Orphan Ch. 09-12byFrederick Carol©
Well, here we are. Part 3 of this opus, and more to come in due course. Feedback, particularly constructive criticism, is welcome.
She was wakened by a tapping at the cabin door.
"Ma'am? Are you awake?"
"I am now," she replied.
"I have your meal, ma'am. Permission to bring it in, please?"
"Of course. One moment." Given that it was afternoon rather than evening, she had settled for sleep wearing Mr Jenks's shirt and breeches, rather than his nightshirt, and she had only to swing her legs off the bunk and take the one pace to the narrow doorway. She opened it to the smiling face of a young seaman, burdened with a tray and a pail of water.
"Mr. James's compliments, ma'am."
"Thank you." She reached out to take the tray, but the sailor shook his head.
"If you'll just step to one side, ma'am, I'll set it down."
It was almost like a juggling act, but when he'd finished she had a plate of steaming food and a mug of coffee, set out ready for her to eat. The young seaman bowed himself out, wishing her good appetite.
She set to and for the second time that day surprised herself by clearing her plate. Must be the sea air, she thought. She took her time over the mug of coffee, a drink she'd only tasted once or twice before. She was soon finished, and returned to Gilroy's cabin. About to enter, she thought better of it, and knocked. The door was quickly opened, and Collins stood aside to let her enter.
"I've just changed the dressing on the captain's wound, and replaced the bandages. I think he has a touch of fever, and he'll probably feel cold during the night, especially if we get the blow that Mr. James expects." Collins paused, and Roxane touched his arm.
"Rest assured, Mr. Collins. The captain will be kept warm tonight."
Collins nodded. "You are a very considerate young lady. I suggest that you lock the door before you settle for the night. Tongues might wag if anyone but me was to find you in the captain's bed."
She gave him a wry smile. "Mere words cannot harm me, Mr. Collins."
"Indeed." He gestured. "Even so. A pallet and blankets for you to make your bed. As the captain's nursemaid, so to speak, it seems fitting that you should sleep near him. If you need to be closer, well, I trust your judgement."
Roxane nodded. "I understand."
"The chamber pot has been emptied. Mr Philips assisted the captain."
Well, that was one less problem. "Has the captain had anything to eat?"
"He managed to get some soup down, and I gave him some grog. He should sleep normally tonight, rather than be unconscious."
"A welcome improvement. It seems a long time ago that the captain was shot, but it was in the small hours of the morning of this very day." Roxane shook her head. "I can scarce credit it."
"Indeed. Before commanding the Pelican the captain was commander of a brig, the Mary, 28 guns. I was his surgeon then, too. One action we were in lasted almost seven hours. It felt like an hour. I can well appreciate your losing track of time." Collins glanced across at Gilroy, still asleep, then turned back to Roxane. "He should be well, but if not, do not hesitate to have me fetched. And now, my dear, I bid you goodnight."
"Goodnight, Mr. Collins."
A moment or two later, and she was alone with Gilroy. Nightshirt first, she thought. She smiled. Would he wake this time, too? But no, not this time, and she accomplished the change of clothing without incident. She unrolled the pallet and laid it out in the narrow space beside Gilroy's bunk, then lay herself down. I'll close my eyes, just for a few minutes, she thought.
She awoke with a start. The cabin was dark; night had fallen. She lay back again, feeling the increased motion of the schooner, and the sound of the wind in the rigging.
"Roxane?" Gilroy's voice was quiet, calm.
"Is there an extra blanket? I feel rather cold."
"I have two on my pallet. I'll put them across you."
"But what of you, my dear?"
"If you feel able to make room for me, I can share your blankets, and give you some extra warmth."
There was silence for a long moment, then a soft laugh. "Can my dreams be coming true? That Roxane Harrison shares my bed?"
Startled, she didn't speak for a moment. His dreams? Aloud, she said, "only for warmth, your warmth," but her mind was whirling.
"Alas, only for that." A pause. "Take no offence, dear Roxane. I jest. Willingly will I accept whatever warmth you bring, for I fear I feel rather cold."
"Mr. Collins said you might."
A soft laugh. "He was right."
Quickly she took the blankets from her pallet and laid them across him, even as he moved back to make room for her.
"Alex? Please be sure you do not strain your wound. I could not forgive myself if you did."
"I think Mr. Collins' bandages are doing a sound job, Roxane. But come closer, give me your warmth."
"Turn, so that your back is towards me, then I can get closer, and warm you."
He neither spoke nor moved for a moment, then turned, slowly, carefully, settling with a sigh. "Your move, Roxane."
She eased forward until she was touching him, from breasts to thighs, and tentatively put her arm about his waist. He sighed, and his hand covered hers.
There was a hint of dawn in the night sky when she woke again. Somehow, without waking, they had both turned over so that Gilroy was behind her, and his arm was now around her. She sighed, content, and drifted off to sleep again.
It was full daylight when she woke again. Alert, suddenly, confused for a moment, then relaxing.
"Good morning, Roxane."
She wriggled around to face him. "Good morning, Alex. How do you feel?"
"Rested. Warm. A little sore. Content."
"For the moment, but I fear that my content may disappear."
"For what I am about to do may offend you."
She frowned, and was about to speak when Gilroy's lips claimed hers. For a moment, she froze, shocked, made to push him away, and then felt heat flood through her and gave herself up to the kiss, her lips welcoming his. Her mind was in turmoil, but deep within her, something was saying 'yes!' The clatter of feet on deck and a change in the motion alerted her. Pelican was changing course.
Reluctantly, oh, so reluctantly, she broke the kiss, shaking her head. His face clouded.
"I have offended you, as I feared."
She smiled, and shook her head again. "Not so, dear Alex. But not here, not now, not like this."
His face cleared, and he smiled. "I can hope?"
"More than hope. But I want you well, and in your right mind, somewhere we cannot be interrupted." As she spoke, there was a tap at the door. Gilroy gave her a rueful smile, and nodded.
"Best answer it, my dear."
She swung her legs out of bed, and stood. "Yes? What is it?"
"Mr. James' compliments, ma'am," said a voice outside. "Hot water for your toilet in five minutes, and breakfast in a quarter hour."
"Aye, ma'am." She heard the sound of receding feet, and turned back to the bunk where Gilroy lay, a soft smile on his face.
"I must change," she said. "Are you going to avert your eyes?"
He held her gaze. "Must I?"
She flushed, staring at him, then, wondering at her own actions, shook her head and bent to take the hem of the nightshirt and lift it off over her head, baring herself to his gaze, feeling an unfamiliar heat, a longing, deep within herself. Almost incredulous, she heard her own voice say, "You like what you see?"
"The loveliest sight I have ever beheld, dear Roxane."
"The most immodest, I fear." She bent to retrieve Mr. Jenks's breeches, drawing them on, and then his shirt. She gave Gilroy a rueful smile.
Gilroy chuckled. "Perhaps, but I think not, dear Roxane. No false modesty, please. You are a beautiful woman, quite probably the most beautiful I have ever beheld." He laughed at the look she gave him. "Believe me, Roxane, for I tell only the truth."
Any answer she might have given was moot, for there was another tap at the door.
"Your hot water, ma'am." She opened the door to the same seaman who had brought the water the previous evening. His eyes went beyond her, then back to hers.
"How fares the captain, ma'am?"
She looked across at Gilroy, who seemed to be asleep. "The captain had a quiet night, and seems well-rested this morning. He does not seem to be fevered, which is good, I believe. No doubt Mr. Collins will assure us in due course."
"Aye, ma'am. Thankee, ma'am." He turned and left and she closed the door, slipping the lock closed.
She turned to Gilroy, who was no longer pretending sleep. "I must wash, and you must keep your eyes closed, this time."
"I will, Roxane. Most reluctantly, but I will. Tell me when I may look again."
She washed herself quickly, almost wishing that Gilroy was watching. Almost. Dressed again, she touched his shoulder. His eyes opened immediately, warm on her. On impulse, she bent and kissed him, quick, light.
"That must do you for now." She smiled, and his answering smile was broad, seeing the promise in her words. Before she could say anything else, there was another tap at the door.
She opened the door, and the sailor, the same one - Jenkins, she recalled - that had helped her mount her horse on that fateful day she had first met Alexander Gilroy, laid the tray down on the captain's desk. "Mr. Collins' compliments, ma'am, and he will attend to the captain as soon as you have broken your fast."
"Would you tell Mr. Collins I'll expect him in a quarter hour?"
"Aye, ma'am. I will." He smiled, and left.
She turned to Gilroy and was about to ask if he wanted any of her breakfast when he forestalled her.
"Eat, Roxane. I doubt not that Mr. Collins will see that I am fed after he has prodded and poked me this morning."
"I will, if you assure me you do not mind my eating while you are not."
"Of course I do not mind. Eat, my dear."
Collins was cheerful after he'd examined Gilroy. "A clean wound, healing well. You are a lucky man, Captain, to have had Miss Harrison to remove the ball and tend to you as nurse."
"I know that well, Mr. Collins. I have already thanked Miss Harrison, and on more than one occasion. I feel that I might manage some breakfast, if I might? And please, may I be allowed to sit up?"
Collins nodded. "Not only that, Captain, you may rise and dress, if you wish, but leave your shirt loose, so that we may attend to your wound."
"I fear I will need help to dress, Mr. Collins."
"Indeed so, Captain. Jenkins is standing by. I will send him along with your breakfast. Miss Harrison, a word with you if I may?"
Collins voice was low. "The captain? A good night?"
"Yes. He slept well, once he was warm." She flushed, but Collins smiled and shook his head.
"Your own clothes, Miss Harrison? Your blouse and skirt? And your jacket?"
"Yes? What of them?"
"One of the crew used to help his mother when he was a lad. She was a laundress. He's managed to get them cleaned and dried, and most of Captain Gilroy's blood out of them. They're waiting for you in Mr. McKay's cabin. At least you will be able to leave this ship dressed as the lady you are, if a little crumpled and stained." Collins smiled. "I suggest you change while Jenkins and I attend to the captain." He gestured. "We should be closing the shore within the hour."
"Guernsey, from whence we sailed."
"Openly, or that same creek where I first spied the Pelican?"
"Openly, this time."
"I need to get a message to my uncle."
"Have no fear, Miss Harrison. Mr. Le Tessier will be informed immediately we dock."
And less than two hours later, Silas Le Tessier was in Gilroy's cabin on the Pelican. He smiled grimly to see Gilroy bandaged, but hugged Roxane with evident affection and relief.
"It is good to see you both safe and well, and home again. Although, I have to say, Alex, that you do seem to have bled rather copiously over my niece." He gestured towards Roxane's still blood-marked blouse and skirt.
Gilroy laughed, but winced. "No jokes, Silas, please. Although, I have to say I am rather pleased to be able to laugh, even if it does hurt, rather."
Le Tessier sobered. "I fear that I was only too ready to believe the worst, for we received intelligence barely twelve hours after you had left that our agent might have been compromised, but there was no way to get in touch with you." He gave a wry smile. "After all, the fastest vessel in these waters is the Pelican!"
"Uncle Silas? Can Captain Gilroy stay with us as our guest until he is recovered from his wound?"
"Of course. You will stay, won't you, Alex?"
"Willingly, Silas. Thank you, Roxane. But only for a few days, I fear. A week or ten days at most. Mr. James will take the Pelican and seek out the Belle Arc, to appraise Commander Le Bon of the situation, and then when he returns I must seek out new orders for the Pelican."
"New orders?" said Roxane.
"It seems our spy network is compromised. I must report to my superiors. My lords and masters at the Admiralty will no doubt have plans for me." Gilroy smiled. "But until then, I am more than happy to be your uncle's guest."
"Can you not send a report with the packet, Alex?" said Silas.
"I could, yes. When is it due to sail?"
"Tomorrow. Which gives you today to prepare your report, in comfort, at my own desk."
"And while you do that, I bathe! At length. In hot water. And then dress in fresh, clean clothes." Roxane sighed dramatically, then laughed. "Such simple things, such pleasure!"
Le Tessier laughed. "As soon as I learned you were safe home, Roxane, I asked Mrs. Trevelyan to make sure there was ample hot water for your needs."
"Thank you, Uncle Silas. I fear I may spend some time in my bath."
Silas smiled, then turned to Gilroy. "Alex? Can you walk?"
"Slowly, and if supported," said Collins. "On his promise to rest properly as soon as he is able."
"That promise I make gladly," said Gilroy.
"Mr. Le Tessier?" said Collins. "Will a doctor be available to see to Captain Gilroy?"
"Indeed so, Mr. Collins. Doctor Angus."
"If it is only the matter of changing dressings, I feel able to perform that task, and I am quite happy to do so," said Roxane.
"I would prefer the doctor to see the captain once he is rested at your home," said Collins, "but I feel sure he will welcome your willingness to assist."
"The sooner we go, the sooner the captain is rested," said Silas. "I have my coach at the dockside."
"Would you and Roxane go to the coach?" said Gilroy. "I will follow you in a few minutes, but I must discuss with Mr. James what course the Pelican must follow next, and write his orders."
"Of course," said Silas. He offered his arm. "Roxane?"
"At once, Uncle. Mr. Collins? Good day, sir. Mr. James? Will you convey my thanks to your crew for the kindness they have showed to me?"
James nodded, and bowed to her. "Miss Harrison, it will be a pleasure." He gestured. "May I show you to the side?"
On deck, she was greeted with smiles and nods. She turned to James. "Is Mr. Jenks present?"
James grinned. "Aye, ma'am. Yon carrot-topped young man."
"Oh, my. It is red, isn't it?" She turned to Le Tessier. "A moment, Uncle. I must thank Mr. Jenks for the loan of his clothing."
Silas's eyebrows went up, but he nodded, and Roxane walked the four paces to where Jenks was standing.
The youngster flushed almost as red as his hair, but nodded and managed to say, "Aye, ma'am."
"My thanks to you, Mr. Jenks, for the loan of your clothes. They are at present in Mr McKay's cabin."
Jenks swallowed. "It was my pleasure, ma'am," he managed to say. Roxane smiled, and leaned to kiss his cheek. She smiled, and turned away, aware of the concealed smiles of the others around. She had perhaps embarrassed the young midshipman, but she had at least been able to thank him.
In his coach, Silas waited until she was comfortable, then sat back in his own seat. He cocked his head.
He smiled, quick, almost a grimace. "I fear I may embarrass you, Roxane, but I must ask this. Is there more between you and Alex than simple friendship?"
She held his look for a long moment, then smiled. "You see much, dear Uncle Silas. I believe there is, yes. I confess that I am strongly attracted to Alex Gilroy, and I believe that he may be similarly attracted to me. I do not know, not yet, but I hope."
Silas nodded. "Then I will say this, and I will say it only this once, Roxane, my dear. If it should come to pass that you wish to marry Alex, and that is a matter that is your business, and not mine, but if it should come to pass then I assure you that I will willingly give my assent to such a marriage. As you are almost a daughter to me, Alex is almost a son."
Roxane stared at him for a moment, then smiled. "Thank you, Uncle Silas."
Silas smiled back at her. "One other thing, dear Roxane." He turned to look out of the carriage window, then back to her. "Please try not to embarrass me in my own home."
Roxane felt herself flush, but Silas said nothing, just fixed her with his gentle smile. She drew a breath. "My word on it, Uncle Silas." He nodded, and gestured to the dockside.
"The gallant captain approaches."
Roxane peeped from the window. Gilroy was making his hesitant way towards the coach, assisted by his bosun, Jenkins, followed by two sailors carrying baggage. At the coach, Gilroy paused, breathing deeply, then smiled.
"Silas, will there be room for my bosun, too? Jenkins is used to looking after me, and it places no extra strain on your household in that matter."
"He is welcome, Alex."
Gilroy nodded. "I took a chance and had his baggage fetched as well as my own. Once it is stowed, we are ready to accept your hospitality."
"Then stow it, and let us depart."
It was only a short drive to the Le Tessier house, and conversation in the carriage was desultory. Mrs Trevelyan came bustling out to welcome them.
"Ah, Mrs. Trevelyan, we have guests. Captain Gilroy has been wounded and will be recuperating here. Can you arrange for someone to ask Doctor Angus if he would be good enough to stop by and see the captain? Tell him it is a musket wound he will be examining."
Mrs Trevelyan nodded. "I'll send young Andrew, once he's tended to the horses." She gestured. "A room for the captain?"
"And another for his bosun, Mr. Jenkins."
"Near the captain?"
"Pardon my interrupting, ma'am," said Jenkins, "but I'd feel more comfortable among the servants. Just as long as I can see to the captain when he needs me."
Mrs. Trevelyan nodded. "Very well. For the moment, sir, may I suggest that the captain rest in the parlour until his room is ready, and that will take only a few minutes, for 'tis just a matter of linen for the bed. It's summer, so there's no need to light the fire."
"Which room, Mrs. Trevelyan?"
"I thought the one next to Miss Roxane's, sir. It's near the back stair and Mr. Jenkins can reach the captain without disturbing anyone." She turned to Jenkins. "If you'll excuse me, I'll tell Molly to prepare the room next to hers for you. You'll be right next to the back stair that way."
"That sounds ideal, Mrs. Trevelyan. If I might just give the captain a hand to the parlour for the moment?"
"Of course. Miss Roxane? Will you show them the way." Mrs. Trevelyan smiled. "Then I suspect it's you for a bath and a change?"
Roxane nodded. "Oh, yes! Please!"
The housekeeper nodded. "I'll get your bath sorted out. Now, if you'll excuse me?" And she was away.
Roxane turned to Gilroy. "Alex? Do you think you can make it to the parlour? And a nice comfortable chair?"