As I See Fit - Part 8
The Captain of the Indefatigable dipped his pen in the inkwell of his writing desk and continued his journal entry. "1793, June 10, Gibraltar". His journal consisted of one long letter, a letter never to be sent, a letter to be read by no one else in this life. Shaking the ink off, he put the pen down, gazing at the mountain that was the port of Gibraltar. His ship, moored even with the governor's residence, had been anchored with the stern northward. He could see the neck of land, north of the Rock that bordered the no mans land between the British possession and Spain.
He put the ribbon between the current pages and turned back to the inside front cover. He carefully unfolded the letter that rested there, a letter read many times, so many times that the folds were beginning to fray and part. He laid it down, handling it like it was the finest crystal, thin as the paper between his fingers. He covered his face with both hands and drew a long breath.
Amanda, Amanda, oh Amanda.
A breath of wind blew through the open windows, swaying the uniform coat that hung on the back of the door and sending some papers, including the letter to the deck.
He fell to his knees to gather them up. The letter had come to rest face up, and he read the words before he retrieved it from the floor.
'1778, December 20. Teignmouth Castle'
'My Dearest Edward"
Edward, always Edward when she was tender, when she yielded to him, their limbs entwined, Edward, when she wanted him to know that she loved him.
"My Dearest Edward" The writing was shaky, jerky. The quill had sputtered. Circles where once wetness had been stained the fine vellum paper. Her paper.
Never Teddy in those intimate moments, never Captain Pellew, as when they were in public, or Sir Edward in those formal moments when she was known as Lady Pellew. Just Edward.
He couldn't see. He blinked at the tears that had come unbidden, his throat tightening as he fought them back. He wiped at his eyes with the ruffle of his shirt sleeve. A light knock sounded on the cabin door.
"Come." Young "acting" lieutenant Hornblower entered the cabin. Hornblower seemed startled at seeing his captain sitting on the deck, back against the bulkhead. "Are you all right, sir?"
"Of course, Mr. Hornblower, what is it?"
"Mr. Bracegirdle sends his compliments and says the last of the new hands have come aboard."
"Thank you, Mr. Hornblower. Please tell him to carry on. I have complete faith in the abilities of my officers. Please inform the deck that unless there is an emergency, to leave me undisturbed for the afternoon. We are in port, Mr. Hornblower."
"Yes sir, thank you sir." The young man backed out of the cabin, knocking into the sentry.
"Mr. Hornblower, pass the word for my servant, if you please."
"Aye, Sir." And the young man left the companionway outside his cabin. Powers must have been waiting, for he appeared immediately.
"Powers, take my gig, go ashore and see if you can get some flowers, never mind the cost. I will want them later this afternoon." Powers nodded and disappeared.
Alone again, Pellew drew a long, shattering breath and turned his attention back to the pages of the letter. Her letter. His lips curled slightly upward with a wan smile of memory. He read past the first words this time.
"My Dearest Edward.
"I wish the news here at home were better. I know by now you have been told of little Eddy's passing. How I wish I had been able to pass that to you myself, but, Charlie was here, and I was unable to function. With Lillie passing just a few weeks earlier, I was quite unable to function. I know he found a way to let you know with tenderness. I could not have asked for a better friend.
"Oh, Edward, how I wish you were here. I need you so. Both of the children. The house seems so silent. Seems, oh what am I saying, it is silent. I think I will go up to London as soon as I'm able. I won't return here until you come home.
I have sent Richard to you with Charlie. Charlie says that he will keep him as midshipman, if you are not able or comfortable in taking him under your command. Give him my love and tell him to be good. It is safer for him away from Teignmouth until this influenza epidemic has run its course.
"Young Mr. Rochester looked in on me this morning. He is all of thirteen and very much the young gentleman. I felt well enough to go for a short walk with him. He makes me smile, Edward, he reminds me of you when we were younger.
"We walked down past the village church. I was tired by then and went in for a moment. I sat in our pew and remembered the first time I saw you, you impish boy."
Pellew spread the fingers of his left hand across his mouth, he closed his eyes, and he remembered too.
They had been so young and so in love, nothing could ever harm them.
His eyes opened. His buttocks ached, how long had he been sitting on the deck? Still holding the letter carefully between the fingers of his left hand he groped into his watch pocket with the other. With quick and deft movements he flicked open the case. The portrait there was chipped and the salt water of many storms had eaten away at the right edge, but it was still true as the day it had been painted and the mahogany of her hair was as beautiful as the first time he had ever seen it.
'I'm not as young as I used to be.' He thought as he drew his leg under him to stand up. He could hear his knees pop as he came erect. His mirror threw back his gaze to rest on his own face. He saw the redness of his nose and eyes. Carefully refolding her letter he replaced it in it's accustomed place.
Stepping into the quarter gallery he opened the wash cupboard and sluiced some water into the bowl. He looked up, glancing out the window to the ship anchored close by. Charlie's? No, the Calypso was inshore, closer to the mole. Another mirror, this one directly in front of him and impossible to ignore. He touched the hair at his temples. No, not one white hair among them yet, not like her's were before. Oh God, before. No. Not that either.
He dashed handfuls of water over his face and felt some of the grit come away from his eyes. The huck towel, with it's intricate weaving, a gift, hung within grasp, but he turned away. No he would not think that way either. Not now. He reached for one of the old yellowed ones on the shelf beneath the bowl.
Still working the cloth between his fingers and dabbing the last of the moisture from his ear lobe he walked to the stern windows. The light was getting stronger over the rock, true morning was finally upon them. He felt another gust of hot wind through the cabin. He turned instinctively to be sure his journal was closed and the precious letter protected. Gibraltar could have vicious swings of temperature in the summer. Boatcloak needed at night and early morning, then get every stitch of clothing off and still stay modest and in uniform in the noon and early watches.
'Melancholy.' He thought, 'There is no other word for it. And I should stop thinking so much, especially in this place. When did all this remembering start anyway? I thought I could deal with it.' Sinking down on the cushions, he closed his eyes again shutting out the glint from the water below. 'When did this start? With that damned Dreadnought Foster.'
A week ago, off Trafalgar, just after the Spanish had thrown them out of Cadiz, 'All those lives lost, all to assuage that ass Foster.' With a groan, he rested his head on the casing of the window. Only three rescued, and Foster, of course, lucky Dreadnought Foster.
A fast passage through the Straight and he would have been a happy man. Watering and wooding the ship at Cadiz had taken some time, but it could not have been helped. No food could be taken on, the Spanish harbormaster had said all of their supplies had already been depleted, and further, the port itself was on short rations till more stores could be brought from inland. In view of Foster's actions, it would have been better for the Indy if the Spanish had waited a few days to join their northern neighbors in an unholy alliance. What had Hornblower said? "God is on our side."
Never opening his eyes, he shook his head and let go a rueful laugh. A fast passage was all he had wanted. Their morbid cargo had mouldered in his mind as much as it had mouldered in the hold. The young man with butter yellow hair and the crude skull and crossbones on his hand was stuffed one of his good water casks in several gallons of the surgeon's purest sprits. 'I'll have to make good on that barrel with the dockyard. Harvey will sell me one, I'm sure.' He thought, 'We'll have to burn the other.'
Then they had found Foster, and he knew he must, in good form, ask the man to dinner. That had been a three days ago.
They had shared a glass before the cloth had been laid, Arthur Bowles automatically took his regular chair on his left and Anthony Bracegirdle to his right. The marine officer sat next to the master and Dreadnought Foster by him. Hornblower had taken the foot of the table as the youngest officer among the assembly, and as such before the dinner was over he would give the loyal toast. There was a younger lieutenant between Hornblower and Bracegirdle.
He wished within his deepest heart that the other young man, another cub, Kennedy, were there instead of the dour young Scot that had taken his place. 'Archie, you made me laugh.' Another reason for the man in the cask below, 'You were killing my sons.'
That thought brought him up short. 'My sons.' He looked over the glass at Hornblower. 'Is that how I have come to think of you, Horatio? As a son? I will have to be twice as hard on you to mask my affection. My son.' Almost a smile at that thought, but one look at Hornblower's dinner partner stilled that action a borning.
The plates were laid and the dishes were brought in. He could tell that his steward was hard pressed to put a good meal in front of the officers. A sea pie with the last of the carrots from his stores, some potatoes with the rot cut out of them dressed up in dill and one short French bastard was on the bread plate for each of them at the table. The wine was in good supply and there was still some Stilton, one of the few cheeses that never seemed worse for time in the hold, perhaps because it was already half bad when it was new in the round.
The conversation had gone well enough. He had said the right things and was sure he had played the gracious host. He moved his food around on the plate, picking at it so the others would at least eat the pitiful mess. It was a travesty of a dinner, but there was a bright spot: Horatio Hornblower.
Arthur Bowles was sawing at some of the stringy cask hardened beef as the captain of the Indefatigable finally pushed the plate away and picked up the glass to keep his hands busy. Once again his eyes were drawn to the young man at the end of the table. He heard Bracegirdle say something, nodding as if he heard, he tried to catch the ends of the acting's conversation with Captain Foster. 'Bad piece of work that. No better than when we first met.' He thought. Hornblower's gaze was fully on Foster and he was totally engaged in listening to the visitor's tale.
'My God, I'm jealous!' The idea suddenly ran through him like a stroke of lightening. 'I'm jealous of Hornblower's regard!' Pellew sat the goblet down on the table with a thunk and picked up his linen, twisting it around and through his fingers. 'Eddy would have only been a couple of years older than Horatio,' Sliding around in his chair, he draped an elbow over the back, 'I've truly taken this young man as a son.' The realization hit hard and it was the truth. Pellew touched the cloth to his lips to hide the tremble that he knew must be there and stared at the remains of the pie on it's platter.
'I'm proud of him too. All I'd hoped of my son, of Mandy's son.' The sob caught in his throat. Bowles, who knew him best out of all of those around this table, looked up, then back into his plate and industriously applied himself to forking up the last of the figgy dowdy swiping it around in the hard sauce.
"Well, I was merely a passenger on the schooner on the way to Gibraltar," Foster's voice cut through the hum of conversation. Edward Pellew glanced up, to find Horatio's gaze still resting on Dreadnought's face, intently following each word. Hate sprang alive in his chest and he brought his face under the same control that he showed when punishment was administered. "to take command of the Dreadnought when this Spanish frigate blocked our path. We were out-manned and out-gunned and should we have run, we would certainly be out-paced."
"Did he fire without warning, sir?" Bracegirdle said as he reached for his wine glass. All other conversation was stilled now. The marine officer was half turned in his chair to catch every word. Pellew could see Foster gesturing with one finger outstretched from around his own wine glass.
"Oh, they had the decency to fire a warning shot, the audacity of them!"
'A warning shot, you dolt, that's what it was. The Spanish are nothing if not punctilious in keeping with the rules of war.' The captain of the Indefatigable responded in thought, but not in word. It might be better to stay silent than to embarrass himself. Looking away from the table and letting his finger tap against his teeth, he fought to keep his face immobile and his buttocks in the seat.
"Three supply ships taken by the French in as many weeks and now the Spanish think they can do the same! Well this was one ship that they would never take." Foster shook his finger up in the air to punctuate his words. The movement drew Edward's attention back to the table. "So," Foster continued, "I assumed command of the schooner, gave the order that we should attempt to rake her."
Pellew shifted slightly in his seat, Arthur caught the movement and looked up, stopping his fork in the middle of the air. 'You don't like this do you, my friend?' Bowles thought rang clear though no words passed between them.
'You know I do not.' The quick silent exchange done, Bowles eyes went back to his plate and after a hitch the fork completed it's travel to his lips. Perhaps the master knew Edward Pellew better than any man aboard, shipped with him off and on for nearly fifteen years. Arthur Bowles was keen to his Captain's moods and was the only confidant of the solitary man who inhabited this cabin. He considered his commander. The years had not been kind to Edward Pellew. The lines that were made from laughter ten years ago were deep crevases of care and pain now. Perhaps it had been a bad idea to suggest to old Admiral Montague to bring his name forward when the fleet needed captains for the ships that were being brought out of ordinary.
'Well, that is neither here nor there now. Pellew is my captain, and we are taking prizes. God willing, he'll not put too much store in this young Hornblower. I'm not sure he can take another blow on top of all the others and still remain whole.' The master turned his attention back to the story that was spinning itself out at the end of the table.
"Of course," Foster held forth, "I knew our chances were slim, but I took comfort from the fact that they should be forced to destroy their prize. Had I not acted the schooner and her supplies would at this very moment would be in the hands of the Spanish."
Edward Pellew could hold his silence no longer. "What of the crew?"
The question had come out of nowhere, drawing the attention of the entire dinner party. Hornblower's head came around sharply, with a momentary look of disgust that was immediately replaced by a mask of complacency.
"You have a question, Captain?" Even the word "captain" had a tone of derision in the retort from Foster.
"I was merely wondering how many of the crew did the Spanish take from the sea?"
"I have no idea! At the time my mind was engaged in more important matters than arithmetic." An idea seemed to occur to Foster as he looked back from Pellew to Hornblower, who had almost snorted a laugh at Fosters comment. "Am I to presume, Captain Pellew, that you would have surrendered?"
'I've made a blunder." Pellew thought as he looked from face to face around the table, but never meeting Hornblower's eyes. I should never have challenged him in this setting. "This is neither the time or the place, sir, to discuss tactics." Pellew fell silent. At least Foster would have to bend to his wish to discontinue the conversation. 'Damn it! I am Captain here!' He thought. This matter should drop right now. Pellew heard Bowles drop his silver to the plate and saw the master's fleeting glance of caution.
"Nonsense! We are all men of the sea here! You!" Foster reached out and tapped Hornblower on the sleeve.
Pellew shot a commanders warning glance at his young officer. A warning that was received, but with unexpected consequences: confusion.
"How would you have reacted in such circumstances?"
Pellew intervened. "I think perhaps.."
Foster had read Hornblower's hesitation, "Com on man, out with it!"
Bowles understood Hornblower's dilemma, how to frame an answer that would not alienate his hero nor disappoint his captain. He shook his head once, trying to indicate to the acting lieutenant not to answer, but to no avail.
"Uh.I am pleased that the Spanish have been deprived of our supplies, sir." The choice of words was unfortunate and the delivery unavoidable. Horatio Hornblower knew immediately that he had committed what might be an unpardonable mistake.
"Now!" Foster hit the table, palms down, in triumph.
The table went silent. The arrow had gone home. Bowles saw Pellew almost reel backward in the chair. Instead, Pellew wrapped the napkin tighter around his fingers, this was an open insult to the captain of this vessel, a senior captain to Dreadnought Foster at that! No one around that table was daring enough to break the dead calm. Even Hornbower seemed to squirm in his seat with unease.
Enough! I have had enough of this man!' Pellew thought and threw the damask cloth straight into the remains of his uneaten meal and surged up from the chair, "I take my leave, sir." He turned from the table without a backward glance. No loyal toast to end this meal, no stomach at ease with it's dinner, except perhaps Captain Foster, whose eyes danced at witnessing Edward Pellew's frustration.
"I fancy you shall go far young man," Foster exclaimed once again slapping a palm on Hornblower's arm. "I fancy you shall!"
Those were the last words that Edward Pellew heard as he grabbed for his boat cloak and walked out into the night.
Edward Pellew sat on the very edge of the mizzen top, after the hard wood of the dining chair the sanded timbers were almost comfortable. Foster would never come up here. He was safe from everyone for a few minutes. He would not stay long. The fresh air lifted the hair that had escaped his queue and revived him.
He let his legs dangle, held the edge of the grating and stretched his back, deep breaths stilled the anger inside him. Being with Foster, even for a few moments, drove him backwards, before the Indy, before his knighthood, before the Nautilus and Pownall, back to Captain Stott and the snotty baby midshipman whose loose mouth had forced him from the middy's berth and before the mast with the common seamen. He could still feel the heat of Pownall's cat, the fire that refined him into who he was. Oh, yes, Foster remembered, remembered too well, but he was unable to make capital of his knowledge. Pellew was above him in seniority and in peerage and would always be. So much for Foster's power over him, it was nothing, nothing at all.
He gazed up, past the Indy's commissioning pendant at the main truck, the stars were beginning to brighten, Mars burned in the East with a light that would be almost as bright as the moon. He drew up one leg and locked his arms around it, he rested his chin on his knee, amazed that he was still limber enough to do it. The genuine hint of a smile crept around the corners of his mouth, it died as he heard someone coming hand over hand up the futtocks. He twisted, arms coming loose and thigh falling back to the wood.
"Edward." Arthur Bowles grunted as he tucked his belly into the edge of the top, his legs coming free from the shrouds below.
Pellew extended a helping hand to his sailing master, an amused grin graced his face as he did so. "How long has it been since you've been up here?"
Bowles got his knees onto the boards. "Seems like years. I could not take the lubbers hole, everyone is watching down below. My dangling feet will be the talk of the messes at breakfast I expect."
The two men laughed softly into the evening, companionable silence followed for some minutes.
"I've been with you longer than I was married." Pellew said.
It was several beats before the master answered with a simple yes. Bowles waited. "You are troubled, Edward?"
"By Foster, no. He's just a pest whom I let get under my skin. That will not happen again." The captain's arm swept the sky. "The stars were this bright that night, after I mean. When the fires were out and the smoke finally cleared away, they were this bright." Silence again, Pellew's head went down, Bowles could see the dip between his shoulders, but his face was lost into the growing darkness. "Why do we have to go to Gibraltar, Arthur? Why us? There are plenty of other ships, we should have been ordered back to the channel."
Bowles knew Pellew was really talking to himself. He looked down to the men at the helm. The sentry was making his way to the belfry and Hornblower, who had turned up on deck preparing for the change of watch reached for the sandglass.
Pellew watched the lanky midshipman, acting lieutenant now, as the lad's long fingers grasped the wooden frame of the glass and turned it. Like the clockwork the glass mimicked, the bell began its peel from forward.
"There's a lad with great potential." Bowles said as Hornblower retreated to his station by the wheel. "You set great expectations on him, but them, you do that with all your 'young gentlemen.'"
"No, Arthur, this ones special. When he came aboard, he was so serious, he reminded me of Eddy. His tiny voice: 'I will take care of her, father.' That same look, tough and confident. Do you miss Araminta?"
"Every day." Bowles turned away, but smiled, the memory was pleasant, she had said goodbye at home and did not come to the wharf. They had been denied children, but what they had was enough for them.
"I thought I had put them behind me. It's been ten years, Arthur. Then this youngster-Hornblower-and finding that half finished letter to Wyndham in Jack's things." Pellew fell silent.
"Did I do right, Arthur?" Pellew didn't look around. Bowles didn't answer right away. "I should have found another way. I didn't need to kill that young man. I should have found another way." He repeated. "What will I tell his mother?"
He stood up, automatically leaning toward the mast for balance as it swung in its arc. He pulled his weskit down into place and shrugged his jacket smooth. Bowles reached for the backstay. Pellew stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Arthur," He proffered his hand. The master took it. One up and down motion and Pellew held it fast between them. "Thank you." The men slid to the deck where the watch had changed and the Indy nosed her way through the tack and into the straits.
Hand over hand, trying not to look like a lubber, he slid down the backstay, following Bowles, praying that the master didn't miss and go over the side, a dive from here in this darkness would probably kill them both. On this ship, at this time, Bowles was the man who had served with him the longest. With enough seniority and prestige, he was able to request, and receive his chosen sailing master. His feet hit the rail and he swung inboard. A quick glance at Hornblower caught the young man's sigh of relief when his captain once again had his feet solidly on the deck.
He should take a tour of the ship, a normal thing for him this time each day. Once round his little kingdom, ensuring the condition of his lady and her crew. Bowles was coming forward, his steps sounding lightly, the rustling of papers stuck in his book and the creaking of the lantern ring heralding his approach.
"Very well, Mr. Bowles, let's get at it. My cot calls."
It was a learned thing, going below decks with his scraper. The bulkheads were low and even he had to bend backwards to descend the ladder to the upperdeck. The galley stove, it's fires banked, still had a few hot spots, the heat was oppressive. It would get worse the further south they went. Gibraltar. He shook his head.
"Problem, sir? Bowles stepped forward, a stub of pencil appearing in his hand.
A few words with the older middies and he moved forward to ensure that the younger ones were tucked in. This always brought a smile to his lips. How brave these little youngsters could be. Mr. Lapping's hat had fallen from it's place over the swinging hammock to the deck. Pellew swept it up and replaced it between the worm and the deckhead. Three hundred souls in his keeping. Two hundred and eighty his own crew, twenty from the supply ship and those picked from the Justinian's demise. All his responsibility.
He passed the wardroom, he would only enter that hallowed sanctum if duty warranted it or if invited. A few words with the purser and they dropped into the hold. The flickering lantern the only light in that benighted place. Hogs heads lined the passageway, one, roped tightly to the ringbolts was newly restaved. Jack Simpson. His minds eye could see the limp blonde hair floating in the spirits as they closed the barrelhead and tamped it snug. The remembered sight haunted him all the way back to his cabin.
That had been one of the hardest things he had ever done. What did he owe Wyndham Simpson to bring her son to her? The silent argument raged in his head as he passed the sentry. He had fallen back on the door as soon as the latch had assured his privacy. His fingers were spread against the wood and his head rested on the upper panel,'
The steward had lit the lamps against the ever-increasing gloom. The dinner and his spell in the tops had cut into his work time. 'Even a captains time is not his own.' He thought as he approached his desk. A desk which was piled with papers and ledgers that would have to be double-checked, for he was ultimately responsible to the admiralty for every consumable aboard his vessel.
He sat heavily in the chair, reaching for the purser's books. His hand brushed the loosely folded letter. The address was to Mrs. Wyndham Simpson. So she had never remarried, and she had stayed in Gibraltar. His fingers found the foolscap and he picked it up. Truth be told, if this letter had not been found he would have buried Midshipman Simpson at sea and have been done with it. The open letter still lay on his writing table in his sleeping cabin.
The writing beckoned him like a siren's song.
"Mother: I hesitate even to call you that. You hated me since before I was born. You didn't even claim me until you hoodwinked that poor soul who was a depraved as you into marriage. Andyour other child? The one you cared to claim. I saw her in Covent Garden with the red silk of her dress tucked up. A pretty shilling she cost."
Pellew threw the blotted paper to the desk where if fell across his journal. He grabbed it as if it had been a coal ready to burn through to his own precious letter inside the cover.
He swept it away. 'Perhaps it would be better to just burn this.' He thought. He raised the glass of the lantern and moved the paper closer to the flame. The light shown through the cheap paper and he saw his own name. The flame had already begun to char the edge, he pressed out the glowing embers.
He read on.
"Now I find myself under the command of your idol, Edward Pellew. Mother, I do not know what you saw in him. He is a weakling, oh not in the same was Keene was, but the chink in his armor is a man named Hornblower."
Pellew raised his eyebrows at this revelation. Had he been that obvious with his favor?
"I can assure you of his misery in twenty four hours."
Then that last unfinished paragraph:
"We are due to meet the supply ship tomorrow and I will drop this in the pouch. By the way, put three hundred pounds to my account at the bank. All my uniforms and kit went down with Justinian and I am wearing cast offs from Pellew's middies berth. They are all lousy."
This time the letter did fall to the flames.
That had all been a day past now. Edward looked out at the glistening of the waves in the bright Gibraltar morning. This had been a foul few weeks. But there had been one more bright spot before Foster had left the Indy. Looking back on that evening he was sure his face had held its command immobility.
He had escorted Foster to the side. Hornblower had been in command of the side party. Foster halted next to the acting lieutenant.
"Mr. Hornblower?" Foster said.
"When we next meet, I believe you will have your commission, sir."
Horatio responded with another confused, "Sir?"
Never one to be put off Foster forged ahead, "Well I presume you are putting yourself forward for lieutenant?"
Edward saw the hesitancy in Hornblower's actions and turned away, 'Horatio - don't.' was his only thought. 'I will not interfere, I will not let him hurt me.' The lad would have to learn to conceal his emotions, as Edward Pellew had to do every day for over ten years. He had to look back, he had to hear and see what the answer would be. Their eyes met in a moment of distinct and clear communication.
Hornblower chose his words carefully. Pellew fought back the smirk as he listened to the lad's reply. "That is my captains decision." It was all the Captain of the Indefatigable could do to keep the grin from his face. He stretched his neck and thrust his chin forward. This was better. Much better! It was time to get his 'acting' off the flame.
"The port admiral awaits." He said as he gestured toward the ladder. A few steps more and Foster was over the side and away from his ship.
After the prerequisite visit with the port admiral and seeing Foster securely into the admiral's care, Pellew sat with Captain Eustis Harvey in the admiralty offices. Harvey was pouring them coffee and reading over the list of needs for the Indy. Pellew sat quietly, the remainder of a slice of toast in his hand and adding sugar to his brew. He looked past Harvey into the night sky, the darkness brightened by the lights of the dockyard. A place that never slept, it seemed.
"And, one oaken water cask?" Captain Harvey looked up from the four-page list. "What happened to yours? They were fresh from Portsmouth, were they not? Did it leak?"
"No. No." Pellew replied, not really wanting to tell Harvey what he did with it. "Look here, Eustis, I'm ready to pay for it. I used it for something else than holding water and it is unsuitable for any other use now. In fact, I've sent it off ship." He put the fragment of bread down to reach for his pocket book.
"Oh very well. I won't ask. I do have another. But these others, re-victualling. I'm afraid I can't fill these needs. There are not enough staple supplies on this whole rock to fulfill this order."
"We haven't had a supply ship in for a month, one is due in today-"
"It won't be here." The thought followed on 'Damn Foster. How will I feed my men?'
"Yes." Pellew looked at the list that was still in Harvey's hands. "I suppose we will have to reduce rations?"
"I'm afraid so. I do have some supplies, Edward. I'll do what I can, but there are ships that are in worse situation than you."
"I see. How long?"
"I can supply ten ships at half rations for thirty days."
"And there are fifteen ships in harbor."
"I see." Pellew drew his hands across his face. He took a deep breath and said nothing further about the matter.
The rest of the conversation had centered on what could be done, not the impossible. A quiet few minutes with an old friend and a walk back to the harbor with a heavy tread. He looked down into his launch. His crew waited patiently. Good men - every one. The thought came roaring back. 'How will I feed my men?'
The row back to the Indy was silent; somehow his dour mood was contagious. Each of the men as they came up the side after him went quietly to their mess. News traveled quickly on a frigate and there were no secrets in a small place. He was absolutely sure that the entire crew knew of the shortage of supplies. Touching his hat to the quarterdeck he fled to the privacy of his quarters.
His cot was prepared, a glance at his watch, the dear face looking at him in the dim lamplight. Pulling out the key, he pressed the clasp that sprung the back and wound it up. Then as he had done everyday since he was married, he said, "I love you Amanda Pellew." He snuffed out his lantern and drew the worn cot coverings against the early morning sun.
His servant awakened him with a smell of bacon and coffee. Dressing gown wrapped around his shoulders, he sat down to a plateful of eggs with Jamaican hot sauce. The ships poultry were still in good order, the eggs were plentiful. His servant bustled around the cabin making his bed and laying out a fresh set of linen.
Bracegirdle had made his morning report, sharing a bowl of something that was passing for oatmeal and a cup of coffee. Pellew knew his ship was in good order, the men fed, the harbor watch set and a liberty schedule for those of his crew that merited one. He noted that Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Cleveland were on that roster. It would do them good to be ashore for a few hours.
Still carrying his coffee cup, he moved to his writing desk. Missives from the port admiral and the admiralty in London lay there awaiting his eyes. He broke the seal on the port admiral's orders.
"By order of his Britannic Majesty ---" By God, Foster had been correct! A lieutenant's examination board would be convened. A momentary wicked thought passed through his mind, but no, he would not hold Mr. Hornblower back. The lad was going to sink of swim on his own.
"Yes, Sir Edward?"
How strange that had sounded in those early days, now it was expected and comfortable. "I'll see my clerk, the cook, the purser and Mr. Hornblower. I'll wind up with Mr. Bracegirdle again. In that order if you please."
"And, Powers-" The servant halted in mid stride.
"You might eat a bit more food this morning."
The servant had shown no surprise at all. The whole crew must know by now. The meeting with Bracegirdle would not be a mere report, but more like a council of war. He pawed through the pile of paper on his desk. It would be tomorrow before he had any time of his own.
"Oh, Powers, one more thing."
"Make a list of all my private stores and add them to the ships stores. Except for my Madera. We eat what the ship eats." He knew very well that his steward ate from his dishes. "Cut my portion back by two thirds."
"Two thirds, sir?"
"Yes did you not understand?"
"I have it perfectly, sir."
"Now, idleness." Edward Pellew mused as he continued watching the harbor. His arms were folded and he leaned against the pillar of the stern windows. The hated order to reduce rations had gone out the previous evening, just after the last full square for the men. This morning's breakfast at six bells had consisted of what looked like a half teacup of watery stirabout and a full cup of weak coffee. That had been hours ago, dinner had not been called yet and his stomach rumbled.
His only consolation was that his belly was not the only one empty.
Turning back into the cabin his eyes again found the journal. 'Are these such unwelcome memories?' he thought. 'I do love her, even now.' He undid the first few brass buttons of his weskit and pulled the chain through the neck opening of his shirt. A moment later the catch was undone and he drew it free. Two well-worn gold rings lay in his palm the golden links of the chain running like water through his fingers to the rich Persian carpet below. Hers had fallen in such a way as to be completely encircled by his wedding band. Her hands had been so small and delicate. He could still feel the pressure of her fingers as she held him down into the pillows that next to last morning in Plymouth. 'That was January 1774' He thought closing his eyes and enclosing the rings within his fist. 'I remember it like it was yesterday. The Altamira was in dry-dock and I had two months of leisure and sweet loving to look forward to'
Their third floor lodgings were simple but spacious compared to those on the lower floors. The ground floor of the Lion Inn held the public rooms; the keeping room and a sitting room, the first floor held individual rooms, at least 12 of them. The top floor held four bed sitting rooms. Amanda told him that they were used for officers who needed temporary quarters for their families. Edward had heard the cries of babies and the yells of small children through the thin walls.
Indeed at this moment he lay beside his wife listening to a baby wail on the other side of the paper-thin partition. Wrapping his arms around her he tried to go back to sleep. Evidently the baby was on Navy time. It was still dark outside, his body knew it was time for the morning watch to be called, but he did not have to report. This was the second day of no duties. They would spend one more night here then depart for Teignmouth.
His mind wondered back through the events of the previous day. Baines had met him at the yard and they watched as the Altamira was left high and dripping in the dry dock. The extent of damage was apparent. The second opening of the hole in the forepeak had ripped the coppering from the hull and the strakes were working loose. It was no wonder that the poor ship started to sink a third time when she made her own sail. The master shipwright had reconfirmed the two-month time to put her to rights.
The two men repaired to a tavern for a tankard of ale and a meal. Seated in the front of the public room they had a view of the street, a single lady, followed by her maid walked slowly by on the other side. The woman's butter yellow hair showed from under her velvet cloak's hood as she bent over to look into a window.
"Wyndham Simpson. There but for the grace of God go I." Pellew said as he pointed at her with his fork then turned back to his plate and dipped a piece of bread into the sauce from his pie.
"Poor woman." Baines said.
"Excuse me?" He glanced at the window again, in time to see her back pass by.
"She's got a black eye and a bruised cheek. She did not have that before we docked. I was on the Admiral's ship, taking some men over to her from the Alta. She was just fine then."
"Then that happened overnight? Hm." Pellew sliced off a bit of the beef and forked it into his mouth. "Simpson was wrought up over his interview with the port admiral. You don't think he might have taken it out on her?" His words were interrupted as he chewed his food.
"I would not like to think that a gentleman would hit a woman, sir, but-" Baines shrugged his shoulders.
"It does happen though. She looks like she's gained a little weight. Maybe, for the most part, wedded life suits her?"
They were silent for a few moments. "I understand Mrs. Pellew made a raid through the marines whose enlistments were finished." Baines said. "It seems that she snagged Sergeant O'Hearn and a private called Smith. Seems they are to become your family retainers for the time being. And, she's bought a second hand coach and a team of horses. Your lady is a good judge of horseflesh."
"How do you know so much about my household? More than I do." Another bite taken and was washed down with a swig from the pewter mug.
"She asked me to help. I made the offers and paid what was left of Smith's enlistment off." Baines continued between bites. "She gave them enough to purchase new rig out's too. They will be very well dressed servants. O'Hearn is to be her personal steward. He's sent for his wife and children to join you all in Teignmouth. Seems he can read and write tolerable well and knows his business. Was a poacher. He ran away into the marines to avoid being prosecuted."
"O'Hearn's a good man. He'll be a steady man around her, and a family too, I'm glad to see." Another bite. "Amanda has good sense where servants are concerned. I think I'll be able to leave her secure with him."
"That's a fact."
"Smith, seems able man, was a wardroom steward before he was taken as a marine, if I remember correctly. I don't think he ever got a uniform." Pellew said.
"Yes. Did rather well as a servant too. I take it he's to replace Grimes as your personal servant. I think he will do fine."
The rest of the meal passed in conversation about other things.
"Are you awake, m'dear?" The timbre of her breathing had changed in the last few minutes. The baby, perhaps it's hunger satisfied, was finally quiet. It was so different, wakening beside her with no ships business to handle. She turned over, raising her knees over his thighs and nestling even closer, if that was possible, to him. His body, with a will of it's own, responded to her. She felt it and snaked a hand between them.
"So you like this early morning loving, eh, Edward Pellew?"
"You know I do." He said, caressing her with his own gentle touch. "Tell me, Mrs. Pellew, do you miss shipboard life?"
Edward Pellew nuzzled closer to his wife's ear. She had been right: he did enjoy their early morning lovemaking. What had been simply joyous before was now exquisite. Their bodies were attuned to each other, knowing what gave each pleasure and both of them giving without reserve. The conception of their child had taken the raw edge, the urgency that was ancient in all males to sow their seed and bring forth their fruit.
He nipped at her earlobe; stroking the edge with his nose, tongue lapping into the sweet crevasses. Secretly he gloried in the shudder of intense reaction that electrified her body and made her pull away. He followed her, his body still thirsting and hungry, his hands pulling her back against him, the need still apparent, although somewhat sated by their earlier joining.
"Edward!" She laughed, turning back to him, straddling his legs and pinning him to the bed. Her hair, loosened from its braid, floated across his face, her hands held his arms down, he felt her own mouth make its way from his throat to his ear. He couldn't stand that infernal tickle either and turned his head away.
"Be careful, Amanda, you will get yourself in trouble!" He could feel his body filling itself again with the love he felt for her. Love and lust too!
She stopped, sitting on him, reaching her hands toward his. Laughing still, she clasped his fingers to her stomach. "Edward, I already am in trouble!"
"No you are not, you are a married woman. My wife." He let the words 'My wife' roll out with all the pride he felt. Grasping her left hand in his, he fingered her wedding band and made sure that she saw his. "And my child." Pride and possession, he had been caught fair and square.
"Tell me, Mrs. Pellew, what will you miss of shipboard life?"
"What will I miss?"
"Yes, it's a clear enough question." He closed his fingers around her waist. "You are cold!" He didn't wait for an answer, but drew her down beside him, wrapping the blankets around them and getting as close to her as possible. An arm snaked around his waist and her head pillowed on his shoulder. Gentle kisses that rained across his chest died away and her breathing eased into a gentle rhythm. "Sweet wife," he whispered as he brushed mahogany strands of hair away from her face, "You will never know" He left the rest unsaid and watched the sun rise above the rooftops, idly stroking her long tresses and down across her body. He stopped short, his fingers resting on the crest of her hip, his palm against the softness of her stomach. "Baby Pellew, your father loves you very much." He felt the burning behind his eyes and he blinked back the tears.
She sat, cross-legged on the bed with his heavy powdering gown wrapped around her shoulders and the covers over her lap. He could see her in the reflection from the mirror over the chest. He tied his neck cloth and began to tuck his shirt into his breeches."
"Our bathtub." She said suddenly, grinning at him.
"The tub, where we bathed on the Altamira. I had to take a bath in a little hipbath yesterday, and I still don't feel clean. Captain Pellew?"
"You have a nice arse."
"I wouldn't know I've never seen it!" He laughed back at her image. He preened before her, tightening his buttocks and knotting his calves. She grinned back at him, his posing ended when the hotel's maid knocked and brought in their breakfast.
Edward Pellew left the boarding house with a smile on his face and a list of last things ticking over in his mind. One more item had just been added, one that might hold them in Plymouth one more day. That was all right with him. One more day with no one they knew and nothing to do would not be a bad thing. A tune rose out of his general happiness and whistling the notes of "Jamaica" he strode down the street to the tailors and turned in with his feet moving in time with the music. He was looking forward to a country dance or two. There was no custom here that kept her from taking a turn with her husband. Boston was indeed very far behind them.
As the bells rang around the harbor to mark the afternoon watch, Pellew looked over the side of the dry dock, his hands on his knees for balance, to see the Altamira's side stripped down to her futtock riders in the bow, two were gone and were going to be replaced with seasoned timber. The shipwright looked up from the still wet floor of the drydock, a hand shielding his eyes from the sunshine that broke erratically through the clouds.
"Come to see if she'll be all right, are ye, Captain?"
"Well, ye needn't. We'll take good care of her and deliver her to ye in Portsmouth in the allotted time. She'll be ready for ye. She's built well. Boston built."
"Boston built?" It was as much an admission of surprise as it was a question.
"Aye," the man wiped his hands on his apron. "So's the one next door." A thumb pointed over his shoulder to the still afloat Montezuma. "She's got a little damage that we're taking care of. Your gunnery crew was selective, but there was some broken timber and a sprung mast."
"Charlie Hammond." He said to himself. "God bless you, Charlie."
"What, sir? I'm sorry, me hearing's gone, too many years, lower decks, ye know."
"Nothing. Nothing. How do you know they were laid down in Boston?" He knew he had seen no builders marks anywhere.
"Plaques where ye'd never find them unless they were torn down. Right on the kelson in the bow, where the stem post butts onto it. Endicott and Dawson, 1770, Boston - Wilmington. Big as life."
He could feel his eyes widen, but he brought his face under control. 'Endicott! No! It could not be so. They only built the ships! They did not sail them. Did not sail them!' He thought. "Were they built as warships?" He said, his mind racing through all the distasteful possibilities.
"Aye, sir. I'd say from the drafting table. Beautiful ships. Them Boston yards are turning out some fine vessels."
"Just so. Just so. Take good care of her, I'll see her again in March."
"Aye, Captain. She'll be ready."
It was not with the same light heart that he made his way back to their rooms. No sound escaped his lips, his tongue bitten between his front teeth, his hands found their way under his coattails. Endicott had been aboard with Amanda. No, he had nothing to do with this, nothing at all. But, they had not been attacked seriously until after they had landed Endicott in Boston. His own daughter! He was so deep in thought that he walked past the door to the hotel.
He would have to pursue this on his return. Surely his father in law had no knowledge of this. They only built the ships, not owned them. Suddenly, the two months until he could claim his lady in Portsmouth and return to Boston could not pass soon enough.
A warm handshake from Baines two mornings following had seen the coach and dray off from Plymouth eastward toward Teignmouth. The trade of lives from responsible ship's captain to wholly devoted and expectant father had not been easy. Especially when the two retainers were former crewmen, men who kept Navy hours. They were away before the sun was up, and he had to admit it to himself, well before Amanda was up.
The sprung carriage was a wonder. A new thing to him, instead of this carriage swinging insanely on straps, it bounced up and down in a semi regular motion. 'It's not the best method of transportation,' he thought, 'A ship is smoother.' It also had a horrible tendency to bounce after it had come to a halt.
Amanda lay across the opposite seat, pillows under her head and a quilt over her. How could she sleep through this! She had opted for the rear facing seat and seemed not to notice any movement at all. He definitely wasn't going to sleep on this trip, at least not now. His thoughts turned to the copper lined half barrel that rested atop their luggage in the dray. A last minute present, and one of the few that he could give her without her help.
His marriage had made him a rich man. Riches that he had not sought or wanted. At first it had been a novelty, new uniforms and furnishings for his cabin, but it had worn thin quickly. Now it was vaguely troubling, she was used to having her own way and having the means to do what she wished. 'A wife with no social status without her husband.' The idea formed in his mind. 'What will she do without me?' Always methodical, another list started, things to do to ensure that she was well entered into society and under someone's protection before he returned to his ship. 'I don't want a grass widow here, when I'm back in Boston. She won't be pregnant forever.'
"But nothing went as I planned. Nothing." He muttered to himself as "Hearts of Oak" thundered through the Indefatigible. Hearing Bracegirdle's light step across the deck above his head he realized that the watch had changed and he had wiled the morning away. Power's knock sounded discreetly at the door. "Come."
"Yer dinner, sir. And, Mr. Bracegirdle sends his respects, the Arathusa has just entered harbor. He says you wanted to be made aware." Powers laid the tray down and spread the cloth. A crust of bread, no, on closer inspection a very, very thin slice, laid with some hard cheese and a glass of wine. One side dish held a tablespoon of pudding.
"Yes, thank you, Powers." The steward pulled out the chair at the head of the table and Edward Pellew sat down to his meal.
'Well,' he thought as he opened the small volume that lay beside his plate. 'We are all here now. Hammond, Foster and me. We were all so young and thought nothing could happen to any of us.'