Hello, Goodbye
by Sarah

 

It had been several years since it happened, but he had not forgotten. Horatio Hornblower
stood in the place where he had sent his friend to his death. The wind whipped round him
as he ran his fingers through his now grey tinged hair. It was the fifth anniversary of
Captain William Bush's demise and he still felt a little pang of guilt. He placed a small
bunch of flowers on the ground as a small gesture in an attempt at closure. It had been
Barbara's idea to come. Hornblower smiled, if that dependable officer William Bush had
been here he would find the sight amusing. Horatio sighed. All his friends seemed to die
before him. Suddenly he jumped, surprised at a hand that fell on his shoulder.
"I'm glad someone remembered, sir," he heard a familiar voice say.
The hairs on Hornblower's neck stuck up as he recognised the voice and he spun round.
His jaw dropped. Standing in front of him was his old friend, a little worse for wear, but
the same man none the less. His attire was plain and he had an air of the farmyard about
him. Captain Bush's face carried pockmarks and scars. The indomitable captain still
sported his wooden leg as he stood to attention.
Hornblower was not a superstitious man, but he still stammered.
"B-b-but your dead," he exclaimed stumbling over his words, trying to comprehend this
vision afraid he was seeing the ghostly apparition of his friend.
"Not quite. You can't get rid of me that easily, sir," replied Bush, still respectful.
"Ha-h'm. The explosion killed you. Ha-h'm. No survivors were reported."
"I was thrown clear by the blast. One of the locals found me and took me to a hospital,
sir," he explained.
"Its good to see you again," said Hornblower, relieved that he wasn't seeing things. "How
come no ones heard from you before this?"
"I was knocked unconscious and lost my memory. It was two years till I even remembered
my name and by then I was married to Mademoiselle Destin and settled down. I did send a
letter though, sir."
"You did? Well, it was never received or reported to me. Ha-h'm."
"Lost in the post, eh sir?"
"Most probably, Mr Bush," he said with a smile. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what, sir? Its not your fault the letter got lost."
"Not about your correspondence, about sending you into a situation you should never
have been in. You were right it wasn't a job for someone of your rank," apologised
Hornblower, tugging at his cuffs uncomfortably.
"You don't have to apologise. You were doing your duty as was I," replied Bush, bowing his
head slightly. "I no doubt would have done the same if our positions had been reversed,
sir."
"Ha-h'm," Hornblower coughed, then rapidly changed the subject. "Now did I hear right
that you are married?"
"Aye, sir. Marie is a lovely girl and we would be most honoured if you would partake of
supper with us, sir."
"Why, certainly Mr Bush. I would love to," replied Hornblower. Curious to see the life his
friend had made for himself over these past few years.

***

Hornblower bent low to avoid the low door lintel as he entered the modest farmhouse. He
tucked his hat under one arm and wiped the mud off his shoes on the doormat. He was led
into the sitting room where a young woman was just putting a fresh vase of flowers on the
mantelpiece over an unlit fire. She had her back to him. He could see she had winglet
shoulder-length blond hair and was wearing a white dress with small blue flowers printed
on it. She turned as they entered. Hornblower observed she had a simple beauty, yet there
was a mystery behind her emerald green eyes.
"We have a visitor," said Captain Bush, adding uncomfortably, "dear. This is Lord
Hornblower."
She gave Hornblower a look that if it could, would kill and tutted. Mr Bush visibly flushed
at her irreverent behaviour.
"I'm Marie," said woman holding her hand out as she introduced herself, without a trace of
an accent in her voice. Hornblower went to take her hand to kiss it, but she grabbed his
hand and shook it, firmly. He was surprised by her strength. "Nice to meet you."
"Likewise," he replied.
"I suppose you will be staying for dinner," she asked, arching her eyebrows.
"Well I-,"
"Of course he's staying Marie," exclaimed Mr Bush.
"It will have to be a cold meal. I'm not cooking," she snapped.
Hornblower glanced from her, to his friend, then back again. There seemed to be a silent
battle going on between them, which ended in a mutual understanding.
"I'll go and check what we have left in the pantry then," suggested Bush exiting the room.
"Now," said Marie, indicating he should take a seat before sitting down on one of the
chairs, her hands placed delicately in her lap. "What are you here for Mr Hornblower?"
"I don't know what you mean," protested Hornblower, noticing how she neglected to use
any of his titles when speaking to him. He frowned, and `Ha-h'm'd uncomfortably.
"He iscomfortable here. I don't want the status quo being upset. Do you understand
me?"
"That's your opinion. You can't stop him if he decides to come back to the navy."
"Oh can't I," she replied, her tone laced with threat. He noticed how her hand went to her
stomach. Hornblower had never been the most observant person when it came to women
in general, but he had matured and he could tell by her unconscious gesture why she was
so determined to keep her husband at home. It reminded him of how Maria used to hate
him having to leave. He had Barbara and Richard now but he still sometimes thought sadly
of his late wife and his two children who were taken from him by death. He bowed his
head in contemplation for a moment.
"Mr Hornblower? Are you alright," she asked concerned by his sombre countenance.
"Ha-h'm. Yes. Quite alright," he replied sharply. Then adding a little more gently his voice
almost a whisper and leaning close. "Congratulations."
Marie raised an eyebrow, hostility now gone from her manner.
"How did you know? Even he doesn't know yet," she asked, her voice equally hushed.
"Intuition," he replied.
Captain Bush walked back into the room, carrying a try containing a pot of tea and the
best china. Hornblower and Marie rapidly pulled away from each other, looking a little
sheepish.
"I hope I didn't miss anything," he asked, glancing at them both. Then put the tray on the
small table.
"Nothing exciting," she replied, putting a guiding hand on her husbands arm as he sat
down next to her. "I'm sure you have plenty to catch up on. I on the other hand have the
animals to feed," she stated standing up to leave.
"Don't you want my help," asked Bush.
Marie glared at him. "I'm sure I can handle it on my own. You have company."
She left the room with a flourish. Hornblower just about caught himself before he let out a
loud sigh of relief.
"My wife resents my helping her with the chores. We have an agreement I do the cooking
and cleaning she does everything else," Bush blushed, and coughed uncomfortably. He
seemed uneasy about admitting he did what could be called women's work.
"You have a nice place here."
"Yes, indeed. I, we bought the land and had the farm built ourselves, paid for with a
substantial dowrysir."
"Ha-h'm. It's all right Mr Bush. You can drop the `sir'," said Hornblower, taking a tentative
sip of tea. "This is much better than Styles' coffee."
"I'm sure bilge water would be better than anything Styles could come up with," replied
Bush with a smile.
"Have you given any thought to returning to the service?"
"I'm a little too old now. Only good for a shore post and anyway I have responsibilities
here."
"It's your choice," said Hornblower. "I must say though you do seem to have landed on
your feetfoot," He stumbled over the last phrase, unsure how to express himself without
offending his friend. "Ha-h'm."

***

For dinner they all sat down to a plate of stewed vegetables and broiled beef. Hornblower
restrained himself from turning his nose up at the meal presented to him. It was Mr Bush's
best attempt.
"Do you like your food?" asked Marie, her voice layered with meaning. Hornblower could
tell she knew what he was thinking, that he disliked the mush placed in front of him and it
made him uncomfortable.
"Very nice," replied Hornblower.
He sawed diligently through the overcooked meat. He took a bite. He chewed and chewed
and chewed. It was definitely tough, but nothing worse than what Maria had come up with
in her time.
"The vegetables are from our own garden and the meat is one of our cows," explained
Bush, oblivious to the struggle his friend was having with the food.
Hornblower glanced over at where Marie was also having a struggle with the food. She
held the utensils awkwardly as if she was unsure of how to use them properly. Her
husband leant over and whispered something in her ear. She quickly adjusted the knife
and fork switching hands.
"So Mr Hornblower, what have you been doing with yourself since you sent my husband to
his almost certain death," she blurted out.
He noticed his friend nearly visibly leapt off his chair when Marie pronounced her
question.
"Ha-h'm," was Hornblower's only reply, his throat suddenly dry.
He took a small sip of wine. There was an awkward silence only punctuated by a
monotonous tick of the clock on the sideboard and the chink of cutlery.

To be continued....hopefully.