Title: Honey Unexpected
Word Count 937
Disclaimer The cat is mine
How the tar had gotten onto his collar, Christopher Cleveland had no idea. It must have dripped from above somehow. But it was stuck all right. Twenty minutes with a clothes brush had had little effect. He was now reduced to picking it out of the weft by hand. His bitten to the quick fingernails were no help. He only bit them in his hammock at night now, or when he was reading. But they were thin and weak, and not much good.
But Jeoffrey Mittens was worse than no help. He assumed, with some cause, that whenever Cleveland was reclining or sitting, it was to make a lap for cats. Jeoffrey Mittens was as heavy as a cannonball, and just as sleek and shiny. His balls had grown in as Horatio had promised, and the tom-cat's sweet nature with them. He loved the midshipmen's berthing. Someone usually had a book open, or a slate out, just right for a furry cat to sit on. Someone was usually dressing, or eating, or frantically looking for something. A cat could help there too. He also helped with comfort, sleep and advice. He had a peculiar wheezing purr. He made Cadogan sneeze. Everyone loved him.
Everyone loved him, but right now Cleveland wanted to throw him across the room. He was trying to hold Jeoffrey Mittens back by the face, and work at the tar stain with his free hand. No good.
“Can you take the damn cat? Please?”
“All right – but he makes me- K- Blehg!” Cleveland had to smile. Cadogan was holding the cat at arms length., His handsome face was averted and screwed up in a clench that he obviously hoped was sneeze proof. Jeoffrey Mittens, grasped beneath the armpits, was sagging dramatically, and looking innocent.
Cleveland returned to his collar. Twenty more minutes passed before he looked up again. He had gotten it, finally. The berthing was empty. Today was make and mend, he had no watch. But he did have to study. It seemed that he had just learned how to be a half-way competent midshipman, and he was faced with a whole new set of things he had to learn. With a sigh, Cleveland reached for his notes.
He was deep in thought, when he heard feet coming down the ladder. Six feet. Two wore shoes, four were accompanied by a wheezing purr.
Cadogan was one of those people who opened doors with a bang. He didn't do it to be awful. He just had a sort of natural enthusiasm. Cleveland was ready though. He did not jump.
“Captain's compliments, and he wants to see you now.” Cadogan looked rather pale. Any midshipman summoned to the Captain's breakfast table had reason to review his sins.
Cleveland stood up. He put his books and notes away. He could not think of anything significant he had done wrong lately. Certainly nothing that should justify notice from so high. He had received letters from home just this week, all were well as far as he knew. Still, he felt his heart pounding, At least his collar was clean.
Cleveland was shown into the cabin, and stood blinking in the light.
“Midshipman Cleveland, you sent for me, Sir.” He was too old to squeak, but he felt squeaky, and his nails were stubby and ragged, and he was sucking his stomach in.
Captain Pellew and Mr Bracegirldle and Mr Bowles were breakfasting together. Cleveland could see white soft tack, and butter and honey. He could smell the coffee. He swallowed.
Pellew did not look angry. Cleveland was quite sure of that. When the old man was angry everyone knew. Everyone could hear and see it. No not angry. In fact, his face had quite an odd look, soft almost, something oddly gentle about the eyes.
“Sit down boy.” Cleveland sat. He had an instant to wonder if this was preparation for some devastating news. His mother, perhaps? He had dismissed that idea already, still it rose in him.
But no. They were smiling at him. All three of them, smiling as if they had something good to give.
Captain Pellew cleared his throat.
“You came from Justinian, did you not, Mr Cleveland?”
“Yes, Sir, I did.”
“You transferred with Mr Hornblower and Mr Kennedy, did you not?”
Cleveland sat with his eyes fixed on the table. It hurt to remember Hornblower and Kennedy.
“So you have known them a long time. The longest of anyone on this ship.”
“Yes, Sir. I knew Mr Kennedy eight years. We came in together.” It hurt.
Cleveland looked up, and saw those puzzling smiles. Mr Bowles slid him a cup of coffee.
“I too had given up hope, Mr Cleveland. But we are both corrected this morning. I have here two letters, posted from prison in Spain. You may read them. One is from Mr Hornblower, and this one here, this one is from Mr Kennedy. They are alive and well, being held on the Spanish coast.”
He handed the letters to Cleveland, who clutched them numbly. They were all beaming at him now, joy rolled off the older men, real as the good smell of the coffee.
“ They are not dead. They are alive, and we have reason to hope they may be returned to us. Drink your coffee Mr Cleveland. Eat some toast. Moments like this come seldom.”
Mr Bracegirlde handed him a piece of toast dripping with honey.