Chapter 8 - The Admiralty
The ride from Portsmouth had been rough and unpleasant, considering their haste. Katharine was oddly quiet, and Edward thought she looked as though weariness would completely overtake her. She was thinking about how near she was now to the end of one journey, and how close she was to beginning another. She absently watched the passing scenes out the side window of the coach, and thought in nervous and exhausted anticipation about what lay ahead at the Admiralty.
"Katharine," Edward spoke hesitantly, not wanting to disturb her thoughts. She brought herself back to the present at the sound of his voice. "All will be well. You will conclude this and you will be rid of this responsibility once and for all. Then we will learn what the next few days and weeks have in store for us."
She gave him a faint smile, the most she could muster, and reached over to take his hand in hers. It warmed Edward so.
"It's odd, you know. For so long, I have concentrated on little else besides returning home, ridding myself of this damn packet , and getting on with my life. Now, I am so close to doing that, and I don't feel nearly as sure of myself as I thought I would." She spoke with the weariness that she wore on her entire being.
Edward squeezed her hand with reassurance. "Katharine, it has been a long and arduous journey for you. You are exhausted. Your apprehension is to be expected, but this will pass quickly. You will deliver your documents and you will be done. Grenville will be so grateful for his prize that he will puff up his chest, congratulate himself on his cleverness in finding such a worthy and noble courier as yourself, and then dismiss you with his undying gratitude. You should not need to do any more than pass along the documents and accept his thanks."
"I pray that you are right."
Edward considered something else.
"Katharine, dear. How can I say this gently? If Lord Grenville challenges you . . . if, on the off chance he is in a disagreeable humor on this day, and he rankles you, you would be wise to exercise a bit more diplomacy with him than you did with me when I had the same effect on you."
Katharine gave him a look of exasperation, and then a knowing smile. "Fear not, Edward, for I am far too out of sorts to gather the energy needed to tangle with anyone."
She thought for a moment, considering his gentle and carefully worded admonition, and felt a bit of her spark return.
"And might I offer a bit of advice on diplomacy to you, good captain?"
Edward raised his brow in mock indignation, and replied, "Me? I need to be reminded of the value of diplomacy?" Then he nodded in sarcastic and amused surrender. "Oh, by all means, your Grace, let me hear from you on the advantages of unruffled behavior in challenging situations."
" I just mean, dear Edward, that if smooth and careful navigating would make a difference in getting us out of there any sooner, and on to Rosecliff, I would not want you to jeopardize that with an ill temper. And I do not wish for you to be ordered back to Portsmouth for the duration of your stay simply out of spite, do you?"
Her melancholy seemed to break with that thought, and a sincere and slightly wicked smile turned up the corners of her mouth.
Edward smiled broadly at her meaning. Knowing Admiral Lord Hood and his tendency to ruffle my feathers, Portsmouth is a distinct possibility. By all means, diplomacy.
"Then let us both be warned." He pulled her close and gave her a loving and sweet kiss that bolstered them both.
* * * * * *
The carriage came to a clattering stop in front of the great portico of the Admiralty Office at Whitehall. The footman stood aside as the serious and imposing Captain Pellew emerged, and the Captain himself held out his hand to assist his companion out of the coach. The footman discreetly craned his neck to watch the pair climb the steps to the main door, amused at the sight of the great Captain with the beautiful, but somewhat bedraggled woman in sailor's garments at his side.
Once inside, Edward and Katharine went directly to the desk outside the office of the First Secretary of the Admiralty, to report their presence. It was an unusually still day at the Admiralty. The entrance courtyard, usually bustling with arriving or departing naval officers or messengers on their rounds, was quiet, with only a small cluster of marines arriving for watch change, and a departing officer, who passed Captain Pellew with a respectful salute. The central hall contained only a handful of clerks and officers, coming and going on errands within the building. Edward took this as a good sign - the slowed activity would most likely mean that the wait before seeing Hood would not be as long and tedious as the last time he had reported to the Admiralty.
Katharine took in the scene around her. She was struck by the quiet of the place, broken now only by echoing footfall, and hints of muddled conversation. Marble columns, floors, grand staircases, and huge, high ceilings turned slight, whispered conversation into hollow words to be heard from any vantagepoint in the room. Strange, she thought, that a building which relied on discretion, and sometimes even secrecy, should have the acoustical disadvantage of allowing whispers to become shouts.
She, too, was hopeful that their wait would not be long. Her patience was worn and tattered by the long voyage and sleepless nights. Now, to be so close to being done with this affair, all she wanted was to drop the packet of documents in someone else's britches, so to speak, and be gone. Even her proximity to Edward was not a comfort. He was entirely guarded in this place, stern, stiff and all formal decorum. She admired his ability to rise to the occasion, for she knew his contempt for Lord Hood was simmering just below his cool and commanding exterior.
Captain Pellew covered the hallway to the desk in his no-nonsense stride and stood before the Secretary's clerk with every expectation of a swift audience. The clerk, a weasly lieutenant, pale and pasty from his indoor posting at Whitehall, not-so-wisely took his time in glancing up to see Pellew glaring down at him. He was quickly on his feet, saluting his superior, but not addressing him by name. Another mistake, for the Captain's arrival was anticipated, and Pellew was well known here, and any junior officer worth his salt would know this.
When the greeting did not come, Edward's eyes narrowed, the eyebrows shot up, and the clerk regretted his carelessness.
"Captain Sir Edward Pellew, of Indefatigable, reporting to Admiral Lord Hood upon arrival in port, as ordered," he growled.
"C-Captain Pellew, sir! I shall report your arrival to the Lords Commissioners at once, sir!" he stammered, and he motioned for yet another clerk, who stepped forward expectantly to relieve the Captain of his hat and cloak. Then the poor young officer committed yet another transgression. He would regret this morning for some time to come.
The lieutenant's eyes drifted over Pellew's right shoulder, to Katharine, seeing her for the first time. Edward noted the young man's widened eyes and curious expression, no doubt acknowledging her unusual appearance. Edward needed not to glance over his shoulder to know that Katharine was in no mood for such observation. He kept his eyes firmly on the officer.
"Is there something wrong, Lieutenant?"
"No, sir . . . I mean, sir, . . . your . . . guest . . ." The young man was sunk now. "How shall I . . ."
Edward pulled himself up to his full height and called upon the practiced tone that, on his ship, would have a junior lieutenant like this one puddled on the floor. Part growl, part menace, all imperious, and altogether effective.
"You shall announce to Lord Grenville, that Her Grace, the Duchess of Wharfdale, is returned from Gibraltar, and is presenting herself as requested." Seeing the hesitation in the boy's manner, he added, through clenched teeth, "And you shall announce Her Grace NOW!"
The lieutenant hastily saluted Pellew with all the dignity he could reclaim, and bustled his way into the First Secretary's office. In less than a moment, another officer came out of the office, saluted the Captain in passing, and charged up the grand stairs, presumably to announce their arrival directly. Presently, the First Secretary of the Admiralty emerged from his office, and offered his courtesies to the Captain and "Her Grace."
"Ah, Captain Pellew, sir," he began, "We have been most anxiously awaiting your arrival. And yours, Your Grace. Admiral Lord Hood and Lord Grenville will see you at their first convenience. I trust your ride in from Portsmouth was satisfactory?"
*Bloody hell, it was! And I know from past experience that "first convenience" usually means "whenever they take a notion to receive you." Give me strength!*
Edward's thoughts raced impatiently, but he simply nodded respectfully to the First Secretary, Admiral Doane, and replied, "Quite satisfactory, Admiral."
The Admiral's eye was caught by movement on the staircase, and the pleasantries were quickly concluded, as the Secretary was signaled by his clerk.
"Ah! Admiral Lord Hood and Lord Grenville will receive you both presently in the boardroom at the top of the stairs."
Katharine and Edward exchanged a puzzled glance. Both? Together?
Edward looked back at Doane and thanked him, and escorting Katharine ahead of him, they marched up the stairs. At the top, just before turning into the boardroom, Katharine stopped, and took a deep breath. Edward, knowing her apprehension, gave her hand just the slightest squeeze. With his eyes he reassured her.
* * * * * *
Admiral Lord Hood, seated at the great oak table in the boardroom, stood and met them at the door.
"Ah, Captain Pellew. Finally we have the honor of your presence."
Hood addressed Katharine with just a nod, and, "Madam."
A shadow of disapproval on Hood's face was unmistakable, brief as it was. Edward noted it. Thankfully, Katharine did not. Her eyes were fixed on the man still seated at the head of the table in the center of the room. A sheaf of papers lay spread before him, its oiled canvas wrapping off to the side ñ the long awaited dispatches from that morning in Gibraltar. They had apparently been sent up by courier from the Port Admiral with great haste.
Thomas Grenville, First Lord of the Admiralty, stood and addressed them both.
"Captain Pellew. It is indeed an overdue pleasure to have you here. We have been expecting you for some time. And Miss Cobham. I had begun to think all hope lost where you were concerned, despite the occasional dispatch to the contrary. "
Doesn't this just set the tone for the briefing. Edward bristled at the unpleasant tone of voice, and set his jib for rough waters ahead.
Hood was not Pellew's cup of tea at all, and Edward more than once in his career had found himself having to swallow rising bile and bite his tongue at orders that gave credence to Edward's clear and disdaining impression of this superior officer.
Hood was still quite imposing, large and pompous, but his advanced years had made him a tottering old man. Once perhaps possessed of greatness, he was now past reason and prudence and displayed a dismissive attitude toward those qualities in the men who served under him. His rise through the ranks had been swift and steady, and due to reasons that flew in the face of all that was honorable and worthy in Edward's mind. Hood's actions, while sometimes heroic, had often been nothing more than vainglorious efforts to get him noticed in the right circles of administration, in the hope of rapid advancement, with which, of course, he had been rewarded. He was far removed from the realities of the missions he so cavalierly ordered, and took no stock in those who tried to humanize those realities, Edward among them.
Thomas Grenville was little more than one of Hood's minions, despite his distinction as First Lord of the Admiralty, so titled by virtue of the fact that his name happened to appear first on the document commissioning the Admiralty Board. Grenville was a respectable man, but in Edward's opinion, he was too heavily influenced by Hood, as senior Naval Lord. While the Board's Lords Commissioners were, in theory, equal in authority and responsibility, Grenville was, in practice, speaking for, and leading them, and Hood's lack of humanity was becoming pervasive in the orders being issued forth.
In the coach from Portsmouth, Katharine had explained that it was Lord Grenville who had come to her with the idea to use her ability to play a role, her linguistics and her fortuitous touring schedule with her troupe of actors, for intelligence purposes. He had been an admirer, he said, and hoped that she would consider a few simple "adventures" to be an opportunity to serve the crown with the God-given gifts with which she had been blessed. Knowing Katharine's story, Edward suspected that Grenville preyed upon her worries over her brother's service and her growing frustration over lives lost in the escalating campaigns of the Empire.
Edward saw Katharine tense at the sound and tone of Grenville's poorly veiled impatience. Edward nodded an acknowledgement, and opened his mouth to speak a reply, but Katharine's words came out first.
"My sincere apologies, my lord," she began. I would have been here sooner had not those pesky Spaniards insisted on thwarting my timely arrival at every turn." She kept her tone light, and spoke with a weary smile, and it was only Edward's own experience with her sharp tongue that clued him as to her pointed intent.
"Yes, well, no matter. As it happens, the long delay in receiving these may have worked to our advantage. Events have occurred in the time since we have been expecting them that, in fact, have served to validate their contents," said Grenville, wisely ignoring, or not comprehending, her sarcasm. His eyes returned to the dispatches before him. Without looking up, he said, impatiently, "The documents, please."
"And let me add, my lord," she continued, in a firmer tone, "that were it not for Captain Pellew's steadfastness, I would still be floundering off the coast of Spain, and your precious dispatches and documents would be mere nibblings for the sea life of the Atlantic."
Edward blanched at her not-so-subtle rush to his defense. God help me, here it comes. He turned to Katharine with a pointed glare, wanting to caution her to tread lightly with these two, reminding her of their earlier conversation. They had only been in the room for two minutes, and already Katharine was lighting the fuse. Inwardly, he felt great relief that he was on her side of the table and not theirs.
Katharine felt the heat of Edward's gaze, but did not take her eyes off of Grenville. His eyes, as well as Hood's, lifted from the dispatches, and met her icy stare. Perhaps her intent is not so lost on them after all
Katharine reached around to the back of her britches and withdrew the wrapped packet of documents that had been on her person for so long, and unceremoniously dropped them on the table.
Hood retrieved them and removed the outer covering with a flourish. He handed them to Grenville, who spread the pages before him, on top of the dispatches. Hood eagerly looked over his shoulder as Grenville perused the pages quickly. It was clear that the men were impressed with what they saw.
"Most advantageous. HmmmÖmost advantageous , indeed," Grenville said to Hood.
Standing so close to her, Edward was certain that he felt a silent sigh of relief from her as the burden she had shouldered for so long was lifted.
"Now, Miss Cobham, if you would be so kind as to elucidate for us the circumstances of how you acquired these documents, and their protection all these months, we may begin to further authenticate their veracity."
Katharine stepped forward to a chair down the table from Grenville and on the opposite side of the table from Hood. Edward pulled out a chair for her and assisted her, before seating himself at her side.
Katharine began her story at the point when the French marched into Florence. She spoke clearly, strongly and succinctly, and in great detail. The crucial elements of the story were met with sly looks between Hood and Grenville, and Edward found himself studying the pair to gauge their reactions to Katharine's words. They were particularly interested in her fateful encounter with His Most Excellent Lord, the Duke, Armero, Castel-Moncayo. It was with him that she began her role as the "Duchess of Wharfdale," and it was at his estate in Valencia that Katharine had acquired the documents now before them.
They peppered her with questions at every opportunity and Katharine indulged them, although she was showing signs of impatience by the third hour of their inquisition. Edward listened intently, his admiration for the woman growing with every word, as she related how she had pilfered what she thought might be valuable letters and papers over the course of her weeks there at the villa, after seeing the preponderance of military officers coming and going. Her suspicions that the Duke was more than an idle gentleman as he professed, were raised and she acted on her instincts. It was not difficult, she said, to gain information, particularly after the Madeira flowed freely during lazy sun-drenched afternoons. Edward's personal curiosity was piqued, and an unfamiliar and long-forgotten pang chilled him, much to his dismay, each time that Katharine referred to the Duke in the familiar, "Armero." She made a point of speaking of his proper and gentlemanly behavior at all times. Is she is doing that for my benefit ñ after my unfortunate suggestion of impropriety on her part?
The most intense moments of the questioning came when Katharine was repeatedly asked about the possibility that her acquisition of the documents was discovered. She stood firm in saying that she did not believe Armero or the French and Spanish officers that were in constant attendance at the villa, could have known of her theft, for there were many of the signed and sealed documents at the villa, and her host showed no signs of distress over anything out of the ordinary.
She continued on in detail about making her way to Gibraltar, her presentation to Lord Dalyrimple of the documents, and the plan to get them home with Katharine's continuation as "the Duchess." She reported on La Reve's capture and the time at El Ferrol, the next attempt to put her on a ship home, the shipwreck, and finally, Sir Edward's timely arrival with Indefatigable.
Hood and Grenville exchanged triumphant looks once they were convinced that the documents now in their possession were not only authentic, but also that they were most likely to still be valid, even after so much time had passed with Katharine's delayed return. They huddled together, quietly discussing the implications now before them, and for some time ignored the presence of those who had delivered the valuable fare.
Edward studied Katharine. He marveled at her grace under the pressure of their intense scrutiny, especially in her present state. He was certain that he could not have conducted business quite so patiently with these two, given his general distaste for the pair, and their ability to make him feel that like the "canary" to their hungry "cat." But Katharine, surprisingly, he thought, had been quite collected, only resorting to a bit of sarcasm born of utter impatience at having to repeat seemingly mundane details. Now that she was presumably done with their questions, and she was just sitting and waiting, she looked to him to be every bit as worn out as she must have felt.
Katharine turned and caught his gaze as he studied her, and raised her eyebrows as if to say, "See? Diplomacy, my strong suit. I told you I could do it." Edward returned her sly look and was rewarded when her hand slipped under the table, out of sight from the lords, and gave a gentle and reassuring squeeze to Edward' right knee. The touch was over as quickly as quickly as it had begun, but it lightened Edward's heart and allowed the smile on his face to linger a moment longer.
"Well, Captain Pellew. Miss Cobham. It would appear that your combined efforts here have not been hampered by the long delay in returning with these prizes. Recent troop movements in France and Spain, as well as the recalling of several ships of their fleets, indicate that this information is in keeping with what we have suspected for some time. We shall make the most of your acquisition, Miss Cobham. You have our thanks, and those of the King."
Katharine nodded her appreciation for their words, and thought of only leaving this place and never returning.
"I am pleased, my lords, that I have been able to be of service."
"And if you services shall again be necessary, madam?"
Katharine took a moment to frame her next thoughts, and she spoke carefully, so as not to be misunderstood.
"My lords, I am proud to have been able to serve the King, and to do so, with the memory of my dear brother in my heart. I am not certain that I would be able to do this again. It has taken a great toll on me personally, and on my family in Falmouth. I have much to return to, sirs, and wish only to devote my thoughts and actions to that, and to leave this business in the hands of those who may do it best."
Edward watched as Hood and Grenville nodded their reluctant understanding, and was glad that they did not challenge Katharine on her position. He himself was relieved to hear the words come from her, as all he wished for was to know she would be safe, and hopefully, eternally his.
"Captain Pellew, sir." Hood spoke at last. We wish to examine these documents and their implications in greater detail, as there are events occurring, perhaps even as we speak, that may have significant impact on our campaigns. It is therefore my order that the *Indefatigable* remain in port until such time that we can assess the impact on the fleet of this information. You shall complete whatever repairs and reprovisioning need be done, and await further orders."
"I understand, sir," Edward responded with a nod of his head, "and might I add that I am planning to return to my home in Devon for a brief stay, and may be reached there in the event of immediate orders."
"Very well, Captain. We shall contact you posthaste when the orders are prepared."
And with that, they were dismissed. As they descended the great stairs, Edward's thoughts were on the woman before him, and not, as usual, on the orders he anticipated and the duties ahead. Time to return home . . . Katharine.
Katharine's heart was as heavy with emotion as her body was with fatigue. It was over and she was home. There was much ahead, she knew, but for the time, she only wished to think of the man beside her, and feelings long denied. Edward and I together. No ship, no sailors, no command, no duty . . . for a while at least. Only in my dreams did I dare hope for this.
They did not need to speak of their feelings. They both knew that this was the situation they had longed for. Circumstances would allow them to be together, at Rosecliff.
Edward stopped into the First Secretary's office to write a correspondence that would be delivered to Mr. Bracegirdle on Indefatigable, informing him of the plan voiced by Hood and reminding him of the captain's destination. Katharine sat on a long and, thankfully, cushioned bench down the hall to wait for him.
When Edward finally emerged from the office, cloak in hand and ready to depart, he found Katharine slumped in slumber on the bench, finally overcome by her recent trials. She had never looked more vulnerable, yet more beautiful to him.
He bent to one knee, and laid his hand over hers, looking lovingly at her face, made finally content by repose.
He spoke in almost a whisper.
"Come, m'lady. Your carriage awaits."
Katharine roused and opened her eyes, smiling as Edward came into focus.
"Oh, dear. I suppose I am more tired than I knew."
"Never mind, dear, you are quite deserving of such rest. I only wish I did not have to disturb you, but I dare say you'll be more comfortable resting in the carriage on the way home."
She smiled and it cast warm rays of sunlight on Edward. "Home," she whispered.
He took her hand, helping her up, and they made their way out of the building and back out into the day that had grown even grayer and colder with the hours passed inside. Katharine's thoughts turned to a practical matter.
"Edward, if we might, I would like to make a stop here in town before we depart. It won't take but a minute."
"Katharine, how can I deny you such a request after your stellar, and quite diplomatic, performance today? Anything you wish is yours."
Katharine was warmed by his good humor . "I believe, sir, that we both gave diplomacy a fair test today, and, as a result, we have earned our reward. And I dare say, sir that my errand here in town will be most appreciated by the both of us."
"Then merely direct my driver wherever it is you wish to go."
Katharine was surprised. "Your driver?"
Edward smiled broadly. "Yes. I took the liberty of assuming that we would be going on to Rosecliff, and sent word before we arrived for Henry to meet us with the carriage. No public conveyance for you, love, on this part of the trip. We shall ride in a bit grander style and comfort."
Before Katharine could express her gratitude for his thoughtfulness, Edward took her by the arm and escorted her across the courtyard to the wide mall that was busy with the comings and goings of the business of the many government concerns at Whitehall. There, she watched as a middle-aged man, simply, but elegantly dressed, approached Edward.
"Captain, sir! You are a sight for sore eyes, you are!"
"Ah, Henry! How good of you to come for us." Edward reached out and clasped the hand of the man in both of his. His smile was wide and warm, his fondness for the man, and the relaxed nature of their friendship, evident.
So this is Henry Keith, trusted friend, companion, employee.
"Well, sir, Margaret had me out the door, hat in hand, as soon as she received your post about returning home! She misses you so, and misses having someone to fuss over. She has given up on fussing over me, for she knows I'll have none of it! But you, sir, are her greatest task!"
"In that case, Henry, let me introduce another ëtask' for your wife. May I present Miss Katharine Cobham, the woman about whom I wrote."
"Miss Cobham. It is indeed a pleasure! Margaret and I are so pleased you'll be joining us at the house. Margaret will welcome a woman's company so, and, after what the captain here has written to us, it sounds like Margaret will have plenty of fussing to do!"
Katharine gave Edward a pointed gaze and wondered just what he had said about her to make anyone thing she needed fussing over. Then she remembered her appearance, and her bone-weary fatigue, and decided that a bit of fussing was not so unwelcome.
"Mr. Keith, Edward has spoken so kindly of you and your wife, and of his home. I am pleased and honored to be able to visit."
"Please, Miss Cobham," the man said with a gleam in his eye, "if you don't call me Henry, I am afraid I shall be forced to call you your Grace.
Edward received another glare from Katharine. He met this one met with a guilty smile, and she knew he had told them quite a bit. Heavens! What must they think of me?
"Then Henry it is, sir." She said, not relieving Edward of her glare.
"Yes. Well. We'd best be off now, Henry. The hour is late, and Miss Cobham has requested a brief stop here in town before departing."
"Of course, captain!"
Katharine gave Henry the address and the name of the shop where she wished to stop, and it registered on Edward's face. Her dressmaker. She would ask for simple necessities, nothing elaborate, and hope that they could oblige her and send some things out to her at Rosecliff as soon as possible.
Henry opened the door to the carriage and lowered the step. Edward followed Katharine into the coach, and settled himself in the seat beside her. Blessedly beside her at last.