A Storm in a Champagne Glass
William Bush stood at the far end of the room and sighed. The
was brightly lit, glittering with chandeliers and hot from the fire
and the press of bodies. The air was full of talk and laughter and
the strain of music, which floated over everyone's heads. Colours
merged; bright reds and blues of the militia and naval upper
echelons with their gold braid; brilliant whites and the dizzying
assortment of colours from ladies' gowns, and head dresses. Bush had
to admit that Admiral Pellew really knew how to add style to a
Bush stood, nursing his half empty glass of champagne, alone,
had been for most of the evening. The dinner was, to all intents and
purposes, in Hornblower's honour. Bush had accepted the invitation
largely because of that, and because he had thought that they might
enjoy some of the evening together.
It had not happened. Bush knew full well that Pellew's invitation
had been purely from courtesy; the man had looked somewhat surprised
when he had accepted, but Hornblower had seemed pleased, and he had
thought that the evening would pass pleasantly enough. However, he
had been there for what had seemed like hours, and he'd barely seen
Hornblower had been whisked away by Pellew almost as soon as
had arrived. Bush had spoken with a couple of other officers, and
then he had been left alone. That had not been so much of a problem
at first. Bush had been quite happy with his own company, and had
been content to watch and listen to what was going on. He had
thought that he would be able to talk to Horatio at some point
during the dinner, but he had been mistaken.
As a Lieutenant, even a First Lieutenant, he was the lowest
officer in attendance that evening. In consequence, he had been
placed at the bottom of the table when they sat down to eat. He
could hardly see Hornblower, let alone speak with him, and he had
been left trying to make conversation with another officer who had
clearly been most offended by the seating arrangements.
Bush was no fool; he knew how the world worked. He had lived
naval protocol and hierarchy for most of his life, and he fully
expected that he would be treated differently to someone of superior
rank. He had never been troubled by it; had never felt ashamed of
either his position in life, or of his upbringing, no matter whose
society he kept, and regarded those of noble birth with a sort of
wry amusement as well as respect. Apart from the man he was sitting
next to, it did not bother him now. But something did, and he could
not place it.
Between the various courses that were served, Bush had attempted
get Hornblower's attention, but had been somewhat disconcerted to
discover that Horatio always seemed to be deep in conversation with
someone else, and had hardly cast a glance down the table.
Eventually, Bush had given up, and had resigned himself to desultory
conversation and stony glances.
A footman approached with a laden tray and asked Bush if he
like to replenish his glass.
"No, thank you," Bush said, and the servant nodded
before walking away. He sipped at the champagne and grimaced. It had
gone flat, and was totally undrinkable. Perhaps he ought to have
picked up another glass after all.
Bush sighed. Keeping his own company was one thing, but the
was certainly wearing a bit thin. Hornblower was still in the midst
of a group of senior officers at the other side of the room,
laughing, and generating almost as much laughter himself. Bush did
not begrudge Hornblower this evening; he had deserved it, and had
been looking forward to it for days, but it seemed as though he did
not need him there at all.
The dancing continued. Bush watched on, leaning against one
pillars. He had never been much of a dancer, even if there had been
the need for his participation because of a shortage of partners.
Normally, he would have been glad of it, praying that he would not
be asked to dance, but tonight was different. He knew that, if the
invitation came, he would probably demur politely, but at least he
would have been asked.
The ballroom was becoming unbearably hot. Footmen appeared
the doors that led out into the garden, and the fires were damped
down, so that fresh air began to slowly circulate, much to the
relief of the dancing couples. Bush was relieved as well; his dress
uniform jacket was much thicker than the one that he usually wore,
and his neck cloth seemed to choke him. He set down his glass on
another footman's tray, and went towards the open doors so that he
could get some air. He suddenly felt enclosed and hemmed in by the
press of people around him. It was a strange sensation, considering
that he spent his life in the cramped conditions of a ship.
A round of applause sounded form Hornblower's group. Bush wondered
what Horatio was talking about to have elicited such an enthusiastic
response. He still could not see the man, just the gold braid and
epaulettes of three captains, a Commodore, and the Admiral. He
sighed again. It seemed unlikely that he would ever be able to talk
with Hornblower tonight. Right now, he felt surplus to requirements,
and would have left, had he not previously arranged to walk home
Bush stepped out into the garden. The night was clear, but
particularly cold. There was plenty of moonlight to see by. He
descended the steps of the terrace, and began to follow the gravel
path at their base, with no particular purpose or direction in mind.
He breathed deeply, savouring the change of air from the stuffiness
of the ballroom, and wandered on.
As he walked, Bush became lost in thought. The way that he
this evening troubled him. He had no desire to curry favour with the
higher ranks, nor to be a part of the glittering assembly that he
had witnessed tonight, and never had, so feeling as though he had
been excluded was not really due to any feeling of social
inferiority. He had come here ostensibly to keep Horatio company,
and the fact that his company was unnecessary had hurt. He was, if
he were being totally honest with himself, faintly jealous.
The realisation surprised him, but he had to admit to himself
it was true. He was jealous, not simply because he had been denied
Horatio's society, but because Horatio seemed to be so comfortable
with these people as to not to notice his absence. It felt almost as
though he was not even there.
There were footsteps behind him, Bush realised some time later. They
crunched on the gravel path, as though someone was trying to catch
up with him. He stopped and turned, to see Hornblower hurrying along
"William," Hornblower began, as he reached the man,
and the two of
them fell into step, "I've been looking for you everywhere. One of
the servants said he'd seen you come out here."
Bush raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. There was silence
few moments. The two men stopped at a stone bench overlooking
another terrace, and sat down.
Hornblower loosened his neck cloth a little. "Damn it,
I thought I'd
never get away," he commented. When there was still no response, he
looked at Bush carefully. "Are you all right, William?" he asked.
Bush nodded. "I just find these evenings a little tedious,
that's all," he said.
Hornblower frowned. "That's all?" he echoed, hearing
Bush's tone which convinced him that it wasn't. "Are you sure?"
Again there was silence. Damn it! Bush thought. You've been
to talk to him all evening, and now that he's here, you can't think
of anything to say! Any moment now, he's going to stand up and walk
back in there.
"You seem to have had a busy evening," he said eventually,
winced, as he realised how petty that must have sounded.
Hornblower, for once, missed the point. "Good God, William,"
said, somewhat tiredly, "I've been bored half out of my mind all
night. I've smiled so much, I think my face is going to crack. In
fact," he said turning to face Bush and smiling again, "I was
waiting for you to come and rescue me. Where the devil did you get
The question, and Hornblower's sentiments, caught Bush off-
guard. "Me? Oh, I was I mean" he floundered. He stopped, and
organised his thoughts before saying, "I was under the impression
that you neither wanted rescue nor needed it. I had no desire to
Hornblower's smile faded. Realisation dawned as Bush's statement
sank in that his friend had felt somewhat left out of
proceedings. "William surely you can not think that you can not
have believed that your company would be unwelcome?"
Bush shrugged, feeling suddenly sheepish. "I do not know,
do not know what I thought." He looked at his hands. To admit his
hurt, the fact that he was even remotely jealous, not felt foolish.
He ought to have realised that Hornblower might have wanted his
company as much as he'd wanted his. "I'm sorry."
"No, William, it is I who should apologise. I did not
you felt that way. I suppose I must have conveyed the fact that I
was interested far too convincingly."
Bush smiled in relief. "I think I can safely say that
performance was entirely believable," he said, more lightly.
Hornblower got to his feet. "Very well. I promise that
I shall never
be so convincing again. Come back to the party?"
Bush hesitated, and looked at the appeal in Hornblower's eyes.
right," he nodded.
"And this time, you can do all the talking!"
Bush looked a little alarmed by this, until he saw the expression
Hornblower's face, which was pure mischief. Hornblower
grinned. "Come on, then," he said.