Disclaimer: Not mine, nor alas, likely to be
Fandom: Hornblower (book version)
Characters: Horatio, Barbara, Marie
Category: Alternate POV scene from Lord Hornblower
"I have no other but a woman's reason:
I think him so, because I think him so."
--William Shakespeare, The Two Gentlemen of Verona (I, ii, 23-24)
No proof beyond a glance that lingers too long, a change in tone that seems more intimate than circumstances warrant. That, and a palpable air of constraint that repels all outsiders. Barbara is not used to being an outsider, but she cannot deny that she is, excluded from the conversation not only by the barrier of language but of shared memories in which she plays no part.
Horatio's eyes are full of the Vicomtesse, her fiery hair, her creamy skin, both set off by the brilliance of her cloth-of-gold gown. Not one woman in ten can wear that color and look well in it, Barbara thinks; she herself would appear jaundiced, if she tried. Unfortunately, her own gown of blameless white--assumed out of loyalty rather than preference--is equally unbecoming. Left to her own devices, she would have chosen blue, perhaps a deep, glowing shade like the sea, the sea that she had believed was her only rival -- until tonight.
Unfaithful. The word insinuates itself into her mind even as Horatio turns, with a slightly strained smile, to try to include her in the cloud of reminiscences surrounding himself, the Count, and the Vicomtesse. She tries not to let it take root, allowing herself to be drawn in, making herself respond with perfect courtesy to the Vicomtesse's query about her time in Paris, and smiling, always smiling, until her face begins to ache.
Still, she has no real evidence, beyond her own observations and suspicions. Horatio, of course, gives nothing away, now or during the remainder of the evening. When they lie in bed later that night, he takes his pleasure of her, as he has so many times before. He is tender and considerate, far more so than her first husband had been at such moments. Is it some imp of perversity that makes her perceive abstraction in his eyes, causing her to wonder whose body he is truly seeing and caressing in the bed they share? That same imp now prompts her to bring up the Vicomtesse, to ask about her history, the likelihood of her remarrying. Horatio answers each of her questions patiently, showing no sign of strain or distress. Barbara wrings what little comfort she can from his composure, until she remembers that his response would be the same however deeply his emotions were engaged.
"Her mouth is too wide." The remark escapes her before she can censor herself and she writhes inwardly, to think of how it sounds: the pettiness of a schoolroom miss issuing from the lips of an earl's daughter and a duke's sister. Uneasily, she turns her head upon the pillow to observe the effect of her words on her husband, only to discover that his eyes are closed, his breaths deep and regular. The change is very sudden, and she suspects him--unworthily, perhaps--of feigning, but she cannot bring herself to put it to the test. Half-relieved, half-resentful, she closes her eyes and lets her own breathing fall into a similar rhythm, until the pretense becomes reality. When she dreams, it is, incongruously, of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, of shimmering pavilions set against a plain white ground. Overhead, the sun gives off a peculiar radiance, overlaying the white and gold with the sickly green of jealousy.