Home is the Sailor
In this scenario, after Captain Sawyer is killed in his cabin, the dithering Buckland inexplicably makes a decision and brings the ship to Portsmouth, where he submits a typically dithering report to the Admiralty and authorizes shore leave for the officers. In the interval since his son first set foot on Justinian, Dr. Hornblower has resettled in the seaside city. Our story begins.
Horatio Hornblower numbly put one foot in front of the other, scarcely noticing his surroundings. A part of his brain he did not know was guiding his steps through Portsmouth to his father's home. As he plodded wearily, dazed from more than four days without sleep, Captain Sir Edward Pellew was reporting to the Admiralty.
"In short, sir," Hood said sourly, "If Captain Sawyer had not died in battle when the Renown was boarded, he would have been tried to determine if he had ... lost his capacity for command."
"Indeed, sir," Pellew replied, his lips tight.
"Well, we have here the reports from Lts. Hornblower, Kennedy, and Bush," Hood said, sorting papers. "The doctor seems unable to pronounce a ... diagnosis." He cleared his throat. "At any rate, sir, the man is dead. There seems no need to impugn his honorable name."
"Indeed not, sir," Pellew replied. "I only ask that you consider my request to have Hornblower and Kennedy transferred to my command."
"A reasonable request, I suppose," Hood said. He drummed his fingers on the table. "Very well. They are yours." He laughed dryly. "They seem a matched set, what? Like, er, salt and pepper."
Pellew allowed a thin smile. "Yes, sir."
Horatio's arm felt as though it were laced with lead as he raised it to thump on the door. His father's longtime housekeeper looked with understandable surprise at the apparition that greeted her: A tall, handsome naval officer who bore a resemblance to the young master but who also looked ill and exhausted.
"Why ... Master Horatio! What brings you here? Come in, come in, you look ready to drop," she clucked, bustling him into the parlor. "I'll tell your father that you're here."
"Horatio?" Horatio turned his head at the sound of the familiar dry voice. His father's unmistakable pleasure at seeing his son was cut short at the sight of the figure who stood, swaying, in front of a wing chair by the fire.. "Horatio, you're not well. What ails you?"
"N-nothing," Horatio managed.. "Tired, sir. Just got off watch. Sh-sh-shore leave." He made an effort to straighten that tugged at his father's heart. "Am I ... relieved of watch, sir?"
Dr. Hornblower frowned. The lad might be feverish. Best to humor him. "You are, sir. Get some rest." His beetling grey eyebrows shot up as, before the words were fully spoken, Horatio had collapsed bonelessly into the chair and, that quickly, was asleep. Dr. Hornblower stepped to his sleeping son and lifted a wrist, feeling the pulse, which was steady. He laid a hand to the temples. Cool. Possibly the boy was only tired, and, young as he was, a good sleep would cure many an ill. The doctor called for Peters, who aided Dr. Hornblower about the place, and together they lifted the sleeping youth and gently undressed him and laid him in the doctor's own bed.
There Horatio was still sleeping soundly when a knock at the door interrupted the end of the doctor's lunch. Mrs. Cameron bustled into the kitchen. "A boy, sir," she said. "With a message from the Grey Goose." No doubt a traveller had been taken ill. Dr. Hornblower calmly drained his glass of port and followed Mrs. Cameron to the door, where he unfolded the slip of parchment.
Dr. Hornblower: sir:
Being on shore leave so close to your home, I ask whether I may pay a social call on the father of one of my best men.
Your servant, sir
Cpt. Sir Edward Pellew, RN
"Reply, sir?" the young man looked at the doctor expectantly. Dr. Hornblower gestured him in and let him stand while he scribbled: Yes, come to tea. JH.
Dr. Hornblower and Captain Pellew seated themselves and remained silent until Mrs. Cameron had poured their tea and withdrawn to the kitchen.
"I trust, sir," the doctor began lightly, "you do not wish to deprive me of my son so soon. He told me that he had been given shore leave."
Pellew looked surprised. "He is here?"
"See for yourself." The men rose and the doctor showed Pellew to the bedroom where Horatio still slept. The slight noise roused him, however, and he half-sat up on an elbow, blinking drowsily.
"Oh! Captain Pellew, sir," he said in confusion. He tried to sit all the way up, but Pellew put a restraining hand on his shoulder.
"At your ease, man, lie down," Pellew snapped. "I am here paying a social call on your father. Nothing to do with you."
"Horatio," his father said. "Perhaps when you have had time to ... er ... wash and dress, you might join us in the garden."
"Yes, sir," Horatio said, smothering a huge yawn and looking from one to the other. The older men left the room and Horatio reluctantly stood, stretched languorously, and began to wash.
The men resumed their tea. "He told me he'd been on watch, sir," the doctor said carefully, "but he looked the worse for it."
Pellew cleared his throat. How much could he say? "Captain Sawyer was ... killed in battle shortly before the Renown made port, sir," he said slowly. "There was ... some question about his capacity for command. There were ... reports ... that he was punishing the men severely for imagined slights." He cleared his throat again. "Normally, being on watch hardly enervates a man. Hornblower, er, Horatio, I am given to understand, had been ordered to stand continuous 36-hour watch ... three times in succession. An extraordinary behavior, sir, and one which led the admiralty to ah, question its wisdom."
"I should say, sir," the doctor said dryly. "Do you mean to say my son has gone four days without any rest?"
Pellew sighed. "I am afraid so." There followed an uncomfortable silence. "You said that being on watch ... hardly enervates a man," the doctor said. "I fear that ... I sent a boy off to sea ... and what has returned to me is ... a man. One I scarcely know." He looked searchingly at Pellew. "What nature of man is my son, sir?"
Pellew's mouth quirked. "He does not write?"
Hornblower barked a laugh. "His letters are punctilious, affectionate ... and completely uninformative."
Pellew's smile broadened. "Rather like his reports, sir. Hornblower ... is not only one of my best men. He is indeed one of the most promising officers in His Majesty's navy, sir. He has consistently proved to be resourceful, quick-thinking, and cool under fire. More, sir," Pellew paused and looked at the doctor. "He is ... ah ... proud, fiercely honorable, and unquestioningly loyal to his duty to king and country."
The doctor looked away for a moment. "He was but nine when his mother died," he said quietly. "That is when the laughter left him. He became ... solitary. Serious. Perhaps it was a mistake to send him away to school." He sighed. Pellew sensed that the doctor had more to say and made a polite gesture of invitation.
Sighing again, Dr. Hornblower said: "Until his mother died, he was ... an entirely different child. Some aspects of similarity, of course, but ... he was an extraordinarily sunny boy. Always tousled, always rosy-cheeked, always in motion, and ... well ... singularly full of delight for the great gift of each new day. Joyful. His ... laughter ..." the doctor sighed heavily and was obliged to clear his throat. "It rang constantly through the house and kitchen and gardens."
He swallowed the remains of his tea, grimacing at the trace of dregs. "Bright, yes, and curious. Thirsty for knowledge. From the time he could walk, he would come to me each
evening and climb into my lap, content to sit while I read. Not fairy stories, mind. His mother read those to him at bedtime. But whatever I happened to be perusing, he would demand to hear read aloud. And so my joyous boy was given a nightly dose of Jonson, Gibbon, Marlowe.... Still this heavy stuff could not quell his sheer ... delight. He seemed to be always happy, always perfectly at ease with the world and his place in it."
Pellew made a noise in his throat, encouraging the doctor to continue. The child Hornblower had sounded like any well-brought-up normal country boy of an educated and modestly prosperous family.
"Then..." Dr. Hornblower paused to wipe his nose. "Then. Well ... Louisa fell ill and was ... gone within two days." He fixed Pellew with a look. "Nine is a particularly difficult age, sir, to lose one¢s mother. Too old to ... not remember, yet too young to completely understand the permanence of, say, mater abscondida."
Pellew nodded, appreciating the allusion to St. Therese’s absent God.
"At first I thought he was naturally grieving," the doctor continued. "But it was as if a door had slammed shut in his soul." He cleared his throat. "Forgive an old man his drama. The change was immediate and absolute. Horatio was still ... bright, still curious about the world, still thirsting for knowledge. He went through each day, however, absent that joy, that pleasure, that simple delight that had previously marked him. He went through each day as though ... performing a duty."
Pellew¢s gaze snapped from roses a few yards distant to Dr. Hornblower¢s face. Duty. "Indeed, sir," Pellew said.
"Indeed. As though, perhaps, if he ... performed his filial duties correctly, something might be restored to him. Not his mother; he knew, I think, better than that; but as though he might rediscover that childish delight."
Hornblower poured them more tea, absently stirring his though there was nothing in it to stir. "I sent him to school that fall. It seemed the only thing to do. He went away, then, and returned each end of term ... a little taller, a little more stuffed with knowledge ... but still unreachable, as though he no longer wished to allow anyone ... close to him to enter his heart."
Pellew nodded. "You have my sympathy, sir," he said, a bit dryly. Hornblower caught the tone and smiled. "You have found, I suspect, a similar distance."
"I have, sir," Pellew said. "Pray continue."
Hornblower smiled. "That is, I think, all. I mentioned his letters earlier. He wrote, of course, while at school .... the same sort of letter he writes now." He cleared his throat dramatically and recited, as if from memory, the thought raising a faint smile:
The term is going well and I have settled in nicely. The boys on my hall are all good company and I am glad of their companionship. We have a new Latin master, he speaks with a Prussian accent. It has rained for ten days now. Would you please look for my galoshes and send them on if you find them for I fear I have left them behind. I am learning fencing this term.
I remain your affectionate son, Horatio."
Pellew chuckled. "As you say, sir, little has changed there. Hornblower¢s reports are a model of uninformative accuracy. So was the boy ... so now is the man."
"As I said. I sent to Captain Keene a boy. How quickly he has become a man."
"Are you speaking of me, sir?" Horatio, looking a hundred times better for the hours of deep, restorative sleep, stepped lightly into the garden, a smile lighting his face. He had washed and shaved, and his lieutenant's uniform gleamed, adding a luster and maturity to the broad-shouldered young man.
"Only good things, my boy," Dr. Hornblower said. "Let me look at you." He drank in the sight of the boy who was gone and the man who had replaced him, still seeing Louisa's gentle eyes and graceful hands. Horatio turned to Pellew.
"Am I needed aboard, sir?"
Pellew hesitated. "You have my permission to sleep ashore, sir. Your father has not seen you in some time. Give him the pleasure of your company whilst you can, and come aboard tomorrow."
Horatio hesitated, a telltale gleam lighting his eye. "I, ah ... believe I have already slept ashore, sir."