As I See Fit: Homeward Bound
Christmas Eve. The Altamira had been at sea for just over twenty-four hours, and they were moving under all possible sail. Edward had ordered a double ration of spirits for the men and a reduced watch, still keeping extra lookouts in the tops. Amanda had all of the very young ships boys and middies in the great cabin, where she was doling out hot cocoa and would very soon read the Nativity story to them.
Bidding the quartermasters, Stanfield and the rest of the watch a good Christmas and a good night, he made a tour of the ship, making sure she was secure and that the men were well fed. He exchanged the greetings of the season with them. He made sure that he spoke with every one of the crew, even finding the ones who were deep within the ship and climbing into the tops to encourage the lookouts.
Returning to the upper deck, he saluted the quarterdeck and walked under the overhang to the main cabin. He opened the door as silently as possible; Amanda was just beginning the passage from St. Luke. He caught her eye and she smiled at him. The smallest of the ships boys was sitting on her lap, helping her turn the pages. He looked around the cabin. Rimble stood near the door, his arms crossed with a cup of cocoa in one hand, Pengarth sat at the very back of the young middies, who were very prim and proper in their best uniforms.
Pellew felt his eyebrows rise as he spotted Baines, standing behind two older midshipmen. Baines did not look like he was enjoying the evening, and was watching one of the oldsters with a solemn stare.
Grimes handed him his cup of cocoa taking his cloak and hat at the same time. He sipped at it half listening to Amanda. Three more weeks if the weather was good and the crossing uneventful before he would set her ashore in England. Two days more and he would know if he were to be confirmed into the ship as her permanent captain. He was not even willing to think or plan further than that.
He leaned against the bulkhead and watched Amanda as she juggled the very youngest of the ships boys, one that probably should not have even been on the Altamira. The boy was barely seven and Pellew had almost sent him back to Kingston. He had come aboard with his older brother. Both of their parents had died of the yellow fever. He made a mental note to inquire where the boys were going when they reached Portsmouth. He would not turn them out on the street. The little boy sat on Amanda's lap, straddling her knee as she read the chapter to the assembly.
He took another sip of the sweet, hot liquid, his tongue feeling the graininess of the cocoa powder. It had been a good two days, but there was something gnawing at his consciousness. Where was that other ship? His lips lost the smile as his thoughts retreated into his work. There was just too much that didn't make sense. Like the reaction of the flagship when the Altamira slipped her moorings a good four hours earlier than normal and made all sail immediately.
He frowned. The admiral had made no indication as to when they could sail, just the date of sailing. Just as the ship had sunk the land the report of a signal gun had come faintly to his ears. The morning gun had already spoken; there was no reason for a second firing. He had ignored it and allowed the Altamira to run on to the east.
There had been no sighting of the rogue ship and he sincerely prayed there would not be one.
The gathering was breaking up and the noise of shoes on the deck brought his attention back to the young men. Each of them nodded to him as they passed on their way back to their hammocks or to their duties. All of them except the little boy who was still sitting on Amanda's lap and who was making no effort to remove himself. The boy's head was on her shoulder and his back was to Pellew.
Pengarth stopped at the door, waiting for the youngster. "Merry Christmas, Mr. Pengarth." Edward said.
"Thank you, Captain. Did you see how brilliant the stars are tonight?"
"Indeed." With a nod, Pellew started to move toward Amanda and the boy. As he walked around them he could see her wipe at the boys face with the tail of her neck scarf. Did she never have a handkerchief? "Pengarth?"
"Step into the coach and bring me that box of candy."
"Aye." Pengarth said and disappeared.
"Kirkwood?" Pellew asked as he pulled one of the dining chairs across the deck to sit beside Amanda. "Stephen, is it not?"
The boy nodded, his hand beginning to move toward his mouth, he was too timid to address his captain.
Pengarth had returned with the box and handed it to Edward. "Well, Stephen, it's getting late and you really should turn in. But, it's Christmas and it's special."
Amanda leaned to Edward to whisper in his ear. "It's his first Christmas without his mother, Teddy."
"I know. Mr. Pengarth, I believe that the elder Kirkwood is part of the watch. Relieve him of duty and send him to me. Here."
"Mr. Pengarth?" Pellew called once again.
"Yes, sir?" The midshipman was halfway through the door.
"Have a piece." Pellew held out the box and Pengarth returned to take the candy.
"Thank you, sir." He bowed to Amanda, "Merry Christmas ma'am."
Amanda smiled at the young officer, "You, as well, Mr. Pengarth. I believe we will see you for dinner tomorrow?"
"My privilege ma'am." Pengarth nodded to her again and left the cabin.
Pellew turned his attention back to the boy. "Here, young man, have a bite of this." He held one of the marzipan candies out to him. Kirkwood looked at the tiny apple with apprehension. "They are good." The Captain got an idea, a bargain with the lad, "I'll eat half and you take the other. Do we have a deal?"
The boy nodded, Edward grinned at him, biting off one side and holding the candy in front of the boy's face. Very slowly Stephen's head moved forward his mouth opening.
Pellew's face took on a pleased look and made an "umm" sound as the candy melted on his tongue. The boy stuck out his tongue and Edward dropped the bit of sugared almond paste onto it. The lad's eyes showed his surprise as the sweetness diffused over his palate.
"Good?" Pellew said, raising his eyebrows in question.
"Yes." The response was just a squeak, but the lad was sitting up and the tears were drying on his face. Pellew was lifting him off Amanda's lap when the knock sounded on the cabin door. A young man, fifteen years old, Pellew remembered, came in and stood, hat in hand just inside the bulkhead.
"Excellent, Kirkwood, I am relieving you of duty for this night. Please, take your brother and put him to bed. Spend some time with him as well. I believe he needs some family tonight."
"Aye sir." The sailor held out his hand and the little boy took it. The lad slipped off Amanda's lap and went with his brother.
"That was a wonderful thing to do, Edward." Mandy said as she stood up and rubbed her thighs where the boy had been sitting. The ship gave a heave and she stumbled forward. He was quick to catch her arm and steady her.
"It was all I could do. Even I had some kind of family to spend Christmas with until I went to sea." He turned and began to help his steward to straighten the cabin. He wanted the Grimes' out of the great cabin as soon as he could get them away. 'I have family again,' he thought, 'And, I can spend this Christmas with her.'
Edward was seated on the window box. He had drawn the portable stove near him and had his stocking clad feet propped on one of the dining chairs just a foot away from the brazier. He watched his wife put up her Bible and pull the lacings of her bodice. With no stays and the simple dresses she seemed to be favoring she did not need Millie's help to ready herself for the night. He smiled, a slight upturn of the lips, he caught sight of himself in Amanda's dressing mirror. He did look like the engraving on the locket, almost stern, but he knew, and knew for a fact, that he was a happy man.
She picked up his feet and sat down in the chair, holding them in her lap and rubbing them. Her smile was easy and just for him. He clasped his hands across his belly and heaved a sigh of what he suddenly knew was contentment.
"I've decided not to sleep in the coach any longer." He said. "Can you put up with the interruptions we may have?"
"Are you sure?" She questioned, searching his face for a sign of a joke.
"Yes. I want to be with you as much as I can." He could have followed this up with his reasons why, but she did not need to hear those things. They sat in companionable silence for a few moments.
She stopped rubbing his toes and crossed her arms across his shins. "Edward." He opened his eyes, her gaze was somewhere beyond him, he turned to follow it. There was nothing. His senses were heightened; her use of his name was a harbinger of her desire for him. "The last time I took our boat out, you know, the last time I wrote you about having it out in the bay."
"I moved the cushion off the stern seat. I saw what you left me." She started to massage his heels and arches with her delicate fingers, her eyes turned to her hands to mind what she was doing. "That was sweet."
"Ha! I was thirteen years old! I don't know what I was thinking. I did that just as soon as I learned that I was being sent away."
"EP loves AE" She grinned at him. "That is when I knew that I had to find you again. I had to know if you still cared for me."
He shifted his position on the window seat; he began to knead her tummy with his toes. "Are you glad you did?"
"Yes. I wrote your name about seven thousand times in my copy book that day, then I put your name with mine. Amanda Pellew. Mrs. Edward Pellew, Mrs. E. Pellew. Mr. and Mrs. E Pellew, Captain and Mrs. Edward Pellew. Sir Edward Pellew, Lady Pellew. I don't even remember all the different ways." She giggled as his right foot shifted its touch from her stomach upward. "Yes, you have giv..made me so happy."
"So you'd like to be Lady Pellew?"
"No, not really, Mrs. Pellew is just fine for me."
He pulled his feet from her grasp and reached for her hands, drawing her to sit with him. :"If you want to be Lady Pellew, it will mean my staying at sea as much as I can."
"I do not need to be Lady Pellew. I just need to be with you until your duty takes you away. I will not pull you away from the sea, Edward. I can share you. We have been over this ground before."
"I know." He pulled her closer; her arms went around
his neck. He could taste the hint of cocoa that still lingered
on her mouth. He licked his lower lip to pull in the remainder
of the sweetness. "Let's try out that hanging cot. I've been
wanting to see how that would work since we left Kingston."