An American Encounter
The dining room of the Laughing Dolphin was filled with naval officers and men. Mrs. Langdon allied herself with Captain Pellew to care for the ranking wedding guests, much to Pellew's admiration. It seemed his opinion of Americans was on the rise.
Mrs. Langdon encouraged her husband to speak with them on matters
of state. She prodded Elizabeth to converse with someone besides
Mr. Rampling, but had less success with Natalie. It felt odd
to be short of female company, but this was an outpost, and if
these men had wives or girl friends, they were far from here.
Archie was frantic. How could Horatio drive off leaving them all to themselves? Natalie tried to calm him, telling him it would be all right, that they would return soon, she was sure. But Archie had heard him tell the driver to take them to the point. It had to be nearly three miles there and three miles back. He feared they would not arrive until the breakfast was already over. It was late into the morning as it was.
"It doesn't matter, Archie. The guests are having their breakfast. If they come, fine, if not, they will understand. After everything you did to him yesterday, I wouldn't blame him if he never came back. And, who is Starns?"
"Admiral Jervis is here, Admiral Keith, and Captain Ball and Captain Troubridge! You don't understand."
She sighed with exasperation. *Fine, if he wanted to worry about Hornblower, go ahead,* she thought. She left him to mingle with the other officers, as her mother wished.
Mr. and Mrs. Harvey and their hired help saw to the feeding of the increased wedding guests. In the end, it was well that they arrived late. The hotel guests had been served breakfast and were out of the way, leaving more tables available for the planned breakfast and its increases. The amount of commissioned officers in their hotel dining room made it appear more like a compulsory meeting at Admiralty House.
Langdon sat at a table with the Admirals and the Captains regaling them with stories of diplomatic missteps. Hearty laughter erupted regularly from their table.
The side door opened. Horatio and Pamela slipped inside, not unnoticed. Hornblower surveyed the room. Pellew caught his eye, standing and nodding him over. He entwined his fingers with Pamela's taking her with him. "The lion's den," he muttered under his breath.
The Admirals and Captains and Langdon stood to greet them.
"Leftenant and Mrs. Hornblower, at last!" Pellew
cleared his throat. "This is Admiral Jervis, Admiral Keith,
Captain Ball, and Captain Troubridge. We met yesterday. I mentioned
your exploits and wedding. I hope you do not mind my inviting
"No, sir. I am flattered they would choose to attend. Good-day, Admiral Jervis. It is good to see you again, sir. This is my wife, Pamela Hornblower." She smiled and curtseyed.
"Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Hornblower."
"Thank you, Admiral."
Keith stood and offered his hand. "Congratulations, Mr. Hornblower."
Hornblower took it, giving a slight bow, as well. "Thank you, sir." So this was Keith. The man Nelson had disobeyed.
Keith bowed towards Pamela. "Ma'am."
"You've got a fine man there. You don't plan to spirit him off to your navy, do you?" growled Jervis at Pamela.
Her eyebrows rose. "The thought had occurred to me, Admiral, but I fear his heart belongs to England. Just be sure you take proper care of him, or I might try."
Pellew shifted his weight nervously at her response but was thankful she had chosen not to embrace the admirals.
"Leftenant Hornblower!" Ball extended his hand. "I have heard naught but good things about you, sir. You are a credit to the service."
"Thank you, Captain."
"I, too, would be glad to have you on my ship, sir, should Sir Edward ever turn you loose," added Troubridge.
"Thank you, Captain Troubridge. Much of what I am today, I owe to the leadership of my Captain."
Pellew felt his face color, but not unpleasantly. He was proud of Hornblower, but all his skill was not due to his mentoring, he knew. The man was quick witted, sharp in regard to his men, and his sailing abilities and eye for wind and wave increased exponentially.
Captain Ball chuckled. "You've trained him well, Captain
"Sir, I did not mean..." stammered Hornblower, but they were laughing and he gave in once more to being the butt of a joke by a senior officer.
"Ah. Mrs. Hornblower," said Captain Troubridge edging from behind the table to take her hand from Hornblower's. "What could you possibly see in this gangly officer, eh?" He pulled her hand to his lips and kissed it lightly, gazing into her mirthful eyes.
Pellew felt his chest expand with a silent but quick intake of air. His eyes darted to the admiral's faces. Jervis's left eyebrow and right corner of his mouth rose in diagonal opposition at Troubridge's attentions while Keith's muscles struggled to contain a grin at the astonished look on Hornblower's visage.
She glanced at Horatio, briefly taken by the captain's boldness. "Why Captain, I see he will be an Admiral some day. And, then, he will be giving YOU orders."
"Touché, Troubridge!" exclaimed Ball.
It was Pellew who fought the grin now and a swelling in his chest that belied the pride he felt in her comeback. And oddly, he felt nearly as possessive of her attentions as Hornblower obviously did.
Troubridge bowed and returned her hand to Hornblower with a smile.
"Mrs. Hornblower," announced Pellew, "Excuse me, Admiral Jervis, Admiral Keith. I'm going to kidnap your wife for a moment, Admiral, I mean, MR. Hornblower. Why don't you go get some breakfast?"
Hornblower clinched his jaw, nervously. Why on this, of all days, did his Captain choose to tease him?
Pellew took her elbow, guiding her towards the front of the room. Hornblower watched her go and decided the suggestion was a good one. He noted Archie standing by the sideboard observing his dilemma.
"Excuse me, Admiral Jervis, Admiral Keith, Captains."
Hornblower bowed to them and joined Archie. He noted the look
of exasperation on the face of his friend, who said nothing.
"What? What, Archie?"
"I can't believe you just left!"
"Well, I'm here now, aren't I?" He noted the disgruntled look of his friend. "Why aren't you with Natalie?"
"She is mad at me, thanks to you."
"Thanks to me? What did I do?" He glanced around the dining area looking for her. She was sitting next to a leftenant he did not recognize, smiling and laughing. He looked back at Archie. "If you let her go, it is your own fault. Don't blame me!" He stared at his friend. "Go get her!"
"Is that an order, leftenant?"
"Yes, damn it!" whispered Horatio.
Hornblower watched him approach Natalie's table. A shriek of delight came from the front of the dining area, calling his attention. It was Pamela. She had Pellew in an embrace, happily exclaiming over something. It felt odd watching the two of them together. Pellew seemed to have his hands resting on her waist. Jealous? He would deny it! Pellew was almost like a father to him, yet he had sensed mixed feelings from him about her. He did not quite understand what he was picking up from his Captain. Certainly Pellew was not stuck on the fact of her being American. He knew, like he knew Indefatigable, that Pamela loved HIM. Had she not just told him so repeatedly? All the same, he wished she would not hold his Captain so closely.
Hornblower sipped his coffee with a wince, realizing he had forgotten to put a bit of sugar in it. He gazed over the mounds of food before him. Lord! How much was this going to cost him? Mrs. Harvey whisked by him with a tray full of freshly cooked eggs.
"Get these while they're hot, Mr. Hornblower," she grinned. His expression caught her. "Oh, and Mr. Hornblower, I am to tell you, you need not worry about the cost of the breakfast. It has been fully paid for. You don't owe us a penny."
"I'm not to say another word. You are to consider it a gift, sir, and that is all I am to say." She nodded at him as she returned to the kitchen.
*Who could be their breakfast benefactor?*
Pamela was making the rounds with Pellew in tow, greeting the guests she knew and the ones she did not. Hornblower smiled wryly. *That is what you get for adding to our guest list,* thought Hornblower. Several tables, a discreet distance away from the officers, were filled with his men. He approached one occupied with Matthews, Styles, Oldroyd, Starns, and Hardy. He gave them a nod.
Several of them knuckled their heads and made to stand.
"Do not get up, gentlemen," he ordered, motioning them down.
"Congratulations again, sir."
"Thank you, thank you." His eyes rested on the carpenter. "Starns!"
"Aye, Mr. Hornblower?"
"There seems to be a problem in our bedroom, that I thought you might be able to help us with."
Starns shifted his eyes to his mates. "Sir?"
"Yes. It would seem our bed has termites."
"Mmm. Eaten through the slats, they have." Hornblower eyed the reactions of his men as he tipped a glass of orange juice. "Funny how they seemed to only have a taste for the slats." He looked over at Starns. His tan seemed a little deeper. "Do you think you could take care of it for me?"
"Oh. Aye, sir. I'd be glad ta."
"I thought you might," smirked Hornblower. He had him! It was he who sabotaged their bed!
He looked over the officers attending, finding a table full of the Indys. Which one of them put him up to it? He was sure Starns did not think of it on his own. It would be too bold for a rating to so abuse his officer. There was Bracegirdle, with Rampling, Cleveland, Cutter, James, McMasters, Bowles. Cutter. It was Cutter he had seen with Starns that day. A red uniformed man leaned back who was previously obscured by Bowles large frame. It was the arresting army leftenant! Hornblower tried to breath and swallow at the same time, resulting in a spate of coughing to expel the liquid from his air pipe.
Styles stood and began slapping him on the back. "Are ye all right, sir?"
Coughing, "Yes, Styles! Cease man!"
"Hello, there!" Pamela addressed Hornblower's men. "I see Mr. Hornblower is entertaining you!" she grinned. The men stood as she addressed them.
"Good morning, Mrs. Hornblower," chimed several men.
She stepped over next to Matthews, looping her arm in his and clutching it with her other hand. "Thank you again, Mr. Matthews." Leaning she kissed him on the cheek.
Matthews proceeded to turn a dark shade of red as his mates moaned and cooed over her attentions. Hornblower seemed frozen in the spot he stood in.
Pellew cleared his throat and pulling her arm said, "Come, Mrs. Hornblower, the Harvey's have a special table for you and Mr. Hornblower." He looked over his shoulder at Hornblower, frowned and nodded for him to follow. Seating her he said, "I will bring you a plate."
His captain was waiting on his wife? He glanced once more to the army leftenant as he sat down beside her. His plate was covered with a silver domed lid. He stared at it quizzically and then removed it. A mild puff of steam rose from the fresh cooked food.
"Oh my goodness! Are you going to eat all that?" She found his loose hand squeezed it and leaned to kiss his cheek.
He blinked and smiled at her. "Are you enjoying yourself?"
"As long as you are near me!"
Hornblower felt reassured and let himself relax taking a forkful of food into his mouth.
She glanced over at the back of Pellew moving along the buffet of breakfast food. "I love Captain Pellew." She sighed happily.
Hornblower swallowed hard the eggs he was chewing. He turned a concerned face to her, but she was moving to stand and did not see.
"Let me show you, Horatio!"
He stood as she left him moving quickly to the table Pellew had taken her to in the front of the dining room. He gazed around at the breakfast guests. How much longer would they have to endure so many? Why in the world did he plan such a gathering? Propriety? Expectations? He could be called away any moment. He would be with these men for months on end, but how much longer could he be with her? Stupid, stupid, stupid! He berated himself mentally. Why did he bring her back here? He should have gone on to the point. Why was he doing all this? So captains could kiss her hand, hold her, get her breakfast?
Pellew arrived with a plate of food and stood next to Hornblower. "She is excited isn't she?" grinned Pellew watching her quick approach.
She bit her lower lip grinning first at Pellew, briefly at Hornblower, then at the long wooden box she clutched in her hand.
"Look, Horatio! Isn't he a dear?" She placed the box on the table and opened it, and removed a cloth bag. She pulled loose the cords and slipped the black velvet cloth away from the long brass shaft.
"Isn't it beautiful?" She raised the shiny new telescope for Hornblower's inspection.
"Captain...it...but," he started to remind him that he had already given them a sizable gift, but stopped himself. This was a gift for Pamela. For Pamela alone. He would not mar her happiness, or his Captain's, with the jealousy he felt growing within. "It is very fine. Very fine indeed, sir."
Pamela caught the slightest hint of sadness in her husband's voice and let her eyebrows briefly knit. "You must take me out to use it today, Horatio!" She grinned at Pellew once again. "I love it, Captain Pellew!"
Pellew sat the plate of food he had been holding on the table. "It is Italian made, Mr. Hornblower. I was assured it is of the highest quality."
Hornblower felt his throat constrict. He could say nothing. He took the scope from Pamela, extended and raised it to his eye, focusing out through the front window of the hotel dining room. As he peered through it, he said, "Pamela. Come here." He reached over with his free hand and pulled her into his chest and the crook of his arm. Taking her hand in his, the two of them held the scope to her eye. He lowered his chin to her shoulder, turning his lips to brush her neck. "Look there. Can you see it?"
At first her eagerness had been for the instrument but then the soft caress upon her neck caused her to breathe deeply, and calm from her giddiness, moving to an altogether different level of quiet excitement.
Pellew cleared his throat and raised an eyebrow at the embrace of the two, here in view of all the wedding party. Was it the razor edge of impropriety before him, or something else that was creating an irritation within? Whichever, he did not like the feeling.
Hornblower became aware of the quieting room. Had he made his claim too forcefully? He loosened his embrace.
"Do you mean the pelican sitting on the battlement?"
"Oh, it is a fine telescope, Captain! I feel as though I could pet the seabird!" She turned another smile to Pellew letting herself lean into her husband.
Hornblower managed a nervous smile for his captain, as he collapsed the telescope down for storage. The two men exchanged a final look. One of possession on Hornblower, and one of acquiescence on Pellew.
"I am pleased, you are pleased. Your breakfast awaits." He turned from the two and rejoined the admirals and captains.
Out the corner of his eye, Horatio caught a glimpse of someone standing by the side door. It was Archie and Natalie staring at them, dumb struck. Horatio wondered if he had been too bold and lowered himself slowly into his chair. Someone had placed the silver dome back over his food. He stared at it momentarily. Natalie and Archie joined them silently taking seats with them and staring at Horatio. He returned the looks but said nothing.
Pamela smiled at Archie and Natalie and finally rested her gaze on Horatio. No one was speaking. She removed the dome for him and looked at Archie and Natalie again. What had happened? She lifted a fork full of potatoes to her mouth and chewed, gazing at her friends, then the rest of the room which was returning to a low hum of conversation. "He is going to be an admiral someday."
Archie blinked at his solemn friend, and shook his head. "Eat your breakfast, Admiral Hornblower."
At last, the admirals and their sizable entourage of lieutenants, and the captains and theirs, were standing, exchanging final pleasantries. The wedding breakfast was rapidly growing to a close.
Hornblower had positioned himself near the dining room entrance and noticed the arrival of an unknown leftenant. He was speaking to the girl handling reception. She motioned to the dining area. He approached Captain Ball, handing him a sealed packet. *Orders,* thought Horatio. A flutter erupted in his middle. The door of the hotel opened again. Two more leftenants entered. Again they were guided into the breakfast room. Again, the flutter. He watched one approach Troubridge, and then, leave to join Pellew. He inhaled as mild nausea circled about his innards. The leftenant behind this one arrived to salute Troubridge, handing him a packet, as well. Pellew took the proffered documents. Horatio swallowed. They could not leave today. The wind was not favorable. He felt Pamela place her hand on his.
Pellew stepped away to open his dispatch. If the admiralty had gone to all the trouble of locating him here, it must be important.
The room had become quiet with whispers and wonderings. She felt Horatio wrap his hand around hers. She held on tightly.
Pellew looked up from his reading to find many sets of eyes focused on him. "Haharum." He folded the letter and pushed it inside his coat pocket. Troubridge and Ball, too, put away their letters.
Jervis looked from captain to captain to Keith. "So, we are to stir our stumps. I'd best get back to my own ship. I'm sure my Captain has received a delivery as well. Fare thee well, Admiral Keith." Several other men around the room moved at his signal. He stepped over to Hornblower who turned to face him. "I pray God blesses your union, Young Hornblower."
"Thank you, sir."
"And you, young lady."
"Thank you, Admiral Jervis."
As Jervis made his way to exit, two more lieutenants arrived with notes for him and Keith. The two admirals exchanged looks of surprise and acceptance.
Like the uncorking of a bottle, the blue uniformed navy men began to pour from the hotel into the bright sunshine of near noon.
Hornblower looked to his captain who was speaking quietly to Bracegirdle. He sucked in a breath and gazed into the face of his wife as he nervously tapped her held hand against his thigh. Raising her entwined fingers to his lips, he planted a kiss on the back of her hand.
"Go," she said quietly.
"I love you," he said softly. Releasing her hand, he stepped quickly to his Captain's side.
Pellew stared at him, a hardness in his dark eyes. "This does not concern you, Mr. Hornblower," the coldness in his voice amazed even Pellew.
Hornblower was cowed. Were those orders? Were they leaving? How long did he have? A mixture of emotions crowded his mind. He had confronted his captain over his wife the last time they had stood this near to one another, had he not? Was his captain blocking him out from his duty? He felt a sinking in his stomach. He could bear this rejection no better than he could bear sharing her. He was a leftenant in His Majesty's Navy. He had a duty, did he not?
"Mr. Hornblower. You are on leave, sir," stated Pellew flatly. "Come, Mr. Bracegirdle."
Pellew turned on his heel to exit the hotel. He saw her standing there, a pleading in her expression. If he stopped and spoke to her, it would cause a wider rift between him and Hornblower, and might cause a rift between she and his leftenant. What had he allowed to happen? Why had he allowed it to happen? Had he not said the kindest thing he could to Hornblower? That he was on leave? On leave with his wife? He was not demanding he return to the ship. *Stop looking at me, that way!* he thought towards her. Just leave, he told himself. Leave them to themselves. But his propriety would not let him. Not without bidding her a final farewell and good wishes. He breathed deeply.
"Mrs. Hornblower," he started stiffly. She took a step towards him. He felt himself quaver. He stood his ground, fixing his gaze upon the painting on the wall. "I wish you all the best, here in Gibraltar."
"Thank you, Captain."
It was a meek reply. He let his eyes move towards hers. The pleading look was still there. What did she want from him? He watched her raise her hand as if to take his. He felt a slight shudder at what was coming, but it did not. She stopped. He watched her wring her hands. She was suffering as much or more than Hornblower.
"Take care of yourself, madam. And do not be climbing out of third story windows while we are gone."
The blush on her cheeks as her eyes darted to Hornblower told him she had not told her husband why he was at their room last night. The right side of his mouth rose. He took two steps into the lobby and stopped. "Mr. Hornblower."
Hornblower stepped quickly to his side falling in step with him, as he resumed his exit.
Holding open the door for his captain to exit the building, he asked, "Sir?"
Pellew nodded his head to the side for Hornblower to wait for him on the broad porch of the hotel. "I will be there directly, Mr. Bracegirdle."
Bracegirdle saluted him, descended the stairs, and waited near the ratings on the square.
Pellew turned and assessed his officer,...hesitating,... reasserting his command over this young man who served under him. Hornblower stood silently waiting to hear his fate. Pellew looked back to the hotel doorway, seeing Pamela watch them from the door, then turning away.
Pellew inhaled. "You are concerned about our orders."
Pellew inclined his head and gave a stolid stare into the worried face of his junior officer. "They are unknown."
Hornblower sagged, his face betraying the thought that his captain was intentionally treating him cruelly.
Pellew narrowed his eyes. "Did you hear me, sir?"
Hornblower straightened. "Aye, sir, but...." He stopped his speech. He was overstepping his position, he knew. He owed this man his respect. He was his captain. If he said the orders were unknown, then he must accept that they were unknown. "Aye, aye, Captain. Sorry, sir."
Pellew inhaled and exhaled, letting his irritation with his officer out with his breath. He eyed his leftenant and shifted his eyes to Hornblower's wife still averting her gaze from them. Why had he let himself do it? Why? After every officer that came into close contact with her, even Dr. Sebastian, why had he let himself, ... allowed himself, to fall in love with her? The admission stabbed in his gut and he was appalled.
"I am called to a meeting at the Admiralty, Mr. Hornblower," he said softly. "Nothing more."
Hornblower's eyes met those of his Captain. He did not have to tell him this. The old trust was there. Nothing between them but duty to the king they both served. That was what he wanted to feel from his captain. Not an uncertain envy. Not a possessiveness. Not a ...rivalry. But a loyalty...to his king....to his country...to his captain. A faint smile turned. "Thank you, Captain."
"Believe me. When I need you, I will call you. Be ready and do not dawdle." The last was spoken with some firmness.
Hornblower was struggling to contain his grin. "Aye, aye, sir!"
"Now...off with you, before I change my mind."
Hornblower stepped back into the hotel lobby. Pellew could see him speaking with Pamela. Would this be the last time he would see her? He turned and stepped down the stairs, head held high, stepping past his men on the square, confident they would follow him.
Pellew stopped and turned to see Pamela running towards him, lifting her wedding dress around her calves. He stopped nervously but motioned his men to go on without him. She stopped abruptly before him, panting. He looked beyond her to see Hornblower standing on the landing at the hotel, watching them.
"What is it, Mrs. Hornblower?"
"Thank you. Thank you for easing his mind."
He squinted in the noonday sun. Was that all she had to say? He was at a loss for words.
"I asked him if he would mind...if ...if I could give you a hug and a kiss."
He blinked. "Indeed?" Had Hornblower said something to her? He glanced in his direction again.
"But... I.... I thought....I thought...."
"I thought maybe... I should ask your permission as well."
He blinked again and cleared his throat. "What...I mean..." *Damn!* he thought, *She has got me stuttering!* He looked around him. "Madam, we are in the middle of the street."
She grinned, recalling a similar conversation with Horatio. "I know."
He looked at the retreating figures of his men, on the way to the docks. The passers by were few. Hornblower was still standing, watching.
He still hesitated. What if she told him she loved him again? What if he kissed her back? What if he said something he should not say when her arms were around him? Her soft hair touching his cheek... could he bear it? Could he refuse it? Might it be better to allow it and get it over with?
"Captain?" She had stepped closer to him and was touching the top of his hand lightly with a fingertip.
He should say no. He should dissuade her. Discourage her. Say something stern. He set his mouth. He would tell her no. It is not appropriate. He opened his mouth to say the words. "Very well, madam."
He expected the usual quick throwing herself against him and the tight hug around his neck. But, no. She carefully raised her arms, moved in next to him, pressing her hands on his back, and her cheek against his. He closed his eyes at the touch, breathed in the scent of her rapidly sun-warmed hair, faltered to know what to do with his own hands.
"You can hug me back, Captain. It is all right," she whispered in his ear. And then he felt her moist lips against his cheek, her exhaled breath into his ear. It would have been so easy to say it himself this time. Say the words she had said to him so often. He opened his mouth to speak, when he heard her say it.
"I love you, Captain Pellew. I know you will take care of our men."
Our men? He swallowed hard. She released him, taking his hand briefly, and letting her own slide over his. She smiled confidently at him, inhaling deeply, and backed away up the incline of the street.
He looked beyond her to Hornblower and held his gaze. He bowed slightly to his officer and Hornblower straightened and did the same. She had her back to him and was nearly back to the stairs now.
He turned from them, alone in the street The midday sun beat down upon him, heating his body in the dark uniform of a sea captain. He sighed, seeing the woman that waited for him. The one that was with him day in and day out, fair weather and foul. One made of wood that held them all in her comforting arms. One that loved him and loved his men because they loved her. She sat upon the sapphire sea, always ready to have him back, for as long as the Admiralty would let him.