Chapter 5 - Closer to Home
Blades of sunlight cut across the maps and charts on Sir Edward's table seeming to point a straight and direct course home. Morning had dawned with a strong wind and favorable seas, and at this rate, Sir Edward thought, we will be moored at Portsmouth by morning, day after tomorrow. A blissfully uneventful journey, he thought, in terms of the entries that would show in his log. His heart's journey was more eventful indeed!
His eyes drifted to the cloak hanging on the hook on the back of his cabin door. Cooper had returned it to its proper place this morning before Edward's first turn on deck. Edward could only think that Katharine had sought Cooper out and asked him, quite properly, of course, to return it to the Captain. Was she just being discreet for my benefit, or did what happened last night distress her so that she does not wish to face me now?
Edward hoped it was the former scenario, for he had slept the sleep of kings last night. A part of his soul that had lain dormant, unfulfilled for so long, was awakening, and filling the hole inside him that caused his sleepless nights.
For a moment, he became lost in remembrance of last night's revelation, closing his eyes to the mundane tasks before him. Her caress upon his skin, the look in her eyes - dare I call it desire? - stirred him in a way he hadn't dared hope for. For all his thoughts of her since Gibraltar, the reality of seeing her look at him that way and feeling her touch soared far beyond what he had dreamed. I do believe she returns my affections!
Even more than that, Edward was stunned by his own actions of last night. When her tears finally overtook her, he had not hesitated to envelop her in an embrace that spoke of his caring. Holding her as she cried her deep tears, soothing her, stroking her hair, comforting her - all these things had come as naturally to him as putting on his uniform, or bracing himself on deck against rolling swells.
Her name on his lips had felt so wonderful, the breathless utterance stirring in him feelings that he thought would be forever supplanted by duty and command. The soft tenderness that had flowed through him when his kiss lay on her palm . . . The years of denying that he could ever have such emotions had not diminished them , but strengthened them for the time and the woman for whom they were intended all along.
Fleeting thoughts of Edward's earlier inner conflict between love and responsibility were, at least for the moment, erased, as just so much fodder for an idle mind not faced with the wonderful reality of . . . love.
Pray she understands the constraints placed on us by my command. Pray God let her know that, once off this ship, I intend for my actions to make my feelings quite clear.
* * * * * *
The day passed quickly, the usual shipboard activity paced up a bit, due to their anticipated arrival in Portsmouth within a day or two. Inspections were a bit tighter, tasks were completed with a bit more fervor. The pride that the crew of the Indefatigable took in their fine ship was evident every day, but coming home to Portsmouth gave them reason to take even better care of her.
It was not beyond the crew's notice on this day, that their Captain seemed to walk about the deck with a spring in his step, and offered a smile or word of encouragement that came more readily than before. As is the case with leadership, his good spirits buoyed theirs. The mood on the deck was one of lighthearted anticipation. Portsmouth meant fresh provisions, increased rations, including spirits, and, with any luck, shore leave, and for some, perhaps a visit home.
Pellew busied himself with supervising the activity, and readying his log and personal documents and belongings for arrival in port. He knew he would be presenting himself to the Admiralty in London with the dispatches he had originally given to Mr. Hornblower. After all this time, he doubted that the dispatches would be as vital as they once were, but they must be delivered nonetheless. He hoped to find out then just how long his ship would remain in port and what his next orders would be.
He knew that Katharine would be reporting at Whitehall as well, and this was encouraging. Perhaps we will have some time . . . It was delaying the inevitable farewell, he supposed, but his thoughts since last night were less on the farewell and more on the introduction.
The standard re-victualling, armament review, and repairs would normally take a few days, and he hoped to have even longer so he could make a visit home to his beloved Rosecliff. His family home meant the world to Edward, and he often bemoaned the fact that his time there was so limited. But when he did return home, it was always like he had never left. He hated the thought of ever retiring from a life on the sea, but took comfort in the thought that at least Rosecliff would be a most suitable substitute for that love!
He longed to approach Katharine, to feel again as he did last night, to look in her eyes that same way, to feel her soft beauty against him. He knew, however, that his duty required him to deal with the myriad of details that were a necessary part of bringing a fighting ship to port, and he focused his mind on that duty.
During the day, he did allow his thoughts to wander naturally to Katharine and his hoped-for shore leave. How he would love to show her his home. He was certain that there was no more beautiful spot on earth than Rosecliff, and if he were to bring Katharine there, her beauty and being would not rival it, but enhance it.
Such romantic notions, you old fool! In a few short days, you have managed to come around to see what many believed was impossible. Captain Sir Edward Pellew has a romantic soul, and has found someone with whom to share it!
* * * * * *
Katharine spent the day staying out of the way of the busy deck activity. She knew that home was near, and that things must get done. She was glad for the uneventful journey, as this was her third shipboard attempt to return home, and after capture by the Spanish and that treacherous shipwreck, she was glad to finally have a quiet journey that stood a fine chance of success. She had been beginning to wonder if she was destined to ever again see England! Her joyous mood after last night was not diminished, but as the ship came closer to England, her thoughts darkened a bit in anticipation of what lay ahead when she reached port.
She would have to report to the Admiralty and deliver the much-anticipated documents she had protected for so long. How dreadful that would be, but at least the matter would be over. She had learned much about the world since undertaking this challenge months ago, much of it unpleasant, and she would have to cope with persistent memories of people and things she had not ever wished to know. She looked forward to settling in back in London and trodding the boards again.
But first, there was . . . home. The long journey out to Falmouth. Her brother, Richard, of course, was not expecting her, and she would send a post as soon as she arrived in Portsmouth to let him know of her arrival at some point after business in London was concluded. She wished for a few days to appreciate the comforts and freedoms of being back on shore again before climbing aboard a cramped coach for the trip out to Falmouth.
As much as Katharine loved sailing the seas, having inherited that from her father and their far-flung travels on the ships he was so proud of, Katharine was ready to come home to her own country, and dry land. She relished the thought of bathing luxuriously in hot, bubbly water, of washing her hair and leaving her favorite scent of lavender and roses to linger all over her. She dreamed of wearing the beautiful silks and brocades, laces and ribbons, of fine dresses. She longed to feel less like an adventuring actress and spy, and more like a woman. And she longed for Edward to see her just that way.
She longed to sleep in a real bed, layered under thick quilts, her head resting on downy pillows. Her accommodations aboard ship were the best they had to offer, and Lord knows the Captain and the crew had done everything possible to make her comfortable, but the narrow cot, thin, scratchy woolen blankets, and flat, worn pillow, were a far cry from what she was used to.
Katharine had no lodgings in London, having given them up when she embarked on her adventure. No matter. She would rely on the generosity of her friends there to quarter her and clothe her, as whatever belongings she brought with her months ago had been lost, and whatever she had left behind had been sent home to Falmouth.
She worried about returning home. Would her family greet her coldly because of her absence during their time of crisis earlier? Would they understand? She thought they would, but she had been away for so long.
And then there was Sir Edward. Would their paths diverge after their arrival? Would he be going on to London? He would be returning to sea, no doubt, after a standard time in port. Would they ever have their time and place?
Katharine couldn't bear the thought of not being in his arms again. She had wandered through her day, wanting to see him, knock on his cabin door, call on him unannounced, but could not. She understood. He had a ship to sail, and, duty-bound, he would do so wholeheartedly, regardless of last night's tenderness. She did not wish to be in his way.
* * * * * *
The knock on Katharine's door was politely quiet, yet direct and purposeful. It roused her from the careful thoughts she was trying to put into words in a letter she was writing to her brother in Falmouth. She would post it as soon as she reached port, hoping it would arrive before she did, explaining that she would be arriving home in a few days, after she had taken care of things in London. She was careful not to say too much to Richard, and hoped he would be glad to hear from her despite the circumstances of her return.
"Yes, come in," she called, putting her quill down. She turned to the door as it opened, and saw the one person she had least expected, and most wanted to see.
"Sir Edward . . . good afternoon." Katharine managed to say. She had not dreamed he would call on her in her cabin. She had been content to catch glimpses of him throughout the day, their eyes meeting with a brief, but knowing look that did not betray their feelings to anyone around them who happened to see. But to see him here, now, alone with her, made Katharine's heart miss a beat.
"Miss Cobham . . .Katharine, if I may," he corrected.
Katharine loved the sound of her name the way he said it. *Yes, you may . . . you must!*
"Of course, Sir Edward." There was a formality about their exchange that was somewhat comforting to them both. Proper appearances were important aboard ship, and neither Edward nor Katharine would make assumptions that might undermine that.
Edward glanced around at the simple accommodations that were afforded Katharine, and appraised her in the borrowed men's clothing she would have to make do with until Portsmouth. She had never complained about the nature of her quarters or the clothing that she was forced to wear when all of her things were lost at sea. Edward knew that she was accustomed to more, much more, and his admiration for her grew as he realized that she seemed just as comfortable in these meager surroundings as she had in the grandeur of Government House in Gibraltar.
If she looks so beautiful here, in this dark, simple cabin, wearing ill-fitting, sailor's clothing, however shall I be able to resist her when she is in her womanly finery in an beautiful setting? I am certain I shall not resist her!
Would she consider . . .? I shall ask her this evening.
"I was wondering . . . hoping, actually, that you would do me the honor of joining me for a late supper. The business of the ship distracted me for so much of this day, and dinner this afternoon was a rushed affair for me, that I am looking forward to a quiet meal and the opportunity to relax a bit. I would . . . very much . . . enjoy your company."
"Oh!" Katharine said, surprised, and quite pleased that he was asking, and that he was having a bit of trouble doing so! He was utterly charming when a bit flustered! "Hmmm," she teased, "I'll have to forego my other social engagements for the evening, I suppose, for a lady should never decline an invitation to dine at the Captain's table, in such fine company."
Edward smiled at her playfulness, then cast her a sincere and meaningful look.
"I hope you find the company to be so enjoyable, as mine is the only company you shall have. We will be dining alone . . . if that is agreeable to you, that is."
Katharine was certain her eyes lit up at that statement. *Time alone with Sir Edward. Oh my!*
She returned his steady gaze and felt her cheeks start to flush. "It is more than agreeable, sir," she replied quietly, wishing she was not wearing the make-shift clothing and that she looked as beautiful and womanly as she wanted to feel in the presence of this man.
"May I escort you up to my cabin, then?"
"You may, sir. Please just allow me to put my writing things away and get my cloak."
Before she got the words out, Edward had stepped in and picked up the garment from the chair it was resting on, and stood by the door as she tidied up the small table where she had been writing, and put out the candle. As soon as she was finished, he held the cloak for her and she turned and allowed him to settle it on her shoulders. The gesture was instantly familiar, after last night, and Katharine was warmed as much by that, as by the heavy cloak that would ward off the dank chill that settled over the ship at evening.