The carriage rocked to a stop amid a swirl of dancing of snowflakes.
The young boy, nervous, but composed, stepped down and looked about
the town square which seemed to be as far as the coach would take
him. His bag was handed down and deposited at his feet. No one was
there to meet him. He knew no one in the town.
As the clatter of the departing coach faded away, he was left
to wonder what to do next. He was hungry and he was getting cold
standing there. The snow was beginning to fall in earnest and it was
getting dark Sundown came early in Kent on a January afternoon.
He had been told that someone would be here when he arrived.
father had said that someone from the school would be there to see
him safely to the campus. Mistaking the word for `canvas', he had
asked where the ship would take him. Seeing his look of confusion,
the man had explained, none too patiently, that was where the school
had its buildings and yard. Someone associated with the school would
meet him and take him to the dormitory and show him about.
Knowing that he had somehow angered his father again, he had
cry, but quickly stopped when he saw the look on the old man's face,
wiping his face on his sleeve and further annoying his father with
the action. He had no time for such nonsense. The child had been put
on the seat and told to behave, the carriage door had shut behind him
and the horses started off. Putting his head out the window to wave
goodbye to his father, he saw the receding figure, back turned to
him, already walking home.
The trip had taken over ten hours, with stops to change horses
navigate the frozen, rutted roads. He had been afraid to talk to the
other passengers, afraid to annoy them and his shyness prevented him
responding when a very occasional comment was tossed his way.
But now there was no one here. The green was deserted in the
weather and gathering dusk. Not knowing what else to do, he sat on
his bag, huddled in his jacket and scarf and mittens, and simply
After what seemed to be hours, but was in fact likely fifteen
twenty minutes, a middle-aged man approached him. That looked like
the boy he was told about, about the right age, skinny, tall for his
years, dark hair and eyes. "Hornblower? Is that you, lad?"
He stood. "Yes, sir." It was barely audible. He looked
up. The man
was even taller than his father, but quite a bit wider. His cheeks
were pink from the cold and he was hitting his gloved hands together
in an effort to warm them.
"Well, come along." The man picked up his bag and
started off at a
good pace, making the boy shift into a sort of half run to keep up.
After a brisk and somewhat slippery ten-minute walk they arrived at a
two story brick building that the man, Mr. Bolton, said was the main
classroom building and the dormitory for the younger lads. He would
live here with the rest of the first termers.
They entered the door into the warmth and light of the front
to be greeted by a gray haired woman wiping her hands on a kitchen
towel. "I was wondering when you'd get back, Frank. I've been keeping
your dinner warm in the kitchen." She turned her attention to the now
wet, bedraggled and shivering child hanging back by the front
door. "And who have we here. Umm?"
"Mrs. Greaves, may I introduce Master Horatio Hornblower
whom I have
reason to believe will become our star pupil should he choose to
apply himself whilst he's here. Master Hornblower, Mrs. Greaves. She
is the housemother here at school. You are to treat her as you would
your own mother, or hopefully even better, if you've any sense."
The joking remark, kindly spoken, failed to generate the smile
could usually be counted on and instead brought on a silent flood of
tears running down the cold cheeks.
Mrs. Greaves, a kindhearted soul, knelt by the crying boy,
that he made no sound. "Homesick, are you lad? You'll be getting any
number of lovely packages from your Mum before you know it, you will.
All the lads do, you'll see." She caught the shake of Mr. Bolton's
"I'm afraid that this young man's mother has passed on
Greaves. His father feels that we might make a better job of his
education than the village school he was going to at home."
She nodded. This was a common enough story for them to hear.
then, I see. How old are you then, lad?"
"Five, Mrs. And a half."
"Well, you'll do just fine here. Five and a half is the
best age to
be, and you'll have lots of lovely brothers to play with." The large
dark eyes regarded her solemnly, registering doubt that he didn't
give voice to. "Have you eaten, then?" He nodded, lying. "Well then,
let's show you your cot and introduce you to some of the lads you'll
be with, shall we?"
Taking his hand, she led him up the stairs to the dormitory,
either side with a row of cots, perhaps twenty in all. About half of
the beds had an occupant ranging in age from about six to, perhaps,
nine. Each one of them was staring at the newcomer. There were small
windows at each end and a smallish fireplace in the middle of one
wall. The overall impression was one of dark and cramped and cold.
Going to one of the beds, Mrs. Greaves sat down, motioning
for him to
sit beside her. "This is the room where the younger boys are housed.
The youngest ones, like you, stay close to the fire. This is to be
your bed, Horatio. Your belongings are to be kept here and your bed
is to be made every morning before you go down. Do your schoolwork;
mind your manners and you'll be fine. Now, it's getting to be
bedtime, so you get ready and then, when I come back, we'll have a
lovely story as a special treat." Nodding, he opened his bag, digging
for a moment and then pulled out his nightshirt. Mrs. Greaves left,
leaving him the object of the other boys open scrutiny.
"Can you read?" He nodded, his eyes down.
"Can you do sums?" Another nod.
"Did you get sent here because you were bad?" Unsure
of the truth, he
shook his head. It seemed the best response.
"Can't you talk?"
"Yes, I can talk."
"Are you one of the ones who got sent away because one
parents is dead?" Another nod. "Who's dead? Your mother or your
"My mother." It seemed brave to just come out and say it like that.
"Like Peter. His Mum is dead, too." Horatio had no
answer for that
particular comment so remained silent. "You're not going to cry a
lot, are you?"
To the best of anyone's knowledge, there was never a time in
entire tenure at the school when he was seen to ever cry after that
As the first few months of his enrollment passed, Mrs. Greaves
worried about the new lad. Oh, he did just fine in his school work,
better than most of the lads, truth be known, but he hardly ate
enough to keep a bird alive and he never seemed to want to play with
the others after class. He was usually to be found up in the room on
his cot, curled with a book. When asked, he would politely decline
all entreaties to the outside unless actually ordered. He didn't seem
to be making friends with the other lads, either, another thing that
caused concern. She spoke to the Headmaster about the boy, but he
seemed unconcerned. "Just leave him. He's young and still new here.
Before you know it he'll be joining in with the others."
But it didn't happen. Oh, he was polite enough when directly
to and he seemed to make no enemies, but equally, he made no
particular friends, preferring his own company and silence.
She thought that he would likely have been a target for the
lads if his intelligence hadn't set him apart almost immediately.
Even as young as he was, he was quick witted and advanced in his
lessons. The others, instead of taunting him, seemed to grant him a
degree of respect that they reserved for few of the pupils. He always
seemed willing to help the others, too, should they seek him out for
assistance in a particular project or lesson.
The third year he was at the school, there had been an incident
involving the local swimming pond and the boys late at night when
they had been assumed to be in bed asleep. It had been an early hot
spell in the spring and they had snuck out, getting caught in the
process when, returning to the dormitory around two in the morning
they had decided to take a detour into a cow field to tip over the
sleeping animals amid much hilarity.
The next morning the irate farmer had stood in the office confronting
the six boys he claimed he could identify. They were all in the
twelve to fourteen age group of lads.
Though not among those accused, Horatio had politely spoken
claiming that they had, in fact tipped the cows, but he could prove
that they had caused no harm or damage to the animals. Asking if the
milk production had been off, the farmer had to admit that morning's
tally had been normal. Asking then if any animal had been injured in
any way, the farmer had to admit that they were all in perfect health.
Mr. Bolton then asked what recompense he would like to see
disturbance they had caused. A grumble and a halfhearted suggestion
that the boys clean out his barn was accepted by all involved as easy
payment and the matter was let drop with no letters to anyone's home.
They older boys, from that moment on would allow no harm to come to
the ungainly youngster, becoming his protectors. He accepted this
calmly and remained silent and solemn. Shy and self possessed, he
still largely kept to himself.
The other students seemed to just take him as he was. Whereas
another boy as unusual as this one might have become an easy target
for the bully that lives close to the surface of most youngsters,
somehow he was set apart, recognized as somehow above such things and
not to be trifled with.
It was this same year that Mr. Bolton had reason to see why
smoke coming from the younger boys room when they were all thought to
be at home for the Easter holiday. He was surprised to see young
Hornblower curled up on his cot reading. The bed had been dragged
closer to the fire.
Embarrassed to be caught when he was thought to have gone,
had merely shrugged and mumbled when asked why he was still there.
Finally, after much gentle coaxing, the truth came out. The boy had
simply refused to go home, claiming that he was merely in the way
when he was there and so would rather avoid the awkwardness of the
situation. When asked if his father knew that he had remained at the
school, he had shrugged and said that he wouldn't care. When the
headmaster had written to the father, asking if he were aware of the
situation, he received a brief reply stating that he was and the
decision rested with the child.
>From then on, the boy had rarely gone home other than for
week summer holiday. He lived at the school, taking his meals in the
kitchen when the others were away, helping with the chores and
generally making himself useful, then burying his nose once more is
some book. His grades excelled even more than they had previously.
By the time he was old enough to enter the form with the other
year olds, he was at least two years ahead of the other boys and
regularly sat in with the fourteen and fifteen year olds, generally
besting them in accomplishments. His French, Latin and Greek were
exceptional. His composition and grammar above the average, but it
was in Mathematics and science that he really stood out. By the time
Horatio was fourteen, the teacher conceded to the student.
An arrangement was made to reduce his term fees under the condition
that he teach the younger forms in sums. He agreed and from then on
he was an assistant teacher in all but name.
The reports that Mr. Bolton sent home were uniformly of a glowing
nature, full of praise for the young man's abilities, work habits,
diligence and superior intelligence. If there were any areas in which
he might have needed work, they were considered minor ones.
He remained shy, making no real friends, though he was not
He preferred a book to a game of rugby or tennis, would rather sit on
the bank of the pond on a hot day with a treatise on the new world
than swim with the lads, though he would often swim alone.
The Father never came for a visit. The boy only went home when
no choice. If he'd had friends, he would have likely gone with them.
The father wrote no more than once a year, the boy would dutifully
A childhood friend from his village was his only correspondent.
these frequent letters, he reacted eagerly, obviously looking forward
He never once mentioned his mother in the entire ten years
he was at
Mrs. Greaves had gotten into the habit of including him in
own sons when the holidays came round. He would often be found at the
pantry table with the two younger boys, almost like an older brother.
They would ask him questions about the current work they were doing
and he would help them with their assignments. Occasionally, he would
read to them, but there was never a time when he made any attempt to
actually join her family and it was apparent that he regarded her as
a kindly woman, but not as a substitute mother. He kept a restrained
distance from everyone.
Through his personality, his shyness and his natural reserve,
himself apart. The others accepted him as he was and, for the most
part, left him in peace.
Finally the day came when, at sixteen, he completed the course.
school had taught him all that it could and he was free to make his
way without their further guidance. There had been a small passing
out ceremony that his father had not attended and now the boy stood,
calmly, before Mr. Bolton's desk. "You've done well, you know. You're
the finest student and possess the keenest mind I've ever had the
privilege to pass through these rooms. You've made me proud, Horatio,
and you should be proud of yourself."
The dark eyes steadily met the look directed at him. It was
that he took the compliments as mere words. If he had any idea just
how good he was, he certainly hadn't allowed it to go to his head.
"Sit down, I've something I think you'd like to see."
several letters over to the lad. They were written on thick
stationary with embossed headings and were addressed to the
headmaster of St. Hubben's School.
Quickly scanning the contents, Horatio saw that they were letters
acceptance to both Oxford and Cambridge. They were each accepting him
to begin with the fall term in a matter of months and both letters
said that they looked forward to his joining the entering class in
which they had every confidence he would be successful.
"Congratulations, Horatio. Which one will have the honor
attendance next fall?"
"Forgive me, sir, but I don't understand."
"I applied for you lad! I knew that's where you belong,
sake. With your intellect you should be at one of those places, and
they agree. All you need do is decide which one you will grace with
Speechless, the youngster sat before him, his eyes blinking,
head down, his hands in his lap. "Butsir, does my father know about
"I thought that you would like to tell him yourself. Horatio,
be pleased, I promise you. Any parent would be thrilled to have a son
at one of the best universities on the planet."
He was shaking his head to himself. The voice that came out
resigned, quiet. "No sir, forgive me, but you don't understand. He'll
be angry that this was done behind his back. He'll never agree."
"Of course he will. He'll be proud of you. How could he not?"
The boy stood, he'd gotten quite tall since he'd been with
attempted a smile. "Thank you, sir. You've been so kind to me. I
shall miss you and Mrs. Greaves."
"Horatio"are you not going to even consider the possibility
accepting one of these offers?"
His color was heightened and the Headmaster realized that the
as close to an outburst as the reserved young man might be capable
"Sir, please"forgive me. I'm honored and grateful
for what you've
done for me and for your confidence in me, but you must see that this
is impossible. He will never agree to this, never."
Frank Bolton sat heavily back in his chair. The young man in
him hadn't left, obviously wanting more from him.
"Horatio, if you don't do this, what shall you do now?
You will be
wasted in a small village. You know this as well as I. You need the
stimulation that you will find at one of these schools, they will
lead you to a life that will fulfill you. To do less will be
tantamount to intellectual suicide for you."
"Sir, I will find something, I have some thoughts and I shall "
Angry now at the opportunity being thrown aside, he snapped
young fool before him. "What thoughts? That you might apprentice to
the local linen merchant? Perhaps you could become a wheelwright or a
baker? Dear God, for the first time since I've met you, you've
disappointed me, lad." Seeing the look on the young face before him,
he relented a bit. "Tell me why it is that you think he'll object.
Just explain that to me. Perhaps we might have a solution."
"Sir, forgive me, but I "
"Horatio, you owe me that much, surely."
A deep breath a hesitation and the lad spoke. "There isn't
There. Simple. A statement of fact. Bolton sat up in his chair,
hands clasped together on the desk before him. The schools were
expensive; there was no denying that, but to deny an intellect like
the one he had nurtured for the last ten years was an outrage.
"I believe that there might be some help available in
There is also the possibility of paying over the course of time.
Arrangements can be made, lad."
"He will never agree to borrowing anything. To be thought
of as in
need"he'd rather cut off his arm than allow that. If the tuition
money isn't in his hand, he'll not permit me to go, and I know that
he hasn't the money. Not for this, anyway."
That was a telling remark if ever there was one. "What
do you mean by
Another hesitation. "He told me, the last time I was back
Bolton noticed that he didn't refer to his father's house
as `home. "He told me that he was glad I was almost finished so that
he might finally be done paying school fees and might have some extra
"So you'll sell yourself off to someone to ease your father's bills."
"Sir, I'm no longer a child. It's time I was on my own"
at a loss as to what to say. There was little that he could add.
"Perhaps if I wrote to your father, explained to him"
off. There was no point in continuing the thought with the lad
looking as he did.
The Headmaster stood again. "Very well, Horatio. As you wish."
They both moved to the office door. "I wish you all the
You know that. If you ever need anything, you know that I'm your
friend. Damn, I'd hire you to teach here if I thought that you'd
agree to it."
"You're kind, sir, and that's meant much to me all this
time, but I'd
prefer to make my own way."
The older man nodded, understanding. He held out his hand.
and the boy left. He would be gone in an hour or two. He was the best
to pass through these rooms, and that couldn't be denied.
Turning back to his desk, he paused, deciding that he would
the acceptance letters to the lad's father with his own letter
accompanying them. The man must see the chance the boy had been
offered. He must.
There was no possible way that he couldn't see that.
Twenty years later, found among Frank Bolton's effects were
worn copies of the Naval Chronicle. In each was either an article or
correspondence concerning Captain Sir Horatio Hornblower, tracing his
remarkable career to that point.
Tucked into the yellowing papers was a letter from Sir Horatio
It read, in part: "When we last parted I told you I wished
to make my
own way in the world. It is my greatest hope that you have not been
disappointed in the path I have chosen. You were more of a father to
me than the man who's name I carry. Were it at all possible for me to
express to you what you have meant in my life, I would do so, but I
fear that I am unequal to the task. Please know, dear sir, that had I
not had the great good fortune to have known you, my life would not
be as it is today.
Whatever I am, I owe to you. Your grateful student, Horatio