Dockside
by Simon

The older man approached the work party on the dock. They were
loading some heavy barrels of salted beef onto a harbor barge, bound
for one of the Naval ships out at anchor.
They ignored him as he stood there watching them, apparently looking
for something or, more likely, someone. Family and friends waiting on
the docks were a common enough sight in Spithead.

After watching for a while he finally spoke up and asked, "Excuse me,
gentlemen, but would you happen to know if any of those ships is the
Indefatigable?"

A large, burly sailor answered, "Yes, sir, that one out there is the
Indy. The one flying the large Ensign off the stern."

The older man's eyes turned to her as he continued, "Is there any way
to get a message to one of the men aboard her?"

Another sailor, this one somewhat older than the first, with graying
hair answered, "Yes, sir, this lot" he indicated the barrels, " is
headed out there now, they can take a message for you if you'd like."

"Ah, good. Would any of you know Lieutenant Hornblower? And do you
happen to know if he's onboard the ship at this moment?"

"Aye, sir, we know `im, `e's there alright."

"Could you be so good as to tell him that his father is on the dock
and would like to see him if that's at all possible."

The sailors looked at him with sharp interest that wasn't there
before. What on earth was that about, he wondered.

"Right you are, sir, I'll tell `im for ye." A young man knuckled his
forehead to him as he hopped down to the barge.

"Thank you, that's most kind of you."

The burly man looked him over, "So you're Mr. Ornblower's da, are
you, sir?" He spoke perfectly politely and with a good deal of
respect.

"Yes, that's right. Do you work with him on the ship?" The sailor
laughed at that.

"E's our officer, sir, we're `is division, y'see." The shore man
looked blank at this bit of information.

"Each of the officers and the Midshipmen `as men under their direct
command, y'see. We're Mr. Ornblower's. E'd be out here with us, but
e's looking over the loading onboard."

"So he'll be busy for a while then, I take it? Perhaps it would be
better if I came back later."

"Nah, this is the last lot, `e's done when this bit gets stowed." The
older man suppressed a small smile.

"They seem to keep him busy, then, if he's supposed to be watching
you men, but he has to be on board at the same time. I fear he would
have benefited by being born twins, it would seem."

"Nah, there's no one like `im, sir, if you don't mind my sayin so.
E's a corker, `e is."

"That's the God's `onest truth. The other lads are right jealous that
they aren't one of the Lieutenant's lads, sir."

The work done, the other men were moving closer, now that they all
had heard who was standing in front of them. Adding in their own
comments.

"E's quiet like, y'know, sir? But `e gets it all done. Not like some
o the others, always yellin at ya, `e just asks nice and polite like.
But at the same time, you know that `e expects you to do wot `e says."

"Aye, there's none like `im when we're in a tight spot, that's for
certain. Ah, but you know that, sir, seein as how you're `is da and
all."

"Aye, sir, if you don't mind me askin, what was `e like when `e was a
lad?"

"Aye, sir, did he ever like climbin trees?" There was a small round
of laughter, joined in by the visitor.

"No" with a slight smile, answering their questions seemed harmless
enough. " He's always hated heights, ever since he fell from a rope
swing onto a rock and broke his arm when he was about four." The
father smiled, thinking back to when his son was still small. "He
never cried, though when that happened, even when I had to pull the
bone back into place when I set it, not a sound."

"You set it, sir?"

His face hardened a bit, "Yes, I'm a Doctor, you see. At one time I
had hoped that he would follow me and study medicine himself, but he
was always one to go his own way."

"Aye, `e is that, sir, that's for certain. Goin back to a damn prison
when `e didn't `ave to, that's one for the books, if ever I `eard
one."

The young blonde man spoke up, "Aye, that it was, that and some
of `is ideas like fightin that duel-" the burly man smacked him
across the shoulder before he got any further.

"My son fought a duel, sir?"

"Well, sir, it wasn't a real duel, like, not really."

"Like `ell it warn't, it sure was, if the Cap'n hadn't shot "

"Well, the Cap'n knew that Simpson, that's who Mr. Ornblower was
fightin with, y'see, `e realized that Simpson was a rotten egg as
ever there was one. So when Simpson fired early and Mr. `Ornblower
was shot, well, the Cap'n finished him off right smart."

"Excuse me, did you say that he was shot?" The look on the Doctor's
face was like that of any father who has just heard that his child
was hurt. Fear and panic were there, along with anger that he hadn't
been informed.

"Oh, now, don't you be worryin, now, sir. `E's just fine. It was just
in the shoulder and it healed up with no problem at all. It was a
couple of years ago now, anyway. When he was still a Mid."

"That's right, sir, `e most likely just didn't want ye concerned'."

The Doctor nodded at this. That would be like Horatio.

"Excuse me, did you say that he voluntarily went back to that Spanish
prison?"

"Well, ya see, sir, `e gave `is word that `E'd go back. The Don's let
us all out again in about a fortnight, though, and they were right
decent to us when we got back in the cells. They let us out in the
courtyard all the time and the food got lots better, too. That warn't
too bad."

"Why were you with him if he gave his word to go back? I don't
understand."

"Oh, when `e said `e'd go back, we agreed to go with him, that's all,
sir."

"Indeed?"

"My favorite was when `e steered that fire ship away from the fleet.
That was somethin', eh, lads?"

Amid the laughter touched with awe, the Doctor made out, "Seein `im
standin' on that deck, all lit up like bleedin' daytime, Lord, that
was something!"

"Horatio did that?"

"That's wot got him his Leftenant's coat, y'see. After doin that,
well, they couldn't very well break `im back down with the Mid's
again, now could they?"

"Forgive me, but why would they break him back to Midshipman?"

"Oh, he was failin his exam, but he saved the fleet, so they had to
give it to `im, y'see."

"Horatio never failed an examination in his life. How on earth would
he be failing something like that?"

"Oh that was because Cap'n Foster took a dislike to `im when we was
on that plague ship and Mr. Ornblower didn't want `im to take the
sides of beef, seein as `ow we was mabbe carrin plague."

"Horatio was on a ship carrying Bubonic plague? Did I hear that
right?"

"Oh, it warn't nothing. No one got sick, we was all just fine."

The Doctor seemed to be going into a slight state of shock.

The large sailor spoke up again. "So, wot was `e like when `e was a
lad. Sir? Pretty much like e is now, right?"

Dr. Hornblower looked at him for a moment and then ventured, "He
seems to have changed a bit since he was younger, it would seem. He
was quiet and loved books and study, kept mostly to himself and
usually went his own way about most things."

"'E's like that now, sir. `E's hardly changed a bit from the sound of
it."

"Cap'n sure thinks that the suns rises on his head, no doubt about
that."

There was general agreement all around.

"You mean Captain Pellew is satisfied with his efforts?"

"Satisfied with `is efforts? "E'd be `appy to `ave Mr. `Ornblower
as `is own son, if you don't mind me sayin so, sir. Treats `im as `is
own, `e does."

"But Mr. "Ornblower probably writes you about all of this sort of
thing, I'd reckon. `E's good at all that sort of thing, writin and
numbers and all that book learning. You've most likely `eard all of
this lot already. "

"Right, it all must be old news to you, sir."

"Horatio has always been a faithful correspondent, that's true.
Perhaps not always as forthcoming in his information as I would like."

"Cor, it's easy to see that you and `e are related. "E talks just
like that all the time."

"Oh, `Ere `e comes now, sir. That's the jolly boat with `im in it.
Cap'n must have let `im `ave the afternoon off or something."

"Ow long has it been since you two `ave seen each other, sir, if you
don't mind my askin'?"

"It's been almost two years. I'm afraid that every time that the
Indefatigable was in port, I've been unable to make it all the way
down here and I gather that my son had other interests than just
visiting a small backwater village. That's pretty boring for him at
this point, I fear."

"Why was it that `e didn't become a doctor like you, sir. `E'd `ave
made a good one, I'd bet."

The Doctor looked thoughtful for a few moments, perhaps framing his
thoughts then quietly answered, "He wanted to make his own way, away
from me and whatever reminded him of where he had come from. I think
that, perhaps, I was not a very good father to my son. I would like
to try to make that up to him, if that's possible. I hope that it is,
but I don't know."

The jolly boat was closer and it was now easy to make out the faces
in her. It would be docking in a very few minutes.

The older sailor watched the boat approaching and said, "It's not too
late until you're dead, sir, not if you both want the same thing."

Dr. Hornblower smiled and in that second looked exactly like his son.
They really were very much alike. "Yes, I hope that you may be
right." The boat was pulling up to the quay and the Lieutenant was
stepping ashore.

Walking the few steps between them, he quietly said, "It's so very
good to see you, Father", and embraced him.

 

The End