Jamaican Rum
by Dunnage41

//
“Well, Mr. Hornblower, sir." Lieutenant William Bush paused on the dusty patch beside the quay and rubbed his hands in satisfaction. "A day or two in Kingston and a hundred pound to boot. Matters could hardly be more pleasant – and I believe some simple pleasures are long overdue us."
//
"Indeed, Mr. Bush." Commander Horatio Hornblower was agreeing with his comrade, though his inflection was flat and his gaze distant. What the devil could Hornblower be thinking? The ordinary British seaman – the ordinary British officer, come to that – would already be halfway to the nearest ale-house.
//
"Have you ever been at loose ends in Kingston, sir?"
//
"I have not." This time the tone was a trifle warmer – just a trifle.
//
"I have, sir, and with your permission I might undertake to show you some of the pleasures of the city.."
//
At that Hornblower turned his long angular face to Bush and the trace of a smile quirked at his full lips. "Gladly, Mr. Bush. Gladly." He accented his words with a nod and the sweep of a navy-coated arm to indicate that Bush should lead the way. They had gone scarcely a dozen yards, however, before Hornblower halted and held up a peremptory hand.
//
"Hold a moment, if you please, Mr. Bush." Hornblower had actually drawn out of the path and was now leaning against the side of a portage building, its wide double doors opened and throwing a block of shadow into the sunlit street. He crossed his arms and cocked his head for all the world like a man taking his ease – only he was engaged in nothing at all that Bush could see.
//
"Yes, sir?" Bush put a note of inquiry into his voice.
//
"Nothing." Hornblower ducked his head and a faint flush colored his hollow cheeks. "That lad there – see him stacking crates?"
//
"Yes, sir, what of him?"
//
"I just ... find it ... pleasurable to see a man doing a job of work and doing it well," Hornblower admitted. "Particularly when I have no responsibility for the work or the outcome." And with that he readjusted his stance and made it clear that he did not intend to move for at least the next several minutes. Baffled but resigned, Bush aped his stance so that the two of them leant against the cool stone wall and did nothing but watch a compact and muscular young man, his hair a tumble of dark, his bronzed arms gleaming and drenched with perspiration, stack large crates of something that were being brought from the warehouse.
//
After a silent several minutes, however, Bush stole a glance at his companion. Hornblower looked utterly relaxed, more so than Bush had ever seen him. His shoulders had lost their customary tension and his face its customary strain; he was the classic portrait of a satisfied idler as he stood, arms crossed, a faint smile playing across his face, seemingly doing nothing more than watching the work at hand. Bush felt his own lips twitch. Well, why not? He could not deny that it was pleasant to wool-gather and to let his thoughts drift at ease. And he had to admit that the rhythm and graceful movements of the laborer were mildly entertaining to watch, as one might watch a ballet being performed for one's amusement.
//
At length Hornblower stirred, and said apologetically, "I suspect you had other pleasures in mind when you made your offer, Mr. Bush. I've taken up too much of your time. By all means – lead the way." He straightened and again gestured that he would follow Bush. After this display, however, and from what little he already knew of Hornblower, Bush felt some unease. He could show most brother officers good rum and satisfying women and believe them well pleased – they would believe themselves well pleased. Somehow Bush doubted that Hornblower would be as easily satisfied, though he was not jumpy or particular as a whole; just not so easily satisfied. He pursed his lips in thought. There! He had it.
//
"I understand you are fond of whist, sir."
//
"Very much so, Mr. Bush." Hornblower's face had lightened at once. "But you yourself do not care for the game – is that not so?"
//
"True, sir," Bush said matter-of-factly. "But I know a good gaming house where you may have your mathematical confutations and I might amuse myself with simpler card games, if you like, sir."
//
"Indeed I should," Hornblower replied warmly. "It would be fine to fatten our purses, would it not?"
//
"If indeed that is what we do, sir," Bush said, now doubtful of the wisdom of the enterprise. He silently copied the younger man, however, who carefully tucked away a goodly bundle of notes into an inner pocket.
//
"I have other uses for some of the money and would not care to see it vanish too quickly," he said, almost apologetically. With that, the now-familiar mask fell over his features and that was all he would reveal on the matter. Bush recalled with a start that Hornblower would shortly have a ship to fit out as a commander. They strode in companionable silence for a way, until Bush pulled up at a pale stone building whose portico offered welcoming shade from the heat, which even in late afternoon still stifled.
//
“One of the better houses for this in Kingston, sir,” Bush said as they ascended the shallow stone steps. “You’ll be treated fairly here -- or as fairly as the cards allow, sir,” he added with a grin.
//
It took hardly any time for Hornblower to find three other players, and with a cheerful word of parting, Bush took himself off for vingt-et-un, where there was more chance and less mathematical skill involved. Thus did some five or six hours pass. Bush quickly lost all that he cared to, and unobtrusively found a nearby chair from which he could observe Hornblower without the latter’s notice.
//
Hornblower was so obviously in his element that Bush had no wish to let it be known that he was through playing, for Hornblower would immediately quit his game at the first opportunity so as not to inconvenience him. And Bush found as the time passed that he was quite enjoying himself. There was real pleasure to be found sitting quietly and idly, rather than frantically cramming in good local liquor and pliant local women as though he were no better than a seaman. More, there was pleasure in watching, as Hornblower observed earlier, a man do a job of work well, particularly when one had nothing at stake.
//
There was a quiet, hypnotic rhythm to the slap of cards and the resultant grunts of pleasure or displeasure, the keen interest that flashed in the players’ eyes, the care with which they concealed the quality of their hands, the near-oppressiveness -- to Bush -- of the silence in which the game progressed. He vastly preferred card games that were played to the accompaniment of roars of triumph or loud groans of defeat on the turn of the card, but he saw that for serious whist players, an entire night might pass with not more than a dozen words being exchanged, most of them being merely “Trick,” and “Rubber,” and sometimes “Trick and rubber.”
//
At length, however, Bush made to stretch and inadvertently uttered a little groan, which recalled him to Hornblower’s attention. He gave a brief nod, all that he would permit himself in the knot of play; and when the rubber was concluded he rose with a nod to the others.
//
“If you will forgive me, gentlemen,” he said, “I fear I have another engagement.” The engagement might have been a definite appointment; Hornblower’s careful demeanor and cool tone in no wise suggested that his engagement was likely to involve a measure of debauch. Now the others stood with him and Bush saw with surprise and relief that Hornblower was tucking away an impressive amount of coin and paper.
//
“I hope you were not waiting long, Mr. Bush,” were Hornblower’s first words, evidence that he had scarcely noticed Bush’s vigil. Bush gave the only possible answer.
//
“Of course not, sir,” he said.
//
Hornblower looked about him in some surprise to discover that the hot afternoon had given way to a pleasantly cool and jasmine-scented night. He drew out his watch with an exclamation of surprise.
//
“It is quite nine o’clock,” he said. “Time and past time for some food, I think, Mr. Bush.”
//
To that sentiment Bush was in full agreement, but even then it seemed there was to be a delay. For while Bush steered Hornblower to an eatery, he had to maintain the measured pace of a man looking at a collection of pictures in following Hornblower. Their way had led through an open-air market and even at this hour it was bustling with custom. Hornblower seemed to be studying, with real pleasure, the colorful garments and head-wraps of the native women, the dark skins of the men, the piles of bright fruit. He was drawing enjoyment from them the way a woman might draw enjoyment from a lush garden or a hothouse full of oranges. To a casual observer he might be doing nothing at all. But Bush was beginning to learn that he had yoked himself to a queer man as far as shore-leave and pleasure were concerned.
//
On the one hand, Bush was beginning to regret having offered his services as an escort through the streets of Jamaica to a man who seemingly cared for none of the pleasures Bush would seek. On the other hand, Bush was pleasantly surprised once again at how well the evening was passing. More, he was remembering an episode aboard ship when they had observed flying fish. Hornblower had never seen them before and had shown curiosity and pleasure, which he had quickly schooled so as not to appear too childish before Bush. But now, with his guard seemingly down, Hornblower was quietly revealing something of himself to Bush. Such knowledge would be helpful were they to serve together again.
//
At last they achieved the eatery of which Bush knew. Hornblower blinked with dismay and surprise at the plate set before him, heaped with rice and a steaming, highly spiced stew. Bush was unhesitatingly shoveling the hot concoction in, but Hornblower’s stomach, always finicking, revolted after the first few cautious bites, and he contented himself with occasional swallows of ale.
//
As Bush was making free with the spicy meal, however, he was making free with the ale, and as the innkeeper refilled Bush’s tankard he gave Hornblower a pointed glance that caused him to hastily drain his own tankard.
//
Even at the time, Hornblower vaguely recalled, it had not seemed a good idea. But Bush was cheerily forceful when he wished to be, and somehow the third large tankard of ale was now quite empty. He stared into its depths now and foolishly picked it up and shook it, as though the liquid would materialize on its own. He was accustomed to the heavily watered liquor aboard ship, and three large tankards of stout unadulterated ale were making his head swim.
//
“I fear not, sir.” Even drunk as he was, Bush impeccably maintained the habit of addressing his superior officer as “sir.” Even though Hornblower had been Bush’s inferior a very short while ago. But now Bush was speaking again.
//
Enough of this foolishness,” Bush was saying thickly. “We’re in Jamaica! Innkeeper!” He slammed his own empty tankard onto the stained and scarred table with a noise that made Hornblower start. “Bring us your best rum!”
//
He would not drink it, Hornblower thought. He had gotten rather good at giving the appearance of drinking without consuming more than his naturally abstemious head thought wise. He nodded owlishly at the decency of his plan. Then the thick, impossibly deep, cracked cup was in his hand and he was aping Bush in raising his glass to … what? … to the Renown. By God! Of all things to drink to. Obediently he put the cup to his lips, intending to set it down again untasted.. But a trickle of sweat chose that moment to crawl down his neck, and the liquid shot all too quickly down his throat, and when he put the cup down it was with a gesture clumsy and too forceful, so that the cup rolled sideways, showing its emptiness to all who cared to see it.
//
When he stopped watching the oddly fascinating progress of the cup, he noticed something queer about his companion. Was it a trick of the light? Surely not, for the place was sadly wanting in illumination. It must be a reality then, and it was his responsibility to call Bush’s attention to it. Welcome news or not, Bush had to know, and it was down to him to inform him of it.
//
He opened his mouth to speak, but could only giggle. Damn that tendency of his! He could not stop the laughter; it ran on unchecked until tears streamed down his cheeks.
//
“Mr. Bush,” he gasped out. “You have … you have … a … a … a halo, sir. Hic,” he finished, giving Bush a very meaningful gaze.
//
Astonishingly, Bush raised a hand to his hair, feeling for the phenomenon so described. Even as he grasped his hair, however, his eyes widened and he only just restrained himself from pointing at his superior officer.
//
“You have one too sir,” he said, hesitantly. Somehow Hornblower had recalled him to his own duty.
//
At the news, Hornblower made to rise, but overbalanced and caught himself heavily on the edge of the table. While he was trying to regain his posture, two young women who had been eyeing them from the bar now wove through the tables. The taller of the two now twined her arm around Hornblower with easy familiarity, steadying him, and he jolted back at the unexpected intimacy. She met his startled gaze steadily, even saucily, and Bush hazily thought it was well that Hornblower was probably too drunk to take umbrage at the forwardness of the girl, who was indeed a girl, no more than eighteen or nineteen.
//
Her companion, who was shorter and more generously proportioned, similarly embraced Bush, who smiled down at her happily. He liked saucy women and was more than ready for anything she proposed. By now he was less concerned with Hornblower’s happiness, although a glance told him that Hornblower was now gazing down at the girl holding him with an interested, if surprised, expression.
//
“C’mon, mistah,” Hornblower’s girl said, with a glance that encompassed the quartet. She gave the barman a nod and a wink, and he brought over a bottle, which the girl happily took with another wink..
//
The officers followed the women up the stairs, the women swinging their hips, Bush and Hornblower a little clumsy now on their feet. They were led into a double room divided only by a thin, almost translucent curtain that offered the barest modicum of privacy, but no one seemed to care.
//
In what seemed no time, they had shed their jackets and shoes and the women were slowly and lazily undoing their waistcoats and neckcloths with the ease of long practice. Hornblower opened his mouth to protest, but all that came out was an impressive belch. Immediately he flushed bright red and dropped his gaze. His girl, however, only laughed.
//
“You need some a dis, mistah,” she said, swinging the bottle like a bell. Obediently Hornblower took the bottle and upended it to his lips, taking several large swallows. He came up for air choking and sputtering, making the girl laugh again.
//
“Jamaican rum de best, mistah, but you not used to it, eh?” She traced a hand gently through his hair, deftly undoing his ribbon, which she waved slowly in the air like a battle flag. By now she had his waistcoat and neckcloth off and was undoing the buttons of his shirt. She was more skilled with uniforms than some green midshipmen. She put the bottle to Hornblower’s lips again, and again he drank.
//
Bush had needed less encouragement and was already bare to the waist and sitting on the sagging bed, his girl perched on his knee and caressing his throat and muscular chest. She leaned in and boldly kissed him, and he returned the affection. Her lips were spicy and warm, and he inhaled her musky scent and hazily felt it swirl into his befogged brain. With unrestrained boldness, she was sliding her hands down below his waist and pushing him back onto the sagging bed. He lay back, a foolish smile spreading across his face. Hornblower could look after his own self; Bush was otherwise occupied.
//
Hornblower, however, was drunkenly protesting, his strong fingers keeping his girl’s at bay as she attempted to get his breeches off. “No, no,” he said thickly. “You mustn’t.” With that he hiccupped sharply and his bleared gaze slid sideways, focusing on nothing at all.
//
“Oh yes, mistah,” the girl said softly. “Yes yes.” She put the bottle to his lips again and obediently he took a swallow. His hands relaxed and he allowed his breeches to be undone and tugged downward. Then the girl sat on his lap -- such boldness -- and a look of shock came over his face at the sensations he was experiencing. The girl was gently and steadily straightening and relaxing on his lap, as though riding a horse, and with each rhythmic movement an exquisite pain shot through Hornblower’s most private parts. His head was whirling unceasingly and he could not feel his feet, nor did he care. He groaned aloud, prompting throaty laughter from both girls.
//
“Hey Rosie,” Bush’s girl called, “he like your fun, eh?”
//
“Oh he like it, all right,” Rosie replied with a grin. “He never know to do it afore, but he like it.”
//
“Dis man, he do it, and he like it most well,” the other girl said. Bush was in a stupid ecstatic trance, a foolish grin spread wide across his face and a hand on either of the girl’s generous hips.
//
“More,” he mumbled. “More.”
//
The girl obliged.
//
Time swirled, stopped, stretched, flew, and Hornblower knew nothing at all except painful, marvelous intimacy and then a bird calling raucously outside their window.
//
Cautiously he forced his eyelids open a slit. Dear God, the light was bright. A wave of nausea surged up and he controlled it with difficulty. His temples pounded so insistently he was sure they would burst. He raised a shaking hand to his head and made to sit up. It required several attempts. Across from him, Bush was similarly encumbered in achieving a sitting position.
//
“Mr. Bush,” Hornblower croaked. It hurt to speak. It hurt to breathe. His throat was afire; his lips parched; his eyes throbbing; his head heavy.
//
“Sir,” Bush croaked back.. He groaned.
//
“The girls,” Hornblower mumbled.
//
At that, Bush managed a smile. “Long gone, sir.”
//
Hornblower frowned. “We must see them safely home.”
//
Bush groaned again. Hornblower’s damnable sense of honor would not even let him realize that he had spent the night with a Kingston whore who would have laughed in his face at the notion of being escorted home.
//
“They’ve seen themselves home, sir,” Bush said, with only a slight quaver at the end of his words. Then: “If I may suggest it, sir, I find coffee a help in such situations.”
//
Hornblower groaned at the thought. “Yes. Coffee.” With an infinity of effort, he swung his feet out of bed and groped for his clothing. Unmindful of his naked state, he sat on the edge of the bed and methodically went through his pockets, his expression changing. His eyes were wide and his lips tight.
//
“Nothing,” he said grimly. “How…”
//
Now Bush was checking his pockets and finding them similarly empty. “They’ve robbed us, sir,” he said apologetically. He felt terrible for taking his superior to a place where such a thing could happen. The loss of a great deal of money was secondary at the moment, though when its import reached him he would be furious.
//
Hornblower shook his head. “The best part of a hundred pounds,” he said flatly. “And another twenty-five pounds additional from my winnings at whist.” His quick mind was berating himself. He had been foolish in the extreme. He had a fortune in his pockets, and a ship to fit out, and he had let it slip through his fingers. His anger was not so much at the girls as at himself for being such a fool.
//
Bush whistled, then winced. “A good amount of winnings, sir.”
//
“A good amount of money to pay for a night’s pleasure,” Hornblower said dryly. A thought struck him. “We’ve not paid for the rooms. And no hope of coffee, either.” He sighed. “I dare not sit down to whist with empty pockets..” There was nothing for it but to pawn something -- his sword, perhaps -- to try to get a few coins, though it would hardly suffice to outfit a ship. He would have to sail with hardly any provisions. A fine first command! At the moment he had almost rather be a lieutenant under Sawyer again than to have to face provisioning a ship with no funds, when only a moment ago he had been flush with money. He silently vowed never to allow himself to go near a whore again. What had he been thinking? Cheap, base pleasures, momentary enjoyment that cost far too dear and that had taken something precious far too easily.
//
“Sir,” Bush said hesitantly. “Sir … is there no way?” He knew Hornblower’s skill at whist. If he could just win a hand!
//
But Hornblower was shaking his head. “It would cost me my honor, Mr. Bush,” he said regretfully, wincing. He had already spent his honor. Then his expression changed again. “Mr. Bush,” he said softly. “What is that under your shoe?”
//
Bush frowned and nudged his shoe aside, then his eyes widened too. “A coin … a crown,” he said, a smile spreading across his unshaven face as he picked it up. “Sir … perhaps …”
//
Hornblower smiled. “I think, Mr. Bush,” he said, “a cup of coffee would be most welcome. And then, perhaps, a hand or two of whist. But,” he added firmly, “I have sampled all I care to of Jamaican rum.”