Fever Pitch
by Pam P.

This is more of a set of scenes rather than a story
which follows immediately on one part from another.
It's set on board "Hotspur", after the HH3 film Duty,
and I make no apologies for the fact that this is a
Bush fic - I don't think there are enough of them!
Comments are welcome; this is my first online effort!

 

Six days before Hotspur is due to return to
Portsmouth.

Bush stood at Hotspur' s stern rail and reflected that
if it wasn't one thing going wrong, it was another.
He'd thought that once they had finally managed to get
rid of the Bonapartes, the ship's troubles would be
over, and perhaps then, Styles would stop whining. In
fact, it looked as though their troubles were only
just beginning.

Just how this latest round of ill luck had come about,
Bush could not be entirely sure, but in the last two
days, there had been fever aboard. Since it had been
one of the landing party Marines who had fallen sick
first, Bush thought it likely it had come from on
shore somehow, but it was spreading rapidly. It did
not, he felt, bode well. Two men had died, one of them
the Marine, and about six others were badly affected
in sick bay. It was a worrying state of affairs in
such close confines as a ship.

Bush turned as he heard footsteps approaching behind
him. It was Hornblower, and his face had a strained
look about it. Bush had seen that look all too often
of late; a preoccupied, distant expression that told
him Hornblower had much on his mind. It had not just
been the look on his face either. Hornblower's entire
manner had been different, stemming from far too
much to think about, a number of close calls, and the
recent loss of an old friend in Bracegirdle.

Bush had tactfully ignored the sudden outbursts that
Hornblower had directed his way, understanding, at
least in part, the reasons behind them, but that
didn't stop him being anxious. Perhaps Hornblower was
just overtired; trying too hard to be the good Captain
they knew him to be anyway. Bush had kept his own
concerns about the fever, and about Hornblower to
himself; it would do no good to exacerbate the
situation.

"Mr Bush." Hornblower's tone was clipped and formal,
and Bush touched his hat in salute.

"Sir," he said evenly.

Hornblower looked out to sea for a moment, and then at
Bush. "Have you nothing to do, Mr Bush?" The question
was put casually enough, but Bush could sense the
challenge that lay beneath the words.

"I came off watch five minutes ago Sir," he informed
Hornblower neutrally. "I was about to go below. I was
just...thinking."

"Really?"

The sarcasm in the response was heavy, and although it
took Bush by surprise, he did not remark upon it. He
wondered whether it was just the fever on board that
was troubling Hornblower. "Yes, Sir. I was thinking
about the fever, Sir."

Hornblower sighed heavily. "Thinking won't get us
anywhere, Mr Bush," he said. "Perhaps it might be
better to do something, would you not agree?"

"Of course, Sir," Bush began, and was about to
continue when Hornblower interrupted him.

"Then, if you're going below, you might trouble
yourself to check on the men in the sick bay."

Bush looked at Hornblower. He had been going to do
that anyway. He did not need Hornblower to tell him
where his duty lay. "Aye, Sir," he said, simply.

Hornblower nodded curtly, and headed forward, leaving
Bush a little perplexed, and more anxious than ever.
*******
Bush liked standing watch at night. It was in complete
contrast to all the others. He relished the peace and
quiet, the sound of the sea breaking against the
ship's sides, the almost unearthly calm of it all,
especially on a night like this.

The wind was a chill one, bringing the promise of
colder weather to come. Bush pulled the collar of his
coat up against it, and paced the deck back and forth,
checking on the hands, although he knew that this was
a good crew. And with Matthews in charge of things,
there was little he need worry about.

By the time he had found his way back to the wheel, he
found that there was another figure standing in what
was usually his customary position. Hornblower was
watching his approach steadily. Bush had not seen him
since he had gone below at the end of his watch, to
find Prowse had been added to the sick list. He was a
little unsure of what to expect, and why Hornblower
was here instead of in his berth. He certainly looked
like he ought to have been there.

"Sir," he acknowledged formally, as he stood beside
him.

"Mr Bush."

There was an awkward silence. Hornblower seemed to be
thinking about something, and Bush had no desire to
intrude upon his thoughts. Once or twice, it seemed as
though Hornblower was on the verge of speaking, but
then shook his head briskly and said nothing.

Eventually, Bush ventured, "Is everything all right,
Sir?"

Hornblower regarded him for a moment, then his
expression softened and he drew in a deep breath. "I
wanted to apologise, William," he said finally. "My
tone and manner earlier today were uncalled for." He
looked, Bush thought, almost sheepish. "I fear that I
might have allowed events to overtake me somewhat," he
continued gravely.

Bush dismissed the apology with a wave of his hand.
"It is little wonder, Sir," he said, feeling that he
was on safer ground. "It is a worrying time for all of
us."

"Indeed," Hornblower concurred, "and I fear that
things will only get worse."

Worse? Bush thought. "Perhaps we ought to send word to
the Admiralty, Sir," he suggested.

Hornblower nodded wearily.

"You look tired, Sir," Bush commented, a concerned
expression on his face. "Perhaps you ought to get some
rest. We don't want you falling sick with the fever,
now, do we?"

Hornblower shook his head, and stifled a yawn. "I
think perhaps you are right, Mr Bush," he said
quietly. "Good night."

"Good night, Sir."

5 days before arrival in Portsmouth

When Bush knocked on Hornblower's cabin door he
received no reply. He waited for a moment, knocked
again, and then turned the handle and entered. He
thought that Hornblower was working, and had not
heard; there were papers strewn on the desk, and his
head was bent over them. In fact, it almost looked as
though he had fallen asleep.

He tapped his friend on the shoulder. "Sir?" he asked
gently. Apart from a low moan, there was no response.
Bush's concern and fear increased. Carefully, he
lifted Hornblower's head, and drew in breath sharply.
Hornblower's eyes were glazed and unfocussed. His
cheeks were bright with fever and his forehead was
soaked with perspiration. "Oh, no," Bush groaned. He
put a hand to Hornblower's forehead, and drew it away
quickly, grimacing at the heat.

He lifted the Captain and pulled one of his arms over
his shoulders, virtually carrying him to the cot at
the other end of the room. Bush removed Hornblower's
jacket, and helped him to lie down. "It's all right,
Sir," Bush said softly. "I'll get the doctor." He set
to work loosening Hornblower's stock and opening his
collar. Then he went to the door. He called out to the
midshipman on watch. "Mr Orrock? Get below and bring
the doctor here quickly, if you please."

Orrock looked like a startled rabbit, but he saluted
smartly and headed below deck with a hurried "Aye,
Sir!"

Bush returned to Hornblower's side and poured water
from the pitcher into the bowl from the washstand.
Grabbing the towel, he plunged it into the water,then
wrung it out slightly. He placed the cloth on
Hornblower's forehead and wiped it gently, in an
attempt to bring down the fever. Bush continued in
this task for several minutes, waiting impatiently for
the doctor to arrive. He knew that the man was busy,
but he seemed to take an eternity.

"Mr Bush?" Hornblower's tortured gasp made him start.
He looked at his friend.

"Yes?"

"The ship...the duties...the mission..." Hornblower
rasped desperately. "You must make sure...."

Bush put his hand on Hornblower's arm reassuringly.
"Don't worry," he said. "Just leave everything to me.
Try to think calmly and breathe slowly. The doctor
will be here any moment."

In fact, as Bush was speaking, Doctor Swift entered
the cabin. His face changed when he saw the Captain's
condition. "How long has he been like this?" he asked
Bush.

"I don't know. I've been here about ten minutes or so.
He was all right on watch this morning. A little
tired, perhaps, but nothing like this" Bush was
unable to keep the note of panic from his voice.

The doctor considered. "We have to get him to the sick
bay, Sir," he said. "He needs constant care, and I
can't give him that if he's here."

Bush nodded. "Very well, doctor. I will do what I can,
but with the Captain ill, I'm the only senior officer
left on duty. I will assign one of the hands to assist
you."

Bush's mind was racing all the way to the sick bay.
What the hell was he going to do? He tried not to
think about what might happen. Ever since events at
Kingston, they had become good friends. Not as close
as Horatio and Archie had been, of course, but then
Bush had quickly realised that Hornblower would never
be that close to anyone again. He did not want to
dwell on the possibility of Hornblower not surviving
this, so he set his mind to the practicalities.

Two questions in particular dogged him. How was he
going to manage the running of the entire ship alone,
and how much worse was this situation going to get?

Swift regarded Bush thoughtfully once Hornblower had
been laid in one of the sick bay cots. "This is
serious, Mr Bush" he said, "I am very much afraid that
it will get worse before it gets better."

Bush wondered whether he was referring to the whole
crew, or just Hornblower, but then realised it was
equally true of both. "Is there nothing we can do?" he
asked.

"Not really," the doctor replied flatly. "We'll just
have to wait it out, that's all."

Bush sighed. "I will sit with him a while, if I may,"
he said. "Then I'll send young Marten down to give
what help he can."

"Very well," the doctor agreed. "Call me if you need
anything."

Bush turned his attention to Hornblower. His face was
waxy and shiny with sweat; his head rolled fitfully on
the pillow and he was muttering incoherently. Bush
looked on helplessly. Hornblower was clearly
delirious. Bush reached once more for cool water and a
cloth. There was nothing else he could think of to do,
but he had to do something.

As Bush set to his task, Hornblower's eyes flickered
open. He seemed to look through Bush, rather than at
him, and there seemed to be no spark of life in his
eyes.

"Archie?" he whispered, a slight frown creasing his
features. "Is that you, Archie?"

Bush swallowed, feeling his throat tighten. He had no
idea what to say, what to do. He looked around for the
doctor, but Swift was not in sight at the moment.
Flustered, and quelling an unreasonable urge to panic,
Bush replaced the cloth on Hornblower's brow, and laid
a hand rather awkwardly on his arm. "It's William,
Horatio," he said softly. "I'm here. It's all right.
Just relax."

He closed his eyes, a sudden tightness in his throat,
as Hornblower's other hand rose to grip his sleeve
tightly in desperation. "You'll stay a while,
Archie...won't you?" Horatio asked. "Please?"

Bush nodded helplessly, and sighed again before
replying. "I will, Horatio," he said. "I'll stay."

Hornblower's eyes closed in relief. "I knew...I knew
you...you would..." he murmured, and then he was
still. His hand released Bush's sleeve and dropped to
his chest.

Bush did not move. He felt so useless. It was not a
feeling he was accustomed to. It angered and
frustrated him to think that there was nothing that he
could really do to help Hornblower.

Then the thought struck him. What the hell was he
going to tell Mrs Hornblower if her husband died? How
was he going to explain things to Maria? Oh, God, he
thought. He knew he was no good at that sort of thing,
quite apart from having to cope with the poor woman's
reaction to the news. He had to fight back a feeling
of panic. Hornblower was going to get well, he told
himself. He had to.

But there was one thing he could do. He could make
damned sure they all got home safely, whatever it
took. It was the one thing he could do, both for
Hornblower and for himself. It gave Bush a sudden
sense of purpose, something to occupy his mind. He
leaned back in his chair and watched Hornblower as he
slept.

Four days before Portsmouth

"Sir!"

Bush looked aft towards the sound of Matthews' voice.

"Sir!"

There was a definite note of panic. Good God, what
now? He lowered the sextant and thrust it into the
hands of the crewman at his side.

"Mr Bush! We've got another one!"

Damn it! Bush ran aft as quickly as he could. Not
another one! How many more before this damned fever
had run its course? He reached Matthews and a small
knot of men, who were standing over the body of the
youngest midshipman, Carter. Good God, Bush thought in
dismay, he looked little more than a boy. His eyes
rolled wildly in their sockets; he was breathing only
with difficulty, and his face was shiny with sweat.
Just like the others.

"Get back!" Bush ordered the men. "Go back to your
duties at once!" As the men dispersed, he dropped to
his knees, looking closely at the unfortunate
youngster.

"He seemed all right, Sir," Matthews enlightened Bush.
"He went down almost without any warning. Just
complained of feeling sick, Sir, then he collapsed."

Bush shook his head disbelievingly. "Go and get the
doctor, Matthews," he said softly.

"Aye, Sir."

Matthews disappeared and Bush looked Carter in the
eye. "It's all right, Mr Carter. The doctor's on his
way. You're going to be all right."

Carter's eyes flickered closed for a moment, then
opened with an effort. He had a glazed _expression, and
hardly seemed to see Bush at all. Nevertheless, he
replied, "Yes, Sir."

Moments passed. Bush knew that there was nothing he
could say or do to help Carter. He waited for the
doctor. Presently, Matthews reappeared.

"Mr Bush!"

"Matthews. Where's the doctor?"

"Doctor Swift sends his compliments, Sir, but regrets
he cannot come on deck. He is with one of the hands
who is having a seizure, Sir."

Damn! Bush swore again. What else could go wrong?
"Very well, Matthews. Tell Mr Orrock to take over here.
I'll get Mr Carter below. I'll be back shortly." He
picked up Carter's inert form and carefully stood up,
cradling the boy in his arms.

Matthews nodded glumly. "Aye-aye, Sir," he said, and
headed towards the wheel.

Bush headed below decks, negotiating the narrow steps
as carefully as he could. Carter's breathing was
becoming more and more laboured, but Bush dared not
increase his pace, for fear of stumbling in the dim
light. Carrying the boy, he could not see clearly
where he was putting his feet.

Another gangway. As he reached the bottom, Bush
stopped. Carter stiffened for a moment, and then went
limp in his arms. Had he lost consciousness? Bush
shifted the boy's weight slightly so that he could
feel for a pulse. Then he closed his eyes and sighed.
Carter was dead, the latest in a line of casualties.
He could be no more than fourteen years old, Bush
thought grimly.

He carried the boy to sickbay, simply because he
could think of no other course of action for the
moment. What the hell was this fever? Why did it
strike some and not others? Why did some die, but not
others? Then an awful thought struck Bush and panic
threatened to rise within him. Hornblower and Prowse.
He'd heard nothing of them for hours. What if they
were...?

He pushed the thought aside with a swift shake of his
head. No. He had to stay calm, for the sake of the
ship and the crew, if not for himself.

Bush handed the midshipman over to Swift and answered
his questioning look with a shake of the head. Swift
sighed, and carried the boy over to an empty hammock,
laying him in gently. Next to him, a dozen other men
were similarly laid out. It seemed that the death toll
was rising rapidly.

"I don't understand it," said the doctor, as he led
Bush away towards the rows of cots containing those
who had so far survived. "I've never seen anything
like it, Mr Bush. The symptoms are identical, yet some
men recover, and others die. Some it strikes without
warning, others weaken gradually."

"Like the Captain and Mr Prowse," Bush remarked
soberly.

"Exactly so." Swift brought Bush over to the end two
cots, where Hornblower and Prowse were lying.
"However, at least they have not suffered seizures. In
fact, I have observed that their temperatures have
dropped slightly. I am holding out hope for their
recovery."

Bush felt relief wash over him. They weren't out of
the woods yet, clearly, but it looked as though they
might survive. Prowse was fast asleep, but Hornblower
was half awake. He managed to turn his head slightly
as Bush approached and took a seat beside the cot.

"I'll leave you for a few minutes, Sir," said Swift,
"but be careful not to tire him."

Bush nodded his understanding, and then leaned closer
to his friend. "Horatio."

"William?"

Hornblower's voice was little more than a whisper, and
it seemed as though he was only partly aware of his
friend.

"How do you feel?" It was a stupid question, Bush
thought to himself, but he asked it anyway. He could
see quite well how Hornblower was feeling. It was
etched into his face. The drawn expression spoke
volumes; hooded eyes, flushed cheeks.

Horatio tried to smile, although he wasn't entirely
successful. "I'll live," he croaked. "I think." He
coughed, grimaced and then continued, "How are
things?"

Bush hesitated. He did not want to worry Hornblower,
but neither did he want to lie. "We're managing all
right," he said finally. "Everyone's pulling together.
Don't worry about a thing, Sir. I'll handle
everything." He hoped he sounded reassuring, but
really, he did not know how he was going to manage if
the situation got worse.

This time, Hornblower did manage a slight smile. "I
don't doubt it," he said quietly. There was silence
for a while, then Horatio's eyes closed, and Bush made
to leave. Without opening them, Horatio said, "You'll
come back?"

Bush placed a hand on Hornblower's shoulder. "Of
course. As soon as I can. In the meantime, you must
try to get some rest. I want you up and about and
helping me as soon as possible."

"Yes, Mr Bush," Hornblower replied. Bush came away.

 

He'd intended to go back to sick bay that same day, in
fact, but somehow, events conspired against Bush. The
service for the men who had died was conducted with
due solemnity, and with the attendance of all those
hands who were able. Bush offered up a prayer for the
recovery of the officers and men in the sick bay with
more sincerity than he might previously have thought
possible.

During the service and committal, another two men had
gone down with the fever, and four more on the watch
that followed, leaving Bush with a sense of growing
uneasiness, a rapidly diminishing crew, and the
prospect of facing another long stint reorganising the
men's duties.

It was with this somewhat onerous task in mind that
Bush made his way back to Hornblower's cabin, calling
for Mr Matthews to bring the duty rota to him for the
fourth time in two days. These decisions were becoming
more and more difficult to make, particularly where
some of the more specialised tasks were concerned. God
knew what would happen if anything went wrong with the
rigging; both the reevers and the sail maker were in
the sick bay, and it was debatable whether they would
recover. Bush sighed.

*****
Bush was kept busy for the rest of the day. The duty
rota was proving something of a problem. It had only
been solved when Bush had finally agreed to Matthews'
suggestion that they cut the men's rest periods
slightly. It was a decision that he had been loathe to
make; he knew it would be unpopular, but he saw no way
around it. He had asked Matthews to call all hands on
deck, so that he could at least explain the situation.

He had approached this task with some reservations,
but had been gratified by the crew's response, and had
come away feeling a little easier in his mind. Their
co-operation was vital at a time like this.

Bush though that the duties were, at least for the
time being, one less problem to consider. God knew he
had enough to contend with at the moment. It was mid
afternoon, and he was standing the watch that should
have been Mr Prowse's. Everything seemed mercifully
quiet, until he heard a shout from the rigging, and
raised his eyes.

"Sail off the port bow, Sir!" came the cry.

Bush pulled out his glass and raised it to his eye. It
was a frigate, probably a 40 gun, but at the moment it
was impossible to identify. If it was English, they
would need to be warned that the Hotspur had fever on
board, and to stay clear, but if it were
French...they'd have to clear for action, and Bush
was short handed. He did not think they'd be able to
clear quickly enough.

He watched in trepidation as the vessel drew closer,
and was eventually able to make out the red, white and
blue of the French ensign. Bush hesitated no longer.
"All hands, beat to quarters!" he barked. "Clear for
action!"

Immediately, a drum beat sounded, and the ship came to
life as men dashed about the decks, making
preparations. Bush stopped Styles as he hurried past.
"Styles, run down to the sick bay and inform the
doctor," he said quickly. "Tell him to make ready to
receive casualties."

Styles looked at him for a moment, then nodded. "Aye,
Sir," he said, saluted, and ran off.

Bush swore in frustration, and then saw Matthews
approach, a worried look on his face. "What is it,
Matthews?" he asked, not really wanting to hear the
response.

Matthews saluted. He appeared red faced and
breathless. "Sir!", he said, "there aren't enough men
to form gun crews for all the guns. What should we
do?"

Bush swore again, and then looked at the ship. It was
approaching fast. He saw that her guns had been
brought to bear, and swallowed hard. They were sitting
ducks. He lowered the glass and looked at Matthews.
"Load all the guns on the port side, Matthews," he
said. "We'll try to steer this side of her. I'll be
along in a moment."

"Aye, Sir," Matthews saluted and hurried off.

Only the port side! What the hell use was that? But
there was nothing else for it. Bush noticed that the
wind had picked up, and there was now a hint of mizzle
in the air. Perhaps they'd be able to outrun the
French. It was certainly better than risking more
lives in a gun battle he couldn't possibly win.

Bush called for more sail, even as he suddenly
realised the potential disaster it could cause if any
of it were to be shot away. The ship would be
stranded, unable to steer. Bush groaned. Whichever way
he looked at it, they were in big trouble.

******
The ship groaned its way laboriously through the
towering waves, pitching and rolling heavily as Bush
made his way down to the sick bay. Even though it made
even his time served internal equilibrium queasy, he
thanked God for the violence of the storm. It had
seemed almost tropical in its intensity to begin with;
the rain lashed down so hard, it was nigh impossible
for a man to stand on deck, and the wind was one of
the worst he had ever experienced.

They had been under fire for some time before the
storm hit, then suddenly Bush's French counterpart had
ceased firing, shortened sail, and battened down. Bush
had had just enough time to trim the sheets to the
bare minimum; enough to steer Hotspur, and had lost
the enemy shortly afterwards. He knew that they had
suffered some damage under fire, although it was
mercifully slight, and his main concern now was that
they could weather the storm without sustaining any
more. He was grateful for the speed and efficiency
with which the crew had worked during the attack and
the storm; their efforts had meant that Hotspur had
escaped more lightly than he had expected.

He was worried about Horatio. He had not been able to
see him for a while, but Bush knew that, in his
present state, he would be sure to be suffering with
the seasickness which he normally managed to keep at
bay. Then there was Prowse. How was he faring? And how
long would it be before he himself fell victim to this
damned fever? What would happen then?

So much to think about, but Bush was determined to
keep his word to Hornblower and get them all home. He
took a quick detour to speak to some of the hands who
were busy making repairs and to check on the rest of
the crew's activities before descending to sick bay.
It was important that the crew knew that he was aware
of the additional pressures and problems they were
facing, whilst all the time concealing his own.

Had it not been for the green tinge to Hornblower's
face, Bush could have sworn that the Captain looked a
little better. His eyes, although half closed, looked
somewhat less glazed, and he was taking more of an
interest in his surroundings. Bush tried to take heart
from this slight change.

"William," Horatio said quietly, managing a wan smile
of greeting. "I take it we are no longer under attack.
Are we safe?"

"Just," Bush replied, matching his friend's attempt at
a smile with a rather weak one of his own. "With a lot
of help from the crew. And the weather."

Hornblower swallowed hard. "Damn this storm," he
cursed. "As if I don't feel sick enough already." He
heaved, and Bush dived beneath the cot for the chamber
pot. Hornblower brought his tormented innards under
control and waved the object away wearily. "It's all
right, Mr Bush," he croaked and managed a dry smile.
"Thank God I haven't eaten for a couple of days."

There was a few moments' silence, during which Bush
realised that his friend was still breathing harshly.
Then Hornblower said, "You look a little tired,
William."

Bush blinked, then subconsciously stifled a yawn. "A
little, Sir," he conceded. "It's been a long day."
Two days, actually, he thought, but said nothing.

"What exactly has been going on, William? How are you
managing, really? The doctor won't tell me anything."
Hornblower seemed desperate to know, but Bush could
tell that he was finding the conversation taxing now.
Besides, he did not want Hornblower to be anxious
about anything.

"Oh, I'm managing well enough. The crew have worked
hard to cover the extra duties. We'll be fine, Sir.
Just concentrate on getting well." Bush hoped that
his words sounded reassuring.

Hornblower seemed suitably mollified, and it was then
that Bush realised that he was still a long way from
being on the road to recovery. Had Hornblower been
anything like his usual self, he would never have
believed him.

"I'd best get back, Sir," Bush said, getting to his
feet. "I'll be back down to see you as soon as I can."

Horatio closed his eyes and nodded. "Thank you,
William," he said, as he sank into sleep. "Good
night."

"Good night, Horatio," Bush whispered, as he
rearranged the light sheets that covered his friend.
"Pray God it is..."

Three days before Portsmouth

The night was a cold one, and wet. Although there was
very little cloud to mask the moon, somehow it seemed
thin and watery. A slight breeze filled the sails
occasionally, moving the ship majestically through the
inky sea. It was almost pitch black; only the breakers
at the ship's prow and sides were visible from the
deck.

The lanterns on the quarterdeck swayed gently in
tandem with the ship's movement, creating a vaguely
hypnotic effect. The vessel creaked and groaned its
way forward and the waves hissed and roared around it.

Mr Bush stood in front of the ship's wheel and pulled
his coat more tightly about him, although the chill of
standing on watch for so long had penetrated his bones
to the extent that it no longer made any material
difference. He shivered. God, he was cold! Only a few
hours to go, he told himself. Only a few more hours
before Matthews came on deck to relieve him of the
watch. Bush stamped his feet to try to encourage his
sluggish circulation. It seemed as though every time
he'd thought he'd managed to get on top of the
situation, something else happened to pull everything
down around him. More deaths. More sickness. Then the
damned French had to show up, just when they were
least prepared to deal with them. Bush knew it was
more by good luck, and the storm that heralded the
change in the weather that Hotspur had escaped. It had
certainly been none of his doing. They were now three
days away from Portsmouth.

How long had he been on deck now? It was strange, but
it was difficult to distinguish one hour from another.
He had been far too preoccupied with the current
crisis to think much about the time, or sleep. Sleep
just meant delaying the myriad tasks which had fallen
to him, the creation of an insurmountable backlog.
That thought panicked him more than the leaden feeling
of tiredness that permeated his whole being.

He forced himself not to lean on the wheel's housing.
He'd be asleep before he knew it if he did that, and
then he'd feel worse. He rubbed his hands across his
eyes, but they still pricked and burned. He felt the
wind pick up suddenly, its biting edge adding to his
discomfort, and the resulting spray soaked him
through. Still, he was occupied for a while, giving
orders to hands to trim and shorten sail, and if
nothing else, it helped to take his mind off how
slowly time was passing.

He was pacing the deck when Matthews hailed him,
making him jump. He spun round.
"Matthews! You're not due on watch for another four
hours. What are you doing here?" Something like dread
seized at the pit of his stomach. "Oh, no. It's not
more fever, is it? Captain Hornblower?"

Matthews shook his head quickly, anxious to reassure
him. "No, Sir. Nothing like that," he said. Bush
heaved a sigh of relief. "I was just thinking that
perhaps you might like these, Sir."
He had brought a spare jacket and coat from Bush's
quarters.

He nodded. "Thank you Matthews," he said gratefully,
ignoring the fact that Matthews should never have been
in his cabin in the first place. After all, what did
it matter now?

Matthews helped Bush out of his sodden garments, and
into the dry ones. Bush's fingers were so cold he
could hardly fasten the buttons. He fumbled awkwardly
with the coat until finally he turned the collar up
against the wind. Matthews rolled the wet things into
a ball and tucked them under his arm.

"Thank you Matthews," Bush said again. He was still
shivering, but could already feel a little warmth
seeping back into his bones.

Matthews seemed to debate within himself for a few
moments.

"Was there something else, Matthews?" Bush asked,
detecting the man's hesitation.

I was thinking that maybe I should stand watch with
you Sir," Matthews said.

Bush shook his head slowly. He'd have liked to agree,
but both Matthews and Styles had taken on much more
than the other hands since the fever began. He was
entitled to his full time off duty. "No, thank you,
Matthews. You're due on watch soon. I think I can
manage well enough. Go and get your rest."

Matthews saluted, and turned reluctantly to go. He did
not like the way Bush looked at the moment. He was
worried that the officer had taken on far too much in
an effort to keep the ship running, but he did not say
so. "I will see you shortly, then, Sir." he said, and
went below.

******

The Bosun found Styles waiting for him when he got
below.

"Well?" asked Styles.

Matthews shook his head and made a low disapproving
noise. "He wouldn't hear of it. Just took the coats
and said I should get some rest."

Styles looked incredulous. "He's going to end up in
the same place as the Captain if he isn't careful," he
said gravely.

"I wouldn't be surprised. He's as stubborn as the
Captain." Matthews rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"We've got to do something, Styles. If Mr Bush goes
sick, we're all in trouble."

Styles was puzzled. "What can we do?" he asked. "You
know what Mr Bush is like. If he thought we were
trying something behind his back he'd go mad!"

Matthews nodded. "Exactly. So that's why we're going
to do it subtle, like. Okay. Styles? Subtle?"

Matthews regarded Styles evenly, but there was still
bewilderment in the big man's face.

"So," Styles prompted. "What do we do?"

Matthews considered. He hadn't actually got anything
specific in mind, but the look on Bush's face back
there had convinced him that something had to be done.
He decided that there was one thing they could do, at
least for a start.

"We can make sure that at least one of us is around
when he's on watch, Styles. I work out the duties with
him. It's easy enough to arrange."

Styles nodded, enlightenment dawning. "Then there's
the sick bay," he said, picking up Matthews' train of
thought. "He's worried about the Captain, always
running backwards and forwards at any opportunity."

"We're all worried about the Captain, Styles."
Matthews said. "But you're right. Okay, that's
settled. One of us will take the sick bay, while the
other is on watch. It's not much, but it's a start."
*******
Bush paced Hornblower's cabin back and forth, his
exasperation increasing. He could not believe that
something as usually straightforward could become so
complex and problematical.

"All right Matthews," he said with as much patience as
he could muster, "tell me who is available on the dog
watch to take over from Thomas." This is ludicrous, he
told himself,absolutely ludicrous.

Matthews studied the duty rota carefully, checking
down a list of names. "Well, Sir," he said after a
pause, "there's Marten"

"Well, then," said Bush.

"But he's already doing Cartwright's duties, Sir."

Damn! Bush thought, but said nothing.

"Then there's Jameson, Sir."

Bush shook his head. "Fell ill yesterday, Matthews,"
he said flatly.

Matthews nodded, and made the appropriate correction.
"Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir."

"What about Peters?" Bush asked, rubbing his forehead
with one hand.

"We assigned Mr Carter's duties to him, Sir," Matthews
said. He felt sorry for Bush who was clearly running
out of options.

"And Williams?"

"Forenoon watch, Sir."

Bush's heart sank. He took a deep breath. "Well," he
said resignedly, "there's nothing else for it. Unless
and until we can find an alternative, I'll have to
take Thomas' watch."

"But Sir..." Matthews protested, "you..I mean, Styles
and me could always..."

Bush raised his hand, cutting him off. "Thank you,
Matthews, but no. I've already assigned you and Styles
extra duties. You're doing enough."

Matthews thought for a moment. "Couldn't you shorten
the rest periods, Sir?" he enquired. He didn't like to
say that he thought Bush was doing far too much
already, without standing another watch.

"What, again?" Bush shook his head. "no, no. The crew
need their rest, Matthews, especially with the
increased workload, otherwise we'll have them all
dropping with the fever."

Precisely, Matthews thought, but was silent. Out loud
he said, "I'll go away and look at it again, if you'd
like Sir. Perhaps if I was to swap some of the duties
around, I could work something out..."

Bush nodded absently. "Thank you Matthews," he said.
"I'll leave this in your hands, if I may."

"Leave it to me, Sir," Matthews said, pleased that at
least he could help Bush out with something. "I'll
take care of it."

"I'm sure you will Matthews," Bush said gratefully.

Matthews saluted, and left the cabin, taking the duty
rota with him.

Once Matthews had gone, Bush dropped into a chair and
passed a hand wearily over his forehead. it felt hot
to the touch, and he closed his eyes, breathing
deeply. The whole thing was lunacy. What the hell had
he been thinking? At first, reassigning the duties of
those who'd fallen sick with the fever had been a
relatively straightforward matter. However, things had
got progressively worse as more and more men fell ill,
the burden of work was becoming impossible to
distribute. He had tried to avoid too much increased
workload on those who were still healthy, taking on
extra watches himself wherever possible, but it was
definitely taking its toll. He had been doing both
Hornblower's and Prowse's duties ever since they had
fallen ill.

He had, by necessity, removed to the Captain's cabin,
whilst Hornblower was in sick bay, but he could not
remember ever spending much time there, unless it was
to do the seemingly endless stream of paperwork. He
certainly couldn't remember the last time he'd slept.
Utter madness. But then, he hadn't expected things to
get so bad, so soon. He hadn't expected Horatio and Mr
Prowse to go down with the fever within hours of each
other. He hadn't expected so many deaths. He hadn't
expected the French attack two days ago. What he had
expected was help in some form, being now less than
two days' sail from Portsmouth.

Well, he thought tiredly, they were clearly on their
own. He'd got it wrong. Spectacularly so, in fact. Of
course, he'd kept the true extent of the crisis from
Horatio. If he'd got any idea of bad things really
were, he'd insist on getting out of his cot and
helping out, even in his state. It was important that
both he and Prowse got the chance to recover properly,
since the doctor was convinced that they would
recover. The sooner they were restored to health, the
better.

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying
to ward off the return of the headache that he'd been
nursing for the past few hours. The sound of bells
from the deck signalled the start of the next watch.
Bush groaned and hauled himself reluctantly to his
feet. He straightened his jacket and headed for the
door. He had work to do.

****

Styles was at the wheel when Bush came out onto deck.
He saluted smartly, and regarded the officer with some
concern. He knew, of course, that everyone was doing
extra work, that everyone would be glad to reach
Portsmouth, but Mr Bush looked nothing short of
exhausted. He and Matthews had spent hours reworking
the duty rotas once again, so that as many of the
men's revised rest periods were protected as possible.
Bush had insisted that the ship could not continue to
function if the crew were not at their best. Styles
had felt like saying that this applied to the officers
as well, but he had refrained. He knew it would do no
good. He and Matthews were both concerned, but Mr Bush
was the only senior officer not to be affected by the
fever, so there was no alternative.

"Sir," Styles said.

"Styles. All quiet?" Bush nodded in acknowledgement.
There was an apprehensive note in his tone.

Styles was glad that he could reassure Bush on one
point at least. "All quiet, Sir. Things seem to have
settled down for the time being. And we've not heard
of anyone else taken ill since last night, Sir."

Relief flickered in Bush's red rimmed eyes for a
moment, then was gone. "Very well, Styles. I'll take
it from here. You go and get some rest."

"Yes, Sir." Styles turned reluctantly to go. In his
view, it should have been Bush who ought to be heading
for his cot. Then he stopped and turned back. "Begging
your pardon, Sir, any news on Captain Hornblower?"

Bush permitted himself a brief smile. "I haven't had
the opportunity to see him today, Styles. I understand
from the doctor that he is recovering well. He may
well be moving back into his cabin in the near
future."

"That's good news, Sir," said Styles, thankfully. It
was little wonder Bush had not had time to go to sick
bay, but Styles was glad that Hornblower was on the
mend, for Mr Bush's sake, as well as the Captain's
own.

Bush nodded. Styles saluted again, and then headed
below decks to find Matthews. Bush blinked and then
made himself concentrate on the business of standing
watch. The next hours were not going to be easy. Damn
this headache, he thought, as he headed forward to
speak to some of the hands at work on the ship's
cables. He sighed heavily.

****

It was a nightmare time. Bush paced the deck, speaking
with some of the hands, occasionally giving orders,
trying not to think about the pounding in his brain.
But at least, thank God, things were quiet. He'd been
given progress reports from every station on duty, but
as he returned to his customary position at the wheel
some time later, he realised that he couldn't remember
a word of what had been said. He leaned heavily
against the wheel's housing, feeling suddenly dizzy
and light headed. When he tried to right himself a few
moments later, he felt himself pitching forwards.

He was barely aware, as the ship lurched and spun
around him, of a huge pair of hands that snatched hold
of him and prevented him from hitting the deck. These
same hands led him gently towards the steps beside the
wheel and helped him to sit down, blinking furiously
and gasping for breath.

Nausea flooded through him, and Bush swallowed hard.
Come on, he told himself sternly, pull yourself
together! As his surroundings finally solidified and
came back into focus, Bush heard a familiar voice.
"Sir? Are you all right, Sir?"

Slowly, Bush raised his head, grimacing at the
dizzying sensation that accompanied the movement.
Styles was standing over him, an _expression of deep
concern creasing his grizzled features. "Mr Bush?"
Styles enquired anxiously.

Bush found his voice. "I'll be fine, thank you,
Styles," he replied breathlessly. Styles didn't look
convinced. Bush thought it was hardly surprising; he
must look a wreck. Attempting to save some face, he
continued. "It's nothing, Styles. Just a headache."

Styles looked Bush carefully. He still didn't believe
a word of it. He spoke slowly. "Perhaps, Sir," he
said, "you'd like me to take the rest of the watch for
you? There's still a few hours left." He paused,
gauging Bush's reaction. He seemed to be considering
the idea, so Styles went on. "You could get your head
down for a bit, Sir," he said. "If you'll pardon my
saying so, you look as though you need it."

I'll bet, thought Bush, closing his eyes. They were
still over a days' sail from Portsmouth. Perhaps a
couple of hours' rest would mean he'd be able to cope
with the rest of the trip. At the very least, it might
help him to get rid of this god awful headache. He
took a deep breath. "Very well, Styles. Thank you."

He got to his feet shakily, waving away Styles' offer
of help. He'd made a big enough fool of himself
already. He'd manage the short distance to
Hornblower's cabin by himself. "Wake me in time for
the next watch, Styles," he ordered, with as much
authority as he could muster.

"Aye Sir." Styles did not sound happy with the
arrangement, but he knew there was no alternative. He
turned and set his gaze forward.

Bush was grateful for the big man's help, and
surprising discretion. Strange how he'd been there
just at that particular moment. He reached the cabin
door with immense relief, and turned the handle. The
room seemed remarkably quiet and still. Bush did not
even bother to remove his jacket; he stumbled towards
the cot, and fell rather than climbed in. The pillow
felt cool against his hot head, and his body suddenly
felt like lead. His joints ached. Bush closed his eyes
and groaned. A couple of hours, he thought, as he
allowed himself to sink into the darkness. It wasn't
much, but it would have to do.

*****
"Mr Bush!"

The voice came from a great distance, interrupting his
dreams. It sounded familiar, but he could not place
it. Bush tried to ignore it, to shut the voice out,
preferring to stay wrapped in his blanket of darkness,
but it came again, more insistent now, and closer.

"Mr Bush!"

Bush tried to murmur "Go away," but it came out as a
moan. Then someone was shaking his shoulder. Oh hell!
He forced his eyes open reluctantly, and the figure of
the someone coalesced into Matthews.

"Sir, you asked to be woken for next watch." Matthews
looked guilty at having disturbed Bush, and a little
nervous of his reaction to being shaken awake.

"Wha...? Oh, yes." On watch! Good God, he should be on
watch! Bush rubbed the remnants of sleep from his eyes
and shook his head. So soon? he thought wearily. Aloud
he said, "Yes, thank you Matthews. I'll be on deck
directly."

Matthews lingered. "Sir.." he began hesitantly.

"What is it Matthews?" Bush tried not to sound
impatient.

"I was...well.. are you all right, Sir?" Matthews
asked.

Bush realised that the Bosun was genuinely concerned,
so he repeated his earlier answer to Styles. He knew
full well that the big man would have told Matthews
all about what had happened. "I'll be fine, Matthews,
thank you. My headache seems to have gone. Now," he
continued, swinging his legs round to the floor and
getting to his feet. "If you'll excuse me, I had
better relieve Styles of his extra watch."

"Aye, Sir." Matthews said reluctantly, and left the
cabin.

Bush sighed. It was all lies, of course. Certainly the
horrendous pounding in his head had quietened, but it
still ached dully. And the three hours or so he'd had
wouldn't really serve to make much difference, it just
meant that he'd be able to go on that bit longer. He
certainly didn't feel that much different. Oh, well,
he thought, making his way carefully towards the door,
time to go.

 

In Portsmouth, at last.

The Hotspur sailed gracefully into the waters of
Portsmouth, in weather that was cold but clear. The
sense of relief on board as they sighted land was
palpable. No further cases of illness had been
reported, and since the previous evening, there had
been no further fatalities. Doctor Swift was thankful;
it meant he could now turn his attention to helping as
many men recover as possible.

Matthews and Styles were grateful too, both for
themselves and for Mr Bush. They'd done their best to
relieve some of the pressure on the officer, but it
was clear that the last few days had taken their toll.
Not that Bush would ever have admitted to such a
thing, of course. Matthews suspected that Bush had
given his word to the Captain that he would take care
of everything, and that it was this promise that had
driven him on, despite of the fact that he was almost
exhausted.

Earlier, he had gone to Bush's cabin to see him, and
after receiving no reply to his knocks, had gone
inside to find the Lieutenant asleep with his head in
his hands, over a pile of papers strewn across the
desk. It had taken Matthews several moments to decide
whether or not to wake him; torn between a natural
desire to let the man sleep, and not wanting to face
his reaction if he found out that Matthews had let him
do just that when there was clearly work to be done.

Bush had been visibly startled when Matthews had
called his name and shaken his shoulder tentatively.
For a moment or two, he had seemed disoriented; unsure
of where he was. Then he had shaken himself, blinked
furiously and thanked Matthews hurriedly, before
asking him what it was he wanted.

Matthews had not seen Bush since, but he had a feeling
that they would soon be receiving a visit from someone
at the Admiralty, and that both Bush and Hornblower
would be anxious to make sure everything was in order
for then.

******

Some time later, one of the hands aloft jarred Bush
from his almost dream like state at the wheel. "Sir!
Captain's boat off to starboard, Sir!"

Bush cast a glance in that direction, and saw a
jollyboat being drawn across the water. Thank God, he
thought, making an effort to ensure his legs didn't
suddenly betray him. At last! Now perhaps he could
concentrate on getting the men ashore, those who were
recovering to the Naval hospital, and permitting those
others who'd worked so hard some well earned shore
leave. And perhaps he'd be able to finally just lie
down and relax for a while, once the formalities were
over.

Bush stood at the ship's side as the jollyboat came
alongside, and then he saw who it was in the captain's
uniform. Oh, my God, he thought, his heart sinking.
It's Captain Foster! Foster, whom he knew was one of
those who had wanted Hornblower hanged in Kingston; a
scapegoat for the Admiralty. Pellew's intervention had
put paid to that, but Bush had taken a profound
dislike to the man, even though he'd never met him.

Foster waited until the hands had steadied the boat
and then stood up to his full, imposing height.

"Lieutenant Bush," he acknowledged, as Bush saluted.
"I had hoped to speak with Captain Hornblower."

Charming, thought Bush. Obviously the man hadn't paid
any attention to the reports he'd spent hours on.
Either that, or he was deliberately setting out to
belittle him. "Captain Hornblower is still unwell,
sir," he said, as respectfully as he could. "The
doctor wishes him to remain in his quarters for the
time being. Rest assured, Captain, that I will convey
any information you might give me to him directly."

Foster frowned. "Very well, Mr Bush. Please inform
Captain Hornblower that it has been decided that the
Hotspur will stay anchored off shore for at least a
further twelve hours before any of its officers or
crew are permitted ashore."

Bush gripped the side rail a little more tightly, and
swallowed. "Twelve hours, Sir?" he echoed
disbelievingly.

"That's right, Lieutenant. You understand that we have
no wish for this fever to be carried ashore. It is
merely a wise precaution, Mr Bush."

Bush closed his eyes for a moment. Sensible, yes.
Understandable, totally. But he didn't know whether or
not he would be able to manage another twelve hours on
duty. He had been pinning all his hopes on being able
to fall into a bed on shore before the day was out.
Twelve hours, oh God!

"I understand, Sir. I will inform Captain Hornblower
immediately." Bush saluted again, as Foster seated
himself once more and gave orders for the jollyboat to
row ashore.

As the sound of the oars faded, and the little boat
disappeared from view, Bush turned to Hornblower's
cabin, feeling that everything was suddenly too much.
Don't think about it, William, he told himself firmly.
Take it one hour at a time. And who knows, maybe it
wouldn't be twelve hours after all. If the Admiral saw
that there really was no risk now... He knocked on the
Captain's door, praying that it might be true.

"Come in," came the muffled response.

Bush opened the door and went inside.

*****

Hornblower was fully dressed and sitting in his chair,
actually looking through some of Bush's paperwork.
Bush's face registered surprise for a moment, and then
he cleared his throat.

"Mr Bush," Horatio said with a smile as he looked up.
"A fine job. I think I might even allocate the task to
you permanently."

Bush grimaced. "No thank you Sir," he said fervently.
"I've had quite enough of Admiralty red tape. I'm
sorry to disturb you. I just came to tell you that
Captain Foster has paid us a fleeting visit."

"Oh yes?" Hornblower's tone became more serious. "What
did he have to say? When are we going ashore?"

Bush sighed, and Hornblower regarded him gravely.
Despite his best efforts to disguise it, Bush looked
deathly pale and ready to sleep on his feet.

"We're not," Bush said simply. "Not for another
twelve hours at least."

Hornblower looked down at his hands. Poor William.
Whatever the logic involved in the decision, that
didn't help his First Lieutenant. Hornblower wished he
felt well enough to help out, but he was still weak.
Even dressing had been an effort, and all for nothing,
if they weren't going ashore yet.

"I'm sorry, Mr Bush," Hornblower said. "Perhaps I
could take care of all this for you, if it would
help." He indicated the still unfinished pile of
papers.

Bush shook his head vehemently, then wished he hadn't,
as the movement made him dizzy. "No," he replied. "I'd
rather not incur the wrath of the doctor, if it's all
the same to you. He said no duty at all, and that's
what he meant." He desperately wanted to say 'yes' to
his friend's offer, but knew that he really wasn't up
to it yet. He did not want to hamper Horatio's
recovery in any way. "Well," he continued, picking up
the papers from the desk, and turning for the door. "I
suppose I ought to get back to it. My next watch isn't
for a couple of hours, so I should be able to finish
these."

Horatio's face clouded. "William," he said.

Bush looked at him enquiringly. "Yes?"

"Leave them. Time enough for all that later, once
we're on shore. Take a couple of hours off."

"I'm all right, Horatio! Stop fussing, damn it! What
is it with everyone?" Bush stopped himself, surprised
at how harsh he sounded. He hadn't meant to snap at
Hornblower at all. He took a deep breath to calm down,
then looked crestfallen. "I'm sorry, Sir," he said
quietly. "That was uncalled for."

Hornblower sighed. "Forget it. It was only that I was
concerned. You haven't slept in days. You look awful."

Bush passed a hand over his forehead. "Please try to
understand, Sir, that I have to finish everything
before we go ashore. I will not have any criticism
levelled at anything that has gone on aboard this ship
during the last few days. I will leave nothing open to
misinterpretation, nor will I fail in my duty to
submit the ship's reports in full to the Admiral."

Hornblower nodded his understanding. Bush was a
stickler for detail, but so was Foster and Pellew too,
in his way. And after Kingston, Bush would not wish
there to be anything that could be seized upon as
criticism of Hornblower or himself. Or the hands, come
to that. Bush had said that the crew had excelled
themselves during what had been a hellish few days. He
had no doubt that credit would be given where it was
due.

"And besides," Bush continued drily, "what's another
twelve hours? I'll manage, Sir. I don't really have a
choice."

Hornblower realised that Bush was right. "Very well,"
he agreed. "But get someone else to stand part of the
next watch, if you can. Otherwise, I swear I'll do it
myself, doctor or no doctor. Am I making myself clear,
Lieutenant?" Horatio's tone was stern, but there was a
half smile on his lips, and a hint of the old
mischievous twinkle in his eye.

"Perfectly clear, Sir." Bush replied, managing a wan
smile of his own. "With your permission..."

"Dismissed, Mr Bush."

"Thank you, Captain." Bush inclined his head wryly,
then left the cabin, the papers clutched tightly under
one arm.
******

Bush headed for his cabin with a heavy heart. The last
thing he wanted was to be lumbered with a pile of
paperwork, but as he'd told Hornblower, it had to be
done. At least if he was kept busy, the twelve hours
would pass more quickly, and he'd have less time to
think about how awful he felt. He'd had the pounding
headache for so long now, he'd almost forgotten it was
there. It was only when he turned his head quickly
that it reminded him of its presence by sending the
room spinning round.

Bush seated himself at the table in his cabin and
spread the papers out in front of him for the second
time that day. Pulling a pen and ink to his side, he
began to leaf through them. After quarter of an hour,
the fine script danced before his eyes, and he rubbed
them quickly. Surely this couldn't be right! None of
what he had written earlier was making any kind of
sense to him. It might have been written in a foreign
language. "Damn!" he said, out loud. He rested his
head in one hand, the pen poised in the other, closing
his eyes for a few seconds. Now, what was it he had
been about to write?

He realised then that he was dripping ink onto the
paper and swore in annoyance. The pen dropped to the
table, and the hand that had been holding it reached
for the paper, scrunching it up into a ball. Bush
gripped the scrumpled up paper until his knuckles were
white, then threw it to the floor. Now he'd have to
repeat the whole thing. He put his head in his hands
and then ran them over his hair and down to the back
of his neck, taking slow deep breaths.

Fresh air, he decided. He needed to get some fresh
air. He stood up and went over to the door. If he did
as Hornblower had instructed, and let someone else
take the second half of his watch, he'd have time
enough to come back to these reports. As he made his
way on deck, Bush wondered who he would get to do this
duty. He knew Hornblower well enough to know that the
Captain would be fully aware if he didn't do as he was
told, and would be on deck himself. Bush wanted to
avoid that. Hornblower still looked a little too pale
for his liking, certainly in no condition to stand
watch.
*****

Bush was only partly surprised to see Matthews and
Styles on deck. They were exchanging furtive glances
and fierce whispers. It was unusual to see those two
arguing, he thought. It was probably the pressure of all this
extra work. They seemed to be doing far more than
their fair share of late. Bush couldn't remember
assigning them so much work, but then, his memory had
been playing tricks on him in the last few days. He
felt guilty if he had as both these men had shown a
great deal of loyalty to him in recent months and it
was unfair to take advantage of that.

He approached them slowly, his _expression studiously
composed, ready to play the arbiter if necessary. The
last thing he needed was a crew who were arguing
amongst themselves. He nodded in acknowledgement to
their hurried salutes. Both men looked decidedly
uncomfortable. Styles spoke first, his tone carrying a
hint of uncertainty. "Erm, Mr Bush...we were just..."
His voice trailed off, and the big man suddenly found
the decking fascinating, unable to meet Bush's
inquiring stare.

Bush looked at Matthews, who was studying his feet
with similar fascination. "Well?" Bush asked. Neither
spoke. Instead, Matthews looked pointedly at Styles,
who nodded silently.

"It's nothing Sir, really. I'd best be about my
duties, Sir." He touched his forehead in salute, and
looked at the Lieutenant, mute appeal in his eyes.

Bush sighed heavily. Whatever it was, they clearly
weren't going to tell him, not yet anyway. He realised
that he just couldn't be bothered to find out. It was
probably something and nothing. Those two were as
thick as thieves. "Very well, Styles," he agreed
tiredly, and Styles disappeared below.

Bush realised that both Matthews and Styles seemed to
be popping up all over the place of late. On watch, in
sick bay, just passing by his cabin. What the hell had
they been up to? Realisation dawned slowly. He'd been
too worried about everything and too preoccupied to
notice, but he began to realise what they'd been
doing. He permitted himself a weary smile, and shook
his head. It was so obvious now that he was amazed he
hadn't picked up on it before. Bush realised that they
had helped him immeasurably in more ways than he'd
been aware of during the last few days. And what
they'd been arguing about just now; that had been
about him, he thought with some embarrassment.

"Matthews?" Bush prompted, realising that the man was
still standing there with his head down.

Matthews looked up. "Sorry, Sir," he said.

Bush attempted to look annoyed, but didn't quite
manage it. "Never mind, Matthews," he said resignedly.
"Just carry on."

Matthews looked relieved. "Aye, Sir." He saluted, then
fairly ran forrard in an attempt to make himself
scarce before Bush should change his mind.

As he paced up and down the deck, Bush thought about
what Styles and Matthews had been doing. They both
looked as though they could use some rest, but Bush
realised that they wouldn't sleep unless they thought
he was doing the same. Loyalty was a two-edged sword.
He did not want to impose upon them any further. He
decided that Hornblower was right. Mr Orock could take
the second half of the watch. That way, he'd be able
to get the rest of the paperwork finished, whilst
giving Matthews and Styles some time off. Bush did not
want them to realise that he knew what they'd been
doing. They might be a little rough around the edges,
but they had their pride, and Bush was too grateful to
them to want to damage that.

Twelve-hour quarantine over

Bush followed Hornblower on shore in a daze. In fact,
there was a moment when he wasn't even sure he was on
dry land; the ground seemed to pitch and roll as much
as the small boat that had brought them from Hotspur
had done. He took a deep breath, and paused to steady
himself.

Hornblower turned around and saw Bush standing there,
his eyes closed. "Are you all right, Mr Bush?" he
asked.

Bush nodded slowly. "Fine. Or I will be, in a minute."

Horatio knew his friend was lying, but he decided to
say nothing. Nevertheless, he couldn't help hoping
that, for Bush's sake, Captain Foster and Admiral
Pellew would not keep them in this meeting for long.
He could see that Bush's hands were shaking slightly
and knew that it meant that he was running on nothing
but determination now.

Admiral Pellew smiled and shook hands warmly with the
two officers. "Gentlemen," he said, "I am sorry to
have detained you for so long, but I am sure you
understand the need for caution."

"Of course, Sir," replied Hornblower, casting an
anxious glance at Bush.

"And I trust you are fully recovered, Mr Hornblower?"
Pellew continued, a paternal note creeping into his
voice.

"I am. Thanks to the fine efforts of the doctor, Sir.
And Mr Bush. I was relieved to be able to leave the
running of the ship in such capable hands."

Pellew nodded. "Yes, I noticed from the reports we
received that Mr Bush was responsible entirely for the
running of the ship. You have had a trying few days,
by the sound of it, Mr Bush."

Bush blinked, as Pellew's face loomed large, and swam
in and out of focus. "Yes, Sir," he said carefully.

"And by the look of it, too," Pellew observed, looking
at Bush's haggard face. "Come, gentlemen, let's go and
join Captain Foster. The sooner we get this meeting
under way, the sooner it will be ended."

The three men set off to make the short walk to the
Admiralty building.

"I must congratulate you, Mr Bush," Pellew said as
they walked. "Running the Hotspur, single handed, in
such circumstances"

Bush swallowed. Suddenly, his throat felt very dry.
"Thank you, Sir, but I'm afraid I can not take all of
the credit."

Pellew looked at him quizzically as they paused at the
huge iron gates. "Really? Why not?"

"I could never have managed such a task were it not
for the crew, Sir. And two of the hands in
particular."

Hornblower smiled. Credit where credit was due. He
knew how much such a commendation would mean to Styles
and Matthews, particularly as it was the Admiral.

Bush continued, although Hornblower saw that he seemed
to be framing his words carefully, as though it were
more of an effort now. "Matthews and Styles, Sir. The
Bosun and his mate. They took on a great deal of extra
responsibility, Admiral. I could not have succeeded
but for their hard work and determination."

"Is that so?" Pellew asked. "I shall make a note of
that, Mr Bush."

The gates swung open, and Pellew and Hornblower
entered the driveway, Bush a few paces behind. He
hoped to God that this meeting would not last long. In
fact, he wished fervently that there would be no
meeting at all. All he wanted to do was close his
eyes, and now he was being forced to sit in a room and
pick to pieces every little thing he'd done, every
decision he'd made over the last few days. It wasn't
fair.

Foster was sitting in one of the large, official
reception rooms, and he did not look pleased at the
fact that he'd had to wait. Hornblower looked at him
warily; he had not seen the man since Kingston, and he
was unsure what his reaction would be.

Pellew did not look in the least concerned. He swept
in, and closed the door firmly behind him. "Ah,
Foster, there you are," he said, airily, indicating
that the two men should sit down. "Perhaps now we can
get started."

Hornblower seated himself in an armchair, and made
himself comfortable. He looked a little tired now,
Bush thought to himself. It had not been that long ago
that he'd been on death's door. Bush knew how that
felt. He looked around. A comfortable chair now would
be fatal. In the event, he pulled out a high backed
chair from around the table and seated himself.

Pellew cast a questioning look across at him, but said
nothing. "Very well," he said. "Mr Bush, if you'd like
to begin with how the fever came aboard ship.."

*****
On and on and on. Would it never be over? Pellew was
doing his best to make light work of it; Hornblower's
replies were concise and to the point, but Foster
seemed determined to get full value from his time. His
questions began to irritate Bush; surely all the man
needed to do was to read the damned reports to glean
the information he was asking for! Bush tried to keep
a tight rein on his temper.

"Now, Mr Bush," Foster was saying, flicking through
the pages before him casually. "I would be interested
to hear why you made the decision to flee the enemy,
rather than to engage them."

Bush felt indignation rise within him.

"I refer, of course, to the unfortunate incident with
the French ship, Lieutenant. I should like to hear
your explanation, Sir. Why did you choose to run,
rather than stand?" Foster's tone was accusatory.

Bush's face grew dark with annoyance. Was the man
really so narrow minded as to not know? Or was he
being deliberately obtuse? "Captain Foster..." he
began icily.

Hornblower caught sight of Pellew's hand, raised
almost imperceptibly from his lap. He knew what it
meant. Don't let Bush say whatever it is he's about to
say. Quickly, he interjected, biting back his own
anger at the way Bush's decisions were being
criticised. "Captain Foster," he said politely, "I
believe that, under the circumstances, outgunned and
with only half a crew, Mr Bush made the only logical
decision. With respect, Sir, to engage the enemy would
have resulted in damage to the ship and even greater
loss of life at the very least."

Pellew nodded, and permitted himself a wry smile. It
seemed that Hornblower had further developed the art
of tact since their last meeting. "Indeed, Captain,"
he said. "On reflection, I would consider a strategic
retreat," he placed emphasis on these words, looking
directly at Bush, who was making a determined effort
to stay calm, "the lesser of two evils. Would you not
agree, Captain Foster?"

Foster did not reply to that directly. Instead, he
said, "Nevertheless, Admiral, I feel that we have very
little detail as to the exact circumstances of this
incident. Perhaps Mr Hornblower would be so good as to
furnish us with such information?"

"As you wish, Captain," Hornblower said, respectfully.

Bush looked at Hornblower, who regarded him
meaningfully. Bush knew he'd almost put his foot in
it. He managed to look both crestfallen and grateful
for the intervention at the same time. He really had
to get out of this damned meeting soon. If he didn't,
he'd either fall asleep where he sat, or give Foster
the tongue lashing of his life. Neither prospect bode
well. He took a deep breath, then busied himself
looking at his hands.

*****

It seemed like an eternity to Bush, but eventually, he
and Hornblower were standing outside the Admiralty
building.

"Thank God for that," Hornblower remarked, as they
started off down the road that would lead them into
town. "I thought Foster would never be satisfied." He
looked to Bush for a response, but his friend was
focussing his attention on the pavement before him, a
glazed look in his eyes. "Mr Bush?"

Bush started, then seemed to teeter for a moment
before recovering his balance. "Sorry, Sir. Did you
say something?" He sounded hoarse and distracted.

"Nothing of importance," Hornblower replied. "I think
we'd best get you to your lodgings."

"And you should be getting back home," Bush said quietly.
"Or have you forgotten the good doctor's warning?"
Horatio smiled. "No, I hadn't," he said, "but I think
you need your bed more than I need mine at the
moment." He shuddered inwardly at Maria's probable response
to everything that had happened

Bush nodded wearily. They were almost at The Bell Inn
where Bush had taken lodgings now; Horatio could see
it in the distance. Bush looked up and regarded the
cream coloured building as though it were some kind of
vision. Not much further, he thought, forcing his legs
to carry him that little bit further. You can do it,
William, he told himself, pushing himself onwards.

Suddenly, as Hornblower was on the verge of some other
revelation, and just as they had reached the entrance
porch of the inn, Bush felt the world somersault about
him, and his head felt full of wadding. Hornblower's
voice became garbled and seemed to come from
underwater. Everything closed in within a greying
tunnel of sparks and he gasped as he felt his legs go
from beneath him.

"William!" Hornblower exclaimed, and reached out an
arm.

Bush tried to steady himself; tried to stand, but it
was too much. " I...I can't," he gasped, feeling sick
and dizzy. Then he collapsed.

Hornblower grabbed him, in time to stop his friend
hitting the ground, and took his weight on one
shoulder. "Come on, Mr Bush, it's not much further."

Bush shook his head frantically. "Sorry," he croaked,
hanging on to Hornblower's shoulder for dear life. "I
can't..."

"William, come on, please," Hornblower, urged. "You'll
be all right in a...William? Oh, good God!"

Bush had managed a couple of steps, supported by
Hornblower, but that was all. Exhaustion had finally
taken over. He slumped against Hornblower, unable to
move any further, literally asleep on his feet.

Hornblower hauled Bush inside, although it was an
effort. He cursed the weakness that still dogged him
from his illness, and groaned when he realised there
were still the stairs to negotiate.

Fortunately, the Inn was virtually empty, so
Hornblower lowered Bush into a huge chair by the fire.
As he was set down, Bush's eyes half flickered open
momentarily, and Horatio leaned over in time to hear
him mumble an apology. Then he was laid back into the
chair's leathery depths, and Bush was fast asleep.
Hornblower went to seek assistance from the landlord.

Mr Hayman was a hugely built man, with a round face
and twinkling brown eyes. He was the kind of man you
couldn't help liking on sight. He set down the large
keg he'd been carrying and nodded gravely in response
to Hornblower's request. Bush often used The Bell as a
lodging place when in Portsmouth, and Hornblower knew
that he thought highly of Hayman, whom he had once
described as one of the world's gentle giants.
However, Horatio thought as he eyed the huge biceps
and thick meaty hands; getting into a brawl in this
establishment would be a very bad idea indeed.

Hayman moved with surprising elegance for such a big
man. He approached the chair where Bush lay inert,
almost as though he weren't breathing, and gave a low
whistle, shaking his head in obvious disapproval.
"Poor Mr Bush," he remarked in a deep, sonorous voice.
"That's bad, that is." Then, taking hold of Bush's
arm, he hoisted the man over his shoulder as though he
weighed no more than a sack of corn, then headed for
the stairs.

Hornblower hovered ineffectually behind him. Hayman
was clearly a man of few words, he thought to himself,
as they ascended in silence. Little wonder that Bush
liked him.

Hayman opened a door on the small landing at the top
of the stairs to reveal a good-sized room. It was
simply but pleasantly furnished with a large bed, side
table, a small mirror, an armchair and a wardrobe.
Part of the room contained a washstand and a bath,
which could be dragged in front of the fire. There
were two windows, allowing for plenty of natural
light, underneath which was a small writing desk and
upright chair. There was an endearing shabbiness to
the room, although it was spotlessly clean.

The fire was already going, so the room was warm and
comfortable when they walked in. Hayman carried Bush
over to the bed and lowered him onto it with infinite
care so as not to wake him, before straightening and
turning to Hornblower. "I'll be downstairs if needed,
Sir," he said respectfully, then turned and left the
room without another word.

"Thank you, Mr Hayman," Hornblower said, but the door
was already closing silently.

Horatio sighed, and then dragged the upright chair
from under the writing desk, positioning it at Bush's
bedside. He sat down, then leaned across to loosen
Bush's stock and open his collar slightly. He looked
awful, Hornblower thought. His face was grey and there
were dark smudges of exhaustion surrounding his eyes.
Placing a hand on Bush's forehead, he realised that it
was very warm, but there was no trace of the feverish
heat or sweat that he'd so dreaded. Thank God for
that, Hornblower thought with relief.
He had been sitting there for some time, he realised.
The light had faded; making the fire cast long shadows
through the room. Hornblower got to his feet and lit a
couple of candles, bringing one of them to put on the
bedside table. He was tired, but he did not want to
leave Bush until he was sure he would be all right.
Yawning, Horatio went over to the armchair by the fire
and sank into it gratefully.

He sat there, allowing his mind to wander, watching
the dancing flames and reaching forward occasionally
to stoke them back into life. He could feel his eyes
begin to close, but for a while he fought against
sleep, in case Bush should need him. Eventually, he
reasoned that he'd be of no use to Bush if he were
exhausted himself, and that it would be best to try
and rest if he could. That decided, he leaned his head
against the back of the chair, and fell asleep within
minutes.

The next time Hornblower opened his eyes, it was broad
daylight. The sun was streaming through the windows,
and the fire had died into smoky embers. The candles
had burnt out, dropped in their sockets. Horatio
stretched luxuriously, deciding that he felt much
better and levered himself out of his chair to check
on Bush.

Bush had not moved. He lay in exactly the same
position as he had been placed in the previous
afternoon. Horatio fished his timepiece from his
pocket and his eyes widened when he realised it was
past ten in the morning. Bush was still fast asleep,
his breathing steady and even, so Horatio decided to
have a wash and then see what he could do about
arranging a late breakfast.

He splashed icy water from the bowl on the washstand
over his face, then groped around for the towel.
Patting his face dry, he moved over to the mirror and
spent a few minutes re-tying his stock and fussing
with his collar. He supposed he would have to tell
Admiral Pellew what had happened. He would want some
kind of explanation as to why Bush was not with
Horatio when he arrived at the Admiralty that
afternoon.

Just as he was about to go downstairs, there was a
gentle knock at the door. Hornblower opened it, and
found Mr Hayman standing in the doorway, holding a
laden tray.

"I heard you stirring when I was downstairs, Sir, and
thought you might like this." Hayman had brought up a
plate laden with home made bread and cheese, a mug of
ale and a bowl of what smelled like beef broth.

Hornblower took the tray gratefully. "You read my
mind, Mr Hayman. Thank you very much."

Hayman smiled, and his face lit up. "My pleasure, Sir.
The broth is for Mr Bush, if he's awake. A
speciality." Then he was gone again.

Horatio set the tray down on the writing desk. The
bread smelled delicious, and was still slightly warm.
He realised how hungry he was and ripped off a hunk
from the loaf, cutting into the creamy cheese with the
knife and salivating at the thought of eating proper
food. It taste better than the best fare at an
Admiralty banquet. He balked at the ale; he didn't
think his system was quite up to that yet, preferring
a glass of water from the pitcher on Bush's bedside
table.

It was while he was pouring the water that he heard a
low groan. He looked, and saw that Bush was stirring.

"William?" he said softly, setting down the glass and
leaning anxiously over his friend.

Bush's eyes flickered open slowly. For several
moments, they were a muddy blue, unfocussed, but then
they gradually came to life. As they did so, they
rested on Hornblower's face. "Horatio?" Bush croaked.

Hornblower smiled in relief. "Who else?" he said.

"Where am I?" asked Bush, momentarily confused.

"The Bell. We got here yesterday afternoon, Mr Bush.
Remember?"

Bush thought for a moment, and then events seemed to
slip into place. "Oh, yes," he said slowly. Then he
frowned. "Yes," he repeated, as he realised what had
happened outside the inn. "I'm sorry, Sir." He looked
faintly embarrassed.

Hornblower smiled. "Don't be ridiculous, man. You were
dead on your feet anyone could see that. In fact, Mr
Hayman had to bring you up here. I'm afraid I wasn't
able to manage it." Now it was Hornblower's turn to
look embarrassed.

The corner of Bush's mouth upturned slightly. "Well,"
he remarked philosophically, "I suppose it was better
than collapsing at the Admiralty." He was silent for
several moments after that, then a question popped
into his head. "What time is it?"

"After ten," Hornblower replied. "You've slept for
eighteen hours."

"Really?" asked Bush, his eyes wide.
It hadn't felt like eighteen hours. "Your wife, Sir.
She must be wondering where you are."

Hornblower held up his hand. "Don't worry yourself, Mr Bush.
Mr Hayman despatched a boy with a note explaining the details.
I shall return home this morning. How do you feel?" he asked.

Bush considered. "A bit washed out," he admitted
finally.

 

Hornblower looked towards the tray, with its steaming
bowl of broth. "Hungry?"

"Hmm. Why?"

"Because the admirable Mr Hayman has brought you some
broth. Do you think you could manage some?"

Bush nodded, then tried to pull himself into a sitting
position. He grunted with the effort, then after a few
attempts, lay back on the pillow, breathless. "Damn
it!" he swore, annoyed with himself.

"Easy," Hornblower warned. He brought the broth to the
bedside table, then grabbed the large cushion from the
armchair. "Here," he continued. "Let me help."

******

The broth brought a little more colour to Bush's
cheeks, and he seemed to draw strength from its warmth
and goodness. He leaned back on the pillows, and set
down the bowl in satisfaction. "Mr Hayman is a
genius," he told his friend.

"So I can see," Hornblower observed with relief.

"I only wish he could be persuaded to join the Navy.
Imagine. Hot beef broth on a freezing cold night when
you're standing watch." Bush closed his eyes at the
thought, and Hornblower started, thinking his friend
was unwell.

Bush opened his eyes and smiled apologetically. "What
time are we due at the Admiralty?" he asked, changing
the subject.

"One o'clock. But I really don't think it's a good
idea, William," Horatio replied.

"I doubt that the Admiral, or Captain Foster would
agree with you there, Sir," Bush said mischievously,
although his tone was grave.

Hornblower shook his head. "That's not what I meant,"
he said, before he realised that he was being teased.
He smiled sheepishly when he saw Bush's _expression. "I
meant, perhaps it would be better if you were to stay
here. Get some more rest. Take it easy, while you've
got the chance. I can manage."

Bush considered. "I'll be fine," he said, "really,
Sir." He sounded convincing, and it looked as though
Hornblower might acquiesce, but then Bush found
himself having to stifle a yawn.

Hornblower saw Bush's hand go to his mouth. "That
settles it," he said firmly. "You are staying here."

Bush finished yawning, then opened his mouth to
protest, but Hornblower raised his hand and cut him
off. "No, Mr Bush, I mean it," he said gravely. "You
stay here, and that's an order."

Bush studied Hornblower's face for several moments,
but there was no trace of amusement there. He nodded
slowly. "Yes, Sir," he said quietly.

Hornblower had been gone for almost an hour. Bush had
tried to sleep, tried to relax, but he was too
restless. He felt an overwhelming sense of obligation
to finish this business, to see it through to the end.
Lying here while Horatio went to the Admiralty alone
simply did not seem right to him. He ought to be the
one to end this, not Horatio.

As he lay there, an idea germinated in Bush's mind. He
could at least make good use of the time between now
and the meeting. Foster's report. Bush swung himself
round on the bed, and got tentatively to his feet, not
quite sure what to expect.

There was a slight feeling of dizziness as he stood
up, but it quickly passed, and Bush took the few steps
to the writing desk with increasing confidence. This
needn't take long, and he'd still have time to get
ready. Orders or no orders, he would make sure that
this whole Part was brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

Having concluded his business in Portsmouth, and
after some time spent explaining things to Maria
and hastily trying to calm her fraught nerves,
Hornblower headed for the Admiralty buildings at a
quarter to one.
Hornblower headed for the Admiralty buildings at a
quarter to one. He was anxious that he should not be
late. As he approached the gates, he saw a familiar
figure standing before them, looking down the road. Mr
Bush was immaculate in full uniform, and he was
carrying a sheaf of paper under one arm.

"Sir," Bush greeted him, touching his hat in salute.

Hornblower inclined his head in acknowledgement, and
attempted to mask his surprise. Bush was still a
little pale, but he looked much better than he had
that morning. "Mr Bush," he said formally. "May I ask
what you are doing here?"

Bush looked at his feet for a moment, then back at
Hornblower. "My apologies, Sir, but I think you may
have forgotten this." His hand reached for the sheaf
of paper, which he handed to Hornblower.

Hornblower leafed through the pages, and recognised it
as the extra report requested by Foster at the
previous days' meeting. Bush must have spent the
remainder of the morning working to make sure that
this was ready. It was just typical of him. Hornblower
was grateful, but he tried to sound disapproving. Bush
ought to have been resting, after all. "Mr Bush," he
said, "please explain to me why you saw fit to disobey
my order."

Bush sighed softly at Hornblower's tone, then was
apologetic. "I'm sorry Sir," he said, regarding
Hornblower meaningfully, "but I have no intention of
giving Captain Foster any occasion to criticise you,"
he said firmly. "And since you were....indisposed
during the French attack, I assumed that you would
want me to provide the details. It seemed politic to
submit those details as soon as possible, Captain."

Hornblower nodded, and was about to reply when a
Marine guard came up to the gates to admit the two
men. They walked up the driveway towards the imposing
red bricked building.

"Perhaps you would like me to go through this with you
before we go in, Sir," Bush suggested as they mounted
the steps.

Hornblower smiled. "I don't think that will be
necessary, Lieutenant," he said. "I'm sure everything
is in good order."

Bush looked gratified. "Thank you, Sir."

Horatio recognised that Bush had once again helped him
out of a potentially difficult situation. Foster had
asked him for the information, not Bush, knowing full
well that he would be unable to present it in time.
After the meeting, Hornblower had kept his concern
about this to himself, thinking that his friend had
had just about enough anxiety after the last few days,
but Bush had known anyway.

Hornblower thought about recent events, and realised
that he had not always shown Bush the fairness and
respect he deserved. There had been times when he had
lost his temper for no reason; been unnaturally harsh,
but Bush had never said anything. He realised just how
much he had come to depend on Bush's dedication and
efficiency since his promotion and how much he had
come to value him, not just as a first officer, but as
a friend. "No, Mr Bush," he said, sincerely, "I think
it is I who should thank you."

Bush inclined his head slightly and smiled, faintly
embarrassed. "You're welcome, Sir," he said.


****