an answer.
A time for being born...
Rumors of war increased. There was talk of an inevitable confrontation, where there would be place for one victor only.
Europe was in turmoil. Spain trying to hold to a glorious past, but certain of her fatal end. England just waited. And above all this confusion, Wood Hall remained an oasis, untouched by the gathering darkness.
In the weeks after their marriage, Marianne took complete charge of her situation as mistress of Wood Hall. She won the respect and affection of everyone in the house and the nearby villages. As for Edward, he remained on firm land attending his duties at the Admiralty . They both knew this situation would be temporarily and that he could be call back to sea again. There was never talk of war, or duty, not even the Navy entered in their conversations. They just lived day by day, minute by minute, taking delight in their company and mutual love.
Sometimes it was impossible for Edward to let his mind go back to what had been his life for more than twenty years. Marianne could feel that too; his eyes became deeper, his mouth had tense lines around it and she knew then, that the sea ( a most possessive and jealous mistress) had made her claims upon her husband. But painful as this was for her, she was quite clear that when she accepted to be his wife, she took everything that came with him, so no regrets were attached to her heart; instead every time there was that look of longing in his eyes, or his head moved towards the direction of the wind, she just kissed him gently"as one would kiss a child"and leave him for a few moments. He always came back to her, hugged her as if he knew what was her meaning, but neither of them talked about it.
Edward discovered in those six months a new side of him he didn't know he possessed. To wake up in the morning feeling his wife's body against him, sharing their meals, making love and deciding all sorts of things together became very much a part of himself which he was not willing to dismiss from his life.
Lady Elisabeth was a constant presence in their lives as well as the Davenports. Twice a week they spend happy evenings together, and he really came to understand what was the true meaning of the word"family-, because that is what they have really become; one happy family where joy, laughter and affection filled every corner of their lives.
The circle was completed to Marianne's joy when Abbey decided to move permanently to Wood Hall as companion to Lady Elisabeth. The old nanny couldn't stand being apart from her "child" and since"" Master Horatio is a full grown up man, he doesn't need my kind of pampering any more. But her ladyship does! ""So she brought with her all her energy, good humor and pert opinions to everyone's satisfaction.
But life is constant change and the only thing human beings are really allowed to do is to adapt to those changes, bringing out the best inner qualities in each of them. So this blissful peace, love and quiet was broken by a strange force coming from abroad; a force that smelled of powder, blood and destruction; but also with a subtle promise of new life, new happiness.
It had been almost three weeks. Three long weeks of speculation, waiting and telling herself that maybe it was too soon. But at the end Marianne felt certain of her condition. She wanted to keep it a secret from everyone, even Edward. Evry morning she would wake up before her husband and watched him sleep, wondering if their child: that tiny mass of humanity beginning to grow in her womb would look like him, or her, or a perfect combination of them both; just as their life together had been, perfect in very little detail. At last she had to accept the fact that she couldn't go on hiding her state, and in a way she felt guilty for not having share with Edward her sweet secret.
Marianne could hear her husband angrily quarreling with Archie. The recently promoted Lieutenant arrived early in the morning with dispatches from the Lord Admiral. She got up from the sofa, feeling a little dizzy"something she was getting used to by now". On her way to Edward's study, she encountered a very agitated Mrs. Cox running towards her.
"Oh, m'am... Sir Edward wishes to see you at once. I'm afraid he is in a terrible mood, m'am!"
"I was on my way, thank you Mrs. Cox. If you would be so kind to tell the cook to prepare a light luncheon, let's say in thirty minutes..."
When she arrived at the door, Archie was coming out tense, pale and very much upset.
"What has happened?"
"Hell!!... I'm sorry Marianne, but it is unfair! I came as soon as I was ordered to deliver those damn papers!"
"What did he say to you?"
"Oh, the usual... That I was most careless. That I was supposed to deliver then yesterday not today and the fact that he is not on board the 'Indie' doesn't make less of a captain and every little detail of the repairs and new recruitments has to be consulted with him first.-
"Calm yourself! He's not angry at you. There must have been something in those dispatches! Go to the dinning room Archie, have something to eat, we'll join you in a little while. Let me see what I can do!"
"Mr. Kennedy, do as I tell, sir... Everything will be all right!"
Archie sighed in relief and walked away. If there was anyone in the world capable of softening the captain's angry moods was Marianne.
She knocked on the door.
"Come, damn it!"
Edward was facing the windows. Marianne could see the tension lines in his shoulders and the hands tightly folded on his back. She had a dark premonition of what was about to be told.
"Did you call for me, darling?"
At the sound of her voice, he turned around. His eyes softened and he opened his arms to her. His embrace was so strong! She open her lips and kissed him on his brow, his cheeks and then his lips.
"You are so vexed! Is there anything I can do to help you, my love?"
He just hold her tighter, trying to breath more calmly.
"Bad news from the Admiralty?"
"I'm afraid so..."His voice was low, almost a whisper.
"When do you have to report for duty?"
"In two days a t the most!"
Her heart started pounding. She must tell him! But how? Edward kissed her so hard in the mouth that almost hurt her lips.
"My love!"he murmured, as if he were asking her forgiveness. She then understood what was happening to him.
"I once told you: never feel guilty about doing your duty. I cannot have you without the other. And I expect nothing less of the man I adore!"
He hold her face between his hands, his eyes filled with relief.
"How did you know?"
"Darling, I just know you!"
"I'm so confused at times. A part of me doesn't want to leave you never. But the other part wants to go so badly. Anyway it doesn't make any difference what I want or not, I have been ordered to go. It seems that for this Bonaparte is not enough to have invaded every country in Europe, he wants the seas as well."
He held her close to him. There was such warmth in her body!
"" How can I live without her now?""
On their last night together, they made love desperately, hungrily as if they hadn't enough of one another.
"I promise you one thing my love; once this madness is over I'll ask to be remove from active duty and never leave you again!"
She put her fingers to his mouth.
"Shsss! Don't say that! Let's just wait and see what the future brings!"Her lips brushed his chest, his stomach, finally resting her head on him.
"I had hoped to..."his voice trembled a little"I mean... I feared something like this will happen, so I had hopes that..."
She lifted her head.
"What? What is it you had hoped?"
"That at least I could give you.... Oh, for Heaven's sake, madam! You know what I want to say. Sometimes words fail me! Give me a thousand men to order about and I'm at ease. But holding you like this makes me a complete idiot!"
Marianne moved slowly and placed her body on top of his.
"Never an idiot! Never that!... And yes, I know what you mean to say. You had wished for a child of our own! So I could feel less lonely, so something of you is always with me at all times! But you see my love, you are always with me, will always be with me no matter what. And when our child looks back in his own life, he will know he had the most wonderful father in the world: a true man of honor, and courage; the best of husbands, the best of friends!"
Edward sighed. He pressed her body against him.
"Marianne, I do love you with all m...."He stopped. There was a strange puzzled look in his eyes."What did just you say?"
"Oh, that I'll always love you!"
"Yes, yes... What was the other thing? Something about our child looking back on his life...-
There was a beautiful smile in her face, her eyes sparkling.
"Marianne are you saying that...?"
"At your return, you'll find us both waiting for you!"
How to describe the immeasurable tenderness of his kisses, his hands caressing her. She could taste the salty sensation of his tears in her mouth.
"Are there really no regrets? You will never think I love you less, that I didn't care... I couldn't bear you hate me one day!"
"Never, never! And when this madness, as you call it, is over, we'll have"the three of us"all the time in the world!"
He kissed her until she fell asleep in his arms. Now, shrouded by the pale moonlight, he cried openly wondering what he had done to deserve such an extraordinary creature in his life. Once more he prayed to be worthy of her and the new life she was about to bring into this world.
(Three months after... )
To Lady Marianne Pellew
My darling wife,
Are you well? Are you taking care of yourself? By your letters ( a package had just been delivered by a very satisfied and smiling Mr. Bracegirdle!) Everything seem fine at home and you, yourself sounded happy and healthy. I will give anything in this world just to look at you right now and see for myself all those changes you talked about! How could you say that I would not like you, that you are"as big as a house". That is my only regret, not to look at you and feel with my own hands all those kicks and subtle movements inside of you. Never doubt that my thoughts are always with you, and with them my love, my endless desire for you every passing minute of the day.
Rest assure! We haven't been engaged in any kind of action, not yet. So all is well on board!. I'm very grateful and it also gives me great comfort to know that Lady Elisabeth and Abbey have moved to the house with you.
Keep writing to me! I'll try to get this letter in the same ship that has brought me yours, so I'll make haste!
I love you and miss you more that I can say. God bless you always!
Your loving, devoted husband,
There were no letters. No news of any kind, only ugly rumors of distant battles, lost ships, inclement weather... and death. Marianne felt as if all the silence of the world had fallen upon her life. Even his dearest friends, who live only to pamper her and help her in any way they could, were part of that conspiracy of silence. No matter how hard they tried, the anguish cannot be erased form their faces.
When the months passed with no word from Edward, she tried to convince herself that it was just the normal delay: it was winter, it was the war, a sudden storm had forced the ships to anchor at some safe port. But excuses were running out, and after four months she became very afraid of the obvious: that maybe there were no news, because Edward was no more. The pain in her heart was so unbearable sometimes, that she retired to her room, giving any excuse she could invent to Lady Elisabeth, and then cried herself to sleep holding one of Edward's shirts. Nightmares began. It was the same one all over again: she was on board the 'Indie' again. Gigantic waves washed the deck. Edward was at the starboard side shouting something to her. She couldn't hear him, nor reached him. Then, an immense wave covered him and threw him overboard. At this point she always wake up covered in sweat, crying his name out loud desperately.
Her only comforting thought was the child growing strong each day inside of her. With every kick and movement, the baby seemed to remind her that inside of her was a new life, willing to breathe, and live and be loved and cared for. But she feared now, that was left of his beloved husband could also be lost.
The accident occurred one week ago. Robert had gone to London in search of news. Lillias moved to the house with the children and was her constant companion, specially at nights.
Marianne opened her eyes and saw her dear friend asleep with an open book on her lap. The sound of carriage wheels startled her.
""Robert has arrived at last! "" She decided not to wake Lillias and very slowly"her size made it difficult for her to move"got up from the bed. She put on her dressing gown and very quietly opened the door and walked towards the gallery connecting with the entrance hall."" Dear God, let there be news from Edward!""
She could see Lady Elisabeth speaking with Robert. Their faces were sad, so sad. What were they saying?
"But how is it possible the Admiralty has no news?"
"That is so. The Lord Admiral himself told me how worry he was about this silence. It is as if the sea has swallowed the whole squadron. The last report was from three months ago; the 'Indefatigable' and three other frigates were engaged in combat one hundred miles from the Azores. All supply ships sent afterwards weren't able to make contact, finding only rests of wreckage from a french vessel. But nothing more."
"Good God, Robert! What are we to do?"Lady Elisabeth began crying.
Marianne began to climb down the stairs. The voices seemed so far away... and those funny little spots in front of her eyes... One of her hands curved protectively on her womb. A spasm of pain overwhelmed her.
"M'am, we must try to hide this situation from Marianne; she already is in a very depressed state and that could be dangerous for the child. At least, we owed it to Robert that his child is delivered safely. Besides there's nothing certain, he might surprise us yet... if he is still alive!"he was interrupted by a soft painful moan coming from the top of the stairs.
She was ashen white, her eyes filled with tears.
"I must know, please tell me!"
Robert and Lady Elisabeth ran towards her, but it was too late: she fainted and rolled down the stairs, landing on her back at the entrance hall floor.
"My God! Mrs. Cox!!!"cried Lady Elisabeth.
Robert moved Marianne's body carefully. She was breathing, but unconscious and already an ugly swelling was forming in her right wrist.
"God Almighty, my lady!"Mrs. Cox began sobbing at the sight of Marianne's limp body on the floor.
"Mrs. Cox, call Dr. Harris immediately!"
Lillias was awaken upstairs by all the commotion. She came running to the gallery.
"What has happened? Oh. My God, Marianne!"
Marianne was carried upstairs. By the time she was carefully placed on the bed she regained consciousness. Something was wrong, she could feel a sharp pain on her abdomen.
"Yes, dearest, I'm here!"
"What is happening?"
"You've taken a fall! Rest now, the doctor is on his way!"
"No, something is wrong..."
Lillias lifted the covers. A blood stain was spreading fast on the white sheets. She looked into Lady Elisabeth's eyes. Marianne began sobbing. And even she was surrounded by two loving companions, she felt what real loneliness was; and once more all the silence of the world was again upon her.
Even if it was a late hour, the news reached all corners of the town: a complete squadron was sighted a few miles form Portsmouth. People began gathering at the pier. When the first frigate appeared at the entrance of the harbor, a loud cheer aroused from them. Each of the ships fired a salute.
"Mr. Hornblower! Take her as near as possible to firm land!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
Captain Pellew sighed in relief at the sight of the port. His ship was badly damage and he thought that he wouldn't reach safely firm land. After the first battle, he had to anchor at some tiny island off the coast of Portugal and arranged hasty repairs, which was very difficult with half of his crew dead and the other half in very bad condition. So the time of waiting was endless. But thank God, they were here at last!
"Mr. Bracegirdle, prepare the boats!"
"Aye, aye, sir! Would you be going ashore, sir? "
"First the wounded officers and those of the crew on critical condition. I'll be on the last boat!"
"Aye, aye, sir..."
"Mr. Bracegirdle, would you be good enough to deliver this into town...! I need to get a message to my wife right away!"
"It shall be done immediately, sir!"
Horatio came near him.
"Captain if I may suggest something, sir?"
"I can stay on board until the evacuation of the men is over. Perhaps you would like to..."
"Horatio, there's nothing I would like more that taking one of those damn boats, get to firm land and fly all the way to Wood Hall, but I can't. I have send a message to Marianne and with God's favor I'll be tomorrow at home. But it was kind of you to suggest this... I appreciate it!"
"Not at all, sir!"
They were standing next one another, hands folded on their backs.
"She must have been very worried. All these months with no letters!"The captain seemed to be talking to himself."I truly hope everything is all right! She must be near ..."He swallowed hard trying to control the tremor in his voice.
"I'm sure everything is fine, sir!"Horatio could sense his concern, which by the same token was also his.
"I pray, so. I really do, Horatio!"
The evacuation of the men took longer than anticipated. Edward received on board the other captains and some representatives from the Port Admiral's quarters. They were all of the same opinion; the game was not over. The latest confrontation was only a rehearsal of what the final outcome would be. But next time, they will be prepared, waiting and ready to be the only victor.
When the meeting was over and before leaving one of the Port Admiral's officers spoke to Captain Pellew.
"Sir, as soon as I heard that the 'Indefatigable' had reached port I took the liberty of delivering these to you!"
Edward recognized the handwriting on top of the thick stack of letters. Marianne!
"Thank you, most obliged!"
"The best of lucks to you sir, and welcome home!"
As soon as the door was closed he threw himself at the letters like a starving man over a plate of food.
"'Heavens, there are dozens of them! She must have been sick with worry! ""
He was about to open the first one, when he saw a different handwriting on one of them. He tore it open. It was from Lillias.
I pray to God that these few lines finally reach you! We didn't know if writing to you was the right thing to do, but I feel I must do this. Forgive for being the messenger of such terrible news. Edward... Marianne is very ill. Her condition has worsen in the last two weeks. She had been like that since she took a fall from the top of the stairs when she overheard that maybe you were lost at sea forever. Dr. Harris had been at her side almost day and night, as the rest of us.
She hadn't lost the child, but the coming birth is going to be a difficult one. She just isn't trying anymore, she has given up!
Oh, dear friend, if you could come soon...
What had been his worst fears were in front of him, laughing, as if saying: "Do you think you'll get rid of us... Fool!" He leaned on the table, holding in his close fist the stack of letters.
"" She is dying... My love, my soul, my life! ""
"Mr. Bracegirdle!!"He came out running wildly from his cabin.
"Prepare the small stern boat! I'm leaving the ship!"
"Sir, is there anything wrong?"The officer was really worried to see the pallor on the captain's face.
"I have to... Do as I tell sir, I have no time to lose!"
"Aye, aye, sir..."
He went back to his cabin, grabbed his coat and hat and scribbled a few lines addressed to Hornblower, asking to join him as soon as possible at Wood Hall.
Her handkerchief was in is hand all the way to the main land.
"" I left her and for what? ... I've only spoken of duty and honor. Duty to England, to our King, our countrymen... What about my duty as a man? My duty to her? I was not there when she needed me the most and now perhaps it is too late! ""
A soft cool breeze touched his face.
"" Never feel guilty about doing your duty: I expect nothing less of the man I adore! ""
"But I wasn't there.... You have suffered because of me... Me!! Who promised to make you perfectly happy, to protect, and cherished you...! ""
"When I met you, you were wearing this uniform, you are still wearing it! I cannot ask you to be less than you are, because then you wouldn't be the man I love! ""
"" Marianne, I love you... I don't want to live in this world without you! ""
"" When our child looks back on its life, he or she will know it had a wonderful father: a true man of courage and honor; the best of husbands, the best of friends! ""
Thank God for the darkness on that wretched night! He started crying openly and for the first time he didn't care one bit what would his men think of him. His only wish was to be already at Wood Hall.
"" Please, my love, wait, don't leave me! I'm coming to you! ""
The carriage arrived shortly after dawn under one of the most hard winter storms he had ever experienced. He didn't wait for the carriage to stop, just jumped from it rushing to the house entrance. A very emotional Mrs. Cox received him with tears in her eyes.
"Sir Edward! Thank the Lord you are here!"
He didn't answer, just gave her his soaked cape and climbed up the stairs and then ran all the way to their bedroom. The house was so quiet, and so little light in the corridors! He reached the door at the same time that Lady Elisabeth was coming out of the room. She looked at him in disbelief.
"Edward!"He embraced the old lady, seeking comfort, feeling suddenly very frightened to enter the room and be told that she was gone.
"M'am... Is she...?"
"It's all right! There, there! Don't worry, Marianne is fine. She's pulling out better than expected. We have to wait a little for the baby to turn, if not, Dr. Harris will try to do it himself!"
"Oh, my God!..."He felt so useless."I want to be with my wife!"
"Edward, wait! It is not a pretty sight... There has been some bleeding and..."
"Do you really think I care?? Did she think about blood, or opened wounds or disease when she came to me at the hospital? Don't force me to be rude madam for I intend to go in there!"He was shouting completely enraged. Lady Montague knew it was useless to dissuade him, so she took him by the hand and entered together into the room.
Emily was in one corner, her eyes wide with fear and pain to see her mistress agony. Marianne was laying across the bed. He could see her legs spread opened under the sheets. Lillias was holding one of her hands. At the sound of footsteps, Dr, Harris lifted his eyes and stared at him in amazement.
"Good Heavens! Sir, this is out of the question, you can't be in here!"
Lady Elisabeth noticed the angry look on Edward's eyes. He went to the doctor.
"In your view this maybe unorthodox, but if I were you doctor, I wouldn't suggest it further... Just attend to your work, we won't be in the way, I promise you!"
Lillias left her place at Marianne's bedside to Edward.
"I'm so glad you are here!"
"Thank you , Lillias!"
"I'll go and fetch Robert and Abbey!"She kissed him gently on the top of his head before leaving the room.
His eyes gazed upon his wife's face. Marianne's eyes were closed, her breathing was difficult.
"" My God, she's so pale! ""
"Marianne!"His voice was a sweet whisper. The same he used to wake her up every morning. Her eyes moved slightly, moaning softly.
"Edward! Is it really you?"
"Yes, my love!"
"If this is a dream I don't want to wake up! Please, don't wake me up!"
"Shsss, It's not a dream! Can't you feel me at your side?"He kissed her forehead, and then her lips.
"How...?"She couldn't finish the sentence. A sharp pain left her breathless.
"Hold on to me, my love!"He pull her closer to him, leaning her back on his chest. He looked at the doctor defiantly.
Dr. Harris just silently looked under the sheets thinking that in all his years of medical experience he had never seen anything like this. Well whatever it was, Lady Pellew was more relaxed and that will certainly help. A smile of satisfaction was drawn on his lips.
"Excellent, the baby has turned by itself! Lady Pellew, you'll have to help me in this. Push a little harder next time, ma'm... Do try!"
Marianne was fully awake by now. She grabbed her husband's arms. Her breathing was faster. Edward noticed the intense expression of pain on her face.
"Edward!!!"She grabbed his hands.
"I'm here! Just try a little more! Hold on to me, and try , my love!"
He would never forget Marianne's painful cry, feeling as if he had been cut in two. The pressure in his arms almost left him numb.
"Please, God, no more! ""
A soft cry escaped Marianne's lips as she closed her eyes. He didn't know what had really happened until a different kind of sound filled the room.
"Oh, she's so beautiful!"exclaimed Lady Elisabeth.
The physician took one of her hands and felt her pulse.
"She's asleep! Don't worry Sir Edward, your wife will be well, although I never expected her to survive this ordeal after the fall. By the way, sir; you have a daughter. I suggest you get acquainted with her, while Emily and I take care of certain things!"
Edward lovingly placed his wife into a more comfortable position and went to the other side of the room. Lady Elisabeth was holding a small bundle in her arms. With tears in her eyes, she placed the baby in his arms and left them alone.
He was so scared to let her fall. He, who never missed a shot in his entire life and even in the most difficult of circumstances his hand never trembled didn't know what to do with that tiny mass of humanity that looked at him with wide dark brown eyes. He finally managed to touch one of her little hands and looked at her perfect fingers, now holding his own so strongly!, and then her small delicate face. Yes!... There was Marianne in there! Except for the eyes. It was like looking himself on a mirror. Very gently he lowered his face to his daughter, letting her tiny fingers touched his cheeks and ever so gently brushed his lips on her forehead.
It was Marianne's voice. He looked at the bed. There she was, pale, tired, but ever so lovely and with such warmth in her smile! Emily and the doctor left the room. She extended her arms and received them both.
"Are you all right? You were not wounded?"
Edward kissed her ardently. The baby moaned softly. He gave it to Marianne.
"Is it a girl?"
"Yes... as beautiful as her mother!"
Marianne hold her daughter, kissing her.
"I hope you are not disappointed... perhaps you would have liked a boy first!"
"Nonsense!... This is all I ever wanted!"He hold them both in his arms."I love you so much!... Both of you!"
Marianne took his lips fervently.
"What shall we call her?"She asked after a few minutes.
"Marianne, like you!"
She thought for a moment.
"Do you mind if we use a different name?"
"Because she is our crowning victory... "
"Victoria Marianna Pellew! It does have an air about it!"He caressed her tenderly.
"I will tell it to you later... Rest, now!"
"Can you stay....?"
"I won't go... rest my love!"
Marianne closed her eyes, smiling.
"This is not a dream, is it?"
"No. Sleep! And when you wake up, I'll be here!"
When Abbey, Robert, Lillias and Lady Elisabeth entered the room, found such a scene that years later, they would still recall it as clear as the first sun rays on that winter morning. Edward had fallen asleep. One of his hands grabbing his daughter's fingers and his other arms lovingly circling his wife who had a beautiful joyous expression on her face.
From the gathering darkness, the promise of light and new life was fulfilled.
Nearer to the stars
(Twenty five years later...)
Victoria Marianna Pellew
I don't think there was a girl in the whole world with such happy childhood as mine. I grew up in a household filled with laughter, games and above all: love. Wood Hall was my whole universe, where Papa and Mama were my brightest stars. There were other stars in my little universe: Grand"mama Elisabeth, aunt Lillias and uncle Robert, my dear play mates Beatrice, Arthur and Robert and Mama's brother: uncle Horatio with whom I had a crush for God's knows how many years!
My first memories of Papa were not very clear: a pair of strong arms lifting me in the air, two bright dark eyes looking at me, and soft kisses at night. Mama told me that when I was a little girl, he had to be away in his ship much, that there was a war. I still recall the anguish in her tone every time she spoke of it. We prayed each night for Papa and uncle Horatio and before going to sleep Papa's face was on my mind, for I had a portrait of him next to my bed and Mama made me kiss it. When letters"that was one of my first words, the other was Papa"arrived, it was a happy event in the house. Mama and I would sit in the morning room and read them all once, twice, three times until we memorized each word. At the end, Papa will draw little blots of ink and said that those were my special kisses and that Mama will have to give them to me for him. There was always a special message for Mama and she will blushed after reading it. I was deadly curious about those lines, but she never let me read them, until recently. And then I knew... I understood what love really is.
I was five years old, when my brother Edward was born. Papa was with us at the time.
I remember waiting with him in the gallery. I knew something out of the ordinary was happening: everybody was running up and down the stairs, and Grand-mama Elisabeth was with aunt Lillias in Mama's room. Papa was nervous, I could tell, because he took my hand, squeezing it very hard. And we would walk up and down the corridor; sometimes very fast, others more slowly until my legs hurt. Then he would pick me up in his arms and continue walking, speaking softly in my ear.
"I love you princess! I love you very much!"
"When can we see Mama?"
And finally we did see Mama. She was in bed, half asleep, holding my baby brother in her arms. We both got into bed with her. Papa put his head on her breasts and stayed there without speaking, looking at the baby and feeling each of her caresses. Poor Mama! She had sometimes a hard time sharing her love with all of us! But she did it successfully, for I never felt unwanted or abandoned. Even at that young age, I sensed that there was a special place in her heart for Papa only, and I learned to respect that sacred privacy between them.
After the birth, Papa had to go away"for the last time he said-. It took almost a year for England to defeat France completely. Napoleon was imprisoned and we all awaited happier times. When Papa returned, he was a Vice Admiral. And he sneaked on us in the garden. I was playing with Edward, and Mama was reading to us. Suddenly the wind began to blow from the west. We both lifted our heads, and there he was: smiling and so handsome in his new uniform. I'm afraid we forgot about little Edward, and ran to his arms.
"How long can you stay?"Asked Mama with trembling voice.
"Forever... I promised you my love long time ago... This madness is over, I'll never leave my family again... Never!"
We stood there kissing and hugging until Edward, who had been watching the whole scene began crying unaccustomed to that lack of attention. Papa came to him and lifted him. My brother looked at him, his little fat fingers playing with the gold laurel leaves on Papa's collar. He just said the only clear word in his vocabulary at that age "Papa" There were tears in his eyes, but we were so happy at that moment... so happy!
When Papa was away, time seemed endless. Now that he was with us all the time, it flew so quickly. And there was nothing we could do, except to live fully each moment of happiness.
I was eighteen when I met Henry. Captain Lord Henry Eddrington, son of a dear old friend of Papa's and uncle Horatio's. It seemed they met during
some mission on Brittany years and years ago. Two years after that, Papa gave me away at the little chapel near our house. I could never forget his eyes and his vibrant voice and the loving kiss he gaveme at the altar before placing my hand in Henry's. Mama was also crying. But I knew those were happy tears. Afterwards, while she was helping me to undress my wedding gown she told me so.
"Was it your wedding like mine?"I asked.
"Well darling all weddings are different. But if you love Henry as much as I love your father, then I can answer you: yes, just as beautiful and wonderful as yours."
"Mama...I'll miss you... both of you!"There were tears in my eyes.
She kissed me in her special way.
"Just be perfectly happy darling! That is all your Papa and I want for you!"
And so I was. I still am.
The house was silent. Its quietness came from within. Even
Nature stopped for a few
hours its new colors and sounds"it was Spring"just to accompany that treasure box that has been Wood Hall for so many years, in its grieving silence.
He said it was nothing, just a chill. But when he took to bed, feverish and without strength to move I knew... The pain of losing him that first time, when he was wounded at the hospital was nothing compared to this inevitable certainty that Edward was only human and like me and the rest of us would have to leave sometime. That one time, so many years ago I felt as if I had won the battle over destiny, over death. But it was an illusion, a false victory! Now, there was nothing I could do, just wait, day by day, holding to our memories and our love.
It was near dawn. I fell asleep holding his hand. Somehow he moved or coughed, perhaps both. I wake up. He was looking at me, smiling.
"Good morning, madam!"His voice was a whisper.
"Good morning, sir!"I leaned over him and kissed him, once, twice, I don't know how many times on his hair, his eyes, his mouth. He couldn't even lift his arm to touch me, so I took one of his hands and put it against my face.
"You look pale, my love! Tell Abbey to come for a while, so you can rest!"
My heart sunk. Abbey had been dead for almost ten years now.
"Never mind dearest, I'm not tired!"
He closed his eyes. I prayed! Oh, God, never so intensely"Not now, it's too soon!"
"Where's Vicky?"He was restless.
"Sleeping with the children! She will come and see you in a little while!"
"Is Eddie's ship all right now?"He was referring to our grandson's favorite toy: a small wooden ship, very much like the 'Indefatigable' . Last night Eddie broke it accidentally and he came into the room, crying desperately. Edward, just took the child in his arms, and with great effort"I only knew how much strength it took from him"began to repair it, until it was new. Victoria took the child after he fell asleep in his grandfather's arms.
"Oh, yes... Fine!"
"Edward is coming home today!"I hoped this news will bring him back.
"Edward!... Our Edward!... He is a fine officer, I'm very proud of him!"
"Having you for a father, he couldn't be other wise."I felt tears coming to my eyes."Remember what I told you once: when he looked on his life he would know he had the best of fathers, the best of friends."
This time, his hand caressed my cheek. I kissed it.
"Have I been good? Tell me my love. I still regret all the years I left you alone, waiting... so many times... Was it worth anything?"
"Never doubt! Never!... It was worth it, because every minute we were together was so special, so intense with desire and love and true respect for one another... "I started crying, holding him in my arms.
"What's this?... No, no tears, my darling!... I couldn't leave you so sad! Please, smile at me, just the way you did that first day ... at the ruins."
Suddenly a soft cool breeze from the west entered the room. The laced curtains looked like ethereal sails blowing straight to... where? He looked at them. I knew what was on his mind. He breathed deeply.
"It's a Zephyr!... That's what have you been for me... in my life. A delicious perfumed wind. The only real honor I ever had in my life was being your husband!"
"Edward, please do try! Don't go!"
He lowered my face and kissed me passionately.
"I love you!"were his last words.
I didn't know how I survived the months after his death. But I did, as if some invisible force made me eat, drink and walk until I finished my task.
Dear Robert came to see me and told me that the grave is finished. I kissed him fondly, for he and Lillias had been the truest friends anyone could have. When he said good bye to me, I truly gave him my final farewell, for I knew we wouldn't see each other again, at least not on this Earth. As for my children, they have lives of their own, they must sail alone the rest of the voyage. At the end, Edward and I will be waiting for them.
I am so tired... so tired!
Tonight my ghosts seemed much more real than before. I could feel their presence while I looked once more, and for the last time in the mirror.
"" It hasn't been to long to wait, has it my love? ""
I opened his wardrobe where I still preserve all his uniforms. I lovingly touched each and every one of them. I took one out and smelled it. Yes, there was still his scent, soft, spicy. Tears escaped my eyes, my God and I thought I hadn't any more to shed!
I went to the bed, our bed. Yes, what ever will happen, it will be soon... I could feel the little pain again in my chest. Please, God, make it soon!
""Next time I open my eyes, I will be seeing your dear face, and then we shall never have to part from another, never, ever.... ""
The next morning Victoria found her mother peacefully and forever asleep, embracing one of her father's coats. There was such a loving smile on her face, that Victoria felt that tears would be out of place, almost a sacrilege.
Victoria had just left. We have cried together, although she's stronger than I am.
I can't believe Marianne, my dear, sweet sister is gone. But now, looking at their grave, I know I have to let go of her, the same way I did let her go the night before her wedding when I realized that I was a no longer a child. And once again, I'm all alone, facing my destiny. I only hope I will make them proud!
Marianne left a letter addressed to me. She asked me to buried Edward and herself at the old Templar ruins at Evergreen. I did so.
First was placed Edward's coffin, then Marianne's. Victoria smiled behind her tears.
"That's the way it should be uncle Horatio! How many times as a child I watched her sleeping on Papa's chest. Yes, that's the way it should be!"
"I only wish I could have time to tell her..."
"Oh, but there really was no need uncle Horatio... She knows...!"
There was only one grave. One headstone.
Here lie buried
the mortal remains of
Vice Admiral Sir Edward Pellew
beloved husband, father and friend
And her beloved wife,
Lady Marianne Pellew, devoted wife, mother and sister.
" And when this life is o'er, love
With all his joys and jars,
We'll leave behind the wind and the fire
To wage their boisterous wars,-
Then we shall only be, love
The nearer to the stars.""
To this day, the Templar ruins are a magical place for all those in love.
Every new Spring, there are fresh flowers on their grave.
Nobody knows where do they come from.
Perhaps, somebody still remembers!
These story is based on the character of captain Sir Edward Pellew
used in C.S. Forester's Hornblower and later portrayed by Robert Lindsay in the Hornblower television series.
No copyrights infringements are intended.
All original materials copyright Paloma Vázquez 1999