A Broken and Contrite Heart
by Dunnage41

I have often wondered how it was that Hornblower got from where he was at the end of “Lord Hornblower” to where he was at the beginning of “Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies.” Since Forester did not see fit to reveal that most interesting passage of time, I have humbly taken up the task myself.

SPOILER ALERT for the book “Lord Hornblower.”

Psalm 51
 1Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
 2Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
 3For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
 4Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
 5Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
 6Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
 7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
 8Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
 9Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
 10Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
 11Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
 12Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
 13Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
 14Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
 15O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
 16For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
 17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
 18Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
 19Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.
 
A drone that had been continuing for some time forced its way into Hornblower's dulled brain. He blinked, and made his sleepless, bleary gaze focus on the aide-de-camp, the source of the droning, who had mentioned Wellington again.
 
"What?" Much as he loathed appearing out of his wits in front of a French gaoler, he suspected that he needed to hear what he had just missed. The aide-de-camp smiled; it was a pitying smile that increased Hornblower's resentment.
 
"You are to be exchanged for French prisoners," the aide-de-camp said. "You will be taken by coach to Paris."
 
"What of the count?" Hornblower heard himself say. "What of the count?"
 
The aide-de-camp made a face. "He will be escorted to his villa," he said carelessly; France had counts by the dozen, perhaps by the hundred, and one such aging specimen meant little to him. "I believe he has already gone." Hornblower's heart sank a little at the knowledge that he would likely never see the count again, but after all they had made their peace, of a sort.
 
"The coach is ready," the aide-de-camp said. "Already there is another prisoner within it. You must come now."
 
The strength that Hornblower had lacked in rising to walk toward his own execution had been boosted a little by the news that Wellington and Blucher were for Paris and that Napoleon had been defeated in Belgium. Thinking of the larger picture he scarcely had room in his mind for the realization of his good fortune in once again escaping by the thinnest of margins certain death. He rose slowly and stiffly, and hated himself for having to steady himself for the moment against the damp wall.
 
"Very well," he said. "I will come." Though he had, it appeared, no choice, it pleased him to behave as though he did – a sop to his disordered conscience.
 
He made his hobbling way to the courtyard and with difficulty mounted into the coach. A voice from the dimness broke on his ear.
 
"Sir! Sir!"
 
Hornblower blinked and thrust his head forward to see the figure on the seat opposite. By a cruel trick of the light and his dazed and battered brain, the other prisoner bore a resemblance to Bush: the burly body, plain honest features, even a wooden leg – how many sailors had the same? It was rampant cruelty, typical of his mind but cruel nonetheless. Would he see Bush in every dark-haired sailor from now until eternity? Then a familiar horny hand was clutching his and pumping away with such enthusiasm as to unbalance him, and with his left hand he groped for the coach seat and the figure released him and sat back.
 
"My apologies, sir. Of course you're not full strength yet, sir. Nor am I for that matter, sir. But sir! I thought I'd never see you again, sir."
 
It was not – it could not be – but unmistakably he was. He must be dreaming; he must have dozed off, lulled by the rhythmic jolting of the coach. He clutched at his hair to force himself to wakefulness.
 
"Mr. Bush," he mumbled through numb lips. "Impossible." Had he voiced the thought aloud?
 
"It's true, sir. Oh, sir. You heard the reports from Quiot, sir?"
 
"I heard that only two boats survived and that you … that you … were not picked up." Was he conversing with a ghost? He must be fevered, and no wonder. He shivered involuntarily.
 
"Well, yes and no, sir," Bush said. He sounded apologetic. "I was picked up by a French gunboat, sir. They'd been holding me prisoner, sir. Until the news came of the fighting in Belgium, and Boney's defeat, sir. Then they said they'd exchange me, sir. In Paris, sir."
 
"You're … you're not dead." In his disorder he could only state the obvious.
 
"Well, no, sir," Bush said stolidly, but a trace of a smile lit his countenance. "Not yet, sir."
 
"I believed you dead."
 
"So did my sisters, I regret to say, sir," Bush said. "I've had word sent, but who knows when they will receive it. Sir … your wife …"
 
Hornblower made himself think. "She is in Viennaacting as hostess to her brother at the Congress," he said dully. "I do not know what news she has heard, if any."
 
"The Congress has dissolved, sir," Bush explained, apologetic again. "It finished up almost a fortnight ago, sir." Vague thoughts of joining Barbara in Vienna dissipated like fog before the morning sun.
 
"How did you come to be captured, sir? If you don't mind my asking."
 
God, there it was. Racked with guilt and grief, and guilty grief, beset by hunger and thirst and sleeplessness, fuming with anger at Bonaparte and his senseless madness that had claimed millions of lives, including dear Marie's, fury at himself for being so weak and ineffective a leader of the ragtag informal uprising that had led to his capture, and hard on the heels of that whirl came the sickening thought that he had behaved all out of countenance for an officer in His Britannic Majesty's service, an officer who had been raised to the peerage only a few months before, and that when Whitehall heard of his antics he would surely be read out of the service. And now with the surge of nausea that rose sickeningly in his throat came the question, the question he must answer, the question he must answer to Barbara and to the Admiralty, and first of all to Bush, who like Lazarus had come back from the dead and was sitting opposite him in a coach jouncing
toward Paris and for having sent Bush to die, for that if nothing else, he owed Bush his best truth.
 
"I … elected not to go to Vienna," he said, his stomach twisting at the memory of having disappointed Barbara. "My … wife … would be supporting her brother, and I saw no place for me there." That hurt as well, the knowledge that having given his life and best energies to fighting Bonaparte, he would have been watching intrigue and gossip divide the spoils of all Europe. Europe deserved better; England deserved better.
 
"Having passed some two months at home … at home," he repeated, conscious of an awful prickling in his eyes. He swallowed hard and continued. "I thought to visit our old friends here in France." Of course, how could he have been so stupid? No doubt the de Gracays meant as much to Bush as to him, or at least meant a very great deal. He must get word to the count that Bush was still among the living. "I went to the villa."
 
Bush's honest sturdy face remained impassive. Whatever he knew or suspected of Hornblower's dalliances, he would never reveal it, at least not to his superior officer.
 
"It was there that we heard of the late unpleasantness," he said, forcing a calm he did not feel into his voice. "Naturally the count and … countess … were loyal to the king. They insisted on joining with a small group of loyalists to attempt to fight. Of course I had to join them," he said a little carelessly, trying to convey the impression that it was no more than a sense of duty to the host who had succoured them that prompted him to join them on their quixotic quests. Tilting at windmills, indeed. One small and very dangerous windmill instead. And at what cost! Had they hid, had they fled for safety instead of toward the madness, Marie would still be alive. And then what? The question of consequences now rose to mock Hornblower further. It amazed him that, having been relentlessly loyal to poor dead Maria, he had willingly proved faithless to Barbara, whom he loved with his whole heart.
 
"Of course you did, sir." Bush's steady voice recalled him roughly to the present.
 
"Well, so the attempt … failed … and I was … captured."
 
"What of the count, sir? And the girl … what was her name?"
 
"Marie." Hornblower thought surely Bush could hear the thudding of his heart. "She was shot dead. The count has been returned to his villa. And so here I am," he said, forcing a smile that he knew to be gruesome. "No doubt the Admiralty will have some stern words for a man who tries to play general whilst on holiday," he concluded.
 
"Sir!" Bush would no more let Hornblower demean himself than he would let anyone else do it. "Sir, you had no choice!"
 
"One always has a choice, Mr. Bush," Hornblower said pedantically.
 
"Then you made the right choice, sir. If it will do any good … I'll … I'll testify, sir, as to how much the count meant to us. As to how you naturally felt honour bound to assist him.”
 
"No," Hornblower said. He had a duty to face the Admiralty alone. "Thank you, Mr. Bush. I'm sure it will turn out as it needs to."
 
Rebuked, even gently, Bush subsided into silence and Hornblower's body at last claimed its vengeance. His head dropped onto his chest and despite the horrid whirlpool of his mind, at last he slept. He must have slept for many hours, because when he roused, he knew himself to be in Paris. Opposite him Bush also slept. Hornblower scarcely had time to remind himself of Bush's vitality when the coach stopped.
 
Abruptly the door opened, the step was unfolded, and Hornblower and Bush got stiffly to the ground. "Follow me, sir, follow me, my lord," said an unmistakable voice and there in the harsh sunlight was Brown. Hornblower would have said he was incapable of being further surprised, numb to further shock, but here was Brown, his face as imperturbable as ever, and Hornblower just stopped himself embracing the man. Immediately he was gripped with guilt for not having spared a thought for Brown this entire time. He had asked after the count, he remembered, but he had not asked after his devotedly faithful servant. How callous could one man be? He should be locked away, exiled, kept from polite society. And now Brown was gazing at him straightforwardly and he must say something.
 
"Good to see you again, Brown," he said, instead of the surprised exclamation that leapt first to his tongue, and Brown replied:
 
"Good to see both of you, sir, an’ my lord." Brown was good at everything, even at addressing a superior and a peer at the same time, even when he thought at least one of them dead.
 
"This way, sir, this way, my lord," Brown was saying. "You're to have a wash an' a night's rest an’ then Wellington wants to see you." The name jolted Hornblower again. Good God. He must face a grueling interview – no doubt it would be grueling – against an army officer who also happened to be his brother-in-law. Life was a succession of bitter pills which had to be swallowed – that thought came to him unbidden for the hundredth time in his life.
 
So it was that the next day, rested, fed, bathed, shaved, and with his uniform neatly mended and pressed, he was able to stand straight before Wellington.
 
"Good God, Hornblower," was his brother-in-law's greeting. "Sit down, man." He snapped an order to an aide for coffee.
 
"I'll have you know you cost us a full dozen French prisoners," he said. His attempt at stern stiffness was undercut by a real warmth in his voice. "And just as well. Don't know what I would have told Barbara if you'd been killed."
 
"My apologies, sir," Hornblower said. His voice sounded wooden to his ears.
 
"Damn it, man, I want no apologies. I want an explanation. What the devil were you doing playing rebel? Why weren't you in Viennain the first place?"
 
A battle on two fronts, then. Wellingtonwas irked at the inconvenience Hornblower had caused and proudly reproachful in behalf of his sister. Well, he would offer no excuses. In a lifetime of service he had had plenty of practice at offering explanations without excuse, regardless of the cost. He tried to keep his voice level. The coffee arrived, giving him a few seconds' reprieve, and he drank of it thirstily.
 
"I elected not to go to Viennabecause as Barbara would be assisting Arthur, I expected I would not be needed," he said stiffly.
 
To his astonishment, that provoked a snort of laughter. "Damned foolishness masquerading as policy," Wellingtonsaid, drinking his own coffee. "It's been said they danced more than they governed. Dancing and night-visits and vignt-et-un ... it's a poor way to draw the boundaries of a new Europe, eh? Can't say as I blame you. Mind you," he added confidentially, "Barbara no doubt enjoyed herself immensely." Wellingtonwas proving positively human this morning.
 
"I hope she did."
 
"Come, have some more coffee. I daresay you need it.  Now. What were you doing in Francein the first place?"
 
"You knew about my recapture of the Witch of Endor, of course," Hornblower said. He found he required a running start to defend himself to a man who was at once the hero general of the hour and his wife's brother.
 
"Fine show. Damned courageous."
 
"That was not until some months after our escape from the French," Hornblower said. "We were kept safe at the chateau of a local official, a royalist, the Count of Gracay."
 
"H'm. Believe I've heard of him," Wellington said noncommittally.
 
"I desired to see him and his household again," Hornblower said, "so my .... valet and I journeyed there. Then, of course...."
 
"Yes. Quite," Wellingtonsaid briefly.
 
"The count had already lost three sons to the royalist cause," Hornblower said. Thus far, he was managing to leave Marie out of the telling entirely. "Naturally he chose not to hide or flee but to organise a small uprising. I felt I had no choice but to support him."
 
"I see," Wellington said, fixing him with a keen gaze. "I see." He said no more, leaving Hornblower uncertain as to his opinion of Hornblower's explanation.
 
"Had the Loire been passable, we might have had some success," he continued desperately. "I blame myself for not having a secondary plan."
 
"No-one foresaw that thunderstorm," Wellingtonsaid, not unkindly.
 
"Nevertheless."
 
"No ... no ... an entirely satisfactory explanation of your situation. As you say, no-one could have foreseen that storm, or Boney's last idiocies." He rose and Hornblower rose with him.
 
"I'll arrange passage for you," Wellington was saying. "There's a dispatch vessel sailing on the morning tide tomorrow from Ushant. Are you alone?"
 
The innocent questioned seemed to thunder in Hornblower's brain. Was he alone? God, what would Barbara think of all this? She would doubtless guess, and say nothing at all, and he was not sure that he could live with her silent, Stoic knowledge. Was he alone? He had seldom felt more alone in his life, yet at the same time his brother-in-law was treating him with undue kindness, Brown was by his side despite Hornblower’s shameful lack of interest in his earlier fate, Bush was miraculously alive and well although Hornblower had surely sent him to his death, and soon … soon … soon he would be back in Barbara’s arms. Where he wanted to be, he realized. Would she want him? God only knew, and Hornblower found himself desperate for the sort of mercy that bitter experience had taught him was in scarce supply.
 
"Hornblower?"
 
He recalled his thoughts. "No," he said. "Captain William Bush and my servant, Brown. They'll also need passage."
 
"Just as well," Wellington said. "We're short on men at the moment. Matter of fact, I wasn't best pleased at the thought of entrusting a dispatch vessel to the hands of a green third lieutenant. I'll arrange for Bush to be put in command of her."
 
Just like that, the first hurdle was cleared. Wellington bore him seemingly no ill will no matter how much he assigned to himself. And before he could think clearly, he, Bush, and Brown were in a coach hurtling toward Ushant.
 
“It’s amazing, is what it is, my lord,” Brown said to Hornblower. “Next thing you know you’ll be at Smallbridge again. And it’s very good indeed to see you again, sir,” he added to Bush.
 
Hornblower mumbled a reply and returned his thoughts inward. He had survived the interview with Wellington; now his gloomy mental circuit ratcheted him round toward the next awfulness. When word got out of his foolishness, not only would he certainly be read out of the service, he would be publicly disgraced. Worse, he would be pitied. He could look forward to another thirty or forty years on half-pay, unable to support Barbara and the servants who depended on them for his livelihood, afraid to show his face in public before former acquaintances and colleagues who would be kind to his face and sneering behind his back. The thought of it made him want to vomit.
 
And the first test, of course, was to come long before they reached England. He would have to put to sea aboard the dispatch vessel, and see Bush in command, and hover uselessly as a passenger with no official duties, and watch the men respond to his presence. Where once they had elbowed each other and grinned at the privilege of being under his command, now they would elbow each other and pull faces; they would turn away rather than meet his eyes. Though it was no more than he deserved, he was not certain he could bear it.
 
At the very least he could attempt to make pitiful amends to Brown. He owed the man that much.
 
“Brown,” he said formally, “I very much regret that your service put you in such grave danger. I … also regret not having inquired … as to the safety of your … wife.” His throat closed and he could scarcely squeeze out the last word.
 
“She’s well, my lord,” Brown said. “She is traveling with the Duchess du Angouleme’s party. I have been told that she will meet us in England.” He lowered his gaze. “Once we return to England, my lord …”
 
“Yes,” Hornblower said dully. He owed the man much more than that, at any rate. “Yes, certainly Smallbridge would be much enhanced by her service.”
 
At that Brown actually smiled. His eyes crinkled and the warm look in them tore at Hornblower’s heart. He had pleased someone who was as faithful to him as a dumb loyal dog who remained relentlessly steadfast to a master who ill-treated it.
 
Hornblower closed his eyes, unable any longer to meet the forthright gazes of the men opposite, and dozed, half-asleep, through the rest of the long journey to the northwestern coast. The carriage drew to a stop too soon, and in the cold gray half-light of dawn he saw the dispatch vessel anchored a little way from shore, and here was her jolly-boat, and here were the men saluting him. Of course they must; disgraced or not, so long as he was still in His Britannic Majesty’s service he was deserving of a salute, whatever they might say below decks.
 
The sea was calm enough and the brief journey easily accomplished. Hornblower, as the senior officer in the boat, must be the first one aboard. He climbed steadily up the ladder and was startled to hear the shrilling of the pipes. Of course, they must perform that service as well. He wondered how they felt piping aboard a man they knew to be unfit to wear the uniform. To his amazement, when he ventured to meet their eyes, he saw only admiration. Perhaps they hadn’t heard as yet; perhaps for the brief voyage he might still be good old Horny to the men, a brew now unbearably bitter because he had tasted the dregs he knew awaited him.
 
Bush was piped aboard and read loudly the orders that gave him command of the ship. Hornblower found himself actually stifling a smile at the look of relief on the third lieutenant’s face; he could not be much over eighteen and doubtless was glad to cede command to someone more experienced. That might not bode well for the boy’s future, understandable thought it was.
 
The voyage from Ushant was uneventful. Once or twice Hornblower thought to raise the topic with Bush, though he knew Bush was far too loyal to give him an honest answer.
 
“So tell me, Mr. Bush,” he said that first evening, after they had watched the sun set, “what d’you think the Admiralty will have to say to the man who leads a French uprising whilst on holiday?”
 
But Bush was like Brown too loyal to provide the honest answer he thought he sought.
 
“Oh, sir,” he said earnestly. Hornblower, not for the first time, devoutly wished that he could shed his formality, at least below decks. “You didn’t go looking for it, sir; it came right to their doorstep. An’ you had no choice at all, sir.”
 
Hornblower did not bother to remind Bush as he had earlier that one always had a choice.
 
“Is that what the Admiralty will say, Bush?”
 
“Like as not they’ll be pleased to have you back in one piece, sir,” Bush said thoughtfully. “As I am.”
 
“And I you, Mr. Bush,” Hornblower said, smiling in spite of himself. “And I you.”
 
As the voyage continued Hornblower watched the crew keenly as he could without letting it be known that he was watching them. Gossip traveled faster than the fleetest ship; surely by now they knew why this peer of the realm was traveling as a passenger aboard a tiny dispatch vessel from Ushant. Try as he might, however, he could see no nudges, no faces turned away, no whispers cut abruptly off. Bush -- Brown -- the lieutenant -- the men -- all showed him nothing but admiration and deference, and the knowledge that he was receiving it all undeserved sickened him so severely that he found himself scarcely able to eat.
 
The voyage was all too short and soon -- too soon -- they were putting in and there was the familiar gray coast of England. Scarce had Hornblower stepped out of the jolly boat than a messenger, who must have been ordered to watch for him, scuttled forward.
 
“If you please, my lord,” he said, respectfully touching his cap, “the Admiralty desires to see you at once.”
 
“What, now?” Hornblower demanded, though he had expected no less.
 
“Yes, at once, my lord, if my lord pleases. There is a carriage here, my lord.”
 
Hornblower looked round. There was nothing for it. “Brown … Mr. Bush … Brown, have you news yet of Mrs. Brown?”
 
“Not yet, my lord.” Damnation. He was too weary to plan.
 
“When she arrives, take passage to London and wait for me at … at … the Golden Compass,” Hornblower said, and realized with horror he had no purse, no dunnage, nothing at all but the uniform on his back, the one he was about to lose forever.
 
“Yes, my lord,” Brown said placidly, and he and Bush both hauled out purses. Where had they got money? It was beyond him entirely. He closed his eyes and sank into the upholstery of the carriage waiting for him and let himself be jounced to the Admiralty in a journey that was at once too long and too short.
 
He heard his footsteps echoing down the hallway and thought they might be the slow drumbeat leading him to the gallows. Disgraced, disrated, read out of the service, he would certainly hang. As well if the French had executed him. Everyone he knew would doubtless be better off for it.
 
The man in gold braid and red sash standing and extending his hand was smiling -- smiling broadly -- and looked familiar. Hornblower knew most of the Admiralty. Who was this man? Then he spoke.
 
“Hornblower. Lord Hornblower,” rolling the syllables out slowly as though they delighted his tongue. The smile broadened still further. “Well, well. I told you once, sir, that I foresaw great things for you, did I not?”
 
Hornblower blinked. It couldn’t be. Unmistakably it was Edward Pellew, Lord Exmouth, whom he had not seen in some years … how many years? … though they had communicated by letter, report, and dispatch. The years had been kind to Pellew; his iron-gray hair suited him and the lines in his face added to his dignity. He looked a trifle stouter but otherwise not much changed since the Indefatigable.
 
“It’s … it’s … a pleasure to see you, my lord,” he stammered out. Numbly he took the offered hand and felt Pellew pump his with enthusiasm.
 
“Sit down, sit down. You must be all in. Coffee!” He raised his voice to his foretop bellow and an aide scuttled. “Now. What about the others who traveled with you?”
 
“They’re to meet me at the Golden Compass, my lord.” Hornblower forced himself to speak as though he expected a future for himself, one in which he could meet friends at a Londoninn.
 
“Mm-hm, mm-hm,” Pellew murmured rapidly. “Well.” He sat down, and Hornblower sat, and Pellew looked left and right to see that they were alone in the room. At least he had the decency -- the pity -- to dress him down privately. The last act of undeserved mercy for a once-fine officer who was about to be stripped of everything.
 
“The Admiralty,” Pellew began formally, “is most curious as to your presence in Franceat the time of the failed uprising.”
 
Damnation. Hard as it had been to explain to Wellington, it was going to be harder still to explain to Pellew. He sighed and forced himself to meet Pellew’s eyes. He would go down with the shreds of dignity he still could muster.
 
For the third time he explained Barbara’s going to Viennaand his subsequent visit to “old friends, staunch royalists” in France. He explained again how the news had caught them unawares and how he had felt honour-bound to support the count’s plans.
 
“Yes, of course,” Pellew murmured.
 
The thunderstorm, the flooding of the Loire, his own failure -- given without excuse -- for having a secondary plan that allowed for the exigencies of weather. Here Pellew met his steady gaze with one of his own, that look that bored right through Hornblower.
 
The Countess shot and killed, Hornblower and the count and Brown captured. The news of Blucher and Wellington, and the passage back to Englandaboard a dispatch vessel.
 
“That’s all, my lord,” Hornblower concluded and continued to keep his gaze on Pellew, though his mouth was dry and his heart thudding. He thought he might disgrace himself still further by fainting.
 
Pellew continued to gaze at him without speaking for what seemed an abysmally long time. At last he spoke.
 
“It was foolish in the extreme of you to have engaged in a military manoeuvre without having received orders.”
 
“Yes, my lord.”
 
“You’re damned lucky those French didn’t execute you on the spot.”
 
“Yes, my lord.”
 
“The Admiralty advises you not to engage in further military manoeuvres in the absence of orders in the future. Is that clear?”
 
“Yes, my lord.”
 
Now Pellew was positively grinning and pouring Hornblower a glass of port, though it was early in the morning.
 
“I’ve been advised to give you six months’ leave,” Pellew said dryly, “as your last holiday proved somewhat unrestful. After that, we’ll be only to happy to put you to use. You’re far too valuable to us in a British uniform to let you entertain any nonsensical ideas about French uprisings, eh? Come on, man, drink up. A toast to you, Lord Hornblower, one of the very finest officers in the King’s service.”
 
It was as though the portrait of Collingwood on the wall had suddenly come to life and begun dancing a minuet. Hornblower could only gape senselessly. The mildest possible scolding -- not even a reprimand -- six months’ leave -- and a toast from Pellew. And a passing word about his value to the service!
 
For want of something to do, he gulped the port in his hand, inhaling sharply as the wine whirled into his brain.
 
Pellew was laughing at him.
 
“Not what you expected, my lord?”
 
With Pellew as perhaps with no one else he could be honest.
 
“I expected … disgrace, my lord.”
 
“Disgrace, what for? You didn’t up and join the Bonapartists. You behaved with the honour His Majesty expects of those who wear the uniform. Whatever the situation, sir, a British officer must protect those in whose company he finds himself.” Pellew tossed back the port and gazed at him again.
 
“I expect you’ll want to make for Bond Street, eh?”
 
“Bond Street?”
 
“I’m told,” Pellew said thoughtfully, “that Lady Hornblower is in residence there at the moment.”
 
Oh God. Hornblower paled and felt his remorseless stomach lurch. He set the glass down cautiously. He stood, forcing himself to a straight posture.
 
“By your leave, my lord.”
 
Pellew was chuckling. “Yes, yes, by all means. I’m told your man has secured a carriage.” He waved a hand in dismissal. “Off you go.”
 
It was a matter of minutes only to reunite with Bush, Brown and Mrs. Brown at the Golden Compass and for matters to arrange themselves. Bush would stay on in London, though in less costly lodgings, and Hornblower sent Brown to Coutts for money, then got himself kitted out again. He was relaxed enough now to feel a momentary pang for the loss of his sea-chest, which had served him well for many years. That reminded him that he must send a note at once to the count. The hosteler provided pen and paper and Hornblower wrote a letter in which he thanked the count again for his friendship, apologised for his failure to provide more satisfactory leadership, shared with pleased astonishment the good health of Bush, and assured the count that Brown and Annette, fat Jeanne’s daughter, were well and would return to service at Smallbridge, though he did so with a pang, realising that he could not speak for Barbara on that matter. If indeed he could speak for
Barbara at all.
 
It was time; he could put it off no longer. He was deeply torn. He longed for Barbara as a dog might yearn for a dish of water; as a sailor longed for a friendly port; as a child longed for its mother. At the same time he had no idea how he might be received. Though her last letter from Viennahad been heartfelt and cordial, urging him to visit his friends at their villa, she had no way of knowing what had transpired since.

Wellington and the Admiralty had given him kind words, but that counted for nothing in Hornblower’s tortured mind; he still expected rebuke from the quarter most dear to him.
 
He called for a coach and rode the distance to Bond Streetin a haze. By now he had fretted himself numb. There were no more thoughts to think. He had one foot on the step and the other still in the coach when a blur and a sudden weight knocked him off balance. Exhausted, hungry, and morbid, he was unable to brace himself and sat down hard on the entrance to the coach. Then Barbara was laughing and weeping all at once and hauling him up and helping him to the ground and embracing him to a fare-thee-well, muffled sounds emanating from her lips which were pressed to his neck.
 
“Oh, my dearest! My very dearest! I can hardly believe you are safe!” She withdrew long enough to kiss him long and tenderly. Then she placed her hands on his shoulders and gazed at him as though she could not drink her fill of the sight of his face.
 
Hornblower blinked; his vision was suddenly clouded. “You … missed me,” he said dumbly, hoarsely.
 
“More than I can say. Mind you, Vienna was most gratifying, but my dearest! Had I had any idea that you would put yourself in danger … I have not slept for worry until word came from dear Lord Exmouth that you were on your way back to me.” Indeed her elusive blue eyes were shadowed with weariness. In those eyes Hornblower found the redemption for which he had longed but for which he had not allowed himself to dare to hope. He found himself laughing.
 
“We can’t have that, my dear,” he said lightly, forcing a laugh into his voice. “I think we might both benefit from returning to Smallbridge.”
 
Barbara did not ask him about the disastrous effort in France, and he did not tell her. Later, perhaps, when distance had dulled the pain. In the meantime there was Brown’s wife to explain, and for now that was enough. Then Barbara, heedless of the stolid back of the coachman, was kissing him and laying a hand on his thigh and he found he could not get home quickly enough.