by Joan C.
It was one of those rare days in Portsmouth when the sky was
blue, the sun
was shining, and the ships riding at anchor in the harbor looked too
perfect to be real. And it was amazingly, blessedly hot. Horatio stood on
the deck of the Indy and raised his face to the sun. He had been cold down
deep in his bones so often over the last months that he feared he would
never stop shivering.
He was on the quarterdeck overseeing the work going on below
him. The mood
of the men seemed to match his own. They moved at a more sprightly pace;
laughing and joking as they did the menial everyday tasks that kept a ship
in fighting trim.
The Indy had weathered the winter with her crew, and, like
required care and refitting. Refitting. Horatio looked down ruefully at
his uniform. To say it was well-worn was a charitable assessment. He was
in tatters. The blue wool coat was criss-crossed with poorly done mending
as he had no servant to care for his possessions. The shirt beneath it was
stained with powder, sweat and the faint brown residue left by blood; some
of it his, some of it belonging to others less fortunate. His stockings
were so rent by ladders that he wore his boots to cover them, and those
boots were cracked at the instep and leaked through the soles when it was
wet - Horatio laughed a bit at that thought. When was it not wet?
Well, today it was dry and warm, and the heat of the sun beating
shoulders was beneficent and comforting. He clasped his hands behind his
back a drew in a deep, satisfying breath of salt air.
"Mr. Hornblower!" Thomas Parker, the midshipman on
watch, addressed him.
"I believe that is Captain Pellew's boat coming from the pier."
He handed the telescope to Horatio. He looked, blinked, and
look. "Yes, it is, Mr. Parker. Thank you." He called to the bosun to
prepare to pipe the captain and his unexpected guest on board. "Prepare a
chair, as well. The gentleman with the captain will require it."
"How do you know that, Mr. Hornblower?" Parker asked.
"The gentleman is my father." And with that, he left
the quarterdeck to
attend to the Captain's return.
Captain Sir Edward Pellew climbed aboard nimbly as the bosun's
announced his arrival. "Good afternoon, Mr. Hornblower. As you see, I have
brought an unexpected visitor with me."
"Yes, sir." Horatio swallowed. "Did my f-father
advise you as to the
reason he is here?"
"He did not."
"Thank you, sir."
Spoken impassively and with a mouth that was closed a bit too
Pellew thought. He studied his young lieutenant. Hornblower looked
unsettled; his brown eyes dark and serious, his face, despite the flush of
warmth on his cheeks, pale. Pellew knew that the sea to a serene
relationship between father and son was occasionally turbulent and he was
loathe to muddle such delicate waters. Before he could ponder on it
further, the bosun's chair was swung up on deck and Dr. Hornblower was
courteously assisted to his feet.
He stood a bit stiffly, his arthritic joints unused to both
the short boat
ride from shore and the awkward hoist in the chair. But after a moment he
straightened and breathed deeply. "Thank you, Captain Pellew." He turned
to his son. "Hello, Horatio."
"Welcome aboard, sir."
Good Lord, Pellew thought. They were as stiff and formal as
if they were
meeting at a levee at St. James'! He shot the lieutenant a sharp look from
beneath severe brows. "Mr. Hornblower, you are relieved of duty for the
day. I'm sure your father would welcome your undivided attention. Dr.
Hornblower, would you do us the honor of dining with my officers and
myself this evening? I have acquired a new chef who has a superb hand with
Dr. Hornblower gave Pellew the smile that by rights should
have gone to
his son. "I would be delighted, Captain Pellew."
Pellew moved off, and Horatio was conscious of being the focus
attention from all hands on deck. "Sir, would you -"
Dr. Hornblower put his hand on his son's arm. "Horatio,
I had hoped we
were past the formality. I am your father."
Horatio's wide, seldom-seen smile came forth, more warming
than the sun to
his father's heart. "I'm sorry, father. It is a habit."
"Ah, yes. The courtesy of the Navy." He linked his
hand in the crook of
Horatio's elbow. "Will you allow me your support until I find my sea
"Readily." They strolled down the deck to a quiet
space near the bow.
Beneath their feet, the Indy rocked gently on the light waves and the
gulls overhead uttered sharp cries as they glided on the currents of air.
They halted and stood in silence until Horatio finally asked: "Why are you
here, father? Is there trouble at home?"
"No. No, not at all. Everything and everybody goes along
Margaret sends her regards and a hamper which I will deliver to you when I
return to shore this evening."
"Of course she wouldn't allow you to come empty-handed," Horatio chuckled.
Dr. Hornblower nodded, his eyes seeing more than his son would
the faintly hollowed cheeks, the thin frame, the shabby uniform that was a
disgrace to His Majesty's Navy. "She is concerned, Horatio. And it seems
for good reason." He arched a brow. "You are thin," he said. "Have you
"I wish you would cease being a doctor!" Horatio exclaimed.
"I was being a father," Dr. Hornblower said mildly.
"Well?" He pressed for
Horatio had the grace to blush. "It was a hard winter,"
grudgingly. "But I have not been ill."
"Good." Dr. Hornblower felt as if he could breathe
again. He knew it was
true; Horatio was not an accomplished liar.
"You did not come all this way to inquire into my health,
time it was Horatio who showed a rare perception and mirrored the arch of
his father's brow.
"Ah, you have found me out," Dr. Hornblower smiled.
"No, I have another
purpose for being in Portsmouth. A legal matter, in fact."
Horatio looked alarmed. "Legal?" He had a deep distrust
of lawyers and all
they represented. To be called a sea lawyer, as he had been on occasion,
was not a compliment.
A faint smile tugged at the corner of Dr. Hornblower's mouth
when he saw
his son's dismay. "There is no need for alarm, Horatio. Indeed, it is good
news." His smile broadened. "I have been left a bequest by a former
"Truly, father? That is good news!" Horatio's pleasure
was genuine. His
father had lived in reduced circumstances for many years - and would have
been impoverished if not for the generosity of his dear friend and
landlord, Squire Whitehall. "Congratulations on your good fortune."
"Hardly a fortune!" Dr. Hornblower laughed. "But
two hundred pounds is not
to be sneezed at, eh?"
It was not. Two hundred pounds would ease the burdens on the
considerably and allow Horatio to spend less time worrying about his
father and more time worrying about his own future, which was by no means
secure. "I wish you joy of it. Truly, you deserve it."
"Thank you, Horatio. But I would take greater joy in it
if you accept a
portion of it for yourself."
Horatio was stunned. "I have done nothing to earn it!"
"You are my son!" Dr. Hornblower drew himself up
to his full height, which
very nearly put him eye to eye with his tall son. "I can think of no one
who deserves it more."
Brown eyes stared into brown, so alike in expression that they
been looking into a mirror. Implacably stubborn and proud, determination
in every line of expression and tilt of brow. Dr. Hornblower broke first.
"I would rather you have it now than later, Horatio." He touched the
frayed lapel of Horatio's jacket. "And I fear that if you do not accept
it, you will go to sea in dire straits, indeed."
Horatio blushed fiercely, but was unable to mount an argument.
He had no
points to argue; the evidence was in plain sight. He sighed, his shoulders
lost their stiff set. "I could use some refitting," he admitted.
"Some?" Dr. Hornblower laughed. "A strong breeze
would tear the coat from
your shoulders, the seams are so rotten." His eyes glittered with
amusement. "Perhaps after we partake of Captain Pellew's excellent dinner
we could go ashore and spend some time at Cutler and Gross?"
Horatio blinked. "There are less opulent tailors," he said.
"But they are the best, are they not?"
"Yes. But, sir -"
"No quibbles, Horatio. You shall have the best. And a
visit to a bootmaker
as well, shall we?"
"Father, I wish -"
"I wish you would consider yourself! I shall have an opportunity
money in a few weeks -"
"Ah, but a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, is it not?"
"I will repay you," Horatio said somewhat desperately.
Dr. Hornblower could not say that he had already been repaid
- with pride
and with honor. There was no coin of the realm more precious than the life
of his son. However, Horatio would not tolerate such sentimentality. Dr.
Hornblower tilted his head. "Consider it an investment, Horatio."
"An investment?" Horatio asked, puzzled.
"In the future of my country," Dr. Hornblower replied.
He listened to the
tolling of the ship's bell. "I believe those bells indicate that it is
time for dinner. Do they not?" He tried to tug Horatio away from the rail,
his hand once more secure at his son's elbow.
"Father, wait!" Horatio stayed firmly where he was.
"How do you know that your investment will bring dividends
Dr. Hornblower looked at him and smiled. "Why it already
has, Horatio. It
already has." He drew the bemused Horatio away from the rail and together
they proceeded to Captain Pellew's quarters.