An American Encounter, Part Three
"What is your name?" asked the priest in English, the Portuguese accent light.
The look of confusion on Hornblower's bearded face was pitiful and his chest rose with panting breaths. He glanced at the old woman anxiously and backed into a barrier. He understood what the man was saying.
The priest advanced towards him. "No one is going to harm you, my son. Do not be afraid."
Hornblower looked down, his face marred with concern, and his breathing increased. He put his hands over his ears and turned into the wall. Confusion. Since waking from the dream... how long had he dwelt in a mist of half-life... he had been unable to understand the people and he did not know how to tell them. He was afraid to tell them. Did he not belong with them? They cared for him. Was he not one of them?
The old woman and the priest conversed in Portuguese. The woman was clearly upset, motioning towards Hornblower.
Hornblower sank to the floor and groaned. The old woman stepped towards him, but the priest stopped her, spoke in her language, and ushered her out of the room.
The priest stood looking down at the crumpled man. He squatted beside him, resisting the urge to pull the hands away from Hornblower's ears. The eyes of the cowering man were frightened. He stroked Horatio's loose curly hair that reached beyond his shoulders.
"Can you tell me your name? You are English are you not?" the man of God asked soothingly.
Horatio calmed a little in his breathing and lowered his hands. His countenance remained fearful and questioning as he gazed at the man.
The priest was thin and bald except for circling grey hair around the base of his head. The nose was long, plump, but not overly so. The eyes were brown and kind, the deep olive skin beneath them was wrinkled and bagging. He wore a brown hooded robe tied around the waist loosely with a corded belt. A large crucifix hung over the rough material midway the chest. Hornblower's eyes came to rest upon it.
The priest patiently repeated the question. "What is your name?"
Slowly, Horatio reached inside his shirt and carefully removed the necklace. The gold cross glinted in the light of a nearby candle. He watched the priest's face closely for any sign of recognition.
A small smile emerged on the old man's face. "I am pleased you wear the cross of our Saviour, but you need not show it to me. I will not harm you. No one will harm you. Do you wish to be returned to your own people?" The priest waited for an answer and saw the man brought by old Emiangeles remained deeply fearful. "Do you know your name?" he asked, beginning to think that perhaps the man did not.
Looking down, Horatio parted his lips. Raising his eyes, he said, "O ingles?" He paused, then, said it again. "O ingles?" He searched the priest's face seeking confirmation that this was correct.
The priest's caring countenance softened sadly. Reaching and taking Hornblower by the arm, he encouraged him to rise and steered him over to a table, pulled out a chair, and motioned for him to sit down. Looking into the face, the priest found expectancy there, a waiting. Walking over to a cabinet, he removed a bottle of wine and poured the burgundy liquid into a glass.
"Here." The priest placed it before the visitor, but the man's eyes were fixed on him.
"O ingles... is my name?" Hornblower stated questioningly. His voice sounded strange in his hearing. It was the first sentence he had ever heard himself utter... at least, that he could remember. He did not sound like the old woman or this priest, though with him, there was comprehension.
The priest sighed and sat down in a chair opposite Hornblower and thoughtfully chose what to say. "Old Emiangeles..." he stopped and began again. "The old woman that has been caring for you...her name is Emiangeles de Aragon." He paused, watching the bearded man receive each word like a sponge. "She found you on the beach, near death. Do you know how you came to be there?"
Hornblower's eyes traced this way and that as he searched a black and blank memory and finally, he looked straight at the priest and shook his head no.
Inhaling, the priest continued. "She tells me your heart was nearly stopped with the cold, that you had a head injury... here." He reached a hand and lightly touched the side of Hornblower's head. Hornblower drew back. "She has prayed long and fervently for your recovery. And, now, she has brought you to me. You do understand what I am saying, do you not?"
Hornblower's eyes pooled and he bowed his head, his breath coming in pants. "I thought... I thought ... there was something wrong with me. I could not understand them. My name is not o ingles?" His questioning and puzzled gaze met the priest's eyes.
The priest laid a hand on Hornblower's arm. "O ingles is Portuguese for English. You are English. She knew this from the uniform you wore."
Hornblower hung his head and thought. "Uniform?" He stood and walked to the wall. He wanted to walk away... away from the questions, away from the answers... the answers he did not know. Why did he not realize they were speaking a foreign language? For days, he had thought there was something wrong with his hearing, with his mind, ... and he could not remember. He could not remember anything except the minute flash of the face of one man and one woman. Who were they? Who was he? His shoulders shook as emotion overtook him. He leaned against the wall and slowly descended to the floor, crumpling ... nothing.... nobody. He was no one.
Hornblower was aware of the priest kneeling beside him and then, the old man pulled him into an embrace. It felt safe inside those strong, steady arms, and then, the foreign tongue came that he had been listening to for days. Almost as the thought came, the priest altered the prayer from Portuguese to English and Hornblower listened.
"...Deliver him from darkness," the priest prayed, "Heal his mind and his memory and return him to his people whole and well. Take away all fear and show us how to help him. This I pray in the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen."
Hornblower was quiet.
The priest was, too, and he held Hornblower and waited for him to make the first move.
Horatio sat up and wiped at the wet skin and beard. Looking shyly at the priest he apologized for his behavior.
"It is understandable to be frightened when darkness surrounds you," said the priest. "But you are not alone. Old Emi has taken you to herself as a mission for God, and you may know with certainty, that through her, He has not forsaken you."
Hornblower did not understand what the old priest meant, but the words were a moderate comfort. It was true that the old woman and her family cared for him. He owed her his life, so it would seem.
"Are you hungry?" The priest was easing him back over to the chair. "Old Emi brought you to me because she said you had stopped eating. She said during Entrudo you were hit with a bucket of cold water and it caused you to pass out and then, you would not eat. It is not Lent that brings on this fast, is it?" asked the priest, searching Hornblower's countenance and watching him closely.
Sitting heavily, Hornblower took the information provided by the priest and looked inside his mind for connections. He remembered the boisterous crowd. There were so many people and there was so much noise, unintelligible noise, and cacophonous instruments. He was pressed and jostled and then, water was being thrown at the people around him. There were shouts and laughter and more cold water until finally a bucket full hit him straight on, soaking him to the skin. Shivering took hold of his body. The voices of the people altered to a shrieking storm. He was holding onto a rope for dear life and felt his leg becoming ensnared in the same. Sucking a breath, in his mind's eye, he saw the face of the unknown man appear and he was shouting something that disappeared from his hearing. The vision was gone, but it left him unsettled. Hornblower pinched his eyes closed and desperately brought up the face of the man. What was he shouting? Where were they? Who was he? Hornblower gripped his forehead in a hand. His chest and shoulders were rising and falling in quick pants. The old priest put his arm around Horatio's shoulders and Hornblower let go of the memory and eased his breathing. He pillowed his head on his forearm.
"The memories are coming, are they not?" asked the man of God, sitting opposite him.
He raised his eyes to look at the priest. Exhaustion descended upon him and he was too tired to lift his head.
The old priest smiled reassuringly. "You will stay here with me for a few days, I think. It will do you good to have someone that speaks your language. Excuse me while I inform old Emi. She is very worried about you."
The priest rose and Hornblower listened to his steps, the door opening, and the unknown tongue spoken, and the reply of the female voice so familiar. He wished he were not so tired in order that he could reassure her that he was all right,... whether he was or not.
He heard her light quick steps enter the room, then, saw her kindly old face peering and smiling at him. She reached out a hand and stroked his hair. Taking the gnarled fingers, he brought them to his lips and kissed them. His actions set her off crying and he felt his eyes filling with warm tears as she fell on him and kissed his hair and his temples, and her arms encircled him. At last, the priest led her away. How was he so blessed that this woman who was nothing to him would care for him so keenly? //////////She is praying for you.//////// Hornblower quaked. Another woman with an accent not Portuguese spoke those words. Someone from his past. Who was she speaking of? He turned his eyes onto his forearm to wipe away the tears of fear and frustration.
Hornblower awoke to flickering light and shadow playing over closed eyelids. The straw padding of the mattress on which he lay rustled in his ear as he turned onto his side and looked towards the wall above his head. It was the old priest, kneeling before the chamber crucifix, candles alight, and whispering prayers. Hornblower watched the old man and was thankful. He had been brought to the priest's bed chamber when he refused to be left alone in another one. The room was too much like a prison and he did not want to be alone in the bare stone chamber. The priest bundled the mattress and brought it to his own room. He tried to get Hornblower to take his bed, but Hornblower had refused the kindness and laid on the one spread out upon the adamantine floor. It was cool down here, but he did not mind the cold. The straw gave warmth and the wool sweater and blanket were sufficient.
The old priest crossed himself and rose to his feet. Turning and seeing Hornblower awake, he smiled. "Did I wake you?"
Hornblower shook his head, but realizing such physical responses might be rude, he answered, "No, sir," but further explanation was not forthcoming.
"I am going to morning prayers," he said as he straightened his robe and tied the belt loosely.
Hornblower rose on an elbow.
"Did you wish to come? You... are of a Protestant faith, are you not? Or are you Catholic?"
"I... I don't know," answered Hornblower.
"Ah, well, it will be in Portuguese. But if you wish to come, you are welcome, Mr. English." The priest smiled warmly.
Hornblower nodded blankly.
"I must go. The bell calls me," stated the priest stepping quickly to the door.
"You will leave it open, won't you?" asked Hornblower anxiously.
"The cold air will enter," the priest advised. "Look, there is no lock on the door... on either side. All right? Get into my bed. It is warmer than the floor."
Hornblower nodded and the priest departed. He groaned rising from the floor. In stocking feet he padded to the door and stared at the handle. The sound of keys jangled in the recesses of his mind along with a phrase, 'Almost feels like home.' His brow furrowed and he opened the door. The air outside was crisp and clean, devoid of any odors. Stepping into the stone corridor, he shivered and looked one way, then, another. There was no one to be seen, only the final toll of a bell sounded. He shifted the door handle up and down. There was no lock as the priest said. Going inside, he closed the door, then, went to sit on the priest's bed. Gathering the blankets from the pallet on the floor, he lay down and stared at the door for a long time, wondering how long the priest would be gone, until his eyelids grew heavy, and he fell asleep.
**Spies. What damnable lives they lead,** thought Pellew as he watched the ship taking Brecon disappear into the early morning fog. You never knew what they were up to, or what they would do next, saying one thing, doing another. Who, in God's name, did Brecon think he could divulge his plans to? With a sigh, Pellew turned away from the rail and viewed the expectant gazes of his officers. With Brecon dispatched and the spy's missives to hand, there was only one thing left to do before returning to England.
"Mr. Bowles. Be so kind as to set our course for Gibraltar," ordered Pellew calmly. He filled his lungs to steady the sudden quake in his soul. The thought of bringing her the news had been shoved into the background, but here it was, popping out like a red flower against a black background.
The silence that fell over the quarter-deck was palpable. Kennedy's face became ashen and his eyes lowered. He knew what awaited them at that destination, a dreadful task.
"Aye, aye, Captain," answered Bowles solemnly. "Lay aloft!"
The men waiting in the waist took to the shrouds and climbed nimbly.
"Starboard your helm," ordered Bowles.
Slowly, Indefatigable's prow turned east southeast in the light airs. Bowles ordered the topsails unfurled and the canvas fell with a heavy flap. Indy would enter Gibraltar Bay in less than two days time. The wind was with them and they had a following sea.
Arm in a sling, Bryce Rampling watched Kennedy walk to the taffrail. He came alongside and stood silently gazing aft, then, asked, "Do you think she is delivered yet?"
Archie closed his eyes, feeling them sting. He might see Horatio's son, but his lost friend never would. "I don't know, Bryce," he answered hoarsely.
Rampling sighed. "Have you ... discussed telling her with the captain?"
Archie quirked his head. "Only that I and Doctor Sebastian will attend him." Kennedy's throat tightened with the prospect.
Rampling inhaled deeply. "You will pass along our condolences?"
Kennedy looked up into Rampling's dismayed features and his own softened with appreciation. "Of course."
Rampling nodded, tried to add a further word, but nothing came to voice. He clutched Kennedy's shoulder, nodded, and walked away.
Physical weakness overcame Kennedy, his bones as water, as he stood on the deck of the Indy. Horatio loved this sea life so well, but to Kennedy, without his good friend beside him, it was as empty as a becalmed sail.
Horatio with his impulsive acumen for leadership and Kennedy with his persevering fortitude, so often identified as panic, complemented each other. They were twin bulwarks, mirrors of gumption in different guises but much the same. Horatio had helped him find his capabilities beneath the shroud of fear and failure that Jack Simpson blanketed him with.
**God! What brought that foul spirit to mind?** thought Archie. **We've been through so much together, Horatio. Why did you leave me now?**
Archie assumed that the grief of his heart would fade eventually. Knowing Captain Pellew had suffered such a loss as a young man, though not a comfort, helped Kennedy understand survival and endurance were conceivable, no matter how difficult to imagine as he dwelt on the low ledge of darkness. The conflicting emotions cascaded upon him, desires to run, to drown his memory in alcohol, to pummel anything with his fists, to scream and rage,... but he could do none of those things. He was an officer in his majesty's navy.
In the barren solitude of the once shared cabin, the only thing left to him was to succumb to weeping, and he hated it, and he let the hate harden his heart. But that solidity of fossilized emotion remained immune where Pamela was concerned and he was unsure of how he would maintain his feelings in her presence. At this moment, his eyes filling, he wished she were in his arms and he in hers, to bestow and receive that comfort and understanding of mutual and keenly felt loss.
**How will we tell her?** he questioned, and his heart answered, **You will not need to tell her. She will know when she sees you, the captain, and Dr. Sebastian. She may smile and ask, 'Where is Horatio?', but in the next thought, seeing your solemn faces, she will know.** Archie's heart was pierced anew. When would this pain end?
Leftenant Bartholomew Barnstable lifted the knocker three times and waited. It was not long and the door was opened wide.
"Mr. Barnstable, sir," smiled Drake.
"Good afternoon, Robin," said the naval leftenant, watching the boy's eyes sparkle from the use of his first name.
Drake grinned toothily and backed out of the doorway for the leftenant to enter. "You've come to walk her?"
"I have. She is still..."
"Oh, yes, sir. The baby has not come out yet. Miss Pamela," called the boy, "Leftenant Barnstable is here."
Carden emerged from the back of the house and brushed a salute off his forehead. "Afternoon, sir."
"She's stubborn as ever. I've told her all this traipsin' here and there she might drop that little one on his head."
Barnstable pinched a smile. "Pray, do not wish that upon me, Mr. Carden."
Carden's expression brightened with the formal address to himself. He was not used to it, even after so many months as a civilian. Working for a moneyed employer in the position he held brought a respectability of which he was unaccustomed, and he had to admit, he liked it.
A noise on the stair caused their heads to turn and conversation to cease.
Barnstable quietly filled his lungs upon seeing her. Her abdomen protruded before her like an immensely ridiculous cannonball. The child's birth could not be many days hence. Even his untrained eye could see she was carrying him lower and her step betrayed a definite waddle. Happiness to be in her company and the absurdity of the nature of child bearing for the human race brought mirth to his countenance.
As she beheld his face, she smiled and the sparkle of expectant new life glittered in her lively brown eyes.
"Mr. Barnstable. So you have not yet abandoned me," she kidded, with a pant and a smile.
It was true. While he had promised to leave when Horace Holly's ship sailed, that pledge was made before the man killed his wife and then committed suicide. Maria remained absent and the assured cousin had never arrived. With Amelia gone, Pamela was bereft of close companions other than Drake and Carden. With a halting conversation, pauses filled with vacant suggestion, he and Pamela had resolved that he would continue to visit her until either Hornblower or Maria returned. It was awkward, but in the end, it was something they both wanted. Good or not for Barnstable, he did not care. There would be time enough to grieve the loss of her company. It would come someday, he knew. But for now, they could continue to be ... friends.
Last Sunday, she had insisted on walking to the cemetery to
put fresh flowers on the Hollys' graves, taking pity on Horace,
and decorating both with winter flowers.
Pamela had touched Barnstable's heart with her compassion for a man of such selfish villainy. She had knelt at the graves and spoke of kindness, misunderstanding, forgiveness, and ... love. With sad brown eyes, Pamela looked up and said, 'They loved each other once,' and he agreed, and watched her separate flowers from Amelia's bouquet to place on Horace's mound, then, he extended a hand to help her to her feet. He recalled her expression as she stared at the proffered hand, and for a moment, he thought she was going to refuse the help, but then, she placed her hand in his, and looked him full in the face, eyes brimming with moisture. He would have given any amount of money to know what she was thinking.
"Are you certain you should make this journey, Mrs. Hornblower?" asked Barnstable formally.
With a huffed sigh, she said, "Yes. I want to go. I want to walk. I warn you though, I will be slow."
All that meant to Barnstable was that he would be with her for a greater length of time, but he was slightly concerned that Carden's raw suggestion could become reality. Deciding how he would react, should she go into labour, he had several contingencies in mind.
"You need not go if you do not wish," stated Pamela.
Barnstable lowered his chin and eyed her doubtfully. To imply he would forsake her now was ludicrous.
She smiled at his expression. "Do not be angry with me, B- Mr. Barnstable," she asked sweetly.
"Have you the flowers?" he asked, ignoring her recent converse entirely.
"I'll get them," piped up Drake before she could answer.
Barnstable assisted with the cloak, informing her the weather was going off cool with fresh clouds appearing on the horizon. He was rewarded with a broad smile.
"Just listening to you report on the weather takes me back to days on the Indy." What a treasure Barth was.
He had grown used to such comments and knew he brought recollections to mind. She had dwelt on a fighting frigate, there was no doubt. The leftenant tousled Drake's curls. "You best get your coat. It's time we were away."
"I'm not going today, sir."
This was unexpected. The boy usually accompanied them on walks, though he would generally run ahead or lag behind, inspecting some oddity that interested boys of his age. Barnstable was at a loss. He would be with her alone for the first time since last July. His heart fluttered. Astonishment tingeing his features as he said to Pamela, "You seem to have lost your retainer."
She laughed lightly. "You, too, sir, might wish to abandon me. I fear I shall be ponderously slow."
The officer eyed Drake suspiciously and doubted that was his reasoning. He would ask the child later, should he get the chance, when Pamela was not present. Drake had some ulterior motive in refusing their company, he felt sure.
At last, the two were out the door, and her steps were laggard. Barnstable had to bite his tongue to keep from asking her repeatedly if she should be making the mile and a half trip. The conversation between them was at a minimum due to her laborious breathing.
She halted the progress and looked into his face. She wanted to call him Barth as she hesitated before speaking. There were things she wanted to say to him, but she was not sure she should. She knew he would leave her some day soon, and she would be alone until she could meet new people in Gibraltar, or sail to England. Besides all that, it was the connection between them that left her feeling confused when she tried to make sense of it. Bartholomew Barnstable had a piece of her heart and she would not, could not, snatch it away.
"What is it? The baby?" asked Barnstable anxiously, when she did not speak.
"No," she smiled, "It's not the baby... it's you." She gazed long into his azure eyes that seemed a deeper blue than usual. "You have been... such a good friend... more than a friend," she added softly. "I do not know how to thank you." She turned and took two steps forward, then, stopped, and smiled. She wanted so much to call him by his first name, but instead, she touched his cheek, caressing its smoothness with the back of her hand. "Tell me if you want me to stop," she said softly.
He leaned towards her hand in reply. Was his love having some effect? Guilt pressed upon him.
"I do not know why you have come into my life. Do you know how much ... how much... you confuse me?" she asked.
Surprised at first, he lowered his head in shame.
"No. No." She shook her head and lifted his chin. "You have been the dearest friend... Mr. Barnstable. You have been honest from the beginning. I have no one to blame but myself for... whatever conflicting emotions I have about you." She left unsaid the things he did that mirrored her relationship with Horatio, and it was that which she believed drew her, as his service rank and mode of speech had from the outset. Guilt over using him troubled, but both of them understood what they were doing in each others company. Did they not? Her fingers slipped hesitatingly from his chin to the soft lips. Hers parted as her eyes were set on them. Inhaling, she snatched her hand back, shook her head, and said, "Forgive me!" and she turned and walked forward swiftly, cradling the baby within the folds of the dress.
Barnstable eased alongside and glimpsed her with a sidelong glance. What had he done? Part of him was pleased, flattered, and part of him loathed himself for what he had stirred in a married woman. He knew he could handle what he was doing to himself, but he could not handle what he was doing to her. This would be their last day together.
Upon reaching the square, he guided her to a park bench. It did not face the haberdashery, which bore a sign stating it was closed until further notice.
"You are walking too fast, Mrs. Hornblower. Sit and rest a moment."
She obeyed him for she was winded and it was good to sit.
He listened to her breathing and waited for a time after its rapidity abated. Neither looked at the other. Barnstable spoke.
"Perhaps, I should hire a carriage to take us back to the townhouse," he suggested, glimpsing her for a reply.
Her answer was a shake of the head.
"Then, a carriage to the cemetery," he said.
"Don't be silly. It is barely a half mile," she countered.
"Come, then," he said assisting her off of the bench. "Slowly now. No need to rush."
Returning to a leisurely pace, she followed beside him to the cemetery gate.
"I wonder if that woman will be here today," said Pamela, absently.
Barnstable eyed her and recollected. "The one you saw the day of the burial?"
He thought it curious that she would be inquisitive about the stranger and said so. "Why is this woman so important to you?"
Pamela's thoughts turned inward and her expression became quizzical. "It is not that she is important. I thought she said something that morning. At least, ... I thought I heard someone speak. She was the only person I saw."
"What did you hear? What did she say?"
"Just one word."
"And that was?" he asked, seeing her profile.
"Wait." She let her eyes swiftly trace the handsome face of the man at her side, but then, she called Horatio to mind as her hand glided over the extended abdomen. **I love your father,** she thought softly.
Barnstable found the single statement odd, whether it was that woman or anyone else. He, Pamela, and Drake had spoken to no one that morning but each other. Why would someone tell Pamela to wait? Wait for what?
"And, what do you think that means?" quizzed Barnstable, while they navigated the way to the Hollys' graves.
"I have no idea," said Pamela. "Maybe I imagined it," she paused, "maybe I imagined her. Neither you, nor Drake saw her. Perhaps I was hallucinating." Pamela's slight jest went unnoticed.
Barnstable considered that unlikely. "She probably just disappeared into the mist. Perhaps she was calling to a companion you did not see."
"Perhaps," agreed Pamela. "But, I thought you said we had the cemetery to ourselves that morning." They arrived at the graves and Pamela flexed her knees to lower and remove the dead flowers.
"No, dear. Let me," he said suddenly. "I mean,..." he blushed, "let me do this today, Mrs. Hornblower."
While he cleared away the old flowers and placed the new ones,
he glimpsed Pamela meandering towards the headstone she read that
morning more than a week ago.
He rapidly exchanged dead flowers for fresh. A few quick strides and he was beside her gazing at the stone. He knelt before she could and pulled away the plant growth from the neglected grave. "Amanda Pellew," he said, yanking a weed up by its roots and tossing it aside.
"Is she, indeed, ... Captain Pellew's deceased wife?" asked Pamela.
Barnstable brushed at the dirt piling at the base from years of wind. "Beloved wife of ...Edward, Cherished... Mother." He looked up and found Pamela's countenance melancholy.
"Mother? I did not know the Captain had a child. Do you think she...?" Pamela's own mother had died soon after she was born. These were not thoughts she admitted. Would it be her to die? Is that why she saw a future for Horatio as an admiral? Why had she not thought of it before? Did she think she was immune to death? Another motherless child? **No!** she thought, and with an arm, she embraced the weight of her abdomen.
Barnstable watched her introspection. Child bearing was a dangerous activity. He had no idea how Pellew's wife had passed. Under the current circumstances, he did not want to know. "No more, Pamela. No more. I am taking you home."
"No. Take me to Mr. Deluca's shop."
Barnstable had never been to the artists studio, but he knew of Deluca. Was there another portrait detailing the mutual adoration? It was right that she should desire Hornblower. Barnstable would take her there, for he was feeling weaker than usual where she was concerned due to his earlier decision. Subconsciously, he was feeling the loss of her company, and though he knew in his heart it was wrong, he had had her all to himself for the past hour. He could have taken her in his arms and kissed her, tasted the sweetness of those intoxicating rose lips he contemplated on sleepless nights, recalling her tantalizing womanly frame when first they met. In the next thought, he thanked God for his restraint. He did not want to recall this time with regret. By bridling his earnest desire, the memories could be cherished not lamented... at least, not in that way.
Her steps were rapid and he perceived the labored breathing beginning. Twisting his mouth, he scooped her into his arms.
"Barth. No. Put me down."
"Be quiet," he ordered firmly. She was in his arms. This was madness. He would not look her way.
Pamela clutched her hands closed so as not to touch him. His face was so close. She could see the resolute line of his jaw, feel the firm muscles of his arms and the taut solid chest against her side.
"Barth... please,... put me down." Her words were apprehensive. "You will throw your knee out," she added for good measure.
He said nothing and kept his eyes focused ahead.
She bit her lip, then, relaxed and leaned against him, opened her hand to hold onto the broad shoulder, the fabric thick and warm under her palm. In his arms, she perceived his substantial nature, that despite his knee injury he was compact and brawny. She could smell his manliness. The faint hint of shaving soap on his cheek was familiar. It was the same soap as Horatio's. There was nothing in Barth's features to mirror Horatio, but in his manner and in his actions... Horatio was there. Emotionally, she knew she was treading thin ice.
He shifted his view towards her minutely. "I should have said no to this outing from the beginning."
Horatio would have said much the same. Barth was kind like Horatio and gave her rein, like Horatio, to an extent, and now, he was reining her in, as Horatio would do. Sighing softly in his arms, she was too pregnant and too weary to fight against her fragile feelings. The stream was gaining strength and she was lost to its current. **Come home to me, Horatio,** she thought, **I need you.**
Arriving in the first street that would lead to the square, she said softly, "Put me down, Mr. Barnstable."
He stopped and set her on her feet, then, maneuvered her to a low stone wall. "Sit here, until I return with a carriage."
"Yes, sir," she replied, yielding.
He glimpsed her shyly but perturbed. Had he spoken too roughly? He strode off in search of a coach.
Returning with the conveyance, Barnstable helped her in and instructed the driver. "We will not be long inside the studio, then, you may take us out Europa Lane."
"Aye, sir," answered the cabby touching his hat.
It was a short ride to Deluca's place of business. It being
Sunday, Barnstable doubted the man would receive them, but Pamela
averred that the painter lived below stairs and that he would
not mind the unexpected visit.
Inside the middle-aged man's studio, Barnstable stood behind Pamela as she drank in the full height of Hornblower as depicted in the painting. It was a fine piece of work as were the other two portraits Barth had seen at the townhouse. This was such a massive canvas, however, he wondered where she would hang it. Its size was more suited to a mansion than to a modest home on a British outpost. The only place it could conceivably be hung properly in Gibraltar was Government House. Pamela did not seem to care. She was quietly transfixed. Barnstable humbly departed, leaving her with her husband. The brief time in Horatio Hornblower's presence was enough of an admonition.
When she quitted the shop for the lane, Pamela shifted her eyes between Barth and the descending outdoor stairs. Nothing had changed. He was not diminished, though she perceived he felt he was. It was for the best, she knew.
He stepped near as she was reaching the bottom, their eyes
met, and she stumbled, missing the last step. She fell forward
and he caught her in his arms.
"Careful!" he said, the near fall terrifying him. "Are you all right?"
"Oh!" she breathed nervously. "Barth!" As she raised her head, her cheek brushed his. The sensation mounted a shiver on her already tingling nerves. "Sorry!" She raised a hand to touch the cheek but held back at the last moment. "Thank you, Mr. Barnstable," she swallowed.
"You gave my heart pause... " he halted, then continued, "... Mrs. Hornblower, please be careful."
She laid her hand on his chest. "Thank you... Leftenant... for rescuing me." She swallowed and calmed from the near tumble. "We can go home now," she said.
We? Home? Did she realize what she was saying? He kept his thoughts to himself and eased her into the coach. **Maybe I am nothing more than a brother to her.**
He sat opposite to ride backwards in the open coach. Giving the driver the address, the carriage lurched forward, then, settled into an easy cadence. Barnstable saw she was weary. He truly should have prevented this excursion. The coach twisted through a pot hole and Pamela slipped across the leather seats. Automatically, he crossed the gap between them and put his arm around her shoulders, encouraging her to lean against him.
He closed his eyes and absorbed the warmth of her body beside his. Her hooded head did not prevent the aroma of her hair from rising to fill his senses. He felt a soft pressing on his chest and he looked down. She was fingering the buttons of his topcoat, lifting one and shifting it in the spare afternoon light. With a swallow, he raised a hand to cover her fingers.
Slowly she turned her countenance up to his. Her visage was radiant. The deep brown eyes were clear and soft in their gaze. Lips parted, the edges of shining white teeth shown beneath them. Raising his view to her eyes, he saw she stared at his lips. He lowered towards her and she did not draw back. He was a fraction away from touching the intimate and sensitive mouth with his own. Time passed. He backed reluctantly and his brow tensed.
"You owe me nothing," he whispered.
He was close enough to see the flash of heat in her eyes and the first trace of moisture appear in the corners. The physical response he viewed puzzled him. Why should she be moved to tears? Inhaling, he lifted his eyes to the passing scenery.
Arriving at the gated grounds, the officer stepped down from the carriage and helped her out carefully. She rounded quickly and extended a hand.
"Thank you, Mr. Barnstable."
He took the offered hand which gripped his momentarily, then, released it.
"Good-bye." She turned, opened the gate, and gave him a fleeting smile as she closed it behind her. "Good-bye, Leftenant."
At length, he spoke. "Pamela?"
Stopping and looking back, she responded. "Yes, Barth?"
"If you need me,... you know where to find me."
Her lips moved tremulously between sadness and a smile and she said shakily, "You are a good friend."
He watched her enter the house and close the door. He was alone but for the carriage.
"Where to, sir?"
"I'll walk. How much?" he asked, pushing fingers into a pocket.
"Four shillings, sir."
The officer placed it in the man's palm, adding a shilling.
"Thank ye, sir." The driver lifted the reins, then, looked back at the quiet pondering naval leftenant. "I've got to go back to town any how, sir, if you've a mind ta..."
Barnstable considered the state of his knee, and while he felt a walk would clear his mind, he was tired, emotionally, and it was affecting him physically. Without further hesitation, he climbed up beside the driver.
Three days later, in a light rain, Indefatigable warped into Gibraltar Bay. Mooring the frigate had taken hours. For all the easy sail into the straits, making anchorage had been a arduous task.
Captain Pellew departed the ship for the port admiral, leaving his first leftenant in command. The crew tidied the decks and cable tier and wearily went to dinner. Midshipman Connors had the second dog watch and stood it in the rain.
After dinner with the senior officers, Kennedy remained in the officer's mess for a time, attempting to read, but he found himself reading the same words over and over and nothing was sinking in. Shutting the book and laying it on the table, he frowned and looked up at his fellow officers. Rampling and Bracegirdle were playing a game of chess. Bowles was writing a letter. Dr. Sebastian had excused himself to have a smoke on the upper deck.
Standing, Kennedy picked up the book.
"Turning in, Mr. Kennedy?" questioned Bracegirdle.
"No, sir," he sighed, "Not yet. I'm going topside."
Bracegirdle nodded solemnly. "I would be surprised to see the captain back before four bells. I doubt you will go this evening."
Kennedy nodded nervously. He touched his forehead, running a finger across it, and turned to leave. The waiting was distracting and oppressive. He wanted it over, he did not want to go, but yet, he did want to see her, but the news they would bring ... he wished ... God! It did not matter what he wished. Facts were facts. It had to be done. His dinner was not sitting lightly.
He stopped at the cabin and tossed the book on his bunk. The overhead lantern lit the room enough to light the painting of Pamela attached to the bulkhead. For weeks he pondered what to do with it, whether to offer it to her, or... what? He did not know. And, Horatio's things. Should they go to her or his father? Her, he thought, but... something held him back and he had touched nothing of Horatio's. Was it because he was holding out a vain hope that Hornblower survived somewhere? Impossible. Impossible. "Why do you torture yourself with the impossible, you stupid fool!" he berated under his breath. The prick of tears welled in his eyes, he gulped, entered the cabin, and shut the door more noisily than he intended. "God! Not now!" He leaned against the wall and his chest shook as he tried unsuccessfully to stifle the tears. Balling both fists he pounded the wall. "Stop it, damn you!" His stomach was turning as it had the first day after losing Hornblower. Both palms flattened on the wall, he leaned and inhaled short breaths trying to calm the ragged emotions.
"Mr. Kennedy, sir, are you all right?" came a youthful voice from the corridor.
Tossing his head back, sweat droplets on his brow, Kennedy answered, "Yes. Yes, Mr. Wiggins. I'm all right. Thank you."
"Yes, sir. Goodnight, sir," came a hesitant reply.
That Wiggins would accept his answer and move on eased Kennedy's mind. He wanted no prying into his feelings. Taking a deep breath, he grabbed his cloak and tossed it over his shoulders, then, pressed the hat on his head. Exiting the room quickly, he pulled the door closed and walked determinedly to the companionway, avoiding any inquiring eyes.
The cold salt air mixed with the rain that splattered Kennedy's face as he came on deck. The harbor was dark with the overcast skies blocking the starlight. Only the anchor lights of the moored ships appeared as pin pricks through black velvet. The weather suit his mood. He saw Connors had taken the middle watch, and the dark figure forward had to be Sebastian. Where could he go to be alone? The cabin was too full of memories. The fighting top. Quietly, he mounted the ladder to the fo'c'sle, climbed on the railing, and laid a hand on the shrouds, ready to propel himself upwards.
It was Sebastian. He pretended not to hear him and put a foot on a ratline.
"Archie." The voice was insistent and the dark figure came closer.
Kennedy looked down at the semi-opaque face looking up at him. He could see the whites of the eyes.
"Do not go up there. You will catch your death of cold. The captain needs you healthy. Come down."
He leaned a cheek against the cold, rough, tarred line, his chest sinking with obedience, yielding to expediency rather than his emotions. He climbed down and stood before the doctor.
"Come have a smoke with me."
"I do not smoke, sir."
"Then, it is time you did. Come."
Archie watched Sebastian lean over to protect the cheroots from the rain as he lit a second one. Tenting the paper rolled tobacco with his hand, the doctor passed it to Kennedy.
Archie took it carefully, feeling the heat rise up against his palm. He inhaled the warm smoke into his lungs, coughing mildly.
Sebastian smiled and took a puff from his, then, strolled to the far side and leaned against the rail.
Kennedy sucked on the smoking weed, exhaled, and slowly meandered across the wet planking. He stepped beside Sebastian and mirrored his stance.
"We are getting wet," said Sebastian.
Kennedy's mouth twisted wryly, but he did not comment, and put the tobacco to his lips and inhaled lightly.
Both men were silent until the remains of each cheroot were flicked over the side and disappeared into the dark sea.
"Will she be all right?" asked Kennedy hoarsely. He listened to Sebastian fill his lungs with air, then, exhale.
"She must... for the sake of the child," answered Sebastian.
"And if... and if the child dies?" Why would he ask such a thing?
Sebastian faced the young leftenant. "He will not die."
"Maybe ... maybe it is already dead. Maybe Pamela is dead." If that were true, he would not have to tell her.
"Forgive me, Doctor." Kennedy covered his eyes with a hand.
"If you would rather not go,... then, stay here."
"I cannot do that. I owe it to Horatio."
"He would understand if you ..."
"No," he said firmly. "He gave me a message. I cannot leave his request unfulfilled. I could not live with myself to be... such a coward. Not when he ... gave so much."
Sebastian placed a hand on Kennedy's shoulder and squeezed firmly. "You are right. You have never run before. Now is not the time to start." He released Kennedy. "I am getting out of the rain. Why do you not come below and let us have a brandy and turn in? The captain will return too late to go tonight, I think."
"I will be there in a moment. I ... I need some time alone... away from... I need a little time," said Kennedy.
Sebastian nodded and Kennedy watched the doctor make his way carefully down the slippery ladder steps. **If only I had not sprained my ankle that night. If only I had not slipped on the stairs. If only...** With an elbow on the rail, he held his forehead. **Why do you not cry now, you bastard? The rain will hide your tears.** He lifted his countenance to meet the rain face on, but no tears came to mix with the cold fresh water. **If I can just stay this way ...** he thought. Empty. Empty and hollow. But what memories would stir upon seeing Pamela?
Returning to the shared cabin after a brandy with his fellow officers, Kennedy dressed in a dry nightshirt. He had managed to numb his feelings and he sat on Horatio's bunk and stared at Pamela's portrait. "I'm all right now," he whispered. "I will not let you down, Horatio. I will tell her." With a finger, he touched the painted cheek, then, lay face up on Horatio's bunk. A wry smile crept over his features and he reached to touch the knot in the planking overhead. "You've outlived him, damn you," he said softly to the monkey on the ceiling. The arm dropped and he turned on his side and gazed at the bunk across the way, thinking about their conversations, recalling the shared cabin on Foudroyant under Nelson's command. Kennedy chuckled, thinking of the ripe opportunity to kick Horatio in the buttocks. Then, there was the time in this small room when Hornblower had been silent and angry, jealous of Edrington. Kennedy shook his head. **There was never any competition, Horatio. YOU were always my best friend.**
Inhaling, Kennedy sat up and returned to his own bunk. Grabbing the book off the table, he lay down and endeavored to read.
A knock sounded on the door. Kennedy looked around the book curiously. "Come," he called.
The door opened and there stood Captain Pellew, face wet, his cloak soaked with water and drops falling from his bicorn onto his shoulders and the decking.
"Ah, Mr. Kennedy. I am glad to find you awake. Dress, if you will. We must go tonight or there may not be further opportunity."
"Yes, sir," he said, coming to his feet and reaching for his clothes.
The captain nodded and was about to leave when his eye was caught by the portrait. Coming adjacent with a single stride, he said softly, "I... I did not know he had this."
"Yes, sir. She had it painted for him last summer," said Kennedy.
"It is a fine likeness," Pellew commented wistfully.
"I... I have not... done anything with his things, sir," stuttered Kennedy apologetically. "I have been meaning to ask ... what I should do, but..."
"Not tonight, Mr. Kennedy. We have enough on our plate. I am going to alert Dr. Sebastian. Get Mr. Bracegirdle, then come to my cabin."
His officers called, Pellew returned to his quarters, removed the soaking cloak, and dried his face with a towel offered by his servant.
"Fetch a topcoat, Daniels," Pellew ordered, removing the wet one.
"Aye, sir. I've saved ye a bit of dinner, sir. I could have it warmed."
Pellew shook his head and pushed his arms into the dry coat held by his man-servant. "There is not time." He looked down at his shoes, frowned, and pushed them off his feet. "I need dry socks and breeches, damn it, and shoes." He had not wanted to change out his entire uniform but he was drenched except for his waistcoat and shirt, and those were damp.
"Yer queue is soaked, sir." Daniels took the towel and squeezed the wet hair with it, then, dabbed at the rest. He knelt and pulled the stockings from Pellew's legs.
Pellew ignored his servants ministrations and poured a full glass of Madeira. Recalling the last time he drank too quickly in such an emotional state, he sipped the dark wine, then, unbuttoned his breeches, he and Daniels pulled them away. "Is that the dinner?" he asked motioning to a covered plate on the table.
"It is, sir," replied the servant, roughly drying Pellew's calves and feet. He snatched dry breeches from the drawer and held them open for the officer.
"I will finish dressing. Fetch a pot of coffee. Mr. Kennedy and Dr. Sebastian are expected ... and Mr. Bracegirdle." Sitting, he tugged on each stocking, feeling the dry cloth warming chilled skin, then, buttoned the leggings. He stood and finished connecting the waist buttons, then, slipped each foot into the dry shoes. Taking a seat at the table, Pellew removed the metal cover from the plate and with a sigh, made himself eat something of the potatoes and beef. He was more hungry than he thought, and he finished the meal. The empty plate covered, he pushed it aside.
Daniels returned with the coffee, its aroma filling the after cabin, and then, the officers arrived.
"Come in, gentlemen," said Pellew.
Kennedy and Sebastian were fully cloaked for travel, hats in hand.
"It's a damn raw night," said Pellew. "Come take a coffee before we go."
Pellew motioned for them to sit and Daniels hovered close by providing sugar and cream. Pellew took a cautious sip from the brew.
"I know it is late," commented Pellew. "I do not like arriving at this hour, but his lordship is insistent that we sail tomorrow should the wind change in our favor. It seems they are damned anxious to get us back to England. He was a bit peeved that Brecon took so long, despite the import of the information we brought. It seems Nelson has been waiting for these missives for some time. A despatch vessel is preparing to sail as we speak." Pellew ceased talking and held the coffee near, letting the steam of it rise to warm his face. His eyes were focused nowhere in particular, exposing his distracted thought.
Kennedy glimpsed the other officers, then accepted a coffee Daniels prepared. The numb feeling of his emotions remained... so far.
As if coming out of a dream, Pellew said, "Mr. Bracegirdle, I apologize for disturbing your sleep, however, I did not want to slip away without you knowing we were gone. I am not sure what time we will return."
"I understand, Captain," said Bracegirdle. "You need not worry about Indefatigable."
Pellew smiled slightly and looked on Bracegirdle with near affection. "Finish your coffee, gentlemen," he said, standing, "the hour grows late. I have a carriage waiting on the docks."
The chairs slid back noisily upon the planks and the three men came to their feet. Coffee cups clinked into saucers. Daniels held an oilskin coat and Pellew shrugged into it, then, snatched a dry hat. Huffing a sigh, "Let's get this damnable deed done," he said.
The rain incessantly pelted the wooden ship noisily. At the opening to the waist, Pellew stopped and turned to Bracegirdle, raising his voice above the spattering drops, "Stay out of the rain, man."
"Yes, sir," obeyed Bracegirdle, watching the three men walk to the side opening.
A rating stepped from the darkness towards Pellew and knuckled his forehead. "Beggin' yer pardon, sir." It was Matthews, and Styles was standing behind him with a good sized box in his arms. Both of them were dripping wet, and Matthews' words were spoken with white mist. "We... that is... the men, sir, were hopin' ye wouldn't mind taken somethin' fer ... fer Miss Pamela and Mr. Hornblower's babee."
Pellew eyed the two ratings dressed in rain gear, and pressed lips together. There was not time to consider or upbraid. "Over the side with you. Go on."
Matthews looked back at Styles' astonished face with one of his own.
"Both of you. Be quick before I change my mind," admonished Pellew.
"Aye, aye, sir! Thank ye, sir!" said Matthews, slipping through the port entry.
Styles had the box rigged with a line and shouted to one of the men in the boat below. Handily, he passed it down, then, scrambled after his mate.
The three officers followed, Pellew last, stopping the side boys from trilling the pipes at the late hour. The rain continued to come down on the silent group of men rowing to shore.
On the dock, the enclosed carriage waited, the horses blowing steam from their nostrils and pawing the wet boards.
Each step leading to Pamela Hornblower brought a weighty reserve.
Stepping out of the boat, Kennedy's heart grew heavy walking behind Pellew and Sebastian; Matthews and Styles bringing up the rear. The only sound was the patter of leather on the soaked boardwalk. The snorting of horses caused Kennedy to raise his eyes and look upon the black carriage under the halo of the dockside lamp. The vehicle glistened with rain as if drenched in tears, ominous, appearing shrouded in shiny ebony, hearse-like in aspect. The groan of his heart crushed him inwardly. Perpetual motion propelled him forward, though with leaden feet. The task at hand bore down relentlessly, but he made a promise, a promise that somehow he would keep. His legs were turning to stone.
"Are ye all right, Mr. Kennedy?" whispered Matthews, slowing his step to keep from running into the officer.
Hearing the rating, Sebastian turned immediately, took a step back, and came alongside Kennedy. "Archie?"
The rain beat against Kennedy's skin and mournful eyes pleaded for Sebastian to release him from this dark duty. But no one could set him free... not from this.
Pellew ceased forward motion, looking back at his men, who at this moment were not his inferiors but his companions in misery. Only the faint hope of new life, ...a continuing, ... and a caring for the beloved made the effort, not tolerable, but ... a mission of mercy, and not just for her, a closure, a portion of relief for each of them, without consolation. The death of the young was never acceptable. Life cut short. Years denied. Expectations never to be fulfilled. "God, strengthen us all," he said under his breath.
The rain beat upon the group of men halted in its midst.
Concern etched Pellew's craggy features, wetted by the gentle downpour, and he waited. At length, he called softly yet firmly, "Mr. Kennedy." The junior officer had to do this for more reasons than one. Duty to a friend, compassion for another, facing the facts of a world at war,... loss. The flint to sharpen him as an officer struck and flamed and either he would burn bright and steady or fail to spark and be left in the half light of half life. **Steel yourself, man. It's got to be done. We owe it to them both,** thought Pellew. **It is a hated task, but it is... our... duty.**
The air grew thin. Kennedy's diaphragm barely functioned. Motionless and mute, he froze to the spot, and the rain softened to a pitter patter upon the navy blue boat cloak.
Finally, with a wry smile, Sebastian said quietly, "We are getting wet."
Kennedy shifted his view to the doctor and knew the phrase was not 'We are getting wet,' but 'If you do not wish to go...'
Blinking away the hypnotizing dread, Kennedy's face livened. "Yes, Doctor. We best be on our way."
Pellew saw in Kennedy the dire emotions that he had suffered, and allowed the image of Gray to appear in his mind's eye. Gray who had been his Hornblower so many years ago. After him, death upon death of good and brave men mounded in his memory and numbed his emotions... that is until a man his junior, his protégé, his adopted son, disappeared on a similar stormy night to this one, on a perilous sea. Turning sharply, he slammed the door shut on the memories. There was a young woman waiting. A young woman to whom he was going to comfort, not be comforted, and possibly to a child that might improve this terrifying nightmare the men in his company had put off for weeks. The nightmare, that with the telling of Pamela Hornblower of Horatio Hornblower's demise, would solidify the deed for them all. Yanking the door of the coach open, Pellew hauled himself in, shocked by the weight of his body. He jerked as he brought his own musculature under his command. There could be no such slackness in his disposition.
Kennedy climbed in and sat next to Pellew, Sebastian opposite. Matthews and Styles stood a moment working out whether to ride with the driver or hold on at the back.
Pellew's rugged distempered countenance peered at them gruffly. "Get in, damn it!" he ordered. "Put that thing on the floor and let's go."
Matthews knuckled his head. "Aye, aye, sir," and he slid the box in, sat next to Sebastian, then, motioned for Styles.
The burly rating looked doubtfully at the captain.
Matthews saw minor furor building on Pellew's face like an Atlantic roller. "Come on, Styles," he ordered anxiously. The old sailor shifted his feet to make room for his mate to sit on the box. "Beggin' yer pardon, Doctor," said Matthews bumping into his leg.
"It is quite all right, Mr. Matthews." Sebastian sounded inordinately calm.
Matthews reached behind Styles and pulled the door closed. Pellew leaned across and wrapped his knuckles on the wall behind Sebastian and Matthews. Immediately, the driver gave rein and the carriage lumbered away.
Kennedy glimpsed the men jammed into the carriage. He was in the company of Hornblower's most loyal friends. Forcing back the heave in his chest pressed out a sound from Kennedy's throat. He cleared it, then, ran a hand down his face. "Damn rain," he muttered with a crack in his voice, then, sought a view through the window into the black night. Closing his eyes, he mentally fought back the feelings threatening to exhibit themselves in this close company. He felt a grip on his lower calf and his eyes flashed open to see Styles who was nonchalantly gazing at the ceiling of the cab, then, let his view roam to meet Kennedy's stare. With the slightest move of head, Styles gave him a reassuring nod. If only he were as sure as Styles that he would survive this night. He wished he were the one dead, not Horatio. Easing his head back and biting his lower lip white, Archie recalled the conversation with Horatio about death and dying.
//////////"Promise me, Horatio, that you will never die."
Hornblower chuckled silently. "You would not wish immortality on me, would you? That, too, would be a cruel fate."//////////
Kennedy could see Horatio's amused expression clearly, then, heard his own response.
//////////"Then,... let me go first. You are more than a brother to me, Horatio. I could not bear to see you die again."
"I did not die, Archie."/////////
Inhaling rapidly, in one movement, Kennedy pulled the bicorn off his head, brushing it down his face. He pressed his cheek against the leather upholstery with the premise of looking outward, slinging droplets of water from the wet queue onto the back of Pellew's hand. Archie did not see how he would make it through this night without divulging his wounded heart.
The cold carriage smelled of wet wool, wet leather, and sopping hair. Other than the noise of the rolling wheels and the clip clopping of the horses hooves, the interior of the coach remained silent.
Pellew stared at the water on his hand, then, raised eyes to meet Sebastian's. He filled his lungs slowly. The young. He and Sebastian would need wisdom to steer a steady course for the young people in their charge, Kennedy and Pamela. He shifted his eyes to Matthews. He was of their age. Pellew had not thought to bring them, but seeing Matthews and Styles on deck dripping with rain, he knew immediately they should come along. They had been on Dolphin when... when Hornblower had fallen in love. They had orchestrated the first wedding, acted in her father's stead to escort her down the aisle. The way this young American woman's life had intertwined the lives of each inside the coach... it was a strange thing. **She has such mettle. I remain amazed that an American would be Hornblower's match,** he thought, smiling wryly, **She may have her hands full with their offspring.** With Hornblower gone she carried something of the young man who had meant so much, held so much promise. **God, do not let her die. Do not let the child die.** Taking a quick look at Kennedy, Pellew knew his fourth, no, third leftenant, was struggling with the errand. It had to be done. It had to be. He could not merely write a letter. He could not. Eyes lowering to Kennedy's lap, the captain saw Kennedy's fingers white knuckled and gripping the bicorn. He put a hand on Kennedy's wrist and the junior officer whipped his head around.
"You will permanently disfigure your hat, sir," commented Pellew softly, attempting a light-hearted jest.
"Yes, sir." Kennedy stopped pinching the head gear and clutched it to his chest instead, smashing it with the grasp.
Pellew tilted his head doubtfully but said no more.
The carriage was slowing to a halt.
The rain fell steadily as Pellew opened the door and paused looking for light in the windows of the townhouse. Assured someone was awake, he disembarked, removed coins from his pocket and held them up to the driver. Frowning, he realized this would mean walking back to town in a pouring rain, but with the late hour, he saw no other choice. It would not be the first time to be cold and drenched to the bone, nor would it be the last.
Dr. Sebastian climbed out next and walked briskly to the front step and sheltered under the overhang, then, Kennedy stepped down and rooted to the ground. Pellew took a step towards the house, but noted Kennedy unmoved.
"Are you all right, Mr. Kennedy?" Pellew asked.
Archie shook his head, blinking the rain from his eyes. "I fear we will put a dagger in her heart."
Pellew put a hand on Kennedy's shoulder. "Would you rather she found out some other way?"
Kennedy seemed to sink inside himself, bowed his head, and shook it. "No, sir," he answered sadly.
"I have great faith in her resiliency, Mr. Kennedy. She knew the dangers when she married him," said Pellew.
Matthews bumped into Kennedy as he pulled the box from the carriage, Styles following out after it.
"Beg pardon, Mr. Kennedy," said Matthews.
"Come on, men. Get out of this blasted cold rain," ordered Pellew resignedly.
The five men huddled on the stoop, and Pellew knocked.
He knocked once more. A light flickered behind the small translucent arch shaped glass and a bolt was drawn back.
The man within held up a candle and squinted at the late visitors. Behind him, Pamela appeared in the doorway, a cream-white shawl over her shoulders.
"Horatio?" she asked expectantly.
Carden's curious expression darkened by what he perceived in that of his former captain and he stepped aside to allow the officer to enter. Pellew here, and at this time of night? It could not bode well.
In a moment, Pellew could see the hope in her eyes flicker. She was not yet delivered and inwardly he vacillated but knew this was the only chance to tell her in person.
"No, not... not Horatio." he answered solemnly. The men entered behind him.
Pamela's eyes were wide looking over each man, expectant, despite
"You look frozen. Come in and warm at the fire. Mr. Carden, take their wet cloaks to the kitchen and dry them as best you can. Come in, Captain, Doctor." She pulled the shawl closed across her chest. Her head bobbed slightly as she tried to maintain eye contact with Kennedy. "Ar...Archie," she said breathily. "Mr. Matthews and Mr. Styles. This is unexpected," her voice quavered and she grabbed a hopeful look beyond them to an empty doorway.
"Come out of this draft, Mrs. Hornblower," suggested Sebastian as he gave his coat to Carden. "Help him, Matthews."
Matthews snatched a woeful glimpse of the young wife of his missing officer and took the hats and cloaks of these.
Sebastian perceived Pamela's trembling and snaked an arm around her to support the faltering soon-to-be mother.
Inside the small parlour a single lamp was lit next to the couch upon which lay an open book. Sebastian maneuvered to sit beside her.
Her chest rose and fell rapidly and she bowed her head and gripped Sebastian's free hand tensely. Mind whirring like wheels of a runaway coach, questions flew and unwanted answers rebounded. Where was he? She knew the answer. Why had they come? She need not ask. Perhaps it was not as bad as she supposed. Inhaling as far as her lungs would allow, she raised her eyes to Pellew. He was gazing at the picture of Horatio over the mantel, and he grasped the wood shelf fiercely, while the other hand pressed fingernails into its palm behind his back. **Oh God!** A hand flew to her lips. With a swallow, she turned her eyes on Kennedy whose back was all she could see. **Archie, Archie! Tell me... Tell me he is only captured!** But she knew, they would not come, so many together, if that were the case. She shifted saddened eyes towards Sebastian but could not look his way. She tightened the clasp on his hand. Her mid-section shivered, then, knotted. Pinching her bottom lip with her teeth, she forced words to utterance.
"Was it the storm?" her voice sounded ragged and strained.
Archie closed his eyes and recalled the letter from Amelia, outlining Pamela's fears. Failure. He had failed to protect him. Failed her. Failed him. Failed Amelia, for Christ's sake. What good was he? Why could it not be him instead of Horatio?
Pellew faced her, his eyes briefly curious. "It was. He ... he saved the ship, the crew." Further explanation seemed useless and the words stopped. The low rumble of thunder sounded softly.
Quaking came upon the young woman and Sebastian applied pressure with the arm surrounding her. The hand grasping his had gone icy cold and he wrapped it with his own.
Shivering, she pushed up and out from the sofa and Sebastian. "You are chilled," her voice wavering, "I will ask Carden to make tea. It will warm you. Or... perhaps, ... a brandy."
Archie turned and saw the quiver of her body. "I'll go," he offered.
"No,... I will," stated Pellew. With a frown, he inclined his head for Sebastian to follow, and he closed the parlour door after them.
The two whose love was most fragile were alone.
"Archie?" she questioned. Was he all right? It was a foolish thought. It was plainly evident he was not. Archie was Horatio's best friend in all the world. He loved Horatio as much as she did. How was he able to stand? She wondered it of herself for her knees were weakening.
Archie bowed his head, then, stepped to embrace her, despite the bulging abdomen, and just in time, for he supported the weight of her body. "Pamela!" he whispered. "I've got you. You'll be all right!" The strong muscles of his arms flexed around her and lifted. //////////Jump! You'll be all right!//////// The memory overwhelmed, and though he kept them both vertical, he leaned his head against hers for a bulwark. Her fists opened and closed upon his back. "Forgive me, Pamela. Forgive me," he pleaded.
She shook her head against the hollow of his shoulder. "There is naught to forgive," she managed, half whispering.
"I failed. I failed."
"No, Archie,... no."
He nodded. "Yes. I could not... I could not..."
Pamela looked into his tormented features and covered his drawn frown with light fingers and then, wiped at the wet streaks, gazing deeply into the distraught sapphire eyes. It was difficult. He was struggling. She would not add to his grief. "No, Archie. Do not blame yourself. Do not." She collapsed onto his shoulder. "It was his life. It was ... it was his life...the life he chose. No one could stop him... not me... not you."
"He had so much to live for. You. The child. I wish it had been me, Pamela."
"It is what he wanted to do," she soothed, feeling the damp of his topcoat under her palms.
"He saved the ship," Archie blurted against the woolen shawl, "from going down at the bow. Lightning struck the foremast. The wreckage over the side was pulling her down. He cut as many of the lines as he could, but then, went over the side to get.... His leg became tangled in the lines. I could not help him." His chest heaved with a gasp.
"Sh, sh, Archie."
Gaining control, Archie pulled back to look into her face. "He told me to tell you he loved you. His last words were for you, Pamela." Archie wiped her cheek with a caress. "His last thoughts were of you."
Brown eyes filled to brimming, she pressed a cheek against his chest. Beneath the warm knitted garment, he felt her shoulders tense and her hands grip the cloth of his topcoat. She did not speak and he held her fast.
The door creaked as it opened and Pellew was heard to clear his throat.
Pamela backed from the compassionate embrace of her husband's best friend and wiped at damp cheeks. Raising a hesitant hand, she smoothed the side of his face. "Thank you for coming to tell me, Archie," she whispered. "It means a great deal to me. Thank you."
"I apologize for our late arrival, Mrs. Hornblower," stated Pellew firmly, hands clasped behind his back. "The port admiral insists we depart tomorrow if the wind is with us and I feared...."
Pamela faced the captain. "It is such a bleak and cold night, Captain. It means much that you would come at all."
Pellew could avoid her gaze no longer. Chancing a peek at Kennedy, Pellew knew he could not allow his emotions to run rampant, not now, not ever. Thought of Hornblower was shoved away. His wife, however, was lovely in the red hue of the burning embers, her face rounded with the pregnancy, yet a hint of sunken care etched the lively brown eyes wet with moisture. He admired the fortitude she seemed to be maintaining. He had not known whether she would collapse into wailing, which he would not have begrudged her, but was thankful all the same she had not. Kennedy appeared to have lost some of the edge of his suffering. It was right to leave these two alone to share the grief. Mutual mourning was expected; Pellew was unsure of the degree to which it would manifest, but things seemed to be righting themselves. Sometimes you had to let go of the lines for a ship to right. A glance Sebastian's way and he wished he could have asked the doctor's thoughts on the state of the young. Men he knew. Women ... left him feeling unsure and insecure. Would she handle bereavement of another loved one? A father first, and now a husband? **Not a child. Dear God, do not let her know that loss, too. I beg you.**
More than ever, he knew he wanted Hornblower's offspring to live. What more could he do to ensure Pamela's delivery? Nothing,... he knew,... unless she had the babe this night. Indefatigable could not wait for childbirth. When the wind came round, they were bound by duty to make sail.
"May I ask Mr. Matthews and Mr. Styles in to warm at the fire, Captain?" she queried.
"Of course, madam," he bowed.
The rustle of the full skirts was quiet as she approached, stopping before Pellew and searching his countenance. A somber smile eased onto her lips. **Dear Captain Pellew. So like a father. I know you loved him,** she thought.
Pellew met the soft brown eyes. **I will do what I can for you,** he thought and was about to say when Sebastian spoke.
"Stay here, Mrs. Hornblower. I will get them."
"No, Doctor," said Pamela. "I will go."
Sebastian bowed to her wishes. The three men were momentarily
A crack of light pierced the two bow windows followed by a reverberation of thunder, louder than before, that shook the walls. Kennedy glanced once, then, peered into the gloom of the dining room, stepping warily towards it.
Matthews and Styles made an entrance and saw Kennedy's wide eyes transfixed on the unlit chamber as he drew closer to it.
"What is it, Mr. Kennedy?" asked Pellew, noting the odd and querulous expression of the leftenant. He followed the gaze into the blackness of the dining room.
Lightning lit the room with flickering bright light and the
spectre of Horatio Hornblower was plain to every man.
"It's his ghost!" cried Styles, mouth agape, a bulky fist clutching Matthew's arm.
Kennedy moved first, grabbing the candlestick and holding it high at the entryway of the dining area. Horatio's face seemed to waver in the glowing candle light.
"Saints preserve us!" muttered Matthews. "It is Mr. Hornblower."
Kennedy entered the small room fearlessly. The four men stood in the doorway. Kennedy neared the image, the tremble of his hand lending a hollow liveliness to the painted image. There stood his friend of many trials and many years, in the fullness of his young manhood with the pride of the fleet pictured behind him. Nobility of purpose in the angular jaw and in the eyes... in the eyes, a resigned softness. Horatio would have felt foolish having such a fine portrait of himself commissioned, and the thought brought a slight smile to Kennedy's lips. It was good to see him, and rather than causing pain, it calmed. Horatio's presence endured. Stepping sideways, Archie positioned his body where she must have stood to watch the image appear upon the canvas, Horatio's eyes fixed upon the woman he loved. Horatio loved her fiercely and greatly desired to be with her and the child. It had been his focus for months. At least he had loved and been loved in return.
"Good God," whispered Pellew in awe.
Sebastian glanced over his shoulder to the portrait over the mantel, barely visible in the firelight. "The artist that painted that one, must have done this also. It is a fine likeness."
Kennedy placed the candle on the dining table. Sitting, he gazed at the life size portrait, speechless, and was exceedingly fatigued.
Carden arrived with a tray to hand. "Aye, tis somethin' to see. Mr. Deluca's done him justice, he has."
"Let me help you, Carden," said Sebastian taking the heavy tray from the one-armed man.
"Thank ye, Dr. Sebastian." Carden slipped by Matthews and Styles saying, "He won't bite ye, mates," and opened the sideboard to retrieve additional candles.
Pamela softly opened the door of the water closet and listened. The men's voices were low. Stepping lightly to the hall tree, she removed her cloak and donned it. A spasm halted the retreat to the back door and she placed a steadying hand on the wall and waited for the pain to pass. If she was going to do it, it had to be now. Once they were two, it might be impossible. Quietly, she opened the back door and stepped into the cold, dreary rain swept night.
At first, she did not notice the cold or the precipitation penetrating the heavy hooded cape. The rain was coming harder. Lightning lit the path and she emerged far from the townhouses and stepped onto the shale road. No carriages were to be seen, no men on horseback. There was no one for her. Silly even to look at this hour and in this rainstorm.
Lightning cracked and startled. Supporting the heavy belly with a hand, she took long strides across the lane and down its edge until the brush opened up a way towards the wall of the embrasure. The ledge. Their ledge where he had guarded her as her clothing dried and he peered out over the water through the spyglass given as a wedding present by Captain Pellew, the last place that she had seen him months ago, on the deck of Indefatigable, glass to eye, watching her. That would be the proper spot.
The bright flash disclosed the stone steps that would take her up onto the walkway. Pain gripped her back and she cried out as she hit against the stone wall.
"Arh!" She panted and waited. "Not now! Not now! We cannot live without him."
Face upturned to the rain, the heavy drops beat against her. She climbed the rock hewn stairs and scraped the palms of her hands.
"We cannot live without him. Please understand." She caressed the bulging mound. "No more. I can bear no more."
Tears mingled with rain and with windswept sea spray. Nearly at the top, she crouched beside the wall before the stairs allowed emergence onto the embrasure, the full assault of the west wind howled overhead. She picked up the water laden skirts with both hands and climbed up, bending against the wild circling wind, it yanking the hood from her head and pulling her hair into thick water-soaked strands.
"Horatio! Horatio!" she cried, looking out to sea. The lightning exposed the tossing waters, white-caps blowing off wave tops. With an effort, she bounded against the embrasure that alleviated the force of the gale against her. Hugging the wall, she struggled south, towards Europa Point. No guards would be out on such a night.
Cold and wet she shivered. Rock hard fingers of agony gripped her round about, throwing her to her knees. "Oh God! No!" On hands and knees she waited for it to pass and trembled. Rising, she pressed against the wall and panted, waiting for strength to come and propel her to the destination she desired. With a will she resumed the trek.
**Jump here. Do it here!** The argument for life and death began.
**Why not? Are you a coward? Can you not do it?**
**He won't have a father. Can you live with a memory? You can never marry. You kill them all. You are a jinx to any man that loves you.**
**I know. I tried to tell him.**
Bartholomew Barnstable's image faintly rose in her mind and she threw a forearm across her eyes. Pamela halted and covered her face against the wall, scratching the skin, and wept. **No. Not him, too.** She flung out from the vertical structure, then, fell against it. "Father!" she cried, "Where are you? Forgive me for causing your death! I'm no good. I jinx every man I love!"
**You've got to do it.**
"But what if he wants to live?" she answered the negative voice in her head. With that encouraging thought, a completely new one emerged to her dismay. She shook her head, flinging water like a wet animal. "Not Drake. Do not make me think on Drake!" There were three now, voicing opinions in her head.
**If you let him live, he will live as Drake has, alone, no mother, no father. Death is better.**
**Do not do it. Horatio would not want this. He loves you. He loves the child. Go home. You know the child is coming,** said the new argument.
She fell to her knees and wept. "I cannot think! Arh!" A new round of pain struck, throwing her upon the muddy walk. She panted. Falling rain fell between parted lips. "Horatio. What am I to do? I want to be with you, my darling. I want to be with you."
The opposing voice ceased its urging, then, it came quietly and calmly as she rose to her feet. **Go down to the point, to the ledge. Decide then... or let the tempest choose.**
The rain suspended, but the wind whipped the soaking clothing, throwing out spray from its fibers, and from her hair. She walked steadily southward, leaning her back against the wall for support, the blood from scraped palms disappearing in rivulets down the stone face.
Pellew paced the short path in front of the fireplace, then, expanded the walk to step up to Carden. "Does she... normally take this long?" Rounding, he said to Sebastian, "Perhaps you should check her."
Raising eyebrows, Sebastian placed the cup on the table, and rose. She had been gone for a while. He stepped down the long hallway and knocked on the door of the bathing room.
"Mrs. Hornblower? Is everything all right?" He waited for a reply. "Mrs. Hornblower?" He opened the door. Empty.
Pellew stood at the parlour doorway. "Well?"
"She is not here."
The captain ordered, "Check the other rooms," then, Pellew strode towards the stairs and climbed rapidly. Reaching the closed bedroom, he tapped on the door. "Mrs. Hornblower?" He rapped again, paused, and opened the door. The room was black. Leaning back out of the room towards Sebastian who followed, he took the candle and lifted it high inside the bed chamber. The couple's portrait caught his attention immediately sending a sting throughout his nervous system. Sebastian poked his head in and copied Pellew's gaze. Pellew pushed into the hallway and opened the door of the next room. Empty. Coming to the last room, he hesitated. Drake. He had forgotten the boy. What was to be done about him? He eased the door open. The child was fast asleep... and alone. Pellew closed it gently but swiftly.
"Doctor, I fear the worst. Damn it," he muttered, "Headstrong and foolish...." as he passed the physician and hurried down the stairs. "Carden. Where would she go? Quickly man!"
"The point. She takes walks there. Whenever she's upset she goes towards the point. That's how she met him. I do not think she would go to him."
"Who?" asked Kennedy.
"Who the hell is Mr. Barnstable?" asked Pellew.
"He's a leftenant as works at the admiralty offices. He..." Carden rubbed his chin and eyed Kennedy. He would not know about Mrs. Holly.
"He what?" asked Archie.
"Nothin', sir. If she in't here, she's probly headed fer the point. Damned foolish woman," he added frustratedly. "She's been worried fer weeks somethin' had happened to Mr. Hornblower. I guess ... I guess she was right."
Taking a deep breath, Pellew strode to the kitchen and snatched his cloak, throwing it around his shoulders, then, pressed the hat on. Kennedy and Sebastian followed and did likewise. Matthews and Styles were already standing in the back door, looking out on the rain.
Carden lit lanterns, handed one to Matthews and held one out to the captain.
"Doctor, perhaps you should stay here in case she returns," suggested Pellew.
"And if you find her down there and I am needed how will I know?" said Sebastian, buttoning the oilskin up to his neck.
"Point taken, Doctor," said Pellew, taking the lantern. "She must have left by the back door." He headed that direction.
"Carden, stay here," ordered Sebastian, "boil water, a lot of water."
"Shouldn't I come, sir?" asked the one-armed man, giving the third lantern to Kennedy.
"No. We will find her. If she should come back, get her warm as quickly as possible," stated Sebastian.
"Aye, Doctor," sighed Carden.
Out back, Sebastian saw a light emerging from the small animal shelter.
"Not here, sir," shouted Matthews, hurrying to catch up with Pellew.
"I should have foreseen something like this happening. I should have kept a closer eye on her. Damn. She is so damned impulsive."
"What is it you fear, Captain?" asked Kennedy, blinking back the rain to see clearly.
"She loves him. Damn it, she loves him." The picture of them together was fresh in his mind. "I fear the worst, Mr. Kennedy. I fear the worst." He increased his pace, lifting the lantern to dispel dark shadows.
"But the baby... surely she would not jeopardize the child," said Kennedy incredulously, raising his lantern.
"That is our only hope... that logic will assert itself, or love for the baby will prevail," stated Pellew.
"Doctor?" questioned Kennedy, seeking his opinion.
"I do not know, Archie. Pregnant women can be unstable in their thoughts. The captain is right. We should have been more vigilant after bearing such horrific news. God, protect her," said Sebastian, looking up into the black night, his face pelted with the large drops. "Forestall her from ... "
If he finished the sentence, Kennedy did not hear it. They had reached the road and two rivers of water deepened the carriage ruts. The rain eased away and stopped, but the wind blew steady and lightning flashed, followed by rumbling thunder resounding off the great rock.
"Mr. Kennedy, follow the road down to the point. If we have not found her by then, we will meet up and work our way back north. Matthews, Styles, check the bush between the road and wall. Doctor, come with me," ordered Pellew, splashing through deep mud puddles, leading a way towards the wall fortification.
Kennedy watched the bouncing lanterns move like two massive fireflies in the black night, not a single star to light the way. Would the child be born this night? If only Horatio were here. He would know what to do. He would be mad as hell with her for acting so precipitously, but he would know what to do. "Pamela. Please. Do not do something you will regret. Do not add to our discontent. I beg you," said Kennedy under his breath. "Pamela!" he shouted, raising the lantern high. "Pamela!"
Meanwhile, Pamela slowed further, the pains in her body taking her breath and seizing her muscles, she doubled over, clenched her teeth, moaned, and panted, but as soon as the pain ceased she walked on. "Horatio," was the only word on her lips.
A small light shone, the lighthouse at Europa Point. Pamela pulled herself upright and peered over the wall. Where was the ledge? The waves were crashing high upon the cliffs sending spray over the wall. She could taste the salt water on her lips.
Is this what he went through his last night? A pelting storm, salt spray, cold salt water, the roar of the tempest? Tears blended with the moisture on her face. Lightning flashed and she saw the boisterous sea flinging against the rocks. She felt fear. Fear of an unrelenting sea, angry, cold, brutal, spitting her wrath on any and all who kept in her company.
"Why?" she cried into the wind. "He loved you!" she spread her hands in supplication, "He loved you!" Weeping, she collapsed onto her knees. "He loved you," she said pitifully, "Did you have to take him all for yourself? Could you not spare a small part of him for me? For our child? Horatio!"
A word came faint on the wind, long, drawn out, wispy. Pamela
brought her head up, tears ceasing, and listened. Gripping the
wall, she pulled up to stand and searched the darkness. Sudden
warmth flowed down her legs. Lightning flashed but an instant,
and there she was, that calm expression on her face, the woman
at the cemetery, and then, a figure ran through the image, a figure
in a gold braid hat, a soaking cloak blowing around his body.
"Thank God!" said Pellew catching her before she fell. He brushed a watery strand of hair from her face. "What were you thinking, child?" he asked.
Pamela opened her eyes in slits. "She took him. She took him for herself." She closed her eyes and her body went limp, exhausted from effort.
"Doctor? Is she unconscious?" asked Pellew.
Sebastian held her cheek and saw her lick the moisture on her lips. "No, Captain, but surely she has exerted her powers beyond what she should."
"Arh!" she cried and seized in Pellew's grasp, causing him to lower with her onto the ground.
"Doctor?" asked Pellew as he supported her upper body.
"She is having contractions. Pamela, when did the contractions begin?" asked Sebastian.
She moaned and could not answer.
Sebastian threw back the layers of sopping clothing from her legs. "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" Blood rinsed away from the chemise skirting. Seeing bobbing lights below, Sebastian shouted. "Bring those lamps up here!"
Pamela panted, then, groaned as she pushed and bore down.
"Doctor?" questioned Pellew frantically.
"There is no stopping her now. The head is crowning."
Kennedy, Matthews, and Styles clamored up the nearest stairs and ran to where the frail lantern light revealed the position of the doctor.
"You found her!" said Kennedy, lowering onto his knees and offering the lantern.
Sebastian grabbed his wrist. "Hold it here." The doctor looked into Pamela's countenance. "The child is coming." It seemed a foolish thing to say.
She started to smile and speak, but her brow knit, and she groaned instead, the push showing in her features.
"Dear Lord! That babee's comin' now!" said Matthews.
The rain resumed. Matthews and Styles bent over the foursome on the ground and pulled their coat flaps out to create a tent. Kennedy stood, removed his cloak, and spread it over the three of them to form a better shield.
Pamela looked up at the faces above her, finding the eyes of each man, kind and caring, and tears warmed her own. "Sorry," she pinched out before another push began.
Sebastian yanked the ribbon from his hair and held it in his teeth, then, carefully grasped the tiny shoulders. "Push, Pamela," ordered Sebastian. With a slight tug and a squeeze from her, the baby slipped out into Sebastian's hands. An open coat was slipped underneath the held child and Sebastian placed him on it. It was Styles'. A breeze entered above him. Sebastian worked quickly to tie the cord with the ribbon. "I need a knife."
Styles reached up and grabbed the one from Matthews' waist. "Here, sir."
Sebastian cut the cord, then, wrapped the child in Styles' coat. "Take him, Styles," ordered the doctor pressing the child towards the burly, soaked rating.
Holding the tiny baby in the folds of his peacoat, Styles bent over the babe to protect it from falling rain and smiled at the new little person.
"Him?" came a feeble question from a female voice.
Sebastian looked up into tired, hopeful eyes. "Yes. A boy. A fine boy." His face was stern. She closed her eyes. "No resting yet, Pamela. I will try not to hurt you, but the afterbirth must be delivered as well." Slipping his hands underneath her clothes, he pressed upon her abdomen. She moaned in pain.
Pellew held her hand and whispered in her ear, "It will be over soon."
"I'm sorry, Captain," she breathed. "You should not have come out in this weather."
He closed his eyes and pressed a kiss upon her head. "No talking," he whispered, "Save your strength."
"Is that an order?" Her mouth twisted out of the brief smile.
"If you need it to be," he answered softly.
She raised the free hand to cover her face and silently wept.
Sebastian cleaned her up as best he could, then, came to his feet. Why had she not yet asked to see the child? She was exhausted, but still, not to even ask? He looked at Styles hunched over the bundle in his arms, grinning from ear to ear. You would have thought the child was his. "I need you to carry Mrs. Hornblower, Styles. Give Matthews the baby."
Matthews smiled, then, looked worried, as the wrapped newborn was passed into his arms. "Look at the little nipper," he grinned, eyes locked on the small charge. A tiny fist was lodged in the little mouth. Water droplets fell on the baby's forehead and it crinkled. Matthews chuckled. "Baptized before ye've had a thought," said Matthews, hunching his body over the baby.
Styles raised up with Pamela in his arms. Sebastian tucked the soaking cloak tightly about her legs, then, offered Pellew a hand up.
Styles stepped close to the wall as a wind break. She moved in his arms and opened tired eyes upon the rating. He smiled gently. "I've got ye, Miss Pamela."
"Throw me over the wall, Styles," she said faintly.
"What?" he was not sure he heard her rightly and bowed next to the wall to block the wind in his ears.
"Put me over the side," she breathed. "Please."
Anger rose and he squeezed his arms and shook her. "Yer out of yer head! Mr. Hornblower would hear no such talk and you know it," he whispered angrily, turning to see if the others heard him. "I'll not do it, and yer no friend to ask it of me."
"Don't make me live without him, Styles," she wept. The baby was born. It could live without her, but she did not want to live without Horatio.
"Oh, Miss Pamela!" he moaned, understanding dawning, his chest warming from her tears. "Ye've got to. Ye've got his son to raise. The little un needs you. Mr. Hornblower needs you to tell his son about him." He whispered on. "Yer good at stories. I know ye will tell him well. Ye can't do it. Promise me ye won't do it. We've had enough of death. Don't you go, too. Ye've born a fine son to Mr. Hornblower. He'd be so pleased and so proud. Don't ever ask me to do that again, Miss Pamela. I've not much of a heart, but your breakin' it certain sure."
Kennedy walked beside Matthews and spread his cloak over the two of them to keep the newborn dry and sheltered.
"He looks fine. Don't he, Mr. Kennedy?" asked Matthews.
"He does indeed, Matthews." But Horatio would never see him and that fact made Kennedy sorrowful.
The group returned to the townhouse. Carden had been diligent to get a fire going in the bathing room and water into the tub.
"Carden, we need a warm bath for the baby, not too hot," said Sebastian.
"I've been around a babee or two in me life, sir," informed Matthews. "I know what to do."
"How can I help, Matthews?" asked Kennedy, casting his cloak over a chair.
The rating and the leftenant took over the care of the new little Hornblower.
"Carden, blankets and clothing for the child?" asked Sebastian.
"I'll fetch them, sir," he knuckled his forehead.
"Styles. There," ordered Sebastian, pointing at the small room and following in after. Fingers rapidly separated buttons from holes and Sebastian tossed his overcoat onto the floor.
The doctor placed a small stool inside the tub, then, removed the cloak from Pamela's shoulders, letting it fall heavily.
"Pamela, I am going to remove your clothing. I want you to sit in the tub." Sebastian swished his hand in the ankle deep water of the basin to check the temperature, then, encouraged her to step in and sit. He pulled the water-logged dress over her head. Only what remained of the chemise covered Pamela's pale body.
Pellew entered and saw Styles staring down at the pink bloodstains on the soaking wet trousers. The rating was drenched.
"Get out of those clothes, man. See if Carden has something you can borrow."
"Yes, sir," he answered quietly as he snatched up the discarded clothing from the floor. Taking a final glimpse of Pamela's slumped figure, he left and closed the door.
"Doctor, is the bleeding normal?" asked Pellew tossing his cloak and hat in a corner.
"Yes. Could you bring what hot water there is, Captain?"
Sebastian bent to see Pamela's face and brushed away the ringlets. "What are you doing, Pamela?" he asked kindly.
She roused at the sound of her name. "Let me die, Doctor. I do not want to live without him."
"You are overwrought. This maudlin feeling will pass. You have the child to consider."
"You take him, or perhaps the captain. If he has survived this long, he will not forever, not in my company. He is better off without me."
"No. It is not true. Do not tell yourself such things."
She bent forward, but Sebastian kept her from falling. "I'm tired." She could see the blood dripping into the water from the shreds of her chemise to swirl lightly around her feet and smiled. Perhaps she would bleed to death. She would have liked to ask, but the effort to form the question was too much, besides, it would probably upset the good doctor.
Pellew was in the room. The remains of her shredded undergarment were pulled away and warm water flowed over her back. It had seemed an age since a man touched her body and now two men whom she respected were tending her needs and she had no strength to protest. Tilted back, she felt warm water flow through her hair and gentle fingers pulling through it. Sleep sought to take her and she was barely aware of warmed towels surrounding her cold flesh.
Pellew watched Sebastian carry her up the stairs. Looking into the parlor, he saw Kennedy stripped down to trousers and shirt, pacing in front of the fire and holding the baby. **We cannot leave her. Not yet.** Pellew pinched his lips together. In the kitchen, Carden was putting another kettle of water on to boil.
"Where are Matthews and Styles?" asked Pellew.
"Matty went out to check on Styles, sir," answered Carden.
"Out?" Pellew slung Kennedy's cloak over his shoulders. He opened the back door to find Matthews and Styles coming in. "What the devil are you doing out there? Did I not tell you to get out of those filthy clothes?" Pellew caught a somber look from Matthews and a sullen one on Styles. "Matthews, come with me. We are returning to the ship."
Both ratings jerked to attention.
Pellew located his own outerwear and donned it. "Carden, tell the doctor I will return before dawn. I must see to the ship and... I will get dry clothing for us all." He strode towards the front door, Matthews following.
"Yes, sir," answered Carden, shifting his eyes to Styles. "Get yerself cleaned up, mate. I've a nightshirt that'll fit ye for the time being."
Out in the muddy lane, Matthews and Pellew were striding along at a swift pace. Pellew considered where he would find a boat to row them out to Indefatigable and knew of a small dory that would suit if no crew were to be had. It was nearly two in the morning. That sorted, he snatched a glimpse of Matthews, head bent to the weather.
"What ails Styles, Matthews?" asked the Captain gruffly.
"He's all right, sir," answered Matthews lowly.
"That does not answer my question, man."
Matthews winced, snatched a look at Pellew, then said, "Miss Pamela was talking out of her head. Her words... She din't know. I told him, she din't know."
Pellew set his eyes on the rating striding along beside him. "She didn't know what?"
"About... about Styles cuttin' the line, sir."
Pellew was told of the events that night, leading to Hornblower's loss at sea. They all took the news hard, but Styles... Pellew had not given the man much thought. The rating had done that which was necessary to preserve the ship... as Hornblower had. That Styles would blame himself individually for Hornblower's loss had not entered his mind, though if he had been less preoccupied with his own grief, he should have realized. Hornblower was Styles' officer and he was gone.
"Did not Mr. Kennedy speak to Styles?" asked Pellew, knowing immediately Hornblower's men would have looked to the fourth leftenant if the second were gone.
"He did, sir, and Styles was doin' better..." Matthews' voice trailed.
"Until Mrs. Hornblower inadvertently said something," finished Pellew.
"Yes, sir," answered Matthews, hoping the interview about Styles was at an end.
"Tell me," ordered Pellew.
Matthews' bore a pained expression. "She din't know what she was sayin', sir," pleaded Matthews. "She's wore out and... and... wounded like," said Matthews, defending her.
"What," spat Pellew, "did she say?"
Matthews breathed out a heavy sigh. "She asked him to throw her into the sea, sir."
Icy cold fingers gripped Pellew's heart. Anger flashed over his face and he walked more swiftly. If he had any doubts about what he planned to do, this news sealed the matter. Matthews had to jog a step or two to catch up and increase the length of his stride.
"I had to make Styles tell me, sir. He din't want to."
In concentration of thought, Pellew had automatically gone for the small boat, not cognizant of coming onto the quay, in pursuit of those efforts that would bring him to Indefatigable. He and Matthews pushed the boat into the water and climbed in. Rowing at a pace, Pellew soon heard the call of boat ahoy from the watchman on Indy's deck.
"Indefatigable," he called roughly. No pipes had been his instructions. Saluting the ensign as he stepped on board, he saw Connors on watch.
"Captain, sir. All is well, sir."
"Very good, Mr. Connors." Pellew rounded on Matthews. "Get dry clothing for yourself, Styles, Kennedy, and Sebastian, then, meet me in my cabin."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Connors, I will have a boat crew, and keep them quiet."
Pellew walked into the corridor that led to the after cabin and yanked a tomahawk off the wall, then, headed below.
Matthews reached his berth finding his hammock hung for him. Locating a small canvas kit bag, he pulled clothes from a larger one, and then, another.
"Matty? Is that you?"
A sleepy tousled head peered at him over a hammock's edge.
"It is, Hardy."
"Did ye see her? Is the baby birthed?"
Matthews stopped and looked at his mate. "He's got a fine son, Hardy. Born tonight he was. We was with her when he come."
"Cor! That's good to hear, Matty. But... how did she take the news of Mr. H.?"
"As ye might expect. I can't jaw with ye now. I've got to go back with Cap'n."
"You tell her we're happy for her, Matty. I wish we could see him. Is she namin' him after Mr. Hornblower?"
"Don't know. She ain't said yet what he's t'be called. I've got to go."
Matthews shuffled off through the hammocks, set to gather the officer's gear.
Pellew returned from below decks and entered his cabins noisily. Daniels appeared with a sock cap on his head.
"Aye, Daniels. It's me." Pellew turned the wick up on the lantern. "Fetch out my civilian clothes, an extra pair of socks, trousers, shoes... get the small valise. Pack my shaving kit, too."
Daniels hesitated but knew better than to question. "Civilian clothes, aye, sir, valise and kit."
Pulling out a sheaf of paper, Pellew wrote hastily with quill and ink.
"As soon as you're done, fetch Mr. Bracegirdle for me. Give him my apologies for waking him and tell him to come as he is."
Pellew folded the letter, wrote Bracegirdle's name on the outside, then, sealed it with wax. That completed, he swiftly undressed pulling the soaking and dirty stockings from his feet distastefully, then, donned the civilian clothing, placing the extras in the small satchel. Frowning, he slipped his dry stocking feet into the wet shoes.
A knock on the door and Pellew gave the permission to enter.
"Mr. Bracegirdle. I am returning to Mrs. Hornblower's home. You know the port admiral expects us to leave with the change of wind."
"I do not think the winds will change today, but one never knows. Should they do so, make preparations to leave."
"Shall I send word for you, sir?"
"No." Pellew looked down at his clothing, then, at Bracegirdle. "I ... I am disobeying orders, Mr. Bracegirdle. I am leaving my ship."
"I thought that might be the case, sir, but, if I may say so, I know you would not act in such a manner if you did not deem it necessary. Sometimes ... sometimes the crew is more important than admiralty wishes, sir."
Pellew smiled wryly. "The crew. Yes. I did not hear you say it, Mr. Bracegirdle, as I must ask you now to take these orders." He held out the sealed letter. "Should someone from shore seek me out, you are to tell them I am ill and unable to receive visitors. If the wind should come round, prepare to make sail as if I were here. In fact, preparatory to sailing, I want you to check to see all lines are operational. After all, we suffered damage in battle and in heavy weather. If you should find ... damage, open the letter, read it, then, burn it. I feel you will know what to do once you have read what that contains. I am trusting you, Mr. Bracegirdle, to handle any situation which might arise. You realize, should I be found out, you would not escape close scrutiny, but I assure you, I will take full responsibility for your actions."
"I do not fear in that respect, Captain. It would be an honor to be court-martialed with you, sir."
With a cocked eyebrow, Pellew said, "Let us pray, it does not come to that."
"I will do my utmost, Captain. If I may ask, sir, did it not go well with Mrs. Hornblower?"
Pellew lowered his eyes and shook his head. "We cannot leave her today. I... I pray I will return late tonight or early in the morning. You see how to expect me," and he held out an arm indicating his lack of uniform. "I hope these histrionics will prove unnecessary. However, I would prefer not to have to answer for my actions. There is no excuse for what I am doing. But if I did otherwise, I could not live with myself."
"Do not worry, sir. I know you are acting for the best. Has she had the child?"
"Yes. Tonight." Fingertips traced over his brow. "A boy, as they surmised. I have not had a chance since the birth to see him or speak with her. I'd forgotten about Drake. I..." he wagged his head, "may have to let him choose. I am not sure what to do about him. We may have our powder monkey back." Pellew looked at Bracegirdle, eye to eye. "Commanding a vessel of three hundred men is by far easier than handling one female and two small boys, Mr. Bracegirdle. Pray God will give me wisdom."
"I have every confidence in you, Captain," assured Bracegirdle.
"I wish I felt as sure."
A knock at the door sounded.
"That should be Matthews. Time we were away, Mr. Bracegirdle."
Grabbing the valise, then opening the door, Pellew stepped past the rating. "Come on, Matthews, we've another long walk ahead of us. At least we won't be rowing."
Matthews had one bag tucked under his arm and held the other one. He had never seen the captain in civilian clothes and the surprise showed.
Connors waited in the waist. A boat with crew floated beside Indefatigable. Connors turned, shocked by what he saw. "C...Captain?"
"Yes, it is I, Mr. Connors. Ah, good, I see we have the dory in tow. We may yet have need of it." He passed the rating his dunnage. "Over the side with you Matthews. I will return within the next twenty-four hours, gentlemen. No pipes for me now or then. Is that clear?"
"Aye, aye, Captain," answered Bracegirdle.
"Yes, sir," answered Connors, mildly confused.
The two officers watched the boat pull away.
"I take it all is not well with Mrs. Hornblower, sir."
Bracegirdle inhaled deeply. "Should it be?" he asked solemnly. "Goodnight, Mr. Connors."